Monday, August 24, 2015

Book Review: The Empress of Icecream

Her body belonged to a king.
But who would melt her heart?

I'm just going to say this - if you are going to read a book centered on ice-cream, do it in summer. Reading a book filled with lush descriptions of various frozen desserts, sorbets, sherbets and of course ice-cream while the weather is of a temperature similar to that of a freezer makes for a chilly atmosphere. But that isn't to say I didn't really enjoy it.

Anthony Capella's books all centre on food so it is probably of little surprise to anyone that I'm drawn to them. However I also enjoy how for all bar "The Food of Love" he has set them in detailed, yet not well know (at least to me) historical contexts.

I particularly love a book that has me reaching for Wikipedia to find out more about the real people behind the fictional characters and his latest book "The Empress of Icecream" certainly had that. It is centered around Louise de Keroualle, the famous French mistress of Charles II and a fictional, but based on real people, character of the royal ice-cream maker.

Real historical events are cleverly interwoven with a fiction to make a tale that is not only a great read but an insight into a smart, savvy and highly influential woman who had an amazing impact on the English court. My library categorised it as a romance and love stories to wend their way throughout the book, but I think it has a lot more to offer than just a simple love story. I enjoyed the history, the lessons about ice-cream and England in the time of the Restoration.

I have to say, I think that this is a perfect summer holiday book. Light enough to read while on holiday but with enough substance to keep you engrossed. And of course all those delicious descriptions of ice confections that may just send you visiting the freezer.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Australian Women's Weekly High Tea Tour

My showbag contents and flowers from the event
Today I had the great privilege to speak in my role as Ambassador for the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation at a high tea hosted by The Australian Women's Weekly and sponsored by L'Oréal, Dilmah Tea and AAP Tours. They have been hosting them around the country raising money and awareness for the OCRF.

It was a fantastic event. We learned about how we should be drinking tea - black - and how to make it into cocktails! We got some amazing insights into the Australian Women's Weekly from Helen McCabe and we all left with fabulous showbags full of L'Oréal and Dilmah products.

The following is my speech from the event. I hope it gives you an insight into the day.

Thank you. It is a real honour to be asked to speak today, not only because it gives me an opportunity to talk about the great work of the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation but also because the Australian Women’s Weekly has always been a part of my life. We are one of those families that are probably terrible for the circulation figures because one copy gets shared around the lot of us. It has kept us up to date with the latest celebrity news and fashion trends. It taught us how to put on makeup, and particularly importantly how to cook.

My Mum is a great cook. Her mother was not such a great cook and was generally limited to quite old fashioned recipes from her German background. So Mum taught herself to cook from the Australian Women’s Weekly and their fantastic triple tested cookbooks. Mum passed that love of cooking onto me, along with a whole shelf of the cookbooks and the kitchen is most definitely the centre of my home. And in the centre of my kitchen, in pride of place, is a beautiful grey and white marble rolling pin. It is a lovely object, with wooden handles and its own wooden cradle to rest in. And it is as useful as it is beautiful because making pastry is one of my favourite things to do, so it is a cherished possession.

But as much as it is cherished, I wish I did not own it. If there was anything in my life I could return its owner would be that rolling pin. You see, the reason I own it is that it was passed to me following the death of our beloved family friend Aunty Sue from ovarian cancer.

Before Sue’s diagnosis I didn’t know much about ovarian cancer, but since then I’ve become all too aware that while it may not be the most common cancer in women, it remains the leading cause of death of all the gynaecological cancers with a lower survival rate than both breast and cervical cancer. In fact, every 10 hours a woman dies from ovarian cancer in Australia.

Sue’s story is typical of so many women affected by ovarian cancer. She dismissed her symptoms as stress, gaining weight, menopause, the aches and pains that come with being the primary carer to someone in a wheelchair. Like so many women, she just soldiered on. I don’t think that I knew it was possible to have a terminal illness and not know before Sue’s diagnosis.

So let me tell you a little about the wonderful woman who was my Aunty Sue. Sue Gane was one of those genuinely lovely people. She was a volunteer in her local community. She worked with children with disabilities. She was a passionate quilter. For me, Sue was my Mum’s best friend, but she was as much an Aunt to me as my blood relations and she was there for every major life milestone. It was following one of those milestones, my sister’s wedding, that Sue was diagnosed.

