Boxes and Banners by Mississauga Arts Council

I have always admired the street art that adorns Toronto so I was overjoyed when the Mississauga Arts Council started their Boxes and Banners Project to beautify (artify!) Mississauga streets. I am humbled to be one of the lucky artists who painted a Bell box.

Here is my box’s transformation!

It was unveiled amidst a bit of fanfare with the Mississauga Arts Council and some of its board members, the local Councillor and singer Arlene Paculan to serenade us. There was ice cream for everyone who attended the unveiling, and yes it was one hot day!

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Place Masterpiece Here

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Most writers write because they love writing. It is not a big money maker for the majority of us, most of the time our payback is simply having people read and share the article or post. A comment that shows the reader actually read the piece is always greatly appreciated.

Not many people want your writing, you pretty much have to get down on your hands and knees begging for your piece to get published on websites and magazines. But writers keep writing anyway. Even if the only place their writing gets published is on their own little blog in their own little world of fellow unknown writers that appreciate the efforts. We try to keep each other motivated.

Writing just makes writers happy. We can’t stop. And sometimes some of us get lucky, then we all celebrate, like it was our own little victory. We get so happy we share the achievement wherever we can. I have had a bit of luck, a few posts I had written got featured. I was also approached by a couple of people to write some pieces for them. If you get asked to write something out of the blue when you least expect it, it is like Eid/Christmas/Hanukkah/ Diwali/fill in appropriate festival here.

Seeing your work somewhere is an amazing feeling. I wanted to help other newbies have that feeling, it is so motivating.  I didn’t have a whole lot of resources, the only thing I could think of was to put up a website and offer writers, artists and bloggers a place to share their work.  When the website was finally up I sent the link to my friends and asked them to share it with their friends and family with the message that anyone interested could send me their work to be put up. I started getting submissions and excited ‘thank yous’. That is a great feeling, being able to help someone. I also got some people ask me how much I was going to pay them for their submissions. They hadn’t even sent in a sample of their writing or artwork. It was kind of funny, but I am assuming they haven’t actually tried creating anything and getting it ‘out there’ yet. They are in for a rude awakening! I am keeping my fingers crossed though that eventually the site will pay for itself and I will be able to pay contributors. Right now it is using up all my pocket money!

If you are interested in sharing your work I would love to help get it ‘out there’.  I am going through submissions and hope to have them all up in July. I have put up a ‘floor model’ so you can see the website, the email to send in a submission is under the ‘Contribute’ heading.  This is the first time I am doing something like this, so your suggestions will be appreciated!

Attention all writers, bloggers, foodies, parents, artists, photographers, travellers, event planners and readers: come visit Café Mosaic.ca!

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We Need Less Barbie, Less Fake Cover Girls and More Warriors.

Dear Darling Daughters,

I overheard you talking to each other while you played with your dolls. I was relieved for the few minutes of conflict free cooperation amongst you. But what you, my youngest munchkin, said was far worse for me than one of your epic battles.

“I wish I had blond hair and blue eyes and was pretty like Barbie.”

I read about stuff like this all the time. It didn’t really matter of course until you said it because I thought I was doing such a good job by giving you confidence that looks don’t matter and everyone is beautiful in their own way etc etc.  But of course you do not live in a bubble and I cannot shield you from our increasingly shallow world. I suppose it was my fault for buying the damn dolls in the first place, but you know the thing is every mom wants her little girl to have nice toys. I just misjudged what nice is. Thanks a lot Mattel.

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(No. Just no! Pic from here.)

I tried to fix this problem by going out and finding some brown skinned, black haired dolls. Voila, thank you Disney for Mulan, Pocahontas and Jasmine. Although they should have done their homework because no, that is not what Arab princesses wore.  Belly dancers yes, but Jasmine was not a belly dancer. Also Pocahontas was only about ten or eleven and apparently she never saved John Smith.  Yes unfortunately women are objectified. A lot. I will explain what that means later, right now let’s just stick to My Little Pony. Okay yeah it has something to do with how they look in certain clothes. Yes, a certain lack of clothes. Thanks a lot Disney! Yes the bumpy parts that are barely covered by their skimpy clothes. No, it is not something good to walk around like that. Your body is yours, it should not be on display for everybody to ogle at!

