Archive for the ‘Feel-Good’ Category

The mercury level was at its highest on Tuesday, 21st August. The glaring sun with a temperature of 39C did not deter us from a 2-hour drive 175km to North West Tuscany.

The Night Before

Mama: Boys, it’ll be a long drive tomorrow, so make sure to sleep earlier tonight. Brekkie’s at 8 sharp.

Son K: Where are we going?

Mama: Pisa!

Son N: Are you going to make that classic pose of pushing Pisa like those tourists?

Mama: Why, of course!! That’s cool, no?

Sons: That’s totally cringey, Ma. You better don’t make a fool of yourself!

Mama: We shall see …

WYSIWYG

Our 2-hour drive to Pisa saw us parking at a spot very near to the iconic Leaning Tower.

Infact it was the first thing we saw when we arrived at the city centre.

By the way, it IS what you see. A tilting tower, which was originally the Bell Tower of the city’s cathedral on Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles)

Gratis Models of Pisa 😀

Busloads of tourists from all over the world come to Pisa just for the Tower and bringing back with them momentos of the tilted tower saved on their mobile phones and cameras.

Now, were the poses cringey as predicted by my sons? Maybe. Maybe not.

Silly and funny perhaps, but innovative as well. The classic and predictable pretending-to-support pushing action we see on postcards and innumerable photos on the net was one, and then there’s the kissing and lifting of the tower and God knows what other poses …

While the tower was the crowd-pleaser, the Medieval Roman Catholic Cathedral next to the Tower was almost deserted, but it’s as stunning.

A Tourist Trap?

The city of Pisa is the least charming of all the Tuscan cities we have been to. It’s way too touristy. There was not much to see or do aside from admiring the tilted tower and pricey souvenirs.

A Mediocre Lunch

We were being greeted by the friendly owners of a Pizzeria Trattoria.

Canned corn, canned tuna, canned peaches. And do not expect the executed dishes to look similar to the photos of the dishes printed on the menu cards. They’re miles apart! What would you expect? It’s a simple family brasserie in a touristic area. We just fell into a tourist trap, that’s all, and we knew it.

Welcome to Pisa!

The Not-So-Cringey Pose…?

At least this tourist did not push, kiss, hug or lift the tower. For her, it’s a memory of a long drive just to stand near the tilted tower she once read in History books as one of the 7 wonders of the Medieval world.

And how’s that, boys? 😉

And by the way, how would you pose when you encounter the Leaning Tower of Pisa for the first time ?

Til my next post, arrivederci!

Ciao!

Unlike the trip to Siena which was impromptu, our trip to Florence was planned on a Sunday. Hubby was of the opinion that the roads to Florence on a Sunday would be less congested, as most people would stay home. He was right.

We left San Sano at 8.30 am and arrived at the city of Florence at 10 am, giving us plenty of time before our tour at the Accademia Gallery commenced at 11.30am.

Hubs bought the “skip-the-line” admission with private tour online, for both Galleries: the Accademia and Uffizi.

If you’re wondering why we drove all the way to Florence just to go to Museums, you will find out why the Accademia and Uffizi Galleries are the epitomes of what summed up the city of Florence.

With the ample waiting time, we explored Florence on our own.

The first instance I entered Florence was, Wow! What a lovely view from afar! I knew what lay beyond the bridge would be a discovery of even deeper artistic heritage and treasures left behind by the many God-given sculptors and painters of the past centuries.

Walking into the streets of Florence was like going back in time. One thing’s for sure, you cannot visit Florence without wandering freely the fully pedestrianised Piazza del Duomo. The picturesque square lies in the heart of the city, surrounded by restaurants, cafés, shops and of course, the magnificent sights of the Duomo, the Bell Tower and the Baptistery, all these have become the ultimate tourist hotspots! So you could see it was just impossible to have a selfie or snapshot without being photobombed by unexpected or unintended appearances lurking in the background of your photos. I’m sure I have appeared on their photos as much as they, on mine. Ha ha ..

Time To Go …

No, it was not time to leave the city, but time to meet our guide outside the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze (Gallery of the Academy Of Florence). It was 11.30am.

Our guide was Carla. We were a small group of 2 families, us and a family from Seattle.

Suddenly, we became very attentive ‘students’… Afterall, the museum was founded as a teaching facility for the Academy Of Fine Arts students.

And by the way, Accademia Gallery is home to Michelangelo’s David. That’s right, the one and only.

Now, will the real David, please raise your hand?

