Breakfast

Purple-blue turns pale. A palm in silhouette salutes the sunrise as awakening creatures spill their joy in raucous sound. It’s Bali, and it’s morning!

The morning view from my pillow

The morning view from my pillow

There is nothing quite as delicious as waking up with the sun. My circadian rhythms are synced with dawn. I can’t help it. Once the sky lightens, further effort to sleep is futile.

I love breakfast almost as much as I love morning. The two are inseparable. And the only thing that could improve upon breakfast is having it prepared FOR me and served TO me. (But not in bed. I’m not a fan of breakfast in bed.) So when Belos peeks his head around the corner at about 8:30 a.m. and asks if I want makan pagi, life is very good indeed.

There is always a bowl of fresh pineapple, banana, and papaya. But the main dish is a new treat every day. Here are some photos of what’s been on the menu lately.

Toast with banana filling

Toast packet with banana filling

Everything tastes wonderful when it’s served on the balcony. And there are no flies. Those nasties ruined more than one picnic in Minnesota!

Over-easy egg on toast

Over-easy egg on toast

The egg is perfectly round. Belos cooks. I’ll have to ask him how he does that!

Banana Pancake

Banana Pancake

There’s nothing that says Bali better than a banana pancake! It’s crepe-like and stuffed with bananas that have been lightly sautéed in palm sugar. There’s a mound of fresh shaved coconut on top and a palm sugar syrup that beats maple all hollow! I feel porky just looking at it! This dish is guaranteed to put meat on your bones!

Green Omelette

Green Omelette

Here’s another scrumptious favorite!  Water spinach, leeks and green chilies are added to the eggs. If I had prepared this, it would look more like the state of Alaska than a golden half-moon!

Balinese Kue

Balinese Kue

But Balinese Kue is my favorite and it’s always different. Sometimes it arrives wrapped in steamed banana leaf packets held tight with slivers of bamboo. Inside is glutinous rice with various fillings, coconut, peanut, palm sugar, and mung bean to name a few.  Another variety of kue is made with agar-agar, a gelatinous seaweed extract. The end result resembles jello jigglers. Yet another type shows up in stripes, typically green and brown or pink and brown. Maybe it’s bean paste. Maybe not. Then there are sesame balls stuffed with something delicious that shall remain a mystery! But this morning kue was a fried coconut patty and two fluffy confections called Kue Mangkok. And because I just know you are dying to make this yourself, here’s the recipe! Sorry about the metric measurements! Google conversion charts and you’ll be fine.

KUE MONGKOK

INGREDIENTS:

350 grams rice flour
some water
150 grams all purpose flour
400 grams sugar
200 cc warm water
2 Tsp baking soda
250 cc club soda
200 grams fermented cassava / tapioca (tape singkong)
1 Tsp vanilla
food coloring (your choice of 3 or 4 colors)
salt to taste

PREPARATION:

Add enough water to the rice flour so that its weight increases to 500
grams. Add the all purpose flour to the rice flour mixture and stir
well. Add the fermented tapioca and sugar. Mix well. Add the warm water
and work the dough for about 10 minutes.-Add the baking soda, the club
soda and vanilla. Mix until everything is evenly distributed. Finally,
add the food coloring and blend until smooth. Warm the cup molds for
about 5 minutes and fill it for about 4/5 full. Put in a steamer with
the water already at a rolling boil. Steam for about 20 minutes.

I’m told these can be made in a rice cooker. It will never happen in mine! I failed to get the domestic goddess gene. My sister has it, as do my three daughters. Even my brother can do cartwheels around me in the kitchen. They love to cook. But me? I love anyone who will cook for me!

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A Man in My Kitchen (Part 2)

Yes, I am fixated on food lately. Understandably so. It’s the first time I’ve had a kitchen in Bali. And just setting the record straight from the get-go, I’m NOT complaining about that! Being served every meal is the stuff of dreams. But even better than that, is a man cooking for me IN MY KITCHEN! That, my friends, is the ultimate.

The other day I had a dirth of bananas on hand. Ketut stopped in to ask if I wanted him to cook. Mind you, he is no longer my personal attendant. Ibu came with my new house and she’s a delight. But she leaves by 10 or 11 in the morning and after that I fend for myself. That is until Ketut pops his head in and checks up on me.

Back to the bananas. I love pisang goreng (banana fritters Bali style) but didn’t know how to make them. I barely had the words, pisang goreng, out of my mouth and Ketut set to work.

He found the rice flour, unopened. What do I know about rice flour?

He found the rice flour, unopened. What do I know about rice flour?

