Townsville

Castle Hill - iconic Townsville feature

My little sister turned 30 on Thursday (wow, we’re getting up there in the age department), so to help her celebrate I flew up to Townsville (and my parents drove up from Mackay) to visit, have dinner, play with the cat and generally get in the way by having four grown adults in a tiny two bedroom townhouse. It was squishy and my sister and I found ourselves sharing a room for the first time since I was 12.

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Food Tales, Esk

Esk region

Because I’m still on leave and jazzed on this food buzz I seem to be on at the moment, I decided to jump in the car and head to Esk for the Food Tales session run by the State Library of Queensland and the Queensland Writers Centre, two organisations close to my heart.

Each regional centre session was hosted by a food writer and basically created a lovely discussion about the group’s experience with food. I did not realise before attending, that each of us would have to share a food tale. Nervous as I was, I had a lovely time with the ladies (and one gentleman, who make himself scares after the scones and before the tale sharing portion of the event) of Esk. Some of their stories were funny and vivid and I got some great recipes I can’t wait to try!

The point of Food Tales is for people to logon to the website and share their food story and the website becomes a collaboration of recipes and stories and an experience for those who have a soft spot in their heart for food and cooking.

Grasstree Beach

I spent two weekends two weeks apart up in Mackay visiting my folks, and my brother and sister who were there for one of those weekends. It was pretty exciting since my brother was over from Perth and we hadn’t seen him in a number of years.

My parents were also in the midst of packing up the family home they’d had for more than 20 years. They’ve finally sold it and are moving into their much loved beach house only 40 minutes outside of town.

Every time I’m at Grasstree, I take a walk along the beach at first light (my parents house is right on the beach). So here’s some photos:

Grasstree Beach at sunset

Grasstree Beach at sunrise

Grasstree Beach at sunrise - tide's out

Grasstree Beach sunrise

View more of my photos of Mackay on my Flickr page.

Olive oil field trip, South Burnett region

South Burnett Reion When I woke up to the rain this morning my heart sank a little. I was scheduled to go with Fino Foods and Clovely Estate to head out to the South Burnett region to see how olive oil is produced.

But I’m now on the bus and already the sun is peeking out from behind the clouds hinting at the possibility of a beautiful day. As expected, the bus is full of chefs and media pros and I can’t help but feel a little out of place. But when Sally from Taste Trekkers jumps on the bus she immediately looks for me and provides a friendly welcome and a chat. The bus is only half full so everyone seems content to have a seat to themselves. It might be anti-social, but I’m glad I can just sit and watch the scenery roll passed.

I’m writing this on my iPhone using Notes – the first time I’ve ‘written’ using my phone. I must say it means I get less weird looks than pulling out a pen and paper.

After a brief stop in Kilcoy, we move on to head up the range and the scenery opens up to rolling autumn coloured hills and farmland laced with grape vines.

Olive oil processingIt is a good three hours on the bus, but when we made it to Clovely Estate we were treated to a quick tour of the olive oil ‘refinery’ – I use the term loosely since there is very little processing or refining in the olive oil process.

The harvested olives are pressed, left to settle and then bottled almost immediately – there are more steps to the process, but basically olive oil has very little process to it’s creation.

The olive oil we use in our kitchens (at least the producers who play be the rules) does not have any preservatives or additions to it’s silky yellow shine. In fact it comes out quite cloudy on first press, it’s not until the sediment settles naturally that the clear light oil we use every day becomes like those bought on supermarket shelves.

Although, experts tell us that not all olive oil is good and large quantity of those that make it to supermarket shelves are not as advertised – mostly international products that are blended oils or promote themselves as extra virgin olive oil when they’re not.Freshly pressed olive oilWe’re also told not to be fooled by the idea of ‘light’ olive oil, ‘light’ simply means it’s a light colour, not that it’s low fat – commonly associated with food products in today’s weight-conscious society.

The rest of the afternoon we were treated to lunch, cooked on the open fire by Michael from Fino Foods and supplied with delicious wine by Clovely Estate. I wasn’t expecting a lot of a Queensland wine producer, we are relatively new to the wine making business, but I am pleasantly surprised by the quality and have since visited their cellar door in Red Hill to purchase a few bottles. Highly recommended if you get the chance.

