I love to wake up on Saturday mornings to find Ailsa’s weekly travel theme from Where’s My Backpack waiting in my inbox. Today it’s doorways, so let’s go to Fort Cochin in Kerala, India, for 50 shades of Blue.
Growing up in Australia, I was only vaguely aware of Australia Day: it merged, like any other hot summer’s day, into the long school holidays. There was no flag waving back then, no commercial marketing of Aussie Kitsch, no singing of anthems or fireworks. Since 1994, when the public holiday consistently marked the day, January 26, things have changed. It is only in very recent times that patriotic symbols such as flags, stubby holders, shirts and thongs have been mass produced and marketed for the day. Along with this, supermarkets promote stereotypical Australian cuisine such as lamingtons, sausages and prawns for the BBQ, pavlova, sausage rolls and beer drinking.
There are some moving and remarkable things about Australia Day, and it doesn’t have much to do with senseless patriotism or fun in the sun. This year’s chosen and honoured Australians of the Year are an inspiring lot and hearing their stories brings a tear to the eye and reinforces my love of country which, sadly, has been waning lately.
Applause and admiration go to these four beautiful and inspirational Australians: Juliette Wright, who builds bridges between the haves and the have nots, was honoured with the Local Hero’s award, the Young Australian award went to a profoundly deaf advocate of Auslan, (Australian Deaf Sign Language- a cause very dear to my heart) Drisana levitke- Gray, the Senior Australian of the year award to Jackie French, a prolific writer and advocate of the importance of reading to children, and Australian of the Year to Rosie Batty, who champions against domestic violence after the tragic loss of her son. I include these links as a reminder to myself as much as anyone else, that great Australians spend their time giving and caring about others more than themselves.
And on a much lighter note:
And a link to my brother’s inclusion on the theme:
I’ve indulged in a few wanton and delicious splurges lately. One involved a long lunch at a nearby restaurant. Mr Tranquillo and I, tired of picking, prepping and pickling produce, agreed it was time someone else cooked our lunch. We chose Mercer’s Restaurant in Eltham, not only because of it’s ‘hat’ awards over the years, but also because the menu looked like it might please my very fastidious palate. The degustation menu for two looked perfect, and at $90 each, a steal. The whole experience was delightful and exquisite: the setting, elegant with soft lighting, the staff discreet but well-informed, the food exceptional, cheffy but very good. No photos were taken. I was rather pleased to discover a vacuum in my camera’s memory card slot. It was a sign not to spoil a heavenly experience with the tedious, pedestrian business of the taking of photos. Enough said. Just go to Mercer’s when you need to be spoilt.
As an antidote to this splurge, and in keeping with my resolution of the New Year, I now return to my $1.00 per head feasts with this Rajma Masala recipe. The Indian ( Hindi) word for red kidney bean sounds more exotic than the English, the latter with allusions to tie-dyed hippydom. This is a classic Indian vegetarian curry. Break out the Bollywood and dance as you prepare your simple feast. Rajma Curry for 2 (or many as part of a larger banquet)
- 200 gr red kidney beans/rajma
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 medium to large tomatoes, chopped
- 3-4 garlic cloves + 1 inch ginger, peeled and chopped + 1 green chilli, crushed to a paste in a mortar and pestle ( or small blender)
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- ¼ to ½ tsp red chili powder
- ¼ tsp turmeric powder
- a pinch of asafoetida
- ¼ tsp to ½ tsp garam masala powder
- 2 cups of stock or water
- 2 to 3 tbsp cream
- Rinse and soak the beans in enough water overnight or for 8 hours. The next day, discard the water and rinse the beans again in fresh water and cook in a pressure cooker, or on the stove till soft and cooked.
- Heat oil in a large pot or wok. Add cumin seeds and let them crackle and brown a little, then add the onions and cook gently until soft and caramelised
- Add the ginger/garlic/chili paste. Stir and saute for 5-10 seconds on low heat.
- Add the chopped tomatoes. Saute for 2-3 minutes till soft.
- Add all the spice powders- turmeric powder, red chilli powder, coriander powder, asafoetida and garam masala powder and stir through until the oil separates from the masala.
- Add the drained beans to the mixture. stir through. You may decide not to add them all.
- Add 1+ 1/2 cups or stock, water or bean cooking liquid to the mixture and add salt to taste.
- Simmer uncovered for 10-12 minutes or more till the curry thickens slightly.
- Mash around a third of the bean mixture in a mortar and pestle and add back to the mixture to thicken the curry.
- When the curry has thickened, add the cream and stir through. Check seasoning.
