Yesterday was ANZAC Day in Australia. This is when the country commemorates the crushing WW1 Gallipoli battle  and more broadly the sacrifice made by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) during the past and present wars. 

Every year, people will gather in the early hours of the morning, to attend the dawn service  remembering the fallen. Except this year was different: gatherings are banned so most people were standing in their driveway, lighting candles to the sound of a live stream playing the Last Post. I was lucky to wake up early enough and witness the most beautiful dawn from our rooftop, while indeed, someone out there played the mournful tune.

Then, I set out to bake ANZAC biscuits, as I do every year. These are iconic pieces of of Australian food heritage, along with pavlova and lamingtons.  The key features are that they contain oats, coconuts and are eggless. The story goes that these biscuits were originally sent as part of care packages to the the troops in WW1, on the basis that they would survive the long journey.

Yesterday’s biscuits happened by accident. 

Everyone I know has a favourite recipe, and I have used the same recipe from AWW over the years with great success. For some reason, I decided to try something different yesterday, inspired by a post from Not Quite Nigella. Her recipe is a different version ( using less coconut, more butter…which she browns to make it uniquely nutty !) that I wanted to try.

Then I decided to make a few adjustments of my own, starting by using less flour ( because in isolation, I am in rationing mode for some items, obviously ). I made up for it, adding more oats and coconut and leaving the quantities of wet ingredients unchanged. I was not really thinking how it would affect the whole mixture, until I combined the lot and ended up with a rather wet mix.   Leaving it to cool in the fridge helped firm it before shaping it in clusters on the baking tray.

When it came to oven temperature, the difference between crunchy and chewy sits within 20C ( 180C and 160C respectively ). Distracted-me decided to preheat the oven by cranking it up to 220C  ( it was 6.30am, the kitchen was cool and I wasn’t quite awake yet ) and completely forgot to turn the temp down afterwards. It wasn’t until Mr T walked in half way thru the cooking process, saying “something smells really nice and caramely in here!” that I took a horrified look thru the oven door: the clusters had spread and merged together, forming a large sheet of bubbling chunky caramel.  I quickly reduced the heat to next to nothing, watching the trays like a hawk for another 5 minutes wanting the mixture to cook thru a bit longer but dreading it would burn. 

Indeed, some of the edges did burn, but that was easily fixed by cutting them off. 

And the result? Because of the reduced quantity of flour to hold the biscuits together, these ended up quite crispy and lacy, they looked like a sweet version of Bak Kwa ( the pork jerky from Singapore ) but tasted similar to brandy snaps ( thank goodness for that !)

I cut them into rectangles and packed some into cute boxes with a spring of rosemary ( another ANZAC symbol of remembrance ) to hand over to the family. 

Because of isolation rules, Rosalie had to cancel her long planned traditional gathering of family and friends that day. However that didn’t stop Mr T and I from walking over and drop off these little morsels of sweet delight, figuring we’d also take care of our daily exercise ( in Australia, this is a reasonable excuse to leave the house during confinement). By the time we returned home, after completing our 7 kilometers delivery walk, my phone was lit up with texts about how delicious the biscuits were. And thankfully, some were left for us to enjoy with our afternoon tea. The perfect sugar hit !

Crunchy Lacy Anzac Biscuits

Makes 16

Ingredients:

1/2 cup plain flour

1 1/2 cup traditional rolled oats ( not the quick ones )

1 cup dessicated coconut

1 cup brown sugar

3 tbsp hot water

2 tbsp golden syrup

2 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp bi-carb soda

1/2 tsp salt

135 g butter, melted

  1. Pre heat oven to 220C
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, oats, dessicated coconut, and brown sugar. Mix well.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the hot water, golden syrup, vanilla, bi carb, salt and melted butter. Stir well.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and mix to combine. 
  5. Scoop a teaspoon of the mixture and place on parchment lined trays ( about 8 per trays ), making sure you leave enough space between them as they will spread
  6. Bake at 220C for 7 minutes, then turn the heat down to 140C and cook for another 5 minutes.
  7. Take out of the oven and make cutting indentations while the biscuits is still soft ( I use a pizza cutter but a long sharp knife will do ). Let cool on the tray for 10 minutes, the biscuits will firm up while cooling.
  8. When cool enough to handle, break off the biscuits and leave to harden on a wire tray.
  9. These are best eaten on the same day, but will keep firm in an airtight container for a few days ( if they last that long!) 

