My Taste of Australia

a guest post by twinbutterfly of Confessions of a Food Tourist

Here in Australia, we always say (at the risk of sounding cliché) that we are indeed a blessed country. I am certainly no expert, but I personally find Australian cuisine really quite difficult to define because it’s such an intricate fusion of all the cultures that have called this wonderful country home since day dot. These days, we have the opportunity to take our pick from an endless array of cuisines when dining out, or looking for something different to whip up at home for dinner.

For me personally, the ultimate Australian food experience is enjoying a really delicious meal that is made from locally-sourced produce that comes with a stunning view of the local countryside.

One of my favourite places in the world is right here in the south west corner of WA – Margaret River. Boasting of a stunning location nestled between jarrah and karri forests and a beautiful coastline, it’s one of Australia’s premium wine producing regions. And where there’s good wine, there is bound to be good food!

I’ve lost count of all the wonderful experiences I’ve had in Margaret River – or “Margs”, as it’s more affectionately known – so it’s almost impossible to narrow it down to just one or two; as a result, I’ve put together my Top Five, in no particular order (because that would be almost as cruel as forcing a parent to single out their favourite child). While these highlights are inspired by my own treasured experiences in Margaret River, I’m sure they can easily represent many of Australia’s other amazing wine and ‘food bowl’ regions, too. In a perfect world, I would love the opportunity to travel through all of them Paddock to Plate or Destination Flavour-style. Unfortunately though, I don’t have the credibility of a celebrity chef like Matt Moran or Adam Liaw. Nonetheless, here’s my list of Top Five Margs Foodie Faves:

1. The Classic “Tasting Plate”

This option is a blessing for an indecisive Gemini like me, who often finds it very hard to choose just one dish when there are an abundance of tempting items on the menu. When done correctly, tasting plates are also an ideal way to sample the best of the region’s seasonal harvest and locally-crafted products: from olive oil, cheese, fruit and veg to meat and seafood. Beer drinkers can even opt for a tasting paddle at the local craft and micro-breweries!

I have enjoyed many fabulous tasting plates in Margs – in my opinion, the best ones are shared with a friend or loved one (to avoid any possible food envy), and served with a glass (or two) of local wine.

The "Tasting Plate"

2. Indulgent 3-course Local Winery Lunch

About five or so years ago for a ‘significant’ birthday gift, a group of friends pitched in to buy me a voucher for a private chauffeur-driven wine tour in Margaret River (they know me SO well). While being chauffeured to several good winery cellar doors for tastings (and a “bit” of purchasing), the tour included lunch at Flutes Restaurant at the Brookland Valley winery estate. I wasn’t sure what I should be expecting. A tasting plate with a glass of wine perhaps? That of course would have been perfectly acceptable, but what transpired was actually more breathtaking.

The setting was simply spectacular. We were on an open deck overlooking a large lake surrounded by vineyards in one direction, and forest in the other. Being a weekday, the restaurant wasn’t particularly busy (either that or I was so involved in what was going on at our table to notice we may have been the only ones there), so all you could hear were birds singing, and the occasional quack from the ducks swimming on the lake.

Yes, we had a tasting plate – but this was just the entrée: a charcuterie platter of delicious morsels such as pork rillettes, chorizo, duck and pâté.

Up next was the main course – a tender lamb shank served on a bed of couscous infused with exotic spices, capers, olives and tomatoes. One look at the sheer size of the dish made my stomach shrink in fear; however, my tastebuds managed to convince it to take on the hefty task of devouring the lamb (the velvety Cabernet Merlot helped as well). I’ll admit, I couldn’t finish it, but I gave it a good ol’ Aussie go!

Before you could say “I couldn’t possibly eat another crumb”, it was time for dessert – a trio of petite sweet treats. This time it wasn’t a shared platter (although that would have been the safest/most logical option) – we were given one each. The groans of borderline discomfort quickly turned to sighs of pleasure when we battled all resistance and bravely picked up our spoons to try the tiramisu, vanilla bean panna cotta with berries, and a chocolaty slab of chocolaty chocolate mud cake drizzled with chocolaty chocolate syrup and double cream. Did I mention the chocolate?

