the soap studio

After lunch we got chatting to some fellow travellers- as you do- a couple of ladies who had been staying in Candidasa on Bali’s East Coast.

They were raving about a chocolate factory they had come across on the beach at Jasri Village.

‘It’s in a really strange looking house, down the end of a dirt road at the beach,’ she said. ‘They do some really beautifully packaged soaps as well. If you get the chance you must go.’

So go we did.

Charlie, a US expat, first came to Bali a couple of decades ago looking for a surf- as so many do. Unlike many though, he got to talking to some of the kids on the streets. Why weren’t they in school he asked. No money for school. But what about jobs? No jobs.

So when he came back he created some.

Charlie has a little piece of paradise on the beach at Jasri Village, about 15 minutes north of Candidasa on the way to Kerangasem. It is down the end of a dirt road, it isn’t sign-posted, but our driver was able to stop and ask for direction.

charlie’s place

On that little piece of paradise on the beach he has built these really weird looking bamboo structures that seem as if they have been almost transported to this spot.

Out of the central one he conducts chocolate tastings. But this isn’t just any chocolate- this is raw chocolate made from cold pressed cacao beans. The beans are also grown on the island.

The range isn’t huge – some decadent chocolate nibbles, Bali Krunch bars (with black rice for crunch) and organic coconut palm syrup (made from living palm trees). He’s also working on a range of chocolate nut paste.

the range…

Also on the property is the soap studio.  OMG these are amazing. I bought a few beautifully packaged sets as pressies for friends- Salvador Bali: A Soap Story…


Getting There:

We came across from Legian as a day excursion. Drivers can be hired for the day- rates vary. Drivers can be arranged through your accommodation or negotiate on the street. Expect to pay between 500,000RPI and 800,000RPI (plus a tip) for 8 hours.

Jasri Village is about 15 minutes north of Candidasa on the road to Kerangasem.



just don’t tell the CWA…

gingerbread muffins

Editing is marvellous. It allows you to turn hindsight into present time success.

Like on those cooking shows. Every so often the lovingly photographed finished dish looks just a tad different to how it looked before the close-up. Editing.

I often wonder whether everything works as well as it appears to work on the telly. Do celebrity chefs ever have a bad day in the kitchen?

Over the years I’ve become pretty adept at reviewing a recipe and deciding whether it reads well enough to eat. I don’t really need the photos, but I’m a visual person and I like them. I also like the little blurbs before the main event. You know the ones- where the chef talks about how this reminds him of summer or his mother or holidays in Tuscany or olive groves in Provence. It probably doesn’t, but I want to believe…so I do.

But failures happen to us all. Even from so called fool-proof sources. Take todays muffins for example.

Now, I’ve made a lot of muffins in my time- and I’m pretty good at them. I know all about sifting the flour first (Mrs Locke taught me that one in Year 7 Home Science at Bombala High School). I know all about combining the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet in another. I know all about just slapping them both together until just combined as over working leaves you with a muffin shaped crumb that sticks to the top of your mouth.

I also know that anything that comes from the CWA (Country Womens Association) has to be Good. I know that because the CWA are the bastion of baking in country Australia.

Yet todays muffins, Gingerbread Muffins from a CWA recipe, were most unsatisfactory. There, I said it. I had a failure.

Sure, they taste ok with ice cream (apparently), but to me, they felt heavy. I don’t know, maybe it was the wholemeal flour, but even the batter didn’t look or feel right.

The flavour of the ginger was definitely brought out by the golden syrup and brown sugar, and the diced apple gave the whole thing a rather appealing chunkiness, but on the whole? Let’s just say the judges were not kind. I’ll bet Nigella never has results like that…

In the interests of editing, I will give them another go, but I think I will alter the recipe somewhat to something like a ginger sponge I used to make many years ago. I’ll let you know how it goes…just don’t dob me in to the CWA- I suspect that altering one of their recipes could be a passport retraction offence.

So, what culinary failures have you had?

