A Tale of Thai Dining

“Be consistent—people will come back because they like your food, they don’t want it to change. Don’t compromise on quality either. Today’s customers are knowledgeable about food. They’ve travelled and know what to expect. If you cut corners and buy cheaper meat or vegetables, they’ll notice.” ~ Peter Thanissorn

Growing up in the suburbs of Adelaide, South Australia, the most exciting gastronomic experience I can remember came from the chicken shop opposite my school. All the girls catching buses to the Hills would queue for a $2 bag of hot chips to share on the way home. My journey home was a five minute stroll round the corner, so, sadly, sustenance en route wasn’t justifiable. Thus, I became the Bisto kid, following the visible scent of sizzling roast chicken and frying chips. Then, mouth watering, nostrils flaring, watching enviously as the Hills girls boarded their buses, paper bags brimming with crispy chips doused in chicken salt. Which just goes to prove you don’t have to be a starving Dickensian child to lust after food!

Since those bygone days, the original bright yellow chicken shop may have disappeared, but bistros, coffee shops and take-aways have become prolific along the length of Unley Road, and Asian restaurants abound. And opposite the long-gone chicken shop, is, in my humble opinion, the best Thai restaurant in the area.

“Suree’s Thai Kitchen” has been ensconced on the corner of Unley and Commercial roads for many years now. It was originally opened in 1999 by Peter Thanisson and his wife Suree, who is, in fact, Cambodian. Peter (who is Thai) had previously owned ‘The Bangkok’ restaurant in Regent Arcade. Peter arrived in Australia to study architecture, but coming from a family of hoteliers, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to start a restaurant.  ‘The Bangkok’ opened in 1979, becoming the first Thai restaurant in South Australia, and was soon enormously popular – despite the fact that most Aussies back then couldn’t have pointed out Thailand on a map, and authentic Thai ingredients were hard to come by. Peter was soon joined by Cambodian chef, Suree. Twenty years later, Peter and Suree had married and moved out to the burbs, where their new venture, “Suree’s Thai Kitchen,” received a resounding welcome.

In 2004, Sie King Tiong & his partner Wen Zhen Teo – a Chinese Malay couple from Sarawak – also came to Australia to study: King to do an engineering degree; Wen Zhen to do a Master’s degree in Accounting and Finance. As university students, they found part time work at Suree’s. When the couple graduated in 2007, Peter & Suree were keen to pull back, and offered to hand over the restaurant. Like Peter, King and Wen Zhen also decided to jump ship, and the rest is history.

Whenever I am in town, I find my feet – or is it my nostrils? – travelling down the road to Suree’s of their own accord. Unfortunately, due to it’s popularity, spontaneity isn’t always the best policy. Open seven nights a week, and Friday lunchtime, I have rarely been to the restaurant when it wasn’t packed to the rafters, and the staff are kept on their toes from beginning to end of the evening service. Yet, if you have shown up unexpectedly, and there isn’t room at the inn, you can always order a takeaway instead. Or have it delivered.

The food at Suree’s is consistently excellent. This is largely because the same chefs have worked at Suree’s for years. Head chef Suchat Orasri originally worked at the Amarin Hotel in Bangkok. (“Good grief! We used to go there years ago when we lived in Bangkok!”). He started working with Peter & Suree in 2005. And while the staff are inevitably flat out, I always find them polite, smiling, and keen to keep the customers happy.

King and I had an interesting discussion about the menu, and whether Australians are comfortable with authentic Thai cuisine, or if the chefs have had to westernize – or indigenize it – to suit our palates. He laughs and suggests there may have been the odd tweak – lamb, peas, and Moreton bay bugs are possibly not bone fide Thai ingredients – but the Thai dishes generally come from traditional recipes. At least one of the signature dishes, however, and a personal favourite of mine, is one of Wen Zhen’s creations.  This is the sensual, sweet-and-sour dish of lemon & lime prawns. Made with lemongrass, lime leaves and shrimp paste, it is absolutely irresistible.

As we look through the menu, I spot a few dishes from other South East Asian cuisines. The majority are certainly Thai, and the old favourites are all there – larb gai, Pad Thai, Tom Yum Goong and green chicken curry – but there are a couple of Malay offerings, too, and some excellent Vietnamese cold rolls.

As for the wine list, King sees no point in leaving Australian shores to fill his cellar, although I notice he has snuck in a couple of New Zealand offerings. I find a beautiful Cape Barren Chardonnay I haven’t met before and look no further. But if you don’t fancy wine, you can always try a couple of authentic Thai beers.

King suggestss I try the tea & milk ice cream, another “Suree’s” creation. Sadly, that will have to wait till next time, as I am now filled to the brim with a fabulous crispy barramundi in a really hot, spicy red curry sauce. Cheers!

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A Picnic with Shakespeare

Apologies dear readers, I meant to post this piece weeks ago, but mislaid the draft. At least it is an almost current event when compared to many of my recent mediaeval travel stories!

Romeo & Juliet by Frank Bernard Dicksee, 1884.

Last night (early March!) we lugged an inordinately heavy, but much beloved picnic basket up into the Adelaide Hills, to celebrate the return of outdoor theatre to our new world rule of limitations. It was a warm day that rapidly cooled when the sun set, but we had remembered coats and rugs, thank goodness, and had only to feel sorry for the actors in their somewhat sparse, summery costumes.

As I sit in an almost empty airport, masked and not-so-dangerous, glasses steaming up as I type, it’s laughable to think about last night, and the number of people squeezed together on the lawn at Deviation Road Winery, eating their sandwiches and drinking their pink bubbles, waiting with almost tangible excitement for one of the best productions of Romeo & Juliet I have ever seen. (And I’ve seen a few.)

Shakespeare’s original cast list included at least twenty speaking parts and another handful of marginal characters. Last night, Essential Theatre told the old tale in a fresh and exciting new way with a cast of eight players, many of them doubling up, and/or changing the sex of the original characters: a male Nursey; a female Mercutio, a female friar. It was brilliantly done, with humour and a lightness of hand that looked effortless, but doubtless took weeks of hard work to make it flow so seamlessly.

Of course, the setting was glorious, as we settled among the vines and gum trees, our picnic table laden with chicken, various salads and a birthday cake we had smuggled in for my unsuspecting mother.  We ordered a bottle of Deviation Road’s pink bubbles (aka Altaire Brut Rosé) which we drank from pewter goblets, feeling most Shakespearean. Before the performance began, we managed to surreptitiously light the candles and sing to the birthday girl, much to her embarrassment, although I don’t think anyone else turned a hair.

And then it was ‘on with the show.’

