Launceston & Rhubarb Porridge
Winter has settled upon my soul most profoundly, the late dawn and eager twilight seem to have eroded my perception of time or lack thereof. Silently I’ve welcomed hibernation and a willingness to while away hours aimlessly. Once you start down that path a timelessness ensues too and before you know it months have passed by. To be honest I don’t wear distraction very well either; with a wandering mind my procrastination breeds restlessness and discontent. It’s time again to find clarity.
Not so long ago I promised tales of our time spent in Tasmania yet amidst my haze The Botanical Kitchen has sat silently. I’d like to pretend I’ve been pottering away in the background for you but alas my reality is stark. So instead let’s begin again shall we and pretend that there’s been no love lost or time wasted, because why not; we get to rewrite our stories, our moments and our months if we want. I return in love and gratitude and I bring gifts. Opposite is a free travel guide for you to download in anticipation of a time when you may find yourself in the beautiful city of Launceston. I've elaborated candidly below though this is a more curated offering that I hope adds a touch of delight to your travels.
Launceston masquerades as a quiet locale encircled by farmland and flood planes; I fancy it more a sleeping beauty though with a subdued energy that lends itself to slowly meandering the streets. The city is tucked between the arms of the Tamar and North Esk River; it has a mostly flat terrain and with trails that follow along the river banks you can easily wander between sights. Geographically located in the north, Launceston is one of Australia’s oldest cities and with much bygone charm it’s a quaint place to explore.
Our first morning was spent in Heritage Forest; a landscape of rambling eucalyptus trees and grey grasses. North of the town centre in Invermay the garden was a rehabilitation project that has now become a beautifully established park with walking trails that suit a leisurely pace. The promise of food lured us out though to Harvest Launceston, the cities community market which is installed every Saturday opposite Albert Hall. It’s the sort of marketplace with warm greetings and familiar faces; where casual conversations carry between stalls and generous farmers laden your arms with their excesses. To stay my hunger I settled on a delicious falafel wrap from the Wanderlust food van. Embellished with quinoa tabbouleh, pickled vegetables, hummus and chilli jam I could quite easily be enticed back to town for this alone! Our bellies full we decided to venture up river to the Cataract Gorge where a path set into the rock face of this beautiful cavern leads the weary traveller through cold shadows and into a secret garden. It’s a short walk from the city and a leisurely corner to spend your afternoon. There’s a cafe, swimming pool and several hiking trails that offer further passage into the reserve. Our time was best spent sprawled out on the grass though, enjoying the sunshine.
Other days in Launceston involved venturing between indoor corners. We ate at Stillwater; a well known restaurant of the city that’s set in a beautifully restored 1830s flour mill. With a warm timber interior, that’s flooded in light by large windows its a welcome spot to savour fresh Tasmanian produce. Of course the other and perhaps more coveted drawcard of theirs is the upstairs providore. Here tables overflow with ceramics, books and linens while the occasional customer strolls through for fresh bread, charcuterie or cheese. It’s a kitchenware treasure trove and with cafe seats tucked amongst the excesses it’s the perfect place for your better half to lay up for coffee while you hunt and gather.
As long as you haven’t filled your suitcase with abandon there, another homeware store in which to revel is The Vintage Rose. With both decorative and utilitarian pieces; think bed linens, vessels, paper goods and clothing it makes for enduring finds. Of course no trip to Launceston would be complete without stopping in at the Design Centre of Tasmania either. This is the place you come to coveted simplicity. As a not for profit organisation that showcases Tasmanian design it’s a superb platform for local artists and craftspeople. Their gallery showcases travelling exhibitions while the design shop sells beautiful handmade pieces. Timber has a strong presence amongst the works in both furniture and tableware, though there are also beautiful ceramics, glassware and fabrics in the collection.
A few other places about town worth a gander are Amelia Espresso; a hole in the wall coffee shop that serves and sells locally roasted coffee beans from Ritual Coffee. It also caters for BYO lunches and so is a welcome corner to retreat with market goods on cold mornings. Another well loved cafe is Fresh, a popular vegetarian haunt with an adventurous menu and regular live music. For those staying on in town Young’s Veggie Shed is the largest weekday market to stock up on fresh produce, while The Grain Grocer, located off Quadrant Mall is perfect for dry goods and organic whole foods. Lastly, anyone keen on a night time watering hole should seek out Saint John Craft Beer Bar. They host an overwhelming array of international, Australian and Tasmanian craft brews both on tap and by the bottle.
