Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Running, life etc.


Next month I am competing (how ridiculous it seems to use that word) in the half marathon that is part of the Melbourne Marathon Festival. It will be my second half, so I have some idea what to expect, but my first since the unpleasantness of my metatarsal stress fractures. Since April, I have been back in my usual routine of alternate day runs around Princes Park, ranging from two to five laps, with a couple of runs with the Running Fit run group thrown in. With just over a month to go, I have yet to have a trial of 21.1km, or even the 6-lap runs I managed on weekends before the Run Melbourne half I did last year.

I feel moderately queasy about this, and would have hoped to have got my long run miles up by now. However, the joys of a paediatrics rotation has meant that I have spent much of the last two months with a succession of viral and other infections, requiring a bit more rest/antibiotics/sneaky steroids.

I am hoping that with my Women’s rotation coming up next, I am going to be less exposed to novel pathogens. Plus the weather is picking up, making morning runs much less unpleasant.

(As a parting gift from the Children’s Hospital, I have come down with a sore throat and big nodes again. Thanks kids. Appreciated. 

I am using this, courtesy of my lovely friend R. The Engrish states that it contains semen, which just goes to show why you shouldn't rely on Google Translate.)

Food Finds
“Gluten free” oats, from Terra Madre (also spotted at La Manna Organics; Aunt Maggie’s) have made a welcome addition to breakfast, in the form of overnight oats. Particularly good when soaked in Bonsoy (my birthday splurge). The Australian official line is that GF oats aren’t really a thing, contrary to what is acceptable in the UK and US. I’ve not noticed any symptomatic response either way, but that doesn’t mean much.

GF Weet-Bix - surely a misnomer, since there is no wheat. I’ve tried the plain sorghum ones, which taste pretty much like normal Weet-Bix, i.e. blah. On the plus side, vitamin and mineral fortified and fairly low in sugar (especially compared with other cereals). Bought as a novelty, and not very rationally at that, since I don’t actually like Weet-Bix. Even so, I am still prepared to give the sunflower seed version a go. God, the gullibility of neophilia.

Pistachio nut butter - from Terra Madre. Another birthday splurge and well worth every cent. This did not last long.

“Ridiculously Good” peanut butter - from the local IGA. I’d hesitate to say it really is ridiculously good. It’s pretty good. It’s better than bog standard peanut butter, but given the cost you’d want it to be. The Murray River salt is a nice addition, but I don’t think it offers more than the fresh PB you can get at Terra Madre, Wholefoods etc for a lot less money.

Loving Earth Caramel Chocolate - this is pretty good, but I probably won’t buy again since I really prefer the very, very dark and bitter chocolate. (That said, I’m open to trying the Salted Caramel variant.)

Parsnips - not a food find, but the first time in ages that I’ve had them. I’d forgotten how great they are roasted.

Domino’s GF pizza - the first time in my life I have bought takeaway pizza, and my embarrassment at going somewhere like Domino’s (as opposed to a nice, independent, doesn’t-advertise-on-TV place) was overcome when I discovered that the pizza is actually pretty good. Then again, with an extra fee of 2.95 for the GF base, it’s to be hoped.

Mayver’s Dark Chocolate Super Spread - this is basically crack, and I don’t trust myself to buy it again.

Hemp - eating hemp seeds is about as rebellious as I get. I had hemp milk in England (thanks Tesco!) and loved it. The DIY version works just as well, and I’ve enjoyed sprinkling the seeds onto salad, smoothies etc.

Balls - i.e. dried fruit and nuts blitzed in the Vitamix. I cannot bring myself to use the other terms for them e.g. Bliss Balls (so vile). I like adding protein powder, maca, mesquite, cacao and have found that those ingredients will also successfully mask spirulina and other (thoroughly revolting) green powders. I find 100g dates, 50g nuts, 10g protein powder works as a template.

Cauliflower "pizza" - this was an epic fail, and I blame my oven which alternates between burning everything or creating a hot, soggy mess. 

