Monday, September 15, 2014

Stumped....What Do You Know Of This Plant?

I hope you can help me. I am completely stumped.

My friend gave me a bunch of this and calls it spinach. It grows wild in her garden. She said she planted it after a lady in a vegetarian restaurant gave it to her. Apparently it is good for health.

So my friend gives this to me and tells me that it can be used like spinach.

I made a soup out of the leaves, boiling it with some ikan bilis.

It tasted lovely.

Now that problem is, I don't know what it is or what it's called.

Do leave a comment if you know what it is.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Jew Mallow...A Rediscovery of an Interesting Plant

I am a big fan of the Buddhist Tzu-Chi Merit Society in Penang.

I think they do a fantastic job of serving the community (especially helping underprivileged dialysis patients who can't afford to visit regular hospitals for dialysis treatments, the elderly and such).

In my taman, I love the fact that they're just around the corner with their recycling centre. I drop off my recyclables every week or so and I know that the money they get from selling paper, plastic and tins go toward funding the dialysis centres that they operate in Penang.

The only thing which I don't quite understand is that they recycle books. If you sent them a bunch of books, they would never sell the books as reading materials. They would tear the books up and sell the paper for recycling.

Once I volunteered with them in my taman. They asked me to sort out the different types of paper - among them were old but readable books. I saw a book that I wanted and I even asked if I could pay for the book. They told me it was strict policy that they cannot allow any donated recyclables be sold off. They had to tear up the books.

As a big book fan, I was aghast. I never tear books. I find it sacrilegious to do so! In fact I was quite disturbed about such a policy.

Anyway, that is the only pet peeve I have with these people. Generally they are staffed by volunteers so I don't know whom I could take this matter up with!

But beside this, I have always bought products from Tzu-Chi too. They have lots of interesting products for sale - books by Master Cheng Yen, edibles like vegan noodles, instant rice, powdered beverages, dried fruit snacks and usables like containers made with recycled plastic. They even have t-shirts and blankets made from recycled plastic. And unlike most Chinese products, their products are tasteful and elegant.

Would you believe that these 2 cute "toys" are made from recycled PET bottles? They transform into soft blankets! 

One of the products I used to buy were the beverages - they are suited for vegans and best of all, low on sugar. Nic and I used to visit the Tzu-Chi centre on Macalister Road and buy these for our parents.

This is the blanket made by Tzu Chi from PET bottles. Amazing, isn't it! 

Last week, I bought a packet of Jew's Mallow and Jobs' Tear powdered beverage for myself. I haven't drunk their beverages in a while now. I thought I'd be better off drinking this and supporting a charity (all funds go toward the society).

I know what Jobs' Tears are but I had to re-read up on Jew's Mallow. I think I stumbled on this drink at the right time. I feel that my hair is thinning - not sure if it is from dyeing my hair with henna (which I heard happens too!) or using the wrong shampoo or just not getting enough rest and exercise. I have been very busy (as you can see from the sporadic entries in this blog) and as the final quarter of the year descends, I am getting busier than usual!

So I was undoubtedly pleased when I realized Jew's Mallow is one outstanding plant/vegetable. Apparently it is a nourishing vegetable for skin and hair. It is also known by other names such as Egyptian spinach, bush okra, West African sorrech and jute mallow.

From this website, it is said that Jew's Mallow is a traditional vegetable grown in Taiwan. This plant is rich in calcium which means it is good for the development of health teeth and bones. It also contains iron and fibre.

I bought the beverage for RM24 (approx. 550gm) and it tastes great despite the greenish hue (the green hue comes from tea extract). It is not sweet at all - I can't  stand overly sweet beverages.

This other website notes that "the leaves are very nutritious, rich in iron, protein, calcium, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, and dietary fiber. But jute mallow is more than just a meal. Its fiber is strong and waterproof, making it perfect for making burlap sacks, furnishings and even clothing."

If you want to see how the leaves of Jew's Mallow look like (or what it is called all over South East Asia and what other uses it has), have a look at this page.

As for me, I'll just be happy to drink this Jew's Mallow beverage if it helps my hair!

Saturday, September 06, 2014

More on Mugwort Or What It Looks Like Close Up

Remember my last post on the herb I found while visiting Balik Pulau? Well, here's more about the herb!

(For more details, read this. Mugwort is terribly useful!)

A week ago, my neighbour gave me a plastic bag full of Ai Ye or Mugwort. Yes, the very same neighbour who saw me planting the Ai Ye herb in my garden.

The very same one who told me the herb grows wild and aplenty in her mom-in-law's garden in Gelugur (why is it that moms-in-law often grow this herb in their garden?)

So here's how the herb looks like. It may look like a lot but once you fry it up with eggs, it shrinks.

