How is your year going so far?

2019 is flying by, autumn is sneaking up this first weekend of March ( not that you would know, since the weather is still quite warm in Sydney ).

Summer is officially over in Australia, and let me tell you what a summer it has been. January seems to  be the time when folks from the Northern Hemisphere decide to head south for a bit of austral sunshine. Who can blame them really when faced with a polar vortex or humid gloomy skies.

Just before New Year’s Eve I received a surprise message from a girlfriend I used to go to Business School with 30 years ago in Toulouse. We had lost touch for a long time ( probably my fault, as I pretty much departed France for Australia shortly after graduating ) but thanks to the magic of Facebook and Instagram, Natalie found me and asked if we could catch up during her upcoming visit to Sydney, in 4 days. 4 days?! She may as well have showed up on my doorstep unannounced. Once I recovered from the shock of hearing a voice from the past, I got quite excited and organised to meet with her in Bondi. The reunion was as enjoyable as it was intense, since she only had 24 hours in Sydney before embarking on a road trip up the coast with a friend. How do you catch up on 30 years of someone’s life? By bringing them home, make them comfortable with a drink, a home cooked meal, introduce them to the family and drive them around while  (both of) you talk, talk, talk…until it is time to go and you promise to not take so long before the next visit.

3 days later, our cruising friends, Christie and Joe turned up with their daughter Juliana. Theirs was a visit that was arranged months in advance, as part of their Far Eastern odyssey as they called it. Our families first met in Barcelona in 2006, while our respective boats were tied at the Badalona marina. We shared homeschooling tips and partied together for a few weeks before parting ways, as so often happens on the cruising circuit. We caught up again in 2012, when they hosted us at their dock in Annapolis and we returned the favour a year later, when Joe came to stay with us in Mexico. So when they  announced their plan to chase their college kids around the planet, starting with Honk Kong, then Down Under, it was a given that they would stay with us. As usual, we all sat around the kitchen bench ( not quite the back deck of a sailing catamaran, sadly…) and caught up with news, showed them around Sydney, walked for miles, talked for hours…

When asked what part of Australia they would like to see beside Sydney in the 2 weeks they had available, the Outback and the 12 Apostles were the must sees. Lucky for them, Mr T was keen on a flying trip and always happy to be given a destination. So off we took, on this 4-day air safari, flying to Mudgee, Lake Mungo, Mildura and Warrnambool. We covered 1500km, from wine country, to semi-arid world heritage centre, an agricultural regional town and a coastal city hub for people travelling along the Great Ocean Road. And to make it interesting we picked ( not on purpose ) the hottest week ever with temperatures soaring to 48C under the wings! I only half joked when I said be careful what you wish for…Still, a few boxes were ticked for our visitors: kangaroos, koalas, flies and the opportunity for Joe to practise his pilot skills on some landing approaches.

While him, Christie, and Juliana drove on to Melbourne and the next leg of their journey, we flew in the opposite direction to Adelaide. For no particular reason, except that we had friends there, Rod and Mandy who we hadn’t seen for 12 years, when both our families lived in Cairns.

Once again, it was a short but oh so sweet reunion, sharing memories and filling in the gaps since our last conversation. Because Mr T does not like cities, I arranged to stay in Glenelg beach, which ended up being quite busy as Adelaide was hosting the Tour Down Under  ( Australia’s biggest cycling race for those who don’t know ) and a massive street party was organised in Glenelg the night we were there! So much for a bit of piece and quiet. We did enjoy Adelaide city and driving around the hills, and it would take an entire post to describe what we fitted in 2 1/2 days there.

Back to Sydney, we had a couple of weeks up our sleeves to organise Marc’s 21st birthday party. In Australia ( as in the USA, NZ and the UK ) turning 21 is a big deal, just like turning 18 is in France. Cairns friend, David, who has known Marc all his life joined us for a week. He has attended a few of our parties in the past and he wasn’t going to miss this one. Marc wanted a separate family gathering and a party with friends. Both were held in our house ( on different nights!) and while the number of guests were the same ( 20 + ), the vibes were very different. Nothing bad happened, but let’s just say that I could tell we were not 21 any longer. We’re by no means a quiet family, and we’ve been known in the past to be a little wild ( in a fun way ) but nowadays our bedtime is before midnight or when the wine runs out. Listening to 20 year olds partying till 3am was exhausting. I had cooked up a storm, thinking it best to feed the crowd before it fell prey to drinking, but it seems they were all running on adrenalin as not much was touched apart from bbq octopus and brownies.

A quick clean up of the house and a good night sleep later, and it was time for our last guest to arrive. Frederic is another of these voices from the past, who attended the same Business School as Natalie and I. In fact we all used to be friends together, and it is thru Fred who I reconnected with a few months ago that Natalie managed to track me down. They both reckon that Mr T  ( who they didn’t meet until now ) kidnapped me to Australia all these years ago, never to be heard again until recently. There is a certain element of truth to it, as the French say, to live happy, live hidden…

Anyway, to be able to pick up a conversation started 30 years ago and talk about kids, careers, challenges and achievements, realising that you have more in common that you thought then… that’s what I take from all these weeks shared with old friends.

