Tag Archives: Avalon

Palm Beach Perspectives, Sydney, Australia.

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

-Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor (161-180 CE)

Known as Summer Bay to lovers of the TV Drama series Home & Away and “Palmy” to those in the know, generation after generation have made the long drive up to Palm Beach often returning with sand-encrusted butts, sunburn and shocking tempers in a stinking hot car full of flies. Of course, that’s turning the clock back to the inimitable 70s when going to Palm Beach for us, meant piling into the family’s beloved HG Holden which had painfully hot upholstery and no air-conditioning. Ouch!

Palm Beach is located 41 kilometres North of Sydney’s CBD. However, I can assure you that if you’re catching the legendary L90 bus, welcome to eternity. Indeed, the journey takes around 2 hours. If you were traveling in Europe, you could well have traversed a few countries in that time. Moreover, bus is the only form of public transport. At least historically speaking, trains have been resisted.

On the other hand, if you are coming from the Central Coast, Palm Beach is only a stone’s throw away. You can catch the Palm Beach Ferry from either Ettalong or Wagstaff, which is an absolutely stunning 30 minute trip. When that gorgeous Australian sun is illuminating the ocean like a magical diamond carpet and the wind isn’t too strong, you’re in absolute paradise. On the other hand, when there’s heavy rain, strong winds, the ferry is heaving up and down through what feels like treacherous surf and you’re about to throw up; you feel like you deserve a bravery award once you reach the other side. Yes, at times like that, you even wonder if you’re about to become a modern version of the Swiss Family Robinson or remake Gilligan’s Island. Melodrama aside, the crew are very adept and the ferry is cancelled during particularly rough weather.

Palm Beach is an absolute kaleidoscope of perspectives, like any place, once you scratch beneath the surface. Obviously, creating that sort of mosaic, isn’t possible here so I’ll stick to the bigger picture, providing more of a broad-sweeping overview which a few “local” insights.

Geographically-speaking, Palm Beach has two quite opposite perspectives: the surf beach and Pittwater. The beach equals waves and swimming while Pittwater is “flat” and better suited for sailing, kayaking and other water sports.

Palm Beach- surf side

Palm Beach- surf side

Starting off with the surf beach, the first thing you’ll probably notice is that the sand is deep gold in colour. The next thing, is the surf. At the Southern end, the waves are relatively gentle and you have “kiddies’ corner”  where families with young kids hang out. There’s also an ocean pool where you can swim laps. The beach then stretches around towards the Northern end with it’s famous surfing breaks and culminates with the Palm Beach Lighthouse, which lies perched on top of the headland like a crown. If you are fit and energetic, you can walk up to the Lighthouse. I haven’t been up there for years and I’ve heard the path has improved but it used to be more of a climb than a walk.

The majority of swimmers are clustered “in between the flags”. The red and yellow flags mark where it’s safest to swim and is patrolled by the Surf Lifesavers. So, if you find yourself getting into difficulty, you can easily be spotted and rescued. I can assure you that as a teenager, my friends and I did consider needing a bit of CPR but never actually implemented these plans. We were all “talk”. That is, except when it came to talking to the lifesavers. These Adonises were in a league all of their own.

In a scene reminiscent of hundreds and thousands sprinkled on top of bread and butter (fairy bread),the crowds pour into Palmy from Christmas through to the Australia Day weekend at the end of January, which signals the return to school and the end of the precious Summer holidays. Then, the masses jostle for a precious rectangle of sand to park their towel on the hot,hot sand under the scorchingly hot Australian sun.

Although people living overseas have asked me about the hole in the ozone over Australia, it doesn’t look like all the sunbakers roasting themselves into early-onset melanoma have heard anything about it. When we were young, we used to to cover ourselves in baby oil or get sprayed on the beach by coconut oil, which was the height of sophistication back in the 70s and 80s. There was no such thing as a “fake tan” back then. Just sunburn, peeling skin, freckles and the odd genetic mutant who could actually pull off a tan.

Many years ago now, I used to hang out on the beach where designer sunnies were de rigeur and it certainly wasn’t the sort of place you’d turn up with hairy legs and arm pits which could fuel a forest fire. You didn’t just practice “the strut” at Palmy either. You had to have that down pat beforehand so Palm Beach could be your catwalk. Even better, if you also had the fingernails to eliminate your competition!

Geoff arriving home from a sail.

Geoff arriving home from a sail.

While the beachfront is renowned for flashing incredible wealth in a subtle, understated way and very much being “a scene”, the Pittwater side of Palm Beach is like it’s alter ego and incredibly down to earth  Understandably, there generally isn’t that fashion element you get over at the surf beach. Getting covered in sand and mud, we save our good clothes for back home or dining out and only wear our glad rags out there. It’s water shoes, wet suits, swimmers, grungy t-shirts and thick smears of sunscreen and broad-brimmed hats.

Although my tour of Palm Beach is rapidly drawing to a close, there are still two places I’d like you to visit.

Here I am enjoying a deep-fried prawn from the Fisherman's Basket.

Here I am enjoying a deep-fried prawn from the Fisherman’s Basket.

Firstly, there’s the infamous Palm Beach fish and chips shop, which has gone by various names over the years. It’s located on the Pittwater side, just across from the ferry wharf. People come from all around Sydney and the Central Coast to feast on these fish and chips, which surely must be among Sydney’s best?!! You can either eat-in or take them across the road and eat them in the park while checking out the sailing.

Secondly, there’s Alf’s Bait Shop in “Summer Bay”. Personally, there’s such an incredible cringe factor and like Neighbours, Home & Away is best exported but the show has been a fabulous ambassador and no doubt sold Australia to thousands of tourists. Palm Beach really does look incredible. That said, they usually present a glamorized, postcard perspective. After all, it does rain in Palm Beach and it isn’t always sun and blue skies!

