walking on very long beaches

I‘ve always loved walking. For twenty years or more it’s been my main source of exercise, and never more so since I moved to Australia. For me, an hour’s brisk walk (and I walk at six or seven kilometres per hour) clears my mind, resets my brain, opens up possibilities, recalibrates my spine and offers me precious alone time.

On a good day, when I turn back at the park and head east on Altona Esplanade, I feel so uplifted I could lift my arms and fly back to the car.

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But it’s taken me twenty years to realise that there is one sort of walk that I adore above all others. I unconsciously seek it out when planning a trip. No other walk every measures up. After two decades of diligent practice I can now say that my favourite pastime is Walking On Very Long Beaches.

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I didn’t grow up very close to the coast. It took half an hour by car or bus to get to Sandymount or Costelloe’s beach in Dublin. But all of my family fare better when close to the sea, and most of us now live minutes (or even seconds) from the water’s edge.

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I think the turning point for me, though, was ten years spent living in the midlands of England. The closest beach to Leicester was Skegness, and one autumn Sunday I couldn’t take it anymore. I pointed my car east and drove a full three hours non-stop to the coast. When I got there, on a chilly, murky spring afternoon, the tide was out. In Skegness the tide goes out about half a mile, so I had managed to reach the seaside without arriving beside the sea. Defeated, I turned around and drove the three hours back, without getting out of my car.

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Fast forward a decade or so to India, when I spent many happy months living in the village of Candolim just yards from a six mile long beach. Each morning I walked south to Sinquerim and the old fort, uplifted by the occasional sight of a dolphin just a few feet away in the surf, feeling like I had the whole beach to myself. Afternoons saw me strolling north towards Calangute, where the only concern I had was how far I would walk before jumping into the water to cool down. That beach gave me my sanity back.

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These days I live about a ten minute drive from a nice suburban beach with a lovely boardwalk and a park at either end. Winter and summer, it’s my favourite place to walk: not too busy, just the right length. If I want a change, I can walk at least an hour from Port Melbourne to Elwood before I run out of footpath and have to turn around. And if I tire of bay beaches and need to hear the crash of real waves, the grand sweep of Ocean Grove on the surf coast is only an hour’s drive away.

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My ideal beach length is “longer than the time I have to walk it”. In other words, I prefer to run out of time than to run out of beach.

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These days, the quantifiable self tells us that we should walk 10,000 steps a day, so I like a good 8-9km round trip walk so I can get my daily quota out of the way whilst staring at waves and getting my ankles wet.

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Every trip I take, I search for a location with a Very Long Beach. Tasmania, Ireland, Vietnam, Queensland, USA, the Caribbean: my travels have taken me to, or taken me back to, some of the most wonderful VLBs in the world.

Where are your favourite VLBs?

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chicken chilli fry

>It is over ten years since I travelled to India. My very first meal in Goa was in a little outdoor restaurant called Tropicana, and it was chicken chilli fry, a local speciality. Nothing fancy, just well-seasoned chicken cooked with chillies in a strong flavoursome gravy.

For ten years now I have been trying to replicate that taste. Everybody’s recipe is different and yet the same. They may use their own family masala; some are drier than others; some are bulked up with vegetables and some give the meat pride of place. But all have that particular base flavour which always eluded me.

The best variation of it was Bobby’s calamari chilli fry. I used to joke that it had drugs in it – the stuff was addictive. Bobby used to always send me home with a big bag of his own special masala, freshly roasted and ground that morning. Still I could not deliver the goods like a true Goan.

So this week I had a deep craving for chicken chilli fry. I was determined not to go to our local Indian restaurant: their version has that elusive flavour but it is a bit too oily for me. I googled and searched and googled again. I downloaded a dozen recipes to see if I could find a common element. Then something caught my eye and I thought: I’ll try that.

I fried the chilli. The hint is in the name I guess. I took four large green chillis, deseeded them (the seeds can be a little bitter), cut them into strips and fried them alone in a little oil. No garlic, no sweating, just fried like onions. Within moments the aroma from the pan confirmed that I had found that elusive element.

I had always used the chillies as seasoning rather than a vegetable ingredient, and this was clearly the mistake. Frying the chillies released an amazing aroma and taste which was the complexity I had been missing all this time.

In another pot I cooked my chicken, marinated beforehand in finely chopped onion and garlic, Worcestershire sauce, a drop of fish sauce, garam masala and my own local meat masala. It simmered away for twenty minutes or so until the chicken was cooked. I then added the chicken bit by bit into the pan with the fried chillies, browning all the chicken as I went. Once that was done, I added the rest of the broth from the chicken pot and reduced it down to a thicker gravy. A teaspoonful of brown sugar and a dash of balsamic vinegar added to the sharpness.

I ate slowly and with relish. For all the chillies I used, it could have been a bit hotter for my taste, so in future I would use 6 large chillies to a half-kilo of meat. My toughest customer, Orlando, ate the left-overs for dinner the following night and declared that it was sensational.

Finally, a ten-year culinary conundrum is put to rest.

mairead’s vegetable curry

>POINTS® Value: 2
Servings: 4

A tasty filling dinner – serve with boiled rice (rown is best).

Use whatever vegetables you like, but the chickpea/spinach combination is particularly good. The instant coffee is used to cancel out some of the sweetness of the vegetables, especially the tinned tomatoes. Add cooked potato and/or chicken if you wish, but don’t forget to count the extra points.