I am the first to acknowledge that our life is a blessed one, even with the odd health issues and business challenges we’ve faced in the past. We have so far, managed to come out on top ( for lack of better expression ) , enjoying the most exciting if atypical ride.  Seeing our lives thru other people’s eyes however makes us even more appreciative and wanting to reconnect with these close to us.

So, in a nutshell, that is what’s happened in the past 2 months. We are keeping March quiet on the social front, in anticipation of a busy holiday break which I will talk about in the next post, as we get closer to Easter.

And because everything revolves around food on this blog, I can’t finish this post without a couple of recipes. I find entertaining for a crowd in summer is easier when serving finger food tapas style. While it takes a lot of preparation and cooking in advance, it allows me to mingle and enjoy the party by simply passing platters around ( or better still, leave them on the buffet table for people to help themselves ).These were the favourite party dishes at the 21st birthday bash: Salted pork belly and chocolate brownies. Forget the diet, both are unashamedly rich, fatty, sweet and finger licking good. And they seem to bring joy so feel free to share!

Salted Pork

This is an all time favourite, inspired by our travels in Spain and Portugal. It is my mixed version of burnt ends and pork belly bites. Salt the pork overnight and cook very slowly. It can be prepared the day before, reheated under the grill and served warm and crispy.

Serves  24 as part of a buffet, 12-15 as a main

Ingredients

3 kg pork belly, cut into thick cubes

2 tbsp ground allspice

4 tbsp sea salt

2 tbsp black peppercorns

4 tsp brown sugar

8 garlic cloves, crushed

3 large onions, peeled and sliced

4 tbsp olive oil

3 bay leaves

2 tsp paprika ( not smoked )

1 cinnamon stick

  1. Combine the salt, allspice, peppercorns. sugar and garlic in a bowl. Rub the marinade into the pork belly cubes, place in a ziploc bag, close and set aside in the fridge for at least 2 hours ( overnight is better for flavour )
  2. In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and fry the pork with the onions until the onions softened a little. Add the bay leaves, paprika and cinnamon stick. Add enough water to just cover the meat, bring to the boil, cover with a lid and simmer for at least 1 hour or until the meat is soft and tender but not falling apart ( we’re not making pulled pork here!)
  3. Leave to cool down ( in the fridge if leaving it overnight )
  4. When ready, strain the pork cubes and place in a roasting pan. Keep the stock for another use. Roast in a 220C oven until warm and crispy ( or grill but watch it doesn’t burn ).
  5. Serve warm, sprinkled with parsley and along with some fresh ripe tomatoes.

PS: If you happen to have leftover meat and stock, serve it with mashed cauliflower or rice for a quick delicious dinner!

Chocolate Brownies

Everyone has their favourite brownie recipe, this is mine.

I adapted it from a book called Dirty Food, which I bought a few months ago when I was trying to follow a strict paleo diet and wanted to learn about “the best worst food “ in a kind of reverse psychology. Surprisingly I found dishes that we could eat, such as prawn omelette or seafood gumbo, but the treats are definitely off paleo limit!

This is so rich with butter, sugar and chocolate only a small square is enough to satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth. It is really good with vanilla ice cream or coconut yoghurt.

Serves 12

Ingredients

100g plain flour

100g unsweetened cocoa powder

1tsp fine sea salt

345g unsalted butter, cut into cubes ( don’t be afraid!)

3 large eggs

350g caster sugar ( really? yes! )

1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

200g 70% chocolate ( the darker the better )

  1. Preheat the oven to 170C
  2. Sift the flour, cocoa powder and salt into a mixing bowl.
  3. Put half the butter cubes in a medium heatproof bowl and set aside.
  4. Put the remaining butter cubes in a saucepan and melt over medium heat, stirring.  Pour the melted butter over the cubed butter and stir to combine. It should look creamy with bits of unmelted butter still floating.
  5. Put the eggs, sugar and vanilla in a separate large bowl and beat with an electric whisk  or food processor like I did, Set to medium speed for 3 minutes until the mixture is light and doubled in volume.
  6. Lower the speed and add the flour mix and butter, alternating between the two. Stir in 175g of the chopped chocolate, reserve the rest.
  7. Pour the mixture into a 23cm brownie pan, lined with parchment paper and scatter the remaining chocolate pieces over the top.
  8. Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes, until the surface looks firm and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out slightly sticky with mixture.
  9. Let the brownies cool in the pan before cutting into 12 squares. They will keep covered at room temperature for 4-5 days.

fullsizeoutput_4cde

As the year comes to an end I find myself slightly panicky realising all the things I set out to do a few months ago, thinking there was plenty of time and now facing half-started jobs with little chance of completion until sometime in January or even later.  

That  goes from the repainting of our guest bathroom to the cleaning of my photo files, or the sorting of the thousands of notes taken during our travels waiting to be turned into stories and posts. Many of them are still in dot format due to me being busy with other ( more pressing ? ) projects. I have been procrastinating for a while, writing posts in my head and believing it would only be a matter of remembering  and putting pen to paper at a more convenient time.

