AWAAM's Godless Christmas: a How To

The Christmas Tree Cluster
We decorated my parents’ house and their Christmas tree yesterday. And it was while I was twining tinsel around every object in the house that I realised something: I really like Christmas. Not just the tinsel, but everything else. The lights and the shopping and the wrapping of presents. The food, the family, the fights. The deep breath before the start of a new year.
For an atheist, it was a small revelation. Ever since I was a child, and I lost my belief in Santa and God in rapid succession, I’ve always enjoyed the time off, the presents and the togetherness, but never the trappings. I’ve merely tolerated the festive season. This year, however, something changed.
I’ve decided that Christmas – or the summer solstice, or the winter solstice, or what have you – is, as the religious believe, a fantastic opportunity to celebrate and be thankful. To enjoy tradition and ritual, and to honour something larger than ourselves. So this year, I’m celebrating something pretty special: the birth of the universe.
And I’m doing it the traditional AWAAM way: with food and music.
Stars are already a symbol of Christmas - why not co-opt them in the same way that Christianity did from the pagans? It was, after all, in the furnace of the earliest, dying stars that the heavy elements of the universe were forged, from which all life eventuated. We are all star stuff. Celebrate that by busting out these delicious looking Star Cookies, found at the ever wonderful Souvlaki for the Soul.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wonderful and hilarious ode to a godless universe. This gorgeous cake is a recreation of one of my favourite scenes from the series. Nothing says ‘let’s celebrate our brief existence’ like a whale and a bowl of petunias, recently come into being and plummeting towards the earth. You can find detailed instructions on Geek Mom.

My recommended listening this Christmas is something a bit different. Gather your family, find yourself a radio, and tune into a dead station. Listen to the static. Most of it is caused by random electromagnetic interference, but about 1 or 2 percent of it is 13 billion year old radiation left over from the Big Bang, expressed in microwaves that can be picked up by your radio. What you are hearing is the birth of our universe.
And if you’re still in any doubt that the universe and our place in it is worth honouring, watch this extraordinary video.

Happy Christmas everyone.

Bits and Pieces of 2010

Good afternoon bloggers, and welcome to perhaps the most overdue post of A Whistle and A Milkshake’s life. I must admit I’ve neglected this blog recently... but I have excuses! In fact several infuriating factors have precluded me from logging on. Exploding laptops, shaped internet, and that ever present guilty feeling that keeps me from blogging at work. Nonetheless, this post is just disgustingly overdue. I've got a long list of recipes and tunes to catch up on, so please bear with me, this could be a bit of a mess...

So what have I been up to lately? Well, the last month or so has seen me busily preparing Christmas hampers for my friends and family. I think hampers make a great alternative to the usual Christmas gift giving. Personal, equitable (everybody gets the same thing!) and a pleasure to prepare. Oh, and I haven't had to set foot in a shopping centre this December, an added bonus given that inner city Melbourne is an orgy of gift-grabbing craziness at this time of year. This year I've made lime jelly, turkish delight, chocolate truffles and incredibly delicious but hard-to-master macarons. Rather a lot of work has gone into preparing and packaging these little bits and pieces, but with the help of my partner and a couple of charitable friends, it's all coming together quite nicely. Expect a couple more posts on the specifics of hamper making soon, including a post about macarons and the importance of reading the recipe.

What else have the last few months meant for me? In light of my recent transition back to vegetarianism, I've been trying to wrap my head around as many new vegetarian and vegan recipes as is humanly possible. I've memorised so many uses for the humble chick pea that I fear I may be pushing important names and dates from my memory, but exploring vegan cooking in particular has been hugely rewarding. Messy Vegetarian Cook is an excellent veg and vegan blog, with recipes for everything from sweet potato pie to japanese inspired tapioca rice balls - vastly more delicious than they sound. I'm also loving Vegan Yum Yum for the great salads, and I finally tracked down my very own copy of the inestimably wonderful Veganomicon. A great addition to any kitchen, whether one is vegan or not. But I'm not just reading recipes, I've also read a great number of books on all things vegetarian: Johathan Safran-Foer's Eating Animals is a deeply affecting read from one of my favourite authors. I've also read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, Peter Singer's Practical Ethics (quite the heavy going tome) and perhaps my favourite non-fiction book of the year The Face on Your Plate by Jeffrey Moussaieff Mason: a psycho-analyst, and a strict vegan. The man is sixty eight years old and looks younger than my fifty year old father. His spritely looks and way with words have me inching ever closer to a completely vegan diet.

Oh! and music! What have I been listening to? Glenn Richards released his new solo effort Glimjack, and I've played the thing so much that every note is now committed to memory. The album is wonderful. Dark, full of self-deprecating complaint and bitterness, and yet occasionally so breathtakingly lovely as to cover me in goosebumps. "I'm the soldier who in his dead hours, took the flesh of the horse and made only joy, then to faint in the flowers, to dream of his woman's kiss and of the April showers of home" - the man still has it people.

