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23 October 2006

Mussels Provencale

One of the benefits of living at the coast is the access one has to a variety of seafood! This together with Melbourne's markets makes seafood a regular menu item. This last Saturday we bought 1kg of fresh Australian mussels at South Melbourne market; the mussels are delivered to the market daily. Once you have access to the raw materials, a delicious meal is very simple to prepare. For example:

1 onion
1 clove of garlic
2 tomatoes
a bunch of flat leaf parsley
1 chili
5-6 calamata olives
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon / Chardonnay wine

Clean the mussels in generous amounts of cool water, discarding any that are not closed. Put the cleaned mussels in a large saucepan, adding about 1 1/2 cups of water. Place covered saucepan on high heat for about 6 minutes, cooking until all mussels are open - be careful not to overcook! Drain the mussels in a colander, preserving the broth.

Melt the oil and butter in a saucepan, adding the finely chopped onion and garlic. Cook until translucent. Add the chopped tomatoes and about 1 cup of the broth, and cook for a further 5 to 10 minutes until the tomatoes are soft. Add the remaining finely chopped ingredients, and the wine, cooking very briefly (< 2 mins). Add the mussels back into the saucepan and heat through. Serve piping hot mussels, in generous helpings of the sauce, with flat Turkish bread (Melbourne markets make this easy again). The Sauvignon or Chardonnay is a perfect to complement the dish.


21 October 2006

Go see the truth!

This weekend, we made the most of a cold spell, and visited Chappel Street and saw the movie "An Inconvenient Truth" by Al Gore. He presents the data collected over various time periods; the evidence is irrefutable. Unless we collectively do something, the earth as we know it is history! Go see it when you have the opportunity and make up your own mind! Please also visit the Climate in Crisis web site (link is on the right!)

16 October 2006

Spring in Melbourne

Despite the drought and notwithstnading some burnt patches in the lawns, Melbourne is looking good in spring. We visited the botanic gardens on Saturday, with the Azaleas, Camelias in full bloom. Alongside Pearl is studying the gardens plan at the Rose Pavillion.

However our ambitious picnic plans for Sunday at Albert Park came to rather a wet ending! A very rare shower arrived at just after 11am, and only really cleared up after we headed back home.

13 October 2006

Playing with fire!

A man in Sydney almost lost his life yesterday after picking up what he thought was a lizard, but what in fact turned out to be a death adder which went on to bite him five times. The death adder is apparently one of the top ten most venomous snakes in the world. He was rushed to hospital, and his life was saved, but it was a close call. Despite being home to some of the most venomous snakes, death from snake bite in Australia is said to be rare.

With our venturing into the country, a couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to study our host's book of Australian snakes. The local varieties include brown snakes, tiger snakes, taipans and the adder mentioned above. What I found most fascinating was the fact that some (in fact most) of the local snakes' venom is orders of magnitude more active than for instance that of the cobra - up to 50 times! Furthermore the local snakes are quite difficult to identify and distinguish, so the rarity of death by snake bite is thanks to the effective anti-venom that is specific to each state and effectively neutralises the venom of all snake species found in the specific state. So the critical factor is to get the victim to hospital as soon as possible.

During our drive to the Grampians I saw a large snake on the road, but they apparently steer clear of inhabited areas. Our guest house hosts said they had not seen more than three of four on their property in the seven years that they have lived there.

12 October 2006

Record Drought Conditions

The mild winter in Victoria has not given way to a mild summer. Actually it is officially still spring! Instead a record drought has been announced. Today mercury in Melbourne reached 36 degrees, and these conditions are expected to continue for at least a couple more days. There is also not much prospect of rain. And if Melbourne has it tough, some of the inland areas are copping it much worse, and some farmers are seriously considering selling up and leaving the land.

Comparatively, us city dwellers have only the slight inconvenience of sweating it out during a short walk between city offices, but the major impact will come in increased prices for fresh produce which will now have to be freighted in.

Being just a couple of weeks before state elections, the local pollys are out and about trying to outdo each other in announcing various relief schemes for these type of conditions, but as soon as the campaigning is over the implications are expected to bite hard.

08 October 2006

Colour and texture

Jamie Oliver

One of the recent visitors to Melbourne, Jamie entertained an audience of gastronomes at one of the local theaters one evening; this according to a couple who attended his show, and came visiting us a week later for a dinner party - quite daunting! However a simple menu with its firm South African foundations proved quite a hit: Fish and Lentil Bobotie (called it a Malay Fish Pie) served with a tomato chutney and an Aussie Semillon Cabernet Sauvignon; Chicken Green Curry ended off with a Fruit Salad of Cantelope (Spanspek) and Kiwi Fruit with Ice Cream.

