Masks begone!

The irony of my blog’s name struck me anew this morning. No borders, only horizons? Uh huh. Not much truth in that, these days. Not that I’m complaining. South Australia has been spectacularly well protected from the horrors of a virus that have hit the rest of the globe so hard. And my biggest gripe is having to wear a mask everywhere, despite two covid jabs. How annoying to have to blinker my vision and steam up my glasses every time I leave the house! And what’s with that terrible whiff of baby pooh when you’ve been wearing a surgical mask for more than two minutes? Is my breath really that bad? If I’m honest, I haven’t really minded sitting still for a while, I am only antsy because – it turns out – I’m not very good at having others tell me how to live my life.

And we are exceptionally lucky down here on the Fleurieu, with the sea so close and at least a daily glimpse of the horizon. Keep counting your blessings Madame, and life is looking pretty good compared with stories I’ve been hearing from interstate, not to mention the rest of the planet. My own niggling frustrations seem ridiculous in the face of far more serious consequences. But as I see so many other countries accepting the new normal and stepping back into action, so many overseas friends travelling internationally as the wider world re-opens the stable doors, I am glad to read that moves are afoot for Australia to come out of quarantine soon. Much as I have thoroughly enjoyed re-establishing myself in Australia after so many years abroad, I am certainly looking forward to dusting off my passport and queuing to board a plane.

We are the lucky country in more ways than one, I know that, and the way we have kept Covid and an excessive death toll at bay is fabulous. It’s certainly been good for the environment, as plane travel has been at a virtual standstill, and cars remain in their garages, while everyone that can, works from home. And yet, I suspect there will be a huge price to pay for putting our lives on hold for so long. One that may take decades to calculate.

While some families may have enjoyed the simplicity of a life in lockdown with their nearest and dearest, for others, it’s been their worst nightmare. In Australia, those graduating from high school and tertiary education over the past two years have missed out on all those coming-of-age celebrations. Friends in the Philippines have been home schooling their children for 18 months – and that must be particularly tough on ‘only’ children, who miss out on all the socializing that goes hand in hand with education. And this, even though we understand that the junior portion of society is the least vulnerable to Covid. (When is the last time you saw a kid in a mask?) So why have we put their lives on hold? Not to mention the poor teachers, who have worked their fingers to the bone trying to re-write school syllabi to operate on Zoom?

Crisis lines have been running hot, particularly from those cities where endless lockdowns have left the lonely and isolated even lonelier and more isolated. Mental health issues have spread as virulently as Covid 19 and will take longer to repair. Small businesses are suffering too, particularly in areas such as hospitality, and how long will the economy take to recover from that? And what happens when the next Pandemic sweeps through? Can we afford another global shutdown? I’m not talking simple economics, as I’ve always bemoaned the modern mindset of constantly ‘biggering and biggering’ as selfish and self-destructive, never mind the cost to our beautiful, beleaguered planet. But I do worry about the fabric of society; of a basically needy and sociable human race being constantly shoved into isolation. Even the introverts among us must have found such enforced seclusion hard to bear.

I spoke to friends in America only this morning – easy enough with Zoom, Skype, Facebook messenger et al, I know. Yet somehow, we have all found the mindset of lockdown blinkering us to the possibility of being able to communicate by phone with family and friends, wherever they are. So, I am looking forward to that northerly wind to blow away the cobwebs in my head, and a resurgence of hope and happiness. We may have escaped lightly in South Australia, but I am still aware of a general tone of negativity, a glass half full attitude to a world that many say has changed forever, that nothing will ever be the same again. And I think we all need to stop thinking like that.

We may all be cautious for some time to come. But every small freedom returned to our daily lives must surely have a positive effect? If only that we to have come appreciate the little things more; to see the ‘normal’ freedoms as the luxury they most certainly are, rather than that previous sense of entitlement, of human right. So, here’s to a renaissance of positivity with a liberal dose of appreciation for the gifts we have – and the opportunity to hug all our neighbours again!

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Namaste & G’day!


Last week I caught an Uber back to the Cubby Hole. For once, my taxi driver knew the street – ‘it’s just around the corner from my uncle’s restaurant,’ he assured me. Hoping I didn’t sound too un-p.c. I said cautiously, ‘not the Namaste?’ Yes! He cried, ‘That’s it! Do you know it?’ After five minutes of ‘compare and contrast,’ I was extended an invitation to pop in with him to see if we could share some left overs.

‘Namaste’ was the first word I learned when I landed in Kathmandu thirty-something years ago. Derived from a Sanskrit word it is a respectful greeting, used at any time of the day, in much the same way Italians use “ciao” or Aussies say “G’day.”

The Namaste restaurant was one of the first Nepali restaurants in Adelaide, established in 2003 by husband and wife team, Somnath & Sashi. You’ll find it in a pretty 19th century cottage on George Street, Parkside. We have been driving past for years, on every home leave back to South Australia, and have been forever mumbling that we really must drop in one day. This year, we made it through the front door at last. And already we have clocked up multiple visits.

As Namaste is a popular greeting across South Asia, so this restaurant features dishes – often fusion creations – from India, Tibet, Nepal and China, combined with a few more local ingredients like lamb, tomatoes and peas.
Takeaway from Namaste is perfectly acceptable, if you want to eat in your dressing gown and Ug boots, but then you’ll miss out on the homely, welcoming atmosphere in each of the various dining areas. Depending on where you sit, the space may be conducive to a romantic date night or an intimate family group. On a wet and windy winter’s night, it was lovely to sit in the warmth, with sunny yellow walls and a cosy fire. The banquet seemed the easiest thing to do when there were six of us talking hammer & tongs. Well, it saved interrupting the flow of trying to catch up on all the family news in one evening!

