This is probably going to sound weird but do you have moments when the content of your fridge or pantry brings you back some place else? It happens to me quite often, thanks to the pile of food items I always buy when we travel: jars of jams and pickles, logs of salamis, boxes of chocolate, bottles of wine…I am notorious for stuffing our luggage with local produce in the hope to recreate a dish or an experience back home.

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So last week, both my fridge and Facebook reminded me that, exactly a year ago Terry and I were in Port Lincoln, South Australia. It was primarily a business trip, as we were looking at buying a boat to become involved in a Fishing Charter business. I won’t go into the business details, this is not what this blog is about, but let’s just say that the boat’s previous owner, Ron, was heavily involved in the tuna fishing industry and while he had built this vessel for his own use as a cruiser, he insisted the craftsmanship be up to commercial standards so she could also be used for fishing. Terry fell in love with the engine room (as mechanics and engineers do) and didn’t take long to decide she would be the perfect addition to the existing fleet of Sydney Premium Charters ( ok, this will be the one and only plug to our business!) Him and Ron turned out to come from the same no-nonsense, triple back-up, practical school of boat building and got along great from the start, so much so that when Ron heard I would join Terry to prepare for the delivery trip to Sydney, he kindly offered to host us at his place. There is nothing like old fashioned country town hospitality, and Ron certainly was a gentleman introducing us to some of his family and friends, recounting the history of tuna fishing and boat building on the Eyre Peninsula, and most importantly in my books, sharing his knowledge of local restaurants, producers and wineries generously so that I could wander on a culinary adventure of my own while Terry busied himself on the boat.

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The first thought that comes to mind about Port Lincoln is seafood. This is the town lifeblood, you get a glimpse of it from the air, as the small plane from Adelaide flies over dozens of fish ponds scattered a few miles off town in the Spencer Gulf. Wait to land then drive around the harbour and discover the staggering number of fishing boats: the Eyre Peninsula is home to the largest commercial fleeting fleet in the Southern Hemisphere! Oysters, mussels, calamari, prawns, kingfish, snapper and the highly prized southern bluefin tuna and King George Whiting…all can be found in these cold southern waters and for a seafood lover like me, this place is heaven. And I already wished I was staying longer than the 4 days originally planned.

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Let’s get one thing clear: I didn’t go swimming with seals ( water was cold), cage diving with the great white shark ( are you crazy?) or boarded a charter tour operator ( when I knew I would deliver our own boat a few days later). I was there for the food… and a little sight seeing, while driving from one eating place to the next.

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Lets start with dinner at Del Giorno’s, on Port Lincoln’s esplanade. We met the owners Kris and Debra the night before, at a BBQ organised by Ron’s son, and were keen to have a taste of the local produce. Kris is Port Lincoln born and bred, actively promoting the Eyre Peninsula’s hospitality industry and committed to its local community. All the produce featured on the restaurant’s menu are sourced in the region, and if you ask, Kris will be able to tell a story about each producer. Terry and I decided to order simple entrees, wanting to taste the raw ingredients: plain oysters from Coffin Bay (just up the road!) for him, sashimi of farmed bluefin tuna and Hiramasa kingfish for me. The oysters were fresh and briny, hardly needing the house made cocktail sauce they were served with, while the sashimi was succulent dipped in soy sauce and wasabi.

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For main course, Terry could not go past the crumbed King George whiting and chips and I dove into the mussel pot (being the only mussel lover in the family, I hardly ever cook them at home!). Delighted with our meal, I could not wait for the next day of eating!

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After a morning of pottering on the boat, I left Terry and Ron onboard and took off destined for Coffin Bay, 45km away. The plan was to grab a late seafood lunch and take the scenic Oyster Walk. That was before I missed the turn off to Coffin Bay and ended up on the road to Kellidie Bay, directly opposite. There is not much on these roads, and just as I was questioning the wisdom to drive on my own in the middle of nowhere, I spotted a sign on the side of the road for an Antique shop/Pig Farm. How intriguing! Welcome to Minniribie Farm, owned and run by antique dealer Warren Smith who moved from Adelaide about 10 years ago to set up a store for antiques and collectibles. He introduced a small litter of Berkshire pigs a few years later, because he figured that “if things went bad and people stopped buying records or antiques, they would still be buying meat”. I was kindly shown around the paddock, where now 300 pigs and over 50 piglets happily roam free range, fed with a diet of vegetables, hormones and antibiotics free.

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Back in the antique shed, a fridge full of pork sits alongside racks of comic books and old vinyl records. A few steps away, a small cafe serves pancakes, burgers and pies ( all pork of course!) with a deck overlooking distant Kellidie Bay. Somehow I was really glad I took that wrong turn! Though I was too late for lunch and the kitchen was closed, sold on the idea of superior tasting meat, I stocked up on frozen packs of pork legs, bacon, and pies intending to fill up the boats freezer.

