Thursday, December 27, 2012

beginning of the holiday season with a restricted diet

The majority of my Christmas celebrations are over and I finally have some 'me' time. It's 6pm and I'm in my pjs, hiding in my bedroom and can finally hear myself think.

I imagined Christmas would be difficult as I am still avoiding wheat/gluten/dairy/soy/nuts. I knew I would be 'that' annoying person who'd hold up takeaway lines and waitresses at restaurants with a list of questions. I'd be that really difficult guest at family/friends' houses. I anticipated that everyone would hate me by the end of the holiday season.

However, I've gotten this far in my diet - I feel like I've detoxed my body from all those stuff and my eczema is slowly clearing up so I don't have to wear band aids as much. Eating any of that stuff would undo the work that I've done... and that's how I motivated myself.

Zefferelli's had a whole gluten-free menu which was an absolute god-send. I got a Chicken Valentino which was chicken breast in a sauce made of sun dried tomatoes, olive oil and caramelised onion with veges. Normally there's cream in the sauce but I requested that this omitted. There were also pine nuts that I clumsily gave to Dan, who dined with me. I also had a bit of a gluten-free garlic pizza. I was soo happy with this meal because it was the tastiest thing I had in days.

I half-lived on these muesli bars over the past few days. They have no wheat/dairy/nuts/soy.... but as they probably had a bit of sugar so I'm hoping they haven't created more harm than good.

Dan and I also baked gluten-free banana bread/cake. We used a simple recipe from the internet, substituting sugar with honey. I can't locate the recipe, but I remember it was a simple method - mixing dry ingredients with the wet ingredients. We used Orgran's all purpose plain flour which turned out to be very similar to normal flour. The cake was delicious, fluffy and tasty. In Sydney, I used to bake banana bread all the time, so I randomly crave wholesome banana bread and this did the trick. However, it was definitely best eaten on the day (moreso than other cakes) as it became very very dry over time. 

And before I cut soy out of my diet, I made a 'vege fried rice', using tamari sauce, mirin, sesame oil, ginger, and garlic to season it.

Holidays aren't over yet, and I hope my friends and family will be forgiving. I need these holidays to destress and I don't need any extra social pressure to do something I don't want.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

no gluten/wheat/dairy/nuts/soy

I was talking to my old flatmate about having chronic eczema and solutions for it. At that point I was soo fed up with my skin condition. As I discussed in a previous blog entry, my eczema has been the worst it's been in my life. Flaky skin, bleeding, pus. 3 types of hydrocortisone cream and 1 natural cream. A minimum of 3 band aids each day. The eczema was on functional parts of my body (right hand, arm, face, legs and back of my ankle). All of my daily activities were affected by it e.g. I couldn't touch objects properly (hand), couldn't walk freely (foot), couldn't cross my legs (knee) or bend my left arm for extended periods of time. This was happening for 3 months, and counting.

My old housemate suggested swapping all my beauty products for certified organic stuff as that worked for her eczema. I then realised how many chemicals are in my sorbolene cream, shampoo etc that claim to be suitable for eczema and sensitive skin. I was still a bit reluctant to do the swap because I have been using these types/brand of products for years and never had a big problem. Nevertheless, I'm slowly swapping all my beauty products for more natural/organic options. In the meantime, I've decided to eliminate foods from my diet. Initially I said I'd avoid wheat, dairy and nuts for one week and for the second week, I'd do soy and dairy. So this is how I went:

Even though I have this stupid skin condition, it doesn't mean I can't keep enjoying food. Why would I punish myself and my taste buds for inheriting eczema?! At work, I usually snack on nuts and fruit. I substituted the nuts for simply more fruit. After 3 days of this, I became more lethargic, really pale in the face and moody. This raw food bar with mango, chia seeds etc allowed me to feel human again. I also popped a few iron tablets.

Having boiled veges for lunch and dinner a few days in a row made me feel like I was trying to make myself anorexic. To fill up my cranky stomach, I made myself a soy hot chocolate... I put in dairy/sugar free chocolate which makes the drink as disgusting as the chocolate tastes by itself. So, I added honey to sweeten the drink. Beautiful.

I love eating out but WOW, this week I had to do indepth research and interrogating with every takeaway store and restaurant I ate from. Celiacs would find it incredibly difficult. There's wheat/gluten in almost every Asian sauce that restaurants use and even salad dressings. One salad bar gave me a list of their gluten free options but they had nuts/dairy in them. Out of frustration, I just had a fruit juice for lunch.

My friend and I went to a sushi/ramen restaurant near ANU so I did research beforehand. I thought I'd be safe with the salmon skin sushi as I interrogated the poor girl at the counter about the dish. But when it came out, I realised the skin was was battered (contains wheat). So in fact, celiacs would only be able to eat the sashimi and edamame beans in this restaurant. Not fun at all.

I still wanted to have options for breakfast, as it's my favourite meal of the day. Luckily the Freedom Foods company makes cereals with no nuts, or wheat. This was a god send. Later in the week, I decided to add 'soy' to my food elimination list. I only realised how stupid this was when I went to Coles. People must've thought I was crazy or mentally-slow as I stood in the long-life milk section for a good 5-10 minutes just staring at the shelf. Out of the 20+ varieties, I could only drink rice milk and lactose-free milk. I've had rice milk before and it's very sweet and flowery. So lactose free milk it was.
Thankfully, parts of my eczema are now clearing up. This could be my diet or as it was cooler in Canberra this week. I don't have to wear as many band aids now and there's no blood/pus. I think I'll continue this 'diet' for as long as possible. But I hope I can eat some gluten/wheat/dairy/nuts/soy again.