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He dumped some flour into this small dish, added a little water, then cracked an egg on top.

Adding about a teaspoon of sugar he explained it didn't need much. "Banana already sweet," he said.

Sprinkling about a teaspoon of sugar over all, he explained that it didn’t need much. “Banana already sweet,” he said.

He stirred it into a thick, golden batter.

Then he stirred until it became a smooth, thick, golden batter.

He peeled and cut the bananas lengthwise, approximately in thirds.

He peeled and cut the bananas lengthwise, approximately in thirds.

And spooned the batter over them until they were well coated.

And spooned the batter over them until they were well coated.

By now the wok was sizzling with hot oil. Ever so gently, he settled each batter-coated banana slice into the pan.

By now the wok was sizzling with hot oil. Ever so gently, he settled each batter-coated banana slice into the pan.

When they were a delicate gold tinged with brown on one side, he flipped them.

When they were a delicate gold tinged with brown on one side, he flipped them.

Then he slid them up the edge of the wok and onto the plate. There wasn't a grease spatter anywhere!

Then he slid them up the edge of the wok and onto the plate. The man has smooth moves.  There wasn’t a grease spatter anywhere!

Where was my camera for the finale?! We each had two of these marvelous creations, bathed in coconut cream with shaved palm sugar on top. Groan.  

While we were eating on the platform overlooking the banana palms in my jungle garden, he told me about the banana tree. It only bears once, then dies. But by the time it has completed its life cycle, there are many new trees already coming up from its roots. In Bali, Ketut tells me, it is symbolic of a man’s great love for one woman. Where a man in the West might say, “You’re my one and only,” in Bali he would say, “My love for you is like a banana tree!”

A word of advice: men, don’t try this phrase at home. It may not translate well. Just whip up a batch of pisang goreng…don’t forget the coconut cream and palm sugar. That, I guarantee, she will understand!

Balinese Feast and the Invisible Bee

I’ve been recuperating for two days. How do they do it? Chefs, cooks, women with large families? I spent one day cooking a Balinese meal for 13 and I am fortunate to be alive to tell about it.

Look at all those steaming pots! And the countertops are littered with other dishes all awaiting the finishing touches, a sauce here, a garnish there. I had a sneaking suspicion that there would be some strategic planning involved in an undertaking of this magnitude. So I spent several hours making a schedule of exactly when to do what. It saved my life. The plan was to prepare my very favorite Balinese dishes so that I could enjoy the flavors and share them with others. There was one small problem: I had too many favorites.

There are many things I am not, but stubborn isn’t on that list. I am doggedly persistent when I have a plan, and even though at about 2 p.m. when I realized I had not stopped for lunch and would not be able to if my time-line was going to work out, I refused to adjust my agenda. I was going to pull this thing off if it killed me! Diners were scheduled to arrive at 5:30. At 5:00 I left the messy array of food groups for 15 minutes to pull on a clean dress, jewelry, run a comb through my hair and dash back to my stove. I knew when people began to arrive there would be offers of help. There would be no delegating. My regimented schedule would not flex to that extent. If I paused to figure out how to tell someone else what to do it would throw me off my game. Guests had to stay out of the kitchen.

The sweet aroma of sauteed vegetables for curried tempeh wafted through the window to greet the arriving participants. I could hear muffled compliments as their voices floated into the kitchen from the open windows to the deck. I checked the clock…on time…good. I could hear happy chatter and the clink of wine glasses.

Then, suddenly, everything was done. How do you serve a plated meal to 13 people simultaneously? Hmmm. You don’t, at least not without help. At that precise moment Dan, Jessa, and Nancy walked in. They took one look at my panic stricken face and said, “Tell us what to do!” For the next five minutes my support team packed rice into cup size molds and turned it out onto plates, scooped green beans with gado-gado sauce and sprinkled peanut garnish adding a plop of carmelized onion to the rice mound. After strategically placing two perfectly browned tofu satays next to the rice, a scoop of curried tempeh was added and the finished product was rushed out to the drooling guests while the assembly line prepared the next two plates.

There was a moment when I paused to look at the results, to actually see what was leaving the kitchen. You know what? It looked like what it was, Nasi Campur, red rice surrounded by Balinese delights.

It was an adventure and now I can say, “Been there, done that.” I won’t be applying for a job cooking. I may not want to chop, dice, mince, or slice anything for a very, very long time. And when I return to Bali I will have a profound reverence for the wonderful people who feed me.

Now I have to double up on my yoga routine. I see how quickly and habitually I fall into old patterns of performance, striving, perfection. The beautiful tranquility that permeated my being when I first arrived home from Bali disappears in a flash.

