Temporary Goddess

Twisting hips left to right, ducking beneath the improbably loaded baskets, we struggle to match pace through the dimly lit market stalls. Our guide turns around infrequently to keep an eye on her goddesses. Both translator and chief haggler, she knows which way to steer us in order to locate the best value products. Vibrant fabrics and clothing in one building, too-cheap tourist souvenirs in another, and between, at street level, lies more variety of fresh produce than I have seen in a long time. Piles of whole, freshly butchered chicken carcasses – feet and head included -piled high at one stall, trays of eggs of all sizes and varieties at the next. Baskets of fragrant tiny limes pass under my hands. Dark, pimply avocados larger than my fist sit alongside futuristic magenta dragon fruit, and deeper into the shadows I can smell the spice stalls with their enticing secrets.

The market visit primes my tastebuds and, thankfully, our lunch delights both the eye and the palate. Perched on wooden stools underneath a canopy of lush trees, we sit passive as the banquet is laid before us by a cadre of waiters. Platters laden with water spinach, peanuts and chilli sambal. Coconut, bean shoots and seaweed salad dressed with lime and lemongrass. Whole fish fried with tomatoes, shallots and chillies. Grilled chicken crucified on bamboo sticks then rubbed with traditional aromatic Balinese spices (turmeric and garlic was all I could determine). More fish, this time pounded and wrapped in banana leaves. And this is only day one.

On returning to the Goddess Yoga Retreat in Seminyak, I’m grateful for its hidden location at the end of an unmarked lane. Balinese traffic is not for the faint-hearted. Good-natured use of the car horn and frequent waving of the hand, drivers appear to negotiate road lanes as a fluid idea. One does not go for a leisurely drive to unwind. Guests come from around the world and for their own reasons. My presence here is thanks to the expired passport of a relative giving me the chance to indulge in new experiences. This afternoon I’ve signed up for a session with a traditional Balinese healer.

Half hidden behind vines and bamboo, I open the French doors of the studio and part the cheesecloth curtains to the side. A short, solid man not much older than myself –though I’m really only guessing — greets me. Softly spoken, his English is much better than my Indonesian. Pak Bagus, or Papa Bagus as the retreat managers refer to him, is dressed simply in a once-white t-shirt and blue batik print shorts with the standard bare feet.

‘Why are you here?’ he asks simply. Choosing not to dwell on the more philosophical sides of the question, I briefly explain my recent diverticulitis. Basic words and some hand gesturing later he nods and directs me to lie down. I untie my sarong and lie face down on the massage table. He places his hands on my back at different intervals and blows gently upon my skin. Without any massage oil I am alternately poked and prodded, stroked and manipulated sometimes to the point of discomfort. I can’t decide whether he’s trying to work the bad stuff out or work the good stuff in.

Occasionally I draw in a quick breath when he works on a painful spot. ‘Big infection’ he repeats time and again. He closes his eyes and his lubed up hands explore, press and release sections of my abdomen. ‘You tell me if pain’ he says and I nod enthusiastically. As he holds firmly in certain spots, I feel sharp twinges on my lower left side. I tell him straight away. He nods but doesn’t really let up the pressure. Most likely as a distraction technique, he asks me about my family – children, husband and so on. He tells me about an Australian group he was dealing with the previous week and I interject with, ‘It’s my first time in Bali actually.’

‘Why?’ he exclaims.  I quickly apologise and explain that I was never interested in the beach and Bintang style of holiday and I didn’t understand what else this island had to offer. I make sure he understands that I recognise my folly. I wax lyrical about Ubud and its stunning natural beauty, the artisans we’ve met, the friendly generosity of the people we’ve encountered and the incredible food we’ve eaten. I hope I’ve convinced him that this will not be my last visit to this beautiful island.

Like a rotisserie chicken, I’m oiled and turned, seasoned with spices and turned again. Meanwhile he expounds on his unique skills set : ‘Astrology, astronomy, massage, healer, ceremony . . . ‘ He pauses for no doubt dramatic effect ’magic’. I leave this last one in the air.

