Growth

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I’m on my hands and knees, heavily pregnant belly grazing the unmown lawn, looking for a mouse in the bushes. Not just any mouse – a purple one. Apparently the mouse is sharing his house with a cat too.

“Is the cat trying to chase the mouse?”
“No…..they’re friends”

The absurdity of such a suggestion! Have I failed you in my teachings of natural order and relationships?

“The mouse is driving a monster truck!”

Just as I prepare my words of dismissal and disbelief, I hear a rustle from within the bushes and startled, I recoil back instantly and draw you into my arms.

The following day I am greeted with the thunder of fast and furious small feet as they tumble towards me down the hallway.

“There is a rainbow snake in our grass eating carrots and strawberries!”

“Sounds lovely”, I think to myself, imagining sitting cross-legged and bathed in sun whilst reducing a punnet of red berries to mere leafy tops. I picture your snake in all of its glorious hues, coiled around the fruit and see the same whimsical kaleidoscope that colours fills your limitless imagination.

Each day with you is a new volume in a series that can span drama, comedy, fantasy and horror. You are particularly skilled in crafting days of drama that may start with the searing pain you feel when I buy green grapes instead of red or when your small and inexperienced fingers fail to successfully link together the carriages on your wooden train set. Being unable to put both of your shoes on the one foot at the same time is truly devastating for you and causes you to weep and question, “why?”

Some days you cast yourself in the role of ‘courageous explorer’ with me as your abiding assistant, required to carry the spoils of your expeditions in my pockets until they are bursting with your treasures. My understanding of the importance of this job comes from experience. Whilst you may be small and at times, incomprehensible, your memory is sharp and should I drop a single item – you will surely know and express your displeasure with great fanfare and disappointment. During the heat of Summer we accrued a bounty of apricots, hastily pulled from the low-lying branches of our fruit-laden tree. At other times, a seed pod, gnarled stick or even the shining foil of someone else’s discarded food wrapper have made their way into your clutches and then back home where they have been imagined into anything from race cars to butterflies.

Comedic relief punctuates our days together as we laugh heartily at your clumsy couch gymnastics and bodily noises that should probably be found offensive. Your growing understanding of opposite words and their meanings has developed a sense of humour that both surprises and delights your loyal “servants”.

Our family tree is one that has deep, far-reaching roots and branches that reach, entwine and bear the interesting fruit of colourful people with wildly different passions, beliefs and natures. It is a tree that spans continents and proudly wears the scars and healing wounds of divorce, heartbreak and then the discovery of new and different love. Our son took his place along our branch two years ago, sending us into a chaotic and unpredictable place. He entered this world with the ear-piercing squawk of a baby bird, demanding attention and expressing his reluctance to enter this world peacefully. Our family nest was changed forever in that moment as we forged blindly and with great uncertainty into the world of new parenthood.

Our early days, and in fact many months to follow, were hazy with sleeplessness. A Mother and Father that were once quite capable and competent often found themselves pondering their decisions and actions. Slowly and imperceptibly, the new growth of our skinny tree branch matured and became stronger, stable and able to carry the weight of doubt. The growth and development of our son became our fertiliser as we delighted in first moves, first words and daily first-time discoveries for our young boy. A young boy, forging his way out into our world was unknowingly gifting us precious, new abilities.

Young feet take us to new and exotic places in their quest for discovery, whilst also retracing steps as far back as our own magical childhood. Caring for a child has not only extended the branches of our family unit, it has allowed the reawakening of our own imagination and search for new discoveries and ways of understanding.

On one of our recent walks, we paused a moment to cradle a beetle in our hands and I encouraged our boy to gently stroke its black and glistening shell. I was reminded of times when worms were eagerly scooped into dirty hands for collection or butterflies were silently stalked from blossom to blossom as I marvelled at their beautifully fragile wings. I allowed myself to enjoy the tickle of beetle feet as they searched my palm for an escape and enjoyed the fascination etched on a two-year-old face as he marvelled at the sight before him.

Lazy afternoons spent beneath the gentle rain of our modest backyard sprinkler have retrained two parents with larger and tired feet in the art of creating and exploiting muddy puddles. Not to be outdone by our much younger example, we are not done until we retire inside with grubby, dripping feet that need a soak in the tub.