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(What exactly is the message here?)

Anyways looking pretty means different things to different people. There is not just one way to look pretty, in some countries the idea of pretty is very different and many of us wouldn’t see it as pretty. Like the giraffe women of Burma.

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Yeah long neck.

And some countries in Africa have tribes that take great pride in lip plates….

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Ouch, but it is beautiful to them.

More importantly I also want you to know that looks are not everything. Even if, eventually, the entire world goes crazy and thinks that they are. The thing that matters most is what is inside, and what you do with it. You can’t change the way you look, but you can change the way the world looks at you.

Mulan , Jasmine and Pocahontas didn’t actually look like that by the way. No one looks like that. Jasmine wasn’t even a real person. Yes models are real people, but no they don’t really look like that. Their pictures are photo shopped to make you think they look like that. Why? So women and girls spend their money on makeup and silly products because they think they will look like that. Yes there are people who make money out of fooling people. It is not a good thing, but it is a thing.

Never mind. So according to the legend, Mulan was an awesome girl who fought in the war in place of her old father who couldn’t fight. Do you think she worried about her hair? No.

What do I mean by legend? Well legend means that it might or might not be true, but there must have been something to  the story. Okay here’s a story that I can assure you is true.

There was once an Arab female warrior that fought in many wars hundreds of years ago, during the time of the Holy Prophet. Her brother, who was a knight, had always been very proud of her and taught her to handle her sword so well she became a skilled fighter. She was also a great poet. She was smart, brave and she eventually led an army into battle!

When her brother was taken prisoner during a war, she didn’t sit back and let someone else go save him. She led an attack, won the fight and saved all the prisoners including her brother. She fought fearlessly in lots of battles and stood by what she believed in, she inspired men and women because of her bravery. One time she was captured by the enemy, you know what she did? She motivated the other prisoners and together they fought their way out with tent poles and pegs as weapons! She didn’t let anything get her down and she probably didn’t own any glittery lip gloss or whatever it was they used back then.

I can tell that you like this little bit of history.

“She was awesome! Was she brown?” You ask me.

“Yes.” I answer.

“Did she have long black hair?” you want to know.

“Yup.”

“Was her name Jasmine?”

“No. Her name was Khaula. Khaula Bint Al-Azwer.” I answer with great satisfaction as wide grins spread across your precious coffee colored faces.

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(Pic from here.)

(Disclaimer: I have nothing against girls playing with dolls, but we need to teach our girls they have the ability to be so much more than just pink frilly show pieces. There are more important things than looking good and taking endless selfies. Warrior is meant in the metaphorical sense, I am not encouraging girls to pick up arms and start a war. However if they are keen to learn fencing or archery I say go for it!)

Polygamy, I get it. But no thank you!

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I wrote a post about polygamy for Blog Her, and they featured it. I had originally titled it “I’m Muslim, but if my husband thinks of a second wife, I’ll reach for my shotgun!” I suspect the title had a little to do with it getting so many reads ( I was pleasantly surprised to get that much attention).  You can read it here.

We are still waiting for spring weather to come, it gives us a glimpse then disappears again!

I also started a magazine style blog because I wanted people to share their cultures from around the world. I put up a few random posts to get it started but I invite anyone of you who are interested in contributing to please send me a post. You can see what it is all about here : Cafe Mosaic.ca I will share links to your blogs and websites so you get some traffic.

Balance: Veil, Hijab, Topless Women

Rania El Alloul

(pic from CBC News)

The biggest problem facing society today besides reality shows, sorry I just couldn’t resist, is extremism. Extremists aren’t just a bunch of people (either dressed in all white or head-to-toe black) ready to kill anyone who doesn’t conform to their beliefs. Extremists are all those people who say I am right, and if you don’t agree you are Islamophobic, homophobic, white people phobic, Christian phobic, Jew phobic, or whatever-the-hell-else phobic.

