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Week 1 – Because-I-Hate-Plants Diary

Day minus-3 (Saturday, March 29):
A trip to my favourite organic grocer – Passionfoods – to stock up on vegan cheese, nutritional yeast (“nooch”), coconut yogurt, cashew butter, raw chocolate and other cruelty-free goodies!

Day minus-2 (Sunday, March 30):
Attended Animal Liberation Victoria‘s vegan market day in St Kilda, devoured an indulgent salted caramel coconut ice cream (by Zebra Dream), ate some delicious vegan homebaked cookies, and came home with yummy toasted coconut vegan marshmallows.

For dinner, I fed friends Palak Tofu (an Indian-style spinach based curry with medium-firm tofu I fried in aromatic spices). Confession: I ate a bit of Sichuan fish left over from dinner the night before, but hey, a 75% vegan day before my challenge even officially began was pretty good, right?

Day minus-1 (Monday, March 31):
Bought some assorted Jelly Bellies and ate all the red ones before bed, because though their “bellies” (tehehe) are vegan, I don’t know if their food colouring contains bugs. KP went to the supermarket because he had run out of milk for his coffee, and I told him without batting an eyelid to stop murdering baby cows. He looked sad and told me not to say that, because it’s horrible, and I retorted that it’s even more horrible to not acknowledge it. Heh, apparently, I’m already preachy even though I haven’t even started this challenge! The last non-vegan thing I ate before my first week was a white chocolate Magnum right before bed.

Day 1 (Tuesday, April 1):
Lunch: Palak Tofu (leftovers from Sunday)
Dinner: Soba noodles with broccoli and shiitake mushrooms, curry miso broth, toasted sesame, garlic and nori.

I went down to the cafe on the ground floor of my office building to grab my usual soy cappuccino, and for the first time, wondered if the chocolate powder they always sprinkled on top was actually vegan. I guess I should ask for it without chocolate next time. It felt very strange to be looking at all this food I knew I couldn’t eat – a new experience for someone with no food intolerances and previously no dietary restrictions of any sort. My eyes lingered on the muffins and baked goods that I rarely glance at usually. It’s not difficult yet, only strange, but it’s only day 1!

Tonight, Angela asked if I wanted to have some funny Chinese mock-meat jerky stuff while waiting for dinner to cook and we had a look through the ingredients. The following conversation happened:

Angela: Would you like some soy jerky?
Me: Are you sure I can eat that?
Angela: Hmmm, it has food colouring, but I’m not sure if it’s the one made from bugs or whatever
Me: I probably shouldn’t eat it…
Angela: You could look up the additive number? I’ll look it up for you.
*5 minutes later*
Angela: *reading from Wikipedia* Errrr, it says it used to be made from coal tar but now it is mostly made from petroleum”. There you go, you can eat it. No animals, just petrol.
Me: Great :/

Day 2 (Wednssday, April 2):
Today, I found out through some internet research that Jelly Bellies are not, in fact, vegan! I’m not only talking about those pesky reddish ones that may be made from cochineal or whatever, but in fact, each and every Jelly Belly has been “polished” with beeswax to give them their shiny coat! Ugh! Needless to say, my vegan friends were not happy about this revelation!

I’m realising that randomly craving baked goods and pastries in the afternoons or early mornings is going to become annoying. It’s not like it’s something that happens everyday, but maybe once or twice a week, I feel like I just need that donut as an afternoon post work pick-me-up. Other times, like this morning, I just feel a whim to grab some fresh macarons on the way in to work! Resisting these things isn’t difficult just yet, but it might start to be a week or two in!

Lunch: Mixed mushrooms vermicelli from Miss Chu
Dinner: Caught up with a friend over zucchini dumplings and vegan Mapo Tofu from Shandong Mama
Dessert: Dairy-free pandan-coconut gelati from Gelateria Primavera Gelateria Primavera on Urbanspoon (by Spring Street Grocer – the most delicious and authentic gelati I’ve found in this city so far. O SO STRETCHEEE!)

