Lord Howe Island

IMG_9595House of Chopsticks upped sticks and went ‘abroad’ over the holidays – to another part of New South Wales. 500km off the coast of NSW to be precise, to the South Pacific paradise of Lord Howe Island.

This really is an island idyll; all palm trees, beaches and coral, mountains – and rain. Keeps everything green! An eco hotspot, only a limited number of tourists are allowed onto the island at any one time – I think something like 400. Even at peak season (Christmas/New Year) it was easy to imagine yourself in the desert island scenario from the number of people about. Only without the desert. No native land animals (just a few non native cows and dogs; there used to be goats but they became a pest and were ‘removed’).

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Most people come here for the amazing scenery, birdlife, fantastic diving and snorkelling, and generally to kick back & enjoy the lack of mobile phone coverage. It’s a slower pace here, for sure. Birds have to be shooed off the roads. Baby snowy terns stare at you from low tree branches. Turtles swim up to you in the lagoon.IMG_9726

Nightlife is loud – but not because of bars and human cavorting – mostly it’s the birds. This is a bird watcher’s paradise – even for non twitchers as we, it was a delight. The mutton birds (shearwaters) in particular were gorgeous – despite the downside of them calling all night on the east side of the island, I forgave them, as their calls of “pick me! pick me!” were utterly charming and made us squeal with the cuteness of them all. Graceful in the air, each evening they transform into clumsy land beasts; they roost on the ground in scrapes or just where they land, wobbling comically on drunken legs as they squabble loudly amongst themselves for the best sleep spot. It’s deafening, endearing and infuriating all at once.IMG_9543

Mutton bird on its ‘nest’

Food wise, pretty much all of the accommodation options have food built in – whether as an onsite restaurant, optional or all inclusive, or – as in our case – available to be bought, as we were self catering. There are grocery stores on the island; Thompsons and the poorly named Joy’s (she didn’t appear too joyous to us) plus a bottle shop for your wine and beer requirements. Both stocked a pretty wide range of foods – frozen meats, tinned and grocery goods. Some veggies, though the selection was poor while we were there. There was even lactose free milk – UHT – much to my surprise. The best meat I saw came from a third grocers up near Ebbtide apartments, Top End, on the Ned’s Beach side of the island. Great thai beef and coconut sausages from there. Earl’s Anchorage, an all purpose cafe / restaurant / bar and the main hang out on the island, had some terrific bakery items and breads baked onsite too.

Most useful of all is the local co-operative; opposite Earl’s, you can buy small amounts of dried foodstuffs in takeaway recycled containers, weigh and save style. Perfect for short stay self catering. There’s  locally grown veggies too.

Protein wise, fresh fish is the way to go here – everything has to be shipped over from the mainland if it can’t be grown or harvested locally. It also means foodstuffs grown on or caught off the island will be way fresher – unless you’re lucky enough to catch the mainland boat delivery. Kingfish was very much on the menu wherever we went, whether as sashimi, carpaccio, battered, grilled or pan fried; in pasta or with chips in our case. Though I did have a Morton bay bug linguine – in an astoundingly salty sauce – thinned at my request. Yellow fin tuna also appeared at the Anchorage café/restaurant/bakery towards the end of our stay. I never can remember which of the tuna species are endangered – I know Bluefin is, & skipjack is OK; yellowfin falls into a brain fart for me – I think it’s ‘only’ threatened. So I hope it was OK to be eating poor Mr Yellow-Fin.

Naively we’d assumed it would be OK to rock up at restaurants of an evening for our dinners – in fact being New Year, pretty much everywhere was fully booked already. Good job we were self catering or we’d have gone hungry! We managed to get into Pandanus on NYE; food was nice enough though not outstanding. Expensive, but then it was New Year’s Eve.

