Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Barossa Valley

Well there’s been a lot going on recently and my blog backlog has reached unprecedented heights and seems a bit overwhelming at the moment. But, you have to start somewhere….

And I think an excellent place to start is with my trip to the Barossa. We in Adelaide are lucky to have such a region basically in our backyard. The area is packed full of some of the best (and most picturesque) vineyards in Australia along with unique local foods that draw on the area’s strong European heritage.

The trip began with a visit to Tanunda Apex Bakery. Their wood-fired oven apparently holds the record as Australia’s longest continuously fired oven. We learned all about the mechanics of the thing but I must admit that my attention was somewhat diverted by the aroma of the meat and veggie pies and pasties slowly browning in its depths.

Next stop was to Wiech’s Noodles, also in Tanunda. They use traditional methods to make egg noodles just like those made in Ohio’s Amish country. Boy, I felt right at home!

They get creative by adding chilies and cracked black pepper and other fashion-forward goodies to their noodles, and have recently introduced an organic line. Not sure if the Amish have expanded their noodle tradition as much? This was right before lunch and Meagan and I were fully prepared to pilfer the drying racks to quiet our growling tummies (too bad raw egg noodles taste like cardboard, only crunchier).

My growling tummy may have something to do with the fact that I purchased enough egg noodles to feed a large, hungry Amish community that just finished a long and arduous day of barn-raising. Considering I cook for one every night, yep, these will last me at least until I complete my dissertation next May.

Grumpy hungry Cari was on the verge of emerging. We arrived in the nick of time to the cellar door of Peter Lehmann Wines, our lunch spot, where a lunch of traditional Barossa foods awaited us.

A local smorgasbord of smoked meats, pickles, olives, almonds, chutneys, cheeses, breads and crackers.

Our bellies sufficiently full, we headed to Linke’s Central Meat Store in Nuriootpa to get the scoop on how exactly the smoked meats on our lunch platter achieved their smoky perfection.

We headed to the on-premise smokehouse just as a batch of sausages was about to be entombed for a few hours.

Although my belly was full from lunch, I just couldn’t resist the brawn, lachschinken, jaegerbraten, sauerkraut and bratwurst. But, more on that later!

Next it was off to Angaston to visit Gully Gardens fruit farm and learn about their production of dried fruits.

The farm has been in the family for awhile and it was such a treat meeting the next generation of Gully girls.

Rick Steicke, owner of the Gardens, spotted some sultanas on the vine….

… and we enjoyed our dessert fresh from the vine among the fruit trees on a perfect day.

Such a beautiful setting. MooooooooooOOOOOOOOO.

Meagan and I walked away with some dried pears and peaches, and it was back to Adelaide for the crew.

You might think the day ended here, but that’s really when the fun began! I had a bag full of smoked meat and sauerkraut and noodles and dried fruit – how could I sleep with all that excitement at my fingertips?! Dinner that night was a true Germanic feast.

I whipped up a mini choucroute with sauerkraut and bratwurst and nestled in the jaegerbraten at the end for a quick steam so it remained moist and tender. Served it up with a potato and onion fry, pickles, and a Coopers sparkling ale.

Lunch the following day was brawn and lachschinken, with a homemade fig and almond jam, mustard, and one of Jackie’s decadent fried eggs.

Maybe Phil and I can plan a move to Germany once we finish our programs. I wouldn’t mind eating like this every day.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Eating Adelaide (Part 2 of a billion)

More food photos and fun!

One thing I won’t complain about missing while I’m here is Asian food. My first weekend in Adelaide, Leena introduced me to the king of dumplings, aptly named Dumpling King, right around the corner from my place in Chinatown. You can’t beat a big plate of fried pork dumplings at $7.80. And they throw in free tea and their amazing caramelized onion relish for FREE. Free! Dumpling King helps Cari stay within her budget while getting her belly full.

Chinatown also has its fair share of yum cha places (we call it dim sum in the States, as in, last night Phil ate dog curry, I maydimsum and he liked it). The quality of the yum cha here is FAR superior to what I had in Boston’s “Chinatown.” There, you’re presented with a random variety of unidentified meats and you must chew and swallow on blind faith, hoping the woman wheeling around the dim sum cart is having a good day and has no motivation to poison you and/or feed you her husband whom she murdered the previous night for revenge because he slept with her sister. Here, the dishes are clearly identifiable as “beef” or “pork” or “prawn” or “broad bean.” My classmate Marion took me to a hidden spot and I tried chicken feet, tripe, shark fin dumplings, and taro fritters – all for the first time!

