Fun Food at Sydney’s Winter Garden. And Dolph Lundgren.

Have you got a hankering for a bit of apres-ski adventure, but not the funds to actually hit the slopes? Don’t worry; Sydney’s pop-up “winter garden” is the answer to affordable urban apres ski-style adventure, complete with alpine-style huts selling sausages, mulled wine and hot chocolate. And Tornado Potatoes.

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It was almost taller than he was!

But more about them later… IMG_6308 Although the main attraction, the ice skating rink in the forecourt of St.Mary’s Cathedral, is not what I’d call a cheap activity for a family, it is still a billion times more affordable than a ski holiday/actual alpine adventure. And even if you don’t want to fork out the dollars for skating, you can sit down at the outdoor chairs and tables and soak up the winter wonderland atmosphere for free. IMG_6065 Kids can experience weaving their way down the slopes on a mechanical snowboard, a giant slide or for milder fun they can visit the baby animal nursery. They can also float around a pond in a giant Lindt ball. Spider Boy didn’t meet the 140cm height requirement, and I was secretly relieved. IMG_6169

There are also igloos available to “chill-out” in of course…

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Because the Winter Garden is in a prime city location, we’ve been to this frozen funland three times in the past two weeks when we happened to be in the neighbourhood. We haven’t ice-skated, because, budget, but we’ve enjoyed sitting in the winter sun with our hot chocolate (and yes alright, our potato-on-a-stick) watching the skaters carve up the ice to a pop-music soundtrack. But if you think the only food available is the greasy fair-ground type, you’d be wrong. Agape Organic has a kids menu including vegetarian nachos and organic fruit juice, there’s teppanyaki noodles, gozlame, wood-fired pizza and of course no alpine-style adventure would be complete without German sausages and Nutella crepes. If you want a really good hot chocolate, try the pop-up Lindt chocolate cafe for a hot sweet, thick beverage and, Lindt balls wrapped in every colour of the rainbow.

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But back to the potato-on-a-stick, aka the “Potato Tornado”. I couldn’t resist its greasy, salty allure, so we bought one to share. It was exactly as I imagined plus oh-so chicken-salty. The charming young man working the potato counter (and also the German Sausage counter) had a charming alpine accent: I assumed it was German but my sister Señorita Margarita later pointed out it could be Austrian or Swiss.

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Clockwise from left: “Dolph” patiently explains the Tornado Potato to customers at the German Sausage Hut (he was multi-tasking). The Tornado Potato machine. Don’t worry, Spider Boy didn’t eat all of this, I finished it off for him; The deep-fryer, spectacular and frightening all at the same time. 

I do want to acknowledge Mr. Potato’s great customer service. He patiently explained the Tornado Potato concept to customers, and with his well-groomed northern European style and charming accent, Margarita and I dubbed him Dolph Lundgren. We may have been referencing a character in an Adam Sandler movie. Because sometimes with my sister, I am 15 again. I had mentioned “Dolph” to Margarita on the phone when I called her to get her ETA. She and Spider Boy had an auntie-nephew afternoon planned at the Australian Museum across the road. Later when we all met at the Winter Garden again, Margarita went to the counter of the Tornado Potato/German Sausage Hut, not to purchase a potato, or a sausage, (because, deep-fried carbs and fat) but to hear “Dolph” speak. I observed the exchange from a distance. I couldn’t hear what she asked him, but I believe she went with my suggestion of “How many potatoes are there in a Tornado Potato?” Then to my delight I saw Dolph hold up a whole unpeeled raw potato, on a stick, and point to the machine that spins the potato into a long coil, and then he pointed to the deep-fryer, with the exaggerated and engaging hand gestures of a flight attendant. IMG_6464

The Sydney Winter Garden: Fun, food, alpine adventure and Dolph Lundgren.

As that other* Austrian superstar would say, “I’ll be back.”

*The real Dolph Lundgren is actually Swedish.

Sydney Winter Garden: St Mary’s Cathedral, Cnr College St and Cathedral Square, Sydney.