I just plucked off the leaves. The stems I stuck them into a pot and they seem to be growing. As my husband says, these are fast-growing weeds and they grow everywhere.

(Update: Maybe it's the weather but my Ai Ye leaves aren't growing as fast as it should be! I just plucked off some and fried them up with eggs only once but the plant is still growing too slowly for my liking. Maybe the plant knows I want to greedily eat it up!)

What I did was fry up the Ai Ye with some eggs and had them for dinner. Just beware that it helps you release gas!

And just this week, I saw Ai Ye sold in bunches in the Lip Sin market. RM1 for a bunch. I wanted to buy 2 bunches but my husband says he's not eating it so one bunch would do nicely for me! See how men absolutely detest this herb?

Ai Ye or Mugwort leaves 

Close up of the Mugwort 

I saved the tough stems - planted them in my garden. I never throw anything away if I can help it. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Finally I Found Ai Ye!

Ai Ye leaves or mugwort (artemisia vulgaris)

One of the herbs which I liked a lot is this herb - Artemisia Vulgaris. However I didn't know its name before this. I got to know this herb thanks to my mother-in-law. Whenever we visit her in Kuching, I'd go looking at her garden and she'd have these patch of plants in the garden. She used to call them "hnia" which I think is the name of the herb in Hokkien dialect. 

Now this "hnia" has a peculiar taste which is an acquired taste. You either like it or you hate it. My mom-in-law would pluck the young leaves of this plant and fry them up with egg,  in an omelette. She would serve this with the other dishes at lunch or dinner. The downside to this herb was that it made one release gas (a.k.a fart!). 

She said it was good for getting rid of "wind" and the herb was good for women. 

I always wanted to bring some of the herb home to plant in my own garden BUT my husband detested the herb. You see, when fried with egg, the herb had a minty, bitter taste. I don't know why I took to it but it tasted yummy to me. 

And each time, the husband conveniently forgot to pluck the herb for me!

I have always been curious about this herb and wondered if it only grew in Sarawak! Apparently the herb was used for women during their confinement (again for its "wind releasing" properties) but other than this I had no idea what it was called (except its Chinese name "hnia"). 

But here's the thing - I found it some 2 weeks ago when I went on an excursion with my friends to Balik Pulau. Balik Pulau in Penang is quite the rural area - it is a long drive from George Town and it used predominantly used for agriculture. In the recent years, development has come upon the sleepy town of Balik Pulau. And of course Balik Pulau is well known among Penangites and Malaysians for its delectable durians and nutmeg and the famous Penang laksa. 

We were at this friend's eco-tourism village called Hakka Lodge (yes she is Hakka and we were there to partake in the Hakka lunch on a blistering hot Saturday afternoon). She was showing us around the top of the hill where her lodge was located and we chanced upon this herb. She said it was called Ai Ye (in Mandarin) or "hnia". I was so excited I asked if I could pluck some before we left. Unfortunately after lunch and a quick bout of durians, I forgot! 

At the bottom of the hill, I was feeling regretful that I didn't manage to pluck some of the herb. God must have been listening as I then saw bunches of the herb near a small shack where an old wiry man and his wife (Hakka folks) were selling nutmeg and mangosteens. My friend and I asked him if he were selling the herb and he said no. We then asked if we could get the herb for ourselves. He pointed us to a weedy patch near his shack and told us to help ourselves! 

The herb was growing wild everywhere! 

When I got back, I plunged the herb into some water before transplanting them into some pots in my garden. Funnily though as I was planting them, my neighbour came around. She saw the herb and immediately asked if I liked the herb. She said that this herb was growing wild in her mother-in-law's garden! She loved eating the herb (fried with eggs) but her husband did not. So perhaps this acquired taste of the herb was something women enjoyed. 

I of course went online to google and find out more about Ai Ye and realized it's called Mugwort. (Wasn't there a character called Mugwort in the Harry Potter series?) 

Mugwort is definitely a herb for women.  It is a herb used for moxibustion treatments. 

It's not just an Asian herb either. 

According to Wikipedia, mugwort was used for protection during the European Middle Ages. It's also used to get rid of insects like moths. It's also used to prevent fatigue and protect travellers from evil spirits and wild animals. 

WedMD states that mugwort root can be taken to boost energy. Women use mugwort to regulate irregular periods and for menstrual problems. The herb can be used for stomach and intestinal problems such as colic, diarrhea, constipation, worm infestations, weak digestion. Mugwort is also a liver tonic. 

A friend also told me that when she was young, she knew of her grandmother using Ai Ye leaves to make a steamed green kuih, very much like an "ang koo" kuih. I have never seen this kuih but I believe her.

I am just ecstatic that I finally found this herb and have now planted them in my garden!