I’ll let you into a little secret- I’m a sucker for a dome. And great big, white 9 sided buildings plonked down in the middle of Australian suburban bushland.

I also have a strange fascination with photographing really cool looking places of worship- even though it’s not something that I actively do myself, worship, that is…although I have been known to do the lighting incense thing in temples in Hong Kong.

So when Baha’i Temple was randomly drawn from of my Sydney Staycation bucket, I figured I wouldn’t be disappointed.

Sydneys’ Baha’i Temple is one of just 7 such temples in the world.  The 9 sides apparently signify the unity of the worlds religions. I like that.

Anyways, the details:

The temple is open to the public each day, and is located in bushland in Ingleside- above the Northern Beaches. Just head up Mona Vale Rd towards the beaches and you can’t miss it.

There’s no takeaway or anything out there, but plenty of room for a picnic in the bush. And, at this time of the year, the bush is gorgeous- the wattle is in full bloom.

detail on the doors
the dome
wattle in bloom
taken through the windscreen

There’s usually snow up here at this time of the year. But not this year.

We’d come up to the highest point in Eucumbene locality- almost 1600m- and nothing. Judging by the grass, there hadn’t been much at all this season.

That didn’t mean it wasn’t cold and that stuff belting against the windscreen was ice not rain.

Halfway up the Nimmo Road there’s this tree that they call Dog Tree. I didn’t take a photo. I couldn’t. I actually don’t know what I felt when I saw it.

At first it looked like there were long strips of bark hanging down from the tree. I didn’t have my glasses on. As we drove past we could see that the “bark” was in fact the carcasses of dead wild dogs shot by local landowners. I get that the wild dogs are a huge problem here- they can decimate a flock of sheep and take many lambs each year. The extremes of grazing in this high country are difficult enough without factoring in wild dogs. I get that too. There have also been reports of them stalking fisherman. I don’t get why they need to display them.

The cabin we stayed in was originally 2 sets of sleeping quarters. They have been joined together by a roof. Heavy curtains act as doors to the small bedrooms. We won’t talk about the beds. A pot belly stove kept us toasty warm.

I love the different textures used inside- a mix of weatherboard, corrugated iron roofing material, stained glass and hardwood floors. It made it cosy. The sort of casual, put together, shabby country chic that you couldn’t replicate even if you tried.

Down the road a bit is Eucumbene Dam. This was created back in the mid 1950s as part of the Snowy River Scheme- and is connected by tunnels through to Tumut and the Murrumbidgee. I remember dad telling us lots about this when we used to do the run across from Bombala (where I lived at the time) to Tumbarumba (where my Grandma lived) when I was a kid. My Dad’s home town was Tumbarumba, so he knew all about it.

We used to go past the big facility at Tumut and the Talbingo, and all of these noisy bridges. There would be the 6 of us in the Kingswood wagon- 3 across the front and 3 in the back. Plus the dog. Every time we’d go over a bridge, the corgi, who had been sitting on the floor on Mums side would jump up barking.

Anyways, the Eucumbene River was dammed back in the  50s and the town of Adaminaby had to be moved as a result. Much like Jindabyne was. The whole area is now a trout fishing paradise- as well as being the largest storage lake in the Snowy Mountains Scheme.

On the way back to Cooma is a historic church. I know that because it says so on the sign. I took a photo, but didn’t read the blurb. It was too cold. And I wanted to go home…to sleep…for ages.

I’ll be doing another Sydney “stay cation” this week- the high winds and manky weather on Thursday put a severe dampener on my plans for last Friday.

The plan was simple. No inside cooking. Unless it could be cooked outside- either on the barbecue or in the “camp” fire, we wouldn’t eat it.  How hard could it be?

Part of the plan was inspired by pure laziness- if we didn’t use the stove/oven we wouldn’t need to clean it before we left. Part of the plan was inspired by the thrill of the great outdoors. Just how cool would it be to cook as if we were really camping and not just pretend* camping?

My brother was cooking his world famous lamb roast. Ok, it wasn’t world famous yet- after all, it was the first time he had tried this particular recipe- but it soon would be. His previous camp oven roasts had been spectacular. Apparently.

