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I just realised it’s been a while since I last posted a recipe for harassed working mothers. I know, I know, “steamed fish” hardly sounds like an easy recipe but trust me, it is.

The star of this dish is a fish known in Malaysia as ‘bawal emas’ or golden pomfret. This fish is known in the Philippines as pampano or pompano. For best results, use the freshest fish that you can find (clear eyes, bright red gills, firm texture)…or, at the very least, cook the fish immediately upon reaching home (i.e. the same day you bought it).

Filipino Style Steamed Golden Pomfret with Sesame Oil & Soy Sauce

Ingredients:
1 pc ikan bawal emas
2-3 inches ginger, peeled and sliced into strips
Daun kuchai (Filipino: kinchay), a bunch about the diameter of a 20-sen coin, washed and cut into ~2″ pcs
Daun bawang (spring onions), 2 or 3 stalks, washed and cut like the daun kuchai

1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
Sesame oil to taste

Water for steaming
Cooking oil (preferably coconut oil or peanut oil)
Salt & pepper for rubbing into fish

Directions:
1. Clean and gut the fish. Trim the tail and fins using kitchen scissors for easier handling. Make 2-3 diagonal slices on each side. Pat dry with a piece of kitchen towel. Rub with salt and pepper (I used white pepper) inside and out.
2. Take about 1/5 of the ginger/kuchai/daun bawang and stuff inside the fish cavity. Divide the rest of ginger/ kuchai/ daun bawang into 3 portions.
2. Prepare your steamer. Place an appropriate amount of water. Put 1/3 of the ginger/ kuchai/ daun bawang into the water. Allow to boil.
3. Steam the fish for about 10-15 minutes. You might want to flip the fish halfway for more even cooking but do it very carefully. Place the fish into a serving plate.
4. Heat up some oil in a wok/pan. (I used coconut oil.) Stir fry the remaining ginger strips for about half a minute, then add the remaining daun kuchai and daun bawang. Stir fry for another half minute so as to retain the green colour. Take the spices out, leaving behind the oil; arrange over the fish. Save the oil for later.
5. Pour the soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and a bit of water into a small saucepan and allow to boil for about 30 seconds. Adjust soy sauce/sugar/sesame oil to taste. (Note: I used a bit of water which was used to steam the fish since I only made the sauce after the fish was done steaming.)
6. Reheat oil saved earlier until it’s almost smoking, then pour over the fish.
7. Serve immediately with hot rice.

This recipe is adapted from Overseas Pinoy Cooking.

This is one of my go-to recipes when the kids and I are craving for pasta but:

a) I’m too tired.
b) I’m feeling too lazy.
c) I don’t have any fancy-schmancy ingredients in the freezer/pantry.
d) All of the above.

This recipe so easy, you’ll find that the hardest part is actually boiling the pasta.

Quick & Easy Sausage Pasta

Ingredients:

– 1 pack of pasta (I prefer spaghetti for this recipe)
– garlic, crushed & chopped
– 1 tin of button mushrooms, drained & sliced thinly
– mixed herbs of choice
– 1 pack of sausages/hot dogs, sliced thinly into discs
– salt & black pepper
– olive oil
– knob of butter

Method:

1. Cook the pasta al dente. This is important. If you overcook it, it will turn to mush later as you try to mix it. Drain and set aside. Do NOT throw away the pasta water as we will need some of it later.

2. In a large non-stick pot with handle, pour in some oil olive and a knob of butter. Swish the oil and butter around to melt the butter over medium heat. The butter adds a nice flavour to the dish; it’s totally fine to omit it altogether.

3. Saute the garlic briefly in the oil/butter mixture. I deliberately did not specify how much garlic to put in because it all boils down to your personal preference. My family loves garlic, so I can use easily half a head of it for this recipe!

4. Add in the mushrooms and lower the fire. Sprinkle generously with herbs of your choice (I use mixed herbs, or oregano, or basil, or whatever I have on hand). Cook just long enough for the mushrooms to absorb the taste of the butter.

5. Add in the sliced sausages and stir around just to brown the sausages a bit.

6. Dump the cooked pasta into the pot and stir away. You might want to add some of the pasta water to make it easier to stir the pasta. Add olive oil as needed.

7. Season with salt and black pepper and continue stirring just long enough for the flavours to come together. (Remember, everything’s already been cooked, so there’s no need to cook it any further too long!)

8. Serve and enjoy. You’re welcome! 😉

A few quick notes:
– Linguini and angel hair will probably work with this recipe, also.
– Fresh mushrooms will surely taste better.
– If you’re doing Meatless Mondays, try making this with ONLY the mushrooms, omitting the sausages.

