Tuesday, April 24, 2012

My Pomegranate Tree Is Finally Fruiting!

I know it's ridiculous to be so happy about a fruit tree but this tree holds a special place in my heart. 

I had this tree grow from some leftover pomegranate seeds while I was still living in my old apartment - I think that was sometime in 2009. 

I planted the seeds in a plastic pot and forgot about it. You see, my then balcony didn't have much direct sunlight so I barely had any hope that the seeds would germinate.

Fighting against all odds (and maybe, just maybe I have green fingers!) the seeds grew into a spindly little plant. Pomegranate leaves are long and tapered, as you can see in the photos below. 

I brought this pot over when I moved home in November 2009. This new apartment of mine affords me a little bit of backyard. I promptly transplanted the pomegranate plant into a larger pot made of clay. I figured it would have more space to grow. I placed this pot in the garden, with direct sun and rain. 

I kept "feeding" it compost every month or so but I believe the plant loved the outdoors. It started growing tentatively but after bouts of really hot sun, it started to really grow tall. I had never hoped for any fruits because I learnt that it takes about 4 to 7 years before any pomegranates will appear and that's also if one's lucky. One cannot hurry Nature. It takes its own time and space.

pomegranate bud
Pomegranate bud

Early this year, I saw some tiny red buds. Like the one above but a lot smaller. I got excited because this meant that flowers were coming! By this time, the sapling had grown into a tree, about 4 feet in height. Its leaves were much greener and larger and its branches looked sturdier. Its trunk had thickened considerably too. From the bud came the flower - soft little petals which looked so delicate but which attracted butterflies! (Some people cannot stand butterflies because it means there'll be pupa somewhere and that eats up leaves.) 

pomegranate flower
Pomegranate flower 

Anyway, when the heavy rains pelted my poor plant, I was terribly worried. Would the flowers fall off in these tropical thunderstorms? Yes, some did fall onto the ground! But most of them stayed happy and tight on the branches. 

And from those which stayed put, something magical happens. The flower turns into a fruit! Can you see the lovely bulb-like fruit forming? It's still early so the fruit may not be fully formed until a few weeks later but it's very exciting to know that a few seeds turned into a plant and that plant or tree is now bearing gorgeous carmine coloured fruits!

pomegranate fruit
Pomegranate fruit slowly forming from the flower

Having said that, did you know that Chinese folks love growing pomegranates in their gardens? Usually it is placed in front of the home. It is a symbol of fertility (especially many sons; we Chinese love our male progeny) - the many seeds in each pomegranate is a symbol of this and abundance and prosperity. 

It is also used in feng shui where artwork featuring pomegranate are hung in newlywed's homes to encourage and create offspring luck. As you can see, it is a feng shui fertility cure. It also symbolizes happiness in the family, as well as good luck for one's descendants. By the way, it's not just in Chinese culture. This fruit, high in antioxidants, is also mentioned in many ancient religions from Judaism to Islam. 

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, pomegranates which are of bitter and astringent nature are dried and used to benefit the kidneys, intestines and stomach. It expels worms in the stomach besides treating skin conditions and diarrhoea. If you suffer from coughing, eating pomegranates may help. 

I can't wait to taste the fruits when they ripen! Will keep you updated! 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Collagen, Fish Maw & Aging Gracefully

It's been a rather busy time for me (but hey, that's life, right?) with our new website product for the business as well as going home to Banting to visit my parents in March.

March was also my birthday month where I turned 38. I am 2 years away from the big 40.

One of the things which I love about soups is that if you drink soups regularly, your skin won't age that badly even if chronologically you are ageing! (That and a penchant for foot reflexology - I've been going for foot reflexology sessions twice a month and I believe that helps with preserving good health too!)

Speaking of which, my friends from France who came to visit Nic and I two weeks ago (after their conference in Singapore) were rather intrigued by all this health and wellness they seemed to see everywhere in Penang. When we were going to a restaurant for lunch, we walked past a health and wellness exhibition.

