On tour with the locals in Bendigo

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Making family gnocchi traditions, when you’re not even Italian

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Historic Bendigo in central Victoria may have been founded on the discovery of gold, but on a recent trip there we uncovered some other treasures—of the culinary kind. We even managed to bring some of them back home with us and have introduced a little bit of Italian family tradition into our own household, even though I only have a tiny bit of Italian blood in me, just enough to give me dark hair. The making of ricotta gnocchi has now become quite the family affair.

On a fabulous Food Fossicking tour of Bendigo, we visited a number of local specialty food producers and suppliers. For those unacquainted with Bendigo, let me tell you this thriving little metropolis with a big country feel is quite the foodie destination. I’ll tell you more about the food tour and the other eating delights another time (too much to tell at once) but let me tell you about the gnocchi we discovered at the end.

Fresh and airy Hoo-gah Cafe in downtown Bendigo is the home of Gina, who’s been a chef for 30 years and is now serving up wholesome and delicious goodies in her own cafe, with night time cooking classes on the side. The cafe has been closed of late but they’re back open again now. We popped in there towards the end of the tour and that’s where Gina taught us to make the gnocchi. (Just to be clear: when I say ‘us’ I mean mainly hubbie dear because he’s actually a better cook than me and I was too busy taking notes and photos to pay proper attention to the technique.) We whipped it up in a flash because Gina likes recipes with only five steps, which means she’s talking our sort of cooking language.

Gina’s been making gnocchi forever, so she told us, because her Nonna used to live with her and that’s what Italian grandmothers do—teach the grandkids to cook. Apparently now it’s what Australian grandfathers with English heritage do too. So we learnt how to knead it, roll it out, cut it up and how to bake it – and it was pretty bloody good. I must say I sometimes find gnocchi a bit bland but the addition of ricotta takes it to a new level, then when you add in the tomato sauce, fresh basil and bocconcini  and bake it all up, it’s fantastic.

So now, with hands-on instruction under our belts and the recipe in hand, we’ve brought it back home and introduced it to our brood of grandkids. Little Miss 6 is becoming quite a keen little cook and developing a real interest in food. She’s totally enamoured with Masterchef and rides the waves of nerves and excitement with the contestants as they cook-off and fight for immunity and elimination, and she also really enjoys being in the kitchen herself. In fact, she’s becoming quite the little sous-chef.

It’s actually wonderful to see them trying all sorts of foods and flavours and understanding what good food is all about, especially when we can add in herbs or other things that we’ve grown ourselves. It’s a great way to educate while having fun. She’s declared this dish her favourite ever. Now Master 3 (nearly 4) wants to be in the action as well. They’re surprisingly efficient with the rolling and cutting actions.

And you simply can’t believe how much they eat when they’ve helped make the dish themselves. I must say, ours didn’t look nearly as pretty as the originals but as they say on Masterchef, the taste is the most important thing. The whole gnocchi making experience even got turned into a weekly Topic Talk for the Year 1 class, so now a whole bunch of six year olds know about the joys of gnocchi making.

Here’s the recipe from Gina with some extra words from us. Let me know if you have a go at it yourself and how it works out.

Or if you’re in Bendigo, you could pop into Cafe Hoo-gah and try it there.

Recipe

1.5 cups ricotta cheese
¼ cup parmesan cheese
1 cup plain flour
1 large egg
¼ teaspoon salt
Pinch pepper

Extra flour for rolling

Place a medium sized saucepan on stove to boil and add a teaspoon of salt to water.
Place ricotta, parmesan, egg and seasoning in medium sized mixing bowl and stir
lightly. Add plain flour and stir lightly again to combine. Sprinkle extra flour onto (clean!) benchtop, take a small handful of the dough and roll out with your hands to form a sausage about 15mm thick. Dough should be firm but pliable. If it seems too soft then add a little more flour to the bowl and remix gently. Cut into 20mm segments with quick strokes (a sharp knife or paint scraper) to retain its shape.

Once water has come to a boil drop in gnocchi in small batches and let it come back to a boil stirring the water gently to allow the gnocchi to lift off the bottom of the pan. When it floats the gnocchi is ready. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and drop in the next batch.

Serve this with your favourite tomato sauce. We place in small ramekins and bake in the oven till piping hot with bocconcini balls, fresh basil and a little more parmesan sprinkled over the top.

Makes approximately 5 serves

Simple!!

Foodie trails: eating our way up the north coast of NSW

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As COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease around the country, the whiff of travel possibilities is in the air—and it’s quite alluring. As soon as the Queensland border re-opens, I’ll be heading north on a road trip in search of warmer winter climes and treating the taste buds along the way. It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen the inside of a cafe or restaurant so I’m anticipating the trip will be dotted with culinary treats. If you’re heading north too (or south, if you’re that way inclined), here are some of my fave spots to keep your inner foodie sated as you wend your way along the coast.

Newcastle

I’m a Novocastrian by birth, so a stopover in ‘Newie’ is always an obligatory part of my itinerary, as is a visit to Lords’ Coffee and Associates for breakfast. An well-loved antique upholstered lounge marks the spot on Hamilton’s happening Beaumont Street for this quirky little establishment with great food and where everyone seems to be good friends. Headed by mullet-bearing Dan ‘Brownie’ and his brother Josh, it serves a seriously good coffee or two, a small selection of delicious hand-baked goodies, and toasty heaven. Get in early—the boys head out to surf in the afternoons.