We got off to a flying start with a selection of delectable starters: momos (Nepalese dumplings) sekewa (classic Nepalese chicken skewers), mammoth-sized samosas and phulaurah: black lentil patties with traditional Nepalese spices (my favourite, dipped in the green sauce). We even stopped talking for a few moments to fully savour each mouthful. The main courses weren’t quite as distracting, but probably because we’d already taken the edge off our appetites.

Since then, we have nipped around for takeaway a couple of times, and recently we took the whole brood for a birthday dinner. They have long been faithful adherents to Indian cuisine – I think the youngest was barely three when we introduced them to butter chicken with spectacular results – but they came away from Namaste quite smitten with the joys of curries in a lighter format. Butter chicken and saag paneer still topped their list, but they were just as delighted with some new tastes and textures. We introduced them to momos, and a light Jhaneko Daal of yellow and black lentils cooked with Nepalese herbs and spices. I’m still not sure how those spices differ from traditional Indian ones, but there was definitely a difference – somehow more subtle than the heavy, sensual attack of Indian curries that generally leave you feeling bloated and a bit queasy. Or maybe that’s just for the gluttonous among us! We shared a hefty lamb shank (which could have been cooked a little longer, but the flavour was excellent), and an even better lamb dish. And of course, there were the ubiquitous baskets of papadums and roti.

Despite the annoyance of face masks, the staff remains friendly and cheery – showing greater patience than Yours Truly, who is getting increasingly crabby about the need for them in Covid Free South Australia – and treats everyone like family. Sadly, after over-indulging on the savoury dishes, no one had room for dessert, not even for the sake of somewhere to stand a candle. But that’s OK. We all know our way back! And despite the volume of food we had all devoured, there were no complaining stomachs.

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A Capricious Spring

“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks! ~ Shakespeare’s King Lear

We were back on the road this week, but without poor Barney, who is currently in therapy, awaiting a new engine. Our last foray north found us nursing Barney beside the Prince’s Highway, just shy of Crystal Brook, as he hemorrhaged oil and black smoke in equal measure. Luckily, we can get him a transplant, and hope to have him back on the road next month, but in the meantime, I am ‘camping’ at Stone Hut (a whistle stop on the Horrocks Highway) in a corrugated iron cabin. In the paddock next door is a petting zoo containing two alpacas, a pair of goats, two kangaroos and a couple of emus for the amusement of the kids – and me!

There’s also an aviary filled with a variety of parrots. A sulphur-crested cockatoo known as Trevor (who can apparently swear like a trooper) is trying to tunnel out. A bossy lorikeet pushes aside the larger birds for a chance to lick my hand with a surprisingly long tongue. A young galah with fierce pink eyes sits on my shoulder and attempts to nibble a chip off my earlobe.

Our cabin backs onto the Stone Hut Bakery, a well-known pit stop for motorists, who crave a break and a taste of the odd but delicious selection of homemade pies and classic cakes. I have bought a kangaroo and red wine pie for dinner, but I could have chosen croc and coriander, chicken satay pie or simple chunky beef. And there is a piece of passionfruit cheesecake and a banoffee pie in the fridge for later.

The One & Only is back on the Heysen Trail, filling in a few kilometres between Wirrabara and Melrose before the heat and the flies take over, and trekking is no longer a joy. The first day, we drive through Wirrabara Conservation Park past the Ippinitchie Campgrounds and out to The Bluff. This is a brand new lookout point on the edge of the ridge – officially opened only the day before! And suddenly this road less travelled is bumper to bumper with cars, dodging and weaving through heavy clouds of dust. It’s worth a little unexpected traffic. A small car park, and a short walk, and we come upon a new steel platform facing west. We gaze out upon the cobalt blue waters of the Spenser Gulf and the ports of Pirie, Germein and Bonython. Behind us, to the east, steep hills and gullies are cloaked in gum trees before the landscape flattens out and farmland takes over. It’s a breath-taking view I could look at for hours – if the wind wasn’t so unpleasant. Yes, I hear you, I should know better, but I came inadequately prepared for chilly winds. I head back down the steep, single-lane, switchback road as the One & Only dons his backpack and heads off into the bush to clock up the miles on foot.

Meanwhile, I’m off to do some exploring of my own. With wheels. This chauffeuring gig has taken me down some of the most beautiful back roads of South Australia, in search of the next drop off or pick up point for my Happy Hiker. Here, in the Southern Flinders, the hills are effervescent under acres of golden rapeseed flowers, in stark contrast to the dusty green gum trees. Kangaroo ears often peek curiously above the yellow blanket and there are infinite numbers of ostentatiously clothed parrots lining the roads, as if awaiting a Royal Procession. I bow my head and wave as I pass by.

So. What to do today? A quick stop to admire the art work on the silos in Wirrabara. Next? Shall I drive down to the coast for a coffee in Port Pirie, or perhaps revisit Blesing’s Winery? I found this little gem on an earlier trip north. Tucked away in a nook in the hills, just off road that runs through the glorious Germein Gorge, this family farm makes some rather nice little wines, and I wouldn’t mind a couple more bottles of the Nebbiolo to put in the cellar. Or maybe pause for a chat and a couple of scones, jam and cream with the lovely Margot. On second thoughts, as the rain races through again, furiously pounding the windscreen, I might just hang around our cabin and talk with the animals, like Dr. Dolittle. (I spend the day dodging the rain, but it seems the sun shone upon the Heysen Trail all afternoon. Hmph.)

At the end of the day, scrubbed clean from the dust and grime of the road, we head to the North Laura pub for ‘schnitty’ and chips and battered garfish. Hopefully there’ll still be room for sticky date pudding with home grown Golden North ice cream, too.

A warm, sunny day is followed by a day of intermittent showers and high winds. Who would guess it was spring? Changeable and unpredictable, this month has not made planning easy, and I decide to take cover in a coffee shop in Melrose and catch up on some emails.