This version of the notorious tragedy of the star-crossed lovers unearthed a lot more humour than many of us had ever suspected lay hidden under the covers of Shakespeare’s teenage romance. Directed superbly by Alister Smith, every actor deserves a special mention for a brilliant performance. Alex Aldrich was excellent as Juliet’s brassy, determined mother – comparable to Jane Austen’s single-minded Mrs. Bennett. Helen Hopkins swung effortlessly between the sharp-edged Lady Montague and the softly spoken, rather Bohemian friar. The nurse was played as a camp, decidedly ditsy and thoroughly delightful nanny by Adelaide original, Lachlan Martin. Madelaine Nunn as Mercutio was a joy: a brazen, bumptious character who rarely drew breath and added a huge dose of comedy to an otherwise tragic tale. Joshua Monahan as Romeo’s sensible sidekick Benvolio and the somewhat starchy Paris was remarkably sympathetic in both roles, and Rashidi Edward, who played Tybalt and the Apothecary might have had limited air time, but was nonetheless a notable performer. Eddie Orton as the volatile, somewhat fickle Romeo, clearly portrayed the awkwardness of the adolescent lover, overwhelmed by hormones and emotions, taking risks without thinking through the consequences. But the star of the show was undoubtedly the gorgeous Juliet, played exuberantly by Mia Landgren, who may be several years older than her character, but who totally captured the giggly teenage girl revelling in the emotional joy and excitement of first love. Gone was the deep intensity of so many favoured Juliets, instead we see a young girl ablaze with love and almost floating on air.

While still keeping true to the original 17th century drama, there were plenty of modern touches, that simply highlighted what we already knew: Shakespeare’s tales are timeless, saying more about the condition of mankind than about a particular historical era. Mobile phones, a polo match instead of a sword fight, a pair of ‘Desperate Housewives’ (aka the Ladies Capulet and Montague) squabbling among the vines of Verona, illustrated the modern day relevance of feuding households better than any Kardashian melodrama. The production was pacy, and the immediacy of the actors performing at our feet immersed us all in the atmosphere. I quickly became a willing extra rather than a spectator.

The added delight of an outdoor performance come from those unscripted moments that take even the actors by surprise. An unexpected shower, a flurry of wind to whip off a hat – or in this case, a kangaroo who chose to interject with a brief cameo appearance, hopping across the back of the stage to the delight of any who noticed. Later, a couple of ducks circled ostentatiously over the audience, while a kookaburra hooted with laughter at one of Mercutio’s stunts. It was an absolutely joy-filled evening.

*With thanks to Google images for a copy of the wonderful 19th century oil painting.

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Rocket Fuel with a Twist

‘Becherovka is a genuine symbol of national identity in the Czech Republic, where its reputation is based on its completely traditional process and authentic roots.’ ~ Frederic Legrand

Many years ago, when the children were small, we lived in the Czech Republic for a couple of years. For our Carb King son, this time was a pure joy, as one of the local specialty dishes – and a regular for school dinners – was suet dumpling with a goulash gravy. Or potatoes and gravy. Or roast pork and dumplings. With gravy. And sauerkraut. Good, solid stodge for those icy winters. Inevitably, for the adults, all these dishes are washed down with beer.

Although renowned as a nation of beer drinkers, the Czechs also like their liqueurs.

The origins of many of our favourite liqueurs today can be traced back to the monastic herb gardens of the Middle Ages. Monks, learned in the skills of alchemy, would commonly blend herbs and sweetened spirits to create cordials or elixirs for use as medicines, stimulants or restoratives. The recipes were closely guarded secrets, handed down to only a handful of people over centuries.

The word ‘liqueur’ comes from the Latin liquefacere, meaning to melt, or dissolve, and refers to the method of dissolving spice and fruits into a base spirit -usually brandy or whisky – through maceration, distillation or percolation.

The Czech Republic also has its own herbal liqueur that evolved from this tradition of herbal medicines. Described as ‘herbal bitters,’ Becherovka ‘packs a mighty punch.’ At 76 proof or 38% alcohol, it is like drinking rocket fuel flavoured with a dash of cinnamon, ginger and cloves, and it could quite plausibly be used to fuel your camp stove.

Zaphod Beeblebrox, the two-headed President of the Universe in Douglas Adam’s ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,’ describes the effects of a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. Apparently, it’s like “having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick.” He also remarks that “after two of those babies, the dullest, most by-the-book Vogon will be up on the bar in stilettos, yodelling mountain shanties and swearing he’s the king of the Gray Binding Fiefdoms of Saxaquine.”

This describes Becherovka perfectly.

Unlike many liqueurs that have been around for centuries, Becherovka is a relatively modern invention. It was created in the early nineteenth in the Bohemian spa town of Karlovy Vary by Czech pharmacist Josef Becher and a visiting English doctor, Frohig. Originally devised by Frohig as a cure for indigestion, it was also rumoured to work on impotence – an early form of Viagra, perhaps?

Whether aphrodisiac or restorative, Becherovka quickly became popular with the town’s wealthy clientele. When Frohig returned to England, he left his recipe with Becher. Later, Becher’s son, Jan, opened a factory to produce the popular digestiv in commercial quantities. While the name of the product and the bottle design has changed several times since then, the recipe has not. Today, it is well regarded as an aperitif, and it is still made from the original blend of more than twenty spices from a recipe known only to a tiny handful of master craftsmen.

Gustav Becher, Joseph’s grandson, later devised a novel method of marketing that would become highly successful around the world.  Artificial shortage meant that buyers were limited to the amount they could purchase, creating a rarity value that ensured high demand. By the end of the century, Becherovka was being exported all over Europe. By 1904, it had become so popular in the Viennese court that the Austro-Hungarian Emperor, Franz Josef II, awarded it a special appellation: ‘supplier to the Hapsburg Court,’ and was ordering 50 litres to be delivered to Vienna every month.

The Becherovka recipe was handed down from father to son until the end of World War II, when the communist regime insisted the company be nationalized and handed over to a State appointed Board of Management. In 1997, after the Velvet Revolution had overturned the communists and a democratic government had been established, the company was privatized and Becherovka was sold to the French manufacturer Pernod Ricard, much to the horror of many locals, who were keen to keep it in Czech hands. While the brand may be owned by Pernod Ricard, Becherovka is produced in Karlovy Vary by the Jan Becher company, and claims to be one of the oldest registered trademarks in the Czech Republic. Today, the distinctive green bottle can still be found in every bar in the Czech Republic. It’s most popular form? The BeTon: a Becherovka-based cocktail served with tonic and a wedge of lemon.

While we lived in Prague, it quickly became the local specialty we had to share with overseas guests, so there was always a bottle in the house.  And while we weren’t exactly addicted to the taste – it is rather inclined to strip the skin from your larynx – it does warm you inside and out during those freezing cold winters.

If you haven’t experienced its fieriness yet, it might be wiser to mix it with pineapple juice or tonic water, the first time you try it. I would also advise you not to sit near an open flame… and hide your stilettos!

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Time Travel

It’s 1991. We have taken an overnight train to Rome from Genoa. The train is absolutely packed and there are no seats left. We are perched in the aisle on our rucksacks. Sandy-eyed, grubby and aching, we stagger into the city as the sun rises on a bright Sunday morning. An early mass at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, and herds of nuns gather on the front steps. Inside, we admire a multitude of marble mosaics and a thousand statues. We eat our breakfast rolls – courtesy of the Italian Aunts in Milano – in the piazza behind the church, and find ourselves immediately swamped by a mob of eager pigeons. Breakfast done, we wander off in search of the Fontana di Trevi. Every vialle, every corso holds architectural treasures, but we are on a mission and stay the course, eventually finding the fountain at the end of a narrow lane. It’s 8am and the piazza is already crawling with tourists.

Designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi, Fontana di Trevi is the largest Baroque fountain in the city. It stands at the junction of three roads (tre vie) at the end of an aqueduct that once supplied water to Ancient Rome. The fountain sits in front of the Palazzo Poli, where Vantivelli superimposed huge Corinthian pillars and a triumphal arch on its façade to frame the scenes below. The fountain is made from limestone, the statues have been carved from Carrara marble.

In the centre is a statue of Oceanus, Greek god of the Sea and father of the river gods, seated in his shell-shaped chariot. ‘Abundance’ stands on his left, pouring water from an urn. ‘Salubrity’ or ‘Good Health’ stands on the right, crowned in a laurel wreath and holding a cup from which a snake is drinking. The relief above is Agrippa commanding his generals to build the aqueduct, while a woman points to the water source. I could sit here all day, admiring the crisp lines of the palace in stark contrast to the roughly hewn stone of the fountain that seems to emerge from the palace walls, spilling cascades into the pool below.

But it’s onward and upward to the top of the Spanish steps, where we can see across the rooftops to St. Peter’s Basilica. Hounded by gypsies dipping into our pockets and trying to extract our money belts, we follow our noses across the river to the Vatican City and the Via Constizione. Here, we find a coffee shop, and mistakenly take a seat on the pavement, where we learn that the cost of a two lire cappuccino has risen exponentially to eleven lire, for the privilege of sitting down. As I am not suitably dressed for the basilica, I decide to keep our o-so-expensive table, while the One & Only pops in to visit the Pope. And while he laps up Catholic culture, I write a plethora of postcards home.

Mid-afternoon, hot and weary, we head back to the railway station, and board a local train to Lago Bracciano, about an hour north of Rome. Bizarrely, we find another traveller from Adelaide in our carriage. Overwhelmed by the crowds and the heat in Rome, he is happy to follow us to a shady campsite beside the lake and joins us for a swim and the most enormous pizzas we have ever eaten. The lake water is clear, the bottom sandy. We dash in with shrieks of childish glee. The surrounding hills encase the lake, and send reflections of streetlights across the water. A perfect end to a hot and sticky day.

We spend a second day in the Vatican City, which is pulsating with tourists. A queue stretches around the rim of the vast curve of Saint Peter’s Square. The smallest country in the world is less than one square mile in size, with a population of 900. The Basilica is so well proportioned, that even the hoards of tourists pouring through the doors cannot detract from the size. It is like trying to absorb the details of a star with the naked eye. I try not to get frustrated by the flash of cameras, but it does seem terribly crass. The One & Only gives me a private tour of various famous statues, but eventually my eyes tire with the constant strain of gazing up, and I retreat to a small park with my book, while he finds his way through the crowds (and another enormous queue) to the Sistine Chapel. I will save that for another day, another journey. Oh! What I wouldn’t give for shade and a gelato. What have they done with all the trees?

Back in Bracciano, we climb the impossibly steep road to the old town and the castello, calf muscles shrieking, but it proves well worth the effort for the view over the lake and the town. A meandering ganglion of narrow, cobbled lanes leap up uneven, well-worn, stone stairways between precipitous outcrops of precariously balanced houses. We gaze upon the terracotta roofs, window shutters, and geranium pots on wrought iron balconies that are draped in vines.
A plethora of restaurants is tucked into every nook and cranny. I could happily stay for weeks, but the heat is driving us north and we will head to Firenze soon. In the meantime, the One & Only creates magic in our Trangia cooking pot and produces a fabulous pasta sauce for dinner. I am gradually relaxing into this nomadic lifestyle.


Firenze/Florence.

I am sitting in front of Santa Maria Novella with a lovely pair of sandals I’ve just bought at the market. The sun is out, but it’s still early and it’s lovely to sit here, absorbing the gentle warmth – a pleasant change from the last two days of crushing heat. I’m resisting the temptation to pick up ‘Alaska’ again, the novel we’ve been reading together, which takes us to the frozen north as effectively as air conditioning… almost! But I am way behind with my journal and must catch up on the past few days…

It takes us a day to get from Bracciano to our next campsite in an obscure village only 20 minutes outside Florence – a day spent riding on ancient, plodding trains, waiting for hours on deserted platforms. We chug through tiny Tuscan villages perched on steep, rocky hilltops, past fields brimming with huge sunflowers smiling at the sky, and between high rocky cliffs. Surprisingly similar to South Australia in summer, the hills are dry and parched yellow by the fierce summer sun, and I am very glad we are no longer cycling.

We are, however, carrying heavy rucksacks. Heaving them off the train, we lug them through the afternoon heat. Frayed tempers unravel as our campsite proves impossible to find. We pause for a gelato, which helps a little, but even better is the information that our campsite – 10 kilometres up above the town, apparently – can be reached by bus which will stop on the piazza and drop us to the gate. Minutes later, we jump aboard, and the change of temperature is delightful as we travel up into a cooler world. The campsite resembles a refugee camp – dusty and dry and chockablock with tents. But the showers are hot – I think that is a good thing – and the air cools rapidly as the sun disappears behind the hills. My own Master Chef gets to work on dinner, while I put up the tent, swearing as I try to force the tent pegs into the rock hard ground.

The next day we are up at the crack of dawn to catch a bus and train into Firenze. By lunchtime we have seen every church in the city, with their lovely, flowery names: Santa Maria Novella; Santa Lorenzo; Santa Maria Annunziata, the Duomo and Santa Croce. The baptistery doors are particularly remarkable – polished gold and bronze since my last visit in 1986 – and the Duomo Museo is wonderful. Michelangelo’s half-finished sculpture of the ‘Pieta’ and Robbia’s ‘Cantona’ with its happy choristers, drummers and symbol players, are breath-taking. My favourite figure is a delicious little girl dancing with her friends beneath the trumpeter, with toes upturned like mine. From Santa Croce – full of memorials to many of the great names of the Renaissance – we wander towards the river in the ever-increasing heat to find a shady spot to while away the afternoon. (Note to self: never visit Italy in mid-Summer again!) Past the Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi, over the Ponte Vecchio where a multitude of tiny jewellery shops line the bridge. We cross the river and wander beneath the trees in the Boboli gardens of the Pitti Palace, overlooking Florence and all her domes and towers. Perfectly cool and comfortable, armed with a good book, I propose sitting here until teatime. Unfortunately, the One & Only is restless, and all too soon, we return to the sweltering heat of the city streets.

***

Another day, another campsite, and we are in heaven. Baveno, only metres from Lago Maggiore, is a mere five minutes by train from Stresa, an hour and a half from Milano. The town is full of beautiful stone buildings, shady trees and a view of the Boromino islands across the water. There is a glorious old church tower, and cloisters along the ridge opposite the campsite. Tonight, the lake is misty, but the outlines of the hills and mountains are tempting us with thoughts of the Val d’Aosta and all the major peaks in the region. The air is softly warm, and all the tent pegs went in without a whimper. Maybe we’ll just sit here for a while, and contemplate the water…

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Sea, Saki & Sashimi

Looking towards Surfers Paradise Broadbeach

It’s a modest block of flats, almost drowned out by the ostentatious and more glamorous towers that cluster along the beachfront. But from the balcony, the view over a long stretch of white sand that sinks beneath roiling, boiling Pacific is still a delight.

