Snippets from Sumatra (Part 3)

We had the opportunity to do a walk up a volcano peak but unfortunately I had suffered a fall in the jungle the day before so opted out of this. My daughter did however manage to leave the room at 4.00 (without waking me I’m pleased to say!) and make her way up the mountain. I felt better that they said there wasn’t much of a sunrise but by the photos they brought back it was still a great experience. Just seeing the volcano from the ground gives a strange sense of the power nature has over all.

Volcano 10156162_1479836102231692_94429971444107605_nIn the afternoon we had the great fortune of going to the hot springs so all the volcano hikers could treat their sore muscles. It was a wonderful therapy for my poor bruised and battered body too. Didn’t want to get out, sitting in this hot water watching the volcano in the skyline was just beautiful.

IMG_3897Our next port of call was the beautiful Tabo Cottages set on Lako Toba. This was a bit of a hidden secret on our itinerary and it went down a treat. This was one of the few places where we could buy a ‘real’ drink but found that fresh juice, local beer and water was quite sufficient. A delightful local village kept me amused (the earlier photos of garden were taken here), with their small shops, gardens, beautiful children and just downright stunning views of the lake.

IMG_4038The local traditional village, notice the strawberries lined up along the edge of the path and wall.IMG_4049The rain was about to set in just as we left. Happy memories of Sumatra.IMG_4072Waved farewell to my daughter who was heading off to Cambodia for another week of adventures. How lucky have I been getting to spend a week with my beautiful daughter and a group of happy, like minded fellow travellers!




Snippets from Sumatra (Part 2)


We landed in Medan and proceeded to the Garuda Plaza Hotel which is a place I would not recommend to anyone to stay in. I understand that North Sumatra is not yet an area where tourism is a priority but basic standards of cleanliness and hygiene should be a priority to any  business or establishment offering service to visitors. I have travelled extensively throughout Asia and try to make judgements based on the local standard and not my western view. India was a challenge but we still found all the accommodation offered relatively clean and had very welcoming attitudes. Unfortunately the Garuda Plaza was not such a place. Everything reeked of cigarette smoke, rooms, bedding, foyer and the lobby where we relied on getting wifi access. Our first night there wasn’t too bad, apart from the smell, but the night we stayed for the last night was a disaster. Late arrival, up to our room through the cloud of smoke, coped with that with the help of the atomiser of citrus spray I had packed. All looked OK, small but in order, then we folded back the bedding and found some surprises. The sheets obviously hadn’t been changed, just pulled up and neatened. Not a good move as the beds had quite obviously been slept in (don’t want to say what we found)  and I felt quite ill at the sight. No interest from staff to rectify the situation so we stripped the beds and used the sarongs I had bought as sheets. Not a good feeling I can tell you. Having said this, everywhere else we stayed was basically clean, accommodating and really nice. Medan would have to be one of the most boring cities ever! We walked and walked covering about 10 klms and still didn’t find anything of interest. Add to this the fact that alcohol is not readily available we really struggled!

Grand Mosque Medan
Grand Mosque Medan
Garuda Plaza Room View
View from our room Garuda Plaza Medan.
Maimun Palace Medan
Maimun Palace Medan

Next Stop-Bohorok

A  trip on the bus to this delightful area to arrive at the Rindu Alam Hotel. This was our base to venture into the jungle to view orang-utan in their natural habitat. Once settled in we walked into the local village and got  great exposure to the local community. Highlight was we came across a huge celebration going on which our tour guide thought was a local wedding. Happy, happy, happy, don’t get to see this often we were told. Families welcomed us and invited us in.

The feast being cooked.
What we thought was the wedding feast ready to serve.
Local village kids happy to see westerners.

At this point our tour guide chatted to the entertainers who had a sound system that would have rocked Wembley Stadium only to discover it wasn’t a wedding ceremony but a circumcision ceremony. Needless to say we all felt a little uncomfortable about this!IMG_3596This is the lucky recipient of the great celebrations. Doesn’t look too engaged with us for good reason I would say!IMG_3609 This is his extremely proud mother, happy to share such an important right of passage with strangers.IMG_3611 Grandma is so proud too.IMG_3614 All the local villagers are celebrating in style.


