Monday, July 31, 2006

Article in Nooks & Corners in Star Metro

Sew, that’s what she does with her time


Chan hard at work on one of her creations.
WHEN Chan Hui Min’s daughter, Laura, told her that a toy had run out of batteries, Chan realised that most toys these days either needed batteries or buttons to operate.

That motivated her to go back to the basics and try to revive traditional games that she used to play as a child.

Coupled with her keen interest in sewing, she soon came up with the idea of stitching traditional games for sale.

Chan, who works with the Instant Café Theatre, first started sewing as a hobby in 1998.

“I had followed a friend to a quilt shop for classes. Before I knew it, I was addicted,” said Chan, 38, who then spent up to 14 hours a day sewing.

However, after her children were born, she had less time on her hands and stopped indulging in her hobby for a few years.

Chan picked it up again at the end of last year, as her daughter Laura is now six and son Adam, three.

“I started sewing traditional games such as “five stones” because they were the games I grew up with and which I used to play with my friends.

“It’s something I’d like to teach children to play, and to teach other parents too. Now, it’s so easy to just go to the stores and buy toys,” she said, adding that toys and food brands also have strong influences on children.

Besides “five stones,” Chan also sews snakes and ladders, and checkers sets.

A close look at Chan’s Lighted Tree children’s quilt based on a Retta Warehime design.
“I just love sewing and also want to turn it into a paying hobby,” said Chan, who now spends an average of four hours a day sewing, after her children go to bed.

In addition, Chan also sews gift bags, quilts and patchwork onto children’s T-shirts.

Her pieces are priced from RM5 (gift bags) to RM30 plus for T-shirts and checkers sets.

As for quilts, which are baby-size or wall hanging pieces, prices vary according to design and size.

“I’m not keen on making big-size quilts, one reason being time constraints. Also, I’m impatient and get bored easily, so I want to see the design I’ve envisioned as soon as possible,” said Chan.

For ideas, Chan turns to books or the fabric she buys from time to time.

“Some ideas are from daydreaming! But everywhere you go in Malaysia there are designs, shapes and colours, and different forms of fabric art such as batik and sarong. I am also fascinated with ethnic tattoo designs.

“I incorporate all of these into my work,” she said, adding that her pieces are all limited editions.

At the moment, Chan is into bright contrasting colours.

“I’ve also gone through phases when I liked only two or three colours in my designs,” she said.

For now, Chan mainly shares her work with friends through “coffee mornings.”

A Snakes and Ladders quilt with ‘Five Stones’ on it.
Eventually, she also hopes to make other traditional games and handicraft out of different materials such as wood.

Chan can be contacted at or 012- 202 5550.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Cake journey

When Laura's best friend was going to celebrate her 3rd birthday, I blurted "I'll make the cake!". Caityin ordered a yellow heart-shaped cake with gummy bears on it. A few days before the party, I was stressing myself out so much PT asked why I volunteered to make the cake. I've always welcomed challenges but didn't think anyone could get so stressed out over a cake. I surfed the net and found recipes and information on icing in I asked friends who had more experience in baking. I didn't know how to ice a cake or pipe the name. If the cake didn't happen, my back up plan was to buy a cake from the nearest cake shop. Couldn't disappoint a 3-year-old. This was the result. The birthday celebrant thought there wasn't enough gummies on the cake though. I have to agree.

Sep 2003

The tradition of candies on the cake for the children to pick off from started at my own children's birthday party. My friend, Junji, baked their cake and her daughter helped decorate.

The next year, I baked this for my own children's birthday. Yup, still didn't know how to pipe the icing for name.

June 2004

Later that year, I baked the cake for Laura's best friend, Caityin. Here are her two young guests eyeing the gummies on the cake. One of the guests commented "Oh, this is how a homemade cake looks like". Although my friend, Elaine, said the cake was too big for the few guests she had, it was all gone at the end of the party! Made a mental note not to use buttercream icing when the weather is warm.

Sep 2004

Baked this cake for a joint birthday for 3 people. One of the birthday celebrant (Elaine) helped pipe the icing. That was when I decided I really need to learn how to do it.

May 2005

For her 5th birthday, I thought I'd make Laura a jewelry box cake. It started out as a music box actually. Made a mental note: Not all cakes are firm enough for icing or for shaping.

