July 24, 2011

Sugar and spice...

Growing up I had the opportunity to row, and I loved the feeling of gliding across a crystal clear surface as you watched the dawn break over a crisp, peaceful morning. It was my favourite part of training, and I found there was always just something very centering about it. But as we built up to a big regatta the crew would sit down and discuss race tactics, and as we laid down the event day script the cox was inevitably instructed, "thirty seconds in, tell them to breathe". At the time I always thought this was a ridiculous thing to say. Besides, it's an unconscious act, who on Earth forgets to breathe? But then, as you powered through the first twenty strokes and someone suddenly screamed "Breathe!" you realised your focus had been getting in the way of the important things, and that with a sharp intake of necessity, everything suddenly became a lot clearer.


And I find life, at times, can get a little bit that way. You become so focussed on getting everything done that importance becomes relative, and as you start to micro-manage what were once the fun things, even a piece of perceived downtime can become lost in the fight to stay afloat. In essence, you forget to breathe.

So I am slowly learning to make time for this, and while we all breathe in different ways, what works for me is the simple things - I sit in cafes and watch the world go by, I run, and I bake, and having completed my second half marathon last weekend (life challenge no. 2, *tick!*), baking was clearly next on the agenda.

For me, one of the great things about food is that it is a delightful combination of comfort and experimentation. While the processes can provide you with a contented familiarity there is unending opportunity within this to stray from convention and add a little spice. And in the mother of all segues, yesterday this is precisely what I did, as a few combinations that wouldn't necessarily be at the forefront of one's palate predictions were attempted... with rather delectable results.

There was a particularly luscious olive oil cake featuring the curing combination of rosemary and dark chocolate...








And from one of the prettiest cookbooks in existence, these rather ambrosial saffron and coriander scrolls with lemon glaze...












Sometimes it feels good to just breathe...



July 3, 2011

Red Beard...



'Twas a suitably wet and wintry morning as we made our way to the sleepy little hamlet of Trentham, and as the fog descended and the first cups of coffee were poured, there was an air of excitement about our small group gathered by the corner.




We had made our short trek to attend the sourdough workshop run by John at Red Beard Bakery. Red Beard is a small bakery, set up by John and his brother Al, specialising in handmade wood-fired organic sourdough. While situated approximately an hours drive from Melbourne, they are thankfully supported by a wonderful and growing team, which means we market goers have the weekly pleasure of their produce without having to travel far. Their stubble loaf is a particular delight, and if you've never devoured one of their nice buns, get to it post-haste!

But that said, the bakery itself is indeed worth the short trip, and if you are in any way baking-inclined I implore you to consider their workshop. John was an absolute wealth of knowledge, and the class was as fascinating as it was fun. From the historical perspectives to the technical tricks there was just so much to learn, and being delivered in such a friendly and easy-flowing manner you couldn't help but get caught up in the romance of it all.



 
 

As I delve further in to my food-driven passions I am impressed to find more and more people who give a damn about what they do. They care about the quality of their produce and where it's coming from, and see the importance of sharing that knowledge with their customers. It may not be for everyone, but I love learning about the people at the start of the chain, how they are growing or rearing what I'm about to eat, and what this means in the broader context. I hate mass-produced crap that strips food of its vitality for the sake of speed and sheer volume, and it frightens me to think what this is doing to people's health. Supporting conscientious producers means eating food that is not only good for us but, quite simply, tastes better, and I have the utmost respect for anyone prepared to stake their livelihood in getting this message across. That they speak my language is just an added bonus...



  

To give you a blow-by-blow description of the workshop would take away from the value of what John has to share, so I will simply say that it was an absolute pleasure to spend the day in such wonderful company. Our convivial hosts ensured we were immensely well fed and remained sufficiently caffeinated, and to work in such a magnificent kitchen was a truly unforgettable experience. It felt like home.







Needless to say, for me today was sheer bliss. We kneaded, we molded, and we baked, and left with more valuable insights, tips and baked goods than I had ever anticipated. Having seen how it's done I know my baking has a very long way to go, and that's what's so exciting...