When my time has elapsed, I slowly sit up and find my sarong. Straightening my dishevelled underwear, I listen to his last minute prescriptions. ‘Massage. You need massage in Melbourne. Who can do that?’ I reassure him that there are plenty of places I can get massages. He also does his best to explain that I need to work on my gut bacteria. I thank him, palms pressed firmly together in front of my chest fingers skyward as is the custom. I slink off back to my room before I have to encounter anyone.

The following morning after breakfast, I seclude myself away on a raised bale bengong or daydream gazebo and observe the morning’s goings-on from my corner.Housekeeping staff in cool white cotton pants and cyan blue batik print shirts are occupied with their cleaning routines. Two young men arrive to complete their grounds-keeping duties. Bundles of stiff reeds make short work of the fallen leaves and flowers. The neat lawns are once again spotless. Bamboo blinds are raised on the yoga room to allow fresh air in after the morning’s gentle Yin session.

Fans circling lazily overhead, three goddesses lounge on large soft white cushions, getting lost in the colouring in books. Some women are on a shopping crusade, seeking out a good/known version of coffee and hopefully returning with souvenirs. Later upon travel home, they will no doubt regale their loved ones with grand stories of their trek brandishing their trophies as proof of prowess. Others are already at work pampering their body with some of the selection of unlimited spa treatments.

A low flying helicopter overhead interrupts the gentle drip of the morning’s rain from onto my gazebo roof. So out of place a noise here, we all stop and look up to watch it pass. Operations Manager Joyce steps out of her office and talks briefly to one of the two young men. Gestures are made by both of them indicating mid-calf level but whether it’s about the length of their pants or some shoes, I cannot make out. Shoes are optional and now only the third day in, many goddesses are traipsing around happily barefoot. It’s a custom I’m easily converting to.

Joyce and the other facilitators gather around the table in preparation for lunch. No bell is rung or voices raised. Women just start to gather and take any available seat. Today’s lunch is Gado gado – a salad composed of bean shoots, tomato, green beans, tofu and hardboiled egg with a spicy peanut dressing. It is both cleansing and filling at once. Local tea with lemon is a refreshing accompaniment.

Joyce kicks off the getting to know you session by telling us a bit about herself. Having moved from Sumatra 13 years earlier, she met the retreat’s founder, Chelsea, on the beach one day. Joyce speaks of Chelsea as being one of the most inspiring women she’s ever met. Perhaps she is part founder and part guru.

Theoretically, I know Bali has beaches because my mind’s singular image of a Bali holiday is bogan Aussies drinking Bintang on the beach. I will be perfectly content if I don’t step foot on a Bali beach. Beaches are best windswept, cool and empty of the clutter of other people. Walking slowly along the sand just at that edge where it’s not too wet and the waves get you or not too soft that it begins to feel like exercise, your reward being to just sit and watch the waves roll in ceaselessly. There’s nothing more simple and direct to convince me that I am just one small part of a large world that existed before me and is content to go on without me.

After lunch, I walk a dozen paces barefoot to the air-conditioned spa rooms upstairs above the yoga room. The gentle rain adds a soft soundtrack to our days and its presence almost demands we take things slowly and adjust to island time.

My spa treatment this afternoon is courtesy of Yeni. Her thin, supple fingers are surprisingly strong and she manipulates my limbs and muscles easily. My body is engaged and so my mind wanders. I wonder if her loved ones ever get to experience these magic fingers. She leans in close, whispering, ‘Excuse me, Miss.’ I roll over onto my back whilst she raises the thin, batik printed sarong of brilliant blues to preserve my modesty. She applies a rough scrub of crushed dried green tea leaves and local jungle bee honey, she lets this rest on my skin then slowly rubs it in and off with long firm strokes, making a grand mess all over the shiny, white tiled floor.

Invigorated, I am sent on my way with instructions to shower the remainder of the scrub off. Instinctively I go to smell my arm and it is sweet, almost fruity. I’ll skip the tasting bit. A quick shower off, into my still-wet bathers then into the pool I dive, two steps from our door so no sarong required.

○ ○ ○

The gin was only partly to blame really.  A litre of duty-free Gin, juicy fragrant limes, cold tonic water with generous amounts of ice and the smiling kitchen staff have mastered the art of a perfect gin and tonic – the ideal conversational lubricant.