Friday, 8 August 2014

Admiral Cheng-Ho II - 23 June 2014

Winter finally hit Melbourne, although the ridiculously warm autumn obviously confused the local flora: trees are budding and there has been a host of daffodils outside the Grainger Museum for weeks.

On a horribly blustery and wet day, I made my way to Collingwood to meet up with a friend and her delicious, beautiful, bright five-month-old daughter. Though the area is replete with brunch options, we settled on Admiral Cheng-Ho, since I knew from last time that it has a multitude of choice for GF vegans. I had also intended to go a few days earlier, but ended up having vegan phở at Fina’s in Richmond (which was, as it happened, perfect given I was incubating a vile virus).

The menu had had a few subtle changes since my last visit, and I was beset by indecision. Sweet or savoury? Do I have what I had last time, since I enjoyed it so much?

Plenty of dishes looked divine on paper, but Reason pointed out that a few could more-or-less be replicated at home. Whilst I love avocado & toast variations, for instance, I have a bag of avocados in my kitchen so it would be ludicrous to pay someone else to feed me this.

After drinking most of my long black, I eventually settled on The Admiral - zucchini and kale fritters with seasonal vegetables (carrots and beans), beetroot relish and cashew cream (and sunflower seeds).

What the photo doesn’t really indicate is how substantial the fritters were. If they hadn’t been so madly delicious I would’ve struggled to finish, but the combination of perfectly crisp exteriors and smooth vegetal interiors proved to be irresistible. The beetroot (with microherbs) gave a lovely earthy freshness, and the cashew cream and seeds added a sophisticated and technically adept finesse.

Perfect food for lousy, cold weather, and more than sustaining for a walk and bike ride home through the wind and rain some hours later.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Cornish Arms - February 2014

Finally - I sampled the Cornish Arms’ vegan fish and chips. After a 36-hour fast (thanks to a medical procedure) I was more than in the mood for pub grub. I had planned to go to the Sweetwater Inn, but by the time I was discharged I couldn’t face the thought of going to South Yarra when I had the Cornish round the corner from home.

This is obviously pre-GF regime (indeed, it marked the end of a rather vile gluten challenge), as the batter contained both flour and beer. It was pretty damn worthwhile the ordeal, though.

The three whopping chunks of battered “fish” tasted very much like the vegan cod I had bought from Vincent Vegetarian Food in Footscray, on a mad mock-meat-buying extravaganza, but beautifully beer-battered. If you’re curious, it doesn’t really taste fishy as such - there is a little nori, I think, to evoke the sea - but the texture is probably a reasonable analogue.
The chips were, as per my past experience of the Cornish Arms, absolutely perfect. (I am incredibly fussy about chips - unless they are perfect I don’t want to know of them. Most chips are mediocre, if not crap, so it’s generally easy to resist.)

A bit of salad was a welcome addition. I know some people would see it as superfluous, or even a joke, but I actually like a bit of greenery amongst the batter. The tartare sauce was also welcome, and vastly nicer than any tartare sauce I'd had in pre-veg*n days.

I’d try to make it to the Cornish Arms more often, but the substantial meals tend to necessitate extreme hunger, bordering on hanger, that I can’t be bothered to invoke very often. I do have another half-marathon approaching later in the year, though…

Monday, 23 June 2014

The Grain Store - 22 April 2014

In the midst of my rural GP placement in Mildura, the Easter holidays arose, giving me an excellent opportunity to come back to Melbourne, meet up with one of my favourite people and do one of my favourite things - brunch.

My lovely companion suggested The Grain Store - I had already drooled over the menu online, with great delight that it had options for awkward dietary-requirement types.

I was more impressed still when I arrived to find one of the most aesthetically pleasing cafes in all of Melbourne - very much on a par with those in well-heeled parts of London.

The staff were also very patient with me and my awkward enquiries about what could and couldn’t be adapted from the menu, including suggesting a build-your-own from the toast + sides menu.

