Sunday, 27 May 2007

In defence of good food

I am reading a book that is changing my life. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by renowned author and botanist Barbara Kingsolver, her husband Steven Hopp, and daughter Camille Kingsolver, is due for release in Australia in June. Hobart Bookshop were good enough to order me in a beautiful hardback, American edition, so I got my copy several weeks early (and I spied, when I was in the bookshop today, a spare copy, so grab it now if you can't wait for the Aust edition!). Anyway, the book tells of the year the Kingsolver/Hopp family spent living sustainably on their farm, ensuring they only ate food whose origin they could guarantee was completely local (with only minor exceptions). The food revolution was inspired by a desire to eat well and to protect the environment, but had so many extra benefits too.

Think about our own food habits. We all know that Tasmanian strawberries in season taste so much better than Californian strawberries shipped across the seas in the middle of winter just to satisfy our whims. In buying the Californian strawberries, we are not only buying an inferior product, we are adding to our fuel dependency, hurting the environment, and only doing it because we cannot wait until strawberries are back in season! So suddenly, Kingsolver and her family are eating out of their own garden and cooking an awful lot of whatever is in season... and by the time the season changes, they are readily awaiting a new bunch of food. But half the joy is in the waiting and expectations. The other half is in the eating, because they are producing food that tastes real, not like cardboard.

Another benefit is in reducing energy consumption. In this age, we are highly dependant upon oil: a scarce resource, and one that has huge geo-political implications. We all know about the Middle-East and oil, but increasingly oil politics is including other states such as Russia and China in its orbit. And much of our oil consumption (read: dependency) is due to our food consumption. Oil is involved in the transportation and refrigeration of the food, as well as the tractors and other farming equipment, and moreover - the synthetic insecticides, herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers put onto your food in the production. As Steven Hopp says in the book, if every American ate one meal a week that they could guarantee came from local sources, US oil consumption would drop by 1.1 million barrels every week. Not gallons, barrels. Every week.

I'm not a raging hippy. I like shoes too much. I enjoy my French cheeses as much as the next person, and that's not going to change. But I am becoming much more aware of where my food has come from, and what has gone into it's production. I don't want to put too much in my body that has been covered in synthetic fertilizers. I want to live a simple life, full of great tasting food that hasn't hurt the earth too much just to satisfy my instant gratification cravings. If I can't survive a winter without raspberries, I will buy them in season and freeze them - easy. My life won't be perfect, but it will be a start. Read the book - it's a gem.

For more info, see the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle website.

On another, separate note: I went to Maldini for dinner on Thursday night (and, let's face it, probably didn't eat too sustainably then, but everyone is allowed a night off!). Anyway, it was spectacular. The new winter menu is just so good. I could happily eat almost everything on it. It was a difficult decision, but I ended up having the Osso Bucco done in a tomato, red wine & herb sauce, and served with a potato and Parmesan souffle. It was incredible. I also indulged in a glass of Bream Creek Pinot, and for dessert, a white chocolate, strawberry and vanilla bean baked cheesecake (with raspberry coulis and double cream). I think next time I'll try the rhubarb and raspberry bread & butter pudding, with caramel sauce. And there will be a next time - the menu is just too good not to return. Service was attentive and informative when we asked questions. Only complaint was the noise factor, but it added to a "party atmosphere" and we weren't doing too much talking anyway - there was just too much good food to be eaten!

Friday, 4 May 2007


I'm back from the seething metropolis, battle-weary and bruised, yet relaxed and happy. My back hurts from carrying too much shopping. My sleeping patterns are disrupted, and there are huge dark circles under my eyes, from too little sleep. My feet hurt from squeezing them into stilettos. My abdomen hurts from too much laughing. My bank balance is definitely in pain: I will be in debt to myself for several months to come, I fear. But with all of this, I had absolutely the best of times...

Arrived on Thursday 26, and A1 picked me up from the airport, bless his cotton socks. The weekend was off to a flying start with beer on M's balcony and a whole lot of talking rubbish and laughing at (and with) each other. A hot chocolate at KoKo Black on Lygon Street, and a few more words of The Great Australian Novel were written. Then dinner with the people I travelled through Laos with, at Minh Minh restaurant on Victoria street: not the best Asian I've had, but then I suppose I'm a bit biased. Lots of wine and noodles were consumed, anyway.

