Entries by TSG Team

Tantalizing Thai with Bee Lee Tan

Our former guest chef Bee Lee returns with a brand new menu! Learn to cook classic Thai favourites such as Tom Kah Khai, Green Curry Chicken and Pad Thai here at TSG Cooking School.

Renowned for her culinary skills and meticulous attention to detail, thanks to her Nyonya heritage, Bee Lee has authored recipes books that have met with critical acclaim.

She has also conducted master cooking classes at Beaconfield, Fremantle Australia and Perth’s TAFE College.

Classes will be held on Jan 13th, 20th and Feb 1st. For bookings kindly call (6)04 – 8811 797 or visit www.tropicalspicegarden/spice-cooking-school for more details.

Introducing our new Guest Chef – Rohana Turner

Specialising in Modern Malay cuisine, Rohana puts a lot of thought into ingredients, techniques and preparation to ensure quick and easy meals, “I want to share my knowledge but I also want the guests to be able to cook these dishes at home.”

The former air stewardess who learnt to cook at the age of 12, began to teach after moving to Melbourne with her Aussie husband. There she enjoyed hosting weekly potluck dinners with guests whipping up a myriad of Malay Fusion dishes under her guidance.

Starting this January 12th, Rohana will be sharing tips and techniques on creating simple but tasty Malaysian meals. Her first class, Malay Wedding Feast will feature local festive favourites; Ayam Masak Merah, Tomato Rice and Pineapple Salad.

Amongst her signature dishes to look forward to are Rohana’s Special Lamb Curry, Ayam Masak Lemak (Creamy Chicken Curry) and Begedil (meat & vegetable patties as pic below).For class schedule kindly visit our website at www.tropicalspicegarden.com/spice-cooking-school or call (6) 04 – 8811 797 to book.

TSG Notecards – Pictures that speak a thousand words

When was the last time you received or sent a birthday card, greeting card or even a simple note by post? Can you still remember the thrill of ripping open an envelope to find a personalized card (and cash!) from a loved one?

Even in this digital age, the art of writing is not completely forgotten or unappreciated. If anything else, its scarcity has made it even more precious and valued. So pick up that pen and start writing.

With TSG’s beautifully designed notecards, you won’t even have to say much. Portraying a vibrant array of the garden’s flora and lush surroundings the images are mesmerizing and expressive in themselves. Featuring 16 designs by Marni Zainodin, the cards can be used for a variety of events and occasions. They are available individually (RM4.50 per piece) or in sets of 4 (RM16) and 8 (RM28).

Cooking School Gift Vouchers

Christmas is just a few days away and are you still deciding what gifts to get for your love ones? Fret not, our cooking school vouchers are now on sale at our Gift Shop. What is more perfect than giving them the hands-on cooking experience at a garden surrounded by natural spices.

The Little Green Rangers Camp

Looking for activities to occupy your little ones during your school holidays? Why not send them to our camp and let them learn all about what nature has to offer. This upcoming camp will teach the children about the insects found, the common plants and the interesting facts of certain creatures. For more details, please find the information below. Feel free to contact us.

Little Green Rangers Camp
Date : 16th – 18th November 2012
Time : 9.00 AM – 5.00 PM
Venue : Pavilion @ Tropical Spice Garden
Age group : 7 – 12 years old (limited to 30 pax)
Camp fees : myr 220 per pax
Contact : Amelleia@tropicalspicegarden.com
: 604 – 8811 797

Our slithering friend… the Wagler’s Pit Viper

 

People get squeamish and just jump out of fright if you mention the word snake or point out a snake to them.Most of us are not aware that snakes are usually more terrified of humans! and snakes get aggressive  thinking we humans are going to hurt them.  So much miscommunication  going on here.

Here at Tropical Spice Garden, we have a unique friendship with our Wagler’s Pit vipers. We  adore them for being such elegant creatures. Whenever we spot them, we go ooh and ahhh and some of our colleagues even name them! We treasure their presence as they are such beautiful creatures and they are quite rare to spot ! Pit Vipers are pretty clever when it comes to camouflaging. At times we may walk past the viper many times not knowing it is all curled up and snug on a tree branch.

