I have just returned from a family holiday in Singapore. It was a special trip, a pilgrimage you could say, as this is where Terry and I met 30 years ago. Somehow we never found the occasion to return ( beside a couple of stopovers at the airport on the way to Europe, so that doesn’t count!), being too busy cruising other places or simply working. We also liked clinging on fond memories and were a tad scared to have these tainted.
On the other hand, this year being our 30 year anniversary, and desperate to escape the Sydney winter chill, I thought it would be the perfect destination for an exotic break.

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We were gone for 12 days, which sounds like a long time since Singapore is a city-island of 719 square klm ( half the size of Los Angeles or London ). The locals are so used to tourists staying for 1or 2 days stopovers, they were amazed we would not even use the time to travel to nearby countries like Malaysia,Thailand or Indonesia ( “no going to Bali, lah?” ) Nope. Back in the old days, both Terry and I were working, so we didn’t really see the city the way tourists did, we just lived there ( and enjoyed it ! ) This time, the trip was all about exploring: trying to find what happened to the neighbourhoods we used to know, remember the old, discover the new, maybe shop a little, certainly eat a lot!

This post is about the changed Singapore that we found, dedicated to these friends with whom we shared times there and will hopefully relate to our experience.

Transport:

When we left Singapore in 1987, the MRT ( Mass Rapid Transit ) was still under construction. Buses and taxis were the main means of transport, private cars remaining for the ones who could afford them and deal with the crazy traffic ( like Terry ). Fast forward to 2017, and the MRT makes it the easiest, most efficient and comfortable subway system to get around. We bought an EZ-Link card, which works very much like the Australian opal card, allowing you to travel by train and bus by swiping it over sensors when entering or exiting a station. Some shops and taxi drivers also accept it as a  form of payment, and they can be topped up at station ticket machines or even in 7/11 stores ( found at nearly every street corner!! ) The network covers a big part of the island, and what you can’t reach by MRT there is generally a bus going there. Taxis and Ubers are plentiful and quite reasonable compared to Australia ( prices vary depending on time of the day/night but roughly S$10-15 within the CBD, S$ 20 from the city to Changi airport )

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The River Walk:

There are hundreds of hotels to choose from in Singapore, but we’d rather stay in serviced apartments instead. Blame it on years of cruising: there is nothing that beats anchoring off in the middle of a city, enjoying the comfort of your own home while being able to explore at your own pace. Now that we are boatless, we still like the feeling of having a home away from home when we travel, so we tend to prefer serviced apartments which typically offer more space, cooking and laundry facilities. Our pick was Village Residence at Robertson Quay, for its location close to the city heritage sites and in the renovated precincts of the Quays, by the river.

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The view from our balcony, looking over the river and towards Clarke Quay

Our memories of the Singapore river were not great, Terry is till talking about the filth and pollution created by squatters, hawkers and manufacturing industries crowding the banks of the river in the 1970’s. By the time we left, the government had spend 10 years and S$170 million dollars in a clean-up program involving the massive relocation of the squatters in public housing, street hawkers moved to hawker centres, bumboats ferrying goods from warehouses shifted to another anchorage in the harbour, pig and duck farms headed further north to less populated areas of the island. What has been achieved in 30 years is nothing short of a miracle in our view: the river, while still a bit murky is rubbish and smell free, a lot of the traditional buildings have been maintained and converted into restaurants and hotels, the only bumboats around are now ferrying tourists from Clarke Quay to Marina Bay Sands at the mouth of the river and back for S$25 per person.
We walked the entire loop, from quiet and trendy Robertson Quay, passing historical bridges, the modern Central shopping mall ( which doubles as the MRT station too ), museums, the country’s oldest mosque, Raffles Place , the Fullerton Hotel ( once the GPO ), around Marina Bay to this most amazing Marina Bay Sands complex. The latter is new to us, all part of a 360ha area reclaimed during the past 30-40 years to grow the city centre.

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The Merlion used to be where the waterfront ended.

