Monday, October 28

Travel Tips from a frequent flyer: 3 key tips for dealing with airport dramas and delays

Having just returned from my 27th trip overseas in two years (yes, that wasn't a typo) I thought I would share some valuable tips that I've learned along the way - whether you travel for business or with your family long or short-haul these are the tips I often give colleagues, friends and even family to make your travels more pleasant at times just bearable.

I don't want to make this post like a war-and-peace epic, so I'll just start with a few things, and add to them each week - please share your experiences and tips too - knowledge shared is fantastic for all!

1.  Join Frequent Flier schemes
Even if you just travel once, it's not a waste of time.  Points can add up slowly, and if you use a credit card or shop regularly at particularly supermarkets they can make a big difference.

I have 3 frequent flier memberships - primarily I use Qantas - I am a platinum frequent flier with them (which isn't easy to get!) but it allows me into first class lounges, first class check in, business class baggage allowances and double frequent flier points.
First class lounge at Sydney International - free Neil Perry ala carte meals, Payot spa with massage, facials, manicures and pedicures - my tip - arrive well in advance of your flight to book in, opens at 10am.

All our shopping at Woolworths I make sure I swipe my Everyday Rewards cards and I use Qantas Cash now too - (Virgin also have a similar set up, find out more about the differences here) it's a debit card attached to your frequent flier. You earn 1 point per dollar spent in Australia and 2 points for every dollar spent overseas.

I also have Mabuhay Miles because I travel on Philippine Airlines from time to time and have just joined velocity (Virgin) as I will start taking more flights with them..Choose one program from each alliance - Star Alliance, One World and Virgin - SkyTeam seems to straddle a few of these too.

Most of those above are free to join (Qantas has fee waiver schemes, easiest is to sign up for Woolworths Everyday Rewards)
I got frequent fliers for all my kids via Woolworths Everyday Rewards - for free!
Even if all you get is a trip to your nearest capital city or even a voucher - it's more than you had before you signed up!  I use them mainly for upgrades - frequent travelers need those!

2.  Don't discount lounge benefits
If you are going to travel frequently on go on an extended trip with kids on long haul flights, buy lounge access.  Qantas Club is only available if you're travelling Qantas, not even a partnering airline.   I learned that one the hard way at 5am in Hong Kong.  If you get to Gold tier in Qantas and you are travelling any partner airline (One World) you can get into the lounges gratis.
2 hour delay at Manila airport - left at 1am - not the most posh or airport lounges but it had drinks, snacks, wifi and a comfortable seat... no complaints from me.  August 2013
Platinum Members (which I am) get first class lounge access - and it's a great experience if you can go - at Sydney it's massages, facials, pedicures and Neil Perry ala carte menu - all gratis.

Just one member of the family really does need to have it if you're travelling together (unless there's tons of you) and you only need to be delayed on one leg and you'll be thanking me and you for doing it.  Priority Pass is a good one to have if you're travelling in the US, Europe and some parts of Asia, but only available at two airports in Australia.
Sydney Domestic Qantas Club - Kids corner with iMacs, books, TVs and  fruit at the ready - cuts down on the 'are we boarding the plane yetttttt?' harassment.  August 2013

3. Organise your transfers/airports pick ups before you go.
Now I realise that taxis and shuttle buses are often the cheapest way around, but sometimes they aren't.

There's absolutely nothing like arriving after a long flight and waiting in a long queue in immigration, followed by a long wait picking up your bags to a long wait to get through customs and then getting in a long queue for a taxi.  That last queue I can do without.  Booking a car service for me is a no-brainer.  It's generally about 10% more than a taxi, and being a fixed price, if you're in traffic, same price!  Having someone meet you, take your bags, know where they are going and even at times even have water and snacks waiting for you - that's what is required!
at 2:43am your time, and in this case, it was snowing, I've never been so glad to see a driver and not catch a local taxi - especially as I don't speak Mandarin - Dalian - November 2012

Hotel cars can end up being somewhat more expensive - like double sometimes - but pick and choose your battles.  If you are arriving at a peak time other aircraft do, and the exchange rate makes it attractive - sometimes you think 'whatever, I'll pay $25 more'.

In Australia, I use Towncars in Sydney and Melbourne Airport Transfers in Melbourne, and for our upcoming round the world trip I'm using Blacklane - which also accommodates you with Mini-vans if you have more than four people.  All of these guys can offer extra services like separate luggage trailers, car seats and anything else you need - just ask.

