Saturday 29 December 2007

About Me, Part 1 – mostly about Melbourne and food

Indulge me, if you will, in a trip down foodie memory lane and then a meander along the footpath of foodie favourites. Starting a blog with so many wonderful food experiences behind me, means I wanted to have an ‘About Me’ page to record a little of what has brought me to where I am, to share some quirky stories and to give some insight into my cooking and eating. (Update: I now have written a more recent About Me page.)

At the moment my favourite foodie experience is probably eating dinner outside in our backyard with my partner E and our wee white cat Zinc. But some months ago Wendy tagged me for the ‘Famous Four’ lists which made me think about foodie experiences that had delighted and amused me. My post evolved into a quite different and much longer lists which have been fun to write up over some time.

I have decided to split the lists into two posts because they are so long. Part 1 is about living in Australia, mainly in Melbourne. Part 2 is mostly about my travels and my time in the UK, where I lived for four and a half years (mostly in Edinburgh where E hails from).

Hope you enjoy savouring some of my memorable moments with food!

List of Lists:
- Childhood Food Memories
- Evocative places in Melbourne
- Pivotal share house foodie moments
- Favourite eating out in Melbourne (and surrounds)
- Favourite Melbourne picnic spots
- On the Stereo Favourites
- Favourite Foods
- Other posts about me

Childhood Food Memories
My love of food goes back to childhood in a small town and all the wonderful food at home, at slide nights, at country fetes, at church celebrations, at school. Food for me, then and now, was a delight, an adventure and part of the bonds of friendship. I know all these memories sound a bit Enid Blyton but I have the right to censor the embarrassing bits and make my childhood sparkle.

i. Grubs at school camp – Our school camp, half an hour bus ride out of town, was in the midst of the bush – or so it felt. Next door to the camp was one of my school mates dairy farm. Each year camp would include bushwalks and watching the cows being milked. Just as mandatory were midnight feasts and we often took along little chocolate balls called grubs which had to be eaten with shushed giggles and chatter, long after the teachers thought we should be asleep.

ii. Jelly slice and a secret club – I did grow up reading plenty of Enid Blyton and often played the Famous Five games. At one stage, my friends and I decided we needed our own secret club and called it the Secret Seven, with a dog as one of the members. We had a notebook, a password, a badge and held just one meeting without ever solving a mystery. At this meeting we all had to bring food and the most memorable one was the jelly slice which a friend brought on her bike but after riding along the gravel roads, it was in pieces, and we were in fits of laughter at the mess.

iii. Fish and Chips in a tent – When I was young, takeaway food meant fish and chips. In summer we often had fish and chips on the beach at Lorne, and in Lent we often had fish and chips on Fridays. So when my school mates and I decided to camp out in a tent on a friend’s farm, we got her mum to take us to town to buy fish and chips. It felt grown up at the tender age of 10 but ended in disaster when there was a fearful wind which covered our dinner in dust.

iv. Christmas Cake decorating – I have fond memories of spending time in the kitchen helping my mum, particularly in the summer holidays leading up to Christmas. The radio would be on in the background with talkback and music, school was over and the air crackled with eager anticipation of Christmas. In year 10, I learnt to decorate Christmas cakes with almond icing and royal icing. For years I would do it for my mum on the fruit cakes she baked for Christmas. At first it was fun to do lots of pictures and figures with icing. Then I could barely find time to cover the cake and put a few plastic decorations on it. Now I struggle to find the energy to even cover the cake.

Evocative places in Melbourne
I didn’t grow up in Melbourne but my parents were both from Melbourne and had lots of family and friends there, so we often visited. Today I still see parts of Melbourne that remind me of these visits. Here are some of the food-related ones.

i. Skipping Girl Vinegar sign – I am not sure why this is important - probably just a fun landmark! My dad would often point it out to us as kids, probably going out of his way to drive past it. These days, members of my family have been known to drive out of their way to show special people the skipping girl vinegar sign because it is part of our family history.

ii. Hot Jam Donut Van at the Queen Vic Market – the Queen Victoria Market is a special place with all the wonderful fruit, vegetables, produce, and colourful characters. But one of my favourite places is the Hot Jam Donut Van – I have been going there since I was a child and still think they have the best jam donuts I have ever eaten – but they have to be eaten fresh – usually with hot jam dripping down your chin. (see my Vic Market reflections)

iii. Biscuit Counter at Myer – I added this because smells are so evocative (like the smell of butter and golden syrup that always takes me back to home economic classes at school) and this counter until very recently was right by the Lonsdale St door of the Myer Department Store. My dad worked at Myer as a young man and so there was a sense of our family having a connection with Myer. Every time I walked in these doors the the sweet smell of butter, sugar, and spices would make me feel like a child again with my dad bringing home a big bag of these biscuits. (For a discussion on what I mean by biscuits go here).

iv. Melbourne University Food Cooperative – the food co-op reminds me of hope as a university student – I had just decided to be vegetarian, had made new friends, and was learning about a new way of seeing the world. And the food co-op was full of discovery of exciting new foods in the wholefoods section – herbal tea leaves, whole grains, tofu, tahini, and wonderful freshly ground peanut butter. I worked as a volunteer selling salad rolls and pies and vegan chocolate cake. If I could find those wonderful tofu and tempeh pies they used to sell I would be a happy woman (favourite university food along with the vegetarian dim sims they used to sell at Monash – sigh!)

