Friday, 25 September 2015

Food Trucks and Felicity

Long before you or I knew the words "Food Truck" or could even have envisioned the future madness surrounding these portable feasts there was a van. A lone little yellow van with no pretensions located on the South Coast of Australia, Pambula Beach to be exact. It's owners for a time, Felicity (my sister in law) and her partner Daniel (the cook), looking to escape the grind of the nine to five bought the van and were churning out great Aussie classics like fish and chips, prawns, burgers and fresh cinnamon doughnuts long before the hipster set bought Bao, BĂșn and Bahn Mi to the fore of the food truck scene.

Eight years or so later and Felicity's food truck is sadly a distant memory and today's food truck scene has exploded. You can't go to a market or festival without a full on food truck assault. To my delight world cuisines are supreme but the simple act of serving food from a moveable vehicle doesn't make it good food. The two don't go hand in hand despite what seems to the general consensus of food truck aficionados. You can't just take a bearded hipster, some shredded luke warm meat, slap on some Sriracha, claim it to be "smoked" and have a hit on your hands but with the captive audience many food truck events supply quality doesn't always reign supreme.

Don't get me wrong, I have had some absolute cracker dishes from a food truck Succulent Smoky Peruvian chicken wings, Croatian whole spit roasted lamb and pork smothered in gravy on near two foot rolls, drippingly juicy Vietnamese Pork skewers the fare can be outstanding. On the other hand I have eaten some dull, tasteless crap with a price tag that does not befit having to eat your meal in the gutter.

Innovation and a slap of graffiti isn't necessarily the way of the future. Life isn't meant to be perpetually trendy. Enjoying well made classics with your toes in the sand, under a beach umbrella on one of the most stunning beaches in Australia can be enough sometimes. The most vivid memory I have from this food truck that was before it's time is Haloumi, it may sound simple but in my mid-twenties as I was I had not had the pleasure of grilled Haloumi simply sprinkled with lemon juice. This is the gift that Felicity's food truck gave to me and as we ate it as the sun went down my thoughts could not be further from uber-cool food truck meet up's, craft beer and hipster beards.

Originally posted on Friday, 25 September 2015 by

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Confessions Of An Addict

Sweat builds on my brow as my heart rate elevates. The shame of succumbing yet again is palpable as I weigh the consequences. The human mind is capable of justifying even the lowliest acts, I should know. An image of my husband's pursed lips and disapproving frown flashes in my mind for only but a moment. As I lift the cookbook from its place on the shelf, Heston's quizzical face and glossy bald head are looking back at me, I proceed to the checkout and I know that disapproval from those we hold dear is the price an addict will pay. We all have our vices, my name is Tenele and I'm a cookbook addict.

A cookbook is not merely a collection of recipes it is a portal. A portal that can transport the reader through space and time to tastes unknown, cultures yet to be experienced and connections with people and nations separated by vast oceans. As I look over my collection I see history and present day coming together. Elizabeth David and Julia Child some of the original cooks and travellers who transported evocative cuisines across oceans to their homelands are just as relevant today as their modern counterparts Rick Stein and Jaime Oliver. Julia's Beef Bourguignon graced the dinner tables of America's elite in 1963 and the recipe still stands the test of time even in today's food obsessed culture.

Not all cookbooks are gems in the sense that you will have a transformative cooking experience. Whilst some vintage and retro cookbooks are treasures, others less so. My Golden Circle Tropical Recipe Book harks to a time when canned food was king, fruit set in jelly was the height of sophistication and if it wasn't baked in a bundt you could just forget about it. The 1967 Woman's Day advertisement promised a book that would delight new brides and "mothers who know best" but in reality features food so far beyond kitsch that any attempt at a description would not do this book justice. Tinned sweet and sour sauce poured over suspicious, flavourless lumps of meat, hard-boiled eggs with faces and pineapple, pineapple, pineapple with everything. This book is more a travesty than a home economics triumph but sits in my collection as a reminder of how far we have come since the days of aspics and onion soup dips. And before you question, yes I have cooked from it and yes the results can be labelled a food crime.

Misses aside, cooks and chefs from all over the globe have taken me on journeys to their worlds all through their recipes and writings. David Thompson the tamer of Thai cuisine has single handedly brought the mouth numbing fires of Thai curries right to my doorstep. At times whilst buried deep in a recipe, hand scraping the fleshy innards of a coconut or pounding my own curry paste I forget myself, my surroundings and reality slip away for a moment and life takes on a new meaning. I am one with those of distant lands.

Modern day cookbooks with their larger than life glossy photos and tantilising tales of the exotic are as much about the anthropological study as they are about the recipes, possibly more so. Take Bree Hutchins' in depth study aptly titled 'Hidden Kitchens of Sri Lanka'. As I read about this far away land with its swaying palms and lively markets it strikes me, many of the recipes in this book contain ingredients virtually unobtainable here in Australia and despite this I read on enthralled by a culture so different from my own. The story of the market stall holder who spends only a handful of hours sleeping each night and the rest of his day commuting to and from and running his street food stall in Colombo or the man who spends most of his days separated from his family in order to protect his field of vegetables from vermin and poachers just to feed his family leave me heart broken. This book connects me with these people and their stories and then cooking their recipes is the next level, it is intimate to share in the food of another person.

