Welcome to my tales of cookery school, food and travel

The first 30+ posts of this blog describe my experiences as I complete a nine month cooking course - the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Art. I did this after I moved out of full time employment and it was purely selfish - I love food, cooking, eating and drinking. Subsequent posts are about, food, travel and adventures.

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Monday, 15 October 2018

What’s Canada, if not hockey?

I’m in Toronto and there’s a hockey game: ice hockey of course, and the grammatically challenged Toronto Maple Leafs are playing the Ottawa Senators.  

 I buy my ticket on line before I leave home, take a screen shot of it and front up at the Scotiabank Arena.  I stand in a loooong line to get in, and “Sorry Ma’am, we need to see your ticket”
This is my ticket 
“This is a PDF and we don’t accept PDFs.  You need to go see someone in a green T-shirt”

Long story short, it takes 30 minutes to get in, and the young lad in the green T-shirt feels so bad he takes my seat number and later brings me a bag of Maple Leaf memorabilia, including a First Game certificate.  If anyone has been hanging out for a Toronto Maple Leafs (sic) lanyard, let me know. 

My seat is in the nosebleed section and I need a Sherpa to carry my beer. 

You think New Zealanders get passionate about the All Blacks. You haven’t been to ice hockey. 

The guy next to me is unfailingly patient in explaining what’s happening in the ice.  

Much like American Football, the clock stops frequently - three 20 minute periods take two hours. Two hours of fast and furious action, a particular strain of rock music, hot dogs, beers and cries of Go Leafs Go. 

The Senators won 5-3. 

P.S. I’ve tried adding photos but it’s not working- this is why I need my iPad. Which is apparently in Toronto at DHL ‘on hold’. 

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Australia - Darwin to Broome - final part: the Horizontal Falls

What? I hear you say. By definition falls are vertical not horizontal.  Well this is Australia and the unusual is not unusual.

Way, way up where the roads don't go, there are two narrow, natural breaks in the McLarty Ranges.  One about 25 metres wide and the other much narrower, at 7-10 metres.   I have already mentioned the very high tides along the northern coast of Australia, and it is the ebb and flow of these tides that create the falls as the water builds faster on one side than the other.  On a Spring tide the waterfall can be five metres.

outgoing tide at the Horizontal Falls

The Falls are dubbed "one of the greatest wonders of the natural world" by no less a wonder of the natural world than David Attenborough.  We found ourselves similarly gob-smacked.  An hour's flight from Broome took us to the tour operator's base on Talbot Bay, from where they run the boats to the Falls and other surrounding inlets.  Very big bucks have been invested in this operation.  

Permanent pontoons - four boats, two or three seaplanes, a couple of helicopters, overnight accommodation
We need all 4 x 300 horsepower engines - the h-g is very impressed

And it's slick.  We are on a seaplane from Broome at 6.00am and land on Talbot Bay an hour or so later.  We have coffee - at least that's what they said it was -  listen a spiel about the falls, put on life jackets and board the boats to ride the falls.  Understatement alert - this is fantastic fun.

I can't describe the surge and power of the tide other than to suggest you check out how many big ass outboards there are on the boats, and figure why so much horsepower is needed.  On our trip the tide is running at about two metres.  It's hard and fast enough we only breach the first level as it's too dangerous to shoot the narrower gap - damn.

Through the first gap
There's a reason they give us breakfast after the boat trip. 

And then there's the sharks. Yes, we thought crocodiles were enough to worry about.  It takes all of no time to decide I don't want to get in the cage to watch the sharks being fed.  I can see perfectly well from here.  There are several sharks and they have very snappy mouths and they inhale the food with enthusiasm.

shark feeding - such fun

 All this, another tour up Talbot Bay then back on the plane and we're home by lunchtime. 

The flight back over the Buccaneer Archipelago, King Sound and Cape Leveque is quite beautiful.  Thousands of tidal islands dot the sea and feature miles of white sandy beaches which, I suggest, are hiding many, many sun bathing crocs.  It's easy to see why cruises along this coastline are popular, although swimming would take on the mantle of a death defying feat.

Flying back over Cape Leveque

Dampier Peninsula  -from Cape Leveque to Broome

We're talking here - an hour by seaplane from Broome (hidden by Search for a place or an address)
Back in Broome we fall in love with the small town.  Long white sandy beaches where, apparently, it is safe to swim; a pearl industry; interesting history and more fascinating (and largely unknown) stories about the experiences in WW2.  Several Australians we meet tell us they never learnt any of the history of the Japanese bombing of Northern Australia at school. It comes as quite a surprise to them.

