Category Archives: Adventures

Elva’s Cumquat Marmalade

Soaking cumquats for marmalade

She grew up on a dairy farm in Victoria, the young tomboy in a big family. Her daredevil antics and love of fun didn’t wane with age. Elva had a wonderfully joyous laugh like falling water, a technique for posing elegantly in photographs and was generous in looking after the elderly ones in her neighbourhood, even though she was older than many of them.

Her cooking repertoire ran to roasts, Yorkshire pudding, fish pies, scones and excellent Victoria sponges. Good honest English fare and favourite PWMU cookbook slices and biscuits. Those patty cake tins you see at markets and garage sales? The essential equipment for her much-loved rock cakes or ‘cookies’. Baffled by exotic vegetables, I recall, perhaps secondhandledly, her disappointed comments after cooking some eggplants she was given. “I peeled them and scraped out the seeds and steamed them. I don’t know what people see in the things!”, or words to that effect. When it came to cooking a stir fry, Elva with her practical outlook on life saw no reason not to add a cucumber when a zucchini was unavailable.

I remember the house Elva and Ron owned in Tallangatta, on the way to the Snowy Mountains and overlooking the Hume Weir. Ron had his inventions, his canoe, his fishing boat and his Fred Astaire movies, his love of singing, particularly Bing Crosby songs and his ever expanding photo collection featuring snaps of family and their many, many friends. Elva’s show winning canaries and her vegetable garden, reliably producing humorously gnarled carrots are fond memories, as are her potted cumquat trees. She started with one cumquat tree, a gift from my mother. ‘Get outta those cumquats you kids!’ she’d call as small chubby hands grabbed at the brightly coloured precious fruit. Tallangatta doesn’t provide the most hospitable climate for citrus trees and furry white clouds of aphids were a problem too. A small amount of her favourite marmalade would be made if the season was favourable, sometimes supplemented with fruit grown by others, even purchased if need be.

As their bones grew older and their considerable brood of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren began to migrate north, Ron and Elva left behind the cold winters of north east Victoria for sunnier climes in Brisbane. In time, a cumquat tree was planted. And it flourished in a way Elva’s cumquat trees never could in Tallangatta.

I’m not sure of Elva’s marmalade recipe, because the first crop of fruit came after she passed away. I’m not sure where her fondness for cumquat marmalade, obsession even, began. Perhaps it was her mother, Nanny Walker, a keen cook and gardener who planted the seeds back on the family property in Warragul. Perhaps it was when she was a cook at Methodist Ladies’ College in Kew or when she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force during the Second World War. Perhaps she simply enjoyed marmalade. She always did like the good things in life, particularly if they went well with butter or cream.

I thought someone should make the marmalade last year. There was so much fruit that I made it twice. Two different ways, neither of them quite like Elva’s marmalade. I don’t know if she had a written recipe, it wasn’t really her way of doing things. I used Stephanie Alexander’s method from The Cook’s Companion as a guide, enjoying the quiet and diffuse happiness of washing, slicing and de-seeding the cumquats. The silent panic over whether it would set. There was a lot of marmalade when I was done, more than I could eat myself. So I gave some of it my family, some to my friends and tucked some away in the bottom of an old cupboard. This week I’m swapping some for a jar of pickled onions. Last year I swapped some for a bottle of wine.

Soon it will be time to pick the cumquats again. To slow down and enjoy some time reflecting on my memories of Elva, her generosity and love of life and to pass on her love of cumquat marmalade to others.

Talking About Food Is Like…



I had the pleasure last month of being invited to talk to John Beesley (aka @beeso)  of Lantanaland about food on his weekly podcast. We thought it would be a cool idea to chat over a few beers in a bar and roped in Paw Paw and Picnic Cafe head chef Rory Doyle. Rory, always one for a wry observation commented that talking about food on a podcast reminded him of the oft misattributed quote “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”. It turned out that we were both wrong about who first spoke those words.

We talked about a range of subjects, some only tangentially related to food, perhaps more in the spectrum of “food culture”.  We talked about the Brisbane restaurant and bar scene, keeping chooks, whether tomato sauce should be excluded from the diet of children and serious food lovers, hillbilly butchers, and much else besides. Aside from the freefrom nature of the podcast, there were some struggles with the sound owing to our being in a bar with a bit of background noise. Beeso did a great job of cleaning up the sound. However, he was unable to do anything about my sounding rather more nasal and ocker than I sound in my own head. I’m laying the blame squarely on the beers consumed during the making of the podcast. Rory wore a very nice Parquet Courts t-shirt on the day which saw him rocket skywards in my estimation, but Beeso and I still hogged the conversation somewhat. Sorry Rory and sorry listeners. Rory is a pretty interesting person and a damn fine chef, but more on that another day.

