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Historical Brownies

IMG_8822Fannie Farmer’s brownies

I always read with interest and great enjoyment the posts of My Revolutionary Pie a fascinating look at American culinary history. I was particularly taken with a “Brownies” post, which detailed the origins and evolution of this now ubiquitous sweet treat.

Below are My Revolutionary Pie’s adaptations of one of the first brownie recipes from 1906 created by Fannie Farmer, in The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, and a recipe of a former student of Farmer, Maria Willett Howard, published in 1907 in Lowney’s Cook Book.

Both brownies are different from the dense, heavy versions of today. They both contain quite a small amount of chocolate – 2 ounces (about 57 grams). They are sweeter and less chocolatey. I liked the Lowney’s Cook Book version better  – it has more butter and produced a less crunchy texture. The walnuts really stand out in both versions.

However, the photos look very similar – I can really only tell the difference because I photographed them on different plates!

For the full and fascinating early history of the brownie, see the post:
http://revolutionarypie.com/2015/04/10/brownies/

Fannie Farmer’s Brownies
Adapted from The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (1906 edition)

¼ cup butter, melted, plus butter for greasing pan
1 cup sugar
1 egg, unbeaten
2 ounces (2 squares) (57g) unsweetened chocolate, melted
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup walnuts, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 325°F (163 degrees C) Butter an eight-inch (20cm) square baking pan, then cut out an eight-inch (20cm) square of parchment paper, place it in the bottom of the pan, and butter the parchment.

2. Blend melted butter with sugar. Add the egg and beat well. Mix in slightly cooled chocolate and vanilla extract and stir well. Blend in flour, followed by walnuts.

3. Spread mixture evenly in baking pan, using an offset spatula if possible.

Bake for approximately 30 minutes, until firm. Let rest a few minutes, then invert brownies from pan onto cutting board, peel off parchment, and slice into squares.IMG_8834

Lowney’s Brownies
Adapted from Lowney’s Cook Book by Maria Willett Howard (1912 edition)

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature, plus butter for greasing pan
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2 ounces (2 squares) (57g) unsweetened chocolate, melted
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup walnuts, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 325°F (163 degrees C). Butter an eight-inch (20cm) square baking pan, then cut out an eight-inch (20cm) square of parchment paper, place it in the bottom of the pan, and butter the parchment.

2. Cream the butter briefly, then gradually add the sugar, and cream well. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in the slightly cooled chocolate.

3. Whisk together the flour and salt, then add to the batter and mix well. Stir in the nuts.

4. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until slightly firm on top. Cut into squares in pan, then let cool for 15 minutes before removing from pan.IMG_7251

Bewitching Shetland

To travel is to broaden the mind, as people say. New vistas, new cultures and new ideas enrich and even change our perspectives.

What this Antipodean writer did not expect when I travelled to Shetland was to be so captivated by the beauty of the wild islands, as well as its history so well preserved, and its fascinating culture, in particular the food and the cooking of the islands. I was under a spell, utterly smitten.

Shetland is a group of islands, north of mainland UK, and surprisingly close to Norway. Described aptly by the official Shetland website, “where Scotland meets Scandinavia and the North Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean.” I can attest to the latter, as I actually crossed from sea to ocean, walking the distance of a whole 80 metres!

In life, I am very much influenced by place, the physical environment, the light, the sky and even the weather. I instantly feel a connection, or not, as the case may be, to a place. I feel the place too, in the mood, the atmosphere, a sense of what has happened in a place, its emotional gauge.

So what I experienced in Shetland is coloured by these kinds of reactions to places that made some very strong impressions on me. I am writing here a little about those places I saw and experiences I had there, to give the reader an idea of the power of Shetland to capture one’s spirit and imagination.

I was gobsmacked by the views. The coastline is stunning, beautiful and largely free of the impact of humans, unending vistas where sheep rule. Wild, but not rugged, to my mind. The absence of trees on the landscape, the verdant slopes, close cropped green pastures, soften the view. The vast expanse of sky and the sheer cliffs, all buffeted by bracing winds, make the landscape wild but not forbidding.

