Laksa Cookies and Living Water

In a move inspired by financial repackagings, experimented with more leftover-stuff-in-cookies. Following the popularity of the bak kwa cookies, this installment we have: laksa cookies – lemak spicy savoury shortbread.

Laksa Cookies topped with Laksa LeafBrought them with me to the evening’s Bible study on John 7, where, ugly as they were, the cookies were given the thumbs up.

John 7 stands as testament against anyone who says, “If only God revealed himself to me clearly, I would believe in him.” If anything is clear, it is that when God reveals himself clear, the best and most learned of us reject him even more violently.

It’s significant that John 7 takes place during the Feast of Booths or Feast of the Tabernacles. This festival was instituted even before Israel got into the Promised Land! It was another of those amazing signs that the eventuality of their entry was so certain, because God had promised it, that all that remained was to be instructed what to do in it, and what festivals to celebrate.

At the Festival of Booths, they were to bring in the bountiful produce of the land (another wonderful assumption) and camp out, to remind themselves that they were dependent on God for rescue and salvation (Leviticus 23:42b-43, Deuteronomy 16:13-15). And for any Jew, the words “bread” (or manna) and “water” conjure up memories of how God provided for them in the wilderness after they were rescued from Egypt (see Exodus). This led to a Pharasaic (as opposed to Sadducee) tradition of water libation each morning of the Feast, with water drawn from the Pool of Siloam. One rabbinic authority based this on the promise of Isaiah 12:3:

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. (Isaiah 12:3)

A few centuries later, Nehemiah, inspired by God, said that it was the Spirit who had instructed the people in their wanderings and it was the Spirit through the prophets who had warned the people as they stopped acknowledging God after they were settled in his promised land (Nehemiah 9:20,30).

And Zechariah, also inspired by God, prophesised that there would come a day, the eschatological end-time, when all the nations (not just Israel) would keep the Feast of Booths (Zechariah 14). This assumes a second rescue, another exodus, and this time, for all the peoples of the world.

So by the time of Jesus, when the Jews celebrated the Feast of the Booths, it wasn’t just commemorating a past rescue (the Exodus from Egypt), but looking forward to a future salvation, aided by the Spirit.

Laksa Cookies topped with Laksa Leaf

Can you imagine the great claim that Jesus was making then, when, perhaps in the middle of the water-drawing ceremony,

37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-38)

Now at the point, the Pharisees and the crowd had three choices: Jesus was either (i) a liar, (ii) a lunatic, or (iii) holy guacamole! Lord!

It would have been a fair fight between the choices if not for all the miracles (signs) he had already performed – turning water to wine, remote healing the official’s son, healing a long-term crippled man, feeding 5000, walking on water in a storm (see John 2-6). So much so that people believed him saying that the Christ would not have done more signs than Jesus (John 7:31).

They marvelled too at his authoritative teaching even though he never studied (John 7:15) and the officers sent to arrest him returned empty-handed because “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:48). This wasn’t the gift of the gab, this was authoritative revelation from the one who sent Jesus – God himself (John 7:16-18)

Well, we don’t really need Dr. Who to give us a ride to the first century to see Jesus in the flesh. The evidence is recorded in the Gospels, and witnessing all Jesus’ works and signs in person did the Pharisees (minus Nicodemus) no good.

The chapter ends with those Jewish leaders plotting to kill the very one the Feast of Booths was looking forward to – the one who would give them living water of salvation and the Spirit…

Laksa Cookie Recipe
70g butter
50g dark brown sugar or caster sugar (or icing sugar if using top flour)

50g coconut oil
2 – 3 tbsp laksa paste

200g all-purpose flour (or top flour)

laksa leaves

Nostalgic for the 1980s? Cakes, Snacks, Titbits, Childhood Games, and the Dangers of Nostalgia

Because I run with the older crowd, there have been quite a few 40++ (“the new 30s”) birthday celebrations since the start of 2015. At that age, it’s not that much of a treat getting stuff since they have the financial means to buy whatever they want. So rather than going with the cake-fad-of-the-month, we’ve had fun searching out retro cakes and snacks for the occasion. You’re never too young to get all nostalgic.

nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore cakes nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore cakesSponge cake slices with buttercream frosting held up amazingly in our hot and humid Singapore weather. They were from Nice Bakery in Ang Mo Kio (S$1 per slice). A few streets away, Pine Garden sells similar cakes for S$1.50.