Except that by the time I manage to sit down long enough to write, weeks or months have elapsed, papers are piling up and I can’t decide which story to tell.

Take restaurant reviews for examples. Not that I see myself as a reviewer as such, but if I find a memorable eating place, I like to share the experience. And this year has been full of them, we have been fortunate enough to drive and fly around the East Coast of Australia, finding some gems along the way. Though I haven’t gotten around to post about them this year, there are at least a dozen deserving of a mention, ranging from Special occasions treats, to Casual finds and Local haunts. So in a last ditch effort to write my final post for 2018, I decided to give you my 3 stand outs in the Special Occasions/Bucket List category. Some are pricey others not so much, some are in a stunning location others not quite, but all offer fantastic food, showcasing  the best of Australian produce ( and that is coming from a French girl !! )

Me Wah Restaurant, Hobart, TAS

Mr T was a bit perplexed as to why I would drag him and Anne to a small suburban shopping complex for a Chinese dinner on the last night of our Tasmanian road trip in January. Until we stepped thru the Chinese lions guarded doors and entered the most sumptuous setting: we’re talking starched white linen, plush carpets, gorgeous Chinese screens, wall panels and ceremonial wishing bowls. Service is polished and faultless, tables are spaced wide enough to allow for relative privacy and room to move ( particulary appreciated by the likes of Mr T  who was reminded of some of the high-end restaurants in Singapore ). Then, there’s the food. The menu reads like an encyclopedia of Cantonese cuisine with a twist using Tasmanian produce. As for the wine list, it is 50 pages thick covering local Tasmanian drops, Chinese liqueurs, rare whiskeys and even rarer Pinot Noir from French Domaine La Romanee-Conti. Unable to decide what to have, we splurged choosing the Signature banquet menu and matching wines.

From sea scallops steamed 3 ways, crabmeat and caviar XLB and the most theatrical peanut parfait, this has to be the best Chinese dinner hands down. It is also the most expensive, and spoiled us in redefining the notion of Monday night Chinese!

Saint Peter, Paddington, NSW

I would not describe this fish eatery as a hole in the wall, though the storefront of the restaurant is so narrow and modest looking, you could easily walk by and miss it. Saint Peter is all about fish: chef Josh Niland focuses on the fruits of the sea showcasing classics such as fish and chips but also some lesser seen species like grouper or herring. As an ex-cruiser who used to catch our own fish, the menu is a pescatarian dream and I love how the concept of nose to tail so popular with meat is applied here: fish is aged in a dedicated ageing room much like steaks, skin is turned into chips, heads and tails are left on and served crispy fried…This is Australian seafood unlike I’ve had before. When foodie partner Danielle and I visited for lunch one autumn day, fresh Port Phillip Bay scallops were served on ice still in their shells, the raw diced samson ( same family as kingfish ) was mixed with avocado and native thyme oil, served tartare style with a raw egg yolk on top and crispy skin wafers.

The mains, while simple looking, tasted divine: D’s thick fillet of grouper sat atop sliced artichokes and a pool of ethereal broth, while my choice of crumbed butterflied tommy ruff ( a variety of Australian herring ) combined perfectly with a yoghurt tartare and herb salad. 

We eschewed any side dishes because we wanted to leave room for dessert. D had her eyes on the cheese platter, but I could not go past the Chocolate Chestnut swiss roll with burnt vanilla cream.

Feeling deliciously full, we still had to take a peak at the Fish Butchery a few doors down the street, which not only supplies all the fish for the restaurant and the general public but also offers dinner packs to take away. Somedays I wish we lived closer to the city!

Nunu, Palm Cove, QLD

Part of the Alamanda resort on palm fringed Palm Cove beach, the restaurant  formerly know as Far Horizons used to be our favourite weekend hangout when we lived in Cairns. Many brunches were held there, our kids enjoyed their first easter egg hunts and Christmas parties, and I can’t recall how many overseas and interstate visitors we took to experience a bit of beachfront tropical dining…the setting alone is magical, fronting the Coral Sea under swaying palm trees.

15 years ago, about the time when we left for our European cruising adventure,  the place was taken over by chef Nick Holloway and renamed Nunu. Its reputation for its innovative menu using local produce has since grown even more to become the place to go to taste Far North Queensland on a plate.

Take the Innisfail heart of palm and young coconut salad with pickled shallot, melon and mint. I could eat this all day long on a warm summer’s day!

Or the coconut roast pork, green papaya, mint, lemongrass and jasmine rice topped with crunchy crackling.

Mr T wasn’t particularly hungry, he said, so “only” wanted the chili salt pork ribs and would not share them. Jeeeezz…

So Anne and I made a point of ordering dessert to see what the chef would come up with. Rainforest honeycomb, yoghurt, marshmallow, lemon semolina cake and milk jam ice cream for her.

Coffee cream, chocolate crumbs, Daintree vanilla ash, orange and more coffee bits for me.

Let’s just say that I feel grateful to have spend these early years in FNQ, realising where my cooking inspiration and style come from and want to come back to try the rest of the menu. Hopefully the rain will stay away and it will be just like old times!

