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Archive for January, 2012

My day at The Agrarian Kitchen was like the universe giving me a sneak preview on what my dream life looks like (including the talented gardeners & the humble, yet talented, chef)!  [Yes, I know it's a little greedy to want more when I'm already living part of my dream, but who says you can't have it all?!]

The Agrarian Kitchen is the creation of ex-Sydney chef, Rod, and his beautiful (French) wife, Sev.  Five years in the making, they have a five acre property with goats, pigs, bees, chooks and a truck load of edible goodness.

The Agrarian Kitchen - quality all the way

The Agrarian Kitchen - quality all the way

So, the scene is set with a leisurely 45 minute drive from Hobart on Tassie’s super efficient roads.  From about 3 minutes out of Hobart you’re in lovely countryside, quaint villages and other beautiful scenery.  Even after 2 weeks of driving around Tassie I still love a roll of hay with a backdrop of rolling green hills.

We arrive.  Coffee is made (and it’s a good one).  Rod’s made a cake.  And the first thing I notice is that everything they do is good quality and they have that perfectionistic attention to detail that I just LOVE, LOVE, LOVE.  The menu and apron are to keep, utensils to borrow for the day.

We started with a tour of the property.  I’ll say at this point that if you think this post is long because of all of the photographs, I was BRUTAL with my cull.  I had about 3 times this number on the shortlist.

Stop 1 was milking the goats… which involved the goats pulling Rod off his feet in their eagerness to get to the milking shed.  Not sure if you’ve ever milked a goat (or cow), but if you haven’t, the udder is incredibly soft and warm.  Goats milk for the ricotta – check.

The Race to the Milking Shed

The Race to the Milking Shed

Then we visited the pigs (saddleback, if you’re interested)… none of the photographs made the brutal shortlist.  Then the chooks (couldn’t resist this one of the rooster crowing)… eggs – check!

Who's a happy fella?

Who's a happy fella?

Because of Tassie’s harsh climate, they’ve put in a couple of ‘poly tunnels’ (which extends their growing season) and they’re positively overflowing which herbs and tomatoes and onions and we just filled our baskets with everything we needed for our cook off.

Poly tunnel... toward the white light

Poly tunnel... toward the white light

and a close up for those who just want more…

Inside the white light

Inside the white light

As if that wasn’t enough, our wonka factory tour continued into the outside beds where we harvested potatoes, zuchini, tasted strawberries, blackberries, other berries, dug up carrots, picked peas, marvelled at artichokes etc etc. [that's about 14 photographs that didn't make the cut!]

More agrarian goodness

More agrarian goodness

And finally, into the kitchen where we got our menu…

The Agrarian Experience - Menu

The Agrarian Experience - Menu

and started work led by chef, Rod.

Chef Rodney

Chef Rodney

Three hours later, et voila…

Goats milk ricotta ravioli with burnt butter, garlic, wild rocket and lovage

Goats milk ricotta ravioli with burnt butter, garlic, wild rocket and lovage

followed by…

Poached Robbins Island Wagyu Beef Short-Rib with chimichurri

Poached Robbins Island Wagyu Beef Short-Rib with chimichurri

accompanied by…

Grilled zuchini, peas & goats cheese with caramelised balsamic baby onions & mint

Grilled zuchini, peas & goats cheese with caramelised balsamic baby onions & mint

Unfortunately I didn’t get a photograph of the potato dish without the girls who made it in the image, so I’ve left that one out.  It was divine!

And for dessert…

Apricot and frangipane tartlets with cardamom ice-cream

Apricot and frangipane tartlets with cardamom ice-cream

All accompanied by beautiful Tassie wines (and sparkling rhubarb made with rhubarb from the garden).

If you have a bucket list, you even remotely like cooking, you like the countryside, you hanker for ‘the old days’ or you’ve never milked a goat and you’d like to try, I can highly recommend The Agrarian Kitchen.  It remains on my bucket list for another visit.

Cate xx

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The rest of my “Highlights from Tassie” posts appear in no particular order.  They were all equally magical in their own way.

The one I’m sharing today is about my favourite work of art at MONA (the Museum of Old and New Art) in Tasmania.  I am confident that it was not a curated part of the exhibition, but if art is something that provokes an emotional response, that makes you stop and ponder, that is visually grabbing and that inspires you, then this was, hands down, the highlight for me.

OK, so I’m not going to win any cinematography awards, the resolution is dodgy and whatever I was doing that makes the click, click sound is a little annoying, BUT these are my highlights and unfortunately that is the best that I can do to share with you what was a completely profound and beautiful moment, indeed one of the 4 most profound and beautiful moments in 2 ½ weeks in Tassie… which is only a reflection on my camera skills, not on the rest of my time in Tassie.

Hopefully it will inspire you to look for more bees in your day and watch with delight as they go on their merry way.

 

[BTW the building is also striking and stunning and the rest of the art was, I thought, variable but entertaining].  MONA request on their website that photographs of the art not be published without permission… so we’ll just stick to the building and my favourite work of art.  I really hope you enjoy it too.  There is something so delightful about seeing nature in all its glory and loving itself sick!  The garden was pumping like a mardi gras dance floor.  Flitting here and there.  Sequins and tiara’s.  Bum waggles.  A touch of pink.  And oh so beautiful to watch!

