“What are you going to make this time, Mom?”
Mom was squatting over a mountainous pile of brown-colored coconuts while rubbing her chin in contemplation. The number of coconuts was so many, if somebody pushed them, everything will tumble down and covered Mom’s whole body. She could die or suffocate if that happens, but as usual, Mom was oblivious with the probable outcome as she stared innocently at the prized ‘gifts’ given to her in delight. Shiro bet, her mind must be busy working on recounting several recipes of delectable dishes using these.. coconuts.
Before, he had seen Mom expressing the juice of the white flesh within the brown coconut to get some sort of milk for her potent turmeric coconut soup. It had given him a whole new spectrum in life. What else will she be making this time? Will it be another round of delectable soup? Or were there more things that could be done with the brown coconuts? Shiro personally preferred the green ones. Nonetheless, he wasn’t picky. Anything Mom made tasted divine.
The large birds really like to make unnecessary problem; Shiro saw them repeatedly arranged the coconuts in such a way that they will stay erect in a three-meter cone-shape. Although the ‘structure’ collapsed a few times, they still wasted their time to make it happen. They took the whole night to build two coconut towers; a brown one and a green one! Just imagine! Shiro could only slapped his own forehead with the birds’ quirkiness.
As such, today, Shiro was always there beside Mom, just to make sure nothing untoward happens to her. At least he could carry her away immediately if the coconut tower collapsed again. He knew that Mom had become progressively stronger as days passed by, but not that strong to ‘swim’ out of hundreds of coconuts unscathed.
The yellow busybody was not around; most probably she must be frolicking with her little bird friends. The brown baby bird was dozing off within the cave dwelling, thank goodness. The Elemental Fiends were patrolling at the edge of their territory in large numbers, while the freshwater creatures were busy tending the mini garden. As usual, the smart minnow did a good job delegating work around while maintaining harmony between the elites and the servants. Besides him and Mom, the little girl, Ara, and F1 were present not too far away.
“Mommy’s going to make something for sure. But something different this time.” Mom chuckled lightheartly. She was in a very good mood at the moment; Shiro saw that she was giggling happily while reading her smartphone this morning. ‘Papa’ must have reached out and send something funny. Besides that, yesterday’s coconuts must be so good; the gigantic hornbill really know her stuff although she was very annoying.
In fact, the large avians didn’t return after being slapped silly by Mom. They shamelessly lingered around, trying to curry favor with Mom by pretending to help out with chores. However, they only destroy more things along the way while the other wet helpers or fiends hurried around fixing them up one after another. Shiro regretted getting soft with the pompous birdbrain. Now, they became like chewing gum stuck on one’s hair.
“Did the tapioca and the sweet potato grow well in our garden, Dearie?”
“Yes, they seemed to be one of the easiest trees to grow. I saw that once the Spiritual Energy Gathering Formation was in place, both trees grew the fastest. Do you need me to check? What should I gather from the trees? The leaves?”
“Hmm… Let’s see whether the tubers formed or not? It usually took months, but who knows right? Let’s stay positive.” Mom rubbed his head dotingly while giving him the sweetest smile.
Mom closed her eyes and a random orange Elemental Fiend broke of from its group to scurry over towards them. It lowered its body while Mom climbed over it after she fixed a few shopping bags around its torax.
Shiro rolled his eyes after blanking out for a few seconds. “Mom, the garden is so near. Why don’t we just walk? You do need some exercise, you know?”
“Let me be a couch potato once a while.” Mom whined a bit and puffed up her cheeks cutely. She rode on the Elemental Fiend side by side with Shiro; Ara and F1 trailing behind them silently.
Hana squatted down upon the tapioca tree at the edge of the little garden. The garden was so lush and very well-tended thanks to the efforts of the Waterwave clan. The air was so fresh with a tinge of sweet lemony scent; most probably the herbs around infused the air to produce such a nice scent. With the presence of mists clinging to the ground, and the ray of the morning sun gently spilling over through the gap in between the leaves, the garden emitted a zen-like feel.
Hana took a deep breath gently and opened her eyes to see thousands of curious eyes upon her, scrutinizing her every movement. She felt very conscious with what she was doing since she was surrounded by freshwater creatures on her left, Elemental Fiends on her right, and fluttering birds above!
Tell them to go away! Mommy felt so awkward!
She whispered to Shiro through their shared telepathy channel. Outwardly, Hana tried to maintain a serenely unperturbed look, though anyone who was remotely connected to her will know that she was quite agitated within.
Shiro only glared a little. Above them, ice-crystal spikes were forming slowly. “Give the Mistress some space!”
All the creatures scampered away but stopped a few meters away and turned to look again!
Feeling a little relieved, Hana stood up and observed the tapioca tree first. Or was it cassava1either one was the same thing. Over here it is known as ‘ubi kayu’ ubi for potato/tuber kayu for wood, bcoz it looks like wood. If leave uneaten too long, it will become as hard as wood.? She wondered why this tree had fine silvery veins upon its star-shaped leaves. She remembered last time in her mom’s house, there were no such things. Was it a new variety? Was it safe to be eaten?
The tree had a slim longish light brown trunk. There were circular shaped indentations on its body; a place where the previous old leaves fell. The tree was about three-meters tall; way above Hana’s height. Hana counted and found that there were about three main branches, but she knew all the branches came from one single tree. After all, when she decided to grow a tapioca tree, she only placed one small tuber she found while foraging for some ulam2herbs that could be eaten raw such as watercrest (pegaga), lettuce (though there’s none growing wild in a hot & wet country like Malaysia), mints, water dropwort/celery (selom) and cashew shoots (pucuk gajus). Only, she was quite amazed at the rate of growth, since it happened about three weeks ago.
