Monday, April 25, 2011

Earl Grey Serendipitea

Movies. For the Love of God. Sometimes I just don't know. They can be amazing. Two hour time slots where life is held up to art. Sometimes, they're a quick-red celluloid match struck across your imagination in the light of which things suddenly seem full of flare and hope and promise and many golden tomorrows (confer: Muriel's Wedding, The English Patient, Wayne's World, Godfather Part II, The Departed, The Breakfast Club, The Secret of The Grain and, if we're being honest, The Sound of Music, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink and Mean Girls). Movies like that are wonderful, they allow you to question life the way you should (just a smidgen) and everything in them always goes where it belongs and ends up where it should be. 
Only You is a pretty lamentable 90's flick starring the very lovable Marisa Tomei and the considerably less lovable Robert Downey Jr. I won't subject you the details of the plot, that would be both unnecessary and cruel, suffice to say that it's a film all about fate and destiny. Just in case the theme might have been lost on us, the lead characters name is Faith and the advice of a fortune teller eventually leads to her discovery of her 'one true love' get the idea, bulimics should probably (definitely) give this one a miss. Anyway, as we were driving down through Berry the morning after en route towards one of my favourite mouth-in-the-South cafes: The Woodfired Sourdough Bakery, I was lamenting life's lack of great fate, as of late. Yes, that screwed up movie had messed a little with my head and the soggy contents of my brain were whirring over all of those mystical what if's and I wonder what could be's. I wanted some movie magic of my own, it seemed. I even went so far as complaining to Dan that life hadn't been fateful enough. Careful what you wish for, eh...
It was smack bang into this little mid long-weekend malaise that Laura Clarke walked right into my life. The usual wait for a coveted bakery table ended at exactly the same time for Laura as it did for Dan and I. We were both seated outside on adjacent tables, I took my Canon out ready to fire off at all of the pre-breakfast table textures, when before I knew it: Magic. Our eyes met across the salt and pepper grinders... aka food-blogger sits next to self published cook-book co-author who is about to launch an amazing new title that said food-blogger had accidentally discovered a few weeks earlier on a time-killing jaunt whilst waiting for a tardy smoothie from a Hippie outlet in Manly. Sad, But True. It took us about eleven spoken words a piece before we realised I already knew of her precious book which she and her partner in savvy-go-get-em chutzpah Claire Wallace (who Laura met in the lift of their apartment building in 2007) compiled, wrote and published - all on their lonesome. 
Coincidence much? I was already in love with Laura before I whipped out a little jar of my personal earl grey stash for the bakery to brew up for me (a tea hound leaves nothing to chance) but when Laura asked in on the said pot because earl grey was her leaf of choice as well, well let's just say the incredulous girlie-foodie-tea gushing-flutterings got a little bit awkward for poor Danny. Then when we discovered that we use the same pen, well, things got downright whack from that point. Turns out Danny had more than enough testosterone to see him through, because this was the beginning of a two hour long tea party that centered around the story of how an  absolutely, positively, doily-sweet and cinnamon-sprinkled-gorgeous full of homely-heart cookbook came to be. It's called: 

My Grandmother's Kitchen, 
recipes for love, life and happiness from Grandmothers around the world... 
Both Laura and Claire had especially close relationships with their grandmothers and with the adoptive 17 grandmothers whose family-secret-handed-down-from-generation-to-generation recipes, wisdom and portraits line the beautifully tactile, thick-antique-like-paper pages that make up this treasured compendium. Goat curry, Norwegian waffle pancakes, Scottish apple cake, Chilean meat pie, St. Clement's bread and butter pudding, 'The Keetley Family To Die For Baked Cheesecake and Nan's enormous victoria sponge birthday cake. Every recipe is precious because of the simple, humble and beautiful idea that binds the book together: Grandmothers and the way they love us through our food. Normally when I read a cookbook I scrutinise glossy pictures and try and cancel out what looks really amazing from what looks just good. You can't approach this cookbook that way, every recipe is special. The fact that the grandmothers of the book have chosen to share it (and the way that Laura and Claire have presented it) makes a history and a story out of all of those cupfuls of flour and all of that whisking of eggs. It's just so sincere. You want to make everything, not because it's new and magazine-page looking or made by someone you've seen on TV - you want to make it for precisely the opposite reason: because it's tried and true, because it's come from homes and been fed to families that you will never know and especially because each recipe carries so much of the pride and personality (and the love) of 19 wonderful women. Cooking has become so styled and so marketed and marketable, it's a rare moment when you find something that skirts all of this (fun) nonsense and goes back to roots, to the well-worn tables and to the mismatched, cluttered and colourful kitchens where many of us first learnt to love food. It's all soul. 

I love this book. If you want to love it too you can buy it at Arial Bookshops in Paddington and some selected smaller book stores and cafes, the link below allows you to buy it online. It will have a few tv appearances this week so keep your eyes peeled if you want to know more about Laura and Claire's amazing idea, and the story behind them putting it together. Claire + Laura's website is at and the book's website is at you can buy the book from this link and it also lists where it's stocked if you would like to browse through it first. There's an empty chapter at the end of the book for you to fill in with your grandmother's recipes.
And the setting of all this magic is no less magical itself. The Woodfired Sourdough Bakery sits a little back from the main road through Berry. A heritage-barn-like space is the busy backdrop for full-bodied coffee and all things beautifully baked. 
But beyond sourdough loaves...
and macarons...
and soon to be sold out wholesomely spiced and so-so nice hot cross buns...
and beyond sticky little cakes...
and rich chocolately tarts...
...beyond flaky-buttery glazed croissants...
And yes, we can go beyond those things, is a killer menu that has cranked out some of the most spectacular food I have ever fallen head over mouth for in any cafe. Ever! Last year I had a spoonful of an amazing, creamy white soup that someone at my table had scored the last bowl of, and half of one of the most splendid sandwiches that ever lived.
There's beautiful bircher and omelettes with goats cheese and tomato. Thick wedges of sourdough smeared with ricotta and layered with profoundly buttered wild mushrooms are a breakfast favourite. There's toast so divine that it all it wants is butter and milky tea or coffee. The menu keeps changing but the wow-factor always stays the same.
With an obvious emphasis on local produce and beautiful oils, cheeses and fresh baked breads used in all of the dishes (and some for sale, as well) this place always justifies the drive to Berry - even if you live in Perth.
Berry Woodfired Sourdough Bakery happens at 23 Prince Alfred Street, Berry, ph 02 94464 1617. Get there earlier on weekends as most things sell out (on the menu and in the cake and bread department), and also be prepared for an entirely justifiable wait. They close Mondays and Tuesdays.
Strong coffee, crusty baguettes, solid eggs and morsels of fragrantly-sweet oranged-chocolately-apple-spliced somethings are more than enough to command every ounce of your attention. But don't let that stop you from striking up a conversation with the person sitting next to you, you'll never know who you're likely to meet.
Thanks to Joost and Jelle Hilkemeijer the inspired owners of this phenomenal bakery, and to their Alan Scott oven that keeps turning out all this deliciously flaming flour. 

Deep, indebted thanks to Danny, who kindly tolerates (and occasionally encourages) my devotion to cafes and conversations with random strangers/soon to be best friends. 

Thank you especially to Laura, for opening up so easily about your life and your past and for giving me this wonderful cookbook that I can't wait to start playing with. But most of all, thank you for a timely reminder (in bergamot) that movies get their magic from life - and not the other way around! See you at our Thursday tea date. 

Thanks to you, too, dear reader, if you managed to plunder through all of this jabbering. There were quite a few ways of telling this story, but I wanted to tell it the way it happened*. 

*sincere apologies to any bulimics. 

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