Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Oh So Quiet!

For shame! Even a most loyal Bali-lover like myself can get forgetful. And, that means that Nyepi came and went a scant 2 weeks ago and I didn't know it. So, I'm hoping the bhuta kala accept this blog on my behalf and don't torment me for the rest of the year!
(Don't know what I'm talking about? Then, the below is definitely for you!)

In honor of the holiDAYtrips blog going to Bali last May, today’s entry is all about the Balinese Day of Silence, or Nyepi. A Hindu holiday observed every year on the first new moon after the spring equinox, Nyepi is a day of silence, fasting, and meditation.

Observed for a full 24 hours, from 6am to 6am, Nyepi is reserved for self-reflection and requires those participating to stay indoors and refrain from anything that might impede their contemplation. This means no working, lighting fires or cooking, entertaining, and any other strenuous activity, including any type of hanky-panky! And, some very pure devotees don’t utter a word or eat anything for the full 24 hour period.

Need a visual?! Well, Ed and I were happy to help break this one down for you!

Out of respect for their fellow Hindu citizens, many of Bali’s non-Hindu residents also observe Nyepi. And, Pecalangs (Balinese security officers) literally keep the "peace," as they patrol the streets, watching for any activities that may derail Nyepi. Even if you’re merely a wandering tourist, a Pecalang will usually escort you back to your hotel; since streets are closed to pedestrians as well as vehicles. Even the airports are closed on Nyepi.

Now, the Day of Silence is pretty fantastic in itself; but, in my opinion, the beauty of the shift into the Balinese New Year can only fully be understood through the days surrounding Nyepi.

The day before Nyepi, the Tawur Kesanga ritual is held. First, a payment is offered to pacify the evil spirits (bhuta kala). Then, villages erect large bamboo versions of Ogoh-ogoh (evil troll-looking fanged monsters that represent the evil spirits) and parade them around.

Ogoh-ogoh and Balinese children in Ubud
(Photo: Jack Merridew)
In the evening torches are lit, the Ogoh-ogoh are burned, and things get loud! This scares away any remaining evil spirits and represents the island being cleansed in the New Year.

And, of course, all of this ends as total silence falls over Bali, on Nyepi -- in an effort to trick evil spirits into thinking the island is empty so they will not come back.

The day following Nyepi is one of my favorite cultural observances. It’s called Ngembak Geni and it’s a day of forgiveness. People visit their relatives and friends, seek understanding and absolution for the wrongs of the previous year, and pledge to work together to meet the trials of the New Year.

Pretty astounding, isn’t it?

Happy Balinese New Year! Now, get off the computer! You’re not supposed to be working today. Go read a book! (Make it a book on Bali.)

Selamat Jalan,


The “Packing List”

This week, we were rocking the following:

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

My Big, Fat, Greek, Clean Monday

This week, we're revisiting one of our very first blogs -- Clean Monday! The spring season is about to bust wide open, and that means we get to share some of the insights we learned at this time, last year. We've changed a few bits here and there to keep things interesting, but the heart of things is basically unchanged. And, heart is really what Clean Monday is all about!

For this particular celebration, Ed and I decided to have a bit of a staycation to commemorate the Greek Eastern Orthodox Christian holiday that marks the first day of Lent, Clean Monday or Kathari Deftera. While other Christian denominations started their Lent seasons on Ash Wednesday, many Greeks have been busy cleaning house, planning picnics, and packing their kites in preparation for the beginning of the Easter season and the coming of spring.

The reason we decided not to venture out wasn't because we just HAD to show you our cozy attic kitchen; but, rather, we wanted to try our hand at baking Lagana, a traditional Greek bread only served on Clean Monday.

There are some hard and fast rules to what observers may eat on Kathari Deftera. For starters, any animal that bleeds is out. Dairy is out (this, sadly, means butter). Fish is out, though shellfish is fine (and quite popular). As for the Lagana, it is traditionally supposed to be unleavened, but I wasn't able to find any recipe that didn't include a little yeast.

This is the recipe that I ended up cobbling together from all of the top contenders out there in the foodiverse:
  • 3 envelopes active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 7 cups bread flour
  • 2 1/3 cups warm water
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 5 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Sesame seeds for sprinkling
And these are the ingredients I added to my (separate) focaccia-style Lagana:
  • Sub out evoo, for 5 tbsp. butter
  • 25 Kalamata olives, pitted
  • 1 1/2 tsp. rosemary
  • 3/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1 tsp. sea salt + 1 tsp. sea salt sprinkled on top

  1. First, I combined the flour and salt. Then, I made a well for the evoo.
  2. Once the yeast started bubbling up (from the sugar/water mixture) and looking strangely like a cappuccino, I mixed it into the flour mixture.
  3. Next, I kneaded the dough for 5-10 minutes, rolled it into a ball, rubbed it with evoo and set it aside for 2 hours, under a tea towel, to double.
Of course, all of this was executed with one glass of Greek wine tied behind my back!

After the dough doubled and we'd had our fill of wine, it became clear that further bread making antics would have to wait until the morning. This included rolling both doughs out, as thin as possible. A little bit of a squishy affair when working with the olive-filled focaccia.

Now, watch and be amazed as the master bread maker perfectly executes her Lagana:

Once the bread was finished, we needed to prep the table for our Clean Monday feast. This meant setting out our favorite Greek spreads, olives, grilled octopus, and stuffed grape leaves.

Ain't no party like an octopodi...
Not sure how to tell your taramosalata from your melitzanosalata? Not to worry, Ed has all the answers!

Finally came the magical moment when I got to sample the Lagana. It truly was a labor of love and really drove the idea of Lent and family effort home for me.

Happy Kathari Deftera, everybody! (May you have great breezes for kite flying!)

And, here's to the beginning of a lovely spring,


The “Packing List”

This week, we were rocking the following...or close to it: