Souvenier Cabbage

One of the things I love the most about travelling around the state is visiting the many farm shops that line the highways. Whether they be fully fledged veg stalls the size of small supermarkets (the one outside Bellingen has it’s own petrol pumps so as to maximise drop bys), to a cardboard sign outside someone’s house, flogging excess garden produce, I love them all.

So it was no surprise to Mr C that our trip back from Bellingen recently took hours longer than it should have, mainly because I was slowly filling the back seat of the car with locally grown produce.

Any visit to the banana coast of course cannot be complete without a stash of beautiful yellow ‘nanas. But this time my eye was also caught by pineapples (not that local as they almost certainly came from Queensland, but hey! it was closer than it would have been….) – two different varieties – and many different varieties of avocado. Or snot pears, as my inlaws so charmingly describe them. Peppers, aubergines, nuts (local pecans), onions…into my basket they went. It doesn’t have to be exotic, as long as there’s the whiff of just-picked about it.???????????????????????????????

So it was that we reached Gladstone, NSW, a tiny place north of Kempsey just off the Pacific Highway. Really, there’s not a lot there. But what there is, is a small shop run by a lovely lady who sells her own produce from her farm, supplemented by her own chutneys and jams. IMG_6095She’d just picked a small box of broad beans and was anxious to show me how to pod them – and was delighted when I told her I usually grow my own; though hadn’t had the space this year. We bought a half kilo (I do get bored of double podding after a half kilo or so), some of her chilli mustard pickles, and half a freshly caught cabbage. We ate the broad beans in a simple pasta/olive oil & herbs combo with lots of parmesan that night; but what to do with that lovely cabbage?

Having BBQ pork belly in mind for dinner this week I immediately thought of a semi pickled cabbage accompaniment to cut through some of the fattiness. So it was only one small step beyond that to actually preserving my lovely cabbage for future enjoyment…

Pickled White Cabbage

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Ingredients

  • 1/4 large, firm headed white cabbage
  • 2 large carrots
  • 1 litre cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon each black peppercorns, fennel seeds and coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons each salt, sugar
  • 1 large clove of garlic, finely sliced
  • 2 large jars, sterilised. You’ll need to judge how many/what size according to the size of your cabbage.

Finely shred the carrot and cabbage. As this was a ‘homegrown’ cabbage, I washed the shreds. Even though the leaves of the cabbage were fairly close-knit, there was a bit of grit in between the leaves.

Place all the other ingredients in a non stick or stainless steel pan, and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes to infuse flavours. ???????????????????????????????Meanwhile, carefully layer the carrot and cabbage into the jars, squashing them down as much as possible. When full, pour over the spiced vinegar. Leave for a few minutes for the vegetables to soften a little; you’ll find they will squash down further at this point and you can cram in even more. Really push them down, so as to leave as few airpockets as possible. Top with more vinegar if needed until all the vegetables are submerged.???????????????????????????????

Seal carefully and refrigerate. You’ll need to leave this for at least a week or two for the vinegar to mellow.???????????????????????????????

Pipis (Not) For Free*

The most wonderful thing happened to me the other evening as we took a stroll along the beach, just as the sun dipped below the horizon. As we ambled, chatting inconsequentially, we noticed two middle aged couples stooping occasionally, rootling around in the sand and occasionally popping something in their bags. As we drew closer I could see what looked like shells in their bags, so I asked them – what was the go?

The two Italian ladies, for Italian they were, told me they were picking clams as they were enjoying their stroll, and showed me how to look for the tell tale pattern they leave in the sand as the surf retreats, wave after wave. To my delight, I caught one pretty much immediately and bam! I was hooked.

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My ladies were keen to pass on their knowledge and boy, was I keen to learn, so we walked together for a while and I watched as they would stare intently at the retreating waves, and then pounce!

The key seemed to be a tiny catch in the sand, as if of a twig in a stream, and as it disappeared, it left behind it a slightly indented area in the sand. Very occasionally, it gave off a giveaway bubble as well.

I had a go myself, and quickly found I was quite good at it. That, or these clams are terminally slow. In no time I had a reasonable handful, and not much time after that, quarter of a bag full (Mr C had a spare on him, the well prepared chap). I felt elemental, a forager, a hunter gatherer, living off the land as early people must have, and other post gin and tonic romantic bollocks. It was pretty exciting though. So much fun! Before I knew it the moon was up and the light was the sulphur yellow of the electric floods by the RSL, and it was time to go home with my prizes.

clams2Being a Brit, I’m not 100% on local species yet, so it took a search on the Sydney Seafood School’s website to realise that my clams were the much vaunted pipis I’ve heard Australians talk about. Fabulous!