Unfortunately, my idea of retreating into a quiet country café never quite happens. The coffee shop is awash with the chirrup and chatter of a thousand cyclists, and I eventually give up and leave, concluding I can probably work better in our peaceful little cabin. I consider a walk through town first, and maybe a visit to the museum or the swing bridge, but its blowing a gale and I am not warmly dressed. Again.

So, it’s back to Stone Hut. The internet may be a little unreliable, but I can get some writing done at least. And if I need a break, I can pop across to chat with Trevor & Charlie, and the two hand-reared galahs who only like women to scratch their heads and will cheerfully take a chunk out of any male who gets too close. There’s another young galah with a cheeky inclination to climb onto my shoulder, whip off my glasses with a flourish, and toss them in the pond. An elderly corella dances to the music in his head, twirling on the fence post and taking a dizzy bow. Indian ring necked parrots in blue, grey and yellow are curious but nervy and won’t let me get too close. And it’s raining again, anyway, so back under cover I go, until the One & Only calls to say he’s had enough for the day and its time for a beer and a hot shower. And Banoffee Pie!

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Falling for La Tombola

A favourite holiday puzzle, sadly mislaid…

It had been an exhausting day, rearranging furniture and/or heading down to the footy to be wildly supportive of the beloved football team. By 7 p.m. sustenance we were all craving sustenance, our stomachs grumbling petulantly. Unfortunately, the fridge was bare. And where could we get a table at the last minute on a Saturday night?

An unassuming restaurant at the northern end of Unley Road, La Tombola has been delivering traditional Italian meals for years. The menu is not long, but every dish is terrific. The staff are friendly and funny, and we had a super night there recently, delighted to find such a gem barely a stone’s throw from our new city bolt hole.

La Tombola is an Italian game, similar to bingo. It is derived from an Italian verb tombolare, to somersault or tumble. The Collins dictionary suggests it is the equivalent of upsy-daisy, should a small child fall over.

Well, nobody seemed unsteady on their feet that night, although Tony and his staff were flat out when we arrived. We waited rather anxiously on the sidelines for a table – the place was seething. But let’s face it, if the tables are stuffed with happy eaters, it’s probably worth the wait. And it wasn’t that long before we were greeted like old friends, and ushered to a table by the window.

A great thing about Italian dining is that traditionally, a meal is not an event to be rushed, and La Tombola is, without a doubt, authentically Italian. In this respect at least. So we were given plenty of breathing space between courses, with time to dwell on good wine and good conversation. (No one was keen to venture back out into the cold anyway!)

We had taken a bottle of wine with us, but La Tombola is certainly not short of wine – of the red variety anyway. And most of them are locally sourced. I ordered a lovely, fruity Barossa Grenache, while the gentlemen enjoyed their Cabernet Sauvignon.

The One & Only, with his Italian name – and despite a lack of fluency in the language – instantly drew attention and became a firm favourite with the staff. We never went short of wine or food – in fact when the kitchen got a tad overwhelmed, our waitress dashed by with a basket of bread, just in case we were in danger of starving.

We started off with an antipasta platter to share, topped up with an extra plate of coppa – a salami of salted, aged pork shoulder, rolled into a short, thick cylinder, made by Tony himself. Our antipasto platter included frittata and pickled vegetables, as well as the usual array of salamis and olives.

For my main course, I chose a rich and delicious fusilli di estate: a twisted noodle tossed with veal strips, smoked bacon, onion, roasted capsicum and mushrooms in a creamy sauce and finished with basil. The gentlemen went for a spicier option: penne con pancetta picante; the pancetta mixed with Italian sausage, chilli and roasted tomatoes. Of course we shared the spoils without spilling too much sauce on the pristine linen tablecloth.

Finally, a dish of Tira Mi Sú with three spoons to finish up. Well, it seemed best to share, or we may not have had the capacity to walk home. But I am already planning my next visit. It had been terribly difficult to toss up between the Fusilli and the Ravioli Ortolani Rosati, and the One & Only is keen to try the Spaghetti Marinara…

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Ballaboosta

Sunny day, sweepin’ the clouds away
On my way to where the air is sweet.
Can you tell me how to get,
How to get to Sesame Street?
*

Ballaboosta (and you will find a variety of spellings) is a Yiddish term to describe the person who takes care of everyone; traditionally the homemaker, the one who brings the family together, who cooks for them and cares for them.On Halifax Street in the southeast corner of Adelaide CBD, Ballaboosta is touted as the café where “Where Mediterranean meets Middle East” in a custom made wood fired oven, and boasts that most of their menu is made from scratch.

Ballaboosta is open from 7.30am – 9.30pm every day but Sunday, when it closes at 3.30pm. I first came across them when I was desperate for coffee at an hour when every other coffee shop in town had closed for the day.  Not only did I get an excellent coffee, but I found a tempting range of home-made pastries and desserts.

The inside is tiny, but there is plenty of space on the pavement when the sun shines – or even when it doesn’t, as there are outdoor heaters and umbrellas when needed.

Staff are friendly and the food is a little different. For once, you can enjoy brunch without a whisper of smashed avocado. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a smashed avocado fiend, but it seems to have become ubiquitous on every breakfast menus, in Australia at least, so Ballaboosta’s offerings make an interesting change.

So, what do they serve for brunch, if not smashed avo?

Well, there are breakfast pizzas on flat bread (great for the kids), oven baked eggs with middle eastern spiced lamb mince, or wild zaatar and cheese in an eastern Mediterranean version of the quesadilla, to name but a few.

