My Julia Roberts moment… An “Eat Pray Love” island holiday.

When I went to Bali, I…

Met an Aussie couple in the check-in queue: shocked at my solo trip to Bali and heading on their honeymoon, they took me under their wing and treated me to a guest stint in the Qantas lounge & a list of “must do’s”.
Finished my holiday-starting-chick-lit book before the plane had even flown over the Australian coast.
Kept my head down & avoided eye contact with the airport “porters” at Denpasar.
Grabbed a visa, grabbed my bag & walked headfirst into the wall of humid heat.
Did a little inside dance when I saw my name on a sign, held high in the crowd of drivers.
Hit the road to Ubud with my driver Made (a second born). The first of many Made’s on my travels…
Tried to think zen and grit my teeth through my first experience of Balinese traffic. In the dark. Going up a mountain.
Quickly learnt that it’s every man for himself on the road. It might be chaos, but it’s sort of organised. Even the street dogs are in on it.
Arrived at the Honeymoon Guesthouse (don’t laugh…) right on midnight & was escorted quietly to my room.

Exhaled deeply into the silence. Relax.
Thought that roosters were only meant to crow at the dawn. Not in the middle of the night…
Awoke to that holiday feeling.
Enjoyed my first Balinese breakfast of Nasi Campur.

Took up residence beside the pool, with a pile of magazines and a big hat.

Quickly realised that there’s a small circle, right in the centre of your back, that cannot be reached when one is applying one’s own sun cream.
Laughed hard at the comedy of my sun cream dance.
Headed into “downtown” Ubud for some lunch and my first Bintang.

Walked smack bang into Mr Big from Sex and the City (a.k.a. Chris Noth).
Grabbed a bicep to steady myself. His bicep. Swoon.
Realised that though the need to look at your feet when walking (to avoid sink holes in the pavement) might mean I miss the view, it does at least mean sometimes you walk smack bang into hot celebrities. A different kind of view…
Quickly realised that I am not cut out for the bartering of Balinese shopping.
Slowly realised that I’m as naïve as they come and totally got suckered into a “hand made” item, that I then saw in every subsequent shop in town…
Hid myself in my mosquito-netted, four-posted, air-conditioned bed for an afternoon nap. Bliss.
Took in some Balinese dancing, while eating fried bananas beside a lotus pond.
Enjoyed a breakfast of Pandan Crepes and Palm Sugar Syrup. Divine.

Headed off to the Casa Luna Cooking School, jumping out of my skin with excitement.
Set off for a tour of the Ubud market, with the smile-iest man in Bali as our guide.

Onions. In bulk.

Fresh honeycomb.

A big basket of turmeric. Who knew this was that it looked like before it went into a jar?!

Mangosteen.

Spice city.

So excited (and hot), I had to buy a fan.

The Balinese BBQ.

Chilli. Green. Lots.

Chilli. Red. Lots.

Duck eggs. Beautiful blue.

Snake beans.

The colours of Bali.

Making the daily offerings.

Superwomen carrying bags of rice on their head.

On our way out.

Stomped back to the cooking school and sipped on iced red hibiscus tea, popped on an apron and got ready to cook.
Marvelled at the 200 year old, volcanic rock, 20 kilogram pestle & mortars we used to grind curry pastes and chilli sambals.

Inhaled the delicious smells of lemongrass & ginger, coughed and cried as we fried chilli and felt no guilt eating chunks of palm sugar.
Learned the most important thing in Balinese cooking is to find the right combination of sweet, sour, salty, spicy.
Ate a cooked-by-our-own-hands-feast fit for a hungry Aussie traveller, at a long table with other hungry food lovers.

Took advantage of Happy Hour and enjoyed a cocktail to cool off.

Started day three with a hit of Balinese (unfiltered) coffee.

Enjoyed a second day of cooking at Casa Luna, with more amazing food and incredible Balinese smiles.

Visited the Ubud Palace. What a door bell!!

Finally ate the one dish I absolutely had to try. Black rice pudding. I was not disappointed.

