Posts Tagged Wonders of Tasmania

West Coast Wilderness Railway gets the shunt

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We timed our trip to Strahan well with the announcement from the West Coast Wilderness Railway that it will be out of action from April this year. We could not believe our luck as it was announced the day after we had made our bookings.IMG_9758

We opted for first class and very happy with that decision as we were able to see the action of the drivers of the steam train. Not to mention the food and wine we were plied with all day.IMG_9740

The railway is a restoration of the original Mt Lyell Mining and Railway Company built to bring out the copper concentrates from Queenstown. Overcoming the rough terrain and distance was a major feat in building the Abt rack and pinion system.

The rack ensured the train had a secure grip on the rails to negotiate the steep track areas.IMG_9731

The Abt gets its name from the Swiss engineer Dr Roman Abt who invented the rack system. It is a third rail of solid bars with vertical teeth and small cogwheels engage with the teeth on the middle rail.IMG_9774

The first half of our trip the coaches were pulled by a diesel locomotive and the second half we watched as the steam locomotive was attached. It was at this point we noticed the fireman was a woman who is fully qualified and our carriage host told us it is her preference is to be called a fireman. The male engine driver we were informed is from a long line of drivers in the area and I cannot help but feel sorry for him if he has to leave his family home for new work, that is if any is available elsewhere.IMG_9750

The charming and comfortable carriages are fitted out in Tasmanian timbers and modelled on the original Mt Lyell carriages. IMG_9766

It appears now that any rebuilding plans will be shelved until the Federal Group who have run the railway since 2002 negotiate with the Tasmanian or Federal government to fund restoration of the track.

IMG_9763The train tracks have seen seven decades of traversing the wilderness of the west of Tasmania and major contributor to the economic well being of the towns and settlements of the West Coast.

Latest news in The Mercury yesterday February 20, 2013 is that the West Coast Council, tourism operators and the Tasmanian Tourism Industry Council are pleading….!!!! with the Federal Government to make a quick decision. The Australian federal government and quick decisions are an oxymoron surely a business plan should have been forwarded long before this by the Federal Group. Considering the Federal Group control and offer most of the accommodation in Strahan you would think this issue would have been signalled with more notice, particularly as they describe themselves as the leading provider in Tasmania of tourism, entertainment, conference, event and corporate experiences. Why did they leave it so long to say they could no longer continue after April this year? Is it a tactic to get the government to pay for it?

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Goodbye for now Binalong Bay

It is time to pack up and leave our summer home in Tasmania. I took some photos on my penultimate morning walk to remind me of how beautiful and changeable it is here every day. These are the new steps to the beach and new picnic table. We even have a new toilet block. I often take the steps and pathways the Council has carved toward the beach between the horizontal streets above Binalong Bay. They are short cuts down to the beach and each day I take a different set and always see something I hadn’t seen before, like a new plant, a shrub, a tree or even a detail on a house I hadn’t noticed before.

I will miss the passing parade of yachts from my kitchen window.

These yachts stayed overnight in Skeleton Bay. I was tempted to hang a sign out offering dinner in return for a sail with them.

I am going to miss my rabbits, they boldly come up to our lawn each morning and night to nibble and sometimes annoyingly make little holes. We have the fruit trees well guarded as they would love the new shoots.

Here is a close up because they do like to blend in. The little black blobs in the foreground are droppings from the Kangaroo wallabies also known as  ‘paddymelons’ that come up to eat the grass around 4am in the morning.The new cafe seem to be going well, even if the blackboard needs some attention.

Everyone visiting cannot help but see this monstrosity in Main Road. But not everyone hates it as I do. Neptune meets David.

David is Ken for the Barbie, a partner for the bikini clad woman who greets you as you drive in and although her proportions are all wrong I still look forward to seeing her each year as I arrive. This is the view I will see as I drive out today.

Click here for more information and beautiful photos by Michael Goldsworthy about Binalong Bay.

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Tetsuya at Australian Wooden Boat Festival

If you asked the world’s top chefs the name an Australian chef, then Tetsuya Wakuda’s name is probably the first one mentioned.  So I thought carefully about whether to put this post on my tastetravel blog as it concentrates on food and travel all over the world or post it here on my little homely Tasmanian blog. But it did take place in Tasmania and he used the famous produce the Southern Rock Lobster which is a premier Tasmanian product.

