Category Archives: Bali

Bali in the Kitchen

As a kid, the only coconut I was ever exposed to was that horrid dessicated stuff people use to make bunny cakes look fuzzy. Cute, but it tastes horrible, although I might be able to get on board with the bunny butt cake. (Recipe on the Betty Crocker website.) That’s to look at, mind you, not to eat.

bunny butt cakeMy grandmother was a mountain of love who made the best gingerbread men ever but ruined her fruit salad by topping it with desiccated coconut.

Then I moved to Asia. Years ago, on a beach in Thailand, I saw a wizened old lady spend her days using a machete to mince fresh coconut meat that eventually became sweetened squares of heavenly delight. And then I discovered coconut milk curries, which I can’t get enough of. I regularly order green curry at the Thai restaurant in the ‘hood and eat my way around the despised eggplant. Only recently have I discovered the uncountable merits of coconut oil. I decided that coconuts merited more of my attention. I was therefore determined to figure out how to make the Lombok chicken, but the only thing I was sure of was that it had coconut milk in it.

I had my photo of the dish itself as well as my memory of how it tasted.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAI studied the picture of the ingredients we’d used during our day at cooking school in Ubud.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAAnd remembered us all laboring together in the midday heat.

all choppingI called on Cutie McHottie’s beautiful smile for inspiration. (He’s the one on the right. I’m not in the group picture because I was off grinding peanuts with Cutie II, the one on the left.)

cutie BBQI studied recipes on the interwebs and then scoured my local supermarkets and veggie stands to find the stuff I’d need. Onions? No problem. Tomatoes? Check. Garlic? Got it. My confidence began to build…too soon. Fresh red chilies…uh…well… Fresh lemon grass…not a chance… Fresh galangal root…ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?????

As an extra kick in the rear, most of the recipes said that these ingredients would be available at my Asian market, which is funny because ALL of my markets are Asian and NONE of them had any of that. Chinese and Korean ingredients are readily available, but except for Nasi Goreng, Japan pretty much ignores Indonesia, at least from a culinary point of view.

I was not going to let that stop me. I am a strong, determined woman. I march into battle with my head held high, my dented armor polished. Like the bravest samurai of yore, I scarf down my rice balls in 30 seconds, retie my topknot, straighten my loincloth and dive back into the fray.

I squared my shoulders and made my way to the import store, where I found some coconut milk and an Indonesian sambal. I even found some jasmine rice to go with the finished masterpiece.


And it was good. Really good. I have no idea whether I did it right. Maybe there is no right or wrong when one is winging it. At any rate, it tasted wonderful.

Isn’t that all that matters?


Nutty Poo

One of our Bali adventures was a side trip to a coffee plantation. I didn’t realize until much later that we saw no plantation. We walked a path through a jungle, were given a coffee and tea sampler and were invited to buy stuff before being shuffled back to the bus.

Nancy, our sainted yoga instructor, one of my oldest friends.

We did, however, see some of the famous coffee poo cats, which it turns out are civets of some sort.

This is a sleeping civet.


And this is their poo.


Unfortunately, the poo reminded me of a chocolate peanut roll my grandma used to make at Christmas. At the same time, I couldn’t help but think of Twitchy’s poo, which is so lethal that it can wake me from a sound sleep when she produces it. I also have a hard time enjoying things that cost more than they should. Even in the middle of nowhere Indonesia it was nearly $5 to try the cat poo coffee. Having had $20 coffee here in Japan back when that was a thing to do, I can with confidence say that the experience was over-rated. So I gave the cat poo a miss.

Later that night, a few of us ended up at a convenience store where I discovered that one of our group, despite being a dedicated marathon runner, is a closet Snickers addict. She was delighted to find some on sale, but again I declined. I make it a rule to avoid doing things abroad that I can do at home and Snickers are widely available here. So I got something else.

When I got back to my room, this guy was sitting on my desk, and since he asked me politely, I let him hold my Nockers.



I arrived at Denpasar just after midnight, tired but relaxed, knowing that someone would be there to pick me up. I went through the magic doors and there was a long line of little brown men holding pieces of paper with people’s names on them. Mine was not among them. I checked up and down the line a couple of times to make sure. The only contact information I had was the phone number of the hotel but I had no phone and no local currency. So I stopped walking and thought, “Well, this is a pickle.” But then friendly taxi man came over and asked where I was going. “Sideman, and someone is going to pick me up.” He said, “No, no. It’s much too late. They’re not coming.” I insisted that they would and got out my itinerary. Nice man that he was, he called the hotel, who said the driver would be right there. Turns out he had been driving all day and had fallen asleep in the van. No harm done, and I’m glad to know that I don’t panic easily.

