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.

Last time we came here was to visit Judy, Mr T’s sister. We’re back for her 80th birthday, looking forward to catching up with her and the family the next day.

We’re staying near the Jetty, just like last time ( different accomodation though ). And being a Sunday, the markets are on. Our timing is off, however, as the stalls are packing up. My hopes of a food truck snack dashed, I follow Mr T’s lead and settle for a light lunch: burger and wine at Attitude Burger overlooking the marina. It is a good start!

Burger to share

We’re actually sharing the burger, because though we’re both peckish, it is too late for lunch but still early for dinner. I have my sights on Element Bar for dinner, where we really enjoyed our meals previously. We pass the afternoon wandering around the marina, checking in the Yacht Club which is surprisingly quiet for a Sunday afternoon ( or maybe it’s just me?) and generally trying to work an appetite for dinner.

Luckily, the weather has cleared by then but I err on the side of caution and select the couch inside, just in case.

Early dinner for 2.

I am happy to see that Element’s menu has not changed much and our favourites are still on offer: we order the crispy coconut chicken tacos to start with.

Soft shell tacos with chicken tenders

They’re chicken tenders, coated into coconut crumbs and served in soft taco shells with charred corn, mango and avocado salsa. You know how much I love my tacos!

Spring rolls and salt and pepper calamaris

Mr T goes for the salt and pepper fried calamari as well as the spring rolls, perfect pairing for his Stone and Wood beers ( it is Happy Hour, what can I say?)

House salad and crumbed triple cheese mac bombs

Thinking of Anne who is not with us but wishes she was, we order the triple cheese mac bombs. They taste as good as they sound, and I can’t help but send her a picture! We also ask for a house salad, so we can have something healthy, but really that would be optional.

It’s w a waddle back to our quarters, the Pacific Marina Apartments, and not long before bed. 

View from our room: Rain as far as the eye can see

Torrential rain wakes us up in the morning. You know, the kind of downpour brought on by cyclones or tropical lows hovering at sea. So much for my plans to walk down the beach for a sunrise shot. We mull over the possibility of staying in for the day, but that’s boring and we still need to go out for breakfast anyway. A quick call to the rental car company later, I am at the wheel of a nice SUV ready to hit the road. 

But first, breakfast. Just across from the apartments, there is this coffee van called Supply which is part of a cafe of the same name. I originally intended to grab some cappuccinos and head back to the appartment, but the space and menu look too inviting and I phone Mr T, asking him to join me instead. The decor inside is semi-industrial, with exposed beams and timber frames, white tiled walls and polished concrete floors. There is a mix of large communal tables, smaller settings and a lounge area adjoining the bar ( not an option at 9am! ). On both sides of our table for 2, are people taking pictures of their plates, which makes me feel right at home and has Mr T rolling his eyes as in “ not one of these places… “ I am quite smitten with the breakfast menu which features wholesome choices, just what we need this morning.

I start with a Bondi Juice, while I wait for Mr T. It is a zingy concoction of carrot, orange, lime and ginger. They take their coffee seriously here, showcasing 4 types from the Pacific, South America and Africa. They roast the beans themselves and you can buy a bag to take home. I wish I did, because Mr T’s cappuccino and my bulletproof coffee were really nice. I never had butter and MCT oil in my coffee, that was a first and it didn’t really tasted buttery as I feared. I think I might try it at home.

Another nice surprise, was the grilled asparagus on rye bread with pea puree, fresh ricotta, cherry tomatoes, a poached egg and salsa verde. As they say on Masterchef, there is a lot going on that plate, both in flavour and in quantity.

Mr T wanted an omelette, and was very pleased with his, coming with mushrooms, taleggio cheese, pepperonata and toast. Like I said, wholesome awesome food. 

Feeling invigorated after breakfast, we jump in the car, hoping the rain will eventually stop. We head south to Urunga, which is where we met  Mr T’s old friend,  Keith, a couple of years ago. We promised to come back for another visit, but sadly, Keith passed away before we got a chance. So it is with a hint of nostalgia that we drive thru the town on our way to the boardwalk.

