Saturday, December 31, 2011

Thank you and goodbye 2011

Ahh, it is already the last day of the year so this is the last post of the year (I hope). Next one will definitely be past midnight. There are many spots in KL where the countdown would take place, usually terminated with fireworks. At our place, there's supposed to be some fireworks display too tonight. To those out there celebrating, have a good countdown.

As the year comes to a close, I need to say a big thank you to Diana of Kebun Malay-Kadazan girls for the Liebster Award and her generosity in sending over the seeds. To all who follows by blog, thank you for the support and encouragement. I enjoyed reading your articles (of beautiful animal shots and catchy captions, lovely house interior that is fit for a king, beautiful blooms that bedazzle my eyes, delicious recipes that make me drool all over the keyboard and not forgetting interesting comments that has been very encouraging). May the next year bring you more happy returns and lots more blogging. See you in 2012 then...

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A White...flowered Christmas

Here's one entry for the holiday season. We may not get a white Christmas here in Malaysia, but we can have a white flowered Christmas...well, not purely white, but with a touch of green. Wishing all my friends a joyous festive season and happy holidays.

Bishop's Crown Chilli (Capsicum baccatum) blooms
The bishop's crown chilli (C. baccatum). This is one with seven petals.
Another C. baccatum flower - five petals.

The Wind Orchid flower (Neofinetia falcata)
The wind orchid, N. falcata. Smells of jasmine and vanilla at night.

Lemon Basil
The only basil in flower on the balcony. This is to ensure that the seeds I get will not be of a hybrid with the sweet or thai basil.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tis the Season...for Glutinous Rice Balls

It is that time of the year again...No, not Christmas, I am talking about Winter Solstice (冬至). For the Chinese, it is one of the important dates of the year. Since winter solstice is the longest night in winter, therefore passing it represent that things would get better, since the days will get longer again. Thus a celebration is called for when you have 'survived' the longest day in winter.

The Winter Solstice celebration is common amongst the East Asians, and Winter Solstice is also celebrated by the Germanic people as Yule-tide, the precursor (pagan version) of Christmas.

For the Chinese, the Winter Solstice festival is an opportunity for family reunions. Family gatherings will then eat glutinous rice balls. Usually white or white and red glutinous balls are made, offered to deities and ancestors and shared amongst family members. They can be eaten in dark sugar syrup, or in a sweetened broth or rolled with peanuts. I usually make a four-coloured version to represent the four seasons: white, red, yellow, green and eaten with fragrant screw-pine scented soup. The balls are usually made without any filling but this year I decided to make glutinous white and black glutinous rice balls with filling. Here's my black and white five prosperity glutinous balls in soya milk.
Black and White Glutinous Rice Balls in Soya Milk. Perhaps they can represent the Yin-Yang symbol.

Here's my version of Five Prosperity Glutinous Rice Balls (五福临门汤圆)

For the filling (the five 'nuts')
8-10 whole cashew nuts
10 whole groundnuts
10 halves of walnut
11/2 tablespoons of crushed almonds or 10 whole almonds
2 tablespoons of dessicated coconut (the not so nut nut)
2 tablespoon castor sugar (or 1 tablespoon castor, 1 tablespoon brown sugar)
(you can substitute the coconut for macadamia or hazelnut)
The different nuts before being chopped.

Chop the whole nuts into small bits and pieces. Make sure they are about the same size. Put all the nuts (except the dessicated coconut) in a pan. Over a low flame/heat, toast them for about 3 - 5 min until they are fragrant. Make sure you keep stirring them to prevent them from burning. You know the nuts are ready when you hear them sizzling as they release their oils and the smallest bits start to brown. Remove from heat and keep stirring for 2 minutes or until cooled.

Pour the nuts into a blender/grinder and blend until they are fine and stick together. It is OK if some of them are still rough bits and pieces as you want some texture from them. Pour the dessicated coconut and quickly toast them over low heat till just slightly yellow. Add to the nut mixture and add the sugar. You can reduce or increase the sugar according to your taste. Blend them again to mix them and pour the mixture (should be at least a crumbly paste) onto a plate.

Add some light cooking oil (eg. 1 teaspoon of canola oil or corn oil) to help bind and make it easy for you to roll the filling. If you've added too much oil, increase the nuts proportionately to absorb the oil. Roll the filling into small (about 1cm in diameter) balls. Set aside in the refrigerator to stiffen the mixture.
The filling rolled out and ready to be chilled.