In the end I opted for the default vegan/GF item, currently listed as “Vegan cauliflower, quinoa & amaranth pops - roasted pumpkin hummus, goji berries, parsnip crisps, nigella seeds”. I think this has changed since April, however, as I had beetroot and endive rather than parsnip.

This was a spectacular and pretty dish. A marvellous combination of textures and tastes, from the velvety-smooth and sweet pumpkin hummus to the crunchy, savoury quinoa and amaranth, to the chewy and tart goji berries. I wouldn’t have thought of using goji berries in a largely savoury context, but it’s an idea worth using in other iterations.

The Grain Store has had its fair share of attention and positive reviews. Indeed, when I tried to go for coffee a few Sundays ago it was packed and we faced a 30 minute wait. All I can say is that it is worth a visit - there is surely something for everyone to enjoy, in civilised surroundings - just perhaps try to go on a weekday.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Smith & Daughters - 14 June 2014

Much anticipated, Smith & Daughters opened while I was on my rural GP rotation - an experience that could not have been more different to that of my normal life living in the cyclist-vegan-Green paradise that is the Inner North.

What this meant was that while I was being compared to livestock (“Jeeze girl, you look like you need to spend a year in the lucerne paddock!”), my hysterically flighty internet connection brought forth a flurry of Facebook and blog posts from those who were enjoying the latest addition to the Fitzroy epicentre of vegan cuisine.

“Damn you, Melbourne. I’ll be back soon and I’ll get my fill of plant-based Mexican deliciousness,” I vowed.

Following my return, a completely ridiculous amount of time then passed, in which I luxuriated in the convenience of the new Aunt Maggie’s in Brunswick (kale!!), resumed making my protein powder concoctions, and had the relief of seeing my weekly food bill drop dramatically in price.

The insanity of a voluntary exam - for only medical students would be so crazy to opt for additional testing, which has no effect on actual university marks and is therefore just a weird masochistic exercise in realising, Socrates-like, that one knows nothing - presented a valid excuse for a lunch treat.

After three hours of sitting semi-motionless filling out an MCQ sheet, my dining companion and I were both slightly frozen. She was at a greater disadvantage having got thoroughly drenched during her bike ride in (a rare advantage of my leaving-it-to-the-last-minute habit: I missed the downpour). A quick bike ride brought us to the warmth of Smith & Daughters, which was also, mercifully, not crammed with people.

After some slight confusion about what could and couldn't be done gluten-free, my brunching companion and I ended up choosing the same item - the Mexican omelette with corn tortillas. Accompanied by, in my case, a long black. My companion had a cappuccino with coconut milk. 

I was pretty ravenous by the time this came out, but managed to pause long enough to drown the above in Cholula sauce (I am finishing off a bottle at home, and know that for me it is pretty mild). 

The omelette thankfully did not replicate an eggy dish in flavour; texturally it was more like a savoury pudding. The sauces and avocado brightened up the dish, visually and in terms of flavour, and the corn tortillas were by far the best I've had. Best of all, the cast iron pan - though scorching hot initially - was another welcome source of warmth. 

So my Smith & Daughters desire has been partially sated - I need to sample the evening menu next, obviously. 

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Celebrating autumn - and why I shop at markets

The pith, the nutshell, whatever edible euphemism you like - I shop at markets because:

  • I hate what corporatism is doing to nations and peoples. 
  • I despise marketing, which maintains the above.
  • I will not buy junk, and so most shops (supermarkets and retailers generally) do not acknowledge me as they have nothing worthwhile on offer.
  • I despair at the cult of the lowest common denominator.
  • I refuse to buy imported produce. Having grown up in England, I appreciate Australia as a primary producer par excellence, and it is criminal to eschew home-grown food for something laden with food miles.
  • My tastebuds are still very much intact.
  • As a full-time student in the midst of a career change, I have a risibly tight food budget. That story on News Ltd's website about sticking to a $35 weekly food budget? Luxury!
I shop opportunistically. I trawl the Vic Market close to closing time at the weekends, and I make good use of the slightly tired (but perfect for my purposes) half-price produce at places like Wholefoods. In spite of monetary constraints, I manage to eat a fair bit of organic produce. 

