Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Doing Breakfast

I had a sea change over the weekend. Three whole, delicious days at Apollo Bay. Something happens when you remove yourself from the city. Perhaps it’s the fresh air or the seaside ozone, but both daydreams and appetites are suddenly infused with possibilities.

The fickle Victorian weather meant that the sunniest times were when we lingered over long breakfasts, on a veranda overlooking the sea. More dedicated types may have used this warm window of opportunity more productively, walking on the beach or exploring the tidal pools. But not us. Though this is a blog about the joys of eating and drinking, this post is not dedicated to the actual food but is a tribute to the ambience surrounding dinning.

Music for breakfasters is a delicate choice. I have fond memories of Marios in Brunswick Street always playing cool jazz at this time of day. In that café, nothing else would do and it was always perfect. The sound accompaniment on the coast, day 1 was Crowded House. Just loud enough to hear the words, but not so intrusive to annoy if the trio was not your cup of tea. I happen to have a soft spot for the younger Finn so this lulled me into an even better mood.

The staff were young and relaxed. They took the order and delivered the food, offered more drinks - all totally appropriately. They seemed happy and at this point in the season before the Christmas onslaught, there was no pressure for the table. This way after over 2 hours, 5 drinks and 2 meals, they were not attempting to move us on from the prime spot we had scored. The wicker chairs had comfy cushions to pad the back and bottom, which made it all the cosier to stay a little longer. On holidays such padded lingering is much appreciated.

There was a stash of magazines and newspapers. This became vitally important on day 2 when we both had the urge to attempt the giant weekend sudoku (not entirely successfully, but that seemed irrelevant). A spare copy was found and peace ensued.

The food arrived promptly. By mid morning I have usually been awake for hours and if left unfed I could probably gnaw a leg off a small animal, if indeed I ate meat. My biggest gripe about breakfasting out in the world is ‘the long wait’. A full café, who can seat more than the kitchen can comfortably accommodate is the worst crime imaginable to the hypoglycaemic. The weekend favourite did not commit that crime. As beautiful as the seaview was, it would have been marred if my stomach had to grumble half an hour or more to be fed.

The chef was not precious. You could eat lunch food at breakfast and alter the menu if the choices on offer didn’t appeal. Such flexibility is a boon for the holiday eater, who perhaps had a little too much crayfish or sav blanc the night before. Or whipped up by the fresh air, wanted their own take on a creative combo. No condescending looks from waiters. No stupid rules about what may be consumed at such an hour. After all this place had soup on the menu right next to the other breakfast specials.

And the whole time the soft air swirled through the open windows straight from the sea and the sun streamed in warming our bodies.

And all was well in the world once more.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Yin and yang

‘Tis the season to eat out too frequently and be merry. Home food has been simple, to balance the restaurant fare. Lots of salads, with some protein (for me this is seafood, eggs, tofu and beans). As much as I romance the salad, there are other culinary pleasures that take my fancy to write about.

This is the yin and the yang. What goes with the purity of simple salads? Why, the decadence of chocolate of course.

Chocolate Review #2
Lindt 85%
As the name suggests this is high in cocoa and low in sugar. One review likened it to sipping your first martini. A kind of, ‘Ouch! Why do people rave about this?’ experience. That is, til you get past the strength of flavour and just enjoy the ride.

Definitely bitter. Not as smooth as its lighter weight stable mates. I have heard it described as “eating mud”. But I would add, this is very flavoursome mud. Like the martini it is an acquired taste. But that works to your advantage – there is more for you to eat :)

The low carb-inista approve of its carbohydrate content. But really that is a ridiculous reason to eat it. If after true medicinal encouragement to indulge in this delight, look no further than the joys of antioxidants. Medline lists over 100 studies and reviews extolling the virtues of dark chocolate . Antioxidants, in this case polyphenols, are the good guys who play a role in preventing, amongst other things, heart disease and cancer. Some of the hardest line, alternative cancer treatment practitioners recommend 50g of 70% or higher chocolate, a day.

If your maxim is – a little is good, a lot is better - you will love Lindt’s 85%. But beware. For those other caffeine sensitive souls, indulging too close to bedtime is a recipe for insomnia.


Sunday, November 20, 2005

food confession #2

Let’s say, a bit like the whole coffee conundrum, I have a small weakness for chocolate. I had stopped buying it for months til I came across a forgotten friend at a local organic grocery establishment this week. There she was, off the shelves for so long that I thought she had ceased to exist, back in full luxurious glory – Green & Black’s dark cherry chocolate. Her pedigree was always excellent – organic, fair trade, dairy free, delicious and an antioxidant double act to boot. She’s pricey (very little change out of AU$12), but she’s worth it.

At a mere 60% cocoa mass she's a little lighter than her Mayan Gold sister (70%) but this makes it just sweet enough to highlight the bitterness of the cherries. A cunning combo. This is a dessert chocolate extraordinaire and vies with the creamy dark peppermint as an all time favourite.