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I made my way back to Port Lincoln just in time for dinner, some nice crumbed King George whiting prepared by Ron ( knowing a fisherman has its perks..).

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After hearing of my missing out on a visit to Coffin Bay, Ron suggested I join a behind-the- scenes guided tour of the Fresh Fish Place in town instead. This is a big local business which includes a factory direct retail outlet, factory tours and tastings as well as a Seafood cooking school. While the cooking school was not an option at such short notice, I put my name down for a tour while being told that a minimum of 4 people was required for it to go ahead. Unfortunately no one else booked that day so the tour was cancelled, which didn’t stop me from driving to the retail shop and spoil my disappointed self with local produce and quirky giftware.

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While in a provisioning mood, I left my mark at the liquor shop, stocking up on local drops Boston Bay and Lincoln Estates wines. Between time spent on boat errands and food excursions, I never managed a visit at any of the local wineries, so I figured that if I could not make it to the cellar doors I would have them come to me and organise my own wine tasting onboard. Anything labelled “Sashimi”, “Great White” . “Blacklip” or “Diamond Sea” has to be worth a try, no? You should have seen Terry and Ron’s faces when I returned to the boat and loaded boxes of wine, cold and frozen seafood…most to ship back to Sydney, but also some for dinner: Coffin Bay oysters and smoked squids washed with a chilled glass of local Sauvignon Blanc.

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The next day was supposed to be my last and I had plans to finalise the provisioning with home cooked dishes and local delicacies like pickled seafood or organic vegetables. Except our delivery crew withdrew leaving Terry on his own to drive the boat to Sydney. A quick brainstorming session ensued, followed by a last minute change of plans, and I was on the plane back home to tend to the kids and the dog for a couple of days, long enough to fill up the house fridge and cook lunches/dinners for 5 days. Then it was back to Port Lincoln, hoping Terry had stocked up the galley to my liking, but he hadn’t. In his defence, he had been busy ensuring the boat was ship shape for the 5 days passage to Sydney, and given the choice between boat safety and culinary treats, he would chose boat safety any day! He did take the time to shop for food though, as he proudly showed me the ready to eat packages of lasagna, curries, yoghurt and cheeses. I sighed.

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Then I smiled, suggesting we have one last diner out before the 4am departure the next day. So it was, that our final Port Lincoln feast was at the Marina Hotel , a short walk away, for one more taste of the Eyre Peninsula. Being a saturday night, the place was packed with locals, evidently a favourite with great views over the marina and Boston island beyond. Never feeling culinary adventurous on the eve of an ocean crossing, we stuck to simple menu choices: starting with a tasting plate to share, then creamy garlic prawns for Terry and soft shell crabs for me. Ok it sounds not so simple, but the beauty of it was in the freshness of the seafood and the restraint in the seasoning ( no heavy hand with the garlic or chili ).

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A few hours later, a knock on the hull woke us up: it was Ron, who had decided to join us for part of the delivery trip, at least until we cleared South Australian waters. Much appreciated help, since he knows this coast like the back of his hand. And just like that, the week came to an end with a departure in the dark alongside other fishing trawlers, and the start of a new adventure: from Port Lincoln to Port Hacking.

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Australian meat pies are what empanadas are to the Spanish people, pizza rustica to Italians, tourtes a la viande to the French or tourtiere to Canadians: a shortcrust or puff pastry shell filled with a mixture of meats ( with aromatics and other ingredients) covered with a lid of the same pastry. I have made my own version at home and on the boat, using whatever was on hand in the fridge and the pantry and refer to it as left over pie, eaten mostly on a friday night when cooking from scratch is the last thing on my mind but I still won’t give in to order takeaways.

We had one of these nights, when returning from our overseas trip last month. After spending close to 20 hours in airports, planes and buses, I just didn’t have the energy to get in the car and face the supermarket crowd. So, I turned to the freezer for inspiration and found some puff pastry, with left over turkey from Christmas (including a decent amount of stuffing!). Thanks to Craig, Terry’s son, the veggie garden not only survived but thrived during our absence and we were blessed with fresh lettuce and tomatoes. All that was needed was a little patience while the turkey meat and stuffing thawed out. In the meantime, a quick search thru the fridge and pantry resulted in some walnuts, a jar of honey roasted garlic in sherry vinaigrette and a log of goat cheese ( I have an entire shelf dedicated to cheese for the exact purpose of dinner in a hurry!)

And what a meal, even more delicious considering the short notice: the pie filling was moist and sweet from the stuffing ( which has enough of its own seasoning so that no extra ingredients were needed, remember to ask Maliney for the recipe) and the salad was nice and refreshing, a welcome change to the airline food…

So, how about you? Do you have your own pie version, left over or otherwise?

Turkey (leftover) pie

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I know I said this pie does not need any extra ingredients for flavour, but I like to add sautéed onion as it provides additional moisture to the filling.

