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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Tudor-Era Charcoal Stove at Hampton Court Palace

One of the best things about attending the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery is the chance to meet people with all sorts of interesting food-related jobs. Two years ago I met Marc Meltonville, who runs all of the kitchens in Britain’s Historic Palaces. These are historic buildings that are owned by the Crown but are no longer used as residences by the royal family. They include: The Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace. This year, I had a little extra time in London after the Oxford Symposium and Marc kindly showed me and some friends around the restored Tudor kitchens at Hampton Court, favorite home of King Henry VIII (1491-1547).

These kitchens are the largest Tudor kitchens in the UK, occupying 55 of the palace’s 1000-plus rooms and covering 3,000 square feet. When the palace was in use as a royal residence there were about 600 courtiers who were entitled to two meals a day provided by the palace. So this was a huge cooking operation, much bigger even than most modern hotels and restaurants. We have the palace provisioning lists from the reign of Elizabeth I (1533-1603) which tell us that during the course of one year 1,240 oxen, 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer, 760 calves, 1,870 pigs, and 53 wild boar were cooked at Hampton Court.

Marc and his crew have done a masterful job outfitting the kitchens as they would have been in the 16th Century. They decided that process was the key so they began with the recipes of the time and decided what implements were needed to make them. Once they had a list, they went out and found artisans who could make replicas using the techniques of the time.

For example, the ceramic bowls are all made locally by a potter who through extensive historical research has determined that for a 16th Century potter to make enough money to feed his family, he had to be able to make one bowl in about three minutes. So he makes each of the bowls for Hampton Court in one throw. When a bowl breaks, the staff keeps the pieces and makes a note of how old it was and what caused the accident. In future they hope to compare their broken pottery with real 16th Century shards from archeological digs to see if it has broken in the same way.

The pots are bronze (tin-lined copper was not used for cooking until the late 17th Century) and the skillets are hammered or wrought iron, not cast iron which is also 17th Century innovation. The wooden bowls used in the kitchen are turned on a pole lathe which is operated with a foot treadle. They are made in “nests,” multiple bowls coming from one large piece of wood and fitting one inside the other when completed.

All this research was not just done so the place would look good, Marc and his team fire up the charcoal stoves and actually cook in these kitchens on a regular basis, experimenting with recipes of King Henry’s time. Unfortunately, due to health and safety regulations, they are not allowed to serve the results to the public. For example, when cooking in bronze pots it is important not to allow the food to cool in the cooking vessel which could cause copper poisoning (bronze is an alloy of copper and tin). If you’d really like to sample some of their work you can find a few authentic dishes served in the modern cafe at the palace.

Meat Roasting Fireplace at Hampton Court. Can you see the little bench where the spit boy sits?

One of the most impressive parts of the kitchens is the meat roasting fireplaces which are large enough for an adult stand up inside. Through experimentation the cooks at Hampton Court have learned a lot about how to spit roast meat. The spits are mounted on a huge rack that slants in front of the fireplace allowing the spit boy to move the spit closer or further form the fire depending on the temperature. Spit roasted chicken is far tastier than what you get baking in a modern oven. As they slowly turn in front of the fire, the chickens constantly baste themselves. Serving roasted meat was also a way for wealthy kings to demonstrate their power to visiting political guests. It costs a lot more money to roast meat than boiling or frying because most of the energy created by the burning wood is lost, going right up the chimney. It is estimated that six to eight tons of seasoned oak was burned in the kitchen fireplaces each day during King Henry’s time.

I’ll end with a couple of terrific videos made by the kitchen team at Hampton Court. The first shows how to cook using a charcoal stove, including how a 16th Century cook would start the fire (hint, they didn’t have matches). The second video is all about spit roasting meat. Enjoy!

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During a recent trip to the UK I had the chance to spend half a day wandering through the immense and absorbing Portobello Market which takes place every Saturday in the Notting Hill area of London. A little over half a mile long, is best known for its antiques, but has four other distinct sections including Fruits and Vegetables, New Goods, Fashion Market and Second Hand Goods.

