Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Authentic Happiness

Meditative March has made me all thoughtful and stuff. Less talk more action seems to be the motto. I've been busy socialising, cooking and living my life, too busy to be recording it all, which is starting to seem like such a ludicrous concept by the way.

I'm torn between two generations: X and Y. I  was born somewhere in between the two, either the end of X or the beginning of Y, no one is able to decide the exact dates that define the generations. Either way, I sway between the two like a fish being pulled by the tide. As much as I love technology I despise it. As much as I want to be connected I want to disappear.

Is there anybody out there? What is all this for? What's the purpose? The last is the biggest question.

What am I doing all this for? Who am I? Do I have to pick who I want to be? Who cares where I ate at on the weekend?

The last couple of weeks my writing has been inconsistent. I have a backlog of cafes I need to write the reviews for and photos to edit. That shit is weighing me down. When did it stop being fun and start being a drag?

It's Bourdain's fault, that rat bastard. He's got it made. I want what he's got. The traveling and the eating with a big slice of culture in his face.

It was a slow and steady culmination of doing Bourdain-a-thons (watching back to back episodes of No Reservations horizontally on my couch wearing nothing but a T-shirt and my underwear, eating my shitty food while he tasted exotic things and got sloshed), reading my signed copy of Kitchen Confidential and meeting the bastard. Add my constant slutting around Sydney cafes and restaurants the last two months and the last straw of the Taste of Sydney Festival. But what could all this mean?

I've got all Bourdain things that I love on one hand, then all Sydney things which I also (should) love in the other. Shouldn't they all harmonise? Something hasn't been sitting right deep down in my gut, it didn't make sense. Like eating a dodgy meal which is sure to cause you pain later, it festers and churns.

It's what I've been thinking and feeling ever since I stepped foot on this massive island of ours called Australia, 22 years ago. There is no culture. There is no history. So without these two elements, what story are we trying to tell? I knew it back then as an eight year old and I know it now even better.

Food is history, food is culture, it's who we are, where we came from and where we are going.

The only story Taste of Sydney explicitly told me is how to cash in, how to pose like a real Sydney-sider and how desperate we are for something more real and tangible, for something authentic. This is the same story I've been told consistently in every Sydney cafe or restaurant I've dined in. The superficial transactions speak for themselves.

Kooky decor or random tid-bits collected from someones trash can and back yard garage sale? Voila. We have a new theme for a cafe!

Sydney and in fact Australia is asking for anything as long as it has some sort of story or even abstract interest, just to get away from our every day monotony and instead get the opportunity to be sophisticated and cultured and shit.

That's why I'm over it. I've been trolling through the multitude of food blogs out there and every fucker and his dog is a food critic. But they're not telling me what I really want to hear.

I'm putting this down and hope that you pick it up: I'm not a food critic, I don't know the French names or techniques for food. That's what the chefs are for. I just know what I like and what resonates with me deep down in my soul.

Who I am is a Greek raised on farms and living the urban life for a while now. I'm a citizen of the world, taking in different cultures and wanting to find out more. I'm looking to make connections between how I was raised and what my culture and family is about, with how I live my life today. This is a declaration damn it. That's what I want to share with you reading this right now. I want to tell you my story and hopefully help you build your own.

Like any true philosophizing Greek and my forefathers before me, I want to know what the meaning is. I want to search the deep recesses and figure out how we got here in the first place.

I said Australia has no culture or history. The reality is, it has almost if not all the cultures in the world living under one roof. What an awesome collective?! It's evident in the faces of its inhabitants, in the cuisines they dish out and the themes and ideas they prop up. We are truly spoilt for choice and opportunity and perhaps smaller collectives like Melbourne and Adelaide are becoming so successful at it (the authentic food thing) because they are able to stay true to this vision of sharing their experiences authentically. Luckily Sydney is catching up, especially with cool and fun initiatives or groups like 6 Degrees of Preparation.

This is our time, where we the invaders bring our influences and traditions and create a mish-mash for this, our new world. It's us creating out own story. This is our time of making history or at least understanding it.

So this is my vow. No more boring posts of "this is a cafe I ate at and the service was good and the coffee tasty". Fuck that boring shit, let Simon Food Favorites wade through that dredge. It's time we took it up a notch and explored ideas and what that cafe really means, what lies underneath the surface, find out what the real story is. It's time to reinvent myself and this blog. Its time to start a conversation with some real people.

