Ha Long Bay – Bay of the Descending Dragon – Vietnam

The Emerald waters of Ha Long Bay

The Emerald waters of Ha Long Bay

The wonders of the world have been put on hold for us due to the Covid19 and border closures but we can still remember the great times we had, the beautiful places we have been and better still we can share them with others so they can enjoy them.  They may even bring back great memories and joy to those who have traveled to this most exotic part of the world before.  Today I am going back to our trip to Vietnam in 2018 and more specifically Ha Long Bay.

A beautiful panorama of Ha Long Bay

A beautiful panorama of Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay is situated in northern Vietnam and is about a 3 hour drive from Hanoi (approx. 170kms).  The Bay consists of an endless array of Islands (some 1969 of which 980 are named), islets, caves and forests to explore as well as the wonders of those floating villages you hear so much about.  Legend has it Ha Long Bay islands and islets were created by the dragons helping to defend Vietnam against attacking armies when the country was newly formed.

Some of the many islands of Ha Long Bay

Some of the many islands of Ha Long Bay

Our cruise of Ha Long Bay was all part of our 23 Day Natural Wonders of Vietnam and Cambodia tour with Travelmarvel.  We had already explored Hanoi and Sapa and we were looking forward to our cruise of this gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage listed site which we had heard and seen so much about.  It was now our turn to explore and see what all the fuss was about.

We arrived and boarded our Auco Cruise (www.aucocruises.com) which set sail on a sunny day, heading out into the bay and into the maze of islands that lay beyond.  The array of boats and junks heading out to explore Ha Long Bay is amazing and everywhere you look there is yet another junk gliding through the bay, heading off to see this amazing sight.  After a wonderful lunch on board we had our first expedition to visit Tien Ong Cave (one of many caves dotted throughout Ha Long Bay).

Tien Ong Cave

Tien Ong Cave

Tien Ong Cave is a large and spectacular cave (over 1000 square metres)  which has all the obligatory stalactites and stalagmites as well as a history of archaeology and a display of artifacts from the Hoa Binh Culture dating back many, many, many years.

Our day of exploring done we head back to our boat for dinner and fun.  The great thing about doing this type of cruise/tour is that you can relax and enjoy yourself, get well fed, meet great people and have some fun.  We had great fun after dinner in the spring roll making competition and the squid fishing, both bringing lots of laughter to everyone on board.

The floating village

The floating village

Day two saw us winding our way through and past more wonderful islands and formations and into floating villages to Cua Van where we had the option of kayaking or being toured around on a Sampan.  I went for the Sampan (bamboo boat) and Wayne opted for the kayak.  We cruised past village homes, fishing boats and beautiful scenery before disembarking to wander around the fishing museum to learn about the area and the fishing village life and culture.  We enjoyed people watching and the makeshift boat where a plastic chair was used as the seat and the man paddling used his feet instead of his hands.  I don’t know how he did it but he looked very relaxed (if it was me I would have been overboard in a matter of seconds!).

The Sampan we cruised on

The Sampan we cruised on

After yet another wonderfully tasty lunch on board we cruised through more scenically wonderful and beautiful places before a visit to a secluded beach where we were able to swim, kayak and enjoy the sunshine.  While we were there a Vietnamese lady had what I would call a floating bar/shop and was trying to sell to us drinks and snacks.  She even had a basket to take your money So you could hang over your balcony and get your goods.  It was so funny.

Having fun at the beach

Having fun at the beach

We also went for a bike ride to visit Viet Hai Village (a remote area of Cat Ba Island) where we toured the village and the gardens.  The bikes had no gears but we did get helmets.  The ride was a bit flat, uphill, downhill, through a tunnel and along village roads.  It was so much fun and the people of Vietnam so far are so very nice and pleasant.

Bhaya Farm at Viet Hai Village for our cycling trip

Bhaya Farm at Viet Hai Village where we went for our cycling trip

Back on board we enjoyed a wonderful last night with a special BBQ on the top deck, the food was fantastic and there was fruit carving demonstrations and music.  A most pleasant evening.  Followed the next morning by a Vietnamese Tea Ceremony before we disembarked to continue to our next destination.

A night in Ha Long Bay

A night in Ha Long Bay

This was a cruise of not only beauty and wonder but of local culture, lifestyle and family.  The scenery was magnificent but I do wonder if they let too many boats into the area and what damage is being done to the area.  Like most of Vietnam the waters are scattered with rubbish in some areas but if you can see past that you can see the beauty of a laid back and somewhat carefree life.

Heading back into port after a few great days in Ha Long Bay

Heading back into port after a few great days in Ha Long Bay

It is a must if you visit Vietnam and to do a cruise makes it easy, enjoyable, fun and relaxing.

Our lady grocer!

Our lady grocer!

Love this boat!

Love this boat!

 

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A funny thing happened on the way to the fridge, the oven, the table……………

Happy food memories

Happy food memories

I have always associated food with fun, food with family and food with laughter.  In our family we spent many a day, night and hours around a kitchen table eating laughing and having fun.  I have so many memories that when I start thinking of them all I chuckle to myself and wonder if I have the right words to share these memories so they will make you laugh too.

A celebration of cakes!

A celebration of cakes!

My mum was always one for making sure a birthday, anniversary or any type of achievement was celebrated.  Usually that included food and most always included a cake of some description.  They weren’t always well decorated, they usually had a fun decoration or saying on them and sometimes they were even cake.  My favourite birthday cake was actually my mums Chocolate Pudding Pie which was made with a Graham Cracker Crust (all my American friends and family know what that is), a packet of Chocolate Pudding mix (for my Australian family and friends this is like a packet custard to you) and of course it had to have whipped cream to go with it!

No matter what age, I always liked my Chocolate Pie instead of birthday cake!

No matter what age, I always liked my Chocolate Pie instead of birthday cake!