However, while so far I’ve given you what pretty much reads as the glamour tour of Palm Beach, I can’t help feeling that Palm Beach is a little over-rated, especially given the cost of real estate. Even though it is part of Sydney, Palm Beach is actually very isolated and lacks most of what I would class “essential services”. There are no proper supermarkets and you have a ten minute drive into Avalon, which can extend to 20 in traffic. It is impossible to find a parking spot, which has meant that we’ve gone down for fish and chips and have driven off. I don’t want to knock down paradise and put up a parking lot. However, you do need to eat and get out of the house. That is also made difficult by the very narrow, twisting roads which lack adequate footpaths/ Indeed, in spots being a pedestrian is almost asking to get run over. As I was walking back from the bus stop the other day, I really felt like I needed to breathe in to distance myself from passing traffic.

Consequently, you can feel a little trapped and claustrophobic on the “insular peninsula”…especially when we have stunning beaches back home which are close to the shops, train and bus at such a fraction of the cost of real estate here.

Actually, thinking about Palm Beach’s location, it’s almost like someone was playing pin-the-tail on the donkey and stuck the pin almost off the side of the map. Even though it’s located in Sydney and not in the outback, it does feel strangely isolated both from services and people. So many of the houses are empty.

I am a bit down on Palm Beach at the moment because my Dad has sold the house here and we’re moving on, which is a serious wrench.

So rather than writing home about all the things I love about the place, I am also trying to remind myself of all the other equally beautiful places elsewhere and think about the flip side of the travel experience. For the last few years, we’ve immersed ourselves here but perhaps now it’s time to explore further afield and explore with a broader brush. When it comes to the Pittwater side of Palm Beach,it feels like we’ve explored each and every single hair on its head…especially when I’ve photographed it in such incredibly, minute detail and it feels like I know each single hair on its head, even though we’re still finding new critters.

So, soon I will be seeing our time in Palm Beach from another perspective…the past. I don’t need to leave it behind completely. After all, it’s only a short 30 minute ferry ride away but we planted roots here even if they’re uprooted and not severed completely, it still hurts and I feel a bit lost and disorientated. That said, once school goes back next week and we’re back to the grind at home, it will be a different story.

We’ll be home.

This has been P for Palm Beach Perspectives for the Blogging from A-Z April Challenge. How are you going with the challenge? Thank goodness, it is Sunday tomorrow and we have a break!

xx Rowena

Obsessed by My Second-Hand Quest

There’s a very fine line between success and obsessed. Quite often, I miss that line completely and accelerate right over the edge and straight onto the rollercoaster ride from hell. You’d think I’d learn but the lure of the thrill gets me every time. I too weak-willed and simply can’t say “no”!

In what must trigger off some deep, primal hunter-gathering instinct, I haunt opportunity shops like a determined hunter stalking its prey. l swear sometimes I’ve even felt an itch or “the call of the wild” to drop in and my instincts were spot on. There was something with my name written all over it.

“Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity”

“Hippocrates

This obsessive stalking of opportunity shops waxes and wanes like the moon and like a gambler, I really have to stay right away or I’ll succumb. It’s not that we usually don’t need what I’ve bought. Indeed, today I’ve managed to score a heap of quality, striking t-shirts for the kids at $4.00 each. I also found myself a LBD (little black dress) with white polka dots and it fits me like a glove. Thanks to Summer gear being half price, it was an absolute steal.

Divine Inspiration. The Bible just fell open at this page.

Divine Inspiration. The Bible just fell open at this page.

However, a lurking danger with stalking op shops is that passion can shift to obsession and ultimately, dare I mention the word…(drum roll)…ADDICTION!!

Ouch!!! Double ouch!!! That really hurt!!

Although I’ve never heard of a support group called: “Op Shoppers Anonymous”, I probably should be on  the look out. Even though you’ve got to spend money to save money, there does come a point, as I said or had it said to me, when the bad outweighs the good and the whole shebang seriously starts to unravel.

Some of the eclectic fabrics on offer.

Some of the eclectic fabrics on offer.

After all, although it might look quite innocent on the surface, op shopping is very much like gambling. You go in there maybe even just to fill in time while you’re waiting for a script. The next thing you know, you’ve spotted some fabulous antique baby’s jacket imported from Italy and you snap it up because you can, even though your baby is almost a teenager. This trip, I’ve bought a hand-painted Aboriginal vase, a Greek demi-tasse cup and saucer, a gorgeous wooden writer’s box, which probably came from Turkey or Morocco and seems completely unique…at least, that’s when I did a Google search. I even found a foldout driver’s map of Mt Kosciusko National Park dating back to the days of miles, before metric came in. We go skiing there and my daughter is currently doing an assignment for school on it, so it was a great find…especially as the dear old Lady at the Red Cross Shop threw it in. You see, I’m a regular.

Great find for a family of avid skiers! Vintage Map of the Snowy Mountains.

Great find for a family of avid skiers! Vintage Map of the Snowy Mountains.

Humph, “regular” could be another euphemism for “addict” but I’ll overlook that.

I love the randomness of everything I find at the op shop and the eclectic smattering of treasures from all sorts of places, eras and designs. Feeling about 5 years old again, I could sneak my way through all the clothes racks and feel all those different fabric brush against my skin, while a kaleidoscope of colour dazzles my senses. I find the sheer array of fabrics alone intoxicating and so much more interesting than a contemporary boutique with it’s particular, usually very narrow, sense of style. I don’t want some supposed fashionista telling me what I can and can not wear. I’ll wear whatever I @#$% like. It’s my body…my life!!!

Sharon and I introduce Wandering Wally to op shopping. Wally has flown all the way from the UK to raise awareness of myositis, the muscle disease I live with.

Sharon and I introduce Wandering Wally to op shopping. Wally has flown all the way from the UK to raise awareness of myositis, the muscle disease I live with.