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Marina Bay Sands now stands on land reclaimed from the ocean

It will take us a few days to wrap our heads around the concept of land reclamation as a vital element of Singapore’s urban planning, even after it was explained to us by a local tour guide ( more on that later ). Let’s just say that nothing and no one stays still here, there is always a long term plan. And that is what seems to be the guiding principle behind all the changes we’ve witnessed.

The Harbour Front:

I used to work in what was known as World Trade Centre, on the harbour front. It used to feature exhibition halls and from our office, we looked down onto the ferry terminal and Sentosa Island across the harbour and beyond. There used to be a small hawker centre on the ground floor, where I used to buy a plate of chicken rice for S$1 for lunch. On our walk around the waterfront promenade, I recognised some of the buildings I used to drive past on my way to work and naively thought that if we kept walking, we would reach my old office. That was my mind playing tricks on me. It turns out, the World Trade Centre, now renamed HarbourFront Centre , was another 4.5 klm to the west. While the ferry terminal is still operating at the bottom, my office is no longer there, the building having undergone major renovations in the late 1990’s to host the country’s largest shopping mall, Vivocity, a MRT station and cruise centre. It is also connected to a large bus interchange and Sentosa Cable Car station. This is also where you hop on the light rail to Sentosa, after climbing thru at least 4 levels of shops and food courts. Incredibly, navigating you way around is easy, thanks to excellent signage and the presence of “friendly ambassadors” who seem to pop out of nowhere and offer directions as our foreign faces must clearly indicate confusion!

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Looking at the ex-World Trade Centre and Cable Car station

Seletar:

Now for Terry’s old working grounds. He used to work and reside at Seletar Airbase, one of 3 bases built by the British in the late 1920’s. By the early 1970’s these bases were handed back to the Singapore government when the British forces withdrew, some used for military purposes others like Seletar airbase seeing commercial development. A total of 378 colonial bungalows used to house the residents, military personnel and their families, as well as civilians. Working in the charter aviation industry, this is where Terry worked and lived for over 15 years with many of the expat staff and crew. These black and white buildings were built with high ceilings and many windows to provide cross ventilation in the warm weather, spread over a large estate only accessible thru a guarded gate.

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A colonial bungalow similar to the one Terry used to live in.                                                                Photo credit: TheLionRaw.com

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The gate is no longer guarded…

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The last time Terry saw his house at Haymarket, was in 1987. Over the years, we heard rumours of redevelopment to meet the needs of growing aviation facilities, and recently a friend mentioned that Terry’s place had been bulldozed to make room for a hangar.
We caught up with old friends, Bob and Doreen, who used to be based in Seletar in the old days too, and Bob kindly offered to drive us around so that we could see for ourselves. Oh boy! Expansion plans for the airport and the upcoming 320ha Seletar Aerospace Park have meant the need for space and a “clearing” program started in 2008 with the demolition of all but 32 of these bungalows ( including Terry’s and many of our friend’s). Only recently have these bungalows been earmarked for conservational redevelopment into a series of restaurants, spas and other leisure activities” with the aim of bringing back the vibrancy and charm back to the Seletar area “. While a lot of the remaining houses look abandoned, work is evidently underway as we noted new power connections and a handful of new cafes and restaurants recently opened. As for the rest of the estate, it is slowly being taken over by hangars, aviation companies offices, extended runways and taxiways…According to Channel News Asia, Seletar airport is upgrading its passenger terminal to handle 700,000 passengers movements per year by the end of 2018, that is 4 times its current capacity. And I am not even talking about the new terminal opening in Changi airport at the end of 2017. We have to make room for progress people!

Punggol:

This is another part of Singapore close to our heart. We used to drive the dark and narrow road to Punggol Point, once a popular seafood haunt sitting at the northern edge of the island only 300 meters across the water from Malaysia. The road used to end in a cul-de-sac where the jetty began, hawker stalls and small restaurants would fight for space on the sidewalks, and it wasn’t unusual to sit outside with a table only a meter away from passing cars and buses, belching exhaust fumes. Oh the fun we had slurping chilli crab and prawns in a noisy, smoky and dusty village street!

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Punggol jetty looking over Malaysia accross the Johor Strait.                                                    Photo credit: thesmartlocal.com

You can now take the MRT to Punggol station then the bus which will drop you off at the same jetty, except that the area has been cleaned up big time: the cul de sac is 3 times the size it used to be, old hawkers have been relocated and you now have a new Promenade running along the foreshore. Complete with kids playground, lookout decks, and lined with seafood restaurants ( much more glamorous than the past ones!) it definitely is Punggol rebooted! We timed our visit for a friday lunch expecting a crowd but it was extraordinarily quiet. In fact we were the only customers at the House of Seafood restaurant, supposed to be a very popular venue. Maybe Punggol is busier on weekends, it is a little out of the way for the locals ( we’re told the next day that 25mn MRT ride is like a lifetime for Singaporeans!!)
I think Terry was in shock, watching over the Johor Strait what was once jungle now a major Malaysian shipping port. The waters surrounding the nearby island of Pulau Ubin where he would enjoy weekends water skiing and partying, are criss crossed by container ships, Navy boats and recreational kayaks alike…Everything looks and feels so efficient, clean and organised!

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Unbelievable! Didn’t try it though…

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As many rules as Australia!

Sentosa Island:

With 20 ( yes 20!!!) theme parks and attractions, luxury resorts, a casino, world class marina full of multimillion dollar boats, we hardly recognised what used to be a low-key beach escape many years ago. This is the city’s purpose built entertainment playground for all ages.

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We dropped the kids off at Universal Studios and took advantage of the free shuttle bus that takes you around the island. we got off at the W hotel, the idea being to enjoy a nice lunch at one of the posh restaurants around the marina. Except it was a Monday, and most were closed, so we kept walking around the beachfront hoping to be back on the main road and catch the shuttle again.

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At the W hotel. That pool sure looks tempting

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The entrance to the marina

It never happened. Instead, our walk took us deep into the realms of Sentosa Cove, a residential canal estate away from prying tourists ( unless lost like us! ), where you will find some of the most exclusive and expensive houses in Singapore. We started along stunning luxury condos, then when I thought the double story houses looked underwhelming from the distance, we were blown away by the number of luxury cars sitting in driveways and art pieces gracing outdoor patios, hinting at the wealth behind these walls.

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I don’t think the residents worry too much about anyone trespassing, as obviously security is everywhere. How do we know? Though we didn’t see anyone patrolling, we came into contact with them when we reached the gate leading to the public beach. The gate was locked, with only a sign featuring a phone number for assistance. I could tell the guy was confused on the line when I asked for help to get out. “ How did you get there in the first place?” he asked. Once he spotted me on the CCTV he must have thought only a dumb tourist would admit walking around for miles in that heat and end up lost in Sentosa Cove, so he let us out in the end.
We quenched our thirst at the nearby Tanjong Beach Club then kept going until we reached the more popular and family friendly ( thus crowded ) Coastes on Siloso Beach. With picnic tables on the sand and lounges by the water, this is as close as we got to feel like the Sentosa of old.

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Orchard Road:

This unavoidable stretch of shopping malls, department stores and specialty shops is still amazing. At first glance not much has changed: the malls are as magnificent as ever, luxury brands sit next to high-street fashion labels, food courts rival each other with stall upon stall selling cheap, freshly cooked dishes…

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Terry and I were looking for our old haunts though and we couldn’t find them. Mostly because they’ve changed ownership or been renovated. Like the Tangling Shopping Centre, where Terry’s office used to be in the 1970’s. A few extra floors have been added, the mix of shops altered a bit and now it is mostly full of captivating Asian art shops, much to my delight, not so Terry who was more interested in checking what used to be the Ming Court Hotel next block. Apparently it used to be a fairly posh establishment back then, with 2 sikh doormen greeting you outside. Well, it is now called the Orchard Parade Hotel, the doormen are still there but their uniforms are more classic, and the bar is now replaced by a wine and cigar shop ( gasp! )
Similar situation at the Dynasty Hotel ( now Singapore Marriott Hotel ) where a large lobby filled with precious artefacts has made room for in-house eateries.

