Sunday, September 27, 2009


You know what I did last night? I cooked a duck. We were supposed to go to a party held by Wolf's Godfather, but when you've had a bad night's sleep and it takes an hour to just try and get out of the house.
Plus the last time I went to one of his parties, I scared the hell out of a bunch of drunk college boys with my very pregnant belly. I don't want to give them cardiac arrest with a baby. What kind of mother would I be if I took my child to a house party? One trying to kill college boys obviously.
Now back to the duck. The funny thing is, despite all the new and ever exhausting jobs that come with a new mother, I seem to have more time than ever to cook. It seems to impress my mother and mother-in-law. But hey, no one is bringing casseroles of well...casserole, so what choice would I have anyway?
Sure, I used to spend all day long cooking for people at work. But now marooned at home in our lovely light filled apartment surrounded by various unfriendly and alarming neighbors, my hand is never far from a chopping knife, slippers always dusted with parsley clippings and flour.
So, duck. I'd never cooked duck meat before. Eaten a lot, of course. It was lovely. Rich, creamy meat and crispy skin. You hardly have to season the thing duck fat and meat are so full of flavour. I basted it with a stock made from the wings, neck and usual vegetable subjects and propped it on top of some peeled potatoes. The potatoes underneath absorbed the duck fat and tasted wonderful.
If you plan on roasting duck, two things:
One: Don't buy a whole duck unless you're good with all that carcass ripping, spine cracking stuff, because  they are a bloody hard bird to carve. Just get the breasts and legs really. Those are the best parts. Or unless you plan on making a duck soup from the carcass.
Two: Have the camera handy. Which is what I should have done to capture the golden, burnished skin of my amazing looking roast duck. Because you'll be looking at it in all it's glory for about 30 seconds before it's legs will be ripped off by waiting partners. Hence my lack of picture. I could have gotten one of the carcass I suppose, but it looked fairly ravaged.
Doing something old school like a roast duck gives you an amazing sense of accomplishment. It's not something I would have said four months ago, but it's wonderful to bask in your domesticity. I actually feel happy when I put Josh's home made lunch in his bag, and sneak in a few extra cookies for him to find during his break. I expect I'll enjoy making Wolf's school lunches when the time comes. All I need to do is find a way to enjoy doing dishes, and I'm set.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Written Revelations - Restaurant Reviewing Blows