Some facts about olives and olive oil:

  • All olives are green.
  • They’re picked at 10% colour change.
  • Extra virgin olive oil is 100% olives and extracted naturally, there’s no salt or preservatives added and has less than 0.8% fatty acids.
  • Olive oil should be stored in a cool dark location and in small containers – it has a short shelf life.
  • Olive oil is settled, but not filtered.
  • The leaves of the olive trees also contain oil, but it’s not a high quality.
  • While olive trees will technically ‘grow anywhere’ they will not always bare fruit. The trees must be pruned and grown in the right way to produce a good olive.

Want to know more about oil? The ABC has a great article that breaks it down for you.

Pre-lunch deliciousness

Polenta and rabbit

Clovely Estate wine

Olive treesView more of my photos from the field trip on my Flickr page.

Crossing the Ditch by James Castrission

Crossing the Ditch by James CastrissionWhile we were at our work conference on the Gold Coast, our director arranged for two Sydney adventurers to come and speak to us on the last day of our conference.

Apparently they’d asked the guys, James Castrission (Cas) and Justin Jones (Jonesy), to speak at the previous year’s workshop, but I wasn’t with the company at that point so knew little about these two. The previous year they’d been doing motivational talks about their first unaided crossing from Australia to New Zealand in a kayak and this year we were going to see them fresh from the Arctic to tell us all about it.

My manager at the time seemed to be obsessed with following the two adventurers on their current crossing of the Antarctic and it was something I couldn’t understand. They were doing some type of unaided trek across ice and I thought ‘so what?’.

But you know what… after seeing these two in person, they are simply amazing. I could see why my manager had become obsessed with following these pair on their blog. They came into the room, in suits (I was expecting jeans and t-shirts), with noticeable marks on their faces from frost-bite, and presented themselves so wonderfully that not a person in the room wasn’t captivated by their talk. Cas had worked  as an accountant for four years before he decided he didn’t want to spend his working life sitting in an office doing 80 hours a week.

I think what’s engaging about Cas and Jonesy is that they’re just normal guys, they’re not super fit, super athletic, olympic champion winners. They’re just two guys who loved bush walking and kayaking and doing outdoor adventures on the weekends and then decided to turn their love of the outdoors into a career.

They planned the kayaking trip for years before they made the crossing, consulting experts, and doing test runs and just generally getting fit and planning their adventure, including obtaining sponsorship to do it.

I think what I love most about these two is they’re just ordinary guys who show us that you can decide to do something great with your life if you really want to. They go into details about their planning methods, everything down to the clothes they had to modify to so they could dress or undress with gloved hands in the snow. Their approach was to write down every question or doubt they had about their expedition (the Crossing the Ditch and Crossing the Ice trips) and then set about solving or answering all those questions so they could undertake their adventures in the safest way possible while still doing what they love (and raising money for charity).

Crossing the Ditch was their first ever book and as soon as I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down, even though I couldn’t give two figs about kayaking. This story is more than that, it’s about two best mates who threw off the corporate world (even though one of them suffers terrible seasickness and the other is claustrophobic – a tiny kayak on a big blue ocean probably wasn’t the best idea with this in mind), put themselves in a kayak and paddled across one of the most dangerous oceans in the world – and came out alive.

At the end of their videos and talk about their adventures of Crossing the Ice the entire room was buzzing with enthusiastic energy. I think every single person in that room felt inspired and energised and the possibility to do… SOMETHING. Something BIG.

I could feel my itchy feet get even itchier with the idea of quitting my job and going overseas… for the fourth time in my life.

This book is told in such a humorous and truthful way, this story is by far one of the best books I’ve read. In fact, I talked my man’s ear off about the two of them the entire weekend after the conference.

Their next book ‘Crossing the Ice’ is out soon at the end of July and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

Read more about Cas and Jonesy.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

I Am Legend by Richard MathesonI first became aware of this novel in 2000 when, instead of doing my assignment on Jane Austen, I was listening to a CD interview and story reading with Stephen King. In which he was asked who some of his influences were in the author world, and he announced that he was very much a fan in of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend.

