Wednesday, 27 August 2014

What style of travel is right for you?

As a travel agent I speak with thousands people about their holidays. What strikes me most in speaking with the public is a general lack of understanding about the modes of travel and travel styles available and how to know which one is right for them.

Chicken bus in Guatemala anyone?
It is completely understandable, there are literally hundreds of suppliers, airlines and modes of transport to choose from and that is what we travel agents specialise in. Finding the right trip for the right person.

Your first step in working your way through the plethora of options out there is to first find a good travel agent or do some serious online and guidebook research. A travel agent can easily provide you with all of your choices in wholesalers, airlines, itineraries, tours and cruise companies in one easy visit it is a one stop shop. If you want to be in charge of your own travel arrangements you can use blogs, guidebooks and travel supplier websites as a source of information but it is likely you will never find the whole range of your options without visiting an agent.

To digress a little, to find a good travel agent you need to go talk to a range of agents about your plans. You are looking for someone well travelled, well versed in the products available, friendly, open and honest. You will know them when you find them. They make you feel confident and comfortable with putting your holiday in their hands. Don’t go in firing prices from the internet at them to see who can save you 50 cents. You won’t reap any benefits from a travel agent whose primary skill is matching internet prices from the arrangements you sourced yourself, it is about so much more than that and the bigger picture is what travel agents do best and this is where they can save you money.

Once you have found someone you are comfortable with you need to start doing the hard yards. An agent can provide you with the information and the brochures, a good one will have travelled extensively and with many of the tour companies and wholesalers and can give you first hand knowledge of a large range of options but you are the only person who can truly assess what is right for you.

So what are the styles of travel and which is right for you. The styles range from fully independent travel along the lines of back-packing all the way to fully inclusive tour packages and everything in between.

So here it goes

Backpacking or fully independent travel

This style of travel is for the confident independent traveller. If you want to see a destination on your own terms, do all your own research and be free to do whatever you want whenever you want then this is for you.

You will need to start with a good airfare. The easiest way to do this is to decide where you will start and where you will end your travels and when. This way you can purchase an economical return ticket which is cheaper than purchasing one way fares (in most cases but not all). If you don’t want to fly back out of where you began that is fine you can purchase what they call an open jaw ticket (starts & ends in different cities) an open jaw return ticket is in most cases cheaper than purchasing two one way tickets. Whilst round world fares are not as good value as they use to be they are still the best price option for a traveller who wants many stops all over the globe. Find an agent experienced in these types of tickets to find the best way to milk these fares for all they can give you.

The pro’s of backpacking are:

  • It can be cheap, if you are staying in backpacker accommodation, utilising their kitchens and local supermarkets, eating at cheaper establishments and picking and choosing what activities and sights suit want you want to see and do you stand to save on dollars. On the other hand you can be fully independent and spend a fortune, it all comes down to what you choose.
  •  You won’t have to put up with other participants on a tour and their quirks.
  •  You are free to only see & do what interests you and stay for however long you wish. It is all about your choice.

The con’s of backpacking are:

  • Depending on your personality it can be lonely.
  • You will need to do a lot more personal research to find the best places to go, eat, play. Your guidebook and the internet will be your best friend.
  • You can easily miss those hidden gems a local tour guide may be able to take you to.
  • You will need a confident personality ready to tackle the local language and customs on your own. This is not for the shy or faint-hearted.

Resources for backpackers

  • Blogs such as Wandering Earl Legal Nomads and Nomadic Matt can be great places to get travel tips especially if you want to hit the road for an extended period of time.
  • Guidebooks like Lonely Planet will help get you where you are going.
  • A good travel agent will help you find the best airfares across the whole range on the market and find hidden freebies for your journey or you can try websites like Skyscanner or Webjet. Keep in mind that you are not protected by any consumer laws within your country when you book with an international company.
You know what this face says? It says backpacking can be bloody hard work but so worth it.

 Grassroots Adventures

Small group, budget adventures provide travellers with the feel of backpacking with some extra inclusions and the security of a local tour guide. They generally use local transport, budget locally owned accommodation and itineraries that are off the beaten tourist path.Whilst you will get a range of ages on these tours it predominately attracts under 35's. This could be a pro or a con depending on your needs.

The pro’s of grassroots adventures are:

  • The local tour guide is an expert in the region and knows all the best things worth doing so you don’t waste time doing things that are a tourist trap.
  • You can cover a lot of ground within a country all on local means of transport without the hassle of combating public transport yourself as you guide arranges tickets on the transport for you.
  • You can get into regions that are well of the worn tourist trail and your local guide becomes an intermediary between you and the local customs and languages.
  • You get a real feel for the culture and food as you are really getting amongst it.

The cons of grassroots adventures can be:

  • Depending on the itinerary you choose there can be some long days of travel of some fairly rough and ready modes of transport. So choose your itinerary wisely based on your expectations.
  • Accommodation can vary greatly depending on what is on offer in different regions.
  • You will need a certain level of stamina and fitness, this is not a sit on the bus & watch the world go by style of travel.

Resources for grassroots adventurers

Intrepid Travel are a fantastic operators offering adventures worldwide.
Geckos Adventures are another reputable company offering this style of travel.
I can highly recommend both of these operators from first hand experience.

Other companies include:
Juan, tour leader with Intrepid Travel in Central America. Not your average tour guide, this guy not only knows how to have fun but can show you the culture and the sights along the way, all from an insiders perspective.

Small Group Touring

Small group touring is very similar to Grassroots Adventures but is the next step up in terms of comfort and inclusions and encompasses a broader age group.

You will still be experiencing a destination on an intimate level with a mix of transportation and accommodation but in general everything is more comfortable e.g. 4 star accommodation, more chartered private buses and more included for sightseeing and meals. You will often get a local tour guide as well as a western tour guide.

The pro’s are really the same as those on the Grassroots adventures and the con’s well I can’t really think of any. I love this style of travel. I guess you would still need a certain level of fitness but moderate fitness would suffice.

