Part-Time Vegetarian Seeks Meat

Forever I had assumed you either were or you weren’t…vegetarian. I was, with the exception of eggs, fish, and dairy. I got along quite well for about five years, but then noticed a decline in energy. I woke up tired and took naps in the middle of the day. I had to force myself to do yoga and get out of the house for a walk.

About that time I visited family in the U.S. My girls and their guys are meat eaters. While I was with them I decided not to rattle the cage. When in Rome, you know. So I ate grilled steak, barbecued chicken, burgers, and hot dogs. When I returned to Bali it was evident something had changed. I no longer needed naps. I jumped out of bed at rooster’s crow and went full speed until dark. There was only one explanation: meat.

The change was so dramatic I vowed to continue to include animal protein in my diet. Perhaps I had veggied myself into ‘iron poor blood,’ a phrase from a 1960’s TV commercial. In Bali, my meals consisted of fruits, vegetables, eggs, tofu and tempe, with an occasional Lake Batur fish thrown in. I’d supplemented with Bali coffee and kue, local empty calorie treats void of nourishment.

Image result for pre packaged rotisserie chickenKetut buys all my food at the local market. When he saw grilled chicken on the grocery list he asked, “How much you want? One-quarter? One-half?”I told him I wanted one whole chicken picturing the neatly packaged birds that turn on spits in U.S. supermarkets, their grease dripping into the pan below. “Ok,” he said.

The next morning he delivered everything I’d ordered, dragon fruit, apples, broccoli, shallots, garlic, lemongrass, and something ominous in a plastic bag. I was Skyping so he deposited the food on the counter and left. It’s always a high when I talk to family. I finished the call humming a Bob Marley tune as I tucked the produce in the fridge. I’ll admit, I’d forgotten about the chicken, but there was no mistaking what peeked through the translucence of the bag. I reached for a plate and extracted the contents.

Where was the neat container? And why did the creature still look like what it was, head and feet intact? The reality of ‘meat’ sank in. This wasn’t some mystery food that came antiseptically shrink-wrapped, sanitized and anonymous. This was unmistakably the charred remains of a fowl that yesterday had feathers – and life.

I stood in my pristine kitchen with chemically enhanced hair and painted nails, gawking at a reminder of a different reality. Living in Bali I’d rubbed up against it many times, but now it jarred. I knew too much. I’d been to the villages. I’d watched, unflinching, as chickens were slaughtered, drained, skewered, and readied for the fire.

But none of them had ever lain spreadeagled on my counter top.

The initial slam of shock passed. The smokey-rich odor emanating from the bird hit my empty stomach and saliva drooled into my mouth. Without further ado, manicured fingernails separated a leg from the body, foot and all. I took a bite. Mmmm. This chicken had spent it’s life unrestrained, scratching dirt, eating bugs, and dodging motorbikes in the road. The meat was firm, the flavor: strong, wild, and nothing genetically enhancing had gotten within a hundred miles of it’s muscular body. This was as naturally, locally raised, free-ranging, certified organic, GMO, pesticide, chemical and antibiotic free as it gets.

I chewed long, reflecting on the gift of food like this, savoring it.

My intention is to eat meat. In the process a life is taken. I don’t want to lose sight of the sacredness of that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Naughty Nuri’s: Anyone for a Body Scrub and Cleanse?

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Naughty Nuri’s is well-known in Ubud for its barbecued pork ribs. Always packed, most people who eat in this popular restaurant are not part of Ubud’s thriving spiritual community. Those folks go to the organic, vegan, and raw food places where to even whisper pork is anathema!

I gave up most meat long ago so I’d never been to Nuri’s. But after living in Indonesia for five years and eating fruit, veggies, rice, tofu, tempe, and not much else, about two months ago I began to crave nachos.

