The Baker and the Water Mills, Shaftesbury

One of the nice parts about travelling is catching up with old friends along the way.  Even though many years separate visits, our countries being a day away by air, conversation resumes from where we left off, as if the intervening years are a mere second in time. This was certainly the case when we stayed with our old friend Paul Merry and his partner, who live in a small village near Shaftesbury, Dorset. It was a pleasure to find them unchanged and well, but also especially wonderful that he had done a large bread bake the day before and had a few spare loaves. At last, some good bread, though good is hardly an apt word for his long fermented sourdough made from stoneground organic flour. Paul Merry is the doyen of artisan bread making in these parts.

Which one?

I don’t need to preach to you, dear reader, about the sad and sorry state of modern commercial bread, that awful product so nutritionally empty and bland, that chemicals need to be added to make it edible. You can either eat it or you can’t. I can’t. It makes me ill. So during my travels, I mostly go without bread, with only an occasional and regrettable lapse. Munching into Paul’s sourdough cob was a moment of ecstasy. That first bite reminded me how nourishing and deeply satisfying good bread can be.

Paul at home with his sourdough cob

Paul is a master baker who runs bread making classes from his bakery, Panary, located inside an old working water-mill near Shaftesbury, Dorset. His classes have been operating from this site for more than 30 years. He also bakes a commercial batch weekly. Before moving to Britain, Paul built and then ran the famous St Andrews bakery on the outskirts of Melbourne, Australia. That lovely mud brick building with its antique wood fired oven was where Paul mastered his baking skills. His bread nourished our souls throughout the 1980s. His bread is even better today.

A familiar sight. Paul in baker’s uniform, attending to his craft.

Our first sourdough loaf lasted well and was still fresh and delicious after five days. Good wholesome bread, slow bread, made with nothing else but the best organic flour, water, salt, and plenty of time, Paul’s loaves are made with exceptional skill as well as passion for the craft.

Grinding stones at Cann Mills

The photos below show scenes taken around Cann Mills. Panary is located within the mill. The water-mill is still functioning and runs some days, along with other milling methods. Paul’s classes deal with a variety of techniques and many professional bakers hire Paul as a consultant. If you live nearby or are travelling in that beautiful country, not far from the Cotswolds, inquire about Paul’s one day classes. You can choose from topics including the basic beginners, British, flatbreads, French, Italian, Nordic Germanic, Patisserie/Viennoiserie, sourdough, and festive breads.( see full details here. )  Or if you love breadmaking and can’t make it across the globe to attend his classes, take a look at his blog. There’s plenty to learn. https://www.panary.co.uk/panary-blog/

Cann Mills, near Shaftesbury
Inside a working flour mill.
It all starts with great flour. Paul uses this one to add to his starter or levain.
Fresh flour, the staff of life.
Paul Merry at work.
Bread making classes at Panary

Panary at Cann Mills
Cann
Shaftesbury
Dorset
SP7 0BL

Panary’s  location and course information. https://www.panary.co.uk/about/cann-mills/

Shiny Moments

I’m heading back to Hong Kong momentarily for a look at a few window displays. I’m always a sucker for cooks who enjoy their trade. The header photo shows a noodle and dumpling chef working in the window of a small cafe. He was pleased that I wanted to make him my shining star, while simultaneously the proprietor was attempting to shoo me away.

The photos below, in contrast, show the ugly side of big business, the Ooh Shiny moments that attract Hong Kong shoppers to big shopping malls.

Oh so sad, what would Van Gogh think of this? Louis Vuitton handbags, in Van Gogh fabric, embossed with bold ‘Van Gogh’ letters. You pay a lot for bad taste.
Gucci store. Why are these people queueing? But then, why do people queue for new iPhones? The world of commerce is insane.
Gucci handbag, black and shiny, embossed with the word REAL. Really?
Get yourself a good suit, boy. Hong Kong tailor shop. Oh so British.

London. Take a Walk on the South Side.

Last week’s visit to London forced me to revise my negative preconceptions about that city. Since my first visit in 1985, I’ve avoided London, only passing through for a night or two on the way to somewhere else.

Westminster and Big Ben. London.

