Don’t Throw Out Your Daun Serai (Lemongrass Leaves)

Serai or lemongrass is a herb that is used for a variety of Southeast Asian dishes, as a natural bug repellent it could commonly be found in a lot of Malay gardens. It is generally pretty easy to care for. In fact, here in Kuala Lumpur where a daily evening shower is not uncommon, I have left my lemongrass without watering it for months and it survives when some of the fussier ones might not.

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Baby serai (lemongrass) moved into their new home. . When removing the babies from their mother, I would cut the top off so they could focus on reestablishing their roots. Usually, if you leave the leaves attached, they will fall off anyway and if you don't remove the dead leaves, it could lead to rusting. . The other good part about removing leaves is that you can infuse the leaves into your tea! My mother loves them and they come with a number of health benefits to boot. . However, if you're like me and you think lemongrass tea tastes like food in a cup so you'd rather not have them, you could still add the leaves to your soup or broth for added flavour. . For now, these babies would work their magic with sunlight and compost tea before they make their way into our pots, cups and plates. . #serai #lemongrass #gardening

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However, my father would always remind me to give the plant a periodic trim to boost its growth. I’ve often watched him snip the leaves off the stalks and later cutting them into small pieces before scattering them in various pots to be used as mulch (with a bonus aromatic fragrance that would last the rest of the day). And as his work kept him busy and I began to take over the mantle, I too would prune them from time to time, usually after my father remarked on how long the leaves have grown.

Which is why it came as a surprise to me when I found out that some people actually buy lemongrass leaves to make tea! My mother had long been brewing lemongrass stalk for its health benefits but we had never considered the leaves to be edible. And as someone who is ‘allergic’ to the term ‘discard’, I was excited to find one extra use out of the leaves before I return them to the earth.

Traditionally, lemongrass is known for its ‘detoxing’ properties as well as a remedy for some gastrointestinal issues but more and more research is proving that lemongrass comes with a lot of beneficial properties.

In labs and animal studies, lemongrass exhibits antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer and antiproliferative properties which would help against problems like cell degradation and tumour growth. They also show vasorelaxant properties and in one observational study, those who drank lemongrass tea experienced a moderate drop in systolic blood pressure with a mild increase in diastolic blood pressure. Lemongrass oil has also been shown to help control cholesterol levels in animals although it is not known if the same effect could be seen from simply taking lemongrass tea. Lemongrass extract also gave hypoglycaemic effects on rats which suggests it would help with Type 2 diabetes.

What surprises me most was how effective lemongrass oil is in its antimicrobial and antibiofilm properties. In fact, in a preliminary study, lemongrass oil has even been shown to be a helpful addition to periodontal therapy for treating chronic periodontitis (a severe gum infection). Which is why in many countries , people have been traditionally chewing the stalks as a part of their oral hygiene routine–and the fibrous stalk works well as an emergency brush.

Despite all of these amazing benefits, it is important to remember that like all things, natural or artificial, everything likely comes with a side effect of some sort and it is important to keep things in moderation (even too much oxygen can kill you!). Many people suggest steeping 1-3 teaspoons of fresh or dried leaves in a cup of boiling water and you could either let it cool with a couple of iced cubes or serve them hot.

My mother, at the moment the only person who regularly drinks the tea, likes hers cold so I usually boil a pot of water, drop the chopped leaves of one stalk in after I turn the gas off and once it has cooled, just pop them into the fridge for a couple of hours. If it is a thicker stalk with more leaves, I would dilute the tea before serving.

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Lemongrass tea for Mama #lemongrasstea #lemongrass

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I tried having the tea once but having the taste of what I usually associate with savoury food in my tea was very confusing. But knowing what how healthy this tea is now, I might give it another try.

So please, don’t throw your leaves out. Even if you don’t like having it in your drink, you could repurpose them into your cooking. It doesn’t taste exactly like the stalk but it still has the lemony scent which would go well into a number of soup and broth. And you’ll feel good about repurposing something that otherwise would have gone into the bin.

