Lesson From My Mother-In-Law’s Steamed Fish

The kids are back in school after the 4 day weekend break. Everyone went back to their normal routine on the 3rd day of Lunar New Year. I thought it was a pretty short break considering that on some years, school only starts on the 5th day of the new year.

We had our reunion dinner with my husband side of the family where my 78 years old mother-in-law took days to prepare the reunion dinner. Every year, both she and my father-in-law would make multiple trips to the market to stock up on groceries and fresh produce and she would spend her day, cleaning and arranging everything meticulously.

Age is catching up with her and with the renovation of their place this year, she only had less than a week to prepare everything. Still, she managed to cook up an impressive spread.

I remember those years where she would prepare Ngor Hiang and Ah Zha to gift to all her children and close relatives. Her Nyonya dumplings were unmatched and she cooked the best steamed fish.

One would have thought that steaming fish should be a no brainer. Just let the boiling water do the job, no? At least that was what I thought.

And that was exactly what she did too. She had a wok of boiling water and the ingredients she used were nothing unusual. It was almost like, her secret to cooking perfect steamed fish was … No Secret. But somehow her steamed fish always tasted better.

It was a mystery.

It took me a long while but I think I finally figured out the 2 main ingredients for her tasty steamed fish cooked to perfection,  meticulousness and precise timing.

The process starts from choosing the freshest fish and cleaning the fish. From clearing the stomach to rubbing it down with salt, rinsing and dripping it dry. Then depending on the size of the fish, the time it takes for the fish to stay over a wok of boiling water has to be just right. A few minutes too early, the fish would be half cooked and a few minutes too late you might end up with the fish being too tough thus destroying the freshness of the fish.

I realized that like learning any new skill, to gain expertise, one needs to practise, practise, practise. And the quality of practice is just as important as the quantity.

Simple practice isn’t enough to rapidly gain skills. Mere repetition of an activity won’t lead to improved performance. But instead, understanding what needs to be improved and the areas that can address these deficiencies need to be constantly worked at. My mother-in-law took years to figure out the different timing needed to steam different fish depending on the weight and size.

Greatness requires dedication and sacrifice, period. Being good at something requires a fair amount, being great requires a huge amount. If you want to be great at what you do, then much dedication and sacrifice is required.

Geoff Colvin called it deliberate practice and he believes it is this that separates world class performers from everybody else.  I agree with him and I believe that deliberate practice can be used by anyone, not just world class performers but anyone who wish to better themselves and be really good at what they are doing. You can be a football player, a swimmer, a pilot, an admin clerk, a painter, a parent, a homemaker, and in this case, it is what separates my mother-in-law’s steamed fish from everybody else’s.

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So deliberate practice we shall have and may we be better every year than the year before.
Here’s to a great monkey year filled with happiness, good health and prosperity!

Huat ah!

xxxx

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To Those Who Had Fought

Last week I attended the wake of a beloved friend’s father who died of cancer. Last year around this time, a relative succumbed and passed away. Most friends I know have someone in their family who is living under the torment of this ruthless killer. My dad is a cancer survivor himself.

2012 was a gloomy year where my friend’s father, a close relative and my dad were diagnosed with cancer. My dad had almost half of his stomach removed but thankfully his cancer was in the early stage thus chemotherapy was not required. With only half a stomach left, he now takes small meals, chews his food well and watches what he eats. He has since lost considerable amount of weight but is still leading an active life. He cycles and goes for walks everyday.

It’s good to slay the demon. It’s good to wake up to another day of sun rise, to breathe another breath of fresh air and watch the world go by.

It’s good to be living and moving.

Unfortunately both my friend’s dad and relative weren’t so lucky. They have battled and succumbed to the disease. And I can’t help but to feel angry at how brutal this killer is. Each surgery and chemotherapy session promises hope. Yet a relapse would often follow and another relentless battle begins.

It’s cruel to be lifted by hope and then have it shattered by another life sentence. All we could do is to helplessly watch them shrivel and succumb.

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This Sunday, I will be running in the Singtel cancer run. It will be my 3rd year running but my first since I busted my knee last December.

I have yet to regain full mobility of my left knee but the regular cycling trips have helped strengthen my thighs and build up my stamina.

2 months ago, I finally mustered enough courage to go onto the treadmill. It was in a spur of the moment, I was not attired, clad in my denim shorts without my usual jogging accessories. (music and drink) My boys watched on while I stepped onto the machine, I told them I just wanted to test out my leg. Half of me was worried that I would wreck my knee further, the other half knew that I would never find out if I don’t try.

Alas, I lasted half an hour on the treadmill! I was thrilled. I was exhilarated. I could run!

After trying out a couple more times on the treadmill, I finally made it outdoors last Friday for my first 10km run for the year. The beginning of the run was awful; my legs weighed a tonne; I couldn’t stop thinking about the bad air I was breathing in due to the haze. It also didn’t help that I had to stop multiple times to answer my phone. It was the first day of school holiday and I had snuck out in the morning while the boys were asleep. When they finally woke up, the younger one had to call me multiple times to check on me. Arrrggghh!

My pace was erratic; I couldn’t maintain a good pace; my posture was poor and it caused my calf muscles to tense up and ache; it was only much later that my muscles started to ease up but by then I was already gasping for air. I took much longer than usual to complete the run. It was demoralizing; I felt so not ready for the run.

I know I would be a nervous wreck at the starting point and my energy would probably be sapped by the hot sun (the race starts at 7am, which is a tad late, if you ask me). I worry that my heart would thump too hard and my legs might decide to go on strike that day. I could foresee that it is not going to be an easy run and I have thoughts of chickening out.

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But I thought of my friend’s father who passed away, my relative and my Dad. Things were put into perspective and I was reminded why I am running.

For me it’s a 15 km race to the finishing line but for many of the cancer patients, their race is one with an uncertain destination, a race with no finishing line.

My mind was set. This Sunday, come what may, I shall run and complete the race.

I will run.
To honor those who had fought.
To celebrate those who had won.
To remember those who had lost.
To cheer those who are still fighting.

 
Note : This is not a sponsored post, do head over here if you wish to make a donation to the Singapore Cancer Society

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Images of Singapore – A Little Something For SG50

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This post is a compilation of images of Singapore captured during my many cycling trips, usually morning.

I marvel at how beautiful this little red dot has become, how much she has transformed and how far we have come. As cliche as it may sound, I feel really privileged to call myself Singaporean.

Her last 50 years have been nothing short of spectacular and miraculous. I hope that the next 50 years will be as good if not better than the last and I wish to live long enough to celebrate her centennial.

Happy 50th Birthday my country, my sanctuary, my home!

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