However, not only do I go to the op shops for the treasures, I also go in there for a chat and some are better in this regard that others. My absolute fave is the Lifeline Shop at Avalon, Managed by my friend, Sharon. This is one of of your more “boutique” op shops, which specialises in designer labels and exotica from all around the world. Sharon meticulously yet passionately runs the shop like an upmarket boutique with the clothes and the window displays arranged with love and finesse. What with  Weight Watchers telling people to get rid of their fat clothes and the home improvement shows promoting decluttering, it’s a treasure hunter’s dream. As they feel good getting rid of it all, I’m only too happy to assist!!

After all, for some strange reason, it seems like people only want plain, white walls with one measly ornament on the shelf. Personally, I can’t understand it. How absolutely boring!! How could you possibly live in a home that’s as sterile as a hospital all white-washed and lacking in character? As far as I’m concerned, such minimalism also looks like they can’t afford to decorate the place!

After all, what ever happened to a bit of flamboyance and exuberant self-expression?

Of course, nobody has ever accused me of being a minimalist. Occasionally the word “hoarder” gets muttered but I’m really more of a collector. I just need to be careful There’s a fine line between passion, obsession and addiction.

However, there’s just one little weaknesses I haven’t fessed up to yet.

Books!

Op Shop Treasures

Op Shop Treasures

When it comes to books, I have well and truly exceeded the limit. Okay, you mean-spirited, Kindle freaks. I know that I’ve already got far more books than one person could ever read in a life time. However, you can’t always predict what will take your fancy and when they’re so cheap, how could I possibly resist?!!

I don’t quite know what I’m searching for in all these books. The meaning of life? I don’t know. These days, I’m actually not sure that I’ll find the meaning of life in a book.  After all, life is to be lived and not simply read about. You have to get out there! You need to find your own meaning. Write your own book.

Meanwhile, my rationale for managing all my “finds” is that I just need a bigger house.

That said, I am planning a big reorganisation when I get home from holidays.

I  am !! Truly, I am!!

Do you have any obsessions you might want to confess to? I’m all ears and extremely non-judgemental!!

O is or Obsession and Opportunity Shop… my latest installment for the Blogging A-Z April Challenge.

By the way, here’s a good complement to this post as Conversations Around the Tree discusses the difference between “needs” and “wants”. Tree teaches people with intellectual disabilities and even reminded me of a few home truths!! Well worth checking out: https://treerabold.wordpress.com/2015/04/17/n-needs/

xx Rowena

Chocolicious Chocolate!

Throw out your copy of: How to Win Friends & Influence People. If you want to be popular, the answer is chocolate. Not just any ordinary, garden-variety chocolate but the good stuff. The stuff that is so good, that it’s literally evil.

After all, as my husband explained:

“Life is too short to waste it eating mediocre chocolate.”

While definitions of such superlative chocolicious indulgences can be quite subjective, I’m yet to find someone who doesn’t fall head-over-heels in love with Australia’s Tim Tam Biscuit. All rules of social restraint and decorum go out the window where Tim Tams are concerned. Even the most disciplined health nuts have confessed to inhaling an entire packet of Tim Tams and it’s pretty much a given that  once you open the packet, they’ll all be gone in the blink of an eye. Tim Tams are so good that there was even an advertising campaign showing why a Tim Tam is better than a man.

Simply Irresistible Tim Tams

Simply Irresistible Tim Tams

The Tim Tam is so popular that a sacred ritual has evolved: “The Tim Tam Explosion” or “The Tim Tam Slam” although when I was at university, it was known as “The Tim Tam Suck”. These all describe the same scrumptious and daring ritual where you bite off opposite corners of a Tim Tam and dunk one corner in a hot cup of tea or coffee and suck it like a straw. The drink fills the biscuit and it metamorphoses into a sloppy, delicious mass, which you can hopefully get into your mouth before it disintegrates and falls in your drink. Of course, the chocolate coating melts all over your fingers so this is definitely not the done thing around “polite society”. It’s probably, not recommended on a first date, either!!

However, when it comes to chocolate, there are those special occasions when Lindt is in order and Lindt Balls have a special place in our hearts. Geoff and I took them bushwalking for our first Valentine’s Day together. Being a scorchingly hot, Sydney Summer’s Day, the Lindt Balls were liquid and have been known ever since as “Lindt Smears”. Therefore, indulging in Lindt Smears is rather hazardous during a Summer and you’re lucky if you can get the wrapper off before it disintegrates and implodes. I must admit that I do enjoy a gooey Lindt Ball but there’s a fine line. You can get a lot of heartbreaking wastage as the chocolate merges with the wrapper.

Who can argue with Snoopy?

Who can argue with Snoopy?

Another favourite chocolate indulgence, is a Hot Chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows. I first discovered these when I was backpacking through Europe back in 1992 and ordered a Heiss Schockolade mit Sahne in Koln (Cologne). Wow!! Since then, I have found what I believe to be the world’s very best Hot Chocolate located at the Perisher resort where we go skiing. Their Toblerone Hot Chocolate comes with snowman with three marshmallows on a stick which you dunk into the hot, creamy hot chocolate. There’s also a stick of Toblerone and a cigar biscuit. Just amazing.

Sumptuous Chocolate Soup

Sumptuous Chocolate Soup

Recently, I found a scrumptious chocolate cake which was almost drowning in chocolate soup. That reminded me of the wonders of chocolate sauce. You can read about it here:

https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/therapeutic-indulgence-a-rendez-vous-with-laksa-and-a-saucy-chocolate-cake/

Being a keen baker, I have also made quite a few chocolate treats and I encourage you to have a go. In our household, we had a tension between the kids who prefer milk chocolate and the adults who prefer dark and so now I tend to make half of each to keep everybody happy.

Here are some indulgent chocolate recipes for you to try:

Yummy Chocolate Cupcakes.

Yummy Chocolate Cupcakes.