June 19 – July 19

Skating (including skate hire) $30 (adults) $20 (children). Family skate 4 pack: $90 Rides (Zorb ball, slide, snowboard machine)

1 ride/3 rides/unlimited $6/$15/$20

Winter Garden

Review: Kurtosh House, where “gluttonous curiosity is to be explored”.

Señorita Margarita had told me there was a great bakery/cafe she wanted to share with me when I next trekked over to her neck of the woods. So last Sunday when Spider Boy had a birthday party to attend nearby, I dropped him off (after watching him ride a mechanical bull that looked like a giant guinea pig) and my mum, sister and I went to Kurtosh House (No.1), a cosy little bakery in Randwick (Kurtosh Houses 2, 3, 4, and 5 are in Surry Hills, Crows Nest, Darlinghurst and Wollongong respectively).

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The decor is very old-world rustic charm thanks to the pretty tiles, exposed brick walls, metal and wood chairs, soft lighting and a beautiful vintage-style coffee machine.

The cake display will make you say, “Oh wow!” Well, that’s what I said. There were sample plates along the top of the cabinets which looked like they were being regularly replenished.

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Clockwise from left: strawberry sponge, cookies and cream slice, lemon crumble cheesecake and choc-hazelnut torte.

There were huge slabs of cake, from fudgey chocolate, to sponge to cheesecake.  And the special thing is that cake is sold by weight (to satisfy your inner-glutton, according to the Kurtosh website). So you could ask them to slice 100 grams off a huge slab of chocolate, sugar and butter, and pay $4.50. So neither the indecisive nor those with a penchant for variety need to fret, their website statesWell, that’s a relief.

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They also sell chimney-shaped pastries called Kurtosh’s (also known as chimney cake), something I’d never seen or heard of before. These are cylinders of caramelised crispy flaky pastry dipped in a variety of coatings, such as cinnamon, coconut, pistachio, walnut, almond, caramelised hazelnut and chocolate hazelnut.

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Normally I go to bakeries for the combination of fat and sugar, but since it was lunchtime I ordered a quinoa and veggie pastry. I know, you’re practically blinded by my halo, right? It was so good, I couldn’t even taste the quinoa. But I could taste the curried veggies, which were not too spicy, not too bland, but just right. Does quinoa even have a taste? Or is it like tofu, the quinoa of the 90s?

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Kurtosh describes itself as being …what home feels like – comfortable, cozy, relaxing, flawed, unquestionably accepting, eclectic and sweet. I would say they pretty much nailed it. The only flaw I could see was that our veggie pastries weren’t quite hot enough, but when our waitress brought them over she said that may be the case and she happily obliged when we asked her to reheat them.

The coffee was great. And in case you’re wondering, yes, of course I took home a dessert for later. When I paid for my coffee and pastry and realised I didn’t have any cash, a staff member at the counter told me there was a $10 Eftpos minimum. Luckily there were plenty of slices to choose from that could bump up my spend. And bump up my blood sugar at the same time.

I chose the cookies and cream slice. The staff member helpfully reminded me I only needed $2.00 worth of cookies and cream slice to total $10. But that would mean less than 50 grams of sugar and fat. I can do better than that.

I told her I’d take the 100 grams slice for $4.50, thanks very much.

If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then Kurtosh House No.1 would be Love Potion No.9. If the old cliche is true, here’s hoping for more baking successes from me, and less baking “disasters” (read about one of my baking disasters here).

By the way, if you have a penchant for pastry porn, I implore you to get onto the Kurtosh website now.

www.kurtosh.com.au

Kurtosh House No.1

20B – 20C St Paul’s Street, Randwick

Open Monday – Friday 7am – 10pm

Saturday – Sunday and public holidays 8am – 10pm

Ph 9399 8412

Easter Show 2015: Food-on-a-stick, pigs, and not a kewpie doll in sight.

It was a windy and rainy finish to the school holidays yesterday, just like the first day (see previous post), but thankfully there were many sunny days in between.

One of these sunny day highlights was our visit to the Sydney Royal Easter Show, run by the NSW Royal Agricultural Society. This was Spider Boy’s first visit to the “real” Easter show, rather than the mini-one at Moore Park’s Entertainment Quarter.

