Beet-ing the country into shape.

August 6, 2011 § 9 Comments

The times in life when I wished I had a camera:

  1. Watching a man on a stand-up paddle board be surrounded by dolphins at Bondi Beach, from the cliffs above.
  2. Many nights of laughter with friends, just to capture the moment.
  3. Seeing the sunset over Charlotte’s skyline from the middle of a traffic jam

And something I never thought I would see, a squirrel sitting in the middle of the road eating Bojangles!
I kid you not,  a ballsy little squirrel was sitting in the street with both paws around a biscuit and a packet of Bojangles seasoned-fries. I had to give him a little toot in my car because he would would NOT move! Finally he upped and carried his lunch to the sidewalk, where he sat back down and resumed his munching.
What does this mean?
  1. I should never leave my house without a phone or camera.
  2. Michael Moore will release Fast Food Animal Nation in the fall of 2011.
  3. The next Man vs Wild will see Bear Grylls holding his own in a chain restaurant.

Following this experience it seemed only natural to watch Supersize Me & Food Inc. I was hoping to learn whether rodents prefer drive through or counter service.
Instead I was bombarded with a distressing reality check. Kids as young as 4 and 5 are being diagnosed with diabetes. Chickens are being pumped so hard with steroids that their little legs can’t support their overgrown bodies. And poor Alexandra Jameison (vegan chef) had to sleep with a man who consumed nothing but McDonalds for 30 days…shudder.
If everyone ate more vegetables the kids would be fit and carefree, Sunday lunch wouldn’t be the result of a science experiment, and Alexandra Jameison would have better sex.
There is this great raw food restaurant in Charlotte called Luna’s Living Kitchen. It is second-to-none. They have this one dish called Lunasagne, which is layers of raw zucchini ‘pasta’ with sundried tomatoes, cashew nut cheese and crimini mushrooms.
Check out the full menu here.
I have had some beautiful zucchini from our vegetable garden recently so I thought I would turn my hand to a similar dish, using a filling of nuts and sundried tomatoes and topping it with a cashew-beetroot ‘cheese’.
Now if I could just get some to that squirrel ….
Raw ‘meaty lasagne’
  • Slice 2 zucchini lengthways using a mandolin
  • Use the grating attachment in a food processor to grate 2 carrots. Set aside. 1 beetroot.
  • In a blender, mix a handful of walnuts, 2 tbl sundried tomatoes, the carrot and 1 tbl coconut oil until chunky. Set aside
  • Next process 1/2 cup cashews and enough water to make a smooth consistency. Add the grated beetroot.
  • In a glass square dish make a single layer of zucchini ‘pasta’. Add 1/2 nut topping and another layer off zucchini. Add remaining nut topping, final layer of zucchini and top with beetroot cheese and a sprinkle of chia seeds.
Serves 1-2.

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

July 6, 2011 § 5 Comments

Tomato, tom-ar-to.

Red pepper, capsicum.

Canteloupe, rockmelon.

Coriander, cilantro.

Today I forgot my pass for the gym. It wasn’t a big deal, I just had to answer some ID questions, like name and date of birth. 12/5/88 of course …eh or, 5/12/88!

I’ve been in America for over 5 months now but there are still a few things that I can’t seem to get my head around. Date is one of them, saying flip-flops is another!

It’s funny to think that two countries can seem so similar yet have so many differences.

But then again, not everything is opposite.

Yesterday was Independence Day, 07/04/11.

Me, a few Americans, an English lad.

Fireworks, grilling out, beers.

Being proud of your country.

Now that’s international.

Better late than never.

June 17, 2011 § 8 Comments

Some months ago I wrote part one of Pennsylvania. It seems such a distant memory with all that has happened and perhaps it is too far gone to go into any great detail. I guess, all in all, there were just a couple of things that I wanted you to see:


Like these hot sauce labels…

And this Philly cheesesteak


Father’s Day (and my own wishlist)

June 7, 2011 § 7 Comments

I have spoken before about my addiction to cookbooks and how it was a heartbreaking experience to part with so many of my hardback-bound friends when I moved to America. While I miss flicking through Neil Perry’s Simply Asian and Georgio Locatelli’s Italian Bible: Made In Italy I am happy to report that they have both found a comfortable home with The Duck.

This isn’t to say that I left them all behind. I decided that as an Australian arriving in the Southern states of America I would need such classics as: Food We Love (AWW), 5 Of The Best (delicious magazine), the perfect cookbook I & II (David Herbert) and Simple Essentials: beef, lamb, pork (Donna Hay). Since arriving I have also acquired two Paula Deen cookbooks (Paula Deen’s kitchen classics & Paula Deen and friends), thanks to a lovely dinner guest who generously gave me her own copies, as well as three second hand copies of the Carolina’s version of CWA recipe books.

