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. 

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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.

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OUR 2020 COVID Christmas

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.

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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 “

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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.

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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. 

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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!

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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. 

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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.

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kumquat tea cakes

 

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.

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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.

Motoring past Coogee beach
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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. 

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“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 ). 

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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!

While I am sure our guests were confused, I cheerfully searched for dog treat recipes that could be suitable for humans and proceeded to bake NQN’s bone biscuits and pup cakes from here. 

Sam was ordered to stay still for the photo, then I had to quickly take away the tray of biscuits before he devoured them!!

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“ 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.  

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provisions[ plural ]

UK  /prəˈvɪʒ.ənz/ US  /prəˈvɪʒ.ənz/

supplies of food and other necessary items:

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.
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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 “

Prepared to land

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.

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Yesterday was ANZAC Day in Australia. This is when the country commemorates the crushing WW1 Gallipoli battle  and more broadly the sacrifice made by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) during the past and present wars. 

Every year, people will gather in the early hours of the morning, to attend the dawn service  remembering the fallen. Except this year was different: gatherings are banned so most people were standing in their driveway, lighting candles to the sound of a live stream playing the Last Post. I was lucky to wake up early enough and witness the most beautiful dawn from our rooftop, while indeed, someone out there played the mournful tune.

Then, I set out to bake ANZAC biscuits, as I do every year. These are iconic pieces of of Australian food heritage, along with pavlova and lamingtons.  The key features are that they contain oats, coconuts and are eggless. The story goes that these biscuits were originally sent as part of care packages to the the troops in WW1, on the basis that they would survive the long journey.

Yesterday’s biscuits happened by accident. 

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