 

Our juvenile Viper at Tropical Spice Garden enjoying the afternoon!

 

The Wagler’s pit viper, Tropidolaemus Wagleri belongs to the family Crotalidae. It is named after 19th century German Naturalist Wagler. Pit vipers are an  arboreal species that live in trees in the region of South East Asia.They prefer a climate that is humid and has high rainfall. These beautiful creatures can grow as long as 4 feet, thats pretty much the height of a 9 year old boy! They are called pit vipers because it has pits just behind its nostrils which are special organs that can sense heat and locate warm blooded animals. This is an important adaption as vipers are nocturnal and only hunts at night. They are lethargic animals during the day and are able to withstand weeks of scarcity by lying still for weeks. Survival of pit vipers also depend on adequate hydration. Pit vipers usually feed on rodents,lizards and birds and pit vipers are usually prey to King Cobras.

Know your viper: Juvenile vipers have a green background with red and white spots.Source:www.ecologyasia.com

Pit viper babies are viviparous  where the babies are born live. The eggs hatch inside the mother’s body which also serves as an increased chance of survival instead of the eggs hatching on the ground. The number of eggs born range from 6-50 eggs per time. Pit vipers are able to look out for themselves the moment they are born. Like newborn babies, they look cute but beware! Their fangs are already loaded with venom. They have a pair of hollow fangs that lie up against their roof mouth that shoot out when it strikes. The venom of a pit viper attacks red blood cells and their ability to carry oxygen as opposed to attacking the nervous system. They are highly territorial, so please do stay out of their striking range!

There is something very special about female vipers. They evolve through 4 phases in their lifespan each time evolving into such beautiful skin colours. The 4 phases are the Malaysian phase, Sulawesi phase, Kalimantan phase and lastly the Philippine phase. The male viper however has a consistent skin colour of a green and black border.

The Malaysian Phase sees the young female  having a  black background with yellow bars.She then moves on to the Sulawesi Phase where she has a lime -green background with blue bars, a white strip across her back and a cream and blue belly and a blue stripe from nostril to the eye. After much transformation, the female viper enters the Kalimantan phase where she has a yellow background and bright blue bars. Finally, the Philippine phase the female viper resorts to her original colour when she was young, she has a green background with yellow bars.

 

Malaysian phase of the female Pit ViperSource:www.kingsnake.com

 

Sulawesi Phase: isnt she beautiful?Source: www.kingsnake.com

 

Kalimantan phase: a nice mix of yellow and green barsSource:www.kingsnake.com
The Philippine Phase: pretty exotic dont you think?www.kingsnake.com

Vipers are also seen as holy representatives of the deity Chor Soo Kong. Temple Vipers got their name as they reside in the Temple of Azure  Cloud also known as the 150 year old Snake temple in Penang, Malaysia. Large numbers are kept on plants, statues and around the temple. It is thought that snakes bring good luck where some people welcome and keep vipers in their home.

Pit vipers.. beautiful creatures yet dangerous,  we somehow coexist in harmony at Tropical Spice Garden  with a unique friendship. Come visit the gardens and have fun spotting our slithering friend!

 

 

Ernest Zacharevic – City of canvas

Ernest Zacharevic’s wall art pulls the crowds into George Town
The Street Artitst – Ernest Zacharevic

Ernest Zacharevic’s quirky, wall murals are George Town’s latest ‘must-sees’. At any time of the day there’s a crowd huddled by the Armenian Street junction, the young, the old, cameras in hand waiting patiently to take their photos with two painted kids on an old bicycle. Visitors have swarmed from all over the country to capture Zacharevic’s wall art on film. They want to see his art and they also want to be a part of it. The Lithuanian’s series of eight murals are scattered throughout George Town, some like the trishawman are huge and easily spotted, others are smaller and more tucked away.