The town has a relaxed, holiday feel about it, due largely to the many "grey nomads" who head north to escape the winters of Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Sydney.  

Tide out at Broome, town side of the peninsula. The other side is one long white beach

Same spot, tide in.
Oysters and wine - how civilised
And so ends our all too brief trip.  So much to see but on the other hand, a vast emptiness.  This has left us wanting to explore it more, and that is a surprise.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Australia Darwin to Broome: Part Three - Bungle Bungles to Broome

promises promises - we see one (live)wallaby and lots of roadkill
The landscape changes very little unless it's the size colour and number of termite mounds.  The bush is sparse and at times the roadside is charred where planned burn-offs have taken place.  Our new travel game, one point for any feature we haven't seen before, fails to get lift off.

Our singular excitement is driving through a roadside fire just before Halls Creek - no photos as the h-g didn't have a camera ready and I wasn't about to stop in the middle of a raging conflagration no matter how loud he shouted - I wasn't keen to be roasted alive, nor would blistered paint work in our favour when returning the rental car. The police closed the road shortly after we went through.

Halls Creek is fascinating in its nothingness - and that it's the only town for 600kms.  As with all these small settlements in the middle of nowhere it's a sad place. There are few shops, any there are have shutters or wire gates protecting them from break-ins after hours, there's usually two or three big petrol stations, a caravan park/camp ground or two, and a reasonably large supermarket to service travellers and anyone living within several hundred kilometres.

We'd been told about the China Wall just out of town so made that pilgrimage.  Despite looking as if a talented stonemason had had a flight of fancy in the wilderness, it's a natural white quartz wall rising out of the limestone, which must have eroded around it.  It runs 15 kms into nowhere.

China Wall outside Halls Creek, not the Great Wall of China
There's not much to engage us on the road from Halls Creek through Fitzroy Crossing to Derby then on to Broome.  The detour to Derby takes us to a sensationally large 1500 year old boab tree.  As they age the trees hollow out in the middle, and just out of Derby there's the Prison Tree - now, various stories abound as to whether this was a holding place for aboriginal prisoners, or a staging place for those engaged in trafficking aboriginal slave labour.  As I've researched a bit more about it, it seems these stories are myths and the tree was never used as a lock up.  However it's a handy history for the town to promulgate as there's not much else to recommend Derby.  More about the tree's history here if you are interested.

the famous 'prison tree'

It is clear there's social problems in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. Alcohol abuse, and the violence, crime, and social disenfranchisement that accompanies it, is visible in every town.  In every small town shop windows are barred and security gates locked after closing. 

Rules abound for how you can buy and consume alcohol - a set of rules applied after the proverbial horse had bolted. In bars we couldn't buy a double shot of anything. In bottle stores, if you want two bottles of wine, there must be two people with ID to make the purchase.  At a drive through bottle store (yes, there is irony at every turn) it's a "no car, no service" policy, ostensibly to prevent walk-ins (code for aboriginals) purchasing alcohol. 

It seems that for every Aborigine owned or co-owned business we see on this trip, such as cafes, Art Galleries, River trips, and other tourism ventures, there’s a greater number of very black people sitting in groups under trees, lounging outside supermarkets or sitting in bars with cans of beer.

It’s hard to challenge stereotypes when they’re constantly reinforced.

In Darwin we waited for the bottle store to open at 10.00am to get some beers for that night after our drive. The only person who beat us through the door was an aboriginal woman buying a bottle of rum and two litres of coke. 

At Fitzroy Crossing, about 500kms east of Broome, we detour to check out the Fitzroy Crossing Inn, said to be the oldest in the Kimberleys.  We anticipate a charming old homestead with a shady garden bar where we’d enjoy lunch and an ale or two. We find a concrete block reeking of urine and disinfectant; we’re the only white people there aside from the barman, a traveller from South America.  About 15 to 20 Aboriginal people sit with cans of beer looking like they’d been there since opening and wouldn’t be leaving any time soon. They ignore us. The atmosphere seeps lethargy. 

We’ve met French, Estonian, Chilean, Argentinian, Welsh and a host of others working here through the dry season. They work in camp grounds, coffee shops, restaurants, anywhere there’s a service role. At the supermarket in Kununurra there was one Aboriginal woman on checkout. It seems unless they start their own businesses, there’s no employment for them. 

