Sunday, May 31, 2009

food @ the heart of friendship

This week saw the consolidation of an international friendship. I first met Robert and Mabel about 18 months ago cruising the Nile. We were part of a small group where other friendships were also made, and were allocated the same table for breakfast, lunch and dinner on those eight days of travel.

Holiday conversations at that table, discussed not only the historic sites we had explored each day, and the culture and mythology of ancient and modern Egypts, but also centred around the food of our hearts and the culinary delights from our home towns (they are originally from Argentina and now live in LA; I was born bred and live in Sydney).

While I have had the good fortune to catch up with some of the others I met on that trip to Egypt, on a later holiday overseas, I was truly delighted to be able to recently entertain Robert and Mabel in my hometown Sydney, and to showcase Australian food at its best. Their initiation to Sydney and Australia was by our Australian culinary dignatory Luke Mangan at Glass. Each of us delighted in the dinner we had ordered, and we sampled the flavours of each others plates. That dinner holds a special place in my memory because of a generous gift which is also one of the personal highlights of a lifetime enjoying food. I digress but I should now share the gift he sent to the table with you: a coddled egg in the shell, topped with maple syrup cream, garnished with some roe and crowned with gold leaf (magnifique!)

Together I've shared with Robert and Mabel a range of Australian food and wine, including a number of restaurants and their tasting menus, culminating in the tasting menu at one of our Aussie and Sydney treasures: Tetsuyas.

With hand on heart, I have been not only pleased to be part of this journey with them, but proud to say that they take back to LA a view of Australians as generous, and, of Australian cuisine as well crafted, innovative, diverse and delicious. I'm looking forward to exploring through them the food of their home LA and of their original homeland Argentina, as I've promised to reciprocate and visit with them sometime soon. But, no matter what now eventuates, we have at the heart of it, what will be an ongoing friendship based on the sharing of food. And, as they leave tonight, this post is my gift to them.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

100mile regional food week

During the week I've been following a regional food challenge limiting myself to food within a 100 mile (160km) radius of my home.

I started the tough way by cleaning out the fridge and starting with an empty larder. Well, it would not have been a challenge otherwise. Always mindful of using fresh seasonal produce, limitations on distance from farm to table have proved interesting. What an education I've received.

Was I crazy to think I would walk into the Sydney CBD and find local produce, or even find food for which the origin was known. On the first day, I spent (more than) my lunchtime walking the city. Just one helpful fruit stall (Pitt Street near Martin Place) had produce (known to be) from this state. His display of apples was from Batlow and I purchased three. To be sure of my distance obligation, a friend did his technical thing and checked, and Batlow did not fall within range from Sydney. Regional for sure! But I'm a Taurus and determined. I did not want to fail on my first day.

So I went without (any food in fact) and put in a distress call to alliance partner Jackie Harper (MIP distributor of WherescapeRED). She lives near the Hawksbury. Emergency supplies of beef and eggs were delivered. Jackie tells me the meat was from Nelson who lived a happy life on her property and was patted and cuddled everyday.

With more time I found friends with backyard veggie gardens and even a local health food store Soul passion, who bring in father-in-laws acreage produce each Wednesday. This week they obliged me with silverbeet, small sweet green capsicum, oranges and rhubarbs.

And so I survived the first couple of days.

During the challenge there were a number of items that were excluded not only for distance, but also because of fairer trade and other issues: coffee and chocolate. I also couldn't source local wheat (flour), rice, dairy products, oil, salt or pepper.

I'd given thought to making some salt myself from the seawater to which I have access. A Twitter friend Natascha Mirosch from the Courier Mail, told me she had done so. By the time we tweeted, the required 3 days for evaporation still meant no salt for me this week! She'd also done the 100 mile challenge and found it tough. Perhaps things are changing, as once I had time to learn and research I was delighted to find the newly opened Eveleigh Farmers' Market in Sydney. And what a delight for local season fresh food ...

Check out http://www.insidecuisine.com/ for more on the Eveleigh Farmers' Market each Saturday.

Still I brought home plentiful fresh fruit vegetables and herbs. And, I've enjoyed a healthy and delicious week filled with flavour.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

My Live Local Challenge

YOU CAN FOLLOW MY WEEK on the Live Local Challenge @ http://www.livelocalchallenge.blogspot.com/

Things have changed over time, and living in the city, we've really separated ourselves from being close to the earth, and to understanding our impact on it.

This week, a new site http://www.livelocal.org.au/ is being launched with an aim of regrouping and rebuilding community. I'm going to do my bit and you can get behind it too by adding your ideas on the site. Of course with my food focus, a lot of my effort is food based. I've always tried to cook a lot of what I eat from scratch, to not use processed foods and to really support fresh seasonal produce. Once I started thinking about it, there was and is so much more that I can do.

