The challenge of getting through seventeen days of way too many amazing food events may not seem like a real problem to you… but it so is. It’s a serious, very serious, first world problem, and one I face at least twice every year. The Melbourne Food & Wine Festival (MFWF) has just begun and I’m just brimming with excitement about the schedule I’ve organised for us, so indulge me while I share with you the secrets of planning the perfect foodie itinerary. My guide will be interspersed with photos from last year’s MFWF for your viewing (and my drooling) pleasure.
Restaurant Express: Charcoal Lane. Top: Wallaby tartare, horseradish potato salad, egg yolk gel, smoked bread.
Middle left: Sashimi of King Salmon, finger lime & chilli crab, pickled beetroot, radish. Middle right: Tanami spiced Kangaroo Loin, potato gnocchi, pumpkin puree, rosella flower jus.
Bottom: Gremolata & goats cheese stuffed swiss mushrooms, saltbush, golden beets.
There are a couple of main types of food festivals in Melbourne. Events such as Taste and the Good Food & Wine show happen on a single day, or a few consecutive days with much the same programme and food available throughout. These, though not so exhausting, can be challenging to tackle in their own way if you want to experience everything in the limited timeframe available without totally breaking the bank – but I’ll get to these another time.
A Conquistador’s Adventure (The Exchange Hotel, Port Melbourne). Centre: Scallop ceviche. Right: Crab tostados.
A Conquistador’s Adventure. Left: Chicken, lime and avocado soup with fried tortilla. Centre: Big bellied beef empanadas. Right: Stuffed calamari with quinoa and broccoli, pepper and piso sauce.
The MFWF belongs to the other type – it’s a massive, city-wide affair, with countless separately ticketed events across numerous venues over a couple of weeks or more.
Coming out of the MFWF alive, without being left with a depressing bank balance and without having packed on 20 kg is no task to be scoffed at if you love food and new experiences as much as I do. Many Melbournians are aware of the MFWF being on, but aren’t aware of how to get involved or don’t really care enough. In many cases, they probably want to check out some events but have no idea where to begin finding out what’s “good”! Take a look at the festival website and you’ll understand this dilemma. “Spoilt for choice” is an understatement. If you feel overwhelmed by the wealth of information, this guide isn’t for you (just look at the pretty food porn pictures). If you like lots of information but just don’t know how to get organised, keep reading!
A Conquistador’s Adventure (The Exchange Hotel, Port Melbourne). Left: Peruvian warm purple potato and pumpkin salad. Right: Beef asado with green chimichurri
A Conquistador’s Adventure. Left: Pork belly with black eyed peas. Right: Chicken sudado with saffron rice
Even though I’m passionate about food, as with everything that requires planning, I tackle the task methodically and systematically. Let’s go.
Over the past three years, I’ve started the process in early February, although I would actually recommend starting in mid-January and booking some of the signature events even earlier than that. I keep making this same mistake and so many amazing events are sold out by the time I inquire about them.
Left: WTC Urban Picnic (WTC Wharf). Centre: Queensbridge Square and Urban Coffee Farm. Right: A taste flight at the Urban Coffee Farm, on this day featuring Dead Man Espresso
Queuing for a taste flight at the Urban Coffee Farm
First, I set a budget. How much can we responsibly spend over the entire festival period, and how much extra can be scrounged up by saving in other, unimportant areas of spending, how much will we save in groceries considering we are eating out several times per week (and do I really need to buy that pair of shoes this month?)? Once I have a solid number, I move on to the next step.
Hay Fever (The Woods of Windsor). Left: Hay ash butter, yeast free organic sourdough. Right: Hay smoked kingfish, citrus emulsion dressing, pickled celery, avruga caviar.
Hay Fever. Otway Pork Belly, variety of mushrooms, hay and dashi infused consomme.
Hay Fever (The Woods of Windsor). Left: Gippsland duck breast, curried cauliflower, wilted witlof, hay baked sweet potato and heirloom beetroots. Right: Nutella Paddle Pop, pineapple ice, hay infused ice cream.