Easy-Peasy Chocolate Cupcakes with Ganache:

https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/easy-peasy-chocolate-party-cupcakes/

White Chocolate Rocky Road:

https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/white-chocolate-rocky-road/

Flourless Nutella Cake:

https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/08/11/too-much-chocolate-temptation/

Two-Faced Chocolate Caramel Slice (milk and dark chocolate):

https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/two-faced-chocolate-caramel-slice/

Chocolate Hazelnut Indulgence Cake:

https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2012/11/22/chocolate-hazlenut-indulgence-cake-my-own-creation/

After writing about all that yummy, scrumptious chocolate, my mouth is watering and I’m seriously considering breaking into our stash of Easter eggs. Something tells me, resistance is futile and as any true chocoholic will confess, when you eat your eggs quickly you can always poach the slow poke’s bulging stash.

However, if you are more more virtuous than I and can get through the entire Easter season without even a nibble of chocolate, perhaps you like to read about it instead and should get hold of: Chocolat by Joanne Harris…or even the movie http://www.joanne-harris.co.uk/books/chocolat/.

A great Easter read and also a fabulous movie, which will leave you craving for artisan chocolate and a trip to France.

A great Easter read and also a fabulous movie, which will leave you craving for artisan chocolate and a trip to France.

Easter always seems to bring rain on Australia’s East Coast, at least, and so it’s a great time to curl up with a book, a movie and eat chocolate:

“The greatest tragedies were written by the Greeks and Shakespeare…neither knew chocolate.”
― Sandra Boynton

If you are participating in the A-Z Challenge, what was your C and feel free to provide a link and share your topic.

Love & chocolate moustaches,

Rowena

Homeward Bound: Palm Beach to Ettalong.

No doubt, all weekends away end up feeling like Cinderella’s horrific crash landing after the ball. You’re back in rags, your coach is a pumpkin and both you and Prince Charming are so quite what you used to be.

My weekend in Palm Beach was no different and once I’d polished off that divine chocolate cake and all that luscious chocolate sauce, I was on borrowed time and the clock was really ticking.

Tick-tock..tick-tock…tick! TICK! BZZ!!!!!! Game Over!!!!!

space_invaders_wallpaper_game_over_by_shadowbott-d5rxcn6

However, as the rain and wind whipped around, a lingering doubt emerged. Could the ferry service actually be cancelled?

If so, how on earth was I going to get home?

No ferry would stretch the 30 minute journey home into an extremely long, arduous, meandering journey involving 2 buses, 2 trains and not only a packed lunch but also dinner and possibly even a midnight snack.

This was obviously a serious concern!!

However, as if I would travel all that way when I could just stay another night and wait until the storm cleared! Yeah, right!! I could just imagine how well that would go down! There I was living it up in Palm Beach while Geoff had been at work and taxiing the kids around and then he’d be having to take time off work as well to get them to school. Yes, I’d be extremely popular!!

Indeed, it could even be grounds for divorce!

We’ve been on some pretty ragged rides on the ferry before, crossing the high seas where the waves loomed like skyscrapers overhead and our beloved ferry felt more like Scuffy the Tugboat, seemingly tossed like a salad in the ferocious  surf.  Of course, the kids who have a real penchant for melodrama, were freaking out about sinking, drowning and, of course,  even dying while the ferry plowed on through the drenching rain and heavy winds. Ghostly white and sitting on our laps wrapped up in our arms, the kids are vowing never to catch the ferry again. That was a few years ago now before they became intrepid sea scouts!

The ferry service was cancelled for the rest of the day after that.

I was concerned about the ferry being cancelled on Sunday too.  Sure, I know we’re not crossing notorious Bass Strait of Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race fame but the weather still gets wild enough. Wild enough to cancel the ferry. That’s right. There comes a point when even the most intrepid Palm Beach Ferry Captains hang up their hats and stay on terra firma.

However, I’m in luck. The ferry is running and although the weather is a little rough and wet, it remains quite civilised.

Sunset Palm Beach Wharf...so pleased that bird dropped into the shot!

Sunset Palm Beach Wharf…so pleased that bird dropped into the shot!

A friend from Church drops me off at the wharf with 15 minutes to spare where I can enjoy watching some people fishing while the sun sets. I am reminded of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. However, the keen fisherperson is a woman and she knows her stuff. With the precision of a plastic surgeon, she wraps up a cooked prawn in some plastic netting salvaged from a bag of fruit and pushes the hook through. That prawn won’t come off without a fight, so the fish will have to work a bit harder tonight if they want a free feed!!

At 6.15pm, this is the last ferry and in contrast to yesterday’s rowdy party atmosphere, the ferry is almost empty. There’s just a few weekend stragglers on board and pure silence. You could even meditate it was that quiet. Talk about a contrast!! We all sit inside…even me who is all but always out there on deck pushing the limits with my camera. Too wet, too windy and way too bumpy tonight. Time to take it all in through the rain-stained window.

The View through the Window- Palm Beach Ferry.

The View through the Window- Palm Beach Ferry.

As the ferry started approached Ettalong Wharf, I was looking out for Geoff and the kids and really looking forward to their enthusiastic greetings: “Mummy! Mummy!” and finding out how their scout camps went. These are the sort of exciting moments you live for as a parent: warm, gutsy hugs, smiles, laughter and a thousand stories all spilling out at once. That’s the thing about going away. As much as you protest against the homeward journey, we all know: “There’s no place like home!!”

The Palm Beach Ferry returns to near deserted wharf at Ettalong as the weekend draws to a close.

The Palm Beach Ferry returns to near deserted wharf at Ettalong as the weekend draws to a close.

However, when the ferry pulled into the wharf, there was no one there. The wharf was empty, deserted and not even a sign of our car anywhere. No enthusiastic waves. No hugs. No Mummy!!! Just the sun setting over a deserted beach and the sounds of the wind and the surf.