So I’m off this morning to the Invisible Bee yoga studio to return to my centered self and recapture peace of mind.

“Look how desire has changed in you, how light and colorless it is, with the world growing new marvels because of your changing. Your soul has become an invisible bee”…Rumi

Troublesome Taste Buds

If you have never shopped in an Asian market you are missing out on one of life’s great pleasures. I no longer crave meat loaf and mashed potatoes, staples of the Midwestern diet! My taste buds have undergone a serious transformation. That was proving somewhat troublesome as the typical grocery stores do not carry fresh pandan or banana leaves, black rice, trasi, ketjap manis…you get my drift.

There are substitutes for some things, but I didn’t want to compromise the flavors that are still so poignant in my memory. When my mouth is watering for Bubur Injin with the subtle influences of pandan leaf and palm sugar, there is no way I want white rice, or brown rice, or wild rice with some other leaf or sweetener! No way! I brought a number of ingredients home with me, but U.S. Customs are picky about agricultural items, green leaves are terribly suspicious. So I needed a local source for quite a number of culinary essentials.

With that goal in mind, I prepared two lists. One had the names of the food items I was searching for, the other had the addresses of all the Asian and Indian markets in the Twin Cities. I decided to begin at the one nearest me. Across the street from the fabulous Quang Vietnamese Restaurant at 27th and Nicollet, is Shuang Hur Asian Grocery. As soon as I passed through the door I knew I had achieved Nirvana. There were aisles upon aisles of wonders the likes of which I had never seen before. My leaves were there, and the black rice and the red rice, and so much more!

After 45 minutes of awestruck wandering, my cart was 3/4 full. About that time a wiry Asian man approached me. “You find everything?” he asked. I pointed to my list and said, “Almost.” He reached out and plucked the paper out of my hand. “What you NOT find?” I had checked things off as I located them so I told him I still needed the items without the check marks. After studying my scribbles for a minute he looked up and said, “I direct you!” With that he grasped the front of my cart pulling it behind him and off we went!

In no time at all he had completed my shopping. I thanked him profusely and told him I just wanted to browse a few more minutes. He agreed that I should do that and disappeared down another aisle. Adding some red bean Mochi and rice noodles to my now heaping basket I headed for checkout. There was a line and I patiently awaited my turn. Suddenly my gallant knight reappeared. Once again he commandeered my cart and whipped it over to a dormant check-out counter. Nevermind the folks in front of me, I had somehow achieved VIP status without knowing it! We chatted away as he personally rang up my groceries. Who was going to cook for me he wanted to know. I would be cooking for myself I explained! Good, good, very good, he seemed pleased. We finished our business and he sent me off with big smiles and an invitation to come back soon.

My daughters will tell you that I have always hated shopping. And cooking has bored me for years. But I can hardly wait to go back to the Shuang Hur market. Grocery shopping has become a treasure hunt and cooking a creative adventure. Not only that, but I have a friendly personal shopper at my disposal there. Community. It happens is the most unexpected ways. A sense of belonging, of shared experience. So vital to happiness.

Shopping Bali Style

I have a week left so what’s uppermost in my mind? Shopping, of course. What do I want to bring back that will remind me of these leisurely, sun drenched days, the tantalizing smells, the sounds, and food, the glorious food! I decided, having taken the cooking class, that being able to recreate Balinese dishes I love when I get home would be a really great idea. So I made a list of ingredients then narrowed it down to the ones that I’ve never, ever, in all my years of grocery shopping, seen in a Minnesota grocery store. Here’s the list:

Pandanus extract

Palm sugar

Asam

Kaffir Lime Leaves

Pandan Leaves

Suji

Galangal

Belecan

Tamarind Pulp

Photo by Ollie L.

Armed with my list I headed resolutely for CoCo’s Supermarket and made a bee-line for the spices. I poured over the labels then poured over them again. Nothing. One of the adorable twelve-year-old employees (they look so young) asked if she could help me. Gratefully I showed her my list. She painstakingly read through each word, then headed down an aisle at the end of which was a stunning fifteen-year-old (maybe 18). The younger girl handed the list to this new one with a string of Balinese words by way of explanation. The young lady read it and we were off again to presumably find the manager who turned out to be a male of indiscernible age. This time I got answers. “We have no leaves,” he said first. Then took off with me in hot pursuit. He found the belecan and the palm sugar. Hurray! Two down! Then told me to go to the market early in the morning. They will have leaves.  So these are fresh leaves? They aren’t dried leaves? “Oh no,” he assured me. “Fresh leaves.” Silly me. I had pictured something like dried basil leaves in a sealed container that would easily clear U.S. Customs. For some reason custom’s officials do not look kindly on REAL foliage being smuggled onto U.S. soil. Well, that saves me the early morning trip to the market. As for the other five missing ingredients…I will stop by Dayu’s Warung tomorrow and ask Dayu where she gets these exotic potions. I’ll also ask what I can substitute for leaves. They’re her recipes, after all! If anyone knows the answers she will.