And on that  note, I would like to take the opportunity to thank you all, my readers for following my ramblings, food related or not, this year and the past ones. In the busy world of blogging and social media, I realise there are literally thousands of instagram/facebook posts popping up on one’s feed, so to have someone actually reading and liking any of mine is a privilege and a good enough reason for me to keep doing what I am doing. 

Next year is shaping up to be a busy one, with more travelling, entertaining and hopefully some delicious adventures to talk about. Until then, it is downtime for a day or two, while we see 2018 off from the comfort of home. Wishing you all a very Happy New Year, may 2019 bring you joy and happiness !!




Today we are off exploring the wild west of Tasmania. 

Buoyed by the wonderful time we had hiking around Dove Lake, I have planned a morning hike to Montezuma Falls, then a drive to Strahan hoping to catch a boat for a cruise on the Gordon river after lunch, followed by another scenic drive thru the southern part of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park to spend the night at the  Derwent Bridge Wilderness Hotel. Google Map shows it should take over 3 hours to drive the 210km and I am allowing a couple of hours each for the hike and the river cruise. I think it’s a workable itinerary, Mr T has his doubts but goes along anyway muttering something about winding roads and rainy weather.

We skip breakfast, not by choice, but as a result of the kitchen opening at 7.30am, too late for us keen to hit the road early and beat the tour buses. It takes 1 hour to reach the small car park at the entrance to the Montezuma Falls hiking trail, then it is an easy walk on a track that was originally used for trams, back in the late 1800s when the area was cleared for gold and silver mining.

The path is pretty flat and well maintained,  and because the falls are a little out of the way and not as famous as Dove Lake, there are hardly any selfie stick-wielding tourists. The few who make it here tend to make it a day excursion from Strahan and arrive late morning, so I guess it pays to come in early so you can have the place to yourself. The hike thru the rainforest is lovely and tranquil, ending up at the base of the highest waterfall in Tasmania ( 104 meters ).

You can either climb over a few boulders for a closer look at the bottom of the falls or cross a suspension bridge for a better view of the scenery. Either way, it is spectacular and we spend a while there, until a couple of tourists arrived, our cue to return the same way we came.

fullsizeoutput_2f00

fullsizeoutput_40e9

Overall, it took 2/1/2 hours to hike the 10.7 kilometres, I thought the day was off to a great start but Anne was unimpressed: she was hungry, there were too many bugs for her liking, the walk was too long… I had to promise a nice lunch at our next stop in Strahan.

Except that I remember reading about the Henty sand dunes on the way there, so I  ask Mr T to make a side stop. The picnic area is deserted but for another couple of tourists who have come equipped with large cardboards to slide down the dunes. We are so ill prepared compared to them, one look up the hill and both Anne and Mr T ask what is the plan once at the top. I shrug my shoulders, point to my camera and march on up in a who’s-with-me kind of way. The hill is not very high, though high enough for a good workout ( mountain climbers anyone? ) and considering how unfit we all are, I am pleased we all make it to the top ( though in hindsight, it might not have been such a smart move for Mr T who is still recovering from a pulmonary embolism! ). The view at the top is unexpected: it is a vast expanse of sand for a couple of miles, with the ocean far away in the distance.

fullsizeoutput_405a1fullsizeoutput_2efa1

I cannot convince the crew to venture further out, by then the weather has turned quite windy and rain starts to threaten, so we retreat back to the car and look forward to a nice warm lunch on the river cruise.

Well, that was the plan, until we realise that the boats leave either early morning or mid-afternoon, neither options suitable to us today. Plan B is to try anyone of Strahan’s cafes near the waterfront, but that idea is shelved after several attempts to find somewhere to park the car that doesn’t involve walking in the rain.

fullsizeoutput_40edfullsizeoutput_40ecfullsizeoutput_40efIMG_3267

Besides,  time is running fast and Mr T begins to worry about reaching Derwent Bridge in the dark, so we do the Steen thing and pick up some provisions at the local service station for a picnic lunch and drive off. We did find a decent carpark on the way out of town, but too late, we have bread rolls, cold sausages, and apples, set for a car snack!

The drive to Derwent Bridge along the Lyell Highway takes hours. Google maps stated it would take just 2 hours to complete the 126 km journey, but of course, it was counting without the couple of stops we make along the way. 

IMG_3278

One is just outside the old mining town of Queenstown. We didn’t venture in the town itself, which was established in the late 19th century after gold was discovered in the surrounding mountains.  It became, and still is the centre of Mount Lyell mining district, had numerous smelting works, brick-works, and sawmills.  Owing to a combination of tree removal for use in the smelters and the smelter fumes (for about 40 years), and the heavy annual rainfall, the erosion of the shallow topsoil back to the harder rock profile has contributed to the stark state of the mountains for many decades and many describe the landscape as moonlike.

