Monday, 23 January 2012

A Trip To The Country (Stanthorpe, Wineries, Food... aah, the luxury)

The wonder of what’s in our backyards….
Holidays, holidays, day-trips – where to go. You’ve probably noticed before that I have a tendency to get stuck in a rut, so we usually go to the same places:
  • The Gold Coast (to eat delicious gourmet raw meals, vegan yum cha/dim sum and amazingly satisfying, fresh organic pizza/swim & get attacked by jellyfish/visit friends)
  • The Sunshine Coast (to eat tasty, globally-inspired food at a delicious semi-raw, semi-vegan cafe/visit The Academic's Grandmother/buy delicious produce from the side of the road/admire the scenery)
  • Toowoomba ( at Sizzler/visit my Grandmother/then flee the town and return back to Brisbane as soon as possible)

Well, last weekend, after a vague discussion with my Dad - The Academic & I ended up arranging to join my parents for a day in taking a road trip to Stanthorpe (a town out west, in Queensland’s Granite Belt) – somewhere I would never have thought to go!

And for someone who left home at 15, the thought of being in a confined space with my parents for so long made me very nervous... Oh, dear! Would we all survive? Would the alcohol help?! Would my set-in-my-ways Dad even stop for bathroom breaks? With him at the helm as the teetotaller designated driver, we set off, and only time would tell...

Just in case you're not sure where it is, on the map below the red rectangle is Brisbane, the yellow is Stanthorpe and the green is Ballandean. It's about a 2:45-3 hour drive from Brisbane, and you pass through some beautiful country on the way.

After making some enquiries, I’d been told that, in this beautiful region known for its bountiful fresh food and artisanal, award-winning wineries, vegan food was almost non-existent, as were vegan wines. This was the country, not the domain of we latte-sipping inner-city-living vegans! Luckily, those nay-sayers were wrong. We had a fantastic time: we ate, drank and were merry, and one day was just not enough to see the sights and try to appreciate everything on offer. I can’t wait to go back again (and next time, I won’t be crammed into the back middle seat).

My advice:
  • Take a designated driver. Even if you don’t drink too much, you’re going to need a nap after all of the glorious food! Don't risk drinking and driving, at any time, for any period.
  • Graze, rather than eat big meals. There's so much on offer, it would be a shame to sit down to something huge and fill up - enjoy little tastes of many things - you'll appreciate everything a lot more.

Our must-visit recommendations:

Our vegan antipasto platter
Barrel Room CaféThe lovely owners/chefs, Matt and Bobbi, decided to have a tree-change and move to Stanthorpe. The region is so lucky to have them. They expertly create and assemble Italian dishes, making many things in house, even their foccacia, biscotti, and pasta etc (unfortunately, these items aren’t vegan).

Though there are only a couple of vegan items on the menu, we let them know ahead of time (in fact, they found us!) and, with some notice, they created a mouth-watering (and much envied!) platter and near-perfect pasta dish for us (as pictured above and below). As such, if you're vegan, call ahead and let them know you’re coming – they will put something absolutely stunning together for you.
And our puttanesca!

Ballandean Estate Winery – This winery is ever-so-conveniently the home of the Barrel Room Café (mentioned above). We didn’t get a chance to try all of their wines – which was a shame, but they’re well worth a visit. The Viogner and Shiraz we tried were just so appealing and fresh, and wonderfully balanced. It’s a lovely, historical winery that has been in the family at least 5 generations, and awards adorn their walls. They’re also home to the famous “Opera In The Vineyard” (tickets on sale now!). A large number of their wines were vegan, and the very friendly staff were very knowledgable, and aware of the reasons for and against fining with animal products. In most of their products, the flavour, texture etc is so good that they left them as is!

Castle Glena vineyard, brewery, and makers of incredible liqueurs in almost every flavour and combination you can imagine, located in a castle. This is a must visit. Castle Glen is just incredible, you really have to see it to believe it. Run by Cedric and wife who have been in the area for a long time (and were one of the first vineyards there), it is like the Willie Wonka factory of alcohol. Cedric and his family planted the grapes, built the castle (!) and make every single product. Aside from a couple of products including honey, and the liqueur fudge range, everything is vegan (including their crème liqueurs! yes, you read that right). Everything is all-natural, and no preservatives or chemicals are used. Make sure to meet their gorgeous Labrador, called "James".