As you know I have a weakness for octopus. It is my favourite seafood, on par with prawns and dare I say, I love it more than lobsters! There, I said it.

Ii was lucky enough, last weekend, to land a beautiful large specimen from Mrs Fish, my local fishmonger. Tony ( Mr Fish ) had trimmed and cleaned it all for me so that all I had to do was give it a quick rinse, and put it in the pot. I managed to make 3 different dishes out of it, not wanting to let any of it go to waste, and served them at a family  lunch. The guests liked it and some asked for the recipes. These could not be easier!

 

 

Basic Boiled Octopus

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Ingredients

1 large octopus, approx 2 kg

bay leaves, to taste ( I use a lot )

1 onion, peeled ( optional )

2 tbsp red wine vinegar ( optional )

Water

  1. In a large cast iron or heavy pot, place the cleaned and rinsed octopus in one piece
  2. Add the bay leaves , onion and red wine vinegar, if using
  3. Cover with water and bring to the boil on high heat. The octopus will begin to curl and turn pink.
  4. Lower the heat, cover the pot with a lid and let the octopus simmer for 30 minutes or until tender.
  5. Allow the octopus to cool, then drain. Keep the cooking liquid for another use ( see below )
  6. Your octopus is ready to eat as is, or use for the following recipes.

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Mr Octopus going in the pot in one piece.

 

Galician Octopus

 

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Serves 12, as a snack

Ingredients

1 kg cooked octopus ( see basic recipe above )

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp smoked paprika

2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

  1. Cut the octopus into bite sized pieces using scissors or kitchen shears.
  2. Combine the octopus pieces, olive oil, smoked paprika and parsley in a bowl.
  3. Season well with sea salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  4. Just before serving, drizzle some extra olive oil. Serve with toothpicks.

 

Grilled Octopus

 

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Ingredients

1 kg cooked octopus ( see basic recipe above )

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp garlic, crushed

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

  1. Preheat a grill or bbq plate. Rub the octopus with olive oil and place on an oven tray or hot plate if using the bbq ( no need to cut it into pieces at that stage )
  2. Grill or bbq on high for 10-15 minutes until the octopus is slightly charred on the outside
  3. Remove and let cool for a few minutes. Cut into bite sized pieces, using scissors or kitchen shears.
  4. Combine octopus pieces with crushed garlic in a bowl.
  5. Season with sea salt and pepper and serve with lemon wedges.

 

Rice in octopus stock

This is NOT a paella dish, nor a risotto. It is my version of boiled rice flavoured with octopus juice,  that I didn’t want to waste.

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Ingredients

Reserved cooking stock from Basic Boiled Octopus, including the bay leaves ( you should have at least 4 cups )

2 cups medium grain rice ( or any rice good for paella, not long grain rice)

Cooked chorizo slices, for garnish

  1. Bring the octopus stock to the boil
  2. Add the rice and stir well to combine. Bring back to the boil, then turn the heat right down to a simmer and cover with a lid, as you would for ordinary rice.
  3. Cook the rice for 20 minutes or until all the stock is absorbed and the rice is cooked.
  4. In the meantime, fry chorizo slices in a frypan until just cooked. When ready, transfer the chorizo to the pot along with any juices from the frypan. Cover with the lid for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to mix a little.
  5. Serve warm.

 

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One whole octopus put to good use ! Nothing wasted.

 

What to do in 36 hours in Port Macquarie?

Earlier this month, we were meant to fly our friends, Dave and Denise, down to Merimbula for an overnight stay. However the NSW South Coast bushfire crisis forced us to change plans and head north instead. Ironically, the North Coast had been battling its own bushfires a couple of months prior and was only just recovering from massive destruction around the Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie area. So, in a way, we were doing our bit to support the local economy and though we didn’t bring an empty esky, we indeed had plans to visit as many places as we could.

