Monthly Archives: February 2010

Pan Bagnat…The Perfect Picnic Food?

Tomato Pan Bagnat

” Hey Boo Boo? You wanna go steal some picnic baskets?”  I think I was probably Yogi Bear in a past life. I love picnics. Eating alfresco is one of the most enjoyable aspects of spending time in the great outdoors. This is probably in part due to the fact that some of the guilt of tucking into a slice of cake and a cup of tea from the thermos is eased by the walk/run/hike/paddle to said picnic spot.

If you google “picnic recipes” you will come across a myriad of sites with photos of delicious looking food that would look equally at home served up on the dinner table. I’m not averse to the idea of making the effort to prepare more elaborate meals when camping (I’ll expand on this more in a future topic on the concept of “million star” camping) but I do find that many of these sites don’t seem to apply any set of criteria to their recipes that distinguish them as picnic food. What qualifies a recipe as picnic food? Here are a few of my criteria as a start point (although I am still trying to work it out myself through trial and error!):

  • Must arrive at picnic location tasting edible and looking appetising
  • Can be prepared well in advance without spoiling
  • Must not fall apart in the hand whilst being eaten
  • Must be easily packed in as small a space as possible (whilst still satisfying the appetite). For example the best kind of cakes are the ones that can be sliced in squares but that dont squash easily
  • Tea must arrive in the cup hot enough to almost burn your tongue!

Last weekend I discovered the french classic Pan Bagnat, courtesy of a version published in the Australian by David Herbert which puts an Italian slant on the traditional recipe. It fulfils a lot of my criteria for the perfect picnic. The Pan Bagnat is a specialty sandwich from the Nice region of France,  the name of which is derived from the local Provençal dialect of Niçard, in which Pan-banhat means “wet bread”. In the original recipe the sandwich filling is based around the classic Nicoise salad (lettuce, eggs, anchovies and/or tuna, and olive oil). But the concept can be adapted to create a variety of options to your own tastes, all suited towards transport and eating outdoors. David Herbert’s recipe uses a hollowed out french stick which is then wrapped around the filling, preventing the contents from falling out both in transit and in the hand! I used a traditional baguette that was softened to just the right degree (without becoming soggy) by spending the night in the fridge encasing the wet ingredients. Here’s David’s recipe:

Tomato Pan Bagnat

2 medium baguettes

Olive Oil

1 clove garlic peeled

4 ripe roma tomoatoes diced

about 10 cherry tomatoes halved

6 semi dried or oven dried tomatoes, halved

100g feta cheese crumbled

1/2 cup of basil leaves

handful of rocket leaves

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Slice each baguette horizontally, leaving it hinged on one side. Pull out the soft bread in small chunks and set aside. Heat 1-2 tablespoons oil in a large frying pan and add garlic clove. When hot, add bread chunks and fry for 4-5 minutes, tossing until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper discarding the garlic. Combine all other ingredients with 1 tablespoon of oil in a bowl. Season well. Stir through fried bread. Brush a little oil inside each baguette and fill with the mixture. Close the baguette and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Chill in fridge for at least 1 hour or up to 12 hours. To serve unwrap and slice into 10cm pieces. David also suggests matching with a crisp refreshing rose as they do in Nice.

If you can’t tie knots…

…tie lots, is how the saying goes. Having a few basics up your sleeve is probably a much more sensible strategy though for any sailor, climber, horse rider or person venturing outdoors. And of course knowing how to get them undone again in a hurry always helps. For years, a little book called “knots and splices” which I stole from my dad’s bookcase, has accompanied me on my various travels and landed firmly here with me in Australia. Unfortunately I don’t think I have ever learned a single knot from it. Through practice and various experiences I have mastered the usual suspects; bowline, reefknot, figure eight, half hitch etc. but anything more complicated has phased me. Mainly because I just cant get my head around the diagrams on the pages of these books. I am one of those people you see in an unfamiliar town or country, turning the map upside down to try and gain some sense of orientation.

The Animated Rope Knots App

But I think I have discovered a solution. My “App of the month” for February is the Animated Knots App from Itunes. It has 22 common knots including the bowline and the slip knot. Each knot is shown complete with a description of its intended use and then a short animated video of how to tie it, which you can pause and replay as you practice tying the knot yourself. It also provides advice on what “not” (excuse the pun) to use the knot for. For example a bowline should not be trusted in a life or death situation such as mountain climbing.

