Love and food – it’s a Southern thing…

You know that feeling you get when you go to a place that you just vibe with… where you feel both at home and as though you want to spend aeons exploring and experiencing it?

I grew up about 30 kilometres from Brisbane and have spent the majority of my life in South East Queensland but I love to travel. I especially love to travel to the USA. One of  the regions closest to my heart is The South. I love the friendliness of the people. I love the manners and being called darlin’ and sweetheart. I love country towns and mountain villages. I love the accents. I love the music. And I especially love the food.

Each time that I am counting down to a vacation in The South, I spend hours recounting to friends and family the amazing foods that I will experience while I’m there. So without further ado… here are my top-10-must-try Southern foods (in no particular order):

  • Southern barbecue – there’s lots of variety in this one. Try a bunch until you find a sauce and meat to suit your taste. On my first visit to Little Rock, my best buddy took me to a little barbecue place and I fell in love. This is the number one dish that I recount over and over to anyone who’ll listen – the barbecued pork sandwich at The Whole Hog is to die for! You can even buy their amazing barbecue sauces to take home with you… and you can bet that I do each and every time.
  • Gator – the first time I visited with friends in Florida they told me I had to try the gator. Then they waited for my reaction to that statement. I wasn’t at all put off and I’ve got to say… gator nuggets are little mouthfuls of deliciousness.
  • French silk pie – it’s chocolate and it’s a pie… what else do you need to know? I read about this treat in a novel a long time ago and was determined to learn to make it myself. Its silky richness means that you should only eat a small piece. Trust me on this one!
  • Catfish – deep fried with a side of hushpuppies (see next entry).
  • Hushpuppies – hard to explain but a must when you’re eating catfish and other seafood. Hushpuppies are made from a cornmeal batter and have nothing to do with canine companions.
  • Key lime pie -it’s tart versus sweetness reminds me of my Mum’s lemon meringue pie. This is a creamy and delicious dessert.
  • Chicken-fried steak – remember when Sheldon said that he also knows about cooking meats that aren’t chicken as though they are chicken? This delicious dish is what he was talking about. In my opinion, it’s best served with mashed potatoes, green beans and gravy.
  • Biscuits and gravy – my friend Kitty couldn’t believe that I’d never had biscuits and gravy, when I visited her and her kiddos last year. While I took the kids to play in the playground, she whipped up her (southern) version of biscuits and gravy (and bacon of course) for breakfast.
  • Sweet tea – ask any Southerner and they’ll tell you that this one is non-negotiable. Just like barbecue, you’ll find a variety of styles. Try to make your first sweet tea one from a café (or better yet made by a friend) rather than the mass-produced kind.
  • Beignets – donut deliciousness in Louisiana. Try some for breakfast with your coffee.

Okay, I realise that there’s a lot of fried and rich food in my list. My ideal days on vacation in The South involve exploring national and state parks or country towns all day and enjoying taste sensations at night.

The South is calling me so I’m off to daydream a little.

Go… explore!


Happy days in Milwaukee…

Until not that long ago pretty much everything I knew about Milwaukee was from TV reruns of Happy Days, and Laverne and Shirley. In fact I didn’t even realise that it was in Wisconsin.

Lucky for me, I’ve now had my own Milwaukee experience and it’s so much more than I expected. Sure there’s the Bronze Fonz (no really – it’s a life-size statue you can check out and have your photo taken with) but even in the chilly weather of early spring you’ll find loads to fill your day(s) of exploring.

Let me give you a taste of my visit, but first here’s a couple quick facts about Milwaukee you should know:

  • it’s the largest city in the state of Wisconsin
  • it’s on the western shore of Lake Michigan
  • it’s part of the American Midwest.

Knowing that I have a fondness for spirits but can’t drink beer, my friend Katy suggested we skip the brewery tours and take a tour of the Great Lakes Distillery. We arrived a little early so I took some time to relax with a pretty tasty Mule that featured the distillery’s own vodka. Great Lakes Distillery is a small batch distillery who handcraft a range of spirits including vodka, rum, gin, whiskey, brandy, absinthe… and the list goes on. The tour costs $10 and includes a tasting of their products as well as a distillery 101 on how the products are made.

While I discovered that I have no affinity for gin, I found that I very much enjoyed their orange and spice liqueur. So much so that I bought a bottle to take on my trip with me (and it travelled really well in my suitcase!) Our guide was amusing and kept the whole group engaged with the alcoholic history of Wisconsin. It’s an experience I’d highly recommend you try if you visit Milwaukee.

I’d also recommend spending at least a few moments gazing out over Lake Michigan.

Now my friends James and Brit tapped into my museum-geek side. They took me on a rollicking exploration of the Milwaukee Public Museum. MPM has everything from dinosaurs to a huge rainforest to a history of local Native Americans and a representation of what life in Milwaukee looked like 100 years ago… There was also a fabulous Egyptology exhibit that we wandered, learning about the two mummies on display, and what their lives had been like.