The David on the left stands on the Palazza Vecchio while the David on the right stands handsomely as the centrepiece of the Accademia Gallery in the most visited room, called the Tribuna del David.

Both Davids are ceaselessly surrounded by tourists wanting to have a closer look at the 5.17m (17ft) tall Biblical hero.

The David stand-in or ‘imposter’ or replica or copy ~ whatever you want to call it ~ gets photographed as much as the real David, but coming all the way to Florence, and not seeing THE David that was sculptured by the godly hands of THE Michelangelo Buonarroti, would be a big fat waste of time.

Michelangelo was only 26 years old when he was challenged to sculpt the young shepherd David. He was presented with a simple and ugly looking slab of marble piece BUT he succeeded in creating the most breathtaking masterpiece of gleaming white marble. It took him over 2 years to complete the massive task (1501 – 1504).

David In Full Circle

It’s only at the Accademia Gallery that we could admire Michelangelo’s David from a close distance, ie admiring the perfection and magnificence of the colossal statue 360 degrees!

My favourite angle of David is his right side, from the right hand up to his neck.

Why?

Because the ONLY way to appreciate this angle is to appreciate the work of Michelangelo. Just look at the veins on David’s right hand, his arm and neck! It’s pure attention to details.

Michelangelo was also the first sculptor to depict David before the battle, while most sculptors chose to portray David after his victory, ie triumphant over the slain Goliath. You could see why Michelangelo chose to capture David in a most artful manner during his most tensed moment with full of bodily concentration. What can I say?

Exquisite! Period.

Michelangelo’s David was not the only one mentioned in our private tour. There were also 4 magnificently unfinished slaves of Michelangelo in the Tribuna del David together with the statue of St Matthew and the pieta.

Our tour lasted exactly for an hour and a half. There were too many art pieces and sculptures to mention in this post. I leave it to you to see them for yourself 😉

Thanks, Carla for opening our eyes, ears and mind in that short span of tour time 🙂

Lunch Interlude with a Mistake

Before meeting our next guide for the Uffizi tour, we had lunch at a simple resto, a little away from the crowded square and streets.

The foods were okay except for one and the service was rather slow.

I guess from the collage you could pin-point the odd dish out. I won’t say which one, so it’s up to you to give it a guess and interpret why it’s a mistake dish that made someone really disappointed that day 😦

The Only Bridge Standing

There’re many bridges across the Arno river, but there’s only ONE bridge that attracted tourists and the like the most.

When Florence was severely damaged during WW2 by the Germans, blowing up all its bridges, Ponte Vecchio or Old Bridge was the only Bridge standing. Rumour has it that Hitler found the view from the bridge too beautiful to destroy.

So here we were, walking on the Ponte Vecchio, admiring the bridge as it is today without being destroyed from any wars.

Ponte Vecchio is also one of the few bridges in the world that still has shops on it, specifically jewellery shops.

Uffizi Gallery

Just outside the Museum, we were greeted by Monica, our guide. Monica is Swede who has lived in Florence for the past 25 years. This time the group was bigger, at least 40 of us, with the youngest being a child of a year old. It was not difficult to decipher Monica’s audible explanation as each of us was given a headset.

The Uffizi Gallery housed the world’s greatest collection of Italian artworks and Renaissance art from Giotto to Botticelli, Piero della Francesca, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian and Caravaggio. Thanks to Anna Maria Lodovica, the last of the Medici line who left her property to Florence, ensuring that the Medici collections remained intact forever.

The Meaning Of Florence From A Single Painting

One of the paintings that everyone listened in awe to was the one from Alessandro Filipepi aka Botticelli. It’s called La Primavera.

There may be many other interpretations of La Primavera, but Monica narrated the painting in a very enlightening and interesting manner. I could remember almost every word she described the painting.

The painting is a symbol of Spring. It depicts love and marriage, sensuality and fertility.

The scene is set in the garden of Venus, the Roman Goddess Of Love. She’s standing in the centre of the painting. Above her, is her blindfolded son, Cupid, who shoots arrows of Love to the Three Graces. On the far right of the painting is Zephyrus, the wind that billows and pursues Chloris, the nymph.

On the far left is Mercury, the winged messenger of the Gods. He is holding a staff to dissipate the gloomy clouds of Winter for Spring to come.

When Zephyrus succeeds in making Chloris pregnant, she transforms into Flora, the Goddess of Spring. The transformation is depicted by the flowers spewing out of Chloris’ mouth. Flora then scatters the flowers she gathers on her dress, thus, symbolising springtime and fertility. And that’s how Florence (the city) got her name, from Flora.