If you are looking for the reef knot (an absolute necessity for any sailor) then it is referred to in the app as the square knot. Many people when learning this one (including me) make the mistake of tying a double granny knot. A good way to avoid this is to remember “left over right and then right over left” . Likewise with the bowline; “make a hole for the rabbit, the rabbit goes up and out of the hole, around the tree and down the hole again.” 
If you dont have an iphone there are also some useful clips on you tube that provide the same real time instruction.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GX9Vv5cQas&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cuNwp_Pi33s

So if you see some deranged lady on the Illawarra line in a business suit with a length of 15ml spectra tying herself in knots whilst trying to operate an iphone, its probably me trying to master a  double fishermans bend!
Cost:
$1.19

Canine Contraband

Rhubarb

Sunday morning dawned and I already knew that plans were afoot to take the tinny out somewhere. The big question was “am I invited?” I made all the right noises and “pick me, pick me” signals typical of your average water loving labrador.

Thankfully just as the back door closed, the car engine started and the tail lights on the tinny trailer started flashing encouragingly, I heard the familiar dangle of the lead and the side gate clicking open.

My goodness had they keep me in suspense. At least a whole 10 minutes.

I don’t really like car travel.

It makes me dribble and you never quite know where you’re going to end up.

A boat trip on the other hand almost always guarantees a splash in the river, a roll in some sand and the wind flapping my ears.

By the time we had left the concrete jungle and I was starting to get a whiff of eucalypt and the unmistakable odour of muddy sand and salty river water, we came to a halt near suspicious looking booth sporting an upsetting notice stating “no dogs”. Suspicion confirmed. I often wonder why they don’t think to put a sign up for cats.

Anyway we’d come too far now and there were no yogi bears (rangers) in site so we drove on.  I could already sense Charley’s agitation at the situation. As we descended the hill and the water came into view my worst fears were realised. A ranger ute was approaching from the opposite direction. I tried to keep my head down but I was struggling to contain my excitement at the prospect of getting into the water. As we passed on the road we locked gazes briefly. I could tell he was scared.

The pressure was on now to get on the water and make a quick getaway. We pulled up to the boat ramp reversed straight in, threw in the picnic gear and waited apprehensively whilst Reg parked the car and trailer. It was a nervous few minutes. It wasn’t so much getting caught that concerned me but the thought that our day out might come to an abrupt end if the yogi bear caught up with us before we were safely afloat and under the scrutiny of the maritime authorities instead.

Carrots?

Anyway it didn’t matter now as we fired up the Mercury and sped off down Cowan Creek. I felt like an illegal stowaway or some kind of smuggler cargo. After an hour or so of zooming around at 15 knots we soon landed on a sandy beach and I leapt into the cool water and rolled in the sand. Heaven.

After my swim I had to suffer the humiliation of being tied to a tree for the benefit of some lace monitors, who really didn’t seem to give a hoot. They just cruised up and down past the picnic and stuck their tongue out at me.

The yogi bear encounter was not yet over. When we returned to the boat ramp there was a queue but thankfully no sign of a Yogi. Yet. So far so good. We packed up the tinny with the same haste as we launched, with a few disapproving looks but mostly complete admiration of my Labrador cuteness .

Just as we were pulling away up the hill, at the same point as our previous encounter, there in the near distance was the ranger. He’d missed all the action and had no chance of catching us now. We laughed all the way home.

Look out for Rhubarb’s next blog which will bring you info on how to select a lifejacket for your dog.

Note: The author of this blog does not condone taking dogs into national parks. The incident was an accident of poor planning and we do not make a habit of it.

Apple Tree Bay to Little Shark Rock Point

Having had to postpone our romantic valentines picnic for four last weekend due to fevers and rain, today we made the most of some sublime late summer Sydney weather and headed up to the Hawkesbury with the tinny. With a fresh nor’easter forecast we decided that a destination with more protected waters would be a better option for the toddler and the bump. Saturday night was spent checking out a vague route, confirming the presence of a suitable boat ramp at Appletree Bay and ensuring we were adequately provisioned (Tomato and Feta Pan Bagnat, Crunchy Top Lemon Cake and some strawberries and figs). However our research was almost in vain. As we neared the end of Bobbin Head Road we approached the familiar site of a national parks and wildlife ticket booth and my heart sank. With Rhubarb in the boot we were sure to be sent packing back to the Shire. But luckily the booth was unmanned, save the usual sign inidicating no dogs, as well as a larger hand written sign in black texter,  taped to the booth reading “NO DOGS”. Anyway we drove on, willling to take the risk on Rhubarb”s behalf (and restrain her appropriately for the benefit of the wildlife). I will leave it to Rubes to  bring you more detail on the nerve wracking experience that occurs when park ranger and pooch cross paths, in her first “Dog Blog” which will be brought to you later this week.

