I could have been a victim of the Paris terror attacks

Four hours before the France v German friendly that took place at the Stade de France on Friday the 13th of November, we were considering not attending the match at all.

We had bought three tickets to the match, but we didn’t realise at the time that they weren’t seated together. The match also started at 9pm, and with Miss P having been abnormally grumpy that day, we thought it was just too much effort.

In the end, we decided to go with Miss P strapped to my front in the baby carrier. The atmosphere in the stadium was electric, with almost a full house of excited and enthusiastic French fans madly waving their tri-colour flags. We even managed to find three seats together and thought we’d just keep them warm until the ticket holder came along to boot us out.

We were seated next to a rowdy bunch of drunken French fans, which offered us a very entertaining insight into the rarely seen French bogan. They were merrily passing around a bottle of alcoholic mystery in an unlabelled Coke bottle, and yelling words of encouragement to their countrymen on the field.

French bogans

Shortly into the first half of the match, we heard a loud explosion that came from outside the stadium. We looked at each other and our friend tried to reassure us, “I think it was just a bunger!” I replied, “It sounded a bit loud to be a bunger”. The bogans even shouted, “Yeah! They’re the real fans!!” But as we looked around the stadium, no-one else seemed concerned as they continued cheering loudly for the Blues.

Not long after, we heard another loud explosion. I could see people high up in the back row, only a quarter of the way around the stadium from us, peering over the fence to see what was going on outside. There was clearly some sort of drama going on, but we didn’t think anything more than there being some very loud fire crackers or perhaps a nearby gas explosion.

Half time rolled around and a lady with her kids came up to us and said that we were sitting in her seats. Being well after 10pm by now and not having three seats together, we decided to call it quits and go home. As we lingered on the terrace with the countless smokers, the large metal gates slid shut right in front of us. We asked the security guard where the closest exit was and he informed us that no-one was being allowed to leave.

Soon after, the second half started and crowd were fixated on the game. We heard a third explosion outside the stadium in front of us and we could see police lights, armed men, and medics gathering. While the game was playing, our friend was searching on her phone for any news items that could shed some light on what was happening nearby. It was only then that we were shocked to read about the shootings at the concert hall and the restaurant. There was only a minor mention of an explosion near the stadium.

We weren’t panicking yet, but we were slightly concerned at the lockdown and with the the end of the game looming closer, the thought of a stampede for the exits was at the front of our minds. We tried to place ourselves in a little alcove so that if there was a rush then we would be protected.

As the final siren came closer, there were a few more worried faces gathering at the exits, mostly young families who were probably in the same situation as us, and those just wanting to beat the rush home. Thankfully, about 10 minutes before the end of the match they began to open the gates and we were able to leave.

There was tension in the air as we walked to the train station. Heavily armed police and tactical response teams were everywhere, bearing large semi-automatic weapons and tear gas launchers. We even saw one young man with multiple guns pointed at him, urging him to put his hands up and lay down on the ground. We all put our hands up in the air just so that there could be no mistake to the authorities that we were ‘the good guys’.

One week later, we have been heartbroken and deeply sad at the 129 senseless deaths and 300 people injured that night. But we also feel a sense of relief that the suicide bombers outside the stadium were detected and stopped before they killed and injured potentially hundreds more. We wonder what we would have done if an explosion had happened in the stadium. Would we have stampeded toward the exit? Or would we have done the more rational thing and stayed in our seats?

We wonder whether the suicide bombers would have detonated their vests near us, and we would be just another name on the list of victims.

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Baby peekaboo

Is this what sleep deprivation looks like?

It wasn’t so long ago that the thought of motherhood filled me with dread. Not only dread, but also a general disbelief that women would put themselves through so much physical pain and discomfort, sleep deprivation, and financial strain only to lose their identity and ability to be recklessly selfish.

Eight months ago, my little girl Miss P arrived into the world. The time since then has stretched ten-fold, so much so that I barely remember life before her. I blame sleep deprivation.

