Saturday, May 20, 2017

Melbourne I love you

Sometimes it all gets a bit much; work takes over my life, I am craving a good Mamasita corn cob, and I need a week with my sister.

This is when I take my annual trip to Melbourne. Since my first visit to Melbourne 32 years ago, I was hooked. I lived in and loved Sydney for 18 years, I love the harbour, my friends and many aspects of Sydney, but there is just something special about Melbourne.

Our annual trip came late this year, we were just so busy, my sister has a new job and my work seems to be never ending, especially playing catch up after my trip to the UK in January. We were so excited to be going that my super organised sister had her bags packed 2 weeks before we flew out.

Brunswick Street
We decided to revisit our accommodation at the Mantra on Little Bourke Street, this was our Melbourne home for a few years running until we tried the Citadene last year. We prefer the Mantra because the rooms are big, it is in a great position and it is next to Movida Aqui, one of our favourite restaurants. There is no rave factor about this hotel, it just feels like home. The problem is, the very reason we moved away was still a huge issue for me. It may seem like a first world problem, but each time I stay there, I can hardly walk for a week due to the combination of hard mattress and soft pillow. We even asked for harder pillows, to be told they were not available because they are not at the level of providing a choice of pillows? But we were staying 6 nights.

Hosier Lane
Our first meal out was at Movida Aqui, where we always enjoy fantastic service and choose to be seated at the bar to be amongst it. Being a Friday night, the place was pumping but meals were delivered quickly and we were never without a glass of wine. We were happy travellers that's for sure. Don't you just love that first night of a holiday, full of excitement and planning all the experiences you want to take in, quietly realising that there are only 24 hours in one day?
We always order Carrillera De Buey - Slowly Braised Beef Cheek in Pedro Ximenez on Cauliflower Puree. It is just divine with the cauliflower so smooth and tasty and the beef cheeks that melt in your mouth.  I always try to emulate it in the kitchen when I return home. The beef cheek is one of those cuts that has found popularity as it is wonderful when cooked slowly. I am not going to go through everything we ate but it was great start to our trip. We finished the evening with a very traditional Churros Con Chocolate - Spanish doughnuts with rich drinking chocolate, reminding me of Spain. I love how food takes you away, its like a journey through your plate.

Van Gogh
We have a favourite rooftop bar in Melbourne, its on Bourke Street and it's called Madame Brussels. You walk into this dreary looking building, catch a rickety lift and arrive in this magic place, a rather fancy terrace that is all pink and fluffy complete with garden chaises, sun lounges and beautiful smiling staff wearing little vintage tennis outfits. The bar's catchy name pays tribute to the Madame herself – a 19th century city brothel owner and entrepreneur famed for her sensational attitude and unconventional lifestyle. Disco music plays on the stereo and the sparking wine comes in vintage coupe glasses.  But wait till you see their jugs! When we get hungry we like to partake in a snack of "Mother of pearls gay sausage rolls with dead ‘orse". It is a feast for the eyes and no trip to Melbourne is complete without a trip to Madame's!

Brunswick Street
Another thing I love about Melbourne are the exhibitions, last year we were fortunate to be in Melbourne for the fabulous Versace exhibition and this year we went to see Van Gogh and the Seasons. We made the mistake of going on a Sunday, a bit silly when we had all those weekdays in Melbourne. We stood in line for quite some time but it was well worth it. I knew a bit about the artist, I knew he cut his own ear off, and that he was artistically brilliant, sometimes dark and sometimes light, but it was really interesting to listen to all of his letters to his brother and to get to know this brilliant artist and the tumultuous life he led. The seasons had profound meaning for Vincent Van Gogh representing the circle of life. He was a brilliant artist, it was somewhat sad that he had such a short life and died so tragically.
Stagger Lees

We enjoy heading down Brunswick Street for a bit of retro shopping and a meal at Stagger Lees. We love this place with it's fabulous coffee and interesting menu that rarely disappoints. The head chefs name is actually Chris Hamburger! Surely he has changed his name to this? My very favourite is Smashing pumpkins - roasted butternut pumpkin, poached egg, crispy kale, romesco, smoked almonds and pomegranate, I love to add trout. It is so tasty. Every place in Melbourne seems to tell a story, like the bar across the road called Naked for Satan because apparently the original owner would brew naked, get a bit drunk and run around with no clothes on. Stagger Lees was named after a pimp from St. Louis. He infamously shot a cell mate in the 1900s for stealing his red stetson hat and since then over 400 musicians and artists have retold the story of Stagger Lee; the ultimate bad-ass.