And so during a recent long walk along in Southwark, I experienced a travel epiphany, a moment of sheer delight in the surrounding environment. Walking along the south bank of the Thames, from Westminster Bridge to the Tate Modern, familiar landmarks, symbols of power and Britishness came into relief: Big Ben, Westminster, St Paul’s and London Bridge  rose up into the dreary slated sky, a theme park view of London’s icons seen from a safe distance, or perhaps like an old hand coloured etching from times past.

Bridges of London, from Southwark

We descended the steps from the bridge to the river and walked beyond the amusements of South Bank, busy with tourists eager to experience the theatrical world of dungeons, petty thieves and London’s colourful past. Further along, passed McDonald’s, fish and chipperies and the gigantic ferris wheel, the promenade turns into a series of lanes and dark underground passes, bridge tunnels, old churches, remnants of mediaeval lanes, parks, gothic churches interspersed with new modern housing developments.

Bridges of London

The walk has evolved over the last 30 years as this southern bank has become revitalised and gentrified. Once home to London’s poor, prostitutes and thieves, it retains some of that appealing grunge.

London Buskers under bridges.

Further along looms the striking building dedicated to Modern Art, the Tate Modern. A monolithic brick structure, Mussolini- esque and unadorned, the Tate Modern was once an electric company. Now beautifully restored, the building is a fitting space for the art it houses.

Tate Modern. Bad pic.
Dali’s Lobster Telephone 1936. For Chris Warner.
Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman’. The other one is housed at NGV, Melbourne. For Oliver Morgan.

After a few hours in the Tate, the nearby Borough market revealed its cosmopolitan culinary charms. Very busy on a full market day, the market is full of youthful vitality. French cheeses and saucissons, moules mariniere, calamari fritti, Malaysian goat curry, dishes from regional India, Seafood Paella and borek, and the very British pork pie shop, compete for the lunchtime pound. A world of food temptation and well worth a visit.

 

At the start of this journey, the tide of the Thames was out. By the time we left, it was lapping forcefully at the sides of the banks. As we headed back to the North, I felt pleased about the day. But, like the tide, the jury is out. I think my view of London will always fluctuate. It will depend on the day, the company and the walk taken.

Low tide on the Thames
Low tide on the Thames. Muddy banks full of old terracotta shards.

Good songs for the journey.

Werewolves of London. Warren Zevon

I’m in London Still The Waifs

London Calling. The Clash

 

Hong Kong at Ground Level.

Most images of Hong Kong feature walls of skyscrapers marching up the hills from the shoreline. Meanwhile at ground level, Hong Kong is delightfully old-fashioned and quaint. During our recent visit, we took to the trams to get from Sheung Wan to Central before continuing on foot up staircases and escalators,stumbling across little back lanes, tea shops and temples along the way. The trams saved the day and our legs. All double deckered, narrow, and some quite ancient, they are one of the most environmentally friendly ways of travelling about, all for HK$2.30/AU.37 cents a ticket, an amazing bargain. You enter the tram from the rear and exit at the front, whilst depositing your coins in a little box near the driver. Some were covered in words and advertising, others were left plain and painted dark green. 

Top Thai Restaurants in Chiang Mai

Good Thai, bad Thai, Australian suburbs all have at least one local Thai restaurant. Most Australians are familiar with the more common dishes on a Thai menu. We assume that when we travel to Thailand, the food will automatically be much better, more authentic and spicy. This is not always the case. You can read Trip Advisor or similar sites for clues. In Thailand, these recommendations are often written by people staying in 5 star Western hotels who are happy to pay 5 star prices for food, or backpackers who hang around cafes and juice bars who are more interested in the ‘chill’ factor than taste. During my last trip to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand, I found another clue to bad Thai food in restaurants- simply look at the clientele. If a place is full of tourists of any age, you will most likely eat bland, over priced, ordinary food masquerading as Thai. There are exceptions of course, but choosing a restaurant on the basis of a sea of Western diners will usually lead to disappointment. Thai food will be better in your local suburban Thai at home. Watch where the Thais eat. They know where the food is good so just follow their lead.

