Saturday, October 30, 2010

I have difficulty letting go

Now it's the height of spring, the winter vegetables and herbs have bolted with the return of the sun and plentiful rain.

Reluctantly I annex a runway down the centre of the 9 square metre of garden to plant tomatoes. One Grosse Lisse and two of my favourites, Tommy Toes.

This means pulling up yet more man-sized patches of nettles. The sting is still virulent months after the plant is removed from the soil. (Note to self: If I'm to insist on letting the nettles grow of their own accord I really must plant some dock).

The kale has gone to flower. I'm enjoying the splash of yellow out my backdoor too much to unearth them as yet. The coriander, I bargain, can stay til there are seeds to harvest. The parsley is still edible, though the flavour grows stronger and more bitter by the day.

But really, I just can't let go.

Gardening, even on such a miniscule scale is like having a living Buddhist parable on my doorstep. One moment it looks perfect. Young green leaves to eat in salad, plump grapes on the vine. Weeds banished. The next, the fruit is rotting. The weeds have taken over. The herbs have bolted.


Despite knowing nothing stays the same, that there is no point holding onto the past, I'm not ready to pull out the spent winter plants yet.

Just another week of soaking in their soothing shades of green.

Or until the tomatoes have grown enough.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Sydney: it's flakier than you'd think

There are subtle differences to the dining cultures in Melbourne and Sydney. Years ago a cabbie said to me “Melbourne people eat out all the time, it excels in great quality, casual eating any night of the week. Sydneysiders go for the big bang, high budget places but eat out less frequently”. I’m not sure if that’s strictly true but Sydney wins the prize for the most exalted restaurants in the country, though also more limited operating hours.

Oscillating Wildly, Billy Kwong and most of the hatted restaurants in Surrey Hills all seem to open at night only. All those weekend lunches missed. I’m struggling to think of Melbourne big name eateries operating under those restrictions. Surely Sydney invented the long lunch? All that sunshine.

Oh well. The no reservations thing still stands for many, or reservation only months in advance for the others.

Fortunately being a Melbourne-phile I like a quirky bit of casual eating and had no trouble filling my face quite amply at any hour.

What Sydney does excellently is pastry. Flaky, glutinous pockets of joy, oh how the harbour city delivered this in spades.

From the casual meandering through the pastry filled stalls at the Summer Hill Breakfast Bazaar (the only Taste of Sydney event I made it too, the other ones planned for the weekend got a tad washed out with the spring showers).

pastry nests full of raw pistachios and honey, sticky but delicious

To being lucky enough to have Black Star Pastry as my local bakery. I can’t begin to extol the wonderment to just how good this place is. The Danishes rival those I ate in France and the tarts were ridiculously good. Their sourdough is worth a detour too (and IMHO much better than the exalted Sonama in Glebe).

mango danish, I'm in heaven

But the crispy, pastry with high production values award has to go to Mamak. This is a well known Malaysian eatery in Chinatown, equally famous for it’s roti as it is for the long queues outside. The roti making being the theatrical entertainment as hungry people wait for at least half an hour, pressing their faces against the glass like urchins to watch the production going on in the kitchen inside.

It was a 40 minute wait on a balmy Thursday evening. It’s amazing how relaxed I could be about such a thing, thank goodness for being in holiday mode. A bit of a chat to others in the line and curious tourists asking what we were waiting for and then finally, we were in, menus efficiently delivered, an order taken the moment we’d decided what we’d eat and our requests wirelessly transmitted to the kitchen by the waiter who returned less than 5 minutes later with the goods. This is a streamlined operation. I’ve been seated far quicker in Melbourne joints but had to wait an hour for the whole menu/order/food arriving routine. So the Mamak oiled machine certainly compensates for time spent queuing. And it’s cheap. Not as good value as downtown Malacca but $30 for two is not to be sniffed at.