The Japanese chef who has adopted Australia as his home – and in fact trained to become a chef here, is very well-known to Tasmania. He is reputed to visit often to look for wonderful food sources and to enjoy the relaxed life when he needs a break. The Wooden Boat Centre in Tasmania is currently constructing a 38 foot motor sailer in Huon Pine and Celery-Top designed by Naval Architect, Mike Hunn for Tetsuya Wakuda and no doubt when it is ready he will be considered an honorary Tasmanian.

So it is fitting that Tetsuya was invited to give a cooking class at the Australian Wooden Boat Festival and concentrated on lobsters. The fish and chips – well we ate them whilst waiting for the demo to begin. They came from the nearby Fish Frenzy restaurant, they prepare fillet the fish as the order comes in. That is the way we like it!

Only in Tasmania would you be able to play with so many live lobsters. The co-host of the presentation was Rodney Treloggen, Chief Executive Officer of the Tasmanian Rock Lobster Fishermen’s Association. It is a coincidence that we live in Treloggen Drive in Binalong Bay. The Treloggens were on the local council (back in the 50’s) and applied for the first subdivision in Binalong Bay. Rodney Treloggen was a competent MC, adding useful information about the Southern Rock Lobsters between Tetsuya’s demonstrations.

The crowd was surprised when Tetsuya began to cook the live lobsters without first attempting to put them to sleep. I know the Japanese prize freshness in their seafood but it was disconcerting for most to watch the lobsters legs waving at us as they were placed on the hot grill. Tetsuya was careful to explain that you don’t keep turning them over, just watch until all the meat looks cooked through by the heat under the shells.

Another way he prepared them was to hold the tail in boiling water for about 1 minute and then plunge into icy water. The lobster is not even par cooked!  Tetsuya then prized the barely cooked meat out by cutting along both sides of the tail. This meat he put aside to later make a mousse in a Thermomix. 

We were staying with friends in Hobart who are both food lovers and came with us to the demonstration. And we had come prepared with lobster we had caught in our pot in Binalong Bay.

Taking one of the recipes very seriously I wrote down the ingredients and back at our friends home we followed the steps. First we halved our lobster, sat it in a baking tray and filled it half way with boiling water, and exactly following Tetsuya, put it in a hot oven until the flesh turned white. The only point of difference was that our lobster did not feel any pain. We had put it to sleep.

When it cooled down we removed and sliced the cooked flesh and replaced the meat in the shells. We cut the spring onions. A tip from Tetsuya worth noting and I will do in future is to prepare the onions early (he finely slices them) soaks in icy cold water so they curl.  Next we added finely sliced fresh ginger, chopped garlic that was all placed on top as in the picture.

 

The sauce –  put soy sauce, sugar and mirin (Japanese rice wine) in a pyrex jug and heat in the microwave. At same time in a small saucepan on the stove we heated grape seed oil. Poured over the hot soy mixture first and then the hot oil that made the whole dish sizzling. I did not look at my notes and we forgot the orange zest but that is for next time also. I immodestly tell you we all thought it wonderful and we will be making it again very soon.

We feasted that night – after the lobster we had our Striped Trumpeter caught by our fishing mate in Bicheno. This was not a Tetsuya recipe but an Indian style paste we made up and smeared over the top and inside.

If you would like some more information about the preparation and recipes for rock lobsters here is the recipe page on the website of Australian Southern Rock Lobster.

Just before you leave me, here are a couple of photos of the Japanese noodle makers showing us how to make soba noodles, it seems Tasmania is growing buckwheat.

The visit was twofold for them to share their skill and visit the source of the grain/seed that is grown and sent to the Shiratori Flour Mills in Japan.

A lonely potted plant at the side of the stage – it is the revered and quite pretty (Soba)Buckwheat plant. The only thing missing was the opportunity to slurp on some buckwheat noodles.

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Orchids of Bruny Island, Tasmania

Our recent visit to Bruny Island delivered a wonderful surprise. We met the photographer Allegra Biggs Dale. I had actually noticed her book on Orchids of Bruny Island at the shop and cafe at the Kettering ferry dock and thought about buying a copy on my return journey.I grow a few orchids in Brisbane and until last year I was under the impression that orchids would not be easy to grow in Tasmania. Then I saw quite a few on my neighbour Sue’s deck here in the Bay of Fires.

Then Sue walked to our house one day through the nature reserve in front and said ‘do you know you have an orchid flowering (she identified it but I cannot recall its name) in front of your land where it joins the reserve?’

