Friday, 30 December 2016

A Very Mutty Christmas

So this was Christmas. I hope you had fun. The near and the dear ones. The old and the young.
There were some initial plans to go out for a slap-up Christmas Eve dinner or Christmas Day brunch somewhere and maybe exchange a gift each with my friends, but that didn't seem particularly appealing, meaningful or original to me. Most of my friends and family were travelling and in between house-sitting and pet-sitting for everyone and juggling my own work and volunteer commitments, I didn't have much time to make dinner or brunch plans.
I was steadfast about spending my Christmas with and on shelter animals, however, and my friends Nicole, Mohala and Greg were totally on board with me on this matter. I had made an initial donation to KL Pooch Rescue and had been in contact with the founders, and so made an appointment to visit on Boxing Day. Nicole contacted Second Chance Animal Society and made an appointment for Christmas Day. Both shelters allow visitors and volunteers only by appointment. We chose these two shelters because we already spend so much time, energy and money on the SPCA, and decided KLPR and Second Chance are worthy beneficiaries because their founders and managers usually keep out of the hate-filled politics infecting so many local animal rescue groups. These organisations are reasonably transparent and well-run, give priority to the animals, and are no-kill shelters with strong pro-neutering policies.
I spent Christmas Eve at the SPCA, administering flea and tick treatment, cleaning ears and eyes and trimming claws. I finished off by handing out treats to the animals and tidying up the Cattery and Education Room.
On Christmas Day, Nicole came to pick me up and we drove to the backwaters of Hulu Langat to the Second Chance Animal Society shelter. It took us a long time to locate the place.
The two shelter staff are ethnic Chins from Myanmar and were hospitable and helpful to us. We got the nice lady to pose with Nic in the above picture. I gave the staff a little cash to buy themselves 'something nice for Christmas' with.
Nicole doesn't do things by half. She bought approximately RM900 worth of dog food for the shelter.

Yes, doggies, we love you too!
"Hello and welcome to my home!" 
"I am the King of the Hill!"
We handed out treats to all the dogs. Thankfully Nicole bought an enormous bag of dog treats and there was enough to go around.

The shelter reminded me a lot of the old SPCA shelter in its layout and physical structure.

Despite the number of dogs and the simplicity of the shelter, the shelter was reasonably clean. There was no pet waste or stagnant puddles on the simple concrete floor. The dogs seem happy and healthy and were not skittish at all.
I am really glad we visited and will work out ways of helping the shelter on a regular basis.

On Boxing Day, I picked Mohala and Greg up from their apartment and made arrangements for Nicole to meet us at the KLPR shelter after her Latin dance class. We were greeted at the gates by three delightful and friendly little dogs.

The shelter is clean and well-maintained and you can sense the founders' genuine love for animals. The dogs get to come out and play in the doggie playground and paddling pool daily according to their sections to keep things orderly and manageable, and all the dogs seem active, healthy and happy.
We handed out treats to all the dogs and petted them.
A friendly gorgeous doggie who happens to have a deformed jaw. I think he is stunning. Those eyes!
Co-founder Maury giving one of the dogs a bath in their Doggie Salon.
Wheelchairs and harnesses arranged neatly in a row.

We went into the playground to play with the dogs. I am not sure who had more fun, us or the dogs!
I had the good sense to bring my Furminator with me so I got to brush the dogs. They loved it and crowded around me for more.
Swimming lessons are about to commence. Look at the expression on the face of the cheeky doggie on the left.
The lifejacket is to stop the dogs from panicking. All dogs are able to swim, after all, but if they haven't got their lifejackets on, they keep trying to swim to the sides of the pool so they could hang on for dear life. KLPR Founder Shannon is really patient with them and the session was a joy to watch.
Powder the 3-legged dog showed us how it is done. No lifejacket needed for this little toughie!

Nic arrived after her dance class and it was time for the second round of Boxing Day treats.
We spent a very lovely day there at the KLPR shelter and each made a donation towards their building fund. We requested to be added to the volunteer chat group in order that we may return as volunteers.
A friend pointed out that while most of our friends in the city went on Christmas mall crawls, I went on an animal shelter crawl. I couldn't think of a better way to spend the long weekend.
To find out more about Second Chance Animal Society and KL Pooch Rescue, please click on the links below:
Second Chance Animal Society
Address: Pekan Batu 14, Hulu Langat, Selangor, Malaysia.
Phone number: 012-919 2263
KL Pooch Rescue
Address: 26, 14, Jalan Permaisuri 4/6, Bandar Mahkota Cheras, 43200 Cheras, Selangor, Malaysia   Phone number: +60 16-233 3647
Official website:

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Degustation at Barat and other Birthday Shenanigans

And so I made my 38th trip around the Sun two Fridays ago.
I took the day off and had a wonderfully long weekend as a result, thanks to two public holidays, Maulidur Rasul (Monday) and the Sultan of Selangor's Birthday (Tuesday).
Started off my birthday by sleeping in and having an artichoke for breakfast... at 1 p.m. Ah, I am very much the life of the party, as you can see.

