Sometime last year, I mentioned a new project Mr T and I embarked on, involving flying a light airplane. There wasn’t much to report at the time, mostly because we were busy studying and bringing the qualifications up to speed ( that’s for him ) and getting familiar with the new jargon and skill sets ( that’s for me ). After a few practise day trips around country NSW, things came to a halt for a while ( like life…you know…) Until Mr T finally obtained his Instrument Rating which means we could fly in any conditions. So, on one of these rare free weekends ( he usually is busy skippering fishing boats ) , we grabbed the opportunity to dust the airplane out of the hangar and took off ( literally ).
Destination was Coffs Harbour, on the NSW mid north coast. We know the town well, having stopped there several times during our cruising days, seeking shelter in the inner harbour. It is also an Australian port of entry, used by many yachts to clear into the country after a Pacific crossing. We were one of these, 10 years go, limping into the harbour’s marina after a harrowing 7 day passage from New Caledonia. The initial plan had been to proudly sail into Sydney Harbour after a 3 year navigation from Europe, as it was to be our last ocean crossing. However, 2 days out of Noumea we were hit by a massive storm cell and battered by 60 knots winds we ended up diverting to Coffs Harbour. The kids jumped and kissed the ground that day, greeted by Australian Customs and Quarantine officers, who shook their heads trying to figure out if we were either brave or stupid.
That was then. We have been back a few times since, visiting Mr T’s sister and her family or stopping overnight on the way to Queensland. Somehow though it’s alway felt like a passing visit through this wonderful holiday spot, tucked between mountain ranges and sandy beaches.
This time we are flying in, hoping to find time to explore the region a little while catching up with family. Anne is coming along, keen for a break though she is packing her school bag as she has assignments to work on.
The flight from Bankstown Airport takes 90 minutes. It is a beautiful day and we are blessed with gorgeous uninterrupted views of the coast all the way. Mr T lands us perfectly at Coffs Harbour Regional Airport, parking in the General Aviation area, opposite the Aeroclub. A quick phone call to Geoff, from Avis, ensures we’re being picked up to collect our rental car and within 1/2 h from landing we’re settled at our accomodation, the Observatory Holiday Apartments.
Ours is a 2 bedroom apartment, with a spacious lounge and dining area, basic kitchen but since we don’t plan to cook much, it’s plenty adequate. There is a balcony overlooking the train station directly below, which concerns me initially but looking beyond is the harbour framed by the Esplanade, Mutton Island Nature Reserve and Corambirra Point. This view will turn out to be the reason for me to get up at 5am, not to miss the sunrise!! And the train noise I was fearing was inexistent ( maybe they didn’t run that weekend or I slept thru it, not sure )
Emily, at reception is full of advice as to where to eat, what to do and mentions that we are within walking distance from the restaurant precinct. But whenever we holiday in small towns, we’re used to drive everywhere so we hop in the car anyway and find a dozen restaurants within one block! We decide to leave the car parked in the street and indeed walk the 3 minutes it took to reach Element Bar for dinner.
Located on Harbour Drive, this place seems to be where Coffs people go on a friday night. It is 6.30pm, all tables are taken or booked and we end up sitting on a low lounge beside a coffee table.
While not as comfortable as we’d like, we’re taken by the menu, full of our favourites:
buffalo chicken wings, sweet potato fries,
and bourbon braised beef ribs. Obviously we are ditching the paleo diet this weekend. Washed down with Coopers on tap, Mr T is happy! The food is super tasty, servings are so huge the 3 of us can’t possibly finish our meal and end up bringing leftover back to the apartment ( Anne can vouch for chicken wings and sweet potato fries for breakfast !)
We wake up the next morning to a glorious sunrise, skip breakfast still full from dinner and leave Anne to her schoolwork while we visit Mr T’s sister, Judy, who leaves in Boambee, a few kilometres south of Coffs. Over coffee and fruit cake, we chat and organise to go to dinner later on. When Judy casually mentions that the Growers Market in Bellingen is on, I quickly check out the time and drag ourselves on the road before the markets close.
It is a 30 minutes drive to Bellingen, a town of 3000 people renown for its mix of hippies and farmers. It is said to attract these after an alternative lifestyle, a concept totally lost on Mr T whose interest I manage to pick by the mention of bountiful food to be found. Fertile soil and semi tropical climate combine to form the ideal environment for growing organic produce, and most are sold at the colourful market.
There are a few fresh produce stalls, but what draw our attention are the exotic teas and spices. Having suffered bouts of illness lately, we’re keen on restoring health thru food rather than medication so anything boasting antioxidants or anti-inflammatory properties catches our eye.
Like this pre-mixed turmeric tea, made of a combination of turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, black pepper and shredded coconut.
