Travel Theme: Statues

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I am always drawn to Buddhist temples when travelling in Asia.The busy temples along the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok, or the quiet Lanna style temples in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. The colourful temples, with attached monastery schools for young boys, in Luang Prabang, Laos and the small Buddhist temples dotted throughout the Islamic towns of Java. I attempt to visit them all .

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These Statues of Buddha are a few from my Buddha files. They were all taken in Myanmar ( Burma), where the Buddhist Pagodas outdo all others in scale and opulence.

Ailsa’s ‘Where’s My Backpack‘ hosts a weekly travel themed blog every Friday. Check out some of the others.

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Travel Theme: Pink

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Trawling through my digital shoebox, I tried to ignore subjects and focus on the colour pink.  It’s an interesting exercise to sub- categorise by colour and one I would highly recommend.  After exporting my pink images to their own file, Mr Tranquillo was consulted about pinkness. He saw red where I saw pink – the maroon of  the monks’ robes. He saw brown where I saw pink-  the terracotta temples of Bagan, Myanmar (Burma). The eye sees colour in so many different ways. Tints, hues and complexions of pink fade into beige,mauve and orange. Here are my pink offerings for Ailsa’s Where’s My Back Pack weekly theme.  Taken in Myanmar ( Burma), a country that is usually associated with gold.

A pink terracotta building in Bagan, Myanmar. Built between 11th and 13th centuries,  2,200 brick temples like this one remain. It takes days to tour this area.

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Temples of Bagan at sunset.Image

The pink lit rooves of the monasteries surrounding the Shwesandaw Pagoda in Paya. Paya, around nine hours by car from Yangon, is a small town on the Ayeyarwady river.Image

A pink umbrella on a rainy day at the golden Schwedagon Pagoda, Yangon.

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Young monks leaving the temple grounds.

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Sunday Stills, the next challenge: the Colour Brown

I have decided to have a go at a few photography challenges lately, including the Sunday Stills Photography Challenge. These challenges drive me to look at, and sort, the back log of photos in my files. It is also a way of distracting me from food blogging, which can get obsessive at times. I never go anywhere now without my camera, but when it comes to sorting, labelling and discarding, I’m hopeless. Here is my ‘brown’ offering for this weeks challenge.

                     Brown boxes arranged in a doorway in a suburb of Tokyo.

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Travel Theme: Gardens

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It is always a pleasure to visit a garden when travelling overseas. Some delight, others offer peace and sanctuary, a place to picnic, or to stroll in natural surroundings. Central Park in New York and the Villa Borghese gardens in Rome both provide a chance to retreat from frenetic crowds and busy street life.

But becoming a traveller when at home is also on my agenda. The gardens of Victoria, Australia never cease to amaze, excite and challenge me. I was fortunate to visit a few local gardens last Spring with my dear friend Dianne, enchantress and gardener extraordinaire. “I’ll just pop this seed in my pocket!” “Could we ask for a small cutting of that plant?”

As part of this weeks travel theme on WheresMyBackpack.com, I am taking a stroll in the gardens of Alowyn Gardens , one hour from Melbourne, Australia. At each fork in the path, new and exciting choices need to be made. The garden provides such enormous variety: perrenial borders, a Parterre garden, an edible garden followed by a forest garden, a dry bed garden and the truely amazing Wisteria archway, just to name a few.ImageImageImageImageImageImage

In My ( camping ) Kitchen. March 2014

During March I spend time in two kitchens: three days a week at home in my large and over supplied kitchen, the other four days in my camping kitchen by the sea. To be truthful, I prefer my camping kitchen, although perhaps the novelty would wear off after a while. I find my little two burner stove quite sufficient for our catering purposes. We back this up with an electric rice cooker, one gas-fired kettle BBQ ( for paella, pizza and basic BBQs ) and have now added a three tray Bain- Marie food warmer, essential for big curry nights or Sunday breakfasts. We cater for up to 16 family members some weekends. Image

This large Paella pan feeds a big group. We fire up an old gas kettle BBQ and use the lid to keep things going. My son cooks the chicken and chorizo separately, keeping the vego seafood people happy.

