Wining and Dining in The Barossa

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We have just come back from a week’s holiday in The Barossa Valley in South Australia with our great friends of 30 years who share our love of good food and wine, cosy open fires and lovely old buildings. It didn’t disappoint. We stayed in this cute little stone house in Tanunda and had delicious food, literally Every Single Meal was wonderful and all swished down with some of the local grenache which we took to like ducks to water. Every morning we swore we couldn’t possibly eat or drink another thing and then somehow by 10.30am we were back at another winery being led through yet another tasting!! Our intention was to mainly buy wines only available at the cellar door and within a certain budget and for the most part we stuck to that plan and since returning I have had to make a daily visit to our local post office to pick up our purchases, I’m sure the new lady there thinks I’m a total lush as I stagger out of the door with yet another carton of goodies!20180808_125931The weather was pretty good, chilly enough to enjoy being indoors (yes eating and drinking AGAIN) but not too cold to enjoy a walk through some of the beautiful wine estates. The local ironstone made for very uniquely South Australian architecture, mostly built by German migrants back in the 1850’s who arrived with vines from the old country and started vineyards reminiscent of their homelands. In fact the oldest Shiraz, Grenache and Cabernet vines in the world are in The Barossa as the phylloxera infestation wiped out entire countries of vines in Europe after they left and ironically gave the very new territory of Australia the oldest vines in the world by default.IMG_20180802_203150Another famous and well loved place to visit is Maggie Beer’s Pheasant Farm and Farm Shop which stocks all her many yummy jams, dressings, chutneys, pastes, ice creams and books as well as a great cafe run by her daughter Elli, The Eatery. All this is located on a scenic lake. Seriously, what’s not to like?

It was such a luxury to basically do nothing for a week housework and cooking wise. To be able to lie in without feeling guilty about letting out the chooks or the dogs or the fact that we should be up watering our parched garden. I read an entire book, learned how to play Euchre (semi successfully) and we all spruced up on our Scrabble however there was a bit of an outcry when JB got away with this….. however according to Google it is apparently an acceptable Scrabble word. What is the world coming to I ask you? Dunno.

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So after a lovely week away it was back to The Meadow, 2kgs heavier and a lot poorer but nicely relaxed and ready to get back to it. Everything had survived beautifully without us, including the house which we loaned to Tom and his mates for the weekend in exchange for getting Bailey out of the kennels for some R&R. However the combination of the lack of any rainfall and the arrival of  our (not so favourite) August winds has really brought it home how very dry it is EVERYWHERE now. The inland has been suffering for months, even years in some places, but now the normally lush and verdant coastal areas are also officially in drought. Some people call it a green drought as there is still some form of plant material in the ground but it has little to no nutrition and every farm that can afford it is now hand feeding. Finally, with a lot of help from social media, everyone is now aware of the plight of the farmers and people from far and wide are eager to help in whatever way they can. People have chipped in for hay bales and feed for cattle and truckies have formed convoys to deliver them throughout our wide brown land and give those most in need a little helping hand.

Many people were able to donate food and provisions to help the farmers but there has been a lack of available people to drive the big distances to deliver them. My work buddy Danielle has come together with some other local horsey families to help deliver some much needed goodies and they are off to Yeoval . Yeoval is a quiet rural service centre on the crossroads between Dubbo, Wellington and Parkes. It is surrounded by rich agricultural land known for its production of fine wool, wheat, orchards, canola, vineyards, beef cattle and lambs and is a town famed for its connections with ‘Banjo’ Paterson who spent his first seven years on the family property, ‘Buckinbah’. An archetypal Aussie farming community and one that has so far missed out on any of the relief programs so this Sunday they are going off in their own little convoy of Utes and horse floats and taking along our contributions. It is thanks to these good souls who are giving up their time and petrol to get to things done that this week the people of Yeoval will be enjoying some food parcels (thank you also to our number one son and my friends from The Bay for helping to contribute to our donation seen here). More importantly these country folk are feeling the love from everyone far and wide and are feeling valued in a very tough time when properties are being abandoned after being in the family for generations and livestock slaughtered as they can see no way out. In return Yeoval is putting on a shindig for these #aussiehelpers on Sunday at their local bowling club which had to recently reduce their staff to a bare minimum due to no one having any money to spend on going out so this weekend will mean they can pay a few extra people to work and the event will give the town something to look forward to.  You can follow their progress on ‘ABCD drought Drive’ on Facebook. Thanks so much guys  xx

FB_IMG_1533434642769In other very exciting news The Meadow will be hearing the pitter patter of tiny feet in 2019. The Cameron family is expanding and we are absolutely thrilled to be joining the Grandparent Club. The cubby house that lies under our giant pear tree will have to be cleaned out, painted and decorated in honour of this new little member of the clan and I look forward to showing ‘Peanut’ all things country in the coming years. Can you tell that we’re just a tad excited? Happy Days!

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Mid winter in The Meadow

A wisp of smoke curls lazily upwards from the chimney on an old tin roofed farmhouse up on the hill. Not a breath of wind disturbs the morning landscape which has frozen like a photo, a captured moment in time of a widespread morning frost. The grass crunches underfoot and twigs are snap frozen. So pretty to us but not for the cows in the paddock, the chickens in the coop or my new seedlings in the veggie patch. Australia is generally such a mild climate, especially where we are,  so close to the beach and not too far north or south. Our weather is pretty close to perfect with four distinct seasons, hardly any humidity and temperate nights. Cold enough to grow some lovely English plants in a cottage garden but warm enough to enjoy the swimming pool for at least 6 months a year. No wonder they call it the Lucky Country.

In between the horribly cold days we are having mild sunshiny days more reminiscent of Spring! Balmy days of 20-22 degrees and definitely tee shirt weather. Bailey loves nothing more than lying stretched out on the soft grass in the warm air, not a care in the world and I couldn’t help pulling over to snap a photo of beautiful Gerringong on a drive back from Kiama on a perfect day with not a breath of wind (not that that will last of course….)

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At the end of these unseasonably warm days we often get a thunderstorm that rolls in over the escarpment or rumbles menacingly out at sea, splitting the sky apart with lightening and causing a strange eerie light and the odd hail storm. Talk about four seasons in one day!

