Monday, September 29, 2008

words on walls

You have to love blogging. It is community building at its best. From these words on digital pages I have met so many interesting people. Made great friends. Experienced a diversity of virtual connections. But the latest has got to take the cake.

Ever taken much notice of the graffiti I use as an identifier? I took it on an instamatic camera (ah life before digital) when I was a teenager spending six months living in Sydney. I’d been catapulted from Wellington (population under 300,000) to a city of more than 3 million. It was 1982. Despite this era being the dizzy intersection of punk and post-punk, I put on my best frock and got a proper job, in an office doing the most menial work on a big government health study.

My time in Sydney cemented my love of graffiti. BUGA UP was at its height. Writings on walls, pre-tagging, were witty, political and an emerging art form. One sunny day in Paddington, the following spray made me laugh.

Oh the irony.

Fast forward 25 years and I am living in Australia again. As I flipped through some old photos, the words seemed just a relevant now I find myself amidst the whole food blog/foodie pretension/food porn thing. It seemed the perfect bridge between my disparate blogs. Ironic? Moi!

Then a short while ago, while bringing yet another blog to life, I got a comment from one of the people responsible for the words on the wall. I’ve got Andra’s (coincidentally another outspoken kiwi) permission to share the story. Here it, as she told me via email.

…if you remember the period and the area. Darlinghurst was full of arty squats. Kings Cross was squalid. Paddington was the height of pretension south of the bridge.

My friends and I lived (and died) in the coffee shops of Darlo, Victoria Rd and Oxford St. We fancied ourselves as real punks, feminists, artists and voyagers but we were complete wankers.

That was when the book "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche" had become popular. I think the Sydney Morning Herald Good Weekend (which we read) did a big feature on the 'arty punks of paddington.. or darlo.. and the coffee shop scene'. We stayed up all night (as we did) and decided that my 'real punks can't spell cappoc cuppa.. coffee' was clever.

We were so artschool! The trouble we had organising the logistics. Who had access to a car! What sort of paint. Who was going to be lookout. Where were we going to paint. I think we ended up with 5 lookouts, 1 driver and 1 painter. I think we sprayed in 3 locations, Darlo, Ultimo and Paddington. The Paddo location stayed up for a while. I can't remember exactly where cause it's all changed and I've moved but the bottom end of Glenmore Rd near Oxford St on the borders of Kings Cross/Rushcutters/Darlo is where I remember that one.

We really were ahead of the graffiti curve in Australia! I think that spray also got featured shortly after in a coffee table type book on public art or punk art.

I love stories that come full circle.

Words on walls, tags, public art, whatever – is by nature temporary. I'm glad this story has had its moment in the sun again, even if it is in yet another transient medium.

Cross-posted at Health, Philosophy, Politics and Other Rants

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Friday, September 26, 2008

help needed - avoiding the footy

Much to my surprise, tomorrow is the last day in September - which means it is time to avoid the mayhem and have a civilized lunch far from the maddening crowd. Or at least no where near a television, the MCG, Hawthorn or Geelong. Those not from Melbourne may be as perplexed as I am. It is Grand Final, Footy, Football. It turns even seemingly normal people into screaming fans, venues you'd think would no better start procuring wide screen TVs and the air is thick with sausages slowly burning.

Needless to say I am not a fan and wish to go somewhere to avoid it. Am catching up with a friend for a belated birthday long lunch. To make transport easier (neither of us intend to drive and getting a taxi can be unreliable at grand final time) we are aiming for city/Fitzroy area. Am guessing that anywhere near Fed Square may risk football related activities and Docklands leaves me cold (literally and nothing down there has ever lived up to the hype for me).

So any last minute thoughts as to a suitable sunny civilized piscaterian friendly dinning establishment?


