Saturday 29 December 2007

About Me, Part 2 – mostly about travels and food

Following on from my last post, I continue to indulge myself in foodie memories and lists of favourites – for fun, for insight and for the curious!

As I previously explained, this post is split into two parts. Part 1 is mostly about living 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 my partner, E, hails from).

No doubt these lists will change as I encounter more amazing foods and experiences. These two posts are to give a little taste of who I am. But for future fabulous moments in food, you will just have to read my blog.

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

List of Lists:
- Most Memorable Foodie Job Experiences
- Favourite Foodie Travel Experiences
- Oddest travel experiences
- Best UK vegetarian food:
- Most indulgent food experiences in Edinburgh:
- Fantasy Dinner Party Guests
- Bloggers’ recipes I must make soon

Most Memorable Foodie Job Experiences
I’ve worked in many places as a student, a backpacker and as a 'grown-up' (now in the academic world though I am not an academic). Some jobs have involved food preparation and others have involved developing some of our best ideas while sharing lunch or dinner.

i. The Pineapple Massacre – I had a few unsatisfactory student jobs with food. One of these was working in a ‘fresh and healthy’ café (though I don’t know if that is how I would describe the chicken schnitzel sandwiches that were so popular). I never quite got along with my boss and one day she lost her temper with me over how I was cutting the skin off a pineapple. She told me that I’d taken too much off and one day I’d be making clothes and my staff would cut too much material off and lose me money too. It seemed a stupid assumption at the time and still does – yet I am not keen on cutting up pineapples to this day!

ii. Death by Chocolate in the Laboratory – when I was a full time student, I worked part time as a bottle washer in a research laboratory. It was very unglamourous but flexible and we had great morning teas on Fridays – brought in by staff according to a roster. Occasionally we had Death by Chocolate morning teas when anyone was welcome to bring in a plate of chocolate goodies. These were amazing morning teas which made it worth rinsing each bottle 15 times in normal water and 4 times in distilled water!

iii. Kibbutz Kitchen Hand – while living on Kibbutz in Israel during my travels I was lucky enough to work in the mornings as a kitchen hand making salads – much preferable to working in the cardboard factory (which I did in afternoons)! I worked with an Israeli boss who didn’t speak English. I remember her saying to me ‘green, green’ to describe a vegetable while I looked on in total bemusement til one of the English-speaking kibbutzniks translated for me. The salads were fantastic – I was fond of a deep fried eggplant salad (like this one), and it was here I learnt to appreciate cucumber which I had always hated.

iv. Christmas Lunch in Darwin – a couple of years ago I went to Darwin for a work Christmas lunch. Sounds extravagant to fly four and a half hours for lunch – actually I had other meetings but it was a treat to be able to celebrate with colleagues up in Darwin whom I do a lot of work with. We went to the Hanuman on the Esplanade. A modern restaurant that does Thai and Indian food and has over-efficient air conditioning. We had a set meal which catered well for vegetarians. The one dish I remember is a spicy eggplant dish which is cooked to melting perfection. Much preferable to the lunches I have in Darwin at the hospital cafe which ironically get less and less healthy each time I go there.

Favourite Foodie Travel Experiences
When I first tried to think of favourite food experiences on my travels, I could not remember individual meals but I kept thinking of so many wonderful food-related places that still are full of delightful memories for me.

i. Europeans breads: I love a good heavy sour loaf of bread. I remember fondly the bakeries in Northern Europe with rows and rows of just such breads – Paris, Copenhagen, Berlin and Amsterdam are the places that come to mind – dark dense chewy loaves. I suspect a few have even stowed away in my bags when I have returned to the UK when I lived there. One of my favourite bakeries was the Bakker Schwinkel in Amsterdam where I told it was ‘very Dutch’ when I had cheese on my fruit toast.

ii. Cafes with a past. At university I studied literature and history. I love soaking up the cultural life of a city, especially in a café with a history of food and artists. E and I saw a mouse in The Dome Café in Paris where Sartre and de Beauvoir discussed existentialism. Nearby was the fine bookshop Shakespeare and Company which is not food-related but deserves a mention for its wonderful book cluttered cubby holes. We had a drink at Vesuvius café in San Francisco where the Beat writers fantasised about freedom. And I had a snack in the Four Cats in Barcelona, a bohemian bar frequented by Picasso and friends. Once I even went to a café in Sheffield where I had read that Jarvis Cocker had hung out in his youth!