Last weekend, I took my first flight in eighteen months, and, despite a lifetime of airport procedure, completely forgot how to operate in the departure hall. Admittedly, this was not helped by the mask I must don to enter the haloed portals of the Adelaide Airport. Every breathe misted up my glasses. I didn’t know if I were Arthur or Martha!

Somehow, despite distressingly blurred vision, I made it to Brisbane, a city I have not visited in almost thirty years, when we lived on the outer reaches of the city for almost a year, before absconding to Thailand. And boy has it changed! High rises cluster along the river banks and there are so many bridges! Were there really this many in 1994? I lost my bearings utterly. Culture shock indeed, after months in our sleepy little town by the sea.

Moist and sticky, the weather was also in stark contrast to the autumnal temperatures that have already descended upon South Australia this month. Yet the numbing humidity was so familiar after all those years in the Tropics that it felt like coming home, despite all the changes to the landscape.

The following morning, my dear friend and I head south down the M1 to Broadbeach for a couple of nights. Lying east of Mount Tambourine and south of Surfers, Broadbeach exudes a polished calm reminiscent of Rockwell, my stomping ground in the Philippines for six years. Shopping malls and wide streets are lined with palm trees, an abundance of restaurants and a plethora of soaring high-rise apartments. The palm trees are even decked out in fairy lights, just like those in Rockwell in the ‘Ber’ months leading up to Christmas. The only difference is the sea view. That, and a constant sea breeze kindly dispersing the heat. The next few days promises to be a walk down memory lane and a healthy dose of self-indulgence.

Broadbeach is casual and surprisingly cosmopolitan – surprising to me anyway. I was anticipating a surfer town full of shacks and cafes, year round suntans and white-blonde hair. Instead, the accents come from everywhere. (So are the tattoos). And there is almost every conceivable choice of cuisine. “What do you fancy for dinner? Yum Cha? Tapas? Japanese?” Or we could just stay in and watch Oprah’s already infamous interview with Meghan & Harry, and order Uber Eats – a huge trend in this new Covid world, but unfamiliar to me.

Broadbeach moves at a leisurely pace (just like Manila) and we pottered about for three lazy days, strolling down the pedestrian mall on Victoria Street or along the walking track above the beach, or on the beach itself, to dip our toes in the Pacific Ocean, something else I have not done in a long time. The sand is pearly white, fine as fairy floss and soft as satin.

In a previous incarnation, Broadbeach and its environs were blessed with charcoal grey sand containing a multitude of useful minerals. Established as a township in 1934, during the 19th century, it was simply a harbour, where loggers shipped cedar, beech, ash and mahogany to Sydney. The grey/black sand dunes were denuded as early as 1945 for the mining of minerals – particularly zircon – to make the steel needed in wartime. It was reconstructed in the 1950s. An aboriginal burial ground (the Kombumerri) was unearthed in the sixties and relocated to community land nearby.  And, in 2017, 3 million cubic metres of sand were delivered along this stretch of coastline to re-establish the dunes, to act as a buffer against coastal erosion. Apparently, this pristine white sand was largely dredged from the seabed just off the coast.

Walking here is easy. Eating becomes a perpetual problem. Would we go for Italian, Asian or Spanish? In the end we managed to try them all – although there was a predominance of seafood at every meal. Of course. We are beside the sea after all.

As we drive into town at midday, we pass a sign for the Grand Dynasty restaurant and its yum cha lunch menu. A foregone conclusion, then. We find our apartment, meet Trish, our friendly landlady and settle our belongings in our rooms before strolling around the corner for lunch. The only issue we have is that there were only two of us, so we can’t order everything on the menu. Well, there’s only so much two girls can eat! But the service is friendly, and we do the best we can. Prawn and coriander dumplings, salt and pepper squid, and san choy bau takes me straight back to memories of Asia. And in fact, we could quite easily have been sitting in the High Street Mall in Fort Bonifacio, Manila. So of course, when lunch is done, we must head off to get a mani-pedi in true Filipino style.

For dinner it is Uber Eats Italian with a sprinkling of Royal Gossip – but washing one’s dirty family linen in public has never been attractive, so perhaps the less said about that slanderous and narcissistic little interview the better.

On Tuesday, after a morning spent catching up among the clouds with more old friends from Manila days, tapas is the order of the day at the Social Eating House. It has a fusion menu, Spanish tapas crossed with Asian flavours, and plenty of dishes for sharing. We nibble joyfully on delicious little lamb empanadas and seared scallops served simply in their shells. These were followed by Wagyu tartare and another serve of the delectable scallops.Finally, a bowl of Mooloolaba King Prawns in garlic, cider and herbs with chunks of bread for dipping, accompanied by a rather special glass of pink Louis Bouillot bubbles. Glorious!

Mamasan is an Asian Fusion restaurant on the Oracle Boulevard. Full to the brim with beautiful young people – staff and clients alike – this will be our grande finale before we head back to Brisbane. In the mood for Japanese cuisine, we dine on two rounds of trout tartare and kingfish sashimi, countless pots of warmed saki and tasty san choy bau with pork almost as good as the one we enjoyed on day one. The restaurant is buzzing. The staff are friendly and happy to help and the saki keeps coming.How lucky we don’t have to drive home.

Thanks for having us Broadbeach….

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A Pebble in My Pocket

PART THREE: NORTH YORK MOORS NATIONAL PARK

Day nine is twenty-three miles of dodging rain clouds across North Yorkshire. The footpath travels from Richmond to Ingleby Cross and the Bluebell Hotel via lush farmland that Wainwright deplores and upon which he heaps considerable scorn. I am enamoured. Strolling along the edge of the River Swale, we pass through wheat fields and farmyards, along cart tracks and through tiny villages with signs declaring them all ‘the best kept village.’ In a churchyard, we spot a monument to a villager who lived for a mere 169 years. In Streetlam, we follow a sign saying it’s only a mile to Danby Wiske, and lunch. On the next corner, another sign says ‘two miles to Danby Wiske.’ I sit down on a large stone and sulk.

When we finally arrive, the pub at Danby Wiske is gorgeous. The owner enthusiastically welcomes hikers, which is a nice change from the usual reserved tolerance for us and our muddy boots. Apparently, he is the only pub in town and gets three to four hundred hikers through a month, and fills three guest books a year. He serves great food at a good price, and even the loos are lovely – very important! – with wooden dressers and old framed mirrors. As usual, we bump into walkers we have met previously and enjoy a merry lunch with four nurses we hadn’t seen for a few days.

*

We spend a strenuous, but lovely morning clambering up to the moors, where we look out over a patchwork of green and yellow hills, terracotta-red rooves, serpentine lanes, and endless horizons. Towards the end of day ten, we climb onto a colony of huge charcoal-grey rocks where the view looks over the National Park all the way to the Teeside petrochemical plant on its north-eastern rim. To the south, an emerald green valley is divided into odd-shaped patchwork squares by low, stone walls.

After eight and a half miles of trekking up hill and down dale, we find a tiny café, a miraculous oasis, newly opened and wondrously welcome. Wainwright has advised an overnight stop at Clay Bank Top – an odd choice – but we take a detour and strolled down to Great Broughton instead, only three miles further on, for a cup of tea, a bath and the amiable Mr. Robinson at Home Farm.

*

 “Moors, moors and more moors!”

The North York Moors National Park contains one of the largest expanses of heather  in the United Kingdom. Designated as a national park in 1952, it covers an area of 554 square miles, and the area’s economy depends mostly on farming and tourism. The dale farmers have the right to graze their sheep on the moorlands, but they must share them with grouse shooting. (Luckily for us, it is not the season for grouse, so we shouldn’t end up with buckshot in our backsides!) Further south, arable farms grow barley, wheat, canola, potatoes, and sugar beets. The famous vet, Mr. Herriott used to live in a tiny hamlet on the western edge of the National Park, but we passed by further north, and missed the opportunity to meet him.

Day eleven, and after a terrific breakfast, we set off back to Clay Top to begin today’s trek to Glaisdale. Once back up on top of the moors, the path takes us along a ridge above the Cleveland Plains with breath-taking views in every direction. We can walk side-by-side here, on broad, soft pathways, surrounded by heather and sunshine. We descend onto an old railway line that takes us all the way to Blakey Ridge and the Lion Inn in the middle of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. From here, we have a panorama of moorland as far as the eye can see. An icy wind whistling around our stiffening, aching limbs becomes tedious, despite the easy walking. We distract ourselves by re-inventing our future yet again…

After a good rest and a satisfying lunch at the dark and isolated Lion Inn – think ‘The Slaughtered Lamb in the movie ‘American Werewolf in London’ – we head off for four more hours of the same bleak moorland scenery. Heather, old and new, dead, charred, interminable: Mr. Wainwright you are welcome to it, I’ve had enough! With only two miles to go, and still no sign of change, we become hysterical, giggling at even the slightest variation in the landscape: a puddle, a wobble in the path, a solitary blackbird or raptor…

Eventually, after a sudden downpour about a mile and a half from Glaisdale, we drop off the edge of the world, and wind our way down, down, down through an isolated farmyard, past a couple of bungalows, before we find ourselves unexpectedly in the middle of town. A friendly woman in the post office, with ill-fitting false teeth, sets us off again, giggling as we discover that even the signposts suffer from speech impediments: railway station has been reduced to ‘r—w-y st—-n.’

The town of Glaisdale is in two parts and slides down a steep hill to Beggar’s Bridge and the ‘RWY STN’ at the bottom of the valley. Here, we fuel up on coffee and tea cakes before following the river to Churchdale Farm. This square, stone farmhouse is tucked into a crease of the hills, overlooking the river in one direction, and up the valley to Glaisdale, which is trimmed in tall, leafy trees, and thick hedgerows. Above the village, the hedges morph into low stone walls, stretching towards the moors.

Our room here is a delight, with high ceilings, a tall, shuttered window, and a vast, white bed. Dainty blue and white china is liberally spread across the mantelpiece and over the dressing table, and the walls are entwined with vines and bright red berries. It’s the prettiest wallpaper I have ever seen. I may stay here forever.

*

Day twelve. Our last day. The final lap to Robin Hood’s Bay. As the fog descends, we say a swift farewell to Wainwright, and find a short-cut to the sea, through the woods along the River Esk. Bracken and beech trees drip with raindrops, reminding us of the Tasmanian forests. I rave on endlessly about the flagstones set into the path, the plashing of waterfalls, the birds, the trees… everything!

At Egton Bridge we come across a plethora of riverside homes, smooth lawns running down to the river. A pretty pub is draped in wisteria, a laburnum drips yellow branches over the grass in the beer garden, and a horse chestnut spreads its foliage wide enough to camp under. A private road that once charged a toll – sixpence for a hearse – takes us past Egton Manor and into Grosmont in time to see the steam train setting off to Pickering.

The climb out of Grosmont (1:3 incline) is exhausting, and seems to go on for hours, up, up, up into the mist. When we eventually reach the top, the view has been completely blotted out. Yet, in the gauzy mist, the moors take on a different character, mysterious and alluring. Some brilliant navigating by the One & Only gets us to precisely the right spot to lead us down to Little Beck, a pretty hamlet tucked into the fold of a steep gorge. Two cyclists we pass peddling furiously up the hill have all my sympathy.

At this point, we tear ahead along the road and across a final stretch of moorland to reach the cliff-side town of Robin Hood’s Bay.  Here, our cosy world of lonely woodland paths and fireside camaraderie vanish in a puff of smoke. Or rather, in a tidal wave of tourists and day trippers. We throw our pebbles from the Irish Sea off the rocks into the North Sea. Our trek is done. Our feet are weary, but our heads are full of the glories of northern England, and tomorrow, it’s on to York. By bus.

*With thanks to the One & Only for the photo.

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A Pebble in My Pocket

PART TWO: THE YORKSHIRE DALES NATIONAL PARK

It is the fifth day. We leave Shap behind, crossing a footbridge over the motorway, passing the quarry and the steel factory spewing forth clouds of smoke. Three hours of mole-hills, moorland and broad horizons later, we reach Orton in record time. After that, things go astray, as we join new friends Claire and Gabriel on an inventive route along an old railway track that crosses a splendid stone viaduct. Supposedly, it will lead straight into Kirby Stephen, our next destination. It doesn’t. But we laugh a lot and the the extra six or seven miles is almost worth it for such smooth, steady walking. Nonetheless, my knees are struggling to support me, and my humour is long gone by the time we finally reach Kirby Stephen. We discover a B&B at the Old Courthouse and are welcomed with open arms. Our kind hostess even does my washing, bless her.

Hot showers, a brief rest, and then its time to go out for fish ‘n’ chips, a nut sundae and a quick drink at the pub with our new walking buddies. Later, I hobble home, somewhat bruised. I had decided, in my infinite wisdom, to hurdle a fence that promptly collapsed beneath me. I recover with a cup of tea and an episode of ‘Floyd Down Under.’

*

Fortunately for my bruised backside and blistered feet, day six is only twelve miles to Thwaite, and I have posted home half my heavy load, and packed a smaller, leaner rucksack. The first stretch to Nateby is a joy – and my burden decidedly lighter. But the moorland stretch to Keld is dull and dreary, the scenery unvaried and swamped with sheep. I loathe Keld before we even get there. It is one of those annoying towns that keeps disappearing behind another hill or around another bend just as you think it’s within reach. My blistered toes are less than impressed and my knees groan with despair, but on we trudge, chewing Opal Fruits to the tune of my whining. I drag myself wearily and tearily into Thwaite, only to find every B&B is fully booked. Collapsing feebly over tea and scones, I generously allow my gallant One & Only to scouts around for accommodation. Eventually, one sweet lady, recognizing his desperation, kindly offers her sofa bed, about 2½ miles down the road. Somehow I get there, feeling thoroughly martyred and miserable – and doubtless a heavier burden for my long-suffering boyfriend than any backpack. But even the floor feels like a feather bed tonight…

*

Day seven, and we are back on the road by 8am, after a quick, light breakfast. There’s an icy wind that makes us look like plucked chickens, but blue skies bode well for another glorious day. The path to Reeth lies beside the River Swale, through fields strewn with buttercups and daisies, pheasants and rabbits. Pretty stone bridges arch over the river at irregular intervals, and the riverbank flutters with pink campions and baby-blue forget-me-knots. Gunnerside, like many of the Yorkshire Dale villages, could almost be a Cotswold town, dressed in it’s honey-coloured stone. The sun shines and the cold wind flees as we pause for a tea break at The Punch Bowl Inn in Low Row.

