Entries Tagged 'Events' ↓

Christmas Food Open Thread – Hits and Misses at table

Eating at this time of year is often spoken of as if it’s some kind of naughty thing – in a world where high fructose corn syrup invades every aisle of the supermarket, some are eager to pile shame on centuries old traditions of festive indulgence.

Well, they’re idiots. Give me the life where a family celebrates each other’s company with day after day of endless deliciousness or where a group of vegan friends build their own traditions, blowing each other’s minds with tables laden with goodness, year after year.

In this spirit, contributor Anthony has suggested an open thread on Christmas food failures and successes – he’s going to tell us about curing his own ham, which I’m pretty excited to hear about as it’s something I’d love to do.

As for me, this year’s failure was the Coffin Bay Oysters, which were not fresh enough. Boo! My sister in law had bought them (opened) the day before, they’d been in the fridge the whole time (wrapped) but they smelt odd and had a weird black slick on the shells. That’s why the flesh is still there under the piles of crayfish, served with butter melted with a touch of their mustard – sublime, and all the sweeter for the oyster disaster.

Despite being a bit crook (nothing serious, don’t worry) I still managed to glaze the ham, but instead of leaving it to marinate for hours and hours I whipped up something in five minutes. Fortunately I reaped the benefits of years of consistent kitchen-pottering and pantry-filling, basing the glaze on a tart apricot sauce made from our own apricots. Sadly, the aged tree has since had to be cut down and the sauce will never be the same – your own apricots always make the best sauce.

This year’s real triumph however was a masterpiece of Christmas leftovers, the ham and prawn bahn xeo:

All the virtues of using up the leftovers, with lots and lots of crunchy fresh things and a zingy sour-and-hot sauce. Perfect Boxing Day fare. Rather than include chillies in the sauce, they were on the side and the kids loved them too. Based on this Ottolenghi recipe from Plenty.

Open thread, so at it – what did you get right and wrong this Christmas?

Anthony: Everyone’s a critic.

That was the slogan of last year’s Melbourne International Film Festival. It got me thinking about food critics, and what they do. We tend to only reflect on the role of food critics when they’re in extremis: Leo Schofield getting sued for defamation; the French chef Bernard Loiseau and the loss of a Michelin star; or – horror of horrors – the Australian’s John Lethlean laying into Cheong Liew.

But what is restaurant reviewing all about? Nowadays, for most of us, if we want an opinion on a new restaurant in our neighbourhood, we’d probably go to some online site where diners rate the reasturant and offer their opinions. There’s a lot of debate about whether we’ve yet reached the age of the citizen journalist, but surely we’ve reached the age of the citizen critic? When it comes to something as quotidian as dining out, or a film, or a brand of whitegood or hi-fi, surely everyone is a critic. Do we really expect a food critic to add to this? Do we expect a restaurant critic to approach the task in the same way as a music critic will approach a recital, or a drama critic a play? Did they ever? Do we need a ‘specialist’ to interpret the dining experience to us in the same way as, for example, an art critic interprets art? What does it mean to a ‘specialist’ when it comes to consuming food in a restaurant?

I lived in Toronto in the first half of last year, in a neighbourhood at the west end of Queen Street West (that is, west Queen Street West). Queens St West runs from downtown, but the wester it goes the more it becomes like an extended version of Gertrude St Melbourne: a motley mix of convenience stores, pawn shops, second hand dealers, ethnic eateries, independent avant-garde art galleries, trendy cafes, social service providers and boutique hotels.

Gentrification Street West

The area, like Gertrude St, is bordered by public housing – or what they call ‘project housing’ – and a local performance artist, Darren O’Donnell (no relation), worked with kids from the local Parkdale High School on a project called ‘Eat the Street’, glossed as Parkdale Public School versus Queen Street West (Darren likes working with kids: one of his earlier projects was to offer passing adults ‘haircuts by kids’ – under the supervision of a stylist of course).