Resources for small group travellers

Peregrine Adventures offer a wide range of small group touring worldwide
Travel Indochina offer a similar style of travel in Asia

I can recommend both these companies highly from first hand experience. Other companies include:

Backroads Touring offer small group touring of a high standard in the UK and Europe

Traditional Group Touring

The tried and tested organised tour is still a mainstay in the travel industry. Think of the tour buses in Europe screaming their brands on the sides Contiki, Trafalgar, Insight, Topdeck. These companies provide a safe, easy way to travel with a well versed western tour guide to provide your history along the way.

 Accommodation with the different companies varies from 3 to 5 star and pre-paid inclusions vary greatly so make sure you have a good talk about the differences with your travel agent.

The Pro’s of traditional group touring:

  • They are a safe, easy and fun way to see the major sights.
  • Your tour guide will have a wealth of knowledge to pass on to you and can be a great source of fun and entertainment.
  • Touring can be great for single travellers. You will have enough people with you to find a group that you connect with and avoid those who annoy you. You can even choose to share a room with a stranger to save paying the single supplement. They are also ideal for the elderly and first time travellers.

The con’s of traditional group touring:

  • You are restricted to the itinerary and sightseeing provided by the tour company. You will get some free time and touring choices but it is all highly orchestrated and scheduled.
  • Tours can be fast paced and generally only cover the major tourist sights. If you want to get off the tourist trail this is not for you.
  • After many days with the same group of people tensions can form and you are stuck with these people for the duration of the trip.
  •  There will be additional costs for sightseeing and entrance fees once on tour and this varies depending on which company you travel with so so be aware of your inclusions before purchasing.

Resources for touring tourists

Contiki and Topdeck both offer youth orientated travel worldwide. My first overseas trip was to Europe with Contiki and it was fast paced but fantastic.

Cosmos offers a products that is on the lower end of the price bracket with less inclusions and around 3 star but sometimes 4 star accommodation. I hesitate to say budget as it isn't like a grassroots adventure.

Globus and Trafalgar both offer mid-range touring options worldwide.

Insight Vacations offer a higher standard of touring with more inclusions, better hotels and more leg room on the bus.
Group Travel can be a great way to make friends...and on occasion an enemy or two (there is always one I tell you and they may even be in this picture)

The All Inclusive Luxury Tour

If you want to see the sights and do it in complete style with everything paid for before you go then you are after an all inclusive luxury tour. For those with discerning tastes.

You have all the hassles taken care of just as in traditional touring and the pro’s and con’s are very similar but in general all of your sightseeing and inclusions are included in your initial purchase price and the standard of service and your overall experience will be luxury.

The standards do vary even within the “luxury” bracket. For example Captains Choice charter their own Qantas planes in which you travel business class. This is not a level of inclusion to expect with all.

European River cruising is the current trend taking over the travel industry offering this high standard of travel and I would recommend APT, Scenic & Uniworld. Again all have their variances so talk to your agent.

Resources for luxury travellers

The Creme de la creme of the luxury travel market would have to be Captain's Choice who offer private chartered jet tours.

Uniworld offer European River cruises with uniquely European decor and feel. Winner of many Conde De Nast and other luxury travel awards they are my choice for European River Cruising,

APT Touring offer all inclusive touring worldwide as well as European River Cruises.

Scenic Tours also offer worldwide all inclusive tours including River Cruises. Having travelled with them in Canada, Africa and Europe I can recommend them from personal experience. Hotel choice, inclusions and service are of a high standard.

Offering luxury tours since 1962 Abercrombie and Kent are a good choice with a worldwide range of tours.

Peregrine Adventures Reserve travel program is also another good option for people wanting to really engage with the local culture but do it in style.

Dipping my feet in the waters of luxury travel at my private plunge pool at Tinga Private Game Reserve in Kruger National Park, South Africa

The Flop and Drop Holiday

The flop and drop is a single destination, often beachy but not always, total veg out of a holiday. You will generally buy this in package style with your airfares, resort and meals all purchased together. Modern mega cruise ships are an extremely popular getaway for the flop and dropper.

This is for the traveller who has had enough of the rat race and needs a week or two to read a good book, lounge by the pool and do nothing but relax. I tend to call this holidaying as opposed to travelling, there is a big difference between the two. This is not a trip for those who can’t sit still for 10 minutes.

The Pro’s of the flop & drop:

  • Relaxation, relaxation, relaxation

The con’s of the flop & drop:

  •  You are generally quite isolated from the local culture.
  •  Get your time frame right, there may be a limit to how much relaxation you can take.

Resources for the drop and flopper

You will need to get your hands on some brochures offering you a range of resort destinations and packages to choose from. A travel agent is the easiest source of all of your options and with the lovely bonus of a free brochure. In the end it won't really matter to you the consumer which wholesaler the agent books with, they generally all offer fairly similar deals. A travel agent can shop your package around the wholesalers to see what is on offer.

Lazy Daze in Belize

The Independent Holiday Package

The independent holiday package is for those who want to sightsee but not on a tour. Generally you will purchase flights, accommodation and day tours prior to going and this is where a good travel agent will be a gem in making recommendations on time frames and things to see & do. It is the best of both worlds, on the day tours you have the local guide to show you the sights and the rest of the time you can be free & easy.

The pro’s of the independent holiday package:

  • A good balance of free time & touring based on your tastes.
  • You can choose what suits you to do & see and in what time frame.
  • A great family holiday as you can cater for all individual tastes with your custom itinerary.

The con’s of the independent holiday package:

  •  You can be a little more limited in modes of transport. It isn't so easy to just jump on a local train or bus without a local tour guide providing assistance especially in non English speaking countries. You may end up flying a lot of legs that you would do overland on a tour missing out on seeing the countryside.
  • Sometimes you can miss those more obscure places only known by the locals without a local tour guide.
  • If you are on your own it can be a lonely experience you may want to pad out your itinerary with more day tours to get that social contact.

