Wanderlust: Yangon, first impressions, pomelo salad

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My taxi wound its way through an endless arterial road. We were heading towards Yangon downtown. Whenever the car stopped, which was often, I fanned myself – in vain – with the city walking map I found at the airport.

It felt like 90% humidity and close to 40C (100F). This is not Sydney winter anymore.

I was travelling alone, going into a country that I knew almost nothing about. When we were flying into the airport, I looked out the window and saw rice paddies, with golden stupas (pagodas) that stood out for miles around. If I were a child, I would have held my breath from sheer excitement. I whispered to myself, I am looking at a Burmese stupa. I am in Myanmar. I am a traveller in Myanmar. Exotic, humid, colourful, unknown Myanmar.

The taxi wound its way past concrete walls inscribed with the curly, circular Burmese script. Past men and women wearing longyis. Past a school where girls and boys wore white shirts and green longyis. Past more people, fruit stalls, durians, traffic, and there was my hotel.

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That afternoon was a jumble of noise and wires and food stalls and people and more moments of holding my breath – as I walk between street stalls, past more durians, into the traffic to cross the road. Streets of British colonial-era buildings, decaying before my eyes, fern and moss reclaiming them for the swamp that Yangon was built on. Footpaths covered by street stalls, pedestrians walking, fearless, slow and longyi-clad, on the road.

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Wanderlust: Myanmar and the people

You guys, you are awesome people. I’ve been away for what seems ages with the occasional peep, and you have still come to visit. I’m just starting to catch up on all that’s been happening in the bloggy space – as well as start a newish job. Watch out for me, soon.

And what a trip that was! The colours, sounds, smells, sights, the sensory overload. The derring-do of solo travel. And the sheer fun.

I’ve just packed away the suitcase, realised I’ve really lost my phone (sob – it had so many food photos on it), still trying to revive Patrick the Sourdough Starter, and sorted through those 2500 photos. Now, how do I start to talk about the trip?

Perhaps, we’ll start with the people. Locals and travellers, only a few caught on camera but many more remembered.

Like this guy, energetically looking after me and a German backpacker on an epic 14 hour train ride, who drives a truck between towns in Northern Myanmar and has a girlfriend in Yangon. This photo caught him in a rare non-chatty moment.

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These women, one of whom offered us some jackfruit and laughed with me as I tried (and failed) to find legroom in between the luggage that filled all the space between the aisles and the seats.

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Ginger, ginger, fresh ginger cake, read all about it!

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*Another post while travelling, from the Shan mountains in northern Myanmar!! Also sending this to Angie’s Fiesta on a bumpy but oh-such-fun horse cart, or maybe that water buffalo with birds standing on his back*

Looking through the SG archives, I couldn’t believe I’ve never written gushed about my love of fresh ginger cake. David Lebovitz’s fresh ginger cake.

But first, is it a proper ginger post without a ginger pun? No? Ok, here we go: “What do you call a redhead that works in a bakery? – A gingerbread man/woman.”

Ahem, now we’ve got that out of the way, onto the fresh ginger cake.

This cake is described by the great DL himself as one of his most popular recipes, and one that appears in a number of Bay Area cafes. From a pastry chef/cookbook writer who is famous for his books devoted to ice cream, chocolate, and other contemporary good Parisian things, it is a big claim to say that a favourite recipe involves neither ice cream, nor chocolate, nor anything particularly Parisian.

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It is, indeed, a beauty of a cake. Especially if you like the zing, heat, tingly back throat warm, of fresh ginger. This is fresh ginger dialled up to 10.5, approaching 11.

And lest you worry about eating a mouthful of the root, the ginger is beautifully supported by equally strong flavours from the molasses and spices. I’ve tried a few variations on the spice mix, from the classic cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, to a generous dash of allspice in a pinch, to a light sprinkling of five spice powder (which adds a slightly deeper, savoury note). All of the above, happily, have been approved by family/friends/colleagues.

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Wanderlust 3, from the snowy mountains to the sea

*A post! For Fiesta Friday no less! brought to you by a messenger mangosteen, and that awesome breakfast paratha, freshly made, fluffy, wonderously layered, drizzled with condensed milk AND sugar…*

Here’s Part 3 of the Wanderlust series.

I’m taking you away from steamy hot Yangon, back to late autumn/early winter in the Snowy Mountains, Australia. The Snowy probably evokes all kinds of folklore-ish associations for Australian school kids, from that Banjo Patterson poem about the man from Snowy River, the history of the Aboriginal people, and later, gold mining in Kiandra and the Snowy Hydro scheme. A place of legend and history and old fashioned pioneering.

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We drove from Albury, through the Upper Murray Valley, and into the mountains for a couple of days. Part of the Valley is a floodplain, punctuated by the occasional abandoned town and many skeletal trees.

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After the floodplains, the mountains became closer and closer. They became a backdrop to fertile farms and really neat, pretty localities. Sometimes, it’s just the general store, pub and the petrol station. Occasionally, it was just the pub (at least the priorities are right, right??). Once, there was even a hipster cafe that would cut a dash in Sydney.

But the main event was always the mountains themselves. Especially the climb to the top of Mount Kosciuszko, the highest peak.

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The climb was made, really, embarrassingly easy by the ski chairlift (as this is part of the ski field in winter). Only a 13km return journey, all of it on a steel mesh/rocky gravel boardwalk – I think they also serve to protect the environment from the flocks of tourists. This short walk was full of “oh look over there” views of the surrounding mountain ranges, as there are no trees at that altitude and we had an uninterrupted view around us.

