Saturday, February 21, 2009

To do, to drink, to cook, to spend

2009 began as the year of lists for me. Since January I’ve been jotting down in my diary “to-do”s, “to-read”s, “to-drink”s and so on. I have 2 diary pages full of wines to try already and an even larger list of books to read. Albums to listen to, restaurants to try (listed according to suburb) and the odd recipe have nearly all but filled the unused dates left behind in January.

Shortly I’m going to have to start a “recipes to cook” list too. I’ve always had a folder of clippings which I like to try before they are transferred to a more permanent collection, but now my delicious magazines are starting to stack up. The new edition arrived yesterday before I’d cooked anything from the last month’s. This is in part due to our trip to Perth and to S-bo playing a greater role in the kitchen while I partake in extra-curricular activities (sailing, pilates, tennis, touch football…how good is summer). I’m very thankful and fortunately he’s really enjoying it.

I’ve heard of people who cook practically everything in the magazine before the month is up and I wonder how I could justify buying such a range of ingredients, often exotic, every month. And this brings me back to my lists above. It’s all very well to have these lists, but they do tend to clash with my conservative spending tactics. I don’t deliberately set out to save money, I just can’t escape the values instilled from an early age by my bank manager father. Compared to my parents’ generation I live an extravagant lifestyle, however I think that by “Gen-Y” standards I really don’t spend much at all. I don’t buy new clothes every week and, more importantly, I really struggle to treat myself to dinner at a top restaurant for anything other than a very special occasion. Let alone order three courses. What kind of foodie am I? I love Melbourne’s liberal licensing laws and the great venues it fosters, but I miss Sydney’s BYO trend and the ability to have a great bottle of wine over dinner for half the price. I cling to restaurants in my area that do BYO every night of the week, as they are rare in my immediate surroundings.

Still, I think I will clutch these lists all year. I’ll know exactly what to pick up in the bottle shop on the way to a friend’s house for dinner and I’ll have perfect book ideas for birthday presents. What’s more, I’ll have ready access to restaurant ideas for those nights when you find yourself in the city, or a little-explored suburb, and can’t decide where to eat. Slowly, very slowly I’ll tick great restaurants off my list, only to have more added by the continuing life-cycle of Melbourne openings.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Cooking Pizza at Home

S-bo and I returned from Perth just over two weeks ago and were greeted at 2am by a house that was surely hotter than the outside temperature of 30 degrees. Our camelia ("Jen", shown below with SPF paper bag) was burnt and the herbs survived only thanks to the Foges and her watering visits.
What does one eat when the weather is so hot? Salads of course. Any food that requires no cooking and minimal time in the kitchen. Certainly you would be a fool to turn the oven up to 25o degrees and cook pizza, wouldn't you? Well call S-bo and I fools, but that's exactly what we did.

We've been talking about it for a while, this pizza making business. Postulating about all the money we'd save if Friday's takeaway pizza and wine turned into homemade pizza with cleanskin. So 2 weeks ago, armed with yeast and a rolling pin, we made our own dough to save dough. And what a success. We have a long way to go before they're perfect, and a pizza stone will probably be the first step, but this venture was a winner.

A simple recipe of 1 tsp sugar, 2 tsp dry yeast, 1 cup warm water, 450 g flour, 1 tsp salt and 60 ml olive oil got us underway. Although I imagine we should experiment with a few different dough recipes. As far as toppings go we've been pretty ad hoc, but the spicy salami has been a standout success.

So taken were we with making our own pizzas that we made them again the following weekend in the company of V. Also accompanying us was a bottle of 2002 Juniper Estate Cab Sav from Margaret River. As a result of the heatwave we came very close to losing some good bottles of wine we'd put aside. It was disappointing to discover all the bleeding corks however the recent events in Victoria helped keep our emotions in check. People have lost lives and homes and we simply lost a couple of bottles of wine. Although "lost"is a little dramatic. Our friends from Sydney Wine Centre have told us that, whilst it's not ideal, we just need to drink the wine within 6-12 months. I can handle 6 months of drinking our better wines! The Juniper was great, as was last night's 04 Cab Sav from Dominique Portet, thanks to N1&N2.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Wine and Music

I still have one more post to write about the trip to Perth. I have some random jottings in my diary to ensure I don't forget the details, all I need now is time to sit down and write it out. No easy task when I've since returned from WA, been to Tassie and back, and about to go to Darwin. But here is something I wrote whilst on the way to Perth, after reading the Australia Day Long Weekend edition of the Australian Financial Review.

