A paddle out to Clifton Gardens

When I had checked the weather forecast earlier in the week, it seemed like Sunday was perfect for our long paddle. Balmy temperatures, sunny blue skies…

But you know where this is heading. It was freezing when we started to build our origami Oru kayaks in the pre-dawn, and it seemed that the winds only picked up as we paddled out of our little bay East towards the Sydney Opera House.

At least it was quiet on the water, save the occasional ferry already plying it’s first passengers from Manly. We paddled past the Opera House for the first time, and at the governor’s mansion turned back to admire the city view. We kept on going, heading towards Taronga Zoo, then past it, all the while keeping our eyes peeled towards the Middle Harbor for a wisp of spout. You never know. Whales have been regularly spotted as far inland as the Opera House!

We weren’t lucky that day though. Finally, as we rounded the bend to Clifton Gardens, we decided to turn back. Jeff’s hands were starting to turn red and swollen from the cold; my ass was getting sore from the thin padding on the seat. And we still had to battle the headwinds to get back. 

All said and done, it was a great 16km paddle. I love quiet mornings. It would have been quite perfect, had I not accidentally dropped one of my kayak’s seam channels into the water by our jetty when I was dismantling it. Dismayed, I actually dove into the frigid waters to try retrieve it. No luck.ūüė•

Winter day paddle to Cockatoo Island and Goat Island

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We hadn’t taken our kayaks out on the water in a while, so I was itching to get in some paddling last Sunday, when it was nice and sunny out. The warm rays of the sun felt good on our skin. We launched at the jetty by us, and decided to paddle west towards Greenwich and Cockatoo Island.

I’ve heard a lot about Cockatoo Island, about how it’s an urban getaway island with a lot of history. It just looked very industrial to us though, not very attractive. I can’t believe that people actually paid $800 to camp overnight there on New Year’s Eve. Goodness. The setting seemed quite perfect for a dystopian film, say Divergent, or a hideout of drug cartels in some action movie.

Goat Island, which we paddled to, on the other hand, appeared greener and more idyllic. It had the added advantage of facing the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Opera House too.

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All in all, it was a great day to be out on the water, and we even got to paddle up to Balmain, which I still haven’t been to visit. On the books the next sunny weekend: paddling out to Taronga Zoo.

goat island kayak

Catching the Met Encore of Roberto Devereux

Caught the Metropolitan Opera’s encore streaming of Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux last weekend at the Sydney Dendy Opera Quay movie theatre. It’s the third of Donizetti’s queen opera series, beginning with Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda.

The Met’s put together a stellar cast: Elina Garanca as Sara the Duchess of Nottingham, Mariusz Kwiecien as the Duke of Nottingham, Matthew Polenzani as the Earl of Essex, and Sondra Radvanosky as Queen Elizabeth. This past season, Sondra Radvanosky sang all three queen roles, a major coup for her.

I wasn’t that big a fan of her singing as Queen Elizabeth however, though I think that was in part colored by the way she was directed to portray Queen Elizabeth – as a tottering royal near the end of her life who is consumed by jealousy over Earl of Essex’s love for the Duchess of Nottingham.¬†In the opera, Elizabeth condemns the Earl to death¬†primarily for that reason, and¬†not so much for his failed rebellion. That depiction didn’t sit quite well with me, although from the applause in the audience in the cinema, people loved the performance.

Ah well. It was still rather nice to be transported back to the Metropolitan Opera house. I miss watching the opera series, there and in Chicago.

A day of sunshine, clouds and rain

It started out a bright and sunny day. But the clouds quickly rolled in. Some rain. Then the sun came back out. But by evening, the clouds were back again, and the wind had picked up.

Just like the Brexit tally.

Man, what’s happening in the world? Is everyone just getting evermore paranoid and insular again?

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Catching Vivid 2016

The verdict’s unanimous – Vivid this year rocks. That’s what everyone has been raving about at any rate, even jaded photographers online who say they are otherwise tired of jostling with the crowds.

So I checked it out. Once, on Wednesday, when I walked home from work. Through Circular Quay and up the Sydney Harbor Bridge. And another time last night with friends. We walked to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair first, thinking that we’d be able to cut across the Botanical Gardens to the Opera House, but it turns out they’d only opened a small portion of the Botanical Gardens for the light festival, so we had to walk the long way around. Still, despite the crowds, it was a beautiful evening to be out.

