The Joy of Airports

‘Cause I’m leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again…’ – John Denver

As the world starts to open up again, it seems a lifetime ago that I spent so much time in airports, flitting around the world to seek out family and friends, to delve into new cities, to tumble into new adventures. As security has ramped up over the years – bomb threats, the fear of terrorism – and the volume of travellers has risen exponentially, it’s hard to remember a time when queues through airports didn’t extend for days. Nonetheless, there is something magical that stirs my heart at the thought of a boarding pass and a trek down the ramp to the plane door, to find my seat – ‘window or aisle?’ being the biggest decision I’ll make this week – and settle in for a long-haul flight. And I remember those days with nostalgia, as we wait to emerge from this covid chrysalis and drift out into the world again….

When we first moved to the Philippines, I found Ninoy Aquino Airport in Manila to have the most exhaustive and exhausting security measures I had ever come across. My last trip back was in October 2018, but I still remember clearly…

Every person you pass needs to see your passport, or your ticket or both.  I have taken my shoes off so many times I wish I had worn flip flops. Luckily, the sheer dreariness of it has driven away the tears that have been bubbling to the surface since two final G&Ts by the pool around four.

I have loved being back in Asia. Even some of those small, daily aggravations – like airports – are amusing now, and positively nostalgic. This time, I can giggle at the brash, blaring, tinny muzak in every shopping mall, the restaurant meals served in every conceivable permutation except entrée, main course, dessert that used to drive me to despair, the ever-present, slightly waxy smell of shopping malls that adheres to your nostrils like glue. Even the slow pace at which everyone walks, four abreast, that used to aggravate when I was in a hurry and could not pass, is a comfortable, fuzzy memory.  There is such deliberation over every retail transaction that it can take hours to buy a packet of socks, as the staff produce invoices and receipts in triplicate, mostly handwritten. Time stops to coo over every round-eyed baby or cute toddler. A thousand shop assistants call out to welcome you ‘sir-ma’am,’ trying to capture your attention, so that a quick trip for coffee results in a four poster bed, two dresses and a set of suitcases. Wherever you go, there is always someone to smile cheerily and offer to help you or sell you something, whether you want it or not.

As we drive out onto EDSA, the main north-south artery of the city, where horns blare, cars, buses trucks and jeepneys twist and weave like some elaborate Scottish reel, I smile at the chaos of this vibrant, unique city. The traffic goes nowhere very, very slowly. ‘It’s very traffic’ means it’s barely moving. ‘It’s really traffic’ means it has come to a standstill and may not move again for days.

I remember how every chore I set out to do had unexpected results. The suspicion that a trip to the bank would take forever and become ridiculously convoluted, meant that it might, in reality, get done in a moment. If it should be simple, it threatens to tie knots in its own tail and leave me in a damp, distressed heap having totally failed to achieve anything.

Yet whatever the chaos and confusion, it’s always served with a smile in the Philippines. Time passes gently, and provided such ‘que sera sera’ doesn’t drive you out of your mind in minutes, it’s the best way to approach this mad, crazy city. I clamber out of the taxi and join the first queue to get through the front door and feel homesick already…

Posted in Philippines, Travel | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on The Joy of Airports

Sunday Scribblings

A week or two of wild winds, white skies, where’s-my-dressing-gown? Autumn has arrived. And then suddenly the wind drops, and the sky is clear, azure blue again. The trees stop churning and the pool glitters serenely, tempting me to cast off clothes and submerge over-heated limbs in its chilly embrace.

On these warm days, the beach – so often quiet and empty these past two years – is swarming with kids and cars and boats and beach towels. The sea is placid and clear, a giant lake with barely a ripple, and the line between sea and sky is hard to discern.

While I love the peace of winter sands stretching unmarked along the coast, on sunny, summer days by the sea the liveliness and joyous sense of freedom is tangible. Laughter floats on the air, rising above the roar of motorboats and jet skis tearing across the horizon. Dogs gallop into the water, barking bravely at the waves. Walking along the rim of the sea, we dodge holes and castles dug by small, eager hands.

And it’s not just the beach that’s busy. It’s lovely to see all the cafes and shops humming with activity too.

Caffe on Bungala – our tiny, overgrown creek, only eight miles long – is just across the road from the Normy pub. It changed hands recently, to great effect. Francis and Ian moved from NSW in 2020 and opened here just after Easter last year. I have already found my favourite spot in the pretty, shaded courtyard garden out the back. The back gate had been locked since we arrived, as Covid restrictions changed the dynamics of dining out so dramatically.  Now it is open, with a welcoming sandwich board sitting beside it. This is not a smart city coffee shop, but a low key, friendly, rural café, the courtyard a homely and friendly place to hang out, to see friends, to read a book, to write a blog, and watch the birds skimming in and out of the giant gums next door. Dogs are welcome – kids too!  There’s an olive tree, a couple of overgrown geraniums, an eclectic selection of tables, barrels and chairs, and there is a smiling LGBT Pride flag hanging cheerfully from the pergola. It can sometimes be a bit of a wait for food, if it’s busy – but you are probably here on holiday, so relax and soak up the atmosphere. It’s lovely inside as well, with another catholic collection of retro chairs and tables, old sofas, a bench or two. Or you may prefer watching the world go buy from the pavement seating out the front, on the brightly coloured chairs beneath the freshly painted orange veranda.