I have always been partial to fairground food and the Sydney Royal Easter show never disappoints in that department…

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Yes, it is what it looks like – donuts on a stick! What fun. And yes, I know it’s just “occasional treat” food.

But I’ll get back to the food…

I hadn’t been to the RAS show at the showground at Olympic Park since years before Spider Boy was born and I remembered it being big, crowded and surely overwhelming for a young child. And I also remembered it as being a big schlep from the Eastern Suburbs. And it’s usually not a cheap day out. But my dad gave Spider Boy and I two free entry passes, so schlep we did. It was totally worth it. The schlep was a lot more arduous in my head than it actually was. Here are a few snaps from the day…

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There were many gentle and traditional rides…

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…and there were many people, but as it wasn’t a public holiday, it wasn’t overwhelmingly crowded.

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For me, the amazing Australian produce displays have always been one of the highlights of the Royal Easter Show. This year, the fruit/vegetable/grains display had an ANZAC theme, to mark the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli.

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For Spider Boy, meeting some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the highlight…

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… and also meeting this mask owl called Willow. We have been reading Harry Potter lately and now he wants a pet owl. I said we could look in to it. But then my ex-husband reminded me owls are nocturnal. Not sure it would work in the tiny apartment we live in.

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My fantasy-loving son also got into a spontaneous sword fight with the girl at the Adventure Time stall. I blame those Ninja Turtles.

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Another highlight for me was seeing my boy on TV. He read that autocue like nobody’s business… apart from tripping on one word. But that just added to his charming delivery. I must not be am not a pushy stage mother.

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And I think a highlight for both of us was the “Pat a pig” pavilion! Here I am actually looking trimmer than I have in years as a fake farmer. Oink! OMG, while writing this I just had a flashback to my mother telling me that when I was a newborn the maternity nurses dubbed me “Porky Pig.”

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Not that there’s anything wrong with that… look how content these little guys seem. Three happy, spooning pigs. All they need is a blanket!

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The unlikely friendship between a spider (boy) and a llama.

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And what would an Easter show be without Easter eggs. Cheep cheep!

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Oh, and then there was the time Spider Boy came face to face (well, became the face of) his favourite vegetable.

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But you didn’t think the Royal Easter Show would be all about the vegetables did you? I know sugar is not in fashion at the moment and all I can say to that is… Pour some sugar on me! Without sugar, creations such as the cakes above WOULD NOT BE POSSIBLE.

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More spectacular sugar creations. And then there was the dirty food…

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…tasty, trashy, nasty and dirty, just the way I love it. Lots of sticky food on sticks. Cheese on a stick, meat on a stick, cake on a stick, potato on a stick. The only thing NOT on a stick was Kewpie dolls (I didn’t see any, much to my disappointment). And don’t get me started on the Manwiches. Yes, that’s right, there was a “Manwich” stall. For when a sandwich just isn’t enough. Because of course no woman could eat a big sandwich (they haven’t met me, clearly). But “Womanwich” just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?

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Oh how we laughed.

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A display in the farming pavilion set the facts straight on sugar, without all the negative hype. It was pretty much spelled out in black and white; Sugar is high in energy but has no nutritional value. But I will never abandon my love of sugar as it has sentimental, nostalgic, artistic and happy value. And for me that means something. And stevia is not the same.

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Manwich time.

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Another decorative and functional place to eat.

The Sydney Royal Easter show was a great day out and we didn’t end up spending that much money. Once you’ve paid to enter the showground (or presented a member’s pass), entry to all the pavilions and the main arena is free. There were so many things to see and experience, as well as many free samples. In fact Spider Boy enjoyed seeing the animals and the free entertainment so much, he wasn’t bothered about rides. We were just too busy posing for all those face-in-the-board photos.

The only things we paid for was a professional photo of the Spider Boy and the owl, and some food (not on a stick). And something at the Adventure Time stall. And that Ninja Turtles showbag of course.

