My birthday and my husband’s birthday falls just 5 days apart.  This is always awkward.  Celebrating two birthdays in the one week in style is just overkill, but then who’s birthday get’s the big celebration and who’s ends up with “well lets just stay at home and have some great champagne and good food”?  Generally its my birthday (falling first) that we go out for – and not always to high end places, sometimes its just a fabulous lunch somewhere or a causal place like “…” in Newtown – just somewhere that I would like to go to eat.  I’m not really into the big flash dinner thing.  Perhpas we’ve done too many of them but I’d rather go to those places on the spur of the moment rather than as a planned event.  Too much pressure.

The trick to celebrations – birthdays/anniversaries etc – is to make them feel special.  One year I took my husband (and daughter) to the Sydney Fish Markets early in the morning.  We bought some wonderfullly fresh oysters and had them with a bottle of champagne and some lovely ripe brie and huge juicy strawberries.  We sat on the pier – picnic style and watched the boats unloading.  And then we all drove home and off to work/school.

Another time, for an anniversary celebration I decided to do something right out of the box:  a night time picninc by the water.  But I wanted it to be a surprise. So I told my husband I had made a booking for a flash restaurant where the dress was very formal.  Meanwhile, Pip and I shopped and cooked and prepared everything and packed the car with picnic rug and chairs and t-lights, plates, linen napkins, glasses, champagne etc.  I can’t remember what I made (although one of the dishes was a pigeon and pickled walnut terrine – that took days to source ingredients for, another was individual plum frangipane tarts).  Pip and I scurried around getting everything ready and packing the car in a bit of a frenzy before M got home.  Secrecy was the key.

And then it was time to get dressed and go.  I wore the Akira outfit I had worn for my wedding and M put on his tux.  Stylish.  And then we got into the car and I drove.  M wondered where we were going – he started to recognise some of the landmarks so the next step was to blindfold him.  We drove to Neilson Park and Pip and I set up our little picnic spot near the water, lighting all the candles and setting out the food while M sat in the car – no doubt wondering what was going on.  We then led him out and only when we were at the spot did we let him see.  The look of surprise on his face and pure joy was so worth all the effort we’d gone to.  It was, relatively, such a simple thing – a picnic at the beach – but it was so enjoyable – we even danced barefoot on the sand with the waves lapping our feet – that it remains in my memory as one of the best celebrations ever.

Camping in excelsis

For me, camping (food-wise) is like an extended picnic: you have to plan for all the meals, and you have to do it well!  Just because you’re out bush with limited utensils and facilities doesn’t mean you can drop your standards.  Camping is not an excuse for slumming (although it can be an excuse to eat bacon and sausages).

So when we go camping I spend a lot of time thinking about what we’re going to have for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.  Of course it has to be easy; easy is the key to camping, as is pre-prepare.  If you can make your marinades and salad dressings before hand and put them in those tiny little plastic jars, then all you have to do is rub, mix, sear, toss and voilà. Dinner is served.

For our recent anniversary we decided that we would go camping.  Haven’t been camping for years (too busy travelling the world – see my other blog: travelling travails).  But a lack of funds due to redundancy and a sense of having already been to so many good restaurants, I thought it would be fun to do something different.  After all, eating out doesn’t have the same appeal when it’s for special occasions – its a “been there, done that” feeling.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love finding great little places to eat, but I’d much prefer to go and have a bite after a lunchtime yoga class and discover that the place does great share plates and fabulous bloody marys as well as a good wine list, rather than the special all-out eating … besides which, I somehow can’t help myself and want not just one cocktail but two (I always want a good martini) and the the wine.  So you can imagine …..

I won’t bore you with the details of our camping trip but I do want to share how its possible to eat well out in the great beyond.  Admittedly we took our trusty little asian butane burner – don’t leave home without this. Actually because I only have electricity at home, I’m often found squatting on the floor over a wok on this device – I confess to some distant asian heritage. And we took our portable weber.  All set.

For breakfast we brought muesli, almond milk, bacon, black pudding and coffee, though mostly we just ate some fruit and unfortunately I inadvertently picked up the box of long life chocolate lactose -free milk instead of the plain one – YUK).

For lunch: wraps with tinned chilli tuna, rocket, avocado and dips with biscuits and fruit.