The road down to the water from the booth at the top of the hill is a beautiful winding drive. I love this part of the Hawkesbury as it has a certain “early settler” atmosphere. This is probably something to do with the tracts of carved out sandstone and beautiful masoned harbour walls that appear when you reach the water. This masonry is likely the work of convict labour and is a refreshing change from the constructions we see in more recenty settled coastal towns.

The boat ramp is pretty busy on a summer weekend but there is plenty of parking ($11 for day with trailer) and room for three trailers abreast on the ramp itself, even at 10am when we arrived, well after the early birds. Once launched we headed off along Cowan Creek at slightly more than a leisurely pace,  and almost immediately noticed an abundance of quite large and majestic golden hued jellyfish in the water which we stopped to photograph.

Majestic Jellyfish

Unfortunately I accidentally forgot to save the Navionics track so I can’t show you the route we took but I can say that we covered about 4nm taking a detour up Smith’s Creek, past Cottage Point Restaurant and a quick nosey up Coal and Candle Creek (the name of which fascinates me so if anyone knows it origins please let me know). From here we had a look up Jerusalem creek and then were in serious search of a sandy spot to land. Our timing wasn’t great as it was only just past high tide. However, we were soon pleased to see Little Shark Rock Point Beach come into view, and even more pleased to see two Jet Skis and a hire boat departing.

We spent a lovely couple of hours on the beach (which was in the shade in the heat of the day). We had a picnic, a swim, dug some sandcastles and had a chat with a couple of lace monitors who were eying off our lemon cake. On the way back we stopped in at the Cottage Point Kiosk for some ice creams. If you cant be bothered to pack a picnic, the kiosk is a great spot for lunch and also hires tinny’s and sells, amongst other things, fishing tackle, tide tables and pedigree chum. Something for everyone.

Little Shark Rock Point Beach

I’d highly recommend exploring the Cowan Creek part of the Hawkesbury. We obviously only scratched the surface in a day so we’ll be back. Rhubarb will just have to don better camouflage.

 
 
 

Pottering

Lace Monitor

How to Get There

Apple Tree Bay Boat Ramp is about 45 minutes drive north of Sydney CBD and is signposted from Empire Bay Marina at Bobbin Head. Here’s the google map link:

Bobbin Head and Apple Tree Bay

Associated Costs

Parking: $11 including Trailer

Park fees: the booth was unmanned but this can depend on the day. My understanding is you don’t need a pass if you are just launching a boat.

Fuel: Approx $25

Highlights:

  • Little Shark Point Rock Beach
  • The beautiful scenery of the Hawkesbury including some historic architecture
  • Cottage Point Kiosk

Eat Up Your Muscle Sprouts…

Muscle Sprout

The brussel sprout is a member of the brassica familyof vegetables that strikes fear into even the most  adventurous of children when it comes to “eating your greens”. This is what makes the name given to not for profit organisation “Muscle Sprouts” such a wonderful play on words that will appeal to the sense of humour of parents and children alike. When I set up the Secret Water  blog, I did so to inspire both my own family and others to make the most of the great outdoors and to lead a healthy lifestyle. Muscle Sprouts was established in 2007 with a similar underlying philosophy. The organisation was set up to “promote for the public benefit, the education of inactive and overweight children.  Their goal is to minimise the risk of childhood diseases caused by obesity, in particular heart disease and childhood diabetes.”

 In the following guest blog Emma Lovelly tells us a bit more about Muscle Sprouts and lays down a challenge to secretwater readers to take on “The Muscle Sprouts Amazing China Challenge”….

 An Amazing Challenge for an Amazing Cause

Australia has one of the highest rates of obesity in the world, with over 7 million people estimated to be overweight or obese. This is a scary statistic and more importantly for our children and their future.  According to projections from the Australian bureau of statistics,if nothing is done by 2020, 80% of adults could be obese or overweight .

Muscle Sprouts believes that every individual has the right to learn and understand how lifestyle choices, in regards to nutrition and exercise, affect life quality outcomes.

Muscle Sprouts is a not for profit, whole health management organisation whose aim is to educate children on the importance of leading a healthy balanced lifestyle through education about physical activity, nutrition advice and life skills and strategies. 

Would you like to lead by example and show Australians that you can take on the challenge to change our future? If the answer is yes, then the Muscle Sprouts Amazing China Challenge could be for you!

This journey of a lifetime trekking the magnificent Great Wall of China will raise funds to support the work of Muscle Sprouts and specifically their goal to launch a National Fitness challenge for children 12 to 14 years called The Amazing Kids Challenge.

www.musclesprouts.com.au 

The China Challenge will run from Friday 15th October – Sunday 24th October 2010. 