 My Bachelor of Arts just arrived in the post yesterday. I graduated in absentia because of having Wolf. I don't really care; the only good thing I did there was write a killer essay on homosexuality in boarding schools (endlessly interesting subject) and suggest to a tutor that food writing be added to the curriculum in the non-fiction writing course.
Which brings me to my subject of discussion.
I recently had lunch out with my mother and a family friend whose knowledge of food, dining and life in general I have always respected. Typically talking with your mother and a friend will always lead to discussions about your career future. I mentioned that I would love to be a food writer. As we tucked into savoury tarts and frittata at Yarraville bakery Hausfrau, she made some very interesting points about food writing in Melbourne. This family friend has, with her husband, run various wonderful restaurants in Melbourne, and unlike a greenhorn like me, knows the food game inside out. In her experience, she said, getting a good review was about who you knew, not the great work you were doing. You see repeated fantastic reviews for a restaurant that has friends in high places, despite inconsistent and declining performance, while the new and friendless, yet brilliant little venue don't get a serious look in.
Her revelation may be obvious to some, but it floored me. I read the Good Food Guide cover to cover every time it's released. Yesterday I got depressed when I nearly didn't get a copy of the annual food issue of the Age magazine. I have so many Epicures in storage that it constitutes a fire hazard. 
It should have been obvious; the 2010 Guide didn't read much different from last year's. And while I was apprenticing at a Patisserie in Kew, the Foodies' Guide - by then also owned by the Age - put us in two years in a row, but the content of the second was identical to the previous. It had been a lack-lustre review anyway, like a passing acquaintance talking about what they had for lunch the other day. They clearly hadn't bothered to come back to the patisserie and had recycled the previous year's review. We weren't even making the same products that year! We were a tiny Patisserie, it's true. But we worked hard to make beautiful food and had little time for ass kissing.
Yes, it is a capitalistic World that thrives on sucking up. Here I had been was buying into the opinions of people that created and maintained cliques - a word that should be synonymous with 'creatively nasty' – or just made chefs and restauranteurs bend over and take it up the ass. These commercially dominant reviews are then not really food writing; they are a gossip column.
Real food-writing is the kind of stuff people like M.F.K Fisher and Anthony Bourdain do in their articles and books. About the real experience of eating, cooking and dining out, honestly criticising and congratulating restaurants and cooks. Sure, they talk about their friends, but it is with real reverence for their cooking, not for the value of having them on side.
Compared to the scale of 'real' restaurant reviewers, it may be tiny, but reading over my review of Pepper that I get a bad taste in my mouth. The style is painfully stiff and formulaic. Paramount in my mind as I wrote was a list of criteria I should cover so as to have my work qualify as a review. I would write a dish of note and then try to think of a single, basic, accessible, summarising word to describe it. Something you read a lot in the condensed prose of newspaper restaurant reviews and food guides. How many times can you use 'tasty' or 'delicious' in a paragraph? I was sub-consciously mimicking those Age reviewers! What kind of writer does that make me? I'd forgotten everything I'd learnt about writing: honesty, integrity, real experiences.
Admittedly I thought to review Pepper first because the owner is awfully nice to us and knows Wolf by name. I just wanted to make friends. As much as I enjoy going to Pepper to eat, I actually get pretty uncomfortable there, and feel painfully observed and judged by other patrons.
It's strange to write something that undoes and something I posted earlier, and yet I'm not inclined to take down my review of Pepper. Another lesson in writing: one doesn't need to have consistently perfect work, and you don't have to erase the past evidence that your writing wasn't perfect in the first place.
No more reviewing. Writing about food, cooking and eating out, but without the pretension of formula. Just honest to God prose about the experience, no sugar coating, no fear of retribution. Defamation laws can't really apply to blogs, can they?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Jeans. The Tragedy.

There is a point where you realise that no matter what kind of exercise you do, no matter what kind of diet you choose (which really would be to do detriment of your breast-fed baby), no matter how much time passes, you will not fit into your old jeans. The hip bones have swung wide open like the doors of a department store during end-of-financial-year-sales. So good-bye skinny Cheap Monday jeans of those free-wheeling adolescent days, hello...mum jeans?
Please, if you know a brand that does good stylish jeans that aren't mum jeans, for the love of God tell me. I sold my Cheap Mondays on ebay to some skinny young thing who is yet to have children.

Mothers' Group

So of all the girls that turned up to the first mother's group, I had the oldest baby. The oldest, loudest, poopiest, wriggliest and fussiest of them all. Given that most of the other babies were between 5 and 9 weeks, it's no surprise. Their little darlings were dozy and tiny. My chubby bub kept popping out of his skeleton print onsie (damn weak Cotton On Kids snap buttons). And I couldn't sit down, because he was sleepy and doesn't just need cuddling, but also bouncing, rocking and swaying to get him down for a daytime nap. I think I was also the youngest. I was certainly the most flustered, talking in that mile-a-minute way I always seem to when in a group of new people.

But mother's groups really are an awesome service. I wish I'd gone to the first group I was initially offered. I was too bloody disorganised to get out of the house then. But they really ask and answer all those weird questions that you're quietly mulling over in your head at home, wondering why that perfect mothering instinct hasn't kicked in like it's supposed to. Like if it's normal for your baby to beat the hell out of your boob and push away from it when he is extremely hungry. Or if they're supposed to make those weird faces when they're trying to do a poop. And it seems like there are a lot of common experiences that haven't been worth putting in baby books. Like how husbands and partners always think the baby is hungry so pass them to you even though they just fed half an hour ago. Or that breastfeeding in public is insanely nerve wracking and even though in Australia it is legal to breastfeed anywhere, anytime, that we feel like we are committing some sort of crime by doing it. If you're a new mum and considering skipping mother's group, DON'T DO IT. It is so worth knowing that you aren't a basket case all on your own. Plus you learn fun facts like how the average age for a child to be breastfed til is 4 years. Wow. Fancy popping in to visit your little one at kinder for a quick lunch.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Kiddie Kitchen