All that was left to do was be practically carried back to our hotel (through one more winery just because we could), lie back and digest what had just happened (physically and metaphorically).

Winery at Margaret River

3. Self-contained Domestic Bliss

The great thing about a place like Margaret River is the sheer variety of accommodation choices – you can choose to stay in a hotel right in the centre of town, or venture further out to anything from a quaint Bed & Breakfast or farm-stay, to an all-inclusive luxury resort. Alternatively, you can select from an endless array of self-contained apartments and cabins either close to town, by the beach, or nestled within a forest setting. Anything goes.

Having travelled to Margs a number of times, I’ve been lucky enough to have tried a bit of everything. Personally, I find that self-contained accommodation is the way to go as it generally allows for more space, more privacy, and more freedom of choice. For example, if you want to drive into town for a meal, you can; if you’re too tired (or squiffy*) from a full day of wine tasting, you can choose to have a quiet night in and whip something up in the kitchen, even if it’s just a languidly-constructed board of cheese, crackers and dip! Or – as my friends and I did on an indulgent girls’ weekend a couple of years ago – start the day with a bang and fuel up on a hearty homemade breakfast…before a full day of wine tasting (is anyone noticing a pattern here?)

There is something so much more pleasurable about cooking while you’re on holidays than doing so at home, although my Other Half and I tend to stick to the same basic formula on a short break – barbeque one night, and if there happens to be any leftovers, use them as topping for a home-made pizza another night.

Domestic Bliss

As an added bonus, a lot of self-contained accommodation in Margaret River makes the most of either one of its settings: its idyllic forest, vineyard, gently sloping countryside or the beach. Some of my favourite moments in life have been relaxing on a deck with my morning coffee enjoying the tranquillity of the natural habitat with nothing but the sound of birdsong and a gentle breeze to keep me company. The super lucky ones may even spot a kangaroo (or two)!

*squiffy – tipsy/warm and fuzzy/not quite there yet, but definitely on the way to getting a little drunkity-drunk

4. The Cellar Door

The best part about staying in a memorable place is having the opportunity to take a small piece of it home with you so you can continue to enjoy it long after the journey itself has ended.

A cellar door offers much more than just the opportunity to sample a few wines – they add to the overall experience. Many wineries have a country-style charm about them, or are simply jaw-droppingly beautiful, begging to be explored. And in most cases, there’ll be an infinitely interesting history behind them.

I’m by no means a connoisseur of wine (in fact, very far from it), but I do enjoy the explanations and recommendations provided by the cellar door staff as you boldly make your way from sparkling through white and rose to red, and – if you dare – heady fortified wines (I’m one of the fortunate ones who aren’t particularly fussy when it comes to wine – possibly my trade-off for not being able to drink beer, if only by choice). The secret is to take your time and enjoy the moment. And if the obnoxious wine tour groups sharing the space start getting a little too demanding and raucous, step back and browse through the assortment of wine accessories, books and giftware on offer; or explore the picturesque grounds until it’s time for them to depart for their next stop (all the while secretly hoping it isn’t where you were planning on visiting afterwards). If the winery has a café…bonus!

The Cellar

Although my Other Half begs to differ, I am certainly not the souvenir-junkie I was in my late teens and early twenties. These days I rely on my camera to help capture and preserve my memories (that, and thanks to my former addiction, I couldn’t possibly fit another branded shot glass into my cabinet, or magnet on my fridge if I tried); if anything, I may pick up an inspiring recipe or coffee-table-style photography book capturing the essence of the region. Oh, and maybe just a few bottles of vino… 😉

Cellar doors are not just restricted to wines – in Margaret River there are all kinds of options for exploring tastes of the region: beer, cheese and yoghurt, chocolate, coffee, fudge, olive oil, venison, nougat, fruit, jams and preserves, cider, lollies/candies, and ice cream just to name a few!

