Monthly Archives: December 2010

I do it Aussie style at christmas!

As soon as I opened my eyes, I knew it was going to be a hot one…  I could see the sun valliantly attempting to get through the blinds, the birds were up and singing proudly and I was excited about opening my stocking. 

Usually christmas breakfast was a fancy affair for our family back home in England but being that we weren’t in England and it was hot as hell at nine in the morning, we decided to have a very last minute breakfast of eggs on toast.  I was wearing my new summer dress which I had received from Santa, my new perfume and my new jewelry.  So, we bundled into the car, laden with plates of food and lots of cold beers and headed down the coast to visit some friends. 

Luckily it was very windy and so the weather was cooler and the flies were at bay.  As soon as we arrived we were given the obligatory festive beer and for once it was the right side of midday (pre).  Once we all caught up on presents and festive tidings, it was time to hit the river in a very speedy, speed boat.  Australian christmas for us, meant donning our swimwear, piling on the sunscreen and thrashing around the river in a friends boat.   When they asked if I’d like a biscuit, I said a very enthusiastic ‘yes’.  Never one to say no to a sweet treat.   Unfortunately, to these lovely Aussie folk, a biscuit is a large rubber ring attached to the back of a speeding boat, which throws you around the river.  Being a little wuss, I asked them to go very slowly and so they did, strangely it’s not as much fun when you’re going  at 1 knot an hour.  So, after much frolicking on the river we headed back to shore, a little bit wet, a little bit windswept and a little bit tired. 

And so the feast began.  A long table for sixteen was set up under a giant fig tree; fairy lights twinkled, fig leaves adorned the table, candles flickered in the dying wind and music trickled along with the hum of the ocean over our shoulders.  It was a magical night and it became more magical when the food arrived.  A delicious free range ham was carved into moist little hunks, a turkey duck combo was perfect with the red cabbage confit I had bought.  Salads were plentiful and fresh; I had bought a soba noodle salad based on one we make at work, it was scattered with juicy, fresh mangoes, fresh curls of coconut flesh and lots of fresh mint to zing it up a bit.  This wonderful, varied festive table epitomises what Australia means to me, it was laid back, fresh and full of life and laughter.  And of course we had the obligatory Pavlova for dessert, which was a sweet delight to round things off.

However, that poor little neglected English girl inside me was crying out for something more homely and so, last night, I caved in and made a good old English roast for friends and family.  The table was buckling under the weight of glazed ham, roast venison, mashed swede, potato dauphinoise (not very traditional but bloody tasty), honeyed baby carrots, braised peas with baby onions and lashings and lashings of my first love…gravy!  Again, we drank to Christmas, again we drank to the new year and again we were sated. 

Since I moved to the land down under I have varied Christmas days, some have been spent in swimming po0ls clutching a noodle (no, not the ones you eat, like a very long floating device made of foam), they hooked me again with the food reference!  Some have been spent as orphans with wonderful friends hanging off the veranda, some have been spent on speedboats.  They are always about embracing Australian traditions and the wonderful lifestyle I am blessed with, but there will always be a nod to my past and my home.  And gravy! 

So, boys and girls, how do you do it at Christmas?  Everyone seems to have their own little traditions…

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Swan or ugly duckling?

The red velvet lounge  in Cygnet exudes local charm.  The first giveaway is the proliferation of people mingling around the dining room.  Half of the patrons are standing around their tables with a glass of wine as if they’re at the pub.  A great cavern of a room which, in its heyday was the local theatre, the walls are painted red and there are large theatrical red curtains.  The staff are friendly ( if a little wary of newcomers ). 

I am always slightly cautious of places that have been hyped up and unfortunately I was right to have my doubts.  Entrees sounded suitably enticing, all seasonally appropriate.  I settled for the angel hair pasta with crab, chilli, garlic and pangrattato.  This was a foolish choice because I frequent a restaurant in my local town who offer an angel hair pasta dish which I adore and cherish and eat often.  So the red velvet lounge had a lot to live up to before it had even begun.  Beautifully cooked crab was a good start but then an overpowering citrus tang left the subtlety of crab meat in the shade; coupled with pasta which reminded me of two minute noodles, things weren’t boding well.  It was by no means unpleasant, just a shame that the balance of the dish was askew.

Being the English woman that I am, if I see a dish which vaguely resembles a roast dinner then I am sold.  So it was no great surprise that I opted for roast chicken with peas, onion soubise and honeyed parsnip.  I requested a leg and thigh as opposed to the breast and my wish was granted.  The meat was mostly moist with occasional dry patches, ( starting to sound like a weather forecast ) honeyed parsnips were tasty but again the honey overshadowed the main event.  Onion soubise had good flavour but was as cloying as treacle and I feared for what it may do to my innards.  Again, tasty enough but i was left waiting for the main event…  My fellow diners spoke of pies that were too dry and chickpea stews which were also too dry. 

I have to remind you that this is a cafe which opens for a couple of evenings a week, and not a fancy restaurant.  But, if you ask me, if something’s worth doing, it is worth doing properly.  And to my consternation, it lacked the care and thought that I would have liked to see.  It is a place which champions local food, makes its locals feel incredibly welcome and brews a damn fine coffee.  As a last resort I ordered a pear clafoutis with salted caramel ice cream. The ice cream was divine, heavenly, I could eat a bucket of it and the clafoutis itself was pleasant, if a touch too sweet. 

So many country towns have their signature restaurant and this is Cygnets place to be.  I think in a town where you dominate the market in terms of modern australian fare it would be easy to become complacent and I fear the red velvet lounge has done just that.  And what a shame, because I think it has the tools to be truly memorable…  If they were a restaurant which served only salted caramel ice cream, I would go every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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