Joanna Newsom's epic Have One On Me has also received several thousand plays this year. It's just about as good as everyone has been saying. I don't have the words to do the thing justice, so you should probably listen to it for yourself. Try this for starters:

Other bands that have featured prominently include The Jezabels, who have released three EP's to date and put on perhaps the most impressive live show I have seen this year. Jรณnsi's debut solo effort Go Do worked it's way to the top of my scrobbling list and induced the odd sneaky tram cry on my morning commutes (it's just beautiful). I've also been listening to Seabellies, Firekites, and the debut EP from Brisbane band Pensive Penguin. Three lovely Australian bands whose tunes suggest car rides with the windows down despite the fact that summer still seems very far away indeed. More on these guys soon, I hope!

So there you have it. A long, rambling brain dump of everything that I have been intending to blog about over the last few months. I have three complete blog posts sitting on my old laptop. They appear to be written entirely in something like windings, so if any of you know how to repair a corrupt word file please let me know? In the meantime I'll try to muster the energy to write the things again. I don't believe in New Year's Resolutions, but I promise to bore you all with long, confused blog posts throughout 2011. Xx.

True Eggplant

For the last couple of months or so, Monday nights have been known as True Blood nights. We gather at a friend's house, eat delicious eggplant-centric dishes, play with an adorable kitten and gradually work our way through 3 seasons of vampire flavoured ridiculousness. It's a pretty great tradition. I'm not sure how the eggplant came into it. But after a few weeks, having a True Blood night without eggplant seemed as odd as a TB episode without blood. Or boobs. Or Eric.

So I've been racking up the eggplant recipes. And making them up, as needs be. One of them worked out pretty dang well, so I thought I'd share it with you here.

Eggplant and Lentil Soup (serves 5)

(adapted from an amazing lentil soup recipe sent to me by this cupcake queen)

This soup is my new favourite thing ever. It's simple to make, warm, spicy, nourishing, and fucking delicious. Serve it with some crusty wholemeal bread and red wine, and you have yourselves the perfect accompaniment to some tasty vampire melodrama.

What you need:

2 cloves of garlic
1 large eggplant
2 tins of tomato
1 tin of brown lentils. Make it 2 if you really love your lentils
1/2 tbsp of butter (vegan if you use oil)
3 cups veggie stock
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp dried chilli flakes (more or less to taste)
What you need to do:

Wash and then dice the eggplant into bite size pieces, about 2cm square.

Steam over boiling water for 5 - 8 minutes, covered and turning occasionally. Remove when tender, but still firm. You'll want to taste, not just poke.

Fry the garlic in the butter for a couple of minutes, and then add the drained lentils.

Saute for a couple minutes longer, and then add the tinned tomatoes, stock and spices.

Throw in the eggplant, and cook together for about ten minutes

Then enjoy with a little bit of this:

Goodbye to All That (mostly coffee)

Good morning dear neglected blog! I'm so sorry for the absence. If it in any way makes up for it, you should know I'm about to embark upon a kind of self-flagellation in the name of good health.

I'm giving up coffee.

To be fair, I give up coffee about once a month. It lasts roughly until the next time I have to get out of bed for work. So, an average of about 18.5 hours. As I type this, it's been about 45 seconds since my last cup. I'm not terribly optimistic. I'm hoping perhaps declaring it to the internet will maybe give me pause next time I reach for the caffeine.

Delicious caffeine.

I miss you already.

What I hope I won't miss is the dependency headaches, the bloating (sorry internet), the arrhythmia, the insomnia, and the anxiety. And - since milk became a thing of the past recently - the taste. Let's be honest. Internet, forgive me for being crass, but coffee made with soy milk tastes like balls.

So I've been researching alternatives.

Banana Water

In Japan, the fashion is to eat a banana and drink a cup of lukewarm water to start the day. Oh Japan. That is not happening.


The reason I've placed a picture of a disappointed kitten directly below the word carob should be immediately apparent to anyone who has actually tasted the stuff. Looks like chocolate, tastes like betrayal. Apparently it is an excellent substitute for coffee. Internet, forgive me if I don't believe you.

Yerba Mate

Described variously as 'woody', 'smoky', 'vegetal' and 'grassy', yerba mate tea is apparently a great substitute for coffee. I imagine it's a pretty good substitute for lunch, too, if you enjoy eating salad that's on fire. The picture above sums up exactly how I think this tea would taste, donkeys included. I don't think it's the tea for me.

I think I'll stick to a healthy morning routine of orange juice and grumpiness. Is anyone else living a caffeine free life? Any other coffee substitutes out there I should try?

AWAM Reviews... Simply Better Foods Omega 3 Soy Cheese

Before I share with you the abject horror that was my first ever taste of a non-dairy cheese product, let me just say that I really, really wanted to like Simply Better Foods Omega 3 Soy Cheese. I would love to make the switch to a vegan diet, really I would, not least of all because I've always been a little lactose intolerant... but I have frequently sacrificed my digestive comfort for a three cheese gnocchi. Cheese and I, we go way back, and I'm yet to convince myself that my life would be OK without cheese in it.

Perhaps the first clue that Simply Better Foods Omega 3 Soy Cheese was not going to fulfil my fantasies of vegan cheese bliss was in the black shroud style packaging that precluded me from examining the product before I had actually purchased it. Word to the wise: if your cheese manufacturer is trying to stop you from actually seeing your cheese, maybe rethink your selection.