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My camping kitchen lives in a tiny corner of a canvas camper trailer. The fly wired sides are always open, allowing sea breezes through. I collect these beautiful metal dishes: they live in the trailer and surprise me every time I go camping. ImageImage

The sea is a 20 metre stroll from my kitchen. Black swans cruise by in the morning, looking like mini Loch Ness Monsters.  Cruise ships lit up like Christmas trees arrive by night, followed by cargo ships from China and one dark looking vessel we call “the ship of death”. The shipping lane of Port Philip Bay is often busy.ImageImage

Last week some cheap leatherjackets ( fish) arrived in the supermarket. Rubbed with a masala mixture in the Keralan way, they were then fried as a side dish to an Aloo Gobi curry. In the nearby countryside, the market gardens near Boneo Road have small outlets for daily supplies- freshly grown basil and wombok, Nicola potatoes, cauliflower, beetroot and corn, carrots and herbs.  They go into Mie Goreng, curries, and pasta dishes.

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In my kitchen are party animals, a hungry girl after an apple, and warbling magpies singing for their supper. Despite the volume of cooking, it is a peaceful and joyous time of the year.ImageImage

Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial kindly hosts the monthly “In My Kitchen” . Follow the link to read about other wonderful kitchen stories.

Travelling with Fear Factor

What is travel without a touch of fear?

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Every time Mr Tranquillo suggests a journey, I begrudgingly agree because I am usually too busy to check the ‘fear factor’ rating of the destination and even if I did, would it make any difference?  We are both gypsies at heart and have always enjoyed wandering the globe. But lately, we seem to be following the earthquake trail more often than not: Santiago in Chile, Tokyo, the North Island of New Zealand, the Abruzzo region of Italy and of course anywhere and all the time in any part of the Indonesian archipelago.  Add in a few rumbling volcanoes, tsunamis, floods and mudslides and there you have Indonesia, one of the most beautiful and fertile countries on earth.

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As Australia’s nearest neighbour, many Australians are familiar with the islands of Bali and Lombok. Not so many venture further afield, despite Indonesia’s 17,508 islands. Indonesian language used to be popular in Australian High Schools. It has been on the decline since the Bali bombings ( 2002/5) and the Schapelle factor, despite how easy it is to learn basic Indonesian. Others fear the great Islamic Sea and the emerging fundamentalist approach in some regions. Some fear leaky boats, different food, road travel without seatbelts ( me!), mosquitos and any other number of things.  Our government used to relate to its nearest neighbour with diplomacy, respect and tact. This has not been the case in recent months. Now that is a worry!  Reading the Jakarta Post on-line at least enables one to keep abreast with accurate news regarding the Australian- Indonesian situation, news that is not available now at home.Image

This year’s visit to ‘Indo’ took us to West Java and Sumatra, both notorious this year for volcanic action. We stayed beneath the towering bulk of Gunung Gede in Cipanas, a smoking giant that, in the wet season, rarely emerges from the tropical mists above.  We visited numerous caldera of old volcanoes,  sleeping beauties waiting for their day, situated in the Bandung region: the stunningly beautiful caldera in Lembang, and  Kawah Putih nearby.Image

Our time in Sumatra was spent on Samosir Island in the middle of Lake Toba, site of the biggest volcanic eruption ever.  Yet another sleeping volcano, Lake Toba is part of the Great Sumatran Fault fault,  which saw Gunung Sinabung  active whilst we were there, a short 25 miles away. Almost one month later, the residents ( 20,000 or so) may now return.ImageImage

I always worry about the Indonesian people who are evacuated and relocated during these events. Where do they go? Who provides for them during their dislocation? In the densely populated island of Java ( 141 million),  this must cause great suffering for the local population. Fear factor travel involves respect. The Indonesian people are remarkably friendly and adaptable. The land provides but fertility comes at a price.ImageImageImage

The list you don’t want to look at- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_volcanoes_in_Indonesia#Sunda_Strait_and_Java

The Biggest, Sweetest, and Ugliest Street Pancake.