After all of that, we rolled into the hotel around 3:00am and I was fairly bleary by then, but was greeted by a woman named Ayu who took my hand in both of hers and a wave of warmth and sincerity shot up my arm and directly into my heart. “Follow me,” she said. “I’ll show you to your room.” And this is where we went.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAAyu slipped off her sandals and padded across the terrace.
She pushed open a pair of ornately carved wooden doors and I saw this.


And this.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAThe tiles were cool on my tired feet and there were flowers everywhere. I couldn’t find my towel for the longest time because it was disguised as a snail.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA The understated beauty, the simple elegance, the sense of fun all reached out to me. It’s hard to describe the way Bali fills up your senses. It’s not just the scents of lotus and jasmine flowers but also the constant burning of incense with an undertone of steamed rice. I see ranges of greens rising above the rice paddies, highlighted with bright flowers in tropical hues, and all the while there is the sound of running water.

In the morning, I sit on the terrace and soak up the atmosphere. The moss on the gently swaying trunks of coconut palms and papaya trees winks in the early morning sunshine under a clear blue sky adorned with the faintest brush strokes of wispy clouds. All around is an orchestra of crickets, birdsong, rooster crows, gekko chirps and flowing water, always the sound of flowing water. Just outside my room, a staircase of terraced rice paddies brimming with water and life makes its way down the slope. It begins to rain, the drops adding syncopation to the orchestra of sound, the concentric rings they make forming popcorn patterns on the surface of the water, always changing, each unique.

Despite the drought on other parts of the island, at that altitude the ever flowing water seeks lower climes, meandering from the heights through rice paddies, the myriad swimming pools and carved stone fountains, always flowing, always seeking, somehow seeming to know its destination.

The earth is sodden, so the many buildings that make up the hotel complex are connected by rutted stone and concrete walkways. One quickly learns to carry a flashlight and walk gingerly, especially in the dark. On the first night, I stumble on the way to dinner, scrape my elbow and bash my knee. The knee is all right, jut bruised, but for the rest of the trip I can’t put my weight on it. One of the women in my group notices me icing it down and asks what happened.

“I fell, that first night,” I said. “Didn’t you notice me doing very strange yoga?”

“Yes, I noticed,” she said. “I just thought you were doing really advanced poses.”

There is something almost mystical about doing yoga in those surroundings. I work my way into a pose then look up. The inrush of sights, sounds and scents fills me with both joy and a profound longing, as if I could somehow know everything that can be known, see the ageless connections among all living things and find peace, a peace that reaches from the bottoms of my feet through the top of my head and out into the infinite universe.

WIN_20150421_113148 (2)

The Long and Whining Road

As nice is it is to be back home, it was very hard to leave paradise. I will have a lot more to say about that. I need some time to come up with better words than “beautiful”, “exotic” and “delicious”.

Here are a couple of teasers:

View from the restaurant terrace at Sideman, Bali

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAFor now, I’ll start with the journey home, which began with a night flight from Denpasar to Seoul.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAThree cheers for Korean Airlines. The nice check-in man at Denpasar airport put a special red SHORT CONNECTION label on my suitcase because I only had 45 minutes between flights at Seoul. I wasn’t particularly worried about it but I was seated at the very back of the peanut gallery and one of the lovely cabin attendants was worried. Twenty minutes before we landed, she moved me to first class, my very first time to sit there. I didn’t get any special service, but I did get to play with the buttons on the seat AND use the exit for fancy folks.

The cabin attendant was also worried about my suitcase and told me to enquire at the boarding gate, which I did, but the guy rather facetiously said I’d have to enquire at Narita, which in the end proved unnecessary. My Residence Card and I sailed past the hundreds of Korean tourists waiting in the FOREIGN PASSPORTS line and my red-tagged suitcase was already dancing around the carousel when I got to baggage claim. I zipped through customs where the staff are always delighted with foreigners who can speak Japanese, and hopped on the Narita Express which whisked me homeward, past the familiar rice paddies and tiled roofs and winding narrow roads, so much like Indonesia and yet so very different.

Much as I love to travel and see new places and try new things, it’s a pleasure to be back where I know how things work. I know where and how to buy a sandwich and a train ticket and can do those things without drama or fanfare. I always forget, when I haven’t traveled for a while, just how difficult such things can be*, and while it is a pleasure to cope with them to whatever degree of success, it is also a pleasure when they are easy.

*Most of our meals were group affairs, but one evening we were on our own and eight of us ventured out to find a restaurant. People were tired and kvetchy and couldn’t agree on where to go. I don’t have much patience with that sort of thing so went to the supermarket, where I wandered around for half an hour and ended up with a bag of potato chips and a bottle of Bintang beer. I recommend the latter; the former are better avoided. We live and learn.