I walked in late this morning to see the cook sorting out a box of huge, beautiful mushrooms, as big as bread-and-butter plates, and my decision was made. ‘May I have those, but with smashed avocado please?’ The resulting plate of scrumptiousness might keep me here all afternoon. (Note: they also know NOT to heat a croissant in the microwave, which is fabulous. I had one in town last week that had been squashed flat as a pancake in a sandwich press.)

I have somehow finished my enormous breakfast and found room for a coffee. Great coffee. And HOT! Francis stops by for a chat in the quiet zone between the last of the brunch crowd and the next influx of lunch guests. Before they rush in, I am off, to wander the long way home as the day heats up and the pool beckons, a gentle breeze whispering through the trees, the birds chattering emphatically as I pass beneath them…

Posted in Australia, Food & Wine | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Sunday Scribblings

Not Another Brick in the Wall

While I have always loved a good chat, I used to dread the thought of speaking in public. My voice and my hands would shake. My mouth would go dry. The page before me would go blank. I would wither with fear. Then, in my forties, I started going to Toastmasters and finally learned to overcome my terror. I still prefer to sit behind a pen than up in front of a microphone, but if I have to, I can.

And yet, its only in recent times, that women have been allowed to take centre stage.

The use of language to constrict women’s speech (ironic, isn’t it?) has been a bone of contention for more years than I can count. Back in the 19th century, our very own South Australian activist, Catherine Helen Spence, complained that society has long ‘put a bridle on the tongues of women, and of the innumerable proverbs relating to the sex, the most cynical are those relating to her use of language.’ In case you haven’t met her, Catherine is my heroine, remembered on Australia’s $5 note for her life as novelist and journalist, public speaker, preacher, teacher, politician and philanthropist. She was on government boards, and she took care of neglected children, helping to found the first fostering service. She led the way for women’s rights. Born in 1825, she broke down barriers in a world where men held dominion. She made her voice heard. She refused to be silenced.

Women in power have always had to cop a lot of flak. So have men, to be fair. But there is a special vocabulary reserved for women, whether in positions of power or working at home. We’ve all read tales of feminists who want to outlaw the word ‘bossy’ from our vocabulary. And it’s a fair call, in my opinion, a valid complaint about the misuse of language. As a word generally reserved for girls – mostly older sisters, if the truth be known – it puts us in our place. Back in the corner. A dusty, dark spot I’ve never liked vising. Unless there’s a bookshelf to hand.

Call a little girl “bossy” and she starts to avoid leadership roles because she’s afraid of being seen as unlikeable. People are already wary of assertive women at work, but call a woman “aggressive” out loud and they will probably like her less. Call a female politician a ballbuster enough times, and people may actually be less likely to vote for her. Words tell us something about the way our culture perceives women in power, and whether we believe they’re supposed to be there. ~ Jessica Bennett, 2014.

Let’s face it, adults can be tyrannical about controlling children. Use any critical word on a child often enough and they will come to believe it, and all its connotations, and spend their life trying to avoid it. All children. Girls and boys. But for women, the age old maxim ‘children should be seen and not heard’ went on being applied throughout their lives.

A Scold’s Bridle from the Science Museum

Have you ever seen one of these? Pretty isn’t it? Wikipedia describes it in all it’s glory: A scold’s bridle, sometimes called a witch’s bridle, a gossip’s bridle, a brank’s bridle, or simply branks, was an instrument of punishment, as a form of public humiliation. It was an iron muzzle in an iron framework that enclosed the head.

This joyful contraption was used for women (very occasionally for men) who were disturbing the peace; whose speech or behaviour was considered disrespectful or wayward. Some images depict a metal protrusion that was inserted in the mouth and flattened the tongue. It was not only humiliating, but extremely painful, not to mention psychologically traumatic. One story tells of a woman forced to wear it for eight hours for preaching in the marketplace. I guess public speaking was not considered ladylike! Invented in Britain in the sixteenth century, the bridle was still being used in the mid-19th century, and the crime of being a ‘scold’ was not dropped from the books in Britain until 1967. Honestly, the lengths to which they would go, to keep us quiet.

Compare this gruesome contraption with the word ‘bossy,’ and it is reassuring to think we’ve moved on since those days of physically muzzling women to shut them up. And many of the appalling synonyms for bossy have long gone out of fashion, too, thank heavens. I don’t mean to revive them by mentioning them here, but seriously, listen to some of these. An outspoken woman was a scold, a nag, a fishwife, a gorgon, a battle-axe, a dragon lady, a fury, a harpy, a harridan, a shrew, a termagant, a virago, a vixen. Words never used on a man, you may note, who might more amusingly be decried as nitpicker, pettifogger or quibbler.

As we see a surge in the revival of feminism through the ‘Me Too’ movement, it is good to reflect that in some areas, we have come a long way since the days when the scolds bridle was a popular tool for suppressing women’s voices. In Australia, at least. And we are lucky. We can vote, own property, get an education and health care, and speak out in public. But that’s not yet true for every woman in the world. So let’s not stop trying to pull down that wall, brick by brick.

