Summer of reunions, air travels and party food

How is your year going so far?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salted Pork

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

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

Ingredients

3 kg pork belly, cut into thick cubes

2 tbsp ground allspice

4 tbsp sea salt

2 tbsp black peppercorns

4 tsp brown sugar

8 garlic cloves, crushed

3 large onions, peeled and sliced

4 tbsp olive oil

3 bay leaves

2 tsp paprika ( not smoked )

1 cinnamon stick

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

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

Chocolate Brownies

Everyone has their favourite brownie recipe, this is mine.

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

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

Serves 12

Ingredients

100g plain flour

100g unsweetened cocoa powder

1tsp fine sea salt

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

3 large eggs

350g caster sugar ( really? yes! )

1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

200g 70% chocolate ( the darker the better )

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

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