O’Donnell took a group of students from Parkdale to review eleven restaurants in the Queen Street West area, over a month and a half, culminating in an awards ceremony. Here are examples of what some of the schoolkids-turned-restaurant reviewers had to say about some of the restaurants on the project’s blog:

‘The washroom is too small, smells bad and it dirty. Atmosphere is good. Pretty room colours. Good outfit. I like the music’ – Tenzin Paldon

‘Very good chicken curry with rice. Okay service’ – Tenzin Chokden

‘Service was pretty fast for a big group. There was a hair in my food’- Anh

‘It was very good and spicy’ – Tenzin Choesang

‘Bathroom = 8/10. Small, but feels good, isn’t dirty. Although small, feels nice and comfy. Sorta loud. Deer Burger: I feel really disturbed and disgusted. Wonder how it’ll end up like… Burger good and all but the sauce and ingredients on top are too overwhelming and strong. Doesn’t quite fit in well’ – Ann

‘Talihun threw up some food in a toilet because it tasted like his hair’ – Monlan

(You may have noted the apparent surfeit of kids named Tenzin: the area is home to one of the largest expat Tibetan communities outside of Asia)

Badging this as Parkdale Public School vs. Queen Street West 2: Eat The Street is explicitly oppositional. But it highlights what is at stake here. When a street like Queen St West or Gertrude St starts to change and gets a reputation as a hip or cool or edgy place — whether for its food or its art or its clothing boutiques or whatever — it is because a group of people has interpreted it this way and sold that interpretation to the world. Sharon Zukin, an American scholar of gentrification, calls these people the ‘critical infrastructure’: they range from the museum curators to the art gallery staff; from the restaurant waiters through to the restaurant reviewers — and, we would now have to add, online reviewers and ‘subcultural guides’ and blogs and so on. As she says, they ‘establish and unify a new perspective for viewing and consuming the values of place’. And in this way, of course, they also establish market values. And for Zukin, what goes for the built landscape goes for the menu as well: that shift from place-defining to market-defining.

Yet although the group that is able to communicate information about new consumption opportunities is expanding thanks to the internet, the critical infrastructure is not a job for everyone: it requires people with the requisite cultural capital, if not financial capital. Those kids from Parkdale Public School do just what critics do: they visit restaurants and write up their reactions. But what they’re doing, in the context of the gentrification of west Queen St West, is also something totally different from what restaurant reviewers do.

Update: there has been an Australian version of Eat the Street in Launceston (with a photo blog and (pdf) awards), inspired and supported by the Toronto collective Mammalian Diving Reflex. There’s a lot to say about this phenomenon as performance art: the place of children in public dining; their empowerment and voice; being made to remember what was important to us as kids when dining out; and so on. In my post I’ve focused on a fairly narrow aspect of the Toronto example – the seeming opposition between Parkdale School and Queen St West – to make a point about gentrification and cuisine and the role of restaurant critics however broadly defined. I don’t know enough about the demographics of Mowbray Heights Primary School to say whether any of this is relevant to the experience in Launceston. Anyone? Anyone?

Eat.Drink.Blog – the washup

You know, I’ve never been to a conference where everyone stayed for all the sessions, all the presenters were uniformly interesting and no-one was bored for a minute. People I thought I would like I REALLY liked; and the people I wasn’t sure about I REALLY liked too. And I met some completely new people and – yes – REALLY liked them.

Part of the brief talk I gave was about blogging as a way of exploring and enjoying a community of interest, and it certainly seemed there was a real joy for all of us in being in a room full of people who “get” our passion because they share it.

I’m planning to write up my talk and post it soon, (you will be glad to hear that despite the fears of another attendee before the conference, it wasn’t too wanky ;) Gill of confessions of a food nazi has a post on some of her excellent talk here, and a plan to blog the rest. She’s encouraged the rest of us who participated in panels to do the same, and I think it would be great to link them all from the Eat.Drink.Blog site.

There were three (I think) attendees who weren’t on twitter, and less by the end of the day. The stream of the #eatdrinkblog hashtag appeared on the super-cool projected TweetWall – Lisa of unwakeable, Nola and Suzanne of essjayeff being the funny-girl stars of the day. Although I wish they had been less funny in the panel segment, sitting facing the audience cracking up at a tweet I couldn’t read!