1 medium onion
400 g canned chickpeas
200 g mushroom
400 g canned tomatoes
1 medium carrot, chopped
1/2 medium head of cauliflower
3 cloves garlic
1 whole fresh red chilli
1 tsp chilli powder
2 teaspoons garam masala
150 g frozen spinach
2 tsp instant coffee

Instructions
Fry onion and garlic and chilli
Add rest of vegetables and cook for 3-4 minutes
Add rest of ingredients
Simmer for an hour

(tastes better made the day before!)

chicken xacuti

>A heavenly dish originally from Goa – pronounced “chakooty”. The chicken is marinated in freshly roasted spices and cooked slowly in sweet, fresh coconut juice. Perfectly Delightful!

Ingredients
1Kg chicken, cut into medium sized pieces
(substitute tofu, paneer or soya if veggie/vegan)
6 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
6 -8 onions
Juice of 2 limes
Coconut juice either tinned or fresh
1 fresh coconut – grate the coconut and roast with two of the onions (sliced lengthwise) and a little ghee.
The coconut needs to turn a pale brown

The key is to roast the whole spices before grinding them. This brings out the nutty, warm flavors. To roast, heat a griddle over a moderate heat, add the spices, and shake the pan for 20 seconds. A lovely aroma will be released.

Roast and grind (to paste with a little water):
– Toasted coconut/onion mixture
– 2 tbsp coriander seeds
– 5 black peppercorns
– 10 dried red chilies (or less)
– 1tsp turmeric
– 4 cloves of garlic
– 1/2 inch piece cinnamon
– 1/2 nutmeg
– 3 tblsp aniseed
– 1tbsp poppy seeds

Method
• Chop four of the onions and fry until light brown.
• Add the chicken and brown.
• Add the ground paste, fry for a minute and then add the coconut milk.
• Cook until chicken is tender.
• Cut the remaining onions and add to the chicken.
• Boil for a few minutes then lower flame
• Add the thick coconut milk.
• Add salt if required.
• Simmer until sauce has thickened.
• Sprinkle over some limejuice and fresh coriander leaves prior to serving.

Enjoy with naan bread, chappatis or rice.

chickpea and spinach curry

>This is proper fast food – delicious, healthy and ready in about 15 minutes.

1. Fry one medium-sized diced onion

2. Add 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric and cook in

3. Add a teaspoonful of harissa and one can chopped tomatoes

4. Add one can of chick peas and cook 10 mins

5. Add spinach and cook 5 mins

6. Add 1/2 teaspoon of garam masala

7. If the curry is too sweet from the tomatoes, add 1/2 teaspoon of instant coffee to tone it down

8. Serve with yoghurt, naan or rice

pork vindalho

>Pork vindalho is a Goan dish with a distinctive hot and sour flavour. It has its roots in Portugese cooking but has strong Indian influences too. It is unusual to see pork in Indian cooking but as many Goans are Catholics, it is quite popular in this small state.

This is one of my favourite Indian dishes and is well worth the effort to make it. If you cannot find genuine vindalho masala in your local Indian grocery, use the ingredients below to make the paste.

1kg/2¼lb boneless pork from the shoulder, cut into 5cm/2in cubes
1½ tsp salt
6tbsp red wine vinegar

For the Spice Paste: (or use vindalho masala)

4-10 dried hot red chillies
1 tbsp bright red paprika
½ tsp cumin seeds
6cm/3in cinnamon stick, broken up into smaller pieces
10-15 cloves
½ tsp black peppercorns
5-6 cardamom pods
10-12 garlic cloves, peeled
2.5cm/1in piece of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsley chopped
½ tsp ground turmeric

You also need:
3 tbsp vegetable oil
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
3 meduim-sized onions (250g/9oz), peeled and finely sliced
2 large tomatoes, chopped
6 fresh hot green chillies, sliced lengthways in half
1 tsp sugar

Method
1. Sprinkle the pork with 1 tsp of the salt. Add 3 tbsp of the vinegar. Rub in well and set aside for 2-3 hours.

2. Make the spice paste: Combine the red chillies, paprika, cumin seeds, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns and cardamom pods in a clean coffee grinder and grind as finely as possible. Put the 10-12 garlic cloves and the ginger in the container of an electric blender a;long with 2 tbsp of the vinegar and the turmeric. Blend well. Add the dry ground spices to the garlic mixture and blend again to mix. Rub the pork cubes with half of the spice paste, Cover and refrigerate overnight. Cover and refrigerate the remaining spice paste.

3. Heat the 3 tbsp oil in a wide, preferably non-stick pan over meduim-high heat. When hot, put in the 3-4 garlic cloves. Stir and fry until they begin to pick up a little colour. Put in the onions and continue to fry until browned. Now add the tomatoes and 3 of the green chillies. Stir for a minute. Add the remaining spice paste, the sugar and the remaining 1 tbsp vinegar. Stir and fry until the paste begins to marinate the meat and all the spice paste clinging to it. Turn the heat to a meduim-low and cook, stirring, until the pork begins to exclude its own liquid. Add 300ml/10fl oz/1¼ cups water and the remaining salt and bring to the boil. Cover, turn the heat to low and simmer gently until the meat is tender and the sauce has thickened somewhat, about 40 minutes.

4. If necessary, raise the heat to reduce the sauce to a meduim-thick consistency towards the end. Add the remaining 3 green chillies and stir once.