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Category: Travel

Oysters with Rhubarb Mignonette

Whilst in England earlier this year I was lucky enough to visit the Oyster Festival at Whitstable.  This is a 3 day celebration of all things oyster, dating back to Norman times.  It was a great day, there was a market and music, a fun fair and as much seafood as you could poke a stick at!  The seaside town of Whitstable is also lovely with some great shops and eateries.  Well worth a visit even if the festival isn’t happening. 

Oysters with Rhubarb MignonetteHow to best to celebrate this day and the humble oyster but with another quintessentially English ingredient… rhubarb! 

Whitstable Then and NowWTF??? Yep, rhubarb.  Sounds weird but bear with me…it really works.  Meantime, here’s some pics from the Oyster Festival.

Whitstable Oyster Festival6Whitstable Oyster Festival12While we were in Whitstable, we had our oysters with a traditional mignonette which is chopped shallots, red wine vinegar and cracked black pepper.  I jazzed mine up with some very finely chopped rhubarb.

Rhubarb MignonetteRaw rhubarb has a sharp, clean, crisp, sour taste  – imagine sour green apples mixed with celery which mixes perfectly with the red wine vinegar and shallots in a traditional mignonette, plus it makes it a glorious pink colour!

Rhubarb Mignonette2Of course, if you want a traditional mignonette, you can use this recipe from Bon Appetit.  But why not take a teeny step into the wild side and try this?  It is really lovely!

Rhubarb Mignonette3Any leftover mignonette can be used as a delicious dressing for any salad greens!

Oysters with Rhubarb Mignonette
A fresh and tangy take on a traditional mignonette.
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  1. 12 freshly shucked oysters
  2. 1/2 stick rhubarb, finely chopped
  3. 2 French shallots, finely chopped
  4. 80ml red wine vinegar
  5. Pinch of sugar
  6. Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
  1. Combine all ingredients except oyster in a small bowl.
  2. Leave for at least 15 minutes to allow the flavours to develop.
  3. When ready to serve, spoon rhubarb mignonette over oysters.
  4. Enoy!
Adapted from Skye Gyngell in Delicious Magazine
Retro Food For Modern Times
Leftover rhubarb can be used in:

The Dishiest Dish – Rhubarb, Rose and Passionfruit Sorbet

Dishiest Dish – Apricot and Rhubarb Frangipane Tarts

Future Classics – Australian Table – August 2001

Whitstable 14

Have a wonderful weekend!

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Balinese Chicken Satay Skewers

Okay, so I was planing on giving you the next instalment of The A-Z of Cooking this week.  But, my plans went awry in much the same way as my life seems to be going awry. So Balinese Chicken Satay Skewers it is!  Not that I’m complaining (and nor should you be) because I know what is coming  up next from the A-Z and believe me, even though I haven’t made it yet?   I strongly feel that we are onto a winner, winner chicken dinner with the Balinese Chicken Skewers.  

Chicken Satay2I love chicken satay skewers and have been making these regularly since my return.  The recipe provided below is based on the one we learned at Ketut’s Bali Cooking Class in Ubud.  Sadly it is not as good.  Possibly because it is not cooked in an open air kitchen overlooking rice paddies and cooked over coconut shells:

Chicken Satay7Nor were the spices hand ground in the traditional way:

Chicken Satay9Also, the Balinese have about forty types of ginger and here, we have one. However, whilst these won’t absolutely transport you to Bali, they are utterly delicious! How could it not be?  I am a big fan of pretty much any meat on a stick.  Here, the marinated chicken remains tender and juicy after grilling

Balinese Chicken Satay SkewersAnd the spicy peanut sauce is a perfect accompaniment.  I bought a tiny terracotta Balinese grill, however, I cooked these in the oven.  I really like my terracotta friend though!

chicken Satay6Here he is again!

Chicken Satay3

Ketut suggested that you serve your chicken satay skewers with white or yellow rice.  In the first photo above, I served mine the way my Malaysian friend Aiden serves his – with a very simple salad of cucumber and red onion.  Simply stab the tip of the skewer into the cubes of cucumber and onion and then into the sauce.   So good!

My favourite way of eating these is in a wrap (more traditionally a roti) with some tomato, cucumber, onion and coriander salad and sprinkled with extra peanuts!

