Wednesday, February 20, 2008

into the fire

Last year I got a bit of a bee in my bonnet (or perhaps my apron) about a talkfest put on during the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival looking at the future of food and the media. I was stunned to see that food bloggers failed to rate a mention, let alone a seat on the panel.

I built up a good head of steam on the subject:

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 cookbooks (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 nowhere to be seen.

Well guess what? They listened. Matt Preston commented on the post with promises things would be different this year. And they are. We have our own Ed from Tomato and Stephanie Wood from Elegant Sufficiency (yes she is in the Fairfax stable but she blogs beautifully) on the panel of one of this year’s Out of the Frying Pan sessions.

Though despite his response, inviting us to get more involved, “We are also keen to keep all those bloggers who are interested updated with Festival announcements. This was the first year that we started to compile a dedicated media list of online media and we'd love that to grow. If any one wants to email us so we can add them to out media database that would be great. Send your details …” I am sad to say this hasn’t happened.

But Matt’s made amends. If you’re interested in going to the all day event on Monday March 3rd and would like to score yourself a free ticket pop over to tomato for a very special ticket give away offer for food bloggers. It would be nice having an informal blogmeet sponsored by the festival, as well as the opportunity to add our 2 cents worth from the audience.

Update: It looks like I am one of the lucky recipients of a free ticket. Thanks Ed. As of 26.2.08 only 8 of the 20 tickets on offer have been taken. There might be room for a last minute pitch for bloggers who want to attend.

The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival is on from 22 February - 8 March. Tickets for Out of the Frying Pan can be purchased online.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

cheap eats

There was a point I dropped off buying the Fairfax food bibles. “The Good Food Guide” segued to cover-to-cover advertising and “Cheap Eats” seemed to reinvent the definition of “cheap”. Sure things have changed since I moved to Melbourne 20 years ago. But for many years I really did have no spare cash and all dining beyond the home or someone else’s house aimed at the $5-10 mark. I’d scour the guide for a little bit of lux parading as cheap but I soon discovered that inclusion fell more into the cost of a single dish, rather than what it took to constitute a meal. Yu Yu for example, technically, has some incredibly cheap dishes all served in an exclusive setting but a serving the size of child's hand tends to leave one a tad hungry.

Looking at the write up for this years winners of the cheapie crowns I am not entirely sure if much has changed.

“The Moroccan Soup Bar” gets a mention in the fast disappearing vegetarian section and absolutely hits the monetary goals. You can eat to the gills, with mint tea, thick coffee and dessert as well, with significant change out of a $20 note. You can do most things there except book a table for 2, eat meat or imbibe in liquor. I am not entirely sure you could fill up as easily at Bar Lourinha, Cafe Zum Zum or Mecca Bah for twice the price. Sure there will always be cheap items on the menu but rarely are they enough to satisfy. Of course, in such establishments we are just talking about food, when adding a bar tab to the bill – cheap is long gone.

True cheap grub, is the string of Lebanese restaurants on Sydney Road rather than the sanitized (but certainly tasty) reinterpretations of the genre that get the gongs. Cheap is any place in Footscray where English is not the language of choice. In Northcote the most delicious feast you can have with the most stunning array of foods is the banquet nights (Friday and Saturday) at Sigri, where there is flavoursome Sri Lankan food on offer for a mere $25. I’m not the kind of person who’d usually frequent a bain marie, serve yourself style establishment but the food here is some of the best in it’s class.

A cheap eat is a falafel, with freshly cooked balls of broad beans or chickpeas, crunchy salad, tangy tahini dressing, in fluffy Turkish bread (the Halal place 2 doors up from Mediterranean Wholesalers in Brunswick is a standout). An inexpensive feast is a trip to the market for bread and deli items, sun ripened tomatoes and grapes, for a picnic. A belly filling delight is the seafood laksa at Chin Chins, in North Carlton.

But the crown of cheapness has to go to "Lentil as Anything" the collection of pay as you wish eateries (once more vegetarian and alcohol-free) - where if you so chose, you really could sing for your supper.

So what is your idea of a cheap eat?

Update: This was a quick post before I went to work today and within a couple of hours and a few comments later a whole new group blog has been born. Take the Very Cheap Eat challenge to help us find the best cheap eats for no more than $20.

What is $20 Australian worth today? (conversion approximate)

US $18 (not usually this high)
UK pound 9
Euro 12
NZ $22

Most meal costs include GST (tax) and tipping is optional.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

take out

Monday, February 11, 2008


While researching the history of a medicine bottle unearthed from my backyard I came across an interesting food history blog hosted by Gillian Polack. A blog written by someone "addicted to food, history and writing" ticks a lot of boxes for me and despite the plethora of American advertising (which is a bit annoying) it originates from our nation's capital. If you are so inclined, check out "Food history"

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

taking a moment

Buttering my toast for brunch today, I took a moment.

The toaster tripped the fuse box on Australia day (the first day of a long weekend), which caused much consternation about getting an electrician out at 8pm on a public holiday. Fortunately I talked to a very nice sparky who helped me find the cause without him leaving his festivities or me reaching for my wallet. As a result the toaster was binned. Not a problem as I use it only a couple of times a month.

So today I got the urge for scrambled eggs on toast. I sliced some nice local sourdough bread and it butterflied out so beautifully I left it attached and slid it under the griller. As I buttered the toast I took a moment. What did it look like? A cross section of organ through a CT scan, a misshapened heart, a butterfly?