Whilst having a child carries great responsibility and unwavering commitment, it also brings brighter days, endless possibility and an effortless lightness of being. A transformation of self has occurred in my own passage of motherhood that I can only thank my son for. Long-held passions and dreams are now things that are tangible and possible and the realisation of this brings empowerment and satisfaction. Whereby, days were once filled with counting shifts on rosters and watching the clock day-in and day-out, they are now filled with moments of creative clarity, snatched ideas and the fragile beginnings of new projects.

My shelves are now filled with torn out fragments of the ‘starts of something’ that have been seen in magazines and books and our kitchen is regularly being used to create tasty treats for hungry visitors. Where once resided a pile of work uniforms waiting to be ironed, now sits a pile of brightly coloured felt and embroidery twine awaiting transformation into something unique and beautiful. Honest and revealing words that once used to elude me, now flow freely as I reserve nothing and crave a way to share every wonder, both new-found and rediscovered.

Many nights were spent contemplating the life we would live once our child entered this world and whilst I was anticipating an all-consuming love and the growth of a bond like no other, what I was not prepared for was the new growth this little dreamer would bestow upon his mother. New and fragile buds of growth are bursting forth and my days are full of possibilities previously thought long and gone. I have been given a gift that nurtures feelings of fulfilment, contentment and gratitude. My own branches have been freed from the entanglement of doubt and the bounds of fear. Expression springs forth, like tendrils reaching towards the warming rays of the first sun of the morning – and boy it feels glorious.

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How to Build a House!

Image copyright Karli Duckett 2014

Image copyright Karli Duckett 2014

I’ve had a few goes at gingerbread houses over the years…..making one per year is definitely enough practice!  They are a labour of love and definitely not something that you can just ‘whip up’ one afternoon.  So…..to try and save you some of my own blunders in pursuit of a truly great Christmas Day centrepiece – here are my tips so far:

  • I have made up my own template each year using shapes drawn onto pieces of paper and then cut around them with a knife into the dough, but this year…I decided to “cheat”.  I found a reasonably priced gingerbread house cookie cutter set at ALDI and they worked a treat.  The pieces still didn’t fit together absolutely perfectly, but enough to hold together and make my job a lot quicker and easier this time round.  If you have the space in your fridge to cool the cut out dough shapes for 30 minutes before baking…your pieces will ‘fit’ together with more ease.
  • When making your royal icing ‘glue’ to hold the foundations of your house together (walls, roof, etc)…..make it thicker than you would for simply decorating.  Thick enough that it won’t drip too much when you pipe it on, but thin enough to pipe from a piping bag.  Just add your pure icing sugar bit by bit until you get the right consistency.
  • Don’t plan to finish your house in one day.  Set the foundations and attach the walls to the cake board first and leave to set overnight, supporting on each side with tins from your pantry.  The next day, attach your roof sections and if necessary, use toothpicks to help secure the roof to the wall while you ‘fill in’ the gaps in your piping.
  • Again….allow lots of time for decorating.  Some lollies will be able to be stuck on and left straight away…..others will need to be held in place for a minute or so until the icing starts to set.
  • Keep an eye out for cute decorating supplies in your local $2 store and gourmet delis.  You will find all sorts of great things……this year…I found some fantastic sugar snowflakes that I used on the roof.
  • Use pure icing sugar in your royal icing rather than the icing ‘mixture’ to help set your icing rock solid.  Don’t forget that you can also dust your house with icing sugar if you want to make a Winter house!
  • Also…don’t forget to fill the centre of your house with surprises – edible or not!
  • A very dear friend of mine is also very clever and decorated her house with a variety of dried and freeze dried fruit and it looked spectacular.  Not to mention….a lot healthier!
  • If you’ve never made a gingerbread house before…..try making a few smaller ones instead of one large house.  You will get better with practice and have more to go around.
  • If you have leftover scraps of dough…..get out your biscuit cutters and make some biscuits for gifts or the kids to decorate too.  Keep little hands busy while you are making your masterpiece.

Most importantly……try not to give in to the urge to ‘crack’ the house and eat it before you get to show it off!  Most years Papa Duck and I fail miserably at this!!

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Team Duck

Precious 'us' time!

Precious ‘us’ time!