Chicken Satay4Just looking at these photos is making me want to make them again, right now!  So, here’s the recipe!

Balinese Chicken Satay Skewers
Perfectly grilled chicken and a spicy peanut sauce is a match made in heaven!
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For The Skewers
  1. 500g chicken breast
For The Marinade
  1. 3 tbsp chopped shallots
  2. 2 tbsp chopped garlic
  3. 1 tbsp lime juice
  4. 4 tbsp sweet soy sauce
  5. 2 tbsp soy sauce
  6. 5 tbsp coconut oil
  7. Salt and pepper to taste
For The Peanut Sauce
  1. 300g peanuts
  2. 3 cloves of garlic
  3. 4 shallot cloves
  4. 2 tbsp palm sugar
  5. 1 tbsp red chilli (more / less to taste)
  6. 1 tbsp fresh lime juice
  7. 1 tbsp sweet soy sauce
  8. 1 cup chicken stock
  9. 2 tbsp coconut milk
  10. 1 tbsp ginger
For The Chicken
  1. Mix the marinade ingredients together.
  2. If using wooden skewers, soak these in water to prevent them burning.
  3. Cut the chicken into cubes and marinate 15 minutes.
  4. Thread onto skewers.
  5. Grill until browned and cooked through, basting with the leftover marinade.
For The Peanut Sauce
  1. Fry the peanuts until golden brown. Remove from the pan and allow to cool. Drain off most but not all of the oil.
  2. Grind the chillies, garlic, shallots, palm sugar and ginger in a food processor or mortar and pestle until they form a paste. Add the peanuts and grind to a paste again.
  3. Place the peanut paste into a pan. Add the chicken stock and coconut milk.
  4. Add the sweet soy to taste.
  5. Bring to the boil.
  6. Simmer until thick and season with salt and pepper.
  7. Add the lime juice to taste.
Adapted from Ketut's Balinese Cooking School - Ubud, Bali
Adapted from Ketut's Balinese Cooking School - Ubud, Bali
Retro Food For Modern Times

Chicken Satay5

Have a wonderful week!  I’ll be back, next week possibly with something quixotic and quaint  that hopefully will not leave me feeling too queasy!

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Bali and My Holiday Reading Habits

Salamat Datang!  I’m back from two week in Bali and, whilst I have yet to cook anything, I am serious blogging withdrawal so I thought I would give you a brief catch up on the trip.  There were many hours of pool and beachside lazing so I did a LOT of reading.  So, I thought I would do a combined what we did / what I read post and also let you know the…ahem…science behind how I choose my holiday reads!

Stop #1 – Ubud

Our first stop was Ubud in central Bali.  Unlike the rest of Indonesia which is Muslim, the Balinese are largely Buddhists.  They are deeply spiritual and part of their spirituality involves putting out offerings for the Gods each day.  Offerings on the ground ward off evil spirits, offerings above the ground attract the good spirits. Sometimes you will also see an offering with a cookie or a cigarette or a glass of arak in it.  These are the ancestor offerings and contain the respective ancestor’s favourite things! 

Balinese Offerings

They also adorn their statues of the Gods with fresh flowers each day! 

Bali StatuesI did a Balinese cooking class at Ketut’s Place which was awesome!  The class was in an open kitchen overlooking rice paddies and a garden where most of the vegetables we used were grown. Ketut was also a fabulous host, knowledgeable and incredibly funny! I can’t wait to get back into cooking so I can show you some of what I learned!  Incidentally, there are only four names in Bali.  The first child is always called Wayan, the second is Made, the third child is Nyoman and the fourth child is Ketut.  If a family has more than four children, it starts all over again with child #5 being called Wayan.


Bali Cooking SchoolWe did a trip to the Ubud Monkey Forest.  Now these guys take the term cheeky monkey to a whole new level – if it isn’t bolted down, they will steal it – hats, sunglasses, cameras are all fair game!  We sat down for a little rest at one point and the Fussiest Eater in the World had a monkey rifling through his pockets!  Another baby monkey held out what was his prize possession for us to look at – it was a diamond earring.  So brazen!

