LITTLE Ashley Koh loved her food.
She enjoyed watching her mother, freelance writer Heng San San, baking in the kitchen. Her favourite outings were to "hot places" like hawker centres and "cold places" like restaurants. She identified people by the food they brought to her - family friends became Auntie Soba or Bak Hu (pork floss) Auntie.
When Ashley died in 2005 at the age of seven, Ms Heng, 36, was devastated.
"I couldn't bring myself to bake bread anymore," recalled the mother of two other children, sons aged seven and two now, with tears welling in her eyes.
Doctors discovered in 2004 that Ashley had a tumour in her brain stem, an area too delicate to operate on. The big-eyed girl responded well to radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
But about a year later, several tumours were found in her spinal cord, and that took her life.
While mourning, Ms Heng met a nun at her Catholic church who suggested her to write a book to commemorate Ashley's death and to recover from her grief.
Ms Heng took the advice. Last December, she self-published a children's book, named after her daughter, about Ashley's gastronomical passion and her final days. The mother said she was inspired by Ashley's optimism and innocence even when she had to undergo painful treatment.
"I would imagine that if I had to suffer like that, I would be very bitter. But she was always so happy," Ms Heng said.
"I felt that I was strong because she was strong. She was so stoic, she gave me strength."
The writing part was easy for the National University of Singapore Arts graduate. So was getting her work illustrated.
While surfing the web, Ms Heng found a food blog by Spanish illustrator Ximena Maier, 32. Taking a liking to her simple and crisp drawings, Ms Heng e-mailed the artist, and the latter agreed wholeheartedly, without a fee too.
In an email to my paper, Ms Maier said: "Picture books are always the most fun to do. But mostly because when somebody asks you to take part in a personal project like this, it's much more special than the usual run of corporate publishing projects."
However, getting it published was a headache. Publishers would take a cut of 50 to 60 per cent, but because Ms Heng had planned to use the book to raise funds for charity, she decided to fork out $16,000 herself and print 2,000 copies.
So far, more than 200 copies have been sold to friends and friends of friends.
The proceeds are going to the Philippines to fund education programmes for children in poverty. The choice of charity was partly influenced by Ashley during her final days.
Said Ms Heng with a smile: "When we were packing her clothes, she wanted me to donate them to the poor. She told me, "When I go to heaven, I need only one set of clothes."
To buy the book Ashley, priced at $25, email email@example.com.