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

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.

Charmaine Solomon’s Corn Fritters- Pergedel Jagung

I have recently renewed my passion for Indonesian cooking after returning from a two week journey through West Java and Sumatra where I spent the whole time eating! Travelling with Barnadi, a native speaker and chef, made it  so much easier to access all sorts of fabulous street food, particularly in the cool highlands of Puncak, and the quiet town of Cipanas, as well as tasty Sundanese banquets on the way. During my five-day cooking class with Barnadi, chef  and proprietor of the once famous Djakarta restaurant in Melbourne, I learnt a great deal. His recipes were gleaned from his mother as he grew up in Jakarta. I intend to explore these recipes in my blog over the next month.

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Corn fritters are a favourite street treat, often eaten as¬†an afternoon snack or as part of an Indonesian banquet. I tried many versions of this popular snack, including Barnardi’s, throughout Indonesia and I haven’t made them for years. Today’s version comes from the classic book by Charmaine Solomon,The Complete Asian Cookbook, as part of the¬†¬†Leah’s The Cookbook Guru.¬†Each month a cookbook is chosen and participants may join by cooking and blogging one item from that book. ¬†This has been a chance to re-live my trip to Indonesia, and re- acquaint myself with my old cooking mentor from way back, Charmaine Solomon, as well as being forced to follow a recipe ( with a few minor adjustments)

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Pergedel Jagung. ( corn fritters)

  • 376 g fresh corn kernels, cut from cobs with a sharp knife, ( I used three cobs)
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 cup rice flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon laos powder, optional
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 medium red onion ( or better, some red shallots)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 stalk of celery ( I omitted this it doesn’t appear as an ingredient in the Javanese versions I tasted)
  • 1/2 cup of water ( see notes below)
  • 1 teaspoon of belachan/ terasi/shrimp paste
  • squeeze of lemon juice ( I used lime )
  • vegetable oil for frying.

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Method

  1. Place ( or sift) the flour, ground rice, baking powder, salt and spices into a bowl.
  2. Quarter the onion and cut into very fine slices. Crush the garlic or finely chop.
  3. Mix together the water, beaten egg, terasi, and lemon juice and add to the flour mixture.
  4. Stir in the corn, garlic and onion.
  5. Heat the vegetable oil in a wok. The recipe says to 12mm ( 1/2 inch) I made it deeper. When oil is hot, test with the end of a chopstick to see bubbles, drop mixture by tablespoons into the oil. They should flatten out to around 7.5 cms ( 3 inches) in diameter. Fry until golden, turn, fry the other side and drain well on paper towels on a wire rack. This keeps the fritters crisp.ImageImage

My notes.

  • Don’t crowd the pan. I cook 3- 4 at a time so that they remain crispy and therefore oil free.
  • I omitted the laos powder as I tend to use fresh galangal in Indonesian cooking.
  • I always toast the terasi/belachan over a gas flame first.
  • The cumin was an odd ingredient: it made the fritters taste more Indian.
  • The quantity of water changed from the 1992 version I own ( and happily acquired from Savers second-hand) and the 2011 edition which I borrowed from the library. The newer edition suggests 1 cup of water, which made the batter far too wet. I would suggest sticking to the original quantity of 1/2 cup, then add more water if the mix seems too stiff after the corn is added.
  • I only added a pinch of chilli, as this is a popular snack for children. Instead, serve it with a hot chilli sambal goreng or a glug of Kecap Extra Pedas.

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Really tasty with beer. Beer Bintang in Indonesia. Fifty Lashes or Coopers in Australia. ¬†I have added a few pics throughout the post from my Indonesia trip, highlighting Barnardi’s corn fritters, which he serves with a sharp pickle and a variety of other dishes. ImageImage

Lakes Entrance Seafarers’ festival 2013.

“Are we there yet?” That’s¬†me in the passenger seat, in between texting everyone I know.

A trip to Lakes Entrance from Melbourne seems to take forever. There are a few unscheduled stops along on the way, a quick $15.oo meal of flathead tails at the Trafalgar Hotel, a visit to an Op Shop or two on route, a stop at the Thorpdale Potato Shed for some fresh Nicola or Dutch Cream potatoes.  And what about that Turkish Magic shop in Stratford for an exotic ottoman?  No wonder the trip to the Lakes seems to take forever. Mr Tranquillo is a patient driver: I justify the stops in the interest of leg stretching.

Lakes Entrance is 318 kilometres from Melbourne and in theory, the trip should take 3.5 hours. In your dreams!Image

Each year this seaside town holds a Seafarers Festival, which occurs¬†on the Saturday following December 6, the feast day of St Nicholas of the Seas. The festival commences with a march through the main street, the green statue of St Nic leading the way.¬†¬†He is then carried to the sea and watches silently while a group of pastors conduct the Blessing of the Fleet, ¬†a simple Christian event, ¬†preceded by an Aboriginal tribute.This year’s Aboriginal ¬†welcome to country¬† included a remarkable didgeridoo performance, the melancholic sound silencing the gathered crowd. Today both Lakes Entrance and LakeTyers¬†retain a strong Aboriginal community ¬†and presence.

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Three large marquees were set up for the day’s entertainment. ¬†The first cooking demonstration was conducted by¬†Mark Olive, or the black olive, as¬†he calls himself. Mark is really funny and engaging: he¬†introduces us to indigenous foods as we taste a huge variety of peppers and herbs from the Australian bush. He is a great advocate for local produce, and sees the day when our herbs and animal meats become mainstream.ImageAlthough St Nicholas¬†was known for his abstinence, this doesn’t deter us from indulging in a full wine tasting. This year only one wine company tempted us with their goods:¬†in previous years, the Gippsland wine industry was better represented.

