Five-Spice Beancurd Skin – Best Ever Tau Kee

Thursday, 29 July 2010

'Go for it! It's free!' the HR manager said.

The word 'free' reverberated through my head. If I were a cartoon figure, my eyes would have popped out. The HR manager was giving me the ultimatum for the medical check-up under company expense: use it or lose it, by year-end. So I used it, the first ever medical exam in my life.

I did the check-up towards the end of the year, when I was home for the festive season whilst working overseas. Inbetween the endless rounds of eating, drinking and shopping, I managed to find time to see my doctor. The various tests took half a day or so, and I just gritted my teeth and went through all of them. Except the one which involved the doctor wearing gloves. Eww! No, thank you!

On Christmas eve, I woke up just before noon – exhausted from the eating, drinking, shopping plus jet lag – to find five missed calls from my doctor. I called the clinic and caught the doctor's assistant just before she went home for Christmas. 'There are shadows in your lung x-rays!' She sounded panic-stricken, which I thought was quite strange. Wasn't she used to delivering bad news since she was working in a clinic? Please don't scare me!

When I saw my doctor after Christmas, she calmly but gravely told me I had to consult a specialist. So I trotted off to the specialist she picked, who sent me trotting off to do a CT-scan. With the scan in hand on New Year's Eve, he said, 'You have only one kidney.'

Huh? What? I wasn't expecting anything wrong with my kidneys! 'What do you mean I have only one kidney? Where's the other one? You mean it's shrunken?' Obviously, 'one kidney' meant one kidney rather than one normal plus one shrunken kidney but I was, you know, in a state of shock, jet lagged and hung over from Christmas.

The doctor confirmed that 'one' meant one, then moved on to the more important stuff. The kidney I was born without was just a by-the-way digression. What worried him were the lungs, which had three possible diagnoses: sarcoidosis, tuberculosis, and lymphoma.

He explained that sarcoidosis, an infection of the lungs which usually had no symptoms and required no treatment, was unlikely because it mostly affected darker skinned people like Indians and Africans. He also ruled out tuberculosis.

I felt like someone had just kicked me in the stomach. 'How do you know it's not TB?' I asked after taking a deep breath.

'Experience. It doesn't look like TB,' said the expert in cardiothoracic stuff, who was also an associate professor. Of the three lovely possibilities, he reckoned I had lymphoma, cancer of the lymph nodes.

Lymphoma – gulp! Wasn't that what Lee Hsien Loong had? CANCER?! Oh sh¡t! Sh¡t!! Sh¡t!!!

The next step was to confirm the diagnosis with a biopsy. So I trotted off to the appointments counter, which told me the first working day in the new year was available. Wow, 2 January! The whole thing was hurtling along way too fast! Between Christmas and New Year, I saw my GP, did a CT scan, got the results, consulted a specialist, who said he was damn sure I had cancer . . . . Followed by a biopsy on 2 January, the eve of my birthday? Do I really want to do a biopsy the day before my birthday? Well, it was either that, my birthday or 7 January.

'Ok, I'll take 2 January.' I wanted to know, asap. It was good I took the first date available because after I walked out of the hospital, my entire world ground to a halt. I was in a daze whilst I waited for the surgeon's knife. I went to all the year-end get-togethers but they were meaningless. It would have been easier if I had told everyone I was having a biopsy after the holidays but I didn't want to spoil the party mood.

On 2 January, I checked into the hospital for my first ever surgery, all by my little self. Just before I passed out in the operating theatre, the surgeon popped round and said, 'Happy New Year!' Great sense of humour, eh? What could be happier than starting the new year with an operation? And if anything happened to me on the operating table, at least I was in the hands of a surgeon who was funny!

After the surgery, I was crying as I came out of the anaesthesia. It was a funny feeling, crying before I was fully conscious. I didn't even know that was possible. I guess I was more scared than I was willing to admit. The rest of the day was spent resting, begging the nurse for a cream cracker, and rehearsing how I was going to drop the bombshell on everyone. I fell asleep that night practising 'I have cancer/lymphoma!' in various tones, from downcast to upbeat, matter-of-fact, businesslike and various combinations of these possibilities. I thought 50% upbeat, 40% matter-of-fact and 10% downcast was a good, realistic balance.