I thought that interpretation of Florence was really enlightening, and that, from a single painting but of course there are other naming theories that seemed to conclude the floral definition of the city.

The Leaning Truth Of Tuscany

One hour and a half went by in a fleeting moment. We left Florence basking under the scorching Tuscan heat of 34C homeward bound 75km back to San Sano.

My thought lingered to our next adventure in Tuscany, one that would reveal the leaning truth of our Summer Hols …

Stay tuned 😉

Ciao!

It was a lovely morning on the second Monday in August, 2018. It was Market day in Gaiole in Chianti, one of the 5 Chianti towns in Tuscany.

Our holiday villa at San Sano lies in the commune of Gaiole which was about 9 km away.

I LOVE outdoor markets. The colours, the smell, the fresh local produce, the haggling and just about everything, including the scorching sun!

We planned our trip after I was done with a full batch of dirty laundry. I hung them out in the sun to dry.

We left the house at 10am so we would have sufficient time to stroll around the market square until middday when we could have our lunch there.

But alas, there was not a stall in sight. Where was the market? The town was as quiet and almost deserted that morning.

We left Gaiole and were thinking where to go next, and then we saw the signpost direction Siena!

Yup, that’s where we headed to. Siena! An impromptu trip.

Siena is about 30 km from San Sano. It’s a historic city listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO. It’s a hill city, very, very hilly and one of the most beautiful medieval cities in Italy.

Crowded Siena

We were so used to the quiet surroundings of the Chianti region the past days, that Siena was chock-a-block with people, more specifically, tourists, innumerable cars and busloads of more tourists!!

And by the way, there was simply no place to park our car in the centre or anywhere near the centre, hence, we made do with a parking area away from the hustle and bustle of the centre.

So what does that mean? Well, of course LOTS of walking and ascending stairs, roads and pavements!!

When we finally reached the centre, we saw a huge crowd making their way to a particular location. We followed suit, out of curiosity.

Guess what? We ended up at the spectacular shell-shaped medieval square, Piazza del Campo.

But look at the sea of people! I bet 99% of the crowd were tourists, just like us, pinning our own little imaginary flags and claiming, “yes, I’ve been there!” 😀

It was at Piazza del Campo that the Palio Horse race takes place twice a year, on 2nd July and 16th August. We missed the live show but it was aired on the local TV channel.

Il Palio as we know it today first took place in 1633. Many of the traditions established in its earliest years still remain today. The Palio di Siena is held on 16th August, coinciding with Assumption Day or Ferragosto as it is known in Italy.

With the scorching sun of 31C above our heads, we took shelter in a shaded alfresco terrace of a restaurant nearby. Our lunch at Gaiole that was not meant to be, was compensated with colourful platters at a touristic resto in Siena. The foods were passable, made in a hurry and lacking passion.

We were famished, so whatever were presented to us were devoured in no time at all.

When in Italy, having the gelato is a must especially on blistering hot days, so that was our desert.

Yum!

It’s lovely to walk in Siena strolling past souvenir shops and the likes.

When we finally ended up at Duomo di Siena (Siena Cathedral), it started to drizzle, and that’s when my mind became disconcerted. I immediately checked the weather forecast of San Sano. Lo and behold, there’s a thunderstorm back at our holiday home. “Oh no!!! There goes my washed laundry!!

All’s well that did not end so well …

We left Siena but almost lost our way out of the city. It seemed like we have been walking for hours on end …

Back in San Sano, we were caught by another hindrance. There was a short circuit after the thunderstorm that caused a power outage in the mountain area of Chianti.

And then there’s my washed laundry that was completely drenched! Ouch!

Going back to Gaiole

Oh by the way, I forgot to mention that we drove past Gaiole and guess what? The market started from 2pm to 10pm. Luckily, we did not stay on in Gaiole for the market all morning because there was absolutely nothing we have missed. The tiny outdoor market covered just a stretch of one road.

With all the foul-ups, bleeps and blunders, we had a hefty day ascending 51 stairs, walking 17.5k steps of almost 12 km …. and then there was the laundry, the entire laundry!

Phew … What a day!

Fingers crossed for our next trip up … to the city of love and marriage, sensuality and fertility.

See you there 😉

Ciao!

San Sano is a quaint little village of stone structures that lies on the Tuscan hill in the province of Siena. The villa where we stayed lies 400m above sea level. The bigger town or commune 15km away, Radda in Chianti, was higher at 650m asl.

San Sano is a hamlet, really. There’s really not much to see, but surprisingly, a LOT to tell!!

