Monday, April 27, 2009
Every now and then, my friends and I throw a dinner party where the challenge is to bring the weirdest beverages possible.
Last time, Sophie not only hit the "suspicious drink lottery" – she did it UN-style, with her bag of German Strawberry Juice, Indonesian Creaming Soda and Chinese Bird's Nest Drink (which listed "bird's nest" as an actual ingredient). Oh, and let's not forget Soursop, another eccentric Asian contender.
The strawberry drink was unbelievably, headscratchingly good. I suspected it was really a carton of sugar in disguise, because it was so addictively sweet. But the main ingredient truly was strawberry – and not a wimpy, watered-down version of the fruit but a maxed-out berry-thick glug of a drink. The food miles of carting such a product from Europe are terrible, but I salute the Germans for inventing a beverage that truly lives up to its name: Happy Day, indeed.
Bird's nest drink sounds horrific, like you're about to have liquified twigs and feathers, but it was surprisingly OK. It tasted like a watery chestnut drink. It was way better than the Greek blueberry juice we once tried, the one with dubious health claims that pretty much ensured we'd live forever after a glass or two of it. But maybe if you can stomach something that tongue-repelling, you're made of invincible stuff.
More recently, I bought some weird bottles and cans from my local Asian supermarket. The worst was called Common Self-Heal Fruit Spike Drink (their marketing team really needs to work on that), it tasted like mass-marketed iced tea. Orange Lemon Honey Drink looked dodgy but was, as Sophie pointed out, surprisingly "delish" – it was like the Oasis sugary tea drinks from the 90s.
Because the first drink was so unpopular, we started to dole out small amounts of the remaining ones to try (sort of like a wine tasting, except with non-alcoholic hyper-coloured beverages and no one making hoity toity comments about oak notes). There was Japanese Strawberry Juice that was highlighter-pink and unlikely to have had any fruit content at all, but boy was it a lot of fun. It also came with bonus jelly blobs, which is one of those non-essentials that's always a delight.
The upstage of the night belonged to a drink with a plain (yet definitely suspicious) name: Milk Drink. I was worried that people throwing up after glugging it would be a real possibility, especially as the ingredients were milk powder, water and some weird preservatives. But it was surprisingly ... nice. Lisa said it tasted like condensed milk – a flavour that's an instant childhood-transporter – and I'd admit, that's what it's like. A thinner, more drinkable version of it, but still, not a bad thing. And definitely better than Malk, from The Simpsons. That's the ultimate suspicious drink.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
I really love trying out new places for breakfast - even if this can lead to awkward greetings when you go back to your regular joints.
Wait Staff: Hey, haven't seen you guys for a while...
Me: [not sure how to reply, as I've obviously been seeing other cafes]
What can you say, that you're not ready to settle down with one cafe? That you want to play the breakfast field?
I doubt our last cafe fling will lead to any kind of lifelong commitment though (unless we win the lottery). We went to Flat White in Woollahra. It was nice to be introduced to someone new but, bottom line is: eating breakfast in Woollahra when you're not on a Woollahra income stings. I had Poached Free Range Eggs with Fetta, Spinach, Pine Nuts and Zaatar and it cost $17. Ouch. I feel a bit weird about paying that much for glorified eggs on toast. You can get something similar at Vargabar in Newtown, and score a drink too, for the same price.
I know, I know, a cafe in Woollahra is never going to offer bargain basement prices, and sure, I bet their rent is steep. I guess I never felt this price-fixated at any other place I've had breakfast at in the eastern suburbs (eg the Bogey Hole Cafe is in Bronte, where there are million-dollar beachfront homes, yet the food never has had me scratching my head over the bill).
Anyway, it's totally Flat White's prerogative to set their prices as they wish: running a cafe isn't cheap. But it's just not the kind of place I can comfortably have a meal without feeling like an accountant as I order. For instance, we had this really awesome Raspberry, Watermelon, Pineapple and Orange Juice, but it was tiny and as I had it, all I could think was, "this is about 50c a sip".
I'm obviously the wrong person to be eating there. Which is a shame as their menu sounds quite interesting - Smashed Banana Toasted Brioche with Ricotta and Honey ($15), Ricotta Hotcakes with Strawberry, Honey and Cinnamon Butter ($16.50) - but I hate going out and having to think like a Scrooge. I'm a fan of ordering what takes my fancy and not having the outing punctuated with bill shock at the end.
The weekend after, we went back to one of our regulars: Ruby's Diner in Waverley. Sure, it's in the eastern suburbs, but it has none of the hang-ups of the area. Their must-have Hand-Cut Chips are only $3 for a bowl, after all.
I ordered the Peach, Berry and Ricotta French Toast which had been seasonally 'remixed' to feature rhubarb instead. It was gorgeous - I love how it had become a comforting fruit-and-cheese toastie. That it was sweet, but without intense sugar overwhelm. And I didn't even do a double take at the price.
Yep, there I can see the total downside of being so cafe-promiscuous. There are places worth sticking around for.