For something a little bigger with lots of options, Merewether Surfhouse has the goods, with fabulous ocean vistas over Merewether Beach to boot. At this fresh and light-filled venue over three floors, you can choose the cafe for brekkie, enjoy cocktails with a sea breeze, or tuck into a laid back pizza or something a bit more substantial at their restaurants. Choices!

Byron Bay

For some different food flavours, venture a few minutes out of town to the Porter Street industrial area to try sleek and modern Barrio. It’s described as a ‘neighbourhood eatery’ to support the new Habitat housing development. The ever-changing menu features chargrilled meats grilled in the open kitchen, well suited to sharing so you can mix things up to get a good balance. This is a place that has some different things on the menu: we ate baked ricotta and capsicum to start or a salad of farro, roasted grapes and pickled cucumber. (In case you’re wondering, farro’s a grain sort of like rice but nutty, and terrific.) Any place with sangria on the menu gets a bonus point from me. They do breakfasts and lunches too and have aperitif hour to bring cheer to your evening.

If you’re on foot and you want to stay in town, try the bustling Byron Fresh cafe which focuses on fresh and local with a focus on healthy with a great, casual vibe. Huge choices of snacks or full on delicious dinner. Last time we were there I had an amazing seafood risotto—lots of flavour but super light. There’s a bakery too and a takeaway kiosk if you want to eat and run, and they also do craft beers. The charming cafe/restaurant opens right out onto the street where’s there’s often live entertainment which won’t drown out your conversation.

Harvest at Newrybar

If you don’t know about Newrybar, I’d suggest making an effort to making its acquaintance. Located such a few kilometres inland from Bryon Bay in the hinterland, this gorgeous little village is well worth the detour. The jewel in the crown is award-winning Harvest restaurant, which is at once old world charm and country style mingled with modernity and urbane style. It features lots of fresh local produce, some grown in their own gardens, which it converts into amazing dishes to tantalise your taste buds. Even if you can’t make it for a meal, take the opportunity to sip a glass of wine or coffee on the wrap-around timber verandah. And maybe pop into the delicatessen for some delicious take away treats. Zuchhini three ways anyone?

Bangalow

Another foodie destination well worth a slight detour is sleepy but oh so charming Bangalow, again just a skip and a hop from Byron on the way north. Our fave eating spot here is Our Corner Kitchen, a casual but delightful cafe tucked just back from the main street on, you guessed it, a corner. Good coffee (always important on the road), great brekkie burgers and baked goods. They make all their own cakes and muffins, with the exception of the Danishes which come from The Farm in Bryon Bay, which incidentally, are also terrific.

Lots of other great places to eat here as well and a gorgeous selection of shops and boutiques, especially if you’re into all these neutral and natural.

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I’ll be updating this list when we next venture north. Of course, I’ll be taking care when I do with lots of caution, hand washing and sanitiser en route as well.

Sometimes the journey is just as important as the destination, and very appetising.

The things I’ve missed most in Canberra during shutdown

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Not going to lie. I’ve rather enjoyed this little enforced hibernation we’ve been having of late. Of course, I wasn’t sick, I didn’t lose my job and I don’t live alone so I had a lot of advantages others didn’t have, but for me it felt like a becalmed spot in the swirling oceans of life in which to catch up and recharge.

Being the ‘Bush Capital’, Canberra has a plethora of big outdoors locations and places to take a stroll in the sun so getting out and about was always on the activity menu. I’ve even made it to my favourite photography location, the arboretum, a couple of times to take in a sunrise. (Sunrise I say!) There’s no lack of social distancing there and some pretty speci views.

But there were a few things in Canberra I actually rather missed. In good news, they’re starting to come back online again and now we can resume our visits. Here are some of my faves.

National Botanic Gardens

This haven of green in a fairly green city is a firm favourite in our family and great for all ages. Housing a collection of plants from the entire country, it’s also the perfect spot to take the little ones or older ones for some fresh air and a walkabout on one of their many trails. There’s stepping stones to jump across, ponds and ducks, lizards lounging in the sun and flowers and plants galore for photography. The misty rainforest gully walk has not opened up yet but hopefully will soon. The cafe has been closed (another firm favourite) but now it’s open for takeaways. Only downside is they give you take away cups which I avoid like the plague. Pity we’ve had to revert temporarily away from keep cups when the nation has been making such great inroads into educating people about the waste through disposable cups.

Old Parliament House

Whoever made the decision to convert this grand old building which previously housed our federal government into a museum and place of discovery should be given a knighthood, or a least a rousing round of applause should you be a republican. They have a marvellous array of tours on tap, including the regular Behind the Lines political cartoons exhibition and various other displays. It’s also just marvellous to roam around the parquetry corridors of former power where history was made and even explore the PM’s previous office (straight out the front of the building with direct access to the street and the rest of the world, back in the days when security wasn’t much of an issue) and the tiny, tiny nook that long served as the media centre.

Old Parliament House (OPH) – or Museum of Australian Democracy as it’s called now -also houses the marvellous PlayUp activity centre for little people which is just brilliant and a godsend on rainy days and days when little people are grumpy and need something different to do.

One thing I’m actually really bummed about is I was scheduled to go on a Top Secret Tour of OPH with Tim the Yowie Man (and yes, that’s his real name) which got cancelled in all this kerfuffle, but hopefully they’ll be able to resurrect them shortly. I’ll report back.

Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve

Okay, this massive nature reserve on the outskirts of Canberra wasn’t on my frequently visited list but should have been. I admitted a while back that I only visited this place for the first time quite recently, but now that I’ve discovered what it’s all about I was keen to go back for more. It hasn’t been possible this year (fires, smoke, virus) but now it is – just in time for winter! That’s what jackets are for! A terrific place to do a bit of walking and exploring, with or without the assistance of a ranger, and learn the history of the area. You can also meet a myriad of Aussie animals in their natural environment—it’s one of the few places you’ll be able to watch playpuses at play. What a treat.

Koala at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve

National Art Gallery

The National Gallery has just opened its doors to the pubic again in the last couple of days. Sadly for them, the Matisse to Picasso blockbuster exhibition was rudely interrupted and came to an early end, but there’s plenty more to see in their regular collections and upcoming events. At the moment you have to book a timed session, limited to an hour and a half, and it’s always possible to wander through the outdoors sculpture garden. Time it right (between 12.30 and 2pm each day) and you can experience it with the wafts of mist in operation to add a bit more atmosphere.

Coles

Well, that was my husband’s suggestion to include that in the list. Yes, I have studiously avoided Coles and all other supermarkets in fact for eight whole weeks but no, I haven’t missed it at all. (Actually, full disclosure: I did make one brief visit where I managed to get in and out in about five minutes and didn’t touch anything except the items I was buying.) Good job I have a man around the house who looks after me exceptionally well and does the shopping. I claim my immuno-compromised status as my justification. Soon he will expect me to resume some shopping duties myself but I’m still milking it while I can.

And just quietly, I didn’t really miss the gym either although my tightening pants are suggesting otherwise.

If you come to Canberra, make sure you put these places onto your itineraries. Possibly not Coles unless you’re self-catering.

And don’t forget – even though we’re opening things up, that virus is still lurking, so keep your distance, keep safe and keep washing your hands.

What did you miss going to most during shutdown?

 

International flavours: reliving travels in your cooking

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The other night we had fresh ocean salmon for dinner and had a little left over. The night after, we converted that remnant into a creamy pasta dish with salmon, white wine and a hint of lemon, and instantly I was cast back in time into the charming village of Vasson in rural France and a little restaurant steeped in tradition. It was there we first encountered that recipe, or close to it, which we duly incorporated into our culinary repertoire when we got back home. I’m into stealing ideas from other people’s cooking.

I was reminded that night that food is one of the things I most enjoy about travel. It doesn’t have to be expensive; it just has to be good, even if it’s a few simple ingredients from a market stall. Not just experiencing a world of flavours and techniques as you travel, recipes or traditions that have been around for centuries, but borrowing little bits and pieces and carrying them back home with you to become part of your own every day existence.

Sometimes our most treasured food discoveries are accidental and sometimes deliberate. This occasion was a bit of both. When travelling, you often end up at very ordinary places because of lack of local knowledge, so we often put a lot of effort into researching the food and restaurants of places we’re travelling to for a bit of advantage. Sometimes it pays off in spades.

Mr T was keen to visit Bourge-en-Bresse, the feted home of the best chickens in the world, or so the legend goes. According to France Travel Guide, ‘Poulet de Bresse chickens are treated like fine wine. They have an appellation, get to eat real food and walk around the countryside—all regulated by law. The king of chickens is truly a part of French culture.’

So we had to go and try at least one for ourselves. We arrived in Vasson, the village home of George Blanc, one of France’s most revered chefs and a village native. We located his restaurant and read the menu outside while inhaling the intoxicating aromas emanating from inside. Indeed it looked amazing but alas, it was also outrageously expensive. It’s a long time ago, nearly 20 years, but my memory was that it was going to set us back about $1000 for four of us (two being our two girls aged 13 and 15 at the time), without drinks. A little beyond our means!

Then we noticed waiters in white coming out of the restaurant and heading down the road wielding cloche-bearing trays. Where were they going? We followed and discovered they were headed to a little restaurant just a hop and skip away, La Limonade, which seemed to be owned by the same chef, the poor cousin if you like.

It didn’t have the same grandeur, (or luckily the prices) but we figured it had to have a similar food ethos, so in we went. As it turns out, it was sublime and remains one of the meals most clearly etched onto our palates and into our memories of France.

We ate chicken—of course—and it was bloody good. At the time, France offered an abundance of ‘kids’ menus’ (do they still?) so we took up that option which was ridiculously good value. In France though, kids’ meals didn’t mean dried up chicken nuggets and chips thrown at the kids; they were beautifully prepared, proper dishes with accompaniments all prepared with the same love, but just pared back. The kids had chicken too, and creme brulee which they cracked open with the backs of their spoons.

It was here we ate the ocean salmon in the creamy pasta dish for entree, and it was amazing. At the time we didn’t have mobile phones with cameras so I have no pictorial evidence and we didn’t get the actual recipe. We just took the essence of it and recreated it at home, many times over the years, sometimes with a bit of variation. We’ve never got it quite to the same standard but each time it takes us back to a French village lost in time and we relive the memory. The trip to France that keeps on giving.

We’ve done a similar thing many times over the years, trying to recreate stand out dishes at home. Invariably ours don’t look as pretty, but sometimes they taste nearly as good. And it always reminds me why I love food and why I love travel.

