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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Well, 2016 is over and as we are entering 2017, I want to wish all of you, dear readers, a very Happy New Year, hoping it is as kind and generous to you as 2016 has been to us. New boat, new business, much socialising and entertaining have made for a hectic year and while I am far from complaining (life is good after all) I admit it all impacted on our health somehow in the end. Nothing life threatening, but both Terry and I found ourselves exhausted last week, and after a 2-day marathon Christmas celebrations and one last ladies lunch hosted by yours truly we “shut down the shop” and retired to the quietness of home, in an effort to recharge and relax.

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In previous years we would have jumped on the boat and cruised to the Harbour for the NYE fireworks, but this time we didn’t feel like dealing with crowds, either on land or on the water. Uncharacteristically, I was in no mood to cook, so we opted for a movie and dinner in Cronulla instead. We saw Allied, which was great as far as love stories go, average though for an action flick, but Brad Pitt made it all worthwhile…Dinner was late at Squires Loft, a steakhouse which serves plates big enough to serve 3 people! As I wasn’t feeling a 100% my memory of the night is probably subjective ( I only had 1 glass of sparkling wine then drank water, how boring for a NYE!) but all I remember is the large pieces of steaks, massive servings of french fries and enough salads and vegetables to feed twice as many people. This is the kind of place you need to arrive hungry for, definitely not after slurping some frozen coca cola and eating a a bucket of popcorn ( I am talking about Anne, not me!)

Since there was no NYE party to speak of, let me share our Christmas feasts instead.

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As usual, we started with Christmas Eve at our house. This time, with 26 of us ( Terry’s side of the family), I asked guests to bring a plate of starters to nibble on, while I would take care of the main course, side salads and desserts. I read somewhere recently that it takes some dictatorial person to organise a dinner where everyone brings a dish. Well, I don’t consider myself dictatorial, however I do provide hints and make notes of who is cooking what so that we don’t end up with too many pies or 3 cheese platters! In the end I, like everybody else, look forward to tasting other’s signature dishes and this Christmas Eve didn’t disappoint.

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Craig put together a lovely platter of olives, feta, baby tomatoes and prosciutto. Shelley and Tania made a delicious smoked trout pate

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, Carolyn could not decide which dip to bring so she made two: a spinach dip served in a cob shell and a mexican layered dip with corn chips

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I know that’s a lot of dips, but they were all delicious each in their own ways. Danielle made these fantastic salmon parcels, stuffed with creamy cheese and prawns.

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Maliney provided chicken tulips, Vida baked some chicken wings, and Leanne cooked meat balls. All hot dishes were so popular I didn’t have the time to take a picture before it was too late!
The main course never changes, it is always duck magrets (breasts). Terry and the kids expect it on the Christmas menu every year, as do the others i suspect. The same goes for the accompaniment of potatoes roasted in duck fat. There is more leeway with the salads however, and I always like to do something different every year. This time I decided to base them on a couple of seasonal fruits I had picked up at the markets: a box of mangoes and a packet of cranberries. I paired the mangoes with some shredded white cabbage and an asian dressing, while the cranberries went in with green beans and walnuts. They both went beautifully well with the magrets. And yes, I cooked 26 individual duck breasts and baked 6 kilos of potatoes!

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I always like to make a chocolate log for Christmas dessert, but I could not get my head around altering the recipe for 26. So I made my usual size one, that could still serve 12, and ordered a Croquembouche from my favourite Sydney patissier, Looma. His is specially made for Christmas and the choux are filled with vanilla custard, coated with thick dark chocolate, and painstakingly piled up and decorated with Christmas figurines. Delivered on the day, it took pride of place on the sideboard and was a huge hit with adults and kids alike.

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Talking about the kids, I should mention the ritual of exchanging gifts, which occurs before dinner is served. We usually try to nominate an adult and a child in charge of handing out the presents in some sort of orderly fashion, but it always ends up messy and this year was complete mayhem with 26 of us as several kids (including mine) lost patience and dove in. Hopefully all gifts were handed to their intended recipients… Ahhhh, families!

