Tis The Season For Food And Friendship


IT was bone-chillingly cold, still dark, and far too early to be checking in for yet another flight, in what had been an already hectic year. But there I was, at Canada’s Winnipeg Airport, heavily clad in winter clobber and dragging behind me a duffle bag containing a polar suit and kick-arse thermal boots. I was bound for Churchill, where I would board a tiny, old Russian jet, and land in remote Hudson Bay, to go on a walking safari with the polar bears. I was far more scared of the cold than meeting the King of the Arctic.

This is me and yes, it was THAT cold


I did not know her yet, but I recognised her as part of my group from the same duffle bag she was carrying. She spoke, in a refined British accent, and while I cannot remember what it is she said, it prompted me to say “Hello, you Pommie Bastard, are you on my trip?”. She turned, smiled, and immediately responded with “Hello Skippy!” And from that point onwards, we became friends. I did not know at the time that Karen Burns-Booth was one of Britain’s best bloggers and a renowned foodie, I just knew that I had a new playmate with whom to explore remote, arctic Canada on this travel writing assignment.

Karen Burns-Booth


I told her I hated small planes, so she sat behind me on the flight as we soared over this spectacular winter landscape, patting me on the back when we encountered turbulence. While out walking on the slippery arctic ice, we held hands, to prevent from falling. We stood in unison and cried when we encountered the most beautiful polar bears and laughed till we cried by the warm Seal River Lodge fireplace at night. We shared deep secrets out on that ice. That was several years ago now, she went back to her home in France, and I to Brisbane. But you don’t forget a friendship forged like that.

Karen Burns-Booth has just released her first book, named after her blog Lavender & Lovage – A Culinary Notebook of Memories & Recipes from Home & Abroad ¬– and I couldn’t be prouder of my feisty friend. Just back from a hectic year of travels, I collected the copy she had sent me, from the post office last week. And on those pages, I can sense her soul and smell her cooking even from this far away. Part travel memoir, part cookbook, Karen, who now lives in Wales, gives readers an insight into her full and flavoursome life.
“In this book I’ll be sharing recipes from an old schoolhouse kitchen in North Wales, a farmhouse kitchen in SW France, and from all the other places I have called home,” she says.
“From Cornwall, Hong Kong and South Africa, to the North East of England and numerous other far-flung places, with the aid of my trusty note books and diaries – this is truly a cookbook based on recipes from my suitcase, with notes from all of the countries and British counties I have ever lived and eaten in.”

In this delicious, thick tome, Karen shares some spectacular dishes and travel tales. There’s the “Typhoon” Bacon Butty, made by her father when they were living in Hong Kong during a typhoon; The First Nations “Indian Tacos”; The New Orleans Muffuleta Sandwich; “Panama Canal” Coronation Chicken; and Durban Lamb Curry among a feast of international dishes. Demonstrating her cheeky sense of humour, there’s a whole chapter dedicated to A Bit On The Side, which refers to Salads and Accompaniments; and towards the back of the book, decadent deserts such as Fat Rascals; as well as Sundry Gems such as Hannah’s Chilli Chicken Pasta with Chorizo, named after her daughter.

The gorgeous recipes and tantalising travel tales aside, what really strikes me about this beautiful book, is that I can feel Karen’s lovely soul as I wander through these pages. It’s almost as if I’m in a field, plucking her two favourite herbs, lavender and lovage, after which she named her blog and which launched her into our kitchens. If you’re lucky, like me, you stumble across generous, funny souls who become your friends in the most unlikely of places. The fact she is also so talented, is simply a plus. It’s the Christmas season, and I am reminded of this British gem, the “Pommie Bastard” who held my hand on the ice and whispered secrets in the arctic cold. May all of Karen’s readers, and mine too, be so fortunate to find a stranger who may hold your hand when you need it, and share their souls on those days when you feel its arctic cold and a little alone. This is my Christmas wish for you.

