Monthly Archives: April 2011

Quarter Twenty One – A Mid-Autumn Night’s Dream

The move by Sydney’s two-hatted Becasse restaurant to the the Westfield Shopping Centre in Pitt St has set tongues-a-wagging.
Becasse’s new digs on Level 5 are part of  a new eatery foodhall complex created by chef/owners Justin and Georgia North.
The Norths and their architects have gone to a lot of trouble to camouflage the fact that you’re in the middle of a large shopping centre.
The entrance to the new Becasse takes some of its cues from a theatrical production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Vines dotted with fairy lights twist over the walls and ceiling of the long entrance hall turning from shades of green to red representing the changing seasons. I can almost imagine Puck scampering along here.
and at the end of the hall a dramatic forest
The new dining space is small and initimate compared to Becasse’s old Clarence Street location. Just 24 seats.
It’s warm, romantic and very feminine
Justin is very proud of this ‘tastebud’ art piece…
…which has little peep windows into the kitchen.
As well as being stocked with the latest gadgetry the kitchen is a work of art in itself.
and it can all be enjoyed at the 8-seater chef’s table
As part of the North’s food precinct, there’s a commercial bakery, a full-time butcher..
… a providore and a cooking school.
and another restaurant Quarter Twenty One….
..which will seat 70 and serve modern European fare.
Last night at the official opening we got to sample a few of the menu delights. Fried prawns…
marinated yellow-fin tuna
and bite-sized duck pies
Justin and Georgia have taken a 4 million dollar gamble that just may pay off.
This is the classiest shopping centre foodhall I’ve ever seen.

Recipe: Wild honeyed ANZAC biscuits

Yes, it’s that time of the year again – ANZAC bikkie time. Like chocolate eggs and hot cross buns, it just doesn’t seem right to eat these biscuits at any other time of the year.

I’ve been baking ANZAC biscuits since Mrs Thorpe’s home economics class when I was just 12 years old.

This recipe is based on the ANZAC biscuit recipe from that wise tome “Cookery The Australian Way”.
I’ve substituted the golden syrup in this recipe for wild honey – mainly because I picked up a small jar of roadside honey on the way back from the Wolgan Valley last week and wanted to try it out. It makes a delicious alternative to golden syrup. I also threw in  two tablespoons of shredded coconut at the oats, sugar and flour stage for added crunch.

Ingredients:
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup caster sugar
3/4 cup plain flour
1 tablespoon wild honey (or plain honey or golden syrup)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 tablespoons boiling water
1/2 cup butter, melted
Method:
 

Set the oven to 160 degrees celsius. Mix oats, sugar and flour. Ina  separate bowl mix honey, soda and boiling water. While frothing add the melted butter and pour over dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly. Drop spoonfuls onto a floured tray allowing room for the mixture to spread. Bake at 160 C for 18-20 minutes.
Cool on a cake cooler.

The Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa – 24 hours in bush paradise

It’s a dark and stormy Saturday morning. Thick grey clouds have rolled in over Sydney and the rain is bucketing down. With the rest of the city still sensibly tucked up in bed we set off on a 3 hour drive north-west over the Blue Mountains, past Lithgow to the mystical Wolgan Valley.

It’s here – in a little-known grazing plain surrounded by towering red-faced sandstone cliffs  – that Emirates has built its first Australian eco-resort – the Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa.

The Wolgan Valley? As in the fictional setting for the television series A Country Practice? No, that’s Wandin Valley.

The Wolgan Valley has been a well-guarded secret known only to the local Wurundjeri people, a few graziers and some serious bush-walkers.

As you drive past the power station at Wallerawang and the local colliery, and make your way down the steep cutting fringed with ancient ferns, this extraordinary valley is the last thing you expect to see.

It’s simply breathtaking. A seemingly geologically impossible creation. 300 metre high fire-red cliffs rising from the lush valley floor.

The scouts from Emirates apparently stumbled across this location during a helicopter recce. How else would they have known this ancient jewel was here?

But there’s still a hairy challenge ahead for us …

After the heavy rain, the 14km pot-holed dirt road leading to the resort gives our stationwagon quite a work-out…

We slip and slide as the red mud flies in all directions. The signs say drive with care. No choice but to.

We leave our car at the main gates and are picked up with our luggage and taken to the main homestead for check-in and a quick orientation.

