First week in Australia

Catch up with the drama of my first week in Australia https://youtu.be/BbhhANADhm8

There were the thrills of the life-and-near-death sea rescue; a fire-pit barbecue that nearly smoked out the neighbours; cooking  aboriginal-style and more.

Cooking with blind professional chef Martin and with award-winning Jo was a breeze in comparison.

You can look back at the other seven videos that try to capture the excitement of that memorable week.

You can see Martin and I cooking fish and lamb in his kitchen in Sydney, Australia on my Baking Blind YouTube channel.

Martin also has his Enabled Cooking website and has shared his recipes with us:

Asian-style baked fish:

https://www.enabledcooking.com/recipe-baked-fish-fillet-asian-style-en-papilotte-cooking-with-penny-from-baking-blind/

Middle eastern rack of lamb:

http://www.enabledcooking.com/recipe-oven-roasted-australian-lamb-rack-with-babahganoush-sheeps-milk-yogurt-and-pomegranate-cooking-with-penny-from-baking-blind/

Next time, Melbourne  where Maribel has some great tips on living with blindness, I learn how good a Thermomix used to be and lots more.

 

 

Advertisements

Smoking out the neighbours

An Iranian fire pit- see how simple it is https://youtu.be/qAxVKhKj_nU

if you have a pickaxe and shovel along with really understanding neighbours prepared to risk their fence.

I’d woken in the morning to the sound of nearby digging and whispered excitement.  It was the final cooking day of my time in the Australian seaside town of Kiama and I was due to help with an Iranian barbecue feast for the neighbours.

Eddie and his very pregnant wife were the hosts and chief cooks, next door to the home of Ken and Rosemary who had accommodated us.  We’d already visited to take in his home-made pizza oven and barbecue and were now ready to see both in action.  Meanwhile, Rosemary and friend Jill were back in her kitchen creating their salads.

But Eddie stole the day with his fire pit: dug just a couple of feet from the wooden fence between the two houses –as close together as anywhere we’d find in England.  He’d filled it with kindling, logs and even some broken wooden furniture before setting light to it all.  I think our cooking together was his excuse for all the smoke that drifted over the fence!  Once hot, he topped the pyre with a shoulder of lamb, wrapped in damp cloth, fig leaves and cooking foil before another layer of charcoal and a top-dressing of soil.  And there we left it for nearly six hours.

We prepared the kebabs.  But forget the prim bamboo sticks we might use in the UK.  Eddie had an armful of steel swords that were perfect for conducting the heat in to the heart of the thick cylinders of beef and pork we’d moulded on to the blades.

 

The smoky barbecued aubergines went off to become outstanding babaganush as the swords sizzled.

Meanwhile, Lebanese flat breads were cooking and slightly charring in the pizza oven crafted from an old oil drum and the salads and other neighbours arrived.  It was a damp and drizzling day but the weather certainly didn’t interfere with our jolly celebrations.

But I did have to make my excuses for a couple of hours to visit the local Silos Estate winery www.silosestate.com and sample their excellent products with owner, Raj.  All made rather more dramatic as the owner’s wife had been bitten by a tic and needed to get to hospital for it to be removed – a day of dramas!

Returning to the neighbours, it was clear that they too had been imbibing a little too and the jollity had increased.  It was time for the great unveiling as the lamb was carefully dug out of its fiery grave and ceremonially shared between the guests.  It was utterly delicious, succulent and moist – a great way to celebrate our last day before flying to Melbourne.

Near Death

 

We’d had a magical morning with aboriginal bushtucker expert, Fred.  He’d introduced me to his wilderness “supermarket” where nature can provide nearly everything for survival.

There was lamandra: a type of grass that has rhubarb-like thick succulent bases to the stems that you can eat.  The seeds can be dried and ground for flour to mix with a little water and bake on a stone for basic flatbread.  And the long grass-like stems themselves are fibrous and strong – perfect for weaving in to baskets or plaiting for a little bush bracelet.

