Nov 30, 2012

A Donna Hay Christmas at David Jones On Seven.

As a pretty hardcore online shopper who occasionally worships at the altar of the 'latest and greatest' department stores on my travels, I have to confess to being pretty ignorant of the history stores like David Jones have in Sydney.  The buildings that house the stores are so beautiful in their own right.

Last night, I finally visited David Jones' 'On Seven' which is a beautifully restored space on the seventh floor of the Elizabeth Street store that is now used for special events and also to showcase bridal wear.  The event was a cooking and styling presentation by Donna Hay to celebrate both the upcoming festive season as well as the launch of Donna's latest cookbook, 'Fresh and Light'.  Being a fan of all of the above, it went without saying that I got myself a ticket the moment DJs released them last week.

I remember reading somewhere that when Elizabeth Street first opened in the 1920s, the seventh floor was a chic salon where clothes were shown to special clients.  The high ceilings and floor length windows certainly make the perfect backdrop against which to ponder the definitive looks of the season.  These days, the space is pared back with wooden floorboards and simple columns being the main features in the hall.  The lighting fixtures and those amazing windows commanded all my attention on their own.  You can see most of the city skyline from the windows - tree tops, buildings, church steeples.

Back inside, Donna had definitely stamped her trademark pared back style on the decor.  Some of her designs for Royal Doulton were on display, including this 'Mad Hatter' teapot and cake stand.  Donna admits to being 'terrible' at drawing her designs but that pictures rather than words are the way she works best.  Apparently the teapot was one of the more challenging things Royal Doulton have had to produce.  In addition to this range, Donna and her sister have a very hands on role in sourcing product for the general store in Woollahra.  Buying trips take the sisters all over the world with China being their most recent destination.  Aside from the quality of potential stock for the store, issues such as ethical production standards are also taken into account.  The store's new website has just launched this week.

Sparkling wine was served throughout the evening.  I was good though and stuck to water.

It was a very civilised evening.  We were seated in rows of white chairs with several flat screen televisions positioned so that we could easily see what was happening on stage.

The gift bags contained a box of Donna Hay Chocolate and Caramel Brownie Mix (RRP $7.99 AUD) and a kitchen timer.

Donna Hay kitchen and table ware.

The stage was stylishly set.  See what I mean about those fabulous windows and the view?

I love the rainbow SMEG fridges located backstage.

Tools of the trade for a food stylist - chic glass jars, tags, twine and wooden cutlery.

Donna took to the stage just after half past six and she had the crowd in the palm of her hand.  To me, her sense of humour and ability to be down to earth yet inspiring and creative came across so much more during this even than it did in her recent television series.

As she cooked, Donna chatted about her life as a working mother, her travels and the ups and downs of leading a life as frenetic as hers.

Donna at work.
The first dish she made was from 'Fresh and Fast',  the Ginger Poached Chicken With Fennel and Apple Slaw.  Aside from being as talented a food stylist as Donna, the secrets to making a salad look magazine worthy is to use a mandolin to slice your vegetables and to soak the sliced salad in iced water before plating.  Donna added lemon halves to the water to prevent discolouration of the ingredients.

The chicken was poached in standard supermarket stock.  One of the criteria for testing recipes that Donna and her chief recipe tester Hannah Meppem have for preparing the dishes is that they try to use supermarket brands as much as possible.  It's a way of simulating 'real world' cooking and a reassurance that you'll get at least as good a result as home as they do in the test kitchen.

Ginger Poached Chicken With Fennel and Apple Slaw.

No, Donna didn't cook for all 150 of us.  A catering company prepared the dishes whilst Donna and Hannah gave their presentation.  The salad was fantastic with such little preparation required.  The dressing was buttermilk and lemon juice which tasted surprisingly indulgent considering the simplicity and low fat nature of the ingredients.  One of the aims of 'Fresh and Light' was to create a range of quick yet healthy recipes without anyone feeling as if they were being deprived in the taste department.  If this recipe is anything to go buy, Donna and Hannah are on the money and I'm going to be using this cook book plenty over the summer.  I reckon I could even manage to fit the prep around Baby SSG's erratic concept of the sleep wake cycle.