Do they not want to work? Or do businesses not want to employ them? Anyone I ask says it’s a combination of both. I’m told that if an aboriginal wants a job they get it and the Government pays, or at least subsidises. I don’t know if this is true.  Given it wasn't until 1962 indigenous Australians got the right to vote in Federal elections, and it took a referendum in 1967 to include Aboriginal Australians in determinations of population", there's a lot of catching up to do.

I promise the next, and final, Darwin to Broome instalment will be more uplifting!
Tides out at Derby

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Australia - Darwin to Broome: Part Two - Kununurra and the Bungle Bungles

At the end of Part One we were on the seemingly endless drive through the Kimberley region from Katherine to Kununurra.  We'd had dinner at the local Katherine Golf and Country Club, which welcomes visitors as long as they aren't wearing singlets or work boots.  

The bar doubled as a TAB and in general it was the sort of place where you puff on your asthma inhaler then go outside for a couple of ciggies before making a second pass at the bainmarie.

next corner?

Man, you don't realise how big and empty this country is until you drive it.

The one change in the landscape is the appearance of the fabulously rotund Boab trees.  These fat babies vary in size according to age, and there are giants that are several hundred years old, many likely over a thousand years old.   They're deciduous lose their leaves in the dry, but as we reach Kununurra and a greater water source,  we notice more keep their leaves. The fruit is very high in vitamin C and traditional food source for Aborigines.

The hunter-gatherer becomes a tree hugger
After endless red dust and brown grass as our constant companions we cross the Northern Territory into Western Australia.   Nothing changes.    We pass through a border check,  where they ensure we are not transporting cane toads or fresh fruit and vegetables.  Drugs and alcohol are fine though.

Turn the clock back a couple of hours and 40kms from the border we arrive in Kununurra.  What a difference water makes.  The town (pop 7,000, tripling in the tourist season and harvest times) was originally settled to service the Ord River irrigation system and the surrounds are now expansive agricultural land growing melons, mangoes, chickpeas, bananas, citrus and other tropical crops, but also sandalwood which fetches good prices for both the oil and wood.  It's positively lush after the land we've driven through.

An hour drive west along the Gibb River Road and we reach Emma Gorge, part of the massive El Questro station.  We have a couple of nights in rather nice safari tents and spend the days walking the gorges and finding swimming holes.  At the natural oasis of Zebedee Springs the pools are thermal and the palms make it feel like you are in an expensively landscaped luxury spa resort.

thermal luxury in the middle of nowhere

A flight over the area and another 250kms south takes us over  the green and verdant cropping lands, Lake Argyle,  the Bungle Bungles and Argyle Diamond Mine.  Lake Argyle is massive and, of course, even more massive in the wet.  Apparently you can water ski 60kms from the north end of the lake to the south end without making a turn.  And I'd suggest you do it without falling off as there are approximately 30,000 crocs living in those waters.

Lake Argyle with its thousands of islands and even more crocs

The diamond mine is not as huge  - about 1600m by 600 m - but a lot uglier.  They initially underestimated the size of the strike and have now had to go underground; the walls of the open pit became too steep and liable to collapse as they went deeper.  The volume of mined diamonds is the largest in the world, however most are industrial quality as opposed to those sparkly ones you see on the bodies of the rich and famous.

There's diamonds in them there hills

I hadn't realised how seismic Australia was until we flew over this area. Between 375 and 500 million years ago active faults changed the landscape.  It's awesome - and I mean that literally.

Our flight also takes us over Purnululu National Park and the Bungle Bungles, a geographic oddity of beehive shaped towers, only  brought to general attention in 1982 when a documentary film crew was in Kununurra.  In the pub one night they were asked by a local helicopter pilot if they were including the Bungle Bungles in their story.  "The what?" was the response, no-one other the local aborigines and cattle station pilots having seen them.  It's now a World Heritage site.  

and we thought we had seismic shift in New Zealand

Bungles Bungles from the air
From the main road it's nearly two hours on a rough 4WD track to get into the Bungle Bungle formations - you would have had to be seriously lost to stumble on them.  And when you get there it is spectacular, but hot as hell with no shade until you get up into one of the canyons.  The layers are made up of sandstone and compressed pebbles and stones cemented together by finer material, and the shapes have been formed over thousands of years of wind from the desert, and rain.  The rich red layer comes from the iron and manganese in the sandstone and the darker layers, which hold more moisture, are an algal growth called cyanobacteria.  

