Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Farm Recipes - Rastali Banana bread (Kek Pisang Rastali)

Pisang Rastali
Once the Rastali Banana is ripe, it gets soft after a few days.  So, since I had some ripe Rastali banana, I decided to experiment making banana bread that was easy to make and didn't take a long time nor use complex ingredients.  After all, I do not think cooking should be complicated, use as little time as possible (we all have busy schedules), easy to find ingredients and as nutritious as possible without having to think of it as a "Health Food".
With the abundance of bananas at the farm, I decided that I needed to come up with alternative ways of eating them other than raw or as banana fritters (pisang goreng).  Moreover, I wanted to test how this particular banana tastes when it is transformed to a bread - flavor, sweetness and moistness.
The beauty of Rastali is it has a natural sweetness to it so you can use less sugar.  Since the fruit was produced as naturally as possible, I decided to use ingredients that will add to the nutritional value and are as less processed as possible.
The bread turned out well, springy and soft and slightly moist giving it a light taste with a lovely banana flavour.  It takes about 30 minutes of preparation time, without using any electrical gadgets so you do not need to go out and buy a mixer or own a food processor.  The utensils that I needed were 1 mixing bowl, 1 large bowl (to mash the bananas), 1 whisk, 1 fork or masher (like those you use to make mash potatoes) and 1 spatula.

8 cups of mashed Rastali banana
6 cups of self-raising flour
2 cups of corn oil or olive oil
2 cups of brown sugar or raw sugar (trying to get the most out of sugar)
8 eggs
2 cups of milk - I prefer to use low fat milk
2 teaspoons of vanilla essence
2 teaspoons of cinnamon - preferably fresh grated.  I used Sabah cinnamon sticks.
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Using a whisk, mix the eggs, corn oil and sugar until it has blended well and slightly foamy on the top.  Add it to the mashed bananas.  Stir in the vanilla essence. cinnamon and salt.  Add milk to the mixture.  Fold in the flour and pour into 2 cake pans or 1 large pan.  Bake at 175F for 35-40 minutes or until the cake is done (I use a toothpick and stick it in bread.  If it comes out cleanly, it is done).

Next experiment, is Pengat Pisang Udang or the closest I can describe it in English, is a soupy banana pudding(?).

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

SHL Journal - The Corn and The Tapioca, The Beginning

Once upon a time, there was a land section of 30ft by 20ft, that was covered by healthy weeds.  Seeing as it was such a rich and fertile soil, it seemed a waste to have weeds enjoying its life.  Thus began the back-breaking job of removing the weeds manually, without weed-killers, and turning over the soil as well as adding more compost material to it.  After 3 days of sweat, and 1 day of heavy rain, the ground was ready to welcome the tapioca (Cassava) stem cuttings.  Rows of 6-inch-depth holes, two feet apart were dug, preparing the new home for the tapioca stems.
It is important to know which way to lay the stems or else it will not grow properly as to my knowledge, the tapioca tubers can only grow in soil and not come out like fruits.  Each stem is place, right side up with its "eyes" facing upward, and at an angle and lightly covered with soil and left to begin its new life.
Tapioca shoots
For good quality tapioca, rich soil with good drainage and sufficient water is a necessity,  As the soil factor was covered, this meant that a sprinkler system needed to be implemented to supplement the natural, rain watering.  The source of water for this system is from the upstream source thus it is non-polluted water.  A few days later, lovely green shoots appear on the stems indicating that it has begun its new life cycle.  So now, these new babies are ready to be "more covered" with soil.  The roots have now started to grow but its hold in the soil is still week thus tilling the soil around it and topping the stem with more soil needs to be done carefully so as not to dislodge the roots.
Tapioca trees, 3 weeks after planting
About two weeks later, it has grown to about 1 ft tall and the weeds have started to make an appearance.  Once again, it is "cangkul" action time, turn over the soil, adding some organic fertilizer as well as compost to it.  Rows of tapioca trees were created and it appeared to me that this tapioca patch would be able to support some rows of corn.
It takes about 4-5 months before the tapioca roots can be harvested, making selecting corn to be planted in between it, as the best choice.  The corn should be ready for harvest within 3-4 months.  Just nice timing.  First harvest the corn, which would not disrupt the soil.  Then harvest the tapioca a month later, which will result in major soil disruption, but since the corn has been harvested, it doesn't matter.
Corn shoots
The ground was prepared for planting, once again being turned over, to remove the weeds.  Corn kernels, from my previous harvest, was sowed in about 1 inch of soil, between the rows of tapioca.  With lovely rain watering them on a daily basis, and the rich soil, 3 days later, they sprouted with the shoots appearing in verticl rolls above the ground.  Now the experiment of the Corn and the Tapioca is in full swing.  The next time that the soil will be worked on will be when the corn is about 6 inches tall. The soil water content will also need to be monitored to ensure that both varieties get the water is needs.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Farm Recipes - Lemon Basil (Kemangi) Pasta