I really appreciated that there wasn’t a push towards homogeneity amongst the group, in fact quite the reverse. I think the best session to demonstrate the point was the photography one, where Ellie from Kitchen Wench, Nola from Once a Waitress and Matt from Abstract Gourmet talked about their individual ways of going about making photos that worked the way they wanted them to, with a few tips and tricks thrown in. (Ellie’s tip – read the manual; Nola’s – think about using photographs as a means of communication; Matt’s – find a way to do it that works for you).

Claire from Melbourne Gastronome pulled off a real feat with her talk, managing to be legally precise and not dull. I really wasn’t expecting the sessions on SEO (by Michael of My Aching Head), “How to be social” (by Pennie of Jeroxie:addictive and consuming), geotagging (Brian of fitzroyalty) and the monetising sessions (by Jules of Stonesoup and Phil of The Last Appetite) to be interesting, but I found them fascinating because the presenters really knew their stuff – as @tummyrumbles (mellie) put it on the Tweetwall, they showed a “good balance of nerdy theory and feel good philosophy”.

I found some things quite surprising throughout the day – that so many of us who’d been blogging for a few years had blogged on other subjects (like me, mostly politics) before coming to focus on food; the immediacy of our ease in each other’s company; how generous everyone was with their expertise and how true-to-life some people’s blogging identities are. For instance The Healthy Party Girl left in the afternoon to go to cheerleader practice and came back to bum a fag and piss on in the laneway!

Once the strictly social part of the day kicked in, we started to talk about the next Eat.Drink.Blog. What made it possible this year was the organisation work (by Ed of Tomatom, Reem of I am obsessed with food… (who have a beautiful talk on why she blogs, including starting because she needed somewhere to talk about her love life!) Mellie of Tummyrumbles, , April of My Food Trail, Jess of That Jess Ho, who hung the photo exhibit, and Tammi of Tammi Tasting Terroir who moderated – thank you all).

There was also significant sponsorship from the organisations listed at the end of this post. Certainly for interstate visitors it made it much more affordable to not have to pay to register and to be treated to lovely drinks and food, and not having to handle monetary exchanges meant we don’t need to formalise an organisational structure and the further administrative load that entails. I think it’s really important that more people have the opportunity to go, but I’m eager to find a way for that to happen without losing the lovely sense of intimacy that permeated the day. On the third hand, having organising multiple streams during the day means we can really go into detail and cover a lot more ground.

There is a full list of bloggers who attended (thanks to Mellie), and I’ve set up a twitter list here. I’m conscious that I haven’t mentioned everyone; I encourage you to check out the full list.

The conference was sponsored by Daylesford and Hepburn Water, Der Raum, Prentice Wine, Red Hill Brewery, SBS Food, StreetSmart – Helping the Homeless, St Ali and The Essential Ingredient.

NB – this post is brought to you by an absence of blurry iphone photos. Not that there aren’t any, but they’re not mine – my phone’s from Aldi.

Emica is celebrating Slava

I have the good fortune to have married into a Balkan family – Montenegrin and Serbian, to be precise. One of the many great things about getting to know another culture intimately is the extra excuses for excessive eating. It was my in-laws’ Slava today, which, traditionally speaking, now makes it my Slava too. Slava is part of the Orthodox tradition and is a family’s saint day. Every family has a different saint day, although there are more families than saints so there’s a fair bit of cross over. Back in the day, Slava was a serious religious occasion, celebrated with a visit to church and the priest calling on the family and giving them a blessing. Traditionally, a bread decorated with the sign of the cross and other religious symbols was served along with “koljivo”, which is boiled wheat with nuts and spices.

