Scattered clouds over Brisbane
I recently spent a few days in Roma and Injune in my role as an Australia Day Ambassador. Each year I go to a different location and the contrast between 2014 and 2015 could not have been more stark. Last year in Boulia the region was in the grip of a severe drought with the remaining cattle looking in very poor condition and green grass a rare sight. Flying into Roma it was green all around with pools of water showing full dams dotted on the landscape.
The one thing that is always abundant is the country hospitality and I leave with a hankering to return in the future. This year was no different. The Australia Day ceremony in the morning in Roma was combined with a Citizenship Ceremony and the large hall was packed out with standing room only at the back. Thirty-one new Australians swore their allegiance to the country and received their certificates, a lovely bouquet of Australian wildflowers and a bottle tree to plant. Brachychiton Rupestris are native to this area and Roma has an avenue of these trees commemorating the local soldiers who died in World War 1.
Whilst the four Australia Day awards announced in Canberra are given to people who have made a contribution on a large scale, the regional awards are given to those who have assisted in their local community and cover people of varying ages. These people make a real difference in their area of activity.
The drive to Injune mid-afternoon was through country that has seen a great change in recent weeks from the rain. Where once parched acres were is now green waist high grass.
The Injune Australia Day activities were held at the local pool and involved the presentation of awards and a barbecue – what would Australia Day be without the barbecue? This is beef country and I enjoyed a few meals of excellent rump steak during my stay.
Regional Harvest is a new event at this year’s Ekka. It is a collaboration between Lockyer Valley, Scenic Rim and Southern Downs Regional Councils and will be in the Sunny Queen Farms Agricultural Hall. Regional Harvest consists of three components – a stand where the three regions can interact with visitors, stage presentations from farmers, chefs and winemakers and the Regional Harvest Cafe where the produce from these three regions will be turned into delicious meals.
South east Queensland has much to offer locals and tourists such as picturesque natural landscapes, patchwork crop production and some excellent accommodation. In fact, what’s not to like? All the regions publish tourist guides which give details of how to get there, what to do, when festivals and special events are held and these will be freely available during the show. In addition many people from the councils will be on hand with lots of ideas of how to make the most of a trip.
The Scenic Rim, Lockyer Valley and Southern Downs are just an hour or two drive from Brisbane. At this time of the year the vegetable production is at full tilt and these will feature in a big way on the Regional Harvest Cafe menu. Caroline Jones, well known for her Three Girls Skipping Cafe in Graceville will be in charge of the cafe. Caroline grew up in Blackall and then Narrabri and has spent months sourcing food for the cafe menu. The menu will change each day and will be a fresh change to the usual Ekka offerings with no deep fried food and plenty of choice. Constantly changing freshly made soups and salads, roasted vegetable tarts and muffins are just some of the temptations. As well there will be special children’s packs, a loyalty card which will offer “buy 6 coffees and get 2 free” (much better than most coffee shops around town), some of Caroline’s wonderful cakes and that country standard, a light fluffy scone with locally made strawberry jam.
As you enter the Agricultural Hall off Gregory Terrace look out for the superbly renovated red Bedford truck from the Lockyer Valley kitted out as a fruit and vegetable retailer. Many people still remember these trucks that used to travel around the suburbs selling fresh produce. The three regions are putting together some outstanding displays with racks of vegetables, a little grey “Fergie” tractor, giant carrots and much more.
A special booklet has been published for the Ekka and will only last the first few days so come by and pick up a copy and find out where your next day trip or weekender is going to be. Then stop by the cafe for a cuppa and some of that great country goodness. I look forward to seeing you there.
