Monday, June 28, 2010

Don't go chasin' waterfalls...

There's no need to chase waterfalls on the Tabelands, because they practically seek you out.  Andy and I went to some of the waterfalls which are "must-see" stops when visiting the Tablelands; the good thing about them is most are right on the highway with a short walk from the carpark to get to the viewing sites.  Our first one was the exception, though it isn't considered a must-see, and we only found out about it from our coffee plantation tour guide. 

Emerald Creek Falls, near Mareeba.  About 8 kms from the highway, mostly down dirt roads, and then a 1.9 km (return) walk to the top of the falls.  You can swim at the base of the falls (just past the Danger! Achtung! signs), or at the top if you can brave the cold water -- Andy did, briefly.

Little Millstream Falls, near Ravenshoe.  About 1.2 kms from the highway, and maybe 600 metres return to the viewing rocks.

Millstream Falls, near Ravenshoe.  Just off the highway, and 700 metres return to the viewing platform.  Supposedly Australia's widest waterfall.

Malanda Falls, near, obviously, Malanda.  This one is so close to the highway you can see the road in this photo.  Turn off the highway into the parking lot, and then walk about 30 metres to the falls.  A concrete swimming pool has been built up around the base of this little falls.

Now the Waterfall Circuit.  South of Malanda, on the highway towards Innisfail, there is a 17km loop road that takes you to three picturesque falls.  First, Millaa Millaa Falls, fringed by tree ferns.  These photos are from the parking lot, though there is a longer walk to the top of the falls we decided against.

Next, Zillie Falls is where Theresa Creek (!) plummets over a rock face.  The viewing platform here is sort of at the top, and there was a longer walk to the base which we also decided against.

And finally, Elinjaa Falls.  This was a slightly longer walk, maybe 1.2 km return.

To be honest, there were plenty of other waterfalls we saw signs for, or were told about, which we didn't make it to.  We were a bit waterfalled out.  If you are a waterfall fan, as well as a foodie, Atherton Tablelands is probably your dream destination.

Friday, June 25, 2010


After the wedding, Andy and I spent another day with our families north of the Daintree River at Cape Tribulation, and then drove ever so slightly southwest, to the Atherton Tablelands for a week of honeymooning.  The Tablelands is the site of some formerly very active volcanoes, so is characterised by hills & mountains, funny geological formations, streams, lakes & rivers, and waterfalls.  And I will get to all of those things in due course.  But most excitingly, the volcanic activity has led to very rich soils.  This couples with the fact that, although located in the tropics, the Tablelands are between 700 - 1000 metres above sea level and thus get much more in the way of seasonal variation than you might expect (in 2007 it got to -12 degrees in one town!).  As a result, they can grow lots of exciting things.  The tourism info talks a lot about "food trails" you can go on in the Tablelands, but these are paid tours and focus heavily on dairy, so Andy and I made our own food trails, starting in Cape Tribulation.

The Cape Trib Exotic Fruit Farm has daily tastings/tours and guarantees at least 10 exotic fruits on the menu.  This was the bowl of fruit awaiting us:

Andy and I had tried many of these before -- the only unfamiliars were breadfruit, chompadek, Davidson plum and white sapote.  Breadfruit was not in season, but they freeze enough to last the year and serve it as baked chips, which were delicious.  Chompadek isn't as good as it's bigger cousin Jackfruit, in my opinion; likewise, white sapote is not one of the better sapotes we've tried.  The Davidson Plum was interesting, though -- an Australian native, it had a beautiful colour and a tart flavour that would be good in jam.  However, I was more than happy to get my hands on some more rollinia, which is described as a lemon meringue fruit -- lightly citrusy in flavour but gorgeous and creamy-custardy in texture.  It's a shame it bruises so easily and thus isn't for sale commercially.