People often ask me how I’m enjoying motherhood. Most times, they are asking out of politeness, but I think those who knew me before Miss P are genuinely curious how a [self-described] fiercely independent woman is coping. I suspect they are hopeful that I’m loving it and that I can’t imagine a love greater than the love I have for my child, and thus proving that I was totally wrong about motherhood!

It’s true that the mother identity seems to have consumed my other identities. Most of my social interactions now are with the lovely ladies in my mothers group. With my friends who have children, we spend more than half of our conversation talking about our kids. And since I’m with Miss P for almost all of my waking hours, small talk with the strangers that we meet also revolves around children.

In all honesty, about 80% of the time with Miss P is tedious, monotonous and exhausting. I spend a lot of that time just willing her to sleep, or to sleep longer. I’m sick of singing Old MacDonald Had a Farm over and over (especially mind-numbing since I can only think of 8 animals). My favourite time of the day is when she wakes up in the morning, all happy and smiling in her cot, but then quickly I’m counting down the hours until her bedtime. Thankfully, Miss P doesn’t cry a lot, but when she does I often have absolutely no idea why and I despair at my own helplessness.

The other 20% of the time, I think that she is just the most gorgeous thing that I’ve ever laid eyes on. When she giggles, babbles, tries to eat my nose, or is sleeping peacefully, my heart feels like it will explode with so much love.

I guess this is what people rave on about.

Bistro Molines interior

Winter is coming

Game of Thrones has a lot to answer for. The last 6 weeks of my life has been a repeat of eat, sleep, work, GoT, eat, sleep, work, GoT. The downside of having completely caught up with the latest aired episode is that I now have to wait a very long, anxious week before I can watch the next episode rather than just flicking it over. I just might DIE!

But now that I’m completely caught up and am waiting for the next episode, I suddenly have time to do other stuff than just eating, sleeping, working, and GoT-ing. This freeing up of my schedule just happens to coincide with a lovely warm, dry spell here in Sydney. It’s well and truly autumn (as the Starks would say, winter is coming) and temperatures are still in the mid-20s, around mid-70s℉.

Taking advantage of the blue skies and warm weather, this weekend the White Russian and I rode our motorbikes up to the Hunter Valley, around 2 hours north of Sydney. We found a few twisty roads, and also found ourselves on a dirt, unsealed road, which made me feel a bit nervous.

While we were in the area, we dropped into Bistro Molines, which shares a scenic spot with Tallavera Grove wineries. If you’re lucky and book ahead, you can snare a table on the verandah which overlooks the valley, marked with rows upon rows of vines. Or if you aren’t so fortunate, the tables inside still have the beautiful panorama thanks to the open dining area, which is filled with lovely fresh cut flowers and warm, rustic decor.

Bistro Molines view

Bistro Molines verandah

 

Bistro Molines pass

We were served a simple but delicious taster of cherry tomato, olive and buffalo mozzarella, and the bread was served with a rich aioli, an interesting but slightly strange change from the usual butter or olive oil.

Bistro Molines - cherry tomato and mozzarella snack

As a starter, we shared the charcuterie platter of a rich, creamy duck liver pate and a delicious rabbit rillettes served with a garden of pickled treats.

Bistro Molines charcuterie

Bistro Molines charcuterie close

The White Russian had the special of roasted rabbit served with speck and white bean puree. I may have encouraged him to order it since, when do we ever have rabbit at home? He said it tasted like chicken. My baked figs with gorgonzola and prosciutto were a nice combination of sweet and salty, soft and crisp.

Bistro Molines rabbit

Bistro Molines roasted figs

Unfortunately we couldn’t fit in dessert without risking a food coma on the long 2 hour ride back to Sydney, so we gave it a miss. Instead we ordered a caffeine hit and scored some bittersweet chocolate tartlets to finish a splendid lunch date.

Bistro Molines chocolate tarts

Bistro Molines exterior

Bistro Molines on Urbanspoon

Church Point

A hidden piece of Sydney

Owning a motorcycle means that you are more likely than most people to just go out cruising around without actually needing to go somewhere. The benefit of this is that you end up exploring some wonderful roads and areas that you would normally never think to visit.

