Biscuits and Gravy

Once you understand what these words mean in the USA, you’ll feel much relieved.

BISCUITS

1 cup cream
1 cup soda water
3 cups SR flour
1 tsp salt

Combine the above until it just comes together than turn out onto a floured surface.
Form it into a slab and cut in 12 equal parts. Smoosh the corners so they’re roundish.
Place on oven tray close together (they may join when baking, don’t stress) and brush tops with cream.
Bake at 200 degrees for 15 minutes or until tops are golden. My ocean temp is highly unreliable so I like to keep checking whatever goes in there.

GRAVY

500 g sausage meat freed from the skins, or mince – generally pork but it’s good with chicken also
2 tbl fat of your choice – butter, oil, duck fat
2 tbl plain flour
1 cup milk
1 cup cream

Push the meat out of the skins and brown it off in a little of your chosen fat.
Remove and put to one side while we make the roux. Add the rest of the fat and flour and whisk together over medium heat. Add milk slowly at first and keep whisking while it thickens. Add cream cause I like the lusciousness.
Season generously with pepper, salt and whatever else you like eg cayenne, herbs, garlic powder. Toss the meat back in to warm though. Taste again for seasoning then serve over warm biscuits.

If you want to fancy it up, you could fresh herbs, caramelised onions, bacon bits, cheese or, as we had in Seattle, sub out the sausage for crab meat.

Roberta’s

Rustic plank table, chilli flakes in the Parmesan shaker, salt shaker and three wilting chrysanthemums in a squat glass bottle; multi-coloured party lights drape from shelves and windows; unpolished concrete floors; two overhead fans rotate lazily; mirrors, hipster paintings, a pogo stick and a toy truck complete the interior decoration. My eyes keep coming back to one painting in particular: an homage to an iconic scene from Brokeback Mountain, the two central characters appear to be wearing masks that are a cross between a goat and a clown. This in no way diminishes the impact of the intimacy imbued in their body language.

‘Here’s your coffee, my dear.’ A hand reaches down and delivers the quintessential cup of American coffee: over-sized white ceramic cup and saucer, inky black liquid with a few bubbles clinging to the edge, two sugar sachets and tiny stainless steel jug of cold creamer. I look up to say thank you and am greeted by a perfect Roberta’s waiter.

Sleeveless, cropped white logo t-shirt, Levis 501 jeans fraying at the ankle, blue floral Converse high tops, baseball cap worn reversed, a two-day growth and multiple chain around his neck. His disarming smile compels me to continue to look into his eyes. His runaway blonde hair pokes out from beneath his hat. I can now read his t-shirt – THE FUTURE IS FEMALE. It is only now that I see that he wears glitter on his skin. It is lightly applied all over his face.

‘You’re wearing glitter,’ I say unnecessarily.

‘Yes, I am.’

‘Is that a cream or do you just sprinkle it on your face?’

‘I actually apply a bit of oil to stay hydrated and then I dab it on my face. It’s a special body glitter.’

‘I have a real glitter phobia but, on you, I like it.’ I make redundant hand motions just to drive the point home.

‘Oh, thank you.’ He half bows as best he can due to our close proximity. ‘Do you know that strippers aren’t allowed to wear any glitter?’ I nod genuinely interested. ‘Cause it sticks to the skin of people they come into close contact with.’ We both giggle at the possibilities of punters explaining to their significant others where the glitter came from.

‘What’s your name? I’m Mandy.’ I stick out my hand.

‘I’m Pedro.’

When he turns to get back to work, I think I can almost see rainbows and unicorns revolving around him.

‘Cheers.’ An icy tumbler of pale pink, alcoholic goodness is deposited by another waiter. This one is wearing a black band t-shirt, turned up jeans, black socks with runners that have seen better days and sports a high pony-tail and bandana. My ‘savage garden’ cocktail is skinos (a Greek spirit) agave gin, strawberries and coconut. It tastes like a grown-up’s version of a kids’ party drink. It’s fruit-sweet without being cloying, perfectly cold and the coconut milk adds a welcome creaminess.

Before long my ‘white and greens’ pizza arrives. Thin but not-too-thin base, still a bit chewy with that tang you get from a long-fermented sourdough. An adequate layer of mozzarella cheese (grated more finely than is the usual) is laid down with the additional onion I requested, then into the ferocious wood-burning pizza oven which backs onto the street. The balance of the kitchen is at the opposite end of the restaurant. Wood burning pizza ovens are a wonderful thing. They produce an intense heat which cooks food quickly and with plenty of flavour. But that heat has to go somewhere and not all of it goes up the chimney. It’d be a great place to work in winter but not summer so much.

Back to the pizza – the mozzarella and onion-ed base is given its obligatory few minutes in the oven, then topped with ‘greens’ which appear to be a mix of friselle, parsley, arugula and other unidentifiable bits. The pizza then gets a liberal dose of freshly-grated Parmesan and is plonked on a warm metal tray, cut into six slices and delivered to the lucky table. I demolish in about the same amount of time that it took to prepare and cook.