Some people who travel domestically swear by the airport train in Sydney, and the airport train in Shanghai and Hong Kong are quite good too if you want to save money and don't need the door-to-door transport.  Do note though with the Maglev in Shanghai, it's fast but it doesn't go all the way to town - you'll need to taxi it the rest of the way...

Is there any tips you want to impart?  Your experiences with frequent flier schemes, lounges or airport shuttles/car services you want to recommend?

Friday, October 25

Make it this weekend: Luxury Cherry and Vanilla French Toast

Every now and then you just have to spoil yourself and those around you.  Congratulate yourself on getting through a tough week or time, finishing a task or just getting through the day without losing your erm.. mind.  I felt like this last weekend - we've had a bit of a big week and got some of the Brasserie Bread Sour Cherry Loaf which is a family favourite.  We also did a free baking class there a few years ago now, so it makes it a bit extra special to us.

If you are in Melbourne or Sydney you can order this online to pick up at a local stockist.  If you don't have access it's OK, just use a raisin bread or cinnamon toast.

This recipe is simple and goes a long way, and feels like you've really spoilt yourself.  Serve it for breakfast or for dessert with a dollop of icecream.

8 slices of sour cherry loaf or thick cut raisin or cinnamon bread.
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup caster sugar
zest of 1 lemon
2/3 cup cream
2 tb butter
1 tb olive oil

Slice your bread into 1.5 cm thick slices.

In a jug, add your eggs, sugar and vanilla extract and grate your zest into it.

Add your cream.

You should have about 2 cups of mixture.  Give it a good whisk to combine.

Pour it into a deep tray or jelly roll pan and lay your bread in it to soak for about 5 minutes before turning ove.

Heat up your pan with 1/2 your butter and olive oil and wait for it to get hot.  Turn it down slightly so it's sizzling but not furiously.

Place the bread in the frypan and turn it over at about the 2 minute mark, just use your judgement.

Then serve!  This does not need syrup or sauce, as I said, a bit of icecream if you want to have it as dessert - if you want to fancy it up a bit you could dust with some icing sugar.

We all felt a little treated, give yourself a treat too!

Tuesday, October 22

Easy Peasy Panna Cotta

I'm one of those people who will always order panna cotta when it's on the menu - because you love it I can't possibly resist it, we are kindred souls.  I cannot seem to go past it.  And I confess, although I've made the more difficult adventure of making creme caramels, never panna cotta.  I thought it was going to be hard.  How wrong I was!!!

This is ridiculously easy and a perfect excuse to use some more of my newly decanted vanilla extract  - I'm on to my second litre after distributing most of the first litre to my Mum and sisters.. as you do!

1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups cream
1/3 cup caster sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 sheets of gelatine or 1 1/2 tsp powdered gelatine

In a saucepan add all ingredients with exception of the gelatine.

I love the concentration she has when measuring!

Put the saucepan on the stove over medium-high heat until it boils, then remove it from the stove.

Place your gelatine in the mixture..  Gaze at those beautiful specs of vanilla bean...

And have your assistant (or you) mix it until it dissolves - about 1 minute or so.  It smells gorgeous!

Pour your mixture into a jug over a sieve - to catch any unexpected lumps of gelatine..

Pour into ramekins or glasses, I love these vintage anodised tumblers!

Refrigerate overnight or at least 6 hours before serving.  When they are ready, you can sit them in a sink of warm water for 10 seconds or so, and gently run a knife around the edge of the inside of the cup to ease it out if necessary!

Monday, October 21

Add it to your meal plan: Fresh and crunchy loaded chicken salad

Whilst I was in Manila I got quite a good appreciation for the local food, but so much of it is fried or contains a lot of sugar, and a lot of it isn't served with vegetables or salad as I was used to.  When there were salads on the menu I would usually order - a caesar at least.  But this one I've attempted to copy from the Californian Pizza Kitchen salad I loved in Manila.  I'm flying back there today for a few days, it's a shame I won't have time to head down to the Fort for one of these.. but I made one over the weekend instead!

It's fresh and filling, all the kids ate it - tick tick TICK!

