delectable dessert

Many of us have the suspicion that we have a separate stomach specifically for the ingestion of dessert. No matter how much we have gorged ourselves on scrumptious savoury fare, we are still tempted to finish with a mouth-watering morsel. I am very happy to report that the presence of a ‘dessert stomach’ is actually a scientific fact, and it’s all because of something called sensory-specific satiety. Dr. Barbara Rolls, a professor of nutritional sciences at Penn State University in the U.S., has been studying this phenomenon since the 1980s. Simply put, the more we eat of something, the less we enjoy it and we have the perception that we are full. However, we have only lost our appetite for that particular food and the offer of something different is far more appealing. The theory is, this is an evolutionary tactic to ensure a healthy, varied diet. My extensive research to date has certainly supported this premise but I think it will be ongoing indefinitely.

There is something comforting about a sticky pudding or slice of warm cake to finish a meal, perhaps it reminds us of a simpler time when we were cocooned in the family home.

There is one word we all associate with dessert – chocolate. The health benefits of chocolate have been proven beyond doubt; antioxidants lower cholesterol, flavanols lower blood pressure and help reduce memory loss and (best of all) it contains phenylethylamine, a natural antidepressant. Of course, the amazing taste and versatility make for wondrous opportunities.

Tarts are thought to have evolved from medieval pie making. I have had a penchant for custard tarts for as long as I can remember but am always happy to indulge in anything encased in pastry.

When it is difficult to choose from the array of enticing offerings on the dessert menu, what better option than a taste of everything?

I’ve never been a fan of buffet style dining but I can make an exception when it comes to dessert.

On the odd occasion where we are not sure whether we should have ordered dessert, the colourful presentation on the plate before us soon piques our interest.

Some are nothing short of spectacular.

I do wonder what kitchen disaster led to the concept of deconstructed pumpkin pie,

and the brilliant mind that came up with the idea of dessert pizza.

I think it is important to scan the dessert menu before deciding on savoury options and there is one tempter I can never pass up – crème brûlée. The first recorded recipe was in a French cookbook, ‘Le Cuisinier Royal Et Bourgeois’, written in 1691 by François Massialot, a chef in the kitchen of the Duke of Orléans. Back then, a red hot iron poker was used to caramelize the sugar on top. I have sampled this divine dessert across the globe and have yet to be disappointed. My research must continue.

I don’t know who uttered these words of wisdom but I wholeheartedly agree,

“No matter how much I eat, there is always room for dessert. Dessert doesn’t go to the stomach. Dessert goes to the heart.”

avian ablutions

We have had the most stupendous summer here in northwest Tasmania – long, hot, sunny days stretching into warm evenings with not a breath of breeze. It will all come to an end in the next few weeks and we will be stoking the fire and donning coat, scarf, hat and gloves to venture outside. There has been a preponderance of birdlife this season, perhaps due to the absence of our usual resident tiger snake. I could spend hours watching the antics of these wonderful creatures making good use of our many birdbaths. The Black-headed Honeyeater is endemic to Tasmania and is a very sociable sort. The youngsters have a brown head and bill, looks like this was a family outing.

An Eastern Spinebill arrives but, after observing the zealous activity, seems reluctant to take the plunge.

No such reticence from the House Sparrow, he just dives straight in.

When the splashing abates, a New Holland Honeyeater sneaks in for a quiet drink.

A lone swimmer enjoys the peaceful interlude before the next family arrive.

Swinging Gate

With more than thirty two vineyards along the Tamar Valley Wine Route to choose from, it was a difficult task to narrow down those to visit within our limited time frame. Looking for something a bit different, we headed to Swinging Gate at Sidmouth. The vines were originally planted in 1985 and, then known as Buchanan Vineyard, the fruit was sold to various Tasmanian wineries but never had an identity of its own. Fifteen years later, the plot was sold and abandoned until horticulturalist Doug Cox and his wife Corrie purchased the vineyard in 2014 and set about resurrecting it. The name is in reference to the gates swinging open again for the first time in many years.

The old machinery shed has been converted to a quirky cellar door and adjoining day spa.

Wine dog, Nellie, is happy to receive attention from visitors, although I think a little too much of the good life has ended her modelling career.

The rustic interior was instantly welcoming, with mismatched tables and chairs offering the perfect setting for an informal tasting experience.