The hunt for the murals is just part of the fun, and the Facebook response has been spectacular. “I’ve spent the day in George Town looking for all the paintings, it’s been fun!” giggled a young girl who declined to be named. She and her friends had driven up from Ipoh for the weekend armed with heavy SLRs, hundreds of photos ready to be uploaded. The accessibility of Zacharevic’s wall art, celebrating everyday people doing everyday things brings an instant smile to the faces of those passing by. You don’t need to appreciate art to get what you see and there are no hidden metaphors to decipher. In this cynical age of digital trickery, the appeal of Zacharevic’s work lies in its simple purity – a mix of the artist, paint and plenty of soul.

 

Walls alive!Pulling off your own giant wall murals isn’t as easy as it seems unless you have access to a large building, a crane, gallons of paint (and of course permission from the relevant authorities). There is a simpler solution with Ernest Zacharevic’s Streetart Notebook George Town, featuring his own wall art as well as photographs of George Town’s textured walls. “The idea for the notebook was a bit of fun.

Not everyone can go out and paint on walls, but they can create their own wall art in this notebook,” explained Zacharevic. “It can be anything, draw, paint, create montages in the notebooks. Hopefully in the future we’ll be able to put together an exhibition of the craziest entries!” he explained.

Streetart Notebook George Town is available for sale at:

Pik Nik

15 Nagore Road, Penang 

Tropical Spice Garden

Teluk Bahang, Penang

Notes from a Keralan diary : 24 Sept – 1 Oct

The guides from Tropical Spice Garden, Penang visit Kerala for a enrichment study holiday.

Day 1 : 24 Sept 2012

Off to Kerala! so excited…and so it was a huge disappointment when we arrived at the airport to be told that the flight to KL was cancelled. The long and short of it was we missed flight to Cochin – all very grumpy and tired – got put up a night at the ‘exclusive’ Nilai Hotel – ate ourselves silly – and were back on to the flight to Cochin 24 hours later! Yay, all was somewhat forgiven and we were off to India!

Day 2 : 25 Sept

Not much to show here…arrived in Kerala at 11pm and whisked off to a nearby hotel. Early call 5am the next day guys! Remember to use bottled water to brush my teeth, remember to use bottled water to brush my teeth, remember to use bottled water to brush my teeth…

Day 3: 26 Sept

So we bundled into our traveller van at the crack of dawn with Vivek [Koh-Koh to Nat] at the wheel and Suresh as our guide in front. We were off to Thekkady, what I learnt much later in my research that this was the more commercial spice growing region of Kerala. Suresh informed us this was going to be a 41/2 hour journey. Little did we know…

The roads exiting Cochin steadily became narrower, less tarred, ascending and literally 20km from Thekkady the roads deteriorated to one, dusty lane with juge crater-like holes we needed to manouvre through. A few things struck me as we were travelling:

1. Indian drivers use their horns completely indiscriminately and flashing on coming traffic is a way of life on the road [aggressively flashing and horning a slow driver in front is completely acceptable]

2. Kerala is very overtly pious with Catholic churches, shrines and statues everywhere. There is still a large orthodox Syrian/ Martomite Christian community also

3. Keralan lorry drivers are lorry-proud with intricate and festive designs painted all over their lorries. Each lorry was inscribed above the windscreen in ornate lettering MESSIAH, JESUS, JESUS IS LORD amongst others

Along the way to Thekkady we stopped to buy bananas which were more like plantains, stopped for lunch, stopped to snack on coconuts and vadai and to view a lovely waterfall

So after what turned out to be an 8 hour journey, we couldn’t have been happier to arrive at Pepper County Homestay, greeted warmly by the proprietor, Uncle Cyriac. His one-storey bungalow home had 4 double rooms set in a 7 acre spice garden. Immaculately kept garden, wonderful crisp air and a clean, cosy bedroom greeted us all – there was immense sense of relief and joy felt all round.

Within 30 mins we were all rejuvenated and wanting Uncle Cyriac to take us on a tour of his 7 little farm. He started by showing us his fruit trees which newly included rambutan, nutmeg and mangosteen! We promised we would send him seeds when we returned. And then down he brought us to his spice farm where he grew cardamom, coffee, chillies, pepper, ginger, and more cardamom and more pepper and still more cardamom. The soil was so rich and fertile and the garden so well managed without weeds and grass.

