sauce is the key

My friend William says that sauces are like mothers; they hold everything together. This statement comes hot on the heels of his lament that Melbourne does not do Mexican food properly. It’s the lack of sauce, he says.

It got me thinking about sauces. Every culture has them. And in the whole fancy pants kitchen system, the role of the saucier or the sauce chef, is often the most highly respected role, reporting directly to the head chef or sous chef. Sauces, wowzer. They’re a thing.

Now it might come as as no surprise that I’m going to bring up frenchiness here, but France and food, meh, you know it’s going to happen.

The French appreciate sauce so much they made five of them the cornerstone of all of cooking. And they named them mothers. Yup. There are mother sauces. Béchamel, velouté, espagnol, hollandaise and mayonnaise, although mayonnaise is controversial because it’s not cooked, so there’s a bit of a maybe mayonnaise should go and tomato sauce should be in thing that I don’t feel qualified to comment on. But, regardless. These sauces…good. Béchamel, velouté, espagnol; they’re all flour-based sauces that begin with a roux and then have liquids like milk, chicken stock, and beef stock, in that order, to make them thicker. Other sauces such as the unctuous bearnaise and the garlicky aioli are derivatives of these bases. So these mother sauces are like the head of their own little sauce family because each of them form the base for a whole lot of other sauces.

So the French have the mother sauces. But other countries love sauces too. Curry, soy, fish sauce, tonkatsu. And…um…tomato sauce in New Zealand and Australia…? Anyway. Sauce. It’s what adds the je ne sais quoi to the food. It tops it off, pulls it together, makes it happen.

Mothers do that. But also fathers do it. Good friends do it. People do it who put the ones they love before themselves and bring it all together to create harmony, balance and goodness.

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the green fairy says cheese

 

Absinthe and cheese, who knew? Well apparently Ben Luzz from Gin Palace and Bar Ampere and Laura Lown from Milk the Cow had a fairly good idea. And from their impressive collective knowledge, grew the Absinthe and Cheese tasting.
Ben wasn’t always an Absinthe fan. Having always hated liquorice flavours and avoided Pastis, he at some point decided to get over all that and see what all the fuss was about. He was immediately captivated by the history and the nuances amongst the variety of absinthes.
A much maligned drink, there is a great deal of mythologising around its hallucinogenic properties and its ability to lead astray those who imbibe. Blamed for deaths, insanity, and the apparent demise of 19th century society, absinthe was banned for 100 years until 1988, and has only recently started to make a comeback. Certainly many of the more discerning bars in Melbourne have the absinthe ‘fountains’ doing more than just decorating bars and tables.
Absinthe originated in Switzerland in the 18thcentury and is made from wormwood and anise and can have an alcohol content that can range from 45-72%. The current consensus is that it was more likely to be the large quantities consumed of this highly potent drink rather than any particularly evil ingredient in it.
 
