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

8 Awesome Animal Experiences around the World


I’VE been incredibly fortunate in the past few years, in the course of my travel writing adventures, to indulge in some of the most amazing experiences that exist between humans and animals. Here’s 8 I’ve done that I’ll reckon you’ll love.
1. Walk with the Polar Bears
To be utterly honest, I was more frightened of how cold I expected it to be up in arctic Canada, than being eaten by a polar bear, and I was right. This trip-of-a-lifetime sees you fly into Winnipeg, where you will overnight and be fitted with your polar gear (which assists greatly with minus 14 degree Celsius temperatures). The next day you’ll fly to Churchill, and then board a tiny plane out to Seal River Heritage Lodge. Here, Churchill Wild runs “walk with the polar bear” safaris out on the arctic tundra framing wild and remote Hudson Bay. So unthreatened are these beautiful animals by this tour, one 400kg male came within 10 metres of our group. Sublime.
https://www.churchillwild.com

2. Snorkel with Salmon
In this instance, I WAS frightened of bears, but I had no real reason. On this adventure, you fly out of Vancouver over to Vancouver Island and Campbell River. Here, you can join an eclectic journey with Destiny River Adventures where you will board a raft and paddle down Campbell River, before plunging into 14 degree waters. Yes, chilly, but worth it, as you plummet down the rapids, dodging rocks and snorkelling with salmon. There’s three pools to experience here (in pool two you are advised to fly like a super hero to avoid being shredded to bits by the rocks). And no, there are no grizzly bears waiting by the shoreline to feast on salmon, or you, as it’s the wrong season. What you will experience is a thrill of a lifetime, and come face-to-face with some friendly seals as well.
http://www.destinyriver.com

3. Sail to see the Komodo Dragons
I LOVE lizards and any reptile for that matter, and had always longed to see the komodo dragons. But arriving at Komodo National Park is not as simple as it seems. However, there exists an incredible adventure which makes the journey a dream. Head out with Indonesian Island Sail on its traditional timber boat, and you can spend 14 glorious days sailing from Bali to Komodo and back. Along the way you’ll feast on fabulous food, snorkel some of the clearest waters in the region, swim with manta rays and turtles, and arrive at Komodo National Park where you can snatch a selfie with those gorgeous giants.
http://www.indonesianislandsail.com

4. Float with the Manta Rays
Did someone mention manta rays? A few years ago, while staying on Hawaii’s Big Island, I had the fabulous fortune of a night float with the manta rays. Courtesy of Manta Ray Advocates, at Kona, after dark you are taken out into the bay on an outrigger canoe. Then, when the conditions are just right, you are invited to slip into the ocean. Holding on to a surf board with handles, and sporting a snorkel and mask, you are invited to plunge your face into the ocean and watch as the magnificent mantas swim right up to you. If you are lucky, they will eye-ball you before they perform a tumble turn.
http://www.mantarayshawaii.com/mantaexperience.html

5. Drive a Reindeer or Husky Sleigh
They are hard-core up in Finnish Lapland and it’s easy to see why. When you have months of darkness during winter, and the temperature plummets to minus 40 degrees Celsius, you tend to be made of serious stuff. Up at Beana Laponia Wilderness Boutique Hotel, a working husky farm, you are invited to not only join a husky safari, but are taught how to drive the team. Yes, you can become a musher. And it is seriously great fun as you fly through snowy trails in a pure-white winter wonderland. For those looking for something a little more sedate, the hotel can also arrange for you to do a reindeer safari. Not as fast or as fun as the huskies, but if Santa is your thing, this might be right up your alley.
http://www.beanalaponia.com

6. Meditate with a Horse
If only the horse could talk. One of my craziest animal experiences to date, this one occurred in the Gold Coast Hinterland at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat. Sure, you can do yoga, tai-chi or go bushwalking, or, if you’re like me, you can indulge in a one-hour meditation session with a horse. At first I was dubious, but it became very obvious during this session that Jack knew far more than I realised. Horses are used for therapy as it is believed they can pick up on human emotions (without any of the bullshit) and from my experience, Jack was spot on. When I was nervous, Jack was skittish. When I lost confidence leading him around the ring, so, too, did Jack. By the end of this session I was able to command Jack to gallop, and stop, purely by using my breath.
https://www.gwinganna.com

7. Witness hatching Turtles
There’s few nicer things in nature than watching an animal begin its life journey and at Bundaberg, on Queensland’s Southern Great Barrier Reef, you can do just that. Between November and January, head to Mon Repos Beach and watch the lady loggerhead turtles lay their eggs, and then, between January and March, you can encounter the hatchlings as they erupt from the nests. Carefully managed by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, join a ranger on a guided tour at night on the beach and your life will never quite be the same again. https://www.bundabergregion.org/turtles/mon-repos-turtle-encounter

8. Hang out with some cool Cats
If you’ve ever wanted to witness Africa’s Big Five, this is your chance. And at Sabi Sabi Luxury Safari Lodges, you can do this in style. Plonked within South Africa’s Kruger National Park, each day you’ll head out on two safaris, one before dawn and the other before dusk, for your best chances of seeing animals in their wild habitat. Again, I was initially worried about being mauled by a lion, but you are in a four-wheel drive with a ranger and a spotter who are fastidious about safety. And, by the end of my trip, I was even going on walking safaris, out in the open, with the exceptional guides who will explain animal tracks and the stories behind them.
https://www.sabisabi.com

AND ONE I CAN’T WAIT TO DO
9. Swim with the Whales
Last year, I was all set to slip into the Pacific Ocean off of the Sunshine Coast and swim with the whales, but wild weather prevented that adventure. But each year, between July and October, when the humpback whales are migrating from Antarctica to breed and play in Queensland’s warm waters, visitors have the opportunity to go out with Sunreef Mooloolaba to get wet with the whales. You hold onto a floating line attached to the boat, and then it’s up to these mammoth mammals as to how close they wish to get to you. Watch this space…
http://www.sunreef.com.au/experiences/swim-whales

What animal experiences have you done that you’ve loved or want to do? My list doesn’t end. At number 10, I want to swim with the whale sharks and do a shark cage dive