I shop seasonally. Boxes of mangos, trays of tomatoes in the summer. Bags of apples, magnificent heads of cabbage in the winter. 

I have a fridge full of pickles from when I got proper gherkins for $2. My mother's larder has the jam I made with the last of the summer apricots. 

Today yielded quinces for $1 a kilo, to be slowly roasted with wattle seed as an accompaniment to homemade bread, coconut yogurt, muesli. 

Best of all, a bag of pine mushrooms for a hysterically trifling $2. To be devoured, by me, in an act of greed justified by the grim weather and my last hurrah before I am off to the back of beyond to finish my rural GP placement (in a town surrounded by farms, but with no greengrocer, and where pickup trucks line up every night outside the fast food outlets - proof this country has a completely warped attitude towards food).

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Christmas 2013

Yes, I know. It’s mid-March. But I have only just got round to transferring pictures from my iPhone, itself a complete novelty for me, and found these.

It was a relatively warm Christmas in 2013. My mother avers that Christmas in Melbourne is always 25˚C and overcast, but we’d had a spell of hot weather and it was a bit more summery than that.

Neither of us is particularly bothered about Christmas, and we’ve never done it conventionally. Turkey etc has only appeared if we went to relatives’ homes for Christmas, and I’ve not eaten meat since I was about 13 anyway. Moreover, quite a few Christmases have been spent with other vegetarians.

My proposal for the 2013 Christmas was plant-based dishes, and some meaty/cheesy accompaniments for my carnivorous mother, in a kind of mezze-ish arrangement.

As usual, the inner North came up trumps for interesting and reasonably-priced provisions. On the (vegan friendly!) plate are:

Organic baby spinach + organic orange salad;

Organic heirloom radishes (purple, red, white) with Mount Zero salt;

Tomato, red onion, avocado;

Roasted Japanese eggplant with pomegranate arils;

Roasted asparagus (which was a ludicrous 25c a bunch) and roasted chopped almonds.

Plus gigantic Macadamia nuts; Edwards pumpkin seed sourdough; fruit loaf (can’t remember which bakery - either Philippa’s, La Madre or Zeally Bay, courtesy of the Brunswick IGA).

For Madam Carnivore, Chianina bresaola and Fromager d’Affinois with truffles (from DOC Delicatessen), plus butter from Isigny Ste-Mère.

Dessert for the omnivore was Pavlova. I bought half a kilo of cherries from the Vic Market, paid a (relatively) scary sum for red currants, and got some wildly cheap strawberries (not cheap in taste, fortunately). The pavlova recipe was nothing special - Google will yield many, all basically the same. I might have used ACV instead of white vinegar, but otherwise no fiddling there. The cream was vanilla bean cream, though I had originally planned to use marscapone.

I gorged myself on cherries, nearly (but not quite!) sickening myself of them in the process. 

I think the most significant lesson from this was that the odd luxury item, like a pomegranate, can make an enormous difference to a dish. Realistically, a couple of dollars on the odd special ingredient shouldn't be kept only for Christmas. So I will probably make the eggplant dish more often. 

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Echt Apple Pie

This, I apologise, is not remotely vegan, but easily veganised.

I spotted Bramley apples at one of the Vic Market’s organic stalls last week, and promised my mother that the next time I visited I would make a proper apple pie. Happily, when I went to get said apples, I saw that new season Cox’s were also available. Hurrah for freedom from the tyranny of Royal Galas (my particular bete noir) and other mainstream apple varieties.

According to St Delia, and others, the best apple pies involve two sorts of apples: Bramleys, which are unpleasant raw but turn into velvety fluff when cooked; and Cox’s. (Incidentally, the Wiki page needs correcting - it’s not the case that Cox’s are unsuitable for cooking.)

