Back to backpacking!

It’s been a good, long while since my last post. Since leaving Scotland and moving to England work kind of took over and 5 months flew by very quickly. I’ve decided to skip ahead (once again) and start writing about my current travels and get back to blogging about work when my holidays end.

The travel plan this time was to start in Romania and end (well kind of) in Egypt. I’ll start from the start in Romania…..

Cluj

Cluj-Napoca, first stop!

One of the best restaurants we ate at in the whole of Romania was here at a restaurant called Matei Corvin. It’s quite traditional Romanian cuisine but also has other options, mostly different Asian dishes. I chose a veal stew with dumplings on the side with sheep cheese and sour cream. It was full of flavour and a huge portion, but I managed to finish it! Unfortunately the lighting was very dim and I couldn’t get a good shot on my slightly out of date camera, but I would definitely recommend this place to anyone who is visiting the city.

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The charming city of Brasov, complete with a “Hollywood” styled sign.

The legendary Bran Castle, which infact has very little to do with Dracula, vampires or even Vlad the Impaler. Vlad is a national hero in Romania because he fought against the Ottomans (Turkish) and kept Romania free. He was given the name Vlad the Impaler because of how he punished his enemies, as the name suggests he impaled them. This was done by lying them down, putting a pole in the anus, then standing them up with the pole stuck in the ground, slowly the pole would move through the body and eventually come out at the back of the neck, through the spine, killing the enemy/ victim. I was told this process if done properly would skip all the vital organs, therefore dragging out the process taking the enemy/ victim up to 3 days to die….quite gruesome!

Some souvenirs after the visit to Bran?

 

Statue of Trajan and the She-Wolf in Bucharest by artist Vasile Gorduz. The locals aren’t fans!

The Romanian Parliament. At the time it was built communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu was in power, which may explain the crazy size of the building.

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Patisserie at work in Scotland

I haven’t talked much about what I did at work at the Oban Chocolate Company in Scotland. This time my boss and owner (Helen MacKechnie) of the Oban Chocolate Company wanted me to focus more on the cafe cake cabinet, so I came back as more of a pastry chef than chocolatier this time and started introducing some french styled patisserie products. Helen gave me a lot of freedom with the work I was doing and didn’t limit me in any way which was fantastic as some people I have worked with have taken the complete opposite approach, which is understandable in some ways but it puts boundaries on what I can do (and what I like/ love doing) as a creative pastry chef.

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These were mixed berry bavarois with a berry jelly on top, garnished with a quenelle of fresh cream, fresh mixed berries and a candy striped dark chocolate garnish.

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This was one of the first celebration cakes I made on my return, the requirements were that it was pink and sparkly.

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Baked blueberry cheesecake with a gluten free polenta base, garnished with fresh blueberries and purple isomalt.

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This was a praline ganache filled marbled bar that I made especially for a friend in Austria. Hi Veronika!

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One of my personal favourites, although it was a slow seller in the cafe. A  lime mousse with a rhubarb jelly filling, jaconde and crispy biscuit base, sprayed with white green chocolate, with a metallic thistle.

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Raspberry & chocolate gluten free baked cheesecake, with fresh raspberries and a dark chocolate stick to garnish. This is the same as the blueberry cheesecake but with raspberries substituted in and cocoa powder added to the polenta base. In the background there’s a dark chocolate and caramel hazelnut crunch slice.

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Chestnut & brownie mousse with milk chocolate mirror glaze with a bronze shimmer powder. Can you guess I dig metallics?

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So this is my favourite flavour of french macaron….bubblegum, but seemed like no one else had much love for it….

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Cola french macarons, this took me back to my time at the National Gallery of Victoria where these were made in the Tea Rooms.

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This came to me when a workmate mentioned I should make an eclair with a typical Scottish flavour, some suggestions were tablet and cranachan. After having made cola french macaron, my mind wandered to fizzy drinks and I thought what could be more Scottish than Irn-Bru. It happened to coincide with the Scottish Independence referendum, which was perfect.

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A manly celebration cake, using milk chocolate garnish with metallics.

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Mixed berry chocolate mousse cake sprayed with chocolate, garnished with fresh berries, red metallic dark chocolate pieces decorating the side and served with a mixed berry coulis.

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Bramble & Lemon gluten free baked cheesecake, it was bramble (blackberries for the non-English people) season at that time and brambles were all over the town of Oban, I was even making jam at home with the brambles I found growing wild in my neighbourhood.

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A milk chocolate mirror glaze with fresh flowers & truffles celebration cake.

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The very last celebration cake I made at the Oban Chocolate Company. A sea themed 10 year anniversary cake for a local company. Everything on the cake was edible and all of the outside was made of chocolate.

