Author Archives: looksee99

About looksee99

In a nutshell, I am an avid traveller and observer of the human condition. Lands near and far fascinate me. The people I meet along the way make the journey worthwhile and colour the world we live in. No matter who they are, what they do, or where they live they have a story to tell. As a visual person I have an intrest in photography and I have made a number of photo books of my travels. I have also recently dicovered painting and I am currently undertaking a variety of watercolour and drawing classes. My friends will tell you that I have a love of food and appreciate wine and good company. I hope that you enjoy my travel tales and I look forward to your feedback and comments.

Is this sign meant for me?

Overseas travel opens your eyes in all sorts of ways. Not only by meeting people and enjoying the sights and culture on offer and of course enjoying the variety of  food is eye opening. However, I am always amused and bemused by the various signs that are directed to us travellers.

This is a note to guests in my hotel in Singapore. I wonder what else one could want to boil in the said kettle….

BF2D215F-2DC5-4F10-B42D-81D05BF06AE2Now it seems that in Italy the various uses of bathroom towels has become a problem for this hotel in Rome. I am not sure where else you could use the iron.

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It appears that describing food allergies have taken over from common sense when writing a menu in Italy.  Every dish is described on the menu folowed by a series of numbers that reveal the code of ingredients that have allergic consequences. What is “fruit to shell”. A prize awaits the best answer for this perplexing ingredient.

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Categories: Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Singapore, Travel, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Under the Tuscan Sun

Cortona is the setting for Frances Mayes’ novel Under the Tuscan Sun, and a later film version. It was a highly popular novel and I think every woman’s dream to flee the daily grind of marriage, kids, work pressures or anything else that ails you and arrive in the charming Tuscan town of Cortona. Finding a derelict house and turning this into a bucolic masterpiece along with all the romance of the Tuscan countryside.

I was in Tuscany to discover another kind of masterpiece…a painting. Not one by Michelangelo or Leonardo but one by me. I was joining a painting group for a week of tutoring and plein air painting – that means you pack up your kit and find a view point in the countryside or town and sketch. Finding a suitable spot can be pretty daunting when you have a quintessential Italian scene around every corner.

With that handicap of sensory overload I resorted to nourishing myself with other Italian delights. Sitting in a bar and sipping on an aperol spritz or strolling along the street enjoying a wonderful gelato.

My fellow students were inspiring as they embraced the task admirably and turned out some excellent work. Our tutor was on the ball and encouraging everyone at every opportunity. His morning demonstrations were mind boggling as to how he captured the mood, light and aspect of the various scenes all with large one inch and 2 inch brushes. I have a new resolve now to return home and tackle painting landscapes with a new vigour.

You ask what else did we do apart from painting? Some sight seeing and of course eating. This week’s highlights have included….carpaccio (raw beef sliced paper thin with grated Parmesan cheese arugula and olive oil), handmade fettuccine with grated truffle, risotto with scampi, anchovies all sorts of ways, pizza with wafer-thin crust with fabulous toppings, fresh porcini mushrooms lightly battered and fried and the most wonderful veal limone. Of course it is obligatory to end the evening with a limoncello to aid digestion and sleep.

More culinary delights are on the horizon.

Categories: Art, Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments
 
 

Italy – The Love Affair Still Goes On!

Here i am again – in Italy. The magic of Italy still endures after an absence of three years. Like a long love affair – you remember everything so fondly and forgive its shortcomings and failings.

These failings manifest themselves as soon as you step off the plane. The Rome immigration hall is a game of snakes and ladders where the queues of people are ushered around a ribbon of people control barriers. A thousand deep and the line continues to grow as more planes land. Finally the immigrations desks come into view, and of course out of the 20 plus desks there are about 10 manned by very disinterested officers. Mine was a forty something lady officer (she had that very lived-in look) who had her earphones jammed in so tight that she could not possibly hear the moaning of the throng behind me.

I arrive at the QC Hotel Terme Roma late at night and hit the shower and bed in quick order. On awakening and opening the curtains the Italy that I love is revealed. Those oh so very Italian umbrella pines, the towering plane trees with their marvellous dappled trunks, the chirping of the sparrows and swallows and that lovely sound of water falling into the magnificent fountain below.  The view over the terracotta roof tiles and chimneys is a welcome site and reinforces the sense of where I am.