Here are two of my favourites. They both happen to be vegetarian. The first, Ming Kwan Vegetarian restaurant, is one is frequented by locals from early morning until they finish (around 5 pm). Some brave tourists like ourselves love this place. Little English is spoken. You just point to the things that look good, then ask for a plate of rice, which happens to be wholesome red rice. The cost per plate is between 20 and 30 Thai Bhat ( AU$1.14 or less). The water is free. Favourite dish: the iconic Khao Soi soup, made with a curry sauce and coconut milk base, with some added textured soy meat, a handful of yellow egg noodles and topped with deep-fried crispy egg noodles, pickled mustard greens, shallots, coriander, a squeeze of lime and some ground chillies fried in oil.

A bowl of Khao Soi at Ming Kwan, Chiang Mai
One. Start with the soup
Two. Then add the toppings

My second favourite is Taste from Heaven. This place is frequented by tourists, expats and some locals. ( thus breaking the rule I espoused above). Nan has now opened two more branches in the Moon Muang area but I’ve only eaten at her original branch. The serves here are generous. The menu is in English. Beer, Wine and WiFi  are available as well as things like Vegan brownies, all being tourists draw cards. The food is sensational and medium priced. Most dishes are around 70 – 90 Bhat per plate, (AU $3 or so), and choosing is agony. I want it all. Return visits are a necessity. Favourite dish: Tempura battered morning glory vine with cashews, tofu and peanut sauce and the charred eggplant with chilled tofu salad. The sate of mixed mushrooms with peanut sauce is hard to pass by also. Hungry now?

Ming Kwan Vegetarian Restaurant. 98 Rachadamnoen Rd Soi 4, Tambon Si Phum, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand

Taste from Heaven. 34/1 Ratmakka road (opposite soi 1) Prasing Muang Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand

Next post. Old Hong Kong.

Of Songthaews and Temples

This post is ridiculously long, rambling and raw, and so, dear reader, you are excused if you choose to jump down to the nice temple photos at the end of the post.

Another day, another songthaew.

Despite all the planning, some days just go awry when travelling in a foreign land, and more so when you’ve been too lazy to learn the language, other than good morning and thank you, two courtesies that are obligatory to learn in any country you might visit. I have never got my head around the Thai language: I promised myself to learn more this year. Maybe it’s the tropical heat dulling my brain or the insanely difficult Thai script, a syllabic alphabet based on the Brahmi script. Here’s a basic sample below, which looks like one of those children’s activities, ‘spot the difference’. But note, this is the easy part. You get to add extra squiggly marks to add vowel sounds to these letters and after that come the tones. I give up.

Getting back to my very bad day. Things started well. We hailed a songthaew – a Hilux van converted into a bus with two side seats in the back for passengers. Called rot si daeng or red car in Chiang Mai, we paid our 50 bhat each and headed over to my favourite market, the monster and largely untouristed Worawat. I love getting about in Songtheows. The semi open sides and open back door give you enough cheap thrills en route, welcome fresh breezes, as well as more views of the ancient walls and moat which enclose this ancient city. Songthaews travel slowly. The traffic in Chiang Mai is orderly and the drivers are polite, both on the road and to their customers. This is where a courteous thank you, Kob kun krub” or “Kob kun ka“( ขอขอบคุณ for those of you who read Thai) is all important, which is always reciprocated, often with a wai.

Philosophy found in Buddhist temples.

The day was progressing as planned. We spent a few hours meandering around that cavernous market until lunch called. Songthaews get busy at lunchtime and many drivers aren’t so keen to leave the market precinct when they can pick up a load of passengers at a time and not two insane tourists who want to go across town. After some time negotiating with the perennially polite drivers, we arrived at our favourite temple, Wat Suan Dok. Our main mission was to eat at the renowned slow food restaurant behind the temple, Pun Pun Vegetarian Restaurant. A sign earlier in the week promised a re-opening on August 4th and today was that auspicious day. With heightened anticipation and growing hunger, we made our way past all the lovely white wats to Pun Pun, to be greeted by this sign:

Noooo!
The next shot was taken by my camera inadvertently after reading the sign above. It conveys my feelings of frustration and disappointment perfectly.