Last time I left the Oban Chocolate Company it was a little sad and this time it was no different, actually it was slightly more difficult as this time I’d been there for 8 months whereas last time it was a short & but sweet 4 months. There’s ups and downs in every workplace but it’s fairly rare to find a place to work like this, I have to admit that after my last shift I did shed a few tears at home! I can only wish Helen & Stewart all the best in the future along with all of the staff at the Oban Chocolate Company.

Traditional Norwegian food

I probably wouldn’t recommend a backpacker or anyone on a budget to visit Norway unless you are prepared to eat packed lunches each day and are able to make all of your other meals yourself as well (what most backpackers are used to anyway). Which is what we did, prices for a drink in a bar would probably set you back about £8-10 ($14-18AUD) for a pint of beer, for a regular coffee expect to pay £4 ($7AUD). Supermarkets are more expensive than the norm as well but less costly than eating out. Although at convenience stores you can find some bargains, such as an ok tasting coffee for £2 ($3.70AUD) and pay 50 pence more and you would get a sweet roll thrown in or the very traditional Norwegian hotdog, Pølse i lompe, which is a sausage wrapped in a tortilla like potato wrap and they are very tasty. I wish I’d started eating these on my first day in Norway instead of my last!

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This is the Pølse i lompe, it cost just the equivalent of £1. You can chose to have more toppings such as cheese or onion or more plain like I had, just mustard and ketchup (tomato sauce for the Aussies like me).

We tried to eat traditional Norwegian food whenever possible. Our first night we ate reindeer sausages for dinner, which were very good, they didn’t have a gamey taste though, which I thought they may. Another night we tried Kjøttkaker (beef mince meatballs) which is a typical Norwegian dinner. On our last night we decided to go out for dinner to Restaurant Schrøder in Oslo, with a reputation of serving classic Norwegian food, we thought it was a good option and the fact that the website is not in English was a good sign too.

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Started with a Norwegian pint of beer.

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My main meal, Svinestek. Which was roast pork with gravy. potatoes, Norwegian sauerkraut (surkal) and cranberry sauce. It was alright (nothing amazing) the pork had a very strong flavour but wasn’t unpleasant and I really enjoyed the surkal.

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This was dessert, Karamellpudding. It was pretty much the same as a creme caramel but a little firmer, perhaps more eggs were used to firm it up.

I think I wished I’d gone for the reindeer meatballs for my main that my dinner companion had but I wanted to try something different to the other meals I’d been eating while in Norway. The meal ended up costing us around 550NOK/ £50 ($90AUD) which seems expensive (even more so when translated to Australian dollars!) for 2 pints, 2 mains and a shared dessert but in Norway that is pretty much the norm, as our Norwegian host told us it was a good deal. Hmmmm, maybe it’s a good deal for the Norwegians who are earning Norwegian Krone!!!!!???

Norway

The next holiday destination was Norway. We stayed there for 6 nights (1 spent in the airport), one of the main reasons we went was to see the Northern Lights or Aurora BorealisUnfortunately we were out of luck, we even went way up north to Tromsø to increase our chances, it was cloudy each night we were there, we still held out hope, checking the forecasts regularly and peeking out through the windows in the middle of the night when we’d wake up but there was no light show for the 6 nights we were there.

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Even though there was no sign of the aurora borealis, we did get to see a stunning sunrise flying into Tromsø from Oslo.

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Some of the stunning landscapes in Tromsø, this was taken from the Botanic Gardens.

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The above picture was taken in Oslo, there’s great street art all over the city.

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Vigeland Park, Oslo.

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I really enjoyed visiting Vigeland Park, there’s some odd poses that aren’t usual in sculptures. For example there’s one sculpture which has a man throwing and kicking babies and then there’s the tower of people moulded into one another in the first picture above, it’s very interesting and the amount of sculptures in the one place is amazing when you think of all of the work involved.

Venice

My Dad and stepmother planned a holiday in Europe, they came to visit me in Scotland, then a few weeks later we met up in Venice, Italy. Venice was exactly what I thought it would be, magical, other-worldy and just like I’ve seen in the movies. Although it’s strange that there’s no cars anywhere, well the boats are the cars and the roads are all of the canals that link the city together. Another aspect of Venice that was pointed out was that there are barely any trees around the city (the few they have are very important and made a big fuss of) and to compensate they paint doors and posts green and brown to kind of trick peoples brains into thinking that there is foliage around and to be honest before this was pointed out I didn’t notice the lack of trees at all, Venice is just so beautiful as it is.

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 The food was amazing, last time I was in Italy I was travelling alone as a backpacker in 2012 and was on a fairly tight budget, so I didn’t get to go to any restaurants really, probably the best thing I ate back then was a panni in Florence. This time travelling with family and not being on such a tight budget we were eating in restaurants daily. I think everyone says this, but the pizza was amazing! Always baked in a wood fired oven with a thin, crispy base (none of that deep dish or stuffed crust nonsense) with very few toppings and what was there was full of flavour.

