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Summer Exploring

Spending Christmas in Melbourne with our son Matthew and his partner Kara also meant catching up with Philips sister and family and being joined by Hannah for a few days from Auckland. Fun dinners, long lunches and a few wines into the night was always a given with the intention of experiencing the Boxing Day test at the MCG !!! and spending a couple of days in the city becoming acquainted with a few shops and taking in summer activities like a picnic dinner in the evening at the botanical gardens watching a brilliant performance of ‘A Mid Summers Night Dream’
Our plan also included 3 nights in the region of Daylesford – 1.5 hours from Melbourne. It is obviously a preferred hop away from Melbourne city and offers many Hot Spring retreats in places like Hepburn where we stayed. Daylesford is a charming town with quaint shopping, very good restaurants, lots of walks  and nice visits like the beautiful Lavender garden property – planted around an original 1850’s Swiss – Italian stone buildings.
Weather in Victoria at this time of the year is hot. We explored the parched dry countryside to places like Kyneton and Trentham – where we ate the best buns at a fantastic very busy local bakery. They are still using their 20 year old sour dough culture and baking in a woodfired oven built 1891, that can cook 600 loaves a time . These little towns, once on route to the gold fields are home to the cutest cottages and now the main streets are lined with artisan boutiques, cafes and smart restaurants.
Our love of gardens meant a visit to the delightful garden of St Erth in Blackwood was a given. Here, they specialise in heritage plants and seeds and offer classes in garden techniques including espaliering and seed collecting.
Many years ago I attended the Melbourne Master classes at the Melbourne Food and wine Festival. I never forgot the demonstration by Ella Wolf Tasker and in fact I have included a similar version of her pork hock terrine in our new ‘Otago Fonebook.’
She owns and operates the famous Lake House in Daylesford. So you can imagine the smile our faces when Matthew and Kara’s Christmas present was a degustation lunch on New Years Eve . The food, service, attention to detail in stunning surroundings made this a delightful very enjoyable experience – never to be forgotten.
Returning to Melbourne for a night before heading to New Zealand gave us a chance to drive via places we had never heard of called: Clunes, Smeaton and Creswick. Although baking in the hot dry plains of the Central Victorian sun they showed signs of a bustling former life with beautiful buildings, many large churches and more cute cottages.
Another garden on our list was Lambley and as we literally passed the gate on our drive it was fortuitous and very insightful. It features frost hardy plants that require little to no water and is renowned as a benchmark in dry climate and sustainable gardening . Philip and I have a new project in Central Otago New Zealand and this was a very enlightening visit.
We had a short fun-filled visit to Melbourne and surroundings.Time with family and time by ourselves. We gained a new insight into Central Victoria and maybe I see a short tour coming on…
Happy New Year Everyone and Best Wishes for 2018

Happy Christmas 2017

I wish everyone a very Happy Christmas for 2017.

The ‘Joy ‘ of the pre – Christmas  – filled with the many gatherings for  workmates, friends and neighbours, shopping, getting the post on time, end of year concerts can be overwhelming. Many of us have the need to feel we have to get everything completed before Christmas and our annual Summer holidays. We don’t have it easy in the Southern Hemisphere – but…. hey make the most of it, enjoy the ‘spirit’, relax and enjoy Christmas day and take time to spend a few moments looking after you.

Once again 2017 was filled with life’s challenges and rewards.

I worked hard to get the Normandy Scotland tour off the ground and it was a resounding success, along with my NZ tour showing off Dunedin and Central Otago and my flagship tour to Italy and France. All  the tours are only made successful by the incredibly lovely people I get, that want to share and have loads of fun with others on the tour.

Sadly, I lost my mother in June and as a family we had a few very memorable days together. She lost her identical twin sister 6 months earlier and it is lesson on how life long bonds make such an impact on us. As in life our family also welcomed 3 new babies – My sister is the lucky Nana!! and we have enjoyed visiting these little people in the North Island.

Planning and publishing the second Fonebook called ‘Otago Fonebook 1’ after last years popular Dunedin Fonebook has been a hilarious ride with my partner Michelle Chalklin -Sinclair – we have literally nothing in common except we love where we live and want to celebrate our region in the form of these little books filled with Michelle’s Photos taken on an iPhone and my recipes.Our book launch in the historic Garrison Hall carpark in London St surrounded by volcanic rock and Peony roses was pretty exceptional.

Best Wishes everyone for a very Happy Christmas. Make the most of 2018.

Life has many challenges that we have to either dodge or process.

