So easy! So simple! So cheap! So perfect!
So why is it so hard for so many people to put simple food together for themselves?

ripe roma tomatoes with parmigiano reggiano on sourdough dinner rolls

mushrooms cooked in garlic butter with thyme, salt & pepper and parmigiano reggiano on sourdough dinner rolls

frothing mad!

Would you like some extra milk protein with that?

"A SMALL revolution has occurred on the Australian dairy scene, symbolised by the humble milk crate. In Sydney, the dark blue Dairy Farmers crate, versatile fixture of Darlinghurst cafe street furniture and student decor, has been joined by a green version."

With a grandiose opening like this, the (rather lengthy) article in the SMH is bound to be a let-down. In summary, a dairy company called Procal has been working on enhancing milk for it's frothability. Milk varies from season to season and the properties exhibited have different impacts on the forth forming factor.

As protein is a major influence in forming froth, Procal has released a gold-labelled Extra Frothy Milk by adding protein in the form of skim milk solids.

Messing about with milk, actually messing about with just about everything we eat, has been going on for a long time. It sounds pretty harmless, but why bother? What's wrong with good old fashioned milk? Why is variability unacceptable?

With the song and dance going on about GMO in the media, one might want to think a little harder. Where is the extra protein coming from? Is it local or is it imported? If imported is it coming from breeding or cloned beasts?

And as a consumer, how much do you really know about what you're being dished up? Do you care?

little gems

When I first introduced myself to the world of food blogging a post by PG grabbed my attention with a very simple turkish pizza dough.

"Mix 250g of Self Raising flour and 200g of natural yoghurt. knead until elastic. Place in a bowl, cover and allow to sit for 30 mins."
With some diced lamb snoozing on oregano sprigs, lemon, garlic & olive oil in the refrigerator, I recalled this recipe and thought it worth a try. Needless to say, you must give it a go as it's a little gem.

More detail on what was served can be found here...

"pasta caesar"

Without wanting to harp on about the misnomer of slow food, and the questionable appeal of marketing the slow food movement to the mentality of modern day, fast paced society, convenience society, I want to revisit this concept.

There is something remarkably satisfying about preparing meals "from scratch". Using natural ingredients, fresh and good quality produce, makes sense at a spiritual level as well as the physical . Let's face it, if I don't eat for a week, I'm not going to die!

Take for example, home made pasta. It's not a difficult thing to make. It's not even that time consuming once you get the hang of the pasta mangle thingy! And the satisfaction derived from a bowl home made pasta is something that the packet stuff cannot replicate.

This bowl of pasta, I dubbed "pasta caesar". Once the pasta was cooked it was tossed with prosciutto, cos, toasted pine nuts, chilli & p.reggiano, then topped with a poached egg.

The pasta is no longer "the carbs" put together to carry the sauce or toppings; the pasta is now a feature in its own right, with texture and flavour that packet pasta does not carry. And yet whilst this is a more-ish outcome, the desire to over eat that often presents when eating this kind of comfort food, is not there. Doubting Thomas is already thinking, "Of course there's no urge to keep eating, you'd have to make more pasta!" but that's not it.

You see, anyone girl that's been to a private school knows a little about anorexia, and one of the things about anorexia is that it creeps up on the sufferer's friends and family.

"Of course she's not anorexic, she even cooked the family dinner last night!"

"Don't be silly, she was baking cookies on the weekend!"

"Look for yourself, she's in the kitchen right now..."
One of the habits employed by people suffering from this mind boggling illness is an obsession with being around food - cooking it, presenting it, buying it. But never eating it.

And if you think about times when prepared food is prepared en masse (for an occasion) at serving time the cook is frequently not hungry, or at least not particularly interested in eating the food they prepared - after all they've been surrounded by the smell of it all day.

So, whilst slow food advocates eating natural and wholesome foods, preparing and assembling ingredients with minimum bastardisation, it also discourages, albeit inadvertantly, over eating.


A seemingly simple comestible, pizza is fraught with complexity. Whilst thought of as an Italian food, many Americans claim it as their own, and to be fair, the pizza, I've had there could well be a species of its own. A "good pizza" seems to be a matter of opinion, and therefore the definition of "a good pizza" is a little slippery to lay one's hands on.