For dessert, Donna demonstrated the Berry Puddings from the current Christmas issue of donna hay magazine.  The recipe is part of the Quick Fix feature which covers several clever ideas for cooking with panettone.  Again, this was a quick yet delicious way to make an impressive looking dish.  Fresh (or frozen) berries were briefly simmered in a sugar syrup and drained to cool.  Then, panettone was sliced and cut to fit serving jars with cookie cutters.  The dessert was assembled by layering panettone, fruit and syrup.  It was then refrigerated before being ready to serve with ice cream or cream.

Once again, the catering company did their thing and our pudding was served by out attentive waiters who also topped up champagne flutes with a liberal hand throughout the evening.  Gee, I'm missing my bubbles...

Berry Pudding with Panettone.
Silence descended on the audience as we politely scraped the bottom of our dessert glasses.

Ending the night with a bit of food styling improv, Donna and Hannah reworked the berry pudding using a wide necked vase to hold the pudding, trifle style.
The recipes Donna demonstrated were pretty flexible with regard to how they could be served and presented.  Both the salad and pudding can be easily presented as individual serves as well as large platters.  By using different jars and plates, both could be dressed up or down for the occasion.

Donna also gave us a sneak peak at how she'll be doing her Christmas table this year.  A simple runner of brown paper decorated with strands of paper sequins with home made bon bons and linen napkins wrapped with cinnamon sticks.

The evening went by way too fast...  I really enjoyed watching the recipes come to life on stage and in such pleasant surroundings too.

Before I knew it, I was in the queue to meet Donna and have her autograph my copy of 'Fresh and Light'.  The silicone 'spoonula' (RRP $12.99 AUD) was a gift with purchase at David Jones on the evening.  It's silicone and a trick with silicone utensils is to clean them in the dishwasher to remove odours and stains so that they can be used for both sweet and savoury dishes with no odour or taste transfer.  I'm going to test this theory out with my current collection of spatulas.

Last night's gift bag.

Nov 28, 2012

Sunraysia Organic Fruit Juice. Brunch At About Life, Rozelle.

Darling Street is not a bad place to be when the weather's looking bleak.  As the main street that connects two of my favourite foodie suburbs, Rozelle and Balmain, you're never too far from a good coffee or a bite to eat.

Ironically, the pace on the street is much more relaxed on a weekday morning than it is during the weekends.  Mums strolling prams, girls back from the gym and local business people out for a mid morning coffee don't seem to be in a rush to get anywhere.  Baristas take their time to make their espresso shots just so and their customers appear to be passing their time in quiet thought rather than the agitated waiting that often goes on in the city.

After taking our coffee Darling Street on a weekday style, Mr SSG strolled up the road to the local About Life cafe and market for a brunch hosted by Sunraysia Australia.

Sunraysia's Organic juices come in 4 flavours - tropical, orange, apple & blackcurrant and apple.

Already famous for their prune juice, the family owned company has just branched out into the organic fruit juice market with these handy 200ml single serve soft pouches.   Currently, 4 flavours are available and the juice is in both Woolworths and Coles as well as other outlets.  The pricing is also very competitive for an organic product - $1.49 each or $5 for 5 pouches.  The energy content of each juice varies from 320 kj to 448 kj per pouch which makes them ideal for lunch boxes or as part of a snack.

The fruit juices are sourced in Europe and packed at a whizz bang facility in Dubai.  The promise of 'Nothing added, nothing taken away' refers to the fact that the juices are made purely from organic fruit and that no sugar or preservatives are used in the manufacturing process.  With summer (supposedly) around the corner, the juices freeze well and can be cut open and eaten as a healthy slushy.  Which takes me back to my childhood of cutting open and scraping away at the contents of tetra packs of somewhat less healthy iced chocolate milk drinks...

It's not everyday that the ingredient list for a long life fruit juice features only one ingredient...
The juices definitely taste far superior to the rest of the fruit juices in the long life aisle at the supermarket.  I was very impressed at the quality for the price point and the single serve, stay cool packaging makes it easy to always have something healthy to drink on the go this summer.