Pivotal share house foodie moments
I added this section because share houses are where I learned to cook and discovered the joys of sharing cooking and meals with friends.

i. My First Curry – this was the moment I realised I needed recipes. I had just moved into my first house in Fitzroy and decided to cook a curry. I had helped my mother in the kitchen often enough and had youthful confidence. Ignoring, a childhood collection of recipes, I just threw some curry powder and vegetables in a saucepan. I don’t know what I did but I remember it ending up a ball of vegetables on the end of the wooden spoon. After that I started trying out recipes and haven’t stopped since.

ii. Becoming Vegetarian – in my first share house I ate less and less meat until I was seeking a vegetarian share house. I met someone at university who had a spare room and moved in. I remember one of my housemates referring to meat as carcass. Within a few weeks I had become vegetarian (shortly after my mother took my dad, my brother and my sister out for bull’s pen1s soup). I never wanted to eat meat again, and still don’t. It was in this North Carlton 3 bedroom terrace house that I learnt just how exciting vegetarian cooking could be – nutroasts, stirfries, curries and pasta.

iii. Market Gardening Birthday Cake – as a child my mum made us wonderful sponge cakes for birthdays but I dreamed about the novelty cakes I saw in the Women’s Weekly. In my North Carlton terrace house, one of my housemates made me a special Market Gardening birthday cake with a market garden shed and rows of carrots in the garden on top of a chocolate cake. At the time I was studying the history of market gardening buildings and loved having a cake to reflect my current obsession. It taught me that with vision and courage, you could create anything with food.

iv. Household Dinner Parties – in a 5 bedroom double story terrace in Princess Hill (as they call that area of North Carlton) we loved being organised and once asked someone to leave for being too easygoing. Between the five of us, each was able to spend a lot of energy one night a week on cooking, and we ate very well. So it made sense every now and then to have a dinner party where we each took responsibility for a dish. Again these dinners seemed to be stress free because we all contributed (once we had argued over who cooked what course). And full of fun. We typed up menus, set pictures on fire and had one onion soup so full of brandy that we were rather tipsy before the main course. Needless to say, we had an ‘elephant’s sufficiency’ at each dinner party and were happy we only had to waddle down the hallway to bed.

Favourite eating out in Melbourne (and surrounds)
This was a hard one to narrow to four. Melbourne has many fantastic food experiences to offer. I have chosen places which are rich in ambience and good memories as well as fine food.

i. The Station at Bannockburn (1 Geelong Road, Bannockburn, 03 5281 1667). Having traveled widely, this converted railway station, 15 minutes drive from Geelong, is the scene of one of my favourite eating out experiences. Outside the building is a country railway station but inside was all gilt and lace that felt more like a European chateau. It was a seven course meal that lasted all afternoon. The chef was French trained and she explained all about the meal before we commenced. My dad had arranged a group booking and had spent some time with the chef talking about what we did and didn't like, including my vegetarianism. I remember large serving dishes of roasted beetroot, celeriac salad, stuffed vegetables and a large side table for all the dishes to sit on as we ate at our own pace for the duration of the afternoon. It was a grand and unique dining experience.

ii. Monsalvat - (7 Hillcrest Ave. Eltham, 03 9439 7712) Monsalvat is one of my favourite places in Melbourne, although it is quite a drive to the outer suburbs. It is an old artists colony that feels like a French village (see photo at the top). There is a grand hall, a tiny stone chapel and the artists’ workshops. It is a place of banquets, art exhibitions and peacocks. I love taking visitors from out of town there. The lovely café is in a rustic building with tables set with crisp white linen. Most memorable food I have had is the wickedly rich chocolate cake. (read about my visit here)

iii. Vina Bar (253 Lygon Street, Carlton, 03 9347 2510) This unpretentious little Vietnamese café in Lygon Street seems at odds with all the pizza and pasta joints but is a fresh and healthy alternative. My favourite meal is probably the spring rolls with the noodles and vegetables. It is one of my favourite places near to work and the Cinema Nova. I once came in for a meal with work colleagues and was embarrassed to be summoned elsewhere by a phone call from our boss before we could even order. However, I had been able to return and enjoy many wonderful meals since. (update: sadly it has now closed but you can still read about my visit)

iv. Shakahari - (201-203 Faraday Street, Carlton, 9347 3848) This is a Melbourne vegetarian institution full of ambience and creativity. When you enter into the old terrace house, you are greeted with warm yellow and reds and Indian prints. The menu is full of wonderful combinations of tastes and flavours. It is always a pleasure to eat at a vegetarian restaurant where I am spoilt for choice and never worry about accidentally ordering a meat dish (like the time I ordered a lentil burger elsewhere and it was topped with bacon!). The laksa, croquettes and curries are always excellent but you can’t beat their chocolate pudding.