Monkey Forest 6

Monkey Forest 5Ubud Monkey Forest3

Ubud was lovely, a lovely place to chill out.  The cooking class was amazing and I would recommend that to anyone.  Food highlight was eating at The 3 Monkeys on the Monkey Forest Road.  The downside/s were that it was a little rainy and the villa we stayed in happened to be next to a chicken farm.  I don’t know if you’ve ever lived next to a chicken farm but the roosters start crowing at around 3am and do not STFU.  Afternoon naps became a thing!

Holiday Reading Habit #1 – The Re-Read/s

I have an annual book cull where I get rid of all the books I have read that I didn’t enjoy (so many this year, it has been a really BAD year for reading for me).  Then I  do a sweep of my main bookshelves and pull out anything that I look at and think “Now…what was that about again?” and these go onto a holding shelf where they become the basis for the holiday re-read.  The holiday re-read is ruthless.  It is a case of love it or leave it. Literally.  Leave it in the hotel or ideally, swap it for something better in the hotel book exchange!

I had two re-reads in this years picks and OMFG…if anything could convince you of how varied my reading tastes are, have a look at these. Lets start with: by Allison Rushby

I read this cover to cover on the plane.  And had time to spare. Which should tell you everything you need to know.  It’s a light, frothy piece of chick lit about a girl who sets up a website called which,  quelle surprise,  goes viral and how she finds true love despite her man hatin’ ways. It made the 6 hour plane trip to Bali go by relatively quickly but the main character really annoyed me.  I also found myself wondering why this had made the re-read shelf and was not dispatched to a better place, i.e. the local charity shop in the first instance.

Verdict: Left it on a jet plane.

The Raw-Shark Texts by Stephen Hall

I bought this when it first came out in 2007 and remember being not entirely taken with it. Obviously not enough to discard it but I remember thinking it was a bit too clever-clever, a little too fond of it’s own high concepts and wordplays (for an example…name the Raw-Shark Texts is a play on words on the Rorschach Tests administered by psychiatrists).  I chose it because about a week before I left I was listening to some old booky podcasts and heard it being reviewed favourably on on Hear…Read This.  This was enough to get me to pull it off the shelf for another go.

I don’t even know where to begin with this.  A man wakes up one morning with no recollection of who he is.  Turns out he is Eric Sanderson v 2.  Through letters from the original Eric Sanderson he learns that he lost the love of his life, Clio in a diving accident in Greece.  Eric and his  cat called Ian embark on a quest to find Dr Trey Fidourus who may hold the clue to Eric’s past.  Eric’s nemesis in this quest is a Ludovician, a gigantic thought shark who, before it kills you, destroys your memories. 

It is a really clever book and I enjoyed reading this a lot more this time and felt that I either understood, or was not as irritated by,  the wordplays and stylistic concepts as I was the first time round.  I also enjoyed the story which is all about the power of words and memory and loss a lot more than I did the first time round.  However, I felt that reading this twice was enough and it did not make the journey home with me. 

It was also quite unnerving lying on a beach and reading about a (thought) shark.  All the more so when I slipped on a rock on Lembongan island and cut my knee open.  The only place to wash it was in the sea and the entire time I kept thinking of how sharks can smell a drop of blood in about a billion parts of water and expected to be attacked any second!

Verdict: Left (somewhat reluctantly) in Sanur.  Standout character – Ian the cat. 

Stop #2 – Legian


Ummm…if my photos are anything to go by I didn’t carpe diem at all in Legian.  It would seem the opposite – all my photos are of night times, bars, cocktails, restaurants…and the Fussiest Eater in the World getting up close and personal at a drag show!  It was much busier than Ubud with better weather and thankfully no roosters!  In amongst all the tourist tat there here is some good shopping to be had in in Legian and it’s neighbour Seminyak.  I bought two lovely leather handbags for a fraction of the cost back home.  If you do want the tourist stuff, be prepared to barter hard. 

Legian cocktailsLegian Drag Show2

Holiday Reading Habit #2 – Personal Development

I like to use our winter holiday as a time of reflection and planning for the “year” ahead.  My birthday is mid August so I tend to set my annual goals each year to start from September.  Our winter break is a great time for reflection  on the year gone by and what to aim for in the coming 12 months.  To that end, I like to get a bit of my personal development reading in during this time.  This is also my time to plan for the blog and I had a super ( at least I think so) idea for a new segment.  Stay tuned for that. 