Day 3 (Thursday, April 3):
As I was a bit under the weather, my yearning for baked goods reached its peak – I needed to go to the post office, and went to one further away because I knew there would be a place that sold vegan cupcakes across from it.

Lunch: Chives gyoza from Gyoza Douraku Gyoza Douraku on Urbanspoon (my top 3 favourite dumplings in Melbourne!) and Chocolate-on-Chocolate vegan cupcake from Joy Cupcakes
Dinner: Vegan cannelloni with mushrooms, crumbled tofu mince, quinoa, tomato, thyme and oregano, topped with mozzarella-style Cheezly
Dessert: Citizen Cacao raw vegan chocolate truffles (bought from Spring Street Grocer last night) in flavours “strawberry and coconut” and “Proud Mary cold drip coffee”

Day 4 (Friday, April 4):
After four days of not being able to choose to eat 85% of what I came across in the city (though it’s not as if I would have normally eaten those things just because I came across them!) I was excited to go to a vego restaurant where I’d be able to choose from most things on the menu. Shakahari is one of my favourite vegetarian restaurants in Melbourne, but the service on this occasion left much to be desired :( Shakahari Vegetarian on Urbanspoon

Lunch: Left over vegan cannelloni
Dinner: A variety of vegan deliciousness from Shakahari Vegetarian restaurant in Carlton. A highlight was the tofu caramel dessert.
Drink: Passionfruit juice with jelly from ChaTime

Day 5 (Saturday, April 5):
The long-awaited day arrived! I ate with several friends at Smith & Daughters, a Latin-cuisine vegan restaurant we’ve been waiting on to open its doors for a year, and then another couple of weeks for us all to be free and able to get a group booking. It did not disappoint. The blogosphere has been strewn with rave reviews for this eatery since its opening “First Taste Feast”, to which many “real” bloggers were invited. I suppose I could add my own two cents at some point! Smith and Daughters on Urbanspoon

We also stumbled upon Merry Cupcakes nearby on Brunswick street which is a healthier kind of (vegan) cupcakery using less saturated fat and less sugar in their goodies – I grabbed some of the said goodies for tomorrow.

Dinner and Dessert: A veritable Latin feast at Smith & Daughters
Non-vegan things I ate: Some milk chocolate sent to me from a friend in Germany and half a Spanish hot chocolate from San Churro.

Day 6 (Sunday, April 6):
Late morning snack: A Merry Cupcakes “Blondie” cupcake
Lunch: Mushroom, egg and goat cheese galette from Breizoz (not vegan, obviously)
Dinner: Tom Yum rice noodle soup and fried vege dumplings from Loving Hut. It was not amazing, to be honest (and was not my first choice, as I wanted the vegan Bun Bo Hue but they had run out) Loving Hut on Urbanspoon
Dessert: Mister Nice Guy “Golden Gaytime” mini cupcake

Cooked some shell pasta and combined it with diced tomatoes and the left over “mince” filling from the cannelloni I made earlier in the week to create a healthy “bolognese”, and froze it in serving portions.

My cupcake from Merry was delicious, though it definitely “tasted healthier”, if that makes sense, even compared to regular vegan cupcakes – KP had a taste and didn’t like the icing in particular but perhaps he could taste the soy in it whereas I could not? Merry Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

I have realised how much more I’m spending on groceries as a “vegan”, despite not buying any meat. Firstly, vegan substitutes to things such as yogurt, cheese and mayo tend to be quite expensive. Quinoa isn’t exactly cheap, and tofu and tempeh don’t cost a lot less than meat if you’re buying a good amount of it. Plus, now that it’s not possible to run out during lunch and get a delicious rice paper roll for $3, I have to take packed meal every single day for work and, at least until I learn to eat “boring” cheap lunches and sandwiches, it’s ending up more costly. However, I’m having heaps of fun creating delicious vegan meals.

