Saturday, August 28, 2010

I heart risoni

Pasta that looks like rice.

Morning in Fitzroy

I'm not sure how I've managed to live in Melbourne for the last 5 years and not known about Mario's cafe on Brunswick Street. I walked past it yesterday arvo and noticed the paintings hanging on the walls inside the cafe and decided to pop in for a quick look. The place was packed and I decided then and there that I had to return for food.

Flash forward to late this morning when I managed to drag Nathan out of bed and up to Fitzroy for brunch at Mario's. The food was yummy, especially the breakfast special that Nathan ordered. It was basically egg, cheese and bechamel sauce sandwiched between two pieces of buttery toast. Calories + saturated fat = tasty.

After brekky, Nathan wanted to check out the Kodak Salon at the Centre for Contemporary Photography. The problem was that neither of us knew exactly where it was (other than the fact that the CCP was suppose to be on George Street and that George Street was somewhere nearby). Fortuitously, a turn down a side street got us there. After seeing the exhibition, Nathan is now more determined than ever to get himself a good camera for Christmas (Naturally, I will be his muse!).

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Weekend in the Emerald City

Nathan and I headed up to Sydney on Thursday night to visit friends for the weekend.

We spent Friday morning gorging on seafood at the Sydney Fish Markets before visiting my favourite gallery on Dank street in Waterloo. In the evening we caught up with Sasha and Simon who had made a reservation at a greek restaurant where participation in the Zorba and the smashing of plates were apparently compulsory (I did very badly at the former and nearly took out someone's shin with the latter).

Nate and I caught up with Sasha and Simon again on the Saturday night for what was arguably the best pub meal I've ever eaten (at the Cooper's Hotel in Newtown). The TV screens were a little distracting though and I found myself glued to the coverage of the election. We later moved to a bar devoid of television monitors for cocktails where I managed to have a non alcoholic beverage called a tutti frutti (very predictable, I know).

Before flying back to Melbourne on Sunday, we headed out to Fort Denison for a visit. Fortuitously, even without a reservation, we managed to get a table at the fancy restaurant on the Fort and enjoyed a nice meal with the harbour backdrop.

Nate and I returned to wet and cold Melbourne on Sunday night. I wish we had Sydney's winter weather. I think the temps on the weekend in Sydney were the warmest I had experienced since leaving Summer in Finland.

Need to make another trip up again soon (Victor, I haven't forgotten about our outing for pho and Paddington markets!).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Surprise house warming

It's been months in the planning: a surprise housewarming party for my friends Kath and Emile. It's actually a second housewarming to make up for their first one when no one turned up. This time round, to avoid a piss poor turn out, we organized a night that would guarantee maximum attendance and then hatched an elaborate plan.

The plan involved organizing a quiet decoy "dinner" at Kath and Emile's home with one of their friends. This was to ensure that they'd actually be home when the rest of us turned up with the food and drinks....Housewarming parties aren't much fun when you can't get into the house because the occupiers are out on the town. The plan also involved organizing a decoy Sunday activity (a trip to the Camberwell markets) to ensure that neither Kath nor Emile had any early morning plans that might ruin a fun-filled night of partying.

Meanwhile, the rest of us gathered at South Yarra station and then walked to Kath and Emile's house, quietly gathered in front of the door, and then rung the door bell. Emile answered the door and basically stood in the doorway speechless for what seemed like eternity before someone in our group suggested he let us into the house. It was quite the home invasion and it took them a while to come around to the fact that they were now hosting a housewarming party (rather than a quiet night in). I'm not quite sure if anyone knows whether the camberwell market outing is still happening though. I suspect not.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A suitor for Emma

I had the day off again and decided to visit Emma who manages a gallery in the city.

Whilst I was there, a man walks in, says hello, then proceeds to look around.