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Top to the cup, stalk to the plate.

 

Covid-19: Our Fear and What Can We Do About It?

On the morning of the 17th of March, I went to a nearby supermarket to buy a few things we’re running low on. The night before, the prime minister had announced that starting on the 18th, Malaysia would be placed under movement control, and although we already have been stocking up on some essential items, we thought it would be a good idea to get some fresh food, just in case they would be hard to come by in the future.

The roads leading to the supermarket were eerily silent. They weren’t completely empty but for a Tuesday morning, there usually would be a lot more traffic especially on the main road. As I approached the supermarket however, I began to see some of cars slowly building up a mini traffic jam but it was nothing compared to what greeted me next.

The moment I walked through the glass door, I found the supermarket to be absolutely crowded. Trying to make your way from one end of the supermarket to the other was a complete obstacle course. People of all ages were clearing out already bare shelves. Elderly couples and families with young kids are standing shoulder to shoulder, snaking their way into the cashier queue which have stretched all the way to the entrance. And although I’ve decided that the grocery is not worth spending any more time than I need to in the mini mass gathering, I still had to worm my way between the crowd just to make an exit, trying in vain not to touch anyone.

Back at home, we hear about similar events taking place all over Malaysia. People are rushing into stores in a manic frenzy and families are frantically packing to escape the city. Instructions on precautionary measures like staying at home, standing a metre away from each other or just frequent hand washing are nothing but hazy recollections at the back of one’s head, blocked by a more urgent sense of impending doom. The people’s underappreciated freedom to do whatever they please have now been revoked and that have placed everyone into a state of uncertainty, confusion and fear. And as varied as the colours of people who walk this Earth, so are their reactions to their fears.

The Need to Act

For most of us, fear drives us into immediate action. We are plagued by a sense of restlessness and helplessness, propelling us into doing simply anything to ease our discomfort. It doesn’t matter if we know which mask to get, how a mask even works against infection or how to use it best; we simply buy them by the dozens. It doesn’t matter that proper hand cleaning with soap and water is the best way to prevent the virus from spreading through contact, we’ll just get bottles of hand sanitizer because it seems much more medical.

This is partly why people are buying seemingly irrational things too. After news of the toilet paper robberies in Hong Kong and Australia spread through the social media, people all over the world are buying rolls and rolls of toilet paper. Fueled by FOMO (or the Fear Of Missing Out) and the shock at such desperate an act, even those who usually don’t use toilet paper are now asking themselves “Should I get one too? Or perhaps a few, just in case?”

Similarly, it is the reason why people are leaving their homes in droves in a search for a ‘safer’ place. The availability of good facility in major hospitals has given the appearance that these cities have high number of cases and those seeking assurance assume that it would be safer for them to stay away.

For others, the thought of living far apart at a time of crisis is too much to bear even in the age of instant communication. Their sleeps are disturbed by the thoughts of loved ones dying far away from them and they want to be together for each other. The unseen risk of them being the catalyst for spreading the disease seems negligible in compared to these more imminent fears.

State of Denial

Another common reaction to fear is to rebel against it as the thought of being weak is too uncomfortable for us to deal with. Instead of admitting to ourselves that there is a problem which they have to face, we would rather tell ourselves that everything is okay. And the harder the world tries to force us into believing that something is definitely wrong, the more inclined we are to not face it. Suddenly, the thought of staying at home is giving us the heebie-jeebies even though we could spend hours on the game console without a word of complain.

To others, this denial may be more subtle. They are consciously aware and admit that it is a time of crisis, but to actually live in a way which reflects that is so unbearably uncomfortable. It is similar to the actions of a heavy smoker who, deep inside, do feel the need to cut down a few packs, but would rather just not think about it and keep smoking.

Is It All Fear Though?

