Thursday 15 August 2019

Goodbye bacon, hello tofu

We knew we were in for some surprises in Bali; after all, we moved from metropolis Singapore to a small rural community in Indonesia. Tumbak Bayuh is a village on the west coast of Bali, about ten minutes from the sea and the hustle and bustle of touristy Canggu. It is a different world. 

We are surrounded by fields. When we walk the dog, we have to be mindful of the cows that graze in between the sawah. Chicken run amok everywhere. Friendly farmers wave at us as we plod along the narrow ridges between the mud. Last week we ran in to Pak Candra, our security guard at night, working his day job tending to a field of beans. He immediately pressed an armful of long beans on us, as well as a pile of tiny cucumbers. Dinner sorted. 

It is obvious people here, in a farming community, are much more in tune with nature. But farming life can be harsh, for people and animals alike. Many Balinese families keep a few pigs at the back of their house. Exploring the back alleys we pass the friendly, noisy giants in their small concrete pens. A few days ago the kids came home from school upset. On the way they had witnessed the rather uncomfortable transport of a large pig on a truck – I think we can all guess its destination. I won’t share details, but it suffices to say that they decided to become vegetarian on the spot. I explained that they had been eating pork for years, and that in other countries animals raised for meat are not treated particularly nice either. But we, the consumers, don’t get to see that. The animals and their torture are effectively hidden. The Netherlands for instance, is a huge pork producer, yet I have never seen a pig outside a petting zoo there. 

As we eat little meat in our family anyway, Roel and I decided on solidarity – we would all not eat any meat for a month. Better for the animals as well as the world, since meat production is a mayor contributor to climate change. Jasmijn stated that if she hadn’t died by then, she might consider doing it long term. Linde was fine as long as she didn’t have to become vegan and stop eating cheese. Tijm, our resident carnivore, will struggle the most. Roel is already considering cheating (he got invited by a friend to eat babi guling, suckling pig, shht, don’t tell the kids) As I rarely eat meat I was full of encouragement, until I found out they intended to exclude seafood too. To show that they meant it, they made up a contract, signed it, and put it up on the fridge. 

Thankfully the Green School lunches are all vegetarian, and we have plenty of meat-free recipes up our sleeves, like Indah’s tempeh, sambal eggs, and our children’s favourite: crispy tofu. This is the dish that you can serve to any visiting child that claims not to like tofu. Trust me, I tried it with the pickiest of playdates! I have promised friends many times to share the recipe, so finally, here it is! And, without Indah to cook us for us, it is all hands on deck and Linde helped in the preparation. 

Crispy tofu

extra firm tofu
2 eggs
light soy sauce
fresh lime or lemon juice
pepper & salt

You need a firm, dry tofu to make this successfully. In Singapore we used Tau Kwa, which is perfect, but in Indonesia and Europe the tofu is often more wet, so make sure to drain it well. If necessary, squeeze out excess water. Cut it in bite-sized rectangles, roughly the size of chicken nuggets. Marinate the pieces in about two tablespoons of soy sauce and one of lemon juice for a little while. Season with salt and pepper.

Crush the cornflakes - we use a mortar and pestle but you can also crush them with a roller pin - until they have the texture of coarse breadcrumbs. 

Now, make an assembly line: one bowl with about half a cup of corn starch, one bowl of beaten eggs, one with the cornflake crumble. Toss & turn each cube of tofu in the corn-starch, egg and cornflakes consecutively. Make sure they are coated all around. 

Heat a generous layer of oil in a low frying pan or wok. When it is very hot, toss in the coated tofu pieces. They need to be fried in a single layer, so it will take a couple of round. Fry them on both sides until brown and crispy, it only takes a few minutes.

We all enjoy them with our favourite sauces, the kids like tomato ketchup and mayonaise whilst the adults prefer sweet Thai chili or sriracha.

* the gorgeous pig photographs are courtesy of fellow Green School parent Ted!

Monday 12 August 2019

Greener in Bali

The grass is always greener elsewhere, and as a nomad, I evidently got itchy feet after seven years in Singapore – a personal record of living in one place. But one can’t just pack up and leave, you in fact need to go somewhere, which raised the difficult question: where should we go? That exact question has been buzzing around our household for years.

Often a next move for expats is dictated by work, but if there is no such push, just a general pull and a sense of adventure – the world is your oyster. That sounds like the ultimate luxury, but it also makes things ultimately complicated. Drowning in a sea of too much choice, too many factors – good education for the kids, a pleasant climate, liveable surroundings, a good culture for raising kids, and exciting prospects for work, we felt stuck. We were tired from the high pace of city-state Singapore. We needed a break; time to spend together as a family before the kids were too old to want to spend it with us.

The question I have been asked uncountable times the last few months is: why Bali? I always want to answer; why not Bali? After debating for years what our next move would be we eventually decided on an impulse, after seeing a Facebook post on one of the green attractions of this green island: a Green School. Combined with my own fascination for all things Indonesian, Roel’s wish for a fun place to spend his upcoming sabbatical overthinking his next steps, it seemed perfect.

So here we are. In Bali. In our new house overlooking rice fields, with our new Bali rescue dog, discovering new things, learning a new language. Away from the safety and comfort that was Singapore. And we are starting to figure things out. The Bali traffic no longer defies us, as we find order in the chaos and the politeness of the Balinese (if you get cut off on your scooter you can bet it’s a fat white Bule on that bike). We are starting to find out where to get our groceries (and sorry Linde, we do really need to cut down on cheese, who would have believed there is a country in the world where cheese is more expensive than Singapore?)

The kids are starting to settle in in the new school, and I can say one thing: things are definitely greener there! This is the school where all new parents (including me) sigh: I wish I was a kid again so I can go to school here… The classrooms are made of bamboo and have no walls. They are situated in lush gardens. There are rabbits and chicken, and cats wandering about for Linde and Jasmijn to cuddle. Tijm has started Middle School where he can select exciting elective subjects like surfing and free diving. The focus is on sustainability, the school wants to educate the green leaders of tomorrow. At the same time they are innovative educators, the guiding principle is that school should in fact be fun, as kids learn way more when they can follow their passions and enjoy themselves. We hope that they will manage to challenge our boy with a passion for maths as well as sports.

And, there is plenty for the parents too. Roel and I enrolled in a course where we will work alongside the Balinese to learn about the rice cycle, establishing ties with local farmers and develop a shared vision for expanding organic rice supply. I can’t wait to get my feet in that mud! Roel’s other goal this year is learning to surf whilst I am looking forward to many mornings like this one, where I sit on my patio alternating writing and gazing at our amazing view. I am starting to believe this was a good move.

And then of course there is always the follow up question that still defies me: how long do you plan to stay? There is only one answer to that: I have no idea. 

(Okay, some photos, because I know you all want me to poke your eyes out with the gorgeousness of our new surroundings. And yes the guest room is ready... )