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Archive for the ‘Travel and Food Experiences’ Category

Upon entering the Li Sun Exotic Mushroom farm in an old railway tunnel between Bowral and Mittagong, there is a sense of entering a strange underground world. It is a similar feeling to that of open water diving where the brightly coloured corals appear somehow taking on a surreal almost alien feeling. In this case the coral are mushrooms and happily for me, given the cool Southern Highland climate, I don’t need to get more than the soles of my shoes wet to enjoy the sights.

Pink Oyster Mushrooms

As we start the tour, run by the Highlands Foodies Group , I am torn between photographing these fascinating funghi and listening to Dr Noel Arrold’s fascinating mushroom growing techniques and stories.

Dr Noel Arrold – Li Sun Exotic Mushrooms

Whilst mushroom growing techniques are quite interesting, I can’t help my ears tune in to the story of Russian wives collecting poisonous mushrooms to dispose of abusive husbands. Unsuspecting husbands devouring a delicious mushroom dish, would mysteriously two days later, die a painful death as their liver collapsed with their wives nowhere to be seen…….

Swiss Brown Mushrooms – Li Sun Exotic Mushroom Farm

The tunnel, originally built in 1886 to house a single track railway line, was replaced in 1919 with a double track tunnel to its right, that still remains in use today. During the 1940’s the 650 metre long was used as a store house for ammunition for the Royal Australian Air Force, a purpose that was dismissed after a somewhat ammunition damaging flood. After the RAAF abandoned the tunnel in 1953, the tunnel was used to grow standard mushrooms for the Edgell cannery. Dr Arrold now leases the property from State Rail and as access is limited, the tours can only run a few time a year.

Shitake Mushrooms – Li Sun Exotic Mushroom Farm Tunnel

Dr Arrold is somewhat of a mushroom expert. Over lunch later in the day my mushroom eating companion and I debated on an appropriate term for a “mushroom expert” and settled on a Funghifi, however the correct term seems to be a Mycologist. Dr Arrold is a microbiologist by training and having studied fungal genetics in Germany is quite the funghi expert!

Li Sun Exotic Mushroom Tunnel

After supplying mushroom culture to farmers for some years, he inherited the mushroom tunnel business from a friend who had been growing standard mushrooms in there for the tinned mushroom market. Soon after Dr Arrold, looking to expand his business, began experimenting with the Swiss brown mushroom in the cool stable 16 degree climate of the mushroom tunnel. Dr Arrold has now been growing mushrooms in this old railway tunnel for over 20 years.

Oyster Mushrooms – Li Sun Exotic Mushrooms Farm

Dr Arrold and his team of 12 move through the tunnel each day to pick the daily harvest of about 1500 kilos of mushrooms. Varieties include Wood Ear, Chestnut, Nameko, Swiss Brown, Shitake, King Brown, Shimejii, Chestnut, Wood Ear and Enoki.

Enoki and Chestnut Mushrooms – Li Sun Exotic Mushroom Farm

Interestingly, railway tunnels all over Australia have been used for mushroom production with the first one being at Circular Quay under the Eastern Suburbs line. Currently though, there are only two in Australia used for mushroom production.

Yellow Oyster Mushrooms – Li Sun Exotic Mushrooms

Eventually in the 70’s the price fell out of the tinned mushroom market and the growing conditions did not suit the growing conditions of the modern white mushroom. Dr Arrold has evolved his exotic mushrooms to grow not only in the particular growing conditions of the tunnel but also in Australian eucalyptus sawdust rather than the tradition oak or birch used for growing overseas.

Li Sun Exotic Mushroom Farm

Originally developed for a small Japanese tourist market, Dr Arrold’s mushrooms now head to the big supermarket chains in Australia and are in demand in Sydney restaurants such as Quay, Bennalong, Tetsuyas and Aria.

Nameko Mushrooms – Li Sun Exotic Mushroom Tunnel

As the tour draws to a close, Dr Arrold leaves us with a word of warning on wild mushroom foraging. In Australia this year 4 people have died as a result of eating incorrectly identified mushrooms. He tells us a chilling story of a Chinese chef who whilst out here foraged some death cap mushrooms which look remarkably similar to a common chinese eating mushroom and fed it to his friends in a meal. Unfortunately, his friends didn’t make it.

Shimejii Mushrooms – Li Sun Exotic Mushrooms

For me, I’m happy to stick with my take home punnet bursting with an assortment of Pink Oyster mushrooms, King Brown and Enoki mushrooms. Just perfect for a non death defying risotto!

 

 

 

 

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And that is why all good life discussions should take place with ocean views and espresso martinis.

Oh the Espresso Martini……..

Unless of course you are Dorothy Parker who put it so eloquently when she said ” I like to have a martini, two at the very most. After three, I’m under the table, after four, I’m under my host”

Diggies, for breakfast or anytime 🙂

The scene for such goings on was Diggies, my favourite cafe in Wollongong. The cafe and adjoining North kiosk are a regular haunt for Poppy and I. Often its milkshakes, fish and chips and an occasional naughty slice of Rocky Road making its way into our tummies as we recline on a perfect patch of grass looking out to the sea. However today’s affair was refreshingly child free.

There is something rather wonderful about returning to a cafe or restaurant again and again and not once having a bad meal. Breakfast is delish, the fresh juices yum and the wine list, well, don’t worry……. you’ll find something there.

Now don’t expect highbrow, thats not what its about. You’re a few feet from wriggling your toes in the sand and getting your feet wet, so don’t go getting all Bathers Pavillion on me. But do expect smiles and enough quinoa,  gruyere and daikon to satisfy even the fussiest foodie.  And what about the essentials? You’ll be sipping a coffee that will keep any city slicker happy.

Treadlie

If you pop in on a Saturday or Sunday morning, you will find scores of bike riders who have thoughtfully been supplied their very own corner complete with Treadlie reading material. In summer, Diggies opens for dinner and there is nowhere you’d rather be on a balmy night. Today however we had our chill on so inside behind the big glass windows we were.

 

After coffee and a lazy cocktail, we were so dreadfully slow to order. Had I been the waitstaff, I would have been ready to poke a fork in my eye, however, with warm smiles, characteristic laid back diggies style, a gentle nod in the right direction and a comforting hand on the shoulder we eventually made up our mind.

First up was warm flatbread, with minted yoghurt, chimichurri and sea salt, $8.

Flatbread

Perfectly warm, just enough salt and not too heavy.

A short while later, a wait that we didn’t mind at all.  Given a few child free hours, we were discussing the big issues, you know. And then our mains arrived.

My glamorous dining companion ordered the market fish with herb & almond pilaf, watercress & lemon butter $25. This looked sublime and by the licked clean state of her plate at the end of the meal, I suggest it tasted the same.

I was feeling a little more homely and needing a little moment of comfort amongst the wild winter weather.

 

So for me it was the parmesan herb crumbed veal with potato and white bean mash & eshalot jus, $23. The jus was just perfectly sticky and quite lip lickable really.

With the worlds problems nearly solved and end of school fast approaching, there was no time and no room for dessert, however we did manage to squeeze in another quick coffee. These rather spectacular coffee cups are a fairly recent addition and I might suggest a welcome one at that.

 

Diggies today maintained its near perfect score again today with me. I have eaten here clad in bathers (not on their own!) and thongs (the ones for your feet in case you were wondering), met with clients here, been a little bit tipsy and now its been the setting for the discussion of monumentous life changes. I have to say Diggies handles them all quite nicely.

Driving to the Gong? Make sure you drop in.

diggies licenced beach cafe

open 7 days from 7am

1 cliff road. north beach. wollongong. new. australia. 2500

 

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In the past few months, circumstance has forced me to re evaluate. Overwhelmed and overcommitted, a quiet rebellion was taking place inside my head. There was so much busy…….. hectic………stress……….and it was just going around and around and I couldn’t seem to get away.  And for what? I simply did not have time to live. I started to remember what life was like…….before……….before the clutter.