Starting from Urunga, the boardwalk passes along the banks of the Kalang River, to the junction with the Bellinger River and out to the ocean. It has stunning views inland past Urunga town and up the river valleys to the Great Dividing Range, north across the rivers to Mylestom Spit and south along the beach to Picket Hill and beyond to Nambucca Heads.

It’s a 2 klm return walk, and while lovely and peaceful in today’s overcast weather, I imagine it would be even more stunning on a warm sunny day. The area is renowned for its local bird life and wetlands.

We’re no experts but we manage to spot stingrays shuffling sand in the shallows, pelicans sitting on old poles, 

a big lizard on rocks and

my favourite wildflowers, banksia in the wetlands. By a struck of luck, the rain has stopped just in time for our walk, and we are the only people around. 

I glance at the map and suggest to Mr T that we drive inland to Never Never, attracted by the sound of it.  Visions of remote and sparse areas of outback Australia dance in my head, remembering the lines of Australian poet Barcroft Boake :

“Out on the wastes of the Never Never

That’s where the dead men lie!”

While we are far away from dry and dusty Northern Territory or Western Queensland, this little corner of rural NSW has its fair share of charm and mystery. With a population of zero residents, near Bellingen, it is part of the Dorrigo National Park and a haven for bushwalks and picnics.

We love the drive thru Bellingen, last visited when the farmers markets were on, but today looking more like a ghost town. 

can you spot the galahs?

Sherrard waterfall

The road known as Waterfall Way, climbs the escarpment of the Great Dividing Range, skirting the southern edge of the Dorrigo world heritage rainforest and crossing the Newell and Sherrard waterfalls for which the route is named. Winding up hill thru misty rainforest, we reach the green plateau where the small town of Dorrigo sits.

Dangar waterfall

Only 2 klm out, is Dangar Falls, a 30 meters waterfall with a viewing platform easily accessible from the carpark. Thanks to recent rains, there is plenty of water running and should we continue another 120 klm west on that road, there is the promise of further waterfalls and gorges all the way to Armidale. That would mean we would not be back on time for Judy’s birthday dinner however.

The birthday girl
Leanne and Kasten
Kim and Derek
Vanessa, Rhiannon and Ben
Tahnee and Jess

We meet Judy at her favourite restaurant, Latitude 30 at the Jetty. She is joined by her daughters, Leanne, Kim and Vanessa who also turned up with husbands Kasten and Derek. Some of the grandchildren, Rhiannon, Tahnee and Ben are also here. Somehow our party of 12 manages to squeeze around the table and there is nothing like a round of cocktails and beers to start! 

Some dishes are local’s favourites and I guess are not allowed off the menu: oysters are a must for Kim and Derek, as are paella and chowder for Tahnee and her partner, Jess.

Mr T plays it safe, ordering flat bread and taramasalata for starters, and the mahi mahi special which comes pan fried on a bed of confit potatoes and beurre blanc sauce.

Judy decides an Aperol Spritz is a perfectly adequate starter and goes for the mahi mahi main. Both her and Mr T like their fish, then again mahi is Mr T’s favourite’s fish. Personally I can’t go past the beetroot and vodka cured kingfish. It is a very pretty dish, with orange & saffron infused champagne gel, citrus salad, pomegranate & horseradish cream and wattleseed lavosh. And it tastes as amazing as it looks. I choose the other main special, the swordfish with a salad of jerusalem artichokes, beetroot, radishes, prosciutto wrapped figues and walnuts. It is a delicious combination of all my favourite foods.

Vanessa, Rhiannon and Ben, prefer the more “classic” option of fish and chips which looks very tempting indeed.  

As for dessert, the restaurant allowed Judy to bring her own birthday cake. Everyone had a slice,   albeit in my case, a thin one!

Neither Mr T or I felt like getting up the next morning, but since we woke up to a dry and sunny day we shook ourselves off and headed out for a sunrise hike up the Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve.

