Friday, February 24, 2017

The Old Schoolhouse, Milton NSW

Outside of the major capital cities in Australia, lie towns known as regional Australia and just like that elderly neighbour you have living in your street, they can be so easily overlooked. Our regional towns and small cities are home to over eight million people and provide employment to one third of working Australians. They are at the forefront of productivity in over a third of our industries, making a formidable contribution to the nation’s economy.

Originally these regional towns were purposely positioned on the main roads and highways, they provided services not only to their communities, but also to those traveling from place to place. In the past couple of decades freeways and bypasses have been built, essentially so we can get to places faster, without the stopping or even slowing down. In the quest for streamlining our roads, many of our historic regional towns have been bypassed and in some cases left to rot. I know 'we have got to move with the times', or so we are told, but I’m a little saddened to see these regional treasures forgotten.

There is one little historic town that has won my affection, it’s sits on the Princes Highway as you travel along the NSW South Coast and it’s called Milton. For now Milton has not been bypassed, the main highway runs through the centre of town and although many probably drive right through it, with out giving it a second glance, we always stop there. Just a three hour drive from Sydney or two and half hour drive from Canberra, makes Milton an ideal stop over and destination.

Recently we spent three days and two nights staying at The Old Schoolhouse Milton and it was delightful. The Old Schoolhouse is an historic home well known in the district, set on two and a half acres of tranquil lawns and orchard with rural views in all directions. The old schoolhouse itself is long gone, but the historic Schoolmaster’s residence remains. Beyond the main house there are two separate accommodation choices: The Loft and The Stables. The lovely owner Jenny has worked tirelessly to restore this property and garden to its former glory. Guests are free to wander around the gardens and orchard, picking fruit straight from the tree and collecting fresh laid eggs for their breakfast. Indeed wandering seems to be the preferred mode of getting around here. The two dozen or so chooks have free range and live a life that some caged commercial layers can only dream of. The resident dogs laze about most days, ready companions for Jenny and eagerly welcoming of the guests who care to take an interest.

We stayed in The Loft, a spacious one bedroom with en-suite bathroom, lounge area and open plan full kitchen. The fridge was filled with seasonal fruit, sparkling water, organic yoghurt, local milk and hand-churned butter. The kitchen bench stocked with freshly baked bread, homemade muesli and jams, more fresh fruit, chocolates and a basket of eggs. There is none of this "did you have anything from the mini bar?’" at this abode; as it is all included in your stay.

It would be difficult for me to choose what I loved the most about our couple of days here. The view from the bathroom window into the trees and from the lounge room window across green fields as far as the eye can see were captivating. Simple touches like the cosy rug waiting for me on the lounge or the old tree stumps used for rustic bedside tables, made me feel welcome and like I belonged. A kitchen space well stocked with useful equipment is always a win, as is harvesting a handful of tomatoes from the vegetable patch, just a moments walk from our front door, to use in an evening salad. But, one of my favourite moments of all would be Jenny’s voice carrying up the stairs to the loft “oy are you two in” making her way up the stairs with a basket laden with figs from the orchard, to enquire “would you like some?”

Millions of dollars are spent on advertising all over the world, businesses hoping to bring exposure to what they are selling, meanwhile national treasures lay hidden to be unearthed by only a few. We heard about The Old Schoolhouse from friends who knew I loved Milton and rural getaways, it pleases me no end that the oldest and most effective form of advertising still remains to be word of mouth!

The culinary scene in Milton has improved in leaps and bounds since we last stopped here. Iconic Pilgrims Wholefood Café remains as delicious as ever, and the treasure that is Merry Maiden’s Veggies is still trading, providing wholefoods, biodynamic, organic and local produce to the community. However, it was wonderful to see a whole lot of 'new kids on the block' as well. Stefano Vinetti originally from Milan in Italy, has done the tree/sea-change and created a beautiful space to dine out. Coffee Guild & Italian Woodfire Pizza Restaurant provides good local coffee, real pizza and authentic Italian food and as we found out passionate conversation with Stefano.

Flour Water Salt have opened their doors in the main street, the heart of their business is sourdough, their organic breads baked to produce authentic European handcrafted sourdough loaves. Opening at 8am they also do a scrumptious brekky burger and house made pies. Harvest Bar Milton was another fun find, (although a little hidden located down a side street, opposite the Commercial Hotel) they had a generous tapas menu and local and international wines. It was a cool indoor – outdoor space, friendly staff and happily for us the best of the very few dining options in Milton that are open on a Monday night.

