Australian Outback Adventure: from Adelaide to Ningaloo Reef

 

Great Australian Bight, South Australia

Nullarbor

We’re bound for Western Australia!

Map

One of the advantages of belonging to the ‘Grey Nomads’ set is being able to take off when you want, for as long as you want, to wherever you want (almost).  So Len and I decided to take advantage of our privileged status and set off on a road trip that would take us from Adelaide, South Australia to Exmouth, Western Australia- a round-trip of almost 10,000 km (6,200 miles) that would take us through some stunning Outback scenery.

A lot of Australians huddle close to the large capital cities and rarely venture out into the Outback. I thought it was important for us to experience the vast open spaces of Australia with its miles of flat scrubland, the kind of experience that turns your thoughts inward at times.

Our daughter had lived in Western Australia for 5 years and spoke of places like Monkey Mia and the Ningaloo Reef- located far up the coast from the capital of Perth. Were there really monkeys living on the coast of Western Australia? I just had to see for myself! (ha ha)

In order to travel by car from South Australia to Western Australia, you have to first cross the Nullarbor Plain, a desolate expanse of some 1,100 kms (685 miles). The word Nullabor means “no tree” in Latin, so you can get the drift of what it’s like crossing this vast, treeless, almost mesmerising plain.

Edward Ayers, the first European to cross the Nullarbor Plain in 1841, described the area as “a hideous anomaly, a blot on the face of Nature, the sort of place one gets into in bad dreams.” But he didn’t have the benefit of a paved road or air-conditioned car to travel in, so here are some of the gems that he may have missed:

Head of the Bight, South Australia     Distance: 1,055 kms from Adelaide (655 miles)

Starting from Adelaide, it took us two days of driving to get to the Head of the Bight, SA. Stunning Bunda Cliffs overlook the area where Southern Right Whales breed between June and October each year. These cliffs are made of limestone and form the longest uninterrupted line of sea cliffs in the world.

Nullarbor (4 of 4) (1 of 1)Nullarbor (3 of 3) (1 of 1)

The whale-watching platform is 20 kms off the main road, where you can view the whales doing their tail slapping, blow-holing and belly rolling. We saw one whale with her calf- it’s amazing how these mammals can exist in the ocean. Whales can hold their breath for 15 minutes and even longer for sperm whales.

head-of-the-bight-mother-and-calf-whale-

 Nullabor Roadhouse  1,130 kms from Adelaide

Our first night on the Nullarbor Plain was spent at the Nullarbor Roadhouse- very basic but comfortable accommodation. We were blessed  with lovely storm clouds and a double rainbow at sunset time.

Nullarbor Rainbow

 Cocklebiddy, Western Australia   1,537 kms from Adelaide

After crossing the border into Western Australia, we stayed at a tiny roadhouse in Cocklebiddy- only 8 humans live here and 1.234 million kangaroos. That’s what I call being outnumbered. I was so excited to finally arrive in W.A. that I said to Len, “Are we getting close to the coast yet?” “Heck no, we’ve got another two days of driving yet to go,” said Len. Driving distances between towns and roadhouses can be huge in Australia- I guess that’s why we call this the Outback!

Cocklebiddy SA

 The ‘Longest Straight Road in Australia’   1,602 kms from Adelaide

Arriving at Caiguna, Western Australia, we encountered the beginning of the longest straight road in Australia (ranking number two in the world)- stretching 147 kms or 90 miles of “straight, unaldulterated boringness.” It wasn’t so boring for us, though- we listened to our old CD’s of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and the Kingston Trio. You can definitely tell we’re old throwbacks from the 1960’s!

Straight road

We passed briefly through Gingin, a small agricultural town 92 kms north of Perth. You never know what you’re going to run into when you’re travelling- Gingin was full of purple bras strung out on lines all over town and many women were wearing their purple bras on the outside of their clothing. It turns out that the town was sponsoring a cancer awareness campaign.