I particularly enjoy the dishes on ‘Betty’s Menu’ defined as ‘traditional soul food, made with love, by our very own Ballaboosta.’ These include chicken (shish tawook) or lamb skewers (kofta) and a marinated fish served with chilli, tahini and of course pita bread,and malfouf, like the Greek dolmades, only made with cabbage leaves not vine leaves. All theses dishes are great for sharing, for brunch or lunch. Mix them up with some of the mezze dishes for a real feast!

A few quick tips: Ballaboosta gets terribly busy over the weekend, so do book ahead – and don’t be in a hurry, as you may have to wait a while, even for coffee. (Well, I’m not the only person in town to think it’s a cool place to go!) I highly recommend going with someone you are happy to chat with while you wait. Tripadvisor gives it mixed reviews, and I have to agree that some days are better than others, but I have always enjoyed the food, even when not quite what I had expected. And the pita bread, freshly made in the wood oven, in whatever format, is always great. When the staff are on song and the day is sunny, Ballaboosta has got a happy, breezy vibe, where dogs and kids are welcome, and it makes me think of the Sesame Street song!

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Mintaro & Martindale

Gilbert Valley

Only eleven kilometres off the Horrocks Highway that sprints through the Clare Valley, Mintaro is a tiny, rural village that has been tucked into the hills since Adelaide was a toddler. In 1984 it was declared a State Heritage site, and for good reason. I am delighted to think we know how to protect some of our historic treasures.

A centre for slate mining, Mintaro village has been largely constructed from this hardy stone. Any modern alterations, renovations or even new builds must be in keeping with the character of the originals. If not for the passing cars – and these are few and far between on a quiet Friday afternoon in August – it is like entering a time warp.
It is also a far cry from the dry, dusty mid north I have visited before. After a wondrously wet winter, the countryside is unfamiliar to me in its verdant winter coat. I find myself smiling in delight at every turn in the road, every panoramic view from the crest of a hill. Plump lambs dance in paddocks carpeted in deep green grass. Flocks of gossiping galahs with their raspberry vests, provide a vibrant contrast. For once, the scattering of gum trees look alert and happy, not defeated by the long, hot summers.

Mintaro was initially a busy staging point for transporting copper from Burra to Port Wakefield in the 1840’s, the Magpie and Stump a popular watering hole with the bullock drivers trudging nine miles a day from Burra to the coast. In the 1850s, many deserted Burra for the more lucrative gold mines in Victoria and New South Wales, so the mining company began seducing South American miners and muleteers to fill the gap. By the 1860s Mintaro had struck gold itself – well, slate at least – and soon the local quarries were producing slate of some of the highest quality in the country, which it continues to mine and export today.

The Gilbert Valley is also a fertile farming district, producing wheat, wool and wine which have created wealth for local farmers over the centuries. Only three kilometres out of town, Martindale Hall stands in all its rather pretentious glory, a pocket-sized Downtown Abbey that once boasted a cricket pitch, a boating lake, a polo ground and a race track. £30,000 was spent importing marble tradesmen and furniture from Europe to create all this splendour. Yet sadly, such ostentatious wealth did nothing to ensure a happy life for any of its owners. In fact, the history of Martindale is surprisingly tragic.

The Bowman family grew from sheep farmers in the north of England to wealthy landowners in two generations. They made their money on the back of the sheep, first as pioneer pastoralists in Tasmania, among chains and convicts, later as landowners in the free province of South Australia. In the mid nineteenth century, Edmund Bowman Snr. established a successful merino stud on 9,000 acres in the Gilbert Valley. He also bred racehorses. But he drowned in the Wakefield River when his eldest son was still a boy.

Martindale Hall

Edmund Junior was educated at Cambridge University. He returned home to an inheritance large enough to recreate a slice of Georgian England in the Australian bush where he entertained lavishly. He named it Martindale Hall after a pretty valley near the family’s original home in Cumbria. A renowned polo player, he had little more than a decade to enjoy his glamorous lifestyle. Beleaguered by drought and falling wool prices, and financially over-extended, he was forced to sell up in 1891. He died in Adelaide at 66, after a long illness.

The Martindale Estate was then bought by William Tennant Mortlock, a South Australian politician and grazier. Also educated at Cambridge, he came home to marry his first cousin, Rosina Tennant. They had six children – five sons and a daughter – but three did not survive infancy. Their oldest son, Valentine, was born with cretinism and was hidden from the world in an upstairs bedroom until he died at the age of eight. His ghost has apparently been seen several times since, most recently in 2011 by a young visitor who thought he was a girl with his long blond locks. His small room, once gated, made my skin prickle, and I avoided looking in the old mirror above the fireplace. The influence of too many horror movies in my youth I suspect! William himself died aged only 55 when his two remaining sons were teenagers. One of these young men would later die in Colombo.

Jack, now the oldest son and heir, travelled widely – perhaps to escape from the family ghosts – and his collection of memorabilia grace the smoking room walls. He did not marry until he was 54, only to die fifteen months later. His wife lived on at Martindale Hall until 1965, when, according to her husband’s wishes, she handed it over to Adelaide University. It is now in the hands of the SA government, in trust for the people of South Australia.

Escaping from the gloomy, ghost ridden rooms of Martindale Hall, I drove back to town. Here, I found a much happier story in the middle of Mintaro, just across the road from the Magpie and Stump, the local pub. This pub has been around since Noah was a babe – well, almost – and here, the One & Only was spending the weekend being creative with lino cut and paint. Before crossing the road to Reilly’s winery, I soaked up the early spring sunshine for a while, lounging peacefully in the pub’s large garden, enjoying two cups of excellent coffee.

Reilly’s winery was established in 1993 by South Australian entrepreneurs Justin and Julie Ardill. The cellar door can be found in a beautiful slate cottage, built in 1856 by Hugh Reilly. Reilly was a shoemaker from Ireland, who established his family and a saddlery in the small town, and for whom the winery is named.