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All neat and tidy before the the present opening mayhem. Sam was guarding the tree, sort of…

The next day was round 2, Christmas dinner. In the past Maliney or her friend Peppy used to host the meal for 25 or so people. This year, with Peppy overseas, and Maliney visiting from Melbourne, I offered to host the dinner at our house with Maliney and the girls in charge of the cooking. This was to be a small gathering of only 12. Not wanting to make a fuss, Maliney suggested to keep the meal simple eschewing the hot vegetables and the turkey while only cooking a ham. That was counting without the kids (young and old) who look forward to turkey once a year, particularly the stuffing! So turkey we had, along with the marmalade glazed ham,Tania’s famous caesar salad and Carolyn’s spinach and orange salads.

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Shelley didn’t want to feel left out and brought oyster and king prawns as well!

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As most of the guests had already eaten breakfast and lunch somewhere else ( there is always the other families to visit on Christmas…) I didn’t stress about appetisers, and only offered neatly revamped leftovers. We also didn’t bother with the hot vegetables. Besides, we all had to make room for Maliney’s traditional fruit cake and the brownie cake for Shelley’s birthday.

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By then, my sides were hurting with all the food. We were told by Shelley it was poor form to sit back and proclaim ourselves “stuffed”, declaring instead we had done very well (some wisdom she picked up from one of her in-laws). So, as I struggled to even take a sip of water, I acknowledged that indeed we did extremely well to put together 2 massive feasts in as many days.

I knew we would have an insane amount of leftovers, so had bought plastic take away containers in anticipation, and sure enough, everyone got a decent share of turkey, stuffing, ham, fruit cake, brownie cake. I froze mine, waiting for an occasion when I will stop feeling bloated…
Maliney and the girls were the perfect guests, clearing the dishes as we went, while the others found more to drink and eat…I just hovered, grateful to know that beside a hangover and food coma, at least the kitchen would be clean!

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I’d like to take the opportunity to thank you all for visiting my blog and following me in my ramblings. Here is hoping you are having a relaxing holiday (in Australia anyway, I know readers in the Northern hemisphere will be going back to work or school soon…) and looking for more food stories in 2017.

 

Festive Granola

A few weeks ago I caught up with a cruising friend, Magali, who recently relocated to Sydney after years spent overseas (sounds familiar?). Beside a love of the sea and both hailing from Europe, we share a passion for food and cooking and think nothing of discussing a particular dish for hours or planning lunches anywhere in Sydney. She is also a new mum with a 4 months old baby, which means she has not had much time to cook as extensively as she used to. As a person who feels out of sort if I don’t make at least one thing from scratch everyday, I can only imagine the frustration. Since we live in opposite sides of Sydney I can’t really cook for her or offer to baby sit. What I have been able to do though is share some of our family’s favourite food, granola. Technically, it is breakfast food, but it is so delicious and nutritious, I can’t see any reason why not have it for lunch and/or dinner. Especially when you are so busy or tired (or both) that you could not be bothered to do more than grab a bowl, fill it with some crunchy goodness and pour some milk/yoghurt.

For years I have used the same recipe, though it has become more of a template allowing for variations depending on produce availability or tastes. For example, I no longer use butter, preferring a small amount of oil instead (it stays crunchy for longer, not that it matters so much in our house as the whole jar can disappear in 3 day!) I have increased the amount of vanilla extract and spices for extra flavour. Also, now that I have a better oven (i.e one that won’t cook unevenly and require constant turning of the food) I have done away with the pre-heating, reduced the temperature and increased the baking time which makes for a toastier, crispier, not-a-single-bit-burnt granola! You will note that this version is still very nutty, I don’t include dried fruits in it. Though I like the idea of speckles of dried cranberries or sultanas shining thru, no one in our family likes the taste or the extra sugar, preferring to add fresh pieces like chunks of mango, pear slices or blueberries. But to each its own.

So, here is my latest version. It has proven popular all year round not only in our house but also with the friends who tasted it. In fact, since this is the time for giving, I think Granola may become our signature edible gift for 2016!