You cant go past Mamasitas on Collins Street for the most amazing Mexican food, a favourite being paprika corn on the cob. They do the best popcorn icecream and it has a fabulous vibe. You may have to line up for an hour to get in, we were so lucky this time and managed to snag a table straight away, but the line is often long.

Hardware Societie
We always go to another one of our favourite little cafes, Hardware Societie and this time we met with my lovely previous staff members Bella and Maitlan. This place does funky food and fabulous coffee, with a pretty little fitout, complete with butterfly wallpaper.  I tried the fabulous Duck rillette eggs benedict which was divine, and according to Bella, the French toast was pretty good too. You line up here too as you do with all the popular Melbourne restaurants, once you get in, the meals arrive quickly.

Hosier Lane

Melbourne is particularly famous for its murals, there is one up just about every lane, but International visitors flock to Hosier Lane to be photographed in front of one of the many murals that are part of a youth project. I find them fascinating and they add so much to an already cultural city.

One day, we took a trip down to Gisborne to see one of my fellow Chalk Paint™ by Annie Sloan stockists at her beautiful shop Gisborne French Provincials.  Joolz and I became great friends during our training trip to Oxford, it was great to catch up with her, and only an hour or so by train from the city. Day tripping is easy in Melbourne and so cheap. 

We decided to leave Chin Chin until our last meal, as it is really special. The Executive Chef, Benjamin Cooper is from Taree. The food is brilliant. we waited 2 hours for a table which is normal for this popular place, but it was well worth it. Chin Chin is modelled on the dining halls of South East Asia. Caramelised sticky pork with sour herb salad & chilli vinegar, Crispy skinned duck with bok choy, lup cheong, shitake stir fry & ginger soy and Corn and coriander fritters with iceberg lettuce & chilli jam are just a few of our favourite dishes. This time we went with the "Feed me" menus, so glorious food just kept coming out to our table. This place is a work of art, seating around 200 customers, with every staff member on the ball. I especially love listening to the banter from the kitchen, with Chef Benjamin on the pass. It is music to my ears.

The loveliest part of my trip is being able to spend this valuable time with my beautiful sister Andre. We really enjoy our trip, we love the dining experiences, the cultural experience and a spot of shopping. I look forward to next years trip, time to start saving!

My visit with Annie Sloan - A story written for Manning Community News with intro by Di Morrissey

Wingham businesswoman, Donna Carrier, runs a cafe and small art studio using Chalk Paint created by Annie Sloan to transform furniture.  Here Donna shares her trip to England to study with Annie Sloan in Oxford.
Chalk Paint™ is a decorative paint developed by Annie Sloan 25 years ago. It very rarely requires any preparation, such as sanding or priming, and can be used indoors or outside, on just about any surface. It can revitalise old furniture, walls, ceilings and floors with ease. It’s easy, fun and makes amazing results accessible to everyone.
Annie trained as a fine artist and turned to decorative work after university in the mid 1970s, while being commissioned to paint murals in houses. By 1987, Annie had written the phenomenally successful book The Complete Book of Decorative Paint Techniques, which is considered to be the industry bible on the subject. Unable to find the paints that she wished to work with, Annie used her knowledge of colour, paint, pigments and art history to develop Chalk Paint(r) in 1990. In 2000, Annie set up a shop in Oxford to showcase Chalk Paint(r), run courses, and offer interior design services.
Born in Australia to a Scottish father and a Fijian mother, Annie moved to England to a farming life in Kent when she was ten years old. With spells in Southern Africa and connections to France, Cuba and the US, Annie has lived in Oxford for the last twenty five years.
Here Donna recounts her trip to Annie Sloan in Oxford.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Bent on Food is 12

This week Bent on Food turns 12. When I look back I find it difficult to believe that the years have flown by so fast. On 18th December 2004 we opened the doors as a regional food store, selling coffee and cake. I had a water skiing accident the day before opening and spent the first 6 weeks of trading in a brace, often wondering why I left my desk job. But hospitality was in my blood as I had spent most of my working life around food and wine, so I knew deep down that this was what I wanted to do.