Serves 4 as a light dinner

Ingredients:
4 cups cooked turkey meat ( a mixture of white and dark meat)
4 cups cooked stuffing ( mine was a mix of sourdough crumbs, sausage and prunes…)
1 onion sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 sheet of puff pastry (for the lid), frozen
1 sheet of shortcrust pastry ( for the base), frozen
1 egg, slightly beaten

  1. If using frozen, defrost the meat and stuffing in the fridge overnight. Thaw out the pastry sheets, 15 minutes at room temperature.
  2. In a frypan, sauté the onion in olive oil until soft and golden. Take off the heat and cool for a while. In a large bowl, mix with the thawed turkey meat and stuffing. Set aside.
  3. Roll out the shortcrust pastry and line a buttered pie dish with it. Spread the turkey mix on top.
  4. Roll out the puff pastry and place it over the pie dish, sealing the edges by moistening and pinching them together. Make a few small holes in the middle with a knife to let the steam escape. Brush the top of the pie with the beaten egg and bake in a preheated oven at 220C for 45 minutes.
  5. Serve with a salad and a glass of light red wine. Enjoy!

My garden salad

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This is hardly a recipe, more a list of ingredients found in the fridge, garden and pantry and thrown together to make a nice salad. By using the garlic in sherry vinaigrette, you do away with having to make a dressing, a bonus in my book!

Serves 4 as a side

Ingredients:
A mix of soft lettuces ( red oak, baby cos, green leaf,…), washed and dried
1 or 2 tomatoes, quartered
1 cups walnuts, toasted
120g goat cheese log
1 cup honey roasted garlic in sherry vinaigrette (including the dressing!)

  1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl
  2. Serve with a wedge of turkey pie ( or a steak! )

It was our son’s 19th birthday a couple of weeks ago. The family tradition is to order KFC and gorge on fried chicken by the bucket load. Well, the kids do anyway, while the rest of us always look forward to the alternative menu. Not that it is necessarily lighter, it just offers something other than deep fried!

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Marc’s “plan B” was to have Mexican food, which we were all happy to hear since it is one of the family’s favourite cuisine ( along with French, Italian, Burgers, Thai, Chinese,…it all depends on who you ask) So I went to town, literally. Hurstville, to be exact, which is well known for its dozens of Asian eateries and the best place this side of Sydney to find fresh and exotic fruits and vegetables.

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I always take on the 20mn drive with a list of specific ingredients, and end up distracted with the dumplings, the duck, the bbq pork and the various noodles on offer. Over time, my shopping visit have turned into a ritual: I always start at Hurstville Central with a visit to Tosca Seafood. The variety on display is mind boggling, from the usual snapper to the salmon or the abalone ( a favourite of the mostly asian clientele), with some harder to find species like coral trout or spanish mackerel which I never see in our local seafood. Apart from salmon and tilapia, every fish is displayed whole or as cutlets, so if you want fillets, it is a matter of picking your choice of fish and have the staff cut it for you. You then end up with not only the meat but also the head and bones for stock! That’s how I bought 2 blue eye cods, to make sure I would have enough meat for fish tacos for 17 people.

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Dumplings and noodles…which ones should I pick?

Next stop, is at Tong Li Supermarket, where I generally go crazy snapping fresh rice noodles and bunches of chinese greens. Not that I can’t find them where I live, but in Hurstville the turnover is so high that I am always sure to find the freshest produce. And the more unusual too: like jicama (known here as yam bean) or dragon fruit.

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Asian and Mexican produce really have a lot in common, no?

Dumplings are my weakness, and I can never resist a sampling at Ken’s Bento ( I call them dumpling on the go!).

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And because I would have a riot at home otherwise, I always stop by Honk Kong Delight and buy a take-away dinner of Chinese Duck and Char Siu sausages.

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By the time I came home with all my goodies, you’d think I would be preparing a chinese feast instead of a mexican one!

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This is the chinese dinner, the night before the big Mexican fiesta

So, back to Cocina Mexicana my way. Planning the menu was easy: we had to have the staple guacamole, tomato salsa, fish tacos, coleslaw, with loads of corn chips and tortillas. This, in addition to the bucket of fried chicken, should have been enough. Except that I purchased a new cooking magazine while overseas and the compulsory feeder/recipe tester in me took over, and I decided on a couple (ok, a few) of extra dishes to make it more interesting. Starting with a pumpkin seeds dip, because it reminded me of a dish of chicken in pumpkin seed sauce I ate in Tabasco a few years ago. Then, I thought of cooking Pork Verde, because no party is complete without a stew of some sort, but came across a recipe for carnitas that picked my interest. And instead of potato wedges or fries, I decided to try a mexican inspired roast potato dish. The final extra dish was BBQ corn, which involved removing the silk of 17 cobs while keeping the husk intact, with the intention of rubbing some spiced butter inside, then folding the husk back. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but when the guests arrived I realised I bit more than I could chew, even though I had done most of the prep ahead of time: the fish needed cooking, the tortillas reheating, the fruits were still uncut…so I enrolled everyone to help wrap the corn in foil   (forget drawing the husk back over!) and put Mr T on BBQ duty.