Portobello Road itself has an interesting history. It is named after an 18th Century farm in the area which itself had been named after an important naval victory in the comically named War of Jenkins’ Ear. Apparently, this British-Spanish conflict began when said Mr. Jenkins, Captain of a British Merchant ship, told an appalled House of Commons how the Spanish Coast Guard had boarded his ship, tied him to the mast, and sliced off his ear as a warning. He then displayed the severed ear which he had kept pickled in a jar as evidence.

As far back as the 19th Century the Portobello Market was known as a food market. Beginning in the 1960s it became a home for antiques dealers and is now one of the world’s largest antiques markets. Some of the antiques shops are open during the week, but on Saturdays they all are, and in addition numerous vendors set up tables in the street. The shops can be deceptive from the outside, many of them are divided into many stalls each specializing in a particular category or period of antique wares, so be sure to explore in detail.

In one of these enchanting arcades I found Mike Witts of Appleby Antiques who specializes in antique Kitchenalia, in particular, 18th Century copper cooking vessels and moulds. It turns out he works often with food historian Ivan Day whom I had just heard speak at this year’s Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery.

Ever since I started making fruit jams at home using Christine Ferber’s old fashioned (no pectin required) recipes, I have coveted a good copper preserving pan, which is what she recommends to make the best preserves. Speaking with Mr. Witt I learned that often in the past, large brass kettles were used for preserving as well. Brass, being an alloy of copper with zinc, is less likely to react with acidic ingredients. Unfortunately — or maybe fortunately because then I would have had to squeeze it into my luggage — he didn’t have any on hand at the moment. However, I will be keeping an eye on his his web site.

Thankfully, the shopping wasn’t a complete bust because I scooped up a couple of Victorian-era Wedgwood egg cups from a different vendor — much easier to fit in the luggage.

A giant pan of Paella at Portobello Market

When you’re tired of shopping and need something to eat Portobello Market doesn’t disappoint. There was lots of mouthwatering street food being concocted right before my very eyes. I chose a stew of chorizo, chickpeas, tomato and other vegetables, ladled from an enormous bubbling cauldron, but there were also giant pans of paella and one vendor carving bits from an entire spit-roasted pig. Much better than hotdogs, I’ll say!

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Left: Boiled Topside Corned Beef, Right: Roasted Loin of Fermanagh Bacon

This is the second post in a two-part round-up of this year’s Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery which took place from July 9-11, 2010 at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford. This year’s theme was Cured, Fermented, and Smoked Foods. You can find Part I here.

Saturday night’s dinner celebrated the rich cornucopia that is the modern cuisine of Ireland and was cooked for us by Padraic Og Gallagher of Gallagher’s Boxty House in Dublin. Before we ate we were shown a lovely video in which the chef (and his brother the videographer) traveled around Ireland and introduced us to some of the artisanal producers of the ingredients which made up the meal we were about to taste. Here’s the extensive menu, with links to producers where possible:

Cold Starters

Wrights of Howth Organic Smoked Salmon, drizzled with Connemara Peated Single Malt Whiskey
Sally Barnes’ Smoked Mackerel
Ummera Smoked Silver Eel
Fingal Ferguson’s Venison Salami and Irish Chroizo
McCarthy’s of Kanturk Guinness & Cider Spiced Beef
McGeough’s Air-dried Lamb

all served with Treacle & Soda bread, Horseradish cream & Ballymaloe Relish

Warm Starter

Gallaghers Boxty House Boxty Potato Dumplings in a Crozier Blue Cheese Cream Sauce.

It's not an Irish feast without New Potatoes.

Main Course

Roasted Loin of Fermanagh Bacon
Boiled Topside Corned Beef both from Kettyle Irish Foods
Kishes of New Potatoes from the gardens of Lissadell House

served with Cuinneog Irish Butter, Sauteed York Cabbage, Champ Potato, Parsley Sauce, and a Cider & Wholegrain Mustard Sauce.

To Finish

A selection of Irish Cheese with Ditty’s Home Bakery Traditional Oatcake Biscuits and Foods of Athenry Porter Cake.