Posted in Australia, History | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Not Another Brick in the Wall

Summer in Sorrento

This week, the One & Only flew to Europe. I am calling it his ‘Gap Year,’ as I am not remotely convinced by his return ticket at the end of March.  I have every expectation he’ll stay away till Christmas – partly to manage expectations (mine), partly because he has been grounded for over two years and has had ants in his pants for months. So, he will be in Florence for my birthday and our anniversary. I’m jealous, of course, but not annoyed. I could have gone, too, but I had other things to do.

It has, however, dredged up memories of our early days of backpacking, which was also the last time the One & Only saw the Medici’s glorious city. I look through old diaries and discover, not Firenze, but a trip to Naples in the summer of 1991. We were on our way to meet our newly married friends. As we hadn’t been able to make it to the wedding, I teased them about crashing their honeymoon instead. They accepted the challenge with surprising enthusiasm. So, we set off across Italy, a journey of some 750 kilometres from Verona to Salerno, on a sluggish train that took a lazy ten hours to get us there. From Salerno, we piled onto a bus that would scoot us around the Amalfi Coast to Sorrento.

We are on a local bus, driving along a precariously steep and winding coastline with jagged cliffs dropping into deep blue sea hundreds of feet below. Houses perch perilously close to the edge, reached by long flights of stone steps. Bougainvillaea and large purple wallflowers grow up every retaining wall and rock face. Grape vines stretch across spindly frames that look as if someone tossed a packet of matches over the edge. The road twists and turns like a serpent, and the bus seems only inches away from disaster. Tiny beaches on narrow spits of sand are covered with neat rows of navy blue umbrellas, and rocky outcrops on which sun bathers balance nervously. Palm trees. A flotilla of small sailing boats. Pedestrians of all shapes and sizes, who meander along the promenades in minimalist garb. Ruined forts lean out over the sea on every rocky point.

I remember stopping for a break at Amalfi, that tiny pink and white town wedged into a ravine between vertical cliffs. As we climbed queasily from the bus, we saw a wedding party stepping cautiously down the steep stone staircase from the 11th century Duomo (a staircase clad in red carpet for the occasion). The bride was a veritable bouquet of frills and flounces and heavy makeup. A video camera followed her along the boulevard recording every step of her new life as a wife, draped ostentatiously over her husband’s arm. We found a café on the piazza where we sat and observed the procession of wedding guests promenading along the quay.

As I write, another bus offloads its passengers, who all converge on the café where I am sitting, and settle down for the afternoon. One family pushes several tables together, lays out a pretty pink cloth, and brings forth a huge dish of lasagne and two bottles of homemade wine, sandwiches, fruit, and no qualms whatsoever about upsetting the staff. Who would dare argue with a four foot, fiercely voluble Italian Nonna?

I am mad about Italy. The people are so warm and friendly and love to help. There was that kind lady in Milano, a mother hen who hurried us like chicks through the traffic to catch the tram. Then, there was a long queue of Veronese waiting at a bus stop, debating endlessly about which bus we must catch to il campeggio. I think we would have got there quicker if we’d walked. Back on the bus, we careered around the coast, our driver obviously determined to break all speed records, tempting fate at every sharp turn not to tip us into the sea. And somehow, we arrive in Sorrento in one piece, although our stomachs might beg to differ. I felt decidedly sea-sick, and the One and Only was a ghastly shade of pea green. Life quickly improved, however, and we were soon comfortably ensconced above the sea in our little two man tent..

It’s a lovely cool evening in Sorento among the orchard of olive trees at our campsite. Our tent site overlooks the Bay of Naples and when the heat haze lifted this evening, we could actually see Mount Vesuvius across the water. We will visit Pompei when we have recovered from the heat and those wriggly roads. Tonight, we will stay close to home, as the campsite has a bar and restaurant with a pizza oven, where the tables are set beneath a canopy of wisteria.

We did make it to Pompeii, although in my diary, the heat got almost as much airplay as the historic ruins. Nonetheless, it proved a fascinating place to visit. I had never realised Pompeii was a whole town and not just a few decaying ruins. I remember being particularly keen on the cobbled streets, with stepping-stones for the ladies to get across without dirtying their feet, and deep grooves in the stone where 150 years-worth of carts had passed by. Sadly, our northern European complexions wilted fast in the midday sun, and none of us had the wherewithal to climb up Mount Vesuvius. One day I will go back in winter…

Posted in Italy, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on Summer in Sorrento

A Whistle-Stop Trip

You can’t roller skate in as buffalo herd
But you can be happy if you’ve a mind to…’

What have we been up to lately? A whirlwind trip east to Melbourne: four days in the car, visiting friends en route; a bakery or three; endless coffees and wine on tap. No time to pause. Driving, eating, talking non-stop. And, before we could gather our thoughts, we are home again, feeling as if we just stepped off a long haul flight, with gritty eyes and greasy hair.

Eric the Echidna… or maybe Erica… hard to say!

Despite the pace, it was a terrific trip: the joy of the open road, glimpsing kangaroos and emus, llamas by the bucket load, and a small, determined echidna, rooting for ants on the side of the highway; catching up with friends and talking a mile a minute to make sure we had covered the weeks, months, years since last we spoke; a picnic in the park with our boys, somewhere on a back street in Brunswick, nibbling on prawn crackers, dumplings and steak in black bean sauce while critiquing the graffiti – it is EVERYWHERE in Melbourne!


