Christmas food Aussie style

We had such a fabulous feast of food over Christmas that I couldn’t resist taking photos of it all. And it seems a shame to have a bunch of food photos and not write a blog post to show them off! This will probably be of most interest to my British family and friends, for whom the notion of a hot Christmas and all that entails is still something of a novelty. I hope the rest of you will find something to enjoy too.

‘Twas the night before Christmas and we all gathered at Watergums, a large, gnarly timber cabin by a platypus-inhabited billabong off the Barrington River, where half our party was staying for our festive family get-together. We sat around a big wooden table on the deck, a game of Scrabble in progress, surrounded by the heat and the din of cicadas. Dinner was Uncle Barry’s famous tomato bruschetta, followed by barbecued steak and chorizo sausages with baked sweet potato and coleslaw, topped off with peach trifle. Trifle is a particular Christmas favourite of mine. Granny always used to make our Christmas trifle, served in a beautiful crystal bowl. After Granny moved off the island my mother made it, to much the same recipe, and I always got to decorate the top with amaretti biscuits and tinned mandarin segments.

Christmas Day began with the traditional swim – not at Freshwater Beach where we go when Christmas is at Barry and Penny’s, but in the aforementioned Barrington River, down at Rocky Crossing, a couple of hundred metres from the turnoff to Lorna’s (my mother-in-law’s) farm. Back up at the farm, we breakfasted on Bourke Street Bakery croissants and mince pies before the Watergums mob arrived to fire up the barbecue for the turkey. The enormous free-range bird was swathed in two large pieces of pig skin before being consigned to the fiery innards of the Weber! At midday we judged the sun to be over the yardarm and broke out the champagne and orange juice, squeezed from oranges from Lorna’s garden, and also Lorna’s delicious homemade camembert.

It became apparent that the Weber was not getting up to temperature and the turkey would take longer to cook than previously anticipated. Meanwhile we tucked into the first course, supplied by cousin Cameron – three kilos of plump, sweet, Australian wild-caught tiger prawns with Penny’s Marie Rose sauce (mayo, tomato sauce, tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and possibly other things I’ve forgotten).

Australian wild-caught tiger prawns

Australian wild-caught tiger prawns

Eventually the menfolk gave up on the barbecue and transferred the turkey to the oven to finish it off and brown it. The Weber may not have cooked the bird but it did turn the pig skin into fantastic light, puffed-up, crunchy crackling, albeit it hadn’t been salted since its purpose was not for eating. Didn’t stop us eating some of it, however!

Pork crackling

Pork crackling

Free-range turkey

Free-range turkey

Beside the turkey our spread included free-range ham (glazed by yours truly in apricot jam and stuck with cloves)…

Free-range ham glazed with apricot jam

Free-range ham glazed with apricot jam

…Lorna’s mixed salad with homemade lemon myrtle mayo from her grandmother’s recipe, Penny’s legendary Hawaiian salad (sour cream, tinned crushed pineapple, tinned mandarin segments, desiccated coconut and miniature marshmallows) and equally popular onion salad…

Hawaiian salad

Hawaiian salad

…my mixed tomato and home-grown basil salad dressed in olive oil and top quality balsamic vinegar…

Mixed tomato and basil salad

Mixed tomato and basil salad

…and a huge fruit platter including watermelon, pineapple, grapes, cherries, nectarines, lychees, mangoes and strawberries.

Fruit platter

Fruit platter

Cameron had stuffed the turkey with a sweet, herbaceous mixture of ripe pear, bread crumbs, rosemary and oregano from the garden, and an egg to bind. Photographing this array of food I was struck by the Summery colours, the traditional turkey and ham from ‘the Motherland’ set off by a brighter, more vibrant palette than you’d see on a British Christmas lunch table. Eating this array of food, on the other hand, I was merely struck by how delicious it all was and how quickly I could go back for seconds!

Our Christmas spread

Our Christmas spread

Following a considerable break to allow all this to settle, we squeezed in some pudding – steamed Christmas pud (made by Lorna’s neighbour in return for a homemade Christmas cake) with Penny’s fabulous passion fruit ice cream and my brandy butter. Traditionally my mother and I would make the brandy butter together, without the aid of electrical appliances (hence the need for two pairs of arms), adding as much brandy, teaspoon by teaspoon, as we dared before it threatened to curdle! It’s also de rigueur, as far as I’m concerned, to feed oneself a little brandy in the process.

