Champagne cream tea: an excuse for old school favourites

Recently my Grandma celebrated a significant birthday and so all the family and her many, many friends got together for a champagne cream tea to toast her health and long life. One of the nicest things about socialising with the older generation is the food. They really know how to do a proper afternoon tea!

For morning prep, my sister and I were assigned asparagus roll duty. The party was held near Wellington (Shared Table is of Kiwi extraction) and in New Zealand it is against the law to hold any kind of eating occasion without asparagus rolls. Controversially though, we didn’t press the bread with a rolling pin as Grandma felt that makes it too doughy; we did of course cut the crusts offand butter all the way to the edges; some things are sacred.

Another feature of the older generation is their generous habit of always bringing a plate and various friends and relatives had brought contributions. One friend brought plate of simple buttered ham sandwiches, which deserve to be returned to the afternoon tea trolley. Another brought the most delicious salmon quiche and there were powder puff light meringues and pastry horns filled with creamed mushroom. My Aunty Jocelyn took Louise Cake to a whole new level by adding cherries and a layer of caramel. Playing the pregnant-sympathy card, I got the last piece 🙂

So, check out these works of afternoon tea art and get baking!

Neenish tarts. Look up Woman's Weekly if your Gran doesn't have the recipe

Grandma's strawberry & lemon tarts. So pretty!

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The Milk Wars: do I stand by my principles or my purse?

Frankly I’m appalled at the bum deal Aussies get on their groceries. I’m astonished that there isn’t more public outcry and that government hasn’t intervened to introduce some real competition and break the stranglehold of the Coles-Woolworths oligopoly. Australians are getting taken for a ride just buying a loaf of bread because, well, the Big Two can get away with it. Where else are the punters going to go?

In the UK there are the Big Four (sounds like some kind of 1970s IRA style terror cell or possibly a disco group): Tesco, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Asda. They vary in style and both real and perceived quality but they have one thing in common – fierce competition on price. I talked a little about this briefly in my very first piece for this blog, ‘Leaving London: 10 things I’ll miss about Blighty’.

Just to illustrate the point I did some quick online comparisons between Sainsbury’s, where I shopped in London, Coles and Woolies (incidentally, Coles and Woolies could really up their online game – crap user interface guys!). This isn’t scientific and I chose tomatoes, yoghurt and mince because a) I always buy them and b) two are fresh so must be made in-country and one is not so can be imported:

Home brand tinned tomatoes are 74c at Coles, 81c at Woolworths but 52c (33p) at Sainsbury’s.

Homebrand 500g plain yoghurt is $3.15 at Coles, $3.21 at Woolworths but $1.78 at Sainsbury’s (£1.12) AND it’s certified organic. Non organic yoghurt is 79c (50p). Neither of the big Australians even offer a homebrand organic option.

Homebrand 500g beef mince is $3.95 at Coles, $4.54 at Woolies and $1.54 (97p for 400g) at Sainsbuy’s, which doesn’t take into account the organic options available at Sainsbury’s nor the regular “two for…” reduced price offers.

I know, I know, this isn’t scientific or thorough and the Aussie dollar is charging away making mince meat out of the pound, so using the exchange rate is a bit iffy. But. But, it is true that groceries are disproportionately more expensive here in the Land Down Under.

Coles seems to be taking a leaf out of the UK’s book, which may be down to the fact that, as this Sydney Morning Herald article outlines, the three recently appointed management head honchos are Brits. Their opening salvo in what may be a wider price competition was the $1 Milk War.

However, I am rather torn between my general outrage at the dodgy pricing in Australian supermarkets and my food principles. I like to shop locally and seasonally and specifically aim to support smaller producers. So what to do: stand by my principles or my cruelly abused purse? It wasn’t this much of a dilemma in the UK, where I could buy British, organic and well priced groceries.

The reaction to the Milk Wars is divided between one group of consumers pleased with the saving and, in the other camp, producers, some politicians and another set of consumers concerned at the longer term impact on the milk industry in Australia. I like the saving and also agree with the concern about the milk industry. I don’t want to only be able to get UHT milk in a decade because Coles and Woolworths slugged it out back in 2011.

The same concern about the Big Four bullying producers and cutting their margins to unsustainably unprofitable levels has been had in the UK; even Prince Charles weighed in at one point.

It is perhaps unfortunate that milk has been made the sacrificial lamb (to mix metaphors). As that article in the SMH sets out, Australia is seen as something of a cash cow by some manufacturers and, even despite our low population, expansive geography and isolation, are apparently making more of a margin out of us than they are in densely populated Europe.

