when I grow up...

when i was very young I wanted to be a ballerina. my favourite story was "the little ballerina" - a book my parents tired of quickly, and one I knew so well that if mum tried to skip a page to hasten the proceedings I would pull her up and let her know I wanted the whole story.

somewhere along the line i dropped this ambition; puberty wasn't kind to me and unless they had a ballerina troupe for elephants, unemployment was an odds-on prospect. I decided I was going to be a pilot; goodness knows why, although it probably has more to do with my dad, his travels, and we talked about planes.

In my final year of school considering being a doctor. I missed out on the marks - a good slice of fate, as i have a particularly sensitive nose and start dry reaching as soon as i smell vomit, and don't particularly like anything squishy, slimy, bloody or ugly.

for the past few (perhaps 10) years i have thought that my dream job would be "restaurant reviewer". Can you imagine dining out as an occupation, getting the scoop on the newest, the greatest, and the tastiest? or so I thought until last week...

my family went out for my mother's birthday to a picturesque establishment on Sydney's north shore hosting a menu that is, prima facie, reasonably priced (nothing over $30) with a easy to please list of dishes. Its location is so discreet that we got there and turned around before calling and finding that we had been in the right location. once seated, our bottle of bubbles was surrendered to join the other bottles that had been brought to imbibe.

to begin we ordered stuffed zucchini flowers amongst us to share. I was gobsmacked when they arrived. these were not the luscious fertile looking zucchini flowers plump with soft cheese and tender stalks that I had become accustomed to at cafe sopra. on the plate sat 3 tiny, wilted, anaemic looking zucchini butts, with chewy petals, the batter sitting heavily upon them, and the caponata resembling more of a cold leftover ratatouille. we smiled our way on, pleading the staff to fill our now empty glasses with some of our wine that we had brought and they had hidden.

and then the mains arrived. I rarely order pasta out; i think it's a waste of money to pay for pasta, but on the night a prawn angel hair pasta fitted my mood and so I (and my sister) had ordered that. "be careful the plates are hot" warned the waiter as she popped our plates on the table and the next set of alarm bells started ringing in my head.
smiling to keep the peace, I sarcastically thought to myself "excellent, my meal has been sitting under a heat lamp for 10 minutes".

the rest of the meals came and the table tucked in. the pasta had been garnished with ever-so-fashionable micro mix, which had fallen foul to the heat lamp and resembled the remnants of dried oregano sprigs that you find in the bottom of the bag. The pasta had been overcooked and was in danger of turning to one single rope. The prawns were tough; they'd been cut in half (which i have no issue with) but as such don't need much cooking. the 10 minutes under the heat lamp would have been enough for these babies but i suspect they were well done before they got there.

the other meals on the table were steak - a safe and simple choice, cooked quite well and the best choice of the night, duck -which had the trademarks of the pre-cook preparation, and then a speedy reheat, and something else which was unmemorable. desserts were nice, but unremarkable, coffee for those that wanted, a bit more begging for the last of our wine (which I meanly poured the dregs into glasses to ensure the staff weren't actually trying to keep it for post-work drinks) and off we went.

I had a lovely evening. eating, and dining out, is something I am pretty good at, however frequenting good restaurants is a habit that I am currently unable to support. But if I could afford it, if I had paid for that meal, I would have been bitterly disappointed. Despite this establishment touting its "reasonable prices" I felt that it was anything but reasonable.

with good produce and simple execution it is really hard to bugger up something in the kitchen. yet time after time 'professionals' manage to do this; particularly in mid-range eateries. My comments on this are usually met with "but you've had a privileged life with parents that can cook" or words to that effect.

cooking was once a skill of survival - eat or die; now having someone, let alone all of us, do it well in a family is a privilege?

but back to my dream job... I realised that if I reviewed restaurants in a professional capacity, tolerating such mediocrity and finding words to describe them, without landing myself and my publishers in a defamation case, would be a very bad dream.

just so cool!

apparently I am too cool for school! 

well,  not really. 

I have never considered myself much of a trend setter, but I do like to think I have my finger on the pulse...

after mentioning a certain "dead wood" blog last week, this week the aforementioned blog has a post somewhat similar to this post...

I cast no aspersions, simply point out that it brought a rather wry smile to my face...

tell me though, would you eat something that looked like what's in the picture (linked above for reference) posted? no wonder there are left overs!!!

blood from a stone

Woolworths, Australia's largest supermarket chain expects profit in fiscal 2008 to rise by between 19 and 23 percent over the previous year.