Resources for the Independent Holidayer

Like the flop and drop this is a package best booked booked through a travel agent who can source wholesale package. They can supply you with a brochure with the range of products e.g. hotels, tours, day trips. You can then pick and choose what you want and have it package up into one easy to pay for deal.
Qantas Holidays tends to have a broad range in this field and their brochures are readily available through a travel agent.

To book this type of package on your own you will need to contact every individual hotel and tour supplier or go through various companies like Viator and Expedia to piece it all together. It is quite a task.
USA, the perfect independent holiday package destination

That about covers the major styles of travel, I am sure I have missed some as everyone has their own idea of the ideal holiday. Oh I just of another style but am too lazy to go back and add it in, expedition cruising. Small ships with a focus on culture, history, flora, fauna. A much more educational experience than traditional cruise ships.

I know I am a big fan of the grassroots adventures & small group touring.  What is your idea of the perfect trip?

I also realise this article sounds a little like an ad for booking through a travel agent. Whilst not my intention I do like to highlight it as in these days of the internet the skills of the travel agent are being glossed over.

Consumers now have access to making bookings themselves which is an amazing tool but the travel agent is an phenomenal resource of information and can access a whole world of options, prices and deals you may never know about without a visit. They have made a career of travelling and talking travel. What better place to start your journey than a place where travel is someone's whole life and all they do all day is talk travel.
I know that has so much value to the clients I service everyday and it would be so sad if that avenue for travellers was lost.

Originally posted on Wednesday, 27 August 2014 by

Monday, 25 August 2014

Blanquette De Veal

I recently had the pleasure of partaking in a home cooked meal at the humble kitchen table of a lovely French family who reside in the South of France. It was a cultural experiment as they did not speak a word of English just as I do not speak a word of French. The evening was more like a game of charades assisted by the basic school girl French of one of our English speaking dining companions.

As I had come off a French River Cruise which you can read more about in my article "In search of a French experience" I was deeply in need of some authentic French food and our hosts certainly provided that.

Their dish of choice, the Blanquette De Veal was so fitting to our surroundings it bought a smile to my face. Located at the dining table in their front sun room surrounded by wonderfully retro decor which you could tell had taken pride of place in their home since the 60's we were served the classically retro meal of the creamy veal stew accompanied by some simple steamed potatoes. It was absolute proof that as much as the trendy set may shun it a classic dish made well will never go out of fashion. 

Upon my return home I regretted that I had not obtained their recipe as the dish was divine, so rich and creamy and the veal so tender it melted in your mouth. Using a number of references such as "The French Menu Cookbook" by the flamboyant Richard Olney as well as Anthony Bourdains "Les Halles" cookbook and Cafe Boulud in New Yorks recipe I embarked on a mission to recreate the dish at home. So get ready to take a journey to France as here it is Hungry Planets "Blanquette De Veal".


1 kilo veal or yearling shoulder chopped into 1 inch cubes (veal will be more tender but many prefer to eat yearling for ethical reasons)
300 grams small white mushrooms (small as you can get)
1 tablespoon butter
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
2 Cups chicken stock
2 cups water
Additional 1/4 cup chicken stock
2 carrots peeled and chopped into 8 large chunks
2 large white onions peeled and stuck with 2 cloves each
Bouquet Garni of 2 Bay leaves, fresh thyme, fresh parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of black peppercorns and 1 stalk of celery trimmed. (Arrange all ingredients in a square of cheesecloth and tie the top with string so they are sealed inside)
12 pearl onion or pickling onions if you can't obtain pearl (which can be tricky to find in Australia, I used pickling onions and they were tasty)
3 tablespoons butter for roux
3 tablespoons plain flour for roux
1/3 cup whipping cream
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
chopped fresh parsley
sprinkle of nutmeg


Bring a pot of water to the boil, add veal and boil for 4 minutes to remove impurities. Strain off water, rinse veal in cold water and set veal aside.

Wash and de stem the mushrooms. If quite small leave whole or halve or quarter if they are a little larger. Combine mushrooms in a saucepan along with the juice of 1/2 a lemon, 1 tablespoon of butter, 1/4 cup of chicken stock and salt and pepper. Boil for 1 minute. Remove the mushrooms and set aside but retain the cooking liquid.

 In a large pot combine the mushroom cooking liquid, 2 cups of chicken stock, the water and the veal. Bring to the boil. Add carrots, larger onions stuck with the cloves and the bouquet garni cover and reduce to a slow simmer for around 2 hours or until the meat is tender.

Whilst the veal is simmering stew the pearl onions in 2 tablespoons of butter, salt and pepper to season and just enough water to cover the onions. Boil until the liquid has fully evaporated. Ensure you do not brown the onions. Set stewed onions aside.

Once meat is tender remove the meat from the liquid and retain both, keeping the liquid hot. Discard the Bouquet Garni, onion and carrot. 

Combine the four and butter in a saucepan to make the roux. Stir over a low heat till butter is melted and flour is combined do not brown the roux. Gradually add 1 cup of the hot cooking liquid at a time stirring continuously. Once all liquid has been added keep stirring till mixture starts thickening enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Add the mushrooms, veal, pearl onions and cream. On a medium heat bring it to the boil and then reduce heat to low to simmer for 10 minutes.

Combine the egg yolk and nutmeg with around 3 tablespoons of the hot liquid from the stew. Whisk till combined and add back to the stew. Stir the yolk mixture through the stew till well combined but do not allow the mixture to boil.

Just before serving add the tablespoon of lemon juice, parsley and salt and pepper to taste.

I served mine with small boiled potatoes seasoned with butter as I wanted to re-create my original experience with the dish but it is also delicious with white rice. Leftovers are great tossed through some freshly cooked pasta.

