Aunty Kuppu’s fabulous fruitcake

Here’s another fabulous recipe from our late Aunty Kuppu (she of Christmas pickle fame).

The original recipe contained, shockingly, 28 eggs. Aunty Kuppu said it would be fine to halve the recipe, since the original produced four large cakes. Still, 28 ÷ 4 = 7, which seems a lot for one cake. Anyway, I went with it, baking this in a large roasting tin.

Don’t be alarmed by the length of the recipe. It has lots of ingredients, but isn’t that difficult. If you get everything ready to marinate overnight, the next day is easy – you just need a strong arm to stir the stodgy, almost solid mix.  Continue reading


My shortbread research

Like many things in my life, this too began in church.

Ten days before Christmas, I was on the ladies’ production line cranking out these babies to go with mince pies and mulled wine after carols by candlelight. My job was to press a fork on the dough to make those little grooves you see in the picture.

I sampled a few too – they were great.

What I should have done right away is asked someone for the recipe. But, grooving away, I didn’t think of it at the time.

Christmas at home, for my husband, has always involved a large tin of his mum’s homemade shortbread. Actually, it’s the first thing he’s looked for, every time we’ve spent Christmas at their place. After producing a few hundred pieces that morning, I thought that making some at home wouldn’t be too hard.  Continue reading

A literary taste for gingerbread

Since it’s Christmas and all, my son decided to make gingerbread men. This is a new step for our household, where gingerbread belongs in that territory occupied by Halloween, Hans Christian Andersen and Hannah Montana. That is to say, it’s familiar from the global cultural ether – storybooks, TV, store displays – but without so far having found expression in any personal appropriation of specific gingerbread-related practices.

Until now. So, he looked up a recipe on, and I went off to Pantry Magic in Thonglor to buy an appropriately-shaped cutter.

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The misguided search for authenticity

I made Chicken Everest last night, out of Charmaine Solomon’s Complete Guide to Asian Cooking. I’ve had the book for years, but – perhaps snobbily – had never tried this particular recipe listed in the Indian and Pakistan section, because it was one her husband had invented, and not a “traditional” recipe. (“Mr Charmaine”, in his concoction, uses various Indian spices, roasted rice powder – and then a Chinese ingredient: soy sauce.)

It was delicious. And it tasted..Indian. Which made me think about what counts as traditional or authentic.  Continue reading

Aunty Kuppu’s amazing vegetable pickle

The year was 1987.

The national daily I worked at, The Star, had just had its publishing licence revoked by the government.  Overnight, the entire newsroom was out of work. So, I’m sitting with my housemates – also reporters – in our shared house in Section 17, Petaling Jaya, mulling over matters of press freedom (lack of), and career prospects (apparently doomed), when Mrs Kuppusamy – Aunty Kuppu to us – suddenly shows up.

Aunty Kuppu had been a headmistress of Durian Daun Girls’ School in Malacca in the ’50s, an admired colleague of my mother’s, and later much-loved family friend. Despite the name – a legacy from her second husband – she was a Malacca nyonya: light-skinned, and (unusually) big-boned and tall. No matter the occasion, or lack of one, Aunty Kuppu’s formidable presence always brought an atmosphere of burlesque, with her sharp eye, quick wit and terrible jokes, delivered at a volume suitable for school assembly before PA systems came in. These were always interspersed with a braying “hah?…hah?” and perhaps an elbow-dig, in case you were slow to respond.

She didn’t say anything about the political situation on that occasion, which really was beyond words,  but she did give us a jar of her special homemade vegetable pickle – I guess, to cheer us up. It was so mind-blowingly good, I had to ask for the recipe.  Continue reading

The crossover cook

Cross-cultural marriages create crossover cooks. My mother was one, and now so am I, cooking Western food almost as often as Asian, with my own set of acquired instincts and approaches within this newer repertoire.

This recipe was given to me long ago in Cambodia by an East Malaysian friend, when our first children were toddlers. She is married to a Frenchman. Continue reading

The care and cleaning of tiny dried fish

In my first years of going to Australia as a university student, my mum always packed a large supply of these dried fish for my kitchen cupboard. It was the early 1980s, and Asian cooking ingredients were hard to find outside of large cities, which at that stage did not include Canberra.  “Chinese” or (even worse) generic “Asian” food came from typical Aussie-Chinese restaurants serving unrecognisably syrupy lemon chicken and sweet and sour pork.

I never had any trouble getting these through customs inspection, along with my year’s supply of curry powder.

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