That’s not the only thing we absorbed into our lives from that part of France. Just down the road from Vonnas, we stayed in St Andre H’uiriat at ‘a chateau’. Be wary of the term: in France, that often just means whopping great old house rather than an actual castle. What we remember most about it is meeting the 12 week old Golden Retriever puppy of the owner, a delightful bundle of fluff called Ookie. When we were checking out, the owner woke Ookie from his puppy sleep just so we could play with him some more. We were so taken by this little fellow and his name that a couple of years later when we got a new retriever ourselves, we attempted to call her Ookie. We found though that people couldn’t cope with the name and we had to add an initial consonant to make it Mookie and easier for others to remember and pronounce. Our beloved Mookie is now long gone too, but the chateau remains and you can still stay at the same place. If you’re exceptionally lucky, they might even have another golden retriever to play with.

Of course we live in a world where we have access to foods from all over the world and the recipes to create them are at our fingertips. But there’s still something very special about eating them in the places they were created. I’ve had some amazing food experiences while travelling. On a rainy grey day in Italy 40 years ago I had my first cappuccino and in France I first discovered morel mushrooms and that grapefruit and avocado in a salad is surprising but delightful. It was there too I discovered the delicious aperitif ‘Lillet’ (white or red) which got quite trendy here a few years ago. In Turkey I discovered what true Turkish delight is all about (hint, it’s so much broader and more delicious than just rose-water flavoured jubes); in Spain I learnt the joy of tapas as well as paella washed down with sangria; in Vietnam we learnt star anise is the necessary star of beef pho and also how to pickle chilli to take out the heat but retain the flavour. In Greece I discovered the joy of slightly charred barbequed calamari fresh from the ocean and I first truly appreciated the crisp goodness of great  apple strudel in the very fresh mountain air in Switzerland. And in Croatia I determined that their gelato is even better than that of the Italians. Yes, that’s a big call but geographically, they’re actually very close.

So many foodie delights and so many we can and sometimes do recreate at home ourselves. I think that’s what Australians do particularly well with food. While we don’t really have a national cuisine like so many other countries do, we’re rather excellent at absorbing and pilfering the best of others’ and we’re not afraid of mixing things up in a fusion of flavour and styles into something new and exciting. Not surprising given our hugely melded population. Just watch Masterchef to witness the incorporation of culinary traditions with innovation.

That’s the thing with travel. Wherever we go, we bring home little snippets of the travels with us in various ways – keepsakes, artworks, new learnings and understandings, even recipes and a name for a dog.

What about you? Have you borrowed any cooking techniques from your travels, or pilfered something else?

The museum of life: choosing an item to showcase this moment in time

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Did you know it’s International Museum Day (IMD) today?

Of course museums are closed around the world at the moment as we all cope with the changed reality of life during COVID-19, but that doesn’t stop them being creative and having a red hot crack at celebrating the day and bringing it to the world.

This year as part of celebrations for IMD, the Council of Museums Australia has launched a social media initiative calling on all museums and galleries ‘to choose an object, work of art, or other artefact that reflects this moment in time in some fundamental way’.

I was rather taken by the idea so, in keeping with my view that my house is a bit like a living museum (only messier), I thought I’d choose one item from home to showcase, something that’s represents me and my family and is reflective of the strange times we’ve been living through. It’s been a very tough and rather bizarre year indeed, one indeed that will be forever highlighted in the annals of history. We started with the worst bush fires ever experienced; record-breaking heat; filthy smoke that kept us indoors for weeks; and now we’re adrift in a pandemic. We are indeed living history.

I chose an artwork for my selection to represent this time we’re in. It’s not sad or morbid at all though. It’s a beautiful creation by my six year old granddaughter. (Okay, I helped a bit, but that’s part of the exercise.) Perhaps it’s not the Mona Lisa, but I think it’s a bit like a masterpiece, and very reflective of the times we’re in.

Like so many children throughout the world, Miss 6 has been out of school for the last couple of months with no contact with friends and schoolmates (apart from Zoom) and has spent all the time at home, mostly under her Mum’s feet while she tries to keep the three very small people entertained at home, keep everyone organised and fed, do homeschooling, and work from home to boot. She’s managed exceptionally well.

During these weeks of shutdown, just about all outside activities and excursions have been off the table and lives have been turned upside down. Luckily in Canberra, getting outside for play and exploration was not taken off the table (with some restrictions of course) and fortunately as well, our city has fared well in the sickness stakes and we were the first jurisdiction in Australia to be caronavirus free and to start easing restrictions. That meant I got to spend time with the grandbubbies again (at least the ones here).

Amid the widespread despair and gloom, there have been some positives as well. In these quiet few weeks as we’ve hunkered down at home, some of the external pressures have been removed. We’ve spent a lot of time in the garden and wandering the streets outside, enjoying the fresh air and looking for treasures as the city turns on its lovely display of autumn glows. We don’t get far on the walks, sometimes 100 metres, sometimes less, and they’re exceptionally slow, but that’s part of the beauty of them. Suddenly you don’t have commitments and places to be. School was out, activities cancelled, time pressures taken off – leaving us to potter slowly, observing, collecting and just being together. It’s been a bit of a blessing in disguise. And on every walk, we’d come back with a basket – or a bag, or a pocketful – of treasures and colours.

Some of those treasures have been pressed for another time but last week we converted some of them – leaves, petals, seeds and such – into a mermaid. It took a long time to place and glue and colour and add the extra sand and sparkle, but there was no hurry and nothing else to get in the way. It was actually a gift from time and Miss 6 is very proud of the results. Straight to the pool room, I’d say, or to be laminated for future admiration.

