Santiago di Compostella. Sunday Stills/Faces

An amazed local.

An amazed local.

This week, Ed has nominated ‘Faces’ as the theme for Sunday Stills. I have chosen a few characters who hang around Santiago di Compostella. I am sure they won’t mind too much having their face plastered all over the internet. They stand and gaze at the pilgrims in wonder and have been doing so for a long time.

Santiago ( St James) himself in very nice hat.

Santiago ( St James/St Jaques) himself in a very nice hat, complete with Coquilles St Jaques.

don't be so modest.

Don’t be so modest.

Who me?

Who me?

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Piazza del Campo. Travel Theme: Meeting Places.

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A Piazza is the quintessential meeting place. It is interesting to reflect upon the role of the Piazza in Italian history;  meeting place, site of political unrest, market place, home to festivals and sagre as well as musical and theatrical events, the piazza plays a central role in the communal life of all Italians today. It is a stage, a living theatre.

IMG_1446Piazza del Campo in Siena is my favorite meeting place. Watch as old be-suited gentlemen meet for a coffee, a smoke or to pick up the La Repubblica newspaper at 7 am.  See the noisy teenagers gather after school at around 1.30 pm; at 5pm, another wave of older college students descend on ‘Il Campo’. They lie about in the setting sun or chat in huddled groups.  Locals converge after dinner for passeggiata on the way home. In winter, they stroll in long fur edged coats and fine shoes, appearing to glide across the uneven bricks, reminding me of the wealthy citizens depicted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, famous painter of Sienese life in the 14th century.

The best time to visit Siena is out of season when Piazza del Campo becomes moody and mysterious under the winter sky.  Avoid the  summer months, especially during the Palio, as well as Easter, unless you fancy hordes of people.

See Ailsa’s Where’s My Backpack for other meeting places around the world.

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Chicken Marengo and Toulouse – Lautrec

An original meny drawing by Toulouse Lautrec, from 'The Art of Cuisine'.

An original menu drawing by Toulouse Lautrec, from ‘The Art of Cuisine’.

Every now and then, I cook a few meat dishes for the ‘export market’, reverting to retro classics, given that they freeze well and make for simple and nourishing meals that can be reheated easily.  I am more than happy to cook meat for others, especially if the recipient is ill or otherwise disinclined to cook.

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Searching the shelves, (and not the internet) for something French, a Chicken Chasseur perhaps, I noticed a big black French culinary hole in my cookbook collection: probably because the cuisine of France tends to be very meat focussed. On the top shelf I keep some much treasured ‘collector’ cookbooks, purchased from second hand shops and read for amusement.  ‘The Art of Cuisine’ by Toulouse-Lautrec and Maurice Joyant is one of these. And very French it is!

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There is a story behind this book.  Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Maurice Joyant had been friends since childhood. Joyant was the executor of Lautrec’s will and created the Musée Toulouse- Lautrec at Albi. The two friends had a mutual love of food which was the true daily link between these men.

‘In the last years of his own life, Joyant collected the recipes invented in Lautrec’s company and combined them with the recipes that he and Lautrec had garnered throughout their years of companionship. He embellished the text with Lautrec drawings …….The book was published in a limited edition, and was conceived by Joyant as a work of art and as a tribute.’

My copy is a new – 1966- copy of the original work, ( which was most likely published in the 1920s) translated by Margery Weiner.  The only modifications are a few culinary notes, added in bold at the end of the recipes. The book includes fabulous coloured plates of Lautrec’s art, including many sketches he designed for menus.

from the Art of Cuisine, by Toulouse-Lautrec and Maurice Joyant.

from the Art of Cuisine, by Toulouse-Lautrec and Maurice Joyant.

Toulouse Lautrec’s ‘Chicken Marengo’

Put in a saucepan some olive oil, a crushed clove of garlic; heat and brown pieces of chicken. When these pieces are a good golden colour, take them out and make a roux with a spoon of flour.

When the roux is well browned, moisten with good bouillon, put back the pieces of chicken, salt and pepper, and let simmer on a low flame.

Half an hour before serving, add some sautéed mushrooms, a few spoons of tomato puree, and pitted olives. Just as you serve, sprinkle with croutons of bread fried in butter.

1966 culinary notes by Barbara Kafka

2 Tbs oil, 1 Tbs flour, 1 cup chicken stock, 1/2 lb mushroom sliced and heated in 2 Tbls butter, 2 Tbs tomato puree and 1/4 cup black olives.