Sue didn’t have children of her own so she was as excited about the wedding as any of us. She spent about twice as much on her outfit as my Mum did on her mother of the bride one. She got ready with all of us, having her hair and makeup done and she sat in the front pew, holding my Mum’s hand as Dad walked my sister down the aisle.  

One of my absolute lasting memories of Sue will be her burning up the dance floor at the reception long after us young ones had grown tired.

Fast forward couple of weeks and Mum and Sue had a girls week away at the coast to recover from all the wedding excitement. It was then that Mum discovered Sue was having some abdominal pain and when she had a massage the masseuse suggested she get her ovaries checked out. It didn’t seem right, so Mum insisted Sue go to the doctor.

Doctor’s appointments followed. On the 6th of July Sue had a scan which showed metastatic masses in both ovaries. By 13 July we found out that she had tumours on her liver and in her stomach. On the 2nd of August she was admitted to hospital for surgery. She never went home, she never ate another meal. After several weeks in the hospital and some very difficult decisions about what treatment to have or not have, Sue was moved to the hospice Claire Holland House.

Sue died on the 17th of September 2010. Just two months after she was diagnosed.  She was laid to rest in the dress that she had worn to my sister’s wedding and danced the night away in without a care in the world just four months earlier.

The fact that Sue died just 2 months after she was diagnosed wasn’t because the cancer spread rapidly it was just that with symptoms like back pain and weight gain, Sue literally didn’t know she was dying until it was too late. And this is the story of ovarian cancer.

There is no early detection test for ovarian cancer. Contrary to popular belief a pap smear does not detect it. If detected and treated early, 80-100% of women will survive beyond 5 years compared with only 20-30% when diagnosed at a late stage which is the majority of women.

The Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation is Australia’s leading independent body dedicated to national ovarian cancer research. The ultimate aim of the foundation is to develop a test that is non-invasive and cost effective so that it becomes a habitual part of every woman’s regular health check-up regime along with mammograms and pap smears.

The OCRF receives no government funding and relies on the financial support of corporate Australia and the broader community. Everyone in this room today is supporting the OCRF and I would encourage you all to continue to find ways to support their important research. 

The next major fundraiser coming up is Frocktober, where all October you will be able to be sponsored for wearing a frock. I wear a frock every day of the month, but you could have a frock party, wear frocks on Fridays, really it is up to you and all the details will be on the website very shortly. I will also be hosting another high tea in October if today has got you interested so see me after for the details.

It has been 5 years since Sue’s death and it still seems completely surreal that she is not here with us. Recently I was looking for family photos and my first thought was the Sue would have some great ones, I just can’t get used to the idea that she isn’t here with us. Each time I speak about her, I know that I keep her memory alive and if her memory can help raise the awareness of ovarian cancer  and funds that will find an early detection test for it, then she will continue to be the positive influence on the community that she was in life.

Ovarian cancer affects women of all ages. It could be your mother, wife, sister, aunt, friend or even your daughter. You don’t have to be scientist to make a difference, all of us have the opportunity to support the work of the ovarian cancer research foundation and find that early detection test which will keep wonderful women like Sue, here among us.

Thank you.

If you would like to know more about ovarian cancer, the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation or want to make a donation visit:

And if you wish you had been there, I'm hosting a high tea for the OCRF in October! All the details are at:

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Restaurant Review: High Tea at the Burbury Terrace

The current popularity of high tea is something I whole heartedly endorse. For me it is an ideal indulgence. A meal that isn't necessary. Is comprised of tiny portions of a multitude of items. Must be enjoyed with at least one other person. And, that can be enjoyed at your leisure mid-afternoon. Really what could be more delightfully unnecessary and completely indulgent?

Our latest venture into the world of high teas took us to The Burbury Hotel. Each weekend they host high tea at the Terrace, their 7th floor restaurant from 1pm - 4pm. I would definitely say it is the high tea with the best view we have tried. The Terrace has sweeping views across central Canberra from its elegant and paired back dining room.

We arrived just after 1pm at the start of the service. Only a few other tables of people had arrived and we were promptly seated. We chose the Traditional High Tea for $45 instead of the Champagne High Tea for $55 as neither of us are particular fans of the bubbles. However if you do like them, it is a very nice glass of NVG Mumm that you will be enjoying.

