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

Do You Dare to Dream?

It’s getting better. I resisted my middle-of-the-day nap today. Went instead to Costco for a few groceries. BIG mistake! I was quickly overwhelmed by the abundance of people, products, everything. But I did manage to walk out with the vegetables and rice I needed to make Indonesian food, and that was the goal.

So this afternoon I boiled the rice, chopped the veggies, opened one of the precious packets of Gado-Gado sauce I brought home with me, and sat down to pure delight. The flavor was exactly as I remembered it and I savored every delicious mouthful. Then I pulled up my e-mail and found a note from Brigitte, my German friend. She told me how much she misses Bali, how she had started crying and hugged the guide who had taken her all over the island when he dropped her at the airport. She said she is planning to return in October. Her confession made me feel more normal.  I am not the only one experiencing separation anxiety!

I love the Amalfi Coast of Italy. The fiords of Norway struck a chord deep in my cells. Luxumborg inspired one of the best poems I’ve ever written. At Unmunsa in South Korea I simply wept from a too-full heart. In London, Paris, Lucerne, Budapest, Simrishamn, I embraced the cultures and the people with intensity and joy. There are wondrous places all over the world where I have been inspired and delighted. But Bali feeds something much deeper. Bali is the perfect lover and I have been seduced. Voluptuous and warm, it generously gives with no thought for itself.

Where is it in the world that speaks so eloquently to you, dear friend? Do you dare to wonder? Do you dare to dream?

Little Pig, Little Pig…

I ventured out later than usual today. The morning dissolved in an amazing conversation with a new friend that lasted several hours over breakfast and multiple pots of tea. I could write a book just on the people I’ve met the past two months and it would be a page turner! So after catching up with e-mails I set out to run some errands. Somehow I ended up at the huge Ubud market about 3:00 p.m. That’s a terrible time to go to the market. The vendors are cranky, its hot and crowded, and everything looks tired. To make matters worse, I was hungry. When I’m hungry I can’t make up my mind. My stomach distracts me. So after looking at one woman’s sarongs for about half an hour I told her I had to go eat and I would come back. She told me I made her sick. Whoops! Oh well.

I shouldn’t have wasted my time with her wares. She really didn’t have what I wanted. I went a few stalls down, looked at two items, negotiated briefly, made my purchase and got the heck out of there! Now it was 4:30 and I was starving! I wanted to avoid the busy cafes on Monkey Forest Road and Hanoman so I took a little side street to see what might turn up. Just a short way up Jl. Gootama I saw a sign, Dewa’s Warung. I like places that sit high over the street and this one did. I climbed the steps and took a seat on a bamboo mat and started studying the menu. The prices were really, really low. Must be small portions, I thought, paying attention to my growling stomach. The Gado Gado sounded delicious, and I decided to order a side of Green Fern with Shaved Coconut and Rice along with my turmeric, lime, and honey drink. My order was taken and I busied myself people watching from my perch. A French couple came in and sat at the table across from me.

My drink came first. I inhaled it. Delicious. After about twenty minutes I was presented with a large plate, piled high, of tempe and vegetables with a rich brown peanut sauce and prawn chips. It was the largest serving of Gado Gado I had ever seen. I thanked my server and took a bite. I almost groaned with delight. It was absolutely divine. I wondered about the other dish I had ordered, but decided my server could easily have misunderstood. It happens and this would be plenty. I was half way through the amazing meal when suddenly the other plate with equally as much food appeared. “Oh my!” I said and out of the corner of my eye I saw the French couple look askance at my two dinners. The mistake was mine but I vowed to make the best of it. I tasted the mound of green fern with sweet fresh coconut shavings and then I did groan. How can anything be this good?

Yes. I ate them both. Unashamedly. My bill came to $2.75. I paid $3.50 and waddled home. I am so dreadfully spoiled! How is this going to work when I get back to meat-and-potatoes-Minnesota and have to pay real money for groceries and then cook them myself? I’m a dreadfully, dreadfully spoiled little piggy.

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