Favourite Melbourne picnic spots
With the approach of summer, Melbourne offers a tyranny of choice in outdoor events. There is nothing like packing the picnic rug, going to the Queen Vic Market for some fresh food and feasting like kings in front of a film or musical performance.

i. The Botanic Gardens – it seems to me that the Botanic Gardens was where the 'entertainment picnic' began. I remember a sunny evening in 1989 when we made the long walk from our home in Fitzroy to ‘the Bot’ with a packet of cheezels and a blister on my heel to watch a Midsummer’s Dream performed in the park. Since then I have been to lots of great plays and films in the gardens, always accompanied by a picnic of dips, chips, crudités, falafel, fresh fruit and chocolate cake. One of the most memorable experiences was seeing the 1922 film version of Nosferatu accompanied by an organist and the swooping bats overhead. (See post on moonlight cinema in the gardens here.)

ii. The Zoo – in summer it is always enjoyable to take the picnic hamper, rugs and fold up chairs to listen to one of the bands that perform at the zoo. There is something relaxing about wandering around the zoo at dusk before the animals go to bed. Of course I always have to say hello to my favourite giraffes. Then while the animals sleep, the musicians entertain, accompanied by the crinkle of crisp packets, the crunch of raw vegetables and the slap as another mosquito tries to suck your blood!

iii. Fitzroy Gardens – The picnics I remember at the Fitzroy Gardens are not accompanied by films or musicians. They are full of families enjoying Christmas dinners on Boxing Day. Our family would bring bread, salads, cold meats, pavlovas and summer puddings. Of course I would have my nutroast with me. Then when we have caught up with each other and eaten our full, small groups of us would wander down to see the Fairy Tree, the Miniature Tudor Village and Captain Cook’s Cottage. I have been going there since I was a small child and still find it the perfect place for a family picnic.

iv. Sidney Myer Music Bowl – This venue with a covered stage, a large expanse of grass and a cluster of burger and chip vans, is a Melbourne institution. I’ve never been here to Carols by Candlelight but I have enjoyed many evenings of ballet, classical music, and bands such as Neil Young, the Pixies and Jarvis Cocker. Being outdoors gives a freedom to munch on food so even when we don’t bring a big meal, we take crisps and fruit to pass among us while we watch the acts on stage.

On The Stereo favourites:
I end all my posts about recipes with ‘On the Stereo’ to show what I have been listening to while cooking or eating the meal. My partner, E, is a muso with an encyclopaedic knowledge of music. These days E has a day job but still does some creating and reviewing. We don’t see so many live bands anymore but we have a large CD collection to keep our house alive with the sound of music. (see my list of food related music)

E goes through phases of listening to different genres which since I met him have included: lo-fi, country and western, blues, Americana, American folk, Celtic folk, industrial, krautrock, electronica, classical, post punk, progressive rock, reggae, funk, psychedelic, turntablism, neo-folk and lots more. His tastes are eclectic and account for a lot of what we hear. I love Britpop, folk and indie music, but listening to E’s selection has broadened my mind. (Oh, and I have a brother who is a muso too!)

I started writing On the Stereo at the end of each post to challenge me to listen to more of my CDs and not get stuck in a rut listening to the same old music. And it works so I will continue it. Here is a taste of the four phases of my musical journey (though by no means a complete list):

i. Youth: Patsy Biscoe, Danny Kaye, Rolf Harris, Bushwhackers, Wham, Billy Joel

ii. University Days: Killjoys, Wild Pumpkins at Midnight, Billy Bragg, Paul Kelly, Rob Clarkson, The Smiths

iii. Travelling: Pulp, Divine Comedy, Belle and Sebastian, Blur, Scott Walker, Will Oldham

iv. Recently: Jarvis Cocker, Reindeer Selection, Decembrists, Missy Higgins, Barb Waters

Favourite foods
Of course I love so many foods it is hard to narrow it down to four but I have tried, despite the regret for all the wonderful food that is not included!

i. Broccoli – green green green
ii. Peaches, nectarines and cherries – the sweet juicy fruits of summer
iii. Chocolate cake – the richer and denser the better
iv. Sourdough bread – the heavier the better

Other Posts about me
To read the second part of this post go to About Me, part 2 - mostly about travels
Update: Or go to my more recent About Me for an updated information.


  1. Is that your house in the photo, it is gorgeous, it would be lovely to paint!
    I really enjoyed your about me part 1. I loved Enid Blyton too, but it was more the school stories for me. So picnics after dark, were what I craved as a child, a good old midnight feast!

  2. Thanks Holler - I loved the enid blyton school stories too. The house at the top of the post is one of the beautiful buildings at Monsalvat. The one in the purple picture is a terrace house I lived in - I drew it on the computer when I had lots of time for such things! It was a really gorgeous but rundown terrace house which still had ceiling roses and marble fireplaces and cast iron lace balcony!

  3. wow, I am glad I stumbled here. i may be going to melbourne this year and need some pointers on must-visit places :) thank you.


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