View of Mt Yotei

Japan ski adventures

For any food-loving Aussie skier, the mere thought of Japan is enough to get one salivating. There is an abundance of light fluffy powder, it’s less than 11 hours away (that’s on the doorstep from our perspective!), and even the Japanese food is worth a visit alone.

I know it must seem crazy to some to take flight from a gorgeous Australian summer to seek winter cold in Niseko, but passionate skiers and boarders know that it’s worthwhile. There are pretty much guaranteed snowy conditions, fantastic off-piste skiing, and of course, the food. And compared to the predictably icy Australian snow conditions and extortionate lift ticket prices, it ends up being much better value than a week at Thredbo.

 

On the mountain at NisekoIt snowed every day, which meant that every morning was filled with the excitement and anticipation of getting on the mountain. The weather was very cold, with temperatures of around -8C in the village and -15C on the summit, but you didn’t really notice too much until you were sitting high up on a lift, a slave to the elements. All I can say is thank god for the gondolas and the hooded lifts!

My favourite ski area was the Hanazono area, where there were some fun off-piste runs through the trees. It was my first time skiing through trees so I wasn’t game enough to go hardcore through the gates and outside the resort boundary and patrolled area, and Strawberry Fields area in particular had some narrow steep drops with some nice powder stashes, as well as wider open areas through the trees.

Niseko Hirafu

Hanazono ski signThe best thing about visiting Japan (right up there with the snow!) is all the delicious food. They take such pride with the serving and presentation of their food, that you can even get tasty snacks in their convenience stores. It’s fine dining compared to the dry sausage rolls or tasteless egg sandwiches in the Australian convenience stores.

We sampled a range of Japanese food throughout our visit, including sashimi, teppanyaki, sukiyaki, soba, and lots of ramen. It was cool to see that food vans were a thing in Niseko too.

Sukiyaki

Soba noodles

Ramen with snow crab legs

Potato ramen

Potato ramen

Peace out!

Deep fried oysters

Gyoza at Little Red Mimoji

Fresh sashimi

Niseko food vanWith so many Aussies in Niseko, the bar scene is hip and happening. The most trendy bar would probably be the Fridge Door Bar, properly called Bar Gyu+ but known for it’s distinctive front door.

Fridge door bar NisekoInside it’s a cosy European feel with warm wood panelling and wooden furniture. The menus are hand illustrated, and there is a great selection of whiskies, as well as hot alcoholic drinks and my first ever absinthe (the stuff knocks your socks off).

Niseko fridge door bar menu

Ev with a drink

AbsintheSkiing and eating aside, we managed to find some time to squeeze in some karaoke. For the equivalent of around A$20 for two hours of singing and all-you-can-drink, you can be assured to hear some high quality vocal performances. Oh well, when in Rome, or Japan…

Karaoke

Hooded up in the snowDid you take off for any snow adventures this winter? Or are you looking forward to the upcoming Southern Hemisphere winter for some snow action?

Advertisements

Learning to snowboard…and crash…indoors

I’ve been a longtime ski enthusiast, but I’ve often fantasised about the idea of being able to crossover to snowboarding. I’ve tried my hand at it a couple of times, but I haven’t committed to serious time to improve my boarding. The thought of spending precious snow and ski time battling with beginner lessons and spending half my time on my arse seriously turned me off.

However, after the amazing powder days on my Japan trip recently, I thought that having the ability to pick up the board on the deep powder days and then choosing the skis when I just want to carve some serious turns.

Coinciding with the excitement of the Sochi Olympics, a new indoor ski slope has opened in Sydney. In2ski features three Maxxtracks slopes, which are basically like giant treadmills, and can be set at different gradients to simulate different levels of difficulty.

Maxxtracks indoor skiing

The centre claims that one hour of practice on the indoor slope is equivalent to eight hours on the mountain. I’m not sure whether this is true, but you do certainly waste a fair bit of an on-mountain lesson on lifts and waiting around for the slower students.

The best thing about the indoor slope is that it is in Sydney! No more driving for six hours each way, paying through the nose for petrol, accommodation, lift passes and crap food just to improve your skills. It’s a really cost effective way of improving your technique without the massive time commitment of a weekend.

The format of a group lesson is to be on the slope for 10 minutes, then off for 10 minutes while the other half of the group is on, and alternating until the end of the lesson. Each 10 minute interval is tough though, since it’s pretty much non-stop. Falling over on the slope, which happens often when you’re learning, is a bit of a shock the first time, and not as nice as falling into soft snow. My battle scars at the end of the day included bruised knees, a tender bum, a sore neck, and slight carpet burn on one elbow. At the end of my hour lesson, I had gone from feeling my way going straight on a flat board, to learning turns and going side to side while holding onto the bar. Not a bad progression in an hour, I thought!

