tropical twilight

On the ‘must do’ list while in Darwin during the dry season is Mindil Beach Market. As the heat of the day subsides, a wander around the myriad stalls provides the opportunity to purchase unusual artisan crafts or that obligatory souvenir for those at home. More importantly, the Mindil Beach Casino Resort is right next door and the Sandbar is a perfect location to enjoy a well-earned beverage.

With a delicious antipasto platter and magnificent view of the descending sun over the Arafura Sea, I was catered.

Another spectacular Top End sunset

accompanied us to our table on the deck of The Vue restaurant.

Overlooking the infinity pool and, appropriately named, Infinity bar

we watched as the earth turned and another fabulous day came to an end.

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.”

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.

Whakapapa

Tongariro National Park was a scenic forty minute drive from our haven at Motuoapa Bay. New Zealand’s first national park, Tongariro was gifted to the people by Te Heuheu Tukino IV, the Paramount Chief of local Māori tribe Ngati Tuwharetoa, in September 1887. The 80,000 hectare park is centred around three sacred volcanic peaks. A lookout on the way to our destination, Whakapapa Village, rewarded us with views of Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe, the latter (on the right) may be recognised by The Lord of the Rings fans as Mount Doom.

From this height, the sweeping panorama across the Central Plateau was spectacular.

We parked the car at the village and considered our options, deciding on the Sky Waka gondola ride and buffet lunch combo. Mount Ruapehu is the centrepiece of the national park, the North Island’s highest peak is home to the largest ski field in New Zealand. The terrain in March is quite different to that during ski season, it is hard to imagine the Rock Garden Chairlift conveying skiers on the advanced beginners run.

The $25 million Sky Waka gondola opened in July 2019 to transport 2,400 people an hour, a distance of 1.8km, up the northern slopes of Mount Ruapehu. It really didn’t feel as though we were travelling at 6 metres per second.

Back to The Lord of the Rings, scenes of Mordor were filmed on the rugged landscape of Whakapapa ski field and the slopes of Mount Ruapehu, including the scene where Isildur cuts off Sauron’s finger.

Our ride culminated at Knoll Ridge Chalet, a multi-storey eatery built in 2009 to replace the original café that was destroyed by fire earlier in the year.

The magnificent Pinnacles Ridge was shrouded in cloud when we arrived and it was a bit cool for alfresco dining.

The Pinnacles Restaurant was warm and welcoming, the extensive use of timber created the feeling of a traditional mountain chalet.

Lunch at the highest restaurant in New Zealand, at 2,020 metres above sea level, was delicious.

Mount Ruapehu is the largest active volcano in New Zealand and has three major peaks. There is a beautiful carving representing Paretetaitonga, the peak that wards off the southern winds.

By the time we finished lunch, the clouds had lifted from Pinnacles Ridge

and Sky Waka was the only way down

with more stupendous scenery to absorb.

Antico Borgo

As soon as we arrived in Seggiano, we knew Antico Borgo was the place to partake of lunch. The blissful setting in Piazza Umberto guaranteed a relaxing repast.

Within the renovated building, dating back to 1878, there are three apartments offering bed and breakfast accommodation. The Taverna is on the ground floor and the interior is astounding. Carved entirely out of stone on which the town rests, there are several rooms, all softly lit to evoke an intimate atmosphere.

A stairway leads down, presumably to a storage area and there is another room dedicated to the tasting of Seggianese olive oil.

We dined alfresco under the curious gaze of a handsome observer from a first floor balcony.

The menu enticed us with typical Tuscan dishes, spoilt for choice we selected Pici con Ragu and Bistecca Maiale.  

I think our onlooker would have liked to share the succulent pork steak.