You’ll ‘see’ why as you read on …

Mysterious San Sano

The village of San Sano has no supermarket, no post office, no park, no church (at least I had not seen one). Forget about going out for late night movies because there’s just no cinema, neither bars nor cafés in sight! In other words, there’s no night life, or was there …??

There’s just the main road with a handful of rustic stone houses, small square, one or two alleys with medieval landscape, one hotel, one restaurant with an adjoining super crammed sundry shop manned by an elderly man and a statue of a “drunken frog” that appeared to guard the village, ie, positioned in a seemingly perfect spot … for fung shui reason?

So why in heaven’s name did we end up in that sleepy village in the Chianti region?

Beats me, but one thing’s for sure the picturesque backdrops and landscapes were picture perfect and what more could we ask for with the neat and rolling vineyards just behind our holiday villa!

It’s quietly stunning. It was heaven on earth!

Night Out in San Sano

Are you kidding me?

Nope!

Against all odds, we went to San Sano. We wanted to have our dinner. It was a lovely evening and the stroll to the centre did us good. The only nuisance to combat were from the bites of the bloodsucking, slender and long-legged flies aka mosquitoes! Humph!

We ambled our way leisurely on the main road. There was not a car in sight.

We did not walk very far until we reached a junction with crossroads. There, in the centre of the junction was the ‘drunken frog’!!

Why was the frog drunk? Ah ha … storytime at the end of this post. Be patient, ‘kay? 😉

Trattoria “Grotta della Rana

I mentioned earlier that San Sano has only one restaurant and Trattoria Grotta della Rana was THAT restaurant!

By the way, “Grotta della Rana” means literally, “The Cave Of the Frog”.

What a coincidence, eh? We just met our friend the “drunken frog” and now the restaurant with a froggy name? San Sano could be Tuscany’s very own Sesame Street! Ha ha …

It was 6:20pm when we arrived at the resto. It’s a lovely restaurant with a decent size alfresco terrace. We were seated at a table for four. There were no other customers then, except for the bloodsucking mosquitoes!! Arghhh!!!

A friendly looking guy came to our table with a big smile on his face. He welcomed us with open arms. He spoke very limited English, but we seemed to comprehend one another pretty well. He brought us the resto’s menu card, and lo and behold! The menu card was entirely handwritten in Italian!

I guess that’s the beauty of being authentic, original and traditional without the touristy fluff.

What I noticed about Italian restaurants in general, is that, menus are usually composed of the following courses: antipasti (appetiser), primi piatti (first course, usually consisting of a pasta dish), secondi piatti (second or main course of meat or fish served alone) and contorni (vegetables and potatoes side dishes)

Surprisingly, with the owner’s limited English and our limited Italian, we ordered the most amazing plates, one after another …

The dishes were ridiculously scrumptious from antipasti to deserts!

Oh by the way, I could never finish a glass of red wine, but not the one served at Trattoria Grotta della Rana! It was one of the best local Chianti wines.

The waiter who brought us the bottle of water and breads was an elderly man, who’s also the old chap manning the tiny grocery shop adjoining the Trattoria.

We found out that the Trattoria’s a one big family affair of 3 generations. The elderly man’s the father (grandfather), while the guy who greeted us was his son, the current proprietor of the restaurant. The owner’s son also waited and served at the table. The owner’s wife and the ladies in the kitchen were the unsung chefs who made sure the palates and tummies of the customers were fully satisfied.

If you’re looking for a Michelin star presentation or trendy fine dining plates, I’m afraid this is not the place for you. In all honesty, the kitchen serves simple and rustic but wholesome and genuine ingredients of ancient Chiantigiana or Tuscan traditions. That’s what we were looking for, a surprised hidden gem in a secluded and off-the-beaten-path location.

It was 9pm. Before we called it the night, we ordered deserts and coffee.

We left our table at 9.30 pm. 3 hours earlier, we arrived when there were no one else there, but we left a packed restaurant that evening! That summed up EVERYTHING about the Cave Of the Frog Tavern!

Now, are you ready to hear the story of the ‘boozy frog’? According to the website of La Grotta della Rana, it’s based on a true story.