When he described the novel it sounded very much like something I would enjoy and I made a mental note to read it one day, perhaps after I graduated uni and could read again for pleasure, rather than pushing forward with my English, Creative Writing and Journalism degree.

Fast forward to 2007, I remember being in the cinema and seeing a preview for the latest movie adaptation of I Am Legend and before the title showed up I had thought to myself ‘this story line seems oddly familiar’ and went back later to check that the novel I had remembered wanting to read was of the same title. It was.

I’ve always put off seeing the movie, mostly because I’m not a Will Smith fan, and also because I wanted to read the story without bias. Now that I have I’m curious to see how the movie portrays the book. Poorly, it seems from the reviews, but I still plan to make up my own mind.

It’s only taken me twelve years to get my hands on the book, but I’ve finally read it (lesson here, kids, always keep a ‘to read’ list – very handy). I really loved this story, it’s a novella rather than a novel, though Matheson’s book does contain other horror stories, much shorter but with the same isolated subtext as I Am Legend.

The story is interesting as our protagonist, Robert Neville, isn’t a hero, but is merely surviving and his existence almost seems useless and without purpose. We also learn very little about Neville before the plague, but are thrown nuggets of information through his memories which still leave me unsatisfied. But I guess the essence of true horror is not the story of the all-American overcoming all odds, but being forced to accept what has become and learning to deal with it.

Definitely worth giving this story 5 pints of blood.

Burleigh Heads, Gold Coast

View from Palm Beach hotelWell, it wasn’t so much an adventure as me being at the Gold Coast for a work conference on a Thursday and Friday. Considering it was the weekend I asked my man if he wanted to meet me down there on Friday afternoon and we’d make a weekend of it.

Our weekend turned out to be of eating and relaxation – exactly what we were looking for. 🙂

Great places to eat while on the Gold Coast:

  • Onyx Restaurant
  • The Red Frog Cafe – awesome breakfast, we tried to go back but they get super busy; for a good reason.
  • We Love Alfresco – this place is run by friends of my Maltese grandparents. We grew up always going out to eat at their restaurant – I just knew it has Tony and SIlvana’s place! If you really want authentic Italian food, here’s the place. It’s also cheap, just like real Italian food should be. They’re full of personality and when the bill arrived it came with a side of two shots of Kahlua, they look after their guests! Even if said guest had already had wine and a lemon-cello.
  • The Pantry – another great breakfast place!

Delicious gnocchi at Tony and Silvana's

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner by Khaled HosseiniBook club book #2:

Way back in 2004, which seems a lifetime ago now, I was working in London and had started a new contract with a very large financial investment firm who were transitioning to outsource their customer service to India. They brought in 12 contractors (me included) to learn the system, test it for problems and ultimately train the new customer service officers flying in from India.

I made very good friends with one of the other contractors and we remained friends long after the job came to an end. I remember her raving about this book and insisting that I read it. I never did get around to it until a week and a half ago when it was pegged as our next member of book club choice in our second book to read.

The Kite Runner is Khaled Hosseini’s first novel, which he wrote while working a doctor, no less. An incredibly moving and electric novel that kept me up at nights and had me nearly missing bus stops because I was so engrossed in the story.

It’s the tale of two young Afghan’s who grew up in the pre-Soviet Union invasion, only to part ways once Afghanistan turns into a war zone. Unlike a lot of other novels that arc over the large life span of a character’s life, The Kite Runner moves along at good pace never leaving you bored.

I was entranced the entire journey and this was the first novel that actual made me shed a tear in a long time.

Khaled Hosseini has started a foundation that supports and builds shelter in Afghanistan for returning refugees. It also provides education and healthcare for women and children in a country where women have lost their rights as a result of Taliban dictatorship. Read more about The Khaled Hosseini Foundation.

Such an incredible writer and engaging book, I’m keen to read his second novel A Thousand Splendid Suns.

If you haven’t read The Kite Runner, I put it on my most highly recommended books for 2012.

Weekend noun 1. Saturday and Sunday, especially regarded as a time for leisure.