I’m no great walker, but I was able to have the experience of walking this beautiful coastline. The Kettla Ness headland, in West Burra, on the island of Mainland, provided spectacular high views of an extensive and gentle coastline, and gave me the sense of the vastness of sky and ocean.

Undulating countryside seen from Kettla Ness
Walking on Kettla Ness

I loved the island of Mousa. The visit to the island was a memorable day, everything about it was special, from the ferry trip to the walk to encountering my first Iron Age broch.

I was able to walk around a part of this island, where the principal inhabitants are birds, and the Broch of Mousa is a testament to its Iron Age history. Indeed, this Broch is the most well preserved and significant Iron Age broch in Britain. Walkers are delivered by ferry to Mousa, the only humans on the island. Eating an egg sandwich for lunch at the base of the historic Broch was a curious and slightly comforting experience. A very human activity, creating a connection across two thousand years with those people who had ate, slept and lived in that very place.

The island of Mousa
The Broch of Mousa from the ferry

To the north west in Mainland is Eshaness, rugged and wildly beautiful cliff tops. Sea and wind have carved and shaped the cliffs into fantastic shapes. A circular walk from the lighthouse really made me aware that the sheep of Shetland dominate landscape and agriculture. I loved the walk, where you cross many fences and stone walls with stiles, the startling coastline to the west, untouched by human hand, and undulating pastures to the east, evidence of human occupation.

Cliffs at Eshaness
Rock formation at Eshaness

Unst is the most northerly island in Shetland. I’m not sure how close to Norway the top of Unst is. Walking on Skaw Beach, and on top of Saxa Vord Hill, on a wild and windy morning, I definitely felt that Norway was only kilometres away – quite a few, I grant you – but the Norse connection to Shetland seemed palpable. The top of Unst is another place that is desolate and beautiful, exposed and raw, a powerful place.

Skaw Beach
Saxa Vord Hill

It’s hard not to look at the landscapes and seascapes of Shetland without connecting them to Shetland’s history, as they are so intertwined.

The history of Shetland fascinated and engaged me. The Neolithic, Iron Age and comparatively recent Norse occupations have shaped the culture of the islands. The Viking invasions from around 800AD, created the northern outreach, the Shetland islands, of a great Norse earldom that had its base in Orkney, and it’s this that has influenced language, laws and culture in Shetland.

With time Norway, from where the Norse invaders had come, was increasingly under Danish control, and in 1471 Shetland was annexed to Scotland as a result of a marriage treaty between James III of Scotland and Margaret, a Danish princess. The Danish repeatedly tried to have the islands returned to them, but Scotland never agreed. That Shetland has had such a significant Norse influence and occupation in relatively recent history speaks much about the ethos, the outlook of the islands.

I am keen to research more of the Viking story in Shetland and Orkney. I have a connection with Orkney and its Norse past. My given name, Inga, is an inheritance from that past. The wider narrative, told in the Orkneyinga Saga, is a source of both fictional and historical detail and an interesting resource.

You find evidence of an amazing past everywhere in Shetland. Wherever you go, you stumble across places and relics of archeological significance. From deserted Iron Age remains on walking trails, to the Mousa Broch already mentioned, and the magnificent Jarlshof in Sumburgh, Mainland, one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in Britain.

Jarlshof
Jarsholf

Jarlshof is an incredibly well preserved site of human occupation, with remains dating from 2500 BC up to the 17th century AD. There is evidence from Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Norse settlements. Luckily for me this amazing site was next door to the hotel where I was staying in Sumburgh, affording me a close inspection of the site. Standing at the top of the tower and surveying the region on a clear day was another of those experiences of connection with lives of the past.