S decided to further buck the high tea trend and ordered a cappuccino to accompany his food, I chose the Napoleon tea from the TWG tea menu. One of my bug bears with high teas is when you only get a single drink included to accompany what is actually quite a large meal, however The Burbury High Tea comes with unlimited tea and coffee which is fantastic.

Shortly after our drinks arrived, our three tier high tea stand was presented to the table. In traditional format, the lower tier comprised sandwiches, the middle tier scones plus a creme brulee and the top tier cakes and sweets.

Being a stickler for tradition, I started with the sandwiches. They were: tomato, basil and gruyère on sourdough, Tasmanian smoked salmon and herb slider and cucumber and cream cheese on white bread. The fillings were all lovely but the bread for the first and last sandwiches tasted like standard supermarket pre-sliced loaves and the brioche slider was just a little sweet for the salmon.

I wasn't impressed on first glance at the scones as they looked rather flat which I thought might make them too dense. However they were probably the best scones we have had at a high tea. Tasty with a good crumb. The accompanying preserve was quite runny but that just meant it sank into the scone beautifully and had a rich delicious flavour. We probably could have done with a little more cream but that is because S is a cream lover and can eat vast amounts of it. The only disappointment was that while the menu promised two varieties of scone, strawberry and vanilla, all of our scones (there are 2 per person) were plain which I guess meant vanilla. That said, they were so good we didn't really mind.

Finishing off the second tier was the white chocolate and passion fruit crème brûlée. It had a beautiful crunchy layer of toffee on top but was a little too creamy and sweet for me. S quite happily finished mine but said that he didn't think the passionfruit worked as well as it could have and found the seeds a distracting texture in the otherwise creamy dessert.

After a short pause to get a second coffee for S and a pot of the silver moon tea for me we attacked the final tier.

It was a beautiful array of tiny cakes and sweets. However the first two we tried, the pistachio financier with rum pineapple and what appeared to be a friand topped with a blueberry that wasn't on the menu were our least favourite. The texture of both was a bit glutenous and they were just too sweet.

Next up was the bittersweet brownie topped with praline gânache and caramelised salted popcorn. This morsel was truly delicious, almost fudge like in texture and with a rich but bittersweet flavour. The dark chocolate had coffee undertones and was really well matched with the toffee like toppings. It was a great break in the sweet course and a good balance for the palate.

Next up was the buttermilk pana cotta, strawberry and basil gelée. The pana cotta was fantastic but the strawberry sauce was overly sweet. We would have preferred it if it was a simple strawberry puree so that the acid in the strawberry could be a counterpoint to the creamy pana cotta. And the same comment applied to the lemon curd and meringue tartelette we tried next. Again this was delicious, but we both agreed the curd could have used some more acid from the lemon to balance out the sweetness.

By this stage we were both flagging. High tea is a pretty full on meal and despite the fact that we had minimal breakfasts, we were getting full. However we were not to be defeated.

The second last item was the macaron. Although advertised as nutella flavour, it appeared to be raspberry and caramel. To be honest, very few macarons in Australia do anything much for me. They don't have the melt in the mouth quality that we fell in love with in France as the shells tend to have a chewy quality. This was a good Australian macaron, it just didn't have that French amazingness.

The final item was a profiterole filled with expresso cream. I don't like coffee but I had a bite to try it before handing the rest to S. It was excellent. Beautiful choux pastry, silky flavourful cream only let down by not fantastic chocolate decorating the top.

Overall the service was good, although we did notice that most people arrived at about 2pm and it got a bit chaotic at that point. We tried to leave and pay at about 2.30pm which was probably the moment of peak activity so paying the bill took some time. I would certainly recommend booking either a bit earlier or later than 2 to avoid the rush.

Bookings are essential as they often book out up to 3 weeks in advance, particularly for large tables and we saw a couple of disappointed people being turned away.

We really enjoyed our high tea. The venue is gorgeous (although S remarked that once it was full of women - and there were literally only 5 men in the place - it did get quite noisy), the view spectacular and the food on the whole, delicious. It gets a big tick from me for the continuous tea and coffee, the attentive service and the quality and quantity of food.

High Tea at The Burbury Terrace
1pm-4pm Saturday and Sunday
Burbury Close

And if you love high tea as much as I do, set 10 October aside as I will be hosting a fundraising high tea for the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation at the Canberra Institute of Technology. You can find the details and book tickets here:

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Recipe: Winter salad with roast garlic dressing

My stomach (or my mouth really) can be a contrary thing, always craving what is not in the house or is out of season, so it was no surprise really that in the middle of a cold winter day, my contrary stomach decided it really wanted salad. Not really winter food but much as I love soup, stews, curries and other comfort food, there comes a time when you just need a salad. I'm pretty sure the last couple of weeks of indulgent eating may have had something to do with the need for greens.