People who have known me for a while may remember that I did a similar thing when I was about 14. I said I'd have no junk food for a few weeks, then I kept pushing myself and lasted for 2 years. I don't think this diet will take the same path.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

turkish feast - lunch and dinner

I normally try to have different cuisines/types of food during the week. However, on this one day, I went to the Turkish Pide House in Civic for both lunch and dinner. EEEK! Work had organised a work lunch there and I couldn't refuse. My friend was coming from interstate and a Turkish dinner seemed like the obvious option, because it was a bit different from those Mod Australian cafe/restaurants in Civic. I wasn't majorly fussed cos I don't normally have Turkish, so it was like drinking water in a dessert.

For lunch, I got the salmon salad. This looked and tasted like a 'healthy-something' that I would cook myself - at least I didn't get the gross feeling I sometimes get after eating lots of Turkish meat. I was surprised there was cheese on the salad leaves though - is this common? Oh well, there went my attempt to avoid dairy food. The dish was reminiscent of cafe lunches you'd normally get in Australia so I wonder how is this dish Turkish? What is Turkish? I don't know.

We really had a feast for dinner. Between three girls, we ordered two banquets and extra falafel. Wow, it was a celebration of food and through food. The food was tasty and there were decent portions of meat, bread/dip, pizza pide. We could have had more salad but maybe that's cos two of us have diets mainly consisting of veges. The girls let me bring home all the leftovers, which lasted me two good meals. Wow!
Turkish Pide House
16 Moore Street

lemon & tarragon smoked chicken salad

Months ago, when my mum visited me in Canberra, we went to Poacher's Pantry in Hall. Being the foodie she is, she purchased two lots of smoked meat for the family in Sydney. I also got the smoked chicken with tarragon and lemon. I normally wouldn't buy a whole piece of expensive meat just for myself... but I wanted some variety in my diet and thought I could give some to Dan. If you didn't know, I'm a bit funny about how I eat food - I try to avoid large portions of food and try to savor what I do eat. For example, if someone gives me a wrapped piece of chocolate, I usually 'save it' til I am in the mood to eat it.
The Poachers Pantry website has a list of recipes for smoked meat from the shop: I appropriated some recipes and made a salad with the smoked chicken. Not that hard at all.

In addition to the chicken, the salad had mixed salad leaves, blanched broccolini, stir fried mushrooms, grated carrot and toasted walnuts. The dressing was a concoction of lemon juice, olive oil and crushed roasted garlic. I have a tendency to stuff up food when I know I'm making it for someone else (damn those high self-expectations) so I made it for myself first then packed it into a million separate containers for Dan's lunch the next day. I felt like a school mum :S

Overall, the salad was good. The chicken was tasty but had a weird rubbery texture (probably due to being smoked). I put half a packet of chicken into one salad, which was probably too much but oh well. It looked delicious and health though!

Friday, November 23, 2012

canberra ramblings

The weather in Canberra is sooo dry. Without fail, in the Spring months of each year, I get eczema and hay fever. However, this year has been the worst my eczema has ever been. I know people aren't supposed to put band aids on their eczema, but there was puss coming out (eww). If I didn't have band aids on and handled a simple thing such as bed sheets, my hand would start bleeding in a few minutes.
Over a few months, I used natural and pharmaceutical eczema cream (the latter has hydro cortisone which is known to be bad for your body), and antiseptic cream. I also avoided foods that are apparently triggers of these allergies, like dairy. A dairy free diet wasn't too bad - I could still enjoy a hot chocolate but with soy milk (which I'm used to), melted dark chocolate (such as Lindt's 70% dark choc which is dairy free) and honey. This was bliss.

Anyway, I'm currently in an introspective mood, so I'm gonna let myself vent then I will return to food blogging. Canberra's dry environment is incompatible with my body - this frustration adds to my fleeting resentment of Canberra. At the worst, I find Canberra isolating. For weeks, I may only speak to 1-2 good friends. I become a slave to work and there is little thinking/activities outside this realm.

Although I'm not fully satisfied with Canberra, it doesn't mean I'll be moving back to Sydney any time soon. Initially, I found it novel to be away from my friends and family as I'd speak to them on the phone, on Facebook and they'd visit me. Now, I forgot how how these relationships worked. How did we interact? How comfortable did I feel? Do we still have similarities?

If I left Canberra tomorrow, I'm not sure what I'd do. I could travel overseas, visit some of my friends interstate, go to the NT, work in an NGO, do a Masters degree. There are many options... however, knowing me I'll still do everything that I aspire to do - it's just the order/timing that would vary.

Monday, November 19, 2012

accidentally vegan in melbourne

I am currently taking some down time after a week long trip to Melbourne. Although Melbourne or any big city isn't really a place to 'relax', I am happy that I got some time off work and escaped the monotony of Canberra.

It took Dan and I 8+ hours to get from Canberra to Melbourne by road (he drove the whole journey!). Sitting in the passenger seat, I ate (or squished in my mouth) half a packet of blueberries. This left an odd but surely attractive blue tint on my tongue. If you eat anything, you might as well 'explore' the textures of your food and play with it.