It went like this …

The Story of the Drunken Frog

Once upon a time an elementary teacher from San Sano, Ferdinando Anichini, enrolled himself to a game show program called “Il Tappabuchi” on the Italian television. It was April 1967. The host of the show, Corrado, offered prizes to contestants who could sing, dance, recite a poem or to imitate the sound of an animal. Anichini chose to imitate the sound of the croaking of a frog, because in Gaiole (San Sano lies in the commune of Gaiole in Chianti), the inhabitants were called “ranocchia” (frog people) in ancient times due to the large number of frogs on the banks of the Masellane. According to Corrado, the frog imitation from Anichini was rather shoddy, however, the contestant went on to justify himself with a cheeky statement, “Our frogs sing like that, because they drink Chianti wine!” Having said that, the elementary teacher won the show with one condition that he devolved his winning prize of 200k Italian Lira (equivalent to Euro 103.29 today) in favour of the tiny village of San Sano. The most interesting thing was the contestant mentioned “Chianti” four times on national television – in an era where such outspoken promotion were unimaginable. With his prize money, the winner of the TV show commissioned Siena-born sculpture, Plinio Tammaro to build a frog statue (fountain), gulping down wine and spewing water.

That was the day, the drunken frog of San Sano was born… 😀

Sorry, if you’re thinking the frog was once-upon-a-time a Prince. There’s no Prince on a white stallion, but, San Sano has, without a doubt, radiated a princely charm to those who appreciate Tuscany’s simplicity at its best.

Arrivederci!

Tschüss Tirol! Ciao Tuscany!

We left Gästehaus Maria in Nassereith after having a humble breakfast of buns with cold cuts and cheeses. We needed that because of our impending journey to Tuscany which was a long and winding 615km away.

Nassereith is 845m above sea level. It’s a mountainous region in Tirol.

We bade farewell to the colossal mountains and the cool air of Tirol while heading for North East Italy.

While on the highway to Italy, I suddenly felt like a Chipmunk or a Badger or a Mole burrowing through tunnels.

By the way, that’s exactly what happened; the highway crosses the heart of the mountains, passing through countless tunnels, viaducts and bridges.

After 9 gruelling hours on the road, we finally reached our holiday home, situated in a medieval hamlet, nestled in the Tuscan hills. While in Tirol, our B&B overlooked the mountains from our balcony; it was at San Sano that we had the extensive views of billowing vineyards acres after acres.

I had a quick inspection of the facades and knew that I could appreciate my stay there. I could see myself curling up on a chair tapping away on my iPhone and sharing with you my moblogs.

It was hot and humid up in the mountains of Tuscany, so unlike Tirol. One thing’s for sure, I don’t need my pashmina 🙂

What’s up next was a mystery as much as San Sano is mysterious …

Ciao!

I have been away sporadically in hot and humid climes quite a bit this summer. When I got back to Belgium in early July I felt the emergence of the European summer heat in the air. I was again away for 2 weeks in mid July to Saigon and Penang. I think I have gotten used to the sweltering heat. Before I flew back to Belgium, hubs told me that there were heat waves all over Europe. Belgium was not spared, with the mercury level soaring to as high as 39 deg C some days. The prolonged periods of warm and dry weather were the intrinsic theme of the summer across Europe anno 2018.

Wednesday 8th August was my last day at work. Although it was nice to work in a fully air-conditioned office, I was more looking forward to our family trip ~ our annual summer hols.

It’s completely different this summer, because we have entirely excluded the predictable definition of ‘Provence‘ in any shape and form. You will understand this statement if you have read several of my previous posts about our annual summer hols ~ yup, always to that predictable location called the Provence! 🙂

Last summer, we included both the Provence and Spain in our holiday plan. We wanted something different, but obviously, we did not let go off the South of France part that easily. Ha ha …

So this summer, we’ve gone 180 degrees. We chose Austria and Italy (yup, no Provence) as our holiday destinations. That’s why I was excited and was looking forward to these different itineraries. It has been a while since we did something different now that the boys are no longer little …

A fluky Journey

The road trip to Tirol, Austria was 790km with the ETA time of 15:44. The BIG question was, would a quarter to four remain our ETA more or less??

Hmm… let’s see …

We left on a weekday for the obvious reason to avoid reaching gridlocks.

But ….

Just 20 minutes of driving, we were trapped in a 45-minute long of traffic congestions due to an accident and roadworks on the Brussels-Luxembourg highway!

Not long after we left Luxembourg enroute Germany, the skies turned immensely dark and gloomy with the most unwelcoming thunderstorm. Visions were blurred and signposts were literally illegible.

With all these obstructions, our ETA was stretched further. Hmmmmph…!!

We tried not to stop or rest too long lest our ETA would be too late.

We did, however, stop briefly for the last 97km to stretch our legs.

We continued on with the journey until we saw the majestic mountainous landscape before us. It was a welcoming sight. We knew we would be reaching our ultimate destination soon.