Also known as Giidany Miirlarl to the local Gumbaynggirr Aboriginal people, this seabird rookery in the heart of Coffs Harbour is surrounded by spectacular views from coast to islands and a must-do everytime we visit.


Muttonbird Island is a great spot for watching birds up close; as one of the only easily-accessible places in NSW where the migratory wedge-tailed shearwater nests. The birds spend the Southern winter in Southeast Asia and are said to return to the same burrow in August each year in Australia. They keep one single egg warm and raise their chick, then leave in April the following year. While I spotted a few burrows, there were no signs of birds that morning. It is also an important Aboriginal place, harbouring stories of the Dreaming and a wealth of traditional resources are available at the Outdoor Learning Space located at the base of the island.

the walk starts from the jetty
view from the top
plenty of burrows but no sign of birds

It is a short  but steep walk to the eastern side lookout, and while Mr T and I are happy to hike at a leisurely pace, we are overtaken by a few joggers who clearly like the early morning challenge as they pass us multiple times. The 360deg views over the Solitary islands are well worth the effort though, as we gaze at the ocean on one side then the hinterland and the marina.

From Eastern Side Lookout, looking back to the top
Returning from overnight fishing
yacht anchorage off the jetty and charter boat heading out
Offloading the catch of the day

While fishing boats are returning and offloading their catch at the co-op, charter boats are heading out and the marina businesses are waking up. We stop by at the Galley, a small cafe tucked away in the marina precinct, and on recommendation from Derek the night before, order the Egg and Bacon Roll. It comes with a thin beef patty, as well as very crispy bacon and a runny egg, tasting more like a burger than a traditional egg and bacon roll. But I am not complaining. Coupled with a fresh juice and a creamy cappucino, it’s a pretty nice start to the day. 

Later on, we quickly catch up with Judy and family for a morning tea of leftover birthday cake and some freshly home baked apple pie, making me feel like I am about to burst!! 

As we bid our farewell, there is a vibe of excitement in the house and indeed all around Coffs Harbour today, because Elton John is performing tonight. It sounds like half of the town is getting ready for the concert and certainly appreciating the media attention. 

At the airport, we can’t help being caught up in the buzz:  as we taxi off, the tower warns us to be on the lookout for the star’s jet flying in! Who would have thought this regional town of NSW would make its mark on the map!

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. 

Everyone I know has a favourite recipe, and I have used the same recipe from AWW over the years with great success. For some reason, I decided to try something different yesterday, inspired by a post from Not Quite Nigella. Her recipe is a different version ( using less coconut, more butter…which she browns to make it uniquely nutty !) that I wanted to try.

Then I decided to make a few adjustments of my own, starting by using less flour ( because in isolation, I am in rationing mode for some items, obviously ). I made up for it, adding more oats and coconut and leaving the quantities of wet ingredients unchanged. I was not really thinking how it would affect the whole mixture, until I combined the lot and ended up with a rather wet mix.   Leaving it to cool in the fridge helped firm it before shaping it in clusters on the baking tray.

When it came to oven temperature, the difference between crunchy and chewy sits within 20C ( 180C and 160C respectively ). Distracted-me decided to preheat the oven by cranking it up to 220C  ( it was 6.30am, the kitchen was cool and I wasn’t quite awake yet ) and completely forgot to turn the temp down afterwards. It wasn’t until Mr T walked in half way thru the cooking process, saying “something smells really nice and caramely in here!” that I took a horrified look thru the oven door: the clusters had spread and merged together, forming a large sheet of bubbling chunky caramel.  I quickly reduced the heat to next to nothing, watching the trays like a hawk for another 5 minutes wanting the mixture to cook thru a bit longer but dreading it would burn. 

Indeed, some of the edges did burn, but that was easily fixed by cutting them off. 

And the result? Because of the reduced quantity of flour to hold the biscuits together, these ended up quite crispy and lacy, they looked like a sweet version of Bak Kwa ( the pork jerky from Singapore ) but tasted similar to brandy snaps ( thank goodness for that !)