Have you seen this children's play kitchen from IKEA? It's only $169 and it's so stylish and cute! I can't wait to get one of these for Wolf. Yes I know I can't push him into career choices this early. But there's no reason that Wolf as a toddler wouldn't want to play like mummy in the kitchen. Wouldn't it be cool if a real knife company like Mundial or Global came out with toy plastic ones (blunt obviously)?
Did anyone live in the age of those 'easy-bake ovens'? Did they really work?
This IKEA kitchen is a miniature of one of the ready built pieces that they have in grown up size. Quite realistic looking and in neutral colours that won't clash with the decor. There's an extra microwave oven attachment you can get as well. Man, our apartment is going to look like a bloody IKEA catalogue if we're not careful. Except for the formica table. That shakes things up good. And all the creepy looking toys. Hm, maybe it will just balance things out.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

More Beautiful Gifts from LARK

Wolfgang is an awfully lucky boy. See the beautiful crochet blanket and gorgeous knitted cake set he received today. Naturally, all from the totally genius creator at LARK. He's trying to stuff that Swiss Roll in his mouth. He absolutely will not share. That's my boy. Thank you Gift sender (whose name I will insert pending approval). The cakes are so soft and easy for Wolf to hold. Awesome!

Food Files

You know where isn't a great place to take your baby and his pram? An Asian hawker restaurant. Namely Laksa King, also in the Newmarket area of Flemington. As many tables and rickety fold out chairs as possible jammed into a narrow glass box in a dingy old shopping arcade. Brusque service staff that stare as you try to manouvre your heavy duty wheels through the door and past many full tables. Loud open kitchen. Patrons who glance at your child dismissively because his lack of a full head of hair clearly indicates that he isn't 100% Chinese. But my mum insisted we go there. She had a killer craving for Laksa. Admittedly it is the best Laksa you're going to get anywhere out of South East Asia. Creamy, fragrant soup; two types of noodles, generous amounts of tofu, seafood and veggies. But for the love of God don't bring your pram with you. Bad enough that I eat like a pig.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Wolfgang and his fangs

If ever there was a sure sign that Wolfgang is the son of a cook: he has already begun teething. Babies usually aren't meant to sprout their fangs until about 6 or 7 months, but Wolf - as per usual - has to do everything earlier than average. Then there's his watching while we eat. I can't bear it when he's propped up in his bouncer, watching Josh and I eat dinner, or on my lap in a cafe, trying to pull the plate towards him. The chewing and biting motions he makes as he watches; it breaks my heart! 
Then again, it could be all in the name. His lower right canine is, unusually, the one to break first. Soon he might just sprout the other three canines and go hunting for his own food.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Awesome Buys Volume 2

Thank-you Alison of Lark for your comment on my post about the Rosie Flo colouring book. My little neighbor adores it! In other excellent buys - inevitably from Lark - I purchased a few Paumes books at the same time as Rosie Flo's Kitchen. Paumes is a small, family run publishing company from Japan  who work closely with European artists and designers to create beautiful books on subjects like Stockholm's Love Apartments or London Vintage. My favorite is Recettes des Mamans a Paris or 'Recipes from mothers of Paris'. This is a really sweet book with fifteen recipes ranging from Gratin Dauphinois and Oeufs de Cocotte to Vanillekipferl and Tarte au Citron. Ingredients and method are in both French and Japanese, but if you aren't familiar with either language, the pictures make it very easy to understand. I love the vibrant photos of glamorous Paris mothers and their children  making favorite recipes in very beautiful apartments, the colourful handwritten titles, and the cute, very Japanese style illustrations dotted around the pages.
When I was an Apprentice Patissiere my Boss would often force me to read and follow recipes in French without his help translating. At the start, these tests were disasters; I guessed by quantities, deciding that I could figure out which ingredient was what by the amount required for the recipe. So much flour wasted, so many failed batches of croissants. Eventually I worked it out; I had to if I wanted to finish the day with my life intact. Before that I studied Japanese at school for a few years. 
I thought I might translate one of the recipes I like: 
Les Gnocchis a la Semoule or 'Semolina Gnocchi'.
Don't let this stop you from purchasing the book from Lark. It is too colourful and beautiful to resist. I can't wait till my Wolf cub is old enough to join me in the kitchen!