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Feeling a little deflated, I pushed Terry to look for the hotel we met at, Le Meridien, knowing it was somewhere down the bottom end of Orchard Rd, but unable to spot it among the myriad of new high rises and building sites. It was by chance, while standing at the bus stop, that we vaguely recognised the shape of the building behind tall trees and saw it was renamed the Concord Hotel. The entrance is not easy to find, but once we entered the lobby, there was no mistake. Nothing has changed ( beside the name of the hotel and the restaurants ), the lobby is still grand and filled with natural light, the long reception desk has not moved an inch. Talking about time warp!

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All was not lost after all, somewhere finally felt like home. So much so that we booked a table for Sunday brunch at their Spices Cafe as our last meal in Singapore!

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The service was spotless, the food was incredible, we left happy and full just as we did all these years ago. I guess some things never change.

 

 

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Recently, friends of ours, Polly and Pete came to Sydney for a short visit. The main purpose was to attend the Vivid Lights festival and participate in a photographic workshop, as well as catching up. We go back a very long time ( 25 years?) and both Polly and I love eating out as much as entertaining at home. So while we briefly debated which new restaurant to try in the city, we eventually decided to do lunch at our place where a 2-hour table reservation is not required and guests could come and go as they pleased ( with a husband and a son working different hours on weekends, ours is very much a revolving door! )

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It has been a busy few weeks lately. Some travelling, new projects, and family gatherings have taken a lot of our time, forcing me to take short cuts in the kitchen ( rather than resort to takeaway… I know I am a food snob!) For this occasion I decided to make a Spanish tapas inspired themed lunch, mainly because I had a few ready-to-eat starters like spanish olives, octopus, manchego cheese and some duck ham. The rest of the meal was easy to put together, after (re)discovering a long forgotten cookbook I had purchased shortly after our mediterranean cruise: Culinaria Spain. As luck would have it, all the ingredients were already in the fridge, saving me a trip to the shops: garlic mushrooms are everybody’s favourites and a perfect vegetable option in that meat heavy feast. I served it with some fried fresh sardines, a special treat for me as the kids don’t like the bones and Terry ( who drives fishing boats ) consider them no other than bait fish! Luckily our guests love them, so more for us!! For the main course I settled on a slow cooked Moorish style lamb shoulder roast, which took very little hands-on time to prepare, most of the work being done while braising in the oven. Dessert was an orange sorbet served with madeleines. I used orange blossom water in both, the scent is so heavenly, I am totally in love with it! If you have an ice cream maker, the sorbet is a cinch to make, and it has proven so popular in our house, it seems to disappear quicker than chocolate!

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With our guest arriving bearing gifts ( i.e French Champagne ), it was a perfect linguering lunch remembering old times and promising to do better than a yearly catch up from now on…Lunch at their place next time!!

Mushrooms with Garlic

This is a pretty easy dish to put together and also very versatile. You can use small button mushrooms ( for a dainty look and subtle flavour) or thick juicy portobello mushrooms as I did, which gives the dish a darker rustic look and a much stronger taste. Either way, don’t be shy with the garlic, serve at room temperature as tapas. It also works very well as a side dish with meat or mixed with pasta or rice for a vegetarian meal.

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Serves 6, as shared snacks

Ingredients

1/2 cup olive oil
6 cloves or garlic, peeled and crushed
500g mushrooms, thickly sliced
a pinch of hot paprika
a picj of salt
3 tbsp sherry
2 tbsp chopped parsley

  1. Heat the oil in a large frypan, but do not let it reach smoking point.
  2. Brown the garlic slightly ( don’t let it burn!) then add the mushrooms. Cook, stirring regularly, until all the oil has been absorbed and the moisture has evaporated ( mushrooms give out a lot of liquid)
  3. Season with paprika and salt, add the sherry and let it reduce for a few minutes.
  4. Sprinkle with parsley just before serving at room temperature.