Please someone tell me where has balance disappeared to?   I know what I am going to say next is going to get all sorts of glorious insults from either extremes. But please just hear me out, because we really need to bring balance back to our chaotic lives.

First Judge Marengo’s decision to ban Rania El-Alloul’s headscarf was unfair. The headscarf wasn’t disrespectful; it is a sign of respect in many cultures and religions.  It didn’t hinder any court room proceeding, wasn’t a threat to anyone, and since Canada gives equal rights to everyone should this have been made such a big deal? What was unsuitable about it? Canadian Nuns, Sikhs, Jews and Muslims cover their heads willingly because of their beliefs, they aren’t being forced to. So what is so offensive? Sunglasses and hats are worn for fashion, not belief. That is something quite different. And if the court is non-secular are they going to remove the Bible too?

So much time is being wasted on this issue when there are so many bigger problems to tackle. This could have been dealt with better using a bit of balance. Judge Marengo has every right not to like the headscarf, but does that really give her the right to make someone else take it off? I would understand if it was a big hindrance in her being able to do her job, but it wasn’t.  (Now before you rush to comment “go back to your own country” I have to tell you I was born here. Please continue to read before you judge me.)

On the other hand, although I respect Zunera Ishaq’s choice to cover her face, I have to say, that is exactly what it is. A choice. Scholars agree that covering a face is not mandatory. The head yes, but even then a woman can’t be forced. Her decision is between herself and God. Yes I am ready for the storm of condemnations to hell by fellow Muslims who will not agree to this fact. I should remind you before you do denounce me however that it is forbidden in Islam to denounce anyone. That decision belongs to God.

Zunera Ishaq should be allowed to cover her head which is mandatory. Banning women from headscarves that they take of their own free will would definitely be stealing their freedom. She shouldn’t have had a problem with uncovering her face for a short while during the Citizenship Ceremony, although I understand her reluctance since she has been covering it for so long. She needs to remember that Islam is a religion of ease not hardship.

‘God desires ease for you, and desires not hardship’ (2:185) 

The Holy Prophet (pbuh) always exhorted Muslims to follow a simple and balanced approach to life. He discouraged all forms of extreme behaviors. One of those extreme behaviors would be making this a bigger issue than it is. Many people have argued that this is a feminist issue, it is not. Just like women who insist on going topless is not. That is a personal choice. Just imagine if all rights were based on what someone really wanted to do and believed that it was correct. Everyone would have an issue. Let’s please bring balance back into our lives and stop making living harder than it has to be.

The art of chai or Dear white people that stuff you think is chai, isn’t

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I hate to burst your bubble, but that stuff you buy in paper cups that is sold as chai, isn’t chai. Chai is already perfect, you don’t turn it into a latte, or serve it iced and pour it into paper cups. Only a chai lover will truly understand the pain this causes to see chai that is not chai, advertised as chai.

Chai is an art, with a history of 5000 years. Made through a time-honored process that needs no further innovation, it should be served in vessels made of something more substantial than cheap waxy paper. It is too royal for that, legend has it that chai was invented by some ancient Indian king. So you are welcome dear white people, from all us brown people, for both coffee (walla habibi!) and chai.

There are of course different types of (authentic) chai.  Masala chai, dhoodh pathi chai, Kashmiri chai and just the basic dhum ki wi chai (steeped chai) which is my favorite. Now allow me to enlighten you all.

Basic Chai

Tapal

This is the stuff we use. However…

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…this also works.

First of all you need really good tea leaves. I am sorry Tetley you just don’t have what it takes.  A lot of desi people will swear by Lipton. I honestly feel sorry for those poor lost souls. You have not had tea until you have had Tapal. Brooke Bond is the only one I trust if I can’t find Tapal. You should be able to find Tapal Tea at the local Indian/Pakistani grocery store. And if they don’t have it, ask them why the hell not.  When we were in Karachi, we used to buy a brand called Flying Horse. It was excellent, but after we had Tapal we never looked back.