I most enjoyed the liqueurs, which come in every flavour imaginable – my top picks are:
  • “Queensland Delight” –  coffee, rum and chocolate flavoured (oh, yes! something to have every day!)
  • "Royal Mint" a deliciously alcoholic mint liqueur (created to take the place of the discontinued Vandermint)
  • "Black Cherry" liqueur – like alcoholic, drinkable, high quality jam… aaah
  • "Maiden's Dream Creme" Creme and caramel. Comparable to the best caramel flan you've ever had, in liquid form.

Vincenzo's Big Apple Deli
I have to admit, I didn't expect much of a deli in the middle of a rural area. Boy, was I wrong. These guys had alcohol galore (including a wonderfully rich and smooth chocolate port that we couldn't resist), amazing fresh olives, marinated onions, antipasto, fresh bread, olive oils, vinegars, spices (including a great harissa paste) and almost endless morsels of deliciousness. They have managed to pack a lot into a medium-sized store, and it's an Aladdin's cave of delights. Definitely worth a visit.

As you can probably tell, I lived to write this post, Dad was so kind as to diverge from his usual non-allowance of bathroom breaks, and we all survived the trip without calamity. We didn't even get close to seeing everything (or seeing that much at all!), but even those three places made the drive more than worth it - even without the glimpes of amazing landscape along the way. I'm already trying to rope someone else into being our designated driver for a return trip!

What a stunning area, filled with such welcoming, hospitable people. Thank you to all of you we met on our travels! What a fantastic place to spend some time relaxing.
The Barrelroom Cafe at Ballandean Estate Winery on Urbanspoon

Nan's Vegetable Soup

Everyone had a recipe that their Nan / Nans / Pa / Pas made for them when they were younger that just brings back memories of family, safety, and deliciousness.

For me, it's my Nan's vegetable soup. She made it often, but it didn't stop me from requesting it every other time!

I'm sure vegetable soups of this kind, with little or much variation, have appeared on the tables of many of you, but I thought I'd share this "recipe" with you because it's super easy to make, has basically no fat, and is super delicious! It makes quite a lot, so it's great if you have a few people (like a couple of hungry grandkids!) to feed, or just to eat over a few days at home. The advantage of the latter is that the longer it sits, the better it gets. As such, you can easily prepare it during the day and just heat it up when you need it, so there's even less stress around dinner. Or make a huge pot of it on the weekend, and then eat it over a few days of the week (great if you have to work or study late and don't want to have to think about dinner).

This isn't exactly the same as Nan's; typically she said "I just throw these things in and then it's done" so I've adjusted it slightly to make it recipable. As such, adjust to your tastes; if you hate turnip, leave it out! Use the legumes you like, use less or more garlic, etc. It's super basic, so it's pretty easy to customise.

Nan Lovejoy's Vegetable Soup
5 cups of water
2 vegetarian beef stock cubes (such as Massel)
2 cans of chopped tomatoes
2-3 cans of mixed beans, or individual cans of chickpeas, kidney beans, cannellini beans, black beans... whatever takes your fancy!
3 large carrots
3 medium or large stalks of celery
6 (either one type or a combination of) potatoes, turnips, etc.
1 onion
Garlic to taste (1-2 cloves, or a couple of tablespoons powdered garlic)
Oregano to taste (if dry, add at the start)

Put the water in a large pot over medium heat (we're aiming for a simmer). Add the stock cubes;
as the water heats, stir occasionally until the cubes are dissolved. While the water is heating (and the cubes are dissolving) chop all vegetables (potatoes can be chunky, but if they're too large they'll taste quite bland (unless you're leaving the soup sit)). Add the chopped tomatoes to the pot, followed by the vegetables, then the beans. Simmer for 20-40 minutes, stirring occasionally. As you feel the vegetables become tender, finely chop the oregano and garlic and add them.

Once vegetables are nearly ready, taste the soup and adjust seasonings to suit. When they're ready, serve immediately or store in the fridge until ready to serve. Heats up easily on the stove or in the microwave.