Friday was busy, multi-faceted, and fantastic. Coffee with one of my old Corporate-law bosses, and long thoughts and conversations about my future. Then M and I made the trek out to the Prahan Markets in search of cupcakes... The Crabapple Bakery makes spectacular ones (and have recently released a magnificent cookbook too). We sat and had tea and cupcakes (M had Passionfruit, I had a Rose one and a Lavender one, but couldn't finish either. Instead I just took pleasure from their gorgeousness).

After cupcakes, we met S and R at the Shanghai Dumpling House in China Town, an old haunt of ours, and had steamed and friend dumplings, and noodles... S was in her element. We spent several hours in Zomp Shoez in Little Collins Street (I eventually bought some delish stilettos, black and sexy and half a size too small, oh well). More cake and tea was consumed to keep our shopping spirits high. Then I met T, an old work colleague, for tea and wine and chats about futures, pasts, and all the rest: fantastic to see him, as he makes me laugh and makes all my troubles fade into oblivion.

By this stage it was 7pm and I made it home to meet up with M, S, R, A2, and K who arrived from Wagga with practically a broken back from falling off a horse, as well as C who never fails to make us peel with laughter. It was fantastic to have so many of us in one place at one time (S and R came up from Burnie, K from Wagga and me from Hobart... C, A2 and M are all Melbourne-based these days). A1 also joined us, and after pizzas for dinner on Errol street, and a few drinks and catch-ups at a house-party at another school-friend's house, we went out on Brunswick street. There are far too many memories on this stretch of bitumen. After drinks and dancing at Bimbos and First Floor we eventually made it home about 4am.

Saturday morning was fairly lazy, with sleep and breakfast at a divine french patisserie near M's house. Met another of my best friends for lunch by the Yarra, and whiled away several hours catching up, which was utterly fantastic, miss her heaps now that she lives in Melbourne. More shopping, a few episodes of Sex and the City (yes... I invested in the entire collection. It has so many words of wisdom), then again it was time to get pretty, get drunk, and go dancing... After dinner at Baba House, and far too many vinos, we eventually made it out. It was a hilarious night, which eventually ended at about 5.30am in Stalactites Greek restaurant, with A1 ordering yiros and saganaki for those of us who had lasted the distance. Nothing says "huge night" like a 24-hour Greek Taverna.

Sunday... hang-over central. "Breakfast" at 1pm, followed by a Sunday session of drinking, back on Brunswick Street. A whole heap of people came for a beer and a catch-up. I was feeling decidedly the worse for wear by 7pm, but nothing a bit of the Melbourne Comedy Festival couldn't fix. Feeling a lot brighter, A1, M, S, R and I grabbed some dinner and headed for the bright lights of Crown Casino... It was the first time I had been to the gambling floor of a Casino, so I was somewhat shocked & awed by Crown. Didn't bet, but S & R doubled their $20 (A1 lost his $20, so I guess as a posse, we were even). And then it was time for bed.

Monday... hectic-ville. I spent the morning munching on poached rhubarb and apple with cous cous and yogurt, and then shopping. I spent an inordinate amount of money on stationary at Zetta Florence, got grumpy at the atrocious service and synthetic fabrics at Alannah Hill (but still purchased three gorgeous items over the course of the weekend... lovely), and bought literally a library of books. In the afternoon I had: coffee with another of my old bosses from corporate-law-land; lunch with an old NGO colleague/close friend; tea with my ex; and dinner (risotto with king prawns, fetta, and chorizo - yummy) with another NGO colleague/close friend. All of these catch-ups were fantastic: so good to see these people.

And then, it was Tuesday. A much lazier day, but no less lovely. M and I sat on her balcony, reading (her- uni notes. me- Saturday by Ian McEwan). I took a quick kip in the sun. We cooked chicken and leek pie. And then A1 collected me, fed me (pide with haloumi, lemon, avocado and chorizo) and drove me to the airport again.

So, the highlights? The lovely people I shared it all with. Quality time with M. Feminist rants with C. Taking "artistic" photos of wine glasses. Sunshine. Endless cups of tea. Coming away with a new wardrobe of pretty garments, Sex and the City DVDs, more stationary that I know what to do with, sexy stilettos, and books to last me a year. Tea, cake, wine and some of the best conversations ever in the cafes in laneways off streets. Good food. Gelati on Southbank. A1 being eternally gorgeous and generous. Being in the same place at the same time as K, M, and S, for the first time in 18 months. Not being hit by a tram (a somewhat irrational, persistent fear of mine). Time being me, without the study or the work. Coming home relaxed, refreshed, and ready to ace the next couple of assignments. And finally - getting A1's mother's recipe for Kourambiedies... so excited!