Sunday, 4 December 2022

Potato gem and tofu bacon skillet casserole

It seems that when I say Pomme Noisettes, many people don't understand.  They seem more commonly referred to as Tater Tots (as the Americans say) but we always called them Pomme Noisettes as a child.  In Australia now they are marketed as Potato Gems.  They were such a great treat as a child and recently seem to have come back to popularity.  This potato gem skillet casserole appealed for that nostalgic appeal and also because it looked beautiful and appealing in the way it is presented.

The recipe I had in mind that I had seen a few times was potato gems arranged over a tomato and chorizo stew.  It was one of those recipes I saw everywhere until I went looking for it.  It was not ideal as I wanted to use my cast iron frypan and I have read that tomatoes and other acidic foods are not great for the cast iron.  Instead I decided to make a creamy stew of beans and vegies. 

Then Sylvia expressed interesting in it but she wanted to have tofu bacon instead of beans and we worked out which vegetables suited her.  I found a few vegetarian recipes for inspiration (Inquiring Chef, Holy Cow, Kitchen Confidante).  I fried the tofu bacon, mushroom and capsicum in separate batches.  I added in the corn and peas and added them to a creamy cheesy sauce.  Sylvia enjoyed helping with the preparation, especially arranging the potato gems on top of the stew.

I made these about a month ago on a warm day but it was still a wonderful feeling to take the frypan out of the oven and revel in the golden potato gems with creamy stew bubbling up between them.  We both enjoyed it for tea, though I think I enjoyed the stew more than the yummy potato balls.  It was all the better because there had been a shortage of potato gems in the supermarket when we had been planning it.  The excitment of finding them eventually in a supermarket further away than our usual, was almost as exciting as tasting the hot bubbling creamy potatoey stew.

More stovetop to oven recipes on Green Gourmet Giraffe blog:
Nicki’s Nana’s chulent
(v)
Mexicale pie
Tahini stew with feta and dill dumplings
(v)  
Vegan stovies (potato stew with home made 'mince meat)
  (v)
Vegetarian cassoulet

Potato gem and tofu bacon skillet casserole
An original Green Gourmet Giraffe recipe
Serves 4

Neutral oil (such as rice bran oil) for frying
1/3 batch of tofu bacon, fried
2 cups diced mushrooms
2 capsicums (1 red, 1 green), diced
1/2 cup frozen green peas
60g tin of corn, rinsed and drained
1 dessertspoon of butter, or margarine
1 dessertspoon of plain wholemeal flour
2 cups milk, approx (I used soy milk)
2 tbsp cream cheese
1 handful grated cheese (I used mozzarella, cheddar and parmesan)
750g frozen potato gems (pomme noisettes or tater tots)

Preheat oven to 200 C.

Prepare tofu bacon and vegies:
Separately fry tofu bacon (if not already fried), then mushrooms, then capsicums in oil in cast iron pan.  Set aside with peas and corn.

Make the sauce:
Melt butter (it melts fast on cast iron) and stir in flour in cast iron frypan.  Stir over low heat for a minute or so until the roux smells cooked.  Slowly add in milk, stirring frequently to make sure the mixture does not get lumpy.  Once all milk is stirred in, increase heat and gently bring to the boil.  Stir in cream cheese and grated cheese until melted.  The sauce should not be too thick so we can mix in add-ins.

Assemble and bake:
Stir vegies and tofu bacon into cheese sauce.  Arrange potato gems on top to cover the creamy sauce.  Bake for 45 minutes until gems are golden brown.  Leftovers can be kept in the fridge in a tub and heated up over a few days.

On stereo:
Midnights: Taylor Swift

Monday, 28 November 2022

A halloween lunch platter with Jack Skellington Cake

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As regular readers will know, we hold a lunch each year around Halloween to remember our twin boys.  It has been difficult holding any gatherings since Covid hit almost 3 years ago so it was nice this year to have my parents visit to remember with Sylvia and her dad.   Sylvia and I had a lovely time planning the lunch.  As usual we spent time going through Pinterest for fun ideas.

I took a day of leave for the lunch but worked the previous day.  Fortunately Sylvia was at home and able to bake cookie shapes while I worked.  (I loved that there was some Halloween decoration in the lift lobby at work.)  I would share the recipe Sylvia used for the cookies but it came from in her head with just one phone call to me to discuss how hot and long the cookies should bake.