To order Karen’s book, go to Amazon or to read more about her work, go to her blog Lavender and Lovage – https://www.lavenderandlovage.com

Darwin’s Evolution

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Destination: “Batchelor” Northern Territory. Population: No eligible blokes.
A FRAGRANT frangipani guard of honour framing the road from the airport announces my arrival into Darwin city. I’m driving an automatic hire car and I must be the only person on the entire planet who can’t handle an automatic, my feet fumbling every few metres for the clutch. So poor am I at mastering this skill, that I realise I am actually driving the car in neutral. That explains the odd looks from the people outside the vehicle and the strange sounds from inside. In retrospect, it’s not a bad thing to arrive in a new city in neutral. No expectations. And Darwin is my last Australian capital city to conquer.
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Yes, 30 years of travelling the globe and I am possibly the only Australian who hasn’t been to Darwin. In human terms, I am the last cab to Darwin, so to speak. But I’ve heard all the stories. About the croc attacks and bum cracks. Those Top End “terrors” (I’m talking about the blokes here), apparently even more daring than those in my hometown of Brisbane. I’ve seen NT Cops on television and I’m an avid follower of the Northern Territory News’ front-page headlines such as “A croc ate my cock” (you should be so lucky, mate) and frankly, I can’t wait to see what this final frontier is all about. A female friend finds out I’m going to Darwin and assures me there’s a “mansoon” happening up here. Yes, the ratio of men to women is apparently 13:1. The very same time last year I was in Mount Isa where the bloke/sheila ratio is 7:1. Things are improving. According to another friend, the odds are good but the goods are odd.
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While I expect to meet plenty of men, what I don’t expect is to find a city that is thriving as much as those frangipani trees. I walk down the Smith Street Mall on a glorious winter day, past the posh Paspaley Pearl store with its swanky shell handles. A few doors down, di CROCO Boutique is selling handbags made from NT crocs for around $3000. I spy some $20 key rings more in my price range. All the beautiful people are sipping skinny chai lattes in the Star Village courtyard, home to local designers.
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Down the Mall I wander, stumbling across an old black caravan. There’s a pretty girl inside with a killer smile and I ask to take her photo. She’s selling tickets to the Darwin Festival in August. She points out a plaque on the caravan. Turns out this van is called Tracy, and it’s the original van used to house one of the 25,000 people rendered homeless when Cyclone Tracy destroyed the city on Christmas Eve 1974. It is at this exact point I fall in love with this city. I love a destination with a story and soul and Darwin has both in spades surviving not only the Japanese bombing in 1942, but Tracy too.
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Around the corner, I bump into the old Country Women’s Association building. Fair enough, I think to myself, there’s a CWA here. But as I step closer I discover it’s now an eco café serving the kinds of things our grandmothers had never heard of. Yes, there’s acai bowls and skinny lattes where once there was crochet and black tea. On this particular afternoon I have time, and I let the gentle breeze off Darwin Harbour blow me in whatever direction it chooses. I find myself in Austin Lane, just off of Smith Street, where I discover graffiti art galore. Little do I realise that in a few days I’ll be back here, taking a cooking class in Little Miss Korea, a converted loading bay at the back of the old Woolworths complex. Korean chef Chung Jae Lee, who was born on the floor of his mother’s Seoul restaurant kitchen, will teach me how to make a seafood pancake. And God, will we laugh.
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But before I cook with Chung, I’ll head to the Wave Lagoon where I’ll grab a boogie board and join a bunch of excited kids in Darwin’s answer to the ocean. And it’s pumping. Queensland board riders hate this sort of choppy onshore surf, but on this divine Darwin day I can’t think of anything more swell.
Days later I’m swimming at Litchfield National Park, spending the day wading from waterhole to waterhole. It’s on this journey we pass through that town called Batchelor. While the spelling is slightly skewiff, the sentiment is spot on. There’s even a Batchelor Museum which forces my face into a wry smile. Yes, single blokes are so rare in Australia, they are now building shrines to them. Of course, this museum is about something entirely different, but it keeps me amused all the way back into Darwin.
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I’m in Larrakia country, the birthplace of Australian singer Jessica Mauboy and actress Miranda Tapsell, who I had the great pleasure of interviewing before I came to Darwin. Tapsell was a pure delight and so in love with Darwin it was infectious. I adore how at this time of the year, when the wet season finally concedes to the dry, Aborigines describe the weather as “knock-em down storms” and “clean em-up country”. Everything is fresh. And with it comes an air of possibility. Of Dreamtime and daydreams.
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It’s my last night in Darwin and I head out to Mindil Beach for the sunset markets. No one told me how much Darwinians love a sunset and I watch in utter fascination as hundreds of locals and tourists flock to the cool sand at this magic hour to watch the sun collapse into the ocean. The crowd applauds in a gesture which makes me love this city even more. What is this mystical place where hundreds gather to celebrate Mother Nature at her finest? I head to the Deckchair Cinema where the cool breeze blows off the harbour and sit under the stars, slouched in a canvas chair. It’s one of the most romantic settings in Australia and I am all alone, but I am not lonely. For I am sitting in a city which has had everything thrown at it and not only keeps bouncing back, but flourishing. And that feeling, that delicious Darwin magic, is contagious.
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The Global Goddess travelled to Darwin as a guest of Tourism Northern Territory – http://www.travelnt.com
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Feast on Sri Lanka