I cut them into rectangles and packed some into cute boxes with a spring of rosemary ( another ANZAC symbol of remembrance ) to hand over to the family. 

Because of isolation rules, Rosalie had to cancel her long planned traditional gathering of family and friends that day. However that didn’t stop Mr T and I from walking over and drop off these little morsels of sweet delight, figuring we’d also take care of our daily exercise ( in Australia, this is a reasonable excuse to leave the house during confinement). By the time we returned home, after completing our 7 kilometers delivery walk, my phone was lit up with texts about how delicious the biscuits were. And thankfully, some were left for us to enjoy with our afternoon tea. The perfect sugar hit !

Crunchy Lacy Anzac Biscuits

Makes 16

Ingredients:

1/2 cup plain flour

1 1/2 cup traditional rolled oats ( not the quick ones )

1 cup dessicated coconut

1 cup brown sugar

3 tbsp hot water

2 tbsp golden syrup

2 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp bi-carb soda

1/2 tsp salt

135 g butter, melted

  1. Pre heat oven to 220C
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, oats, dessicated coconut, and brown sugar. Mix well.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the hot water, golden syrup, vanilla, bi carb, salt and melted butter. Stir well.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and mix to combine. 
  5. Scoop a teaspoon of the mixture and place on parchment lined trays ( about 8 per trays ), making sure you leave enough space between them as they will spread
  6. Bake at 220C for 7 minutes, then turn the heat down to 140C and cook for another 5 minutes.
  7. Take out of the oven and make cutting indentations while the biscuits is still soft ( I use a pizza cutter but a long sharp knife will do ). Let cool on the tray for 10 minutes, the biscuits will firm up while cooling.
  8. When cool enough to handle, break off the biscuits and leave to harden on a wire tray.
  9. These are best eaten on the same day, but will keep firm in an airtight container for a few days ( if they last that long!) 

“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!

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!!

Luckily, I cooked these a couple of days ahead of the party. I gave some to Sam to try and he wolfed them down. Then the kids sampled a piece and their reaction was “ that’s for the dog, right? we’re having different food? ”. I took one bite and realised there and then, why the vet keeps telling me to stop trying to feed my dog human food: the ingredients were fresh and wholesome ( wholemeal flour, cheese, herbs, carrots, even organic peanut only butter ! ) but it all tasted so bland…to us. It turns out, our dog ( and I believe all Labradors ) loves food, no matter how bland or tasty ( with the exception of lettuce and lemon, both items he steadfastily refuse to touch ) and they do not need the addition of sugar, salt or spices to make their meals appealing. 

We, on the other hand, are big fans of flavours, savoury or sweet. After a chat with Shelley, who offered to bring some white anchovies bruschetta, a plan B was rapidly established and I texted our guests with a new lunch theme: Mediterranean flavours. 

So Danielle arrived with washed rind cheese ( the stinky kind ), crackers and garlic bread. Kathy, went to the same shop as Danielle, and brought more cheese ( a blue, parmesan, and truffled cheddar! ).

Then Tania showed up with all the makings of a dark board: charcoal crackers, kalamata olives, dark grapes, blackberries, bresaiola, tamari almonds, a pomegranate and the piece de resistance…a prosciutto wrapped garlic studded baked brie! As I type, I am still dreaming about it.

Shelley’s bruschetta were a sight to behold: loaded with marinated cherry tomatoes ( lovingly chopped by husband Jai, we were told ), pickled red onions and tangy white anchovies. It all looked so pretty, we all swooned over with our phones.

As the self appointed mains cook, I decided to make a simple dish that would satisfy anyone’s carbs cravings and please adults and kids alike: lasagna. With my lasagna making years long gone, I resorted to a well tested recipe from Donna Hay. Nothing too fancy, basic ingredients and some patience was all that was required to assemble the whole thing. 