As it was only 10.30am, we had Doug’s undivided attention as he led us through the myriad wines on offer while sharing the background of Swinging Gate. With a 30 year career in horticulture under his belt, after purchasing the vineyard Doug taught himself the winemaking process. The first year was spent rejuvenating the vines and in 2015, they produced 5,000 bottles to celebrate the 30th vintage of the vines. It appeared as though the adjoining barrel room was furnished for a tipple and quiet contemplation at the end of the day.

Swinging Gate is not just a winery. In 2019 the first geodesic dome appeared amongst the vines, and there are now three dotting the landscape.

Offering the ultimate glamping experience, each 6 metre dome is furnished with a king-size bed and, as well as private ensuites, two of the domes have outdoor bathtubs. I have just added an item to our bucket list.

Advent antics

Last year, I shared the escapades of a friend’s ‘Elf on the Shelf’, and while searching through my meagre collection of Christmas decorations, I found a little smiling face waiting patiently to come out and play. With no children in the household, I decided to have some fun surprising Michael each morning. Elf’s initial attempt to stowaway to a business breakfast meeting was met with much mirth and, in case there was a misunderstanding that this was an isolated incident, he appeared the next day in Michael’s cereal bowl.

He became trapped when the toilet lid came down on him unexpectedly and, on a particularly cold morning, tried to warm up on the toaster.

More strife in the bathroom as he messed about with the toilet roll, so he sought solace with KitKat in the pantry.

He just couldn’t stay away from the bathroom, though, finding dental floss doesn’t make a great yo-yo, and his exploits in the office didn’t end well (kids, don’t try this at home).

The kitchen enticed him back to help with the morning cuppa, and he found the dog biscuits to be a very tasty treat.

Venturing further afield, he got stuck in the chook food dispenser before returning to the safety of the lounge to watch an early soccer game.

Exhausted by his nocturnal shenanigans, Elf found a couple of options to take it easy and recuperate.

There was another failed bid to join the business breakfast meeting by hiding in the car, so he returned to the pantry to await the next days porridge.

He put all his strength into squeezing the toothpaste tube, and enjoyed some gymnastics on the towel rail.

Hoping to go for a walk with Michael & Poppy, he waited in the gumboots for the right moment. The dining room light was easier to get into than out of.

A rather uncomfortable night in the wardrobe, and back to the kitchen to, once again, help with breakfast.

It was almost time for Elf to leave again, but not before a few tunes on the cigar-box guitar. Finally, on Christmas Eve morning, he prematurely pulled a cracker to celebrate his time with us.

I hope you all enjoyed your silly season and wish you good times and good health in 2022. Hopefully, fun will replace fear in the not too distant future, perhaps it could be made mandatory?

Natale Italiano

We haven’t really celebrated Christmas for quite a few years, not since our spontaneous sojourn to Cradle Mountain in 2016. To say our yuletide decorations at home are minimalist would be an understatement.

This year, we invited some new found friends to share lunch and, not being a fan of the traditional turkey, Christmas pudding and mince pies, I chose an Italian menu instead. Preparation began on Christmas Eve with the creation of soft garlic breadsticks, fava bean & goats cheese dip and one of my favourites, Torta della Nonna.

The table was set and a few sprigs from our holly tree created a colourful adornment by the front door.

I had a few special tree ornaments, mostly handmade by a friend and my mum, that have been hidden in a box in the cupboard for millenia. Michael did a fine job of decorating the Japanese Black Pine by the pond,

a spectacle to be enjoyed from the dining table.

Glasses were charged with a superb G.H. Mumm champagne to accompany the antipasto platter featuring the usual suspects: prosciutto, chorizo salami, capocollo, pecorino pepato, gorgonzola, mozzarella and anchovy stuffed olives along with the aforementioned dip & breadsticks.

The opening of a bottle of Torresella Pinot Grigio heralded the serving of pumpkin & ricotta ravioli with brown butter sage sauce.

A stroll around the garden in the sunshine made room for main course of Prune & Olive Chicken, roasted onions, potatoes & carrots and a Wreath Caprese Salad, complemented by a bottle of Balliamo Pinot Grigio.

The Torta della Nonna was worth waiting for (if I do say so myself)

and, of course, there was still enough space in the ‘sweet stomach’ for chocolates and coffee. It’s not all about the food, this Christmas will be one of the most memorable thanks to the wonderful company and the weather gods delivering perfection.