Travel Tales: Hong Kong and China, April 2018

I’m writing this blog recap over one year after the event, and after another family holiday to Hong Kong! Forgive me if details of precisely where and what we ate are patchy at best, or if recollections of our itinerary are somewhat inconsistent.

Alright, preamble over.

Hubby, Matilda and I, along with my father and stepmother, took a two week trip back to Hong Kong and China in April 2018, with the express purpose of showing off the baby to my extended family. I was only halfway through my maternity leave at that point, and Matilda was just five months old and still exclusively breastfeeding.

Tip to future parents – it’s so much easier to travel with a baby when you don’t have to worry about bottles, sterilising, pumping, formula, baby-appropriate solids, etc.

We started off with a visit to Cixi, my mother’s village in Zhejiang province in China. The visit was always going to be fraught with emotion – not only were my grandparents going to be meeting their first great-grandchild, but they would also be meeting my stepmother for the first time.

To my surprise, it went better than expected. Though there’s some language barriers as my stepmother doesn’t speak their particular dialect of Chinese, my grandmother had purchased some gold jewellery to gift to my stepmother as a wedding gift and to welcome her to our family. I know this act of kindness and inclusion would have been difficult given the emotions attached to the situation.

It certainly helped however, that we had a baby to defuse the situation! As the first great-grandchild, Matilda was doted upon by my entire extended family. From my aunts and uncles, to my grandparents and many great-aunts and great-uncles, Matilda was cooed and clucked over, usually with the comment “Lucky her father is mixed race, they are the most beautiful, so she will grow up beautiful”.

(Unfortunately, my Chinese isn’t quite good enough for me to try to articulate my feminist child-rearing approach of emphasising brains and character over beauty – anyone know how to say feminist in Chinese?!)

It was also our first visit back ‘home’ where we had easy access to a vehicle, whereas previously we had been very reliant on public transportation to get around. As a result, my uncle insisted on driving us to these different locations to see cherry blossoms, to view an old town, to see a lake, to see a reservoir…all the while punctuating each visit with “I bet you don’t see these amazing views in Australia!” I’ve mentioned it before, but life in regional China can be quite insular. World views are dictated by media produced by the Chinese Communist Party.

Our week in Hong Kong was marked by food, food and more food. An eggette a day was my motto, and I tried eggettes (egg waffles) from multiple different stores. My pick? Mammy Pancake, which has multiple locations and more importantly – multiple flavours! Their signature cheese eggette is just beyond!

Other food highlights include regular tofu pudding (tau fu fa) and yum cha, takeaway pork buns at Tim Ho Wan, our fancy meal at Bo Innovation, Tenren Tea’s oolong tea soft serve, and a meal at a Harry Potter-themed cafe where my not-so-hidden fangirl lost. her. shit.

We caught up with family regularly for meals (mainly yum cha!), and my cousin also accompanied us on a day trip on the Ngong Ping 360 cable car, and a visit to the Big Buddha, Po Lin Monastery and the traditional Tai O Fishing Village. I don’t think I’ve done that day trip since I was a toddler myself, so it was actually nice to do something a little touristy!

A reflection – I had concerns that travelling with my dad and stepmum would end up being suffocating, as travelling with family can often be if everyone has different ideas about what they want to do. In the end, it wasn’t at all – their presence actually just made things a lot easier for us as they could look after Matilda for three hours while we went for a fancy birthday lunch, or help to share the burden of carrying her on the days we went out without the pram. We spent a few days apart doing different activities and just meeting up for breakfast and dinner which also worked.

Would I travel with them again? Yeah, probably. They have a good sense of when to give us space, and when to pitch in and help, which I think a lot of families don’t necessarily get right. I can definitely see us doing something like a trip to Singapore and Malaysia together in the future – and while they entertain Matilda in the evening and take her somewhere small and local for dinner, K and I could go and have a fancy date night meal at a hatted restaurant like Waku Ghin or similar.