Purple bra campaign in Gingin, WA

Purple Bras

After 7 days of travelling, we finally arrived in a small coastal town called Cervantes, Western Australia situated close to The Pinnacles in Namburg National Park. There are hundreds of limestone structures looming up from the sandy floor, created from the breakdown of seashells millions of years ago. We got drenched with rain there but fortunately the storm didn’t last very long.

The Pinnacles

Pinnacles

 Pinnacles WA

 Monkey Mia, Western Australia  3,475 kms from Adelaide

On our way to Monkey Mia (pronounced MY-AH), we stopped briefly in Geralton to buy two Western Australian Lobsters so I could make Spaghtetti with Lobster Sauce for our next night’s dinner. Then on to Monkey Mia which confirmed my belief that there are no monkeys living there! The word ‘Mia’ means ‘home’ or ‘shelter’ in Aboriginal language and it’s thought that the town derived its name from a pet monkey that early Malay pearlers owned in the area.

Monkey Mia is known for its Bottlenose Dolphins that come to feed on the shoreline. The dolphin feeding is restricted to three times in the morning so that the dolphins will still be encouraged to hunt for their own food.

Shark-Bay-dolphines

Monkey Mia is located on Shark Bay and one of my favourite experiences was taking a 4 km walk through the bush, overlooking the beautiful bay.

Nullarbor Monkey Mia (13 of 13) (1 of 1)

This dolphin came close to our boat as we toured Shark Bay to view various marine life.

Monkey Mia Dolphin

We took a 4WD tour of Cape Peron National Park near Monkey Mia and learned a fascinating detail about this area. In 1818 the French explorer, Louis Freycinet, spent two weeks surveying the area around Cape Peron. One day he encountered the Malgana Aboriginal people living in the area and in order to diffuse a potentially dangerous situation, the ship’s artist, Jacques Arago, played the castanets and danced to the rhythms. The Aboriginal elders joined in and danced wildly and the two parties then exchanged gifts. It’s amazing to learn that someone had played the castanets on such an isolated place so long ago!

Cape Peron National Park (near Monkey Mia)  where castanets were played 200 years ago by a Frenchman

Skip Jack Point

After  full day of 4WD touring, a delicious meal of seafood awaited us at the Monkey Mia Resort restaurant. 

 Monkey Mia Cafe

Ningaloo Reef at Exmouth, Western Australia  4,800 kms from Adelaide

Coral Reef located close to the shoreline

ningaloo photo

After 2.5 weeks on the road, we finally reached Exmouth, Western Australia- which is our turn-around point before heading back to Adelaide. Ningaloo Reef is located on the East Indian Ocean and is 260 km long and is World Heritage listed. It is a ‘fringing reef’ which means the coral reef is located very close to shore – I was able to put on my flippers and snorkel mask and wade right out into the coral area, close to the shoreline.

We also took a glass-bottom boat ride that took us further out into the coral reef. Here’s a picture of me donning my snorkling gear before plunging into the pristine water. I was greeted with valleys of exquisitely shaped corals and wondrous flows of different fish- including a sea turtle that floated past.

Fish Monster!

Ningaloo Snorkle

I snorkeled in about 15 feet of water, but I still wanted to hang onto my yellow ‘noodle’ for safety!

 Coral ReefTomorrow we start home to Adelaide. There’s nothing like home, but I won’t look forward to having to change from wearing my shorts here in the tropics to donning my tracksuit in ‘wintery’ Adelaide. I hope you can visit the west coast of Western Australia sometime!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico – land of food and wine!

 

Finca food Pulpos Baja California- where have you been?

Growing up in Chula Vista, California near the Mexican border, my family and I frequently went camping in Ensenada, Baja California. After my father retired and bought a little trailer cabana in Ensenada, Mexico became a second home for us. However, about 15 years ago, everything changed. The frequent violence and kidnappings caused by the drug cartels caused our family and friends to say, “No, you can’t go to Mexico anymore, it’s too dangerous.” As a result, we sealed Mexico off from our minds.

