Transcribed from my notebook as I sat at the beach this evening:
Sometimes, blissfully ecstatic experiences arise unexpectedly. It’s 40 degrees outside, or so they say and it sure feels like it. Our cheaply – built little house with it’s token gestures to insulation is an unbearable sweat-box by midday. The pool, farcically, is closed due to the New Year’s Public Holiday. Oh, the humanity! The northerly wind is blowing in hot air from the central desert and whipping sand up along the Apollo Bay Main Beach. One of the few places left to retreat is the relatively protected mouth of the Barham River where it flows into the open ocean. The Barham is a perfect Otways River. Flowing down from the rain forest, the water is clean (if not clear) and lovely. Before the river discharges into the Southern Ocean it opens out into a large, still pond at the back of the beach.
Duly we inflate the lilo, slather ourselves in sunscreen and drag ourselves out there. We are by this stage semi-comatose with heat. Dazed, confused and sweating we are concerned the winds are going whip the sand up into a frenzy of exfoliation but by the time we arrive they’ve dropped off and the place is a blissful oasis. The kids are ecstatic. The water is just warm enough to be cooling and comfortable and deep enough to be fun without being dangerous. The frolic. They embody joy. Pete and I take turns to head down to the surf, running across the burning sand to where the wild and immaculate Southern Ocean comes pounding onto the beach. The ocean is always cold here, even in this heat, and the waves are big and the undertow strong at the river mouth. We stand up to our knees watching walls of aqua blue swell up before us, golden sunlight dappling across the crest before they crash down and drench us to our chins in pure white foam.
I am already thinking about dinner and at mid-afternoon we head home. Pete has a projection shift at the local cinema so we’re having a late lunch / early dinner. I dump the wet towels on the porch, strip out of my bathers and head straight to the fridge for a cold cider to keep me company while I cook: stir fried chicken with heaps of fish sauce, sugar, Thai basil and mountains of fresh red chili in a coconut milk sauce. It’s so simple and so good: quick, clean, hot Thai food. Sweet and salty. Sweat drips from Pete’s forehead and I am nearly knocked sideways with sunshine, cider and chili.
After dinner, Pete heads off to work and the kids and I head back down to the river. The light now is pure gold and a glorious haze has settled over the beach. I’m sitting on the sand with my notebook while my two small ones dance in the river and make friends with the kids who have come to holiday in this incredibly beautiful place I now call home. I guess we’ll head back to the house at some point. The night will be a scorcher and sleep won’t come quickly. Pete will work late and I will wait for him, just like I did 20 years ago when at 17 I found myself a 26 year old projectionist. Then, he worked in a big Melbourne cinema, now he’s working summer holidays at a small seaside movie house. If I could have imagined so distant a future back then, I could not possibly have imagined a life better than this.
Chicken with Thai basil and red chili
- 2 Chicken breasts, thinly sliced
- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped or finely sliced
- couple of handfuls of green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
- couple of handfuls of snow peas, trimmed
- 1 tablespoon canola, peanut or vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons of sugar
- 2 red chilies, minced
- Cup of finely sliced Thai Basil (Apollo Bay locals, I got this from the egg man!)
- 1 cup of coconut milk
- Steamed rice, to serve.
Heat the oil in a hot wok and add the chicken, garlic and vegetables. Toss until the chicken has sealed, making sure to keep it moving quickly so it doesn’t stew. Then add the fish sauce, sugar and basil. Toss for a few seconds before adding the coconut milk. Toss until the coconut milk boils. At this point, serve out for your kids if (like mine) they don’t do chili, then add the chili, heating it through briefly until ready to serve. Serve with steamed rice.