When I was a teenager my sister and I wanted to do something special for mum and dad for their anniversary. We arranged for them to have a weekend away (romantic) and made a special treat for them to take (still romantic?!).  I really don’t know what we were thinking but we made a rice bubble slice with the words Eat Me, Eat Me written on it!  There really is no romance to be had in that one but hey it tasted good.  I still to this day am not sure what the meaning of it was, what we were thinking (we were teenagers, the brain hasn’t quite fully developed at that stage of life right….) but I do remember laughing a lot when we gave it to them…

Yes this is the romantic 'Cake' we made for mum and dads anniversary!

Yes this is the romantic ‘Cake’ we made for mum and dads anniversary!

Living in America as a youngster we had a lot of convenience style foods that were bought from the grocery store and I will always remember Pillsbury rolls and biscuits.  They came in a tube, cardboard wrapped round the dough with metal ends to hold it together.  We always wanted to open them as you would hit them square in the middle on the edge of the table and ‘POP’ it would split open, expand and Voila….  Dough!  Pillsbury also wrote little paperback cookbooks (of which I have many) and in one of these books was a recipe for a savoury mince dinner with a crescent topping.  Mum busied herself in the kitchen making this new and exciting meal for us and we were all getting very excited to try something new.  Well…..  Mum must have been having a very bad day..  She made the meal, she baked it in the oven, the house was smelling wonderful with the aromas of meat, spices and bread.  We were all getting very hungry.  Dinner time, ready to eat, no dinner!  What went wrong?  We could still smell the scent of food but there was nothing on the table.  Mum materialised from the kitchen, the smile on her face long gone, no food or love coming our way – just a comment that deflated us and rocked us to the core.  “Where is dinner?” we asked, anxious to eat.  “Don’t know what you are having for dinner as I know you won’t like what I cooked so I am not serving it!” mum replied (Ok it probably wasn’t those exact words but it would have been close).  She had gotten it into her head for some reason that the meal wasn’t going to be any good, we weren’t going to like it so she wasn’t going to give it to us.  Well I don’t remember what we had for dinner that night but we did get to try this new meal the following night and it was a favourite of ours for some time after that.  We still laugh and tease mum to this day about that episode of ‘What’s for Dinner?”.

Pillsbury and the meal we didn't get!

Pillsbury and the meal we didn’t get!

I also remember a time back in the early eighties when the food of both Australia and England was quite bland and lack lustre.  I had moved to London with a dear friend for a working holiday and we worked and stayed with my friend’s family.  One night we went out for dinner with a group of friends, family and workmates.  The table was laid nicely, with small plates holding little yellow slices of what my friend thought was cheese.   It looked like cheese, it was cut into little wedges like cheese, it was the same colour as cheese, it must have been cheese right?!  Well my hungry friend’s eyes alighted on these little yellow morsels and he just couldn’t resist grabbing one and popping it into his mouth.  As soon as the ‘cheese’ hit his tongue it started to melt in his mouth just like butter!  Oh yeah…  That’s right it was butter, not cheese and the look on his face was priceless as they say.  He couldn’t just spit it out so he swallowed it down with a cringe on his face and acted as if nothing had happened.  The rest of the night went on without a hitch.. Moral of the story “If it’s on a plate all alone and not surrounded by other goodies it is probably butter not cheese”.  Funniest thing I have ever seen!

And this is why I love food.  You just never know what is going to end up on your table or even in your mouth and you can always guarantee that you will get a laugh at your own or someone else’s expense.  Which leads me to another funny food story.  Crabs!  Don’t you love crabs.

Crabbing round the kitchen

Crabbing round the kitchen

It was my birthday and we were living in Aurora, Colorado.  We had a friend who was able to always come up with the goods.  No matter what you wanted he knew where to get it.  It was like one of those old movies, give the guy an envelope with some cash in it and the next thing you know you had a delivery.  Just what you wanted…..  Well it wasn’t quite like that but it sounds good.  Anyway our friend Don was able to secure a box of fresh crabs for my birthday which was pretty hard to do when you are in a state that is land-locked.  So there we were with a foam lined crate filled with live crabs and no dad to help us do this thing correctly.  You see my dad was the crab expert from Baltimore, Maryland home of crabs, crab cakes and Old Bay Spice but he was away working at the time.  We had to get them out of the box and into the freezer so we could put them to sleep but before we could do that they tried to escape their little prison.  They crawled out (not all of them thankfully) of the box and across the floor so we were chasing them around with BBQ tongs trying to catch them.  Probably would have worked better had we not been laughing so hard.  Tears rolling down the face, laughing and clacking tongs while running around the kitchen, yes it really was hard work trying to keep up with the little blighters.  But we got there in the end and we had a fantastic meal of Old Bay Spice Steamed Crabs.  Happy Birthday to me!  Hehe…

And now before I go I just have one last little food story that I know will make a few people smile especially my family.  My mother has always had a fridge full of food, she always had the ability and the ingredients to feed whomever came to our home.  And there were many people who came to our home, ate at our table and laughed with us.  Now she lives on her own and we are all scattered around the country so she doesn’t get to cook for us as much as she used to but she still loves doing it on a smaller scale these days.

So wouldn’t you think that she would need less food, maybe even a smaller refrigerator?  Well think again.  When my Aunty and Uncle came to visit us in Australia from their home in Texas my Aunty just couldn’t get over the amount of food my mum had in the fridge.  She was so impressed she just had to take a photo…  Here is the photo of the fridge of my 80 odd year old mother, one person!  Now if this doesn’t make you laugh I don’t know what will.

A fridge for One

A fridge for One

I hope I have been able to make you smile, maybe even a little laugh and hopefully maybe even making you think of your own funny food memories as that is what it is all about.  Food, Fun, Family, friends and laughter of course.

“Laughter is brightest where food is best”

Irish Proverb

 

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Bay of Islands New Zealand – The beauty of sand, sea, land, and sky!