Yesterday was a full day for me. I was up at 5.45am in London to meet my 6.15am shuttle from the Hilton airport hotel, which naturally did the rounds of the other airport hotels before dropping me at Terminal 3. I then spoke to the check-in staff who were too perky by far for that time in the morning, collected my boarding passes and began the fun that is submitting oneself to security procedures at airports these days. It was just after 7.30am when I found my way to the lounge which looks like a cross between the Star Trek command deck and a 1970s swingers’ party. That was the highlight of my day. I spent the next 18 hours either queueing, waiting, flying or waiting some more.

Back to Roberta’s. I’ve said this before about a few places this trip and I’ll say it again – good thing I don’t live here as I’d be here way too often. It isn’t the cocktail list with cbd oil additions. It isn’t the quirky artistic vibe of the staff. It isn’t even the delicious food and tempting drinks list. It isn’t that they have a thriving kitchen garden to augment their orders. I don’t know what’s it is exactly, I just feel like I belong here.

First cocktail down, pizza tray cleared, coffee now gone cold and I figure it’s best to down a glass of water. I’ve still got a few hours to fill before I need to leave for the airport and I need to keep my wits about me. Today’s flight will take me to New Orleans and that place is not known for its restrained sobriety. It’s a marathon not a sprint.

I order a second cocktail – the WIFI which is ironic because this joint doesn’t offer free wifi unlike many places in the United States. I’m okay with that. Six weeks of travelling without constant connection has broken the habit. Social media doesn’t distract me like it has in the past.

Aviation gin, watercress, lime and cbd oil. The watercress means that drink is the colour of healthy grass. No doubt it also helps tone down the flavour and colour of the cbd oil. The drink comes in a squat conical glass. Without ice like my previous one, this drink is a sipper. It’s concentrated flavour. By its conclusion, I’m definitely feeling more relaxed but I can’t testify as to whether that’s from the cbd oil or due to the pizza and cocktails.

The day has warmed up and I’m thinking ice cream may just hit the spot. The staff are very attentive so it’s not before long that another waiter swings by my table, so I enquire. Doesn’t hurt to ask, does it?

‘We got almond, blueberry and burnt fig. You can have it as is or in a sticky bun.’ I can detect an accent of sorts but I’ve no idea where it’s from. That’s something I’ve experienced a lot in America, or to be more precise, in New York. Most people are from somewhere else. Whether as tourists visiting or as recent residents, a myriad of languages and accents are heard throughout the city. But big cities are like that, and New York even more so. It represents possibility. Your dreams can come true, in theory anyway.

‘So did you decide if you want any gelato? I think the blueberry’s the best.’

‘You’ve convinced me,’ I say. Sometimes it’s easier to let other people make the small decisions. I don’t really care what flavour, I have. I just feel like a little something cold and sweet. I’m grateful to be able to get just one scoop. Meal sizes here can be over-whelming, especially when I usually want to try multiple dishes.

At the small table next to me, two women of dressed in jeans and flannel shirts make their way through a couple of pizzas. One leaves the crusts uneaten on her plate. It takes every ounce of willpower that I have not to lean over and ask her if I can have them. I’m not hungry after my full pizza but I abhor waste and pizza crust is yummy, particularly these pizza crusts. The crust is where you get the full flavour of the dough, slightly smoky and charred from the oven plus all that sour dough taste. I guess the real test will come when they get up and leave. Will I leave those morsels be? I’m saved from myself by one of the many waitstaff who arrives to clear the plates

They ask for the cheque and one says, ‘At least, I eat all my crusts.’

I smirk while the waiter retorts, ‘Well, I wasn’t going to say anything but.’

I’m presented with my dessert. The bowl cradles one generous scoop of the most intense blueberry gelato you’ve ever had. Well, I had it, not you. It’s perched atop wafers which taste like a version of cornflake. These are glued to the bowl with a delicious honey that they probably harvest from their garden. I lean forward so as not drip any of the purple dessert on my top. My luggage is packed and I don’t fancy opening it up in the middle of the restaurant to find something clean but crushed to wear. I’ve only got two and a half hours to get through unscathed until I make my way to the airport.

A stack of glasses are knocked over but the soundtrack of pumping background music and hearty conversation doesn’t pause one iota. Each table has now filled up and three lone wolves perch at the bar. I move to a corner and nab a vacant power socket to charge my ipad and phone. More pleasant to do it here where they serve drinks than to try find a spot at the airport where the drinks are over-priced and of unpredictable quality.

The lunch rush comes and goes. Tables are re-set and the odd person remains, lingering over a drink. I’m one of those people. Suddenly, my phone buzzes. I had forgotten that it was still in vibrate mode. No one has called my phone for weeks. Apart from the obligatory message from my service provider to tell me what country I was in and that I was eligible for a day pass for only $10 a day. Yeah, no thanks.

‘THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is required.’