Pleasingly, Delia’s recipe (in her Winter Collection) uses parsimonious quantities of fat and sugar, and a colossal quantity of apples. Intriguingly, she also uses Cheddar cheese in the crust.

I made a number of variations to her recipe.

For the pastry, I used all butter, rather than half butter and half lard. I omitted the cheese, because the only cheeses in the house were completely unsuitable. I also substituted about 80g of the plain flour with lupin flour, because it was there and because I could. (This ups the protein content slightly.)

For the filling, Delia recommends scattering semolina over the pastry base before alternating layers of sliced apples with sugar and studding with the odd clove.

I mixed together apple cake spice (Gewurtzhaus), sugar, vanilla sugar, cardamom pistachio sugar (Gewurtzhaus again!), ground linseed/flaxseed.

It was appallingly steamy in Melbourne, so I had to work quickly with the pastry. Fortunately it rolled out beautifully. Just under half was used to line a glass pie dish (though metal would be better), and a scattering of the ground flaxseed mixture went on top, followed by layers of apple and the flax/spice/sugar mix. The remaining pastry was rolled out, draped over the top, sealed and covered with egg wash.

In view of the weather, the pie was refrigerated while the oven heated up.

I had to ignore the cooking time, since my mother’s oven is markedly cooler than it pretends to be, and it was well over an hour before it was ready. 

And obviously vanilla ice-cream was mandatory.

What was good about this recipe is that, apart from the tedium of peeling, coring and slicing the apples, the rest was dead easy to assemble. No blind baking. No pre-cooing of the apples. In general, not a lot of faff.

I’ve yet to try vegan pastry making, but presumably it would be easy enough to veganise with appropriate non-animal fats.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Admirable brunch at Admiral Cheng-Ho, Abbotsford

I’ve longed to go to Monk Bodhi Dharma for ages, but somehow found the thought of getting to Balaclava too exhausting (despite it being my old bagel-sourcing stomping ground). So you can imagine my lazy delight when its North side sister cafe, Admiral Cheng-Ho, opened up. Moreover, it promised a ridiculous array of foods I can, and would want to, eat.

My dear brunching companion R expressed enthusiasm at going to the Admiral’s on what turned out to be a lovely late summer Sunday.

Cycling in from Brunswick, I wondered whether I was in the wrong end of Johnson Street, frantically checking the street numbers, since there did not appear to be any likely site for a cafe. Admiral Cheng-Ho is on a quiet intersection, in a part of Abbotsford where it is probably the most interesting thing around.

The cafe itself was not at all quiet. At 12.30pm, it was packed and though we didn’t have to wait for seats, we did have to perch at the bar. This did allow me to watch the coffee making with interest, and note the intriguing selection of blends on offer.

I have one (at least one) annoying trait when it comes to eating out. One is a tendency to be indecisive. This is obviated by some cafes where there is only one vegan GF option - usually toast. Yawn. Not so in the inner North, of course. Thankfully, the intarwebs can usually proffer a menu before I go somewhere, so I can suss out a) if it’s worth my while and b) try to narrow down what I might eat.

At Admiral Cheng-Ho, virtually everything was a possibility. If I could have stomached it, I’d have done as my dining companion did and ordered the quinoa pancakes. These looked amazing - three fat pancakes, a spoon of butterscotch sauce, soil, and some fabulous looking “cream”. R graciously let me have a taste, and the pancakes were superb, though I detected a slight bitterness to the butterscotch. This might have just been me, though, as everyone else (virtually every other customer) was happily hoovering up the lot.

On a colder day, I’d have gone for the umami mushrooms. Something to look forward to in winter. I also scratched the avocado option off the list, since it’s something doable at home.

What was not favourable for a DIY approach was the granola - which I can never quite get right when I make it myself. 

This was more impressive when it came out than I imagined, since all the elements were house made. One of my peeves is cafes offering a particular brand of muesli or granola, dolloping on some yogurt and then charging $15 for something I could do myself, thanks, for a lot less money. (The acme of this mind-bending laziness is cafes offering Kellogg’s cereals for more than a whole box of the rotten stuff would cost. Seriously - are people really so chumpy?)

