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Sunday, May 20, 2012

fickle Emotions

Its amazing how as humans we can be such absent minded, fickle beings. We can fall in love with something in a second and forget all about it the moment something else grabs our attention. Its like when you see a moderately attractive person but his/her image disappears from your head five minutes later when you see someone who’s hotter than the sun and way out of your league.

Unfortunately, this fickle aspect of our hearts and minds is part of what makes us human. It is part of the many imperfections that serve to remind us in a not so great way that we’re not automated machines that remember and account for every single variable all the time.

Being fickle is to change in a split second regardless of magnitude of the last occasion. It is most obvious to us as people in our emotions. Feelings change instantaneously, and its a dangerous thing. More often than not, we give in to our emotions, much more than we do to facts and figures or logic and common sense.

I have one incident to share that involves myself. It’s funny actually, not in a comedic sense, but in an ironic sort of way. On Thursday, after reading my bible, I prayed for a little while. One of the things I was praying about was asking God to help me to not give in to my emotions in the things that I do, whether it be at work or at service in church ministry.

God, with his clever sense of humour put me in such a situation the very next day, where I’d have to battle between choosing to react by giving in to my emotions or to respond by doing the right thing with the right attitude. While I won’t share the whole story, it will suffice to say that I had been working on some reporting that required a tedious hand. After a fair bit of checking, tallying figures, I thought I had it down and passed my work on to my manager. The whole day had gone pretty well, and I was actually feeling quite good about myself.

It didn’t take him more than a few minutes to see how I’d done it wrong and I had to sit down for a good twenty minutes explaining why I did it the way I did it and hearing him say how he really wanted it; although I felt he didn’t indicate it clearly the first time. Listening to him, I could see his point of view but at that point I just wasn’t feeling it because of the time and effort put in now being labelled a waste. I suppose it  was one of those things when you do the right thing the wrong way, its still wrong.

The end result of that discussion was that I would have to redo it all over and further add a few more elements I had not previously included. That’s when I had that look on my face. Annoyed and frustrated with a tinge of anger would probably sum up my feelings at the time. A simple work submission was all it took to change my emotions from a high to a low. Predictably, I let my emotions take over and I just didn’t feel like doing any work for the rest of the day. There was only about an hour left before clocking out anyway, so I thought why not run down the clock and leave that problem until Monday?

Eventually, some sort of logic got my brain and my body to do a little re-work, but even so I was doing it grudgingly. My emotions still had the better of me so I still chose not to stay back late to finish it there and then. I decided next week could take care of it.

I also decided my feelings were a good enough excuse for me to pamper and pacify myself by splurging a bit more on food this weekend. Going to Wok & Pan and Nancy’s Kitchen in the space of two days is not the cheapest affair. My Xbox 360 also received a lot more love and attention this weekend than it has in the last couple of weeks. Obviously, I was still peeved and doing everything I could to forget about it.

Unfortunately by the time church music practice came about on Saturday night, I wasn’t quite over it. In fact it affected the way I approached the practice session. Obvious or not, I wasn’t very keen about it and I got annoyed at certain points but I just kept quiet. Thankfully, there was still some common sense working in my brain.

After practice, I hung out for supper with a few people. Our conversation started out pretty normal, talking a bit about movies, music, a little about work. Then, one of us started talking about people’s troubles and life changing problems (and I mean life changing in a bad way) that she’s observed at her workplace. Some of the things she talked about were just really sad. It’s not great to hear about avoidable deaths and incidents of infants infected with STDs.

That’s when I realised how small my problem was and just like that, those feelings of anger and frustration just dissipated. After hearing all that, I realised how incredibly blessed I am. There are many issues that people have to face that I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid, by virtue of God putting me where I am. That reminder helped me set the frustration aside, and I saw that all I had to do was just to obey my manager and take it as a learning curve. I finally saw my situation past the emotions.