The price never seemed much of a problem when you added the whole fair trade issue into the picture. The story began with a nice couple visiting Belize and getting involved with some local cocao growers who had been shafted by the big firms who had dropped their price. But in May this year the equation changed when G&B sold the company to the big boys (they don’t need a plug, just think dairy milk). The fair trade and guaranteed organic content continues, but can I feel so good forking over the dosh for a multinational to make a profit? It seems I am not the only one to ask this question.

Who knows, but I guess for now the proof is in the eating.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Holy Medusa

Coffee by Chris Phillips of Flavours of Lakhoum, 175 Swan Street, Richmond.
Photo: Rebecca Hallas pinched from The Age

This post is fuelled by caffeine. My usually drug free body is zinging. My brain feels like it is attempting to repackage itself in a rhomboid shaped cranium.

I love coffee.

I hate coffee.

I used to romance my cup of roasted goodness in bed, on those leisurely mornings when demands of the day were less pressing. I would sip and read, or write inspired thoughts. Coffee was my friend. If I courted her with a little care, keeping her to just one a day our relationship remained easy.

Most years I would take a little holiday from my addiction. Just to prove I could. It started in London in the 80’s where the coffee was almost uniformly crap, strange brown liquid out of suspicious looking urns. I found some beans and a grinder in my adopted home in Stoke Newington, only later to discover they were kept for the sole use of not sipping with pleasure, but sluicing out the intestines as an enema! That crystallised to me the relationship Brits had with coffee at the time.

So a couple of years ago in my annual ‘I can give up caffeine’ drive, I extended it longer and longer, til I no longer missed her.

That’s when the problems started and my friend turned into an unpredictable foe. Just one cup could now make me shaky. A sip or two too many could rearrange the contents of my head, squeeze it, make it hurt. But most of all – fill me with unease.

Sometimes its ok and I get that sweet pleasure I so fondly remember. But those times are getting rare.

I miss her. Want her back. But realise that sadly this is a relationship I have out grown. But sometimes, on mornings like this, nostalgia gets the best of me and I fire up the kettle, grind the organic beans and make the tiniest little plunger full. I sit and take a deep sip and wait and see where the journey will take me.

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Sunday, November 13, 2005

sweet cheeks

Mangoes herald spring, the return of sunshine, lazy days, sweet times. They make me feel patriotically Australian, one of the finest fruit found in my adopted land. Growing up in New Zealand I never saw a mango. I was a teenager before the exotic avocado hit town (and how bland and strange we found it!). Stone fruits were the taste of summer and the only tropical fruits of note were the occasional pineapple and herbaceous banana.

There is no simpler breakfast than a mango cut into cheeks and consumed in exquisite bites.

They also go well with:
A squeeze of fresh lime juice
Blended in a smoothie
Organic strawberries (nothing lesser will do)
Strawberries and a splash of grand marnier, but perhaps not for breakfast
Daiquiris (ditto)

But ideally they are best consumed simple, nude, luscious, dripping…

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Friday, November 11, 2005

Nicoise with a twist

I’ve long been a fan of salad nicoise, though with tuna now an occasional food (darn mercury) it has become a real treat. I usually follow a more traditional route, but last night’s version was worth deviating for.

(the light was fading and we we're hungry but you get the idea)

Layers from the bottom up

Rocket - generous handfuls

Steamed ‘new’ potatoes cut in smallish chunks (in this case some dear little organic Sebago’s that only needed to be halved)

Thin slices of crunchy fennel

Crispy green beans (blanched for 1 minute in boiling water, then refreshed in ice water)

Wedges of sweet tomato

Kalimata olives marinated in olive oil, bay leaves, rosemary, chilli, garlic and peppercorns

Tuna steak crusted with crushed black pepper, seared and sliced into strips

Anchovy fillets, halved

The dressing: this was done on the run but tasted good – equal quantities of lemon juice and olive oil, some Dijon mustard and crushed garlic, a pinch of salt. Mix together then stir in a spoonful of good quality mayonnaise. Pour over the potatoes, then drizzle some more once fully assembled.

No cos, no egg and the olives were Greek…sometimes it’s worth the detour.


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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Curry in a hurry

Gourmands avert your eyes. Despite the ridiculous amounts of Asian cookbooks I own and regularly drool over, I haven’t made a curry from scratch all year. Appalling I know.

'Mae Ploy' red curry paste is cheaper than chips (as low as $2.65 from downtown Oakleigh or an exorbitant $3.20 from the city) and a darn sight tastier. No preservatives, all natural ingredients and at only a tablespoon or two each time, it lasts for ages. A home with curry paste and coconut milk in the larder will never be hungry.

Simple curry for 2
1 tablespoon of curry paste cooked in a little oil, add 1 tin of coconut milk and amalgamate on a slow bubble. Add a few dashes of fish sauce and a squeeze of lime or lemon juice as desired.

Throw in the vegetables you have been meaning to use up. This week it was: onions, sweet potato, eggplant, zucchini and carrots. Often there are some Asian greens to toss in at the end of cooking. Simmer for at least 30 minutes til vegies are tender. Top up with vegetable stock if needed to keep the goodies covered in sauce.

I added cubes of tofu because being the perverse person I am, I like it. In more luxurious moments it may be prawns.

Serve on rice of your choice, but as it was tofu I went the whole holistic hog and opted for long grain brown.

Even better the next day.

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