Muness Castle, on the island of Unst, is a remarkably preserved example of a fortified castle. It was interesting to examine a ruin that was comparatively “modern”, built in 1598 for Laurence Bruce. It is the most northerly castle in the British Isles. Laurence Bruce, a lowlander, was Sheriff of Scotland and an oppressor of its Scandinavian inhabitants. The castle, although ruined, felt oppressive, even menacing, evoking its dark past. Walking in the ruins, into rooms largely intact, where people had lived their lives, seemed to dissolve the five hundred years that had elapsed from the building of the castle to 2019.

The ruins of Muness Castle
Inside the castle

The land and seascapes of Shetland are stunning, but part of their beauty is the abundant and at times unique wildlife. Shetland attracts walkers and wildlife enthusiasts from all over the world. There are countless opportunities to observe colonies of seabirds, as well as rare bird species.

Walking to the top of Sumburgh Head, to the lighthouse, there was an abundance of bird life to see. This was my first introduction to puffins, that iconic symbol of Shetland wildlife, as well as fulmars and gannets. On the island of Mousa, there are Arctic and great skuas, Arctic terns, gulls and storm petrels, those much sought after residents of this small island.

A puffin
Fulmars nesting

In islands where the sea is king, sea mammals proliferate. Otter tracking, and seal and whale spotting are popular. I was lucky enough to encounter the first two of these sea mammals.

An otter tracking morning on the island of Yell provided an opportunity to see an otter in action, if only from a distance. Otters were probably introduced to Shetland. As there were no large rivers they had to adapt to living by the sea. Their holts or dens are next to fresh water so they can wash the salt off their fur when they come ashore. Our otter was spotted near the low lying shore, and did indeed make a bolt for his holt!

Seals are plentiful and easy to see. We saw quite a few seals, sporting in the shallows or sun baking on the beach or rocks on days that were not really that sunny…

Seals basking on the shore

The land, the sea, the wildlife are special, but it’s the people and the stories of the past that I wanted to find out about. For me the social history of the islands was important and I particularly wanted to investigate food and culture in Shetland.

There is so much wonderful produce in Shetland – in particular, seafood is amazing – fish, scallops and mussels. It’s obvious that sheep are an important food source. While lamb is delicious, I did try reestit, a leg of mutton that has been dried and cured. I think this might be an acquired taste!

A really interesting look at social history was at the Croft House Museum in Dunrossness, Mainland. The Croft House Museum is a mid-nineteenth century Shetland croft, beautifully preserved to show the day to day life of the crofter and his family. I loved the cooking arrangements over the hearth, complete with legs of reestit mutton hanging up to dry.

The Croft House Museum
Reestit mutton

The roadside provided a wealth of views and insights into Shetland life. The wedding displays with bride and groom on Unst (I don’t know what these are called), the “furnished” bus shelter also on Unst and the cake fridges, where all manner of cakes can be picked up from the fridge by the roadside – paid for of course with an honesty system.

A wedding in Unst

Bus shelter Unst
Cake fridge

The craft scene is big in Shetland, with much of it based around wool. Fair Isle knitwear is everywhere, as well as more contemporary designs in knitted items. I was happy to sport the Fair Isle look with a jumper or two and a really warm beanie.

I am really interested in the baking in Shetland. I had lots of scones, cakes and crumbles wherever I went. Alas I didn’t get to eat bannocks, those floured scone like creations traditionally cooked on a girdle hung over the fire, and still cooked today, on girdles on stove tops and also oven baked. I’ve made bannocks here in Oz, and I wanted to know how mine compared.

Sunday Teas are legendary in Shetland! They are an institution, where local communities provide sandwiches, baked goods and all sorts of treats, and of course tea, for a modest price, as a fundraising activity.

The timing just didn’t work out for a visit to a Sunday Tea. But I did get to go to the Walls Show, on 10 August 2019. The Tea Tent provided the same kind of fare, with a lovely array of delicious cakes, traybakes and scones.

Tea at the Walls Show

It was so much fun to go to the Show, and I was reminded that country shows all over have a lot in common, with lots of animals, exhibits, prizes for “best in show” and of course things to eat. The Walls Show was a great day out. I loved the sheep, the Shetland ponies, the jumpers and the afore mentioned Tea Tent! The Vikings even made an appearance!