A Frigid ETA

With the heat waves across Europe, I expected the same for Austria, but I have miscalculated. We arrived in Tirol with grey skies cascading above us. It was cold at 14C after leaving Belgium at 32C! And guess what? I did not pack any warm clothing. Ouch!

But the lovely B&B looked so cosy with the breathtaking mountains just in front of our balcony! That took the cold temps off my mind a bit.

With the long journey we had gone through, we hit the sack and went down slumberland as soon as our heads hit the pillow.

Quest for Warmth

The following morning was equally numbing and frigid.

We had wanted to walk to the centre of Nassereith, but with the unforeseen cold summer temperature, we drove to the centre, instead. Nassereith is a very tiny village which is self-contained. My intention of getting a warm shawl was dashed. There were none in sight, hence, we took to the road and headed for Innsbruck.

There was a traffic jam on the road to Innsbruck. If you noticed, Austrians would drive on extreme ends of both wings of the lanes, right and left. That, to give way to motorbikes to slide through the parted traffic and as well, for emergency vehicles to pass through. I give the Austrians 10/10 for road traffic etiquette 🙂

Secluded Nassereith is just the opposite of crowded Innsbruck.

Innsbruck is a very touristic city. Lots of shopping galleries and eateries. Well, that’s where we had our lunch. It was cheap with enormous servings. We were famished and ate all up. Mind you, that was our first proper meal after binging on unhealthy snacks during our 11-hour drive the day before.

Oh by the way, I found a pashmina to keep the cold away 😀

A Jinx?

The day we left Tirol, the temperature went up to a lovely 24C.

I’m sure we jinxed our way to Austria. Lol!

We shall miss the fresh mountain air of Tirol.

Tschüss! Auf Wiedersehen!

By the way, I think it is appropriate that I end my post here, in the famous catchphrase of an American Austrian-born actor and politician, Arnold SchwarzeneggerHasta la vista, baby! I’ll be back!

Off to Italy next!

Stay tuned 😉

Ciao!

I wish you a Blessed Assumption Day!

Cheers!

Honestly speaking, I had always associated a vegan being Buddhist. Call me ignorant, but you will forgive me after reading the next paragraph *wink*

My first exposure of a full-fledged vegan meal was when I did not know I had a vegan meal at all! How ironic was that? Then again, it was eons ago. I was a little girl sitting at a big round table, surrounded by adults I could vaguely recollect their faces except for my late Dad and an aunt or two and an adopted cousin and her biological family. Everyone was speaking Henghua, and Mandarin and a smattering of Hokkien and Malay. I remembered eating a cold plate as starter and mains consisting of lo han chai, braised mushrooms with broccoli, yam basket with pieces of ‘meat’, slices of ‘meat’ in orange sauce that tasted like duck meat, whole fish with edible bones. All the dishes were intricately and artistically presented. I was not a good eater when I was a young girl growing up, but I remembered those dishes were simply sublime. Although the tastes seemed quite linear throughout, the textures were rather interesting: chewy, meaty, spongy, sweet, savoury, tangy, tasty; and yet there were no real meats, only mock meats! Yup, that was my first intro to a vegan meal, prepared for a group of people who were mostly Buddhist at the time.

>> Fast forward anno 2013, Belgium >>

On 5th June, 2013, the United Nations celebrated World Environment Day (WED). The company where I work, co-celebrated the year’s theme “Think. Eat. Save”.  A colleague who is a vegan was the best ambassador to present that year’s theme at one of the meetings.

And guess what? I was not being introduced, but more so, re-introduced to yet another full-fledged vegan lunch, albeit on a different level! I must say the vegan burger was a surprise discovery. I have written a post about it, here.

In case you are wondering, nope, my colleague is NOT a Buddhist. She became a vegan due to both dietary and ethical reasons.

Vegan is the New Black!

This phrase is inspired by the opening title of Netflix’s hit show Orange is the New Black. While the 2nd part of the phrase, “the new black” is very common in pop culture, the first part of the phrase, “Vegan”, is the suddenly trendy thing that is happening of late. If you don’t already know, being vegan is not at all a new thing. It was founded in 1944 !!

Loving the Loving Hut

Ever since I had my first bite of that vegan burger, I was on the lookout for that restaurant in Leuven. Loving Hut is a vegan restaurant chain with several outlets worldwide. I’m glad Leuven is one of them! I have brought my younger son there with me on several occasions and he likes the food there, so much so, that it becomes a domino effect. In turn he brought his friends to lunch there, too.

Here’re what I had with my son during one of our visits to Loving Hut. All organic and vegan burgers with vegan “bitterballen” and “calamares”

Awesome!