I knew I was being a bit ridiculous, especially after it was me who actually went away for the weekend. However, there was this residual small voice which I’d thought had disappeared long ago:

“Nobody loves me!”

It’s not that I’m looking for sympathy or even a chorus of: “where were they? Why weren’t they there to pick you up? How dare they!” I mean…it’s not like I cried or anything. However, after building up the big greeting all the way home and really looking forward to seeing the rest of the family, I did feel a bit sad, forgotten and (drum roll)  ABANDONED!!

Serves me right for going away for the weekend without them. This was karma and a taste of what it’s really like to be alone.

As it turned out, the family wasn’t far away and had got held up at scouts. Geoff and the kids had been unloading boats, kayaks and all sorts of paraphenalia from their weekend competing at the Sirius Cup at Sydney’s Balmoral Beach. That’s all. Nothing sinister!

Mister poking out his tongue while scouting at the Sirius Cup, Balmoral Beach.

Mister poking out his tongue while scouting at the Sirius Cup, Balmoral Beach.

Mister had had great fun and made it into the finals for the C2 at the Sirius Cup, which means a 2 person canoe. We were so proud..particularly as he’d overcome his fear of sharks and other nasties and gone for it!! Miss had done really well at her Cub leadership course too. However, there are unfortunately no photos.

A reflective moment during scout camp.

A reflective moment during scout camp.

It’s been a fabulous weekend. Absolutely fabulous!!

Geoff even managed to watch the Grand Prix! Unfortunately, it wasn’t Australian race champion, Daniel Riccardo’s day.

Boo who! Tomorrow…it’s back to yet another manic Monday morning. I’m going to need a pretty strong coffee to get me going. It’s going to be like raising the Titanic.

The Monday morning salvage routine is going to be tough!!

The Monday morning salvage routine is going to be tough!!

xx Rowena (and a few extra kilos after that chocolate cake!!)

 

Yoda: A Food Journey to SE Asia in Sydney.

For something like the last 3 months, I’ve been trying to write a post about our favourite restaurant, Yoda. Yoda is located in Avalon, just south of Palm Beach in Sydney’s Northern Beaches and specialises in South-East Asian street food.

I was quite excited when I stumbled across Yoda. It has been a long time since I’ve been able to visit SE Asia and when I was there last, I had the sort of lurid gastro that could’ve scored me a certain role in Monty Python’s movie The Meaning of Life. Therefore, I was looking forward to going into Yoda and having the whole Eat, Pray Love experience, close to home without getting sick.

Yoda is owned and operated by couple Michelle and Brendan. Brendan runs the kitchen. I don’t know what his official classification is whether he is a chef, a cook or just a brilliant actor but the food is sumptuously good. Michelle is the beaming smile who greets you on arrival and it doesn’t take long for you to feel right at home. Actually, when you dine at Yoda, you feel like you’re in their lounge room at a big dinner party. Of course, everybody sticks to their own table but being on the insular peninsula, everyone doesn’t quite know each other but there’s often a flash of recognition. We’re from out of town and even we knew someone. Of course, if you’re there for a romantic meal and just wanting to stare into each others’ eyes, you can also do that, although Yoda also home-delivers.

Yoda has what’s known as an open kitchen, which is located at the heart of the restaurant. This means diners can watch Brendan and his team at work, which certainly creates a bit of theatre. At the same time, I admire Michelle and Brendan’s courage. How many couples can work successfully together at all, let alone in the public pressure cooker environment of a hot, super busy, open restaurant kitchen? There’s no room for anyone to chuck a “Gordon Ramsay” let alone have a domestic. Yet, of course, Michelle and Brendan are all genuine smiles.

Our family at Yoda celebrating my birthday in July.

Our family at Yoda celebrating my birthday in July.

Even though we have been to Yoda quite a few times, I found writing about experiences proved so much harder than I’d thought. I wasn’t setting out to be a food or restaurant critic. I simply wanted to share a sensational experience. After all, vicarious experience is one of the beauties about blogging on the world wide web.

Not having written a restaurant review before, I wasn’t quite sure what to address and as I started thinking about the decor, my mind went blank. I just remembered Michelle’s beaming smile and the sumptuous flavours of the food and in particular the magnificent mango with sticky rice for dessert. I asked Geoff if he knew what colour the walls were and he replied very matter-of-factly: “How should I know? I don’t go to a restaurant based on the colour of the walls.”

Good point.

Of course, when we had been out to Yoda for dinner, I wasn’t in food critic mode and hadn’t taken along a note book, camera or even my phone. We were there to eat, chat and absorb the lively ambience. Anyway, I decided to cheat and we went back on Sunday afternoon with the kids and the dog in tow to do the required research. I know this might also sound funny but I also wanted to introduce Michelle to our dog Bilbo as she had been minding a friend’s Border Collie recently. Perhaps, you don’t know what it’s like but when you own or are even associated with the same breed of dog, you are virtually family. Moreover, that’s what Yoda is all about…warm, friendly and community-minded. It is also personal and of course, we’re all on a first name basis.

When we turned up unannounced, Brendan was more than happy for me to photograph the cooking in action and while looking at the kitchen through the focused gaze of my SLR, I appreciated the organisation that goes on behind a busy kitchen. There’s no time to pull the kitchen cupboard apart searching for that missing, essential ingredient or dash to the supermarket either. Behind all that friendly, casual dining is a lot of tight planning and organisation just like the duck who seemingly glides so effortlessly over the water while madly paddling its feet underwater.

Behind the relaxed, casual Yoda experience is detailed preparation and organisation.

Behind the relaxed, casual Yoda experience is detailed preparation and organisation.

I made a mental note. Perhaps, I, too, could become an oasis of calm organisation cooking at home.

I can also confirm that the walls were actually red, not orange.

However, I haven’t discussed the name.