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My notes, 2014.

1 kilo free range chicken thigh fillets, cut into thirds, 2 Tbs Extra virgin olive oil, 1 Tbs butter, 1/4 cup white wine, a slurp of brandy, 3 cloves of garlic, smashed, plain flour to dredge the chicken pieces, 1 cup of stock, salt and pepper, 2 Tbs tomato paste, 300 grs mushrooms, quartered.  No olives and no croutons.

Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, fry till golden in oil and butter in a heavy based pan, making sure you don’t crowd the pan.  Remove pieces when done, then add the garlic to the pan and cook briefly, then  the cognac and wine. On high heat scrape the stuck bits on the base, reduce a little, then add the stock and tomato paste. Put the chicken pieces back into the pan, add salt and pepper to taste,and cook on very low flame.  Add the mushrooms towards the end of cooking.  Add more stock as needed.  Total cooking time, around 30 minutes.

Art and Cusine really do go together.

Art and Cusine really do go together.

My version uses chicken thigh pieces as it is much faster to cook and easier to box up for the ‘export market’. The boxes will contain a side of fettucine.

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from 'The Art of Cuuisine'  by Toulouse -Lautrec and Maurice Joyant.

from ‘The Art of Cuuisine’ by Toulouse -Lautrec and Maurice Joyant.

And as for the word Marengo? Check here for a little Napoleonic history.

For my granddaughter, Mischa Belle, who is a French speaker but not yet a cook, and also for Deb of My Kitchen Witch, who would love this book I am sure.

The Art of Cuisine

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Maurice Joyant

Introduction by M.G. Dortu and Ph. Huisman

Translated by Margery Weiner

Culinary notes by Barbara Kafka

Publisher, Michael Joseph, Ltd, London. 1966.

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Kitchen Reality, Broccoli and Neil Perry.

The sad part about returning home after a long journey is the absence of decent ‘hired help’. Where’s the menu? Who will make my bed? Reality is slowly setting in as the mess, the half unpacked suitcase, and the washing pile begin to annoy me. The weeds in the garden can wait. It’s 3 degrees celsius outside and the blanketing fog looks like it has set in for the day.

On the other hand, there’s the tempting stash of DVDs from Bali, bundles of TV series to lure me to the couch, as well as a big stack of new books, some purchased, others from the library, winter’s little helpers and further reason to remain in holiday mode by the fire. Some of my friends are still loitering in Ubud, Bali and all I can say is, life is tough!

Winter Garden Produce

Winter Garden Produce

I am attempting to revitalise my interest in cooking by borrowing some cookbooks from the library. One of these is Neil Perry’s ‘The Food I Love‘ which is featured on Leah’s The Cookbook Guru this month. I was hoping to be coaxed away from my indolence. Instead it has turned out to be another great read, in bed and on the couch.  Most of the food is simple and non chefy, Mod Oz Mediterranean, and homely. For example, the breakfast section looks at Bircher Meusli,  fruit smoothies and various classic egg dishes. The pasta pages list the usual suspects. The fish chapter along with the”Sauces and More” chapter are both excellent and I wish someone would deliver some nice flathead. Better still,  just deliver Neil Perry.

all home grown

all home grown

What makes the book a good read is that Perry, a renowned Australian chef, considers quality ingredients as his major inspiration for cooking as well as sound technique.  In the opening chapter, Neil mentions his commitment to “sourcing the finest ingredients”, the importance of “mise en place” ( as discussed by Leah earlier) and seasoning.

“By seasoning I mean salting……… When seasoning, think about this: salting heightens the natural flavours of food. If I salt a dish at the beginning of cooking, the food end up tasting of its natural self rather than if I add it at the end, when it tastes like salt on the food”

Neil also has a preference for white peppercorn and discusses the difference in flavour and drying techniques. It is more intense in flavour. Most Asian cuisines use white pepper and I have the same preference since cooking with Banardi in Java last January.  When buying spices, Neil advises,

“buy only a small quantity at a time and use it quickly. Spices taste the strongest when they are fresh. Also buy from a spice merchant, you won’t believe the difference in quality”

All very sensible and a reason not to buy that monster bag of turmeric or garam masala on special in the Asian groceries for $2.00.

As we have an abundance of broccoli in the garden, I am listing this simple little recipe to mark my re- entry into the world of cooking.  Neil has used Broccolini, although Cima di Rapa would work very well too.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Broccolini ( or Broccoli) with Garlic and Chilli.

