Saturday, December 26, 2009

Tapas Christmas

Last Sunday evening was breezy and balmy at Mt Nanimo. The vineyards were looking lush and green in the soft dusk light, especially those Riesling grapes in the middle top paddock.

Although our traditional (pre) Christmas dinner (and winefest) at the Fischer's is always a highlight of the season we took a completely untraditional approach this year. Each family was given two ingredients (drawn out of a hat - to be completely fair) and given free rein to prepare a tapas style dish with a Christmas theme.

We drew dried fruits and I made little muffin size plum puddings, pecan and macadamia panforte and individual serves of creme anglais and cherry coulis (fresh picked, straight from the farm). We enjoyed a fabulous feast of food (and wines) with courses inspired by the other ingredients: potato (Ottolenghi inspired pastries and Skordalia), Pacific oysters, prawns (Spanish style), cheese (French style souffles), beef (fillet baked in prosciutto) and beans (with capsicum relish).

Maddie, Sophie and Thomas (and Maggie the dog) were responsible for the entertainment, as usual. The range of instruments the kids use now contributes to making their concerts more sophisticated each year!
We had a visit from a garden fairy the day before Christmas. Her Mummy and Daddy dropped off Nellie the dog before they went to the Coast for Christmas. It was lovely to have a fairy flitting around the garden, even for a brief visit.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Early Christmas

We enjoyed the full Christmas catastrophe yesterday with a family celebration, hosted by Claire, Jeremy and the boys. While Christmas can be a bit poignant for parents and grand-parents with our long memories of celebrations past (and family members not present), for the three littlies (Ollie, Angie and Ella) it is just about having fun, being with everyone they love and opening presents (and being allowed to eat licorice allsorts).
Our bring a plate lunch was a huge success. Our festive favourite Majella sparkling shiraz to start, Ottolenghi inspired prawn and pork dishes with hand made relishes, dozens of amazingly delicious Pacific oysters, a whole leg ham and Granny K's gluten free pudding (and custard and gelati) to follow. Joshie spoilt us all with his choice of superb wines with dinner.

It felt like London Davey and Cath were here with us, reading Davey's funny cards and enjoying their stylish gifts.

Ella was able to fulfil all her current Cinderella, Mary Poppins and Angelina Ballerina passions with her gifts. As we expected the pink umbrella was well received.

Angie took some quiet time away from all the transport related gifts to get into some Lego with his Mummy, proving that some toys just never go out of fashion.

We missed Ros and Pete from Sandy Beach and Erin and Joelly too. Ella just looked divine in the Ooby dress and hat from the Coffs Coast (what a winner Ros!). She teamed it with her new silver "ballet shoes" which later proved to be a little less comfortable than she expected (welcome to the real world of girls and their shoes Ella!).

The kids finished off the afternoon in the sandpit. There was an element of "feeling tired and emotional" that surfaced by the end of the day, especially for those who are still only 2! But the shade, the sand, Ella's joy in being with her favourite boys and Ollie and Angie's statesmanlike behaviour contributed to this being a really peaceful and happy way to end a beautiful day.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Marely Sismas and Bon Anniversaire

This is the first Christmas we've been able to have in depth, two way conversations with Ella about all the Christmas stories and our family rituals. She's helped me decorate our tree and given me heartfelt feedback about our lack of pink angels (gold is such an inferior colour).

Ella knows about "Sismas" presents but is deeply suspicious about our Secret Santa family game. She has asked for a pink umbrella so she can be like her favourite "Marely" Poppins. She's also requested a pink flower (!!!) for "Sismas", which we will dutifully ensure is under the tree for her.

This is also the time of the year when we celebrate our godson Thomas' birthday - a big one this year as he graduates from high school, acquires his "L" plates and looks forward to a long hot Summer break before secondary college study commences in February.

He has grown to be a tall, handsome, intelligent and very talented young man. Judy and Jurgen deserve to feel very proud of him. Rob enjoyed choosing his gift of guitar and music stand. Thomas and his sisters have given us much joy over the years with their wonderful performances on piano, guitar and clarinet.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tasmania Pure

We've just returned from a wonderful week in wet, cold and windy Tasmania. The first stop was Hobart so I could represent the Department of Education at the 5th National Indigenous Education Conference.