We lined up one Sunday evening, along with many other locals of a middle class suburb of Jakarta, to order a large, sweet pancake cooked over coals. We order a Martabak Manis Special – basically a big, sweet pancake with the lot – completely unaware about what ‘the lot’ entailed.

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First the pancake batter is poured into a largish pan and cooked slowly over glowing coals. When almost ready, a cup of sugar is sprinkled over the top. The cooked pancake is then moved to a bench, where a cup of more of Blue Band margarine is slathered over the top. As the hot pancake absorbs the margarine, more is added.  ImageImageImage

Then comes a thick layer of grated chocolate, then some grated kraft cheese ( !!), then a ground peanut layer, followed by a toasted coconut layer.  The monster is then rolled and sliced and lands in a box. It costs a hefty AU$10.00, not cheap by Indonesian standards.

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The moment of truth arrives back at B’s sister’s house. We take a piece, and then a tiny bit more. Unbelievably sweet, rich, and just ridiculously fattening and nauseating. Once in a lifetime for this sweet treat.

Javanese Street Food- a world of temptation

Street food is omnipresent throughout Java : it is hard not to think about eating all day. Some of my best breakfasts ( indeed meals) cost a mere 25 cents: other snacks even less. It is important however to assess how pure the water is and how clean the vendor’s cart might be. Travelling with a native speaker opened a whole world of temptation. Thanks Barnadi. The winner of best street food award goes to:

  • Deep fried tofu with green chilli

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I ate a whole bag full of these and nearly spoilt my lunch. Imagine a bag full of freshly cooked tofu squares, with twenty little green, not overly mean, chillies. Pull the stem from the chilli and shove it into the centre of the hot tofu. To Die For.

In second place comes,

  • Javanese breakfast rice.ImageImageImage

Some were complex, others quite basic but all were satisfying and delicious. Nasi goreng or nasi coconut or kuning ( yellow) with lots of yummy little extras like fried tempe cakes, wrapped in brown paper triangular parcels that, when unwrapped, became the plate.  Add a little hot sambal for good measure.

Other photos include delicious corn fritters, my favourite fruit combo of pineapple and dragonfruit,  and pepes ikan ( fish and coconut mixture wrapped in banana leaf, grilled on coals)ImageImageImage

More Javanese delights coming soon.

Desperado – Summer Smoked Fishcakes and Tomato Salsa

Every year for three months between February and Easter, a large tribe of my extended family descend on the Mornington Peninsula, near Melbourne, for our annual beach campathon. The weather is reliably pleasant, the immediate seaside location is sensational, the commuting distance back to Melbourne is short, and, most importantly, all of the tribe are keen on good food. The topic is never far away from our thoughts. What will we all make next weekend? Will we have a curry night?  Who wants some Mie Goreng for breakfast?  Where can we buy some decent fish on the peninsula? I need some sauerkraut  to go with my Kransky?  Whose turn to do the salt and pepper calamari?  On and on it goes. The wok is always out, we have two well set up kitchens, a BBQ, a large old retro fridge, and every kitchen gadget you can think of. Everything AND the kitchen sink.  All that sea air makes every one very hungry.

But travelling to and fro between two kitchens can make meal planning a little tricky. Returning last Monday, I was about to throw in the towel and considered a pub meal out. ( a desperate solution given that I live in a Culinary Black Hole)  Then I found a simple little recipe in a favourite book which I knew would only take 20 minutes to throw together. Nick Nairn saved the day.

Hot Smoked Salmon Fishcakes with Tomato Salsa   for two mains, or 4 starters.

