Buns, Boyswear and Beauty

This bout of spring-like weather has me in an uncommonly good mood, so instead of ranting about the incredibly tedious Oscars, or the recent Park Slope-driven debate about whether it’s okay to take children to bars (though I might get to this shortly), I thought I would rave about a couple of things.

One-A-Penny, Two-A-Penny …

Every year around this time I crave real, fruit-laden hot cross buns, the sort I grew up eating toasted and dripping with butter. I have been into countless bakeries around New York and usually my request for hot cross buns is greeted with a blank stare. Or, if I can find them, they are cakey and light, sparse on the candied fruit and peels and heavy on white frosting and sticky glazes. I still haven’t found a version entirely reminiscent of the hot cross buns I remember from childhood, but I am thrilled to finally come close.

Bread Alone at the Union Square Greenmarkets has hot cross buns for the next few weeks preceding Easter. They are heavy with fruit and yeasty as I remember. The only downer is that like all the buns I have tasted here, they have an icing cross instead of a traditional dough one, which means you can’t put them in the toaster or the oven. Still, at around a buck a piece, they’re worth it.

Zara Boys

Also on the rave list this week is the boys’ section of Zara, my beloved shopping haunt, with locations dotted around New York. The store on Fifth Ave near 18th Street, which is dangerously close to my office, has super stylish children’s clothes on the upper level. I discovered that not only are the accessories great and inexpensive for my children, but there are finds to be had for a smallish female too.

I picked up a graffiti-patterned belt for my son and grabbed myself one in brown leather with brass grommets too; I picked him up a spring-weight scarf with skulls + crossbones and found a blue + white striped one for me. You get the idea. The belt was about $15 and beat anything I could find in the women’s section, and the scarf was under $10 and totally sated my current addiction to blue + white stripes.

Liberty of London

And I am hoping to have a serious rave by the weekend, as I gear up for Liberty of London for Target range to go on sale. I’ve been a huge fan of the international fabric label since I was too young to buy it; with its pretty florals and oh-so-English Garden sweetness. I still have a little cloth Liberty print bag my mother bought me on a shopping trip to Melbourne some 30 years ago. Wind the clock forward, and now I’m eyeing a teapot and a heap of breezy sundresses for me and my almost 5yo daughter.

The designer range hits Target.com and select stores March 14, but we lucky New Yorkers can get a sneak peak and shop beginning Wednesday at a pop-up store at 1095 Sixth Ave. at 42nd Street near Bryant Park.

Meat Pies and a Flat White?

Where do local Aussies want to hang out when they want to be around other Aussies, or at least drink a Coopers beer, nosh on a sausage roll or watch a footy game? Here are a few places in New York that I go if I want a slice of home.

For a decent meal, some kangaroo or barramundi perhaps, there’s the perennial favorite Eight Mile Creek in Soho. We’ve spent many an evening in the upstairs dining room or the heated outdoor area, enjoying top-notch Australian wines and slightly more elegant food than befits the misguided Crocodile Dundee stereotype that America has too long embraced. It’s one of the few places I’ve been able to find good pavlova too.

Tuck Shop in the East Village is the place for a quick cup of coffee – that’s a flat white where I come from – and a meat pie or sausage roll. And the lamingtons and vanilla slices are about as good as you can find in NY. I was here for Australia Day, the Aussie version of St. Patrick’s Day celebrated January 26, and the staff was great. The server treated us to lamingtons and threw in an extra one for me to bring home to the kids. A lamington for the uninitiated is an Australian childhood favorite; a slab of white sponge cake, filled with strawberry jam, dipped in chocolate syrup and dredged in shredded coconut.

There’s a second location too, at St Marks Place, and hot off the presses, they just got a license to sell beer and wine. As part of the long-awaited coup, Tuck Shop is introducing New York to the Esky. For $30, you can get six beers at the table in a mini Esky to keep it extra cold. The St Marks Place location also has Billy Tea, Tim Tams, beloved Vegemite and other Aussie treats for sale.

And while you’re downtown, the Sunburnt Cow and Bondi Road Fish + Chips are great spots for drinks and eats. Yep, you’ll get meat pies, burgers, lamb chops, fish+ chips – all the usual drinking food with a fun, laid-back vibe. I hear there is a The Sunburnt Calf now on the Upper West Side too, but I’ve yet to check it out.

