Friday, November 28, 2014

What to look for in a Confinement Lady - from a Dad's perspective

It's been known to many we flew a confinement lady (otherwise referred to as the CL) in from Malaysia to take care of Li Li and Ellie for a couple of months. Many friends, from Singapore, Malaysia and even Hong Kong have tried her cooking, with varying amounts of praise. My wife has also posted pictures of her everyday meals on her page for reference, which have impressed many as well.

So how good was she?

Spread for Ellie's first month party, prepared single-handedly by the CL (Confinement Lady)

I might not be the best person to judge, as I am out of the house half the time on weekdays, but I can only say that she was not perfect. So let's start with the cons.
  • She talks too much, too loudly.
  • She doesn't help you much when you go shopping with her, aside of telling you what to buy, so it's better to leave the shopping completely to her.
  • Aside of her designated chores, she doesn't do much else in the house to help out unless she's asked to (it gets tiring to ask again and again).
  • She is an online game master (really picky employers can stop this by not giving WiFi password).
  • Her food is usually overseasoned, and she cooks a little too much all the time.
Ok, before you think that I am bad-mouthing my CL, please hold your horses, besides, many friends have already individually contacted me to ask me about her, so I might as well put this on my blog to answer all FAQs.

Now, to the main point. 

In spite of all the above, I feel that she is a GOOD CL.

  1. She keeps to her main role well, that is to nurture both mother and baby to good health during her stint. She cooked balanced meals, made special tonics for my wife and ensured that she did not have to wake to tend to the baby in the night.

    She also loves babies. There was not an instant that I felt she really lost patience with Ellie, which is commendable  as she was here for 2 months, and babies can be infuriating at times. As long as she did this part properly, all the cons mentioned above are really secondary.
  2. She cooks well. Even though she often over-seasons and cooks a little excess, I think I prefer food to be generally tasty and sufficient, rather than bland or not filling. Within our limitations of a tiny open kitchen with just 2 heating points on our electric stove, she did well.        
  3. She knows her place. And that is to just be the CL. Those who had experience with your parents playing this role, you should understand when I say that your mum will always be your mum, even if she can perform the roles of a CL well.

    Our one knew when to stop when things were not looking right, and when to disappear when she needed to, and that, I feel, is the X-factor that differentiates a good CL from the rest. I do not think it is acceptable if the CL should become the cause of any form of negative energy in the house. It certainly did not happen for us. However, this X-factor can only be known through the form of recommendations from friends, if you found your CL from an agent, this part will surely be a hit-and-miss.

So, there you have it. My very honest assessment of my CL, and a few pointers when you choose your own.

At the end of the day, both Li Li and Ellie were at their most vulnerable when she came, and emerged strong and well when she left. Nothing else matters.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Putting Food on the Table Linky: 8 Tips for Cooking Dads (and Mums)

Since Noah came, I have more or less taken over the job of putting food on the table. It's not always easy (don't get me started on the cleaning up part!), but the end result of watching my family tuck in happily is always a joy.

After nearly 3 years of churning out home-cooked goodness for my family, I realised even though it's still a struggle at times, I have developed a certain kind of momentum when it comes to making meals possible on working days, therefore, I am going to kick off this first ever linky on my blog giving some of my personal tips to cooking Dads (and Mums). Hopefully a couple of these tips will come in handy and make cooking much more of a breeze at home.

Some of the food I put on the table


This, to me, is the most important. You can have skills of a masterchef, but if you have pans that stick, spatulas that melt once they touch a hot surface or a blender that can never be cleaned properly, you will be frustrated in your endeavors to the point of giving up.

Therefore, when it comes to cooking, having great cooking equipment you are comfortable with is the key. Now this is extremely personal, but let me share what I have.
My 3 trusted kitchen assistants

I believe the 80-20 rule applies to most situations, and that includes cooking as well (80% of the food you cook will be done in 20% of the cookware you own). For me, my essentials are a good non-stick frying pan that holds a lot of heat (I use Scanpan, it's my best purchase ever), a soup pot and an oven. I now also have a claypot that I hope will work its way into my cooking repertoire. That's it!


The beauty of cooking at home is the fact that you know what you eat. Understanding this, the best way to ensure my family does not consume the things I don't want them to, is not to have them at home at all.

For example, I have never purchased MSG before, and I have stopped buying stock cubes. Sometimes my food might be a little bland, but not having these short-cuts force me to improve my cooking skills and use real ingredients to spike up the taste of the dishes next time.