1 tsp Tapal tea leaves per cup (I never use tea bags)

Water-cups per people you want to indulge

Sugar to taste

Cream to taste (I use 10%)

Tea pot (very important!)

Tea strainer (also very important)

Boil your water, and do not let it boil away if you are using a saucepan. Over boiling the water spoils the taste. I am serious, it makes a huge difference. I use an electric kettle, so the water is never over boiled.

Pour some hot water into the tea pot to warm it up, swirl it around and throw away the water.

Add your tea leaves to the warm tea pot, pour in your boiling water. Cover the tea pot (very important!) Let it steep for at least five minutes. Do not pour the tea out before this! Tea is an art, it has to be done properly people!

Take a quarter teaspoon of sugar and stir it in the tea pot. Strain out your tea into cups, add your cream and sugar and enjoy the best cup of tea you will ever have. People come to my house and ask me to make them this tea, it is that good.  I have been told by countless people I make the best tea ever. I brag not. Well actually yes I do, because it is really that good. What can I say?

You might be thinking cream? Not with my diet or whatever, the fact is if you use milk, the tea tastes a little too watery. And it’s not like you drink ten cups a day. Unless of course, you do drink ten cups a day. In which case I suggest you cut down and settle for very well made morning and evening tea rather than ten cups of watery stuff.

Dhoodh Pathi Chai

It is just basic chai without using any water at all. So whatever number of cups of milk with an equal amount of teaspoons of tea, on medium heat in a saucepan. Stir occasionally and cook till you get the color (strength) you want, add sugar and strain out into cups. Some people will use a ratio of half water and milk. But I follow Nigella’s philosophy (“I don’t believe in low fat cooking”) and use cream and milk. Damn it is so good.

Masala Chai

Masala chai is just dhoodh pathi with some spices cooked with it. I personally don’t like this chai at all. But it is very popular with most desi people. It is a specialty of dhabbas (roadside restaurants and truck stops). You can add any or all of these:

Cinnamon (1 inch piece should be good for 1 to 2 cups)

Green Cardamom (about 1 per cup)

Ginger (few thin slices per cup)

Black pepper (ground- 2 or 3 per cup)

Cloves (I’d say 1 per cup- it gives a really strong taste)

Nutmeg (to taste)

I’ve given the minimum amounts as I feel these are really to overpowering and spoil the taste, but people seem to like it, so it really depends on your taste. The common dhabba recipe usually just uses cardamoms and cloves.

Kashmiri Chai

This tea takes a little patience, but it is oh so heavenly. And it is pink, the most perfect pink ever.

4 cups milk

4 cups cold water

2 tbsps heaped kashmiri tea leaves

½ tsp Baking soda

¼ tsp Salt

5 to 6 Cardamoms

1 star anise

3 inch piece of cinnamon

Sugar to taste

Finely sliced almonds and pistachios to garnish

In a saucepan add your cold water and all the dried ingredients (except sugar and nuts) and boil. Once it starts to boil, let it simmer for about half an hour till the water is reduced to about half a cup. Turn off the stove and add a glass of cold water. Pour this mixture back and forth between two saucepans to cause it to froth. Do this about 15 to 20 times (pouring from one to the other). Return the saucepan to heat and add the milk and sugar. Boil then simmer covered for about five minutes, leave the lid open a little so the milk doesn’t boil out. Strain out into cups and garnish with nuts.

Don’t forget to read this post on chai, on one of my favorite blogs: Communicating Across Boundaries.

 

 

You know you are Desi when…

I don’t want to make other races feel left out or anything and I am sure a lot of you could relate to the following traits, but there are just some things that really let you know you are desi.

You know you are desi when…

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“We are out of groceries” looks like this.  Desi people have this insane fear in the back of their cranium somewhere that when the apocalypse comes we won’t have enough groceries. So we should always be prepared with a surplus, no amount of groceries are ever enough.

