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Spring Delights

We’ve had a very weird winter this year – well, it is probably normal but the last 5 years or so have been drought years so this year feels cold and wet in comparison. As a result, it has taken what feels like ages to warm up and I am frankly over the cold and want to put my winter clothes away this weekend.

My garden has finally started to heat up and go crazy. It is lovely to see so much life after letting it go to waste over the winter. I don’t bother with winter veggies because I get ZERO sunlight during the winter in my garden – depressing? Yes. But this year, I finally planted FIVE broad bean (fava bean) seeds that an old (someone odd) lady gave me a couple of years back. I planted them just before I went on holiday to Hawaii and forgot about them. I came back to plants as tall as me and was amazed that I got a few pounds worth of beans with no effort at all! Finally, I have found something I can plant over the winter. Plus, broad beans are good for the soil and give nitrogen back into it.

I love picking them when they beans inside the pods are around a 5 cent Australian (or US dime) size and this year, my toddler helped me shell them too – it was very fun. Some people don’t peel the thick skin on the outside of each bean but I think it’s very tannic/astringent and rather detracts from the sweet, fresh beans so I always blanch it and refresh it in ice cold water and peel off the skin.

I made a spring risotto with the broad beans and added shredded chicken, carrots and asparagus and added the pre-blanched beans in at the end. It was divine. Although I didn’t grow a ton of beans, I learned just how easy they are to grow and that next winter, I’ll be planting a whole raised bed of them. Just be careful, too much overhead watering can cause rust which will spread and then eventually kill them.

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Last week when I was in Perth (which has so many Japanese restaurants), I noticed this intriguing restaurant. It served both dim sum AND sushi on a conveyor belt! I didn’t eat there but ate at another shop selling takeaway sushi next door yet couldn’t help but sneakily take this photo! Two of my most favorite foods!  I’m still not sure if I like the idea (it’s sort of creative isn’t it?) or whether I think they’re a bit confused and should really stick to one idea and cuisine. If it’s any good, both dim sum and sushi require a lot of experience and skill to do right. I’m also not sure I like the hot steaming baskets too near my cold raw fish.
Hmmm…

Anyway, it’s called Edo Shiki and it was at the Forrest Chase Shopping Centre where the MYER is. Anyone eat there? Is it any good? Eating in seemed a bit pricey but their takeaway section with various bento-like options was really reasonable.

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Sadly during our stay on the Gold Coast on our holiday, the only partly sunny day we had was spent at Tropical Fruit World.  Why is that sad?  It’s not that it was a terrible experience or anything but we left feeling like we were trapped on a crappy tourist ride at Disneyland and it spit us out from one place to the next only to make us wait for the only thing I cared about – the fruit.

Tropical Fruit World is less than an hour south of Surfer’s Paradise on the New South Wales border.  Apparently they grow the most varieties of tropical fruit in the world and it’s also used as a research centre for scientists.  So with all that nerdy food stuff, I was excited to learn about different varieties of fruit that I’d never seen or eaten.

Upon arriving, you see that it’s sort of kitschy with a young female employee and someone dressed as half an avocado waving at me in front of the avocado statue (I didn’t expect anything less).  There is a little retail fruit shop that sells whatever ripe tropical fruit that is available that day and it’s interesting and reasonably priced.  We asked about the tour and were told that there was one leaving right away so we took advantage of it!

So off we go to hop onto an open-air bus with about 25 other people.  The bus drove inside the acres and acres of tropical fruit and I was getting really excited.  After a few minutes, I was annoyed because the driver was whizzing by the plants and spewing out information so fast that you barely had time to listen to all the facts much less take any clear photos of anything.

Whizzing by the lychee trees! There were dozens of varieties but I wouldn't know what the difference is since we just drove by so fast.