This year I read:

Radical Self Love by Gala Darling

I think I would have loved this book had I read it in my 20’s when I totally lacked confidence in myself. Having someone say that it is ok to be yourself, however offbeat or oddball that self if would have been very empowering.  Now, that I am an old curmudgeon, I didn’t find anything in here that I hadn’t heard before.  Having said that, I think there are times we could all use a little boost and I think this will be a book I turn back to in those times to get some motivation or see myself out of a low patch.  And having said THAT, I found her talk of tapping as a way to relieve everything from eating disorders to childhood traumas to be way too out there for me.  Does anyone do this? I had not even heard of it before reading this and it sounds highly spurious. Please correct me if I am wrong!

Verdict: A real pick and mix.  Some parts I will definitely refer back to, some parts (the tapping) were not for me.

Let it Out by Katie Dalebout

I used to be a frequent listener to Katie’s podcast, The Wellness Wonderland but I gave it up because it got a bit too woo-woo for me.  There is a bit of that in Let it Out but I feel that the great journalling tips contained in here far outweigh the flakiness quotient.  I have not finished this yet but, as a sporadic journaller who wants to be a regular journaller, this contains some great ideas!

Verdict: Definite keeper!

Stop #3 – Sanur

On the way to the beach resort of Sanur we drove to Tanah Lot, one of Bali’s most beautiful temples:

Tanah LotAnd we did a day trip to Lembongan Island…tropical paradise! 

(Except for when you fall over over and  cut your knee on a rock so are a bit too scared to swim in case a shark gets you!)

Lembongan Island


Holiday Reading Habit #3 – The One You’ve Been Wanting To Read for Ages

I took The Goldfinch with me.  Did not even open it.  Very disappointed with myself as that is a big and heavy book to be carrying around for no reason!


Holiday Reading Habit #4 – The Book Set in the Place You are At

Epic fail.  Did not even think of a book set in Bali to read.  BUT had an awesome idea for a book set in Bali to write.  Then again I was rather cocktail fuelled at the time.  Lets see.  If it’s still burbling away in there by NANOWRIMO, maybe I’ll have a crack at writing it!

Holiday Reading Habit #5 – The Total Surprise

This is usually something I pick up on my travels but this time was something I had with me. 

I finished Gala  Darling by the pool and could not be bothered to walk back to the hotel room to get The Goldfinch.  And here’s my Gala Darlingesque tip for the young and impressionable.  ALWAYS walk back to the hotel room to get the book you really want to read.  Because otherwise you will flick on your Kindle to something like The Good Girl which you have already started and didn’t particularly enjoy but hey, its there and there’s no point in starting anything new when you have The Goldfinch waiting in your hotel room. 

Maybe I have read too many of the Gone Girlesque books that have come onto the market since the original but this story of a kidnapping did not grab me at all. 

Verdict: Should have walked back to the hotel room to pick up The Goldfinch

However, I read it here so life was not all bad!

Sannur Beach 3 Sanur Resort SanurBeachResort2

Back soon with some cooking!

And tell me how do you choose your holiday reads?

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A Peacock Cake & The Gala At Yala Part 1

It was recently the fussiest eater in the world’s birthday and I made him a peacock cake!

Peacock Cake1
Isn’t it adorable?  Even if I do say so myself!  And for the non-bakers out there it is all assembly, no baking involved, unless of course you want to bake the cake yourself.

But more about our little peacock friend later. The peacock was a special symbol for us as it reminded us of the time we spent at The Yala National Park when we were in Sri Lanka earlier this year...OMG…last year! 

The National Park at Yala is a huge tract of land at the Southern tip of Sri Lanka that is home to a myriad of wild life.  It is situated in leopard country and whilst we did two Safaris hoping to see one of these magnificent creatures, we were unlucky both times….or were we?  Whilst we did not spot a leopard (pun intended) we saw so many other wild animals, living in their natural habitat that I felt utterly privileged to have been there.