From my experience, you can see that feelings are very temporary. They can serve to inspire, or to blind you from what’s real. Feelings are what make an emotional compass, and its not a great idea to be guided by a compass that points a different direction every time the wind blows.

At the end of it, its important to know situations for what they are, and not only how we feel about them. I think more importantly, is to respond to our situations with a humble can-do attitude, not to instinctively react guided by our emotions. That said, as human beings, we will always feel and that’s a good thing because that’s how God made us. It’d be terrible if we couldn’t feel happiness or love. He made human beings a species with feelings, and they translate themselves in our good and bad times. That’s why He calls us to seek His wisdom, to pray in dealing with our situations.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

malaccan Pan

Having had a livelihood in Malacca for over a year, I’ve found a few places that I’d go to once in a while to pamper myself a little with some good food. Wok & Pan is one those places, and is one of those that locals recognise for good taste and value.

After going there once, I knew I’d be back soon enough and out of curiosity I was initially determined to try almost everything on the menu, but we all know that wasn’t going to happen, so I’ve eventually settled on sharing what I have tried at Wok & Pan over the last year.

The word is the owner of this place used to ply his trade at the Ramada hotel, and wanted a place of his own. Right on a corner lot in a sea of shop lots at Plaza Mahkota, you’d be forgiven if you couldn’t find it but its famous enough that most people know where it is anyway. It probably helps that Nadeje is right across the street too (something I’ll save for another time). 



As you can see its not a particularly large establishment. Its rather small in fact, which reasons the setup of plastic chairs and foldable tables outside. Their setup outside and inside favours a party of four for each table (eight to ten if there’s space to push tables together). 



If I’ve got it right, there’s probably just enough space for thirty people inside and another twenty outside. That’s not a lot and it’s why place is pretty full during peak meal hours. 

I guess that’s enough on the background of this place, its the food that matters right? I’ll get to it now. One thing about this place that touts its Western food is the fact it serves pork. That means, this place has got pork chops on the menu.

Recommended by a friend, their pork chops were what I had the first time I went . They serve pork cutlets too,which is basically your breaded chicken chop except its pork inside. Anyway, my first taste at this place looked like this: 

 
While not very large per se, two slabs of meat had my appetite going before I dug in and I was pretty satisfied after. All their pork chops are served with some coleslaw, asparagus, carrots and a bit of potato. It made for a very satisfying meal although it does leave you wishing for more.

The last picture was the pork chop with in-house barbeque sauce which isn’t bad at all. While it’s labelled as the chef’s favourite in the menu, the real hidden gem is what follows: 

 
Drowned in a gracious pool of creamy, buttery mushroom sauce with herbs and shitake mushrooms, this serving of pork chops has remained my favourite at Wok & Pan right up until today! The sauce is a definite winner in this case and makes all the difference and is a huge complement to the porky goodness available.

After I discovered it, each time I returned I’d order the same thing because I couldn’t get enough of that mushroom goodness until I told myself I should try a few other things, in case I didn’t know what I was missing.

While not being very adventurous at the time, I opted for a breaded pork chop with what the menu calls Thai Pineapple Salsa which apparently means this: 



While a bread pork chop on its own is certainly nothing extraordinary, its made up for by the fact there’s a generous serving of pineapples with a nice sweet sauce.

On another visit I tried one of the dishes available at most Western eateries, the Cordon Bleu. There’s a fair bit of compromise here on the dish, but it pays of well to an extent.  

 



I always imagined cordon bleu to be shaped like an oversized Swiss roll but I guess this it doesn’t always have to be shaped that way. At RM 14, and the photos above, I think it gives bang for the buck (or ringgit). I assure you its filling enough, and you can’t really mess up chicken, cheese and ham can you?

Somewhere along the line in my efforts to try everything on the menu, I moved on to burgers, something I was sceptical about because in my lifetime I haven’t been to many places with Wok and Pan’s menu price range that do any better than something out of a Burger King. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some delicious meat buns out of Chilli’s and Meatworks once each, but if I remember correctly both were priced way above any of Wok and Pan’s burgers. Let’s take a look at the first one. 