Reeth High Street seems to topple down a steep hill, and provides amazing views across the Dales. The bakery here is fabulous, the baker and his wife creating many inventive and delicious variations on the ordinary loaf. We pass natty little souvenir shops and at least three pubs. And we find a terrific attic room at Hackney House, next to the newsagent, overlooking a meadow full of bright yellow buttercups, a goat and a couple of donkeys. After cleaning off the mud, we sit by the fire and relax, before joining Gabriel and Claire for a drink on the common in front of the Black Bull. Then it’s off to dinner at a local restaurant. In the land of pub meals – egg‘n’chips / chicken‘n’chips / fish‘n’chips / sausages’n’mash washed down with beer or cider –  steak and red wine is a novel treat.

*

The eighth day, and it is raining as we set out for Richmond. Snuggled into our waterproofs, we barely notice the weather, except that our hoods and the drizzle both blinker our vision somewhat. It is too wet to bother stopping for a break, so we reach Richmond after four hours of solid walking. And despite the rain, the walk is delightful: lush, green meadows choc-a-block with Mogwai-faced lambs and their handle-bar ears; wildflowers galore in field and hedgerow; stone farmhouses and pretty hamlets; a field of horses and their lanky foals. Misty clouds cling to the hillside along the Swale and sticky mud clings to our boots.

Richmond is really attractive. We have lunch at one of the many pubs here, then meander through town to find the castle. Alan Rufus began building this castle in the 1070s only a few years after fighting – and winning – the Battle of Hastings with his mate, William the Conqueror. Although it claims to be the best-preserved Norman castle in England, it was derelict by the early 16th century and  remained in ruins for 300 years. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, many artists – including the remarkable J.M.W. Turner – were inspired to paint it.

Today, the views from the keep help us to get our bearings in this higgledy-piggledy town. We locate the marketplace and go on a tour of the only remaining Georgian theatre in the world. It looks like an old barn on the outside, but the inside has been beautifully restored. It is fascinating, especially where several panels have been left to show off the original paintwork. The theatre seats only 220 people, so everyone sits close to the stage. What a shame there is no play on tonight. Instead, we splurge on takeaway curry that we scoff in front of the TV, and gather our strength for the last four days of hiking. Bliss.

*With thanks yet again to my wonderful One & Only for his photography skills!

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A Pebble in my Pocket

PART ONE: THE LAKE DISTRICT NATIONAL PARK

London, 1991. It is the week before Easter. We squeeze sideways onto the commuter train to Euston with heavy rucksacks, trying hard not to look smug. ‘There, but for the grace of God, go we!’ Instead, are heading north to the Lake District, to walk Wainwright’s Coast to Coast path from Saint Bees Head to Robin Hood’s Bay, one hundred and ninety miles across Cumbria and North Yorkshire. No more office-bound job for me, tied to a desk, never seeing daylight, but off we go, in search of fresh, Spring air, invigorating treks across mountains and moors and, inevitably, blisters.

*

The Coast to Coast Walk, devised by Albert Wainwright, was first published in 1973. The pocket-sized book contains Wainwright’s original text and his hand-drawn black-and-white maps. Quite simply, he strung together a series of public footpaths to create a long-distance walk. The book would be updated in 1992, but we have the original version and follow it zealously for twelve days. Apart from the odd, misguided detour!

*

We stand on the beach at St. Bee’s Head and pocket a small pebble, borrowed from the Irish Sea, to toss into the North Sea at the far end. Our first day consists of a fourteen mile hike to Ennerdale Bridge. As we set out, we look ahead to the lighthouse on St. Bee’s Head, surrounded by cows.  For the first four miles we trudge north along red sandstone cliffs dotted with nesting gulls and hanging gardens of wildflowers in blue and pink and purple, the footpath narrow and precarious with occasional dips and detours down onto stony beaches, before it clambers back up the cliff. The fields to our right are full of spring lambs and boisterous calves. As we stroll through a daisy-strewn paddock, a huge bull looms – or is it just an exceptionally large cow? We don’t wait to confirm it either way, but somersault, at speed, over a stile.

For a dose of modern-day reality amid all this natural beauty, we spot the Sellafield nuclear power station to the south, puffing white clouds of vapour into the sky, like a chain smoker. To the north, the Workington Chemical Plant is enmeshed in massive power lines. Yet we are about to enter the Lake District National Park, famous for its lakes, forests and mountains and its association with William Wordsworth, John Rusklin and Beatrix Potter. The National Park was established in 1951 and covers an area of just under a thousand square miles. In 2017 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Five miles on, and we reach Sandwith, a small and remarkably pretty town above the sea. A quick pitstop for a glass of lemonade at the pub unexpectedly turns into a social occasion with the locals. Harry, serious and cross-eyed, is quick to enlighten us about the gaps Wainwright has left in his description of the country’s favourite long-distance walk. A hefty, gum chewing mud-wrestler glares at us through piggy eyes, the lids heavily painted in blue eye-shadow. Yet she is the only one who fails to welcome us into the fold. Re-hydrated and relaxed, we don our rucksacks and leave to a chorus of “See ya darlin’!” “Bye sweetheart!” “Ta-ra lovie!”

Having dallied in Sandwith, we must step up the pace if we are to reach our destination before dark. Or is it the call of beer pushing us on? The next lap involves a steep hill climb past a myriad new-born lambs and stray hikers, pot-bellied and gasping. Once over Dent Hill, we turn west, leaving the coastline behind us. We cross marshy fells and trudge through cool, dark pine plantations before descending steeply into a narrow valley below Raven’s Crag. The path leads past ponies, wildflowers, more lambs and a friendly, white bull calf, who had not yet learned to distrust humans. Eventually we land in Ennerdale Bridge, in time for tea.

*

Day Two is a beautiful, clear day. We begin by strolling along the eastern bank of Ennerdale Water, smooth as glass. Loose slate covering the path makes the going a bit tricky, but what a stunning landscape. The trail is full of weekend hikers today, walking single file like pilgrims en route to some distant grotto.

After three miles of Forestry Commission pine forest, with its broad, shaded paths, we stop for lunch at a farm that provides sandwiches and drinks for foot-sore walkers, before moving on to a stretch of ancient glacier. The drumlin – an egg shaped hill created by the glacier – is strewn with shale and boulders, which makes for cautious walking. As I swap my new hiking boots for sandshoes to deter blisters, we watch the sky change from turquoise to a charcoal grey, a distant rumble warning of storms to come. We clamber up and over Loft Beck – 700 feet of bleak, rocky outcrops, gravelly shale and mud – where we join the Great Gable track. This takes us down onto a disused tramline that once transported slate from the mine. Then, it’s a long downhill slither to Honister Pass and the old toll road, which provides a much kinder descent, returning us gently to the main road in Seatoller, among a softer landscape of oaks, water meadows and burbling streams.