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Thanks to copious amounts of libations and snacks, no one seemed to mind being served dinner 2 hours after walking in, then again jumping in the pool on a hot day always helps, and our family is pretty forgiving with long wait (they know what is coming!).

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Dessert was meant to be Marc’s favourite chocolate cake, which I decided to experiment with at the last minute by substituting coconut flour instead of plain flour (don’t ask why!). It was a flop, turns out that the coconut flour soaked all the moisture out of the cake transforming it into some sort of dry and sandy biscuit, only redeemable as a base for an ice cream cake. So while there is more work needed there, it was a mad dash to Christopher’s Cake Shop who saved the day with their Salted Caramel creation.

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Here is to Marc. First birthday feast of the year, many more to come!

Pumpkin seeds dip (Sikil Pak)

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This dip is a traditional condiment from the Yucatan. The toasted pumpkin seeds give it a smokey nutty flavour and make it a delicious, dairy free alternative to guacamole. Some recipes recommend to grind the ingredients in a molcajete ( mexican mortar ) which apparently results in a creamy sort of a dip, but I used a food processor instead to save time. It made for a chunkier, pesto-like mixture which we enjoyed served with tortilla chips and vegetable dippers.

Serves 20

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
2 medium tomatoes
1 white onion, sliced thickly
2 fresh jalapeño chiles ( or 1 habanero if you are game!)
1 tbsp vegetable oil ( I use rice bran oil, but any flavourless oil will do)
3 tbsp orange juice
2 cloves of garlic. minced
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp snipped fresh chives
1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
A few cherry tomatoes, halved

  1. Preheat oven to 175C. Spread pumpkin seeds in a 38x25cm baking pan. Bake for 8 minutes or until toasted. Cool on a large sheet of foil. Increase oven temp to 230C.
  2. Place the tomatoes, onion slices and chiles in a baking pan, drizzle with oil and toss to coat. Roast for approx 10 minutes, until tender and a little charred. Cool slightly. Core tomatoes, remove stems and seeds from chiles, remove and discard any dry charred pieces of skin.
  3. Place pumpkin seeds in a food processor, process until ground. Add the roasted vegetables, orange juice, garlic and salt. Process until nearly smooth. Stir in chives and coriander. Top with cherry tomatoes.
  4. Serve with tortilla chips and dippers like cucumber spears, carrot sticks and halved baby capsicums.

Pork Carnitas

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This recipe is inspired by a slow cooked pulled pork recipe I read about in an old american magazine, I never attempted it on the boat as gas supplies were limited and slow cooking anything for for 4 hours or more was a luxury we could not afford. Of course, things are different in the house, and this particular dish simmered on the stove for 6 hours, happily giving off aromas of cumin, orange, garlic and cinnamon…

Serves 16, as part of a buffet (probably 10-12 as a main )

Ingredients:
3 kgs boneless pork shoulder, cut into 5cm cubes
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 onions, peeled and quartered
2 oranges
8 garlic cloves, peeled
4 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks

  1. Season the pork with cumin and salt and place in a dutch oven. Pack the meat in tightly so it fills the pot with no spaces. Split the oranges into quarters and squeeze the juice over the pork. Nestle the squeezed orange pieces into the pot, add the onion quarters, garlic cloves, bayleaves and cinnamon sticks, nestled into an even layer.
  2. Pour vegetable oil over, cover tightly and bring to the boil. Simmer, covered, on the stove for about 3 1/2 hours until the pork is fork tender. It may look like a big lump of meat stuck together, swimming in its own juice. Don’t panic, it will come apart easily.
  3. Using tongs, remove orange peels, onions, garlic, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks. Keep simmering the meat uncovered for another 1 1/2 hour, or until most of the liquid is evaporated (do not be tempted to cook it on high heat, as chances are that you will burn the bottom of the pot and end up with dry meat – it happened to me once)
  4. Keep warm. Just before serving, scatter a generous amount of chopped coriander.
    To eat in tacos: place 2-3 tablespoons of carnitas mixture in warm tortillas, top with guacamole, tomato salsa, and crumbed feta cheese or sour cream.

Mexican Roast potatoes

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This is basically my mexican version of roast potatoes. Not too many spices, only cumin. coriander and chiles to taste. I used crumbled feta cheese as a good substitute for mexican queso.