It's not clear however how CEO, Michael Luscombe, intends to do this; the article notes that he believes competition in the food area was very strong, and notes that grocery prices had become an issue in the current federal election campaign.

"Essentially, I just want to reassure you about the efforts Woolworths is making to keep prices as low as possible for our customers whilst ensuring a fair return for suppliers,'' he said.

although according to another report Woolworths' food prices rose by 2.2 per cent between April and June this year.

do you believe him and if so, where are these massive increases in profitability going to come from?

see the article as published in the Sydney Morning Herald

S.O.L.E. straightforward

the bloggers' banquet in Melbourne this week was a great opportunity to meet, as Anne of Green Gables would say, some kindred spirits, to discover new ideas even find a new talent of my own.

I marvelled at Duncan's macarons, the vast quantity of Ed's pizza dough, the delicious toppings brought by many others, Vida's haloumi (and apparently her cake was beyond sublime), Ella's prosciutto wrapped asparagus and balsamic strawbs with cream, Jane's barramundis on oh-my-goodness-it's-sublime porcini risotto, John's array of wonton & meatballs and Emily's macaroni cheese patty pans and peanut clusters to name but a few... photos on flickr

One of the things however that struck me, albeit later in conversation with others who had enquired, was the magnificence of the food brought to the communal table in all its simplicity. That's not to say that no effort was made, au contrare! simplicity in the best possible way - lacking complication, unnecessary refinement, embellishment, ornamentation. in fact, just taking plain old good ingredients and making them into great food. which brings me to the real point of this post...

the application of straightforward simplicity to every day food without spending a bomb to do so.

take the everyday sandwich. millions across the nation are eating them on any given day. many of them, maybe most of them, are full of overprocessed and refined foods - some white bread, possibly artificially enhanced with fibre and omega-3, "cheese" that next to the real deal tastes like anything but, processed meats if you're lucky, and a piece of stale old lettuce, over 2 weeks old by the time it comes home from the supermarket, void of any nutritional qualities.

yet the sandwich need be anything but humble with a little of thought.

sandwiches are a great way to use up leftovers - the random piece of steak from last night thinly sliced, pickings of chicken off the carcass, left over casseroles, takeaways and salads. one of my favourites when I was at school was the leftover chicken from a curry that my mum made frequently. of course line the bread with something less permeable - lettuce or something, to stop the bread from going soggy if you aren't going to eat straight away.

here's one version:

  • bread was sourced from am local bakery specialising in sustainable grains and baking techniques. whilst a 750g loaf will cost about $5.60 a 1kg loaf is about $7.20 making it, on an pound for poud basis, relatively affordable.

  • the dressing/mayonnaise i used was home made, using local, free range eggs.

  • the lettuce came from salads direct, based in the huntervalley and practicing sustainable farming practices

  • the tomatoes were purchased at Flemington and grown in the Sydney basin. I roasted them at home.

  • the chicken was from a local wholesale butcher - sourced indirectly from La Ionica using chemically free processing methods.

  • some salt (Horizon salt - from ancestral subterranean streams in the Loddon Valley and cheaper than other salt flakes on the market) and pepper (can't tell you where this came from I'm afraid.

the cost? well bugger all really, as most of it was stuff I had bought for other things, and this was what I did with it. eating well, eating sustainably, eating relatively healthily is straightforward as long as you are prepared to flex a little creativity and get on with it!

S.O.L.E. not simple - the humble rice grain

rice - a simple product, a staple food for billions around the world in a number of varieties, each suitable to specific climates & cuisines; a symbiotic relationship with the climate in which it yields best results.

slow food, organic food, ethicurean - all labels applied to making a moral or ethical choice in regard to food consumption however the labelling, the fadism and fundamentalism obscures the complexity of issues at hand and deters mainstream society from participating in conscious consumerism.

yet rice provides us with an example of the intricacies involved. typically considered the domain of asian nations, was first grown and produced for commercial sale in Australia in 1914, although yields and consumption are low in relation to the global market. with an announcement that the 2008 crop is expected to yield 15,000 tonnes (compared to the 1.25 million tonnes of paddy in 2001/02) I began to think about the application of S.O.L.E to the humble rice grain.