Existential crisis number two complete for this year and it's only March. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Corn, Pumpkin & Saffron Risotto

I'm back from my three day hiatus. I needed a bit of a break from writing just to well, chill the fuck out. I went to the beach yesterday for a swim and read my book for four hours. It was soooo good!

I was inspired by the Fregola, Corn and Cornbread at Duke Bistro, I needed to get me some of that corn goodness and didn't want to cough up for it (after all, I'm on my lady of leisure budget which doesn't pay as well as a full time job). I had some fresh Salmon fillets and figured a corn risotto side would go down well. I was so right...

Corn, Pumpkin & Saffron Risotto

20mins prep time, approx. 30 mins cooking time, serves 4

olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ leek thinly sliced
1 cup risotto rice
splash white wine
1L fresh chicken stock liquid
1 cup shredded pumpkin
1 cup corn (cut fresh from corn cobs)
pinch saffron
sea salt
freshly shaved Parmesan cheese for garnish and to taste (optional)
  1. Melt the butter in a risotto pan with a splash of olive oil.
  2. Add the leek and stir until coated.
  3. Add the risotto rice and stir continuously until coated, then add a generous splash of white wine, continue stirring.
  4. Pour in some of the chicken stock liquid (approx. 125ml) and stir through the rice, as it evaporates add more and continue stirring.
  5. Stir through the saffron and pumpkin, then some stock. Stir in the corn.  
  6. Taste and add fresh sea salt if needed.
  7. Follow the basic process for risotto by alternating between adding the liquid stock and stirring. Do this until the rice is almost cooked and there is still liquid left in the pan so the risotto is sloppy. If the 1L stock is not enough, add warm water until the risotto is ready.
  8. Turn the heat off and serve immediately.
  9. If desired, add Parmesan to taste and garnish.
  • Next time I'd whizz the corn to shred it to pieces so it releases that corn creaminess.
  • You will need to stir continuously until the dish is cooked/finished. Risotto should never be left unattended or unstirred. Continuously stirring releases the rice's glutinous quality which is what makes the risotto creamy.
  • Risotto should be sloppy or soupy i.e runny, as opposed to dry. Also it should be slightly crunchy. Once the heat is turned off, the rice will continue to absorb the liquid and cook through, so by the time its served; its ready. In the picture above, I had let the risotto sit for approx. 15mins (not advised) hence why all the liquid had been absorbed. Risotto is best served immediately.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Fratelli Fresh Cooking Class

Cooking is my meditation, it's my time out and relaxation, it's my chance to be creative and to make something with love to share with others.

Some days I'm not inspired to make anything in particular, so I don't. There's nothing worse than forcing yourself to do something creative, it's doomed before you even start.

Fratelli Fresh offer free teaser cooking classes during the week. Being a lady of leisure on a small budget, this was a great way to keep me entertained for an afternoon and meet new people.

The class is approximately one hour and it's run by two cooks from Cafe Sopra. The bargain bit is that you get insider tips on how to recreate delicious dishes ala Cafe Sopra direct from the people that make them.

Our instrictors were Will and Phillipa.

You register online, get email confirmation, then Fratelli Fresh ring you the day before to confirm your attendance. Points for customer service and organisation.

The shitty thing for them was that quite a few people cancelled last minute. Good for us that rocked up as it meant we had a cooking bench all to ourselves, as opposed to partnering up.

They had all the ingredients set out on the bench, pre-prepared and portioned.

We got a printed copy of the recipes for reference whilst cooking and to take home.

The class is quite simple. We didn't run through technical cooking terms or (many) preparation techniques. Instead they showed us the sequence of events for each recipe, gave us some handy hints on the produce and provided possible alternatives for some ingredients.

Recipe #1: Shaved zucchini, fennel and green olive salad.

Recipe #2: Amatriciana.

Will tried to make it interesting by researching where Amatriciana originated from. He loves the history of food. And isn't food and culture so intertwined anyway?

In his disappointment, the story was really boring, therefore not providing him with the informative ammunition to excite us students over this pasta dish.

