CELEBRATE: Meal One, Two Thousand & Twelve.

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! 

Following on from an amazing year in 2011~ the ever more exciting, highly anticipated, widely talked about, pondered, researched, theorised and debated year of 2012 is now upon us!!!

According to some it’s the year to end all years (in a very literal sense), but only time will tell what is to become of our watery planet! Personally I’m VERY excited by all of the possibilities and the potential that we have as a family (a really big universal planet earth family!!).

Consciousness is definitely shifting and I believe that all of these shifts are moving us towards a greater version of everything! Sometimes it’s difficult to see the forest through the trees, but it’s definitely out there!! WOOP!!!!

I have a whole bunch of stories I’d love to share (and will get around to writing and back-dating at some stage soon!) about my recent adventures in England, Brisbane and Sydney, and photos I love from this very festive season… but for right now I’m going to let you know how I spent this first day of this very auspicious year.

Sunday, January the First, Two Thousand and Twelve.

This morning I actually awoke very excited!! Despite a late night; spent eating, drinking champagne, cutting out pictures from old magazines to create vision-boards with my mum and sisters, eating some more, and waiting to watch the midnight fireworks on television … I was also kept awake reading lovely 2012 Facebook intentions and well wishes, and fielding text messages world-wide as the clocks continued to strike midnight(!!!) I couldn’t stay asleep! I knew a HUGE part of my body was willing me to stay silent, unmoving and prone, but the sound of cicadas for the first time this season, the sight of sunshine and blue skies out the curtain-less windows, a hint of warmth on the breeze, SUMMER HAS FINALLY MADE AN APPEARANCE IN SYDNEY!!!! Happy New Year!!!

Downstairs I welcomed my family into this glorious summers day, made myself a cup of tea (my standard breakfast tea here is Madame Flavour – Green, Jasmine and Pear...) popped some fruit and nut loaf in the toaster, spread it with coconut butter and gave thanks for the most glorious day since I’ve been here!!

I enjoyed a lazy morning reading, writing, and day-dreaming before taking a shower and joining my mum for a drive down to Manly.

 

 

Manly. It has been years, years, since I’ve been to Manly. I spent barefoot teenage summers on those sands, catching buses, eating McDonalds (the cheapest thing available!), and soaking up the sun! The drive is lovely, I love cutting through the National Park, bush all around you and glimpses out to the ocean as the road snakes along parts of the ridge.

I don’t mind Manly, it’s a beach of convenience. Most methods of public transport will get you there, there’s more places to shop and eat than you could poke a stick at, there’s ice-cream (which mum was particularly looking forward to!), but despite all this it just doesn’t hit a sweet spot with me. I love the bookstore on the Corso (Jewels of Wisdom), I love the kids playing in the water features along the pedestrian mall, I love the ocean and the smell of salt on the breeze…. but it feels like a city beach to me. And I like city and beach separate.

In any case Manly was packed! People everywhere! We had worried that on a public holiday perhaps shops would be shut. Not so. Retailers were doing a roaring trade, food outlets were all full and people were queuing everywhere for everything.

Luckily we weren’t ravishingly hungry! We went for a walk, to figure out where we wanted to eat, to have a look at the shops along the way, and well, to walk.

 

We had directed our walking towards Pure Wholefoods but unfortunately for us they were closed. We meandered through other cafes, some selling delightful looking food, however many closely resembled the smoked salmon/ olive/ cheese/ mediterranean vegetable style antipasto we’d been eating for the past week and well, we’d decided we’d like something different! (Oh the luxury!!)

We stopped in at Three Beans, took a seat and ordered 2 vegetarian wraps. They sounded nice enough, beetroot, avocado, sour cream, veggie pattie, tomato, rocket etc etc… We were promptly given a bottle of water and two glasses (nice), and no sooner had we sipped on salvation than the waitress returned to announce that the wraps were no longer available! Perplexed as to how wraps were unavailable  in a cafe we realised that Three Beans make all of their meals in a central kitchen from where they are transported to each individual store. I didn’t feel so bad about missing out realising that given it’s a weekend, and a public holiday, they were probably made 2 days ago!! NEXT!

