Drawing Strength, Honouring Meals Lovingly Prepared and Shared
With a heavy heart, I’m deeply saddened to report that my beloved husband Anand passed away on 16th December after a sudden illness, brought upon by complex medical challenges particularly in the last six years. He was such a key part of my business, and he dedicated himself unselfishly to playing a significant background role in my journey towards creating and living my passion. I have no doubt he will continue to inspire me in everything I do moving forth.
In tribute to him and by way of my own healing I’ve started just in the last week to prepare, cook and share with family, colleagues, neighbours and friends, the dishes that Anand was famous for. Some of these are ones he used to lovingly cook in the early days of our marriage and a few others are a collection of his personal favourites that I, in return, used to prepare for him.
This exercise has really helped me at a deep level and it’s encouraged me to get back into the home kitchen, and start enjoying cooking once more after a tumultuous period of pain.
So, this blog is dedicated to the memory of my dear Anand’s kind and cheeky personality and to celebrate his profound love for food shared with friends, and for home cooking, by writing and talking about these special recipes.
When cooking comes from the heart
I would have to say that Anand was always my biggest fan. He encouraged and supported me and gave me the space to spread my wings and explore the possibilities of creating and building something that would enable others to cook delicious foods at home with ease. He knew that deep in my heart, I am first and foremost a ‘feeder’, someone who needs to nurture others for my own wellbeing.
In the beginning (1994-2002), I think he was somewhat taken aback that I could be so consumed by cooking. He keenly observed the therapy I craved from collecting and sharing recipes, buying books and watching cooking shows, then watching me cook huge amounts merely to pack and give them away. Perhaps he thought I was nuts, but he didn’t voice it. Infact he kept buying me specialty cookbooks and would write beautiful words of encouragement in the introduction page.
Anand was always my ‘numbers’ man and lovingly guided me towards business plans and decisions, (from 2002 onwards) while helping me retain the heart of my company and the values I hold dear.
Home cooking a sublime comfort
From when we met, food was something that connected us. One of the first dishes Anand cooked for me was his Satay Chicken and I can still recall the occasion in detail. He used the Malaysian Ayam brand’s Hot Satay Sauce that came in a tin. Boy, he put so much love into that dish! It was stunning. I remember thinking: “If this man can cook this well and appreciate food as much as I do, he’s definitely a keeper!” And so he was. And years later, it was still something I craved until I developed a slight intolerance to peanuts.
Then he started making me his other speciality, Devil Chicken and as this involved lots of prep I was his trusted kitchen hand, leading to lively exchanges in the home kitchen.
One of Anand’s favourite all time dish to prepare was his Crab Curry. He has shared his recipe multiple times with friends and colleagues and was secretly chuffed as his recipe worked as a magical fish and prawn curry too, and everyone gushed over it. He’d take the whole day to shop, clean and prepare the crabs and spices and my daughter and I used to be so impatient as the aromas used to literally make us salivate. We’d hurry him but he’d never rush his methodical, painstaking process, even occasionally cracking a bottle in between his repertoire and not leaving a huge mess at the end of cooking, cleaning along as he went. He was impressive in that role.
He made a mean Mee Goreng, and also a fantastic Tamatar Lamb Stew. And a spicy nourishing South Indian soup called Resam, or Mulligatawny and Char Kuay Teow, a noodle dish originating in Anand’s hometown of Penang. This is pretty much the national dish of our homeland, Malaysia and also loved by Singaporeans. The dish’s name translates to ‘fried flat rice noodles’. It was originally peasant food prepared by farmers and fishermen to sell off any of the meat or seafood they had left at the end of the day’s trading. It’s traditionally made using pork lard as a base, but it can be anything you want. Anand enjoyed the works; chicken, prawns, and liberally using Lap Cheong, a caramelised pork sausage, some eggs and a smattering of beans sprouts and chives.
All of these recipes are linked to this blog.
As time rolled by
Over the years, I got to know Anand’s favourite dishes, as one does in any relationship. It was never a chore to cook for him, because his requests were all way too repetitive at times. He was a simple man at heart. Things only got complicated when it involved his other favourite topics of Penang hawker street foods and Malaysian desserts; then he took it to another level altogether.
His enthusiasm was always a great motivator for me. Cooking was part and parcel of life for us. Weekends always included markets, shopping, gardening and discussions on food; his childhood market adventures with his beloved mum, and her cooking specialities.
A few dishes of mine Anand particularly loved and appreciated were a Dhal dish accompanied by soft Chappatis, a Rendang Beef Burger, Madras Egg Omelettes in a sandwich, a savoury semolina dish called Upuma, a refreshing Pear Salad and Eggplant Pachadi, a vegetable pickle made from roasted eggplant, smashed and marinated in tamarind then cooked with onions, green chillies, curry leaves, mustard seeds and dried chillies. At the end, it’s blended with coconut cream or yoghurt, sweetened with a little jaggery and seasoned with a touch of salt. It’s served either hot or cold, with loads of chopped coriander sprinkled over the top. It’s creamy, tangy and spicy all at once, such a pleasure for the taste buds. Sometimes I make it with beetroot, either roasted or boiled whole and then grated; and sometimes with pumpkin or silver beet. I’m fairly positive Anand loved this dish so much because of the underlying sweetness from the coconut cream and jaggery.
Through all our struggles with Anand’s health; food remained the one constant that was always there to provide comfort, familiarity, normalcy and connection. When he wasn’t feeling well, I would prepare his favourite foods. When he was having a good day, we would eat with friends and loved ones who came to visit.
Keep it simple and remember love as the most important ingredient
I can’t emphasise enough how important food and home cooking are to a person’s well-being. Aside from the fundamental benefit of providing fuel for the body, lovingly prepared – or even lovingly provided – meals can make a world of difference to someone who is facing challenges. You don’t have to work hard to build a meal from scratch using hard-to-find ingredients. What matters is that whatever you serve is served with love and care; delivered with a smile and eye contact and genuine interest in how each of you is feeling. Simply slicing up a beautiful loaf of bread and spreading it with soft butter and some favourite jam and sharing it over a cup of tea is a healing, loving opportunity.
Since my daughter and I lost Anand; the outpourings of kindness from relatives, friends, neighbours and even customers have been overwhelming. I’ve lost count of the number of meals that have been prepared for us; and delivered to enjoy in our own time. Each and every one of them has been made with love and care. My cup truly runneth over and I’m so humbled by the generosity shown by the people in my life.
Throughout Anand’s illness and subsequent passing; it would have been easy to lay down and crumble, and be overwhelmed by it all. But when I think of the love and support I received from my wonderful husband, since we married in 1994; I was able to carry on and return his kindness. It’s because of his unwavering caring and unconditional guidance; that I am now able to support myself as a soloist in this business.
If I could respectfully offer a shred of advice to anyone experiencing something similar, it’s to spend beautiful time with each other. Sit and pass the time over food or a cup of tea. Talk, share and simply be there. And if you have the wherewithal and time to prepare a bowl of soup, a toasted sandwich or a lovely fresh salad, enjoy knowing it’s hitting the spot deep inside that person’s heart.