Ingredients

  • two small, very fresh broccoli heads, cut into narrow trees. ( see pic above)
  • sea salt
  • EV olive oil
  • chilli flakes
  • minced garlic

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add enough sea salt to make it taste like the sea, and cook the broccoli at a rapid boil for two minutes. Drain and add to a saute pan with the oil, sea salt, chilli flakes and toss about for 1 minute, then add the garlic and toss for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and serve.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This makes a bright and robust contorno or side dish to go with fish.  Today I am serving it with my favourite smoked fish cakes for lunch. Leftovers might be tossed about with some orecchiette this evening ( along with added anchovies) or enclosed in a simple omelette.

Now, back to those books by the fire.

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Bemo Boys: Travelling in Style in Flores

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA Bemo transport van in Labuan Bajo can be heard long before it arrives. A pounding mega base sub woofer reverberates through the tropical verges as the vans wind their way through the hills above the Labuan Bajo harbour.  Here comes another Bemo Boy in his decorated van. The wait is never very long.  Climb on board and watch your head as you duck in the open doorway.

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I suspect the bemo boys are local heroes here in Labuan Bajo. They travel the four kilometre circuit around town all day, finishing at 6pm in the evening. After that time, it’s a long walk in the dark or a ride on the back of a motorbike. The passengers pile into the side bench seats in the rear of the van: local women with shopping from the market, slight young teenage schoolgirls, heads covered in snow white hijab and dressed in full length navy blue tunics neatly pressed, and then of course, us, the tourists.

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Sometimes the volume is turned down when a middle-aged Muslim matron travels the route. It is quickly cranked up again as soon as she disembarks, to impress the teenagers hanging about on the corner or to serve as an announcement for potential passengers.

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These young men have a wonderful time and decorate their vans with youthful kitsch. Stuffed multi coloured felt caterpillars line the dashboards, the rear window usually sports a large modern transfer, and lots of strange mirrors and other paraphernalia dangle from the rear vision mirror.  The names of each bemo soon become familiar “Casanova“, “Playboy” and “Pleace be my baby“, to name a few. One bemo specialised in country music, complete with a little DVD screen, but we only scored this driver on one occasion.

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For 5000 rupiah (under 50 cents) one way, we travel in style, down to the restaurant belt near the harbour and back to our guesthouse, located on the side of a steep hill.  Beats walking in the heat!

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Travel Theme: Purple

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis week, Ailsa at Where’s My Backpack has nominated the colour Purple as the travel theme for the week. As purple is one of my favourite colours, I expected to find a plethora of exotic purple images amongst the sari draped women of India or in the temples of Myanmar. Other than a few purple clad young fairies and tu-tued ballerinas who come to visit, I found very little in my digital files.

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So, with my favourite travel accessory, the purple Olympus Pen camera, I ventured outdoors into the cold morning fog of Melbourne winter. The only colour in my garden at present is Purple. An Australian native plant, hardenbergia  flowers in winter for around a month and can often be found growing wild in the bush, a startling thunderbolt of colour amongst the grey green of the eucalyptus.

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Labuan Bajo, Flores. Lipstick Sunset

It is odd how songs just pop into your head sometimes and then become permanently associated with a place.

Each evening, at around 5.30 PM, I start humming the tune ” Lipstick Sunset” by John Hiatt.

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It’s a sad country song about leaving ( aren’t they all !) and as I fondly gaze at the gorgeous light show this evening, I feel sad to be leaving Labuan Bajo, her stunning sunsets and entrancing harbour, and her smiling but shy people with magic eyes.

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There is a lively energy here in Flores. The locals belong to a distinctly different ethnic group, being much closer to Timor, and the sense of ‘Adat’ can be felt.  The population at Labuan Bajo are either Catholic or Muslim, and there’s a small but growing Italian community in the “Little Italy” restaurant belt along the  main street.  The tourist industry centres around diving, with competing companies offering trips to the numerous islands of the Komodo archipelago as well as trekking opportunities to see the dragons on Rinca island. Komodo National park is a Unesco World heritage site and offers dramatic scenery for those who venture away from the main port. See my last post.

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I probably won’t return , and if I did, I am sure it will have become a very different place.  But, back to that haunting country song,

‘There’s a lipstick sunset
Smeared across the August sky
There’s a bitter sweet perfume
Hanging in the fields
The creek is running high

And I left my lover waiting
In the dawn somewhere to wonder why
By the end of the day
All her sweet dreams would fade
To a lipstick sunset  “

John Hiatt 1987

To my brother Michael, who sings and plays this song better than anyone.