Another newbie to the area is Milkhaus Wholefood Canteen, located a few minutes drive from main street Milton, in the old Cheese Factory at Woodstock. This café aims to deliver fresh, honest, simple fare food – free of toxins, preservatives and anything artificial. Meeting owner Dan and chatting with her about how all she wanted to do was cook food like our grandmothers made, immediately drew me in. Eating from the breakfast menu was so enjoyable. I wish I lived closer so I could make eating her food a regular thing. I’ll be sharing more about Milkhaus in the next month.

There is a lot more to relish in this brave little town, than all I’ve mentioned here.
'The village boasts art galleries and antique vendors, alfresco cafes and fine-dining restaurants, sophisticated fashion boutiques and contemporary home-ware stores. The iconic Milton Theatre features regular local productions and international artists.
Surrounded by the rural pastures of working dairy farms and overlooked by the iconic Pigeon House Mountain in the Budawang ranges, the village is just a few kilometres from some of the world’s most beautiful white sand beaches, coastal lakes, inlets and rivers.'
Milton NSW

It’s a place that somehow refuses to conform to big city expectations, quite comfortable to be itself and move at its own pace. Don’t expect a big fuss as you approach the main street, in fact if you blink you may even miss it. However, if you do slow down, stop and explore a while, just like sharing a cuppa with your elderly neighbour, you’ll be all the richer from taking the time to visit and in the case of Milton, you’ll be helping this regional town to thrive. Do expect a big fuss when you visit The Old Schoolhouse Milton, Jenny is the most helpful and gracious of hosts and I know you'll love it there. You'll then have to decide whether to tell your friends or just keep such treasure all to yourself!

*The first five images and last image of this post are compliments of Andy Green Images - the remaining images are mine x j

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Battered Flathead with Kale and Carrot Slaw

It’s been fish, fish and more fish on our table this past month. Mr G spent most of January on summer holidays and almost half of that time fishing. He enjoys it so much, particularly from his modest fishing boat, in sprawling lakes and inlets. We are drawn to National Parks and remote places to put our boat in, where we both relish the seclusion of nature’s beauty, embracing her sovereignty. We usually head out early when the water is still, the sun just rising and the birds singing. Words cannot really describe the peaceful stillness in these first moments of the day and I find myself inhaling the serenity deep within. It's a moody scene watching steam rise from the surface of the water, as the cool of the night meets the warmth of the morning sun, along with the shadows and reflections of the trees on the water can be quite mesmerising. The truth be told it is this connection with nature that I pursue, far more than the fish.

I must admit my fishing endurance is really quite average. I do like the action, particularly the phrase ‘I’ve got one!’ and I do like the eating, as it is hard to beat fresh fish, simply cooked and enjoyed. However the sometimes hours of waiting for the catch, can bore me to tantrum or tears, which is why I take a good book and my camera to keep me distracted. It’s always a bonus if the weather is good, warm sunshine and even an opportunity for a swim, also make me a happy fisher-girl. I do often refuse to participate if it is not a fine day, as sitting on a boat in the wind and rain, waiting for fish to bite, is just not fun. Even Mr G will concur that poor weather conditions do make for miserable fishing.

We fish with live-bait either caught first thing in the morning or the day before, depending on the tide. This might mean pumping for yabbies’ (nippers) or trapping poddy mullet in the shallows, skills Mr G has mastered. It is certainly time well spent procuring the live bait, as it seems the fish like their food fresh too. Like many things the gauge of success is so often in the preparation or lack of it. Once the baited lines are cast into the water, it becomes exciting as the bites begin and pure joy when a big one takes the bait. Mr G gets ridiculously vocal either commentating on the action or yelling instruction to me, such as 'keep the rod tip up' or 'grab the net' as either one of us reel in the catch. All the time he's quietly hoping this won’t be the one that got away!