Te Pahi Island

Te Pahi Island

Wayne and I are finding it hard at the moment to be still, to not be travelling or even thinking about travelling as we had so many plans for 2021. In any given year we are either planning an overseas trip or travelling within Australia so there is always something exciting to look forward to. But at the moment all the plans and the travel have come to a grinding halt which then makes me reflect and reminisce about past trips. And New Zealand was a trip we both enjoyed immensely and a place we want to go back to as there is just so much more to see and do. I previously posted about the first few days of our trip which included Whangarei so now I want to share with you a beautiful part of the North Island, The Bay of Islands. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Main street in Paihia

Main street in Paihia

The Bay of Islands is located in the waters off the coast of Paihia in the Northland area of the North Island of New Zealand. The seaside township of Paihia is home to approx. 1700 locals but is a busy tourist hub. Known as “The Jewel of The Bay of Islands” it is a place where you can get out on and in the water, learn about New Zealand History, go for walks and drives and just explore!

The start of our Cream trip 1st of many islands

The start of our Cream trip 1st of many islands

And so we did! We booked our tour of the islands with Fullers Great Sights (www.dolphincruises.co.nz) deciding on “The Cream Trip” (we knew of others who had done this tour and loved it) which follows the original cream trip route, the route used for deliveries since 1927 and yes they still deliver mail and supplies to this day. This full day trip is not to be missed as you get to see many of the islands, you can boom-net off the side of the boat, watch dolphins frolicking and showing-off and even spend time at Otehei Bay for a walk and some lunch.

The small township of Russell

The small township of Russell

A view of Tapeka Point Bay of Islands

A view of Tapeka Point Bay of Islands

Our first stop was at the township of Russell across the bay from Paihia which was New Zealand’s first capital city and home to some historic and beautiful buildings. This was only a delivery and drop off stop but you can get the ferry across to explore on your own. From here we cruised past Tapeka Point before heading to Moturoa which is the second largest island in The Bay of Islands and is known for its sheep farming. After our delivery we cruised past Te Pahi Islands and onto Rangihoua Bay and Marsden Cross. This is Departmentt of Conservation land and is where Reverend Samuel Marsden held the first Christian sermon in New Zealand on Christmas Day 1814 and was also home to a Maori Chief named Te Pahi.

A view of Moturoa

A view of Moturoa

A view of the Marsden Cross

A view of the Marsden Cross

 

The contrast of colours at Black Rock

The contrast of colours at Black Rock

The scenery is fascinating and eye-catching, you just don’t know where to look, it is beautiful and breathtaking. Our cruise continued to Black Rocks (a group of volcanic rocks), Nine Pin protruding from the waters and looking very lonely before heading to Motukokako also known as Piercy Island (which was the name Captain Cook gave it, naming it after the First Lord of the Admiralty at the time) and even better known as Hole in the Rock due to the hole which has formed over centuries by wind and waves.  It stands high and proud off the tip of Cape Brett Peninsula, its sheer cliffs rising 148 metres out of the Pacific Ocean. It is mesmerising to say the least.

Travelling through Hole in the Rock

Travelling through Hole in the Rock

Hole in the Rock - Bay of Islands

Hole in the Rock – Bay of Islands

Not far away is Cape Brett Peninsula (Rakaumangamanga) home to the Cape Brett Lighthouse which has been operating since 21st February 1910 but the history of the island and the first Maori’s to arrive date back 1000 years.

The light house at Cape Brett Peninsula

The light house at Cape Brett Peninsula

The islands just keep coming as there are some 144 islands in the Bay of Islands group and we cannot possibly see them all in one day. So we now head to Urupukapuka and Otehei Bay to stretch the legs, have a walk and enjoy some lunch. Urupukapuka is the largest of all the islands in the group and is home to Otehei Bay. There are walks, water activities, picnic areas and a conservation centre. It has history of ancient Maori tribes as well as being known in more recent times as a place visited and written about by Zane Grey (American author, sportsman and conservationist).

A view back to the boat at Otehei Bay

A view back to the boat at Otehei Bay

A view through the trees at Otehei Bay

A view through the trees at Otehei Bay

A lunchtime walk at the top of Otehei Bay

A lunchtime walk at the top of Otehei Bay

Back on the boat the boom-net came out. Oh the laughs we had watching people trying to hang on, losing tops and bottoms, getting wedgies. Oh we laughed! But they all seemed to be enjoying themselves, having fun and embracing the experience. There were dolphins to swim with and watch as the played, teased and then swam away.

The Boom Net and Swimming with the dolphins

The Boom Net and Swimming with the dolphins

We continued cruising past Motukiekie, Moturua and Motuarohia Islands all fascinating and beautiful and all with a history and story to be told. Moturua a scenic reserve and regenerating native forest is home to Manuka and Kanuka trees. Motukiekie is a privately owned island and Motuarohia is where Captain James Cook anchored HMS Endeavour off during his expedition and is also known as Roberton Island. Many of the islands have walking tracks and trails to be discovered and enjoyed so make sure you check them out at https://www.doct.gov.nz. And once you start reading, researching and exploring the options you will see why we have to go back as we couldn’t possibly fit everything in!

Motukiekie Island Beach

Motukiekie Island Beach

And so that was the end of our journey. As we headed back into Paihia we reflected on the beauty and history, the sights, the wildlife and the fun. It was a great day with plenty to see but it was also relaxing. I would recommend this tour to everyone as it is a great tour for all. You won’t be disappointed and you will end the day with a smile on your face and joy in your heart.

Cruising back in to Paihia

Cruising back in to Paihia

If you want any more information on the Bay of Islands you can find it at https://www.visitboi.co.nz/

Dolphins in the Bay of Islands

Dolphins in the Bay of Islands

 

New Zealand, a land of beauty, grace, history, fun and people!

 

A view when leaving the bay and Urupukapuka

A view when leaving the bay and Urupukapuka

Cape Brett Peninsula

Cape Brett Peninsula Rakaumangamanga

 

Motukokako - Better known as Hole in the Rock

Motukokako – Better known as Hole in the Rock

 

 

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Blue Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

Blue Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

Blue Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

Oven Temperature 180 degrees Celsius

Makes 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 Large Mushrooms (Large Flat, Portobello, Swiss Brown)
  • 4 Small Mushrooms (any sort/type)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 Cloves Garlic (crushed, finely chopped or grated)
  • 2 Spring/Green Onions, sliced
  • 60 grams baby spinach, chopped
  • 1 cup Breadcrumbs (can use Panko or normal)
  • 50 grams Blue Cheese (Gorgonzola), crumbled
  • ¼ cup dry white wine (whatever you have on hand)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Wipe mushrooms clean and remove the stalks from the large mushrooms to use in the stuffing.  Chop the stalks and place in a warm medium size fry pan with the olive oil, chopped small mushrooms, garlic, spring onion, pepper and salt (to your liking/taste).  Sauté lightly over medium heat until softened but not browned.