SleeplessInKL proudly, excitedly, and deliriously presents to you — The Ultimate Chocolate Chocolate Cake For The Chocoholic’!

The Ultimate Chocolate Chocolate Cake For The Chocoholic

As you can deduce from the photo, making this cake is as easy as counting from 1 to 5:

1. Buy/bake a cake, preferably chocolate so that it will go with the whole chocolatey theme — something like Moist Chocolate Cake or American Chocolate Cake (no sponge cakes, please).

2. Unwrap Kitkat chocolate wafers and arrange them around the cake. (I used 44 wafers, i.e. 22 pairs of Kitkat for a 1/2 kg cake.)

3. Tie the Kitkat wafers loosely with a ribbon, then adjust/straighten the Kitkat as you slowly tighten the ribbon and make a bow.

4. Open up two large packs of M&M’s and pour all the contents on top of the cake.

5. Serve the cake on top of a nice cake stand to complete the look.

I swear there’s a chocolate cake in there somewhere…

For such a smashing yet easy-to-put-together cake, how I wish the idea were mine. But I’d have to give credit where credit is due — I got the idea from ’50 Easy Birthday Cake Ideas’ by the Six Sisters Stuff, pointed out to me by trusted-and-tried Sir Google. They call it the ‘Kitkat Cake’ but ‘The Ultimate Chocolate Chocolate Cake For The Chocoholic’ sounds much more exciting, n’est-ce pas?

It so happened that my OnlyGirl’s 14th birthday 11/11 fell on a (working) Monday right after a blur of a weekend that involved a term paper the previous Friday and two midterm exams on Saturday and Sunday and there was simply no way in the world I could have come up with a decently decorated cake that day, let alone bake one even from a boxed mix. So on my way home from the office, I dropped by a nearby bakery and picked out a 1/2 kg American Chocolate Cake, then bought two packets of Kitkats and two packets of M&M’s from a nearby supermarket. So yeah, I guess you can also dub this cake ‘The Working Mother’s Ingenious Solution To An Unforgettable Birthday Cake For A Chocoholic Teenager’.

How did the birthday girl like it? Like it?! Are you kidding? She LOVED it! Her seal of approval came in the form of a Facebook post with a photo of the epic chocolate-covered cake.

Now my only problem is: how can I possibly top a cake like this next year***??!

***P.S. Previous birthday cakes that I’ve done for my kids include a Castle Cake, Beach Cake, Ice Cream Cone Surprise, Spaghetti Cake and a Pizza Cake. I’m no professional and this shows in the lack of polish in my decorating efforts but as long as the kids can identify the concept and it’s funny and/or surprising, they love it all the same!

I’ve always been a breastfeeding advocate, knowing fully well the superiority of mother’s milk over infant formula. Thus, in anticipation of my return to work before Peanut was born, one of the things I knew I needed to invest in was a breast pump. After a lot of online research and asking around, it didn’t take long for me to conclude that the Medela Free Style was the one for me.

Here are the things that I love about the Medela Free Style:

1. It is cordless, thereby freeing me from the hassle of having to look for a private place where I can pump…with a place to plug the pump in. It goes without saying that this cordless feature is perfect for traveling. A single charge lasts me for a week or two, given an average of 2-3 pumping sessions per day at 10 minutes per session. [NB: As a rule of thumb, try to express milk every 3 hours that you are away from your baby. That means 2-3 pumping sessions in the office per day.] There’s a handy-dandy battery level indicator to let you know, more or less, when to charge the pump unit.

2. The pump unit is small and light and can easily fit into any bag.

3. Despite being cordless, suction power is not compromised at all. This was my only concern about the Free Style before buying it but I checked Medela’s site for the specs and saw that its suction power equals Medela’s other pumps.

4. Despite its commendable suction power, the Free Style is quieter than most breast pumps.

5. Adjusting the suction and speed is as simple as pressing the relevant buttons. Best of all, you can program your preferred suction level and when the pump should switch from ‘Stimulate’ to ‘Letdown’ mode.

6. The Free Style allows for double- or single-pumping. Double-pumping means time savings; single-pumping is useful when you need to top up your supply and pump while feeding your baby at the same time.

The only thing I dislike about the Free Style is how sometimes the power button gets accidentally pressed by other items, thereby draining the battery. My solution: arranging the pump unit with the tubing in front to serve as a sort of buffer. I always take special care when rolling up the tubing so that it doesn’t get folded.