The fire had been built that morning and fed during the day. The pit for the camp oven had been dug and the coals carefully selected. We all sat around in thousands of layers of clothes, muffled by scarves and beanies, protected by gloves and jackets. The kids roasted marshmallows on the ends of sticks. The adults poured tumblers of red wine and nibbled on cocktail hour.

When we finally decided our “oven” had been pre-heated to the guesstimated temperature of exactly 180C, my brother heaved the cast iron camp oven into place. Then we waited. The kids went inside to watch DVDs.

adjusting the oven temperature
the camp oven is buried under coals in the foreground

The sun went down and the stars came out. More stars than I have ever seen. But still the roast wasn’t cooking. We changed coals and sat back to wait. Obviously the pit had a faulty temperature gauge.

the view across the way as the sun goes down

Finally it was sizzling and as the wind whirled around the fire pit, so too did the smells- lamb, rosemary and garlic. Our mouths watered. So we drank more (now chilled) wine.

The lamb that first night took almost 2 hours to cook. My brother declared that it normally took around an hour. It tasted as good as it smelled, although was a tad underdone for second day sammies.

the finished product

Sunday was our turn. Bacon and eggs on the barbie had to be finished inside when the gas bottle was found to be empty.  Not a good start. At least my world famous (I was convinced it would be spectacular) slow cooked beef stew would save the day.

Gravy beef, vegies, a few tins of tomato, a bottle of wine and enough garlic to scare away the kangaroos was thrown into the camp oven. Last night had made us cautious- we didn’t want this to cook as quickly as the lamb so contemplated using a tripod and hanging the camp oven from it. A strong, blustery westerly put paid to that idea.

So, it was back to the pit. The coals weren’t as good and it had been a stuggle to maintain the fire. At 3pm it was sleeting and the wind chill had brought the ambient temperature to around minus a lot.

We persisted. We estimated our oven to be at the perfect slow cooking temperature of 150C and oohed and aahed over the smells.

At the 20 minute mark we checked it. Disaster. Not only had the camp oven boiled dry, but it had left a nasty charred mess where succulent beef was meant to be. And with the nearest shops 40kms away in Jindabyne…

Perhaps the coals had been closer to 500C.

No problems, we could still make damper…

…which also burned to a crisp. The kids toasted marshmallows.

In true invention test style we cobbled together some pizza muffins for the kids and baked cheesy potato skins with a rough guacamole for us adults. Combined with cheeses, dips and some jarred antipasta vegies we had a feast. We prepared it using the stovetop and oven…which then had to be cleaned.

The lesson?

  • When the nearest shops are 40 clicks away it pays to over cater
  • no matter how well you plan it, you’re gonna be stuck cleaning a kitchen
  • Coals are tricky buggers
  • Cooking in a fire pit is not an exact science- who would have thought it?
  • As long as there are marshmallows to toast, all is not lost

*See Fridays post


a weighty rant…

I have a 14 year old daughter. Regular readers know that.

She swims- a lot. About 10 hours a week- her choice. She also does a couple of cardio sessions with me at the gym and eats whole food- most of the time. She is strong, healthy, fit and very rarely ill. She isn’t fashionably thin and I’m incredibly proud of her.

Despite what she reads and hears, for the most time she has a healthy body image. That is, except for when she tried to fit into skinny jeans that are cut for women without hips, bums or other normal body parts. Even then she shrugs and goes for a different style.

I asked once if it worried her- not being super skinny- and she looked at me like I was from a different planet and told me that those girls couldn’t do one of Vera’s butterfly sessions.  She never gets sick and her body does what she needs it to do. She has no idea what she weighs and (so far) doesn’t care. She gets the whole moderation thing in a way I never have.