More often than not, we have pasta Italian-style or "Malaysian-Italian" style with the addition of chilli or sometimes, spices.  With our tropical weather, I like a lighter version of pasta - without cream or butter.  There are many herbs and vegetables on the farm and I decided to try something different today so I experimented with this dish.  With the Kemangi, it gives the dish a slightly lemony flavour balancing the "heaviness" from the pasta and parmesan cheese.  I must say I really enjoyed it and if you are on a diet, watching your cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, and other stuff, try this (by the way, I am not the "measuring" kind of cook so bear with me):


  • Spaghetti, Fetuccine or Linguine pasta
  • 1 fresh, Terung Bulat (oval Aubergine)
  • 2-3 stems of fresh Kemangi (Lemon Basil)
  • 4-5 young leaves of fresh Daun Salam (Indian Bayleaf)
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • fine grated Parmesan cheese
  • chilli flakes (for those who like it a bit "hot")
Boil pasta to al dente and drain the water.  Dice aubergine, slice Kemangi and Daun Salam, chop or crush garlic.  In heated olive oil, toss garlic and aubergine until soft. Add pasta.  Turn off heat and add Kemangi and Daun Salam.  Toss them around and salt to taste.  Serve with Parmesan cheese.  Add chilli flakes if you wish.

Based on the ingredients, here's what you feed your body :

  1. From Kemangi, you get magnesium and beta-carotene - good for the heart, diabetes, stress
  2. From the garlic, natural antibiotic and good for the heart and those nasty bacteria
  3. From Daun Salam, good for diabetes, high blood pressure, reducing cholesterol
  4. From purple Terung Bulat, vitamin A, C, Calcium,etc. - good for the cholesterol, bones, etc.
  5. Pasta - carbohydrates to fuel your body
  6. Olive oil - you all know how great this oil is for you
Of course, to get the best nutrition value, get chemical-pesticide free produce.  If you try this recipe, let me know what you think and if you did variations, please share.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Suria Helang Lui - The Story Behind It

Nature's bounty
When I was growing up, I often heard stories at meal times, mainly from the older generation, of how one leaf or another is good for you and how it has been eaten for generations.  Most of these came from plants and trees that seem to grow easily in the Malaysian tropical weather, with its warm sun and plenty of rain.  Some grow in the forests and jungles bordering the villages, some grow in the area surrounding the houses, some by the streams and rivers and in marsh areas but the one common element it that they seem to require no care, just happily growing.  Through the years, with development and easy access to stores and supermarkets as well as the change in lifestyles, our diet has changed and some of the natural diet benefits have been reduced or lost.
With the commercialization of farms and push for "quantity production" and profits, how our food is produced has changed.  Chemical pesticides and fertilizers as well as polluted waters now are often used - all in the name of producing larger quantities faster and cheaper.  All these chemicals are introduced into our food, which even after cleaning or washing, would still remain within them, albeit in trace quantities.  After years of consumption, the amount of chemicals within our bodies would increase.  Our bodies become more "open" to illnesses and disease.  So, what do we do, we start spending more money to strengthen our bodies with vitamins and supplements and go in search of better quality food.  This is fine for those with bigger disposal income but what about those who don't.  Cheap food doesn't mean quality food but at times, for some people, there is no alternative.
Over-run by vegetation
It is from these thoughts within my head, that Suria Helang Lui was born, with a determination to go as natural as possible.  When I acquired the land, it was an overrun of weeds, shrubs and trees and lots of unknown creatures that had overtaken this over 50 years of abandoned paddy field.  Over time, the river and streams had also changed its flow including some additions and deletions of streams, with the last major change occurring in the early seventies after a major flood in the area.  It took me about one year to study the land, looking at the soil, the contour of the land, the vegetation in existence, the sunlight movement, rain pattern and several other factors, before I formulated my development plan.  In my estimation, it would take me about 5 years before it would reach what I would call "maintenance mode".  This land is rich in its bounty and my development principle was to maximize its features.
I received a lot of advice that the easiest and cheapest way was to bring in a crew with bulldozers and just bulldoze the land to clear it and then I can start building quickly.  This would only take a few days to do and then the land would be nice and clean for me to do whatever I wanted.  The flaw in this advise would be by razing the land, the beauty and natural contour would be lost as well as the top soil - one of the important elements for quality soil for agriculture.
On-off stream, depending on rain
On-off stream, now a fish pond
Not only that, nature had provided for a natural draining mechanism to this land via its "stream-like" pattern on the land.  This is also another important element as this area receives a lot of rain and the streams and rivers can overflow causing floods so why mess with the natural drainage pattern that had protected this land from  major floods.  My intention was to maximize this and turn it into my fish "pond" and start an aquaculture project thus achieving two objectives: flood protection as the fish pond would be my water overflow containment and producing another food source, fish.
Nature's beautiful gift
The method I used to develop this land is in a way, more manual.  I started by studying the land with many "walkabouts" on the land, using a machete (parang) to clear my pathway.  Then I started using a brush-cutter. I had help, sometimes, from good friends.  This enabled me to see the contour and flow of the land as well as identify what vegetation I wanted to retain and what I wanted removed.  It was a slow process but the benefits were great as I found many plants that I wanted to keep, some that are harder to find, some that were considered as weeds by other but were medicine or food source for me, and some that were just beautiful for landscape.  The additional benefit was that I got a good workout as a bonus while breathing in clean air with lots of oxygen and less pollutants.
I envision this land will become a beautiful farm with comfortable living quarters surrounded by Malaysian plants and trees that are not only beautiful but are a food or medicine source.  Of course, I foresee some farm animals like chickens and geese.  After all, no farm is complete without some animals.The planning for a house with features that take into account the purpose of the farm makes it a bit complex.  I have to plan for work areas for preparation of produce, storage areas for produce and equipment, disposal of biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste, water and power consumption, ease of access and of course, ease and comfort for my visitors.  All this would take time, effort and money so I had to prioritize.  As such, I use the "Leggo" building method, building in phases with "build-on" concept, starting with a bathroom/storage.  After all, there are limits to time, effort and most of all, money.  Thus the adventure continues........