I cross referenced my Italian cookbook:
"Although a standard of Roman cooking today, the dish is named for, and possibly originally comes from, the ancient town of Amatrice in far northeastern Lazio, near the borders of Umbria, in Marche, and Abruzzo. One explanation for its popularity in the Italian capital is that several of the chefs who served in the Vatican came from Amatrice. The sauce is often made with pancetta, but it is traditionally flavoured with the milder cured pork jowl called guanciale...." (Andrews, 2011)
I stuffed some of the food in my face and took the leftovers to my hubby for dinner.

As far as salad goes, you don't make friends with it. So the Amatriciana was my favourite dish of the two. So simple yet so tasty. Horror of horrors I've never made a sauce with fresh cherry tomatoes before, so I found this fascinating. I think it's my mum's fault. She always made her own passata (I have memories seared in my brain of 40 degrees Celsius summers spent crushing and bottling tomatoes in our garage - itchy) so automatically I have a tendency to use passata or crushed canned tomatoes for my sauces. In addition, the last time I ate a tomato that actually smelled and tasted and was sweet like tomatoes are supposed to be, was probably back then too circa 1992.

The cooking class helped me connect with like minded people (the cooks, as the attendees were pretty much mute and had minimal personality) as well as awaken some rustic, home style simplicity I seem to have been missing lately. I miss pasta. I want to invent some pasta dishes pronto.

Colman Andrews (2011). The Country Cooking of Italy. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. p95.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Taste of Sydney Festival

Sydney delivered a gloriously warm and pleasant day yesterday to make sure the Taste of Sydney Festival went off without a hitch. Much needed after the rained out/cancelled opening night on Thursday.

The swivelling piggy promised a great night...

The deal is you pay for entry ($25 pre-purchased or $30 at the door), and this gets you entry and a complimentary copy of the Gourmet Traveller magazine. WHOOPEE. That's just free advertising for them anyway. Then you buy "crowns" which is the festival currency that you use to purchase food and drink with. I bought $30 worth of crowns (they come in lots of $10, $30 and $50). Already I'm $55 out of pocket; $4 of which went to buying an empty plastic wine glass. I wish I'd brought my own. Jipped.

I hadn't been to the Taste of Sydney Festival before. It looked really "white", clinical, synthetic. White tents encircling you everywhere with row after row of wine producer and the odd bakery or vegetable or condiment stall, with some food stalls shoved in between for good measure. I got the eerie sense that it was almost too well organised, like not enough chaos or pandemonium happening to make things interesting. Everything was so shiny and well groomed.

We tended to stick around the sustainability corner as it had the most colour and life in the place.

The colour it seems, came out as the night progressed. I found it in the detail of the food, the stains on my wine glass and the faces of the people that I spoke to. Of course knocking back some vino helped in making this colour stand out. It loosened up the stiffness of what was a really boring party which your friend dragged you along to, and you had arrived so early that you stood in the corner praying for more people to come so that you could blend in and then quietly and stealthily exit stage right or left or whatever got you the hell out of there, pronto.

The presence of A Tavola did make me happy though.

I got the pasta with ragu - delicious. I just wished that for $12 there was more of it. It was like a teenager not sure if they lost their virginity or not. Does putting in the tip of the penis count?

For a Sydney event, there was a friendly vibe which is mostly attributed to the few (country) producers willing to chat about what they're passionate about. Like this hottie that told us about his father's vineyard.

And our new mate Gavin that showed us different composting methods and his whizz-bang African beehive.

The rest seemed to have sales people at their stalls or were selling themselves, with good humour of course.

There were quite a few swanky bars and beat stations set up, but why the fuck didn't anyone dance? I guess they were too busy posing, or working, or both.

It seemed that everyone was so beaten down by their work week that they couldn't just let go and cut loose. Footloose. Instead they relapsed into their sedated Friday night limbo.

I feel slightly unsatisfied, discontent. Would I go again? Only if I snuck in a bottle of expensive red vino (for me) and acid trips or happy brownies for all the other fuckers in there.

Bring back the salad days, the messy days of the Norwood Food & Wine Festival spilling onto the streets of Adelaide. Now that was a food and wine festival. No entry fee, no fucking festival currency, no fencing, no gimmicks. Just awesome food, wine and music; with DJs cutting loose and people dancing the day away in the streets with a healthy dose of police intervention.