Here was Mr Peacock:

Yala - Peacock2There were monkeys galore:

Yala - MonkeySloth Bears:

Yala - Sloth BearSome jackals playing:

Yala - Jackals PlayingA crocodile, most definitely not playing:

Yala - CrocodileAnd a huge amount of elephants – my favourite part was when we saw two older female elephants and a cub walk down to a pond to have a bath and a drink:

Yala - Mummy and Baby Elephants BathingThen the baby decided to have a little roll in the water:

Baby Elephant SwimmingAfterwards, they came right up to us, crossing just behind the jeep we were in.

Yala - Mummy and Baby Elephants BathingThen there was this little one who decided to head off on his own:

Yala - Baby Elephant BathingThe closest we got to the elusive leopard was these tracks:

Yala - Leopard Prints

On a more sombre note, there is also a monument to the people who lost their life at Yala in the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004. 

Yala - MonumentI could go on about Yala all day and have thousands more photos of all the animals and all the birds but we have a Peacock Cake to talk about!

The recipe comes direct from the Women’s Weekly Cheat’s Cakes 2. The idea behind these books is that you can buy a cake and then just decorate it instead of having to factor in baking as well. Obviously the cover caught my eye but there are many more treasures to trove in these pages!

Women's Weekly Cheat's Cake 2

Hmm…I don’t think I did too bad a job!

Peacock Cake2I made the cake for the peacock’s body because there was a random box of cake mix in my pantry. But you could totally use a bought cake.  The Women’s Weekly provides a template for the body.  I copied it onto a sheet of paper, enlarging it a bit as it was really quite small and I wanted to use up as much of my cake as possible.

Peacock Cake2One of advantage of cutting around a template is that if a bit of cake “falls” off as you are cutting around it doesn’t really matter and you can have a little taste test as you work.  You can call it being greedy if you must.  I prefer Quality Assurance.

I used the tip of an ice cream cone for my peacock’s beak.  A black jube, topped by a piece of white jelly bean topped by the end piece of a black jelly bean made his eye, with a swoop of licorice creating his cat’s eye.

Peacock Cake Peacock

And you will need something to fortify you because threading all those lollies onto the skewers takes a long time.

Peacock Cake Tail FeathersIf making the Peacock Cake for a children’s party you can place more tail feathers in a glass by the side of the cake if you need too.  Just be sure to remove the lollies from the skewers before handing them out.  

Here’s the recipe for the Peacock Cake, straight from the book.  I had to deviate from some of the sweets suggested because I could not find them – use what you have and let your creative juices flow!!!

Peacock Cake RecipeThis is so fun and colourful and would be a great party cake for a child of any age.  If you want to make it and would like a copy of the template, let me know. 

Peacock Cake3

 Have a wonderful week.  I hope it’s full of pomp and pageantry.  For me, today is the return to work after the Christmas break which is going to be tough!  Back to the dreaded alarm and early mornings.  On the upside, tonight I am seeing one of my food heroes, Nigella Lawson, live in conversation at the Melbourne Town Hall – it should be A-MAZING!

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Nuwara Eliya & A Tea Punch Cocktail

If you were looking to write a Gothic novel, your first choice of location would most likely not be tropical Sri Lanka.  Because the tropes of Gothic novels include storms, rain, mist and fog and Sri Lanka is all sunshine, white sand, blue water and palm trees right?

Wrong, so wrong.  Welcome to Nuwara Eliya.

Nuwara Eliya WeatherSituated “up country” Nuwara Eliya is about as far away most people’s idea of a “tropical” country as you can get.  This is a famous tea growing district  – all of the bushes you can see in the photo above are tea plants.  We were there for three days and the weather was like this the entire time, all low swirling clouds, fog, mist and rain. 

As we climbed higher and higher into the hills, the weather changed from hot and sunny, to cold and gloomy.  It was as if you were entering a different, very isolated world – even though the nearest town was only a few kilometers away and you could usually get a decent wifi signal. 

As well as the weather, a good Gothic novel should be set in a (preferably haunted) old mansion or manor house.  Nuwara Eliya is nicknamed Little England and The Hill Club, where we stayed,  would not look out of place on the Yorkshire Moors. 