- small cucumber, peeled , seeded, diced.
- 1 cup plain yoghurt
- small handful chopped coriander
- pinch salt
- 1/2 teaspoon each of cumin seeds and mustard seeds
- a little plain oil.
Mix the yoghurt and cucumber together, add the chopped coriander and a little salt. Heat the oil in a small frying pan, add the seeds till they pop and brown and add to the yoghurt mixture, Return mixture to fridge to cool further. Make this ahead of time.
Pre- industrial forms of industry continue in rural areas of Myanmar. Step back in time and watch these oxen tread the same path, day in day out, as they turn these ancient cogs to extract peanut oil from the nuts.
At this point, you may be feeling some pity for the poor oxen. No need. These oxen are very well fed and are rewarded for their work.
Notice the eye of the beast. He knows that his twenty minute shift is nearly up. He watches the build up of peanut butter, a waste product and one that he will shortly enjoy. A break and a rest, a peanut butter snack, and it’s back to work.
The photos below show the young men scraping away the peanut butter. The photo that is missing, but the one you can imagine, is the now still beast, his long tongue swinging and salivating in anticipation.
Below is the other shift worker, resting and waiting for his turn. Peanuts are a major crop grown in Myanmar and peanut oil, freshly pressed in this manner, would be a prized oil indeed.
Ubud, nestled in the lush hills of Bali, a two hour trip by car from the sea or Denpasar airport, is often referred to as the cultural and artistic heart of Bali. Ubud is pronounced ‘oobood’ as in the same way as the ‘oo’ sounds in ‘good’, but not the ‘oo’ in ‘mood. Despite its frenetic commercial centre, tourist restaurant precincts and overcrowded shopping strips, including a Starbucks outlet, traditional Bali is not far away. Just walk away from the tourist traps, jalan jalan into the outlying areas, or visit the temples (respectfully dressed), hike in the rice paddies and rain forest, or employ a driver to journey into the lush hills for a day trip. It is remarkable how resilient Balinese Hindu traditions are: they have survived years of foreign influx. I would suggest that some Balinese rituals have become more pronounced in the 35 years of my journeys around this remarkable island. The practice of Canang Sari is an example of this.
Ubud offers the photographer a visual feast on every corner away from the commercial hub. Leaving the food porn to others, I often spend each day photographing morning floral offerings, the Canang Sari of Ubud. The canang is a small palm-leaf basket used as a tray, consisting of two syllables ca (beautiful) and nang (purpose). Sari means essence. Balinese women in tiny alleyways and shops spend their spare time weaving these little baskets, not only for their own family offerings, but also to make a little spare cash. If the tourist business is slow, a little local trade on the side is important for the local economy, as well as providing a small supplement to these women who make very little.
Canang Sari are offered to give thanks to Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa in praise and thanks. They can be seen on Balinese temples (pura), on family or communal shrines, on the ground in front of shops, on pathways, and on the prows of boats (in Sanur).
Some tourists barely see these little trays, and if they do, they disregard them or step on them, not knowing much about the work that each one entails. A little delving reveals that these daily ephemeral tributes consist of the following elements:
Peporosan or the core material is made from betel leaf, lime, gambier, prestige, tobacco and betel nuts. The material of peporosan symbolizes the Trimurti, the three major Gods in Hinduism. Shiva symbolized by lime, Vishnu symbolized by betel nut, and Brahma symbolized by gambier. Canang sari are covered by ceper (a tray made from palm leaf) as a symbol of Ardha Candra. Raka-raka is topped with sampian urasari, which are in turn overlaid by flowers placed in a specific direction. Each direction symbolizes a Hindu God:
Then they become more personalised, and this is where the interest lies for tourists who wish to learn more about Balinese culture. Cigarettes, wrapped lollies, rice, food, incense sticks and all sorts of bits and bobs are added. As the morning opens up and the heat sets in, dogs and birds steal the rice, tourists unconsciously kick the offerings and by mid afternoon, they are swept up in a pile and burnt, as new baskets are prepared for the following day, and the cycle begins anew. Flower dealers trade at local markets early each morning, selling frangipani, hibiscus, marigold and other assorted leaves and flowers, as well as all the other ingredients required for making Canang Sari.
On each visit to Bali, my fascination with Canang Sari is renewed. Beautiful art lies at your feet each morning. What could be more enchanting? Courses are offered to visitors wishing to learn this traditional practice.
Hot balmy nights, evening white wines in a shady garden, a Balinese fish curry, these little pleasures are to be savoured, fleeting moments conjuring food memories of my other ‘spiritual’ home, Bali.