The MFWF website allows you to search events by date and region. Ideally, now that we have a car (we didn’t during last year’s festival), I want to look at all of the events across Victoria, just in case, and all of the dates, but I start by filtering on Melbourne Metro, as I only really want to be going regional on weekends. I go through the full list of events, open every single one which looks remotely interesting in a separate tab, and after every 10 tabs or so, read the descriptions and decide if it’s interesting enough to go onto the initial shortlist. There are lots of deciding factors and a lot of side-research is often involved – price and location, of course, the “theme” of the event, and much more importantly, the reputation of the restaurant hosting it and/or the chef featured. Host restaurants that have been on my go-to wishlist are also prioritised. Anything that doesn’t make the shortlist has its tab closed immediately, with one exception – I leave open the page for the Restaurant Express lunches. I’ll get to those later.
Restaurant Express: Punch Lane. From left to right: Lime cured kingfish, short grain rice, fig & shiitake salad; Beef carpaccio, eggplant croquettes, shallot & black pepper dressing; King salmon, fennel, prawn and avocado salad, white peach dressing, bisque sauce; Pork loin, basil & eggplant, crisp puff pastry fritters.
The shortlist is a spreadsheet and the fields include the event name, a link to the event page, the price and any optional notes (such as “difficult to get to”). At this first stage, there will probably be time clashes, but that’s ok. Each event gets highlighted a different colour based on how much I want to attend it to help me prioritise clashes later on. The list is sorted by date, as the search results are sorted by date anyway.
Forage & Feast – Mornington Peninsula and Lamaro’s Dining Room (South Melbourne).
Getting to the end of the full list of events for Melbourne Metro may take me a couple of sessions of a couple of hours each. Worth it. I then move on to the regional events, again opening them in tabs, only clicking on weekend dates so I am not tempted to drive 4 hours out of Melbourne on a Tuesday night for something particularly enticing. I slot these into my shortlist spreadsheet into the chronologically appropriates rows.
Forage & Feast – Mornington Peninsula and Lamaro’s Dining Room (South Melbourne). Top left: Cheese tasting at Red Hill Cheese. Top centre: Port Philip Estate. Top right: Wine Tasting. Bottom: Beautiful, fresh produce sold straight from the farm.
Forage & Feast (Lamaro’s Dining Room ). Top right: Confit heirloom beets, toasted grains, St Brandon goat’s curd. Bottom: Two Tastes of Quail – tempura five spice quail, Asian slaw, soy lime caramel & BBQ quail, fried cauliflower salsa, grilled nectarine.
Once I’ve confidently covered every event on the website, whether ruling it out or shortlisting it, I look at my list more carefully. I add up the sum of the event prices, and of course it’s ridiculous. I take a copy of the sheet, and on the duplicated sheet, I write the sum formula at the top of the page. I then started deleting entire event rows from the page – first, out of any scheduling conflicts, I delete the one(s) that appeal less, then the events I can most easily do without experiencing go next – and watch that sum number go down until it’s no more than a teensy bit over the budget I set earlier minus $80 (get to that later).
Smokin’ with Gavin Baker (Little Hunter). Left: Raw watermelon on dashi ice, dandelion, sweetened bone fruit, umami powder. Centre: Smoked Goat’s Milk Custard, pickled walnuts, peas and their shoots, verjus. Right: Chatham Island Blue Code, tobacco and wood smoke, native sea grasses, grapes.
Smokin’ with Gavin Baker (Little Hunter). Left: Wessex Saddleback slow roasted over orange wood, kale, cider vinegar. Right: Smoked Burnt Butter Ice Cream, chargrilled corn mousse, popcorn crumb, fried silk.
Now I start making reservations or buying tickets. Keeping in mind that not everything will still be available and I might have to replace some events with backups, I start with the ones I’m most desperate to attend followed by the ones I can book online without calling anyone up. If I come across an event that’s sold out, I can go back to one from my initial shortlist (remember, I made a copy before I deleted ones) and replace it with something of a similar price range. Because the one I replace it with might not be in the same time slot, I might have to jig the schedule around a bit to suit (some events have multiple sessions on different days, some having those are good for this situation), so it’s all in constant flux until I have everything booked in.
Lights Out (The Bohemian).