After dinner the women slowly disappear one by one until I’m sitting here in the evening’s heat with an empty glass. My eye catches the light reflected in the pool. I realise that I’m still wearing my bathers underneath my loose top. Peeling it off over my head I drop it on the thick soft grass. I lower myself in quietly and begin my expert dolphin moves. Diving down to touch the rough pool floor then rising again, my head breaking gently through the surface.

I float on my back looking upwards gazing at the few visible stars, hearing only the rippling water. The knot where my bather top ties behind my neck is bulky and awkward as I try to arch my head backwards. So I untie it and also the clasps behind my back, flinging the wet top onto the rattan sun lounges. Diving below the surface once more the cool water swirls around me.  After a few laps around the pool, no one has appeared from the villas.

Climbing out, I go search for the light switches. Palm flat to the wall and quickly they are extinguished. Only the lights inside the pool remain on. The ability to turn these off eludes me. Caution is thrown quickly aside as I whip bather bottoms off and I dive back into the pool. So refreshing is the feeling of water on my skin.

○ ○ ○

Our Balinese cooking class scheduled for today is to be held at Hotel Tugu Bali in Canggu Beach. Sleepier than Seminyak, it draws less of the Aussie bogan and more of the surfer type though it is still a month off from the start of surfing season apparently.

 

Greeted on arrival by our chef de jour, a short woman introduces herself as Sri.Though later I discover she is only the assistant to Iboe Soelastri, the true cooking guru. This older woman of indeterminate age had mastered the subtle skill of wielding the cleaver through the meat with one hand whilst her second hand massages and rotates the meat and also overseeing our preparation so the pace of the dishes is on time and in order. The guru won’t allow Sri to finish a dish until the perfect taste profile has been reached. Following a recipe is all nice and well for us simple folk but being guided by over forty years of experience, our guru advises of more salt or sugar or lime to balance.

Our first dish is to be a minced spiced beef parcel wrapped and steamed in banana leaves. Banana leaves are ubiquitous here. Folded and made into boxes to hold offerings of flowers and incense, lining the steamer basket and placed underneath dishes for presentation, they literally do grow on trees. In the segregated boxes next to our chopping boards lay a rainbow of ingredients. Sri shows us to how to rub the long red mild chillies between our hands back and forth. This loosens the seeds so when you slice it open they fall out easily. Lemongrass will get the root ends bashed firmly with the handle of the knife to break up the fibres. Some of the bulbs get peeled and some don’t and I can’t see a pattern but I duly do as I’m instructed. Large shards of coconut are grilled over the open flame, slightly catching alight adding a lovely charred edge.

Under the low roof of our open air kitchen, the intense heat and humidity is taking a toll on us. The sweat doesn’t take long to drip down my back between my shoulder blades and run down my thighs. My linen skirt and loose top cling to my now damp skin. I’m thankful when they produce refrigerated wet towels to cool ourselves with, reminding myself that one of retreat co-ordinators referred to this season as winter this morning as she wrapped a scarf around her neck.

We grind our spice pastes on a lava stone mortar and pestle unlike anything I’d ever seen. About the size of a dinner plate, it is mostly flat with small pits. The technique involves a rocking back and forth of the pestle and long dragging strokes. The chillies and shallots release their juices to help bind the pastes. Some pastes are fried off in coconut oil, others boiled in water to achieve a more mellow flavour.  Between taking photos and chopping chillies, I absent-mindedly wipe the sweat off my upper lip with my hand and soon feel the familiar burn. Next time, I’ll use the edge of my cheesecloth apron.

Nasi goreng fried rice, and snake bean and toasted coconut salad are then served in the cool dark hotel restaurant. Before we are delivered back, I can’t resist a stroll down to their private beach for a stickybeak. I know I said that I’d be content not to step one foot on the beach this trip and technically that is still valid. Under the oppressive sun I stand on the manicured lawn and look out towards the grey sand and gently breaking water. I decide that nothing is to be gained walking another 200m to feel sand under my toes. Turning away, I’m more than happy to leave the skin cancer seekers to their own devices. Food packed up and driver summoned I’m very happy to be ferried in air conditioned comfort back to the retreat where the quiet and mostly empty grounds are now a familiar sight.