(A lot of stuff that grows can be considered either a weed or a herb, depending on how you look at it. If it is useful and you know what it can be used for, it is a herb. If you don't know what it is, it is then a weed! How funny life is. These days I try to identify the "weeds" in my garden because I know many are useful's just that I don't know what they are and think they're ugly weeds.) 

Look out for Part 2 where I show you more of this lovely herb!

Saturday, June 07, 2014

What I Love In HK

One of the best things I love about Hong Kong is their herbal drinks. There's a variety of them sold almost everywhere you go.

Am actually blogging this from our rented apartment in Jordan (thank God for the high speed wifi) so this is definitely a first for me - blogging on the go, that is.

I got a fever two days before I got on the plane to HK and I was so worried I would literally freak out in the plane for the 4 hours of flight. Thankfully Ho Yan Hor saved me and i actually was quite OK for travel except that my throat was sore.

It's my 2nd day in HK and I decided that I had to drink something to cool down my heaty body.

This brand of herbal drinks is easy to find at MTR stations across HK. At HK$24 it's not exactly cheap but it is great for people like me. 

This one is made of lotus leaf, winter melon and coix seeds and i had mine warm. It clears heat and relieves summer heat. 

All i want is to have my throat back to normal again so i can taste all the yummy food here in HK! 

Despite the sore throat I still managed to visit my uni mate whom I haven't seen for 16 years at the APC Mall in Kwun Tong today. We had some dessert from Honeymoon Dessert, apparently a super famous dessert chain in HK. I went for the papaya and white fungus dessert hoping that i could cool my body down. 

And after that off I went to the largest Taoist temple in HK - Wong Tai Sin. It was supposed to be unbearably warm in HK now but today the weather was kind. It rained just before so the temple jaunt was pleasant and cool. 

Wong Tai Sin is famous for granting wishes and many people visit this temple for this reason. The other attraction is the rows of fortune tellers who will tell your fortune for a fee. 

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Wishing For Cooking Utensils....A True Story

I have been missing in action for sometime. I actually have a bunch of drafts waiting to be edited and posted up but things have gotten super busy plus I have had a nice little TCM adventure two weeks ago.

It involved an Australian artist, Little India, a young TCM herbalist who is a woman no less (and one who speaks English) and a 200+ year old legacy from Penang's oldest medical halls (started in 1796!). But that is one story that must be told properly - not in some sloppy way so I shall have to keep you in suspense just a little longer. ;-)

Anyway, I have not abandoned this blog. In fact, I missed making soups.

Now that I have a slow cooker given to me by a Canadian friend who was leaving Penang for Newfoundland, I have found soup-making to be lots easier!

I no longer have to watch the stove like an eagle (and worried that the wind from the kitchen window will blow out my stove flames). I no longer have to be at home when I am making soup.

All I need to do is rinse the herbs, blanch the pork bones and boil some water in the electric jug kettle. Put all 3 ingredients into the slow cooker, switch it onto AUTO and let it simmer merrily for the next 4 - 5 hours. When the time is up, add salt to taste. Let the soup "rest" and switch off the slow cooker.

What I have found is that soup made in the slow cooker retains a lot of flavour. The soup is tastier and has more depth, perhaps because it does not lose water due to all that simmering over the direct heat.

I was wanting to buy a slow cooker for the longest time but I never really got around to buying one. Maybe I was too lazy to make a decision. The supermarket is full of crazy choices!

And then this Canadian friend told me she was packing up and going home to Canada and she had a slow cooker for sale. It was only RM40 and I jumped at the chance to buy it from her. In the end, she gifted it to me!

And so each time I make soup in the slow cooker, I remember Tyra! The slow cooker is now cooking Chinese soups as opposed to Western stews and such. It has been given a second lease on life.

Funnily I had wished for a slow cooker and it came to me. So never discount the power of wishing for something good that you like. I have had lots of stuff come to me this way, believe it or not. It sounds a bit wooowooo and New Age but in my case, it brought me lots of stuff that I wanted.

Recently I was telling some friends that I wanted a double-sided pan - the HappyCall pan came to mind. I was hemming and hawing at the mall because I didn't really know if I would use it.

Then Nic says we'd buy it once the HappyCall was on sale. My husband always prefers the real deal to copycats - there was one such pan on Groupon but Nic hates Groupon you see so buying it on Groupon was out of the question. That meant eyeing it at the mall but even so, I wasn't exactly sure I would use it.

And then, a few weeks after that, a friend won a double-sided pan in a lucky draw and she gave the pan to me! She says she had a Thermomix and that was all she needed to cook.

So there you have it. Wish hard enough and the right cooking utensil comes into your kitchen.

This isn't much of a soup post but just to get you up to speed that I am happy, albeit too damn busy but I will be right back with regular programming.