You can listen to the podcast here. Thank you to the Mathew and the kind folks at The Gresham for letting us commandeer a corner of their bar for the podcast.




Three Films


“If travel is searching
And home what’s been found
I’m not stopping

I’m going hunting”

- Bjork ‘Hunter’

Whatever the overarching purpose, whatever new sights we see, it’s the creation of neural pathways and getting of perspective that is for me what makes travel exciting.

Long flights, while tedious and uncomfortable at their core, are valuable for their forced withdrawal from the internet and the chaotic mental chatter of everyday life. They are the only time when I will sit long enough to watch multiple movies in a single day. Which qualifies me not at all to share my thoughts on three films I watched on the plane.

Blue Jasmine
Woody Allen, the grifter, his wife, her sister, and their lovers. Cate Blanchett nails her part as the emotionally frayed yet radiantly beautiful Jasmine French. In the best Allen tradition, it’s a window on the lives of ‘ordinary’ people and their entanglements with a twist in the tale, some Klezmer tinged jazz in the exciting bits and no happily ever afters.

Behind The Candelabra
As I watched Michael Douglas and Matt Damon sat in a spa sipping flutes of champagne, I thought yes, this movie is a bit like champagne. Flat champagne. Based on the story of Liberace’s lover Scott Thorson, it doesn’t offer any dazzling insights into the flamboyant entertainer’s true personality, beyond what you’ve probably already assumed. A controlling narcissist? Well I’ll be! Surely Liberace had some redeeming qualities? It certainly would have made for a more interesting film. Liberace and his lovers and associates are portrayed here as unlikable and boring. Dan Ackroyd phones in his performance as Liberace’s manager with some respite from the yawn fest in the form of Rob Lowe as a cosmetic surgeon high on his own supply.

Red Obsession
A polished but unsurprising exploration into the changing market for Bordeaux. Perhaps a better choice of talking heads would have assisted in creating a more engaging and insightful commentary. More Simon Staples, Asian merchants and wine investment analysts, less Jeannie Cho Lee and stock footage of Robert Parker doing something with wine. The film is however visually appealing with its aerial sweeps of Bordeaux’s stunning chateaus and the new pioneers of mainland China’s domestic wine industry. Russell Crowe’s narration is suitably dignified to the point where you forget it’s him. 


I sought suggestions about what to listen to while travelling, and some of them made it to this playlist. Others are old friends.

Sharon Van Etten / Tramp
Ween / 12 Golden Country Greats
Decoder Ring / Somersault
Mogwai / The Hawk Is Howling
Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse / Dark Night of the Soul
Dirty Three / Cinder
Fat Freddy’s Drop / Blackbird
Ani Di Franco / Living in Clip
Cage The Elephant / Melophobia
Radiohead / I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings
Crosby Still & Nash / Crosby Stills & Nash

Jonathan Franzen ‘How to be Alone’
A collection of incisive meditations on the novel and other things. Ideal travel reading.

Talk About The Blues

mojo vague

Some say that with all the urban renewal and cafes, Brisbane’s lost its soul. Then there’s those who view Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s greatest gift to the city as the period of oppression that led to an artistic and musical underground movement which gave birth to bands like The Saints, The Hard Ons, The Survivors and The Go Betweens. But even the biggest music fans of that era now have mortgages, kids and careers, left with foggy memories and songs to sing along to as they drive from board meetings to rugby training to the automatic gates of their suburban home. I sometimes wonder if the irony of singing along to punk tales of disenfranchisement is lost on them.

Resistant to the suburbs and childless, I find myself with a ticket to a festival in the Valley on a Saturday night at a venue I’m not familiar with. It turns out none of us know the address printed on our tickets for the Queensland Festival of Blues.

The venue is an old picture theatre, at the end of town otherwise populated by strip clubs, drunks and meth heads. It was a live music venue a few years back, before being shuttered for reasons which are now unclear. Its just been given a lick and and a polish and this is the first gig under its new custodians. A mate who runs a shop up the street tells us there was a problem with the venue’s license, some hold up that means they can’t open their bar tonight. It seems improbable. The short walk from dinner at Thai Wi-Rat in the Chinatown mall to the venue is lined with buskers, cheap amps and electric guitars each one, and as we walk Santana, Hendrix and Metallica wail and waft. Anyone can play guitar. SUVs with P plates cruise past, driven by private school kids in Ralph Lauren and improbably deep tans. A couple of drunks sleep sprawled on flattened boxes around a shuttered shopfront door.