Or that Blue Tea made of butterfly pea flowers. Whether these work or not is up for debate, Mr T swears by the turmeric, I just love the colour of blue tea.
Then we’re lured by the aromas of the curries prepared by the girls at Off The Rayles, offering pre-packed curry spice mixes ( of course, we could make our own, but these little pouches will come in handy when we want curry in a hurry!).
Likewise with the Bengal chutney and macadamia nut butter found at Jenny’s Kitchen.
While I browse for a while, purchasing goat’s milk soap here, feeling silk dresses there, Mr T is busy on his phone trying to locate an old friend of his, Keith, he used to fly with. Both pilots, Keith and Mr T used to own and run an aerial promotions business in the mid 1960s, performing aerobatics shows, stunt flying and sky writing. One went on to become an acclaimed flying instructor, the other to run an aviation charter business, and the last time we saw Keith and his wife Dianne was 30 years ago while driving thru Coffs. We left messages at the Aeroclub if anyone knew of his whereabouts, honestly not holding much hope of finding him. Then, lo and behold, after much searching on the internet, Terry found his number in the White Pages ( remember these??), called and arranged for us to visit them at their house nearby.
That was quite an emotional visit, watching these 2 flying legends reminiscing about the antics they used to get up to. Time marches on all of us, and sadly Keith can no longer fly, but he can still instruct from the ground, he says. We part ways, Mr T promising to do a flyover on our way back and already planning a return visit hopefully sooner than in 30 years!
We make it back to the apartment, in time to get changed, enjoy a pre-dinner drink and pick up Anne who made most of the day studying. Dinner is at Latitude 30, joined by Judy, her daughter Kim and husband Derek. The restaurant is a local’s favourite, overlooking the harbour and features local seafood ( of course! ).
While Kim and Derek ponder whether to order the seafood platter again ( they’re regulars here ), Mr T and I decide to order from the tapas/share plate/ entree menu rather than the mains. Too much snacking on fruit cakes and biscuits during the day, unfortunately mean a much reduced appetite. Darn!
We order an oyster platter to share: fresh from Nambucca Head, they are a mix of natural with a shallots and sherry vinegar dressing, japanese topped with pickled ginger and mirin vinegar dressing, kilpatrick with streaky bacon, tamarind and black pepper caramel sauce and finally crumbed with wasabi aioli and fish roe.
I can’t go past the soft shell baby mud crab. It comes crumbed and deep fried, with a thai chili cucumber salad. Unlike the oyster platter, I don’t have to share, as I am the only one partial to soft shell crab.
Mr T loves his plate of seared scallops, topped with toasted almonds on a bed of romesco sauce.
Anne completely eschews her low carb diet and orders the spanish seafood paella. It is a signature dish and comes piled with prawns, mussels, salmon, scallops, octopus and chorizo atop safron rice. She loves it and tries her hardest to eat it all, but admits defeat and offers the mussels and some rice for Mr T and I to finish. We graciously accept, as we’re somehow still peckish and realise we could have at least ordered a side dish to share.
Both Anne and Mr T fix this conundrum later on by stopping for ice cream at the Cold Rock Ice Creamery on the way back to the apartment. Not the gourmet ending to the day I was hoping for, a happy one nevertheless.
I set up our alarm early enough to wake up way before sunrise the next day, as I plan to take a walk down the jetty and hopefully take decent photos of the sun rising. It’s a slow and painful start out of bed but once out the door we’re glad to be walking off last night’s libations. The walk to the Esplanade and jetty only takes 10 minutes and I notice half a dozen people also setting up with tripods on the beach waiting for the sunrise like me.
It is a popular spot for photos, and while we wait for the light, we watch trawlers motor out of the harbour, people climbing up Muttonbird island for early exercise, cruising yachts bobbing on their moorings waking up to the day,…It brings back memories of cruising friends tying to these same moorings years ago, waiting for clearance and Coffs Harbour becoming their first taste of Australia. If they read this post, they will know who they are.
By 7am, the sun is well and truly up and you’ll never guess what is setting up on our way back to the apartment. Another growers market at the Jetty!
This time I do buy fresh produce to take home on the plane, mostly avocados and bananas. And because we’re quite hungry this morning and don’t feel like cereals ( we always bring them as emergency rations ), we order a thai breakfast at a little stall who is just unpacking but somehow manages to cook samosas, fried rice and omelette in no time for us to take back.
The rest of the morning is spent leisurely packing ( it is Sunday after all ), and with a few hours up our sleeve before the flight home, we decide to be real tourists and drive inland to the Forest Sky Pier lookout, then become hopelessly lost in the rainforest trying to find a way north other than on the highway. I must say being lost here isn’t that unpleasant and it is quite a scenic drive thru green meadows, under tree canopies and past road signs to wineries or honey farms.
