We’re in our 83rd day of lockdown in Sydney. And still going with the promise of an end in sight, though no one is game to set a date yet.
For our household of 5, it’s been a matter of bunkering down and weathering the storm, as we used to during our cruising days. Back to homeschooling and studies for the kids, house projects for Mr T and I, thankful for the ability to connect online. Just like on long passages, everyone goes about their day at their own pace with the highlight of the day being pre-dinner drinks (otherwise known as aperitif, sundowner or cocktail hour) followed by dinner itself. Dinner is invariably home cooked, served at the dinner table, where everyone is expected to sit ( a family tradition the kids were taught since birth ).
Unless, life happens and it is much easier to go with the flow than try to stick to dining rules.
Take last Friday Night.
The family was all over the place. One was out working, one had an assignment to complete, and the football was on TV. A sit-down dinner wasn’t going to work, and take-away pizza was strongly suggested. This prompted me to canvas the contents of the fridge and pantry where a whole shelf of opened items stared at me. Think
stinky washed rind cheese, various spreads and sauces, vegetables, cold meat, and more… Add sliced bread and dinner idea was a no brainer: make your own toastie!
Once upon a time, we used to live on a sailing boat and travel around the world. It seems like a lifetime ago that we were exploring far away lands and living in our own floating bubble. One of the things I miss the most is catching our own dinner and enjoying the freshest seafood. We used to trawl a line everyday during ocean passages, hoping to catch a fish large enough to last a few meals ( mahi-mahi, yellowfin and tuna were always on the most desired list ). When at anchor, some of the locals would come and trade their catch, sometimes for money, other times for essential items or just out of kindness. I have fond memories of buying whole octopus or live lobsters from the bottom of a dugout canoe in the middle of nowhere!Read More
I am back! Well, I was always there, just keeping quiet on the blog.
2021 held so much promise. Like many people, we looked forward to a year of relative normalcy: kids finishing school, resuming uni, house projects, travelling… Unfortunately, like for many people, COVID-19 decided to stick around a wee longer and rain on our parade, meaning major changes to any plans we started the year with.
For months, we lived under the false sense of security, believing that Australia was safe from COVID ( oh, we were doing so well! ) and enjoying a lifestyle that only my overseas relatives could dream about. Family gatherings at home, road trips, city escapades, boating getaways… were all for the taking while we could, knowing that it was only a matter of time before the virus would catch up and slow us down again.
And catch up, it certainly did. In a gotcha kinda move, COVID ( now under the form of the Delta variant ) is back, sending all of us in Sydney into lockdown hysteria again.
During our first lockdown, in March 2020, I used to think that it would be the perfect opportunity to tend to unfinished projects like sort thru thousands of photos, complete the vegetable garden, or even repaint some of the rooms in the house. None of this happened.Read More
In all these years of cruising up and down the East Coast of Australia, visiting the Sydney Harbour was always reserved for special occasions: watching the start of the Sydney-Hobart race on Boxing Day, fireworks on NYE or the occasional trip to a shipyard that would fit in our larger vessels. We never really spent time exploring the harbour, largely because we always seemed to be on a schedule to meet people or our boats would be too large to anchor beyond the main harbour.
Our latest boat is a small Sport Motor Cruiser, the ideal size to quickly zoom up and down the coast, fit under bridges and into narrow inlets. For once we have the means to explore the nooks and crannies of the harbour but it has taken us months to find the time and most importantly, the weather window to do it.
The opportunity came earlier this summer. With a promise of a few days of windless and sunny days, we packed up on a whim and set off for a leisurely cruise in the Sydney Harbour. It was a bit of an impromptu decision, so much so that while I quickly rounded up enough food and wine for 3 days, Mr T forgot to load any beer on board. Needless to say it was going to be a challenge.
To add interest, we decided to stay away from marinas and while we are not afraid to drop anchor, we also wanted to take advantage of public moorings, thus enjoying a free mooring crawl of the best anchorages in the Harbour. That was the plan, anyway.
How did we fare? Read on to find out.Read More
Christmas 2020 was always going to be different.
We are used to festivities where half of the family is missing, because they are either living overseas, visiting in-laws or just decide to celebrate on their own on a deserted island!