We continued our walk, nearing the harbour end of the Corso and stopped in at one of out favourite stores here, Jewels of Wisdom. A quaint and inspirational “new-age” (I hate that term) bookstore come gift store that stocks many books that are already prized in our collective libraries, and many more that we would one day love to read! We did manage to find a particular brand and type of incense in here that I had been trying to track for a while which was a wonderful surprise, thank you!!

 

Following on we walked back to where we started , asked to see a menu at one of the first interesting little cafes we passed but were told that the kitchen was closed for preparations for a large function that evening!

Again we walk. This time along the Esplanade, past the (more) expensive restaurants, passed a wicked line that would have your ice-cream melting while you wait, for Ben and Jerrys(!!) and around the corner to check out the fish and chips on offer. By this stage mum has seen, mentioned and now I’m craving salt and pepper squid! YUM!

At $15 for an entrée size I don’t think the first place will quite cut it on the hunger stakes, the take-away fish and chips here has a line longer than Ben and Jerrys, and quite frankly I’d rather walk. So we do.

 

Around the corner and into Rialto Square. As we walk through I notice some black umbrellas craftily tucked behind a large planter. In a little corner away from the world is Mongers a ‘gourmet fish and chip’ place. We scan the menu and it looks very interesting, and simple. You can (basically) choose from fish, calamari, prawns or BBQ baby octopus, and then you can choose whether you’d like it served with either rice and soy dipping sauce, hot chips and lemon, salad and crunchy kumera, or tempura vegetables and soy. Mmm… tempting. But no tables available…. walking!

As a last option we decided to see what the pub (The New Brighton) serves as far as food, and in particular salt and pepper squid/ calamari, is concerned. It’s on the menu and the pub has certainly had substantial renovations completed since either of us were last here. It looks like the kind of place I could actually take my mum for lunch!

We muse around, possibly looking a little lost but wanting to see if there’s any seating available upstairs with a view to the ocean before we order any food. As we walk along the balcony we spy one diner with a plate of “chilli salt and pepper squid on a bed of mesclun lettuce with a coriander and something dressing”…. I’m glad we saw it before ordering. Mum turned to me right away and mentioned that it looks like the same frozen squid that they serve out at the country pub and she’s knows what that tastes like and it isn’t her cup of tea! Not today anyway.

Awesome. We’re getting closer. We know more now about what we don’t want which is just as important sometimes as knowing what you do want! So after using the facilities we leave, and, you guessed it, we walk!!

 

Now this may sound like a rather round about way of finding our lunch. Truth be told if it was anyone else I probably would have succumbed to the pressure of their hunger and impatience long before I tired of walking and investigating the food options!

Thankfully mum had the same idea. As we were walking she apologised for being indecisive, which I objected to because for one, on those terms I was probably being just as indecisive, but more importantly we were enjoying ourselves, no apology necessary. We were chatting and laughing, and all the looking and reading of menus will certainly make it easier next time either of us go to Manly to eat!!

I mentioned to mum that whatever we were going to eat today was surely meant to be a sublime meal, for at each previous turn food was made unavailable to us, or our better judgement was to move on, thus the Universe must have something fantastic in store for us, it was just a matter of finding it!

 

So we went back to the previous little fish place in Rialto Square, Mongers. And now, empty tables! All of them!! We can sit anywhere we like! How lovely, no jostling for space in this crowded beach mecca for us!

And the menu, well thankfully by this stage that part was easy. I enquired as to whether the calamari was fresh (just to be sure) and when the waitress turned around I saw a bowl piled high of freshly sliced, shiny, slippery squid tubes sitting on the pass!!

So, two lots of calamari, salt and pepper (you could also have grilled or crumbed), served with tempura vegetables please!

No sooner was I back in my seat than we had a bottle of water, glasses, cutlery, salt and pepper at the table, and in less than another 5minutes out came two totally mind-blowing bowls of magic!!

 

 

The calamari was cooked to absolute perfection, I could slice through the tube with the butter knife provided (no sawing necessary!), the salt flakes and crushed peppercorns  were clearly visible throughout the tantalisingly crispy coating!