Being the weekend, I was going to allow myself a non-vegan snack or two from the market – but disaster struck! I asked for a spinach and cheese borek, but was given a spinach and lamb borek, and only realised the meat was there after taking a bite! Despite being an omnivore only a week ago (and almost certainly intending to return to being one in three weeks) I was so disappointed and angry! I felt weirdly tainted and… and impure… which I’m sure is a rather melodramatic thing to say, though it’s not because I’ve turned into a crazy hippie, but probably more because I felt a powerless loss of control that is hard for a control freak like myself to cope with!

What I’ve discovered is that, on top of the happy knowledge that I’m eating an almost entirely cruelty free diet right now, the self discipline has had amazing validating qualities for my obsessive compulsive tendencies! It’s one thing to do what I was doing before – to not eat meat as much as most meat-eaters, to not drink dairy milk and consume less than the average amount of dairy – and of course an entirely different thing to know that you can’t, and to actively stop yourself from doing so. I used to not infrequently go a whole day without consuming any animal products, but more often than not that was something that just happened rather than a conscious decision. Even just one day consciously deciding you cannot do something makes a world of difference.

Week one summary?
I have only eaten three things containing any animal product (milk chocolate, a hot chocolate and a galette) in my first, shortest week of the challenge, not including being unwittingly served lamb and having previously thought that Jelly Bellies were vegan.

All things considered, this challenge is proving simultaneously easier and harder than I thought it would be.

Taste of New Zealand 2011

This is an imported/archive post.

It’s been far too long since my last post and what better time to jump back into things than after one of the most anticipated foodie events held in New Zealand – the Taste Festival?

This year I managed to make it to two jam-packed Taste sessions. I had just bought half-priced tickets through work when a mate whose winery was exhibiting told me he had spare general admissions. Yeah, I tried half-heartedly to get rid of my second pair but anyone who wanted to go already had tickets, so I was “forced” to go a second time. Darn my #firstworldproblems.

            

Taste has got to be my absolute favourite annual event held in Auckland, including anything in the non-food world. The mild late-spring weather, the enthusiasm of hundreds of food and wine lovers, the outdoor seating, live music and lounge-y chilled atmosphere with the buzz of the city just outside combine to make the perfect social and gastronomic experience!

Petal Cupcakes

Petal Cupcakes

I loved the event in 2010 when it was called Taste of Auckland, and liked the idea that it would now be extending to participants from other parts of the country, but I couldn’t help but worry that some of my preferred restaurants last year had decided not to participate this year. However, generally speaking, I feel most of the restaurants, including ones I hadn’t heard of, stepped up and delivered delicious world-class food. Considering the scale of the event and that it’s held outdoors, the venue is also well organised and clean, and a nice place to spend time in.

My first visit was Thursday night, which turned out to be the best night to go, and the weather was fantastic. Wednesday’s Gala night had been jam-packed due to a GrabOne voucher deal, and it rained. Friday and the weekend sessions were also immensely popular, but I was after a balance between ambiance and good service and the dishes I wanted not selling out! S & I sampled a satisfying 12 dishes (shared each so we could try more), and that wasn’t including the random free samples of cupcake, sorbet, and other things floating around.

I work next to Victoria Park, so the following day I returned with a friend in the afternoon for “lunch” and tried another 5 things. Almost too full to return to work, we ended the sunny afternoon with some scrumptiously refreshing wine sorbet and gelato from Giapo.

