Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Balmain Tiger

With a name like Adriano Zumbo, there was no way we weren't going to hit it off. Zum-bo! Hitler, Stalin, Dostoevsky...those are names that make you a little anxious, a little apprehensive, 'Zumbo' leaves you with an entirely different sort of expectation of the person you are about to meet. What two syllables could be more laden with whimsy or with fun? Make no mistake, the man lives up to the name. Cake + Knifelings, meet Zumbo, Adriano Zumbo: International Man of Creative Cake Mystery. Zumbo is so much more than the most exciting cafe and patisserie to ever happen in sleepy little Balmain, it is the sugared, rollicking and startling incarnation of one hell of a bright, playful and restlessly creative mind. I have never dabbled in drugs (they haven't come up with an earl grey version of anything illegal yet), but eating at Zumbo is what I image an acid trip feels like. Surely, Adriano Zumbo's frontal lobes put the honourable Willy Wonka's to absolute, sugary shame, and he has done it all himself, with not an Oompaloompa in sight.

Adriano is a playful, prolific, friendly and curious man, I had a 3 minute exchange with him and I walked away smiling. He is gentle and brilliant, generous and inspired, he is having a ball sharing his creations, and you can just see it in his twinkling eyes. You get the sense upon meeting him that this dream has been brewing for a long time, it's like the brilliant birth of a life time of ideas and inspiration, constantly constantly constantly, from everywhere, even the local Supermarket gets this boys brain buzzing like a bee on speed. Zumbo is little short of an edible Guggenheim, a foodies answer to Post Zen Pastry Perfection, Zum is soooo much better than Zen. Nothing simple, nothing underdone, nothing quiet and unassuming here. It's a Baz Luhrmann film on a plate. This is voloptuous, sexy, tarty, wink-at-you-wicked, playful dessert, dressed to the nines. It's in your-face-heavy-metal-marie-antoinette-let-them-eat-cake-oh-so-so-so-decadent choas in confection. I can actually picture Marie Antoinette firing Adriano from Versailles as her head pastry chef because he was just too much for her, too over the top, just too decadent, too excessive for her relatively simple, spartan ways. This guy takes cake to completely new heights. It's what Max Brennar tried to do, but didn't pull off with nearly quite so much deliciousness or spunk. I am surprised the entry to both of these establishments is not marked by some kind of inter-planetary portal, because what greets you as you step inside isn't the every day, it's a new, crazy world through a hungry looking glass, and it is a wonderful thing to behold...

Before you even set lips on one of the gorgeous little Zumbo Mind Babies, the desserts, cakes, ecclairs, tarts, slices, and other dishes which I will have to call an ecstatic 'What-The F?', do a bit of a number on your awed, unexpecting eye. Those of you that aren't comfortable with drooling or panting in public should stay home and stick to frozen Sara Lea, you commit yourself to a Public Display of Affection the moment you pick up a Zumbo menu. Adriano is a culinary messiah, and I am preaching his pre-diabetic word. 

Here is a man who gets it, who understands that beyond taste, food is art, not pretentious art, fun art, it is about reducing fully grown, functional and responsible adults with mortgages, insurance payments, cheating spouses and snot nosed ankle biters, to partially pulverised puddles of anticipating awe and excitement. We all have it in us to get really excited about pretty cake, and that's half the brilliance of the Zumbo way of doing things, before you eat, you will be seduced: the desserts are so maddeningly pleasing to look at, it's not pushing it much to say that they positively lap dance in front of your gobsmacked jaw. So, losing your Zumbo virginity with your new flatmate, your lovely friends and an adorable bunch of Sydney food bloggers that you are meeting for the first, glorious time on a Sunday morning, goes a little something like this...

That's Wheely Wildly Wendy, on the left, she's a bit of a looker, aint she? Hey, hey, she's pretty on the inside too, and gluten free! Wendy is what happens when Zumbo mixes fresh roasted peach in, oh say, some tonka bean creme legere (!?) and then enscones it all in some almond dacquoise discs followed by a quick decadent dip in some crumbly almond dreaminess. For the love of God. My taste buds have been yapping to each other about it ever since. The texture is beyond my meagre grasp of the flimsy language of English. I actually believe happiness would be the feeling on laying your wearied soul, physically, down to sleep on a beautiful bed of this stuff. Give me an Adriano Zumbo afterworld, so I can sigh eternally...

When Passionfruit and Cream get it going on, the above is what happens. Oh, delight of delights! I had a tiny spoonful of this achingly orange treat, and the bright burst of tart passionfruit that releases itself like the singing note of an abandonded, angelic lyre bird from a luscious mouth bath of sweetdreamcream, is perfection, cakeified. It is balanced so artfully, tartness and creaminess each playing their role without one overshadowing the other, it's like romeo and juliet in dessert, and it ends in the premature death of your will power to not have any more. A delicious plague on all our asses.
Those are the gentler baked, berry beauties. Berry custard brioche, strawberry and peach danish. Seriously, why are you people still reading this and not all making a mad dash to darling street for a hit of this stuff. These desserts were gorgeous, ripe, heady fruit playing peekaboo with you through luscious folds of golden pastry. Not too sugared either, I loved the danish and brioche because the flavour of the fruits is what you taste more than the gentle sweetness that cautiously minds its own business in the base notes.

Charles Du Jour, or Chuckie, as I like to call him, is my new boy toy. I love him in look and in taste more than anything else I tried on this fateful day. The little balls poking up from the splendid snow white coating strike me as a bit funny in a sadistic way, don't know why, but I giggled over this treat a fair bit. It's basically a living testament to the judicious joys of the vanilla bean. Vanilla every way it can be had, held and handled, all combining into one Vampire in Vanilla that sucks every last drop of disillusionment from your formerly embittered heart. Taste this and you will know love. Taste this and the world will be new again. Taste this and there will be angels dancing on your palate. Taste this, concede to its breathless power over you for ever more. It draws a deep, satisfied Oink from even the harshest of cake critics.