I’d heard about this FEMA test on the radio the day prior while getting a lift from the airport to my accommodation. 75 percent of mobile phones are expected to display this message. Around the restaurant, people pick up their phones, spend a few seconds and put them back down.

With a numb bum and an empty glass, I reluctantly decide that it’s time to make the break. I do and I don’t want to. I want to go to New Orleans and I want stay here in my new favourite place with my new favourite people. I bite the bullet, call for the bill and gather my luggage. With the receipt signed , I tip well and walk out the door.

Goodbye Roberta.

I love you, whoever you are.

St John Restaurant

We’re early so we decide to have a little wander around Smithfield before arriving at the restaurant. We pass door upon door of generic coffee shops and take-away food outlet close to the station. An impressive, expansive building comes into sight – the wholesale meat market. Since the 10th century, first a livestock then a meat market has occupied this particular site. Between the bustle of the growing city and the ease of access to farms, Smithfield was well-positioned for this charge. It is suitably impressive with its pale stone arches, red brick infill and large cast iron and glass roof.

It’s getting on to noon so the market is closing as it’s been open since 4am. Time for the workers to knock off and have a full English and a pint. Slabs of gammon, thick fingers of sausage and a puddle of beans are washed down by hand-pulled cask ale. The Fox and Anchor has been serving the market porters for hundreds of years from 7am each morning.

We pop our heads into The Charterhouse, which is a school, almshouse and former priory. A small complex of historic buildings, part of it is now open for the public to add to the thousands of feet that have walked over the same ground. London’s like that though. Thin ribbons of roads weave between modern office buildings and public ale houses hundreds of years old. There’s no imposed grid system taming the streets with curbs and pavement here. It’s easy to imagine that you’re walking the same paths that thousands of others have over many, many years.

Eventually, we circle round on the main road back to where we need to be. Scaffolding and bright orange bollards are a common sight as much construction is underway. Cranes dot the skyline. There’s no point decrying that ‘they’re ruining the city’ as cities are dynamic places. They stretch their limbs, reconfiguring to meet new demands. People ebb and flow as industry, commerce and residential factors change. Cities have been, and will always, remain living organisms.

‘It should somewhere here.’ Steve pauses and holds his phone square in front of him. I pull up and step close to him, to allow the free flow of lunch-time pedestrian traffic. In doing so, I now see the simple black font (possibly Times New Roman) announcing our destination.

St. JOHN Bar & Restaurant

‘It is,’ I say and point over his shoulder. ‘I know we’re early but let’s just go in.’ We’re still half an hour early but I’m too excited to wait.

‘Just a minute.’ Steve turns me 90 degrees to my left and there just a metre or two away is the man himself. I put my hand over my mouth then scramble for my phone. I take a couple of photos of the food menu and wine menu as cover before nonchalantly snapping a couple of him.

Fergus Henderson is legendary in culinary circles. I see Fergus as the progenitor of a new approach to British cooking. In the mid-90s, he opened St John restaurant with Trevor Gulliver, the wine half of the partnership. And in 1999, the untrained cook published his first cookery book Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking. His bold approach to meat consumption quickly became a classic amongst industry and public alike.

So here we are, metres from a legend outside his original restaurant. It’s like seeing Father Christmas himself, in a bright navy pinstripe suit, white shirt, red socks, brown brogues with walking cane in hand. Steve tugs at my shirt and we walk through the portico and into the bar and bakery area. A staff member directs us up the short, black metal staircase which leads into the dining room.

To describe the interior as pared down is an understatement: no art hangs on its white-washed walls; a simple coat rack runs along the walls at picture-rail height; paper over white table cloths, dark brown stained chairs and painted, worn floorboards; basic salt and pepper grinders play floral arrangement relief on the tables.

A tall, lithe waiter soon arrives at our table with menus in hand. He smiles as he greets us and hands us the menus. I find myself staring at the few grey hairs in his beard. He announces a couple of specials for the day, then leaves us to peruse our options. Deciding on what to order is always a process of negotiation with us. I am looking for a balance of dishes with different proteins and no doubling up of ingredients. Sadly, I can’t stomach neither horseradish nor hot mustard so those options are immediately ruled out.

A metal basket of breads is brought to our table with a slab of butter. Wide slices from both brown and white cob loaves are laid out, their beauty self-evident. It’s a confident place that offers such simple things to begin with. Chewy, slightly tangy inner crumb with a satisfying exterior crunch is only achieved with years of sourdough practice. The demand for St John’s bread has been so strong that they’ve opened a separate bakery in one of the London markets. The options are limited – white, brown, light rye or fruit.

I want to order us wine but I have little frame of reference for the mainly French offerings on the wine list so I’m going to need help. Jean-Patrick, our waiter, offers assistance. ‘Perhaps if I know what you’re eating then I can suggest something to go with it.’

‘Well, I was thinking something white or pink. I work in a winery region at home in Australia so I’m familiar with those styles but I don’t really know French wine that well.’

