Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Our Delicious Days - Northern NSW

Bags filled with cooking equipment, summer clothes and boxes of books, we jumped on a plane north and before we knew it we'd landed in balmy Ballina. Heading inland to the colourful village of Bangalow, we stopped in at the 'one street' town of Newrybar for a bite of lunch. Harvest Cafe was a welcome sight, we grabbed two bar stools and ordered from the bar snacks menu; sharing woodfired sourdough with wattleseed butter, pressed lamb with harissa and cauliflower, and sugar loaf cabbage with bunya cone vinegar and parmesan. A housemade ginger beer, cool and refreshing, took the edge off the thirty degree temperature we were suddenly having to come to terms with. No coastal breeze in this little Hinterland town. The Harvest ethos is local, seasonal, sustainable, self sufficient and fresh - all the things I love in food - it is not cheap food, not fast food, instead it is well thought out food, simple, fresh produce, cooked with tangible flavour and texture. We left with a loaf of seeded sourdough under our arm - we were off to a great start!
Our home for the next three days was The Gardeners Cottage in Bangalow, a delightful self-contained cottage nestled in a sprawling garden, with resident hens laying eggs for our breakfast. A towering jacaranda tree generously dropping its flowers, leaving a lilac carpet on the driveway for our arrival. It was a lovely, spacious and quiet place to stay, walking distance from the main street of Bangalow.
Early the next morning we drove twelve kilometres out to the coast to Byron Bay Farmers Market to source local and seasonal produce for the two events I'd be cooking at over the coming weekend. Lush blueberries, fragrant ginger, garlic, zucchinis, corn, beetroot, pears, bananas, salad greens, abundant bunches of dill, coriander, parsley, rocket, and sweet Cooper Shoot tomatoes bursting with flavour. My farmer friend Liz gifted me a bunch of her exquisite freshly cut garlic flowers, while Mr G bought himself a 'second breakfast' of the most delicious blueberry pie with clotted cream. These markets are held weekly on Thursdays from 8am - 11am at Butler Street Reserve.
As the heat again began to take hold, we enjoyed a late morning swim at the hidden treasure that is Wategos Beach. Greeted with azure waters, gently rolling waves, crisp white sand and the striking foliage of the Pandanus trees lining the banks of the shore. It was a glimpse of long summer holidays to look forward to, once the book promotions are all done, for now we seized the opportunity and soaked it up. A delicious burger and a glass of iced Kombucha enjoyed under the shade of a fringed brolly, at another Byron Bay favourite The Top Shop meant lunch was sorted, before we headed back to the Bangalow cottage to escape the middle of the day heat and unpack our market finds. Early evening a wood-fired pizza from The Italian Diner  Gamberi; prawns, scallops, capsicum, fi or di latte mozzarella, chilli flakes & watercress, went down well sitting in the cool of the cottage garden.
Another early start Friday morning, I headed out to the Mullum Markets, while Mr G spent his morning working in the cottage. Unfortunately he missed out on a scrumptious breakfast omelette with corn, paprika and lime from The Nomadic Kitchen stall. This just happened to be the same folk who had delivered the epic blueberry pie the day before, so I grabbed another slice for us to share together later, perhaps for afternoon tea. These north coast markets all exude an endearing community vibe and homely touches such as serving food on proper vintage plates, giving this nourishing nosh the respect it deserves. I spent my morning wandering the stalls, gathering asparagus, pineapple, bush lemons, limes, plump avocadoes, thyme in flower, olive sourdough from Gina and a soft feta cheese from my new friend Deb. As the live music played and the colourful locals collected their weekly supplies, I caught up with two talented, passionate foodie friends who live in the area, Brenda Fawdon and Kate Walsh. We talked all things cookbooks, workshops, events and local produce under the shade of the ancient fig tree.
So enough preparation and procrastination had now been was time to get working. Saturday morning we travelled one hour south to the gorgeous seaside town of Yamba, where I was teaching at Kitchen To Table Cooking School. An intimate class, we utilised the baskets of local produce I'd gathered at both markets, and worked our way through four recipes, two from Naked Food and two from Our Delicious Adventure. We began with a simple seasonal asparagus dish, next thing handfuls of flour were flying as I guided the group through the ins and outs of rolling and shaping potato and sage gnocchi. Later these fluffy white pillows were deliciously paired with the sweet Cooper Shoot tomatoes and crispy pancetta. A salad with bitter greens, roasted beetroot, pear and parmesan was served with the gnocchi. To finish, still warm from the oven, double chocolate and quinoa muffins, meant everyone was smiling and well satisfied by the end of our three hours together. Mr G had easily managed to occupy himself for that time, happily fishing for bream in the nearby river. Leaving Yamba later that afternoon, we travelled north-west out to Greenridge, near Casino in the Northern Rivers region. Here we had an afternoon tea, cooking demonstration and book signing in 'The Barn' on a friend's rural property scheduled for the following day.
An early rise on Sunday morning gave me the time to bake for the afternoon tea, mixing and baking two spelt banana loaves, a chocolate and beetroot cake with buttercream icing and three dozen hazelnut and lemon curd tartlettes. As friends Kelvin and Priscilla, Renate and Mr G set up and styled the venue, I further prepared for the cooking demonstration. By midday the temperature had hit a searing thirty eight degrees Celsius, making for challenging working conditions for all involved. However to my delight, when I walked into 'The Barn' to set up my table, it looked absolutely magnificent, scattered hay bales, old ladders, gumboots and magnolias, were just a few of my favourite things. At 2pm the crowd gathered in "The Barn' and these country folk were clearly not as daunted as I was by the unrelenting heat of the day. Iced sparkling water flowed and friends chatted and found their seat on a hay bale for things to begin. I shared about the journey of both living and then writing Our Delicious Adventure and then demonstrated a favourite recipe from the book, my Sweet Corn and Zucchini Fritters with Avocado, Almond and Feta. I think they were impressed! Expressions of delight as afternoon tea was consumed, left me content my baking had been up to scratch and well received. I'm always more apprehensive baking for country people.
So with a few more boxes of books sold and a lovely time shared with dear friends, we bid farewell to the Northern Rivers and headed back home to Sydney to prepare for the next adventure. There is still more work to do and much fun to be had, further promoting Our Delicious Adventure, with events at Tamsin's Table in Victoria (tickets still available), The Black Hen in Tasmania (now sold out) and many days with my stall at The Beaches Market, before Christmas is here.

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