One thing that I loved about my holiday was that one of my Sydney friends was in Melbourne for the weekend. This gave me the opportunity me to do things in Melbourne that most guys would hate you for -  stroll along a street eating, drinking, gossiping and shopping for a whole day. 

On Brunswick Street, we came across Merry Cupcakes, a little cute and friendly store. For morning tea, my friend and I shared a peanut butter and jelly cupcake. The cake part was delicious, moist and didn't have that  odd starchy texture that many commercial cupcakes have when you finish it. The peanut was a cute addition to the icing and the jam in the centre was delicious. I expected a stronger peanut taste though. I only realised it was a vegan cupcake store when I surfed the net for this blog. Good job to the cafe!

Based on a recommendation, my friend and I went to the Vegie Bar on Brunswick Street for lunch. I was excited for this for several reasons - I find it hard to drag my Canberra friends to vego cafes (they are sceptical) and vego cafes are hard to come across in Canberra. We got gyoza dumplings for our entree which had some sort of red bean in it. Different but nice. I got the raw vege stack for my main. I thought if I was to eat vegan food, i might as well go a step further and choose something raw. It was actually tasty and nothing like those raw soups I made for myself when I was younger. Score!

I am also stoked that I finally got myself to Melbourne. You see, I had a best friend who passed away years ago. We planned to travel to Melbourne just before she died. Over the past few years, I never got around to it because I was caught up grieving and my plans with other friends fell through. Eventually I felt better about her death etc and I thought I'd be all fine to travel there whenever I wanted. However, I only realised in the past year that it was harder than I expected. When I flew for work, the plane would often stopover in Melbourne and I'd get minor panic attacks etc. I was surprised and annoyed at myself... Soo I put myself on a mission to confront this crap and go to Melbourne before the end of the year... and I did it without freaking out!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

granola #2

I'm keen to make my own breakfast granola to replace my normal pre-packaged cereals whenever possible. This time I included: rolled oats, puffed wheat, linseeds, crushed cashews and almonds, sultanas, cinnamon, dessicated coconut etc. Compared to the last time I made granola, I decreased my portion of honey and used two heaped tablespoons for the whole mix. This made it less sweet (duh) and not as crunchy. Nevertheless, two tablespoons were enough as the sultanas sweetened the granola. I thought this version had less character than my previous version although my housemates thought this one smelt like anzac biscuits.

On a somewhat related note (I'm stretching it here), I finally grew the balls to learn to ride a push bike over the past few months (my ease at baking compensates for my former inability to ride a bike). When I told my friends about this, I often got responses of horror and shock. People also asked - can you swim or even catch a ball? Yes (idiots). I never got past the training wheels stage as a kid - apparently I was stubborn and whimped out when my dad took away the training wheels. Anyway I just wanted to show you my new bike... my male housemate calls it a 'hipster' bike - HAHA. The weather is warming up and I'm making an effort to ride it each weekend.

bbq on voting day

Today was A.C.T's voting day. When I was driving around, it was obvious when I was approaching polling centres as there would be lots of people walking and campaign posters strategically placed (100m away from the polling centres of course).

Anyway, the weather was gorgeous today. Mid-20 degrees and Canberra's first sign of summer. Dan and I revisited a spot we found last weekend during a random drive - a BBQ/picnic spot in the 'Uriarra Settlement'. It was just a 30 minute cruise through rolling hills from my home in South Canberra. During the drive, I didn't feel like I was in Canberra at all - we could have been in the middle of NSW or QLD for all we knew. The picnic spot has a 'nature reserve feel' and is surrounded by greenery overlooking a calm river.

The BBQ facilities were 'cute and small' - from afar, it was hard to distinguish the tree stumps from the BBQs, lol. All of the good ones were occupied, so we did some 'hawking' and pounced on one as it became available.
I heard from someone or somewhere that you could cook a banana on a BBQ in its whole skin. We did this and the banana started jumping on the hot plate, as if it was alive! Probably best to pierce the skin a little to let the hot air out. While we ate the meat/veges, we left the banana on the hot plate til the majority of the skin turned black and voila! The actual banana tasted smoky, was soft and lovely. Brilliance. Dan suggested that it'd be better with cinnamon, nutmeg, oats, honey etc - genuis. BBQing an apple would also be delicious... oh the possibilities!
I was also wearing my new thongs. All I needed was a straw hat and a ute with a dog then I'd be a true bloody Aussie.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

living green festival

I went to the Living Green Festival in Canberra again this year. The festival had more stalls than last year and it was interesting to see the types of 'green' organisations in Canberra e.g. The ACT Nudist Club? I didn't get a chance to see what they were though.

From Veganarchy, I tried a French Toast cupcake - I loved the concept and mix of cinnamon, butteriness etc. The cupcake was delicious and I probably wouldn't have guessed it was vegan/gluten free. It was moist, fluffy, tasty and not starchy.

From a baking perspective, I wonder what egg substitute was used (perhaps baking powder perhaps or a vegan butter) and what the flour was made of (perhaps nuts). Vegan/gluten free cake ingredients are often more expensive than its mainstream counterparts, so I was surprised the cupcake was only $3.50 where mainstream cupcakes are often pricier. I would definitely have this cupcake more often if they were more accessible.

Maybe I shouldn't even compare vegan/gluten free cupcakes to 'mainstream' cupcakes. Embrace something for what it is, not for what it could be.

