Sunday, May 31, 2009

My Edible Balcony

I've set myself a challenge to see if I can live my sustainability ideals.
I'm giving myself ONE YEAR to convert my 13th floor 30m square apartment balcony into a herb and vegetable garden that can feed 2 people all year round!
Fortunately I am blessed with a north-facing aspect ( good sun throughout the year), a greenhouse-like glass wall to trap the heat and a harbour view to entice me outside to do the gardening!
There are currently 10 herbs and vegetables flourishing on my balcony, and space - I think - for at least 20 more.
Over the next few months I will update you with my successes and failures, frustrations and breakthroughs and detail the dishes and meals I will create from my 'floating urban vegie patch'. Take a look at my current tenants.....

Curry Leaf Tree

My two-metre high Curry Leaf Tree is my proudest achievement. Rescued by my husband from near pest-annihilation 6 months ago, it is now thriving with dozens of verdant branches. In fact, it is so prolific we have even given several branches to our friend Kham who runs the Arun Thai restaurant across the road! Despite its name you don't make curry powder from curry leaves. The leaves are used as an aromatic ( like bay leaves) when making curries, pilafs and other Asian dishes. The fragrance is intoxicating! The leaves freeze well in a plastic bag.

Italian rocket

My little pot of rocket is a magic porridge pot of non-stop leaves. This crop was planted 6 months ago from seed and gives us a daily supply of salad leaves. In Italy this variety grows like a weed along road-sides and railway tracks. Hardy with delicious peppery leaves.

Russian sage

My sage plant is almost four years old and, now that it is winter, it's sending out beautiful lilac flowers. It's also a rapid grower and I will probably need to re-pot it soon. I have some sweet basil tucked in here too.

Tiny Tim Tomatoes and Italian Basil

Unbelievably this tomato shrub was planted last Dec 2008 and is flowering for a second time in winter! This is a delicious variety which we use in salads and tomato sauces. I companion-planted some Italian basil to supposedly keep away white fly but that didn't work! We use the basil leaves in salads and to make fragrant pesto.


Rosemary is such a hardy herb and a survivor of many gardening abuses. Just don't water it too much. This variety grows in a cascade rather than straight up and would be a perfect rockery or ground cover herb because of its coverage. I use this for baked lambs or as herb skewers on the BBQ.
Oregano and Thyme

My oregano and thyme are doing well in a window box in the corner of the balcony. They can be thrown into just about any dish from meat, vegetables and eggs for an extra earthy pick-me-up.


This needs urgent re-potting into a larger container! Freshly picked parsley is one of life's taste sensations and will lift any dish.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

What were you eating one year ago today?

Tough question I know. Only the most obsessive diary-keeping foodies would be able to answer that. For me the answer is as easy as it is unforgettable. I was on Lake Como with my best mate Masha celebrating my 40th birthday at the Locanda Dell'Isola Comacina Ristorante ( The famous restaurant is perched on a centuries-old fortified convent on the only island on the lake. The only way to get there from the mainland is by boat (or a twenty minute swim if you are Ian Thorpe!)
The Lake was languid and blue, the air was spring crisp and Masha and I were about to experience a meal which will remain unrivalled in its exquisiteness and its simplicity. Buon Appetito!

Monday, May 18, 2009

The cafe putting Berrima on the food map

Don't judge Josh's Cafe by the bright multi-coloured walls and noisy family cafe vibe - as I did. Josh is very serious about his food. Very serious. As an understudy of Serif Kaya's at the Ottoman I suppose I shouldn't have under-estimated how damn fine his persian-inspired menu would be.
But this in Berrima? Who would have believed it. A food stop on the highway between Canberra and Sydney doesn't do it justice. Make Josh's Cafe your destination. Now.

