Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Pinnacle - NSW Border Ranges

On the road to the Border Ranges with the beating heart of the Tweed Valley-Wollumbin (Mt Warning) majestically taking centre stage.

Yesterday was our 41st wedding anniversary and as we were feeling as old as the hills we thought we might go for a walk in them!  The last time we had been to The Pinnacle was over ten years ago and yesterday I was blown away - all over again - by this incredibly magical spot which has one of Australia's most spectacular lookouts.
Views from The Pinnacle around the edge of this ancient volcanic rim.

The Pinnacle is a rock - no wider than me with my arms stretched out - that is perched on the edge of an ancient volcanic region - a caldera that is one of the largest and best examples of an erosion caldera in the world.  The Pinnacle drops 1,000m from the edge of the caldera to the Tweed Valley with vast views to the Pacific Ocean and Wollumbin (Mt. Warning) - the relic core of this vast volcano looming up in the middle of this 20 million year old crater at 1,156m.
Wollumbin and the sea from The Pinnacle

This region is like being in the middle of a giant pop-up book of living treasures.  Today, this area forms  less than one per sent of what was the country's largest expanse of lowland sub-tropical rainforest.  Thankfully it forms part of the World Heritage Gondwana Rainforests of Australia and hopefully, what remains, will be preserved forever.

HOW TO GET HERE:  The walk up to The Pinnacle is an easy 10 minute walk from the Tweed Ranges Scenic Drive on the Road between Uki and Kyogle.  It took us about and hour and a half from Mullumbimby via Mt Jerusalem.  A good reference source for walks in the area is Bushwalking in the Rainbow Region by Michael Smith.

And, just when you thought that this might be enough for one day there are more treasures that await you just around the corner.

BAR MOUNTAIN:  You will have passed the turning off to Bar Mountain on the way to The Pinnacle - don't miss it.  WHY? You can take a 30 minute walk into Australia's Gondwanic past and see groves of the Antarctic Beech tree whose descendants live among us 80 million years later and are living reminders that this continent was once part of a much larger one that included most of the current southern hemisphere.  The Antarctic Beech Northofagus moorei is as old as the pyramids and live and breather before our eyes! 
Most rainforest trees, contrary to what you would think, are quite shallow rooted - spreading their roots into the rich mulch in the uppermost surface of the soil.  In high winds, massive trees like this just get uprooted and crash to the forest floor.

NOTE:  This ancient forest took a tremendous battering in the recent storms with huge trees wrenched out of the ground and  tossed around like matchsticks.  But, already the Northofagus, with its habit of coppicing (growing stems from the base of the parent tree) is persistently surviving with masses of seedlings growing up around these coppice circles. 
A coppiced circle of ancient Antarctic Beech surrounded by dozens of seedlings - the struggle for survival that is 80 million years old continues!

Another reason to take this walk is that you will probably hear one of natures best mimics  - the Lyrebird.  You can't miss it.  As we began the Falconstrum Loop (named after the Falconstrum orchid which flowers here in early spring - something I have to go back for!) we heard the call of about ten different forest birds - one after the other, all coming from the same direction and VERY LOUD - this is Albert's Lyrebird which can mimic just about anything - including chainsaws!

Up here at The Pinnacle it is easy to feel uplifted and free from the stresses of daily life.
Below you in little houses and towns people are busy living and building a future.
Here as you stand on the edge of this vast view you behold the bigger picture - the life of a valley born in the remains of a volcano 20 million years ago.
(National Parks sign at The Pinnacle)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Home Smoked Trout

Yesterday I came upon some fresh trout at a third of their normal price and, of course, I had to buy them but I couldn't use all of them up at once.  It also seemed a waste to pop these beautiful fresh fish in the freezer - then I remembered a conversation I had a very long time ago with one of my daughter's friends.  Nick was always interested in food and went on to be part owner of one of the top cafe/eateries in Sydney, Single Origin.  Anyway, this particular day he was telling me about how to smoke your own fish at home in a wok using, as the smoking mixture, black tea, brown sugar and basmati rice.

I always thought that the process of smoking food would be incredibly complicated and time consuming, but no, it is really simple!   I have wanted to try it ever since then and it proved to very straightforward and quick - and we had beautiful smoked trout and poached eggs for breakfast.
Before smoking

This is a really easy way to make your own delicious smoked food.  As well as any kind of fish, you could use duck or chicken breast.  Experimenting with the smoking mixture is half the fun and I want to try adding to the tea mix some star anise and orange peel for the duck, and rosemary and thyme sprigs for the chicken - I'll let you know how it goes.

A wok
A cake trivet that fits snuggly just above the bottom of the wok
4 sheets of foil, to line the wok making sure you have some surplus at the top
A lid for the wok - I don't have one so I use a metal pizza tray
1/3 cup of basmati (or jasmine) rice, 1/3 cup black tea leaves, 1/3 cup brown sugar, mixed together - THIS IS THE SMOKING MIXTURE
After smoking

Line the wok with the foil
Put the mixed smoking mixture in the bottom of the wok and place the trivet over it
Lightly grease the top of the trivet (to stop the fish from sticking) and place the fish on top.
Have the lid ready, but don't put it on yet because you need to see when the mixture starts to smoke so you can time it.
Put the wok on a high heat - I use the wok burner of my barbecue and do it outside - just in case some of the smoke escapes.
As soon as the tea mixture starts to smoke seal the lid on the top with the foil and turn down heat to medium.
NOTE:  The smoke needs to circulate so don't have a lid that is too close to the fish.
Leave this smoking with the heat on for 10 minutes, then turn out the heat and leave for 5 minutes then remove the fish from the wok.  Don't leave the fish in the wok for any longer or the taste will deteriorate - think old bonfires!