With a glass in hand, we moved on to the next event, conducted by Mark Norvoyle and his handsome apprentice Samuel Smith.Image Within 40 minutes Mark and Sam deftly pin boned a side of fresh salmon, making one simple gravlax, some salmon and eggplant spring rolls, salmon confit, and a sashimi and tofu salmon. They made it look all too simple.ImageSalivating from the food demonstartions, we headed off in search of tucker, finding a wondrous Paella stall. The serves came in small buckets, with a generous supply of calamari, scallops and mussels for $8.00. We scoffed these down as we watched a troupe of Greek dancers spinning around in the big marquee.ImageImageImage

Off to another cooking demo by Matt and Mike, from My Kitchen Rules fame. These two were hilarious. Not cooks, these entertainers gave us an insight into the world of MKR.

A quick rest, then off to the Lakes Entrance Bowling club for an Italian Buffet night, with all you can eat pasta and pizza. The food was so- so, and that’s being kind, but the main attraction was the band, I Viaggiatori. Kavisha¬†Mazzella and her troupe, performed beautiful Italian folk songs and ballads from the album, ‘Suitcase Secrets’.ImageIncluded was the¬†Australianised¬†version of Mamma Mia¬†Dammi¬†Cento¬†Lire, one of my favourites, and Canzone della¬†Lega, the radical womens song from the¬†rice growing¬†area of the Po Valley. Kavisha¬†is a Melbourne legend, having initiated and led¬†Le¬†goie¬†delle¬†donne, an¬†Italo-¬†Australian womens choir, in the 90s.¬†http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jse5tqHTIdc

And then on Sunday we rested and ate more fish.

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Artichokes, to eat or to decorate

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It’s artichoke¬†season and I can’t find many people who love to eat them as much as I do. Our resident Italian¬†guest, Alb√©,¬†dislikes them, and my numerous family members, whose visits usually require¬†a mass catering event, or the raiding of the cellar for a reasonable bottle of vino, don’t enjoy them. ¬†Mr Tranquillo hates them intensely.

Back in 2000, our travels took us to Naples¬†to visit the brother of my dear friend Olga. During that time, we were invited to lunch at the apartment of her cousins, right near the Galleria Umberto. The table was set impeccably, the hosts were gracious and also quite ancient. The whole event was ”¬†molto elegante“. ¬†But we forgot to mention the most important thing- that we were¬†vegetariani¬†, and along with the language, age and cultural divides, this would become an embarrassing hurdle.

First course was a simple¬†Pasta Napoli.¬†We were going well. Then came the¬†polpettini di fegato.¬†Liver meatballs, lightly crumbed and sauted.¬†¬†Mio Dio! ¬†Other expressions, involving the Madonna also came to mind.¬†Mr¬†Tranquillo turned a lighter shade of green and then quietly mentioned his dietary issues. A whole ball of buffalo mozzarella¬†landed on his plate as a substitute. ¬†I ate the liver balls, with some trepidation, but found them quite tasty and tried to focus on the concept of bella figura.*¬† Along came the next course –¬†scallopini di vitello, veal schnitzels, served with a simple green salad. ¬†I also ate these, and focused ¬†this time on the Dalai Lama: I was almost enjoying this meat fest. ¬†Mr Tranquillo once again sheepishly declined, ¬†and was offered a freshly prepared giant¬†carciofo.¬†¬†Knowing how much he hates artichokes, but also feeling very embarrassed and quite uneasy about insulting our gracious hosts, I gave him THE LOOK which indicated, ¬†“You will eat every bit of that¬†maledetto¬†artichoke and you will look like you are enjoying it!” He ate it.

young artichokes
young artichokes

Back to the back yard and my giant artichoke plants. ¬†My dear friend Helen looked at them admiringly as I cut two long stems of artichokes from the bush, complete with their soft grey/green side leaves. She mused, d√©cor or to eat, ¬†examining them carefully, whilst pondering a far more sensible question than that of Hamlet. ¬†D√©cor she decided. Well, I’ve done decorating with¬†artichokes, and no more waxing lyrically about the plants’ architectural beauty. ¬†Today I plan to eat them, by myself, just me.

La ricetta per carciofi in memoria¬†della mia cara amica, Olga D’ Albero Giuliani¬†– Artichoke recipe in memory of my dear friend Olga.

Leave a small portion of the stalk and peel ¬†it. Prepare the artichokes by removing all the sharp spiky leaves, pulling them off, one at a time. When the plant looks much smaller and no sharp bits remain, cut off pointy top half then cut into quarters and remove all the hairy choke from the centre. ¬†Drop each one into acidulated water¬†as you go. ¬†When all are ready, choose a heavy based pan, big enough to hold the prepared artichokes. Add extra virgin olive oil, garlic, saut√©¬†for a few seconds, then add drained artichokes. Saut√© again for a minute or so, add some lemon juice, a little water, and salt to taste. Cover and cook on low heat, making sure that they don’t burn or catch, until tender. Eat¬†out of the pan, if desperate, or if you can find some friends to share them with, add to an antipasti platter.

My friend Olga many years ago. I miss her every day. *** http://www.ozpod.com/yarra/books/share.html