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The Battle Princess, Replaced.

The Battle Princess (yes, it’s her real name) and I have seen some serious miles together over the last two years, she with her steel gray paint and black basket, the two of us trundling along roads and lanes and the occasional sidewalk (only when it was illegal to ride on the road, mind you – we didn’t want to terrorise pedestrians), we even got hit by the odd car or two. She was a tough bike for a tough city and we learned how to navigate the seeming lawlessness of Shanghai’s roads until we eventually rode like locals – going through red lights, swerving around trucks, dodging collisions. 
But the Battle Princess has become a much reduced version of her former proud self, and two years of sitting in the rain has left her rusted, cobwebbed, and frankly shabby. It was time to find a replacement.  
I had been secretly hankering after a Forever C bike for over a year after I saw a friend’s retro-styled powder blue model with its white wall tyres, leather covered handgrips and saddle, and pedal-powered front light.  Forever Cs are a retro makeover of Shanghai’s iconic Forever brand for the modern cyclist, in heaps of cool incarnations. 
In my quest to acquire one, I may or may not have left the Battle Princess unattended – even unlocked on occasion – on the off chance she would find her way, via a petty thief, to a happier home. Or the scrapheap. No! I didn’t really think she’d end up on the scrapheap. 
After some research I discovered Forever bicycles had opened their ‘flagship showroom’ in Yangpu district, where apparently I could view every model in one convenient location. Yesterday I rolled up there, money in hand, ready to part with it. I envisaged a gleaming white space where you could build your own bicycle from different coloured components, and test drive one while looking nonchalantly hip, all the while receiving exemplary service from cool young bike-loving salespeople. You know, like on their website.
It wasn’t exactly what I had imagined. For starters, it looked kind of un-flagship like, and also closed, but that was because the two fifty year old guys in tshirts, shorts and flipflops who appeared to be in charge had shut one of the doors so they could smoke inside without a draft. 
I gave them a friendly “I’m here to buy a bicycle” type “ni hao” as I pushed the door open and walked in. They ignored me and looked the other way, pretending I wasn’t there. One took a long hard draw on his cigarette.
Inside the showroom, a dim oddly shaped space, was a ragtag mix of different bicycles parked in rows on a broken tiled floor, with the few Forever Cs hidden in a corner wrapped in factory foam. Theft deterrent, thought I. Put them out on display and someone’s bound to walk in and nick one from right under your nose. Better to hide them in a corner disguised as any old bike.
After several laps of the store I determined there were, in fact, only five Forever Cs in the Forever C Flagship Showroom. I asked the bosses if I could try one. One was too busy lighting his next fag to look up, but the other gave a desultory wave of his hand towards the bikes and then looked the other way. I took that as a yes.
How can you buy a bicycle when no-one wants to sell you one? And how can you take it for a test drive when it’s wrapped in foam and has no pedals? I, however, am more persevering than that and will not be put off by mere disinterest. I started pestering them with questions.
‘How much is this one?’ (‘Expensive’)
‘Can you fit a basket on it?’ (‘No’)
‘Does it come in black?’ (‘Yes’)
‘Do you have a black one here? (‘No’)
‘What colour do you have?’ (‘Red’)
Having finally captured their attention I did what I’ve seen countless Chinese shoppers do when faced with lacklustre service. I started to boss them around unmercifully.
‘Get that one down for me’
‘Put the pedals on’
‘Lift the seat up, it’s too low’
‘I want a basket’
‘And a fitted lock’
‘And a bell. No, a proper bell. No, a silver bell’
‘And I want it all home-delivered’
Galvanised into action, they shuffled around the shop gathering a basket, a lock, a box of bells, another box of bells, and various sizes of Allen keys and wrenches with which to fit it all, unlit cigarettes dangling from their lips. A few guys from neighbouring shops wandered in for moral support. 
The female cashier, probably one of their wives, returned from lunch and gave them both a brow-beating. ‘Why didn’t you put the pedals on for her?’ The shuffling intensified. The mood changed.
‘How high would I like the handlebars?’
‘What colour lock would I like?’
‘Could I possibly wait until tomorrow morning for delivery?’
All of a sudden I had their undivided attention as they both set to work on my new red bicycle, customising it with locks, bells and baskets and adding pedals. Allen keys were flying everywhere. The bicycle was parked directly in the doorway of the shop as they worked on it, to deter new customers from getting in – a few squeezed past anyway, had a look, asked a few questions and were promptly ignored. They soon left.