Grilled quail

Chargrilled mushrooms

Tomato salad with cucumbers, red onions and sumac

Scallops wrapped in proscuitto with pea puree

Lamb shish-kebabs with grilled vegetables, harissa and yoghurt

Chicken with mushroom cream sauce and garlic mashed potato
Croissant bread pudding with vanilla ice cream

Lark Hill wines

Lark Hill winery in the Canberra cool-climate wine district is creating some of Australia's best wines.
The Carpenter family is building a steady reputation for its riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir and last year the winery was certified biodynamic by NASAA.
I recommend the 2008 riesling which possesses slate and mineral notes underscored by a steely thread of clean acidity (sounds like I know my wines but I just read that on their website)
Lark Hill has recently started serving weekend lunch in their new winery restaurant. Chef Jamie comes well-credentialled but still needs a bit of confidence to carry off his menu.
The confit of duck was a hit with our group but the ravioli was served cold and half the mussels in the pumpkin and mussel broth were unopened.

But the views across the vineyards and valleys with a stove fire warming the near-complete dining room is worth the price of admission!
Tasting cups of spinach and potato soup

Lark Hill Reserve Chardonnay

Handmade ravioli stuffed with confit pork cheek with pinenut and sage butter foam

18 hour confit duck leg with creamy mash potato, sauteed Lark Hill biodynamic spinach and beetroot relishTassie mussels cooked in Lark Hill 2008 riesling and pumpkin broth

Dessert Trio: Apple Tarte Tatin, strawberry pannacotta and mandarin coulis and mascerated fruits with mascarpone.
Cheese Plate: Goats chevre, fresh goats curd, King Island Blue and Hunter Valley cloth bound cheddar and muscatel grape raisins

Ottoman Restaurant

As you get older birthdays merge into a haze of memories. From candles and clowns to cocktails and canapes, the way we celebrate our birthdays may change but I think it's important to mark the passing of another year with a special experience.

This year we headed off to an old favourite restaurant of ours- that Canberra institution, 'The Ottoman'.

There's been a spin-off in Sydney for a few years now down on the harbour at Walsh Bay. Even so, it's still a great indulgence to brave a chilly Canberra autumn night and slip into the warm expansive glow of the Ottoman's original main dining room with its cream suede high-back chairs and soft-dimmed overhead lights. At $100 a head the degustation menu with matching wines is great bang-for-the-buck.
Warm turkish bread with roasted Kalamata olives and olive oil and caramelised balsamic
Salmon and prawn dolma in crisp pastry with Yamba prawn, shitake mushrooms and wilted spinach.

Filo-pastry cigars filled with shredded veal and cabbage-leaf wrapped lamb mince with garlic yoghurt sauce
Lamb mince stuffed baked eggplant
Chinese cabbage salad with toasted almonds pomegranate seeds and vinaigrette
Orange, lemon and passionfruit sorbet with pistachio crumbs
Trio of dessert - baklava, custard slice and nougat ice-cream with candied fruit almond bread

Cooma revisited

The high country of New South Wales must be one of the most spectacular parts of this wide brown land of ours - undulating grassy plains, magic light, moody skies, ghost gums and soaring mountains.

At this time of year it attracts many tourists, mainly skiers and advernturers heading off to Jindabyne and Thredbo to test their skills on the new season's snow fields.

So how does an avowed foodie find herself in 'Snowy' country in the sleepy alpine town of Cooma?
We're actually on a pilgrimmage to visit my husband's first childhood family home at 3 Nimby Place, Cooma. It's a humble white weatherboard cottage still bordered by a low stone-brick wall my father-in-law built 50 years ago!

Our lunch stop is at the rustic 'Lott Food Store, Bakery and Cafe'.

This little gem of a find greets us with a roaring open fire and a blackboard menu of slow winter bakes, pies and warming pastas.

The Lott gets my recommendation.

Penne with Chorizo, baked pumpkin, ricotta and baby spinach leaves

Irish lamb stew with toasted sourdough roll

Mealy mouths

The real enjoyment of eating comes from sharing food with friends.

And when you have a group of mates who will drop everything to trek across the globe with you in search of those once-in-a lifetime food experiences, well... you know your friendships are going to endure the ravages of time.

Let me introduce you to the mouths that accompany me on my many food expeditions.

Mr Andrew

Mr George (blog photographer extraordinaire)

Mr Mark

And me!