Once out of the packaging my soy cheese really didn't look too bad. It was yellow, just as a tasty cheese should be, but oddly perfect. More like a pale yellow door stop than a foodstuff. But shit got weird pretty damn quickly when the autofocus on my SLR refused to focus on the cheese. This stuff is so consistent a shade of yellow that my camera mistook it for a white balance card and just hands down refused to focus on it. I was forced to photograph my chopping board rather than the product itself, so please excuse the slightly blurry photography.

At this point, I was understandably feeling some trepidation about placing this cheese imitation in my mouth. The confusion that was trying to photograph it had left me feeling as though I was about to eat a piece of soy-based antimatter, but upon reflection I think eating black hole may have been a better experience than what actually ensued. Simply Better Foods Omega 3 Soy Cheese tasted at first like a kraft single, then an overwhelming vegetable oil flavour broke through. This was followed by a lingering bitter aftertaste, and a sense of crushing, crushing disappointment.

Soy milk doesn't exactly taste like cow's milk, but you know what? One thing it doesn't do is make me want to spit it into the sink. The only way I was actually able to consume my cheese was to roll it in a generous amount of moroccan seasoning, and even then the revolting, mouth-full-of-oil flavour still managed to prevail. I am sincerely hoping that my first foray into soy cheese was a sad accident, that I chose the worst of the worst of the fake cheeses, and that perhaps some day I will be able to eat tiger toast without worrying about the happiness of the cows from whence it came, but seriously - I have nothing positive to say about this product. Truly revolting.

No Stars. Count em'. None.

Macarons of my Dreams

About a month ago I travelled to Sydney with a freind of mine (of Troubadour Cottage fame) to see the lovely Grizzly Bear play at the Enmore. Because I get confused by simple tasks like booking busses, we arrived in Sydney with about 8 hours to kill before the show.

Happily, we got ourselves thoroughly distracted by the Aroma Festival in The Rocks. Food and street performers, markets, and a lot of people. It looked something like this:

After battling the crowds for a while, we took refuge in a shmick looking cafe called Baroque, which appealed to us mostly because it had chairs. Little did we know we would find the JOY and LIGHT that is the perfect macaron inside its rather shiny walls. I know that I'm inclined to hyperbole...but trust me when I say all other macarons are but a shadow of these.

These macarons convince non-believers. These macarons bring the sun back. These macarons would probably clean your room and call your mother if you asked nicely. We've since been back to Sydney, and instead of buying two macarons each, we bought...eight. Clearly the next time I head SYdney-side, I'm going to have to make space in my luggage.

Passionfruit and chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, and salted caramel.

If you're ever in the area - and by area, I mean the same city - hunt these babies down. And bring me some back, please.

AWAM Reviews...Tofutti

A few months ago I had me a big ole flat white coffee. And I had the following conversation with my stomach.

Me: Hey stomach! I know it's been a while, but how good is milk?
Stomach: Oh! Well this is awkward. See, the thing is.... we're not gonna be digesting that anymore.
Me: What are you - you can't just do that.
Stomach: No, I'm...I'm pretty sure I can.
Me: I'm not going to stop having dairy.
Stomach: Well then this is not going to be fun for you.

It wasn't. To add insult to injury, I've always loathed soy milk. It's milk...made from beans. Something has gone terribly wrong there. I don't believe nature intends anything for anyone, but I'm sure the humble soybean never thought: One day I'm going to be milk.

And yet here I am, months later, having finally accepting that I am, in fact, a lactard. And that soy milk is not so bad - I actually prefer it in my coffee these days. I'm slowly dipping my toe in the water of other dairy substitutes, and it is in that spirit that I decided to review the endearingly named cream cheese substitute, Tofutti.

If I was apprehensive of making milk out of beans, I was positively terrified that someone had attempted cheese. I wouldn't have bought it if I hadn't already absentmindedly bought english muffins. You can't have english muffins without cream cheese. It's the law.

Happily, it turns out cream cheese is not too hard to imitate. Although the Tofutti is disconcertingly white, the taste and texture are pleasant enough, and almost exactly the same as cream cheese. Well. Lite cream cheese.

Tofutti doesn't taste anything like real cream cheese in exactly the same way that lite cream cheese doesn't. But that is good enough for this lady's breakfast.

*** (3 stars)

Sunday Night Surprises.

Sometimes, you have one of those nights where you chuck whatever is in your fridge into a saucepan, and something wonderful is born. This was one of those nights. I can't claim most of the credit - the key ingredient in this recipe is the punjabi masala on Show Me the Curry. I made this up a couple of months ago (although I halved the recipe) and I'm discovering that I adore having it in the freezer - it's a fantastic base for a quick meal.

I had some eggplant, red capsicum and cherry tomatoes that were getting a bit old (left over from pizza adventures) and I always have tinned tomatoes and cous cous on hand. Throw in some of your favourite spices, and there you are. I'm not sure you could reasonably call it authentic Indian - it's more like Indian meets Italian - but it was pretty dang tasty either way. So tasty we nommed it before I remembered to take a photo. This post is brought to you by public domain images of eggplant!

