Sep 5, 2014

Mini Book Review: The Nasty Bits

It's been a while since the last book review, and this one is a good example of why it takes me a long time to finish food related books. I have no self control in purchasing them, and the vast majority are pretty dire.

Anthony Bourdain's The Nasty Bits is appropriately named. A collection of short essays that really aren't prime cuts and in that it's more an example of creative writing and editing than creative content.

The Nasty Bits doesn't so much take you on a journey, but recounts shotgun - like a particularly eloquent drunk in an airport bar - the behind the scenes events of foodie TV. I got a third of the way in and asked myself. Do I really want to go all the way with this? Isn't there better things to read? Other things I want to do with my time?

Where upon I put it down and read two Charles Stross novels and some Iain Banks instead.

That was six months ago. This week in a fit of sheer bloody mindedness (and possibly the effects of an overdose of Codral) I decided to finish it. Hmmm.

Bourdain fans may want it, but in my opinion - skip it and just watch the TV show.


Sep 1, 2014

More Core!

YES! It's another mini cider review!

Core MeltdownCore Cider - Meltdown Sparkling Cider
5.0% alcohol
330ml bottle, crown screw cap
Perth Hills, Western Australia
Around $5.50  - occasionally at Mane Liquor, Ascot

A light, colourless, and hard-to-photograph-in-an-exciting-way cider from the makers of the (really good) Hardcore that I reviewed way back here.  

Aimed more at the "session cider" market, this one is heavily carbonated, dry, but still retains the acidity and fruit of a classic cider. Not really my thing, but a good local alternative to the commercial types like Mercury and Strongbow.

Core ReactorCore Cider - Reactor Pear & Apple
6.5% alcohol
330ml bottle, crown screw cap
Perth Hills, Western Australia
Around $5.50  - occasionally at Mane Liquor, Ascot

Another moderately carbonated, light straw coloured beverage but in a slightly more interesting bottle. There's a hint of fine sediment to colour it, and it's very dry.

A solid acid backbone is present but not much else - think sour apple. The alcohol is starting to dominate in this one and frankly, it's too much like Strongbow Dry for my taste.

A very well made cider for a small local cidery, and as such, it really shows up the bigger breweries that have been stepping into the market with better resources and barely passable products. Looking forward to trying the rest of Core's range.

Apr 24, 2014

It's not English cider!

My first opportunity to get my hands on some Scottish cider. Scotland, not being well known for having apple trees, honestly was not a place I considered for the beverage. Pleasantly happy with these two...

Thistly Cross Cider - Traditional
Dunbar, Scotland.
4.4% ABV.
330ml bottle, Crown cap,
~$7.50 Mane Liquor, Ascot.

Golden coloured, with little or no aromatics, the traditional Thistly Cross cider is a very tasty, lightly carbonated sweet cider. It's got just enough acid and residual palate to reach a balance, and it's in no way cloying.

This is a really good example of a sweet cider. Slightly on the expensive side, but I would buy again.

Thistly Cross Cider - Whisky Cask
Dunbar, Scotland.
6.9% ABV.
330ml bottle, Crown cap,
~$7.50 Mane Liquor, Ascot.

Outwardly identical in appearence to the Traditional, the whisky cask has the faintest hint of American Bourbon barrel oak on the nose, but not so much on the palate.

The alcohol is far more noticable, replacing some of the sweetness. It's a definitely more complex brew thats pnly just sweet. Not quite your typical English cider and dangerously quaffable. Recommended.

Apr 6, 2014

Mini Book Review - The Complete Bartender's Guide

Every now and then, a food related book comes along that makes you want to scream with frustration.

On one hand, Dave Broom's The Complete Bartender's Guide, is a neat pocket hardback with a good broad cross section of cocktail recipes. On the other hand, the rest of it is a few wanky opinions passed off as fact ("What's your poison?"), and a bunch of stuff thats not really for bartenders, but rather for the home drinker.

I understand Dave Broom is a successfully published author of many spirit related tomes, but with this book, he has crossed over to the genteel world of the (home?) bar - possibly without a sanity check.

Take for example, the chapter on the use of blenders in cocktail making - well it's two pages really - the formatting of the book isn't that great. Broom puts the boot into the use of syrups and soda siphons on one page, while extolling the blender as an absolute necessity for the modern bar.

