OUR 2020 COVID Christmas

Christmas 2020 was always going to be different.

We are used to festivities where half of the family is missing, because they are either living overseas, visiting in-laws or just decide to celebrate on their own on a deserted island! 

For many years, cruising and living in Cairns, we have hosted orphan Christmases with fellow stranded friends. And one of the most memorable Christmas Day was in 2011, when anchored in the Caribbeans, we started the day with a snorkel followed by a local feast on the beach…just us and the locals. 

What I am trying to say is that rolling with the punches is not unusual for us, many a times have we had to make the most of less than ideal situations. 2020 being the topsy turvy year of COVID, was the most challenging though in terms of uncertainty and anxiety. 

In the lead up to this year’s Christmas, I had hopes to host our familiar crowd of 25. That number then dropped, initially due to family dramas then COVID dramas, wth borders closing and preventing interstate guests to travel up to Sydney. In the end, it was just as well, as an outbreak in the northern beaches a week before, led to new restrictions for the region of Greater Sydney: 10 adult visitors and “unlimited” number of children under 12 for the 3 days over Christmas.

So it was the usual gang of Mr T’s children and families joining , Mal and Danielle, Craig and Kathy, Shelley, Tania, Carolyn, Ian and Rosalie. We just managed to fit in with the new rules.

As for the food, the menu was devised weeks earlier. Times may be uncertain lately, but some things stay the same. That meant seafood, duck and Christmas cakes. At least! I pre-ordered what I could, and recipe tested what I couldn’t ( thanks to the family and friends who helped with the tastings !).

As always, I wanted to include new dishes and couldn’t decide which to leave out so we ended up with 5 Hors d’oeuvres to nibble on, 2 entrees, 1 main, 3 sides, 4 desserts. I texted the menu to our guests, asking them to bring their appetite and their favourite drinks, as a warning this would be a very long and late lunch!

So, here is what went down.

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November has come and gone, and what was supposed to be a quiet month, free of the usual travel and social gatherings ( thanks to COVID ), proved to be quiet busy. Compared to most places in the world, particularly France, we are fortunate in Sydney, to be able to move around and socialise albeit with a few restrictions, but if you are an introvert like Mr T, it is hardly an inconvenience.

So, resuming an old post format, let me take you thru “November Happenings “

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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.

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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. 

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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!

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