My favourite remains the refreshingly colourful and tasty, neptunus salad.



Oh by the way, it was at Loving Hut that I got to know of Dr RM, a Kerala born doctor in Ayurveda and yoga therapy. Although I have never been to any of her yoga classes, I have enjoyed a good Ayurvedic full body massage from her.

During one of the massage sessions with Dr RM, she mentioned about giving an Ayurvedic Vegan workshop (yes, she called it a workshop) when the weather was warmer. She sounded extremely enthusiastic about it and even sharing her plan with me. Lucky for her, I’m a good listener 🙂

And doubly lucky for her, I told her to count me in when the workshop day arrived, as I was game – for the food, in particular. Lol!

Workshop Day

28th May arrived. It was a lovely sunny day. I drove to Dr RM’s house where the workshop was. It was my first Vegan workshop, hence, I had not the clue what to expect.

Although I have been to Dr RM’s house on several occasions for the Ayurvedic massage, I have never been into her living room, let alone, her kitchen. It felt like walking into another dimension with our bare feet et al. The living room was unadorned and pure minimalistic, definitely not in a negative sense.

Yoga Before Vegan

We were a small group of 4 participants. Dr RM gave a brief explanation of yoga after which she recited a simple mantra to anchor our attention to our breathing while the calming and Zen meditation music was playing.

A-U-M!

We “woke up” with a pleasant serving of aromatic mug of freshly brewed warm Ayurvedic chai. We were in comfort zone, literally speaking.

Ready? Steady…. Cook!

For the next 2 hours or so, I took down mental notes of the vegan cooking process through the photos I captured from my iPhone.

My challenge? To replicate the Vegan lunch in the comfort of my own kitchen *wink*

Okay, just let your imagination run wild with you, with the following photos…

It was supposed to be an interactive cooking workshop but due to time constraint, it ended up with Dr RM preparing and cooking all the dishes herself!

She whipped up 4 vegan recipes while explaining the choice of ingredients used – Ayurvedic mung bean soup, Ayurvedic Chapatis or Rotis, Ayurvedic chutney and kheer or rice pudding with saffron, cardamom and cashew nuts.

What a Feast!

It was worth the wait. A simple, unadulterated vegan meal that’s fresher than FRESH! Couldn’t get any fresher than that.

What more can I say!

My Challenge…

After seeing Dr RM toiling away with the mixing, stirring, kneading and cooking, I thought, “nah, too time consuming!“, so I opted for the extreme alternative.

Yup, I turned to my Thermie for help 😉

With the mental notes in my head, I converted the drudgery of preparing the Ayurvedic vegan lunch into an expeditious culinary journey in the comfort of my own kitchen.

Vegan Sunday with a Twist


My Ayurvedic Chapatis

  • 1 kg potatoes (I used “Jazzy” creamy potatoes)
  • 750 g organic wheat “atta” flour (I used organic spelt flour plus extra for kneading)
  • 1.5 tsp nigella seeds
  • 40g chopped fresh coriander
  • 1-2 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 tsp Himalayan rock salt


I boiled the potatoes (skin on) as per the BCB and peeled the skin when still warm but not hot. Then I set them aside to cool before mashing the potatoes to the texture I wanted. Then I added the flour bit by bit, nigella seeds, 1 Tbsp coconut oil and salt. I mixed the mixture until a dough is formed. I turned the dial to “knead” for 2 minutes, and added 1 Tbsp coconut oil if too dry, or more flour if still wet. The key here is trial and error and stop when you are happy with the consistency you want.

Next, I tipped the dough onto a floured bowl and leave the dough to rest for at least 30 minutes. After half an hour, I kneaded the dough again by hand on floured surface. For the amount of dough mixture, I was able to make 25 equal-sized balls. I flattened each ball with a floured rolling pin and rolled each ball into disc.


I used two green pans to speed the roti making process. Each pan was pre-heated and drizzled with a tiny bit of coconut oil on medium high heat. The Chapatis were cooked when they puffed in the centre. I just flipped the roti over to cook on both sides until little brown specks became visible. As you can see, my rotis were not of uniform sizes and form. I like it that way as it looked more home-style 😀

My Ayurvedic Chutney

  • 180 g raisins secs
  • 180 g raisins blanc
  • 200 g x 2 dates
  • A palmful of fresh mint leaves
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp Himalayan rock salt


I soaked the raisins and dates in water overnight. With the amount of raisins and dates (water removed) and mint I dumped in the TM bowl, I made sure not to go above speed 5 to avoid the TM blades from getting stuck. You can continue by using a wooden spatula to free the area around the blades. Continue blending until you reached the desired texture. I prefer my chutney with a bit of texture.

