Monday, 3 February 2014

Chinese New Year!

Edited, coz quite frankly it was rather lame!

Gong Xi Fa Cai - Happy New Year to all my friends and family. It's the Year of the Horse (the green, wooden horse to be exact) and it is looking like a good one for me - I'm a goat and according to the horoscopes, goats and horses get along because they're both quite similar animals.

Tradition dictates that you should have a reunion dinner to close the previous year so strictly, you should travel back to your elder's homes for a big feast. Unfortunately I don't live very near my Mum so we generally travel back on the weekend after to celebrate. This year, New Year's Day fell on a Friday so Si and I travelled back on the Friday evening.

Mum had been planning her menu since Christmas and Saturday was a major day of prepping and cooking the many dishes she had planned. She had already made curry puffs, a childhood favourite of mine for breakfast the next day. They look like mini pasties and the pastry is filled with a combination of curried minced lamb, peas and potatoes all highly spiced and very delicious. They are then deep fried and eaten hot or cold.

She had planned a huge amount of dishes, many of which are favourites of mine and they included prawn sambal - a sour, thick curry made with large tiger prawns flavoured with lime and kaffir lime leaves. This was my grandmother's recipe and brings back wonderful memories of Malaysia for me. We had steamed rainbow trout, wontons (deep fried dumplings made with minced pork and prawn), crispy belly pork, beef curry, chicken and cashews in black bean and a variety of other things. We also had a couple of traditional Malaysian desserts including Kuih Talam, a layered 'cake' made with coconut and pandan - a Malaysian leaf.

On Sunday she treated us to another variety of amazing food including curry petai - my second all time favourite curry, again made with prawns but with a distinctive bean called buah petai or sotu bean. It offers a pleasing crunch and a rather unique flavour but again, it was a dish from my childhood when I lived in Malaysia. We also feasted on a Chinese turnip dish cooked with spring onions and dried scallops which is then scooped and rolled up into a lettuce leaf before eating.

My mother is the most wonderful cook and I would love to see what she could knock up with a larder full of fresh Malaysian food in front of her!

(Above) Wontons - minced pork and prawn flavoured with coriander and sesame oil and stuffed and folded (by me!) into a wrapper and deep fried - this is obviously before they were cooked!

(Clockwise from top left): Prawn sambal, a fragrant, sour curry made with dried chillies and flavoured with kaffir lime leaves; wontons after they've been cooked; Chinese turnip that you stuff into lettuce leaves; Curry petai made with prawns and a lot of chilli; crispy pork belly

(Above) The huge prawns that went into our Sambal

Philip Seymour Hoffman & Addiction

PSH was discovered yesterday, dead in his apartment with a syringe in his arm and a bag of heroin lying next to him. Cue the public outpouring of grief and tributes but also the usual crap on social media about how selfish he was and how could he do this to his children.

I think people forget that addiction affects everyone around the world - young, old, rich, poor - be it an addiction to drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, food, shopping, gambling, collecting cats... Obviously some are worse for you than others. Some people are strong enough to overcome the addiction and abstain from their particular poison for the rest of their lives but they will always be addicts. A true alcoholic, once sober will never be able to touch alcohol again for fear of relapse. Some aren't strong enough, the demons are just too great and they can't help but succumb.

I have heard nothing but good things about PSH - an inherently good man who was incredibly talented, charming to work with and an all round nice guy but PSH had a long history of addiction and notably, admitted himself to rehab just as he finished drama school with several more stints over the years. But ultimately his demons won the war in the end. I don't think it's fair to deem him selfish without having gone through such an addiction yourself. Think about having to give up something that gave you such a buzz - sugar or chocolate for example for the rest of your life without being able to have a tiny bit even once ever again. And now imagine putting yourself in an environment where that substance was highly accessible and available in great quantities 24/7. Unfortunately PSH lived such a life and the temptation was too great but this does not mean that he did not love his children or his partner (who he recently split from - a situation stressful enough to tempt him back to drugs, perhaps?).

Some people are asking why we should care that PSH is dead and that if it was someone ordinary, no-one would give a crap - what a stupid question. We mourn the loss of PSH because he is well known and we have seen and like him in films. We mourn the loss of his very obvious talent and the fact that we have been robbed of future masterpieces from him. I don't mourn the loss of a local crackhead because I don't know them but I'm sure if I did, I would, especially if they had contributed something positive to society, despite their personal demons.

I've been hearing a lot of bullshit and sweeping statements about fame and how bad it is and how it is the cause of so many things. It is NOT fame, but more the culture of celebrity. Being famous does not condemn you to a life of drugs, multiple unhappy marriages and general misery, just as being brought up on a council estate does not mean that you will grow up to live on benefits, eat ready meals and have a brood of children in your teens. Fame will certainly open different doors, both good and bad but it is wrong to blame drug culture etc on being famous. It is more widely available, certainly but not everyone will seek out the opportunity to do drugs. I know many people, some in the TV industry but many of whom are not, who take drugs of all sorts. Addiction does not discriminate. We just hear about it more if the person who suffers is in the public eye.

Why is it we rarely hear about the philanthropic nature of celebrities - who really knew that Scarlett Johansson was an ambassador for Oxfam until the SodaStream story broke? Who can really tell me about Will.I.Am's STEM project or how much he has donated to charity from his salary from The Voice? How many charities (or which) can you tell me that Katie Price has patroned or raised a vast amount of money for? The answer to these questions would probably draw a blank with most people but if I asked how many children does Katie Price have any by how many different fathers, I would suspect that many more people would be able to answer that or would have at least heard of several associated stories over the years.

Why? Because the good stuff is boring and the bad stuff is interesting. The act of (often misguided) celebrity is what we see splashed over tabloids and magazines - that is what we have to look at and criticise, not fame itself. Why is it we take such relish in seeing a young, 19 year old boy being arrested or shake our heads at a 20 year old girl in skimpy clothing, gyrating as she performs on stage? (I'm sure you know which celebs I'm talking about here!). Being famous does not cause you to stick a syringe in your arm any more than it does to go shoplifting. Personally I think it comes down to genetic make up and that some people are more likely to be addicts because it's human nature.

You can be famous and well known without being a 'celebrity' and there are many famous people who go to great lengths to protect their private life. Daniel Radcliffe has said in the past that celebrities who are on Twitter and other social media should not expect their lives to stay private.

It is not fame that brings unhappiness, fame is a consequence of certain life choices - you cannot say that every famous person in the world is unhappy, but a small minority are and it is us, the celebrity seeking public who are the ones who find happiness in their misery and therefore we should question ourselves before we question and judge others no matter who they are or how high their fall from grace.