 

Fried Fresh Sardines

I love sardines but have never liked cooking fresh ones in the past, because I always feel squirmish at the idea of gutting them. It always seems like a lot of trouble when I am the only person in the house who will eat them anyway. Then, I found out that our local fish shop sells them conveniently vaccum-packed fresh, gutted and headless. All that is required it a little wipe to dry the fish, throw them in a ziploc bag and toss them in flour and seasoning of your choice ( salt and pepper in our case), shallow fry them in olive oil ( somewhere between sautee and deep-fry) , drain and serve with lemon wedges. It is ok to eat with your fingers!
Do you need a recipe for this?

Moorish Style Lamb Shoulder roast

The combination of fruits and meat in Spanish cooking, reflect the arab’s culinary heritage as Spain was conquered by the Arabs in the Middle Ages. This lamb dish is a particularly rich one, owing to the fatter shoulder meat, the sweetness of the raisins and the almonds. I added chickpeas to the original recipe, to keep with the middle eastern theme, as well as roasted capsicums for added flavour and served rolls of fresh bread on the side to mop up the delicious juice. You could substitute rice or couscous as an accompaniment.

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Serves 6-8 as a main

Ingredients

1 green capsicum
1 red capsicum
2 kg lamb shoulder roast, bone in
Salt and pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 cup olive oil
2 large onions, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
3 cups cooked chickpeas ( canned ok )
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 tbsp raising, soaked in 2 tbsp of sherry
1 tbsp slivered almonds

  1. Pre-heat oven to 200C. Cut the capsicums in quarters, discard the stems, seeds and white pit inside. Coat with olive oil and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake in the oven for 45mn, until slightly charred and soft.
  2. Pat dry the shoulder of lamb and rub thoroughly with salt, pepper, cinnamon and cumin.
    In a large pot, heat the olive oil and brown the meat well on all sides. Put aside and in the same pot, fry the garlic and onions until translucent. Place the meat back in the pot, pour in the stock and add enough water to just cover the meat. Bring to the boil, reduce temperature to low heat and braise, covered for about 2 hours until the meat is tender and nearly falling apart.
  3. 30mn before the end of cooking time, add the cooked chickpeas. Add more water if necessary.
  4. 10mn before the end of cooking time, add the roasted capsicums, raisins and almonds. Take the lid off and cook uncovered for a few minutes to reduce the sauce a little.
  5. Season with salt and pepper. Serve in bowls, with bread on the side.

Orange Sorbet

Super refreshing at the end of a heavy meal, it is also very easy to make with or without an ice cream maker.

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Ingredients

2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
2/3 cup caster sugar
2 1/2 tbsp orange blossom water
2 egg whites

  1. Mix the orange juice with the sugar and orange blossom water. Whisk well until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Place in the ice cream maker and churn for about 25 minutes. If you do not have an ice cream maker, transfer the mixture to a bowl and freeze until softly frozen.
  3. Beat the egg whites until partly stiff and carefully fold into the frozen orange juice. Finish freezing in the freezer for a minimun of 2 hours.

 

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Today’s post is brought to you courtesy of the weird and beautiful things I found in the back of my fridge this week: left over smelly cheese and vacuum-packed pre-cooked octopus!

It was one of these nights, when we had ran out of fresh meat and were left with odd assortments of vegetables, opened tubs of cream and lonely eggs. I actually like it when this happens, as it forces me to not only clean up the fridge but also challenges me to come up with interesting ideas for dinner. We call it our own Mystery Box Challenge!

A quick search revealed half a shelf-full of cheese leftover from a big dinner party last month: I picked the French contingent of mimolette, camembert and tomme, leaving the blue vein, swiss cheese and cheddar for another use. Anne was hoping there would be enough to melt into a fondue; sadly for her, it was just the right amount to turn into a tart along with caramelised onions and a bunch of broccolini. She wasn’t disappointed for long, puff pastry has this magical effect on my kids: it makes anything taste good!