So since then I have had my eyes open and even found one to photograph myself on Bruny Island.  So you can imagine my delight when later on this day trip, I fluked a meeting with Allegra. I had to buy some copies of her book, definitely one for my orchid loving neighbour Sue and one for an ailing friend in Brisbane to send her some cheer.  Allegra Biggs Dale in the photo here with her ‘micro’ books is a long time resident of Bruny Island and both author and publisher but more importantly the photographer.

The macro exhibition of photographs in the book.

Allegra and her husband Adrian have a large parcel of land that they will dedicate as a reserve for the future. Although the gate is open, it is private so it is polite to call before venturing further. Here is a link to their Labilliardiere Estate and I recommend you book a stay in her guest house Chez Discovery.

The guest house verandah.

The amphibian vehicle driven around Labillardiere Estate by Adrian and Allegra, this would be a novel way to see some of the beauty spots here. Yes a sculpture or two in the background, definitely a place of discovery.

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Tasmania is honey central

Tasmanian honey in old fashioned tin

Tasmanians excel in honey. I am so enamoured with honey from this state that I now find myself looking for Tasmanian honey when staying on the mainland. The eponymous Leatherwood honey is one I have been enjoying for years but since living in Tasmania more honey varieties are appearing. The Leatherwood tree is Tasmanian and it is a product that should be registered on the Slow Food Ark. A register that includes indigenous or produced items that are particular to one region or country.

The only other honey I find with a strong and distinctive flavour is a special honey in Italy created with the assistance of bees that hang around chestnut trees. I have also have eaten the delicate lavender honey of France and used it for adding flavour to vanilla ice cream, but it is an acquired taste for many and you cannot go overboard using it this way otherwise it has a medicinal taste. But for every day use Tasmanian honey cannot be beaten.

I have just finished a pot of Manuka honey from Tasmania. For some time I was under the illusion that Manuka honey was unique to New Zealand and was paying a lot of money for it. However it is still up there in the dollars department in Tasmania. It is an expensive honey and maybe that is because of the small quantity of Manuka trees in North East Tasmania. Supposedly Manuka honey is reputed to be a cure for cuts and abrasions with anti bacterial qualities. I have yet to put it to that test. I polished off my last jar of Manuka by having a teaspoon on my porridge every morning rather than sugar.

My faithfull honey dipper

When we started spending more time in France we became aware that the French prize honey highly. There is even an apiary in Luxembourg Parc, right in the middle of Paris! I had to steer John away from it though as he is allergic to bee stings, not to honey thankfully. So it came as no surprise when another brand I came across recently in Tasmania is called Miellerie and since the label looks similiar to many I have seen in Paris, I studied the jar to find that this honey is produced by Yves Ginat, a Frenchman now living in Tasmania.  Yves says on his website that he was taught to keep bees when a boy in France. I will be eating more of this honey as it is unprocessed and unheated. Each of the honeys in the Miellerie range are crystallised, with a smooth, velvety texture.

My honey Madeleines

When we were in Portugal we visited a famous university library where bats were allowed to live to keep the insects away from the valuable books and in Paris there is honey made from bees that live in the original old Paris Opera building. The bees gather nectar from blooms in window boxes and city parks so this proves you don’t even need to keep bees in the country to produce honey.

I used to bring back honey from Paris but when you have a state that considers it one of the national food products and even sells it at its airport gift shops, now I can have my honey and eat it too in and away from Tasmania. Roz

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Tasmanian designers excel in homewares

I have collected many items for my home that have been made in Tasmania but now that I have a home here I have an opportunity to see and buy more!  Design Centre Tasmania – in Launceston is a favourite spot of ours to browse and discover who the designers are and what they are currently producing.

Pin from Artisan's website

We are very fond of the Huon Pine rolling pins made by Peter Meure that we buy as presents for our foodie friends abroad, that means overseas and on the mainland. Wooden spoons, stirrers, paddles and a range of bowls and salt and pepper grinders are to be found almost anywhere there is a market in Tasmania but it is at the Design Centre we find the most enduring designs and they are of the highest quality in execution.

For the past four years a Tasmanian Design Award has been held and bestowed on the most outstanding designer. The criteria is that objects must also be environmentally and commercially sustainable. Not all designs are in wood, we bought a small stainless steel knife designed by jeweller Anita Dineen that is suitable for pates, it is known as the Glide Gourmet Knife. 105x20mm. It is so simple why didn’t anyone else come up with it, simplicity is a hallmark of the best design is it not? It is in the Top 10 for 2009. After selecting and paying for the knife we were told by the staff that Dineen was the 2009 winner of the award and of the people’s choice category.