Dough
A small bowl of glutinous rice flour (100g - 200g)
Adequate amount of syrup water and plain water

There are many ways to get springy chewy balls. One is to thoroughly knead the dough to pull the gluten. Another method is to add a secondary kind of flour, usually cooked through like mung bean or potato starch. A third method is to use up to 1/3 of the glutinous rice flour that has been added with boiling hot water and rapidly stirred. This cooks the starch and denatures the gluten, making it springy. Use syrup as part of the mixture to form a stiff, malleable dough. This makes the starch sweet and you do not have to soak it in syrup before eating. A small bowl of flour will make about 24 - 36 balls, depending on the size of the glutinous rice balls.
The white balls all ready to be dropped into boiling hot water

Black Glutinous Rice Balls
You can make 'black' (purple actually) glutinous rice balls by using black glutinous rice flour. Use around 80% black glutinous rice flour and 20% normal glutinous rice flour to make the dough smoother and hold better. You can use 100% black rice flour dough, but the balls will be grainy (not bouncy) like eating black glutinous rice pudding (bubur pulut hitam) and it will severely colour the liquid if left standing for too long. I like the gritty texture of 100% black glutinous rice balls. Just make sure you use syrup water to make the dough or else it will not be sweet enough (or adjust the filling by over sweetening it).

Make a small ball out of the dough and then stick your thumb in it. With your index finger, slowly thin it out so that you get a concave shaped disc or a bowl like shape. Place the pre-rolled filling and close it up. Roll the ball and ensure that the filling is completely sealed in. Cover the already rolled balls to prevent them from cracking. You can also roll the balls sttraight into a pot of boiling water.

Cooking the balls
A pot of hot boiling water
A pot of chilled/iced water or cold tepid water

Get a pot of water, making sure that the pot is deep enough. Make sure that the water has come to a rolling boil before putting in the balls. Leave the balls to cook in the boiling water. When they are done, they will float to the surface. If you are cooking black glutinous rice balls, do let them cook a little longer as the starch imbibes at a slower rate. Once the balls have floated to the surface, scoop them up and transfer them into the bowl/pot of cold water. 
These balls are ready to be lifted off the pot into a bowl of cold water since they have floated to the surface of the boiling water.

Wait for it to cool down before serving them. If you need to keep them a day or so, transfer them to a new bowl of cold water. Make sure you keep black glutinous rice balls separate from the white glutinous rice balls as the colour will transfer.
The cooked black glutinous rice balls in cold water. They tend to stain the water so keep them separated from the white balls.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Orchids from Pesta Bunga Shah Alam 2011

Shah Alam is having another flower festival at the moment (16-18 Dec 2011). This is part of the Lake Carnival (Karnival Tasik) where there is a Grand Finale to a fishing competition (Pertandingan Memancing GP Selangor). The flower festival is of course just stalls set up by nurseries selling fruit trees, herbs, flowers and orchids. Parking is almost non-existent nearby (save for a tiny parking lot). You can park at the PKNS complex across the road, or park further away and walk. Some take the risk and park illegally by the roadside. At last year's festival, some of the visitors and stall owners fell victim to multiple summons by the traffic police.

Inspired by Autumn Belle's beautiful orchid pictures, I made up my mind that I will get an orchid for the cabinet by the balcony sliding door, as the top is bare with just a painted bowl sitting there. I finally choose a Rhyncattleanthe Varut Feastful. 
Rhyncattleanthe Varut Feastful syn. Potinara Varut Feastful.
The stalls that lined part of Persiaran Tasik at Shah Alam.

If the nothogenus Rhyncattleanthe seems a little odd to you, it is formed when the Cattleya alliance was reshuffled after considering DNA studies on members of the family. Previously, it is known as Potinara Varut Feastful (and still remains a valid synonym under the orchid registry). Among local nurseries, this plant suffers a severe genus confusion, and I have seen it sold as Laeliocattleya (Lc.) or Sophrolaeliocattleya (Slc.). Some people have it labelled as Brassolaeliocattleya Varut Feastfull. A search in the RHS Orchid Registry at this point of time would reveal that there is only one Varut Feastful, a Rhyncattleanthe Varut Feastful.

Now back to Rhyncattleanthe Varut Feastful, the nothogenus Rhyncattleanthe is made up from Rhyncholaelia, Cattleya and Guarianthe and abbreviated Rth. The flower is one of the 'splash type' Cattleyas and it emits a lemony spicy scent (reminiscent of the scent emitted by Phalaenopsis bellina, but 'spicier') in the morning and the scent is undetectable at night.
Sitting in a bowl atop a cabinet - Rth. Varut Feastful enjoying the view of KL skyline.