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Kanawa Island, Labuan Bajo, Flores

How do you describe the colours and patterns of tropical fish?

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I had one day of glorious snorkeling experience in ideal conditions on Kanawa Island yesterday. Returning to the shady tree on the beach for a brief siesta in between forays, I attempted to explain to Madame H the colours below the water in this little stretch of paradise in the Komodo archipelago.

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But let me back track a bit.  Madame H does not really enjoy water activities and it was enough to get her onto the funky wooden boat that took us out from the harbour at Labuan Bajo. The sea was deep blue and calm. We pass a few magical pirate vessels in the harbour and later a group of islands, arriving at Kanawa after an hour or so.  Madame H found a shady tree, a log of wood and stretched out her sarong, determined to finish the book about the whingeing widow.

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Mr Tranquillo and I donned our masks and snorkels, and headed off  into the  crystal aqua waters off the beach. The coral is protected at Kanawa and provides immediate rewards for those who venture in.  Schools of tiny blue and purple fish swarm over a small hill of coral, Angel fish glide by, a giant clam closes its blue and purple lips, Nimos play shyly as Mr T tries to coax them out from hiding.  A pale pink fish with green stripes decides that I am the funniest thing he has ever seen: refusing to move, he continues to stare into mask.  Black fish with white spotted tails, orange ones with beige/black designer stripes glide by in pairs, like Japanese origami.  Schools of baby blue float about like confetti,  a lone barracouta glides by, all pointy nosed and silvery.

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I try to explain all this to the Madame reader. The words fail. I think about iridescence, or translucency. Purple and blue and orange. No, these colours are not right.

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You just have to be there, under the sea in a far away place, with the heavenly fish off Labuan Bajo.

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Just Call Me Allan

A quick peruse of  a recent Aljazeera press release reveals a most interesting article. Non Muslims in Malaysia are not allowed to use the word Allah! It’s a blanket ban, it seems, which the Catholic church has challenged in the high court of Malaysia, and lost.

Thoughts of Allah are often on my mind, as I settle back on my stunning verandah, perched high above the hypnotic harbour of Labuan Bajo, on the island of Flores, Indonesia.  Allah makes his presence felt here, via the nearby mosque,  in a loud and most annoying way at 5.00 AM, then more pleasantly at 3.00 PM and then again, with a long, mystical call at 5PM, ( this one I quite enjoy), which symbolises a “Call to Drinks” for me.

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Flores is a Catholic island  sitting in vast islamic Sea , except for Bali which is Hindu, but Allah has a small foothold here in Labuan Bajo. particularly around the harbour and fishing port.

 IMG_1876Mr Tranquillo, a patient and generally tolerant man, talks often about wire cutters at 5 Am or whenever he passes a hardware. He fancies the idea of sneaking out in the dead of night and cutting the speaker wires of the nearby Mosque.  The volume of Allah at 5 AM, via his earthly agent, the recorded Iman, is extraordinary and it is not a coincidence that the shop next door to our nearest mosque specialises in loudspeakers and stereo equipment.

Mr T suggests, in response to the ban of the use of Allah’s name by Non Muslims, that we just call him Allan.

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Entrances and Gateways.

Tang dynasty shrines, temples and houses draw you in, inviting you to explore further. Entrances lead you to the numerous courtyards within, giving real meaning to the word ‘amazing.’  Most entrances lead you ahead, others take you sideways.

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Masters of Feng Shui, the Tang dynasty ( 618- 907 AD) was the Golden Age of Chinese culture. Tang dynasty courtyard design is now quite fashionable  and is copied in boutique hotels in Chengdu.

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Many large houses remain- they are sympathetically renovated of course – from this era, and the best examples can be found in the ancient city of Langzhong  in the north of Szechuan province, as well as at the beautiful shrine to Dufo, the famous Tang dynasty poet, in Chengdu.

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Follow me through a few entrances, gateways and courtyards. Smell the oil in the wood.  Sit an Imperial exam in the oldest remaining examination hall. Sip tea or dine in the courtyards within. The ancient houses of Langzhong are open to the public and some are now hotels.

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This post is a response to Ed’s photo challenge this week, Entrances and Gateways, on Sunday Stills

 

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