Now picture yourself at a rustic farm table in the garden overlooking the tangled grapevines of a French vineyard, sun shining and nothing to do but sip on your wine and Enjoy!

Serves 6

Originally posted on Monday, 25 August 2014 by

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Melbourne in Winter

My third night in Melbourne came with an ominous dream. Some might say a vision of things to come even. I was getting ready for work, my day job has a uniform that consists of a fitted business skirt that zips in the back, blouse and jumper. In the dream as I got dressed my skirt didn't fit. I don’t mean it was tight or wouldn't zip up, it literally wouldn't even go past my knees it was quite disturbing to vividly feel as if you gained fifty kilos overnight. Not disturbing enough though to perturb me from my mission which was an unplanned attempt to fill my body from toes to head with all the best food and drink in Melbourne.

I was off to a good start from day one. A breakfast of freshly made lamb, feta and spinach Gozleme at the Queen Victoria Markets was washed down with jam filled doughnuts from the American Doughnut Van, ironically selling a German Doughnut recipe, that has held the same spot at the markets for more than 60 years. Their sugary deep fried-ness was a coronary waiting to happen and if I one day have a heart attack I will look back on that dough-nutty day with fondness and no regret.

In an attempt to walk off just a little of the mounting calorie intake we walked back to the city and explored the new the new Emporium and H&M developments that had sprung up since our last visit. Martin purchased himself some new hipster duds in an attempt to blend in with the ever increasing Melbourne hipster population but without the ability to grow a large bushranger beard within the next five days it would be like pushing shit uphill to fully realise the look.

A short train trip back to our base of operations in the super cool suburb of Prahran saw us heading to Kin for a lunch of Vietnamese Street Food, a cuisine which seems to be taking over the city, for today that is. Trends in Melbourne change as frequently as the inclement weather. The little morsels of various meats on a stick washed down by lunch time alcohol consumption, a right reserved for the indulgence of holiday makers and businessmen around the globe and we were ready for our nanna naps.

Now when we travel to Melbourne we have a secret weapon. It comes in an unassuming form of my parents in law. In their civilian clothes you may just think they are business people working long days in the city fuelled by caffeine and adrenaline but in their true form which only emerges after dark they are uber cool socialites with the ability to know all the hottest restaurants and nightspots and with absolutely no regard for the fact that they may not be the youngest of patrons in a venue always make a beeline for the front row seats, be it perched at the bar overlooking the kitchen or amongst the devastatingly cool youth lounging around low tables in dim lights sipping on cider.

Our education in the Melbourne dining scene for this trip was to take place at Chin Chin. The ubiquitous queue out onto the street was already raging prior to 6pm and the restaurant was pumping. We took the last seats at Go Go Bar with our drinks to await our table. Our buzzer vibrated after around an hour heralding the availability of a table for four and upon inspection of the menu the only sensible course of action to sample as much food as possible was the “Feed Me” option. A seemingly endless procession of food passed before us and into our salivating mouths. Executive Chef Benjamin Cooper had me from the first dish of Kingfish Sashimi, it’s tart lime tones accompanied by bursts of chilli, coconut and basil rocked my world and outdid my previous sashimi experiences by a country mile. With 11 dishes served to the table in total I won’t regale you with tales of all but let’s just say, I’ll never see food the same way again.

The next 5 days in Melbourne was spent moving from feast to feast, bar to bar. Emotions generally ranged from “dear god I can’t eat enough of that” to “dear god kill me I am so full” but that’ s what Melbourne’s dining scene does to you. Whether it be on the fast food end of the spectrum with amazingly juicy burgers from Charlie & co all the way up to the fancy stuff at Chez Olivier and beyond. Good food in Melbourne begets more good food which begets more good food. It seems to be on an upward trajectory with no end in sight. If you aren't keeping up with the Chin Chin’s of the world you are dead in the water, there is no space for mediocrity in Melbourne.

As far as visiting Melbourne in Winter well at first it seems like a fairly idiotic idea, Melbourne of course being best known after the food scene for it’s dreary winter days but somehow we find ourselves there year after year in winter. In an effort to make you forget about the weather Melbourne boasts an extensive winter program of entertainment the best of it being the theatre program. Between Wicked, Les Miserables and The King I (a range of shows that certainly doesn't rival Broadway or the West End but for an Australian city is impressive)  I knew we had to get in and see Les Mis. The show has been in existence basically as long as I have and somehow I had not managed to see it. Wow was it worth the wait, I was blown away. Timeless themes of love, honor and revolution set to a cracking score, a storyline to pull at the most hardened of heart strings and of course a few rollicking characters to liven up the heartache on occasion it has taken it’s deserved place as my favourite musical.

We summed up the trip on the last night with an impromptu dinner at Prahran’s Dumpling restaurant HuTong. Not my first visit here I knew to expect fantastically delicious food but I was blown away by the authentic Chongqing Chilli Fish. I selected it from the “Local Dishes” presented on the extensive menu in a vain attempt to find the flavours I experienced in the Szechuan province in China. It was a bold choice, I knew how spicy this dish could be and with no real idea of the chilli tolerance of my dining companions it was a risk. But I needed to know if authentic Szechuan cuisine really exists in Australia, in the 8 years since my trip to China I have never had anything that comes close to the real thing, till now that is.

Tender meaty chunks of poached basa floating in a chilli oil broth filled with szechuan peppercorns, dried chilli’s and bean sprouts, one mouthful and I was immediately transported to Chongqing, I was speechless, mainly because my mouth was full of fish and I couldn't stop and I was so happy to see that all were enjoying it as much as me despite the sweaty brows and intermittent panting. The waiter upon collection of the plates noted we had not finished the fiery red broth but commented that we had done well so a pat on the back was had by all.

The 8 hour drive home from bustling inner Melbourne back to the rural quietness of Bungendore was spent uncomfortably shifting around in my mysteriously tighter jeans belting out show tunes along to the Les Mis soundtrack, ah the memories, Melbourne we will be back.