Monday, 21 March 2011

Edible Landscape - Ruku (Holy Basil)

This shrub is also know as Selasih Hitam in Malay (Botanical name : Ocinum Tenuiflorum) and grows to about 1.5 m in height in sunny, good drainage and with regular watering.  It makes for a beautiful shrub in your garden and is propagated via seeds.
Unlike its cousin, Kemangi (Lemon Basil), the leaves and flowers have a licorice-like taste.  Traditionally, it has been used as a treatment for coughs and chest congestion.  It is purported to be used as a treatment for diabetes as it lowers the blood glucose level.  In Ayurveda, it is considered to be "the elixir of life" due to its extensive healing properties such as remedies for common colds, heaches, stomach disorfers, inflammation, heart disease and various forms of poisoning and malaria.  It is also often used in herbal cosmetics due to its anti-bacterial properties.

The leaves are are green which turn to purplish as it matures and it has tiny clusters of flowers at the end of the stem.  When the flowers matures and dries, it produces tiny seeds which is easily blown away by the breeze so on the farm, I let natural propagation to take place.  The stem is purple - color - which makes it an interesting plant to have in the landscape.  Frequent pruning keeps the shrub nice and healthy as the stems tend to dry out after the flower matures.

Similar to the other varieties of basil or Selasih in Malay, the leaves and flowers can be eaten raw.  It is also used as a condiment in savory dishes.  The leaves and flowers can also be dried to convert into a tea.  This herbal tea is prepared similar to other herbal teas and can be served hot, warm or cold.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Edible Landscape - Kemangi (Lemon Basil)

Kemangi leaves and flowers
Bed of Kemangi
On hot humid days, I love strolling through the beds of Kemangi ( Malay name) , enjoying the lemony fragrance exuded from the leaves of this plant.  I regard this plant as a Super Ulam as it has many health benefits including treatment for stress, asthma and diabetes.  Maybe, that is why I feel so relaxed after the stroll.  Both the leaves and the flowers are edible and has a slight citrus taste to them.
In Malay, some people call it Selasih but as there are various types of Selasih, the more precise name is Kemangi.  The English name is Lemon Basil and the botanical name is Ocimum x Citriodorum. 
Whenever I do my version of the nasi kerabu, I chop some of these leaves and flowers along with bunga kantan, serai, daun salam and ulam raja (all freshly picked at the farm) and the resulting taste is a pleasure to the taste buds and definitely healthy.
This herb also is a great addition to any spicy dish and it lends a citrus-like flavour to the dish.  It can also be added to any seafood that will be steamed such as bawal putih and siakap.
Bundles ready for market
This plant can be propagated from the stem cuttings or seeds.  At the farm, we use the seeds as I feel it results in a better quality shrub.  It grows to about 1m in height and best in bright sunlight with regular watering in rich, organic soil.  Weekly pruning encourages the plant to produce new shoots and flowers whilst providing for sufficient supply for my weekly Sunday morning market.  It takes approximately 2 months from planting before it is ready for harvesting.
The leaves and flowers can also be chopped and dried, preferably in hot, dry area without direct sunlight, to produce a flavourful herbal tea with as much of its health benefits preserved. This tea is brewed in a similar manner to other herbal teas, steeping the tea for about 5 minutes in very hot water.  With its rich taste, I prefer it without adding any sweeteners.
In view of how this herb is consumed, as with all my other produce, no toxic chemical pesticides are used.  Only organic fertilizer is used.
Kemangi is rich in magnesium and beta-carotene as well as flavonoids.  There are many other key minerals and elements that are beneficial to the human body including the heart.  So next time that you are at the markets and encounter this herb, try it and enjoy.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Well-Being Landscape - Senduduk