Next, desanding them in fresh, then salted water – after reading a few posts on the best way to get them to spit the grit – it was amazing to see their little tongues (feet? Are they like snails?) poking out into the salted water, tasting their new home. Albeit a very temporary home. For looming large in their immediete future lay pan frying with garlic, ginger, spring onions and soy, with a splash of Mirin.

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They took about 5 minutes to open under their steam bath. Next time* we’ll spend more time on the degritting process – we cracked after an hour and cooked them up anyway, and to be honest, they were kinda crunchier than optimal – but they were delicious!

*UPDATE : I’ve subsequently been told that fishing for pipis to eat is apparently restricted to certain areas and, as I’ve no idea where those areas are, I won’t be catching any more. I’ve amended this post and don’t recommend anyone does as I mistakenly did.

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The Entrance Lake House

On another of our jaunts up to The Entrance to have a butchers at the bi-weekly market, we stopped in for lunch at The Lake House. What a treat! As you know by now, I’ve been spoilt by the bright lights and excellent food of Inner West Sydney being on my doorstep, and hence I’m on the look out, always, always, for a great place to hang and eat.

Strikes me that the Lake House is going to be fulfilling both in my life from now on.

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Even on a chilly, rainy day, the view out over Tuggerah Lake was restful from our table through big plate windows despite the few hardy souls, dressed inappropriately, fishing out in the rain. Skipping the breakfast menu containing the usual brekkie suspects, we opted for lunch, which came in two flavours, set, or a la carte. We knew we’d have to wait until noon for our lunch so, having ordered, we settled down to Toby’s Estate coffee and a quiet mull over the week just gone. Mr C said his espresso was a little burnt tasting but that was absolutely our only teeny complaint of the whole lunch. Which is to say, miniscule.

Whilst waiting we flipped through the drinks menu, happily noting a theme of lots of local stuff such as Rabbit Hole Tea from Erskineville (funny, never noticed the fields of camellia sinesis while we were there) & Anoint Herbal tea from Gosford. This time around we weren’t drinking, but we’re coming back for 4 Pines Kolsch (Manly) and draught Murrays Whale Ale (Port Stephens), and maybe a couple of the not so local but interesting sounding  Barossa Valley Organic ale.

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I was delighted with the water bottles; antique ex soda syphons collected from round and about. Who knew Woy Woy manufactured soda once upon a time?

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As we pondered the bygone glass and drinks manufacturing habits of here & about, the cafe steadily filled with bedraggled folks, all of whom looked immediately happier upon reaching the welcoming interior. Having only been open 4 months, the place has obviously already gained a loyal following. A large table was set with linen and balloons for a celebration. Caffeine fiends braved the outdoor tables to sup their espresso, ponder the view, and bugger off again. Upstairs boasted of function space and parties.

Just after noon, as promised, our food arrived.

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Trio of crispy pork belly, citrus caramel

My pork belly was awesome. Crispy, as advertised, but without that over-salted thing that happens when you try to quickly crisp a crackling. Attached to the meat – no cheating by removing and deep frying or grilling separately. Somehow delicately flavoured despite the use of normally robust fish sauce and coriander, spring onions. And the meat itself just the right side of cooked; gelatinous fat (this is a good thing), soft flesh perhaps just tending towards drying out but stopped just before. For a cafe, such a surprise that I think my eyebrows disappeared up into my hairline for a moment or two. And the caramel was indeed, citrusy. But not cloying. Phew.

For some reason I plumped for chips, a decision I guilted about for about 10 minutes after ordering, given that I’m meant to be cutting back on fats in my diet. I considered calling back the lovely waitress & swapping for a salad. Jees, am I glad I didn’t.

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I don’t want to over state things here, but these were the best chips I’ve ever had in my life. Even better than the chips cooked in beef fat at the chippy in Aldeburgh, Suffolk; better than Tommislav’s chips with vinegar spray, better than the sweet potato chips we had at that burger joint yonks ago when we were really hungry. They were heroic, thick, properly chuffed potatoes, fluffy as on the inside, glassy crunchy on the outside. Seriously, that picture in no way does them justice. Mr C, who had a whopping great plate of perfectly decent pasta, tucked into them with gusto before I stabbed him with my fork. Those dippy things, not that they were needed, were garlic aioli, chilli salt and a chilli sauce with a mystery ingredient we were scratching our head over for a while. I thought Worcester sauce. Which makes it sound grim, huh? But it wasn’t. It was yum.

Turning to Mr C’s prawn linguine:

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This was a good solid, garlicky, prawns n pasta affair. Great stuff, but, as he put it, I won.

9/10

The Entrance Lake House, 27 The Entrance RdThe EntranceNSW 02 4332 5253