For smoother puréed-like texture, blend in smaller batches.


Dates and raisins are sweet, so you know the drill. Pep it up with some freshly milled Himalayan rock salt and cayenne or paprika powder. Et voilà!

My Ayurvedic Soup

  • 400 g split mung beans
  • 1,500 g water plus 500 g water
  • 5 g turmeric powder
  • 5 g garlic (sorry, I can’t go without this herb!)
  • 80 g onion (ditto)
  • Ginger
  • Lemon juice from half a lemon
  • Himalayan rock salt, to taste
  • 25 g Coconut oil


Tempering

  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • Roughly chopped Spinach leaves
  • Coconut oil


Garnishing

  • Chopped coriander leaves
  • Crispy fried onions (optional)

Wash the mung beans in several changes of water until the water runs clear. Soak the mung beans for at least 4 hours or overnight


Mince the garlic, onion and ginger upto speed 5 for 3 seconds. Add coconut oil and sauté with turmeric powder for 3mins/ 120 C/ speed 1.

From the overnight-soaked mung beans, weigh 500g of the soaked beans and transfer to the TM bowl. Add 1,500g water. Cook for 20 mins/ 120 C/ R/ Spoon/ Half MC

After 10 minutes, watch out for the foams floating on the surface. Pause and remove the frothy surface. Reduce the temperature to 100C/ Half MC. Cook further until the mung beans are soft and tender. Transfer the soup to a bigger soup pot. Add 500 g water. Boil for another 5 minutes.

And of course, season to taste!

Prepare the tempering by heating some coconut oil and mustard seeds in a frying pan. As soon as the seeds start popping, add the cumin seeds and roughly chopped spinach leaves. Gently pour the tempered ingredients into the soup. Season to taste before serving. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and crispy fried onions (optional)


Our Vegan Lunch was ready to serve!

My Verdict?

I loved Dr RM’s Chapatis. Her rotis puffed up beautifully in the centre. She used plain wheat flour while I used organic Spelt flour. That could be the reason why my rotis did not puff too much and a bit more dense, too. The mixing and kneading in the TM were a breeze but it was the rolling out of the dough into discs and the waiting time to get the rotis cooked went by at annoying snail speed. With my boys popping in and out of the kitchen and incessantly asking “is the food ready yet?” didn’t help one bit at all 😦

I loved my Ayurvedic soup the most. Could it be the un-vegan ingredients of minced garlic, onion and crispy fried shallots that made the world of difference? That’s the Twist, I meant 😉

The guys in my household are not fan of beans and lentils, but surprisingly, they liked the soup.

To be honest, Dr RM’s soup was very bland. It could do with some pinches of extra salt but we were all too ravenous, and gulped all the soup down. Lol!

Our Ayurvedic chutneys were on par. Hers was extremely smooth, more like purée and mine was more relish-y. I prefer my chutney with some texture, hence by not pulsing on high speed for too long was, for me, perfect. If you’re wondering if the chutney was too sweet because of the dates, well, it was on the sweet side but not overly sweet due to the overnight soaking. The slight tartness from the raisins and the cool and refreshing mint, Himalayan salt and cayenne or paprika powder balanced the flavour of the chutney quite flawlessly.

I asked the 3 participants what their favourite dish was. All 3 pointed to the Ayurvedic chutney and the Chapatis 😉

By the way, I did not replicate Dr RM’s dessert as that was my least favourite dish. Her rice pudding did not set in the fridge and it turned out pretty soupy. The flavours were alright.

Will I make these again? Yes! Without a doubt, but on a smaller scale. I will use plain atta flour for the Chapatis. The Ayurvedic soup will be on a future lunch menu. Bookmarked! I will make the Ayurvedic chutney 2 ways – puréed and relished and will add some chilli flakes and a squeeze of lemon juice for extra tartness.

If you have never had an Ayurvedic vegan meal before, you may consider trying this out and judge it for yourself.

I’m not a Vegan but I loved it, however, it’s not something I will eat everyday. Too many restrictions and it’s just not possible for me to abstain from a good bowl of kolo mee or char siu pao 😀

Oh by the way, Dr RM gave away a try-out sample pack of the Ayurvedic chai after the workshop.

I brewed it immediately when I got home.

Mmmmm…. yummy!

Zen….

This masala chai is a keeper 😉

Have a Blessed Sunday!

Cheers!