 

Here we find ourselves at the tail-end of Father’s Day and in the dimming glow of a day filled with good food, laughter and lazing about in the sun….I feel there is enough ‘feel-good’ left in me to write about Papa Duck.

 

My Bubba Duck is a very lucky boy indeed.  Whilst his father often gets berated for leaving the dinner dishes un-done, forgetting to pay the bills and regularly skipping out on the madness of dinner and bedtime routines to play sport – he is a stellar parent.  Who really knows what they’re going to be like as a parent, particularly during a heated toddler tantrum or during the panic as you realise your child is really hurt this time, not just putting on a show?  Some would probably tell us that we waited quite a long time to start our family.  Many years have gone by now where my husband has played the ‘pied piper’ to the children of others quite successfully.  He is always the adult that gets drawn into the game, the play and the story.  He doesn’t even have to try….kids generally gravitate towards him effortlessly.  It always fascinated me, the way children are able to judge and assess a person’s character within mere moments.  I also always wondered what it would be like when we did have our own little people to entertain and care for.  Would he have ‘used up’ all of his fun times and patience by then?  Would it be different when those children were his own and under his constant care?

 

I needn’t have worried.  The first few months of John’s life were a haze for both of us and we don’t recall those days with any real gusto or enthusiasm.  We were both running on empty and guessing most of the time – as most new, first-time parents are.  I wouldn’t say that either of us took to parenthood like ‘ducks to water’ (excuse the lame pun!) in those early days.  Fast-forward though and I can honestly say that Papa Duck has fallen into his role as a father with as much ease as he navigates a soccer ball across the court (on those nights!)  He is an absolute natural and his skill in raising our son only shines brighter as Bubba Duck grows into a ‘real’ little boy.  

 

I regularly find them taking turns to “crash” on top of each other as they both giggle uncontrollably, completely unaware that I am often watching from another room with a smile on my face.  They can spend an hour just kicking the soccer ball up and down the entry corridor of our messy, chaotic home….happily cheering each other on with Bubba Duck eagerly copying every action of his father.  Books are read to him with animation and unwavering patience, a book often being read, and re-read, and re-read again.  Tickles are always threatening to ‘attack’ and result in more uncontrollable giggling from the two of them.  Papa Duck likes an adventure and never shies away from taking Bubba Duck to do and see things his mother would think too hard.  They have been on train rides, city adventures, bouncing adventures, splashing shenanigans….you name it, they’ve given it a go together.  Don’t get me wrong though.  I make it all sound like sunshine and lollipops, but they also have some epic battles of wills.  They are equally strong-willed and temperamental.  They have a distinct lack of patience and abundance of ‘old man’ grumpiness at times.  On the whole though, between us we have formed a pretty well-oiled machine.

 

I’m sure many parents get to this stage at some point.  After months of learning on-the-job, you start to actually improve.  When I can tell Papa Duck has had enough, I jump in with quiet songs and cuddles.  When I am losing the battle to keep my cool, Papa Duck roars in with a car ready to go riding in.  As I am sitting here taking the ‘liberty’ of writing again, I can see two piles of neatly folded toddler clothes waiting to be shelved….proof that my husband does occasionally notice the other areas of our home that don’t house a television.  I have spent the day preparing food for our lovely lunch we shared with our extended family.  We tag-team and most of the time, it works well.  There are times when I notice it happening in motion and there are others that don’t get noticed until we both collapse into bed, willing sleep to come quickly.  There are just as many toys under the couch as there are in the toy boxes and the weeds poke through the mulch we applied to cover them only weeks before.  We do not always ‘work perfectly’, but when it comes to the little fella……well…..I think we might just be ok.

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Cooking Lightbulb Moments

When making scones, don't twist your cutter as it will cause them to rise unevenly.  Just press down and push out.

When making scones, don’t twist your cutter as it will cause them to rise unevenly. Just press down and push out.

This week, I thought I would share some of my discoveries in the kitchen over my cooking years, both self-learned and picked up from others…..