Emma and I start chatting in her office. Thirty minutes later I realize that the man was still loitering around. I felt bad and told her that she should attend to the customer but she assures me that he has an ulterior motive... the guy wants to ask her out on a date. I told her I should go so he can have the opportunity (I'm a romantic at heart) but she insists that I stay.

Eventually the guy runs out of patience and comes over to the office. After exchanging idle chit chat, he tells Emma he'll come back tomorrow and then leaves. Emma looked relieved. She had only recently come out of a relationship. I tell her that the guy seems nice and, besides, is only asking her out for coffee; not proposing marriage. I thought she should give the guy a go (I felt sorry for him and, besides, he was totally hot). Emma tells me that she is not ready to start dating again and wasn't looking for love. It turned out Emma had an ulterior motive too. You see, Emma is after more male friends. She thinks there is something wrong about the female gender bias of her friendship circle and thought this guy might be able to help her redress the imbalance. She saw him as friendship material (He evidently was thinking something else). I tell Emma that love happens when one is busy doing other things and besides, if the coffee date isn't going well she can always start talking about her ex or her daughter.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The dog

I've sat in train carriages with vomiting children, urinating drunks and smelly vagrants but never before (until today) did I have to endure 30 minutes sitting near a nice-looking dog with a terrible gas problem.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The sales pitch

Last night at an art exhibition preview...

Me: I really like this painting.
Gallerist (pointing to another painting): Yeah but you really should get this one.
Me: But I prefer my one more.
Gallerist (still insiting on the other painting): I'm telling you, this is the better painting. It's the one the NGA [National Gallery of Australia] was interested in.
Me: Maybe they should buy it.
Gallerist: They can't afford it.

By now, we are joined by some random guy who was also at the exhibition...

Random guy: I agree with Grant. It's the better piece. You should get it.
Me to Randy: I like the other one more. Maybe you should buy this one?
Random guy: I can't possibly.
Gallerist: Seriously [turning to me], you should get this one. I'm telling you.
Me: I can't afford it.
Gallerist: Oh...why didn't you say so earlier [He walks off].

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The crying game

Earlier this week, I had to have a difficult conversation with M, a friend from work. As usual, it ended in tears.

The previous Friday, I had invited M and her husband to an art exhibition where they proceeded to get completely plastered. Things weren't too bad at the gallery but it soon deteriorated when we were invited back to the gallerist's house.

For a start, M's husband decided to plant his arse on a piece of furniture that was not meant to be sat on. To this day, I'm not quite sure why he thought it was ok to make himself comfortable on top of a low lying book shelf adorned with pieces of sculpture and a small television set. But let's not over analyse.

The gallerist absolutely cracked it and proceeded to tell him off in front of all the other guests. Sure, maybe the gallerist over-reacted but M's husband didn't help the situation by boasting about his own furniture-making skills and how he could easily have fixed the piece had it been damaged under his weight. Yeah, right. We're talking about a fancy custom made book shelf that was built by a famous Western Australian furniture maker that probably cost as much as a small house in Frankston...not a quick assembled, mass-produced shelf from Ikea called Möög.

Meanwhile, M, who was too drunk to pour herself a drink, spilt sparkling mineral water all over the gallerist's jarah coffee table. Trying to be helpful, M's husband then attempted to clean the spill with the gallerist's collection of imported art magazines. It was about as stupid and as futile as BP's recent attempts at cleaning up the oil spill in the Mexican Gulf.

About this time, I decided that maybe I should go (and to try and drag M and her husband along with me). My exit strategy was simple. I got up and started to say goodbye to the other guests hoping that M and her husband would follow. Encouragingly, M stood up. Discouragingly, after hugging me goodbye, she sat back down. It was then that the gallerist followed me to the corridor and instructed me to get them out of her house. Talk about awkward.