A Sort of Eggplant Masala (serves 2)

You will need:

Olive oil
1 small eggplant
1 small red capsicum, finely diced.
1 punnet of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved.
1 tin of tomatoes
1/2 cup punjabi masala1/2 cup water
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tbsp cumin
1/2 tbsp ground coriander (or a bit more, to taste)
1/2 tbsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp dried chili seeds (or more. I'm a bit of a wimp)
1/2 cup dry cous cous
1/2 cup boiling water
1 tsp butter (optional, vegan without)
Fried shallots, to serve.

You will need to:

Cut your eggplant into thin strips, about 3cm by 1cm. Toss in olive oil, and lay on a well oiled baking tray. Salt generously. Grill for about 15 minutes on medium high, or until golden brown, but not charred.

Heat a non-stick saucepan or frying pan. When hot, add mustard seeds and dry-fry for a minute or so.

Add the (defrosted) masala, the capsicum, and the cherry tomatoes. Stir together and fry for a further few minutes.

Add the tinned tomatoes, spices and water. Simmer for about ten minutes, until thickened.

Add the eggplant, and cook together for about five minutes. Adjust the spices and seasoning to taste.

Prepare your cous cous by adding the boiling water, covering, and letting stand for five minutes. Stir through the butter.

And serve with fried shallots. It makes for a rather nice Sunday night.

Delicious Books

It rained today. It was cold, wet and dreary. I bought a salad sandwich for lunch; it was disappointing (multigrain: my bread nemesis). But I came home after a long day of feeling sorry for myself to find some presents waiting for me. There are always a few books you intend to buy when you get a chance, and every so often I buy them all at once from Abe Books. It's a great site that searches second hand book sellers from around the world. I've found some fantastic, elusive books of plays and poems for much less than their retail price, but it only recently occurred to me that I could buy cookbooks too.

The Spice Box by Manju Shivkaj Singh

An ex-library book, I think it was around $6 US, maybe $15 with shipping. It's in excellent condition, although I can see it getting pretty worn out in my kitchen pretty quickly. I've never attempted Indian cooking before, but I've decided that this is the winter. And after some research, I decided this was the book. I'm already drooling over the recipes for Aloo Matar, Tamarind Rice, Potato-Filled Bread (!) and Vermicelli Pudding.

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

I found this book in a shop in town. It came with many, many recommendations - and a $100 price tag. AbeBooks had it for under $20 US, including shipping. And it comes with delightful hand scribbled notes - always worth extra in my opinion. I'm excited just looking at the chapter headings - a whole chapter on breads by hand, one on gratins, one on dumplings! Over 1400 recipes - I can't wait to get started.

Other resources I love when I'm down on my pennies are the Food Blog Search website, Big Oven, and Cooks Illustrated. Happy hunting friends!

I Turn My Camera On

I, like my fellow blog mistress, belong to the cult of the iPhone. I just love that I can take my poorly lit, grainy, shitty photos and with a bit of tinkering can turn them into romantic Lomo snapshots that wouldn't look out of place on a postcard dated 1965. Inspired by Tara's recent post I've just now trawled through my iPhone album, and perhaps rather worryingly I've found a substantial number of shots of half eaten food, drunk and dark photos of me and my beer-faced friends, and about three million blurry shots of my very disgruntled cat. (Make of that what you will, folks.)

If my iPhone album is anything to go by, I seem to spend my life eating, trapping my friends into terrible myspace photos, or else chasing my cat around our kitchen... excellent. But enter one of my multitude of fancypants apps, and suddenly I'm not a food obsessed cat lady, I'm a cool and groovy chick, an epicurean, a frikkin wildlife photographer, and I'm living in some sort of hip pastiche world of pretty cats and italian food. Guys, I'm basically living in this Lady Gaga Clip. Thanks, Steve Jobs!

So what am I doing with all of these photos? Well, given that my food-blogging seems to have doomed me to a lifetime of disrupting meals with a sneaky photo shoot, I've been able to compile something of an iPhone tour of Melbourne eateries. Here are three of the half-eaten best.

This cake looked so amazing that I managed to snap a shot before it was consumed. From The Green Refectory on Sydney Road, their baked goods are amazing. This slice of strawberry flavoured weight gain was huge, huge and delicious.

Bolognese and watermelon granita from Pellegrini's, my favourite little italian in the CBD. This place feels more or less like the above-mentioned Gaga clip. There is even a signed Billy Joel photo above the bar, just to drive home the Italio-American vibe. I love it in there.

Borek from the Queen Victoria Markets. Getting your hands on one of these babies requires queueing, shouldering, and shouting. Fighting through the scrum at the borek shop is worth the effort though, spinach and feta heaven.

And one blurry cat photo, because I'm pretty sure he's going to kill me some day soon, and only this shot seems to convince people...

My Weekend (An Illegible Photo Essay)

This was the weekend I discovered, or rediscovered, several things.

1. I like apple beer. I like apple beer better straight out of the long neck in the car park of the bottle-o at a late hour, and a sub-zero temperature. I like apple beer best while watching dear friends dance with inflatable dinosaurs.

2. There are iPhone apps that will make your bad, drunken photos look like they were taken badly by your drunk parents back in the seventies. In one saturday night I managed to take about 83 photos of early, early morning fog and lamplights in Canberra. My apple-beer brain thought fog and lamplights were the most original photographic subject known to man.