Half Crayfish Tail with Café de Paris, Butter, lemon & Vivian salad

Half Crayfish Tail with Café de Paris, Butter, lemon & Vivian salad

I really wanted to write about Taste last year, but by the time I got around to it, the details were pretty fuzzy and I didn’t feel like I could share anything valuable. So this year I was a smart-ass, and I took notes! Not actually at the event, but immediately afterwards. So here is an overview of what I thought of all 17 dishes I sampled…

TE WHAU VINEYARD & RESTAURANT – Waiheke Honey & Lemon Bavarois, Lavendar-Apricots, Macadamia Praline 4.5 / 5
Some might have called this a little heavy handed for fine dining but I thought it was amazing. Rich and creamy without that stuck-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth feeling, all the components coming together quite harmoniously – even Stuart who is not a praline or honey fan was impressed.
COCORO – Tiger prawn and courgette filo tempura, tartare and Worcestershire sauce, Tonburi and Wasabi Tobiko field and sea caviar 4.5 / 5
Listing all the ingredients on paper, this sounds like a complex dish, however, everything went together so well, it was like the chemistry at a lively dinner party between close friends, to use a pretentious comparison. As great as the flavours were, the textures were really the highlight. The satisfying crisp of the unique tempura “batter”, the warmth of the courgette and near-perfectly-cooked prawn, and the pop-in-your mouth roe…
CAPE KIDNAPPERS – Steamed baby Paua, crisp vegetable salad, sesame and soy dressing 4 / 5
Light, naturally sweet and delicious
THE GROVE – Half Crayfish Tail with Café de Paris, Butter, lemon & Vivian salad 4 / 5
The only real issue with this dish was that there wasn’t enough of it. The buttery richness of the café de paris sauce did not take away from the subtle sweetness of the small crayfish tail. As delicious as it was, the dish was simple and probably will not ultimately be remembered for originality. They were serving up so many of these, though, that I had to wonder how many shellfish had to give up their lives for this festival.
Tiger prawn and courgette filo tempura, tartare and Worcestershire sauce, Tonburi and Wasabi Tobiko field and sea caviar

Tiger prawn and courgette filo tempura, tartare and Worcestershire sauce, Tonburi and Wasabi Tobiko field and sea caviar

Waiheke Honey & Lemon Bavarois, Lavendar-Apricots, Macadamia Praline

Waiheke Honey & Lemon Bavarois, Lavendar-Apricots, Macadamia Praline

RESTAURANT SCHWASS – Corned Duck, bacon, egg and pea salad 4 / 5
One of the best duck dishes I have had lately. The paper thin strip of cured bacon was delectable as well, and it was a good pairing. Was a little bit of salty on salty, but for the portion size that wasn’t an issue at all.
TRUE SOUTH DINING ROOM – West coast white bait Thai infused fritter, pickled cucumber and lime crème fraiche 4 / 5
Maybe I’m a sucker for whitebait, but this might be the best whitebait fritter I’ve tasted. The Thai flavour and lemongrass really does pop out and the crème fraiche was beautiful. Less sure about the cucumber, but it didn’t detract from the dish.
CAPE KIDNAPPERS – Hawkes Bay Natural Lamb – Goat’s Curd dumpling, jerusalem artichoke puree 3.5 / 5
I love lamb, and this was succulent and well seasoned, but I could not have identified the puree as artichoke-based if not described. Goat’s curd dumpling was awesome.
COCORO – Southern Glory Oysters, Yuzu Ponzu vinegar, Kabosu citrus foam, Karengo seaweed dust 3.5 / 5
I had never tried this type of oyster before, but I liked its plumpness. The Japanese flavourings did go well with it but was nothing exceptional.
op: Steamed baby Paua, crisp vegetable salad, sesame and soy dressing; Front: Hawkes Bay Natural Lamb - Goat's Curd dumpling, jerusalem artichoke puree; Right: West coast white bait Thai infused fritter, pickled cucumber and lime crème fraiche

Top: Steamed baby Paua, crisp vegetable salad, sesame and soy dressing; Front: Hawkes Bay Natural Lamb – Goat’s Curd dumpling, jerusalem artichoke puree; Right: West coast white bait Thai infused fritter, pickled cucumber and lime crème fraiche

Corned Duck, bacon, egg and pea salad

Corned Duck, bacon, egg and pea salad

Southern Glory Oysters, Yuzu Ponzu vinegar, Kabosu citrus foam, Karengo seaweed dust