Now, just in case you watch Big Bang Theory and you are thinking Yoda is just the place to take Sheldon out for dinner, it doesn’t have a Star Wars theme although there is a small statue of Yoda. However, all is not lost. On the 4th May each year, they have a Star Wars night to celebrate International Star Wars Day. (May the Fourth Be With You!)

Last, but certainly by no means least, there’s the food itself. The food has an exotic blend of Asian flavours which really tickled our taste buds. That’s my way of saying that I loved the food but am too unsophisticated to break it down into its individual components. My justification is that too much analysis can ruin a great meal!

The menu itself has been very carefully prepared and you’ll notice various symbols throughout as meals are marked child-friendly gluten-free and I believe the chilli is kept fairly mild because the menu asks you to tell them if you want it spicy.

Mister and I enjoying the Mussels steamed with coconut & ginger broth. The sauce was divine.

Mister and I enjoying the Mussels steamed with coconut & ginger broth. The sauce was divine.

We haven’t tried everything on the menu but my favourite main would be Vietnamese chicken cabbage salad with peanuts, roast garlic & house dressing for $18.00, although the Tea smoked duck with freshly spiced orange sauce & coriander salad at $20.00 is a close second. The whole family also enjoyed the Mussels steamed with coconut & ginger broth served with roti for $20.00…especially our ten year old son. We can’t go past the warm sticky rice, mango & coconut sauce for dessert although on our last visit we finally ventured out and ordered the Pandan creme brulee which is a traditional creme brulee infused with pandan.

Miss enjoys a non-alcoholic pina colada

Miss enjoys a non-alcoholic pina colada

We are regulars at Yoda and have been there for more intimate nights as a couple, as a family with the kids and also with my parents. Probably the best reference for the place comes from our kids who love the restaurant, love the food and actually eat. Michelle has actually been impressed at how they try new foods and flavours and are more adventurous than most kids. What she doesn’t realise is that our kids are both fairly light, picky eaters so it is a real testimony to the food.

Wally sought help from the Force and consulted Yoda.

Wally sought help from the Force and consulted Yoda.

So if you feel like paying Yoda a visit, here is their website which includes menus:http://www.yodafood.com.au/index.php

Enjoy!

xx Rowena

Exploring Our Borrowed Backyard, Palm Beach.

We can’t all be Christopher Columbus or Captain Cook exploring the high seas in search of hidden lands. However, we should never overlook the many treasures in our own backyards. Most of the time, they’re not even buried but staring us straight in the face. You could say that I’m lucky because our borrowed backyard is particularly stunning but many of the houses and the boats around here are left vacant, which always strikes me as odd. I’m sure every house has its story. However, I am here and I am definitely making the most of every single second. Well, at least that’s my intention.

Our Border Collie Bilbo out on the mud flats. No doubt he is looking for his tennis ball. He doesn't care about the view and certainly tries to avoid the water.

Our Border Collie Bilbo is out searching for the meaning of life. For him, that meaning is very simple. It’s his tennis ball and of course…food! Although he swears that all his bulk is only fur, we know a coverup when we see one.

It just so happens that our borrowed backyard is a tidal expanse of mud and sand stretching from Careel Bay, Avalon through to Dark Gully, Palm Beach. While mud might not have the instant appeal of golden beach sand, it has a certain je ne sais quoi and a squelch factor which is hard to beat. I don’t know if this kind of mud is any good for your skin or whether it’s full of glow in the dark heavy metals which have nothing to do with thrashing guitars but it is fun with a capital F…especially for kids and nature lovers alike. The crabs particularly love it although I wish they’d grow a little bigger!!

A Miss in mud.

A Miss in mud.

Setting out from the Avalon end, I’ll let you in on what was a fleeting, temporary find. We found a lounge room set up in the mangroves. Somebody, had picked up what had been fairly top of the line cane chairs from one of the council cleanup piles beside the road and set them up along side an upturned wooden crate as a table and a lounge chair. I was quite excited to stumble into this secret world.Conjuring images of drinking port by candlelight Dead Poet’s Society style once the weather warmed up, I was looking forward to sneaking in late one night after sunset when the tide wasn’t in. However, when I returned only a few days later, it was gone. Removed. I gather this little makeshift venue wasn’t considered suitably “Palm Beach” and somebody had made a fatal call to council.

Just perfect for a Dead Poet's Society...the lounge room in the mangroves.

Just perfect for a Dead Poet’s Society…the lounge room in the mangroves. Shame it was only so temporary.

Before you start noticing the critters in the mud, you’ll be struck by the amazing array of bird life. 116 species of birds have been recorded as having been seen in Careel Bay, no doubt feasting on all the baby fish. Of course, there are the usual seagulls and every now and then the plovers take up residence, nesting in one of the empty backyards and fiercely dive bombing passers-by screeching and squawking as well.They can be a real terrifying menace…especially for the kids.

Grey Heron at Sunset, Pittwater. Really makes me wish to be a bird!

Grey Heron at Sunset, Pittwater. Really makes me wish to be a bird!

Much more impressive, are the stately grey Herons.

There are also a few pelicans. I’ve loved pelicans ever since I watched the movie Storm Bay based on the novel by Colin Thiele as a child. Pelicans have always been “Mr Percivals” like the pelican from the film.

Most beautiful of the land birds you’ll find around Careel Bay are the Rainbow Lorikeets.

There are large flocks of Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos along the waterfront sustained as much by people, as the food nature provides.

There are large flocks of Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos along the waterfront sustained as much by people, as the food nature provides.

You’ll also spot the odd Sulphur Crested Cockatoo during the day but the cockatoos take over centre stage just before sunset when they congregate in the trees along the waterfront before swooping en masse across Careel Bay performing a deafening sunset screech as they head for the National Park. It’s quite a spectacle to watch , although you might need a good set of ear plugs. They’re almost as deafening as a heavy metal band.

