Taksu Ubud

 

IMG_7474  Tucked into a quiet lane in the heart of Ubud, Taksu translates in Balinese as “the indescribable essence of spirit,” and provides a serene haven in which to relax and unwind. A charming garden filled with cascading rock ponds and meandering paths gives way to a leafy gorge dotted with scenic spa pavilions.

Well established on the Ubud scene, the spa and restaurant have been operating for the last seven years, while the quaint Taman Taksu Garden Cafe makes an inspired new addition. Open-sided wooden pavilions overlook the medicinal herb garden, where leaves are plucked fresh for my Pagagan Juice a traditional remedy known as pennywort in English, believed to be beneficial in maintaining youth. Our round of drinks also includes [Coconut Water] served in customised coconut-shaped ceramic dishes, and a Bali Summer blending watermelon, strawberry and apple with a lemon citrus kick.

The menu, prepared by Balinese chefs Ketut and Adi, offers something for every mood and every appetite, with a good selection of raw food, gluten free, vegan and vegetarian fare, as well as chicken, duck and seafood. Produce comes straight from Taksu’s own organic gardens, located in the nearby hills, and dishes include crunchy organic salads, homemade pasta and panini, Indonesian classics, hearty soups and grills, and divine desserts.

We start with a couple of raw dishes. The Strawberry Bisque is a chilled and frothy blend of fresh strawberries and yoghurt, while the generous slab of Zucchini Lasagne that follows is truly excellent, a tasty testament to the imaginative possibilities of raw food. Thinly sliced marinated zucchini is layered with fresh tomato, basil and peppers, with a tangy marinara sauce, creamy cashew ricotta and an ever-so -slightly sweet pesto.

Changing the pace a little we order some good and spicy Nachos piled high with black beans, homemade salsa and creamy guacamole, and a Salmon Panini made with home baked brown bread topped with swirls of cured salmon, red onion, lettuce, dill and dollops of cream cheese. Dessert is a light and fluffy Cheesecake sweetened with a thick strawberry coulis, and a spongy Truffle Chocolate Cake Gateau with a rich chocolate filling.

As well as daily yoga and dance classes, Taksu offers interesting workshops and retreats of the alternative healing persuasion, as well as Cranio Sacral therapy, Traditional Chinese medicine, ozone therapies and spa treatments including the Divine Pampering Ritual which is accompanied by a two-course healthy lunch.

Taksu Spa and Restaurant Jl Goutama Selatan Ubud  +62 361 971490

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Permablitz Bali

IMG_8030Permablitz (noun): An informal gathering involving a day on which a group of at least two people come together to achieve the following: create or add to edible gardens, share skills related to permaculture and sustainable living, build community, have fun.

I arrive at the Farmer’s Yard, a permaculture garden, hostel and community space in Canggu, to find a group – made up of foreign travellers and Balinese – planting beans and cucumber in garden beds, and adding the finishing touches to a newly built chicken coop. With a concept of “Putting an end to careless tourism,” the space has been created on the principles of sustainable living, with the idea of connecting visitors to Bali with local neighbours and communities. The flourishing garden, filled with peppermint, eggplant, basil, cabbage and rosella was created during a permablitz, and I am here to meet Djuka Terenzi, who along with his friends, is the driving force behind Permablitz Bali.

A direct action ‘green’ movement that sprouted in Australia and quickly spread across the world; permablitz combines ‘perma’ permaculture theory with ‘blitz’ a sudden, energetic, and concerted effort. Essentially day-long gatherings that combine volunteer labour and permaculture theory, a permablitz aims to transform an unproductive backyard garden or urban space into a productive or edible garden. The concept is simple, a permaculture designer draws up a site specific plan, volunteers provide the labour and the host makes lunch. As well as being a great way to get involved with your local community, joining a permablitz teaches you how to grow your own food at home using simple permaculture principles. The network runs on reciprocity so if you attend a few permablitzes, you then qualify for one yourself. Anybody can come, and everybody wins!