I actually really enjoyed the chicken feet. You first have to bite of their little toes (this little piggy went to the market, CRUNCH!, I guess it’s a bit more sadistic than the wiggly toe game my mom played with my feet as a child), chew them around and then spit out the bones. Then you can gracefully gnaw away the skin and tiny bit of meat from the rest of the bones. YUM! (cha) Here's me in action...

And the sad fleshless chicken bones after our attack.

My favorite dish of the day was the shark fin dumplings, although Meagan tried to make us all feel guilty by telling us that they cut off the fins and then throw the sharks back in the ocean to die a horribly slow and painful death. Well, you know what, it’s pretty painful when sharks bite off a hunk of surfer flesh and spit them back into the ocean to die (as just happened yesterday here in Australia), so I didn’t feel toooooo much guilt there. Too yummy to feel bad.

Chinese cuisine is well represented in Adelaide, but Japan also repre-SENTS. My friend Denise and I enjoyed Japanese food a few weeks ago. We started with takoyaki (fluffy dumplings filled with bits of octopus) and grilled oysters. We then had an entrée of crispy skinned salmon before the mac daddy sushi platter arrived. Sushi, sashimi, veg, chicken and seafood tempura, tamagoyaki (sweet egg omelette), beef and onion, seaweed salad, potato salad – OH MY!

I haven’t been kickin’ it totally Asia-style since I’ve been here. After the Le Cordon Bleu commencement ceremony, Amy insisted we try kava. What a sketchy experience!!! The menu at The Kava Hut warned that we must “use in moderation” and be a minimum of 18 years old to purchase the sandy sludge they sold us out of a coconut for 8 bucks a pop!

Kava is “a subtle social relaxant. Effects include euphoria” (sweet!) “ talkativeness” (um, do I need that?) “increased awareness and sensitivity to alcohol, noise, and light. While mental clarity is generally maintained, overindulgence can make walking difficult. It causes no ‘hangover’ and is reputed to reduce the effects of alcohol related hangovers.” Cheers to that.

Well, here I am, $8 poorer, and certainly not more “euphoric” than normal, less “talkative” since I was focusing hard to pinpoint the apparent effects of my investment, and still walking in a straight line as far as I can tell. I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear that the kava lady ran out of "kava" right before we visited so she grabbed a handful of dirt from the parking lot and mixed it with tap water, then sold it to us for $8.

Now a drink that I can reliably feel the effects of and know what to expect out of my investment is BEER. My class went on a fieldtrip to the Coopers Brewery. We learned about the production process and the hops and barley and bottling procedures, etc., but the best part was getting to taste all of their beers. Thumbs up to the sparkling ale.

Also high on the fun scale was Phil’s visit to Adelaide. One afternoon we biked around the parklands and had a lovely lunch of olives, bread, cheese and smoked meats in the Botanic Gardens.

We also had a night out at Sarah’s Café, a local vegetarian institution, with Leena and her hubby and friends. The quality of the ingredients was standout and I particularly enjoyed the crepes filled with roasted cauliflower….

But let’s face it, nothing can compare to Leena’s brownies!!!! HEL-LO

Except actually, maybe the one thing that can compare to Leena’s brownies are Jackie’s eggs. She pulls them straight out from under the chickens’ butts in her own backyard, and I have been fortunate to be on the receiving end of two dozen of these golden-yolked delights! I’ve cooked them every which way, fried, poached, sunny-side-up, and hard-boiled. Topped with some Murray River salt and served on crackers with tuna and olives, it’s my idea of the perfect lunch.

Lastly, I must brag about what a cheese whiz I am. I was looking for an effective and worthwhile means of procrastinating and decided, what the heck, I think I’ll make some cheese. So, I whipped up a batch of palak paneer. Cheese-making isn’t difficult, you just have to have a bit of patience and give your curdled milk a bit of TLC. Heat, curdle, separate, hang, drain, weigh, drain, refrigerate, eat, nap!