Flat White, 98 Holdsworth St (Cnr Jersey Rd), Woollahra 2025 NSW (02) 9328 9922
Ruby's Diner, 173-179 Bronte Rd, Waverley NSW (02) 9386 5964
Thursday, April 16, 2009
If you're into food blogs, then it's an easy bet that you love Chocolate and Zucchini. It's extremely likeable, understandably popular and comes out of the well-stocked Paris kitchen of Clotilde Dusoulier.
I was lucky enough to be able to quiz Clotilde for the blog I do at work. You can check it out here – I particularly love her revelations about her squishy but smartly designed kitchen and her whirlwind of upcoming projects.
Also on the blog is the lovely handiwork of Grace Lee, who designed the banner for this blog!
If you've been thinking that things have been whispery-quiet on The Unbearable Lightness this week, it's because I've been busy working on zines and scribbling a story that I'm reading on Monday! It's a fictional tidbit but, funnily enough, food is the main ingredient of the tale. The event is called Penguin Plays Rough and if you're in Sydney and interested in coming along (or feel glum about Monday's TV guide offerings), you can find out more by heading to their Facebook page.
Normal transmission resumes soon!
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Buying a jumbo bag of supermarket Easter eggs and leaving a Hansel & Gretel-esque trail of coloured foil around your living room is pretty much a major tradition at this time of year. I'm as happy as anyone else to leave crinkly metallic scraps of yellow and pink "eggshell" around, but I also like the idea of rediscovering your city through your sweet tooth.
So, for Anna Burns' great Weekend Lunch show on FBI, I came up with a list of Sydney places to get a hand-made taste of Easter.
Let's start with the chocolate rabbit ears (and cute bilby noses) poking out of the corners of Belle Fleur in Rozelle. (This exact range is also available at the new Petersham store.)
The original boutique is famous for its sculptures fashioned out of cocoa (from telescopes to violins), and aptly enough, there's an installation of large rabbits looking a little joyous and sugar-high in the window.
On a smaller scale, there are mini eggs for you to scoop into a box. There's the popular White Chocolate with Raspberry Filling and Light Milk Chocolate with Smooth Macadamia ($9.20 per 100g, roughly $1.10 a piece). My favourite Easter pick though, is their Mini Hot Cross Buns, which are apple & cinnamon-flavoured. A taste of it may conjure up memories of a baking-goddess grandmother that you never had.
I like the chocolates at Belle Fleur, but my only grumble is how steely cool the staff can be sometimes. When I asked if I could take a photo of the store for the blog, I discovered that silence actually comes with its own climate range and it is not gentle or balmy. They sized me up with one very long, forensic look and did not really respond that enthusiastically to anything I had to say. In the end, they turned me down because they didn't think the acetate-wrapped easter packages would look very good in photographs.
Which is fair enough and totally their right - I just wonder if their delivery could be a touch friendlier. Maybe they don't want to come across any warmer, in case all the hand-made chocolates end up melting.
The staff at Adriano Zumbo Cafe Chocolat (and its sister patissier) in Balmain, meanwhile, are gorgeous and totally lovely. The woman who served me, especially, was such a star, despite me being a total dunce and mistakenly dropping money everywhere and being an embarrassing dag.
And she was totally cool about my photo request. Maybe the blog-friendliness of this place is no surprise, given how reciprocal the warmth is. Adriano Zumbo is a big sugar hit with Sydney bloggers.
Sure, the Easter handcrafted chocolate range wasn't that extensive when I visited last week - there was just the Spiced White Chocolate Mousse Mini Hot Cross Buns. And even though it's available all-year-round, I'd totally buy the staff suggestion that the Fried Egg is Easter-related. Especially as it's such a lovely timestopper of a sweet. The egg "albumen" is a generous disc of coconut-flecked white chocolate and the "yolk" is this spiky-sweet passionfruit jelly. It is a pause-everything moment just sinking right into it. The seconds and minutes slow down as you linger over each deliberate bite.
The other chocolates I've filled the bowl with (above) are non-holiday items: Raspberry and Rose & Mandarin pieces, but who minds going off-topic with goodies like these?
A note to Future Me: I need to plan a proper sit-in cafe visit soon, as the menu blackboard looks super-tempting: one dish is called The Paris La Vie En Rose and is made of rose brulee and macaron, fresh lychees, raspberry sorbet and coconut tapioca shake.
Your mind just surges like an Edith Piaf high note, thinking about it.
And would it be too conspiracy-theory-esque to suggest maybe that's why the cafe is a tad hard to find? It's like some dental lobby hijacked the architects' plans - making the location a little tricky, so our sweeth tooths would be denied.
(But you can foil them by finding the hidden arcade a few doors down from the more prominent Adriano Zumbo patissier, on the main strip in Balmain.)
Adora Handmade Chocolates, with its locations in Earlwood and the city, has gone wonderfully ballistic with their Easter range. There is SO much to choose from. I love the look of their Rabbit Racing Car Drivers, complete with milk-white wind-blown scarves. (Sadly, I didn't get one in my order to show you - I ended up with a non-motorist box of bow-tied rabbits instead.)