This plant is considered a weed by some but I think of them as an "outdoors first aid kit".  I have these plants in several locations on the farm so it is nearby should I need them.  It grows on the farm naturally and is known in Malay as Senduduk.

Senduduk Kampung Leaves
Senduduk Hutan Leaves
There are several varieties of this plant from the Melastomacaea family.  There are two kinds that grow on the farm, Senduduk Kampung (Melastoma Malabathricum) and Senduduk Hutan (I am still searching for the botanical name).  There are differences in them.  To start with, the leaves look similar but there are distinct differences.
 The senduduk hutan leaves have a more vivid green color with ridges along the edges as opposed to its"cousin", which has a darker green and less refined details on the leaves and smoother edge.

It works very well on cuts (which happen quite often) and on insect bites including leech (pacat).  The procedure for application to the affected area is always the same - takes 2-3 leaves, crush them using your fingers until it begins to produce a juice and rub the leaves on the affected area.  
As the farm was previously a paddy field, whenever after several days of rain, on and off, the pacat sometimes seem to appear out of nowhere.  So, when I am walking around the farm, going through some "weedy" areas, there are times when I get bitten by them.  My quick remedy is to take a couple of leaves of the Senduduk Hutan and crush them with my finger until the juice appears and rub it on the bite area.  In less than a minute, I find that the bleeding has stopped and where pacat bites are concerned, the itchiness that often follows after the bleeding has stopped does not occur.After a couple of days, I cannot find any traces of the bite anymore.
Working on the farm, getting cuts and nicks is a common occurence.  The leaves once again, come to the rescue and stops the bleeding.

Senduduk Kampung Flower
Senduduk Hutan Flower
On the farm, the senduduk kampung has purple flowers and senduduk hutan has white flowers.  Both varieties grow naturally on the farm.  I enjoy their beauty whenever I do my "walkabouts" on the farm, a beautiful color addition within all the greens.  The flowers only open in the daytime, at times it is almost as if it follows the time when it receives direct sunlight.
Traditionally, the leaves are used as a treatment for cuts and burns and the young shoots are sometimes eaten as ulam.  So while to some it may be considered a pest, careful growth control can eliminate this problem and yet you can have it available for its beneficial uses.
I have also discovered that the senduduk hutan leaves serves as a "agent" to remove the bitter taste from papaya shoots (pucuk betik) when they are boiled together.  Remove the senduduk hutan leaves and water that was used for the boiling and proceed to cook the papaya shoots anyway you please such as adding them into sayur lemak or doing a stir-fry with achovies and sambal.  Delicious!

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Edible Landscape - Banana Plants

Inflorescence on a 1m high Banana Plant 
Living in a tropical country, in my opinion, Malaysia has ideal conditions for growing bananas (known as pisang in Malay) and the varieties are endless.  The  banana plants also provide a nice, cool shade and is a great water absorber, especially with all the rain that we get here.  At the farm, there are over 400 plants and I especially like to have some around the perimeter of the house as it keeps the house cool.
Pisang Lemak Manis
I am still learning to differentiate the various types of plants before the fruits come out but still have a long way to go.  Among the types planted are Pisang Raja, Embun, Udang, Lemak Manis, Rastali, Berangan, Berangan Kampung, Awak, Abu, Abu Bunga, Telor, Kapas, Nangka and Emas.  I am still trying to locate Pisang Tanduk starter plant.  I am sure that there are other varieties in Malaysia and I am constantly on the lookout for those that I do not have.  My interest is only in local banana plants so Cavendish and those like it are not on my interest list neither are GMO varieties.  For my taste, "original" types are best in taste and flavour especially when you let them "ripen" on the plant itself.  As with my other trees and plants, natural-source fertlizers are what I use and chemical pesticides are a no-no.

