Laying Low at the Château de Petite-Somme

The 12-hour flight from Thailand to Frankfurt was gruelling. The huge Lufthansa 747 had seen better days, and we were all packed in like little German sardines. Mein Gott im Himmel!

Still, the upside was that I had an all-day stopover in Frankfurt, so I took advantage of a comfortable room at the Airport Sheraton Hotel. Refreshed and rested, I flew to Belgium last night.

castle grounds:

I’ll be staying at this gorgeous castle a few hours drive from Brussels. Today I will unpack, sort myself out, have meetings and prepare for tomorrow’s premier European cooking event. Stay tuned!

A Feast for the Eyes

Thai cuisine involves the balancing of contrasting flavours, spicy and subtle, sweet and sharp. It is also concerned with aesthetic values, for the Thais believe that food should please the eye as well as the palate. This of course is in keeping with traditional Ayurvedic principles.

One particularly delightful aspect of Thai cuisine and the reflection of a more leisured age is the art of carving fruit and vegetables. This is a traditional craft which is still popular.

fruit and vegie carvings:

I took a wander around some of the restaurants in the Bangkok hotel I was staying at, not to eat, but to photograph some of the amazing fruit and vegetable sculpture that is always a centrepoint in any Thai banquet.

Fruit and vegie carvings up close:

Notice the beautiful melon, radish, cucumber and carrot carvings. I was not able to identify the yellow fruit/vegetable. I think it is a local gourd/pumpkin.

In the fruit carver’s skilled hands and using a small and very sharp pointed knife, an ordinary papaya or pumpkin is turned into a bouquet of flowers, a radish becomes a tiny rabbit or daisy or a carrot a rare orchid. Almost any kind of fruit or vegetable can be used. The carver must understand the texture of each and use its natural colour to imitate that of the chosen subject.

more intricate carvings:

Not all the carvings are as small as a flower; a large round watermelon becomes a richly decorated and lidded bowl to be used as a container for fruit salad. The green outer skin is cut away to make a pattern in relief of flowers or even characters in Thai literature.

Thai sweets:

Here’s a selection of Thai sweets, once again all beautifully presented. Ingredients like corn, coconut milk, glutinous rice flour, pandanus, palm sugar, fresh coconut, and tapioca are used, and wrapped in tiny strips of banana leaf. I didn’t taste them – being unsure of the actual ingredients, and being in a hurry to catch my onward flight – but I thought you’d like to see them.

Thai sweets up close:

Notice the famous tiny sweets in the centre that are made and hand-painted with edible food colouring to look like miniature fruits. A feast for the eyes!

A Day in Bangkok

I’m in Bangkok, on the way to Europe for the start of my cookery adventure.

I’ll try to visit a few local temples before my onward flight to Frankfurt tonight. It’s very hot and extremely humid outside. Oh, it’s just started raining.

Thai temple:

This is Wat Pho or Wat Phra Chetuphon built in 1688-1703, home to the reclining Buddha, the most beautiful and second biggest Buddha in Thailand.

The hotel I’m staying it affords quite a nice vista – very pleasing to the eye. The Thais are very expert in the art of beautiful visual presentation.

room with a view:

Travelling to exotic destinations where I’m not cooking often presents culinary challenges for me. I needed lunch today, so I went to one of the several restaurants downstairs from my room and requested something vegetarian without any garlic, onions or shrimp paste and fish sauce, all of which can be very common items in Thai cooking.

Thai lunch:

Here’s what we came up with: asparagus tip and tofu stir-fry in a flavoursome green peppercorn sauce, with combination jasmine/red rice. Expertly presented and first class flavours. I should include it in my repertoire.

It was actually good to break my journey on the way to Europe. I’m feeling very refreshed. Just as well, I’ve got a 12 hour flight to Frankfurt that leaves at midnight tonight. Still, there’s an all day stopover in Frankfurt tomorrow to realign myself.

I'm Off!

off we go:

“Yes”, I can hear you say, “I always knew you were.”

Seriously, today I depart on my Big Tour. Thai Airways flight TG 988 leaves Perth at the aweful time of 1.30 am, for a sleepy flight to Bangkok. I’ll have all day in Thailand, then off to Frankfurt for a full day in Germany.

These long stopovers are due to World Cup fever blocking my connections through Frankfurt. I’ll reach my first European destination in Belgium, the beautiful Radhadesa Chateau near Liége, very early Friday morning. I have all Friday to rest/prepare for my first weekend cookery workshop.

If you don’t hear from me everyday between now and then, it’ll be because I can’t get an internet connection while traveling, or that I’m slumped, snoring on an airport bench somewhere. But I think I’ll work something out – about the internet, and the sleeping.

Anzacs

anzacs:

Paul from the Blue Mountains wrote asking for a recipe for the famous Australian Anzac biscuits (cookies). Here they are.