Rollinia on the tree

On the drive to our first accommodation stop, we detoured through Mareeba.  Formerly a big tobacco area, Mareeba now grows lots of mangoes, sugarcane, and paw paws, but is also home to a few coffee farms.  We opted for the one with the cheapest tour -- Jaques Coffee Plantation.  We were really happy with this tour.  For $15 we got a free coffee (and some snarky comments about how soy is meant to be bad for you from the cashier...), a video about the history of the place, a tour around the farm on a big red truck called The Bean Machine, and a taste-test of three coffee liqueurs.  The video and tour were lighthearted, sort of taking the piss out of serious tours, and were a mix of family video, cheesy graphics, and anti-government sentiments mixed with information about the history of coffee and the processing of it.  We ate some fresh red coffee beans.  But the best part was the coffee liqueurs.  There was one, similar to Bailey's, which I really loved, made creamy with coconut milk instead of dairy.  

On the Tablelands, there are many roadside stalls selling fresh produce.  We went to a well established one called The Humpy - Nut World.  This incorporates lots of different nuts, local fruit & veg, and a corner of gluten-free groceries.  Here we got some dragonfruit, which the cashier informed us is sugarless and thus good for diabetics.

We've had dragonfruit before, but not often, and that is something I want to rectify.  This one was a gorgeous bright magenta inside and has the most beautiful, delicate flavour.  Texturally similar to a kiwifruit, but the flavour is more like a mangosteen or an abiu.

From Humpy Nut World to the Peanut Place!  Here, they sell peanuts of all different flavours, all available for tasting and many dairy free, from caramel to salt & vinegar.  They also sell fresh peanut butter, made from peanuts grown across the road, which is a peanut butter revelation.

In Yungaburra, we got some African Horned Cucumbers and some Manelos (a cross, apparently, between an orange and a pommelo) from a suburban fruit grower.  The cucumbers were bright green inside and were on the verge of sweet -- definitely not what we expected, but good nonetheless.  And the manelos were so juicy and flavoursome.

Finally, we found ourselves in Malanda at the Nerada Tea Plantation.  Andy and I often buy Nerada because it is the cheapest, but we didn't realise that they grow (most of) their tea in Australia.  The tour here was interesting, but was a little heavy on the whinging about the tough market.  Still, we got to go inside the factory and see tea being produced, which was pretty cool.  And the factory fresh tea we had afterwards was much nicer than the storebought kind, which is often at least six months old by the time it hits a teapot.

And that wraps up our food-ventures in the tablelands.  There are more foodie things to do -- a distillery, some wineries, a strawberry farm... but we had our fill, so to speak.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Wedding Details -- The Food

One of the things I was most looking forward to about the wedding -- besides crocodiles!  and, you know, marrying the man who I've loved for nearly six years -- was dinner.  We didn't settle on the Eco Lodge until I asked if they could do a fully vegan menu for the three course dinner included in our package, and I was met with "Of course, we do it all the time".  Suitably reassured, we made our payments but had to wait until about 2 months out before getting a peek at what the menu would be.

The ceremony was at 1, so everyone ate a little bit at lunchtime -- I had a PB&J sandwich.
Photo by Ali George.
Immediately after the ceremony, cake and (vegan) sparkling wine filled up our bellies.  On the boat we continued to imbibe more sparkling wine, but I think everyone worked up a decent hunger by 7 pm.

We returned to the Eco Lodge to find a beautifully decorated table on the deck overlooking the pond.  There were little printed menus at every place, which I will reproduce here for you verbatim (spelling mistakes and all).

Char grilled egg plant stack with confit roma tomatoes, blackened gold capsicum, rocket, red onion and drizzled with olive tapenade
Our chef's famous rainforest salad: The flavours of the bush including riberries, munthari, rosella flowers, quandong & macadamia nuts combined with cherry tomatoes, red onion, gold capsicum and cucumber dressed with a lemon myrtle vinaigrette

Lentils stakes grilled served on local taro batons, baby carrots, broccolini napped with a native bush tomato sauce
Lemon myrtle fettuccini tossed with forest mushrooms, chilli, Italian parsley, eschalots, pine nuts, a dash of unwooded chardonnay and finished with truffle oil

And then...
A warm chocolate cake served with a Jamaican rum ganache and strawberries
Coconut rice with a lime presume and rockmelon
Me & the chef who invented this menu.

