Kom Ombo Temple, Egypt

A while ago I wrote a little post and put some photos up of our horse ride from Kom Ombo to Edfu Temple. But what about Kom Ombo? It was a pretty amazing space, actually.

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Built somewhere around 180 – 200 BC, this temple was constructed during the Ptolemaic dynasty and was unusually built to honour two gods, Sobek and Horus.

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What I found most incredible was the fact that there was still colour, clearly visible, on a lot of the columns and even ceiling reliefs, as you can see in my photos below. It was really hard to fathom the fact that this temple has been around for literally thousands of years, and the colour had managed to stand the earth quakes, floods, sand storms, and everything else that had been thrown at it…

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This wasn’t one of the biggest temples we saw, but it was a really beautiful one – the thing I remember most, other than the colours, were the ornate columns that you can see below. Very beautiful, very grand, and really made you feel so small… I loved it!

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One of the best meals of my life: late night street food in Bangkok.

 

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I’m pretty sure when “normal” people are asked about the best meals of their lives, they’re usually going to talk about Michelin-starred or three-hatted restaurants, well-known, celebrity chefs, exceptional, knowledgeable and courteous service, caviar and truffles and expensive, vintage wine, maybe even a beautiful view of some gorgeous beach landscape. If you ask me, the first I’ll probably think of will be a dodgy looking, street-side vendor, under a motor-way overpass, on the back streets of Bangkok. Yeah, if you haven’t worked it out yet, I’m not “normal.”

Husband and I were in Thailand January just passed (2014), while the city was in the midst of the “Shutdown Bangkok” political movement. It wasn’t ideal. A lot of the markets and street food vendors I’d remembered so fondly from a previous visit were either not operating, or doing much shorter hours than usual. The protestors were peaceful, and as such, really didn’t hinder our movements around the city. On our last night in Bangkok, we set out for one of the night markets I’d visited last time (honestly can’t remember which one it was now, unfortunately!), and after a few wrong turns, we finally found it. Only to discover that perhaps a scant 10% of the regular vendors were operating. And no street food to be seen.

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Given that we’re both foodies and will eat authentic street food over a fancy restaurant any day, we decided to keep walking until we found somewhere that looked good for dinner; we’d never forgive ourselves if our last meal in Thailand was a Thai-by-numbers, made-for-tourists event. Inevitably, because our Thai isn’t too crash hot and I did my best navigating a Thai map with Thai street names, wrong turns were taken and we just kept walking in the general direction of our hotel. We ended up on what seemed to be much quieter streets without really realising how we got there, but we just kept walking. Until we found this place. It was PACKED! I vividly remember an older lady sitting in the gutter, washing out dishes by hand, and pouring the dirty water from the buckets down the street before re-filling them from the hose that lay next to her.

We took a seat on the squat plastic stools, and were handed two plastic menus. We ordered a bit of everything; papaya salad (for husband who has a masochistic love for anything spicy), stir fried greens in oyster sauce, pork fried rice and BBQ beef. While we were waiting for our food, we just sat back and took stock.

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Of the place we were, in that moment, literally; on the side of a dark street in Bangkok, late at night. There were women manning enormous woks over my left shoulder, with bright orange flames licking the sides.  A few plastic menus, sticky with various sauces, being passed around and shared. Locals and other travellers all sharing the space, and enjoying their meals immensely. And this little lady, sitting in the gutter, robotically cleaning the dishes.  Then I thought about where I was in life. My childhood dreams were to see the world and have adventures. I didn’t play “mummy” with my dolls, pretending to make a home for them, and bathe and clothe and cuddle and feed them. I put my dolls on trains that had been thrown off the tracks by an earthquake and onto the precipice of a cliff, where they were hanging on for dear life. Other dolls sailed away on boats, dodging all manor of sealife, real and mythical, to their destination on the other side of the world. More yet rode horses out into the wilderness and saw incredible things. That’s what I had always wanted. And as I looked around, though tame to a lot of people I’m sure, wasn’t this some sort of an adventure? Wasn’t I finally living my life the way I wanted to? That’s why I look so glazed over and happy in this photo..

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Yes, the food was good. Amazing, actually. I’ve been to modern restaurants where I haven’t eaten beef than tender and well cooked. How they managed to impart that much flavour into green vegetables with oyster sauce is beyond me. The food was delicious! But good food clearly isn’t the only thing to consider when thinking about your best ever meals.