NOTE: You can use any find of fish - whole or fillets.  If using fillets the thicker cuts are better.  Adjust the smoking time according to size, but always leave just for 5 minutes only after smoking.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Chelsea Flower Show - Aussies take 'Best in Show"

Image courtesy of Getty and AAP
Winning entry Australian Billabong Garden

The Queen, visiting the top prize winning entry of the Australian 'Trailfinders Gorge' garden at this years' Chelsea Flower Show in London in this, its centenary year. This was ninth time lucky for Wes Fleming (Flemings Nurseries) who with Melbourne garden designer Phillip Johnson came up with a billabong inspired landscape that reminded him of his childhood visits to the country - with rock gorge, gum trees, wildflowers, grasses and a 100 year old bottle tree (Brachychiton rupestris).  They set out to showcase the possibilities of sustainable landscaping within an urban setting. The billabong (small inland lake) and waterfall, that runs through the centre of the garden, was fed by water harvested from the roof of the BBC studio building and, wherever possible, they used recycled materials for the hard landscaping.  The sculpture like structure in the background was inspired by the beautiful red flowering waratah and doubles as a studio.

Why, you might ask, do I get excited by this and want to write an article about it?  Isn't it just a snobby kind of flower show for the Brits?  Well no, not exactly. Although the majority of exhibitors at Chelsea have always been British, there has been an international contribution ever since the first show in 1913, when the French rose growers Robichon had a stand. For an Australian garden to win is truly a wonderful achievement - and anything that puts gardening 'down under' on top is pretty damn fine!.  As Wes Fleming said 'I feel like the Usain Bolt of the gardening world'.
Trending at this years' Chelsea Flower Show - Allium sp. - ornamental onion flowers

Cate Blanchett (the actor) summed it up well in a recent radio interview when she was being asked about the local and international success of the Sydney Theatre Company, where she has been Artistic Director along with her husband Andrew Upton, when they wowed audiences in New York and London with the plays 'A Streetcar Named Desire' and 'Uncle Vanya' - with very flattering critical acclaim.  She agreed with the interviewer that Australia still seems to suffer from a certain amount of cultural cringe and Canberra (read decision makers) only seems to sit up and take notice when we have successes overseas. - only then does the funding start to flow a little more freely and more ambitious projects get the nod of approval.  Maybe this will change when Australia becomes a republic and our head of state is not 17,000km in Buckingham Palace.  The comedian Jerry Seinfeld made me cringe and laugh at the same time with this quote 'I love the Australian flag - Britain at night'!

So, if you are ever in London the last week in May - I highly recommend a visit.  As one German visitor was heard to say: 'This is the happiest day of my life'.  And, if you can't get to Chelsea go to some the other magnificent gardens around England like Great Comp, Kent in the photo below or Great Dixter in Sussex - and be inspired.

Great Comp, Kent - a magnificent and intimate private garden

NOTE: A strange thing happened on the way to the garden!!  We were in London last year while the Chelsea Flower Show was on.  The day before it opened my husband took me on a Magical Mystery Tour - the destination was to be a surprise.  We ended up here in Kent at Lullingstone Castle because he wanted to show me the World Garden that has been created by mad plant collector and gardener Tom Hart Dyke - this is his ancestral family home. (I saw him the next day commentating for the BBC from the Chelsea Flower Show!)

World Garden, Lullingstone Castle, Kent

Little did my husband know that I had been to Lullingstone many times before when I was a child.  About 55 years ago my primary school teacher used to take us kids, from the smoggy old city of London, for walks in the country and we would end up at places like this (there's also  the remains of a Roman Villa nearby).  I am sure these magical days out with Mr Cramp through bluebell woods and across fields of wildflowers, helped to sow the seeds of my lifelong love of the natural world - and gardening!  Being at Lullingstone after all that time was a very strange experience.

But, there were more surprises in store.I also did not know that my husband is distantly (very distantly!) related to the Hart Dykes and he had a grand old time wandering around as if he was lord of the manor!!

Lullingstone Castle, Kent

My husband especially wanted to show me this tomb in the chapel of Sir George Hart, knighted by Queen Elizabeth1 in 1587 - the chapel building pre-dating this period.  So we start this post with the second Queen Elizabeth and end with the first!

NOTE: The World Garden is laid out like a map of the globe and plants from every corner of it are planted where they were collected from - so as you walk around you are taken on a global botanical tour.  It's really well worth a visit.

In 2000 Tom Hart Dyke was on an orchid hunting trip in Central America when he was taken hostage by guerrillas - they thought he was a CIA agent.  In captivity he started to make a garden and was endlessly curious about the strange tropical plant world that he found himself in.  He thinks that his constant gardening, during this time,  and curiosity saved him - the guerrillas finally realised that he couldn't possible be a spy because he was obviously just plain loopy!