I’m constantly aware for millions around the world, this has been a wretched time, full of despair, loneliness and sadness with terrible health and economic consequences, and will continue to be for some time to come. But personally I’m grateful, for me, it’s also been a time to slow down and catch up, and take in some of the small things—which are actually very big things and so important.

This mermaid artwork speaks to me of that time when the world slowed down and we could take the time to do some things we don’t normally make the time for, when I wandered often with small three children with no agendas and made artworks with them. When they explored, and played, and created, in ways they mightn’t have done before.

If you want to know more about International Museum Day, there’s a whole website to explore.

What about you? What object would you choose from your house/museum to reflect the year that is?

Brush up your photography skills during shutdown

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Yes, yes, another article with ideas about what to do during shutdown, even as the shutdown is easing off.  If you’ve already got more than enough to keep you occupied or you’re just sick to death of articles trying to be helpful, just move on.

But if, like me, you’re taking advantageof the quieter times and cancelled social occasions and travel to learn new skills and you love photography, read on. Here’s a collection of online webinars, activities and ideas to get your creative juices flowing and enable you to hone your skills.

HeadOn(line) Photography Festival

Photography lovers – pay attention, but be quick. Head On(line) Photography Festival is go! Given the live event had to be cancelled, they transformed it into an online feast of free artists talks, conversations, panel discussions and webinars to brush up on your photography skills. On now until 17th May so not too long to go.

Check out the list of events at the link below and register to attend your sessions of choice. I think you have to register 24 hours before hand, then you get a link to watch the webinar live. There will also be replays but you may have had to register beforehand to see these.

And yes – these are all free, although if you are in a position to donate, donations are very welcomed to allay costs.

You can find the festival program here.

Online tutorials and learning

The list of opportunities to learn online is almost exhausting – and there is a staggering amount of free stuff available.

You can start with the Digital Photography School (dPS) which has enough information and resources to keep you occupied for the rest of your life –oodles for free, like daily tips, resources and free tutorials that will help you get the most out your photography. And nope – this is not sponsored.

You can sign up for free membership which will get you:

  • Access to library of free guides
  • Community Facebook Group with weekly challenges
  • Weekly updates on our latest tips, tutorials and news
  • Occasional special offers (that’s where they’ll try to sell you stuff but no obligation)

Photo Voyager

I did a photo tour workshop some time back in Vietnam with Pieter Janssen, a Dutch photographer in Hoi An. Pieter, like so many others in the travel industry, has lost his income as there are no travellers so he’s turned to online classes instead via Zoom. You can pick classes from some for $10 US a session or tailor an individual one for yourself for a bit more. (As a side note, I keep thinking about all people across the world whose livelihoods have been decimated without tourists and who have no other means of support, including government support. Tough indeed. As as another side note, if you haven’t been to Hoi An, put it on your travel list – a photographer’s paradise.)

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If you want some instruction that’s more focused on your camera type, you can head to Canon, or Olympus, Nikon etc, or even those who concentrate on I-Phone photography.

Olympus Learn Center (not in Australia if you noticed the spelling) has a similar learning hub with a wealth of resources – you’ll find it here. Here you’ll find tips and instructions on how to use Olympus cameras or more general tutorials and instruction on just about any photography topic you can think of, no matter which brand camera you do.  Lots of online workshops being put up at the moment in these quiet times. You must register first to get the link.

They also have challenges every so often to keep you inspired and creative. Go nuts. Events currently cancelled but you may find a photo tour that tickles  your fancy for future reference.

Canon have a similar thing including a more specific focus on their own gear, but that doesn’t mean other brand-users are excluded. While events are currently cancelled, there’s lots of online learning, creative challenges and workshops either through their website, Instagram or Facebook page.

Canon has very active community of users and offers regular ‘challenges’ on a theme to get your creative juices flowing and to get lots of inspo from others. Check out their Facebook and Insta pages.

From Canon’s Australia’s Instagram page

Ted’s Cameras has a great blog with lots of Teducation – boom boom – with tips and tutorials on just about every photography type or topic, as well as information about equipment. Just for a taster, here’s one where a Ted’s Academy Trainer talks you through tips for indoor portrait photography or the best settings to get the best out of vlogging. Anyone into that?

You can also connect with others through their Instagram and Facebook accounts. They have inspiring images from their #TedsMasters and you can share your pics by tagging #FeatureMeTeds.

Look out for their regular photo competitions on Insta.

Challenges

If photo challenges are your jam, here’s a few to get you going – hyperlinks included. You’re welcome.

Canon Challenge

Canon Leap Challenge – not live but can do yourself at any time

Life Hacker – 52 week photo challenge

Australian Photography – photo ideas for self isolation

Photography Challenges

You can sign up to the challenges on their website (https://photographychallenges.com then head over to the Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/photochallengesgroup/

Courses

If you still want more, you can undertake a fuller course. I did one recently at my local CIT (TAFE equivalent) which was excellent. I found when I was paying for the course, was committed to it and had assignments to submit, that really kept me on track.

The Australian Centre for Photography is moving with the times and has just announced online learning, including one on one tutorials.

Lots of the other places mentioned above also have paid workshops as well as their free ones.

If you’ve got any recommendations for great places for photography learning and inspiration, I’d love your suggestions.

 

 

 

 

After the shutdown, where will you travel to next?

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While most of us have spent the last months largely tucked away safely at home, it seems the wanderlust bug is beginning to bite and many of us are champing at the bit wanting to resume our travels and visiting.