Our first stop was not to take a walk but to grab handfuls of raw macadamias and practice cracking the nuts and eating them.  He gave us about 5 minutes before we were ushered back onto the bus.  Ok, I had fun but I was hoping we’d get to see more than that.  The driver actually told us that we don’t have to come since we had a pram but heck no if I was going to miss out on anything!  Then we drove through more orchards and saw a lot of interesting things that I was desperate to see more clearly but was happy that I learned a few things here and there.  But then, it gets worse…our next stop was at their “petting zoo”.  Here, we were told to pet the kangaroos, sheep, horses and whatever else was there.  I was not very interested at all and I guess it was for the kids but we stayed there a lot longer than I cared to.  I took that opportunity to let my kid say hello to a kangaroo but only for a picture op.

Cracking Macadamia Nuts

Kangaroos for the Kids

Again, we were ushered off to yet another activity that had nothing to do with tropical fruits.  We were going on a boat ride…to where?  As we hopped onto this open-aired boat, we were all given huge hunks of bread to feed the ducks that beg alongside the boat since the actual boat ride and scenery are not that interesting.  At the end of the ride, we are taken to the “island” and then we hop onto a mini steam train that we straddle!  The train was fun, but again, it had nothing to do with tropical fruits and we were stuck there for longer than we cared to be.  The whole time that you’re taken to pet animals and ride trains, you have NO idea where you are and how to get out.  I had lost all sense of direction and positioning.

Finally, they asked how many people didn’t taste fruit yet and we raised our hands and they ushered a few of us out to yet another waiting bus that plopped us back to “reception”.  Once we got to reception, we were told that we were too late for this tasting and that we would have to wait for the next one in over an hour!!  Although annoyed, by that time we needed a break so we took the time to eat lunch and sit in the a/c.  Another family from Adelaide were also made to wait and were very angry because like me, that’s all they came for (to taste fruit) and they couldn’t believe that they had been taken to all this other shit and had to wait for this tasting.

Finally the Fruit Tasting

The cafe there is very interesting.  They serve some very interesting smoothies using really exotic tropical fruit that they grow and they also make interesting ice cream flavours.  What was amazing was that our lunch was the BEST part of the day!  Perhaps because both of us had such low expectations for the food (food at touristy places are often sooo average), we were amazed when my husband’s smoked salmon sandwich was huge and fresh with generous lashings of salmon and avocado and my chicken wrap was juicy and satisfying.  We ordered two interesting drinks – Babaco (Champagne fruit) ice cream float and Black Sapote (chocolate fruit) smoothie.

Thank Goodness for the Yummy Drinks

On our way out, we found a walking path along dozens of interesting varieties of mangoes and honestly, that was much more relaxing and informative than most of that tour and the walk was free.  We took a picture of the giant avocado and laughed about our experience and were thankful that I was able to get in for free (had a voucher) or else we would’ve felt the sting of wasting so much money!

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Lychees sold off the side of the road

 

A few years ago, we were on our way to Noosa, on the Sunshine Coast, and decided to take the scenic highway to get there. Back then it was called the “Glasshouse Mountains Highway” but they have since renamed it “Steve Irwin Way” since his death which is pretty apt since his Australia Zoo is on that road. Although we have never visited Australia Zoo, we’ve driven past it numerous times and it’s always very busy. One visit, we stopped at this fruit stand that stood next to a pineapple field that advertised “pineapple crush” and really good burgers. We not only had one of each but we also bought one of the largest pineapples I’d ever seen for really cheap! Pineapple crush is basically pineapple juice with crushed pineapple bits in it and that time, it was sooo sweet and so cold that I was hooked. The burger was huge and amazing with avocado in it and we took it to a nearby national park to eat it.

You know how sometimes it’s best not to return to a location so that your memory of the place stays in tact and it lives on like a happy dream forever? Well, I definitely understand that. On our way to catch our flight in Brisbane, we decided to find that fruit stand (I couldn’t remember what it was called) and at least get their pineapple crush. Well we found it alright but sometime was different….it lacked the character that it had. No more signs exclaiming about the best burgers in the world. No pineapple crush in sight and it was pretty dead. I went up to the counter and enquired about the pineapple crush and the woman said that yes, she still had some left. I ordered two large ones (pretty expensive $4.50AU each) and because we didn’t have time to eat burgers, we left with just that. The crush was not very sweet and it tasted watered down. I think they have changed ownership and it just lacked soul. It was so disappointing. Oh well, I still have the memories of the last time I went there and photos of that great burger.