We started in a small premises on Bent Street, hence the name, and we were popular from the beginning,  helped along by a very early article in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide (my bible) written by John Saxby, who rated our smoked ham baguette very highly.

I was aware that there were already a number of cafes in the town, including Convivia which was a favourite amongst the locals, so I set about bringing a new market to town. Previous marketing and public relations experience gave me the skills I needed to attract tourists to the region, which I believed would grow the business community and lift the profile of our area.   I sent media releases and pretty soon we were featured alongside the cookery school in Country Style Magazine. I entered Tourism awards and won the Regional and State awards in 2006, after just over one year of trading. In 2007 we moved down to the main street and in 2011 we purchased the cookery school. I totally enjoy the children's cookery classes and have loved working with visiting chefs including Stefano Manfredi, Kurma Dasa and cheesemaking wizard Carole Willman. In 2009 we were fortunate to win the Qantas Australian Tourism Award for the category of Restaurant and Catering Excellence. With the help of Eric and Monica Robinson at The Other Chef we created our produce line that grew into at least 12 products.  My dear Graphic Designer friend Peter Metro developed all of our logos and to this day he has never asked for a cent.

I worked with my staff on building a business that the locals would be proud of and that could contribute back to the community, not just through employment, but through donations and sponsorship of events. Bent on Food has supported local and visiting musicians and many customers have enjoyed a great music night at the cafe. Early on I  joined my local chamber and soon became president. I have always believed that you must give back to the community where you derive your income from. This is the way I do business, and although it does not necessarily deliver direct results, it makes me sleep at night.

To date, Bent on Food has won 31 Gold awards, 7 silver and 5 bronze in regional, State and National awards programmes. This has lead to a huge amount of publicity for us and for the region. Even though we are very proud of our awards, it is  not about a trophy sitting in a cabinet gathering dust; these accolades give staff a real sense of pride and they force me to plan ahead and set true objectives. We are proud to be the most awarded restaurant in the history of the region and we know that our customers are also proud. We have been featured on Clayton Donovan's Wild Kitchen, Sydney Weekender, Kai Time on the Road, Kochies Business Builders, Basic Banana's and for a few years I was on a radio program with Robbie Buck on ABC702 which lead to a live broadcast of the radio show from Wingham during the floods. Bent on Food has been featured in the Good Food Guide and Lonely Planet, all of this contributing to the profile of the region.

Many of our favourite customers have moved away, sadly some have passed away. Many have married and we have been fortunate to cater for some beautiful weddings, and later meet their babies.  Some have moved on to other cafes, unfortunately never to visit again. I still have fond memories of the chats over the counter as I made their coffees for many years, or chatted with their children, and I often hope that they will pop by some time to say hi.

We have supported local producers from the beginning, with a true dedication to locally grown, seasonal food. The Restaurant and Catering awards are judged by restaurant professionals and we are proud that this year we won the major award of Best Regional Cafe NSW at these awards. This means that the food and the service was rated very highly, so I thank my producers and my staff for the wonderful job they do at preparing and serving quality produce.

Over the years I have been lucky to employ lots of lovely staff, many who have moved on to wonderful careers, and for this I am very proud. My staff and I sincerely thank our loyal customers for standing by us, for letting us know how we can improve, for sharing your memories with us and for allowing us to become an integral part of your day for the past 12 years.

Cheers and a Merry Christmas to all my wonderful customers and suppliers, musicians and staff, family and friends.
Donna x

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Possibilities with paint

Chalk Paint™ by Annie Sloan

Anybody that knows me understands that I am the most impatient person in the world and that watching paint dry would not be something you would be likely to find me doing. With decorative Chalk Paint™ by Annie Sloan even the most impatient person can enjoy fast and fabulous results.

My homewares store, Bent on Life is not just the little sister of Bent on Food, it is an equally special place filled to the brim with beautiful things all lovingly selected for our customers.

