Friday, February 23, 2007

more thoughts on blogging

I can think of no two food blogs that are alike. Many have photos, some do not. There are those that are dedicated only to recipes or reviews of other peoples food. Others are more eclectic - roving through menus, philosophy, food gathering trips. Some discuss wine and other beverages, others are dedicated to a single theme. There are a few people in the industry who blog, but most of us are lay people when it comes to the worlds of cooking and the media.

What does distinguish our blogs from articles or old media generated blogs (you know the sort – a daily paper with a blogroll) is the writing. Perhaps there is a rawness to a blog post that a journalist could neither allow or replicate. I’m not saying we all have lousy spelling or punctuation, but the work doesn’t go past an editor and has the luxury of a certain freshness. Our posts are not put on ice or modified by a style censor or a lawyer, they are published in an instant. Thankfully we can re-edit later if it is really needed.

Not all of us are anonymous. But anonymity does allow the freedom to say exactly what we wish without fear of being personally ridiculed. That is not to say we are not sensitive to criticism, even hiding behind a handle. When I whipped up a little frenzy over a hyped new restaurant, I felt the biting sting of some commentors tails. They too have the choice of being anonymous and enjoy the freedom THAT gives. But the point is we are free to talk our mind, regardless of the consequences. What is more, we will never get banned from eating in a restaurant unlike some reviewers from other media.

Basically we are food writers, all driven by slightly different motivations. For me, beyond the love of food – I want to show that healthy eating is about simplicity and great flavours, beyond the mung bean kind of horrors that used to epitomise such diets. I want to inspire others to try something new, or expand their repetoire. Or at times, just to stop and think.

I have discovered a very selfish reason to blog my recipes as well. Being an intuitive cook, it has been very useful to actually document what I put in the pot because a month later I might forget it. I have surprised myself by the amount of times I have had to track back through my blog to find what the missing spice was or some ingredient that had slipped my mind when I wanted to replicate a dish. It has also provided feedback, other people’s inspiration to add a twist to a meal.

Most bloggers love feedback and live for comments. We can get a little lonely at times, tapping our culinary hearts out on a keyboard and finding no response. We can become a little obsessive about our site meters too, discovering not just how many people visit our blog but how they got there. Without my beloved statcounter I would have no idea that literally hundreds of people scattered throughout the world want to know how to make vegetarian gyoza, because there certainly isn’t any volume of comments to suggest how popular the recipe is. I have to admit to the vice of pride about this one. This is a recipe that I have developed on my own (after talking rather drunkenly to a chef and a cook at a Christmas party many years ago) and to find my own creation is not only popular but reproducible - is a buzz.

For me blogging about food is more than creating my own online personal recipe book. It gives me a forum to muse about many aspects of food culture, talk about philosophy, cookbooks, markets and relationships through food. Some of the most thoughtful feedback I have received recently was in response to a post about cooking with a partner. I’ve also used the blog as therapy after a stint caring and cooking for my elderly parents. I enjoy reading other bloggers tales of how they have responded to dealing with food allergies, how someone embraces ethical eating for the first time or shares an emotional journey after a health diagnosis that radically alters their relationship with food. This is not a chef writing gluten free recipes, but a person struggling with the fact that what they know as pizza will never be eaten again and how their life can open up rather than close down, as a result of it.

I’ve also had the vicarious enjoyment of watching the arrival of new babies through their blog writings, appreciating the unfolding of new relationships and even some of the sadder aspects of life. Bloggers don’t have to put on a brave face, unless they choose to, the reality adds a whole new dimension to the idea of comfort food.

Am I just a compulsive blogger, a frustrated writer, a want-to-be published author one day? Maybe, but the blog is a great place to enjoy the craft of writing without deadlines or expectations. A place where the inner foodie meets “The Artists Way”. Julia Cameron wrote “If you write, then you are a writer”. I’d add “If you blog about food, you are a food blogger - so welcome to the club”.


Coming soon…

I seemed to have whipped up a few thoughts over at Tomatom. One of my high school teachers once wrote on my report “(AOF) is a catalyst”, which took me many years to cotton on to the fact she was politely calling me a stirrer. The Melbourne Food Festival people haven’t come knocking at my email box recognising their faux pas as yet unfortunately. So it’s up to us to make this happen ourselves.