I knew that we didn't have lots of energy to prepare food so we kept it simple.  While I baked a chocolate cake after work, Sylvia piped icing over her cookies to make them look amazing!

The birthday cake was very simple.  I made a favourite vegan chocolate cake.  (Unlike the linked recipe I baked it in a 20cm round cake tin rather than 2 x 15cm cake tins.)  We made a simple buttercream of butter, icing sugar, lemon juice and a little water as needed.  Sylvia decorated it with oreo cookies and shoestring licorice to look like Jack Skellingtonn (from the Nightmare Before Christmas film).


And because we had bought oreos and shoestring licorice, Sylvia decided to make some oreo spiders.  They were pretty simple.  She separated the two sides of an oreo, used some melted white chocolate to attach the 8 licorice legs and placed the other side of the cookie back on.  She used an edible pen to draw eyes on some white (scream) m&ms and stuck them to the top with more melted white chocolate.

They looked pretty cute.  Sylvia also made some savoury spiders with olives, stuffed with cream cheese and a caper.  She poked 8 holes in the olive and poked 8 rosemary legs in these holes.  Then she cut out some Swiss cheese into a circle that sat on water crackers and she stuck the olive spiders on a blob of cream cheese.


We had fun putting most of the spooky food on a Halloween platter that you can see at the top of this post.  The cookies and spiders were the stars but we also packed it with grapes, crackers, sausage mummies, poky, red capsicum, yellow baby tomatoes, cheetos, popcorn, strawberries.

 

We had a smaller platter that was less impressive but a bit healthier.  Bread, cheese, guacamole dip (another of Sylvia's specialties), grapes, raspberry cheese, crackers, sausage mummies and red capsicum.  It was a fine lunch with generous slices of Jack Skellington chocolate cake.  Lovely!

Sunday, 6 November 2022

In My Kitchen - November 2022


We are having an odd spring that starts with some hope of sunshine and in October we had a ridiculous amount of rain.  The rain and the floods around Victoria have been record breaking.  The price of living keeps going up.  I have recently spent too much time with the electrician, the vet and then dentist.  I have got appointment times wrong and even got so confused as to think eggs weren't vegetarian at a recently brunch.  I am just glad not to be in the UK where Liz Truss self imploded as PM and replaced by Rishi Sunak who has a very low bar to reach.  But there is progress too.  I have finally got my bike serviced and am back on public transport after too long of avoiding both.  I have made some good meals at home, had a few nice sociable meals and my new job is going well, despite some challenges transitioning from Mac to PC.

Above is one of our nice rituals we have hung onto: Friday night is pizza night!  It is a bit odd as I am not working on Fridays at my new job.  I am so used to relaxing with pizza at the end of a work day but Fridays are usually busy anyway.  On this day of the above pizza - potato pizza from Heaven with capsicum and sun dried tomato as extras - we had postponed pizza to Saturday.  I had eaten brunch at the Boot Factory with my brother and his girlfriend, then lunch with my friend Eliza at Fattie Prince.  It's a long time since I ate three meals from a cafe in a day.


I bought this packet of dried watermelon out of curiosity.  I am not a huge watermelon fan and found the dried version to be ridiculously sweet.  It is not something I can even think of any ways to use it in recipes.

Another purchase that I am not so sure about are these Brazilian cheese bread balls.  They were sort of gluggy like uncooked bread.  I am sure I cooked them long enough but as I read what I have read I get less confident of this.

We have tried some new preserved strawberries from the supermarket.  I liked the gently dried strawberries.  Even better was the freeze dried strawberry crisps.

We bought these Cookies and Screem M&Ms for Halloween.  Stay tuned to see how we used them ....


Another curiosity purchase.  They were weird layers of sweet corn chips.  Good to taste but not really something I need to buy again.


We also had to try these cheese toasties Twisties.  Now that was a gimmick.  Twisties already are cheese flavoured carbs.  They weren't as orange as regular cheese Twisties.  And there is also something wrong about the term "cheese toastie".  I am not sure of the origin of "toastie" but it is not a traditional Aussie term that is suitable for a traditional Aussie crisp.