My first morning is spent with the maintenance man Marco and his cappo (bosss) while they try to crack open the safe that refuses to open. It is amazing what can be achieved with a large wrench and a few screwdrivers aided by a constant monologue in Italian by both of them. After 15 minutes of judicious banging allora – the door flies open. They both beam that safecracking can be added to their cv’s. Maybe they will go home and watch the Italian Job and give their expert opinion on the safe cracking scenes.

NEXT STOP CORTONA!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Ordinary Objects” Exhibition of Art Works by Elizabeth Varley

Grapes Cheese and Pears On Linen - $350 - 75cm x 50cm

Grapes Cheese and Pears On Linen – $350 – 75cm x 50cm

Solo Exhibition of Art Works by Elizabeth Varley  

“Ordinary Objects”

“In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary”.  ~Aaron Rose

You are invited to the Exhibition Opening : Saturday 10th September 2016, at 2.00pm

The CTC Robertson, 58 Hoddle Street, Robertson NSW 2577  Viewing and sales: August and September 2016

 Hours:  Thursday to Friday 10am – 4pm,  Saturday – 10am -1pm

Visit my Page for all the images – pricing, dimensions and more information

Categories: Art, Cooking School, Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Mushrooms, Photography, Recipes, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lucca – A Secret Gem

Another week has passed by in a bit of a haze. After spending 4 hours every morning in Italian lessons trying hard to look on the ball and somewhat engaged, I find that my head is spinning by 1.00pm. The lessons are conducted all in Italian – totally from wow to go. To add more pain the use of dictionaries is prohibited.  When you have a question, the teacher attempts to ease your dilemma by using a convoluted example in Italian and by the time he has finished his explanation, you have hopefully grasped the concept.

This week we had a new bunch of recruits from Holland and Germany and Australia plus the same 2 chaps from Japan (one of which is a right pain in the backside!) -10 in total.  Consequently, the group exercises are like deciphering Morse code with cotton wool stuck in your ears. It is all babble!

What really did my head in was our final exercise on Friday – a passage (about an A4 page) that we had to read, translate and then undertake some grammar exercises. The subject was about a scientist who became fascinated by snails and wanted to write a book about the life of snails. However, no matter how he tried to conceal himself in the bushes, the snails were up to his tricks and hid inside their shells. So he had a bright idea of disguising himself as a snail. He made a shell out of paper mache that he could fit himself into, a rubbery nose with rubbery horns that waggled about and silvery saliva that he painted onto the ground. This pastime quickly turned into an obsession, and eventually he was sleeping in his costume and asking his wife to make him worm fritters.  She in the end, told him he was a loon and he could stick his worm fritters and left!

Now – I am confident that in my next conversation with someone about snails and worm fritters I will be able to acquit myself well. Handy don’t you think?

On the plus side, I feel more confident in conversing with the locals in Italian (not about snails). Some are very patient and will give you time to express yourself. Others revert to English straight away.  At least no one is speaking German to me.  There are plenty of Germans and Dutch here but very few Asians.

Lucca is a really pleasant and friendly place. The city is flat and cars are not allowed in the walls unless you have parking permits and a place to park, which are very limited. Consequently, this is a great place for a bicycle and which there are hundreds. The streets are narrow and cobbled with the buildings rising up on either side for three or four stories containing 4 to 8 apartments where the residents live in close quarters with each other.  So hearing the domestic chatter (and arguments) from your “vicini” is not unusual. For example the family who live behind me have a toddler named – wait for it… Galileo! My goodness he has a big name to live up to.

IMG_1201Yesterday the weather was a lovely so I spent a couple of hours wandering the main shopping streets (lanes) and poking my head into a number of stores.  But the highlight was another lingering lunch in a quiet corner, watching the passing crowds go by. On perusing the menu, I was unable to make up my mind between the chicken liver pate or the Tuscan salami and figs – so my very congenial waiter suggested that I have a half portion of both. This I followed up with a light main of vitello tonnato.  One of my all-time favs – cold sliced veal with a mayonnaise made with tuna and capers.  This was accompanied by a lovely local white wine – Trebbiano which dates back to the Roman times. (This photo is for my brother Peter who is the most patient husband of a champions shopper – Mary)

The best sight of the week was when I was on my way home from class, I passed a couple of older ladies (70’s) – done up to the nines. Blonded hair (yes, I am a culprit of some chemical assistance in this department), large pouting red lips (possibly some filler, and Botox to boot) skin tight black pants and patent black boots, rather flashy jewellery and pushing a very smart baby pram with a hood. From the back they looked like a couple of glamourous (!?) grannies out with the new baby while mum is at work. As I drew closer, I looked into the pram  – my jaw hit the ground – there sitting in pride of place was not a baby but the biggest, white, furry cat I have ever seen. I have since discovered that this was a state of the art bespoke cat pram. Can you believe it!

