When a foodie goes to Lisbon

When you live so far away from loved ones, the opportunities to come together are precious and rare so when my sister told me she had to be in Europe for work/a conference for a couple of weeks, we decided to rendezvous in Lisbon for six days of sibling fun. This kind of jet-setting would have completely impressed me before I embarked on expat life – we found ourselves explaining our across-the-globe holiday planning a lot during the trip (our accents prompt a fair bit of inquiry) – and I had to keep reminding myself that it was actually ME in the story versus someone else.

Anyway Lisbon was fabulous. We had wonderful weather in the mid to high 20’s (Celsius), and we were never short of something to do, see, wander around or eat and drink. It’s a tough task to pick one post’s worth of highlights for you to peruse. So there’ll be a few posts in the series as I try and draw out the best of what was an amazing week.

My first post in an armchair tours series is not usually about food but quite frankly, I keep thinking about it and it’s like I can’t write about anything else until I scratch my foodie itch. So loosen your belts peeps, here goes…

Having never been to Lisbon before, one of of Lil Chicky’s most important introductions was to Pasteis de Nata – Portuguese custard tarts. This is a complete departure from what Australians think of as a custard tart. A pastel de nata is a small bite (well about three bites really) of flaky pastry filled with a rich buttery eggy custard. Our first one of the trip was at Confeitaria Nacional on the corner of Praça da Figueira.

pasteis-de-nata-1

It went down a treat – so much so that we made it our mission to try a custard tart from a different place each day and nominate ‘the best’ at the end.

Lisbon is a hilly place and this, combined with an average of six to seven kilometers of walking each day, meant we found plenty of reasons to stop and refuel wherever we were.

assorted-vittels

L to R: Delicious gelati (she had raspberry, I had passionfruit) at Gelateria Portuguesa just around the corner from the entrance to the Castel de Sao Jorge; caffeine kept us going and the Portuguese make pretty good coffee; our first Caipirinha was sipped from the rooftop bar at The Mundial on Martim Moniz with excellent views across to the castle.

Most evenings, we either wandered down to the food huts on Martim Moniz or grabbed some snack-type vittels and wine from the supermarket at the bottom of our building. We did try the Time Out Market on Sunday night with mixed results – Chicky’s meal was delicious but I was served cold, stringy and partially-cooked fries with my fish which the vendor refused to swap (that’s how we do it, I was told). Luckily the wine was good and Chicky found some freshly-made churros to ease my disappointment.

A few nights later we thought we should try some traditional cuisine. On the recommendation of a local, we snaffled an outdoor table at Cervejaria A Lota in Restauradores and to the cacophony of a strident spruiking battle between a couple of the restaurants in the street, we enjoyed a(nother) Portuguese red wine, grilled sardines and a mixed bill of mains.

a-lota

Far right: My delicious fish and rice ‘stew’ (monkfish, shrimps, clams served with rice in a tomato and herb broth) is in the foreground. Chicky got adventurous and went for the wild boar (in the background) which she said was okay – game-y and quite salty.

Our final day was one abridged by departures (Chicky to her conference hotel and me back to London) so we booked a foodie walking tour with Culinary Backstreets. We spent several hours with Celia (our guide) and a Brazilian couple (just off the plane from Sao Paulo) learning about and tasting Portuguese food. It started with a wander around the Time Out Market (it’s also called the Mercado da Ribeiro) with Celia explaining the elements of traditional Portuguese cooking and introducing us to a few familiar and unfamiliar ingredients…

mercado-di-ribeiro

…before settling us at a table for our first eating and drinking of the tour – some ‘toasties’ filled with local ingredients, a platter of fresh figs and amazing sheep’s milk cheese and a glass of Vinho Verde.

Next we moved to a little store next to the market selling Ginja, a Portuguese digestif made from sour cherries. Celia explained that one way of serving it was to sip it from a dark chocolate cup followed by eating said chocolate cup. Oh well, when in Rome Lisbon and all that…

ginja

Next it was a short walk to visit to a traditional grocery store where we were introduced to a number of ingredients essential to Portuguese cuisine. We also tried muxuma, a dried and cured tuna that tasted a lot like bacon to me. Quite delicious!

grocery-shopping

Clockwise from top left: Tinned fish is everywhere and there are so many brands; dried and salted cod or bacalhau which is soaked for at least a day before using it in any of a variety of dishes; pulses and grains are a big part of the Portuguese diet; carob pods.