Serves 16, as part of a buffet

Ingredients:
1 cup vegetable oil
2 kgs red potatoes, cut into 2cm chunks
1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 tsp salt
2 tomatoes, quartered
1 or 2 jalapeno chiles (to taste)
2 tsp ground cumin
1 cup crumbed feta cheese
Chopped coriander to serve

  1. In a large bowl, coat the potatoes with vegetable oil and ground cumin. Transfer to a large baking tray and roast in a pre-heated oven 180C for about 30mn or until tender.
  2. Add onions, tomatoes and chile, stir to combine and bake for another 15 minutes until onions and tomatoes start to soften.
  3. Serve in a large bowl, sprinkled with feta cheese and a handful of coriander

 

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Spicy fish for tacos

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Pork tacos

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Our leftovers the next day (and the next…)

It is 6.30am and freezing cold. We are standing outside Painted Cliff complex, on the side of the road, waiting for the inter-resort shuttle to pick us up. I look at our 4 suitcases, 4 carry-ons and the 2 cartons of groceries and drinks we didn’t use during the week and plan to take with us to Sunpeaks and wonder if there will be enough room in the shuttle… As it turns out, we are the first to board, so we have the luxury of an empty luggage compartment. Though it will a full bus today with 10 passengers, I am assured that there is room for all our baggage, and that whatever happens “the beer will not be left behind!” Did I mention that the driver is Australian?

I have been looking forward to this bus ride along Hwy 99, hearing that is one of the most scenic drives. However it is pitch black, the road is full of twists and turns and we’re going really slowly due to the heavy snow and somehow I am sitting in the middle of the bus, while Terry and Anne have window seats. So I decide to have a snooze and ask them to wake me up when the sun rises, so that we swap seats and I can take pictures. When I open my eyes next, we are approaching Lilloet, and are evidently leaving the Coastal Mountain range behind. Tall peaks are making room for cliffs and dry, scrubby valley walls overlooking the Fraser river. The highway winds its way along frozen lakes, desolate looking prairies, closed barns with machinery sitting idle closeby…the scenery looks and feels like it is hibernating while waiting for spring and I am struggling to feel inspired during the 5 hours it takes to reach the city of Kamloops, home to Sun Peaks resort, a mere 45mn away.

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By the time we reach the resort village, we feel cold, slightly underwhelmed by the weather (grey), and the landscape (yellow-brown), and after ending our Whistler stay on such a high I am wondering what to expect from Sunpeaks.

As happened the week before, we have arrived at lunchtime, hours before check in time. Not a problem for our vacation rental managers, Cage and Deb from Top of the Mountain, who allow us to leave our stuff in the garage so that we can wander in the village for a few hours.

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First impression: Sunpeaks is much, much smaller than Whistler and it takes us all of 30mn to explore the village. We locate the ski rental shop in the main street, organise our gear and decide to check out the local eateries. To our surprise, most of the restaurants are closed for lunch (on a sunday?), only the casual joints are open and they are all full apart from the 5 Forty Cafe and Deli. We squeeze into the small eating area, with our order of poutine for Marc, burgers for Anne and Terry and chicken panini for me. Food is tasty and welcome as we all skipped breakfast earlier (the butter tart, purchased at our pit stop, does not count!). Terry would be happy to hang around there drinking beer for the afternoon but he ends up being dragged away to the Guest Services office to collect lift passes and book lessons instead. Getting around is so easy: most shops and services are located in the village at the bottom of the slopes, there is one main street, which you can ski on since it is covered in snow! The village itself reminds us of some of the French ski resorts, with its european style architecture, quaint shops and cafes all within a short stroll of each other.

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Our accomodation in Snow Creek Village is only a 5 minutes walk from the village, and as in Whistler, 50m away from the slope. It is a spacious 3-level townhouse, with plenty of room for 2 families (or a group of schoolies, says Marc) which is just as well as our boating friends, Yogi and Steve, are following us to Sunpeaks. They will stay here for a few more weeks so they have their own accomodation in the village, but our place being so big and boasting a private spa on the balcony it will prove to be a great entertainer for us all.

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As I mentioned earlier, Sunpeaks is smaller than Whistler. By far: the skieable area is half the size, number of lifts a third less, and ( the best part ) the lines are noticeably shorter, when there are any. It is also much quieter. People come here to ski or work, and during the day, the main street is so quiet, you could hear a snowflake drop. Come night time, folks come out to partake in mostly family activities like night skiing, snow tubing, ice skating or a good old apres session at one of the bars. No loud music on deck or wild parties here, not outside or after 11pm anyway. That’s the way the locals like it, and it is explicitly mentioned in our welcome pack with a copy of the Council By-Laws included.