I asked a number of fellow bloggers and travel lovers where they’re likely to head first once the travel reins are lifted. Here’s where they’re heading. It seems a fair few of us are hankering for the beach.

Agnes Water and 1770, Queensland by Jan Wild

Agnes Water and 1770 are co-located as one of the loveliest towns in Australia. Located just north of Hervey Bay, they are also a great meeting place with family who live in Rockhampton, and we are looking forward to meeting up again when travel restrictions are lifted.

1770 is where Captain Cook first set foot on Australian soil and thus has historic interest (albeit controversial). But less controversially, it is located at the southern end of the Barrier Reef and offers beautiful beaches and a laid back vibe.

If you are looking for gourmet eating experiences, then 1770 isn’t for you. But if you are looking for nature in all her glory, friendly service, and a peaceful place to relax, then it definitely is. But we did enjoy a pleasant meal at the pub, and the next morning decent coffee and a decadent vanilla slice.

We stayed in an Airbnb out of town last time, but next time I think we would choose glamping at Agnes Water Glamping, on the beach.

With our domestic travel restrictions hopefully easing in the cooler months, Agnes Water/1770 is a place to put on your bucket list. Who knows, we might see you there.

Jan blogs at https://retiringnotshy.com.au

Town of 1770, Queensland

 Bermagui, New South Wales by Rose John

That’s where I’d like to be. But the world is in chaos right now and wishful thinking is what we have instead. So let’s build a vision board of where we’d like to go—and I want to visit Bermagui again. I want to soak my feet in her clear sapphire waters and let the wind blow in my face.

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Gretel and Tony run a luxurious bed and breakfast located five minutes away from the town centre. What you realise when you get to Bellbird Cottage is the songs of a thousand birds greeting you as you alight from the car. They are hidden somewhere in the coppice among the leaves, singing to their hearts’ content. Apart from the privacy, large cottage, opulent amenities and delicious homemade breakfast spread, Bellbird offers tranquility and pure relaxation.

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Il Passagio, a modern Italian restaurant located on the Fisherman’s Warf whose food is made from locally sourced produce, available from nearby markets. Head there for dinner, settle in a comfortable table by the window overlooking the harbour, watch the moon busily paint the waters with silver hues and pick a dish from their simple yet elegant menu.

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Swim in a natural ocean rock pool, washed with clean clear sea water. It’s also a great spot to soak your legs in if swimming isn’t your thing. There’s a viewing platform where you can capture magnificent coastal views and maybe even spot a breaching whale or two.

Bermagui, that virginally beauteous town along the Sapphire Coast is on my mind.

Rose blogs at Travel & Beyond. 

You can read more about Rose’s Bermagui adventure here.

Margaret River, Western Australia by Johanna Castro

When all this is over the first place I’ll visit again is Margaret River in South West Australia.

It’s a small town, with a big heart, surrounded by beaches, caves, and wineries. The drive south is always pretty, along winding roads heading south from the coast where we live, down to the deep green of the tall forests which surround Margaret River.

Once there I’ll browse the small shops in the main street (there’s a particularly good independent bookstore) and then head out to one of the many nearby wine estates to taste wine and indulge in a gourmet lunch. Rustico at Hayshed Hill comes to mind, so does Voyager and Leeuwin, or perhaps I might choose something less formal and head to one of the quirky craft breweries nearby.

Depending on the weather I’ll drive to the beach for a walk or swim. Beautiful Redgate, or Prevelly where the White Elephant Cafe hugs the dunes, spectacularly situated right above a perfect swimming beach.

If I have overseas or interstate friends with me then I might add in a cave visit or two. There are some spectacular show caves hidden beneath the limestone cliffs. My favourite, Lake Cave, a stunning crystal chamber deep beneath the earth is entered from the floor of a sunken forest, surrounded by towering karri trees.

Ah, yes so much to see and do in, and near, Margaret River. Right now I’m really missing you.

Voyager Estate, Margaret River

Jo blogs at https://lifestylefifty.com and https://zigazag.com

Coolum Beach, Queensland by Kathy Marris

Prior to lockdown my husband and I were planning a trip up to North Queensland but our hopes were quickly dashed. We live in the far north of New South Wales not far from the Queensland border and as many of you probably know this border is closed to interstate visitors. Hence our lives have been heavily impacted because our daughter lives on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.

The first town I’ll visit after lockdown and the re-opening of the Queensland border will be the Sunshine Coast town of Coolum Beach. Over the years we’ve spent a good amount of time visiting here to see our daughter and her partner.

What’s not to love about Coolum Beach? It has plenty of great surf beaches for the surfers, a long stretch of beach to walk along, a fabulous coastal walking path with gorgeous views from Point Arkwright and Point Perry and the added bonus of a challenging mountain to scale at Mount Coolum.

Plus the small village of Coolum Beach has great facilities with shops, supermarket, plenty of cafes and good restaurants. The balcony at Coolum Surf Club is also a spectacular spot for an afternoon coldie!

Generally we tow our caravan to stay at the Coolum Beach Holiday Park that sits right on the beachfront and is opposite the main centre of town.  This is the perfect location for a relaxing beachfront holiday with plenty of things to do and see on the Sunshine Coast.

You can read more about Coolum here.