iii. Markets – As a vegetarian backpacker, finding healthy meals was difficult – lots of carbs and cheese and chocolate. So markets always gave me such joy to see piles of colourful fragrant fruit and vegetables. Each was a veritable oasis in my poor diet. Markets also are filled with characters acting out the hurly burly of local life. How could I forget markets in the Jerusalam Old City, the Istanbul Grand Bazaar, the Ramblas in Barcelona, and of course the Left Bank of Paris. I remember sitting exhausted and culturally satiated in a hostel on my first trip to Paris, eating baguette, cheese, capsicum and tomatoes from markets I had stumbled across and never found again on subsequent visits. (Maybe just as well because my Swiss army knife, that I sliced bread and cheese with, has been confiscated at an airport in the aftermath of September 11)

iv. Country towns cafés – Not to be forgotten among the glamour of international travel, is the travel in my own state of Victoria. There are so many wonderful places we have visited and most memorable are some of the great quirky cafes run by old hippies and sea changers – the gourmet deli that doubled as a café at Beechworth , the booklined cafe at Apollo bay where we were given a soft toy to identify our table to the waiter, the colourful cafe in Daylesford where our table cloth was a large piece of butchers paper and our table settings included crayons to draw on the paper. These experiences are available in the city too but are special in the country as they offer the additional relaxation of having left the rat race behind.

Oddest travel experiences
Travel has exposed me to new people and new cultures in the most unexpected ways.

i. Christmas dinner in Ireland – My first Christmas away from home was spent with my sister in Dublin. We were invited to Christmas dinner at the home of another sister’s friend. They were so warm and welcoming. There was an elegant tree and the table was set with beautiful festive decorations. But I found it odd that they served me stir fried vegetables while everyone else had a fairly traditional roast dinner.

ii. Rural England without Shops – For a couple of months I was the carer for an elderly woman in a tiny town in Warwickshire. It was a town with no shops (thanks to the VAT, a neighbour informed me) – although there was a pub up through the fields. The elderly woman lived on an odd diet of sausages, fish in a bag, chocolate fingers and polo mints. I had to order in our food once a week, which was a new experience for me. In addition, the gardener, Jack England, occasionally brought me vegetables from the garden, and I begged pumpkin off the next door neighbour.

iii. Beef Stew in Poland – I took a bus into Warsaw but couldn’t communicate with the bus station staff to make them understand I had a bus pass out of Poland. Instead I met a woman at the bus station who took me home to her family where they kindly put me up for the night in their small two bedroom flat. They were so generous but their English wasn’t too good, so I graciously accepted a bowl of beef stew, unable to explain that I was vegetarian. They drove me to the bus station the next morning and translated for me but the bus driver still wouldn’t let me on the bus. I ended up paying for a train to get out of the Poland.

iv. Thai Wedding Cake – We went to Thailand for the wedding of my brother Andy and my sister in law Erica. It was a beautiful beach wedding with a sumptuous banquet in the hotel afterwards. But the most bizarre moment of the night was when they brought out the wedding cake. It comprised creamy white layers and was topped with bride and groom figurines - just like the wedding cakes we know and love. But the hotel staff whisked off the figurines before we knew it – luckily my sister, Fran spotted this in the background and we had to request they be put back on so we could photograph it. But once we had taken our photos, the cake was cut up with no opportunity for Andy and Erica to perform a ceremonial cutting of the cake. I felt like the staff were aware of this tradition without understanding it.

Best UK vegetarian food:
Australians are quick to complain about British food but I just love how the Brits embrace their vegetarian fare. It is so much easier to come by in the UK than back home.

i. Pubs – pub grub in the UK is far superior to the old counter meals that used to grace Australian pubs. There are now some great Australian pub meals but they can never achieve the ambience of cosy historic pubs in the UK. One of my favourites was The Last Drop in the Grassmarket Edinburgh which had excellent mulled wine and hot port on my last visit. I also loved the vegetarian sausage sandwiches at the Firkin pub off the High Street. So many good hearty vegetarian options and bonny cheer.

ii. Fried breakfasts – E is particularly fond of a good fry-up. I have always been a bit wary, given that I don’t eat meat and don’t like eggs – seems that all is left is the grease! But in the UK which is so considerate of vegetarians, I have had some wonderful fry-ups, particularly in friendly B&Bs – some nice bread, vegetarian sausages, a good range of fried vegetables will do the trick. And I mustn’t forget the wonderful Scottish potato scones that E’s parents used to fry for us so often.

iii. Covent Garden Cranks – The UK has some excellent vegetarian restaurants. Most memorable is Cranks in Covent Garden, London which used to serve the best vegetarian sausage rolls in the world. They were never made to taste like sausage – why would they when they could taste better than any meat sausage roll! Unfortunately I think on my last visit that these heavenly treats were no longer on the menu (and according to Wikipedia that store is closed.)

iv. Haggis on baked potatoes – I have never had the dubious delights of eating meat haggis but was pleasantly surprised in Scotland to find vegetarian haggis so readily available (and so delicious) – in department stores, in pub meals and at the hot potato shop! It seemed such a treat, while working in Edinburgh, to be able to visit the hot potato shop (in Cockburn Street) on my lunch break and indulge in vegetarian haggis on baked potato.