The rest of my shopping was delightful. I’ve always enjoyed the art of negotiation. Here in Bali it is expected. I wanted a hand-made batik fabric. I found the shop I was looking for where the woman makes them herself, and the process began. How much? “Oh for you, special discount, 20%, more if you take two.” I only took one and ended up getting it for about 1/2 of the original quoted price. It takes awhile, you have to be so sorry, maybe tomorrow, start to leave, then you find out the real price. It doesn’t matter if the price is marked on a tag on the item. That is what I would call the “suggested starting price.” There are, perhaps, some exceptions. The high end hotel shops probably would look down their noses if someone attempted to bargain. But in the hundreds of small retail cubbyholes that line Hanoman St. and Monkey Forest Road you can get some fabulous buys.

Then a silver shop reached out and grabbed me. Oh I hate it when that happens! I love rings. I’ve been looking for a particular ring for years…truly…years. And today I found it “No!” I told myself. “You are shopping for gifts. Gifts are for other people.” I tried oh so hard to resist. I didn’t even attempt to negotiate. I didn’t say a word. I just kept fighting with my conscience and the quieter I became the lower the price dropped! I kept shaking my head, “Oh, no, no, I can’t…” and it dropped 100 thousand rupiah. “Please, stop!” down another 50,000. Finally I was afraid if I didn’t buy it they were just going to give it to me. It is fabulous! After looking at so many rings you begin to know the ones that are one-of-a-kind, designed and crafted by an artist in the Balinese style.

So tomorrow I will visit another kind of store. They are everywhere and they’re called Money Changers. Then I’ll continue shopping for Other People.

Cooking Class on an Organic Farm in Bali

Let’s be honest. I don’t LOVE cooking. And this past year is the first time I’ve really gotten into eating. I hadn’t thought much about it until now, but it makes total sense. Along with the other changes in my life I have been slowly transitioning from carnivore to vegetarian to organic vegetarian. Becoming aware of the horrendously inhumane way our food animals are treated and the affects of genetically altered crops on nutrition was a start. Then learning about the chemicals and pesticides that keep the bugs away, increase yield, and make our food look pretty while poisoning us and ruining our ecosystem…well…that was the proverbial straw. Change didn’t happen overnight, but lasting change rarely does. Eating differently is a major lifestyle shift. It requires thinking in a new way about food.

Today as Dayu instructs her two eager students, Simone from Switzerland and me, she keeps saying, “Food is medicine.” I need to revise that to make it true…Dayu’s food is medicine. My story starts with a harrowing ride once again on the back of a motorbike. Dayu careens past slower moving vehicles, weaving around dogs, chickens, bicycles, and small children. For 30 agonizing minutes I grip with my knees, grit my teeth, cling to her waist, and pray. Finally we turn off the main road down a bougainvillea-lined drive and I start to breathe again.

The organic rice fields stretch lush and green into the distance. Baliwood Organic Farm grows both red and white rice. Dayu parks the bike and I gratefully and inelegantly dismount. TGTO (Thank god that’s over!) A slim Asian woman is coming out of a large house to greet us. Her name is Caroline and she’s from Singapore. She apologizes that she cannot accompany us for the cooking class because her husband’s cremation was yesterday and she has much family staying with her. But she urges us to come into her home. It is always a privilege to see how other cultures live. This is no exception.

Her back yard boasts an extremely inviting pool! Inside the house, the main room is immense. There is a ping-pong table, a flat screen TV, and a few chairs with acres of white tiled floor in between. Caroline has two very large kitchens, a wet kitchen and a dry kitchen. As I understand it, because of the heavy use of grease in Asian cooking, the wet kitchen is where all of the frying and steaming of foods takes place. The dry kitchen is for everything else. (There’s a new concept for all those Western kitchen designers out there!) She has a spacious master bedroom with a massage table and king size bed. Mosquito netting romantically drapes the sides. Back outside, dotting the perimeter of the grounds are three guest houses for family and close friends, she explains.

The tour completed we are taken through this welcoming portal into Caroline’s personal organic ‘kitchen’ garden.