So it would be frivolous and unnecessary to say I need another cookbook.

But I reeeeaaalllly want this one – Man With A Pan: Culinary Adventures Of Fathers Who Cook For Their Families. This collection of stories and recipes was brainstormed and edited by John Donohue, the blogger behind Stay At Stove Dad and well-known editor for ‘Going Ons About Town’ in the New Yorker . I’m yet to get my hands on a copy but basically Donohue has gathered fathers from across the realm – think everyone from Stephen King and celebrity chef Mario Batali, to a fireman in Brooklyn and a bond trader in LA – and had them share their food memories and favourite dish.

For reviews on the book you can read here and here and check out this Q&A with Donohue here.

I can’t wait until this book is sitting on my kitchen table and what a better gift for Father’s Day (June 19)… wives, mothers, daughters, this will be the gift that keeps on giving!


Eating in the mountains: Asheville, NC.

May 16, 2011 § 15 Comments

“If we didn’t have birthdays,
you wouldn’t be you.
If you’d never been born,
well then what would you do?
If you’d never been born,
well then what would you be?
You might be a fish!
Or a toad in a tree!
You might be a doorknob!
Or three baked potatoes!
You might be a bag full of
hard green tomatoes.”

~ Dr Suess

It’s not uncommon to see Marvel characters wandering the streets.

This Thursday past marked my first birthday in the Northern Hemisphere and what a novelty it was to wear a sundress out to dinner on the 12th of May! As I mentioned earlier it is tradition for my family to extend birthdays for as long as possible, so not only did I get my early birthday present and my lovely birthday dinner with friends, but then NB whisked me away to the mountains for a weekend in Asheville, North Carolina.

I would describe Asheville as the love child of hippy Bellingen (NSW) and trendy Bangalow (NSW) with a little Manly (Sydney) chill thrown in. The city is eclectic, but not in the slightly grotty way that can be parts of Newtown, and it thrives on organic, sustainable living. Asheville’s architecture is as diverse as its population, with a nod to both Parisian chic and Greek Revival as well as the Federal design you might expect to see on a southern plantation.

The Biltmore Estate

If it’s architecture you’re after then wait until you catch a glimpse of Biltmore Estate, the extravagant 175,000 square foot residence built on 125,000 acres. The Biltmore House was designed in 1889, by architect Richard Morris Hunt, for George Washington Vanderbilt and his wife Edith Stuyvesant Dresser. The family moved into the residence on Christmas Eve, 1895, and can you believe it, they only had one child to fill the 38 guest bedrooms! No wonder they were always hosting parties! A visit to Asheville would not be complete without touring this amazing home ($60). Not only will you get to see Napoleon Bonaparte’s chess set in the library, you’ll also get the chance to ogle the three massive kitchens (main kitchen, meat rotisserie kitchen, pastry kitchen), giant walk in pantries and one of the first ever industrial cool rooms… but remember to save time to nip across to the wine tasting as you leave the property.

The food scene in Asheville is incredible and I’ll tell you now that one night is simply not long enough to eat your fill! As I said, Asheville is all about the local, the organic and the sustainable. Expect to find restaurant menus that are shaped under a strict farm-to-table philosophy. Here are 30 places to get you started.

We arrived in Asheville around noon and went directly downtown in search of lunch. The downtown area is about the size of five square blocks, busting at the seams with cafes, restaurants and bars. My ears were filled with live music coming from a nearby tavern while my nose was leading me towards the tantalising aromas floating from within a small Himalayan restaurant. As much as I wanted to fill my belly with curries and flatbreads and rice, we had booked a Spanish tapas restaurant for dinner and I was trying to save my appetite. Instead we followed the stairs that lead to Wall Street, a little road that sits above the main downtown shops, and found an organic vegetarian cafe that I had been reading about the day before.

The Laughing Seed is a global fusion vegetarian restaurant with friendly staff and interesting cocktail combinations. We perched outside at a table covered by the leafy pergola, hoping that the rain wouldn’t sweep in sideways and wet our feet. I know NB had only said yes to ‘the hippy place’ because it was my birthday weekend, but from the moment we sat down I watched his eyes scanning the plates of nearby diners in hungry anticipation.