Good luck for a fun filled rewarding year.

Love Judith

Otago Fonebook1 given a Peony Welcome

Its here in beautiful blue with gold printing

Otago Fonebook 1 was launched on Sunday with friends in one of Dunedin’s oldest buildings  – Garrison Hall.

Since the very successful Dunedin Fonebook launched a year ago  Michelle and I felt our City and environment deserved more and especially wanted to include all the beautiful interesting places to visit within a days drive and must not be forgotten.Michelle carted her family out on many many Sunday afternoon drives and with her artistic licence has filled our little Otago book with stunning images and certainly captured the mood and atmosphere of our seasons throughout the year.

I have included 8 recipes which I think represents some of the huge wealth of food choices in our region. From seafood caught in the Otago Harbour and off the coast by the Harbour Fish boys, Havoc Pork and Merino Lamb from the Otago Farmers Market, Beef from Silver Fern Farms to Oamaru’s delicious Whitestone cheeses and now our famous Dunedin Ocho Chocolate. Michelle did have my arm up my back to include Southern cheese rolls and somehow I think they will be a good staple .


My Favourite morning of the year is being let loose in Geoffs peony rose patch in Wakouiti picking all the open blooms that can’t be sold. Michelle’ didn’t want to miss out this year and her truck was filled with buckets, bursting with red, pink and white peonies and along with solomon seal filled 4 huge urns borrowed from the orchid florist.

A car park is not your usual venue for a book launch but this car park is very special and unique. It is built into Bell Hill and the Phonolite rock is a feature on 3 sides of the carpark. Garrison Hall was built in 1877 by Mason and Wales, the fortress like exterior has had has had a long illustrious history – including once being Dunedin’s major entertaining venue, University graduation and capping site, home for television production and documentary making, sports hall, lecture theatre and not forgetting its original use as headquarters for the Otago militia.


Michelle and I can’t thank William Cockerill and Octa enough and we felt privileged and honoured to launch our Otago 1 book in such a prestigious significant site.

We live in a beautiful region and it is right in front of us and all around. Our little book is to pay tribute to those wee places some us only get to pass through and see Dunedin through Michelle’s clever artistic photos. We want this journey to be a celebration and for you and to share with friends and family who have lived, worked and loved Otago.


Otago Fonebook 1 and Dunedin Fonebook are available at all major book shops and many gift shops including Moi, Made and Found, Toitu, Art Gallery and of course direct from us.

Judith Cullen –

The Artists Room- Michelle  –

Along with our black velvet ‘Dunedin embroidered cushions and Gasses/Phone wipes featuring a selection of Dunedin Photos we reckon we have the perfect small gift or stocking filler..

Garden Visits

Everyone interested in gardening is proud of their exploits and achievements especially during Spring. Work over the winter pays off and what seems like a few days turns a mass of new foliage in every shade of green and a riot of colour from the early flowering Aquilegia’s, Digitalis  and Irises to Oodles of rose buds waiting to burst into bloom.

My dear friend Penny invited me to visit her colourful garden, where seeded plants spread in abundance and produce a spectacular display. Ranging from a multitude of pale Aquileia’s, antique hues of wall flowers to the dazzling cinerarias showing off in front of a wooded shed.I will be back to collect seeds in the Autumn, meanwhile Penny will have a succession plan and her garden will remain colourful throughout the summer. The smell of freshly baked Ginger nuts  in Penny’s kitchen was too much for me and after eating a couple had to have the recipe. Really!!!  homemade biscuits are so easy and definitely delicious.

In contrast my neighbour Juliet just threw in a packet of sweet peas in amongst her lavender bushes. When I went across the road to raid her herbs, she said come and pick some sweet peas – I thought she was referring to the new tender tips and was astonished to find colourful sweet peas  cascading and tumbling out and over her path literally covered in fabulous pink flowers. I am now enjoying a vase of tendrils  spilling out of a vase on our mantle.

Inviting friends into your garden is very satisfying. Taking time to sit, enjoy and   share ideas over a tea or coffee and…. a few freshly baked biscuits is not only rewarding but good for the soul.


Lilac Time

This is a very special time of the year – not only is October my birthday month but its Lilac time. My friend Betty always brings me a bunch of Lilac and has some special place where she manages to source a few branches !!

They not only have a delicate perfume but display themselves in a huge variety of colours from deep purple, pale lavender, blue to white. After a visit to one of New Zealand’s foremost Lilac specialists ..I was unaware how diverse they are and indeed the enormous varieties available in places like Russia and Canada.