Oh and in case you are interested, when crunch time came the work skirt fit just fine.

Originally posted on Wednesday, 20 August 2014 by

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Top 10 Travel Destinations

In my slow march towards middle age, ok that is a slight exaggeration as early 30’s is hardly middle aged, anyway as I meander the roads of my life I quite often get asked about my travel experiences as people who know me know that I have been around (in a travel sense not the other kind). The question I can never answer yet is always inevitably asked the obvious “where is your favourite destination” . Sounds like a simple question but there really is no concise answer to it. I have lots of favourites for many different reasons. So I thought I would write a summary of my top 10 travel destinations and why.

Best Foodie Destination

This would have to be a close call between China and Vietnam but I think in the end the Szechuan hot pot in Chongqing wins it for China. The festivity of communal eating, the tingling szechuan peppercorns, the variety and choice of ingredients that you can tailor to your tastes, it’s the stuff of Foodie wet dreams. Although daunted by the cultural divide the food would bring me back to this great country

Most Amazing Scenery

The Canadian Rockies with their awe inspiring snow capped peaks and slow train journeys along side wandering rivers, turquoise lakes and towering mountains really takes the cake for best scenery for me.

Best driving holiday

I am a little biased on this one as half of my family are Kiwi’s but New Zealand is a great driving destination. You can go from monolithic fjords to vast plains then rolling lush farmland in quite a short distance (to Australian’s that is). Although useful signposting may not be the forte of the Kiwi’s with a good GPS you will be able to stay on track. I also love to stop by the many small town Dairy's for some signature Hokey Pokey ice cream.

Favourite spot in Europe

This would have to be Tuscany. Ancient fortified towns perched on the hill tops, Agriturismo’s dotted through the countryside, days spent walking the cobblestone streets in somewhat of a time warp. Real Italian Gelato, pasta and pizza, enough said really. If you are brave enough to visit in winter many of these towns are nearly deserted making for fantastic photography opportunities.

Top Asian Destination

Cambodia. It is like taking a trip back in time, few cars although this is quickly changing, locals living in houses built from sticks, amazing food, delightful people, extremely cheap and to top it all off some of the most memorable ancient ruins on the planet. Ta Prohm and Bayon get out, they are astounding.

Top Beach Destination

Undoubtedly the Cook Islands. So good I even went back to get married there on the beach. The jungle like mountains in the centre of Rarotonga descend to some of the most pristine beaches in the world, that turquoise blue water is warm and inviting and being sheltered by the reef makes it very accessible for snorkeling and swimming. My favourite aspect of the island is that you can grab a little car and tootle around the 30 kilometers of road the encompass the island to try out all the restaurants, beaches and backroads to see how the locals live. It is a great destination to get some local culture and not be confined to a western style resort.

Best Wildlife Viewing

My options are a little limited here as I haven’t done as yet some of the iconic wildlife trips like East Africa or the Galapagos but my luxury game lodge stay in Kruger National Park in South Africa was unbelievable. It was hard to leave the luxury confines of Tinga with your own private plunge pool overlooking the bush but once you were out in the open air game vehicle it was so thrilling I didn't then want to go back to the lodge. We saw all of the Big 5 Game in the first day even the more elusive ones like the Leopard and on the last game drive of our stay we were surprised with a campfire dinner in the bush entirely lit by candles. It was magnificent.

Top City Stay

This is an all out battle between New York and London. I don’t want to have to pick one but if forced I would probably go with London. Maybe it is being an Australian with historical family roots in England but the city is fascinating, packed full of history and royal intrigue the options for tourists are endless and the tube makes it all so easy to navigate. I must say the New York subway is not the most user friendly for tourists and probably knocks it down a peg on my rung. I am also inclined to put Hong Kong and Melbourne on this list but I can only pick one fav.

Most Awe-Inspiring Destination

With it’s millennia of history and ruins so preserved that you think you have been teleported back in time you can’t go past Egypt for pure awe. Unfortunately political tensions have had this one of the boiler for a few years now but when you have the chance it is an absolute must see. Tikal in Guatemala comes a close second to Egypt but not spanning as long a time period or geographical vastness Egypt wins out.

Best Cultural Immersion

The Vietnamese have survived countless occupations and invasions and have emerged with a strong sense of who they are as a nation. With seemingly no grudges held against their former oppressors from various nations they go about their daily lives with grace, hard work and a smile. Their local cuisine with the use of aromatic fresh herbs and delightfully fresh seafood is unique and captivating. This makes Vietnam my top cultural pick.

Favourite Australian Destination

Now this is super hard to pick. Melbourne has it's Hipster vibes, little lane ways and top restaurants, Sydney has the iconic Australian must do's, Ayres rock has it's cultural and geographical wonders but my pick is going to be Port Douglas. Around an hour north of Cairns this beach side town is not only a great little holiday hideaway to escape the backpacker hoards in Cairns but the gateway to some of Australia's best natural wonders. From Port Douglas you can head out to the Great Barrier reef to swim, dive and snorkel with the fish, turtles, sharks and other sea creatures or jump in a car and head further north into the unique Daintree Rainforest where the forest really does meet the sea. 
Originally posted on Thursday, 14 August 2014 by

Sunday, 10 August 2014

My Foodie Philosophy

Before Noma stuck seaweed and ants on your plate, before Heston served up dirt with a difference and long before cakes looked less like food and more like reality there was food. Just food, real food. Food cooked with love by mothers for their families. Recipes handed down through generations and plates of food with no pretensions of being anything but what they are, a good hearty meal.

I am not turning my nose up at modern institutions producing ground breaking works of art with food I respect their work but if I want art I'll go to the Louvre and if wild roses with flatbread is what you need to serve up to be the number one restaurant in the world then so be it but I'll be sticking to honest to goodness food without the $300 price tag and side of moss.