Jamie also launched his sponsorship of a number of budding chefs in Melbourne, a local programme along the lines of a similar initiative in the UK.

2006 Samsung Melbourne Marathon

Just a short walk from our apartment saw us arrive at the finish of the 2006 Samsung Melbourne Marathon in St Kilda Road. The athletes started off at 8am in Frankston endudring rather blustery conditions en-route which saw temperatures hovering around 17, instead of yesterday's balmy 28 degrees. Less ambitious competitors could complete a half marathon or 7.5kms. Perhaps a personal objective for next year will the the half marathon.

Today's race was won by a Japanese athlete (Suzuki, whose first name I will not attempt to spell), the first non-Australian to win the race since 1998, when Dan Radebe from South Africa finished in top spot.

After watching an endless stream of half marathon competitors come over the finishing line, we saw the first three finishers in the marathon arrive home; we stayed in for the prize giving, enjoying the bright sunshine, which moderated the cold of the southeryly wind.

06 October 2006

Africa bound

I am planning to be back in South Africa for a couple of days at the beginning of November. I hope to see many of you during this opporunity!

Australian Football League (AFL)

The MCG lies still in the evening twilight this week, being prepared for the soon-coming cricket season, and the much anticipated revenge Ashes series. Last week it and the whole of Melbourne was the scene of agony and ecstacy as the West Coast Eagles took the grand final match by a narrow margin from the Sydney Swans. The city was invaded by supporters of both teams (neither of which are Melbourne based) from early in the week, and was brought to a standstill with the traditional parade starting at lunch time on Friday.

Pyrenees Wine Region

On the way to the Grampians we travelled through one of the many Victorian wine growing regions - The Pyrenees. We stopped the the Blue Pyrenees Winery for an exquisite lunch and indulgence in some of their product, although I had to watch and limit my consumption owing to the zero tolerance policy for driving under the influence. The individual "estates" appear to be much smaller than what we were accustomed ton in the Cape, and consequently there are a great deal more of them. The style of wine here is quite different to SA and we are still trying to get used to it. The predominant cultivar is Shiraz, and Cabernet is not nearly as predominant, often finding its way into blends with a Merlot or Shiraz. The preference seems to be for medium body wines or "cleanskin" styles, with the individual boquets being a lot more subtle! Nonetheless the process of discovery is most enjoyable with no shortage of opportunities: Once a month one of the Regions runs a wine tasting event in the heart of Melbourne; yesterday it was the turn of the Mornington Peninsula regions - one of the closest to the city.

At the moment Australia is also experiencing a glut of the ruby product so the prices are also quite manageable.

Weekend Break

Last weekend Pearl and I took a long awaited break in the Victorian "hinterland". This is not the outback, it is part of rural Victoria. We travelled about 250 km out of Melbourne towards the north-west. This took us to the Grampian Mountain range - the home of the Grampian National Park, a rather impressive collection of rocky massives, with waterfalls, spectacular views and endless gum tree forrests. Except that many of the forrests are still blackened after a massive bush fire in January of this year which ravaged the whole area. However there are promising signs of rejuvenation, with new fresh green sprouts eminating from even the very thickest parts of trunks of many of the trees.

The peacefulness of the environment and the friendliness of the inhabitants immediately made us feel welcome. We stayed at a B&B called Corella Rise (refer to for more info) run by a couple that moved up there from Melbourne about seven years ago. Obviously they stumbled into their intended vocation, because they were extremely adept at making people like us feel most welcome, and could not do enough for us. It is good to be pampered once in a while! They related the extent of the drought that they are experiencing, with the annual rainfall steadily dropping every year since their arrival. The edge of Lake Lonsdale which was within sight when they bought the property had now retreated much further, and we were told is not worth much these days.

Strengthened by a sumptious breakfast we explored the surrounding highlands, travelling from waterfalls to lookout points, cultural museums and the peaks. The effort expended in getting to the final objectives on foot ensured that we did not accumulate extra weight over the weekend, and in fact probably built up some extra stamina along the way.

The wildlife is very unlike Africa, and although Pearl stumbled across a wallaby en route to Mount William (I missed it 'cos I rushed ahead ...) but we saw three dead 'roos on the way home. This can be quite a driving hazard, since a roo can inflict considerable damage if hit at speed, and due care is necessary if driving at dusk, night or dawn!