Update: The winner is...Jimmy Watson's. It is almost 28 years since I stepped into the notorious Jimmy Watson's as a rather under-aged teen. Gone is some of the bohemian atmosphere, the mamas in the kitchen piling plates high with delicious goodies and port for 50 cents a glass. Despite it's transition to fully fledged restaurant dining Jimmy Watson's still offers two choice spots of sunlight to sit in, great wines and very nice food (even if it leans more towards the Middle East than the Mediterranean these days). But best of all, not a whisper of footy!

the last of the blood oranges

I woke up dreaming about jelly. Well not the jello variety exactly, a fruit kanten. Years ago I’d made one at a cooking course run by Tony Chiodo. It was so simple and elegant that I earmarked it to be made again. That was years ago but the recipe was exactly where I thought it would be and all I really needed to procure was some agar agar.

Agar agar is a more humane option as a setting agent than gelatin. No horse’s hooves (or for that matter, slightly unpleasant odour) involved. Technically it is a sea vegetable and they go crazy for it in Japan. I found it with no problem at Tofu Trek at Vic market.

The next step was to decide just what kind of fruit offering I wished to make.

The original recipe creates the dearest little translucent jellies made of clear apple juice set with blueberries. But as this was a test run (no grand dinner party here, I just wanted to play with the medium) I settled on the last of the blood oranges and some strawberries. A simple decision really, as even for conventional fruit the blueberries were hovering around the $8 mark, while they were giving strawberries away for $1 a punnet.

To make a fruit kanten there is a basic recipe to make the jelly:

For every 1 cup of fruit juice, use I teaspoon of agar agar flakes, (heaped if you are to add alcohol – whoops that let the next cat out of the bag, didn’t it) plus a tiny pinch of salt.


As to the quantities, the original typed recipe actually used 3 tablespoon of agar agar to 3 cups of juice. But I had faithfully changed altered that as after cooking it we were told it was a typo and should have been teaspoon measures. In class we had made it with tablespoons and it was very firm, verging on hard. Though very yummy.

I cruised the net for quantities and most seemed to use tablespoons, then on a forum I found someone complaining that it seemed too firm and different to the ‘custard like’ kanten she’d eaten at a restaurant.

My texture was definitely set but a soft jelly. If you wish to do something creative like make a batch in a rectangular pan and cut it into squares to accompany another dessert then I’d suggest a tablespoon of agar agar per cup of juice.

But the ratio I used was perfect for:

Blood orange and vodka good karma jelly shots

1 cup freshly squeezed blood orange juice
1 heaped tsp agar agar
1 small pinch of salt
40 mls good quality vodka

Squeeze and strain your orange juice then place in a small pan on the stove. Add the agar agar and a tiny pinch of sea salt, and stir over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and let it gently bubble for 5-7 minutes til the agar agar flakes have dissolved. Keep stirring and checking. They actually do take this long to dissolve fully. You can remove the orange scum with a spoon, filter after cooking or leave it au naturel.

Once dissolved take the pan off the heat. Let it sit for a minute or two to before adding the vodka. Stir it through the juice then pour into shot glasses. Leave standing at room temperature for a couple of hours til they set.

Though remember, “drink responsibly", as the ads say.

But back to dessert.

I used the same quantities of blood orange juice and agar agar, plus the little pinch of sea salt. If making a larger batch use 3 cups of juice to 3 heaped teaspoons of agar agar. Once cooked I added the smallest splash of Grand Marnier. This is entirely optional but remember adding too much booze will dominate the delicate nature of the fruit and can also affect the ability to set. I arranged a quartered strawberry in the bottom of each teacup and covered with the liquid. If you are making this to impress, strain the cooked juice through muslin cloth to get a clearer liquid. It looks fabulous in clear glass but was hesitant to pour hot liquid into my best wine glasses.

Other options to the flavouring include – a squeeze of lemon, citrus zest, a vanilla pod and any decent fruit juice, combined with the best quality, seasonal fruit.

The flavour was intense and slightly tart. If you prefer a sweet dessert add some sugar at the cooking stage. But the combo of blood orange juice and strawberries went together well, with just a hint of Grand Marnier.

In the dream I used the juice of home grown, sweet tomatoes in a savoury kanten. I can’t wait til summer!