Most of the time we come back with a bag full, which Mr G will gut, clean and scale. Then it is over to me to decide how they will be cooked, either filleting them or keeping them whole. We usually catch bream, flathead or whiting and we eat them a variety of ways. This recipe for flathead appears in the Seafood chapter of my latest book Our Delicious Adventure – Recipes and Stories of Food and Travel and is extra delicious when the fish is super fresh. It is also a lovely alternative, rather than the batter, to coat the flathead fillets lightly in flour, egg and milk, and finally breadcrumbs, then cook them pan-fried in olive oil, served with home made potato wedges.

Enjoy x j

Mr G caught flathead in numerous places on our road trip adventures - we were flat-out eating flathead. We stayed with friends on the East Coast of Tasmania, who when they aren’t feeding their sheep escape to ‘the shack’ at Coles Bay to catch flathead by the boat-full and cook them up in a crispy batter for breakfast.

serves 4
what you need    
600g flathead fillets

½ cup (75g) unbleached plain flour, for dusting
oil for shallow frying - see note

lemon wedges to serve

kale and carrot slaw:
1 cup (100g) finely shredded red cabbage
1 cup (100g) finely shredded curly green kale leaves
1 cup (110g) grated carrot
handful of fresh mint leaves, finely shredded
juice of 1 orange
sea salt and ground white pepper, to taste

tartare sauce:
1 cup (250ml) mayonnaise
3 gherkins, finely diced
1 tbsp capers, rinsed and finely chopped
½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tbsp lemon juice

1 egg white
¾ cup (180ml) soda or mineral water
½ cup (70g) cornflour
½ cup (75g) unbleached plain flour
sea salt and ground white pepper, to taste

what you do
1. Using paper towel dab the flathead fillets to absorb any excess moisture. Place on a tray in the fridge uncovered for 15 minutes. (Excess moisture can lead to a soggy rather than crispy batter.)
2. To prepare the slaw place all ingredients into a large bowl and mix to combine. Set aside.
3. To prepare the tartare sauce place all the ingredients into a small bowl and mix to combine. Refrigerate.
4. To make the batter lightly beat the egg white, add the sparkling water and gradually add the flour, whisking gently to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Pour enough oil (to create a depth of 5 cm) into a large, deep-sided pot. Place onto a medium-high heat to warm the oil up to
190°C (control the temperature so as not to allow the oil to smoke).
6. Remove the flathead from the fridge. Coat each fillet with a dusting of flour.
One at a time, dip 2-3 pieces of fish into the batter to coat. Drain off any excess batter.
7. Place the battered pieces into the oil and shallow-fry for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and cooked through. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel. Keep warm. Repeat in three more batches, with remaining fish and batter, and reheat oil between batches. 
8. Serve fish immediately with lemon wedges, a dollop of tartare sauce and a side of slaw.

Note: When choosing an oil to use for frying there are a few things to consider. Some oils can stand much higher temperatures than others. You want to choose oil that has a high smoke point, is stable, and doesn’t react with oxygen when heated. It is important to choose oils that consist mostly of saturated fat and monounsaturated fats, because these are the most stable at high heat. Coconut oil is the best choice overall, closely followed by olive oil. These are both healthy choices and although they are not completely neutral in flavour they offer great crunch, colour and taste.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

'Tis the season to stop!

'Tis the season to stop!
It's been quite the year 2016, boxes are ticked with the second cookbook on the shelves and our final child finished school, but I'm ending it all just a little weary. It seems when you burn the candle at both ends for a whole year, you eventually run out of wax - I think I'm going to fall over the finish line at the end of this week and then proceed to lay horizontal for quite some time. I'm so thankful for what's been done and just as thankful to have the chance to stop. Time to rest a while, read that pile of books that have waited too long, write some words, take some pictures, swim in the ocean, catch fish and dream of new adventures.

The final leg of the book tour was delightful. Victoria was all rolling green hills, rural goodness and catching up with old and new friends. Three days together with my treasured friend Wendy, staying at a favourite cottage in Poowong East - Marge's Cottage - our base for our time there. Amidst our exploring of the region we discovered a little, one street town, named Loch and a new friend Sandra. Sandra and her husband Bob and their green kombi 'Olive' arrived in Loch two and half years ago and never left. Instead they opened a gorgeous little cafe, Olive at Loch (which is now stocking Our Delicious Adventure) and is well worth a visit if you're down that way. We also enjoyed a lazy afternoon of wine, cheese and laughter with farmer friend Tamsin Carvan at Tamsin's Table and on her recommendation later dined out at Trulli's Pizzeria in Meenyan, a delicious wood-fired pizza joint, which was another wonderful find.