Over an organic cooked breakfast, nutritionist Amy McKendrick of My Nutrition Coach gave us a very informative and practical presentation about the benefits of incorporating organic food into the family eating plan.  Her focus really being on incorporating organic whole foods one at a time rather than trying to go exclusively organic which isn't realistic or practical for many of us for many reasons.

Except for quite a few months of this pregnancy (see my numerous posts extolling the virtues of KFC mash and special order Big Macs), I've thought of myself as a healthy eater.  At least two fruit and five veg a day, not smoking, being alcohol free most days of the week and limiting takeaways.  However, I've also had several weaknesses over the years - Coke Zero, diet 'yoghurt' (if it can be called yoghurt with its 15 million additives and minimal nutritional content) and flavoured rice crackers amongst other things.

Amy's talk contained plenty of evidence about the negative health implications of additive rich and highly processed foods as well as a counter argument for organic foods.  I'm now thinking twice and more convinced than ever about my sometimes foods like soft drink, chocolate biscuits and flavoured potato chips.  I've already made the switch from margarine and diet yoghurt to butter and less processed natural yoghurts.

Organic foods typically contain a third more nutrients than their chemically weakened counterparts.  And being nutrient deficient is perhaps the biggest problem with our diets these days.

The good news is that it's not necessary for all your food to be organic.  If possible, try to buy the following foods in their organic form:

  • peaches
  • spinach and kale
  • capsicum
  • meat
  • chicken
  • eggs and other dairy
  • bread
  • potatoes
  • strawberries.

The 'clean 15' foods are naturally resistant to the effects of pesticides and additives and don't necessarily have to be organic.  This group includes:
  • sweet corn
  • garlic
  • pineapple
  • avocado
  • cabbage
  • green peas
  • mangoes
  • rockmelon
  • sweet potato
  • mushrooms
  • grapefruit.

Inspired by Amy's words and my brunch of organic bacon and eggs and juice, I took the chance to explore the rest of About Life.

I can't believe I've left it this long to pay this place a visit.  The shelves were piled high with food that looked good as well as being good for you.

I managed to track down a few items that have proved elusive in my weekly shopping at regular supermarkets.

As well as taking a moment to have a giggle at these chocolates...

Mr SSG and I were guests of Sunraysia Australia at brunch today and we thank them for their support of this blog.

Nov 27, 2012

Water and Watermelon. Reflections.

The humidity has been epic in Sydney these last few days.  Epic.  It's also brought along with it a host of first world problems including chronic bad hair and the need to get through three sets of clothing per day.  I seem to forget from one year to the next just how much energy humid weather saps out of you.  Heavy rains have come and gone but they've provided only temporary respite from that feeling of needing to be constantly under a cool shower.  I tried to replicate the cool shower thing by going for a swim and driving home with wet bathers and hair.  It worked, for a while.

Two things kept me alive in the weather.

That old standby, iced water with a twist of lemon.

And the better part of a seedless watermelon.

All that ice and cooling fruit must have done something because I think I just felt a bit of a cool breeze through the window.  I hope it stays around for the rest of the week because I've got a few things planned before I think I need to officially slow down and stay closer to home and the car.  It's going to be strange winding down just as everyone else is gearing up for the festive season but I'm sure I'll find things to keep myself occupied.

Seeing the Christmas lights and food at the shops this week has been surreal than in previous years.  December will be here in a matter of days and for the first time, Mr SSG and I have something (or should that be someone) bigger than the festivities and relaxing down time to consider.  I've made zero plans for the Christmas / New Year break except to arrange simple gifts for our immediate family.

I've also been reflecting on how different this December will be to last year.  Last year was all about getting away both physically and mentally.

I went off to Dubai early in the month and lost myself in the myriad of transposed experiences within the glittering buildings that appear like mirages in the heat and the dust.

Christmas itself saw Mr SSG and myself go to Wolgan Valley to soak up the resort's natural beauty and its seclusion from city life.