Of course, humans are much more complex and no matter how much we try to dissect each other, we would never be able to even begin comprehend the whole truth. There are lots of different factors that affect our actions in all situations. However, humans are social beings and in a society, emotions can be just as contagious, or even more so, than the virus that threatens our lives.

And fear itself is a very powerful emotion that had been hardwired in the brains of all creatures to ensure their survival. We often hear amazing things one could do in the midst of an adrenaline rush. At the same time, fear can cause you to do something that you would regret as it often only cares about your short term survival. And at a time of crisis, even those who generally have a good hold on their fears are now being affected by the accumulated anxiety of the whole population that surrounds them.

So What Do We Do?

Fear often cause the steadiest of people to act on their impulse. It comes with a sense of urgency that demands immediate action. Especially at a time like this, it is wise to practice a bit of mindfulness and self awareness as a tool to help us make wiser actions. Keep checking in with yourself and ask yourselves questions like “What is the reason behind my action? How am I feeling and how is it affecting me? Do I really need to do this or would it harm other people? Based on my beliefs, what is best thing that I could do right now?”

By being more in tune with your values, your actions would bring a more permanent sense of satisfaction rather than the quick bites of temporary relief that would simply lead to another round of panic. And by constantly checking in with your emotions, you would be more sensitive to the irrational urges that may cause you to do something that you will later regret. The more control we have over ourselves, the less burden we will put on all of the healthcare workers and members of the public service who are racing against the clock to save lives.

On top of that, keep yourself informed with current updates from reputable sources that would help you prepare yourself for what is to come. Pay attention to and carry out the precautionary measures given by the authorities so you could tell yourself honestly that you have tried what you could to protect yourself, your family, your friends and your community.

Be patient and be calm. Insya Allah, if we all work together, by His help and guidance, we will get through this.

NaPoWriMo #Poem 15: City Shower

The room darkens as the sunlight begins to fade
A scent, so dearly-missed, growing into a parade
I rush to the window and turn up to the sky
Seeing dark dense clouds coming by and by

I pull back the latch and turn the key
Revealing the sight of the blurry city
The air is thick with smoke and dust
But it’s alright, rain has come at last

I catch the first drop in my open eye
My skin has long feel grimy and dry
Another drop on my cheek, my arm, my nose!
Now pouring by tankfuls, how fast it goes!

I bring out the buckets and whatever that would hold
The much needed water, so refreshingly cold!
Though the shower is blurring the sight of my gaze
I can see it eating up most of the smog and haze

The land has long been cracked and arid
Such delight to see drains now gushing like rapids
My clothes now drenched clinging heavily to my body
Unknowingly absorbing the toxic from the city

Ginger and Cinnamon Tea

The yet to be crushed ginger and cinnamon. On the left is the traditional Malaysian pestle and mortar

There is nothing better than indulging myself to a warm cup of ginger and cinnamon tea after a long day of hard work. Only a whiff of the tea is enough to make me craving for a sip of this wonderful and aromatic tea. The aromatic and spicy flavour of ginger together with the sweet and warm taste of cinnamon blends wonderfully with that unique aroma of tea resulting a drink that is so flavourful and heavenly delicious. And the best part is, not only that the tea is so tasty but it is also loaded with tremendous medicinal benefits!

Cinnamon is known for its ability to improve blood circulation and the effectiveness of insulin which plays a role in lowering blood sugar and bad cholesterol level; while antiviral, anti-fungal, antibacterial, anti-clotting and anti-nausea are some of the many medicinal properties of ginger. And black tea has a good amount of antioxidant too! For a ‘spicier’ taste, I sometimes add some cloves which is an excellent source of manganese to the brew.

The result of the 'crushing' process.

The result of the 'crushing' process.