Even in Italy however, pizza is variable, and it is possible to travel the country sampling variations on a them. From the pizza bars in Rome to the cafes of Naples, not forgetting the ovens in Pompeii, it is impossible not to be drawn in to sampling this fine food. Until of course day 4 where, if you're not a big bread/dough eater like myself, cramps may start to set.

Of course I speak from personal experience - my first holiday with my now husband was a touring trip of Italy, and we covered a lot of ground (and quite a lot of pizza). I'm not a big bread eater, and have only really started to enjoy bread since the revival of artisan baking techniques - bread that I enjoy and doesn't seem to bother me afterwards.

Which brings me to the first point of distinction for good pizza - the base. An American food chain (ironically in Australia owned by a company called Yum!) introduced the concept of thin or thick to the masses. This categorises the pizza lovers rather well.

Whether you are a thin or a thick crust person, it's then possible to define a good pizza within these categories. If you sit on the thick side of the fence the dough you are looking for is bread-like, not spongey, and not too dense (lest eat one slice before blowing up like a Buddha).

On the thin base side of the fence, it's not simple either. A too thin base burns at the edges, and unable to hold itself in the middle. Too thick, and it's not a thin base. And then there's the issue of how close to the edge the toppings are distributed. A recent wood-fired experience in Mullumbimy had damn good pizza, but the almost 2 inch border for the topping made an extremely cripsy, roof of the mouth lacerating experience (not to mention the bit that flung across the room when I tried to break it in half).

Toppings are the next point of distinction and can then be subdivided into quality and density, which are usually inversely proportional. Good quality ingredients sparsely arranged on the pizza can be delicious, the converse not so.

Topping combinations are contentious (think "gourmet pizza") - chicken, bbq sauce, satay, smoked salmon, tandoori and corn chips do not belong on pizza. Enough said.

The third defining feature of pizza is the method of cooking. The fashion of all things rustic has brough the wood-fired oven back to the fore, yet there are great pizzas to be had from the electric ovens too (Arthur's in Paddington, now young Alfreds in Circular Quay, I believe has always been electric).

Some purists will view the wood-fired oven as the benchmark, whilst others don't weigh in heavily on this. The wood-fired oven pizza certainly has more going for it in terms of the experience - the glowing embers, the heat as you walk past it, the deftness of the pizza cook juggling the paddle without dropping the pizza or poking the service staffs' eyes out (not as easy as it looks let me assure you), the glowing embers, the wafts of smokey pizza flavours in the room, the glowing embers... Clearly a favourite with the pyromaniacs!

*NB: the picture of the wood-fired is from the bloggers' banquet photos on flickr

The pizza experience at home is not entirely straightforward to replicate, but not difficult either. The toppings are a cinch - make the tomato base with a tin of Italian whole peeled tomatoes, add oregano, some crushed garlic, salt & pepper and leave to sit for a while. Toppings can be as easy as rifling through the crisper and the pantry to come out with anchovies, tuna, capers, mushrooms, rocket, onion, tomato, peppers and a trip to the deli can complete requirements - salami, salumi, bocconcini and/or mozzarella.

The dough is easy to make - there are plenty of recipes online; they all read similar and yet the results are variable, and I believe impacted as much by the rolling and cooking (heat, method and duration) as anything else. If you're a thin base fan, don't be tempted to roll the base out too thin - it needs to be thick enough (a few mm) to still have some spring.

For most, the cooking method is restricted to the household oven. For some, achieving a hot enough oven will be difficult for pizza perfection however if you have the standard apartment issue smeg, as I do, you will learn that the oven on steroids can have its advantages. I have recently experimented with cooking pizza on a sandwich press with fairly good results - it's not hot enough, but that's partially compensated by the direct contact with the base (don't forget to put the grill lever up or you'll have contact on the toppings as well and that will be a big mess!).

Unless you're really lucky, or are very good at making friends with spare wood-fired ovens (and can find someone move and to install it - Ella you truly are amazing!), or have attended a bloggers' banquet in St Kilda's veg out garden, it's unlikely that the home pizza experience is going to be wood-fired.

Until now...

Ladies & Gentlemen, I present you with...

the weber pizza

Some time ago, I began musing whether the weber could be extended to pizza. With a little encouragement (thanks girls) and a willing taste tester (he's just so good to me!!!) we gave it a shot. Whilst not technically wood-fired (coal fired doesn't sound attractive, does it?), cooking the pizza on the weber does impart that certain rustic smokiness that the wood-fired experience has. I am sure a mix of wood and coal would go even further, and it's worth pointing out that we NEVER use the "easy lighting" coals as anything cooked on them has a funny petrol tang to it.