‘Why don’t I bring you a sample of both our whites?’ Two small footed glasses are delivered with generous amounts of wine for us both to taste. We settle on the 2017 Languedoc blanc, plenty of fruit without being sweet, and a small amount of oak.

Our order is taken and the three starters are quick to arrive. The first plate holds two pools of thick, buttery yellow mayonnaise. Plump anchovy fillets and two soft poached eggs sit proudly atop. Tiny capers and a bunch of baby cress finish off the plate. The second plate has a mound of potted hare, thick shreds of meat obvious, with celeriac remoulade and one fat pickled walnut. The final plate presents a meaty fillet of house-smoked eel with cucumber and dill tossed in a hot mustard dressing. We decide against the signature dish of roast bone marrow and parsley salad as we had an excellent example of it for breakfast the day prior.

For the main course, we’re sharing devilled kidneys. Six portly kidneys nestle together on a thin slice of toast. The whole lot is bathed in a piquant gravy, featuring a generous hand of Worcestershire sauce. It’s sweet and vinegary and sour and rich all at once. In a similar vein, the Welsh rarebit is all crispy, cheesy goodness. To assuage any possible guilt, I also order a vegetable side dish. Thick green ribbons of cabbage have been lightly steamed and tossed with lashings of butter, salt and pepper.

I’m done. Only a few ribbons of cabbage and a swirl of gravy remain. The wine is finished and my elasticated outfit is proving a wise choice. Just one more mouthful of cabbage perhaps. I’ve never tasted cabbage so sweet and unctuous. That’s it. No more.

‘Would you like to see the dessert list?’ Jean-Patrick suggests as he clears the plates.

’No, I’m all good,’ I say.

‘I already know what I’m having – Eccles cake.’ Steve’s grinning like a small child. ‘You sure you don’t want a glass of something sweet, my sweet? How about a sloe gin?’

I cave swiftly. ‘Alright. Wouldn’t want you eating alone.’

The dessert arrives quickly. It’s a rotund shiny pastry sitting next to a thin, triangular slice of Lancashire cheese. No more and no less. The food on the plates speaks for itself. There’s no garnish, no flurry, no attempt to disguise the food for anything other than it is. I sit back into my chair, interlocked hands resting on stomach and look around the unadorned dining room. I sip my sweet, berry-infused gin while Steve picks up the currants that fall out onto the plate. ‘Well, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now.’

‘Glad to hear it, love.’

Tuesday September 4th 12.10pm Butter & Scotch Bar and Bakery.

Tuesday September 4th

12.10pm Butter & Scotch Bar and Bakery.

Bar AND bakery, I hear you say. Yes, bar and bakery. Why does this concept not happen more? They open at 9am and offer brunch options until mid-afternoon. Think sandwiches in the American sense ie hot fillings sometimes toasted and often in a bun not bread, biscuits/savoury scones, sweet pies, cake, ice cream – cause, you know, America.

This morning I tried to go to the Museum of Women’s Resistance but, alas, it appears to be no more. Damn internet! Promising a vibrant experience that in reality is a nondescript townhouse with a for sale sign hanging out front. Of course, it was bound to happen at least once this trip. Occasionally, the internet doesn’t always tell the truth. Who knew.

So that’s how I made it to this oasis earlier than planned. On this trip, I’m trying not to consume alcohol before noon although the crossing of time zones can mess with one’s sense of whose noon it really is. It’s quiet in here; there are a couple of guys sitting at the bar drinking coffee plus me. The air conditioning is strong and welcome. My 4000 steps this morning were hard work in the relentless sunshine.

‘How you doing this warm day?’ The barman stands behind the bar polishing glasses in the way that barmen all over the world do.

‘Better now,’ is my response.

‘Yeah, it’s getting warm out there.’

I slide along the wall, edging past the two guys perched on the chrome and vinyl bar stools. Black and white chequered tiles on the floor, painted, colour-blocked walls and a feature wall of red lips by the bathrooms signal the fun, casual vibe of the place. The mirrored wall behind the display of extensive spirits indicates it’s a bar in more than just name only. I grab a table near the bar for ease of service as much as conversation.

Traveling by myself has its pros and its cons. I don’t have to please anyone else but at times I crave human interaction beyond the cursory. In the mornings, as I’m having my mandatory two cups of tea, I listen to podcasts. It helps prepare me to interact with the big wide world outside my bedroom door. This trip is an ideal mix of time alone, time with family and time with friends old and new.

The obligatory glass of water is delivered with the menu. I opt to begin with a coffee with the encouragement of the barman despite my reticence for American coffee. He promises to attempt a piccolo latte for me. I’ve coached him through it and I reckon I’ll get something close. I do, in fact, receive a passable piccolo latte. The espresso shot has enough oomph for my liking and it’s not been watered down with too much milk. In reality, it is a flat white presented in a glass mug with a handle. Some sugar helps balance the dominant bitterness.