Chopped mushrooms in the pan

Chopped mushrooms in the pan

Add the spinach and stir through until just wilted, add the breadcrumbs and cook for about 5 minutes until combined and bread crumbs are well incorporated, stirring so it won’t stick to the pan and burn.  You may need to add a little more olive oil if it is too dry.

Sauteing all the goodies

Sauteing all the goodies

Remove pan from heat, let cool for about 20 minutes then add the cheese and mix through until even distributed (I do this with my hands as I can then break up any bigger chunks of cheese and distribute it more evenly).

Mushrooms oiled and waiting to be stuffed

Mushrooms oiled and waiting to be stuffed

In the meantime wipe the large mushroom caps (not the inside) with olive oil and place into a baking dish big enough to hold all four mushrooms.  Fill each mushroom with the stuffing so that you have a nice mound in each one.  Pour the dry white wine into the bottom of the dish. It should just cover the bottom of the dish, keeping the mushrooms moist and to make sure nothing burns. Make sure you don’t get the filling wet as this would make it soggy.

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Place mushrooms in preheated oven and bake for 25-30 minutes.  Always check that they are not over cooking, they will be ready when the top is golden brown and crunchy.

A great addition to any meal

A great addition to any meal

Hints:

Trim the cut ends of the mushroom stalks as they can be quite dry and hard making them unpleasant in the stuffing mix.

I use quite a bit of pepper as we love it but use the amount you are comfortable with.  Same with the salt.  I don’t add salt but most people would probably like a bit in the mix to add flavour.  This is your choice.

You can also add fresh herbs of your choosing to add more flavour.  Chives and parsley are great.

Great fresh ingredients

Great fresh ingredients

You can change the cheese if you do not like blue cheese.  There are numerous blue cheeses available but I always go for a milder flavoured one.  But this recipe will work with Cheddar, Fetta, Parmesan.  Each will give you a different outcome.

You can also mix up the filling by adding different vegetables to the mix.  Don’t like spinach, add grated zucchini.  I love playing around with ingredients and flavours, so have a go and see what you can come up with.

Baby Spinach whole and chopped

Baby Spinach whole and chopped

Don’t like or have wine in the house replace it with vegetable or chicken stock.  This works just as well.

Serve these as a side to a meal or as a meal itself with a nice salad.  They make great vegetable burgers as well.

Enjoy, have fun and stay healthy!

Stuffed and ready to eat

Stuffed and ready to eat

 

 

 

Posted in Home, Recipes, Salads, Sides, Snacks and Leftovers | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran

A good book and a cup of tea.

I love reading books that marry a good story with good food as these are two of my favourite things (books/reading and food!).  So when I saw this book a few years ago I just had to have it.  But like many of you I buy books, buy more books and then as if I didn’t have enough I actually buy yet more books.  Then the TBR pile just gets bigger and bigger and finally a couple of years after you found that great book you actually read it.

Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran is a book about family, life, hardships, friendship and how food becomes a language most people can and will relate to.  The story revolves around three sisters, Marjan Aminpour (the oldest sister), Bahar (the middle sister) and Layla (the younger sister) who escaped Iran during the revolution fleeing to London then onto a small Irish village called Ballinacroagh.  From the first paragraph I was drawn into this new world, this sleepy Irish town, the scents, sights and sounds that leap off the pages and into your heart.

The Blurb!

Marjan, Bahar and Layla are all so very different yet they all hold the same family values, always looking after each other even when times were tough.  Having fled the revolution they realised they would have to make a new life using the skills and knowledge they had from their past and for Marjan this would revolve around food.  She talks of the smells of herbs and spices, the healing powers of these same herbs and spices and the use of food in bringing people together, making people feel welcome.

Marjan has a real love of food, planting and growing herbs, cooking wonderful fragrant recipes and sharing her spoils with others.  Bahar is a nurse who escaped a bad relationship when they left Iran and is still trying to find her way in the world but struggles because of the fear.  And Layla, still young and adventurous, is excited by the prospect of a new life and a new love.  Although this is a story of their life they aren’t the only great characters in this book and that is why it is such a wonderful tale.  From the first page (quote page 1:- Had Thomas McGuire stopped to admire the fanfare of saffron rays, he might have missed the beginning of the end of his rule over the sleepy seaside town) you’ll find Thomas McGuire is going to be a force to be reckoned with.  A publican and business owner he believes he owns and rules Ballinacroagh, averse to change if it isn’t his idea!

And so the story begins, the three sisters moving to Ballinacroagh, renting the old Delmonico pastry shop from Mrs Estelle Delmonico and changing it into ‘The Babylon Café’.  Mrs Delmonico, the widow of Luigi who ran Papa’s Pastries for many years until his death, misses her husband, loves a good feed and believes in the same ideals as Marjan, that food brings people together and heals the soul.  She becomes a frequent fixture in the café and in the story.

Other great characters are Dervla Quigley (town gossip and busybody) along with Father Fergal Mahoney (the cafes first customer and all round good guy), Malachy McGuire (one of Thomas McGuire’s sons) and mini-mart owner Danny Fadden (who has a liking and belief in Fairies and fairy tales).  The characters (and there are more) in this novel are what makes it a joy to read.  They each bring a tale, a personality and laughter to the story, they fill the pages with life, love and in some cases even hate.

Elephant Ears crop up throughout this book.

But one of my favourite things about this book is it revolves around food.  Each chapter begins with a Persian recipe which is related to in that chapter.  It doesn’t overtake the story, it is there, it is part of the story, it is an ingredient in that chapter (and beyond).  This is not just a story of the lives of three women but a story about food, about bringing people together, about experiencing new ways of life and about healing.