Also tried a curry pie from Funky Pies - it was delicious too. As it had no animal fats, I felt at ease that I could eat it without damaging my cholesterol.
While the festival had more stalls than last year, there were more voices yelling 'buy me, buy me'. Even through consumerism negatively impacts the environment, it's a bit sad to see environmentalists promoting themselves through products, goods and the market. But what can I say - in this blog I talk about my own consumption of food.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Vietnamese in Weston Creek: like a theatre performance

Sometimes I find the experience of eating in a restaurant similar to going to the theatre. How well is the food's performance i.e. taste/smell/aesthetics? What type of people eat at the restaurant? Does the customer service enhance your experience? Can your waiter/waitress explain each dish before you choose it? It's also the anticipation/waiting before your food/the performance arrives.

My mum came to visit me in Canberra a while ago and I brought her to 'My's Vietnamese Restaurant' in Weston Creek. We got the beef pho - I think we subconsciously think pho as a good indicator of how good a Viet restaurant is... and a 'chefs special' with beef, salad and Viet rice paper sheets. Many things amazed me about the latter dish - the unexpected flames underneath the dish which weren't just for aesthetics but for cooking the beef; the plastic things used to separate the moist rice paper sheets; the full-bodied taste; getting my hands dirty when preparing the rolls. Highly recommended.
My's Vietnamese Restaurant
35 Brierly Street
Weston Creek

reaquainted with solo restaurant eating: darwin

When I traveled overseas, I learnt the skill of eating by myself in restaurants. I loved eating out and soaking up the atmosphere in a restaurant/place - all I had to do was overcome my self-conscious thoughts like 'do I look weird eating by myself' and feel confident about my own company. Eventually, having dinner solo was a calming end to the day - I don't have to speak to anyone, but there was enough stimuli around me to keep me thinking. I liked the independence.

When I went to Darwin a while ago, I realised I hadn't eaten in a restaurant solo for ages. I felt awkward and out of place... Thank goodness for my smart phone 8) and capacity to daydream.

Amazing Thailand (Mitchell Street)
I'm a kind of person who must eat once I wake up, otherwise I will get dizzy and scatter-brained... On this occasion, I forgot to buy anything to eat in the morning and unexpectingly had to work for three hours... I then I navigated myself in 30 degree heat from my hotel to hostel. I was STARVING. Normally I steer away from tourist areas, but couldn't help myself this time. I stumbled into a Thai restaurant down the road - the restaurant was interesting as two whole walls were removed to help ventilation (and created a perfect opportunity for people watching).

I ordered a lemongrass stir fry with vegetables... The meal probably verged on horrible as I couldn't taste any lemongrass and the pumpkin tasted like it had been sitting in the fridge for a few days. I also got some sort of soup, which consisted of msg water and cucumber. Maybe the Thai food in the Top End is a bit different... but for what it was, it was still kinda bland. le sigh.

Manoli's Greek Taverna Restaurant (Smith Street)
I get sick and tired of the limited range of food in Canberra, so in Darwin I went on a journey to find a cuisine that's not easily accessible in Canberra - and Greek it was! Outside, the restaurant looked quaint and kitschy, with checkered tablecloths and blue/white Greek colour combination. Nevertheless, it was refreshing.

I was on a health kick, and ordered well for that purpose... Greek baked beans and zucchini (pan fried with some sort of seasoning and mashed potato). The food was tasty, but overpriced (I paid around $18 for both). I've made Greek baked beans at  home before and those at the restaurant were good, but not stunningly amazing. Oh well - it gave me ideas of what I could cook for myself if I felt ultra lazy and needed healthy food.

Oishi Ya (Mitchell Street)
In Canberra, I don't have many friends who I can enjoy Japanese food with... so I grasped the opportunity of being in Darwin and had a bento box. But a barramundi bento box? Is this common? I've never seen this combo before... Apparently miso paste was used to flavour the barra, but I couldn't taste a thing. Nevertheless, the fish was cooked well and the tofu was decent. I probably ate it all 5 minutes - again, I was starving as I had walked for 1 hour up and down hills with ballet flats in 30 degree weather... idiot.

Monday, October 8, 2012

home made granola and granola bars

It's the last day of a long weekend in Canberra and I feel like a heavy slug with an over-sized mid section and head/eyes - I didn't get much sleep last night as I overestimated how cold it was (wore too many layers and overheated). Now I feel tired, gross and edging on grumpiness... to cure this, I tried to nap a few times but couldn't fall asleep. I am basically shuttling between my bed, computer and phone saying to friends that I feel too gross to see them.

It might seem like I'm subconsciously on a mission to destroy myself and my sanity, but at least I have access to some of my home-made granola/granola bars, rather than chocolate/chips which would only worsen my sluggish mood.

I used to make granola a lot when I lived in Sydney - it is a great way to have customise your food and it's really easy. This time my granola had: rolled oats, linseeds, almonds, walnuts, cashews, cranberries, sunflower seeds, honey and a dash of oil. Place all dry ingredients (except fruit) in a bowl. Mix the wet ingredients on a bowl on the side and mix it in with the dry ingredients. Spread it onto a baking tray, into a hot oven for about 20mins. Voila - the result was good and not too sweet. You can add other types of grains, fruits, protein etc.

On the side of this picture, you can see a stack of 'granola bars' - I got the recipe from some vegan website a few years ago. The bars were made from the same granola mix, but I replaced the honey with a mashed banana. The natural stickiness of the banana helped the mix bake as circular shapes - great snacks for work, although I'll probably finish them all before work tomorrow.