My favourite space of all in the museum had to be the butterfly habitat. I love the delicacy of these winged creatures (and I’m fascinated by their proclivity for eating dead flesh). The space was alive with the fluttering of wings as butterflies of varying colours and sizes landed on delighted visitors. I was kept snap-happy and entranced and you will be too…

Go… explore…




You’re the apple/cheese/berry/grape of my eye…

Given our warmer than usual summer here in South East Queensland, I thought I’d take the opportunity to escape for an extra long weekend to Tasmania. So I managed to swing an extra, extra long weekend, packed a bag and jumped on a plane to visit The Apple Isle.

While the apples (and cider) are amazing, Tassie has so much more to offer – it’s a foodie paradise!

No sooner had my friend picked me up from the airport, than our adventure began because it’s barely a hop, skip and jump from Hobart Airport to where the fun begins. After a quick stop for some bacon and lamb at a local butcher, we headed for Coal River Farm. You’ll be surprised at quite how close to the city this farming district is (20 minutes). I wouldn’t have believed it myself if I wasn’t there! After a wander past the chocolate and cheese rooms, we grabbed some tubs and headed off berry picking. Coal River Farm uses organic growing methods so there’s no need to worry about sprays or chemicals. We may or may not have sampled a strawberry or two to check their sweetness as we loaded up (okay, I’ll be honest… once I realised I needed to watch out for slithery critters as well as bees I was not the major contributor to our collection).

Back in the store when we had finished picking, I selected some cheeses to add to our bounty. So far, so good. I’d been in the state for less than 2 hours and I already had the beginnings of a delicious picnic.

By now I was starting to get hungry for lunch (I’d skipped breakfast to make my 6.30am flight). Fortunately for me a truly amazing experience was literally around the corner. After turning down a side lane and twisting and turning a few times we found Riversdale Estate and their astounding French Bistro. Picture rose lined paths, green lawns, white linen cloths and window-side tables. The food was to die for, and it was matched by service that simply could not be faulted. For dessert I had a cheesecake made with fresh raspberries to a recipe that was handed down through the owner’s family. As family legacies go, this one was definitely worth it.

Our afternoon continued with a few more farm stops for more cheeses, jams, peaches, blueberries, cherries and all the local product we could fit into the esky. Then we headed for my friend’s property in the Central Highlands. We were definitely stocked up for my stay! And we found all manner of ways to enjoy the produce (in cocktails, tasting plates, desserts, side dishes…).

As with my previous visit, I enjoyed the charm of stores in New Norfolk (I may or may not have stocked up on craft goodies at the local craft store and astounded once again at bricks handmade by early convicts at the secondhand store). I also spent hours wandering the stalls at the Salamanca Market. My purchases there included locally handcarved trinket boxes, a tidy bottle of single malt and some fossils sold to me by an 8-year-old (my nephew loved them).

Quite conveniently, a farm-based ale and cider brewery has opened about 5 minutes down the road from my friend’s house. How could we resist popping in to meet the neighbours and support them in their ventures? Two Metre Tall cider is crisp and refreshing and perfect for a summer’s day (perfect for other season’s too). The fiercely independent business sell their product at the cellar door and online (which is fortunate for those of us who live elsewhere in Australia).

Eventually, it was time for me to head back home. There was time for one final southern  dining experience to be had. Being Sunday it seemed appropriate that we chose Twelve Stones, in Pontville, for lunch. The restaurant is a converted church. We chose a table outside and relaxed in the shade to enjoy the grounds while waiting on our food. My cheesy soufflé with spiced cauliflower was delicious. I love the trend toward using edible flowers and found the visual presentation of the dish just as delicious as the flavour.

I’m very much looking forward to my next visit to Tasmania, and to exploring more local produce offerings (and a friendlier climate).

Go… explore…

5 handy hints for travelling in the USA

I’m counting down to another trip to my favourite vacation destination – the good ole US of A. While some of my friends there treat me as an honorary citizen, I have to admit that it’s taken me a little while to refine some of my travel habits. And now I’m going to share them with you, so read on!

I have lost count of how many times I’ve visited the USA. I know that sounds weird. Each time I go I find new places and new faces to add to my library of memories.

I’m what the industry refers to as an FIT – a free independent traveller. I don’t book package tours, I generally make my bookings myself, and I enjoy the road slightly less travelled. I also regularly use my vacations to visit friends and the occasional relative, as I go. I’m more Arkansas than New York, more Napa Valley than Los Angeles, and more North Shore than Waikiki. There’s a reason for me telling you this – these hints will work in cities, in the country… they will work almost anywhere your feet can take you.