With an inkling of the greater Tasmanian landscape on the horizon adventure beyond the city also has its allure. Several wilderness areas are within a few hours drive of Launceston and they’re exploration is every kind of wonderful. We spent a day trekking the hillside of Freycinet National Park, a peninsula that thrusts into the sea on Tasmania’s east coast. The granite knuckles of this landscape shelter white sandy beaches and azure bays with walking trails that navigate between the mountains, melaleuca forests and rugged coastline. Return to the lookout is a popular short venture though the Wineglass Bay / Hazards Beach circuit is by far my recommendation. It’s a vigorous half day walk, though the changing landscape makes for a captivating adventure. We took a packed lunch of dressed and roasted root vegetables, german grain bread slathered with avocado and whole corn cobs. The cool weather was comfortable in the blue sunshine skies and the isolation that came with absolute silence in moments of rest was pure peace.
Travelling reverse of the coast, our other day trip was inland to Cradle Mountain via Sassafras. At my insistence we ventured slightly of course for breakfast which I’d have to say it’s becoming the story of my life. Not merely enamoured by the food though the Tasmanian Food and Wine Conservatory; our destination, was just as sought out for its setting. A stunning white conservatory set against faded foliage, the premise was built by a well travelled gentleman in need of a home for his grand piano. Recently changing hands and opening it’s doors in showcase of local produce and producers the bright interior is lavishly botanical with potted plants and elegant furniture. The kitchen turns outs beautifully presented and simple plates while the shelves are packed with cookbooks, preserves and spices. It may be a little tucked away from the well worn travel routes but it seems even more a treasure for that reason alone.
With more time than intended spent lounging in the conservatory, we ended up with only half day to explore Cradle Mountain and opted for the classic circuit around Dove Lake. Clear skies meant we were privy to the mountain in all its glory which set stoically above the sapphire waters was a beautiful giant. The trail itself though I found to be even more captivating. It traverses such diversity; marshlands disappear into the understory of trees while boardwalks navigate across rough shoreline and through the stunning temperate ballroom forest. In a mere few hours it feels as though you’ve trekked the full spectrum of native landscapes; lost in the forest and never coming out. There are of course several other walks which I would presume to recommend and if we had our time over we’d likely stay in the wilderness heritage area, but alas that’s for another time.
Upstream of Launceston is the Tamar Valley; an abundant growing region with farmland, lavender fields, vineyards and orchards peppering the route. Food is well intertwined with community and culture here; seasonality and provenance have due consideration while fresh produce is at the forefront of community markets. In a cool temperate climate apples and pears have become synonymous with Tasmania, though during our visit the autumnal harvest was likewise diverse with hazelnuts, corn, celeriac, yams, rhubarb, quinces and figs. The crisp dawn, low lying fog and changing leaves of the season made warmth and tartness the order of our mornings. Pear and rhubarb became welcome companions served over quinoa porridge while toasted seeds and walnuts topped the decadence. It’s a rich moorish breakfast that can be easily prepared in advance and warmed for the time poor on weekday mornings.
Quinoa Porridge with Rhubarb and Pear Compote / Serves 2
1 cup quinoa
1 cup millet
4 cups of filtered water
2 cups milk of your choice (rice, oat, soy, cow etc.)
To prepare; rinse and drain both the quinoa and millet throughly. Combine both in a medium sized saucepan with the filtered water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to low and continue to simmer until the water is absorbed or the quinoa sprout tails, this takes approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and stand covered for 5 minutes. Once cooled you can store the grains refrigerated for up to a week or in the freeze for around 3 months, this quantity makes approximately 6 cups of cooked grain.
To serve; gently warm the milk over low heat before adding 2 cups of cooked grain. Stir until the porridge is warmed through and then serve topped with compote, toasted pepitas, walnuts and poppy seeds.
Rhubarb and Pear Compote / Makes approx. 3 cups/ 24 fl oz/ 750ml
6 rhubarb stalks, roughly chopped
3 pears, core removed and roughly chopped
1 orange, juice
1/4 cup of honey or maple syrup
1 tsp all spice
1 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Combine all the ingredients in a medium sized saucepan over low heat. Bring the mix to a gentle boil and then simmer for 20 minutes or until the rhubarb and pear have softened. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to a week.
For the traveller this free guide is a curated an introduction to Launceston; made for your momment, month or lifetime in the city.