However, winter does not make for the best salad ingredients and despite the salad craving I still wanted something warm, so a roast veggie salad seemed the way to go and I topped it with some chicken for a protein hit but this would be equally good minus the chicken as a side for a steak or even a roast.

A warm salad is a great dinner. Warming, filling but healthy. And while winter may not be a great time for salad veggies like tomato, many lettuces like it. My backyard rocket patch has gone crazy allowing for a great green base.

When thinking of a dressing to accompany the richness of all those roast veggies, a garlic vinaigrette came to mind but to complement the roast taste, I roasted the garlic. The soft, delicately roasted garlic pretty much dissolves when you shake it like crazy with the rest of your dressing ingredients. Just be sure to not add any leftover chunks of garlic to the final salad.

This amount makes a great dinner for 2, or a side for 4.

Winter salad with roast garlic dressing
2 potatoes peeled and chopped into 3cm cubes
2 carrots chopped in half lengthwise, then into 2cm lengths
1 medium eggplant chopped into 4cm cubes
1/4 pumpkin chopped into cubes
1 capsicum cut into 3cm squares
1 leek thinly sliced
a chicken breast
a couple of handfuls of rocket leaves
2 garlic cloves unpeeled
olive oil
maldon (or other flaky) sea salt
dried garlic
red wine vinegar
maple syrup

Preheat your oven with a non-stick baking tray in it to 200 degrees.

In a large bowl, toss the potatoes, carrots, eggplant, pumpkin and capsicum with enough olive oil to lightly cover the veggies, a couple of pinches of salt, a few shakes of oregano and dried garlic. Pour onto the pre-heated tray and arrange in a single layer.

Bake for 30-40 minutes till everything is golden and well roasted.

Meanwhile, gently fry the leek in a little olive oil until caramalised and golden.

Butterfly the chicken breast so it is an even thickness. Dust with paprika, dried garlic and oregano then fry in a little olive oil until both sides are golden brown and the chicken is cooked through.

To make the dressing, pop the whole unpeeled garlic cloves on top of the other veg and roast for 10-15 minutes until just starting to ooze. Take them out of the oven and squeeze the garlic out of their cases into a jar. Top with 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1-2 tablespoons red wine vinegar and a teaspoon of maple syrup. Screw the top of the jar tightly and shake like crazy. The garlic should disintegrate and make a lovely creamy dressing.

To serve, in a large bowl add the rocket, roast vegetables straight from the oven, leek and enough dressing to lightly dress the salad. Toss together, then top with slices of the chicken breast.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Random Musings: Being a foodie

I identify myself as a foodie. How could I not? I love to cook it, talk about it, read about it and of course eat it. Any time I travel one of the first places I check out is the local markets. The magazines on my coffee table are a food related. I spend hours browsing the food section of Pinterest.

But how do you define someone as a foodie? Recently I had a conversation with some colleagues that came up with a simple criteria - can you name the best meal you have ever eaten? Not your favourite dish or restaurant, a single whole meal that you would classify as the best you have ever had.

I have a list of best meals in order and with a group of family and friends who are similarly food obsessed, it had never occurred to me that some people wouldn't be able to name a single meal that was the best one they had ever had. But as it turned out, that was exactly the case. Most of the people in that conversation had never thought enough about it to be able to name their best meal.

The best meal I've ever eaten was at a dinner which was my 25th birthday present. The present was that my parent's took me to Tetsuyas. To this day, dishes from that amazing 16 course (yes that number is correct) meal linger in my memory. But I can also tell you about an amazing meal I had in Cambodia (fairy floss pork, an amazing steak, lemongrass panacotta, brilliant cocktails), a fantastic soup we had in Paris, the best fish and chips I've had, great burgers, meals my Mum has cooked.

The people in the conversation could say what food they liked but they couldn't describe an actual meal. To say I was surprised is an understatement. It is one of those things I just assumed everyone did. But as with the case with just about any assumption, I was wrong.

So there we have it, a very simple test about how much of a foodie you are. Tell me, are you a foodie and can you name the best meal you have ever eaten?