The Australian is where you go for very large glasses of red wine (and very large headaches the next morning!) and non-stop sports action. Sports junkies are glued to the TV screens for cricket matches and rugby league, and the proprietor, a former rugby league player himself, will happily shoot the breeze about the game. Great place to take visiting sports writers or wannabe sportsmen.

If you’re in Brooklyn, the coffee and meat pies at The Pie Shop in Prospect Park come straight from the ovens of DUB Pies  (Down Under Bakery), which started out with its prime storefront on Columbia Street. The coffee is good, the pies and sausage rolls are pretty decent, there’s catering and delivery to boot, and chances are you’ll hear an Australian or New Zealand accent working the counter.

Then there’s Sheep Station on Fourth Avenue, Park Slope, where the shearer’s burger (a burger topped with beets, pineapple and a fried egg), lamb chops and fish + chips are worth the trip to the otherwise pretty barren block. There is a fireplace too.

If you just want to read about Australian food, hit the newsstand at Barnes & Noble for the occasional good, out-of-season and pricey Australian food mag. Donna Hay’s breezy, beautifully styled magazines channel Martha Stewart but with that laid back Aussie feel. And there’s usually a Vogue Entertaining + Travel lurking on the shelves.

No Soup For Me?

The Soup in Question

I was skeptical to say the least, but oddly fascinated by the concept of cooking tuna in a soup. Applying heat to a fresh, ruby-red chunk of tuna is sacrilege in my book. So what was my dear friend thinking, urging me to come over for a bowl of her latest creation; an Ecuadoran style tuna soup. I’ve not been to Ecuador, and being born and bred in Australia, have little knowledge of the style of cooking.  But for me, tuna is all about sashimi, keeping it raw or just seared, at most. I did grow up with fish soups, mind you, but the ones my maternal grandmother made were a hearty mix of sturdy white fish, perhaps some fat prawns for good measure, but never tuna.

Yuca, another dominant ingredient in this soup, was also foreign to me.  I’ve since learned that it also goes by the names cassava or manioc, and is a long, slim tuber (like a long potato) with bark-like skin. It’s often sold in bins outside NY bodegas, or cut and peeled in the frozen section of most supermarkets. All that said, there are  few things I won’t at least try. so I agreed to go and just look at the soup, and see if perhaps I dared a taste.

Well, I had it all wrong. The soup was utterly delicious. The chunks of tuna were poached in a fish stock and doused in lime juice, a smattering or red onions and fresh chopped tomato, then all kind of bound together with nuggets of sweet, starchy yuca.  Even my kids lined up for bowls; thinking they were eating potato cooked in broth.

I haven’t made it myself yet, but I am already thinking to replace the tricky-to-prep yuca with some potato and/or a handful of rice to make it a more substantial meal. And I will definitely toss in some fresh red chilli to balance the lime and give more bite. My experimental friend was inspired to make the soup after tasting a version at the Red Hook ball fields where for some 30 years cooks from all over Latin America have gathered at weekends to sell foods from their homelands. I guess that’s where I’ll be going come spring, once the food sellers set up shop again.

Meantime, here is a  recipe for the tuna soup or Encebollado De Atun that won me over.


1 lb yuca, peeled, cored and cut into 1-1/2″ pieces
3 tbsp olive oil
1 white onion diced
4 plum tomatoes diced
6 cloves garlic finely-chopped
1 gallon fish stock
1 1/2 lb tuna cut in 2″ pieces
parsley chopped
1 bunch cilantro leaves chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 red onion, thinly sliced
6 limes quartered
corn nuts


Place the yuca in a large stockpot and add water to cover. Bring to a boil,
then lower the heat and simmer gently for about 30 minutes. Remove from
the heat and let cool in the water.

Heat the oil in a separate stockpot over high heat. Add the onion and half
of the tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes. Add the garlic and stock, and
bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Add
the tuna and yuca and cook for 5 minutes.

Stir in parsley and cilantro and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Immediately ladle the soup into bowls. Float some of the red onion slices
on the surface of each serving, and top with the remaining diced tomatoes.
Squeeze lime juice over the onions and sprinkle the corn nuts over the
onions and tomatoes. Serve with the remaining lime wedges on the side.

Serves 6