  • The ovens I’ve used in both of the houses I’ve owned never cooked at the temperature set on the dial.  Once I installed a relatively cheap oven thermometer and worked out how far out it was in either direction….I accounted for this each time I used the oven and voila!  Far more baking successes.
  • Adding some oil to the melted chocolate topping for your slice will soften it ever so slightly and allow you to cut your slice without cracking the chocolate into ugly shards.
  • The easiest way to ‘deseed’ and chop a capsicum is actually not to deseed it at all.  Simply slice down each flat side of the capsicum and throw the stalk, seeds and white bits away in one piece (or in your compost for the worms!)
  • Bake your fish in the oven in a heat-safe dish rather than fry it on the stove and your house will not smell like the ocean afterwards.
  • Before baking your cake, allow the prepared cake mix to sit in the tin and ‘rest’ for 20 minutes before baking to allow the gluten in the flour to relax and rise more evenly.
  • When making chicken satay skewers, instead of cubing chicken breast or thigh and spending ages threading individual pieces onto your skewers, buy chicken ‘tenderloins’ (the little ‘extra’ bit at the back of a chicken fillet) and thread one fillet on each skewer in a concertina fashion going forward and back through the piece of meat.
  • Marinate your meat overnight to reduce cooking time when in a hurry to get a meal cooked.  Things like wine, kiwi fruit puree, pawpaw puree and buttermilk have all been used to tenderise meat and start the ‘cooking’ process.
  • If you want to whip coconut cream (like you would regular cream) for desserts, look for a pure coconut cream that does not have a ‘stabiliser’ added.  You need the really thick stuff to successfully whip it.
  • Peppermint oil does wonders for repelling pesky ants in pantries.
  • Always keep things like tinned tomatoes, beans, rice, pasta, tomato paste, dry sweet biscuits, couscous and stock in your pantry for those ‘just in case’ moments or times when  you need to clean out the veggie drawer and make stuff up.
  • When baking biscuits, allow to cool on tray before serving or storing.  That’s if you haven’t eaten them straight from the oven warm!
  • You don’t always have to follow a recipe to the letter.  Take one component of a recipe that you like and cross it with another from a different recipe.  Or just make one part of a meal.  Don’t be a slave to the recipe like I was for years.  Substitute ingredients, just try to stick with similar ratios of dry to wet ingredients and keep your amounts similar.
  • Cheap, two-dollar shop utensils often work just as well as expensive ones.  My measuring cups, mixing bowls, juicer, peeler, etc. were all discount store wonders I bought when I set up my first home and most of them are still going strong today.
  • Look for baking dishes, cake tins, whisks, jugs, etc in your local op shop or at garage sales.  There are some beautiful vintage, fun and quirky finds out there!
  • The best drying tea towels I’ve used so far are actually old terry-towelling baby nappies.  They shine things up and dry out drips better than all of my ‘real’ tea towels.

There are gazillions more tips and great ideas out there – you only need to spend five minutes on Pinterest to experience many lightbulb moments shared by others.  Do you have any of your own you could share?

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10 Things you may not know about your Thermomix Consultant

Cooking with the St Kilda players was, but one highlight of the last 12 months!

Cooking with the St Kilda players was, but one highlight of the last 12 months!

 

If you are familiar with my writing – you’ll know that I generally like to ‘keep it real’.  I’ve been thinking about writing this piece for a little while and I think that now I’m nearly a year in, perhaps now might be the right time.

 

So….you’re curious about this Thermo-thing that you’ve heard other people raving on about and want to see it, but you have to ‘play it cool’ so you don’t get pressured into anything.  Or, perhaps you’ve been itching to buy one, you’ve save your pennies and now you want one – yesterday.  Maybe one of your friends has nagged you to come to her party thingie and you think, “not another one”…..

 

Whatever category you fall into –  I get it.  I have been all of these things at one point in time and it has driven me to where I am today.  A humble Thermomix consultant, really busy learning on my feet about running my own small business and loving the doors it has opened for me.  So….read on and think about the consultant in front of you as they guide you through a demonstration, hand you a bowl of piping hot risotto or brave that follow up phone call the next day to find out if you enjoyed yourself!

 

1.  Those thoughts that run through your head when you’re pretty sure you want to make a serious investment in something, but you’re terrified of the guilt that will follow – yep, we’ve all felt the same way just before we signed the last line of that order form!  A Thermomix is an investment and I’ve always been open to discussing that and acknowledging that it is a family decision.  I must say….that for me, the decision was a quick one.  A shiny machine that could cook for my family numerous times a day and improve the way we eat for the next 30-odd years is priceless to me.