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This was one of the local shops we would pass every day in Venice. The photo was taken at about 9:30am, by the time 2pm came around the shop was pretty much empty, it was great to see the chef making everything fresh daily and the smells coming out of this little shop were incredible!

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What can I say? When you’re in Italy you have to try gelato! Last time I was in Italy I did a good job of that, especially in Genova and Pisa, yum! This was an almond & nougat gelato, it was still quite warm in Venice in October so the gelato was cool and refreshing in the warm Italian sun.

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Beautiful Venice at sunset.

Return to Scotland

It wasn’t the original plan to return to Scotland after 3 months spent in Ireland & Northern Ireland but it was what happened. The plan was to move to Derry, Northern Ireland and find full time work as a pastry chef again, but with few job prospects in the city, some awkward and off putting situations (mostly from local drunkards in hostels), feeling homesick for Scotland and good timing, it happened that I went back to my job in Oban with a new role…so back to bonny Scotland it was.

This post was meant to be about my dining experience at Paul Kitching 21212, but I’ve misplaced all of my photographs which I took at the restaurant, so instead of writing about that I’ve decided to write about some of the desserts I’ve been making at home. Having not worked in restaurants since being away from Australia, I’ve really started to miss creating plated desserts, well I think if I’m honest, I missed it as soon as I left that job in Melbourne.

Since I returned to Oban I’ve actually had the luxury of living in an apartment with my own kitchen, instead of living in a hostel or family home, sharing a kitchen with umpteen people often driving me nuts with all the chaos and mess so I just got in, made what I had to and got out of the kitchen as quickly as possible. So this year I started making some very basic plated desserts at home, which has proven challenging as being a traveller I don’t own a hand whisk, an electric beater, mixing bowl or icecream maker, these things are pretty essential for a pastry chef. I’ve found a hand blender can do an ok job of whipping or even the old school shaking fresh cream in a jar with a lid does the trick too, a bit of a dense whip but passable.

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My Mum had come to Scotland to visit me and we traveled to Ireland and the Netherlands together. Speculoos biscuits or speculoos related items seem to be pretty popular in the Netherland and I love it, so I picked up a jar of  crunchy speculoos spread and planned a dessert based around that. It may not appear to be much but there were lots of different textures, temperatures and classic flavours so this may be my favourite one. On the base there was a warm caramelized ginger cake, on top of that a speculoos cream, cinnamon crumble, treacle dust and warm vanilla anglaise with honeycomb shards on top.

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It was raspberry season at the time of this dessert and we had fresh raspberries growing in our backyard and elsewhere. The raspberries in our yard didn’t seem typical, I tried to find out what variety they were and the closest I got to a similar description were “wild raspberries”, they don’t have the same taste or sweetness as the regular variety, they can be a bit sour and the fruit is a brighter, shinier red (you can see in the picture above) and no fine soft hairs on the berry. I made a baked chocolate tart with fresh raspberries inside and finished it with a ganache, a raspberry puree, raspberry cream, vanilla cream, chocolate sand, a chocolate tuille and fresh “wild” raspberries.

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Brambles were plentiful all over Oban…pretty much everywhere. I was eating lots of fresh coconut at this time and wanted to incorporate that somehow too. So there’s a coconut parfait, using creamed coconut, I would just stick to coconut milk in the future as it gives a much better texture and flavour compared to the creamed coconut. Bramble puree, coconut sago, fresh coconut (shaved & toasted), honey baked oats, raspberry gel and fresh brambles.

I love the creativity when it comes to plating desserts, you are only really limited by your imagination and you can mix temperatures, textures and flavours to create something special, it’s even better when you can share the experience with friends or customers and watch their reaction to what you have created for them.

The Gallic Kitchen cafe

5 days out of the week helpers would be in charge of the opening, set up and running of The Gallic Kitchen café in Abbeyleix. Either Patrick, myself or other helpers over 26 years old with a valid driving licence would take a helper to the shop at or around 10am, they would do a 4 hour shift then there would be a change over and another helper would come in and do the second 4 hour shift, which finished at 6pm.van

One of the two trusty vans. I was able drive one of them quite often, I even had the honour of driving it to Dublin with a trailer attached for a market stall, that was a little nerve-racking!

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The very cute little shop in the main street of Abbeyleix. Since I HelpXed here back in January, they have moved directly across the road to a larger premises.

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The cabinet display. As a pastry chef  and chefs in general there’s always a huge importance on presentation, all chefs get taught that you eat with our eyes first, so it’s always essential to present a meal/ dessert/ product the best way possible. Different helpers had different ways of setting up the cabinet, I personally always liked to place each different item into separate, neat rows and make sure the cabinet looked full at all times.