So at last here she is – my new Forever C red bicycle. I think we will be very happy together. The colour is a bit more ‘steal me! steal me!’ red than I’d like, but what the hell. It’s a seriously fun bicycle to ride. 

And that 8 kuai Shanghai postman’s bell. Don’t you just love it?
The Battle Princess will not be forgotten though – she’ll be called out of retirement from time to time when we have visitors, or when my new bright red bike gets stolen. 

Shanghai Street Food #21 Homestyle Mooncakes: Suzhou Shì Yuè Bĭng 苏州式月饼

Welcome back to the Shanghai Street Food series! Twenty one down, who knows how many more to go? I didn’t really know which street food would leap out at me first when I returned from Australia, but as it turns out it was these crispy Suzhou shì yuè bĭng 苏州式月饼 (Suzhou style mooncakes).

Timely, given that the Mid-autumn Festival, the traditional time for giving and receiving mooncakes, is here on September 12. The shops are full of mooncakes, every person walking down the street seems to be carrying a highly decorative box (or six) of mooncakes, and street corners are packed with guys selling illegal mooncake vouchers. I ate my first chocolate covered icecream Häagen-Dazs mooncake yesterday – it had a scoop of mango sorbet in the centre to represent the moon, usually achieved with a salted dugg egg yolk. Personally, I’m glad they left out the salted egg.

Most of you will probably be thinking – those don’t look like mooncakes! Mooncakes are more decorative, and shinier, and….well…festive looking. These mooncakes, I assure you, are different. Cantonese style mooncakes, the decorative ones, are eaten just once each year, but these Suzhou style mooncakes (originating from Suzhou, about twenty minutes by high speed train from Shanghai) are baked and eaten every day of the year here and are more homestyled and frankly more delicious than their Cantonese counterparts.

Suzhou style mooncakes are baked fresh every morning and then sold in traditional snack shop booths open to the street, where they can be sold piping hot to people passing by. These particular mooncakes are from Lao Da Fang – a famous Shanghai lăo zìhào 老字号(old trademark shop) established in the snack and mooncake business for since 1851, and their hot mooncake booths can be found in snack shops all over the city. They also have a flagship store at 536 Nanjing Dong Lu near People’s Square if you want to eat at the source.

Suzhou mooncakes come with either sweet or savory fillings, surrounded by a crisp flaky pastry based on lard (I made these last year at the Chinese Cooking Workshop, you can find the recipe here). The crisp pastry yields to a soft, smooth savoury pork filling flavoured with soy and a little ginger. These xiān ròu yuè bĭng 鲜肉月饼 (fresh meat mooncake) are the most popular kind, sold and eaten hot. About 3 yuan (40c) each.
Sweet mooncake varieties are also available. This is hăi cài yuè bĭng – 海菜月饼 – sweetened seaweed flavour. I still struggle with these sweet-savoury combinations, but it wasn’t too bad. Give me another two years and I’ll probably find the combination of seaweed, sugar, nuts and sesame seeds irresistable!

Flavours of red bean paste and yellow lotus seed paste are also sold.
My favourite sweet yue bing are definitely these – filled with black sesame paste mixed with finely chopped walnuts and sugar. The crispy pastry moulds around the lovely black nutty centre, and as you take a bite little flakes fall off and stick to the corners of your mouth. Sticky, nutty, crispy, flakey loveliness.