For many years, cruising and living in Cairns, we have hosted orphan Christmases with fellow stranded friends. And one of the most memorable Christmas Day was in 2011, when anchored in the Caribbeans, we started the day with a snorkel followed by a local feast on the beach…just us and the locals.
What I am trying to say is that rolling with the punches is not unusual for us, many a times have we had to make the most of less than ideal situations. 2020 being the topsy turvy year of COVID, was the most challenging though in terms of uncertainty and anxiety.
In the lead up to this year’s Christmas, I had hopes to host our familiar crowd of 25. That number then dropped, initially due to family dramas then COVID dramas, wth borders closing and preventing interstate guests to travel up to Sydney. In the end, it was just as well, as an outbreak in the northern beaches a week before, led to new restrictions for the region of Greater Sydney: 10 adult visitors and “unlimited” number of children under 12 for the 3 days over Christmas.
So it was the usual gang of Mr T’s children and families joining , Mal and Danielle, Craig and Kathy, Shelley, Tania, Carolyn, Ian and Rosalie. We just managed to fit in with the new rules.
As for the food, the menu was devised weeks earlier. Times may be uncertain lately, but some things stay the same. That meant seafood, duck and Christmas cakes. At least! I pre-ordered what I could, and recipe tested what I couldn’t ( thanks to the family and friends who helped with the tastings !).
As always, I wanted to include new dishes and couldn’t decide which to leave out so we ended up with 5 Hors d’oeuvres to nibble on, 2 entrees, 1 main, 3 sides, 4 desserts. I texted the menu to our guests, asking them to bring their appetite and their favourite drinks, as a warning this would be a very long and late lunch!
So, here is what went down.Read More
November has come and gone, and what was supposed to be a quiet month, free of the usual travel and social gatherings ( thanks to COVID ), proved to be quiet busy. Compared to most places in the world, particularly France, we are fortunate in Sydney, to be able to move around and socialise albeit with a few restrictions, but if you are an introvert like Mr T, it is hardly an inconvenience.
So, resuming an old post format, let me take you thru “November Happenings “Read More
Halloween is near and as in the past four years, we celebrated a week early as it clashes with a family birthday.
It is no surprise that 2020 has been a challenging year and when it came to pick a theme for our party, I wanted nothing to do with ghoul, spiders, rats or bloody human parts. I am ok with ghosts and skulls though, and have always liked the Mexican tradition and mystics around the Day of the Dead ritual, so we went for that instead.
There is always something comforting and uplifting about the idea of celebrating the lives of loved ones who have left this world. Mexicans honour their dead by creating beautiful altars and holding family gatherings to pay tributes to their deceased loved ones.Read More
What do places like Uepi in the Solomons, Hirifa in the Tuamotus, Nanuya in Fiji, and Marathi in Greece have in common? They are all small island resorts we discovered during our cruising days, anchored off with the idea to stop for a look and a drink, only to end up staying for a while. In every case, we would settle at the bar, meet the owners who would welcome you as friends, enjoy fantastic food and hospitality, and generally have the run of the place as if it was your own.
These places hold a special place in our hearts, and the memories rushed back recently, during a short cruise in the Hawkesbury River.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to Peats Bite, Sydney’s hidden gem.
Located in Sunny Corner, on the Hawkesbury River, and only 1h drive from Sydney CBD, this restaurant is only accessible by boat or by sea plane. I first found out about it thru an internet special, when looking for a weekend getaway and we didn’t have a boat. Peats Bite solved the problem, by offering a shuttle transfer service from Brooklyn.
It is the brainchild of Rod and Tammy Miljoen, who purchased the property in the early 80’s and decided to run it as a restaurant that would welcome guests as though they’d arrive home. Over the years, they acquired a reputation for long lunches and live entertainment, without the need to advertise and have had their share of A-listed visitors.
While Rod passed away a few years ago, his daughter Tanya and partner Geoff, have now taken over the family business.Read More
Have you ever had red wombok before?
It is similar to a traditional Chinese cabbage, otherwise known as wombok, except that it is well, red. Bordering on purple.