On arrival Friday afternoon:

  • Traditional pork pies with radishes, dill cucumbers and cornichons (my husband prefers cornichons, whilst I can’t go by a dill pickle) pre-boiled eggs, some nice cheese and rye biscuits. Though by the time we had set up our tent it was closer to an early dinner/late afternoon tea, rather than lunch.

For dinner:

  • Salmon with a chilli lime salt (pre-prepared) and Ottolenghi’s wonderful tomato and pomegranate salad – dressing and roasted lemons pre-prepped.

Day two – our anniversary dinner was meant to consist of oysters with a shallot and red wine vinegar dressing, but in the end we couldn’t be bothered leaving our camping ground and travelling all those kms (around 30) to a place near Forster  (we were at Seal Rocks).  Amazing how lazy you can become, given the opportunity.  We’d been to the beach and by the time we came back it was afternoon – time for lunch and have a glass of champagne.  I had  brought  some spinach leaves ,a block of Dodoni fetta and nectarines.  So our late lunch was a salad with the spinach and slices of nectarines and crumbed fetta, dressed with some vino cotto and olive oil.  Unfortunately I realised that I had forgotten to bring the wooden salad bowl.  Merde.  However my problem-solving skills kicked in and I made up the salad in a plastic bag.  Brilliant (also saves on washing up).

Dinner was seared beef eye fillet with an anchovy dressing (essentially just anchovies melted on the grill plate with lots of freshly cracked black pepper) and asparagus with lemon zest, salt and pepper and a day of olive oil, seared on the bbq. And (because it was our anniversary) a bottle of Pol Roger.  Please note, it is essential that you bring good drinking glasses.  We have a set of nice chunky plastic glasses suitable for our G&Ts and stemless (plastic) wine glasses but you really shouldn’t drink good champagne out of plastic.  Better to go without (the champagne).

Day 3 dinner was chicken with a rub consisting of crushed garlic, smoked paprika, sweet paprika, ground cumin, lime juice and olive oil served with shucked bbq’d corn, avocado and a coriander and a tomatillo dressing (yes, this too was prepared in advance).

On the final day we cooked our bacon and had it in wraps with avocado and  tomatoes. And fabulous italian pork and fennel sausages – again in wraps with rocket and some hummus.  Simple but oh so satisfying.

So the trick to great camping is:  good simple food, good wine and a good campfire.  Oh, and don’t forget to bring the salad bowl. But if you do, all is not lost because with  plastic bag you can put all your salad ingredients in and then add the dressing and shake it all about (just like the hokey pokey) and all is well.


Fast food on the road

On  our way for a camping trip our ETD was supposed to be 10am.  But there’s always something else to pack – at the last moment I decided I wanted to take our hammock which necessitated finding some additional ropes.  And then I thought it would be a good idea to make some fresh juice to take (pineapple, honeydew melon, apple, carrot, celery, cucumber and ginger). And so our departure time was almost one hour later.

A quick stop for a bottle of champagne and whisky (can’t sit around a fire without a dram) and we were on our way – 11.15.  Still, no rush and we’re missing all the peak traffic.  Just means we’ll get to our destination at 3pm instead of 4pm but we have another two full days so all is well.

I packed the juice and some fruit to have on our journey but couldn’t remember where (the car was choc full) so we stopped at one of those fuel/food places.  The usual suspects – MacDonald’s, Star cafe and some other unsalubrious looking greasy joint, but also a place called “Oliver’s Real food” which is an organic food cafe/take-away.  They have fresh wraps and sandwiches, sushi, salads (both fruit and vegetable), yoghurt mixed with berries and little cups of chia and coconut with fresh raspberries and a better then average range of drinks including coconut water and freshly made smoothies.  M had a fresh chicken, avocado and lettuce sandwich and I had the little chia and coconut cup – a mixture of chia seeds, coconut milk, coconut flakes and fresh raspberries.  Quite delicious and not sickly sweet.  And the best roadside coffee I’ve had – fresh organic beans.

So next time you’re on the road and in need of sustenance, look out for an Oliver’s, its a far cry from the usual unpalatable dross available at other roadhouses. Oh, and they also do gluten-free; vegetarian; vegan; lacto-free; lacto-gluten vego. As well as delicious looking things for kids.

Now just to locate those nectarines and juice.