Palak Paneer

Adapted from Manjula's Kitchen

Serves 4.

1 gallon whole milk
4 tbsp lemon (or lime) juice
4 cups chopped spinach
1/3 lb paneer
2 medium tomatoes, pureed
1 teaspoon chopped ginger
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon (or more if you like it spicy) red chili powder
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
Pinch of hing (asafetida)
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 tablespoons of whole wheat flour
1/3 cup plain yoghurt
1/4 cup water

For Paneer:

Bring the gallon of milk to a boil. Add lemon juice and reduce heat to low, stirring gently until milk curdles. Turn off the heat and allow to sit until the curds separate from the whey (this took some time with Australian milk! Be patient!). Pour the milk through a cheesecloth-lined sieve, reserving a few cups of whey. Make a bundle out of the cheesecloth, tie a knot above the curds, and allow to hang over a sink or large bowl for an hour to drain. Squeeze as much liquid out of the cheese as possible, then, keeping it wrapped in the cheesecloth, place a heavy skillet or can of tomatoes on the cheese and allow to drain for another hour. Cut into cubes. If cheese is not firm enough to cut, refrigerate for a few hours first.

For Palak Paneer:
Mix ginger, coriander powder, turmeric, and red chili powder with tomato puree and set aside.

Shallow fry the paneer on medium high heat for few minutes until golden brown. Remove to paper towels to drain. In the same skillet, fry the spinach until it just wilts.

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. When oil is quite hot add hing (asafetida) and cumin seeds. Once the seeds are fragrant, add the tomato puree mixture and allow to cook for a few minutes until the tomato puree begins to leave the oil. Now add spinach, and cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes, covered. Add yoghurt. Make a slurry out of the flour and some whey from the paneer, add to the palak, and let this cook another four to five minutes, covered. Add water and more whey to adjust the texture to a creamy consistency.

Add paneer and fold gently into palak. Allow to simmer another a few minutes, covered. Season with salt, to taste. Serve with basmati rice, tomato & onion relish, and naan.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Eating Adelaide (Part 1 of a billion)

As you can guess, one of my preferred social and personal activities is eating. So it is with great pleasure that I share with you some of the food I have experienced in Adelaide over the past couple of months.

Early on in my Adelaidian life, my new American buddy Leena of www.leenaeats.com introduced me to pho, a Vietnamese beef and noodle soup. Pronounced "fuh," like the first part of the bad word, or like "fun," since it's tasty, not ucky. It’s quite a deal at around $6 for a huge steamy bowl of rich belly pleasing goodness. Here’s a pho-to (get it?):

Leena and her hubby Adam also took me to a huge bar/restaurant/driving range/ lounge, The Tap Inn. Although we were too late to eat the food, I was astonished at the size of the menu. And they had swings. And Coopers on tap. So it’s worth mentioning.

Because we were too late to chow at the Tap Inn, we swung by the Garden of Unearthly Delights for some late-night grub. Our options were numerous. There was a grilled corn-on-the-cob cart, replete with drunken Aussies elegantly demonstrating how they eat corn-on-the-cob-on-a-stick in this part of the world…

There was a yiros (nope, that’s not a typo, that’s how they spell it here. Silly Australians) cart, and also a “hot chips” (aka “Freedom fries”) cart. The obvious choice for me was the hot chips. Much to my immense delight, they serve fries with a wide array of condiments: aioli, sour cream and sweet chili sauce, and tomato sauce (aka “ketchup”)! Who doesn’t love a free plate of condiments?! And I couldn’t believe the gourmet interplay of sour cream and sweet chili sauce on the palate… what a delight. Leena gives it a thumbs up, too.

The next morning my classmate P and I attempted to take a daytrip to the country. When the bus didn’t arrive after we waited for an hour, we decided, what the heck, let’s just EAT instead (that’s what we wanted to do anyway). We took a short walk to The Greek Mezze on Gouger Street, a restaurant that is literally in my backyard – er, back-concrete parking lot. I had a salad of grilled haloumi over rocket (arugula), red onion, and grapes.

We shared a platter of pickled octopus, fried sardines, and tiger prawns wrapped in kataifi pastry and fried.