Frantic, out of focus, sleeping poorly (too much wine) but oh! so much fun. Putting the world to rights with friends, hearing details of new jobs, new adventures, reminiscing about past lives. It was an exciting, enervating, eclectic mix of food, farming and famille.

In a country town somewhere south of Ballarat, we indulged in two delicious dinners, made from scratch from the veggie patch outside the kitchen window. It may have been a slap in the eye for the One & Only, who has struggled to grow anything much in the sand dune we live on, but nonetheless, there is something inspiring about eating a meal created from home grown produce: beans, zucchini, figs, fresh pasta, even homemade ice cream.

Likewise on a cattle farm near the Coonawarra, a barbecue of perfectly cooked beef steaks and salads concocted from myriad ingredients freshly plucked fifty metres from the back door. And playing with some mad kelpies who jumped into trees and begged us to throw them grapefruit to catch.

We may not need to eat for a week, but while we are detoxing, we’re determined to revive our sandy garden beds, to wrestle with the tomatoes, the fruit trees and the herb garden, to charge in with pony poo and mulch and plenty of patience. And maybe, by next summer, I too will be making primavera pasta from our own produce. I may even invest in a pasta maker – but possibly not the roller skates! Any advice welcome…

Posted in Australia, Food & Wine, Travel | Tagged , , | Comments Off on A Whistle-Stop Trip

A Café by the Sea

The sun is up and the early morning swimmers are trudging up the beach, damp and dripping, to gather for coffee on the veranda at the Normanville Kiosk & Café. In dribs and drabs, the dawn patrol of dog walkers follow them in. Later, as the sea begins to glitter in the morning sun, a stream of beach walkers from Carrickalinga arrive. By ten o’clock, the café is awash with swimmers, walkers, families, and exhausted puppies dozing under the tables.

The café has been here for years and is something of a local icon. Casual and comfortable, it provides a view to the south along the worn cliffs beyond Lady Bay, and north over the sand dunes to Carrickalinga. And of course, there’s usually a fisherman or two on the jetty.

It also provides good coffee and tasty meals of sumptuous proportions.

We sat on the veranda for dinner last night as the sun set into the sea, turning the sparse clouds a glorious shade of peach. This morning I am back for morning tea, as the One & Only marches off down the beach to infinity and beyond.

Last night, on the lawn in front of the café, there was a guy with a guitar and small groups of picnickers. Others climbed the wooden staircase to the bar above the surf lifesaving club. Everything is a bit tatty, a bit weather worn, but that is half its appeal. Normanville has never been a destination for the flashy city slickers. It’s a family beach where children can paddle in the gentle surf and build sandcastles, where dogs frolic gleefully, and horses appear occasionally to gallop along the sand or take a sedate dip in the sea.

I adore this haven by the sea. It warms the cockles of my heart to sit out on the veranda with a coffee, a sea breeze and the sound of the waves and giggling kids washing up from the beach. Last summer, a new ‘container’ kiosk was set up on the side of the building last summer and it is great for a quick fix of takeaway fish‘n’chips, an icecream or a coffee. Picnic tables are set up in the sandpit outside and there is something incredibly soothing about eating with sand between your toes.

The café is open seven days a week, 8am – 4pm, except on weekends when it stays open until 8pm – at least in the summer. I have generally found the food tasty, the coffee hot and the service friendly. There are vegetarian and gluten free options, but otherwise I can highly recommend the fish’n’chips and the red velvet cake, the likes of which I haven’t tasted since we lived in the Philippines.

It can be busy, and service may be slow – but if you’re on holidays, does that really matter? Certainly, far from the hustle and bustle of city living, I am in no hurry.

Sadly, the café has recently been dealt a potential death blow, as the council seek approval to rebuild the Surf Life Saving Club, against the oft-expressed wishes of many locals, including the current café owners.
According to the 2020 council report, the Council committed to the future allocation of $1,600,000 for the rebuilding of the Normanville Café/Kiosk and target grant funding opportunities for the spend. [and that]… the rebuilding of the Surf Club and Kiosk be a combined building and subject to a design brief to be agreed upon by the full Council.

Sounds fabulous, doesn’t it? A better designed, brand new building with all the mod cons? But word on the street is less optimistic. The kiosk owners understand that the new design will be a ‘glass castle’ which will limit their space and the customers access by putting the cafe upstairs behind huge plate glass, with only one lift. We will lose the veranda and probably the easy-going joie-de-vivre of the generous space below. How will that better serve the customers, especially the elderly and the disabled, the mums-with-prams and the pets, all of whom so enjoy the open air veranda every day? Is the Yankalilla Council truly going to swim against the tide and insist upon investing millions in a project over which so many locals are baulking? And how can they allocate such enormous amounts of taxpayer dollars to redevelopment, and yet struggle to ensure the bins are emptied daily during the summer season, when we are flooded with holiday makers? The debate has been raging for months, and yet conclusions are thin on the ground. It is limbo land out there.