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The idea bloomed in the suburbs of Melbourne in 2006 when a permaculture designer, Dan Palmer, met a South American community group. Joining forces one Sunday, Palmer and his friends provided seedlings, compost, plants and ideas, and the community group provided labour, delicious food, music and dancing. By the end of the day a bland backyard garden had been transformed with a worm farm, pond, vegetable plants, herbs and chillis. The seeds of the permablitz movement had been sewn. The movement spread, by word of mouth, from Melbourne right across Australia and onto Hawaii, Istanbul, Montreal, Uganda and, of course Bali, with the first permablitz taking place at Sunrise School.

The network has gone on to transform a number of gardens, including Terenzi’s own and that of the Farmer’s Yard Hostel. He explains that the free, day-long events are open to everyone and aim to create something ‘cool and efficient.’ A site is chosen, a plan made, a date is set and then the event is posted on their fb page. As well as making edible gardens, there may also be workshops on composting or water filtration, perhaps a little live music, and definitely a lot of laughter.

Permaculture is essentially about mimicking nature – integrating people and places in ecologically harmonious systems that provide a good portion of the needs of people living there, with things like water, vegetables, fruit, and eggs. Of course prior to industrialisation, most gardens were based on permaculture principles, but intensive farming, consumer demand for cheap produce, and the growth of cities saw people shift away from a natural way of living. Permablitzes can reunite us with the land and are a great way for first time gardeners to learn some skills. “We are not just using energy, but creating it,” says Djuka. “Its about being super efficient, it’s about creating a self sustaining eco system.” Edible gardens help conserve energy by reducing the need for food transport; they also use less water than agricultural farms, encourage composting and are generally organic.

Keen to see more permablitz sites, I also visit Kaleidoscope house, a riotously-coloured community house on the outskirts of Ubud, with yellow and green brick walls draped in psychedelic wall hangings. In the adjacent communal space a yoga class is under way, and another room at the back has bunk beds that house volunteers and visitors. Heading out back I find a nursery crammed with healthy seedlings, a garden bed edged in recycled roof tiles and sprouting with herbs, and tiny cherry tomatoes, and kankkung (water spinach) rising from a watery pot. As well as being a Community House, Kaleidoscope serves as a base for Rumah Idea (Indonesian Development of Environmental Education and Agricultural Studies,) a Yayasan that works with local kids, teaching English, organic farming, bee keeping, chocolate-making, and dance.

Back in the living room, sipping a delicious organic Balinese coffee infused with cardamom, cinnamon and cloves, my eyes rest on a sign on the wall, “Some want it to happen, Some wish it would happen, Others make it happen,” which pretty much sums up the Permablitz network.

http://www.rumahidea.com and www.permablitzbali.org/ and www.farmersyardbali.com

Maya Ubud Resort

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 We pass a dreamy afternoon in the River Café at the tropical oasis of Maya Ubud Resort, soothed by the gentle flow of the river and satiated by a delicious lunch of ‘Conscious Cuisine.’

Peering over the veranda at the river that winds through the rainforest, I am overcome with that feeling of peace and happiness that comes from being somewhere truly beautiful. The steep surrounding forest is thick with banana trees, bamboo and palms, and below us an infinity pool juts out over the river – a vision of tropical perfection.

The atmospheric setting of the River Grill is enhanced by bright and cheerful tables settings, including pots of wheatgrass and elaborately rolled napkins. Maya Executive chef Australian-born Kath Townsend comes with vast experience in high profile restaurants and resorts from Sydney to Sri Lanka to the Maldives. Her concept of ‘Conscious Cuisine’ sees a holistic approach to dining that emphasises clean, crisp, fresh and natural flavours, with a mix of textures and ingredients intended to nourish the mind, body and soul. Super foods abound, from salmon, to nuts, juices, quinoa, chocolate and avocado. Fresh organic vegetables and herbs are sourced in the hills of Bedugul, and from the resort’s own gardens, and the menu offers dairy and wheat alternatives – such as buckwheat and coconut flour, as well as tasty pizza, and a Riverside Ploughman’s for those looking for more substantial fare.