Firstly I wonder at how someone who is as hung up about her weight as I am produced someone as together as she seems to be. Next I wonder how I can encourage that attitude. Then I wonder what I’m doing to hinder that attitude. After that I wonder at my level of hypocrisy- given that I am writing an Astro book about weight management. Then I wonder what I can do to help keep her self-image as healthy as it is…especially in view of the crap she hears from me and the crap we heard on a top rating breakfast show yesterday.

The producers staged an “intervention” on Jackie O- a woman who is seriously hot. I’ve done my own extensive research- ok I asked hubby, my BMF and some of the guys on my hubbys football team- and they all agree… Google some images and you’ll see what I mean.

Yet she has now ballooned up to…wait for it…66kgs. OMFG. 66kgs. Hardly obese and hardly cause for intervention. The phrases “nothing is working” and “desperate measures” were thrown around. Desperate measures called for 66 kilos? I’ll say it again. OMFG.

Now, I get that Australia is probably the 2nd fattest nation in the world, and anything that can raise the issue of healthy living to the population has to be a good thing. Right? But a fat intervention on a 66kg supremely hot woman because they have reached the stage where desperate measures are required? Seriously?

An intervention on me I could cope with- I need that kick up the bum and I need to lose a lot more than 6kgs- probably 3 times that. My weight is compromising my health and my self esteem. My goal weight is what Jackie O currently weighs! Ok, my maths aren’t great.

To keep it real, the producers have given Jackie 6 weeks to lose the weight or they will pop a photo of her in a bikini at her current weight on the station website.

6 kilos in 6 weeks- at a starting weight of 66kgs? At the risk of repeating myself, OMFG. I’m sorry, but I don’t hear anything sensible or healthy in any part of this. I get that she wants to look even hotter, and will be more comfortable and healthier at her usual 60kgs, but guys let’s be sending a better, more responsible, message to the audience. Surely aiming for a 0.5kg loss per week would be more realistic- and promote a healthier approach yet still give results that the listeners could be encouraged by? Remember guys, it’s healthy living and attitudes we’re trying to achieve here.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Jackie O. To me she always sounds like sunshine- positive, optimistic. But my mother always taught me to talk about the weather if I can’t say anything nice- so rather than comment on the others involved, I will say that it’s very cold this morning.

I guess my issue is that my daughter listens to this- and she commented on it. Her friends listen to it- and many of them are already on diets. All the time.

I overheard a girl in a hotel lift on Saturday telling her friends how her new diet is working. It’s great, she said. She eats twice a day- once at about 6pm, and then something small at about midnight. What would you eat at midnight, her friend asked. Oh, you, know, redskins, lollies- something without fat. She then proudly announced how she can drink as much as she wants and doesn’t need to exercise- because that’s uncool. Anyway, she’s lost a kilo a week and still gets to party.

I’m hoping she’s the exception.

Me? I want to be more like my daughter. I want her attitude. And I don’t want her attitude to change. In fact, I’m going to work harder to learn what she seems to already know.

Taman Tirta Gangga. Yep, I’ve checked the spelling.

Just out of Amplura, this is the work of Amplura’s water loving Rajah who had a go (apparently this was his second shot- the first was at Taman Ujung) at building the water palace of his dreams. The triple Pisces in me gets that.

this photo was taken on an earlier trip- December 2011

Completed in 1948, it was damaged by the eruption of nearby Gunung Agung in 1963, and then by less natural causes, just a couple of years later as a result of “political unrest”.

This place has koi and lotus blossoms and water lillies and gargoyles and bridges and is a water temple fantasy. A little piece of paradise.

There are also 2 pools. One of which resembles a pond. Way too many children swimming there for me to ever be tempted. The French had it right when they call a pool “la piscine”.

the fountain- I took this photo in December 2011

The 11 tiered fountain is pretty cool (see my photo), the hawkers outside are not. As with all holy or temple areas in Bali, there are no hawkers inside the grounds.

You’ll need about 5000Rp per person to enter the grounds- more if you intend to (gulp) swim. Make sure you have lots of little notes as you’ll also need 2000Rp for parking.

Amlapura is the capital of Karangasem regency, and the main transport hub on the East Coast. If coming by car from Denpasar or the resorts around Kuta and Legian allow about 3 hours. It is, however, only a short hop from Candidasa.