It was a beautiful feeling seeing the community coming together to share such an important moment for this young boy, one that none of us felt comfortable with. We smiled, graciously thanked them for their hospitality and continued on.

For the remainder of the walk we saw some beautiful people escaping the extreme heat and going about their day as they normally do. Just delightful!

IMG_3625 IMG_3628 IMG_3634Due to the extreme heat and humidity a few of us opted to a motor ride back to the hotel. Happy about that!IMG_3642Off to see some orang-utan tomorrow. Very excited, no guarantees but hopeful!

Snippets From Sumatra (Part 1)

I’ve just been fortunate enough to spend eight days touring North Sumatra. No special reason, my daughter was looking for somewhere to go and someone to go with. Sumatra and I luckily managed to fit the bill. Cost effective, diverse attractions and not high enough on the shortlist for MR ATMT to object too much. We booked a tour through GAdventures who I have dealt with before and was very happy to use again, good decision. Once again, apart from a few minor issues the trip was a great success.

The basic outline of the tour was to visit an orang-utan rehabilitation centre, do a walk to an active volcano peak, visit local villages, relax and enjoy some down time on Lake Toba, the biggest inland lake in Indonesia. Generally just to see, experience and learn about North Sumatra.

Don’t like the Orang-utans’ chances!

I am one of those people who conscientiously choose not to buy products containing or which use palm oil in their production. My choice has been based on extensive ‘save the jungle’, ‘save wildlife habitat’, ‘save the orang-utans’ and general save the environment marketing and promotion through many environmental and social networks. I must somewhat ashamedly admit I have been quite ignorant as to exactly what I was making a ‘protest’ about. I thought the ‘jungle’ and habitat was actually the palm oil trees and that they felled and harvested the oil from these trees leaving the wildlife homeless. Reality check! The actual palm oil trees are not the problem, with proper management these can be quite a sustainable source of oil supply. The problem is just how many of these palm oil trees are needed to create the end products and how much natural jungle and environment is being devastated and dedicated to them. As I sat and observed the landscape while travelling across most of North Sumatra, I could only guess at what it once must have looked like before these ‘tree farms’ were developed. The really scary thought is that as demand grows for more diverse products that use palm oil in their production, the need to establish more PO forests will also grow. This picture represents pretty much the entire view out the window for over 50% of our trip. I tried to visualise thick, dense rainforest alive with wild life and birds but struggled. Actually North Sumatra was obviously lacking of birdlife which I did comment about while there.

Palm Oil PlantationI have since learned that palm oil is also being used to manufacture ‘Bio Diesel’ and that many European countries are interested in sourcing this product as an alternative fuel source. I’m not sure that even if all the so-called efforts of the RSPO (Roundtable Sustainable Palm Oil)  voices will actually achieve any positive outcomes. When you see just how much area has been devastated and  talk to the locals (who seem to be quite proud of the industry and what it brings to their local economy), I just feel like it may be too little, too late. I have left the area feeling very lucky to have seen one of the orang-utan in their mostly natural habitat (National Park) and even more committed to not use or buy any products that use Palm Oil. If we can decrease the demand for palm oil dramatically we may be able prevent any further deforestation and only use what has already been established for supplying this fuel. I don’t feel too confident about that but lets give it a shot!




Growing their own in Sumatra

I had the opportunity to take a few walks around the local villages and got some great insights into how much some of the people love to grow some their food. It was also really good to go out for lunch and have the pineapple for my juice picked straight from the garden, blitzed and served. My kind of juice! Here are a few photos of some sustainable garden ideas I saw. I hope to post a few more Sumatran highlights over the next few days, stay tuned.

Tomato Trellising: I was interested to see how the Sumatran’s supported their tomatoes and one local man was happy to share the method. Basically they create a support by winding tape around stakes and this supports the leaders as they grow, laterals are pruned off to keep the plant contained between the supports.