Thank you blog i.e. my invisible audience.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Darwin's Parap Village Market

I recently had a great opportunity to go to Darwin for work. The town was hot, humid, touristy and refreshing. It was a taste of the break that I need away from the cold and the Canberra scene.

I usually love the atmosphere of festivals and markets - the smell, different languages, ability to stroll and look. At the same time I also hate being close to many sweaty people, snail-speed walkers and the whole 'buy me buy me' atmosphere. Paradox much?!

Many people told me before my Darwin trip that I should see the Mindil Beach Markets - these are on the beach and timed at sunset. Apparently its very multicultural, lively, fun and relaxed. However, much to my disappointment, I couldn't go... but I went to the Parap Village Markets as a substitute.

The Parap Village Markets is a short shuttle bus ride from Darwin's town centre. It'd probably take 1.5 hours to get there on foot (!!).

There were tropical fruits (frozen mango?!?!) and heaps of South-East Asian desserts. I didn't have the balls to try any of the latter because many of the desserts had lots of coconut milk and were left outside in the 30 degree heat for a few hours... It was tough - the threat of food poisoning or enjoying food that looked sooo good. I was a bit freaked out because a few of my work people got food poisoning :(. However, being at the markets made me desperately want to fly to South-East Asia... why work in a grey building when you could be on a holiday?! 

Had a fruit juice though - i was parched. I also bought a hippie-like skirt which had a South-East Asian print on it... There were portable change rooms and bright colours.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

sharing food, memories and the company

Ages ago, I shared some pizzas from Zeffirellis with friends in Canberra. This post is not so much about the food itself, but the memories attached to the food/event. Basically, I don't think people are much without their memory - how would you know what tastes good, where to eat, who you like sharing food with if you didn't have any memory (or memory of trustworthy people to ask for advice)?

The anniversary of my best friend's death is in a few months. I usually don't use the titles 'best friend' or 'boyfriend' or whatever. So when I say this, I mean she was my closest friend for many many years - she'd be the first person who I'd tell things and ask for advice (a big indicator for females). Before she died, we made plans to travel to Melbourne and aspired to do student exchange in the UK/America. We talked quite often, even though we went to different schools.

I am thinking about what I want to do on her anniversary, as I am usually totally unproductive over the few days. I could stay in Canberra, play it simple, mope around all day and have lunch/dinner with friends. Or I could go to Sydney, visit her sites, her family and spend time with my family... comfort myself through food that is familiar to me. Or I could go to Melbourne - something that could be totally overwhelming and exciting.

I know there are people who quickly heal from deaths of loved ones - within weeks and months. However, she was my best friend for many reasons. We shared very similar and prominent struggles being Australian-Chinese, with school, friends and family. We shared many aspirations, dreams and interests - having creativity in our lives, travelling, nature/naturalness etc. After she died, I spiritually and practically couldn't do any of these things in the same way again. Only through speaking to lots and lots and lots of people have I been able to find new ways of doing these things... but this becomes tiring. So this has forced me to change a bit.

Similar to a skinny girl eating pizza with no one watching, my friend's anniversary is a day for me to just 'be'. The food will be crucial, as I associate good food with good company. This is something I'll need on her anniversary.

Monday, September 3, 2012

sharing this food blog

When I'm getting to know people, they are often surprised that I have a food blog. I often get asked questions like 'How can you eat and photograph so much food while staying petite? Do you purge?' (out of sarcasm). Haha, no thank you, I don't have an eating disorder :). I just steer towards healthier options and walk a lot. Plus, I have chub on my body so I'm not skinny skinny.

I also get asked 'What kind of food do you blog about?' I blog about stuff I eat, see and cook. I often blog about things that reveal a bit about what's going on in my life at that time. I try to blog about things I find special and a bit different.

And 'Who looks at your blog?' While my blog is mainly for my family/friends, I realise lots of people who I don't know are finding my blog through - these people are led to my blog through key words including as the places/types of food on this blog. These people are located in Australia and internationally. I also write with some awareness that the restaurant/cafe may look at my blog, but this isn't my priority.

The thing that I love about having this blog and sharing my love of food is the support I've recieved from friends/family, sharing recipes, experiences and ideas. People often text me images of food or tag me in a facebook picture of some sort of food. It's something so simple but I really enjoy getting these pics from people :). And just to share a few:

Saturday, September 1, 2012

visiting Sydney

Haven't been on here in ages, like OMGWTFBBQ?!?! Lol, I guess I’ve been occupied by work and recovering from work (exciting cycle of life), recovering from getting sick and neglecting myself enough to get sick.

A few weeks ago, I had an urge to have a break from ‘everything Canberra’ – actually just work. I took a much-needed flex day and drove myself to Sydney for the weekend. I needed to chill (in warmer weather) away from my house in Canberra.

I awkwardly chose to go to Sydney on a weekend where there were heaps of parties on – unfortunately, I didn’t any quality time with my girl friends. Nevertheless, the food I had that weekend was a breath of fresh air…

One of my friends hosted an ‘ugly sweater’ party – loved the theme as we just made fun of ourselves, as opposed to other dress up parties where people aim to look as gorgeous as possible. My friends and her housemates baked a sweater-shaped cake, and encouraged the guests to decorate it with supplied icing, lollies, sprinkles etc. It was a frivolous and fun thing to do. I loved the collaborative nature of the cake where everyone could contribute to it. The conglomeration of everyone’s creativity made it a super ugly cake.