I was pretty excited by a new kombucha flavour - raspberry and blackcurrant.  It was delicious.  Them there was the summer fruits cheese and raspberry flavoured freeze dried apples.  A pleasant reminder that summer fruit is coming.

Sylvia is already excited about Christmas, even before Halloween.  So here is some festive and scary food - gingerbread men and skull chuppa chup lollypops.


I have been cooking a bit more evening meals.  This one was a hit with Sylvia.  It is a hokkien noodle stirfry with green capsicum, red cabbage, mushroom, soy sauce, garlic, sweet soy sauce, maple syrup, lemon juice and fried tofu.  We have had it on repeat a couple of times since.


Another quick weeknight meal was this spaghetti dish.  I cooked the spaghetti with a splash of pasta water, a drizzle of olive oil, some seasoning stirred well together with a spoonful of cream cheese and a some grated cheese.  I then added some lightly microwaved red capsicum and asparagus.  This was a lovely meal.

I confess to sharing some of Sylvia's joy in the festive season.  We had an outing to Spotlight and found this star embossed rolling pin and a few miniature Christmas trees.  I am still not sure which recipe is a good one to use with the rolling pin as the embossed stars will disappear on any baking that rises.  I have seen recipes for embossed cookies but need to hunt some out.

We also found a 10 piece gingerbread house cookie cutter set.  This seems a good compromise between buying a gingerbread house kit (with pre-made gingerbread that is drying out on the shelves) and making a gingerbread house from scratch (where it is always a bit of detailed work to cut out the shapes in the right size. 

Here is the pieces as listed on the back of the packet.  It looks like it will be easier making a gingerbread house this year.  Now we just have to replace the icing piping bag that split in the Halloween biscuit decorations.

 
I was pleased to find a solution to going to the supermarket without a bag for groceries.  I usually have a couple of octopus straps.  When I was at the supermarket recently I found an empty box on the shelves that I could strap to the back of my bike.  The only problem was that it made Sylvia crave violet crumbles after seeing them all over the box.


I am sending this post to Sherry of Sherry's Pickings for the In My Kitchen event.  If you would like to join in, send your post to Sherry by 13th of the month.  Or just head over to her blog to visit more kitchens and her wonderful hand drawn header.

Tuesday, 1 November 2022

Remembering Alex and Ian 15


Today is 15 years since our sons, Alex and Ian, were stillborn.  We remember them.  We miss them.  We wonder what might have been.  It was hard to think of them as little babies but even harder to wonder how they would have been as adolescents.  We have eaten cake today to remember them.

It is my tradition to post a memorial post each year.  And some of the links to articles about stillbirth over the past year.  I continue to learn more every year. Recently I read a Twitter thread (which I can't find again or elsewhere) about Shidu, a term for bereaved Chinese parents.  It was discussing how Chinese parents depend on their child and when their only child dies it creates great social and financial difficulties that could impact the Chinese economy if Covid  was allowed to cause  a critical mass of deaths.  I was interested in a term for bereaved parents, which I haven't come across before.  Here's more to read:

‘We have a new capacity for pain’: comedian Rob Delaney on life after the death of his son, The Guardian, 23 October 2022.
Rob Delaney interviewed about his new book about his baby son's death, A Heart that Works.

"The silence is deafening." The unspoken pain of stillbirth. Mama Mia, 22 October 2022.
Cathy Nguyen reflects on the stillbirth of her first child and being torn between the two worlds of motherhood and grief.

COVID-19 vaccine may protect pregnant women from SARS-CoV-2 placentitis and stillbirth, News Medical, 12 October 2022.
Drusilla J. Roberts and colleagues recently published a literature review in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology about stillbirth due to Covid19's effects on the placenta and how vaccination can protect against this.

Stillbirth: 'Finding my baby's grave gave me comfort', BBC News, 12 May 2022. 
Lillian Thorpe did not know where her stillborn baby was buried for 6 decades and the stillbirth was hidden from those around her.  She was helped to find the grave and found it a comfort.

What doesn't kill you makes you ... don't get me started, The Age, 28 October 2022. 
Kerri Sackville writes an opinion piece about how trauma does not make people stronger.  The research backs her up.  Having people say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger or everything happens for a reason, puts unnecessary pressure on victims.