 

2.  We truly believe what we say.  I’m not sure any of us could work as a consultant if we didn’t because you guys are smart.  You would see through insincerity in a second.  Most people can.  You are buying from a person that is part of a bigger family business.  It’s as simple as that…..and the passion to help Australian families, whether it be on their quest to save time, money or improve health (or all three!) runs deep through the roots of the company to its core.

 

3.  Before we got to your demo, we spent time shopping for most of the ingredients, preparing them, packing and considering as a consultant, what it is that we have to offer you if we should happen to start a new ‘Thermie friendship’ with you!  I enjoy sourcing the best looking fresh produce when I’m ‘gathering’ for the big cook up.  I also enjoy researching your dietary requirements and preferences as it often empowers me to make better choices for my own family.

 

4.  We love it when you express your surprise and delight as you taste each course.  This one is pretty simple really…..who doesn’t love a bit of positive reinforcement?!

 

5.  We weren’t all Masterchefs before we completed our consultant training.  At the start of my own Thermomix journey, I met a group of people that ranged from cooking ‘haters’ to passionate foodies.  Whilst they all differed in that respect – we all shared the same level of enthusiasm derived from our kitchen revelation.

 

6.  We spend a lot of time ‘working on our business’ in many different ways.  It is not an onerous task, rather one born from excitement and inspiration.  My time….comes in the form of ‘grabbed’ moments and opportunities.  This is not a bad thing either…..it means that I can be a Mum, Wife, entrepreneur and writer all at the same time.  My life can be exhausting at times, but I feel fulfilled and grateful that I can pursue both selfish and selfless activities.  At any moment in time….you could find me with Bubba Duck on one hip, my phone in the other hand and charging my laptop so I can get to the ‘fiddly stuff’ later.  All the while, listening to the quiet ‘whir’ of four blades getting our dinner cooked for us.  I Facebook, email, Instagram and WordPress.  I also regularly have a few food magazines scattered around the house, open to the next page I will ‘one day’ get to.  I always try to repond to messages as quickly as I can….and sometimes, that can be from the car while I wait for the little fella to wake up, standing in the queue waiting for me daily caffeine fix or out for a day of adventure with friends or family.

 

7.  We work as part of a ‘tier’ of teams and believe it or not….we actually all get along really well.  Our meetings always go longer than their scheduled timeframe as we all love to chat.  We help each other out and share ideas, food and advice.

 

8.  Whilst all of this might seem a bit all-consuming….we are really looked after at every level.  We have a group leader that takes us under their wing and nurtures our individual consultant ‘vision’.  We are also offered fantastic opportunities to learn more about the business side of things as well as the cooking side of things.  Communication is amazing…..we receive constant advice as to the latest Thermomix ‘happenings’ and we are provided with opportunities to provide feedback.  We have challenges to take on if we want and the support to ensure a good balance all round.

 

9.  Consultants get just as excited about the ever-changing customer incentives as you do!  We love being able to thank you for allowing us into your home to spend time with your family and friends.

 

10.  We love to hear what you’ve been cooking in your Thermomix.  Some of the best ideas I have come across are ones that have been shared with me by my generous customers.  I love an excuse to ‘continue the relationship’ and remain a small part of your life every now and then.  Consulting opens door, forges pathways and builds foundations upon which anything at all could happen.

 

So….all I ask is that you keep an open mind and remember that behind the green apron is a person that really does care about you and appreciates the opportunity you offer them.  One day, you may well find yourself drawn to the same opportunities and wear that Thermomix badge with pride!

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My Husband Bought me Splayds

No, not a box of chocolates.....a box of splayds!

No, not a box of chocolates…..a box of splayds!

 

Oh yes he did.  And he scored BIG, big points from me for doing so.  You see….it means he sees a part of my business vision.  A small (and some would say fairly non-crucial) part, but a teeny tiny little sign that he may be able to see some of the chaotic mess that makes the inner workings of my brain right now.