Indonesian food goes very well with Melbournian summers. Some dishes are simple and economical: others demand some effort, especially this fresh Balinese fish curry, with its long list of ingredients for the paste, involving a market trip to an Asian grocery to source some of the more unusual ingredients. A good home-made curry paste makes all the difference. It really is worth the effort.
I learnt this classic Balinese fish curry at Janet deNeefe’s Casa Luna cooking school, which is attached to the Honeymoon guest house in Ubud, Bali. The curry sauce is rich, fragrant and complex and tastes just like Bali on a plate.
The curry paste.
- 6 garlic cloves,
- 1 teaspoon of shrimp paste/belacan/terasi ( toast over a flame before adding)
- 3 large chilli, seeded. These chillies are not hot but give colour and depth of flavour.
- 1 tablespoon fresh turmeric ( substitute dried powder if unavailable)
- 2 teaspoons fresh ginger
- 3 candlenuts ( or use macadamia nuts )
- 1 teaspoon tamarind
- 1/4 teaspoon peppercorns. I prefer white.
- 2 stalks lemon grass, white section only. Save leaves and stems for adding to Asian stock.
- 3 shallots, roughly chopped.
- 1 large tomato
- 3 small hot chillies
- 2 tablespoons galangal
- 1.2 tablespoon kencur ( not available locally)
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 2 teaspoons palm sugar
- stalk of torch ginger (optional)
- pinch of nutmeg
Prepare the ingredients by roughly chopping larger items. Put everything into a large Uleg, mortar and pestle or food processor and grind to a smooth paste. I began mine in the uleg (an Indonesian mortar) but quickly switched to the processor. You may need to add a little oil to blend them in a processor.
- 400 grams of fresh mackerel in chunks ( 3 cm by 3 cm) ( or any firm fish that is suitable to curry) I used sea bass. NOTE. I would recommend 600-700 gr of chosen fish.
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil, NOT olive oil.
- 3 salam leaves ( not available fresh in Melbourne)
- 1 lemongrass, bruised and tied in a knot,
- 1 torch ginger shoot bruised ( hard to find in Melbourne)
- salt to taste
- 1/2 cup or more of coconut milk
- 3 kaffir lime leaves
- 1.12 cups water.
After making the curry paste, by mortar or processor, heat a little plain oil in a wok and add paste to the hot oil, along with lemon grass tied in a knot and the lime leaves. Also add the salam leaves and torch ginger if you happen to have them. Stir around. Next add the chunks of fish, stirring around until they change colour, for a minute or two.
Add 1 cup of water, simmer gently then add the coconut milk. I use more than the stated 1/2 cup . Just add and taste. 1- 1/2 cups is about right for me. Check seasoning and add salt to taste.
As I had more sauce and not so much fish, I added a handful of green prawns, unshelled. Cooking them with shells on adds to the depth of flavour, imparting a fragrant tropical bouillabaisse sensation.
Have the rice cooking while making the curry. Balinese tend to use fat rice: Australian medium grain rice is perfect with this dish. Serve the curry in a big bowl with chopped coriander and lime wedges if you are lucky enough to have some.
Mischievous, the travel theme chosen by Ailsa this week, brings to mind all things playful, destructive, artful, roguish and frolicsome. The graffiti lanes of Melbourne provide artistic examples of mischievous work. Melbourne City Council supports this work, particularly in the lanes, but not on grander edifices. Street art is now desirable in many inner suburbs. Some of the best art can be seen along the bike track parallel to the Upfield Railway line in Brunswick. Businesses, private home and apartment owners commission the best graffiti artists to decorate their plain walls.
A tour of the Melbourne Graffiti lanes wouldn’t be so much fun without the company and energy of a couple of mischievous boys.
A hot smoked trout is a lovely treasure to store in the fridge for summer days. It landed there before Christmas and I am rather pleased it wasn’t required for a Christmas smoked trout pate. Now I can enjoy its pink, smoky flesh slowly over a couple of meals.
This hot day salad is a relative of Salad Nicoise. The ingredients are randomly chosen from the garden such as potato, beans, tomato, cucumber, dill and parsley with hard-boiled eggs and pickled gherkins added. You can add whatever is on hand. Add half the smoked trout, flaked and de-boned to the salad, making sure that you reserve the head, bones and skin, along with the rest of the trout, for the next use. Dress liberally with a garlic and hot mustard vinaigrette.
My next day soup, using the remaining trout and its carcass, is Cullen Skink, that famous chowder style soup from the coastal town of Cullen in Scotland. On a cool summer’s day when the rain softly drizzles, a little chowder is quite restorative.