My mum and I went to Castle Towers and saw a vending machine that made fresh orange juice. At first I was amazed at how a vending machine claimed to create ‘fresh’ products in front of your eyes. It reminded me of those machines in Japan that make hot noodles (with meat and veges I assume), at the press of a button. But then I stepped out of that and saw that other people were intrigued as well – is the machine  try hard, adding to Castle Hill’s self-proclaimed yuppy culture or just another commercial enterprise?

Also got an Italian sweet at Castle Towers’ Dolci Dolci – it was like a pastry, like a donut filled with dense ricotta… It wasn’t great, a bit dry and stale (and way too many calories for how plain it was). Can you even get Italian desserts/pastries in Canberra? Maybe I just wanted to eat it for the novelty of being in Sydney. It’s like when you are travelling and you do something really stupid just ‘for the experience’. Lol, anyway…

Japanese food – my favourite. I caught up with a friend in Eastwood and for dinner, I ordered Chirashi Sushi which was a bowl of sushi rice covered with pieces of eel, Japanese-style omelette, beans, pickled ginger, sesame seeds, wasabi etc. It was simple, but delicious… will try to recreate this at home.

The funny thing about the north-west of Sydney is how Asians open cafes with pseudo-fancy/sophisticated/ethical/alternative décor… it reminds me of many cafes/restaurant in Hong Kong that had Western-inspired décor and had Western food cooked in an Asian kinda way. This was like the new café that opened in Carlingford Court. The breakfasts were overpriced and the food was strangely 'sterile' – maybe I’m sceptical of the perfect circular shape of the poached eggs and half-stale bread.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

turkish banquet wooo

Okay, after 24 hours of lazing around, talking to mum, whining, internet reading, text messages from friends and facebook chatting, I feel a lot better. Although I'm still burnt out, I am now in a celebratory/treat myself mood. The food below should be consumed in such a manner.

The Turkish Pizza House in Weston Creek is in an inconspicuous building - if you draw a square around all restaurants in Weston, it'd be in the corner. The exterior and decor of the 'pizza house' is akin to kebab takeaway joints you'd see in Blacktown in Sydney (South Western-ish suburbs). It's low key, a ghoulish low-budget orange dominates the furniture/walls and the menu consists of illuminated photos of food options.

We got the Turkish banquet. At $20pp, this consisted of a turkish pizza, lamb/chicken/beef kebab sticks, zucchini balls, two dips with turkish bread two times the size of my face, rice and a salad. I had a snack beforehand but was in food heaven. We placed all the food on a low non-table surface which made it feel like a wintery picnic. It was all super tasty and not too oily (apart from the pizza). The amount of food probably lasted us four separate meals. If I could allocate emotions to meals, rather than myself, this would be a super happy meal (not in the Maccas way).
Turkish Pizza House
8 Liardet Street

incoming cold, bang

After typing my last blog entry, it turns out that my burn out is impacting on my physical health. I woke up this morning at 5am (this is becoming a bad habit) with a sore throat and a blocked nose so I'm taking a much needed sick day to recover from this incoming cold. After feeling like death for the first few hours of the day, I dragged myself to the shops to get some natural Vitamin C (oranges and broccoli), throat lozenges and juice.
This is accompanied by murky thoughts like: I want to run away from Canberra like a little animal runs through grass or climbs trees; How pathetic is it that I that I am sick again; With my savings I can quit work and travel for [number] of months/years; What if I drive to Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane or Alice Springs right now; What would happen if I just stay in my house and never return to work until I felt like it; What if I said I would never return to Sydney.

Okay, I'm going to chill now.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


In a previous blog post, I talked about a person who I knew whose life constantly changed - the person liked to constantly relocate homes, schools, universities etc. In an simple world, I could easily romanticise this gypsy lifestyle. You get to see a lot of the world, experience many different cultures, have a range of interpersonal experiences. You are not dragged down by material belongings, meet a lot of different people and only experience that typical 'honeymoon' period of every new friendship/relationship.

I think I find this intriguing because I'm at a weird stage of my life... lots of people around me are looking for ways to 'settle down' or are on their way to it. For example, people I know are trying to better their career, saving for their first deposit for a home or paying off their first mortgage. They are also breaking up long term relationships because they don't want to commit to that person or dating for the sake of finding 'the one'. Thinking about many of these makes me want to vomit - and that's not only figurative!

So this is kinda how I feel:
(Characteristic of my refusal to follow the conventional stages of growing up) I'm not using this tongue-in-cheek, ironic cartoon to 'box' my position right now, but it does reflect some of it. I feel like I am stuck in a rut for many reasons. Not in a matter of priority, but work is draining and stressful. I'm not getting much satisfaction from it. I know many people generally don't like work, but that doesn't change how much work sucks. Having fun and understanding colleagues helps, but only barely. I'm earning all this money that piles into meaningless numbers in my bank account.

Earning allll this money could justify how much work sucks... but that's IF I had meaningful ways to spend my money. Apart from travelling, I don't find much value in things that can be purchased e.g. expensive clothes, magazines, alcohol, parties. People have suggested splurging on things I enjoy, such as food and art. I don't mind spending quite a bit of money on food, but there's little meaning behind it, rather than gratification of my senses. My favourite types of art are publicly accessible, not in a gallery and free - no money involved. People say I should put down a deposit - but i strongly disagree with this as I'm not in the mindset/stage where I want to lock myself to live in a certain city/country for even a year.