The Shanghai Street Food Series

Number 1   Roast Sweet Potatoes
Number 2   Snack-on-a-stick 
Number 3   Liangpi – a spicy cold noodle dish
Number 4   Langzhou Lamian – hand-pulled noodles
Number 5   Cong You Bing – fried shallot pancakes
Number 6   Baozi – steamed buns, Shanghai style
Number 7   Jian Bing – the famous egg pancake
Number 8   Dan Gao – street cakes
Number 9   Shao mai – sticky rice treats
Number 10  Summer on a Stick – fresh fruits

Number 11  You Tiao – deep-fried breadsticks
Number 12  Dan Juan – egg rolls
Number 13  Shao Kao – street barbecue
Number 14  Bao Mi Hua – exploding rice flowers
Number 15  Chou Doufu – stinky tofu
Number 16  Bing Tang Shan Zha – crystal sugar hawthorns
Number 17  Mutton Polo
Number 18  Yumi Bang – puffed corn sticks
Number 19  Mian Hua Tang – cotton candy
Number 20  You Dunzi – fried radish cakes

Number 21  Suzhou Shi Yue Bing – homestyle mooncakes 
Number 22  Gui Hua Lian’ou – honeyed lotus root stuffed with sticky rice
Number 23  Cong You Ban Mian – scallion oil noodles
Number 24  Guotie – potsticker dumplings
Number 25  Nuomi Cai Tou – fried clover pancakes
Number 26  Da Bing, Shao Bing – sesame breakfast pastries
Number 27  Ci Fan – sticky rice breakfast balls
Number 28  Gui Hua Gao – steamed osmanthus cake
Number 29  Zongzi – bamboo leaf wrapped sticky rice
Number 30  Shengjianbao – pan-fried dumplings

Number 31  Mala Tang – DIY spicy soup

Back in My Chinese Kitchen

I’ve only been back in China for 24 hours, and already suffered through my first food scare! A carton of Chinese UHT milk, opened and partly consumed about six weeks ago, then left forgotten in my refrigerator, greeted me on my return to Shanghai. A little on the tired side, I pulled it out and poured it into the cup of tea I was desperate for, having forgotten that I hadn’t just popped down the shops for that carton yesterday.
I know what you’re all thinking. Gruesome thoughts of mouldy green and grey curds with sour whey pouring into my English Breakfast tea as acrid wafts of ammonia and sour milk knocked me over, or even worse, not noticing the hideous cesspit I’d just poured into my cup and raising it to my lips only to choke on the first mouthful, drop the cup smashing to the floor, and run vomiting to the bathroom. 
But this didn’t happen. The truth of what happened was even more alarming than that. More alarming than spewing sour milk? Really? 
I poured that milk, half asleep, I took a sip of tea, half asleep, and I thought to myself  ‘Aaahh….lovely cuppa.’  
And then a tiny microneuron woke up and reminded me that the milk was six weeks old. At least.  I opened both eyes and checked the date on the carton. I smelled. I poured some into a glass. I poked my finger in and took a tiny taste. 
Know what? There was absolutely nothing wrong with that milk. At all. Smell, taste, texture, all absolutely preserved six weeks after opening. 
Terrifying, isn’t it? Milk that never goes off? I have now crossed Chinese UHT milk off the long list of danger products to avoid whilst living in China. I mean, how do they do that? Have any actual dairy products been used in the making of this stuff??
Biohazards aside, it is lovely to be standing back in my own kitchen. I miss my kitchen when I’m away, the small square room at the back of the house, a single large window framed in green looking out on to the scented osmanthus tree in the garden. 
That view, a little touch of green in the communal garden, probably swung our decision to rent this house – because we wanted it to feel like we had a garden, even if we were sharing it with everyone else in our lane. So here’s a little view of my Shanghai kitchen – by Chinese standards it’s large, although if you have more than one person in there it’s unbearably crowded. 

Looks well lit, doesn’t it? After suffering under a single ceiling fluoro for a month, my father came to visit and quickly rectified the appalling lighting with a row of lamps installed under the overhead cupboards. 
The oven, known as ‘the furnace’ has had a recent makeover after the glass door improbably exploded at three in the morning, showering the whole kitchen with glass. And no, I didn’t leave the oven on, it was a kind of spontaneous combustion. The guy who fitted the new door also, miraculously, fixed the gas flow issues, and now instead of a scorching 300 degrees, I have a range of temperatures from 140 to 280. So novel! So exciting! 
Standard issue in every Shanghai household is a water dispenser, fitted with bottles of Nongfu Springs water. The local water tastes disgustingly of dirt with strong metallic overtones, and has been known to change the colour of your hair…..don’t trust it, even if the government tells you it’s OK to drink. Especially because the government tells you it’s OK to drink. 

