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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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

In My Kitchen – February 7, 2014, an Anniversary Story.

In My Kitchen, I dream, plan, write, contemplate and meditate as well as chop, weigh, cook, time, taste and decorate. Friends and family come and go, drink wine, tea or coffee, laugh and gossip. Little ones open the pantry door to inspect the contents. Older ones with longer legs climb up on chairs to lift the lids of secret tins at higher levels. One of our many computers resides in the kitchen; it is a source of vital information during the summer months. We constantly monitor the weather, temperature, humidity and wind speed as well as checking the CFA site ( Country Fire authority).  We listen to ABC radio, our national broadcaster and independent icon, which relays up to date reports of fire and emergency warnings. We are vigilant and at times very uneasy. We self evacuate often. It hasn’t rained for weeks. The land is bleached and too dry. Beauty comes at a price.

As February 7 approaches, the 5th anniversary of the Black Saturday bushfire in Victoria, my mind wanders back to my beautiful pre- fire kitchen and the things that were there and the life we enjoyed in it. To be truthful, I think about my old kitchen quite often: it doesn’t need an anniversary to take me back. I can see the long jarrah wood benches, the green and cream Mexican tiles, the moon rising in the East window, the overloaded antique Australian pine dresser, the kookaburra paintings on the walls. I admire the apple green Fowler ware bowls on the shelves and the Italian plates collected from trips to Italy. There is a marble island bench for pastry and breads and a walk in pantry. In the centre of this large room stands a huge antique farmhouse table of kauri pine with black wood turned legs, antique kangaroo chairs, spindle backed chairs still retaining their original paint, and a quaint kangaroo high chair painted red. There is music and dancing, Nanna’s disco, laughter, cooking and food. This beautiful kitchen, as well as the house itself, was destroyed by the bushfire in 2009.

As the anniversary draws near, I reflect on two important perceptions:

  • the overwhelming generosity of Australian people during times of national disaster, and in this case, the Black Saturday bushfire of 2009, and
  • The ephemeral nature of material objects and the importance of non attachment.

I look around my current kitchen and am reminded of the generosity of the Australian people who donated goods, some new, some second-hand, money, and labour to those who lost everything in that massive fire storm.  In the first year following the fire, a year of temporary accommodation in converted sheds and house minding, we would visit Bushfire Relief and Support centres, to acquire the basics to begin life again. At first our needs were simple- underwear, second-hand clothing, towels and sheets, toiletries.  With each week, new needs arose- tools, spades, wheelbarrows, buckets to assist in the clean up of our blocks.  Then came the non perishable food items such as canned foods and pasta, the pots and pans, cutlery, crockery and so on. Some of these support centres were small and very personal. One centre in particular, the Hurstbridge support centre, run by the energetic Helen Legg and her team of tireless volunteers, became a special club- a place to chat with others, to share a laugh, a coffee, a weekly breakfast. If anything fabulous was donated to that centre, Helen held a raffle. Sometimes odd donations would arrive, for example a crate load of incontinence pads. Helen and co liked to  parade around wearing these napkins as hats.

Another bushfire relief centre was the size of a warehouse. It was a big day out going to Clayton, as it took three hours to view the massive aisles of donations. Most of the items, except food and toilet rolls, (!) were second-hand. It was a treasure trove. In terms of the kitchen, I found a classic old Kenwood mixer, some wonderful little entrée plates once used in first class on Qantas flights, and numerous pots and pans. There were second-hand towels, still with plenty of life left in them, sheets, and toys.  Lost amongst the boxes, I found a little gift wrapped parcel, containing a hand towel, some soap and some pegs. Attached was a neat hand written note. “I hope this will come in handy. Best wishes”. This was typical of all those who donated. It was given so freely and anonymously. Big and small, all was appreciated. I received a wonderful  white platter from a friend of the mother of my son-in-law. I use it all the time. A friend of my niece passed on a colourful purple bowl, made by Leon Saper of St Andrews market, now deceased, knowing that I would have owned some ( she was right).  My niece sent a new copy of The Cooks Companion, by Stephanie Alexander, but made sure it was the original orange one! it is  inscribed, ” Zia, Spring will come again. Louise”. Family members were exceedingly generous with money and donations. The Red Cross, the Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul, the Country Women’s Association, The RSCPA – on and on it goes.  People who remark on our Resilience may not know that we owe this to the Australian people.

The second perception, the ephemeral nature of objects and non attachment, was dramatically reinforced during that life changing event. Let’s visit my Kitchen of five years ago.  To be precise, this visit occurs from February 11th as we were prevented from returning to our destroyed homes for some days as the police and army searched for the dead- although some photographers made it their business to jump the control lines and to this day I still feel ambivalent about this.  Some photographers saw beauty in the charred remains of the bush.  We only saw terror. A small digression!

We enter the smashed and gnarled house: nothing appears to have survived. We discover a small terracotta plaque hanging on the crumbling wall above the wine cellar.  It is Balinese and depicts a scene from the Ramayana. I attempt to lift it from the wall. It disintegrates into invisible dust. It doesn’t crack, crumble or break- it simply vanishes. It survived on that wall for three or so days until a human hand touched it.

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My cook books had a dedicated bookcase – they are transformed into a snow white blanket. The ashen pages can still be discerned.  The following day, a strong wind removes any evidence of their existence.

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Green depression glass is welded and re -sculpted by fire. Antique Chinese Buddhas lose their heads and ears. A dishwasher sags, there are still items left inside.  The Ilve stove, still young, is a burnt out shell. Plates are smashed and cutlery blackened.  A sink lands on the ground. Pottery enjoys its time in the new kiln, but smashes under the weight of falling walls.

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The photos of My Old Kitchen below are aired today – I haven’t looked at them for a long time. Value what you have but don’t be attached to objects. We have a lend of them for a while, then they vanish as we all must.

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I would like to thank all the Australians who donate during times of disaster. This fundamental goodwill and generosity makes me proud to be Australian. And lastly, thanks to Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, the amazing host of this monthly expose of In My Kitchen. Please visit her site to see other inspiring February kitchens.

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