Yellow sheep!
Vikings at the Walls Show

Just about everything I had to eat in Shetland was delicious. I have to mention the tea, scones and cakes at Victoria’s Vintage Tea Rooms in Haroldswick, Unst, “The Most Northerly Tea Rooms in Britain”. Victoria sponge to die for, Jammy Dodger cupcakes, tiffin and those scones with clotted cream. Yummy.

Victoria sponge and coconut sponge at Victoria’s Vintage Tea Rooms

My experience of Shetland was memorable. I need to mention here the wonderful Shetland Nature, so knowledgeable and willing to provide that Shetland experience, and in particular Rob Fray, whose expert guidance from the south to the most northerly tip of Shetland not only showed me the physical land but also the heart and spirit of the place and its people.

My Fair Isle jumper

The Dismissal – Oz Musical Satire at its Best

The Dismissal in 1975 is one of the seminal events in Australian politics, at least for me, forging my political beliefs and engendering an interest in the mechanics of government in this country.

People often ask the question – where were you when a significant event happened? The assassination of JFK, the first man on the moon in the last century, 9/11 in this current century.

Two historical events have affected me deeply, and I can pinpoint my location for both. In 1975, the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam of the Australian Labor Party was dismissed from office by Governor-General Sir John Kerr, and the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Fraser of the Liberal Party, was commissioned as caretaker Prime Minister.

Another tragic event five years later in 1980 affected me as deeply – the assassination of John Lennon in the archway of the Dakota building in New York City. Both these events sent me into a period of mourning for lost freedoms and values on one hand and the senseless loss of a hugely influential figure in music and culture on the other.

So it was with some trepidation that I regarded attending the Squabbalogic performance at the Seymour Centre of The Dismissal last Friday night. I certainly didn’t want that particular event trivialised and sent up. It was just too significant in the history of this country and in my own personal history to treat so lightly.

Squabbalogic has a reputation for theatre that’s innovative, clever, and not afraid of a challenge. This production is all of the above. Wow! What a night! We were led to believe this was a kind of workshop performance, trialling the musical for another more fully developed run. All I can say is that audiences at the seven performances in this short season agree that The Dismissal is a brilliantly written, sophisticated satire that also showcases some pretty fine acting, singing and dancing!

What has been achieved is a really funny musical. And surprisingly, the explanation of the facts of the dismissal are clearly set out. My rather rusty knowledge of some of the events was brought into sharp definition by the entertaining narrative. The “Loans Affair” with the shadowy figure of Khemlani at its centre was a good example.REPORT THIS AD

But it was the startling characterisation of the main protagonists that was so effective. Gough Whitlam (Justin Smith) and Malcom Fraser (Andrew Cutcliffe) were believably portrayed: humorous, yes, but not belittled by caricature. Sir John Kerr, played ably by (female) Marney McQueen, was part character, part caricature. However the villain of the piece was the outrageous vulture like Sir Garfield Barwick (Blake Appleqvist), an unforgettable caricature straight out of a Victorian melodrama.

While the musical accurately reflected the accord that existed in the latter years of Whitlam and Fraser, it had a few kind words for Kerr too. Not so for Barwick.

The show was hosted by Norman Gunston, aka Gary McDonald, who is remembered for being on the steps of Parliament House on that memorable day in 1975 when Whitlam spoke to the nation. Norman Gunston, played by Matthew Whittet almost stole the show! I say almost, because everyone is so good in this production. He WAS Norman Gunston. The look, the voice, the physical mannerisms, and the ability to ad lib – we were back in the seventies watching the man himself.

Undoubtedly accolades must go to the creative team who gave birth to the musical – the book written by Blake Erickson and Jay James-Moody, and the music and lyrics by Laura Murphy. And a big shout out for the outstanding direction by Jay James-Moody too.

