It's a Nom-derful Life

Sunshine, beach breezes that float faint whiffs of spice and flora from oceans near and far, time on our hands and the bounty of Australian produce and world ingredients... it was time to eat and cook, cook and eat. Then a cheeky nibble or two long after the sun has set and dinner dishes have been washed, when the air is cool, soft and drowsy like an exhale.

Inspired by the breakfast at my beloved Bill's -- and provoked by the outrageous $20 AUD price tag for a simple, albeit well-executed, breakfast platter -- I bought enough ingredients at the Byron Bay Woolworth's supermarket to feed four, for the same price, and D.I.Y.'ed. Scrambled eggs just-set with a soft wobble, never flipped (I might just make a scrambled egg video, as my obsession has only intensified since the Australia trip); fresh avocados; sweet cherry tomatoes blistered on a frying pan; and lots of the sprightly little alfalfa sprouts that Gorilla loves, but which we can't find in Beijing; all scattered over with zesty parsley.

Another breakfast epiphany came at an unassuming little café in Byron Bay called Dip, suggested by the lady at the gorgeous chocolate boutique (photo: first row, right). Feeling indulgent I took up the waiter's invitation (which may as well have been a dare) to order their Croque Madame. What appeared was a grilled ham sandwich on "proper" bread, crowned with a poached egg and bathed in a lava flow of bleu cheese béchamel, fresh pea shoots and cracked black pepper. I had only my sheer, hand-embroidered linen sun dress to hide my shame (it goes straight to the belly); and it was sufficient, that is to say, sufficiently loose-fitting.

When in Byron Bay, don't miss a drop-by seafood dinner at Monger's for the excellent calamari; our cracked pepper squid rings were lightly battered, crisp and fresh, with sweet potato chips to top.

Also not to miss: the opportunity to turn up the barbie. Our heavenly villa had a poolside barbecue to help us get creative with the fresh produce. Several vegetables and a few impulsive grabs at the meat section yielded a feast. An herbal summer salad of shaved fennel, green apples, parsley, mint, alfalfa, lime juice, olive oil and salt. A veggie platter of grilled pumpkin spiced with Jamie Oliver's magical chili salt blend (red chili flakes, cloves, cumin, coriander, sea salt), grilled halloumi with fresh mint scattered over, and juicy lime halves to shower over the whole thing. And to the boys' delight: an Aussie meat platter of grilled sausages (a merlot-infused pork sausage and a chicken, rocket & parmesan madness), Australian steak, kangaroo steak grilled rare to preserve any possible bit of tenderness, grilled grainy bread and great big hunks of grilled leeks. The squeezy lemons, also grilled to smoky succulence.

Here's the recipe for the Fresh Summer Herb Salad. The sweet anise notes in the fennel with the green apples, herbs and simple lime juice seasoning make for a palate-cleansing, fresh-tasting accompaniment to heavy Aussie barbies.

Fresh Summer Herb Salad (serves 4)

  • 2 large fennel bulbs, stems removed
  • 1 Granny Smith apple
  • 1 big handful of parsley
  • 1 big handful of mint, leaves only
  • 1/2 box of alfalfa sprouts, about 40g
  • 80g reduced-fat feta cheese (optional)
  • 2 limes
  • 10g olive oil
  • Sea salt, to taste
  1. Prepare a salad bowl half filled with cold water and juice from one lime. Thinly shave the fennel on a mandoline or with a very sharp knife. As you slice, place the shaved fennel into the bowl of lime juice water.
  2. Move the fennel to a colander to drain, saving the bowl of lime juice water. Dice the apples, skin-on, into the water.
  3. Mince the parsley and mint, reserving a few whole mint leaves to scatter over later.
  4. Toss together the fennel, alfalfa, parsley, mint, juice from one lime, olive oil and sea salt. Top with the apples, feta cheese and reserved mint leaves.