Saturday, 27 June 2015

What Is It About Street Food?

 The more street food we have, the more it's embraced by every income strata, the better world we have. Anthony Bourdain.
In browsing the latest cookbooks on the market and pondering the purchase of "Turkish Fire, Street Food and Barbecue from the Wild Heart of Turkey" by Sevtap Yuce, a question came to mind. What is the worlds current fascination with street food? I love it, I know you love it but why do we love it?

What makes food cooked on the streets so fascinating? What is it that we love so much about the process of food being made and sold outside of traditional restaurant walls that excites us so? Does the lack of table cloths and seating have an affect on our perception of flavour? Do we prefer to eat with our fingers than with knives and forks? Is the price bracket appealing and the made to order nature of the food the draw card?

I think it is all of the above but more so it is the people. Just hearing the word street food takes your mind your travels, to somewhere exotic, to somewhere you would rather be. And what cements all of those experiences together is the honesty of real food being cooked by real people. People who make and sell the food out of necessity, the necessity of feeding their families and making a living. There is no pretensions as we too often find in the restaurant culture.

You could say "cheffy" egos are left at the door, if there was a door to leave them at. Maybe the lack of a door and walls strips the cook of the ego. Without that ego, without the never ending quest for innovation seen behind the doors of the worlds best restaurants we are left with only the essence of what food is and should be.

Quite simply it is food from the heart, recipes passed down through the generations, cooked and served on the streets to locals and tourists alike. A lack of formal training actually may be the secret in generating some of the most astounding food you are ever likely to taste. The flavours dance on your tongue and connect you with a culture. It is food that is completely unadulterated, that shouts through a loud speaker to your soul and will forever be a calling card for you across space and time.

Now more than ever we see street food chasing us back home. Street food festivals are ever present and draw massive crowds. On opening night, this year Canberra's Noodle Night Markets served more than 10000 people from only a handful of food trucks. The annual Canberra Multicultural festival sees hundreds of thousands of attendees every year eat their way around the world in a matter of three days. These types of events are the highlight of my calendar but do they really capture what makes street food so exciting? Sure the flavours are often authentic, with recent and not so recent immigrants to Australia excited to share their culture, the atmosphere is festive and the food is best eaten with the hands. It has all the elements we want from our street food but there is always that niggling feeling in the back of my mind that there is something missing.

It is the same with the street food cookbooks on the market. They tick all the boxes for me as far as exploring another culture through food but when cooked in the comfort of your own home following a recipe and eaten at the dinner table or as dinner so often is, in front of the TV can it still be considered street food?

Without the people who live and breathe this food day in, day out. When not surrounded by the bustling cities that are home to the street food and it's maker. Without the locally grown ingredients and generational recipes what are we really left with?

I am tempted to say we are left with a sad attempt to capture a moment that is gone but it just seems too cynical. Whilst any feeble attempts to bottle a feeling that has passed may be a little pathetic it is often all we have. If eating that food or cooking those recipes reconnects you with a moment, a culture or a people that once bought us great joy then it can't be a bad thing at all.

The real deal, eating on the streets of Vietnam connects you with a way of life of a nation

Originally posted on Saturday, 27 June 2015 by

Monday, 15 June 2015

Digging Deeper Into Canada and Alaska

If some countries have too much history, we have too much geography – William Lyon Mackenzie King.  

Sometimes enquiry in the travel agency on particular destinations comes in waves. Last week was a Tsunami of clients wanting to do Canada and Alaska which came seemingly from no where but likely influenced by recent television advertising from the big tour companies.

The Australian market for Canada and Alaska is heavily influenced by one big player, Scenic Tours. Around twelve years ago Scenic Tours launched a game changing tour itinerary that combined a coach tour of the Rockies with the Rocky Mountaineer Train trip and an Alaskan cruise of the Inside Passage. The 21 day itinerary was plugged so heavily in the media (Scenic really know how to market their products) that for the following five years it was one of the highest selling travel products in the market. The luxury standard of the tour with the use of the Fairmont properties and the price bracket that came with this (upwards to $12000 a head) it was something that really only appealed to an older market.

Over the years the interest in these tours has levelled out and the introduction of European River Cruising saw a change of focus for this 50's up market. What the relentless advertising has done though is cement in the minds of potential Canadian/Alaskan travellers that there is only one way to see this region and that could not be further from the truth.