It is action stations at the top of our lane as the upgrade to the road begins in earnest. Thanks to the latest budget approval for squillions of dollars to be invested in South Coast roads we are surrounded by trucks, road work signs and men and women in high vis vests from 8am until 4pm and as they are currently moving and replacing the power poles we have whole days with no electricity. Despite hitherto thinking my new life was fairly self sufficient I realise this is complete nonsense as soon as the power goes. Even my gas fire has an electric starter and I have no internet at home without wifi which means I am reduced to either going for a long walk or gardening if the weather behaves or sorting out my wardrobe or my overly large magazine collection in the near dark at home if it doesn’t. It was quite peaceful reading my book on the veranda until it got cold and even then I couldn’t have a cuppa. The second day they inflicted this on us I fired up the gas barbie for my cuppa, no one is keeping this little English girl from her cup of tea!

Abigail, our last remaining original chook, passed over the rainbow bridge this week. It always happens when I’m home alone and I’m no better now than I was 3 years ago at dealing with it. I am good in the lead up to the end though. As they are usually a bit immobile for a day or two prior I finally have enough courage to crouch down and stroke them lovingly and give them little treats. A last supper of bacon rinds and spinach and a dish of water within drinking distance of her beak so she is comfortable at least. The other chickens couldn’t give a toss or at least that is how it seems, carrying on with their day as if nothing is different and even clambering over her to get to the nesting boxes to lay their eggs. Just another day in the chook house to them. So we are now down to three girls in the coop which actually gives us more eggs than we need for the most part but when our white chicken goes (she’s next in line!!) we may buy a few more as the black ones seem quite gentle and hopefully will be kind to the newcomers….

With Tom’s imminent departure looming in our calendar and an increased sense of limited opportunities to spend time together, we enjoyed a lovely family weekend snuggled up against the cold winds one day and out on the veranda basking in the sunshine the next. Sam brought down an amazing piece of pork shoulder with a ‘secret’ rub that we slow cooked for 10 hours and which was delicious and we broke open a few of the good reds from the cellar to toast potential future adventures in London Town. The boys will miss each other that’s for sure and we will then have 2/3 of our kids living abroad. Thank goodness we now live in a high tech world where we can chat as much as we like for free with Skype, Whatsapp, Facetime, Viber etc which helps the gap feel slightly less than the 12000 and 3500 miles respectively that it is in reality!

Bailey as usual was in her element with so many people to play with and spent the whole weekend being walked, fed and played with, but her VERY favourite time of day (apart from mealtimes) is first thing in the morning when she is extremely cuddly and Liv made the most of the opportunity for some doggy snuggles. A mutual love affair ♥

She really is such a lovely dog, no matter who comes to the house she greets them with a friendly sniff and a wagging tail. We have never trained her with regular treats but each of us may reward her at various times for her behaviour. I did giggle when I saw this though as I’m sure this is the kind of thing that must go through her head at times!32659595_1684923898250474_920841516543377408_n

 

Country Life Country Wife

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I’m not quite sure what I was expecting from my new life in the country. Was I going to miraculously turn into an amazing baker, pulling fresh scones out of the oven to accompany my homemade jams? Was I going to go ‘au naturelle’ and wear homespun clothes and very little makeup? Was I going to take up knitting, weaving or spinning? All these things somehow seemed ‘countryish’ before I got here, but then I realised I could pretty much have the exact same life I had in the city just with prettier views and less pressure to conform to a type. I’m free to either slob around in my gardening clothes all day ‘sans make up’ or get snazzed up and look as if I’m visiting from Moss Vale (my son’s words….), it really is completely up to me and somehow I don’t seem to be judged or treated differently either way. My Mum, who looks amazing at 82 and thanks to her life in England has better skin than me, will always make an effort to go the extra mile, even if she’s only popping up the road for a pint of milk. She has a ‘be the best you can be at all times’ type philosophy and one that I admire whilst simultaneously not wanting to HAVE to feel I have to get made up to leave the house. This inevitably leads to me NOT “putting my face on” 60% of the time and makes “going out” special once again. When our city friends come to stay I must admit I enjoy having a reason to get dressed up, making the effort is enjoyable and the rest of the time I’m learning not to freak out when I catch a glimpse of my everyday self in the mirror when I pass by!!! Ageing graciously isn’t always easy…..!!2016-06-27 02.25.02

So life in the country is different every day. No scones or weaving here but plenty of little surprises to keep this little city girl happy. This week I was delighted to come across a big ring of field mushrooms in the middle of our lawn and eagerly picked a large bowl full, anticipating them fried up in butter, garlic and parsley on local sourdough toast for breakfast but they ended up being used in a tasty chicken and mushy braise courtesy of Neil Perry, (recipe has been added to the kitchen section.)

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Country life sometimes throws you a curve ball too and I was more than slightly concerned when I sighted a pile of white feathers in the garden one morning. “Nothing good will come of this” I thought as I wandered over to investigate , and despite the fact that there was nothing there other than feathers it’s pretty obvious that Mr Fox had an early morning snack of some sort on our property, merely leaving the fluffy evidence and nothing more. Maybe it was one of the many white corellas that fly over us every day at this time of year. They fly in huge groups of several hundred birds which we can hear coming for ages before we see the white cloud on the horizon, a cacophony that makes you look skyward….

The country I am now starting to become more aware of is the plight of the local farmers. We have had hardly any rain and any that we HAVE had has been at the wrong time for sowing/planting and as a result there has been very little extra feed available for the cows. The corn that was planted only had one cob of corn per stalk as opposed to the usual 3-4 making it much less nutritious for the cattle and everywhere I look people are hand feeding their stock. Horses, cows and goats are all straining over the fences of their paddocks that butt up to residential property to get to that little bit of grass that is always greener on the other side and the cows are eating well past sunset and into the darkness to try and get enough energy to keep warm in these cold winter months. One thing I hadn’t considered before was the drinking water for the cows. Our farmer neighbour was mentioning the huge water bills that they get when it doesn’t rain as cattle drink a lot and they then have to hand water as well as hand feed them ending up with water bills up to $10,000 per year just for a smallish farm. All these things should contribute to the end price of meat and milk products but mostly it is the farmer that has to cop it on the chin as the middle man refuses to pay more than XXX per litre of milk or kilo of meat. No wonder people are leaving the land in droves or selling out to big corporations. Who else could afford the vagaries of today’s weather patterns and the ever increasing requirements from government and their food rules.

What IS lovely about country living is having visitors and we have had quite a few in the past few weeks. It’s always so lovely to get a call asking if we will be around and then spending time with people we rarely get to see. Such was the case when our son in laws parents phoned from Tassie to say they would be passing by on their way up north in their caravan and would we be home? A great couple of days spent golfing, eating and chatting about our merged families ensued before we waved them off on their way to warmer climes..!!

Then a weekend with our youngest followed with lots of animated chats about his imminent move to London and all that was involved with that. As it was a beautiful sunny and warm weekend day we decided to give the Choccy Drop a bath which she tolerated with a decidedly unimpressed expression! I’m certainly going to miss our funny, lovable and life-be-in-it son but I encourage him wholeheartedly on his adventure.