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We packaged cranberry sauce and tomato chutney together for a Christmas special, tomato chutney was something helpers made in the kitchen on an almost daily basis.

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Here’s a coffee I made while working at the cafe, I have to work on the coffee art skills, but the flavour (coffee wasn’t bitter nor weak) and my personal perfect milk temperature (able to drink it immediately without it being lukewarm or burning the s*%# out of my mouth) was definitely there.

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One last special picture of the shop front on St. Stephens Day or Boxing Day as we call it in Australia. This was the beginning of a St Stephens Day hunt, the usually quiet town of Abbeyleix was booming, all the pubs were totally packed and The Gallic Kitchen was non stop all day.

Gallic Kitchen

The main jobs as a helper in Durrow included, working in the kitchen along side Sarah assisting and helping her with the bakery/ cooking production for their cafe and catering business called the Gallic Kitchen. Other tasks involved working in the cafe serving and making coffee, cleaning around the house and odd maintenance jobs handed out by Patrick (Sarah’s husband and our HelpX host). I drove the van to make a few deliveries and took other helpers to and from the cafe, I was also able to help with the Gallic Kitchen facebook page taking lots of photos, editing and posting them. The hours of work depended on which job you had but generally a working day would be  somewhere between 4-5 hours 5-6 days per week.

My preference was working in the cafe or kitchen. The cafe was great because we were able to go to a near by town called Abbeyleix where the Gallic Kitchen  cafe was located and often have a chat with locals while working. Another reason I really enjoyed it was because I was able to get on the coffee machine and make real coffees again…something I miss from time to time in Australia (amongst other things) is the coffee. I have mentioned this on my blog before, it has surprised me that it can be quite difficult to find a decent coffee in Europe, (with Italy being the exception) either it’s bitterly bitter, about 100°C and I burn the s*%t out of my mouth or it’s so milky there seems to be no trace of coffee at all. Anyway after sounding like a total coffee snob, I give Australia a high five for it’s coffee skills and creating excellent schools to teach the art of being a barista, check out this post on a major coffee chain and how it has failed in Australia. During my 2 months HelpXing in Ireland I was able to practice my coffee making skills which brought a huge amount of satisfaction, when I made a really smooth latte or a cappuccino with lovely creamy foamed milk…. what could be better???!

The kitchen was nice to be in, because when I’m on holidays or away from my profession too long, I start to miss it and just want to get back in there, so making brownies, roulades, puff pastry, pies, pasties, quiche and chutney gave me the fix I needed. I was able to pick up some new tricks, especially with the puff pastry, it’s a really easy but effective way to roll it to create the layers you need but you don’t need a dough/ pastry break (an industrial machine, similar to a pasta maker but on a bigger scale, using electricity)  to do it. I was able to use a machine (specific to pie making) which presses the pastry into the pie tin, saving loads of time in labour.

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This is where all the production went on for the Gallic Kitchen, inside are 2 production kitchens, 1 cool room and where that round window is, there’s an office. The kitchen is about 1o metres from the house we stayed at in Archerstown.

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Sarah at the ovens checking on the Christmas mince pies.

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The very cool pie machine, it pressed and moulded the pastry base into the pie tin, saving loads of time and also pressed the pie tops on perfectly. Great little gadget.

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Chirs (another Helper) preparing tomato chutney.

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Irish brown bread or soda bread.

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Savoury Christmas pies ready to go to the market.

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Christmas mince pies, these were something the helpers made almost every day in the lead up to Christmas and they were one of my personal favourites!

Durrow, Ireland

After travelling 3 weeks through Scotland, it was time to head to Ireland. I spent some time in Northern Ireland (Belfast & Derry) before heading to Dublin, Ireland. Northern Ireland was a huge contrast to Scotland, although I felt safe in Belfast and Derry, there are still lots of reminders of the past and to some extent the present, in particular “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland.

Dublin however had a completely different feel to it again, it felt quite light hearted as a city in comparison to Belfast or Derry. There were pubs everywhere along with tourists, it always seemed busy and had a certain buzz about it. After 3 nights in Dublin, I was off to HelpX again in Durrow, County Laois.

On arrival, Durrow seemed like a very quiet and small country village, Sarah and her 2 children, Arty & Flo collected us from one of the local pubs in Durrow and drove us up to the house (Archerstown), where we were shown our room and then told to help ourselves to tea, coffee and food.

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My temporary home for 2 months, our room was the second floor, far left window (the one that’s slightly open).

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One of the many beautiful sunrises from out of the bedroom window.

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Pip & Max, an endless source of entertainment and at times annoyance, a very odd couple.

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A few of the locals.

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Some of the beautiful scenery between Archerstown & Durrow.