Believing all foreigners require a dishwasher as standard, our landlord Mr Zhang had the world’s smallest dishwasher fitted for us. Packing and unpacking six dishes and two spoons gets a bit tedious, so usually we just wash up. 

I bought this lovely old 1930s dresser from a furniture warehouse on the outskirts of Shanghai. It holds all our plates and glasses – see how tidy it looks? That’s just for the photo. Usually it’s a mess. The lovely blue and white plates I’ve bought piece by piece from the supermarket, because it’s impossible to buy a whole boxed set of plates or bowls.
My favourite glasses originally held Guilin rice liquor so caustic I swear it cleaned out all the drains when I tipped it down the sink. They only hold about a thimbleful of beer, but I love the retro look of them!  And the condiment bottles I brought back from Hong Kong, along with a pile of other heavy stuff.

And my very, very favourite kitchen things – French style Shanghai store Platane has been making these beautiful ceramics for a couple of years, and every time I visit there I treat myself to a little teacup or a jug to add to the collection. Eventually I’ll have a whole lovely mismatched teaset!
Now in case you were thinking this looks all very lovely, I will just briefly draw your attention to the blue and red sticker on the bottom half of that white cabinet door.

It shows the position of the rat poison placed by the pest controllers. Old houses are lovely, but I lost three bags of oatmeal and a box of very expensive McVities Digestives thanks to small Chinese rodent friends visiting in the middle of the night. They made a nest out of my teabags. Little buggers. Thankfully we seem to have gotten rid of the last of the them.
So when the indestructible milk and the rats get too much, I just stare out the window at the osmanthus trees. They’ll be flowering in a month or so…..

Roll up, Roll up, The EKKA is in Town!

What the hell is an EKKA? Only the biggest, noisiest, country fair in the city! I’m sitting writing this, the last of my posts from Australia, waiting for a midnight flight to Shanghai, looking at these photos of sunshine, blue sky and the bright, bright colours of Australia. I have mixed feelings about going back to the heavy polluted skies of China, but here I go. It’s been a wonderful long holiday, long enough to see family and friends not just once but many times, making it all the more bittersweet to leave.
According to the younger members of my family the highlight of our trip was, without a doubt, People’s Day at the Ekka. The Brisbane Exhibition began life as an agricultural show, a small country fair for the best producers in the state to compete and show the prowess of their bulls, dairy cows, and chickens. Along the way it’s become a crazy bright neon lights novelty show with fairground rides, sideshow alley, fireworks, stunt cars and two hundred ways to part with your cash!
Only in Australia would the government consider an agricultural fair so important they declare a public holiday for everyone, but that’s exactly what happens on the second Wednesday in August each year for People’s Day, a kind of Ekka endurance test of absolutely Chinese proportions. If you love Brisbane, if you love your fellow Brisbane-ites, and the more of them the better, then you’ll love People’s Day. Thousands of people cram the gates from early morning to night, as we all jostle each other from the wood-chop to the sheep dog trials, to sideshow alley, and we all queue impatiently for strawberry icecreams, dagwood dogs, toffee apples, fairy floss, hot chips and coffee. We love each other slightly less by the end of the day…..
For kids, the most exciting part of their Ekka experience is the Showbag Pavilion, a shrine to the cheap, tacky, sweet and sticky. Showbags were originally small bags of free merchandise samples, given away to punters. Now you have to pay for them, and produce samples have given way to confectionary and cheap plastic toys, but kids love it, and for five dollars they can get enough gum, chocolate and brightly coloured stuff to keep them enaptured for hours. We had planned our showbag purchases from the online Ekka Guide back in Shanghai, I mean, it was that seriously anticipated.

After the melee in the Showbag Pavilion it’s time to get back out into the neon craziness of Sideshow Alley and drop some serious cash on bumper cars, the ferris wheel, and twenty vertiginous rides like The Hangover, The Claw, Disco Cars, and The Crazy Coaster. Don’t eat first.

Then before you know it, night has fallen and it’s nearly time to go home. They’re calling my flight now…..see you back in Shanghai!