According to the trusty source urban dictionary, its common for people experiencing quarter life crises to question what the heck they are doing with their lives and regret what they are doing/have done. Strangely, I don't feel incomplete like this... I can cross that off 'the list'.

I'm not in a rut with my social life - will be broad and vague because it involves people who may read this. My girl friends in Sydney know me the best and I can relax the most around them. I'm far away from realistically thinking about marriage or children. All the social pressure and angst for 'settling down' is ridiculous and doesn't nudge me.

So I'm not sure what was the point of this blog entry. I could dissect every aspect of my life and see what range of things point to me feeling like I'm in a rut, but that would bore me AND you. However, by typing this, I've opened the door for me to raise other philosophical questions in this blog. I need to express and understand myself before I hit a hard wall.

playground bar

A new bar has opened in Garema Place called 'Playground'. The opening door is quite small but the bar attracts attention through the unusually high number of crowds inside and the noticeable white picket fence complemented with fake grass that guards the door. Is the white picket fence meant to create the illusion that walking inside the bar is like entering a house, garden or a park? Is it meant to create a sense of simplicity. It reminded me of the American TV series 'Desperate Housewives' - a comedy drama of middle class house wives.

The block colours of the furniture and setting were reminiscent of typical Western young girls playing afternoon tea in their backyard. There was also a long wall of exposed brick, hanging lights and chalk boards, creating an Eastern Sydney upper-middle class feel. It's a cosy bar and is filled with people from their mid 20s to mid 30s. The whole bar kinda said to me 'you can still feel classy, have fun like a kid and be a public servant in Canberra'.

The tapas menu was interesting - I was pleased with the choices as it didn't just consist of deep fried squid and dim sims. The menu included tapas with beef cheeks, roasted pork belly, etc. My friend and I opted for the vegetarian casserole-like dish with a poached free range egg and grilled turkish bread and some sort of meat (lamb?) rolled in eggplant. We also got beef sliders, which were essentially mini burgers. They were all tasty, cute and a treat. I enjoyed them mostly because they were novel and small. However, it wouldn't be something I'd crave as they were essentially bite sized versions of things I'd make at home for myself.
I also got cider - the waitress came out with my bottle and a stein/jug for me to drink from. I didn't feel my expense of $14 was justified - my drink would cost less than $10 at Honky Tonks, which is just a few doors away and has a similar atmosphere (both bars would attract similar crowds, and have colourful furniture and similar music). I also think there's a psychology behind inflated prices - it could make people subconsciously feel like the bar was more classy. For example, if a bar asked you to pay $5 for cider, other than getting a 'bargain', would you question what was wrong with the bar/drink?
Oh actually, one thing that was different about this place was the attentive service - this might explain the inflated prices. It was all table service (classy or just convenient as it was a cosy bar?) and we never had to stand at the bar to order a drink. However, they were so attentive that on three occasions, our food/drinks were taken away when I wanted to finish it ALL off.

Monday, July 23, 2012

EPIC markets: fresh, local, (food) porn

The farmers' markets in the Exhibition Park in Canberra (EPIC) were bustling, fresh food, local produce, lots of food porn.
Below is my attempt to take a photo of baklava with the hustle and bustle of the market in the background... The result was a phallic, up-yours photo to some stranger. Whoops.
There was a bread shop with a really long line, so we joined the bandwagon to see what all the hype was about. We got a wholemeal/rye loaf, which was dense and moist but a bit chewy on the sides. My mother also got me a bizarre 'Tunnel Mushrooms Risotto Mix'... I have little idea of what to do with it, but it looks earthy and kinda pretty.
Farmer's Markets Capital Region
Exhibition Park in Canberra (EPIC)

vege surprise in suburbia: Canberra Murugan Temple

My mum came to visit me in Canberra last weekend, so I got to do a lot of things that I've wanted to do for a while, but would find difficult to do with Canberra friends due to timing, concept or distance.

Many people have told me about the vegetarian food fairs hosted by the temples in Torrens and Mawson. The internet has vague information about these, including event listings on a low-budget 'Community Switch' website and one line statements on websites. This is the 'Sydney-me' coming out, expecting there is decent internet exposure of all community events. Sorry!

Nevertheless, we went to the Vishnu Shiva Mandir temple in Mawson first. The food fair is meant to start at 11am each Saturday. We arrived at about 12 midday to a temple with closed doors. We could hear some form of ceremony taking place and smelt delicious food. However, I felt too shy to go inside so we headed back to my car.

Next, we paid a visit to the Canberra Murugan Temple in Torrens. See here. The temple was under construction but underneath a shelter were a few bain-maries filled with an assortment of curries and finger food. It was low-key, just as I like, and the food was served by community members. There were a few people lining up for food, who seemed like they were from the neighbourhood.
The temple had a shed with car ruins and other random pieces. This intrigued me as Canberra is known to be very clean and sterile. I got a curry roll ($2), which was super crisp, not too spicy hot and filling. It reminded me of chicken nuggets! There were other curries... each plate costed less than $10 and serving sizes were generous. Would definitely go again.