The point is, that with a little thought, a little lateral thinking, and some fresh ingredients, it's possible to eat really well. It might not be the perfect pizza, but I reckon it's a "good pizza.

I think we'll be doing it again!

straight up

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant~(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation~Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side, ~ At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant ~ Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, "Ho! what have we here?
So very round and smooth and sharp? ~ To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant ~ Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands, ~ Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant ~ Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like ~ Is mighty plain," quoth her;
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant ~ Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most; ~ Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant ~ Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail ~ That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant ~ Is very like a rope!

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion ~ Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right ~ And all were in the wrong!


So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

- John Godfrey Saxe, The Blind Man and the Elephant

My dad has a saying about opinions, but as he grew up in deepest darkest Heidelberg post WWII it's probably not appropriate to repeat. Needless to say, it's a saying that comes to mind rather frequently.

Having an opinion can be a healthy thing - one might argue that it's the basis of a democratic society.

Facts however, are frequently overlooked in the formulation of these opinions, and frequently I land myself in hot water with a difference in opinion, usually backed up with a fact that was conveniently omitted - I'm such a spoil sport...

1. "organic"

I bear no grudge to organic services and retailers if that is what they truly are. I think they do an amazing job at raising awareness about what we as a society eat. I have some rebuttals to some of the issues that are raised, but by and large I have no beef with them. This is an opinion I hold.

However I do think that a business purporting to be organic, should in fact, be organic.

Here is an example of some information gleaned from the site of an organic grocer in Sydney...

"...we are committed to quality, freshness, service and above all ORGANIC. We believe in Certified Organic agriculture. We only grow and sell 100% Certified Organic Fruit and Vegetables.

We feel it's important to know where your produce came from and how it was grown. With 15 years experience in the Organic Industry we search the markets for the best produce from the best growers, add a little of our own home-grown Certified product and bring it to you!"

and yet...

"You have arrived at Sydney's best place to purchase the freshest and best in produce and groceries. We specialise in home delivery of Organic Food. We sell a full range of Certified Fruit & Veg, Groceries and Meats and now also now offer a range of Essential household goods and Foodstuffs."
In fact, their product range is remarkably similar to mine, and yet I say out and out that I am not an organic grocer! Why market yourself as something you're not?

2. McDonalds

Here we go again!

The topic and company we all love to hate and hate to love; surely they must have done something right somewhere along the line to generate the amount of emotion and one-eyed anti-propaganda they endure.

Whilst at the dog park over the weekend the subject of fast food hamburger "restaurants" came up, and it led to us having a laugh at urban myths that have circulated over the years with regard to Ronald's place.

I knew it was coming. I'd heard it time and time again. And I didn't have to wait long before it was blurted out...

"But one thing I know for sure, as some cattle farmers told me, is that the slogan made from 100% Australian beef, was that the company was called 100% Australian beef..."

And the survey says... DONKDONG!

I know rural types like to have a laugh, heck we all do! However what began as a rather funny look at marketing and sledging way back when, has now embedded itself via urban myth and legend into an apparently undeniable truth.

Years ago at a school camp, the school reverend chimed in on this theory in my sister's presence. When she piped up that it was not actually a fact, as her father worked in the company that supplied all of the burgers (and the logistics and distribution for everything else), to which the school reverend responded that he must have lied to her! (This didn't do a great deal of good for my faith in Christianity, religion, or anything that came out of that man's mouth ever again.)

But why let fact get in the way of a good story?

summer food

The romantic food obsessives among us spend hours dreaming of ideal meals to fit the seasons, and the times of day therein. And yet when it comes to summer there are days where it feels too hot to move, let alone cook!

Whilst the summer I have experienced thus far has been wet and mild (relatively speaking), there are a few rules of thumb that I like to follow when the temperature is threatening to hurl itself over 30C.

If it can't be prepared with a charcoal bbq and an electric kettle, it's not suitable for summer!

This sounds a bit arbitrary at first, and there is one major exception to that rule which is the "boiling in advance" rider. Things like pasta, potatoes and couscous that can be cooked in boiling water before the meal, and then have "stuff" tossed through it, sail so close to the electric kettle principle that they are also allowed.