According to the Australian Gift Guide website ‘Dineen was inspired to design the glide gourmet knife after becoming frustrated with poorly designed utensils that refused to balance on the edge of ramekins or would flip off cheeseboards’.

There is a designer I like whose brand is Indeco and so far I haven’t any of its pieces but a set of salad servers made of light coloured Maple that featured in the top ten of the 2009 Award are on my wish list.

See Indeco’s website for a description of its wares and the Hammerhead salad servers. Indeco are on the ball re the marketing of their wares with a commercial looking website with its own shopping cart etc.

I was driving along the scenic route on the west of the Tamar and found Artisan, lots of treasures made here or sold for other artisans and I bought a Huon Pine sushi press as a gift for sushi loving friends. I also bought a set of Huon Pine chopsticks for a friend in Paris – I am sure she doesn’ have these ones. I don’t know the name of the maker of the Sushi box but it came from Artisan Gallery on the Tamar – 32 Deviot Rd, Robigana TAS 7275. They do mail order by phone or the website and I found them swift in sending the items safely in the post.
(03) 6394 4595

I have a beautiful Huon Pine cheese board that was a gift from a Tasmanian friend and am slowly building up more pieces for my table. I don’t think you could go wrong with a gift made in Tasmania. Roz

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St Helens Oysters, learn to shuck!

Part of the experience we offer of staying with us in our beach house at Binalong Bay is learning to shuck oysters.

Having said that our guests do not always coincide with the best oyster season but when they do, we call in to the oyster farm on the road to Binalong Bay from St Helens to buy un-shucked oysters from Aqa Oysters.

If you visit Aqa’s website there is a lesson on shucking – it is not what works for me as they suggest putting the knife in the oyster at a 2.00 o’clock position, but if you persevere as I did you will soon find your own style.

According to Aqa, the local (Pacific) oysters here are known as Pittwater and St Helens. Aqa, Shed 2, 444 Binalong Bay Road, St Helens 7216. Office sthelens@aqaoysters.com.au
They describe the taste is initially salty followed by a sweet citrus rush aftertaste. I find that taste varies, depending on the weather. It is best to buy them when the water is freezing and I always ask for small ones over the big fat ones. I think they are better for swallowing whole and you get a mix of all the oyster meat and not just a gob full of cream.

But many like them fat and creamy. Reading Stasko’s Oyster book I was amused by the comment she included by British Novelist William Makepeace’s remark that after eat large oysters in Boston, he felt like he ‘had swallowed a baby’.

Visitors finding their style

OK so to date I managed to fob off shucking to others, but today I took a leap forward. I gave myself a pep talk – I am mad if I don’t take advantage of the local oysters to practice and acquire a new skill!

I have three oyster shuckers in the drawer to choose from and tested them to find one to suit my style.

First time shucker

The best way is to have a ledge to angle the hinge end of the oyster on. The raised edge of the sink’s drainer works well, I hold the oyster in my left hand in a tea towel and with my right hand prize the top shell at the hinge end and then work the knife around the edges and Voila! it is open.

Smooth shells

Hinge end

My best results came with the green handled shucker. It is a Bladerunner, Australian made in stainless steel and I bought it at the Log Cabin in Bicheno a beach side town south of here. Log Cabin Store, 59 Burgess Street Bicheno 7215. It is an old-fashioned general store and by the owners admission (Kevin and Sharon Gray) they are dinosaurs so no email or website.

I eat mine raw – naturel and when I want to add something else, I cannot go past the Tasmanian Wasabi dressing as a dipping sauce. Having said that I have enjoyed them cooked. Whilst in Portugal late last year I had oysters fried in tempura batter and served atop lemon sorbet. The texture of crunchy batter contrasted with the soft oyster inside, an absolute sensation that tickled my palate.

From my library in Brisbane I brought down the little book Oyster from Montparnasse to Greenwell Point written by Nicolette Stasko and I have taken it off the shelf for further reading. Although small, the book is brimming with ancedotes, history and carefully researched information. According to Stasko Tasmania’s shellfish industry has a Quality Assurance programme that ensures shellfish are grown in unpolluted waters and so oysters do not have to be purified prior to consumption. All good news as the flavour remains pure. Roz

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