Spent an early morning walking through the rice fields.
Realised that I only made myself appear more of a tourist every time I moved out of the way for a motorbike, so just stood my ground and let them go round me.
Went all tourist and took about 100 photos in half an hour. Every grain of rice is different after all…
Arrived at my destination – an organic café in the middle of the rice paddies – and soaked up the serenity with a rosella iced tea.

Watched as my lunch (suckling pig) arrived on a man’s head, on the back of a motorbike…

Jumped in the car with Made (a different one) and sped down the mountain, towards the beach.
Arrived in Seminyak and headed straight for the sunset. And a Bintang.

Cringed at the intense security at all Seminyak tourist hot spots. I know why it’s there, but for some reason it almost makes you more scared.
Cringed even deeper at the Balinese taxi driver who kept talking about Australians loving “jiggy-jig”. Just drive Made (yes, another one).
Spent an entire eight hours by the pool, reading Shantaram. Dipping in and out. Of pool. Of book. Of life.

Discovered the wonderful Bali Deli and treated myself to a “floor picnic” in my hotel room – cheese, biccies, Bintang and CNN.
Got a secret thrill every time the young man at hotel reception called me “Miss Lizzie”!
Explored the Seminyak shopping strip and “invested” in $1 DVDs.
Spent my final night in Bali watching the sun set over the beach and drinking lychee cocktails.

Spent a few last hours lounging by the pool before heading to the airport and home to reality.

x

PS – not only was Bali a chance for me to relax, read, rest and restore, to learn to cook traditional Balinese food and enjoy the power of my own company, but it was the chance to cross two items of my 30B430 list.

PPS – with exactly a month to go before said milestone, I have tallied up my efforts so far and am slightly disappointed to report that I am sitting just below the half way mark. With time running out, I am making a concerted effort to scramble. My aim was always to complete at least 50% and I would love to get to 17. Fingers crossed. The countdown is on…

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In A Minute #8

Today I go on holidays! But right now, I am…

Reading…… Fragrant Rice by Janet de Neefe. The story of an Aussie woman who fell in love with Bali & a Balinese man, moved to Ubud and opened a cooking school. The Casa Luna cooking school, where I will be rattling the pans for a few hours during my trip to Bali!! It’s amazing to read about how she adapted to a new culture, but also taught her Balinese family a thing or two from the Aussie way of life, creating a life with the best of both worlds.

Listening…… to Nina Simone. I’ve whipped out my Compact Jazz CD this week and have had it on high rotation. You know when you have those “what if” conversations with friends about whether you’d rather be able to sing or to dance (sing), to play drums or guitar (guitar), to meet Brad Pitt or George Clooney (Brad Pitt) etc… Well not only do I wish I could sing, but I wish I could sing like Nina Simone. Sometimes I pretend like I can, and I belt out Feeling Good like there is no tomorrow. And it does feel good.

Watching…… Friday Night Lights. My friend Gem has been singing the praises of this series for a long time & leant me the lot on DVD so I could get on board. I’ll be honest, I haven’t taken to it as much as Gem hoped I would (it’s a little bit too melodramatic for me & I definitely don’t get American Football), but I can tell you that if there was a man like Tim Riggins in my life, I would be one happy lady. Nobody should look that good in jeans & a checked shirt. I’ve also maybe kinda started wishing I lived in Texas and had a Texan accent. And wore Cubans all the time.

Buying…… not a thing. I’ve been saving my pennies for Bali and a suitcase full of $1 DVDs and sarongs! And maybe a massage or two and a couple of cocktails by the pool…

Making…… Hot Cross Buns. I have quite an obsession for all things yeast related at the moment, which is not so great for any attempts at a low-carb lifestyle… Alas. But after my recent success with bread rolls, I set myself the challenge to make buns for Easter. My first attempt (pictured below) were deliciously fruitful & spicy, but I had a few issues with gluggy crosses. My second attempt, for Easter Sunday breakfast, were a smoother ride. The best thing about home-made Hot Cross Buns? Eating them hot from the oven, with lashings of butter. Low-carb lifestyle? Puh-lease…

