From the Garden: A slice of home in a nasi lemak cake

Khatijah Kasemin was a farmer in Indonesia before she came to Singapore to work as a domestic helper. Now she shares her farming knowledge with the volunteers in a community garden.

Khatijah Kasemin was a farmer in Indonesia before she came to Singapore to work in 2003.

"In Indonesia, I have my own paddy field but it is not enough to pay for my children's education. That is why I came to Singapore to work," the 49-year-old domestic helper said.

Ms Khatijah volunteers at a community garden in a private housing estate with her employer, Madam Angel Liew. The Moulmein-Goldhill NC Garden, located behind Madam Liew's house, has about 20 volunteers tending to over 80 types of herbs, vegetable plants, fruit trees and ornamental flower plants.

Since the garden opened in 2008, Ms Khatijah has been sharing her farming knowledge with the volunteers. When she goes back to her hometown in Banyuwangi, she would bring back rice seeds, long beans, cosmos and Indonesian basil to plant in the garden. Madam Liew, one of the founding members of the community garden, is open to Ms Khatijah trying out new things in the garden and in their kitchen.

"She has been with me for 16 years. Over time, we appreciate a lot of things from Indonesia. Sometimes she makes gado gado with the papaya and tapioca leaves from the garden. We also learn how to eat more greens, which is good for us."

When the community garden hosts potluck parties, Ms Khatijah would make nasi lemak cake for the gardeners. The idea to make nasi lemak cake came about when Ms Khatijah and Madam Liew made sushi cake together. Ms Khatijah would harvest coconut, Indonesian basil, ginger and pandan leaves from their garden to cook the rice.

Taking inspiration from rainbow cakes, the duo also conceptualised a way to make the nasi lemak cake colourful. Ms Khatijah uses natural colouring from blue pea flowers, pandan leaves and turmeric to make the rice layers blue, green and yellow in colour. She also spreads a layer of omelette and sambal between the rice layers to hold the cake together.

"When there are birthday parties, Khatijah will make the nasi lemak cake. We try to cut down on eating sweet things. So the nasi lemak cake can be a meal on its own," says Madam Liew.

She also welcomes other domestic helpers who live in the neighbourhood to volunteer in the garden.

"My neighbours' helpers from Thailand, Myanmar and Indonesia also get involved in the garden. We have tried planting Indonesian rice and Northern Thailand black rice - just trial and error. The garden allows them to be part of our community."