I recently took in another rescued kitten and named her Harriet, after my hero, Harriet Tubman. Harriet is a feisty, beautiful, active little thing and fostering her is a pleasure.

My senior cats seem to think that fostering Harriet is a pleasure, too. My cats make each of my days a celebration.   
2 p.m. saw me stopping by The Honest Treat for some raw vegan cake and almond milk, just for me! You wouldn't have thought plant-based raw cakes to be so dense and rich, but they are. They were incredibly delicious and flavoursome too.

This is the Minty Chocolate raw cake. Not as minty as I would have liked it to be, but still delicious.

A slice of Berry Banana -- dense, smooth, fruity goodness.
Banoffee -- again, the toffee flavor isn't as distinctive as I would have liked it to be. It tastes of banana and mild chocolate. Very filling and yummy, just not very distinctive-tasting.
This is my favourite of the lot -- Tropical Surprise. This one really hits the spot with its fruity, tangy, zesty and sweet notes.

Then it was off to the National Blood Bank to keep an annual tradition alive.
The nurses wished me a happy birthday, which was nice! 237 of my friends wished me a happy birthday on Facebook, and I received approximately 80 private messages filled with good wishes. I feel very loved, indeed!

Portion control is out the window at the Blood Bank. This is what they are feeding us vegetarian donors these days. Pile on the fried noodles, Crane Driver! How about another ton of carbs? Thank you most kindly for your generosity, National Blood Bank, but I assure you that we are quite unlikely to die of starvation while in the middle of blood extraction.
And what's a birthday party without treats? I celebrated with my furry friends at the SPCA, with treats galore.
I had a simple birthday dinner that night at Pine3 Vegetarian Restaurant with Nicole, as I had to be up early the following morning to conduct the Pet Care Programme / Basic Animal Welfare Warrior Workshop at the SPCA. Nic made me a gift of these edgy typography steel posters. Aren't they delightful? Aren't they so 'me'? When your bestie knows your decor style and tastes so well, you might as well give her a free rein in creating a gallery wall in your bedroom for you.
Conducted the Pet Care Programme (PCP) at the SPCA on the day after my birthday and incorporated a basic Animal Welfare Warrior component. You may recognise this as Rafferty, the stuffed shar pei that lives in my bedroom. He's helping me teach the workshop participants how to collect evidence for an animal cruelty report now.

I taught the workshop participants how to pick up, handle and play with cats, apply Frontline flea spray and clean cat ears without being mauled.
And then I showed the workshop participants how to clean cat cages and litter trays and got them to help out with some cleaning at the shelter.
Then it was time for my second round of celebrations with Nic. We went to The Strand Mall for dinner out of food trucks and watched "Underworld: Blood Wars."
As it was a long weekend, my birthday festivities extended over 4 days. My good friends Angela, Rudhra, Baby Ava and Hari took me out to dinner and for a spot of ice skating. Hari's sons Goutham and Jay and nephew Dinesh joined us for the outing. They made me a gift of a new football to replace my old football, which exploded two months ago due to overinflation. We had dinner at Beyond Veggie and followed this up with shakes at Johnny Rockets.
Ice skating with my squad. Rudhra was pretty amazing for a first-time skater. Dinesh did pretty well too for someone who had never skated before. Jay and I spent much of our 2.5 hours on ice chasing each other down and playing tag. Poor Hari had to sit out due to an injured ankle.
The need for speed!
My good friend and mentor Lin Idrus invited me out for a birthday dinner the day after, and since both of us have long expressed the intention of trying out the degustation menu at Barat Mediterranean Vegetarian Restaurant, we took the opportunity to have a long, leisurely and wonderful dinner there on Tuesday night.

What I like best about Barat is its service and atmosphere, and how it makes customers feel welcome and relaxed. There is no pretension about this place. Just good food, friendly faces and exemplary service in a clean and welcoming environment. The staff are helpful, attentive and knowledgeable. Hot dishes are served hot and cold dishes are deliciously chilled. You can tell they take a lot of pride in their food and care about making your dining experience one to remember.