As is the way with Christmas food there was plenty left over for lunch on Boxing Day, with the addition of a potato salad and finished off with leftover trifle, ice cream and my Stephanie Alexander Christmas cake. The cake was a triumph, even if I do say so myself; wonderfully moist and dense with fruit. Good old Stephanie – hers will be my go-to Christmas cake recipe for evermore.

Stephanie Alexander Christmas cake

Stephanie Alexander Christmas cake

So, our Christmas viands (which word, incidentally, earned Mr T and I an awesome score in Scrabble on Christmas Day!) were a true blue team effort, provided by all, sourced as ethically as our purses would allow, and cooked and presented with love. It felt – and tasted! – great to be a part of that. For me, food and family is what Christmas is all about, and this one certainly made the mark. Thank you, one and all!

My apple chutney - presies for the family

My apple chutney – presies for the family

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Cornersmith, Marrickville

There are other good cafés in Marrickville but this is the one, I think, that has really put our home suburb on the map, such is its popularity. Mr T and I wandered down there today for only the second time since it opened almost exactly a year ago. On my first visit I was a bit nonplussed, slightly put off by the lack of meat options – there was only some organic salami that day. Today they had wagyu corned beef and pasture-raised ham (all their meat is organic and sourced from local providore Feather and Bone) as well as house-smoked ocean trout. What’s on the menu entirely depends on what seasonal, local produce they’ve bought in.

Menu

Menu, Cornersmith

On arrival we add our name to the list on the blackboard beside the door but we don’t have to wait long to get a table in a perfect spot from which I can see all the action and take photos. It’s a small light-filled room with white-tiled walls, an ornate ceiling and funky bare light globes hanging down above the counter. You can sit on high stools at said counter or at little tables that line the floor-to-ceiling window that runs the full length of the café on the Illawarra Street side. On the counter is a big Italian coffee machine churning out great coffee and behind are several black-boards displaying the menu, and below them shelves filled with jars of pickles, chutneys and jams, all made on the premises. Run by a husband and wife team, Cornersmith is open for business Tuesday to Sunday and on Mondays they close for pickling. Whatever fruit and veg is in season features heavily on their menu, and come Monday is also turned into various preserves which are served with the meals and also bottled and sold to visitors. According to articles I’ve read, some of their produce is grown and given to them by locals who have a glut of something or other, in return for lunch or a jar of pickles. I love that kind of community spirit. They even use and sell honey from bee hives on their roof, supplied and tended by a company called The Urban Beehive. It’s altogether a thoroughly feel-good kind of venture!

Cornersmith

Cornersmith

Today the menu features a lot of zucchini – roasted with okra as a side dish with harissa, feta and mint; in a salad with asparagus and grapefruit; and in the form of zucchini pickles. Everything that comes out of the kitchen is as pretty as a picture, full of vibrant colour, a love letter to fruits and vegetables, like a harvest festival on a plate! It’s very wholesome and healthy, but not even a little bit puritanical or worthy – it’s just fresh, beautifully presented, delicious food. We start with a latte for me, a strawberry, green apple and beetroot milkshake for Mr T, which comes in a glass jar with a straw (to me it’s just strawberry flavoured but Mr T can detect the earthiness of the beetroot), and a muffin to share.

Latte and strawberry, green apple and beetroot milkshake

Latte and strawberry, green apple and beetroot milkshake, Cornersmith

The muffin is a thing of beauty: topped with pumpkin seeds and a slice of oven-dried nectarine, just below the crunchy surface is a well of ricotta (from local Italian cheese factory Paesanella) and then big chunks of fresh juicy nectarine, all subtly flavoured with cardamom.

Nectarine, cardamom, banana and ricotta muffin

Nectarine, cardamom, banana and ricotta muffin, Cornersmith

We also order one each of the two ‘plates’ to share – the ploughmans plate and the Cornersmith plate. The ploughmans is meant to feature the wagyu corned beef but in fact comes with ham. When Mr T points this out later we receive an apology and a little dish of the beef to try – it’s full of flavour but a little dry and powdery on the tongue. The ham is moist and smokey and is accompanied by crumbly, bitey Maffra cheddar, dressed heirloom tomatoes with basil, zucchini pickles, a perfect sliced nectarine and toasted sesame seed sourdough. The Cornersmith plate consists of a little glass jar of chunky, herb-flecked house-smoked ocean trout terrine, creamy labneh sprinkled with caraway seeds, sharp pickled celery, a delightful salad of rocket, watercress, finely sliced blanched asparagus, zucchini and flaked almonds, and sesame seed toast drizzled with olive oil. I am absolutely in heaven as we pick, using only our hands, at these two laden wooden boards, vocal in our appreciation of the quality and flavours of the food.