Salad ingredients:
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1/2 small wombok, sliced into ribbons
2 stalks of coriander (or cilantro) chopped
1 carrot, peeled into ribbons
1 lebanese cucumber, diced
1/2 barbequed chicken, shredded
1/2 cup peanuts
1/2 cup fried noodles

Dressing ingredients:
2 tb smooth peanut butter
2 tb white vinegar
2 tb soy sauce
1/2 tsp fish sauce
2 tb white sugar
juice of one lime
1/4 cup water

Add all ingredients to a large salad bowl with the exception of the fried noodles.  Then you'll need to mix it with your hands, 

Make your dressing by combining all ingredients

Just mix it up with  fork, it comes together quite easily.

Put the dressing over your salad and then of course, add your noodles!

This fed us five as a main with some to spare.  Bookmark it to have in this warm weather or take to your next barbeque - just add the dressing and the noodles just before serving.

Sunday, October 20

Sunday baking project: Super lemony loaf

If you have a lemon tree you might be cheering when you saw this recipe.  It uses 4 lemons and whilst a tiny bit fiddly does deliver a beautiful hit of lemon without it overpowering you.  I love lemon so overpowering wouldn't bother me, but it's not.  It's just super lemony.  

When I saw this recipe I liked the look of it, but when I went to make it - I found it difficult to follow...I think perhaps my style of cooking is different..  so I just ended up improvising and changing it - because I thought it had a bit too much sugar and cream.

The is loaf is perfect to freeze for later or cut and freeze for lunches.  For me it made a substantial loaf and 6 cupcakes, it could make 2 smaller loaves or one large round or good sized square cake.

4 medium sized lemons
250g butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup caster sugar
4 eggs
3 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 190 degrees c

Grease your loaf or cake tin with butter, set aside.

Zest your lemons.   

Then take all the white skin off your lemons (or I cut mine in half and then sliced it off) and then cut out the segments of lemon so you do not have the pith.  Remove the seeds.

Sift the flour and the baking powder.

Then throw in your lemon and zest.  Set aside..

With electric mixer whip the butter with sugar for a few minutes until it becomes light and fluffy.

Add eggs and sour cream and beat until well combined.

Add the flour mixture and beat until combined, it will be thick and luscious.  I had to bribe Laura with the beater to get her to step away...

With a spatula, move the mixture into your tin and smooth down.

Bake for one hour, but check after the hour, it might need a bit more depending how deep your loaf tin is.. I needed another 15 minutes.

Make your icing by squeezing half a lemon into 2 cups of sifted icing sugar... just mix it with a spoon

And then pour it on the top and smooth to the edges

Let it drizzle over the edges.. yum.

Thursday, October 17

Light and fluffy banana maple muffins!

Don't you hate seeing this?

I do.  They are perfectly good bananas but no one wants to eat them.  I can eat them like this - smooshed up on cereal or in a smoothie or frozen and THEN in a smoothie.  I also make the infamous banana date slice with honey or equally revered banana choc brownies.. banana cake or cafe style banana bread.

But I'm out of dates and I want something with less butter and sugar... for lunchboxes.  So I made these up and tried a new way of putting it together.  Mixing the banana first, adding the wet ingredients and then lastly the dry ingredients.  The result is much lighter and fluffier muffin.  Always going to do them this way now!

This recipe makes 24 muffins, that's basically a week of morning tea goodness right there.  Fab!

3 large bananas (or 4 medium ones)
200ml vanilla yoghurt (or plain with 1 tsp vanilla extract)
2 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
100ml maple syrup
2 1/2 cups self raising flour

Preheat oven to 180 degrees c

Put your bananas in your mixing bowl and mix them with electric beater or in your mixer for 30 seconds or so, they should be a bit a on the smooth and fluffy side.

Add your yoghurt..

Then add eggs, maple syrup and oil..  Mix it until it is well combined.

Then add your brown sugar and flour.

Mix and voila!  Fluffy light muffin batter!

Can you see how fluffy it is?  Now I'm a late convert, but recommend that you get a medium sized metal icecream scoop.  So much less mess and also perfect amount in your muffin cases each time.  Kicking myself it took me so long to get onboard with this - they are only a few dollars on eBay.

Put the mixture into your muffin cases - let me also just rave to you about these Williams Sonoma cupcake/muffin tins.  I have two and they are just the right depth and size for perfect cupcakes and muffins.  A lot of the cupcake pans out there aren't deep enough for me.  $30 each I think it's a really worthy investment, they are nice and heavy and well made - nothing sticks to them at all.

And it doesn't hurt they are pretty.  Pop them in the oven for about 12 minutes

They smell lovely and sweet and they rise up beautifully.

Methinks Mummy will be taking a few of these to lunch too.


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