Purnululu National Park -  walking in to the Bungle Bungles
inside Cathedral canyon
The contrast from drought dryness to lush growth when there's water about means you just don't know what you will find next.  In the gorges we were stunned to find palm trees and the sorts of flora you'd find in a much less harsh climate. The massive rock formations and folded terrain take your breath away. Spending time in the landscape here puts meaning back into the words amazing, spectacular and awesome. 
sunset at Lake Kununurra - our cabin looked out over this view

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Australia - Darwin to Broome: Part One

It's the 19th February 1942, I'm on the wing of a Kittyhawk being strafed by Japanese Zeros -  I’m hit - now under parachute witnessing the destruction of the harbour beneath me.  Now I’m on the deck of a destroyer at the wharf and loading supplies when a bombing run blows out the deck beneath me and I’m swimming in the burning sea.  

Really I’m sitting on a swivel chair wearing a virtual reality headset experiencing the Japanese bombing of Darwin Harbour.

Flying into Darwin

This VR experience is part of an excellent exhibition at Stokes Hill Wharf that includes interactive storytelling, a full size replica of a Zero, and a slightly weird hologram experience where the Commanding Officer of the USS William B Preston relays his experience of the bombing of Darwin.  (More on WW2 and the Northern Territory in a future episode)

But that is only one half of the stories told here.  The other side of the facility is a brilliant history of the development and growth of the Royal Flying Doctor Service established in 1939.  Another hero another hologram, this time John Flynn tells how he came to found the Service.

I don’t know why I’m surprised Darwin has great museums, but I am, and I’m even more surprised at how much I enjoy them.  Modern and well curated they tell lively stories about the Northern Territory of Australia.

Want to know what it’s like to survive a force 5 cyclone when it hits dead on? People in Darwin found out on Christmas Eve 1974. You can get some idea at the Northern Territory Museum and Art Gallery. The Cyclone Tracy exhibit has before and after photos of parts of the city to show the devastation, which pretty much did away with the whole town.  Chilling news recordings from the day and night the cyclone hit send shivers down your spine -  “Christmas Eve will be dirty words in Darwin for a long time”.  That probably scared kids more than the cyclone. 

In a pitch black room you can hear a recording of the howling storm that’ll make your bowels turn to water.  It’s not hard to imagine being crouched in the pitch dark while the roof comes off and corrugated iron screeches across concrete and wind roars ceaselessly for hours and hours, not knowing how or when it will end. A bit like living in Trump's America I guess.

Everything in the Northern Territory is designed to kill you. The weather, crocodiles, snakes, spiders, water buffalo, jellyfish - the box jellyfish has a sting that’ll kill you in 2-3 minutes. 

By the time we exit Kakadu National Park, situated SE of Darwin I’ve had enough of crocodiles. The 20,000 square km UNESCO listed site is home to 10,000 and I’ve seen more of them than necessary.  Early explorers, lacking both imagination and zoological expertise, named the three big rivers West Alligator, South Alligator, and East Alligator.  They’re crocs mate.  

Our river trip on the South Alligator  took us up to Cahill's Crossing, a remote river ford that crosses into Arnhem Land.  The tides at the Top End reach highs of 11.8 metres, so there's LOTS of water rushing up stream as the tide comes in, and just as much rushing out when the tide goes out.  This creates the perfect conditions for idiocy and bravado as vehicles cross in unsuitable circumstances and frequently get washed into the croc infested waters.  You'll find a  good summary of the crossing at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ojzUCDR6lg but to see Darwinism at work, google Cahill's Crossing on youtube - but beware of going down a rabbit hole.   

The crowds gather to watch vehicles crossing and crocodiles feeding and hope for a combination of the two 

Up close and personal
But wait. There’s more. That was just the salt water crocs. There’s also freshies that live inland in the rivers and lakes. 
spot the difference - saltie on the left, freshie on the right - they may not look like this when you see them

The stunning Katherine Gorge is, in the Dry, a series of short rivers and gorge pools - in the Wet season it’s one massive raging torrent.  We take a boat trip up through the three lower gorges, walking across the rocks between each and changing to another boat each time. 