As a case in point dinner from Monday night was bbq lemongrass chicken with rice noodle salad. Too easy...

Over the weekend grab (you should probably buy it if you're in the city) a free range chicken, take it home and joint it before putting it in a ceramic dish to marinate. I used lemongrass, ginger, spring onions, (fresh) coriander root, soy and kecap manis, and i suspect a little palm sugar (as you can see there's no recipe, just throwing some good flavours in together). As we're dealing with a free range chicken, bear in mind that it's used to a life of privilege and get in and give those bits a good massage with the marinade, pushing little bits of herb and spice under the skin and makings sure the liquid is getting under there too. Cover with plastic and leave in a cold fridge.

On Monday, email hubby to ensure he is aware that he is lighting the bbq and, more specifically, ask if there is charcoal (a planned bbq without the fuel is frustrating indeed!).

In the evening there's not much to do. The person with the most amount of cave man instinct lights the bbq whilst the other boils the kettle, soaks some rice noodles until the life comes back into them, drains and then adds tasty crunchy fresh vegies and greens, spring onions and corianderr, before dressing. I used soy, lemon juice, tamarind, chilli, ginger and my new favourite ingredient, macadamia butter, in the dressing for this meal.

The bbq is now ready to cook, the kitchen is clean by the time the chicken is ready, and you sit down and have a lovely meal, without the beads of perspiration dripping down your undergarments, with a cold glass of...

(in my case, it was mineral water)

bang on!

I was forbidden to take my laptop on holidays. Despite having many great anecdotes and thoughts relevant to this spot, I enjoyed the break, physically and mentally separated from the thoughts that overtake most of my mortal days.

This doesn't mean that my passion for food was suspended, nor my ability to sniff out a good morsel, rue a lacklustre meal, peruse growers markets, enjoy great home cooked meals by the parents, and get behind the cooker a couple of times myself. Indeed that is my very essence of being most of the time.

Byron Bay and surrounds played a moody host to our family Christmas gathering and became even more intense as the second week (the "holiday week") progressed. Fortunately we weathered the storms (all seven days of them) and my parents house is still intact, albeit with a few muddy paw prints!

The region captivates me, and for whatever reason I feel a certain affinity with its surrounds. I don't recall my first trip to Byron, but the first trip I recall is a distant and hazy memory of staying with family friends at Possum Creek, a pig on a spit, and kittens rescued from an above ground swimming pool.

Still in the days before John "Strops" Cornell and the lovely Delvene, Paul Hogan and a host of Australia's wealthy and famous, I recall the hippy-verging-on-feral Byron Bay that has almost now disappeared, where beach holidays with lurid zinc were interrupted with buskers singing hits such as "circular time"(wtf?)!!!

At the end of high school I had my "stealing beauty" adventure in Byron, staying there for a good chunk of the summer break and by that stage it was a backpackers' valhalla. It was a place to stop and regroup, a place for live music and kindred spirits, it was cool but not massively popular, and I loved it!

After that our relationship mellowed a bit. I was disappointed in the change of attitude, schoolies and new year revelers had left their mark on the place, and it was a bit like George St in Sydney on the Friday night before Christmas.

Since then Byron has mellowed again. Baby boomers have hooked into the area and its natural charms in stark contrast with the bustling pace at which they have earned the money which affords them to do so. The focus on things green and natural, peace and meditation has again come to the fore, and backpackers, wheelers and dealers, holiday beach goers, locals, and a host of talented people are co-existing and lapping up the air of change that blew in toward the end of 2007.

For me this time around I was even more aware of food than other trips and delighted in checking out the cafes, growers markets, pubs, restaurants and shops, and a big shout out to the IGA by the industrial estate, which is a fantastic example of local and organic product ranges on supermarket shelves.

Obviously I couldn't eat at all that I observed, nor did I want to, but there is something really special about more of these places in this region than anywhere else; a level of involvement with the food is apparent. Not that it was all wonderful, but it seems to me that these places have a deeper appreciation of the food chain, perhaps as much of it is grown and reared in the hinterland.

Without further ado, I leave you with a fresca swiss&bacon burger from the Bangalow Hotel with perhaps the best bacon I have ever tasted. Magic!

Bangalow Hotel, 1 Byron Street, Bangalow