Yay! Success in lettering! Adam got a construction site cake which he loved. He still remembers the toy construction vehicles on the cake. When I told him I was baking him a train cake for his 3rd birthday, he took out all his toy trains so I could decorate his train cake.

June 2005

Made this cake for Jamie & Josh's 3rd birthday. This was when I wish I knew how to make fondant figures so I could make the cars. The boys didn't complain 'coz they got to play with the cars after the birthday song was sung.

Sep 2005

What is the most personal gift one could make for a childhood friend and her mom who celebrated their birthday together? A birthday cake!

Dec 2005

Also for a very good friend. Our "extended family member", Andy. The kids were happy they got to help decorate the cake.

Jan 2006

This cake began my quest for red colouring for icing. I've tried Fortuna Red, Cochineal Red and a generic red colour from a baking supplies shop. Elmo still turned pink! Now I know how to get a lovely pink shade. I'm still looking for the red. Elmo was my first attempt at making a cake which didn't follow the shape of the cake pan.

Feb 2006

I started out trying to make a doll cake for Laura, thinking I didn't need a doll dress cake pan. When the cake turned out too shallow for Barbie's long legs, the doll cake became a Barbie tea party cake! Lovely shade of pink using Cochineal Red food dye.

When Adam saw the train I made, my train expert asked what train it was. Didn't impress him at all. He wanted Thomas. Alright, my son has thrown me a challenge!

June 2006

We've come a full circle. Four years ago, Junji baked my daughter's birthday cake for her 2nd birthday. This year, to celebrate Junji's birthday I baked her an orange butter cake with orange buttercream icing.

July 2006

Next cake project? Two cakes for 4 children celebrating their birthday together in August. One is a dinosaur cake and another one a girlie girl cake. The children will be helping to decorate their cakes. Watch this space!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Being a mother

Saturday morning was a red letter day! The first mommy podcast, The Jenn & Lia Show! I was one of the guests on the topic "And Baby Makes Three". We discussed on (to quote Jenn) "the realities of having kids, the challenges a stay-at-home mom faces, and more." I believe Jenn is in the midst of post-production (Ahem! Sounds so professional).

Right on cue, in the newspaper today was the story of a 62-year-old woman in the UK who gave birth to a baby boy. The baby was conceived through IVF treatment. Again, I think "Gee, I wonder why women go through menopause in their 40's/50's..." Makes me want to slap Italian fertility expert Professor Severino Antinori who was also responsible for helping a Romanian woman have her first child at age 66.

The UK mother, Patricia Farrant, was quoted as saying "What is important in parenting is not how old you are, but whether you are meeting all the child's needs and we are very confident about doing that." Tell us again Patricia when your son nurses constantly around the clock, learns to be mobile and crawls everywhere, nurses several times at night, throws everything to see the reaction he will get, nurses several times at night, learns to walk, nurses several times at night, have his hands on everything, nurses several times at night, puts everything in his mouth and grabs everything within reach, nurses several times at night, becomes really clingy and only wants mommy, nurses more times at night for comfort, starts running about and wants to climb up and down stairs ALL the time, nurses several times at night, ... I'm sure mothers half her age find it hard to cope and wish they had more than 24 hours and more energy. She had the child so "she can fulfil her 60-year-old husband John's dream of becoming a father." Awww... How sweet. Guess who is on diaper duty!

I am a firm believer of listening to our body and to Mother Nature. The human being has evolved so much and is so out of tune with nature, it's quite alarming. Why do women menopause at a certain age? I believe it's nature's way of saying "Alright, your body will not be able to take the strain of carrying a child, give birth, care for a child, run after a child, answer a bazillion questions past our 40's. Now is when the body needs to rest. Enough!"

Another example of listening to our body. When babies are newborn, they sleep a lot in the day and wake up at night to nurse. Confinement ladies and well-meaning (but ill-informed) mother/mother-in-law/relatives will insist that new mothers sleep at night while they feed babies formula. Their reason: New mothers have gone through a lot of strain on their body with the pregnancy and childbirth, so they need to rest. Please listen to what nature is saying. Newborns sleep a lot in the day. Nature knows that not all mothers are first time mothers. Other children may be around. Not care for the other children? Of course not. Rest whenever the newborn is resting I suppose. Newborns wake up a lot to nurse at night because that is when the breasts produces the most milk. Mother co-sleep with baby, baby feels secure cries less and nurses on demand. Baby sleeps, mother sleeps. See? Nature knows best. She is a Mother after all.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Home-made & Healthy

This article came out in The Star (Star Two) on Monday, 26 June 2006.

