March 22, 2006

the season that came sooner than anticipated

Last October, I was longing for the next end-of-summer-cum-early-autumn season to come, with the season of whole lot of figs being just over. I was supposed to have to wait for ten months or so, but magically, having spent just over four months and I was being blessed with crops of figs in the middle of winter - well, except it's precisely end of the summer and early autumn where I am. Thank goodness I'm in Australia.

What was even better is that my friend's husband got us a bagful of figs fresh out of his family's garden tree. They were those relatively small, green and thick skinned kind, which I haven't been particularly familiar with, and thus didn't have good idea of uses for. After some online search though, I settled down with a couple of recipes:

First off, I slow-baked fig halves in oven to make partially-dried figs. Then -

Arranged them on a focaccia bread dough with fresh rosemary (from garden!) along with caramelized red onions, blue cheese, and walnuts, and baked -

For fig pizza, or Flatbread with Oven-dried Figs, Caramelized Onions, and Blue Cheese. It was a sort of slow food, considering the procedures are slightly time-consuming (oven-drying figs, caramelizing onions, and making your own bread dough), but the results were lovely, with each of the flavors mingling all well. I wish we (my friend and I, that is) had made the dough better - neither of us are a real bread-maker and thus were stumbling, ended up with a tough dough that didn't rise enough. Even so, we ate the whole thing happily, and actually, some leftover dried figs tasted good with (leftover) blue cheese and walnut chunks, or even as is.

As we (deliberately) didn't use up the fresh figs, we put them into something else on another occasion:

Figs and nectarines, along with some sweet wine, bit of sugar, and bit of honey over them, went into oven -

As the early evening moon shone in bright blue sky -

By the time the fruits were nicely roasted and wore burgundy color -

The the sky up there was also laced with pink clouds.

This was a very straightforward, simple fruit roast, whose concept was somewhere between my all-time favorite roasted fruit salad and muscat wine-poached figs with spices, I guess. So served with a good scoop of mascarpone cheese, this was a no-fail after diner treat, especially with a small (or large) sip of muscat wine itself that was used in the dessert.

Frankly, I had not been very fond of those green-skinned figs over purple- and amber-colored kinds, as I thought the green ones tasted rather bland. But these particular ones were really ripe and had very concentrated sweetness, which made them taste brilliant both fresh and cooked. Probably because I seemed so excited with the figs, they got me another bunch of figs from the trees ("there are a lot and if we don't eat them, birds will", he offered). Now I had a delicious excuse to try one more green-skinned fig recipe that I had had my eyes on:

Chicken braised with figs and leeks, served with couscous. This dish uses a whole lot of leeks, and although less visible, Italian parsleys. The result was something we hadn't really expected; there was somehow a sweet and pungent aroma, reminiscent of that of cinnamon or cloves, although there was no spice other than black pepper. There was something middle-eastern or mediterranean in it - our guess was that it was the work of the combination of sweet figs, also sweet leeks, and loads of parsleys.

All these recipes I tried this time happen to be from the single source: an article by Joanne Weir in Cooking Light Magazine August 2004 issue, available online here. There are a couple of other recipes that I want to try calling for purple figs, and I know I will be able to try them in the next autumn, which should be in a matter of five or six months rather than ten. Lucky me.

March 11, 2006

weekend city walk

Still in Australia; if I seem as if I've only been stuffing myself with wines, food, and more wines and food, that's not true. Well, not true in a sense that winery tours and picnics aren't the only things that I have done so far. I have done other things that a tourist should do when he/she is on a tour, like sightseeing. Sightseeing in my book means walking, a lot of it, and here are some things that caught my eye while walking in City on one sunny day last weekend. Not really shots of regular sightseeing spots you may find in a guidebook, but just tiny bits of here and there in the town, which are what collectively give an impression of the place as a whole. To me at least.

For now there're images only; descriptions of the photos will follow shortly.
(If the slideshow doesn't run, click here for a list of the images.)