We head down the steeply pitched stairs to find that it really is BYO alcohol, for tonight at least. For $3 for our party, the venue will keep our drinks behind the bar and give us some glasses if we want them. The venue’s profits for the night evaporated before they even open the doors. Our Czech beers get the job done, even if we wind up with bits of coloured foil on our lips and in our mouth with each swig we take.

Over the sound of Morningside Fats wrapping up their set, I’m introduced to Harry, a bespectacled, smartly dressed man in his fifties. He’s a fixture at these events who every one seems to know. My friend whispers to me about the underground blues venue Harry runs from his house, a soundproofed subterranean haven from licensing and noise complaints.

On the small makeshift stage to the right of bar, 8 Ball Aitken strides around with a beat up metal body guitar, a bandanna across his forehead and wavy red hair flowing to his waist. With his flaccid cheeks and Celtic looks he seems an unlikely proponent of the blues. But I wonder in Queensland in the year 2013, can anyone truly can have the blues? Almost with out exception everyone here looks well fed, clear eyed and on the surface, well adjusted. There’s Harry again and I notice for the first time that his t-shirt reads “I don’t need sex, I’m getting f*cked by the government every day’. I guess the devil takes forms.

From the confused range of accents and lyrical matter it seems Aitken hails from North Queensland via Nashville. He wraps up his set with the bawdy crowd favourite ‘Outback Booty Call’ a song about ‘a girl with “I love the blues” tattooed somewhere that you’d usually sit down’. Women of a certain age shimmy and shake to the very end as he spruiks by way of song his $25 CD which he guarantees has ‘at least $26 worth of music on it’.

Trucker caps, pork pie hats and flat caps bob and weave as Mojo Webb and his band take the main stage. The sound quality in this part of the venue defies the spartan surrounds. In front of the stage the dance floor begins to fill. Sinewy, leather skinned women with cheap dye jobs and flowing skirts dance to a tune not audible to me, while burly blokes in checked shirts bust a move along with suburban couples having a night on the town. The blues don’t discriminate. The tight trio of guitar, bass and drums is joined later by a white guy with dreds on keys, Dillion James. You can tell by the nods and easy segues that they’ve played together before once or twice. There’s no doubting Mojo plays a mean guitar, but his stray cat howls of siren’s calls and snarls of love gone wrong are what pull you in and under his spell. All original material, in the best blues tradition they’re lyrically either confessionals or pleas for mercy to a lover, God or the devil. Mojo plays gigs at venues widely varied in Brisbane and the US but it’s here amongst the faithful that he’s in his element. His wiry frame and frenetic hands spark and snap with electricity.

Aglow with the elation that comes from being lost for a few hours at a good gig, we emerge from the underground into the warm fug of another Queensland night, and onward to our respectable homes and neighbourhoods.

Uki Cafe, Uki

Tucked away at the bottom of Mt Warning, Uki is one pub town surrounded by a dramatic green landscape of soaring peaks. It’s not somewhere you’re likely to visit by accident but if you’re exploring the surrounding national parks, Uki is a great spot to stop for a meal. Deep in the Tweed Valley, Uki is around 15 minutes south of Murwillumbah or can be reached via Kyogle Road if you’re coming from Kyogle, Lismore or Nimbin. It’s a scenic drive from Byron Bay or Brunswick Heads if you’re staying on the coast or the mid point of an easy day trip from Brisbane.

We were in the area to check out the Border Ranges National Park and even though it was a Saturday we seemed to have the place to ourselves. It’s a World Heritage park on account of the large rainforest wilderness and the ancient caldera that encircles it. There’s some spectacular views from The Pinnacle and if you’ve never been I highly recommend it. It’s a short walk out to the lookout, less than 200 metres of gently sloping terrain.

There’s an unsealed road between The Pinnacle and Uki, so visiting both in a single trip won’t suit everyone, but a visit to Uki is a good way to soak in the mountain air without getting your boots or your car dirty. I’ve heard the local pub, the Mount Warning Hotel, is popular with bikers who are attracted to the winding roads and hill climbs, but we gave it a miss on our visit. We had a peek and decided against chancing our luck at the local last chance saloon.

There’s two well regarding cafes in town, Sphinx Rock Café and Uki Café. We choose Uki Café for its view over to Mount Warning and Sweetnam’s Humpy, overlooking the primary school and the Buttery, now a thriving arts and community centre.

