Thursday, December 31, 2009

The End of 2009

It was, as expected, a quiet Christmas Day for us. We enjoyed a great lunch of oysters, tiger prawns and bar b q’d Atlantic salmon washed down with some French champagne and my last bottle of Margan 2005 Limited Release Semillon. This was followed up by plum pudding for me and sticky date pudding for the co driver. As a result of this over indulgence we opted out of dinner that night and hit the sack early.
We swapped the usual swag of best wishes phone calls with friends during the day. But apparently no one in codriverland has yet to come to grips with the fact that we celebrate almost a day earlier than they do so all was quiet on the eastern front.

The week before Christmas, a category 5 cyclone ‘Laurence’ made its presence felt on the north west coast of Western Australia. It made landfall on the sparsely populated Pilbara Coast Region doing a fair bit of damage to the small communities in its path with wind gusts of up to 285km/h and almost 250mm of rain.
The good news was that once on land this weather system developed into a huge trough that spread across the continent and had the weather pundits predicting 200-300mm rainfall spreading from the red centre across the parched inland of New South Wales and to the coast. Emergency services were put on stand by due to the likelihood of major flooding.

The rain started here about lunchtime on Christmas Day and didn’t stop until 3 days later. But unfortunately we had only around 60mm. Not that we weren’t grateful for one of the best Christmas presents we could wish for but that relatively small amount produced absolutely no run off so our dam problems remain. At least the house tanks are full and the grass has turned a little greener. And we have another new calf!
The wine talk for the Rotarians went OK and I got a few relevant questions afterwards. I noticed only one sleeper during the thirty minutes. Hopefully this has encouraged a few more locals to turn up to the Wine Show public tasting in January.
We are still getting down the beach most days despite the rain and enjoying the surfing.
Summertime and the living is easy!
So New Year’s Eve is upon us. Might just have to find a special bottle of red to go with a nice lump of medium rare beef. Am sure there is one (or two) hidden away somewhere.
All the best to everyone for 2010.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A December Update

Again the weather dominates our thoughts. Still no decent rain to speak of. The latest figures show 80.8 per cent of the state of New South Wales is drought-declared, up from 73.6 per cent in October, with 14.8 per cent considered marginal.
The vines are now starting to suffer. Leaf yellowing is occurring in the shallower parts of the rows. I notice that a near neighbour’s vineyard is also showing the same affects.
The veggie garden is also struggling and we are now on subsistence irrigation having decided to keep any spare water for the cattle as the main dam is almost dry now.
We have been swimming and surfing most days. The ocean is warm enough for a 30 minute dip and the beaches are still relatively deserted. It is obvious that the first influx of tourists (‘touros’ in local speak) has arrived. Town is much busier. Private schools have already broken up and the public ones will follow in a week’s time. It won’t be long until the area fills up with holidaymakers most of whom stay until the end of January. The population of our area quadruples over the summer holiday break. Not only does this cause some traffic chaos but prices for most things generally rise and it does put some strain on the local infrastructure. I notice that the local council has already put out mobile signs on the highway warning of the severe water restrictions that are currently in place in the Shoalhaven.
So soon it will be time to head on into the supermarket around 7am to avoid the manic queues and get to the beach early to avoid the crowds.
I know "we" need the money that the tourists bring in but it sure does cause disruption to our quiet lives.
Other than that, plans for the 2010 South Coast Wine Show in January are well in hand. We have two new judges this year in addition to our regular chairman. Both are women which will add a new aspect to the assessment of the wines offered for evaluation.

Both the co driver and I are a bit ambivalent about Christmas. We always talk about getting a tree but don’t, the house is sometimes minimally decorated but mostly not and we really don’t do presents for each other any more although we still do for close family. We usually send out Christmas cards but even this was a point of discussion this year. Why? I don’t really know. Maybe it’s my Scottish heritage where my father always considered Hogmanay more of a celebration, or coming from a one child family where Christmas was always a small quiet relaxed affair. Just maybe we think it’s mainly a kids’ thing or it’s because we live a relaxed quiet lifestyle and any special holidays just meld into our normal day to day lives.
But in an effort to get into the ‘spirit’ we purchased a couple of Christmas cups for our tea (guess which one is mine) as well as some serviettes. I think that may be well it.

