bali: ubud and balian beach

Ayung_Ubud_Miyachi

Bali, the Indonesian province no bigger than the state of Delaware, provides dramatically different experiences from coast to coast: sun-kissed beach resorts in the south, untamed natural wonders in the east, unbridled nightlife in the west. Perhaps this is why Bali attracts so many wanderers, people searching for calm or chaos. Maybe too this is the secret to Bali’s otherworldly charm. My own wandering journey was a tale of contrasts; the bustling roads my gateway to Bali’s lesser known destinations.

On an island known for it’s beaches, only an extraordinary place can draw people away from the coast. Thus I began in Ubud, the artistic hub of Bali, about an hour’s drive inland from the airport. At the height of dry season, the entire island was ripe: coconuts ready for harvest, juicy papayas hanging heavy on trees. Though the road to Ubud feels like an unmapped side street, a booming tourism industry has introduced fleets of t-shirt hawkers and congestion upon arrival. I chose to avoid this, renting a bungalow west of town in the Campuhan Ridge, whose unmarked winding paths have not lost yet lost their charm.

Given the peaceful nature of its surroundings, I’m not surprised that Ubud attracts many travelers looking for reflection. My own interests are less spiritual and more tangible: I wanted to fully embrace Balinese food. Indonesian cuisine is by nature very vegan-friendly, and in Bali, traditional food combines ancient Hindu roots with foreign influences brought by 20th century Dutch colonization.

In recent decades, a new wave of yoga-practicing immigrants brought vegan food to the forefront. I started my day at one such product of the vegan food movement, Alchemy, a raw food cafe that sits conveniently on the major road connecting Ubud and the Campuhan Ridge. The oversized chaises and bright vintage décor are welcoming; it is the type of place where you could spend an afternoon reading and nibbling, and in fact, many people do. I feast my eyes upon the breakfast bar, which offers a wild buffet of raw granola, vegan yogurt and fresh fruit.

Alchemy is perfectly situated to begin my walking tour of the Sayan rice terraces, a lush and peaceful oasis that is worlds apart from Ubud’s busy roads. Starting at the Sayan Terrace Hotel, I traced the side of the Ayung River, which afforded stunning river valley views. The surrounding rice terraces are bursting with life and the vivid green paddies cover the rolling hills for as far as the eye can see. Wandering through the fields is an activity in it’s own right, and I’d recommend setting aside some time to enjoy the tranquil landscape.

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Caspuhan_Ubud_Miyachi

Following my walk, I was eager to try tempeh, the fermented soy food and Indonesian staple. Often shamed as a “meat substitute” in Western dishes, tempeh is a star in Balinese cuisine, and the preparations I had in Bali rocked my world.

One of the best tempeh dishes is served at the Yellow Flower Café, a lovely eco-conscious spot tucked amidst bungalows in an unassuming Campuhan neighborhood. Nasi campur, or mixed rice, is a popular Indonesian dish, and Yellow Flower Café is home to my favorite. There are no rules to nasi campur; it is simply rice served tapas style with other small dishes. At Yellow Flower, these include a mouth-watering fried tempeh, a spicy spinach dish, kang kung, and local cashew nuts.

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After my drive to Ubud, I was weary of getting back on the road. Transportation in Bali, like in many other Southeast Asian nations, is a thrill – and not always in the pleasant sense. Major transit roads are a mess of precarious eighteen-wheelers and whizzing motorbikes. It is not unusual to witness cars weaving through one-lane streets, dodging in and out between oncoming traffic. But if any destination is worth an additional drive, Balian Beach is it.

The biggest challenge is finding a driver who knows Balian Beach. This isn’t shocking considering that just 15 years ago, Balian was little more than some farmers, roaming cows, and maybe a couple wayward surfers looking for waves. Now, the town is home to a bohemian community of beach lovers. This is not the glitzy white sand beach you see in travel brochures, but rather a stretch of black sand and pounding waves. The only crowds here are in the water, where surfers gather to catch the powerful swell. Forget about lawn chairs or umbrellas – Balian’s appeal is not curated, but natural and rugged.

I lunched at Mai Malu, a vegan-conscious joint serving Balinese staples. The food here is simple, well priced and beautifully plated. A standout was the watermelon banana smoothie, one of many drinks at Mai Malu highlighting Bali’s host of native tropical fruits.