What a treat it is to take a little piece of Margs heaven back home – each time you fill a glass, break off a piece, or top a cracker or piece of bread, you’re instantly transported back (if only for a moment), allowing you to enjoy “the trip that was” just a little bit longer.

The Cellar Bottles

It’s a bittersweet day in my house though, when we get to the end of our bounty (‘cellaring’ is not something we do very well). It’s almost as if we’re bidding our blissful break farewell all over again. On the other hand, it can only mean it’s time to start planning the next trip!

5. The Berry Farm

Located about fifteen minutes’ drive from the town centre, The Berry Farm is the one place I never fail to revisit every time I stay in Margaret River. After a pleasant drive winding through tree-lined roads, vineyards and lush green pastures, the first stop must be the Cottage Café and Gardens. Whether it’s for a quick cuppa to start the day, something sweet for morning tea (they are particularly renowned for their Boysenberry Pie and Scones with jam and cream), or perhaps a more substantial meal for lunch, you are in for an absolute treat!

Not only is everything on their seasonal menu fresh and delicious, the historic building with its jarrah interior and wide patio oozes comfort and country hospitality. The surrounding picturesque cottage gardens teeming with local birdlife add a magical touch no matter what time of year you choose to visit. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself sharing your pots of jam and cream with New Holland honeyeaters and silvereyes.

Berry Farm Food

(By the way, if I appear to be gushing, I make no apologies – this place deserves to be gushed about!)

The next step is to take a stroll through the lovely cottage gardens that surround the café – there is always something pretty in bloom, regardless of the season. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a Splendid Fairy-wren (the name says it all)! On the way in (or out), you may notice the interesting array of ‘lawnmowers’ that graze below the vines and fruit bushes near the property’s entrance – geese, chickens, emus, I’ve even spotted a peacock!

The Berry Farm Garden

Of course, no visit to the Berry Farm is complete without checking out their amazing Cellar Door to sample (and purchase) from their extensive range of gourmet products including homemade jams, preserves, pickles, sauces, fruit wines, liqueurs, and – my personal favourite – their Club House Series of fortified wines. I never leave without at least two bottles of Boysenberry Port (No. 3) to take home and enjoy as a perfect nightcap with a square or two of dark chocolate…or warm brownies.

I’ve been fortunate to visit the Berry Farm at different times of year. While the menu and gardens change with the seasons, the eternal charm, beauty and indulgent treats on offer ensure I always leave with a big smile and happy tummy. And that goes for all of Margaret River as well!

Margs Collage (twinbutterfly)

I must extend my sincere gratitude to the lovely Care for this exciting opportunity to be a guest ‘juicer’ on her beautiful blog. I’ve been a big fan of Flavored Lemons since we ‘met’ at the beginning of the year via a Blogging101 course, and I have to admit I’m a bit nervous that my rather bombastic, impulsive style of writing may seem a little out of place here. In any case, this really was a fun, challenging experience. Thank you, Care!

All photos featured in this post are owned with all rights reserved to the guest blogger, twinbutterfly of foodtouristconfession.wordpress.com

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Of Goodbyes and A New Beginning

Wow! Ain’t this perfect? Waking up late on a Monday without the noise of construction going on from the other building beside ours is just THE life! Being used to a long Christmas break from where I’m from, I felt I’ve been deprived rest during the holidays since  non-working days were limited to only the exact Christmas and New Year’s days here. But now… Australia Day!!! What an awesome time to reminisce the story of how I got here in the first place.