Pots of herbs and salad


Tomato trellis

This family had pots made from black plastic scraps filled with soil and grow salad vegetables and herbs on their front verandah. The concrete blocks in front cover the drains in the road.IMG_4083


Nothing wasted, even the old fishing nets no longer strong enough for their purpose get recycled as fencing and bird nets in the garden. IMG_4088

Coconut husks used as mulch on the pots, not chopped up, just as it comes!IMG_4089

This garden has a pond at the low point which stores water for watering the vegetables.IMG_4086

Passionfruit vine at the hotel. Shade as well as produce for the kitchen.IMG_4079Compost bin outside the kitchen at Tabo Cottages, (this place was sensational!). There is also ginger, turmeric, tomatoes, pineapples and salad veg growing alongside. Kitchen and garden scraps go straight into here and then the compost goes back onto the garden.IMG_4074All up some great things to see, will add some more ASAP.

Rueben’s Rubies

I know that’s a bit of a corny heading, but with the ruby colour these quince turned out it just seemed to fit. It still amazes me how such ordinary fruit can become so beautiful and tasty after cooking.

A couple of months ago we had the pleasure of joining some friends at a degustation dinner at a great eating establishment in Mt Evelyn. Billy Goat Hill Brasserie is well worth a visit if ever you are in the area (even if you’re not, go for a drive!). Along with some great menu choices, Reuben the chef and other staff are great hosts and go out of their way to make your experience a positive one. There is an obvious passion and commitment to good wholesome food and sustainability which is evident from before you even enter. Part of our dinner included some sensational quince and I cheekily asked Reuben of he would share his secret and he very graciously obliged. Just have a look at these beauties!


These were Reuben’s instructions-Peel and core into 8, bring the peelings, cores and some lemon rind to boil with about 20% sugar to quince (that’s around one cup to every five quinces), simmer for about 10 minutes then strain the liquid over the peeled quince in a baking tray. The water should cover the quince, give them some room… put foil over the top and place in a low oven until soft (about two hours). Take the foil off, bring the heat up and get some colour on to them. After another hour or so, give them a shake once or twice and yum! Good luck!

Served with Annabel Langbein’s 3 ingredient chocolate mousse and some pure cream it was an extremely rich dessert but heavenly. The sweetness of the quinces syrupy juice with the strong chocolate meant I had to virtually lick my plate clean! Thanks Reuben! Can’t wait till we are back down that way again.

Quince RecipeChilli Jam-not so chilly!

Our harvest of chillies, both jalapeño and rocoto is starting to reach it’s peak, so yesterday I thought I’d make some chilli jam for using as a marinade, dips and all sorts of things. These jalapeño are from just one bush and I have another 3 to go! Any tips as to good preserving recipes much appreciated.

ChilliesI used Annabel Langbein’s (yes, again!) Chilli Jam recipe as a base and all went according to plan. Her recipe uses 8 long red chillies so I had to have a guess at how many of our chillies were the equivalent. I also cut the sugar back a bit and when the paste was processed I weighed it and used the equivalent weight of sugar. Cooked up really well but boy it has a kick to it!

IMG_3381Slow Cooker Roast Chicken-Asian Style

I had planned on doing a plain, normal old roast chicken in the slow cooker but was keen to try the new chilli jam on something so I reconfigured my plans.  The chicken went into the slow cooker with some sliced ginger, a chilli and some coriander. I rubbed the outside with sesame oil and cooked on high for 3 hours then turned down to low, basted with the juices.

I soaked some rice noodles so they would be ready at serving time, prepared some vegetables for stir frying, broccoli, carrot, snow peas, bok choy, green capsicum and spring onions. I microwaved these for 1 minute and left covered until serving time when I tossed them into the wok with some ginger, sesame oil and a small amount of stock. I shredded the chicken and had kept it hot by wrapping it in foil and leaving in the slow cooker until serving time. All of this worked well as it meant everything was ready to go when our son arrived and there were no deadlines to worry about.

To serve I placed some rice noodles onto the plate, topped with the stir fried vegetables then the shredded chicken. Garnished with spring onions and added the chilli jam on the side so we could use as desired or not. I was a bit nervous about the jam being too hot so also served a bowl of plain chilli sauce for those not quite as partial to hot flavours. The heat intensity actually diminished quite a bit when eaten with the other ingredients. All in all very nice.