Our next stop was the Cantina das Freiras which is linked to a charity dedicated to helping women in trouble. We entered a nondescript building in Chiado, took the elevator up and walked through the dining hall to be greeted by an amazing view of the Christo Rei across the River Tagus. We had a brief stop here to enjoy a cold glass of gazpacho and a home-made cod fritter in the sunshine.

charity-begins-with-a-view

Our next stop was for lunch at Restaurante Vicente at the bottom end of Rua das Flores. We had an array of Portuguese dishes to try along with a(nother) bottle of red wine. I loved the delicate flavours in the octopus salad and I think everyone nominated the tempura green beans as a favourite.

We were pretty full by this time but Celia promised us that the walk up the hill to our final stop – for pasteis de nata – would be worth it. So off we waddled.

We made an unscheduled stop on the way at By The Wine – about halfway up Rua das Flores – for a cheeky glass of Portuguese muscat. Celia explained that this was not normally on the tour but as Chicky and I had originally booked for the tour on the Sunday evening prior and the guide had cancelled due to illness, this was by way of an apology from Culinary Backstreets. Apologise away I say!

muscat-by-the-bar-lisbon

Top: The arched ceiling is lined with over 3,000 bottles Bottom: Gloriously golden muscat – when in Rome Lisbon…oh wait, I already said that…

Then we arrived. A tiny door led us off the bustling Largo de Camões into a narrow shop with a very special window into heaven…

manteigaria

Manteigaria fabrica de pasteis de nata make only Portuguese custard tarts and we stood at the window watching the staff cut the dough, form the bases, make and pour the custard and pop those little cups of delicious-ness in the oven….whilst sipping espresso and munching on the best pasteis de nata of our trip – by far! Celia said something about them using butter whilst most use margarine…but I barely heard and have already recommended this place to a number of people since I’ve been back in London including a colleague who is married to a Portuguese fella. She gave me a few recommendations before the trip and it gave me great joy to return the favour – she’s keen to check out this paragon to pasteis for herself when she’s there for Christmas with the family.

And with that (and before I exploded), the tour ended so we got some final recommendations from Celia (anyone been to Taberna do Mercado in London?), hugged good-bye and poured ourselves into a cab for the dash back to the hotel/airport.

So in summary, Lisbon is a foodie paradise. No matter whether you stick to a budget, embark on a culinary discovery tour or lash out at the top end (the latter I didn’t not experience directly but I overheard some people enthusing about this on the flight back), you could do a lot worse (and I have) travelling throughout Europe. And don’t worry about all of those pastries for breakfast/lunch/with coffee, you’ll definitely burn some calories walking around…and up…and down.

I’ve included some links below to help you with your foodie planning (don’t say I didn’t warn you) and I’ll be back with more of our Lisbon adventures soon.

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Our rooftop Caipirinha was at The Mundial, Praca de Martim Moniz

Our pasteis de nata trail: (from least to most favourite):

You’ll find information on our Lisbon Eats walking tour at https://culinarybackstreets.com/

Caffeine connections

September turned out to be a packed month and given we are mid-October already, you may all rest-assured that I have plenty to post about over the coming weeks. It’s been a run of reminiscing as I have bounced around between regular catch ups and lots of old friends that I have not seen for absolutely ages.

The month started with a work alumni event. I posted earlier in the year about the changes at work and this has meant that many people who worked in the same office as I do have left. In an effort to maintain connections, one of the leavers set up an Alumni Group on LinkedIn and so on the first of the month, on a rather warm and pleasant evening, sixteen of us gathered on board the Tattershall Castle for a tipple or two. Some of us are still working out our notice, some were on the verge of beginning new jobs while others were revelling in the time and space they’d had to do nothing but enjoy their Summer. It was great to see everyone and at the same time, observe life moving on…and at quite a rapid clip!

The following week I caught up with an old boss of mine from almost eight years ago. We could not believe it had been so long and we spent a couple of hours reminiscing about our ‘battles’ in the travel industry and what we’d each achieved ‘back then’ as well as the people we’d worked alongside and continue to stay in touch with. This was also a fantastic reminder of the kind of work I did at this company, the kind that I love to do, and it was such a timely and valuable prompt for me to stay ‘true to my course‘ in navigating the uncertain times ahead.