“I am a firm believer still that many of the multinationals today are still using Australia as a cash cow,” Durkan says. ”I have little doubt, when I look at the prices on the shelves of some of the big proprietary brands, and I look at the margin we make as a company, it can’t just be the cost of production and the geography of Australia. It can’t be … they make more margin out of this part of the world than they do out of Europe. You have got to ask yourself why would that be the case.”

So, it may well be morally wrong to use milk as the basis of a price war, given the potential damage that could be done to an important industry and its role supporting regional livelihoods, but I’m more than a little bit suspicious that we are being taken to the cleaners by our grocers. A full scale price war could be what’s needed to make sure Australian supermarket customers aren’t being taken for granted.

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Fried icecream! Alright!

One of the nice things about coming home is revisiting old favourites. I know there’s nothing particularly Aussie about fried icecream, you can get it in Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants in suburbs across the Western world (although I’m pretty sure not in China), but it’s something I associate with being a kid.

Old school fried icecream with "chocolate" sauce

This was actually a bit of a disappointing example. A great fried icecream should be flash deep fried so the icecream starts to melt inside its batter carapace. Unfortunately, this one was a bit tired and didn’t deliver a melty, crunchy, cold dessert.

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Stuff I like: DIY foodies

Check out this really neat article from The Guardian on small – micro!- producers.  I love the fact that these people have got really, really geeky about their chosen foodstuff and are absolutely determined to produce it, come hell or highwater (or a bedsit in east London).

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By the Sydney Opera House I sat down and wept

OK, a minor exaggeration there, but it was a close run thing. Pushed to extreme tetchiness by hunger, both The Man and I were getting close to tantrum territory on a recent trip in to the tourist centre of our new home, Sydney, because of the complete lack of any eating options that did not require a mortgage.

Tourist traps like Circular Quay, home of the Opera House and stunning views of Sydney Harbour Bridge, are always going to charge a premium. It was astonishing, though, that there was absolutely nothing cheap and cheerful to be had in the vicinity. What would a budget conscious backpacker or family out for a day trip do? Bring their own sarnies?

But it seems it’s not just touristic areas that are suffering massive inflation. Recently I was in Bondi Junction (the less glamorous twin of Bondi Beach) and found it impossible to get a quick sandwich’n’juice lunch for less than $10 – in the food court! In fact, I would go so far to say that there seems to be very little cheap and cheerful left in the food scene in Aus in general.

Coming home has been great in many ways. I am appreciating all over again the vibrant food and independent cafe culture that has really blossomed in Australia while I’ve been away. But – much as this might shock, food is cheaper in London, even allowing for the current strong dollar/ weak pound.

Since when has it been normal to charge over $20 for a burger?

How come a suburban Sunday breakfast for four costs a hundred bucks?

Why is beer so expensive when it’s part of our national psyche?

Where did the ordinary bakery go and how come I can’t get a simple chicken and salad sandwich?

How can the supermarkets get away with the prices they charge for basic foods? Where’s the competition?

The thing I find most curious is there is an untapped market for quick, interesting and not horrendously priced food, particularly lunch. I never thought I would be extolling the virtues of chains, but in the UK Marks & Spencers, Eat and Pret a Manger lead the way in providing interesting, good quality prepared sandwiches, salads and heat’n’serve dinners for relatively reasonable prices to people at train stations, in central cities and, yes, tourist traps. I can’t see an equivalent here in Australia.

M&S come quickly! Australia needs you!



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How come I haven’t had an icypole since I was in primary school?

I am wilting in the Aussie summer heat. I don’t know if it’s the years in the northern hemisphere or the fact I’m not a kid anymore, but I just can’t cope. Perth’s searing 40 degree days are bad; Sydney’s hot, sticky mugginess is almost worse. Really can’t decide. Really can’t do anything actually. Except eat icypoles (ice lollies for the Brits reading this).

Man! Why haven’t I had an icypole since primary school? They are the bomb! Way better than ice cream because when it’s so hot you hide from the sun like it’s nuclear fallout, you don’t want creamy sweetness. You just want crisp frozen “raspberry” flavoured sugar water.

The only exception to icypoles beating ice cream is the Splice – ice cream coated in icypole. Perfect!

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Stuff I like: Smitten Kitchen’s vanilla pudding

This vanilla pudding from Smitten Kitchen is for my mum, who has contraband vanilla pods in her fridge, secretly smuggled out of Indonesia by a “friend”/ dealer.

Deb at Smitten Kitchen says this is food for freezing New York January days when it’s too much hassle to go outside, so stay inside and potter in the kitchen. When it’s a 40 degree Perth January summer day, this pudding would do the trick: some light heating (no oven needed!), then chill in the fridge while you lie under the airconditioner/ in a cold bath with a novel. Eat. Preferably with mango.

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