We drive as far as Woolgoolga, recognisable by its large Indian temple on the side of the road. Sikhs from north west india are said to have settled here in the early 1900’s, after arriving in Australia to work in the Queensland cane fields. The milder climate in Coffs Harbour was apparently more attractive and they found work banana farming. Today’s indian population is descendants from these early settlers and reported to make up 25% of the local population. This would explain the unusually high number of indian restaurants all over town. Not that we are in for an indian lunch. After driving to the headland and taking in the fabulous view over the golden beaches, I manage to convince Mr T to make one last lunch stop on the promise it will be a light one.
Quickly thinking on my feet, I spot what look a popular choice, Blue Bottles Brasserie, across from the caravan park. We quickly grab the one remaining table available and glance at the menu, looking for the lightest item we can find. Mr T orders the Lost Little Piggy, a version of bacon and egg roll which is anything but light as it comes with 2 fried eggs, a pile of bacon and house tomato relish on turkish bread. “Beside a bowl of fries, it was the cheapest meal on the menu, I thought it would be small “ he said.
Anne, still on a carb roll orders the Tipsy Fish Flathead, beer battered fish with a substantial amount of chips. There is salad too, but that does not compare with the chips and the mango smoothie.
As for me, I feel virtuous and choose the Seared Scallop salad with greens, seaweed, pickled ginger, beansprouts in japanese dressing. At least one of us stuck to the brief!
I think one of the things I love the most about these country road trips, is the lack of traffic and the ease it takes to drive from one location to another. The mid north coast is no exception, as the 30 kilometers drive back to the airport was a breeze on the highway. Dropping off Mr T and Anne at the plane first ( no formalities ), I returned the rental car at the main airport dropping the keys in a box, getting a lift back from the lovely lady ( whose name escapes me ) and voila. By 3pm, we were back in the air, Sydney bound.
A little while ago, I posted a photo of a bunch of wild greens on my Instagram feed.
I had just returned from a morning shopping at my local Farmer’s market in Ramsgate with a friend, Diana and while the original intent was to purchase spices and nuts, I came across this organic vegetable stall selling leaves I had not seen before: amaranth, milk thistle and red dandelion. Diana is a vegetarian, so assuming she would know her veggies better than me, I asked her what to do with them. The look on her face said it all ( aka “No Idea !” ) and never to back down from a challenge, I decided to buy all the bunches I could fit into my basket and carry out wild green experiments. I promised Diana to report back.
For some reason, wild greens make me think of foraging and picking weeds from the backyard. Mr T frowned at the sight of all these leaves, mentioning stinging nettles and other unpleasant plants but I reminded him of the time years ago when we were cruising around Corsica, and while hiking with the kids I ran into an old local lady who was collecting wild asparagus on the side of a hill. She was kind enough to take me along and show me how to recognise what looked to me like tiny green twigs, pluck them gently and share her simple recipe of wild asparagus omelette. It was absolutely delicious, even Terry said so. And thus started my interest in wild greens…
Over the years, I found it best to keep the cooking of green leaves as simple as possible, in order to retain the colours vibrant and the flavours fresh. Having said that, some greens tend to be bitter and do benefit from the addition of other elements to offset the bitterness.
On the scale of bitterness, amaranth and milk thistle rate pretty mildly on par with watercress in my book, red dandelion however is way up there especially when you dress it with vinegar or lemon juice as I did ( a mistake I am sure not to repeat!).
The following dishes are inspired by our past travels in the Mediterranean, particularly the Greek islands. There was not a single meal that didn’t include “horta”, a platter of boiled wild greens reported to be beneficial to your health and an essential part of the Crete diet, simply dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.
Boiled greens is the simplest dish you could ever make to accompany meat, chicken or fish. The wild green pie is an ideal way to use up big bunches of leaves, as they wilt during the cooking process and taste amazing when combined with halloumi and currants. Traditionally the pie crust would be made of puff pastry or even phyllo but here I have substituted a paleo friendly nut pastry to satisfy these of us on carb and gluten -free diet. With Easter coming up soon I guess you could say it is this year’s take on the Easter Pie I made last year.
Horta or Boiled Greens
Horta literally means grass in Greek, as in weeds not lawn! Any green leaves can be used for this dish: spinach, fennel, amaranth, dandelion, beetroot, rocket, silverbeet…I used milk thistle. Don’t be scared of the amount of leaves used, they boil down to next to nothing ! I like to make a big batch so I can have leftovers ( they taste delicious cold splashed with EVO and salt flakes, and not so bitter once cooked ).
Serves 4, as a side dish
1 large bunch of milk thistle ( about 1 kg )
Enough water to cover the greens
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
- Bring water to the boil. Clean the milk thistle of any dirt and wilted leaves. Trim the stalks, and cut into manageable pieces ( do not chop ! ). Boil the greens for 15minutes or so, until they are soft and tender ( not mushy )/
- Lift the greens and drop them into iced water to stop the cooking and retain the bright green colour.
- Drain and serve dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, seasoned with salt and pepper.
Wild Green Pie
While the pastry is paleo-ish ( adapted from Pete Evans’ Lunch Box, but i used butter instead of lard ) ), the filling is not so much using halloumi cheese and currants. You need them to offset the slight bitterness of the dandelion ( unlike you like bitter of course !)
Serves 4-6 as a main
150g almond meal
100g coconut flour
80 tapioca flour
25g psyllium husks
1 tsp salt
240g cold butter, cut into small cubes
125 ml ice cold water
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 bunches of mixed greens ( I used red dandelion and amaranth )
2 brown onions, peeled and finely chopped
300 halloumi cheese, crumbled
3 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp dried oregano
3 tbsp chopped mint
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp dried currants
salt and pepper
- For the pastry: Combine the first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Add the butter and gently rub with your finger tips until evenly blended ( if you want to keep you hands clean, pulse in a food processor until the mixture resembles crumbs. Then transfer to large bowl ). In a separate bowl, mix eggs, water and vinegar. Pour over the dry ingredients and mix well to form a soft and sticky dough. Turn out onto a clean work surface floured with extra tapioca or coconut flour, and gently shape into two even balls.Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 30 min.
Roll out one pastry ball until 3mm thick. Place in the freezer to firm up for about 20 min.
Repeat with the other ball.
Once firm enough, trim the pastry into round shape large enough to cover a 23cm pie dish.
Cover with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge until ready to use.
- For the filling: Rinse the greens, discarding any yellow or wilted leaves. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, out the greens and onions in and simmer for 10 min. Drain and set aside to cool. In the meantime, combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. When cool enough, add the greens to the wet mixture and mix well, seasoning with salt and pepper.
- To assemble the pie: Preheat oven to 180C. Lightly oil a 23cm round pie dish. Transfer the greens filling, spreading it evenly. Cover with pastry, tucking in any overhanging bits. Bake for 45 min or until the top is golden. Allow to cool and serve either hot or cold, sliced in wedges.
When we organise family holidays, Mr T and I have a deal: it can’t all be about food and wine.
He loves to drive and sightsee, add a daily walk in the mix and he’s happy. Back in our boating days, he wouldn’t care where we ended up, as long as it involved some kind of crossing and navigation planning. Being on the move is what drives him. Similarly, Anne looks forward to do something different everyday, be it catching a train to the city, go to the movies or visiting friends.
So, for this Tasmanian trip, I told them there would be a hike everyday, selected not only for them, but also to wear off all the food I was planning on sampling.
This is our second day, and I am looking forward to today’s hike in Cradle Mountain National Park.
The plan is to drive from Launceston to Cradle Mountain, stopping at Sheffield along the way, do at least one hike, fit in lunch and keep driving to Tullah, our overnight accomodation. On paper it looks totally doable: 190 klm, 2h30mn driving time according to Google Map. However, I have been told by a local lady it would be a pretty full on day and to plan accordingly.
I am so excited, I wake everyone really early to hit the road shortly after dawn, much to Anne’s displeasure who was hoping for a lazy hotel breakfast. I promise to make it up to her later in the morning while packing the complimentary chocolate truffles, just in case.
It is an easy drive to Sheffield, traffic is by Sydney standard non existent which allows Mr T to drive much faster than I’d like. Not that he is speeding, but the roadside is peppered with signs advertising a rasberry farm here, a Cheese factory there, the Truffledore, a fish farm, a winery…For someone who skipped breakfast, the temptation to stop is overwhelming. But Mr T is reminding me that we have places to go before sunset, so we stick to the plan and keep going.
We make it to Sheffield by mid-morning, first paying a visit to the Kentish Visitors Centre. The staff there is very welcoming and friendly, obviously proud to show what is known as The Town of Murals. Going back to the mid1980’s, the town decided to develop a tourist attraction which would be “ an outdoor art gallery depicting the pioneering history of the district and its people”. There are now 60 or more murals displayed within Sheffield where an International Mural Fest Competition is held annually, with 9 artists competing to each paint a mural in just one week. The pieces remain on display in Mural Park for 12 months after which the winner of the “paint-off” is added to the collection. We only had time to visit last year’s display in Mural Park and walked around the town’s main streets: genres are eclectic, some recording the history of the town, others more artistic and modern. It reminded me of a large painting that Terry’s older daughter did in year 8, featuring our boat sailing around tropical islands, palm trees and exotic birds…I think it would not have been out of place in Sheffield, Tasmania!
The visitor’s centre is full of information about the local area and this is also where you can purchase a National Parks Pass. When we mention our plan to visit a few of the National Parks during the week, we’re advised to go for the Holidays Vehicle Parks Pass which allows entry for the car and up to 8 passengers to all national parks during 2 months.
By the time we leave the centre, loaded with brochures and maps, our tummies are grumbling and we set out to look for a late breakfast /early lunch. The choice is wide, but we can’t go past Bossimis Bakery, advertising Tassie Scallop pie. Tasmanian Scallops are Mr T’s food obsession, and he has made it his mission to eat as many as possible during this trip.
The pie crust is standard flaky on top and short on the bottom, but the filling is a decadent mix of 5 scallops with roe on and small chunks of vegetables in a creamy curry sauce. Not bad for a snack! Anne opts for a meat pie as that is her favourite treat, she is back smiling and ready for the next drive.
It takes nearly 1 hour to reach Cradle Mountain NP and it seems cars and buses come out of nowhere, as we’re caught in traffic, shown to an “overflow” carpark because the park is so busy, access to Dove Lake is by Shuttle service only. Luckily, the shuttles run every 5-10 minutes between the Visitors Centre and Dove Lake, so we don’t have to wait very long. Still, we’re amazed by the number of tourists, some look like serious hikers setting off for a few days on the Overland Track, others are day visitors like us, equipped with not much else than running shoes and a camera.
Talking of camera, I start snapping away as soon as we arrive, telling Anne and Mr T to walk ahead as I know they can’t stand crowds.
The hike of the day is Dove Lake Circuit, which is arguably Tasmania’s most popular walk and with good reasons: 6 klm return, the track is suitable for most ages, being level most of the time with only gentle hills and very few steps. It can take up to 2 hours hiking on this incredibly well maintained path, taking you thru rainforests, along quartzite beaches, with lots of resting areas where people can sit and picnic. It is perfect to enjoy the spectacular view of Cradle Mountain peaks looming over the track except that in my case I hardly stop because I am trying to catch up with my team.
I didn’t think I stayed behind that long, and expect to meet Anne and Mr T only a few meters along the path. Only I can’t find them and by the time I realise that I might have missed them and ended up ahead, I have reached the half way point. Tossing between waiting for them here or having them waiting for me at the end. I choose to keep going, figuring that we’d all end up in the car park eventually. So, I am going against all “walk safely “ advice and walk alone, tell no one where I am or where I am going ( there is no phone coverage anyway ), stop just long enough to take a few photos and carry no water. But I manage to finish the hike in 1h20mn, check the Walkers Log book to find the others are not here and wait. Not long, they’re 10 minutes behind me, as they also have walked non stop. We have a bit of a row “ where were you? “ “ did you really think we’d leave you behind with no water? “ but all is good in the end. It turns out that Mr T had stopped at Glacier Rock, only 10mn into the walk. It is accessible thru a gate, and popular with people who want to have a great view of the lake and the mountains without venturing further. He figured I would want to stop there for photos. I did, but as I could see dozens of people crowding the top of the rock already, I never imagined agoraphobic Mr T would join them and wait for me there. So here we are, knowing each other so well we didn’t expect either of us to do the unexpected.
I suggest going back quickly to Glacier Rock for a family photo, but after all the rush and frustration, neither of them are in the mood for a group selfie.
On the more positive side, Anne gives the walk the thumbs up for scenic value and easy grade. And because I had allowed 3 hours including lengthy photo breaks, we now find ourselves ahead of schedule.
Just as well, because the 45 klm to Tullah take over 1 hour on narrow winding roads. The Peppers’ chocolate truffles came in handy as a substitute lunch and by the time we arrive at Tullah Lakeside Lodge at 4.30pm, we are ravenous.
But first, checking in: the location is very pretty, by the shore of Rosebery lake. The main building houses the restaurant, bar and kitchen, a small games alley and overlooks a large patch of grass with a giant game of chess, outdoor furniture and even a helicopter pad! The staff is quite friendly and hospitable, sharing bar and office duties it seems.
I must say that after the luxury of Peppers in Launceston the night before, I am feeling underwhelmed with our accomodation tonight. Admittedly the room rate is much lower but it feels like we are staying in a kids summer camp or a workers camp ( which it could easily have been ) with rooms lined in long narrow dongas ( australian term for a transportable tin building ), facing onto the courtyard and the adjoining donga. Ours is a Standard room, so no view of the lake, it is quite large with a queen and a single bed, but fairly basic, a very small bathroom ( original ) and fridge area. Still, it is clean, has a large TV, tea/coffee facilities and the beds are comfortable. It’s all we need for a good night sleep.
The restaurant is a pleasant surprise: after the indulgence of Stillwater, we are happy to go back to basic pub food. Servings are large and prices are reasonable. Mr T can’t help himself and orders crumbed scallops just to taste! What he really looks forward is the Tasmanian T-bone steak which he still raves about as I write this, saying it was the most flavoursome and tender beef he had in a long time. Anne chose the Chicken Parmigiana, which comes out as a massive portion as does my plate of baby back ribs. It is very much a stick to your ribs kind of meal, just what we wanted after the hike and the drive and we eat it all up!
Looking around, the dining room is filled with hikers and workers alike, all chatting about their day the same way we’re planning ours tomorrow: more driving and more hiking to come yet!
New year means new resolutions. Not so much for me, but somehow the family has decided to embark on a healthier path, after a roller coaster last year. There are 4 of us, each having different reasons to alter our diet and lifestyle: Anne, 14, who has decided to kick her addiction to sugar and carbs; Marc, 20, who attends the gym regularly and is obsessed with protein intake; Mr T who endured a health scare a few months ago and has sworn off salt and sugar; then yours truly, who could lose a couple of kilos and love handles…
None of us like dieting, so we’ve always tried to eat relatively healthy, without restricting ourselves too much. My motto has always been “ everything in moderation “. And it worked for a while, but I must admit that over the last year or so we’ve been eating everything in excess and it is finally showing.
After our trip to Tasmania, I thought it would be a simple matter of reducing portion size and cut down on the cheese and cakes! It was Anne who asked if I could help her switch to a Paleo diet, as she wanted to go cold turkey and quit not only sugar and carbs, but also dairy. If ever there was a culinary challenge, this was it. Though, to be honest, as we are increasingly surrounded by family and friends turning either vegetarian, pescatarian, gluten free eaters, nut avoiders…I had gotten used to adapt recipes to suit.
So we have settled on a Paleo-style diet, with Anne adhering strictly to a sugar added-free, dairy-free, carb-free diet. Mr T and I occasionally will sneak a sourdough sandwich or a piece of cheese in when the craving hits, while Marc will happily accept whatever is cooking and have burgers and burritos out with his friends.
So far so good, it’s only been a month but we’re all noticing how we don’t feel so bloated any longer and even fitting better in our clothes. I am sure results would be more visible if we took up exercising as well, but that’s another story…best left for a fitness blog.
Needless to say that there’s been a big shift in the kitchen: no more cakes, the only baking is limited to paleo bread and crackers ( a work in progress ). Our beloved morning fruit juices include quite a few vegetables while I am still acquiring a taste for smoothies. It is lucky we like fritters, salads, stir fries and grilled meats, since we cook a lot of them!
Like these sweet potato fish cakes with a Japanese style coleslaw. It’s inspired by a recipe I first saw in the latest Delicious magazine, and I liked the fact that it uses ingredients I always have on hand ( while we cut out white potatoes, sweet potatoes are ok once in a while ). I changed some of the salad veggies and added avocado cream for extra yumminess, also cooked an extra batch of fish cakes to have for lunch!
Sweet Potato Fish Cakes with Japanese style Slaw
This recipe reminds me of how I used to cook on the boat, when the boys wouId catch a fish on these ocean passages and I used to think of different ways to eat fish!
The fish cakes can be made in advance and stored frozen between sheets of baking paper. The dressing will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks in an airtight container, though it rarely lasts that long in our house as I love to use it in salads, steamed veggies or even cold chicken!
Serves 4 as a main
700g whole sweet potatoes, unpeeled
1 kg skinless fish fillets ( I used snapper ), boned and roughly cut
3 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
Olive oil, to shallow fry
1/4 white cabbage, shredded
1/2 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
A handful of baby spinach
1 avocado, cut into wedges
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
2 nori sheets, thinly sliced
Mint leaves, coriander leaves and pickled ginger to serve
2 tbsp tamari( gluten free soy ) sauce
1 tbsp water
2 tbsp pickled ginger juice
2 tsp sesame oil
1 lime, cut into wedges
- To make the fish cakes: preheat oven to 180C, roast sweet potatoes whole for 30mn or until tender. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Scoop out the flesh in a large bowl, mash with a fork or a potato masher and place the bowl on a bed of ice until completely cool ( you can also spread the mix onto a tray and freeze for 20 mm, but I had no space in my freezer )
- Place the fish and 1 tsp of salt in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the cooled sweet potatoes and the spring onion, pulse to combine. Shape the mixture into rounds the size of your palm, transfer to a tray and chill until you need them.
- To make the salad: toss the shredded cabbage, sliced red onion, baby spinach, sesame and pumpkin seeds, sliced nori sheets, herbs and pickled ginger in a large bowl. You can also add the avocado wedges then, I don’t because we have an avocado hater at our table so I serve it on the side.
- To make the dressing: whisk tamari, water, ginger juice and sesame oil in a small bowl until combined.
- When ready: heat 2 cm oil in a frypan over medium-high heat. Cook the fish cakes in batches, 3mn on each side until cooked through. Remove with a spatula and drain on paper towel.
- Serve with salad, dressing, lime wedge and avocado cream alongside.
We step out of the Jetstar aeroplane down onto the tarmac, and the contrast could not be greater: hills all around, quiet save for the sound of the engines still idling, the smell of gum trees and freshly cut grass, and most importantly the crispness of the air…such a welcome change to the humid heat we left behind in Sydney in the early hours of the morning.
We’ve just landed in Launceston, Tasmania.
The trip was a last minute decision, trying to fit a short holiday between boat charters and medical appointments. One condition was to choose a destination we had not been to before, and that did not require all day to get there. After ruling out most of Australian mainland, it left us with Tasmania, the Apple Island at the bottom of Australia, a place we always dreamed of visiting on the boat. Except we have no boat no more, and we’re going on a road trip instead. 7 days, 7 places!
Getting out of bed at 4am to catch an early flight was the trade-off to make sure we’d have plenty of time to discover Launceston and its surroundings.
All I know about the region is that it is the home of the Tamar River, running northwards from Launceston to Bass Strait and the fertile Tamar Valley, famous for its cool climate wineries, orchards, dairy farmers and truffle growers.
It is 9am when we arrive though, too early to check into our hotel and/or embark on a food trail so we think it wise to start the day’s exploring with a hike to the Cataract Gorge. Ready for a longish drive, I am surprised to discover access to the Gorge is merely minutes from the city centre, and find not only well set up walking and hiking trails, but a large swimming pool, a restaurant, a cafe, a suspension bridge, manicured gardens and tame wildlife including the brightest peacock I have ever seen!
The hiking trails are mostly easy, the Cataract walk along the river is flat and leads to one of the main bridges, but as we have to return to the car ( and to Anne who declined to hike, preferring to take pictures of wallabys and ducks instead ) we opt for the Zig Zag track on the other side of the river which is proving challenging for Mr T whose post-surgery condition is leaving him breathless. We run into a lady, who doesn’t look particularly fit but tells us “that’s not as bad at the Great Wall”. “Which wall?” I ask. She looks at me wide eyed “ Of China!” I am not sure what to make of that comment…these days, everyone seems to talk about walls!!
By the time we finish the hike and return to the carpark, it is past 11am and the place is filling up quickly with tourists and families here to enjoy a picnic or a ride on the chairlft. That’s our cue to head out of town and drive along the Tamar River towards Georgetown, one of the first Australian settlements with a rich maritime history. We stop at the Mount George lookout, an historic semaphore site which overlooks the whole valley ( great photos!!) and since the town looks pretty quiet from here we drive on to Low Head which is the most northern part of Tasmania. There you will find the oldest operated Pilot Station, a maritime Museum, Low Head Lighthouse and Fog Horn. But my favourite, is stumbling into a local ranger who was kind enough to show me baby penguins in their nests, hidden in the bushes ( they wait for their parents who waddle from the sea each night to feed them )
Lunch is a quick snack of smoked salmon pate and iced coffee at Low Head’s Coxswain Cafe, and we’re off again, this time heading east on the Tamar Wine route.
The area is dotted with over 30 wineries and it reads like the who’s who of Tasmania’s sparkling wines: Bay of Fires, Jansz, Clover Hill, and Pipers Brook cellar doors all are located within 5-10 kilometers of each others and I so wish we could visit them all. But we only have time for one, so we stop at Jansz, one of my favourite sparklers and because I want to take a photo to send back home! Reception is friendly and cold, as in the lady behind the counter greets us with a smile and shows us to a fridge full of chilled bottles. Tasting is free for 3 “standard” cuvees then $5 for the more exclusive vintages. Some like the Vintage 2011 Single Vineyard Chardonnay are only available at the cellar door, and should you wish to purchase any, shipping is free. Thus will start my shopping spree around Tasmania, upgrading the cellar as we go…
The drive back to Launceston is as scenic as ever, driving past paddocks, fields and more wineries which is becoming a bit boring for Anne who is keen to arrive at the hotel.
Tonight’s accomodation is at Peppers Seaport, right on the river and overlooking the marina. We are staying in a one bedroom River View Suite, which accommodates the 3 of us, courtesy of a king size bed and a pullout sofa bed in the lounge room. It is like an apartment, there is a full size kitchen and laundry ( which we don’t use ), a large walk-in robe and a bathroom supplied with fancy toiletries. Complimentary wifi, bottled mineral water and chocolate truffles ensure that Anne feels right at home!
However, there i just enough time to unpack and get changed as we have a an early dinner reservation at Stillwater restaurant, a short walk away along the river. While I am usually happy to go along with Mr T’s tendency to “wing it” when on holidays, if I hear of a restaurant or a place of interest I try to make sure we visit it. I had read about Stillwater in one of Not Quite Nigella’s blog posts, and knew it to be one of the best restaurants in Launceston. A fact that every one we met in town confirmed, so I dragged my crew along to this converted mill building by the bridge where we had hiked to earlier today ( that’s how compact a town Launceston is ).
The menu is like a long list of local produce prepared in intriguing ways and it takes us a while to read thru and choose. Our waitress is very obliging, going to great length to explain each dish, bringing us glasses of Clover Hill sparkling wines and a basket of sourdough with churned butter until we decide. We are tempted to go for the Chef’s 5 course menu, a combination of dishes from the menu and specials of the day for $125 per person, but it applies to the whole table only and we all want to try different courses, so we order a la carte instead.
For snacks, Terry orders oysters from St Helens on the east coast, a la natural. They come nestled on a bed of rocks, very cute, small but plump and juicy.
I choose the Cape Grim Beef tartare, with lemon and mustard emulsion, horseradish cream and sorrel. The meat is oh so tender and I could easily have eaten a larger portion.
Anne’s choice is Shaved calamari and potato noodles, garnished with togarashi ( chili pepper condiment ), lemon and katsuobushi ( similar to bonito flakes ). I think it’s quite unusual for her, but she loves Japanese flavours and this is her chance to taste something more elaborate than sushi.
These are followed by small plates ( about the size of an appetiser ). Mr T chose the Whiskey cured Huon Salmon, served with dill and honey vinaigrette, salmon pearls and puffed wild rice. This is such a pretty dish and super tasty, with only a hint of whiskey.
Anne loves her Mt Gnomon Pork Belly , seasoned with szechuan and black vinegar, pickled radishes and burnt cucumber. She reluctantly offers to share.
I went the adventurous route and decided to try the Tasmanian black lip abalone, which I never ordered before for fear of it being too chewy. I figured this was now or never, hoping chef Craig Will would work some magic ! Well, I am sure he cooked it to perfection, but unfortunately the shellfish was still too bitey ( tough would be another word, maybe too harsh?) for me. On the other hand, the black vinegar noodles and mixed Japanese mushrooms, floating in the roasted squid broth are a revelation! The flavours are magical and I could have drank that broth off the plate. Instead, the thoughtful me offers to give Anne and Mr T a taste and they proceed to mop the broth with what is left of the sourdough. Our waitress doesn’t miss a beat and seeing how much we love the bread, offers to bring another basket. I wish she’d bring another bowl of that broth too!
Then, come the large plates ( aka main courses ). Anne plays it safe and orders her favourite: roast duck breast with buffalo curd, carrot relish and pumpkin seed dukka. I can tell she loves it, by the way she only lets us have one mouthful. Indeed it is very nice, cooked just right and quite a generous serve too.
Tonight’s fish of the day is boarfish, a firm white flesh fish, crumbed with macadamia nuts and served with avocado, avruga caviar and lemon butter sauce. They had me at caviar and avocado! It is quite a luscious dish and I mop every bit of the sauce …
Mr T could not pass the Cape Grim eye fillet, as he loves his steak. It is served spread with yuzu and green olive tapenade, beetroot, potato and leek ash. He enjoyed the meat, but was not keen on the tapenade, saying it was overpowering the flavour of the meat. Personally I loved the unique combination of the tender meat with the sharp salty olive spread, and we swap plates so he can taste the fish ( and what sauce I have left ! )
By then we’re pretty full, but we make an effort to dig into the sides we thought we needed/wanted. The salt roasted potatoes with whipped miso butter and furikake come piping hot and bursting out of their skins.
The Roasted broccoli head splashed with lemon chilli oil is covered under a blanket of grated parmesan. Both sides are very tasty and we all wish we could eat more.
Actually, we are saving the very little room we have left for dessert. It is a choux pastry filled with hazelnut cream, and served with tiny dollops of lavender and berry cream. This is part of the 5 course menu, but we asked if the chef would let us have a plate for us to share. And he obliged !
What can I say? The 3 of us take one bit of the crispy shell and we nearly fight over the last scrape of custard.
And this, my friends, is a a fitting end to a wonderful dinner and most enjoyable day in Launceston. If this is day 1, I can’t wait to see what happens for the rest of the week!