Happy 2017

It’s been a while since I posted here; life has been more in the photography-realm, and as such I’ve been posting more on www.ptanphoto.com

It’s been a great start to the year so far though. Very active. We ushered in January on the Overland Track, and we saw the close of the month on Mount Kosciuszko. If we have a goal for 2017, it is to do a lot more hiking and camping. May this be the year of enjoying and appreciating nature. 🙂

Turned another year older today as well. But after the amazing hike we just did, all I wanted to do today was relax and chill. So we just slept in, luxuriously, then had a dim sum brunch and napped again. In the evening, we turned on the grill and slapped on some steak, which we washed down with a beautiful bottle of Malbec and grilled corn and mango salad.

Thanks Jeff. 🙂

Start of alfresco dining

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I’ve been down fighting a cold for the past two weeks, and it seems, half the Australian population as well. But the weather is improving, and yesterday was such a beautiful day that we couldn’t let it go to waste.

So we finally strung up the hammock and invited our friend over to hang out. Nothing like good wine, mouth watering grilled barramundi on banana leaves over the barbie, to bring the promise of summer.

Gastronomy heaven at Sepia

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For Jeff’s birthday this year, we went to Sepia as a treat. And what a treat it was! Almost every course that evening was a veritable show of fireworks. We each went away with different favorites, which just shows the breadth of ‘signature’ dishes Chef Martin Benn and his team can whip up. My dish of the night was the sweet and light spanner crab, mixed with the almost surprising hit of browned butter which lent the meat some nuttiness and weight. Yum yum yum! And I loved the dessert wine that I picked, the Greco di Bianco from Italy. Produced in a ‘passito’ style where the grapes are dried like raisins on racks, the bronze liquid had a distinct nose of orange peels and apricots and tasted of honey and nuts. SO GOOD. I have to hunt us down a bottle or two too.

Sepia definitely sits at the top of our favorite restaurants in Sydney – and elsewhere – thus far, alongside Gastro Park and Nel. Mmmm.

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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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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Comfort food – hot toddy and beef stew noodles

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We’ve both been battling this cold for ten days now. Didn’t help that instead of staying in to rest this weekend, we went for a two hour paddle down in Cronulla. Oh but the water was so clear, and the sky too blue to stay indoors.

Needless to say, by the time we got home, we were both feeling quite out of it. Nothing like some warm comfort food to sooth the throat and stomach though. Hot Toddy with lemon, honey, ginger tea, cut chillies and a generous shot or two of Laphroaig. Beef stew noodles with beef balls.

Ahhh. Well rain in the forecast tomorrow = R&R at home.

A week in Hokkaido

This was one of our most spontaneous trips yet. Apart from buying our air tickets, we hadn’t really given the trip much thought. Jeff had booked a week of hotel stay in Sapporo a couple months before, so we would not be scrambling to find a place to stay at, but it was literally only as we headed to the airport that we realized he had also made reservations mid-week at a nearby ski resort in Rusutsu.

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It all worked out in the end though. We managed to shorten our hotel reservations in Sapporo, and spent the couple days in the city wandering around, and mostly stuffing our faces. It may have been the mostly grey skies, but the architecture in Sapporo looks drab and indistinct to us. The super fresh seafood however was such a delight. Our favorite meal of the trip (went again right before we headed back to the airport) was in a little restaurant above the central seafood market North West of the city. There, we feasted on salmon roe so large and juicy that a bite into each burst forth cool savory flavours of the ocean. Uni freshly carved from their spiky shells and so unbelievingly sweet and creamy. Hairy crab cooked in sweet miso broth. Scallop sashimi that melted in our mouths. And sake. Glass after glass of that clear, refreshing off-sweet liquid that cleansed the palate.

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Then there were all the other tantalizing restaurants down the main drag of Susukino, the entertainment centre of the city, the equivalent of Orchard Road in Singapore I suppose, minus the dodgy girly bars. We popped into the narrow Ramen Alley for piping hot broth and chewy noodles three times, stopped by the takopaci stand for a late snack after a filling dinner, and picked up some steamy Chinese buns from a street vendor twice.

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Then it was off to the ski resort. Rusutsu Resort, South West of Hokkaido, doesn’t see as much traffic as Nieseko, which has been described as an Australian enclave, for better or worse. The village of Rusutsu however, is primarily made up of the Rusutsu Resort and the newly rebranded Westin tower, plus a four or five small restaurants set together by the side of the road right outside the main resort area. Besides skiing and eating, there is absolutely nothing else to do.