Then, in what is becoming a bit of a tradition, we hosted a Xmas In July weekend with some friends who we always have fun with and who love good food. The star of the show – the porchetta – came from one of Phil and Karen’s pigs at Claydon Park in Milton and was cooked to perfection by the MOTH in the pizza oven. It is so wonderful to be able to eat locally grown (and loved) meat that you know hasn’t had anything dodgy added to it and that tastes divine. We managed to add in a pumpkin from our neighbour, our own carrots and a homemade custard made with our own eggs to accompany the Xmas pud. That’s fairly country I reckon! An excuse to eat in our dining room for a change with a log fire burning and some lovely wines to bring out the conversation! One of the real beauties of country living is that people stay over and you have so much more time together than on a city dinner date. Thank you to our lovely friends and all their many contributions to a great day, there’s nothing like chatting until late at night and talking about things that have been important or changed your life over the past 50 years or so, we are lucky to have such special people to share our lives with.

True friends are very important, people you can enjoy time with and that support each other but the bottom line is you have to be happy in your own skin and with your own life. Maybe that means you finally do that course that teaches you to paint, speak French or play the guitar. Maybe it means you finally lose those extra pounds, get fit or have your teeth straightened. Maybe you search out those old friends or family you have fallen out of communication with. If you hate your job get brave and change it. If you are in a bad relationship, get the courage to leave it. We only get one go at this big thing called life and although it’s scary to change things, if you just take a leap out of your comfort zone for a while you can often achieve things that you only ever dreamed about. So many people thought we were mad when we said we were moving to the country, especially at our “stage” of life but it has made us very happy and if you never give things a go how will you ever know?

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Winter is here and so are the Westerly winds….

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Winter has arrived. One minute we were having above average balmy Autumn days then all of a sudden it was dark at 5pm, log fires are in full throttle and electric blankets are essential ! The dastardly westerly winds are back and I always forget just how annoying they are until they return. The skies are blue and the sun is shining but the wind makes working in the garden anything but pleasant. My new seedlings are struggling to stay upright and my veggies have had to be staked to avoid being blown to Whoop Whoop. The birds struggle to fly and the cows aren’t particularly impressed either, standing with their bottoms into the wind and a look of deep resignation on their faces. The upside is it’s cosy inside and perfect for slow cooked lamb and a glass of red in front of the fire. Curled up with a good book whilst the winds rage outside makes it bearable and because our winters are relatively short, really just 3 months of being cold, it never becomes too oppressive or depressing.

The fact that we have a winter in Australia comes as a surprise to some people in the world as they think we live in a permanently sun drenched country, full of life threatening creatures and harsh desert environments, either that or they think we live on the beach and spend all our time surfing, again always hot and sunny, a perpetual summer. Although this might be the case in the tropical north of Australia where they have a year round average temperature of above 30ºC the same is not true of the southern states. The Meadow in particular is reminiscent of England, with our rolling green hills dotted with cows and an abundance of deciduous trees which are a spectacle in the Autumn as their leaves change to a delicious shade of red before dropping and creating stark silhouettes against the winter sky. The street names in our local town also indicate that the early settlers, mostly from the UK, also saw the similarity and bestowed very British names upon them so it is very easy for me to feel at home here.  The clashing of two countries in one place if you like and if only there was a quaint little English pub around the corner I would feel like I had never left the Old Country.

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On a sunny but cold afternoon we decided to drive up into the hills and have lunch at the closest thing we have around here to an olde worlde pub, The Commercial Hotel in Jamberoo. It is 161 years old which is pretty old for Australia and with a few log fires going and a whole heap of memorabilia from the old owner who was a former star of Australian Soccer it made for an atmospheric lunch followed by a wander around the town which is beautifully looked after with carefully tended flower beds and restored old buildings everywhere you looked. The Choccy drop had a run in the park, joining in with a few local boys who were kicking a ball around and we all enjoyed an afternoon off from the chores!

This time of the year provides us with the best sunrises and sunsets of the entire year. As the days are at their shortest we are invariably getting up at the same time as the sun and there is nothing that makes me more happy than to fling back the curtains and see a deep pink and orange sky radiating all around the house. Despite the old rhyme about red sky in the morning being a shepherds warning I think there is no better way to start the day than by appreciating nature in all its glory. Similarly I love seeing the raspberry crush of a sky above the chook shed in the evening, to be followed later at night by the amazing Milky Way (one of the bonuses of these cold clear nights). Blessed indeed.

So we settle into the different rhythm of Winter. Shorter days, more time spent inside, more books read and cupboards sorted out, the smell of baking wafts through the house as I seek respite from the wind and on those perfect blue sky winter days, Bailey by my side, I love to walk along the country lanes rugged up against the breeze and enjoying the clean fresh air.

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We have managed, despite the wind, to do a few winter jobs around the property. With our various helpers we have staked trees that had been blown skew whiff, fixed broken pipes, cemented in a couple of fence posts and re positioned the outdoor fencing for the chooks, allowing them to explore a new area and us to mow the previously fenced area. Somehow they never really enjoyed it as much as we thought they should, preferring for some strange reason to be in the drier dusty run they have under our huge pear tree, burying themselves into shallow holes and rolling around in the dust! Funny little birds they are! I love the little comforting noises they make as they huddle up on their perch at dusk, cleverly inserting themselves into a corner with the most protection from the wind and seemingly happy despite the wintry weather. I love having my first cuppa of the day looking out across the paddocks from the warmth of my kitchen and seeing the beautiful crimson rosellas flitting in and out of our trees, usually in a group of 6 or 8, their bright colours visible now that there are no leaves on the trees, they seem so industrious and methodical as they work their way through the garden which I presume must be the avian version of an eat as much as you like smorgasbord of deliciousness!

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The most important animal in our lives embraces just as much of winter as she fancies, She loves our daily walks and occasionally running around outside chasing swirling leaves and the odd stick and she ALWAYS accompanies me to the chook shed in the hope she can snaffle some of their scraps but mostly this is what she does………….It really IS a dogs life folks!!