Uki Café is a converted house with a most of it’s dining area on a long verandah. There’s a cool breeze and a calm vibe about the place. Arriving with fairly low expectations, we were delighted to discover simple, fresh and tasty lunches and home cooked cakes. The coffee is from Byron Bay Coffee Company and is well made. Generous amounts of super fresh salad accompanied our meals of fish and chips (flathead) and a very tasty homemade beef burger. The orange, pistachio and dark chocolate cake was a highlight for me and other choices included cheesecake, carrot cake and a selection of shortbreads. They’re licensed too if you wish to linger a little longer over a cold beer. There’s also an all day breakfast menu and a little shop next door to the dining area full of retro clothing and homewares.

It’s a delight to find a gem like Uki Café and I could happily while away an afternoon on the verandah with a few friends or a good book.

Uki Café
2 Rowlands Creek Road
Uki NSW 2484
Phone 02 6679 5351

Adventures: Easter on the Tweed Coast

You could, like so many do, drive straight from Brisbane to Byron Bay. Beautiful beaches, beautiful people and bizarre people and everything in between. Byron Bay still has its charms but there’s more to the area.

Here’s a taste.

Harvest Newrybar

“Where the hell is Newrybar?” I hear you ask. It’s little more than a siding off the highway these days, so even if you visit Byron Bay regularly you’ll only find it if you go looking. The old highway ran through this small town just inland from Byron Bay and if you visit on a weekend these days, you’ll struggle to find a park. That’s because some very talented people are running Harvest, a café, restaurant, private dining room and a deli too. Arranged across three cream-painted timber clad buildings, you’d love Harvest if it were in a capital city and you’ll love it more for its rural location at the centre of a region known for its produce.

What’s great about Harvest is that they respect the local produce by letting it speak for itself. Flavours are vibrant and plating is unfussy. While ‘local’ and ‘organic’ are terms that are increasingly overplayed, the food at Harvest is what these words really mean. We had a very late breakfast and staff didn’t blink even though they were getting ready to reset for a fully booked lunch. The service here is astonishing, a well oiled machine of young local people who were unflappable despite the Easter crowds. Every one seems to know their job and do it well.

Coffee is from Allpress and expertly made by a deeply tanned barista with impressive dreadlocks. The kitchen is open to the indoor dining area and the team of chefs are as impressive as the floor staff. A verandah wraps around the dining room and its all charmingly un-designed and comfortable. Our breakfasts were delicious – sweet, flaked smoked trout encased in a super fine omlette on sourdough and pork and parsley sausages with poached eggs, grilled cheesy field mushroom and spinach. There’s lots of other delicious options, each given a bit of a twist to best use local ingredients. And to make breakfast here even more civilised there’s sparkling wine and champagne by the glass and Bloody Marys on offer too. A quick glance at the lunch and dinner menus and the wine list makes me keen to return.

The deli has just opened, but a cheese room as well as a selection of smallgoods and cured hams on the bone along with bread baked on site and plenty of other delicious things make it worth a look in it’s own right.

Harvest Cafe

18 Old Pacific Highway, Newrybar

02 6687 2644

Fat Belly Kaf, Brunswick Heads

I kept hearing about this place, so since we were in the area I rang to see if we could get a table for dinner.  We did a mid afternoon reccy and my heart sank a tiny bit. But then I was wearing the clothes I’d been in at the beach, with tangled, salty hair and thongs, hardly dressed for a night at the Ritz. It turned out we were made for one another.

Away from the other cafes and restaurants in the central part of Brunswick Heads, Fat Belly Kaf is a few streets over in Tweed Street. It’s next to the fish and chip shop with the Skilltester and the fluoro lights in one of those restaurant-at-the-motel arrangements.

It was a beautiful evening when we visited, the perfect antidote to living the city. We ate at a table outside, with geckos chirping, Jupiter and Venus burning brightly and the other side of the sky lit up by the waning moon right after Passover. At first the Motel’s ‘no vacancy’ sign over our table seemed incongruent but it made a nice light as the night grew darker.

The food at Fat Belly Kaf is a distillation of Greek, Turkish and similar cuisines. Concisely and appealingly described, the menu runs to a couple of pages ranging from small plates, larger share dishes, mains, desserts and sides. The only thing disappointing about what’s on offer is that you need a larger group so you can order all the small plates and share them. Or perhaps I’m just greedy.

We started out with a dozen Pacific oysters, a few dressed with pomegranate and shallot. All delicious. Small, sweet and briny, I didn’t ask if they were local but they seemed freshly shucked and could convincingly have come from a little further down the coast. Dressings on oysters seems hard to get right but the pomegranate and shallot was just right, not too acidic and just enough to compliment the oysters instead of consuming them.

