flavour odyssey

Someone once told me never to eat a quantity of food larger than your head.
That golden rule has been broken. Well and truly. But boy was it worth it.
When the prerequisite for being invited to a birthday degustation dinner by chefs from Cumulus and Coda is that you are able to eat anything, there is no point talking about your aversion to egg-shaped fruit. I mean really. What is that about anyway?
I was excited to be one of the chosen four at the dinner won at a charity auction and I knew I would be in for a treat. But I really had no idea of the food journey on which I was about to embark. One of the most impressive things was that all the incredible food came from a smart little food trailer parked out the front of the host’s house. Trailer Made food is a new business started up by Casey. Look out for it around Melbourne. She was joined by Thi from Cumulus, Jon from Coda and Kim, formerly of Cumulus. Absolute talent. And the food just kept on coming, one sensational homage to flavour, texture and exquisite pleasure after another.
A post ago I was virtuously proclaiming my desire to connect with the food chain. Tonight, I do believe I ate the whole chain.
the menu
*  *  *
Spicy chickpeas with fried tripe, pig’s ear and pork crackling 
Coffin bay oysters with iced tea granita and wasabi
Pan seared scallops with corn purée and popcorn
Latkes with pickled beetroot with and aioli
Quinoa salad with orange dressing, fried artichoke, pomegranate and yoghurt, garnished fried parsley
Sweetbreads with yoghurt, herb and chilli sauce, barramundi skin, pickled apples, coriander
Barramundi fingers coated in dukkah, raguvette (cornichon, capers, seeded mustard) on a bed of cucumber
Chicken lollipops: Israeli couscous, corn purée and sumac
Sticky beef buns with coleslaw and chilli sauce
Textures of chocolate: flourless chocolate, chocolate meringue, housemade aerated chocolate, white chocolate sorbet
Flambéed birthday cake: layered almond sponge, sour cherry jelly, white chocolate mousse, citrus curd smothered in Italian meringue 
*  *  *
the evidence

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adventure playgrounds

On the evocatively named Neptune Street in St. Kilda, whose access is by way of a labyrinth of tiny one way streets, there’s an adventure waiting to happen. The St Kilda Adventure Playground. Trampolines, halfpipe, flying fox, treehouse, pirate ship and a spiral slide…the whole kaleidiscopic array of mayhem is as anti-PC as you can get. And it is so exciting.

In a world where children are wrapped in cotton wool and their tiny muffled voices can scarcely be heard over the noise of the blades from their helicopter parents, this is an assail to the senses, a portal to creative and imaginative play. There is the potential for broken bones and cuts and grazes. But the richness of possibilities, discovery and learning about limits, without the limits being imposed in a sterile and overly protective way is particularly apparent here.

I take adventure playgrounds for granted. But then, I am a child of, well, let’s face it and own up to it, the seventies and eighties. We had adventure playgrounds. We also had whole continents and galaxies over the back fence in the ‘back paddock’, a high-grassed expanse of an empty section where all manner of adventures took place, and whose existence and exploitation by neighbourhood children seems rare in this day and age. We are all too precious or afraid nowadays for back paddocks and flying foxes.

The term, adventure playground, is a product of the Danish 1940s. A Danish landscape architect, noticed that children preferred to play everywhere but in the playgrounds that he built. Children preferred the chaos of a junkyard to his carefully imagined structures and lines. In 1931, he imagined “A junk playground in which children could create and shape, dream and imagine a reality.” His initial ideas started the adventure playground movement.

It is tempting to eliminate all chance of pain, getting hurt, for things not turning out the way we imagined they would, for perhaps having to seek out a band aid or even wear a cast for a few weeks. And then there are the giddy heights of being thrilled, of feeling as though the possibilities are endless, of just bouncing as much and as high as you can for three minutes before the next person in line starts losing it, overwhelmed as they are with the anticipation of bouncing. There is the wind in your face as the flying fox lurches down its trajectory path and the view out over the roofs from the top of the fort to the horizon.