Bought pineapple crush here

 

Luckily, just before we got to the fruit stand, I saw a guy selling fresh picked lychees off the back of his truck (we call ’em “utes” in Oz). Even though I was about to get on a flight, I just HAD to have them. I couldn’t believe that they were $5.00 for 1 KG (2.2 lbs) bag (here in Adelaide I saw one greengrocer selling them for 3 pieces for $1.00)!!  Because it’s illegal (because of quarantine issues) to bring in fresh fruit to South Australia, we peeled all of the lychees at the Sydney airport while waiting during our layover to go home.  We gorged ourselves on the lychees before getting on our flight home.  I haven’t had such fresh lychee since I was a kid in Hawaii picking them off trees in Nu’u’anu. So fresh and delicious that there was no hard skin that formed around the seed – instead the flesh was very soft and the seed easily slipped out.

I love going to Queensland because it reminds me of my childhood. It is tropical and the fruit that is available is amazing. As you drive along, you can see sugarcane fields, ginger fields, avocado farms and pineapple fields to name a few. If you go there during summer, be sure to eat some fresh lychees. If you are near the Sunshine Coast, “the Big Pineapple” is a hoot to stop at…just for the pictures at least. In late summer the mangoes are in season too and they are beautiful.  Enjoy!

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I know that many airlines offer a kid’s meal on some flights (mostly international) but there are probably not too many that do offer them on domestic routes both in Australia and elsewhere. Qantas Airlines is the only major carrier that still includes meals and drinks on their domestic flights within Australia and it has never had a crash in its long history.

Before going on my last trip to Queensland, I was reading the fine print on their website and saw that you can request a BABY meal! I thought I’d try it for fun to see what I’d get. From my flight from Adelaide to Melbourne, we were given two purees – apple & pear and a chocolate custard. The silly thing about that meal was that whoever packed it, put adult sized spoons in the pack.

The flight home from Sydney was very neatly packed and we were given two purees – sweetcorn & chicken and vanilla custard and a baby juice. This time, there were tiny, baby-sized spoons included – yay!

I make a lot of my baby’s food but when I do purchase some, I don’t purchase Heinz because their foods are really, really tasteless. There are other baby foods on the market that have much more flavour. BUT, even with saying all that, I was thrilled to be given baby purees so that I didn’t have to lug that extra stuff on the plane when my nappy (diaper) bag was already as heavy as bricks.  Beggers can’t be choosers. 🙂 

So next time you fly Qantas domestic, request a baby meal for your infant – it’s pretty convenient and best of all, free.

Chocolate custard and apple & pear puree grabbed by some little chubby hands.

 

Baby meal on flight home.

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Happy new year!  In Hawaiian we say, Hau’oli makahiki hou and in Japanese, akemashite omedetoo. Growing up, Christmas was not the most important holiday for us but new year’s day was.  Like the Scots, the Japanese have a big clean of the house to welcome the new year and thus, it metaphorically starts the year off with a clean slate.  Traditionally, a large feast was prepared and put into containers that would last three days (because you are not supposed to work the first three days in January).  Most items were salted, sweet or preserved somehow and meant to be served cool/room temperature.  This feast is called osechi ryori and today in modern Japan, most people purchase their feast pre-made from restaurants, department store food halls and even 7-eleven!  I have read of some osechi ryori costing as much as $10,000USD per person (CRAZY – I hope it comes with a diamond!)