Now, there are a lot of things in there that are completely foreign to me.  Many of the ingredients are Australian natives, particularly focused on rainforest produce, which I was totally into.  And some of the culinary terms may as well have been in another language but I was fully impressed by them.  Instead of alternating plates, everyone was given their choice for each course of the meal.  I chose the opposite of what Andy was having, so that I could try both things.  The cameras were not flashing during the meal, so this will be a wordy post and I'll just describe the food to you.

The eggplant stack was a bit standard (I had the same thing at a wedding in February) but really good.  The olive tapenade gave it a tangy-salty zing while a sneaky bush tomato sauce brought it back down to earth.  The veggies were yummy and charry.  Andy gave me a few bites of the rainforest salad, and while I would have been happy with the novelty of it, I didn't love some of the components of it.  The rosella flower was so tart, and the quandongs tasted like apricots (which I hate).  But, it was gorgeous, and now I know what those things taste like!

I had the "lentils stakes" which were apparently an experimental menu item.  I am pleased to say that they were delicious.  They were crunchy outside and soft inside, with, I think, a native mountain pepper spice.  The bush tomato sauce was the same as from the eggplant stack, so it was a bit repetitive but it was delicious, so I wasn't too fussed.  Surprisingly, both my dad and Andy's dad ordered this, despite being skeptical of the word steak on a vegan menu (I pointed out the spelling mistake, and they were placated).  They liked the lentils, but weren't so keen on the taro.  I think the taro batons needed some sauce because they were just... starchy.  The carrots and broccolini, though, were beautiful.  I'm fairly certain this meal was gluten free.  Andy's fettuccini was deep and earthy with a gentle spice from the chilli and tang from the lemon myrtle.  The mushrooms covered a range of good-ness, from the mundane to the mediocre to the magnificent.

And then...

My mum and I were the only two to order coconut rice.  It wasn't what I expected, but I was really happy with it.  Warm coconutty rice with lime zest and rockmelon was a perfect end to a rich-but-not-heavy meal.  I was worried the chocolate cake would be too much for me but I needn't have worried.  Rather than lashings of ganache, it was more of a drizzle.  The cake was good, but not great -- and for something so everyday, it needs to be great.  However, it was beautiful enough that my mum snapped a photo, so I leave you with this:

Julaymba Restaurant at the Daintree Eco Lodge and Spa is open to the public, but the fettucini is the only regularly veganisable item on the menu.  However, if you let them know you are coming, they will accommodate.  We went back a second time and I was given a capsicum stuffed with lots of veggies (asparagus, red cabbage, and others) with a rosella reduction -- it was lovely.  If you are ever in the Daintree area and want a little fine dining, I highly recommend this place.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Wedding details -- DIY

At the start of wedding planning, Andy and I agreed that we would skip many of the things that make weddings costly and stressful.  But with two years to plan, we had plenty of time to DIY some alternatives (though we still ditched things like favours).

In my hair, I wore a ribbon veil.

Photo by Ali George.

This was just a matter of gluing ribbons onto a plastic comb.

Using the same ribbons, we attached ties to the end of our handfasting shell money so it could be knotted.
Cake and handfasting ties. Photo by Ali George. 

I also quickly crocheted a pashmina/scarf to keep my arms warm, which I only ended up using at dinner.  This was made by crocheting two strands -- one green and one orange -- of bamboo/soya blend yarn. 

Although we knew several months before the wedding exactly who was coming, and who wasn't, I wanted to send invitations to our immediate family anyways.  Partially because it would give everyone a keepsake, but mainly because I had an idea and I desperately wanted to see it through.  Using storebought blue glitter blanks, I embroidered palm leafs on the front.

Then we just printed the insides and stuck them in.  Very simple.