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

what I'm lichen at equinox time

Happy equinox. In this part of the world it is now officially spring. And how do I know? I had to slap on some sun block today, noticing my skin was going pink after a delicious hour of reading in the garden. The wind chime is tinkling in the breeze and there is dry cider and rose´ chilling in anticipation in the fridge – yes the weather has turned the corner at last.

Yesterday I blew some cobwebs out of my head with a spontaneous trip to Hanging Rock, sans picnic unfortunately but a delightful afternoon out taking photographs and soaking up the eerie vibes.

While I may be taking snaps of nature, there is still not enough light for dinnertime photography. I’ve been enjoying making more curries with Sri Lankan spices. The one below does not attest to any authenticity, just combining what was at hand. It was perfect for an early spring supper. The visual images I will have to leave to your imagination.

Pumpkin and Chickpea Curry with Sri Lankan Spices

coconut oil
2 heaped teaspoons Sri Lankan curry powder
2-3 cm fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely diced
6 curry leaves
1 onion, diced
a wedge of pumpkin (cubed)
4-5 tomatoes, skinned and diced
1/2 cup of water (as needed)
silverbeet/chard/spinach – a big handful, chopped
cooked chickpeas 1-2 cups
fresh coriander

Heat the coconut oil in a heavy based pot over a medium flame. If you haven’t got coconut just use a bland vegetable oil. Add your spices (curry powder, ginger, chilli, curry leaves) and stir for a few minutes until the aromas are released. Add the onion and stir some more.

When the onion is translucent throw in the cubed pumpkin, once coated with the spices add the tomatoes. If your tomatoes aren’t very juicy add enough water to just cover the vegetables. Cover with a lid and turn the heat to low. Stir every now and then. After about 15 minutes the pumpkin will soften, then add the silverbeet or spinach. Stir. Add more water if it looks like it is drying out. After 5-10 minutes add the cooked chickpeas and coriander. Combine the ingredients well. Add salt as required. Heat the chickpeas through and serve with basmati rice and pickles.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

a taste of gluten-free Aotearoa for Doc Witch (and Eleanor's mum)

Go Bang Espresso

182 Jackson St, Petone (Wellington)
04 939 0070

Petone was the site of the first European settlement in the Wellington area. Those crazy Brits got off the boat at the head of the harbour and claimed the place as their own. While there was some agreeably flat land (albeit a swamp) in an otherwise hilly landscape there was only one problem, the open foreshore caught the full blast of the southerly buster. The Antarctic wind soon blew the new residents further around the harbour and the rest, so they say, is history.

Not that Petone is uninhabitable. Far from it. Many generations down the line from early invasion the locals are not put off by a southerly and are happy to swap a little exposure for the convenience of drive on access. These days Petone is a place on the up and there are two sure signs this is so – an art house cinema and some passable cafes.

Go Bang Espresso is probably the cream of the crop. A friend bought me here for a descent coffee a couple of years ago en route for a day ‘over the hill’ in Martinborough (how did we miss Schoc chocolate on that trip?). By accident I found myself there again during my latest trip home. The Lighthouse cinema is a comfortable place to take an elderly parent out for a little daytime entertainment but movie watching can build an appetite and we both needed some lunch.

The formica tables at GBE reminded me of my own Fitzroy two decades ago when Brunswick Street was just coming into its own. While there were no tofu balls on the menu at GBE, it did have a modern equivalent that impressed the pants of me – a separate gluten-free menu. Yes you heard that right, a whole menu of coeliac-friendly options. Though gluten is not my allergy, I do feel compelled to give any places that cater for food intolerance their dues and to sample the produce as a way of encouraging them to continue to offer them.

So what does GBE offer? This is a daytime café, open 7 days, serving up breakfast, lunch, cakes and coffee. There were the usual egg options for breakfast on regular or gluten-free toast but also the bread-free combo of hash cakes (I presume they mean a potato based goodie, not something you’d get in Amsterdam) with spinach and wasabi mayonnaise plus a side of smoked salmon, bacon or tomato ($14-16). Tempted as I was by that brunch option I went for a veggie burger with sides, which was dairy-free in gluten-free bread rather than a regular bun. My mum opted for a beef burger that came with a great beetroot relish. Both dishes were reasonably priced (around $16 from memory but remember we are talking kiwi dollars here, so it was about Au$13 for a good quality homemade burger).