My intention now is to get to a decent level snowboarding on the indoor slope, where I can confidently link turns together. I’m also keen to fine-tune my skiing skills too, and hopefully get rid of some terribly bad habits before hitting the slopes for real next time!

Here’s a taster of my experience – look how lovely my turns are until I hit the ground!

Note: I paid for my own lesson and this post was in no way endorsed or sponsored by In2ski.
Photo courtesy of In2ski

Dive 292: Camp Cove, Watsons Bay (NSW)

Dive time: 00:47:00
Max depth: 5.8 metres
Temperature: 22 C
Visibility: 5 metres
Buddy: Lisa Godden

It has been almost two years since my last shore dive in Sydney. In that time I’ve dived in Thailand and the Philippines, forgetting that we have such easy and accessible diving right in our own city. Especially if you have all your own gear, it’s a matter of driving to the designated site, getting geared up, and just walking in off the beach or diving in off rocks!

Today’s dive at Camp Cove was the first Sydney dive in a while for myself and Lisa, and the first time in a long time that we’d dived together. Thankfully we arrived before 9am to score a parking spot in the car park because it quickly filled up. After minor mishaps for us both with our gear (I must remember to keep an allen key in my kit!), we waded off the beach into the water.

We swam across the sandy bottom and patches of sea grass, spotting a very cute little baby cuttlefish along the way, before we came across the reef. The reef is a series of long wedges of rock jutting up from the sand about a metre high. We saw a common stingray, a few big toadfish, red goatfish, large red morwong, a fat chromodoris nudibranch, quite a few small silver bream, schools of eastern pomfrets, mado, cute juvenile leather jacket, and a green moray eel that came out for a swim. I almost landed on top of a scorpionfish when I saw a boat going overhead and attempted to flatten myself on the bottom.

My mask kept fogging up, which meant that I was leaking water in it every 5 minutes to swish it around before having to clear it. We popped up inside the northern sea wall but a bit too early, so swam around the old Sydney Water Police wharf back to the beach. It was a nice relaxing dive and it felt great just to get back in the water.

Experimental Sundays: home made pizzas

Sprinkling cheese on pizza

When we’re after a quick and easy weeknight dinner, “home made” pizzas are always popular. The White Russian’s daughter always goes for her favourite ham and pineapple topping, and we load up delicious salami, artichokes, olives, ham, and feta. Our usual cheat is to use pre-made Lebanese bread as the base, which makes a super crisp, thin base pizza, but in the name of Experimental Sundays, I tried making the dough from scratch.

I didn’t have a pizza stone, so cooked the pizzas on oiled trays in my gas oven on the hottest setting. The result was a light, crisp base that didn’t go soggy in the middle, however I couldn’t help but wish I had a wood fired oven where I could get some nice charred and smoky crust!

We had dough left over after feeding three adults and a child, which we wrapped up in cling film and froze. A week later, we defrosted some of the dough to make pizzas again, with the same great result. Not a bad idea to keep some dough on hand in the freezer, and despite it taking considerably longer than pulling Lebanese bread straight out of the packet, it was well worth the effort!

Pizza dough
Adapted from SBS’s perfect pizza dough and Jamie Oliver’s pizza dough recipes
Makes 6-8 medium sized pizzas

Ingredients
1kg Tipo ’00’ flour
2 x 7g dried yeast sachets
1 tsp salt
1 tbs sugar
4 tbs extra virgin olive oil
650ml lukewarm water

Step 1
Combine the warm water, yeast, sugar, salt and olive oil in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Turn the mixer onto a slow to medium speed until these bits are combined.

Pizza dough in mixer

Step 2
Slowly add the flour, saving a little of the flour to dust the bench and your hands later. Keep mixing until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Step 3
Flour the top of the dough and cover the bowl with a damp tea towel. Leave the dough to rest at room temperature for at least a couple of hours. The SBS recipe recommends leaving the dough to prove for 24 hours!
Pizza dough

Step 4
When you are ready to cook, tip out the dough onto a well floured bench. Flour your hands and knock back the excess air out of the dough. Divide it into 6 to 8 smaller balls of dough.

Pizza dough balls

Step 5
Roll or press out the dough on well oiled trays or pizza stone. Top with your favourite toppings and pop into your oven until the cheese has browned and the crust is crisp.

Pizza dough flattening

Home made pizza result    Enjoy!

Older couple making spring rolls

Taipei’s Shilin night markets

On our recent trip to Japan, we stopped over in Taipei for a night of feasting at the famous Shilin night markets. The markets first opened in 1899 and has a huge variety of delicious Taiwanese street food and snacks. During the day, the streets are empty and quiet, devoid of food carts, but come nighttime, it’s jam-packed with hungry people throughout the night.