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We flew into Port Macquarie airport in this hot January morning, witnessing the blackened landscape along the way but mercifully, no active fires near the town ( though we were told by a local “ there is a pit fire near the runway, that is virtually impossible to put out. It just keeps burning underground ! “) The first thing we noticed is how clear the air is compared to Sydney.

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We picked up our hired car and drove across the Hasting River, to check out North Shore beach which is only accessible by ferry.

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The beach is gorgeous, long and empty, perfect to kite surf on this windy day or ride a horse along. Our crew was peckish however, so we returned to Settlement Point where Denise had spotted a cafe restaurant earlier.

Overlooking the Hasting river and a few meters away from the car ferry, The Point is a quaint cafe serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Customers appeared to be locals and holiday makers alike, service was friendly and accomodating as some of us have very specific requests like a burger without certain trimmings ( that’s Denise ) or long black on ice ( that’s me ). We started sipping beers, latte and iced coffee ( otherwise known as long black on ice, not to be confused with the concoction with cream piled on top! ) while waiting. The food took a little while as it is freshly made, but when it arrived serves were quite generous.

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fullsizeoutput_85a1Mr T ordered a Homemade Chunky Steak, Red Wine & Mushroom Pie which came with a side salad. He could only manage half of it, it was that filling.

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David and Denise went for traditional Aussie Hamburgers while I opted for the vegetarian delight, thinking it was a lighter option as it read “ Oven roasted field mushroom, roasted pumpkin, baked capsicum, spanish onion, zucchini, grilled halloumi stacked on baby spinach, sliced avocado & toasted turkish bread with a balsamic reduction & cashews”.

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As delicious as it was, it was anything but light, even when leaving the bread on the side ( and god knows how much I love Turkish bread !)

Our belly full, we headed south for a drive along the Coastal Drive to Camden Haven. It is only 49 klm, but it took us 2 hours as we stopped along the way at Lighthouse Beach, Shelley Beach, Lake Cathie, Bonnie Hills…

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There is no shortage of pristine, long, sandy beaches but sadly, areas like Lake Cathie, an intermittently closed lake, is out of bound as it suffers from poor quality water, largely due to drought conditions in the past few years.

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Finally back in Port, we checked into the El Paso Motor Inn, our home for the night. It is in the centre of town, a perfect spot just across from the coastal walk and the river.
There are tons of dining options within walking distance, but we couldn’t go past the Beach House, one block down from the hotel.

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It was a very busy, noisy place on this Friday night, popular with sunset watchers, so once we managed to nab a table, we didn’t move!

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Menu is typical pub food, nice and generous:

IMG_3992chicken schnitzel for David,Hummus dip with pulled lamb and bread for Denise,

fullsizeoutput_859dIMG_3990caesar salad and slow cooked lamb to share for Mr T and I. And copious beers and wine! Great ambience. 

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I got up early the next morning for a hike along the Coastal Walk. Starting from the Town Green ( across from the hotel ), the walk is 9 klm long all the way to Tacking Point lighthouse. I only walked as far as the end of the breakwater wall and Town Beach however, along with a large number of people doing the same thing, dodging kids on bikes, guys fishing off the rocks and dogs, …

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It is indeed a popular spot with boulders along the path, painted by people keen to leave their mark. Naive drawings immortalising family holidays, passionate declarations of love, sad RIP, cheeky celebration of boys pub crawls…a veritable gallery of human emotions stretches to the end of the break wall and leads to a large skatepark as well as picnic areas. I can’t imagine anywhere more kid and family friendly.
This short 30mn cardio workout done, it was time for breakfast back at the hotel. Continental breakfast is included in accomodation at El Paso, a basic but adequate offering of toasts, cereals and hot drinks. Any hot meals are extra, but we were still full from last night and I was saving myself for lunch.

Setting up for the day’s exploring, I wanted to visit the Port Macquarie koala hospital, a facility dedicated to the care and preservation of the marsupials. Totally self-funded and run by a few paid staff and a lot of volunteers, it is the first of its kind in the world. Their workload of late has dramatically increased with the impact of the bush fires on the koala population, and while interested to visit and see for myself ( visit is free ) the rest of our crew was wary of seeing animals in distress. Instead, we headed inland to visit Bago Maze and Winery.