This year, our wings will be clipped and that desire to escape no longer exists.
I've been fascinated by Grace Coddington since watching her steal the show in The September Issue.  Grace just seems for earthy and human than her colleague Anna W.  Grace has just released her memoir (linking to an excerpt as published in The Guardian recently) and I'm curious to read what her take is on the change in fashion journalism with the advent of bloggers and the supersonic speed of news transmission through social networking sites.  I'm planning to make a start on it tonight and I'll report back.

That's it from me today.  Shortish post as it's been a long day already.

Take care and talk again soon.

Nov 25, 2012

An Inner City Road Trip.

I apologize.  Lately, I've been one of those compulsive Instagram uploaders.  Photo after photo got uploaded yesterday with barely an explanation.  In my enthusiasm, I forgot that no one looking at the photos was actually with me at the time they were taken so the endless city scape images lost their meaning in the fast moving weekend Instagram feed.  I'm going to make amends with today's blog post.

Firstly, may I say how much I'm loving my new sunnies from the Target showing on Thursday?  They retail for $49 and have polarised lenses.  Perfect for summer driving and the beach.  They're also approved by the Cancer Council.  I've worn them everyday since I got them and they're a great fit.

Yesterday was the inaugural SSG extended family inner city road trip.  My mum, aunty, Mr SSG and I tagged along with my little brother H as he tried to look for a new place to live for next year.  We were blessed with perfect weather conditions, accurate GPS and a parking spot on every street we stopped at.   It was a long day but I really enjoyed the drive and the opportunity to explore parts of Sydney that I normally don't get around to visiting as often as I'd like.

First things first.  Road trips require sustenance and if you're in the Surry Hills area, then a brunch at the original  Bourke Street Bakery is mandatory.  We found a patch of shade on the sidewalk and got down to the serious business of ordering and sharing various baked goods over a cup of coffee.  The service was as friendly and as efficient as it always is.  Despite the crowd snaking around outside the store front, our food and drink got to us quickly.

Choc chip and raspberry muffin, pear danish.
The muffins and pastries were enthusiastically received by my mum and aunt.  Both baked goods were filled with fruit.  There's also something about the texture of the baked goods here that sets them apart from practically everywhere else in Sydney.

Mr SSG dividing up one of the bakery's famous fennel and pork sausage rolls.  
And the sausage rolls also went down a treat.  In addition to the fennel and pork variety, we also shared the lamb and harrisa version.  I was too busy eating my ham and cheese croissant to try the lamb though..

There was only one thing to do after brunch and that was to explore the sights and colours of the suburb on foot.

Lane ways lined with terraces and surprising art works.

Beautiful churches gazing out onto busy main streets that were constantly roaring with traffic, even on a leisurely Saturday morning.

The surprise of walking just metres off those busy main streets onto winding and narrower ones that were so quiet and peaceful.  Here, front doors and windows were left open as residents went about their weekend rituals at a leisurely pace.

Art and colour were given free reign as well.  These murals, mosaics and metal sculptures caught my eye.  I love the juxtaposition against the modest and orderly facades of the surrounding terrace houses.

The contrasting of textures and art forms continued inside a local art gallery / secondhand bookstore.

Where embellished rabbits shared a book case with a serious collection of art books.

Back out in the fresh air, I found the headquarters of the NSW Mounted Police but sadly didn't get a chance to say hello to any of the horses.

In a quieter part of the suburb, time seemed to have stood still in the last century.  Sitting under this tree as the breeze rustled its leaves was so relaxing I really didn't want to get up and return to the car.  The sound of rustling leaves beats the sound of a car air conditioner any day of the week, especially in weather as perfect as it was yesterday.

The little garden I was sitting in was bordered by this crumbling mansion on one side and a sleekly restored block of apartments on the other.

Nearly on the home stretch of our day trip, it was time to stop for an almond croissant in Bondi.

Old doors, boxes and tins were given a new lease of life throughout the bakery.

Bondi is one of those places where the languid pace of life from its famous beaches seems to permeate everything in the suburb.  Even my cup of coffee came in a sky blue cup.

Driving home through the Sydney CBD marked an abrupt change in landscape to towering office buildings, surging crowds of pedestrians and even a bit of tongue in cheek humour at the Virgin Mobile Store on Pitt Street.


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