How people like Meghan Markle, Britney Spears and Cristiano Ronaldo are changing the way we talk about miscarriage and stillbirth, ABC News, 28 May 2022. 
Angelica Silva writes about the silence and stigma around Stillbirth that is being challenged by celebrities and others on social media.

The unspoken grief of multiple stillbirths in rural Pakistan: an interpretative phenomenological study, BMC Women's Health, 22 February 2022. 
Asim et al interview bereaved mothers and found that they were let down by the health system and shunned socially.

Stillbirth rates rose in Melbourne's COVID-19 lockdown, despite dropping overall in past three years, ABC News, 25 November 2021.
Tegan Taylor writes about the surprising discovery that stillbirth rates rose during lockdown in Melbourne though it is not clear why this was so.

Cristiano Ronaldo Shares Photo of His Newborn Daughter After Losing Twin Boy: 'Forever Love', People, 30 April 2022. 
Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United player, mourned the death of his twin son and celebrated the life of his twin daughter.  Heartbreaking and difficult.

Friday, 21 October 2022

Vegan mushroom and wild rice soup

Although a wild rice soup has never been part of my culture, it is just the sort of hearty soup I love.  It is very creamy - too much dairy for my liking in fact but delicious with a vegan creaminess.  And the wild rice and vegies were nubbly and satisfying.  It is almost a year since I made this recipe, which I have dredged up from my drafts, but I still remember the soup fondly.  Every now and again I have intended to post it and then been distracted. 


It might seem wrong that I didn't actually have any wild rice when I made this but I had lots of leftover red basmati rice.  It had some of the nubbly quality that I like in wild rice.  And it had to be used.  It was more annoying that as I was about to make it, I discovered I had no white miso.  This is something I usually have about the house but had run out of.  The white miso is key to the unmami flavour of the slightly cheesy cashew bean sauce.


And that is all my notes say about this soup other than that it was lovely and creamy.  I love the speckled look of this creamy soup.  It was a pretty crazy time at the end of last year.  There have been many changes since then and I hope that some might help my life settle and make room for more cooking.


Soups have always been a favourite and easy meal but I just haven't made many lately.  However I am starting to make a few more casseroles baked in the oven.  As it comes into spring I hope to have a few more salads and stirfries.  And I would love to make this soup again.  One day!

More wild rice recipes on Green Gourmet Giraffe blog:

Asparagus, artichoke and wild rice salad (gf, v)
Pumpkin, corn and wild rice chowder (gf, v)
Stuffed apples with wild rice, mushroom and cranberry nut roast (v)
Wild rice, cranberry, celery and walnut salad (gf, v)
Wild rice burgers

Vegan mushroom and wild rice soup
Adapted from The Kitchn and Yup It's Vegan

Cashew bean sauce:
3/4 cup raw cashews (soaked for 2 hours to overnight)
1 small cooked potato, chopped
3 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tbsp white or yellow miso
400g tin of cannelini (or white) beans rinsed and drained

Soup:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced

4 celery stalks, diced

200g mushrooms, diced

1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 red capsicum, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 cup white wine
 (or more stock)
1 bay leaf

5 cups vegetable stock
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary

4 cups cooked wild rice (or red basmati rice)
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Salt, as required

[If your rice is not cooked, start cooking it before starting.]

First make the Cashew bean sauce.  Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.  If you have a high speed blender you don't need to soak the nuts but you will need to add a bit of water to get it moving to make a smooth consistency.  

Now cook the soup.  Heat a stockpot on medium high heat.  Fry the onion and celery with a pinch of salt for 3-5 minutes.  Add mushrooms, carrot and capsicum and another pinch of salt.  Continue frying on medium heat for 15-20 min until browned on medium heat.  Add garlic and oregano and stir for about 30 minutes until fragrant. 

Add the white wine, bay leaf, stock (you can set aside a couple of cups to rinse out the blender when you add the cashew bean sauce), rosemary and cooked rice.  Simmer for about 15-20 minutes or until vegies are well cooked.  Add cashew bean sauce (if you have set aside some stock to rinse out the last bits of sauce from the blender) and pepper.  Check taste and adjust seasoning.  Serve with fresh parsley.