There are two types of Pisang Awak, one with seeds and one without.  My personal preference is for those without seeds and I love banana fritters (pisang goreng) for this type of banana and it definitely cuts the enjoyment of this dish when you bite into a seed.  So, only seedless varieties are planted on the farm.  After all, if it is not good enough for me, then it is not good enough for my customers.
Pisang Awak Ripening nicely

The banana plant is really one of the plants whereby the whole plant serves one purpose or another.  Of course the fruit - bananas - have a high nutrition value.  The inflorescense (jantung) also known as the banana heart, can be eaten raw (as an ulam) or cooked in savoury dishes.  The leaves serves as a highly organic, recyclable food wrapper and this is where I can do my bit in preserving the environment - I use it to wrap my produce when I take it to market.  The pseudostem (batang pisang) can be cooked in curries, chopped and fed to my fishes, and as a soil improver by adding more organic content to my soil.  The base root serves as a propagation mechanism.  All in all, a remarkable plant.

Bananas as a food source can be eaten in so many ways:

  1. uncooked, it can be a "dessert", a great breakfast item on its own or added to cereal, or blended into a banana milk shake and of course, an important component in Banana Split sundae.
  2. in sweet dishes such as pancakes, desserts, breads and cakes
  3. in savoury dishes such as curries
  4. smoked and eaten as a snack
  5. sliced and dried and made into banana chips
Not all inflorescence (jantung pisang) taste good, in fact some are bitter.  I find that the tastiest ones are from Pisang Abu and we sell only these at the market.
Jantung Pisang Abu
Bananas are one of the popular produce at my Sunday morning market stall with Pisang Raja leading the pack.  I am never sure what variety I will have for sale from week to week as it really depends on which is ripe.  I find that letting the bananas ripen on the plant really produces a tasty banana and since I sell what I produce, I can wait till the best time before harvesting and taking to market.  This allows me to compete better against the other vendors.  Most Sundays, I am sold-out and on those that I am not, I am left with enough for my own consumption.  I do not take orders for bananas but sell on a first come first serve basis.  My adventure with bananas continues......

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Sunday Morning market at Sungai Penchala

Fresh vegetables
 Fresh herbs
One of my personal goals is to be able to contribute towards providing healthy, affordable food to the regular people.  So often, vegetables that are labelled as organic are priced out of affordable range for regular people.  As the production levels are only able to meet the once-a-week sales supply, I opted to do the Pasar Pagi at Sungai Penchala.  The produce for sale are what is produced at the farm and vegetables available from the surrounding area.  The decision to do the market once a week is due to philosophy of selling what is obtained fresh from source (i.e. the farm and surrounding area) that is chemical pesticide free.  Basically, what I would eat is what I will sell.
I enjoy selling at this market - it is almost a social event.  I have regular customers who often chide us if we are a bit late.  Mind you, late for them is if we arrive at 7.15am.  As it is a morning market, we usually arrive between 6.30-6.45 allowing us a few minutes to set up before being ready to sell.  This means that our day starts at 4 am, loading the items, driving from the farm to Sg. Penchala, which takes about 1 hour.  It is fun listening to their chit-chat, as they tend to exchange news and joke with each other while waiting for us to get ready or while selecting the produce they want.
Every once in a while, we get customers who insists that they should be sold produce at half-price on claims that everyone else is selling at that price.  With the maxim that the customer is always right, I take the line that maybe they are better buying at that place, of course said in a light banter.  Some opt to go and perform a circuit at the market and return to buy whilst they are others who complain that the other places don't have what we sell or have smaller "bundles" or are less fresh.  To the latter, sometimes I wish I can say, "Well, Duh!!!!".
I also once in while, get customers who are "arm-chair quarterbacks" who have tell us that they can do better.  These people, I tend to engage in conversation.  9 times out of 10, they have never done the practical and only the theory.  The 10th person is someone who works for a place that has unlimited resources such as a research institute or a government agency. What I do, I just smile :).  
Smiling faces of my customers at 7.33am
On the other side of the coin, I have some great customers who say things like "I love the freshness of your produce", "The bananas are the best-tasting that I have had", "I had never eaten that vegetable before but I got it from you last week, and it tastes good".  The best satisfaction is seeing people who come and buy week after week.
I learn a lot from these experiences - patience being the key - and take joy in the human interaction.  For all these, Alhamdulillah and SubhanAllah.