Next I headed to the beach, surfboard in hand. The afternoons tend to be mellower than the mornings, when the locals wake up without fail for dawn patrol. The coastline around Balian is magnificent: towering cliffs encircle the beach like a gate to paradise. I struggled to paddle the long distance to the break, but I was rewarded with remarkable views of the coast and front-row seats to watch Balian’s best surfers.

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Balian_3_Miyachi

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After a couple of hours in the water, I walked just up the road from the beach to Deki’s Warung. This local surfer joint has the best beachside view in town, a perfect capstone to my day. I feasted on a delicious, albeit fried, tempeh burger – hands down the best burger I’ve had – with a perfect crispy exterior and dressed with fresh tomatoes and spicy Balinese chili sauce.

I arrived early to snag a table at the front, where I could watch the surfers and the sunset. My muscles ached from battling the ocean, but the pain is dulled by fantastic traditional medicine: cheap beer and a great view. The afternoon gives way to night with pop tunes blaring in the background, as one by one, surfers returned to shore. I watch until the sky went dark, every single star brighter than any I’ve seen back home.
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pumpkin latte popsicle

vegan pumpkin popsicles

vegan pumpkin popsicles

Coming back from vacation is hard. Coming back from vacation with a bad case of food poisoning is brutal. I’m suffering ladies and gents. What makes it worse is that after a week of jean shorts and beaches, I return to San Francisco and it is full-on FALL.

I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to summer – I’m still not – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t autumn treats to look forward to. I’m ashamed to admit that I was once, not so long ago, an addict of Starbucks’ bevy of seasonal beverages. Pumpkin Spice Latte, I’m looking at you. I don’t think I even liked the taste all that much – it mostly tasted like a normal subpar Starbucks latte with a shot of nutmeg. Pumpkin Spice Lattes were more like a comfort food, familiar and warm and consistent. Writing these words I’m realizing how incredibly effective their marketing was on me…

In the spirit of holding on to the last bits of summer, I reincarnated the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Meet the Pumpkin Latte Popsicle. Everything you loved about fall espresso drinks in summer-friendly form. Enjoy them while you still can!

vegan pumpkin popsicles

vegan pumpkin popsicles

vegan pumpkin popsicles

vegan pumpkin popsicles
ALSO – photos are all film. I really like it. What do you think?!
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marinated tofu and mushrooms

vegan marinated tofu

Summer, I hate to say it, is ending. Even though I’m no longer a student, summer still provides relief from the norm. Sure, I still go to work everyday, but it feels different…playing hooky just seems a little bit more okay. I don’t think I’m alone with this feeling. So in a city without seasons like San Francisco, what makes us feel like summer is the time to let loose? Maybe it’s the longer days, or the store shelves full of bikinis and shorts. Or maybe it’s just the years of conditioning from school. Whatever the reason, I’ve been clinging to these final weeks and celebrating the season whenever I can. This meal is my dedication to summer nights. The tofu and mushrooms are marinated in a fresh ginger sauce and served cool – nothing gets more summery than that. I served it over rice, but it would be equally great on noodles or even greens, so go with what you love.

vegan marinated tofu

vegan marinated tofu

vegan marinated tofu

vegan marinated tofu

vegan marinated tofu
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orange poppyseed muffins

vegan orange poppyseed muffins

vegan orange poppyseed muffins

vegan orange poppyseed muffins

Okay. I have a confession. Again. I made three batches of these in two days. I want to blame it on Spencer…but that would be a bold-faced lie. Sure, he ate his fair share, but this is on me. I’m addicted to these muffins and I’m not afraid to admit it. Lemon poppyseed was always a favorite of mine growing up. Muffins are already a questionable breakfast choice, but lemon poppyseed avoids the cloying sweetness of coffee cake or chocolate chip, so you can almost convince yourself it’s nutritious. I’ve substituted orange here, and it’s lovely. The orange juice imparts more fruitiness than your boring run-off-the-mill lemon muffin, which I favor. I imagine you could use any citrus, so go crazy with that grapefruit/tangerine/lime!

vegan orange poppyseed muffins

vegan orange poppyseed muffins

vegan orange poppyseed muffins

vegan orange poppyseed muffins

vegan orange poppyseed muffins

vegan orange poppyseed muffins

vegan orange poppyseed muffins

vegan orange poppyseed muffins
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tomato toast

tomato toast

tomato toast

It’s not something I recognized at the time, being the law-abiding goody two shoes that I was/am, but I lived a very sheltered childhood. One of the few things I was allowed to do without supervision was walk to the local farm stand. I felt like a total badass doing this without my parents. Yeah, sure, it really only involved crossing a street, and my mom probably trailed me the entire time, but that didn’t take away from the thrill of independence.

