Whenever we get to a new town on our journey, I seek out the food shops first. Where can I get some organic veggies, farm eggs, free range meats, and local fish?
The groovy, health-food stores seem to always be the best place to start. We joke that the hippie markets are my “happy place.” I never know what I’ll find at these little independent shops, but usually I can get some good bulk grains, nuts, organic milk, eggs and butter. And when I am lucky, they will have a limited selection of organic produce.
When I do find vibrant organic produce, I like to use every precious scrap. Candying citrus peel is easy, tasty, and makes a nice gift for friends. Plus you end up with an incredible bi-product... lemony simple syrup!
Lilah turned 7 this month and she wanted to make these candied lemon bits to top her birthday cupcakes.
We like mussels at our house.... a budget-conscious and delicious buy from Monterey Fish. Plus the quick prep makes for an easy dinner. At home in California, foraging for Mussels is a no-no. Quarantine signs warn of contamination and unhealthy waters.
For the first time in my life, we got to harvest our own mussels off the shore! We were recently in Golden Bay, New Zealand - tucked into the lightly populated shores on the gorgeous South Island, the waters are clean and harvesting seafood from the beaches is just fine.
We heard that the tides were low at ten am, so off we set with a few buckets in hand. Within 15 minutes we had plenty of mussels to cook up.
In trying to keep our meal as simple and local as possible, we threw together an easy spaghetti with mussels. We borrowed a few spices from our neighbor, harvested some herbs from the garden there, then walked to the nearby market and bought some New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, local onions, butter, olive oil, sea salt, and pasta.
After eating dreamy breakfast polenta at Bather's Pavillion in Sydney, I had to make it myself. Polenta usually gets relegated to lunch or dinner, but it makes a really good breakfast porridge. So many ingredients can top the polenta... berries, pears, nuts of all sorts. And if you are wanting a less-sweet breakfast, poached eggs and aparagus would be tasty here as well.
In honor of all the apple orchards we've seen across New Zealand, I made simple, baked and buttered apples, inspired by Elizabeth David. I couldn't resist adding locally harvested hazelnuts from the Nelson Saturday Market.
If you are in need of a holiday breakfast, this belly-warming dish could easily serve a crowd.
I admit it... I have a sweet tooth. And as the holidays approach my jonze for sweets goes into high gear - I have a Pavlovian need to seek out as many sugary goodies as possible.
My approach to holiday cooking is:
#1 Bake as many fun, easy, treats as you have time for. Share them with people you love.
#2 Whenever you can, try to get some veggies into your system.
Maybe roasting broccoli is obvious to you, but for me it was a simple cooking revelation. Roasted this way, the broccoli retains some of its lovely crunch and has such a nice roasted flavor.
When I was growing up, we ate a lot of broccoli, always steamed and topped with butter and salt. No complaints for me there. But you can only eat broccoli the same way so many times. Rachel, a fantastic cook, said her family likes to eat their broccoli roasted in the oven. At my house, we are CRAZY for Crispy Oven Baked Kale but we had never tried broccoli that way. After Rachel’s suggestion, we gave it a go. We are hooked!
These cookies are simple, chewy, and good! They are made without flour - the ground almonds give rich flavor and even add a little healthiness to these easy treats. I knew they were good when my family quickly devoured an entire batch and whined for more.
Even though we are in New Zealand where it is Spring time, as native Northern Hemisphere dwellers, we have the Winter holidays on our mind. The kids and I whipped up a batch of these cookies one day and dubbed them - “Snowy” in honor of the holiday season.
Maybe it’s the holiday of year, maybe it’s the preponderance of sweets temptimg me at every cafe in NZ, or maybe it’s the adorable tiny cottage we are staying in with a white picket fence... all I know is I need to bake. For ages, I have been wanting to make my own macarons. I did some research into recipes and decided they would take way too much time, effort, and equipment for me in my temporary, basic kitchen. Plus I am way too impatient for intricate and complicated baking recipes - not my forte. So here I am making a faux-macaronish chewy almond cookie... and I am totally satisfied.
This is my last installment about eating our way through Australia. We have made it to New Zealand now and we have a kitchen again... we're cooking up a storm and I promise new recipes are on their way. We even foraged for our own mussels the other day. It feels great to be cooking for ourselves again!