Katherine gorge
In the wet season the river runs at a level above the top cave
While we don’t see them, we know crocs are about.  So guess what we do - we go for a swim. The pools between a couple of the river stretches are croc free (they tell us) and so we enjoy a cool break from the 33 degree heat.
I'm wearing my hat and sunglasses so the crocs don't recognise me

Aside from trips up the Gorge, which is very beautiful, and other natural phenomena, Katherine as a town has very little to recommend it.  It's a crossroads for the Great Northern Highway west which are taking, and the road south through the centre to Alice Springs and on to South Australia.  Lots of tourists, trucks and Road Trains - not trains at all but trucks pulling 3 or 4 trailers - passing through, so lots of gas stations and fast food joints.

There's nothing to keep us here and we steel ourselves for the long boring 500 or so km drive to Kununurra and into Western Australia. We've already worked out any game of eye spy fizzles out pretty quickly when there's nothing but road, trees and termite mounds to see.

You might have to squint to read the names but this is our 3,000km road trip from Darwin to Broome, detouring to Kakadu 

Monday, 9 July 2018

Food, glorious food

If you are allergic to food porn, then best skip this post.

The hunter-gatherer and I have just had a few days in the Adventure Capital of New Zealand - Queenstown.  

Setting aside the menu of adrenaline activities, 

we focused on gastronomic menus. 
The Feast of duck at Rata 

While the dinner at Rata was delicious it came out at the cost of a Milford flight by the time the h-g had oysters and we drank interesting cocktails before dinner. All worth it.

Not everyone is interested in the food at Rata

Instead of a couple of tandem hangliding trips, our adventure is a Trust the Chef dinner with wine matching at Amisfield bistro.  Vaughan Mabee, the chef in whom we trust, is a hunter gatherer himself and rather well known in foodie circles as a chef's chef - whose style and ethos they admire.

Everything about Amisfield is designed to stun: the setting, the building, the cellar door and the restaurant. Large windows in the restaurant provide a wide open view of the ski fields at Coronet Peak.  As the sun goes down we see the lights of the snow groomers flashing up the mountainside.

Looking out at Coronet Peak from the Amisfield dining room
The seven course menu is innovative and at times challenging. 

Fish and chips; Octopus, pinot noir; Bluff oyster, apple caviar; accompanied by Amisfield Brut 2015 
Spot the octopus, smoked over pinot noir prunings
I forced the oyster down - they really are wasted on me, but the smoked octopus was deliciously tender - at last a use for all those pinot prunings. The fish and chips was butterfish in the ball, with purple urenika potato chips on top.

Amisfield breads with marrow bone butter, lamb fat butter and ordinary buttery butter; Charcuterie from the cellar - Coppa; accompanied by Amisfield Burn Pinot Gris 2016 - an 'orange' wine, meaning unfiltered, unprocessed and undrinkable

Parsnip bones, nut marrow, autumn broth; accompanied by Amisfield Pinot Gris 2017

The photo doesn't do this justice - it was absolutely delicious - a steamed (I think) parsnip, with the core removed, parsnip charred then stuffed with walnut and hazelnut butter - bone marrow for vegans - and the broth was as rich as if it has been made with beef bones - which it might have been. 

Paua pie; with Amisfield Sauvignon Blanc 2017 - actually it was a Fumé Blanc and very drinkable for this non Sauvignon drinker.

looks like a snake but is definitely paua
The pie had a creamy smear of mash on the bottom, then slices of paua with a paua mousse topped with a seaweed flake and something else I forget.

Wild Otago hare, elderberry; Hidden truffle; Muttonbird lollipop; with Amisfield Pinot Noir 2013

These were 'find the food' dishes. It was a bit of fossicking to remove the leaves and moss for the glories beneath. The hidden truffle was so well hidden I never did find it, and you know what I think about mutton bird, lollipop or no lollipop.  I did try it again but the h-g had to take it off my hands.  Overall this course, for me, was a triumph of presentation over content and a bit disappointing for that. 

Cardrona valley lamb neck, plum, kawakawa; with Amisfield Pinot Noir 2015 (which was delicious, a lovely match for the slightly fatty lamb)

Lamb neck never tasted so good

Goody goody gum drops sorbet - oops, didn't get a photo
Tamarillo Pavlova with Amisfield Lowburn Terrace Riesling 2017

not the most photogenic pavlova
but the tartness of the tamarillos and mixture of soft and creamy Italian meringue underneath and crunchy meringue on top was perfect.

So, no adventure tourism for us - we couldn't afford it after all the eating and drinking.