To make our parents feel like *part* of the wedding, instead of just guests, I made flowers for everyone.  This project cost less than $20 total, involving a fake-flower lei, some beads and glue.  Mums got hair fascinators.

My mum, left, and Andy's mum, right, signing the marriage documents as our witnesses. Photo by Ali George.

Dads got buttonholes (boutonnieres).
My dad, left, and Andy's dad, right. Photo by Ali George.

The cake was a multi-DIY effort.  First, I made the cake plate in pottery class.  Before heading north, I made a tropical fruit cake (recipe below) -- we chose fruitcake not because it is traditional, but because it would keep fresh until we needed it a week after baking.  Once in Daintree, I rolled out some storebought marzipan that I dyed blue and covered the cake.  My mum decorated with avocado icing.  (The cake topper is from etsy.)
Mum decorating. Photo by Ali George.
It was delicious, but turned my tongue blue.

Photo by Ali George.

Tropical Vegan Fruit Cake

1 shot brandy
500 g. dried fruit, finely chopped (we used 220 g. dried pineapple, 170 g. dried mango, 50 g. glace ginger and 60 g. raisins)
100 g. glace cherries, quartered
grated zest of 1 orange
350 g. flour
1 tsp. mixed spice
175 g. vegan butter
50 g. macadamia nuts, chopped
1 Tbsp. treacle (molasses)
100 g. raw sugar
75 g. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. almond meal
120 ml soy milk
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
3/4 tsp. bicarb soda

Combine dried fruit, glace cherries, and orange zest in a large tupperware container (or anything with a lid).  Splash with brandy, and set aside in the fridge at least overnight, or up to a week.

Heat oven to 150C.  Lightly oil cake tin and line with a double layer of baking paper.  We used an 8-inch springform pan and a small (5 or 6 inch) pyrex bowl.

In a large bowl, sift together flour and mixed spice.  Rub in the margarine with your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  Stir in the macadamia pieces and treacle, then add the sugar and almond meal.  Stir in dried fruit mixture and combine thoroughly.

Place half the soy milk in a small saucepan and heat gently.  When warm, add red wine vinegar.  In a jug, mix remaining soy milk and bicarb soda, then add this to the vinegar/milk mix.  Stir this into the flour and fruit and mix until well combined.  Spread this into the prepared cake tin(s) and smooth out the tops.   Bake for 90 minutes to 2 hours (depending on how deep your cake is), until a skewer comes out clean.  Cool cake in tins before turning onto cooling rack and removing baking paper.  Store in an airtight container until ready (up to 4 weeks, but we find it's nicest between 1 and 3 weeks after baking).

This is a moist, sweet and faintly tropical flavoured fruitcake that was very popular with everyone (all 5 people) at the wedding, even those who have eaten 'traditional' non-vegan fruitcakes for their entire lives.  It has a lot of ingredients, but it's not hard to put together.  And the fruit can easily be subbed for more traditional fruit like sultanas, currants and dates.  I have a feeling this will become a christmas staple in the tropical vegan household.

Friday, June 18, 2010

the tropical vegan wedding

The reason both sets of parents were visiting Far North Queensland was for our wedding, which has been in the planning stages since August 2008 -- nearly two years.  It feels like we've been engaged *forever*, but it was a good thing because it meant I could plan the things I wanted to plan early (allowing me to focus on my PhD and teaching in the past six months).  I'll share some of the DIY details, and some of the food, in future posts.  For now I will just share some wedding snaps.

I did a bit of searching around and found a hair/makeup duo who use cruelty-free products.  It was fun to be preened by someone else -- it sort of helped make the occasion feel a bit momentous.

The wedding was at the Daintree Eco Lodge, a high-end resort with a very casual attitude.  The wedding package is a really good deal, as it included three nights of (expensive!) accommodation, flowers, celebrant, and a few other little things.  The spa bath on the balcony was a nice touch in the room, as was the gigantic king size bed (especially in comparison to the puny caravan park bed we'd just tried squeezing into).