On our final morning, the goddesses assemble in a circle on cotton bolsters in the yoga shala ready for our group meditation. Loose light clothing and the obligatory mosquito repellent to scent my ankles and neck and I’m ready to send love and good vibes to my compadres. Laura, our yoga goddess, looks calm and relaxed in her stretch leggings and loose singlet. Pale blonde hair pulled back off her face, she is the epitome of a yoga teacher. Tall and slim her lithe limbs appear so at home in poses that confuse and elude me though she continues to encourage us “no matter what body turned up for you on the mat this morning.” This morning to finish off our week’s retreat, we have an OM circle. This mantra chanting is supposed to provide vibrational healing both mentally and emotionally.

Each will experience the circle differently; no expectations and no pre-conceptions.Focussing on my breath and centring my mind, I get better at the whole omming thing as the chant progresses. When I’m tapped gently on the knee, it’s my turn in the centre. I feel the cool hard floorboards beneath me. Across my skin I sense the breeze from the fan or as I like to think of it the breath of the divine Goddess blowing her healing energy into my abdomen, supporting the work of Papa Bagus. There’s no pain in my intestinal region only a strong awareness of this area.

As the circle comes to a close, we all stretch our limbs then wander over to our breakfast table. The infectious grin that is plastered across Laura’s face even during complicated yoga poses and her cool relaxed demeanour in the high humidity betray no concerns. Over breakfast, I ask Laura more about her move from Australia. Doubts were raised continuously by others in her life and she hop-scotched between home and Bali six times before she managed to shut out those other voices and relocate with true intention.

Sitting here at the table, I think about how I’m going to miss having a selection of tasty healthy foods prepared freshly for me at each meal. Platters of brightly coloured tropical fruits are offered up each morning for our viewing and consuming pleasure. Dragonfruit of such a strong shade of fuchsia with tiny black seeds that it looks like a child coloured it in. Snake fruit with scaly brown skin and an off white fibrous perfumed flesh. Mango is less creamy and sweet than I’m used and slightly astringent. Papaya perfectly ripe and not the least bit funky. Mangosteen is a delight once you cut through the thick skin and reveal its sweet white flesh. There are also the tastiest eggs poached or scrambled as you like, seedy brown bread and juices in new combinations each day.

There will be no limitless spa treatments at my disposal, no strong fingers tracing the muscles of my back.  My white cotton sheets won’t be changed each day with the corner turned down and a small affirmation card on my pillow. The lyrical sounds of the housekeeping staff talking to each in Balinese will no longer be a soundtrack to my afternoons lazing on the couches in the lounge. Good thing I’m looking forward to going home.

 

On travelling and returning home

On travelling and returning home

 When I travel I feel that I don’t belong, that I’m foreign, something other. I’m unknown and unseen. It is only when I break the unspoken but mutually understood codes that I find myself in the glare of the locals. It can be something as innocent as walking on the wrong side of the footpath. It took me travelling to a land where the traffic drives on the right not the left side of the road that I discovered pedestrians too are expected to follow the same directional flow. I couldn’t comprehend why everyone seemed intent on walking at me. Observations undertaken across a variety of countries have reinforced this notion that pedestrian traffic flow more or less is dictated by the motorised traffic direction.

 Crossing a street takes multiple swivels of the head left and right before I’m sure that it is safe to cross. Walking in New York City, and many other American cities in fact, takes things to the next level. I’ve had people walk right into me as I stopped at the edge of the footpath – sorry, pavement – in observance of the red don’t walk signal facing me. Only fools and foreigners wait for the white walk signal apparently.

As a visitor to a new city, I’ve also crossed boundaries into no-go zones, or the wrong side of the tracks. Sometimes I’ve sensed a subtle change in atmosphere or appearance of buildings. Other times it’s more overt like the frequency of daylight drug sales. When conversing with locals later on, I’ve heard more than once ‘oh you didn’t go there, did you?’ The names of these areas can sound so nice as well – Tenderloin, Mission District, Kings Cross, Sunshine.