The photo may make it look a bit small, but trust me it is definitely not. As you can see, Mr. Ramly and his family probably didn’t have anything to do with this one. This is actually what the menu labels as the Fusion Burger, a large meat patty that comprises of both beef and pork, graced with sautéed onions.

I’ll say, the chunky meat was impressive, but I admit I didn’t get much taste out of it, which was unfortunate because I was expecting a lot more out of it. Still for RM 11, I think it still beats settling for a burger from your favourite fast food place. Maybe I should try the pure beef burger with cheese next time.

Anyway, something slightly cheaper and with a less glamorous appearance got some attention from me. 



The ‘Chef’s Pork Burger’ is a simple breaded pork cutlet with a bit of thousand island sauce and fried egg was actually rather satisfying. When I ordered it, I thought I was going to get a grilled piece of meat which left me disappointed initially but it turned out pretty decent.

Up until now, you’ve noticed everything I’ve written so far has something to do with pork, so I’ll mix it up a little bit. How about chicken? if they can cook pork well, surely they can do chicken right can’t they?

The cordon bleu was a pretty good indicator of what any breaded chicken chop they served would be like, so I guess the owner didn’t bother putting down a single chicken chop item on the menu. Instead, there’s a number of grilled or fried chicken choices, one or two braised option as well. 

 
One of my friend’s favourite dishes here (as pictured above) is the ‘Traditional Grilled Chicken Thigh’ with honey chilli ginger sauce.

Now, look at that photo, it’s a beaut isn’t it? I mean, it isn’t burnt and it looks pretty juicy. As I bit into it, I discovered a few things. Firstly, the meat was tender, so the cooks have got that spot on and the crispy skin is a plus. Here’s the bummer, I couldn’t taste a thing.

I didn’t use the honey chilli ginger sauce because I wanted to know what sort of savoury taste would come out of it naturally (in the same way I don’t tarnish any satay with peanut sauce). Once I put on the sauce, it was all right, but personally I don’t think relying on sauce is really the way to go. It’s a little like making fries without adding salt and hoping the ketchup will make everything all right. That’s the disappointment there because on its own if just for a little more flavour, it’d have been a hit with me.

So that was a little bit about chicken, I wasn’t keen to risk another chicken failure so I turned to another, fish. Going for my favourite fish from Fish & Co, I’d picked out the Dory to compare and see if Wok & Pan could compete. 



Getting to the point, I was not as disappointed with this as I was with the grilled chicken, but I really wish that there was more sauce. It just wasn’t enough and it doesn’t help that since this was a fish dish, it wasn’t filling either. Again, it was something that was actually quite promising, texture and all, but as it is the tongue knows not ugly, just taste.

It was probably at this point where I told myself it probably wouldn’t be worth trying everything on the menu just to get a total feel of it. Still, I do have a few more dishes I can share with you.

If you’ve taken notice, the name of this restaurant is Wok & Pan, with the pan symbolically representing the west and I believe I won’t need to tell you what the wok would then represent. While this place is well known for its Western exploits, the Chinese or Asian food I think is a little undervalued here.

Being curious about how good their Chinese food could possibly be, I put about a very basic test. I ordered rice and one dish, sweet and sour pork. We’re all familiar with this evergreen Chinese dish, if they could do it well, I wouldn’t be in much doubt about their Chinese cooking. 



I’m glad to report, it passed the test. It tastes as good as it looks and that’s a fair complement. There’s just a slight spiciness which I suppose aims to differentiate itself from the many other replicas of the dish out there. The pork isn’t crispy but the meat is chewy in a good way. When put together with the sauce and onions, it’s decent enough.

Although it passed the test, the thing was I’ve been eating alone at Wok and Pan all this while. That creates a problem, there’s no trouble eating a Western dish like a pork chop individually, but you can’t eat most Asian dishes on your own, which is why until today, I haven’t tried its other offerings like fried bean curd in Thai chilli sauce or Jenat fish curry.