The light at where the orchid is placed varies from as low as 500 to usually about 1000 - 3000 foot-candles, which is a little low for a Cattleya. So I would have to move the plant out when it has finished blooming. The light conditions are more suitable for a Phalaenopsis, but I just can't stand one of those splotchy coloured Phalaenopsis. I also got another slab of Neofinetia falcata, as I like the jasmine scent that the flowers emits in the evening and at night.
Added another slab of N. falcata to the balcony. The plant that I got during the 18th Shah Alam Orchid Festival is in the background.

I had parked on the other side of Tasik Permai (Permai Lake), so on the way back to my car, I took some photos of the storks (painted storks?) nesting and roosting on the tall Casuarina trees lining the lake. I wonder if anyone has ever gotten pooped on by a stork/egret/crane when looking up at their roosting site, though I am not too keen to hang around and find out through first hand experience myself.
Nesting storks at Tasik Permai Shah Alam.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dischidia astephana at Genting Highlands

Dischidia astephana is found in Malaysia, usually at higher elevations on Leptospermum trees. It is one of the 'ant-plants', where a mutualism relationship is assumed for the plant and the ant. I spotted the Dischidia on the ground, on broken twigs when I was showing people some Nepenthes of Genting Highlands at elevation of around 1405m above sea level.
The warty leaves of Dischidia astephana. The blue arrow points to a cluster of flowers that I didn't notice at the time of taking the photo.

There were no longer any ants associated with the Dischidia for this specimen as the twig had fallen to the ground. The warty bullate leaves and the closeness of the leaves (imbricated leaves) seems to point to D. astephana. Leaves that were exposed to sun turn a pinkish red colour.
Reddish pink leaves of Dischidia astephana that has been exposed to strong sunlight.

As I did not spot any flowers when I first saw the plant, I half-heartedly snapped a few photos (hmm, cannot ID so no point to take photo). Only when I got back and reviewed the picture did I noticed that there were flowers on the plant. You can just see the red/crimson buds at the bottom of the picture, out of the plane of focus. So it has got to be D. astephana
Dischidia astephana - note the reddish crimson flower at the bottom center of the picture (highlighted). The leaves that were exposed to strong sunlight take on a pinkish red colour.

It is quite a cool ant-plant, though they are said to only grow well when associated with the ants (Crematogaster). J.S. Weir & R. Kiew believed that the plant actually wins it all, i.e. it is not a mutualistic relationship, but a 'I win it all' relationship for the Dischidia with the host tree and the ants.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pantai Remis Selangor

Pantai Remis in Selangor, is named after the siput remis (Donax sp.). And fair enough, there was a stall selling the siput remis. The beach is full of broken cockle shells, (perhaps it should be called Pantai Kerang then, lol) has off-white to yellow sand with black specks in it, and at low tide, you will see the low-tide mark where the sand gives way to mudflats. The is a line of rocks parallel to the beach about 1.5 meter from the low tide mark, so if you attempt to go swimming at high tide, be careful of those rocks.
View of Pantai Remis - this is looking southwards. It was at low tide and you can see the sand giving way to mud plus the line of rocks about 1.5m from the sand's edge.
The beach is littered with broken cockle shells. Perhaps it should have been called Pantai Kerang.

When we were there yesterday, I noticed water running out from the sand, possibly coming from under the ground of the beach and the secondary forest/plantation behind the beach. I also notice a man who had just finished digging for blood cockles and was washing his plastic trays with the water running off the beach.
He had just finished digging for cockles in the mudflats.

Getting there
Take the road from Klang heading towards Kapar/Kuala Selangor and then Kuala Selangor (this would be Jalan Kapar/Kuala Selangor). When you see the signs for Sungai Sembilang, you are near there. Look out for the turn-off sign (to your left) for Pantai Remis as it is not a large sign. After turning left at the sign, you go down the road (watch out for vehicles crossing the cross-roads) until you hit the beach and stalls. There you can park by the restaurants or turn left and continue driving off road on the beach to access the southern parts of the beach.

If you come from Kuala Selangor (from the north), you will pass the sign for Pantai Jeram (the large, brown signboard for places of interest in Malaysia); about two kilometers down the road from the Pantai Jeram signboard you will  come across the turn off for Pantai Remis (turn to your right).

What's there at Pantai Remis
On weekends, there are stalls selling local fruits like rambutans and mangosteens, kites for those who want to fly a kite along the beach, various clothing items, and of course seafood like clams and cockles, dried salted fish and various processed seafood products like fermented shrimp paste (belacan). Also available are a few Malay seafood restaurants (appears to open only late in the afternoon/evening) where you can have grilled cockles and clams and various other local seafood dishes.
Pantai Remis - looking northwards towards the stalls. The beach becomes very narrow and rocky on the northern section.

