Thursday, February 24, 2011

i try flying a plane

I have to admit there aren't many people I know who would be willing to get in a plane with me knowing that I would be the one flying the plane. You're a brave man Bradley Rogan. Before we left Brad and I had a conversation that went a little like this...

Me: It says on the information sheet that aerobatics are optional.(pause)
Both of us: Well, they're not.
Me: So are we going to be doing loops and barrrel rolls and the ones where you spin around and around when you're falling?
At this point Brad looked at me with a little grin and a rather mischievious glint in his eyes.
Brad: What's this "we"? You're the one that'll be flying.

Several rows of planes sat lined up on the tarmac. We walked towards a little Cessna 152. Evidently Captain Brad had already set the plane up and done all the checks. We sat in the cockpit and Brad began pointing out gauges, buttons, levers and peddles. He set me up with headphones and checked my seat position. His plan for the flight went like this:

"So I'll get you to take off. Then we'll head over the coast, head north a little, then come back over the ocean and head towards Cockburn sound. Once we're there I'll do a loop, then you can do a loop, I'll do a barrel roll, then you can do a barrel roll. We'll just have a bit of a play then we'll head back and I'll get you to land it."

I'm smiling and nodding as Brad is telling me this. But a little voice inside my head is starting to wonder if he knows I've never flown a plane before. Surely, he knows. Surely. Although he does seem to have a lot of faith in my non-existant ability. I just keep smiling and nodding anyway.

Brad gets me to start the plane and drive it towards the runaway after we are granted clearance by the control tower. Turns out I am a bit of retard at taxiing the plane. I kept trying to steer it with the wheel. "So?" I hear you ask. Ah, see a plane is not a car and when you're on the ground you steer the plane with your feet. Weird. I had issues with it. But, luckily Brad had his own set of pedals and was able to help me steer it. He also had to remind me a few times that planes drive in the middle of the road. They don't have to keep to left (memo to self: once again planes are not cars).

We did make it to the runway and into the air. Brad was giving me instructions: when we reach this speed do this and then do this. Once this happens do this. And there we were. Flying in our little plane with me at the wheel. We were flying and we weren't falling! Just as Brad had said we flew towards the coast, then north for a bit, then we swung around and headed south towards Cockburn Sound. Once we were above Cockburn Sound Brad started explaining how to do a loop. His tone was so casual he might've been explaining to me how to knit a sweater. I'm starting to believe I might actually be able to do this.

Brad demonstrates the loop first, explaining to me what he is doing as he doing it. With nothing to hold onto I decide I may as well hold onto my camera and film the loop. Brad points the nose towards the ground to build up the air speed. Once we are going fast enough he pulls the controls out and the ground disappears. I can feel the g-forces pushing me from all sides then the ground appears again and we are back level.

"Now, your turn," Brad says. And in that same relaxed, no-big-deal-it's-just-a-loop-at-1000ft tone he tells me what to do. And I did it. And we didn't die! It was at that moment I realised this would not be the last time I flew a plane. I was hooked.

We do the same scenario with a barrel roll then combine the two together. We do a couple more manouvers then head back towards the airport. Brad points me in the right direction and makes a call to the control tower as we come over the power station. He explains how there are entrances and exits to the airport, just like a car park.

Right, so I just want you to head straight for the piano keys," Brad says, as we line up the runway and begin to descend. "And, when we just above the ground we point the nose up a little. I'll talk you through it" So, there I am, steering a plane towards white lines on a road 1000ft below me while Brad calmly gives me short directions like 'little to the left', 'just bring her down a bit', 'yep, that's good'. It probably wasn't the smoothest landing but I did it. Luckily, Brad helped me work the pedals to keep the plane straight once we on the ground. Actually, he pretty much did that for me. As we parked the little plane back in line with all the others I already felt like going up again.

The final verdict: I can do a barrel roll and a loop but I'm a bit shit at driving the plane on the ground.

Special thanks to The Boss. Petee you are a legend!

Monday, February 14, 2011

i try the pickled fig

Where would you like to sit? At 6.30pm on a warm Thursday evening there was only one other couple at The Pickled Fig. There was not a breath of wind. The hot evening sun flooded the restaurant as it began to lower in the sky. Would we be too hot outside? Would we miss the sunset inside? What about that table? Wont the sun be in our eyes? What if we face the other way? Well, then we will definitely miss the sunset. What about the leather, zebra stripe chairs at the side there? Leather? On a hot evening? I. Don't. Think. So. The conversation went on like this for a good five minutes while our waiter for us to decide.