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This said, what Sunpeaks lacks in extreme excitement and sophistication, it makes up with its winter wonderland charm, easy access to all the activities and the best powder we’ve ever skied on ( as fluffy as champagne! ) Yogi and Steve, who have plenty more experience with powder skiing as we do, are over the moon with the dry snow quality, and Marc, who along with Anne decided to take up snow boarding, is thankful for the soft powder to land on ( Anne reckoned a bad fall is a bad fall no matter how soft the snow is, and returned to skiing after one day, reasoning that being an already good skier, she should stick to it and explore the mountain instead of spending her week practising on the beginner slope!) It is love at first sight for Terry and I, after taking a wrong turn and finding ourselves on the Mt Morrissey side of the resort. The only way home was by skiing thru tree studded glades, not quite off piste but the runs are unpatrolled and so scarcely frequented that it is easy to find a line with untouched powder. What started as an open section between two clusters of trees morphed into an obstacle course with trees closing in as we made our way to the bottom. While I found it fun and challenging ( this is nothing like we’ve done before!), Terry who had heard about tree wells and snow suffocation, was horrified and kept far away from the trees. He did enjoy having the slopes to himself though! This is a feeling repeated all thru the week no matter where we go: once the crowds scatter at the top of the chairlifts, there are enough long cruising blues, challenging blacks and wide open greens to accomodate everyone and feel you’re on your own. All we need to make it perfect is some sunshine, though the locals assure me they prefer cloudy skies as it means more snowfall (it has not snowed for a few days, not that it matters to us, the air is so cold nothing is melting!)

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Yogi and the boys join us on the hill every day, the kids taking off together while we adults explore at our own (slower) pace. We all stuck together though to reach the Top of the World ( at the peak of Mt Tod) on one of the coldest day ever! The pictures do not show the frost bitten fingers and toes, nor can you hear the annoyed comments from Terry and the kids being dragged away from the warming hut and forced to pause by -10C. But the discovery thru the fog of these eery these snow covered trees: priceless.

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As for Sunpeaks dining scene, with 20 restaurants and bars, while not as extensive an offering as Whistler it is much simpler to choose. Learning my lesson from the previous week, I enquired about the top formal restaurants from the start and booked a table at Voyageur Bistro 4 days ahead. The menu is typical Canadian fare with dishes ranging from Poutine to BBQ maple glazed pork ribs. I can’t tell you how much fun we had picking dishes, all quite different: Appetisers were smoked oyster gratin, duck drummettes, beer and bacon marmalade as well as poutine ( the latter is part of the never ending challenge to find the best poutine in B.C!)

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Mains we chose were Elk Wellington, Arctic char, Bison burger and Voyageur Tourtiere ( a Canadian meat pie ) All dishes were delicious and quite unique, a lovely change from your usual grill, still very comforting indeed. Rather than formal or fine dining, I would classify it as upmarket pub fare however.

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No shortage of casual and day eating cafes, and beside 5 Forty, we enjoyed excellent pizzas at Mountain High Pizzas (though not as good as Whistler’s Creekbread..), tasty sausage rolls and spinach pastry at Bolacco Cafe

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and a hearty lunch at Masa’s

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The latter put on a special night for Australia Day, showing the Australian Open broadcast and playing the Triple J 100 countdown. Terry and I went there for pre dinner drinks around 5pm and it was dead, Marc chose to head over after dinner and stayed until 1am, reporting that the place was packed full of Aussies!!! Just when I thought we had finally discovered nightlife in Sunpeaks, I was told Australia Day is the busiest day of the year…

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The rest of the time, I made the most of the large kitchen at the townhouse. Fully stocked with every utensils imaginable, to my delight the pantry also contained an entire assortment of spices, teas and baking ingredients. So I went to town cooking apple pies, granola, quiches, pasta bake, steaks…and because sharing is loving, we invited Yogi and family a few times for apres, dinner and a kid’s sleepover. This was the occasion for me to concoct big batches of roast chicken and potatoes, as well as vegetable curries which married surprisingly well with the pizzas our guests brought over. Who would have known??

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By the end of the fortnight, in spite of the daily skiing exercise, the carb-loaded diet is taking its toll. While I feel fit and strong ( not even a hint of soreness, touch wood!), I really can’t stand the thought of another hamburgers or even pizza. Nor do the the kids, who even concede that they have tasted enough poutine for a lifetime, both agreeing that the best version was in Whistler’s Rendez Vous. We all try one last attempt at Canadian gastronomy, as we wait for our domestic flight in Kamloops airport: a very stodgy version of Pierogi for me and a Chicken Tandoori wrap for Marc. Mine is basically dumplings stuffed with mashed potatoes, and Marc’s turns out to be filled with more rice than chicken, talking about carbohydrate overload….So what do we pick for our last meal at Vancouver airport: salmon sushi roll for Anne, tuna poke for Marc and seafood platter for Terry and I. The bread remained untouched.