IMG_3400Thanks to Mirboo Pastured Poultry for such flavoursome chicken once again it was so juicy and tasty. Need to restock now, that was the last of it.


Preparing for the onslaught.

Very soon, all of these leaves will hit the ground with no concerns about me wanting to maintain some level of order.Oak leavesAdd to this the dropping leaves  from the ‘Faraway Tree’ size Pin Oak in the front yard and we will be smothered. Not complaining, I do love them but there are so many it can be overwhelming. Relentless! Last year we decided not to try to keep the yard orderly and wait until all had fallen and then do a major clean up. This worked pretty well but there were areas where leaves seemed to naturally congregate, so rather than collect and move them to the far end of the yard into awaiting compost bins (should say leaf mold bins) I am locating bins strategically so we can just mow and toss right into the bin. All part of sustainable design!

I’ve put the first bin in the little space where what used to be the visiting dentist’s room is. You can see there already some leaves settling in.IMG_3326I can get the mower in, mulch all the leaves up and chuck straight into the bin. The leaves take forever to breakdown if they are not chopped up first. Mixed with lawn clippings and other greens it helps hasten the process.IMG_3328

My first ever kale experience.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have never tried kale before and had no idea really on what to do with it. Decided to just pretend it was like spinach and wing it. This is the result and it looks darn good if I must say. Kale, potato and feta rolls.Kale, Potato & Feta rollsKale, 2 large potatoes, 1 onion, our first rocoto chilli to go into a meal, some feta cheese, 1/3 tspn of both cumin and coriander powders, S&P (not much salt because the feta is salty), 1 egg and 3 sheets of puff pastry (only because that’s what was to hand).IMG_3331Peeled and diced the potatoes and microwaved for about 6 minutes, soft but still firm. Chopped/sliced onion, rocoto chilli, removed spine from kale, chopped it into fine shreds and cooked all together in pan in a smidge of olive oil. When soft I added the cumin and coriander and cooked it out for about 2 minutes. Threw the lot into a mixing bowl that already had the potatoes and crumbled feta in it, mixed all together and added an egg to bind. IMG_3340Divided into thirds and placed a third on each sheet of pastry, folded pastry over, glazed with milk cause I’m too lousy to waste an egg on this sort of casual meal. Into the ‘toy oven’ for about 40 minutes (probably wouldn’t take this long in a real oven!).

Served with some lovely tomato pickles and home made tomato sauce. Tick to eating kale, happy to do so again. Yep, just like spinach in this dish.

PS: The rocoto chilli was a pleasant surprise, I would describe it as a red capsicum with attitude. Not too hot, in fact if you love chilli flavour I think you’d be disappointed. As a crop that is likely to supply a large harvest I prefer this it stays on this side of the scales. Rocoto Chilli


I’m in love with a pig!

Last week when we went to Farmworld at Lardner Park (which is like a big field days mixed with a lifestyle expo) we stumbled across a little unit called an Ozpig. Being passionate about cooking on fire, loving cast iron cookware and a sucker for sitting beside real fire for warmth and comfort this little beauty seemed too good to pass up. Basically it’s a small pot belly stove that can be used for heating and ambiance as well as being a campers (and people without kitchens!) dream for being able to cook on a safe fire off the ground. You only need a very small fire to generate heat which means it is ideal for us to get rid of all the scrap timber we are accumulating with the reno.

This photo is of my Ozpig fired up to the hilt. The camp oven on right has a loin of pork cooking in juniper berry, apple cider, apple and rosemary concoction. The Red unit has shredded cabbage which I have just thrown on to cook quickly before serving. The saucepan on left has the potatoes cooking. Don’t worry, it looks a bit wonky but it is very secure and in no danger of falling or going anywhere. Very impressed by the quality and integrity of the unit.OzpigThe meal I served was beautiful, loin of pork which I had butterflied, I removed the fat to cook separately as crackling crunched over the top.  A rub of juniper berries and rosemary was  applied with some seasoning and oil to the loin of pork.