Cashel Blue Cheese
Knockdrinna Goat’s Cheese
Gubbeen Cheese
Coolea Cheese

All of this abundance was accompanied by the following beverages:

White Bordeaux – Pessac Leognan – l’Abelle de Fieuzal, 2003
Red Bordeaux – Château Bahans Haut-Brion 1999
Red Bordeaux – Clarendelle Rouge 2004, Clarence Dillon

Porterhouse Oyster Stout
Porterhouse Red Ale

and finally the pièce de resistance:

Irish Coffee made with Kilbeggan Finest Irish Whiskey.

Proper Irish Coffee, with fresh cream poured over the back of a spoon

If you think that was a banquet (and it was!) wait until you hear what we had for lunch on Sunday for the final meal of the symposium. Several members of different Slow Food Convivia in Norway conspired to bring us a traditional (and sustainable!) Norwegian Lunchbord. The ingredients arrived via sailing ship from Bergen via Cardiff and were then prepared, under the direction of Pål Drønen and Margareth Tislevoll.

The groaning boards of our Norwegian Lunch

If you wanted to demonstrate to someone the meaning of the phrase “groaning boards” when referring to a great feast, this lunch would do the job. There were long tables full of carefully labeled delicacies, some rarely found outside of Norway. It was impossible to try everything, but what I sampled was amazing. It really demonstrated to us that the scandinavians are the kings of cured, fermented and smoked foods, getting the most out of their short growing season. I think a trip to Norway is in my future. Here’s the menu, with producers where possible:

Cold Fish Dishes

Sølvisild, sullsid, and hardrøykt sild – silver herring, gold herring, and hard cured herring from Jnardar AS, Leinøy, Norway.

Kryddersild – marinated herring from H.J. Kyvik AS, Haugesund, Norway

Rakørret – fermented trout from Skarvheimen Fjellfisk, Ål, Norway

Røkelaks “Lærdalslaks” – smoked salmon from Sognefjord Gourmet, Årdal, Norway.

Røykt gjeddepølse, varmrøykt gjedde, and raket gjeddekaviar – smoked sausage of pike, hot smoked pike, and fermented caviar of pike Esox lucus
Gravet sik, varmrøykt sik, and raket sikrogn – cured whitefish, hot smoked whitefish, and fermented caviar of whitefish Coregonus lavaretus
all from Villfisken AS, Hallingby, Norway.

Hot Fish Dishes

Klipfisk – salt cod from Olga Godø,Godøy, Norway

Tørrfisk – stockfish from Lofotskrei, Ballstad, Norway.

Rødsei – red saithe or old salted saith Pollachius virens from Seløy fisk, Herøy, Norway.

Cured Leg of Lamb

Cold Meats

Speket viltpølse – cured game sausage from reindeer, red deer, and lard from Li gardstun, Aurland, Norway.

Speket Geitepølse – cured goat sausage from Sturle Ryum, Gudmedalen Fellsfjøs, Aurland, Norway.

Fenalår, and speket lammepølse – cured leg of lamb, and lamb sausage from Ekta Skåramat, Granvin, Norway.

Spekeskinke – cured ham from Ekta Skåramat, Granvin, Norway.

Hot Meat Dishes

Saltet og røykt lammebog – salted and smoked shoulder of lamb from Holo gard, Flåm, Norway.

Røykt lammepølse – smoked lamb sausage from Ekta Skåramat, Granvin, Norway.

Norwegian Cheeses

Norwegian Cheeses and Dairy Products (all made from unpasteurised milk)

Pultost – a crumbly sour-milk cheese from Helen Dave, Vesterhaugen Gårdsysteri, Våler, Norway and Tore Skarpnord, Høgda Gardsmeieri, Brumunddal, Norway.

Gamalost – a cooked sour-milk cheese from Maria Ballhaus, Sogn Jord-og Hagebruksskule, Aurland, Norway.

Jærost – semi-hard cows’ milk cheese (10 months old) from Voll ysteri, Voll, Norway.

Kvit Undredalsost – semi-hard goats milk cheese (3-6 months old, and 2 years old)
Undredal Stølsysteri, Undredal, Norway.