We had wandered in the day before, looking for lunch. Annette, the chef here for several years, provided us with a sumptuous platter of local olives and mettwurst, Reilly’s own chutney and dukkha, a perfect piece of steak, a homemade fishfinger in crispy batter, a divine little roast vegetable tart and two glasses of wine. The One & Only chose white: an aged Riesling (more to my taste than his, with its oaked butteriness reminiscent of those original Chardys), and the 2018 Watervale Riesling, which won the Travelrite trophy for Riesling of the year in 2019. Meanwhile, I indulged in a glorious grenache and a lighter but meaty tempranillo.

Reilly’s cellar door

Later that afternoon, I popped in to taste other wines. Justin has had great fun experimenting with all sorts of grape varieties and wine styles. And I had great fun tasting them! My particular favourites were the Old Bush Vine Grenache and the Copper Ox Shiraz, named in honour of the sure and steady oxen that pulled the wagons coming from the copper mines to the northwest. With grapes picked from 90 year old vines, its juices aged in oak, this glorious wine slides over the tongue like a deep-throated song, whispering of aniseed, mocha and deep red berries. The Grenache grapes come from even older vines, planted just after WWI, that grow close to the ground and require (flexible) hand picking. Peppery, with touches of liquorice and cherry, this lovely wine is aged in oak for two years, from which it benefits greatly, and showing off a long and elegant finish. A bright and flavourful Rosé or Saignée (literally bleeding) will be a perfect, chilled accompaniment to a summer afternoon in the garden – unless you prefer bubbles when you should reach for the cuvée Shiraz. The One & Only went merrily down the Riesling road, with a slight detour through the cabernet sauvignons. We left with some extra bottles of our favourites, including a rich Blue Tongue Tawny Port and the Cane Cut Riesling. Sporting luscious flavours of honey and marmalade, a cheeky dash of lime cuts this dessert wine’s somewhat cloying sweetness down a notch. And just in case you have sipped too many wines to contemplate the drive home, the Ardills own a selection of B&B cottages only a step or two down the road.And on that note, I’m signing off to drive back to our campsite, a pasta sauce we prepared earlier, and another glass of Grenache. Salut!

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Mid Winter Jitters

At last, the rain took a day off and we could get down to the beach this morning for some much needed fresh air.

While we have been hiding away – partly the weather, partly a brief South Australian lockdown – the wind and rain have been having a jolly old time scattering foam and seaweed, cuttlefish and cockles up and down the length of the beach. Waves have ridden right up over the jetty and high tides have torn away the sand dunes in vast chunks.

My childhood memories of growing up in South Australia suggest it rarely rains here. Faulty memory or global warming, this past month has been cram packed with howling winds, torrential downpours and endless British ‘mizzle’ – that ultra-fine drizzle that seeps into your skin and leaves you feeling damp and ever so slightly mouldy.

So, what to do? Well, with a blue sky at last tempting us out into the open, we headed north to Port Willunga. Here, at high tide, the beach was non-existent, waves were roaring up to bombard those massive cliffs, and a couple of intrepid surfers were catching a final wave or three before night descended.

The Star of Greece was wrecked off Port Willunga almost 170 years ago, and the restaurant that sits perilously close to the cliff edge, like an eagle’s eyrie, has been named in its honour. After a desultory walk through the dunes and along the Willunga Creek, we decided we were long overdue to dine there, and wandered up for an early tea. We were surprised to find that the Star of Greece – despite sitting 10 metres from the sea – is not a glorified fish’n’chip diner but is, in fact, a fine dining restaurant with a range of interesting menu choices. Nervous that we were rather under-dressed for such splendour, we were assured we would be welcome, as long as we were wearing shoes. In fact, the website suggests summer guests can enter in flip flops and sarongs over bathers – or ballgowns! I do love the Australian attitude to casual. Dressed many degrees below ballgowns but a step or two up from thongs and sarongs, we went in.

 On such a chilly winter evening, the deck was wisely closed, and we were more than happy to snuggle inside, away from the obstreperous wind. A table by the window gave amazing views across a choppy sea and up the coast to the lights of the southern suburbs.

We read through the menu armed with a KIS O’Gin, garnished with rosemary and orange. (Note to self: order a bottle for home consumption. It’s five star.)

The menu is a good length – not barraging you with a million choices but providing a great variety of flavours. (And there’s a good menu for vertically challenged diners, if you want to take the kids along.) Of course, we had set our hearts on fish’n’chips, so after some consideration, we by-passed the confit duck leg with seared scallops and the Wagyu steak for whiting and hand cut chips. We did, however, get a bit more daring with the entrees: a delectable raw Murray cod and a bowl of baked burrata with salsa rosa and asparagus.

There is definitely an Asian fusion theme going on here, with kimchi, betel leaf, nori salad, fermented chilli and daikon radishes teamed with local specialties such as Kangaroo Island whiting, KI squid, Spencer Gulf prawns and local mushrooms. Servings are generous without being overwhelming, and the service was great. Despite having to talk through masks, our waiters were delightful, welcoming us warmly and checking in regularly to make sure all was going well.

The Murray cod (think ceviche) was mixed with fermented chilli, green mango, coconut, nigella seeds and lime and served on a betel leaf. What a stunning amalgam of delicate flavours! Although possibly better for a warm summer evening out on the balcony, it was nonetheless fabulous, and it went perfectly with my G&T. I found myself feeling positively nostalgic for the Philippines, and not just the rather warmer climate. The One & Only’s reconstructed bruschetta was warm and tasty and much better suited to the weather. It was also something I will certainly try to recreate at home.

After a nicely spaced interval, we were served our main courses. The One & Only chose the traditional battered whiting – was that an apple cider batter I tasted? A twist on the old beer batter? – while I went for grilled. Both were superb and served with a light garden salad and a truly delicious homemade tartare sauce. We savoured every mouthful.

