Life's better with cake and a sprinkle of fairy dust
If the first day of the year gives any inkling about the remaining 364 days to come, then 2014 doesn’t seem too hot for me. You see, I spent 1st January in a huff, nursing a swollen foot from stumbling over the husband’s 25-kilo dumbbells THRICE.
The reasons the man felt compelled to leave those wretched things 1)whenever and wherever he’d finished a set, 2) in every room in our tiny flat (yeap, each time I struck my toe in a different room) and 3) in dark corners mostly, utterly evades me. Should there not be some kind of safety rules for this kind of thing? The first two times, he seemed apologetic enough, but the third time, I was starting to suspect he was thinking the problem wasn’t with his dumbbells.
Finally, I could take it no more. I not-so-subtly asked him if he has ever seen dumbbells fly.
The man got the idea rather quickly.
It’s too late to turn back the clock now. Rather than lament that the rest of my year has been tainted, I’m mighty glad that Chinese New Year is always just around the corner from 1st January, so if the start of the Gregorian year doesn’t seem that great, one can always cheat a little and start “counting” proper from the first day of the Lunar calendar instead.
Here’s a recipe for Almond Longan Jelly. It’s not really jelly, as it’s not made from gelatin but agar-agar, which makes this a vegetarian-friendly, gluten-free and egg-free dessert. One could make it dairy-free and vegan too, if so desired, by replacing the milk with almond milk or soy milk. Replace the sugar with stevia or Splenda, and serve with fresh fruit instead of tinned, and this dessert becomes sugar-free as well.
The original recipe called for evaporated milk and a ton of sugar. I’ve made a healthier version using low-fat milk and cut down the sugar by nearly half. Since this dessert is usually served with tinned longans and some of the stock syrup in the tin, I figured there’s really no need for the extra calories.
I usually make this in a plastic Tupperware or tray and cut it into bite-sized cubes when it’s set (boring…), but in keeping with the spirit of the forthcoming Chinese New Year, I thought I might give my newly-acquired koi mold a go. I would imagine two koi (the plural of koi is koi) chasing each other’s tails would be more impressive than one lonely koi. For a start, the Chinese believe auspicious things come in pairs. But I only had one mold and this was kind of an experiment to try out the new mold.
1) 1 packet agar-agar powder (13g)
2) 750ml water
3) 150g sugar
4) 1 teaspoon almond extract
5) 2 raisins
6) liquid or gel food colour of your choice
7) 250ml low-fat milk
To serve: a tin of longans and crushed ice
1) Dissolve agar-agar powder with sugar, almond extract and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and keep warm.
2) Using your thumb and forefinger, smush the raisins into balls. Drop a few drops of the clear agar-agar mixture into the mold where the eyes should be and ‘glue’ the raisins into place.
3) Tint tablespoonfuls of the agar-agar mixture with food colour. I tinted mine yellow and red – classic koi colours. Black, purple, green, orange all work as well.
4) Using the back of a small teaspoon, paint the body of the koi fish mold with the tinted agar-agar mixture in random patches. Leave to set at ambient temperature or in the chiller.
5) To make the ‘pond’, pour 3/4 cup of the hot agar-agar mixture onto the serving platter. Add blue food colour and stir to blend well. Leave to set.
6) Add the milk to the remaining mixture in the saucepan. The mixture should be just warm, not hot, before it is poured into the koi mold placed on a tray to catch any drips. Leave to set.
7) Once set, unmold the koi jelly onto the serving platter and serve.