3. Most importantly, all these factors conspired the next morning to convince me that the only thing that would alleviate apple-beer hangover was Gordon Ramsay style scrambled eggs.

Bad photo; good food. I like to think it encapsulates the paradox that is Gordon Ramsey: how can such an off-putting man create such tasty, tasty breakfasts? I don't know, but you have to trust me when I say these are the BEST SCRAMBLED EGGS I have ever had.

For those of you who don't want to look at Gordon Ramsey (I cannot blame you), these are the basics:
  • Crack two or three eggs into a cold, non-stick saucepan.
  • Add half to one tablespoon or so of butter.
  • Put on a low heat, and stir (with a rubber spatula) continuously until eggs are well combined and butter is melted.
  • Turn heat up slightly, and keep stirring until eggs thicken, and scramble. This might take a while, but it will be worth it.
  • Season at the end of cooking, not the beginning! Salt does bad things to raw eggs.

Don't bother to add cream; you don't need it. Serve with toast and coffee and the slowly returning memories of last night.

Fuck You Winter

You know, I love scarves. And coats. And gloves with bows on them. And I like it when your breath fogs in the cold, and you can pretend you're a smoker (you may also like to pretend you work with Donald Draper). I love frost that lasts until midday, air that tastes like snow, and the fog on Lake Burley Griffin.

I like winter. But you know what? I am tired of being freezing cold all the time. If you live in Canberra you're probably going to work while the temperature is below zero. That's just not right. I don't think the work day should begin until the temperature's back in the pluses. Just a suggestion, Stanhope.

But I write (sitting on top of the heater in my lounge room) with an idea: eat soup all the time. I admit it's nothing revolutionary. People have been fighting winter with soup since the dawn of time. Or at least the dawn of soup. But if you're yet to break out the soup pot, here's a recipe to get you started. It's adapted from the wonderful cook book Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special. The Moosewood Restaurant is a New York State based collective, with an emphasis on organic, vegetarian, wholesome food. Read more about them here. This soup reminds me of the best of winter: home, hearth and heart.

Tomato, Barley and Spinach Soup

The original recipe calls for kale and sun-dried tomatoes not packed in oil. I couldn't find either, so I used spinach and roasted some fresh tomatoes. It turned out rather lovely.

What You Will Need

1/3 cup pearl barley
2 bay leaves
5 cups water
7 large fresh tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
1 red onion, diced
2 400ml tins of crushed tomatoes
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 generous pinch of cayenne pepper
2 cups of fresh, washed spinach or kale

What you will need to do

Preheat your oven to 170 degrees C.

Halve the fresh tomatoes, and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place cut side down on a lightly oiled baking tray, and then put into the oven. Roast for 30 minutes minimum (there really isn't a maximum when it comes to roasting tomatoes).

Combine water, bay leaves and barley in a soup pot (non-reactive is best) and bring to the boil. Simmer for 20 minutes.

In a separate pan, fry onion and garlic until soft and translucent, 10 - 15 minutes.

When the barley is cooked remove the bay leaves and add cooked onion and garlic, tinned tomatoes, rosemary, and cayenne.

Remove the tomatoes from the oven, and slip the skins off. Discard the skins. Roughly chop or break up the tomatoes, and add to the soup.

Simmer for a further 10 minutes, or until soup is the desired thickness.

Add the spinach or kale, and stir through until wilted.

Serve with some bread, some wine, some friends, and a finger raised to the heavens.

The Package Project

About two months ago I signed up to participate in a lovely little blog initiative called The Package Project. The Project - created over at Cupcake Couture - pairs package partners and fellow bloggers, who swap pretty packages and handmade delights from different corners of the globe.

I have happily been paired up with Tonia over at The Fairly Constant Reader, and after much agnoising, rummaging through stuffed full craft drawers and trawling through local markets and charity shops, I have finally put together my package and posted it off to England. I will share a little more about my package once I'm assured of its safe arrival in the English countryside, and I'm definitely looking forward to unwrapping what is currently on its way to me.

I urge any and all of you fellow bloggers to take part in The Package Project's next run. I've enjoyed putting together my little parcel almost as much as I've enjoyed corresponding with its recipient. I've been getting to know her through stalking her online perusing her blog, and browsing her online store too - just gorgeous. Brown paper packages tied up with string really do make my list of favourite things, and sending one to a near complete stranger has been a pleasure.

Oh, and just as a complete aside (I cannot think of a natural segue between mailing gifts and the musical stylings of Colin Meloy.) I cannot. stop. listening. to his cover of Joni Mitchell's "A Case Of You". I fell into The Decemberists' hipster trap some years ago, and if he keeps covering the likes of Joni, I'll be happily trapped forever.

Food, Glorious Food

The Bouillabaisse - John Olsen

Do you like food? I do. I love food, in fact. I love it so much that it inspires me to pen the odd few words about it in this here blog. I love food so much that the promise of breakfast is what gets me out of bed in the morning, and the anticipation of a delicious dinner is often what gets me through my work day. My love of food explains why, when day after day I watch a co-worker lunch on a tin of tuna in brine and two plain ryvita crackers, I leave our office kitchenette feeling more than a little sad. Food sustains me in more ways than one; it is fuel for my body, a comfort, a creative outlet, a sort of science experiment, and an opportunity for generosity all rolled into one.