One of the places that I discovered was Church Point, up the northern end of Sydney. After a ride through the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park to the West Head Lookout to check out its lovely views over Pittwater and to Palm Beach, a lunch at the Waterfront Cafe at Church Point is a nice way to enjoy a sunny Sydney weekend.

 

Sitting on the deck at the cafe makes you feel like you a thousand miles from the city, when you’re only 32km away. Boats bobbing about on their moorings, and you can enjoy the views to Scotland Island and the Pittwater activity.

Church Point waterfront cafe

The menu here is pretty extensive, which is usually a bit of a red flag. It spans Italian classics such as veal saltimbocca, pizzas and pastas, to burgers and steak sandwiches, fish and chips, a mezze plate, and seafood platters. At least there will be something for everyone!

The mezze plate comes with 5 generously proportioned servings of dip (beetroot, eggplant, olive, roast capsicum and avocado) and is served with a cheesy, garlic pizza.

Meze plate

The bouillabaisse is a delicious serve of seafood in a tomato-based broth. Be prepared to get your hands dirty working through that crab.

Boullabaise

The burger comes stacked pretty high, which can make it a challenge to get your mouth around. The bread is thick and crusty, which is a change from the soft, brioche buns that are the latest trend.

Beef burger with chips

The fish special is pan fried dory, which was served with wilted baby spinach, roasted potatoes and a fresh tomato sauce.

Pan fried dory

Sadly we were pretty stuffed and didn’t have room for dessert (who would’ve thought this possible?) I can’t even explain the pain of regretfully turning down a sweet finish when the selection which came out on a long paddle to tempt us. However, despite our early misgivings, the food here is decent and it’s well worth the trek up here to enjoy a relaxing lunch with friends, family and the spectacular views.

Waterfront Cafe on Urbanspoon

Cheese souffle

Experimental Sundays: cheese soufflé

I always thought that soufflé was really difficult to make. It has a reputation for requiring considerable care and attention, lest the thing collapses and causes embarrassment in front of your dinner guests. Having said all that, a soufflé is just wondrous. Whether it’s a savoury or sweet, it’s like eating scented, flavoured air.

The first time I made a soufflé was at a dessert class a few years ago. I was struck by two things mainly: how incredibly easy it was to make this classic French dish; and how whisking egg whites to stiff peaks by hand is very effective at giving you a dead arm. In the spirit of Experimental Sunday, I thought I’d try whipping up a savoury cheesy soufflé.

Searching for a recipe, I found this simple one which was incredibly light yet rich. I actually halved the recipe to cater for the two of us, and ended up with perfect results.

Cheese soufflé
Recipe from SBS Food
Serves 4-6

Ingredients
60g butter
60g flour
500ml milk
200g grated gruyere
6 eggs, separated
Salt and pepper to season
Freshly grated nutmeg

Step 1
Move oven rack to the centre of the oven and preheat it to 200C. Butter either a large soufflé dish or 4-6 smaller dishes, depending on their size.

Step 2
Make a roux by melting butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the flour and stir around for a few minutes. The mixture becomes a nice nutty brown colour. Using a whisk, gradually add the milk and whisk together until it thickens into a smooth consistency, and then remove from the heat.

Step 3
Whisk in the grated cheese, which will slowly melt into the mixture. Then add salt and pepper to taste, grate in some nutmeg, and finally add the egg yolks.

Making cheese souffleStep 4
In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. If you fancy an upper body work out, do it by hand by whisking side to side really quickly. Swap arms if necessary, and confident in your wrong arm coordination!

Whisking egg whites to stiff peaksStep 5
Spoon a little of the egg white mixture into the cheese mixture and fold through to loosen it a bit, and then tip it back into the bowl with the rest of the egg whites and fold together. Spoon the combined mixture into the soufflé dish(es), smooth the top, and immediately put into the hot oven. Bake in the centre for 10 minutes before turning the oven down to 180C and baking for another 25-30 minutes for a large soufflé or 15-20 minutes for the smaller soufflés. They should be well risen and golden brown on top.

Cheese souffle before ovenStep 6
Serve it immediately with a salad and enjoy!

Cheese souffle with spoon