But things are now changing again. Travel and wine magazines are gushing that Baja California is now one of the ‘food and wine capitals of the world.’ This is particularly true for the region called Valle de Guadalupe, located 1 1/2 hours from the U.S./Mexican border near Ensenada. Known for its porous soil and ideal climate, this area is ideal for growing grapes for wine cultivation. This region is also known for its Baja Med style of cooking, combining gourmet techniques with traditional Mexican dishes, while adding locally sourced ingredients such as olive oils, seafood and tomatoes.

Intrigued by the media frenzy, my husband and I decided to see for ourselves. Instead of going it alone, we joined the group, Club Tengo Hambre (meaning ‘I am hungry’ in Spanish) to guide us on the trip. CTH describes themselves as a ‘roving supper club’ and are experts in guiding small groups into Baja, California.

We met the group on the US side of the border in front of McDonalds (a good start to our culinary adventure!) and then walked across the border together. That was easy, no lines, just walking through a turnstile. However, I knew it would be a different matter returning to the US from the looks of the pedestrian line coming the other way- it must have been 1/4 mile long.  After crossing the border, a van awaited us to take us on our all-day trip south of the border. After passing around a bottle of Tequila for each of us to pour a tipple, we felt relaxed. I peered out the side windows of our van to see if I recognised the Tijuana that I used to know- the hovels were still there on the side of the hills, but were slowly being replaced by more modern housing. I heaved a sigh of relief, there were no bandits following us and no need to ride shotgun – we were safe.

Valle de Guadalupe

 As we approached the valley, it appeared to be rather dry with low scrub and various kinds of cactus. Most of the wineries ‘dry farm’ their crops, drawing water from reservoirs and wells, rather than relying on rainfall.

photo attributed to Sarah Gilbert of theguardian.com

Valle pix  Las Nubes Winery

Las Nubes

The first winery we visited was Las Nubes (“The Clouds”). This winery offered sweeping views of the valley and its thick stone walls, reminded me of a Tuscan farm house. Located on 75 acres, the winery grows 15 kinds of grapes, including sauvignon blanc, syrah and chardonnay. Most of the wines are named after clouds such as Cumulus, Nimbus and Nebbiolo, although the wine I chose was called Selección de Barricas, a young, red blend that includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Grenache and Syrah. 

Delicious full-bodied red wine Las-Nubes-bottles  Lovely views of the Guadalupe Valley at La NubesLas nubes 2  After several hours of wine tasting, we were ready to have our meal at the Finca Altozano restaurant. This is an outdoor restaurant in a rustic setting, owned by well-known Mexican chef, Javier Plascencia. Most of the food on the menu comes from local ingredients sourced from the Valle de Guadalupe and local seafood. The atmosphere is relaxed; you could easily believe you were having lunch in a ranch 60 years ago, with no nearby freeways roaring past to distract you. The open kitchen allows you to watch the meat being barbequed and the bread being baked in a wide-fired oven.

Finca Altozano open-air restaurant Finca Restaurant Quails being barbequed over wood fire Fire Roast at FincaOpen kitchen where you can watch the food being cooked Finca kitchen One of the house specialities is Pulpo del Pacifico, tender pieces of marinated octopus served with citrus, ginger, peanuts and cilantro. I normally don’t care for octopus, but these tender morcels were delicious. Pulpo VDG Another dish on the menu was Lengua des Res– ‘Such a beautiful name in Spanish,’ I said to myself. Only when the dish arrived at my table did I realise it was beef tongue, not something I’d ordinarily order for myself, but delicious none the less, served on top of a soft tortilla.

Lengua des Res Lengua To finish off our meal, we were served barbequed quail and shrimp- my mind is now made up- I’m definitely going to come back to this restaurant again!

 Clos de Tres Cantos Winery

The last winery we visited was Clos de Tres Cantos. The owners, Joaquin and Maria, started this winery with sustainability and regard for the local environment in mind. This is evident in the use of local materials in the winery’s buildings: the use of reclaimed wood and recycled bottles creates stunning architectural effects on the grounds.        

The exterior walls of this winery looked Mayan in appearance, while the interior looked almost like a chapel.

