Filed under: Travel Swellness

Travel Swellness: Curtis Stone’s top 7 things to do in Australia

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I had a date with Curtis Stone last month.

Alright…it was actually a Tourism Australia dinner, and Curtis is an ambassador with them. You may know Curtis from his cooking shows. To be totally honest, I know much less about Curtis Stone than I do other chefs (I’ve seen a few episodes of his shows in the past and I remember he was on Celebrity Apprentice, but I don’t think I’ve ever tried any of his recipes and I don’t own any of his cookbooks). What I do know, though, is that he’s married to Lindsay Price, who was on Beverly Hills, 90210, which is basically one of my fave shows ever.

So when I was introduced to him before dinner, I told him that his wife was on my favourite show (yes, I was that fangirl), and he said, “Let me guess, Lipstick Jungle.” Huh. Nope, I told him 90210 (which he admitted he’d never seen when he first met Lindsay; he’s since seen the show — I should hope so!).

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I ended up getting to sit beside Curtis through two whole courses, and what a cool, gracious guy. We talked about fitness, and I asked if he surfs much now living in L.A., and he said he doesn’t have much time to, but gets in the water about four or five times a year. I also asked him about what his guilty food pleasure is, and he loves tacos. And being in L.A., he said there’s tons of great taco trucks (and he couldn’t name one favourite as he loves them all).

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He was there, of course, to chat about Australia, which was long been high on my travel wish list. Here’s a to-do list of what are essentials when you visit Australia based on what Curtis chatted with us all about that night.

1. Indulge in fresh tropical fruit. “We have a variety of climates at home, tropical, subtropical, dry heat, some with limited rain, some crazy rain, cooler climates as well. Which will tell you what will grow. And we as a country grow some 50 varieties of mango…we’re more a part of southeast Asia geographically and we can grow all sorts of tropical fruits and that’s probably what I miss more than anything else.”

2. Get fish and chips and eat it on the beach. “The thing I have every time I’m home is fish and chips because we have the most fantastic fish and chips. And when you try to explain to someone overseas it sounds a bit strange, right” ‘Well, we have flake, well, that’s shark. Deep fried in batter, and potato cakes, but that’s regionality; if you’re from Melbourne, it’s potato cakes, and if from New South Wales, it’s potato scallops. There’a s variety of other seafoods and chips. For me it’s something we’d have every Friday night at home growing up. Later in life, it’s something I’d sit on a beach with a girlfriend or buddy and eat fish and chips, so that’s what I have every time I go back.”

3. Try some native foods prepared in a modern way. “Most gastro forward restaurants like Vue de Monde or like Attica, they take indigenous ingredients and apply sophisticated, whimsical techniques to them. I was recently at Vue de Monde and had wallaby raw, served on a salt rock from Mary River, very out there kind of ideas. It wasn’t that dissimilar to carpaccio of beef. I ate magpie goose really slowly cooked at Attica, and you wouldn’t have seen that here because they don’t exist here, and truly when I was a kid I wouldn’t think of eating those animals either. It wasn’t something we did, but these days we are getting more adventurous.”

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4. Visit his fave city, Melbourne, and also Sydney. “That’s where I lived. Melbournians have a way of being very very patriotic. I did live in Sydney for a minute and that was a beautiful city, too, built right on the harbour. It’s the one city in the world where you finish work and you’re like ‘it’s a beach day, yeah,. I’m going to stop by and have a quick swim on my way home.’ Because there are inner city beaches that are really sensational.” 

5.Don’t overlook visiting Brisbane. “Brisbane is great city, too. We call it Brisvegas because they’re a little glitzy up in Brisbane but it’s a fun city to spend time in for sure. There was a milk bar on every corner when I growing up. It’s where you buy milk and the newspaper. They’re less and less common now but they’re being repurposed. My friend’s got this old milk bar, which he’s turned turned into restaurant called billy cart. I was just explaining this to someone today, too, a billy cart is what we used to race down hill made out of milk crates and put ties on and stuff. Places like that out in suburbs are really special and also Brisbane city centre has really developed into cosmopolitan city.”

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6. Go to a sporting event. “I’m in a fortunate position as I take a lot of Americans to Australia as I still work there quite often and I take a team and half of them are American and I’m thinking of making a rule that Americans can’t travel there, because I’ve lost three; three have stayed, over a ten-year period but still that’s not a good ratio.The thing they seem to love is if I take them to a sporting event. We’re mad about football in Australia, it’s a special atmosphere. You get 100,000 spectators to a game that’s not even in the finals, it’s a fast-paced game, action packed. My wife seems to really like it, a little more than I would like her to like it, she seems to think all the players are quite handsome, and short shorts. So you have to go to a sporting event whether it’s Melbourne Cup, a famous horse race we have or the footy.”