The show had a standing ovation the night we went, and I believe that happened at other performances as well. The future of original musical theatre is in great hands if this Squabbalogic production is anything to go by. I loved this funny and yet respectful satire on such an important political event.

The Dismissal: Seymour Centre Friday 21 June 2019

Butterscotch White Chocolate Brownies

 

8DFD5202-E170-4C55-AAA6-7F0D9467AA263EA60341-3CA7-4246-8481-20B26F7A6FB2These brownies are based on a recipe from a new favourite of mine, “The Fannie Farmer Cookbook”, the  classic American cookbook updated by Marion Cunningham. The link to buying the book is here.

I was introduced to the rich history of American cooking through a fellow blogger Revolutionary Pie. One of her posts on brownies introduced me to the legendary Fannie Farmer, and inspired me to bake some “historical” brownies, see my post here.

So when I found the book online I instantly bought it and have been dipping in and out of this 1,230 page tome ever since!

Here is an ultra easy recipe for Butterscotch Brownies from the book. Because the recipe was so simple I decided to pimp it up with some white chocolate chunks! With or without, the butterscotch/ caramel flavour is delicious and the brownies are a nice change from the traditional chocolate.

Ingredients 

1/2 cup melted butter

2 cups dark brown sugar

2 free-range eggs

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups plain flour

2 tsps baking powder 

1 tsp vanilla

3/4 cup chopped macadamias (or walnuts or pecans)

3/4 cup chopped white chocolate chunks

Method

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C. Line a 9×13 inch baking tray with baking paper.

Mix all the ingredients together, combining them well. Spread evenly in the tray and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until dry on top and almost firm to the touch. Cool in the tray, then cut into squares or fingers.

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Glen Davis, Capertee Valley: Mine Abandon

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Between towering sandstone escarpments in the Capertee Valley, lies a curious ruin.

A shale oil mine, first founded in 1891as the MP1 Mining Development, was later revived as National Oil Proprietary Limited, from 1940 to 1952. What remains is a series of ruins, a testament to a failed vision and also to the endurance of those who persevered with the troubled conditions, logistical, financial and political.

I toured the mine ruin on a visit to the Capertee Valley, west of the Blue Mountains. It was a beautiful, crisp winter day. The light was intense, emphasizing the sheer craggy walls of the escarpment, which enclosed the mine ruins with almost a sense of claustrophobia.

Our guide was affable, loquacious and informed. A storyteller, he regaled us with curious stories of these curious ruins; shocking workplace accidents, awful living and working conditions and a spectral figure caught on film.

My companions described the landscape as post apocalyptic, Planet of the Apes, a moonscape –  some apt descriptions.

However I can’t quite put my finger on the atmosphere. There was no doubt that the pristine day only served to accentuate the foreboding of the valley: there was indeed an other world sense, shadows and intuitions of past difficulty and trouble, hard times and futility.

What was evident was the encroach of nature, the land reclaiming its own. Entropy had set in.

A fascinating and startling landscape to visit.

There is plenty of material to read on the internet. Some interesting photos, some historical, can be found at: http://web.aanet.com.au/bayling/glendavis.html

Below are some photos. I have not tried to order or to name, but rather to give the “feel” of the place. The above website is helpful in identifying some of the ruins.

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Versatile Blogger Award

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Revolutionary Pie http://revolutionarypie.com/ has kindly nominated my blog for this award.

I am a big fan of this blog (subtitled Colonial Cooking in a 21st-century kitchen) as I am interested in the history of cooking both from the insights food gives us to the past and as a social commentary on family and tradition.

Revolutionary Pie has shown me that there are some fascinating parallels between the colonial cooking experience of America which the blog details and that of Australia’s colonial history.

My nominator tells me that I need to list 7 random facts about myself!

1. The documenting of the process of cooking is as rewarding as the process itself.

2. Beauty – or taste – is in the eye of the beholder – food photography creates a context for food.

3. I have been cooking for as long as I can remember – it’s the most satisfying and creative of domestic endeavours.

4. I am researching family cookery books. Handwritten books from my mother and grandmother are of equal interest as historical documents as much as for forgotten recipes.