  1. Depending on how long you will be travelling, forget about enabling international roaming on your mobile (I’ve suffered with the $200+ phone bills when I came home) and either take an old mobile with you (I use my iPhone 4) or purchase a cheap smart phone when you arrive. Pick up a prepaid card and sim from Walmart (or similar) and presto – you can have all the calls, internet, social media and emails you need for a much more reasonable price.
  2. Find local wifi spots to use your devices from home. Here in Australia we’re still not seeing the variety of retailers and eateries making this available that you will find in the USA. Starbucks, McDonalds and department stores like Macy’s and Sears top the list. Many restaurants offer free wifi to diners too.
  3. Make friends with a local. I’ve had incredible recommendations from hotel cleaning staff, waiters, and the charming ladies at the local fabric store. They are almost always only too happy to share their local secrets with you.
  4. Be prepared to talk about home. Get off the beaten track a little and the locals may make you feel like a celebrity. When I returned to Batesville, Arkansas, for the second year in a row I was remembered by the postmistress, and greeted like a long lost friend at the dry goods store (yes I am aware that fabric shopping on vacation is a little kooky lol). I had sales assistants chat with me for so long and ask so many questions about Australia that I ran late for lunch. Remember to be friendly because you’re an ambassador for your home town/state/ country!
  5. Be prepared to try something different. Be it cuisine, transport style or activity, make sure you stretch yourself a little. This world is a fabulous place because we’re not all the same. And that makes for the greatest joys of travel.

Go… explore…

How I love thee, Bundaberg

Since I was a little girl I’ve had family living in Bundaberg. My childhood is filled with memories of fishing and exploring cane fields with my cousins. It’s a place that is comfortable and familiar to me. It’s also a place that every time I visit I find something new to fall in love with.

Last month I made a trip to visit a long-time friend who now lives at Bargara. Our visits are a relaxing chance for us to catch-up on who’s been doing what. This time she had done some research before I arrived and had some very pleasant surprises in store for me.

While no trip to Bundaberg is complete without at least one trip to the beach (Elliott Heads is my pick and a convenient walk from my aunt’s house), this time I had the opportunity to explore the emerging foodie side of the region. It will come as no surprise that I go nuts for farm gate produce – dragonfruit, mango and corn were my take-homes, but I discovered that the local dining scene is changing and definitely for the better.

In the midst of  a day of shopping, I got to visit Indulge Café where the menu is loaded with fresh, local produce used in delightful ways. It’s a fabulous downtown stop if you’re lucky enough to snag a table.

We also travelled slightly further afield to an absolute treasure in Apple Tree Creek. If you are looking for amazing customer service where you are treated more as a cherished friend than paying customer and the food matches the service, Mollydookers is the place for you. The owners of this stand out are a charming Australian-Canadian couple. “I’m the Canadian, she’s the left-hander” was our host’s explanation of the cuisine and the name of the café.

My 3 biggest hints for visiting Mollydookers are:

  1. Make a booking – it can get pretty busy and trust me when I tell you that you don’t want to miss out on a table.
  2. Try the mac’n’cheese bites – seriously the best mac’n’cheese I’ve ever had.
  3. Lash out and get the Xango for dessert – even if you have to walk back to Bundaberg to justify it, this dessert is decadent and incredible. It’s flavoured cheesecake wrapped in a tortilla and fried until golden, rolled in cinnamon sugar and served with sauce and vanilla ice cream (we split it between us so I only had to walk halfway back to town).

I had a pear and bacon salad with blue cheese dressing on the side for my main. The combination of bacon, pear, pecans, cucumber, dried cranberries and spinach leaves was fresh and tasty. There are so many choices on the menu it took quite a while to decide.

The great thing is that Bundaberg is close enough to South East Queensland to head on up for a long weekend. The drive never fails to help blow away the cobwebs, and if you turn the radio up you’ll find yourself well and truly relaxed by the time you arrive.

Go…. explore….


Absolute beginner…

Hey! Hi! Hello! Welcome to my blog. My name’s Nicole. My friends call me Nick.

In the past 12 months I’ve met some amazing people, and they’ve inspired me to share my adventures and explorations with you all in this blog (something other friends have been bugging me to do for ages). So first up… a big thank you to the bloggers who’ve inspired me – Brooke from What Brooke Wore, Katy from KatyPotaty, and Chelsea and Darrell from  AmeriAus, as well as my long time friend Teressa from Window on the World.

I’ve also been a teensy bit (lol) inspired by getting to work alongside Celebrity Chef Alastair McLeod in his role as Food Ambassador for Lockyer Valley. Alastair’s passion for fresh and local ingredients is evident in every conversation we’ve had, as is his witty sense of humor.

I’ll be posting recipes as I go (if I can figure this site out haha), so please check them out and give them a go yourself.

Here we go….. Nick