It shares the same nutritional benefits , being rich in vitamin C and A as well as calcium and fibre. It is also low in fat and calories, which makes it ideal for those of us trying to eat on the lighter side ( I am getting ahead of myself here, as I read somewhere that we have 14 weeks till Xmas, that means silly season is only a couple of months away !)
The deep burgundy colour is due to the presence of anthocyanins (nutrients responsible for blue, red and purple pigments in fruits and vegetables ) which serve as powerful antioxidants. High levels of these put it in the Super Food category, along with blueberries and red grapes.
Flavour wise, it is similar to its cousin, the green cabbage ( Chinese or otherwise ), mild and sweet with a crisp and crunchy texture. You can use it as you would use plain cabbage, one notable difference being that it doesn’t seem to have the strong sulphuric smell generally associated with its counterpart, when cooked.
A large head showed up in my vegetable box, a few weeks ago, as one of the unusual items we’re given to try.
Usually, I would buy a quarter of a cabbage, which is enough for a meal for the four of us. But as much as we like it, a whole head is A LOT of cabbage !
Thankfully, wombok ( of any colour ) has a long shelf-life and doesn’t oxidise ( discolour ) when cut , which is great if, like me, you take a while to decide how to use it.
Because we had so much of it, I experimented and came up with different ways to have it. We turned it into a salad, a stir fry and a power drink!Read More
Rise and shine at The Anchorage in Port Stephens!
Our package includes breakfast and the Anchorage’s is famous for its bottomless sparkling wine breakfast. Pre-COVID19 it would be served buffet style, with an offering of continental breakfast and a few hot options. These days, while all options are available it is table service only. Mr T is encouraging me to start the day with a wine, but I am not in the mood or the condition for it. As it is, I am still full with last night’s dinner so I stick to the continental breakfast. It is quite sizeable already, coming with an assortment of danishes and croissants, yoghurt, fruit salad and juice.
Mr T loves a hot breakfast and can’t go past the fried eggs on toast, home made baked beans and double smoked bacon.Read More
Needing an escape from Covid19-induced cabin fever? Take a 3h drive to Port Stephens.
This is not our first trip to the area, but this time, it is just Mr T and I. With a couple of free nights and an urge to go the road less travelled, we set off north and decide to drive a new route, Putty Road.
Well known by motorbike riders for its windy sections, bends and twists the road takes you on the western edge of the Hawkesbury river for 160km and north to the Hunter Valley…it is supposed to be very busy in weekends, but on a Tuesday morning, there is hardly any traffic. Admittedly it is raining quite heavily ( the east coast low is hovering ) and being the middle of winter, who in their right mind would want to take up a scenic drive? To reach the scenic Putty Road drive, we have to deal with heavy traffic in western Sydney for about 1 hour, but once on the scenic road proper, all cars disappear and it is pretty much us and the odd council truck. The road winds its way thru bush that obviously burnt last summer. Never I have seen so many cremated trees before, though most have regrowth on the trunks. Nature obviously will recover. On the other hand, there are lots of burnt out cars around, how many from the bush fires, I don’t know.Read More
Here is a variation on the almond and orange cake I posted about a few weeks ago.
It came about after receiving my fortnightly veggie box. There is always some new and unusual produce included, and last week’s surprise was a handful of kumquats.Read More
Mr T: “ There is a 3 day weather window this week. Let’s take the boat out somewhere. “
Me: “ Great, how about we go into Sydney Harbour ? It’s months since I have seen the city”
Mr T: “ Nahhhh…I want to see something different. Pittwater and the Hawkesbury River?”
And this is how we find ourselves on this cold winter morning, motoring off Sydney Heads up north to Broken Bay for a 3-days cruise exploring the Hawkesbury River, NSW.Read More
Half a pumpkin, two beetroots and a few broccoli stems. That was the extent of our supplies one Monday night.
To be fair, we did have some meat in the fridge, but after a heavy Sunday roast, the whole family felt like a light vegetarian dinner.
With my vegetable box due in the next 48 hours, I didn’t want to shop for extra and actually was keen to see if we could end up with a meal big enough to feed the four of us.