Among the shellfishes sold there were the blood cockles, locally known as kerang (Anadara granosa and A. inaequivalvis?), various types of softshell clams (lala), large hard shell clams (lokan - Polymesoda expansa/erosa?), the famous oriental angelwings (mentarang - Pholas orientalis), obtuse hornshell (belitung/balitung - Cerithidea obtusa) and siput remis (wedge/bean clam - Donax sp.), the namesake of the beach. Some people go there to enjoy the sunset on the Straits of Malacca or to engage in some fishing.

Here are some of the fresh shellfish sold at Pantai Remis
Pholas orientalis - Mentarang
The oriental angelwing (oriental piddock) can be found in tidal mudflats. Its juicy and sweet meat is highly regarded amongst the Malay communities, and this clam fetches good price in the market.
Mentarang, the oriental piddock (Pholas orientalis).

Anadara granosa/Anadara inaequivalvis - Blood cockle/Ark clam
This is a local favourite - grilled over a fire and eaten with soy or chilli dip. They are also used in fried koay teow and in curry laksa. The 'clean' one is Anadara granosa whilst the 'hairy' ones (some have unequal shells) is most likely Anadara inaequivalvis.
One of the stall selling (from left to right): Pholas orientalis, Donax sp., Anadara granosa, possibly Anadara inaequivalvis. It took some time for the lady pointing at the clams to realise that the Donax were squirting water out of their siphons (see video below).
Hairy blood cockles. Some of the smaller ones have unequal shells (one half closes under the other) - Anadara inaequivalvis?

Polymesoda expansa/erosa - Lokan
Large hard shelled clam. Never quite liked it, for I find it less sweet than Paphia or Donax. Plus if you by them by weight, you are paying for the weight of the shells.
From left to right: Unidentified soft clams, lokan (Polymesoda expansa or P. erosa), hairy cockles (A. inaequivalvis?) and the common blood cockles (A. granosa).

Donax faba/Donax cuneatus - Siput remis
The bean clam is very sweet and can be eaten by stir-frying with a little ginger and soy sauce. They are usually found on clean sandy beaches. These clams are best depurated before eating or you might get fine sand in your food. Some people prefer the larger remis emas (possibly Donax cuneatus). Here's a good site to look at the shells of Donax.

By the way, look at the video below of clams being sold at the stall squirting away water from their siphons.

video

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Glimpse of 18th Shah Alam Orchid Festival (Festival Anggerik Shah Alam ke-18)

Hmmm, two orchid post in a day...this must be some subtle message from the universe hinting that I should grow more orchids.

Anyway back to the topic of the post - the 18th Shah Alam Orchid Festival is an orchid competition cum show cum sales event at the SACC Mall in Shah Alam, Selangor. This event is scheduled from the 9th Dec to the 11th Dec 2011. I went by there today (8th Dec) at 4pm and saw that the stalls selling orchids were already up and going, and naturally the judging for the plants entered for the competition was complete. So here's some 'preview' pics.
The competition plants at the SACC Mall Atrium.
Some of the Phalaenopsis hybrids on sale at the South entrance of SACC Mall.
Vanda Blue Boy.
Phalaenopsis bellina.

I counted only 3 orchid nursery (Lum Chin, Far East and another one) at the exhibition area. When I walked past the Far East Agriculture stall, I immediately spotted their Neofinetia falcata sample plant and I couldn't resist the temptation, thus ended up buying a Neofinetia falcata mounted on the slab. A large number of plants were already reserved by people. Looks like a lot of orchid lovers are also very kiasu (afraid of losing out). It pays to go to these shows a day early (even more kiasu attitude :-p).
The Neofinetia falcata that I bought at the orchid show.

So for those who are free over the weekend and love orchids, do go and have a peek at the orchids there. A word of caution, you might get bitten by the orchid bug.

Update: Below are some other pics taken at the festival (I am slow at going through them)
Ascocenda Fuchs Spotted Cat.
An old time favourite - Aranda Noorah Alsagoff 'Blue'.
This cross (Vanda lamellata x Ascocentrum miniatum) is a reciprocal cross of Ascocenda Chryse registered by Dr. C. P. Sideris ( U.S.A. ) 1951 using Ascocentrum miniatum x Vanda lamellata.
Cymbidium Sarah Jean 'Ice Cascade'.
Rhyncattleanthe Orange Nuggett (syn. Blc. Orange Nuggett). The plant was labeled as Cattleya Orange Nugget. Tsk, tsk, tsk...Malaysians are bad in keeping the names right for orchids.
The tag reads Renantanda Agnes Cheok.