Celebrating Slava was not generally encouraged in socialist Yugoslavia, although many people did still observe it. These days Slava seems to be celebrated as an occasion to get the family together and eat pork. I am very enthusiastic about both family get togethers and roast pig, so today I did sticky pork ribs with rum glaze (thanks Nigella) and homemade coleslaw, plus smashed potatoes (thanks Jill Dupleix) and rye bread – minus the family bit, seeing as we’re on the other side of the world. I have to admit, it was a bit off piste with the rum glaze – a whole pig on a spit would probably have been more authentic – but it was in keeping with the two Balkan mainstays of pork and cabbage. And, anyway, the other thing I’ve learnt about Balkan culture is that they really know how to have a good time and these ribs were really, really finger licking good.

slava

Julie and Julia and Nigel and Pammy Faye

meryl

Oh the joys of going to the cinema – especially when driven by our loyalty to PDP! We thought we were attending a foodlover’s premier of a promising-looking film about cooking and cookbooks. The good reviews of the filmic biography of Julia Child, starring Meryl Streep, sucked us in.

What we ended up experiencing was a special foodies night for a sweetly entertaining flick that was indeed about Mrs Child, the author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but also – its contemporary theme – about food blogging! Co-starring the very perky Amy Adams: Julie and Julia, the film by Nora Ephron pressed more buttons than we had anticipated…

Apparently the Dendy assumes foodies are easily stimulated. It wasn’t a premiere, so what did we get for our extra ten bucks?

cocktails

There were “free” tiny tipple cocktails (Bernini’d champagne) and on each seat a show bag of three samples including ten sea salted half macadamias, a teaspoon of lime and white pepper gianduja chocolate, half a teaspoon of vanilla salt, some Canberra Centre propaganda, and then three quarters of an hour of slightly naff food and cocktail demos. Naff though it was, it did feature Emmanuel the slowest “cocktail barista” ever to grace the stage, plus a non-committal but cliché-ridden master-sommelier-in-training. Nevertheless they did treat us to a very yummy soup-son the size of a twenty cent piece made from the vanilla salt cured salmon on a bed of mascapone cheese with horseradish. Soup-son? All the sophisticated French words were anglicized or malapropped by the Executive Chef, Neil Abrahams (vinegar-ette, acicity) throughout the event.

opening

The film starts with a lot of 1940s car sex. We were transfixed by the art director’s perfect reconstruction of late 1940s Paris, as the bored but larger-than-life (and seemingly always inebriated) Julia Child squeezed her way through narrow streets in a monstrous Buick Woody Wagon, and through classic French street markets with her engaging and endlessly diplomatic husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci). Then we were fast-forwarded to a flat in Queens in 2002, to meet an equally bored 29-year-old Julie Powell, a frustrated would-be novelist stuck in a dead-end job taking sympathy calls post 9/11. While she’s much sharper than her yuppy friends, she doesn’t know what to do with her itchy mind.

The one thing they both love is food. Julie remembers her mother’s first Julia Child boeuf bourguignon, while Julia overcomes the barriers of gender and gaucherie to become a Cordon Bleu chef. The French, she discovers, “eat French food everyday: Heaven!” As we follow Julia passionately demystifying French recipes, we watch Julie discovering her own foodie passions via a self-imposed blog challenge (“I could write a blog. I have thoughts!”). She sets out to blog her way through every recipe in Julia’s book in a year, 536 recipes in 365 days. Time and space are nicely compressed as Julie becomes Julia. Almost.

Between postings in Paris and Marseilles, then somewhere in Germany, and then somewhere in Norway, and ultimately back “home” in the USA, there were lots of “yum” food pix and sequences. Julia discovered a correspondence between “hot cock” and cannelloni, while Julia (stuck in Queens) discovered that the poached egg was “like melted cheese”. Hmmm. Both husbands survived the “you can’t have too much butter” mantra.

But it was cute. Julie found the courage to boil live lobsters; discovered she had fans who actually read her daily purge; finally mastered the art of deboning a chook; saved her marriage from her own obsessive egotism; got an interview in the NYT and subsequently got flooded with publishing offers. All of this inspired by the spirit of Julia. Apart from a slightly sooky offering-in-homage of a half-pound of butter in a Julia Childs memorial in the Smithsonian at the end of the film, this is a delightful tale of food and love and blogging. A combination made in heaven.