I scour the menu for a smaller-sized breakfast dish and I want to leave room for something sweet afterwards. Steve would be disappointed if I didn’t. I settle on the chicken, chilli and cheddar hand pie with salad. A hand pie is a filled pastry triangle by another name. The buttery pastry is flaky and tasty all on its own. The diced filling is good value on the chicken front with enough heat not to warrant any extra use of hot sauce or chilli-infused honey that sits on the table. A little light on the cheddar for my liking, it’s a small, insignificant criticism on my behalf. The mixed salad greens are perfectly dressed in a country where I often find dressings overwhelming the salad they’re supposed to complement.

Coffee downed and I decide to step things up a notch with a michelada. A tall glass is rimmed with spicy salt, then half-filled with ice, doused with hot sauce, and finished off with a crisp lager and a wedge of lime. I need to embrace these more in my summer life. It’s thirst quenching and substantial at the same time. I take photos, all the time thinking Steve would love it here.

The menu which is currently discarded on the table next to me promises desserts in a variety of styles: key lime pie, s’mores pie, daily special pie, unicorn cake, salted chocolate cookies, six flavours of ice cream. All these are made in the bakery section next door which I can see into through a doorway behind the bar. I finish up my breakfast grateful for the small serving and embark upon an in-depth consultation with my friendly barman. Between us we concoct a boozy milkshake based upon the key lime pie with coconut ice cream and added rum.

When it arrives, I’m not disappointed. It’s thick and creamy with generous amounts lime zest sprinkled on top. The rum comes through immediately and I give it a thorough stir in case I’m drinking all the rum first. I slurp again and it’s just as good. I don’t often order sweet things and I think I’ve only done it this time in honour of my absent partner. I’m delighted that I did and even more grateful that he’s not here because I don’t have to share it. It’s mine, all mine I tell you!

Sunday September 2nd Smorgasburg, Prospect Park Brooklyn

Sunday September 2nd Smorgasburg, Prospect Park Brooklyn

11.57am

Not quite noon and I’m full up to pussy’s bow. I’ve found a shady spot on some soft grass in between picnic rugs. It feels like it’s time for a nap. I arrived an hour ago as the food stall event was opening. The sound of grills being lit and ice tipped into cooler bins was the soundtrack to my entrance. Grabbing a cold coffee with whole milk at the first stall in, I decided a reconnoiter was in order. The business names delight and amuse me.

Takumi Taco

Lobsterdamus

Bonsai Kakigori Japanese shaved ice

Jian-bing Shanghai-inspired street food

Mighty Quinn’s slow smoked barbecue

Rooster Boy

Handsome Hank’s Fish Hut

Mao’s Bao

Noodle Lane

Oyster Party

Okay, first point of order. Figure out which stalls sell smaller portions. After one circuit, I decide the morning is best started with a blood orange donut to go with my coffee. For $3.75, I buy enough donut for 2 people. I ask for a bag so I don’t feel compelled to finish it all. The wooden picnic table under the large central tree are still pretty empty so I take one end in the shade of an umbrella. The coffee is disappearing fast, long before the ice has a chance to melt. The tartness of the donut is balanced perfectly by the soft sweet dough. I look around at the crowds that are starting to gather.

That ramen burger is so instagrammable

Anyone want to share some mozzarella sticks?

Excuse me sir, what’s that you’re eating?

‘I’m not hungry but . . .’

‘Well, I’m here so I might as well like go crazy.

What is it? A dumpling? Wanna share?

The best thing about the jet ski is that you feel like you’re going through time. I’m not even joking.

It’s toss up as to begin the savoury section of my brunch with a taco or a sandwich. Slow cooked beef brisket wins. Two generous slices of tender brisket complete with smoke ring at the outer edge are placed on a soft slider bun. Creamy coleslaw, pickled cucumber and rings of red chilli are then piled on top. I attempt to return to my spot to find it’s already taken. The tables soon become hot property whether they’re in the shade or not.

I point to a vacant spot and ask, ‘do you mind if I sit here?’

A Scottish accent replies, ’go for it.’

Plopping down on the bench opposite I place my bun, napkins and various wet wipes on the table. ‘What a place. The hardest thing is deciding what to get.’

‘I know. My girlfriend has just gone for another pass at things.’

‘What was that?’ I point to the detritus in front of him.

‘A philly cheese steak, from over there.’ He points behind and I make a semblance of turning to check it out.

‘Good?’

‘Great. We don’t get them in Glasgow.’

I press the top of my bun down in attempt to get solid purchase on my meal. Fortune favours the bold, it is said, so I abandon all decorum and get stuck in. Lifting the bun to my mouth, I take a generous bite, hoping to get some of each part of the whole. There’s nothing worse that the last mouthful of anything being just the salad, or just the pickles. Balance is important. I can feel something clinging to my chin. I grab the wholemeal napkin and wipe extensively.

Pale skin and ponytail bobbing, the girlfriend returns. ‘Hi, I’m Rachael.’

Wiping my hands hurriedly, I introduce myself. ‘Hi, I’m Mandy.’

