During the time the kids were in school, I went back to visit Sisi and Andrea at her home. My first visit was short and formal - I brought some food to share and we all sat down in her living room on a mat around a cloth she had laid out. She made black tea and brought out some cooked taro root. A friend of hers, Tina, was visiting also. Tina had been to Minnesota and Wisconsin years ago - through her church. Her father is a pastor. I really enjoyed talking with Tina about where I grew up (Minnesota and Wisconsin). Andrea offered to put a seat on the coconut scraper I had just bought. He spent much of the time outside carving a local pine board. Towards the end of that visit we planned the next one. Sisi wanted to make bread and I offered to show her how to bake cinnamon rolls as well. We would meet at the big house. Sisi does not have an oven.
For the second visit (August 10th), again I came on the 9:30 a.m. bus. The buses do not have glass in the windows, the seats are like school bus seats in the U.S., the driver cranks on a huge stick shift while the engine strains to scale steep dirt roads full of pot holes. He knows the road - swerving confidently around sharp corners while avoiding on coming cars. The wind whips pleasantly through the bus. On a hot day, it can be the only cool place in Savusavu. The cost of a one way ticket is 70 cents (about 37 cents U.S.) I loved riding the bus. I felt such a deep up welling of feeling, like I was finally answering some deeply buried passion. I was out exploring by myself (and everyone I generally feel responsible for was taken care of elsewhere). It's been a while since I felt moved in this way. I do get out alone at times, but seldom do I feel such a profound sense of joy. I didn't feel like a tourist. I was visiting a friend, on a local bus, sitting next to Fijians heading to work in their uniforms cut from cloth made to look like tapas. I loved everything, the bright colors people wear, the tropical mountainous countryside, the soft-spoken Fijian voices, the beautiful children with elaborate braids and smart uniforms, the bumpy ride, the fresh air.
When I arrived, I walked through that wonderful yard again, this time looking at the mangos hanging, the passion fruit vine creeping, the papayas clumped together, the flower beds, everything I missed. Andrea met me and showed me a lime tree and other plants I hadn't known about. We walked up to the house again and he brought out some lemon grass and my new coconut scraper. It is beautiful, a large seat attached to the small sharp circular scraper. I went in to make tea. Sisi had brought flour, sugar, yeast, butter and salt. I brought the rolling pin, cinnamon, brown sugar, sultanas, wholemeal flour (whole wheat) and baking pans. The water was off that morning, so Sisi ran home to gather liters of bottled water for us to drink and bake with. I put the kettle on and asked Andrea to find a coconut. Then we set about making bread. Tina was there again so she wrote the recipe down as I demonstrated each part. My favorite bread recipe is:
1 cup warm water
1 Tbsp. yeast
1 tsp. sugar
The water should be "baby bath water" warm. This is the most reliable description I have heard for the correct temperature for proofing the yeast. (I don't have a thermometer). Dissolve the yeast, let sit 10 minutes. If there is a nice foam on top after 10 minutes use it, otherwise toss it and begin again.
1 3/4 c. warm water
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. salt
1/4 c. dry milk powder
2 Tbsp. melted butter (or 1 Tbsp. oil or ghee)
Stir until well mixed then Add:
2 1/2 c. unbleached white flour
1/2 c. Atta flour (or rye flour, or other interesting heavy flour)
Stir very well. Atta flour is local and used for roti. It adds body to the whole-meal flour available here which is quite light for a whole grain flour.
Next add 3 3/4 c. whole-meal flour (or whole wheat but not stone ground whole wheat).
Stir well. Then add about another 1/2 c. of white flour until it isn't sticky as you knead it. Knead until it feels like a baby's butt, smooth and elastic. Pour a little oil in the bowl and roll it around. Then cover it with a cloth and let it rise until double. I use a large wide basin to make bread in. It makes the stirring very quick and you can knead right in the bowl. It is keeps everything contained and very easy to clean up.
After it rises (about an hour in the tropics), punch it down, turn on the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease two loaf pans and sprinkle the bottoms with corn meal. Then knead out the large air bubbles and cut the dough half. Shape each piece into a ball by pulling it continuously away from the center and then gently rolling the dough in your hands while holding it up so that it lengthens to fit a loaf pan. Put the dough in the pan, sprinkle flour along the top and make three diagonal slits (expansion cuts) so that the dough rises where you want it to. (Otherwise it may split along the side where it rises above the pan - and it will break too easily when sliced.) Cover with cloth and let rise until the oven is heated (about 30 minutes). It will almost double in volume. Bake for 35 minutes or until is sounds hollow when rapped on the bottom. Let cool in a breezy cockpit.
As soon as the bread is rising for the first time, you can begin the dough for the cinnamon rolls. It is the same recipe except without the wholemeal and atta flour. I use only white flour. After it rises the first time, roll it out into a large rectangle. Spread it liberally with soft butter. Make a mixture of one part cinnamon to two parts brown sugar and sprinkle this generously on the buttered dough. Then roll it up like a jelly roll, starting at the longest edge. Slice the dough about every 1 1/2 inches and place pieces upright in a sheet cake pan. I use two pans, one is 9 by 13 inches and the other one is 9 by 10 inches. Once the dough has risen a second time (in the pan), pour melted butter over each roll and bake for 35 minutes at 375 degrees F. Let the cinnamon rolls cool. Make an icing of sifted powdered sugar and water. Only add enough water to make the icing barely dribble. Dribble icing all over mostly cooled cinnamon rolls. Eat. These never last in long on the boat.