"Soda siphons, and syrup concentrates, while an integral part of American culture, are not necessary for the home bar..."

Perhaps Broom is thinking of pre-mix drink concentrates (it's not specified), but would it have killed them to add another page and say what they actually meant? When you say syrup to me, I think of simple syrup or gomme. Likewise, I can think of a dozen uses for a soda syphon in modern cuisine, the least of which being to generate soda water as required. The inconsistency here is that half of the book is full of classic recipes calling for syrup and soda!

The Complete Bartender's Guild is a bit of a mixed bag. For the home user, it's a concise, roughly educational work, but I could not take a lot of it seriously. It just swings too much between a guide to the home bar and an opinion piece on what the author regards as the best drinks.

Worth a read for the first timer, but there are better guides to the home bar.

Mar 1, 2014

Chinese New Years Eve 2014

I was lucky enough to spend 10 days in Singapore over Chinese New Year. Fully told that it would be a madhouse, I actually found it to be pretty restrained, given the number of people taking part. No worse than Christmas and New Year's rolled into the same holiday week, and everything was pretty orderly.

The food and the markets do change fairly obviously, with a lot of holiday items making an appearance, and simple fruit being elevated to an exalted position. Typically because their name sounds like a word to describe prosperity, or more abstractly because they are yellow, orange or red, and thus symbolise wealth.

To say that the Chinatown market - at which we spent two hours on Chinese New Year's Eve - was packed, would be a gross understatement. It was ludicrously busy, and just about every vendor was decked out completely in red and gold. Here's a little photo-blog of the experience.

Simple foods such as peanuts and other nibblies for your guests become big ticket items. The endlessly creative manufacturers ensure that these are available in a huge range of flavours and coatings. Little jelly cups seemed to be popular, but we did spy wasabi-pineapple melon seeds.

The durability of these saucer-sized pumpkins make them desirable decorations for homes and businesses. Their round shapes represent the unity of family while the rich yellow shades imply golden fortune.


Even the gods get in on the celebration. A shopper buys a golden rice-flour cupcake, a modern iteration of the more traditional and sticky "nian gao", the sweet, leaf-wrapped glutinous rice flour cakes seen in the background. These will be offered on the domestic shrine to the Kitchen God as a bribe to ensure only sweet things are said when he makes his annual household report to the celestial bureaucracy.

Entire legs of prized Jinhua ham, complete with furry hoof and stamped labels of provenance, hang from the rail in a waxed-meats stall. The wind-cured, fatty meats are included as part of "Lap Mei Fan", a long-keeping Cantonese rice dish traditionally eaten over the festive period when families are too busy to cook.

Sprays of budding blossom are de rigueur decorations, more so as they mature and open up over the weeks-long New Year period, symbolising new life and fertility. In the past, families would decorate potted live trees with red packets and ribbon. In the metropolitan tropics however, branches of pussy willow and plum are imported in large numbers and at great expense.

I would have loved to spend more time investigating the street food that night, but we had prior commitments. Still it was time well spent and we managed to get out on other nights and experience the celebrations.

Feb 15, 2014


Back about a week now from Chinese New Year 2014 in Singapore with Ondine, and it was a total blast. I'm still working through the ~400+ photographs I took on the trip, and there are a few related blog entries to come. The food on this trip was at times magnificent *hint* L'Atelier *hint*.

2014 is going to be a very interesting year.

Feb 9, 2014

Briery Estate - 2009 Fermento

Briery Estate, Bindoon.
13.5% abv.
Screw cap.
~$18 in 2009.

Wheat coloured, aromatic with just a hint of oak, Fermento has a slight glycerol mouthfeel. The flavours are predominantly of stewed apricots and sultanas, leaving a lingering palate that hints of dry-roasted nuts. It's a bit like a Viognier in style, but not quite as rich.

It's a very aromatic and balanced wine that I feel is probably at its peak now. That said, it may go a few more years even with my style of careless cellaring.

This is an unusual wine for Australia, made with the Hungarian variety Furmint. I'm not sure it's got the acidity but on paper, like Rieslings, it could well keep for 10+ years. Recommended.