I fell in love with Sydney 11 years ago - its warm mild weather, Caribbean blue waters, Victorian architecture, modern attitude, and great food. The city felt like a culturally diverse meeting ground for the Pacific and South East Asia. And that sparkly light....man oh man.
Back then, P and I were in our 20s. We stayed in a stylish little hotel in the then slightly seedy neighborhood of Darlinghurst. The area was packed with new vibrant restaurants. We ate like kings.
This time around, with two kids in tow, we settled into a comfortable apartment in posh and quiet Balmoral, a gorgeous ferry ride away from downtown. The neighborhood was picturesque with clean sandy beaches dotted with little sailboats and families strolling in the sun.
My favorite dish was the creamy white polenta (shown in the top photo) topped with fresh figs, poached ginger pears, and cream. I am dying to figure out their trick to achieving this perfectly smooth porridge. Anyone know Bather’s secret? If you do please share. I could eat it every day.
Update: I think I have figured out how to make the polenta. I hope to share with you all soon!
Where the hell is Bruny Island?
In 1999, P and I went to Australia on part of another longer trip. We hoped to make it to Tasmania but travel there was difficult and very expensive back then. We ended up only visiting Sydney; I can’t complain because our time there remains one of my best travel memories.
This trip I was determined to visit Tasmania. Tasmania has a magnetic pull for me - my yearning seems to stem from a romantic notion of this remote isle nestled near the Antarctic waters. I am always drawn to islands: Zanzibar, Folegandros, Tikehau and Bali - all islands - are some of my favorite places on this planet. The connection to the sea is a great lure for me.
Tasmania lived up to my mythic expectations. The port of Hobart was full of old pirate charm - the sea was alive and the waves rough. Cobblestone streets, ship captains’ houses and copious wrought iron details typified the intact architecture. Plus the island was exploding with the glory of Spring - a cacophany of lavender, roses, wisteria, apple and cherry blossoms.
Even more romantically obscure than its already remote mainland, Tasmania’s Bruny Island called us to visit. We’d heard the island was gorgeous and had world class oysters and artisinal cheese. Enough said.
After an hours drive South of Hobart and a quick ferry ride to Bruny Island, we headed straight to Bruny Island Oyster. We bought a couple dozen beauties from Joe, the proprietor and P got to shucking. With just a quirt of lemon juice we devoured the deliciously salty bivalves that came fresh from what might be the purest sea water I have ever seen. Bruny Island Oysters were perfect - firm, briny and tasting of sea - worthy of a trip half way across the globe.
Our next food stop was at Bruny Island Cheese. We sampled every cheese they made and found the firm cow’s cheese infused with saffron to be our favorite. And even though it was only 11 am and we were already sated with oysters, we couldn’t resist trying some of their homemade ice cream. When I saw rhubarb and bay on the menu I was smitten. The ice cream was infused with earthy flavor yet creamy with milk of happy island cows.
Our food pilgrimage was well worth the journey - Tasmania was a pastoral island paradise. Cows with shiny black coats and wooly sheep grazed on wide open emerald green fields. Sandy beaches were filled with happy (and tasty looking!) clams. Copious blossoming berry bushes held promise for a summer of preserves and pies. If only we could have stayed longer!
Melbourne, Australia has a reputation.
A reputation for great food.
As our trip to this Southern Pacific food mecca approached, I started to day dream of tastiness that awaited us. We ended up spending a week in Melbourne hanging out with old friends and eating our way through town. I had to share some culinary high points with you. Follow me...
Cafe culture is strong here. In Melbourne, there must be more coffee shops per capita then anywhere on earth. I thought we loved our coffee in the Bay Area, but we are wimps compared to Melbournites. Wow. I found myself unable to resist the "flat whites" (dreamily perfect Australian lattes) that tempted me at every corner cafe. I could barely sleep my first few nights here because I was so overcaffeinated!
Imagine a lush garden bursting with over 100 varieties of happy organic vegetables, herbs, and fruit growing on a hillside with views of warm turquoise waters and swaying coconut palms.
This cook’s paradise really exists, I swear. If you are an intrepid, gardening chef, who might want to partake in this Eden, read on....