The menu is a terrific combination of appetizers, sandwiches, salads and entrees (i.e. an Australia main course) that incorporate tastes from Louisiana to Asia and anywhere in between. I had read great reviews about the raw spinach-pesto manicotti (zucchini noodles stuffed with live sunflower-spinach pesto, cashew ricotta, and fresh basil served over sun-dried tomato marinara with house-marinated olives), and in hindsight I wish I had ordered it, instead opting for the Open Market Plate on which I chose to have dhal, tempeh and steamed vegetables ($8). The plate size was modest, which is perfect for me at lunchtime, but if you are a big eater I would recommend one of the bowls or sandwiches. My little serving of yellow dhal was creamy and delicious and hit the spot that was still craving Himalayan curry. I also really enjoyed the grilled tempeh and I’ll probably begin to use this in cooking, instead of tofu, in the future. The steamed vegetables were a bit on the plain side, although they were steamed to perfection with a nice bit of crunch, I would have liked a little sauce to drizzle over them. It was a yummy little meal for me but the menu is so excellent that next time I’ll not try to design it myself!

NB was tossing up between the cuban sandwich and the special of the day which was a vegetarian version of a Philly cheesesteak, using seitan instead of meat. Our waiter recommended ordering the Havana Cuban (herb and spice battered organic tempeh, crispy housemade pickles, black bean spread, tomatoes, caramelized onions, Swiss cheese, and Asheville’s Lusty Monk mustard on grilled flaky Cuban bread. $10) which turned out to be a delicious choice and came with a side of crunchy jalapeno fries and creamy pesto pasta salad. I think the meal basically converted NB and it reminded me of the time that BR introduced her boyfriend to Pure Wholefoods, one of Manly’s organic cafes. While initially there was plenty of knuckle dragging and nail biting, apparently these days you can’t keep him away from the haloumi burger on Sunday mornings!

We left Laughing Seed Cafe with bright eyes and bushy tails, ready to explore our way through the champagne second hand bookstore (yes really) and the French chocolate lounge.

Other places to eat in Asheville:

1. Dinner at Curate, 11 Biltmore Avenue, 828 239 2946. 

This was the only tapas restaurant that I had been to since Kika in Darlinghurst, and it was even better than my first experience. Make sure you book ahead because the place was bursting.

Must haves: chorizo with olive oil potato puree, lamb skewers, grilled green asparagus.

Not as much: potato bravas.

2. Breakfast at Early Girl Eatery, 8 Wall Street, (828) 259-9292

Traditional southern cooking, made from scratch with a local focus. This place is cheap as chips so order a few dishes to share for the table and get a real sense of what it is to enjoy a good southern breakfast.

Must haves: Ginger and pumpkin bread (3.25); grits with cheese ($2.25) these ones are the perfect texture, more like rice pudding than mushy oatmeal; omelette with local fillings ($7.95).

Not as much: Everything is excellent, and even the coffee tastes more fresh than is usual in American cafes.

3. Thirsty Monk Pint House and Beer Bar, 92 Patton Avenue, (828) 254-5470

What a fun place to stop for a drink and a nibble. We ordered the Local Flight, which was a selection of four beers from the local breweries for $6. We tried #1 Nantahala Pale Ale, which I thought was a bit reminiscent of James Boag and very yummy, #2 Highland Cattail Peak wheat beer, hints of raspberry on the palate, #3 Pisgah pale ale, a little more gingery, and #4 Pisgah Red Devil. To accompany our drinks we shared the hummus platter which included original hummus, chipotle hummus, tabouli, sundried tomato tapenade and thai cashew butter (NB’s new favourite spread) $7. The pizza also looked delicious and we were entertained by a man dressed as a nun running in and stealing another patron’s beer.

4. A sweet treat at Marble Slab creamery, 14 Biltmore Avenue

BS to NB: ‘Can I be fat?’

NB: Yes, of course!

BS to server: Peanut  waffle cone with dark chocolate ice cream smashed with Oreos and coconut and topped with whipped cream.

…Also come to experience a real American milkshake, where it’s so thick you can’t suck it up a straw.

NB summed it up when he said that in Asheville I was able to find my food-town soulmate. What a revelation! Tell me Blushers, where do you escape to for a weekend away?

Happy Cinco De Mayo

May 6, 2011 § 8 Comments

If you asked me last week, I had never heard of Cinco De Mayo.

Last night that changed, and I found myself surrounded by black beans, guacamole and cheese dip as my book club sat sipping coronas and discussing the days of prohibition and circus politics (we recognised the holiday  one night early to coincide with our literary meet).

As we drove to the apartment of our hostess, the lovely Morning Sun, I asked my fellow book lover and blogger for a quick history lesson. I can now tell you that FIRST & FOREMOST Cinco De Mayo is NOT Mexican Independence Day, as many people will try to tell you (rather September 16). After this is gets a little hazy.

The funny thing is, depending on whether you’re celebrating in America or in Mexico, the day will have a significantly different meaning.