IMG_3283DSC03174DSC03177fullsizeoutput_40f1

Indeed the area looks devastated and bare of vegetation, showing odd pastel shades emanating from the rocks. We briefly stopped at the Iron Blow lookout where iron ore was found and mined for many many years in the now bare hills behind Queenstown. There is a cantilevered walkway that affords a view down into the former open cut mine as well as spectacular views across the almost ghost towns of Gormanston and Linda and on to the mountains of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area that surround Lake Burbury. As I stood at the edge of the walkway, windswept and cold, I reflected on the contrast between the ruined vegetation washed down by acid rain over the years and the millennial forest preserved within the realm of the National Parks. 

DSC03179DSC03182

Continuing on, the Lyell Highway is a narrow and winding drive via Tasmania’s newest hydro dam and trout fishery, Lake Burbury, then across 60 km of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area through the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park on the way to Lake St Clair. We pass many lookouts, starting points to hiking trails into the wilderness but we don’t stop due to time constraints and also because the rain is now relentless making getting out of the car for photos an exercise in frustration.

fullsizeoutput_2ef5DSC03192

It is late afternoon by the time we arrive at our final destination, the Derwent Bridge Wilderness Hotel. Located on the roadside, this lodge style hotel is a popular stopover for those travelling to and from the West Coast as it sits half way between Hobart and Strahan. It offers a mix of backpackers accomodation ( with dormitory rooms ) and hotel rooms, all sharing bathroom facilities except for one Family Ensuite which I am glad we booked in advance. While the room is spacious enough for a queen size bed, 2 bunk beds and a table setting, it comes with no fridge, the ensuite is on the small size and there is a definite lack of natural light with the front door doubling up as the only window.

fullsizeoutput_40f8IMG_3307IMG_3335

Mr T is feeling early signs of claustrophobia so I quickly usher him and Anne out of the room and into the bar and dining area. There, comfy lounges and a roaring fire greet us, though sitting is at a premium as most spots are already taken. You see, Lake St Clair is the starting point (or destination) for those who want to walk the Overland Track between Lake St Clair and Cradle Mountain.  The Overland track has a world-famous reputation and many trekkers from around the world stay at the hotel before starting or completing the track. So the place is filling up fast with hikers as well as people in motorhomes or caravans staying on the vast parking lot outside ( where camping is free ) and coming in to enjoy a drink and a hearty meal.

fullsizeoutput_40f3fullsizeoutput_40f2fullsizeoutput_40f4

IMG_3332

For the hotel has earned a reputation for its kitchen, led by Sri Lankan chef Ima de Silva, who not only offers standard pub fare like porterhouse steak, lamb shank, and roast chicken but also local delicacies such as river trout and Ima’s own Sri Lankan curry which seems to attract curry lovers from everywhere. Of course, it is Mr T’s choice, jumping at the opportunity to enjoy something warm and spicy on this cold night, while I order the river trout. For some reason, Anne eschews the mains selection and goes for the chicken and vegetable soup. It turns out to be quite a large serve, made even more filling with the addition of garlic bread! 

DSC03196DSC03199fullsizeoutput_2f87

The lamb curry comes in its own bowl and accompanied with rice byriani, a fried soft egg, and crunchy pappadum along with daintily plated condiments. Mr T is wowed first by the presentation then by the taste, declaring it the best curry he’s had in a long time. He “generously” shares a spoonful after I ask for a taste, and I agree it’s pretty darned tasty. I leave him to lick his bowls clean and tuck into my river trout which seems a little bland in comparison to the richly spiced curry. Not that I don’t like it, I do, the fish is flaky to perfection, smothered with garlic herb butter and sitting on a tangy rhubarb sauce. Served with plain vegetables and a square of potato gratin, it is simple but deeply satisfying. I imagine the other guests feel the same though a quick look around the dining room reveals the curry eclipsing most requests.

We reluctantly leave the warmth of the main lodge and retire to our room, where thankfully sleep comes easy. 

The alarm rings at 5am the next morning, a result of me convincing Mr T to get up early for sunrise shots over Lake St Clair, 5 km away.

DSC03208fullsizeoutput_40f5

Situated at the southern end of Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park, the lake fills a valley that was carved out by ice during several glaciations over the last two million years.  It is the deepest freshwater lake in Australia (160 m ) and the source of the Derwent River.  According to our guide book, spectacular mountain peaks covered in snow for much of the year surround the lake.  Sadly for us, a combination of bad weather and dim early morning light means that the lake and its foreshore blends with the surrounding hills and the misty clouds in various shades of grey. We’ve driven to the visitor centre so early that it is not opened yet so we are missing out on the displays and activities inside. On the positive side, we are ahead of the tourist crowds which allows us to walk around in total peace and quiet. The hike of the day is a short stroll to the dock, where a ferry service operates daily to cross the lake, something I would love to do but Mr T points out that we should have allowed 2 full days to enjoy any kind of hikes in the area. As it is, he has his eyes on the clock and reminds me that we have a 250 km drive to Port Arthur ahead of us. In theory, it should take no more than 3 1/2 hours but we have a couple of places to visit along the way so we expect a full day on the road.