We ate nasi lemak, roti (how could we not having watched the show in the window for all that time – best marketing strategy ever) and finished with a cendol that put a smile on our face. I just wished I could have fitted another visit in while I was there.

a quick iphone snap, about to guts down my nasi lemak with prawns and a big hunk of roti

...but there's always the next trip to look forward to.

Black Star Pastry
277 Australia St Newtown
Open seven days 7am-5pm
* wear elasticated waistband or a kaftan while gorging on the pastries for guilt-free eating :)

15 Goulburn St, Haymarket
* on a warm night you don't mind the wait, honestly.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

A tale of two English Christmases

Compare and contrast. Two New Zealanders adrift in Britain. Hurrah it’s Christmas! What’s on the menu?

My grandfather: New Zealand Rifle Brigade, Sling Camp, Salisbury Plain 1916

Breakfast fish, (unreadable) and bacon, fried onions and mashed potatoes. Dinner Turkey, Goose, cauliflower, potatoes and peas and stuffing, plum pudding and brandy sauce, nuts, fruit, oranges, apples, bananas. Tea roast pork, fruit salad and Devonshire cream, chocolate and bulls eyes, mince pies. Supper ham, cheese, biscuits.
More from my grandfather’s war diary - bully beef and biscuits at the front.

The granddaughter, London 1985

Christmas was nice. Never had a Lesbian xmas before but I suppose there is a first time for everything! Jac was stunning in a 3 piece suit, with pink bowtie to match the streak in her hair. Started off lounging around eating chocolates and drinking sherry, then got onto the port. Dinner was an avocado salad for starters, followed by a splendid nut roast, sauce, chestnut stuffing, roast spuds and other veggies – downed with bubbly. After there was pud with brandy butter, cake, pink triangle sweets and marzipan stuffed dates. Did I miss anything?
You can read more nostalgic twaddle about living in London the ‘80s if you really want to.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

a little Langbein love

I’ve got a bit of a crush on Annabel Langbein at the moment. Maybe it’s a kiwi thing but I’m enjoying watching her new television program Free Range Cook. While I avert my eyes to the meat and dairy (featuring rather heavily, it is New Zealand after all) the landscape is an absolute winner. Though despite the thin cardigan and cotton shirts Otago still looks rather chilly.

Langbein is well known to New Zealanders. Her recipes have appeared in numerous print publications for years and there’s at least one of her cookbooks on most kiwi friend’s shelves. Her earlier (1998) edition of The Best of Annabel Langbein adorns my own.

Her recipes are simple and she shares ideas on how to adapt parts of the dish for leftovers. Her phrase “fridge fixings” (familiar to those of us who already own her books) is a personal favourite. She’ll often say “this is good for a week in the fridge or you can freeze it in portions”.

When you are tired and hugry, it’s virtually impossible to feel creative. You just want to eat right now, without having to think about how or what. Taking a little time each week to prepare flavour bases such as tasty pestos and enticing dressings greatly streamlines the cooking process and has a dramatic effect on the results”.
Langbein on Fridge Fixings, The Best of Annabel Langbein.

Of course her garden is to die for, belying her horticultural background. Though try as hard as I can, the slightly plummy accent makes it hard to imagine her jumping out of helicopters to recover deer shot for venison or living in a hippy commune as she did in her youth.

Thanks to the show I’ve dug out my old cookbook and am marking the pages to explore this summer.

• A fritter batter that uses soda water rather than milk.
• Thai prawn fritters, with coconut cream (instead of milk/soda).
• Smoked fish salad with aioli, cucumber and spring onions.

Some stand out, simple Langbein recipes from the web

Asparagus, Avocado & Almonds with Sesame Citrus Dressing - simplicity personified!

Caponata - not a unique dish but a good “fridge fixing” during the summer tomato glut.

Crisp cauliflower and cashew salad - the ultimate in raw food cuisine, this looks like my new detox dish du jour.

Her recipe for the Asian-style citrus dressing that I found intriguing – hadn’t thought of using orange, lemon and lime juice with the classic fish sauce and chilli but she swears it gives it more depth (will try it next time I make a smoked fish salad).

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