Today I am indoors as it is raining and thundery. So I have been busy doing some catch up homework in readiness for class tomorrow. Please God, no more stories about invertebrates please?

ci vediamo

Categories: Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Language, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Italia Bellissima!

During language class this week we had to discuss an opinion survey that was recently conducted in Italy. One of the questions was; “what do foreigners rate as the most significant aspect of Italian life”? The majority of respondents said, ” il cucina” . I agree, as I am never disappointed with what Italy has to offer. As the scenery in the regions of Italy differs, so does the cuisine. Here in Lucca, I have enjoyed some interesting and tasty local specialties which I have not experienced elsewhere. I am looking forward to many more to come in the next few weeks.

Just to mention a few of the highlights: proscuitto with white figs (peeled), cuttlefish stewed with tomatoes and spinach, tartare of veal with a tuna mayonnaise with bottarga (a cured fish roe), fresh farfalle pasta with sauteed fresh tomatoes and fresh salmon and basil,  grilled and sliced rare fillet steak with parmesan cheese on rocket (sauced with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, grilled sea bass with buttered spinach and slices of crispy potato.

Not to forget the gelato. I have discovered a wonderful place where they create gelato magic and makes their own flavours –  not the run of the mill fare. Interesting and unusual so in the name of research I have three scoops of different flavours!

Apart form the cuisine, the other obsession that Italians have is news and politics! I am still trying to digest the Italian slant on “news”. It swings from the latest gruesome homicide, to the refugee crisis, and  a swathe of political stories in between. Maybe it does sound like just like home!

There is an abundance of news commentary programmes here. On every second channel there is some beardy bloke with too long hair, that needs both a wash and a brush, and wearing designer glasses sprouting his informed (and ill informed) opinions depending on which side of the socialist spectrum you sit. They think that Greece is a laughing stock of Europe but they do not realise that they are only one step away from the same fate. Hard work, punctuality, precision, good governance, innovation are not in the Italian vocab. Maybe that is why we love it here. The whole sense that life has gone on like this for centuries and if we don’t rock the boat, long may it continue.

The Italian way is in their DNA: old men sit in the shade, drink coffee and argue,  old ladies do the shopping and complain that the bread is stale and the tomatoes are soft, young girls wear tight pants and impossibly high shoes, handsome young men wear very tight pants and a self satisfied look, and tourists are the only people to eat before 8.00pm,

Ah – Bella Italia!

 

Categories: Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Mushrooms, Photography, Recipes, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Lucca,Tuscany – A Living Picture Postcard

 


Buon giorno,

Here I am in Lucca – having enjoyed 2 days of sunny warm weather– up 30 degrees. This is ideal weather for sitting in a shady spot and drinking an aperol spritz (or a glass of prosecco) and watching the passing parade. After a few rainy and cool days in London this feels like coming home. Italy has that instant appeal of warmth, friendliness and accessibility.

On arrival at Pisa airport, I was met by Francesco my taxi driver to Lucca. He did not speak any English so my rusty Italian got a rude awakening. I think that I acquitted myself well as he did not drive off the road in fits of laughter at my linguistic abilities.

We arrived in Lucca, unloaded my cases at the front door of my apartment (rented through AIRBNB), and rang the bell (twice) and with increasing urgency. Alas – no answer. Francesco had a worried look on his face. I am sure he thought that he might have to take me home as an unexpected boarder. I had a fleeting thought that I could be one of the cases that wary travellers fear – an internet scam – there was no apartment and some slippery scammer had my money.

I found my landlord’s number and Francesco called it for me. After a number of rings there was an answer and Francesco informed them that their new lodger was at the door. He then told me (in Italian) that my prospective landlady was in hospital after delivering her first baby at 8.30am that morning. Dad would be on his motor scooter and be there in 10 mins. Phew!

In ten minutes he rounded the corner on one wheel and zipped up the lane full tilt; off came his helmet and I was greeted with a grin from ear to ear. Obviously he is a very proud new dad. And today Mama and baby came home. There was a knock at my door and the new family was there to show off the incredible tiny bundle – Ginevra. I have already offered myself for babysitting duties.

My apartment is spacious, comfortable and spotlessly clean. It is located on the edge of the old city inside the walls that ring the town. Completely surrounding the ancient city, the walls we see today date back to the 17th century. They are crowned by 4 km of green parkland, where people walk, cycle or stop for a picnic. Just another example of how, over the centuries, though buildings last, their roles metamorphose as times change.