Brimost – brown goats’ milk why cheese (fresh) from Rallarrosa Stølsysteri, Flåm, Norway.

Tjukkmjølk – “thick milk,” organic cultured milk from Rørosmeieriet, Røros, Norway.

Rømme and smør – organic sour cream, and butter from Rørosmeieriet, Røros, Norway.

Flat Breads

Lefser – soft flat bread from Leveld lefsebakeri, Ål, Norway.

Flatbrød – crisp flat bread from Veitastrond flatbrødbakeri, Veitastrond, Norway. and Gardsbutikken, Øystese, Norway.

Desserts

Molter – cloudberries Rubus chamaemorus

Hermetiske moreller and “Mallard” plommer – preserved sweet cherries and “Mallard” plums from Nøring ANS, Øystese, Norway.

Hermetiske epler and pærer – preserved apples and pears from Syse gard, Ulvik, Norway.

Sirupstynnkake – syrup wafers from Brynhild Levang, Rendalen, Norway.

Ale and Aquavite

Nøgna Ø India Pale Ale and Nøgna Ø Imperial Brown Ale from Nøgna Ø, Grimstad, Norway.

Lysholm Linie aquavit from Arcus, Oslo, Norway.

Next year, the theme at the Oxford Symposium will be “Celebrations.” After this, I can’t imagine what they will come up with.

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A Selection of Irish Cheeses

This is the first of a two-part round-up of this year’s Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery which took place from July 9-11, 2010 at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford.

The weather was unseasonably warm and I was glad the College Bar — why don’t American colleges have official bars? It’s so civilized — opened at 6PM on Friday evening providing a refreshing Gin and Tonic. Not long after, our first meal began with a glass of German Sekt and some Prosciutto di Parma in the garden as Chef Raymond Blanc announced the winners of this year’s Young Chef’s Grant who got to help prepare Friday evening’s dinner along side Chef Jeremy Lee of London’s Blue Print Cafe. Congratulations to winners Max Barber, Elaine Mahon and Daniel Penn.

Baked, Salted, Middle White Pork

To kick off the weekend Mr. Lee conceived a Feast of Cockaigne, the imaginary land of Medieval legend, where there is always plenty of food and drink and no one has to work very hard.

In keeping with the theme most of the courses contained foods which had been preserved. Here’s the menu:

Salt cod, vegetables, and aioli

Baked salted Middle White Pork from Huntsham Court Farm, Herefordshire, UK
with abraised green beans with a green sauce.

Almond meringue with berries and whipped cream, sometimes also called Eaton Mess.

The meal was accompanied by the following Spanish red wines:
Ribera del Duero Crianza 2006
Ribera del Duero Reserva 2005

On Saturday afternoon after fascinating plenary talks by food scientist Harold McGee and anthropologist Sidney Mintz and some papers about ancient Roman fish sauce. I was ready for lunch.

Bang Bang Chicken

Lucky for me, it was provided by renowned Chinese food expert Fuchsia Dunlop and the chefs from London’s Barshu Restaurant where she is a menu consultant.

The Chinese are known for their prodigious use of fermentation (thousand year eggs anyone?) and lunch did not disappoint:

First Course

Bang Bang Chicken
Sweet and Sour Spare Ribs
Spicy Cucumber Salad
Refreshing Green Soybeans.

Second Course

Gong Bao Chicken with Peanuts
Bear’s Paw Beancurd
Choy Sam with Fragrant Oil
Steamed Rice

The wine was a 2008 Riesling Trocken “Kraut wine,” weingut tesch from the Nahe wine region in Germany.

And so it was back to the intellectually stimulating portion of the program. During the afternoon I attended presentations about a fermented bread from Transylvania which is purposely cooked in such a hot oven that the outside layer turns to charcoal; the history of eastern European Jewish pickled foods in Canada; and Ken Albala’s inspiring talk on the “Missing Terroir Factor in Historic Cookery.” His new book is right at the top of my to-buy list.

Part Two of this summary of Oxford 2010 will go up next week. See you then.