We were so delighted to see cardamom growing so abundantly and to be given the time of day to ask the mountain of questions we had for Uncle Cyriac.

Day 4: 27 Sept

After a simply scrumptuous dinner prepared by Aunty Doly from Pepper County which had thrown in for us, appams, beetroot chutney and fried fish fillets, we all had a sound sleep completely refreshed for another lovely breakfast. What crowned the menu were surely the cardamom, coconut and sugar crepes! YUM!

Uncle Cyriac advised us to visit Abraham’s Spice Garden located about 10km down the road followed by spice market shopping and possibly to view the cardamom spice auction houses. Thankfully Abraham was there to personally meet us in his dhoti and we were so fortunate that he was able to show us around his plot.

First stop was his little cardamom drying room where cardamoms are placed for drying. 200kg of cardamom after drying outputs approx. 50kg of dried cardamom. So in we went past the watchful eye of Mother Mary above his door to view drying cardamoms for the first time.

Abrahams collection of herbs and spices was more vast than Pepper County and in many ways its concept was more like Tropical Spice Garden’s. Some of the more interesting plants were the Manjal ginger used for cosmetic purposes, mango ginger used for chutney, a variety of chillies that were round shaped and one even a deep dark purple.

He grew gherkins which we munched on and his cocoa tree had one huge yelow fruit waiting to be harvested. Abraham was in himself a character to behold and a point of interest throughout the tour in his wise, weathered ways.

After our goodbyes we headed into Kumily town to have a look at some of the spice shops and have lunch. The spice shops weren’t quite the dusty, organized mayhem I was looking for but an experience nonetheless. Lunch was at another ‘hotel’ [the Indians buy licenses for hotels at the same time as restaurant to make it easier for expansion later] and needless to say the food was gorgeous. The ladies took the opportunity to buy some silver jewelry.

Towards later part of the afternoon, some of the team decided to try out the Ayurvedic massage whilst the others crossed into the Tamil Nadu border [Yes! Kumily, Thekkady is a border town into Tamil Nadu] to view farmers vineyards and other vegetable crops.

Re-grouping again at dinner, the group was feeling very pleased with how the day had proceeded and how well looked after we felt. We were departing from Pepper County the next day and I was already missing the home-like feeling 🙁

Day 5: 28 Sept

The ensuing evening saw much discussion from the team as to what to do next. We finally decided to take the ‘risk’ and drive to Munnar – the tea plantations of Kerala. We were dreading another 8 hour journey but were reassured it wouldn’t take too long. OK so they were right, it only took 6 hours!

On the way we stopped by another Spice Garden – one for the road we though. Suresh was most amused and quipped that he had never hosted a group that only wanted to see spice farms and gardens day in and day out. He said the normal traveler is quite content with viewing one!

This farm was more touristy in nature but the little Indian guide dressed in a pastel orange saree was lovely. Gave me thoughts about our guides dress code! Sari’s and dhoti cloths and batik sarongs!

We felt all we were seeing and hearing was a repeat and more lacklustre compared to Cyriac and Abraham’s tour. But good nonetheless to be shown their vanilla curing room and to be given a warm cup of lemongrass tea!

But the view was breathtaking and the air cooler and crisper – we knew we had made the right decision. Miles and miles of rolling tea hills lay sprawled around our resort. The hordes of Indian travellers at dinner time reminded us that we were very much in holiday hill resort town but once out on the narrow country roads looking over the plantations, it was just you and the tea bushes and the great big Indian sky. It was beautiful.

Once settling down, Vivek and Suresh drove us into Munnar town which was located around 20km away from the resort. There were some heart stopping moments, when our ‘ice -cream’ van passed through the Heart Stop Gap – a passing in the road that is so narrow and the cliff so steep to the side and then it suddenly reverses with the cliff on the right – but Vivek handled it great.

At Munnar, we traipsed through their wet markets and marveled at how well displayed they laid out their produce – in neat geometric patterns and rows that made it all very pretty and organized.

Lots of great colour splashed every where and the feeling of a real local buzz. Little tea shops selling fresh Munnar tea and coffee was my highlight!