Crab of unspecified type. Wish I could zap it with my wand and I won't mention the rest.

Crab of unspecified type. Wish I could zap it with my wand and I won’t mention the rest.

You don’t even need to take a close look at the mud to notice the many, many holes which turn the mud into some kind of moonscape. Towards the Avalon end, the sand crabs rule the roost and as you move towards Palm Beach and Dark Gully, the soldier crabs have set up residence. These are amazing critters which march in their thousands across the mud, raised up on legs like stilts. They look like something out of Star Wars. These crabs can be a little bit scary to a certain person when they’re on the move but the rest of us find them intriguingly spectacular.

Soldier crab.

Soldier crab.

There’s also poetry in the mud with the ebb and flow of the tides. You really find out what it means that the tide waits for no one living on the edge of a tidal zone. While you’re getting yourself organised to get out on the kayak, the water miraculously disappears and you’re left high and dry. When the tide goes out, an entire underwater world is magically revealed and it’s way to far to lug out the kayak. Likewise, I’ve been caught out and the tide has come in while I’ve been out walking. Most of the time, it doesn’t matter if we get a bit wet but it’s not so good for visitors heading back home on the ferry without a change of clothes.

However, there’s not just poetry but also art out there in the mud.

Art in the crumbling boat ramps which are slowly being eaten by moss and colonised by oysters which convert their simple wooden pillars onto ornate Grecian columns.

Surprisingly, there are a few rather dead looking boat ramps along the waterfront. They remind me of Wordsworth's poem: "The Deserted Village". I also see this as the seas reclaiming its ground. Mankind thinks we can tame the sea but...

Surprisingly, there are a few rather dead looking boat ramps along the waterfront. They remind me of Wordsworth’s poem: “The Deserted Village”. I also see this as the seas reclaiming its ground. Mankind thinks we can tame the sea but…

There’s also art in the amazing ripples through the mud.

Art in nature...such incredible ripples in the sand.

Art in nature…such incredible ripples in the sand.

Eventually, as our walk continues, we reach Dark Gully. Dark Gully is a small cove which opens up into quite an expanse of mud at low tide. It is called Dark Gully because it is shaded from the sun. I have always loved exploring and was delighted to find a little creek flowing into Dark Gully. I tried walking along it a bit but didn’t get very far as it is rather smelly and overgrown. Much better looking at the photos.

Dark Gully, Palm Beach looking out onto Pittwater at low tide.

Dark Gully, Palm Beach looking out onto Pittwater at low tide.

As you walk around Dark Gully, you will spot an intriguing sandstone cave with a door. I’m convinced that it’s a pirate’s lair but haven’t spotted any comings and goings quite yet. Obviously, the pirates come and go by water at night when there’s a full moon and a high tide. After all, pirates need to be discreet and keep their headquarters under wraps.

I have also enjoyed watching the clouds roll by and even soaking in their reflections in the shallows.

Dreaming by the Sea...cloud reflections at Dark Gully, Palm Beach.

Dreaming by the Sea…cloud reflections at Dark Gully, Palm Beach.

Last but not least are all the dog walkers along the flats.

After all my bad press, Lady found herself on the lead when we went walking with Geoff. She walked very, very nicely as well. Could teach Bilbo a thing or two!

After all my bad press, Lady found herself on the lead when we went walking with Geoff. She walked very, very nicely as well. Could teach Bilbo a thing or two!

As much as I love exploring the mud and shallows finding all sorts of crabs, birds and exotic critters, I have to say that my favourite experience on the mud flats has been watching the sunset over the water. The entire sky can turn a brilliant orange and this is reflected in the rippled waters down below. Sometimes, the sunset looks like thick oozy melting cheese and is such a magnficently bright golden yellow. Even though I am quite a stress head, even I manage to relax and unwind watching these sunsets and being on the East coast, it is a rare thing to see the sunset over a body of water.

The sun setting over Pittwater, Palm Beach.

The sun setting over Pittwater, Palm Beach.

sunset Palm Beach

Lady at Palm Beach

As the sun sets over Palm Beach, school holidays are rapidly drawing to a close. It’s going to be very, very hard to go home.

xx Rowena

Mutiny on the Kayak

There is something so gloriously serene about kayaking across a beautiful diamond carpet of almost still water on a glorious, Spring morning. You’re almost inhaling all those positive ions and good vibes and feeling absolutely on top of the world. It’s just you and the sea and you’re floating along so effortlessly, almost levitating on a magnificent sea of calm absorbing all that superlative beauty.

However…

Add two reluctant kids to the mix, not unsurprisingly, the experience can quickly turn on its head. Instead of everybody moving in sync, we ended up with Mutiny on the Yellow kayak…especially when two dogs decide to do a bit of kayak bombing!

Here's Bilbo our Border Collie swimming out towards our kayak. This was a huge step forward for scaredy-dog although not such a good move for Mister in the pink single kayak.

Here’s Bilbo our Border Collie swimming out towards our kayak. This was a huge step forward for scaredy-dog although not such a good move for Mister in the pink single kayak.

Welcome to my nightmare. Trying to set off on a simple kayaking expedition with my kids in Careel Bay, just off Palm Beach in Sydney. To put you in the picture, this is right near where they film the Australian drama series Home & Away except we’re on the Pittwater side which is just perfect for all sorts of water sports (other than surfing, of course).

I don’t know what it is with my kids. Why they don’t jump at the chance to get out there onto the water and carpe diem seize the day? Why do they prefer virtual living to the real thing? By virtual living, I’m of course, referring to playing x-box and Minecraft and all those electronic gadgets too much. At least, I’m blaming the gadgets.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to go to the beach. Get into the sand. Go outside. The only time we ever stayed inside was when it was pelting down with rain and my parents practically had to bolt down the doors to keep us in. There was also the odd bout of sunburn which put us out of action as well. Instead of the parents hassling the kids to get out, it was the other way round. “Come on, Mum! Dad!” I remember a particular beach holiday when my Dad locked himself up with a very, very large doorstop of a novel called Shogun and that was the end of him for the holiday although he might have taken us fishing. We were trying to drag Dad out into the water. It certainly wasn’t the other way round.