March 6, 2006

the Beautiful Honey of the Beautiful Big Island of Hawaii: 2nd Annual Independent Food Festival & Awards

For as long as I can remember, I never liked honeys. As far as I can remember, there weren't many kinds of honeys available at local stores when I was little, and those thick, light golden colored sweet syrupy stuff simply weren't my kind of thing. So I never really dared to eat my toasts or pancakes with honey up until fairly recently when I discovered the honey that seemed to be totally different from what I had always known as honey.

And that was a Rare Hawaiian Organic White Honey honey, to which I would like to give an award for the Beautiful Honey of the Beautiful Big Island of Hawaii, as one of the Second Annual Independent Food Festival and Awards. Thanks Hillel of for organizing the event for the second time following the very successful first year launch, where I was also given an opportunity to give an award to my favorite almond croissant.

So the honeys. When I first found their original white honey in my very first visit to Hawaii several years ago, I got some as a gift for my families and relatives, as I thought it was something we wouldn't get in Tokyo; back then, honeys available out there would most likely be runny kinds, not solid and creamy ones like this white honey. Back home, as I gave away the honeys I tried a little bit of one, and was rather shocked; not only the honey wasn't runny as the ones I had usually seen, but it smelled and tasted totally different. It was very fragrant and wasn't sickeningly sweet, had mild but very clean taste.

The honey soon became my regular souvenir from Hawaii, and was always very well received and enjoyed by friends and families. I was lucky myself to have a chance to live on the Big Island where the honeys are produced, during which time I enjoyed their honeys now and then.

The honeys come in several varieties, from different kinds of trees/flowers and with/out some additional flavorings including ginger and passion fruit a.k.a. lilikoi, Hawaii's favorite fruit. While the honeys are great simply served with warm toasts, pancakes, or waffles, they can also make some wonderful delicacies, like the ones that the company has on their website, including ice-cream, refreshers, and dressings. Here are some more suggestions that I want to share with you all, honey lovers or naysayers. There will be a number of other ways to enjoy these wonderful honeys, and one important thing you should note is that these honeys are best tasted unheated; so it would be a good idea not to spoil the beauty by throwing them in cookie batter or something.

Roasted Fruit Galette with Hawaiian White Honey; a honeyed version of snack that I have made before using brown sugar. Lightly butter the cut side of half croissant, arrange your favorite fruits in season (here I used regular and blood oranges, grape fruits, apple, and mango), sprinkle with a pinch of good sea salt and a bit of butter cut into cubes, and grill in a toaster oven or under broiler. Right out of the heat, lightly spread with the honey and serve immediately.

The Ultimate Honey Lemon Fizz; In a glass, mix together some white honey and freshly squeezed juice of lemon until completely combined. Pour in chilled champagne or other sparkling wine, stir to dissolve, and serve at once. This is the most seductive honey-lemon drink, I tell you.

Hawaiian White Honey & Mango Frozen Yogurt with Lilikoi; two of Hawaii's beloved fruits are combined with the aromatic honey to create a very refreshing dessert that is rich in taste but light in texture. Pour about 8 oz whole-milk (full-fat) plain yogurt (with no added sugar or flavoring, that is) over a sieve or colander lined with paper towel, and let it drain to thicken, reduced to about one-third in volume, for several hours or preferably overnight in the fridge. Combine a peeled, stoned and pureed ripe mango with about 3 tablespoons of white honey to thoroughly mix. Fold in the thickened yogurt to the mango-honey mixture in three additions and mix well after each addition. Chill in the freezer for a few hours, occasionally stirring with a spoon. To serve, scrape out the pulp and seeds of 1/2-1 passion fruit over the frozen yogurt in a serving bowl.

