The Art of le macaron

Macarons might be the new cupcake, but their place in the sweet treat fashion stakes is apparently about to be usurped by the whoopie pie phenomenon. Or so I’m told. I can’t see how whoopie pies (so named because of the whoopie Amish farmers emitted on opening their lunchpails and spying the little cakey-buttercream-filled morsels, known also as a gob, a bob, a black and white, and a hucklebuck) can even compete with the jewelled, dainty, French macarons…but each to his own.
While the specific origin of the macaron is disputed…some say French, some say Italian, it was Ladurée of Paris who perfected the art of the two little coloured almond meringue discs, sandwiched with a rich and flavourful buttercream.
Macaron creation is fraught with peril. It seems that so much can go wrong and it usually does when the home baker rolls up their sleeves, dons an apron and optimistically tries to create the stuff dreams are made of. I once interviewed a macaron maker in Christchurch who had taken a year to perfect her macaron recipe. Now, that is dedication.
The ultimate macaron has two delicate shells which are crisp on the outside and pillowy on the inside, joined with a rich and well flavoured buttercream. Humidity, a bad oven, over-mixing and impatience are the enemy of the perfect macaron. 
I joined nine other macaron hopefuls at the Chateau Cuisine cooking class in Sandringham and we gave it our best shot. We did discover some of the pitfalls of macaron creation, most notably, heavy-handed mixing on the part of my salted caramel team. This meant our little jewels were a little flatter than everybody else’s. However, looks aren’t everything, it’s what’s on the inside that counts and, if it’s salted caramel on the inside, you have a winner on your hands even if the meringue didn’t have the little jaunty peak the others achieved. Between us, we produced lychee, salted caramel, raspberry, lemon and espresso macarons. Oh là là. Magnifique.


Salted caramel


New War at The Tote

The Tote is a Melbourne institution. In a climate which is seeing the disappearance of many of the iconic live music venues, The Tote boasts 30 years of live music. This did all very nearly come to an end on 15 January, 2010 when it was announced that the Tote would be closing its doors that very weekend. A massive 2000 people turned out to show their dismay at this decision and their support for the venue.

The hotel was originally called the Ivanhoe Hotel and opened in 1876. It became the Tote hotel in the 80s and has been welcoming punk, rock and hardcore bands since then. Walking in to The Tote you are assailed by that heady fragrance of a lot of beers spilled into the carpet and the subtle undertones of vomit. You know this place has history.

The lineup on this particular Saturday night included New War, a local band, and EMA from the States.

New War played a short, intense set. I’m a fan, having heard their track, Ghostwalking, on the radio.  But it has to be said that this band may always remain a support band. They gave a very introverted performance which gave the impression they had no need of the audience and in fact, the vibe was very much, don’t-care-ish.

On the other hand, headliner EMA, played with the audience, appreciated our presence and ‘gave out’ in her performance. I am adding to the hot bloggability of EMA, touted in one particular week, as the most blogged about artist of the week. She is also said to be an ‘artist to watch’. And I watched her.

How to describe her sound….she has been variously categorized under indie, noise rock, punk grunge, urban storytelling (??), drone folk.

I liked it. But to be honest, a few songs in, I got the idea and didn’t feel like listening any more.


Friday night in Chinatown. Everyone was there. Well, strictly speaking, not everyone was there but the first two recommended choices on the restaurant list had long queues coming out the door, so, you know…busy. So it had to be a place with the very uninspiring name of Ant’s Bistro. An enigmatic name for a Chinese restaurant. 
Ant’s Bistro is an eccentric and slightly quaint establishment. The menu is huge and a little overwhelming, but there is the ‘popular’ page, which bodes well. Surely if everyone orders these dishes and they are popular, they must be good. And some of the entries are endorsed by the menu writer…’a favourite with many’…’do not miss this’. Regrettably, I did not order the Turnip Puff Pastry, because if I had I could answer your questions about what ‘straightly vegetarian’ actually looks like and I did miss the wonder of the dragon buns in favour of a variety of dim sims. Then it was Imperial Chicken, which won out over Minister Chicken, despite the endorsement : “Chicken spare ribs fired with house spicy sauce, very exciting”. Very exciting, perhaps, but what are chicken spare ribs? The waitress recommended Imperial Chicken because it was just as exciting, but used chicken meat rather than the spare ribs. I think it is always good to leave something to the imagination…

Signs and wonders

If you are looking for a sign, as I so often am…an explanation to the universe, other people’s ways, your own internal workings, Heffernan Lane in Chinatown is the place to go. Of course, you then have the challenge of deciphering the signs before you can apply any sort of wisdom to your own situation…

I probably wouldn’t spend too much time wondering about the implications of this last one. I just liked the textural brickiness of it. Brickiness. It’s a word.

I feel it all

Feist. Or Leslie Feist, as her parents called her almost 36 years ago…it’s her birthday in 2 weeks (I’m not stalking her…really). I love her.

Leslie Feist is a Canadian indie folk singer. That sounds mellow and as though she is wearing an embroidered top and has plaits. Her music can be mellow. At other times her music is loud and intense, although always in control. Amazing voice.

The special guests heralded on the ticket were a group who go by the unpromising name of Mountain Man. I was picturing a bearded man in a red lumberjack shirt. Really. Far from it. Three lovely ladies with the voices of angels who harmonized so sublimely that it was one of those taken-to-my-happy-place moments. Not the kind of moment where you wish you were elsewhere because the current situation is so dreadful, but they transported me with their ethereal sound to place so beautiful that words fail me. You can hear them on bandcamp:

So Feist at the Palais on the first day in February. She was just so darned lovely. A big old packed out Palais and, yet,  it felt personal and special. Like we were all sharing in something great. Sometimes you go to gigs and think you could have just stayed at home and listened to it on cd. But this was far from that. Her voice is amazing live. She had so much energy and cuteness on stage and was very very funny. Her chats between songs were gold. She was interactive and playful with the audience. We were putty in her hands. We did anything she asked…hummed 3 part harmony, stood up and danced even though that is against Palais regulations, clapped a rhythm. We were all there together. With Leslie Feist.