The next week, I managed to get a gig for breakfast at the fabulous Shoreditch House. This particular friend of mine started out as an agency contact which then segued into a few social, theatre-type outings every few months and we’ve since decided that this hanging out together from time to time is a pretty good idea. She’s great company – one of those well-connected yet down-to-earth types with loads of stories and chat – and works right on Shoreditch High Street. So on a clear Thursday morning, I skedaddled in from the hustle and bustle of the main street and up to the 6th floor to enjoy some poached eggs and avocado on toast with a view over East London on one side and people having a leisurely morning dip in the House’s rooftop pool on the other. (I mean seriously, don’t these people have jobs to go to?)

Towards the end of the month, an Australian friend I hadn’t seen for over six years was in London so I booked us into Ceviche, one of my favourite restaurants. It’s in Soho and while it is on the hubbub of Frith Street, it is so unassuming it’s easy to miss as you weave along the narrow footpath. We spent four and a half hours nattering over cocktails and delicious Peruvian tapas plates before launching into a decadent chocolate dessert…each. (No way were we sharing that!)  It was great to see her well and happy with her life back in Oz.

And then I ended the month by flying to Lisbon (the one in Portugal) to spend a week with Lil Chicky – the ultimate catch up! We were there for six days so I have plenty of fodder for a few posts which will seriously whet your appetite and make your feet itch!

In between all of this, there was a little reflection on trust, a return to yoga and the I-almost-missed-the-whole-of-2016 discovery of the wonderful Prudential Series at The China Exchange. I also consumed an inordinate amount of coffee across my regular catch ups and many other connections keen to chat about my what’s next.

coffee-l

And what’s next on Gidday from the UK I hear you ask?

Well peeps, keep your eyes peeled for a few glimpses of what Chicky Tours Unlimited got up to in Lisbon. It’s coming soon…

Twinkle twinkle

It’s the first weekend in December and here at Gidday HQ, that means that it’s time to get festive and put up the Christmas tree.

I love doing this, especially as I only do this every second year when my Christmas is a London-based one. It reminds me of living at home in my late teens/early 20’s when, for a few short years, Lil Chicky and I would set aside an afternoon to decorate the Christmas tree at Mum’s together. The tree itself usually needed some MacGyver-like ingenuity to ensure it stood tall and straight for the festive period and bore up under the weight of copious amounts of tinsel and general Christmas bling.

So today I pulled the boxes down from the high cupboards. I tested all the lights and untangled the string of gold beads that I drape in lieu of tinsel. And I laid out all of the ornaments I have collected over the years – from my travels, gifts from friends and family and nods to my Dutch and Australian heritage – and with the jingling bells of Christmas movies on TV in the background, Gidday HQ  got  a dose of Christmas spirit. Here are just a few of my favourite festive things…

Aussie Xmas Wreath (360x640)

My wreath has had an Aussie update this year

Dusseldorf Santa(360x640)

I bought this fantastic festive tea-light holder in Dusseldorf in 1999

Ornament bowl(640x360)

The tree gets quite full so in recent years I’ve taken to displaying some ornaments separately – the gold and red baubles are personalised ones from Mum and the one in the middle is a nod to sisterhood from Lil Chicky

New York(360x640)

Here’s a bauble from a work trip to the Big Apple in 2005  (it had to be done)…

Krakow (360x640)

…and this hand-painted glass bell was purchased in Rynek Glowny (the main square) in Krakow in 2012

Angel (360x640)

For years my tree has featured this hand-made (not by me!) angel – this year she’s sitting on an apple to keep her upright.

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I love this fabulous shoe, unearthed from a Christmas stocking during one of my bi-annual pilgrimages Down Under (my mother knows me well).

Ballerina (360x640)

Lil Chicky snuck this back from our Amsterdam trip in 2013 and hid it in my flat for me to find…

Japan (360x640)

…and she gave me this one courtesy of her trip to Japan in 2014.

I have A LOT of Dutch ornaments. I just can’t help bringing a little piece of my ancestry back from every visit I make.  You see, there’s a fabulous Christmas shop down by the Singel flower market in Amsterdam – I’m sure I’ve kept them in business – where I spend my last day on each visit working out how to get these fragile purchases a) into my already full luggage and b) back home in one piece.