Truth be told, it was quite a fun challenge, reminding me of cooking on the boat. While cruising, it’s always been an exercise to come up with delicious and nutritious meals using whatever is available. I would read recipes of classic dishes and end up dreaming up ways to use the local produce, mixing up flavours and textures. Far from seeing myself as a recipe developer, it was more about making do with what was on hand and experimenting.
Over the years, I have learnt a lot from locals showing me the ropes, reading tons of cookbooks and of course cooking. Drawing on this knowledge, and to this day, I mostly start cooking by focusing on one ingredient and building the meal around it.
So I present you with our latest meatless Monday feast:
Roasted pumpkin with garlic cream sauce
Puy lentils and broccoli stems salad
Warm salad of beetroot and red onions
A typical no-waste kind of meaI, I am pleased to say that there was plenty to eat, thanks to a deep forage into the pantry and the crisper. A little imagination helps too.
“Just follow the Old Ghan Railroad north until Marree and turn left”
These are my instructions to Mr T, as we are on the lookout for the Marree Man.
We’re on day 2 of our Outback flying trip and heading north after circling inside the crater of Wiilpena Pound earlier.
The Old Ghan Railroad is not that obvious to spot from the air, but luckily it runs along the Outback Highway and that is easy to follow with the few trucks and caravans leading the way.
We fly over Parachilna, which was one of our potential stopovers with its famous Prairie Hotel until it turned out too complicated to arrange a lift from the airstrip ( save it for the Overlander trip, says Mr T ).Read More
It’s been a while since we’ve had a family gathering at the house. Like everyone else, Covid-19 has been a real kill joy and we’ve been reclused since end of March, following instructions from those who know best, a.k.a experts.
Last weekend was a milestone in as much that 20 people were allowed to gather in someone’s house, up from the initial number of 5. Other rules were relaxed, I know, but that particular announcement made our day because with our family, a gathering attracts easily 15 to 20 people.
It also happened to be Sam’s 5th birthday, and since we missed out on big celebrations for the April and May birthdays, it wasn’t that much of a stretch to make it an occasion for a get together.
For these of you not in the know, Sam is our beloved Labrador. Yes, we are talking about a dog’s birthday party. We have officially joined “the other side” and become the kind of dog owners who consider their pet as family member ( he is known at the Vet as Sam Steen! )
So the family was invited for a Sunday lunch. As usual, everyone asked what to bring and my initial suggestion was for dog themed and friendly food. How different and fun!
“ We can’t take off until the fog has lifted “ It is flying rule 101, explained by Mr T as we sit on the airstrip in Cootamundra, on that cold Sunday morning in June.
This is the start of a week of flying the Outback, a plan hatched only a few days before when we heard that Lake Eyre was filling up with water for the first time in years. While heavy rainfalls and floods caused devastation in Northern Queensland in early 2019 with homes lost and much of the state’s cattle industry wiped out, a few months on, the water has made its way slowly down south filling in rivers and plains, rejuvenated after years of drought. Suspecting this kind of weather event only happens once in a blue moon ( or a lifetime ), we could not miss the opportunity to see it for ourselves.
And because we have not ventured that far in the outback before, a “quick” flight to check out the lake is turning into an air safari, joining iconic dots around the desert zone known as the Outback Loop. From mountain ranges, to outback tracks and sandy deserts, we’re off hoping to tick a few places off our bucket list.Read More
provisions[ plural ]
UK /prəˈvɪʒ.ənz/ US /prəˈvɪʒ.ənz/
provisions for the journey
Cambridge Dictionary (n.d)
The past few weeks have been interesting. Like everyone else, we have been in lockdown in our house in Sydney.
But unlike a lot of people, Mr T, Marc, Anne and I, are no strangers to self-isolation. Years of cruising around the world meant a dozen ocean passages and remote anchorages with no one around to socialise with.
It wasn’t always fun, and cabin fever hit many a times, to the extent that, in the later years made a point of joining other family boats when we could. For everybody’s sanity. But that was the trade-off for a life of adventure and excitement, where freedom and autonomy were the guiding principles. And we survived, learning to be patient, to occupy ourselves, to appreciate each other’s company and to admire what nature has to offer. More importantly, we never stopped counting our blessing for being in good health, on a safe and well maintained boat, with plenty of provisions to see us to our next destination.