Hill Club, Nuwara Eliya

I’ve read enough Agatha Christie and watched enough episodes of Midsomer Murders to know that the English Manor house is actually a hot bed of murder and sexual intrigue.  If it’s not a pyromaniac mad woman in the attic, it’s something nasty in the woodshed!  

Hill Club3The Hill Club may well be the one place where the sun hasn’t set on the British Empire.  Staying there is like taking a step back in time.  I suspect that not even in Britain today are there many hotels where one wall in the bar is adorned with a large portrait of the Queen and another with an equally large photo of Winston Churchill.  And this is not someone’s idea of a decorating a hotel with some kitschy memorabilia from the days of Empire.  This is a Hotel from the days of Empire.  Actually, sorry, not a hotel at all.  A gentlemen’s club.

Hill Club
The olde-worlde atmosphere only contributed to the feeling that you had somehow strayed into either some sort of time slip stream or parallel universe.  I would not have been entirely surprised to wake and find myself back the 1940’s or to see a ghostly figure roaming the halls. Speaking of which, there was also a long corridor which could have come direct out of The Shining:

Hallway CollageAdd to this some flickering lights and power outages caused by the storm and you have almost the perfect place to gather around the fire in the reading room either to read your favourite Gothic novel by candlelight or to see who can make up the spookiest story.  Who knows, it may even be the next Frankenstein!

Hill Club4But telling ghost stories can be thirsty work, so whilst you are doing that you need the perfect libation to not only wet your whistle but give you some Dutch courage in the event that a large hound starts baying outside or the tap, tap, tapping on the window turns out not to be a tree branch but your dead lover come to woo you from the grave. 

All of which, after the longest intro, ever means, I made us a cocktail. 

Tea Punch Cocktail I wanted to make something with tea to highlight the wonderful produce from Nuwara Eliya. And, in a wonderful piece of serendipity, the very next chapter of The A-Z of Cooking contained a recipe for a tea punch. (Yes, we are still only up to D – Dips and Drinks). 

Tea Punch Cocktail 2

Sadly, the Tea Punch in The A-Z of Cooking was non-alcoholic.  So, I boozed it up.  Because in my mind, a punch needs to have a little punch if you know what I mean. 

My only dilemma with this was what to use as the “spike” for my tea.  Absinthe would have been the Byronesque choice however I can’t bear the taste of it nor the big shirts with frilly collars. 

Tea Punch Cocktail 4

Arrack was my next choice because I brought a bottle home with me, but that would be no fun for any of you.  Arrack is a Sri Lankan spirit made from toddy, which is the fermented juice from a coconut palm. 

Tea Punch Cocktail 5

I then found this wonderful article in Gothicked which confirmed not only spiked tea as a Gothic drink of choice but also whiskey.  I still had some Jameson’s from when I made the Emerald Presse so I used that.

The original recipe called for Orange Bitters, I had Rhubarb Bitters so I used them instead. 

Whether you are in a Gothic Manor house or at home just reading about them,  this is a really nice drink –  the combination of the tea, whiskey and ginger give it a dark, smokey flavour whilst the peach and orange adds some sweetness and a lovely bright tropical colour!

If you are a reader and you were interested in learning a bit more about Sri Lanka, particularly the civil war that tore that beautiful country apart in the ’80’s and ’90’s you might want to take a look at this book:

  I read it when we were there which made the story that much more real, particularly as completely by chance we stayed at two of the places, Mount Lavinia and Havelock Town which feature in the book. 

And if anyone is inspired by this post to write a spooky Gothic tale or locked room murder mystery set in Nuwara Eliya, please let me know, I would love to read it!

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Tea Punch Cocktail
A tropical cocktail with a dark heart
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  1. 50ml strong Ceylon tea
  2. 30ml whiskey
  3. 30 ml peach juice
  4. 30 ml orange juice (about 1/2 an orange)
  5. 5 drops Rhubarb Bitters
  6. Dry Ginger Ale
  7. Orange and peach slices to garnish
  1. Mix the tea, whiskey and fruit juices.
  2. Top with the dry ginger ale.
  3. Add the bitters and stir to mix.
  4. Garnish with orange and peach slices
Adapted from The A-Z of Cooking
Adapted from The A-Z of Cooking
Retro Food For Modern Times
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