I spent this weekend in Kangaroo Valley. This place is sublime. It heals. There is a special energy there and when I am there this energy fills me. Renews me and feeds my soul.

The Shed

Before I went I had a plan, a list. I always have a plan and a list. I was going to cook gourmet meals, improve my photography, style my food shots, I had some lectures I needed to listen to and I had taken down 2 books to get through. What? 2 books in 3 days?

And then I arrived, and I stopped. I could breathe. My lungs filled with clean air and my head cleared. I poured a glass of wine, I lit the fire and I ate some cheese. And nothing mattered. I forgot the plan, the list. My partner arrived later that evening and we drank more wine and ate more cheese and we stopped.

Our laptops stayed closed. Because we stopped. There is something about being away from the noise of life that forces you to stop. To take it in. To appreciate. Nothing needs to be done, there is nowhere to be and I was reminded of these words.

The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time – Bertrand Russell

There is beauty in simplicity.

 

In a society of abundance and wealth somehow it seems that we have less than we ever did. We are detached from our communities, the elderly live alone, isolated. We commute, we work late. Bigger cars, bigger houses, bigger televisions and somehow, smaller lives. Is the question then what we can take out of our life, rather than what we can add into it?

Simple, Perfect Pumpkin Soup

And so today I share with you, simple. Nothing more is needed. Sit quietly in the sun and be deeply satisfied.

Simple Perfect Pumpkin Soup

About 2kg Jap Pumpkin

125 g butter

50 ml olive oil

1 teaspoon good salt such as Himalayan Pink Salt

1 litre unhomogenised organic milk

freshly ground black pepper

crusty toasted bread to serve

Cut the pumpkin into small cubes, no more than 1″ or grate with a food processor. Cutting the pumpkin into small pieces will allow it to cook quickly extracting the natural sugars and giving you a beautiful sweet soup.

Heat the butter and oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, sprinkle with the salt. Cook the pumpkin, covered, stirring occasionally until it is soft. About 8-10 minutes.

Stir in the milk and bring to the boil.

Blend the pumpkin in a food processor or if you like it chunky you can use a potato masher. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve with beautiful bread.

Enjoy. Appreciate.

 

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I love markets……but my last market affair had been weeks ago in San Francisco when I tasted plums and sour cherries until the juice was dribbling down my chin.

San Francisco Market

This last Friday finally after weeks of commitments and illnesses, I could get back down to my local market, the Wollongong Friday market in Crown Street mall. I love wandering around searching out new treasures. I make it a goal every time I go to a market to try something I have never tried before.

Heirloom Dutch Carrots

Not quite sure what I was going to do with 3 bunches of carrots but unable to resist one in every colour, these had to come home.

The Berry Guy

The guy who runs this berry stand has been here forever and is the quintessential market guy. He’s loud, friendly and don’t think you’ll get past his stall without him catching your eye…..”Two punnets for $8, best quality!” Every week its strawberries, raspberries, whatever berries are out and about. I tried my first logan berries from this stand.

Wonderful winter citrus

And this is just Poppy’s favourite time of year, oranges for breakfast, mandarins for little lunch, just not those blood oranges she tells me!

Honey with honeycomb

 

This honey is non heat treated so all the goodness and health benefits of honey stay intact. Make sure you always buy raw, non heat treated honey or you might as well just eat sugar on your toast!

Lovely sourdough

And beautiful freshly baked sourdough………..be early because they always sell out!

Batlow Apples

And if you have ever been to a market in the Illawarra, you will recognise this guy, the Batlow apple guy. He does all the markets down here. He has one of those old fashioned apple peelers and corers and Poppy always makes sure she gets a yummy peeled and cored apple from him!

The treasure for the day?