Until then, you tell me - what's your favourite kitchen tool or utensil? And it doesn't even have to be soup-related. I couldn't live without my Faber slow cooker, Philips juicer and Lebenstill bread machine. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Bing Han Ginseng Powder

If you read this blog long enough, you know I love convenience. Maybe because I am lazy. I like to think that I like shortcuts to health.

Anyway, for the past 4 months I have been taking this product that I feel has been doing me good, despite its hefty price tag. 

But first, a little introduction is in order. 

It's a product from Taiwan called Bing Han Refined Ginseng Powder and it's made from panax ginseng. 
bing han ginseng powder from taiwan
Bing Han Ginseng Powder from Taiwan
It is water soluble. Which means I can dissolve it in water and drink it up. In my books, it's always a good thing right? Sheer convenience. 

I had heard of the miraculous things people have said about ginseng. When my late grandmother was alive, she was given Korean ginseng and her white hair started turning black! 

Anyway, Chinese folks love their ginseng. It's a well-known fact. I had a friend who used to drink ginseng soups when she was pregnant. Her two children do have beautiful skin! 

But the thing about ginseng is this: most people are cautioned about taking ginseng especially Korean ginseng for fear of being too "heaty". Which is why American ginseng, a more "yin" ginseng, is often taken as teas and in soups. 

So I was a bit hesitant when I learnt that I had to take a spoonful of this powdered ginseng daily, as a warm beverage (dissolved in warm water, upon waking up). I had the same thoughts - "Would this be too heaty for me?" (The spoon is not your average teaspoon. It's a tiny plastic spoon which gives about half a teaspoon.)

My friend who sells this ginseng powder did warn me that I would have vertigo reactions - or what is called side effects for the first few weeks as the body cleanses or detoxifies itself - when I drink this on a daily basis. As she sells this, she tells me to drink at least 3 times a day, once before breakfast, once after lunch and once in the evening before dinner. 

Another friend who is taking this ginseng powder told me that it's OK to just take it once a day. After all, one jar (150 gm) of the powdered ginseng costs RM 570. It's not as if it is a RM 57 product. Her rationale is that we're healthy folks and we just need ginseng for "maintenance". 

bing han refined ginseng powder health benefits
150gm of ginseng powder for RM570 
It has been used for cancer patients and they finish one jar about every 3 days! No kidding. I heard these cancer survivors tell their stories - they recovered by taking intensive doses of this product. But then again, psychologically people think you can't get well from cancer. Yet I heard these living, breathing souls emotionally recall how their lives were saved with this product. Believe it or not. 

In the first 2 weeks of taking this ginseng each morning, I did experience some odd symptoms. I felt very thirsty and kept gulping water like a fish. I also had a terrible sore throat. And I started coughing and coughing up whitish phlegm too. It was like my body was doing some major overhauling. I felt warmer than usual. 

According to the pamphlet, these symptoms mean I have an acidic physical constitution and my lungs were weak. A friend who drank this ginseng told me she would feel extremely sleepy in the first two weeks too. All of us, it seemed, had something to be expelled before recovery could happen. 

I would also feel terribly hungry in the morning after drinking the water soluble ginseng. I was given a tumbler to mix the powder with 300 ml of warm water but you can even eat the powder on its own if you like, though it might be more palatable as a drink. 

What I did experience after 30 or so days of imbibing this product is that my period came after 30 days. I have issues with my menstruation cycles. Sometimes it's 30 days, other times 35 days. It fluctuates. So I was very pleased when my period arrived on the dot. When it did, I had less cramps and less blood clots. I felt more energetic too. 

I am still taking this ginseng and I just finished a jar and ready to order another jar. I do feel better when I take this powder but then again, ginseng has always been a beloved Chinese herb. 

The company says that only 6 year old ginseng cultivated on their own farms in North Eastern China are used. Whole ginseng is used where it is washed, dried and made into powder - and it is supposedly 4 times more concentrated. 

Due to its treatment, the ginseng is neutral in its properties (not heaty nor cooling) and can be taken by everyone, babies included. 

I think it has something to do with its low temperature processing (28C) compared to the conventional high temperature processing (128C). One other thing is that the company invites you to visit its processing plant to see for yourself how the ginseng is processed. While its ginseng is grown in China, I believe the HQ is in Taiwan. 

The box and its can are tacky in their design and screams "Chinese" on all fronts (and that's the other thing which bothers me other than the price). They do include a quality and batch assurance certificate with each box you buy. 

I would overlook my overly enthusiastic friend's egging and continue to take a spoonful a day, if only to feel rejuvenated and healthier. 

Plus I have this secret dream that if I continue taking ginseng, maybe when I reach 80 years old, I will still look like I am 50? (I know. I would have to eat a lot of ginseng and live till 80 to find out if that's true. Still, at least I am not swallowing antibiotics or pills.)