Soon thereafter I was very happy to be invited to ML&A’s house for another scrumptious feast. ML had just taken a trip to Sri Lanka with a friend who was in town so they made Sri Lankan “tapas”, an assortment of 10 – 15 curries – there was a cashew curry, spicy pineapple, wild rice, beef, green beans and water chestnuts, a cauliflower curry, so many I can’t remember them all, with pappadums and of course, top-notch wine. We sat outside in their lovely yard as the sun set, a beautiful backdrop to an amazing meal in great company.

After class the following week, my classmate Jackie (hi Jackie! Are you reading this?!) invited me and another classmate to her gorgeous home for a gorgeous impromptu dinner with her gorgeous family. Boy, I wish my impromptu dinners tasted like this! She just whipped us up a Thai spread of red curry with prawns and eggplant, and lemongrass beef stirfry. YUMMM. I have since made the curry THREE times. I am obsessed – you MUST try it! Quick, delicious, perfect!

Jackie’s Thai Curry with Prawns

1 tbsp vegetable oil
5 tbsp Thai red curry paste
1 tsp ginger, julienned
1 clove garlic, julienned
1 ½ cups coconut milk
1 cup (or more) chicken stock
3 kaffir lime leaves
1 small eggplant, chopped into 1 inch pieces
1 lb prawns (shrimp)
½ bunch coriander (cilantro), chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
1 -2 tbsp fish sauce
Steamed white rice

In a medium Dutch oven, heat vegetable oil over medium high heat. Add red curry paste, ginger and garlic, and stir fry on medium low heat until fragrant. Pour in coconut milk and chicken stock (you want the sauce to be a thin gravy, so add more or less stock as needed to correct the consistency). Place kaffir lime leaves and eggplant in sauce and simmer until eggplant is tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Add prawns to sauce and simmer until prawns are just cooked through, then add coriander, lemon juice, and fish sauce. Remove curry from heat immediately and serve with rice.

Jackie’s Lemongrass Beef Stir Fry

1 lb beef, cut into thin strips
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tsp ginger, grated
4 stalks lemongrass, finely sliced
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp lime juice
4 tbsp fish sauce
4 tbsp ketjap manis (sweet Indonesian soy sauce; can use regular soy sauce with 1 tsp added sugar)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 red onion, sliced
½ lb green beans, cut in half
Steamed white rice

Combine first 5 ingredients and allow to marinate while preparing the remaining ingredients.

Mix together lime juice, fish sauce, and ketjap manis for sauce.

Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a wok until smoking. Brown beef in batches, removing to a plate as browned (do not cook meat long, as it will finish cooking in the sauce). Once all meat is browned, fry onion in wok then add green beans and stir fry for a short period of time. Add beef back to the wok with the sauce. Heat through and serve with rice.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Melbourne & Great Ocean Road

Shouldn’t all great trips start out with bacon, two sausage links, sautéed mushrooms, a roasted tomato, and two poached eggs on toast? Yes, I think they should. However, please note limpish pinkish bacon in photo. Thing Cari misses from USA: crispy bacon.

Thus Philari’s Easter weekend adventure to Melbourne and along the Great Ocean Road began with a Big Brekky and a long black. Aussies like to shorten their words here, so Brekky is “breakfast.” And a long black isn’t really short for anything, rather it’s a long (and rather confusing) way of saying “coffee.” I’ll get into the Australian coffee lingo another time…

Feeling energized (not sure if “energized” is the word for it, does a plate full of sausage eggs and bacon really energize?) we began our trek around Melbourne.

It really is a much bigger city than Adelaide. Unfortunately our stay was brief – one day – and most shops and museums were closed since we were visiting on Good Friday. We did get a chance to explore the Botanic Garden.

And got a great view of the city on the way back.

We had a lovely set dinner at Water and Grass. On our walk back to the hotel after dinner, we encountered an international legend: The Sonic Manipulator! Boy we couldn’t believe our luck.

Free, awesome entertainment before retiring early so we could wake before dawn to embark on a three-day journey along the Great Ocean Road.

The first leg of the Road is a surfer’s paradise. We began in Torquay, home of Quicksilver and Rip Curl and many internationally renowned surfers. We weren’t able to visit the Bells Beach because an international surfing competition was underway. However, we weren’t disappointed for long as we were soon to see enough beaches to tide us over for awhile…

First was Lorne…

Then, Apollo Bay…

Then, Apollo Beach…

Then we had our first sighting of koalas in the wild!! They sleep all curled and cozy high up in the trees…

But some were kind enough to move down in the trees and pose for our photos.