Variation: add a cup or so of uncooked barley at the start; by the time the soup is ready, the barley should be too (but check just to make sure!). If using cooked barley, add just before the veggie's feel about ready (around 5 minutes towards the end).

Now that wasn't too painful, was it! Not as painful as my feet are, anyway; what I'd give for a sit down...

We went to Stanthorpe over the weekend, so we'll have a post up about our adventures there soon!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Our Best-Ever New Year (It's not what you think!)

Our New Year (And I’m holding you to it)

I didn’t really want to do one of those obligatory New Year posts. I’ve never been one to make resolutions, because a “resolution” just doesn’t sit well with me. Also, if the whole world is crushing under the weight of their shared failed “resolutions”, I don’t want to associate myself with that. I’ll back the winning team, thanks.

I’ve noticed in life that many “experts” give advice, and many clinical trials are held (randomised, double-blind, controlled, you know, the gold standard) – but the outcomes, the advice is always wildly different, and generally contradictory. And we know that our intuition is a great guide, but we can’t always trust our guts – I know that after I’ve had a little bit of fat and sugar, my body will always pick more fat and sugar over something fresh and vegetable-based any day. But if I *start* with something healthy, based around vegetables, grains, legumes, or a *productive* pattern, I love it! And we all know that when our nutrition needs are actually met (rather than our caloric needs, without the vitamins), we feel satiated and stop eating. I rant and rave about how great things are, and follow them. I’m notoriously loyal and devoted, almost to the point of tunnel vision. But this year, I’m going to go back to doing what I do best – practising a little mental judo and directing myself in the direction I *want* to go – not the direction I happen to be going in.

What I will achieve this year (with your help, watching over me some of the way!) is to make sure that the paths I’m on are the ones I want to be on. I want be more aware of the moment, ensure my focus is shifted onto what is currently occurring, and ensure I’m heading in the right direction, and that I’m conscious of it. I work best and feel great when I’m busy. But when I get lazy, I detest anything at all. So I’ll make myself busy doing good things!

I want to be aware of my place and be in the moment.

The reason this has come up is – as spontaneous and erratic I can be – deep down, I’m a creature of habit. Deep-entrenched habits, schedules, cycles, and patterns. Tell me that I *have* to fit a schedule and I’ll fight you on it, be late, be somewhere else, but if it just happens, I’m secretly in my element, and will find solace in the stability and surety of what I know. Make something happen a few times and I’ll expect it and act accordingly. This isn’t about being boring – we all love a great twist of lime (or absinth) in our water, but we get to enjoy the twist more!

This year is about using my deep-seated desire for stability, continuation, zeal and loyalty for good. For myself, those around me, and the world. Trickily committing myself to causes, and directing my energy onwards to finish the job.

When I’m about to do something, sometimes I feel a little hesitant, seemingly without reason… If I listen to my thoughts really closely, I hear that it’s actually the little voice of procrastination in my head – the one that’s all about self-sabotage. Mostly, the procrastination isn’t for a productive purpose, and isn’t about caution and waiting for the right time (but if it is, I’ll be grateful and listen!)

Now I’m aware of my penchant for procrastination, I can listen to this voice, hear it for what it is, ignore it, and charge on ahead with my task! We all know how great it is to finish things, but we still can put things off forever. But usually, we eventually realise how easy and better it was just to do the thing in the beginning, without it becoming a huge “thing” in our heads.

I’ve already felt my direction shifting. I’ve changed my routine to waking up earlier, and getting to work earlier, so I can get home earlier. I never thought I was a morning person – but wow, I actually feel great. Fantastic. And I still have the same amount of energy at night! This is also about having a couple of servings of tiramisu, and enjoying every bite, not scarfing the entire tray without even so much as a taste.

This has been one of those “I” posts. I hope it’s not been terribly boring for you to read. What are the best tips you're going to use this year to ensure you're heading in the right direction?

This year has already been an amazing year for us. Here’s to all of the good we will do this year, and our journeys onwards – may they be in the direction of our conscious choosing! To health, happiness, and love! Cheers!

 - The Dilettante