Want more water temples? Check out this post on Pura Tirtha Empul…or hit the Bali tab on the side of this page.

Radisson Hotel, corner of Pitt, Hunter & O’Connell Sts Sydney

See that building in the photo above? The one that looks like a great big rounded triangle? I used to work in there. My desk was in the pointy curvey part, in the window, on the 2nd floor.

I remember when I first started in there. My colleague and I were setting up a new department in the bank we worked for. They were centralising all the securities and collections activities that had been based in the individual regions- and we were part of the new world order.

We had hired 60 staff, but they were all off being trained, so we had 2 weeks to set up- to find stationery and equipment. Two weeks where we were the only people on the floor.

We sourced most of what we needed from the basements way below the building, way down near the tank-stream that still flows through the underbelly of Sydney (albeit now as storm water drains).

Someone told me later that a group of (ex) employees would go down there to smoke things that they shouldn’t have been smoking at work- right below the vent that came out in the Chief Managers office. He always seemed so relaxed. I don’t know if the story was true.

Now it’s a hotel. We stayed in it once, my husband and I. We had a room on the 2nd floor in the pointy curvey bit. It seemed weird.

the entrance and bar

I could see it from where we sat, upstairs at Jamie’s Italian.

I love this place. It seems very Melbourne to me. It feels very Melbourne- sort of edgy, with a slight under feeling of potential chaos and creativity. Perhaps it’s the artfully grafitti’ed walls.

Despite the almost casual slash industrial slash shabby slash loft style slash chic, there’s an attention to detail here that extends even to the chunky belfast sinks and swing handle taps in the bathrooms.

That same attention to detail is extended to the food. It looks simple, it sounds simple, but the flavours are multi-layered.

My friend and I shared an antipasto plank- balanced on 2 tins of Italian tomatoes. At $13.50 a person, this is a great way to start the meal.

Ours had thinly sliced San Daniele prosciutto, wagyu bresaola, finocchio and capocollo. I copied that off the menu. There were also balls of perfect buffalo mozzarella and some bitey pecorino with chilli jam. A mound of grated salad (carrot, beetroot, lemon, mint, chilli and olive oil) propped up the other end of the plank, while olives, capers and some wicked chillis were scattered across the top.

antipasto plank

To follow I had Risotto Milanese ($21)- risotto the way it should be- creamy and saffron gold, with just the right amount of parmesan for complexity. It was served with a herby roasted bone marrow and lemon and parsley gremolata. Every single bite was yummy.

risotto milanese

My friend opted for the pumpkin panzerotti ($19.50). The blurb on the menu reads: Homemade half moons filled with roasted pumpkin, ricotta & Parmesan served with chilli, rosemary butter sauce & crushed amaretti. I dug my fork in and yep, exactly that.

We shared an ice cream bombe ($8.50) to finish. And it was da bomb! Frozen layers of vin santo, candied fruit, ricotta and ice cream encased in a thin layer of panettone and served with a hot fudgey chocolate sauce.

ice cream bombe with sauce on the side
and with sauce over the top…

The verdict? A great experience.

The regular menu is extensive and the daily specials worth considering. I was very tempted by slow cooked beef cheeks on polenta.

This isn’t pretty food- so if you are looking for foams and towers or artfully constructed plates, try one of the hatted restaurants. If you’re into pretension, try somewhere else. If you want real, rustic Italian food made from fresh ingredients, prepared with integrity then eat here.

Service is attentive, yet friendly. As for value for money? The temptation to cash in on the very well known name has been resisted. The menu is well priced and echoes Jamie’s philosophy that good food should be affordable. Expect to pay $19-$26 for a main course pasta or risotto ($10-$16 for entree size). Mains range from $20-$35. Check out the core menu here.

Jamie’s doesn’t take bookings, so be prepared to wait- the bar is pleasant and the wine list relatively small, affordable and with plenty of Italian varietals that are absolutely in keeping with the atmosphere. We were there for Saturday lunch at 12pm and were lucky enough to get a table straight away. I suspect if we were much later, we wouldn’t have.