Biscuit King, 130 Casuarina Road, Singapore. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro Singapore snacksBiscuit King (130 Casuarina Road, Thomson) is almost a one-stop shop for the snacks and toys and games that kids in the 1980s would have counted out pockey-money for at corner mamak shops and the drinks stall in the school canteen:

individually-wrapped hard-boiled sweets like Hacks, Mentos, and that fizzly orange sweet. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro Singapore snacksindividually-wrapped hard-boiled sweets like Hacks, Mentos, Haw Flakes, barley mints, Hudson wild cherry, Sarsi, White Rabbit, and that fizzly orange sweet,

preserved fruits, nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snackspreserved dried fruits (kana?) – grandmothers’ favourite afternoon chew. I only ate these to assuage sore throats,

biscuit tins. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snackstins of biscuits (usually from Khong Guan) – you pointed to what you wanted and the shopkeeper would then weigh your selection. I liked the ice gems (and debating the best way of eating it – icing first? biscuit base first? indulgently, both at one go?), pineapple jam in a flower-shaped biscuit, cashewnut cookies topped with one half of a cashewnut, salty sticks, butterfly crackers, peppery roll crackers.

nostalgic for the 1980s in Singapore? Mamee Monster
nostalgic for the 1980s in Singapore? Mamee MonsterMamee Monster (S$1.50 for a bag containing little packs from discount shops around Singapore) – seasoned instant noodles (in chicken or BBQ flavours) that you crushed in the packet, added even more seasoning to, then shook about to distribute evenly amongst the dried noodle fragments. I’m surprised they haven’t made a molecular gastronomy equivalent of this yet.

Bee-Bee Snack. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacks Bee-Bee Snack. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacksBee-Bee Snack (S$3 for a bagful). The sort of fried flour stuff you ate after swimming class or while waiting for the school bus, after you’ve had your deep-fried chicken wings of course.

nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacksLigo California Golden Seedless Raisins – supposedly the healthier snack. But with that amount of sugar… Sometimes the raisins were too dry and you needed to work them in your mouth so your saliva plumped up the wrinkles.

Hiro choc cake. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacksKinos Hiro choc cake (S$0.40, Biscuit King). Some sort of sponge with a chocolate coating, tasting of nothing in particular. You needed several to fill you up.

Ding Dang. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacks Kinos Tora. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacksDing Dang (S$0.60, Biscuit King) and Tora (S$1.00, Biscuit King) also from Kinos used mean wafer balls covered with chocolate. They’ve now been replaced by some cereal bar nonsense and the packaging art has been changed to reflect the lack of chocolate balls. Toys still included.

Apollo Milk Chocolate Wafer Cream. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacksApollo Milk Chocolate Wafer Cream (S$0.80, Sheng Siong Supermarket).

Polo peppermint. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacksPolo peppermint sweets (S$0.40, Biscuit King) – we offered them to friends, sucked them so that the circle remained intact, then tried to whistle through them.

Chupa Chups. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacksChupa Chups. Didn’t know they were a brand of Spanish lollies and that their logo was designed by Salvador Dali! Obscure flavours were the most sought-after. When you were done, you tried to whistle through the empty stick, or chewed on them like you didn’t know about the dangers of BPA, or flicked them onto unsuspecting classmates.

(See also Teck Leong Lee Kee for wholesale prices.)

nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacksAh, and what about those childhood games before everyone sat in the canteen and stared at their smartphones? Goli (marbles), national flag erasers, hopscotch, zero point (jump-the-rope with a rope of rubber-bands), snakes-and-ladders, aeroplane chess, pick-up-sticks, Chinese checkers, kuti-kuti (small colourful plastic tokens),

retro nostalgic old school childhood games, 1980s Singapore Bestman Balloons. retro nostalgic old school childhood games, 1980s SingaporeBestman Balloon (S$1.20, from the man outside Sheng Shiong Bedok). A whole box just feels like an indulgence. I think we used to get just one or two tubes each, and had to make it last.

Snap card game. retro nostalgic old school childhood games, 1980s Singapore Happy Family card game. retro nostalgic old school childhood games, 1980s Singapore Donkey card game. retro nostalgic old school childhood games, 1980s Singapore Old Maid card game. retro nostalgic old school childhood games, 1980s SingaporeSnap, Happy Families, Donkey, Old Maid card games (S$2.50 for 4 packs from the man outside Sheng Shiong Bedok, S$0.60 each from Party Mama Shop) – these cards aren’t as good quality as they used to be.