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Vietnam 2018 part 2

20180516_112419For the first time in many years I got to spend Mothers Day with my daughter. As any Mum will tell you spending time with your kids is something that gets more precious as the years go by. They now have their own lives and families to think about and so despite my dislike of commercialising these things I always milk Mothers Day for all I can get! I have the fondest memories of waking up to a cup of tea or breakfast in bed when they were little, faces so bright with excitement at the prospect of me opening their various ‘gifts’ – made at pre school and with such love – well let’s face it, who wouldn’t love a necklace made from pasta shapes or a card with a pop out section containing a teabag?? Nowadays I’m a happy chappy if I get to share a meal with them or, now that we live so far away, a whole weekend together. They usually indulge me, happily letting me ramble on about the old days only occasionally telling me that I’ve told that story a thousand times before!! The older they get the more nostalgic they are getting too and they quite enjoy flipping through our old photo albums, remembering a surprisingly large amount of details from their youth. Anyway I digress….!! To celebrate this year Lauren had arranged for us girls to go into the beautiful Hotel des Artes in central Saigon to enjoy some cocktails overlooking the city with a couple of her girlfriends,  a chance to throw on a frock and enjoy some girly chat and the gorgeous surrounds. The men folk were happy to be left at home as they were making the most of our absence to meet up with a few blokes to play shuffleboard and have a few beers whilst watching Liverpool play in a local sports bar. Happiness all round!

 

We were very lucky with the weather during our trip, it was the beginning of the rainy season and every day it was hot, around 33 degrees and you could feel the air getting thicker as the humidity increased. You just hoped it would pour down and be done with it, but somehow if there was any rain it was at night or while we were out of town. The electrical storms were quite something though and one of Lauren’s friends took this at exactly the right moment! This is the tallest building in Saigon and makes for quite a photo!

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The humidity and year round tropical temperatures make for some beautiful flowers and greenery and they make a huge difference to the local area. HCMC is an urban jungle in a seemingly permanent stage of construction but the profusion of plants gives the whole place a feeling of a tropical paradise with the added benefits of softening the buildings and providing some well needed shade. It makes me wish I could paint!

 

As we will miss Lozzy’s 30th birthday later this year, we decided to take her away for a weekend to a lovely little eco resort called Mango Bay on the island of Phu Quoc, only a 30 minute plane trip but a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of HCMC. Located on 10 hectares of beachfront land 10km north of Duong Dong, the island’s main town, the ethos of Mango Bay is to create something close to nature, an unpretentious resort that is the antithesis of luxury. Here, despite the size of the land, there are only 44 rooms and villas, each unique and each hidden away from the beach. Built either with rammed earth or acacia, the colour and the materials enable the bungalows to merge seamlessly with the surrounding land. Set under the trees native to the island — tropical almond, acacia, ficus and fishtail palms — and surrounded by foliage, the majority of the shrubs planted on the land, the likes of crepe myrtle and red-flowering hibiscus, also come from Phu Quoc. There is no swimming pool, only the sea. Sand hasn’t been imported and rocks have not been removed to extend the two, yellow-sand beaches into something more user-friendly; here they remain as they were found. There are no heavily manicured flowerbeds or perfectly paved paths. Instead, the land, while loosely landscaped, has been kept natural — the only testament to the words ‘holiday’ and ‘resort’ come in the form of the banana leaf roofed bungalows.

 

After a day spent reading, playing local Saigon Monopoly and Scrabble, immersing ourselves in the VERY warm ocean in a vain attempt to cool down, eating delicious Vietnamese salads, drinking from fresh coconuts, afternoon snoozes in the generous hammocks under a lazily turning ceiling fan and generally enjoying life, we geared up for the main event that occurs from about 5pm with people gathering on the huge deck overlooking the bay in readiness for the most beautiful sunsets. Happy hour spans 3 hours which makes the cocktails as cheap as beer and as the sun slipped below the horizon and we ate fragrant blue swimmer crab in the balmy warmth of the evening all was well with my world. Watching the local fishermen coming home, silhouetted by the golden setting sun was a picture that will stay with me for ever.20180519_124401

 

The MOTH decided that the time had finally come for him to have a go at yoga. He has no flexibility and a sore back so it was never going to be easy but under the mid afternoon sun he stripped off and had a go together with a few other people and it was great to see him stretching out like the best of them and it is something we may consider doing together now we’re home as we have a beautiful yoga shala in Berry. He’d had a bit of a rough trot that day as he was first stung by a decent sized jellyfish (he never saw it but the welts criss crossed his arms and chest so it must have been fairly big!!) and then whilst showering in our eco outdoor shower he felt something on his back and asked me to get it off. It was a huge tear drop shaped spider and I was so scared I was going to make it angry and it would either bite him or scurry into our bedroom I apparently “took my sweet time” in removing it!! The next morning we saw huge webs strung between the palm trees and I think that is where our not so eensy weensy spider came from!!

 

We had purposely booked late flights back to HCMC so we could enjoy an extra day doing absolutely nothing and we felt extremely relaxed by the time we headed to the airport. A day spent snorkelling, eating, reading and game playing….heaven!

 

Then all of a sudden our holiday was nearly over and we had that awful “oh my goodness we only have two nights left” feeling and a sense of impending gloom at saying goodbye AGAIN. We made the most of it though, meeting her for lunch near her work, having a great dinner at their favourite local Italian, a two hour breakfast cruise through Saigon before our ‘Last Supper’ at a terrific Vietnamese restaurant Ann Quan, just around the corner from Lauren’s office. They serve amazing food as well as the local beer hoi, served in icy steel containers and unbelievably (after a long fortnight of less than perfect temperature beer) on our very last night, it was finally “Australian” cold! Any of you that know any Aussies will know that the beer is NEVER cold enough for them in any other country of the world. No matter if the outside temperature is below zero they still want it freezing!! Crazy Aussies!!

 

I have never been a beer drinker, I’ve tried a few times and after a few mouthfuls I’m over it. Vietnam on this trip however has opened my taste buds to a lighter type of beer and it really is the perfect drink in a hot climate. Wine here is nearly non-existent, of dubious quality AND expensive so I joined in with the beer hoi and found I actually loved it!! It may or may not have helped me say goodbye without crying too much….

 

So we are now back in The Meadow where winter has arrived all of a sudden and we are snuggling up in front of the fire and eating slow cooked food, the complete opposite of our time in Vietnam! Our amazing house sitters had looked after Bailey a treat, she was so spoiled with love I don’t think she missed us for a minute! They also insisted on cooking for us our first night home and I felt delightfully childlike as they took over our kitchen and made the most amazing meal for us. A perfect end to a wonderful holiday, thanks so much guys!

 

Undeniably the mobile phones of today are extremely useful when travelling. We used them primarily to communicate (where would I be without Whatsapp???) but also to use Google Maps to find out where we were going, to order our GRAB car, to hear our music playlists, to check on the state of the bank account, receive emails, as a camera, we even checked in at the airport on them, so they have become THE go to item for travellers. Hard as it was we really tried to have days when we didn’t use them, even take them out with us, and we missed them every single time! It made us realise how VERY much we are now attached to them. It is the love/hate relationship of today’s age and I just love this picture which seems to sum it all up beautifully; whilst everyone around her is busy capturing the moment on the phone this dear old lady is just IN it, taking it all in the old fashioned way!! Bravo.