Next was looking for ideas for a vegetarian side, as I had ample supply of silverbeet in my weekly veggie box. All my cookbooks came out to play, and after what seemed like hours of browsing, I came across another one of Donna Hay’s recipe, for a silverbeet and cavalo nero whole-wheat pie. The health conscious would be taken care of.

Now for dessert. Chocolate was out of the question, as the presence of component theobromine makes it highly toxic to dogs. Having previously dealt with chocolate poisoning, when Sam “stole” a chocolate mud cake at Marc’s birthday party a few years ago, I wasn’t taking the risk of him getting his paws on even the tiniest crumb.

So fruits it was, and with a glut of oranges, it was easy to come up with this orange and almond syrup cake, from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook.

Sam enjoyed his presents very much, especially the fake chicken and the sausage links he’s still trying to “eat”. Lunch ended with a birthday song and a pile of pupcakes being devoured in 5 seconds!

Silverbeet and Celery wholemeal pie

This recipe is adapted from Donna Hay’s Life in Balance

She uses cavalo nero or tuscan Kale, but I substituted celery leaves. Also the original recipe calls for whole-wheat spelt flour, which I didn’t have. I used ordinary wholemeal flour instead. This makes for 4 x 15cm round pies or one 35x25cm rectangular pie. Steps 1 and 2 can be done a day or so  in advance, and the pie assembled on the day of serving.  

Serves 8-10 as a main, 12-16 as a buffet

Ingredients

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 celeriac approx 500g, peeled and grated

2 tbsp thyme leaves

3 stalks silverbeet, trimmed and shredded 

3 stalks celery, leaves included, trimmed and shredded

1 tbsp dilll, chopped

1 cup fresh ricotta

salt and pepper

100g soft goat cheese, sliced 

1 egg, lightly beaten

poppyseeds, for sprinkling

Wholemeal pastry 

3 cups wholemeal flour

1/2 cup psyllium husk powder

1 tsp salt

300g cold unsalted butter, chopped

2 egg yolks

2 tbsp iced cold water 

  1. First make the wholemeal pastry: place the flour, psyllium husk powder, salt and butter in a food processor and process until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks and iced water, and process until a soft dough forms. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, divide in 2 portions and shape into flat rectangles. Wrap in plastic film and refrigerate for 30 minutes ( if kept overnight, bring out of the fridge and leave at room temperature for an hour or so for the dough to thaw out and soften before using )
  2. For the filling: Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, celeriac, thyme and cook stirring for 10 minutes until soft. Add the silverbeet and the celery and cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes until the leaves are wilted. Remove from the heat, transfer to a large bowl and allow to cool for a while. Add the dill, ricotta, salt and pepper and mix to combine. 
  3. Preheat the oven to 190C
  4. Roll out the dough between 2 sheets of baking paper to a 4mm thickness, shaping it into 2 rectangles approx 35x25cm ( it’s ok to be free-form if you’re after a rustic look )
  5. Arrange one rectangle on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper ( or a baking silicone mat ). Spoon the ricotta mixture evenly over, top with the goat cheese slices. Brush the edges with the egg yolks and cover with the other rectangle of dough. Press the edges with a fork to seal, brush the pie with the rest of the egg yolks and sprinkle with poppy seeds. 
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden and crisp.

Orange and Almond Syrup Cake

I adapted Ottolenghi’s clementine and almond syrup cake recipe, using oranges instead. This is such a classic, full of flavour, moist and delicious. It keeps well and is perfect at the end of a meal with ice cream, for breakfast with yoghurt or a sweet pick me up with coffee!