And the vegetables… OH MY GOODNESS!!!

 

 

There was pumpkin, sweet potato, broccoli, cauliflower, red capsicum, corn on the cob, zucchini, and mushrooms, and they were all mouth-watering. My mouth is watering now as I think about it!!! Each vegetable was perfectly coated with light, crunchy, slightly salted but perfectly balanced tempura batter. Whilst some oil was clearly present this was not by any means an oily dish! Each piece was somehow perfectly married to the next, the flavours of each intensified by their warmth and the salt and pepper!

 

 

The serving was big. I didn’t need to eat it all, but I really did. There was no way I was leaving any of that golden deliciousness to go to waste. Mum felt the same!

The only trouble I had with this dish was deciding which piece to eat last! We both had a mini smorgasboard in the bottom of our bowls as we tasted, tested and pit each piece against the other in the battle for flavour savour supremacy. In both cases the mushroom won! There is something to be said for the sweet, hot, juicy goodness of a tempura mushroom bursting alive with flavour in your mouth! Definitely a winner!

Now I love salt and pepper calamari, and that said, this is probably one of the best, if not the best S&P calamari I’ve ever eaten! Big call, but I could go back for one tomorrow!

 

As we sat back in our chairs, taking in nice deep abdominal breaths to relieve the uncomfortable feeling that comes with eating a little too much food a little too fast (it was just SO good!) it became (to me) a little more apparent to me as to how this food was just so perfectly fresh and fine.

A group of 5 young men took over a table nearby and after some heated conversation, ordering and banter were served an ENORMOUS bowl (and by bowl I mean small coffee table sized bowl) of food. Fish, calamari, I could see some kumera chips hiding in there, the works!! As they tucked in feverishly a couple of the chefs came out to say hello and have a chat…. the chefs were Japanese! No wonder this tempura is so phenomenal, light, & crispy, no wonder this seafood is so fresh!

I live in Cairns and we have our fair share of Japanese food and cooking, and it is generally found to be some of the freshest and best prepared food around. (Think sushi for example… if it’s not fresh it wont work!) It also pairs well with the options for rice and soy as well as the tempura vegetables!!! YUMMO!!!!! (That’s not to say that other chefs aren’t equally as talented at tempura….)

A lady next to us orders the prawns and they are served whole. Tempura batter the whole thing and put it in the bowl. I sit watching imagining how crunchy and crispy the shell, the head and the tail would be after a good tempura dip, and I’m a little sad to see her pull the entire thing apart to eat just the fleshy insides. I guess that makes it more like a shell-steamed prawn then doesn’t it?!?!

All that aside I am deeply impressed and grateful beyond words for the meal that the Universe pulled out for this first day of the new year! What a great (high) note to start it on!! Culinarily speaking I’m gobsmacked, and looking forward to re-creations in my own kitchen. On a different level I feel completely fulfilled, a good long walk, great conversation, sunshine, sea breeze, and full belly!!! What a fabulous way to spend a summer’s day!

 

 

We walk back to the car via the beach. We had brought our swimming costumes in case the ocean beckoned to us, but now with this full belly it could possibly be dangerous to take the plunge, and seeing the throngs of people covering every inch of bare sand I think the dangers to my sanity are just as severe as the risk of my being trampled, kicked, covered in sand, or sunburnt, forget ever mentioning that full belly!

 

 

The glorious meal has fortunately, or unfortunately, left no room for ice-cream today. Sad because that was the part mum was most looking forward to, but nice because we will feel so much better for NOT eating it! We peel ourselves away from the Copenhagen window and head back up the hill towards the car.

Not even 500m from the beach and the voices subside into traffic and then 100m up the hill even that fades away into the distant sounds of surf, birds and breezes. This really is a city on the beach, and no day is this more glaringly obvious than the first summers day of the year and a public holiday at that!

As we head for home we put the roof down, don the caps and enjoy the sunshine’s light prickles as the wind dances its way across bare skin. If only all days were as relaxed as this, and all meals were as good!

 

Happy 2012. X

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