DSC03203fullsizeoutput_40f6

I wait a few more minutes hoping for the sun to break thru the clouds, exploring the shore trying to get a close-up view of Pumphouse Point, the definite upmarket accommodation option but entrance to the estate is via a heavy gate, which is closed overnight. Eventually admitting defeat we drive back to the hotel just in time for breakfast and a cute encounter with the local wildlife in the form of a wallaby or two. 

** We visited Tasmania in January 2018 and a few changes have happened since I started to write this post. The most notable one is that chef Ima no longer works at the Derwent Bridge Wilderness Hotel and has relocated to the Cape Wickham Golf Course King Island. The Hotel still serves curries, prepared by staff reportedly trained by chef Ima!

Head cheese. Sounds weird, but that’s the English translation for French “Fromage de Tete” which has nothing to do with cheese, as it is a pork terrine made with a pigs’ head. Before you think I lost my mind, I must say this dish was part of our Halloween menu, so weirdness was allowed, if not encouraged, as far as cooking creations were concerned.
Come to think of it, Fromage de Tete is quite a common dish in France where nose to tail cooking is the norm. In fact, every traiteur in the country has his/her own version of it and I remember it appearing quite often in the school canteen and work cafeteria. It is definitely a rarity in Australia, where country terrines are rather made with chicken liver and ground pork. I suspect people have issues with the head thing, nobody I know would even think of cooking a pig’s head.

I had to order one from the butcher a week ahead, after finding out that he usually discards them. He gave me a funny look when I came to collect it and asked for it to be cut in half as the whole head would not fit in my stock pot. “ What are you making?” he asked. “ Head cheese!” Blank look. “Brawn!” his eyes lit up and then he smiled and said “ yes, that’s the best cut for it. Good luck with it! “ I ordered a few pigs trotters as well for good measure ( and extra collagen ), then headed home with a boot full of hog parts!

fullsizeoutput_3fcb

This dish is based on a recipe from a guy called Hank Shaw, whose focus is on fishing, foraging, hunting and food writing ( not necessarily in that order ). There are dozens of recipes for Fromage de Tete, some more complicated than others, I found his online. It looks time consuming but is quite easy to follow, with no technical skills required, only a little patience and the inclination to get your hands “dirty” picking meat of the pig’s head. Squeamish people maybe best stay away from this dish…
It calls for a large stock pot ( enough to hold at least half a head ), a few common ingredients used to make stock and a decent amount of French Quatre Epices ( 4 spice mix easy to make yourself with white pepper, clove, nutmeg and dried ginger )

fullsizeoutput_3fccsQ9dqQx7QnWIzqEj8TVU7g

I started preparing this 2 days before our Halloween dinner party, allowing it to set and the flavours to develop. There was enough meat to make 2 batches, one shaped in a skull mould for the party, the other transferred in a traditional Le Creuset terrine dish. As a bonus, I ended up with enough pork stock to use for another 12 dishes…

 

The end result was quite tasty, very rich and meaty with a subtle hint of herbs and spices. Hank Shaw refers to it as a meat bomb and indeed the kids mentioned it was like eating meat in jelly, which is exactly what it is. And as good as it is on its own, it benefits from the addition of sharp mustard or some sort of pickles to cut thru the somewhat fatty and gelatinous texture.

Or try a sauce ravigote, another typical French fare, heavily seasoned with green herbs, shallots capers and a hefty dose of red wine vinegar. This is like vinaigrette on steroids, tangy and sharp, poured over a few slices it really brings this terrine to next level. I gave some samples away to family and to some French people I happen to buy deli food from at our local market, all raved about how nice it was. For some it was a new flavour combination, for others like me, it was a taste of home…

French Head Cheese or Fromage de Tete

Adapted from Hank Shaw,  Hunter. Angler. Gardener. Cook

fullsizeoutput_3fd0

Makes 2 terrines, enough to feed 20 people as an appetiser

Ingredients
1 half a pig’s head, skin on, including ears and tongue. Get your butcher to cut it for you
1 pig’s trotter, whole or cut in half
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp cracked black peppercorn
5 allspice berries, cracked
8 juniper berries, cracked
1 tbsp dried thyme
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 star anise
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup white wine ( I used an inexpensive chardonnay )
salt
1 tbsp french quatre epices