Adventure playgrounds. Fraught with peril. But so worth it.

low and slow

Grow. Gather. Hunt. Cook. Living the good life.
Rohan Anderson has become a guru. I’m not sure that he wants that title. But he does want to share a way of life that he has embarked on and which he is passionate about. And he wants to share the goodness and the satisfaction he gets from it and the knowledge and appreciation of the process, the story behind the food. And people are increasingly curious. Some people. Perhaps not enough people. But if you build it, they will come. Surely.
And ten of us went on a cold winter’s weekend to a homestead on a farm in rural Victoria, near Daylesford.
I had read about Rohan and I liked what I read. I like food. I like to think that I think about the food I cook and eat. But Rohan really loves food and not in a gourmet foodie way. He really loves planting his garden and anticipating the harvest and savouring what the seasons offer, whether that is the two week window to sit under an Anzac peach tree, the juice dripping down his beard and the absolute enjoyment of its sun-kissed flavour, or the fact that his meat intake is regulated by what he can hunt or catch, or mandarins in winter just at the time when we need the vitamin C. And he likes preparing the food, thinking in advance about baking bread or making pasta.
When I read about the Whole Larder Love Workshops which Rohan and his lovely partner, Kate, have started running this year, I wanted to be part of it. But there was a process involved in deciding to go. I live in the city. I have always lived in the city. It feels a little bit bohemian bourgeois or potentially hipster to pay a significant amount of money to someone who has photos of real vegetables on his website…vegetables with dirt on them…just to get in touch with the food chain and to sleep in a stable. When you choose to participate in a weekend where you will dispatch a chicken and skin a rabbit, it has to be for the right reasons. 
For me, it was about knowledge. I like knowing the back story. One of the other workshop participants talked about how we come in on food at the halfway point. Often the meat we purchase bears no resemblance to its original form. Knowing the process and the story is becoming more important to me. And I have always been drawn to passionate people. I like hearing them talk about their passion. 
I have to admit, my intentions for the weekend were fairly vague. I was certainly seeking knowledge. And I was certainly exploring some of my own ideas surrounding food and cooking and living as we should. Having lived in France, I like the southern French approach of doing things ‘comme il faut’, in the way that they should be done. Much of their food centres on celebrating the flavour of the seasons and allowing the individual ingredients to shine rather than being fussy about trends and lots of complicated recipes. People often tar all French food with the heavy cream and butter brush. But once you cross the line around Nyons, you’re in peasant olive oil country where they gather dandelion leaves for salad, hunt for mushrooms and make seasonal produce the heroes. Simple pleasures take centre stage.
That’s what I want.
What I came away with was something more. I hadn’t anticipated the sense of community that I felt over this weekend. You never know who you will end with up on these weekend workshop type arrangements. But I felt lucky and enriched to share the experiences and the conversations with these like-minded people. Making bread and pasta and eating and drinking around the big table together.
I did dispatch a chicken. I was unsure whether I would be able to see it through. But I did it and saw my chicken through from alive to plucked, to gutted, to butchered. It wasn’t easy. I found it confronting. Who am I to take the life of a living creature for my benefit? The chicken didn’t want to die. As with any animal, it was perfectly happy its whole life except for one day. The day it died. These chickens were happy. Well, I don’t know that for sure, and I doubt you’d get a coherent answer from them if you asked. But they had been raised in good conditions. I respected my chicken. And I want to be more discerning now about where the food I eat comes from.
And I did skin a rabbit. It was a wild rabbit that Rohan had shot. I skinned, gutted and butchered it. In the rain. And cooked it last night, low and slow, with freshly made pasta and sauteed kale. Which is in season. And it’s a superfood.
Rohan is not advocating that we all move to the country and become self-sufficient. All he asks is that we live semi-sufficiently. That we pay attention to local producers and eat seasonally. That we live with purpose. 
And it’s not just about the food. It’s about the people that the food brings together. Getting back to basics with food and with people.
That’s it.