With a location as jaw-dropping as the Wolgan Valley, the resort doesn’t try to compete. In fact the selection of architecture and building materials were all designed to have minimum impact on the local environment and to blend in to the natural colours and bushscapes.

A quick lunch of  beef burger and mushroom pie in the country kitchen dining room …..

and then it’s off to explore our stix for the weekend.

The 40 individual lodges combine the elements of an Australian bush homestead with the luxurious fittings of the most upmarket 5-star hotel apartment.  This is the sort of  ”roughing it’ I could get used to.
Conservation is an important ethos of the resort and many sustainable principles have been incorporated into its design.
Rainwater is collected from each lodge and solar panels heat all the hot water systems. Building materials have been sourced from natural and recycled materials where possible. The work of local tradespeople and artisans feature throughout the resort from the sculptural metal door handles to table lamps.

Each heritage lodge room has its own heated swimming pool,

gas fireplace and four poster bed

double sink vanities

bath

spacious shower with a glass sky roof

satellite TV and a surround sound DVD/CD and iPod system
no mobile reception but every building has free WiFi

The selection of  linens and fabrics, rugs and furniture take their influences from African safaris, New Zealand ski lodges and exclusive London clubs.

Nightly rates start from $1,560.00 (meals and alcohol included) so Wolgan is a celebration destination for most of us. We want to stay indoors to revel in this luxury but the landscape beckons.

The first stop is the property’s original homestead which has been diligently retained and restored and features in a guided tour.

The valley was a sacred Aboriginal meeting place and hunting ground and then used by pastoralists for cattle grazing.

An original hut.

A hole for a rifle to help keep intruders at bay

The famous naturalist Charles Darwin even visited here in 1836.

The kitchen gardens are used to augment the resort’s menu with fresh seasonal produce.

Kitchen herb garden

Parsley

Lemon grass

Very life-like scarecrow

Strawberry patch

Rhubarb

And lovely flowers to atttract pollinators

Several rivers including the Carne Creek have kept the Wolgan Valley well-watered for centuries. Tests have shown the Carne Creek still has some of the purest drinking water in the state.

It’s what keeps the Valley so rich with wildlife.
A four wheel drive tour at dusk gives us a glimpse of the inquisitive locals..

walleroos

kangaroos.

Sadly no sightings today of the famous three white albino walleroos who live in the valley.

Then it’s on to dinner served in the cathedral-style dining hall in the main homestead.

Dwane Goodman’s menu changes daily ensuring that the best local wines and produce get to feature
Tonight in the five-course menu there’s a duck, quail and chicken terrine with a fennel remoulade.

A Pedro Ximenez sorbet palate cleanser

a beetroot tart


And a chocolate molten pudding for dessert.

and fruit and cheese plate if you can find the room

This is very serious food – well worth a trip in its own right.
All courses are accompanied by an inclusive selection of local wines. My highlight –  a delicious sauvignon blanc from Printhie wines in Orange.

We stagger back to our lodge well-sated. The night is inky black.The air is fresh and crisp.  We’ve only been in the valley for a few hours but it already feels like days. This must be what relaxing feels like.

The next morning the clouds have gone and the cliffs are shimmering in the bright light.

Breakfast is generous, and filling.

We are leaving after lunch. Just enough time to squeeze in some treatments at the Timeless Spa Centre.

A Barbour facial for me and a Swedish massage for Mark.

The barbour facial uses products from the German babour skin care range and a cool crystal stick which my therapist uses to gently press down on my face’s pressure points. Wonderful sensation and deeply invigorating.

Mark emerges from his massage in a floating cloud of deep bliss.

We check out at reception where our driver is waiting to take us back to our car parked at the main entrance 
Magical and memorable
Those ancient cliffs are calling me back……
Saucy Onion stayed as a guest of the Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa

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Edible Balcony – Curly-Leafed Purple Basil

How beautiful is the leaf of this basil variety! I stumbled across a punnet of this rare basil at the Eden Gardens Garden Centre in North Ryde, Sydney and rushed home to pot it.
It looks like it won’t be as robust a grower as the common basil variety next to it, so it will be a few weeks before I have enough leaves to make a batch of ‘purple’ pesto.
The leaves are not only pretty but have a strong aniseed-mintiness similar to Thai basil.
If you use basil in your sauces, salads, and pastas as much as I do, you will love experimenting with this delicate variety.