My table buddy takes his turn. ‘Oh, sorry. I’m Grant.’

Friday 31st August – New York City

Friday 31st August

9.33am

Two loads of washing done and currently tumbling away in the dryer downstairs in the basement laundry. $2.00 a wash and $1.80 per 30 minutes drying. Apart from setting the alarm to remind oneself to go get the stuff, I reckon I could get used to this system. Though it needs to be said that the laundry is insufferably hot and stuffy in Summer, which it currently is here.

My sister and her partner are flying home to Australia today. Luggage is in various stages of being packed. Bags of rubbish, recycling and donating sit in different parts of the apartment. US friends came over this morning to comb through accumulated kitchen items for the taking. Bottles of olive oil, hardly-touched spice packets and half-empty packets of nuts made it into their grocery bags. Stacks of baking accoutrements remain on the kitchen bench while plastic storage containers were snaffled up.

New York City is such a transient place that this ritual is common as people move to and from the metropolis. These friends moved from Texas a year ago. Others I met have been here much longer, though it seems that everyone came from somewhere else first. Six months here was enough for Simone to feel the need to bake. This is one sign she isn’t a native New Yorker, whose kitchen is usually just a place to dish up take-out meals.

Preparing your own food is an act of self-determination. How thick I cut the bread? To butter it or not? How long I cook the eggs for? – these are all small decisions that we make each day according to own individual desires. While there’s no denying that there’s a certain freedom in eating out, it is something that I rapidly tire of. Maybe I don’t want to get dressed to go out and search for food. (In place of ‘get dressed’, feel free to substitute ‘put a bra on’ as essentially that’s what I’m saying.) Even answering the door to a food delivery can be more than I’m up for at times. Other times, I’m excited to find a café or restaurant where I can prop by myself, chat with the wait staff or read a book. Taking my time to choose a meal, the appropriate drink to go with it and savour the luxury of the whole experience.

When I prepare food for myself, I don’t have to consider that someone else may want some of the perfectly ripe cheese I bought. I can stand at the bench and pop one slice of jamon on my mouth for every piece that makes it to the plate. I can butter the thick slice of crusty bread before liberally sprinkling salt crystals over it. And finally, no one judges me for over-filling my wine glass which saves me a return trip to the fridge in the middle of my meal, thus rendering my food vulnerable to my cats.

Six Anchovies Worth Your Time

Six Anchovies Worth Your TimeWhen we talk about anchovies, we are actually talking about over 140 different species of fish from temperate waters. To get to a product you would recognise they are headed and gutted, then salted and weighed down for a minimum of six months. Once packed, they find their way to our grocery shelves. So, we’ve done the taste testing for you and here’s a rundown of 6 of the best anchovy products for your kitchen.Rizzoli Anchovies in Spicy Sauce – 90g $8.95Employing the traditional techniques of hand filleting and aging the fish packed in salt in wooden barrels, these anchovies weigh in at the mid-range of our tested products. The lucky gnomes on the gold tin are meant to bring good luck, health and longevity. What they definitely bring is a tasty little snack. Pop these guys on some crackers, making sure not to waste any of that zingy sauce and what you will have is one very happy mouth.www.rawmaterials.com.auOrtiz Anchovy Fillets in Olive Oil – 110g $19.95Okay, Ortiz is the one you bring out when you want to impress so make sure you open the package in front of your guests so they clock the name. From a small village in Northern Spain, these anchovies have become the go-to choice of many a chef. Consistently high quality with a buttery texture and clean, earthy flavour, these are best served with little adornment. Go full banderillas and skewer a toothpick with green olive, anchovy and roasted red pepper alternatively. This salty, nutty heaven on a literal stick deserves a sparkling white wine or lager.www.conservasortiz.com/enRaw Materials White Anchovies – 200g $11.50These plump anchovies are anchovies but not as you know them. Hand-filleted then marinated in olive oil and vinegar, their delicate, light flavour is ensured by their constant refrigeration. This is best bet for a Caesar salad. Better still, toast some sliced baguette slather it with crème fraiche, sprinkle some dill tips and choose a fat white anchovy to lay on top.www.rawmaterials.com.auCapriccio Anchovy Fillets in Olive Oil – 50g $4.95Sold in small jars up to kilogram-sized tins, this is the style of anchovy you’ll find in many a pantry. These small but meaty ribbons of flesh are tightly packed in oil. These slippery little suckers are the perfect pizza anchovy and make sure you drizzle that leftover oil generously around the crust.www.basile.com.auOro Azzurro Mediterranean Anchovies in Sunflower Oil – 170g $4.75This anchovy is proof that you can’t judge an anchovy by its price tag. Cheapest of the tested products, this big guy earns its place. It is presented with the skin on and closer to sardines than what most people assume are anchovies. Chop roughly then toss through some pasta with handfuls of fresh, sweet tomatoes and extra parsley. http://www.leosimports.com.auAnd the winner is –Conservas Cuca Anchovies in Oil 48g $5.95Frank Camorra, MoVida’s executive chef and driving force, was serving tins of anchovies in his award-wining restaurants long before Australia had any understanding of high quality tinned seafood. It was Camorra who spear-headed the push to import them on a commercial scale in 2007.Committed to responsible, sustainable fishing practices, Conservas Cuca, based in Rias Biaxis export a range of seafood and fish. Off the north-west coast of Spain, the catch is delivered to small, family-run canneries, where rows of women hand-fillet and pack the prime quality produce at the peak of their season.Little more than sturdy bread and a fork is required to make a meal of these imported fish. The fish have a clear, briny taste which would pair perfectly with a glass of not-too-cold, white wine – an Albariño would be perfect. Conservas Cuca are available in many independent grocers and food providores throughout Victoria.www.alimentaria.com.au/our-producers/cuca/