Edible Landscape - Bayam (Spinach)

Lovely vivid green leaves
One of my favourite leafy vegetable, the Bayam ( Spinach), provides for a nice backdrop of a green, leafy bush.  I avoid chemical pesticides like the plague for all my vegetables so the leaves tend to be less than perfect but I wouldn't trade it for the quality and taste that is produced by being as natural as possible, using organic fertilizer such as from my compost or "burnt" weeds.
By frequent harvesting, it can grow into a nice bush.  To propagate it, allow for the cluster of flowers to bloom and produce its seeds.  With daily watering, and planted in a nice sunny location, the plants will produce leaves in abundance.  When harvesting, cut with care to ensure that you encourage new shoots.
As these spinach are pesticide-free, I love to have them in salads.  There is a natural "sweetness" to it and it is the best way to get all the nutritional value of this vegetable.  My other favourite is just to quick stir-fry with garlic.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Well-Being Landscape - Serai Wangi

I love the aroma from Serai Wangi - the Malay name (English Name : Citronella Grass; Botanical Name : Cymbopogen Nardus). This plant serves many purposes including from being a condiment to used in the beauty industry to being a natural pesticide.  
This plant can be easily propagated from stalks - be sure to choose healthy stalks and plant 2-3 stalks together.  This plant can grow in almost any type of soil and is very hardy, tolerant of days of not watering.  It also does not require much fertilization.  Hence, if you want a plant that requires minimal care but yet serve as a mosquito repellent for your home, this plant is a great choice.  

At the farm, I plant it in many locations - around the pond to serve as a repellent for the memerang or river otters which loves to munch on my fish, around the house to serve as a mosquito repellent.  My farm cats also periodically will munch on them and to date, they have all remained healthy, alhamdulillah.  Another reason why I keep chemical pesticides and herbicides away from my farm.

It can grow to about 2 m and has a red stalk base as opposed to the Serai (Lemon Grass) which has a white or creamy stalk base.  The long leaves are also broader than Serai.  A healthy plant will produce flowers in long stalks.  At the farm, it took 3 months for the plants to mature and produce flowers. For ease of relocating the plant, you can also plant it in big planters, then you can move them around as you like.  To encourage the stalks to grow thicker, trim the leaves every 3 months or so.  You can harvest the stalks as needed with no visible impact to the plant.  It can grow in bright sunlight as well as in semi-shady locations.  

Since the edges of the leave are rather sharp, exercise care when handling or you may end-up with "paper cuts".  I have tried chopping the leaves and steaming them to release the aromatic properties and find that it also keeps the pesky insects away while leaving a nice aroma in the air.  In aromatherapy, it is said to promote relaxation.  

The whole stalk, leaf and all, can also be blended and strained producing a juice that you can then spray around the house to control ants and also used as a natural pest repellent for plants.  I find that it is really effective in controlling ants without the worry of whether it is toxic or not.  Within the home, it can also help to repel cockroaches as well as mice.  I have also taken warm baths with this juice mixed in the water.  The serai wangi is often used in the bath mixture for women post-pregnancy.

It is purported that the oil has antiseptic and anti-fungal so is often used in soaps and household disinfectants.  At the farm, I use the juice mixed with water to mop the tile floors around the house, leaving the floor clean with a nice aroma.  There is no need to "rinse" it off.  You can also just tie the leaves into a big knot and place it in your cupboards to help deter pests whilst having pleasant smell.

Being a totally organic farm, I often experiment for pest repellant or deterrent for my vegetables.  I find that it works well with the E.M. mixture that we produce on the farm, enhancing the mixture by adding the pest repellant properties without adding harmful toxins to the vegetables.  I have tried it two ways: one by adding citronella juice to the E.M. mixture before spraying and another by creating the E.M. mixture with citronella as the key component.  to date, it has worked well with all my plants without damaging the plants.  I also add this to my mulch mix, especially to the mulch that I place around newly transplanted plants to help keep the pests away.

With its many uses and being non-toxic, it is great to use around the farm as I do not have to worry if it will impact any of the life forms.  For normal home use, you only need to have one plant which can occupy a corner of you home  and you can process it to serve the purpose you have in mind  :).

Updated: 22 March 2015
Updates: 13 Sep. 2015

Eating Well - Fresh Water Fish

I am a firm believer that fish shouldn't be fed carcasses of goats, chicken innards and other animal wastes as this will affect both the quality and taste of the fish.  My previous experiences of tasting keli and other fresh water fish had left me with an unfavorable memories.  Upon doing some research on what was fed to the fish and the water condition, it was no wonder that I do not enjoy the taste.
I decided to embark on my own journey of breeding and growing fresh water fish based on similar principles that I apply to my agricultural activities - going as natural as possible.  Hence began my adventures in aquaculture.
Pumping water for flushing
To begin with, utilizing the natural contour of the land as a basis, I deepened and widened the dried-up streams, following its flow, thus creating fish ponds that look like a small river on the farm.  The pond bottoms are not cemented but have a high content of sand, which was uncovered during the excavation process.  With the constant feed of water from clean upstream stream, the water quality is good and does not emit a noxious smell that is often associated with stagnant ponds.  Every quarter, I would do a major flush, pumping water from Sg. Lui into the pond, in effect renewing the water.
I use fish pellets that do not have land animal content in them, supplementing it with vegetation such as tapioca shoots and keladi shoots, to feed the fish.  Alhamdulillah, with the source of the water being from a nice clean river, there are also lots of small fresh water shrimps which the fish also happily consume.  These shrimps have taken residence in the pond so they continue to breed in there providing an on-going source of natural food for the fishes.
I am happy that my guests for Aidil Fitri 2010 open house gave favorable reviews on the taste of the fish.  For now, I have not put the fish on the market as I would like to increase the population as well as letting them grow to a good size of about 800g to 1 kg per fish.