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As the time approaches to board our 14h flight back to Sydney, my phone beeps with a message from Yogi: “snow falling at last! Looking forward to fresh powder tomorrow!” I wish I was too…

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We have just returned from a skiing holiday in British Columbia, Canada, and as far as thermal shock goes, you can’t beat today: gone from -10deg C to +38deg C in 24 hours! Never mind the 1h bus ride, 45mn domestic flight, 3h transit in Vancouver airport and 14h nonstop flight to Sydney. The oppressive feeling on arrival and the overwhelming urge to strip off even before we reached the immigration check out far outweighed the weariness of long haul travel!!! Maybe because we are used to slow travel and far distances…

This is our third trip to Canada. The first time was 17 years ago, while cruising on our motorsailer from Australia. Back then it was very much a voyage of discovery, with a toddler in tow as well as Terry’s grown up children. We spent 3 1/2 months exploring the Inside Passage from Vancouver to Glacier Bay NP in Alaska and back, during the northern summer, an unforgettable experience that marked our lives for ever and had us falling in love with that part of the world ( the diary entries I wrote ate the time could fill up entire books!!!) The second visit happened 3 years ago, while living in Mexico and wanting to escape the tropics for a while. Flights from Cancun were cheap and being keen skiers we always dreamt of doing Whistler in winter. With Australian friends joining us, we had a fantastic 2 weeks, not only skiing but also discovering all Whistler had to offer.

This time around, we decided to go back to Whistler where other friends, Andrew and Monica ( first met in Mexico ) have now moved to, for one week, and explore another resort in the interior, Sunpeaks for another week. I guess it was a compromise between sticking to the familiar and venturing somewhere new. With another cruising family, Yogi and Steve, joining us for the fortnight, the emphasis was not so much on new discoveries but hanging out together and relaxing, the same way we used to when on the boat.

 

Most of our days were spent skiing, except for the couple of times when the weather was awful ( with visibility close to zero I found myself too old to “ski by feel”) or Terry’s knee gave in (prompting him to wonder if there were ever a time limit on the body’s ability to bounce off snow covered mountains…). Both instances were unexpected events in otherwise well organised weeks, and I want to share in this post, some of the choices that led to such a great holiday. Starting with week 1 in Whistler.

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We chose to deal with Whistler Platinum, a vacation rental specialist we used previously. The online booking process is easy, with follow up emails and they also offer discounted lift passes, lessons, and gear rental (provided you book before November 15). By the time we arrived, tired from our 14h flight and 2h bus ride, all paperwork was done, we were handed our various passes, codes…and though our accomodation was not ready yet ( understandably since our Sydney flight arrived at 7.30am when standard check in is at 4pm!), they offered to store our luggage and take them in for us so that we could wander down the village while we waited. I initially planned the afternoon stocking up for groceries and drinks, until Ally at the front desk mentioned a home delivery service provided by Nesters Market. It only took 2 phone calls (one for the groceries, one for the liquor) and 20 minutes to organise for the goods to be delivered to the townhouse at 4pm. How easy was that?
That left us plenty of time to make our way down to the Village and check what had changed since our last visit. Not much, it appears. On this Sunday afternoon, The Longhorn Saloon, opposite the Whistler Gondola was pumping with young revellers enjoying their apres session with gusto to the sound of what I swear sounded like Australian Triple J radio (which would make sense, since Australians are reported to make up to 40% of the workforce here, and I am not even talking about every second visitor you run into who seems to hail from Perth or Brisbane!) Marc got really excited for a minute, until he was reminded by the local waitress that Canadian drinking age being 19, he’d only be allowed in the bar accompanied by an adult and served soft drinks only! The main street swarmed with people clomping around in clunky ski boots, walking in and out of shops and bars that provide parking spaces for skis and boards. I could not help feeling transported in a mountain version of Bondi, especially after hearing this place is nicknamed Whistralia.

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Our accomodation at Painted Cliff was perfectly located close to Merlin’s run, on the Blackcomb side allowing us to ski in and out as we pleased without the hassle of waiting for a bus to shuttle us to the lifts and back. Accessibility is a major factor for us, having been spoilt in the past, with on-snow accomodation. What started as a necessity when the kids were small ( I wanted to be able to pick up then 2 year-old  Anne from ski school for her lunch break and nap at home easily ) has become a major requirement when booking a place: while the kids are now big enough to go skiing all day without returning home, Terry and I find it really nice to sneak back for a bite and a cuppa, leaving our ski gear right outside the front door! Compared to European or Australian standards, Canadian rental properties are HUGE. The level of comfort is quite impressive and it feels more like a home than a rental (which should not be so surprising considering that most properties are individually owned ) With WIFI, cable TV, spacious bedrooms and a a fully equipped kitchen, none of us felt the need to go out at night. In fact, the only times we did was to meet Andrew and Monica for drinks or go to their house for dinner.

