the northeast of south island

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Jet lagged from the red eye, we sped up the coast to Kaikoura. The drive started off bucolic enough – sheep, rolling fields, more sheep. But then came the seaside and with it mist that slowly seeped into our jackets, socks and scarves. Rain in New Zealand is not a bad thing. It shrouds the mountains and cliffs and everything just looks so raw, wild. The road was worthy of a Bond movie car chase, as we zoomed through dynamite-carved tunnels and cliff side corners. Not far from Nin’s Bin (shut – again, no lobster us boo), we stopped at the newly signed Ohau Falls and ducked into the rainforest. There may be more people now but the scene at the end of the (drippy) walk is still magical as ever. A waterfall falls from the steep mountainside and in its pool, wild seal pups play with untamed innocence. They’re so tiny and vulnerable, yet curious. Occasionally, one would flipper their way out of the pool to have a better look at us.

North bound, the scenery changes. Golden vineyards roll over hills and to the horizon. We’re in wine country: Marlborough. We eat the best pies at the Burleigh (they are seriously good pies – go early for the pork belly pie!), then fall dead into our bed at the Walnut Block.

If we were sleepy before, dinner’s blast of Brazilian hospitality wakes us right up. Half pub, half restaurant, inside a Tudor style building on Blenheim’s motel strip is Gramado’s. It’s an unexpected blend of Brazilian and Kiwi food. With the bar crowd speculating both the weather and the rugby (Kiwis are uncannily weather observant and are just as obsessed with the rugby), the clam chowder, salt and pepper squid and ghost chilli (!) spiked pork belly just seem to work. 

Somehow online, I’d stumbled upon a story of a 12th generation Champenois making Champagne style sparkling in Marlborough. Initially I was a bit sceptical, surely it was all marketing. But no, that first sip of the Le Brun’s family No. 1 cuvee was a revelation (as clichéd as that sounds). Not acidic nor overly sweet, yet creamy, this sparkling is extraordinary. If you find any of them, buy up (and keep it a secret).

After a simple lunch of tarakihi at Rockferry Wines, we headed north again. Relatively untouched, Queen Charlotte Sound’s lace of bays, arms and coves are home to few. Residents of the sound live a life apart from roads, civilisation and running water – but what a life it is. The mail boat run, which we board at Picton, is a constant, a lifeline to the waterway. Delivering mail and groceries (and dog treats for the pooches!) plus trampers to the track, the mailboat zips around the sound all afternoon. With only the Interislander crossing between Picton and Wellington (you can almost spot Wellington from Ship Cove) and perhaps the odd water taxi, there is little other traffic. It is something akin to retirement paradise.

 

Ohau Stream Walk | 27km north of Kaikoura on SH1
After Ohau Point, look out for the Ohau Falls signage and car park. Seal pups are usually there during autumn and winter.

The Burleigh | 72 New Renwick Road, Blenheim, Marlborough
Fabulous pies that are full of steak (or pork belly but you have to get in early for those). Followed by an L&P and unpasteurised French brie. Just take my money. Take it all.

Walnut Block Cottages | 43 Blicks Lane, Blenheim, Marlborough
Secluded, private cottages looking onto a vineyard – so romantic. There’s also cable TV (yay) with a pantry of breakfast goods to boot.

Gramado’s | 74 Main Street, Blenheim, Marlborough
Brazilian hospitality, steak and craft beer – Gramado’s does it all and well. Look out for the feijoada and Wakanui steak but keep an eye on the specials board.

No. 1 Family Estate | Rapaura Road, Blenheim, Marlborough
Ever wondered what a Champagne family in Marlborough would produce? The result: sparkling that tastes so very French and perhaps, even better. If you love sparkling: run, don’t walk.

Rock Ferry Wines | 80 Hammerichs Road, Blenheim, Marlborough
Great spot for wine tasting and if the weather’s up to it, lunch by the vines. Terribly friendly service doling out plates of mostly organic and squeaky fresh local produce.

Beachcomber Fun Cruises Mailboat Cruise | London Quay, Picton
A half day cruise zipping around dropping off groceries and mail around the sound’s isolated residents. Seriously scenic with little jetty dogs (and a cat) coming out to say hi!

 

 
 

plum and oat muffins

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Another muffin recipe to hail the end of another stone fruit season. I really like autumn (it means my birthday is coming up) but it also means winter is arriving which means certain things. The kettle being brought out of hibernation, living in knits and of course, the inevitable end of summer’s spectacular bounty.

Out go the grapes, tomatoes (sob) and stone fruit. Grab the swan song of plums while you can – we get so many stunning varieties in Perth – from bright red, to purple and green, they are in my opinion, become even more spectacular when baked. I like the blood ones. The scarlet hue becomes more intense, more fleshy when cooked. With heat the fruit transforms into jewels of apple, rhubarb and fairy floss and the harsh tartness is more sweet than sour. Perfect for a muffin.

