Toasties for Dinner

We’re in our 83rd day of lockdown in Sydney. And still going with the promise of an end in sight, though no one is game to set a date yet. 

For our household of 5, it’s been a matter of bunkering down and weathering the storm, as we used to during our cruising days. Back to homeschooling and studies for the kids, house projects for Mr T and I, thankful for the ability to connect online. Just like on long passages, everyone goes about their day at their own pace with the highlight of the day being pre-dinner drinks (otherwise known as aperitif, sundowner or cocktail hour) followed by dinner itself. Dinner is invariably home cooked, served at the dinner table, where everyone is expected to sit ( a family tradition the kids were taught since birth ).   

Unless, life happens and it is much easier to go with the flow than try to stick to dining rules.

Take last Friday Night. 

The family was all over the place. One was out working, one had an assignment to complete, and the football was on TV. A sit-down dinner wasn’t going to work, and take-away pizza was strongly suggested. This prompted me to canvas the contents of the fridge and pantry where a whole shelf of opened items stared at me. Think stinky washed rind cheese, various spreads and sauces, vegetables, cold meat, and more… Add sliced bread and dinner idea was a no brainer: make your own toastie!

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Lobster rolls

Once upon a time, we used to live on a sailing boat and travel around the world. It seems like a lifetime ago that we were exploring far away lands and living in our own floating bubble. One of the things I miss the most is catching our own dinner and enjoying the freshest seafood. We used to trawl a line everyday during ocean passages, hoping to catch a fish large enough to last a few meals ( mahi-mahi, yellowfin and tuna were always on the most desired list ). When at anchor, some of the locals would come and trade their catch, sometimes for money, other times for essential items or just out of kindness. I have fond memories of buying whole octopus or live lobsters from the bottom of a dugout canoe in the middle of nowhere!

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French onion soup

I am back! Well, I was always there, just keeping quiet on the blog. 

2021 held so much promise. Like many people, we looked forward to a year of relative normalcy: kids finishing school, resuming uni, house projects, travelling… Unfortunately, like for many people, COVID-19 decided to stick around a wee longer and rain on our parade, meaning major changes to any plans we started the year with. 

For months, we lived under the false sense of security, believing that Australia was safe from COVID ( oh, we were doing so well! ) and enjoying a lifestyle that only my overseas relatives could dream about. Family gatherings at home, road trips, city escapades, boating getaways… were all for the taking while we could, knowing that it was only a matter of time before the virus would catch up and slow us down again. 

And catch up, it certainly did. In a gotcha kinda move, COVID ( now under the form of the Delta variant ) is back, sending all of us in Sydney into lockdown hysteria again. 

During our first lockdown, in March 2020, I used to think that it would be the perfect opportunity to tend to unfinished projects like sort thru thousands of photos, complete the vegetable garden, or even repaint some of the rooms in the house. None of this happened. 

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In all these years of cruising up and down the East Coast of Australia, visiting the Sydney Harbour was always reserved for special occasions: watching the start of the Sydney-Hobart race on Boxing Day, fireworks on NYE or the occasional trip to a shipyard that would fit in our larger vessels. We never really spent time exploring the harbour, largely because we always seemed to be on a schedule to meet people or our boats would be too large to anchor beyond the main harbour.

Our latest boat is a small Sport Motor Cruiser, the ideal size to quickly zoom up and down the coast, fit under bridges and into narrow inlets. For once we have the means to explore the nooks and crannies of the harbour but it has taken us months to find the time and most importantly, the weather window to do it.

The opportunity came earlier this summer. With a promise of a few days of windless and sunny days, we packed up on a whim and set off for a leisurely cruise in the Sydney Harbour. It was a bit of an impromptu decision, so much so that while I quickly rounded up enough food and wine for 3 days, Mr T forgot to load any beer on board. Needless to say it was going to be a challenge.
To add interest, we decided to stay away from marinas and while we are not afraid to drop anchor, we also wanted to take advantage of public moorings, thus enjoying a free mooring crawl of the best anchorages in the Harbour. That was the plan, anyway.

How did we fare? Read on to find out.

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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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