7. Make time to visit a country town. “My dad lives in Woodend, the countryside of Victoria, only one and half hours outside of town, but I think it’s a really unique experience because within 20 to 30 minutes of driving out of town, there’s sheep everywhere, cows everywhere. It feels very rural very fast and if you go to one of those small country towns and have dinner in a pub, you probably will meet a shearer or a farmer of some description, it’s a very unique experience.”

Curtis has two young sons who he’s brought back down under with him. “In Australia, we’re less protective around our kids. We let them figure it out themselves, I quite like that. I like that culture. Let my boys be boys and not be too over top of them. Go to the ciuntry a lot, go to the backyard and chase the horses around. It’s a nice way of life, lots to experience. Nature is a big part of culture, beaches and countryside. I think they come back a little rougher and a little more ready for life each time I take them back.”

Alright, Curtis, I was already keen to visit, but now you’ve sold me even more so on Australia.

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As for what we ate at Bosk that night, well, Curtis admitted to me that he didn’t have that much to do with the menu, other than discussing some key ingredients. He’d said he’d have loved to cook for us, though. The dinner was fantastic and paired with Australian wines. I’ve shown all of the courses here in the post in order. We started with prawn tartare with shell powder, chili thread, mango and avocado. Next, we had seared foie gras with Vegemite-miso, beet gel and A.N.Z.A.C. crumble. When we ate this course, Curtis pointed out to me that the plating was very Wylie Dufresne and he googled a photo on his phone to show me. For the main, we enjoyed spiced lamb with quinoa tabbouleh, and finally, for dessert, mango and passionfruit pavlova. I adored the rich foie gras and the very refreshing pavlova (and I’m usually not that into dessert, since it’s often chocolate cake of some sort).

OK, now, back to planning on getting myself to Australia…Have you been? What did you love most about your travels there?

 

Leave a Comment November 22, 2017

Travel Swellness: #GoodTimesOutside camping adventures

 Killbear fam pic

Earlier this summer, MEC and I chatted about ways to enjoy #goodtimesoutside this season, and I know camping came to mind first for me. I’ve been interested in trying it for a few years but the whole idea is daunting when you’ve never done it (other than as a Brownie once). Would I be able to pitch the tent? I had visions of me getting all tangled in the fabric I Love Lucy-styles. Would I go hungry or even be able to start a fire? 

Thankfully, I was able to round up some friends who have camped and were willing to show me the ropes. We booked the campsites (Rondeau Provincial Park  with my friend Ally, and Killbear Provincial Park with my pals Anya, Arthur, and their dog Bun) and leading up to my first camping trip, I pestered my friend Ally with question after question: Where do we do dishes and how? Where do we plug things in? There will be washrooms and showers, right? I knew well enough that for my first forays into camping, car camping would be the best. No portaging for this first timer.

Killbear camping with BJ

Before we went on our camping trip, I had a quick chat with MEC engagement coordinator, Dennis (he’s an avid camper), and learned a few key tips (I also read a few articles online) and before I knew it, the camping weekends were upon us.

Killbear hiking

Here are six things I learned from my first camping trips this summer:

1. Camping is a great way to disconnect from city life. I feel like I came to loving the outdoors late in life. But now, I love being in nature. When I travel, I try to include visiting a garden or park or go for a hike, and when at home, I take my dog, Billie Jean, for walks by Lake Ontario, hike whenever I can wrangle a friend with a car (including visiting waterfalls in Hamilton) so it’s not surprising I enjoyed this aspect of camping.

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And I’m so lucky because my camping trip to Rondeau happened to be the weekend of the Perseid meteor shower. It was so magical to be lying in the dark in the fresh air and seeing so many shooting stars. Ally got some fantastic photos (you should follow her on Instagram for more of her travel photos:  @allycarlson).

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That said, I love nature but I do not love insects. I lucked out on both trips with the mosquitoes and blackflies not being much of an issue. In fact, I barely noticed any at Killbear on our trip in August. And I had minimal interactions with spiders and other buggy creatures. Phew!

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2. Camping calls for a lot of gear. A lot. I don’t know if there’s a way around this. Could I pack lighter? Let me know, avid campers! Both times I started packing and thought, “Oh, it’s not so bad,” but inevitably there’s always so much to bring! From all your cooking tools and food to your tent and sleeping gear, it just piles up. Thankfully, with gear that packs up efficiently (my six-person tent compacts into a bag not much bigger than a rolled-up yoga mat — bonus, it was pretty simple to set up!) and with this awesome MEC Scully 100 duffel bag (which is waterproof) that you can stash smaller pieces into (making packing up your car so much quicker, the task of packing for camp is less daunting. Having all of the right gear can make a world of difference, says Dennis.