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Though only 30mn from town, it feels quite remote, nestled in the hills. The setup is lovely, but the weather was really hot ( 37C ) so we didn’t bother about the maze. We left  it to the restless young kids whose only interest seem to want to get lost in a 2 meter tall hedge maze while their parents wished they were back in the coolness of the cellar door.

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Which is where you find David and I, tasting lovely blueberry wines and liqueurs. In the meantime, Mr T found some locally made harissa and honey to take home while Denise sampled the local muffin and latte.

Then it was back on the highway, to Ricardoes’ Tomatoes and Strawberries Farm.

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This is a working farm with two acres of greenhouses controlled by state of the art computerised technology, hydroponically growing tomatoes and strawberries. Visitors can pick their own strawberries in the shady enclosures where the berries grow on tall vertical vines: armed with a bucket, it is just a matter of plucking the berries, which are then weighed and bagged to take away ( no eating allowed while picking !)

IMG_4072IMG_4079Denise and I could not resist having fun picking strawberries while the boys patiently waited in the cafe checking out the menu. I bought a few tomatoes then we were off. We didn’t really spend much longer, as it was really hot in the greenhouses and the cafe area was too busy for our liking.

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Lunch was by the river, at Whalebone Wharf. What a gem! From the moment we walked in, the velvet shell armchairs, bronze fittings and whitewashed walls make you feel special already. Mr T glanced at me with his “ where have you taken us” kind of look but relaxed as soon as we were seated.

IMG_4088Our table was overlooking the river, a nice breeze flowed thru, having us forgetting about the heatwave outside. The menu focuses on seafood and local produce, prepared by award winning chef, Peter Ridland, previously of Jonah’s in Whale Beach ( I mention this, as Jonah’s has been on my restaurant bucket list for decades, so I figured this would be near enough !) I loved the look of the sides and the fact that there are more side choices than entrees or mains. You could enjoy an entire vegetarian meal with these sides. But we’re omnivores and love our seafood. So…

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Denise spotted the flash fried calamari dish at the table next to us, and literally said “ I’ll have what she’s having “.
After being told the fish of the day was not available, the boys chose the beer battered flat head fillets with chips for Mr T and roasted pumpkin for David.

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As for me, the roasted king prawns had me intrigued so I ordered an entree size of these with grilled greens on the side. While the seafood was very good, cooked to perfection, the vegetables were sensational.

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My greens ( broccolinis, broccoli and green beans ) were grilled and crispy with a crunchy topping of almond crumbs and refreshing sour cream and chive dressing. The roasted pumpkin melted in your mouth and tasted divine with whipped cashew cream, toasted seeds and mustard dressing. David couldn’t stop eating it, then he couldn’t stop talking about it! Mr T loved his beer battered chips, especially the garlic and pepper salt but couldn’t eat all of it so he shared with Denise whose dish was much lighter as it “only” came with a rocket and cucumber salad.
I really would have loved to try the desserts but not only the heat was dampening our appetites but Mr T was now in a flight preparation mode, keen to fly back home before the cold front hit later in the evening.

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The trip home was a very hot and smoky affair, as we were re-entering the fire zone. Even though we weren’t flying into any fire affected area, the winds from Victoria and the NSW South Coast were blowing the highly polluted air hundreds of kilometres up the coast. By the time we landed in Bankstown, in the late afternoon, the air was thick and a scorching 48C. We love our hot weather but that was getting extreme and we all made a collective wish for the cooler weather to hurry up!

As a final note: There is a Koalas Sculpture trail you can explore, with 16 koala sculptures scattered all over town.  We managed to spot 2 of them ( actually, we ran into them by chance, as we weren’t really looking! ): Con at the Historic Courthouse ( pictured below ) , and Berry Beautiful at Ricardoes’.