Along with my blooms from Betty, my huge bowl did I’m afraid come from a few bushes hanging over fences in Central Otago where Lilacs grow in abundance and beautifully. They have the affect of old fashioned planting, but my first introduction was way back in 1995 at Hidcote garden in the Uk where they had the most stunning Lilac walk has never left me.



The Lilac Thief

By Young Dawson

She is aghast
as I explain that once each year,
just about now,
I drive slowly through the neighborhoods casing likely targets,
and when I find one,
I park just across the street and walk over
with a great inner calm.
I use the very sharpest snips possible,
and cut one, two, but never more than three
clumps of perfectly bloomed purple lilacs,
then move on until the lead-heavy scent
inside the car makes me almost dopey.
I bring them home and arrange them in vases,
place them where they will find afternoon light.
But, she cries, that is just wrong!
Lilacs belong to all the people.

, I say. Yes.
And I am one of the people.


Just had to include the blues from my garden!!

Enjoy your Labour weekend everyone.

Insider Hospitality

There is nothing quite like showing visitors around your own home town or country. Of course you know all the good sites, your favourite restaurants and can probably provide an excellent guide to your favourite shops!!!
Nothing changes really when you visit families all over the world and the best is you get an insiders view, get to learn what the locals do and be part of the their customs and traditions.
Immediately after the tour I was invited to go back to the Veneto with the tour bus. (a very long day) Alberto and I departed Beaune at 8am, dropping tour group people off at Geneva Airport to travel back to New Zealand and after a 20 minute drive through the Mt Blanc tunnel continued the long drive across Italy to the little Village of Onigo in the Veneto – arriving just on 9.30 in the evening.
I was staying with the owner of my bus company Daniele and Marika and their  family of four children.They were all waiting to have dinner with me and the fresh orata fish from the lagoon was cooked in piles of salt on the barbecue and although ‘quite ‘ tired we talked – me with my bad Italian and them with some better English until late into the night. Deborah the eldest is coming to New Zealand to stay with us and experience our lifestyle for a year.
The weather has suddenly changed all over Europe and most places were experiencing cooler temperatures with rain, lightning and thunder. Daniele and Deborah were very keen to show me the Dolomites and drive through to Cortina. It was a spectacular day. The mountains had a light dusting of snow the previous day and our exhilarating ride up on a Cable Car to the bottom of the ski chair had a sensational view. We actually continued on up in a four wheel drive and felt very small surrounded by the majestic Dolomites. It was easy to pick out the numerous ski fields and look down on the ski jump from the 1956 Olympics.
I would love to come up here in the winter to see Cortina and the surrounding villages covered in deep snow, filled with skiers and tourists.Returning, Daniele took a deviation through the very very ancient village of Maserie – renound for murals painted on the buildings. It was a very tight squeeze for Daniel’s Mercedes  and I can’t help thinking who is going to be living in these character filled villages  in the future.
The family always sat together around the dining table for meals. The children came home from school which started at 8 am and finished at 1 for 6 days a week. Lunch would start around 1. 30 pm followed by a siesta. Work  however, continued for Daniele and Martina in the office of the bus company until dinner at 8-9.
It was similar on my last night in Italy where I stayed with my Venetian guide Cristina . I met her mother and aunt having coffee around 4.30, then an aperitif  with her sister in the piazza of their own gorgeous medieval village, followed by dinner at a fish restaurant with her friend at 9pm.
Life style is so different from what we are used to in New Zealand and I have come to enjoy their relaxed dining times.
France on the other hand is not so different.  I flew from Venice to Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport, taxied into Paris and finally trained to the Normandy city of Lisieux.
I spent 3 days in the countryside with my darling friends Jacque and Anny, who spoilt me with Beef Bourguignon, duck and Jacques delicious home made foie gras which I can’t get enough of, served with classic french crusty bread. I was left well rested with plenty of time for walking and sleeping.
A great day was spent on research for my Normandy/Scotland tour, where I found the best restaurant in the countryside serving stunning traditional French food. Plus a chance to cruise a few eclectic Brocante fairs!!!
Life style in France is quite customary and I always wondered why so many cars are on the roads around 12.00. But, it’s everyone heading home for lunch and a short siesta. Shops are closed for 2 hours and work stops. Dinner for Jacque and Anny was in the middle of the day and in the evening after the ritual whisky and nibbles we usually ate cheese, more foie gras, bread or a salad – always around 8.30 and completing the meal with fresh slices of honey dew melon.
It was a delight to buy vegetables at the local market garden, see the charcuterie shops and understand the how the French are very particular about their food and eating customs.
Paris life is quite different however, although the copious quantity of restaurants and cafes are full of city workers taking time out for a substantial lunch with a glass of wine.
Autumn is on its way and so are the mushrooms – these are bought in from the south of France and find themselves on the local menus that change daily with the season and serve produce ripe, ready and available.
Food customs are vital in Italy and France along with many countries. The joy of being a tourist is experiencing where, how and why the region you are visiting lives and works and nothing helps more than having the opportunity to stay with locals, eat, sleep and follow their daily routines. All the while enjoying their history, art and culture.
I feel very fortunate to have spent time with my very dear friends. I know when they come to New Zealand we will get to host them. But, probably won’t get a siesta in the afternoon that I learned to love.