You Don’t Get Skies Like This in China

Would you look at that sky? 
This week I’ve been ‘out bush’. Australia, vast country that it is, is subdivided neatly by most of us into ‘the beach’ – the narrow rim around the edge of this whole enormous island where 95% of the population lives – and ‘the bush’, namely everything else. I imagine Chinese tourists in Australia find the bush terrifying, what with all that empty, empty space, and almost no people, and all manner of life-threatening wildlife. I love it.
I always need to get back to the bush whenever I visit home, if even for a short time, and luckily my parents-in-law have a farm in the bush we can visit anytime. It’s a vineyard too, which is a mighty incentive to get there as often as possible (I wrote about Tobin wines last year).
Parts of the vineyard are farmed, obviously, but the rest is wild and lovely bushland full of kangaroos, wallabies, goannas and snakes (OK, so the snakes are not lovely and I meet them more often than I’d like, but it’s winter now, so they’re all hibernating. But I’m definitely not going to be lifting up any rocks to check they’re properly asleep).
Here’s a few photos from the farm, from early morning to dusk. I’m sure after seeing them you’ll understand why I get homesick for the Australian bush.

 Early morning frost.

The mist burns off by mid-morning, revealing a clear blue sky down at the creek.

In summer, we swim up and down this waterhole. There’s a native beehive in a hollow of the big old tree on the opposite bank, too high for us to reach.

The old almond tree has burst into flower, next to one of the old figs, still bare.
The peach trees are just beginning to flower too.

Late afternoon, rain threatens, but the clouds pass without a drop falling.
We walk back through the vineyard to the house, startling a group of pink galahs.
Dusk falls. Time to crack open a bottle of wine, I think.

Seven Posts You Don’t Want to Miss

The Tripbase Seven Links Project is something Maryanne, writer of  A Totally Impractical Guide to Living in Shanghai put me up to. Dared me, in fact, to tackle and publish a list of seven posts that qualify as personal favourites or ‘best’ in some way, or posts that could have been on that list if only more people had read them…

Here are the seven posts I wanted to share with you, some of which you may have read, others you may not, but all are special to me in some way.

1. My Most Beautiful Post

I still look at the photograph of this lotus blossom and cannot believe I was the photographer. This very recent post, from last month’s Forest of Lotus Blossoms proved to me that my photography skills had come a long, long way in two years of learning, and I’m really proud of the beauty these photos evoke.

But in case you al think I just flit around, camera at the ready for any pretty flowers that catch my attention, it’s what the photos don’t show

The day I heaved to a stop at this lotus farm it was about 38 degrees and at least 98% humidity. I’d spent the previous four hours pedalling up and down hills on a tandem bike with a passenger whose legs were too short to reach the pedals, I was verging on heat stroke, and I was sweating so much my fingers kept slipping off the camera. It was intensely hot. I wandered around the lotus farm like someone on the final leg of a marathon, wobbly, nauseous, and with sweaty eyeballs, trying not to fog the lens with the heat coming off my face.

Despite this physical ugliness, these turned out to be some of the most beautiful shots I had ever taken. Miraculous.

2. My Most Popular Post

Shanghai to Guilin by Slow Train, a rambling post from July 2010, was about my first long-distance train trip in China. In terms of popularity, it ranks neck and neck with The Cave Dwelling Paper Makers of Guizhou, below, and I have yet to discover if this is due to ranks of secret train enthusiasts around the world who are pushing up the numbers, or a bunch of Russian viagra cyber-hackers who use this as an entry page.

My most popular post, as told to me by people who actually read my posts (as opposed to train geeks and Russian drug barons), would have to be the one about our Chinese real estate agent, Bruce, and the Rotary Candle Holder he gave me for Christmas last year. People I’ve never met before can repeat parts of it line for line, and even I snort when I re-read it. I must have been pretty shit-faced when I wrote it, and if you don’t know the meaning of shit-faced, you will after reading, promise.

