Sunday, 25 October 2020

Baking...and some of my learnings from it

I have always loved baking. Baking used to be a weekly affair for me during my uni days, especially when I was studying in the UK. Whenever I'm stressed out, I'd jog along the quaint canal from my university all the way to Tesco, which is about 3km away, and buy butter (because butter is so affordable there!) and all sort of baking goodies, whip out some baked goods and share it with my friends (because it's wayyy too fattening to have it all on my own too!). And also, my rental fee is inclusive of utilities bill so I wasn't worried about racking up my electricity bill :p 

After I've graduated, I found myself baking lesser and lesser until about February this year, I've decided to reclaim part of myself, to do more things I truly enjoy doing and picked up baking again. I try baking at least something once a week. 

And definitely, there were many many failures. Many food wastage, because sometimes my end product is so awful, I have no other choice but to chuck it away. Flat cookie. Sunken cake. Cake-y cookies. Burnt cakes. Etc. Etc.

And no, I don't have photos of them, sadly D: I have a tendency to only document my better bakes. 

*Mental note to take photos of my failed baked products* 

And hence, I'd like to share two of the most important takeaway/lessons/things to note about baking, which I hope will help you get started on baking and minimize any...mistakes/wastage that comes with baking! (Okay it's two MAIN takeaway and many sub-categories, please bear with me)

1. Baking is essentially SCIENCE

Over the weekend, I made this pineapple coconut cake. It looks great,  smells great.
But after one bite I could tell that something was terribly wrong with the cake. It was bitter.


It turns out that pineapple reacts with dairy products to produce a bitter-tasting enzyme, resulting in an utterly bitter cake. This is caused by...

The chemical reaction between your ingredients 

Sometimes, certain food compounds will react with another food compound to produce...undesirable effects. Like pineapple and dairy products. And hence, the order in which you mix your ingredients matter. The type of ingredients you use matter. Do not interchange baking powder with baking soda. These are different ingredients that might mess with the chemical reactions! 

Also, remember how we were taught to avoid wearing black clothes on a hot day because the colour black absorbs more heat? Well, this is applicable for baking too!

Watch this amazing Ted-Ed video for more explanation! 

And this - one of the best Scientific baking video about the Science behind chocolate chips cookie!
Also, have you ever followed a recipe's direction exactly, but when you followed the recommended timing of baking, you'd find your baked goods looking under-baked/over-baked? This might be caused by the

Colour or material of your baking tray/pan

Are you baking with a black or white baking tray?
Are you using metal or ceramic, or perhaps glass, baking tray? 

Some baking tray/pan tend to absorb more heat faster, which results in the exterior of the baked goods being cooked faster! 

For example, if you use a dark coloured baking tray to bake cookies, you will notice that your cookies tend to cook/brown faster compared to when you use a silver coloured one!
One of my favourite baked goods - the chocolate coconut blondies! 

A little tip - try to see what colour and material the recipe you are following is using! :D And adjust accordingly from there


Yes, my biggest takeaway is that baking is Science, don't mess around, bake as though you are in a science lab and...

2. Accuracy is the key

While cooking is more of "agak-agak" (approximation), following your heart/your instincts, and eye-balling. Baking relies a lot on ACCURACY. Accuracy in terms of:

a. Weight of ingredients

If the recipe calls for 200 grams of sugar, make sure you use 200 grams of sugar, exactly! It's always helpful to get a digital scale.

Why is this important? As mentioned above, baking is essentially science, more specifically, chemistry - if you took chemistry in school, you'd know how important accuracy is. Like for the neutralisation process - too much acid will cause your solution to be acidic rather than neutral - it's the same for baking too. 

Reducing the sugar amount because you want it less sweet? It might result in a drier cake! This post details really clearer what happens when you reduce the sugar amount in your baking!

Adding in more butter because well, butter is yummy? It might cause your cookie to spread too much! 

b. Baking temperature

Why is this important? Too hot, your cake might rise too fast and collapse. Too cold, your cake might sink in the middle. 

Hence, it is important that you pre-heat your oven so that you bake your goods at an accurate temperature. 

c. Types of ingredients

If the recipe calls for white granulated sugar, I wouldn't recommend that you substitute it entirely with brown sugar. That's because different ingredients 

Brown sugar tends to retain more moisture than white granulated sugar. It also has a more "nutty" and deep taste compared to white granulated sugar. Hence, if you want a chewy cookie, stick to using brown sugar! The brown sugar will help retain moisture and hence producing that "chewiness". 

d. Temperature of ingredients when mixing them

When I first started getting into baking, I noticed that many recipes call for "room-temperature/softened butter". 

