jamala wildlife lodge

Slow Chocolates and Warm Memories

As I wind down my reminiscing, I can’t help but think of the warm and nurturing hot chocolates we ended our evenings with at Jamala Wildlife Lodge. To symbolise my slow journey back through my past, I thought a slow cooker hot chocolate would be great. Don’t worry if you can’t drink it all in one go. Allow any leftovers to cool, then refrigerate until cold. It makes a great chocolate mousse!

IMG_0015.JPGSlow Cooked Hot Chocolate

Special Equipment:
Slow Cooker
Stick Blender

Ingredients
300ml double cream
2 cups of milk
200g milk chocolate, broken into pieces
50g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions
Place all the ingredients into the slow cooker, cover and cook on low for 1 hour.
After 1 hour, give the chocolate a good whisk making sure you scrape any chocolate from the bottom and sides into the mixture. Cover and cook on low for 3 hours.
Turn off the slow cooker and very carefully blend the hot chocolate with a stick blender.
Serve piping hot.

The Spice Is Right

One of the things I was really looking forward to at Jamala Wildlife Lodge was the food. The South African inspired menu sounded wonderful, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat much of it. Being allergic to the capsicum/chilli family and being sensitive to tomato and eggplant meant many dishes were going to be off limits. I discussed my dietary requirements when I booked. The staff were lovely and assured me that the chef would prepare special dishes for me. I couldn’t wait! Happily I wasn’t disappointed 🙂 Tangy salads, succulent prawns and mouthwatering salmon were some of the dishes that arrived especially for me. I could indulge in the cheese platter without worry, accompanied by some tasty wines. The hot chocolate to end the night was rich and soothing. I had no complaints or worries about the food. My only regret was that I couldn’t try the bobotie.

Malva pudding and bobotie are two traditional South African dishes that I had heard about and really wanted to try. They were both on offer at Jamala but I could only have the malva pudding. But what a pudding! A sumptuous cake is soaked in a sweet, rich sauce made with butter, sugar and cream. If that’s not enough it’s served with hot custard. I was in heaven. As much as I loved the pudding, I couldn’t help staring at my partner Paul while he devoured his enormous serve of bobotie. The best way I can describe bobotie is that it’s like a spicy, fruity shepherd’s pie. But, rather than being topped with potato, it’s topped with an egg and milk custard. It is the spices and chutneys that made it impossible for me to try. Paul did assure me it was delicious.

Suffering from bobotie envy, I created my own version as soon as I got home. I tried to stick as close to an original recipe as I could, whilst making a few tweaks and eliminating the spices I couldn’t have. I’m pretty happy with my efforts. I finally got to try bobotie!

Bobotie

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Ingredients
for the mince
1 slice white bread, crusts removed and torn into small pieces
2 tablespoons milk
3/4 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small, tart apple, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped
1/2 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
500g beef mince
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
good crack of freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons flaked almonds, toasted
1/2 tablespoon apricot jam
1/2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

for the custard
3 eggs
1 cup milk
good pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 bay leaves

Instructions
Preheat oven to 165C / 325F.
Lightly oil a baking dish, approximately 28cm x 20cm.
Place the bread and milk in a small bowl. Allow to stand until the milk is absorbed.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium to medium-high heat. Add the onions and apples. Cook until the onions are soft and golden brown, stirring occasionally.
Add the ginger, cumin, coriander and turmeric. Stir until combined and aromatic.
Add the meat, salt and pepper. Stir until cooked, breaking up large pieces with a wooden spoon as you go.
Add the almonds and cook for 2 minutes.
Add the bread mixture and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 – 2 minutes or until the bottom of the pan begins to brown.
Stir in apricot jam and lemon juice, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan.
Remove from heat and taste for seasoning. Add more salt or pepper if needed.
Spoon the meat mixture into prepared baking dish.
In a medium sized bowl whisk the eggs for 2 minutes.
Add the milk, nutmeg and lemon zest and whisk until combined.
Pour custard over meat mixture.
Add the bay leaves and press into the custard.
Bake for 35 – 45 minutes or until set around edges and centre is no longer runny.
Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Blondies for Blondie

I thought I would make some blondies in honour of Blondie, the beautiful European brown bear that made our stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge so awesome 🙂

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Blondies are a variation of brownies. They are usually made with butter and brown sugar which gives them a lovely butterscotch taste. For these brown bear inspired blondies I decided to brown the butter which gives it a nutty flavour. I also added macadamia nuts and white chocolate for a bit of crunch.

Brown Butter Blondies

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Ingredients
165g unsalted butter, roughly chopped
1 + 3/4 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup demerara sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
75g macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
170g white chocolate, roughly chopped

Instructions
Place the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Carefully swirl the pan and cook until the butter becomes tan in color. Be careful as it is easy to burn. Once tan, remove saucepan from heat and pour butter into a heatproof bowl.
Heat the oven to 200C / 400F.
Line a 20cm square baking pan with baking paper.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl.
Stir the sugars into the cooled butter.
Stir in the eggs and vanilla.
Gently fold the wet ingredients into the flour.
Add the white chocolate and nuts. Stir until just combined.
Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Place on a wire rack to cool before cutting into pieces.

A Place Not Far From Home

So last year was my 50th Birthday. To celebrate we did a very special trip. Friends have asked me to write something about it and I’ve been waiting for the anniversary to do so. While I was writing, I saw an opportunity to enter it into a competition. It didn’t win but I liked the way it came out. I hope you do too.