The morning after – D-day! I got up bright and early to wait for the doctor, who came around half past seven. As he flipped through some papers which presumably contained the biopsy results, I almost stopped breathing. Out of the three possible diagnoses, he said, I had – drumroll please! – sarcoidosis! Phew! I was gunning for the consolation prize, TB, but I got the jackpot instead! I wish it was more dramatic but that was it. After all the hand wringing, it was over in two seconds. I didn't have cancer. I had an infection in the lungs which, if I hadn't gone for a medical check-up because it was free, would have been undetected.

Needless to say, after the emotional 10-day roller-coaster ride, I had the mother of all birthday celebrations. After that, I went on a massive shopping spree and maxed out two credit cards, the first and only time ever. I had a great time looking for necklaces to cover the surgery scar between my collar bones. I still have the necklaces but the scar is barely visible now, even when I look for it.

A couple of years after the cancer fiasco, I asked the specialist for a medical report because I was buying medical insurance. He sent me something that roughly said, 'Blah blah blah sarcoidosis was suspected, and confirmed after a biopsy.' What the hell! There was no mention at all of lymphoma, and the torment he had put me through! I know the details were irrelevant for the purpose of the report but still!

And where did the dish of beancurd skin or tau kee come in? That was what the hospital served for lunch while I waited for the check-out. It was the best meal in my whole life, bar none!

One last thing: Mom, Dad, if you're somehow reading this from up there (or down there, whatever the case might be) . . . .

YOU LEFT OUT ONE KIDNEY! HOW COULD YOU?!

Fried Anchovies and Peanuts

Sunday, 23 August 2009

PhotoFried anchovies and peanuts is great with rice. In nasi lemak, for instance, it's one of the standard side dishes. For me, I find it a bit dry with rice. I like to eat it with Teochew porridge but mostly I eat it as it is as a savory snack.

You know how too much chocolate leaves a sweet aftertaste in your mouth and you long for something salty? That's a little craving I have not infrequently, especially in the afternoon after my Kit Kat break.

Being a well organized person who doesn't like to panic when confronted with such a culinary emergency, I like to keep a ready supply of the antidote in the fridge.

The key component of the antidote for sugar is, of course, salt, of which dried anchovies have plenty. So, I make a good size amount of fried anchovies, more rather than less because I want to make the most out of the oil I'm going to throw away.

PhotoFried peanuts make a classic combination with fried anchovies. The additional calories from the nuts doesn't spoil my diet since there isn't one. It flies out the window every time I set my eyes on chocolate.

The dosage for the sugar antidote is two tablespoons immediately after sugar consumption. Unfortunately, the antidote is addictive and more often than not, I eat a whole plateful.

You know how too much salt leaves you craving for something sweet? Back to Kit Kat . . . . Oh dear, I think I need help.

FRIED ANCHOVIES AND PEANUTS
(For 4 persons)

50 g dried anchovies (ikan bilis), without bones and heads
50 g dried, raw peanuts
150 ml vegetable oil
a pinch of salt (optional)

Wash and drain anchovies twice to remove excess salt. Squeeze and pat dry with paper towels. Heat oil in a pan till smoking and add anchovies. Fry, stirring occasionally, till almost golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Reduce heat to low. Let oil cool down slightly. Put one peanut in the oil to check that it's not too hot. Oil should not bubble on contact with raw peanut. Add all peanuts to oil when temperature is right. Stir to distribute heat evenly. Pick a peanut without skin and watch it. When it changes color slightly, turn off heat and quickly remove peanuts with a slotted spoon. Drain on paper towels and – if you think the anchovies aren't salty enough – toss peanuts with a pinch of salt. Combine fried anchovies and fried peanuts. Eat with rice, chocolate or beer. Have I ever eaten all of these together in one go? I'm not telling you.

Sam Leong's Batter

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

It was about two years ago when Sam Leong, celebrity chef and kitchen honcho of the Tung Lok group of restaurants, showed off his batter recipe on a local TV program. I got round to testing the recipe recently – better late than never, right? – and I must say it worked very well. I made a pile of fried onion rings for a group of professional judges – my 11 nieces and nephews – who showed universal approval by polishing off everything in five minutes. They even ate the bits of batter that had broken off. That’s gotta mean they really liked it!