Planning…… what books to read while I’m in Bali (Shantaram, a Sophie Kinsella & my next BOOKclub book), how much suncream to take to Bali, how late I’ll sleep in while I’m in Bali, how much chicken satay is too much in Bali, which beach club I’ll lounge at in Bali… You get the drift… I’m kind of excited…

Loving…… my mini Picasso. A few weeks ago I partook in some 30th birthday celebrations for my oldest friend Billie. After a beautiful & civilised lunch, we ventured down to the local pub & enjoyed a couple of Guinness’s (!!!), some Van Morrison on the juke box and some chat with the locals. All of which meant that we moved slowly the next morning. With a ticket to the final session of the Picasso exhibition at the AGNSW, I was meant to head back to Sydney early, but by the time I was ready to drive, I was too late for my date with Pablo. Alas. A few days later though, a package arrived for me at work, with a beautiful note from Billie & a small but perfectly formed Picasso. In miniature. Who needs the real thing when I have one painted especially for me? It’s Picasso perfection. And to the talented artist: I know you laugh, but you made my week with that painting. Mini Archibald Prize here we come!

Being…… green with envy of Mum’s neighbours, the proud owners of a Russian Blue kitten called Maurice. He’s like an old man in the body of a fluffy blue ball. We had a day of kitten-sitting over Easter. I was hooked. It was almost a case of kitten-napping…

Fact of the Day…… the voting is open! I am again calling/begging/asking/pleading/forcing all my loyal readers to Vote For Me in the Best Australian Blogs 2012 – People’s Choice Competition. Click on the big blue button on the right hand side of my blog home page & scroll through to page 5, where you’ll find Tablecloths & Talking right at the top. Tick it and Vote! You won’t regret it. If you vote, I will cook for you…

x

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Big celebrations for someone small & special.

This is an unwritten post.

Right, well obviously, if we’re getting technical, then that’s not true, because here I am writing it and there you are reading it. What I’m saying is, this post is tardy and should have been written months ago.

You see, back in January, something big happened to someone I know. My Mum hit a milestone of the Diamond Jubilee kind and celebrated her 60th birthday. And that’s worth writing about. So here we are.

It’s not everyday that one’s mum turns 60, so naturally it had to be suitably celebrated, a process that began with me using my excellent powers of persuasion (correction: using my whiny daughter voice to beg and plead, convincing Mum that it would be rude not have a party, as her friends would naturally expect it…) to sell Mum on the idea. What started out as the party to end all parties, concluded at an intimate Summer lunch for 30. Sold! (proving simply that even at 29, the whiny daughter voice still works…!)

It’s a well-known fact that food is my thing (something you could say I inherited from my mother!), so once we had the date locked in and a list of party prep tasks written, we got down to business on planning the menu. Kind of a big deal. There was some to-ing and fro-ing, but in the end we settled on our celebration summer menu.

TO START
Smoked Almonds
Melon & Prosciutto
Bruschetta

TO SIT
Homemade Salmon Gravlax with horseradish cream
Rare Roast Beef with mustard béarnaise

Colourful Cous Cous Salad
Roasted Red Capsicums
Pea & Mint Salad

TO FINISH
Lime Tarte
Brownie Cake
Biscotten Torte

Cheese Plate
Coffee & Tea
Chocolate Dipped Candied Orange

A combination of lifetime favourites (smoked almonds, Biscotten Torte), Summer classics (melon & prosciutto, bruschetta), newly discovered loves (Salmon Gravlax, pea salad) and staple “famous” recipes (beef & mustard béarnaise, Cous Cous salad), we covered all our bases & all levels of gourmet enjoyment!

With the menu done, the shopping list shopped, the seating plan sorted, flowers & decorations complete & a pre-party running order created (I don’t work in events for nothing!), all that was left before the birthday girl could take to the spotlight, was for us to get our cook on.

Desserts were first…

Limes for tarte

Lime Tarte

Shiny brownie mixture.

