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Monthly Archives: February 2013

A Day on the Green… rock concerts in the Hunter Valley

One of the nicest ways to enjoy live music – particularly rock acts – is an outdoor concert at one of the wineries in the Hunter Valley NSW. Part concert, part festival, part picnic, a Day on the Green is seriously cool, and very retro.

I have been to quite a few over the last few years, and it’s now the only way I want to enjoy rock music. I’m tired of large internal arena spaces where you’re seated so far away that binoculars are the best way to enjoy the act you’ve paid mega dollars to see.

On the Green the buzz of several thousand people, with a variety of ages from those not yet born when the bands were in their heyday, to the seriously geriatric, all gathered to listen, watch, drink, eat and mingle, is exhilarating.

The night is always clear, moonlit and starlit. I don’t know how the promoters manage it. A good upstairs connection I suppose! There’s something about being in the country, with that vast expanse of land and sky that is awe-inspiring, and makes you realise just how constrained our city lives are…

Santana, Eric Clapton, James Taylor, Carole King were all memorable winery concerts. But as a Steely Dan tragic, the two concerts I’ve been to in the Hunter are my standouts.  However I can’t tell you much about the 2007 gig. It was Steely Dan’s first time in Australia. I was so overcome with actually seeing them in the flesh that I sat completely transfixed, unable to do anything except feast my ears and eyes on the band that I was finally seeing live. I couldn’t even bring myself to take photos.

In 2011, I am relieved to say I was less awe struck and up to viewing them a little more critically and actually documenting my memories with photos.

I should mention the other act of the night was Steve Winwood. If you’re a fan of the man or of Traffic, you would have had a blast. He looked and sounded great! No apparent aging unlike some other rock legends who look exhumed or exsanguinated rather than animated…

The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys from the album of the same name was a standout. (album)

As this is not a concert review I’ll stop here. Suffice it to say that Walter Becker and Donald Fagen and the Steely Dan 2011 tour line-up were fabulous.

The Miles High Big Band
featuring The Embassy Brats  
Jim Beard Keyboards
Keith Carlock Drums
Jon Herington Guitar
Carolyn Leonhart-Escoffery  Vocals
Michael Leonhart Trumpet, Keys
Cindy Mizelle Vocals
Jim Pugh Trombone
Roger Rosenberg Baritone Saxophone
Catherine Russell Vocals
Freddie Washington Bass
Walt Weiskopf Saxophone

Just listening to the opening riff of Josie gave me goose bumps. The reference to Muswellbrook in Black Friday from the 1975 album Katy Lied, at a concert in the heart of the Hunter was funny and sweet and somewhat disconcerting from our American friends. Every number was consummately performed, at least in the somewhat biased view of this writer.

Here are some photos from the 2011 gig plus Carlos Santana from 2008 in the Hunter. From top to bottom:

2011 Walter Becker, Walter Becker with Donald Fagen, Steve Winwood, the stage

2008 Carlos Santana

2011 The Green




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Slice Crazy!

Here are two great recipes for slices. It might appear that this blog is dedicated to sweet things – and so far, we cannot deny the fact!

However watch this space……..savoury will follow sweet.

Salted Caramel Blondie
Loosely adapted from a recipe I discovered through a google search. I created the salted caramel effect by adding some rock salt to the mix, and increasing the butter. The result is a slightly sticky slice with a caramel, almost butterscotch taste. Next time I will be brave and increase the salt as I really want the sweet/salty contrast!

1/2-3/4 cup of butter, melted
1 cup of tightly packed dark brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or paste
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon of bi-carb soda
Pinch of table salt
Good grind of rock salt!
1 cup of plain flour
1/3 cup of milk chocolate chips
1/4 cup walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 180°C.

Lightly butter and flour a 20cm square tin.

Whisk together the melted butter and sugar in a bowl. Add the egg and vanilla extract or paste and whisk.

Add the flour, bi-carb, baking powder, and both salts, mix together. Add the chocolate chips and walnuts/pecans.

Pour into tin and spread evenly. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool. Cut into squares and serve.


Chocolate Biscuit Slice
I’ve been treated to this slice for several years by a work colleague. She has kindly provided the recipe. Very moorish! Thank you to SP.

Not tested as yet in Quirky’s kitchen.