What impressed me most of all was there being no additional charge for the gluten-free option, as some places here are want to do. I didn’t explore sweet options but am told there are some gluten-free friends amongst the regular fare. The café was friendly, staff competent and there was a fair sprinkling of regular customers, which is always a good sign.

The hash cake brekkie would have drawn me back on another day if I’d had more time. After all when in Amsterdam, or Petone, why not?

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Monday, September 15, 2008

the first salad of the season

With the return of the warm weather I am more than ready to reintroduce crunchy salads into my life. However despite the rise in barometric pressure, fresh produce-wise it will take a few more weeks for seasonal, local salad vegetables to flourish. With the cabbage family still available the market a slaw seemed the obvious choice, especially as there was a particularly fine sugar loaf cabbage on display.

After a trip to NZ I tend to get nostalgic for smoked fish. Last New Years Eve I made a salad with smoked kingfish and the same dressing, this is another variation. But like the weather in my homeland, grab your balmy day salads while you can - there's a cold front whistling its way through the State as I type!

Asian coleslaw with smoked eel

1/2 cabbage, finely sliced
1 Lebanese cucumber, halved and finely sliced
4 radishes, halved and finely sliced
1 carrot, grated
1 head of broccoli, broken into small florets, blanched (because, you guessed it, there was some crying out to be eaten in the garden)
a generous handful of fresh herbs (I used Vietnamese and regular mint but coriander/cilantro would be go well)

1 small or 1/2 large, smoked eel, skinned, filleted and broken into small pieces


fish sauce
fresh lime or lemon juice
palm sugar
1 red chilli finely diced

If you are not going to eat the salad immediately it is best to prepare the vegetables, eel and dressing separately – combining just before serving.

To assemble the slaw, blanch the broccoli for 45 seconds and refresh in iced water. Slice and grate the remaining vegetables, shred the herbs with your hands and toss together in a large bowl. Refrigerate until needed.

Prepare the eel. If you have bought nice little fillets (which is much less confronting if you are not sure how you feel about eating eel) just dice the flesh into pieces about 3 cm square. If dealing with whole eel, remove the outer skin and if the fish is particularly fatty scrape off any ‘jelly’ with a knife. Peel the flesh away from the backbone and then all there is left to do is dice the fillets. There is a bit more on preparing eel in this previous eel worshipping post.

For the dressing the flavour balance is a matter of taste. If you are a little unsure as to quantities, start with the juice of a lemon or lime, an equal amount of fish sauce and 1 teaspoon of palm sugar (caster is ok if you don’t have palm). Mix the ingredients together with the chilli and taste – too salty add more lime and sugar, too sweet add more fish sauce. Just keep tasting til the different flavours sing together, rather than compete.

When you are ready to eat combine the slaw, eel and toss through the dressing.

I ate too late to take a photo but the colours of the slaw were beautiful - a variety of greens, red and orange. There was just the right amount of crunch to satisfy a lover of salads after a long, slow cooked winter. As for the eel, really if you haven't tried it, you haven't lived yet!

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

schoc therapy

Schoc chocolate opened at the end of 2002 but it took me another five years to discover them. However once tasted, it was hard to go back to the everyday, better quality supermarket variety. The flavour choices in other lines are comparatively dull after sea salt or lime and chilli.

The highlight of my recent trip home was a visit to relatives in Greytown. This once sleepy town in the Wairarapa is now a hot bed of high real estate prices and boutiques run by Khandallah housewives (for Australian equivalent think Trude and Prue from Kath and Kim, I swear last summer I overheard two store owners that were their doppelgangers). Just like Victoria’s own Daylesford, Greytown is a small town with an ever growing tourist trade wanting gourmet food, homewards and other accoutrements of status.