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Healthy drinks makes a logical starting point and we try a Skin Tonic, a delicious blend of carrot and orange juice, and a sweet refreshing Kidney Kick Starter mixing apple pineapple and watermelon. Rather than a bread basket, we are offered crudités of carrot and cucumber wrapped in noori, served with tahini, then move on to the Riverside Bowl, a salad teeming with taste and texture. The long, spiraling strands of carrot and beetroot are a little like eating crunchy colourful spaghetti, while tofu, tempe and seeds provide substance, and a spirulina and tahini dressing lends a certain sweet earthiness. The Gado Gado is the most elegant I have seen, with dainty quail eggs, vegetables wrapped sushi roll-style, triangles of potato and tofu and a scattering of cashews. The highlight is the cashew nut sauce, which is milder, creamier and more subtle than the usual peanut sauce, and is delicately flavoured with turmeric, ginger garlic and honey.

Crispy Salmon comes as a plump fillet topped with watercress and a drizzle of citron dressing, and is served atop a tasty chickpea and spinach fritter, with pipa verde – an excellent Mexican-style sauce made with pepitos, coriander, garlic, onion and jalapenos. We finish with a Heavenly Vegan Chocolate Mousse which is rich in taste, with a smooth velvety texture. Dairy free, this lush dessert is made with avocado, honey, raw cacao and vanilla bean and has the occasional surprise crunch of a hazelnut or cacao bean.

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The Maya Spa is adjacent to the restaurant, with atmospheric treatment pavilions scattered along the river. Famed for its exotic sensory journeys, a spa session is perfectly completed with a nutritious and tasty lunch at the River Café. Outside guests can immerse themselves in the tropical healing vibe, and treat themselves to a ‘Day at Maya’ spa package which includes yoga, a riverside walk, cooking class, spa treatment and lunch. Alison

Maya Ubud Resort & Spa Jalan Gunung Sari, Peliatan, Ubud +62361977888

The problem with palm oil

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Inodnesia has one of the highest tropical forest loss rates in the world with 74 million hectares of forest destroyed in the past 50 years. The lucrative hardwood trade; a lack of effective conservation laws; and endemic corruption have left the forests at the mercy of loggers, and the looming ecological disaster is well documented. But sadly Indonesia’s forests now face the biggest threat of all, an insatiable global demand for palm oil.

These days the roar of chainsaws is often followed by raging fires as the land is cleared and the ancient forests, home to some of the earth’s greatest biodiversity are replace by orderly rows of oil palms, standing like rows of soldiers. The battle lines have been drawn and hectare by hectare the forest is being claimed. Sound overdramatic? If only it was, but the facts paint a sad picture. In the 1980’s about one million hectares of forest were cleared annually, now it’s over two million and much of the land that has been deforested in the last 20 years is due to the planting of oil palms. Over half of the forest cover in Sumatra and Borneo has now been destroyed and along with the forest and the species that inhabit it, an ancient way of life is disappearing. There are also global ramifications for us all, in terms of the air we breathe, as these forests provide nature’s filtration system, storing toxic carbon dioxide and releasing life-giving oxygen.

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the nut of an oil palm 

What is palm oil 

Palm oil is produced from the fruit of the oil palm and has been heralded as a wonder product. It is the most productive oil crop in the world, low in saturated fats, cheap to produce and highly versatile. It is found in cooking oil, confectionary, margarine, cakes, biscuits and snacks. As well as cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, household and industrial items and bio fuel.

Growing palm oil is a lucrative business and the price of crude palm oil has risen steadily, with demand expected to triple by the year 2050. Ninety per cent of the world’s palm oil exports come from the plantations of Malaysia and Indonesia. Palm oil in itself is not a bad thing, the problem lies in the degradation of primary forests in order to produce it. An estimated fifty million hectares of degraded land lays wasted in Indonesia, but palm oil companies prefer to use forest land where they can also make a profit from the timber they cut down.

The Quest for Green Gold
The biggest irony is the increasing use of palm oil for bio fuel, a supposedly ‘green’ fuel, proclaimed to be a low carbon solution to climate change. This quest for green fuel is actually causing more damage to the climate than the fossil fuels it was designed to replace. Once the useable wood has been removed, fires are often used to clear the land and peat bogs are drained to plant oil palms, a process which releases hundreds of millions of tones of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere making Indonesia the third highest contributor to CO 2 emissions in the world.