A Place Not Far From Home

“I’ll be spending my 50th birthday in Canberra”, I told my regular travelling companion Trevor.

The look of horror on his face was priceless. “Have you been to Canberra?” he asked, stunned.

I have been to Canberra many times. Unlike a lot of Australians, I like our nation’s capital city. But I knew why Trevor was stunned. Trevor, my partner Paul and I were supposed to be travelling halfway across the world to England to celebrate my birthday, not Canberra, which is only a short flight away.

Ten years earlier, when I was planning my 40th birthday, the three of us started a tradition. We would each choose a holiday destination to travel to for our big birthdays. I chose a trip I called “A Dracula Tour of Romania”. My 50th was supposed to be part 2 – “A Dracula Tour of England”. Whitby was the prize destination. Sadly an ailing elder dog meant I couldn’t travel too far from home. Trevor went to Whitby and Paul and I took a short trip to Canberra.

On the eve of my 50th birthday, I woke to the sound of lions roaring in the night. They were so close. I could picture them walking near my window. I snuggled into the thick duvet, comforted by the warmth of the room and the sound of lions.

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Throughout the night I had been woken by their stirring call. Sometimes the roars were close, sometimes they were distant, every time was hauntingly beautiful. They made me smile. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my 50th birthday than in the company of wildlife.

When I knew I wasn’t going to Whitby for my birthday, I trusted that I would somehow find the right place to go. Sure enough, a few days later I was viewing an online newspaper when I saw an ad that made me look twice. The ad featured a photo of a woman taking a bubble bath while a European brown bear watched from outside her window. The words “wild”, “down under” and “Canberra” grabbed my attention. I knew immediately that this was where I would be spending my birthday weekend.

The ad was for Jamala Wildlife Lodge – the National Zoo and Aquarium’s new onsite accommodation. We had visited the zoo before, most notably to celebrate the very first International Red Panda Day, but never realised we could stay there. The secluded bungalows scattered around the zoo in the animal enclosures sounded perfect. Floor to ceiling windows gave you views of the animals as they went about their daily (and nightly) meanderings. An “al fresco” style section with heated pads and food treats was used to encourage the animals to come and snuggle down. I just had to choose which animals I wanted to “share” my room with. I chose the white lions for my first night and the European brown bears for my second.

Night one was more about sound than sight. While we caught glimpses of the lions and one came up to the window briefly, we mostly heard them roaring into the night, and were woken again by them in the morning.

 

After a sumptuous breakfast on day two we moved from the lion room to the bear room. There, snuggled warmly by our window, was a European brown bear. I wanted to squeal in delight but restrained myself, scared I might frighten the bear away. Instead, I calmly approached the window and quietly watched. We made ourselves cups of tea, munched on biscuits and relaxed on the couch, all under the watchful eye of a beautiful bear. Finally the bear left to do what bears do.

 

We reluctantly left our room and wandered around the zoo. We laughed when we made it back to the bear enclosure. One of the bears was enjoying a feast of fruit, vegetables and bread by a waterfall. We watched it for a while, before returning to our room. As before, the same brown bear was snuggled in the same place. We watched, mesmerised, as another bear arrived, grabbed some food, gave us a long, hard look and then left. We opened up a bottle of wine and shared the late afternoon with this most accommodating bear. Again, we were reluctant to leave our room, but dinner was calling and we were hungry.

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There are few lights in the zoo overnight and for our own protection, we weren’t allowed to walk around after dark. At a prearranged time, a bus came to collect us from our cabin, taking us through the pitch black of the zoo to the main hotel for dinner and drinks. The bus stopped a couple of times to pick up others from their rooms and we compared notes on our experiences as we rode.

A lavish South African inspired spread greeted us at the communal dinner table. I couldn’t wait to try the bobotie and malva pudding, both of which I’d heard of but never had a chance to try. The food was extraordinary and the wine selection suited it perfectly. We sipped wine and spoke to the other guests, each of us exchanging stories about the animals outside our rooms. The staff told us the main bear visiting our room was a female named Blondie. While we enjoyed the food, wine and the company, we were eager to get back to our room and hopefully a bear. In the meantime, we were entertained by first a pair of white lions and then hyenas as they were let into their dens for the evening. We could see them clearly from the dining room. We suspected that they could see us also, but they ignored us and after exploring their dens, curled up and went to sleep.

There was one birthday wish I deeply wanted granted. To have a bubble bath with a  bear! I really wanted to reenact the ad that got me to Jamala. We arrived home and Blondie had returned to her usual place. I was so excited. It was now or never for my bubble bath. I carefully filled the bath, making small, unhurried movements. I gingerly hopped in, hoping I wouldn’t startle her. I sat in the bath like the woman in the ad, watched by the beautiful brown bear. Then to my surprise and delight, another bear arrived. I lay in the bath, soaking in the soft, warm bubbles, watched by the gentle eyes of two extraordinary creatures. I had surpassed the ad. Not one but two brown bears were sharing my birthday dream with me. It was the most extraordinary birthday of my life.

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While I bathed with bears, Trevor had a drink for me in Whitby. Was I sad that I didn’t get to Whitby? Yes. Did I enjoy myself in Canberra? Immensely.

I didn’t have to travel the world to find a new and exotic place. I found one right here, in a place not far from home.