Growing up, my grandmother used to make it and we would help out.  I can’t recall what she made each year (as it would change) but what I loved most was the kazunoko (herring roe) that was served.  They are expensive and hard to get so it was a special treat.  Very crunchy and salty, I loved the texture more than anything, dipped in some soy sauce.  The next best thing was kobu kazunoko (herring roe on kelp) – roe that somehow clung onto pieces of thick kelp.  Black sweet soy beans (kuromame) were another thing that I remember well and various types of fish cakes and sweet egg.

The other mandatory thing to eat on new year’s day is ozoni – a brothy soup with ingredients that change depending on what part of Japan you are from and what your family likes to put in.  In the Kanto area (Tokyo) the broth is clear while in the Kansai area (Osaka), they add miso paste.  My maternal side of the family came from Shimabara in the south and their specialty is guzoni, ozoni that is filled chock-full of ingredients and eaten not just on new year’s day.  The one similarity and obligatory ingredient is mochi or rice cake, for good luck/strength for the new year.  A piece of grilled mochi is placed into the soup and it becomes sticky and gooey and oh so lovely!  People who didn’t grow up with this texture may find it challenging (like my husband) but it is very filling and comforting for me.

This year, I spent new year’s day in Noosa, Queensland in tropical Australia.  My friend’s parents have a beautiful holiday home on the river and invited us to spend a few days there.  As a way to thank them, I wanted to cook a Japanese new year’s day breakfast (as best as I could) but it was quite a journey to figure out where to source the ingredients in a different state.  Prior to going to Noosa, we spent a few days in the Gold Coast and stumbled upon a small Japanese grocery store in Robina but it was still quite a few days before the new year so I waited to go to another store closer to Noosa.  This second store had more frozen goods and I was able to buy roughly what I needed to make this feast.  My biggest mistake is that I forgot to buy dashi – essential in Japanese cooking – fish stock!!  Needless to say, it was interesting making this in someone else’s kitchen in the tropical heat and without all the right ingredients.  My grandmother was proud of me for being able to make this as many young Japanese have lost the skills of traditional cooking since it can so easily be bought.  She doesn’t believe me when I say that it was her that made me a good cook.

Although the meal was not totally traditional, it turned out pretty well despite a few hicks – forgot dashi, sushi rolls were a bit small, rice for sushi was very sloppy (had to make it twice – over the stove with gas), and rolled egg was a bit overcooked.  For the ozoni, I grilled the mochi on a grill rack instead of the traditional grill used in Japan and it did a great job.  The kuromame (black soy beans) were made mostly out of my instinct and memory of what it should taste like but I had no idea they’d take nearly five hours to cook!  I also think that they were the most challenging item as most people couldn’t work out whether the beans were for dessert or to be eaten with the meal.  I guess it’s sort of like eating candied yams at Thanksgiving – many people who encounter it the first time think that it is a dessert and find it strange to be eaten alongside all the other savoury stuff.

I served two different sakes with the dish – one Australia-made and one Japanese-made and what was awesome was that the meal was eaten by a Scotsman, three Kiwis, one South African, one Australian, one Englishman and an American…now that’s what I call international!

Setting up the ozoni before I add the broth in.

The spread.

L to R: datemaki (egg), namasu (pickled veg - didn't have daikon available), kamaboko (pink fish cakes), kuromame (black sweet beans), california roll.

Nimono (stewed root veg - lotus, burdock, bamboo, taro, carrots & shiitake).

The Cameron family and the gorgeous view we had.

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Ass rolls

 

If you know me, you’d know that I can’t stand when there are blatant errors in spelling, particularly on a restaurant menu or sign.  I forgive it a bit more when it’s an ethnic restaurant and English is not their first language but it blows me away that anyone would print a menu or sign without consulting with a native speaker to make sure that everything is accurate.

I am not going to name the place but me and hubby had a very good giggle while sitting down to have a drink in a local, city shopping centre this weekend.  I KNOW that the sign is meant to read “ASSORTED ROLLS” but by abbreviating it as “Ass. rolls” (even with the period) is pretty hilarious!  Needless to say, they were the least busy counter in the food court. 

 

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