Times have changed. Now, it’s me the parent doing the dragging or should I say still doing the dragging. Doesn’t anybody else want to get out there? My husband certainly does. He might not be the original Solo Man but he has kayaked down the Tasmanian rapids which Grant Kenny traversed in the commercial. My husband had a real thirst for adrenalin and loved pushing himself hard before he was consumed by the rat race.

Miss and I in the kayak with Lady.

Miss and I in the kayak with Lady.

Although my kids are in the sea scouts and seem to be happy enough out on the water there, for some reason our daughter is often terrified of going kayaking with me and today is no exception. She brought up almost each and every fear known to man and although there was a bit of wind out there she wasn’t going to drown in knee-deep tidal water especially when she was wearing a life-jacket. She wasn’t going to get killed by stingrays either, which seem to scare her more than sharks but then again there is what happened to Steve Irwin. That certainly added stingrays to the Deadly 60. Last but certainly not least on her list despite their size, was the vast army of soldier crabs which were hiding in their crab holes underwater. They were all about to come out to get her. With all these worries being brought up while she begged me to turn back, it was like she had swallowed the DSM manual. You know the great book the psychological professionals use to classify and define all your weird and wonderful idiosyncrasies. She was absolutely gripped with fear and all teary but her wretched mother kept going because if you keep avoiding fear, you never develop the neuropathways to overcome it.

I know I’m hardly Robinson Crusoe with my lifelong phobia of false teeth and the incredible fear of dogs which I had growing up but other people’s unrealistic fears always look much more surmountable than your own.

Anyway, as you can appreciate, Miss really, really didn’t want to go kayaking.

While Miss and I were in the yellow double kayak, Mister was on his own in the single kayak. These kayaks had been left behind by the previous owners. They’re certainly not the latest and greatest craft and do have a certain bathtub look about them but we love them and they have taken us on some fabulous adventures. We’ve explored the mangroves. We’ve also paddled back and forth across the bay trying to catch glimpses of the great giant flathead and the amazing flying mullet. Of course, their mythical proportions rival the likes of Nessy[1] but you know how kids can turn hyperbole into fact. Mister’s been out there very determined with his net but the giants of the deep have eluded him and retained their precious secrets. I have also been on a number of very serene solo expeditions and it’s so relaxing just to float on the water and drift. Simply drift.

So Miss and I are paddling along. There’s a strong headwind and so we’re not moving very quickly and I’m talking her through her fears and encouraging her when I notice Lady, one of our dogs, has just launched off the boat ramp and is paddling out to join us. We’ve only had Lady two weeks and we’re still getting to know her. She’s two years old and she comes from a farm and is quite a bundle of surprises. Yesterday, she leaped up off the beach and successfully landed on top of a 3 metre high retaining wall. She really does make anything look possible and is quite a gutsy, spirited dog.

While you could wonder about the logistics of having a dog in a kayak, I thought Lady would be okay. I haven’t weighed her but she’d probably weigh something like 10-20 kilos. I certainly have no trouble lifting her up. Consequently, when she decided to “kayak bomb” us, I didn’t really hesitate to pick her up and help her into the kayak. Geoff and I have been sailing on the little Laser with Bilbo onboard before so I though Lady would be fine and she was. She sat on the front of the kayak in front of me as I awkwardly paddled around her.

Mister kayaking along with all 40+ kilos of Bilbo our Border Collie...the calm before the splash.

Mister kayaking along with all 40+ kilos of Bilbo our Border Collie…the calm before the splash.

Meanwhile, when Bilbo saw Lady kayaking with us, he somehow overcame his huge fear of even getting his paws wet and launched himself into the water. I saw him wading out with all his fur billowing out. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him swim before except for the time he fell in the swimming pool chasing his tennis ball. Even for a Border Collie, Bilbo is a big dog and dry he weighs around 40 kilos so with his very thick woolly coat soaking up all that sea water, he was getting very heavy indeed. Well, he ended up on the single kayak with Mister who also weighs around 40 kilos. Mister is quite good on the kayak but not unsurprisingly Bilbo managed to capsize them and dog and boy were in the water. Bilbo managed to scratch Mister on the way out and apparently also tried to grab hold of him. It was only shallow water where at least we could all stand up so there was no risk of anyone drowning but there was certainly plenty of pandemonium.

I decided that this was also a good time to get Lady back on terra firma. The novelty of trying to paddle around the dog was wearing off, especially given my daughter’s catalogue of fears and I didn’t even want to consider how she’d react if Lady capsized our kayak. Needless to say, Geoff put the dogs back behind the fence before he headed out for a paddle.

As much as I enjoy a relaxing, solo paddle soaking up all that serenity, there was definitely a certain “je ne sais quoi” with this mad scramble of kids, paws, paddles and of course avoiding the huge ginormous Giant Stingray which is out there somewhere lurking in the very shallow depths.

It’s crazy experiences like these that become the great family legends. I can already hear everyone gathered around the family table laughing about the time Bilbo jumped in the kayak with Mister and they capsized and everyone roars laughing.

So much for peace and tranquility but as Helen Keller said: “Life is either a daring adventure or it’s nothing.”

I’d love to hear of any of your family adventures, especially family holiday antics!

Xx Rowena

PS Kids still aren’t seeing the funny side of things yet. Miss just told me: How would you like it if you capsized and the dog scratched you with its claws? Mister was also fairly gloomy about the experience as well. It seems there is a fine line between humour and trauma that we still need to work on. After all, your disasters always make the best stories.

[1] The Loch Ness Monster.