In the end we fell back on our own self catering standbys most of the time. It’s amazing what you can do with a tin of tomatoes, some pasta and sausages. Lentils from the cooperative were also a find. We ate a lot of eggs. We were on a budget, having splashed out for the holiday in the first place, so here are my top tips for enjoying a frugal Lord Howe holiday:

  • Go self catering – even if you decide to eat out in the evenings, it’s still a huge money saver when you factor in lunches and brekkies made yourself;
  • Take a selection of spices with you to liven up your home cooked foods. Taking just enough saves you buying lots when you arrive, at inflated prices.
  • There’s no problem with taking your own food with you generally, as long as you observe the same rules as you would flying into NSW from interstate. I’m not vegetarian and I was seriously pining for fresh veg by the end of the week!!
  • You can take bottles of wine with you on the plane (if you are starting your trip in Australia!) and they will be cheaper than the equivalent locally available. We took a 10 year old Zinfandel from Lowe in Mudgee for our special occasion – no way that would have been sourced from the liquor store!
  • QantasLink have a weight limit of 14kg checked baggage – most places on the island have honesty systems for borrowing stuff like snorkelling gear or books so borrow or hire on island to save weight.
  • Book restaurants in advance if you want to eat out peak season. Earl’s Anchorage  was available most nights, and is nice, but that could get old if you were here for a fortnight;
  • Use the co-op for topping up your pantry items for self catering.

We can’t wait to go back!

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Onion Marmalade

IMG_9832I know, right? Marmalade. Onion. Sounds weird. Think chutney, though, and all of a sudden it’s hotdogs, sharp cheddar & crisp crackers, alongside chops, grilled cheese toasties….the list is endless. Why is it called marmalade? No idea. Maybe because it’s very sugary, or because the lovely thin strands of sweetly pickled onions look like curls of orange rind in marmalade. Who knows. Whatever; it’s delicious with just about anything. Though maybe not ice cream. Mind you it is quite sweet….IMG_9823

A glut of organic onions having hit the Chopsticks kitchen recently, it was time to wheel out an old recipe of mine for Onion Marmalade (..thinking chutney still?) which, according to my scrawled notes, I once used in 2002. It’s in imperial measures because it’s an old recipe. I have made a concession to modernity in brackets in the ingredients list only, because I am, ultimately, a lazy cow. Deal with it. So here we go.

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds (1.8kg) onions, peeled
  • 1.5 pints (845ml) good cider vinegar
  • 2 pounds (900g) raw organic sugar (it doesn’t have to be raw organic but heck, the onions were good quality, why shouldn’t the sugar be?)
  •  3 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 10 cloves
  • 10 star anise
  • 3 sticks cinnamon
  • 6 cardomom pods
  • 2 dried chillies (go crazy if you like it hot)
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns

Method

1) Chop your onions. This is a bucketload so I recommend using a processor with one of those slicing attachments if you have it; that way if you cut your onion in half like so:

IMG_9825and feed it sideways into your processor chute, you end up with lovely long slices a la marmalade strips. Pretty. It makes not one jot of difference to the taste though so hack ’em up however you see fit.

2) Place sliced onions and all the other ingredients into a large saucepan. The vinegar never looks enough here, and I always end up adding more. In this case, 1.3 pints, which I then have to boil off. I never learn. 1 pint would have done here.IMG_9824 IMG_9826

3) Bring to the boil, stirring steadily to dissolve the sugar.IMG_9827

See? Suddenly there is enough liquid.

4) Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 1 – 1.5 hours, or until it looks more like this:IMG_9829

5) Ladle carefully into sterilised jars and label when cold. You can pick out the larger spices first if you like.

6) Put the jars somewhere cool and dark for at least a month to pickle. Longer if you can. If you open one and it tastes like pickled onions, leave the rest another month at least. And I guess treat the jar you opened as…pickled onions!

 

Fishermen’s Wharf, Woy Woy

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Fishermen’s Wharf has a surprisingly varied beer menu. This totally gets my vote. Woy Woy is utterly devoid of decent drinking holes – actually, holes is a better description of what there is – so forking out to eat good seafood in order to drink beer with a water view doesn’t seem too much of a hardship. Sitting out on the Wharf itself you could be forgiven for thinking you’re actually somewhere rather nicer than, well, Woy Woy. The view is of Brisbane Water, Pelican Island and pelicans – lots of pelicans, some of them roosting mere feet away, eyeing up you, and more specifically, your fish based meal._MG_4484

A pelican…

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Pelican Island, as seen from your table….