I guess what I am saying is, that we approached this 2020 lockdown as, yet, another long ocean passage ( with the added bonus of internet and non-stop connections now). Fortunate enough to have a roof over our heads, the ability to work and study from home, stay in touch with family and friends online, we have been focusing on “getting to the other side”, keeping healthy and well fed.Read More
As we descend thru thick clouds from 9000 feet, we emerge in the foggiest and wettest weather I’ve flown in. “ Lucky, the instruments are working “ I say, “ since we can’t see where we are going “
We’re flying into Coffs Harbour in driving rain. Thankfully winds are light and Mr T manages one of his legendary smooth landings. It’s been 2 years since our last visit, but it feels like yesterday as we park the plane and make our way into town. Nothing has changed.Read More
As you know, I was born and bred in France. But did I ever mention that my family is from Madagascar? My parents moved from this Indian ocean island off the coast of South Africa to Paris over 50 years ago. At the time, Madagascar had recently regained its independence from the French, but strong ties remained between the two countries with strong trade relations or exchange programs.
Mum and Dad came separately to study and met in Paris. As the story goes, they fell in love, had children, completed their studies, got jobs and what was intended as a temporary stay turned into a permanent move. I am sure it was a challenging time for them, juggling many balls and making the decision of a lifetime…My early childhood memories are of my brothers and I spending week days “a la creche” (daycare), collected by my parents in the evening. Weekends were a blur of family activities, often revolving around people gathering at our place. The Madagascan community was (and still is) quite tight knit and I remember many visits from newly arrived relatives or family friends, celebrations in halls or organised sports events…As a young child I seemed to have a myriad of cousins spread all over Paris, Dijon, Nancy, Tours…and for a while, many long weekends were devoted to meet this extended family.
My strongest recollection of these gatherings is the amount of food laid on the table. Abundance is the key to a Malagasy feast. It is good form for the host to have plenty to offer to guests and if variety may not matter so much, quantity certainly does.
Rice is the main staple in the madagascan diet, just like pasta is to Italy and potato to Ireland!
It is usually accompanied by beef, chicken, fish or pork dishes. These can be boiled, braised, fried or grilled. Vegetables are rarely served as a stand alone dish but rather used to add flavour and complement the rice: green leafy broth, tomato “rougail” (similar to Mexican tomato salsa) or “achard” (an assortment of julienned vegetables, pickled with ginger, chili and garlic) are standard features in a malagasy kitchen. As far as snacks go, you can’t go past small cakes and fritters called “mofo” made of rice flour batter and fried or the delicious “sambos” ( meat version of fried samosas).
The funny thing is that growing up, I ate “french” during the day: baguette and hot chocolate for breakfast, roast chicken and vegetable at the school canteen, small cake for “le gouter” (afterschool treat)…and madagascan for dinner: always. always, always rice with a small serving of protein and salad on the side. The malagasy connection slowly faded however as the years went by: my mother learnt to cook “proper” french and would only serve traditional malagasy on special occasions, I moved out of home and discovered other cuisines during my travels…For the past 30 years or so, there was always something new to taste.
Then, my parents came to visit us in Sydney last month. While I thought they’d be keen on hitting the road and tour around the country, it turned out that they were just as happy taking over my kitchen and spoil us with good food. I, for once, didn’t mind and enjoyed the opportunity to sit on the other side of the bench watching and taking notes! That’s when I realised that no matter how many gourmet meals I concocted, light and healthy options I experimented with, there is nothing like a dish made with love by your mum (and dad!) Even my kids know the difference between their nan’s cooking and mine: they say the kitchen smells better ( of baked apple cake, or garlic beef stew!). I guess I still have a long way to go!
For 6 weeks, I went back to being the daughter, enjoying and sharing some of my favourite childhood meals with my own kids, listening to old family stories and rediscovering the comfort of malagasy food…life is a big circle: from Madagascar to Paris to Sydney…where to next?
This is a savoury fritter, you can spice up with extra chili, or chopped tomatoes if desired.