5. I am fascinated by decay and entropy in natural and man-made environments.

6. Music: “Beyond ‘ambient’, the music of the Quiet Space incorporates 20th century composition, blissful pop and ethereal drones. It is music to reflect and relax to – a soundscape in which to lose yourself.” http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/quietspace/

7. Insomnia gives me so much more time to reflect…

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My nominees for the Versatile Blogger Award are:

Ron Scubadiver’s Wildlife

Indigenous Histories

Dining on the Bund in Shanghai

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I have recently returned from a trip to Shanghai which is to me, a culinary mecca. In previous visits I have dined at some outstanding restaurants which exemplify the best in Shanghainese  cuisine.

The purpose of this visit was to sample some of the best of the historical tradition of sophisticated European dining, part of Shanghai’s fascinating heritage from the economic dominance of European commerce in the early 20th century.

The Bund is one of the most well known sights in central Shanghai, an embankment where the modern financial district of Pudong faces the grandeur of art deco buildings across the Huangpu River. These buildings once housed numerous banks and trading houses from western countries.

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Today many of these buildings have been transformed into high end dining venues, which showcase some of the best European food in the world.

I was fascinated, visiting these restaurants, by the architectural transformation of large internal commercial spaces into sophisticated industrial chic, designs which reflect the clever and at times transformational food concepts on the menus.

Here is a brief impression of some unique dining experiences on the Bund.

Mr and Mrs Bund

http://www.mmbund.com

Bund 18, 6/F, 18 Zhongshan
Dong Yi Road, Shanghai 200002
+86 21 6323 9898

A “playful haute French bistro headed by chef Paul Pairet” as described by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants (and ranked Number 43), was my favourite dining experience of this trip. My second visit confirmed my first: innovation meets tradition, sophistication meets funky, culinary artifice meets simplicity of flavours.

The website will give you a much better idea of the food of this establishment than this writer can produce in one short review.

Here is what I ate on Saturday 14 December 2013:

Soft Egg MayoIMG_3287

Salmon Meuniere IMG_3288

Escalivada – charred-grilled eggplant, capsicum, zucchini and tomatoesIMG_3290

Asparagus Essential ParmesanIMG_3292

Orange and Orange Tart – candied whole orange, orange sorbet and curd, vanilla chantilly and crumbsIMG_3308

The theatricks of this dish made it the epitome of the dining experience: a simple whole orange on a plate, which, when cut open, reveals layer upon layer of flavour, colour and texture.

The Westin Bund Centre Shanghai

88 Henan Middle Rd, Huangpu, Shanghai, China +86 21 6335 1888

The Sunday Veuve Clicquot Brunch at the Westin Hotel is legendary. I experienced this on Sunday 15 December 2013.

Two floors of sumptuous food encompassing all major cuisines. Ice-cream, chocolate and desserts feature strongly, which was very well received by this writer with a sweet tooth!

And of course the free flowing Veuve Clicquot!

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M on the Bund

http://www.m-restuarantgroup.com/bund

20 Guangdong Rd, Huangpu, Shanghai, China +86 21 6350 9988

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This restaurant has a more intimate feel than other restaurants on the Bund. Its rooftop terrace and low ceilings create a warm and inviting atmosphere. The views from the paned windows and terrace are stunning, day or night.

While I enjoyed the food I found it it a little un-adventurous. Mood won out over food for me.

The highlight of my meal on Monday 16 December 2013 was dessert:

Baked raspberry Bombe Raspberry-icecream, sponge cake and Italian meringue.

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Mecato

http://www.threeonthebund.com

6F, Three on the Bund, No. 3
Zhong Shan Dong Yi Road
Shanghai, 200002 China
+ 86 21 6323 3355

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This Italian restaurant from three Michelin star Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten is situated on the Bund in close proximity to Mr and Mrs Bund and M on the Bund.