Mayan influence with the architecture

IMG_7507

 Inside the Winery- almost like a chapelProcessed with VSCOcam with c2 presetStunning effects created with recycled wine bottles

IMG_7499As our group travelled the 1 1/2 hours back towards the US border, I was apprehensive; how long would we have to wait to cross the border- one hour? two hours? It was getting dark and I wasn’t looking forward to standing in line for two hours. The wait turned out to be 1 hour 15 minutes to cross the pedestrian border and go through customs. This was not too bad but I noted with envy that those people who had Sentri passes were able to march right up to the front of the line (I’m definitely applying for one of those passes for the next time). 

All in all, was it an enjoyable experience? Yes! Club Tengo Hambre were excellent tour leaders and I’d highly recommend them. The best thing, though, was being able to re-visit Mexico again and to see how it has blossomed with its food and wine offerings. Next time you find yourself saying “Tengo Hambre” (I’m hungry), be sure to plan a trip to the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja, California!

 

 

 

 

Hello from Paris!

Paris Sights 6 of 6) (1 of 1)

 I finally arrived in Paris to start my 10-week course in Advanced Cuisine (Superior Cuisine’) at Le Cordon Bleu Paris. God, it’s a long ways from South Australia, with 20 hours of flying and a 6-hour layover in Singapore. Needless to say, I’m a little nervous since it’s been two years since I completed the Intermediate Cuisine course here. Most of the other students in my class have already been cooking together for the past 6 months, so I hope I fit in alright!  

My Paris apartment is located in the Latin Quarter in the 5th arrondisement, an area which also includes the Pantheon and the Luxembourg Gardens. Every morning I take an early morning walk up the Rue Mouffetard, an ancient Roman street with an open air market and lots of food shops. During my walk, I descend the hill towards the Seine River and behold the wonderful site of the Notre Dame Cathedral, a 20-minute walk from where I live.  

The view from my Latin Quarter Paris apartment Paris apartment vue Rue Mouffetard in the early morning Rue Mouffe Morning Notre Dama Cathedral- almost 1,000 years old! Paris Sights 8 of 8) (1 of 1) But I’m here in Paris to cook and eat, right? One of my favourite Paris markets is the one located at Boulevard Raspail, open three times a week. There are lots of fresh fruits and vegetables with an organic market on Sundays. This market is well-known for the vendor with potato pancakes, which is still on my ‘must taste’ list!

An added bonus is you can easily walk from this market to Gertrude Stein’s former apartment at 27 rue de Fleurus, where she lived with Alice B. Toklas for almost 40 years. As I walked past her apartment recently, the door to the lobby was open due to renovations. I slipped inside the lobby ‘sight unseen’ and was honored to be able to walk in the same hallowed halls as Picasso and Ernest Hemingway, who regularly visited Gertrude to discuss art and writing.

Gertrude Stein’s former apartment at 27 rue des Fleurus

Gertrude Stein

Nearby Gertrude Stein’s apartment is the well-known bread bakery, Poilâne, located at 8 rue du Cherche-Midi. Their signature sour dough bread is baked in a wood-burning oven and  is made of 4 ingredients: sourdough, stoneground wheat flour, water and sea salt from Guérande. It carries the signature mark P for Poilâne and each loaf weighs about 4lbs or 1.9kg. That’s a lot of bread and should last at least one week!

Poilâne Bread Bakery at 8 rue du Cherche-Midi

Poilâne Bakery at 8 rue du Cherche-Midi

Poilâne Bakery at 8 rue du Cherche-Midi

Signature Poilâne bread baked with letter ‘P’

Signature Sourdough bread with signature 'P'

Signature Sourdough bread with signature ‘P’

Walking back from the Poilâne bakery to my apartment, I passed by the Sadahuru Aoki patisserie on the Boulevard de Port Royal, founded 15 years ago by the Japanese pâtissier of the same name. Aoki’s philosophy to baking is simply stated:

“Creating something delicious. To achieve this goal, it is essential to maintain simplicity.” – Aoki

And I certainly knew where he was coming from. I entered his store and bought one of his delights called Sensuelle. consisting of layers of ganache and flavoured mousse set on a base of textured biscuit and topped with a miniature macaron.