Here are some set up photos of what is to come on Regional Harvest…
Sunday 10 August 2014
Next weekend Hervey Bay will be the centre of attention in the Queensland fishing industry with their outstanding Seafood Festival. This event is owned and operated by the local commercial fishing industry and is their chance to show consumers what they do. Hervey Bay is at the height of its tourist season with whale sightseeing tours and the fishers have been bringing in great catches of prawns, mullet and in particular my favourite Diamond Scale Mullet, whiting and many other species. Diamond Scale is rarely seen in Brisbane which is a pity as it is the most underrated fish caught in Queensland. Although the head looks like mullet with that blunt nose the body is covered in beautiful scales that give the appearance of diamond shapes down the length of the body. The fillets tend to be thicker than sea run mullet and cook to a superb white colour. This alone is reason to travel to Hervey Bay next weekend for the festival. But there is so much more………..
Brisbane chefs Javier Codina of Moda Restaurant and Josh Lopez of GOMA are trekking north to do cooking demonstrations during the day using a range of the locally caught products. Joining them will be the very talented Nick Street Brown from Coast Restaurant in Hervey Bay. Going to dinner at Coast is another good reason for travelling to Hervey Bay. Nick and his partner Krista worked together at ecco Bistro in Brisbane along with restaurant owner Julia Paussa and this trio make a great team.
Also on stage in the Fishermen’s Kitchen will be local fishers telling tales of what it’s like to go to sea, what they catch, how they cook their catch and more. This is a great opportunity to get a better understanding of how our seafood reaches the table.
New to the festival this year is a pre-ordered picnic box packed full of delicious local seafood including Eastern King Prawns, Moreton Bay Bug, Hervey Bay Scallop Tart (the best I have ever tasted) and a crab and prawn dip. The box comes with salad, cutlery and napkins so all you have to do is collect it from the appointed location, buy a glass of wine and sit back and listen to the all day entertainment.
The festival will have food stalls that will feature so many choices you will find yourself going back again and again to try out more tastes on offer. Scallop Pies (Hervey Bay scallops of course!), Coriander, Chilli and Lemongrass Prawn Skewers, Penang Curry with fish, prawns and scallops on rice, Reef Fish Ceviche, Tempura Diamond Scale and Aioli are just some of the listed main dishes but there are heaps more.
A great way to travel to Hervey Bay is by tilt train. The train stops at Maryborough and then a bus will take you to Hervey Bay. I have been lucky enough to have made a few trips in the last year on the tilt train and loved the experience. It is nothing like the Westlander that i travelled on many years ago out to Mitchell and Charleville. This is train travel at its most modern with good service from the QR staff and very comfortable and roomy leather bound seats.
Full details of the festival can be found at www.herveybayseafoodfestival.com.au
What would you choose to eat on Queensland Day? Strawberries would be a good start with the season just gearing up for its winter and spring production. The Scurr family farms strawberries during the winter time at Wamuran and then transfer to the Granite Belt during the warmer months of the year under the Pinata brand.
Strawberries are a summer fruit in most areas of the world but southeast Queensland is one of only three subtropical regions that can grow this delicious fruit during the winter. Just think of Wimbledon coming up in a few weeks and the ubiquitous strawberries and cream that is served to the thousands of people attending the tournaments – in midsummer.
Buy and eat strawberries on the day of purchase or soon after to enjoy them at their best.
Another food treat on Queensland Day or any time over the next couple of weeks is to go to Lunch on Q. I enjoyed Lunch on Q at Aria Restaurant on Wednesday and yesterday it was Lunch on Q at Gunshop Cafe. These are two very different restaurants and the menus reflected the dining styles of each but also offered excellent food and great value.
An ameuse bouche arrived from the kitchen at Aria that just shouted “Queensland”. Two little prawn crackers, roasted macadamias and finely shaved fresh pineapple – couldn’t help smiling at the obvious ingredients beautifully presented on a cross cut piece of timber. The entree of Albacore tuna with the tiniest radish was outstanding – the richness of the tuna contrasted with the little bite of the radish – more please! This could easily have been spoilt with lots of unnecessary garnish on the plate but head chef Ben Russell’s restraint was perfect. The main course was a dish of slow cooked beef cheeks and smoky bacon accompanied by a thick sticky sauce that had me wanting to wipe my finger across the plate but I did restrain myself.