The restaurant has been a staple for Port Willy residents and holiday makers alike for over twenty years. Apparently, it was originally a tiny fisherman’s shack, but it has been renovated and enlarged several times since it was originally built. some 70 metres (230 feet) above the sea. And there is a kiosk next door, currently closed for renovations, that will doubtless be up and running again by the summer.

While we forwent a bottle of wine (the road home is dark and winding and littered with kangaroos) the wine list is well designed and benefits from the proximity of McLaren Vale, although not exclusively. A few Mediterranean wines and other SA wine regions also get a mention. We’ll save them for next time…

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“The Wide Brown Land for Me.”

‘I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges, of droughts and flooding rains.’ ~Dorothy McKellar, 1908

The Australian landscape may not change quickly but change it does. Growing up in South Australia, I had assumed all inland Australia was as dry, dusty and fly blown as our own state north of the Mount Lofty Ranges. Oh boy, was I wrong. Last month we headed off in our campervan, barney, planning to follow the coast road from Adelaide to Melbourne and north to Sydney. Having reached the far southwestern corner of Victoria, Covid struck yet again in Melbourne, and we turned tail and dashed back across the border to safety. We followed the back road north, before turning right into New South Wales. Planning to stop for a breather in Tooleybuc, we discovered the town was now a hot spot of possible Covid infection. Tooleybuc football supporters, it turned out, may have been infected on a trip to regional Victoria. A false alert, we were later to learn, but by then we were halfway to Mount Kosciusko. In six days, we covered the Coorong, the Riverland, Alpine bush land, Siberian steppes and coastal forests. And the weather was almost as changeable and dramatic as the scenery: sunshine in Robe; storms in Portland that threatened to rip the top off the camper; frost in Tumbarumba and an ardent desire for the gloves and scarves we had left at home. Last year’s snow was still lying, unmelted, in the shade along the side of the road in Kosciusko National Park. On Wallagoot Lake, we were back to 20’C and sunshine, paddling with the hooded plovers along the beach. It was surreal. But we finally made it to Sydney!

Back in South Australia, it has been alternating between tropical downpours and English drizzle for the past four weeks. Is this climate change, or simply one of the challenges of living in Dorothy McKellar’s ‘wilful, lavish land?’ The rain has filled the pool and the water tanks to overflowing and the moss has built a home on the paving out the back. Everywhere, the sour sobs are spreading their yellow flowers like fields of canola.

With SA in lockdown for the next week, I hoped to spend some time in the garden, which has been over-run with weeds, but given a non-Covid cough and some seriously bitter weather, not to mention rain, rain and more rain, I’ve decided that discretion is the better part of valour and have stayed firmly indoors with the heating on full bore, thinking enviously of the friends who snuck off to Queensland before the stable door was locked.

It’s not so bad, though, being housebound. The One & Only is experimenting in the kitchen – ossobuco is on the cards for dinner tonight – and this damp and dreary weather is hardly tempting me to set out on a march along the beach. Anyway, it’s time to get back to work, after an enforced hiatus at She Gathers No Moss. My poor wee blog has been on hold for weeks, after an annoying little gremlin found its way in and sent ten years of stories into a coma. But this morning, my uninvited poltergeist was finally evicted by a friend with a firm hand and far more techno-knowhow than Yours Truly, and we are back in action. We may not be able to travel or eat out right now, but when has that ever left me short of something to say?

Welcome back, one and all, and thanks so much for your patience. It’s good to be home.

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Poemat means ‘poem’ in Polish

My mother has often said there is nothing more decadent than having someone else cook a meal in your own kitchen. We tried it out last weekend and found her theory thoroughly validated.

Judyta Slupnicki is a woman who loves to cook. She has owned and run many kitchens in both Adelaide and Melbourne, including those at the Old Lion, on the Ghan and at her own Phore Seasons in Semaphore. But these days, she is a freelance cook in the process of setting up a new business: She Chef: a qualified chef who will come to your home and cook a designer dinner for one to one dozen guests. Judyta loves to cook Vietnamese and Italian dishes, but on Saturday night she treated us to a Polish feast. While suitably eastern European, and reminiscent of the style of cuisine I remember in neighbouring Prague, it was decidedly more sophisticated than No.1 Son’s favourite dish of dumplings and gravy.

Judyta is Polish. Born in Warsaw, she and her family escaped from Poland when she was barely nine years old. As I settled at the kitchen bench, gin & tonic in hand, as she prepared our dinner – yes, also with a G&T to hand –  I heard how her family fled from Poland in 1981. They even slept for at least one memorable night in a cemetery, before they found their way out of Poland, into Germany and then across the seas to Australia.  From Perth to Melbourne to Adelaide, the family found themselves in a refugee camp in the Boondocks for three months before they were resettled in  a starter home in Woodville Gardens, close to the primary school the three girls were already attending. She and her sisters quickly assimilated – there is a family knack for languages – but despite a strong Aussie accent, she is still, unarguably, a Pole. A year passed, and her father was able to get a loan for a house, and set up business as an upholsterer. Keen for his second daughter to join him, he encouraged her to study business and book-keeping,.

In her free time, Judyta loved to hold dinner parties. She soon realized, however, that her happy place was in the kitchen, rather than playing hostess at the dining table. After taking a gap year and heading off round the world with her (then) husband, she had an epiphany, finally recognizing an unquenchable desire to bring a broader food culture to South Australia. And, of course, she was encouraged by all those friends who had attended her dinner parties. “You are such a good cook! You should open a restaurant!”

On her return to Adelaide, a year was spent looking for suitable premises. Eventually, she found the perfect location: an antique bed store in Semaphore. 220 square metres was rapidly converted into a 100-seater restaurant, complete with a baby grand piano, a seven metre, solid wood bar and tapestries on the walls.