A charity challenge is a physically demanding fundraising event, either overseas or in Australia, aimed at getting you out of your comfort zone, raising funds for wonderful charities and having an incredible life-changing experience. 

THE FUNDRAISING TARGET:
Muscle Sprouts has set your fundraising target at $6,500.

The fundraising target will cover both your travel expenses and a minimum donation to Muscle Sprouts to assist them in continuing their vital work. Essentially, you could raise all the money for the trip for a great cause and get to go along for free! Of course you have to do the challenging trek, but you also get to see an amazing country!

For more information visit the Muscle Sprouts Amazing China Challenge:
http://www.inspiredadventures.com.au/musclesprouts/.

Follow them on Twitter @Msprouts

Become a Fan on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Muscle-Sprouts/202600023995?ref=ts

An amazing adventure for an amazing cause.  Contact Muscle Sprouts for more info today!!

Beachcomber Cottage

Have you ever thought about taking a sabbatical? Running away somewhere quiet and peaceful to pursue life’s more simple pleasures? If you have then you’ll like this book. You’ll also like it if diving, dogs, wildlife watching, outdoor pursuits, the good life (i.e. chooks, veggies etc) and roughing it (or any one of the above) fall under the category of “your cup of tea”. 

You might not like this book if you are staunchly anti-hunting as it touches on the topic of the West Highland stag cull. The author himself is quite relieved when he misses. But he indirectly raises the point that in order to critique such practices from afar, you really need to pay a visit and take the time to understand the way of life and what’s involved, a philosophy I wholeheartedly agree with.

The book is all about an ex-Marine turned explorer, marine biologist and writer and his recently rescued “donkey sized” dog Monty heading to the west coast of Scotland to try their hand at pursuing the simple life of a crofter. Crofters were tenant farmers who tended small plots of land, raising some livestock and a few crops. The crofter’s home was a simple affair made of local stone called a bothy and the way of life has now all but died out. Here’s a clip from youtube to give you a flavour…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=An15Gz9hQDI

The book is really a journal of Monty Hall’s experience living in a small community on the coastal West Highlands of Scotland. Whilst I’m not sure that a four wheel drive landrover defender and a large RIB (rigid inflatable boat) with a 125hp engine were the tools of trade of your typical crofter, the book is still a great read and I grew to like the author. Well actually I was really just a bit jealous! To sum it up its a bit like River Cottage meets Bear Grylls with some Jacques Cousteau thrown in for good measure. Western Isles of Scotland now added to my list!  Has anyone else read it or something similar?

Published by Random House you can get it here:

http://www.rbooks.co.uk/search_results.aspx?search=Beachcomber%20Cottage&bic=

or probably also in the ABC shop as it was  filmed for a BBC series.

Pittwater Pelicans

I took these photos a couple of weeks ago when we went for a quick run in the tinny from Church Point on Pittwater. Pelicans are one of my favourite birds, particularly because they are one of the few really big birds that you can regularly get close up to and not like any bird I’ve seen in the UK when I lived there. So for me they are quintessentially Aussie (even though I know you get pelicans on other continents).

 I sometimes wonder what they did before the invention of large roadside streetlamps which are obviously the perfect size for a pelican landing, and so I’m going to call them “peli-pads” from now on. Whilst i was taking snaps of this one there was a bit of a breeze making the lamp sway and I could see him balancing himself by curling and then lifting his enormous grey webbed feet over the edge of the lamp. I wish I could have caught that on film. Anyway I think he is really beautiful and very photogenic!

Cabin Fever

I’ve spent the last couple of days trapped indoors nursing a toddler with a nasty fever.  So plans for a St Valentines inspired romantic riverside picnic for four (thats me, the toddler, the dog and the husband) have been temporarily put on hold. So between administering to Tessas’s temperature and watching back to back episodes of Wallace and Gromit with her, my mind turned to matters, not of cheese (as is normally the case with W&G), but to matters of medicine. 

Cabin Fever

I have been meaning for a long time to sign up for a long overdue first aid course . My first port of call is the St John’s ambulance website www.stjohn.org.au

St John run a range of courses including one aimed at carers of children. They also mention courses targeted at specific groups such as divers, although these are not listed so you may need to make enquiries and schedule a course. They also have a remote area first aid course. They are very affordable (if you can put a price on these kind of skills!) and usually run for 8 hours from 8.30 -4.30 at locations all over Australia.  The site is very easy to navigate and you can easily find a list of the courses available in your state.