And so what was the find of the day? Blood Limes! There is one stall holder there who always seems to have something a bit different. Last time I saw him it was mushrooms, pine mushrooms and saffron milkcaps. Blood limes are an Australian hybrid, citrus fruit developed by the CSIRO on a project to investigate salt resistant crops. Apparently a little sweeter than a regular lime and it is actually a cross between a Red Finger Lime and an Ellendale Mandarin. The grower I was talking to suggested using these in a sauce or dressing.  However……….. I have a hankering for a dessert …………I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

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If I could live on one food and one food alone, it would have to be baklava. I adore it. I crave it and if I had to choose between baklava and chocolate, baklava would win every time.

Yesterday, Poppy and I had to go up to Westmead hospital. After arriving there and finding endless lines and hours to wait  just get into the carpark we decided to first head off for some lunch. About 10 minutes drive from Westmead is a suburb called Auburn. One of my friends upon learning of my baklava love, had told me that I had to make a visit here.

I grew up not too far from here and when I was growing up, it certainly was not the Turkish food mecca that it is today. Sydney has over the past 20 years developed these food hubs. Haberfield for Italian food, Cabramatta for Vietnamese, Punchbowl for Lebanese, Marrrickville for Greek, Korean in Eastwood and Petersham for Portuguese. 20 years ago, some of these now destination suburbs were less than desirable places to visit, however now they are some of the most colourful and delicious place to visit and eat.

I had heard from a few people about Mado cafe and when we arrived in Auburn, Poppy and I had our tummies firmly set on a mythical sounding ice cream made from a wild orchid root that needed to be eaten with a knife and fork! But first, some lunch! We headed first to Godze, which from the outside looks like a takeaway store. The giant skewers of meat in the window indicate to me that we are in for a treat. Poppy’s nickname is sometimes “meat beast” as she devours meat not unlike a ravenous carnivore, and so the sight of these giant skewers produces a beaming smile from her.

Shish Kebabs

We grab a table inside and order a mixed plate of shish kebabs. Whilst we are waiting, we spy a big glass box with a tap in the middle pumping out what looks like milk. We enquire about this and are told that it is “yoghurt water with salt” or ayran. We order some and it is strangely refreshing. Our waitress tells us, that in summer it is delicious served with chopped up cucumber.

Ayran

This is actually a great place to eat with kids. Poppy loved watching the meat chargrill in the front window and being Ramadan at the moment the shop was relatively quiet considering it was lunchtime.

Chargrilling the meat

When our lunch came, I was so glad we didn’t order more! It was a giant serving! As you can see, Poppy was in such a hurry to get into the kebabs, she couldn’t even wait for me to take a photo!

The meat came with a yummy tomato salad, onions, rice, red cabbage and a lovely pile of turkish bread. Needless to say we enjoyed the delicious smoky meat. Always concious of leaving room for dessert, Poppy soon announced it was time for the “ice cream you eat with a knife and fork”!

We made our way up the street to Mado and discovered that stepping into this cafe is like entering another world. It is beautifully decorated with rugs and Turkish artefacts hanging from every possible space.

Inside Mado Cafe

It was a mission to get Poppy to sit down and not explore inside every single pot and pick up every single object in her sight!

Mado Cafe

We ordered the Kazandibi (charred pudding) and the Maras Ice Cream with a Turkish coffee and an Apple tea for Poppy.

Kazandibi

This pudding is so hard to describe. I can’t think of a western texture like it. Its somehow thick and gelatinous and stretchy and yum with delicious pistachios on top! But the Maras ice cream is the big hit!

Maras Ice Cream

According to the menu; “the people of Maras have produced this confectionary by mixing the snow layers accumulated from the caves and pits on the outskirts of the legendary Ahir Mountain, with the fruit essences, the foundation of this tradition.