Since this 2018 trip, K and I have been back to Hong Kong with Matilda for a short stay tacked onto a longer trip to Taiwan. Things are very different in Hong Kong now, as most of you are probably aware through the news.

It makes me wonder about what the future will look like. I am still a Hong Kong citizen, who holds a Hong Kong ID card alongside strong views about the importance of democracy and accountable leadership. My family left Hong Kong in 1990 because of concerns of what Hong Kong would become under Chinese rule after 1997. I hold those same concerns now.

Review: Source Dining, Kyneton, and a Weekend in the Macedon Ranges, September 2017

It wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate to say that in our previous pre-baby life, many of our getaways were planned around meals. Where we went for lunch or dinner, would often dictate our activities for the day. That was certainly true of our long weekend getaway in the Macedon Ranges this time last year. While we stayed in the picturesque town of Woodend, the one ‘fancy meal’ we booked was in Kyneton – and therefore, there was where we spent our Saturday. 

Source Dining came highly recommended by the Good Food Guide and Gourmet Traveller, regularly earning one hat for their dedication to using excellent local produce, with changing menus to reflect seasonal produce availability. Importantly for me at that point, the menu was also pregnancy-friendly with classic dishes that didn’t feature too much raw food! 

Located on iconic Piper Street in Kyneton, you can easily spend the morning browsing the gorgeous boutiques, antique and local makers stores before gradually making your way down to Source Dining for lunch. If you’ve got a later lunch booking, you can even duck into boutique Animus Distillery for a cheeky gin tasting before going for lunch (note – we didn’t do this, but K did try some Animus gin at lunch!)! 

We keep relatively early lunch hours – I think I would perish from hunger if I had to wait past 12.30pm for lunch! As such, we were some of the first diners into Source, but were rewarded with an excellent table by the window for people-watching as a result. 

Elderflower Cucumber and Lime Mocktail, Gin and Tonic with gin from Animus Distillery, Kyneton

Being seven months pregnant meant a mocktail for me – a housemade Elderflower, Cucumber and Lime Mocktail. Light, spritzy and utterly refreshing for a surprisingly warm September day (or maybe I just remember it was warm because I was running about five degrees warmer than everyone else in the latter stages of pregnancy!). K enjoyed a Gin and Tonic with local gin from Animus Distillery. 

I love house-baked bread and house-made butter – especially when it’s as soft and spreadable as this. I’m pretty sure I ate not just my own bread, but K’s too, with both slices absolutely slathered with butter. In my defense, I was pregnant and hungry. Let’s go with that!

A little complimentary appetiser to get us started – a few mouthfuls of an incredibly fragrant Thai soup topped with crispy crunchy fried shallots.

Pan seared scallops with cauliflower puree, pickled cauliflower, caper and currant beurre noisette, curry spice, $22

My entree – Pan seared scallops with cauliflower two ways. Lovely tender scallops that were beautifully caramelised in the pan, best eaten with the slight crunch of the cauliflower pickle. Scallops are a tricky ingredient to cook right – it’s underwhelming when undercooked, and chewy when overcooked. Finding that balance is difficult, but Source did it beautifully.

House made Ricotta Gnocchi with roast pumpkin, local walnuts, kale, sage, brown butter, crumbed hens egg, $20

I tried some of K’s Ricotta gnocchi with roast pumpkin before he cracked open the crumbed hens egg (uncooked yolks not recommended in pregnancy!) and found the gnocchi just beautifully light and fluffy. Pumpkin, gnocchi and browned butter is an unbeatable combination!

Market fresh fish with celeriac puree, remoulade, seaweed, fried Australian crab dumplings, sauce bisque, $42

Onto mains, and I stuck with seafood – the day’s market fish special of Salmon with crab dumplings. I loved the crispy salmon skin, the crunchy dumplings, and fresh salad, but the real highlight was the intense and richly flavoured bisque. It was simply to die for. I ended up asking our waiter for more bread so that I could soak it up and not waste any at all!

