The local schools have stopped classes for a few days because of air pollution, and all of us have been advised to stay indoors whenever we can. The forecast is that the haze will last for at least another month. To chase away the gloom, I set out to buy some flowers for the apartment. According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “We are made immortal by the contemplation of beauty.” Immortality seems too enormous a claim, but I do believe in beauty’s curative powers.
I love orchids and have always had them around the house when I am home. I naively thought there must be amazing orchid selections in this tropical town, but it turned out that people here don’t really care about orchids.
First I went to a florist, but they carried mostly silk flowers and some cut fresh flowers. Then I went to a nursery that had a couple of pathetically drab hanging orchids that would only make one sad looking at them. According to the owner of the nursery, orchids are not worth the trouble because no one buys them. He sells mostly bonsai trees that symbolize longevity, or “money trees” that bring wealth. I ended up buying a small “money tree” from him simply because it’s got robust green leaves. The third place I visited did have a few small orchids — the kind Trader Joe’s at home sell for seven dollars each including the porcelain pot. This flower shop sells it for sixty five ringgit each. That’s the price of a full body massage for an hour. I’m puzzled by the fact that flowers or other plants are considered extravagant in a place with such abundant sunshine and water. Or “extravagant” is the wrong word completely — perhaps flowers or plants are simply irrelevant in people’s lives here. This town was build on land that a few short years ago was tropical jungle and plantations, but now the pool in this luxury service apartment is decorated with plastic trees.
After my orchid hunting adventure, I made myself a coconut mango rice pudding. Malaysian mangos are in season. They are so sweet that I hardly need to add any sugar to the dish. I made the black rice with half coconut milk and half fresh coconut water. When the rice is cooked, I added the sliced mangos and mini bananas. Simple and delicious. I imagine a little ground cardamom powder would add another dimension to the pudding, but I haven’t yet stocked up my little kitchen with spices.
With my orchids and my pudding, I could almost forget the hazardous haze outside my window.
Coconut milk from can
Fresh coconut juice
fresh ripe mangos
mini bananas (optional)
Pinch of salt
There is no measuring utensils in the kitchen. I made the rice pudding by feel.
Cook the rice with coconut water and a pinch of salt according to package direction. Add coconut milk, sugar and stir and cook until creamy. Turn off stove and stir in sliced mangos and bananas. Garnish with more fresh sliced mangos and bananas.