Another interesting discovery was a packet of pre-cooked octopus I had forgotten I bought from the supermarket a while ago. It reminded me of the times we cruised around Portugal and Spain, and I fell in love with octopus salad and tapas there. That was 10 years ago, and in spite of my many attempts at re-creating these dishes, I have never come close ( probably because I can’t boil octopus properly, it is either too tough or turns into mush!). I can stop trying now that I have found these little gems that only require heating in the microwave, slicing, seasoning and a splash of olive oil. For $13 a packet, it is a cheap trip down memory lane!

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Throw back 10 years ago in Spain, the kids could not get enough of this!

Cheese and broccolini tart

This is my favourite way of using any cheese left over in my fridge. The flavour will of course depend on the cheese used. This time, I used mimolette, camembert and tomme. This resulted in a fairly mild tasting tart, though you could still tell it was cheesy. A blue vein and/or washed rind cheese will definitely make for a stronger flavour!

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Serves 4 as a main

Ingredients:

1 sheet of puff pastry ( I used store bought, but feel free to make your own!)
100g butter
2 brown onions, peeled and sliced
1 tsp honey
a handful of thyme sprigs ( 3)
1 cup thickened cream
3 eggs
1 tbsp dijon mustard
300g mixed cheeses, rind removed, and roughly chopped
1 bunch broccolini

  1. If using frozen, thaw out puff pastry at room temperature, then roll out to fit a round flan tin. Dot with a fork. Line with parchment paper and add ceramic beads. Place in the fridge for 30mn. Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
  2. In the meantime, melt the butter in a frypan and saute the onions over low heat for about 20 minutes, or until very soft ( do not let them burn). When nearly done, add the honey and thyme and stir to caramelise slightly. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  3. Bake the pastry in the hot oven for 15 mn.
  4. In a small bowl, beat the eggs, the thickened cream and mustard until combined.
  5. When the pastry is cooked, remove the parchment paper and the ceramic beads. Spread the caramelised onions on the base, sprinkle the chopped cheese all around, pour in the egg mixture and place the broccolini on top.
    Reduce the oven temperature to 180C and bake for 30 minutes.
  6. Let cool for 15mn and serve warm with a green salad.

Octopus Salad

This dish is inspired by the octopus salads you find all over Portugal and the braised octopus tapas dish, Pulpo Gallego, a classic from Spain north western region, Galicia. I first tasted this dish at the Portosin Yacht Club in Galicia in 2006. I totally adored it and became so obsessed with it, being lucky enough to cruise around the area again 5 years later, I asked Terry to take the boat back so we could have dinner there again. That meant a detour of 100 nautical miles, but it was so worth it!!
Mine is a quick and easy version, the cheat’s way, as I am using a pre-cooked ready-to-eat octopus instead of simmering the fresh thing for hours ( though, using a pressure cooker did reduce the cooking time drastically to about 30mn). There are no specific quantities for the dressing, it is a matter of taste, though I would recommend you be generous with the olive oil and the paprika!

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This is the dish without lettuce, perfect snack!

Serves 4, as a side dish

Ingredients:

200g pre-cooked octopus
1/3 iceberg lettuce, washed, trimmed and roughly torn
Sea salt flakes, to taste
Smoked paprika, to taste
Extra virgin olive oil, to taste

  1. Place the lettuce in a serving bowl.
  2. Microwave the octopus as per the packet’s instructions. Slice and add to the lettuce.
  3. Sprinkle generously with sea salt, smoked paprika and extra virgin olive oil.
  4. Serve cold or at room temperature.
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And here’s what the packet looks like, if you’re heading to the supermarket!! 

Because Anne’s birthday falls close or on Mother’s day, depending on the year, we rarely do anything special for me. Come to think of it, Marc’s birthday is on Valentine’s Day Eve and Terry’s birthday falls on or close to Father’s Day. That means that, by the time we’ve focused on the birthday person, we’re generally too “partied out” to organise another celebration. I realise it sounds quite sad, but in truth, we’re all ok with it and we’ve been known to pick a random date when it suits us and make it our very own romantic day!

Besides, the advantage of being a multi-national family like ours, is that we get to enjoy French celebrations as well as Australian ones. Which is probably the reason why we don’t really feel too perturbed about missing out, since we can always make up for it on the French calendar.

