Hunter Valley: Week 212

Vineyard landscape in the Hunter Vallery: Pokolbin, Australia

Pokolbin, the gateway to the Hunter Valley wine region, is an undulating field of grape vines under a pale blue sky. It’s located about two and a half hours north of Sydney and a good first stop after that long drive would be Kevin Sobels Wines. Aside from the tasting bar, the grounds host the Handmade Hunter Markets on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. Because we drove up on Easter weekend, the markets were also open on Sunday.

The usual country goods were all in attendance- from hand sewn purses to cutting boards to scented soy candles. We ate a bacon and egg pizza that was cooked in the back of a van and tasted passion fruit lemon butter ‘just like Grandma made.’

Casbars Kitchen and Garden business card: Pokolbin, Australia

My best purchase though was a jar of River Flats Estate Chilli & Fennel infused Corregiola olives in apple cider vinegar. The diminutive size of the olives might not have been impressive- and the fact that they weren’t pitted- but that would have been a huge misjudgment. They were some of the best olives I had ever tasted and it was also the first time I actually appreciated olive pits because they forced me to slow down and savor the spiciness of the chilli and the bite of the fennel seeds.

Tamburlaine Vineyard: Pokolbin, Australia

After the market our friends and I drove to an organic vineyard called Tamberlaine. The tour guide worked part time at the vineyard and had a full time job as a drama teacher. We knew it was going to be an interesting tour when we heard him respond to a query about having children. “Look at me. Do you think any woman would trust me to impregnate them?”

After we toured the vineyard we reconvened in a large tasting room. Beside the tour, my $50 ticket included a bottle of wine and a plate of cheese and crackers to go with the wine tasting. I was feeling quite generous, so I told Barret I’d drive and poured my share of the wine samples into his glass. He was definitely looking sleepy at the end of the tasting.

Originally we intended on visiting several vineyards, but we had such a good time with our guide that the next thing we knew there was only a half hour until most of Pokolbin closed. Barret and I decided to buy a few extra bottles of wine and some dark chocolate. Unfortunately we didn’t have any more time to spend in the Hunter Valley, but I was very happy we went away with some good wine.

Vineyard landscape in the Hunter Valley: Pokolbin, Australia

About: The Hunter Valley

About: River Flats Estates

How to get to the Handmade Hunter Markets: Corner of Broke & Halls Road, Pokolbin NSW 2320

How to get to Tamburlaine: 358 McDonalds Road, Pokolbin NSW 2320

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Vine: Week 194

Vine Double Bay: Sydney, Australia

The dinner had been a suggested surprise- as in I suggested to Barret that he should plan a surprise for our anniversary. It was a weekend morning when I caught him completely off guard with my idea and he almost sunk his foot into a landmine before realizing that it would be a fabulous idea to celebrate six wonderful years together. And of course he knew just the thing to do!

When we showed up at Vine for our 6pm reservation, we were the first people in the restaurant. It was the kind of place you walk into and suddenly wish you knew more culinary terms because things like fregola were on the menu and I didn’t want to admit that I didn’t know what that was. I also didn’t know if I was allergic to it (turns out I am, but it was a delicious mistake).

A few of my colleagues knew Barret was planning something and come Monday morning they wanted a report. The French-Australian cuisine was delicious, the wine perfectly matched, and the service impeccable. So as we headed out the door there was only one more thing I needed to know before I could complete my glowing review.

“Barret, are we going to take a taxi?”

“No. The bus stop is just at the end of the road.”

“You know this is going in the ‘report’ right?”

“Yes, and I want it to be noted that I know it’s going in the report and I still want to take the bus.”

“Ok. So what you’re saying is that six years together and I still haven’t earned a taxi ride home?”

“Yep.”

“When will I have earned it?”

“When you’re old and can’t walk anymore.”

“Fair enough.”

I can’t wait to see what the next 50 years will bring.

How to get to Vine: 2 Short Street, Double Bay NSW 2028

Homebrewing: Week 192

Equipment for bottling homebrews

This is what I know about homebrewing: not much.

It’s a hobby that interests Barret a lot, but I find myself drawn more to food preserving (although I’m no expert). Several months ago we bought some mystery fruit just because it was on sale. Before I could do some googling, Barret decided the best way to unravel the mystery would be to bite one of the hard, green fruits. Unfortunately for him, it was a raw olive.

After the bitter taste test, I looked up a way to cure the olives. I found a process that seemed simple enough, but after a while I noticed the olive oil brine kept overflowing and that glued moths to the sides of the jar.

Eventually I threw the jars out and decided I’d only try it again in the presence of someone more knowledgeable. That’s also kind of how I feel about homebrewing; it’s good to build off of other people’s experience. So when friends of ours invited us to their house to bottle apple cider and brew some hops, we headed over with willing hands and cheese and crackers.