Eucalyptus smoked kangaroo with sprouted organic grains, sunflower, watercress, mountain pepper jus, $42

K opted to order the Smoked kangaroo for his main, a rare treat as we never cook kangaroo at home. I know we should – it’s lean, healthy, and a better choice of red meat when you consider the environment impact. But I do doubt our ability to cook it so it’s as tender and juicy as this kangaroo at Source Dining….

White chocolate mousse with rhubarb, strawberries, balsamic, hazelnut sponge, white chocolate and strawberry sorbet, meringue, $18

We finished with a shared dessert as we were already well-full by the time we finished our entrees and mains – even though I was eating for two! This White chocolate mousse was superb, with a real medley of textures and flavours to explore. My pick was the refreshing sorbet, a perfect palate cleanser after my rich seafood dishes. 

Source Dining is a fantastic destination restaurant if you’re looking for a special meal while in the Macedon Ranges. Kyneton is a lovely little town for a daytrip and we certainly enjoyed our time exploring the region. Other highlights of our weekend included:

  • Three varieties of award-winning vanilla slice from the famous Bourkie’s Bakery in Woodend – my pick is the classic vanilla!
  • Hiking to the top of Hanging Rock, seven months pregnant belly and all. I’m no Serena Williams winning the Australian Open or Kerri Jennings winning volleyball gold at the Olympics, but I did feel rather victorious by the end of it!
  • Visiting the Sand Art Gallery at Romsey
  • Our wonderfully cosy Airbnb accommodation, where we enjoyed some delicious breakfasts and BBQ dinners with local produce
  • Stopping by the Gisborne Olde Time Markets on our way back to Melbourne on the Sunday – one of the largest and most comprehensive markets I’ve encountered!

Unfortunately, our next weekend getaway in November will be planned less around excellent meals like Source Dining, and more around practical decisions like “do they offer a high chair and will a whinging baby disturb the other diners?” Any suggestions for child-friendly restaurants that still offer excellent food in the Daylesford area?

I’m (sort of) back

So nine months after my last published blog entry, I’m finally back. 

Why the unexpected hiatus? Put simply, real life took over and chronicling various meals devoured became less important. 

K and I took possession of my apartment again (purchased in 2010, rented out to tenants while I was living in Sydney) and did a pretty intensive DIY-renovation over a month and a half. This included:

  1. stripping back, patching, and sanding all walls and ceilings
  2. ripping up all carpets and replacing with floating floorboards
  3. replacing all skirting boards and trim around doors and windows
  4. gutting out both built-in wardrobes and building a new wardrobe system
  5. removing all existing blinds and curtains and replacing it with plantation shutters.

Once all that was done, we obviously had to furnish and decorate the apartment, given that we had given away or sold all our furniture when we left Sydney and went travelling. 

During renovations, there came news of another significant life change. Our little family of two and a cat is expanding – K and I expect our first human child any day now. Naturally, this has become all-consuming in the past nine months with hours of research, education classes, appointments and shopping. 

Combined with renovations and family planning, there came also a particularly busy period at work where I (pretty much) single-handedly planned, organised, and ran a 400 person conference on top of my regular work duties. This called for many late nights, and an overwhelming desire to not stare at another computer screen by the time I got home.

All that’s now over. However it does beg the question – what will become of this blog now that my goals in life have shifted and my lifestyle will fundamentally change?

Food blogger may not be the right term to use anymore. I won’t be eating out enough to justify that. I have purchased a new All-in-One slow and pressure cooker though, so there may be recipes to share as I learn to master the art of pressure cooking.

Yet I don’t think I’ll ever be a mummy blogger. However, there’s no doubt there will be parenting-related posts when this child is born and I’m left both pulling my hair out in frustration and consumed by maternal love. 

Let’s just call this a chronicle of life. In the meantime, I’ll try to finish off and publish the nine (!) drafts of blog entries that have been languishing in the back end since March.