My favourite Chiang Mai restaurant closed again? Oh well, there would be plenty more fine restaurants a red truck ride away. Re-entering the busy suburban Suthep road in search of another Songthaew, the sun and heat now unbearable, we noticed something very odd. The street was full of policemen and army personnel who were clearing the road of bikes, traffic and old non-Thai speaking pedestrians. We were shooed off the pavements. Something momentous was about to happen. From the long explanation given to us in Thai by one of those heavily uniformed young men, we caught one word in English- King! The king is revered in Thailand, though this new young king hasn’t yet earned the status of his father. We walked some more and waited for the royal cavalcade. Some of the banked up traffic was let through, and then the roads were closed and cleared again. Was the king in the nearby hospital? Would he appear in a black tinted car, making the wait a total waste of time? Did we just imagine we heard them say King? Our hunger and impatience increasing, we decided to walk four kilometres to our next dining option.

I’m a songthaew cowboy. Mr T rides again.

After a late afternoon sleep and a dose of Netflix, we decided on a pizza dinner, something I need to eat from time to time. We called up a little tuk- tuk and headed into the unlit back lanes of the Moon Muang district. The pizza place was packed. After a wait of 10 minutes or so, the kind waitress found us a small, uncomfortable spot on top of some other would be diners, the loud techno music growing increasingly annoying. We were then informed that the wait for our pizza would be at least one hour. We left. After more walking, I lost my appetite. Some days just go like this.

Tuk Tuks, the other means of transport, useful when needing to find places in little lanes off lanes.

I include these photos of Wat Suan Dok as a reminder that life on the road really is an adventure and that I tend to dwell on food a little too much for my own good.

Wat Suan Dok, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Wat Suan Dok, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Wat Suan Dok

Wats of Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai. Dawn’s aura breaks through the rain laden night clouds, illuminating golden finials along the sky line. Curlicues in the shape of birds or nagas reach into the sky in every direction, reminding me that I have not yet visited every Wat in Chiang Mai’s old walled city. There will always be more to surprise me.

Golden finials on Wats, this one on the shape of a Naga.
Decoration is elabourate, sometimes kitsch.
New Wats or temples are often built in the grounds of an ancient Chedi or Stupa.

Wat Suan Dok, with its hypnotic white temples, outside the old walls.

For The Daily Post’s photographic challenge, Textures.

Sunday Walking Street Market, Chiang Mai

A visit to Chiang Mai, Thailand, never seems complete without attending the famous Sunday Walking Street Market. The market takes over four streets in the centre of the old city, beginning at the Tha Pae Gate at one end and running down the one kilometer length of Ratchadamnoen Road and spilling into nearby side streets. The area is closed to traffic from 4 pm until midnight. The market is popular with locals and tourists and is packed, especially round dinner time.

Fresh fruit shakes ready to be blended. 30 Bhat.

On one side, just after sunset, a lone singer appears dressed in a policeman’s uniform. This year he is a serious looking young man: he sings a mournful ballad in Thai. In previous years, that same spot was occupied by an older policeman with an Elvis slick back hairstyle and dark sunglasses, who only sang Elvis Presley songs. Sometimes his 8-year-old daughter performed alongside him. Bring back the Elvis cop. But are they really policemen? I’ll never know. I’m not sure who to ask in this crowded, stall filled corner.

Sunday walking market, Chiang Mai, ’17

Nearby stands the Thai musical instrument stall. Late at night, a troupe of elderly musicians will sit gracefully on a tiny platform and play traditional Lan Na music that is so haunting, it usually makes me cry. The instruments look and sound foreign to the untrained ear.

Ancient Thai instruments.

Midst this crowd, a troupe of blind singers suddenly appears. They move slowly holding a lamp: the crowds step aside as they make their way courageously through the throng, singing melodic Thai tunes in harmony.

Stalls with paper lanterns, stalls with far too much colour, handmade items are a feature of this market. The kitsch nestles side by side with the tasteful. Soft leather wallets and hand-made shoes, artistic etched calico shopping bags, carved psychedelic soaps and interesting fish patterned ceramics, hand printed t-shirts and indigo dyed clothing, home-made cakes, biscuits and sweets, and an abundance of street food stalls, the latter nestled into the front courtyards of temples, it’s a big night out for Thai families. Junk food abounds: there are deep-fried insects and grilled air- dried squid, Thai sausages and pad thai, mango sticky rice, and kôw soy, sweet tropical fruit drinks and some based on tinned Carnation milk. Dotted throughout are small areas offering massage for foot and leg or shoulder and neck. After walking slowly and hesitantly for two or three kilometers in a crowd, you may need one.