Semolina Gnocchi
1 litre of milk
250 g semolina
2-3 pinches salt
whole nutmeg
1 egg
50g butter
50g parmesan
25 cl creme fraiche
flour for sprinkling

1. Grate a little nutmeg
2. Pour milk into a pot and bring to boil
3. When milk is boiled, gradually add semolina while whisking
4. Add a little salt and pepper to taste
5. Continue to whisk the semolina while over heat until it begins to thicken. Add a pinch of nutmeg to taste.
6. Remove pot from heat. Add the egg to the semolina, and whisk in.
7. Dust your rolling/cutting surface with flour so that your semolina gnocchi won't stick
8. Scrape semolina mixture onto your surface, spread it so that it is evenly 1-2cm thick. Allow to cool and set for three hours.
9. Meanwhile butter a baking dish/ovenproof dish
10. Grate the parmesan
11. When the semolina is set, use a fluted cookie cutter 6cm in diametre to cut gnocchi rounds from the mixture. Layer these in your baking dish.
12. Cover the gnocchi with the creme fraiche and the parmesan
13. Using kitchen shears, cut sage leaves thinly and scatter over gnocchi. Grate a little nutmeg over also.
14. Bake in a 180 degree celcius oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Hope all of that was correct. Bon Appetit! See Lark for more Paumes books.

Friday, September 11, 2009 push or not to push.

It is fairly ironic that I'm writing about prams in a positive way considering that when I was working in kitchens I bloody hated the things. All those times I'd run out of the kitchen bussing my own dishes on one of those shocking days where no front-of-house staff come to your call, only to trip over a pram in my path and nearly drop my plates.  When there is pretty much only one avenue from kitchen to dining area, kitchen and waitstaff would appreciate if people parked their prams well out of the way. Sure, we need to watch out, we wouldn't want to pour hot soup or drop a filet steak on top of your children. You are at perfect rights to bring your pram in with you. But the pace in hospitality is so blinding fast most of the time, we don't have time to think beyond the dish in our hands at the customer across the room who is waiting for it, and the ten-or-so orders building up behind it, the coffees that need to be made and served, the man who is gesturing angrily that his breakfast is cold, the three tables who are yet to have their order taken, and the customers who have just walked in looking for a table.
In fact my collegues and I used to look out of our open kitchen and deride those 'annoying mothers' with their prams the size of a smart car, letting toddlers run wild, taking up whole ends of our communal tables. Mothers often don't realize when they drag prams inside that they are blocking off pathways in a very small space, making things difficult for staff. There are some places where it is simply smarter to use a baby carrier like a Bubzilla Sling or a BabyBjorn
So in reviewing pram and breast-feeding friendly cafes, I'm not shunning those that are not. There's a reason not all cafes can or want to make space between tables wide enough to navigate and park a pram: money. We can make a lot more by putting tables closer together and getting more people in and out. Hospitality is already a cut-throat business, and to ask people to make a loss on the chance that they might make things easier for the few baby mamma customers they have is asking rather a lot. 
But when one does find a place with wide lanes, quiet corners and a genial attitude to adorable babies and their glowing mothers, it is like finding shelter in a storm and should be awarded for being such. 