I know that Masterchef has laid it on a bit thick with the "food is my passion, my happiness, my LIFE" shtick this year. I know that people get a little sick of Jamie Oliver's ceaseless enthusiasm, Nigella Lawson's coquettish licking of spoons and Gordon Ramsay's... let's call it passion? Passion and swears. I fear that the food-as-entertainment phenomenon is going to run its course in a few years, or worse - reach critical mass until we're chowing down on tuna and ryvitas three meals a day in an act of rebellion against cooking as pop-culture. But food can be so enriching - so elevating, it is so much more to me than an evening of reality television and a glossy recipe book. Here are a few bits and pieces that have broadened my appreciation of food in unexpected, wonderful ways. I hope they do the same for you.

Squid With Its Own Ink - John Olsen

- John Olsen's fantastic new exhibition, Culinaria. Colour and humour and plenty of fishy eyes and squiddy bits. I love John Olsen, I find his combining of abstract and organic very beautiful indeed, and this collection in particular has earned a special place in my heart. From the mouth of the man himself: "Culinaria - The Cuisine Of The Sun. How the sentence excites, rays of optimism, cornucopia and bringing together family and friends, wine and spirited conversation." Just lovely.

- Kumiko
Michishita's gorgeous patterns. Peruse her blog. The above is titled "Watermelon and Carrot Juice" and I feel thirsty just looking at it.

- Natalia Hernandez's fantastic new design project, Concoct. Her honours project is all about how we interpret and interact with food. Log in to Facebook to become a fan of Concoct and follow her progress.

- For the Melbournites: The Farm, a community garden over in Brunswick. There are a multitude of community gardens springing up all over Melbourne, even one small one on a patch of median strip just around the corner from my place. There is something quietly revolutionary about urban farming.

- Zingara
Cucina, Melbourne's guerrilla restaurant. Read about it here, and catch it if you can.

Now if you'll excuse me, I must go set the VCR for Masterchef...

Food Inc.

I love hearing about what people do. I like knowing how things work. I love the first day of a new job, where they show you how the mailroom operates, and what kind of email tagging system people use, and how to order stationary. (Stationary is the best.) I’m not sure if it’s a talent or a tragedy to find the mundane interesting, but I do.

And yet, I am generally clueless when it comes to how food is grown - my own failed attempts attest to that. The idea of farming seems kind of magical to me. You put seeds in the ground and they turn into food. Food that you can eat. I have a lot in common with this guy, I think…

As much as we like to think all farmers are cheerful fellas with sideburns, milking their own cows and occasionally offing a lamb for a special Sunday dinner, it isn’t really like that. Food Inc is a very important film that answers a very important question – how does food work today?

It’s fascinating, powerful and very well made. It examines the intersection of food, technology and humanity. It’s an American film, investigating an American system. But the model of factory farming has been taken up here (on a smaller scale, but to many of the same specifications), and much of it is pertinent to us.

One of the things I love about food is how intimate it can be. Our eating habits are our lives. Our stories, our idiosyncrasies, our heritage. Our pleasure to cook for other people, and our comfort to eat with them. It sustains us, so of course it's personal. It's easy to forget that we engage with food on just about every other level - globally, economically, and medically. And the ramifications of what we eat, and how our food is produced is felt on every level, too. Food Inc is a timely reminder of that bigger picture.

There are many people who will not see this film. Not because they think the information is wrong, but because they suspect it is right. I think that is extraordinarily telling. If we are scared of learning how our food is produced, why are we happy to eat it?

Food Inc is showing at Australian cinemas now. Check out the website here.

My New Cuisine Crush

It's very nearly winter down south, which usually means I am craving roast beef, yorkshire pudding, and piles and piles of pasta covered with cheese. This year however, I've ditched the heavy European fare in favour of a winter of Thai food. Coconut, lime, ginger and lemongrass are my flavours of the season. Warming me to the core with chilli - not carbs - and enlivening my evenings with a new culinary challenge too (there is nothing worse than food boredom, my friends). Below are my two favourite Thai dishes. I've built up the recipes from bits and pieces that I have read online, and developed them through rather a lot of trial-and-error experimentation. If you'd like to embark on your own Thai adventure, I suggest you do the same - as David Thompson says, Thai food is all about intuition and interpretation.

Note: A few of the ingredients required here can be a little hard to come by, but don't let that deter you - tracking them down is half the fun! Black glutinous rice (otherwise called sweet black rice, Thai black rice, or even Indonesian black rice) can be tricky to find, even in the best of Asian grocery stores. Similarly, thick rice noodles can be hard to track down. The noodle fridge at my favourite Asian grocer is usually empty by five in the afternoon, probably because noodles are delicious and they walk off the shelves... so get in early folks. White pepper is a little known ingredient, but it's used extensively in Thai cuisine. Use whole peppercorns and grind them up yourself, the powdered stuff is rubbish...