When we started trading at Bent on Life in 2009 we were fortunate to find some really special French Provincial furniture from a Melbourne supplier. Unfortunately that company ceased trading late last year and we were left with a gap. Over the years we often picked up old pieces and we wished that we had a quick easy, and effective way of restyling each piece. We began to search for a product that would allow us to do this and we found Chalk Paint™ decorative paint by Annie Sloan. We looked up the website, read the blogs and decided that this product was a perfect fit for our store. We applied to be stockists and we were over the moon when our application was approved. This is an exclusive product and is only found in very beautiful outlets.

Before the paint is dispatched, we must undergo training  on how to use it and how to help our customers create beautiful pieces. So I wrote this blog on a flight home from Melbourne after 2 days of training that involved lots of painting.  The Annie Sloan team live and breathe the product and our trainer Barbara was very knowledgeable and talented so she made painting with this amazing product seem easy. And guess what? It really is the easiest way I have ever seen to transform furniture and much more, the results are amazing.  We managed to create some beautiful finishes and I enjoyed every moment; but the best thing? You can do it too.

My staff and I can't wait to share this product with you, start saving all those old pieces that you were thinking of throwing out as you will soon be breathing new life into them and creating beautiful additions for your home. Think any style that suits your decor and you can do it with this product; French Provincial (our favourite), retro, country, Art Deco, vintage, and much more is possible.
The paint requires no primer, and it doesn't smell making so you can paint just about anywhere and almost anything!

I will be bringing you some more ideas in future blogs, with classes set to begin soon. Keep an eye on the website or join the mailing list to find out more.

You can also visit Annie Sloan's blog  to get more tips and see some of the beautiful creations that can be made.

Blog -Annie Sloan

   Shop at Bent online for Chalk                                                   Paint™ by Annie Sloan

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Just Bent

Once again I have put aside my blogging for far too long. I really enjoy sitting down and putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, but something else always needs doing and the blog goes down to the the bottom of the the very long list. Today is different; my wonderful staff gave me the day off and I decided to enjoy a spot of baking and a spot of cleaning, and before you say anything, I actually enjoy cleaning, sad but true. I love to play music really loud and sing while I clean, but mostly I love the finished product, a clean house.  And finally before a glass of wine and some left over restaurant food, I am going to write my blog.

I thought I would start with a yummy recipe which has been adapted from AWW, this is the moistest gluten free cake that I have ever made and it is incredibly tasty. I made this yesterday at home and added orange blossom water to make it a little more Mediterranean,  changed the sugar to brown,  also adding baking powder to make it a little lighter. You can add ginger or dates, I sometimes add organic ginger syrup. I enjoy cooking at home, even if my kitchen is a little small. Home is where I find peace and serenity, a happy little haven in the bush complete with my pets and the native animals.

Gluten free pistachio and almond cake

125g pistachio kernels
3 cups almond meal
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
5 eggs
1 teaspoon orange blossom water
250g butter melted, cooled
3/4 raw sugar
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon baking powder (gluten free)
Oil for brushing pan

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C or 160 degrees fan forced.
Brush cake tin around 250mm x 150mm in size.
Grind pistachios (keep around 30 to place on top of cake)
Using a whisk combine ground pistachios, almond meal, baking powder, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in large bowl.
Beat eggs lightly, melt butter and combine.
Pour into almond mixture and stir to combine.
Pour batter into greased pan.
Place pistachios on top of batter.
Cook for around 35 minutes. 
Meanwhile place raw sugar, honey and water in saucepan and heat until sugar is dissolved. Bring to boil, uncovered for about 2 minutes.
Pierce cake with toothpick and pour hot syrup on to cake.

Just Bent

I have decided to change the name of my blog from Bent on Food to "Just Bent" as I want it to reflect the many things that make up the "bent" brand and concept.  There are some exciting new products and initiatives coming up as we celebrate 10 years in business in 2014 and I want to be able to blog  about both my businesses along with anything else that may make its way to the "bent" stable. I also believe that values and beliefs are very important when creating and delivering a brand and I would like to share some of the values that make up "bent". I will be blogging about life and the lives of those who cross my path. We will talk food, wine, music, sustainability, travel, home decorating, business, coffee, lifestyle and anything that pops up. I will also share some of my favourite blogs, I hope you can follow my journey.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Cooking with kids is cool

I have found a new love, it is one that I am quite suprised about considering I am the most impatient person I know, but I really do enjoy teaching kids to cook. I love how excited they get when they watch their pizza dough rising in the oven, I love how the kitchen allows them to lick their fingers and get flour all over their clothes. I can even cope with the mess they make because they are enjoying themselves so it just doesn't matter.