Festive Granola

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Makes 5 cups

Ingredients:
3 cups traditional oats (not quick oats)
1 1/2 cups nuts and seeds ( I used 1/2 cup walnuts, 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, 1/4 cup sunflower kernels, 1/4 chia seeds, 1/4 flax seeds)
1/2 cup desiccated or shredded coconut
1-2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp oil (rice bran, coconut, sunflower…but NOT olive oil)
6 tbsp maple syrup (the real thing, NOT maple flavoured syrup)
1 tbsp vanilla extract (to taste)

  1. In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts, seeds, coconut, cinnamon and sea salt. Mix well.
  2. In a small bowl, mix oil, maple syrup and vanilla extract with a fork or small whisk
  3. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and stir well to coat
  4. Spread the granola mixture in 2 parchment lined baking trays (if you have a 90cm oven you may only need one tray), making sure the layer is not too thick or it won’t crisp up properly.
  5. Bake at 150C for 30 mins, stirring once. Once cooked, leave to cool in the oven. Make sure the granola is completely cool and dry before storing into jars.

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November is pumpkin month at our place!
It is mostly due to foreign influence, all these years of travelling abroad meaning we’ve adopted some other countries’ customs.
Starting with Halloween (technically occurring in October, with only one day to spare…) in the USA, then All Saints commemorations in France, the Day of the Dead festivities in Mexico and ending with Thanksgiving, another American tradition. We used to join in the celebrations when we lived there, but now that we’re back in Australia, they are more subdued occasions, mostly marked with the elaboration of a nice dinner at home.

 

Late last month, as Anne begged me to buy a whole basket of lollies in preparation for Halloween, I came across rows upon rows of carving pumpkins. Normally, I would have walked straight past them, but somehow I thought that if I could distract my daughter from the lolly aisle for one second with the idea of pumpkin carving, it would be worth carrying 10 kilos of pumpkins home!! Believe it or not, it actually worked ( I still ended up buying a few Freddo frogs and snakes, but nowhere near the amount she originally asked for). Since you can’t eat carving pumpkins, I decided to buy a whole edible one (the Kent variety) and do some carving of my own.

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The inspiration came from Lorraine and her pumpkin fondue, which consists of a whole Kent pumpkin used as a bowl to bake cheese in. If you like cheese fondue and pumpkin as much as I do, you can’t go past this kind of dish! The recipe is pretty straight forward, and can be found on Lorraine’s blog along with a myriad of fantastic Halloween food ideas. I served it with the obligatory bread cubes ( I always keep stale bread for such occasions!) and because we usually like to have some meat with our vegetables I cooked some pork spare ribs to serve along. That was a big mistake, let me tell you that the combination of melted cheese, bread and roasted pumpkin is so filling there is no need for anything else, except maybe some green salad to cut thru the richness of the fondue.
Another mistake of mine, was skimming thru the list of ingredients and not paying attention to the size of the pumpkin. Lorraine’s was 1.5 kilos, a baby compared to mine which I guessed must have weighed a good 4 kilos. The cheese mixture didn’t quite fill the pumpkin bowl to the top, not that it mattered since we could only eat half of it anyway! But it means that we were left with a whole baked pumpkin and a decent amount of melted cheese at the bottom…

The next few days saw me switching to leftover cooking mode: pumpkin soup, check.

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Cheesy pumpkin pie, check.

And this delicious savoury Spiced Pumpkin Lunchbox Bread, which recipe I found in the Australian’s Woman Weekly’s Love to Bake book.

 

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I didn’t come up with the description, they did, and it is quite fitting as this bread livened up the kids lunch boxes for a couple of days as well as pairing with sausages and slaw for a casual dinner. I like how it makes good use of leftover cooked pumpkin and common pantry items. Next time, I think I may try baking individual muffins instead of a loaf…

Spiced Pumpkin Lunchbox Bread
Adapted from the AWW Love to Bake

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Serves 8

Ingredients

2 cups self-raising flour
1 tsp sea salt flakes
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp chilli flakes
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1 cup masked cooked pumpkin
1/2 cup buttermilk
60g butter, melted
2 eggs
1/4 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan
2 tsp thyme leaves (fresh if possible)
1 tsp dried oregano leaves

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F. Line a 11cmx18cm loaf pan with baking paper
  2. Combine flour, salt, and spices in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre. Stir in combined pumpkin, buttermilk, melted butter and eggs until just combined ( do not overtax or the dough will be tough) Spoon the mixture into pan, smooth surface. Sprinkle with combined pepitas, parmesan and herbs.
  3. Bake the bread for 55 minutes. Leave in the pan for 10 minutes before turning , top side up onto a wire rack. Cool for 30 minutes before serving.

 

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This one escaped the carving frenzy and spent a few days in the herbs garden instead!

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