On the bus today, an old man in front of me was commenting to his wife as we passed the graves opposite MacRitchie Reservoir:

“See, look all the graves. There are all these young people, keep getting angry that the graves are taken away. For what? All these dead already. And they think they live so nicely in their houses, go to their schools, drive on all the roads, don’t need to knock down old things? Always complain traffic jam, complain too expensive, complain everything. Ask them to take care of a family, a big family, they can anot? They can fit into one house meh? Cannot, then complain. Why not throw away all the old things, then can fit. We all did it before, why they cannot? Stupid nonsense, think they’re so smart!”

Nostalgia is nice and neutral, but we never stop there do we? We rose-tint the past, we talk about the “good old days” when things were better and easier, when people were honest and caring, things were just more authentic. And we know about the inauthenticity of authenticity.

Mired in self-deception:

  • we become needlessly negative about our present;
  • we fail to learn from history, and in our blind nostalgia deliberately repeat the mistakes of the past (eg. the nostalgic theme parks of Eastern Europe longing for their fascist past);
  • we reject the good that has been achieved by the progress of the intervening years;
  • we are unable to properly solve present problems guided by a clear view of past mistakes and present successes.

iced gem biscuits with a cup of milky teathe aforementioned iced gem biscuits

Bak Kwa 肉干 Biscuits or Candied Bacon Cookies, and that Man with a Demon

Saddled with several bags of Chinese New Year 肉干 bak kwa, I thought of possibly making bak kwa ice-cream at last, having talked about it repeatedly to patient friends for the last half decade. Then, like a strange re-interpreted re-enactment of the fable of the Stone Soup, there came a bag of flour and a bag of instant oats and half a tray of eggs, so bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies in Americanese) it would be.

Had a look at several bak kwa cookie recipes online. The ones here and here looked delightful, but I was thinking of something not quite so melty-in-the-mouth, something crispy outside and chewy inside, something very Anzac bikkie-ish.

bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies)So here’s an attempt – the sugar and salt were included to emphasise the sweet-savory-ness of the bak kwa. Not too bad, imho!

bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies)Every year when bak kwa appears in homes everywhere during the Lunar New Year, I think of a classmate of mine who had been sad not to be able to eat pork. We, of course, were careful not to put temptation in his way either. One day, I asked why pig meat was considered unclean. Because, he said somewhat bitterly, Jesus had driven demons into pigs.

Reading through the Gospel of Mark today accompanied by Andrew Sach & Tim Hiorns’ excellent Dig Deeper into the Gospels, I wished we were still in touch. Mark 5:1-20 records the event my classmate probably had in mind:

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12 and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.

14 The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 16 And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. 17 And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marvelled.

I suppose one solution to my friend’s unhappiness would have been for him to realise that since the pigs drowned, they had no opportunity to pass on their demons to future generations of piggies (assuming that demons worked genetically or by vector).

"Dig Deeper into the Gospels" posing with bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies) But the better solution would be to find out why Mark wrote this in the first place. It wasn’t the back story to pigs being stinky things to be avoided at all costs. The focus wasn’t on Porky but on Jesus.

It was, in the context of the whole Gospel of Mark and in light of the preceding and succeeding accounts of Jesus calming the storm and healing the bleedin’ woman and Jairus’ daughter, about Jesus’ incredible frightening power. This passage is thick with fear, not just from the begging demons but also from the begging humans who witnessed his power.

So it’s not “oh, how nice, I’ll put him in my address book just in case I need a good exorcist next time”. Nor is it so much “Jesus is powerful to save, so don’t be afraid but trust him.” It’s “OMG, Jesus is bigger and badder (well, the street-speak meaning of “powerful-scary” at least) than anything you are afraid of. Both trust and fear him instead!”

bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies)


115g unsalted butter
100g dark brown sugar
67g caster sugar

1 medium egg
¼ tsp vanilla extract

146g flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp sea salt

45g instant oat flakes
120g bak kwa, lightly toasted then chopped

PS. apparently Plain Vanilla Bakery (34A Lorong Mambong, Singapore, facebook) sells bak kwa cookies, but i’d have to wait till next year to grab some.