In the meantime there are lots of other useful resources on the site including  fact sheets and publications specific to particular emergencies such as snake and spider bites . You can also purchase first aid kits online.  I am going to book myself on one of the St John’s courses over the next couple of weeks and will report back on progress. Has anyone else been on a good first aid course they can recommend? In the meantime…back to that romantic picnic…..

To The Lighthouse

I dont think are many people that would disagree that the lighthouse is regarded by most of us with both romanticism and respect. I don’ often visit art galleries, but on a wet and windy sunday last weekend I headed down to Manly Art Gallery to take a look at Fairlie Kingston’s ceramic exhibition “To the Lighthouse” which was right up my street as far as art is concerned.

Crowdy Head Lighthouse by Fairlie Kingston

Kingston’s Fairlie makes the most beautiful handmade ceramic light houses that are modelled on real Australian lighthouses such as Sydney Harbour’s Wedding Cake and  Port Phillip Bay’s South Channel Lighthouse. The exhibition also includes some vases and ceramic tiles depicting harbour scenes including a Manly Ferry Series. Apart from the fact that they are really beautiful to look at, the thing I really like about the exhibition is that it highlights the need to protect our coastal architectural heritage.  The title of the exhibition is inspired by the Virginia Woolfe novel “To the Lighthouse”. In a recent interview in the Sydney Morning Herald Kingston refers to this inspiration, quoting Woolfe’s childhood reminiscences of “lying half asleep, half awake in the Nursery at St Ives (in Cornwall). It is of hearing the waves breaking, one, two, one, two, behind a yellow blind…It is of lying and hearing this splash and seeing this light and feeling it is almost impossible that I should be here; of feeling the purest ecstasy I can conceive.”

Anyway, that’s my cultural themed blog for the week! I highly recommend getting down to Manly to take a look. The exhibition is on until the 7th March and entry to the gallery is free. If you make it down there let me know what you think.

www.manly.nsw.gov.au/gallery

Kingston Fairlie is represented by Australian Galleries

www.australiangalleries.com.au

Navionics: Navigation for the Technologically Challenged

As a rule I prefer to leave the technology at home when I head out on the water or on a bushwalk. For me, the allure of 3 days at sea on a yacht race is being unreachable by phone and email, left to my own ponderings whilst gazing out to sea. I’ve never been particularly tech savvy, demonstrated by the fact that I have had an iphone for a year and only have three apps (applications) on it, all of which were installed in the last 6 weeks!

Pittwater Road Test

But I may have to change this habit as a result of recent purchase from iTunes. Navionics is an iphone app that provides interactive coastal nautical charts for Australia. Here’s an excerpt from the description on the iTunes store;

Ideal for boaters, fishermen and water sports enthusiasts of all kinds. You can plan your on the water adventures anytime, anywhere…check tides, set routes and markers, and search for marinas. While on the water track your navigation, capture geotagged pictures, and create a virtual travelogue of your entire trip that you can share with your friends and family via email, facebook and the Navionics community.”

It gets some pretty good reviews on the app store with some people having tested it in parallel with their expensive GPS and navigation equipment. The charts are offline too so you don’t need network coverage for it to work as it works off satellite*. I particularly like the photo geotagging feature as supervising a two year old and trying to take photos with a decent camera is quite tricky; much easier to have your iphone in your pocket. However I will be buying a transparent waterproof pouch to put it in to be on the safe side! Here’s a quick summary (although not exhaustive) of what you can do with this application:

  • Track your route along a waterway
  • Take photos along the way which are geotagged and attached to the relevant location on your plot
  • Click on points of interest such as marinas and access local information including direct click through to marina phone number
  • Save up to 100 of your tracks
  • Create up to 100 routes
  • Digitally mark favourite spots
  • Email tracks and photos to yourself, friends etc and view them through Google Earth
  • Check tides, currents, depths etc.

For $14.99 I think it is pretty good value if you have an open boat such as a tinny which you are using on inshore waters. We road tested Navionics last weekend up at Pittwater, see snapshot of the track we recorded above.

Navionics also offer applications for ski and lake locations as well as charts for other countries. However I would not recommend relying solely on your iphone as a navigational tool. Always plan your trip in advance, take hardcopy charts and check the marine forecast before setting off. We’ll be using this application to record future trips in more detail and share information with you about great places to explore. If you decide to download this application feel free to send in your travelogues and recommendations; just be sure to switch the phone to silent if you want to remain unreachable!

Do you have any useful mobile applications for the outdoors?

http://www.navionics.com/

*3G version of iPhone and later.

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