I’ve managed to restrain myself – here are just two of them…

Windmill (360x640)

Clogs (360x640)

Anyway, the deed is done. The tree is up, the lights are twinkling and Alfie Bear has donned his Christmas hat, ready to join in the festive fun. And there are already a few presents under the tree with this year’s Christmas bonanza from Mum arriving a couple of weeks ago.

Alfie Bear+Xmas Tree (360x640)

Alfie Bear is a fixture at Gidday HQ, having come into my life as part of a redundancy gift in 2008 – he loves Christmas as much as I do.

So if I go missing in action at all, you’ll probably find me sitting on the comfy couch at Gidday HQ  admiring the view…

There are 19 sleeps to go until the big day peeps – are you feeling festive yet?

Victorian vista – benvenuto!

When last I posted, I was sitting at Heathrow Airport waiting for my flight to visit Seattle-A in – yes you guessed it – Seattle. A couple of busy weeks have elapsed since my return and I have finally sorted the photos and stories enough to warrant a ‘what I did’ post. Suffice to say that in ten days we did many things – weekend excursions, a girls night out, hanging out with the little dudes and considerably more ice cream consumption than I am used to (just as well I got a swim in!)

We also took a trip up to Canada to celebrate a certain person’s significant birthday last month so on a very rainy Tuesday morning (the only rain of my 10 day trip), we boarded the clipper and cruised north to the harbour city of Victoria.

We had decided to add a trip out to The Butchart Gardens to our clipper and hotel package and before we knew it, we were through immigration and on the bus for the 45 minute drive out to Saanich.  Seattle-A was quite excited…

Seattle-A Butchart-bound

Jennie Butchart created her first project, the Sunken Garden, in the exhausted limestone quarry on the family’s property during the early 1900s. Between 1906 and 1929 she then went on to cultivate the Japanese Garden by the sea, the Italian Garden on the old tennis court and the Rose Garden. Today, the Gardens remain a family enterprise and are visited by more than 1 million people each year – with over 22 hectares of public gardens (on a 54 hectare property), I suspect there is probably plenty to keep them busy.

And so we spent a good couple of hours breathing in the fresh clean air and gaping at the extraordinary beauty that greeted us around every corner.

Red white & yellow tulips

An advertised feature of the gardens are the tulips. They were absolutely everywhere and in every conceivable size and colour – this display was right at the beginning as we walked in.

We headed for the Sunken Garden first…I had a little chuckle to myself at the irony of going up to reach them.

Sunken Garden

The Sunken Garden was spectacular and the going up was definitely worth this view of it. Following the gently curving paths brought us face to face with all sorts of permutations of colourful foilage, fragrant blooms and calm stretches of water.

Red and white

This was such a pretty display and having never seen these red and white striped flowers before, I had to a) take a photo and b) include them in this post. I do not know what they are…do your worst people.

Pale pink

Even though I had seen these before, they were just so pretty I had to take this photo. (I have also forgotten what these are called…green thumb I am not.)

Curly yellow roses

We thought that these were roses but the curly petals lent a more unorthodox prettiness.

White daffs

Daffodils are my favourite flower and while their bright yellow sunshine-iness is a big part of their usual appeal for me, I was struck by the simple delicacy of these pure white ones.

Water feature

This water feature was at the far end of the Sunken Garden and quite spectacular. In posting this photo on Facebook to announce brag about my travelling exploits, I received four different replies in quick succession from people who had been ‘here’ before (obviously a more famous ‘gardens’ than I had given them credit for). One of these was from Dad who posted the ‘same’ photo taken when visiting a few years ago.

Leaving the Sunken Garden, we headed up to the concert lawn…

April on carousel horse

Here’s Seattle-A demonstrating that inside every grown woman, there remains a little girl wanting a pony

Pink & Purple tulips

More tulips…especially for Lil Chicky.

Me and totem pole

This one is to prove that I was there too: the totem pole shows Eagle with Salmon, Orca, Bear with Salmon…and moi.

'Aussie' trees

We were struck by how much these looked like Australian paperbarks. They are not Australian paperbarks – we asked – but for the life of me, I cannot remember what they were. Yet another horticultural #fail.

Rare Mongolian PoppyWe were keen to see these Himalayan blue poppies as they only flower for about 6 weeks each year (and we had missed the ‘rose’ season…more on that next). There was a whoop of discovery upon finding a smattering of these bright blue blossoms.