So if I have a block of butter right out of the refrigerator, I can blitz it in the microwave till it melts right? No please don't do that. Here's a helpful video explaining why, and also some tips on how to quickly bring your butter to room temperature!

Of course, there are still lots of learnings I have gotten from baking, and a lot that I still don't know. I have been picking up various cook books to learn about the science behind baking 
Ending the post with one of my personal favourite cake - the pistachio lime cake!

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Volunteering at Free Tree Society (Bangsar Nursery)

*Note: This blog post is based on my experience volunteering in Mid July 2020
I had the opportunity to Volunteer with Free Tree Society (FTS), Bangsar Nursery, back in July 2020, and I have to say it was a pleasant experience! Besides getting some hands-on plant care/gardening experience, we were taught about climate change and what we can do to play our part to prevent it.

What is Free Tree Society (FTS)? 

Established in 2013, Free Tree Society Kuala Lumpur is an environmental organisation that spreads the environmental stewardship message by giving away trees for free to green our Earth. 

They have a nursery in Bangsar and also a station at Taman Tugu, KL! You can read more about them here on their website!

How do I Volunteer with FTS? 

You are required to book a slot by sending an email to FTS. FTS offers various volunteering experiences, which you can refer to here on their website. 

I selected the Bangsar Nursery Volunteering program, which is available on Tuesday and Saturday mornings only. 

Every volunteer gets to bring home one plant of their choice after volunteering! I took home this white ghost cactus! Public volunteering sessions are free, however, companies or corporations booking for more than 10 volunteers in a session will be asked to donate a minimal fee.

Note that their volunteering program is limited to strictly 10 people and the slots get booked up fast, so do book your desired slot in advance! 

What do Volunteers do at Bangsar Nursery?

1. Tour of the Nursery

We started off the day at 9am sharp with a tour around the Bangsar Nursery. The nursery occupies just a corner lot amidst the residential area of Jalan Limau Purut, just right next to Federal Hill.
We were told of various way to greenify our space, even if we have a small compound.
There were random broken pots, painted over with bright cheery colour, displaced all over the garden. These function as an animal hiding/resting spot!

The toilets at the nursery run on a rainwater harvesting system.

Do you know that 97% of the Earth's water supply is seawater? That means only 3% of the world's water supply is fresh, consumable water. Will we run out of fresh water supply one day? 

Somehow rainwater harvesting feels like it is not too popular here in Malaysia, probably (my assumptions) due to the fact that our water bill is still somewhat affordable. I do hope that more places would start to adapt the rainwater harvesting system since rain is aplenty here in Malaysia. 

There is a small water feature at the nursery - which is an ecosystem on its own. There are aquatic plants and animals in it and are self-sustaining. On free tree giveaway days, visitor can even bring home an aquatic plant/animals! 
We were also taught about the basics of composting. I finally know why the compost at my home smells...absolutely atrocious. 

Compose should have a 30:1 Carbon to Nitrogen ratio. Food waste like skin of fruits and excess vegetables contributes Nitrogen, whereas newspaper, egg shells, coal etc are what contributes Carbon.

If you have a low Carbon to Nitrogen ratio (eg: your compost mostly consist of food waste), that's when your compost will smell horrid. To "neutralise" the smell, you have got to add in more Carbon compound (eg: newspaper and egg shells!)

Random bunches of old pencils/bamboo stick bunched up together and tied on tree you know what are these for?

They are animal resting spots!

3. Brief Climate Change Talk

And we were taught about some basic fact of climate change. 

3. Hands-On Activities

The hands-on activities differs according to the need of the nursery during your volunteering slot. During my visit, there were many aloe plants that are in need of repotting and change of fresh soil due to the constant rain, that caused the soil holding the aloe to be heavily waterlogged
We were taught how to make our own potting mix. The brown grain thingy in the green bucket are rice husks, which act as aeration for the soil!
And were taught how to properly handle plants and repot them!

Halfway through we got really distracted by this cute (but poisonous!) caterpillar. 

Other than repotting, we had the opportunity to learn how to propagate some mulberry plants too! Just to note again that everyone's volunteering experience differs according to the need of the nursery at that time :) But you'll definitely get a lot of valuable hands-on experience with plant care!


FTS have a little corner selling gardening stuff such as potting soil, gardening accessories and fertilsier 

Which as you can see, have really cheeky names.