Hence, I moved back to the Western stuff and I took it upon myself to try chicken again, albeit what I thought was a safer dish, chicken chop done Hainanese style, which to the uninformed just means barbeque sauce Chinese style. 



In many Malaysian franchised kopitiams, you’ll find Hainanese chicken chops is a big  piece of deep fried chicken, which isn’t necessarily what it should be in my opinion. At Wok and Pan I appreciate the fact that it isn’t deep fried. Its grilled, then drowned in the sauce. The sauce is not so thick, so that can be a good or bad thing, depending on your preference. This one was definitely better than the first chicken dish I tried.

A portion hidden towards the latter parts of the menu is actually their spaghetti and pasta. Again, I’d like to note this place is famous for being ‘Western’, not Italian. I was still curious and decided to give one of five pasta options a chance. 



I went with something regular, listed as Spaghetti Napolitana, its basically your normal tomato sauce type of spaghetti. The bowl makes the serving look big when it arrives but don’t be fooled, the portion is meant for a single person. The sauce was rather good, small and chunky meat pieces with your sweetish tomato taste.

Unfortunately again, the main ingredient wasn’t showing its full prowess. I think somebody forgot to put in salt while cooking the noodles, so when I chewed on bits of my spaghetti that wasn’t covered in sauce, it had zero taste.

Thanks to a ‘benefactor’ that I brought to visit some time back, it brought me the opportunity to taste two slightly pricier choices, one of which being the ‘Grilled New Zealand Lamb Chop’ served with Rosemary Garlic sauce. 



I’m a big fan of lamb chops, and while I didn’t order it, I did take a bite from my ‘benefactor’. Don’t you think this is a rather small portion? I definitely think so, especially bring priced above twenty ringgit. The thing is, it doesn’t even taste that great, although like the chicken and fish I didn’t fancy, I found no fault with it’s texture and tenderness. For a price under RM 40, I can get a lamb dish that can be shared among three persons if I just take a less than 15 minute drive down to Bei Zhan (again, another story for another time).

To be fair to Wok and Pan, its not like they’re famous for lamp chops. They are however, well known for their pork ribs (which is what every Western pork-based restaurant claims to best at). Priced just five ringgit more than the lamb chops, it was definitely more value for money. 



The BBQ Smoked Honey pork ribs have a fair honey-like glaze. Now, I don’t know if its because I’ve had a fair share of ribs over the years from several places like Tony Roma’s (beef ribs), numerous Chinese restaurants and a few Western places that do pork ribs, I can’t say I was overly impressed by this one.

That said, its not a bad dish, but I’d rather have two pork chops with different sauces than one of this. Of course, if you really want ribs I will say its a fair choice, although I warn you that you shouldn’t have high expectations of it either.

What I’ve concluded from my many trips to Wok and Pan is simply this:

They aren’t all winners.

Now, I’ve given both praise and criticism for food that comes out of the same kitchen. There’s disappointment in the fact that the more expensive items on the menu don’t seem to live up to their price tags. As consumers, we always expect, the more we spend, the more quality there should be and this is where Wok and Pan falls short on a few occasions.

Also, the funny thing is they’re great at cooking their meat in terms of getting the texture and the tenderness, so its a mystery as to why they can’t marinate some of it properly. It can’t be that hard. How can you grill chicken without marinating it well? If Nando’s and KFC know that, how much more should the custodians of a former Ramada resident’s establishment know?

That aside, it has its own strengths in what I term as the mid-range market where the menu choices aimed towards a decent eat-out meal budget really do give value for money. One things for certain here is that you won’t go wrong if you pick something on the menu that begins with the word pork.

So, if you’re a potential first timer, don’t look at the rest of the menu first and go for one of the pork chops straight away. That’ll give you an idea of what Wok and Pan is capable of and a fair way to measure if you should return a second time. I know in some ways I haven’t been very conclusive in my review here, so I’ll summarise it all in a short sentence.