 

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~*~

 

Plum and Oat Muffins

The savoury kibble-like texture of oats goes nicely with the soft pieces of cooked plum. Otherwise substitute with the same amount of flour.

Makes 6 jumbo/Texas sized muffins or 8 regular muffins

5 medium plums
260g all purpose flour
50g rolled oats
150g caster sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
pinch of salt
200ml milk (soured with a little lemon juice or vinegar)
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 eggs
100g butter, melted
1 tbsp raw sugar, for topping (optional)
1 tbsp oats, for topping (optional)

 

Preheat oven to 180°C. Line the muffin tin with cases.

Peel each plum – I use a potato peeler and don’t worry about any bits of skin left on. Cut the stones out and cut the flesh into rough chunks, saving some for topping the muffins.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, rolled oats, caster sugar, baking powder, bicarb of soda and salt. Add the plum pieces and toss to coat in the flour mixture. In a jug, beat together the milk, vanilla essence, eggs and butter. Add to the flour mixture.

Gently fold from the bottom of the bowl over the top, until streaks of flour are barely visible.

Immediately scoop into the muffin cases and top with saved plum slices. Sprinkle over the raw sugar and oats and pop into the oven. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or when a skewer comes out clean.

~*~

 

 
 

nara & uji

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Nara is definitely worth visiting as a daytrip out of Kyoto. It’s a sentiment that both locals and tourists share, judging by the huge mass of people descending the stairs to catch the train to Nara. The rickety train pulls in, we hop on and promptly pull out snack looted from the combini. The train journeys are half the fun in Japan. Nara’s an hour from Kyoto and on the way the landscape graduates from neat suburbia to bamboo forests leaning out, stretching to the sky.

Nara Park is vast and freely roamed by deer that are thought to be messengers of Shinto gods. The deer are super cute (kawaiii!) and crazy for the deer friendly senbei crackers that can be bought throughout the park. They nudge, stare and even nibble at you to get at the crackers. 

Todaiji’s Daibutsuden hall is enormous – actually enormous is an understatement – it’s the largest wooden building in the world. (Fun fact: the current hall is two thirds the size of the original…) Like ants we are pulled to it by a touristy magnetic force. Within the hushed, incense filled haze, amulet stalls glow around the Great Buddha. Behind, locals are hilariously trying to squeeze themselves through a (very!) small hole in a pillar that’s said to be the size of the Buddha’s nostril. Apparently if you fit through, you earn a place in heaven (well there goes my chance).

With lunchtime beckoning, we board a train to Uji – a town I’ve been curious about since figuring out the ‘Uji’ on my favourite tea is actually a place! The first glimpse of Uji’s omotesando main street really took hold of me – a 100 metre lane of old tea traders, emblem flags flapping in the wind and green tea wafting from stone grinders making quick work of steamed leaves into matcha. Beyond, hills roll away in shimmering shades of green and gold.

Tea in Uji goes back nine centuries, so the shop in the photo above, at 180 years old, is a relative newcomer. Inside, patina stained, aged boxes full of tea leaves were being emptied, hand packed into smaller bags for sale. The smell of so much tea is incredible – the freshness from last years harvest, and warm, antique earthiness from the tea dust that’s settled everywhere from years gone by. Even though they couldn’t speak a word of English the owners were overwhelmingly hospitable. After a tasting I couldn’t refuse, I left with bags of paper wrapped (everything is gift wrapped in Japan!) gyokuro and genmaicha (green tea with roasted rice), which I’m still drinking today.

We packed in with the locals at Nakamura Tokichi for lunch. First up, toothy green tea soba in a simple broth of dashi served with two pieces of amazing aburaage. Oily and impervious to the soup, every bite was intensely sweet with soy, sugar and fat – a satisfying contrast to the watery soup. Next up was warabi mochi: soft jellies of bracken starch coated in bright green matcha. Drizzled with brown sugar syrup the jellies were wet yet tongue drying. The second dessert, the matcha jelly, is ordered by absolutely everyone and every table (when in Rome…). Bitter matcha ice cream, sweet red bean paste and chewy sugary rice balls, plus melt in the mouth matcha jelly, it was bittersweet yet heavenly. Akin to crack for green tea addicts.

Talking about addiction I just had to have one more fix. We found it at a small shop close to the 10 yen coin famous Byodo-in temple. Green tea soft serve dusted with – yes you guess it – matcha!

 

Nara Park
One hour from Kyoto by either JR or Kintetsu train. The Kintetsu station is closer to the park. However to see the whole park of museums, temples and shrines bring walking shoes or catch the loop shuttle bus.