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Vietnam 2018 part 1

20180524_141116We are back in The Meadow after a couple of lovely weeks visiting our daughter and son in law in Vietnam. They live in Ho Chi Minh City, he teaches in an international school and she works for Loreto Vietnam (one of the oldest charities in Vietnam and coincidentally also the school she went to!) as communications and fundraising Director.  She works VERY hard and is embracing the fact that she is actually living in the country pertaining to the charity and can see with her own eyes the effects of the good stuff they do. Their main focus is on education, building schools, libraries and toilet blocks and providing the kids with books as well as bicycles to enable them to actually GET to school especially in the rural provinces where they are expected to help their parents as well, sometimes meaning they wouldn’t be able to get to school until lunchtime (if at all) if they were walking. Loreto is an ardent supporter of education for girls, empowering them to have a go at everything and to believe anything is possible. Hopefully these educated kids will grow up and enact change in their own villages, a much better result than just throwing  money at them.  http://www.loretovietnam.org

It was fantastic to stay with them as they have been here for a year now and know their way around. We had the perfect mix of busy and relaxing times and as they were working throughout the week we had a few aside trips to Hoi An and Phu Quoc until they were available to play again at the weekends. It was super hot, very humid and perfectly suited to stopping every hour or two for a Vietnamese iced coffee, a fresh cool coconut or an icy beer while we cooled down under a ceiling fan or in the aircon. I completely understand why people just pop up a hammock and chill out when they’re not working, or even take refuge on their bikes, a little home away from home in between customers – and in the shade.

Our first three days we stayed just down the road from them in Thao Dien at a cute little boutique hotel, La Casita. Despite being in the middle of the action its position built  behind a restaurant meant we could hear none of the local traffic and the beautiful pool was literally a hop skip and a jump from our bed! This is a little gem in the middle of District 2 and I can thoroughly recommend it.

In the space of a day we enjoyed local coffee with the kids, a street haircut for the MOTH, pho for breakfast, coconuts and beer for elevensies and after an afternoon of exploring we finished the day with cocktails on The Mekong before a wonderful local Vietnamese meal. Perfect!!

If all you’ve ever seen of HCMC is the crazy busy centre of District 1 and the Ben Thanh Market (which is what we did on Trip 1) it is a whole different ball game in D2. The centre for many International Schools and therefore expat families, this district has more of a frenchified feeling with a great mix of local and also some slightly more western places to eat, drink and shop. Shop as in food, bringing some much missed foods to homesick expats, but at a price!! There is everything you could fancy, Mexican, Italian, beautiful French patisseries to rival Paris, juice bars, amazing Vietnamese and even smashed avo on toast for breakfast with my new favourite twist of coriander, chopped red chilli and lime. You could get your toes painted or neck massaged in a handful of places and all for the price of a magazine in Australia! Whatever you were in the mood for, be it bars dripping with indoor plants boasting pool tables, chess sets, great music and a laidback atmosphere or more sophisticated versions located  alongside the river with great cocktail lists and tapas to enjoy as you watch the amazing Saigon sunsets, Thao Dien has it all, no wonder they love living here!20180521_185218Taxis here are also super cheap compared to Australia. The Viet equivalent of Uber is Grab and they are half the price of the taxis. Then the Grab motorbike is half the price again and of course out of all the options available THAT is how my darling daughter chooses to get to work!! 30 minutes through some of the most tumultuous traffic in the world on the back of a bike and catching up with her emails on her phone en route!!! It didn’t take her Dad long to download the GRAB app and start using it too! Here he is waiting for our driver whilst I loitered in the shade. Totally recommended as you know exactly how much the fare is in advance therefore negating any chance of the big rip off. Truthfully though, the Vietnamese people are so friendly and genuine that it rarely happens and as there is no tipping either, it makes it all so simple.20180516_112138We first visited Hoi An five years ago and fell in love with it. We decided it was definitely worth another trip and we weren’t disappointed. Still enchanting, despite being busier than 5 years ago, we had three days of pure pleasure strolling and cycling around this UNESCO world heritage site that is famous for its vibrant colours and handmade silk lanterns. The former port city’s melting-pot history is reflected in its architecture, a mix of eras and styles from wooden Chinese shophouses and temples to colorful French colonial buildings, ornate Vietnamese tube houses and the iconic Japanese Covered Bridge with its pagoda.

We stayed at yet another great spot about 2 kms outside the old town at Earth Villa, a family run boutique hotel which our friends had stayed in on our last trip. With free breakfast and bicycles and a huge King Size bedroom, all for the princely sum of $38 a night, we were laughing! The staff were brilliant, seeing to our every need and the pool was a welcome respite from the heat after a day cycling around town. http://www.theearthvilla.com

Hoi An is also famous for its tailors and leather making. I had a pair of favourite sandals copied in soft leather for under $15 but we mostly just enjoyed trying all the different food and soaking up the atmosphere, especially in the evenings when the silk lanterns cast a rosy glow over everything and people buy floating candles and set them onto the river from gondolas, a magical and ethereal scene in the balmy evening and hard to beat.

A few kilometres down the road is An Bang Beach with a myriad of fresh seafood restaurants. After a bicycle crash the night before (where I came off second best to a tourist bus and a parked van) I was too sore and banged up to get back on my bike so my boy kindly hired a motor bike and drove me to the beach for lunch. As the warm breeze caressed my face as we whizzed down the road, free as a bird to look around me and enjoy the local scenery, I had a feeling of freedom and that aaaah moment you get on holidays when you are doing something completely different and loving it! A great meal, icy cold lemon soda and a stroll along the sand and I was a new woman!

Lauren had told us about Madam Khanh, the Queen of banh mi in Hoi An; now an old lady she still works behind the counter along with her extended family including her husband who wandered around in his rather elegant pyjamas, a touch of the bygone era, and completely at ease with his rather unconventional attire.  The staff were rather nonplussed when we whipped out our reusable bamboo straws for our watermelon juice and they all came over and had a look as we tried to explain the negatives of having plastic in the environment. It was probably lost in translation but at least they realised that foreigners were starting to do something a bit different and maybe it was worth at least thinking about change. The banh mi here were EXCELLENT. The real deal and totally worth the cycle there.