One other thing I do not have in my kitchen is the microwave oven. I have no issues against the marvelous functions of it, sometimes I wish I had one too, but by not having it, I ensure I will not waste precious fridge space on frozen microwaveable meals. What's better than freshly-cooked food?


My cheat to churning out delicious food at home is simple - use the best ingredients you can find. It's difficult to define "best", but it's easy to define "fresh". Grab the freshest ingredients you can get your hands on.

For me, local seafood is still probably the best at the wet market, but when it comes to vegetables, meat and imported seafood, good supermarkets might have exclusive access to the higher-end suppliers.

Personally, I pay a lot of attention to the meat I have at home. Genuine "organic" meat might be hard to find, but I really do prefer meat from animals who spent their lives roaming around on their own feet eating things they are supposed to eat, which leads to the words "Kampung chicken" and "Free-range pork/beef". They cost more, but you can really taste the difference, and if you try hard enough, you will definitely find the most reliable suppliers in your area eventually. The folks in your home (that includes yourself) deserve it!


Now that you have your hands on the best ingredients, it's time to keep them fresh for as long as possible.

For meat and seafood, freeze them as soon as you get home, but please know that you should NEVER freeze them twice. If you cannot finish using them at one go after thawing, keep them chilled and use them up as soon as possible, freezing them again is the worst decision you will ever make.

Also, the best way to preserve the integrity of your meat/seafood is to adopt the "freeze fast thaw slow" rule, freeze them as soon as you can, but thaw them as slowly as possible. Meat or seafood that is forced to thaw in water or in the microwave will lose some of its original textures. It's recommended you put the frozen ingredients you need into the lower level of your refrigerator one day in advance to allow it to thaw at a low temperature slowly, preferably overnight. Have some patience, it will be well worth the wait.


As Daddies, most of us are working. We do not have time to visit the market everyday nor do things impromptu frequently. Planning in advance is vital, especially if we can only stock up on ingredients once a week. We do not have to plan everyday's menu in detail, but we need an idea of what we want to cook. Things that usually catch me off-guard are rice, flour, cooking oil, soy sauce and small aromatics like onions, garlic and ginger. It's frustrating to wake up early wanting to stirfry chicken to realise I have run out of shallots. Always try to check these things before 'marketing' and don't miss any essentials out.

On a daily basis, it's important to plan what to cook one day ahead. This makes sure we thaw the right frozen ingredients the night before (especially if you are following point 4). Waking up to rock-hard frozen meat is no fun.


I cannot emphasize this more. The nicest food is usually the simplest (some simple examples are soup and steamed fish). If you had managed to stock up on the good raw ingredients, you don't have to do much to ensure a table of healthy delicious food for your family.

The important thing is not to overcook your ingredients or over-season them. Let their natural flavours run the marathon for you. How to not overcook.... ah....... that comes with some heart, and practice, cook more and you will gain the experience required to shut the stove/oven at the right time.


If you are like me, waking up early frequently to cook meals for your family, you can help yourself by cooking dishes that will taste just as good (or better) cold or re-heated.

As a rule of thumb, this usually does not apply to fried food, as your family will likely eat them cold a few hours later which is really not optimizing your efforts.

Soups, stews and simple stirfries usually taste great reheated. If you plan to steam fish, I recommend you prepare the fish and ingredients on a plate for your family to steam them right before they plan to have their meal. It's a simple task. Reheating already-steamed fish will result in an overcooked fishy disaster.

If you are into pastas and salads, prepare the sauces and dressings and leave your family members to incorporate the sauces and dressings themselves. These dishes start to die once everything is mixed up, doing it way in advance is NOT recommended.


Lastly, if you are cooking for your family, you are already doing a good job. The twice-a-week takeaway and occasional instant noodles will not kill you them.

I do not cook everyday too. Sometimes I just throw everything down and call for a pizza or bring my family out for a simple meal. Don't batter yourself over putting dishes on the table everyday. Get enough rest and don't be too stressed.

While I was preparing this post, it suddenly occurred to me that it is not often that a Dad's contribution to family meals is mentioned, so I have decided to initiate this linky, to encourage my fellow bloggers to share more on this aspect. I am sure a lot of refreshing points of view will be gathered along the way, so do stay tuned throughout November as more and more parent bloggers link up.

Meanwhile, pick up your spatulas and get cooking!

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