Sunday, 25 September 2011

A Weekend of Meeting Important People!

Over 3 weeks after Ramadan ended, and the celebratory month of Hari Raya Aidilfitri continues - these Bruneians sure know how to party!  Last year we had only just arrived in Brunei when Hari Raya was upon us, so we went to relatively few Open Houses, but this year we know lots more people and have therefore had lots more invites to various Open House parties.  It's such a nice tradition.

This weekend we had 2 particularly important ones... 

On Friday night we went to an Open House at the Officers' Mess on Bolkiah Camp.  This was hosted by the female officers who 'live in' at the mess.  It was spectacularly decorated with thousands of fairy lights, and the food was superb - stalls outside serving lamb, satay, kebabs, murtabak, etc, and a selection of curries and sweets inside.  Of course everyone was excited about the special guest, the Sultan himself, who attended with one of his sons.  Here they are, chatting with the hostesses:

After they had done this, the Sultan was invited to sign the guest-book for the evening...  which just happened to be right next to where I was standing!

After this he stood up and started doing the rounds of the room, shaking hands and chatting with the other guests.  He came straight up to the group that I was standing with...  it's amazing how tongue-tied one can suddenly become when the Sultan of Brunei is shaking your hand!!  Thankfully my friends picked up the conversation so I didn't feel too daft.  Now this all happened rather fast, and Rob had wandered off to chat to someone else, so of course he missed the opportunity to take a photo of me and His Majesty.  I was quite cross as I'm always the one who takes photos of other people with the Sultan and no one ever gets a shot of ME (case in point, here's one of Rob on Friday night:)

So just as the Sultan was finishing greeting people, I thrust my camera at Rob and rejoined the hand-shaking line... 

Rob redeemed himself - Success!!  I'm laughing because the Sultan shook my hand then looked at me and said "You again!" - and then did exactly the same to the girl next to me who had also lined up for a second hand-shake!  We told him he had a good memory, and he laughed.  I don't think I've ever had the opportunity to meet one of the British Royal Family face-to-face, but the Royals are much more accessible here in Brunei.  It's a much much smaller country of course, but they are very 'visible', often seen driving around (complete with hoards of motorcycle outriders), and attending public events.

On Saturday we attended another Open House that I was no less excited about - Maya's!  I first met my fellow Brunei food-blogger Maya a couple of weeks ago when she invited me to an Open House at her parents', but this was at her own house.  I was so pleased that Rob could meet Maya, and of course for us both to meet her lovely family (so welcoming!), and of course we were very excited to see her famous new RED kitchen - fabulous, lah?   (NB, 'lah' is the Bruneian equivalent of the Canadian 'eh'!  I'm such a cultural chameleon...!)

Oops, we appear to have adopted our signature 'kawai' pose again!

The food was - need I say it? - fantastic.  Maya's mother-in-law had cooked the savoury dishes which included Soto (a local chicken noodle broth with lots of condiments) and satay.

Rob helping himself to the Soto.

 The desserts were Maya's creations - strawberry-topped chocolate cupcake, mini cheesecakes and tiramisu.  *Yum*

Another sociable and food-filled Brunei weekend!

Monday, 19 September 2011

A Busy Few Weeks

Oops, 19 days since I last wrote on this blog!  I've been chivvied along reminded by Maya that I need to re-enter the 'blog-cave' again, so here I am.

So, what have I been doing in the last 2 and a bit weeks...?

1)  Working.  New class, new Principal, new role (Year Leader), lots of work.  The children are delightful, and just beginning to get into their new classroom routines.  Me too.  But I know that a good start to the year is invaluable so I don't mind spending time on this.

2)  Cleaning.  Because when you're temporarily without an Amah, if you don't clean the kitchen you get ants!  Who knew?!

3) Taking photos of babies.  Our 1-month-old neighbour for a start (and wow, babies are tricky to take photos of - they keep MOVING - hence the sleeping shot!):

But also this baby kingfisher we found in our street last week:

Poor little thing, we think its mother had been killed.  It was looking very lost, and sat here for ages (which at least allowed me to take a photo).

4)  Meeting the local wildlife.  I continue to be delighted and amazed by the wildlife here in Brunei (OK, not the ants.  I could do without wildlife in my kitchen).  This little fellow was lurking outside our door at the weekend:

5)  Pinning.  Have you found Pinterest yet?  It's a website where you can create virtual pinboards of all your favourite things.  Check it out - although be warned, it's totally addictive!

6)  Reading.  I've become mildly obsessed with the Mitford sisters, the eccentric aristocratic family who became notorious in their lifetimes for political reasons, but whose memories live on through their prolific writings - autobiographies, novels and letters.  They're a truly fascinating bunch.  I've been engrossed in this excellent biography, and felt quite miserable when I finally finished it...  so immediately went onto Amazon and ordered a book of letters between Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh - My next Mitford-fix!

7)  Cooking.  This weekend we had a pretty typical Brunei-shopping experience - carefully planning some meals and then discovering that crucial ingredients were nowhere to be found in the shops!  I had decided to make a chilli-con-carne, but there was no mince and no tins of kidney beans.  Correction, there was mince, but it was so fatty as to be almost white (ick!) and there were kidney beans, but they were in syrup (another ick!).  So I ended up making a chilli with diced steak and tins of lima beans instead.  I'm nothing if not adaptable!

