Saturday, October 18, 2008

Nightmare of a journey.....

Driving back from Penang to Kuala Lumpur, about 350km, usually takes me about 4 hours, including a break lunch or dinner of about half an hour. We have a house in Penang and an apartment in KL, and usually spend the week apart because of our work commitments :-(

Last Sunday it took me exactly 12 hours!!

I was about 30 minutes into the journey down our North-South Highway when my car ground to a halt, with some ominous noises coming from under the bonnet (hey, I'm English, but to those across the Pond it's the hood). As with most days here, the early afternoon temperature was about 34c (95f) and that's a shade temperature - I sure wasn't in the shade, so I reckon it was about 40c minimum.

Called the local Automobile Association, who regretably were not very helpful, but lucky for me along comes a truck of the highways division of the Malaysian Police, who were fantastic - and that is a word you will rarely hear about the Police here. They found a mechanic from a service station about 20km away - and remember this was Sunday afternoon. He arrived within about 30 minutes and pronounced (what I feared) that the timing belt had snapped, hopefully not causing any other damage in the engine.

Hope was in vain. The tow truck arrived after another hour or so, hanging around in the very hot sun, with a half-broken golf umbrella as the only protection!

The valves were damaged and it would all take at least two days to repair - and here I am about 300km from home, now at the service station, on the edge of a very small kampong (village).

I decide to get (another) tow truck organised, but this time to take me all 300km back to KL. Lucky for me, I know the CEO of Asia Assistance, and even though I'm not a member, he very kindly organised his call centre to find the right tow truck for me. It eventually arrived two hours later, and having broken down at about 12.45pm, we set off on the journey back to KL at just after 6pm.

The nightmare was only half over. At least none of this was going to cost me a single cent. My own service centre had put in a new timing belt only six months earlier and since then I'd only done about 10,000 km. The timing belt is good for 100,000! My service centre assured me they would cover all costs. It's OK, that's not a part of the nightmare, for they did cover the cost, without any arguments.

By now, the sun had gone, to be replaced by rain, in monsoon proportions! At best the tow truck can't do more than 80kmh, but at times, 50 was the best we could do safely, and even then that wasn't slow enough for some others. We came across several accidents on the way, one of which the tow truck driver, now my best buddy, felt he should stop to see if he could help. He donned his yellow fluorescent jacket and disappeared into the rainy gloom for about 20 minutes. He came back to get us going again, but said that a two of the passengers in one of the cars involved were in pretty poor shape, but the ambulance had now arrived.

We eventually stopped at 10pm for a very late dinner at one of the many good R&R stops on the highway, and enjoyed an excellent Hainanese Chicken Rice, a big favourite here in Malaysia.

There were still 120km to go to reach home in KL. At least the rain had softened to not much more than a drizzle.

To cut a very long story short (well, sort of), my car was unhooked from the tow truck at precisely 12.45am, exactly 12 hours since I had broken down, 300km away.

Never was it so good to be home.

I eventually got my car back, good as new, on Wednesday. Gee, did I feel naked without the car in its parking slot :-)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Lemon, honey and mustard chicken - my own recipe

I think I've mentioned before that I enjoy cooking, and often use it as a welcome distraction from workday stresses. Well, I'd bought some beautiful, big lemons the other day, and was thinking on how I might use one or two of them in a recipe I'd not tried before. So, this is what I did.

Took four large chicken thighs (I'm not a fan of breasts, but they would work just as well if you prefer), de-skinned them and removed as much fat as possible. Pricked them all over with my very sharp knife, to help the marinade get deep into the chicken, and put them aside.

Made the marinade with:

Half a cup of honey
A teaspoon of dijon mustard
The juice of two lemons
The peel from the lemons (none of the white pith), very finely chopped
Four large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Fresh ginger (size of your little finger), peeled and finely chopped
Pinch of salt and generous amount of freshly ground black pepper
Two large red chillis, finely chopped (optional, but we all love chillis)

Place the chicken and the mixed marinade into a freezer bag, seal it, and massage the marinade well into the chicken before putting into the fridge for about an hour. Don't need longer as you're going to cook the chicken in the marinade.

Pre-heat oven to 180c (350f) and place the chicken and marinade into an oven proof dish, covering with aluminum foil, and bake covered for 30-40 minutes or until cooked. Remove foil, drain off all the juice, saving it for the sauce, and put a pat of butter onto the top of each piece of chicken, then return to the oven for about 10 minutes to brown off.

To make the sauce, pour into a saucepan straining off all the bits of chopped garlic, chopped ginger, lemon peel etc, and bring the juice to the boil, reducing it by half to make it more intense. I thicken it too with a little cornflour, but it's fine without.

I serve with plain steamed rice and stir-fried baby bak choy.

The family's verdict was a big thumbs up, which gave me the confidence to share it here with all of you.