First night pizza

The stables

Breakfast

 

Fresh pappadelle with stinging nettle pesto




 


Rabbit burger

Big thanks to Rohan Anderson, Kate Berry, Jen Armstrong and my fellow Workshop 4 participants.

lovelorn(e)

A week in Lorne on the Great Ocean Road. Lucky me. And I do feel lucky because Lorne is beautiful. And staying in the Lorne Surf Club right on the beach with million dollar views was incredible. The fact that my reason for being there was Year 9 camp and that I was sharing the aforementioned views with 90 14-going-on-15 year olds somewhat skews the magnificence of it all.

Nevertheless. A week in Lorne.

And time out to wait and watch the sun rise for four mornings. That is a gift in itself.

The sun rises and sets every day. But there is nothing everyday about the times when we sit to watch it unfold.

It is exciting watching the sun rise. The anticipation, the spectacular colours, the sudden arrival. On the mornings I was watching, the sky was suffused with a beautiful deep pinky red which heralded the arrival of the sun. In that moment, I thought about what the sun had left behind, the people and countries it had just been illuminating. Then suddenly it broke the horizon and as soon as it popped up over the line where sea meets sky, the colour and beauty was gone.

But the feeling of having participated in something special lingers.

Green Day

It’s not easy being green.

Well, actually it’s a lot easier than you think.

Today I ate (and drank) only greens.

There was a moment in the afternoon where I felt briefly delirious, and flirted with the idea of having some sort of medieval saint-like epiphany, but now that I am at the end of the day and managed a gym session followed by a yoga session, I feel virtuous.

And my body will thank me for it.

black swan

I’ve never liked birds. It’s their cold, beady eyes. I just don’t trust them.

Black swans are the worst. Their beaks and eyes are bright red. To me, they seem like messengers from hell. I know, I know. I am being species-est. It’s not good. I’m not proud of it. But I have to say, I am a little scared of black swans.

On two occasions, I have felt threatened by an encounter with a pair of black swans. On both occasions, they diverted their path to walk purposefully up to me, looking me in the eye the whole time, and, well, they were menacing. Yes, I’m bigger than them. No, they didn’t attack me. But have you seen those eyes?

It turns out, black swans are fascinating. And lately they seem to keep turning up on my radar. So perhaps they are worth investigating.

Black swans are largely monogamous, with apparently a 6% divorce rate. (How do They know this??) A quarter of all swan pairs are homosexual and, of these, they are largely male couplings. These couples will scare a nesting female off her nest and claim her egg as their own. But anyway, homosexual or heterosexual swan couples take turns incubating the nest, doing shifts on warming duty. The shift handover involves an elaborate ‘dance’ and ‘song’ between the couple which is apparently very touching to witness and some say they do some sort of fancy move with their necks to form a heart shape. Whatever.

Black swans are specific to Australia and New Zealand, and were first sighted by Europeans in 1697 when Willem de Vlamingh’s expedition sailed up the Swan River in Perth. There are a lot of them on the lake in Albert Park in Melbourne. It is those Albert Park swans which have allowed zoologists to study their nomadic and reproductive habits through their tagging project. That is, the swans have numbered neck tags, not some kind of handstyle graffiti.  

Before the discovery of Australia, Europeans had no reason to believe that swans could be any other colour but white. Which is how the whole Black Swan metaphor came into play.

Lebanese American essayist and statistician, Nassim Taleb has written two books which explore this idea of the black swan, Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan. In his hands, the black swan becomes a metaphor for the impact of a hard to predict event or surprise in financial terms or in society. But he wasn’t the first to see black swans as symbolic of our very human approach or observation of life.

Taleb’s Theory is different to the earlier Black Swan Problem propounded by Karl Popper, who, himself referenced the 18th century empiricist, David Hume.

The Urban Dictionary describes the Black Swan Problem as “A strange and out-of-control hairstyle which has literally taken on a life of its own. Results from too long without having a haircut, characterized by unsettling feeling overcoming bystanders. A Black Swan Problem may or may not have the ability to exercise mind control over the “wearer” and invariably causes a vacant and confused look in the eyes. Although difficult to describe, one is immediately aware when they are in the presence of a Black Swan Problem.”