Pad See Ew

What You Will Need:
  • 1 large chicken breast
  • 300g approx of firm tofu
  • 500g of large, flat rice noodles
  • 1 large bunch of pak choy
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbsp of black soy
  • 1 tbsp of rice wine vinegar
  • 1 level teaspoon of white pepper
For the Marinade:
  • 3 tbsp of oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp of fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp of light soy
  • 1 tbsp of black soy (sweet soy)
  • 1 small chilli, finely chopped
What you will need to do:

1. Combine all marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Thinly slice the chicken breast and dice the tofu into bite sized chunks, then add to the marinade, stir to coat everything, and refrigerate the lot until it's time to stir-fry.

2. Heat a little oil in a smallish frying pan. Beat the eggs together with a pinch of salt and add to the hot oil. Fry the eggy mixture til you've got yourself an omelette, then slice into strips and set aside. Turn the heat down on your frying pan, add a little water, and blanch the pak choy until it is vibrant green. Set this aside too.

3. When you're ready to stir fry, heat a little oil in a large wok. Add the garlic cloves and fry until
lightly browned. Add the chicken/tofu mixture and all of the marinade, then toss the lot until the chicken is cooked through and the tofu has charred slightly.

4. Now it's time to add your noodles! The noodles I use are each about two metres long, so I add them one at a time, snipping them into manageable lengths as I go. I'd suggest separating your noodles in this way even if they're not ludicrously long, as it stops them from sticking together in a sad little lump. Stir the lot until the noodles begin to char too.

5. Finally, add the eggy slices and pak choy. Drizzle in the extra soy and rice wine vinegar, and at the last minute, add the white pepper. Toss until warmed through and serve immediately with slices of lime on the side. Noodle perfection.

Black Rice Pudding

What you will need:
  • 2 cups of black glutinous rice
  • 1 400ml can of coconut milk (full fat is best!)
  • 1/4 cup of caster sugar
  • the juice of one lime
  • Shredded coconut & sesame seeds, fresh fruit - whatever you'd like to top your pudding with!
What you will need to do:

1. Rinse your rice in cold water, then soak, although not necessarily according to packet instructions. Different brands of rice recommend differing soaking times; I would suggest four hours at a minimum, but the longer the better.

2. Once your rice has finished soaking, it's time to steam! I do this by bringing 2 to 3cm of water to the boil in a large pot. I place my rice in a metal colander, then rest the colander over the boiling water and cover the lot with a lid. (I plan to invest in a proper Thai steamer set, but my colander / pot method works well in the meantime.) Steam for 30 - 40 minutes.

3. While your rice is steaming, heat the coconut milk over a low heat. Stir through the sugar (1/4 of a cup is just a guide. Most recipes I have read call for more sugar, but I don't posses a sweet tooth so I don't use very much. Adjust to taste.) Squeeze in some lime juice, just enough to cut through the rich, sugary coconut milk. Toast a little shredded coconut and some sesame seeds too, or prepare any fruit you'd like to serve, and set aside.

4. Your rice is sufficiently steamed when the grains are soft, but not mushy. I like the grains to almost burst when chewed. Place your steamed rice in a bowl and stir through just enough of the coconut milk to create a thick, glossy purple porridge. Push the rice mixture into moulds and turn out into serving bowls to create delicious, purple pudding mounds. Pour a little of the extra coconut mixture around the pudding, and top with toasted coconut, sesame seeds, or fruit. Serve immediately.

My New Favourite Website

Do you like dinner? And cussing? Do you often despair at deciding on dinner? And cuss? You're reading this blog, so I'm going to assume you do. Check out What The Fuck Should I Make For Dinner, my kind of recipe aggregator. It's got a vego option and everything.

Fuck yeah it does.

A Long Awaited Reunion

Picture this scene: A busy Melbourne marketplace. Early afternoon. Thousands of hungry foodies bustling about with trolleys, vying for the best pumpkin, the juiciest tomatoes, green-bags akimbo and smug "I buy organic" facial expressions firmly in place. All of a sudden, spied across the crowded market floor. Could it be? Yes! I let out a gasp of joy, the boyfriend, a dismaying groan. No folks, it wasn't Alan Rickman, down on one knee and come for me at last. It was... a feijoa. Several feijoa's to be precise. Sitting in a happy green pile, just waiting for me.

What is a feijoa, you may ask? Well, I know I've probably said the same of countless foodstuffs before, but feijoas are my all time favourite food. They are defined variously as a strange gooseberry, a sort of guava, or if you're my boyfriend "that dirty fruit that tastes the way deep heat cream smells." To most, they are a strange green item roughly the size and shape of an egg, never tasted and therefore never enjoyed. To me, they are autumns in my grandmother's backyard. They are spoons and sticky hands. They are excess consumption, followed by indigestion. In short, they are the best.

You'll have to pardon this odd, ecstatic little post. It's just that I've finally found someone south of my Grandma's poolside who grows and sells feijoas - until the weekend, a feijoa hadn't passed my lips in years, and needless to say it was an overdue reunion. If you haven't tasted my favourite of fruits, you really ought to. Take a close look at the photo provided, and if you see one hanging over a back fence, or lying idly in a front yard, snap that shit up and eat it where you stand. Feijoa's are a strange fruit, something like a guava, a kiwi, and a fig combined, but... better somehow. Delicious.