Kids are cool, especially as they haven't got that attitude yet that comes with teenage years, innocence is bliss and simplicity is king. I always remember when my little brother was around 5 years old, he had toys galore but he preferred to hang out in a washing machine box that my sisters and I painted in bright colours with $1.50 worth of paint. Its the same with cooking, a few eggs, some flour, and an oven makes them happy.

Kids love to cook and it is not just a fun pastime, it is a life skill. I am always thrilled when I bring some produce from my property and the children are excited that I actually grew it. Some of the children have their own chooks and a vegetable garden, others are from the city and love to hear about the farms that their new friends live on. The most amazing thing is that they all love to cook.

We will be teaching a range of classes in the school holidays, and most recently we have begun to run kids parties, where kids can get their friends together for a birthday party and even get to make their very own cake. We also love to run paddock to plate classes where they get to collect their own eggs to make pasta with. The options are endless.

For information about Bent on Kids cooking classes and paddock to plate tours, call Donna on 
0419 490 312 or email

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Twinkle in the Eye: Blessed are the cheesemakers

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Twinkle in the Eye: Lis Harvey is Bent on Food!

Twinkle in the Eye: Lis Harvey is Bent on Food!: Meet Lis Harvey. Lis recently attended Bent on Cookin' the Books at the Bent on Food Cookery School and took out the People's Choice ...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Twinkle in the Eye: Bent on Cookin' the Books

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Taste of Vietnam

A few months ago I was fortunate to fulfill at least one of my many dreams and travel to Vietnam.  Last year when Karenne from Travelworld Taree suggested I take a cooking tour, I was just a bit more than interested. I wanted a trip where I could get amongst it, where it would be all about the food and the culture with some relaxation time thrown in. Mostly I wanted to learn to cook like the Vietnamese do. My goal was to take a bunch of foodies on a trip that would teach them to cook a great Vietnamese meal and showcase the food of the region.What I wasn't aware of was that some of the group didn't think they would be cooking at all, instead they had planned to relax while their partners cooked. I was thrilled that after the first class in Ha Noi everybody cooked their way through Vietnam with great gusto, 

Eugenie, Adrian, Kath, Robert, Chris, Janet, Donna, Penny, Bill and Zung

We were extremely fortunate that our guide for the 2 weeks was as passionate about this country as we were excited to be there, Zung stayed with us for the entire trip, taking us to some of his more local restaurants and showing us behind the scenes. Zung will be our guide next year and I look forward to meeting with him again.

Our first experience with Vietnam was flying into Ho Chi Min City with fabulous views of the Mekong Delta, amazing snakelike waterways weaving their way around the tapestry of rice paddies and crops. We flew straight to Ha Noi to get some rest before our cooking lesson and tour of the Hom Cho (markets) the next day.  

Our teacher for the day was Miss Mo and she took us to the local markets where we were introduced to a vast array of seafood, meats and exotic fruit, along with many motorbikes tearing through the bustling market place threatening to knock us over. We survived the first of many of these experiences and I grew to enjoy the craziness. Ha Noi is a bustling city but it has a less hassled feel than other Asian cities I have visited. 

Being in the food industry, I was a little unsure of the meat that sat all day on tables without any refrigeration, collecting dust from the road. I secretly hoped that we were not going to be cooking this meat. I had a giggle to myself as I thought of what Josh, the local health inspector would make if it. 

Our first day of cooking was held at Hoa Sua Vocational Training School where economically disadvantaged youth learn to be chefs and hospitality workers. The kitchen where we spent the day was alongside the commercial kitchen and the students were quite interested in what we were doing there. Our menu was to deep fried Vietnamese spring rolls, sweetcorn soup, rice noodles with grilled pork and for dessert we made mung beans in syrup. It was a most enjoyable day and we were all extremely thrilled with our first day of cooking