Every once in a while (since I am not that eager to crush the spices), I would prepare the ginger and cinnamon tea for both my mom and I. The process is not that hard actually, but I find grinding cinnamon quite tiring especially to avoid the pieces of cinnamon from ‘jumping’ all over the kitchen. While mom loves her tea the way it is, I prefer mine with a richer taste of milk. Since ginger and cinnamon tea has a unique blend of taste, it goes best without sugar which is all the better for your health!

A ‘Space-Friendly’ And Easy-To-Grow Vegetable: Beansprout

My homegrown beansprout

Like many others who live in the city, we only have a small garden. Actually, it never did cross my mind of how small our garden is, until we decided to plant our own organic vegetables three years ago. Is there any herb or vegetable that can be grown without taking too much space for the city folk?

Last week, Mom soaked a bowl of green beans overnight for her ‘bubur kacang’. Anyway she was so busy the next day that she forgot all about them after straining the beans into a colander. The next day she found that her bowlful of green beans had grown tiny roots. So, instead of cooking them, she gave me the beans for my “experiments’.

And I decided to grow beansprout. I found out that growing green beans into beansprouts is certainly very easy. All I did was running tap water over the colanders (with the beans) every 4-6 hours or so. Don’t try to move the beans/seedlings around with your hands (you may feel tempted to do so, but you may pull out their roots). Put a plate under the colander to collect the water dripping from the colander.

The green beans had grown tiny roots! 😀

In a few days, the roots will be long enough to reach out of the colander into the plate of water below it. Even at this stage, I still ‘water’ the sprouts but I suppose you could leave it on its own. Another thing to remember is not to put too much beans in one colander. When that happens, the beans on the top couldn’t get enough water while the beans at the bottom may rot.

Roots growing out of the colander

Another good point in growing beansprouts is that you can plan when to start growing them so that the beansprout will be really fresh when needed. Soak the beans overnight about 5 days ahead and they should be ready to be harvested on time. And trust me, fresh home grown beansprouts are so tasty, crunchy and without that ‘commercial beansprout smell’ that even I who never like beansprouts before ate loads of them.

Fresh, homegrown, organic beansprout in mum's delicious fried noodle.

So with the price of vegetables rising up and the concern of the high level of chemical contamination in our vegetables, it will be a very good idea to grow our own vegetables. And if space is a problem, try growing beansprouts; you can even grow them in your apartment balcony, kitchen or even in your dining room! It is really cheap and easy while the result is absolutely wonderful. Maybe I should start a business selling tasty, fresh, home-grown, organic  beansprouts … after all fresh, organic vegetables can fetch a good price in today’s market!

Ready-for-harvest beansprouts (shoots)

Ready-for-harvest beansprouts (roots)

Jogging

Jogging is a very good exercise which benefits our bones (by increasing bone density in the lower body), muscles (by increasing muscular strength and stamina in the lower body) and joints (by strengthening tendons and ligaments in the lower body). It can also increase lung capacity, strengthen the heart, improves blood circulation, increase metabolism, burn calories and the best part is; it releases endorphins (read more about it here) and reduces stress.

However, because of the extra strain on muscles and joints from the repetitive impact may lead to injuries such as knee pains and shin splints. Long term jogging on hard surfaces can play a role in degenerative joint conditions such as osteoarthritis. That is why it is very important to wear good running shoes that cushion and support your feet.

Always remember to warm up and stretch thoroughly before you start. If you have never run before or are very out of shape, don’t overdo it. You could start by walking most of the session and include just a minute of jogging. As you become fitter, you can gradually increase the proportion of your session spent jogging. You will also need to breathe a little harder than normal to get more oxygen into the body but you should still be able to hold a conversation while you jog (a sign that you are not overdoing things). If you find yourself getting too out of breath, slow down or walk until you have recovered. When your breathing has returned to a more comfortable level you can start jogging again.

Yesterday morning, my family and I went jogging at Taman Tasik Ampang Hilir. We jogged around 2.7 km and stopped by a playground, exhausted. It’s the first time (after so long) we jogged and plan to do so every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. We had some fun at the playground with the chain bridge, flying foxes, monkey bars, stepping stones and (my favourite) the swing.