Eventually we did. We ordered surprisingly quickly given how long it took us to decide where to sit. As our waiter began laying down side plates and cutlery we were eying off table 14. There was noone sitting there. It was a pair of rainbow, slightly weathered deck chairs. Damn. We should've sat there. Oh well, live and learn.
I was being accompanied by Louise. Our other partner in crime, Thelma, was sadly in hospital. We were going to see her after dinner. The restaurant slowly began to fill up as we chatted away with the warm sun on our backs. This particular evening was very still. I'm not sure how this place would fair with a strong sea breeze.

Both Louise and I ordered salads. Perhaps it was the warm weather. I selected the prawn salad. This included chilled poached tiger prawns, strawberries, shaved asparagus, tomato flesh, cucumber, soft fetta and mesculin with a honey, lime and hazelnut dressing (pictured, $26.80).

It is certainly nice to see a bit a care taken in putting the salad on the plate. The prawns formed a ring around the base of the stack. Each were facing the same way and had a blob of dressing on top. It is even better when the salad isn't just overloaded with mixed salad leaves. The prawns were cooked perfectly and went nicely with the dressing. The strawberries were very sweet but I'm not sure they added anything to the salad. I'm not a fan of parmesan melted down into a chip. I don't think it did anything for the salad other than make it a little taller. My favourite part of the dish was the dressing. It was sweet but the lime gave it a nice tang. Overall it was a fantastic salad prepared with care. It was perfect for the warm evening.

Louise's salad was roasted beetroot, juicy orange flesh, soft fetta, fresh spinach, pine nuts, crispy orange, raspberry vinaigrette with seven seed bread (pictured, $23)

The colour of the beetroot and the raspberry vinaigrette made the salad look lovely and vibrant. Again, it had generous amounts of the core ingredients. The bettroot was lovely and tender. The fetta wasn't overprowering. And, according to Louise the orange worked well with the beetroot.

Salads aren't difficult. It is simple a matter of getting a good ratio of ingredients. It is about the right amount of dressing. It is about adding multiple textural dimensions. It is about taking a little care when putting it on the plate. And, it is about trying something a little different. The salads at The Pickled Fig can tick all these boxes.

For opening times and contact details see:

Pickled Fig on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

i try making healthy biscuits

I like making sweet things. However, when it comes to eating them, any ounce of self-discipline I have is forgotten and the goods are polished off in a day or two. In the case of biscuits, at least a quarter of the mixture is already eaten before it even makes it to the oven. I have issues.
Imagine a biscuit where every single ingrediant is good for you. That's what I wanted to make. And, I think I have done it. These biscuits are delicious and, true to form, I ate them very quickly. I have put some info below the recipe on each of the ingredients and why they are good for you. These biscuits even got the tick from the person who tastes all my baked goods, and is never afraid to say what he thinks. Yes, my toughest critic, my younger brother, gave them the nod of approval.

1 cup rolled oats
1 cup wholemeal plain flour
1 cup almond meal (ground almonds)
1/2 cup shredded coconut
pinch salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup agave nectar/syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Sift flour and baking powder into bowl. Add all remaining dry ingredients and combine. In a separate bowl combine wet ingredients. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients until just combined.
Roll mixture into small balls and place on baking tray lined with baking paper. Ensure there are several centimeters between each ball. Flatten slightly with the back of a spoon or your fingers. Bake for 12 - 15 minutes. Allow to cool on baking tray for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Why It's Good For You

Oats/Wholemeal Flour: Oats are an excellent source of B vitamins and minerals, as well as being higher in protein and essential fatty acids than other, more refined cereals. It is also believed they can help lower cholersterol and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Almonds: Almonds are a rich source of protein, potassium, manganese, magnesium, calcium and phosphorus. They are little bullets of goodness.
Coconut: Coconut is a good source of protein. It helps with tissue and muscle repair. It is rich in potassium, phosphorus and magnesium. It also aids digestion and improves bowel function.
Dried Apricots: Apricots are loaded with Vitamin A and are also a good source of calcium. They help to normalize blood pressure, body fluids and heart function.
Olive Oil: Research suggests that using olive oil as the main source of fat in your diet can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer. It has antioxidant properties and has been shown to lower blood pressure.
Agave nectar: Agave nectar (aka agave syrup) is a natural sweetner from agave plants. It has a much lower GI than other sweetners and sugars meaning you can avoid massive spikes in blood sugar levels. It's sweetness comes from fructose which is a sugar that naturally occurs in fruits. But, like all sugars, it should be consumed in moderation.