  1. Put the half pig’s head in a large stockpot and cover with cold water. Add the pig’s trotter. Turn the heat to medium-high, cover and bring to a simmer. Skim any grey scum that floats to the surface then add all the herbs, spices, and vinegar. Simmer very gently for 3 hours or until the meat falls apart.
  2. Let it cool down and once cool enough to handle, take the head out of the pot and tear the meat off. If you’re not a tactile and hands-on kind of cook, this will seem gross and messy as there is plenty of meat, fat and cartilagineous matter to sink your fingers in. Discard stringy tendons, eyeball, bones and teeth ( obviously ) and anything else that looks too weird ( bearing in mind the whole thing IS weird! )
  3. Any pieces of meat like the cheeks and tongue, I chop roughly. Fat and cartilage gets cut in smaller pieces, as you don’t want to have too big chunks showing thru. Tempted as I was to use the food processor, I didn’t trust it to not turn the whole mixture into mush so I hand cut everything to keep the texture.
  4. Transfer the meat mix in a large bowl and add the quatre epices. Mix well and set aside while you deal with the broth.
  5. Ladle out about 1 litre of the broth, strain thru a cheesecloth into a pot with the white wine. Boil away until the liquid is reduced by about half.
  6. Pour the meat mixture into the pot, add salt to taste ( up to a tablespoon ). Taste regularly for the right balance of saltiness and acidity, adding more red wine vinegar if necessary, a tablespoon at a time. Simmer gently for 15 minutes to allow infusing into the collagen-rich broth.
  7. When ready, remove all the solids with a slotted spoon and pack them into 2 terrine pans ( or as in my case, 1 terrine pan and 1 silicone skull mould! ). Pour enough of the reduced broth to fill any crevices in the terrine and enough to cover the top of the meat. Cover the terrine with plastic wrap or a lid and chill in the fridge for at least 24 hours to set. It will keep in the cold for up to 10 days.
  8. Serve cold, sliced thinly with hot mustard, pickles or sauce ravigote ( recipe below ) as part of a charcuterie board or for a light lunch along with a green salad and crusty bread.

Sauce ravigote

This French sauce is quite versatile and can be served with fish, grilled meat or of course, Fromage de Tete! Mine is the cold version, based on a vinaigrette and heavily loaded with fresh herbs. Other cooks include eggs, garlic or mayonnaise and there is also a hot version incorporating meat stock.

fullsizeoutput_3fd2

Makes 2 cups

Ingredients
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tbsp dijon mustard
salt and black pepper, to taste
1 cup sunflower, grapeseed or light olive oil ( extra virgin olive oil is too strong )
1/2 cup chopped chives
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped dill
1/2 cup chopped tarragon
1/4 cup capers, rinsed and chopped
2 small french shallots, peeled and chopped

  1. In a blender, put the red wine vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. With the motor running, slowly drizzle the oil in until emulsified.
  2. Transfer to a bowl along with the herbs, capers and shallots. Stir everything to combine.
  3. Keep covered in the fridge until ready to use. It will keep cold for a few days ( weeks?)

Our Halloween feast!​

For someone who never used to do Halloween, we seem to be hooked and hosted our second Halloween themed lunch last Sunday. As usual, the venue was our house and the guests were the kids and grandkids with the addition this year of Terry’s niece Leanne and husband Kasten, as well as a few friends.

We gave our Halloween a German twist this year, somehow inspired by the leather apron I always wear when entertaining and often associated with lederhosen. Up for the challenge, I spent a while browsing Pinterest and various German sites for ideas, finally deciding to turn the house into a Haunted Castle of sorts with appropriate gory German food ( no offense to our German friends, we love German food, just made it gory for the occasion !)

LRG_DSC05666

IMG_2292

Many trips were made to The Party People shop with Anne ( I need a teenager to help me channel the spookiness in me ), adding to our existing collection of Halloween props and I subjected Mr T and the kids to a couple of “rehearsal dinners” experimenting with German-style recipes ( none of which made the cut on the night, judged too fancy and not suitable for party food! )

DSC05779OD6U9qh5TpKhwLnVMzbw8gfullsizeoutput_3ee2

As always, dressing up was optional but highly encouraged and it was great to see everyone get into the spirit this year.

fullsizeoutput_3ee3
My outfit was supposed to be a Bavarian waitress dress but after trying it on and looking totally ridiculous I went back to my usual witch costume, this year centered around an ostrich feathered top I bought recently. Not that anyone could see any of it, as I wore the leather apron over it most of the time! Heavy eye makeup and blue contacts that no one noticed completed the look.

Anne came as a teenager dressed in black ( emo or goth, I am sure I am getting it wrong! ) which was not much different to her everyday look, though the makeup definitely was. Marc was a scientist of some kind, finding an old lab coat from homeschooling days and borrowing old glass frames from his father.

IMG_2312
Mr T found that his grim ripper costume was so comfortable last year, he decided to wear it again.

DSC05695
Poor Sam, put up with a lion mane for a while, then shook it off. He could not do anything about the Happy Potter makeup the kids drew on his face though!

Then the guests arrived.

LRG_DSC01639fullsizeoutput_3edeIMG_2326DSC01654DSC05671

Malcolm, Danielle and their kids Harry and Hannah came as a motley crue of fishermen, a cast member of American Horror Story, and a kids version of a zombie queen of hearts. I nearly gasped when I saw Hannah’s head “stabbed” by the hacksaw.
Craig was a hilarious Cat in the Hat, accompanied by Kathy the witch and young Jesse looking terrifying as a junior grim ripper.
Then Leanne and Kasten walked in, one a witch and the other very Bavarian looking with a plaided shirt, high socks, hiking boots and hat to suit. If anyone won a prize for sticking to the brief it was Kasten.

DSC01636DSC01644DSC01645IMG_2330
Shelley only wore her devil ears and not much else, but arrived claiming all her dressing up effort went into the malevolent cake she baked, even naming it Maleficent! I’ll take that!
Jai was an army officer for the day and went by the fitting name of Captain Jai.
Tania came straight from the airport, returning from a work trip and only had time to get changed in black clothes.