In the United States Cinco De Mayo is a party, a fiesta and it proves to me that these Americans are perfectly happy to have a drink in celebration for a day that is not really their own. I used to think that St Patrick’s Day was a big deal in Sydney, that was before I realised the city of Charlotte would manage to extend the celebrations for over nine days, from bar-crawl to float parade! Perhaps I should get something going for Australia Day, next January 26?! Here, Cinco De Mayo is a day to honour Mexican culture and heritage, and to commemorate the cause of Mexican freedom and democracy during the early years of the civil war. Today you should expect to see people sipping margaritas and ordering nachos or huevos rancheros.

In Mexico, on the other hand, it is about remembering the victory of the Mexican Army over French forces in the Battle of Puebla, on May 5th, 1862. The day is marked by noticeably less boozing, but instead a military fly over and stirring re-enactments take place. Unfortunately the battles are not all in the past:

“Like many things in Mexico these days, the celebration of the 149th anniversary of the battle swung quickly toward the current drug war. In remarks before laying a wreath to the fallen, Calderon spoke of Mexico’s new enemies, the criminals who rob, extort, kidnap and murder — the kind of opponents who beat 183 people to death and buried them in mass graves 90 miles south of Brownsville, Tex., last month”

William Booth, Washington Post

I’d love to see this day celebrated in its home country but this year I am in America and that means making delicious cheesy, chilli black beans. I hope that this recipe for black beans would not make a Mexican mother cringe, originating from my head as it has, but what can I say? It goes down well with a glass of sangria and that’s enough for me!

Black Beans with shredded cheese and jalapenos

2 cups dried black beans, soaked overnight,

1 large tin crushed tomatoes,

1/2 cup water,

1 cup red wine,

5 cloves garlic, crushed,

1/4 bunch coriander, stalks chopped finely and leaves picked,

2 tbl chilli flakes,

3/4 cup mexican cheese, grated or crumbled (queso blanco, queso fresco or panela),

1/4 cup jalapeno peppers.

Drain and rinse the black beans until the water runs clear and return to large saucepan. Add all the wet ingredients and the garlic and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and stir in coriander stalks and chilli flakes. Continue to simmer for 1 hour for semi-crunchy beans (I like to undercook my beans slightly so they retain some texture and don’t taste like mush!) or 1 and a half hours for soft beans. Remove from heat and stir through cheese and jalapenos. Serve with corn tortillas for wrapping and guacamole for topping.

Pennsylvania: Part One…

April 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

You might have read that NB and I recently headed north, to Pennsylvania, for the BFF’s wedding. This was my first internal trip since moving to the States, apart from our weekend in Charleston, and I can ensure you that after the 24-hour flight from Australia, anything domestic seems a cinch. Saying that, US air-travel has a bit of an undesirable  reputation and it is wise to expect delays (hello I-Pad and airport sports bar) and pack light to avoid the $25 fee for checked luggage (I managed to compact all my weekend necessities into a sexy little orange carry-on, which I think impressed NB just a little bit).

We landed in Philadelphia close to 11pm and went through the banter of hiring a car before heading north-east towards New Hope and our destination, Peddler’s Village. Calling ahead to check in on the BFF it became clear that Peddler’s Village was not known for its rocking nightlife,so  a beer stop would be vital.


“The alcohol laws of Pennsylvania are some of the most restrictive in the United States of America, and contain many peculiarities not found in other states” _Wikipedia”

Now, America has very different alcohol laws to Australia and these vary from state to state. For example, in North Carolina you can buy beer and wine in the supermarkets (very cheaply might I add), but liquor can only be purchased from an ‘offsite’ like the ABC store. In Pennsylvania it is much stricter. Wine and spirits can only be purchased in State owned wine and spirit shops (where you must be over 21 to enter) and beer is only sold by the case or keg (no six-packs) in package stores and restaurants with bars. So we stopped for pizza and had the following conversation:

NB: Two cases of Bud Light please

Waiter: Sorry man, we can only sell one case per transaction

NB: Well can I buy two cases in two different transactions?

Waiter: (Pause) Sure, I guess.

NB pays and picks up his beer.

Waiter: Sorry man, you can only leave the premises with one case at a time.

NB, looking somewhat bemused walks out with a case of beer while I stand eyeing a giant slice of cheesy pizza.

Me: Can I take the other case?

Waiter (to me): Oh, I guess. But can I check your ID?

Me: (hands the ID)

Waiter: Wow! You’re from Australia. Do you know Grinspoon? I saw them once. They’re awesome. Are there really killer stingrays in Australia…

NB returns for the second case and we eventually make our way into the night, ensuring my new friend that yes, plenty of wildlife can harm you Down Under, but he should still go.

By this stage it was past midnight and we still had another 20 minutes before I was near a warm shower, a hot tea and a good pillow. I think it was only this slice of pizza that got me through…

(to be continued)

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