“Restaurant Express” is run every year by MFWF in partnership with a number of top restaurants across Melbourne – you get a two course lunch plus a glass of wine, and tea or coffee for $40. Although once upon a time, it was only $30, this is still an excellent deal as some of the participating restaurants are of a very high calibre and often quite expensive usually. It’s a good opportunity to sample the food at these establishments before deciding if it’s worth going back for a more substantial meal. Now, often after the whole booking process, I end up with more left over in my budget than just the initial $80 I set aside – if this is the case, I can choose between whether we want to go to two Restaurant Express meals or three, or whatever depending on what is left. As there are dozens of restaurants participating, I choose where to go based on location (CBD is good for a Friday business lunch while the inner north might be a good weekend option) and days of availability (as some restaurants only offer the express menu on certain days of the week). Once I’ve made my choices, I make the lunch reservations, usually online – restaurants don’t take any payment upfront for Express lunches.
Restaurant Express: PM24. Left: Pan Seared Salmon Fillet, crushed potato, wood sorrel, lobster vinaigrtte. Centre: Rotisserie Sirlon, shallot beef jus, potato gratin. Right: Ora King Salmon Gravlax, cucumber remoulade.
Coming up to Christmas, I’ve been hearing a lot of people talk about cutting out “shit” people from their lives and only expecting only the best from those around them. While I think that’s great if it makes you happy, I also think – at least for me – it can be an over-simplification… because there aren’t really as many inherently awful people out there as is being made out. It’s just that, as with everything else in life, the “best” is not always something that you can just demand without putting something in yourself.
Most are just like you and me, learning to grow as a person and making mistakes along the way – only very few are truly poisonous. We are grey creatures.
I understand that you are more likely to take the hard line approach to eliminating bullshit if you are someone who has been deeply hurt, oppressed or emotionally taken advantage of, or perhaps used to lack the self respect and courage it took to take the stands necessary against people who are, by and large, good people but needed help themselves. I get that.
Yes, our first responsibility is to take care of ourselves and I believe learning to do that is one of the first steps to being happy. But how far can we take that before we forget that others are just like us, also struggling to put themselves first and stay sane? If we’re all just removing each other from our lives at every major stumble, would there be any real relationships left?
I’m far from a naive person, and I’ve certainly never been someone who was easy to step on. I see more than I let on. I have been through my fair share, been treated in a lot of different ways, to my face and behind my back – yet I believe that the vast majority of people are fundamentally great people who can bring incredible value to the lives of those they are close to. With some people, it just takes a little extra coaxing to bring out the best in them.
I’ve been accused by some of just wanting to be everyone’s friend. Well, if that’s a sin, I guess I’m guilty. But it’s not because I don’t like conflict, or want heaps of acquaintances, don’t want anyone to hate me or just don’t demand very much of my friends – I actually just feel that it’s that they deserve more from me. More understanding, more consideration, more patience, more empathy. I’m not so good at that last one, but I think I make up for it with the first two.
I feel incredibly lucky to be a confident, self aware, well adjusted individual who rarely experiences anxiety, has very few fears and does not hold on to worries for long. However, I am also guarded, introverted, I over-compartmentalise and I may seem to warm up to people slowly. But once I am warm, I love the people in my life as openly as I can and I am well prepared for both the joys and consequences of that. I am at a place in my life where I can take both on, so why shouldn’t I?
Today, if you are my friend, please know this – I will stand by you when you disagree with me, when you make mistakes and when you make stupid choices, (though sometimes standing by you means standing up to you.) I probably know more about you than you realise. If I can understand the reasons behind it, I will even forgive you if you have caused someone pain, and I will offer to help you try to fix the part of you which made doing it necessary. I’ve made mistakes and hurt people too, and not exactly in an accidental “oops, I bumped your elbow” kind of way – yet I am a good person and a good friend.
I don’t give up on people – I never have and, though this year it has been clearer than ever that people will not always do the same for me, I never will. Sometimes, this means a more difficult path for some of my relationships, but it’s almost always more rewarding at the end of it.
We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in this part of the world, but every year around this time, I always look back fondly and take time to really appreciate the friendships that have strengthened and flourished, that have been created and that have remained in spite of many obstacles.
Happy holidays and love always,
P.S. This almost never happens to me, but I have lost friends this year. If you’re reading this somehow – it still hurts but you will always mean a lot to me.