Luckily, the storm never reaches us. We arrive, dry but tired, at Thorneythwaite Farm, with it’s beautiful old stone farm house and the welcome luxury of  a deep, claw-footed bathtub. Suitably refreshed, we head out to Rosthwaite and the Scafell Hotel for dinner. A late evening, star-strewn stroll home, past fields full of those ubiquitous sheep that includes half a dozen pregnant ewes and a clutch of new-born lambs.

*

Day 3 begins with a delicious and sociable breakfast with four other guests, two of whom have just returned from a year’s teaching in Western Australia. Then it’s up Stonethwaite Beck and Greenup Gill to Eagle Crag. It is a slog, but well worth the effort. The beck is full of deep, clear waterholes, and the final view over Borrowdale reminds me of Beatrix Potter’s illustration of Mrs Tiggywinkle and Lucy on the stile. In fact, it really could be the one she painted.

At this point, I manage to persuade my reluctant One & Only to detour from the Wainwright Bible, to avoid a dogleg to Grasmere. Instead, I assure him, we can take a short cut along Wyth Burn to the foot of Thirlmere and across to Grisedale Tarn. How was I to know that the path to the tarn would force us several hundred feet up the side of a vertical waterfall? The One & Only is decidedly peeved, but there is no turning back, and we eventually make it, hot and sweaty, to the top… only to discover that the long, steep descent to Ullswater is even more precipitous!

Blistered, weary and ravenously hungry, we find a B&B in Glenridding. Babs Studdens is ’eighty-four not out,’ and gave up running a B&B years ago. Luckily for us, she occasionally takes in a guest or two “if I feel like it.” She brings us tea and biscuits and recommends a pub in the village. The Traveller’s Rest is hidden away from the tourist stops, down beside the lake. Armed with a fabulous view, and a delicious moussaka, we watch the sun set over Plaice Fell, before staggering home to bed as our poor, abused muscles start seizing up.

*

Day four is eleven miles from Patterdale to Shap. Babs burns the toast, as she predicted she would, and the alarm buzzes for an age. I set out with thick bandages over my blisters, feeling crippled,  more by my rucksack than my feet, which has not proved a great success for hiking. We have slept in, so the One & Only insists on a brisk pace, barely allowing a pause to appreciate the glorious landscape.

We reach the end of the Lake District mountains at Haweswater, in glorious sunshine. Lying on mossy grass beneath a shady oak, beside a cold, clear waterfall, we munch on ham and salad sandwiches. Twenty minutes is all the time allowed, but it is twenty minutes of bliss. The trek today is testing, but the scenery is a stunning distraction from my poor, suffering feet. Gorse bushes bloom in joyful gold, waterfalls cross the path every quarter of a mile, and orchards brim with blossom. We stroll through a shady bluebell wood and clamber over rocky outcrops covered in daisies. A clear, shallow river splashes and swirls down a stepped waterfall. It is absolutely enchanting. I look for fairies.

The last few miles are full of stiles, our weary legs lacking the necessary bounce to get over them with any grace. We pass Shap Abbey at a flagging pace,and stagger up the final hill into town. Shap is an ancient parish on a windy ridge in Cumbria that lies along the A6, once the main road north. Until the early 19th century, it was a busy market town, trading largely in fleeces. A short decline ended with the opening of the railway in 1846. The market began to thrive again. Several quarries were mined for granite, limestone and slate. A steel factory opened. In 1958, however, the newly built M6 by-passed the town. By 1970, the Shap railway station was closed, and Shap began to fade into the background, becoming what it is today: a secluded rural village, off the tourist track, but still popular with hikers. We have booked a night at the Crown Inn, where we are greeted like old friends by Mavis and her fiancé, Steve. We find our bunk in the bunkhouse out the back, and a hot shower. Dinner is fish and chips, salad and gooseberry pie.  We feel infinitely better, and even manage a stroll around town before calling it a day.

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“Strange Vegetables”

‘’His hard-pressed father’s cooking and the pie-and-chips regime of his student days could not have prepared him for the strange vegetables – the aubergines, green and red peppers, courgettes and mange touts – that came regularly before him.’ ~ Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach

Roasted tomatoes and eggplant

Long gone are the days when Anglo-Australians ate a beige diet of meat (aka lamb chops) and three over-cooked vegetables, notoriously carrots, peas and potatoes.  Today’s culinary world is far more sophisticated and metropolitan, as we eagerly absorb every new cuisine that comes our way with the excitement of archaeologists finding a new tomb in Egypt.

When I first started dating the One & Only, the Mediterranean dishes on which he grew up had played no part at our family table, but they proved a wonderful introduction to a fresher, simpler and tastier diet. Remember the movie ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding?’ and the scene where poor Toula, ‘the swarthy six-year-old with sideburns’ is laughed at by the ‘blond, delicate girls with their Wonder Bread sandwiches for eating ‘moose kaka.’ That was me. Even sweet and sour pork made me cringe. Yet, by the time Toula and her father’s cure-all ‘Windex’ appeared on the scene, we cringed in sympathy at the unkindness of those ignorant school girls.

Recently, I found my feet returning to a favourite Greek restaurant on Rundle Street, Adelaide, with a craving for anything containing eggplant. Named for the Greek God of Love, ‘Eros’ has been part of the landscape for more than 25 years, and the chef there still makes the best moussaka I have ever eaten. Unexpectedly chilly in early March, I found a table inside and curled over my book while I waited for my order. A good book, a glass of wine and an excellent moussaka. Who could ask for more?

The chef at Eros creates a mouth-watering moussaka (pr. MOO-sah-kah) of chargrilled eggplant and zucchini, layered with potato and a rich ground beef sauce, iced with a creamy cheese bechamel, then baked. Accompanied by a Greek salad, I ate as slowly as possible and savoured every mouthful. It was sumptuous.

Call it what you will – aubergine or eggplant, melanzana or brinjal, talong or patlidžan – the eggplant has been popular in Arabic and Mediterranean countries for centuries.   According to a paper by Weese & Bohs, although the eggplant ‘has been cultivated for centuries in the Old World,’ it actually originated in Africa, and later dispersed throughout the Middle East to Asia. The Arabs used it prolifically, stuffed it with pinenuts or made it into a dip with tahini and lemon juice, served with pita bread. When they brought it across the Mediterranean to Sicily and Spain, it was treated with suspicion for centuries. Nicknamed melanzane – ‘unsound apple’ or ‘vulgar plant’ – it was considered peasant food until well into the nineteenth century. The Sicilians, nonetheless, adored their Caponata, made with peppers, melanzane and zucchini and served as a side dish. Then, of course, they have their own, vegetarian version of moussaka, using eggplant, cheese and the ubiquitous tomato and calling it Parmigiana di Melanzane.

 The pear-shaped, purple-skinned “Black Beauty” eggplant is probably the most familiar in Australia, but in the Philippines, I quickly became used the long thin variety – Japanese or finger eggplant – which appeared regularly in soups and salads, omelettes and main courses. Yet, despite its predominance in savoury dishes, eggplant is officially, like the tomato, a fruit, not a vegetable.