Dayu collects three large bowls and garden shears. She hands one to each of us. We begin our meandering through the beds of herbs and vegetables snipping mint, bay leaf, curry leaf, lemongrass, aloe, eggplant, lettuce, radish, winged beans, pumpkin, tomato, cucumber, zucchini, and a bean pod a foot long that has huge, delicious white beans inside. Caroline snaps open the pod and we eat two or three of the juicy beans right there on the spot. Delicious!

This farm goes to great lengths to purify the water used on the garden. The water that comes from the river runs through this bed of water hyacinth to be filtered before being applied to the plants. There is also a system functioning to filter the gray and black water. The fertilizer is manure and compost. There is a machine that chops large leaves and other herbaceous material to speed up the composting process. Keep in mind a leaf here can be 2 feet wide and 8 feet long!

This greenhouse is just being finished for starting new seedlings. Papaya trees and a couple of pineapple plants stand in the foreground.

Next to the greenhouse is a drying house.

The framework is wood but the walls, doors, and shelves are heavy screen material. There are several large bamboo trays of herbs drying in the structure. Gardening is the same but different in Bali. The growing season, for instance, never ends, and what is planted seems to thrive. Dayu’s husband is the knowledgeable gardener here.

In this triangular bed slices of the trunk of a banana palm are used to shield tiny seedlings from too much direct sunlight. The creative design of the garden and the use of materials occurring naturally in the local environment to solve problems is inspirational. In this land of wildly creative people, the garden seems to be just another expression of artistic genius.

The tour takes us to a structure at the far end of the garden. To our surprise, the beautiful building is the kitchen for our class. And to our further amazement, we are the first students ever to use this facility. It was just completed this week and we are it’s the maiden voyage.

The island is this utterly stunning teak slab polished to a rich luster. Our vegetables are washed and Dayu is ready to show us how to make Green Juice.

It turns out Green Juice is one cucumber, one HUGE carrot, one green apple, one whole lime, one slice ginger and a very large amount of green leafy bok choy type vegetable. She says any leafy green will do. It is a detoxifying drink loaded with nutrients.

Dayu pours the Green Juice into glasses and we enjoy the first fruits of our labors!

Next we slice, dice and julienne jicama, beet, avocado, cucumber, winged bean, tomato, and lettuce for our salads. Dayu encourages individual creativity in the presentation!

Simone’s is truly a work of art!

Mine has the roasted coconut garnish on top. Then we make the dressing. Yum! Here’s Roasted Sesame Seed Dressing:

1/2 cup roasted sesame seeds, 1 clove garlic, a chunk of ginger, 1 T fresh basil, juice of 2 limes, pinch of sea salt, pinch of black pepper, 2 T coconut oil, 1/2 cup water. Blend thoroughly.

I can’t believe I ate the whole thing! But I did. Then we move on to Pumpkin Soup.

Here are the ingredients, all cleverly waiting in their little green banana leaf boats! This recipe is amazing. The first stage produces a pan of chunky pumpkin stew that would be divinely delicious served over rice.

The ingredients for this bounty are pumpkin, lemongrass, fresh bay leaves, ginger, garlic, sea salt, black pepper, and the secret: garam masala. I cannot tell you how good this is. But then Dayu puts half of it in the blender and adds coconut milk. Heaven! Then she puts the other half in the blender (no coconut milk this time) and adds half an avocado, one tablespoon of pumpkin seeds and blends it smooth. Just that little variation makes a totally different dish. They are all so good that even though I am utterly stuffed after all that salad, I have a bowl of EACH of the soups! But we aren’t finished yet. Now its time to make steamed tofu in banana leaf!

The basic recipe blends hard tofu, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and sea salt. This one has a little curry powder and curry leaf added to the other ingredients. Served with the steamed red rice they are a shocking burst of flavor. Yes, I’m still eating and licking my plate clean!

But there is still more. Tempe Mango Curry with rice, and for dessert, Seaweed Pudding with Passion Fruit. Not only that, Dayu makes us another detoxifying drink of young coconut water and aloe. I’m beginning to wonder how all this lovely detoxifying will manifest? Hmmm….!

Tempe Mango Curry with Red Rice

Seaweed Pudding with Passion Fruit and Roasted Coconut

If I can find Irish Moss Seaweed, I can make this at home. I don’t know where to begin to look!

Stuffed beyond what is humanly possible, we waddle back through the gardens to, OH NO! a 30 minute ride BACK to Ubud on the motorbike! But it goes without incident and I am safely home, intact. Will I ever feel hungry again?

What a gloriously indulgent day!

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