Dinner with a “Day of the Dead” Devotee

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My dinner companion

My sister, Senorita Margarita, has just returned from Mexico and has fallen in love with its cultural traditions. There were no Jennifer Aniston-style antics by the pool in Cabo. No, Margarita’s journey was more spiritual. She did a tour of Mexican villages with middle-aged achaeologist-type people and took part in a traditional Day of the Dead ceremony. The Day of the Dead is a yearly festival where people pray for and commemorate friends and family members who have died.

So when Margarita stumbled upon El Topo, a new Mexican restaurant in Sydney recently, she knew it was the perfect venue to celebrate her birthday, a la Mexicana. Margarita also happened upon a makeup artist at a local makeup store who knew how to do Day of the Dead-style makeup. Margarita’s face was painted to resemble a skull, a symbol of the Day of the Dead.

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Strike a pose Day of the Dead style. Check out the skeleton-back chairs!

El Topo’s decor is colourful and, from the perspective of someone who’s never been to Mexico (except for that four hours in Tiajuana in 1992), very authentic. I walked in there and felt I was escaping to a Mexican holiday destination. Or at least, escaping Westfield. (Yes, it can be accessed from Westfield Bondi Junction).  It has an exceptional outdoor terrace area with a private dining room (where my sister’s party was). There are also cosy booths, each one decorated with different Mexican-style themes, from traditional Day of the Dead skulls, to religious iconography, to pictures of guitar-strumming, movie star-style senoritas.

Cosy booth with traditional decorations

Cosy booth with traditional decorations

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Margarita displayed this poster of Our Lady of Guadalupe

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An El Topo cocktail – hibiscus, lime juice and rose (it was “el Topo”)

The food was unlike no other Mexican I’ve ever had – it was authentically Oaxacan (Wahacan). There was not a Dorito in sight –  yes, it was a Nachos-free zone. While there are fried crickets (the insect) on the menu, there are so many other delicious items for the not-so adventurous diner (that’s me).

Senorita Margarita had told me she’d eaten fried grasshopers in Mexico and crickets were on the menu here. I warned her before we went, “I’m NOT eating grasshopers! But I will try the Mole”, I said, pronouncing it “Moll”.

“And don’t call it Moll!” Margarita warned.

When Senorita Margarita first returned from Mexico, she brought over a bottle of what look like chocolate sauce. “Mole” read the label.  “What’s this Mole?” I asked, pronouncing it “Moll”.

“Mol – ay” she corrected.  Mole is a Mexican sauce containing chocolate, chili and other spices.

“What’s this Mole”? said my dinner table neighbour as she perused the menu, pronouncing it “Moll”. Some people, honestly!

I later tried some of the famous “Mol – ay” from my neighbour’s plate of “Pollo en Mole Negro y Garbanzo” (chicken maryland, mole and chickpea) and we agreed it was like “a party in the mouth”, with about five different flavours at once, like a spicy tomato chocolate sauce. On chicken. Quite amazing.

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Not Mole. Hot stuff though.

I ordered a Quesadilla or “Queso y Flor De Calabaza” which was four folded-over triangles of burrito with a Oaxacan cheese, quinoa, salsa vierge and zuchini flowers. It was delicious,  with the delicate flavours of the zuchini flowers and the salsa. It was tasty, satisfying and at $13 a great price for a meal. Wish I’d photographed the quesadilla, but was too busy eating and talking. But here’s a shot of dessert. Mmmm… donuts.

These donuts were made for dunkin’

The dessert menu is amazing, and I had trouble choosing between the “Flan Roto de Coco con Chocolate y Cajeta” (smashed flan of coconut, single origin Mexican chocolate, hazelnut and goats milk caramel) and the “Bunuelos con Chocolate” (donuts and chocolate sauce). I chose the donuts, and despite my eagerness to dunk the hot, crispy, sugary goodness into the melted Mexican chocolate (which was NOT Mole), I managed to photograph my plate first (because I had to wait for the donuts to cool down).

El Topo is located on the rooftop (level 3) of the Eastern Hotel, 500 Oxford Street, Bondi Junction, and remember, can also be accessed via Westfield!

So, Senorita Margarita, Feliz Cumpleanos! May it be a wonderful year for you.