The banksia tree has enormous flowers and equally big seed heads that are packed full of natural oils.  Fred explained that one of these seed heads, pre-heated in a fire, could be carried in your lamandra basket to another camp to start the next fire.  Useful in times without matches and when there are no handy boy scouts to rub together.

He had some invaluable tips for testing which bushtucker is safe to eat: usually, anything red is worth avoiding.  But, if the birds are eating red berries, they are probably safe.  You can double check by rubbing a little of the berry juice on the soft skin inside your wrist.  If it doesn’t react, you can try the next test: rubbing a little on the inside of your lip.  Again, if your mouth doesn’t swell or go numb, its probably safe.  On the other hand, you might prefer to be safe rather than sorry and rely on an expert like Fred.

And minutes later, the risks of nature really came home to me.  When we had finished filming, Toby and a friend went off for a swim.  As I arrived to join them, there was the squealing wheels of police cars and officers asking who had called for help.  I could only guess!

Toby and our friend were about 300 metres out in the sea where they had been swept by a rip current.  There was no way that they could get back to the beach and they were getting cold and tired trying to stay afloat in the choppy water.

Four police cars, two paramedic units, two rescue surfers and two helicopters arrived within minutes – plus the local television reporter.  The first surfer to arrive went straight out with his   board to give them help, closely followed by the second with a special rescue board equipped with handgrips and  straps.

One by one, they were brought ashore on the boards with the helicopters’ downdraft blowing them along.  It really had been touch and go – a few minutes more and they would have drowned.  The paramedics stepped in to check vital signs, wrap them in towels and foil survival “space blankets”.  On their shaky thin white legs, they looked like a couple of oven-ready chickens!

All my hard work to promote the Baking Blind adventure went for nothing – they made the national news that night while I languished on the side-lines!  But the relief was enormous.  I’d felt completely useless standing alone on the beach walkway.  A blind person staggering around on the sand would have just distracted the rescue team so I could do nothing but worry and wait.  My lasting thanks to a man from Cumbria who came to talk to me: he could explain what was going on and reassure me that he could still see two heads out in the sea.       It was a desperate feeling to be completely unable to help in anyway

Fish – Aboriginal style

Meet the fabulous Fred – bush tucker cook and expert forager as he showed me how to make this superb and simple dish near Seven Mile Beach in Australia  https://youtu.be/40kJYIzyNw4

This was one of the most memorable days during the whole of my time cooking around the world – entirely due to Fred, his knowledge, humour and great food.  His whole sense of place and history brought all those generations of the indigenous people of Australia alive for us info@fredsbushtucker.com.au.  He even had a perfect way of catching fish with leaves from the wattle tree.

But, being modern folk, we’d come equipped with a fresh snapper fish from just an ordinary supermarket while Fred had brought the rest of the ingredients and his barbecue to a local wildlife area.  He too has some disability – along term back injury – but he used his bushcraft to find and make his own walking cane.

This was nearly the same as cooking en papilotte (in a paper parcel) and even his bush equivalent had a similar name.  He’d gathered the paper bark from trees near the Wolagong steel works so they came impregnated with their own Smokey flavour.

The bark was thoroughly soaked while we filled the fish cavity with river mint and lemon myrtle gathered fresh from the wild.

The fish was wrapped in the bark with a knot that would embarrass any Boy Scout. Paper bark is very waterproof so it has many uses from thatching to being aboriginal greaseproof paper for us.  The final touch was to enclose the whole parcel within two huge lily leaves.  They are enormous, thick and succulent  with the perfect shape to enclose a whole fish.  They needed trimming with an axe – I did the chopping while he kept his fingers clear.  The whole plant-made package went straight on to the barbecue for about half an hour and the end result was succulent soft fish scented with the herbs – delicious.

 

Meet the CWA and their scones   – https://youtu.be/I3M-tbtufog  down-under equivalents to our British WIs and their Victoria sponges.   I was learning from the very best in Kiama, Australia

Jo, one of the renowned champions of the Country Women’s Association was generous enough to share her amazing recipe for lemonade scones: just self-raising flour, cream and the fizzy drink of your choice.  She and others make over 50,000 for just one local show so I knew she was a top expert.

