Spring of Content

April 22, 2013


This began as a search for content. Not someone else’s. My own.

I was under pressure from the two ladies at the social media agency.  They were my friends’ capable daughters, and when I hired them I naively thought the deal was this: they download my bank of food photos from my restaurants in Bali, add them to the ones they would take, post on a contractually agreed upon schedule in some clever, fan-building way, and, most importantly leave me alone.

“But we have fans now, and they expect something for their enthusiasm,” the ladies explained, a few months into our contract. They pitched a weekly contest that would require little of me, and only a little knowledge of our restaurants by the fans. Please, go ahead. Reward their loyalty with free meals.

A blissfully quiet period ensued where I was able to live and work unvexed by the gluttonous appetite of the new media landscape. But then the ladies were back, like a rash. This time they wanted recipes, with no regard for the inconvenient fact that restaurant quantities are by the bucketful, and in metric to boot. I assured them I would convert the formulas so my American followers would be able to prepare them at home.

“And could you write a little story for each recipe. We need to start a conversation,” they tossed in, like rosemary.

I don’t know where they got the ensuing advice to “reveal myself”. It sounded like they’d had a covert tete a tete with my writing instructors in Greenwich Village. More dauntingly, it sounded like work. Ongoing work, because as Mila and Soma grew animated about the fan-building they could scaffold around these stories, I realized, without a little dread, that what this sweetly conspiring duo was asking me to commit to was something my literary agent had been urging me to do for years. They wanted me to start a blog.

Here’s a thing about smiling, emphatic daughters, especially when they are not your own: you can’t say no. These particular daughters grew giddy as they assured me of course fans would want to learn how a born and bred New Yorker who arrived with a backpack in Bali for a month ended up staying a generation. Of course they would want her Balinese mother-in-law’s tip for the most lusciously caramelized fried bananas on planet earth. Of course they would read about a recipe that both pleases my Brahmin ancestors and placates the menacing ghost in my garden. They pitched so many cool ideas about my life that I began to believe I led an interesting one.

“And if you get tired of writing about your life, write about seasons,” they advised.

Seasonings? That’s easy in the Spice Islands.

“Not seasonings,” they corrected me. “Seasons. Everyone loves seasonal cooking tips.”

Ladies, I hate to break it to you, but apart from the burst of fruit that arrives each October, there’s not much seasonal cuisine at eight degrees south of the equator. We have small heads of cauliflower when it’s rainy, and big plump heads of cauliflower when it’s dry. Apart from scary molten lava, I can’t name anything that lies dormant underground, biding its time like a crocus or a wild ramp sounding the mysteries of the soil in search of the sign that it’s safe to emerge into spring.

I’ve developed some pretty sensitive tropical sounding equipment of my own, by the way, that can detect in the cadence of a slapping coconut frond, or in the ever so slightly shorter days, that Bali’s turn for winter is approaching. Yes, it’s a relief to know the cooling Australian trade winds will soon be here. But I’m not going to lie. Pining for the late, lingering light seems normal for this ramp-pickling, maple sap-boiling, pea-pureeing, rhubarb-stewing, strawberry-anticipating, spring-loving creature from the north.


































  1. Love your writing. Wish you would DO it more often. Also, love Batan Waru since my first visit in ’98. Great memories. Back then I knew little of the story behind the great food!

     ~ balicious, May 1, 2013 at 8:10 am.
  2. Karen: I am afraid to tell you, but your ladies are so correct…your adoring fans do indeed look forward to your posts whether they be musings or recipes…especially those of us who may not actually ever get to venture into one of your great restaurants…we look to you to “feed” us here in cyberspace!

     ~ Gayle, May 28, 2013 at 3:23 am.
  3. I’ve read this piece four times now, and enjoy it more at each reading. i just dont understand why no one has commented…please dont stop writing. i’ll miss you

     ~ cath, July 4, 2013 at 10:06 pm.
  4. Cath, I’m back on the writing path. Thanks for reading. Posting soon….

     ~ Kitchen in Surgency, December 20, 2013 at 3:46 am.

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