Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Put Away the Aji-No-Moto

Before Aji-No-Moto, the dishes still tasted great and a lot of it is due to the freshness of the ingredients and also the herbs and natural seasonings used.  At the farm and at home, we use the various herbs grown at the farm.  All these herbs have all kinds of well-being benefits without thinking of them as health food but as mere tasty seasonings.  Often at the market, I am asked how do you use them as seasoning so here is a summary of how I have used them:
  1. Kemangi or Lemon Basil
    With the natural lemony aroma and taste, I have used this in:
    •  the creation of salad dressings such as chopped kemangi leaves with olive oil, salt and pepper and if you want a zing to it, add some chopped chillies,
    • coconut-based gravy dishes (masak lemak) that includes seafood and/or fish - just add a few leaves
    • chopped and mixed with olive oil and added to pasta
    • seasoning for a marinate for chicken (baked or fried) and for fish and crustaceans - you can either blend it or pound it with a mortar and pestle with other ingredients
  2. Holy Basil or Ruku / Selasih Hitam
    It has a creamy taste with a touch of aniseed.  Some ways are:
    • chicken marinate prepared similar to kemangi leaves
    • in savoury dishes such as Asam Pedas on its own or in combination with Kemangi leaves
    • chopped and mixed with olive oil and added to pasta
  3. Lemon grass or Serai
    With its slightly spicy lemony taste, it complements many dishes and also as a refreshing drink:
    • Condiment/seasoning to many savoury dishes such as Asam Pedas, and coconut-based gravy dishes.
    • In combination with other ingredients to create a marinate for fish, seafood or chicken
    • Seasoning for steaming or boiling seafood such as cockles, clams, shrimps, crabs, etc.
  4. Ginger Torch Flower or Bunga Kantan
    • Definitely an important ingredient for Asam Pedas and Laksa
    • Condiment for Nasi Kerabu
    • Chopped and added to olive oil with salt and pepper for a salad dressing
  5. Selasih Putih
    With its slightly creamy taste with a twist, it has a subtle taste.  As such, I think that it can be used in many ways but I have only tried it as:
    • an ingredient as a marinate for chicken and beef
    • a seasoning in coconut-based gravy dishes
  6. Curry leaves or Daun Kari
    • An important ingredient in making curries to give it that extra tastiness
    • As a seasoning in creating a spicy fried chicken or ayam goreng berempah.
    • The young leaves can be chopped and added to olive oil oil for a "spicy" salad dressing
  7. Suren leaves or Daun Surian
    • As a seasoning for coconut-based gravy dishes that uses young jackfruit, bamboo shoots or young bananas
    • As a condiment to reduce the bitterness of dishes that use papaya shoots and flowers
  8. Tumeric or Kunyit
    • The tumeric leaves is used as a seasoning in spicy dishes of chicken and beef such as rendang
    • Chopped tumeric leaves along with the fresh pounded tumeric root as a marinate for chicken or beef
    • Fresh tumeric root pounded and used in coconut-based gravy vegetable or meat based dishes to create a masak lemak kuning.
  9. Ginger or Halia
    • Used as a seasoning in many coconut-based gravy dishes of seafood, chicken or beef
    • As a seasoning in soups
    • Pounded or blended with other herbs to create a marinate for chicken, beef and seafood
    • As a seasoning in rice prorridge
  10. Galangal or Lengkuas
    • Used as a seasoning in making rendang
    • Pounded and added to other herbs to create a marinate for chicken and beef
    • Used as a seasoning in coconut-based gravy dishes featuring chicken or beef
  11. Coriander or Ketumbar
    This highly fragrant leave gives the extra "oomph"
    • Chopped leaves with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper for a light salad dressing
    • Chopped and used or its own or added to other herbs with salt to create a marinate for meats like chicken and beef which can then be fried or grilled
    • As a seasoning for rice porridge.
    • As a seasoning for soup dishes.
What I have listed are some suggestions.  You can be as creative as you like once you get to know them, the options are endless.  My adventure is just beginning and I hope to uncover others to add to my recipes list.

Life as a Farmer

There was once a time when I was at the top level in corporate world.  There was once a time when my time was just filled with work commitments.  There was once a time when I was jet-setting all over the place.  There was once a time when I was making the big bucks.  Now I am a simple farmer producing food without the use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers or herbicides.  And guess what, I am happy :).
All my previous experiences have been useful in my current vocation.  To debunk some myths, farming today is not for the faint-hearted, illiterate, no-other option person.  It requires you to have lots of "professional" skills.  Among them are planning, time management, project management, budgeting, accounting, communications, personnel management and marketing.  Apart from that you need knowledge of Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Botany, Mathematics - to name a few.  so, if you think that anyone can do farming, think again.  I have great respect for the successful farmers that I know - they have an abundance of knowledge in a wide-array of areas and not having an MBA does not detract them from success, though quite a few do have MBA.  Surprised?  Don't be, this is the new breed of farmers.

At the top of the list, is commitment as there is no off-days in farming as you are dealing with life forms that need tending daily.  Management of the daily activities is prime or it will result in low yield or low quality produce.  Each item that you plan to produce can be seen as a project on its own with its own timeline, resource requirements, costs, sales and marketing tasks.  There is no such thing as letting nature take its course with minimal effort from the farmer.   