This is the power of the cookbook. As I look over my over growing collection I see a link. No longer am I limited by geographical distance, the world's flavors, wonders and stories are all there right in front of me. I can cook up vibrant Vietnamese salads with Luke Nguyen, steaming hot Argentinian Empanadas with Enrique Zanoni, tart and tangy Filipino food with Yasmin Newman or rich buttery French fare with Richard Olney. I am only limited by my ability and the more I cook with the masters the more I grow and learn and so begins the cycle. Buying, reading, cooking, eating the secrets to my fulfilled life.

If admission of a problem is the first step to redemption or release from addiction then let it be heard here and now, I'm fine... Really I am.

Originally posted on Sunday, 6 September 2015 by

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Why You Should Visit A Luxury African Game Lodge At Least Once In Your Lifetime

Close your eyes so the darkness envelops you. No this is not a re-birthing experience, I promise I am not a shaman or a kook. Okay back to the darkness, you are laying in a king bed, the billowy canopy falling loosely to surround you. In the dark your senses are heightened, a cool breeze tickles your face and out of the darkness comes a deep sawing sound as if someone is cutting the tress down outside your door. In your new found Doctor Livingston wisdom you know this is a lone Cheeteah waiting out in the night, his broken purr filling the cool night air. As you ponder the exotic Cheetah feeling so far from home you are startled by the trumpeting of an elephant and there is no mistaking that you are in Africa.

Just the name Africa, conjures up feelings from childhood. The dark continent holds a mystical place in many a psyche. A place where wild, dangerous animals roam and tribal life remains frozen as if in stasis, a window into the past.

Okay that's enough with the romantic bullshit, how did I do? Did I take you there or did I sound like a wanker?

About five years ago my job as a travel agent took me to South Africa. It was a familiarisation tour with Scenic Tours that covered Capetown, Johannesburg and Kruger National Park. In true Scenic Tours style there was a little indulgence. That indulgence came in the form of 3 nights accommodation at a Luxury Game Lodge in Kruger. Tinga is a lodge within the Lion Sands Game Reserve. If you want a travel experience that will be forever imprinted on your mind and heart this is it.

As you enter the property you cross through the gates and come into the main lodge. The main lodge, where you can relax and your inclusive meals are served can only be described as, I am going to coin a phrase here, ready for it...Safari Chic. The high wooden beamed and thatched ceiling soars above you, the open fire roars away and plush armchairs await you. As you continue through the lodge you come out onto a back deck, wrapped around a sprawling shady tree and overlooking the rushing Sabie River this provides a magnificent location for long lazy lunches and wildlife viewing.

With only 9 suites spread out from the main lodge and privately positioned you know you are in for a personalised stay. The suites themselves are accessed via raised walkways and despite being protected by walls and fences if you return to your lodge at night you will be accompanied by armed security which adds to the excitement. Once inside the lodge if you can distract yourself from the thoughts of diving into that king canopied bed you will be met by a 180 degree uninterrupted view of the African bush.

This was my first experience with an open bathroom. It wasn't open air but the floor to ceiling windows shared those bushland views and did not have any coverings. It felt a little odd at first, you were expecting someone to pop their head around the corner at anytime but as I relaxed I warmed up to the feeling of bathing and showering whilst looking across the African bushland.

My absolute favourite feature of the suites was the private plunge pool out on the deck. We were lucky enough to have the very last room in the row where there is a chance of animals coming right up to the lodge where the fencing comes in close to the end of the resort. Sitting out there in your own pool listing to the wildlife around you makes you feel as if you have stepped into the pages of a great novel, Out of Africa... minus the hardship.

This is all starting to sound a little much isn't it. Let's get to the real point of a trip to Kruger, the game drives. The thrill of heading out before dawn, all rugged up in blankies in an open air truck. Just six of you per car for best viewing opportunities. You have your tracker sitting out the front of the truck, the ranger at the wheel and you are connected via walkie talkies to the other rangers all out  in various locations looking for the wildlife.

You come across the wildlife in so many ways. You might turn a corner & boom there is a family of elephants crossing the river or a group of Giraffes wandering down the track. You might need to head to a look out to spot that elusive rhino. You could get a call on the walkie talkie to say another group has spotted a cheetah and you rush off to it's location before it slinks back into hiding. You could head down to the dry river bed to quietly sit next to a sleeping pride of lions. You could stumble on a family of mischievous monkeys rumbling through the trees or a pack of Warthogs that remind you of that fat happy Pumba from the Lion King. You will stop for sunset drinks and canapes and you will wonder how you will ever leave this place. It is a different world out there these game lodges are the portal to amazing discovery, forget the zoo this is the real deal.

On our final night we were out on our last game drive. The air had turned cold and we were all wrapped up in our blankets. The ranger called in a sighting and we headed off through the night time bush is search of animals. To our surprise we pulled up at a bush camp all lit up with lanterns and fires. We were led to dinner tables all decked out as if in a five star restaurant but we were actually on the red dusty earth in the middle of no-where. A large buffet of local delicacies was unveiled as well as a bar to whet out thirsty palates. Out there is the wilds, protected by the rangers, eating and drinking this surprise bush dinner was a highlight of the stay. These lodges miss nothing in impressing the guest.

You won't have to sell your soul to stay here but you will need to do some saving, this is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination but is one of those experiences that will live with you in the recesses of your soul, forever etched as a memory that will enliven your spirit in your darkest moments.
Originally posted on Wednesday, 2 September 2015 by