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.
A blend of Mesoamerican ritual, European religion and Spanish culture, the holiday is celebrated each year over 3 days, from October 31- November 2. While October 31 is Halloween, November 1 is “el Dia de los Inocentes,” or the day of the children, and All Saints Day. November 2 is All Souls Day or the Day of the Dead. According to tradition, the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31 and the spirits of children can rejoin their families for 24 hours. The spirits of adults can do the same on November 2.
Unlike the European holiday of All Saints, it is a joyful occasion where it is believed that the border between the spirit world and the real world dissolve. During this brief period, the souls of the dead awaken and return to the living world to feast, drink, dance and play music with their loved ones. In turn, the living family members treat the deceased as honored guests in their celebrations, and leave the deceased’s favorite foods and other offerings at gravesites or on the ofrendas ( altars ) built in their homes.
When we lived in Mexico, I was mesmerised by the variety and attention to details on some of the ”ofrendas”. Every component has a specific meaning in welcoming the souls of the deceased: the marigold flowers guide the spirits back to the home with their fragrance, the candles are there to show the light, the papel picado ( perforated paper) is decorative but also represent the wind, water is offered to quench the deceased thirst after their journey, salt as a soul purifier. The main food offering is Pan de Muerto, or bread of the dead, a sweet bun shaped as the skull and bones and citrus scented. Pictures of the deceased are also included, taking pride of place in the celebration. Because the main objective behind the offering, is for the souls of the deceased to still enjoy the same things they did when they were alive; it is not unusual to find all types of objects on these altars, from toys in the case of altars dedicated to children, to books, beer bottles, and cigarette packets in other cases.
The building of an altar takes time, gathering all the different elements. Mexican people start in early October, in fact most plan throughout the year. In our case, I started a couple of weeks in advance, inspired by Chef Marcela whose instagram account showcases delicious looking Mexican food and insanely gorgeous table settings. Having decided to honour my Malagasy grand-parents and Mr T’s Australian parents, I dug out whatever items we had accumulated over the years: old photos, candle holders, clay skulls, perforated paper, skeletons and bones ( from the Halloween stash ). I found marigold flower blooms at our local nursery, enough to make a pretty arrangement but not the long garlands we see in Mexico. So I also bought several bunches of dried everlasting daisies to create a mass of orange flowers, on and around the altar. The piece de resistance, the bread of the Dead, was provided by Dulce Beso, a Mexican bakery in Sydney who takes online orders for home delivery. How easy is that?
As for the table setting, it was kept simple: white table cloth, white plates, a big bunch of everlasting daisies, bay leaves and rosemary and jalapenos for name tags.
The dress code was Mexican or Halloween, up to the guests. The kids stuck to the Halloween theme, Hannah recycling her zombie queen of heart costume and the boys showing up with toy guns ( I dared not ask what they were supposed to be ). The men were quite subdued this year, while the ladies channelled their inner Catrinas with beautiful headpieces, masks and mexican jewellery. I played it simple myself, wearing a traditional embroidered blouse I purchased in Chiapas many years ago.
Onto the food. More than hosting a party, I get great enjoyment from planning one. For some reason, organising the menu, sourcing ingredients and provisioning bring me joy. I know, it sounds weird to some, but we are fortunate in our family that most of us feel the same way and appreciate the love that goes into cooking good food for friends and relatives. So when the Day of the Dead/Mexican theme was announced, I received the fastest response from my guests. Shelley was the first to text me: “ Can I make a pumpkin pie, pleaaaaaaase?” Tania was merely a minute later “ I will make prawn tostadas”, followed by Carolyn “ I am onto the Guacamole. And curry puffs too, because everybody love curry puffs, even Mexican people”. Kathy brought a black bean dip with copious amounts of corn chips. As for Danielle, she repeated her cheesy stuffed bread which had been a huge success last year. Mal surprised us all with jalapeno poppers, smoked by his good self in his own new smoker. What can I say? Almost all the starters disappeared within minutes.
