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.
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?
May 2, 2011 § 5 Comments
I have great news! The porch is ready!
Anyone that knows me will freely admit that I have a habit of creating jobs for myself. Not only is our kitchen table covered in To-Do-Lists for immediate jobs, but also to-do-lists for longer term jobs and to-do-lists for backup jobs that I could do if I ran out of jobs. Needless to say, I don’t understand free time.
For some reason I thought that the move to America would teach me to chill out a bit more. Perhaps even sit back and smell the roses. But then I realised – we had no roses to smell. Unfortunately for NB, this was the beginning of the end for our free weekends and not until two months later was the garden deemed finished.
Alas, this is not all. As I was standing outside in the early morning light, admiring our handy work and whispering sweet nothings to our darling little seedlings, I was struck by how grubby the back porch appeared in comparison. Oh dear. At this stage NB threw up his hands in despair and retreated to the safety of Family Guy reruns, and to be honest I can hardly blame him. Fortunately for me FoodieFresh was happy to don her painting shorts and a few weekends ago we made 5 hours of serious progress.
It was somewhere around here that the project stagnated. Admittedly the state was being ravaged by terrible storms, of which we were getting the tail end, and we were also busy with various eating engagements, but to be honest I think I had just run out of steam.
Saturday arrived and I was busy in the kitchen preparing for a little dinner soiree that night. We had some friends coming over who had lived in Sydney when we were there (they only returned to America a few months before we did) and NB and I thought it would be a good idea to relive the Thai scene that is so dominant back home. Lost as I was in marinating ribs, grating ginger and folding dumplings, that is was a couple of hours before I realised that I hadn’t heard a peep out of NB!
With a trail of shredded cabbage falling behind me, I went searching.
And wouldn’t you know it, there he was out on the porch finishing the painting. Hurrah!!
Ace of Spade’s delicious butter biscuit shortbread with strawberries and cream
That night, as I chinked my prosecco glass with our guests, I made a little promise to myself that next weekend we would relax…Do you believe me?
Sticky Asian Spare Ribs (the style that an Aussie girl can be proud to present in the South)
1.5kg (3 1/4 lb), or 16 American-style pork spare ribs
3/4 cup hoisin sauce
2 tbl grated ginger
1/3 cup soy sauce
3 tsp sesame oil
1/2 cup Chinese rice wine
2 tsp Chinese five spice powder
2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch chilli flakes and a squeeze of lime.
Bring a large crockpot of water to the boil and blanch ribs, rinsing and refreshing under cold water.
Mix marinade together in a large ceramic baking dish and toss ribs to coat. Cover and allow to marinate for 4+ hours, or overnight.
Preheat oven to 160C/ 280F and remove ribs from fridge, allowing to return to room temperature.
Leaving the baking dish covered with foil, cook ribs for 3 hours or until meat begins to flake off bone. Remove from oven and stand, covered, for 15-20 minutes.
For thicker sauce, drain some of the sauce from the baking dish into a saucepan and bring to the boil, whisking constantly until thick.
Serve with steamed rice.
March 21, 2011 § 9 Comments
Last night I was messing about on the Internet, trying to think of something to write for the next VoulezVous post when NB asked me if I had heard about the Twinkie diet. Ummm, no! Truth be told I’ve never even seen a Twinkie, but I was intrigued. So I Googled it, as we all do these days, and hot damn there was a man who had lived on Twinkie’s for six weeks and lost a whole bunch of weight. I stared at my rocket salad with barely concealed disdain. Here I am, day in day out trying to be healthy (ok maybe not day in AND day out) and this guy grabs his fill from a packet every 3 hours and ends up a skinny minny. Not cool dude! Anyway, I thought I would share my findings with you and maybe I’ll start listening to the little voice that keeps telling me how chocolate will make me happy…SupaSista – heard!
What have you eaten today? Was it poached eggs on whole wheat for breakfast or a tuna salad for lunch? How about Twinkies, Oreos or some Doritos? You might remember Mark Haub’s Twinkie diet from December last year, which saw the Professor of nutrition at Kansas State University shed 27 pounds over six weeks. Yep, a ‘guilt food’ made him drop 27 pounds. Why? Because one Twinkie every 3 hours was nearly all he ate.
This isn’t the first time someone has lost weight on a crazy diet, I once had a Pilates client who ate nothing but oranges for a week to lose weight while her husband was away. Others claim that the potato diet worked wonders for their waistline.