Which brings us to Schoc. Run by Murray and partner Roger in a cutesy 1920’s cottage. While there is an espresso bar with Schoc outlet in central Wellington, Greytown is the home of Schoc. This is where the goodies are made and there is marginally more space to display the wares and take your time tasting the tiny chips of the tablet range from little wooden spice boxes. However on this visit the place was swamped by a busload of women who probably thought the flavours were peculiar and couldn’t work out why it cost so much more than a block of Cadbury’s.

Schoc is obviously created by people who love, eat, sleep and breathe chocolate. This is obvious when you read the delivery notes setting a deliberate mailing schedule to avoid their precious cargo sitting in hot postal warehouses over the weekend. It also explains why we can’t buy it in Melbourne. Murray has yet to find an outlet that understands chocolate to his own high exacting standards. (“David Jones!” he scoffed, “they know nothing about chocolate”).

While many connoisseurs will head straight to the extensive truffle range such as Smoked Tea (Lapsang Souchong Tea infused ganache dipped in dark chocolate) or Tequila, Lime & Salt (Mexican Tequila, dried lime & flakey crystal sea salt in a white chocolate hand-painted mould) due to my problems tolerating dairy I head straight to the dark section of the flavoured tablets (ranging from 53-76.5% cocoa mass). If I had more time or the busload of philistines hadn’t been there I would have like to have explored the single bean and country of origin blocks this time.

Instead I picked up a couple of old favourites – lemon and black pepper and limechilli, as well as rose which is fast becoming my latest obsession. I got to have a quick chat to Murray (I was with my aunt who knows everyone in town which was quite handy) and tell him how much I loved his products.

While the Australian dollar is strong it is tempting to place a bulk order to be shipped over when I run out of my current supplies but gluttony (and not fitting my summer clothes as it) is aside, I like the ritual of sampling and buying a select few tablets each time I visit. But if I’ve peaked your appetite you can order directly from Schoc and taste their great chocolate for yourself.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

the non-detox weekend continues

Strangely since I hopped off the plane at dinnertime on Thursday night the only foods I have truly craved are green vegetables. That may be a sad indictment of how my family eat in New Zealand. Sure, we always had “meat and three veg” but one of them was inevitably potato so that leaves only two of the coloured variety. These days I aim for more than five.

Coming home to a nearly empty fridge and the SE who was keen to eat out after being left to his own devices for the best part of a week, I negotiated that the restaurant of choice be my favourite local Asian eatery. I knew that I wanted the least glamorous dish on the menu – a simple tofu and vegetable stir fry. Admittedly I couldn’t resist a serve of steamed prawn dim sum as well but it was the pak choy and other greens that I was making a beeline for.

Last night, determined to whip up a quick meal from next to nothing before airport trip number two (it will be three in four days between us, oh the carbon guilt!), I harvested a large head of broccoli from the garden (she says casually), broke it into florets, blanched them and tossed the mass of greens in the wok with some onion, garlic, ginger and tofu. It was such a simple meal, finished with rice noodles, roasted sesame oil and fish sauce. It made my heart sing to eat this huge bowl of goodness that had largely come from my own tiny garden plot.

actually this is the next cruciferous cab off the rank, the one we ate was almost twice the size

At the market this morning I couldn’t resist a loaf of roasted garlic bread (I think it is made by Noisette in Port Melbourne). It’s round flat style screamed, “toast me and dip me into egg”.

Once home and ready for brunch it didn’t take long to assemble toast, a poached egg and the clincher – more greens – this time some baby silverbeet leaves from the garden, wilted with olive oil and zataar. It was perfect. Getting the samurai sudoku out was an added bonus.

…and I must say considering presentation isn’t my forté it tasted as good as it looked, though on second thoughts the unintentional nipple effect on the egg was due to a delicious, caramelised garlic from the toast finding itself a new home

While chocolate still holds a certain appeal, it is seasonal vegetables that call my name right now. Maybe the ghost of the detox lurks after all?