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I am on the Gold Coast this week hunting and gathering new stories, but wanted to leave you with some final images of Sri Lanka on which you can feast.
The fish was fascinating…
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The curry fragrant…
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The fruit and vegetables were organic…
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The spices, well, spicy…
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And the kitchens rustic…
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The Global Goddess travelled to Sri Lanka on a Real Food Adventure as a guest of Intrepid Travel – http://www.intrepidtravel.com

Sex under the Banyan Tree

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IN my four-poster bed, replete with white chiffon curtains, I imagine I am an Indonesian High Priestess. Even my private spa, in which I will later take a skinny dip under the night sky, seems to gurgle its approval of the latest predicament in which I find myself. I have arrived at the Banyan Tree Bintan Island in my usual disheveled state, the effects of some aeroplane turbulence as we crossed the Equator, a reasonable swell on the ferry as we sailed across the South China Sea, several prescription drugs and red wine to fuel my travels, all beginning to wear off. But I remain chipper, for tonight I will sleep under this thatched Indonesian roof, or “alang alang”, in my seaside villa.
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Yes, I can be quite the wanker, and never more so than when someone has handed me chunky keys to thick, timber doors of my very own villa, and informs me this is my home for the next few nights. Bintan Island is only a 45-minute ferry ride from Singapore where regular readers know I lived, rather unhappily, some three years ago. If only I’d known of this destination’s fabulous existence, I would have jumped on that boat and never returned to Singaling. Yes, I would have been last spotted swanning around this Indonesian island, potentially joining the local fishermen in their bright blue boats below, in a bid to carve out an existence. The fact I am staying in the luxury Banyan Tree only serves to make this story all the more exotic. Even the traditional monsoon seems to be behaving, blowing cooling south-easterly kisses in my direction.
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I’m on a one-week expedition discovering both the Banyan Tree Bintan Island, and Banyan Tree Lang Co in Vietnam. Christopher Columbus I am not. By “expedition” and “discovering” I actually mean partaking in several long, lusty feasts on both properties, punctuated by the odd cooking class and spa treatment. It’s in the Banyan Tree spa on Bintan Island that I meet my therapist, Oza (pronounced Oh-Zah) who instructs me to get buck naked (“not even my undies?”, I mime, rather inelegantly to my Indonesian hostess) before we undertake the “Serenity” massage. Oza smothers me in peppermint oil and for the next hour I feel like I am Charlie Brown’s Peppermint Patty. My friend Amanda is in the next spa villa, and I wonder what treatment, and more important what Charlie Brown character, she smells like. So enthusiastic is Oza about her job, she crams the modesty sheet between my bare butt cheeks, before massaging them with gusto. It’s only after the massage that Amanda informs me she was instructed to keep her underwear on, and there were no sheet wedgies in her villa.
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Later that night I return to my villa and discover my towels have been fashioned into two swans in the shape of a love heart and flower petals have been scattered on my sheets. For a brief moment I think Oza may have mis-read the intent of my lack of underpants during the massage, until Amanda posts a photo of her neighbouring villa, with identical set up. We both lament the fact we will be staring at those swans, alone, while conceding the Indonesians must be among the most optimistic on the planet to leave such a letter of love for the two of us, who are not, exactly, what you’d call lucky in love.
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Onwards and upwards we travel to Vietnam, where we have a date with the Banyan Tree in Lang Co, a beachside destination some two hours from Danang. Those sexy swans seem to follow me wherever I go in Asia, and I arrive back to my latest villa one night to find not only those birds have been folded and tucked into a corner of my bathroom, but someone has drawn me a bath, complete with rose petals. Could it be Windy, my Vietnamese masseur, who earlier that day allowed me to wear some XL disposal underpants which I may or may not have torn trying to get over my thighs? Windy insisted on massaging my breasts despite the fact that Amanda was in the next room, having the very same massage, yet no one touched hers. I am beginning to think my sex appeal among Asian women knows no bounds, when I discover the bath is actually part of the hotel’s turndown service known as “Intimate Moments”.
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It’s only when I’m partaking in a cooking class in the Banyan Tree Lang Co’s Organic Garden that I’m reminded of home. For here are a bunch of herbs, whose descriptions run along the lines of: “Piper Sarmentosum is an erect herb with long, creeping stems” and “Chillies are usually skinny and wrinkled. These chillies usually measure 6 inches long and 1 inch wide.” If ever there was something designed to make me think fondly of the boys of Brisbane, it has to be this herb garden.
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But I have no time for such folly, as we are spending the afternoon shopping in the World Heritage city of Hoi An. Amid the chaos of cycles, coconuts, tinkers and tailors, I tend to fall apart. While the girls shop in a feverish manner, I take reprieve under a fan in a corner café and sip a cold bottle of the local Biere Larue. It’s the kind of place I figure the man of my dreams may frequent. He’ll be a fellow traveller, perhaps even a literary type, and I like to think I look exotic and mysterious sitting alone in this Vietnamese café. He’ll glance at me and forget my hair is fuzzing from the humidity or that I wear a moustache of sweat, and think I’m simply lovely, I imagine.
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Incredibly, this doesn’t happen, and instead I wander further down the street where I stumble upon our Vietnamese friend Kiet, who has accompanied us on our shopping trip. Kiet is sitting on the sidewalk of his favourite café, Cargo, partaking in one of life’s great pleasures, drinking beer and people watching, and as I join him we linger for a long while, discussing life and love and ponder world issues. Eventually, the tourists disappear, the lights fade and the air starts to cool. And I realise there is absolutely nowhere I’d rather be on the entire planet than at this destination, at this exact moment in time.
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The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Banyan Tree – http://www.banyantree.com and Scoot Airlines – http://www.flyscoot.com
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Making Mud Cakes