Home-made and healthy

Malaysian roti was once something like the Ford Model-T which, said car-maker Henry Ford, was available in every colour, as long as it’s black. Similarly, there was just one variety of bread: fluffy white with crusty brown top (also known as roti Bengali), best savoured as toast with a slab of butter and kaya, at a kopitiam.

But today’s bread is no longer just a filling way to start the day. It has become a gourmet experience, with specialty breads being created by chefs in fancy bakeries and patisseries. Bread-making has also been embraced by many households in the quest for that home-made loaf, especially with convenient breadmakers in the market.

EVER since Chan Hui Min purchased a breadmaker last year, she has not bought bread from the stores.

“Once you’ve tasted home-made bread, you won’t go for other breads. My son Adam does not eat any store-bought bread,” says the 38-year-old mother of two.

Chan has two favourite recipes – oatmeal and wholemeal honey bread. She also swaps recipes and ideas with her good friend Angelia Ong.

Ong, 33, first started baking her own bread six years ago when she bought a breadmaker from Australia.

Then she stopped after giving birth to twin boys, James and Joshua, now aged four. However, after her third son Kieran was born, she took it up again.

“We’ve put in more effort to have home-cooked food for the kids. I try to give them wholemeal bread, sometimes with raisins.

“They like the flaxseed variety because it has a nice balance between white bread and wholemeal in terms of texture,” says Ong, who keeps store-bought bread in the freezer for emergencies.

Both Ong and Chan buy pre-mixed flour from their regular baking shops.

“I’ve tried mixing different flours on my own but just couldn’t get the right combination,” says Ong, a freelance writer.

Nutrition is obviously a priority for these two mothers.

“What’s important is what goes into the bread, plus the great smell that fills the house after baking,” says Chan, who works part-time for the Instant Café Theatre Company.

However, Chan indulges in the traditional roti bakar (or roti “Bengali”) once in a while. “But it’s hard to find that nowadays. When I do see them, I tend to buy a loaf for the sake of nostalgia.”

Baking and cooking are also important family activities for Ong and Chan.

“Both my twin boys help with the baking and cooking, which is good for their fine motor skills.

“Also, if it’s raining, the kids get cranky when they cannot go out, and it’s great to bake together even if all they do is just pour water in,” says Ong.

“Cooking together gives us many wonderful moments to treasure. The children love to eat the bread in the morning because they had a part in making it,” she adds.

I do not claim to be a breadmaking expert. Only with the help of a breadmaking machine that I'm able to make decent bread! Here are my family's favourite recipes for homemade bread. The recipes were adapted from recipes I found on

Oatmeal Bread
Original recipe yield: 1 1/2 pound loaf.

Prep Time: 5 Minutes
Cook Time: 3 Hours
Ready In: 3 Hours 5 Minutes
Servings: 12


* 1 1/4 cups fresh milk
* 3 cups bread flour
* 2 tablespoons honey
* 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
* 1/2 cup quick cooking oats
* 2 tablespoons butter
* 1 teaspoon active dry yeast


1. Place ingredients in the pan of the bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select White Bread setting, and Start.

NOTE: On my Kenwood breadmaker, the setting is No. 2 (Large white)

Whole Wheat Honey Bread
Original recipe yield: 1 - 1 1/2 pound loaf.

Prep Time: 5 Minutes
Cook Time: 3 Hours
Ready In: 3 Hours 5 Minutes
Servings: 12


* 1 1/8 cups fresh milk
* 2 cups whole wheat flour
* 1 cup bread flour
* 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
* 2 tablespoons honey
* 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
* 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast


1. Place ingredients in bread machine pan in the order suggested by the manufacturer. Select Whole Wheat setting, and then press Start.

NOTE: On my Kenwood breadmaker, the setting is No. 4 (Regular Wholewheat)

Adam and Laura will tell you the bread made with those recipes are fluffy and yummy. There is a secret ingredient which I will not post. Email me if you want to know...