A Few Feijoa Recipes, should you ever get your hands on some:

Salad (substitute figs for feijoas):

Cocktail - Feijoa Mule:
  • Vodka (The 42 below feijoa flavoured kind is delicious, if you can find it!)
  • Ginger beer
  • Fresh mint, lime, and a peeled and halved feijoa.
Muddle ice, a shot of vodka, mint, lime wedges and feijoa. Pour over ginger beer and enjoy.

So go forth and enjoy the humble feijoa. Just keep your hands off the ones at the Vic Markets, they're mine.

The Parts Make Up The Whole

About a week ago, The Boy - on kitchen duty - asked me what I wanted for dinner. "A delicious feast!" is what I asked for, and a delicious feast is what I received. Two dollar pork buns courtesy of our local Asian grocer, wok-fried greens and a lovely eggy rice dish. The parts made up the whole, and the whole meal was delicious.

These two side dishes are perfect mid-week fare, quick and simple and cheap as chips. Get your hands on some sesame oil, it is really the key ingredient in these two recipes, and keep a few pork-buns in your freezer too. Yum-cha in your own kitchen!

Wok Fried Greens

You can use any veggies you like for this dish, this recipe contains my favourites:
  • Bok Choy (or pak choy, or choy sum. Whichever you prefer)
  • Brocolini (or brocoli) cut into bite sized pieces.
  • Shredded cabbage
  • Green beans
  • Snow peas
  • Baby corn (not strictly a green but delicious nonetheless)
  • Thickly diced zucchini
  • One tablespoon of light soy sauce
  • One tablespoon of oyster sauce
  • Three or four drops of sesame oil
  • A pinch of chilli, if you'd like a little kick
This dish is simplicity itself. You'll need fresh produce, minimal accoutrements, and a red-hot-wok. Prepare your veggies, heat your wok, then toss everything in and off you go! If you don't have a wok, try to avoid using a non-stick frypan. The flavour of this dish is all in the burning, so none of that fancy-pants teflon thank you very much! Resist the temptation to add extra oil - the vegetables should char, so keep your wok as dry as possible. Remove when everything begins to burn at the edges, and serve immediately. A delicious and nutritious side dish.

Eggy Fried Rice
  • 1 cup long grain rice
  • 2 eggs
  • vegetable oil, light soy sauce, a few drops of sesame oil
Another simple side dish, this makes a good base for other fried rice dishes too. Fried rice is Asia's answer to bubble and squeak - you can throw anything in there (within reason) and chances are it will be tasty!

Cook rice as per packet instructions, stand aside and allow to cool completely*. Heat a little vegetable oil in your wok- just enough to coat the bottom - whisk two eggs together and pour them over the hot oil. As they begin to cook, splash some soy sauce over them, then scramble with a fork. This dish is best when the eggs are half way between runny and solid, they need about a minute before the rice goes in. Throw in your cold rice and toss everything around until the egg scramble breaks up and disperses. Drip in a little sesame oil, a little extra soy to taste, and keep tossing until the dish is warmed through and the rice has yellowed slightly. Then eat, eat, eat.

* When cooking fried rice, the temperature of the rice itself is important. Using cold rice prevents your dish from turning into fried mush. Any long-gran rice is suited for frying once cooled, but basmati is best as it has a lower starch content than other types of rice and is less likely to soften when re-heated. Leftover takeaway rice is perfect for use in this dish, if it's sitting in the fridge lookin' a little dry, all the better for it!

For Emily, Wherever I Might Find Her

A few weeks ago Canberra lost one of it's loveliest ladies. Journal editor, inner north compatriot, fellow vego, lover of soft cheeses, poetry, secret passageways and robots, my friend Emily packed it in for a life of glitz and glamour in Melbourne.

We are going to miss her like crazy here. I'm hoping to join her down there one day, but in the mean time I thought I'd share some of my favourite Emily endorsed tracks (right click to download).

Grand Salvo - In the Morning
Dirty Three - Quarantine
Machine Translations - The Zither Player

These tracks are gorgeous - they're landscape art. Thoroughly Australian, subtle and sweet. This girl is on to good things, as you can see. As a small parting gift, my fellow blog mistress has devised some wonderful Melbourne adventures for her - we hope you enjoy.

Books For Cooks – A lovely little shop full of books... for cooks. It’s worth a visit, as is almost every other store along Gertrude Street.

ACCA (The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art) – The slightly peculiar cousin of the NGV, and only a hop-skip-and a jump away if you’re planning to do the Melbourne Gallery rounds. We had an incident with the giant wall of spotlights... very interesting exhibitions indeed!

Double Happiness - This place is 1920’s speakeasy meets Mao era Chinese revolutionary hideout. A little on the expensive side, but the cocktails are delightful, unusual things and the staff have great taste in music. Try the plum martini. Yum.

The Brunswick Green (313 Sydey Road, Brunswick) – a lovely Sydney Road pub, it doesn’t look like much from the front but the beer garden out the back is fantastic. Great on Fridays – full of friendly folk, and the staff will deliver you a pizza from next door, but only if you ask very nicely.

Trippy Taco – amazing Mexican vegetarian restaurant on Smith Street, Fitzroy. The special quesadilla is to die for, and the sweet tamale dessert is killer too. I can’t recommend this place enough. (Also, Matt Preston eats there!)

Enjoy, lovely lady.