So Australian’s Mother’s Day was very quiet indeed. The kids allowed me to sleep in while they cooked breakfast and we all sat together for a while. Then Terry and Marc left for work, and Anne asked if I wanted to go somewhere for lunch. I politely declined, dreading the queues and busy restaurants we were sure to find ( being Mother’s Day and all…) and offered to take her to the movies instead for a mother-daughter date. I had my mind set on the advanced screening of the new historical drama Viceroy’s House which I knew neither of the boys were keen on seeing, but was hoping to interest Anne. Unsurprisingly, she wasn’t a fan of the idea, but agreed to come along if I would let her watch Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy 2 , a film “she was dying to see” and then we could meet at the end of our respective movies. For a split second, I felt like putting my foot down and invoke my right to pick the movie of the day. Then I took a deep breath, and said “ you got yourself a deal ”. It wasn’t a bad deal, quite the contrary: we both got what we wanted, in my case a little “me” time and an escape from the everyday. The day ended as easy as it started , with a comforting dish of Beef Osso Bucco and polenta that I had prepared the night before in anticipation, so that technically I would not be cooking on Mother’s Day. Yes, sometimes a little organisation helps for things to fall into place…

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As for my own mother, she lives in France and could not join us. In fact, I am embarrassed to say that in the 30 years since I left home, I can count on one hand the times we have celebrated Mother’s Day together. She and my father came to visit us in May last year, and it was the opportunity to share a special lunch at Henry’s in Cronulla, making up for all these long distance phone calls over the years…
La Fete des Meres, French Mother’s Day, is this weekend, on May 28. I will not spend it with Mum, as she is overseas this year ( she travels nearly as much as I do, maybe I got the bug from her! ) but she will be in my thoughts as always. Hoping her day is as relaxing and joyful as mine was, I like to think that some kind soul will be cooking her something delicious too…

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From our house to yours, Bonne Fete des Meres! xx

Beef Osso Bucco

This is my version of the italian classic. As usual, I adapted for whatever was on hand starting with a profusion of mint and carrots! The “Osso Bucco” part of this dish comes from the cross-cut beef shanks, more readily available ( and cheaper ) than veal. I substituted port for wine, as an experiment and because I had some left over from another dish. It gives the sauce a subtle sweetness we all loved! Finally, polenta was my accompaniment of choice but it would be equally delicious with pasta and I know my mother would prefer it served along with rice.

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Serves 6

Ingredients:

6 cross-cut bone-in beef shanks ( approx 1.8 kg)
1 cup plain flour
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 can 410g diced tomatoes
1 cup of port
1/4 cup sultanas, soaked in the port for 30 mn
4 cups chicken stock
A handful of mint leaves, chopped

  1. Pat the shanks dry using paper towels. Place in a ziplock bag with the flour, salt and pepper. Close the bag and shake the meat to dredge it in flour. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over high – medium heat until slightly smoking. Shake off excess flour from the meat before adding it to the pot and cook until browned on both sides. Set aside.
  2. Add onion, carrots and celery to the dutch oven, reduce heat to medium and cook stirring occasionally until vegetables start to soften. Add the diced tomatoes and their juice, the port and marinated sultanas and stir. Cook for a minute until fragrant. Add chicken stock, scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pot.
  3. Transfer the shanks back into the pot along with any juice they would have rendered. Bring the mixture to the boil, reduce the heat to very low and simmer covered for 1h1/2 or until the meat is very tender.
    Uncover and keep cooking for another 20mn to allow for the sauce to reduce a little.
  4. Serve hot with polenta and sauteed vegetables ( I used mushrooms and broccolini ) Sprinkle with mint and/or parmesan, if desired.