Rose(less) garden

This is the archway through the rose-less Rose Garden. Timing is everything – if you like roses.

Next it was down into the Japanese Garden…

Japanese garden

Stepping stones

Weird white flower

There was some strange flora in this garden. This one was definitely one of the weirdest flowers I’ve ever seen (and which still remains a mystery)…

Bubble tree

…and clearly there’s nothing like keeping oneself busy with a spot of topiary, tree-shapery, pruning. Because 54 hectares is not enough…

Red Bridge

Of the many amazing photos I managed to take, I think this one is my favourite – it looks so beautiful that it seems not real (but it definitely was!)

Nature's window to the cove beyond

We came upon this in a back corner of the garden. I know. This looks like nothing special but if you look through this little window of nature…

The cove 'beyond'

…you’ll see the cove beyond it that backs onto the Butchart property.

We wandered out of this oriental lushness towards the main buildings again to be greeted by another expanse of tulips…

Pink tulips

Apricot rose…and a raft of sunset-coloured roses.

The Italian GardenWalking through the gap in the hedge, we found ourselves in the Italian Garden, the most formal and the smallest of the gardens we’d seen.

At this stage we’d been meandering in the fresh air for a couple of hours so we were delighted to be met with an opportunity for refreshment…

Ice creamBenvenuto indeed! The Maple Walnut Gelato was delicious.

And with that, it was time to return to the bus for the snooze ride back to Victoria and to our hotel where the view from our balcony turned out to be this…

From the Inn at Laurel Point

And as we relaxed on the balcony at the end of our first day ‘abroad’, we sighed contentedly and wondered at the hardships we had been forced to face together…and planned 24 hours of foodie forays to keep us entertained for the remainder of our visit.

More(ish – see what I did there?) on this soon…but if you are venturing out BC way, make a note-to-self – The Butchart Gardens is a ‘must-see’.

Old places, new faces

I spent a couple of weeks in Melbourne with family over the Christmas/New Year period and one of the things that I love to do (and miss) is hang out with my sister. There are the things we girls traditionally do – shopping, manipedis and generally hanging out over coffee (and I was reminded once again that Melbourne has the best coffee in the world) – and then there are the moments of ‘inspiration’ subject to how we are feeling at the time.

We were off to partake in a musical favourite of mine, Grease. I know every word and every song (having played Frenchie in our high school production) so I was looking forward to an afternoon of energetic A-Wop-Boppa-Looma-A-Wop-Bam-Boom-ing. And it was on the way to the theatre that I stumbled across a distinctly different face of Melbourne.

Hosier Lane is a cut through between Flinders Street and Flinders Lane alongside the Forum Theatre. It is an unexpected riot of vibrant colour and expression in the midst of the area’s architectural melting pot of gothic (St Paul’s Cathedral), Moorish Revival (Forum theatre), French Renaissance (Flinders Street Station) and contemporary (Federation Square) styles. I could not stop myself from whipping out my phone in an attempt – let’s face it, these things are never as good ‘on film’ – to capture its brilliance.

Hosier Lane 1

We made our way along the alley, the air littered with ‘ooohs’, ‘aaahs’ and the subtle snap of selfies. My head swivelled touristically from side to side to admire each urban canvas and as I meandered along the cobbles with the other Sunday strollers, what struck me most was the how vividly the character of each of Hosier’s painted residents had been brought to life.

Hosier Lane 2

Are any of you old enough to remember this young lady from The Wacky Races

Hosier Lane 3

…or youthful enough to know this ‘lovable’ pair from Monsters Inc.?

Hosier Lane 4

Hosier Lane 5

I have been told that shoes hanging from a light indicates where one can score a fix…or is this just an urban myth?

Hosier Lane 6

I would not like to meet this dude in a darkened alley, alone or otherwise…

Hosier Lane 7

…although the location nearby of Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, could be considered fortuitous.

Hosier Lane 8

And last but certainly not least, a look skyward evoked the spirit of Australia’s indigenous past.

Hosier Lane 9

Street art continues its emergence as the next ‘big thing’ and a quick google on the way home from the theatre yielded both a list of sites to visit and the hows and wherefores of getting your particular expression of self into Melbourne’s urban spaces.

