Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Beginning of a New Journey.

Guys, I'm writing a cookbook! A book full of my own original recipes. Cooking has always been a big passion of mine. I can't remember a time where I didn't love to cook. My dad shares this passion with me, so maybe it's in our genes?! But since moving to China, I've lost some of that passion. Partly because my kitchen isn't ideal (toaster oven and a hot plate have proven to be challenging at times), and it has become so easy to just order food at the end of a work day. But, still, when I do cook, I remember how much fun I have and how good it makes me feel to create. 

If I'm being completely honest, I feel like my life has been in a rut lately. I haven't felt any spark of passion for anything in a long time. I just go about my daily routine, and at the end of the day, I sometimes feel lonely and lost. A lot of that passion came from creating in the kitchen. I love entertaining and cooking for other people, and I love messing around with flavours and ideas. I love going to a grocery store and spending hours (seriously, HOURS) going up and down the aisles, looking at the produce, the cheeses, the meats, the spices, the possibilities! I'm literally grinning from ear to ear thinking about being there just a couple of hours ago! I truly do believe that a part of my life is meant to be devoted to creating delicious, feel good food in the kitchen. 

How did I come up with this idea? As most of you know, I'm a teacher. Last week, our grade ten students presented their personal projects to the school; a year long project they've been working on. They decided on something they wanted to create that they were interested in learning more about. Kids created stop motion movies, haute couture gowns, and pixel art. I "jokingly" said to a fellow teacher: "Man, I'm leaving here seriously motivated to create something of my own!" Little did she probably know, I honestly WAS motivated. That night, I thought about it more, and I decided that what I need to do is make a cookbook. I can explore my interest more, learn more, and ultimately decide if I want the culinary arts to be a hobby or more of a career-type thing. This is what I hope to get out of this "personal project" of my own. I'm on a mission, a journey, to find my passion and love for cooking again!

So tonight! The journey began. I went out, I explored the grocery store, and I came home the ingredients to make my first entry into my journal that will one day become my cookbook. I intend to blog some of my recipes, and others I'll keep only in my journal. I'll be Snapchatting my journey and posting on Instagram. You should follow me! My handle for both is mel_dickinson. Come find me!

So here it is. My first recipe!


Pesto Sauce:
+ 2 cups fresh basil leaves
+ 1/4 cup pinenuts, toasted
+ 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
+ 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
+ extra virgin olive oil

Put basil, pinenuts, cheese, and garlic into a blender or food processor. Begin mixing on low and slowly add oil to the blender. Continue to add oil gradually while mixing until desired consistency.

Pasta Bake:
+ 1 package of your favourite pasta (I used large elbow macaroni. Penne would also be great!)
+ 8 slices bacon, cooked, choppped
+ 1 small onion, diced
+ 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
+ 1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
+ 1-2 cups of spinach, roughly chopped
+ 3/4 cup of heavy cream
+ 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
+ salt and pepper to taste

Cook your pasta in heavily salted boiling water according to the directions on the package. Drain and set aside, saving 2-3 tablespoons of the cooking water.

Cook bacon in a frying pan until crispy. Set aside and chop once cooled. Use the leftover bacon grease to sauté the onions and garlic together. Once the onions become softened, add the spinach to the pan and cook until wilted. Add the sundried tomatoes and cooked bacon to the pan. Mix.

Add all of the pesto sauce from the blender or food processor to the pan. Mix. Stir in cream and mix until combined. Remove from heat. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Mix sauce with pasta in a baking dish. If it's difficult to combine the sauce and pasta together, add some of the reserved pasta water to the dish to loosen up the sauce. Top with parmesan cheese. Bake at 350°C for 20 minutes.

That's it folks! If I served this to my friends, I'd maybe add some chopped basil and a few crumbles of goat cheese to the plate. Eating myself, I just threw it in a the bowl and it was DELICIOUS with a glass of red wine.