“This recipe is very flexible depending on the size of tin. Let’s say it is about lamington tin size.”
1-2 pkts Westerns Malt biscuits
1-2 tins condensed milk
Dessicated coconut
Icing sugar
250 gms butter
Put biscuits on base of baking paper lined tin. Melt butter and pour enough over biscuits to just cover. Leave left over butter for icing.
Cook 180 deg C 10-15 minutes. The butter should bubble, and when taken out should be soaked up by biscuits.
Mix condensed milk and coconut to make a thick paste. (Remember the quantities depend on the size of tin. Try one tin condensed milk first and if it doesn’t cover the biscuits add more.) Put the paste mixture on top of biscuits. The mixture should be between1-2 cm thick.
Bake for 10 minutes, check and put back in for another 5-10 minutes depending on the colour of the top. It is best when a golden colour all over.
Cool and ice with chocolate butter icing. Put in fridge until cold and then take out and cut. Best left in fridge once cut.


Old music, still contemporary sound

As a fan of progressive rock, of the British variety in particular, here’s a brief overview of the music of the Canterbury sound, with some recommendations and links for those who are interested.

The Canterbury sound refers to a group of musicians in the 60s and 70s based around Canterbury in the UK.

The term progressive rock loosely describes the music: jazz, folk and rock were melded in varying degrees in the bands of the time.

‘The Canterbury scene is largely defined by a set of musicians and bands with intertwined memberships. These are not tied by very strong musical similarities, but a certain whimsicality, touches of psychedelia, rather abstruse lyrics, and a use of improvisation derived from jazz are common elements in their work.“The real essence of ‘Canterbury Sound’ is the tension between complicated harmonies, extended improvisations, and the sincere desire to write catchy pop songs.” “In the very best Canterbury music…the musically silly and the musically serious are juxtaposed in an amusing and endearing way.”’

The band names are singular: Caravan, Soft Machine, Gong, and my favourite in name as well as sound, Hatfield and the North, the latter taking their name from a motorway sign coming out of London.

Favourite albums I recommend:

For Girls who Grow Plump in the Night (1973)


Soft Machine
The Soft Machine (1968)


Flying Teapot (1973)


Hatfield and the North
The Rotters’ Club (1975)


Each of these bands’ discography is well worth delving into. And of course there are other bands and bands related to the genre that are really interesting.

Incidentally, some well known musical names have been associated with the Canterbury sound.

Robert Wyatt, Mike Oldfield and the drumming legend Bill Bruford are notable.

Shakey Tables: A Fabulous Dining Experience, February 2013

There have been some great dining experiences recently for this writer that I would like to write about.

The first I would like to document is the wonderful Shakey Tables:

Dinner at Shakey Tables in the Hunter Valley in NSW is always a unique and sensuous dining experience. The food philosophy of chef Paula Rengger combines contemporary and classical styles, and also reflects her other passion, visual art, and examples of her paintings are a feature of the decor of the dining space.

The name Shakey Tables comes from the original dining arrangement with unmatched chairs and tables, different sizes and styles, quaint and indeed shakey!

The space is quirky, which I suppose has made it attractive to this writer. Dining chairs upholstered in various bright hues, a giant candelabra on the floor with ancient dripping candles, and a bar area richly decorated with sofas and chairs in fabrics with luscious textures, gives the space a bohemian rococo style. These photos may suggest the feel.
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I have had many dinners at ShakeyTables, and I am always excited to see what the menu holds. There are always surprises.

Wagygu beef and pork belly often feature.

“Jacks Creek Wagyu beef tri tip marble score 7, cherry tomatoes, pommes frites, red wine jus”and “Pork 4 ways – belly with sage & onion jam, caramelized apple with a trotter croquette, braised cheek with a muscat reduction, colcannon mash & house cured bacon” are typical examples of ingenious and flavorsome cooking.

“Beetroot ravioli stuffed with buffalo mozzarella, baby tomatoes, basil pesto, black olive, white anchovy” shows that dishes without meat exhibit depth and breadth of flavour.

Of course, Quirky’s love of desserts is absolutely indulged at Shakey Tables…my favourite – and it remains on Paula’s menu as a classic – is the famous Cranachan, Paula’s homage to her Scottish heritage:

“Cranachan 2 a traditional Scottish Wedding dessert
Raspberry & toasted oatmeal ice cream terrine with almond praline & whisky cream filled tuile cigars”

The artifice of the checquer board of raspberry and honey and oatmeal ice cream sitting atop those whisky cream tuiles is almost too good to eat…. but greed overcomes any recalcitrance to disturb the perfect image.