Magazine 1

Our task for this semester was to devise our own magazine. Naturally mine was all about food because that is what makes life worth living. I also blame the podcasts I’ve been recently listening to and the websites I’ve been browsing. US-based Cherry Bombe celebrates women in food by sharing their stories and building communities. Their website, printed magazine and podcast will keep you busy for hours.

I credit Magazine 1 for pushing me to research what is already out there in preparation for my own magazine proposal. I discovered our own Australian version – Fully Booked Women. I made contact with them and even wrote a book review for them. I’ve also managed to secure ongoing content creation for them with an interview a week. I’ve begun the process and am really enjoying the research side of things as well as making contact with a range of awesome women in the food and hospitality industries.

Showing my magazine proposal to a few friends in the hospitality industry, they keep asking ‘When is it going to print?’ My response – ‘Are you going to become my silent financial backer?’ It’s not just money though, of course. The many hours of work require a dedication not all have and I recognise my own limitations in regards to this.

I have a great deal of respect for those that do take this path, but it’s not for me right here and now.

An egg is an egg is an egg – or is it?

Science

If you want an in-depth analysis of how heating eggs causes them to transform from a liquid to a solid then your best bet is to dive into Harold McGee’s treatise McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopaedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture. The short answer is that proteins bond more tightly to each other as the temperature is increased. The key is knowing when to stop to achieve a delicious creamy semi-solid rather than a rubbery, watery mess.

Hype

For several years, this ‘perfect’ egg has been popping up on menus everywhere from high-end London restaurants to suburban Sydney cafes, keeping food bloggers and magazine columnists busy. Chefs around the world love this egg for its maximum-impact, minimum-effort nature. This precise cooking method achieves a perfectly creamy result every time and in the high-pressure environment of restaurants consistency is everything. No longer relegated to breakfast, this soft poached egg is taking pride of place on salads, atop grain bowls, in soups and garnishing vegetable side dishes.

What do I need to know?

First of all, ignore the phrase “boiling an egg”. Whether you want soft yolks or a fully cooked yolk, eggs shouldn’t be taken anywhere near 100 degrees celsius, or boiling point. Some recipes recommend one minute per gram as a cooking time while others say a minimum 45 minutes to a maximum of two hours. Either way, this is more a weekend brunch than a quick breakfast before work.

The key to the whole deal is maintaining a precise temperature. Many kitchen thermometers struggle with the accuracy required for this but luckily for us, we spent more than we should have on a home brew system. It turns out we can also use this as an immersion circulator cooking system (often called a sous vide) to cook at a low and accurate temperature for set periods of time. You could try this at home with a pot of water and a thermometer, but it’ll probably be a bit hit and miss maintaining the correct temperature of the water.

As a rough guide, anything below 57 degrees is raw and I can’t recommend it. At 60 degrees the egg yolk and white are barely set and won’t hold their shape at all. At around 63 degrees the egg yolk firms to a point that it can be cut while the whites are still soft and custard-like. Between 63 and 65 degrees is the perfect stage for rich, thick yolks and quivering but not too runny whites. This is where you want to be. Above 65 degrees and you’re heading in standard soft-boiled egg territory like your mum would make you as a kid. Anything above 74 degrees is hard boiled and if you go any higher than this you might as well eat your spatula instead.

Verdict

Are they worth the effort? Yes yes yes. As long as you have the time and the inclination, these slow cooked, soft poached eggs will reward your effort. Bear in mind, both flavour and texture are crucial so start with a good quality fresh product and you’ll never look at the humble egg the same way again.

Upping Your Cheese Game

Cheese, cheese, glorious cheese. Sure, it’s a convenient way to preserve milk but it is so much more. It deserves to be celebrated, given its own basic food group and have societies dedicated to worshipping its glories. In fact, there is a local First Tuesday Cheese Club I’ve been trying to get an invitation to for a few years. With cheese’s worthy credentials established, it’s time to lay down some guidelines for improving your cheese game.

Cheese basics

The invention, or more likely discovery, of cheese will always remain in contention but it is highly probable that simple, fresh cheeses were the first man ever consumed. Milk stored in a bag made from the stomach of an animal would have separated and firmed up due to the natural rennin in the skin and the movement from transportation. There are as many cheeses in the world as there are names for pasta (this may or may not be statistically true) and they can be roughly divided into six categories.