Ben was fairly scathing of the pyromaniacal flaming of the absinthe and relegated such circus tricks to bars that stock poor quality absinthe and don’t know what they’re doing. Just as good tequila doesn’t need a wedge of lemon and salt to get through the shot, good quality absinthe does not need to be flamed.
It is ok, however, to embark on the sugar dripping ritual to sweeten what is sometimes considered a slightly bitter taste. This involves the flat, perforated absinthe spoon, a cube of sugar and the very slow water-torture like drip from the absinthe fountain through said sugar cube to form a sugar syrup that produces a cloudy opalescent ‘louche’ effect in the absinthe as the essential oils from the liquor are released.
Laura is the Cheesemonger at Milk the Cow. From the UK and with 7 years in the cheese industry, Laura describes herself as a cheese nerd and really knows her stuff.
Tastings start with a milder cheese and absinthe combo and work through to punchier flavours.
1.     La Clandestine from Switzerland matched with and Italian Occelli Testun di Barolo.
Firstly, the cheese. A reasonably full flavoured pasteurised cow and goat cheese from the Piedmont region. Coated with the pressed grapes used to make Barolo wine, the flavours of the cheese and grapes mingle together to create a flavour that is creamy, sweet, winey, buttery and sharp all at once. Originally, Italian cheesemakers avoided paying extra fees and taxes on their cheeses by hiding them in wine barrels when the tax collectors came to visit. Now it’s just a matter of taste.
La Clandestine is a clear absinthe from Switzerland. This version of the drink is based on a 1935 recipe by Swiss Distiller Charlotte Vaucher. At 53% alcohol by volume, this is a mild-ish absinthe. I like the anise flavour and while I was happy to add water, sugar wasn’t necessary. Fresh herbal flavours paired well with the Occelli cheese.
2.     Francois Guy from France and Meredith Farm Chevre
Goat’s milk can be a delicate and hard to handle product. When treated well, it produces the most sublime cheese. As is the case with Meredith Farm Chevre. The Meredith Farm cheese makers have a background in animal welfare so their goats are well cared for. They only use the milk from their own stock, hand milking all their goats and making the cheese on the property. Their cheese is moist and citrusy with a juicy mouthfeel.
These elements matched well with the subtle and yet slightly more aniseedy French absinthe from Francois Guy. Francois Guy, whose father Armand founded the distillery, has been a passionate absinthe advocate, campaigning to dispel many of the lingering rumours about the drink. The Guy distillery produces its product in the traditional way, according to an ancient house recipe.
3.     Butterfly Boston and Bleu des Causses
The Bleu des Causses cheese is the little-known cousin of Roquefort, King of the blue cheeses. Originally made in the Auvergne with a blend of cow and ewe milk, it is now made entirely with cow’s milk. The Bleu des Causses flavour was a little too close to that of the King and Roquefort producers put their foot down and asked that the ewe’s milk be omitted from the lesser cheese variety. 
Bleu des Causses is aged for 3-6 months in the limestone caves of the Gorges du Tarn, producing the sharpest blue mould possible, and producing a big, bold, rich cheese with a salty finish.
Butterfly absinthe is a recreation of a classic pre-prohibition absinthe produced in Boston in the early 1900s. In its heyday, it formed the base of over 150 cocktails. American absinthe differs from its European relatives in its use of the herbs growing in the Midwest and New England. Its flavour profile is a fairly complex mix of mint, citrus zest, and other herbs as well as the obvious wormwood. A lovely contrast to the salty blue.
4.     Green Fairy Superieur from the Czech Republic and Reypenaer VSOP from the Netherlands.
The Reypenaer is a Dutch Gouda that is taken through a variety of natural maturation stages. It is aged for two years in an 100 year old riverside warehouse. Over the course of the two years it loses 25% of its original weight though moisture loss. The crunchy crystals which develop are concentrated proteins which are only found in properly aged cheeses. A lot of the lactic acid is lost in the ageing process and the result is a sweet, intense and creamy flavour with butterscotch and caramel notes.
This cheese is so good, the Dutch don’t like to export it and it is very difficult to get hold of.
Czechoslovakian absinthes are generally made with less finesse. More herbal than the others, they pack a lot of botanical punch, which was perfect with the robust and striking Reypenaer.
Good quality absinthe paired with beautiful cheese was a lovely match, as was the pairing of our hosts.  It’s a gift to listen to people who know what they are talking about it and love it. I am fairly certain my dreams were particularly vivid that night. If only I could remember.

be truthful, gentle and fearless

It Is Here
(for A)

What sound was that?
I turn away, into the shaking room.
What was that sound that came on in the dark?
What is this maze of life it leaves us in?
What is this stance we take,
to turn away, and then turn back?
What did we hear?
It was the breath we took when we first met.
Listen.
It is here.

~ Harold Pinter

feasting #2

Hummus means chickpea in Arabic. I didn’t know that. I also didn’t know that a few years ago there was a lot of controversy over the aforementioned hummus. 

Hummus has become huge in Israel. Israelis might well say that it has always been huge. Chickpeas are one of the oldest crops in Israel and Israelis consume more hummus per head of capita than any other country in the world.  But Lebanon claims to be its spiritual home, and in 2008, The Association of Lebanese Industrialists tried to go all AOC on it (Appellation d’Origine Controlée, where geographical jurisdiction and authenticity became major KPIs in Hummus Gate.

“Well, when we talk about hummus,” Israeli academic Dafna Hirsch said in 2012, “we talk on the material level and also the symbolic level. There is a mythology that completely surrounds hummus that doesn’t surround a lot of other foods. It’s a fascinating thing.” Hirsch was speaking as an expert; in 2011, she published a cultural biography of hummus in an ethnology journal.