Nakamura Tokichi
There are two branches – the riverside and the original (honten). Both are store/cafes but the honten is much closer to the JR station – handy for a quick shopping and/or eating stop. Buy the matcha – it’s amazingly high quality.

Mitsuboshi-en
150 year old tea trader on Byodo-in Omotesando. Free tea tastings and really friendly service in an old fashioned shop.

Kanbayashi Shunsho
A more touristy but modern tea shop with beautifully wrapped teas – perfect for gifting.

 

 
 

belgian waffles

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I got the best present for Christmas. Something I’d been wanting for years thinking if I had one, my life would be complete. It was like looking for The One, Mr. Right, my appliance-soul-mate. Looking online, lusting over American versions (oh All Clad!) and looking forlornly at Gelare’s gorgeous cast irons, after six years of whinging –  I finally got a waffle iron. And to be absolutely honest (and seriously tragic) I actually sleep better at night knowing we have one.

It’s a badass waffle iron, with deep pockets and tall walls, all the better for catching blueberries, bacon and maple syrup. Basically, all good things in life.

But the recipe… In that honeymoon period with the waffle iron, I tried several and I don’t think we’ve ever eaten so many waffles. What became glaringly apparent were batters risen with baking powder just don’t cut the mustard. They don’t have the power to rise and stay that way; instead they become stodgy, soggy, soft.

 

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Yeast is the way to go. Like all good things it takes time, but an overnight rest does wonders. We get tall, fluffy, crispy, tall-dark-and-handsome waffles out of this batter. Which is pretty good considering the batter is as easy to put together as pancake batter. Just make sure you pick a bowl large enough for the batter to double in size, just in case.

 

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~*~

Belgian Yeast Risen Waffles
Adapted from a King Arthur Flour recipe

Overnight fermentation does make the batter taste mildly yeasty (don’t go nuts with the yeast, we once got waffles that tasted like beer) but it’s a flavour I find delicious. If you don’t like the yeasty flavour, use immediately after the first rest. If you can find it, use cake flour – it makes a really light waffle.

Makes about 4 Belgian sized waffles

40g caster sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
241g cake flour (can be substituted with all purpose flour) 
2 tbsp cornflour
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
340g lukewarm milk
85g butter, melted
1 tsp baking powder

Put all the dry ingredients except the baking powder into a large bowl. Form a well in the middle and pour in the eggs, vanilla extract, milk and melted butter. Whisk to a smooth batter. Cover with cling film and leave for an hour to rise. If it’s a really hot day, let it rise for only 30 minutes.

The batter should be slightly risen with a few bubbles peeping out. Refrigerate overnight or use straightaway.

Take the batter out of the fridge, it should have almost doubled in size. At this stage I knock it back by sprinkling over the baking powder and stirring it. Heat the waffle iron. When it’s ready, pour in the batter – it will rather satisfyingly rise and bubble from the hot iron. Cook according to the manufacturer’s instructions – in mine it takes two and a half minutes to get a golden crust.

Flip out of the iron and enjoy!

To my surprise I have not tinkered with this recipe just yet. But I’d imagine it’d be excellent with bacon bits, cheddar and spring onions stirred through just before cooking. Other ideas for the batter are cocoa and choc chips (for a really dark waffle with melty pools of chocolate); coconut spiked with rum; or ricotta and blueberries.

~*~

 

 
 

margaret river

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Somewhere near Prevelly Park.

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Gabriel Chocolate.

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Poached salmon with peas and horseradish cream at Aravina Estate.

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Excellent starter of Thai prawns and coconut rice.

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Ocean trout with yuzu dressing at Miki’s Open Kitchen. The beginning of a fabulous meal.

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Tempura course at Miki’s – zucchini, scallop and out of focus, nori wrapped Fremantle sardines.

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Margaret River mouth.

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Morries Anytime.

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Worth the drive and then some, 34 Degrees South olive oil.

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Left: Inside the 34 Degrees tent. Right: Millers ice cream at the farmstead.

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Golden hour approaching.

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Heading down on a Saturday morning and coming back up on Sunday arvo, it was a whirlwind trip to Margaret River. It’s not quite enough time to do this diverse region justice, but for a weekend of fun, sun, wining and dining it’s unbeatable. Our base, Prevelly Park, is small but adorable. With endless beaches of fine, white sand (that gets into everything and everywhere) it still has that old school surfie town vibe. Early mornings see a kombi van putt its way down to the river mouth to caffeinate those dreadlocked, middle aged and/or brave searching for the perfect wave. From our studio we went for long walks by the beach, watched the sun rise over lush dunes and explored the spookily quiet, closed mouth of the Margaret River.