Tasmania was just grand. Even as I descended into Launceston I looked out the window of the plane at the pristine coastline, green fields and majestic mountain ranges and mumbled to myself - "Tasmania I do adore you...and if your water was warmer to swim in, I'd stay much longer." 
We had two days in a quaint cottage in Deloraine, with a stunning rose garden and my dear friend Michelle Crawford for company. An afternoon baking, making, chatting, laughing, drinking Pinot Noir and eating Coal River Farm triple brie, as we prepared for the book launch event at The Black Hen the next day. We packed the car with baked goods, armfuls of freshly cut roses and gorgeous props Michelle had bought to create a sense of adventure, then we made our way to the shop. It was the perfect venue to gather, almost like sitting in the family room chatting with dear friends, as Michelle and I conversed on the favourite recipes and stories of Our Delicious Adventure. Our eager guests joined in the conversation and happily devoured the delectable morning tea provided. Mr G was more than delighted to hear that I sold lots of books and was coming home with several offers to borrow holiday shacks and fishing boats from the locals, next time we visit the apple isle. Michelle and I took an afternoon drive to the little town of Sheffield (the town of murals) to eat Chinese food at T's Chinese Restaurant - a humble location which is quickly becoming known as a paddock to plate food destination - it was worth the trip - particularly for the pot stickers, oh and that pork!

I'm hoping your year has been fulfilling and that your Christmas and New Year season will be both delicious and restful. Of all the things I've done and do, I've discovered this past year that I really enjoy writing, and particularly writing here. I am grateful for all of you that stop by to read my ramblings and share in my delicious adventures. I've never really imagined myself as a writer until now...I've always been the cook, the chef, the mother, the comedian I'm stepping into the writer realm and taking courage from these words, which I also offer to those of you that share the desire to write...
"Write. Writing is what makes a writer, nothing more and nothing less." - Anne Rice -

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Our Delicious Days - Northern NSW