Canberra Aru Padai Murugan Temple
151 Beasley Street

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

mushroom nut loaf

I love mushrooms and snacking on nuts. However, I wasn't sure how well the black squishy vegetable would go with the crunchy white protein. I got a recipe for a mushroom nut loaf from some gourmet vegetarian cookbook when I was a student and living in Sydney - it was impossible for me to bake this because a vegetarian dish would rot with neglect in a meat-loving male dominated household. Now I can eat all the veges I desire mwahaha.

I included a mix of crushed brazil nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts and cashews in this dish. I could've eaten the powdery substance like crack on a stick. This was combined with onions, mushrooms, eggs, chives and cheese etc.
While the baked result resembled non-edible soil, it was delicious - varied texture (soft and crunchy), full of flavour and the right of mix salt/sweet/crunch/soft. Surprisingly, it wasn't too dry on the day of baking. I also cooked a tomato/chive sauce which became evidently useful after a few days as the loaf dried up a bit.

my version of banana cake

Months ago, a tree bizarrely fell on my car, which meant I couldn't drive myself around Canberra for weeks. This was strangely depressing cos I hated being reliant on people and not having the freedom to go out. Fortunately, my dad drove from Sydney to lend me his car... this happened to be on Mother's Day so I took the opportunity to bake my classic banana cake for my mum.

Banana cake is one of the most simple things to bake, and most people claim their recipes to be the best. Frankly, I've never liked anyone else's version more than my creation cos I make the cake in the way that I like. I don't mean my banana cake is superior but I enjoy baking and eating my own cake. My version  includes wholemeal flour, brown sugar, honey, oats, lots of banana and walnuts etc. I'm not a fan of yellow buttery cakes which lack bananas or those which remind me of the commercial stuff you get at Gloria Jeans. I like the stuff that fills you up.

This time I added blueberries and made muffins for myself. While it was my perfect cup of tea, I understand others may prefer something else.

pumpkin soup

Remember my post about vegetable stock? (click here) This was inspired my housemate who brought home a little pumpkin for me one day. This was the smallest pumpkin I ever saw (fit like a glove in my palm). The pumpkin came from someone's back yard so was organic. It was so adorable that I could imagine keeping it forever as an ornament but the weather was cooling so I knew it had to be used for soup.

I bought some more pumpkin, orange sweet potatoes, carrots, onions and garlic. They were lightly tossed in olive oil and roasted to bring out their true sweet flavour. A vegetarian friend introduced me to the roasting method for pumpkin soup and I've never looked back. Rather than boiling the pumpkin, roasting it makes the soup naturally sweet and super super super tasty. DELICIOUS.

excessive cooking and Japanese food

In the past few days, I've probably cooked three separate recipes, each having four serving sizes. My housemates thought I went manic as I cooked numerous times at 9pm as a way of majorly 'de-stressing' after work (I usually enjoy cooking). In fact, it was just me being disorganised, buying too many groceries on the weekend and worrying they would go in the trash.

I didn't take pictures of my excessive cooking. However, reflecting my recent behaviour, I'm going to go on a blog post frenzy (just this evening)... let's see how I go.

My friend and I have made a pact to try more Japanese eateries in Canberra. This was my idea as my favourite cuisines are Japanese and French... probably because they are delicate and are quality over quantity. I like the sweet flavours of Japanese food and the rich/punchy flavours of French food.

I ordered a sushi mix plate at Kagawa in Dickson and was happy overall. I normally wouldn't choose sushi with creamy crab stick in it, but there wasn't much of it so that was okay. The sashimi was as fresh as Sydney's sushi and the sushi rice was just right.

My friend got some deep fried pork. I don't normally choose this kinda dish as it seems like a Japanese form of KFC to me. Despite this, I tasted the dish and found it tasty and super comforting for a glum and overcast wintery day.
Kagawa Japanese Cuisine Restaurant
55 Woolley St

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Taj Agra Indian Restaurant

I've been to the Taj Agra Indian Restaurant in Dickson twice. The restaurant serves North Indian and Pakistani food - I briefly surfed the net and people say that Pakistani food is a subset of Indian food. The former is known to be more meaty. When I went to this restaurant the first time, I didn't really enjoy it because the flavours were dull. The second time, I changed my expectations and couldn't complain.

The first time, I went with my family and we ordered Malai Kofta (potato and cheese dumplings half fried and finished in a rich cashew nut sauce), Saag Chicken (Boneless chicken cooked with spinach and special herbs, tempered with cream) and Madras Beef (South Indian beef curry with coconut milk and fragrant spices) along with a wholemeal roti. On this occasion, I thought the food had too much sauce and odd but dull flavours, while the meat wasn't overly tender. 

I went another time with a different person and completely forgot what I ordered the first time. Coincidentally we got the Madras Beef and wholemeal roti (again for me). There was another dish but I forgot. The flavours seemed to mix better this time, but maybe that's cos the memory of my (eating) palette allowed me to adjust my expectations.
Some more of my 'deep thoughts' for today... I always try to eat something different at restaurants, but still follow trends and have favourites. This makes me think whether I am subconsciously following the same patterns within and across my lifes in Canberra/Sydney. I wouldn't say that I'm bored of Canberra, but there is a repetition in activities/day-to-day interactions. Sometimes I just feel like running outside and doing something so bizarre that disrupts the normal pattern of things. I've tried to do things/activities that I consider 'out of my norm', but then I'd revert back to what I'm comfortable with. So is it possible to sustain dynamicity in your life, without reverting too much to your own 'norm'?

Taj Agra
35 Woolley Street
Dickson, Canberra
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