Kathy blogs at https://www.50shadesofage.com

Vincentia/Huskisson by Debbie Harris

Where is the first place I would travel to within Australia once the travel restrictions are lifted? That’s a hard one to answer! I’m torn because:

  • I have my daughter and granddaughter relatively nearby (3-hour drive away) and haven’t seen them for months (it seems like years!)
  • my mother, youngest daughter and new grandson are over 1300 kms away (14+ hour drive without any stops)
  • and don’t get me started on when I will be able to travel to the UK to see my daughter and granddaughter again.

So, given all that wishful thinking, I will probably choose our family’s go-to beach holiday favourite—Vincentia/Huskisson on the NSW South Coast. It so happens my 89-year-old mother-in-law Ruby lives nearby and she celebrated her birthday, during isolation in April.

Why do we like it so much? It’s beautiful, it’s simple, it has a great shared pathway along the beach, it has the whitest sand in the world, it’s relatively quiet even on the busiest holidays, it brings back childhood memories, we’ve since created our own family memories, we can drive there in 5 hours from home – and did I say it’s beautiful?

There are a few quaint shops, lots of good quality cafes, a bakery, a pub, a book shop and many interesting places around the area. Have you been?

Deb blogs at https://www.debs-world.com

We had a major year of overseas travel planned this year. I was due to leave for England and Ireland next week. Looks like we’ll be doing a lot more local exploration instead.

Where are you heading first?

Making the most of the shutdown: taking time to breathe

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Sunrise at the arboretum in Canberra

I might be out on my own here, but I can’t lie: I’m actually rather enjoying this whole shutdown business. All the human tragedy and economic disaster aside, that is. That part is horrific, but from a personal perspective I’m finding this enforced quiet time at home is proving quite therapeutic and in fact rather productive.

Sure I miss the travel (ughh, those wonderful smashed opportunities I’d been working so hard towards) and the social interactions, and I was a bit shell-shocked at first which put me into the doldrums for a while. I also have to admit I don’t live alone and have a lovely home and garden in which to hunker down, which I’m extremely grateful for. The utmost respect and sympathy for those stuck in small places with no yards, large worries and maybe several small people underfoot. I’m also fortunate to be in a place that’s coping well with the virus while others are not.

But largely, I’m just allowing myself to breathe and soak up the calm. (Our earth is too). I’m actually finding it very freeing having the vast majority of outings, commitments and expectations cancelled. It’s allowing time to do a bit catch up and get around to doing all those things I never seem to be able to get to. Time – it’s a great gift of time without pressure.

There’s time to walk and take in some sunsets, maybe sit in the sun in the late arvo with a glass of wine in hand.

And there’s an inordinate number of tasks and activities to keep me occupied:

  • Buckets of general life admin that’s been sorely neglected for a while
  • Sorting out my ridiculously huge and unwieldy store of digital photos, in dire need of a harsh cull and complete reorder (that’s weeks of work in itself)
  • then more photos to take when I’m done with that (that sounds like the start of a bad cycle)
  • Writing, pitching travel stories, more writing and lots of posting to be done
  • Eternal gardening and house renos and clean ups (read chronic DIYers)
  • Tackling of cupboards and even some shedding and clearing (now that’s a tough ask for one with the heart of a hoarder).

There’s also a myriad of skills to brush up on or even learn: photography and writing workshops and webinars to be devoured, social media technologies to master, maybe I’ll even take up piano lessons as I’ve been promising myself for some decades. And I’ve been threatening to do a new website and some rebranding. This could just be the chance.

Then there’s the amazing variety of music and arts streaming online (here’s a taster) for some fun, frivolous downtime. I’m loving the musicals and performances currently streaming left right and centre. The Shows Must Go On from the master of musicals, Andrew Lloyd Webber, is a fave for the weekends. This week it’s Love Never Dies.

Mr T is especially happy as I’m dedicating way more time to the things he wants me to do: like serious gardening and maintenance on the house we’ve been avoiding for years. I kid you not: we spak-filled and sanded our hallway 15 years ago and still haven’t got around to repainting it, although we did do much of the rest of the house at the time. They’re only very small spak-fills, I’ll have you know. All my windows need cleaning too, and there are a ridiculous number of them.

Importantly for me, this pause has allowed me to confront a task I’ve been avoiding for two and a half years, a task that completely does my head in every time I dabble in it or even think about it, stressing me out and stealing my sleep. I might tell you about it one time. But the good news is that I’ve made a red hot crack at it. Not done but enough into the task now that it now seems manageable.

At some point I might even be tempted to look at what’s on Netflix or Stan. Maybe not – we’re one of the few it seems who don’t subscribe. And no, I don’t really care if it’s only $12 a week or even $9 – there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the week to justify it. There’s already great choices available on SBS on demand and some of the commercial stations so I don’t think I’ll go wanting.

In fact, I reckon I could do this whole shutdown for a year and still not run out of things to keep me busy. Good lord, if this goes whole thing goes long enough I might even get out that long stitch project I started (and kept in vague hope of finishing) 33 years ago!! And I haven’t even mentioned the household of books neglected on shelves and in boxes patiently waiting for my attention.

Hopefully this is a one-off moment in time we won’t see again to stop the world in its track, but while we have to stay home, I’m making the most of it and embracing the slower pace of life. It feels a bit like a major recharge. I can almost hear Mother Earth taking a big sigh as well.

What about you? Loving it or hating it? Busy or bored?