I'm looking forward to a bowl of this for supper tonight (with chips and some grated cheddar - naughty but nice!) and then we'll fill the freezer with portions of it.  Over the last couple of weeks we've almost emptied the freezer of the 'ready meals' that we make andkeep for busy weeks, so it's satisfying to restock it.

This isn't actually the recipe I used (I don't usually use a recipe for chilli), but a friend posted it on our forum recently and I have been meaning to give it a try, if only for the name!

Cowboy Chilli

olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 or 2 red chilies, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 lb (1 kg) ground beef
6 strips (300 g) bacon, diced
1 x 14 oz (400 g) can of kidney beans, black beans or pinto beans
1 cup (250 ml) barbecue sauce
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper (optional if you don’t want it too spicy)
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 x 12 oz (350 ml) beer
grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, diced scallions, tortilla chips, etc., to serve

Heat a splash of olive oil in a large pot over a medium-high heat. Add the onion, chilies and a pinch of salt (to stop the onions from browning) and cook for 10 minutes, or until the onions have softened. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the ground beef and bacon and cook until it’s nearly cooked through and browned, stirring occasionally.

Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat to keep at a gentle simmer. Cook for 30 minutes to 1 hour – the longer you cook it, the more the flavors will develop – adding more beer or water if the chili starts to look too dry. Serve the chili warm with toppings of your choice.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Meeting Maya

I've mentioned my blog-friend Maya before - she's the one who invented that divine Red  Dragonfruit Ice-Cream.  I can't quite remember how I stumbled upon her blog, but I was immediately captivated by her creativity in the kitchen, her intelligent and witty writing and her luscious photographs... and then I discovered that she actually lives in Brunei!  It's a small place so this was really exciting, and I hoped that one day we might meet.

Well, we just have!

I e.mailed Maya yesterday asking her a couple of foodie questions (where she bought her flower-shaped Polvoron moulds, and where I could purchase Black Sesame Powder in Brunei) and she e.mailed straight back with the answers, and inviting me to a Hari Raya Open House! 

The Open House was actually at her parents' beautiful house on Jalan Muara.  There were hundreds of people there (including a couple that I knew from school - I told you Brunei was a small country!) and there was lots and lots of excellent food. 

Everything was delicious - even the Beef Lung dish...  I'll try most things once, and I'd even eat that again.  There was also Soto, a lovely chicken noodle soup, plus some very tasty homemade biscuits for dessert

Everyone is always so friendly at these events and I chatted to Maya of course, but also some of her lovely friends and family.  One of her relations is the Bruneian Ambassador to Belgium, and he had been to school in Salisbury, my home town.  Small country, small world!

Anyway, Maya was of course a delight, just as fun and friendly as I had known she would be.  We asked her lovely daughter to take a couple of photographs of us together.  "Do a friendly pose!" she said:

And then we just got a bit silly!

Thank you Maya for the invitation - I know we'll meet again soon!

Mango Bread and Butter Pudding

We recently discovered that we have 2 mango trees in our garden!  Now this might seem as though we've been rather unobservant - we've lived here for a year after all - but to be fair to us, it's very hard to actually spot any mangoes on them.  We only noticed when we saw a that the trees were full of monkeys, and small green fruits were raining down into our garden.  On closer inspection we saw that they were unripe mangoes... with lots of monkey teethmarks in them!

However, as soon as we had noted what a mango tree looks like we began seeing them everywhere!  A quick cycle-ride around the Camp just picking up windfalls (plus a few that we managed to pick that weren't too high up) yielded a bowl full of fruit which has been slowly ripening in our kitchen for over a week.

A couple of days ago we got to the point where we really needed to use those which were softening fast.  Coincidentally I had just found 4 slices of sweet sliced bread in our freezer which had clearly been there for most of the year that we have been here, so I devised a recipe that could solve both problems in one delicious stroke.

No, your eyes are not deceiving you, the bread really was a near-luminous yellow colour!  Much of the bread you can buy here is quite sweet (hence my own breadmaking habit) but it's perfect for puddings.

Mango Bread and Butter Pudding


4 slices of bread, buttered liberally on both sides
Flesh of 1 large mango, chopped
1 3/4 cups of milk
1/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence

Cut the slices of bread in half diagonally and lay into a buttered dish, overlapping slightly.  Place slivers of mango flesh in between and around them, also tipping in any juice.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla.  If your mango is not terribly sweet then you may wish to increase the sugar to 1/2 a cup, but my mango was intoxicatingly, pungently sweet - on the verge of unpleasantness really - so I didn't feel that much sugar was necessary.

Pour the egg mixture over the bread and mango and leave it to soak in for at least an hour.  I left mine in the fridge for several hours until I was ready to cook it.

About an hour before you want to eat the pudding, place the dish into a large baking tray and fill the tray with boiling water (this is called a bain marie).  Carefully place the whole lot into a preheated oven - 160 degrees C.

Bake for 45 mins - 1 hour.  The pudding is ready when the custard is set to a gentle wobble and the edges of the bread are browned and ever so slightly crisp.

I like my B&B Pudding to be very custardy, but if you don't then just reduce the egg mixture to 2 eggs and 1 1/4 cups of milk.

I also sprinkled a little cinnamon on top of the pudding before I cooked it, but I also thought about using some slivered almonds.  I think it's a very adaptable pud.