For my money, I love the down-to-earth, mixed demographic we find here. And with the best intentions in the world to develop tourism and capture more of the leisure market, the council doesn’t seem to appreciate how many of us feel about the current lack of fuss on the Normanville foreshore. Its old-fashioned simplicity is a joy to behold, with its bucket-and-spade beach and user-friendly, open-air café. Sure, the surf lifesaving club could do with an overhaul, but perhaps a lick of paint and some new equipment would do the job? The café owners certainly believe so and are more than happy to renovate the café at their own cost.

So, do we really need the designer glass house the council has promised us? And who would actually benefit from such a lavish make-over, other than city visitors? Not the local community, it seems, who didn’t move here to recreate a Somerton or Semaphore on the Fleurieu. We love the ambiance of our more rural and cosy setting, the warm welcome and the family-friendly space. Sadly, the new café and lifesaving club looks set to pack us behind glass so we can sit in a microwave oven and look out at the world, instead of being in it. Here’s hoping the Council are listening, and will see fit to adapt their plans a little…

Posted in Australia, Food & Wine, Local Culture | Tagged , , | Comments Off on A Café by the Sea

Ekhidna Wines

A sunny day. A back road in McLaren Vale. A vast fig tree giving off a juicy scent of summer. An open air space tucked in among the grapevines. The view is sublime, the staff are terrific – cheerful and welcoming- and the wine is the stuff of dreams.

According to its website, Ekhidna Wines gets its name, not from our local monotreme, but from the Greek goddess Ekhidna, half nymph, half serpent: beautiful, immortal, fearsome. Our echidna was named after this Greek Myth because it is also something of a chimera: a warm blooded mammal that lays leathery eggs like a reptile. And the sign for the winery is not a terrifying Greek goddess but a stylized echidna with curly spikes ‘like a slinky’ and a long nose.

We are given a long table under the fan on the terrace. Through the huge picture windows, we see vines stretching away to the horizon. Out on the lawn, tables are set up under the gum trees. Armed with either  a chilled glass of Ekhidna’s own ginger beer – which rated very highly with our connoisseurs of ginger beer –  or a dry, watermelon pink rosé with a fruity lift from the Shiraz grape from whence it comes, we eagerly explore our options for lunch.

It’s a simple menu: four entrees, four main courses and four desserts. Perfect for sharing on a summer afternoon. This is a belated birthday celebration, and we are feeling happy and relaxed, if a trifle overheated.

Our entrées arrive, prettily presented, on wooden boards. We have chosen to share the whole selection, as we all enjoy the tapas approach to eating. Seeing ceviche on the menu gives me happy memories of a sumptuous ceviche in Palawan, where the Filipinos have adapted the South American recipe to mix calamansi with coconut milk, which takes the edge off the sour citrus and gives it a creamy softness. The Peruvian method uses straight citrus juice, so it needs to be added sparingly, or the tartness can be too sharp and – particularly with squid – risk ‘cooking’ it too much and turning it to rubber. However, it worked well with the sea trout, with snippets of fresh chilli providing an added zing.

The duck liver pâté is presented on homemade, thick, seeded biscuits. Decadently rich and creamy, I would have preferred plainer biscuits to dip lightly into a deep bowl of this luscious, ruinously calorific pâté, all the better to savour it. Nonetheless, it is a generous mouthful of flavour.

The calamari come three ways. As our daughter’s One & Only catches it fresh from the sea and cooks it superbly, there is always going to be a sense of competition when we order it elsewhere. However, the competition today is stiff. The best of the three types is charcoal grilled to perfection, with just the right amount of mild chewiness. The crumbed salt and pepper squid is not quite as good as Ben’s, but it gets a thumbs up, too. But those three thin strips of squid, pickled or cured in lemon juice, miss the mark, being overly tart and verging on rubbery.

Unfortunately, the beetroot tartare – a mound of grated beetroot too lightly spiced to taste of anything much and sprinkled in rice bubbles  – is an uninspiring nod to vegetarian guests.

 The main courses are generous and filling, but received mixed reviews: a chicken dish, steak, fish and – again a nod to the non-meat-eaters – a huge head of cauliflower in the middle of the plate, spiced with garlic chive miso mayo & sesame cabbage salad. We leave the cauliflower for the vegans, but order everything else.

My fish of the day – sea trout – is cooked beautifully, with a crisply crunchy skin and served on a bright green sea of fresh peas and pea puree. Roast pumpkin and a sprinkling of crunchy samphire complete this colourful picture, and it is the perfect dish for a warm, summer day.

The birthday girl loves her Angas eye fillet, served with roast spuds, cherry tomatoes and plenty of local olives, but, sadly, the chicken breast is dry and overcooked, its heap of corn salsa adding texture but very little flavour.

The desserts are a delight, however, and received rave reviews. We decide to share the two dessert platters: one consisting of all things chocolate and another of lemon flavoured morsels. A chocolate brownie wins a resounding 10 out of 10 from the tasters, and from the sidelines looked deliciously rich and moist. The chocolate ice cream also gets a round of applause. The white chocolate cup, a macadamia and white chocolate crunch and the chocolate rum ball disappear before I can evaluate them or gather an opinion, but I’m guessing the platter, all but licked clean, tells me all I need to know!

The lemon ensemble wins enthusiastic accolades too: a scoop of sweet and sour lemon sorbet cleans the palate nicely; the lemon curd is finger-lickin’ good, and goes well with a gobstopper sized lemon ball; the lemon sponge is moist and zesty. A lemon slice comes in a fierce shade of yellow, and the One & Only polishes it off.