I'd definitely recommend anyone who would want to start gardening or learn more about plant care to join this volunteering program. I found it highly educational and fun too! And a huge bonus of being able to bring home a free plant so that you can kick-start your gardening journey. The staffs were really friendly and helpful, as they provided really helpful tips and recommendation on what plants you can bring home based on the care level you think you'd be able to give for your plants, and the location (eg: indoors/outdoors and light level) your place has. 

Do follow their Instagram or Facebook page if you're interested to learn more about them. FTS often hosts free trees giveaway too so do keep an eye on them through their social media page! 

Free Tree Society
Instagram: @fts_malaysia

Sunday, 4 October 2020

Bunga Raya Popiah, Melaka

Continuing on with my Melaka food posts.

There is one food item that I'd definitely not leave Melaka without eating it at least once -


Bunga Raya Popiah
Ah, the legendary Bunga Raya Popiah. One is never enough :p 
I'd often refer popiah as an "Asian Burito". Popiah is essentially a spring roll, if I were to directly translate it from the Hokkien dialect to English, it'd be "thin biscuit". 
The filling of popiah in Malaysia typically consist of various shredded veggies such as shredded cucumber, braised yam bean, tofu strips, then slathered on with sweet sauce and chilli, rolled up, sliced, and served! Popiahs are typically vegetarian, but the ones in Melaka are typically laden with pork lard - which gives it the extra crunch and oomph!
And my favourite place for popiah is definitely Bunga Raya Popiah! This humble little stall only sell one item - Popiah! Their popiah is definitely pricier compared to other places, but I feel their price is justified by the fillings - their popiah is packed full to the brim, full of the crunch from the pork lard! I'm dreaming of this popiah as I am typing this 😋

Head's up that it gets really busy on a weekend! Be prepared to queue as people tend to buy in bulk, and there are only two uncles manning the booth, doing all the rolling and wrapping. The best is to arrive when they just open, around 12:30pm. You may request for less chilli/no chilli/extra chilli while making your order. 

Bunga Raya Popiah
120, Jalan Bunga Raya, 
Kampung Jawa, 75100 Melaka

Business Hour: 12:30pm - 5:30pm

Saturday, 3 October 2020

Monthly Goals Review: September

This month passed by quick, and it felt as though my life got flipped upside down, or as though a tornado cut through them month of September, leaving me feeling...not sure what I feel. I was terribly busy and tired in the first half of September, then the second half of September was when things started to stabilize (I even had a trip to Melaka!) until a wave of bad news hit. 

How do one carry oneself through a month when everything's a mess? 

1. Be comfortable on my own

Similar to the month of August, I was busy and hence no qualms about being alone. Being busy makes alone time much more coveted I see. But is this a healthy way forward? 

2. Buy only clothes that are listed on my long-term planning wishlist

Epic fail. 
Honestly, I'm having a hard time sticking through with this resolution. See no 6. 

3. Initiate at least one event per month

Does my Melaka trip count?

4. Read at least two books per month
Half a World Away by Gayle
The Inheritance of Loss by Kieran Desai

5. Doing a monthly review of my goals
On it!

6. Do a monthly/weekly review of my spendings
Admittedly, this month expenditure is high on the dining out/alcohol segment and new clothes D: 

Alcohol expenditure RM200 

Clothing expenditure RM430
- 9.9 Sale (Two new T-shirts, a new skirt, a new basic dress and new pair of Sandals) RM300
- A dress from Dorothy Perkins RM130

Travel (Melaka trip) RM100

7. Carry a notebook and pen wherever I go and jot down notes systematically
This is much easier when I take the train - when I can immediately jot down ideas I've heard in podcasts during my commute. Managed to practice more of this, especially in the second half of September, when things. sort of went out of the window, and I realised how taking notes can keep me grounded and remember things better!

8. Try out something new each week
Week 1: I attended a focus group with a bunch of youth. That's something new.

Week 2: Coconut chocolate blondies
Week 3: Coconut cookies

Week 4: Coconut lime drizzle cake

9. Write more at least 100 words per day (not including what I write at work)

10. Log down news article I've read and jot down my thoughts about it, ie reading with purpose.

11. Curate at least two content on @pot_tosynthesis every week (Stories/Post)

12. Set at least two little goals every day

Was inconsistent with goals 9-12, again, because I felt a little out of control. But I'll try to push myself to do more of these for the month of October. 
Back to Top