What is a Truffle ?

Truffles do belong to the mushroom group and are fruits produced simply when mycelium bacteria come in contact with the roots of trees like Oak, Hazel, Hornbeam to name a few.
I think many people  wish it was that simple and the usual terroir, climate and temperatures make growing truffles very interesting and challenging.
New Zealand’s emerging Trufferies means we too may be able to purchase the elusive truffles in the future. Who know’s when we could have our own truffle markets like the famous ones in Alba – Italy or many regions in France from Dorgogne to Richerenches in Provence from November to March.
Varietal names like – Burgundy, Brumale, Perigord, Borchi, Summer, Alba and Borchi hopefully will become familiar and learning how to distinguish varietals, develop a taste and gaining a few new skills to cook with truffles will be essential.
My tour group spent most of a day with Claire and Hubert from Montpelier,  Beginning our morning at Claire’s brother Jean Louis ‘Clos’  – which means a property surrounded by closed walls. He has repaired the walls as well as topping them with high fencing to keep out pigs and 3 years ago planted grapes, rows of raspberries and currants, raised beds for vegetables and introduced 6 varieties  of trees inoculated with mycelium to produce truffles.  Jean Louis was very excited, because the following week he was to be picking his first grapes and hopefully get 1 barrel of wine –  about 300 bottles .
Under a group of old pine trees we became acquainted with Hubert’s Truffle dogs – an Italian bred called Lagotto Romagnolo which are the perfect dog to seek truffles.
They followed their noses to track the elusive perfumed truffles planted by Hubert for our demonstration.
Meanwhile in her usual attention to detail and perfection Claire was ready for our workship in the basement of a council building in the busy little village of Pommard 10 minutes away.
Over the next 3 hours my tour group tasted, cooked and ate a magnificent degustation lunch. Every course of course had truffles including black truffle ice-cream and truffle in salted – butter caramel.
Claire and Hubert both come from Botany backgrounds and both were flirting with truffles. They are now experts and in high demand,demonstrating all over France.
In France truffles have always been available in local forests and many people including Claire have been bought up truffle hunting with grandparents and used to eating them.
My tour group enthusiastically involved themselves in the new world of truffles and came away  happy with a new respect for these elusive, rather expensive, lumpy  fruits.




Hot and Dry = Early Harvest

In Burgundy the famous vineyards of Cote de Nuit and Cote Beaune which sit to the North and South of the picturesque charming town of Beaune were all bustling with activity as thousands of pickers were hand picking the precious Premier Cru and Grand Cru grapes. It was a hive of activity between the pickers and machines doing the Village and Borgogne grapes. Europe has experienced a hot long summer and I have never been here at this time of the year to see the harvest in full swing. Many tractors carrying trailers of grapes were readying the individual wineries to begin the de-steming, crushing and fermentation process and  commence the 2017 vintage.


This is a stunning region in the of the world wine and the appellation of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is world famous. Wine here reaches the most expensive prices in the world and with the the help of the most enthusiastic character of a local guide called Jean Louis my group enjoyed an afternoon they will never forget.

Tasting wine is an art and understanding the complicated system of wineries in Burgundy takes time. Even more scary is trying to choose a wine from the huge bible at each restaurant and become familiar with some of the names of the wine makers.


 Towns all over France have gorgeous displays of colourful perennials filling roundabouts, hanging baskets and borders. Most are colour coded and I just love the selection of plants, from flowers, grasses and vegetables that always look stunning and I plan to copy in Dunedin.

As in my previous blog – Beaune too has a market that operates each week to provide local produce to the surrounding towns and villages. Beaune’s market never fails to impress me and once again I couldn’t resist the old old linen from the Brocante stalls. At least it is relatively light and easy to pack – Well that my excuse!!

