A trip home, grief, the best salami & an unexpected slide down the hill.
We arrived in the pretty little tourist town of Port Macquarie just as the sun was setting over the pine trees. It was raining, again. When does it ever stop raining these days? As the saying goes….it’s good weather for ducks, not just because ducks love to stay out in the rain preening their feathers and poking around in the puddles, but also because it’s good weather for hunting or shooting ducks, as the noise of the rain plopping onto the water means the ducks can’t hear the people creeping up on them. So I guess one could say it's been good weather for hunting! And hunting is where we were at in our quest to find a nourishing dinner in downtown Port Macquarie. We ventured out under wet skies as the rain drifted down. We were on a mission to find a seafood restaurant that had come highly recommended by two people, the first a well respected firefighter who lives in the town and is a dear friend, and the other a waiter whom we met whilst staying on Lord Howe Island, who had also grown up in Port Macquarie and was familiar with the local hospitality scene. It turned out that Bill's Fishhouse and Bar was located not far from where we were staying which suited us nicely on such a wet night. We had checked the menu online and the chargrilled octopus had caught my attention. I would be content if this was all I ate tonight as I wasn’t feeling very hungry. We were escorted by the attentive staff to a cosy table in the corner near the window where we could look out to the rain falling. I eagerly ordered the octopus and some roasted barramundi, whilst my significant other ordered char grilled prawns and the fish of the day. Of course on a cold wet night we decided that we couldn’t order the fish without the chips, because you know, Fish’n’Chips are a marriage made in heaven, so the chips were added to the order. The meal surpassed our expectations, everything was fresh and delicious, except the octopus which wasn’t as tender as I had hoped. It was good, but not great. Having said that, I'm pretty much a fusspot when it comes to eating octopus, as in the past I had sampled the best which was prepared by none other than a Greek chef. Nevertheless, we left feeling pretty chuffed with the meal and would definitely be returning to Bill’s on our next visit to Port Macquarie.
Fish of the day with eggplant and fennel @billsfishhouseandbar
The following morning we departed early. Our next destination was to be the town of Lismore. It was one year today since my younger brother had passed away and we were heading up to pay our respects. It has been a difficult year, they say that grief gets easier as the time passes, however the indelible pain never really goes away. This is the price you pay for love, and whilst life can take away many things it can never take away the memories and love I have for my darling John. My pensive mind wandered and my desire to have him back for one more conversation and laugh together was overwhelming. I often felt like that, although I knew he wouldn’t want me to feel this way. There were good days and there were bad days, however every night when I closed my eyes I could see his face and he was there living on in my heart, a special place where he would stay with me forever.
After a few hours of comfortable driving on the motorway we decided to venture off the main road at Woodburn and travel the back way into Lismore through Wyrallah. You would recall from my last post that the area in and around the Far North Coast had experienced some of the worst floods in history. Some of the devastation was immediately apparent. In the township of Woodburn piles of debris littered the sides of the roads and houses had been damaged and muddied by the deep flood waters. The roads were pot holed and broken and the fields were stained brown from the receding waters. The crops had been ruined and the bottoms of trees were dead and rusted after being submerged for days in the flood waters. Whitegoods had been washed away from homes and lay idle in the fields or wherever they had floated to. A boat sat stranded at the top of a hill. Like an inland sea, it was hard to comprehend how far and wide the deluge of water had travelled. Arriving into what once was the pretty little city of Lismore there was just devastation everywhere. You could never imagine how catastrophic the damage was and to see a once thriving city ravaged beyond words was heartbreaking and inconceivable. We could only imagine how shattered the town folk must’ve been feeling and the hardship ahead of them to resurrect the town to its former glory. It would be years before it ever resembled anything like what it was before, and without an enormous injection of capital I could see how it could easily become a derelict town of deserted houses and boarded up shops that were bruised and broken. I’d hoped this wouldn’t be the case, however it was certainly plausible.
In a state of shock, we headed up the hill to Goonellabah first visiting my brother's graveside and then popping by to see my mother at the nursing home. Whilst mum is in good physical health her mind still plays tricks on her and she has much trouble finding the words to communicate. Dementia is a cruel disease. I recently came across these very moving words on social media which provide a good summary of what it’s like for a person living this nightmare.
Do not ask me to remember
Do not try to make me understand.
Let me rest and know you’re with me.
Kiss my cheek and hold my hand.
I’m confused beyond your concept.
I am sad and sick and lost.
All I know is that I need you to be with me at all costs.
Do not lose your patience with me.
Do not scold or curse my cry.
I can’t help the way I’m acting.
Can’t be different though I try.
Just remember that I need you.
That the best of me is gone.
Please don’t fail to stand beside me,
Love me till my life is done.
Our final destination for the day was to our home away from home in the nearby town of Ballina. We had stayed there many times over the past year and had become very familiar with the town and its bars and restaurants. Tonight we were looking forward to heading out to our favourite restaurant Lola’s Dining to enjoy a meal and to celebrate my brother. Stepping into Lola’s is like visiting the kitchen of your favourite Italian nonna, warm hospitality in a convivial atmosphere with exceptional food. Rosa was born and raised in Puglia and met the co-owner Olivia whilst working in fine dining restaurants in Sydney. They moved to Ballina and set up the restaurant where they cook using produce sourced locally to enhance the flavours of everything they grew up eating in Europe. Lola’s, like many other local businesses, had just reopened after being ravaged by flood waters in the preceding weeks. The staff were buzzing with positivity and enthusiasm and happy to be welcoming customers again. This was our second visit in as many months and we were received with open arms. On our last visit Rosa had been telling us about some fennel salami she was making to serve in the restaurant and we were elated to see it on the menu. I can report that it had been cured to perfection with a moist interior and a firm skin. It was delicious served alongside pickles and handmade crackers and better than I’d ever eaten. The house-made potato gnocchi sat proudly in a rich romesco sauce topped with my favourite smelly taleggio cheese, it was crisp on the outside and unctuous in the middle. Little parcels of tasty lamb koftas were complemented by a braise of silverbeet and cannellini bean hummus. Oh my yum. We couldn’t leave without sharing a slice of tres leche Davidson plum cake which Rosa insisted we imbibe alongside her experimental finger lime cello. The two sat comfortably together and we suggested that she start selling the lime cello. The finger limes were grown by Trev, a retired farmer living outside Alstonville who had provided a stack of them for Rosa to use in the restaurant. Rosa insisted we take a few home with us.
Davidson Plum three leches cake with Chantilly cream @loladining Ballina
Arriving back in Sydney on Sunday after a long drive home marred by wet weather and long delays after a traffic accident on the M1 motorway, we were happy to retire for the night in our own bed. It had been raining when we left, raining the whole time we were gone and still raining when we arrived home. Suffice to say we were over it. When I ventured out for a walk the next morning I slipped on the slimy footpath and almost broke my hand. I was battered and bruised and this for me was the last straw! Dear God, please let the sun shine again.
I decided it was much safer to stay inside my dry and warm home where I put the finger limes to good use and made Creamy Wild Honey and Finger Lime Butter. The recipe can be found here.
Homemade Creamy Wild Honey and Finger Lime Butter
Tonight I will watch the live telecast of the memorial for Shane Warne, a larrikin and great cricketer whose life ended too soon. I know my thoughts will also be with my brother John, who, not unlike Shane Warne, was also a great sportsman and was taken far too young. I love you John. You had a kind and generous heart for which we will be forever grateful.
Until next time may your days be both serendipitous and enjoyable.