(from weekend financial review 10th November 2007)

sustainability is an elusive and slippery word as it takes into account economic, ecological and sociological issues.
looking firstly at the ecology of rice growing in Australia we know that the irrigation of the riverina has caused salinity issues, global warming has exacerbated the extremities of the earth's weather patterns, and water is at a premium in Australia.
we hear much about global warming and the carbon footprint of economical and social activity, however sustainability extends beyond that. the arability of land, for example, is a key issue in northwestern victoria and southwestern nsw that is not solely related to global warming. However we can extend our concept of sustainability beyond our local farming and question the sustainability of rice crops globally. for an example, see the article referred to in sustainability of sustenance where the linked article cited failed rice crops in china owing to tidal flooding.
at this point in time, whether rice is grown organically or not, seems to be a secondary issue in light of the sustainability issues raised above.
with the announcement of the expected dearth of "local" rice in australia for 2008, the issues will become (a) will there be enough rice for the australian populatioin; (b) will australian grown rice be affordable for the average household; and (c) is it better to stop eatiing rice altogether or to find another (albeit foreign) source.
the largest rice yields in the world come from china, india, and indonesia. each of these countries has received criticism with regard to its "industrial relations" - whether through their caste systems, child labour, slave labour, or poor health and safety standards. Whilst in Australia, our working conditions (although we might not like to admit it) are OECD standard and thereby some of the best in the world.

whilst acknowledging S.O.L.E criteria are not univerally applicable, and that the ethicurean stance is that one of the criteria are met, it is clear that there is no single correct answer in the debate - our choices, with all things in life are half chance.

ozharvest 3rd birthday bash

I am one of the few people that is underwhelmed by social events that others seem to get excited about; markets, and community festivals as well, as weddings frequently underwhelm - not that I'm a party pooper, the anticipation is often more exciting than the event.

Weddings are a beautiful notion; I love the ceremony (albeit without lectures on returning to the church out of convenience). However the reception can be underwhelming for so many reasons, but time is usually of the essence.

I often find markets fall well shy of what it is they purport to be about; whether it's grower's markets, craft markets, organic, etc... Community and street festivals are another one that I struggle with - the crowds, the noise, the stupid people that think it's appropriate to ram their 4WD pram into anyone in their way...

Occasionally, I get a pleasant surprise, feastability in Newtown was one. Having previously avoided going, I thought I should; I mean, this is the year of my new life, my new venture, and I should know what's going on. I braced myself for hairy armpits, dreadlocks, body odour, purple velvet, goth make up, and inappopriate diplays of physical affection. To my utter delight, these were not on the guest list and we were met instead with great food stalls (well the things we chose were), beer brewed by the home brew shop, a few wineries, entertainment, a glorious day, ambience rarely seen in this frequently selfish city, and people having a good time, being nice to each other and sharing in the day. fella, as always, found a friend.

Again, this week I had a pleasant surprise. having recently become a donor to OzHarvest, we were invited to their third birthday celebration. And I was impressed!

Indeed, the Museum of Contemporary Art had donated one of Sydney's premier function spaces, complete with outdoor terrace overlooking the overseas passenger terminal, opera house, circular quay and harbour bridge at different angles. Food had been donated by catering companies that regularly donate food - simple and yet appropriate, bagels with assorted fillings and petit four-sized cupcakes. the "bar" provided bubbles and wine - very palatable and again donated. a fantastic band also kicked off festivities voluntarily.

Even more impressive was the turn out; the usual suspects - founders, corporate sponsor delegate were of course there, but this was no elite back slapping festival! The night was about involvement; and echoed throughout the evening in the speaches, the thankyou's, the mingling and the attendance - food donors and financial sponsors were acknowledged on a board, photos of volunteers and the organisation's progress were displayed on a partition, the van drivers were introduced to the whole party, workers, volunteers, and donors alike were thanked, and, even better in my opinion recipient charities were included! we heard from the lady that manages lulu's house in the cross, there were pastors and community center staff present to say "thanks" and better yet, some of their "customers" were in attendance as well.

perhaps the thing that summed it up best, was that when it was time to go, as we waited for the lift, we all (security staff included) turned a blind eye to the gentleman with a bottle of wine not-so-discreetly tucked inside his jacket.

waste not, want not

I had a nagging doubt in my mind after finishing the previous post on this blog. it wasn't that I doubted what I had written, nor did I question the logic behind the argument that food has the potential to become a hot commodity ...then at some point over the weekend it came to me what it was.

food wastage

i hate wasting food. I credit my mother, who would make us sit at the table until it was all gone (I did however, win the great irish stew standoff of 1979), for instilling the belief that food wastage is innately wrong; I feel a twinge of guilt whenever I throw out food, even the furry stuff.