An early night ensued for a tired Kat. I believe the guides stayed up a while longer with some card shuffling taking place…

Day 6: 29 Sept

All arose at 6am to take a walk down in the tea valley. Sun was breaking over Munnar and the workers were all starting for the day.

It all seem to pass so quickly and we were back in the van headed back to Cochin.

The windy roads down and Vivek’s unusually fast driving made CE feel a bit ill but after another 5 hour journey we descended into Cochin city.

Along the way we drank more coconuts, ate more delicious food at a restaurant that served giant cannonball cokodok that differed in the inclusion of shaved coconut. Delicious!

Into Cochin we pampered up and were out again for dinner in Fort Cochin. A long jam awaited us as we paused for the trains. And on to Fort Cochin for a seafood dinner. Although it was already dark, it was clear that Fort Cochin was the real charm of the city. It’s quaint streets, boutique hotels and a plethora of designer and souvenir shops made a big impression on us.

By the end of dinner, we were all rather beat and looked forward to a good tuck in ready to tackle the streets of Fort Cochin the next day – our last day 🙁

Day 7 : 30 Sept

I managed to find a church called Grace Community Church pastored by Philip Arun. It was fun to worship in Cochin in a simple church with a lovely congregation. We were offered a simple lunch later and Nathanael enjoyed Sunday School for the first time. He came back with a cloud – to depict the resurrection of Jesus into the clouds! Happy to have Kenny, CE and Uncle Lim with me too.

The other guides happily did more shopping at Marine Drive.

Picking us up after lunch we headed out to Fort Cochin to do a historical tour. Or at least those were our good intentions until we got a bit sidetracked with the shopping!

We told Suresh we would come back the following day to view the Jewish synagogue and other historical buildings.

Day 8 : 1 Oct

Jewish Synagogue closed. But Jew Town shops and market open! More shopping. It was absolutely here that depleted all our funds on all the gorgeous silk/ wool carpets, lampshades, cotton garments, silk, special interest books, jewelry – you name it!

We also went to see the Chinese Fishing Nets and bought some fresh fish and had it cooked at the nearby restaurants. I must say it was great to eat un-curried fish that was simply grilled. Prawns, fish and lobster alongside masala chai and pratha and various kinds of rice. The Indians sure know how to cook their rice by the way – ghee rice. jeera rice. lemon rice, tomato rice – fluffy, never sticky and soggy, just perfect.

 

We returned to Cochin happy and content and Kenny and I went straight to our rooms to sort out the packing of all our wares.

Vivek was ready to pick us up at 7pm and we whizzed off to the airport.

This has been an fabulous trip for us in many ways. There’s just nothing like experiencing spices in a different country in how its grown, harvested, dried etc. There’s just nothing like being there amidst wonderful people in a different land so different and yet so similar in many ways to us. It was a wonderful bonding trip for all who went. Came back more united and eager to strive for more and share our knowledge. And it most certainly left us all asking, Where and When next??

 

Think Spice, Think Nutmeg!

 

Before we get to nutmeg… what is spice?

Some definitions state that  spice is an aromatic or pungent vegetable substance used to flavor food, e.g., cloves, pepper, or mace. Its used as a condiment, as flavouring and seasoning our food. Have you ever sat down and jotted down all the spices that go into our meals everyday?  Even Kentucky Fried Chicken uses 12 spices for that yummy fried chicken. Its simply amazing on how we rely on spices for our food. Now lets find out  how nutmeg  travelled all the way from the Banda Islands oven centuries to take a tiny spot in your kitchen and tables.

 

Source: www.fineartamerica.com
If it was not for the Dutch and the British and their infamous tug of war over nutmeg and other spices in the Moluccas Islands, we may have never gotten to know Nutmeg and Mace at all! For many centuries Nutmeg was only grown in the Moluccas Island and later on the British cultivated the Nutmeg in Grenada, Penang and India. The nutmeg is highly significant for Grenada as it is featured in the flag of Grenada highlighting the importance of agriculture. Long before the Dutch and the British eyed the Moluccas Islands , Nutmeg had made its way to Byzantinium in the 6th Century where a Persian physician called it the Banda Nut.Arabs traded nutmeg through the dark and middle ages chanelling it to Venice to season the table of European aristocrats. Nutmeg was crazily expensive.  In the 14 century, a pound of nutmeg cost as much as 7 oxen!