A progression of small plates followed, nicely spaced so the table didn’t get crowded and we could appreciate what we were eating. The blue cheese croquettes with honey mayo had a winning interplay of crunchy exterior and yielding gooey interior with the honey mayo a nice counterpoint to the mild blue cheese flavour. Prawns with saganaki and tomato were also a winner, their soft, sweet tails a good indication of their freshness. I’m not usually one for crunching on prawn tails but it would have been blasphemy not to eat these.

After a few more excellent small dishes, our slow cooked lamb shoulder for two was presented on a platter. Fragrant and meltingly tender, it was served with sticky spice roasted pumpkin, roast potatoes and pan juices so good I took to spooning them over my veggies. Hardening of the arteries be damned!

By this stage of the evening we’d met Jake, one of the new owners. Fat Belly Kaf changed hands a few months back, after previous owners Kat and Damian Williams sold the business. Jake knows a thing or two about wine and after a bit of a chat it became clear how this place came to have such a great wine list. It’s not long but it’s clever and individual and a little quirky. Since we were ordering dessert, Jake organised a bottle of the Domain Day Dolcezza, a late harvest Garganega. Usually Garganega is made into Soave, a staple Italian table wine, of the sort drunk in summer by the pool with seafood. This was a sweet though restrained wine with lemony citrus and almond oil flavours well suited to the star dessert on the menu. Not for the easily defeated, it’s a sort of inside-out Greek custard bougatsa. Served in a large pudding bowl, there’s layers of light orange blossom water flavoured cream custard and pastry topped with flaked almonds. You could share it between a couple of people, but I was pleased to have the sublime dark chocolate tart with strega soaked figs to myself. This was faultless, and I don’t think I’ve had as good at more serious restaurants.

Because good Turkish Delight is always too good too pass up, and because its presented to you in a sort of fantasy magic carpet style silver dish with silver tongs for you to select a piece, we tried some of that too. Delicious.

In the interests of a proper evaluation of the menu and wine available at Fat Belly Kaf, I plan to head back soon with a group of friends. I recommend you do the same.

Fat Belly Kaf

Old Pacific Highway (Tweed Street)

02 6685 1100

Tweed River Seafoods, Chinderah

A visit to the area isn’t complete for me without a trip to Tweed River Seafoods at Chinderah, usually for fish and chips and sometimes for prawns and oysters. Chinderah is at the northern end of the Tweed Valley, not far over the border and near the new resorts around Kingscliff, now marketed as Casuarina Beach. But there’s no gentrification here at Tweed River Seafoods, it’s the same as always, good old fashioned service and staff who are pretty comfortable in their white gumboots. Golden, crispy batter and usually good chips, but mostly really fresh fish. You can also buy super fresh prawns, bugs, oysters and a big range of filleted and whole fish here.  Make sure you phone ahead to order prawns at Christmas time if you’re visiting the area. Special mention for the way they wrap the fish and chips.

78 Chinderah Bay Drive, Chinderah

02 6674 1134

There’s lots to love about this area and with the very last bit of the border bypass being completed at the moment, there’s never been a better time to skip the Gold Coast and head for where the beaches are quiet and the food is good.

Adventures: Eating in the City of Brotherly Love

So I’ll admit it. I love the US East Coast.

In contrast with Australia, there’s a palpable sense of history, cultural evolution, fascinating architecture and galleries and museums that never fail to blow my mind. The density of population can sustain specialist retail ventures in a way that Australia just can’t do. Year round Christmas shops may not be the pinnacle of human achievement but they illustrate my point.

Boston and New York are great cities, but Philadelphia is pretty special too, and I’m lucky enough that it’s the annual destination for a business conference I participate in. Perhaps by design, it coincided with Philly Beer Week, where Philly’s many craft beer venues turn their massive beer love up to 11. After flying from Brisbane to LA, then from LA to New York, then driving up the New Jersey Turnpike and onto Philly, I still got excited to see our hotel’s bar was in on the craft beer action. After a Walt Wit, a Yuengling Amber Lager and a Flying Fish Belgian Abbey Dubbel, we were relaxed and settled in for the week ahead.

Staying on the Delaware River on the edge of Old City, we’d been curious about an imposing Greek Revival building with red velvet curtains in the windows set amongst restaurants and bars. National Mechanics turns out to be one of the best places to sample craft beers and features a style of cuisine we’d probably call Dude Food. To complement the architecture, the interiors take Victorian and Steampunk elements to create at atmosphere where its 1am 24/7. You can also visit their webpage and queue up tunes to play while you choose your next beer. It’s easy to get comfortable – we started our session at around 3pm and stayed until the end of open mic night. Everyone is more talented, more attractive and more amusing after a dozen craft beers.