3. My Most Controversial Post
Earlier this year I blogged regularly for Shanghai’s City Weekend online magazine (before they offered me a regular columnist gig in their print magazine), and wrote about a visit to the Tongchuang Lu Seafood Markets where I happened to mention that one of the shops sold dried shark’s fin. Did you say SHARK’S FIN?? Did I say I supported the trade in shark’s fin? Er…no….but that didn’t stop the ensuing bunfight. 
4. My Most Helpful Post

I like to be helpful, even when I don’t know I’m being helpful. Way back in March 2009 I visited Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) and stayed at a cute little guesthouse in the nearby village of Xidi called, poetically, the Pig’s Heaven Inn. I found the guesthouse through Lonely Planet, and had a Chinese friend make the reservation because I didn’t speak much actual Chinese at the time…
Now had I known that I would prove to be the only person in the English language universe possessed of an actual business card for the place, with an actual phone number and email address on it, I might have written a much more descriptive post with actual directions on how to get there, cost of rooms and so on. Then the lovely folks at Time magazine mentioned it in a travel article and it would seem I am still the only website on the planet with any information whatsoever about the place. Good to be useful for something, right?
It is lovely, you should visit sometime when all the Time magazine subscribers leave.
More seriously though, people living in or visiting Shanghai reckon my guide to The Shanghai Fabric Market Part 1 and Part 2 is actually quite useful.

5. A Post Whose Success Surprised Me

Well I thought this was an interesting story, about a bunch of papermakers in the Chinese middle of nowhere – The Cave Dwelling Paper Makers of Guizhou

Then it was featured on Etsy’s blog, in an interview with me. Except that I had never been interviewed by anyone at Etsy, and the lazy buggers had just lifted it directly off Life on Nanchang Lu, cut and paste style. I was planning to email them a small angry protest, until I noticed their ‘interview’ had sent more than 2000 new visitors to my blog. Cool. Etsy, you can steal my content anytime.

In fact, that post on Etsy led me to getting to know a journalist in Shanghai who is writing a series of stories for Etsy on crafts in China. And guess who’s photographs were featured in the first of the series?

6. A Post That Didn’t Get the Attention It Deserved

You all love xiaolongbao, right?
And you’re all desperate to learn the secret behind these famous Shanghai soup dumplings, aren’t you?
So you’ll be wanting to re-read my post on the top-secret recipe for pig skin jelly that transforms these ordinary dumplings into sublime little pockets holding hot steaming fragrant soup, right?
Well, apparently the words pig, skin and jelly in the same sentence pretty much guaranteed that this post sank without a trace, despite it containing a detailed step-by-step guide to making your very own pig hide aspic. 
A shame, because this post was my very own service to the world of food, and it took me a hundred years to translate it from the Chinese original.

7. The Post I Am Most Proud Of

Written as part of the 25 Days of Shanghai Christmas Series last year, A Christmas Story tells of The Giving Tree charity, who distribute bags of gifts to Chinese migrant schools at Christmas time, to children who have never received much at all. All the bags had been filled by children at our school and their families, and every child had made a beautiful card for their gifts. I still cry every time I read it. I’m proud of this post because I think it’s the first time I managed to recapture the emotion of a time and place in the written word. And I love seeing those smiling faces again and again.

Paying it forward: I hereby nominate the delightful and very talented cook and photographer Shaz from Sydney blog Test with Skewer, and Christa, voracious reader, reviewer and food-lover at The Mental Foodie.

A Man, A Terrine, and the Dalai Lama

Many would consider it totally unfair for one man to have so many talents, but I’m not complaining in the least, when the man in question is my friend Roger D’Souza, passionate foodie, and brilliant photographer. Oh, and he happens to be my sister’s partner too….
“Shall I make something to bring to the beach?” he asked last week, as we were preparing to spend a few days at Noosa. I knew better than to say no, because Roger makes ordinary foodies look half-baked. This guy is the business. He smokes his own meats, makes his own char siu pork from his mother’s recipe, and probably cooks roast duck on camping trips. Actually, that last is true, he does cook roast duck when he goes camping, and the cooking equipment takes up more space in the car than the tent and sleeping bags. 
So I knew I’d be very happy with whatever Roger decided to make to bring along, and I wasn’t disappointed. After a long gruelling day creating photographic works of art he came home and slaved away until after midnight to make this incredible chicken terrine from a recipe by Australia’s favourite farm cook Maggie Beer.
The recipe was featured on one of the final episodes of this year’s Masterchef competition where the final four cooks had all tried and failed to produce the delicious savoury terrine in the allotted time. Masterchef, an Australian reality TV invention that has now gone ballistic worldwide, has inspired all of Australia to get back into their kitchens. The Dalai Lama recently appeared as a guest judge in this series, but I’m making no comment or judgement about whether religious leaders should be appearing on reality TV shows. No comment whatsoever. 
All I will say is that where the final four contestants failed, Roger succeeded, and if the Dalai Lama hadn’t been such a committed vegetarian he would have loved the robust country flavours of pork, chicken and herbs cut through with plump sweet rasisins soaked in verjuice. I’m giving it nine and a half out of ten.