Flash forward to the start of the working week and a different kinda awkward. I call M into my office and proceeded to recount the horrors of Friday evening and the awkwardness it had caused (not to mention the verbal apology and the $20 I spent on buying the gallerist flowers the next day). The whole time M looked at me, her shoulders tense and her eyes glossy. I really should have let her go after she apologised but I made the mistake of trying to then change subjects and, on a more positive note, asked about the rest of the weekend. She bursts into tears and rushes out of my office.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

My life in 10 dishes

Inspired by Muzbot, here is my food biography:

1. Nestum. A brand of cereal that was very popular in South-east Asia. Every kid in Singapore probably grew up eating it. The cereal came in a tin and I still remember the wonderful aroma when the lid was opened. Grandma used to mix the cereal with hot water and condensed milk. Delicious.

2. Pork intestines. I guess it might seem disgusting but I have fond childhood memories eating a pork intestine and rice noodle dish from the produce markets when I was living in Singapore as a kid. I last had it when I went back to Singapore for a holiday in 2002 and it was exactly how I had remembered it from when I last ate it as a six year old.

3. Chicken congee. A savoury rice porridge, congee is another childhood favourite. I used to love having a freshly cracked egg in the bottom of the bowl which would poach in the hot congee.

4. Chicken rice. This is pretty much Singapore's national dish. And it's such a humble dish too...poached chicken with a deliciously chicken-flavoured rice. My mum used to work in a shop at the Hilton Hotel in Orchard Road and we would buy the chicken rice for lunch. It was always wrapped in a special grease proof paper. When unwrapped, the wonderful aroma would waft out and I would eat it behind the counter at the shop.

5. Meat pie. I still remember the first time I saw someone eating a meat pie. It was during winter in primary school in Canberra and the kid ended up with the meat all over his fingers. I remember putting in a lunch order for my first pie and how the tuck shop ladies would plunge the nozzle of the tomato sauce squirter into the pie to dispense the sauce. For the record, I NEVER got the meat sauce all over my fingers.

6. Grandma's fish and garlic chive dumplings. We used to go to Sydney to buy spanish makeral and garlic chives for making this northern chinese dish (because Canberra, in the early 80s, was no match to Sydney when it came to good produce). I remember grandma mincing up the fish with a big meat cleaver, roll out the dough for making the dumpling 'skins' and expertly pinching the dumplings together and setting them aside on a giant bamboo tray until they were ready to be boiled. Strangely, my favourite dipping sauces for fish dumplings were tomato sauce or thousand island dressing. Truly east meets west.

7. Rock lobsters. On a family holiday to Tasmania many years ago we ended up staying in the beautiful seaside hamlet of Bicheno. During a walk along a beach, we came across a fisherman with rock lobsters in hand. We ended up buying them from him and dad spent the early evening preparing them at our motel. We ended up having them in salad, as sashimi and, my favourite, grilled with cheese.

8. Dad's peking duck. Did I mention that my dad is a chef? His peking ducks are to die for. It's a rather labour intensive process to get the crispy skin that involves separating the skin from the meat (using either a bike pump or, in the good old days, by blowing through an opening in the skin at the neck). Then the duck needs to be air dried for a bit to remove any moisture from the skin before the actual roasting process. Dad used to make the wafer thin pancakes for wrapping the duck too.

8. Seafood bouillabaise, Finland. My favourite restaurant in Helsinki specialises in dishes made with garlic. The stand out dish, without a doubt, is their seafood bouillabaise. Everytime I go back to Helsinki, I always make a point of going to that restaurant and ordering the dish.

9. Red snapper curry. The Waterfront restaurant on Southbank used to do a delicious red snapper curry dish. The presentation was wonderful with the whole fish fried and presented on the plate, the filleted flesh steeped in a delicious red curry sauce and topped with fresh herbs, chilli and bean shoots. Alas, the restaurant recently changed their menu and my perennial favourite is no longer available. Yes...I complained to the manager.

10. Tuna bake. Nathan's speciality. It wasone of the first dishes Nathan ever cooked for me. And even though the sauce comes out of a jar and the dish is like a billion calories per serve, I still love it.