Yet realistically the food irrelevant, it is the overall calorie reduction that has led to the weight-loss.
Of course the long-term health effects of permanently existing on these diets would be disastrous (hair loss, organ stress, loss of bone density, cognitive impacts, malnutrition and potentially even death), but they raise an issue that is very close to my heart. Portion control.
The people of Okinawa, Japan, one of the longest-lived and healthiest populations in the world, practice a principle they call hara hachi bu: Eat until you are 80% full. This is a sensible idea but how on earth can we tell when we are 80% full? By the time our mind has registered satiety, we have generally OVEREATEN, with majority of Americans (and many Aussies Blushers…) needing some visual cue as to when they should stop eating (when the plate is clean, when the package is empty, when the TV show is over). It’s time we start learning to react to internal cues, instead of those external reminders.
In his book, In Defence of Food, Michael Pollan, author, journalist and healthy eating activist, explains how eating less has repeatedly been shown to slow aging and prolong lifespan in animals. It is also linked to the prevention of cancer as cutting back on calories slows cell division and stifles the production of free radicals.
Here in America we face a culture of cheap and abundant calories, as well as a lack of formality or occasion surrounding meals. While the French eat modest portions and observe that second helpings are taboo, America continues to ‘Super Size Me’.
We’re also living in a society that’s low on time and big on outsourcing their food preparation, yet eating out can really be the killer. Did you know that restaurant portions can be up to four times the size of a recommended dietary serve? And don’t even get me started on free soda refills.
Remember the last time you were at an all you can eat buffet and ate until you feel sick, just to get your money’s worth? (NB’s cool aunt makes the joke that it’s All You Can Eat, not You Eat All!) Or when dining out in a restaurant and you make yourself finish all the sides for the table so they ‘don’t go to waste’. The Duck has a terrific saying for this: If your body doesn’t need it, it’s just going to waste anyway. Huzzah! Or my Nan will wrap up half a slice of bread to take home if she can’t finish it (she also washes Glad Wrap but that’s a whole other story.) I would feel confident in saying that no restaurant or cafe would refuse you a doggy-bag. By packing it up not only do you save your waist from overindulgence, but you save money on the next days lunch.
This is just a little food for thought. I think you can have your cake and eat it too, just maybe ask for half a slice.
February 22, 2011 § 5 Comments
Have you ever imagined a place, only to arrive and realise it’s nothing like you had expected?
This happened last weekend when NB and I went to Charleston, SC. The Charleston of my mind was a low populated town of plantations, massive colonial homesteads and not much else. So slap my cheeks and call me Charlie when we arrive in this quaint city of magnificent architecture and gastronomical treasures. The lack of three-tiered, verandah wrapped homesteads surrounded by acres of field has made me acknowledge that I must stop referencing the entire South solely from Gone With The Wind (until I travel to Georgia that is, and I’ll expect Rhett Butler to be every man on the street!).
Charleston is South Carolina’s oldest city and you can jump into a horse and buggy for an historic tour, or simply walk down the main street to the French Quarter to see the eclectic design of the homes that are a tribute to the past three centuries.
NB and I were in town for Sunday brunch, which is a magnificent occasion in this part of the world as most shops are closed and, after church, the day is to be spent eating and drinking with family and friends. I like that.
We had made our reservation at High Cotton a few days before and I’m glad that we had because all the tables in the big, sunny dining room had been filled and ‘walk-ins’ were seated in the darker bar area.
We started with mimosa’s while a table of elderly women next to us thirstily sipped Bloody Mary’s, Pimm’s Cups and Classic Bellini’s – brunch isn’t brunch around these parts without a juicy cocktail!
I spied that every table had a basket of cornbread on their tables and I was like an excited puppy when our waiter brought a serve for us. I had never tried cornbread before, and I think this recipe was the sweetened one because it tasted like cake, delicious, yellow, breakfast cake…drool.
When I had devoured the cornbread, and felt too sheepish to ask for more, we ordered our meals. It was a tough decision because the menu was divine, what would you choose between BBQ Duck Hash, Crab Cakes Benedict, Huevos Rancheros or the Farmer’s Market Omelette? I know! In the end I went the way of the egg and ordered a delicious vegetarian omelette with goats cheese and a side of home fries AND a side of grits! No holding back ladies! The eggs were a rich yellow and the goats cheese had gone gooey and mellow, similar to the way I am after watching The Notebook (my favourite movie of all time AND filmed in South Carolina).