Serves 12 as dessert

Ingredients

200g unsalted butter

380g caster sugar

grated zest and juice of 3 oranges 

grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

280g ground almonds

5 eggs, beaten

100g plain flour, sifted

A pinch of salt

Strips of orange zest, for garnish

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C
  2. Lightly grease a 24cm springform tin and line the sides and base with baking paper ( I omit this step, as I have a springform silicone mould with a ceramic plate, so nothing sticks )
  3. Place the butter, 300g of the sugar and both zests in a mixer bowl and beat on low speed until well combined. Make sure not to overmix or incorporate too much air. Add half the amount of ground almonds and keep mixing to fold through.
  4. Add the eggs gradually, while the machine is still running, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Add the remaining ground almonds, flour, and salt and continue mixing until completely smooth.
  5. Spread the batter inside the cake tin, levelling it out with a palette knife
  6. Bake in the oven for 50-60 minutes, checking that it is ready by inserting a skewer inside. It should come out a little bit moist.
  7. Before the cake is ready, place the reamining sugar and the citrus juices in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. You should have approx 120ml of syrup. When it comes to the boil, remove from the heat.
  8. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, make a few holes in it, using the skewer. Brush with the boiling syrup, making sure all the liquid soaks in. Leave the cake to cook down completely in the tin before removing it. 
  9. Garnish with orange strips and serve as is, with ice cream. It can also be stored in an airtight container up to 3 days ( longer in the fridge, but bring it back to room temperature before eating as the cold tends to dry it out a bit )

“ 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.  

Our aviation friends Terry and Deidre are coming along for the ride. Terry and Mr T go way back, he is an aeronautical engineer and used to fly until recently. I am happy to let him have the copilot seat so that Mr T can rely on someone with a much higher degree of competency than yours truly. Also, it means that I get to seat at the back and take photos, so it’s a win-win situation. As for Deidre, she loves these outback trips and is used to either fly or go caravanning. As we both share a love of food and Moet, we look forward to see what kind of gourmet adventure this trip will turn into.

Having held our first flight briefing the night before at the Cootamundra Country Club, we’re all fresh and bushy tailed this morning, excited for our first leg. Today’s destination is Wilpena Pound in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges National Park. The plan is to leave early, travel to Broken Hill to refuel before continuing to the Pound, another 275kms to the west. Ideally, we’d like to get there with enough time and daylight to do a fly over before landing. 

So we load the plane with our soft bags and patiently wait for the fog to dissipate. If patience is a virtue, it’s a pre requisite for pilots, and I can tell Mr T’s frustration as minutes turn into hours before the sun finally breaks thru. 

It is nearly lunch time by the time we take off and head north west.

The green paddocks of the Riverina gradually give way to a landscape of parched grazing lands around Ivanhoe,

the partially dried out inland lake system of Menindee

and finally the red dirt desert fringed town of Broken Hill, 3 hours later.

This is a quick stop, with no time to go and explore, as our captain is keen to make up time and arrive at Wilpena Pound before nightfall.

What is Wilpena Pound? It is a natural amphitheatre of mountains located 429 kilometres north of AdelaideSouth Australia in the heart of the Flinders Ranges National Park. Mr T reckons it’s  a whole bunch of rocks, but we’re talking about 800 million years old towering sandstone cliffs here, surrounding a huge circular basin, 17kms by 7kms! It is home to a host of animals, birds and vegetation and formerly used by graziers as a natural enclosure to keep cattle and horses.

There are 2 airstrips where to land around Wilpena Pound. One on the eastern face,  near the Wilpena Pound Resort, which is used by scenic flights at all hours of the day and requires permission to use. Another one at the Rawnsley Park Station, on the southern face, which still requires permission but is more accessible. Since our overnight accomodation is at Rawnsley Park Station, we decide to land there. While there is a modest landing fee ( $50 for twin engine aeroplanes ), transfer from the airstrip to the resort is free ( we could have easily walked there, if we didn’t have all these bags!). 

Rawnsley Park Station, was settled as part of Arkaba Station in 1851. One of the first pastoral leases settled in the Central Flinders Ranges, it was granted for a period of 14 years by the Colony of South Australia for what was then known as ‘unoccupied waste lands’. For the next 100 years, large pastoral properties were resumed for farming, with leases being issued and passed on from graziers to farmers, back to graziers as a range of natural disasters ( droughts particularly ) caused hardship on everyone. Present day Rawnsley Park Station was purchased by Clem Smith in 1953 and expended over the following 50 years to encompass 29,000 acres. It is now run by Clem’s son, Tony and his wife Julie, and while the Station still runs 2000 sheeps, its main business has been tourism since the introduction of cabins and sheep shearing demonstrations in the late 1960’s. Nowadays, it is well known for its award winning eco villas and private pool among these looking for a bit of luxury in the Outback, though I must say their more modest holiday units, in which we stayed, are extremely comfortable too. Complete with a queen size bed, fully equipped kitchen and ensuite, what more could we want for one night? 