 

Saturday morning we went out driving in the hope of finding the best garage sale ever.  We pretty much go out with the same agenda every weekend and every weekend, we don’t find the best garage sale ever.  Our mumblings as we aimlessly trolled the backstreets of the peninsula involved an in-depth discussion of my vision for the small business I desperately hope to one day commence.  Without going into really specific details (for fear that it may never come to fruition more than any other reason!) it involves coffee, homemade original food and a celebration of memories, treasures, fun and collecting.  At the moment, whilst in the delightfully naive early stage of business planning – I am indulging in dreaming, procrastinating (aka neglecting our housework) and allowing the inner workings of my brain to become awash with fanciful ideas and desires.  Until this day, I had thought that Papa Duck was perhaps fence-sitting on the whole idea and unwilling to be drawn into this crazy little world I have created.  As we found the second of two (what ended up being) fantastic garage sales, I sent him in alone to “assess” the quality before committing to leave the warmth of our car.  He not only came out with a beautiful old box of splayds for me, but a collection of vintage plates complete with intact wall hangings!  This was it…a sign.  A nod to me that, “yes” – it is ok to dream up big and crazy plans…..for now anyway.

There were four old plates, hanging on the wall....

There were four old plates, hanging on the wall….

Rewind a week-and-a-bit and you would have found us standing dejectedly to the side of our ‘cherished’ vintage caravan listening to our local repairer make sounds like, ‘oooh’, ‘uh-oh’ and ‘mmmmmm’.  Our initial haste to remove the internals of the van to make way for our planned layout had revealed years worth of water invasion, leaving behind rotten corners and window frames.  The expected cost to fix said defects was so much that I can’t even bear to put it here in type.  Oh the embarrassment!  Why, oh why did I share my plans in such a public way?  What did I honestly think the outcome of purchasing a 30+ year old caravan sight unseen would be?  Silly, silly girl.

 

A few days of stewing and a constant nagging feeling of disappointment prompted me to put my thinking cap on.  I have a long, long history of stubbornness.  Much like my son that people sometimes kindly describe as ‘spirited’.  My own ‘spirit’ is not in fact crushed.  If anything, this initial, rather-large setback only serves to spur me on and get the creative wheels turning at breakneck speed in my head.  There has to be a way to make this small business take shape, I may just have to ‘choose my own adventure’ and forge a different path for now.  Unfortunately the next path that beckons is one that terrifies me in every way.  So terrifying in fact, that it has become thrilling.  It quite possibly makes no business sense.  It is certainly not based upon a solid foundation of years of groundwork.  I have limited startup capital and no previous experience with business plans.  But….I do have ideas spewing from my head to my ‘dream diary’ each day and just enough blind faith in my abilities to keep clutching at the fragments of the initial idea that are still close enough to grasp and tease me.  It may take a little longer, it may be the biggest risk I will eventually take in my life and I may very well “fail” on paper.  But, I am thriving on the chance to explore the creative wanderings of my mind and feeling surer of my feelings each day.

 

And if all else fails, I have splayds, a Thermomix and 12 kilos of self-raising flour from Costco that will make for a pretty good afternoon tea while I ponder the next step…..

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Little Table in the Corner

Polperro Wines Cellar Door

 

Under the veil of darkness, we found ourselves winding our way up into the Mornington Peninsula hinterlands…..my husband enduring my incessant radio channel ‘switching’ in search of good “date night” music and I, enduring his dodgem driving and need for constant reiteration that yes, we would be turning left, not right, at the end of the road.

“Go left at the end here.  No, no!  I said go left!”

“But you were looking towards the right….”

“We got married here, how did you get here on the day?”

“Your brother drove me”

“Well….it will be on our left around the corner and up the rise.  There will be a sign I’m sure”

 

And….sure enough there was a sign, ‘Polperro Bistro 100m’.  As we rounded the corner, we needn’t have worried about being able to find one of the newest and most talked-about restaurants to take shape on the Mornington Peninsula.  Strings of glowing fairy lights paved the way down the driveway, leading to the warm glow of the bistro inviting hungry visitors inside.  Nestled amongst the rolling landscape of Red Hill is the place where my husband and I made some pretty special memories together with 100 of our nearest and dearest loved ones in 2010.  A 25-acre treasure, where vines and kitchen gardens entwine an intimate drinking/dining space and cosy quarters for one with a full belly to retreat to for the evening.  Much has changed in the years since our marriage and the property has been nurtured and respected.  Edible plants have been sown, outdoor furniture has reclaimed open spaces, new buildings have been constructed and old ones given quite an astounding makeover.

