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Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Food notes from a month in Melbourne: Part two

1.The veggie garden.

Grandad John and his magnificent veggie garden.

Sad as it may sound, I spent a lot of time in Australia admiring people's veggie patches (what with all those big backyards and wide open spaces). I get so used to being separated from the source in our little-flat no-balcony world, it was a joy to see climbing tomato vines, pumpkins lazily stretching across paths and fat little courgettes poking through their leaves. (When we stayed at my auntie Rob's and she pulled that night's veggies straight out of the ground for roasting... aaah, heaven.)

With all that nurturing and tilling, it's no wonder everyone also had some system to recycle their discarded foodscraps. The best new composting method I saw was under Astrid's kitchen sink in Castlemaine and it was the Bokashi Bucket. By sprinkling a bran mixture infused with "effective micro-organisms" over food scraps everytime they're thrown in the bucket, the Bokashi uses a fermentation process that doesn't stink up the kitchen; in fact, it emits a pleasant, pickled odour if any at all. The bucket has a tap to drain off the juice (which is an excellent fertiliser) and once it is full, the enriched waste can be buried in the garden. Perfect!

2. A mini country road trip & lasagne with the ladies.

Bel & Buster

Ah, road trips, reference points for so many of life's memories: from being squashed in the back seat with Ben and Maysie at seven, a caravan attached to the bumper; through to fanging it up the east coast much later, well past the age of innocence, heading to Byron Bay's bluesfest with the girls and a random hitch hiker. The sheer size of the country makes road trips essential. So it was great to jump in Bel's car and head to Castlemaine. In the past, we might have been hooning in her Charger, sucking on tinnies, a bag of zing-a-ling cookies in the back, giggling like a couple of idiots. This time, we were in a very sensible vehicle, sipping mineral water, little baby Buster in the back... still giggling like a couple of idiots.

Edie, Astrid & the chooks whose names I forget

The road trip might have been short but the destination was a treat: a country arvo and evening spent in Astrid's kitchen with the old PBS work crew (and their little mother suckers). Astrid was on meal duty for a neighbour who'd just had a baby and giving her first lasagne a crack -- under Lisa's expert eye -- so we doubled up for our dinner as well.

When you think of all the butter and cheese synonomous with lasagne, you may think a vegan version might be lacking some. Not on your life, and this one ain't just for hippies, I swear. Lentils will give depth to your tomato and veggie sauce. As for the bechamel, combine tahini, lemon juice, a little water and soft tofu. And for a yummy spinach layer, substitute ricotta for a good tofu then add seeds, a little sesame oil and grated lemon rind.

3. A decent brekky on Lygon.

It being a whirlwind trip, we sadly didn't have time to visit as many of Melbourne's food haunts as we would have liked. We did, however, take advantage of the city's dime-a-dozen, good, cheap, served-till-late breakfasts. (For a comprehensive rundown, visit The Breakfast Blog.) In Elwood, Jerry's Milk Bar offered decent food but cocaine attitude and patronisingly slow service, while the Turtle Cafe was tasty, albeit on the little side. It was over the other side of town, courtesy of a short stay in North Carlton, that we found a winner.

At the Elgin end of Lygon, Trotters may have received a lukewarm reception from TBB (where you can find all these cafes, incidentally) but it worked for us. Twice, the brekky was goo-oo-oo-ood, orange juice exceptional, atmos buzzing and staff quietly charming. I wasn't a huge fan of the mashed hash (and my florentine was a bit so-so), but avocado and mushrooms on toast was a sensation: half a perfectly ripe avo, a big lemon wedge and juicy, rosemary herbed mushies in their very own bowl. With this in mind, I'm begging, please, anyone who knows of any really good late Sunday brekkie stops in London, I wanna know!

Thank god Chew is actually posting some recipes these days while I detour down sentimental lane. For those of you right now thinking, 'what?! no recipe? but I wanna make a vegan lasagne NOW!' never fear, in the coming weeks I shall actually cook, photograph and devise some vague instructions for both the lasagne and last week's tempura. Just not today.

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