I don’t typically have granola, as it is too sweet and oily, and I’d prefer not to precipitate GORD and diabetes in the one meal. The Cheng’s granola was buckwheat based, with a subtle banana flavour. There was no tooth-gritting sweetness, nor greasy coating on my mouth, and it kept a pleasing crunch even as I took a terrifically long time to make my way through the bowl. On top was grey goo, that was also apparently banana based and completely delicious, irrespective of the appearance. Plus banana, strawberry, flowers (!) and a jug of hazelnut milk which was so clean and pure in its taste it was obviously house-made.

In hindsight, hilariously unphotogenic (brown rubble and grey goo!) but utterly delicious. And just as well I overcame my antipathy towards bananas a couple of years ago.

What I really liked was having a delicious meal that didn’t leave me feeling like I was going to die from excess, but which could keep me cycling round town for the rest of the day.

My long black was also excellent, but I’d have been surprised if it wasn’t.

Anyway - I really enjoyed it and there is more than enough to tempt me back again. The lunch offerings (soups, amazing looking sandwiches) and enormous (apparently vegan) muffins etc also looked impressive.

Given all the excitement on the internet and in other media, Admiral Cheng-Ho doesn’t really need my thumbs up, but it gets it anyway.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Suzy Spoon’s Vegetarian Butcher, Newtown

I had what could have been a very stressful micro-holiday in Sydney shortly before my end-of-year exams in November, consisting of about 19 hours in the city, a large portion of which was spent sleeping and commuting, in order to go to my cousin’s wedding. The wedding itself was fabulous - my first time at a Sikh ceremony, so it was a delight of beautiful silks and excellent vegetarian food.

I didn’t have a lot of time left before my flight back to Melbourne, so I decided that going to art galleries etc was out of the question and my best bet was to visit areas en route to the airport.

This involved walking around Surry Hills in the glorious sunshine (Melbourne having been dour and un-springy), conveniently passing Gelato Messina (before its Smith Street opening, thereby getting a slight headstart on the hype - yes, it is good) and the Bourke St Bakery.

With even less time left, I made sure that the airport navigation traversed Newtown, so I could have quick look at Suzy Spoon’s Vegetarian Butcher. I was almost overcome with indecision as to what to get, though once I’d eliminated anything non-GF, that made it easier.

My borderline-pathological obsession with burning my mouth off meant that the chilli sausages were probably a shoo-in.

I realise that one can make sausages at home, and I’ve a few recipes bookmarked, but owing to my ineptitude I doubt that I can do something as good as these. I was impressed by the spookily accurate texture, taste and apparently authentic casings.

I stupidly forgot to eat these plainly - i.e. with bread/a roll, and sauce. They were, however, excellent chopped up and mixed through spaghetti and kale. For me, the chilli was relatively subtle, but I am apparently a freak who regards Sriracha as "mild".

Hopefully someone in Melbourne might be able to continue what The Radical Grocery started, and bring more of Suzy Spoon’s small goods south of the border.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Menu Malapropisms

Cafes and restaurants are obviously the new greengrocers, if we're talking about the mangling of language e.g. "apple's 5p a pound".

I'm not going to waste my time, on a gruesomely hot evening, explaining why getting language right is important. If you don't choose your words correctly, or botch grammar, or include/omit punctuation marks, you risk being misunderstood.

My current irritation is moreish*/moorish.

Both adjectives may be used with respect to food. Both with quite different meanings. Substituting one for the other only confuses a diner.

Less contentiously, my mother's plum trees have gone berserk this summer, and produced a bountiful harvest of what I presume are Mirabelles. This comes a few weeks after we gorged ourselves on the first good crop of mulberries, and ahead of an imminent glut of mammoth figs, passionfruit and blackberries. So have a picture of some plum jam in the meantime:

*I happen to hate this word anyway. It seems lazy.