A few minutes drive away is Miki’s Open Kitchen, offering food of utterly unexpected calibre for a country town (and state for that matter). A U shaped dining room surrounding an open kitchen, Miki’s is a drama of hot oil, clockwork cooking and food envy. We went for the ‘trust’ menu (basically an omakase – chef’s choice) which started with tempura duck liver pate encased in gritty black sesame seeds. Served seconds after being pulled out from the oil, the pate was melt in the mouth. Watching the chef produce multiple tempura main courses between two copper vats of oil was both nerve wracking and intriguing, with each piece of zucchini, panko’d scallop and Freo sardine not a second over cooked. Local seafood is the star here, with the menu frequently changing mid service depending on supply. Be sure to book a table.

Perched above undulating vineyards and reaching down to a rippling lake is Aravina Estate. This estate does it all – a shop, cellar door, weddings, even a sports car gallery (!) and of course, a restaurant. At first reading, the menu does seem a bit pedestrian but the food that comes out is nothing short of excellent. The slow cooked ocean trout surrounded by thirst quenching radish, squeaky peas and sharp horseradish foam was gorgeous on the plate and to eat. But what surprised were the Thai dishes…Prawns with peppy sprigs of coriander on top of creamy, coconut rice was sharp, sweet, pungent and salty. Even better was the pork belly with yellow noodles. Bathed in an intense oxtail soup it was silky, balanced and meaty. It’s an odd juxtaposition to be raving about Thai food in the middle of a vineyard, but it’s so good it works.

Apart from eating and drinking, food shopping was on the agenda. Vasse Virgin is a heaven for samples and anything olive related (they make excellent pesto and marinated olives). At Gabriel Chocolate, vats warming single origin drinking chocolates were irresistible. Ice cream at the Millers’ original family farmhouse (as opposed to the kiosk in the township), was worth the short drive away from civilization. Beneath swaying gum trees, just metres from the Millers’ cows, we enjoyed scoops of freshly churned ice cream. So good.

Talking about civilization, just outside Rosa Brook (a town that looks so lonely, the movie Hills Have Eyes came to mind – but its actually a very lovely area) is 34 Degrees South, an olive oil producer that’s not to be missed, if only for the safari tent that looks oddly elegant. Inside, we taste extra virgin oils and olives produced from the 7000 strong orchard just metres away. The organic olive oils which range from distinctly buttery and bright to robust and fruity, are a testament to the onsite crushing and production. At the farm gate, each bottle of freshly poured oil is $10 (plus $1 for a recycled wine bottle) which is crazy good value.

We say good bye to the resident alpaca and pull out onto one of the most idyllic routes of the road trip. As we speed back to the city, the vista changes from cow studded paddocks protected by gnarly windbreaks to more olive groves, then forests, then finally, hills flecked with rolling vineyards.

 

Margaret River Beach Studios | 17 Wooredah Crescent, Prevelly Park
Close to the beach, private and affordable with a little kitchenette and barbeque to boot! Highly recommended.

Gabriel Chocolate | 3220 Caves Rd, Yallingup
Stop by for mugs of single origin chocolat chaud. A must do for the chocolate purist, or gifts for the chocolate lover.

Aravina Estate | 61 Thornton Road Yallingup
Nice for lunch and having a sneak peek at a big estate. Be sure to call ahead for a table.

Morries Anytime | 2/149 Bussell Highway, Margaret River
Brekkie (did someone say avocado on toast?), good coffee, lunch and dinner, this place does it all.

Woodlands Winery | 3948 Caves Rd, Wilyabrup
Secluded, very local organic winery. Lovely reds.

Miki’s Open Kitchen | 131 Bussell Highway, Margaret River
As close to an authentic tempura restaurant as you can get (even in Perth), minus the airfare to Tokyo. Run, don’t walk.

Wulura Farm | 1071 Wildwood Road, Yallingup
Locally produced olive oils and wine tastings over looking a forest lined lake.

Vasse Virgin | 2 Rosa Brook Road, Margaret River
Sample mustards, marinated olives, oils and pesto! Plus olive oil based soaps and skincare.

Millers Ice Cream | 314 Wirring Road, Cowaramup
With a multitude of flavours, a playground and cows mooing in the distance, having a scoop in the original farmhouse is not be missed. Whole milk (with that delectable layer of cream) is also available here.

34 Degrees South | Crozier Road, Rosa Brook
Gorgeous organic olive oils at unbelievably good farm gate prices.

Vasse Felix | Cnr Tom Cullity Drive & Caves Road, Margaret River
Make time for this juggernaut estate. The gallery is a must-see, the wines are must-drinks (there’s a pun in there somewhere) and the inventive food is a must-eat. Book, book, book! And ask for a table overlooking the vineyard.

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