Right now I am midway through changing over computers. I love my imac but the year that is beckoning suggests that a little more flexibility in where I get a chance to write means a laptop would be a darn fine idea – so a flash new macbook has entered my life. Her name is Lola…but more about that latter.

While I get used to writing without a mouse (some of the time) I’m contemplating about why I blog about food and what makes us food bloggers different to others who participate in the food industry and the media.

What brings you to these pages? Do you just like to watch? Are you a blogger yourself? Do you enjoy eating out but not cooking? Is it an osmotic relationship that you seek?

I’ll fill you in with my answers soon, but in the meantime I’ve got to learn to stop swearing at Lola’s tricky track pad and get back into the kitchen.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

green mango salad

The Significant Eater arrived back from Sydney with a precious cargo. Out of his bag came a load of mangoes from a backyard tree. The glut was equally numbered between ripe and green fruit. Perfect. Sweet cheeks for breakfast and finally some green mango for a Thai salad.

With the usual mix and match between recipes – this is what emerged.

Thai green mango salad with char grilled calamai

2 green mangoes, julienned
a handful of French (green) beans, blanched and cut in half
2 carrots, grated
(fine slices of red onion or spring onion if desired)

1-2 fresh calamari – cleaned and grilled (tentacles too if you like them)

1 hot red chili, finely sliced
a bunch of coriander, green tops, chopped
(mint or Vietnamese mint would be nice too)

toasted cashew nuts, chopped or crushed


30 mls fish sauce
15 mls lime juice
1-2 tsp sugar, preferably palm sugar

Slice, dice, grill and toast til your heart is content. Mix the dressing making sure the sugar has dissolved, assemble then lastly toss through the dressing and sprinkle on the nuts.


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Friday, February 16, 2007

the invisible media

I might have missed it. Admittedly it was a bit of a cursory glance at the on line program for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. I was just wondering – where are all the food bloggers?

The event that caught my eye was “Out of the Frying Pan:A CONFERENCE ON THE FUTURE OF FOOD AND THE MEDIA”.

Now when I think of food, and media for 2006 – I think of food bloggers having the first unrestricted reviews of “Fifteen”, bloggers near and far getting proposals accepted for books and bloggers yet again exerting a fair amount of local knowledge about the food scene. But the festival does not think this form of media is anywhere in the future of food.

I find this curious. After all we are the punters. We are not the insiders from the mainstream media. We are the ones who pay for our meals, have no editorial restrictions and are read in the thousands each day. Bloggers are at the coalface. We actually try out the recipes from the latest hyped cook books (well some of you do), rather than have them displayed prominently and hope osmosis will do the trick. But we remain invisible, according to the festival guide and in a whole day of workshops discussing this theme are no where to be seen.

Are we just too amateur, irrelevant or a threat to be acknowledged in the festival of all things food?


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Farmers market

Grey morning, early start, very restrained shopping due to a surplus of food at home so limited my purchases to: organic garlic, spiced rhubarb and apple relish, dark plum conserve, real free range eggs and those wonderful fresh pistachios. There was a delish, rustic vegetable samosa (that was really a baked pastie) that I couldn't pass up because the list of ingredients was wonderfully free of peas. Delightful, but pass on the major condiment brand chilli sauce!

Feast your eyes on more pictures from my trip to the Collingwood Farmers Market.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

one of those foodie moments

Hands up if you can identify this little goodie!

I had one of those "Oh my god!", foodie moments when I tried one of these at the farmers market this morning.

If you don't know - have a guess.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Massaman curry paste

I just can't help ad libbing.

A few of those chiles remained in the bowl and I was determined to use them up, but the criterion was to use only ingredients that I had at hand. I’m trying to live a little more simply. There are fresh organic vegetables in the fridge every week, a little supplementing of fresh fish and supermarket essentials – enough to get us through, not just to the next shopping day but a month til the larder is truly exhausted.

I wanted to make a curry paste but almost all called for fresh coriander. With a little searching a Thai Massaman stood out as an exception. I’ve had a vegetable version at the local Thai, milder than it’s red companion but with a broad palate.