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I must say that one look thru the dining guide had me write down a list of places I wanted to try, mostly fine dining, a relative concept in Whistler and I am using this term to describe the opposite of casual dining. The odds were not in our favour however, as we found that one place ( Bar Oso, a Spanish inspired tapas eatery that offers a lengthy gin-and-tonic menu) didn’t take reservations but would happily add our name to the 1h waiting list and text us when the table would be ready, and another ( Christine’s, the upscale restaurant perched on top of Blackcomb mountain with endless views over the mountains) is so popular that reservations need to be made weeks in advance. So much for winging it, I thought, and kicked myself for not doing my research before leaving Australia…Terry teased me no end about my lack of foresight, considering the obsessive foodie that I am, especially while travelling ( “what were you thinking, V?”)
This is not to say we didn’t enjoy Whistler dining scene, and we certainly found some gems. Milestones at the bottom of Blackcomb base was perfect for a lunch of juicy burgers and a hearty mushroom soup the first day.

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In fact, the kids enjoyed them so much, we came back for dinner one night, after sharing drinks at the Fairmont’s Mallards Lounge with Andrew and Monica. This time, I joined in the carb-frenzy and ordered Portobello Mushroom chicken which came with a massive serve of noodles on the side. Just what I needed after a few wines, and before starting the snowy climb home up the hill!

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Terry likes pubs, and when Andrew suggested we meet at the Dubh Linn Gate, in Whistler Village, he didn’t hesitate. 2 hours later and copious amount of drinks on the patio, we moved inside where the crowd was such that we had to stalk anyone who looked like they MIGHT vacate their table. Somewhat Andrew manage to secure one so that we could order food: Monica and I ordered salads (hers was beetroot and goat cheese, mine was coronation chicken and kale) while the boys went for chicken wings and fish and chips! Food was ok, though I have no photos to show for it (blame it on the wine!) The next day, we continued on the theme of fried food for him, salads for her at the Blacks Pub: foggy weather and a shaky knee forced us off the slopes and had us looking for comfort food instead, which we found in the shape of Chili Salt squid for Terry and brussel sprouts and cranberries salad for me. While lunch was good, I liked the position better: elevated enough to be away from the crowd (yes, Whistler can get crowded!) and great view of the slopes!

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Ever since they had heard of the Crystal Hut and its famous waffles, 3 years go, the kids begged me to take them there. So one morning, we set off early, hopped on 3 separate chairlifts to reach the small log cabin on the mountain, queued for 20 minutes for a table and finally sat in front of these gorgeous waffles topped with berries, chocolate sprinkles, bacon slices, and balls of whipped cream the size of my fist!

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One would have thought it would be enough to power you thru the day, but that was counting out Marc who could not resist the call of a bowl of poutine at the Rendez Vous Lodge at the top of Solar Express chair 3 hours later. Anne and I left him there to continue skiing ( the sun was finally shining, so I wanted to make the most of the day!) and when we caught up with him on the way home, he made us feel envious somehow proclaiming he was served the best poutine ever! For the uninitiated, poutine is a traditional canadian dish made with french fries, cheese curds and topped with a brown gravy. Personally I can’t see the appeal, but my kids love the idea of it and have sworn to discover the best version while on holidays. So, with Marc having a head start, Anne vowed not to leave Whistler until she tried her own poutine. That’s how we found ourselves having our last lunch at the Wizard Bar and Grill, at the bottom of Blackcomb, the only crowdless place on a saturday, when Vancouverites come up and invade the mountain. Anne loved her poutine, Marc thoroughly enjoyed his nth burger while I was pleasantly surprised with my choice: californian fish tacos served with roasted vegetable salad, which tasted vibrant and fresh, quite a change from the carb-loaded fare I’d tasted so far.

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Finally, I have to mention the best night out was at our friends, Andrew and Monica’s place, where we introduced them to Yogi and Steve only to find out that though these 2 families had never met, they knew of each other thru a mutual friend in the Caribbeans where they all lived or visited at some point. All the children shared stories of mutual friends, memories from their lives in Mexico and the South Pacific, where they had first met. If it is not a sign that this world is small I don’t know what is.

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Dinner was pot luck-style, with olives and chips brought by me, cream puffs courtesy of Yogi, cheeseboard and salad by Monica and the best pizzas provided by Andrew. Actually, he ordered them from Creekbread, reportedly the best pizza place in Whistler. And, boy they were good, which says a lot from someone who is a known reluctant pizza eater: between the 4-cheese one, the sausage one, the pepperoni and mushroom or the vegan one, it is very hard to pick a favourite. I hear that they make their own sauces, sausages and pepperoni by hand…maybe that’s this extra love you can taste.

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On our last day, we all went to watch 12 year-old Kai play ice hockey for Whistler, which was a lot of fun ( the home team won )and nearly were roped into joining Andrew for one last round of drinks. We declined as we had a resort shuttle picking us up at 6.30am the next day to take us to our next destination, Sunpeaks. As tempting as the prospect of a late night in a Whistler bar was, I knew we’d come to regret it when packing bags at 5am. So we bid farewell to Andrew, Monica, Allie, Sofia, Kai and Lily, thankful for the opportunity to catch up and promising to get together again one day…

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