Back to Saigon for the weekend and Loz took us to an amazing Seafood Street in an adjoining district. We couldn’t believe the smells, the noise and the sheer amount of people all eating and enjoying themselves in this long winding street. The tantalising smell of octopus on the char grill and the crabs and crayfish ready for consumption made us salivate. Together with many many icy cold beers (it’s thirsty work!!) we had an amazing meal and a great night with loads of laughs.

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It was so good to see our girl so happy and enjoying all the wonderfulness on offer here in Vietnam. They have a gorgeous brand new apartment, good jobs, a great gang of mates and an insatiable appetite for adventure and exploration. I love how I can now imagine her pottering about at home or in her local village and it was worth every penny for us to make some lovely memories together. In part 2  I will share our little trip to Phu Quoc, an island about a 40 minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City and a real little oasis which was much needed as an antidote to this…..

 

 

Birthday Celebrations

20180329_064806Early Autumn means warm days and cold nights creating amazing morning mists across the paddocks. I love waking with the first light and pulling the curtains to see a rosy sky and a thick mist blanketing the surrounding countryside. Cows lumber out of the mist as if they were in a movie, taking their place in The Meadow to munch happily on the damp fresh grass. This early change of season is always pleasant, a different set of clothes to wear and different menus to enjoy. Not yet that crazy “throw all your clothes off in a hurry and leap into bed before you freeze” scenario that comes later in winter. We’ve had the odd fire at night but just to take the chill off the room and for cosiness rather than anything else.

We have had a lovely couple of weeks celebrating the MOTH’s birthday across the space of 10 days, making up for last year when it was the day before the big wedding and kind of slid under the radar a bit. As we start getting to the pointy end of things it’s hard to buy great gifts, it’s often the small things or the experiences that become the most meaningful so I went with that theory and arranged a trip to beautiful Tasmania for my beau to play golf with his brother at a course he has had on his bucket list for quite a while. Barnbougle in the wild North West of Tassie is a destination for golf lovers the world over. Created in the Links style and with the fresh Autumn temperatures we could be in Scotland or Ireland. Wild and with a rugged beauty that took your breath away. The colour of the grasses, almost orange in the morning sunrise but then bleached like the sand on which they grow later in the day, bending in the brisk coastal breeze that created havoc on day 2 but made me feel vital and alive, taking me back to my days at boarding school in England when we had to go for 5 mile walks at the weekend in the bracing English weather.

While the golfers did their thing I had the best time exploring the local area. Everywhere you looked it was a photographer’s dream with a colour pallette unique to this part of the coast and the moodiness of the clouds all contributing to a visual feast.

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The beauty of Tassie is that you don’t have to go very far to see something completely different. Verdant pasture land scattered with little white dots of sheep (testament to the amount of rain they get here as opposed to the grey Aussie sheep!) one minute and then beautiful wide white sand beaches the next. A tour of the wineries showed us beautiful Autumn colours, the cold local weather making it much more colourful than on the mainland.

The Birthday Boy was in his element and despite losing MANY balls and being totally exhausted walking these big courses in a 30 knot wind he had the best time and actually did pretty well golf  wise too. A big thanks to Rod and Heather for coming along for the ride and for helping tick a much wanted box!

We also celebrated at home with No 1 son enjoying a lovely weekend together planning upgrades to the property, measuring and drawing all the possibilities. The men folk also got stuck into gurneying the house, washing off the accumulated dust from our dry summer leaving it fresh as a daisy and looking like it had had a new coat of paint! A walk along the beach with the Choccy Drop and we were more than ready for a delicious dinner at our local restaurant South on Albany who always manage to give us beautiful dishes created from local produce and make them shine. http://www.southonalbany.com.au

So now we’re back to reality and busy tidying up the garden before those pesky westerly winds make themselves felt. Cutting back the summer flowers and a bit of trimming and pruning but mostly planting the winter veggies. The garlic went in this week, it takes a while before harvesting but is SO WORTH IT! We love having our very own organic garlic hanging in our shed to use over Summer and as we use it in just about everything it is one of our most useful crops. The spinach and eggplant are still in full swing and now we have broad beans, green beans, brussel sprouts, cabbages, broccoli, carrots, onions and leeks all planted with the last of the warm soil and hopefully off to a good start ahead of the cool weather. So we are at that perfect junction of sunny days (but not hot) and cooler evenings (but not freezing) that encapsulates Autumn in Australia, no wonder we love her.

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Autumn is not currently available in Australia……

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Welcome to the hottest April in Australia’s recent history. With temperatures still consistently in the high 20s/early 30’s during the day we are yet to enjoy the spoils of Autumn. Visions of warmer clothes and less salads have gone out of the window along with the weather records and it is only in the evening when the temperatures get down to the teens that we get an inkling that the seasons are about to change. Sadly we have just experienced some really bad bush fires on the outskirts of southern Sydney, coming way too close to houses and putting the fear of God into everyone. It was all the worse as it was deliberately lit. What possesses people?? Because it is so late in the season our BIG GUN of firefighting ‘Elvis’ had already been dispatched for summer fire duties in California three weeks earlier and wasn’t available. Elvis had left the room yet again. (Elvis is a humungous water carrying helicopter that has the capability of putting out big fires in hard to get to places.) We all love Elvis.

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Needless to say the garden is also thoroughly confused with no leaf colour changes so far and my eggplants and tomatoes are still happily producing loads of fruit in denial of the calendar telling them that they should be done and dusted for the year. I was lucky to be able to salvage some of my apples from the mixed onslaught of parrots, caterpillars and a distinct lack of rain and picked the few remaining good ones to eat in crumbles and pies – well that’s a slight exaggeration, maybe I have enough for one of each? As the weather is currently more suited to ice cream I decided to freeze my crop to pull out when the home fires are eventually blazing!!

The flowers on the other hand are loving this whole balmy April thing and are having a last hurrah, filling our garden with colour and my heart with happiness! The camellia hedge that we planted 18 months ago is thriving and we have a beautiful palette of colours between them and the roses, even the hydrangea and gardenia are still blooming and I love snipping a little selection to pop into the guest rooms at the weekends for people to enjoy.