[No, I'm not outing myself, I love a gay man as much as all of us other single Sydney chicks too terrified of getting hurt!]

MONA Gallery, Tasmania

MONA Gallery, Tasmania

I only realised the irony of this photograph later... I wonder if he chose the t-shirt specifically?

I only realised the irony of this photograph later... I wonder if he chose the t-shirt specifically?

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[Sadly, I've just sat for the past 10 minutes thinking about how I can make this post about my trip to Tassie humorous, but it was just so calming and beautiful and serene and full of bucket list ticking moments and friendly folk and community and rolls of hay and cows and sheep and bees that I can't bear to bag it... and I was too busy loving it to laugh.]

Anyway, so, this little bee went to Tassie for 2½ whole weeks.  Amazing.  Yes 2½ whole weeks.  Tassie was good too.  Seriously good.  If you would like to see the full 2,000 photographs, feel free to pop into the Brookvale any time and ask me how my trip was.  Otherwise, I’ll restrict myself to 4 blog posts of the 4 major highlights.

The first was beekeeping in the World Heritage Listed leatherwood forests on the west coast of Tassie.  All the ingredients for a bucket list item:

  • Riding in a semi trailor    √ (OK, that’s actually a square root symbol, and no I didn’t score, but it is the closest thing on wordpress to a tick)
  • over 7 million bees     √
  • Leatherwood honey     √
  • Goosebump raising beautiful forests     √
  • 4am start… not so much
  • 7am coffee     √
  • personal tour of the factory by family patriarch, Ian     √
  • home cooked meals and packed lunch from family matriarch, Shirley     √

That just about sums it all up really.  I’m actually, for once, quite lost for words to describe the experience of beekeeping in the Tasmanian wilderness under the protective wing of the Stephens family (http://www.leatherwoodhoney.com.au/).  RJ Stephens have been beekeeping in Tassie since 1920 and thankfully that means they have bee sites in the pristine World Heritage Listed leatherwood forests on the West Coast.

Just in case you didn’t know, leatherwood trees ONLY grow in Tassie.  Nowhere else in the world.  And it is the most extra-ordinary honey.  It’s very floral.  In an unsubtle way.  Kind of like being punched in the mouth and nose with a bunch of flowers.  Leatherwood honey is to Tassie what champagne is to Champagne.  Parmagiano is to Italy.  Cher is to unitards.  Iconic… and completely unique.

But I digress.  Here are a few of the highlights of my beekeeping experience.

I got to ride in a big truck…

Bird’s eye view from the truck cabin”][Low flying] Bird's eye view from the truck cabinAnd here’s what we were looking for

Leatherwood tree

Leatherwood tree

or in close up

Leatherwood tree blossoms close up

Leatherwood tree blossoms close up

Did I mention the big truck?…

My ride

My ride

The Stephens use “ideal” supers (which are half the height of a normal honey super) and have done so since 1920.  It is fairly unique to commercial beekeeping in Tassie, but makes a whole lot of sense when your extraction and packing worker bees are all women (just like in a hive).  An “ideal” super full of honey weighs in at around 20kgs.  On the truck we had 50 hives, each 9 supers high with around 150,000 bees per hive… over 7 million bees.

A couple of other interesting things – the 4am start was because we had a 5 hour drive into the forests from their base near Cradle Mountain and as bees like to start work at sunrise (and get grumpy if they can’t), it is imperative to get them unloaded as early as possible.  Secondly, you can see the green mesh on the back half of the truck… this covered the entire load for the whole trip so that the bees couldn’t fly off while we were driving as bees come back to the same spot they left.

Unloading "the girls"

Unloading "the girls"

Until a few years ago, all unloading was done by hand and hand-trolley… actually far less traumatic for the bees (and beekeepers) to do it this way.

Happy days... happy bees... let the foraging begin

Happy days... happy bees... let the foraging begin

You can see the leatherwoods in the background on the right hand side of the photograph.  Interestingly a leatherwood tree doesn’t flower for the first 75 odd years.  So that photograph of the tree in full bloom above is of a seriously old tree.

Happy bees... happy beekeeper

Happy bees... happy beekeeper

Time for a quick stroll into the enchanted forest [and a history lesson on the building of the rail link (under the road) which was all done by hand.

As another aside, Gunns are clear-felling just outside the World Heritage Listed area.

Forestry)””]The aftermath of Gunns (aided by Tasmanian [de]Forestry)Ironically, National Parks Tasmania are trying to get beekeepers out of the National Parks because they aren’t a native species… yet logging companies are?  Don’t get me started.  That chat is seriously not funny bone tickling.  No honeybees.  No World Heritage Listed forest leatherwood honey.  No iconic, unique to Tassie honey.  Far less pollination of leatherwood trees.  Sad really.

On a happier note, I’d love to introduce you to the matriarch and patriarch of the operation… Ian and Shirley.  [Ian is "over 85" and still goes out on one of the trucks every day... except for Saturday's when he goes to the races!]

Ian & Shirley Stephens

Ian & Shirley Stephens

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