It’s good, but it’s not great, yet good enough that you know you’ll come back at least a second time somewhere down the line.

I’ll leave you with the restaurant’s business card if you want a little more information on their opening hours and how to get there: 

 

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

team Marvel



It may not turn out to be blockbuster of the year but Marvel has got just about everything right in its latest live-action theatrical release of The Avengers. There have been many book/comic to movie adaptations that haven’t worked out so well, even some of Marvel’s own movie adaptations, i.e. Incredible Hulk and Fantastic 4 have failed to live up to expectations. This time however, they’ve got it just right.

Thor and Captain America drew me to this film, because I hadn’t been too impressed by either Incredible Hulk or Iron Man’s feature films in recent years. I knew there was much potential and plenty of expectation, but I was always curious if it had been overhyped, especially when Black Widow seemed such a forgettable character in Iron Man 2 and Hawkeye coming out of nowhere, being acted by Mission Impossible’s newcomer, Jeremy Renner. 



Well, I was very wrong about Black Widow, Scarlett Johansson was probably among the best acts in the film and Jeremy Renner has certainly earned his role in the upcoming Bourne film. These two are the ones without any super powers and I guess that’s what draws you to them a little more than the rest at times (its the same reason why all of us love Batman a gazillion times more than Superman).

I won’t spoil too much for you if you haven’t watched it but it was great seeing Marvel’s dream team face-off against each other, whether it was verbally or physically. When it happened, it satisfied our curiosity palates that wondered what if our favourite Marvel heroes turned on each other.

I think it was just great how The Avengers was able to bring Tony Stark’s cocky attitude, Banner’s reclusiveness, Steve Rogers bravery and Thor’s nobility all into the same room. The contrast of the characters was always going to make room for conflict and that’s what kicked this movie into high gear.

Adding to that, the more human characters like Nick Fury, Natasha (Black Widow) and Clint (Hawkeye) added a different dimension. Initially, they appear fearless and play their roles in a ‘matter of fact’ sort of way, so it just felt right to see them thrown off balance emotionally when faced with powers beyond them. This is where Scarlett Johansson really stood out even if it was just a couple of scenes (that and maybe her very full lips, LOL!). 



Apart from a solid backbone of decent storyline and well thought out lines here and there, we know we always watch superhero movies for some fun loving punching action and there’s enough of that to go around for everybody. Whether your hero was red, green or blue, they all had their fair share of heroic battle scenes.

I almost forgot! Loki was excellent, just exactly as he should be, no more no less. Loki’s character has always been broken, prideful, mischievous and ambitious, yet with a pretty weak backbone and all of that was on show throughout The Avengers. I really have to give Tom Hiddleston a lot of credit, he was perfect from the first to the last minute. For that, I can’t wait to see him in action when Thor 2 comes to the big screens. 



One other thing I like about The Avengers, is that there isn’t really a love line that determines the movie, in the same way Hunger Games did not. I suppose the reason for this is that there’s more than one ‘main character’ for this movie, removing the need for any 'love’. We all know that overplaying girl roles can have a horrendous effect on movies, the last Transformers film should be more than enough to prove my point, so I’m glad it didn’t happen to this movie.


At the end of it, you’d expect the ending to be open ended if you’re like me and are well aware that there are going to be individual sequels for Thor, Captain America and Iron Man. The ending certainly was an ending but it did leave things open after the end of the initial credits, which leaves us all guessing which one of Marvel’s darlings is going to face up to this new super villain or if we have to wait until the next Avengers sequel.

Well, we’ll just have to watch the next few Marvel movies to find out won’t we?



Random Fact:
Did you know Chris Evans (Captain America) was the human torch in Fantastic Four? Guess its a good thing Marvel left the Fantastic Four movies behind, because he makes a pretty good Captain.

Photo Credits:
iwatchstuff.com
collider.com
ew.com