Starting this Wednesday I've accepted the live local challenge. As part of the challenge I've decided to take on a week of living only on regional produce (only grown within 100 miles of where I live). The preparation has been interesting, as I've started to research where I can access local seasonal food. Not as easy as you might think in a city like Sydney. The challenge is even more interesting when I add the environmental challenge of reducing my fossil fuel usage (through for one thing better transport options).

I lead a very busy life, and for the challenge, you can share in my decisions, and the thought processes that lead me down each path. I'll be blogging and tweeting as I go. Please share my life with me this week. I'd really love it if you joined me in the challenge too http://www.livelocal.org.au/blog/2009/05/15/the-live-local-challenge.

I'll be looking for your support through ideas on where to access regional food, how to prepare it and in all things to improve what I do. My small step forward to a better community.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

a tribute to mum

Mum has provided me not only with unconditional love, and the groundwork for my life, but also within that a connection for this city girl with rural life, with fresh farm produce and a love of cooking. Mum and the women in my family taught me how to cook. She along with Aunty Dossie, and Aunty Mona are the inspiration for my Becca's Bakery blog www.beccasbakery.blogspot.com too.

Today is Mother's Day, and yesterday, I was excited here in Sydney to find country produce from mum's home in country town Wingham, New South Wales. Shopping at Sydney's Orange Grove farmers market, I was delighted to see a Manning Valley Beef stand. Only their second week coming from country to city (a good three and a half hour drive) I discovered that the farmer was representing himself and his neighbours in an attempt to receive better prices for their wonderful produce. And, this week in particular as my treasure for a Mother's Day present, I was delighted to discover, preserves. They were displayed on a small square table beside the refrigerated display cabinet. Next to the jars, with their colourful fabric round covers, was displayed the small blue First Prize certificate from the show at the country town of Wingham, the town where mum was born and raised.

My treasure created great delight today when amongst a basket of goodies delivered as my token of love, mum clapped hands with child-like eyes when I told her of the origin of the preserves. An even greater pleasure, was that the preserves, by chance and not design, were from her favourites: quince jam, pickles. Other bounty in the carefully selected basket included Hunter Valley (alcoholic) ginger beer, a box of chocolates, and more regional produce from mum's childhood, in a round of Comboyne washed rind cheese.

Mum has never said an unkind word that I have heard, and to me in times of trouble and trauma, has been my rock. We've travelled together as adult friends, on a number of journeys. We've explored Australia, and later Singapore, Uzbekistan, South Korea, and Egypt.

She's also kept our family together when some of us have done our best to undermine what we should most dearly love. I love you mum.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

fashion in food

This started with a comment this week in my techie group at work...

It was about foam, as it's been 'fashionable' recently... (and the comment was take it off the food please! Or maybe the please was omitted?)

Not one for 'fashion' (in couture perhaps yes though not cuisine) au contraire, I've always been one to put flavour first. While I enjoy thoughtful and new food combinations, and I revere craftsmanship I cannot create at home without the restaurant's brigade of chefs, I tend to the honest, not the fashionable. Over the years I have observed a number of food trends. Nouvelle cuisine, comfort food (sticky date pudding, lamb shanks, boeuf bourguignon), food from different regions of the globe (Moroccan, Italian, Vietnamese), different fashions in plating (piped sauces, stacked food, food served in bowls that make it hard to eat) ... The trends absorbs us ...

Some of the latest flavour combinations (unlike those by the truly inspired such as Alain Passard) are enough to send you running out of the restaurant fast. There is good reason that certain food combinations have been historically married for such a long time (mostly because the food grew in the same region, and was seasonal at the same time). The unflavoursome combinations have ended (and should end) quickly in divorce. Some other combinations are classical and have just been buried; now rediscovered, hidden treasure are again reigniting our palates!

Food produce has also moved in and out of favour; take the humble beetroot, rhubarb, quinces, and figs. Until recent years I felt at times isolated, having been weaned on these foods, they were favourites. They were certainly not food to serve to my guests, or food I would find at the restaurant table. That table has turned, and I feel like I've come of age now my favourites are in fashion (the benefit is this makes them available). Stepping back even further is fascinating too. I've also got quite a collection of vintage cookbooks that proudly display aspic covered chicken, in fact jellied everything! Ruffled white overcoats for rack of lamb, vandyked oranges, cubed cheese the list goes on ...

Each decade has had its own food presence, the statement that has matched the other fashions in architecture, clothes, art and design. Changes in economy are enforcing new thinking, and will encourage new 'trends' too. The return to fresh and seasonal that many of us have been promoting for sometime, will now be the way forward for other reasons. What will the new decade bring? To my colleagues, I propose that foam will not last. Will we see a return to honesty in all things including food?