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The Hong Ngoc Humanity Centre for victims of Agent Orange

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So, it’s a bloody long drive from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay. Around 3 – 4 hours, traffic dependent. With both my sister and I having a history of car sickness, we weren’t particularly looking forward to spending upwards of 6 hours in a mini-van, but kept telling ourselves it’d be worth it to see Ha Long Bay. Clearly, it was worth it. BUT the drive honest to God was NOT THAT BAD! It helped that we had an absolute star of a guide who kept us informed and entertained for the most part, but taking a break half way was a fantastic too. As we were pulling in, he explained that the place we were visiting was an a centre that specialised in some beautiful art work; paintings and photographs were recreated by the resident artists, copying them from an original print onto a canvas by way of embroidery. The results were stunning, we were told. He then told us that the resident artists were also survivors/victims (I guess it depended on how you wanted to look at it) of the Agent Orange chemical used in the Vietnam War.

Basically, in an attempt to deny food, water and cover to the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, the United States used a herbicide called Agent Orange to defoliate large chunks of jungle. An unfathomable approximate of 3 – 5 million people were affected by the herbicide (it’s hard to find legitimate numbers on this with claims from the US that the Vietnamese purposely made the numbers higher than they were..); countless deaths, cases of cancer, still births, mental and physical disabilities, nervous system disorders and babies born with horrible deformities was the result. As a result, that leaves a lot of now adults without the ability to work and earn a living, often classed as “burdens” on their families. This centre is a place for them to go to, where they are taught this art. They can also live there, and earn a modest wage; ironically enough, that sees these “burdens” becoming the main bread-winners for their families.

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We walked through the centre, silently, reverently I guess. I didn’t want them to feel like circus animals with my camera pointed at them, but a few seemed quite happy to have their pictures taken. I didn’t take many; it didn’t feel right. We watched them work away, some silently, others chatting and laughing amongst themselves. It seemed like a good environment; safe, productive, uniting. The work was beautiful, and I purchased a small picture of my own to take home. There were other items for sale as well – carved wooden goods, statues, scarves, knick knacks.

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Suddenly our huffing and puffing over a long car ride seemed not only insignificant, but incredibly selfish and bratty. This stop was not only to recharge our batteries for the next hour and a half in the car, but it recharged my heart as well. It gave some phenomenal perspective, which is absolutely necessary, particularly when you are travelling.

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Cook this: flourless orange & chia cake

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I usually make one sweet treat every Sunday to get me through the week with a cup of tea at the end of the day, and made a really nice lemon chia seed cake last week. On the back of that success, I decided to go with another citrus and chia cake this week instead of the cookies I was planning to make, and found a recipe I’d cut out of a magazine a while ago for a flourless orange cake. I stuffed around with the recipe a bit (as usual) until it felt right for me, and what I ended up with was pretty good, actually, and not just for a gluten free cake! It was very moist and had a really punchy orange flavour. It needed the dusting of icing sugar to balance out the citrus tang. The almond and hazelnut meals were a great swap for flour, and gave the cake a great flavour and texture. It is  very moist cake – husband and I quite enjoyed it, but it’s probably not to everyone’s taste. If that’s the case, I’d recommend using a little less nut meal and a little flour instead. I wouldn’t mind trying this one again with mandarins for a sweeter taste and some chopped hazelnuts for to give the cake a more interesting texture (I like “crunch”) – probably wouldn’t change too much else, though.

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Ingredients
(the original recipe I adapted this from said it made one 9 x 20 inch loaf cake; I used it to make a smaller loaf and 8 full sized cupcakes)
– 2 oranges
– 4 eggs, at room temperature
– 220g caster sugar
– 150g hazelnut meal
– 150g almond meal
– 3 tbsp chia seeds
– 1 tsp baking powder

Method:
1. Place the oranges in a large pot, cover with cold water, and then set over high heat. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer covered for an hour, until the oranges are very soft. Drain and set aside to cool completely before moving on.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 160°C and line your chosen cake tin/cupcake tins. I used a loaf tin, 6 x 10 inches, and also got another 8 cupcakes from this mixture. I could have put all of the batter in the loaf tin, in retrospect, as the cake really didn’t rise as much as I thought it would, but if you’ve had an exploding-cake-in-oven incident once, you tend to err on the side of caution!
3. Quarter the oranges and place them in a food processor, blitzing until smooth. Pour the blended oranges into a large bowl, add the sugar and eggs and beat with an electric mixer for a minute or so, until totally combined and smooth.
4. Fold the nut meals, chia seeds and baking powder through the orange mixture, pour into your prepared pan/s, and bake until they pass the skewer test; I baked the loaf for approximately 90 minutes (probably could have gone with another 10 to be honest), and the cupcakes for 55 minutes.
5. Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin before dusting with icing sugar to serve.

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Luna1878 Winter Night Market @ QVM, Melbourne

Luna1878 Winter Night Market @ QVM, Melbourne
http://www.qvm.com.au/night-market/luna1878-winter-night-market-2/

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Yes, I know, this is a bit late given that Wednesday was the last Luna1878 Night Market of the season, but I hadn’t a chance to get there until this week! Don’t worry, the summer season of night markets will be starting up soon, from November 5th, so just a quick intermission before we can all go back and enjoy Wednesday nights once again!