Bottle sanitizer for homebrewing

Apple cider is much less fussy to make, especially when the first round of fermentation is already done and all you have to do is bottle it. Once the bottles were sterilized and filled, we dropped in a sugar tab for a secondary fermentation and hammered on the lids. Easy.

Although I did find out later that all the cider was dumped down the drain. Maybe the process isn’t as easy as I first thought.

Manual process for bottling homebrews

When that was out of the way Barret and John washed out the plastic fermentation tank and began to brew the hops. I won’t pretend I really paid attention to this part. It involved boiling a ‘sock’ filled with hops and grains until the kitchen smelled like a grassy pasture.

Because I am allergic to beer (and probably because I’d rather lounge around eating cheese and crackers), I just can’t get too excited about spending a few hours in the kitchen boiling a sock of hops. I’ll leave this one to the boys.

A good store to help you start brewing in Sydney: The Hop and Grain

Marrickville Markets: Week 179

Marrickville Market statue garden: Sydney, Australia

Sydney loves it markets and what separates the Marrickville Market from all the others is its distinctively alternative vibe. It’s the kind of place where you can pick up organic food and run into a guy in a red beanie with Jesus hair that is passing out flyers for a charity concert. That obviously wasn’t my experience.

There are many reasons why these civic-minded people might like the Marrickville markets, but I’m guessing the primary reason is the food. The bread is delicious and a gluten-free option is always on the table. Green juice is available by the gallons and there’s more organic produce than you can shake a stick at.

Barret enjoying the Fritter House at the Marrickville Markets: Sydney, Australia

If you can’t wait to go home to cook your delicious vegetables, there is always the Fritter House. Barret’s plate of fritters came with dill mayo, hand cut fries, sausage, and a side salad. It was absolutely delectable and I was more than a little bit sad that I had filled up on corn fritters from a competitor’s stand.

Reverse Garbage by the Marrickville Markets: Sydney, Australia

The last and definitely best reason to visit the markets is Reverse Garbage. It’s a local institution that began in 1974 when a group of teachers came together to divert landfill-bound material that could still be used for creative projects. Forty years later the material is just as eclectic and reasonably priced.

Reverse Garbage: Marrickville, Australia

It wouldn’t hurt if the place had a spring cleaning, but that doesn’t detract from the fun of searching through the rabbit warren of curiosities. There is pretty much everything you could possibly wish to find, from plastic baubles to old video projection screens. I wish this place had been around when I was in art school!

Reverse Garbage: Marrickville, Australia

How to get to the Marrickville Markets: Cnr 142 Addison & Illawarra Rd, Marrickville NSW 2204

How to get to Reverse Garbage: 8/142 Addison Road, Marrickville NSW 2204

The Newport Arms Hotel: Week 166

A meal at the Newport Arms Hotel: Pittwater, Australia

“Where should we ride this weekend?” Barret asked. He wasn’t feeling particularly inspired by the forest green dots on Google Maps.

We’d covered a lot of ground on our bikes, but we hadn’t made it to Sydney’s northern beaches. Because of this we were inspired to plan our most ambitious route yet- a 50km roundtrip with friends to the Newport Arms Hotel. Aside from a spectacular view of Pittwater Bay, the hotel is a perennial darling of ‘best pub food’ lists.

The Arms was first established in 1880 by Charles Edward Jennerett, an entrepreneurial man with his hands in real estate, trade, and government. His endeavors proved fortuitous because in 1881 he was considered eminent enough to host Princes Albert and George (later George V) on their visit to Sydney.

View from the patio of the Newport Arms Hotel: Pittwater, Australia

Over the last 134 years the hotel has undergone major refurbishment and changed ownership four times. Today its sprawling outdoor patio overlooks Scotland Island and the edge of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.

Jo enjoying a beer on the patio of the Newport Arms Hotel: Pittwater, Australia

It was not easy, after a heavy course of food and refreshments, to find the energy to return home. The temptation to spend the night and call in sick was strong, but we dug deep and peeled ourselves off the mint lounge chairs just before sunset. We still had 25km to go.

The final destination was gorgeous, but what continually surprises me about Australia is just how stunning the coast is no matter where you are. The beaches of Curl Curl and Dee Why are not on most tourist’s radars but their sapphire water and golden sand gleams just as brightly as the most popular southern beaches.One of Sydney's northern beaches: Warriewood, Australia

Portions of the route from Manly to Newport are also specifically set aside for bicyclists. From Dee Why the trail runs beneath tree canopies and along the Narrabeen Lakes. There’s something about the crunch of an unpaved route under my tires that brings me so much joy. It’s the sound of all great adventures.

How to get to the Newport Arms Hotel: 2 Kalinya Street, Newport NSW 2106

Bike path along the Narrabeen Lakes: Narrabeen, Australia

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