Juniper berry rub

I sliced an onion and put the pork with the onion into the camp oven to brown before adding the cooking liquid of apple cider, my home made stock, some chopped apples, a few more juniper berries and rosemary sprigs.

Pork loin in camp oven

On went the lid and I cooked it on high fire for about 30 minutes then stirred it through and transferred the camp oven to a side cooking plate so it would simmer. Boy it was smelling soooo good!

Therapeutic Sour Dough

I’ve been struggling a bit lately with trying to keep up with everything – work, the reno, not being able to sell the property that we need to sell to fund the reno, feeling a bit like we are living in a bomb site, knowing just how much work we have to do to make a difference, managing cello learning etc, etc, etc. I felt a bit like I hadn’t done anything I really loved doing (apart from cello but that’s hard work because I am learning) for ages. I mean something that I am confident with that I can just do and enjoy from the bottom of my cotton socks. The garden is one thing, but for people who enjoy craft you probably get it. My craft is bread and cheese making and I hadn’t done any for ages. A whole range of excuses came into play, no kitchen, kids have left home-no one will eat it, blah, blah, blah. ENOUGH! A couple of weeks ago I started a sour dough culture which has progressed really well so today I made the first loaf of ‘real’ bread that I’ve made in a very long time. No machine, no dried yeast, no additives. Flour, water and salt.  Let me tell you I had a ball!

Starter I began 3-4 weeks ago.


1 cup of starter into a bowl, add 2 cups of flour, handful of rye flour, 360ml ish warm water, 14 g salt. Mix all together, then. Let the therapy begin!


Once mixed, onto the table for some kneading. Once kneaded I formed a boule and let it IMG_3269

rest/rise in a covered mixing bowl. Bit nervous about if it was going to work, so I put the bowl scraper in as a marker and went shopping. This is when I left,


This is when I returned. YAY, it was working. I was really happy indeed.IMG_3274

Divided the dough in half,IMG_3275

Shaped half to prove in a tin that fits in the large camp oven


Shaped the other half to have a shot at making a loaf in my ‘toy oven’. Didn’t expect this to work at all but as you can see, I needn’t have worried. I’m a happy girl!IMG_3289

The camp oven loaf and the toy oven loaf. Both good but the ‘toy oven’ wins by a mile.   IMG_3299My son and his partner came for tea to enjoy the feast, not too much bread left now! It was beautiful to mop up the apple and juniper gravy from the roast with.


Floorboards are looking good. Finally over the doldrums I hope!





Finally after weeks of waiting, the first ripe Rocoto chillies can be seen in the lower part of the bush. IMG_3238 These chillies are a perennial variety that can keep producing for years. I planted a cutting in early spring and the bush is now about 5ft high and masses of flowers appear continually. I have been hand pollinating with a tiny paintbrush to ensure good fruit set. Even with our bee attracting plants we aren’t seeing many around. If this goes well I don’t think I will bother planting other varieties to save using precious bed space Plantings this week have been parsnip, succession broccoli, garlic, strawberry runners separated from main plant and potted up. I did try and prestart some parsnip seed quite a few weeks ago and although I used ‘guaranteed’ fresh seed, nothing has appeared. For the last few seasons Ive been getting garlic from Simon at garlic world  and I am so impressed by the quality of his bulbs I just can’t stop myself. I don’t really need to buy planting stock anymore, I could use my own, but I just love his reasoning as to why he does what he does so I like to support his ethical business. Californian and Italian garlic. IMG_3237 Harvests this week have been tomatoes (the last few growing in the green house), basil, spring onions, beans, eggplant, jalapeños, lettuce, kale, strawberries, thyme, silver beet and a couple of lonely asparagus spears. I used the last of last seasons compost to fill the garlic bed and desperately wish I had more. Think I will be calling on locals with horses for some stable manure! IMG_3253 I had to trim the thyme in the patch that is planted near the water feature so into an exclusion bag went the trimmings, hung up to dry in the shed. It shall not be wasted! I just love these exclusion bags. Drying thyme We are still working on the floor boards and with luck we can ‘move back in’ next weekend.

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