You know you are desi when…

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Your freezer is full of containers that are highly misleading as to their contents.  For example you will not find yogurt, ice cream or cream cheese (who keeps cream cheese in the freezer?) in any of these containers. Surprise! If you are desi you will know that they all contain some type of curry. You can never have too much curry, never know when the zombies might come.

You know you are desi when…

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This is something you use for an earache.

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You have used these for toothaches.

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This solves every gastric trouble in medical history.

And this…

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…is the solution for every other ailment under the sun.

You know you are desi when…

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…every cupboard contains a bag …that contains countless bags. Every. Cupboard.

When the zombies come we will have plenty of bags to tie them up in. Of course up here in Canada we won’t have a zombie apocalypse,  that kind of stuff only happens in America.  We will of course send the bags to our American neighbors. Polite Canadians.

You know you are desi when…

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This bin is overflowing every two days.  I fear the day when garbage pickup will be scheduled for every other week.

You know you are desi when…

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…you still think the kids are feeling cold.

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Dear white lady, please excuse my curry aura.

Rural Indian Woman cooking food in the Kitchen

Desi cooking. It is the epitome of a love hate relationship. Love to eat it. Hate to smell it. The smell of spicy curry on rice is slightly different when it lingers on your clothes. Your walls. Your couch. Damn it even the cat.

It takes a small fortune on fabric fresheners, candles, and what not to keep our houses free from the infuriating curry smell. Curry which we cook many times throughout the week.  Dry wall loves curry. The entire house just soaks all that spicy smell up and that contraption known as the kitchen exhaust is a useless noisemaker.

There needs to be some kind of innovation in house making seriously, special materials for people who do a lot of eastern cooking. Yes I have to include the entire east because our lives depend on garlic, onions, and spices. And bak choy. Have you ever smelt the after effects of cooking bak choy?  Ugh!

We eastern cooking people are the reason the scent industry will continue to flourish, prosper and cause the remaining ozone layer to vanish completely.  We have cans of air freshener in every corner of the house, which we use fervently especially in winter when windows can’t be opened. Winter is the worst when it comes to curry…aromas.

The day of the winter concert my daughters were super excited to be performing (for the one millionth time). We were invited in the evening to watch them. My husband had forgotten about it and suddenly came down with every ailment in the book when reminded of the evening’s agenda.

I let him off the hook and offered to just go by myself. Even I had been trying to talk the girls out of it. (Don’t judge me, I usually get excited about watching them perform every year even after hearing the songs every day for two months from all three of them.)But it had been a very tiring week.

I was running late, I wanted to get dinner cooked before I left so the kids could come home, eat and we could just wind the evening up. By 7pm I am so sleepy I can fall asleep while eating dinner. Curry facials are not good for your skin.

Spaghetti and meatballs for the kids. Desi guy doesn’t like pasta. At all. So I had decided to cook bihari kababs that day for him. Biggest mistake ever. In my haste to get to school I just grabbed my coat after I turned off the stove and ran outside. Ignoring the yells of the spray cans containing various scented toxic liquids that decorated our house.

I herded the girls in the direction of their classes and then went to the gym to await the performance. There were no seats left so I had to stand at the entrance. Where it was nice and airy. Till my friend spotted me and dragged me back with her because she had an extra seat (she pulled her youngest out of said seat and sat him on her lap for the whole evening-I love my friends). It was crowded. Packed. You could smell snow and salt. And bihari kabab.

I felt like kicking myself. I whispered my horror to my friend who smiled and said, “yeah I wondered what you had been cooking. Great korma smell!”

“Bihari kabab,” I said.

“Well I don’t mind,” she giggled.

But the white lady sitting next to me did. A lot. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her stiffen. I saw her slowly rise and leave. To sit on some chair she was lucky enough to find in that packed gym away from me. Dear white lady from the winter concert at the school gym, I am extremely sorry, please excuse my curry aura.

