Friday, September 26, 2008

Pretending it's the weekend

I still can't believe how lucky I am. That a complete stranger would open their GORGEOUS home to me for an entire week is way more than anyone should be able to ask for. Luckily, I didn't have to ask for it, it was offered a mere 2 hours after I met her. Anne is a lovely woman, incredibly generous with her advice, experience, time and gorgeous (did I already mention that?) home.

My second week in Bali was spent exactly how I pictured a Balinese vacation before I ever arrived. I read probably six different books, lounging by a beautiful pool tiled in navy, taking dips whenever I wanted. I also cooked a few times, had lovely wine, as well as fantastic Balinese food.

Indonesian food and Balinese food are rather different, in my experience, at least, with Balinese food winning hands down. Take Indonesian food, add Indian and Malay spices, and you'll have an idea of what Bali has to offer culinarily.

I went to a traditional Balinese restaurant run by a Swiss gentleman who immigrated many years ago, and has since married a Balinese woman and settled down. The food was phenomenal, phenomenal enough for me to pay way too much money to sign up for a cooking course. The course was a lot of fun, and I got many good recipes out of it, but it didn't allow me to cook nearly as much as I wanted to. Then again, unless a cooking course allows me to cook everything by myself, it'll probably never live up to my expectations. Eh, c'est la vie.

Here's my first quick recipe tip, inspired by my course:
Anyone looking for a delicious quick snack should combine the following:
sweet corn, lime juice, shredded coconut and a touch of sugar.
Absolutely wonderful, though I warn you that the lime juice is essential...without it, the dish is much too sweet.
Enjoy, and I promise to update you on my much more eventful adventures in the jungles of Kalimantan very soon.

p.s. If anyone knows of a green papaya soup recipe from Bali, please let me know! I fell in love with the dish while I was there and can't wait to experiment when I get back home.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A world down under

Whew! When last we met...well, let's just say that we have a lot to catch up on. I'm closing out the end of time in Bali, and is it ever gorgeous here. Not quite the idyllic paradise of everyone's dreams, however...somehow I think it would have to be a bit cleaner to fit that bill. I guess whenever I thought about Bali, I always pictured a tropical island paradise, which it definitely is, but there's still the poverty here that you see all over Indonesia. People throw their trash everywhere, including all over the beautiful countryside, burn huge piles of rubbish and there are still any number of stray dogs everywhere. The Balinese people and the gorgeous countryside more than make up for it, however.

My first week was spent in the Legian area, which is right next to Kuta, also know as Party Town. There are so many foreigners in this area! The driver who drove me home from scuba diving certification (I'm officially certified!) dropped off another diver first right in the heart of the Kuta Beach area, and it was crazy how many westerners/aussies were walking around! So much for the Balinese immersion experience, at least in this neck of the woods. Maybe that was a good thing to start off with though, because when the driver dropped me off at my hotel, I thought I was at the wrong one. I have a tiny excuse, but it's fairly thin: the staff had started decorating for a festival for the following day and literally transformed the place! The front desk guy was laughing a little at me, since he recognized me from checking in the previous evening and even remembered my name.

My first week's highlights consisted of scuba diving and elephant trekking. Scuba literally opens up a whole new world (and yes, I admit that once I thought about it that way, I had the Disney song stuck in my head the rest of the dive). I absolutely love diving, though that's not to say I wasn't scared to death the first time I went under in a pool and then again in the ocean. Absolutely crazy feeling to be able to breathe underwater.

The view under there is magnificent. A fellow diver (I love saying that) mentioned that it felt like you were on the Discovery Channel, and I couldn't agree more. I found Nemo, I saw a huge school of fish that formed a cyclone spiral around me, I even had my hand cleaned by a cleaning shrimp who decided to hop on and relieve me a a small scab on the back of my hand. Talk about strange sensations. I cannot recommend it enough to anyone who has any interest in trying. Do it, and then go to Bali and dive at the shipwreck at Tulamben.

As I mentioned, the other highlight had to be the elephant trekking. My friend Austin and I went to the Elephant Safari Park near Ubud for a half day trip to, essentially, ride elephants. It turned about to be such a fun experience, since we spent half of our time feeding the elephants banana palm. And were they ever greedy! These elephants (rescued from the island of Sumatra) would take as much banana palm as they wanted in their trunks, but half the time throw the pieces on the ground because they were just as picky as they were greedy. One even went so far as to try and steal pieces from another elephant's mouth. They also liked to tease you by just bopping you on the head or shoulder with their trunk, or blowing air at you to get a reaction. Mine was to fall completely in love with them.

I think the best part about the park was the way the animals were treated. Each elephants (27 total, I believe), had their own handler who rode them and cared for them every day. They all had plenty to eat--something Austin and I helped with--and had days off, lunch breaks, the whole enchilada. The park is also consistently helping to work on Sumatran elephant conservation, making the rather stiff entrance fee at least a bit more reasonable.

I had an incredibly full and busy first week, meeting new people, diving, trekking, exploring Ubud (the shopping capital) and eating as much Indonesian food as I could get my hands on. Thank goodness the following week allowed me quite a bit more rest in Bali's loveliest location imaginable. More on that as soon as I can.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Leave the gun, take the cannoli

In order to prepare for my trip, I'm been on a strict diet of copious amounts of French cheese and wine, pasta, Manhattans, and anything else I won't possibly get on my trip. With that in mind, I've been trolling through Marcella Hazan's cookbook, as well as the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, Sunday Suppers at Lucques, and Miss Molly's archives. I've had lots of tomato sauce, some delicious salads, and tonight I'm going all out with a wild mushroom risotto inspired by Jamie Oliver's recipe (I'll make it a point to write it out some time). Oh, and in the oven right now are the best cinnamon rolls I've ever tasted, bar none (Thanks again, Molly!).

I'm actually looking forward to eating nothing but local food in whatever locale I land. That's really the only way to travel and learn, in my way of thinking. I, of course, understand the occasional craving, but still cringe at the memory of going to a Hard Rock Cafe in Paris my first trip there with my high school group (the trip was maybe 2 weeks total!) and learn.

At the moment, I'm working on getting a 12 week supply of, well, living material into a (lovely) backpack. A backpacker's backpack, mind you, my first one, but a backpack nonetheless. I feel like I should have been reading the last few issues of the magazine "Real Simple"or something to help me pare down my needs. I figure that since I'm only taking three pairs of shoes, including the ones I'm wearing, that I'm on the right track. I actually feel a bit like I'm back in college, when flip flops were widely considered fashionable wear.

I suppose I'd better get back to making sure that I can lift my backpack once all my stuff is inside. Definitely taking my skincare stuff, since the makeup's not coming along. Must remember to leave room for a few souvenirs, and to pack the addresses of some of the cooking schools I'll hopefully check out. Call the credit card companies, get in one last workout...whew. Okay, yes, lots to do. But right now, all I can think about is the smell of cinnamon wafting from the kitchen.

P.S. In case you didn't already know, I'm about to leave on a 12 week trip around SE Asia. Stops include Bali, Sumatra, Java, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. Wish me luck!! I promise to keep you all updated here.