A few months back, I was only a bored employee who was desperate for an exciting change. Don’t get me wrong, ‘bored’ doesn’t mean I had all the time in the world with nothing to do. It was boring because almost all I did was work. I go home so late that brushing my teeth before going to bed is the only thing I could do by the time I reach home. A little after a year of marriage, my husband and I got our resident visas. Immediately, we started packing 20+ years of our lives into 80 kilos of luggage. It was easier said than done. We were surprised with how much things we’ve collected in a span of 1 year. We had to pack them all in boxes to be left with my parents’ with a promise to come back for them one day once we have finally ‘settled’ in. My husband and I gave our beloved cars each to our own moms. We put our apartment on the market for sale. With 80 kilos, we can only bring a number of clothes, a few pairs of shoes and some of the basics to the extent allowed by the Australian Border Protection. Though we wanted to cry as we were boxing and leaving everything behind for the unknown, things happened so fast that we didn’t actually had the time to. Before we closed the door to our apartment one last time,  we said a prayer of how thankful we were for all those times it sheltered us and gave nothing but good memories of our young love, fun sleep overs and hopeful prayers.

FotorCreated
The home we left behind

You can only truly appreciate something when it’s gone… or when you’re on the brink of losing it. A few days before we left, we were able to reflect on how much of a good life we’ve been living in our country. It was already better than most have. More than anything, leaving the people proved to be most difficult. My husband was used to living oceans away from his family, but I wasn’t. This was the first time I’m leaving them for a period lasting for more than 2 weekends. We used to go visit my family even after we got married. It was really hard and even now, I always miss them. But this is also a way of building independence, fulfilling the leaving (the parents) part of marriage to cleave to the spouse. With the sadness of goodbye comes the excitement of new relationships ahead. So apart from our own families, we also left our friends, our shared colleagues from work, our spiritual and professional mentors, our church and a few other people who were part of our lives but don’t fall into one of those categories. We left our comfort zone and sailed into a future unknown–with no jobs, no families, no friends, with only a few thousand bucks and the conviction that God comes with us and will see us through. My husband was scared, I was excited.

People
My family, friends, colleagues and our church on goodbye dinners before we left

Our original flight booking was to Melbourne with a connecting flight from Sydney. We thought our personalities better suit the Melbourne life described by the internet, but God thought otherwise. We didn’t find a place to stay in Melbourne, neither did we find a job. A few days before our arrival, an old colleague confirmed he can take us into his home for a few days. I met him in a brief encounter when I was doing an audit of an area he used to manage for the company we used to work for. Daring as I am, I sent him an email asking for help. He gladly obliged and even gave us tips for the big move. If not for him, we would have been so lost in Australia. He was the one who fetched us from the airport. His family accepted us into their home, though they barely knew us, and treated us like their own. “I told you God will see us through”, I told my husband. 5 days before our flight, we called Qantas and advised that we are cancelling our connecting flight to Melbourne. We are staying in Sydney.

with the couple who gave us shelter on our first few days in Sydney
with the couple who gave us shelter on our first few days in Sydney

They told us the must-do’s for the first days: open a bank account and deposit our money, get a local SIM card, apply for Medicare, familiarize ourselves with the public transportation, learn where to buy groceries and medicines, find our own place to rent and apply for job openings. On top of that, they took us with them when they ate out and shop and even brought us to the landmarks of Sydney. They brought us along when they went out of town for a picnic to enjoy the early season of spring.

Our first few days enjoying Spring
Our first few days enjoying Spring


As if it weren’t enough, God sent us another one of my former colleagues to come meet us on our second day. He took a leave from work to accompany us doing our first days’ must-do’s and actively helped us in finding a place to stay (which would later play a big role to how we are to find one in the next few days).

My good, old buddy
My good, old buddy

On our first 5 days of staying with them, we’ve gained a good first impression of the place we’ve left everything for.

seeing the Opera House for the first time
seeing the Opera House for the first time,
and the Harbour Bridge
…the Harbour Bridge,
and my first fireworks in Darling Harbour
and my first fireworks in Darling Harbour

And right then, we fell in love with this country. ‘Cause how can anyone not love Sydney? God has been faithful to his promise that he will be with us always, wherever we go. Indeed, since those first days ’til now, everyday has been a…

Happy Australia Day!