1. Fresh cheeses: these are the basic building blocks of cheese making. Only a few steps away from milk, they rely on a good quality fresh milk product as their base and are best consumed within a few days of purchase. Examples – Mozzarella Di Bufala from Italy, Woodside Goat Curd from South Australia

2. Surface ripened: this style of cheese ripens from the outside in, thanks to the mould filaments that penetrate inwards breaking down the texture until it reaches a creamy point of perfection. Examples – Brie de Nangis from France, Holy Goat La Luna from Victoria

3. Washed rind: dependent upon a particular strain of bacteria (B.linens) for their distinctive terracotta colour and unique aroma, washed rind cheeses are often smell stronger than they taste. Flavour variations multiply when you consider these cheeses are then washed regularly with brine solutions, alcohol, and even herbs and spices. Examples – Mauri Taleggio from Italy, L’Artisan Mountain Man from Victoria

4. Semi-hard: curds are scalded and pressed to produce a cheese with a low moisture content. The magic of this popular style of cheese comes as the cheese develops flavour and changes texture over months of maturation. Examples – Geitenkaas from Holland, Heidi Raclette from Tasmania

5. Hard: curd is cooked at higher temperatures then pressed and matured over extended periods to develop both taste and texture. Examples – Parmigiano Reggiano from Italy, Pyengana Cheddar from Tasmania

6. Blue: ripening from the inside out, these cheeses are inoculated with a blue-mould culture, then spiked to allow air to activate and feed the microbes, creating the spidery webs of mould that are so distinctive and give them their name. Examples – Stilton from the UK, Tarwin Blue from Victoria.

So what makes each cheese taste different to the next one?

Everything. One cheese from the same manufacturer will vary in taste over the course of a year as the animal’s feed also differs – new grass in spring with the odd herb or wildflower consumed will produce different flavours in the milk compared to winter feeds such as hay and silage.

Cheese, particularly cheese made from unpasteurised milk, reflects its terroir, which refers to soil, season, pasture and more. At every step of the cheese-making process from milk, through addition of starters, heating/cooking, draining, pressing and salting to the maturation of the product allows for variation of flavour.

What do I need to know about buying cheese?

Finding a cheesemonger you like and trust is a great first step in buying good cheese. Someone who is willing to share their knowledge and to push you further than you may have thought you wanted to go makes for a great cheesemonger. Don’t be afraid to ask questions as a skilled professional/curd nerd will revel in the opportunity to take you over to the dark side of cheese life.

Well-labelled products will give a good foundation of knowledge – who makes the cheese, where it is made, what type of milk it is made from and how aged it is.

The best time to buy your cheese is as close as possible to the time that you wish to consume it.

What do I need to know about storing cheese?

The best way to store cheese is in the paper it is wrapped in, assuming you’ve bought from a reputable providore. If you need it for a few occasions, ask for a few extra pieces. Don’t plastic wrap it to within an inch of its life. Cheese is alive and needs to breathe. Standard domestic fridges are too cold and too dry. One of the best places to actually store your treasured product is in the vegetable compartment, as it is slightly warmer and more humid than the rest of the fridge. Eat your fresh cheeses first. Harder, cooked cheeses will last longer. Washed rinds can have a pungent smell so be mindful of buying these too early.

What do I need to know about serving cheese?

Ambient temperature is one key point to consider when serving cheese. A hot summer’s day requires different considerations to a cooler environment. Most cheeses can take time out of the fridge, and in fact often benefit, but one to watch is blue cheese. In the heat, blue cheese can develop overly spicy flavours. Love your Roquefort, but keep it cool.

Variety of flavour and texture is important when designing your cheese platter, but don’t over complicate things. Sometimes one big statement cheese is the answer. A whole Camembert, perfectly ripe and unctuous, is a better idea than three meagre portions of a soft, a hard and a blue cheese. Allowing 50-60 grams of cheese per person per cheese is a good guide. Unless, of course, it happens to be a Friday which means cheese is obviously the main meal.

What are you serving with your cheese?

When looking at accompaniments, it’s important to know that there’s more available than just quince paste. Fresh seasonal fruit such as pears and apples, dried fruit pieces and even chutneys and pickles work well with a variety of cheese. Whatever you choose, it should add to, not distract from, the cheese. Mix up the carbohydrates – think oat crackers, water crackers, lavosh as well as bread, be it rye, white or fruit.

What are you planning on drinking with your cheese?

Rarely is the answer red wine with its problematic tannins. Belgian saison beers love an earthy washed rind. Fresh goat cheeses benefit from an off-dry Riesling, hard cooked Comte loves Marsanne, Roquefort and Sauternes are a well recognised match, and farmhouse cider with Camembert de Normandie are regionally taste-matched buddies.

So go forth and buy cheese with confidence. And if you need a hand eating it, I’m just an email away.