The sweet confectionary, named “Karsambec” by the unknown flavour masters, gained consistency in time, with some substance additions such as honey, milk and salep. In the hands of latter skilful masters it has reached the peak of development and was named “Dondurme”

The salep obtained as a result of processing the tuber roots of the orchids that have a high nutrient value, is added to the milk. The marvellous consistency and taste that was mentioned is obtained in this way. It is believed that salep may have an aphrodisiac effect since the ancient times. Salep has a significant place in medicine and has been used as a medicine in various forms. The famous scholar, Ibn-I Sina recommended the sale of salep as an aphrodisiac, the means for strengthening the self, and appetiser, stimulating the mind and appetite and as a stimulator for respiratory tracts.”

In any case as I finished off a delicious murky turkish coffee, Poppy informed me that she didn’t like it……….she LOVED it!!!! And that means a good day was had by all!

Turkish Coffee

As we left, I couldn’t resist buying some baklava on the way out. The waitress told me that they bring this baklava in from Turkey which would explain perhaps why it is not as textural as the locally made baklava that I usually eat. I was told once that Turkish Baklava is made with sugar syrup only whereas some countries will use honey in their baklava. The baklava I usually eat has very distinct honey and cinnamon flavours.

Nonetheless, I can’t resist taking home some of the thin crispy layers drizzled with sugary syrup and filled with pistachios or walnuts (walnuts are my favourite).  It is delicious and I eat it the next day with coffee.

Baklava

Note……please excuse the grainy photos! They were taken on my iPhone in really unfriendly light. I couldn’t resist sharing though!!

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Last night I had a friend over who is headed back over to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday. When she was here a few weeks ago, she bought a small flask of Al-Qahwa, (pronounced Ghe-wha) a Saudi Arabian coffee. It is completely sublime and I have been quite obsessed lately with this heady spiced coffee made with cardamom, saffron and cloves.

Roasted Coffee Beans, Green Coffee Beans, Cardamom, Saffron, Ground Cloves for Al-Qahwa

It is traditionally drunk from beautiful little glasses that are not filled up the whole way. Now, being quite the coffee fan, I am used to my large cappucino and so not to fill these beautiful little glasses all the way up requires a great deal of constraint on my behalf .

Al-Qahwa

According to Ya Salam Cooking  , “when serving you should pour enough coffee to fill the cup slightly more than one third, but definitely less than half as over filling indicates that the server is not hospitable and would like the guest to leave as quickly as possible.” Now, as you can see from my picture, this I did not achieve but truly it is because it is just so yummy…………..

My friend had brought me some bags of roasted coffee beans, unfrosted green coffee beans, cardamom, and a bag of the ground clove, ground cardamom and saffron spice mix she makes herself. To go with it she had brought the stickiest caramel tasting dates, Awamat, which are like crisp doughnut balls, you can find a recipe here and another yummy caramel tasting cake made with condensed milk but I can’t remember the name of it.

Awamat, dates and cake

I love how food is shared between cultures, I remember going to Japan about 15 years ago and staying with a Japanese friends family. The mother of my friend couldn’t speak a word of English, but wanted to show me how to have a traditional tea ceremony. It was lovely, no words needed, just a sharing of cultural traditions over tea. Similarly, Wafa has left me with a little part of her homeland, a shared tradition, that I will treasure.  I urge you to give it a try. It really is well worth the effort.

Al-Qahwa

Roast green coffee beans under the grill turning every 10 seconds until they are lightly toasted

1 tbspn full cream milk

1 1/2 tbspn cardamom

Pinch Saffron

Pinch ground cloves

Boiling water about 400 – 500 ml

Bring the water up to a high heat and add all the ingredients in. Bring to the boil, the top will be slightly frothy.

Let stand for a few minutes so the spices sink to the bottom before pouring.

Serve with a sweet treat such as sticky dates or baklava……..yum

TIP – As it is drunk slowly in small amounts, I would suggest popping this into a flask to save reheating it and then you can sip it over several hours, perfect for a girls afternoon tea.