But the stars of the show are -without the shadow of a doubt – the wines. And their creator, Matt Rechner. Matt is proud of his collection and obviously enjoys sharing his babies with his guests. I follow up the rosé with a crisp, fresh sparkling chardonnay – another good choice as we soak in the sun.

As we tuck in to our main courses, Matt begins a tasting for our Calamari King, starting with a full bodied, flavourful sparkling shiraz, concocted from five different vintages of his renowned Linchpin Shiraz.

This personable wine maker has had an eclectic career that has bought him full circle from Tatachilla Winery to California, the Barossa and back to McLaren Vale. His Ekhidna wine list is impressive, ranging from a small selection of lighter, whiter wines to a broad variety of bold reds, which includes one terrific sulphur free Shiraz.

The GSM – a favourite blend of mine – is 60% Grenache and 20% each of Shiraz, and Mourvèdre, beautifully combined to highlight its fruity, mouth-filling flavour, with glorious aromas of stone fruit and nutmeg.

Matt passes time and again to pour, evidently pleased with our enthusiasm. Later, he comes by with a map and a marker pen to provide a quick geology lesson on why McLaren Vale is the best wine growing region in the world.

Given the long tables and the sense of long, lazy lunches by the Mediterranean, appetites may be better served with a set menu of antipasti, pasta and steak. But this alluring wine is a siren call few could resist.

Posted in Australia, Food & Wine | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ekhidna Wines

Shakespeare in the Rain

Carrick Hill, Adelaide, South Australia

On a prime position, in the southern foothills above the Adelaide plains, sits a beautiful house that looks more like it belongs in the lush green English countryside than in the hot, dry southern hemisphere. Built in the late 1930s, it belonged to a well-to-do Adelaide couple, Sir Edward and Lady Ursula Hayward. The couple travelled to Europe for their honeymoon, and returned with a wooden staircase, fireplaces, doors and oak panelling from a stately home in Staffordshire that was being dismantled and demolished. Local architect, James Irwin, then designed a house to match its Jacobean plumage, using a creamy stone from Basket Range that was reminiscent of that honey gold Cotswold stone. When the Haywards died, not having had any children, they left their home to the people of South Australia. Almost seventy five years later, the property, in the care of the Carrick Hill Trust, is one of the few period homes in Australia to survive with its original contents almost intact and its grounds unabridged.

Edward (Bill) Hayward’s father owned the Adelaide department store, John Martin’s. At his father’s request, Bill joined John Martin’s in 1931 and soon became a director. In 1933, during the Depression, he initiated the store’s annual Christmas pageant, to lift the spirits of Adelaide’s children. The floats and costumes, and the ‘magic cave’ in the store, where the children could visit Father Christmas, were designed and produced by John Martin’s, and the ‘Johnnie’s’ Christmas Pageant continued to be an annual event in the city until the government took it over in the 1990s when John Martin’s was sold.

Ursula Barr Smith, Bill’s wife, was the daughter of a wealthy South Australian pastoralist. She and Bill were married in 1935 and her father presented the couple with one hundred acres of land at Springfield as a wedding present.

While it was made to look as if it has stood on the hillside for centuries, Carrick Hill also boasted the latest 1930’s technology: heated towel rails, ensuite bathrooms and electric bells to summon servants. Ursula designed a gorgeous garden around the house, in the style of an English manor house, and the views from the terrace across the city to the sea are spectacular.

As the Haywards prepared to move into their new home, war broke out in Europe, and Bill was soon on his way to serve with the Australian Imperial Force in the Middle East, where he became one of the famous ‘Rats of Tobruk.’ Later, he transferred back to Australia and his duties as a Lieutenant Colonel took him all over the Pacific.

After the war, the Haywards began collecting art and antiques that reflected their personal tastes and broad interests: from Georgian and Victorian furniture inherited from Ursula’s family to the Jacobean oak furniture they bought in England to match the fittings at Carrick Hill; from souvenirs of their travels to the paintings of close friends such as William Dobell and Russell Drysdale, Hans Heysen and his daughter Nora, Ivor Hele and Jeffery Smart.

I went up to Carrick Hill recently for a tour of the art works there and instantly fell in love with this bright and elegant house that combines history and modern luxury so beautifully. Entry to the house is $17 for adults and includes a guided tour of the house at 11.30am or 2.30pm Wednesday to Sunday. The gardens are open to the public from 10 am to 4.30 pm on those days, and there is a Literature Trail for children, where scenes from 20th century children’s books have been created for the kids to discover.

Through the 1950s and 60s, Carrick Hill was a focal point for the Adelaide Establishment, artists, musicians and actors, the house constantly filled with sophisticated guests, music and dancing, fine wine and food. Visitors included such famous names as Sir Robert Helpmann, Katharine Hepburn, Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, and Barry Humphries.

This week, continuing past traditions, the guests at Carrick Hill were a troop of multi-talented Shakespearean actors from England, Australia and Africa, performing Twelfth Night in the natural amphitheatre behind the house. At twilight, the audience set up their picnics and deck-chairs on the lawn and crossed their fingers that the wet weather would pass quickly and quietly. It didn’t. It continued to drizzle until the actors sang their last song and danced up the steps to dry off in the house. But no one seemed to mind. The audience was responsive and enthralled throughout, and the actors’ spirits were unquenched despite the damp, monotonous drizzle, somehow maintaining a high level of energy and joie de vivre from start to finish.