I was very impressed with the raw industrial concept of the architectural design. The dining space feels like an abandoned commercial space has been superimposed with the makings of a restaurant.

Huge concrete pillars, rusting steel frames and a rough hewn wooden floor create a perfect backdrop for the no-nonsense rustic Italian food.

You can see from the photos the beautiful art deco windows overlooking the Bund which somehow do not seem at odds with the exposed industrial structures within the restaurant.

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On Tuesday 17 December I ate a simple meal of:

Rigatoni and Meatballs, Smoked Chili-Tomato Ragu – House Made PastaIMG_3375

Daily Selection of House-Made Gelati or Sorbetti – chocolate, pistachio and vanilla gelatoIMG_3377

My dining companion ordered a Dark Chocolate Tart with gelato.IMG_3376

This was my last dining experience on this trip, and it was made even more enjoyable as I had broken my ankle the night before, and determined to go to Mercato, I had made it to the restaurant on a cold and rainy night on crutches!

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About the Quirk and the Cool

 


The Quirk and the Cool
is me – Inga Scarlett from Sydney Australia. I’m a cook, who reads about food, talks about food, watches food programs, and I do a lot of cooking and eating as well! I’m fascinated with the art and science of food, and curious about food history and traditions.

The Quirk and the Cool is a blog primarily about food: cooking, eating, reading, conversation.  A forum  where I can share dishes, recipes, techniques, trends. It’s also a ragbag of other interests and views, a place to record the eclectic and eccentric, but much more likely the homely and the mundane. This random information is being documented more for the records of this quirky writer, but also for people who have a passion for food, who seek recipes and cooking advice or for those who may have similar pursuits.

The name The Quirk and the Cool references “the quick and the dead” (the Apostles’ Creed) and the “the Quirk and the Dead ” (Overnights ABC local radio). It’s an excellent segment if you’re ever listing to the radio in the wee small hours.

While clearly this is a food blog, I like to include posts about some of my other interests – music and performance, travel and the rather eccentric fascination with ruin and decay.

You can read more about my music interests in the Music Page and in Music posts, and more about my approach to food in Food Philosophy.

Family cooking, recipes and traditions handed down from generation to generation are important. I still cook from handwritten cookbooks that were written by my maternal grandmother and my mother and I have recipes handed on by other family members too.

I love eating out – but I want the food to be good! There is so much great food in Sydney, but a lot of pretension out there too. Some of the best food comes from local restaurants and even pubs; as a Sydney sider I love cafe culture, and there is so much great coffee out there. Every suburb has its gems.

I live in Rozelle, an eclectic suburb in the inner west of Sydney. Ten minutes from the city, Sydney Harbour at the bottom of my street, it has quaint old sailors’ cottages and commercial premises as well as dazzling new architecture. Historically a working class suburb, you now see a whole range of residents: artists and actors, accountants and entrepreneurs. Many of us have lived here for yonks.

Rozelle and nearby suburbs Balmain, Balmain East and Birchgrove on the Balmain peninsula are famous for their pubs and the area may well contain the most pubs per capita in Australia –  at one time, the peninsula contained up to eighty pubs! And add to that a cafe or restaurant on every corner and you have a vibrant food and wine scene. And the Orange Grove Markets down Balmain Road are some of the best in Sydney for local farmers’ produce.

The Peninsula, as it’s called, is a lush garden suburb, with gardens flowing over front and back fences, creating a lovely “shared” streetscape. Bougainvillea, jasmine, briar rose and native violets proliferate and overflow from garden to garden and onto the nature strip.

And lastly, I’m a dreamer. An insomniac who spends many nocturnal hours, thinking, dreaming, listening and sometimes the edges get delightfully blurred. Ambient music is the soundtrack of those hours.

I should mention my cooking companion is the Quirky Cat, Possum, so named for her stripey tail. A constant and knowledgeable critic of food, so long as it’s Hills Science Diet…

Below, the Sydney skyline at dawn, from the bottom of my street, and Possum, the Quirky Cat.

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