Just up the hill from the bungalow we called home for the past 20 days is Joe’s vegetable garden. Remember Joe, my roasted coconut guru? Joe is full of knowledge, energy, and ideas. He has contemplated creating a perfect village on his gorgeous stretch of beachfront land; lucky for us, his visions of utopia have taken a more entrepreneurial route that resulted in a mellow island resort. Joe leaves the running of the business to his son and daughter-in-law while he tends to his baby - the garden.
I had to share images of the edible beauty that abounds in Joe’s remote island garden and the pristine reef nearby. The colors are otherworldly.... Have you ever seen a Rainbow Lobster? This was my idea of heaven.
|spring water irrigation|
Joe dreams of hosting visitors who want to work in the garden and have fun cooking its bounty. He has entertained the idea of a WWOOF listing - a brilliant organization for green thumbs worldwide. If a stint in this cook’s paradise appeals to you, go! Imagine the endless culinary possibilities....
I apologize for being out of touch, but I have a good excuse. P, the kids, and I have been on remote Ono Island in Fiji for the past two weeks. Quiet, ocean, rain, cards, and books have defined our lazy days.
Travel is funny. You go somewhere with preconceived notions of what a place will be like and the time you plan to have. We went to Fiji sure that we would have endless sunny days of beach combing and snorkeling. Nature had other plans - rain and plenty of it.
We imagined our big adventure to be a year of summer. So confident in our tropical destinations, we didn't even pack a pair of jeans. In the end, we may not be able to claim our family's trip to be the year of sunshine, though I do think we could deem it the year of the coconut.
I am all about eating whatever is fresh and locally grown, and coconut is the bumper crop in these tropical locales. Man oh man, we have eaten coconut every which way and I have written about coconut sugar, coconut milk, shredded coconut, coconut oil... Thank goodness I LOVE coconut. Now in Fiji, a new yummy dish has been added to my repertoire - roasted coconut.
At Mai Dive, our comfortable home for these three Fijian weeks, every evening as the sun goes down, we sit around with the other guests, having a drink before dinner. When the bowl of freshly roasted, and still warm, coconut is put on the table, it is devoured as everyone seems to like this simple snack as much as I do.
Joe, the charming patriarch of our peaceful Fijian spot, is a wealth of information. P and I soak up his stories like thirsty children. No surprise, I am especially enthralled when the subject of food comes up - Joe tells tales of mud crabs freshly caught and simply steamed, seaweed harvested straight off the beach and simmered in coconut cream, and his huge beloved veggie garden leaves me awed.
I told Joe just how much I like the smoked coconut and he took the time to teach me the old-school Fijian approach to this simple treat. He told me that he and his buddies sit around the evening fire, drinking beer and eating coconut right off the grill. Hmmmm..... tropical bar snack? Yes, please.
I miss my kitchen. During the past five weeks, we have eaten in more restaurants than I can count, and for the most part the food has been really tasty. Having meals cooked for me day after day is an indulgence I haven’t had experienced in years. That said, from time to time I long for my home kitchen with all of its familiar tools, counter tops.....
Last week, we had an apartment with a real kitchen and ample equipment to make our own meals. After a little sleuthing, I tracked down the one and only organic market in Darwin, Australia - not a town known for its cuisine. Though during our stay in the Northern Territory, we did try baramundi, kangaroo, and termite mound (yes termite mound!).
Greenies is hidden deep in a rundown strip mall, ghostly with its many vacancies. The shop is no cartoonishly abundant Bay Area market, yet Greenies had everything we were looking for - life, good music, and happy hippie foods. Rushing back to our pad, we roasted chicken in our familiar way, tossed together a Berkeley-style salad with plenty of avocado and arugula, and ate kilos of strange exotic fruits.
Darwin is damned hot - over 100 degrees every day we were there, and this wasn’t even the hot time of year. I needed the satisfaction of making a refreshing treat for my travelin’ clan. After spending a month in Bali indulging with decadent abandon in fresh fruit juices, lassies, and slushies, I felt inspired to make my own fruity concoction. It was devoured in minutes - a success!
The candied ginger, though not necessary, was delicious with the granita. Next time I’d like to make my own.