Maggie Beer’s Chook and Pork Terrine
original recipe here


  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup verjuice
  • 1.8kg free-range chicken
  • 525g skinless pork belly, with a good amount of fat
  • 120g rindless bacon
  • 120g free-range chicken livers, connective tissue removed
  • zest of 2 lemons
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 2 tbsp lemon thyme, leaves stripped and chopped
  • 3 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp rosemary, roughly chopped
  • 100g fresh walnut bread, crumbed
  • 16g sea salt
  • 2 tsp freshly ground white pepper
  • 3 bay leaves
  • Preheat oven to 200C
  • Place raisins and verjuice in small saucepan over medium heat
  • Once verjuice is simmering, remove from heat, and set aside to allow raisins to plump
  • Bone out the chicken – remove wings at the middle joint, then cut all the way down the backbone so chicken is butterflied
  • Remove backbone and ribcage, then continue knife down to remove and cut away the breast and wishbone
  • Chop knuckles from legs, then bone out each leg by removing as many tendons as possible
  • Feel for any bones or gristle that may have been missed and cut these out
  • Carefully remove the skin, taking care not to pierce the skin
  • Dice chicken breast into into 2cm cubes, place into mixing bowl and set aside
  • Dice chicken thigh, leg meat and pork belly into 1cm pieces and place in another bowl
  • Cut bacon into small strips, add to chicken and pork mix along with chicken livers
  • Mix these well together, then blend for 2 minutes in a food processor to create a farce, place back in bowl
  • Add lemom and orange zests, thyme, parley, rosemary, walnut breadcrumbs, verjuice liquid, sea salt, pepper and mix well
  • Grease a one litre terrine mould
  • Place bay leaves on base of mould then line mould with chicken skin
  • On base, layer 1/3 chicken farce, then half diced chicken breast, then 1/2 of the raisins
  • Continue to layer 1/3 farce, remaining chicken breast, remaining raisins
  • Top with remaining 1/3 chicken farce
  • Press gently down to pack contents tightly
  • Fold in both ends of chicken skin, then fold over two sides to create a neat looking parcel
  • Place a sheet of baking paper on top of the terrine then cover with foil and seal well
  • Place a cloth into the base of a hot water bath, place terrine into water bath and cook in preheated oven for 90 minutes, or until the internal temperature has reached 57C
  • Remove from oven and allow terrine to rest in water bath for 15 minutes until internal temperature has reached 65C
  • Pour off any excess juices from terrine
  • Refrigerate overnight in mould with a weight resting on top
  • When ready to serve, carefully turn terrine out onto a board and allow to come to room temperature
  • Serve slices with crusty bread and cornichons

A Day in the Life of a Shanghai Beach Bum on Holidays….

I’ve just spent the most fabulous four days at Noosa Beach, about two hours north of my hometown, Brisbane. It’s a tough life, what with the brilliant blue water, the brilliant blue sky, and the white sandy beach. Here’s my typical Noosa day – it’s what I daydream about when it’s cold, grey and smoggy back in Shanghai. 
10am: It’s low tide and time to warm up on the beach in the sunshine, then dive in for a bracing swim in the slighlty chilly winter waters. Yes, this is mid-winter in Australia. 