Top three things to buy a new mother when visiting her in Hospital

1. A big piece of  Fromager d'Affinois 

2. A side of Smoked Salmon

3. A chicken sandwich with real mayonnaise

Mum's Cafe Review Volume 1 - Pepper

Today Josh, Wolf and I went to Pepper, a cafe in the Newmarket area of Flemington. This little corner venue has become our favourite Friday haunt (Fridays being our version of a Sunday).
After having Wolf I, like many new mums, found that it wasn't possible to keep going to the same old holes in the wall that we used to love. Laneway cafes and 10 seat coffee stops weren't going to hack it anymore, not with a pram and a very noisy little baby. Wolf has a screech on him like a banshee.
I've found myself wishing that there was a guide like The Age's Cheap Eats or Good Food Guide with lists of places reviewed to be pram-friendly, breast-feeding-friendly, and generally comfortable for baby mums. But seeing as there isn't I thought I might just do it myself. So from now on, every cafe or restaurant that we visit with Wolf, I will review in regards to the aforementioned criteria. I hope this will be helpful for you.
Pepper have a great position on the corner of Pin Oak Crescent and a quiet and quaint residential street, removed from the noise and traffic of busy Flemington road. One of the best things about Pepper is the ample outdoor seating and back-room. Plenty of pram parking on the shady pathway, at the window seats before the coffee machine, or in cosy but bright room by the kitchen. Also, if you're breast-feeding this back-room provides four corner tables where you can happily ensconce yourself to feed bub while having a coffee and light lunch. Tables indoors are spaced widely enough that you can easily navigate your pram even if you've got one of those heavy-duty four-wheel-drives.
Excellent coffee and great food, Pepper do Breakfast and Lunch 7 days a week, and Tapas and Pizza for dinner Wednesday-Friday. For breakfast have an excellent eggs benedict ($11), with perfect hollandaise (pretty much the number one thing I wanted to eat once Wolf was born) or the sweetcorn hotcakes with bacon, slow roasted tomato, rocket and aioli ($13.50).
A stand-out lunch special was the veal tortellini baked in a creamy cheese and mushroom sauce ($12). Big flavour, delicate and perfectly cooked tortellini and easy to eat one handed while breast-feeding.
Pepper use Monte Coffee, and it is generally pretty good, but they also do an organic East Timorese coffee which has a really smooth flavour. Try this with a slice of their house-made carrot cake with cream cheese icing.  
Service can be a little distracted, especially as the handful of front-of-house double as sandwich-makers, juicers and baristas, but it is always well-intended and efficient as possible. The kitchen is pretty quick, even when tables are full. 
White walls contrast with a dark polished concrete floor and cute bright orange wooden chairs. It manages to be both airy and bright but cosy and warm depending on the weather. You can count on at least one other mum with a pram patronising Pepper at any visit and you never feel rushed to vacate your table. A charming place to bring your baby.

44 Pin Oak Cresecent, Flemington
Breakfast - Lunch 7 days
03 9372 2726

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wolf's Room

Decorating a kid's room is the absolute best fun.  We used wall stickers and decals as well as a couple of our old skateboards to liven up his walls. Yes, that is a Yoshimoto Nara print next to the monster lights. I think I'll have to change it for something else soon because the expression on the little girl's face is rather alarming. 
The mobile in front of the decal tree is made of felt clouds, paper cranes, and plastic food and fruit. I really wanted to make Wolf a personal present from me, so I knocked it together during my wait in late-pregnancy limbo. It's held together with thick plastic cord and metal clasps. We mounted it quite high so he won't be able to reach it till he's like 10. 
I didn't even finish it in time. I finally tied all the strings onto it when he was 4 days home from the hospital. I said "Ta da!" and held it up for him to see. He stared at it for about 5 seconds before he fell asleep.


I make pancakes for Josh at least once a week. And if he's a really good boy, twice. This is a particularly good way of showing my affection regularly (are there other ways to do such?) while balancing out my sanity. Cooking = calming. Cooking means that I don't lose my identity completely. From cooking for a couple hundred people a day to just cooking for one (breakfast, lunch and dinner!) and breast feeding the other.
My recipe has been tried as tested enough that all unnecessary little bits and pieces have been eliminated, and they can be easily made with things you should already have in your pantry.
A good recipe should be simple, with a minimum of steps and recipes to achieve the maximum quality of product. I can't bloody stand it when a recipe has about fifteen ingredients, all in miniscule amounts, such that they probably don't actually contribute anything to the dish. Especially when you're at home and don't have a fully loaded cool-room and a well stocked pantry at your disposal. How essential could a 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg possibly be?
I suppose recipes get passed from one person to another, each convinced that the instructions can't be altered. Without understanding the fundamentals of cooking, people are scared to change things, to think about how recipes really work.
This pancake recipe achieves fluffiness and flavour without the use of baking powder or self raising flour. Feel free to exchange one egg for a banana to make Banana Pancakes.