And of course the co driver has found a station with 24 hour Christmas music on satellite radio which is nice but I do wonder how songs about snow, sleighs and freezing your butt off are relevant to the southern hemisphere at this time of year.
Anyway, we attended the annual valley get together where it’s a chance to catch up with all our neighbours en masse rather than chance meetings on the road or the occasional visit to trade wine for fruit, eggs, honey, fish etc. or to help up with some task eg. dead calf removal.
We had the usual fun time with everyone copping their fair share of ribbing. Winning Trainer Bob (as defacto mayor of our little community) tried to get some issues settled eg. naming our private road as an ID aid for visitors, deliveries and tradesmen as well as bridge maintenance. But as usual his efforts were in vane when discussions segued to Jarrod's (a neighbour's 3 yo) swimming lessons. He said he would try again next year.
And I am giving a talk to fifty local Rotarians about grapegrowing, winemaking and wine tasting and food matching next week. This was a last minute arrangement which necessitated getting the brain out of neutral but I am sure I can bluff my way through.
So here's wishing all my readers a Happy Christmas wherever in the world you may be.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

A Weekend in Sydney

We drove the three and half hours north to Sydney on the Friday morning arriving in the CBD around lunchtime. Although I have spent a great deal of my life in this city, 25 years or so, the more I visit now the less I like it. Don't get me wrong, it's an exciting place with lots to see and do and nowhere else in the world has such a stunning harbour setting. But living a relatively isolated lifestyle on the quiet south coast near a town with only one set of traffic lights is quite a contrast to the hustle and bustle of being at close quarters with four and half million other people, most of whom seem to wanting to get to the same place at the same time.
We had set our hearts on a lunch of steamed Chinese dumplings at Sky Phoenix but the restaurant was closed due to considerable renovations of the Centre Point Tower complex.
So we walked a little and ended up on one of the streets near the famous shopping area of the Queen Victoria Building where we found an excellent Japanese restaurant for one of their lunch boxes, which is a sampling of everything good to eat, Japanese. And there were only another two or three westerners in there which was also a good sign.
Then the co driver and I parted ways so she could do her shopping, book shop and Rocks Night Markets thing and I picked up the daughter and we headed to the Sydney Fish Markets for a cooking school class. They had been closed for quite a while refurbishing the school. What a difference! The lecture room had been modernised with three overhead cameras with large screens so you got a close up of what the demonstrator was doing plus comfortable tiered seating and desks. And the walls had been covered in Atlantic salmon skins cut to the size of house bricks and painted sea blue. Very effective. The student cooking stations were all shiny stainless steel and had the latest equipment. After preparing the meals, we moved to a restaurant style room over looking the harbour to eat them. Apart from learning new things about the handling of seafood, we cooked garlic prawns, pippies in white wine sauce with basil and coriander and fried garfish fillets with salsa verde plus a salad. This was all washed down with a bottle of Rioja Crianza (100% Tempranillo) from Spain.
Next morning we all headed for Chowder Bay on the harbour's north side for brunch at Ripples.
Originally the centre of the Sydney whaling industry in the early 1800's, a mooring for the American whaling fleet and later as a restricted federal defence area, the bay has been given back to the people. Nothing better than sitting outside on the restaurant deck looking over the harbour back towards Sydney city on a clear bright morning. And the food is great too!
That afternoon the co driver and the daughter headed for the Observatory Hotel in the Rocks area of Sydney and a day spa.
I spent the afternoon alone flicking between two cricket games on TV between Australia and the West Indies in Brisbane and New Zealand and Pakistan in Dunedin. Both were pretty exciting.
That night we drove a short distance to North Sydney for a middle eastern meal at Safi.
We decided to have the banquet. A few hours later after 15 courses plus coffee we rolled out of there and headed for bed.
Next morning, after breakfast, we hit the road for home. A great weekend away!
Sadly on arrival I found the calf I had been nurturing for a few months had died. He seemed fine when we left and I was even considering returning him and his mother to the herd.
But the very next day there was a new one in the lower paddock so hopefully our run of bad luck with new borns has ended.