I’m not really sure where we’re at on the whole hummus status. I do know there was nothing political about the hummus Yossi made for a United Nations gathering of friends last night. But it is, without a doubt, the best hummus I have ever tasted. Smooth, creamy even. And the falafel?  Flavoursome and the antithesis of the dry offerings usually labelled falafel, these are in a category of their own. Then there was the marinated eggplant, the salads, the chilli dip, the olives, the eggs, the pita bread and all the other things that Yossi took two days to prepare.

It’s a multi-sensory experience to rival that of Heston Blumenthal. Seated outside around a long trestle table or the couch against the wall, mosquitos biting, exotic music coming out of speakers perched precariously on the windows and having the most interesting conversations. A chef originally from Massachusetts; a Hawaiian on a seven day cleanse on the brink of a most remarkable 8 month journey; a Portuguese guy who came to Australia for love; Israelis savouring the taste of home; the loveliest young French woman who reminisced about being able to wire a speaker at the age of 16 and whose equally lovely partner from Dunedin is testing the freelance waters of design and illustration. 

Some people have a knack for bringing good people together. And I feel lucky to be part of that.

dj spooky

Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid is one year older than me, studied French literature and is a turntablist, producer, philosopher and author.

Unsurprisingly, I went through a process to get to DJ Spooky. Like Alice chasing the white rabbit down a labyrinth of tunnels, my attempt at explaining, amplifying, capturing the essence of an idea I have can sometimes be circuitous.

I think my problem is that I catch the scent of an idea and it excites me and I have to follow it, even if I’m not really sure what it is that I want from it. The alternative is holding back until I know what to ask for and know that the idea is one I can take hold of. But I prefer taking you with me on the ride.

I had just been lamenting to my brother that I wanted a better sound for my music, a sound that vibrated somewhere in my chest and made my smile because of its richness and complexity, and yet also its familiarity. I’m not sure I’m explaining this right. But when you hear well produced sound through good speakers, or when you hear the otherworldly extra buzz that comes from a group of instruments or voices in tune, there’s a familiarity you can’t quite put your finger on because it strikes some sort of resonant chord inside. A warm feeling of things being right.

This is what I want. And yet I accept the mediocrity of mp3s from my phone playing through a dock. It’s shameful. When Tony, the guy who runs Klapp Audio Visual in Windsor showed me what music could really sound like and reminded me about frequency and vibration, of course I wanted to update my woeful situation.

On Saturday night I watched a DJ deftly play records in a bar in the city. He was in control of his turntables and the sound and the feel. He knew his songs inside out. What was coming next, when to change. And (I say this naively) what to do with all the buttons and slides.

DJs have a lot of power. Faithless told us that God is a DJ and certainly the nineties and the popularity of raves and the repetitive hooks and trance-like sounds of acid house propelled DJs into some sort of deified celebrity status.

Not only is the DJ in charge of the overall mood of the bar, club, event, choosing just the right next track from boxes of vinyl, the contents of which they know by heart, they are also in charge of the drop, the break and the meta-cognitive inclusion of a well thought out sample.

Clearly, I shouldn’t say much more because this is way beyond the realms of any kind of expertise I possess. And of course I want to know more.

So I did some reading. And I discovered DJ Spooky.

DJ Spooky seeks to make sense of the modern world through sound. DJ Spooky says that he “deals with the notion of the encoded gesture or the encrypted psychology of how music affects the whole framework of what the essence of ‘humaness’ is…To me at this point in the 21st century, the notion of the encoded sound is far more of a dynamic thing, especially when you have these kinds of infodispersion systems running, so I’m fascinated with the unconscious at this point.”

I’m thinking DJ Spooky is wanting to go a whole lot deeper than I by seeking answers in Antarctica, and in the creation of art from the flow of patterns in sound and culture.

I just want to enjoy good sound and, in the absence of being able to provide that for myself, I want to celebrate those who collect and catalogue good music and whose fingers know exactly where to find that on their shelves, are happy to share that with others and present it in a way that makes me nod my head with pleasure and the feeling that I’ve discovered an old and very lovely friend.

Paris: DJ Cut Killer Nique la police