Towards the end of the dinner, right before serving us dessert, they even brought out a slice of birthday cake for me and sang me the birthday song. What a treat. The cake was a slice of red velvet with berry sauce and edible flowers. Barat really goes out of its way to make us feel good about dining there.
Dégustation Dinner at Barat Mediterranean Vegetarian Restaurant: A short review
1st course: Roasted Pumpkin Soup with ginger infusion and air-dried ginger, served with homebaked bread with apple cider vinegar and olive oil. We start off with a hot soup, and it is creamy and flavourful without being too rich. The bread has the right density and 'chew' to it. Looking forward to a vegan version soon (most dishes here are lacto-vegetarian).

2nd course: Salad of baby arugula, rocket, chard, sweet basil, dragon fruit, radish, dehydrated blueberries and tempura mandarin orange slices with roasted sesame dressing and blood orange press with olive oil. To others, this is the salad. To me, this is the pièce de résistance. The crunchy exterior and juicy tart interior of the tempura orange slices added a dynamic contrast to the cold crispness of the different fruits and vegetables, while the roasted sesame dressing provided a hint of umami. A definite winner, this salad. I could eat this all day, every day.

3rd course: Roasted Romano with pitted prune and cranberry (left), Patatas Bravas with tomato sauce (centre) and grilled sweet pepper with blue cheese and olive oil. The contrast between the savoury romano and sweet prune and cranberry made for an interesting combination, although I enjoyed it more than Lin did (she found it too sweet). The patatas bravas came with burning sprigs of rosemary and was quite mild-tasting even with the dipping sauce slathered on, so maybe it should have been named 'Patatas Dulce' instead. The sweet pepper was roasted a little too long and was a little too soft for my liking but paired very well with the blue cheese and olive oil, flavour-wise.

4th course: Mushroom zucchini aglio olio with grilled lemon. Easily one of the best pastas I have ever had, and it still struck me with its novel and piquant blend of flavours and textures although this was the second time I had it. The grilled lemon slice complemented the pasta and mushroom perfectly and everything about this dish is just really mellow.

5th course: Red endive with blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, mulberry with rose press and chia seeds (left) and golden fried tri-cheese with apricot and pineapple spiced jam (right). Again, I am trying to give up cheese and dairy products but made an exception for this special dinner. The cheese balls disappointed nothing but my conscience. You bite into the slightly crispy exterior to reveal the soft, ripe. full-flavoured cheese within. The pineapple and apricot spiced jam took away some of the cloying richness of the cheese.

The sweet berries, soaked in a fragrant rose-flavoured dressing, and served on the mildly bitter, sharp and crisp endive (if you haven't had endive before -- it tastes a lot like radicchio) was the ideal accompaniment to the savoury, viscous cheese.   

6th course: Basil pesto on fried aubergine and micro greens (left), sundried tomato pesto with ricotta cheese on japanese cucumber (centre) and capsicum pesto on wafer (right). Lin and I are both very partial to pesto, and this trio of pesto was quite delightful. The sweet mintiness of the basil really shone on the slice of fried aubergine, although Lin found the aubergine a little too greasy for her liking. The tomato and ricotta pesto was refreshing and delicious without actually standing out in my mind as being something truly remarkable. The capsicum pesto is zesty and full-flavoured and easily our favourite of the trio.

7th course: Spiced couscous with grilled asparagus, baby carrot and pomegranate dressing. Ah, the versatile couscous! Usually a little on the bland side, but fancied up with spices here at Barat. Grilled vegetables makes this wholesome dish livelier.

8th course: Watermelon gazpacho with a japanese cucumber stirrer and edible flowers. Lin and I decided that we will return to Barat soon just for the soups! If the roasted pumpkin soup were the warm, hearty sibling, the watermelon gazpacho is its trendy, sparkling, blinged-out sister. Refreshing, light, and flavoursome, this gazpacho simply sparkles.

Dessert: Poached peach with red currant, coconut ice cream and chocolate cake, served with balsamic reduction. Lin and I were too stuffed for the final pasta and jumped straight to dessert. Of course, like all women, we have special Dessert Stomachs which can hold prodigious quantities of sweets. This dessert trio made us want to stand up and applaud. The chocolate cake was in itself nice without being exceptional, but it paired very well with the balsamic reduction (I eat pretty much everything with balsamic reduction) and poached peach and red currant. The peach is still firm and warm, not squishy and soggy with syrup as with the canned variety. The smooth and fragrant coconut ice cream is light enough to stop a little short of being sinful, and is the perfect foil to the chocolate cake. I confess I licked the ice cream dish clean.
This meal is something that has been on my list of things to try for a long time, and I highly recommend it to everyone, vegetarian and non-vegetarians alike.
It has been another amazing birthday week and I am continually surprised and delighted by the friends who took time out of their busy days to make my birthday so memorable and lovely. So many things to be thankful for in this troubled world of ours.