Bushwalking trails about around the property and by the time we land and are shown to our units, we have just enough time and daylight to stretch our legs on a short walk to Alison Sadle. The view takes in the various ranges and hills of Arkaba, with Wilpena pound dominating to the East.

I am busy taking photos, but Mr T is more interested in checking his phone, as this is one of the few spots were mobile reception is available. No wildlife, but plenty of shrubs.

We return in time to meet with Terry and Deidre at the Woolshed restaurant for a sunset drink and dinner. 

Housed in the original woolshed, the restaurant uses local produce including their own lamb. Chicken, duck, beef and kangaroo are on offer as well as a vegetarian risotto. But we can’t go past their Lamb Tasting platter, the specialty of the house! For $37 per person, you get to to try lamb cooked in 6 different ways: lamb silverside with beetroot puree, chargrilled lamb cutlets with chimichurri, lamb sausages with red pepper pesto, lamb rump with roast pumpkin, Memphis style lamb ribs with housemade BBQ sauce and slow braised lamb leg with orange and parlsey sauce. 

All we need to add is some french fries, a bowl of roasted vegetables, some greens ( at my insistence ) and we’re good. So good in fact, that we nearly skip dessert, feeling totally full.

Deidre is one step ahead however, and while I am chatting away with our waitress ( a young French backpacker working on the farm in compliance with her working visa ), she arranges for 4 serves of coconut and cranberry sponge cake and mango sorbet to be packed for us to enjoy later. 

Deidre is not only a great food companion, but she also turns out to be ready for anything quirky I put to her. Like tagging along in the bush in the middle of the night, as I want to take pictures of the night sky. Leaving the boys to their nightcaps in the warmth of the units, we ventured far enough to get away from the artificial lights and try to capture shots of the milky way. Full moon doesn’t help and I obviously have a lot to learn, but it is a lot of fun and after nearly an hour in cold darkness, we giggle our way back inside, ready for dessert and champagne!

Next morning is very subdued. Breakfast is not included in the rate, nor is it provided at the restaurant, as guests are presumed to bring their own food and make use of the cooking facilities in the units. However, being fly-ins without any supplies, Deidre managed to purchase breakfast provisions from the restaurant the night before and has Terry knocking on our door with an offer to join them on the verandah. I bring along an additional fry pan, and next thing you know, Deidre and I are cooking bacon, eggs and tomatoes, Terry is making cups of tea and toasts while Mr T is putting a flight plan together. It is a gorgeous sunny day, promising a cloudless sky for our next airborne leg.

But not before we are picked up by the shuttle driver, who kindly takes us the long way back to the airstrip, giving us a tour of the resort. While the holiday units are the closest to the airstrip and the Woolshed restaurant, the road runs past the Eco Villas and leads on to the bush camping area. This brings back memories to Terry and Deidre, who visited years ago while on a caravanning holiday. Our driver delights us with stories of European tourists who book the villas in January and are surprised by the searing Australian heat, while most of the domestic clientele travels here in the winter, when the nights may be cool but the days are dry and balmy. Mr T takes tips for a possible return visit ( a tour of Australia by 4WD is on his bucket list! ) and soon, we are back in the plane. 

Since we missed the opportunity to fly over the pound the previous afternoon, Mr T makes up for it by circling over twice, climbing 1000m over Rawnsley Bluff at the southern end. What looks like a wall of mountains from the outside, completely encircles the gently-sloping interior of the Pound.