I wasn’t sure when or where to say all of this, so I apologise to my blog (not my readers) for using it as a verbal dumping ground of such seriousness after weeks of neglect..
I’m not someone with a very strong sense of brand loyalty. I think it’s because of my change-loving nature and a general lack of sentimentality. I like to try new things; but it’s not only about the new-ness – the more you sample, the better chance you have of discovering something amazing.
In life and everything else, I make decisions about what I buy, eat and use based on quality, value, attractiveness and convenience… and not much else.
When I love a brand or business enough to keep returning to it, it’s not due to a sense of so-called loyalty but out of genuine respect for what they do – for example, if I seem to favour certain clothing brands or online shopping sites, I only do so while their style and taste continue to align with my own. If that ceases to be the case, I drop them without a thought – and when nothing really clicks, I keep looking around without discrimination.
If I do fall in love with something I don’t hesitate to others to give it a go. Usually, this is something related to food – a surprising but delicious pairing of ingredients, an amazing new restaurant – but sometimes, it’s fashion. I don’t expect people to take my word for it; I’m not often swayed by others either – I won’t be fooled by the fact that dress looks great on you, because I can tell at a glance whether it will also look good on me or whether it’s “me” at all. People who “copy” or “channel” others’ fashion and steal their shopping finds will never come to discover their own distinctive style or identity. That said… it can never hurt to broaden your horizons and at least contemplate new things.
Let me tell you about a “New Thing“. Today, we’re going to take a little break from examining food to enter a very different world.
When it comes to beauty and haircare products, I’ve always been all over the place. I rarely wear makeup and never foundation, so obviously sticking to a particular makeup brand or product range isn’t really a “thing” for me – I haven’t had to find the perfect shade for my skin tone or type. My hair, however, needs a little bit more love.
Being a colour nerd means I can never leave alone for long the bland black locks that nature gave me. Generally speaking, my hair is healthy and soft and it doesn’t take much bleaching to lighten it enough to re-colour it. However, keeping it up does mean sustaining a bit of damage, especially to my ends; and knowing this, I’ve always been careful to avoid “supermarket brands” of haircare whenever possible. But that hasn’t stopped me from buying all sorts of different brands of nicer shampoos and conditioners over the years – I’ve never settled on one as I’ve never quite been able to tell the difference! I can see the obvious quality discrepancies between a bottle of $6 supermarket conditioner and a $25 salon quality brand conditioner, but not as clearly between all the different $20-$30 products. So I keep trying different ones, in the hopes that one day, one will stand out.
Then I started using Osmo. Hailing from the UK from humble “cult” roots, Osmo arrived in Australia only this year and my good friend Kasia (who is not one to advocate for something she doesn’t believe in whether it’s her job or not!) handles the PR for the country’s only distributor. Osmo offers a range of salon-grade products accessible to both professionals and the average home user.
When I bought my first Osmo products, my hair was purple from the ears down. Not purplish-tinted, but actual purple. Being that my locks tend to require minimal maintenance otherwise, my first priority was to keep the purple vibrant. My second priority was to continuing keeping my ends healthy, and a very close third, to add body and volume to my thin hair.
My very first order contained a 1 litre bottle of Colour Mission Colour Save shampoo and a 1 litre bottle of Extreme Volume conditioner – the big bottles were a leap of faith, but not a giant one as so many friends had already tried and loved Osmo. The Colour Save product, containing anti-fade magic and UV filters, promised to prevent colour loss when shampooing my hair as well as provide it with much wanted moisturising, and the conditioner was said to make my hair weightless, strong and full bodied.
The verdict? Bad news first, though there isn’t much of it at all – my only complaint was that I’m not at all fond of the fragrance of neither the shampoo nor conditioner; but as they’re not strong, it hasn’t been an issue.
The Extreme Volume was extremely effective, and more so than the vast majority of the expensive salon volumusing conditioners I’ve ever tried. At times it worked almost too well and I had to take care to comb and style while blow drying to ensure my hair didn’t poof up all over the place from the fantastic lift the product gave to my roots! Yup, I could definitely see a difference here, and that was using only the conditioner without the Extreme Volume shampoo!