Taman Tasik Ampang Hilir is a beautiful park with a nice small lake in the middle. It has a jogging track, a food stalls, a few playgrounds and some exercising equipments. I once went there before with my family. We had a picnic there with my dad’s friends from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. The park had just been opened for about a month then and it was cleaner too. Yesterday, we saw that the lake was polluted with all sorts of rubbishes. Some irresponsible people must have been too lazy and threw their rubbishes into the lake despite the many rubbish bin that had been provided. How did they managed to even walk back to their car I wonder.

Hiccups

I’m very sorry for leaving the blogsphere for quite a long time. I had been busy reading, studying until I had forgotten to update my blog. Thanks to mum and dad I had finally returned. In this post I would like to share a little bit of what I’ve learned from one of the books I’ve been reading…

Nobody likes hiccups and looking for a perfect cure is always hard. My worst ‘hiccup attack’ was two years ago that goes on for 3 days. But that was nothing compared to what Charles Osborne had experienced. He started hiccuping in 1922 and continued for the next 65 years (1987). That’s 430 million hiccups! Can you ever imagine that?

Anyway not all hiccups are severe, infact most hiccups only last a few minutes and disappeared as magically as it came. But hiccups are so uncomfortable that even a few minutes experience is more than enough. Isn’t there a cure for hiccups which works instantly? If there is, what is it and how? Read on the following treatments and I’m sure that one of them would surely be your answer to the question…

  1. Yank forcefully on the tongue.
  2. Lift the uvala (that little boxing bag at the back of your mouth) with a spoon.
  3. Tickle the roof of your mouth with a cotton swab at the point when the hard and soft palate meet.
  4. Chew and swallow dry bread.
  5. Suck a lemon wedge soaked in Angostura bitters.
  6. Compress the chest by pulling the knees up or leaning forward.
  7. Gargle with water.
  8. Hold your breath.
  9. Suck on crushed ice.

If those given above do not work, may be you’d like to try these instead:

  1. Take a teaspoon of sugar and swallow it dry. Others recommend a tablespoon of sugar instead but that may be a matter of personal taste.
  2. Fill a glass of water, bend forward and drink it upside down.
  3. Hold your breath for as long as possible and swallow at the time you feel the hiccup sensation coming. Do that 2 or 3 times, then take a breath and repeat again.
  4. Fill a cup of water and place it on a counter, then press your index fingers in your ears. Bend over at the waist and pick up the cup with the pinky finger and thumb of each hand and, while holding your breath, drink the water down in one or two gulps. [I highly recommend this one as it works for me 🙂 ]
  5. Blow in and out exactly ten times in a paper bag. You MUST do it really hard until you are red in the face. You also MUST do it fast and you MUST make sure that no air gets in by forming a good seal around your mouth with the bag. You MUST follow all of the directions exactly as directed or it’ll never work.

ESPECIALLY FOR TOTS: Tickle them while they hold their breath and they must try their best not to laugh.

ESPECIALLY FOR BABIES: Feed them a half teaspoon of sugar dissolve in 4 ounce of water.

ESPECIALLY FOR NEWBORNS: Place a wet tissue on the baby’s forehead (Recommended by Kak Shahidah in her previous comment. Thanks, Kak Shaidah!)

Not everyone can be cured the same way. Try a few and see which works for you… Good Luck!

Note: I learnt these tips from ‘The Doctor’s Book of Home Remedies’ which was written by the editors of Prevention Magazine Health Books and published by Parsons/ Walton/ Press, Hong Kong in 2001. This amazing book contains thousands of techniques of preventing and curing everyday health problems. And I would like to thank ‘Apa’ (my maternal great grandfather, Hj. Yaacob bin Hj. Abdullah Al- Yunani) for lending me this wonderful book.