 

A lovely old home on the outskirts of town has recently been sold and the entire contents went to auction last weekend. I don’t think I have ever seen a normal house so full of such amazing artworks, sculptures, persian rugs and interesting furniture. Every single room was packed with fabulous original pieces, including huge aboriginal canvases, work by famous artists including Picasso and David Bromley, Chinoiserie, modern art and just about everything in between. The sculptures were wonderful and sadly beyond my budget but the entire property was jam packed with people eager to see and maybe buy a little piece of what they fancied. The lady owner, who looked as wonderfully eclectic as I had hoped, was selling up her country property and moving to Sydney harbour and a view across the ocean at Manly. I am sure part of her must have been torn with selling her huge collection but she was full of enthusiasm for her next stage of life and I really hoped she had a very successful day at the auction.20180404_100144

My walking buddy Maryan and I decided it was time for us to attempt to walk to Drawing Room Rocks, a craggy escarpment between Berry and Kangaroo Valley and accessed by a narrow steep path that has amazing views over the surrounding countryside. This rather serious sounding sign greets you at the start of the track and it turned out to be hard in the steep sense but easy in every other way – not too many choices of paths to take or river crossings or jumping over large boulders, just a steady incline with lots to look at along the way. An elderly man did fall off the edge necessitating a helicopter rescue just before Christmas but if you stay on the path all is well. Worth it all for the view from the top and how lucky are we to have all this on our doorstep!

 

We made it!!

Our little choccy dog aka ‘The Flash’ has lately been channelling her inner greyhound as she has discovered she loves to sprint! More to the point she likes to race. Specifically she likes to race our car. As soon as we turn into our lane she jumps up to the window and makes these special whimpering pleading sounds with her nose pressed hard up to the window (rather annoying!) until we stop the car and let her out. She then takes off like the wind, running at full stretch and at roughly 40km per hour down our 800 metre lane to home! She turns her head to check we are racing her and loves nothing more than turning into our driveway first, leaping over the cattle grid and meeting us in the garage, looking pretty chuffed with herself. It’s great to see her so excited to run and it’s a great offset to the times she ‘relaxes’ for hours on the veranda in the sun!

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So life poddles along and it’s hard to believe we are coming into our 4th Autumn in The Meadow. I forget how much has changed until I look back on this blog from the beginning. It has certainly been a wonderful diary for us, reminding us of things we have forgotten along the way and how our journey to the country has unfolded. There are only a few things that make it less than perfect, the biggest of which is the traffic noise. After living in the middle of the inner city of Sydney you wouldn’t think we would notice a bit of traffic noise and we certainly don’t miss the planes but ironically it is the very nature of our location in the middle of the open paddocks that means we can hear the traffic when the wind is blowing in a certain direction and it’s a little blot on my near perfect existence! A new road is promising more noise absorption with its highly technical new surface but we won’t know if it’s true until it’s in operation so in the meantime I try to block it out choosing to concentrate instead on the beautiful sounds of the fairy wrens darting in and out of our rose bushes, punching way above their tiny bodyweight in songs that carry above and beyond that of the pesky traffic! Check out their song here…

So now with Daylight Savings finished and darkness drawing in around 5.30pm our thoughts turn to snuggling up in front of the fire and heartier food, a glass of rich fruity red in hand or bracing walks in the cold, bundled up in jackets and boots before returning to some home made soup with veggies from the garden. Sadly it also means that the never ending football season has also arrived…………

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Guess I’ll be seeing the Man Of The House in about 3 months then………!!!

Easter Shenanigans

The caravans, boats, trailers packed with all the paraphernalia necessary for a good holiday weekend away – surfboards, bicycles, fishing rods, kayaks etc have left our roads and the heaving mass of humanity that invaded our little country town has dispersed, back to the 9 to 5 of everyday life and leaving us feeling slightly discombobulated after the sudden change to our usual life. The shops and cafes are no doubt simultaneously overjoyed at the influx of cash and in need of a holiday themselves after a 4 day invasion of out of towners.

We personally spent a lovely few days with the Swiss side of our family who came to visit The Meadow complete with a tent, slackline, raclette machine, plenty of the bubbly stuff and even cheese all the way from Lausanne!! Michel very kindly offered to cook us lunch and we enjoyed the very traditional, simple and tasty raclette overlooking the paddocks. My nephew LOVES the great outdoors and chose to camp in the garden and make the most of it while he could. He also practises slacklining which is fabulous for your core strength and he even managed to get Tommy up for a trial, beer in hand for balance!! We enjoyed some great food, lots of laughs and chats about “the old days growing up” and were grateful to spend some time together with family over the Easter long weekend.

 

I had spent a lovely week prior to Easter enjoying a real variety of activities, I seriously think there is more to do down here than in Sydney sometimes! We went to a concert at The Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre to see James Reyne, the lead singer of the popular band from the 80s/90s – Australian Crawl. We really enjoyed the evening with him singing acoustic versions of his old songs. He is still a great singer and managed to get everyone joining in, including a whole load of young people who wouldn’t have even been born when he was at the height of his fame!!!!20180323_211530

The very next day a few of us ex Sydney girls decided to ‘get our culture on’ and went to an enjoyable afternoon organised by a local organisation called Berry Conversations. They arrange for people to come and ‘converse’ with the audience from very diverse backgrounds, politicians, historians, artists, actors and in this instance journalists – Charlotte Wood, a prize winning author and Susan Wyndham, the former literary editor of the Sydney Morning Herald. They chatted about how their careers evolved and the opportunities that came their way in an era of women struggling to reach the same heights as their male counterparts. It was a very interesting afternoon, not the least for me because they both talked about HOW they started writing, how to get to the NEXT stage and eventually produce a novel. I came away inspired to perhaps at least go to a creative writing workshop and see what I can come up with!! Thanks Girls!

The next day I was back on the road as I had to see someone in Vincentia, a little town on Jervis Bay that I had so far not visited. As it was so close to Hyams Beach and it was a mid week day prior to the hordes arriving for Easter, I took the Choccy Drop down for a walk along it’s pristine white sand beach. Touted as one of the whitest silica sand beaches in the world and truly beautiful. Sadly it’s very beauty is almost killing it as the crowds arrive en masse most weekends and EVERY major holiday this tiny village is bursting at the seams with people and cars. There are in fact many many other pristine white sand beaches down here and the 100 beach challenge has been set up to encourage people to explore some of the other Jervis Bay beaches instead. So many equally beautiful beaches to choose from….Wairo Beach, Burns Bay, Snake Bay, Meroo, Culburra, Callala, Depot or Cave Beach. However, you can see from these pictures why Hyams is so well loved, the colours are truly amazing.

I also enjoyed a fun day with my friend Leigh on a Mushrooming Foraging trip with wild food educator Diego Bonneto. He is a jaunty little Italian man with a passion for plants as medicine and seasonal wild food eating. We met him in The Southern Highlands in Penrose State Forest for a very interesting talk about the how, why and where of wild mushrooms. I never knew that mushrooms were actually the flowers of the mycelium fungus which runs underground and then when there is a perfect syncronicity of dampness and nutrients the mushies appear! We were specifically hunting for pine mushrooms as we were in a pine forest and were amazed that they were popping up everywhere, even in and around the carpark area! We found saffron milk cups, slippery jacks, grey nights together with a few miscellaneous and non edible types.