That's just a funky patisserie mirror shot to give you a little intermission, I don't want you climaxing on me and Adriano when we are only half done...

Lavender. Truffles. Lavender Truffles. Lavender Truffles. Taste and smell are already twin sisters, and Zumbo plays with this union so artistically. Chocolate + Lavender = Happy Amanda. These are messy, moorish and divine, but the chocolate they always sell out of, the one evil Adriano does not let his poor mother take any of when they are running low on the stash (she told me this herself mind you), is the 'innocently' named Camel Toe:

For those of you that like to be sinful efficiently, this is the Two In One Devil Dropper: red wine and chocolate. The Dark Side of The Force. These are the perfect gift for Satan when he's holed up in bed with the flu. They are a hard coated shell with a naughty, sticky, dripping sweetsweetsweet center, dark and lustful. They only had 4 left and we scored them. Mother Zumbo and I might join forces to arrange some sort of midnight Camel-Toe heist when the stocks get replenished. 

That is more pretty chocolate with deliciously different spices and tangents, there's a whole case of them grinning at you from under sparkling glass. That's Ronan and Sally, Zumbo didn't make them, but they're pretty delicious any way.

Macaroons in all the pretty colours of the rainbow. These are luscious little bastards. They have perfect denseness and teeth sinkability, the colours are vivid and true, they don't taste fake or artificial at all. I tried the rose macaroon in its supporting role in the Paris dessert, so, so, so Yumbo.

The range of treats all lined up in a pretty row like wall flowers that want this dance with you. Very impressed that Zumbo is doing so much gluten free. The range is ridiculous guys, there is so much to try.

That's just the case in patisserie...

Told you so. That's not even touching on the dessert menu, which is as fanciful and as hardcore as cake gets. Come in a big group if you can and get a whole crazy range of things, that way you can ooh and ahh and try the lot of it without feeling like you missed out on something. Despite the range we got, there was so much I did not get to try and have a trip planned back in the next week or so with Mum and my cousin Carol. Don't worry, it's not all cake, you can get pies and tarts and brekkie and coffee and tea from Elmstock. Regarding the tea, the herbal infusions are great but I usually find Elmstock's Black blends a little on the weaker side, which actually might be a good thing in Adriano's set up, you'll get more than enough of a caffeine hit from a camel toe, or two.

That is the best portrait I could get of the Paris, this dessert was so light, refreshing and beautifully pinkity pink. Barbie would've loved this, she would have traded in annorexia for bulimia at the mere sight of it: raspberry sorbet paired with rose brulee (ronan: "are they real rose petals"), sporting a rose macaroon, lychees and a coco-strawberry sago pool on the side. Adriano, are you bloody kidding? I am proposing to you, officially, here and now, as a result of the genius of that combination alone. 

Zumbo...He makes you so happy and so fat. There were some bloggers there who put me to absolute shame, I was dying of sugar overload, but Karen was washing down all the cake with a chocolate milkshake, and one of the boys was having the blackest, thickest looking dark hot chocolate I have ever seen while he devoured a plate of the most caramellishious looking chocolate something or other.

296 Darling Street, Balmain is where this all happens, and this is his site

I am genuinely gobsmacked. Yes, I am smacked in the gob. This is the kind of place you'd expect to find in New York and London, the imagination of it all is enough to dazzle you, even without the perfect execution. There's no nice way to put this, but Colour, Texture, Taste and Form are all Zumbo's bitches, he works them fluently, fluidly and what seems like effortlessly, all for your sensory pleasure. This is a wonderful place to take old and young people for an experience that glorifies everything food is about. Everyone around me and in my group looked like they were having so much fun. Adriano draws you into the way he sees the world, it's fun, crazy and decadent, a bit like being a kid again.

If you do manage to see Adriano in store, go and introduce yourself if he doesn't look too busy, he is great fun to chat with and most of the girls who have been here are as enamoured with the man as they are with the creations.

Adriano Zumbo, would a rose macaroon by any other name smell as sweet? 

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cake To Go

C + K is on the move again, new HQ: Surry Hills. Not sure if you can call SH greener pastures, what with all the rodents, homeless people and traffic, but I am excited. The bad news is, the wonderful place I am moving in to is ovenless. Yeah. Not so good. But, the housemates are so lovely and warm hearted that I am thinking if I can just get them to stand near a tin of uncooked flourless cake mix, extremely still and for long enough, they will cause the cake to rise by sheer osmosis. The dangerous news is that I am moving smack bang into the middle of the most concentrated square mile of eating out spots in Sydney, for the first few weeks at least, you might see more reviews than usual. I have friends who read this that don't really do the eating out thing, don't worry, i'll keep cooking (stovetop style) and cranking out some ideas for you. 

The amazing news is, I will now be closer to The Earth Cafe. I'll only have to get up at 6.45am or so to make the 7am start, thats 30 minutes more sleep! Tragic, but true.

Should be back up some time in the next week, if you never hear from me again, it's cause I died at Mohr Fish, right around my new corner, from how crispy the hot chips were. If anyone needs to discuss food (lunatic style), in the meantime, Ms Eggers will be scheduling chats in between root canal surgeries. 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

In Defence of the Humble Potato

You can't claim to really, truly love a philosopher until you own them in finger puppet form. That's Nietzsche, my favourite thinker, writer, philosopher and psychologist of all time. Reading Nietzsche is punk rock. It takes any chair you are sitting in and makes it electric. Time and circumstance can not separate us, he is, has been and always will be, my philosophical godisdead father. Candice witnessed the stricken, digusted look on my usually controlled face when a dinner guest of my father's once tried to tell me that the gist of Nietzsche was that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Gist, gist, gist!? There is noooo frickin gist. Friedrich is a sea on a page, a sky between the covers, he is beyond reduction, beyond comprehension, all you can hope to do is to allow the magnitude of his mind to surround you, and to be awed. One of his (many) central concepts was the idea that things are neither good nor evil. That good, bad, ugly, beautiful is a mere interpretation of the world, and a narrow one at that. He believed that beyond this way of seeing things, were things, just as they are, and they are neither good nor bad, but rather good for what, or bad for what, things are what we place on to them. Our interpretation of a thing can not be divorced from its meaning for us, from our relationship to it. Just like Posh and Becks can't be divorced from each other, even though they really should.

Nietzsche would've been most frustrated if he lived in our times. I don't think he could've handled eating in this day and age, let alone living in it. Good fats. Bad, no, no. Poor Freddy would've gotten incredibly hot under the mo and under the collar at all of those people who divide things into the good and the bad, and this is something i'm guilty of every now and then. And so, to honour this wonderful, hairy little German with the vivid eyes and the famous dancing madness, I am going to launch a beyond-good-and-evil defence of potatoes, a much vilified little vege that just wants a bloody chance!

Potatoes are acidic. People with food sensitivities can find them uncomfortable to process, they share that similarity with tomatoes and eggplant, they are all members of the deadly nightshades, botanically linked to the poison ivy plant. The health conscious among us, even those crazy Irish, seem to be eschewing potatoes more and more, potato PR isn't great you see, they've been dubbed too carby, bland, white starchy, and with dangerous GI levels. Just like people, you've got to take the 'good' with the 'bad', and potatoes have a few great things going for them. Assuming you're not eating them in chip form (Mohr Fish makes amazing hot chips), or mash form (Centennial mmmmash) or Stolichnaya (Cindy that's you), all of the time, what you've got under that layer of muddy skin is a fiber packed, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, copper, potassium and manganese power house, and all for relatively few calories. 

Roy Navarre is a bit of a whiz bang plant geneticist who has identified over 50 different kinds of phytochemicals rocking it out in the humble spud, the phenolic content of some species actually rivals that of broccoli! This is good news for people with high blood pressure and people who want to do their body a nice turn. The antioxidant list is as long as it is boring, but impressive to say the least. A long time ago, I learned to view all natural, whole foods, as useful in different ways. When science dubs a fruit or a vegetable 'bad' for some reason or another, it usually does a complete U turn a few years later when a new approach is taken or a new type of compound is discovered. 

Our generation needs a little more of the wisdom of the older cultures in this regard. Asian, Indian and Arabic cooking make use of so many different types of natural foods, they find moderation in variety, and enjoy a range of fruits and vegetables and pulses and oils that put the modern Western diet to shame. That being the case, I am going to share a healthy way of spudding it up with you, it's one of Mum's simplest and most devoured dishes, she literally makes it in 20 minutes or so whenever anyone has the urge. The urge gets had alot! So, get your potatoes off the couch and do this to them:

This one hails from Lebanon, so i think we'll call it:

The Fully Sick Salad and you will need:
4 or 5 potatoes (try different types for some nice textural variety, skins off)
lashings of olive oil (get a good, strong one, it blends sharply with the creaminess of the potato)
pepper (if you can get some Lebanese pepper it's that much more authentic)
purple onions

It's easier than a dodgy back compensation claim: all you do is boil the potatoes (or microwave them, if you'd like to kill most of the nutrients), let them cool a little, toss in chopped onion, lots of oil and salt and pepper to taste. I am not going to lie to you, i've tried making this and it never tastes quite as good as Mums. She has some creepy ability to make it just so, she and no one else. It's a phenomenal tasting salad, and so simple. I love it on a hot day straight from the fridge. Mum usually serves it with cold boiled eggs for breakfast. The devout Lebanese among us use leb bread and not a fork to eat it. It's beautiful in any type of sandwich, I like it with dark rye and hummus. Mmm, it's one of the better things about being an Arab, kind of puts the Giant Nose Thing into perspective.

Try making it at home, perfect summer food, even nicer after it's been in the fridge for a day, the flavours settle in and make gorgeous taste babies. What do the rest of you do with potatoes? Share away, I need some more ideas. The Fully Sick Salad has to be tried to be believed, if your version fails then invite yourself and everyone you know over to my parents, they don't need any notice at all to cater for hundreds. It's kind of embarassing. 

The Fully Sick Salad: so yummy, it would've brought Zarathustra down any mountain much sooner. And Thus Spake Amanda.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pseudostratified Inspiration from a Squamous Soul

The great artists were inspired. Oh, Michelangelo and Rafael and Van Gogh of the swirly starry night, men of so many muddled muses. My ebullient Nietzsche and my cautious Jung, my sardonic Nabokov and my ardent Kundera. Einstein, Rilke, Gaudi, Maynard James Keenan, the guy who invented Nutella Calzones, all artists, all answering a call to be something greater than themselves.  They painted and thought and designed their imaginings on to the world. Robert Browning's Andrea Del Sarto lamented that in the great creator there "burns a truer light of god", something within them that breathes the wandering fire of soul into their works. We can only guess what went on behind their tortured eyes, in the private movements of their minds, in the heavy hearts that conjured up their nightly dreaming that thrust them into the creative impetus. We can never know what it was that threw the rope down from so lofty a height and bade them to climb, but I bet you it sure as hell wasn't their passionate desire to avoid studying for their histology exam next Friday. 

Histology, for those of you who have been fortunately spared, is the study of the microscopic anatomy of cells and tissues. The slides you look at under the microscopes are achingly beautiful embraces between colour and shape, the patterns are startling to look at. The theory, however, is sedative in its effect on a frustrated, antsy Saturday afternoon Amanda, so you are going to have to, pretty please, permit me this sneaky little piece which I had no intention of writing other than as a creative/manipulative exercise in the much cultivated art of procrastination. I kept looking around in my drawers and pantry for something to write about, and, as luck would have it, you guys were simply going to die if i went one more day without espousing the virtues of Penelope Sach Tisanes!!!

Tisanes are not teas, they are herbal 'teas', to be a true tea your brew should contain the camellia sinensis plant. White, green and black teas are all camellia sinensis at different stages of processing, like the difference between you before you go out in the sun, you with a little bit of a springtime glow, and you fully baked. Tisanes are made from herbs that are usually medicinal and/or fragrant, peppermints, licorices, fennels, rosehips, hibiscuses (heh), raspberries, apples, lavenders, chamomiles...they are like little steaming boquets in fragrant pots as big as bellies. Tisanes are good, hydrating additions (because they are caffeine free) to your bladder, they are great for their cooling, warming, energizing or relaxing properties. Indeed, many brands are now being blended by herbalists and are being marketed for the effects of their ingredients and not just their taste. The problem with most tisanes, is that poor quality herbs are used and they are allowed to sit around til whatever life may have originally been in them completely shuffles off the rest of its mortal herb coil.

Lipton peppermint tea is not really an exciting prospect if you have had some proper peppermint. Real peppermint is a sparkly bright punch of a taste, not at all dull, it should feel like hot ice on the tongue and the cooling goes all the way down your bemused alimentary canal, you can actually feel it moving through! I go through stages where I love and need peppermint based tisanes and other stages when I can not stomach them for the life of me. Poor peppermint, I love you and I hate you so, so much. When I do drink herbal tea, Penelope Sach is the tipple of choice.

Penelope is an Australian naturopath based in Woollahra who knows a thing or two about really, really good herbal tea. The Hyatt in Tokyo, and a bunch of hotels throughout Europe and America stock her tisanes on their menus, an impressive feat given how massive the tisane market is, especially in Europe. Penelope wins out because she always uses the most potent, freshest, organic loose leaf herbs available and they come vacuum sealed to keep their nubility intact. The triple E, which is peppermentlicoricefennel is my favourite, a great energy booster and very balancing for the digestive system, as soon as you open the lid of the little black tea tin the aroma of the herbs unleashes a wonderful nose assault. If you look at the infusion in a clear glass, it is as dazzling and bright as good, clear apple juice, poorer quality herbs look more brown than golden when infused.

The range also includes blends of berry, chamomile, petal (with lavender and rose, great for relaxation), lemongrass in the lemon tang etc. I have tried the petal as well and like it every now and then, but the triple E is still the one I brew the most. Tisanes are good to have at night if you are a troubled sleeper, or just want something warm to go into a novel with. Herbal tea can be used as a more interesting way to up your water content, if you're one of those reluctant atchtwooh-ers. Tisanes are delicate and hydrating, and when you buy them from someone who knows how to put them together, they are a nicer way of boosting different systems in your body without recourse to medicine pills vitamins shakes and all those other things that are too much about their contents and not enough about how they draw you into a thoughtful process. They are simple and joyful.

Tisanes don't have to be hot, they can form a great base for Iced 'teas', add honey and fresh mint leaves splice in lemon orange lime etc, go anywhere you like with them.

Get Penelope's tea from David Jones or from from her, herself at: 

Oh, No. It's the end...procrastination, stolen goods and joyous youth, you always have to turn them in reluctantly...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fine and Dandy..

There are girl girls, girls who are dainty and girls who are delicate, girls who can get what they want with a flick of the hair, a purse of the lips, a bat of the lid. Girls who douse themselves in a thousand and one shades of pink, girls who cross their legs and laugh politely, girls who play hard to get and say the right thing and do the right thing and follow all those pretty rules...and then there are the rest us (I can just picture Cindy and Candice grunting out a "here, here"). I have always been a little at odds with the genetic flip of the coin that unfairly landed me in this fairer of sexes. Don't get me wrong, not quite sex-change-at-odds, just a tad tomboy-at-odds. That could be why part of me has a very real problem with the genuine and sincere use of the word 'dandy'. I can say dandy tongue in cheek, I can use it in a mocking, playful, idiotic mood: "how are you today, amanda", "positively fine and dandy thankyouverymuch!". But when you have to look your barista, the one you see every day, square in the eye and order a soy dandy with honey...sheesh...internal cringe factor: ten. I have been cringing a lot lately. Despite normally being little more than an enraptured repository for tea, lately, I am once again the prodigal daughter of this most fabulous of beverages, and my local watering hole, The Earth Cafe, is cranking out the best version I have ever laid lips on.
It all started about a week ago when a regular customer came in with her little girl, her takeaway cup exploded in one of those slow motion moments of maternal madness where kids cause unexpected ripples of chaotic motion in an otherwise orderly realm. I stepped forward to help the mother mop up the mess and was about to order her another of what she was having from Nick, she told me it was a latte with soy and dandelion. I used to brew a lot of dandelion root at home. It's a gross, bitter, vile, wretched and most insidious tasting infusion that elavates your liver from crack-addicted-sinner status to a choir singing born again Christian in the space of just a few sips.

All foods that are good for the liver meridian tend to be bitter tasting (cocaine aside). Dandelion root, is therefor, a really great tonic for this second largest of our organs. The liver is the hallowed captain of the SS Detox, every time you drink and smoke and eat sugar and upsize, you sink that ship just a little bit more. So a liver tonic is a good idea to have as part of your daily routine. Health books always tell you that dandy is a great coffee substitute, that they taste very similar. Any Campos guzzling university student worth their self respect is going to raise one highly pompous eyebrow in well due suspicion at that suggestion. Dandelion does not taste like coffee, it is far more bitter with none of the nuttiness or the warmth of the Beloved Bean. That said, if you can come by a decent soy dandy, they actually taste lovely, and they're amazing for you, with none of the unbalancing effects of a real latte.
The Earth Cafe LSD (latte w soy and dandelion) is a good shot of organic dandelion root in frothy Bonsoy, with some raw honey to boot. It tastes lusciously creamy and the honey does a good job of calming the bitterness of the dandelion root. I wasn't expecting this version to be as cleansing as the one I used to make at home a few years ago, but I have been feeling really energetic after it, really cleansed as well, my eyes especially have been brighter in the last few days. I highly doubt that any of you coffee drinkers are going to even entertain notions of getting in touch with your inner hippie and swapping one of these for a genuine latte, but if you are, here or Gertrude and Alice are great places to make the leap. G & A buy their dandelion root from The Earth Cafe and use Bonsoy as well, but the LSDs at this place tend to be hotter and just that much more creamier. Nick pays a lot of attention to detail and he seems to have perfected the combination beyond any point of fault.

I should give you the address of The Earth Cafe, but it's my morning writing place and it's hard enough to land a spot at the communal table without having to battle it out with any of you people. If you don't have enough tenacity to google or ask around, then you just don't deserve to be there!

Try an LSD, if you can use them to wean yourself off a coffee addiction, you'll be doing your mind and your body a very good turn. Coffee really isn't that amazing, especially when there are so many alternatives that actually balance and cleanse your body. If you're particularly keen, go to any health shop and buy some dandelion root to brew at home, you can have it without milk, that is unless of course, you're too much of a girl.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Give the Girl a Hand..

It's a funny thing, ever since I got a fancy camera, I have unearthed what must have been a life long, latent obsession with hands. I love them. I can't seem to stop taking photos of them, or noticing them or tracing the outline of my own. Even if you don't really think they are, hands are almost as telling as a face. The way a person thinks, loves, feels or fears is all there in the movements of their hands. The way they are held, cusped, clasped, twisted, flailed in an attempt to spin stuck or flowing words about like dashing colours through startled air, the way they reach out, the way they withdraw. They dance us out of our own selves every day, they are so sudden, so confessional, we never have time to think about what our hands are conveying about how we feel. They are our naked selves. 
If I think of all the people I love deeply I can conjure up the image and the nature of their hands in a moment. Dad's are big and warm and stubby and unsure, maybe even a little afraid. Tatsu's are perfectly pale, soft and gentle, unassuming and adorable, with some moral element to them that makes me feel safe when I see them, a purity and a shyness of sorts. Cindy and Candice both have tiny, playful, sparky hands, with intelligent fingers that come off from their knuckles like inspired little punctuation marks of personality. Their hands are girlish in the same way they will always be, no matter how old they grow. Dan has beautiful, elegant and thoughtful hands, they are slow and wise and they know much more than he does. Perie has strong and enduring hands, caring ones. Erin has joyful hands with no real wrist/hand differentiation, they bake lots, wear mittens, knit and make me smile. I have clumsy and friendly hands. I even remember the hands I don't know so well, Travis, one of my chiropractors has quite funny little hands, I am always impressed that they are capable of so much when I look at them. The guy that made my tea this morning, had quick, strong, dark, darting hands. They looked solid and sure., so beautiful, no wonder Costanza was upset when he had no hand! Well, given that my days in the family nest are numbered, I thought it would be nice to enjoy one of the most hallowed little hand dances that I have stood by and watched and loved ever since I was young: Mum deconstructing a blushing pomegranate. Now, now, it doesn't make me a spoilt brat if she still does it for me, it's a lovely past time, one I am going to miss sorely when I move out. It's intrinsically maternal to me. Her hands are so unlike my own I had to get a DNA test, they're beautiful, soft and kind, full of feminine wiles and endlessly, wordlessly patient...which comes in handy for this absolute fucker of a fruit.
Now, I have tried to restrain use of the F word on my keyboard (god knows not from my mouth), but honestly, have you ever tried to take apart one of these things. It's like an epic battle between pith and juicy little jewels of tartsweetspikey flesh, it's a patient task. I have seen ticking bombs dismantled with less effort. That said, trying a real live pomegranate is still something you should do once, if not several times in your life. Pomegranate is one of the latest 'superfoods', which would probably amuse most modern day Greeks and Socrates himself, if we could resurrect him. Pomegranate is a very old school ethnic fruit, if you were a Greek, Lebanese or Italian kid, you probably had these on the kitchen table growing up, on top of the plastic tablecloth. They were part of all 28 of my summers. 

This scarlet mass of a fruit is being sold in health food shops everywhere in pill form, in juice form, in tonic form, in dried berry form. The nutrient content is impressive, but so is the wonderfully maddening taste. Pomegranate is a savoury and a sweet fruit, gloriously confused. What else can go as easily with lamb and tahini as it can with a slow baked tart? It's got a lemonyness to it, a berryness to it, a sharpness and a lushness. It's such a taste of its own, and the texture is gorgeous, it's like a bowl of tart, glistening rubies with a heady crunchsquirt factor. Ideally, the little gems should be redder than you see in these pictures, these pomys were a little on the weaker side.
Pomegranate is lush as it is, eaten from a bowl with a silver spoon or in stickystainedredredred handfuls. I loved the mess this would leave on my face and my tee shirt as a chid, and as a fully grown adult! It's an antioxidant power rush, good for the circulation and serotonin and estrogen receptors, and the season is just cranking up. Which is basically good news for you lethargic, depressed bastards. The colour itself is enough to wake you up and make you want to live again. It's scarlet in shocking. Perhaps a group of us should position ourselves by a Newtown ledge and wait for a goth first year student of philosophy at the University of Sydney to show up, we could unveil a bowl of this Platonic Form of Red in fruit as an attempt to convince them not to do the old jump-o. Pomegranates really are beautiful enough to make you joyful.

But you want more from me than just the 'go eat pomegranate' proviso. So, I have a recipe for you! It's my own proud combination, and I am going to call it:

The How Not to Off Yourself Pommypinemint Frappe:

For this recipe you will require:
1 depressed, thirsty individual with a blender
About 1 cup of pomegranate globs (use pomegranate molasses if you can't find the actual fruit and up the pineapple content)
About 1 cup of ice (crushed/cubed)
About 1 cup of pineapple (yellow and very ripe, please)
A handful of fresh mint leaves (and some basil if you're feeling crazy)
For those who like matters sweetsweetsweet: add some apple juice or honey/brown rice syrup to taste...

Whack it all in your blender and press a button: Yum, Antioxidants on Ice. It's great on a boiling hot day, snaps you back into your senses again. I have also tried a version with pomegranate, pineapple, mint and a little cold jasmine tea, it was beautiful, very exotic and refreshing. A bit of cardamon doesn't go astray either. Get funky with it, add whatever you like, it's hard to make something gross. This frappe is a great way to trick yourself into eating more fruit and given that it retains all of the fiber of the original fruits, it's more sustaining than just a juice.
Don't settle for overpriced, crappy bottled hits of pomegranate. Get the real thing, if you can't cut it yourself, my mum is available for hire, but beware, if you're not married or on your way to being wed, she'll have a thing or two to tell you about life as she loosens your little red goblets of glee. It's still worth it in the sticky end, though.

Love you mum xx

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mother Teresa

In order to be considered for a sainthood, one must be said to have performed three miracles while on earth. Mother Theresa, the Albanian Roman Catholic Missionary is already well on her way with her beatification official in 2003, but that's not the only Teresa who has a few miracles to her name. Now, I don't know how much sway the opinion of AB holds for those Vatican movers and shakers, but Teresa Cutter, the Healthy Chef, should be in contention for some kind of post-earthly reward or honour as well. After the little myriad of munchy miracles this health conscious wonder woman has been whipping up in the kitchen for years, it just doesn't seem right that she'd rock up to the Eternal Gates and not be on Saint Peter's VIP door list.

Teresa Cutter is my favourite kind of person, creative, generous, warm hearted and inspired. To this day I still have all of the newspaper cutouts from her decidedly delectable reign as the food editor for the Healthy Life section. She has been guiding me on flourless and sugar free and low GI and protein and fiber and antioxidant rich ways of getting my cake, muffin, tart or loaf fix. With Teresa, you can have your cake and eat it, all the while prancing around in your skinny jeans with more energy and alacrity than a cocaine addicted pervert in Amsterdam! Imagine my delight when I heard she'd opened up her own kitchen and cafe on Avalon Beach. Never mind petrol prices and the trek from Sydney, this just had to be seen!
Miracle number one: Healthy, grunt inducing Eco Banana Bread. Banana bread is one of life's simple pleasures. It's the only thing the little old ladies who go to Gloria Jean's for their afternoon tea have in common with the very hip Gertrude and Alice Set in Bondi. Yes, Banana bread is more than a nice treat or a naughty brekkie, it's the last remaining inter generational link between X's and Y's and soon to be daisy pushers. This makes it an oven baked cornerstone of societal cohesiveness, and Teresa has taken it from just plain good, to quite bloody great! Eco Banana Bread, my little gluttons... it's wheat free, protein rich, organic and low GI. Cheeses christ. It tastes unbelieveable, all ripe bananas, wholemeal spelt and honeyed coconut. The texture is rich and dense and with just a smidge of butter, it tows the line between dessert and brekkie wonderously. Mum and Aunty Laura loved it, which illustrates something i've always believed: when healthy food is made by someone who knows what they are doing and using really lovely ingredients, you don't even notice that you are eating something that's better for you. Instead of being a culinary excess, good cooking and some creative thinking can make a common cafe pitfall a really nutritional and wholesome food. For those of you who are super duper fusspots, there's even a gluten free version that uses almonds as its base.
Miracle number 2: it takes a bit of a sad, pathetic and empty person to get genuinely excited about a juice...this juice rocks my world. I have been making it at home and getting a version of it made up for me at the Earth Store. This is one of the most phenomenally tasting zingzestgreenbursts my mouth has had the privilege of being a venue for. I juice a lot at home, I have broken 2 industrial juicers in 3 years, but never in my wildest dreams have I come up with a combination so refined, so delicious, that also made me feel like Jane Fonda in an 80's aerobic inspired pink lycra frenzy of fantastic sprightliness.

This juice is genius: lemon, apple, parsley, ginger and spirulina. Harry, one of the juice guys at the Earth Store has tried the spirulinaless version and is converted. It's the fine wine of juices, the perfect convergence of tart, sweet, green and sharp. Its an epic enzyme flush to your system, you feel so clean and vital afterwards. My cheeks start to glow about 20 minutes after a shot of this stuff, I feel amazing, so much so that it has been the precursor to quite a few heroic jogging stints where I felt like a modern day Balboa running up and down those stairs. You have to try this juice at the Healthy Chef Cafe or at home, it's a down right winner. If you're hooked on the morning latte, skip the draining cliche and see what happens when you start your day on one of these babies, you'll have conquered the world by a quarter to twelve.
Miracle number three: Wholemeal Carrot Cake. We regret to inform you that there was sadly not enough restraint present at our sun drenched table to procure for your viewing pleasure a decent photograph before this sexy wedge of cakeheaven met its untimely end. Good carrot cake is hard to find. Good for you carrot cake is even harder. This is wheat free, protein rich and low GI. There's organic wholemeal spelt by Demeter Farm Mill, organic fruit, rapadura sugar and more carrots than a bunny can stash. It's a moist cake, with a beautiful deep and nottoosweet canopy of creamy icing. The texture of it was beautiful, softness broken up with fruit pieces. So, so, so good.
The menu here is unbeatable. Most healthy places tend to be vegetarian, for those of us who wouldnt have the LT without the B and who appreciate some chicken in our salad and some beef in our lasagne, The Healthy Chef cafe has got your carnivorous back. It's healthier versions of all the things you know and love. The breakfasts and lunches are amazing, beautiful avocados and clean meats and dense, huge slices of wholesome bread are all presented on beautiful slabs of wood that animate your eye as much as your palate. Some of Teresa's product range is on sale, as well as her cookbooks. It's a beautiful idea and execution, a healthy, comfortable place where good food is laid out on descriptive menus that educate you about the contents and health benefits of the meals and treats you're chosing. The menu has a key that aids you in picking gluten free, organic, vegan etc options, it gets you to think about the dynamic of your food in a way that is as informed as it is light hearted. Eating well isn't rocket science, it's just the confluence of creativity, effort and the desire to not fill your body up with anything less than whole, real food that makes you happy and healthy.

Teresa has taken the way she cooks and takes care of herself in her own kitchen and applied it to an ethical, inspired commercial venture where she can share her recipes, her ideas and her flavours with people who will hopefully be propelled by her efforts to do the same thing for themselves and their families.
To see her full menu, go here.

Summer is the perfect time to head up to beautiful Avalon for the day. The Healthy Chef cafe is at 17 Avalon Parade, Avalon Beach. It opens every day from 7am til 4pm.

Teresa looked too busy when I popped in for me to ask her for a photo, if you do manage to get down there, she's the blonde one with the beautiful smile. I am planning to head up here for a lazy morning as soon as exams are over, it's a place I keep wanting to come back to. I am guessing the miracles don't stop at three. For more of her wonderful recipe ideas:

God Bless you, Ms Cutter.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Spot of Tea with Jesus

If you read the last post (and there are no comments, so I don't know if you did), you know where to take the Dark Lord out when he's feeling like a mighty fine meal. But what does one do if Jesus pops by, unannounced, and declares himself rather peckish and in the mood for a spot of afternoon tea? He's far too pure for some processed cupcakes, entirely too unenglish for just a sandy or two, and much too ravenous for mere fruit, dying for your sins is hard, hungry work, people! Well, I never like to be unprepared for any event, especially the Second Coming of Christ, that's why I always keep some Pure Life Biodynamic Essene Bread in the fridge, and i'm going to tell you why you should too.
You've already heard my little rantings and ravings on the enzyme inhibitors in grains, and how they necessitate proper preparation in order to be easily metabolised, well this is a sprouted grain bread, which means that the preparation has already activated the ingredients you are about to consume. Essene bread puts Tip Top to shame. It even makes Burgen Soy and Linseed blush a little in fluffy inadequacy. This is the thickest, most fiber filled, protein rich, loafy, nutty, beautifully simple bread you ever tried. 

Even if you're starting with a more nutritionally wholesome grain like rye, the processing that all grains go through to become the soft bread that you smear your morning Hanks Jam over, is really nothing thats going to make your alimentary canal too chuffed. It's not just what bread contains but what the contents endure in the process of becoming bread that compromises the nutritional content of any good BLAT. Processing grains too finely breaks them down into mere fluff. Fluff might be what your head wants on a pillow, or what your first year philosophy professor is expecting in your essay on the Socratic Method, but it's not what your intestines are gunning for. Roughage is actually visceral to the dynamism of the digestive system. Like our muscles when we give them something hard to pull or lift (heh), our digestive system likes something harder to work against, it stimulates it and keeps it working optimally, and traditional Chinese Medical Practitioners are, in my opinion, right to believe that the stomach is the 'cauldron' of good health, vitality is won or lost there.
Bread is ubiquitous food. Sometimes toast is the best thing you can come up with in the morning, this is a great way to do a smarter version of an easy thing. Essene bread is really good for you, especially if you're a blood type O, it's one of the few grains that actually works really well on your particular system. I actually prefer this stuff to normal bread. Such simple ingredients, grain, salt and water. There is a Supreme version, a wheat, a spelt, a rye, a kamut, a wheat and date, a wheat and walnut. They taste sweet in a bland way, you actually taste the nuance of the individual grain, they're beautiful. Kind of like cakebread, but great for you.

Not that this is influencing my opinion at all, but you need to WET a SHARP knife before you CUT into the hellishly dense loaf in order to be able to wean off a slice for your toasting pleasure. God. Satisfying much? The bread dries out easily, keep the plastic wrap it comes in and use an elastic to secure it closed again and keep it in the fridge for up to a month.

The best combination I have come up with is 100% Melrose Almond Butter with Manuka or Forest Honey, or Almond Butter with Triple Berry Hanks Jam. Avocadosaltpepperlemon work as well. It's a little too thick and cumbersome a bread to do a sandwich with, but use it as a base for creative little concoctions of your own filthy imaginations. Nutella and Banana are my own case in point.
They haven't changed the recipe since the time of Jesus. Cheeses christ. Unlike David Hasselhoff, if it's still around it's got to be worth trying. 

If you're greedily lusting after some, can't steal any and are sick of coveting your neighbours, then head to the fridge section of almost any health food shop and buy your very own loaf. Its a great way of eating wholegrains especially if you don't have the time to be soaking pots of brown rice. It's so good, he's coming back for it!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Where To Take Dracula on a Blind Date...(aka Australian Psycho)

For those of you who have not yet had the pleasure, we Lebanese are a simple folk. We like our weddings big, our music loud, our conversations louder, our jewelry thickgoldheavygoldinyourfacegold, our gardens concreted over, and we really, really dig meat. There are certain cultures for whom red meat is a source of iron, of protein and B vitamins, not so for the former meat for us is a modus vivendi, a philosophy, a religion, a way of life. No wonder our bellies are always dancing! It's not mere culture though. I personally revere cows, so much so I actually worship them. Not in the Hindu way. In the I-own-9-leather-jackets-and-eat-crap-loads-of-steak kind of way. Yes, I like my cows in my stomach and on my shoulders, and for the best in-stomach cow experience, the Centennial's steak takes the cake. Steak and cake. For goodness sake. All the good words rhyme! And all of the bloody time!

This is the Centennial Hotel, Woollahra, and this is the steak + the knife. Forget the Melbourne Cup, kids, I have your real trifecta right here:
The most perfect, sublime and satisfying meal in Sydney goes a little something like this:

Rare, 28 day aged, achingly tender steak with spinach, meltingly lofty mash and porcini butter + Steamed, gently buttered greengreengreen broccolini, snow peas and beans + Signature Centennial Waffles with thicklicksweet Vanilla Ice Cream and toffeelushbuttery Caramel sauce. Jesus. Or as Cindy always says, "cheeses". 

...Go, go Gadget Salivary Glands. That was just the synopsis, though, god is always in the details...
Everyone who has come to the Centennial always makes the same remark, that they would never have guessed the type of restaurant that's buzzing in the hidden back, from the, shall we say, less than impressive Oxford Street frontage. A classic case of books and covers. This place is all style, no pretension. The atmosphere is cavernous, candle lit conviviality, merry and warm. Laughter and wine and woodfired ovens and smiling people in happy groups. The wonderfully heavy, wide glass door that adorns the Victoria Lane entrance is your culinary rabbit hole, and the Alice Within you is beseeching you to step inside. At a slick kitchensideinsilver by a bowl of chubby pumpkins, a smiling person will check your name for the booking you were wise to make and usher you through the party that already got started to your dimly lit table. The lighting is gorgeous, but a proverbial pain in the lens for budding photographers. You should feel sorry for me, it took about 6 visits to the Centennial over the course of 3 months to assemble all the shots you see here. That's 6 steaks. 6 sides of greens. 6 versions of those sultry waffles. Honestly guys, blogging is such arduous, unrelenting work...
Like all deeply life altering experiences, this one begins with the olives and the bread. Warm sourdough bread with a little olive oil vinegar bath for your dippage and drippage. Rip and dunk and bite. Just like that. It's a good, strong olive oil too. Not one of those light flavoured welterweights that could be canola oil or something else. Olive and bread while you pour your thoughts through a longish wine list. Dad likes the shiraz by the glass here, and he's a big time fusspot, so I am guessing there are even more impressive drops lurking in the bottle section, but booze really isn't my forte, you'll have to wait for Cindy and Tats to sober up and start that blog.
The menu is classic with a very Mediterranean twist. There's antipasto, haloumi chorizo and beautiful fried artichoke hearts are all nice onceuponatimes, there is also an interesting Pizza line up with none of the usual suspects. Dan's friend Dan got glassy eyed while telling me about a lamb pizza he had had here. Apparently it was like a meal of lamb on a pizza base. He was pretty gaga going over the details of how good it was. Can not confirm it, I have had the steak every single time. There are a couple of pasta dishes, chili and crab, and then, my pretties, you have the mains!
The main section on the menu is something I want to print out and put in the photo section of my wallet. All clean, perfectly executed classics. Garfish worthy fish, usually a Snapper with asparagus and lemon and potato, a lamb dish, which again, I have never tried because of that main of mains, could we please have a moments silence: Aged Beef Fillet with Porcini Butter and Spinach and Mash, Sydney, meet your definitive steak experience. 

At just under 40 clams, it isn't as cheap as we are, but I solved that conundrum ages ago: it's big enough for two, so, invite someone with a much smaller appetite than you who doesn't really like steak and SHARE it! Voila: reasonably priced red meat nirvana as often as your fancy would have it. There is no longer any excuse to be anemic in Sydney.

The best runner up steaks I have had were at a place in London and at Prime in the basement of the GPO building in Martin Place. This won both out. Even steak houses in Sydney which claim to specialize in the stuff can't turn out a better, bloody slab of the red stuff than the Centennial chefs. It's simple, when I asked for details on how it was cooked, they told me they just rub a little oil on and let the heat do the rest. 
All amazing personalities need worthy side kicks, Batman had Robin, Maverick had The Goose, I have my Dad and Centennial steak has quite a few. Phenomenal mash. Honestly. Not too heavy or creamy, but not too light either, puffyfluffyairyfairy mash. The greens you will find under the side dishes are insane. I am not even going to bother with mature or poetic descriptives. These rock way too much for any of that! They never over cook the vegetables, the green of the steaming bowl is a singing, violent, shocking green, with crunch to boot. Why just have the potato in mash version when they also use it to crank out some wicked fries? Steak needs fries. That's what I tell myself any way. Go for complete carb overkill, it's really the only way to do it.
And the waffles. If you've never had a multiple orgasm then you just have not been acquainted with this baffling little confection. Beguiling thing it is. Such a simple dish, waffles, vanilla ice cream and caramel. Nothing you haven't heard before, right? But the way it comes together in this kitchen, upon your plate and on your palate is another thing entirely. Comparing this dessert to others is much like comparing your average female body to Sophia Loren. They both have 2 arms, two legs, roughly the same shape and function, but one is nice, and the other is an anatomical revelation, one is good, one is vavavavoom. Same deal here. These waffles have to be tried to be believed. You may order the Chocolate trio as a pleasing dessert to be had in conjunction with/as an adjunct to the waffles, but never, ever in place of.

Dinner is not over for true foodies until they have sipped and sampled from every round on offer. Wonderful Coffee and impressive Tea (always hot, never tepid) come with some in house Biscotti that is everything good biscotti should be: hard, moorish and pistachio studded, with what may or may not be a hint of cardamon...but by that point in the meal, ecstasy has overpowered any sense of discernment whatsoever.

Are you kidding me. This place sweeps you off your gobsmacked tongue with bite after delicious, wondrous bite.
The Centennial Hotel, Woollahra: Give Moncur the cold shoulder and check out its funkier, much more freestyling little sister around the corner. Don't be fooled by what it looks like from the front, step your empty tummy in the side ally and through the big glass door, the perfect night of drinking and dining awaits you. 

Dracula really would be a regular here if he was a local. It's all red wine, bloody meat, sexy desserts and sunken, shadowy lighting. No veganmacro munch spot, this is your High Temple of Carnivorous Rapture. It's the dark side of the force. So, coerce your secret lovers at gun point into your stolen getaway cars through red lights and head out here for round after decadent round, its the perfect alibi.
At 88 Oxford street, open for lunch and for dinner, contact them for bookings on: 9362 3838. 

This was Cindy's farewell dinner. She's off to Vietnam for some flash flooding, she is also carrying some much needed supplies for her ailing brother, Sven. This vegetarian (who eats fish, chicken and horses), did us an honour by sampling some of the beloved cow. She was most impressed. We'll miss you cindy! Especially if things don't soon arrive in the mail.

The Centennial, Woollahra. Have a cow, man.