I know this is completely ironic in the true sense of the word coming from someone who has made a living from producing high end cake art with a high end price tag but maybe I have exhausted all of my creative food talents and become bitter and jaded in the years I have spent satisfying the every whim of clients with wild ambitions on what will impress their 2 year old and their very selective 2 year olds friends. Aliens, superheros, merry go rounds, unicorns, life like trucks and cars, princesses, horses I have been asked for it all and I have have obliged, who I am to stand in the way of people who think they need to spend $500 on their kids birthday cakes, it is how I made my living. I enjoyed it, the creative outlet was fun, the money was better but somewhere along the way I lost track of the real point of it all, an expression of love and a gift in the form of food and shouldn't that come in a simpler form?

Whatever happened to mum's staying up through the night with their women's weekly cake books lovingly smearing buttercream on a sponge pig or train. That's how I grew up and I treasure the memories of picking out my cake from the book each year and knowing the efforts mum went to to create the cake for me to enjoy, you can't buy that.

At some point food needs to come back to it's roots. A plate of pasta served up on a hot summers day out in the garden with good friends. Hearty Indian Curries with hundreds of years of history that has combined to create that particular combination of spices. Afternoons spent around the family BBQ grilling up slabs of marinated lamb and evenings around the family dinner table with honest food made with love. It may not always be so pretty, it doesn't get plated with tweezers and garnished with edible flowers. It's just food and that's all I want.

Now that I have completely ragged out on myself and the entire high end food industry I feel a little guilty. Oh well it was just such an easy I go to cook cheese on toast and wallow in my own cynicism.
Food served at Noma, Seriously you call that food, WTF is that?
Image courtesy of Cyclonebill
Me and the Dalek Cake we created for my husbands birthday. 50 man hours and hundreds of dollars went into this cake, probably could have just cooked a carrot cake and been just as happy

Originally posted on Sunday, 10 August 2014 by

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Mostly Puttanesca

As I woke up at 6am this morning to a lovely minus 6 degrees Celsius I did wonder why when living in Australia with it’s renowned balmy climes what the hell I was doing living in Bungendore.
As I trudged my way to the car with the frost crunching under my feet, the fish hidden under a thick layer of ice in the pond and I sat shivering in the car waiting for the heating to kick in and the windscreen to defrost I sensed that life was telling me that it was time for another jaunt to Italy. Short on actual funds to do that I will settle for a hearty warming Italian pasta dish. Comfort food at it’s best.

It starts with all good intentions. I go hunting for an authentic recipe for whatever world cuisine I am craving for at that moment in time. I create it true to form the first time around, it is yum and I cook it again. But something happens to that recipe over time. It evolves and forms into something new, sometimes recognisable, often not. My favourite ingredients manage to wiggle their way into the mix, quantities change, things become free form and each recreation of the dish becomes a metamorphosis of the original.

This is what happened to my Pasta Alla Puttanesca. My original version of this was based on a Nigella Lawson recipe that was aptly named “Sluts Pasta” as the name of this dish actually translates to Spaghetti a la whore. Immediately attracted to this interpretation I cooked it with Gusto, the salty olives, capers and anchovies complemented the sweet tomatoes and silky pasta so well that it become a go to recipe when the carb cravings hit hard.

My first unauthorised addition to this recipe was bacon, is any recipe truly complete without the wonder food bacon? Then came mushrooms because yum! So here is the current version I will call Basterdised Puttanesca or maybe it would be more polite to call it Mostly Puttanesca because well it is mostly a Puttanesca. I am certainly not saying this is the final version of this dish, is any recipe actually the best it can be? Probably not as it suits your tastes at that point in time and we all know tastes change and so too should your cooking.


225 grams Pappardelle Pasta cooked as per instructions on packet and reserve 2 tablespoons of cooking water
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves of garlic finely sliced
6 anchovies chopped
150 grams bacon diced
2 large flat mushrooms sliced or 6 button mushrooms quartered
400 grams of cherry or perino tomatoes halved
1/2 cup pitted whole Spanish olives
2 tablespoons capers drained
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 long red chilli
handful of chopped continental parsley
Grated parmesan sprinkled over the top to serve


  • Add olive oil to fry pan and heat on medium heat for 1 minute
  • Add garlic and anchovies and sautee for 1 minute
  • Add bacon and fry till golden, around 2 minutes, stir occasionaly
  • Add mushrooms, sprinkle with a little salt and a drizzle of olive oil and cook for a further 3 minutes till soft and slightly browned, toss occasionally 
  • Add tomatoes, tomato paste and chilli stirring to combine, cover and cook till tomatoes are broken down, around 7 minutes. Remove lid
  • Add olives and capers  and cook on a low heat for 5 minutes.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of the water the pasta was cooked to help combine the sauce
  • Turn heat off, add pasta to the fry pan and toss through, add parsley. Toss till all ingredients are well combined
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste
  • Sprinkle with a little grated parmesan
  • Enjoy!

Serves: 2 large mains or 4 small entrée size serves


  • This dish should have a little kick from the chilli's. If the long red chilli is not particularly hot, as they can be at some times of the year add another or swap for 2 birds-eye chilli's.
  • Time the Pasta cooking to be ready when the sauce is ready so you are tossing hot fresh pasta with the sauce
  • Close your eyes when you eat this dish and imagine yourself in the warm summers sun of the Piazza Navona in Rome. Follow up with some home made Gelato for an authentic experience.

Originally posted on Thursday, 7 August 2014 by

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Grill the Foodie: Hong Kong

Our regular series “Grill the Foodie” is all about getting inside a country’s food and eating experiences from the perspective of travellers and expats living abroad. Why travellers and not locals? Well sometimes locals don’t know what makes their country’s cuisine so unique and wonderful they may not have any other points of reference as their own food is all they have experienced. We will delve into what makes world cuisine great and why travellers love to eat so much. We want you to be inspired by what is happening around the world, how others enjoy their food and how food can unite cultures.
Photo courtesy of

Nina’s family have been linked to my family for as long as I remember, long enough that my memories of spending time with Nina and her sisters Emma and Leah as children on their family farm in Queensland, Australia consist of strange disjointed visual memories that I cannot piece together into any form of cohesion.