Whilst Scenic's all inclusive itinerary absolutely has it's place, and for the right person it is a trip of a lifetime, there are other ways to travel.

A lovely client presented to me last week, the first of many that week wanting to head to the Rockies and Alaska. He had seen the marketing for the Scenic Tour. He was vaguely interested but I could sense the hesitation not only in relation to the price bracket but the uncertainty that this was the right product for him. 

Of course I took this hesitation and ran with it. Whilst it would be easy money for me to convince him that Scenic was exactly the right product for him and with my first hand experience on a Scenic Tour of Canada I can highly recommend it, it would be an easy sale. One phone call to make the booking, an hour on the paperwork and bam our agency would make significant commission for the booking but I knew he was exactly the right person who could be interested in small group touring. I am not the kind of agent who goes after the easy money. I want to ensure the right product is matched up to the right client.

Enter Peregrine Adventures, small group adventures specifically aimed up an over 40's age group. I have been privileged to undertake a tour of Italy with these guys and I have been hooked on the product ever since. It is all about really experiencing a destination, getting in depth, staying in boutique accommodations with local atmosphere, eating local food, using local transport, travelling with a local tour guide who knows the region in depth. This is travel for people with curious minds who don't want to be lost as a number in a large tour group.

I went through the product with the client and he was thrilled. He had no idea you could travel like this and was particularly intrigued by the 19 Day Alaska, Yukon & Arctic Circle Tour. The tour itinerary was worlds apart from the Holland America Cruise  in Alaska offered as a part of the Scenic Tour & whilst the client enjoys cruising he knew that he was not going to see much of the real Alaska. 

As we discussed the cruise we covered his concerns of being docked in these small Alaskan towns with any number of large cruise ships each holding countless thousands of people. There is also no ability to head inland as the cruise sticks to the coastline, he had more concerns over the cruise than positives so having a land based tour that goes deep into Alaska was extremely appealing. This particular itinerary is a little different to a standard Peregrine Tour so the client needed to consider the activity level and camping involved in this one as it is quite an active and adventurous trip but with over a year to get in shape for it there is plenty of time to make the proper preparations.

He was also quite taken with a Canada itinerary that covers the same ground in the Rockies as Scenic but again in a small group format. The 13 Day Canadian Rockies and Vancouver Island  was just the ticket. A way to see to beauty of the Rockies but not confined to a large tour bus as one of fifty other people. Also being a one way itinerary it leaves the perfect place to slot in the Rocky Mountaineer Train if the client wishes to travel between Vancouver and Banff utilising the tourist train.

Interestingly though if you take these two tours and do them back to back you are in the price bracket of the Scenic Tour but as it was exactly what the client was looking for he was not so concerned about this. It becomes value for money when it meets your expectations. There is nothing of lesser value than paying for something that does not suit your needs.

Another very satisfied customer and a happy travel agent. It thrills me to introduce customers to options they may have not known existed and matching up their personalities to the perfect form of travel for them.
Originally posted on Monday, 15 June 2015 by

Monday, 8 June 2015

How To Make The Ultimate Dalek Cake. A Step by Step Guide

I am re-posting this blog from it's original place on my Stacked Cakes website. As I no longer make cakes professionally I am shutting that page down and thought it would be a huge shame to lose my most popular blog posts.

This Dalek cake once online went viral which was so exciting. I saw it re-posted, tweeted and blogged about all around the world in many languages.

It was made by myself and my husband, Martin for his birthday. It remains one of our favourite cakes of all time. A close second may be our R2D2 which I will re-post here soon along with the downloadable plans.

Who wouldn't love a 2 foot tall realistically detailed Dalek cake for their birthday?

This cake was a challenge but ended up better than we could have imagined. It stands 22" high and weighs nearly 20kg.

The following photos show some of the work that went into it's construction.

Plans were developed from existing Doctor Who manuals

The use of styro-foam in some sections reduces weight and cakes wastage. These parts can absolutely be made from cake if you have a lot of people to feed.

28 styro-foam balls were halved, covered in icing and painted gold. 

The main sections of body are carved and covered in chocolate ganache ready to be iced

The different sections are stacked once iced

More details are added and the eye-ball is in development

The eye is added along with gun mounts

The completed Dalek is ready to exterminate!

Dalek ready for his close up

Me and the Dalek

People at the restaurant we took this cake were awaiting the cutting, proof it was actually cake

Originally posted on Monday, 8 June 2015 by