The now-famous Biscotten Torte.
Apparently this was Mum’s childhood favourite, but what I want to know is, where was it in my childhood? Well, it’s now a firm adulthood favourite…

Then on to salads…

Capsicums to be stuffed & roasted

Putting the gents to work, shelling pistachios

Colour & cous cous

Peas, mint & fetta

Then the protein…

Cow before…

Cow after…

Salmon Gravlax.
Cured at home by the birthday girl. A nod to our Swedish family.

The celebration spread

The pre-lunch nibbles & post-lunch indulgences were kindly supplied by a couple of lovely party guests who wouldn’t take no for an answer!

It was a feast fit for an Elizabeth.

With spectacular flowers created by Mum, alongside lovingly polished family silver, a wall of photos and the party girl herself, the room was transformed.

And after a week of rain, on party day the sun was shining and our little village hall sparkled in the party glow.

So did Mum.

(see, she is only little!)

Adorned with a “Sixty & Sexy” sash, presented with a bottle of passion pop and celebrated like any old-duck should be, my little Mum had the time of her life.

x

PS – some of you will read this, but many of you won’t… to all those fabulous ladies (and gentleman) who helped to make Mum’s day so special – whether it was wrapping prosciutto round melon, laying planks to save ladies shoes from the mud, keeping glasses topped up, helping to wash-up a million plates, providing moral support to a frantic party-planning daughter or simply spoiling the birthday girl with your love – I can’t thank you enough. You are wonderful.

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Autumn glory: a weekend in pictures.

There are many things I love about Winter – my birthday, snow, slow-cooking, red wine by the fire – Spring – peonies, longer days, new life – and Summer – books at the beach, beers in the sun, wearing havaianas all the time – but my favourite season of all is Autumn – colour, corduroys, fallen leaves, soups and speckled sunshine.

I just spent a perfect Autumn weekend at Mum’s, which I just had to share with you. I got a little camera happy, so apart from saying that I indulged in sleep, good food, books, magazines, DVDs, fresh air and being spoilt by my Mum, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Looking through the new lychgate to beyond. Dreamy.

Grey skies. Full dam.

Roses & raindrops.

My Ma. Laughing. And making me laugh.

Retro stove.

Basking *posing* in the sunshine!

An olive grove.

Pruning shears and pink gloves.

Rows of freshly pruned lavender.

Time out with Mr Boag & Ms Austen.

Autumn leaves.

Whimsy on a windowsill.

Sunset. Angus. Flood free.

Pink.

Mother’s kitchen. Home.

Fondue prep.

Ladies what lunch.

Cheesy goodness.

Vegie patch supplies.

So long. Farewell. Leaving the Old School House behind.

x

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My (teeny) kitchen rules.

 

I might not have a teammate to bounce ideas off, trip over in the kitchen, lay the blame on when the pastry burns or nudge shoulders with while the judges give their verdict, but I still believe that last weekend, MY kitchen ruled!

On Thursday I read cookbooks, on Friday I wrote a shopping list, on Saturday morning I shopped and on Saturday arvo I donned my apron and began a little bit of a cooking frenzy.

First up was making shortbread. For making gingerbread. I’ve done my research and my preferred gingerbread recipe has got to be the most elaborate. But it’s a Jamie recipe and I’m a little partial to those. Plus it uses crystalised ginger (not just ground ginger), making it extra spicy. So I whipped up the shortbread. Quick and easy. Ready for Sunday and the next step to gingerbread.

Next up was Saturday night dinner. And an “it” grain. Quinoa. I’ve been a little slow on the uptake (and a little slow on getting the pronunciation right…) when it comes to quinoa, but better late than never right? Using a recipe for quinoa salad from the latest issue of Country Style, it was the perfect side to my stuffed squid (a Masterchef recipe from Season 1).

Red onion, tomato, parsley, mint and almonds, combined with the quinoa and a dressing of oil, vinegar, garlic and preserved lemon. Colourful.

Mini calamari tubes, stuffed with onion, garlic, anchovy, breadcrumbs, lemon zest & parsley.

Healthy and delicious. A super super-grain, with squishy seafood goodness.

Come Sunday morning, with a banana & raspberry smoothie and a cup of coffee (maybe two…) to kick start my day, I used my shortbread to make gingerbread. I had a little bit of a food processor blow out but recovered quickly, to produce a double batch of gooey g-bread.