Lose the pretentiousness Sydney. It's boring.

Friday, March 9, 2012

KONY 2012

The last 48hrs or so have seen the KONY 2012 campaign spread like wildfire. A viral phenomenon.

It’s complicated. There are many sides to the story; just depends what angle you’re coming from.

Let's get one thing straight. Killing, kidnapping, mutilating or exploiting children or any human being for that matter, is not on. That’s clear and any sane person would support this. Equal human rights to all, damn it. Shouldn’t we all be able to sleep at night, minus the fear of getting kidnapped, and with the knowledge that our next meal is in the bag?

What’s unclear to me is what happens after Joseph Kony is captured, killed and mutilated (ironic much)?

Photograph: AP via The Guardian UK.

I know, I know, one thing at a time. But was I the only crazy person looking down that list of the UN’s public enemies, when it appeared on the Kony video? The second dude on there is also from Uganda, no doubt running his own shindig of a child army, waiting in the wings, prepped and ready to go and be crowned in the number one position once Kony is eliminated. A fact not further verified, but if its not another crazy Ugandan that takes prime position, then it will be another crazy fucker from a dirt ditch somewhere.

Ask yourself: why does Kony have so much power in the first place? He promises hope, direction and a future to an otherwise powerless and unhopeful children. Plus he has lots of guns and an army you can belong to. Strenght in numbers. Surely its better being the tyrant than the one being tyrannised?

The real problem is not solved by the barrel of a gun. The real problem is not targeting one crazy mother fucker.

Uganda needs education, health care, sustainable farming practices, housing, etc. They need to be shown the tools to lift themselves out of poverty. Not a temporary bandaid solution fuelled by gunfire and hate, making us just as bad as Kony himself.

Education exposes people to new ideas, it opens their eyes, it inspires them, it makes them drive for more, it gives them a future, and it gives them options. Education raises the standard of living.

The solution is targeting the masses and fighting poverty through education.

You’ll tell me Invisible Children are doing this too, helping rebuild schools and shit. Good for them. But that wasn’t the point of the video. Let’s look at the big picture, the cheat sheet if you must, the cliff notes: the video makes KONY public enemy #1. Kill and eradicate him using US military support, by 31 December 2012. Tick-tock, time is running out.

My first reaction was to repost the video on Facebook and share it with all my “friends” and networks. I don’t regret it. I think it’s horrendous what’s happening to those little kids and people, in fact everyone out there should know about it. There are a lot of us living in our own, blessed bubbles, so to start with, awareness is paramount. It's what happens next that counts.

So many of us felt good spreading this message, becoming now not only a spectator of evil in the world, but a contributor to a greater, bigger cause that promises to eliminate this evil and unite the world.

Bullshit. I feel more helpless than ever.

I just told you what I think the real solution is (scroll up five paragraphs). I just don’t know how to go about it.

Others felt well, finally informed about one baddie in this world.

In this digital age, where the internet and our lives are swamped with an enormous amount of meaningless crap, it’s refreshing to see some emotive content with substance that spreads awareness about important issues such a child abuse and slavery. If I saw yet another Rihanna video of her rubbing herself on an automobile, or rolling around in a bed, I was going to scream. So I’ll give Invisible Children that much.

Where to next?

There are many other causes out there in this wide world of ours that we must become aware of. Sometimes you wish you didn’t know, because then you won’t have to do anything about it. So you either look no further, or if you stumble across it (an issue) like the KONY video because every fucker out there is sharing it, lucky for you there’s social media. Just re-share that video, cough up some cash and switch the TV channel to reruns of the Kardashians. It’s as easy as that. Problem solved.

On the other hand, I consider myself a citizen of the world, which with it comes some sort of global awareness. Hence why I feel so overwhelmed by all the bad in this world. It's so complicated, it's never black and white. Like a big fucking corporation, there are always so many politics and agendas involved and things at play, persistently lurking underneath the murky surface and influencing.

So for me, I think I need to break it down to one small and simple step at a time. I’m going to finally write that letter to my sponsor children. Before this I never knew what to write to them. Now I do.

I will tell them what my migrant parents told me my whole life: keep studying and make something of yourself. It’s hard but persist. Keep working towards building a brighter future for yourself and those around you.

Then I’ll figure out the rest. Like actually helping build a school or something.