A friend of mine once wrote of ‘the classic restaurant dreamers, people who believe that loving food and hosting dinner parties is adequate preparation for running a business.’ Yet, for a while, this worked. Despite no formal training in catering or cooking, but with a deep understanding of business and finance, Judyta managed to get ‘Phore Seasons’ (as in Sema-phore) up and running in short order. Creating a largely Italian menu with a dash of Polish, Juditya now admits that the whole experience was a trial by fire, literally and figuratively, the learning curve steep and precipitous. One night, after the chef slipped and broke a toe, Judyta, arriving in high heels from another function, had to step in. A pair of slippers was unearthed in the basement and the rest is history. Judyta’s night in the kitchen gave her the overwhelming conviction that this was where she belonged.

Judyta realized pretty quickly that she wouldn’t be able to cope on enthusiasm alone and enrolled in a professional cooking course at Regency TAFE. With all the energy of youth, she ran the kitchen, studied, and managed the accounts. The restaurant survived, albeit with a change of perspective. The fine dining menu was simplified, but not before Judyta had won awards for her efforts.

Eventually, Judyta decided that the ‘Phore Seasons’ had run its course, and she set off in search of new culinary adventures. This would include being chosen to perform on Channel Seven’s Iron Chef challenge, competing against Guy Grossi. From there, she worked on a Polish cuisine episode of Food Safari (Season 4, episode 7) with Maeve O’Meara. She also had a stint with Qantas, via the Adelaide Convention Centre, running their Business Class menus. En route, she discovered a penchant for Vietnamese and Japanese cuisine, but she also loves nothing better than a home cooked Polish meal.

Recently, she has returned to her roots: cooking for dinner parties.

Having shared a few foodie experiences with our sociable chefette, I decided I had better stop distracting her, and joined the rest of the guests in the garden. It was an incredibly mild autumn evening as we gathered around the outdoor fireplace, chatting quietly as our host cooked chestnuts over the coals. Later, he  showed me the menu they had agreed on, laid out as ‘rounds.’ The food was indeed comparable to a musical composition: a harmonious combination of tastes and textures.

Round I: roasted chestnuts. Chestnuts have long been popular in the northern regions of Europe and North America, where they thrive on frost, snow and sun. At the winter fairs that abound across central Europe, the aroma of roasting chestnuts is all part of the spirit of Christmas. Chestnuts also grow well in Australia, particularly in north-eastern Victoria. While they are terrific in stews and pasta sauces and even soups, roasting them over hot coals is simple and easy. And they smell – and taste – divine.

As soon as they were pronounced ready to eat, Judyta arrived with a tray of Żubrówka Bison Grass Vodka (Polish pronunciation: [ʐuˈbrufka] in shot glasses. I’m not madly enamoured of vodka, but this particular clean, clear spirit, flavoured with bison grass, is something else entirely: smooth, heart-warming and far too easy to drink. The bison grass in the bottle comes from the Białowieża Forest (I’ll leave you to guess how that is pronounced!), which is one of the last parts of the primeval forest that once stretched across the Central European Plain. The forest is still home to 800 European bison, Europe’s heftiest land animal. They, too, like the bison grass, but heaven knows what they would make of the vodka.

Chestnuts gleefully devoured and vodka skulled, we headed inside to sample the rest of the meal. Judyta’s sister Monica had arrived to support Judyta as sous chef and together they presented us with an outstanding dinner.

Round II: a homemade tomato soup with thick, flat noodles, like fettucine, dill and sour cream. A perfect soup for a winter’s night, and we cleaned our plates with the fresh rye sourdough bread our host had prepared earlier.

Round III: Coorong mullet served with capsicum and herb butter and fried slices of baguette – cooked, like giant croutons, in the oil that had just fried the fish. Sadly, I must confess to being utterly hopeless with bony fish. I have never learned how to eat it elegantly, and fight my way through every mouthful to the detriment of the flavour. Luckily, my far more adept neighbour assured me the fish was fabulous.

Round IV: Roast duck with apples. I had been waiting greedily for this course, having watched Judyta preparing it as we sipped our G&Ts, and savoured the tempting aroma of roast duck wafting past my nostrils .  Two of the largest ducks I have ever seen were seasoned with marjoram and salt, then stuffed to the brim with apples that would later be served on the side. With the duck came an absolute cornucopia of vegetables. A zesty cabbage, barley and sauerkraut salad, (think coleslaw with a zing). roast beetroot with caraway seeds (wilted leaves included to great effect), roast potatoes (inevitably) and a huge dish of Brussel sprouts and blanched green beans. Judyta had gone to great lengths to remove the outer leaves of the sprouts, which she tossed in oil and salt and cooked in the oven, Voila! Brussel sprout crisps. The Brussel sprouts themselves were halved and roasted, then, at the last minute, tossed into the bean mix of green beans and breadcrumbs fried in melted butter. Seasoned with a dash of olive oil and garnished with the crisps and lemon zest, it was a dish to die for.

Discussing this later, Judyta gave me several interesting tips. ‘Keep the stalks from the beetroot and pickle them.’ Likewise, take the dill stalks (remember the soup?) and toss them into pickling liquid. Do not deep fry the vegetables, she told me firmly. This has become a trend because it is quick and easy, but it is definitely not the best way to eat them.  

After all these delectable dishes, dessert was almost one step too far, but how to resist? ‘Poemat’ means poem in Polish, the perfect name for this delectable dessert. Judyta had first created a cheese mixture with eggs and sour cream, vanilla and milk, cooked slowly over a low heat, then drained through cheese cloth and cooled in the fridge. The mixture was then combined with whisked butter, and divided into three. One third was mixed with cocoa, the other two thirds, with  toasted ground  walnuts and soaked raisins, pressed together and refrigerated overnight.

