Friday, October 28, 2011

At long last the wind blows!

It's almost November and today I got my first proper sail of the season. Southerly gusting to 30 knots, very small swell, quite a few tea baggers as well as a good crowd of local and international windsurfers. And there's a few more days of that wind yet to come. Can't say the swell forecast looks very promising though.

I got a couple of good ramps for some big air, and managed to grab a few bottom turns on the very occasional clean wave. But it was very choppy and the waves were almost non existent. If it wasn't my first day out it would have been very average indeed.

Best thing about the windsurfing here is catching up with friends. Lots of locals that I don't see the rest of the year, but also those from other parts of Oz and overseas who come to our little piece of paradise for the warm water, consistent winds and, ahem, waves. We have actually had some pretty massive swell recently, it just hasn't been paired with a ripping southerly. Unfortunately the elements don't always make our dreams come true.

My ribs are still giving me grief. My waist harness takes all the strain right through that part of my rib cage that I walloped with a rock, and the pain is pretty intense. May need to take pre sailing analgesia! And just grin and bear it.

Doesn't exactly put me in the mood for attempting loops though...

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sourdough and stickydate pudding

It started about three weeks ago when I decided to have another go at making sourdough. For those who don't know, sourdough is made by creating a starter from flour and water that ferments from natural yeasts in the flour and you feed it every day, a bit like a tomaguchi (remember them?). After a week or so, the starter is fermenting nicely, and doubles in size within 24 hours of feeding, smells like overripe fruit and is full of bubbles. Then it's ready.

Next step is to combine your starter with more flour and water, and a little salt, then allow it to prove through some gentle stretching, folding, shaping and resting, over the next 5-6 hours. Then in what is turning out to be the hardest part, you transfer the gluggy mess onto a pre heated ceramic tile in your oven, having quickly slashed the top to allow the bread to "spring" and sprayed the oven to get steam happening. And then you wait for the magic to happen.
So far, I've made one loaf that I'm proud of. It looked both good on the outside, and the crumb was light and edible. The rest? Well flat and dense might be the most apt description, but some were still edible, usually after toasting first. Ho hum, practise makes perfect.

In the middle of my sourdough epiphany, I also signed up for the Oxfam Gather to Grow Campaign. This involved hosting a meal for friends, who were asked to donate what they would normally pay for a nice meal out. The money will go to the East Africa Food Crisis, which the federal government has agreed to match, dollar for dollar, any donations to registered charities like Oxfam. I had sixteen takers, of which 3 were kids and 3 were coeliacs. So the meal needed to be gluten free.

I decided that I wasn't yet ready to tackle gluten free sourdough, but the main course was easy. After my success with roast lamb for a crowd in NZ, I ordered up a couple of large baby baa legs from the local butcher, and proceeded to slow cook them over 4 hours in oven bags, using a combination of my oven, the kettle barbie, and the gas barbie. This provided me with more temperature options and more space, as I also had alot of veges to roast as well. And the whole meal was ready by the time the final straggling guest arrived at 7:30.

I'd set up tables on the verandah, having some friends do a mad dash, musical cars type escapade to get a large tabletop delivered and tables set, whilst kind of watching the semifinal between the Wallabies and All Blacks. I've been in NZ when the ABs lose a big game, and with the recent oil spill disaster, the Christchurch earthquake, and a really shaky economy, I was actually pretty happy that New Zealand won. That country really could not cope with another catastrophe. Seriously, losing the World Cup for NZ will be like 5 Christchurch earthquakes all at once. Then again, I may be underexaggerating...

The lamb, if I say so myself, was delicious. It fell off the bone, and melted in your mouth. And the veg were just right. Yep, the compliments were flying. And then came dessert....

I make a really good tira misu. Seriously. I've never had tira misu in a restaurant anywhere that's as good as mine. I use genuine ingredients: mascarpone, sponge finger biscuits, strong espresso coffee, Kahlua, and not too much sugar. And people loved it - the non coeliacs that is! But TM wasn't enough, and I still had to please the gluten free crowd, so I made a mulberry tart, using gluten free pastry mix and home grown mulberries, topped with double cream, which apparently was yummy too.

Inspired by a bad dessert experience in NZ, and a cooking show on Friday night, I'd just found a wicked recipe for sticky date pudding. So I decided to cook it, double the recipe quantity, which involved getting the ingredients all ready pre dinner and baking it on the fly whilst we were all hoeing into the lamb. Sticky date pudding is OK warm, but it's awesome hot, straight out of the oven. Somehow I got the timing spot on, and well, the silence was deafening. In between the oohs, the aahs and the scraping back of chairs in the mad dash for second helpings that is. With all that butter, cream and sugar, you bet it was awesome!
By the end of the night my wonderful friends had helped me raise a grand total of $750. Kate apologised profusely for all those snide putdowns she's been making for at least 3 years regarding the infamous post windsurfing session roast dinner disaster, and others were overheard using nice words that included lots of superlatives. If my Fiji friends had been there I'm sure there would have been some "best evah!"s.

I have to do this again. A great dinner with friends, and we raise money for a cause. Everybody wins. And I get to eat leftover stickydate pudding all week....

Monday, October 3, 2011

God forbid I have to talk to the locals!!

Hey guys,

My girlfriend and I are looking into traveling in Sumatra for most of Jan and Feb. We are just interested in knowing if there will be a steady flow of other tourists for us to meet. We get along famously but meeting other people is important to us. We are not worried about spending some time alone but it would be preferable if there is always a good chance of meeting other tourists. If it helps we will probably spend most of our time in places such as....

          Thanks in advance! 

Last year I posted a thread on Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree forum about my impression that many people seem to go overseas with the intention of travelling within a well insulated bubble of other westerners. In fact, I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of so called independent  travellers rarely seek to engage with the local population aside from purchasing goods at a market, taking photographs, or participating in a conversation with a fellow passenger. In fact, even the latter is rare, due to the custom of the western tourists sticking together, making it near impossible for a genuinely friendly local to get a look in.

Due to various scams, that sadly exist in high numbers in heavily touristed areas, many travellers develop a complete mistrust of the local people. Personally I think this completely unfair, as outside tourist areas the local people are invariably extremely friendly and hospitable, and are just as interested in my culture, as I am in theirs. Painting everyone with the same broad brush means missing out on some fantastic experiences. Like being invited to people's villages, into people's homes, being taken sightseeing, fed meals, shown sights not in any guidebook; the list goes on. And all for free.

How do I do it? Firstly I'm open to the experience. I'm not looking for a free ride, but I'm showing