Most indulgent food experiences in Edinburgh:
I was quick to complain about eating out when I lived in Edinburgh but I was treated to some superb food experiences.

i. The Witchery - Located up by Edinburgh Castle, this is a fancy restaurant located in one of the Old Town’s atmospheric ancient buildings. It has a dark and spooky grandeur. We went here for our first wedding anniversary and had an appropriately special meal. I remember being overwhelmed by the novel-length wine list, enjoying the fine dining, and having a decadent chocolate tart for dessert.

ii. Tower Restaurant - This lofty restaurant is located above the newish Museum of Scotland which was walking distance from my workplace. When I left Edinburgh, two of the councillors I worked with took me there for a farewell lunch. I can’t remember the food except some perfectly cooked green beans, but I do remember the stylised elegance and the fantastic views of Edinburgh Castle. You can see the castle from many places in Edinburgh (including our old flat) and it is such a breathtaking sight that it is enough to make anyone question leaving the town.

iii. Plaisir du Chocolat – I had some happy lunchtimes in Edinburgh with work colleagues sampling the extensive hot chocolate menu at Plaisir du Chocolat. I remember the pleasing warmth of the hot chocolate with chilli, and the chocolate espresso which was like a espresso cup of ganache. My last visit there was during a freezing winter day when hot chocolate laced with cointreau did indeed warm me up, even if it was too rich to finish. I heard a rumour that this café has closed – but I was relieved to find they have just reopened in the New Town!

iv. Christmas German Market – Christmas in Edinburgh is special – carols and mince tarts in the Grassmarket, Norwegian pine on the mound, the ice rink in the Princes St Gardens, the big Ferris Wheel beside the Scott Memorial and of course the German Market. For an Antipodean like myself, it was a treat to be able to walk around in a warm coat and winter woollens, gaze at all the wonderful lights blazing in the dark winter afternoon, and indulge in rich winter food to keep out the cold. One of my favourite festive activities was to walk around the German Market and sample the mulled wine and stollen. Christmas never felt so right.

Fantasy Dinner Party Guests
This is a dilemma I love to ponder – who would I invite to share a fantasy dinner party? It goes without saying that I would invite E. But who else? I have chosen an eclectic group of personalities who have fascinated me at various times in my life and would be lively guests. The first three would relish a good argument but I think would be balanced by Martin Donovan who seems so lovely and calm.

i. Virginia Woolf - writer
ii. Jarvis Cocker –musician
iii. Germaine Greer – feminist
iv. Martin Donovan – film star

Bloggers’ recipes I must make soon
Lastly, there are so many other wonderful blogs that inspire me - so many good recipes and so little time. I have chosen a few recipes I'd really like to make soon - hopefully you will see them on my blog in the not too distant future.

i. Roasted beetroot and haloumi salad – by Wendy at A Wee Bit of Cooking (I made it here)
ii. Pea pesto - by Holler at Tinned Tomatoes (I made it here)
iii. Leek and tomato crumble – by Lucy at Nourish Me
iv. Brand D chocolate cake (with red wine) - by Cindy and Michael at Where’s the beef?
v. Fruit and nut tahini slice - by Katherine at Limes and Lycopene (I made it here)

Go to About me, part 1 - mostly about Melbourne


  1. You are so cruel, telling me about great eateries and then telling me they are shut! I shall definitely head to the firkin for veggie sausage sandwiches, good tip off!
    Thanks for adding my Pea Pesto!

  2. thanks holler - makes me so sad to see a good cafe close - but there are still a few good ones open - and I hope I will make your pea pesto soon - was thinking about it last night when I was thinking about meals I must make!

  3. Hi there Johanna, happy new year. Thanks for including the tahini and nut slice in your list.

    I'm making my way through your Melbourne and food list. I'm having a week of holiday in Melbourne at the end of the month - so your post is very good timing!

  4. thanks Kathryn - happy new year - hope the melbourne info is useful for your trip - let me know if you have any questions about melbourne - I am not expert but have lived here long enough to know a bit!

  5. Hi there! I arrived here today via Kathryn's blog and having a grand ol time. I'm an Aussie in Edinburgh, also with a Scots fella but haven't managed to lure him back home yet. You are so right about the pub grub and vegetarian food over here, you cannae beat it :)


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