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Photo by MPerel

When you visit Oxford you are surrounded by history of all types. Some of the colleges were founded in the 13th Century, and their famous alumni are too numerous to count, stretching across all imaginable professions including historians, chemists, writers, explorers, politicians and more. One quite pleasurable way to make a connection with some of these denizens of the past is to visit their old stomping grounds for a pint or two.

There are quite a number of very old pubs in Oxford, some dating from the 15th Century. With the resurgence of Real Ale, the selection of drink at most pubs has greatly improved over the last 20 years or so. Look for the hand pumped taps to try some local specialties.

When I come to Oxford for the Symposium on Food and Cookery, I always try to visit a couple of pubs I haven’t been to before. This year I tried out the Eagle and Child which is in a building built in the 16th Century and became a pub in approximately 1650.

Notably, the Eagle and Child is associated with several writers who studied and/or taught at Oxford, including J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis. They were part of a group called the Inklings which met from about 1933-1963 at Lewis’s rooms at Magdalen College to read aloud unfinished works. The group also had a standing lunch date on Tuesday afternoons at the Eagle and Child (or the Bird and Baby as they liked to call it). They would sit in the then back room (the pub has since been extended in the rear), known as the Rabbit Room.

The name of the pub is supposedly derived from the eagle and child on the coat of arms of the Earl of Derby. However, the Earl’s lands are in Lancashire and there is also a pub called the Eagle and Child there which used to lie on the Earl’s estate, so who knows?

Legend has it that one of the Earls of Derby back in the 14th Century had not succeeded in fathering a male heir (he and his wife had one daughter). Trying to ensure the continuation of his line, he had a dalliance with a noblewoman whom he kept in style nearby. This liaison resulted in the birth of a bastard son. The Earl then arranged to have his son “found” in an eagle’s nest dressed in clothing appropriate to a noble child. The story of a child found in an eagle’s nest is common to several mythologies of ancient Europe including Norway and France, so perhaps this is where the Earl got the idea. In any case, his wife agreed to adopt the child and raise it as their son and heir.

While sipping my pint, I got to wondering if Mr. Tolkien created the giant eagle that rescues Galdalf from Sarumon’s tower in The Lord of The Rings on a Tuesday afternoon while drinking at the Eagle and Child.

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Photo by Erik Forsberg

Just a quick note from the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery. As this year’s theme was Cured, Fermented and Smoked Foods, I got to try lots of unusual preparations from around the world, the most striking of which was Swedish surströmming.

Food science maven Harold McGee spoke about it in his Plenary presentation titled “A Chemical Introduction to Cured, Fermented and Smoked Foods.” Surströmming is made from herring that is caught in the spring, the heads are chopped off, but the guts are left in. The fish are then packed in a barrel with salt which is put in the sun for several months. It is then re-packed into unsterilized cans and aged for six months to a year. Fermentation continues in the cans and sometimes they bulge.

To those of us (including me) whose mothers taught us never to buy a bulging can from the supermarket, this all sounded rather terrifying. However, it is important to note there are many types of bacteria, some of which are helpful to us humans allowing us to make cheeses, pickles, sauerkraut, and other cherished foods . In many fermentation processes, the “good” bacteria create an acidic environment where “bad” bacteria (like botulism) cannot survive. A Japanese laboratory analyzed some of the cans used for making surströmming and found and important (non-harmful) bacteria on their surfaces which contributes to the fermentation process. In other words, if the cans had been sterilized, the process may not have worked properly.

In concluding his presentation on the science of fermentation, Mr. McGee quoted Alan Davidson, one of the founders of the Oxford Symposium, who had actually gone to Sweden to observe the opening of the surströmming barrels and the transfer of the partially fermented fish into cans:

As the smell billowed upwards, birds began to drop dead from the sky.

During Saturday’s tea break we all got a chance to try some of this pungent concoction served with pieces of soft Swedish tunnbröd. The can was opened outdoors due to the odiferous nature of this traditional food. Considering that they only opened one small can and you could smell it about half a block away, I’d say this was a good decision.