"Health is really a big deal here," Hugh commented.

I never really gave this much thought until Hugh brought it up. He said that it seemed everyone in Penang was very much into longevity and good health.

It's true. Health definitely is wealth to any Chinese. Living a healthy life and ageing well seem to be our main aim in life.

We spoke at length about this too when he pointed to the menu and asked what fish stomach was. This was a dish on the menu ("perut ikan"). Perut ikan is a classic Nyonya dish known as a pickled fish stomach curry.

In fact, he asked good questions because after thinking about it, it all boils down to eating for health, right? I see that a lot among the Chinese (and I am a Cantonese though I have my reservations about eating stuff like birds' nest and such).

"It's all about collagen," I told Hugh.

A healthy (slim) body with a lovely smooth complexion - these are what Chinese women generally wish for.

Then I realized, we do eat a lot of food with collagen - chicken feet, fish maw, fish stomach, birds' nest, pig trotters. The stuff that most foreigners look on with horror, we dig into them with such glee!

Unfortunately for Hugh, we didn't manage to taste fish stomach because the restaurant had run out of this dish that Saturday.

But I wanted to know more too so I started reading up on fish stomach. Is it maw? Is it called "fa kau" (in Cantonese). I've seen the puffed and fried versions in Hatyai markets but I didn't know if they were the same as the flattened and dried versions (the expensive ones sold in Chinese shops!).

Here's the difference: "yue piu" is the fish bladder or swim bladder of the fish and it is not the same as fish maw or "fa kau".

Fish maw is the stomach of the fish that has been cleaned and sun-dried whole. However most people mistake one for the other and refer to them as fish maw/fish stomach.

Fish bladder or fish stomach is often sold fried, looking all golden and puffy. It has to be deep fried and soaked before cooking while fish maw is never deep fried.

Fish maw is sold flat and dried.

Fish maw is usually braised or double-boiled in soups to infuse it with flavour as it is a rather bland ingredient. Apparently, fish maw harvested from the croaker fish is the best as it has thick stomach walls and of a fairly large size compared to other fish maw. (Just in case you are considering, fish maw is supposedly cheaper than birds' nest but does provide the same benefits - smoother skin!)

Fish maw is an excellent source of collagen and it ranks as a luxury food together with abalone, sea cucumber and sharks' fin.

Frankly, I think these types of food are over-rated.

We Chinese love to spend atrocious amounts of money just to eat parts which taste rather rubbery and on its own (without the sauces and braising) rather bland and uninspiring!

I've never liked abalone or sea cucumber and as of this year, I am going sharks' fin- free - meaning I won't be eating any sharks' fin soup during Chinese banquet dinners. I have come of age or maybe turning 38 is making me rethink my food choices.

I was also very surprised that my mom who is 63 years old this year told me that she doesn't want sharks' fin soup on the menu for my dad's 70th birthday dinner (coming up in June).

Now THAT is an eye-opener. My mom has never been much of an environment freak and environmental issues like finning sharks and all that never used to bother her.

So I was pleasantly surprised when she brought up the idea of not having sharks' fin soup. I don't know what prompted her to change but I am very glad she is coming around to saying no to killing sharks for their fins. (Hurray for the sharks!)

Back to fish maw. This ingredient in soups is supposedly good for coughs, asthma, lung problems and blood circulation (even fertility or so I read). It's a tonic for those recovering from illnesses too. When cooked, it tends to become slippery and soft.

I have never cooked fish maw because it takes some effort to clean and cook it while at the same time, ensuring your soups do not taste fishy! That's rather ironic because a dried fish maw will taste and smell fishy right? You'll need to cover fish maw in boiling water and leave to soak for at least 2 days to soften it for cooking. If it is not soft enough, you repeat the process.

Anyway, since I don't cook fish maw or fish stomach, you may want to hop over to this blog and check out this easy recipe for fish stomach soup.