One of the things I truly love about Bali is how often the unexpected and unplanned occurs. Our Christmas dinner did not disappoint! Our annual Christmas dinner this year attracted more than its fair share of the unexpected and unplanned.
BUYING THE TURKEY
As we do every year, we went off in search of a turkey. Would you believe frozen Norbest turkeys in Bali? What I already expected would be expensive shocked me. How about a 13.5 pound turkey at US$33.00? As the Balinese are prone to say in less than perfect moments, ‘That is life”, so the turkey went home with us.
My plan was to make a very simple old family stuffing…French bread, garlic, onions, butter, salt and pepper…very plain. The staff chopped up the onions and garlic and also a collection of other stacks of stuff I never thought to question, thinking these other ingredients would end up in the sambal, a spicy side dish. (The women at my house are fabulous cooks.) As I melted the butter to sautÃ© the onions and garlic, the staff was busily puttering…doing something. By the time I turned around, the entire collection of stuff was combined with the stuffing ingredients. Included was a LOT of very spicy chilies, daun salam, a green leaf that is impossible to chew even when cooked forever, and who knows what else! Again, that is life. It was POTENT, but, in the end, divine!
THE SWEET POTATOES
There are two common varieties of sweet potatoes in Bali, those that are red inside and those that are white inside. The plan was to have the ones that are red inside, but that wasn’t what came home from the market. That is life.
The sweet potatoes that are white inside are usually boiled but my plan was to slice and bake them in a sauce of Balinese brown sugar, cinnamon and cloves. As I watched the slicing process I understood why these sweet potatoes were normally boiled…they were as hard as a rock! What we really needed was a chain saw. The sauce for the sweet potatoes (Balinese sugar, honey, cinnamon and fresh whole cloves) went as planned and everything was dumped into a large baking dish.
The oven is small, so first on the agenda was baking the sweet potatoes. The plan was to finish the sweet potatoes in one hour and immediately pop the turkey in, just in time to be ready for dinner. We fired up the oven, did the arithmetic to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit, and closed up the kitchen to protect it from many curious kitties. An hour later I checked the sweet potatoes and found the oven dead cold. The gas tank was empty! An hour lost and good by schedule. That is life.
Bali is in the rainy season and just to prove it, rain was coming down in buckets starting from early morning. And inside, we also had buckets…the roof was leaking in three separate places. The black plastic buckets were a charming decorator touch.
Roads throughout the island were flooded by torrential rain and many were impassable. With friends coming from Denpasar, I could only hope they could find a way to get to Ubud!
Two Balinese families, each with two teens, an American friend visiting in Bali and an expat friend, the inimitable Mr. Chu, were coming to share Christmas dinner with me. One family was coming from not too far away, but the main road in Ubud was flooded, so even a short drive was an adventure. The second family had an hour drive in the best of weather. It took them two hours to reach my house. My driver picked up Nancy, our visitor from the states, from a near by local hotel.
Mr. Chu was a whole different story. He is about the sweetest guy you could ever meet, a retired architect, generous, funny, VERY chatty and totally unpredictable. He tends to take off on short notice for far distant places usually letting me know via a hurried phone call from the airport as he boards. When he takes off on these totally unscheduled jaunts, the deal is that he needs to check in with me every couple of weeks OR I will call his daughter in New York and report him missing. Once, when I was almost at that point, he called to report he was on a boat heading for Morocco! Last I knew he was supposed to be in Hong Kong. Turns out a total stranger, who turned out to be a hotel developer in Hong Kong, struck up a conversation with the chatty Mr. Chu and was so enamored with Mr. Chu’s design ideas, that he hired him as a consultant on the spot, paid him handsomely and, suddenly flush, Mr. Chu took off for Spain via Morocco.
So, when Mr.Chu telephoned me a couple of hours before dinner, I was certainly not expecting him to simply ask if he could please bring a guest for dinner. For an old geezer, this guy attracts gazillions of young women, all of whom call him Uncle or Father! But of course he could bring a guest….as we madly searched for a way to make the dining room table bigger and find another chair!
THE TABLE SETTING
Since I only have ten chairs in the living/dining area, we needed to take a chair from my bedroom but the chair wouldn’t fit through the Balinese door! How did it ever get into the bedroom when I first moved into the house? So the chair went out the window, into the rain and back into the house…through a larger door.
Somewhere we had stored away a very long tablecloth that would cover not only the dining room table, but now also TWO additional added-on tables. The tablecloth was located and we set it to one side to spread at the last minute. With 9 cats in the menagerie, I didn’t want them prancing around on a white tablecloth.
And then when it was time to put on the tablecloth…it wasn’t the tablecloth at all! Instead it was the mattress cover and pillow cover from my toothfiling ceremony. We never did find the tablecloth and used two sheets instead. That’s life.
Finally all my soaked guests arrived…a real test of friendship to venture out in the torrential rains. I couldn’t have been happier to see and welcome them. We all drank hot ginger tea to warm up. Seven degrees south of the equator and we’re all chilly! Everyone traded ‘driving in the rain’ stories and we met Mr. Chu’s guest (from Hong Kong) who was, as expected, young, bright, attractive and fondly referring to Mr. Chu as Uncle.
Eventually, we squashed ourselves in around the table(s) and ate the BEST turkey I’ve ever had. It had to be all those extra surprise ingredients in the dressing, spicy and delicious. Even the sweet potatoes managed to have been cooked through! The sambal, salad, fresh green beans, ….all quickly disappeared from our plates and then a round of seconds. Multiple conversations shifting from one language to another amongst us…Balinese, Indonesian, Chinese, English…and best of all, everyone laughing, eating and having a good time. And then finally, hours later, my dear friends once again braved the rains to return to their homes. It was a totally marvelous afternoon and evening.
Of course I’m already looking forward to next year and I only hope you’ll be here to share next year’s Christmas dinner with me….Bali style.