Monthly Archives: September 2015

Smoke gets in your rice

Yup, it’s looking far too foggy for the tropics and if you equate fog with cool, then, we must be in hell because it’s smokin’ hot in our part of the world. Our big neighbour will say we should be thankful we smell ash, not sulphur and truly, we feel sorrier for their hapless citizens nearer the forest fires who have to endure PSI levels of 1,000. Too bad the smoke isn’t reaching the mighty ones in their seat of power who’ve been snorting that their long-suffering neighbours should quit complaining.

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Since we’ve been warned that the smoke screen will linger till late November, let’s put on our happy face and sing a ditty.

(sung to the tune of Happy days are here again)

Hazy days are here again

The skies above are gray again

So, let’s don our masks before we tear again

Hazy times

Hazy days

Hazy nights

Are here again!

For our fragile constitutions, we can make sweet soups to stay hydrated and soothe dry throats. Lotus root is believed to strengthen the lungs, white fungus too is good for the lungs and immune system plus the collagen is a beauty aid, red dates are a tonic for the blood and so on. But what’s most important is that these traditional desserts are a taste treat especially on hot, hazy days.

 Sweet soups - lotus root

Lotus Root with Red Dates

Serves 3

250g lotus root

16 deseeded red dates, washed

60g rock sugar or more, to taste


1 Scrape mud off lotus root, brush and rinse thoroughly. Peel and cut into 2cm thick slices. Quarter each slice. Soak in lightly salted water for a few minutes. Rinse well before use.

  1. Fill a pot with 5 cups of water and add the cubed lotus root. Cover pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, simmer for one hour.
  1. Add rock sugar and red dates. Continue to simmer, covered for another 45 minutes or until lotus root is tender.

(Check water level now and again. Add another cup of water if necessary)

  1. Serve hot, warm or chilled.

For slow cooker: Transfer lotus root cubes into a medium-sized crock pot once water begins to boil. Leave to cook on high for ½ hour. Add rock sugar and red dates. Reduce heat of crock pot to medium and leave to simmer for 3 hours.

Sweet soups - 5 blessings

Five Blessings Soup

Serves 4

20 red dates, deseeded and washed

500g dried lily flowers

1 pack peeled ginkgo nuts

1 pack fresh lotus seeds

40g dried longan pulp

100g rock sugar


  1. Soak dried lily flowers in a bowl of water for at least 2 hours. Rinse before use.
  2. Put ginkgo nuts and 8 cups of water in a pot. Cover and bring to a rolling boil. Lower heat, and simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Add soaked lily flowers, lotus seeds and red dates. Cover pot and leave to simmer for another ½ hour.
  4. Add rock sugar and longan pulp. Continue to simmer for ½ hour.
  5. Serve hot, warm or chilled as a snack or for breakfast.

Sweet soups - white fungus

White Fungus and Ginseng

Serves 3

30g white fungus

1 teaspoon thinly sliced American ginseng

1 tablespoon red medlar seeds rinse before use

50g rock sugar or more to taste


  1. Soak white fungus in warm water for at least 30 minutes or until very puffy.
  2. Combine 4 cups of water and softened white fungus in a small tall pot. Cover and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to medium and continue to simmer for 45 minutes.
  3. Add rock sugar, ginseng slices and red medlar seeds.
  4. Continue to simmer for another ½ hour. Serve hot or chilled.

Sweet soups - multigrains

Sweet Multi-Grains

Serves 3

½ cup multi-grains (a combination of rolled and pearl barley, unpolished rice, fox nuts, etc available ready-packed at FairPrice supermarkets – rice section)

2-3 pandan leaves

12 red dates, deseeded and washed

30g dried longan pulp

100g rock sugar


  1. Wash pandan leaves and knot.
  2. Wash and strain multi-grains like washing rice. Soak in 2 cups of water for ½ hour to reduce cooking time – don’t throw out the water.
  3. Put in a pot the knotted pandan leaves, multi-grains with the soaking water and another 5 cups of water. Cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat and leave to simmer for ½ hour.
  4. Add rock sugar, red dates and longan pulp. Cover pot and continue to simmer for 30 minutes. Serve hot or chilled.

Back in action – DIY pain relief

In early July I was bothered by an ache in the back and arm as if I had slept awkwardly. A well-meaning friend took me for tuina (Traditional Chinese Medicine style) massage.

The pain worsened. It got so bad that I had to spend most of the day lying down. I suspect the tuina pummelling exacerbated the problem. Besides excruciating achiness, there was tingling in my forearm all the way down to the fingers. It felt like backache coupled with repetitive stress injury (RSI) as I knew the signs – pain, numbness and weakness.

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But it wasn’t bad enough to alarm the doctor at the polyclinic. An x ray showed bone spurs in the neck but for a look at nerves and muscles I would need an MRI. I left with a bag of painkillers which, by the way, didn’t provide much relief.

Well, here I was unable to sit, stand, or sleep properly and feeling for the most part like a wretched invalid. When I was cheerfully told over the phone that my orthopaedic appointment was in October, I quietly freaked out. Sorry, the voice nonchalantly said. No earlier slot is available. Obviously, Singaporeans are falling apart, so deal with it.


back neck x ray

If something like this befalls you, doing as I did might help. Certainly, it’s better than enduring the agony while contemplating a lifetime of disability.

I immediately looked for a Chinese physician because the next best thing was acupuncture. Friends said I could have a slipped disc and/or a pinched nerve, and many had had spinal troubles. I never realised that back problems were as common as women in heels.

It took three acupuncture + cupping sessions before I felt better. Pain relief was maybe 50 per cent but the tingling remained. If you’ve not tried acupuncture, don’t underrate it. Placing needles in the right spots open the meridians and hasten self-healing. With each needle she tapped in, the physician would ask, “Can you feel it?”

The feeling is a satisfying sharp discomfort translated as various degrees of “ouch!”. “No pain, no gain,” the physician gleefully declared as she twiddled the needles after 10 minutes for more ouch. I like acupuncture but cupping is horrid.


back acupuncture

After the fifth acupuncture session in three weeks, I knew I had hit a plateau. Plus, it was costing too much, so I decided to find ways to help myself.

The internet to the rescue. I have Gary Crowley – to thank for self-massage so easy I was initially sceptical it would work.

Image: Gary Crowley

back gary crowley

He has techniques for relieving all joint and muscle pains, so there’ll surely be something you can use. He helps you track the source of your pain. If you can fix the trouble spot, it’s likely the downstream pain will disappear.



For the out-of-reach parts, he suggests using a tennis ball in a sock against a wall. What I found even better was a dog’s ball-on-a-rope. It’s better than the sock which tends to stretch. I even tried the common Asian massage ball on a stick. It provides temporary relief when pounding stiff muscles but for pressure, the rubber ball is too small.

back aids 1

As October approaches, I am in two minds whether to cancel my orthopaedic appointment. I am mostly better except for the occasional twinge when I overstretch myself. It seems a waste of time to be examined and advised to improve my posture (the real cause of my woes). However, a kiasu friend says I should go in case I have other undiscovered problems (aargh! What a terrifyiing thought).

back Doctor Joback chair-yoga-main

In the meantime, I shall start practising yoga in a chair – and continuing Doctor Jo’s stretches –