My dress, made for me out of non-animal fabrics by my good friend and the very talented Ruth Groundwater, was beautiful and so fun to wear.

Photo by Ali George.
Despite all of the planning, things never go the way they are meant to.  For instance, Andy's dad was scheduled for hip surgery 4 days after the ceremony; we contemplated changing the location but he assured us it was fine, so up we walked to the waterfall at the Daintree Eco Lodge.
Photo by Ali George.

Photo by Ali George
Our 5 wedding guests watching us arrive. Photo by Ali George.
Andy and I wrote the ceremony ourselves, piecing together bits of tradition, things we found on the internet, and other random bits so we ended up with something meaningful for us.  That was sort of the overall goal of the day -- not to blindly go along with tradition just because, but rather to think about all of the details.  Andy's brother (whose Thursday flight was cancelled and ended up arriving the morning of the ceremony) read us A Lovely Love Story by Edward Monkton.
Michael reads to us about dinosaurs. Photo by Ali George.

We exchanged titanium rings.
Our rings and A Lovely Love Story. Photo by Ali George. 

My dad tied our hands together in the style of a handfasting ceremony; we used shell money, traditionally exchanged in wedding ceremonies in PNG, as the ties (and I forgot to take off the daggy hairtie on my wrist!).
Photo by Ali George. 

It kind of passed in a blur -- fittingly, many of the photos I've gotten from our parents are also blurry thanks to the bright light in the rainforest, and the photographers' preoccupation with the ceremony (or things like hip pain, perhaps).  I remember everything, but surreally.

Photo by Ali George. 
Luckily, the photographer we hired (Ali George, from Cat's Eye Productions, who I highly recommend) took lots of clear and gorgeous photos, but no less surreal, thanks to the vivid colours of the rainforest and the waterfall.

Our little wedding in the rainforest. Photo by Ali George.
After the ceremony, we chilled out a bit and then headed down to the Daintree River for a late afternoon cruise on the Solar Whisper.  This was a great way to spend the two hours before dinner.  We drank champagne, spotted crocs, chatted to the boat owner about the wildlife and the history of the area, and in the last ten minutes, got totally poured on by a late-season storm.
Hello, saltie. 
Sunset over Daintree River.

Then it was back to the Eco Lodge for dinner.  There was a three course vegan menu prepared especially for us, but I will leave that for a future post.  Suffice to say that it was delicious, and Andy and I were happy to send everyone off to their accommodation by 9pm.  I highly recommend afternoon weddings for this reason.

A full set of chronologically ordered photos is available here.
Or, for a highlight reel a bit out of order, click here

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Two big weeks...

Andy and I have recently returned from a two week trip.  I scheduled posts to publish while we were away, because I don't really like announcing my house will be empty...  Some of you know where we were, others may have a pretty good idea what we were doing....

On Monday we went up to Wonga Beach, in Far North Queensland, and met up with both sets of our parents.
  Andy and I were cold because we have lived in NQ for too long.  Everyone else thought the temperature was lovely.

Tuesday we headed in to nearby Port Douglas, a swanky resort town full of restaurants and stores selling sarongs.  Of course, you can literally rise above all of that in Port Douglas by heading to the lookout.

Our first week was full of beaches and rainforests.  We went to Newell Beach.

Walked through the rainforest to Mossman Gorge.

Tasted tropical fruit wine (vegan! and pesticide/chemical free!) at Shannonvale Winery before a picnic lunch at Rocky Point.

Took the ferry across the Daintree river (thanks Michelle for the ferry tickets!!) and went to the Daintree Discovery Centre for a look out over the rainforest from the Canopy Tower.

Ducked out to Cow Bay.

We stayed at a caravan park, in the cabins, and were surrounded by some very bold animals--especially the peacocks, who really liked coming round for a feed of bread and overgrown weeds.

It was good to see our parents, and to see some more of what North Queensland has on offer.  The reason for the trip, though, is yet to come...