They don’t do much in the way of entertainment or acrobatics but they’re just so darn cute you can’t stop staring and taking photos.

Next we headed to Great Otway National Park, a cool temperate rainforest, where we walked on the treetops at the Otway Fly, a 25 meter high elevated walk through the rainforest. Here’s the walk from the ground:

We were pretty high up there!

It was fun and all, but the two highlights for me were the ferns and the dinosaurs. Now every time I see a fern I get excited, but when I see lots of ferns in one place, like in a rainforest, I go BALLISTIC.

Curly cool!

I was so engrossed in the ferns that I didn’t hear the T-Rex sneaking up behind me – oh no!

Thankfully, Phil was there to rescue me so I escaped unharmed.

A calm evening was on the agenda, with a trip to the Twelve Apostles for sunset.

Pose, Philari!

We returned to our cozy (NOT) hostel for a delicious (NOT) dinner, then tucked into our super comfortable (NOT) bunk beds for a good (NOT) night’s sleep in the clean (NOT) hostel.

Next morning (or later that night, whichever you’d like to call it) we awoke to see the sun rise over the mountains – that doesn’t happen too often with me, so I thought I’d take a photo to capture the moment.

We then visited a number of beaches with awesome rock formations along the Shipwreck Coast (the name for this portion of the Great Ocean Road, since, you guessed it, lots of ships have wrecked here).

Yay, rocks!

Rock on!

One of my favorite rock stops was the Loch Ard Gorge. There’s quite an interesting shipwreck story associated with this place, where in 1878 a ship crashed here, killing 52 of the 54 passengers. The Gorge housed the two survivors overnight and we spelunked into the cave where they slept.

Here’s the cave:

And me spelunkin’ (gosh that word is fun to say):

Are you ready for more rocks?!?! Yeah?!?! You sure?!?! Ok, here you go!!!!

We came to the Bay of Martyrs – where the seaweed was pink!

I think this Bay was my favorite. Yippee!

Awwwww.

Sadly, we left the coast and headed inland to the Grampians National Park (sorry guys, no more rock photos). It was here that I saw rain for the first time since moving to Australia! But, that didn’t stop Philari – we accepted the challenge of a rainy hike and encountered loads of kangaroos jumping around their natural habitat. At this point, I’m sort of like, okay, another freaking kangaroo in the wild? Whoop-dee-do! Funny how quickly something can become normal.

Lovin’ the double rainbow after the rain.

Not lovin’ the waking up before sunset bit. Again. See the moon in the sky? Yep, that’s the moon, not some crazy version of the sun that you can only see from Australia.

Despite the early hour, it was pretty so Phil managed to squeeze a few smiles out of me!

Next stop: MacKenzie Falls. Steep. Stairs. Out. Of. Breath. Need. More. Exercise. Less. Dumplings.

Phil means business.

And, last but not least on our trip, Hollow Mountain in the Grampians. Here’s Phil, ready to tackle the Outback.

And us, having sufficiently tackled the Outback and the Great Ocean Road and ready like Freddie to head back to Adelaide. We were kind of sick of hanging out with dirty hippies on our trip (it was a cheap backpacker tour). I mean, don't get me wrong, I love hippies, I do have a nose ring and all, and lots of my friends are hippies (shoutout to Jackie-Chile!) and I love them all dearly. But I compare hippie friends to other people's children. Like, when I see an annoying kid, someone will tell me, "Oh, right, you'll love kids when you have them someday, you'll love your own kids." Even though they're dirty and loud and unpredictable and selfish and you can't take them to a nice restaurant, supposedly someday I'll love kids. It's kind of like my hippie friends - I love my own hippie friends, but I don't necessarily want to hang out with other people's hippie friends, whom I inevitably view as dirty and loud and unpredictable and unable to be taken to a nice restaurant.**

**Admittedly, most of my hippie friends are "fake" hippies. Jackie and I would go to nice restaurants all the time, and she's not dirty, although she has a nose ring too and wears long patterned brownish skirts made by Indian women on Cape Cod and naturally sparkly rock bracelets with earthy vibes.