When the timer on my toaster oven dinged after 20 minutes, and I took this dish out of the oven, I literally cried a little bit. I had to step away from the counter once I set it down and compose myself. I created this! I took things I knew from watching others, from reading cookbooks and recipes, and from my own palate and I created this dish! I tried something I've always wanted to, and I made homemade pesto. SO EASY! This is the result. Feel good food, and I'm feeling so full of passion and motivation, I can't wait to try my next recipe. I think it's going to be something sweet using inspiration from a family cookie recipe.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. For being interested in me and what's going on in my life. And if you try this recipe out, let me know!

(Links to my Twitter and Instagram pages on the right!) --->

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Bali New Year.

Bali is just one of those places you always read about. I feel like it's one of those places Beyonce goes to get away from her hectic life of being a celebrity and escape to a glamorous life of staying at some 5-star resort, getting a massage on her balcony, wining and dining on lush and lavish food and drink. I'd never actually dreamt of going to Bali, but I can recall moments in my life growing up hearing my friends talk about wanting to go to Bali, or reading in magazines and books about how gorgeous and exotic Bali is. Since moving to Beijing, I have had close friends travel to Bali and other areas of Indonesia and rave about how amazing it was. Time for me to go and see what the fuss was all about! 

My goals for this 2-week vacation included (in no particular order): relax on a beach (and by the pool), eat ALL OF THE YUMMY food, explore, hang out with a monkey, and try not to get a sunburn. I accomplished all my goals...minus the sunburn. And before I go any further, let me tell you about sunburn in Indonesia! I never got burnt at anytime extremely bad. I got burnt once on my forehead and once on my shoulders. After a couple of days, when the burn started to peel, it left my skin really discoloured. It happened to some of my friends as well. I don't know if it has to do with the fact that the equator goes directly through Indonesia or not, so the type of sun we were exposed to, our bodies are not used to. Nevertheless, it was gross and it hurt and I hate getting sunburnt! Despite the amount of sunscreen I put on and the shade I sit under, my poor fair-skin just can't handle it. 

We spent the first 3 days in Sanur, located on the eastern side of Bali. Sanur is a quiet area in Bali. The hotel we stayed at, Hotel Segara Agung, had an amazing pool only 15 steps away from out hotel room. It was also a 2-3 minute walk from the beach. And the side streets in Sanur were filled with cute little shops and restaurants. We ate breakfast every morning pool side, which I loved! What better way to wake up then to breakfast, coffee, a pool, blue skies, and warmth! We spent our days by the pool or at the beach relaxing, swimming, and reading. Evenings were spent at restaurants eating and drinking. It was a very peaceful first 3 days of vacation!

What's better than a cold beer on the beach?

The walkway from the street to our hotel was beautiful! The grounds of the hotel were equally as serene. 

We found a gelato shop down the street from the hotel (which was also recommended to us by Amanda!). 2 scoops on a cone for $2. Can't get any better than that! I was a fan of mixing flavours; this one was Nutella and Toffee Almond, I think.

It rained almost every day we were in Bali. I guess that's what you get for traveling there during rainy season. Most times it never rained for more than 15 minutes. One afternoon in Sanur, we got caught in a right out downpour. So, we found a perch at a covered-patio on the beach, ordered some delicious Indonesian food, and drank sangria. No complaints! 

After Sanur we traveled to Ubud, which is in central Bali. No beaches; instead we were immersed in lots of sight-seeing and touring. During our time in Ubud, I felt like I really learned a lot about the Indonesian and Balinese culture. We saw a traditional Balinese dance performance, drank luwak coffee in the jungle, watched the creation of traditional wood carving and oil painting, the Teglalang rice terraces, watched a bathing ritual at the Tirta Empul Temple, and had lunch at Mount Batur, an active volcano in Bali (even if it was a teeny tiny bit foggy and it blocked some of our view). This was probably my favourite touristy day! It poured rain the whole time we visited these locations, but I was extremely gracious and humbled to witness a few pieces of the Balinese culture and it really made me appreciate the place I was visiting.

