Travel Theme: Round

As part of Ailsa’s round theme this week on Where’s My Backpack, I am heading to Ubud, Bali.

Lotus pads in front of the Royal Palace. Last time I was there I also noticed that one of the abutting stone buildings had become a Starbucks coffee outlet. Shock, Horror. Is Ubud losing its soul?Image

The gardens of Ubud are luxuriant and adorned with beautiful stone statues and pots. The road from Denpasar to Ubud is home to thousands of stone masons and the drive is always so exciting. I would like to fit these rounded pots in my hand luggage!

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Round eggplants in the Ubud Market.

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And the beautiful round Ulegs in the Casa Luna Cooking School, Jalan Bisma, Ubud. I do have a fascination for these giant mortar and pestles.

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Easter 2014

Hot Cross Buns

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Easter Daisy

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Which half of the hot cross bun do you eat first? Happy Easter.

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Who Wants to be a Baccala`? Easter Cod Stories.

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As Easter approaches, my mind turns to Cod! It is a family tradition to eat this odd fish every Good Friday, and over the years I have experimented with different types of cod fish. We have Cod lovers and Cod haters in the family: some of the Cod lovers are recent converts and now place their orders every Easter.

Cod is widely available in the smoked form ( usually bright orange, chemically smoked Hake). It is also sold as Stoccafissa or Baccala`, the dried  and salted fish seen hanging in Continental delicatessens. In Italian, essere un baccala` is to be a stupid person while restare come un baccala` is to stand agape, speechless, immobilized. (picture the hard motionless salted fish ). To call someone a Baccala` is a handy insult when they have behaved stupidly.

Many eons ago, as a way of impressing my dear friend Olga  D’Albero Giuliani, I made a Venetian dish for Good Friday, using Baccala`and  green olives. It took me forty eight hours to soak the fish, with many changes of water. The resultant dish was still bony and well, fairly ordinary. Olga was not impressed and asked me why I didn’t simply use smoked cod,  a tastier fish  and easier to prepare. I felt like a real Baccala`!!

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Soon after, I discovered real smoked cod from the Shetland Islands. It arrives in Melbourne on the Wednesday before Easter and is sold by the same fishmonger at the Preston market every year. It is Scottish cod, smoked without the use of chemical dyes and tastes just like peat. ( akin to eating a fishy single malt Laphroaig whisky). This explains the new converts.

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It requires nothing more than gentle poaching, topping it with a simple bechamel parsley sauce, alongside mash or new potatoes, allowing the smoky peat taste to star! In the case of Cod, the Scottish /Irish version wins hands down. Unless you want to be a Baccala` too.

The fishy photos above were taken at the Preston Market, near Melbourne, Australia. It is a lively multicultural market with at least five fishmongers.

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Sunday Stills: International Food (and Far Too Many Cookbooks )

Do you collect cookbooks? Do you ever refer to them or rush to the internet when the need for a recipe arises? This is the modern dilemma: too much information, not so much inspiration. I must admit, I have a foot in both camps. I have far too many cookbooks, and will probably acquire some more soon, especially if they turn up cheaply in my favourite second-hand store. I also find recipes on the internet and print them, thinking that I will make them soon. ( I rarely do). Most of my cooking is driven by the ingredients on hand, meaning those in my pantry, fridge or garden. My best meals are spontaneous and intuitive and rarely come from the printed word.  So what are all those cookbooks doing on my shelves and why do I find the need to acquire more?

I love books and the texture of them, their smell, and the care taken in producing them.  I like to hold them, turn the pages, and bookmark them, take them to bed. I find them comforting in the world of transitory information –  instagram,  tweeting and other forms of one second grabs of hollow information.

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Here is my question for cookbook collectors.  How do you organise your collection? By cuisine? Height? Colour? Nationality?

This little post is in response to Ed’s theme this week on Sunday Stills: International Foods. 

Rather than choose another foodie shot, I went to my bookshelves,( but wait, there are more ! ), source of international inspiration.

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Travel Theme: Clean

In 2012, two beautiful wwoofers from Chengdu, China came to stay with me for a month. They chose Melbourne as they had read that it is the world’s most livable city. Part of the charm of Melbourne and its hinterland, for the Chinese visitors, is clean air. Australians take clean air for granted, but as our cities and freeways become more clogged, and our government pays little attention to policies addressing global warming and carbon emissions, clean air might become a thing of the past. Ailsa, from Where’s My Backpack has chosen clean as the photographic topic of the week, after she read this article in the Guardian about the air in Beijing.