Edible Landscape - Serai (Lemon Grass)

This aromatic plant (English Name : Lemon Grass; Botanical Name : Cymbopogen Citratus) is easily grown and serves as a nice border plant and produces a pleasant lemony fragrance.  As such, every time I prepare the lemon grass for market, I will burn the discarded excess leaves and roots, and enjoy the aroma as well as keeping the bugs like mosquitoes, away.  With its thin, long leaves, and sharp edges, use care in handling them.  
It is often used as a cooking condiment in savoury dishes.  The leaves can also be dried to create tea which is prepared in similar manner to other herbal teas.  Sweeteners such as honey can also be added to the tea concoction and can be served hot, warm or cold.  It is tasty cold on hot, sunny days.
It is purported to have cleansing effect on the body, helping to remove toxins from our system and also has anti-cancer properties by inducing apoptosis (programmed cell death) of cancer cells by citrol, a molecule found in the stalks and leaves.  So, you can enjoy this drink but at the same time have some great health benefits.
Sliced, young Serai stalks makes a great addition to nasi kerabu and shrimp or calamari salad (kerabu).  This kerabu is very easy to make - lightly cooked shrimp, sliced young serai stalks, juice from limau nipis (key lime) or lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper - all tossed together.  For those of you who live a little "heat", add your choice of fresh chilies to this.
As the plant matures, new stalks grow from the initial stalk planted to create a bush of stalks of serai.  It is easily propagated from the whole stalk. As the stalk matures, the old leaves will dry out and should be removed to maintain a nice green "bush".  I find that this plant should be re-planted every six months in order to have nice, fat stalks otherwise it will tend to "rot of old age".
The serai is an easy plant to grow in direct sunlight and easy to propagate via its stalks.  It requires regular watering to ensure good quality serai stalks.  As the leave matures, it will turn brown and dry out.  To keep the plant healthy and good-looking, regular removal of the dead leaves should be done.

Edible Landscape - Ulam Raja

A refreshing herb that is often consumed raw, Ulam Raja, as it is called in Malay,  (Botanical Name : Cosmos Caudatus) has small, pink colored petals with a yellow center.  This herb is another one of the leaves that I regard as a "Super Ulam".

Ulam Raja leaves
 It grows easily in direct sunlight to a height of approximately 1m.  With insufficient water, it wilts easily.  It propagates via seeds from the mature flowers.  It loves to be well-watered and soil with high organic content.  This is an annual although it can be prolonged longer than a year but the quality of the leaves will reduce.

Beautiful Cosmos flower
Since it wilts easily, it is best kept with its stems in water after harvesting to maintain its freshness and to preserve its taste.  The leaves are rich in Calcium and Vitamin A as well as antioxidants.  Traditionally, it has been used as a "blood cleanser" as well as for strengthening the bones.

It propagates from the seeds from mature flowers, which are light as feather, hence the wind blows them around.  Not controlled, it can become a pest in your garden.
The beautiful flowers that are produced along with its distinctly-shaped leaves make it a beautiful addition to your garden or landscape, adding color and beauty while providing you with great nutrition.

It is always eaten raw to preserve as much as its nutrition with a taste similar to English Parsley and is often added to nasi kerabu or to salads.  It also tastes great when eaten with sambal bellman.  Vegetable juicers often like to add this leave due to its nutrition value.

Updated: March 21, 2015

Monday, 7 March 2011

Edible Landscape - Bunga Kantan

I have a fascination for the beauty of this edible flower with its striking pink color.  It is a great option to planting non-edible flowering plants, the Bunga Kantan (English Name : Ginger Torch, Botanical Name : Etlingera Elatior ) makes a great "border-covering" plant..   It also has a subtle fragrance to it which I find to be very pleasant.  I enjoy taking photographs of it, the contrast of pink against green,

It does well in a well-drained soil with plenty of water and takes about 1 year after planting before flowering.  This was one of the "original" plants at the farm and has sprouted in a few "groups".  I find that compost fertilizer works best to maintain good quality and size of the flowers.  The quality and size of the flower has a direct relation to the quality of soil and water it gets.  More flowers are produced during rainy season with good sun exposure.  The flowers grow on its own stalk to a height of 0.5 to 1.5m tall, from the ground in a singular fashion.
At the farm, the plants grow to about 3m in height hence can provide a good shade or be planted as a fencing border.  To maintain the beauty of the plant, regular clearing of the old leaves and unwanted creepers needs to be done.  The plant can be propagated via seeds from its mature flowers or from its rhizomes.