It's great they offer a vegan version of the racing car chocolates (especially as chocolate boutiques, with their egg and dairy reliance, can regularly snub vegans). Ditto with their milk-spotted Dinosaur Easter Eggs: a vegan de-spottified version is available, too.
My utter favourite though, was the Half Chocolates with Truffles, which come with a small lottery of truffle flavours. My egg came with two goodies that - on first bite (and every bite after) - instantly made my brain go "Zing!". One was a white chocolate/roasted coconut piece with a kicking twist of lime and the other was a luscious passionfruit ganache tucked inside a rocky white-chocolate shell.
(My brain is resonating with another "zing!" just thinking about it.)
Another tip about Adora is that you can order online - which is brilliant if you are a lazybum (like me), who can half-justify the courier fee (from $16.95 - pricey, but a good excuse to order quite a bit!). You don't have to pick the specific hampers on their site - you can create your own order and email it through (I recommend being a truffle-hound when you decide).
As usual, Boon in Darlinghurst has new chocolates that will wow the eye and the palate. You can buy a Easter Chocolate Flowerpot ($20), that includes beautifully glossy eggs on choc "soil", all spade-filled into a garden-friendly vessel. The Lemon and Poppy Flower version has ruby-marbled swirls, and a lush strawberry-and-cream-like taste, with a dishy lemon flourish. It's a definite "oh my" moment. I also enjoy the tiny specks of pebbly chocolate "dirt" at the bottom of the pot. They're so small, they pop like little cocoa bursts in your mouth.
Sadly, the Green Tea variation was out when I visited, but the Caramelised Almond and Nougat Praline flavour is the favourite of Alex, who works in the store, and Fanny, who exquisitely hand-makes every single chocolate at Boon.
To me, it tastes like a mash-up between an easter egg and a Ferrero Rocher. And could that ever be bad?
Adora Handmade Chocolates, Shop P9 Wentworth Connection, 2A Bligh St, Sydney NSW (02) 9232 6601; 10 Homer St, Earlwood NSW (02) 9559 5948, www.adora.com.au
Adriano Zumbo, Shop 5, 308 Darling Street, Balmain, (02) 9555 1199
Boon Chocolates, 251 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst NSW (02) 9356 8876, www.boonchocolates.com.au
Belle Fleur Fine Chocolates, 584 Parramatta Road Petersham NSW (02) 9550 0650,
Friday, April 3, 2009
Easter eggs aren't always about your sweet tooth. I love the look of Sydney artist/blogger Lisa Tilse's Chalkboard Eggs so much that I thought I'd feature them here. No need to wrestle with crinkled foil or feel dental guilt as you handle these holiday treats. Just chalk away your favourite scribble, sketch or personal directive to the Easter bunny.
These spherical blackboards actually are ostrich eggs that have been hand-painted by Lisa and they even come with a crafted nest to keep them snug and upright.
When did you first get the idea of creating designs with eggs?
A friend of mine is Polish and egg decorating is traditional in Eastern Europe. I saw my friend's goose eggs and became inspired to do some myself. Then I discovered the beautiful big ostrich eggs – they really are gorgeous things.
They're a great size and shape to cradle in your hands and they're quite thick and very strong. I've also made bowls out of ostrich eggs, cut in half, and when I get the time, I'm going to really pursue doing more of them. I leave the outside natural and paint and decorate the inside.
So what was the brain-lightbulb moment that led to the Chalkboard Eggs?
I'm not sure where any of my ideas come from – they just seem to pop into my head.
I have quite a few ostrich eggs and goose eggs that I've painted, and I had some more hanging around my studio waiting to be decorated. I was thinking about creating a less traditional gift with them, when I came up with the concept.
I like the idea that, once bought, the Chalkboard Eggs will involve someone else's creativity too.
So how did you find all these eggs to turn into mini-chalkboards?
You can find anything online!
I'm always making things, so my studio and home are often overrun by pieces of timber, lots of paper, vintage ephemera, fabric, etc.
I guess the eggs are a bit more kooky though and they did look like some crazy art installation, with lots of big black eggs covering every available surface of our dining and living area!
How have the Chalkboard Eggs been used at home? Have you all been leaving interesting drawings and messages for each other?
I have one on my desk that I like to doodle and draw on, and we have a couple that we use around our house.
It's fun to see where they are going to pop up next … and what's going to be on them. Having them around actually makes us write more little notes and drawings to each other than we would otherwise.
It's like a little game.
For more details on Lisa's Chalkboard Eggs, click onto her website here. Or you could take your chances and leave a message scribbled on an ostrich egg somewhere perhaps …
PS. This Saturday on Weekend Lunch - the FBI radio show presented by the amazing Anna Burns - I'll be talking Easter eggs (yes, the chocolate ones!) and a few fine Sydney places to drop them into your basket.