Lunch on Q yesterday at Gunshop Cafe started with a Queensland seafood risotto that was just packed with a mixture of prawns, scallops, cuttlefish and more, all from our local waters.
The risotto was beautifully moist and very very good. I chose the Queensland cheese plate which consisted mostly of Woombye cheeses but the seasonal fruit crumble on the other side of the table made me think it was worth going back for a second visit just for dessert.
Both restaurants offered such good value with the best of Queensland’s produce and accompanied by local wines.
Today I am resting from Lunch on Q and looking at where I will go next – so much from which to choose.
Lunch on Q is back again and will run 2 – 15 June with some restaurants continuing all month. Two courses and a glass of wine for $35.00 per person is a great deal and the focus is on prime seasonal produce from Queensland. Chefs at selected restaurants across Brisbane have sourced local ingredients including our famous beef, Hervey Bay scallops and Mooloolaba prawns and vegetables from around the state to bring you some great tastes. Add to this some outstanding wines and even an award winning cider and Lunch on Q represents excellent value.
Gather your friends and family or get together with your work colleagues and work your way through a few of the menus over the coming weeks.
All menus and restaurants details can be seen on http://www.lunchonq.com.au
Support the participating restaurants and also support our farmers, fishers and winemakers and enjoy some delicious Lunch on Q experiences.
I am regularly challenged by modern technology and it happened again this morning. As I was trying to add photos to my last post on this blog something went wrong – undoubtedly my fault – and the photos of the Lockyer Valley display did not make it onto the post so here they are.
Lockyer Valley Regional Council Mayor Steve Jones
Rob Bauer of Bauer’s Organic Farm
Prior to January of 2011, I think it is fair to say that the national profile of the Lockyer Valley was very low. Then came the devastating floods with images being sent around the world and now everyone knows where it is. Just when the region was getting back on its feet along came another flood in early 2013, again with images of washed away bridges and roads and ruined crops featuring in the media.
The Lockyer Valley Regional Council, led by Mayor Steve Jones, want to send out the message that the Lockyer Valley is back in business doing what they do best – growing vegetables. They have set up at the Sydney Royal Easter Show to tell people a positive story of the region and also give out the important message that many of the vegetables that consumers will buy in winter and spring will come from the Lockyer Valley.
It seems that the deep black top soil could grow rocks such is it fertility. Right now the farms have had good rain and the fields are filling up with plantings of the winter crops. 26,167 tonnes of lettuce, 21,786 tonnes of potatoes, 13,455 tonnes of cauliflowers – these are just some of the statistics of production that make it such an important part of the food chain in Australia.
The Lockyer Valley Sydney campaign began with a dinner on Tuesday night at Water @ Pier One on the harbour. Attending the dinner were leading journalists and distributors of Lockyer valley produce in the Sydney region. The menu featured farm fresh produce of Blackboy Ridge figs, Schulte’s mettwurst, vegetables from Bauer’s Organic Farm, Rugby Farm and Perfection Fresh, outstanding Wagyu sirloin from Stranbroke and Flagstone Creek Murray Cod. The dessert was a perfectly cooked chocolate fondant using Seatonfire chilli chocolate with a salted caramel sauce and Emmo’s goat’s milk sorbet.
The Royal Easter Show opened yesterday and the Lockyer valley stand attracted a steady flow of visitors throughout the day. The Mayor was on hand along with a team of producers, councillors and council staff to tell the story of the valley and many people, young and old, enjoyed sitting in the seat of the little grey Fergie tractor, with the motor running. The exhibit has boxes and shelves spilling with vegetables and looks great.
Amongst the information on the stand are small packets of lettuce seeds. Looking like a book of matches, the open packet reveals lettuce seeds ready for planting in the home vege patch and children were lining up with great excitement.