Tim White wrote a brief, but intersting article in AFR about possible relationships between wine and music. One example was a session tasting Rose accompanied by Rachmaninov's Second Symphany (in E minor). Apparently an enjoyable combination. White mentions a researcher, Clark Smith, who, I would assume from the article, has investigated relationships between food and wine. Apparently his theory is that grape varieties respond differently in the presence of differing music styles. (I presume this refers to music being played whilst tasting, as opposed to serenading vines...)

The scientist in me is horrified at my secondary referncing for this post. Ideally I should search this Clark Smith guy and quote from the source. However I'm penning (literally) on a plane, with little (no) resources for research, and it has me wondering. Does music really affect the taste of wine or do we draw on common connotations shared by varieties and music alike. For example, drinking a clean, crisp Pinot Gris goes hand-in-hand with afternoon al fresco grazing, as does the laid back sounds of acoustic folk music. Thus one could clearly see a complimentary connection between the two.

I'd love to hear about your favourite wine and music combos. However whilst you are sitting back, sipping and listening, spare a thought for the victims of Australia's bushfire tragedy as we near 7 days on. Click here to donate to the Red Cross Victorian Bushfire Appeal or here to donate to Wildlife Victoria.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Eating in Perth. Part II

Having been back in sweltering Melbourne for 3 days Perth is now a cool memory and it is a full week since we enjoyed Australia Day Long weekend in the western capital. Of course we attended a wedding which was a highlight, but the weekend was also filled with some great eating.

Sunday morning Lovely & the Doctor took us to their neighbourhood brunch spot, John St cafe. Popular with the pram set, this place was busy and we were told to expect a 15 minute wait for a table. As it was a leisurely Sunday we didn't mind, until we noticed that those who came around the same time as us were not only seated, but eating. Checking in with the waitress
it was discovered that a devious bruncher had pretended to be us. Perhaps we should have hovered around the entrance instead of politely waiting near the coffee window. Perhaps the waitress should begin writing brief descriptions if she can't remember groups ie. 'Ali, 4, green shirt'. Either way the queue jumper is destined for bad karma I'm sure (our good karma came the next day when we jagged a prime parking spot at the beach).

I got the impression that John St Cafe is a bit of a "place to be" and you couldn't blame people for wanting to enjoy their weekend breakfast under such huge norfolk pines. The food on offer contained standard breakfast ingredients in both regular and not-so regular combinations, including the vegetarian stack (above) with hollondaise. My pick, being a non-egg eater, was the breakfast bagel, smeared with cold cream cheese, bacon cooked to perfection and a slightly-too slim wedge of avocado.

Despite the initial hiccup we left satisfied, a decent coffee under our belts to kick-start the day. It should be mentioned that a return visit yielded a weak, lukewarm coffee so lets hope the latter, rather than the former, is the exception.

The next day we were feeling a little slow after our friend's wedding the previous night but a quick dip at North Fremantle beach perked things up. Heading down to the centre of Fremantle we wandered around and explored the markets. I thought the fruit and veg looked especially vibrant and fresh, particularly as I'm becoming sceptical of the freshness of some produce I've been picking up at South Melbourne Markets. After a prolonged period inhaling the aromas of flavoured coffee, which I'm happy to smell but probably wouldn't drink, we felt it was our duty as out-of-towners to head down to Little Creatures Brewery.

I'd heard a lot of this place and certainly sampled their pale ale in the past, but I didn't really know what to expect. What I found was an energetic space into which a lot of time, effort and money has been poured to achieve the effortless. They did it well. Wooden tables, booths and schoolyard style steel chairs have been assembled as though the brewers stumbled upon an early 1980's government auction and thought "hey, lets buy this stuff and set up a bar in our massive shed".

We had our pick of tables,which I'm told is unheard of, so when it got a little warm outside we easily packed up and shifted inside. Fortunately this placed us under the care of a seemingly more competent waiter. We had a few beers, the famous frites with aioli and what S-bo claimed to be the best Nachos he's had! It's a huge call but I can't refute it. With beef, chunky guacamole and, of course, sour cream it offered a just-westernised dish, topped with the most amazing jalepenos to give that extra mexican zing.

Our day was destined to end at an Australia Day bbq but we were just to comfortable at Little Creatures. We bypassed the bbq and even the Triple J Hottest 100 countdown and eventually made our way home for more delayed telecast Australian Open.