Picnic in the Park

Just over an from our home base of Yvoire on Lake Geneva are the French Alps, which are covered in ski fields in the winter and beautiful villages with exquisite wooden cladded chalets. Each year we always enjoy a mountain lunch experience at Le Bettex over looking Mt Blanc and the following day a picnic lunch beside the gorgeous Lake Annecy.

Both days provide a chance to become familiar with food available to the French on a daily basis and provide an opportunity to look and buy.

The first stop on the way to our mountain lunch is at a supermarket in Sallanches and apart from the TV’s, clothes, toys and electrics etc, the fresh food, chacuterie , cheeses, meat, seafood and bread is incredibly extensive. It’s surprising how a walk through a supermarket can  provide you with an indication, not only of the local food choices but obviously the cuisine and culture of the region. It was nice to know the good old Savoy cabbage’s history evolved from this region. Terrines and pates are sold by the slice from very nice terracotta baking dishes and are available at any charcuterie counter, along with a wide range of hams, air-dried meats and salamis.


On the other hand markets are held in Villages on certain days during the week.The Annecy Market is always on a Tuesday and vendors line the narrow streets in the old medieval part of the town. Everyone had to buy something to contribute to a picnic lunch under the trees in the park.

While I was standing in a long queue waiting to purchase a slice of terrine and pate. I got to observe what the locals were buying and they were very fussy if the product wasn’t up to their standard. An old man in front of me had a long list and it was a good lesson in patience as no one was hurrying. The perfect espresso is hard to find in France and I just don’t understand how it can be so different to Italy. However, I was amused by this cute little puppy  asleep in its basket on the counter of  the coffee vendor. But, sadly once again the coffee was average. I would loved to have bought a bunch of flowers full of colourful zinnias but it is one purchase that is difficult when you are traveling.

Our picnic lunch selection was enormous. Everyone excelled themselves with  a huge variety of cheeses, foie gras, meats, breads, salads, olives, radishes, heritage tomatoes, figs, myrtles, strawberries and grapes. Even a plate of hot roasted potatoes!! Charles provided Aperol Spritz, so really we didn’t lack for anything other than a few deck chairs.

We even had enough for lunch the next day in our hotel garden after a morning visit to Geneva.  The sun was out and the temperature was perfect for a relaxing afternoon around the pool. Yvoire is a small medieval village and one of our highlight meals is on the balcony of the restaurant Lac Leman overlooking the impressive architecture towards the lake eating fried lake fish and chips.Timing is all important on tours and meals here take time. Nothing is rushed, dining starts at 7.30 earliest and there is always baskets of delicious French bread. Its a good lesson for us to embrace the French style of eating out.



Dahlias in the Pink

My father loved Dahlias and as teenagers we used to make fun of him and his flower choices – like Gladiolas. (which I love but not to plant in the garden) Each year we visit the garden of Villa Taranto on Lake Maggiore and it happens to have an astonishing display of very tall, very colourful dahlias.  I am always mesmerised by the range of colours, shapes and the sheer size of some of the blooms. This year was no exception and I have picked on ‘pink’. Plus I could have put up many more photos !!!

Europe has had a long hot summer and the gardens are showing signs of tiredness and look rather ‘Over’. They all need good shower of rain, but for many trees they have started to drop their leaves already.

The vineyards too are having a difficult season and grape picking is much earlier this year. Our day trip to Piemonte to visit New Zealander Jeffrey Chilcott at Marchessi de Gressi was very different since they had almost picked all their grapes except for the Nebbiolo. In past years the harvest usually hadn’t started, so they are contending with less juice and a challenging year. Jeffrey wanted rain and indeed he got a night of impressive thunder, lightening and torrential rain.

Our long lunch after a wine tasting in the village of Barbaresco never fails to impress and Jeffrey enjoyed a 3 hour lunch with us, which was a treat for him during busy harvest time. Course after course of delicious Piedmonte food along with a range of wines ensures this lunch always goes down very favourably – especially with Charles and we had some very jolly people getting on the bus for the drive to Lake Maggiore.(well for the first 30 minutes ) Here too experienced the stormy weather all night and the lake and mountains remained moody and stormy looking the following day although rain didn’t eventuate. Island hopping from Isola Madre – Islola Bella – Islola Pescatore makes for a fun day on the lake and a peak into the life of the Borromean family which still to this day own the lake and the islands.