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spring at last

I have four posts jangling around my cranium. Back from NZ for 36 hours this is the first moment that I have had in front of the keyboard without work or domestics pulling me away. Though now I sit comfortably, the glorious warm spring air blowing through the open doors, I know that although I feign relaxation there are at least fifty other things I feel I should be doing right now.

But I’ll knock the top off the first post by saying this will not be the weekend that I start my spring detox.

Not just because I have a fresh source of Schoc.

Or because this was the first thing I bought at the market this morning

zucchini and carrot fritters straight out of the fryer, hot and crispy

Possibly not even because of the duty-free purchases.

But because there is a detox I need to do first on an entirely different level.

The relationship between what we eat and how we feel is not exactly rocket science. Although outwardly I am calm, somewhere near the intersection of sub and full consciousness there is an iceberg bobbing on the surface. The SE put it best when he said on the way to the airport last night (it’s his turn to go away this time) “If you knock off both bottles of brandy and all the chocolate this weekend I wouldn’t blame you after the week you’ve had”.

I’ve found there are a couple of things that determine whether my full on Spring Clean is going to flow freely. Firstly, timing is crucial. Last year's was cut short a day or two early with the unexpected arrival of a friend I hadn’t seen for over a year. The way you come out of a detox is as important as all the good organic fruits and vegetables that fuel it. This weekend was the perfect window to commence my annual ritual, I’m not sure now if I can find two weeks without major social distractions from here on in.

The second is preparation. For someone who is food oriented to switch off from oral gratification involves some psyching. Not best to start amidst the ravages of PMS, during exams or at a time of emotional lability. I’ve had a week with my family taking care of my mum who has slipped another notch into the dance with Alzheimer’s. It’s not fun. There were tears. But some laughter too. I need to sit with this latest experience for a while. Not starve myself of comfort.

I certainly hope I can find a space this spring to give my body a rest. While I am actually a little sceptical about claims that the so called toxins can be eliminated from a body of this age in a mere week or two on basic, unadulterated whole foods diet, I do know that by the end of the first week my energy picks up (even without the coffee) and my focus changes. I enjoy the detour from my usual daily diet of reading food blogs and being sedentary, to savouring the unexpected sweetness of vegetables and moving my body more.

The good news is the garden is providing the bulk of our green vegetables at the moment and you can’t get fresher than that. The season has taken a delightful shift. The air is scented with jasmine and the parrots were courting loudly this morning when I parked my car on the fringes of the CBD. This is such a sensual time of year so that if nothing else, I can at least indulge smell, sound, touch and sight with equal fervour as last winter's over reliance on taste.

The snow capped mountains of the South Island from across the Cook Straight

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Friday, September 05, 2008

gone fishing

...I wish!

Will be out for awhile - be back in a bit.

What have you been eating in the meantime?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

the changing shape of breakfast

Like the shrinking girth of models over the decades, I wish I had a ‘before’ and ‘after’ photo comparison of the once big breakfast at the Green Grocer in North Fitzroy.

But that would be unfair because a few years back they changed the name of their famous meal to the ‘Grocer’s Breakfast’, dropping the illusion of big-ness. However the ingredients haven’t really changed, just the proportions.

The fetta pancake was so big it reached the far edges of the plate, soaking up the juices of all the ‘sides’ sitting on top. Actually not just the generosity of the pancake has been altered but also the texture and taste. It is a lesser version in so many ways now.

Previously the vegetables that featured on the plate were grander: half of an avocado and double the amount of mushrooms

But is downsizing such a bad thing? There was no way I could plough my way through the original version. Though, many other diners could manage to clean their plates. In such a super-sized age, is it refreshing to be able to sample an array of flavours without leaving with our gut straining against our waistbands?

I don’t know.

The hash browns are still great, just a little less of them.

It’s still pretty but more a tasting plate than a big breakfast.

Vegetarian version of the Grocer’s breakfast, with a side of smoked salmon

Does anyone else remember the good old days of The Green Grocer?

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