3. Make a detailed camping checklist for groceries and supplies. This was actually the first tip Dennis shared with me. “To minimize forgetfullness,” he says, admitting that he once ventured out camping and realized when he arrived he’d forgotten his sleeping bag. My friends and I made a detailed spreadsheet, planned out our meals, and outlined who was responsible for what…and this worked out well, except I didn’t go through the list on my computer carefully enough for Killbear as I forgot to pack garbage bags! Doh! So make a list, and check it twice.

4. Camping without electricity isn’t so bad. Being a camping newbie, I was adamant that our campsites have electricity. But at Killbear, there were no sites with electricity available so we booked a non-electric one. And I realized I didn’t really need it. I charged several portable battery packs in advance of the trip (to charge my phone and lantern), and with a borrowed hand pump, we filled a Casper air mattress (which I had filled with an electric pump at Rondeau), but I actually found a thin sleeping mat from MEC quite comfortable (and much more compact and much less work to fill with air), so I would consider a non-electric campsite again. If I got desperate for an outlet, I noticed outlets in washrooms where a few people were charging their phones

 5. Bring games, activities and music. Dennis suggested bringing cards and camp games so you have some entertainment at your campsite. We brought dominoes, playing cards and another card-based game and it was a fun daytime activity when we were just hanging out at the campsite  The music he recommended both for entertainment but also so that you have some noise going to alert animals like bears of your presence.

 Camping breakfast

6. Camp meals are the best meals. We ate like champs on both trips. Steak and eggs for breakfast. Easy snacks for lunch since we were usually on the beach or out hiking, and usually one fun dinner. We made veggie quesadilla (one of Dennis’s fave camping meals so we took his idea for this dinner!) and with some stellar guacamole, we were literally happy campers. I read up on camping food before our trips and it recommended pre-slicing all of your veggies and it made cooking so much easier. We cooked both on a camping stove and over the campfire and I’d assumed all of our cooking would be on the campfire but I learned that it’s often easier to use a stove. But a must, as I learned, for the campfire? Spider dogs! 

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I think I’m now a camping fanatic. Not sure if I’m game for backcountry camping just yet, but I definitely see lots of car camping in my future. Billie Jean adores it, too! Thanks for helping to gear me up for a new way for #goodtimesoutside this summer, MEC!

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Leave a Comment September 18, 2017

Travel Swellness: Camping with the Cadillac Escalade

Escalade for camping weekend

A couple of weeks ago, I went camping for the second time this summer and thanks to Cadillac Canada, I got to test drive a Cadillac Escalade for the trip.

Escalade in Killbear Provincial Park

It’s actually the first time I’ve driven an Escalade, and I was pretty stoked about it. Actually, I was pretty stoked right up until I got in the car and realized how enormous it is. As I’ve only been in an Escalade a handful of times as a passenger, I didn’t realize there are two rows of seats behind the driver, and just how much more massive it is than the other SUVs I’ve been driving (like the Chevy Equinox, GMC Acadia and Buick Envision). How big is it? I didn’t even have to do anything (such as wave to ask them to let me go through) and drivers readily made room for the Escalade so I could get by; people in my neighbourhood could see how this vehicle was not going to make it through the narrow two-way street I live on.

Escalade with Bun and Billie Jean

I was pretty intimidated and nervous behind the wheel at first, and especially so when parking underground (where space is tight and there’s all sorts of columns to maneuver around). I did eventually feel more comfortable driving it once we were out of the city (where traffic was less hectic).

The things I came to like about the Escalade as I drove it and had it for our camping weekend?

  • While you may not think of an Escalade and camping as going hand in hand, camping calls for so much gear, and we were three people and two dogs, and once we put the last row of seats down, we were able to easily fit all of the piles of gear and food. And we were all seated comfortably even with all of our supplies, which was great as we ran into traffic heading out of the city making for a long time in the car.
  • The sharp lines and boxiness of the car; I’ve always been more partial to more boxy cars versus ones with more curves to its silhouette. So aesthetically, it resonates with me.
  • Our Escalade colour, the Crystal White Tricoat, is a gorgeous, almost pearly, white.
  • The luxe, buttery interior. I  jokingly told my friend it made our camping trip into a glamping trip. Also, because it is so spacious, in an emergency, we could all sleep in the vehicle if we came across a bear.
  • The head’s up display on the car’s windshield. Not having to glance at the screen but having my speed and the GPS directions on the windshield (the head’s up display is when this info is projected onto a film on the windshield) so that I can keep my eye on the road is very helpful. I especially found it helpful in the Escalade because I found you could easily be driving quite fast without it feeling like you’re speeding. Being able to have my speed in front of me on this display helped me stay within the speed limit.

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So while the size was intimidating to me, the vehicle did turn out to be a great option for our weekend in the wilderness at Killbear Provincial Park. And I will say, the size of the car and how smoothly it drove did make me feel safe.

As for how camping itself went, I’ll be blogging about that soon. Spoiler alert: we (thankfully) didn’t encounter any bears.

Escaled with Billie Jean chilling

Leave a Comment September 6, 2017

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