Sisi made a delicious lunch for us that day while the bread rose. We ate on the veranda with Andrea and Tina. By the time the cinnamon rolls were finished it was nearing 4 PM and pouring cats and dogs. I decided to wait for the rain to let up. We had already cleaned up so headed over to Sisi's house to have a cup of tea. Sisi shared a couple cinnamon rolls and some fresh bread. I brought my new coconut scraper home along with a loaf of bread and a small pan of cinnamon rolls. My family was grateful. Sisi was having dinner that night with her large extended family at her father's house.
I visited Sisi again the following Tuesday (August 13).
Sisi also wanted to learn to make pumpkin pie and my chocolate cake recipe. As soon as I arrived that morning, we set to making the crust and put then dough into the freezer to chill. Then we cut the pumpkin (from her yard) in half, scooped out the seeds put it into the oven to cook. While the pumpkin roasted, we made two chocolate layer cakes. It is a simple recipe (previously published in the blog). As soon as the pumpkin was done, we put the cakes in the oven. Then we carved the flesh out of the skin and pureed it. It measured out to two cups, perfect. We made the famous Libby's pumpkin pie recipe (on the side of the can of pumpkin). For those of you who don't have canned pumpkin available:
2 c. baked, pureed pumpkin
1 c. sugar
1 can of evaporated milk (about 15 oz.)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger (dry powder)
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
Pour into a fluted pie crust and bake at 400 F for 10 minutes and then reduce heat to 325 F and bake for 50 minutes (or until a butter knife inserted in the center comes out clean - the center should be solid). Cool, chill and serve with whipped cream (if it is unavailable.) Sisi had prepared another delicious lunch (cassava, sauteed eggplant with onions, tomato and carrot and I had brought some chicken basil sausages) which we ate with Andrea and Tina on the veranda while the pie baked. We pulled the pie out of the oven at 1 PM, just before we left for the village. I wanted to see the traditional dancing presented every Tuesday afternoon at 2 PM (for tourists).
I decided to bring Tamsyn with me that day (out of school) so she could also see the dancing and kava ceremony. She spent most of the day in the big house with us. She doesn't like the mosquitos and they are quite thick once away from the sea breezes and salt water. The chief of Savusavu lives in Nukumbalavu and there is an arrangement with the large resort, "Cousteau's" to bring tourists to his village on Tuesday afternoons to sight see. (I have heard from a local physician that the residents of Cousteau Resort pay up to $4,000 (Fijian) a night.) It is a good arrangement for the village of Nukumbalavu as there are tons of trinkets for sale and the resort guests can have things charged to their rooms, plus there is a $5 fee per tourist. We were greeted with a pretty lei and told to sit on one side of the hall, while the locals sat on the opposite side with a large kava bowl in the middle.
|View coming back from the village|
|Waiting for the bus|
|Sisi's mother's grave - she died three months ago|
|Sidewalk in the village, the only one|
|Tamsyn with a lei|
|The community hall, much like a grange hall|
The kava ceremony was very brief - 4 men were offered a drink twice each. [At the wedding we attended August 31st, all the men present including the Minister, Pastor and Priest (an interfaith wedding) drank kava for 6 hours straight - going through some 40 bowls of kava. Each bowl was about 3 gallons.] The traditional dancing was conservative compared to what we had seen in French Polynesia. The women wore the taka (a full-length sulu skirt with a matching blouse). Theirs were all made from a pattern based on tapas cloth. Sisi danced but I could tell she'd done it a few too many times. The men wore grass skirts and costumes similar to what we had seen in Marquesean dancing. The men dance separately from the women. Their dancing was much more spirited and seemed to tell a story. Men and women sang during the dancing, some very old traditional tribal songs. Sisi made sure we had some of the cookies and juice (for the participants) before our walk back. Tamsyn wanted to walk along the beach again.
By the time we reached the big house, the pie was cooled and it was nearing 5 PM. We packed up the cakes, cut the pie in half and locked up the house. Sisi walked Tamsyn and myself out to the road to wait for a taxi. Return trips (back to Savusavu) cost the same as a bus ride (70 cents per adult and 35 cents per child). Ram drove by some time later. He is a regular out this way because he understands the dialect well. We said good bye to Sisi and got in the taxi.
This was my second trip back from Sisi's in Ram's taxi. The first trip with him, I showed his wife, Eshwini, whom he picks up after work every day at 5:30PM, the bread and cinnamon rolls I made with Sisi. She was very interested. I told her I would come by her bakery. I wanted to learn how to make roti. Eshwini and Ram are Indo-Fijians. They make Indian food. Eshwini works at Lee's bakery in Savusavu. The second time I rode back to Savusavu with Ram, I shared some pumpkin pie with them.