One of my favorite things to buy was tomatoes. I would slice them up when I got home, sprinkle them with salt, and eat them right then and there. Nothing beats the fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes of summertime – these were especially good, even forgiving my nostalgia. I still enjoy eating tomatoes raw. But hell, now that I’m all grown up and am allowed to operate the oven without my mom watching over my shoulder, I can do SO much more than that. Behold, oven roasted tomatoes. It’s like tomato flavor times ten plus a gooey texture that just beckons to be put on toast. This began as a 2AM holy-shit I’m hungry and there are about 3 ingredients in my kitchen sort of meal. I promise, though, it tastes just as good at more reasonable hours of the day. Just like salted tomatoes, this almost feels to simple to share. But fuck it – happy summer!

tomato toast

tomato toast

tomato toast

tomato toast
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roasted tomato and lentil salad

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I read an interesting article yesterday about a food research firm – these are the people that made Frappachinos a “thing” – and how a small group of people is apparently responsible for mapping the food trends of the world. I hesitate to link it…because yes, I was reading Buzzfeed (…fuck). Nonetheless, I found it fascinating and a little terrifying that there is some person somewhere who decides that kale salads are what’s next, setting off an economic and social domino effect. I mean, can you imagine how psyched your local neighborhood kale farmer must have been when all the sudden kale was the hottest leafy green on the block? Or more realistically, the CEO of some huge corporation who has the patent on germ-resistant kale seeds… There’s a kale salad at Wendy’s for Christ’s sake.

Lentils, to me, are the anti-kale. They’re not trendy – you won’t be seeing lentils served at that hot new restaurant down the block. Every other food blog and that food blog’s mom do not have a lentil recipe or seven. I get it. Lentils don’t look all that great – a rainbow of colors can’t hid their weird shape and mushy texture – and most of the time they come in a fatigue shade that isn’t exactly easy on the eyes. Let’s face it, a bowl of lentils is homely…not exactly the type of dish one would typically want to serve at say a dinner party. This lentil salad is a bit more sophisticated, thankfully. The addition of slow-roasted, balsamic drizzled tomatoes elevates the dish from something your great, great Irish grandmother made on a bad week to a meal more fitting of modern dinner guests. It’s not truly a salad, but for the sake of making it sound less like a bowl of slop, I’m naming it such.

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I’m sure that before it’s recent surge in popularity, kale was boring, just like it’s grocery store neighbors, just like lentils. Call me crazy, but I’m rooting for a lentil comeback. They’re quick to cook, nearly impossible to fuck up, and I’ve been told pretty damn healthy as well. When McDonald’s starts serving this…I told you so!

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vietnamese spring rolls

vegan spring rolls

vegan spring rolls

vegan spring rolls

It’s hard to believe that I moved to San Francisco a year ago, fresh off an incredible trip to Vietnam. I blame it on the seasonless weather. Last summer isn’t separated from today by leaves turning or snow falling or flowers blooming. And so last summer feels less like 12 months ago about more like 12 days ago. On the evening we moved in to our apartment, after wheeling our four suitcases across city blocks and up the four flights of stairs, I insisted on making a late night stop to the grocery store. We trekked to Safeway, an eerie and frankly nasty location at that hour. We sat on our mattress – the only piece of furniture we had at the time – and ate our Safeway ice cream out of the tub, with plastic spoons from Starbucks. It was empty and so hopeful, so exciting. Of course, at many moments, we shape the course of our lives, but it always feels subtle, if it feels like anything at all. But sitting in my empty apartment, I felt, albeit briefly, in control of my life – that the emptiness in front of me was mine to fill.

So – what’s happened in the past year? Well, we have furniture now, as much as I enjoyed the austere decor. It took about 8 months to pony up the money and the motivation, but we finally furnished our place. In celebration of our apartment-versiry, we had a number of friends over for dinner. It was our first real “dinner” party. We spent all day preparing. We squished 8 people into our tiny kitchen. We used every plate, knife, fork, and cup that we owned. To say it was a full-house would be an understatement. I made these spring rolls, for the happy occasion, among other things. The last time I had made spring rolls, though, was in Vietnam, last June. It seems fitting, then, to share these now, in celebration of so many things of the past year: our lovely apartment, great friends in San Francisco, delicious food at a real table…owning more than just a mattress…

vegan spring rolls

vegan spring rolls

vegan spring rolls

vegan spring rolls

vegan spring rolls

vegan spring rolls
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