 

Upon entering a ‘destination’ dining room, one does not always know what to expect when walking through the doors.  An initial survey of the space gave us the impression that we were in for a night of theatre and we were not disappointed.  Oversized wingback chairs in the casual lounge area were juxtaposed with shelves displaying smaller curios, some with plants spilling from them towards the floor.  High, vaulted ceilings and expanses of windows along one side of the space contrast with smaller artworks hung low and little eating ‘nooks’ carved into each corner of the room, making for an embracing and intimate environment.  Larger groups can easily fill the space with more than just laughter and stories, whilst duos can dine in their own little space of indulgent degustation.  The cellar door is a perhaps where the theatre begins…..a dark room, warmly lit, with bottles from the floor to the ceiling on two sides.  A central table allows the winemaker and guest to collaborate in giving the wine a space to ‘tell its story’ and and take centre stage.  To get to the cellar door from the dining room, one has to pass the kitchen doors and it is behind these that all kinds of edible fun and ‘trickery’ are conjured up.

 

We started with celery seed bread served with a good old ‘slab’ of butter adorned with a tiny rosemary flower, so pretty that we couldn’t bring ourselves to eat that last little piece!  Our ‘small plates’ were smoked fish croquettes and cauliflower dumplings with roasted dates & walnut relish.  In both dishes, golden crispy outers gave way to soft, oozy, moreish fillings.  The cauliflower dumplings were playfully plated alongside pickled purple pieces (try saying that quickly!) of its colourful relative and nestled between little mounds of walnut relish atop dates splayed open.

Cauliflower dumplings, roasted dates & walnut relish

Cauliflower dumplings, roasted dates & walnut relish

 

Our ‘big plates’ were both strong contenders to take out the prize…..we put duck cassoulet up against slow cooked ox cheek, one heavyweight against another.  My cassoulet arrived beneath a glorious golden shower of brioche crumbs…..a game of ‘hide and seek’ to retrieve succulent pieces of duck leg falling from the bone.  The ox cheek sat proudly atop a creamy parsnip puree and surrounded by a rich, perfectly sticky sherry glaze.  One only needed to just touch the meat and it fell apart shamelessly.  A side of black bean snow peas with cashews added just the right amount of green.

 

Polperro duck cassoulet, mushrom brioche & fine herb salad

Polperro duck cassoulet, mushrom brioche & fine herb salad

 

Desserts evoked childhood memories of stuffing cream-filled delicacies into mouths and wiping sugary remants from sticky lips.  We ordered milk chocolate Pedro Ximinez eclairs and cinnamon donuts with orange marmalade & vanilla cream.  Both were generous serves, however we did manage to lick our plates clean!  The eclairs surprised and delighted as they arrived ‘inside/out’…..the milk chocolate filling the choux pastry with lashings of white chocolate ganache on top.  The subtle hint of sherry reminding us that this dessert was for the ‘big kids’ with a sweet tooth.  On the other plate, surrounding a pot of vanilla cream sat a circle of cinnamon dusted donuts playing ‘sentinel’ to the velvety dipping sauce waiting to be dripped across fingers, chins and the tabletop – sticky drizzles of marmalade trying to hold it all together.

 

Cinnamon donuts , seville orange marmalade & vanilla cream

Cinnamon donuts , seville orange marmalade & vanilla cream

Milk chocolate & Pedro Ximinez eclairs

Milk chocolate & Pedro Ximinez eclairs

 

Even our parting coffee arrived with its own element of drama – generous ‘hunks’ of white chocolate Aero, to be eaten quickly before they melt over fingers and (gasp!) slip into hot coffee.  And wouldn’t that just be a terrible thing?!

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Needless to say, we had such a fun and surprising evening.  We have had the good fortune to enjoy the inspired creations of Andrew Doughton before, but I must say….there is a playful and intriguing side to the plates leaving his kitchen at Polperro Bistro.  Having an ever-changing edible garden landscape is a treat for the kitchen and I look forward to the seasonal inspiration that will find its way onto their plates come Spring!

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