As a traveller, I knowingly and actively cultivate my role an outsider. I eavesdrop on conversations in cafes or on public transport. I like to pick up the nuances in the way language is used differently to what I am familiar with.  Instead of the phrase ‘take-way’ when it comes to meals, I now know ‘take-out’ or ‘box it up’ if taking home the leftovers of a meal in the States. The words are the known but appear in new constructions. In Australia, an entrée is the first course but in America an entrée is the main meal. All the more confusing as I seem to recall that entrée in French means entrance which makes sense in referring to the start or entrance to a meal.

I vacillate between mimicking the local accent and phrases, and swinging right back into a strong Aussie vernacular. I find it incredulous that some people don’t pick me immediately as being from somewhere else. Others jump in and say ‘of course, you’re from Australia. I meant where in Australia exactly?’ before telling me about the time they spent three months in Byron Bay twenty years ago.

I like to ask waiters and bartenders where they like to eat or drink and what dishes should I try before I leave their fair city – it’s always ‘their fair city’. My travels are mostly defined by the food I eat and what and where I drink. I couldn’t imagine a trip to New York City without a slice of thin crust pepperoni pizza eaten off a too small paper plate. New Orleans now will always require a plate of fried crab claws, shrimp and oysters then a beer drunk from a plastic cup as I walk the French Quarter enjoying the street music.

So what happens when I return home? Exactly.

This time round I’m choosing to walk new streets and drink coffee from new cafes. I’m thinking of pretending that I’m from somewhere else and ask waiters and bartenders what I should do, try, eat, and drink in my home town of Melbourne. One the joys of travelling is returning home and finding yourself and your town the novelty.

Ommmmming

Seated on our green cotton bolsters in the yoga shala or yoga room, the goddesses are assembled in a circle ready for our group meditation. Loose light clothing and the obligatory mosquito repellent to scent my ankles and neck and I’m ready to send love and good vibes to my compadres. Laura, our yoga goddess, looks calm and relaxed in her stretch leggings and loose singlet. Pale blonde hair pulled back off her face, she is the epitome of a yoga teacher. Tall and slim her lithe limbs appear so at home in poses that confuse and elude me though she continues to encourage us “no matter what body turned up for you on the mat this morning.” This morning to finish off our week’s retreat, we have an OM circle. This mantra chanting is supposed to provide vibrational healing both mentally and emotionally.

Laura explains how the session will run with a short personal meditation then the OM circle with the use of mala beads. Mala beads are a string of 108 beads and a central ‘sumeru’ or summit bead.  Essentially the string of beads is a tool to keep the mind on the meditation practice. Made from woods, seeds or crystals, the beads are held in the right hand, rotating them around the circle but never across the summit bead. As to why there are 108 beads on a string of mala beads? Well, there are no doubt 108 answers to this question, most playing with the mathematics of the numerals and how they intersect with the universe.

We each will chant ‘OM’ as a group 108 times. At each interval of 5, one goddess will lay down in the centre of the circle face up with arms outstretched palms upwards. Each will experience the circle differently. No expectations and no pre-conceptions .Focussing on my breath and centring my mind, I get better at the whole omming thing as the chant progresses. When I’m tapped gently on the knee, it’s my turn in the centre. I feel the cool hard floorboards beneath me. Across my skin I sense the breeze from the fan or as I like to think of it the breath of the divine Goddess blowing her healing energy into my abdomen. The work of Papa Bagus yesterday is supported by the Goddess circle this morning. There’s no pain in my intestinal region only a strong awareness of this area.

When we’ve reached the final bead, we are lead through a short prayer and an awakening ritual ready to prepare us for the day ahead. Hands together palms touching at heart centre and gently rub them together to warm then place over our closed eyes, let the early morning light filter in as I slowly blink my eyes open. Stretching the limbs and we all wander over the few paces to our breakfast table.

Platters of brightly coloured tropical fruits are offered up each morning for our viewing and consuming pleasure. Dragonfuit of such a strong shade of fuchsia with tiny black seeds that it looks like a child coloured it in. Snake fruit with scaly brown skin and an off white fibrous perfumed flesh. Mango is less creamy and sweet than I’m used and slightly astringent. Papaya perfectly ripe and not the least bit funky. Mangosteen is a delight once you cut through the thick skin and reveal its sweet white flesh. There are also the tastiest eggs poached or scrambled as you like, seedy brown bread and juices in new combinations each day.