On the Stereo:
Talking with the Taxman about Poetry: Billy Bragg

Thursday, 6 October 2022

In My Kitchen: October 2022

October sees us heading towards the end of the year with the scent of jasmine on a balmy spring night, the sight of  trees in blossom lining the streets, the warmth of the the sun on my back, and the joy of laundry drying by the end of the day on the washing line.  Yes spring can be full of hope (once we get past losing an hour when daylight savings starts).  September has been busy with finishing up at my job of 5 years, getting out and out on leave, and enjoying Geelong winning the AFL grand final.

Above is a savoury platter I put together with Sylvia for the Grand Final.  This is why I love the grand final.  It is a great excuse for fun snacking, though if my team wins it is all the sweeter.  (Carn the Cats!)  I especially love it as an excuse to bake vegetarian sausage rolls.  Add some chips, crackers, cheese, vegie sticks and hummus and we have a feast!

We were given some leftover cake pops from my niece's birthday party.  My sister always organises such classy parties.

 
 
Last month I bought some fresh kelp pasta.  I stuck it in the freezer for a few weeks and then I took it out and made a fine meal in my cast iron frypan.  I first fried some diced pumpkin in olive oil, then some cauliflower (with a bit of water to help it along) and then diced capsicum and crushed garlic.  Then I took the vegies out and gently fried the pasta adding water a few times and letting it cook off.  I seasoned it, then added lemon juice and parmesan to the leftovers.  It was really good.
 
 
 
As I mentioned above, I recently left my job of 5 years.  It was sad to say farewell to some of the lovely folk I worked with.  I hope I might stay in touch.  We had a farewell lunch at the pub and there were gifts.  The green tea and lemongrass candle smells wonderful.  The Readings vouchers were raelly appreciated (see below).  And I really loved the phoenix coasters.  It is the perfect symbol for a new job - rising from the ashes into a something new and wonderful!

 

We tried to get out and about while I had my leave.  One great foodie expedition was the Queen Victoria Market (I wrote about this market many years ago).  I bought the Hickory Barbeque Boulder crisps and then the temptations rose when I saw the Vegan Rob's Cauli Crisps.  They are a vegan version of Pringles and very very good.  (Sylvia not a fan!)

I bought some Pac Man bamboo socks - a fine combo of retro video gaming and modern sustainability.  Sylvia's choice was to try soy whip to see if it was as good as the dairy whipped cream in a can.  She did not like it because it was so sweet.  I have never liked cream of any sort so cannot recommend this at all.


I can never resist the American doughnut kitchen hot jam doughnuts.  They are still as good as when I was a child, which is amazing consistency for many decades.  I still don't think I have found any other doughnut that  is quite as amazing.  Yes I love nutella doughnuts but even they pale beside these golden crispy sugary doughnuts with soft warm yeasty insides oozing berry jam.

 

I bought these Veggie Bratwurst.  I am always hoping to find a bratwurst that lives up to my memory of the meat ones - which is now so many decades ago that I expect my memories are not so strong any more.  I am yet to try these but they look pretty good.

I got excited by the baked goods in the deli hall at the Queen Vic Market.  Irewarra sourdough is the best.  The baguette was chewy and dense as it should be.  The pretzel was amazingly chewy and all the more prized for being the last one in the stall.  I used to have the spinach and feta boreks from time to time.  They aren't quite as cheap as they used to be but they are huge and very filling compared to the ones I have being having near work lately.  And you might even spy another pair of bamboo socks.

Lastly I bought this spinach gnocchi in the deli hall.  It was such a beautiful green colour.

I was searching for something for dinner and came across Smitten Kitchen's Skillet Ravioli with Spinach.  There was no ravioli in the house but I had that packet of spinach gnocchi in the freezer.  It worked pretty well but was slightly mushy from defrosting in the pan.  Topped with garlicky spinach and lots of parmesan and just a little mozzarella.  Then crisped up under the grill.  Sylvia Delicious, even if a little rich.  And I was pleased Sylvia had some too.

It had been a while since we had browsed the centre aisles of an Aldi supermarket.  But when you leave your purse at a clinic and have to return for it the next day, a touch of Aldi does the trick!  We even ventured outside the middle aisle to try some Aldi brand Tim Tams, salted pretzel chocolate (really good) and reed infusers to make the house smell a bit nicer!