If you are looking for the 2012 Shah Alam Orchid Festival (FASA 19), please click here.

Renanthera elongata - Tree on Fire

Renanthera elongata (Blume) Lindl. syn. Aerides elongata Blume, Gastrochilus reflexus (Lindl.) Kuntze, Porphyrodesme elongata (Blume) Garay, Renanthera micrantha Blume, Saccolabium reflexum Lindl. is an adorable small flowered orchid that can be found in Malaysia. This climbing monopodial orchid bears small but numerous and closely spaced flowers on a branching inflorescence. The base colour of both the petals and sepals is reddish orange with dark reddish purple blotches. The stalk of inflorescence is yellowish orange in colour with dark reddish-brown blotches. The stems and the leaf sheath have purple blotches as well. Plants are frequently found from lowlands up to 1000m elevation, near swampy grounds or in riparian area. Plants found climbing trees will grow up and then out of the plant canopy, where it would burst into bloom in the full sun. This growth habit, coupled with the profuse blooms that are reddish in colour lead to this orchid being nicknamed ‘tree on fire’.
Renanthera elongata

This plant depicted here had fallen off its ‘perch’ after a strong storm at a water treatment plant in the Klang Valley. The tree that it was growing on was one of those ‘Christmas trees’ commonly planted in Malaysia. As it was lying on the road, I took it back. Luckily I had not run over it with my car as it was getting dark and the road was not lit. It was quite a long stem (about 3 meters) but the bottom section had been run over by a vehicle.
Close-up shot of Renanthera elongata.

As with growing any climbing/scrambling Vandaceous orchids, the plant will only flower if the stem is free from any support or hindrances i.e. it is free hanging or out in the open. So never stake a climbing orchid with a 6 foot stake or else you will need to wait until it clears the top before it flowers. Likewise never grow them by a tall wall; else you will have to wait until it clears the wall before it will flower. Renanthera elongata likes high humidity and the leathery leaves will start to crinkle if it is too dry.
The dainty little blooms of Renanthera elongata.

Since I moved to an apartment unit, I gave it to a friend who stays in another block and had the orchid attached to his ‘Christmas tree’ in a pot.


Monday, December 5, 2011

The Almost Perfect Malaysian Storm

We were hit by a strange storm yesterday (4 Dec 2011) around 5.30pm. It was very windy and the clouds were thick, dark and looked ominous (I could almost hear Dies Irae from Mozart's Requiem being played in the background). However, we did not get much rain at our place as the winds very quickly blew the clouds away. The strong winds however, did ripped off a few pieces of metal roofing sheets from the workshops and old houses around the area.
Black clouds rolling in rolling past the city.
The strong winds blew it away...Not so lucky for those people where the clouds were headed to.

Apparently there were many places in KL where the strong winds toppled trees, ripped off roofing and signboards (read the Star: Freak Thunderstorm, plus Malaysians urged to brace for the worst, and also at Cari forum). This storm which caused flooding in some parts of KL/Selangor and resulted in massive traffic jams that lasted up to 9pm was described by some as a "mini hurricane"!


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Rain or Shine

The sudden storms hitting Klang Valley had caused flash floods in Kajang on Friday (02 Dec 2011) and also brought the traffic in KL to a standstill. If you make a search in Google for Kajang floods and youtube and you will see many clips being put up on the situation on Friday afternoon, including one where a woman was rescued from the top of a van. So whilst the rain is the talk of the town, let me post some pics of the showers that occurred yesterday (Saturday 03 Dec 2011).
At 6pm, the clouds were not that thick and sunlight from the setting sun peeked through the clouds.

Then the clouds started to roll in silently, and the heavens just opened up. I could see plastic bags being tossed about in the wind, doing acrobatic somersaults in the rain. After a while, thunder and lightning were going off all around the place.
The dark clouds came creeping in.
And the heavens opened up. The rain started from the right hand side of the picture.
Sunset in the rain. The vertical 'blurry' lines are rain falling down in sheets!
Everything turned 'white' and fuzzy with the heavy downpour. Around this time, lightning and thunder were going off all around KL.
Visibility was cut down by the rain. The houses and the western city skyline had disappeared under the blanket of rain.

About an hour after the rain had started, it thinned down  before stopping, revealing a beautiful city skyline with the twilight painting colours in the evening sky.
By 7.30pm, the rain had cleared and we get a beautiful twilight and the city lights again!