Sitting here at the table, I think about how I’m going to miss having a selection of tasty healthy foods prepared freshly for me at each meal. There will be no limitless spa treatments at my disposal. I, personally, will miss Yeni’s strong fingers tracing the muscles of my back.  My white cotton sheets won’t be changed each day with the corner turned down and a small inspirational affirmation card on my pillow. The lyrical sounds of the housekeeping staff talking to each in Balinese will no longer be a soundtrack to my afternoons lazing on the couches in the lounge.
Good thing I’m looking forward to going home.

Night swimming Bali style

The gin was only partly to blame really.  We’d brought a litre of Bombay Sapphire with us from Australia from the airport duty free. Imported alcohol is heavily taxed here so although cocktails made with their locally produced spirits are reasonably priced and the local Bintang beer is very cheap, wine and imported spirits are in the out of reach category mostly. The juicy fragrant limes purchased from Denpasar market for ten percent of their Australian cost, cold tonic water with generous amounts of ice and the smiling kitchen staff have mastered the art of a perfect gin and tonic.

A round of drinks before dinner for all the goddesses gathered on the lounges is a perfect conversational lubricant. I suggest that the wines that were brought in by Sarah and Fiona should be opened and placed on the table to share. Holding back and being polite isn’t really my natural style so I walk around the raised bench to the fridge, grab the bottles and do it myself.  Indonesian sate sticks with noodles and snake beans will be perfect with the Koonunga Hill Sav blanc and Cape Mentelle Cab Sav. Both chilled from the fridge, a bucket with iced water is organised to stop them heating up too quickly. The menus here at the retreat are not well described by the word gourmet. Fresh, local and mostly organic produce is combined into a changing selection of meals. The poached eggs I have each morning for breakfast as the most flavoursome I’ve ever tasted.

Conversation flows as easily as the wine. We retire to the comfy couches and I curl my legs up and underneath me, partly to protect them from the hunting mosquitoes. Laughing abounds and some women peel off to retire for an early night, whilst others hunker down with another drink. Nadine insists she’s driving even though her bungalow is only a few metres stroll along the private lane. Sarah has already stated that she doesn’t drink so I’ve only a few of the goddesses left open to my corruption. Slowly they disappear one by one until I’m sitting here in the evening’s heat with an empty glass.

I look around the now deserted retreat and soak in the beautiful natural setting. My eye catches the light reflected in the pool. Set down between our room and the communal area, its cooling waters tempt me. I realise that I’m still wearing my bathers underneath this loose top. Peeling it off over my head I drop it on the thick soft grass. I lower myself in quietly and begin my expert dolphin moves. Diving down to touch the pool floor and rising again with my head breaking gently through the surface. I picture my moves as sleek and graceful as any sea mammal.

The quiet is peppered with the sounds of insects and the water rippling out from my fingers as they push through the water. I float on my back looking upwards. There’s so much ambient light in the area that only a few stars are visible in the sky. The knot where my bather top ties behind my neck is bulky and awkward as I try to arch my head backwards. So I untie it and also the clasps behind my back, flinging the wet top onto the rattan sun lounges. Diving below the surface once more the cool water swirls around me.  A few laps around the pool and no one has appeared from their villas. Rows of pendant lights hang outside the villas illuminating the path beside the pool. I wonder where the switches to these lights are.

Climbing out at one corner, I go the stairs and search for the light switches. Palm flat to the wall and quickly they are extinguished. Only the lights inside the pool remain on. The ability to turn these off eludes me. Bather bottoms whipped off and I dive back into the pool. So refreshing the feeling of water on my skin is a luxury. High vine covered walls and lush canopy of trees add to the secluded atmosphere of my private night swim. I know logically that I’m in a busy Indonesian holiday area but right now I’m only aware of myself and the light cool water on my skin.

Painting en plein air

I’ve a great travel set of watercolours and am enjoying discovering the pleasures of painting in the open. I recognise it is quite the established tradition but I’m a newcomer to it.

A little tweaking when I got home but most of the work was captured on site.

Lessons learned from playing with watercolour paints

I recently returned from a week on a tropical island with family. Naturally, I took art supplies to keep sane and allow me a legitimate excuse to steal some time and space for myself. Tubes of oils and acrylics seemed too cumbersome to pack so I only took a sketch pad, some pencils and my recently purchased and mostly untouched travel watercolour set.