When I ventured outside to see what was going on, I was struck by a very strong earthy, loamy odor which reminded me of durian. Surprisingly, it did not smell fishy. I got up my courage and tried some. The flavor was not fishy either, it was very ammoniated like a cheese that has been allowed to ripen too long. One of my fellow tasters commented that if there was such a thing as fish cheese, it would taste like surströmming.

I don’t know that I’ll be rushing out to buy some, but it was not nearly has bad as I thought it would be. In another part of his presentation, Harold McGee told us that scientists have recently discovered that the brain can differentiate between smells that enter only through the nose and those that go from the mouth to the nose. The brain treats these differently, so sometimes something that smells revolting can taste pretty good.

Perhaps the moral of the story is that your parents were right to say that you should at least try everything.

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Fermented Salted Eggs in Hong Kong / Photo by Flickr user Tracy Hunter

The highlight of my food history year is coming up this weekend. I’ll be attending the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery in the UK. This annual gathering of food historians includes both professionals and enthusiastic amateurs and focuses on a specific theme. This year we’ll be exploring cured, fermented, and smoked foods. These are some of the most ancient techniques for preserving food and are used all over the world. Some of the papers to be given at the symposium include: “Sausages of the Classical World” by historian Joan Alcock, “Rotten vegetable stalks, stinking beancurd and other Shaoxing delicacies” by Chinese food expert Fuchsia Dunlop, and “Smoke and Mirrors? Montreal smoked meat and the creation of a tradition” by Alan Nash who specializes in the geography of food.

Aside from all of this intellectual stimulation, as you might expect, there is lots of good food. On Friday evening we will be treated to a Feast of Cockaigne by chef Jeremy Lee of the Blueprint Cafe in London. For this menu, Mr. Lee imagines the kinds of food which might be served in the mythical land of Cockaigne where no one has to work very hard, and luxurious food is just an arms-length away (think Big Rock Candy Mountain).

Saturday’s lunch is a Sichuan meal brought to us by the chefs at London’s Barshu Restaurant where the aforementioned Fuchsia Dunlop is a consultant. Having cooked several dishes from her superb cookbooks, I’m really looking forward to this one.

On Saturday night Pádraic Óg Gallagher of Gallagher’s Boxty House in Dublin will ply us with traditional Irish foods using first class artisanal ingredients.

Finally, our lunch on Sunday will be particularly historic as the ingredients will reach us by sailing ship! A Dutch company has decided to go back to the old ways and is providing sustainable transport using sail power to ship goods around the world. The Brigantine “Tres Hombres” is one of their ships and it will be used to send traditional Norwegian foods to the symposium, which will then be transformed into a buffet for us by Ove and Svein Fossa from the Norwegian branch of the Slow Food Movement.

After the symposium, I’ll be spending a little time in Oxford, trying out some local Real Ale and poking about in libraries. Then it’s off to London for some research on another project. I’ll be posting short notes from the road when I have Internet access, and I’ll do a more detailed round up of the Oxford Symposium when I get home.

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As usual, I’m sad to leave Australia. It’s such a huge country (as large as the continental US) with so much to offer. Even after multiple visits, I feel like I’ve barely seen any of it. Here’s a smattering of some of the fun things we’ve seen and done on this trip:

A large influx of Italian immigrants after World War II turned Australia from a tea drinking nation to a coffee loving one. Some of the best espresso in the world is served in its cafes and restaurants. Here are a few that we sampled, but truly you don’t have to look very hard for a good cup, the coffee at Sydney Airport is better than most of what you get in New York City.

A perfect latte from Mecca / photo by Flickr user bigiain

Mecca is in Sydney’s beautiful, Art Deco, Grace Hotel. This hard core coffee destination is only open Monday through Friday and closes at 4:30 PM sharp so don’t miss out.

Jasper's in Melbourne Style Themselves as Caffeine Dealers

Jasper’s is found on trendy Brunswick Street in the Fizroy area of Melbourne. Aside from magnificent coffee, they also sell beautiful accoutrements for the making and serving of coffee and tea.