This was my first cooking session after landing in Australia following a long and day-late flight from China.  The warm Spring weather and the charm of this little seaside town nestled in the countryside was a complete change from the teeming metropolis of Chongqing.

It was a real privilege to start with a lesson from Jo, an award-winning cook who has turned her skill in to a thriving business (Sweetwood cakes).  We spent a sunny morning in the bright kitchen of Ken and Rosemary, long-term friends who were generously hosting me in their Kiama home.  Gemma, herself a professional pastry chef, and fellow CWA-member, Jennifer, were there too – making sure that my attempts wouldn’t utterly disgrace their exacting standards.

Cooking alongside Jo was a delight: her passion, knowledge and great sense of humour were just what I’d expect from a completely confident and super-competent cook.  We laughed all morning and invented new recipes on the spot: how about beer in place of lemonade to make scones for a ploughman’s lunch; perhaps even a cream tea would be more luxurious with a champagne scone? The variations could be as endless as there are carbonated drinks in the world!

When I got back to the UK, sparkling wine was the perfect alternative and I added horseradish sauce to half the mixture for savoury scones to serve with a smoked salmon mousse.    Definitely one for the recipe book!

 

 

 

Just one day: paper bark cooking plus air/sea rescue.

A few hours and life lurched from one extreme to another: a truly enlightening morning getting a glimpse of bush tucker with aboriginal Fred followed by the high drama of nephew and videographer Toby and another friend being rescued from a life-or-death sea emergency.

With Fred (www.fredsbushtucker.com.au), I felt rather foolish and thoughtless for not recognising that his ancient culture had the sophisticated development we see in our own more modern societies.  Hence, it is no more reasonable to ask him as an expert bush tucker cook about the medicinal qualities of plants than expecting a chef to know the best treatment for an illness.  Aboriginal culture, like ours, has a whole range of experts – from law and medicine to cooking and childcare.

Fred showed me the plants that can be ground in to flour for bread, the seed head that can be carried from camp to camp to light fires and much more.   He helped me wrap a snapper fish donated by the local fish market (www.shellharbourfish.com.au), stuffed with lemon myrtle, in soaked paper bark and lily leaves for smoking on a barbeque – the origin of French style “en papiloutte”.

What I most admired was his clear and close connection with nature: the scrub land that he uses as a super market; his equanimity in the face of modern hustle and bustle; his irreverent sense of humour.  It was a real privilege to be shown just a glimpse of his world – all thanks to the planning and organisation of our Kiama hosts Rosemary and Ken.  They managed a week of different experiences: cooking with the award-winning Jo (sweetwoodcakes@gmail.com) of the Country women’s Association; Martin, the blind chef in Sydney (www.enabledcooking.com); wine-tasting with Raj (www.thesilos.com); an Iranian fire-pit and barbecue meat fest with Eddie.  The generosity of spirit and enthusiasm for cooking was the essence of a magnificent week that had taken huge effort to arrange by Rosemary and Ken – huge thanks to them.

 

 

 

 

But, even the best laid plans couldn’t have prepared us for the drama that was unfolding as I was still chatting with Fred.  Toby and another friend had slipped down to the beach for a quick swim.  Within minutes, a rip tide had dragged them out 300 metres from the beach and was pulling them further out.  Thankfully, 12 year old Hannah had spotted them (not waving but drowning) and her family called the emergency services.  We arrived to find police cars massing alongside paramedics and lifeguards with two helicopters close on their heels.  Eventually a surfboard lifesaver reached them with the board providing extra flotation as they had reached critical levels of exhaustion and cold.  One-by-one, they were helped back to shore and encased in huge foil and thermal warming suits – they looked like two capons ready for roasting!  But, it was no joke at the time as they were probably less than 10 minutes from tragedy.  The emergency services did a wonderful job and I cannot be more thankful to them.  And the whole drama completely upstaged the Baking Blind activities on the local TV – you can watch the clip on YouTube.

 

 

 

There’ll be lots more videos and recipes from this latest visit as soon as we have edited them – probably early next year so please do keep tuned in.

Penny