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I am always intrigued by the  extraordinary ability that food has to bond people and create shared experiences. A shared meal allows the cook to experience the joy of creation and giving and the guest the experience of receiving and gratitude. I am often reminded of this when I watch Jamie Oliver present his lively, homely food on bread boards or giant platters for communal digging in and sharing. Even more than a formal meal served on fine crockery and the good cutlery, sometimes, the mish mash of second hand, non matching plates and platters and a cluster of cutlery in the middle of the table in an old jam jar creates an environment of closeness and intimacy.

After coming back from the US, we were really having some serious holiday withdrawals this last week and most of all had been talking about the sublime Hogwash and Sweetwaters oysters that we had had in San Francisco. I had once again become lost in a food market, swept up by rows and rows of chocolates I had never seen…….Chocolat Moderne Butter Toffee with Welsh Sea Salt Crumbled into Fine Dark Chocolate, or the Vosges Organic Enchanted Mushroom; Reishi mushrooms, walnuts and dark chocolate and the delicious Taza’a Mexican style stone ground Guajillo Chilli chocolate, not to mention the delicious Sunny Seeds; chocolate covered Sunflower seeds.

The boyfriend after snapping a few shots of me inspecting the fabulous produce had become bored and wandered off out of sight. When I emerged perhaps 1/2 an hour later, I was rather pleasantly surprised to find him at the Hog Island Oyster Bar just next to the market with an enormous oyster platter waiting to be devoured with a rather large glass of crisp white wine by its side! Here began our love affair with the American Oyster……..

We had the signature dressing, described in The Hog Island Oyster Lover’s Cookbook as “A savoury variation on the classic mignonette sauce – a vinegar and shallot topping for oysters – this sauce was developed by Mark Miller of Santa Fe’s Coyote Cafe. Michael Watchorn, cofounder of Hog Island Oyster Company, riffed on Mark’s original, adding cilantro and jalapeño, and it has since become Hog Island’s signature topping. The mixture of seasoned and unseasoned rice vinegar gives it the perfect balance of acidity and sweetness.”

And so, my food experiences merge. We decided to splurge a little and relive for a few minutes the sheer joy at eating a completely new flavour. The burst of sensation that fills your mouth, the widening of your eyes as your tastebuds ripple with excitement. As we ate Sydney Rock Oysters with Hogwash and Sweetwaters on a winters night back home, sitting around my kitchen bench, hardly a setting fit for such a meal, memories came flooding back with the taste of the sublime dressing, the view out to the waters of San Francisco Bay, the enthusiastic service delivered with gusto from the wait staff as our wine was refilled. That day spent wandering through the wharf, eating drinking and laughing now merged with a new shared experience. A plate of oysters, a whole fish, flavoured with the leftover herbs and chillis from the oysters and a bottle of sake around my kitchen bench. In that moment as I looked at my daughter and by boyfriend tucking into a shared meal with no plates, eaten straight of the budget platters they were served on, mismatched glasses and I felt that life was complete. A new perfect moment.

Hogwash and Sweetwaters taken from the The Hog Island Oyster Lover’s Cookbook 

1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar

1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar

1 large shallot, minced

1 large jalapeño chili, seeded and minced

1/2 bunch of leaves cilantro finely chopped ( I used coriander as I didn’t have any cilantro)

Juice of 1 lime

3 dozen Pacific or Eastern Oysers on the half shell, on a bed of crushed ice

In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the oysters. Just before serving, stir the mixture to make sure you pick up all the goodies in the bowl. Top each oyster with a teaspoonful of the sauce. Serve immediately.

My only improvement to this recipe is that it is almost essential to serve this with a crisp white wine or live on the edge a little and serve with a little sake……….YUM……this is a recipe to save your spare change for, save…….and then savour…..every last mouthful.

Book available for purchase here

http://www.amazon.com/The-Island-Oyster-Lovers-Cookbook/dp/1580087353/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1342654885&sr=8-1&keywords=hog+island

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