Apart from the time Nina and Emma were showing myself and my sister Fiona how to throw pegs at the family bull Joe it is all a blur. That one memory stands out enough to make up for it though. The doubtful look on my sisters face who was older than the rest of us is seared into my memory. Deep down in the pit of our stomachs we knew this wasn’t going to end well but hey, who were we two suburb dwellers to question the authority of these hardened farm girls, if they thought throwing pegs at a bull was totally cool then why not.

Joe on the other hand didn’t think it was a good idea and as he turned and made his charge myself and my sister ran screaming into the house whilst Nina grabbed her baby sister from the pram and went running across the paddock. Joe pursued them in muscled rage and as Nina fell to the ground, baby in arms huddled in a protective arch over her Joe revealed his fake and let them go. Joe knew it wasn’t their day but had done enough to ensure that never a peg would be thrown at him again.

We have grown up a little since then, Nina has since left our shores for the not so sunny climes of London living as an Aussie expat and then onto Hong Kong where she currently resides. I knew from reading her blog that Nina is a Foodie so I thought she needed a bit of a grilling to discover more about her international Foodie adventures.

How long have you lived in Hong Kong for?

My husband and I have been living in Hong Kong for 2 years.

What area of Hong Kong do you currently live in?

We live in the Central/SoHo area of Hong Kong.

What inspired you to move to Hong Kong?

We had spent 4 years in London, once you’ve moved overseas once, subsequent moves aren’t as daunting. Hong Kong presented a great opportunity to travel in Asia, and we can pop back to Australia for a weekend so we don’t need to miss any more of our family and friends special events.

Do you find yourself eating out or cooking at home whilst living in Hong Kong?

We have a small flat and no car so I order groceries online and have them home delivered so I can cook meals at home. There are various convenient meal options in Hong Kong. I often order from Secret Ingredient ( , a company that provides prepared ingredients for a meal for you to cook at home. There are some excellent ready-made meal options, so it is very easy to pick up a healthy meal on the way home.

We and our friends all live in small flats, so rather than entertain at home, we meet at restaurants for a meal to catch up. We are absolutely spoilt for choice in Hong Kong, whatever cuisine you feel like, Nepalese, Moroccan, Vietnamese, Peruvian, you can find it here.

What are your favourite local dishes when eating out, those you go back for again and again?

Everyone had a favourite dim sum dish. Some of my favourites are char siu (BBQ pork), served on its own or as the filling of char siu bao (BBQ pork buns), har gow (prawn dumplings) prawn in a translucent rice flour skin and lo mai gai (lotus leaf rice) glutinous rice with various fillings (vegetables, egg, meat and seafood) steamed wrapped tightly in a lotus leaf.

What are your favourite local food haunts?

Some of my favourite local restaurants are steakhouse Craftsteak, Italian restaurant Posto Publico, French restaurant Les Fils a Maman, Greek restaurant Souvla and Vietnamese restaurant Nha Trang.

What has surprised you most about food in Hong Kong?

The cosmopolitan variety of restaurants available, and the short lifespan of some in the cut throat Hong Kong restaurant scene. You’ll often hear the location of a new restaurant described as “where x used to be’. With high rents and fierce competition for diners some new restaurants just don’t survive.

Is there a street food scene in Hong Kong and if so where is the best place to find it and what are the best dishes?

Hong Kong is known for its open air food stalls with plastic chairs and folding tales called ‘Dai Pai Dongs’ which can be found in Graham St Central and Temple St by the night market. These tend to sell rice or noodle dishes.

There are also food stalls in Causeway Bay and Dundas St in Mong Kok and near Sham Shui Po MTR station. Follow your nose and look for the crowd of hungry diners. The food includes egg waffles (a waffle made up of egg shaped spheres), egg tarts (egg custard in pastry), pineapple buns and pork chop buns (a pork chop in a soft roll). You’ll also find dim sum favourites cheong fun (rice noodle rolls) and siu mai (pork dumplings), meats on sticks (chicken, pork, beef and curry fish balls). The more adventurous can try stinky tofu, intestines, squid tentacles and a ladleful of something from the bubbling pots of assorted organs. If you only try one street food in Hong Kong, make it the egg waffles.

As an expat are there any local Cantonese dishes that you have a total disconnect with e.g. don’t understand or outright hate?

Chicken feet are a popular local dish that doesn’t appeal to me at all. I’ve seen them on many menus, but have always ordered other delicious dishes. Perhaps I should give them a try.

What is your favourite food memory or food story from Hong Kong so far?

Not long after we arrived we were served century eggs. The century egg (also known as a 100 year old egg, 1000 year old egg or millennium egg) is an egg preserved in a mixture of clay, lime, ash, salt and rice hulls for up to several months, far short of the durations the name suggests. The result is in an egg with a dark grey liquid yolk and a tea-coloured jellied egg white, served with pickled ginger. The century egg looked unappetizing, but we were brave and took a bite. It tasted like an egg - a strong egg - but an egg just the same!
I haven’t had a century egg since, but I often enjoy a salted duck egg, (a duck egg soaked in brine) with my char siu.

For tourists, what local foods would you say are must haves on their trip to Hong Kong?

No trip to Hong Kong would be complete without going for dim sum and trying local snacks egg waffles, egg tarts and pineapple buns while you are seeing the sights

Are there any Cantonese dishes or experiences that make you feel close to Australia?

There aren’t any Cantonese dishes that remind me of Australia, in fact I sometimes miss the Australian Chinese dishes that can be hard to find in China such as sweet and sour pork, lemon chicken, beef in black bean sauce and fortune cookies!