Cast of Twelfth Night

Shakespeare South Australia have had a sell-out run at both the Botanic Gardens and Carrick Hill this summer.   The show features original music – a delightful blend of modern and mediaeval –  by Michaela Burger on the dulcimer, who also plays the Fool, Feste, with exuberant brilliance, in colourful pantaloons and a quilted jacket I long to own.

Artistic Director, Alys Daroy, also plays Olivia, the reluctant focus of Orsino’s besotted courtship, who then falls violently in love with Cesario. Alys is a recent ‘boomerang,’ a term to describe one born in Australia, who has travelled overseas and returned home years later. She found herself back in Adelaide in 2019 for a short visit and ended up staying. Last year, she founded Shakespeare South Australia which opened at the Botanic Gardens in October and has just completed ‘an encore’ at Carrick Hill, most fittingly on the Christian twelfth night. Originally a Catholic holiday, the twelfth night after Christmas was an excuse for pantomime and revelry, when servants often dressed up as their masters, men as women, and women as men, a ‘traditional atmosphere of licensed disorder.’ Already a play about the cross-dressing Viola, other gender-swapping included the Fool and Antonio, who were both played by women. Although we only saw ‘Antonia’ briefly, Britt Plummer plays the very bolshy and articulate pirate queen with aplomb.

Other great performances came from Paul Westbrook as the irrepressible drunkard, Sir Toby Belch, and Michael Baldwin as the pompous, over-bearing Malvolio in yellow stockings and cross garters, cut down to size by the cruel but clever antics of Sir Toby and Mariah, (local actress Kate Van der Horst). And David Daradan put in a dazzling, quick change act when he doubles as Sebastian and Sir Andrew Ague Cheek battling behind a bush.

After surviving a grizzly childhood in war-torn Liberia, and grim years as a refugee, Shedrick Yarpai has found a new home in Adelaide, and does a superb job as Orsino – although in my humble opinion, we didn’t see nearly enough of him! (Apparently, his life story has been told by American playright Charles Smith, in his play Objects in the Mirror.) And of course the Anne Hathaway look-alike, Melanie Munt, did a great job of the Viola/Cesario role, sent to woo the lady Olivia on Orsino’s behalf.

It was a splendid night of fun and high jinks, despite the poor weather, and I wish the company continued success in presenting us with choice Shakespeare productions in such glorious outdoor settings.

*The photo of the SSA is borrowed with thanks from their programme.

Posted in Australia, Lifestyle, Local Culture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Shakespeare in the Rain

What Price to Pay?

What on earth did we all talk about before Covid? Every conversation these days starts with the latest update. In every newspaper or TV report there is high drama about the latest figures and the latest advice on crossing borders. It’s the new political weapon and everything is a tragedy and a disaster, as we, the general public, are being broken down by superlatives that have created monumental levels of stress and anxiety.

Personally, and I am well aware I am not the only one, it has got to the point that I no longer listen to the news, as it’s become overwhelming. Friends on Facebook will alert me to any important details just as fast, anyway. I have to admit that the Australian government has done a phenomenal job of containing the spread of Covid, compared with other countries. But at what cost? As state politicians squabble over current border controls and the media compete for the highest number of Covid cases, the crisis lines are running hot. Lifeline has had a record number of calls this year – and please note, this is not a good thing. This is not a competition anyone wants to win.

This current Covid plague – not the first in human history by any stretch of the imagination – has been relatively controlled compared with past plagues and lethal diseases. And one bonus everyone tends to overlook is that it doesn’t come within a million miles of affecting our youth as severely as previous illnesses. In Australia, there is no longer – or very rarely – a single case of polio or diphtheria, meningitis, leprosy or rabies, smallpox or malaria, and little is heard of pneumonia that kills more than one child every minute around the globe. Does anyone ever think about all those diseases that used to wipe our children away without a backward glance? And who has even heard of the bubonic plague that once razed whole cities to the ground? (My spell check didn’t even recognize it!) This new plague is like a nastier form of influenza – a virus that largely affects the old and the physically vulnerable; a Darwinian virus that culls the human race as Nature intended it to. And doesn’t it sometimes feel as if the world has forgotten there may be other diseases and disasters in the world? When did we become so sanitized to death and disease that we appear to dread even the common cold?

OK, before you all jump down my throat, I am not for a minute suggesting that the effects of Covid bear any resemblance to the common cold – although for the lucky ones, it actually isn’t much different. And I certainly don’t mean to detract from the grief of those who have had to watch loved ones die. But those of us in the first world are inclined to forget that we have eliminated a plethora of lethal diseases, or at least blocked them from general circulation, with those wondrous, miraculous vaccines that were largely discovered in the 20th century, along with a modern awareness of hygiene.

So, I come back to those who are vulnerable, not to The Virus itself perhaps, but to isolation and despair; to those who had (or who have developed in recent months) mental health issues. To those who cannot find anyone to whom to reach out because, in the outside world, everyone is in too much of a frenzy about Covid to pay any attention.