Oh, and I didn’t steal a napkin…but I was tempted…

looking down into the kitchen




steamed rice with sweet potato at Bali Asli


It comes in sealed plastic from the supermarket…doesn’t it?

Quite simply no.

In Bali, if you’re prepared to notice, the evidence of rice growing is everywhere- and not just on your plate.

Aside from the small fields interspersed with tourist accommodation in Kuta and Legian, a side trip to Ubud will usually take in the picturesque terraces.  Depending on the stage in the growing cycle, these are greener than it is possible to imagine anything being.

the terraces near Ubud

Take some side roads, or wander away from the tourist mecca and you will see more.

the paddies below Bali Asli


Entire families involved in harvest, wizened farmers planting, the ducks that keep the bugs away, sheets of grains drying in the sun.

a family involved in harvesting. photo by John.

In Bali the business of rice growing is still manual, back-breaking and relentless. Each year more and more land is lost to tourist accommodation- especially along the beaches.

planting. Taken from Bali Asli. Photo by John.

So, next time you push your fork into a plate of steamed rice or fragrant nasi goreng, pause for just a second to appreciate how that grain got to your plate.

the rice before it is harvested.

grains drying in the sun









a cosmopolitan at Saks 5th avenue…as you do

One of the reasons we travel is to taste the culture. Well, that’s why I travel.

Lonely Planet published an article the other day on 7 Iconic Dishes Around the World.

On the list were things like:

  • Buffalo Wings from Buffalo, NY
  • Peking Duck from Beijing, China
  • Yorkshire Puddings from, well, Yorkshire, England
  • Salad Nicoise from Nice, France
  • Nanaimo Bars from Vancouver, Canada
  • Mole Poblano from Mexico
  • Singapore Chilli Crab from, well, Singapore

From the list I’ve sort of had a few of these.

  • Buffalo wings in New York, NY- does that count? Except they were served with sticky super sweet barbecue style sauce and were, to be honest, not at all memorable. Maybe if I knew they were iconic I would have enjoyed them more.
  • Peking Duck, real Beijing Peking Duck? Nope, but it’s on my bucket list…
  • Yep, done the Yorkshire thing- in a pub. With a beer. It was good.
  • Nicoise in Nice? Another tick.
  • Never heard of them, never been to Vancouver
  • You mean there’s more to Mexican than tacos, burritos & nachos? Of course there is, but I’m yet to go.
  • Chilli Crab? OMG Yes! Yes! Yes!

I’ve also had:

  • A chilli dog from a stand in Broadway, New York
  • A slice of pizza bigger than my face in New York
  • Sausages, mustard, sourdough bread and a bottle of beer on the steps of the Vienna Opera House
  • Hainanese chicken rice (Malaysia and Singapore)- my absolute favouritest of all favourites…closely followed by Drunken Chicken (China, Hong Kong).
  • Spiced bebek (duck) and nasi campur (Indonesia)
  • Dim Sum (Hong Kong) in general, but close your eyes when you bite into it good Xiao Long Bao (or steamed soupy pork dumplings) in specific
  • Haggis in Scotland (the real reason whisky was invented)
  • gelato in Rome
  • Portuguese Custard Tarts from Macau (yummo)
  • Soupe de poissons from the South of France with fire hot rouille

Then there would be hawker stall specials from Malaysia- Laksa and Assam Laksa, Beef Rendang (or is that Indonesia?) and Char Kway Teow.

So, what’s still on my foodie bucket list? So many things, but here are a few (in no specific order):

  • a real bouillabaisse in Marseilles
  • the afore mentioned peking duck
  • a real paella in Valencia
  • pho in Vietnam
  • pizza in Naples
  • pad thai in Thailand

So, what about you? Do you agree with the Lonely Planet list? How many of these have you tried? What’s on your list? What’s on your foodie bucket list?

strangely not on the list…
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