Back in the early eighties, all our birthday celebrations were dinner prepared by my mother, depending on whose birthday it was, with all the birthday kid's favourite dishes. The week before our birthdays, my mother would ask for our wish-list, not for presents, but what we'd like to have for our birthday dinner. Can you imagine what happens when you have six children? My mum sure has a wide repertoire of dishes off her fingertips!
But for my birthday that year, my parents decided to take all of us out for dinner. Where else but the Kentucky Fried Chicken in town. So it was really BIG DEAL for me - I think I was turning eight. So off we went - wide-eyed and all - getting excited at the slightest details. It was nothing like the KFC we know today for back then, disposable wares were considered luxurious. So we still had our chicken, coleslaw and whipped potato all served in plastic plates and bowls, with stainless steel cutlery.
The fried chicken was so-so. My mum could easily make the same with a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken powder. It was the coleslaw and whipped potato that caught my attention. How could someone make vegetables so creamy and delicious? Vegetable dishes at home had always been stir-fried or cooked in curry gravy. I'd never knew that vegetables can be so creamy yet non-spicy. And that bowl of potato covered in brown sauce, why can't they use larger scoops?
As for the coleslaw, you see, one doesn't have to risk smelling like fried chicken to have coleslaw. It is a no-brainer exercise of slicing up large chunks of cabbage as thinly as you possibly could with a chef's knife, and achieving a balance of mayonnaise and plain yogurt that is creamy with a tang. You use your eyes to decide the proportion of cabbage to carrots; you taste as you go along to make the dressing,
I'll just share with you what I did to come up with these two versions of coleslaw. I think both of them are very pretty in their own way. As for everything else, it is your call. You can have a mix of regular green cabbage and the purple (also known as red) variety. There's little difference in taste but the purple cabbage packs more antioxidant than its cousin. But if you think the kids might be put off eating purply stuff, it may be wiser to start with only green cabbage.
But the coleslaw should not be just cabbage and carrots. Chop some tiny rounds of scallions, cilantro or even a little red onion if you wish to spice it up. For the dressing, try a dollop each of mayonnaise and plain yogurt, a pinch of salt and ground black pepper, a light squeeze of half a lemon. Mix it all up with your bare hands, I hope they are clean. Your eyes will tell you if the coleslaw is creamy enough. Taste it. Too eggy? Add more yogurt. Too sour? Add more mayo. Too sweet? Why did you choose plain yogurt with high sugar content? Squeeze a little bit more lemon juice in it. Mix and mix again with your hands, then leave it to chill in the fridge for a while. Just give it a good toss again moments before serving.
But lest I am held responsible for watery coleslaw, please know that I don't wash the cabbage. All I would normally do is to buy the cleanest, prettiest I could find, and discard the first two layers of leaves before cutting it in four large sections for slicing. For the carrots, I wash and pat them dry, peel off the skin then proceed with a julienne peeler.
Lastly, that KFC birthday dinner of mine. My parents took us to the new supermarket next door after our meal. That building had always been a supermarket even till today. Only back then, it was known as Sentosa Supermarket. A long-forgotten name for many of us who grew up in that era. By the time we got home, it was running very late and I had a big crying session before going to bed. All because I had such a happy day, I didn't want it to end. Which is also why I still remember that birthday particularly well.