The annual Chiang Mai T-shirt purchase. One with a guitar please.

Feeling exhausted and slightly deranged, we wander back to our hotel near Wat Phra Singh and down a large bottle of Chang beer. The market’s sensory overload takes its toll but I wouldn’t miss it for Bhat.

In My Kitchen, August 2017

I’ve been on the road for a few weeks now, the start of a long journey, and can happily say that I don’t miss my kitchen at all. Yesterday Mr T commented on the length of his fingernails, believing that they grow faster in the tropics. Mine are also long and white, but I suspect they’re flourishing due to the absence of work: my fingers and hands no longer plant, prune, dig, sow, pick, cut, peel, chop, grate, gather, sort, cook, stir, pour, knead, shape, or roll. My cooking and gardening hands are on holiday. Some one else is in the kitchen. This month’s post takes a look inside some Balinese kitchens and the food we have enjoyed along the way.

The staff at Tirta Sari, Pemuteran, are multi skilled. One minute a waitress, next a basket maker. These little banana leaf baskets are used for sauce containers and rice.

One of my favourite kitchens is Tirta Sari Bungalows, in Pemuteran, situated in the far north-west of Bali. I’ve stayed here before and I’m bound to return, just to relax and eat well. The food is traditional, Balinese, well priced and some of the best I’ve eaten in this tropical paradise. Each dish is beautifully presented on wooden plates, covered with banana leaves cut to size. The freshly made sauces, such as Sambal Matah, are served in small hand-made banana leaf baskets. The plates are embellished with flowers and dried ceremonial palm leaves and basket lids. These artistic flourishes connect the traveller to the role played by flowers in Balinese ritual and ceremony. Dining here comes with heightened sense of anticipation: guests are made to feel special.

Staff peeling Bawang Merah and Bawang Putih ( shallots and garlic) for the evening’s fresh sambals. Do you know the legend of Bawang Merah and Bawang Putih?
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Preparing freshly caught Marlin for the grill. Tirta Sari, Pemuteran.

You can tell a good Balinese restaurant by the authenticity of its sauces. Pungent and spicy traditional sauces and sambals are served in more modest warungs, while western styled restaurants serve industrial ketchup, believing that the Western palate cannot handle spiciness.

Preparing the little banana leaf baskets for rice and sauce. Tirta Sari, Pemuteran. Bali

Balinese classic favourites include Nasi Goreng, Mie Goreng, Nasi Campur, Gado Gado, Urab, Pepes Ikan, and Sate. The best Gado Gado I tasted this year came from the kitchens of Lila Pantai. It disappeared before I snapped a photo. The Balinese version of this dish tends to be deconstructed and is often served with a little jug of peanut sauce on the side. A reliable source of Balinese recipes can be found in Janet DeNeefe’s Bali. The Food of My Island Home, a book that I refer to often when back in my own kitchen.

Deconstructed Gado- Gado. The new shop right on the sea near the Banjar at the end of Jalan Kesuma Sari.Sanur, Ubud.
Classic Nasi Goreng with grilled tempe sate sticks on side. Tasty version from Savannah Moon, Jalan Kajeng, Ubud.

I am often amazed by the simplicity of Balinese kitchens. Many a meal is served from a mobile kitchen on the back of a motorbike, or from little yellow and green painted stalls, such as the popular Bakso stands, now seen only in the countryside.

Classic sate with sides for a son-in-law.

Many working Balinese grab some nasi campur for breakfast. Nasi campur is a serve of rice, often in the shape of a cone, surrounded by little portions of other dishes, perhaps some chicken, or tofu, some soupy, bland vegetable curry, a boiled egg or perhaps a corn fritter, all topped with a sprinkling of roasted peanuts and a serve of home-made sambal. Heavenly food. I love the vegetarian version of this dish. In the pasar, or fresh market, this meal is packed up for a traveller for around $1 or so, depending on how many sides you add.

