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OzHarvest opens Australia's first free supermarket

"This is about dignity. This is about anyone walking through this door, taking what they need, and only giving back if they can."

Anzac biscuit desserts

These four desserts have one thing in common – Anzac biscuits.

Six sexy panna cottas

We say si to these six takes on the Italian classic. From coffee and caramel to red wine and figs, panna cotta proves to be a versatile dessert to suit all palettes.

Okonomiyaki with sticky soy pork belly

Persian red lentil soup with tahini, beetroot and fried mint

Lentil soup may not sound like the sexiest of dishes, but rest assured, it's a heart-warmer. We've added warming spices and served the soup with a dollop of garlicky tahini. Thin slivers of shaved raw beetroot add earthiness and texture - the beetroot is also excellent simply grated and served piled on top. The poached egg is optional, but highly recommended.

Choux Patisserie Australia’s best eclair

Nicolas Poelaert, the French chef who won praise at Brooks and Embrasse restaurants in Melbourne, is now making waves with his choux-pastry smarts in Newcastle.

10 brown rice recipes

Go wholegrain with brown rice in a bibimbap-inspired bowl of seaweed, amaranth and pickled shiitake mushrooms, serve it with Chinese roast duck, or simply fry it up Southern-style.

Blue Nile's Ethiopian eggplant dip

"I'd love the recipe for the eggplant dip the wonderful Fatuma Tikuye serves at Blue Nile in Blacktown." - Helena Rosebery, Annandale, NSW REQUEST A RECIPE To request a recipe, email fareexchange@bauer-media.com.au or write to Fare Exchange, Australian Gourmet Traveller, GPO Box 4088, Sydney, NSW 2001. Please include the restaurant's name and address or business card, as well as your name and address.

Hello, sailor

Reluctant cruise-ship passenger Kathy Lette was press-ganged onboard. The newly converted old salt not only found her sea legs, but enjoyed a voyage of discovery.

Holidays are like men - they never last long enough. But being trapped onboard a cruise ship for a week, with no escape from the other 500 or so passengers, sounded like way too long. Welcome to the HMS Claustrophobia. I'd heard too many horror stories about cruising: the salt, the sand, the exotic insects - and that was just in the sandwiches.

Then there'd be the coffin-sized cabin with the ambience of a public loo. Not to forget the notoriously bad onboard entertainment. (The brochure may promise the "new Beatles", but what it means is four Ringos.) Add to the mix a staff so surly they'd make Attila the Hun appear helpful, and I was looking forward to cruising about as much as amateur ovarian-cyst removal.

But, having been press-ganged onboard by a friend for my birthday, I soon had to eat my words. Well, I would have eaten them, but I was too busy devouring the butter-poached lobster tails with leeks and beetroot essence. Apparently, when you wish upon a Michelin star, dreams really can come true.

Surely I'd need a lubricant to get into my tiny cabin? But at the sight of my king-size bed and marble bathroom, I gave a swoon worthy of an Elvis concert circa 1956. The sea beneath my private balcony fizzed like the Champagne my personal maid was handing me with a welcoming smile. Forget the rumoured surliness - the shipboard staff made the Waltons look depressed.

But what really converted me to sea travel was the ease of it. No waiting in a queue at customs behind a terrorist suspect searching for his passport, or perhaps anthrax, while your flight is called the final time; no emphysemic hire cars, marriage break-ups thanks to map-reading in foreign languages, or packing and unpacking, packing and unpacking.

We left Venice at dusk in our horizontal hotel sipping Champagne on deck, marvelling at the pink and blue marbled sky which looked exactly like the end papers in the notebooks bought that day on the Rialto Bridge. We then partied the night away, awakening refreshed beneath the ancient 25-metre walls of Dubrovnik.

It was a satisfyingly simple routine. No matter how adventurous your sightseeing, there's always the safety of the mother ship, to which you're umbilically attached. Hiraklion, Kusadasi, Athens… we'd simply pop ashore to look at a few ancient relics (besides each other), then sashay back onboard for a dip in the outdoor whirlpool as the boat glided off to our next exotic anchorage.

Okay, so port life proved peachy, but what about ship life? What if I got stuck playing Scrabble with a groper with the personality of a house plant? What if I was forced to sing "Kumbaya"? But there's no fear of becoming a finalist in a fixed-smile event because there's just way too much to do.

I left school at 15 (until recently I thought Dante was how Italians cooked spaghetti), so spent my days at sea attending lectures on the political, cultural and historical aspects of the countries we'd be visiting. Being an autodidact, I was sucking up information like a Hoover. Minoan temple rituals, Ephesian brothel maintenance, gladiatorial practices…

If you don't require brain aerobics, there are lots of other activities. Ballroom dancing classes, bridge, bingo, mini tennis, quoits (play was stopped by rain - a case of quoit-us interruptus), a spa, movies (though possibly best to avoid The Perfect Storm), roulette, poker, talks by experts from the Antiques Roadshow - which, given the average age of the passengers, describes the entire voyage.

I'd always thought the main drawback to cruising would be the plethora of pensioners. But I found them to be hilarious. My favourite pastime became eavesdropping. A generously buttocked Texan heiress, waddling on spiky heels, was concerned she wouldn't be allowed to attend the '70s disco… because she was only 68. One asked, "What happens to the ice sculptures when they melt?" Another, "So, is the island completely surrounded by water?" and, "Which side of the ship do you have to be on to see the Panama Canal?"

Once I got over the urge to make them walk the plank they were as thick as, I realised my fellow passengers were having a fabulous effect on my self-esteem. Cruising makes one feel intelligent, young, sophisticated and slim.

Despite my scepticism, cruising soon had me purring like a canary-filled cat - watching the Mediterranean islands unfurl before me and the wave-worn fishing boats jostle at the jetties, the sway of the boat so reminiscent of being rocked in a cradle (though with cruise ships' state-of-the-art stabilisers, nausea will be no more than the mispronunciation of some island off Crete). Not to forget the brush with culture as I was whisked from museum to monument, ghetto to gallery, fountain to forum, ruin to relic (a pickled piece of a saint), cathedral to catacomb. And the chance of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation with a tautly posteriored sailor with pecs-appeal during lifeboat drill. I became addicted to it all.

Cruising is perfect for those with nothing to do who can spend their whole lives doing it. Now, as a total convert to cruising, my message for you is simple. When your ship comes in, don't be at the airport.

ILLUSTRATION ANTONIA PESENTI

Kathy Lette insists that her latest novel, The Boy Who Fell to Earth, would make excellent shipboard reading material.

GT
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