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OF all life’s delicious ironies, this is the sweetest of the lot. On the day I’m meant to interview Tom Conley about his involvement in drought relief, it’s raining cats and dogs, our interview postponed while the torrent subsides. But that’s not the only spoonful of sugar in this story. You see Tom is only three years old, and if you love irony, you’ll adore the fact this chubby-cheeked kid not only bakes for drought relief, but was born just before the 2011 Brisbane floods. Yes, it’s raining men, and the blokes of the future are soaking great, if Tom is any indication.
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Tom was just five weeks old when the big floods hit Brisbane, his mum Sally Gardner watching from the kitchen window as flood waters stopped just short of their next door neighbour’s house in Oxley. But Sally’s partner Brendan’s workplace at Rocklea “went under”, as they say in Brisbane, as did Sally’s books, CDs and photo albums stored there. Add to this Sally not only had a new born baby at home, but also another son, aged 2.5 at the time, and it was a bit of busy time.
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“We didn’t have electricity so we couldn’t do the washing and we couldn’t go out, and we had three extra house guests due to the flood,” Sally says. But what Sally did next was remarkable. Rather than feel sorry for herself she decided to volunteer to assist her community, offering childcare, food and any other service her neighbours needed. And to cheer them up, she’d take baby Tom, in a pouch.
“We’d go and door knock and I’d have him in a pouch and people would just want to show me their photos,” Sally says.
“If we’d go into a community centre we’d take at least one of the boys. It was a bit of an ice-breaker.
“I was used to working in an HR roles and fixing a situation.”
And somewhere, amid all the mud and misery, Baked Relief was formed by Sally and her friends.
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Fast forward three years and it’s no longer flood victims for whom Sally and her crew bake and distribute fresh goods, but those in drought. And Tom is an integral part of the operation.
“Tom gets involved in all the cooking adventures in our home. He especially loves baking and as soon as I get the utensils out he rushes over, climbs up and wants to measure ingredients, crack the eggs and lick the bowl,” Sally says.
“We talk about who we are helping or who we are baking for, he enjoys drawing pictures for the drought-affected families.”
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When I visited Sally and Tom yesterday, he was a typical three-year-old, licking the chocolate off a biscuit. I asked Tom (whose favourite drink is milk) what he thought of the drought, and he had this message for the farmers: “I hope it rains soon.” Sally, whose mother was a GP who gave tetanus injections during the 1974 Brisbane floods, believes charity begins at home. This year Baked Relief has sent 2 tonnes of goods to St George and another tonne to Chinchilla. Sally also believes everyone in the city has a connection either directly or indirectly to the bush, which, despite recent rain, is still doing it tough.
“Everyone eats food. People should have a better connection with their neighbours and be alert to the needs of others and see if they can do one thing to help,” she says.
“Whatever pioneering spirit that got us all here is maybe what gets us through the crappy times. We want the people out in the bush to know they are not alone. Without them we don’t feed our children.”
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As for Sally’s next project, her response is as direct as you’ll find from an Aussie woman with a huge heart: “I’ll just wait for the next shit to hit the fan and see what we can do about the situation.”
To find out more about Baked Relief go to their Facebook page or to donate money go to the Queensland Rural, Regional and Remote Women’s Network at http://www.qrrrwn.org.au
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Ex marks the spot