Bags filled with cooking equipment, summer clothes and boxes of books, we jumped on a plane north and before we knew it we'd landed in balmy Ballina. Heading inland to the colourful village of Bangalow, we stopped in at the 'one street' town of Newrybar for a bite of lunch. Harvest Cafe was a welcome sight, we grabbed two bar stools and ordered from the bar snacks menu; sharing woodfired sourdough with wattleseed butter, pressed lamb with harissa and cauliflower, and sugar loaf cabbage with bunya cone vinegar and parmesan. A housemade ginger beer, cool and refreshing, took the edge off the thirty degree temperature we were suddenly having to come to terms with. No coastal breeze in this little Hinterland town. The Harvest ethos is local, seasonal, sustainable, self sufficient and fresh - all the things I love in food - it is not cheap food, not fast food, instead it is well thought out food, simple, fresh produce, cooked with tangible flavour and texture. We left with a loaf of seeded sourdough under our arm - we were off to a great start!
Our home for the next three days was The Gardeners Cottage in Bangalow, a delightful self-contained cottage nestled in a sprawling garden, with resident hens laying eggs for our breakfast. A towering jacaranda tree generously dropping its flowers, leaving a lilac carpet on the driveway for our arrival. It was a lovely, spacious and quiet place to stay, walking distance from the main street of Bangalow.
Early the next morning we drove twelve kilometres out to the coast to Byron Bay Farmers Market to source local and seasonal produce for the two events I'd be cooking at over the coming weekend. Lush blueberries, fragrant ginger, garlic, zucchinis, corn, beetroot, pears, bananas, salad greens, abundant bunches of dill, coriander, parsley, rocket, and sweet Cooper Shoot tomatoes bursting with flavour. My farmer friend Liz gifted me a bunch of her exquisite freshly cut garlic flowers, while Mr G bought himself a 'second breakfast' of the most delicious blueberry pie with clotted cream. These markets are held weekly on Thursdays from 8am - 11am at Butler Street Reserve.
As the heat again began to take hold, we enjoyed a late morning swim at the hidden treasure that is Wategos Beach. Greeted with azure waters, gently rolling waves, crisp white sand and the striking foliage of the Pandanus trees lining the banks of the shore. It was a glimpse of long summer holidays to look forward to, once the book promotions are all done, for now we seized the opportunity and soaked it up. A delicious burger and a glass of iced Kombucha enjoyed under the shade of a fringed brolly, at another Byron Bay favourite The Top Shop meant lunch was sorted, before we headed back to the Bangalow cottage to escape the middle of the day heat and unpack our market finds. Early evening a wood-fired pizza from The Italian Diner  Gamberi; prawns, scallops, capsicum, fi or di latte mozzarella, chilli flakes & watercress, went down well sitting in the cool of the cottage garden.
Another early start Friday morning, I headed out to the Mullum Markets, while Mr G spent his morning working in the cottage. Unfortunately he missed out on a scrumptious breakfast omelette with corn, paprika and lime from The Nomadic Kitchen stall. This just happened to be the same folk who had delivered the epic blueberry pie the day before, so I grabbed another slice for us to share together later, perhaps for afternoon tea. These north coast markets all exude an endearing community vibe and homely touches such as serving food on proper vintage plates, giving this nourishing nosh the respect it deserves. I spent my morning wandering the stalls, gathering asparagus, pineapple, bush lemons, limes, plump avocadoes, thyme in flower, olive sourdough from Gina and a soft feta cheese from my new friend Deb. As the live music played and the colourful locals collected their weekly supplies, I caught up with two talented, passionate foodie friends who live in the area, Brenda Fawdon and Kate Walsh. We talked all things cookbooks, workshops, events and local produce under the shade of the ancient fig tree.
So enough preparation and procrastination had now been was time to get working. Saturday morning we travelled one hour south to the gorgeous seaside town of Yamba, where I was teaching at Kitchen To Table Cooking School. An intimate class, we utilised the baskets of local produce I'd gathered at both markets, and worked our way through four recipes, two from Naked Food and two from Our Delicious Adventure. We began with a simple seasonal asparagus dish, next thing handfuls of flour were flying as I guided the group through the ins and outs of rolling and shaping potato and sage gnocchi. Later these fluffy white pillows were deliciously paired with the sweet Cooper Shoot tomatoes and crispy pancetta. A salad with bitter greens, roasted beetroot, pear and parmesan was served with the gnocchi. To finish, still warm from the oven, double chocolate and quinoa muffins, meant everyone was smiling and well satisfied by the end of our three hours together. Mr G had easily managed to occupy himself for that time, happily fishing for bream in the nearby river. Leaving Yamba later that afternoon, we travelled north-west out to Greenridge, near Casino in the Northern Rivers region. Here we had an afternoon tea, cooking demonstration and book signing in 'The Barn' on a friend's rural property scheduled for the following day.
An early rise on Sunday morning gave me the time to bake for the afternoon tea, mixing and baking two spelt banana loaves, a chocolate and beetroot cake with buttercream icing and three dozen hazelnut and lemon curd tartlettes. As friends Kelvin and Priscilla, Renate and Mr G set up and styled the venue, I further prepared for the cooking demonstration. By midday the temperature had hit a searing thirty eight degrees Celsius, making for challenging working conditions for all involved. However to my delight, when I walked into 'The Barn' to set up my table, it looked absolutely magnificent, scattered hay bales, old ladders, gumboots and magnolias, were just a few of my favourite things. At 2pm the crowd gathered in "The Barn' and these country folk were clearly not as daunted as I was by the unrelenting heat of the day. Iced sparkling water flowed and friends chatted and found their seat on a hay bale for things to begin. I shared about the journey of both living and then writing Our Delicious Adventure and then demonstrated a favourite recipe from the book, my Sweet Corn and Zucchini Fritters with Avocado, Almond and Feta. I think they were impressed! Expressions of delight as afternoon tea was consumed, left me content my baking had been up to scratch and well received. I'm always more apprehensive baking for country people.
So with a few more boxes of books sold and a lovely time shared with dear friends, we bid farewell to the Northern Rivers and headed back home to Sydney to prepare for the next adventure. There is still more work to do and much fun to be had, further promoting Our Delicious Adventure, with events at Tamsin's Table in Victoria (tickets still available), The Black Hen in Tasmania (now sold out) and many days with my stall at The Beaches Market, before Christmas is here.