“Rose, pistachio & lychee ice cream terrine, with Turkish delight in a rose scented jus & pistachio fairy floss”is another visually stunning dessert. The Middle Eastern flavours are fragrant, subtle and marry perfectly with the delicate colours of pastel green and more robust pink.


The food is complemented by excellent wine provided by the other part of the Shakey Tables partnership, sommelier Simon. I don’t claim to have the same knowledge of wine as I do of food, but the oenophiles who have dined with me at Shakey speak highly of the selection of wine and of Simon’s expertise.

Shakey Tables combines fine food with fine dining with generosity and simplicity of flavours, in an arty space that really appeals to a sense of fun.

The Quiet Space Top 50 2012

Check out the Quiet Space Top 50 2012. Some amazing music.
Number 5 in the Top 50 is Charles Vaughan Documenting the Decay.
“The music here…. is a collection of tape distressed instrumentals, mainly played on ancient synths, piano, old broken vinyl and the odd detuned zither.”

Greek Semolina Cake

This Jamie Oliver Greek cake is very versatile and can be tweaked according to taste. It needs a LOT more syrup than the recipe indicates – I actually made a second batch and soaked the cake when it was cold, before serving.


225g caster sugar
5 eggs
225g yoghurt
zest 1 lemon
zest 1 orange
225g almond meal
200g fine semolina
1 tsp. baking powder
200ml olive oil

1 handful walnuts
1 handful pistachios
1 handful raisins
100ml honey
Juice of 1 orange

Pre heat the oven to 180°C.
Grease and line a round baking tin with baking paper.
In a mixer, whisk the eggs and sugar until thick and pale in colour. Add the yoghurt and zest of the citrus. Gradually add all the dry ingredients and combined well. Now incorporate the olive oil and mix.
Pour into the tin and bake for 35 minutes or if pierced with a skewer it comes out clean.
Remove cake from the oven and pierce all over with a skewer.
Add walnuts, pistachios, raisins, honey and orange juice to a pot and bring to the boil. Pour all over the cake and cool slightly before serving.




Eton Mess

This version of Eton Mess is made up of the left over meringue mountain meringues, cream and fresh and frozen berries. Another really easy standby!

Eton Mess



Jamie Oliver Christmas Pudding Bombe

Christmas Pudding Bombe

Christmas Pudding Bombe
This is Jamie Oliver’s recipe. My version included half rum and raisin ice-cream with vanilla ice-cream. In retrospect the rum and raisin ice-cream was too sweet, all vanilla would work better.

• 1 litre good-quality vanilla ice cream
• 1 kg panettone
• 125 ml vin santo
• 3 heaped tablespoons raspberry jam
• 25 g shelled pistachios
• 75 g tinned sour cherries, drained
• 40 g glacé clementines (or other glacé fruit), thinly sliced
• 2 clementines, 1 peeled and sliced into rounds
• 200 g good-quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), bashed up

Get your ice cream out of the freezer so it can soften a little while you get things ready. Line a 2 litre pudding bowl with 3 layers of cling film. Use a serrated knife to slice four 2cm thick rounds off of your panettone then cut them in half. You’ll have some panettone left over, so keep this for another time. Arrange six of the slices in a single layer around the bowl and push them down if they overlap. Drizzle some Vin Santo around the sponge so it soaks in, then use the back of a spoon to smear the jam over the sponge. 

Add 1 tub of ice cream to the bowl and use the spoon to spread it around in a thick layer. Sprinkle in the pistachios, cherries and glacé fruit then layer the clementine slices on top. Add the other tub of ice cream. Spread it out, working quickly so the ice cream doesn’t completely melt. Put the rest of the panettone slices on top of the ice cream, drizzle over some more Vin Santo then cover the bowl tightly with cling film. Press a plate down on top to press everything down, then freeze overnight, or longer. 

When you’re ready to serve it, put the bashed-up chocolate in a bowl and get that over a pan of simmering water on a really low heat. Leave the chocolate to melt while you unwrap your amazing winter bombe and carefully turn it onto a beautiful serving dish. Add a few gratings of clementine zest to the chocolate and when it’s nicely melted, pour it over the top so it oozes down the sides and looks delicious.

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