If, like me, you’ve ever wondered what to do with your ex, one enterprising Brisbane business sells the perfect solution. At Olive Home, in Ashgrove, you can now buy and bake voodoo doll cookies with this lovely little cookie cutter set upon which my friend and fabulous food blogger Kerry Heaney (www.eatdrinkandbekerry.blogspot.com.au) stumbled today. And you wouldn’t even care if the cookies burned. Burn, baby, burn. (Sorry, I got carried away for a second).
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Of course, there’s loads of other solutions as well. Just speak to my mother. You see, mum and dad sired four daughters, of which I am one (the nutty youngest if you really must know). And from those four daughters, there’s been five marriages. The interesting bit is, depending on your point of view, there’s also been four divorces. Now, if you’re a pessimist, you might say that’s a bad thing, but I like to think we’re a bunch of overachievers. I mean, the average divorce rate is at about 50%. Not in my family. No, we sit at 80%. Now, that’s what I call gifted. Although some days I can’t help but feel a little like a Kennedy. But I digress. After each divorce mum, who naturally blames every bloke for the failure of the marriages (she’s not far wrong), writes their name on a piece of paper, and puts it in the freezer. Yes, you heard right. She freezes them. Apparently, some old witch (could have been my grandmother), told her about this little tradition which is meant to somehow curse the blokes in question for all eternity. So mum’s freezer looks a little like this (but with far more food in it).
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Mum, being married to a butcher and a grazier, has also threatened to chop off certain parts of their anatomy and put them on display like the one below. But we’ve all assured her there wasn’t enough worth chopping.
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However, if you were insane enough to marry into our family, I’d say be afraid. Be very afraid. Mum scares the hell of out me most days, I can’t imagine what it would be like not being of her loins. So, what of that last 20% still married? My oldest sister has somehow managed to hang on to her husband, to the man affectionately known in our family as Last Man Standing. I sometimes see droplets of sweat appear on his brow when we refer to him like this.
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Yes, should Last Man Standing ever do anything to warrant the final divorce – unless the sister who has married twice has a third crack at it – I can already imagine mum’s reaction.Alfred & Constance 015
I spent years recovering from my divorce and there were times when I agreed with mum, but I figured she’s got all the black magic covered. These days, I try to focus on what lays ahead. Yes, The Global Goddess is a lover, not a fighter. On that note, I leave you with this thought…
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If you really do want to know all about food, rather than revenge, check out Eat Drink + Be Kerry, http://www.eatdrinkandbekerry.blogspot.com.au. This famous foodie is currently running a fantastic comp where you can win a year’s supply of hot chocolate. And for those who want a tour of my mother’s freezer, leave a comment below. I’m sure it can be arranged.