Next up, an exciting new adventure. Bread rolls. I’ve made a loaf before, but not little rolls. But after an extensive conversation, that included note-taking, with one of the ladies in the office – a regular bread roll baker – I felt ready to tackle the mini version.

There is just something so cool about bread dough. It just puffs up and doubles in size in no time at all. Just like that. Pouffe!

To the dough I added finely chopped red onion, some grated cheddar cheese and a sprinkling of oregano. Rolled into balls, then in sesame seeds and plopped on an oily tray into the oven, it wasn’t long before I took up position on my kitchen floor staring in through my oven door. Who said a watched pot never boils? Those babies rose right before my eyes! And the smell! Eat your heart out Bakers Delight!

The best bit? I ripped one off the moment they came out of the oven and stuffed my face. Melted cheese oozing out of fluffy white rolls. Heaven in a puffy carb hit.

By this stage I’d begun to wonder whether I would spend more than 40 minute intervals outside of my kitchen, so I invited myself to my friends house for a cuppa (BYO gingerbread of course) and a break from my apron.

Then headed home with the setting sun to bake a chicken pie.

Sunday night TV dinner at it’s best.

And the bonus of my kitchen focussed weekend? The leftovers. And the excitement of the super compliments I got from the office gang when I arrived with fresh rolls on Monday morning.

x

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Beware the Secret Taco…

Tonight I ate chicken heart.

Feel free to take a moment to digest (ahem…) that fact. I sure took that moment.

Chicken heart. The heart of a chicken. Cheep cheep. Beat Beat.

But let me explain, because it wasn’t a conscious choice.

It starts with BOOKclub – our monthly food & literary gossip session – and tonight we had our get together at El Loco at the Excelsior, the Mexican offering from Justin Hemmes and the Merivale gang.

Sure, there are other things on the menu, but it’s hard to go past their $5 tacos. So we didn’t. They’ve got pork, beef, prawn, tofu and chicken options and then they’ve got a “secret” option. The secret taco changes daily. They give you no hints and no apologies. I was instantly intrigued. So we placed our orders (three of the four of us went with the “secret”) and headed back to our table.

Just a couple of subtle cactus table numbers…

Not that they drew attention to us for long, coz before we knew it, our tacos had arrived.

We grabbed the waitress before she slipped away and asked what the “secret” was, but they won’t do the reveal until you try to figure it for yourself first. Beware anyone with food allergies!

The “secret” taco

Becko manned up first and tried the “secret”, thinking maybe it was some kind of sausage. It was shaped in funny little circles. I went next and thought maybe it was a tofu of some sort. It had a funny squishy texture. Ames was last to try and thought maybe it was cat food. It had no real flavour.

Oh the irony!

Basically stumped, we grabbed our waitress again. When we said the best we could come up with was some kind of tofu-meat-substitute, she had to hold back her shocked laughter. Aaaah no. It’s chicken heart.

Four jaws hit the tables. Chicken heart? You’re joking! Nope, it’s chicken heart. And off she flew. Leaving us to come to terms with the fact that we basically had just eaten cat food.

Meanwhile, Evans sat back and smiled. She hadn’t been sucked in by the “secret” and could relax in the knowledge that she had not just eaten funny-looking, weird-textured, pieces of heart from a chook.

Lesson learned. Secrets are secrets for a reason.

Still, I’d recommend all of El Loco’s other tacos. Delicious. And not at all resembling major bodily organs.

x

PS – my brush with the heart of a chook, made me think of the following quote that I came across recently, from the owner of famous New York restaurant Per Se: “Respect for food is a respect for life, for who we are and what we do.” Well said Thomas. I think Foghorn Leghorn would agree with you…

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Sunshine, on my window, makes me happy…

…Except that we’ve had 18 days of rain in February, so actually there hasn’t been that much sunshine… We were even gifted an extra day of Summer in this Leap Year, but still it rained. So in the end February was mostly about making the most of the sun when it shone.