“Heave, hoo!” With just one pull, Hana managed to pull the whole tree out!
“I’m the next Bongsoon3name of a lead character in “Strong Woman Do Bong Soon” yeah!!” Hana laughed heartily while holding the whole tree with one arm. The whole tree including the tubers could easily weight around thirty plus kilograms. The aunty hadn’t realized she had become so strong until she performed such a deed effortlessly. She was seriously impressed with herself! Inside this group, she knew she was the weakest, but not everyone knew this. Hence, no creatures around her applauded and just treated it as something that she should be able to do. After all, she was the ‘Lord’ of the Serpent’s Lair. Only Shiro’s eyes showed that he was impressed slightly, but he kept to himself since the Mistress must show that she was the strongest to lead the Lair.
After pulling the whole tree out, Hana broke off one small tuber and pushed it inside the same hole. “Please grow again into another tree, little one.” Once she lifted up her hand, the efficient Chomper appeared from nowhere, and diligently spraying a gentle silver of water over the hole.
“Thank you, Chomper-chin.4it is an endearment attachment. It indicates that Hana had become very close with Chomper.” Hana dipped her hand over Chomper’s water bubble and patted his head with a warm smile.
“Not too much water for tuber trees. They could drown and the fruiting bodies could get rotten, alright?”
Chomper nodded cutely.
“What are you doing now, Mom?” Shiro asked as he sat beside Hana and licked his luxuriant white fur. He was d*mn bored since Mom didn’t need his help with anything!
Hana squatted in front of the large tapioca tree, now being downed horizontally; at the leaves part to be exact. This time, she proceeded to pluck off the shoots from the cluster of leaves. She filled the shopping bags upon the Elemental Fiend’s thorax with lots of tapioca shoots while humming happily.
“These tasted really good. Just needed a little bit of blanching will do. Mommy once eaten a really divine dish made from the tapioca shoots. It was superb! I heard it is a specialty in Negeri Sembilan5a state in Malaysia. ‘Sembilan’ is actually ‘nine’ in English.. Over there, the dish was extremely popular! You need to cook it like you’re making spicy turmeric soup, but must add fermented durian and some lemongrass in. It sounded yucky, but once you tasted it, you can’t get enough!”
Hana chuckled spiritedly as she reminisced about the good ol’ days. Even before she reached this place, it was truly a while since the last time she ate that dish. Because it was so easy to get, Hana didn’t bother to cook it herself, hence, she knew the theory only, but didn’t have the hands-on experience yet. She would need to see whether she could make some this time around. After all, she had so many workers now to help her fetch some obscure ingredients.
“Really?” Shiro made a skeptical look. He remembered how pungent was the fruit Mom called ‘durian’. He had been forced to taste a tiny bite, and seriously didn’t like it. Mom said this was not a good variety and there were better tasting ones, but he became more cautious since then. It seemed that not all natural food was considered good when Mom told him so.
“Really!” Hana laughed and ruffled up Shiro’s head lovingly; obviously she could read his mind. The wild durian from last time was really leagues apart from the durians she used to eat at home. Additionally, the flesh was too little. Thank goodness she harvested quite a few and had kept the rest to ferment into tempoyak6the name of fermented durian paste. We use it a lot in making a number of dishes. for later use. It would definitely taste better in cookings rather than eating it raw.
After that, she walked towards another patch herb trees. The leaves were heart-shaped with tiny Morning glory-like flower. This time, the trees were crawling trees rather than one that went straight up. Oddly, the flower also had streaks of silver on top of its whitish purple petals. Strange. It might be another new variety too.
Hana carefully pulled up one part of the crawling tree, revealing five large maroon-colored rugby-shaped tubers along the green soft branch.
“Alright, this is enough. No need to pull the whole tree.” Hana talked to herself. She hoped the tree will survive and grew well even after she took some of its tubers. She placed the tubers into another bag upon the orange Elemental Fiend behind her.
Hana walked up to the tapioca tree, pulled out her Clawknife, and slashed the base of the tree. The tree was just about three inches in diameter, and the blade went through smoothly like hot knife over butter. With one swing of her left hand, she placed the base of the tree with the dangling tapiocas over her shoulder like a boss!
Such a cool aunty!
- tapioca/cassava = either one was the same thing. Over here it is known as ‘ubi kayu’ ubi for potato/tuber kayu for wood, bcoz it looks like wood. If leave uneaten too long, it will become as hard as wood.
- Ulam = herbs that could be eaten raw such as watercrest (pegaga), lettuce (though there’s none growing wild in a hot & wet country like Malaysia), mints, water dropwort/celery (selom) and cashew shoots (pucuk gajus)
- Bongsoon = name of a lead character in “Strong Woman Do Bong Soon”. It is a comedic korean drama. Highly recommended for releasing stress hahaha https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6263222/
- Chomper-chin = it is an endearment attachment. It indicates that Hana had become very close with Chomper. It is the same with attaching -chan, -tan, -chi for Japanese influence (Mika-chan/Mika-tan/Mika-chin/Mika-chi), or -er for Chinese influence. (Yue-er)
- Negeri Sembilan = a state in Malaysia. ‘Sembilan’ is actually ‘nine’ in English.
- Tempoyak = the name of fermented durian paste. We use it a lot in making a number of dishes.