The National Sustainable Food Summit, April 2011, Melbourne

Dear Food Citizen (the new more empowering term for ‘consumer‘),
It is with great delight that Saucy Onion reports back from the National Sustainable Food Summit held in Melbourne over the past two days. Why a summit? Well, it sounds more important than calling it a conference doesn’t it? Although that was effectively what it was;
a two-day chin-wag at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium where we could literally watch the grass grow under unsustainable artificial light grids if proceedings became dull. Not that they ever did.
About 600 delegates from all sectors of Australia’s food industry (farmers, growers, scientists, dieticians, food technologists, health clinicians, politicians)  gathered to throw in their two bobs’ worth about how we can address the ‘coming famine’. May sound alarmist but Coming Famine is the title of the latest book by one of the summit speakers, Australian science and agricultural journalist Julian Cribb.

Mr Cribb is a bespeckled man in his late 60s with striped braces. His appearance does not prepare us for his energetic and
impassioned presentation. His PowerPoint slides are filled with armaggedon-like scenarios.

 – 40% of the world in drought by the end of the century
 –  a world population of 7-8 billion hungry mouths to feed
 –  no fossil fuels to drive industry
 – half the planet’s fresh water gone
 – scarce and costly fertilisers
 – more climate uncertainty
 – and more conflicts and wars causing food refugees to flood into  
   Australia and other wealthy nations

NOT ALL DOOM AND GLOOM
Julian Cribb wasn’t all doom and gloom. He said Australia would lead the new eco-agricultural revolution needed to meet this famine by sharing our technology and innovation with other countries. He said Australian farmers excelled at low-input farming and needed to be supported financially and socially. He wants us to teach our children a new respect for food and how it is produced. We also need to reshape our diets.

  • We only eat 200 of the world’s 23,000 edible plants
  • In Australia we eat 5 of the 6000 edible varieties available

Professor Robin Batterham  –  the chemical engineering whiz – is on the podium now. He’s like a walking brain – all head and hardly any body. His hair is wiry and wild. He is the archetypal professor. He reminds us that ….
         ” even the most educated person after 7 days without food becomes a raging savage”

It’s been a whole two hours since my last meal and I’m finding it hard to concentrate. Professor Batterham wants us to focus on waste. He says we produce enough food for no-one to go hungry but last year 1 in 20 Australians didn’t have enough to eat. He blames distribution systems and our throwaway society.

He quotes an example from the British food industry where 3 billion cartons of unopened yoghurt are thrown away each year because they are past their use-by-date.  He wants to see ‘use by’  replaced with ‘best by’.

He wants Australia to pump more money into agricultural research and development (R&D) which has been steadily declining over the past few decades.
He also wants us to buy land overseas (such as in Mozambique) so we can extend our agricultural pastures! 
  
Another Day 1 speaker –  Dr Amanda Lee from the Queensland Department of Health  makes some provocative statements about obesity.
She describes the obesity epidemic as a ‘failure of the market economy’. She wants to see a national Food Security Agency to tackle obesity and promote health. She says research shows we are all eating the wrong things…. too much energy-dense, less nutritious foods and not enough vegetables, whole grains and fish. Dr Lee wants vending machines for healthy foods to make nutritious food more convenient.
Our next speaker is also from Queensland Robert Pekin of Food Connect. Food Connect is based on the principles of community supported agriculture (CSA) where produce comes from local farmers.
These local farms return 56% of the profits back to the farmer where the current industrialised farming model only returns 15%. This is because CSAs have a more efficient distribution system which makes them local and nimble. In fact Robert says that during the recent Queensland floods all Brisbane’s fresh food came from local, high land CSAs for two weeks before the roads and railways were cleared for other produce to be trucked in. 
RANDOM FACTS FROM THE SUMMIT
 –  Australian rice farmers are the most water efficient in the world
 –  One google search could produce as much as 6 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2)
 –  One of our keynote speakers Dr Tim Flannery has discovered more new species than Charles Darwin did
 –  There are on average 40,000 items in a supermarket
All this talk of food and of not having food whets our appetites for a sustainable dinner at the Melbourne Aquarium.
Thankfully fish is NOT on the menu – sustainably-grown grassland beef, risotto, organic beetroots and local cheese.
organic radish, beetroot and goats cheese 
apple pie with cinnamon ice-cream
The stingrays keep doing their laps around their tank a little bemused… possibly wondering if these funny bipedal creatures will find the answers to our looming food crisis.