Sadahuru Aoki Patisserie- Paris

Paris Sifghts (2 of 2) (1 of 1)

 Layered Pastries topped with a mini Macaron

Layered pastry topped with a mini Macaron

Layered pastry topped with a mini Macaron

With my belly full after visiting several of Paris’ culinary delights, it was back to my Paris apartment to rest before starting my course in Superior Cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu Paris. Please follow my blog as I present photos and recipes from my 10-week course at LCB!

Adelaide Central Market- New Surprises!

I’ve been going to the Adelaide Central  Market for the past 30 years, and recently decided to pay another visit- mainly to re-acquaint myself with the sights and smells of this wonderful farmer’s market and to see if there was any new unusual produce or product that would jolt me out of my culinary complacency.

The Adelaide Market has been going since 1869 and can still thrill its visitors with its wide variety of fruits, vegetables, pastries, cheeses, meat and fish (to name a few). Although I’ve scrounged around many food markets in Paris- professed to be the ‘food capital of the world’- I still think that the Adelaide Central Market is one of the best in the world.

Wandering up and down the market isles armed with my camera, here is a snapshot of some of my discoveries.

If I was hoping to find something that would force me to do a double-take, here it was, Crocodile Tail Fillet, found at ‘Something Wild.’

Crocodile Tail Fillet at 'Something Wild'

Crocodile Tail Fillet
at ‘Something Wild’

Not quite ready to experiment with Crocodile Fillet in one of my tasty dishes, I decided to wander over to the ‘Smelly Cheese’ stall to have a look at their luscious-looking candied Italian Clementines. Clementines are a type of mandarin orange and I can picture crowning some vanilla ice cream with several of these lovely balls. (Although it seemed rather odd viewing these sweet treats in a place named Smelly Cheese)!

Candied Italian Clementines

Candied Italian Clementines

Next it was on to Providore bakery. I remember munching on their cheesy spanakopitas 30 years ago while I took a lunch break from teaching dance at the Centre for the Performing Arts, located just next door. Then a modest little bakery, the Providore now boasts delicacies such as Semolina Cakes, French Macarons, Fancy Lollipops and Death by Chocolate Cake.

Now feeling a little depressed that I could no longer fit into the leotards from my previous life as a modern dance teacher, I then sauntered over to Prettejohn’s Nursery stall where I eyed their pretty Ornamental Chili plants. The sign on the plant says the chilis are edible but at this point, I’d rather enjoy the beautiful colors of the plant, rather than eating them.

Ornamental Chilli plant (edible)

Ornamental Chilli plant (edible)

Now that I was on a ‘red hot chili pepper roll’, I decided to check out the pimentos that were on sale at the local Organics stall. These pimentos are described as a variety of  chili pepper, with a flesh more sweet and succulent than a red bell pepper’s. Next time I make my spaghetti bolognese, I’ll try using a pimento instead of a red bell pepper, to see if it makes any difference in taste.

 

Organic Pimentos

Organic Pimentos

 Attracted to their exotic fruits and vegetables on display, I next wandered over to Coco’s Fruits and Vegetables and feasted my eyes on their Dragon Fruit, Kimono Fruit and Egg Fruit.

 

Finding the Achacha Fruit

However for me, the find of the day was the tropical Achacha fruit. This fruit is typically grown in the tropical Amazon Basin of Bolivia and is now grown in North Queensland, Australia. When you ‘pop’ open the fruit, a wonderful white ‘snowball’ fruit appears, with a taste that is sort of a cross between a mango and an apple. This fruit would be great in a tropical salad or perhaps Achacha Ice Cream should be the recipe for my next post? Bon appetit!

 

Achacha tropical fruit

Achacha tropical fruit

 

A surprise inside the Achacha fruit!

A surprise inside the Achacha fruit!