Live blogging the after-party party

[By Ampersand Duck] Aloha from chez PDP, where Jethro is mushing up tinned tomatoes in the tin with a bread & butter knife whilst yelling like a ninja, Zoe is explaining how hard the Bhutanese neighbours can party to my lovely brother-in-law (S) who has been to Bhutan and loves it, all the other kids are battling at deafness level in the loungeroom, Best Beloved and Dr Sista Outlaw are quietly and tired-ly drinking their way through some of the Studio Warming leftover booze, and Owen is supervising the Pudding-Off boiling on a couple of gas burners in the front yard.

We are all high from a great afternoon, where I did not much more than stand and talk to most of the guests (I missed some, or pretty much anyone who didn’t push in and make themselves known)and take lots of kind and gushy compliments — but I was only able to do this because of this fabulous bunch of people. They cooked, chopped, plated (!), laid out glasses, poured, cleaned, washed and picked up. I’ve never been in the position to need that sort of back-up, and I can see how it could be pretty addictive [Naomi, aka Dr Sista Outlaw, requested that I mention that Underground Lovers are on in the background. Wow, so they are. The layers of sound in this room are amazing.]; I’m jealous of people who have agents and managers.

We are going to celebrate a successful celebration by eating. My initial thought was to go to a restaurant, since I thought everyone would be sick of kitchenwork, but generous Zoe wants to feed us all, so she’s whipping up a quick bacon & tomato pasta for the kids, and we’re having a mushroom and truffle risotto (she made me smell fresh truffle at the markets this morning… OMG). But we can’t eat too much because we have not one, not two but THREE full-size Christmas puddings to taste and discuss… three versions of the same pudding, cooked by BB, Naomi and Zoe, and the differences and quality will be taken very seriously.

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Demystification recipes: blog amnesty edition

A few weeks ago I did a session on things to cook with possibly unfamiliar things from the Asian grocery store for my women’s group. I came home and started to write it up, and then my laptop died and I am still resting between computers. On a borrowed laptop for the moment, and claiming the blog Amnesty originated by Eating With Jack and used to such great effect by Jackie herself, then extended by Claire of Melbourne Gastronome and enthusastically (and gratefully) joined by Ed from Tomatom and Sarah of Sarah Cooks. It’s twitter’s fault.

This is approximately how much stuff you need to demystify your average Asian grocery store, with the addition of a bonus Hairy McClary backpack full of nappies, wipes, toddler snacks and a cold drink. If your car is getting fixed, you’ll be needing a large hand truck. Fortunately I didn’t have far to go.

img_1990 goodies

When you get there you’ll need tables to fill up with all manner of until-now mysterious things, like giant packets of fungus and small jars of stinky fermented tofu, bundles of greens, jars full of bark, tiny bottles of mustard oil so pungent it burns your nasal hairs, etc, etc.

I think one reason why some people are cautious about buying things from an Asian grocery store is that so much stuff is packaged, and if you don’t know what it is, or what the thing you want looks like, it gets confusing. So we ripped open all the plastic and set about rehydrating, sniffing, poking and tasting.

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Pamela Faye: Eating in a North Westerly Direction

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ETD 7 days…

As the day of my departure looms closer, signs of pre-trip anxiety are beginning to leak out of me and forebode a chaotic week ahead. As if irrational dreams and inexplicable tears are not enough, this morning I put my expensive Italian stove-top coffee maker in the microwave (instead of on the stove top where it rightly belongs). I zapped it on high for at least a minute before I realised what I had done. Amazingly only the plastic knob suffered, now resembling a charcoalled marshmallow.

The plums are rotting on the tree and the yard is beginning to smell like cheap Spanish wine. No time to jam myself (!), so I salvaged what I could and took them over to Mother to deal with.

Family farewell lunch today, during which I ate enough carbs to see me through to Alice Springs. This blog could be over before it even began. My contribution to lunch was a bakers dozen of some banana walnut muffins (no maple today, feeling a bit povo). They’ve come out rather nicely – good to know that even when all else goes to shit my muffins still rise to the occasion. Mother’s chocolate cake was delicious, if a little wobbly. And yes, those are Ken Done place mats…

(Click photos to embiggen)


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