We also visited the Monkey Forest in Ubud. The hotel we stayed at, Champlung Sari Hotel, was across the street from the entrance to the Monkey Forest. I could have spent all day here! Despite being bitten by one little monkey, it was so much fun watching the monkeys interact with each other and with other visitors of the forest.

This was NOT the little guy who bit me. I just love the way the gentleman beside me is holding on to my leg all protective and such!

We spent about 3-4 hours at the forest. It all came to an end when Alexis was mauled by a monkey. He took a big chomp at her side and hung on by his teeth. There were screams, points, and maybe a little bit of laughter. She's alright, and luckily the monkey didn't break her skin. At that point, we'd had enough and quickly left the forest. Despite the bites, I'd highly recommend anyone to go to the forest. Don't look the monkey's in the eyes, and don't bring any loose items with you. They WILL take them...like my sunglasses.

He eventually did let them go once he was distracted by something else he could grab. But he had chewed them and dragged them everywhere, and they quickly went in to the garbage can. Luckily, they were cheap things I bought on the side of the road, and easily replaceable.

After Ubud, we spent a week in Gili. Gili is three small islands off the east coast of Bali. We stayed at Gili Trawangan. We originally weren't going to go Gili, but after talking to other friends who visited Bali & Indonesia in the past, we were convinced that it was worth the trek over to the islands.

Alexis and I rented bikes one day and biked around the island. It's small! 3km all the way around I think. We stopped a few times for pictures and were back at our hotel in an hour. It was a fun way to see the whole island! (Even if my butt was in A LOT of pain afterwards...that bike seat was hard!)

I tried two nights to see the sunset. The first night it was too cloudy, and the second night I saw most of it. But eventually the clouds covered the actual setting of the sun. It was gorgeous either way.

Gili T is beautiful! The island runs on solar energy, and there are no gas powered vehicles on the islands. You get around by walking, biking, or by horse and buggy. When I read about the horse and buggy system online, I almost didn't believe it. But it's true, folks! You get used to the horse smell after a few minutes of being on the island.

The water was crystal clear. Alexis and I also went snorkelling one day on a mission to find some sea turtles. We saw two BIG turtles on our adventure. We followed them around for a while, until I had to get out of the water because my poor, fair skin can't stay in the direct sunlight for that long. I managed to be a beach bum for a week in Gili and come out of it sunburn free!

I also took a cooking class in Gili! We made 7 different Indonesian dishes. Mie Goreng (noodles and vegetables), Gado Gado (vegetables and peanut sauce), and Tofu Satay (fried tofu and peanut dipping sauce). The chefs at Sweet and Spicy Cooking School we're the most fun! They played music, sang, danced, and told hilarious jokes. They had as flambeing, singing, drinking, and laughing! Even if you don't like cooking, I recommend doing this.

Our final day in Indonesia we headed back to Bali and drove to Uluwatu. This was a last minute visit decision when deciding what to do with our last day. Do we go back to Sanur and relax? Or go somewhere new and see one last piece of Bali? We decided for the second option.

We watched the sunset over Uluwatu Temple while watching a traditional fire dance ceremony. I had read and heard from friends about the beauty of the sunset in Uluwatu. I mean, I am a SUCKER for a sunset! Sunsets all day, every day please! I can't explain it, but I just feel at ease, peaceful, and thankful all at once when I watch the sunset. That I get to be on this planet, seeing the things I'm seeing. I get all reflective and sentimental thinking to myself during a sunset. There are no words.

And with the final sunset in Uluwatu, my Indonesian adventure came to an end. I boarded a plane the next day headed back to Beijing. This trip was amazing! I love Southeast Asia, and I love Bali!

Maybe you'd also like to check out my past adventures to Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand (2014 & 2015), and Philippines.