(more pics after the jump)

I bought my Medela Free Style from the UK through a relative who is studying there. It happened to be on sale at that time so I got it for about half of what it normally costs in Malaysia. In a way, it was risky because, had there been any problems, getting it repaired would have been a headache. Even if I had to buy it at full retail price, it still would have been worth it considering the cost of infant milk formula these days. I calculated that you can easily recover your investment in 4 to 6 months (yes, Virginia, milk formula costs the earth these days!). More importantly, breast milk will provide your baby with the right amount of nutrients that no laboratory in the world can possibly replicate. For the past one year, Peanut rarely got sick and when he did, he recovered very quickly, and I attribute that to the antibodies in breastmilk, even though I had to start giving him formula (mixed feeding) when he was about seven or eight months old due to a slowdown in my milk production.

Moving on, this is the heart and soul of the Medela Free Style — the pump unit, the breastshields, the tubing, and the removable base (a pair) for the bottles to stand on in order not to tip over when the breastshields are attached.

Please take note that the breastshields that come with the Free Style are the standard 24mm Medium size. The set that I bought came with two pairs of breastshields — one soft fit and one standard. (The small clear insert that you see in the photo above came from a much older pump that’s no longer functional.

The set from the UK comes with an outer bag and a cooler bag:

The lightweight PU handbag fits everything in, including the cooler bag.

The outer bag can get mistaken very easily for just another handbag which can be good and bad at the same time. It’s good in the sense that it’s good camouflage and no one would ever suspect that you’re actually carrying stuff for EBM. But it’s bad in the sense that you can’t just leave it in the car for short trips to, say, the supermarket lest it gets mistaken for a handbag by thieves.

Here’s a peek at the interior of the bag — there’s a zipped pocket on one side, two pockets on the other side, a pocket with velcro closure in the corner for the pump unit. There’s another large pocket on the outside of the bag (not shown).

A hard plastic ice pack is bundled with the cooler bag, as well as 4 Medela feeding bottles with cap and cover.

Generic feeding bottles can easily fit into the cooler bag, so don’t feel pressured to buy more Medela bottles. The cooler bag comes with a short strap to make it easier to transport.

Two types of adaptors are supplied with the power plug — the three-pronged UK/Malaysia standard, and the European plug with 2 round pins.

The set also comes with a belt (for hands-free pumping) and a Calma feeding device (the yellow thing on the right). I liked the Calma’s concept but a second or third unit would have been too expensive. Furthermore, it’s not that easy to use, especially when the baby is screaming and the caregiver is not used to not having the milk come out unless the baby sucks on it. So in the end, I stuck to the Avent bottles that I already bought months before Peanut was born.

They also provide this thingajig to attach to your nursing bra for hands-free milk expression. Two sets of adapters are thoughtfully given, to match the clasps of your nursing bras.

This is the rubber strap to attach to the bottle and your nursing bra.

Oh, if you’re wondering, yes, the hands-free setup works as it should. Never mind if it makes me feel like a cow haha 😉 It even comes with a belt so that you can attach the pump unit to your waist (which I felt was going a bit too far — I mean, who would possibly be walking around the house while expressing milk?!).

More than a year after using the Medela Free Style, I am still perfectly pleased with its performance. There is no loss of suction power. Battery life is still good. And my Free Style has been my loyal companion to many out-of-town and overseas trips.

In the future, I shall post an entry on how to transport EBM during short trips.

Some Tips on EBM:

Once you’ve built up enough EBM stock in your freezer, start giving your baby chilled milk, i.e. chill the milk that you expressed today (instead of freezing it) and leave it in the fridge for your baby to drink tomorrow. Some nutrients are destroyed in the freezing process so it’s good if you can give your baby a fresher option. You can store EBM in the fridge for 3-8 days thus, EBM from Friday can easily be given to your baby on Monday.

The amount of EBM that you get in the office might not be enough for your baby’s needs because it’s quite normal for your supply to go down a bit especially when you are exhausted or stressed in the office. So top up your supply by expressing milk from one side while your baby nurses on the other side whenever you are at home. You can also do an extra pumping session late at night or first thing in the morning upon waking up.

Keep yourself sufficiently hydrated throughout the day. Water is more than sufficient; no need to fall for the marketing hype about drinking special milk to increase your own milk production. Afterall, cows produce milk despite NOT drinking milk!

This being the digital age, I find it helpful to scroll through my baby’s pics and videos in my smartphone while expressing milk. Somehow, seeing images of my baby and hearing his voice helps in speeding up the letdown.