Keen to avoid the hotel buffet, we headed out the next morning and discovered Fork Etc., a more casual version of Fork, its fine dining sister venue right next door. Selected more for its prominent espresso machine than much else, Fork features local produce, quality ingredients and artisan bread. While breakfast menus in the US continue to confound me, the food was good enough that we immediately planned a visit to its big sister Fork. The conversation of PR people, wine distributors and restaurateurs at the next able was an unexpected bonus.

Thanks to a tip off from Brisbane art gallery manager Chris Hassall, we ditched a visit to the Italian Markets in favour of a tour of Philadelphia Art Museum. This is an incredible gallery and a testament to the wealth and generosity of some of Philly’s founding families. There’s an impressive collection of classics, modern art and sculpture – but what really amazed me was the extensive collection of armory and gallery after gallery of complete, reconstructed rooms displaying the finest examples of European interior architecture over a span of the last 250 years. I’m keen to return next year and spend more time viewing these amazing collections. A little footsore, we slipped into the overstuffed upholstery of the Art Museum’s elegant Granite Hill restaurant. Beautiful food and some very East Coast flavours, with a chef’s table appetiser comprising seafood, smoked trout, roast meats, cheeses and salads. With such excellent food on offer, we also ordered a main each. My simple rag pasta with pesto and heirloom tomatoes was generous in size and flavours, and provided sufficient ballast to tour a few more galleries.

On our last free day before our conference started, we returned to Fork for lunch. For me, the highlight of East Coast dining is the abundance of crab, lobster and oysters available on even the most humble of menus. The crab cake sandwich was an easy choice, and Fork’s version was perfection. Wholegrain bread, sweet succulent crab meat, tangy whole egg mayo and hand cut french fries. The preceding charcuterie plate also deserves a mention, representing a cross section of cured meats of different cultures, in keeping with Philly’s heritage. And in a smart move approved by the young sommelier we chose a Mas Martinet 2007 Priorat Menut to have with our lunch. My tip for Aussie diners is to stick to European wine while in the US. More satisfying and the prices are good too.

It wouldn’t be a trip to Philly without a cheesesteak, and while I’m unsure the ones on offer at the conference were authentic, they were good enough that I went back for seconds.

And it wouldn’t be a blog post about Philly without some original gansta rap from Schoolly D.

A Day in the Granite Belt

I live, work, eat, drink and do most other things within a tight radius of the Brisbane GPO.  If I can’t get to it on foot or on the 199 bus, then I’m almost certainly being paid to go there by a client.

That said, I do love the country and often imagine myself growing vegies and engaging in other rural pursuits.  Even though I’m really a townie, I was lucky enough to grow up with friends and families with farms and spend plenty of weekends and holidays visiting them.

I recently got to visit the Granite Belt with a couple of friends.  It’s a fair hike for a day trip, and whilst accommodation in the area isn’t anything flash, I’d suggest staying at least overnight.  We were somewhat hampered by bad weather with low clouds and rain settling in for the full day.

After the obligatory road trip sausage and egg muffin and hashbrown our first stop was Suttons Farm at  Thulimbah, ten minutes out of Stanthorpe.  The Sutton family make apple juice, cider and run a tea room with apple-y cakes and treats.  I’d heard a bit about Suttons and was expecting something different to what we found.  It’s a pretty basic set up with a small shop and seating area in a corner of one of the old packing sheds.  Juice and cider were great but unfortunately the lady who served us couldn’t have been less passionate about their products and engaging her in any kind of conversation to find out more about the products and processes proved futile.  A shame.


Next stop was Granite Belt Dairy.  Owners Ross and Karen make farm house cheeses from their herd of 20 something pretty jersey cows.  Ross manages the herd of ‘supermodel ‘ cows and Karen makes the range of seven cheeses, which include an Italian style hard cheese, a double cream brie,  a blue and a cheddar style.  Karen explained that the concept of their dairy shop is to offer all the things you’d need to have a decent picnic.  There’s a huge range of jams, chutneys, relishes, oils, vinegars, wine, bread along with cheese boards, bottle openers and other bits and pieces. It’s a well run tourism business that many more in the region would do well to model from.  Maturing cheeses are also on display at eye level behind the shop counter and Rosco and Karen are happy to have a chat about the region, their cheeses and pretty much anything else.