This month I…

Ate pretty little canapés, spicy paella and a chunk of parmesan from the biggest wheel of cheese I’ve ever seen, while attending the Merivale Events Open Day.
Wondered at the kind of person who would actually book a function in the Penthouse of the ivy. Brian McFadden, that’s who.
Basked in the glory of frequent flyer points and booked myself a trip to Bali.
Partied with a bunch of oldies at my Ma’s 60th birthday. They might be hiding grey hairs but they can’t hide their love a good shindig!

Indulged in a post-sixtieth wine night with Evans, relishing being back in the company of a young-pup after a weekend with said oldies.
Got hooked on ABC mini-series Zen starring scruffily sexy Rufus Sewell.
Had a sensational BOOKclub dinner at teeny-tiny-laneway-bar Grasshopper. A new fave.
Wondered whether just as red cars go faster, red hair grows faster and had yet another fringe trim.
Enjoyed a pouring rain last-lunch-pre-baby with my neatly rotund friend Deb.
Whooped it up on the red carpet with Ween at the opening night party of the Imperial Hotel.

Made the most of a celebratory brunch at Burnt Orange & ordered extra avocado with my bacon & eggs. Those VIP bubbles really hurt the next day.
Strutted my stuff in newly purchased Summer shorts. Green. Happy.

Checked the iPhone weather, noted several consecutive hours of sunshine forecast and hit the beach.
Gave my little Barina a pat for being so excellently compact, allowing us to snaffle a perfect beachside park, in the worlds smallest car space.
Momentarily thought that it was “just another Jeff Goldblum” prank when someone said Whitney had died.
Laughed (and sort of cried a little bit too…) at my sunburnt knees. Damn impromptu beach visits.
Celebrated with my Mum, the sale of her Sydney home. Her home for 16 years. Our home together for 9 years.
Took a trip down memory lane, remembering all the wonderful times we had in a pretty spectacular little inner city semi. That house loved a party almost as much as I do…
Watched and absolutely loved the Downton Abbey Christmas special. Thank god for happy endings!
Whipped up some Rocky Road as a Valentine’s treat for the girls at work and won a few hearts!
Celebrated Valentine’s Day with two of my favourite ladies, sharing a 3 course feast, a glass (or two…) of bubbles & a couple of dodgy homemade cocktails.

Proudly soaked up the “you look much younger than 30” compliment from a sexy French barman. Surely he wouldn’t lie…
Hit up Karaoke World with the girls and belted out I Will Always Love You in a soaring Whitney tribute.

Turned real estate mogul for a morning & took in a few open houses.
Acted super cool upon hearing the $1.7million asking price… *cough cough*
Checked the iPhone weather, noted several consecutive hours of sunshine forecast & headed to Balmoral again.

Got my Sunday night cook on and slapped up a cheesecake.

Sat on the couch with my Mum, watching *read: judging* Please Marry My Boy and doing some darning. Don’t tsk. I bet you’ve watched at least one episode…
Praised Mother Nature for her kindness as I watched my friend Tully glow in the blue skies and sunshine on her wedding day.
Wondered whether anyone could pull off a Vera Wang wedding dress quite like Tully. Stunner.
Slip-slop-slapped and spent a good few hours on Gerringong beach.

Tried to fight the “back to Sydney blues” as we left behind the rolling green hills & blue water of the South Coast.
Was introduced to a hidden Sydney gem (by my god-daughter) in Via Napoli and their metre long pizzas.

Tried to avoid all mention of the small snake of a man and his bogan ranga opponent as they idly batted swords in the general direction of each other.
Appreciated some fresh Holbrook eggs and ate omelette for dinner. Two nights in a row…

Rejoiced at the arrival of Deb’s beautiful baby girl – Evelyn Harper.
Got stupidly excited about the 24 year old twins who dined in our Steakhouse to celebrate their 6th birthday on 29th February!!
Told anyone who would listen about the “24 year olds, but really they’re only 6 years old” TWINS who ate in our Steakhouse.
Thought about joining the 6th birthday celebrations. Then realised that was weird. And a little bit creepy.
Only six years old!!! So cool.
Decided maybe I need to get out a little more… It’s the small things…

x

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