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April and May are big birthday months in our extended family. I have at least 5 dates to remember in April, including my own. May is no less busy, with 4 occasions to celebrate. Starting with Anne’s birthday last week. As usual, she had 2 feasts: one on the actual birthday, with the family and another on the friday night with her friends. Turning 14 means she’s now a teenager, with well asserted tastes. Traditionally she has always joined the other kids ( and grand-kids) in requesting KFC for her birthday family feast. Not this year. Our youngest child, taking a leaf out of her older brother’s book, declared she was over fried chicken (gasp!!) and her favourite food was sushi and thai noodles!
This was actually music to my ears, not only because I knew everyone else has a fondness for asian food as well but it would make catering a whole lot easier.

The family feast was a tuesday night, and with 16 guests coming over straight from work and after school activities, I wondered how on earth to prepare enough sushis and stir fry pad- see- iew, without spending all day in the kitchen! So after some research ( read, tasting of our local asian restaurants) I took the easy and convenient option to order takeaway. At least for the main components: Caringbah Sushi delivered 3 big trays of sushi and sashimi, Chili Blossom did the same with enough coconut rice and noodles to feed a football team, while I picked up the Maltesers ice cream cake from Cronulla’s Cold Rock Ice Creamery ( Anne’s request ). Knowing I had the essentials covered, it gave me plenty of time to cook the extras: baked teriyaki chicken wings, salt and pepper pork belly and spinach sesame salad. To keep with the “quick and easy “ theme, these dishes were adapted from a book from Adam Liaw’s “Asian After Work”, which was given to me by my step-son Mal a while ago. I have plenty of Asian cookbooks already, but I find that this one lives up to its title, and indeed with the help of a well stocked fridge and pantry, we’ve enjoyed fast asian food quite often! I am pleased to report that EVERYONE loved our asian feast, the grand-kids devoured the sushis ( well, the ones with no cucumber, avocado or raw fish!) and the coconut rice, without mentioning the ice cream cake which I decorated with extra Oreo biscuits, because it looked a little bare otherwise.

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As for the friends party on the friday night, it was the occasion for more takeaway, with Anne’s second favourite food: pizzas and ice cream buffet!

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Ahhh, to be 14 again…

Baked Teryiaki Chicken wings

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This is inspired by Adam Liaw’s Nagoya-style chicken wings recipe where the food is coated in corn flour and deep-fried first, then plunged straight into the warm teriyaki glaze. I reversed the process, marinating the wings in cold teriyaki sauce for a while then draining them and coating them in sweet potato starch before baking them. This resulted in a light crunch and lots of flavour. I also like how you can marinate the food in advance, and slide it in the oven before your guests arrive leaving you time to enjoy a cocktail with them!

Serves 4 as a main, 8-10 as part of a buffet

Ingredients:
2 kg chicken wings ( about 16 wings )
2 cups Teriyaki sauce ( store bought is ok)
1 tsp caster sugar
1 cup sweet potato starch
Coconut oil spray

  1. In a large bowl, mix chicken wings, sugar and Teriyaki sauce. Marinate for at least 1 hour, in the fridge.
  2. When ready to cook, pre-heat oven to 220C. Drain the wings, discard the marinade.
  3. Tip the sweet potato starch in a large zip-loc bag, working in batches, toss 4-5 wings inside the bag, close the zip and shake the bag well to coat the wings. Place the wings on a baking tray, lined with parchment paper. Spray lightly with coconut oil. Repeat with the remaining chicken.
  4. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes, reducing the temperature to 180C after 15 minutes.
    Serve seasoned with black pepper and scattered with toasted sesame seeds on top.

Spinach and Sesame salad

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This is a classic in our house. It takes minutes to prepare, and the dressing is so versatile I keep a big jar in the fridge to use with all kinds of Asian foods.

Serves 4-6, as a side

Ingredients:
280g baby spinach leaves
2 Lebanese cucumbers, peeled and sliced thinly
6 shallots, trimmed and sliced thinly
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp caster sugar
4 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
2 tbsp sesame oil

  1. For the dressing: combine the shallots, soy sauce, sugar, rice vinegar, sesame seeds and sesame oil in a jar. Shake well to dissolve the sugar and set aside.
  2. Toss the baby spinach and cucumber in a serving plate, pour the dressing over and serve immediately.
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