 The following photos were taken in Tasmania, Australia. If you could bottle clean, the island of ‘Tassie’ would make a fortune.

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The spit at Bruny Island, Tasmania. ( below) Don’t forget to try the oysters at ‘Get Shucked’ for a taste of clean. ( above)

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The famous bridge at Richmond.

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Kisir: Peppery Bulgur Salad

In Melbourne, Brunswick is the home of Middle Eastern food, with numerous Lebanese and Turkish restaurants lining the northern end of Sydney Road. Along with Persian sweet shops, the emerging Shisha ( hookah) bars as well as some notorious Middle Eastern bread shops and grocery stores, a visit to Sydney Road, Brunswick is an exciting and inexpensive trip to another world. I can highly recommend a tram ride on Route number 19 to North Coburg, via Lebanon,Turkey and Iran.

I have been cooking food from this region for many years. The salads are vibrant and fresh with herbs used in abundance. The little mezze or starters make wonderful lunches, and the colourful and earthy dips made from fresh vegetables and pulses are so quick to throw together. It is also naturally vegetarian, apart from kebabs, with so much to choose from.

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Today, as part of this month’s  ‘The  Cookbook Guru’s ‘ focus on Claudia Roden’s ‘The New Middle Eastern Cookbook,’ I am heading straight to Turkey. This little side dish, Kisir, is simple to make and would be an exciting foil to many other Mezze. The recipe comes from Claudia’s ‘Arabesque’ as I was unable to obtain the original classic, but I am sure some recipes remain the same.

Kisir ( serves 6)

  • 200 g fine-ground bulgur
  • 125 g boiling water
  • 1 Tbles tomato paste
  • juice of 1-2 lemons
  • 5 Tbles extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 fresh red or green chilli , finely chopped
  • salt
  • 5- 7 spring onions
  • 300 g tomatoes, diced
  • bunch of flat leafed parsley, ( 50g) chopped
  • bunch of mint ( 25 g) chopped
  • To serve – 2 baby Cos or Little Gem Lettuces

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  1. Put the bulgur into a bowl, pour the boiling water over it, stir and leave for 15- 20 minutes until the grain is tender. Don’t be tempted to add more water since the juice from the lemons and tomatoes will soften it further.
  2. Add the tomato paste, juice, and oil, the chilli, salt and mix thoroughly. Trim the green tops of the spring onions, then slice them finely. Add them and the diced tomatoes to the bulgur mix, together with the parsley and mint.
  3. Serve with the small lettuce around the edge of the salad. Another way is to roll the bulgur mixture into balls the size of a small egg and to place one in the hollow of a baby lettuce leaf.

Variation. Add 1- 2 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses to the dressing.

My Notes.

I had to add more boiling water in step one. Despite Claudia’s warning, I found this to be necessary.

I used the pomegranate molasses and enjoyed this extra dimension.

I notice that Ottolenghi also has this recipe in ‘Plenty’. Claudia’s version of this classic is so delightfully simple.

Below- Sydney Road, Melbourne 3056. Catch a tram or walk, it’s always stimulating.

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Just Like Parsley

The Italian language is full of colourful idiomatic expressions and over the last 20 years, I have collected many that relate to cooking and food. Essere come prezzemolo, to be like parsley, is a very visual example of this, which roughly signifies ‘ to be everywhere, to be present in different places and situations, or in many institutions, such as parsley, which is widely used in many different recipes. It also means to put oneself in the middle, to interrupt things, to meddle’.

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I am a great fan of parsley and I also enjoy a good simile. What I no longer like, nor even tolerate, is the misuse of the word ‘like‘ in the written context. Just like parsley, the misuse of this word interrupts and gets in the way, is common and overused.

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You will probably hear this ubiquitous language filler, stutter, speech impediment, spilling out of the mouths of teenagers. Travelling on trams or trains in teen hour, I become aurally fixated ( not much choice in a crowded tram) with the dreaded ‘like‘ word. It seems that young people today cannot utter a sentence or phrase without copious sprinklings of  ‘like‘ between each and every other word.  No, these ‘likes‘ are not used as similes, nor are they expressions of enjoyment or desire. They are not used to compare anything in particular. They have become a speech disorder a little akin to Tourette’s syndrome. I sometimes find myself counting the number of ‘likes‘ that appear in one sentence. The record stands at 19. I  also wonder whether these young people will be able to succeed in interviews, and whether they can turn off the ‘like ‘ button when under stress.