Sunset silhouettes at the National Arboretum Canberra

 

 

 

How not to rid yourself of COVID-19: weird conspiracy theories and wacky cures

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Of course there has to be an abundance of weird and wacky theories about how to prevent or cure COVID-19, the life-threatening virus that’s ravaging the world, because there are weird and wacky theories about just about everything. But nowadays with modern communication technology and social media, these are spreading like wildfire, faster than the virus itself, and sucking a hell of a lot of people up in their madness.

Some of the suggestions are just silly, some truly eye-watering. It would all be a bit of a lark really and give us a good belly laugh, apart from the fact that so many people are being taken in by the extraordinary claims, and some losing their lives because some of them are downright dangerous. That bit’s not amusing at all.

Here’s a couple of examples. In India, a local politician BJP MLA Suman Haripriya  has suggested a bit of cow urine or dung can smash that virus away, while the head of Hindu Mahasabham, a political party in India, similarly suggests a person who applies cow dung on his or her body will be saved, especially if they chant Om Namah Shivay, a popular Hindu mantra. Chanting and meditating may calm your mind, might even reduce blood pressure and get you in a better place mentally, but nope – not effective against nasty viruses.

Could be worse – an Irananian cleric from the city of Qom has a few novel suggestions for cures, including applying a liberal dose of violet oil to your anus before bed. The word liberal is key. Go wild!

Here are a few other myth-busting facts to shatter information previously circulating on social media. Fever tree bark does not have COVID-19 curative properties, and blowing a hot air dryer into your face or eating bananas will not cure you of the virus. And no, contrary to many Twitter posts, garlic won’t work either. Might be good for knocking off vampires or even flavouring your food, but not caronavirus.

And ffs (I know I really shouldn’t have to say this but), don’t drink bleach!

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Some of the theories suck a lot of people in, like the theory black people are immune to the virus. The poor old Mayor of Miami Gardens even had to put up a video dispelling that mistaken idea after he got a backlash from coloured constituents complaining he’d cancelled a jazz festival when they thought themselves immune. That’s a mistaken assurance you certainly want to knock on the head quickly.

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The World Health Organization is so concerned about the number of people taking these theories to heart that it now has page on its website dedicated to busting these myths, including some handy shareable infographics. Some of the myths include that COVID-19 is not spread via 5G networks, that if you can hold your breath for 10 seconds you don’t have the virus, and that taking a good hot bath will have you sorted in no time, even if you’re already infected. At least those particular ones aren’t dangerous and the bath might make you feel good.

Some of the ideas though are deadly. In Turkey, at the time of writing, more people have died from self-inflicted treatments than the disease itself. According to local media, at least 20 people died in Istanbul in March after drinking rubbing alcohol in a bid to protect themselves while another 34 victims were admitted to intensive care. That alcohol you sanitise your hands with? That is NOT FOR drinking. Wine or gin and tonic is way better for that.

It really doesn’t help when an un-named nutter, who happens to be in charge of a country with the scariest growth rate of COVID_19 in the world, actually tells all the folks the warm weather will knock off that nasty virus when it comes in in April, don’t you worry about that, like a miracle, or then if it doesn’t  (spoiler alert – it didn’t!), touts an anti-malaria drugs instead and incorrectly announces the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had fast-tracked its approval for treatment of COVID-19. Oops – no they hadn’t!  Let’s just ignore the lack of scientific evidence to support its effectiveness for this purpose and in fact can cause serious side effects. Why not? Science schmience I say!

And guess what? That presidential proclamation led to a run on the medication and subsequent shortage for people who actually needed the drug, caused hospitalisations in Nigeria from people overdosing on it, and sadly even caused the death of a man and hospitalised his wife when they ingested a product with partly the same name as the drug the president had been touting.

Of course there are always going to be people trying to make a buck from it all by selling the snake oil cures. Were you quick enough to snaffle up one of the light-emitting pulsing bits of kitchen hardware recently spruiked by Pete Evens, of celebrity chef nut-job fame, at the very affordable cost of only $15,000 a piece, which includes a couple of caronavirus ‘recipes’.? Aahh, too late if you didn’t as they have miraculously disappeared from his website. I believe our Therapeutic Goods Authority may be having a little peek at that.

Meanwhile in the USA, a number of organisations have been trying to flog off magic cures which the FDA and Federal Trade Commission haven’t taken kindly to. They’ve written to a number of companies asking them to ‘cease and desist’ from selling these fraudulent products. One of the spruikers was good old televangalist Jim Bakker. Remember him from Christian television of the 70s and 80s? He’s the one who imploded in a sex scandal, lost the heart of ex-wife Tammy and then spent several years in gaol for defrauding viewers out of millions of dollars. The state of Missouri is onto him though and has filed a lawsuit against him and his production company to stop them from advertising or selling ‘Silver Solution’ and related products as treatments for the coronavirus. I think one of the lesson here is just not to buy anything from Jimmy, probably not even God. In fact, best avoid him altogether.

So people of the world, here’s the truth. There’s a lot of rubbish out there, and some of it is bloody dangerous. Get your information from reliable and truthful sources, not from a QAnon Facebook group, or an anti-vaxxer Twitter thread. Not from your cousin’s mate’s ex-wife’s colleague, or sadly not even from the President of the United States. (Oh look, I mentioned him. #sorrynotsorry)

Trust the experts instead. You know, people like actual scientists and medical experts. Organisations like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the WHO, your local state or federal government health websites and reliable news sources. This virus is bad enough on its own without a lot of bunk theories and wackiness. Bad information is worse than not washing your hands.

Keep well out there, folks, and keep clear of the crazies.

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