Being in charge of the mains, I decided to keep it simple with a roast pork, a vegan dish and some tacos. While it was simple in my mind, it did require some organisation and special ingredients. A little internet research led me to Mexico City Food for supplies of corn tortillas, tajin chili lime seasoning, dried chilis, hibiscus flowers and pozole. The roast pork had to be started 2 days ahead, as it required 7 hours of slow cooking and resting overnight. I found a recipe from Yucatan that involved agave and a lot of chilis, including the fiery hot habanero. Fearful of ruining the dish and hurting guests, I halved the quantity of chilis which resulted in a very mild yet still tasty sauce. Because I wasn’t sure the kids would enjoy anything too spicy, I decided to make 3 separate taco fillings: a bland crispy chicken popcorn, a more spicy seasoned fish and a rich octopus braise. All served with the usual assortments of tortillas, guacamole, shredded lettuce, ancho mayo and tomato salsa. And catering for the vegans, was a plant-based dish of wild mushrooms, pozole and black rice with pepitas seeds, pomegranate and parsley ( greatly inspired by Chef Marcela’s post, who didn’t provide a recipe though so I winged it! )
The sweet selection consisted of a few lollies and a couple of fruit platters. I know, fruits don’t sound sexy for a Halloween party, but the kids enjoyed them to nibble on ( after the corn chips were gone…) and a sprinkle of tajin seasoning on them made them interesting enough for the grown ups to have a taste.
Then, dessert time came and we had a choice of Craig’s birthday cake made by Rosalie ( an amazing deconstructed red velvet cake with buttercream, meringues and chocolate ganache ) or Shelley’s pumpkin pie topped with ginger biscuits and candied pecans. Most people had a serve of both!
It was a great night. Despite the cold weather that forced us inside, COVID restrictions which restricted our numbers, we all forgot about the misery 2020 brought on so many of us, for a while.
The altar is here to stay until November 2.
Hibiscus Blood Orange Punch
Hibiscus flowers are very popular in Mexico and often used to make a refreshing iced tea or agua fresca. I found this recipe by accident, which happens to include mint and blood oranges, ingredients I had on hand. It is super easy to make ahead of time and can be served chilled, warm, fizzy or flat. This is a non alcoholic version I made for the kids, but there is no reason you can’t add a shot of tequila and have yourself a Day of the Dead margarita!
Makes 8 cups
3 cups water
15g dried hibiscus ( or 6 hibiscus tea bags )
2 blood oranges, juiced
1 lemon, juiced
1 handful fresh mint
1/2 cup brown sugar ( raw cane sugar would do )
4 cups mineral water ( sparkling if you prefer a fizzy drink )
1 blood orange, for garnish
- In a small saucepan, bring water to the boil. Add the hibiscus flowers and mint, then turn the heat off. Cover and let it infuse for 10 minutes.
- Strain the hibiscus and mint. Add the juice from the blood oranges and the lemon to the “tea”, as well as the brown sugar and the extra water. Stir well and let it cool completely. Chill in the fridge until cold and ready to serve
- When ready, add slices of extra blood orange. Enjoy!
What do places like Uepi in the Solomons, Hirifa in the Tuamotus, Nanuya in Fiji, and Marathi in Greece have in common? They are all small island resorts we discovered during our cruising days, anchored off with the idea to stop for a look and a drink, only to end up staying for a while. In every case, we would settle at the bar, meet the owners who would welcome you as friends, enjoy fantastic food and hospitality, and generally have the run of the place as if it was your own.
These places hold a special place in our hearts, and the memories rushed back recently, during a short cruise in the Hawkesbury River.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to Peats Bite, Sydney’s hidden gem.
Located in Sunny Corner, on the Hawkesbury River, and only 1h drive from Sydney CBD, this restaurant is only accessible by boat or by sea plane. I first found out about it thru an internet special, when looking for a weekend getaway and we didn’t have a boat. Peats Bite solved the problem, by offering a shuttle transfer service from Brooklyn.
It is the brainchild of Rod and Tammy Miljoen, who purchased the property in the early 80’s and decided to run it as a restaurant that would welcome guests as though they’d arrive home. Over the years, they acquired a reputation for long lunches and live entertainment, without the need to advertise and have had their share of A-listed visitors.
While Rod passed away a few years ago, his daughter Tanya and partner Geoff, have now taken over the family business.Read More
Have you ever had red wombok before?
It is similar to a traditional Chinese cabbage, otherwise known as wombok, except that it is well, red. Bordering on purple.
It shares the same nutritional benefits , being rich in vitamin C and A as well as calcium and fibre. It is also low in fat and calories, which makes it ideal for those of us trying to eat on the lighter side ( I am getting ahead of myself here, as I read somewhere that we have 14 weeks till Xmas, that means silly season is only a couple of months away !)
The deep burgundy colour is due to the presence of anthocyanins (nutrients responsible for blue, red and purple pigments in fruits and vegetables ) which serve as powerful antioxidants. High levels of these put it in the Super Food category, along with blueberries and red grapes.
Flavour wise, it is similar to its cousin, the green cabbage ( Chinese or otherwise ), mild and sweet with a crisp and crunchy texture. You can use it as you would use plain cabbage, one notable difference being that it doesn’t seem to have the strong sulphuric smell generally associated with its counterpart, when cooked.
A large head showed up in my vegetable box, a few weeks ago, as one of the unusual items we’re given to try.
Usually, I would buy a quarter of a cabbage, which is enough for a meal for the four of us. But as much as we like it, a whole head is A LOT of cabbage !
Thankfully, wombok ( of any colour ) has a long shelf-life and doesn’t oxidise ( discolour ) when cut , which is great if, like me, you take a while to decide how to use it.
Because we had so much of it, I experimented and came up with different ways to have it. We turned it into a salad, a stir fry and a power drink!Read More
Rise and shine at The Anchorage in Port Stephens!
Our package includes breakfast and the Anchorage’s is famous for its bottomless sparkling wine breakfast. Pre-COVID19 it would be served buffet style, with an offering of continental breakfast and a few hot options. These days, while all options are available it is table service only. Mr T is encouraging me to start the day with a wine, but I am not in the mood or the condition for it. As it is, I am still full with last night’s dinner so I stick to the continental breakfast. It is quite sizeable already, coming with an assortment of danishes and croissants, yoghurt, fruit salad and juice.
Mr T loves a hot breakfast and can’t go past the fried eggs on toast, home made baked beans and double smoked bacon.Read More
Needing an escape from Covid19-induced cabin fever? Take a 3h drive to Port Stephens.
This is not our first trip to the area, but this time, it is just Mr T and I. With a couple of free nights and an urge to go the road less travelled, we set off north and decide to drive a new route, Putty Road.
Well known by motorbike riders for its windy sections, bends and twists the road takes you on the western edge of the Hawkesbury river for 160km and north to the Hunter Valley…it is supposed to be very busy in weekends, but on a Tuesday morning, there is hardly any traffic. Admittedly it is raining quite heavily ( the east coast low is hovering ) and being the middle of winter, who in their right mind would want to take up a scenic drive? To reach the scenic Putty Road drive, we have to deal with heavy traffic in western Sydney for about 1 hour, but once on the scenic road proper, all cars disappear and it is pretty much us and the odd council truck. The road winds its way thru bush that obviously burnt last summer. Never I have seen so many cremated trees before, though most have regrowth on the trunks. Nature obviously will recover. On the other hand, there are lots of burnt out cars around, how many from the bush fires, I don’t know.Read More
Here is a variation on the almond and orange cake I posted about a few weeks ago.
It came about after receiving my fortnightly veggie box. There is always some new and unusual produce included, and last week’s surprise was a handful of kumquats.
I must admit, I have never bought kumquats before, let alone cooked with them. I took a bite of one of these little egg-shaped citrus, expecting it to be sweet like a mandarin, and nearly spat it out: it was so tart, nearly bitter, like eating a whole lemon! So they sat on the kitchen bench for a while, while I figured out what to do with them. I knew they needed to be cooked to dial down the puckering tanginess, and also had to be made into something sweet. Marmalade was suggested, but I didn’t have enough of them. Instead, I revisited the concept of pairing orange and almonds, this time going for little cakes to match my little kumquats.
These mini-muffin size tea cakes are very much inspired by financiers, these small French almond cakes, flavoured with beurre noisette, and usually baked in a small rectangular mould. Like a traditional financier, they contain egg whites, almond flour, plain flour and a lot of vanilla bean brown butter.
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.
Half a pumpkin, two beetroots and a few broccoli stems. That was the extent of our supplies one Monday night.
To be fair, we did have some meat in the fridge, but after a heavy Sunday roast, the whole family felt like a light vegetarian dinner.
With my vegetable box due in the next 48 hours, I didn’t want to shop for extra and actually was keen to see if we could end up with a meal big enough to feed the four of us.
Truth be told, it was quite a fun challenge, reminding me of cooking on the boat. While cruising, it’s always been an exercise to come up with delicious and nutritious meals using whatever is available. I would read recipes of classic dishes and end up dreaming up ways to use the local produce, mixing up flavours and textures. Far from seeing myself as a recipe developer, it was more about making do with what was on hand and experimenting.
Over the years, I have learnt a lot from locals showing me the ropes, reading tons of cookbooks and of course cooking. Drawing on this knowledge, and to this day, I mostly start cooking by focusing on one ingredient and building the meal around it.
So I present you with our latest meatless Monday feast:
Roasted pumpkin with garlic cream sauce
Puy lentils and broccoli stems salad
Warm salad of beetroot and red onions
A typical no-waste kind of meaI, I am pleased to say that there was plenty to eat, thanks to a deep forage into the pantry and the crisper. A little imagination helps too.
“Just follow the Old Ghan Railroad north until Marree and turn left”
These are my instructions to Mr T, as we are on the lookout for the Marree Man.
We’re on day 2 of our Outback flying trip and heading north after circling inside the crater of Wiilpena Pound earlier.
The Old Ghan Railroad is not that obvious to spot from the air, but luckily it runs along the Outback Highway and that is easy to follow with the few trucks and caravans leading the way.
We fly over Parachilna, which was one of our potential stopovers with its famous Prairie Hotel until it turned out too complicated to arrange a lift from the airstrip ( save it for the Overlander trip, says Mr T ).Read More
It’s been a while since we’ve had a family gathering at the house. Like everyone else, Covid-19 has been a real kill joy and we’ve been reclused since end of March, following instructions from those who know best, a.k.a experts.
Last weekend was a milestone in as much that 20 people were allowed to gather in someone’s house, up from the initial number of 5. Other rules were relaxed, I know, but that particular announcement made our day because with our family, a gathering attracts easily 15 to 20 people.
It also happened to be Sam’s 5th birthday, and since we missed out on big celebrations for the April and May birthdays, it wasn’t that much of a stretch to make it an occasion for a get together.
For these of you not in the know, Sam is our beloved Labrador. Yes, we are talking about a dog’s birthday party. We have officially joined “the other side” and become the kind of dog owners who consider their pet as family member ( he is known at the Vet as Sam Steen! )
So the family was invited for a Sunday lunch. As usual, everyone asked what to bring and my initial suggestion was for dog themed and friendly food. How different and fun!
“ We can’t take off until the fog has lifted “ It is flying rule 101, explained by Mr T as we sit on the airstrip in Cootamundra, on that cold Sunday morning in June.
This is the start of a week of flying the Outback, a plan hatched only a few days before when we heard that Lake Eyre was filling up with water for the first time in years. While heavy rainfalls and floods caused devastation in Northern Queensland in early 2019 with homes lost and much of the state’s cattle industry wiped out, a few months on, the water has made its way slowly down south filling in rivers and plains, rejuvenated after years of drought. Suspecting this kind of weather event only happens once in a blue moon ( or a lifetime ), we could not miss the opportunity to see it for ourselves.
And because we have not ventured that far in the outback before, a “quick” flight to check out the lake is turning into an air safari, joining iconic dots around the desert zone known as the Outback Loop. From mountain ranges, to outback tracks and sandy deserts, we’re off hoping to tick a few places off our bucket list.
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 Adelaide, South 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/
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!
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.
Serves 4-6 , as a side
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
2/3 cup olive oil
1/3 red wine vinegar
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 tbsp dijon mustard
- In a large bowl, combine the sweet potatoes with the capsicum, celery, green leaves, beetroot, shallots and parsley.
- In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, and mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk until you have a thick emulsion.
- Add to the provision mix and toss to coat evenly.
- Garnish with extra parsley and refrigerate until ready to serve.
As we descend thru thick clouds from 9000 feet, we emerge in the foggiest and wettest weather I’ve flown in. “ Lucky, the instruments are working “ I say, “ since we can’t see where we are going “
We’re flying into Coffs Harbour in driving rain. Thankfully winds are light and Mr T manages one of his legendary smooth landings. It’s been 2 years since our last visit, but it feels like yesterday as we park the plane and make our way into town. Nothing has changed.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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?)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!