Now that I am back in Japan, the honeys are rather hard to get here (they can be ordered online and may also be found in selected gourmet/natural food stores in Hawaii and elsewhere) I have to savor every bit of what I now have at hand. I am delighted to have an opportunity to recognize one of the best food I found from the island with the beautiful sky, stars, beaches, and forests. Whenever I think of the time I spent in Hawaii, these honeys will always be part of my memory. I hope you will enjoy this treasure from the island as much as I do, and in the meantime, you're reminded that you should check out all the other awards given by fellow food bloggers, which are being announced for the coming several days.

real picnic at Hanging Rock (and back)

Last Sunday I had a grand day out at an event called The Age Harvest Picnic at Hanging Rock, a showcase of food and drinks of the state of Victoria; to me it was one of the highlights of my whole trip to Australia, and it was indeed a great fun to sample many great stuff the place has to offer. Although I originally planned to elaborate all that I had tried, a week has already past without me being able to do a post and I figured I'd never really make it if I stick to details. So I've decided to do just a brief review here, with which I hope you'd somehow get a glimpse of what was going on. *Click on a small image for a little larger view.

In that hazy morning at about 8am, we left home heading to the site...

... which is called Hanging Rock.

By the time we got there, the weather was a nicer there, though a bit chilly.

The event was due to start at 9am and it was about 9:15 when we got there, and there weren't many people arriving in yet, and many exhibitors were still busy getting ready to have visitors. We secured a couple of tables and chairs for us all, and then took the round 1 of the day...

L: Rhubarb tarts, jams, cakes, etc. - fruit cake with rhubarb was good; C: Handsome rhubarbs - which we were going to get a bunch later, which never happened as they disappeared by the time we got back in the early afternoon... R: Falafels - good

L:  Dips, sauces; C:  Sun-blessed citrus fruits; R:  Beautiful mixed berries

L:  Local beers, ice cold this early in the morning; C:  Mushrooms; R:  Ham - fairly salty but very flavorsome

Cookies - I tried "Birdseed" but should also have tried others like Choc Orange & Ginger and Chocolate, Fig & Hazelnuts...

L: Flavored salts, like peppers and thyme; R: Avocado dip using these salts - yummy!

L: Mixed spices; R: salami sausages

Birds - not for consumption but for kids to play with. Or so we thought.

Deli-Bakery (?) - I tried lovely bread with olive, dipping it in olive oil

L: Mussels; R: Buffalo milk yogurt / cheeses - I have tried goat milk yogurt and cheeses, but never tried buffalo milk yogurt; I didn't get to sample some unfortunately

Vegetable basket

well, it was a display only.

L: More cookies; they didn't have ones for sampling yet, and by the time I got back in the afternoon, everything was gone...; C: Chutneys, sauces; R: Breakfast cereals - mueslis with vanilla & figs, or Indian spices, all of what I tried were good!

L: Coffee stand - there was a long line of people for their morning cup of coffee. I got a caramel latte; C & R: Belgean waffles - also popular as a breakfast plate

And we got one, too

We shared one fresh-berry waffles among three of us; there were a lot more stuff we had to try, so better eat small now...

As we ate our breakfast, a lot more people arrived in...

So did others in our party; we were a group of eight people in total (most of whom I met for the first time). We chatted, read the newspaper, ate, and then headded off for more food and drinks...

L: Very fresh-tasting apple cider and cider vinegar; R: Piles of fresh apples as well, along with nectarines

L: A cooking demonstration session; C: Fresh stone fruits - I've found nectarines are particularly delicious over here; R: Various ciders, including one made from pears - very refreshing

L: Honeys; R: Puddings - like traditional English pudding in style, but with more modern flavors such as chocolate & orange or peach & cinnamon. Not too heavy nor sweet!

L: Local beers - there were four different varieties which I tried all. I particularly liked Honey Wheat one! C: One photo for 20 bucks? R: Wines of relatively minor grape varietals along with plump and sweet dried grapes and currants for snacking

L: Wines by one of the many wineries I tried that day - I found their Shiraz port was pretty good; C: Green tomatoes in olive oil with herbs, spices, and vinegar; R: Reduced balsamic vinegar - supposed to be convenient, I reckon

While I was busy hopping around sampling stuff, the place had gotten quite busy...

The weather was picking up, making it a great day for picnic.

Back on the tour:

L: Fruit cordials with spices & herbs - passion fruits with lemon grass, blood orange with cardamom, pineapple with star anise, and more, tasting great with sparkling water; C: Cute cupcakes, probably for those with very sweet tooth, I imagine; R: Yet more mixed spices

L & C: Cheeses - camembert, brie, washed, blue, all of which were quite mild; R: Ice-cream - since I tried and loved ginger and fig ones, I dared to try licorice one just to make sure I'd hate it (I hate anything anise-y); in fact, it wasn't THAT bad, although I wouldn't do as far as buying one...