There is a high saddle over which a walking trail passes and a gorge on the eastern edge which I could not locate, despite my captain best efforts to fly low. The interior of the Pound does not rise to any height at the northern end, but instead simply drops off very steeply to the plain below in a series of steep gullies. I am in such an awe of the grandeur and the scale of the Pound, that I ignore the turbulences caused by the wind drafts, until quizziness starts to creep up and I tap on Mr T’s shoulder with a thumb up. 

Next stop, William Creek, 390kms to the north.

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.

With Mr T and I initially considered “at risk”, we started our quarantine earlier than most people. The kids were sent grocery shopping a couple of times and D dropped off a few items as well, until I decided it would be easier for all of us, if we had everything home delivered. It started with the supermarket for all non-perishables. Then, our beloved Farmer’s Markets closed, but thankfully a lot of the stall holders “pivoted” to provide online ordering and home delivery. It probably wasn’t the business model they had in mind, but rolling with the punches is the order of the day and this is how we’ve managed to buy our meat and seafood in the past few weeks. 

As for our fruits and vegetables, I initially thought I would grow my own. Seriously, this idea lasted 2 days, until I found out about the Community Organic Project, a local collective offering a weekly box delivery. I started the subscription when we couldn’t  leave the house due to full lockdown, and loved it so much that I am still using the service all these weeks later. All produce are organic, sourced from farmers and businesses by Alison. While we have a choice of small or large-sized box, there is no saying in what will be in the box. Alison picks whatever looks good that morning, trying to balance basics like tomatoes and apples, with exotic items for people to try, such as finger limes or cavalo nero. I love the variety and personally look forward to my “Mystery Wednesday Box”, as it takes me out of the cooking rut I sometimes find myself in. So far, I have been experimenting with jerusalem artichoke chips, eggplant gratin and even roasted white choko!

This is a small box for a family of 4. Flour was extra I ordered.

The fruit offerings though not as varied, are plentiful. Bananas and oranges are the first to disappear, while grapes and apples somewhat always end up in juices or cakes.

I would not go as far to say that our diet is plant based, but we certainly eat a lot more vegetables than we used to, as a result of this new way of provisioning.

Take this provision salad. I first came across it while cruising in Trinidad, 15 years ago. I used to think it was named after the variety of ingredients, then realised it comes from using starchy root vegetables like yams, taro, cassava, or sweet potatoes known in the Caribbean diet as “ground provisions”. In the Caribbeans, these are available year round, they keep stored for a long time, and provide a good source of carbohydrate at a very economical price. For that reason, it used to be a staple on the boat.

It is an easy mix of root and green vegetables, herbs and a dressing. There are no real rules, any veggies you have on hand will do, as will any kind of dressing. Traditionally, people will cut the provisions into cubes, and dice the rest of the vegetables. I am lazy, and tend to cut mine in wedges or rough chunks. The texture might be different but the flavours stay the same.  

This is still one of my favourite veggie dish. Not only because it is the perfect way to use up items on their last leg in the crisper, but also because it brings any grilled meat to life! And takes me back to lazy beach barbecues in the Caribbean islands.

Good times: Happy Hour in the Tobago Cays

Provision Salad

Serves 4-6 , as a side

Ingredients

1 kg sweet potatoes ( or any ground provisions, such as taro root or yams ), peeled, boiled and cut into wedges

1 red capsicum, sliced

1 celery stalk ( leaves included ) , sliced ( leaves chopped )

1 handful of salad leaves 

1 small cooked beetroot, peeled and cubed

1 red onion, peeled and sliced

1 shallot, trimmed and chopped

1 handful parsley

Dressing

2/3 cup olive oil

1/3 red wine vinegar

1 tsp garlic, minced

1 tbsp dijon mustard

  1. In a large bowl, combine the sweet potatoes with the capsicum, celery, green leaves, beetroot, shallots and parsley.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, and mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk until you have a thick emulsion.
  3. Add to the provision mix and toss to coat evenly. 
  4. Garnish with extra parsley and refrigerate until ready to serve.
London Life With Liz

A lifestyle blog with a little bit of everything.

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...