Greenpeace claims that more carbon emissions result from deforestation and peat fires than are produced by the entire global transport sector. Currently, over seven million hectares in Sumatra are utilized as oil palm plantations, and the plan is to extend this by a further 20 million hectares, in order to meet EU targets of ten percent of all transport fuel to come from crops by 2020.

Human Rights
While fortunes have been made from palm oil, it is a mistaken assumption that everyone involved in the process is getting rich. Plantation companies claim that that they create employment, especially in rural areas which in turn leads to economic development. Impoverished land owners often see few financial alternatives and many give up their land to become small stake-holders or to work on the plantations. But the social costs are high. Traditional communities have lived in the forests for generations, hunting bush meat, eating fruits and seeds, harvesting traditional medicine and planting subsistence crops. They were often poor but led a naturally sustainable way of life. Now they find themselves at the mercy of market forces and tied to a 25 year cycle on a single crop. Those who have retained small holdings can eke out a living as long as the boom continues, but those who have sold their land and now work for a minimum wage are often worse off as they have to pay for imported goods. Conflict is inevitable, and according to Sawit Watch, a local environmental organization, more than 500 cases of conflict have been reported.

The Environment
Although illegal, the fires that are set to clear the land and can quickly burn out of control. The devastating fires of 1997 burned five million hectares of Indonesia’s forests and of the 176 companies accused by the Indonesian government of starting fires, 133 were oil palm plantations companies. The battle between big business and the environment is not new, and all too often the environment is the loser.

Pollution problems are also caused by effluent from the milling process and the intensive use of pesticides and herbicides in the plantations, creating toxic run- off which poisons the land and the water system. The low land forests of Borneo and Sumatra – the last remaining habitat for orangutans and a number of other species are the areas favoured for conversion and all unprotected areas are at risk. The fires of 1997 decimated one third of Borneo’s orangutan population; while the Sumatran orangutan population has decreased by half in the last twenty years and the estimated remaining 6500 animals have been classified as critically endangered. These endearing creatures make great ambassadors for Indonesia’s forests, and their plight has captured hearts around the world, but the orangutan is just the tip of the iceberg. They are known as a cornerstone species and play an important part in forest regeneration through the seeds and fruits they eat. If they become extinct there will be a knock-on effect on many other species

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Palm oil factory near Bukit Lewang

A Glimmer of Hope

If palm oil could be planted without decimating the remaining forests, a potential ecological disaster could be averted, and there are signs that some companies are willing to explore this option. RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil,) was set up in 2004 and is a not-for-profit association formed of companies and groups involved in palm oil production. Its mission is to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil. Forty percent of palm oil companies have joined RSPO, as well as banks, NGO’s and high profile companies such as Unilever, Body Shop and Cadbury. Last year the first batches of certified sustainable oil were shipped to Europe and now account for 3% of CPO. It’s a step in the right direction, but there is still along way to go. Sustainable plantations do not produce much at the moment, and the global demand for palm oil continues to grow.

There is also “Project POTICO” (Palm Oil, Timber, Carbon Offsets,) a partnership between WRI (World Resources Institute,) an American think tank, and NewPage Corporation. This initiative was set up earlier this year and slated to combat illegal logging, reduce greenhouse emissions and preserve virgin rainforests in Indonesia by diverting new oil palm plantations to degraded land. Over one million hectares of wasted land is marked for conversion under the three year program.

There are also indications that things are changing at a local level, In Aceh, Sumatra, officials recently gave 100 hectares of fallow agricultural land to 59 households in the village of Lami so they could grow oil palm without cutting down rain forests. The Indonesian environmental group YEL is overseeing the organic cultivation. Also in Aceh, the tiny and remote village of Tangkahan is another prime example of grass roots conservation where the community rejected the lure of palm oil and decided instead to set up eco-tourism. Elephants are used to patrol the jungle searching for illegal loggers, and small guesthouses provide the quintessential jungle experience. It was while staying in this hidden and untouched paradise that my interest in palm oil was ignited. Each evening I would eat with the local guides and the conversation always turned to palm oil. They hope to lead others by example and show that there are alternatives. “One step at a time,” Jungle Bob tells me, “we can’t do much, but at least we can do something.”