The conference was huge, with over 600 delegates. It opened at the Hobart City Hall last Sunday night. The mood was welcoming and mellow, but the political dialogue and the tensions around Indigenous issues in Australia always give the debate a very serious edge. The photo below shows Jim Everett on the left, a Tasmanian Aboriginal man who MCd the conference. He was later arrested at the weekend, along with his mate Michael Mansell, for demonstrating against some development that placed Aboriginal heritage sites at risk (big front page news in the Hobart newspapers!).

I loved the special insight we were given about Aboriginal culture in Tasmania at the Museum and Gallery. The history of the relationship of Tasmanian Aborigines and the colonisers is a violent and tragic one - and quite politically loaded since the incarceration of the last of the traditional people.

In amongst all the tragedy I loved seeing the fibre exhibition celebrating contemporary Aboriginal craftswomen's interpretation of traditional basket weaving techniques. Along with their beautiful shell necklace making it's more powerful evidence of the resilience of traditional Aboriginal culture and beliefs in Tasmania.

We left Hobart on Wednesday afternoon in our little hired Hyundai Getz for Strahan on Macquarie Harbour on the NW Coast. It was a 5 hour drive, along the gentle, green Derwent Valley north of Hobart, then the slow mountain roads of the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park and the arid but brilliantly coloured moonscape/landscape around Queenstown, over 30km west of Strahan.

We arrived in time to walk around the inlet to Regatta Point and watch the sun set behind Strahan Village on Wednesday evening.

We climbed the hill in the morning to enjoy breakfast and the view from the deck of View 42o Restaurant on what proved to be our last sunny, warmish morning in Tasmania.

Before heading off to Cradle Mountain we took a peek at Lettes Bay a few minuted South of Strahan. It is obviously a fishing village with rough shelters spread all along the "parkland" at the water's edge. We could imagine fishermen descending on the village at the weekend, starting up their tinnies and taking some pride in their little "squats". It struck me as a kind of Tasmanian blokes' Paradise.

Cradle Mountain National Park was only a three hour drive from Strahan, but a whole world away. We settled into the Cradle Mountain Chateau, enjoying the warmth and comfort as the weather turned cold, wet and windy in the mountains.
We managed to get in a short "Enchanted Walk" on our first afternoon. The vegetation was amazing in this alpine environment. Freakish fungi and algae outgrowths and water gushing and rushing in clean mountain streams everywhere. The picture below shows the clumps of button grass that are the predominant ground cover, in the open away from dense tree cover.

We learnt that this is what a healthy Waratah plant looks like in its natural environment.

We explored the grounds of the "Chateau" and enjoyed watching the bird life and family groups of pademelons making themselves at home in the environment, without any apparent fear of humans.

This pademelon was enjoying his dinner just outside the balcony of our room.

Although our only full day at Cradle Mountain on Friday dawned cool and cloudy we set out with high hopes of seeing the mountain and Dove Lake in its best light. To get there as quickly as possible we took the little transit bus to travel the over 8km to the mountain.

Our 7.7km circuit of Dove Lake allowed us stunning views of the mountain and its mirrored crater lake as the Cradle Mountain ridge gradually emerged from the layers of mist and cloud that had covered its peaks when we arrived.
It was breathtaking to see this landscape and we were absolutely elated by the experience. So elated that we made the decision to continue walking, around Lake Lilli to Ronny Creek, then Snake Hill, back to the Visitor's Centre, over 8 kms walking, mostly along the Cradle Valley, giving us close up encounters with wombats, an echidna, endless button grass, King Billy pines and pandanas - all unique features of this national park.
We celebrated our wonderful day of experiences and our great effort in walking over 16kms with a slap up meal at the Chateau that night, the highlight of which was the unlimited supply of fresh Bruny Island oysters and delicious Tasmanian salmon (cooked whole and served rare the way I like it).

We left Cradle Mountain on Saturday morning in rather wild and stormy weather as we thanked our lucky stars we'd been able to time our visit so well in the previous day and a half. We headed East through isolated little hamlets, bypassing Launceston, stopping for a short while at the very retro Campbell Town before heading North East to the Freycinet National Park, around a four hour drive including stops.
In driving rain, wind and very limited visibility we made the decision not to do any walking in the park, thereby passing up the chance to see Wineglass Bay etc etc. We made do with a rather damp, cold and grim stalk around a small bit of Coles Bay as we tried to discern the The Hazards - the mountain backbone of the Northern part of the Freycinet Peninsula through the rain soaked clouds.

We gave up fairly quickly and drove away from Freycinet around Great Oyster Bay to the seaside village of Swansea where we settled in to our very comfortable beach side cabin (at inner city hotel prices) for the afternoon, watching DVDs and snacking as the steel grey ocean churned and the wind and rain blew horizontally against the windows. The next morning we heard on the news that 83cm of rain had fallen on Swansea overnight. We drove back down to Hobart yesterday morning watching the estuary waters along the coastline spreading rapidly around the highway. It was only 11o in Hobart.
Back in Canberra now, much cooler than when we left but the garden is already drying out and needs a drink.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bali Ella

We entertained our friends with a Balinese inspired lunch this weekend and it reminded me I hadn't posted any pictures of Ella on her first visit to Bali last month (not counting the in-utero visit back in 2006).

Ella seemed to love Bali as much as we do. Being with her Mummy and Daddy the whole time, swimming in the pool, Balinese desserts and fruit drinks, endless variations on beaded shoes and making conversation with the locals proved to be her favourite things about Bali. She is quite insistent she wants to go back "one day" (with her Mummy and Daddy).

Josh and Jody and Ella enjoyed this amazing seafood feast on Jimbarin Beach on their last evening in Bali. Despite everything being so beautiful and fresh Josh and Jody were struck down afterwards by a terrible tummy bug (Ella was fine thankfully). First time any of us has ever experienced food / water related illness in Bali in our six or so visits! Bad luck!

Melbourne Erin

Our niece Erin left Canberra to join her John in Melbourne at the weekend. We know she is happy and excited about the move, to be back with John, establishing a wonderful new home, career and life in this wonderful city. But it doesn't stop us feeling sad waving her off on this great new adventure.

Thank you Erin for all the joy you've brought us over the years. I remember this Christmas afternoon in 1987 so well, in our very green and shady back garden, with you and the the rest of the kids so calm and happy after our huge celebration day together.

And 22 years later, thank you for allowing us to be a part of yours and John's beautiful wedding in April this year.

We will miss you Erin, and your John, and will look forward to catching up in Melbourne whenever we can. Good luck!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sculpted by Sydney

This year our "sisters and spouses reunion (long) weekend" in Sydney coincided with the "Sculpture by the Sea" exhibition from Tamarama to Bondi. We avoided the weekend crush by using our first Friday morning together to experience "Sculpture by the Sea". We walked from Coogee to Tamarama, along the new Sesqui Boardwalk on this cool, windy, overcast Sydney morning.

Glamorous Tamarama beach had been transformed into a stunning, sandy, gallery space. I loved seeing giggling schoolchildren, coachloads of tourists and earnest locals interacting with the works, against the fabulous backdrop of ocean and sandstone cliffs.

One of our favourite works was this spectacular, slow moving, kinetic sculpture set high above the cliffs above the Southern end of Bondi Beach.

But none of us could work out how to pick a winner from this diverse collection of works!

We braved the early Friday afternoon bumper to bumper traffic on Parramatta Road to travel West to Auburn for a late Turkish lunch at Cafe Mado and then coffee and Lebanese pastries at the wondrous Abla's at Granville. We also found it hard to resist a visit to Authentic Turkish Delight at RT's at Auburn.

We were able to meet up with Jeremy and Claire and the boys in Coogee this weekend too. We had great fun sharing an early evening meal at our favourite Clovelly Pub and Sunday morning breakfast at the newly spruced up Barzura's on the Southern end of Coogee Beach. Angie was in fine form and enjoying the opportunity to spread his influence around Sydney and Ollie was inspired by his Poppa's explanations about playing Chess.

We crammed a lot in on Sunday. Bus, then train to Milson's Point for the Kirribilli Art and Design Markets, then walk to Lavender Bay and a wander around Wendy Whiteley's garden. I didn't get to have much of a wander. I tripped on the wet stone stairs, twisting my ankle/foot and falling flat on my behind. I had lots of kind people to help me recover but it made walking for the rest of the day very painful.

Wendy was working in the garden. She must have groaned seeing me topple over on the stairs (..another likely lawsuit perhaps!). She came over for a chat after a while and checked I'd survived. She told us that the sculpted stone tablet we'd noticed at the entry to the garden was new and that the words were from a Van Morrison song on his Astral Weeks album.

One of my kind helpers suggested we walk back to Milson's Point via the boardwalk around the harbour, past Luna Park. It proved to be a spectacular way to go.

Ferry to Watson's Bay - lunch at Doyle's - back to Coogee - then on to see An Education at the Randwick Ritz. What a day!!!

Ros and Pete headed back to Sandy Beach this morning, we all headed back to Canberra. Our four days together will be treasured until the next opportunity to meet again!