Aussie Anzac Cookies

Famous Aussie cookies that are quick to bake. Makes 24.

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup plain flour

1 cup sugar

3/4 cup coconut

½ cup butter

1 tablespoon golden syrup or treacle

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons water

Preheat the oven to 150° C / 300° F. Combine the oats, flour, sugar, and coconut in a bowl and mix well.

Melt the butter and syrup together in a small saucepan.

Boil the water in another small saucepan. Sprinkle the soda into the boiling water and add this to the melted butter and syrup. It will froth up. Add this foamy mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well.

Place tablespoonfuls of the mixture on 2 large buttered trays.

Bake in the upper half of the oven for 20 minutes, or until the cookies are golden. Allow the cookies to cool a little on the trays before removing.

Serve when cool.

Note: for a slightly different textured Anzac that melts in the oven to a crisper consistency, use 2 tablespoons golden syrup and 3 tablespoons boiling water.

Mind Control

An old friend of mine in Florida sent me this noteworthy quotation the other day.

“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”

-Marcus Antonius (A.D. 86-161)

Yes, that’s spoken by none other than Mark Antony, the famous Roman politician. It’s quite a profound statement, especially for a politician.

I had a browse on the internet and found another quote that supported this idea, this time from an even more respected source:

“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”

-Proverbs 23:7

These quotes got me thinking about the lessons I have learned over the years about the mind, from my favourite philosphical treatise, the Bhagavad-gita.

The mind, as we know, is the pivotal point and source of our thinking, feeling and desiring. The great philosphers of the past have pointed out that the mind can either be our friend or enemy.

To explain further: thoughts and contemplation often lead us to desire to put those thoughts into action. Those actions that lead to positive, peaceful, uplifting and productive interaction with this world, those living entities that share it with us, and ultimately with The Supreme, lead to happiness.

On the other hand, allowing destructive, selfish and degrading thoughts to fester in our mind invariably leads us to act in unfavourable ways, and thus suffer various misadventures.

samadhi:

The Bhagavad-gita points out:

“For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy.”

If one allows an enemy to live close by, one will always be in anxiety; he can strike at any time. A healthy life’s ethos is to learn how to live a lifestyle based on cautious dealings with the mind. Mind control is a vital part of life. It is no less important than controlling our urge to eat too much food, controlling our bladder and bowels, controlling our urge to speak offensive words to others, or the urge to commit violent acts.

It all starts with the mind. Mind control is good. It is not that we try to control other’s minds. We must control OUR minds, and subdue the enemy within.

Details, Details

Yesterday, we were advised by Henry David Thoreau to simplify our lives of too many details. By definition, then, my life is far from simple. It runs on detail. My suitcase hardly has time to cool off between cookery travel these days. This coming Tuesday marks the start of my longest teaching tour ever – 5 months on the road.

There’s twenty-nine flights, plus assorted car trips, bus trips and train trips. An enormous amount of planning – many months in fact – has gone into fine-tuning this, from travel arrangements and accomodation to individual timings and topics of classes, translation work, to the minutest shopping lists. I’ll be teaching over 77 classes.

Those that know me personally can attest that I enjoy doing this, and do a pretty good job.

When the time comes to hang up my apron, I’ll try to take Thoreau’s words to heart. For now, its details, details.

earth:

If you’re interested, here’s my schedule.

Radhadesa Chateau , near Liége, Belgium:

Two-day cookery workshop, Sat 1, Sun 2 July

5-day cookery workshops, Tues 4 July – Sat 8 July

Baltic Sea Coast, various venues, Poland:

Festival of India Tour:

11-13 July – Ustronie Morskie

14-16 July – Kolobrzeg

18-20 July – Mrzezyno

22 July – Warsaw

Durban, South Africa:

3-day cookery workshops #1, Tue 25 – Thur 27 July

3-day cookery workshops #2, Fri 28 – Sun 30 July

3-day cookery workshops #3, (Phoenix) Mon 31 – Wed 2 Aug

Johannesburg , South Africa:

10 day cookery teaching tour

3 August – 13 Aug

Exact venues and dates to be announced

Ljubljana, Slovenia:

One-week cookery teaching tour

Tuesday 15 August

The Art of War

sun tzu:

Here’s some cogent battle advice for today’s armchair warriors, written 2400 years ago, but still ever-relevant.

“In joining battle, seek the quick victory. If battle is
protracted, your weapons will be blunted and your troops
demoralized. If you lay siege to a walled city, you
exhaust your strength. If your armies are kept in the
field for a long time, your national reserves will not
suffice.

Where you have blunted your weapons, demoralized your troops, exhausted your strength and depleted
all available resources, the neighboring rulers will
take advantage of your adversity to strike. And even
with the wisest of counsel, you will not be able to turn
the ensuing consequences to the good. There never has
been a state that has benefited from an extended war.”

– Sun Tzu, from “The Art of War”