Today I’m taking a lot of moments. To smell the air charged with rain, to cuddle the cats that vie endlessly for attention, to listen to music, to write some thoughts. Actually, I’m paying attention NOW after I had a gmail chat with a friend, browsing endless sites between the ‘bong’ of the next message – I was even planning my lunch, carrying the macbook around the house while I did all this and not surprisingly – accidentally closed the mail page mid chat , just as she was getting to the most interesting chunk of news.

In the moment, I stopped and watched the butter melt. I admired the just-right amount of done-ness in the grilling of the bread. I sat at the table and ate with the lid of the computer firmly closed.

Take a moment. What do you smell, see, hear, feel, taste?

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

mother of invention via Bali

Kangkung, water spinach or Ipomoea aquatica if you prefer – is an aquatic vegetable abundant in Southeast Asia. I’d heard about it long before I tasted it. The journey to my table was even longer.

The wonders of kangkung were uttered to me by a Malaysian woman I met about 5 years ago. “Please”, she entreated me “if you come and visit us in the country again bring us some kangkung.”

I had no idea what this king kong thing was. An Asian vegetable, triangular shaped leaves, high in iron. Schlepping around the Vic market I searched in vain for this vegetable, being sent here, there and everywhere by various stallholders but never ending up finding it in time for my last visit to see her.

Bali, of course, changed all that. Kangkung Pelecing is a staple on the island. We had it as our dose of daily greens on many occasions but the best of all was the large bowl assembled at our cooking class at Casa Luna.

I had every good intention of making it when I got home.

It’s only taken 6 months!

When I saw the glistening, fresh bunches at Vic market this week, I knew I had to buy some. I couldn’t remember what else was in the sambal but I reckoned I could wing it with what we had at home.

Necessity is the mother of invention. I had the Kangkung and dammit I was going to cook at least something vaguely resembling kangkung pelecing.

This is my version, interrupted halfway through preparation by a unexpected visitor, undeterred by an oil splatter on my naked arm (ouch!) or dirtying my brand new top (I really must get an apron) – I took the easy path by using a food processor and cooking the kangkug in the sambal. No shallots, candlenuts or kecap manis and fewer chillies than I would have liked – just as well because you aren’t allowed to reproduce the Casa Luna recipes!

Kangkung Pelecing (Water spinach in tomato sambal)

2 bunches of kangkung, well rinsed - stems roughly chopped
2-3 lime leaves, shredded
2-3 tablespoons of coconut oil
1 large spring onion, sliced on the diagonal (optional)

Tomato sambal

2 large red chillies (more if you have them)
2-3 tomatoes,
1 medium red onion (shallots would be better)
3 cloves of garlic
a small handful of nuts (almonds worked fine, though Id intended to use cashews)
a tsp or 2 of palm sugar
sea salt, to taste
1 tsp shrimp paste

Prepare the shrimp paste in the usual way. I wrap it in a double layer of al foil and dry roast in a hot fry pan for a few minutes.

Throw all the sambal ingredients in a food processor and blitz it. How easy is that?

Heat a wok and add the oil. Fry the sambal for about 5 minutes until it is reduced by nearly half. Traditionally you would have steamed the vegetables then mixed the sambal through it by hand but I noticed on the bottom of the recipe that throwing the kangkung in raw and cooking it in the sauce is was an acceptable variation to the method. With the wok still bubbling add the kangkung stalks and cook in the sambal for a few minutes. Add the lime leaves and spring onions then lastly the kangkung leaves. Give it a good mix through and take off the heat.

This is a fragrant and incredibly tasty vegetable side dish to an Asian meal. It also makes an easy lunch with rice on a hot day. Tofu could be added for it to become a stand-alone dish.

Weekend Herb Blogging is hosted this month by Claudia from Fool for Food.

Update: Did I articulate just how yummy the sambal is?! Don't be put off if you can't find this exotic vegetable, English spinach is an obvious substitute but be adventurous and try mixing the sambal through your favourite steamed greens.

I've now made three variations on this dish. Remember to keep in mind (on palate?) the salt/sugar balance. Like so many culinary beauties it is another case of 'just a bit more' of the things that are not so healthy for us. In this case it's the coconut oil that makes it lush, along with the palm sugar and salt. It is easiest to boil the kangkung for about 3 minutes. The latest version was to cook the sambal in the oil for 7-10 minutes then throw in the boiled vegetable with some diced tofu. Along with some steamed rice the combo is tasty and satisfying.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

not quite Feb Fast

I’m raising a glass of sparkling mineral water to all those embarking on a grog-free month, with a special shout out to the odd bloggers who have gone public about joining Feb Fast.

I heard about it first through RRR and a little delving into the organization has shown it to be sound and worthy – using the idea of going alcohol free for a month to increase awareness about substance abuse issues and fundraising for the cause.

The site points out a few factoids like:

In Australia, the annual cost to the community of alcohol-related social problems was estimated to be $7.6 billion in 1998-99.

It is estimated that 459,400 Australians consume alcohol at levels considered to be high risk to health in the long-term (AIHW 2005)

The impact of alcohol problems upon workplaces in Australia is significant, costing business at least $1.9 billion per year.

The Significant Eater and I have contracted to avoid alcohol this month with our own prearranged exceptions – interstate/overseas visitors (it’s OK Pixie I’ve got a leave pass for our time together in Melbourne!) and a birthday. I’ve also sponsored a couple of people who are going the whole hog.

So I’ll just have to wait a few weeks before posting about the lovely raspberry infused vodka I’ve made and darn it, no mojitos with the duty free tequila I bought back from New Zealand.

Here’s to a healthy and happy month.

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