Let’s just say I learned a thing or five.

1 – Time
Some things really can’t be rushed. Watercolour needs time to dry if you don’t wan’t areas to bleed and blend into each other. Who knew brute force and blind faith weren’t always the answer.

2 – I need practice paper to feel out the intensity and value of the colour that is on my brush. Only so much can be adjusted once it’s on the paper.

3 – Other people who have experience in this can be very helpful

4 – Less can actually be more. Cliche though it is this is true. Clarity of a single stroke can say/achieve more than multiple strokes.

5 – ‘Practice’ pieces can really work.
‘Proper’ pieces can often fail.

Good god – could watercolour be teaching me patience. Perhaps this is why I always knew it was something I wouldn’t do till I was older… Does that mean I’m older now? Wiser too? Ha!

Life is very very good.

So I know that I haven’t posted in a while but I’ve been taking it really easy just eating and drinking and sleeping in and a spot of shopping the sales with my daughters – so yeah, all the good stuff in life.

My partner and I have a list of all the places we want to visit to eat or drink or other. He’s new to Melbourne so we are enjoying our time exploring the city – him for the first time and me anew. I’m sure you all recall the “personalised tour” post….. I am actually a big fan of our special Melbourne weather. It also helps that I’m a jacket aficionado…(in joke there about our famous four seasons in one day Melbourne weather).

I generally have worked in hospitality and sales all my life so I’m not really used to having time off at this time of year. However, I could get used to it. When the biggest decision in your day is whether or not to have a nap, you know that life is good. As I sit here on a gorgeous sunny afternoon, having walked this morning and achieved enough housework to alleviate any guilt I can sip my chilled white wine knowing that I can either pick up my book or nod off for a while. 

Life is not only good. Life is very very good.

Peanut Butter Brownies

Some of you will think I’ve finally gone too far and some of you will think I’ve come just far enough. 
     
Peanut Butter Brownies….

No, it’s nothing quite as simple as swirling some peanut butter through your standard brownie mix…oh no!

First you make the almost sickeningly rich fudgey brownie base layer, then when that has cooled you whip up a butter creamy peanut butter layer and smooth that neatly (?) over then once that has set to some degree in the fridge you drizzle over chocolate ganache and sprinkle chopped peanuts.

Oh, I should have mentioned don’t try and achieve anything else that day. Between the dishes created, the time spent gathering your ingredients at the supermarket, measuring, baking then cooling and you sneaking a taste at every stage it pretty took up the bulk of my day – though perhaps I should mention that I didn’t get out of bed till noon.

The point is this – I’m on holidays. My time is my own. If I want to waste a day making a recipe that has caught my eye some months ago but I can’t justify making as I’ll probably only have a small piece of as it actually even reads too rich for my blood – then I will!

At this point, it’s almost 6pm and it’s setting in the fridge.  Maybe, I should start thinking about what to do for the kids for dinner. For myself, I couldn’t touch another thing. My senses have been satiated by the mere act of cooking that dish, and if I’m to be honest, which I am, all the sneaky little tastes along the way.

This evening I look forward to browsing another half dozen cookbooks I picked up recently from the library. Who knows what will happen next?
Here’ s an abbreviated version of the recipe. The odd quantities come from the fact that I translated it from an American recipe.
1/Melt 250g butter + 285g dark chocolate together.
Whisk 1 cup white sugar + 1 cup brown sugar + 3 eggs together
Combine sugar and chocolate mixes together.
Stir in 1 cup plain flour + 1/3 cup cocoa powder (both sifted)
Bake for 30 min @ 180 degrees in a 33cm x 23cm lined tin then cool
2/ Blend 185g butter + 1 cup smooth peanut butter(just short of 375g jar)
Then add 2 cups icing sugar and 1 tsp vanilla and mix till creamy.
Spread evenly over cooled brownie base (smooth with the back of a spoon heated in hot water) then refrigerate.
3/ Heat 1/3 cup cream and whisk in 115g chocolate bits and stir. Drizzle artistically over peanut butter layer and sprinkle with ½ cup chopped peanuts..

Ta da!