I have explored some of the streets and squares nearby. Everywhere is walking distance and is quite flat – so pedestrians and bicycles rule the road. The public buildings are very grand, old palaces with wonderful medieval facades, impressive churches, twisting alleys that open onto small piazzas. Behind high walls one can glimpse gardens and courtyards. The streets have been full of tourists and holidaying Italians enjoying the last days of the European summer vacation. Hopefully this week I will see a quieter Lucca and be able to explore further afield.

Tomorrow is my first day at school – so more of that later.

Ciao

Categories: Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Language, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Wild about Mushrooms


The days have turned cool as winter is beckoning. The leaves have started to fall from the trees and the clouds lie in heavy grey banks along the horizon. Today is a foretaste of winter as the temperature is only 6 degrees Celsius. My mind has turned to all the delicious hearty dishes that you can enjoy at this time of year.

It is an opportunity to curl up with a cup of tea and a slice of orange cake and bring out the cook books and browse through the pages for those comfort food recipes.

During the Easter holiday I had a houseful of guests and served this easy to prepare soup. I was pleased that it was rich in flavour but not too heavy as the first course to a lengthy and filling dinner.

Zuppa di Funghi (Mushroom Soup)

• 1 kg fresh mushrooms such as: porcini, chanterelles, chestnut, Swiss browns, shitake, portbello etc
• 4 T spoon olive oil (extra for serving)
• 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
• 2 cloves of garlic chopped
• 250 dry white wine
• 1 sprig fresh sage (5 leaves)
• 1.50 litres vegetable stock
• 6 thick slices of country style bread
• 100g freshly grated parmesan cheese

1. Carefully clean the mushrooms with a damp cloth if they are a bit dirty, or wash carefully and dry on paper towel
2. Trim away any hard stems
3. Slice finely or cut into dice
4. Heat olive oil in large pan and add onion
5. Sauté on low heat until soft
6. Add chopped garlic and Sauté for a few mins
7. Turn up heat and add wine, simmer off the alcohol
8. Add mushrooms and sage
9. Sauté for a few minutes to lightly colour
10. Add the hot stock and simmer for 25 minutes until mushrooms are soft
11. Check the seasoning – add salt and pepper
12. Coarsely puree about half the mushrooms and return to the pan
13. Grill the bread slices on both sides
14. Place a slice of bread on each bowl and ladle the soup over. Sprinkle the grated parmesan cheese and add a drizzle of olive oil. If you like a little kick you can use chilli oil as the garnish – but just a touch!

Special note:
If I cannot find fresh porcini mushrooms I add a small packet of dried porcini mushrooms that have been reconstituted in 250 ml of boiling water (reduce the amount of stock by 250ml in the listed ingredients if you do this). Roughly chop the softened mushrooms. Use the mushroom liquor in the soup but be careful not to pour in the dregs as these can be a bit gritty.

I served this with a full bodied chardonnay (preferably not too oaked). Or, if you prefer, it would be well-matched with a light red such as, a Pinot Noir/Red Burgundy.

Enjoy!

,

Categories: Cooking School, Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Mushrooms, Photography, Recipes, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

From Pampered Pooches to Sponge Cakes

Greetings from the Southern Highlands. The leaves are now turning on their magnificent autumn display. I am amazed at the intensity and vibrancy of the colours – bright yellow through to the deepest red and every hue of rust in between. I almost drove off the road as I was too busy admiring the beautiful scenes in Kangaloon. Isn’t that a great name! Almost as good as where I live – Burrawang! Anyway, as I was reminiscing, time has certainly flown this year and it is already May.

One of the cultural highlights of the year so far was the Robertson Agricultural Show. This is certainly a red letter day on the local calendar. As usual, it rained. It is always great fun to visit a country show and tromp about in the mud carefully dodging cow pats and puddles.

The day started with a visit to the poultry pavilion with its fine feathered specimens. All the exhibits were crowing, cackling and quacking in unison. What a marvelous cacophony.

The dog judging arena is a must see. I am amused by the handlers let alone the dogs. The canines are primped and coiffed to perfection. They are certainly prissier than any blonde going out on a Saturday night date – as the saying goes “the bigger the hair, the closer to God”. The amount of hairspray and blow-drying that these pampered pooches endure is beyond the pale. Why is it that dog people grow to look like their dog?