This is our dessert platter we put together for the Grand Final.  Lamingtons cut into triangles like my nan used to do, lots of chocolates, pear, banana, strawberries, caramel popcorn and some garnishes from the garden!  It was pretty amazing.  And there was no need for making dinner with all the leftovers of two platters.  In fact they lasted longer than that!


We had a day trip to Daylesford while I was on leave so we could visit the Sunday market.  It is so long since I have been there.  We bought a jar of black garlic salt.  It smells amazing but I am yet to use it.  I am still not sure how to use it.  Pasta?  Risotto?  Dips?  Any suggestions?

Also at the market were these lovely wooden carved roses.  They even sprayed them with scent so they smell amazing.  And we had twister potatoes from one of the food vans.  There was a queue and we were lucky to get the last ones.  Then we went to the juice van where Sylvia got oj and I had an apple and blackberry juice icy pole.  Great for a nice sunny day out of town.

Let's finish with my purchase with my Readings gift cards that my colleagues gave me as a farewell gift.  Readings is a favourite bookstore that I have been visiting for decades.  Firstly I made a beeline for Jarvis Cocker's Good Pop Bad Pop that sounds like a delightful ramble through his detritus.  And then I found Van Demonians by Janet McCalman.  She writes such insightful and interesting Melbourne history.  I also bought a very nice block of fingerlime chocolate and a New Yorker card that took my fancy.

I am sending this post to Sherry of Sherry's Pickings for the In My Kitchen event.  If you would like to join in, send your post to Sherry by 13th of the month.  Or just head over to her blog to visit more kitchens and her wonderful hand drawn header.

Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Philip Island, Penguins, Cape Woolamai, Cowes

Early in September, I had a weekend at Philip Island.  I have not been there for 15 years so it was nice to return and it was a good chance to spend time with my lovely colleagues before leaving my group a week later.  My (former) director organises these work retreats every year as a way of getting his group together for some social time out of Melbourne.


Philip Island is easily accessible by a road bridge connect San Remo on the mainland and Newhaven on the island.  We stayed at the Island Accommodation in Newhaven.  It is a hostel with lots of bunk beds and some shared bathrooms.  We took up most of the 2nd floor so had the large kitchen and lounge areas to ourselves.

On our first evening we went to see the iconic Fairy penguin parade of Philip Island.  They come out of the sea each evening in a waddle (which I think is what they call the group).  We were asked not to take photos because if people accidentally use a flash then the penguins get so stressed they vomit up their fish.  A fate I would not wish on anyone!  The above photo is of everyone sitting on the seats where we watched them waddle our of the water when it got dark.  I was glad there were many groups waddling up the beach unlike last time I visited.

Then we walked back along the duckboards and spent a lot of time watching the penguins socialising.  As you can see from the info centre sign above, they were pretty frisky at this time of year.  Really cute and noisy.  There was a little stream that the occasional penguin cruised down on their belly.  Others gathered on the bank or in tufts of grass.  Some were so close to the duckboards, it would have been possible to reach out and pat them.  Which I wanted to all the more after one of my colleagues was asking if they would be fluffy.  But we resisted.

After the penguins, we picked up takeaway pizza from Woolami pizza to eat back at the accommodation.  I really enjoyed the Pumpkin Pesto pizza.  It was topped with roasted pumpkin, sun-dried tomatoes, baby spinach, feta, olives, basil pesto and parmesan, cheese, and napoli sauce.  After pizza there were games, drinks but I sat in the tv room watching the football with some colleagues. 

On Saturday we had a quick breakfast and then headed to Woolamai surf beach to start the Cape Woolamai Walk.  Finding the start of the track was difficult and signposting was generally pretty minimal.  I really enjoyed the 7-8 km walk but my legs were pretty stiff the next day.

We started with a walk along the beach.  The surf beach is wild and dangerous with huge crashing waves.  It was incredibly windy at this part of the walk.  The cliffs that looked over the sand were quite eroded with various coloured earth, tufts of grass and spindly tree roots sticking out.  We got to the charmingly named Magic land stairs.

Walking up high was great to look down at the water, the cliffs, the rock formations.  The landscape around us was just shaggy grass.  There were very few trees, only a few small shrubs.  We passed by caves that reminded me of smugglers in Enid Blyton, saw wild waves crashing against the rocks and calm clear blue seas, and finally reached the above view of the pinnacles. 