Your senses will come alive with each page you read, you can almost smell the fresh herbs and spices, the pots of Red Lentil Soup bubbling on the stove top or that sweet honey syrup that has just been poured over warm baklava.  You can see the flames dancing and hear the pans hissing making you feel as if you are right there in the kitchen with Marjan, you can almost taste the Abgusht, the Elephant Ears and the Torshi.  But best of all you feel the friendships made over food, with food and because of food.  Have I made you hungry yet?

Food and how it affects the people it enchants.

There are many ups and downs throughout with moments of laughter, sadness, grief, joy and love.  It will make you think of others and the hardships some people did and still do endure to start a new life in another country but it also brings out the good in people, the kindness and friendship that is handed out by the many decent and moral people of the world.

The recipe ‘Lavash’ and the story behind it.

It is a wonderful, joyous book to read and a book for those that may be adventurous with their cooking as there are numerous recipes you can try.  I just loved the names of the dishes and even though I may not try to make them all (I may try a couple and if I do I will share the results with you) they all sound exotic, tasty and wonderful.

“She liked to remember that above all else, above all the unfortunate connotations of death and winter, the pomegranate was, and always would be, the fruit of hope.”

I now look forward to reading the next one ‘ROSEWATER AND SODA BREAD’.

Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran

 

Posted in Cookbooks and Books, Home, Reviews | Tagged , , , , ,

A beach where ‘HOPE’ comes in waves

Doesn't get much better than this!

Doesn’t get much better than this!

It is wonderful that after all the isolation, social distancing, scary viruses, being indoors and not being able to go to your favourite places (or even discover new favourite places) we can now get out and about again and enjoy our surroundings.  And what beautiful surroundings we have here in Tasmania.

Iron Pot Lighthouse and Cape Direction

Iron Pot Lighthouse and Cape Direction

Yes I know, I do say that all the time and yes I am a little tiny bit biased but we are so lucky here in Tassie to have such crisp, clean air to breath, sunshine that warms you to the bone even on a cold winters day and of course the beauty of nature and the great outdoors.  So what better way to spend a day on the first weekend of the Covid19 restrictions being eased than somewhere so aptly named Hope Beach.

Sand dunes on one side....

Sand dunes on one side….

The sea on the other!

The sea on the other!

Hope Beach is situated in South Arm approximately 34km south-east of Hobart, a place where people go to stay in their shacks, to go surfing and/or to get away from the everyday rat race!  It is a popular surf beach and excellent for walking with its 5km of sandy beach, white capped waves on one side and sand dunes on the other.  Your eyes just don’t know where to look, the waves pounding the beach and lapping at your feet, the sand dunes with their grasses billowing in the breeze, the surfers trying to catch a wave, the bits and bobs which have landed on the beach during the previous high tide or the islands and rocky cliffs and shelves waiting to be explored.

 

So off we went, having parked at the end of Roaring Beach Road we trundled up and over the first sand dune to be confronted by a vast (and empty) beach.  To the left we could see Cape Direction, ahead Iron Pot Lighthouse, the waves and the blue waters of Storm Bay.  We took a left turn and headed towards Goat Bluff.  Today we only walked a little over half of the beach (approx. 6kms round trip) of the 10km round trip if you walk from Fort Direction to Goat Bluff Lookout.  We will go back another day and either do the whole walk or finish what we started – which means I will have more photos to share.

Interesting finds. Love it!

Interesting finds. Love it!

Waving at Hope Beach!

Waving at Hope Beach!

The sand was soft and the walking was certainly giving the calves and thighs a good workout (do that a few times and you’d have ‘Buns of Steel’ I reckon…..).  The sea litter scattered along the beach was an interesting assortment of driftwood, shells and seaweed, the sand dunes provided great portraits in the sand made by the grasses blowing in the breeze and the waves……  Well they are just mesmerising, relaxing and enchanting.  Wayne and I would just stand there and watch as each wave rolled in eventually landing at our feet and sometimes making us run backwards to get away from them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We walked, we ambled we stopped, we looked.  Betsey Island loomed large in front of us as Iron Pot Lighthouse continued to shrink behind before we turned back and enjoyed it all again!  It was a wonderful day out in the sun and sea air and it did wonders for the body and the soul.

Betsey Island

Betsey Island

Each island, cape, bluff and lighthouse has its own story to tell.  Stories of Tasmania’s past, stories of convicts, shipwrecks, wars and more.  As we explore these areas I will provide you with more information but for now I just want you to enjoy the photos as much as we enjoyed the walk.

The beach forest

The beach forest

Portraits in the sand!

Portraits in the sand!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheers for now.  Stay safe, stay healthy and always keep smiling!  Life is there for the taking so have fun, explore and enjoy every moment……

Seashell and sand!

Seashell and sand!

What washes up on shore.

What washes up on shore.

 

Posted in Home, My Travels, Walks and Tasmania, Tasmania the Beautiful | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The year 2020 is not what I was hoping for!

The year 2020 is not the year I was hoping it would be.  Yes I planned to get this blog going again which is now happening but I planned to do so much more.   More travel, more volunteering, more getting involved in the things I love (theatre, reading groups, even the CWA!) and planning that big trip around the world that my partner and I were hanging out for.

Life over the past few months has certainly changed for us, no walks in National Parks, no trips away for the weekend, no visits to family interstate, no nothing really.  And that hurts!  But on the bright side Wayne and I still manage to have fun and laugh a lot!  We planned our Saturday’s to be our big day out.  Off to the shops to pick up some groceries, the newsagent to pick up a lotto ticket, the hardware store to get a few bits and bobs for the house and always a walk in the sunshine.  We laughed (and had others laughing) when we raced to see who could get to the social distancing spot on the floor in the line for the checkouts first.  We made sure we said hello to every single person we saw on our walks, some people were oblivious and rude, some surprised but most were pleasant and happy just like us!

One funny thing found in my Covid19 tidy ups around the house was a small booklet from the 1940’s that must have been given to Americans who were moving to Australia to help fight in the war.  There were many parts of this booklet that made both Wayne (Australian born) and me (American born) laugh until the tears flowed but one of my favourites was about the language.  It stated that we all (Americans, Australians and the English) spoke the same language, as such, but there were differences like…..  “the habit Australians have in pronouncing ‘A’ as ‘I’ – for instance, ‘the trine is lite todi.’”  Now I know that Australians will find this quite hilarious as we did but for those who may be confused it means ‘the train is late today’….  You really need the Aussie accent to get it right!  Oh and the Americans think we have “funny animals’.  Go figure!

So other than all the normal things like cooking, cleaning, rearranging my books in alphabetical order by surname, I worked on getting this blog back up and running and to keep it going this time.  I have changed the layout slightly and the categories but I am still bringing you everything I love about life, cooking, food, travel, reading and walking in the great outdoors.  I have numerous books to review that revolve around food, some fiction, some cookbooks and some travel.  I have many memories and photos of past trips and walks to keep you entertained and I hope I can share more hints and tips with you about how to make life, cooking and travel that little bit easier.

So come along for the ride with me and thank you all for following me and sticking with me.

Enjoy life, enjoy good food and enjoy travel.  That is what I live for!

Cheers for now and stay tuned for my review of Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran coming soon.

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At My French Table by Jane Webster – Review

The book - At My French Table by Jane Webster

The book – At My French Table by Jane Webster

I picked this memoir, biography, auto-biography, (whatever you want to call it) up from my local library.  I love reading other people’s stories and they’re even better if they involve food and travel, two of my favourite things!

This is the first story and book of Jane Webster and her love of France, a big move she made with her family to immerse herself into the French culture, namely in a village in Normandy called Bosgouet and more precisely Chateau de Bosgouet.  It is a truly lovely book with photos, recipes and stories leading us on the journey of Jane Webster and her family, their decision to move to France, buy a Chateau and set up a Bed & Breakfast/Cooking School. And after my first flick through the pages it really did make me want to both cook some of the recipes in the book and travel to see this part of the world!  I have done some of the cooking but the trip will have to wait a little bit longer!

Cheese Sables - A great party or picnic food

Cheese Sables – A great party or picnic food

My interest was piqued from Le debut (The beginning) and held my interest throughout as it wasn’t just their story but the story of this French region, the story of a much neglected chateau and of course a story of food!  Hushed tales of World War 2 German Officers hiding in a cellar room in the chateau that may have a hidden passageway dating from the sixteenth century is just one of the titbits you will find!  I love these tales!

Jane shares her tales of the hard work taken to get this chateau cleaned up, fixed up and ready for use, hiring staff, getting the children settled into school, visa complications.  It is a book full of challenges, joy, fun, food, family, beauty and of course all the markets and architecture you can imagine!  The Norman Table (page 69) says it all. ‘Normandy is not a place you come to diet.’  That sounds like my kind of place!

YUM. A French Bakery. I can Taste it!

YUM. A French Bakery. I can Taste it!

Reading this wonderful book always made me hungry.  Hungry for good food, hungry for adventure, hungry for travel and hungry for life!  And this is what a good book should bring to you.  It is also quite light-hearted.  On page 72 is a great description of the local butcher and his wife, sharing with ‘the strange Australian’ the preparation of some fresh milk fed veal and how to cook it to perfection.  The French seem to have no problems sharing hints, tips and recipes with those that are interested and I think that is great!

The descriptiveness of the events within this book had me picturing them in my mind too.  I could see the family (and friends) sitting outside around the big, solid stone table which was brought over from Melbourne as well as eating a ‘typical’ French breakfast of croissants (YUM!).  I am there, right there with them.

Honey and Lavender Madeleine Cakes  minus the Lavender

Honey and Lavender Madeleine Cakes minus the Lavender

Interspersed throughout the book are narratives about subjects such as finding the right fireplaces (to replace the 10 original ones that were stolen from the house), A French Easter, Petanque, Cheese, Fleur de sel, and more, each page with its story on that particular subject, each fascinating and fun.  And then there are the recipes!  Oh how I love recipes.

Each recipe has a little description or story and the pictures, good enough to eat.  So of course I had to try just a few.  My partner and I were planning a picnic and what better reason to try the Cheese Sables (pg 92) and the Honey and Lavender Madeleine Cakes (pg 106), minus the lavender as I just don’t like lavender at all!  Perfect finger food and both recipes turned out a treat.  A meal of baked salmon and vegetables called for the Stuffed Tomatoes (pg 162) and they worked perfectly with our meal.  And a couple of cool autumn nights sang out for warming soups and pies so I tried the Classic French Onion Soup (pg 278) and Chicken and Leek Pie (pg 236).  All I can say is each and every recipe took me on my own little trip to France and I loved them. Can’t wait to try some more.

Chicken and Leek Pie

Chicken and Leek Pie

Life in Bosgouet, as Jane has said, is simplistic and relaxed, life revolves around the outdoors, fresh air and fresh produce, sharing food and wine with family and friends, and the markets.  This reminds me of days gone by as we used to live a simple life with less processed foods, our fruit and veg still had dirt on them and we loved to be outdoors.  This is how life should be.

Enfin (at last)!  And finally we come to the end, The French Table is up and running, a business idea has now become a reality for Jane Webster and her family.  This is one place I need to put on my Bucket List!  And one book you need to read if like me you are obsessed with food and travel.

Classic French Onion Soup

Classic French Onion Soup

Just to make everyone hungry I want to share with you a passage on page 138 where Jane talks about the ripeness of Camembert.  ‘When Camembert is young it is quite firm and crumbly, but as the cheese ages inside its supple crust it becomes viscous and velvety.’  Now if that doesn’t make you hungry to read this book then I don’t know what will!

Jane Webster has written two more books which I haven’t read yet.  Her second book and a continuation of At My French Table is French Ties: Love, Life and Recipes and her third book is French House Chic.  I look forward to reading Jane’s second book and trying some more of her recipes and I promise I will share this experience with you when I do.

One of the many wonderful and colourful photos in At My French Table

One of the many wonderful and colourful photos in At My French Table

Enjoy! Eat, drink, read, travel and be merry.

Posted in Cookbooks and Books, Home, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Vietnam – Colourful, Happy, Exciting!

The streets of Hanoi, Vietnam.

The streets of Hanoi, Vietnam.

Last year Wayne and I decided we wanted to visit Vietnam and Cambodia (we had only ever heard great things from others who had travelled there).  We tossed up ideas as we wanted to see as much as we could but being in a foreign country we weren’t sure if we should travel on our own or do a tour.  We decided an organised tour would be the best choice due to the language and customs barriers, the horror of driving on the roads and where to eat and stay safely.

Armed with numerous brochures and of course the internet the planning started, lists were made, ideas thrown around and in the end it was decided we would do the tour with TravelMarvel, all up travelling for 27 days and covering two countries.  And what a trip it was!

I won’t bore you with the travel details to and from as this is never very exciting so will start from our arrival in Hanoi, Vietnam. Also I will share our trip in blocks so as not to over-tax you with an abundance of information and photos.  And there are a lot of photos!

Our first guide Tea (yes we had numerous guides along the way) was waiting for us at the airport, taking us directly to our hotel in Hanoi (Movenpick Hotel) while chatting to us about points of interest and things we could do in our free time.  The drive into town was an experience we will never forget.  The traffic, the scooters, the honking but even more than that the electrical wiring hanging from every pole and building was a nightmare.  We weren’t sure whether we should be worried or just fascinated by this tangle of wires hanging overhead.  We were told that when something goes wrong with the power in Hanoi (and Vietnam) they never know which wire is the cause so they just add another wire and reconnect the homes/buildings which have been affected.  Now that really is scary!

Take a look at the electricl wiring! Hanoi, Vietnam

Take a look at the electricl wiring! Hanoi, Vietnam

Arriving at our hotel we were seated, brought either cool or warm face washers, a cool or warm drink, even a small snack while we waited for our guide to check us in.  We soon realised this would happen at each destination and I must say ‘That is what I call service”.

Tea advised us of ideas on how to spend our afternoon and what the plan was for dinner and the next morning for our trip to Sapa.  All checked in with map in hand we braved the streets of Hanoi, crossing roads just as we were advised and we actually did it! Even got used to it!

Hoa Lo Prison Entrance Hanoi

Hoa Lo Prison Entrance otherwise know as the Hanoi Hilton. Hanoi, Vietnam

We found our way to Hoa Lo Prison (http://hoalo.vn/), better known as the Hanoi Hilton (the name given by US Prisoner’s of War).  This prison has a long and varied history from being built by the French starting in 1886 (where the name Maison Centrale came from) to its final demise and demolishment in the 1990’s to what remains now, the gatehouse, the history and so many stories to be told!

Security at Hoa Lo Prison Hanoi

Security at Hoa Lo Prison Hanoi. Broken Shards of glass!

Used by the French to imprison Vietnamese prisoners and then by the North Vietnamese to imprison the American POW’s it houses a guillotine used by the French as well an American Flight Suit worn by (Senator) John McCain, photos and even a sewer which was used as an escape route in 1945.  Most of the museum is dedicated to the French Colonial Period and when the Americans were prisoners.

The sewer which was used as an escape route Hoa Lo Prison Hanoi

The sewer which was used as an escape route. Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi

It is very interesting and worth a visit.  The price to enter was 30000VND for an adult and is open every day from 8am to 5pm.

A view to the courtyard Hoa Lo Prison Hanoi

A view to the courtyard in Hoa Lo Prison. Hanoi, Vietnam

After a long flight and an afternoon of history we returned to the hotel, had an ice cold beer (and you need that after a hot walk on the streets of Hanoi!) and a great dinner, then it was off to bed for us!  Ready for an early start and a long drive to Sapa.

The drive to Sapa was yet another experience we will never forget especially once we got off the freeway and onto the mountain road. We were traveling in a four wheel drive (with the driver and our guide), all around us was continual honking, cars, trucks, buses and scooters coming and going from whichever way and every way! They tooted so the other drivers knew where they were and/or where they were coming from! Madness. We had buses overtaking us on windy roads and I am convinced there are no road rules in Vietnam.  Wayne described the traffic as being like “Rafferty’s Rules”.

A view from BB Hotel Sapa

Welcome to Sapa, Vietnam

But the scenery was fantastic. We were driving through mountainous areas, rice paddy fields a major part of the landscape (No rice growing at this time of year) and green rolling hills.  There are huts, communities, shops (everyone has a shop in front of their home) and people sitting, chatting, smoking and drinking tea everywhere.

Sapa itself is quite small and only a tiny bit cleaner than Hanoi.  There is still a hustle and bustle on the streets, our hotel (BB Hotel) being right in amongst it all and a great spot for watching this world go by. The hotel is great, the staff wonderful and the breakfast was one of the best of all the hotels.  Oh and the rooftop bar wasn’t too shabby either, happy hour beers costing us very little.

Rooftop Bar on a beautiful afternoon in Sapa

The Rooftop Bar at BB Hotel on a beautiful afternoon in Sapa.

Our afternoon was our own so we decided to visit Fansipan, the highest peak in Indonesia reaching 3,143m.  And to get to this amazing mountain we would need to ride a funicular to the cable car station and the cable car to Fansipan Station.  Now this cable car (Sunworld Fansipan Legend) is a three wire cable system and at 1,410m is the highest in the world, at 6.3km it is the longest in the world and holds a record in the Guiness Book of World Records for both as well as being the most modern three wire cable car system in the world.  The ride to the top takes about 15 minutes and even though there was some fog and cloud cover (which seemed to be the norm in Sapa) the views were spectacular and the fact that you were floating above it all was amazing.  It is a must see.

Once at the top, even though we were somewhat fogged in, we managed to see glimpses of pagodas, temples, bells, Buddha statues and more fog.  Unfortunately we didn’t get to the top (due to the weather) but what we did see was something to behold, savour and engage in.  We will have to go back just to get to the top I think!

Sunworld Fansipan Legend (https://fansipanlegend.sunworld.vn/) is open Monday to Thursday and Sunday from 7.30am to 5pm and Friday to Saturday from 7am to 6pm.  The cost to ride the Funicular was 50,000VND and the Cable Car was an additional 700,000VND.