IMG_1604LRG_DSC01647DSC05730

Black clad witch was very popular again with Sharon arriving late, all dolled up with hat, see-thru dress and gold trimmings. Her daughter Lauren looked gorgeous as a good/bad zombie, as did her brothers as a zebra and hospital patient ( even asking me for a bandaid for a real life injury!)
Last but not least, our young french friend, Manon, arrived dressed in Halloween colours of orange and black, intrigued by the menu and the amount of washing up involved. Still she was a great assistant in the kitchen, eager to help and learn about this new custom.

Ok, the scene set with all the players, on to the food!

As is the case in Aussie culture, guests ask what they can bring to the party. Coming from France, where the host usually supplies everything from food to drinks and decorations, it took me a while to get used to the fact that people want to contribute, if not show of their cooking skills. Nowadays, I tend to become a bit of a dictator, once the theme has been settled on, hinting at desirable dishes if not instructing people to check out Pinterest for ideas. For fun, Anne and I rebranded some of the dishes’ names to keep with the ghoulish theme.

fullsizeoutput_3e5b
Thus came Danielle with Mummy Hotdogs.
Sharon provided a plate of cold meats from the local German butcher.

fullsizeoutput_3e5a
Craig provided us with freshly baked pretzels, matched with Ozbada, a bavarian beer cheese dip nicknamed Cheese from the Heart for the occasion.

IMG_2315
I put together a smoked salmon snack on pumpernickel bread

fullsizeoutput_3e58

and this unusual entree of skewered black pudding, apple sauce and scallops inspired by our last trip to Mudgee.

Z26hhiySQ4eusZtE0RthFQ

One of the most anticipated and fun dishes however was homemade brawn shaped in a skull mold. I called it “Pressed Head “ but could not tell anyone it was made out of a pig’s head, lest they were put off by the idea. I had to wait until the last minute, once the “terrine” was unveiled and dressed to reveal the unusual truth. The dish itself, while spooky looking, was quite tasty though it needed a tangy accompaniment like pickles or vinegary sauce to cut through the cold fatty taste of the terrine. All I had on the day was hot mustard, which was good but I made a mental note to try something sharper next. Still, I was pleased to see how well received it was!

I took care of all main dishes and served them hot, on a large table outside.

DSC05738

We had Ghoulish Goulash,

DSC05740

Cheesy Maggots ( spatzle ) , Sauerkraut, Braised Red Cabbage,

IMG_2314

Potato Salad ( the only cold option, brought over by Shelley )

DSC05739

and my favorite of the night: a mix of sausages, bacon and roasted pig’s head. I called it the Slaughter Plate. Mr T had warned me that it would be a test of our guests’ sense of humour and adventurous tastebuds, and to be prepared for people to never return for dinner. I am pleased to report that most saw the funny side of it and partook in the sharing of the pig’s head, particularly the snapping of the crackling and fighting over the melt in your mouth cheeks.

Then it was time for dessert, with no less than 3 sweet offerings ( and countless lollies but these don’t count really ).

DSC01660

Being Craig’s birthday a couple of days prior, Kathy brought in a slab of chocolate cake decorated with Halloween colours and a birthday message.

I had asked Shelley to make some cupcakes and assumed she was working on two dozens zombie cupcakes as per her last text.

IMG_2317

Then she walked in with this beautiful cherry ripe mud cake, ornately decorated with red roses, strawberries, chocolate shards and horns, nonchalantly saying it was just as easy to make one single cake. She called it Maleficent.

fullsizeoutput_3e5f
The final dessert was Kasten’s signature cinnamon rolls. I first tasted them a couple of years ago when him and Leanne visited us on the boat, and he baked us a batch one morning. I still remember waking up to the smell of heaven, and the kids running out of their cabins at the speed of light! Kasten insists that these rolls are best fresh out of the oven, so they were baked at the last minute and handed out sticky and piping hot, the cream cheese frosting oozing out of the yeasty folds. Most people had already eaten one or two slices of chocolate cake, so how they managed to fit a cinnamon roll as well is a testament to how good they were. My phone was buzzing the next day with comments and requests for the recipe, which I will try to pry out of Kasten one day.

DSC05777

DSC05674DSC05745IMG_2289DSC05773

The afternoon flew by. The kids found the lolly jars, slipped out of their costumes into the swimming pool until the cold brought them back in. People talked, ate and drank well into the evening, and it wasn’t until someone mentioned school the next day that the party slowly came to an end. As I write, the ghosts and other ghouls are still standing guard at the front door, ready to greet anyone knocking tonight. Happy Halloween!

DSC01662DSC05785

 

paxview

A frequent flier's views on flying and travel

Pacific High

Die Welt entdecken unter Segeln

101 Cookbooks

Cooking while cruising. Or making the most of what you have, wherever you are...

MixerUpper.com

mixing it up, one great recipe at a time...

Dinner: A Love Story

Cooking while cruising. Or making the most of what you have, wherever you are...

Chocolate & Zucchini

Cooking while cruising. Or making the most of what you have, wherever you are...