Ploughmans plate (ham, Maffra cheddar, heirloom tomatoes, nectarine, zucchini pickles, sesame seed toast)

Ploughmans plate (ham, Maffra cheddar, heirloom tomatoes, nectarine, zucchini pickles, sesame seed toast), Cornersmith

Cornersmith plate (house-smoked ocean trout terrine, asparagus salad, pickled celery, carraway labneh, sesame seed toast)

Cornersmith plate (house-smoked ocean trout terrine, asparagus salad, pickled celery, carraway labneh, sesame seed toast), Cornersmith

I am entirely won over by my experience at Cornersmith today and it’s officially my new favourite Marrickville café. I want to eat there, support them, tell everyone about it and buy their pickles and jams. I’m a committed Cornersmith convert!

Cornersmith

Cornersmith

Cornersmith
314 Illawarra Road, Marrickville
Visited 16 December 2012

Spooning Goats, Sydney

It’s a cracker of a name, you’ve got to admit! However, for some reason the liquor license crew don’t like it so the official name of this small, basement-level retro bar is simply The SG. Its secret Moniker was dreamed up by owner Jason to encompass his Nan’s marvellous teaspoon collection which hangs on several wooden display boards behind the bar (yes, one of them is in the shape of Australia), and his love of goats. There is even a trifle bowl full of little ‘I heart goats’ badges on the bar for guests to take home as souvenirs. When I arrive Mirelle is already best buds with an awesome pommie lass who has been handing out the badges to passers-by on the street and is now sitting at the bar enjoying a few drinks. It’s got to be good if the staff drink here, right?

Mirelle and I cosy ourselves into two cream, embossed vinyl recliners with a faux wooden coffee table for a jolly good chin wag and a catch up. It’s a small, dimly lit space filled with mismatched suites of 70s furniture and brown geometric wallpaper to match. It feels like a cross between your Nan’s living room and a student common room. Jason, on one of a couple of occasions that he pops over for a chat, tells us that all of the furniture, in fact everything in the bar, is sourced second-hand, mostly on eBay. We comment that it feels very homely and relaxed and he says that’s exactly the effect he was going for.

We try a few of the cocktails, every one of them delicious and served in wonderful Granny glassware. (Unfortunately there’s no menu on the website and I can’t remember any of the names or ingredients.)

Cocktails, Spooning Goats

Cocktails, Spooning Goats

Getting peckish, we also order a charcuterie and cheese platter which comes served on a fabulous gilt-edged dish with compartments for the various things: salted wagyu beef, smoked salmon, Persian feta, a creamy blue goats cheese (from a choice that also includes triple cream brie and vintage cheddar), and small green olives, along with a generous quantity of crackers and crispbreads.

Charcuterie and cheese platter, Spooning Goats

Charcuterie and cheese platter, Spooning Goats

This keeps us amused for quite a while but an hour of gossip later we’re still a bit hungry so we get a pie to share – a veal and roasted tomato one served in a small white Pyrex bowl with two dainty teaspoons and a dollop of tamarind chutney on top. The richness of the meat filling and the tart chutney go surprisingly well together.

Veal and roasted tomato pie with tamarind chutney, Spooning Goats

Veal and roasted tomato pie with tamarind chutney, Spooning Goats

It’s not until we go to leave that I notice the window above the bar displays, along with some old candy-coloured glass jugs and matching glasses, two Star Wars Snow Walker models and a Hot Wheels plastic toy car track. This now makes greater sense of the lone Space Invaders machine in the corner. We’re also invited to admire Jason’s burgeoning collection of string art. It’s the perfect Gen X den of nostalgia! I’m envisioning (and hoping for) John Hughes movie nights right around the corner.

Spooning Goats (The SG)
32 York Street, Sydney
Visited 21 November