We’d chosen Robert Channon Wines for lunch and by the time we got there the rain was heavy so we bolted from the car to the fire inside their tasting room, which was full of people with just a single person behind the tasting bench.  So straight to lunch for us.  The menu is an interesting mix of dishes – from home cooked favourites, to French inspired and a few Asian inspired dishes thrown in for good measure.  While the meals were fine, they weren’t up to the same standard as the fantastic wines which are available by the glass or bottle at very reasonable prices.  With a view of a lake and foothills and frolicking calves and water birds providing entertainment, it a top spot to relax and warm up.

As the rain continued to bucket down, we got a little lost trying to take a shortcut to our next destination.  It turns out that smartphone GPS apps don’t work that well without a mobile signal.  The area around Thulimbah is mostly orchards with extensive netting to keep the birds out and the fruit on long enough to set.  So quite by chance we wound up at Heritage Estate Wines, where I’ve been once or twice before.  Staffed by the loveliest lady, we had the place to ourselves and our host talked us through their collection of antiques which includes the cabinet room table from Queensland first parliament, the wines and a bit about the history of the area.  I enjoyed their 2009 Reserve Chardonnay – lovely texture and freshness and well priced at $25.

Smallgoods bonanza at Vincenzo's

With rain still hanging about and a long drive ahead of us, we made a quick pit stop at Vincenzo’s.   This place crams pretty much every food and drink product produced in the region into one store.  The sheer quantity of smallgoods and cheese here rivals anything available in Brisbane.  Good bread, olives, sardines, olive oil and wine are also stacked high and wide.  You can also pick up local fruit, mostly undersized and marked produce rejected by supermarkets but not spoilt by long periods of refrigerated storage or transport.

More cheese

We only scraped the surface of the Granite Belt, and uncovered a couple of gems.  With more time and the right operators and marketing, the region is well placed to grow and attract more visitors and investment.

The Granite Belt region is around 2.5 hours drive from Brisbane and surrounds the country town of Stanthorpe, near the Queensland/New South Wales Border.

More info on the region, accommodation, wines and other attractions here.

Adventures: New American Cuisine in Los Angeles

Flying to Los Angeles seems so easy after lots of east coast US travel over the last few years.  The luxury of a single flight. 

Our primary purpose for visiting was a conference, where processed chicken meat and lettuce sandwiches were the lunch offered for all four days to the 15,000 delegates in attendance. As I’m fairly seasoned at the pitfalls of eating at large conferences I opted for the Indian Vegetarian dietary option which is a pleasant way to eat.  Also there were bananas!  I was excited enough to take a photo.  A very clever group marketing their product to conference delegates organised for a Kogi Taco Truck to attend one lunch time – I’d got wind of this in advance and managed to get in line 19th from the front of the queue.  Despite the heat, the tacos were worth it.  Fresh, vibrant flavours, smoky succulent meat, a twist of lime and a hit of sriracha – it’s a good thing there was a limit on tacos (they were free) or I may have been rolling under the table like a turtle afterwards.  I think any food safety officers who feel food trucks can’t work here in Brisbane need to see what a slick operation Kogi is.

Before we got neck deep in conferencing, we escaped from our hotel for a decent dinner.  Steak was our quarry, but I wanted to find somewhere with a bit more interest than the Morton’s restaurant across the road from our hotel and next to the ubiquitous Starbucks.  After labouring over Urbanspoon with a bad a case of decision making disorder, I settled on LA Prime, on the top floor of the Westin Bonaventure Hotel, a few blocks away.  A hotel restaurant yes, but it turned out to be a great choice.  After navigating our way through what we later discovered was a Scientology Convention on the foyer level, we caught the glass enclosed lift to the top floor.  Linen dressed tables, polished silverware and glassware sparkled as the sun set over the 360 degree views of LA.  Sometimes, even at the pointy end of US dining, the food can seem brutal and overdone.  Not so here.  Entrees were light and inventive, featuring quality produce served simply, with pretty and modern presentation in a New American style. I chose the organic red and golden beets, humboldt fog goat cheese with grapefruit and sherry emulsion, which only just pipped the very adventurous sounding halibut cheek in live sea urchin broth  ‘in shell presentation’.    I think of New American as the US equivalent of our ‘Modern Australian’ – it draws on a variety of culinary and cultural influences and focuses on highlighting excellent local produce. 
As you might expect there’s some pretty serious steaks on offer at LA Prime and the staff are happy to talk you through the options – dry aged, wet aged, different finishing, aging and cuts.  We chose a bone-in delmonico ribeye dry aged which was accompanied by an excellent sauce bordelaise.  Our other main was also faultless – seared mano de leon jumbo scallops, smoked pork belly, english peas, potato emulsion, micro asparagus.  It would be churlish to say this dish was a little rich since the combination of ingredients isn’t exactly hiding this potential.  Delicious sides of Vermont white cheddar mac and cheese and local honey glazed petite heirloom carrots rounded out a fantastic meal.  Our server Lois was an absolute pro, a career waiter who knew about the food, the impressive wine list, the view and much more.  The perfect person to work in a place like LA Prime.