There’s actually 3 parts to the ‘Wharf: it’s a multifunctional wet fish/takeaway chippie & cafe/fish restaurant and seems to be pretty popular, particularly since recent accolades. The restaurant is at the back, approached via a side passageway (look up as you walk along, to see curious (hopeful?) pelicans looking down at you from their perches on the roof), and is kitted out bare boards/casual/rustic stylee._MG_4495

Rustic Stylee…..We’re not sure why…

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The restaurant wharf extension

We’d had fish’n’chips from the takeaway before; reasonable stuff (still looking for an Australian equivalent of my beloved chippie in Aldeburgh, in the UK, with its amazing chips and beef dripping fried batter), but – and this might be my imagination – the chips are actually better from the restaurant than from the café out front. And I’m sure it’s the same kitchen. Is there a chip class system in place? Do they hold back the good stuff for the classier types round the back??_MG_4512

Fish of the day – $19.50

For these chips are really pretty good – approaching a glassy crunch on the outside, nice levels of those yummy, slightly browner, more translucent bits – only a fraction more fluffy action on the inside could make them any better. Practically a 9/10. Portion sizes decent too – I had 4 pieces of gurnard in my generic fish of the day and chips (“fry only” – like you’d want them grilled. Pah!) – $19.50. Mr C was cock-a-hoop with 2 fair sized blue swimmers in his crab hot pot special – $28, and though I think we could taste generic sweet chilli sauce making up the basis of the sauce, it was augmented with spring onions and other spicing to make it good enough for me to be chip dunking most of the evening._MG_4504

Blue swimmers, chilli crab

He’s previously had a lightly tarragon flavoured cream sauce with juicy clams plus a snapper & scallop ceviche during another visit – so that’s twice now he’s chosen better than me.  Not that my fish wasn’t well executed – crispy batter top and bottom, fish perfectly cooked through but not over on the thinner parts. I just wanted what he had. Again.

And then there’s the beer. A range of bottled from as far away as Mexico, California & Japan (2 types of rice beer!!) and as nearby as Erina (Six String Brewery, whose easy drinking Hefeweizen I rather took to), with home grown classics in between (Lord Nelson, Stone & Wood, Mountain Goat, Montieths from NZ). Something for everyone, just in time for summer.

I foresee many more visits….

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Ritual Restaurant, Nelson Bay

Ritual Cuisine, 2 Austral St, Nelson Bay NSW 2315,

So: this is a fabulously detailed post, with fascinating detail and (mostly) lovely pictures, but if you’re one of those ‘get to the point’ types, here’s the low down. If you love food as theatre, get to Ritual. Soon. 9/10

First off, let me tell you I have never been asked to fill out an acceptance of terms and conditions document, and return it signed before a booking can be confirmed. Not at the Fat Duck, not at Tetsuyas, not at Momofuku Seibo. Though the latter does have some booking quirks of its own.  So it was a surprise to receive it from Ritual. I mean, I get it, right? No shows give people the shits. I’ve been asked to provide a credit card in advance plenty enough, knowing I’d be charged if I didn’t turn up. Fair enough. Personally, I would never, ever not show up without ringing (well) in advance and explaining my dire emergency to the restaurant concerned. But I know that Joe Public is ultimately a selfish bastard, and can therefore understand eateries’ desire to firm up their bookings any way they can. So I filled out the form, sent it back, and heard…nothing. Until the day of the booking. Mmmm. Interesting start.

Is this a whinge? Am I saying not to go? Nope. Because other than that wee complaint, Ritual was absolutely terrific. Fantastic. Stunning. Dreamy. Whatever. I’m a fan and can I move in next door please? Alongside the IGA and the Malaysian takeaway. Cos that’s the other thing – the location is weird. So much so that when attempting to find them, walking the backstreets far from the hub of the town, we nearly rang to ask if we were in the wrong suburb. It’s in the middle of a quiet, middle class suburb of Nelson Bay, nowhere near anything even remotely ‘happening’.

Sorry, that sounded like another whinge, didn’t it? Well, in that case it will balance out the rest of this post, which frankly is going to sound as if I’m sponsored by Ritual (I’m not, sadly. Though if they want to send me samples of their excellent kimchee, I for one, am not going to complain).