4 whole eggs
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 cups plain flour
1 cup milk
Pinch salt

Separate eggs. Whisk yolks with caster sugar and salt until pale and fluffy. Gradually whisk in flour.
Add milk to form a thick batter. In separate bowl whisk egg whites till at soft peak stage. Fold whites
into aforementioned batter. 
Ladle mixture into hot pan that has been greased with a knob of butter. When bubbles form on the 
top, flip pancake and cook other side till golden.
Yes I know I was ranting about unnecessary bits of ingredients just a moment ago, but there is a reason that sweet recipes include a pinch of salt. The salt stimulates one's palate so that the contrast of salt and sweetness actually makes you taste more. The sweet is even better for it.

Awesome Buys Volume 1

I can't stop shopping. I'm not even working right now (though I hope to get back into a commercial kitchen by February next year). Shopping for children and shopping for food; two irresistible vices. I made a huge order at Lark and included a present for the little Indian girl that lives in the apartment next door. Rosie Flo's Kitchen colouring book by Roz Streeton is full of lovely pages of food shaped dresses, like corn kernel evening gowns and wedding cake summer numbers. Kids can colour in the dresses and add their own heads, arms and legs to the existing illustrations. It's adorable! And it encourages creative play which is much better for their learning than bloody TV and video games! The hand-drawn style of the illustrations is just beautiful and the book uses both high quality white paper and slightly translucent pages similar to a thick tracing paper. These translucent pages overlay the images on the white page behind to create a clever two or three layer effect. A really beautiful item. I can't wait to give it to my neighbor! I think I'll get some more for Josh's little cousins. Buy it from Lark made.


It doesn't matter what anyone says; I didn't name my son after flamboyant Austrian celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck. I didn't even go to his restaurant here in Melbourne when it was open. In the 90s sometime.  I was just a kid! What was it called again? Wolfgang Puck Cafe. Creative name for a place really. Failing references to a fusion-food sellout, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is often mentioned. Classical music is a subject I haven't touched since I sold my violin and bought an electric guitar instead. We just thought Wolf would be a really cool name for a boy. Did I say we? Perhaps it was just me. Maybe I don't remember ever consulting my partner about what he thought would be a nice name for a boy. Apparently it is Old German and means 'travelling wolf'. Ich spreche nur ein bischen Deutsch.
My highly intelligent reggae-loving, pot-smoking, beer-binging neighbor in the apartment below ours suggested that I had chosen the name because I wanted my son to become some sort of pack trawling tough. It's the combination of 'Wolf' and 'Gang', he said, giggling at his own cleverness as he took a toke. Ah, the world viewed through the eyes of a simple mind.
In other Wolfgang related paraphenalia, awesome French alternative rock band Phoenix released their album 'Wolfgang Amadeus Pheonix' while I was pregnant. Serendipitous? I love that band. Their bright and cheerful style carried me through those heavy, belly-stretching days. Now I dance around the apartment with my little Wolf-cub to our favorite song '1901'. Does it count as intelligence expanding music if the album is named after a famous classical musician?


It's rather bloody hard to type one handed. Especially when you have a wriggling nearly-three-month-old in one arm. Thankfully he's finally falling asleep, giving me 5 minutes to express my thoughts with a rapid hand, much like expressing so much abundant breast milk. A hand over-muscular from a life of chopping, whisking and kneading now put to work with a breast pump. And a keyboard.
I was a cook, and before that an apprentice pastry chef. Even before that a student of creative writing at University. And now a mother at 23. I feel displaced; I'm between identities. Someone said it would help to talk about it.
But I don't want to talk about me, former locus of good times, hard-work and general mischief. I really want to talk about food and babies, cooking and eating out. Whatever else comes out is just a side dish.

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