Single Origin Coffee Roasters in Sydney / photo by Flickr user bigiain

If you’re looking for some tasty food along with your coffee, do check out Single Origin in Surry Hills. Living up to the name, all of their ingredients are single origin, including the eggs, which come from a local New South Wales farmer who delivers them himself to the café.

I always try to stop in at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney when I’m here. The exhibits are well curated and always interesting. This time around, the special exhibit is near and dear to my heart: “The 80s are Back!” Having grown up in the 1980s in the US, I was familiar with some of what was on display like the Rubik’s cube and one of Michael Jackson’s singular gloves, but there was much in the exhibit that was specific to Australia, like the fabulous dance parties hosted by the Recreational Arts Team or RAT. Definitely stop in for some pink and black polka dot memories if you’re in Sydney.

A Gigantic (working!) Rubik's Cube at the Powerhouse Museum / photo by Flickr user mecookie

When visiting Sydney we always ask my brother-in-law and his wife for restaurant advice, since they are both chefs. This year they reckoned that their new favorite is Bistro Ortolan in Leichhardt. It’s a lovely little boîte with wine colored walls and innovative, modern, French-style food created by Irish-born chef Paul McGrath.

Finally, I’ll leave you with the view from the verandah (isn’t it so much more exotic when spelled with an “h”?) of the cottage we stayed in while visiting the Hunter Valley wine region about two hours north of Sydney. At night we fell asleep to the sounds of cicadas and kookaburras.

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As proudly announced in its national anthem, Australia is “girt by sea.” That makes for bountiful fresh seafood, ranging from oysters, to coral trout, to pricey greenlip abalone. One of the best places to sample this briny harvest is the Sydney Fish Market, the largest in the southern hemisphere. Unlike the “New” Fulton Fish Market in New York City, which is hidden away in the Bronx, you can reach the Sydney Fish Market easily via public transport. Best of all, it’s not just a big room with piles of gorgeous fish being watched over by rather tough looking seamen who drive a hard bargain. At the Sydney Fish Market there are multiple restaurants; a wine shop, so you can BYOB; a bakery; and even public toilets. All in all, very civilized.

Lovely fresh bonito waiting for your favourite recipe

After having a look at some of this bright eyed, fresh fish, you might be inspired to learn more about what to do with it. That’s where the Sydney Seafood School comes in. The school began in 1989 as a way to teach Sydneysiders how to cook some of the more unusual catch that was for sale such as, octopus, abalone, and sea snails, which otherwise would have been sold off as bait. Nowadays, Australian home cooks are a lot more adventurous, but they still come to classes in order to hob nob with some of the famous chefs who teach at the school such as Mark Jensen of The Red Lantern and Christine Mansfield from Universal

I arrived on a cloudy morning, with no real intention of eating anything, but one look at the crowds of people sitting at tables digging into sashimi, Thai-style chili crab, and exotic abalone, and I knew I had to at least have a little nibble of something.

Cocktail Abalone with Sichuan pepper and two pieces of Salt and Pepper Squid

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One of the most exciting parts for me about my recent visit with Janet Clarkson in Brisbane was our trip to the local farmers’ market. Brisbane, being in the southern part of the state of Queensland, is sub-tropical, but much of the rest of the state lies squarely in the tropics which means, exotic fruits at the farmers’ market! In Brooklyn, there is no way we will ever see some of these things offered for sale by our local farmers, so it was lots of fun to browse.

This strange looking specimen is Monstera Deliciosa also known as “fruit salad plant.” To eat, you gently remove the scaly looking skin and eat the white pulp beneath. It tastes like a combination of pineapples and bananas, sort of tutti frutti.

The pineapples I had in Brisbane were incredibly fresh, with a subtle vanilla undertone. There were many different varieties available at the farmers’ market. I wish I could have tried them all.

Here are some luscious, purply, fresh figs, just waiting to be eaten.

Passion fruit grows like a weed in much of Australia, even further south in Sydney where it is not nearly as warm as Brisbane. My Australian husband misses having it around, so when I saw some in a green grocer’s shop in Brooklyn I bought a few as a surprise. They cost me $3 each. In Brisbane, Janet bought a whole bag for the same price.

Finally, a nod to Australia’s British heritage.

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