That’s not what Karl Popper was talking about though.

I understand that my train of thought may be hard to follow in this entry. I have become, at once, obsessed with black swan events and with inductive reasoning. It really seems as though you cannot have one without the other.

But inductive reasoning is tricky.

Back to Karl Popper. Who incidentally, was born in Vienna but lectured at Canterbury University between 1937 and 1945!!! Small world, considering I went to Canterbury University. Although not at the same time. Not at all at the same time…But I digress…

Now, Karl Popper had a problem with induction. As did David Hume. Although David Hume was a couple of centuries earlier. Hume was frustrated by the fact that scientists often make a general rule from observing particular incidents when really we are unable to observe the universe at all times and in all places in a way that would allow this. It was David Hume who made the statement that “No amount of observations of white swans can allow the inference that all swans are white, but the observation of a single black swan is sufficient to refute that conclusion.” Europeans for thousands of years had observed millions of white swans. Using inductive evidence, they came up with the theory that all swans are white. But, as I have recently discovered, exploration of Australasia introduced Europeans to black swans. So, Popper’s and Hume’s point is this: no matter how many observations are made which confirm a theory there is always the possibility that a future observation could refute it. Induction cannot yield certainty. 

The fact that induction seems to get a bad rap is best summed up by English epistemologist, Charlie Dunbar Broad when he said, “Induction is the glory of science and the scandal of philosophy.”

But is reasoning through induction really so bad? I wonder whether inductive reasoning is good for people like entrepreneurs because they have to imagine and rationalise opportunities. Someone far cleverer than me pulled out all the poetic stops to agree that, maybe that is true because induction forces you to find a harmony between imagination and reality.

But back to Taleb’s black swans. He defines a Black Swan as any event having these three properties:

  1. difficult to predict
  2. high consequence
  3. seems predictable afterward

What would it look like if one lived life for black swan events? If one were to wait for or expect a particular coincidence of action and then embrace it? Is that being pessimistic, or realistic?

Because we are hurt most by what we do not expect, and because we must expect everything, we should perhaps expect the most terrible events all the time. Clearly none of us should invest money, take a financial risk or embark on romantic or personal adventures without an awareness that it could all go horribly wrong. For whatever reason, we do seem to see ourselves as in control of our destiny. For a gloomy generation, we hold ourselves in high esteem. Our optimisim and self-belief is on a high. My favourite swiss philosopher, Alain de Botton sees that modern bourgeois philosophy pins its hopes firmly on two great presumed ingredients of happiness, love and work. It is tricky to be satisfied by these. It is not that love and work cannot be fulfilling, it’s just that they don’t seem to do so for long.

So, perhaps it is not so much about expecting or anticipating black swan events, but about building a resilience that helps us deal with them when they occur. Because they inductively will. They will occur, they will have an impact, we will reflect, and then we will move on. Hopefully wiser and stronger and with another story to tell.

    down the side of the couch

    I have the most spectacular life. Really. I love it. A charmed life.

    But sometimes I feel as though I have fallen down the side of the big red couch of life and I’m just in that gap between the cushions and no one knows I’m there. I’m like the $2 coin that someone vaguely feels they had but maybe used for a take-away latte and so write off. They’d be overjoyed to discover me if ever their hand happened to explore down the side of the couch. Bonus. But to be honest, even I rarely put my hand down the side of the couch. I’m waiting to be discovered. Valued. But I am my harshest critic.

    I am all for being in the moment and I am a huge advocate for appreciating the now and embracing our current experience. But sometimes I feel suffocated by the mediocrity of the present and I just want to know how this works out. What happens next? As though the knowing would afford me some sort of control or calm. Would it? If you read the last page in a novel and you know how it’s going to end, do you give up on the narrative or do you follow it through anyway? And do you follow it  through anyway, hoping that it will turn out differently, despite the fact that you read it, black and white. The book has been published. The ending is set in stone. We know how this is going to go, but we want to see it through anyway.