If you ever return to Australia for good what foods or food experiences will you miss most from Hong Kong?

I’m not sure how I will cope without a steady supply of delicious char siu (BBQ pork). Perhaps I should take a cooking class before I leave.

You can read more about Nina's food adventures in Hong Kong on her blog:

Hong Kong Chow Chat:

Originally posted on Tuesday, 5 August 2014 by

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Louisiana Seafood Gumbo

"We made love like leftover Jambalaya, God I miss her Gumbo"
Jarod Kintz.
When the ice on our fish pond still hadn't thawed by midday I knew it was the perfect day to have a Louisiana Seafood Gumbo. This rich, tomatoey stew like recipe came to me courtesy of Trish & Chris at Travel-Cook-Capture. I first met Trish on a travel industry familiarisation trip in Egypt. Trish's flaming red hair sets off her vibrant personality and I was so happy to see that her and her chef husband Chris had started a travel, food and photography blog.

I knew at first glance that I had to cook Chris's Louisiana Gumbo. Although I haven't made it to the Southern States of the USA as yet the Cajun and Creole cultures down there fascinate me. Louisiana in the early 19th century became a melting pot for many cultures through immigration. The Cajun's are pre-dominantly descendants of the French speaking immigrants who were exiled from the Maritime Provinces of present-day Canada whereas Creole refers to people of Spanish, African and Caribbean descent. A unique cuisine has formed in Louisiana and I am surprised I have made it this far through life without cooking it. So it is time.

This recipe is a great way to start, whilst it may not be truly authentic it does suit the availability of ingredients here in Australia. You can learn more about traditional Gumbo cooking with this short history of Gumbo.
Chris indicates you can choose your own seafood for this so I went with 500 grams of peeled prawns, 2 squid tubes and around 200 grams of firm white fish. I also swapped the olive oil for butter in my roux as I am a bit of a butter whore. With this amount of seafood my version would have fed 6 people easily. I served mine with fresh baked white bread and white rice. You can see Trish and Chris's original version of this recipe right here.


60ml olive oil
30g plain flour
1 large brown onion - chopped
1 red capscium - chopped
2 celery sticks - chopped
2 large red chillis - seeds removed
3 garlic cloves - thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
3 teaspoons thyme - finely chopped
3 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons ground oregano
1/2 teaspoon of hot cayenne pepper
1 litre chicken stock
2 tablespoons tomato paste
400g chopped tin tomatoes
800g raw prawns - peeled
200g scallops - roe removed
200g squid - cleaned & scored, cut into 2 inch triangles
1 handful parsley - finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
worcestershire sauce, salt & pepper to taste

Serves 4


1. Put oil and flour in stockpot, cook over low heat stirring constantly for 20-25 minutes until brown.
2. Add in onion, garlic, chilli, bay leaves, capsicum and celery. Cook for 15mins or until softened.
3. Turn the heat to high and add in all remaining herbs and spices and cook for 1 minute.
4. Add in stock + 350ml water, tomato paste & tomatoes and bring to boil.
5. Once boiled, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1.5 hours stirring occasionally.
6. When the gumbo has thickened, turn the heat up to high & add in the seafood & cook for another 5 minutes or until seafood is cooked.
7. Add parsley and season with salt, pepper, Worcestershire and lemon juice. Then stir through.
8. Serve with crusty ciabatta.

Originally posted on Sunday, 3 August 2014 by

Friday, 1 August 2014

Dulce De Leche Ice Cream

"Without ice cream there would be darkness and chaos"
Don Kardong.

You know your twenties are truly in the past when you are at home making Ice Cream on a Saturday night. Gone are the days of drinking too much whilst gyrating on the sweaty dance floor to pumping 90’s dance music.

I chose to make the Dulce De Leche Ice Cream from the Argentinian Street Food cookbook as it seems somewhat a national dessert and popular in various forms all the way across Latin America. According to the Argentinian cookbook, Heladerias (ice creamery’s) have sprung up all over Buenos Aires and of their hundreds of flavours at least half are based on Dulce De Leche.

Seems as good a reason as any to give it a go.  It is simply made by slowly boiling down milk, caster sugar, bicarb and vanilla for two to three hours until it forms a thick, dark, gooey caramel.

Making the Dulce De Leche, start with boiling the milk...
with the castor sugar...
add vanilla and bicarb soda...
and be patient, it takes 2-3 hours to get to this caramel stage

The Dulce De Leche is then added to the ice cream mixture of more boiled milk and sugar before chilling and churning.
Kogan ice cream attachment for stand mixer
Being in two stages first making the caramel and then the ice cream itself this recipe is time consuming but quite easy. There are a number of periods of prolonged waiting and salivating while the caramel cooks down, the ice cream to chill and then churn and then set. All up you are looking at around 10 hours so don’t be in a rush to consume this icy wonder as it ain't happening quickly.

A couple of things to note before you embark on this recipe, firstly you will need some form of ice cream churning device. I have the Kogan ice cream maker attachment for the Kogan stand mixer. An ingenious little device as it effective for churning ice cream and only $19! (You will already need the Kogan stand mixer for this attachment to work and it was only $99 which is a very good deal on a stand mixer).


  • Boiling
  • Stirring 
That is pretty much it, if you can boil and simmer milk and stir it you really have this recipe made. Beginner friendly.

Pressure points:

There really aren't too many sticking points in this recipe. I did find myself reading the recipe a number of times though as it seems that it was possibly translated into English so there is some unusual phrasing. At one point it seems you should add the Dulce De Leche to the pot of boiling milk but on second look you need to put the milk over the Dulce De Leche in a heat proof bowl.

Why you should make this recipe:

Well who doesn't want to eat ice cream, enough said really and this recipe wipes the floor with the supermarket bought ice cream.

Where to find it: Argentinian Street Food

Cost:1/5 Ease:5/5 Time:5/5 Taste:5/5
Originally posted on Friday, 1 August 2014 by