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View from Mrs Macquarie's Chair

View from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair

Loved the video projections on the tree, very Avatar-esque

Loved the video projections on the tree, very Avatar-esque

Intel had a drone light display

Intel had a drone light display

The cathedral of light walk

The cathedral of light walk

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Home cooking

Relentless rain this week, and especially this weekend. It’s coming down hard, and in gusty conditions too.

So, cooped up at home, we decided to put our newfound cooking confidence to work. On Friday evening, while Jeff stirred up a storm making herb risotto, I baked some brownies with a caramel dark rum sauce. Saturday, Jeff cooked a chicken yoghurt salad while I baked arancini from the leftover risotto and whipped up a big dish of fritatta that we could have for breakfast over the next few days.

It was fun and fulfilling. To mess up the kitchen together, then turn out yummy food we would have been delighted to eat in any restaurant, over a beautiful bottle of wine.

Funny thing is, I would not have imagined myself enjoying cooking this much twenty years ago. Back then, home economics was a mandatory class at school – but just for the girls. The boys had to take a workshop class instead. I rebelled against that typecasting, and resolutely refused to apply myself in class. While the teacher showed us painstaking stitches to make vests and cushions, I tuned out. While she explained the science of cooking (actually that may have been a stretch; she was quite a lousy teacher at any rate), I stared out the window. It’s actually quite tiring to consciously try to not pay attention, but I was angry. Why couldn’t girls be allowed to do workshop, and boys made to learn how to sew and cook as well? What century were we in?

I deliberately did not study for those exams, and convinced my otherwise stereotypical A-grade-is-the-only-acceptable-grade parents to overlook my failing grade. Haha. I think I even wrote letters to petition the principal. Nothing changed in my year (they finally took to the times two years later, and my brother got to enjoy both the workshop and home economics classes), and all I got to show for it was my obstinacy and deplorable sewing skills. I didn’t mind cooking secretly, just hated the typecast that girls had to learn these domesticated arts.

In the years since, I’ve had plenty of guy friends who have shown me how to properly wield knives, slowly braise beef in a rich and enticing tomato broth, and turn out the most glorious cakes and ice creams. And as Jeff and I got more interested in eating, we realized the way to better appreciate the complex flavours was to understand the science and art that goes behind the construction of the dishes. Moreover, one of our favorite activities was to host wine tasting parties with friends, and we quickly realized that money was better spent on the wines themselves, and that instead of buying good food to go with the wines, we could cook instead. To that end, our friends inspired us. Wine tasting parties turned out to be equally about the food – as well as the company and scintillating conversations that would stretch into the night.

So when I was telling my friend P about our cooking adventures for the weekend, and she teased me for becoming domesticated, I found that I didn’t quite mind. The connotations of the word may not be the most appealing to me, but if it means we can turn out delicious heartwarming food that makes people happy, it’s not a bad thing.:)

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Weekend in the Blue Mountains

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Lithgow Glow Worm Tunnel

We went up to the Blue Mountains last weekend. Because we had made plans to meet friends at the Three Sisters lookout at Echo Point early Sunday morning, I decided we could make a weekend of it and go camping. And get both the Lithgow glow worm tunnel and astrophotography checked off at the same time. Heh.

The forecast was rainy earlier in the day Saturday, but I figured since our main agenda during the day was the glow worm tunnel where it’s covered, a bit of rain did not matter. In any case, by the time we made it 30km past the bumpy gravel road to the trail, the rain had stopped.

The glow worms in the tunnel are much smaller – and sparser – than the giant ones we saw in Waitomo caves New Zealand. So much so that on our first pass through the tunnel, we completely missed them. But once we turned off our headlamps and stood a few seconds in the pitch blackness to adjust our eyes, we could see the blueish glow. Faint, but visible. And I’m stoked I finally managed to get a couple pictures of them.

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Night sky at Perryman’s Lookdown

By the time we finished our walk, night had fallen. We drove in the darkness back out to Blackheath, and ducked into the first restaurant we saw for dinner. Ashcroft Bistro Рawesome food, and better money spent than on a couple of overpriced beds. Haha. In fact, we made it back to the restaurant the next morning at 8am!

Initially, I’d picked out Ignar Campsite near Wentworth to set up camp for the night, but given that it’d rained the day before and the reviews warned of a boggy road to the grounds, I decided to scout around for another site. There was Blackheath Glen right around the corner,¬†and a short drive away to Govett’s Leap lookout for good astrophotography. But it was a built up campsite and we wanted something a bit more rustic, so we checked out Perryman’s Lookdown. By then the clouds had miraculously cleared and I was able to get off a couple quick snapshots of the milky way before we retreated to our little strip of woods to set up camp.