Unfortunately, we did not get to any of the others during my sojourn Down Under but it has inspired me to look for even more of this in London having browsed Brixton’s backstreets last year. And it would appear – according to a range of stuff-to-do sources that drop into my Inbox on a fairly regular basis – that East London is the current jewel in this city’s urban art crown.

So stay tuned…Shoreditch, here I come!

A sweet life

It feels like January has disappeared in the blink of an eye and that, at last, the real chill of winter has descended upon the UK, settling itself around London’s shoulders and shrouding parts more northern with snow and ice. Since my return from Down Under on the 7th, I have been bundled up like a veritable pass-the-parcel prize, the clear skies making the morning air sharp and bracing on my nose and ears.

And yet despite the layer of frost over the back garden each morning, the green stalks poking out of the soil herald the coming of daffodils and I am also convinced that my morning commute is becoming a shade lighter. This may be a sign of Spring or foolish optimism or both.

In any case, since my last post my sister has graced Gidday HQ with a little visit.

(Yes I know I only saw Lil Chicky over Christmas but she was in The Netherlands for work and one of the founding principles of expat life is ‘never waste an opportunity to hug your loved ones’. More on this sibling hugg-ery in a later post.)

So I picked her up from the airport and left her in Gidday HQ’s second bedroom to get settled in for her four day sojourn. Wandering back in a few minutes later to assess the coffee situation (essential to Lil Chicky’s status of well-being and general happiness), she asked me to pick up her jacket off the bed.

Aussie snacks

That’s right.  4kgs of gastronomic nostalgia! There were (clockwise from top left) Chicken Twisties, Burger Rings (snacking on scoffing these as I type), Cheezels, lamingtons (in the plastic container), licorice bullets (soft licorice covered in either dark or milk chocolate), Caramello Koalas and a whole heap of my favourite chocolate bars, Violet Crumble.

You may well laugh but while Aussie vittels like Milo and Vegemite are pretty easy to come by in the UK, these are things that I have not been able to find over here, particularly since the demise of The Australia Shop. It is a complete joy to have a little stash of these for home as well as enough to take into work to Aussie-fy my colleagues. Let me tell you, the few bags of koalas and bullets I brought back with me earlier in January went down a treat in the office with one lady describing the bullets as a ‘taste sensation’.

But there always comes the moment when the last one is gone and I wonder how long it will be before my next nostalgic face-stuffing and while that might be a week or so away at the moment, the thought of a Violet-Crumble-less future makes me a little despondent.

But last night, after a bit of wine and a good meal, some English friends of mine and I discovered the Kingdom of Sweets…and these…

IMAG2218[1]

…as well as these.

IMAG2217[1]There were also English retro sweets like Parma Violets, White Mice and Love Hearts…

Love Hearts

…and for the Americans, there was an abundance of Wonka confectionary, Fluff (my English friend giggled)…

IMAG2216[1]

…as well as the biggest bottle of Hersheys syrup I have ever seen.

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85 Oxford Street has just become my new favourite place in London. Although I read that Nestle deleted Violet Crumble from their range in 2010 and that more recently, a descendant of the original inventor Abel Hoadley has been chasing the recipe and naming rights. Go Bryan (Hoadley) I say. It would be a tragic thing to be missing this chocolate-y honeycomb moment of joy from my nostalgic nose-bag.

So January may have passed in the blink of an eye but things are definitely looking up.

Best I get myself back to the pool so this sweet life doesn’t migrate on a permanent basis to my sweet a**!

What lies before me

Here we are at another 1st and this time it’s the first of May…

Ooops! This is what happens when good intentions get waylaid and a person gets laid low by a hideous migraine.

But I’m back, albeit a little overdue, which means it’s time for another Calendar Challenge… 

There are the obvious ‘lush’ perspectives here (although in the last few days, I have never felt less like a drink in my life). There’s the social glue of getting together with friends and putting the world to rights. The importance of a cracking red with a new ‘local’ pizza at the end of countless moving-house-again days. The virtual Cheers! across the miles with Lil Chicky via WhatsApp or Facebook. In fact, the sheer necessity of such an indulgence if one is to have a balanced outlook on life.

And this brings me to an important point, one which a friend and I were discussing a few weeks back over…you guessed it…a bottle of red. We have both come to realise that, at this point (we are in our mid-forties), we are at about the halfway point in our lifetimes. (All going according to the statistics of course – as an Aussie sheila, it’s expected I’ll be popping my clogs at 85.6.)