The Colour Save shampoo had less obvious effects, though I have no complaints whatsoever. It’s a lovely, pearly shampoo and leaves my hair moisture rich and the colour reasonably sharp after several washes, so yes, it does its job and does it quite well – however, I will not say that it is a big notch above other good quality colour protection shampoos I have used.
But then… with my next order came the amazing product my hair colour really couldn’t do with out. Meet Osmo’s Colour Revive range.
If you read the instructions for use on the bottle, it reads a little like a temporary hair dye like Fudge Paintbox, but it’s far from it! In fact, Colour Revive is totally natural, ammonia and peroxide free and infused with Avocado Oil, vitamin A and vitamin B and also acts as a deep moisturising hair treatment. And yet, not only does it protect and prolong colour, it adds it – by using it only once a week, it gave a very strong boost to the colour of my hair and prolonged the sharpness of the purple by at least 50%.
At the time, my hair was coloured using a combination of purple and pink shades of Manic Panic Amplified and Special Effects semi-permanent dyes, which tended to fade and lose its vibrancy every 3 weeks or so. With Colour Revive, my hair stayed shiny and purple for over 2 months, and also gradually changed a little to veer towards the deep violet tint of the Colour Revive shade I was using rather than the fuchsia-purple I originally had. This is by no means a bad thing – by the time you want to recolour your hair, the treatment easily comes out with a few shampoos and you’re all set for your next hair adventure!
^ Fresh semi-permanent colour
^ 6 weeks later, using Colour Revive
After a year and a half as a purple-haired Asian, I was ready for a change, though I didn’t realise it until I booked a last minute appointment at a salon and impulsively turned my purple dip-dye into a blonde-brown-black ombre. Here’s what my hair looked like the day after I took the plunge:
Immediately, I bought the Colour Revive in Platinum and squeezed less than a quarter of a bottle into my conditioner. By this time, I had also acquired the Colour Save conditioner and started using that on my ends for extra moisture, while still using Extreme Volume on my roots for body. As the toner the salon put into my hair washed out, the Platinum Colour Revive (silvery in appearance) kept my lightened ends pretty and blonde by neutralising the yellow tones in the bleached hair.
But I still had over half a bottle of Violet Colour Revive left – whatever was I going to do with it?! Early one morning, on a whim in the shower, I got creative. Using my previous mixing idea, I grabbed another bottle of Osmo Colour Save conditioner and oozed a whole heap of Violet into it and just squirt or two of the Platinum for good measure. I estimate that the Colour Revive to conditioner ratio was a little less than 1:3. I then shampooed and rinsed my hair as usual, squeezed out most of the excess moisture and slapped on my Conditioning Colour Concoction (say that three times fast!) almost haphazardly. I tied up my hair and went about my other showerly activities for about 4 minutes, then rinsed out the “CCC”.
Here was the result:
I was beyond pleased! I wasn’t sure exactly what was going to happen, but this was pretty much what I’d hoped for or imagined. I’m not sure what I would have done if it was a disaster, as the next thing I had to do was head in to work. To my corporate job. Now, I’ve decided to use my purple-ised conditioner once every two weeks or so to get the occasional pastel pink dip dye effect, and my silver-ised conditioner the rest of the time to maintain my blonde. It’s a perfect routine, and I thank Osmo for it!
Some of my friends are developing slightly worrying Osmo addictions, because it’s that good – I’m not quite there yet, but let me tell you about a couple more products I think are pretty cool.
Every girl with long hair needs good dry shampoo in her life. Because of its fineness, my hair becomes oily quite quickly, yet I don’t want to use shampoo everyday for various reasons (hair health, laziness, colour prolonging, though that’s no longer applicable), but cheap dry shampoos smell cheap and are only semi-effective, and others leave powdery white residue visible on my dark roots. I’ve used just a few which have been good, including some designed just for dark hair. Osmo’s Day Two Styler is not specifically for dark hair, but it brushes through remarkably evenly leaving not a trace. It is as effective at removing oil as any of the better products I’ve used, better than most at adding volume, and best of all, it actually smells amazing with notes of citrus.
Lastly, the Power Dust is potent stuff! Just a couple of dabs of this miracle powder and your hair will rule the universe! Ok, not really, but it will double in size and drama, and if you have super soft hair like me which just won’t stay put without hair spray, this will help, too. But beware about using too much – not only is it unnecessary, an excess of the stuff will also make your hands and hair sticky.