11am: Raspberry snowcones all round from the cart parked on the beach, because by now it’s pretty hot – about 28 degrees. Then some more lying in the sun to warm up after the icy treat.
12.30pm: Lunch at Bistro C – a Noosa institution, right on the beach. You can wander right in from the sand, footwear optional. Big appetite essential, for today’s specials – barramundi fillet on pesto polenta with a ragu of tomatoes and pinenuts, or a tangled salad of chicken, coriander, cashews and tofu with sour, spicy nam jin dressing. Big, robust Australian flavours.
3pm: We skip Bistro C’s dessert menu in favour of a walk down the boardwalk to Massimo’s Icecream. The flavours are all seasonal, so being winter we can choose from passionfruit, strawberry, or lemon fruit sorbets, or one of a dozen creamy flavours – milk and cream, amaretto, creme caramel, bitter chocolate, amongst other irresistable creations. Every one delicious. Nearby, the gum trees are all in blossom and the heavy honey scent is attracting dozens of rainbow lorikeets and other native birds.
5.30pm: The tide has come in and the after-work surfers and paddleboarders have arrived to catch a few waves at the end of their working day. The early sunset casts a golden light over the sand and turns the water a deep sapphire blue.

6pm: The sunset deepens. Fire red and molten gold fill the sky.

6.40pm: The sun sets, the sky begins to darken and the temperature finally drops to a chillier 16 degrees. I’ve just ordered fish and chips from the takeaway, and we’ll sit on the balcony of our apartment listening to the last of the birdsong while we eat. 

Just to Clarify….

…I’m only on holiday in Australia…..I’ve been receiving a few lovely comments and emails wishing me good luck with my new life in Australia, which led me to think I perhaps hadn’t been completely clear about the last couple of posts, and many readers thought I’d moved back home permanently. Regrettably, that’s not the case, and after reading the above post you’ll understand completely why it’s often hard to leave sunny, clean, cloudless Australia for grey, dirty, noisy Shanghai. But Shanghai is currently my home, and that’s where I’ll be returning to in less than two weeks, after my working holiday. In the meantime, enjoy reading about my homeland…..

Northey Street Markets: Organic Hotspot

Northey Street is one place in Brisbane I couldn’t wait to get back to. I dream about the place when I’m in Shanghai, and imagine how good it will be to walk through it again on a cold winter morning. A weeekly organic farmers market is held there every Sunday, but Northey Street occupies a much bigger place in Brisbane’s heart. Known as the Northey Street City Farm, this large piece of fertile land just a short distance from the city centre was originally the site of several houses washed away in the 1974 Brisbane floods, and is now a huge community farm and garden, open to all.
In 1992, a group of friends interested in permaculture began searching for a place to develop as a community farm, and were eventually assigned the Northey Street site. Over the years Norther Street has grown from a flat grassy expanse into a glorious ramble of Australian native plants, fruit trees, vegetable gardens, herb plots, chicken pens and native bees. The weekly markets bring together a large Brisbane community who care about food, to buy organic produce, walk around the farm and see how it can be reproduced in a suburban backyard, eat delicious food, and learn about permaculture.

We were partway to developing our own permaculture set-up when we left for Shanghai, having just finished building our henhouse (the Chicken Hilton, as it was known), establishing a vegetable garden and installing a gray water system for diverting the washing machine water to the garden (Brisbane had just come out of its longest-ever drought – none of us knew another severe flood would follow it). So I love to visit Northey Street to see what might become of our garden when we return to Australia eventually. Bees are definitely on my list! 

The markets are superb and get better and better each year as more organic farmers and food producers contribute. Local cheeses, olives and meats are offered alongside seasonal herbs and vegetables. There’s always a stall selling the surplus produce from the farm itself. Children are an integral part of Northey Street’s community and every week the markets is filled with families. There are planting, potting and painting activities, a huge garden to run around, and a very popular rope swing hanging from one of the ancient mango trees.
My favourite part of the markets, without doubt, is the breakfast. Now there’s a surprise. Having got up at sparrow’s to get to the markets on time, once all the fruit and vegetables are bought it’s time to grab a hot cup of coffee and a crispy bacon, egg and spinach roll, then go and sit in the glorious winter sunshine in the garden. 

Northey Street Markets
Corner Northey and Victoria Streets, Windsor
Every Sunday from 6am

Permaculture courses and workshops: information here

Northey Street Edible Plants Nursery
Tuesday to Saturday: 9.00 am – 4.00 pm

Sunday: 6 am to 12 noon