The general format is to choose your appetiser, main, and dessert courses based on 2 samples which are presented and explained by the chef. The seating was described as communal (always gives me the horrors, that, since I hate talking to people I don’t know, finding out that they hold some awful clashing point of view to my own and then be stuck next to them for 4 hours. Ugh). As it turns out, the tables were sized for two but pushed together in a zigzag, cleverly allowing you to be a cosy couple, or sociable should you wish to be. Neat.

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Communal seating and set start time meant Chef had only to describe everything the once, which he did from the centre of the room before each course, presenting the rationale and the background to each dish, and an audience participation thing got going that bordered on a bit of a party atmosphere. There were questions from the floor about ingredients and techniques. Foodie heaven. There was so much information that I had a hard time jotting it all down – and ended up swapping notes with the couple posting photos opposite us! It was as if you’d asked a food blogger what could make a meal more perfect than just the taste, visuals and physicality of it all – most of us would probably say – “background on how it was made – techniques and process, experimentation and all”. Probably didn’t make for a romantic evening for two but I’ve no doubt that everyone was having a whale of a time – I could see they were.

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The first 2 samples – pork & apple, and white chocolate & caper

After leaving us for a while to taste the 2 samples, chattering excitedly about what the tasters could be leading to, he returned to take our orders, going round the room for call outs. Until each course was actually presented, we were kept guessing as to content; a totally genius way to keep the tension going, interest up. In between main courses were a succession of tidbits and more audience participation, ensuring we were never left idling waiting while food was prepped. Extra neat. The four hours just flew by!

Anyway – to the food. We started, outside over drinks, with a series of canapés, beginning with rosemary & garlic candy floss, served on a ‘stick’ of rosemary.??????????????????????????????? Intriguingly sweet at the same time as garlicky, it was a pleasing glimpse into the experimental nature of the food to come. As was the next canapé, an artichoke sorbet. Though not stated, I suspect from the flavour it was Jerusalem artichoke, earthy and actually quite plain. Wasn’t my favourite thing. Unlike the tom yum soup bubbles served on a tiny onion omelet, presented as ‘eggs’, with coriander & chilli ‘papers’ to add if you wished to. We wished to. It was divine. My flashed out picture, taken in the increasing twilight, simply doesn’t do it justice:???????????????????????????????IMG_9203

One of the pre dinner seating areas, cleverly separated from the restaurant by hanging dividers

Then it was time to take our places indoors and start the meal proper. I’d noticed while we were sitting outside that there was a fair bit of prep going on – intriguingly, on the wall hangings, where small canisters were being placed, and plastic spheres were appearing on a faux tree of wire.???????????????????????????????


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Intriguing paper lined little pots on the walls

At one end of the room, a wire covered ‘tree’ stood, surrounded by astro lawn. Peering into the tree, trying to work out the contents of the plastic ‘fruit’ balls – of which, more later – certainly made for an ice breaker, setting the format for the evening to come.IMG_9221

Though we’d been told not to try the soup spoon samples until they’d been described, we had a few more nibbles to be going on with while everyone settled down. Salty titbits in a wee bowl, plus a tiny – oh, so tiny! – spoonful of delectable kimchee, that I could’ve eaten by the truckload full:

???????????????????????????????After hot water was added to another bowl, the white tablet inside resolved into our instant hot hand towel. Kinda cute.  A pineapple and black sesame sorbet cleared the palate again – by now though the meal proper hadn’t begun we were already on our 6th or 7th dish.???????????????????????????????

Pineapple sorbet, black sesame

We were advised that all the nibbles were intended as prebiotics – a subject dear to my heart – the kimchee and pineapple especially. Finally we were allowed to try our first choice spoons – apple and pork or white choc and caper.  Orders were taken, and by this time the excitement over what could possibly be coming next was palpable. Delightfully, one of the pieces of wall art come into play – the artists models along one wall, each holding a diminutive tray.

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Hot, fresh from the oven baby rolls were placed for us to chose from; a camomile sourdough. This from a starter begun 2 years ago from water & camomile, allowing natural yeasts in the air and on the flowers to take hold.

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I could’ve eaten another – ooo, dozen or so? But no need, as at last the first ‘proper’ course arrived, the result of choosing the white chocolate and caper selection:

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A chicken brioche ‘pie’ with a white chocolate sauce, mange tout dukkah, containing chilli & caraway, cumin & hints of pickled onion, the salted capers almost licorice-y.  Personally I couldn’t handle the sweetness of the white chocolate here so I was pleased it was served separately. Mr C wolfed his and the rest of mine. In an error of judgement we had both chosen the same dish. No photos therefore of the apple and roast porky crackling amazement that we saw being delivered to the rest of the tables. (The split, in case you’re wondering, was about 50/50 for most of the dishes.)

Next up was a lime sorbet ‘cooked’ in nitrogen with a parsley dust and sherbet – the parsley giving an interesting grassy flavour to the zing of the lime.

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No sooner than that was snaffled, the second tasters appeared – one containing beetroot & the other, mushroom:???????????????????????????????

In between the ordering and the delivery of our mains, the wall art was reloaded with more teeny rolls; this time a pretzel bread, to be served with ‘beer butter’ – a bitter tasting, to me almost quinine-y, tannic affair complementing the dark, shiny bread.

More excitingly, we were encouraged to get up, wander about and help ourselves to the other wall hangings – which turned out to be Fish & Chips – the little paper lined pots containing sashimi, and the plastic spheres, celery crisps, deep fried pickled ginger, & crispy wonton skins. I’ll be making pickled ginger crispy in my own kitchen I think – it was a bit special.???????????????????????????????The beetroot sampler turned out to be kangaroo, with a strong beetroot theme; it had been marinated in beetroot, and was served with coffee marinated beetroot, deep fried beetroot, cous cous, & pickled cherries:

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I wasn’t expecting coffee’d beetroot to be as interesting as it was but actually that was one of my favourite parts of the dish – though the rest was delicious as well; the kangaroo tender, cooked to perfection (I’ve always managed to make it leather like in my attempts to cook it).

Mr C chose the mushroom – in fact, as I had specified no mushrooms for my dishes, I didn’t even receive the mushroom sample spoon – and his dish was a stunner.

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House smoked chicken yakatori, which had also been confit’d to fall apart tenderness, on buckwheat in stock & mushrooms, plus hazelnut, artichoke, pickled gherkin & onion in a separate cast iron casserole. That was dreamy, yumtious chicken. Healthy dose of carbs too – always welcome if I’m drinking; the frequent lack of which is one of my complaints about fine dining. Anyway, no such problems here.

Round about this point, given the matched wines (matched beers or teas also available), things started to get just a little hazy. I clearly recall the pink peppercorn fudge – partly because of the theatre of picking it from the final wall art:

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Pink peppercorn fudge

But this final palate cleanser I sadly failed to make a note of:

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And so to dessert, and our final sample spoons of the day:

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On one was a spiced apple (so I thought) and the other strawberry and cream.

The spiced apple was actually pear, and my notes are just a scrawl at this point. I think I said “poached, with pomegranate, malt, chocolate soil, pear, choc cake, cardomom ice cream, fudge choc malt (or milk??)”. Well whatever, it was lush. And see that dessert wine? That was lush too. God knows what it was. ???????????????????????????????

This is why I try not to do restaurant reviews. Do you see? Anyway, we again failed miserably and Mr C also chose pear (see comment above) – frankly the chances of him passing up on anything chocolate-y were slim to non existent. So here’s a picture of another couples’ strawberry based dessert:

???????????????????????????????Looks mighty fine, doesn’t it? They wouldn’t let me eat it (I tried) so I have only their thumbs up to go on here. This puts Ritual in that rare category of a restaurant able to do starter, main and dessert to the same standard – so many seem to find this a challenge. We have a code for it – a place is a starter/main (ie crap at afters) or perhaps a starter/dessert. Avoid mains. So another well done, Ritual.

So much of what they achieved in such a small premises is down to canny planning and a real passion for what they do. The format they use to such amazing effect means they can use seasonal ingredients that change, naturally, all the time, much of which can be prepared in advance – all those palate cleansers, for instance – while still making it an interactive and fun experience. They don’t need to have a huge menu – just 2 choices per course, but presented so ingeniously that no-one would ever find this restrictive. If you desire a quiet, romanatic place to pop the question, Ritual may not be for you. But if you are interested in great, sustainable food and a jolly good evening out, get along there. Oh did I mention that they’re also ridiculously cheap?

April 15 update: Disappointed to note that the restaurant is now listed as closed. Sigh.

Port Stephens, NSW

There was a public holiday here in NSW recently and the House of Chopsticks decided a trip to the nearby Port Stephens was called for. In the interests of promoting this lovely part of the world, (Sydneysiders! Life outside the City!) here’s a little travelog.

Staying in Nelson Bay seemed the obvious choice as it’s the most densely populated town-let with the largest range of accommodation (well, largest for a last minute booking – maybe that speaks volumes in itself?), but the real beauty of the area is all around the bay. The rugged, rocky southern side of the peninsula is grandly wild – where it isn’t covered in allegedly the largest moving sand dune in the Southern Hemisphere.

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One of the things that’s a given while you’re here is sandboarding on the famous Stockton Dunes, where you hire a tiny plastic board and are 4WD hauled out to favoured, precipitous spots, ready to spend as long as you like whizzing down ridiculously steep slopes. Well, as long as your legs hold out, what with the walking back up to the top each time. Mr C was dubious about the appeal of this at first, but was soon shrieking like a girl as he plummeted down.

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Check out the height of that dune! We went with Sand Dune Safaris, but there’s plenty of companies to choose from and you can just rock up at the Lower Car Park, Birubi Point, Anna Bay without booking.

And yes, there really are camels, though sadly not wild ones; they were packed up and sent back to their farm home at the end of each day of plodding tourists along the sands.

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But of course it was the food I was most fixated on. No trip to the area can be complete without a trip to Murray’s Brewery – I note they’re doing wines as well these days – and they do a brisk trade of a public holiday weekend, I can tell you. Their Moon Boy ale was a winner with us, as was their most basic (cheapest at $18) garlic pizza:

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They were doing a roaring trade that weekend, and we hadn’t booked a table, so we ended up, as did many others, happily picnicked near their vines, under the shady trees.???????????????????????????????

As to Nelson Bay itself, it’s a fair enough little place. For a relatively small town there is a range of pretty reasonable eateries, alongside the usual seaside offerings. There’s good breakfast and coffee options all along the front, near the Tourist Info office, and a couple of streets in from the Marina are popular cafes recommended to us by several shop keepers. We ate at Sandpipers Restaurant, a nice enough choice but I don’t recall what I ate so…Mr C enjoyed his prawn hotpot, usually a starter but ordered as a main. Through ‘yum’ noises, he commented that its richness could’ve done with a little something green to set it off. I was disappointed that the wholefood cafe Essence on Donald was closed for the public holiday – as they stock foods from Ritual Restaurant (of which more later) and I was ready to pay in blood for their kimchee.

Much is made of the local prawns and oysters – next time we’ll try the Fishermans Wharf and the intriguing sounding ‘Bubs’. But this time we were saving ourselves for our dinner at Ritual. And I’ll tell you about that, next time.

Lazy Tart

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Peach & strawberry cream cheese lazy tart

One of my favourite lazy quick ways to use up fruit about to over ripen is to slice it up and whack it on a puff pastry tart base. I keep some butter puff sheets in the freezer for this very purpose. If I’m feeling virtuous, I’ll do a minimal base of cream cheese and maybe a hint of cream, but otherwise, frangipane never goes amiss.

Lazy fruit tart

  • 1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted
  • sliced fruit of your choice
  • Topping option (see below)
  • 2 tablespoons slivered almonds
  • Honey to drizzle

Pre heat oven to 180 degrees, place puff pastry onto a baking sheet (oiled – even though the pastry is full of butter, that stuff will cling to anything), smother puff sheet with topping choice and arrange sliced fruit. (Don’t be tempted to over ‘fill’ as the pastry won’t cook through in the middle while it happily blackens round the edges as you wait). Scatter almonds. Drizzle with honey or maple syrup, pop into oven until puffed and golden.

Topping choice one:

Dollop of cream cheese or ricotta, couple of tablespoons of cream, pinch of cinnamon – mix together vigorously in a bowl, slather or dollop & cook as above.

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Topping choice two – frangipane (enough for one square puff sheet, plus extra for a couple of ramekins of fruit/frangipane/cream)

  • 65g butter
  • 65g caster sugar
  • 65g Almond meal
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tablespoon plain flour

Cream butter & sugar until pale and fluffy, gradually beat in the egg, fold in the ground almonds and flour. Slather onto your pastry & cook as above.

Fresh cucumber ‘kimchee’

IMG_9291I know that kimchee comes in many flavours, and chinese cabbage is not a pre-requisite, but, lovely though this pickle is, I suspect if you presented it to a die hard, Korean, pickle fan they may snicker lightly. It’s a fridge pickle really, doesn’t have time to ferment as a true kimchee should, and it doesn’t use the proper korean dried chilli peppers. But, whatever, it’s a cracker of a fresh, zingy, lightly chillied relish.

Give it a go, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

I have only very slightly adapted this recipe, and the real credit needs to go to Australian House and Garden magazine, of all places.

Ingredients

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  • 4 or 5 small lebanese cucumbers
  • 1/4 cup medium grain sea salt
  • 4 stalks of kale (I used a mix of homegrown kale and mustard greens, and I prefer there to be more cucumber than greens)

Pickling mix

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • fresh chillies to your taste – we used about 3 hot and one milder, but hey, chilli is such a subjective thing.
  • 2 tablespoons purreed/grated ginger
  • 4 large cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon korean gochujang chilli paste (or you could use chilli powder if you really can’t find it)

First, peel and cut the cucumbers into quarters and slice thinly – about coin wide works well. Lay them in a colander and work the salt in. Leave for at least 30 minutes.IMG_9286

Strip the stalks from the kale and slice thinly. I like to mix them in with the salting cucumbers for the last 5 minutes.IMG_9289

Bring to the boil all the remaining ingredients, stirring, simmer for a minute or two then allow to cool.IMG_9284

Rinse the veggies well under running water until the saltiness is much reduced. They’ll have reduced in volume as the water has been drawn from them. Drain well.

Pack into a container and pour over the pickling liquid, pressing down to submerge fully.IMG_9290 Leave at least overnight before using. I like to give it a bit of a turn whenever I take some out. Keeps in the fridge for a week or two.

Cafés – Central Coast Style

Breakfast locations are not in short supply on the Central Coast.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not complaining about this; I love a good weekend brekkie, especially one I haven’t had to cook myself. For a long while we’ve been wishing for more decent night time options round here though. Particularly looking out over the water – whether that be inland (Brisbane Water, Tuggerah Lake) or the sea.

Seems our wishes have been heard; many of the better cafés are now opening in the evenings, with booze licences and everything.

Newer openings around Ettalong and Umina include the Box on the Water, and Jasmine Green’s Café & Kiosk, Pachamama at Hardy’s Bay, plus there’s a wealth of good cafés in Ettalong already – Coast 175, Ferry Café, Wollombi Pantry to name but the odd one. Coast is the only place I’ve found that I can buy my precious Campos coffee beans up this way too.

So I thought I’d mention a few of my breakfasty / brunch go to’s:

My TOP PICK at the moment – is Pachamama, Hardy’s Bay. (*June ’15: see note, below)IMG_8999For me, they tick all my boxes – local, organic offerings including from their own gardens, green credentials, nice vibe, good view, great food and great service.IMG_9003

View out to Hardy’s Bay from Pachamama

The menu is brief, and changes regularly; I’d prefer a short, well executed menu than one with all the usual suspects, but delivered in a lacklustre fashion. In any event, they were happy to cook a version of one of their dishes just for me because I hate mushrooms. I’m sure they would be happy to whip up whatever you wanted as long as they had the ingredients – and, seeing as they have an (optional) organics bartering thing going on, you could probably just take your own! (The idea is to take them your lovely home-grown organic veggies and in return, you drink their coffee or eat their food, depending on what’s agreed. Toppest top marks! If you eat there in the next day or two and have mustard greens, they will be from my garden!) I was even offered a new flat white if the one they’d made me – with my lactose free milk – wasn’t flat enough (on the basis that she wasn’t used to my milk so it was frothier than she’d hoped!).IMG_9004

Latte/recycled, hand painted chairs

The extra touches with the food make it for me – homemade pesto drizzled our plates, and generous dollops of delicious homemade tomato chutney.IMG_9013Even the egg and bacon roll was adorned with beautifully cooked fresh peas, greens and (sadly for me) mushrooms – which Mr C claimed were really good. Despite having a whole plateful of his own:IMG_9005

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Bespoke, no mushrooms!

Best for ViewPoint Café at Killcare. World class view of the beach and sea from a 1st story vantage point. Downside is the prices. I don’t want to pay $24 for a breakfast, people! Not unless it’s prepared by Heston Blumenthal, anyway. Due to this I now only visit when I have friends to the area to impress with our views.                              Runner up – Box on the Water, Ettalong: looks out over to Wagstaffe and Pretty Beach, on the Broken Bay end of Brisbane Water, where the two unofficially meet up. Pretty as a picture, and great food. Plus they do a naturally lactose friendly coconut milk quinoa porridge. Wow. IMG_9017

The Box on the Water, Ettalong, and the view out towards Lion Island

IMG_9020Runner up – View ain’t half bad from The Entrance Lake House, if you can score a spot near the window, looking out over Tuggerah Lake. Also good if you fancy a microbrewery schooner or two along with. Brunch that is. Not beer with brekkie!   Runner up: Pachamama, Hardy’s Bay; across the road from the bay, the whole café is outside (under cover). My overall top pick, see above.

Best for house roastBlend & Roast, Koolewong. There are a couple of tables outside and a good park 100m away (Couche Park) with lovely views of Brisbane Water for those take aways, but the café itself is not one for the looks. Go here for the coffee, which is roasted in front of you on the premises, and the friendly staff (owner is a Brit, not that I’m biased at all). roaster1

The roaster at Blend & Roast, Koolewong

Honourable mention – Jasmine Greens at Umina Beach; not a house roast but using Mecca coffee from Alexandria, a special brew with amazing citrus notes. Makes for an amazing espresso! Plus awesome food & pastries.

Apparently Loo Loo at Copacobana is good, comes well recommended for it’s house coffees but I haven’t visited as yet. Will let you know when I have.

Kid Friendly – look, Disclaimer: I don’t have kids, and I’m sure most places are kid friendly, but I would say that Jasmine Greens and the Box on the Water are both right next to playgrounds. Also spotted plenty of paper and colouring sticks in happy fervent use on the floor at the former, last time I was there. Easy to see the playground and keep an eye on the blighters through the huge glass windows too.IMG_9030

Awesome Rhubarb & Strawberry toastie, Jasmine Green, Umina

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 Jasmine Green’s and playground

Commuter friendly – Short Black, Woy Woy. Reasonable coffee with a smile, friendly as all get out and in a perfect location to grab and go if you happen to be one of the many who park up at Woy Woy and travel into the City. Love their bacon and sweetcorn muffins; they have a daily range of sweet and savoury muffins and quiches made in house. Not open at weekends.

For when you need deli items too: Wollombi Pantry in Ettalong and The Fat Goose at Hardy’s Bay; coffee is good at both & we love the sweet potato crisps at Wollombi that come with everything.IMG_9002

Just for the home made Greek sausages: Ela Mesa in Woy Woy.  Funny little place which seems to be attached to the motel; doesn’t look promising, but if you scratch the surface and get chatting to the owner, you find out interesting things such as how he makes his own sausages; from goat, marinated in red wine and his own blend of herbs and spices. It is a thing to behold – treacle black like a blood pudding but with a rich, complex flavour. OK I confess this isn’t a serious recommendation but the sausages are really good and there really isn’t much else in Woy Woy….

For the hipster vibe: top of the Central Coast hipster list has got to be Glass Onion Society in Long Jetty. I mean, doesn’t the name say it all? Decent coffee, with art gallery to boot. Trawl round all the vintage shops nearby (of which it is pretty much one itself) and make a morning of it.

Needless to say all the cafes above have been happy to use my lactose free milk when I’ve supplied it. Which is why I do not, sadly, go to Gnostic Manna, Woy Woy any more. They refused.

Edit, June 2015: I’m sad to say Pachamama is closing on 14th June 2015. Just not enough passing trade visiting Hardy’s Bay during the week. But happily Pachamama continues in the form of her catering business; a rare thing is a specialist vegan/vegetarian caterer. Contact them at www.pachamama2257.com .