A view from the cable car Fansipan Sapa

Rice paddy fields as seen from the cable car. Sunworld Fansipan Legend. Sapa, Vietnam

Above the clouds Fansipan Sapa

A view in the clouds from the cable car at Fansipan, Sapa.

It was a wonderful afternoon which saw us also wander the streets of Sapa before being taken by our guide Tea to dinner at a local Vietnamese Restaurant.  It was amazing or maybe just a maze to get there and we would have never found our way home.  Up this street, down that one, an alley, trundling over roads that had been dug up, waiting to fall through!  It was different but the food was good (not great) and we enjoyed eating various and different Vietnamese meals, some we knew, some we didn’t.  We topped off the night with a drink at the Roof Top Bar at BB Hotel, watching the craziness of the streets below as the fog drifted in and out.  It was a sight!

Day 3 saw us heading to a local village just outside Sapa (Ma Tra Black Hmong Village) which would lead us to the local school.  We were dropped off for a 30 minute walk through the village, huts and vegetable plots on either side of the road, rice fields, rolling hills and peace.  It was so quiet.  We were allowed to enter the home of a local family which was very basic, dark and smoky.  So different to what we are used to but normal for this village.  There was dried corn cobs hanging from the rafters and no windows but it would have been very draughty and cold in the winter.

Local villagers selling souvenirs in Sapa

Local villagers selling souvenirs in Sapa.

On our walk we were followed by a few of the village womenfolk, dressed in their native clothes, very bright and colourful.  Funny though as they all had mobile phones and they would ding and ring as we walked along the road. At the school we were entertained by the children singing and dancing and the little ones across the road were eating their lunches and cleaning up before heading home.  For such young children they were all well behaved, helping dish up and pass along each bowl of food, (though one little boy did have a habit of sticking his finger in each bowl as it went past him) then cleaning up and putting away chairs and tables before heading home for the day.

Upon leaving the school the women who had walked with us wanted us to buy souvenirs from them and became quite curt when we didn’t buy anything.  The problem being is that the items are mass produced (so not handmade or true local crafted items) and you can buy them anywhere.  The same happens walking down the street and even when you head out of your hotel each day.  The locals love to talk to you, ask where you are from and have a chat but you do need to be mindful and it is advised not to buy from children or give children money as they should be in school and this encourages them to skip school which is not good for them.

Holy Rosary Church in Sapa

Holy Rosary Church in Sapa.

Back into Sapa and it was lunch then a walking tour with our guide around the Township of Sapa where Tea told us stories, pointed out places of interest and then we all went for a pot of tea at the Roof Top Bar.  Wayne and I spent the afternoon walking around Sapa Lake before a quiet night and our journey back to Hanoi to catch up with the newcomers of our tour group.

Sapa Lake

The mountains over looking Sapa Lake.

And before I finish this very short portion of our journey I want to say that Vietnam, even after a few short days, is very different from home.  The people are wonderful, friendly and ready for a chat, the infrastructure is horrendous, there is no such thing as OH&S (we saw a labourer breaking up a slab of concrete to get the reinforcing steel from it wearing thongs (flip flops) and men hanging off poles and buildings with no harness), and they all know where Australia is!

We learned the locals (all over Vietnam) eat anything, as one of our guides said, “Anything that moves except cars and scooters they will eat it!” and we saw raw meat (including hearts) on roadside tables and some of the beef eaten is actually buffalo and as our guide said, ‘If it’s chewy it’s Beefallo!”.

Our Vietnamese word for the first part of our journey is Xin Chao – pronounced Sin Chow and means Hello.

I shall return soon with the next portion of our journey and hope you have enjoyed it so far. Stay Tuned!

Leaving Sapa

The view from the road. A beautiful but crazy drive from Sapa to Hanoi.

Posted in Australia and the World, Home, My Travels, Walks and Tasmania | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls

Are you ready for a cuppa and a treat?!

Are you ready for a cuppa and a treat?!

Makes approx. 12-14 Balls

Ingredients:

  • 80 grams Almond Meal
  • 7 Medjool Dates, halved and seeds removed
  • 3 tablespoons Crunchy Peanut Butter
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa
  • Zest of ½ orange
  • 1 tablespoon juice from the orange
Great ingredients make great snacks.

Great ingredients make great snacks.

Method:

Place all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until they come together.  You don’t want the mixture to be too wet or too dry so check the mixture to make sure it can easily be rolled into balls.

Ready to blend!

Ready to blend!

Roll into 12- 14 balls (about a heaped tablespoon each).  Now you can have some fun by rolling them into whatever you like.  Some ground almond meal, desiccated or flaked coconut, cocoa or chopped nuts.

Don't forget the cocoa!

Don’t forget the cocoa!

Chill to set and then enjoy.

Hints:

Medjool dates are plumper and juicier dates and are great for this recipe.

You can use any nut butter you like, play around with flavours, try almond butter, cashew butter, any butter!  You choose.

Balls ready for rolling in the topping of your choice.

Balls ready for rolling in the topping of your choice.

I like my mixture to be a little moist as the almond meal tends to absorb any moisture once they are made and set (not enough moisture and the balls can become too dry).

You can also use different nut meals for a different flavour as well.

With Wayne being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and both of us in need of losing a little bit of weight we wanted something fun and tasty from time to time with a cup of tea and these work a treat.

Another thing we do so much more of these days is reading the labels when shopping. So make sure you read the label and only use nut butters with no added sugar (as many of the popular brands do have sugar in them).

The mixture done. I love that there are still pieces of nut showing through.

The mixture done. I love that there are still pieces of nut showing through.

When you pulse the mixture it is nice not to over mix it.   I love a bit of texture, a few of the nut bits from the peanut butter showing through but you can use smooth peanut butter if you like to give it a silky smooth finish.

Have fun with it and enjoy.  They are great with a cup of tea! YUM!

Rolled in cocoa, coconut, almond meal and slivered almonds. Nice!

Rolled in cocoa, coconut, almond meal and slivered almonds. NIce!

Posted in Home, Recipes, Sweet | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,