Not far on, we saw an echidna rooting around for food just by the walking track.  It is pretty rare to see this ancient native mammal that lays eggs.  You can see a hole behind the echidna in the photo where it has dug for ants.  It was amazing to stop and watch this cute little bundle of spikes.

We kept walking to the lookout where we could see the mainland across Philip Island.  Then as we walked on the landscape changed into woodlands.  More trees and ferns and plants wrapped around tree trunks.  We saw a wallaby still as a statue among the trees.

Suddenly we arrived at the Old Granite Quarry.  The gentle waves on the beach here were so different to the rough foaming surf earlier on in the walk.  We clambered over the piles of roughly hewn stones.  I might have needed a little help.  The views stretched to the bridge between the mainland and the island.

We walked across the beach in Cleeland Bight.  The sign said that there was no beach access at high tide so we were lucky it was low.  The cliffs here were just loose sand that would be difficult to climb.  In fact, the beach was pretty soft too.  Gradually all of us took off our shoes because it was easier to walk closer to the tide where the sand was firmer.  We looked at rock pools, shells and old bones.  The last was a bit exciting to all the true crime enthusiasts.  Then there was a quick walk through some trees and we were back at the carpark.

We were pretty hungry after the walk and drove to the Island Burger Bar for lunch.  I was pleased that one of the vegetarian burgers was called The Pinnacle (after the rock formation we saw on the walk).  So there was no question of which one I ordered.  It had a house-made broccoli, zucchini & quinoa patty, grilled pumpkin, salad and vegan mayo.  I also had a small side of chips.  The burger looked small but it was really filling.  

Then some of the group went on for a short chilly swim and two of us drove to the supermarket for drinks and to see some of the Cowes wildlife in the carpark.  Honestly the two men arguing were old enough to know better!

Back at our accommodation I was glad for a lie down before heading to the kitchen which was buzzing with my colleagues preparing dishes for dinner.  There were a few steaks, lots of salads, and a lot of work being done on making fantastic dumplings from scratch.  I made a favourite smoky potato, bean and corn salad.  Dinner was great and everyone is always very kind in making sure there is plenty of vegie food for me.  It has always impressed me at these retreats how good the group is at working together in the kitchen both preparing and cleaning up. 

Our director was too busy to come to the retreat but he appeared by zoom to conduct the annual trivia quiz.  One of the post docs had been the Philip Island chocolate factory for prizes.  It was great fun.  The weekend of our retreat was the Moon Festival so one of our Chinese colleagues has made these beautiful moon cakes to have with dessert (sticky date pudding!).  There was more footy on the telly and more cleaning up and it was time for bed.

On Sunday morning we packed and left.  I drove to Island Wholefoods in Cowes and had some Buckwheat pancakes for breakfast. The cafe was all vegan and my pancakes were also gluten free.   The three fluffy buckwheat pancakes looked so pretty served with chia berry jam, toasted nuts and seeds, fresh strawberries, coconut ice cream and a drizzle of maple syrup, plus some berries and banana on the side.  It is so long since I have had pancakes that I really enjoyed them but could not finish the huge dish.


As I ate, a little bird watched me and constantly hopped onto my outdoor table.  As soon as I finished eating, the bird snatched some of my leftovers.  I heard someone call it a honey eater so I looked it up and it looked most like a Yellow Wattlebird but the internet says these are only found in Tasmania across Bass Strait.  The Little Wattlebird is common on the island but seems a bit smaller than my friend.  Please let me know if you are better at birdwatching than me.  

I also spotted more birdlife on the island.  A galah flying past my bedroom window in the morning, a kookaburra sitting on a road sign and did not quite look like it.  And there were quite a few cape barron geese walking with chicks along the roadside.

I had a quick walk along the pier in Cowes to take in the ocean once more before heading home.

The weekend we were away was the weekend after Queen Elizabeth's death had been announced.  While we talked about it a bit there was not much sign of it about but at the Cowes pier, the flags were at half mast in a sign of respect.

Lastly, I made a few last impulsive purchases before heading home.  I bought a few chocolates at the lolly shop and also a pair of Merry People's beautiful green gumboots.

Other holidays in the East of Victoria on Green Gourmet Giraffe: