Monthly Archives: February 2011

Newcastle – Hot Destination

We were in Newcastle on the weekend to see Roxy Music. The concert was brilliant perfection.
You may have read – with some surprise – that Newcastle was recently voted by Lonely Planet as one of 2011’s top ten hottest cities in the world.
I’ve been visiting Newcastle a bit during the last decade so that didn’t raise my eyebrows but
how did Newcastle manage to get on a list that included New York, Valencia and Delhi?
Well since the BHP steelworks closed here 12 years ago, gone is the choking pollution and brown haze that cloaked many of Newcastle’s finest assets.
Eat your heart out Sydney; Newcastle’s beaches are a mecca for surfers and sunseekers who are drawn to the dramatic rocky coastlines and wide sandy shores.
My favourite spot are the Ocean Baths on Shortland Esplanade.
They’ve undergone a magnificent restoration.
There is simply no more magical a place to take a dip than here….
…. especially when the rips and stingers are about at nearby Nobby’s Beach!
This is the view from our hotel room at Noah’s on the Beach. The hotel is old-fashioned and out of place in a beach environment with its dark pannelled interiors, heavy furniture and brass fittings. But with the beach, crashing waves and the pool at your doorstep we still keep coming back.
Since our last visit the local takeaway fish and chip joint on Scott St has morphed into a fine diner as well. 
 Scotties is well worth a pit stop

From the back door locals can still pickup their takeaway orders..
..all the usual uspects are here including hand-cut chips 
Or dine casually inside or under the umbrellas in the next door park 
 The coffee is top class
For breakfast we had organic poached eggs..
and the full hot brekkie with moreish mushrooms and a tasty hash brown.
 Newcastle is only a two hour drive from Sydney so what are you waiting for? Head out there this weekend!

Greenhouse by Joost – Sydney’s Hippest Hang

Ok – she says hyperventilating – I may have found my eco version of Colin Firth….
This extraordinary structure is GREENHOUSE SYDNEY by Joost Bakker, a Dutch-born Melbourne architect who specialises in sustainable construction.
Here’s what Joost (pronounced Yoast) has to say about his pop-up restaurant/bar near Quay restaurant at Circular Quay which is made from 3 shipping containers-
 “Some people in the building industry regard it as possibly the greenest building on Earth,” says architect Joost Bakker. “Because it’s been considered on so many levels, it probably is.
The venue is constructed from 100 per cent recycled or sustainable materials. A rooftop garden grows vegetables and herbs that are served in the restaurant downstairs. Only local or sustainable produce go into the food and drinks menus and the venue is rubbish-bin free – only waste that can be composted is allowed onto the site.”

Australian artist David Bromley has painted a mural on one side of the restaurant’s exterior.
The other exterior walls are covered with racks of potted strawberries.
As well as supplying the restaurant with fresh fruit, the plants act as cooling and heating insulation.
The structure is light and airy and when you’re inside you feel as though you’re floating on the harbour.
The walls are covered in black painted environmental slogans.
They’ve also beeen coated with a bio-char so carbon is absorbed and held within the walls of the structure.
Water, beer and wine come in an assortment of jars. Don’t drink the flower arrangement by mistake.
The restaurant is open all day but the roof-top bar only starts heaving at 5pm.
 Joost designed and made the chairs from aluminium irrigation pipes and the seats are made from leather off-cuts from a Victorian tannery. They are remarkably comfortable.
The floors are are made from old conveyer belts…
quite ingenious really…
plantation timber utensils and hemp napkins… 
Matt Stone -winner of the 2011 Gourmet Traveller Award for Best New Talent – heads the kitchen. His short and pared down menu is served on plywood boards.
 I had half a dozen Sydney rock oysters at $3 a pop – briny and creamy…
.. and a charcuterie plate with house-made tomato bread.
Get in quick. Greenhouse by Joost  is only in Sydney for a few more weeks before it’s packed up to begin its European tour to Milan, Berlin, Budapest and London.

Sydney Urban Sprawl Threathens Market Gardens

It’s well-documented how Sydney’s rampant urban sprawl is eating up our agricultural land at a rate of knots.
I stumbled across one of the few surviving market gardens while driving through Brighton Le Sands.

Tucked behind housing estates and the Kyeemagh RSL Club was a green oasis

With towering housing estates ominously rising in the background this market garden specialises in Asian herbs and greens.
I counted at least 40 different varieties of cabbages, herbs and lettuces.
Market gardens – typically about two hectares – play a vital role in the city’s food supply, providing up to 90 per cent of our vegetables.

It’s highly intensive work…. hand ploughing and digging, and lugging soils, and fertilisers with wheelbarrows.
It’s a hard life but a rewarding one that has supported waves of immigrants.
Professor Frances Parker from the University of Western Sydney says the Sydney basin has the highest number of horticulturalists for any region in Australia and the highest number from different cultural backgrounds.
Increasing urbanisation has seen many market gardens concreted over for housing estates and roads
This fresh basil….
crisp spearmint…
…and crunchy continental parsley, that we all see at our local growers markets and grocery stores everyday, could soon have to be flown or trucked in from somewhere else. This will make our produce less fresh, less tasty, more expensive and cause more carbon pollution from transportation.
We need to protect our market gardens for our own food security and to support the livelihoods of market gardeners.

Dangar Island, NSW – The Place That Time Forgot

We’re spending 24 hours on Dangar Island.
Dangar is on the Hawkesbury river near Brooklyn about one hour’s drive north  of Sydney. A perfect weekend getaway distance.
No private cars are allowed on the island.
You can get here by private boat, water taxi or by using the local ferry service.
Only about 200 residents live here permanently but during the holiday season numbers swell.
The Island was bought by the Danger family in 1864 who leased some of the island  to the Union Bridge Company of Chicago while they were building the original Hawkesbury River rail bridge.
About 400 Americans and their families lived here while the bridge was being constructed between 1886-1889.
The preferred way of carting your goods around the island is by wheelbarrow

Every family has its own!

We’re staying on the Brooklyn facing side of the island in Serenity on Dangar a lovely glass tree-house holiday home
No roughing it …. all the mod-cons were here
…. including a commercial-size kitchen
Then it was off to explore. A full circumnavigation takes about 1 hour and winds through bush and gardens.
on the lookout for some grub…
exotic native flowers
secret gardens
..even a rambling pumpkin patch. The locals have learnt to become self-sufficient and there are many vegie patches.
Not 100% sure but this imposing turreted mansion looks like the original Dangar family estate.
a ginger flower
A productive vegetable garden
sorry girls – nothing for you
a magnificent white spider orchid

Another native tree with extraordinary blossoms

They remind me of hula skirts
For dinner its off to the only evening eating spot – the local club. Under the whirring ceiling fans and humid night air we dine on steak and fresh grilled garfish
The next morning our water taxi is at our mooring to collect us…
And take us back to Brooklyn. It feels like we have been away for a week. That’s what Danger does to you.

Edible Balcony – Late Summer Tomatoes

I’m up before the sun today to give the balcony plants a deep watering.
Early mornings are the best time to water plants because they have been transpiring (losing water) all night and are very thirsty.

Watering in the cooler morning also reduces loss of water through evaporation.
A few deep soakings are much better than many superficial waterings because the water gets right down to the bottom roots where it is needed most.

Somehow all the plants survived the recent heatwave in Sydney
In fact, as an unexpected bonus, the intense heat caused my late season tomatoes and strawberries to ripen early.
I planted cherry and grape varieties of tomatoes because you apparently don’t get any white fly problems with them. And so far not a white fly in sight – only delicious, sweet, juicy marbles of fruit.
These varieties love to ramble so I needed to stake them with poles and many ties.

In this heat I’ve been watering them every day and every week I add a capful of tomato food to my watering can. Tomato food is a potassium rich natural fertilizer which boosts flowering and fruit yields.
..and we’ve been enjoying the tomatoes sliced on toast with pesto or tossed with some avocado, spanish onions, coriander and lime juice for a refreshing guacamole.
And what I’m most delighted by is that there have been no pest infestations yet. This time last year everything was covered with marauding caterpillars. Have I spoken too soon….
Better eat these strawberries before the bugs do
And these lettuce leaves might find their way into tonight’s salad.

From Roof Top to Table Top

The urban food revolution took another giant leap forward late last year with the opening of a new roof top farm restaurant in New York.
For ten months of the year the Bell, Book & Candle restaurant on 10th St in Manhattan’s West Village will source its greens, garbanzo beans, summer squash, lettuces, eggplants, tomatoes, broccoli and strawberries from its roof-top hydroponic farm. 
Restaurateur John Mooney is the first chef in the U.S. to grow most of his produce on a rooftop farm.
This is a CNN report on the chef and his garden from last year.