Yes, of course, many have got very sick, and many have died from Covid. But what are we doing for the living? For those who have suffered because we have chosen to shut down our world into minuscule boxes, where even the healthiest of us are struggling with anxiety and depression from lack of employment, lack of human contact, or just the simple joy of unlimited fresh air.

I know plenty who have revelled – or at least benefitted – from a less frenetic lifestyle; that this enforced slowing down of society, while it may limit our personal freedoms, has given many of us a chance to breath and recalibrate. But just as many, if not more, seem to be finding the isolation increasingly hard to bear.

All lives should be valued, and the Hippocratic oath, still used today in some shape or form, makes doctors promise to treat the ill to the best of one’s ability, to heal, or at the very least, not to harm the patient. (There is nothing to suggest keeping patients alive at all costs, which is how it is often portrayed.) And yet what of those who are falling through the cracks? As always, it is those least able to advocate for themselves who are struggling: those with mental health issues that require consistent support and empathy from the rest of us, who have become more and more marginalized from society in this ever-shrinking world. It is devastating to know that crisis lines report that they are receiving record numbers of calls, when we pause to consider that one of Lifeline’s mantras is: ‘We will continue to advocate, educate and work to keep people safe until we achieve our vision of an Australia free of suicide.’ The data (prior to Covid?) suggests that ‘nine Australians die every day by suicide. That’s more than double the road toll.’

It would be wonderful to believe in a plan to reduce the number of suicides in Australia. But in the meantime, the number of people on the brink seems to be rising through the roof, which simply highlights the number of lonely and distressed people out there who are seriously struggling to survive this new normal. So what is to be done? Where do we go from here?

Posted in Australia, Lifestyle | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on What Price to Pay?

Octopus Dreams

‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’

Thank you, Daphne du Maurier, for that exquisitely poignant, nostalgic and melancholic opening line. It’s an iconic and instantly gripping beginning that every wannabe writer must envy. I went not to Manderley last night, however, but to Thessaloniki, without having to dream or board a plane.

We had been to a fascinating art documentary at the Prospect Cinema and were in stomach-grumbling need of feeding. A hop and a skip down the road, and we were gathered into the welcoming embrace of Meze Mazi. A restaurant that is filled to the gunnels with eager eaters is a great paean to the excellence of the cuisine within. And Meze Mazi did not disappoint.

We were ushered to a corner table near the window and left to contemplate the menus, wine and food both. A rosé sounded tempting, and by pure fluke, there is a relatively new winery in McLaren Vale that has called itself Mazi Wines and produces a super grenache rosé. Meaning ‘together’ in Greek, Mazi Wines is a collaboration between two friends who make wine fashioned on the crisp, dry wines of southern France. Meze is the Greek word for lots of little dishes, like pica pica in the Philippines or tapas in Spain, which is just how so many Mediterranean cuisines should be enjoyed.

So, with a bottle of Mazi’s crisp rosé at our fingertips, we set to work on the menu, quickly choosing a selection of sharing plates. Well, if we are going to eat comme les grecs, it’s all about togetherness, although there are plenty of options for full-sized main courses if you are not a sharing kind of person. Or you’re just really hungry.

Our waiter announced the specials. The One & Only usually takes his time to choose, but this time he pounced before our waiter had finished his sentence. ‘Yes’ to grilled yellow peppers with feta and ‘yes’ to grilled octopus and chick peas. ‘Please.’ And ‘thanks very much, we’ll order more later.’

It turned out to be an excellent spur-of-the-moment decision. The small yellow peppers reminded us of the blistered padrón peppers we had eaten by the bucketful in Porto, only larger. Sweet and salty explosions of flavour, we were glad the noisy chatter at the neighbouring table drowned out our euphoric groans.

After watching ‘My Octopus Teacher’ last year, I had sworn never to eat these affectionate eight armed creatures again, and to all my octopus friends out there, I am deeply sorry, but last night I succumbed. And I would like to say you died in a good cause. The chef had cooked that cephalopod mollusk to melt-in-the-mouth perfection, and we savoured every bite. We ordered some soft, grilled pita bread to clean the bowl of the juices, pickled pink onion and chickpea mash, and even this simple bread was mouth-watering. It made me want to eat my fingers still covered in olive oil and crumbs. It was like dessert.

As they say on their website: we’re all about authenticity. Our food is derived from old family recipes and our native Greek chefs craft each dish with the same love and passion that they do for their own families. And  it’s true. This is no designer cuisine, but honest home cooking, love and flavour in every morsel.

I know now that we had probably eaten enough, but could we resist and finish our dinner after an elegant sufficiency? Hell no! Bring out the zucchini fritters and the İmam bayıldı – that delectable Ottoman dish of eggplant stuffed with onion, garlic and tomatoes, and simmered in olive oil,  sensibly adopted by the Greeks eons ago. You may remember we learned to make both these dishes in Istanbul, back in 2015. These fritters were shaped more like small Aussie footballs than blinis – perhaps large quenelles is a more elegant comparison – but the shape did not adversely affect their flavour and we licked the platter clean. And the Imam bayildi was so amazingly rich, we needed more wine and more pita bread to wash it down. Need? Perhaps not. Desire? Definitely. Waddle home? Without a doubt!

Posted in Australia, Food & Wine, Lifestyle | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on Octopus Dreams