Crocker, P. (2007). The Vegetarian Cook's Bible. Toronto: Robert Rose

Oats So Good For You. (2007). Retrieved February 11, 2011, from

Eight Facts About Agave Nectar. (2010). Retrieved February 10, 2011, from

Olive Oil. (2010). Better Health Channel. Retrieved February 9, 2011, from

Thursday, February 3, 2011

i try the mean fiddler

Where does one eat in Albany? Actually, let me rephrase that. Where does one eat in Albany when the Wild Duck is all booked out and you really can't be arsed getting all dressed up but you still want a decent meal? The Mean Fiddler.

A good critic would've asked where the name came from. But, I was distracted by the crayons. Yes, you read that correctly. The crayons! On top of the crisp white linen table cloths are large sheets of disposable white paper. And nestled alongside the salt and pepper on every table is a glass of crayons just ready for the scribbling. Get excited!

I'm sure this is something intended to amuse the children but what a wonderful way to indulge your inner artist or fill awkward silences. Not that I needed to fill awkward silences. I wasn't on a first date or anything. No, I was dining with the The Boss, Goldilocks and Smalls (oh, I do love a good pseudonym).

Our waitress was friendly and had manage to memorize what was possibly the longest specials board I have ever seen. The Boss chose the black grain fed Angus fillet, topped with a whole marron, served with chips, salad and pepper sauce ($44). Goldilocks and Smalls got the sticky pork belly, served with asian greens and chilli, lime caramel sauce ($34). I opted for the seafood salad with fish, prawns and scallops, cashew nuts and crispy noodle salad and sticky soy ($22.50 for entree size).

With our orders in it was time for the magic to begin. The crayons were out and, oh, what magic we did create. While Smalls recreated the cyclone that was bearing down on Queensland, I was busy writing inspirational things like, "too much violins and not enough sax" and "accept that some days you are the pigeon and some days you are the statue". Goldilocks was making rainbows and The Boss was drawing some very lifelike portraits of each of us. It all came together beautifully and the result was pure poetry.

Not long after our drawing was complete our meals arrived. Despite being entree size my seafood salad (pictured) was still a generous portion and easily enough to feed me. Many restaurants can be quite stingy with the star ingredient of a salad. Not so at The Mean Fiddler. It was laden with seafood. The scallops were plump and tender. The fish was perfectly cooked. The prawns spent just a couple of seconds too long on the heat but that didn't stop me from devouring them. The dressing was delicious but didn't overpower the natural flavour of the fresh seafood. The rest of the salad was laden with perfectly chopped carrot, cucumber , cashews and crunchy noodles. As my salad slowly diminished I was starting to think I should've ordered the main size.

The pork belly (pictured) looked lovely and bright when it came out. Four succulent strips of pork belly were placed lovelingly against a shaped mound of rice. The brightness of the perfectly cooked greens contrasted beautifully with the magenta coloured sauce. I traded a piece of pork for a piece of fish with Goldilocks. It was crispy on top but still tender just as pork belly ought to be.

The Boss seemed to have scored an extra half of marron which she bequeathed to Goldilocks and I. It was perfectly cooked and slid straight out of it's shell. It was soft, subtle and sweet. Everything that well-cooked, fresh marron should be. The Boss said her steak was cooked exactly how she liked it and I noticed there wasn't a drop of sauce left on her plate.

As for the rest of us our plates were completely empty. Even Smalls, who is notorious for leaving half her meal behind, polished hers off. The service was perfect. The decor seems a little random (personally I think there should be a crayon drawing hall of fame). And, most importantly, the food was fantastic. Oh, and the crayons!

The Mean Fiddler Cafe Bar Restaurant on Urbanspoon

If you liked this one then you'll probably like i try The Boulevard

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