Ingredients, a list not measured!
- Head, bones and skin of smoked trout
- flaked flesh from the trout
- one onion
- cream ( optional)
- bay leaf
- 2 potatoes
- dill, parsley.
- Remove the bones, skin and head from the trout. Flake the fish, reserve. In a small pan, add the bones, head and skin, along with milk generously to cover and one bay leaf. Cook gently for five minutes or so, then cool.
- Cook the peeled potatoes, cut into chunks, in water until soft. Reserve water. Mash potatoes.
- Melt some butter in a heavy based pan and cook the chopped onion gently until golden. Using a mesh strainer, add all the strained milk from step one, to the onions. Press the solids in the strainer, to extract more flavour and add this. Discard solids. Add the mashed potato. Thin a little with potato cooking water.
- Add flaked trout, ground black pepper, chopped herbs and cream, tasting as you go, to obtain a good texture. It’s up to you how thin or rich your chowder becomes.
- Serve with good bread. An Irish soda bread would be perfect.
These two meals, using garden produce, costing the trout at $7.30, along with the cost of milk, cream, butter and some pantry bits, came to around $10.00. That is $2.50 per person per meal, for the salad and the soup, a little more than my $1.00 per meal goal. I have not factored in the cost of power, or the labour involved in growing our own vegetables.
On numerous visits to the Indonesian archipelago over the years, my taste buds and I have searched for the perfect Gado Gado. This classic Indonesian salad is constructed from various cooked vegetables and salad ingredients, then covered with peanut sauce. My research has led to one conclusion: they are all different. The term Gado Gado means mix- mix in Bahasa Indonesian and the dish is usually made with a mix of vegetables (such as potatoes, green beans, bean sprouts, spinach, lettuce, and cabbage), with tofu, tempeh and hard-boiled eggs, then topped with peanut sauce dressing, and tapioca krupuk on the side. The versions I have tried in Indonesia often include vegetable greens and no egg, some have wetter peanut sauces and some dry and dark sauces, resembling the Javanese pecel sauce. The salad components seem to be vanishing from the modern Indonesian Gado Gado, but were definitely a component throughout the 80s.
My garden version is based on current garden pickings. I think many Indonesian cooks use what’s on hand and aren’t too fussed with following a formula. A very successful version can be made with the following summer produce:
- Cos lettuce, chopped
- silver beet leaves, green only, steamed
- new yellow fleshed potatoes, cooked, sliced
- mini tomatoes, halved
- cucumber, sliced
To this, I have added,
The Peanut Sauce.
This is a wonderful cheat’s peanut sauce and I am indebted to Celia for this recipe. It is really tasty and cuts out a lot of work.
- 60g Jimmy’s Saté Sauce
- 50g smooth peanut butter
- 60g coconut milk (or to taste)
- ¼ teaspoon sesame oil
- 10g dark sweet soy (Kecap Manis)
- 15g lime juice (or tamarind if limes are scarce)
- 10g brown sugar (or any sugar)
Whisk all the ingredients together until combined and then taste and adjust as needed. I like to cook the sauce down a little to make a thicker sauce as I am not a fan of the ‘drenched’ version of Gado Gado. The sauce has deep notes of three spice powder and is hot and sweet and tastes pretty authentic!
I like to build this salad, starting with the lettuce ( Cos or Iceberg) then adding the steamed vegetable greens, followed by cooked potatoes, then green beans if available, then arrange the tomato and cucumber slices or chunks around the sides, interspersed with hard-boiled eggs. Then cover with the sauce, followed by any extra lovely things you may have hanging out in your pantry, such as tapioca krupuk, or fried shallots, or fresh, lightly steamed bean shoots.
This version is based on my resolution to use what’s on hand, just like the good ibu of Java would do. No more running to the shops for one or two rogue ingredients. But I wish I had some krupuk!
An authentic version of peanut sauce can be found in Sri Owen’s Indonesian Food. I like the cheat’s version equally well.
The theme, laughter, has been chosen this week in response to the tragic and barbaric acts in France. Ailsa, in her excellent post, Laughter as a Political Act, sums it up this way,
If you can hold a harbinger of terror up to ridicule, if you can mock those who seek to oppress, if you can laugh at the ugliest of human behaviours, conventions, beliefs and traits, you diminish their power to terrorize, control and censor.
The little stone carvings below can be found in Bali, especially around remote villages near Ubud, and are used to scare away demons. While not images of hilarity, they are quite funny. I include them here in response to Ailsa’s chosen theme, the embracing of laughter.
Je Suis Charlie