Back to blog index

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.

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

Ingredients

  • 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
Method
  • 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. 

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

My Secret Other Life

 

This particular post I’ve been worrying over for days. Weeks probably. Because I have a whole other life back in Australia that I never really write about on this blog – the life I left behind when I moved to China – and I really don’t know if it could possibly be of interest to anyone. But I told Maryanne, fellow Shanghai writer and blogger of A Totally Impractical Guide to Living in Shanghai, that I wanted to know about her other life in her hometown – Vancouver Island – even though she didn’t feel inspired to write about it when she recently visited. It’s sometimes easier to write about the unfamiliar than the familiar. 
I never had any intention of taking such a prolonged break from my old life, and my job, when I came to live in Shanghai but that’s just how it happened. Six months in Shanghai became twelve, then eighteen, then two years, and there’s still no immediate prospect of coming back permanently to Australia. And yet really important parts of my old life, like my family and friends, and my career, got left behind there. 

I had a really great job as a kids ER doctor in Brisbane. For the medically challenged, this means I looked after the many and varied emergencies befalling any small person under the age of sixteen. Swallowed pieces of Lego. Severe vomiting bugs. Broken arms. Meningitis. Beads up noses. Drownings. School refusal. Car accidents. From the mundane, to the funny, to the tragic. I still remember the kid who swallowed his mother’s gallstones, recently removed from her body and sitting in a jar by her bed, who taught me that children are capable of swallowing anything, no matter how disgusting. And the little girl who drowned in a dam after chasing after the family dog through a hole in the fence, and her family’s unimaginable grief. And the mother who waited for four hours to be reassured by me that yes, indeed, her two year-old son’s penis would grow with him and he wouldn’t have a weeny one all his life.

The work was challenging in every way – emotionally, intellectually, spiritually – and taught me many things about life and about myself. But in Shanghai, I can’t do the work I trained for, largely because of I don’t speak Chinese to a high enough standard, and Pediatric Emergency Medicine doesn’t yet exist as a medical specialty in China, which severely limits my working options. But as six months stretched into two years of not working, I began to worry that my old skills might be getting rusty, and that combining a trip home with a working holiday might be a good idea. Luckily for me my old boss thought so too.

When I arrived home three weeks ago I hit the ground running – literally. I was back at work, in my old job, within 24 hours of arriving, with no real time to think about whether or not it was a good idea. I’d dug my paediatric stethoscope out of a box, where it was tangled up with five pairs of earphones that come free with mobile phones, and packed it in my suitcase along with some work clothes, and hoped for the best. Would I have forgotten how to set a fracture? Or put a drip in a newborn baby? Or to explain how to use an Epipen to the terrified parents of a child suffering their first peanut anaphylaxis?  

As it turns out, I hadn’t forgotten any of those things and I slipped back into that old self like a second skin. It felt very comfortable, and I enjoyed the reassurance of knowing that this was a job I could do well, and that I loved working with kids every day. The reaction from my old colleaugues was worth bottling – I felt so loved and welcomed I wanted to keep that feeling in store for cold dark days in China when I wonder what on earth I’m doing there. And yet. It was exhausting, the work, and not just because I’m unused to it. I never used to think that working in the ER was stressful or particularly tiring, despite the emotionally charged nature of the place, the changing shifts, and the constant pressure to avoid error.  But it is exhausting, and I remember now how I was constantly, wearingly tired, and it is stressful. Looking after very sick children and their frightened families is very stressful.  

I do love medicine, and it is a vocation, a career that never goes away, even when you do. It’s like being a nun, or a teacher.  Giving it up would be like cutting off an arm. But living away from medicine has brought me so much creative pleasure and opened so many possibilities to me that I can’t begin to tell you how exciting, and scary, that is.

So after three weeks, I’ve made some decisions. I’m not ready to give up on doctoring, despite those downsides. And I’m not ready to give up on writing and photography, even though trying to make a go of these newly found skills terrifies me. I feel constantly like an uncertain intern again, lacking in confidence and constantly taking wrong turns and stepping on toes. It’s risky, but I think there must be some way to combine both of these into a life that keeps me happy and busy. Doctoring pays well and Emergency Medicine lends itself brilliantly to part-time work. Writing and taking pictures pays poorly, but I love both, and they allow me to have a creative side to my life that medicine doesn’t fulfill. I hope, with fingers crossed, that I can combine both of these very different lives into one whole. Wish me luck!