When I settled on a recipe I figured there would be only the odd substitution. Once completed, it was more like half of it.

It is fun making a curry paste from scratch. Sure you can throw it in a food processor, but a mortar and pestle gives it a more authentic texture. What’s more it’s a good toner for the arm muscles as well. The version I made was quite wet, so avert your eyes if you wish to avoid the odd bit of chili juice that may fly about.

Massaman Curry Paste

(Refer to the original for a more accurate idea about quantities. I made enough paste to be cooked with 1 can of coconut milk, 2-4 people depending on your appetite.

4 fresh red chillies (these were particularly fiery so I removed the seeds to temper the bite)
1 small brown onion
2-3 large cloves of garlic
1 inch chunk of fresh ginger
1 kaffir lime leaf and a little lime peel
2 cloves
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 heaped teaspoon cumin seeds
3 white peppercorns
1 tsp shrimp paste* (roasted in foil in a hot dry pan for 5 minutes)
a dash of fish sauce*

*these 2 ingredients can be omitted without compromising the flavour too much for a true vegetarian version.
Toast the cumin, coriander, cloves and peppercorns in a hot dry pan. Pound in your mortar and pestle then put aside

Roughly chop the chili, onion, garlic, lime leaf and skin. Pound together in mortar and pestle. When smooth-ish, add the ground dry ingredients. Mix together. Add the shrimp paste and then a dash of fish sauce to taste.

This resulted in about 4 tablespoons of chunky paste.

Cook in the more solid cream that sits on the top when you open the tin of coconut milk. After cooking for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, add the rest of the milk. Now throw in your diced vegetables. In this case it was: potato, sweet potato, pumpkin, carrot, corn and zucchini.

A Massaman usually has potato and roasted peanuts. The packet of redish brown little nuggets at the back of the pantry I had assumed were peanuts turned out of be dried beans – not a suitable substitute in this circumstance. Instead to add a nutty flavour I fried some thin slices of tempeh. I served the curry with basmati rice and the crispy tempeh.

It was a delicious curry, with warmth rather than eye watering heat and many layers of flavour.

So can you meet the simplicity cooking challenge?

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On the joy of being cooked for

These are halcyon days. The Significant Eater has settled in to our shared abode and become most at home in the kitchen. While I’ve long been back at work, he’s still on holidays. I have discovered a new joy - to walk in the door sometime before 7pm to the smell of food simmering on the stove or heating in the oven. Since moving out of shared houses more than a decade ago, I have had many years of living alone or with a partner who would only begrudgingly cook. Kitchen compatibility is a new and wondrous thing.

Though an omnivore, the SE prefers to eat a healthy vegetarian plus fish type of diet. We cook in different ways – he tends to spend more time planning and researching, then follows a recipe to the letter. Though some days he throws caution to the wind and ad libs. He favours strong flavours (chili, thyme, radicchio) and large portions. His maternal lineage, from Northern Italy, means no meal is complete without at least one large salad or side dish of vegetables.

The past week has seen a feast of curries, a simple vegetable bake that was so delicious tempted a visiting neighbour to stay and Cajun barbecued marlin. There was a salad of bitter greens with a thick mustard dressing. Having so often been the one who shows her love through providing sustenance for others, it is a delight to be on the receiving end of this kind of nurturing.

We are learning to cook together, which for me means letting go of the picture I have for a finished dish and going with the flow more often. Perhaps if I learn to be not always in control in the kitchen, it will ripple to the other parts of my life! The other night was a classic example. At the market we found some prawn and scallop ravioli. Neither of us eats pasta very often but this seemed a suitable deviation from the norm. After purchasing the precious produce we bantered as we shopped as to what would be the perfect sauce for it. I sketched out a simple Napoli, using fresh tomato, onions, garlic and perhaps an anchovy, a hint of chili and a splash of white wine. He picked up a fresh bunch of greens and said excitedly, “and spinach”. That night I prepared the first half of the sauce while he readied his addition. I’d visualised the leaves finely diced and perhaps even blended. His way was a rough chop, including the stalks. The texture, taste and look of the meal totally different to what I’d expected.

What does it matter, in the end it was delightful!


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