I coerced my partner in crime and chief confidante into weekly walks to Devilicious, a street-side eatery near her house where they make a few Mexican dishes. Nachos is one of them. An ice cold beer with a heaping plate of crisp, cheese-and-jalepeno covered tortilla chips became a weekly ritual, until last Sunday. We approached the sign with a red devil caricature boldly displayed and my heart sank. Devilicious was closed.

There’s nothing worse than having your taste buds set for a certain flavor and being denied that pleasure. We stood outside the empty café and I was less than cavalier. “I want nachos. Where can we get nachos?” I’m sure my whine was about as pleasant as a spoiled 5-year-old’s.

Without missing a beat my friend said, “Nacho Mama’s has them.”

“Nacho Mama’s? Why haven’t you mentioned this place before? Where is it?” As it turned out it was just a few blocks the opposite direction so we set off, saliva flooding my mouth.

I smelled barbecue long before we arrived at the entrance to Naughty Nuri’s and my friend stopped there.

“This isn’t Nacho Mama’s, it’s Naughty Nuri’s. They sell ribs, not nachos. Look at the sign.” Had she lost her mind? She knows I’m a closet vegetarian and although I may not be the brightest bulb, I can read!

“Relax already. This is the place. It used to be called Nacho Mama’s. They serve nachos, don’t worry.”

Skeptical, I followed her inside looking for an empty table. There were none but a lone man occupied a spot with seating for 8 so we parked ourselves at the far end. We’d been there a few minutes when a group got up and vacated a nearby booth. We grabbed it. The table was loaded with platters of gnawed rib bones and bowls still full of Nuri’s special sauce.

One of the wait staff began to bus the table. My accomplice and I were deep in conversation when the tray the girl had just loaded crashed to the floor. Something globby and wet splattered my hair, my face, arms, legs, and my favorite cream-colored skirt. A spoon still dripping with the stuff lodged under my thigh. Dazed, I saw that my entire right side was plastered with rich, red, oily, lumpy blobs of barbecue sauce.

For a split-second there was silence. Nobody breathed. In the next instant, the entire Nuri’s staff rushed to my aid. One dabbed my hair, another scrubbed at my clothes, grinding the stains deeper into the fabric. The skin on my face where barbecue had landed, burned from the chilies abundant in Nuri’s special recipe. No matter how they tried to swab me down with paper napkins the situation worsened.

Perhaps it was Isnuri herself, the Indonesian wife of the American owner, who finally took charge and hauled me to the sink at the rear of the restaurant still in plain view of all the diners. Scrubbing commenced in earnest. She grabbed my skirt, hoisted it high and pulled it into the sink so she could hose off the mess (which, by the way, is the consistency of chunky salsa but stickier.) How much of my white leg and Victoria’s Secrets were exposed I’m not sure. It was about then that I decided to take the matter into my own hands and shooed the hovering attendants away.

At some point in my energetic scouring, a flash of movement caught my eye. Off to one side, a Japanese man stood mopping at his cream trousers. I looked at him, he looked at me, and I recognized him as the person who had been sitting with his back to me in the next booth. Not a word passed between us but we simultaneously broke into uproarious laughter. It was the first time I’d realized that I wasn’t the only star in this drama!

When I returned to our table, soaking wet from hair to sandal on my right side, the surroundings would suggest that nothing untoward had occurred there. All was wiped clean. We ordered nachos and beer and rehashed the blow-by-blow account of what had just happened. The food came followed by the bill. My meal hadn’t been charged.

Out on the sidewalk I said goodbye to my friend. Before leaving we agreed that Devilicious still makes the best nachos in Ubud but Nuri’s can’t be beat for barbecue sauce! I walked home in the 88 degree heat, damp and comfortable in my ruined clothing.

After treating the skirt and blouse with Balinese bleach paste and soaking everything for several hours, miraculously the stains came out. Those areas are a little whiter than the rest but I can still wear the outfit. When I do, it will remind me that anything can happen on a beautiful Bali Sunday afternoon nacho run!

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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