Chinatown

This is what Chinatown in Brisbane looks like. It’s not exactly downtown Shanghai, and there are very few Chinese people wandering around it, but it does have pretty much all the elements of a Chinese town as far as I can see. 
For a start, what looks like a pedestrian zone down the middle is actually a road leading in and out of the hulking great carpark to the left. Be careful, all you pedestrians! A car will come whizzing past at any minute, and there ain’t no zebra crossing there to save you.  Should you survive the walk across the carpark entrance, you will be enchanted by the understated feng shui elements adorning the site – a giant red and silver fish seems to be leaping out of the concrete outside the entrance to the Burlington Chinese Supermarket, and there is a lucky pond with a few lacklustre turtles in it underneath that giant red metal China Pavilion lookalike. 
I’m not sure if the pedestrian overpass from the carpark to the building opposite has any feng shui advantages, but it is really ugly and it sure looks like it was cobbled together without planning permission or adherence to building standards. Pretty Chinese then.
Inside the Burlington Supermarket I can buy roast duck, fresh tofu, dumpling wrappers and extra-fat pork mince. Last time I was in Brisbane I even managed to purchase a giant piece of pork skin, with a view to making xiaolongbao, and I believe it may still be languishing in the depths of my sister’s freezer, unused. Might want to check on that sis.
I did have some delicious xiaolongbao though, not far from Chinatown at The Bamboo Basket on Grey Street. This place is the first restaurant in Brisbane to serve these lovely little soup-filled dumplings, and they even have a street-side window where you can watch the dumping chef at work, much like the concept at Taiwanese dumpling chain Din Tai Fung. I also tried their hong shao rou (red-cooked pork) – sticky and delicious, and a tasty cold cucumber dish. When the bill arrived I thought that we had eaten pretty well for 126 yuan (about $20), until I realised it was actually for $126. Bugger.
See you all back in Shanghai in a day or two! The food is cheaper there but the feng shui is even worse….

Xiaolongbao

Crispy delicious cucumber

Hong shao rou with a basket of steamed bread on the side

1889 Enoteca, Brisbane

1889 Enoteca lives in what was once, in 1889, a shopfront on Logan Road at Woollongabba (‘the Gabba’ to locals, because Woolongabba has too many syllables). It’s a perfect example of a how perfect a bistro can be when it takes care and continues doing what it does best – great Italian food and a superb collection of Italian wines. It was great to have a chance to eat there again this week, and wonderful to see that it’s as good now as when it opened two years ago. Restaurant goers are fickle creatures, and so Enoteca must be doing something really, really right.
The menu is deceptively simple. I started with a loin of rabbit on polenta with pecorino, but this description fails to do justice to the dish, which had been executed with a light touch and perfect balance. The Granite Belt rabbit loin had been been gently and tenderly cooked, and was sliced into pink-tinged petals sitting over a bed of white polenta made on fresh cream and stock. The salty flakes of pecorino added depth to the rich polenta as they melted into it. 
Kingfish with lentils and pancetta hid a dish of such complex and robust flavours – the fish was sweet and tender, with a layer of crisped skin, and sat on a bed of richly savoury green lentils studded through with big falt salty cubes of pancetta, all surrounded by a herby, lemony, garlicky salsa verde. A fabulous hearty fish dish. I wish I could tell you the name of the wine that went so well with it, but by this stage I had begun with a superb prosecco, the match of any French champagne, moved onto soave, and now I had stopped looking at the labels and was just enjoying the flavours. It was a red. Nebbiolo? Barolo?There are no photographs of the food because the long exposure required was a struggle with all that wine I’d enjoyed. You’ll just have to enjoy the descriptions, although I can tell you the dishes looked as beautiful as they sounded.
For dessert I was dying to try the vanilla pannacotta with berries, pistachios and strawberry doughnuts, but  I was done in by the taste of a tiramisu done so well it was pointless trying to better it. An incredible dinner, amazing wines. It just reminds me of how far Brisbane has come in the last few years.

Kingswood Poetry

There are so many different Australian cliches in this photo it’s hard to know where to begin. A Kingswood is a classic Australian car of the 1970s, and was even the centrepiece of a TV show called Kingswood Country, featuring an unlikely character named Ted Bullpit. This particular Kingswood, lovingly restored, has it’s own back window poetry, with typos and everything. Love it. 
My baby’s car crazy: She loves automobiles
Cadillacs and Corvettes: Chev’ys and Oldsmobiles
My baby’s car crazy: She really digs a set of wheels
Ted Bullpit would be proud. 
(lovin’ the Eureka Redneck flag too)

Massimo’s Ice Cream, Noosa

Massimo’s is something of a Noosa institution. It occupies an unhealthy proportion of my food daydreams (everyone else has these, don’t they??) whilst in Shanghai. Real ice-cream is kinda hard to come by in China. One of these days I’m going to write about all the wacky flavours that pass for ice-cream there – green tea, pea, corn…..something black, something icky and purple. 


Massimo’s makes real ice-cream. From fresh seasonal fruit and real milk, guaranteed free of melamine. You never know on any given day whether there will be any ruby grapefruit and campari gelato, depending on the seasonal supply of ruby grapefruit, but that just adds to the excitement and anticipation. Mango, of course, is summer months only, as is lychee. Perennial flavours like white chocolate, coconut, caramel and hazelnut are luckily available all year round.

Get yourself a waffle cone, any two flavours for $5.50, and head down to the beach. Let’s make ice-cream the official street food of Australia.

Aromas, Hastings Street

Noosa‘s most popular cafe is without a doubt Aromas, right across from the beach on Hastings Street. It doesn’t have a view of the ocean, but the view from one of their French style wicker chairs is even better – an endless parade of Australia’s wealthiest and most well-dressed beach-goers. Grab a flat white (that’s Australian for coffee) and a piece of this incredibly unattractive but extremely tasty chocolate/hazelnut/fig torte, and settle in for an hour or so of unparalleled people watching.