NB went with Huevos Rancheros and it was very brave of him to steer away from Eggs Benedict, we fear he has an addiction. I stole some beans and salsa when he wasn’t looking and they were delicious. I’ve been addicted to beans since Bottega
We left just enough room in our belly’s to walk around the corner and devour a brownie sundae with three scoops of icecream at Kaminsky’s.
I think we might have just started a tradition!
Tell me Blushers, where is your favourite weekend away and do the breakfasts make you smile?
Blush. Eat. Sigh. Love.
January 19, 2011 § 10 Comments
I’m not a big fan of lunch. it flummoxes me. The problem is I LOVE breakfast and I LOVE dinner and, well, lunch just seems to get in the way of maximising that consumption. So here I was yesterday, minding my own business and filling up on breakfast beans at Bottega (yes, I may be obsessed) when I am invited out to lunch. Sure, I think to myself, licking the remnants of spicy tomato sauce from my lips and eyeing the raspberry friands that adorned the counter, I’ll go along for the company and just order a vegetable juice or a cup of tea. Blushers my darlings, I failed. I gorged. I loved it.
What, you may ask, is the straw that broke the camels back?? Why look no further than Armidale’s Bistro on Cinders.
Cinder’s Lane in Armidale is a cute little back street with a rather sophisticated air. This bistro opened back when I was still living at home but it has since been taken over by the lovely Marie and Vinko, who I had the pleasure of meeting fresh off the plane from their Vanuatu holiday when I went in for lunch. And what a lovely couple they are! I walked in with The Pharmacist and Mrs Brady to be greeted with hugs and smiles and handshakes. What a nice way to start a meal! Shortly after we were seated, Vinko came over with ‘the usual‘ coffees for The Pharmacist and Mrs Brady, and during the meal he kept a watchful eye on refilling my glass of water.
Now I really wasn’t hungry at all but the menu was a little ohhhhh and I succumbed. Mrs Brady said the servings were a nice smallish size and there were a number of light meals to choose from so how could I say no?? In the words of NB: “Well, I don’t want to be ruuude!”
Lunch is written on the blackboard each day and will reflect what was fresh at the markets and in the whim of the kitchen. I was having a hard time to decide between Beetroot salad, white wine, lemon and garlic calamari or the pate. And then the table next to ours ordered a chicken pot pie, from which the delicious aroma sent me into fits of confusion. Perhaps I could ask for a bite…??
In the end I ordered the duck breast on Asian snowpea salad with coriander, chilli and lime. The salad was the size of a neat deck of cards, topped with 6 generous slices of tender, juicy duck breast. I couldn’t fault it. Both my dining partners ordered prawn fettucine which was made light by capers, lemon and dill.
I also learnt that Vinko will not stop grinding the pepper until you say thankyou – so keep an eye out!
The 40 or so minutes that we were there saw the cafe filled inside and out (there’s a sweet courtyard out the side door) and large white plates of delicious looking food kept walking past me in a dangerously tempting display!
Bistro on Cinders opens for breakfast and specialises in scrambled eggs, mushrooms and pikelets (although turkish toast is the only bread on offer). During the summer months they open weekend nights for dinner and you might find yourself tempted by ‘Kinkawooka’ mussels or marinated lamb rump with minted peas and roast capsicum.
So now I’ve given you food for thought for breakfast, lunch and dinner – I think there’s little else to do but road trip to Armidale and check it out!!
January 15, 2011 § 13 Comments
I have a secret for you! But please don’t tell too many people, it’s already a struggle to find a seat after 10am. My secret is called Bottega.
‘Bottega’ means atelier, shop, artists workroom, and this little cafe/deli in the heart of New England is certainly a space for stylish tastes.
Established 3 years ago by Phil and Donella Tutt (who you might remember from the Elephant Bean cafe in Katoomba or at Solitary Kiosk in Leura), Bottega brought to the town of Armidale the ‘casual eatery’, showcasing regional produce and local flair. While the eatery was sold in early December 2010, it hasn’t skipped a beat. From the kitchen you can still expect simple and elegant meals based around regional produce, with honey from Tenterfield, organic Pasture Perfect Pork from Ashford, and lamb and beef from the properties just outside town. When rainbow trout is on the menu it will have been sourced from nearby Arc-en-Ciel at Hanging Rock. At Bottega, the dream of Paddock-To-Plate is coming true.