Not that I throw out very much food at all. most winter weekends you will see me making "clean out the fridge soup' to make space for the fresh purchases and in summer it becomes "clean out the fridge antipasto" whereby the contents gets thrown on the bbq, chargrilled and packaged up in containers with a bit of EVOO and possibly some herbs. these get tossed through salads, used for pizza and pasta toppings and given to friends and family (who give me the impression that they think this is rather delightful).

having started a business focused on fresh food and a no/lo inventory policy, the potential issue of food wastage would rear its ugly head. at the start excess was treated the same as within the domestic kitchen. however along the way there are points of critical mass where purchases exceed sales owing to the format that produce is available in, and these would need to be dealt with.

at restaurant 2007 in Sydney, we discovered Ozharvest, and as soon as we hit "critical mass" they were at the ready to accept and redistribute any excesses that we may have had to worthy causes, and whilst my current contribution is tiny, ozharvest have donors that are far more substantial that my fledgling business.

On the other hand, the businesses that do support this activity are miniscule in comparison to the waste that occurs en masse on a daily basis in FMCG companies.

My experience with one supermarket chain is that "perished product" must be dispensed with - mind you, what I discard you'd pick it out as the freshest on the shelf in their store. Of course, dumpster divers will still do exactly that, wash off the putrid bits and eat it. However the standard line of the supermarkets has always been that they are not prepared to open themselves up to the risk of legal liability for anyone consuming their "waste".

similarly whilst consulting at a major snackfood company, the issue of obsolescence of stock came into issue - product must be delivered no less than 12 weeks before the "best before date" and is further complicated by the bespoke format packs that each retail chain sells "exclusively". Ordinarily there is 16 weeks between manufacture commitment and the best before date and the snackfood company forecasts required production, without any commitment from the supermarket that they will, indeed, purchase that amount of product before it becomes obsolete under their own terms.

As a result of obsolescence there is product wastage as product cannot be on-sold if it is an exclusive format or will not be on-sold as the manufacturer is not prepared to release inferior product to the market. It won't get given to charity either for product quality and legal liability reasons. In this case, the manufacturer was pleased that they found an alternate solution. a nearby dairy farmer decided that he would take the product to feed to his cows, and the snackfood company was therefore able to overcome the expense of disposing of the goods.

It is probable an increasing demand for food owing to an expanding global population, and a decreasing amount of natural resource to produce such food, counterbalanced with advances in technology and sustainable farming practices will be an issue. At this point in time however, not only is the population at large ignorant of this, but continues on a daily basis to support wasteful and unsustainable behaviour.


Civil Liability Act 2002: protection from civil liability in respect of food donations

dumpster diving:
abc backyard stories

causal connection and conscience - the apathy vote

As I first embarked on this journey I believed that if a conscience based choice could be made as easily as any other option available, human nature would make that choice. I didn't factor in the apathy of the average person toward anything outside their own patch.

If I had a dollar for everytime I heard a gripe about the 2 major supermarket chains - whether quality, price, value, service, or any other thing, I would be wealthy. If I had a dollar for every piece of journalism relating to these 2 enterprises I would be an extremely wealthy person. If I then extrapolate this to the availability of branded consumer goods, would I be writing this article? quite probably, but I certainly would be doing it from a position of privilege.

but instead of dollar coins raining on me from the sky, i have come across another revelation. I call it "the Jack principle". It's an evolution of "I'm alright Jack" and without getting into the politics of it, I think it has proliferated under the nanny state that Australia has become.

under the Jack principle ordinary people aren't inclined to think. they don't have to. if jack's child gets fat, Jack blames the government, fast food chains and media. if jack's child doesn't get breakfast, the red cross steps in with a breakfast programme at the school. Jack only buys a car with a "V"model, and then demands the government intervene in the ever increasing price of fuel. If Jack can't find a certain brand of worcester sauce, Jack has a trantrum. But does Jack ever do anything beyond "reactionary"?

Jack hasn't quite worked out that the action that each of us takes defines what happens next; that the way to make a difference is to behave differently. instead Jack stands in the sidelines and complains whilst at the same time promoting and supporting the subject of the complaint.

SO, if you think that farmers have a raw deal, support them, and don't support those that exploit them!
if you think that supermarket chains are rubbish, don't shop there!
If you think that climate change is an issue - downsize your engine, get a more efficient car, but don't talk to me from the window of your v8!

WHATEVER you do, don't say to me "I wish" or "if only" and then never make a single step toward changing it.