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We tolerate this in the young. Perhaps it’s a bonding word, a generational code, despite the stammering effect on expressive language. At what age should one grow out of the ‘like‘ phenomena? I ponder this question when I hear the occasional adult hampered by its overuse.

Seeing the word used, deliberately chosen, in writing, such as in popular blogs, makes my ‘like‘ meter go right off the radar.Image

Please make the word go away and save our language from annihilation. Just like parsley, it’s everywhere.

By the way, that parsley salad, straight from Ottolenghi’s ‘Jerusalem’ is a real winner, and what would a lovely salsa verde be without parsley?

Feel free to comment, I won’t bite! grrrrr

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Sunday Stills. Yellow

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School holiday time and my house and kitchen have been turned upside down by the invading tribe of wild things. The ten year old wants to work outside all day as he is saving for a motorbike,( but its raining), the seven year old goes through ten costume changes a day and the five year old tries to keep up with her, the three year old likes to play outside in the rain. My table is covered with art materials, there are balls and blankets in the lounge room, chaos has descended.

Here is my escape into the world of yellow as part of the Sunday Stills challenge: Yellow

Marigolds above and sunflowers below in the gardens of Chenonceau, France.Image

A yellow painted vegetable stall in West Java, IndonesiaImage

A doorway in Bagan, Myanmar

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A fruit platter on board a houseboat in the backwaters of Alleppey, Kerala, India

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Travel Theme: Misty

This week’s travel theme, chosen by Ailsa at Where’s My Backback, is Misty.

When I think of mist, my mind wanders back to Britain, Ireland and Scotland, recalling the mists hovering about the standing stones of Cumbria, or rising over the ancient dry stone walls of Inisheer and Inishmore off the west coast of Ireland, or seeping through the cold walls of  Dunvegan Castle on Skye, or chilling the seas near Tarbert, Outer Hebrides. Robbie Burns songs, softly spoken celts, peat and strong whisky, many scenes follow.  Alas, these images only survive in my mind.

My misty offerings today come from far warmer climes. The high altitude areas of India are often shrouded in mist. The tea gardens of Munnar, Kerala, India offer stunning views, the mists and waterfalls rise over the Westminster carpet of green tea plantations.ImageImage

Another hot and misty region, Mae Salong in Northern Thailand, also specialises in tea. Still the home to ex Kuomintang escapees from China, the food is superb and Yunnanese in style. Naturally, tea shops abound.Image

Everyone rushes around like a loony when Mt Rinjani on Lombok peeps through the mist over Lombok Straight. Out come the cameras.  Rinjani is the sacred twin of Mt Agung in Bali.ImageImage

The mists in my own front yard, early winter time, Victoria, Australia. There is a kangaroo highlighted on the ridge.

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Indonesian Curry Pastes and Sambals: the Uleg in Action

I recently introduced my Indonesian Uleg as part of my April’s IMK post. The Uleg had a great workout over summer and before the season changes and gets too autumnal, requiring more Cucina Italiana, I thought I might show off some of the impressive curry pastes made in this wonderful mortar and pestle. When B and I bought our Ulegs in the market in Cipanas, Java, I was surprised to hear the elderly vendor use the old Hindu word ‘Lingum” for the pestle, especially in a largely Islamic Indonesian region.Image

A lingum is

“Sanskrit for “shaft of light” and is the term for the Hindu god Shiva as represented by a phallus (erect male organ). Usually found in conjunction with the Yoni (‘vulva”) which represents the goddess Shakti – the source of Creative Energy. They co-join to form Bhrama – the Universe. This is the Hindu Trilogy; the representation of the twins of Creation and Destruction as the highest manifestations or aspects of the One (Bhrama).” 1.Image

I must admit that the Indonesian pestle is more phallic than my others and certainly does a very good job.

A very hot sambal makes the perfect side dish for spring rolls and nasi goreng.

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The photos above and below are some of the wonderful curry pastes and sambals Barnadi introduced me to this January. As you can see, all sorts of wonderful things get ground in the Uleg, not just spices. After some practice, the combinations become intuitive. Once ground to a paste, magic cooking follows.ImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

 

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