    And really.

    #firstworldproblem

    hawks and tigers

    My first footie match. I reckon you can’t live in Melbourne and not go to a footie match. At least once. AFL is a religion here with babies being signed up to club memberships while still in the womb. It’s hard to escape. Especially if you stupidly try and go from south to north on Punt Road on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon in footie season. Which seems to last almost all year if you ask me.

    If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. When asked who I barrack for, and let’s face it, you will ALWAYS be asked this question in Melbourne, I say Carlton. It’s for family-in-law affiliation reasons and also because I like blue. But I have been looked at disdainfully for this on more than one occasion. It’s not as though it’s Collingwood. Or Melbourne, whose supporters seem to have some sort of  collective Baltic stoicism…we may always lose, but let’s celebrate the fact that we are still together as a club…

    Yesterday I was backing Hawthorn. As my 5 year old nephew sagely said (and he comes from the aforementioned Carlton stock), the Hawks always win. It’s good to back winners. Unfortunately, yesterday, the Hawks weren’t so good at maintaining this reputation and lost very dramatically to Richmond. It’s exciting play. I mostly understand what is going on, which is more than I can say for my own country’s passion…knock ons and suchlike…?? And the atmosphere of the big crowd wearing their own club’s colours. The fact that there are a whole lot of very fit men running around on the very large field doesn’t hurt either.

    I loved it. Until half time when the rain clouds gathered.

    Fair weather fan.


    russian mountains

    Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about rollercoasters. In French, they are called les montagnes russes, Russian mountains. This comes from the fact that the original structures were specially constructed hills of ice for luge thrills in Saint Petersburg. As early as the seventeenth century, people had a need to feel their stomachs drop out of their bodies and structures of around 70 to 80 feet with a drop of 50 feet were there for the pleasure of the Russian people. The French then muscled in on the act and in 1817 built a structure featuring wheeled cars securely locked to the track, guide rails to keep them on course, and higher speeds. To give them some credit, they did call this wonder Les Montagnes Russes à Belleville (The Russian Mountains of Belleville). So they didn’t do what I so often do and hear a great phrase and take it on as my own. Credit where credit is due.

    I have always loved rollercoasters. It has been a while since I have been on one. If someone invites you to join them on a rollercoaster, it is either a genuine request to enjoy the thrill of the ride, the unknown nature of the terrain, the opportunity to share the adventure, or it’s a test to ascertain your level of risk and investment. Ups and downs. The thrill of that stomach-lurching drop and the giddy heights of the summit. The abandonment of control. Perhaps they are calling your conservative bluff. There are some things you can’t really know until you have tried them.

    I have always loved rollercoasters.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1cbsLKXasQ

    throwback thursday

    Stand-up comedy. It can be a bit hit and miss. When you start the day with the wish that you have a happy Thursday, that it’s filled with a moment that makes you laugh, one that makes you shake your head and one that makes you smile…well now, that’s a tall order when you’re embarking on a day at  work. But then there’s throwback thursdays at Long Play.

    The idea behind that throwback thursdays is that comedians get to re-visit their award winning work one more time. They put a lot of effort and thought and seemingly excruciating life experience into their act. They tour the festivals and then they’re done. But what about the ones who missed out? Or what about their own sense of unfulfilment…just one more show and I’ll be happy…

    Tonight, Josh Earl was able to lay his Love Songs and Dedications to rest. Social observer, singer, haiku writer and just an all round clever funny guy, Josh Earl shone for his hour on the stage. It’s an intimate setting in the back room of Long Play in North Fitzroy and belting out a song for Josie in the supermarket to an audience of about twenty-five must be markedly different to reaching out to an audience of two hundred.

    Josh Earl was the winner at the end of the day. Slick, clever and very very funny, he absolutely hit the nail on the head and made the text wish a reality.