In particular, the mountains faded in colour as they were further away, creating a gorgeous, hyper coloured layers of blue. Blue that matched the sky. I wanted to stay there until sundown…

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Wanderlust 2 – vintage railways and a windmill

*Also sending this to Fiesta Friday 22 at Angie’s, this time with a messenger monkey! I think he likes anything and everything food and drink, and sometimes cameras*

A few years ago, I discovered a book called “100 great books in haiku” by David Bader. Witty, sometimes plain funny, it was a great way to while away an afternoon.

For Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, party of the haiku was:

“roadde trippe!” (the rest, appropriately for Chaucer, was a tad demi-scatological…)

Ever since then, before every road trip, I always said to myself, “roadde trippe!” (childish, isn’t it?)

I said the same thing before heading off to Myanmar. And before our regional NSW road trip during the Easter/Anzac Day break. So in the spirit of road tripping and wanderlusting, here are some more photos from that trip (the first lot of photos are here).

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This trip unexpectedly became a journey around historic railway monuments in our regional centres. Some were sad relics. Like these wooden truss bridges in Gundagai. What a project! The bridges spanned the Murrumbidgee River flood plains (by the way, isn’t Murrumbidgee a great-sounding word that just wants to roll around your tongue?). The first was the Prince Alfred at 922 meters, which formed part of the Old Hume Highway. The second was part of the Gundagai to Tumut railway at 819 meters.

But the engineering ambition was greater than the size of the public purse, or something. These bridges fell into disrepair later in the century.

Despite some equally ambitious, perhaps utopian, restoration plans, they remain crumbling and fenced off with no public access. The sign described the pair of bridges as a ‘managed ruin’. Poetic, more than a little sad, especially in the twilight hours.

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Wanderlust – Singapore!

*Still travelling – and sending this to Angie’s Fiesta Friday #22, hoping the messenger rooster (which lives next to my hotel in Yangon) will get to Angie – he looks pretty determined!*

This, hopefully, will be the first of 2-3 posts catching up on photos from previous trips in Singapore and regional NSW. Travel themed posts while I’m travelling. :-)

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Singapore is said to have two national pastimes, eating and shopping. I’m not someone who goes ga-ga over luxury brands, anyway most of them have shops in Sydney too, so that leaves eating. So. Much. Eating.

I go crazy for the hawker food. Oh the hawker food – popiah, rojak, oyster omelette, laksa, congee, flaky roti, Hainan chicken, endless variations on rice and noodles, all those coconut or sago-laced sweets, durian cake, kaya toast, coffee or tea with condensed milk, masala chai, mountains of durian, and much, much, much more…

Can you believe I was so caught up in eating that I didn’t take photos? I really should practise taking photos of food I have in other countries.

Onto the photos I did remember to take. Here are the non-food bits of the trip.

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This time, I went back to Chinatown and visited the Buddha’s Tooth Relic Temple. I was lucky to be there during a ceremony led by a visiting monk from India. The smell of incense, otherworldly sing-song chanting (so unlike the western chromatic scale), punctuated by alien instruments and ceremonies. Despite the sound and color and motion, this was an hour of meditative stillness.

(As i’m learning in Myanmar, there are many variations of Buddhist temples. This one, like many in Malaysia, are in the Chinese style with lots of red, lanterns, incense, and bits of paper fortunes in mysterious shadowy corners. The ones in Myanmar are very different, dazzling in white and gold. As someone said to me yesterday, it’s like different types of sugar, but they all taste sweet – cute metaphor, non?)

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A complete contrast was Marina Bay Sands. The famous (and famously expensive) hotel that looks like a submarine.

I went there not sure what to expect. After all, it didn’t sound like my kind of place. Yet I was pleasantly surprised. Sure it was all about consumerism, but the building has some beautiful architectural moments. Inside, it was full of geometric patterns, tall, mysterious angles, silhouettes of figures, and details that remind you that – although this building is cool and shaded – you are in tropical Singapore…

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One egg, two recipes: lemon curd and fabulous macaroons

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*When this post hits the blogosphere, and Fiesta Friday 21, I’ll be travelling. Since internet will be sporadic, I may not see your comments (or visit your blogs) for a while, but look forward to catching up when I’m back!*

Of eggs and introductions

How does one introduce a recipe? I’ve been wondering about this while scribbling up this post. And to double the trouble, how does one introduce two recipes that together use the whole egg? Chronologically? Alphabetically? Punningly?

I’ll go from the outside, starting at the eggwhite, finishing with the egg yolk.

The eggwhite

I’ve posted about the macaroons before, under the moniker ‘multi-tasking macaroons’. But these macaroons weren’t exactly the same. These, made with coconut chips rather than desiccated/shredded coconuts, were so pretty. This time, the coconut flakes looked like brown-tipped wings. The texture was different somehow, chewy in the middle, crispy on the outside, not too sweet, each coconut flake standing to attention. These, dear reader, were what Alice Medrich intended in her recipe.

But I took a shortcut. I mixed the coconut and egg whites, without half-cooking them as Ms Medrich instructs. These were a tad stickier, and maybe took a tad longer to cook, but they worked well with a fraction of the effort.

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And then, I dolloped rum-spiked dark chocolate ganache. And finished by sprinkling over flaky sea salt…

These macaroons were ready in about an hour, but they could have been eaten in much, much less time. Especially when I piled a few together and let the chocolate ganache pour over them. That was…well, fun, and decadent.

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