Anyway, it made for some interesting discussion about what we would do and in fact what the world would be like for the next 40 years or so. Will our jobs still exist and if they do, what are the chances of us wanting to do them? And for how long? Where will we live? What things will we do to inform, amuse, educate, indulge ourselves? How do we shape the years that stretch ahead of us before they shape us? How much planning do we do and how much should we leave to serendipity, chance or spontaneous gut feeling?

I have no answers, this being a new and slightly unsettling line of thought for me. My life right now feels really full and fabulous, like the work of the last 44 years has come to fruition and given me the life I always dreamed of. Even so, I found myself picking up Investors Chronicle magazine with my Saturday paper this morning and over the last week or so ‘google writing courses’ keeps popping up on my mental to-do list. And I swear there’s that brine-y cloying smell of the sea in my future somewhere.

It’s not that I’m racing off into the wild blue yonder – breaking the glass in an emergency so to speak – with any of this yet but this recent twist of the kaleidoscope has made me wonder what would make me happiest in my future and how I give myself the wherewithal to be there, wherever there turns out to be.

My move to the UK was driven by that deep-down feeling in my gut that this was what was right and next in my life. And it was sudden so it makes me wonder what the next catalyst for change in life as I know it will be. I sincerely hope it won’t be anything tragic. Perhaps it will just sneak up surreptitiously, moving me along a gentler path until suddenly I look around and say, ‘Aah yes, this is exactly where I am meant to be.’

Life has a funny way of showing us a path when we least expect it but to my way of thinking, I need to take a few more steps off the beaten track and forage about in the undergrowth a bit to understand what I might really like to have in my future.

Who knows what I might find.


Calendar Challenge 2014 – Back Catalogue

Keep calm and carry on

Sour grapes

Water water everywhere

On the shore

 

Having Reservations…

Yesterday I went out with some friends of mine to see a show followed by some drinks and dinner. 

We had a great time. Handbagged was witty, topical and a lot of fun and with a few drinks under our belts (there may have been three grapefruit Cosmopolitans involved…for me), we expected that dinner at American-eatery-in-Soho, Jackson and Rye, would contribute some worthy state-side vittels to finish off our evening. 

And the verdict? My inaugural grits (a kind of polenta porridge) were weird, pleasant-ish but not right with shrimps, my sea bass with apple and fennel slaw was light and lovely and the pecan pie was mmm…mmm scrumptious!

But I digress. You see, Jackson and Rye don’t take reservations which is a pet peeve of mine. And I am coming across this situation in London with greater and greater frequency. 

A catch-up dinner with a friend at no-bookings Italian ‘tapas’ joint Polpo last year was planned around being there just before 7pm to ensure we got a table rather than when we were actually hungry or what was convenient for us. And looking for somewhere to eat after the theatre with Lil Chicky last October was fraught with queue after queue.


(We eventually found a table at Tuttons right on Covent Garden which was lovely…and for future reference, book-able.)

I remember when Jamie Oliver opened his sans booking restaurant chain Jamie’s Italian in 2008 and we thought we’d head down to the one in Kingston to give it a try. We queued outside – no room inside for waiting – for a barely acceptable 15 minutes. I’ve been to Jamie’s Italian once since when we were lucky to have only a five minute wait. 

To say I was put off is putting it mildly. I accept that if I haven’t booked then I have to take what I can get but this we-don’t-take-bookings nonsense is all getting a bit much for me. I don’t want to have to trawl Soho post-show because of this growing ‘no booking’ policy. What ever happened to looking after the customer? Couldn’t they at least allow some tables to be booked, leaving some free for these apparently all-important walk-ins?

Polpo’s website offers an explanation of sorts, saying that their casual Venetian ‘bacaros‘ are designed to encourage the locals to pop in for a bite to eat and to build a sense of community amongst their regulars. There are 3 Polpos and 1 Polpetto in Central London, none of which take bookings. Who are these ‘locals’ I wonder?

In any case it would appear these places are doing rather well and that the standing in line has become a badge of honour – after all, if you’ve queued (or waited in the bar) for at least an hour, the food had better be rave-worthy, or at least good enough for you to tell everyone about. I don’t know about you but after an hour, my palate becomes a little less discerning, swamped by a-drink-(or two)-while-I-waited or the sounds of my stomach growling with hunger…or both.

