Thursday 19 September 2019

Pesky pest or yummy treat?

Can you guess what local delicacy this is? Read on and you will be rewarded... 

In Bali we are surrounded by sawah – rice paddies. So what better way is there to get ourselves acquainted with Balinese life than to learn how to farm rice?

For the past weeks Roel and I have been immersing ourselves in mud - learning from local farmers how they work, the issues they face these days, and see how they have been switching back to traditional chemical free farming methods. As soon as I feel less of a newbie on all matters rice, I will definitely be sharing more of that, but or now, here is a little appetiser to get you hooked on farming life in Bali. Yesterday we took revenge against one pesky pest we encountered: snails. 

After we spent weeks preparing the mud; ploughing, hoeing, stamping, fertilising, seeding, it was finally time to plant our tiny padi plants in the neat rows our farmers had drawn for us in the mud. With about ten bule it took us a couple of hours, and when we sludged out proudly, I have to admit I was slightly disappointed to hear that a Balinese farmer can do this in an hour. Alone. 


Later, when we came back to inspect our work, we saw how pesticide free farming presents challenges: a horde of hungry molluscs had been feasting on our babies. One of the fields particularly saw more than half of the padi devoured by snails - thankfully not the one we had been working on. As we don’t use chemicals, we started googling, asking around for natural remedies to scare the snails away; ideas from beer-filled traps to crushed eggshells and human hair were tossed around. But the Balinese farmers had a better idea: let’s have a barbecue!

As Green School parents we all know that to preserve our planet we need to eat less meat; the production of beef, lamb and pork greatly contributes to climate change, deforestation - and of course there is animal welfare to consider. So I can say that I personally rejoiced at the idea of eating some sustainably sourced, free range protein. Guiltless meat! Bring on the snails.

 We roamed the field and surroundings to collect as many of the buggers as we could and collected them in a large bucket. And as I am sure by now you are all very hungry from reading this story: here is the recipe for grilled Balinese rice field snail! Even my children agree: they are enak! Delicious. 

1. Rinse the snails and bring them to boil in a pot of water with a generous handful of salt. Boil for 10-15 minutes until scum starts floating to the top.

2. The scum is what you don’t want, so rinse this off. Then use a satay stick take out the flesh: only the first fleshy bit is good to eat. The black part deeper in the shell contains the gut. 

3. Rinse the snails again, first with salty water, then with fresh water until no more mud comes out. Then string them onto bamboo satay skewers. You can grill the on a coal fire, but a gas grill works well too. Dip and coat the snails in some kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce) and grill until fragrant.

4. Serve with pecel, Indonesian peanut sauce and sambal (mashed chili). Ready made peanut sauce can be bought in supermarkets here, in varying degrees of spiciness. They are very easy to cook – just add hot water! They are great with any kind of satay, as well as vegetables, I always have some ready in storage for a quick lazy meal. 

Monday 2 September 2019

That thing with Bali dogs

When people talk about the ways of Bali – which are supposedly both mystical and mysterious, I’m always sceptical. A very down-to-earth Dutch person doesn’t believe in such things, obviously. But Bali didn’t need long to prove me wrong. 

Roel and I have had a long-standing argument about pets, which basically boiled down to the fact that he wanted a dog and I didn’t. But now he was gallant enough to accompany me to the island of my dreams. 
So when someone posted a cute doggy on my Facebook wall, that happened to be staying in a kennel on the East Coast, conveniently located mere miles from where we were spending our holiday – it made sense even to me. Lara, a cute little Bali rescue dog joined our family. She was about one year old, raised and leash-trained by a Dutch dog rescuer. Lara has a sweet temperament that started to make me rethink my stand on dogs. 

One had better like dogs when visiting Bali. Because the main thing with Bali dogs is: they are everywhere. And when I say everywhere, I mean everywhere. It is hard to walk more than a few meters without stumbling over one of the mongrels that live on Bali’s streets. Although they look like street dogs, the majority actually has an owner. Unfortunately, some of these owners have a different mentality towards pets from what most of us westerners are used to. Lucky for the dogs, an army of dog lovers are ready to sweep to the rescue of the mangy, the underfed, the scabies sufferers. They feed, medicate, sterilise and educate, important work that will hopefully help establish a healthy, happy population one day. 

They also swamp my social media daily with pictures of cute puppies in search of a ‘forever home.’ But I was resolute – I’m done with sleepless nights, potty training and needy infants. No matter how hard the girls begged, we would not get a puppy.

But then, one unlucky day, Bali strikes again. As we drive off from the Pantai Munggu carpark, where we tried to coerce Lara to like walks on the beach, we feel a bump. Roel looks up from the wheel and a queasy feeling comes up in my stomach. We pull over and we rush out of the car. Long story short – we hit a dog.

Not only had we hit a dog, it turns out we had hit it right in front of one of Bali’s dog rescuers – which are only slightly less ubiquitous than dogs here. She had just had this little stray vaccinated. Of course we immediately offered to pay for any veterinary costs.

It turned out the dog had broken both hips and needed surgery - expensive surgery. Since we live in a country where some people cannot even afford medical care for their children, we found ourselves in a moral dilemma. Was it justified to spend this amount on a stray dog? On the other hand, not only had we promised to pay, we felt responsible for the poor creature - after all we did drive over it. I think you can now all see that there is only one way this story can end? 

There is no way we could put a dog back on the streets after spending so much on medical bills. Little Munggu, estimated to be about six months old, is a cute black puppy with the saddest eyes ever. Having adopted me as her new mother, she follows me around everywhere like the puppy she is with her slow limp. In the end, it didn’t matter whether I wanted dogs or not. The dogs got me.