Southern Glory Oysters, Yuzu Ponzu vinegar, Kabosu citrus foam, Karengo seaweed dust

MONSOON POON – Malaysian Sago Pudding with coconut cream and palm sugar syrup 3.5 / 5
This was really extremely yummy and just the right amount of creaminess and sweetness for me, the sago was al dente, but I am not giving it an extremely high rating because it was simple and easy to make at home
CRU AT SALE STREET – Popcorn Pork – Canadian scallop, Tete de proc, corn puree, freeze dried corn 3 / 5
Great concept, scallops cooked just right, but the pork could have been just a tad more tender and moist. Corn puree was slightly too corny and grainy – I am a fan of the taste of corn paired with this pork but possibly could have been lighter
TRUE SOUTH DINING ROOM – Pressing of Southland rabbit, Riesling jelly and toasted walnuts 3 / 5
All the individual components here were tasty. The rabbit fell apart in my mouth, and was extremely gamey, which I love, and the Riesling jelly was light, sweet and delicious, but I didn’t feel the two paired well or complemented each other at all.
THE WHARF – Raukumara Wild Venison Loin – Sea salt cured venison, baby fennel, watercress, pomegranate, feta, honeygar dressing & Borich flower 3 / 5
Venison was great and went well with the pomegranate, but I wasn’t a fan of the fennel as it wasn’t cooked and that strong fennel taste overpowered the venison a bit
Left: Malaysian Sago Pudding - with coconut cream and palm sugar syrup; Right: South Indian Venison Curry - Canterbury wild venison slow cooked with garam masala, cumin, coriander & chilli

Left: Malaysian Sago Pudding – with coconut cream and palm sugar syrup; Right: South Indian Venison Curry – Canterbury wild venison slow cooked with garam masala, cumin, coriander & chilli

Raukumara Wild Venison Loin - Sea salt cured venison, baby fennel, watercress, pomegranate, feta, honeygar dressing & Borich flower

Raukumara Wild Venison Loin – Sea salt cured venison, baby fennel, watercress, pomegranate, feta, honeygar dressing & Borich flower

COCORO – Charcoal grilled Sumiyaki grain fed Angus beef eye fillet, garlic teriyaki sauce, carrot and Gobo burdock puree 2.5 / 5
Pleasant but the meat was not as tender as could be hoped
MALAYSIA KITCHEN – Nasi Goreng with Lime and Sugar BBQ’d Chicken 2 / 5
Better than the laksa (see below), but still a far cry from some of the best Malaysian you can get in Auckland City. The Malaysian Kitchen was so busy both times I visited that I wonder about the quality control.
MONSOON POON – South Indian Venison Curry – Canterbury wild venison slow cooked with garam masala, cumin, coriander & chilli 1.5 / 5
I had never seen venison in an Indian curry. I thought it lacked the tenderness it should have had. Venison is so lean and it would be difficult to cook it over a sufficient amount of time for an event like this. The spice/flavour was fair but unremarkable.
MARVEL GRILL – Mixed Grill – Lamb cutlet, eye fillet, pork hunter sausage with roasted garlic watercress & merlot jus 1 / 5
Didn’t really do anything for me. All of the meat was slightly overcooked, the marinade was ordinary and the pork sausage was uninteresting in flavour
MALAYSIA KITCHEN – Kuala Lumpur Chicken & Prawn Curry Laksa 1 / 5
One of the blandest, most lacklustre laksas I’ve had for quite a long time. At food court prices for a quarter of the average food court serving, and with quality not even on par with the better quality food court Malaysian… it’s not worth it. I adore authentic Malaysian food, but the quality at this festival has been pretty disappointing and I can only wonder if Rick Stein regrets putting his name to this kitchen.

 

From next year, I’ll be keen to check out a couple of the other Taste festivals hosted by various cities around the world and see what they have to offer!

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