In the main show pavilion one can enjoy a display of assorted local arts and crafts but the big ticket is the cakes and preserves. The local ladies are stiff competition but I am not daunted as next year I am going to enter my sponge cake so stand by for a big announcement of my winning entry in 2015.

My particular favourite is the children’s vegetable modelling. I had no idea that 5 potatoes of varying sizes and a number of toothpicks could be sculpted into a horse. What imagination!

A trip to the show is always topped off by the sight of handsome cattle, fine looking horses and men wandering around in big hats.

The lead up to the show always has the village abuzz. Our local butcher, Darryl is a very civic minded chap and he creates the Robertson Show in miniature outside his butcher shop for all the locals to enjoy. All the children in the village bring their toy tractors, trucks, cars and a variety animals with which Daryl works his magic. He creates a fabulous miniature show with various events including the now famous potato sack carrying competition. The sight of Barbie crowned as Miss Robertson Showgirl is a hoot. Well done Darryl.

I am looking forward to next year’s Robertson Show. There is nothing like a country show to bring out the community spirit.

Categories: Cake, Dog, Food, Wine and Cooking, Photography, Recipes, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Calling All Tarts – Is Baking a Science or Black Magic?

The words “sponge cake” strike terror into the hearts of most people when they are contemplating baking a cake. Why is that so? I can tell you why… as evidenced by my first and only attempt some years ago to bake a sponge. This experience left its mark. The result was humiliation and nausea – after oh so carefully whisking, beating, sieving and folding, what emerged from the oven…? Two cake tins containing steaming, unrisen cakes, better described as pancakes.

So, when it was my brother-in-law’s birthday last week and I offered to bake him a cake – what did he ask for – yes, you guessed it, a bloody sponge cake!

So all week I sweated over the various cook books and read every recipe for sponge cakes that had been written over the last century, including Mrs Beaton.

The day of reckoning dawned and down I came to the kitchen armed with my recipe from “The Country Show Cookbook”. The book is an omnibus of recipes gathered from all the prize winners at the country agricultural shows. After careful consideration, I selected a recipe submitted by Mary Yeo (a regular prize winner) from the Mendooran Show. Mendooran is a spec on the map about a 5 hour drive northwest from Sydney. I decided on this recipe as I knew that my mother, also a great country cook, would have approved of Mary and her recipe.

I recall, as a young girl I used to marvel how my Mum could pull a cake out of the oven at the drop of a hat – and her sponge cakes were legendary. I would often come into the kitchen and see Mum in a cloud of flour, stoking the stove to get it to the right temperature, freshly-laid eggs frothing away in the MixMaster and a chaos of ingredients on the kitchen table. Then miraculously, out of this bedlam, wonderful food would appear, apparently effortlessly. A friend of mine fondly recalls a famous family story when the phone rang during one of these flour-dusted baking marathons and Mum answered the phone – without asking who was calling, she called into the phone, “I’m making a sponge, call back in 20 minutes!”.

So here is the fool-proof sponge cake recipe from Mary Yeo.

Ingredients
• 4 eggs, separated
• ¾ cup of castor sugar
• 1 level cup self-raising flour
• ½ teaspoon baking powder
• 3 tablespoons hot milk

Method
• Preheat oven to 180C degrees (350F)
• Line and grease 2 x 20cm (8in) cake tins
• Beat egg whites until stiff
• Gradually add castor sugar
• Beat until sugar is dissolved
• Add egg yolks slowly until mixture is creamy
• Sift flour & baking powder twice ( I did it three times for good measure)
• Fold flour into mixture at small intervals
• Add the hot milk (not boiling)
• Fold until creamy but do not over work the mixture
• Pour the mixture evenly into the 2 cake tins
• Bake for 20 mins in the centre of the oven

10 Tips for a successful sponge cake
1. Follow the recipe exactly
2. Baking is a science, so measure all of your ingredients carefully
3. Use the freshest eggs you can get
4. Make sure the eggs are at room temperature
5. When the cake mixture is in the tins bang the cake tins on the bench a couple of times to get the large air bubbles out
6. When adding dry ingredients, use a large metal spoon to gently fold the mixture until just combined (Don’t use a wooden spoon)
7. Don’t open the oven door while your sponge cake is baking
8. When your sponge is cooked, it will come away from the sides of the pan, and spring back when touched lightly in the centre
9. Turn your cake out onto a cooling rack covered in a clean tea towel
10. Have fun – a happy cake baker will always produce a light cake

Mum (and Mary) – you would have been proud of me – it was a great success!!!

Categories: Cooking School, Food, Wine and Cooking, Recipes, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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