I’ve come back home to Armidale for a few days, to catch up with the family before NB and I choof-off to America. The area has always been known for good land, which means good meat, cheese, potatoes, berries and fantastic cool-climate wines, but seeing it all exhibited together on the one menu – well I was both impressed and proud of my little town!
This morning’s brunch was in the delightful company of The Duck and Major General CFC – Saturday morning regulars of the cafe. We took a seat at the back of the room, which is light and airy thanks to two walls of windows facing the tree lined street. Within moments Major General CFC had conducted a nifty eyebrow conversation with our friendly barista Steve, which basically said we’ll have the usual (extra extra extra hot lattes with extra hot milk on the side). Impressive, I know! The three of us like to think of ourselves as the EXTRA HOT LATTE Muskateers, yet rarely do our journeys end in really hot milk. I didn’t believe The Duck when she said that Steve is a magician on the machine, but oh oh oh was she right! The milk was hot, not burnt! The grind was strong, not bitter! The crema was rich, not frothy! I am considering offering this man a space in my suitcase!!
After our cafe au lait we ordered breakfast. The menu is succinct but quality, with options for sweet or savory tastebuds. Perhaps you’ll order scrambled eggs with fresh basil, tomato and prosciutto, sourdough with mushrooms and sauteed spinach or rich fruit toast with ricotta and Hanks Jam. Lunch is a number of different toasted paninos as well as a tempting daily blackboard special. The Duck and Major both stayed true to form with poached eggs, prosciutto and toast, while I savoured the most delicious slow baked borlotti beans that I have ever eaten, must I really share?!?!
The Major and I both have a sweet tooth that is hard to tame so we couldn’t help but order one of the giant homemade chocolate brownies ($7), with two scoops of icecream! If chocolate at 10am is too intense you might like to try the polenta, lemon and almond cake, a slice of apple and pear torte or a piece of the baklava ($4.50).
On your way out, pick up some goodies to take home from the selection of relishes and jams, Doodles Creek dressing, vinegars, cheeses, cured meats, Morpeth sourdough and pannetone, just to mention a few.
So tell me Blushers, what’s your local secret?!
January 6, 2011 § 11 Comments
I’ve just left a 90 minute massage and am floating on a cloud of orange oil and rosemary essence bliss. Obviously I can’t be expected to do anything productive this afternoon, so instead I have opened a coconut and am going to tell you about Govinda’s (112 Darlinghurst Rd, Darlinghurst NSW 2010).
If you read my last post you would know that NB and I are on a mission. A mission to finally visit the little locals we’ve talked about for months. Govinda’s has long been on the mission list, which is somewhat silly as NB lives right across the road, and now I’ll put on my Tom Cruise sunglasses when I say MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.
If you’re not familiar with Govinda’s it is a movie theatre and vegetarian Indian restaurant in one. For $30 you go and enjoy the all you can eat buffet and then head upstairs to catch either the 7:30 or 9:30 movie session, where you lie down on cushions and lengthen yourself out like a resting cat.
It was a cold Tuesday night when we booked in and we shook our heads in astonishment that we had to wear jumpers in the last week of December. Oh well, the weather made it a perfect night for an aromatic curry and a snuggley movie-seat.
We were greeted by a pretty Norwegian girl in a field green sari and shown to our seat around the back corner of the room where the lights were dim enough for ambience but light enough for a good view of the food. She explained to us that you may return to the buffet as many times as you want, but take a new plate each time. All the food is vegetarian and some is vegan.
We started with bowls of yellow split-lentil dhal, a warming mix with a smooth flavour and not too much chilli. Then back to the buffet for plates of curry – a cheesy tasting cauliflower and potato, tomato based beans and fried tofu and some sort of tempeh meat balls (which I think could have fooled even the hardest carnivore). There was white rice, brown rice, and a couscous, chickpea and vegetable pilaf, as well as chutneys and raitas, pappadams, seeds and kernals and even pasta bake, potato wedges and iceberg lettuce leaves for those less adventurous.
We spied the table next to us as they received their desserts. Less Indian than Dairy Queen I think, chocolate mousse with canned- whip cream, banana splits and cake hidden with ice cream and topping. Mmmmm maybe not! Instead NB ordered a delicious mango lassi while I sipped on a big pot of steaming hot English Breakfast tea.
Very full, we struggled upstairs, happy to lie down on one of the day beds and watch the 9:30 screening of Winter’s Bone. The only problem now is trying to keep yourself awake, full, comfortable and oh so content!