Source:www.history.howstuffworks.com

Now what made nutmeg to be such a must have?

Arabs traded nutmeg for its sweet scent, as an aphrodisiac and as medicine. During the Black Death Plague, people went crazy over nutmeg thinking it could ward off the plague as there was a perception that fleas disliked the smell of nutmeg.

Source:www.aidanbrooksspices.blogspot.com
For those of you who are not to familiar with this spice, Nutmeg, Myristica Fragrans belongs to the Myristica genus of trees. The nutmeg is egg shaped and measures 20mm to 30mm and weighs between 5-10 grams. The first harvest of a nutmeg tree in between 7-9 years and the tree is in full production when the tree reaches 20 years. It is the only tropical fruit that has 2 different sources of spice! The nutmeg in itself is the seed of the tree and it is covered by a red lacy coating called mace.
 
Nutmeg and mace has many culinary uses especially in European and Chinese cuisines. Nutmeg is commonly used in powder form although it was quite a culinary trend for people to carry their own tiny nutmeg graters to restaurants to flavour their soups!

Antique Nutmeg GraterSource: www.antiquescentreyorkeshop.co.uk
With its nutty and slightly sweet flavour, nutmeg enhances dishes such as soups, breads, cookies, puddings, muffins, pies and cakes. No eggnog is complete without the sprinkling of this spice! On the other hand, mace has a warm, spicy flavour but subtler or even similar to nutmeg. Its aroma can be simply put as a combination of cinnamon and black pepper. Mace is a favourite to be used in sauces, curries, pickling, cakes and even Worcestershire Sauce!
Nutmeg is not only handy in the kitchen but the the health benefits are surely going to make you have some nutmeg or nutmeg oil as an essential spice at home.
Nutmeg as a Brain Tonic

Did you know that Roman and Greek civilisations used nutmeg  to stimulate the brain and eliminate fatigue, stress,  anxiety and depression ?Now thats a great pick me up spice!

Pain relief

An effective sedative, and a staple ingredient in Chinese medicine, Nutmeg helps treat inflammation and abdominal pain, aching joints, muscle pain, arthritis  and sores.

Indigestion relief

Nutmeg brings relief to all our tummy woes such as diarrhoea, constipation,flatulence and relieve tummy aches.

Bad Breath

When they were no Mentos and Wrigleys chewing gum, Nutmeg was used in toothpaste in aiding the removal of built up bacteria, soothing tooth aches and gum problems.

Detox Agent

Cleanse your liver and kidneys and be sure of the removal of toxins from your system. Nutmeg is    also effective in preventing and dissolving kidney stones.

Skin Care

SKII not working out for you? Nutmeg helps in having smooth and healthier skin and also treats skin problems. Here is a recipe for your own homemade nutmeg facial scrub especially for those with acne.

Mix some nutmeg powder and honey to make a paste. Apply to acne marks.

Sleep Friendly Spice

Cant sleep? Drink a cup of milk with some nutmeg powder. Nutmeg helps you relax and sends you off to dreamland.

Here is a  Shortbread recipe for you to test out as Christmas is not too far away!

 

Nutmeg Shortbread

Source: www.patentandthepantry.com

 

Nutmeg ShortbreadSource: www.patentandthepantry.com

Ingredients

1 cup butter, softened

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 large egg

2 1/2 cups flour

pinch of salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (But you may want to consider adding more if you really like the taste of this spice.)

Method

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Beat in vanilla and the egg.

In a separate bowl, stir together flour, salt and nutmeg.

Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture by hand until just combined.

Divide the dough in four and roll into logs about 8″ long and 1″ in diameter. Wrap in wax paper, plastic wrap or parchment and chill until firm, from two hours to overnight.

To bake, preheat the oven to 350. Cut each log into pieces 1/2″ thick and space evenly on baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until just golden.

Happy baking and on a last note, think spice, think nutmeg!