For example, take producing bananas as a project.  To have high quality and high yield, you cannot just plant the plant and let it grow on its own and wait for the plant to fruit - so when someone makes an ignorant statement
like "Bananas should be cheap, you just plant and wait for it to fruit.  You do not have to do much.", they should try it.  You need to maintain the plants, ensuring sufficient water and good quality soil with good nutrients.  Periodic maintanance of the plant, removing old leaves and checking the health of the plant, is a must.  You need to watch out for pests (human and animals) and also for sickness.  All this requires knowledge, resources and management.  A good yield per plant is around 15-20kg.  SHL produces and direct sell its bananas to preserve revenue and reduce money-drain.  What do I mean by money-drain - well if we sell to another party we get RM 1.00 per kg but if we sell direct, we get RM 3.00 per kg albeit there is the additional cost of sales.  However, the net result is better revenue for the farm.  By selling it ourselves, it also gives us the control over the quality of the produce - we practice JIT - just in time - so the bananas are harvested and sold at its prime.

Producing vegetables is also another big continuous project.  Going natural introduces added challenges.  The easy way would be to just use chemical pesticides and herbicides and I can get rid of these pests easily and quickly and produce beautiful-looking vegetable with a lot less effort.  However, in line with my principle that I only sell what I want to eat, this is not an option. This project lends itself to research of alternative ways of keeping pests to a minumum whilst providing necessary nutrients for quality vegetable growth.  While it may be more time-consuming, it is worth the result - fresh, tasty, nutritious vegetables without traces of harmful chemicals.  Some may argue that it is only a trace so what is the big deal.  To this I say, the choice is yours.  There are so many things that takes years of consumption before the effect is seen so I leave it to you.

Time management and prioritization is important.  The big benefit now is that my family is first and I arrange what I need to do around my family and my needs and not the corporate agenda.  It is all about scheduling what I
need to get done at the farm against my priority.  Having good staff is also important so that we can work as a team together, living a life and not living for work.  With all the chores at the farm, I do not need to find a gym - I can get my cardio, weight and strength training as well overall workout at the farm without thinking of it as task I need to do but incorporated into my lifestyle.  I also do not worry about retirement as it is my farm and I can continue to be active and have quality of life without having to think what I want to do after retirement if I was still in the corporate world.  There is stress because of standards that I place on myself and due to unexpected issues arising but it can be managed.

So, the next time that you look down on a farmer, realize that this person has probably the equivalent or more skills that you as an engineer, doctor or any of the other "professionals".  We, the farmers, who produce food for you should be treated with respect :)

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Water features at Suria Helang Lui

I love water, I love being close to water, I love hearing the sound of water.  With the wonderful, clean, water source, I try to maximize what I can do with it, both from food production, household water use and aesthetic landscaping.  The beauty of it all is since the water is from a continuous flowing water source, the water needs to continuously flow out or my pipes will burst so I have no guilt feelings of using the water in all these ways.  When necessary, all the plants are also watered from this same water inflow hence continuing the no chemicals concept on the food production.  My suggestion to those of you who are looking for a place for a retreat, always check the water source options.
At the farm, the water is used for household use including as a drinking water source.  For years now, I have been drinking it direct.  I feel no guilt in taking long, cool showers as the water has to continue to flow out.

One of the main farm activities is to produce tasty fish and the water plays an important role.  The water continuously flow in and out of the ponds, keeping the ponds clean and providing good quality water for the fish to grow and breed.  The pond itself was created based on an old stream which still has a pretty shallow water table.  This also serves as a flood prevention pond as this area has been known to flood albeit not very often.
I spend a substantial amount of time at the farm and I have a home there, my getaway from the busy, hectic Kuala Lumpur, and it is less than an hour
away.  To this end, I like to add features that would further provide for a peaceful and relaxing environment.  It took a couple of years but I finally have my landscape fish pond by the front entrance of the house with a mini waterfall as the water outlet.  There is a lot of river stones all over the property which as we work the land, we have "collected" and this pond features the use of these stones.  The sound of the water flowing into the fish pond is relaxing to hear and makes the area as a great place to have my breakfast, a wonderful way to start the day. 
Another water landscape feature is planned and this one is by the patio of my bedroom.  InsyAllah, this will be ready this year as will the house.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Curry tree (Pokok Kari)

No curry dish is complete without the addition of the leaves from the curry tree (Botanical name : Murraya koenegii ).  This tree is very easy to take care of and the growth can be controlled by frequent pruning.  The pruning also encourages it to form branches hence you can shape this tree.  In the late afternoon, as I walk by it, I always get a whiff of curry.
This tree can grow in sunny to partial shade areas.  Until recently, I didn't realize that it could produce beautiful white flowers.  The more mature the leaf is, the stronger the flavor of "curry" it has.
Whilst it is most often used as a "spice" for curry dishes, the young shoots are also eaten raw as ulam. 
Some of the therapeutic benefits reported are :
  • Helps to relieve the pain caused by kidney stones. They also cleanse the urinary tract, preventing bacterial infections.
  • The leaf has tonic properties. It can be mixed with honey or buttermilk to create an herbal drink to strengthen the digestive system. It can also help treat dysentery and diarrhea.
  • It can be applied externally on the skin as treatment for minor skin infections and eruptions.
  • The juice of curry leaves can be used as treatment for eye disorders and to prevent cataracts.
  • The root and bark of the curry plant have medicinal properties. In traditional medicine, the leaves are ground into powder and used to treat diabetes.
  • The fruit of the curry plant is also edible. It can be used for the effective relief and treatment of poisonous stings and bites.
As this tree is easy to grow and produces lots of leaves, you only need to plant one tree in your garden and with it leaves and white flowers, can be a beautiful and edible addition to your landscape.