The following night, we were hosted by our lovely friends Ange and Steph and their company for a group dinner at the Standard Hotel in Downtown LA.  Part of the portfolio of André Balazs’ hip hotels, we dined in courtyard restaurant, part of the hip yellow and chrome 24/7 dining room.  None of the typical hotel fare here either, with sustainable local produce featuring.  We ordered a bunch of starters and sides to share.  Highlights included Berkshire pork chop with a grilled whisked peach, violet honey mustard; Portobello mushroom fries with smoked paprika aioli; duck fat smashed potatoes; grilled california asparagus and an excellent tuna tartare with watercress and cucumber served with salty pita chips.  The wine list is short but cleverly composed.  So nice to find drinkable things on a US wine list. We chose the Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru 2006 and Marc Bredif Chinon Bourgueil Touraine 2009.

It’s a treat to find such good eating in Los Angeles and our visit to Santa Monica Place for some last minute shopping before heading to the airport further confirmed this.  Our trip finished with perfect weather, delicious food, Italian wine and a lap around one of the best market style food halls I’ve seen in a retail centre. 

In N Out Burger will have to wait for our next trip.

Pork belly starter at LA Prime

The Indirect Route to the Appreciation of Simple Things

Like just about every other person in Western society, I entered the New Year with plans to become healthier, wealthier and wiser.  Oh and perhaps a tiny hangover too.

Those that know me will understand the various reasons why health was a key part of my plans for 2011.  I’m interested in the ideas and exploits of Tim Ferriss of Four Hour Workweek fame, and my Kindle buddy had his new tome ‘Four Hour Body’ downloaded faster than you could say “Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun”.

So, despite being an avowed foodist and advanced eater and drinker I have now been eating a restricted high protein, slow carb diet for almost a month.  Here’s a typical daily menu:

Breakfast Three scrambled eggs (no milk or cream), herbs, sea salt flakes, smoked salmon, black coffee.

Lunch Braised lentils with tomato, cumin and coriander, chilli con carne, sour cream, guacamole, black olives, fresh coriander, boiled egg.

Dinner Steak, cannellini beans, green vegetables. Glass of dry red wine.

This is far from my usual diet of flat whites, toast, pasta, rice, vegetables, minimal meat and maximal beer, wine and whisky.

Other tenets of the Four Hour Body are short, sharp bursts of exercise and a weekly day long binge.  I’ll let you read the book if you are interested in the philosophy behind this, however I’m happy to say we are on our way to achieving some of our health goals and as an unexpected bonus I am far more mentally alert and focussed than I have been in many years. 

Today being our Binge Day, I headed out to Brewbakers and Chocquette at the crack of dawn to acquire sourdough and pastries.  The Danishes from Chocquette were magnificent. Crispy edges, flaky layers of pastry and exquisite pear/custard and rhubarb/custard fillings with a thin layer of glaze.  The sourdough was just out of the ovens at Brewbakers, and owner and baker Richard Cotton selected one for me, along with some chocolate croissants. 

One interesting side effect for me has been a heightened appreciation of flavour and texture.  As I write this, I’m snacking on Richard’s sourdough, lightly toasted and smeared with French butter and some J. Friend & Co. White Clover Honey from Manuka, NZ.  Granted, I’ve assembled this snack from three very fine component ingredients, but it is just as enjoyable as the myriad fine dishes I’ve eaten in restaurants anywhere in the world.  The flat white I enjoyed at Chocquette this morning was nutty, creamy and delicious.  I savoured it.  Last Saturday I devoured the larger part of a wedge of Cabot clothbound Cheddar from Jasper Hill Farm, Vermont, via Black Pearl Epicure, crumbly, earthy and caramel with a just enough sharpness and a properly long finish.  The new-found laser mental focus and expecation means even simple foods are savoured.

Booty from Brewbakers & Chocquette
White Clover Honey on Brewbaker's French Sourdough
Cabot Clothbound Cheddar

There’s really nothing ascetic about the Four Hour Body way of eating, because as much as you restrict your diet six days a week, the anticipation and heightening of senses delivered by your weekly free-eating day compensates ten-fold. Any cravings or desires during the week and be jotted down ready for organising into an agenda of indulgence for your binge day.  It’s a way of eating that supports extreme productivity, and for me this in turn supports higher order eating and drinking adventures.  A good result.