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Happily for us, that’s what we were there to do. We chose to go in March, which is right at the tail end of the ski season, so conditions were variable. It’d snowed the week before we arrived, and was forecast to snow after we left, but nothing at all the three days we were there. Couldn’t complain though. The temperatures were relatively balmy, about 5 – 8 degrees C, which meant for the most part soft creamy conditions. It felt really good to be back on the slopes again, feeling the burn in our thighs as we cut our way down hill. Missed our usual gang of ski buddies though!

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I’m glad we got three solid days of work out, because otherwise we were literally eating our way through Hokkaido. After leaving Rusutsu, we visited the town of Otaru for a day trip. The highlights of that town are the Russian inspired architecture, and the main historic Street crammed full of seafood restaurants, glass shops, and dessert confectioneries. By gosh, one of my absolute highlights of the entire trip was the camembert cream puffs of Kitakiro Patisserie. Heck, it’s the best cream puff I’ve ever had, and I think my mum’s durian cream puffs are the dream. Just thinking of that hit of gooey camembert mixed in with the smooth egg custard cream just makes my mouth water all over again and my knees go weak. Aaaahhhhhh. It’s utter bliss.

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But yes, for every four shops we walked past in Otaru, we stopped in one for a snack.

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Great trip in all, particularly for one in which we kind of made up as we went along. 🙂

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Pool party weekend

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This past weekend, we rented a house with some friends up near Hunter Valley, to properly celebrate one of our mate’s 30th birthday. After quite a bit of back and forth trying to find a house close enough to Sydney and comfortably big enough for 11 people, and then tussling with the rental company on payment and bonds, we had a grand time.

Because the house was literally in woop woop (Aussie speak for middle of nowhere), and because the skies cooperated, we were afforded amazing views of the milky way and stars. Both nights, even while fighting to keep awake after full days, we lay by the poolside and just gazed in wonder upwards, counting the dozens of shooting stars that streaked across the sky.

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L, V, and I managed to rouse ourselves early the next morning to catch the sun rise, only to see a landscape shrouded in heavy mist. No matter, we did catch a glimpse of a red bushy-tailed fox bounding away from the house. Pretty neat!

In the day, after an amazing frittata breakfast L whipped up, we drove over to Hunter Valley proper and visited a couple of vineyards, Tulloch and Hope, enough to satiate our thirst. Then it was back to the house to start the pool party proper. 🙂 Jeff and I strung up our slack line (not used in a year) across the pool, and then we just lounged in the water for the next 4 hours, valiantly trying and failing to walk across the line while half submerged in water, and tossing around a ball.

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Amazing bbq spread for dinner, then more star gazing. And since I suddenly woke up at 3am and couldn’t quite fall back asleep, I went out to the garden and played some more with astrophotography.

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Before we left the next morning, a few of us jumped into the pool again, for a mini tea party. The rental company had worried about our wanting to host a pool party – who the hell rents a house with a pool and play scrabble by it anyway? – so we wanted a few pictures to show that we were very much sedate guests. 😉

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Anyway, great weekend, capped off with a stopover by Pearl Beach in Gosford to polish off more of our BBQ leftovers.

Mcgyvering

A few days after we moved into our new place, the stove mysteriously stops working.

Here’s a question, not quite tongue in cheek. How many Australians does it take to change a light bulb? At least three it seems.

First, it requires a someone to call out the fact that the light bulb is not working. Then the agent gets notified, who then calls an electrician to testify that the power is working. The agent then next calls the light bulb installer to come rectify the situation.

This is what we are currently experiencing with our stove stop, and electronic outdoor awning. Plumber and stove top manufacturers for the first instance, and the electrician and awning company for the second. Sigh.

Made the best of the situation though, and we went with a ceviche for dinner instead. No gas stove required! And at least the plumber helped us get new bayonet fixtures so we could set up the barbie, and no more rain in the forecast for the next few days!

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Another year older

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Turned a year older Friday. But I have to say that I never wished for the day to pass by faster. Hahah, we were moving house, and I couldn’t wait till we were done. Finally, at seven, after nine long hours, the movers unloaded the last of the furniture and we were done for the day. There were still some boxes left at the old apartment. But since we were just moving up the road we had the whole weekend to finish up the bits and bobs.

Too tired to go out for a celebratory meal, we just ordered pizza to go, then did a bit more unpacking before crashing for the night.

Finally done though, and 99% unpacked! Loving the new view.