Then we trotted off to The Balangalo State Forest, a normally reliable source of the pine mushroom but our dry and very warm early Autum meant we found VERY FEW of the little darlings. Our vision of going home with our baskets weighed down with several meals worth of mushrooms went out of the window and we realised that wild food foraging is actually hard work. You could spend hours searching for very little gain. We found some chestnuts and wild fennel and one of our group found a ghost mushroom. These are considered powerful by aboriginal people as at night, the fan-shaped mushroom gently glows a spectral green due to a chemical reaction between fungal enzymes and oxygen. This only happens for a few weeks a year, usually in mid Autumn and I can only imagine what the first people would have made of it thousands of years ago! The glow attracts bugs which then spread the spores thus ensuring its future.

So in lieu of overflowing baskets of foraged delights to take home, we ended up pooling our finds and enjoyed them sliced and fried in olive oil, garlic and parsley on top of some bread from the always amazing Bourke Street Bakery. Simple and bloody delicious!

 

So in the space of a few days I enjoyed a huge variety of different activities which were all very enjoyable in their own way. How lucky we are to be able to continue to learn new things (and re learn old things such as food for medicine and foraging) as well as enjoy such a naturally beautiful part of the world as the South Coast, from the shady pine forests to the green fields of our local dairy country and the white sands and azure ocean of Jervis Bay. I pinch myself every day that this is my new home. Life doesn’t have to stagnate as you age, you just have to keep connecting to new adventures and embrace all that life has to offer. Sieze the day people for you never know what lies ahead…..

I love this quote………………

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Autumn what Autumn?

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So much for the change of season….
We have been experiencing high temperatures more reminiscent of the height of summer than Autumn. Last weekend it reached 40 degrees which is frankly ridiculous and not conducive to having fun, unless you are immersed in a pool or the ocean with an icy drink in hand and slathered in an inch thick layer of sunscreen.

We however were in Sydney for a wedding and for once I was glad to be a girl with our sleeveless dresses as opposed to the boys silently sweating in their black tie suits. The church was beautifully cool though which made the whole occasion even lovelier. The bride looked radiant and it was a great party on the harbour later that night with all their friends and family kicking up their heels and celebrating The Barnes/Conacher union. Little Matilda the 3 year old flowergirl was perfect in her role and took every photo whilst loudly saying ‘cheese’. Something tells me she had been practising!!

As the reception was being held in our old stomping ground of The Rocks we decided to make the most of our local knowledge and opted to stay in a lovely old pub that was refurbished in 2015 just after we moved from the area – The Hotel Palisade. From it’s working class roots it has blossomed into a hipster venue appealing to a large cross section of people. Despite it’s bustling pub and cocktail lounge with it’s AMAZING view across the harbour, our room was quiet and very comfortable. If you, like us, are NOT fans of the generic hotel room please keep this iconic little hotel in mind for your next out of town visitors. Right in the middle of the action but with a whole lot of soul and a real sense of the history of The Rocks.

After our swanky city break we were happy to return to the easy life in The Meadow and all it’s natural beauty. Ever since we moved down here I have been wanting to do some of the local walks. There are so many varied and beautiful walks in The Shoalhaven but somehow it’s always been too hot, too cold, too windy or whatever and I have never quite got around to it. Not having a walking buddy probably hasn’t helped so it has been lovely to pal up with my mate Maryan and start on the long list of places TO GO. We thought we’d start locally with a 5.5km walk in Nowra called Ben’s Walk which runs alongside and over The Shoalhaven River. It was hard to believe we were so close to the town as we felt completely isolated, but in a good way, and we are attempting to do a walk a week now especially with the weather supposedly cooling down.

My neighbour Sheelagh does an amazing job each year putting on an afternoon/evening of entertainment with talent from the local area to raise money for melanoma. Her son died from it 5 years ago and so this is something she can do that both acknowledges his memory whilst simultaneously raising money and I think she should be very proud of her efforts. This year she was fretting that it may rain and spoil the show but it ended up being one of our very hot days (about 36 degrees) but as all good things do, THE SHOW WENT ON, and lots of people gave up their time to show off our local talent. One Voice Shoalhaven was a success with lots of people venturing out and setting up tents and rugs in the shade, enjoying their picnic along with the entertainment.

As the weather has still been quite summery veggie patches all over the coast are still full of tomatoes, eggplant and zucchinis. I found this recipe in my favourite cookbook “In the kitchen” by Simmone Logue who catered for our wedding last year. It is rare for me to aspire to cook nearly EVERY recipe in a book but that’s exactly what this book does. Tasty, doable and reliable recipes. I thoroughly recommend it. This was a hit and used up some of those neverending zucchinis, I didn’t make the candied lemon nests but they do make it look pretty…..

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 Zucchini and pistachio cake with zesty lemon icing

Serves 12-16 and keeps well for a few days if you can resist eating it all at once….

300g caster sugar
5 eggs
350ml vegetable oil
11⁄2 tsp vanilla extract
100g pistachio nuts, chopped
80g ground almonds
650g grated courgettes
300g self-raising flour
100g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
11⁄2 tsp mixed spice

for the candied lemon zest
3 lemons
100g caster sugar

for the zesty lemon icing
125g unsalted butter
250g icing sugar, plus extra to dust 1 tsp vanilla extract
40ml whipping cream
zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 Preheat the oven to 170C/Fan 150C/ 325F. Grease a 23cm cake tin and line the base with baking paper.
2 In a mixing bowl, beat the sugar, eggs, vegetable oil and vanilla extract until thick, using an electric mixer. Fold in the pistachios, ground almonds and grated courgettes. Sift in the flours, bicarbonate of soda and mixed spice, then stir until well combined.
3 Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin. Bake for 1 hour in the preheated oven, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 5-10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
4 To make the candied lemon zest, use a zester to peel the lemon zest into long, thin strands. Transfer to a small saucepan, add the sugar and 300ml water and bring
to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the lemon zest is translucent. Remove the zest using tongs or a slotted spoon, then spread out on a tray lined with baking paper and leave to dry for 10-15 minutes.
5 Make the zesty lemon icing by whisking the butter with an electric whisk until light and fluffy. Add the icing sugar and vanilla and whisk again for 3 minutes. Pour in the cream and whisk for a further 2 minutes, or until the icing is light and creamy. Mix in the lemon zest and juice and, using a spatula, spread the icing over the cake. Garnish with little nests of candied lemon zest, dust with icing sugar, then slice and serve.

Enjoy people!!

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