  • 300 grams mashed potato ( I used Dutch Creams )
  • 150 grams hot smoked salmon in a piece, flaked
  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced
  • juice of a lemon
  • sea salt and ground black pepper
  • seasoned flour for coating
  • butter for frying

For the Salsa

  • 6 small  tomatoes, heirloom or vine ripened, cut into eighths
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped or sliced
  • 1 garlic , finley choopped
  • 1 – 2 fresh chilli, finely chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons EV olive oil
  • juice of 1 lime
  • coriander roughly chopped- optional)
  1. To make the salsa, mix all ingredients and set aside.
  2. Mash the potato with a little butter, then add spring onions, flaked salmon, and squeeze the lemon juice into the mix. Fold together till of a suitable consistency and season.
  3. Shape the mixture into four fishcakes . Dip each side into seasoned flour.
  4. Melt the butter in a frying pan and fry the fish cakes for 3- 4 minutes each side until a golden colour . Keep warm.

To serve, Place a dollop of salsa on each plate and place a fishcake in the centre (or two for two mains) . Use the spare dressing to drizzle around the plate.

I have adapted this from Nick Nairn’s Top 100 Salmon Recipes. ( 2002) by altering the ratio of potato to smoked salmon. Scottish comfort food goes Asian – perfect.

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Cauliflower Indian/Chinese- Gobi Manchurian via Kerala

I have been trying to be healthy. No cheese, less wine, no chocolates and none of those other things either, but it’s getting boring. Looking at the big cauliflower lurking in my fridge, I considered another salad or a lean stir fry, but my body yearned for something more satisfying, something fried!  Time to attempt my first Gobi Manchurian.

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I first came across this Indian – Chinese dish in Fort Cochin, Kerala, India in 2012. Once discovered, we ate it every second night at Casa Linda.*

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On returning to Melbourne, we sourced some very tasty versions in Sydney Rd, Brunswick.*  Gobi Manchurian is a spicy Indian cauliflower dish incorporating Chinese elements in the sauce.  Serve it with fat white rice, such as Sunrice medium grain rice. I noticed that Keralans don’t use Basmati  and I have come to appreciate medium grain rice again. Oh, to return to Kerala,  God’s own country.

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The recipe is a version from Saveur, but I have altered it slightly.  This makes a piggy amount for two, or serve with another dish, for example dhal, for four.

Ingredients.

  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2- 5 cm. pieces peeled fresh ginger (1 cut into thin rounds, 1 julienned)
  • 1/2 head cauliflower, cut into large florets
  •  salt
  • 1/3 cup cornflour/ cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup  plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp.red chilli powder
  • Freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp. plus 1.5 tbsp. soy sauce
  • Peanut or canola oil for frying
  • 1 small onion,finely chopped
  • 2-3 chilli, thinly sliced
  • 1⁄4 cup tomato sauce/ketchup
  • 1 tsp.or more sesame oil
  • 1 scallions, thinly sliced
  • coriander leaves

Method

1. Purée garlic, the ginger slices, and a little water in a blender; set aside. Boil cauliflower in a pot of salted water until tender, 6–7 minutes; drain.

2. Whisk together cornstarch, flour, chilli powder, 1⁄4 tsp. salt, and a little pepper in a bowl. Stir in half the garlic paste, 1 tsp. soy sauce, and 1/3 ( approx) cup water to make a batter.

3. Pour oil into a large deep wok to a depth of 3cms; heat over medium-high heat. Working in batches, dip cauliflower in batter; fry until golden, turning, 5–6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel–lined plate.

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4. Drain all but about 3 tbsp. of the oil. Add onion; cook for 3–4 minutes. Add chilli and remaining garlic paste; cook until paste is lightly browned, 1-2 minutes. Add tomato sauce, remaining soy sauce, sesame oil, and a little water. Boil; lower heat to low; simmer until thick, 1–2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste; toss cauliflower in sauce to reheat.

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5. Garnish with remaining ginger, scallions, and coriander. Serve with white rice and yoghurt or raita.

*Casa Linda, Dispensary Road, Fort Cochin, India

*Bilal, 860 Sydney Road, Brunswick, Australia 3056

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