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Milton, Mollymook, Batemans Bay, Mogo, Moruya, Narooma, Tilba, Bermagui, Bega, Merimbula, Eden…these are some of the towns along the NSW South Coast we have visited in the past 3 years, either driving along the Princes Highway for a weekend getaway or flying down to the farthest reach close to the Victorian border for a longer break. Its beautiful coastline, green and lush pastures and unspoilt surfing beaches keep us coming down every year, as do many people during the holidays.

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Off Lake Conjola, NSW

We had planned for a while to fly down to Merimbula for New Year and show the region around to visiting friends. The early onset of bushfires along the coast in August however had us keeping our plans in limbo and monitoring the conditions for months. Daily checks of the NSW Fires Near Me app, showed fires up the north coast and out west in the blue mountains during spring season, then with the arrival of summer mother nature turned its fury towards the south east of Australia, engulfing the whole region into a furnace.

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Needless to say that we didn’t fly to the Sapphire coast as intended, and like most people we watched in horror as the bush fires wrecked so much devastation across the whole region. As I write, the loss of human lives, wildlife and stock is astronomical. So is the number of homes destroyed and businesses lost.

Close to my heart are Roman Leathergoods and Milstons Past and Presents, both shops in Mogo, near Batemans Bay. I remember leaving Mr T at our hotel downtown and driving to Mogo for a bit of “me” time, wandering around the quirky shops the village used to be famous for. There I purchased beautiful handmade leather belts and purses from Roman and chatted with his wife, Lorena, while finding a rare book at Leah Milstons bookstore next door. That was over a year ago. They, along with the entire town, have been reduced to ashes in the NYE blaze.

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Milstons Past and Presents, Mogo, NSW

Unfortunately, they are two of hundreds, if not thousands of families and businesses, affected by the bush fires along the East coast of Australia in the last few weeks.

While the state of emergency/disaster both in NSW and Victoria is now lifted, thanks to easing weather conditions, the full extent of the devastation reveals itself daily on our screens. Not every properties were destroyed, some people were lucky and spared. I am relieved to see that some of the establishments we visited in the past came out unscathed, though the loss of income from the NYE “Tourist Ban” is a crucial blow to these businesses that rely on the summer holiday season to see them thru the rest of the year. With entire communities shaken to their core, the rebuilding becomes everyones’ focus.

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Remnants of previous bush fires on Holmes Lookout, Batemans Bay, NSW 

The urge to help is compelling, either by donating or collecting and most of you would by now be aware of the many options available to help ( from globally known Red Cross, to government agencies such as NSW RFS, or grassroots organisations like Treading Lightly Inc…). Social media campaigns such as Instagram @emptyesky and @spendwiththem are another great way to contribute towards the recovery effort, encouraging city folks like us to take on a road trip to fire affected areas, once safe to do so, and buy from local business. Options range from services, to wine, fresh produce… I can personally relate to this kind of initiative, always keen on a road trip I don’t need much incentive to pack up and go, especially when it is for a good cause !

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Tilba post office, NSW

So as I happily add a South Coast getaway to this year’s travel plans, I thought I’d share with you some of our favourite spots, visited pre-fire season… Beautiful then, and always.

 

Mollymook/Ulladulla

Milton

 

Merimbula

Batemans Bay

Eden

 

Bermagui/Tathra

Christmas 2019

It’s been a while since I wrote a Christmas post, mainly because the past couple of years have been hectic leading up to the holidays. While busy, this year, has been a little quieter, allowing more time for planning and now writing.

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As always Christmas celebrations stretched over 2 days, courtesy of our dual nationalities. I insist on the French tradition of Le Reveillon, Christmas Eve dinner, which for me makes it the biggest cooking day of the year. The family comes over, we exchange gifts and celebrates then they go home before midnight to cook their Aussie Christmas the next day. My Christmas day is then quite relaxed. We have a casual breakfast with the kids and bar a couple of hours dish washing and cleaning the mess from the night before, the rest of the day is spent lazing around ( a.k.a napping ) until it is time to go to Christmas dinner at Shelley’s place.

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This year’s Christmas Eve menu featured the traditional entrees of seafood trio of oysters, prawns and smoked salmon.

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