In the mean time, the food vendors that featured at the Luna1878 Night Markets will still be cooking up delicious treats for you to eat at their own places, so here’s what we ate at the market this week, and what we’d HIGHLY recommend you try, too! And yes, we – I didn’t eat all this myself, husband gave me a hand!

1. Wonderbao’s fried chicken bao and the chicken and shitake bao bun. Amazing start to the night, the bun was good value for money I thought at $3, the larger fried chicken bao was very overpriced in my opinion at $7. Only in Melbourne can you get away with charging that much and still having a line of people!
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Wonderbao on Urbanspoon

2. The chunky steak pie from Gourmet Pies – sadly the pastry was a little thin on the bottom and starting to get a little soggy, but the filling… wow.. probably the best filled steak pie I’ve EVER had. Massive chunks of quality beef that fell apart as you bit into them. Great value for $6 – there was also an option for an $8 pie plus peas and mash plate.
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Gourmet Pies on Urbanspoon

3. BBQ pig with rice and accompaniments from Hoy Pinoy BBQ. Massive winner. Tender, juicy BBQ’d pork, and the sides were phenomenal. Would definitely go back for this again. Good value for $12.
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4. Chilli’s pulled pork tacos. Not overly amazing, but the pineapple in there was fantastic with the pork. Loved that. Also a bit overpriced at $6 for one small taco, plus extra $1 for guacamole.
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5. We thought we were done when we spotted LongHorn’s BBQ stand. Like moths to a flame. Brisket roll for $12 was a little pricey, but to be honest, I’m happy to spend that kind of money when the quality of the meat is THAT good. I’ve Googled and Googled but can’t seem to find any more info on this place – the only one I can find is based on Florida??! Any one know any more about LongHorn?! I want more!!!
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6. Didn’t get in quick enough for a photo, but husband had a fried chicken drumstick from Mamak – soft, tender, juicy chicken and the coating was really nice.
Mamak on Urbanspoon

7. I may have been a little over excited come dessert time and forgot about a photo of the crème brulee and the cannoli from the Crème Brulee Cart. They were both unreal. Even husband who isn’t a huge dessert person helped me polish it all off pretty happily!
The Brûlée Cart on Urbanspoon

8. Finally, special mention to Steel Drum Popcorn - I usually buy a bag at the market, but was so full I actually forgot.. the shame! If you haven’t tried their incredible sweet and salty popcorn before, you are missing out in a big way. This stuff is popcorn crack. Get on it.

 

Another awesome night at the market, can’t wait for November to do it all again before we head to America to eat our way through their markets, too!

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Il Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy

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Il Ponte Vecchio (or “The Old Bridge” as it translates to) is a pretty popular point in Florence. A medieval stone bridge that lays over the Arno River, it was re-constructed in it’s current form in 1345 after a flood destroyed an existing bridge. It was also miraculously the only bridge in the city not destroyed by the fleeing Germans in World War II.

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There was also a corridor constructed above the bridge in the mid 1500s, in order to connect the Palazzo Vecchio to the Pitti Palace. While the bridge was originally occupied by butchers, it’s now well known as the place to buy jewellery in Florence and as such is very popular with the ladies (not so much with their poor husbands and boyfriends)!

It’s a really lovely place to take a stroll come dusk – the sun setting over the neighbouring bridges is a beautiful sight, and the atmosphere changes come early evening, less frenetic and more relaxed.

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Read this: The Tao of Travel by Paul Theroux

The Tao of Travel
by Paul Theroux

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After the MWF sessions that I attended this past weekend and hearing the wonderful reading lists of Tony Wheeler and Don George, I thought it was appropriate to post this review next! Paul Theroux has been long thought of as one of the great stalwarts of travel writing. As such, it only figures that he would be incredible well read on all subjects pertaining to travel, and therefore able to put together some great information taken from all of the travel tomes that he himself has read. The Tao of Travel is that compendium.

Compiled to celebrate 50 years on the road, this book is a beautiful collection of some of Theroux’s own work, as well as some of the best of the travel writing that inspired and shaped him. There are quotes, information and book excerpts on everything from “exotic” meals and horrible travel ordeals, to the grandeur of travelling by train rather than any other form of transport and the contents of some travellers’ bags. I also personally enjoyed reading his 5 travel epiphanies at the end of the book, and his essentials:

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It’s one of those books that I know I’ll read over and over again in the years to come; the quotes selected in there (from both his own work and the work of other writers) are all beautiful and carefully chosen, and for the most part still very much relevant, despite how long ago most were written. It’s a fantastic wealth of accumulated information and knowledge from some very well travelled individuals, and well worth the read. Pick up a copy for yourself here, and enjoy the ride!