Luckily last night’s drinks were at one of our favourite drinking holes, the Freedom Bar, just two doors down from Jackson and Rye so The Umpire kindly did a recce before we gave up our pre-dinner perch. And the meal was delicious.

But if I’m really honest, I have my reservations as to how long I really would have waited for it.

Sorry, I Spent It On Myself…

Today marks 20 sleeps to go until we all embark on our annual gift-giving frenzy.


(Although those of you in Oz will wake up to only 19 sleeps.)

I know this isn’t going to be very Christmas spirited of me but I laughed out loud in the office this morning at the latest in a long line of seasonal shopping plugs. This is from London ‘posh shop’ Harvey Nichols

I was always taught that it was better to give than to receive…

…but then we don’t have Harvey Nicks Down Under.

In other news, Lil Chicky wins the 2013 Christmas bonanza with the surprise arrival of an unmarked box at Gidday HQ yesterday…

…which I opened. And then had to apologise and duly promise to wrap said contents up, put under the tree and exclaim with surprise and delight on Christmas morning.

Oh the shame! 

(Note: There is no advance present opening in the Hamer Clan – one must always wait for ‘the big day’.)

Just as well there are only 20 sleeps until unrestrained receiving Christmas…

Prodigal Daughters…

One of the most wonderful aspects of our recent trip to Amsterdam was the sense of pilgrimage brought on by being there together. As kids we were at our Oma and Opa’s at least once a week so our sense of ‘Dutch-ness’ has been very strong all of our lives and the sense of shared heritage during our visit – particularly as it was Lil Chicky’s first foray across The Channel – was quite poignant.

The icons of Amsterdam and The Netherlands, though I’d seen and photographed them many times before, seemed to shape our pilgrimage and just like the tale of the brave Dutch boy who held back the swirling waters by putting his finger in a hole in the dike, we remained resolute walking, eating and snapping our way through four fabulous days.


And speaking of walking, what better place to start than the klompenmakerij, or the wooden shoe factory.

L to R: wooden shoe tree outside the factory in Marken
carved shoes hung up to dry; souvenirs galore.

Lil Chicky even tried a pair on…


…but decided to buy the pair that she could actually fit into her suitcase.

Still speaking of walking, If you’re walking anywhere in Amsterdam, it pays to pay attention. Cyclists rule the roads and there was a point where we found ourselves caught mid-street with a tram on one side and a cyclist on the other. The tram driver stopped.

Clockwise L to R: Bikes parked in Dam Square; 
view from the canal; 
the ‘bike park’ (how on earth do you find your ride again?)

Travelling further afield we saw our first windmills, standing tall over the flat watery plains, and paid homage to sails of a typically Dutch kind.

Scenes from Zaanse Schans

The Netherlands produces three billion tulip bulbs every year. We found a few down at the flower market on The Singel in Amsterdam…and a few more of ‘nature’s gifts’ on our travels.

Clockwise L to R: Tulips at the bloemenmarkt on The Singel; a very literal hash tag;
wheels of gouda cheese everywhere from Amsterdam to Volendam.

Speaking of nature’s gifts, two particular girls would never have graced the world with their special brand of Aussie Dutch-ness without at least a little contribution from the bloke who lived for a while at 159 Amstelkade. So we caught the number 24 tram on Thursday night, walked about 15mins and found ourselves here…
Prodigal daughters – finding Dad’s childhood home. 
Pictures were duly despatched to said sire.

With all of this pilgrim-ing, we needed to keep up our strength and every day was punctuated with cries of remembered vittels from our childhhood.

Clockwise L to R: Enjoying hot chips and proper creamy mayonnaise; 
waffles for every palate (including Lil Chicky’s); 
Dutch apple pie – chock full of layers of thinly sliced apple – evoked a real ‘Oma’ moment for us; 
yours truly enjoying a well-earned oliebollen; 
two excited faces waiting for our inaugural Amsterdam poffertjes; in the making.

And when all was said and done, and all of those memories were tucked away into the chinks of my mind and heart, I wanted to bring a little piece of it home with me…

My hand made Delft vase, a wonderful reminder of our trip.


…and while tulips will no doubt look amazing once they are in season, my irises look gorgeous at Gidday HQ.


So that’s Amsterdam – and a day trip or two – done. 

Until the next time I need a nostalgia fix!