Within Indonesia the key lies in education and SOS (Sumatran Orangutan Society) runs a number of programs to this end. Their aim is to empower the next generation of Indonesian conservationists, and programs include: touring educational road shows: the development of a conservation curriculum for schools in North Sumatra: community forestry schemes to reinforce national park buffer zones and provide sustainable alternative incomes for people living adjacent to natural orangutan habitat; and a tree planting program that has seen the planting of over a quarter of a million indigenous tree seedlings to date.

Responsibility lies with the Indonesian Government and companies, but also with us because as end consumers we have the right to choose. It is fashionable in Australia and Europe to call for boycotts of palm oil, but this won’t solve anything, a cheap and versatile vegetable oil is necessary, and other alternatives such as corn and soya bean oil pose similar problems.
Conservationists call for labeling of products and claim that consumers have the right to choose to buy from sustainable plantations, much as they have the right to buy fair trade products or items that have not been genetically modified. Consumer pressure and preference might lead companies into using sustainable oil. Greenpeace, SOS and Rainforest Action Network urge people to talk about palm oil in order to get the issues known. You can also sign online petitions, make financial contributions to their campaigns, and write to supermarkets to tell them you want sustainable palm oil. It might not seem like much, but as consumers we do have power and doing something is always better than doing nothing. If you want to get involved, or to learn more, have a look at the websites listed below.

http://www.palmoil.org.uk
http://www.orangutans-sos.org
http://www.sumatra-indonesia.com/tangkahan.htm
http://www.sumatraecotourism.com
ran.org/the_problem_with_palm_oil
http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/forests/palm-oil

Bali Detox: Dragon fruit

Detox day 14

I have found throughout this detox that my relationship to food is changing and I am feeling much more aware of the effects of what I eat on my body. It’s as if I have rediscovered the joy of eating and feel my body absorbing all the goodness of healthy food that I am preparing with love. I have found myself really drawn to bright and colourful fruits and vegetables, and of course the dragon fruit is top of my list. As well as eating it I have discovered that it makes a great face mask.

About Dragon Fruit

There are few fruits that evoke the tropics quite so successfully as  the spiky vibrant pink dragon fruit, with its sweet luscious seed flecked flesh. Brimming with antioxidants, vitamin E which firms skin and reduces age spots, and  collagen, which we all know is the mother of all skin care products , it also makes the perfect face mask. I suggest using half a dragon fruit  – mashed with a few drops of vitamin E oil (or half a teaspoon of olive oil) and a teaspoon of honey. Apply to your face for at least 20 minutes, and enhance the pleasure of the experience by eating the rest of the dragon fruit while you wait.

Bali Detox: Tropical porridge

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Detox Day 13

Porridge makes a great start to the day.  Low in fat, but high in fibre, oats have the highest protein of any grains and also help reduce cholesterol and curb the appetite.   I usually like to add a little organic palm sugar to my porridge, but found that by adding strawberries  and just a little coconut cream that it was quite sweet enough.

  • 1 cup organic oats
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 – 2  tablespoons coconut cream
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup strawberries
  • 1/4 cup sunflower and pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Cook the oats and water in a pan over a low heat, add coconut cream and cinnamon. Serve sprinkled with strawberries, coconut and seeds.

*Lightly dry fry the sunflower and pumpkin seeds if you want a crunchier topping

Bali detox: Fresh fruit salad

Detox Day 9

For the first week of my detox I cut out all sugars (including fresh fruit) this was probably the toughest aspect – I found myself craving the cool sweetness of tropical fruit. But now my detox is almost half over I am allowing  fruit back into my diet with this rather delicious  fresh fruit salad made with dark pink/red fruits that are high in anti oxidants. It combines the slightly sour taste of organic mountain strawberries from Bedugul, with the sweetness of purple grapes and dragon fruit, I also mixed in shredded coconut and a handful of goji berries and then sprinkled everything with lime juice and chilled in the fridge for a couple of hours.