After months of trials and experimentation, I think finally found a haircare brand I can be “loyal” to… for now. Are you as convinced as I am yet? I have no doubt I’ll gradually make my way through Osmo’s entire product range and I promise to report back with my verdict on each one.
In the meantime, you can try Osmo’s products for yourself; and while you’re at it, why not follow them on Facebook for tips and tricks, and success stories from other real, happy customers? Go on. Don’t just take my word for it.
One Monday noon at the end of winter, I opened up my tupperware container at work and was greeted by the enticing aroma of truffle. Feeling super smug in the office, I drank in the smell and then savoured every spoonful of the creamy soup. Here was a beautifully “gourmet” version of a frequent weekday lunch staple for me…
As some of you might have seen on Facebook, I’ve had some dramas this week with this blog. First, I wasn’t able to log into my WordPress control panel because it decided I didn’t exist as a user (nor any of the other admin accounts I’d created). Then, when I contacted my web host, even though I told them the most recent working date was last Friday, they decided to restore the database from a backup made more than three weeks ago, hence erasing all the posts and drafts I had worked on since then.
Why, I asked them, would they do something so stupid? Because, they explained, that was the last backup they had of my database as the “daily” backups had been glitching for my account. Thanks for telling me, guys.
Through half a dozen different tricks and some pure luck, I managed to salvage all the posts I had already published, so what you see won’t have changed, but what I did lose was a fully written up yet unpublished post for this recipe. I had this whole intro about how much I love soup – it was a freaking ode to soup, and now it’s gone, and I can’t be bothered.
I think it was something along the lines of how one of my food pet peeves is when people say soup isn’t meal food or isn’t filling. Because it is, ok? If you’ve ever made soup personally, you’ll know that the ingredients were just as solid and real as ever before they transformed into soupy form – it’s not as if they can lose mass through this transformation. Science, people!
Soup is also one of the easiest and quickest ways to have a nutritionally complete meal. On the wintry weekends when I get a chance to, I whip up a big batch that can feed two of us over three weekday lunches or dinners plus fill a couple of freezer zip-lock bags for later.
I don’t often include potato or cream in these batches – I prefer lighter and healthier options to get through my week. However, I couldn’t think of anything better than to pair this more indulgent favourite of mine with the Tasmanian truffle from Madame Truffles I still had left after making lamb ragu.
Normally, I like to have my potato and leek soup with a mild and extra creamy blue cheese, however, in this case I have omitted cheese to allow the taste of the truffle to shine through.
Creamy Potato and Leek soup with Black Truffle
Things to note
Serves: 5 – 6
Time required: An hour or a bit more
What to grab from the shops
Fresh truffle (I used Tasmanian black truffle)
White truffle oil
1 ltr vegetable stock
1 cup water
2 tbsp thickened cream (can substitute with vegan alternatives such as unsweetened almond milk or cashew milk)
1 leek – pale green and white parts – (finely chopped)
4 potatoes with sweet flesh – I used decadent ‘dutch creams’ (sliced into wedges or roughly 3cm cubes)
1 small onion, preferably white, or brown (roughly diced)
2 parsnips (in 2-3cm slices)
6 garlic cloves (minced or very finely chopped)
1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley (roughly chopped)
Lets get soupin’
- Rinse leeks and use only the white and pale green parts – chop off and discard the roots and dark green tops. Cut leeks lengthways and slice finely across.
- Peel potatoes and cut into wedges, then cubes of around 3cm. Peel parsnips and cut into 2-3 cm slices.
- Heat butter in a large pot until it just starts to foam. Add onion and garlic and fry on medium heat until translucent.
- Add leeks and continue to sauté for 10 minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
- Add potatoes, parsnips and parsley to the pot, then pour over the stock. Bring to the boil, turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Blend with a hand-held stick blender until smooth. Strain through a large sieve for extra smooth lusciousness!
- Add cream and blitz with the blender again.
- Add half of the truffle shavings and the truffle oil and mix in thoroughly.
- Serve, topped with freshly chopped parsley and the remaining shaved truffle. Optionally, drizzle in a little cream. Stir in before eating.