It is used in many Malaysian dishes as a condiment such as in laksa, masak pinang and nasi kerabu.  The flower can be eaten raw as a salad component or cooked.  The leaves and the flowers have antioxidant and antibacterial properties.
If you do not like the taste, it makes a beautiful cut-flower arrangement to grace your home.  It lasts about 1 week.  Traditionally, the leave and stems have been boiled and the resulting water used as a bathe to eliminate body odour.  

Edible Landscape - Lengkuas Kecil

One plant that I find produces beautiful orchid-like flowers with its long stem and multiple flowers on a stem is the Galangal (Malay name: Lengkuas Kecil; Botanical name: Alpinia Conchigera).  This plant belongs to the ginger plant family.  Locally, it is used both in culinary and in traditional therapy.  This is one of the first few herbal plants that I planted at the farm and I obtained the starter plant from Hj. Hassan Awang Din who lives in Jeniang, Kedah, one of my "teachers" in the traditional herbs arena.  The original source was from Gunung Jerai in Kedah.  At the farm, it grows to about 1.5m tall and grows well in both semi-shady and sunny locations.  The leaf is long measuring around 20cm and has a slightly waxy texture on the upper leaf surface.  As with most of the plants in the ginger family, it requires substantial water and well-drained soil, not soggy.

I find the whole plant adds a lot of aesthetic value to the landscape.  The flowers can also be used as cut flowers and placed in a vase for indoor display.  However, I prefer to leave it on the plant and enjoy its beauty as I walk around the farm.  Once the flower dries up, it produces a red fruit which is used in Chinese herbal medicine.  I started with one starter plant in in the course of 3 years, have managed to multiply it.  I propogated it from its rhizomes.  It took 6-8 months for the plant to start flowering and this is a good indicator of the presence of rhizomes that are ready to be harvested. 

In Malay traditional therapy, the rhizome  is one of the items used in creating a bath for women post-pregnancy.  The rhizome is also transformed into a paste and applied to the skin as a treatment for skin infections such as for eczema.  The rhizome is also boiled to produce a concoction to treat stomach ailments and in Malay traditional therapy, to treat "angin dalam badan".  In local culinary, the rhizome is used in cooking savoury dishes such as rendang, one of the herbs in creating a marinate for friend chicken and many other dishes.  To me, it has a taste of being slightly "gingery" with a touch of black pepper.

So, why not plant this along the borders of your garden and you can enjoy its beauty as well as get a great rhizome to spice your cooking.

Eating Well - Chicken Eggs

I am convinced that when we tinker with Mother Nature, there are consequences.  Take a simple item like chicken eggs.  If the hen layers have foreign elements injected into their life such as antibiotics, processed feed containing other than plant-based components, it is bound to end up in the chicken eggs.  The impact in humans may vary from person to person, depending on what we a susceptible to and knowledge on the impact is also very much a mystery.
With this in mind, I try to improve on my well-being with my own production of chicken eggs.  The eggs may not be as big as those available at supermarkets but to me, they are definitely healthier. At least I know what goes into the production of these eggs.
Since I am not able to eat the chicken that I raise, I only consume the eggs.  Somehow, I am unable to reconcile to slaughtering my own chickens, after all, I have named many of them.  At the farm, the average number of eggs produced per week is 22 but I hope with the new chicks born on the farm, the production can increase in the near future.

The chickens happily run around the farm ( or at least, that is what I assume), pecking at vegetation amd those insects and worms that seem to be tasty to them, hence my aversion and self-implemented ban to any chemical pesticide and weed killers usage on the farm except on the outer fence of the farm.  Hence, I have to resort to more creative ways to control pests and weeds.

Wonderful cool water

Water is key to Suria Helang Lui.  Clean, fresh and as natural as possible.  Part of the development and growth of the farm hinged on reliable supply of this precious natural resource.  Alhamdulillah, this place is blessed with this ability.  

In order to have access to water for human consumption, approximately 2 km of polypipe was laid, utlizing some physics priciples.  Approximately 1 km of the polypipe has 2" diameter with the last kilometre being 1". A "water-capture" area was created at the source. 

In order to ensure that the pipes do not burst due to the pressure, the overflow flows into the fish pond, thus creating a constant supply of natural water for the aquaculture activities.