Stall holder makes Nasi Campur. Pasar Sindhu, near Jalan  Pantai Sindhu, Sanur, Bali
Nasi Goreng Seafood.

Every now and then, a traveller needs to lash out and eat Western food. In the past, eating Western cuisine in a Western looking place translated to high prices, bland food, poor quality and slow service. Things have improved, though it’s still much safer to eat in Balinese warungs and restaurants. Modern western cooking relies more on refrigeration, freezing and the pre-preparation of soups, sauces and various components. These ideas are quite foreign to Balinese chefs who prefer to make everything to order. The fish will be freshly caught, or purchased that morning from the Pasar Ikan at Jimbaran: the vegetables will not be pre-chopped, the stocks will be made on the spot. Unless a Western restaurant has an impeccable reputation for cooking and serving foreign food, they are best avoided. The Three Monkeys restaurant in Ubud is one place that gets it right. Mr T ordered a remarkable Italian/Balinese/Melbourne fusion dish- Saffron Tagliatelle with prawns, lemon, chilli and sambal matah. I found my fork sneaking over to his plate for a twirl or two. The tagliatelle was house made, the service was prompt, the level of spice just right. I had snapper and prawn spring rolls which were also sensational.

Heavenly fusion food at Three Monkeys, Ubud.
A new take on Spring rolls. Prawn and Snapper. The Three Monkeys, Ubud. 59K IDR

Another very reliable western style restaurant in Sanur is Massimo’s Ristorante. This year, guests may watch the girls making fresh pasta down the back of the shop. Massimo has also introduced fresh buffalo mozzarella and burrata to the menu, which is now made on the island.

Making green pasta, Massimo’s, Sanur, Bali
Vanilla Stick Lady in The Pasar Sindhu Market.

Many thanks to Sherry for hosting this monthly series. My kitchen posts will be on tour for four months and one of these days, I might get my hands dirty again.

A collection of well used Ulegs outside Janet de Neefe’s cooking school, Honeymoon Guesthouse, Ubud.

Next post. Return to Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Indigo House, Ubud. Textile Lover’s Paradise

Travelling from south Bali to Ubud, some routes pass through the juncture of the Monkey Forest and its famous shopping strip, Monkey Forest Road. If you arrive by car in that stretch of urban Ubud in the afternoon, you will join a notorious traffic jam that threatens to choke that town to death. The street travels one way, yet the traffic often grinds to a standstill. Even the pedestrians, all tourists, appear to be walking in slow motion, the footpaths on both sides congested with shoppers, walkers, diners and those just trying to get from A to B. Many are looking for that elusive gift among the colourful tourist jumble of goods on display in these tiny shop windows. Others, like me, are wondering why they have returned to Ubud at all. And then, while stuck in that motionless car, trying to curb my impatience, I spotted it, the shop of my dreams, a store devoted to hand dyed indigo, Ikat, and Batik. Like a pharos, its blue and white window display would lure me back.

Wall displays of Indigo cloth, Indigo House, Ubud
Indigo House, Ubud, Bali
Homewares in Indigo
Store display, Indigo House, Ubud

In order to take these photos, which are prohibited, I met with the owner, Kadek Wira. The shop has been open for three years now and things were slow at first. Kadek explained that the business provides valuable work for women, especially those who need part-time work or home based work, due to family commitments. The business also helps revive the traditional Balinese arts of weaving, dying, Ikat and batik- fine arts that are becoming lost as cheap, manufactured versions take over. In a sea of mass-produced baubles and trinkets, it’s wonderful to find someone ready to invest in and promote Balinese artisanal skills.

More indigo heaven
All the photos here were taken in the distance. Kadek asked that I didn’t take any close up photographs to protect the design process.

If you visit just one shop in Monkey Forest Road, let it be this one. One lovely indigo item will last you a lifetime, growing more beautiful with age. The antithesis of the throw away society, these textiles can be treasured now, then passed down for generations to come.

For lovers of textiles and indigo, including Maxine, Rachael, Sandra, Diane, and Jan Alice, and other secret admirers.

IKATBATIK, art  for nature. Jl Monkey Forest. Ubud, 80571, Bali, Indonesia. phone+62 361 975 622. www.ikatbatik.com