Makes about 30
2 cups rice flour
2 cups plain flour
warm water (enough to make a smooth batter)
1 tsp baking soda
3 spring onions, sliced
1/2 tsp each of ground coriander and ground cumin
Oil for frying
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Let the batter rest for at least 15 minutes, you can leave it overnight in the fridge if you wish.
Heat the oil in a deep saucepan. Scoop out a tablespoon of batter and deep fry for a few minutes until golden. Drain on absorbent paper.
Achard de legumes
This mix of pickled vegetables is commonly served with rice, but is also delicious on sandwiches or even with cheese! A word of warning: there is a lot of vegetable slicing, so allow for time…A food processor comes in handy, though my father reckons the veggies taste better if sliced by hand. Considering the work involved, we always make a big batch and keep in sealed jars in the fridge!
500g green beans
1 white cabbage
1 green capsicum
1 red capsicum
1 piece of ginger (approx 15g)
3 garlic cloves
1 cup white vinegar
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
some chili, (optional)
Salt and pepper
Peel and grate the carrots (I use a food processor). Trim the vegetables. Julienne the green beans, celery, capsicums. Slice the cabbage thinly, cut the cauliflower into small florets.
Blanch the vegetables in boiling water, drain and set aside in a large mixing bowl.
Peel and slice the onion and ginger. Peel and crush the garlic cloves.
In a saucepan, heat a little oil, saute the onions and garlic until golden (careful not to burn them), add spices and stir for a few minutes until fragrant, add in vinegar and stir well ( stand back as mixture will spit and bubble up!) Immediately pour the dressing over the vegetables and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Cover and let it cool down. The achard can be eaten the same day, but tastes better after a few days, once the flavours have developed.
Rougail de tomates
This dish is dead simple to make, very similar to the tomato salsa we used to find in Mexico. My mum often serves it with plain rice, she says it’s the easiest vegetable dish to cook!
Serves 4 as a side
1 white onion
1 tbsp white vinegar
Chop the tomatoes and onion finely by hand ( do not use a food processor as it will turn them into a puree!).
Mix in a bowl with the vinegar and add salt to taste.
Set aside for 30 minutes to allow for flavours to develop. Serve with rice as an accompaniment to grilled or stewed meat.
My kids call this dish madagascan risotto: a porridge-like mix of rice, green leaves and diced meat. This is my idea of comfort food, when you want something satisfying minus the fat and sugar. In fact, vary amin’anana is typically served to the sick or the elderly and I can attest to its restoring virtues as breakfast food for the morning after…
Serves 4-6 as a main course
1 bunch each of radish leaves, spinach leaves, green shallots, watercress ( a single type of leaves is Ok , if you can’t find the variety )
500g stewing beef meat (like chuck or short ribs), diced
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 knob of ginger, peeled and grated
1 tomato, diced
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
4 cups of long grain rice
Clean and cut the leaves in fine shreds. Set aside.
Heat a little oil in a large saucepan, add the meat and saute until browned on all sides. Add chopped onion, ginger and stir, let the meat cook in its own juice/fat until tender ( add a little water if it sticks to the bottom of the pan).
Then stir in the shredded green leaves, rice, garlic and add enough water to cover. Bring to the boil and simmer until the rice is cooked.
The technique for this dish is comparable to making confit: the meat is simmered in just enough water to cover it, and as the liquid evaporates it cooks in its own rendered fat, until turning crispy and delicious. You will need a relatively fatty piece of meat, I commonly use beef chuck or pork belly, but duck legs and chicken thighs work equally well.
Serves 4-6 as a main course
1 kg stewing meat like beef chuck
1 tsp salt
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 knob of ginger (25g), peeled and grated
1 cup of water
Cut the meat into medium sized pieces. Place in a large casserole and cook over low heat, covered, with the garlic and ginger for about 15 minutes until the fat is rendered.
Once the fat has melted, add salt and water, cover again and let the meat cook until all the liquid is evaporated. approx 1 1/2 hour.
Uncover and allow the meat to fry in its own fat for a few minutes until well browned and caramelised.
Serve hot (the fat will solidify if left to cool down)