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I love our new lightweight tent, but geez, I was somewhat chilly the entire night even in my -15 degree bag. The temperatures went down to as low as 1 degree, just above freezing, but I’ve really acclimatized to the temperate New South Wales weather!

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And in the morning, we made it back out Echo Point in time to catch up with our friends, especially H who is visiting from Singapore for the week. The sun came out in full blast too. What a glorious day!

 

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Camping in Central Australia – Uluru, Kata Tjuta, and Kings Canyon

When we started looking at travel options for exploring Uluru and it’s surrounds, I knew I wanted to camp. What better way to experience the Australian outback than sleeping in a swag under the skies?

I quickly decided on joining a tour rather than wing it on our own, usually our preferred option. It just seemed easier to have transportation, food, and accommodation sites organized, particularly since we were rather tight on time.

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Moon rise by Uluru

We went with Mulgas Adventures in the end. Although most of the travel outfitters, by and large, have the same itinerary, right down to the trails and campsites, Mulgas had the best rating reviews on TripAdvisor. Haha, I have to admit though, the first evening after we had settled down to try to get some shut eye for the night and shouts of laughter and chatter were still coming from the bedrolls just a few feet from ours, I wondered if we should have paid a bit more to get a tour with people more in our age group. But maybe few people in their 30s travel anymore, or at least elect to camp?

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Sleeping under the bright moonlight

Subsequently though, after we had much more rest in our system, and gotten to know our fellow travelers, we had a blast. Ours was a good group – everyone happily pitched in to help with the cooking, cleaning, and packing up, and for the most part, were punctual with the set times our guide set us. We had long full days – waking up at 430 usually to grab a quick bite of breakfast before driving to a great spot to watch the sunrise, then hiking for a few hours before driving to our next campsite at dusk.

By the end, we were quite sad to be leaving. If only we had more time to properly explore the surroundings, especially Kings Canyon. It’s really quite an isolated region though. We never did get up Alice Springs, so we don’t know how that town looks, but otherwise we never drove by any sort of settlements at all. I suppose the Aborigines live in communities far off the main highway, and the farmers are also spread out all over the land. All we saw were scrubs, the occasional outcroppings of rock that rise up over the flat landscape, and the few dusty gas stations by the side of the road. It’s a harsh place to live in that’s for sure.

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Kata Tjuta sunrise


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Kings Canyon rim walk

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Garden of Eden in Kings Canyon

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After we’d collected firewood (i.e. uprooted small dead trees), we drove to our private bush camp in the outback

 

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Cooking pasta bolognese, outback style

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Soda bread, fresh out of the cast iron pot

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For mere minutes, the curtain of clouds parted enough to show us the stars

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View from my swag in the early hours. Got up to add more wood to the fire

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Pit toilet with a view of Mt. Connor

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Sunrise over Mt. Connor – we didn’t get a chance to visit this though, only admired from afar

An Italian afternoon in Annandale

This past Sunday, I surprised Jeff with a four hour cooking class at Cucina Italiana, where we would learn how to make pasta, risotto, chicken scallopini, and coffee semifreddo.

I’d no idea what the structure of the class would be really, imagining that we might have our own stations and be in charge of whipping up our own three course meals from start to finish. But because ours was quite a sizable class of 18 or so people spread out all over owner Luciana’s kitchen,¬†we really only got our hands dirty making the dough for the pasta, then turning it through the pasta machine to make tagliatelle and ravioli. Luciana demonstrated the techniques and process for the rest of the steps.

While we would have loved to have been¬†more hands-on, we¬†had a thoroughly enjoyable time soaking in Luciana’s tips, tricks, and nuggets about traditional Italian cooking. Her demeanor and humor also reminded us of those nostalgic¬†evenings in Bill St John’s cellar, learning about all things wine.

We got to feast on our creations in Luciana’s¬†long dining room with its elaborate ceiling mouldings. Between the decor, traditional Italian food, and copious amounts of Italian wine, we felt transported back to Italy. What bliss.

Afterwards, we went away with our own pasta maker, and a box of risotto. Monday evening, before our Game of Thrones night with C, we whipped out a batch of dough from Sunday’s class and rolled our some tagliatelle. Yum.

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