L: barbecue chicken; C: More local beers; R: Buffalo sausages - I've seen those at a farmer's market as well although haven't tried one yet; are they popular here?

Now a mini lemon tart from the same bakery that I tried olive bread at

Very lemony, not too sweet, which is perfect

Chocolatier - although I tried some liquored truffles and chocolate sauce, I ended up walking away with chocolate that I hadn't actually tried... and a cute little "choc-addict"

L: Pizza oven in a van; C: sauteed mushrooms; R: at the first sight I thought it was cola, which turned out to be a ready-made red wine splitzer made with lemon and orange juice; it was actually good

L: bars - muesli, lemon & yogurt, apricot & white chocolate, all yummmm; R: fudges - I normally don't really care for fudges, but I tried one because it was "lavender", which I found somehow similar to violet-flavored macarons...

L: Olive oils made in Australia - indeed fresh C: More flavored oils - EVOO or extra-virgin olive oil; hm, sounds strangely familiar, I wonder why; R: more chutneys, sauces...

More cheese and bread - this place was so busy!

L: Okonomi-yaki - I hadn't expected to find this favorite snack of Japan's Osaka; C: salad greens; R: dried herbs

L & C: Sparkling red - it seems to be quite popular over here, especially ones made from Shiraz; they aren't quite as dry as regular white bubblys, but nice nevertheless; R: wine made from chili - spicy hot, of course, but sweet too; I liked chili-wine jelly as well

A good couple of hours passed by very quickly and I was stuffed, oh yes. Just in case you are wondering, I did NOT try all the stuff photographed here, for good or for worse; some of them I only peeked at and clicked away. But I did try quite a few things and sure drunk a lot - one sample might have been only a shot or so, but when I tried a total of 20 or more wines/beers, they added up for sure, and I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I lost track of what I had tried and can't quite remember which wines of what wineries I tried there. Darn.

Well, once we'd been all well fed, we decided to walk up on Hanging Rock. A bit of exercise after eating a lot, why not?

On the way up there, we saw several wild kangaroos. I was surprised that they were huge and quite fast...

We walked further on a steep way up...

... to what seemed like the top of the hill...

...which it wasn't; there was further way up. Alright, I'd thought it was too easy...

as we walked further up the route got narrower and steeper...

...and the view was...

...actually not THAT all better...

...and now I was finally almost at the very summit, but didn't venture to climb all the way up, as I thought it would be tough to climb down;

So we headed back the way we had come...

...but somehow we were on a wrong track and ended up going, if not falling, down a rocky, clif-like path.

At least we were all safe back, not like a tale in which 19th century schoolgirls went missing while on picnic at Hanging Rock. Thank goodness.

Sure we back at the picnic site

and I got a rhubarb tartlets with cream, yumyum.

And it was about time for us to pack our bags and head back to town. We took a different route than the one we took on the way there, a more country-side road...

What a day!

Now, I think I'd make a list of shops that I wanted to remember for my own record here:
Rhubarbs: Di's Rhubarb / Bread: Il Fornaio (?) / Muesli: Melt Foodstore / Waffles: Waffleworx / Ciders: Henry of Harcourt / Puddings: Pud for all Seasons / Beers: Mildura Brewery / Dried grapes: Tabletop Grapes / Shiraz port: Montara Wines / Green tomatoes: Simply Tomatoes / Cordials: Fruit Soda cordials / Cheeses: Jindi Cheese / Ice-creams: Gundowring Icecream / Red wine splitzer: Ned Kelly Red / Bars & slices: Springhill Farm Slices.

To be fair, I must make it clear that I didn't get to try everything there and I am sure that there were a lot more great shops out there that I have missed. For a complete list of exhibitors at the event, refer to here.

Thanks everyone at the event for the excellent products, and the friends who shared the great time with me!