Editor's note: Due to overwhelming demand for New's butter cakes and chicken curry, she requested that readers only order through the Google form. She also asked that customers be patient as she would need some time to fulfil all of the orders.
Every morning, 55-year-old Linda New Suat Kien sets off to a market near her home to get fresh chicken.
New buys her poultry there so often that she and her butcher have established a routine: She would drop him a WhatsApp message the day before, to reserve the chicken parts she wants.
The next day, the bag of chicken will be waiting for her at the butcher's stall.
She insists on buying fresh chicken daily for the chicken curry which she cooks and sells from her house. It just doesn't taste the same when you use frozen chicken, she says in Mandarin.
Her chicken curry is very popular among her customers and they keep coming back for it, says the soft-spoken but earnest woman.
The rempah (spice paste) for the curry is made from scratch, and cooking is done in small batches so that the curry is not left sitting around for a long time.
New's kitchen is also stocked with not one but three small ovens, because her butter cakes (S$25 each) are selling like hotcakes — up to 20 cakes per week, helped by kind folks who buy in bulk to give away.
Her baked-to-order butter cakes are devoid of the icing and personalised messages that are quite trendy today, but are very rich thanks to the better quality Golden Churn butter that she uses.
A customer of Linda's told Mothership that her butter cake is "fluffy, soft, and the buttery taste just lingers in the mouth after eating".
Toils at her small home business for her grandchildren
Operating a home-based business is not easy, but New perseveres for the sake of her two grandkids.
New started Linda's Kitchen in April 2020 after she couldn't find a job which allows her the flexibility of caring for her two grandchildren — currently aged nine and five.
The kids' father — New's younger son — is currently in jail for drug-related offences. Their mother, a Thai national, returned to her home country two years ago.
New also has an older son who recently came out of a halfway house and works in a bicycle shop in Redhill.
And so the responsibility of caring for the young children has fallen squarely on New's shoulders. This has made it almost impossible for the grandmother to find a full-time job outside.
"I do mention that I need flexible working arrangements whenever I go for interviews, but they usually tell me that if there's no one else to look after my grandchildren, it's quite difficult for them to hire me even though they really want to give me the job."
As many parents would know, caring for young children is a full-time job in itself, requiring plenty of time, energy, and money invested.
New shares that her five-year-old grandson recently recovered from a bout of bronchitis that was brought on by drinking too much cold water.
"He's better now because I brewed Chinese medicine for him."
Her nine-year-old granddaughter, on the other hand, was diagnosed with dyslexia and requires specialised coaching, which the Kids Testing and Dyslexia Centre, an intervention centre, offers to her for free, thankfully.
Was a single mother since 22
In a strange turn of events, it seems like history is repeating itself.
In 1988, New lost her husband to kidney failure.
Widowed at the tender age of 22, she was left to raise her two sons on her own.
At the time, her elder son was four, while the younger one was just five months old.
"I was devastated initially, and I didn't know what to do. But I told myself that I had to be strong and face the reality that my husband was gone; he couldn't come back again."
The mother took on several odd jobs: cooking and delivering pig's trotter vinegar for new mothers who were in their confinement periods, and even washing clothes.
"I would go over to people's houses to wash their clothes at 5am and return home before my sons woke up at 7am.
Before I left the house, I would lock all the windows and doors. No choice lah, since I had no one to help me take care of them."
When her sons were older, New started looking for jobs outside. For 16 years, she worked as a printing shop "auntie" at a secondary school before she went on to cook lunches for students at a childcare centre.
For a brief period of time, she even tried being a hawker at a Pasir Panjang coffeeshop, selling her chicken curry alongside several small dishes.
Unfortunately, the human traffic there was so low, New had to close down her business after a few years.
"My journey these past 30-odd years has been extremely difficult," she says, musing that her absence in her sons' lives might have pushed them into the open arms of gangs and drugs, and subsequently, multiple jail sentences.
Grateful for the kindness of people
Difficult journey aside, New is thankful for the benefactors who came her way, like a law firm which represented her sons when they were charged in court.
The firm charged her "very little" and gave her the option of paying in instalments, says New.
A Taiwanese woman in Singapore — whom New had never met — bought new bags, clothes, and shoes for New's grandchildren after she heard about the family's plight.
"It's thanks to the kindness of people like this that we only need to buy clothes during Chinese New Year."
New ultimately hopes that she and her sons can one day operate a small hawker stall together, selling curry chicken and other foods.
Her younger son, she lets on, used to work as an assistant in a Western food stall, and he can make a pretty good bowl of mushroom soup.
"I've never given up on my sons...No matter how bad they are, I cannot bear to give up. I will never give up on them because I hope that one day, they will come back."
If you would like to order chicken curry or butter cakes from Linda's Kitchen, you can fill up this Google form.
Top images by Joshua Lee, Linda New. Interview was conducted in Mandarin.