Yasmin Newman, in her book “7000 Islands; A Food Portrait of the Philippines,” tells us that she once served an eggplant salad to a Lebanese friend ‘who said it was just like the eggplant salads she ate growing up.’  Then there is tortang talong, made from smoky eggplant cooked over the coals and coated in egg. Yum! And the Ottoman imam bayildi or stuffed eggplant is, likewise, absolutely scrumptious.

Nicholas Clee, in his book ‘Don’t Sweat the Aubergine,’ reminds the home cook not to keep eggplant, spuds or tomatoes in the fridge, as the cold may keep them longer but will spoil the quality. Instead, find a cool place out of the sun to store for no more than two days before eating. He also dispels the long-held belief that aubergines need to be salted, rinsed and dried before cooking, to remove the bitterness. Perhaps aubergines were once bitter, but these days, that gene appears to have been bred out. Either way, I haven’t bothered to do all that prep since my first explorations of cooking with eggplant, and there have – so far – been no ill effects. Clee has experimented and discovered that if you cook the aubergine in olive oil, and baked in the oven until it is soft, salting is unnecessary.  Just be aware it will soak up a lot of oil, and it really isn’t nice if only par-cooked. The skin will be leathery, the inside rubbery and tasteless. A Turkish cooking lesson some years ago, taught me to bake aubergine in their skins till you can spoon out the flesh, soft and richly flavoured, or burn the skins over an open flame for a smoky flavour. And for the Aussies, just slice it lengthwise and grill it on the BBQ. Easy peasy, and perfect with lamb chops!

While some varieties of aubergine do look egg shaped – hence the name “eggplant” – these fruits of the nightshade family come in a surprising variety of shapes. And colours. For example, the Turkish Orange is a round variety, like a tomato, and the clue to its colour is in the name. Then there is the Snowy, which is pear shaped but white. The Thais produce a dense, round eggplant, like a golf ball except purple, which is terrific in coconut milk curries. The sweeter, smaller ‘Fairy Tale,’ with its attractive purple and white stripes, is excellent tossed into stir-fries or sautés, or skewered and grilled. More familiar perhaps, is the deep plum-coloured ‘Israeli,’ perfect for babaganoush.

But the family favourite is made by my father-in-law for every family event:  the eggplant slice, dipped in flour and egg and fried to make a very moreish canape or snack.

To those familiar with vibrators or texting, eggplants have recently added sexual connotations to their repertoire, but personally, I like them better as food. And for those who want to know the health benefits, well, provided you are not allergic to them, eggplants are a great source of vitamins and minerals. As they are rich in fiber, they aid digestion, help control blood sugar, and lower the risk of heart disease. Eggplants are also a natural laxative, and will help to relieve constipation. Finally, they are high in iron, so can prevent anaemia. And, of course, they taste great. The downside? They can make you quite windy!

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Sculptures by the Sea

‘Misuiro’ by Erika Edwards

Several years ago, I took a handful of young boys to walk along the coastal path from Bondi to Tamarama, to check out the Sculptures by the Sea exhibition. We were absolutely rivetted by the creativity on display and I’ve longed for the opportunity to be back in NSW at the right time to go again.

Established in 1997, Sydney’s Sculptures by the Sea has become the world’s largest free sculpture exhibition. 100 sculptures by artists from all over the world are displayed along the path and on the beaches. It evolved from an idea by David Handley, who had spent time in Prague and been inspired by an outdoor sculpture park in Northern Bohemia. The first exhibition was set up on a shoestring, but it brought together a plethora of local artists and volunteers, not to mention the 25,000 people who showed up on the day.
Since then, the Bondi Sculptures by the Sea has grown exponentially into an annual, three week exhibition, and the idea has been copied in Perth, Melbourne and Adelaide.

‘Coastal Garden Sphere’ by Andrew Rendall

Last weekend, I popped down to Brighton, South Australia to see how this year’s local sculpture exhibition was going. The Brighton version of Sculptures by the Sea first came into existence in 2008, when the local lifesaving club thought it might be an interesting way to raise some funds for the club. As in Bondi, it started from humble beginnings, but within five years it was bringing in experienced sculptors keen to get on the bandwagon.

Now, supported financially by Patritti Wines, Bank SA, Channel 7 and many others, Brighton Jetty Sculptures is a major community arts exhibition featuring both indoor and outdoor sculptures on display along the Brighton Beach promenade and in two marquees in the park beside the Brighton Surf Lifesaving Club. Over 200 sculptures were on display this year, and all were available for sale, 30% of which goes to the lifesaving club. Many of the sculptors are also happy to take on commissions.

It is a wonderful venue to show off the talents of both emerging and established sculptors. Often, the sculptures have a sea or beach theme. Animals and birds are also popular subjects. Many of the artists have created environmentally friendly pieces from waste materials. In the marquees in Bindarra Reserve, there are statues made from driftwood and reclaimed timber, and a phoenix rising from the detritus of man-made waste, such as plastic zipties, sparkler rods, pens and rubble. A beautiful, framed relief of a fern – a symbol of regeneration and hope – was created from glass beads and corrugated iron salvaged from the Cuddlee Creek fires last summer by artist Sue Caldicott. ‘Misuiro’ by Erika Edwards is a fabulous seascape made from resin and acrylic, bejwelled with quartz crystals, glass and glitter. And there are several wonderful glass mosaics including a whale tale and Mr. Percival the ‘Storm Boy’ pelican.

‘Whale Tale Splash’ by Cheryl Hay

On the seafront, a giant, hands-on kaleidoscope was built by Trent Manning & Kristen Wohlers and has been so popular that the handle has come loose and had to be fixed three times! Another one, named Kaleidoscope – although it is, in fact, a hoop of steel butterflies – provides a framed view over the waves. It was made by James Hamilton, who also created a full sized corten steel stag, ‘Heart of the Highlands’ posing proudly and staring up to the hills. My favourite piece last year – and still my screensaver – was Hamilton’s beautiful giraffe named Rita, also made from corten steel, that won the People’s Choice Award. (COR-TEN, I learned, is also known as weathering steel, referring to the chemical composition that has increased resistance to corrosion compared to other steels, forming an attractive, rusty appearance after several years’ exposure to weather.) Will Hendriks’ Surreal Shell in cast aluminium, large as a sofa, nestles in the dunes. His ‘Moving Forward’ also won the prize for the best outdoor sculpture.

‘Moving Forward’ by Will Hendriks

Stephen Vaughn created a 4 metre alligator from recycled gas cylinders and called him ‘Troy, King of the Swamp.’ We admired outdoor chairs constructed of steel and wood would that look divine in the garden, the sides curving into a womb-like pod, called ‘Sturt Desert Pea’ – appropriate as the floral emblem of South Australia. And one for the kids is a surreal piece called ‘Covid-19 Exterminator Machine Contraption’ by Steve Oatway, made from a variety of left-overs from junk stalls and op shops, including tractor seats, shower heads and an array of superhero figures. Everyone I saw admiring it spent ages examining all the details.

I even acquired a small piece for our garden, to complement the beautiful boobook owls that have moved into our road. And I am already looking forward to next years exhibition!

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