Before serving, the ‘poemat’ was brought back to room temperature and served with strawberries and raspberries soaked in cognac, then sprinkled with ground walnuts. With a velvety smooth texture, poemat is like a firm mousse. Add a dash of crunch and a splash of sweetness, and you have a truly divine dessert.

Judyta has decided, after years of experimenting, that she loves cooking with a passionate joy, but prefers to be her own boss, creative and independent.  So she has chosen a name, set up a business plan and has just launched her website www.shechef.com.au. Now she can establish herself as a freelance chef, happy to create private dinner parties in your own home.  A special birthday or anniversary? An intimate dinner for two? You name it, as long as there are no more than twelve at the table, Judyta will create a bespoke dinner to amaze your friends and your taste buds. Go forth and conquer!

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Roaming in the Riverland

It is dawn. The sun sits like a navel orange on the horizon, reflected in the dimpled river. The air is crisply cold, but that doesn’t seem to bother the pelicans swooping low and dipping for breakfast. Two wrens dash through the reeds and a pair of black swans fly across the sun like shadows. It’s 6 a.m. on the Murray. While the avian world is already bustling about with raucous caws, carolling and tweeting, the only sound of human activity is our own soft whispers as we sip our tea and watch two pelicans flirting on the opposite bank, while fish leap, flashes of silver in the sunlight.

We are camping at Plush’s Bend, just outside Renmark. In search of some obscure family history, we have found an unexpectedly leafy corner of South Australia. Renmark is the last town on the Sturt Highway before it crosses the border into Victoria. Brothers John and Robert Robertson settled in the area in the 1860s. In 1887, two Canadian  brothers, George & William Chaffey, arrived, with plans to establish an irrigation system that would allow crops to thrive in an otherwise dry and dusty landscape. Today, the area is a cornucopia of fruits, nuts and flowers: citrus and stone fruits, pistachios and almonds, roses and grapevines. The grassy riverbanks in town roll down to the water’s edge like green carpet.

Renmark was proclaimed a town in 1905 and connected to Adelaide by rail in 1937. Now the train line is defunct, but the road goes all the way to Sydney, crossing the River Murray on the Paringa Suspension Bridge, built in the 1920s for the trains. One of only four suspension bridges over the Murray, it opens twice daily to let the paddle steamers through.

The day brightens. A houseboat, squat and broad, meanders upriver, the hum of its engine disturbing the peace, and competing with the thrum of a tiny biplane overhead. Crows caw on the wing. Ducks squabble. Pelicans glide.

After a slow, lazy start, we pack up camp and drive back into town. As in so many country towns, the roads are broad, and parking the campervan is a piece of cake. We cross the suspension bridge to neighbouring Paringa. Two huge silos have recently been decorated: a dozen painted pelicans photo bomb four river scenes of paddle steamers, fishermen, houseboats and an odd-looking man I will later spot on the cover of a library book in Berri. ‘A Man called Possum,’ was a local recluse who lived off the land along the Murray for fifty years.

Around the corner sits the huge black stump and root system of a 600 year old red river gum. As I read the story on a signboard, I am interrupted by the eccentric storyteller himself.  Frank ‘the Chookman’ Turton and his wife spotted the fallen gum tree 35 miles upriver almost forty years ago. Cutting off the trunk, they attached a dozen 44 gallon petrol drums and a tiny two stroke engine to the stump. Frank then perched on the stump in a deckchair, and guided it downstream to the Paringa bridge, where a crane heaved it from the water. The stump – eight metres across – now sits outside his home on Murtho Road. His other home, the heavily decorated houseboat, “Willitsinkorwon’tit,” has been serenading Renmark pedestrians from the riverbank opposite the Renmark Hotel most of the day.

Established in 1897, the Renmark Hotel was the first Community Hotel in the British Empire, and its first licensee was actually a woman, Jane Meissner, almost 70 years before women could enter a public bar in Australia. In 1937 it was redesigned in the Art Deco style we see today, and an extra floor was added. Two years ago, the hotel opened a small museum on the first floor, to exhibit memorabilia from the hotel’s past.

Renmark is home to Angoves Winery and the 23rd Street Distillery. It also has an excellent book shop, a pub, a number of small cafes and a great Thai restaurant that is – of course – closed on Tuesday nights. There is also a plethora of small churches. Anglican, Uniting, Catholic, Methodist, Greek Orthodox and the tiny church on the hill at Renmark West. One church – possibly Congregational – has been converted into a family home. Another was recently demolished. Once upon a time, when the settlements along the river were barely there, a small steam launch was converted into a floating chapel, and would visit the embryo towns to conduct christenings, weddings and confirmations.

The people here are friendly & helpful. I share travel tales and bird stories with the local doctor and talked antique books and local history with the bookshop owner. The One & Only exchanges tips on planting vines with a local carpenter, while I admire his beautiful, rustic furniture, and wish there were space in the campervan to take some home. The receptionist at the Murray Pioneer office is happy to show me copies of the local paper from 1917, delicate and fragile as they are. The waitresses at the pub may be too busy to chat, but always smile as they approach our table. The young woman at the Information Bureau is the font of all wisdom and delighted to share all she knows about the area, its attractions and its history. And while I am busy exploring the town’s history, the One & Only  wanders along the five-kilometre riverfront walk.

And then onwards, to a soft pink sunset just beyond Berri, in the Murray River National Park. A kangaroo and its joey check us out from the edge of the campsite. The water on Katarapko creek is as smooth as glass, reflecting the gnarly gums like a mirror. We have gathered up bark, fallen branches and dry leaves and built a bonfire in a fire pit provided by the rangers. We will light it as soon as we have poured a couple of glasses of Riverland Tempranillo. Then we can keep our toes warm as the sun finally drops below the horizon, and the temperature with it.

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