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Dhaka Fried Fish Recipe

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According to Desi guy apparently there is this awesome place in Karachi behind the Courthouse that serves the best fried fish in the city. Desi guy requested me to find the recipe for this and prepare said awesome fish for dinner. He had no idea what it was called, so I spent an hour googling “fried fish Karachi”, “best street food fish Karachi”, “Courthouse Karachi fried fish” etc etc until I came up with Dhaka fried fish. Then I had him describe the taste of that fish so I could determine if this was indeed the recipe to said awesome fish. I reminded him, ungrudgingly of course, that if he had fed me this awesome fish I would have been able to cook it. With a little additions to the recipe I came up with something that Desi guy approved and said tasted almost the same. So here is “Dhaka fried fish Karachi (behind the Courthouse) style”.

Ingredients:

1/2 kg of fish ( I used a huge fillet of trout from Costco-nice clean, no bones!)

Stuff for marinade:

1 egg

2 lemons ( I like using limes-squeeze out all the juice really well)

2 tsp Ginger Paste

2 tsp Garlic Paste

Salt to taste

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp red pepper powder

2 tbsp sesame seeds ( I didn’t have any so I added a few drops of sesame seed oil and just threw in some flax seeds)

3 to 4 tbsp flour

3 to 4 tbsp chickpea flour

(You may need to add a little water when mixing, however the paste should be thick)

Oil for frying

A small bunch of cilantro finely chopped
3 to 4 (or more) finely chopped green chillies
Chaat masala to sprinkle on top
What to do:
1. Wash the fish and pat dry with paper towels. ( I cut the trout into nice neat strips)
2. Mix up all the stuff for the marinade and put your fish in. Leave it for 45 minutes (not more).
3. Heat up the oil on medium heat. Fry your fish. It will only take a few minutes on both sides. Take it out on the serving dish when it is golden and nice and crispy.
4. In the left over oil fry the green chillies, turn the heat off (be careful of sputtering chilli seeds!) add the cilantro and chaat masala to taste (we like it spicy) you can also squeeze in some lime juice. Drizzle this oil all over your fish. Serve with afghani style rice and salad ( I also had steamed buttery broccoli and a jar of antipasto veggies).
Let me know how it turns out.
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Mie Goreng Recipe

I love trying out new recipes. I also end up making quite a few changes if I am missing an ingredient or have my own ideas. I cooked mie goreng (Indonesian fried noodles) a couple of times using this recipe and it turns out really good every time. (This has been tested on my fussy kids and they have approved!)

Ingredients:

250 gm egg noodles (I boil the water then turn off the stove and let the noodles soak till they just get untangled and not fully soft- or they end up mushy later on. Drain, rinse with cold water and let them sit in the strainer.)

4-5 tbsp oil

500 gm chicken cut into short strips

500 gm prawns (peeled and deveined and deyucked- I use the ones from Food Basics)

1 pack (397 gm) of Dole’s coleslaw (saved me all that cutting!)

5-6 cloves of fresh garlic minced ( I just use my handy-dandy grater)

1/2 tbsp whole white pepper

4-5 tbsp sweet soya sauce (I couldn’t find any so I cooked some soya sauce with brown sugar-approx. equal amounts)

1 small-sized onion chopped really fine

100 gm bean sprouts

a small bunch of green onions chopped

What to Do:

1. Crush the white peppers with a mortar and pestle (or if you are lazy just grind it in the coffee grinder).

2. Heat up the oil in your wok (or just use your large frying pan and imagine it is a wok) on medium heat.

3. Throw in your garlic, onions and white pepper. Fry and stir around. Don’t let it get brown. Just a little golden.

4. Add the chicken and cook it till it is done ( if you want you can let it get a bit crunchy).

5. Add your prawns, let them cook and then add in your coleslaw pack ( aren’t you glad you didn’t have to chop all that up?)

6. Add the noodles and the soya sauce. Stir fry it and add the bean sprouts and green onions. Turn off the heat and serve ( I served it with Nasi Goreng-fried rice but they are great on their own too.) I find I don’t have to add salt, but if you need it you can add it to taste.

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