No Meat Week: Saturday and Sunday

Saturday morning I had porridge. That shit is so boring. I prefer weetbix.

Saturday we went to lunch with friends specifically to have dumplings. The joint we go to has a large vegetarian dumpling menu, but we ate meat dumplings.

…incidentally, I count fish as ‘meat’. Fishes are living, moving animals. So they have meat. They’re not some sort of floating plant. If you’re a vegetarian, you don’t eat fish. Or chicken. Or the flesh of any animal. I’m not a vegetarian. But I’m not a hypocrite, either.

We had leftover borlotti bean moussaka from Friday with a big stack of steamed vegetables for dinner.

Today we had wholemeal pancakes for breakfast, then borlotti bean moussaka for lunch AGAIN. And tonight we are having the same cauliflower dish we had Monday. I think we’re having it with spinachy rice again.

Over all, No Meat Week has gone well. We like it and are going to do it again next week. We have lots more recipes to make, so we’re not bored with our meals yet. We’ll keep going til we’re tired of it, then we’ll revise our plans. Veggie meals are just like meat meals: if you’re a boring cook, you’ll make boring food and then you’ll be a bored eater. The next goal, of course, is to take meat out of our lunches. The goals, though, in all of this, is to eat ethically, so Cristy’s approach is useful. Here, the point is to eat food that’s farmed sustainably, ethically. That might include meat. So I guess we eat meat when we can buy organic, sustainably farmed stuff. But otherwise we eat veggies. When it comes to lunches, it can be harder to source organic meat. I guess that’s the challenge, really. Leftovers for lunch, or decent other decent stuff.

Generally, I think we need to eat more salad or steamed veggies with the main dinner dish. Or do I? I think I need to learn more about this. And I haven’t been to the shops enough this past week to get fruit. Mandarins! Grapes! Apples!

Other things I want more of: fennel. Dave is also primed for stir fry, and we’ll have veggie lasagne this week because he adores it. He’s also very keen for leftovers for lunch, so that’s a useful thing to remember.

I’ll be away at a dance event next weekend, so my meals will be all mixed up, and I’ll really only be eating two meals per day. I usually make them a sort of lunch and a dinner. And I usually take a bunch of fruit with me to late night dances, and often a muesli bar. It’s difficult to eat enough over exchanges, but I am usually very strict about eating well. It’s too easy to get ill over the physically intense, sleep deprived weekends, so eating well is important. I usually favour pasta, salads and things like ham or cheese. I find it almost impossible to get through weekends with low-carb meals. I need to eat proper carbs at all meals if I don’t want to get starving. I also tend to eat chocolate a bit. I will often have a meal or two out, but I avoid junk food, and go for good stuff like Lebanese with lots of salad and good bread, or chinese with lots of veggie dishes.

We’ll see how it all goes. I’m sure we’re going to have a good week of fewds.

No Meat Week: Friday

Well, breakfast was cheesy bread. Boring. I’m not very good with breakfasts, but it’s when I’m hungriest, so I like to eat big, filling things.

No fruit today, except some apples I’m going to attack in a second.

Dinner was a good one. This is a dish I used to make in Brisbane, but somehow forgot about. I remember it being very time consuming, but tonight it took a lot less time than I’d expected. Which is good, as I am incredibly bad tempered today, and also weepy with random and irritating depressed self-loathing. This sort of craziness smacks of PMS. Great. But it could also be a bit of pre-exchange anxiety. Off to MSF next week, where I’m coordinating DJs. Who are actually all very organised and capable, so it’s not them I’m worried about. Just random travel anxiety probably. Oh, and I’m off to Tasmania a week or two later. Parents. Suddenly, it all makes sense.

Ok, so now that we have that out of the way…. but really, what was I thinking? A complicated dish on a shitty day? Crazy. Crazy.

Borlotti Bean Moussaka. YUM.

These quantities are kind of wacked. Don’t freak if you have extra red slop – freeze it and use it again later. But these quantities need a pretty bloody big dish.

Red slop sauce:
can borlotti beans (I used one can and 1 can of lentils as I didn’t have 2 borlotti bean cans). Borlotti beans are YUMMY.
can tomatoes (I used a big one)
garlic – I used 4 cloves because garlic is the reason we exist
onion – brown, diced
1 cup red wine
2 big tbsp tomato paste
random salad greens
2 big sprigs of oregano

Eggplant layer:
1 big eggplant
1 big zucchini
1 small red capsicum
-> should just have been 2 big eggplants, but I only had one.

Eggy Topping:
4 eggs, beaten a bit
1 cup yoghurt (low fat by accident, but discovering it’s extra sharp and yum = gold)
2 cups milk (use organic whole milk. That shit is SO GOOD)

Cheese. Grated. Intend to use parmesan, but forget and use bullshit tasty instead. Then discover the block of parmesan as you put the tasty away. Sigh in resignation. Fuck you, fromage.

Make the red slop the usual way:
– Saute the onions in some olive oil until they are edging towards brown. This is how you do them for Indian cooking, and that’s how I do them for everything now, as they give a richer, tastier flavour that way. Which could be a bit much if you’re not up for that.

– Saute some crushed up garlic with the onions, but do NOT let it burn.

– Ok, add the tomato. In a sudden rush that leaves the entire kitchen and your favourite jumper splattered in red.
– Stop and have a little weep.
– Get over it.
– Add the beans and lentils. Mix it all in.
– Remember the wine. Add that. And the tomato paste. Just chuck the tomato paste package on the counter when you’re done. Do it roughly, so you feel a bit better.
– Add random salad greens you’ve found in the fridge.
– Chuck in two fairly raggedy looking sprigs of oregano from the garden. Don’t bother looking for grubs. Organic protein is ok.

– Ok, now it’s a bit important to let all this simmer for a while. I didn’t, and it made the moussaka too sloppy. You want it to get thicker. And tastier.

– Put your oven on a moderate heat.

– Grill the eggplant. This bit is annoying. Make sure you brush the slices of eggplant with olive oil. I can’t be bothered salting. But you probably should. Fuck that, hey?
– Grill the zucchini and other capsicum.
– You want them to get brown bits, but not to burn. Except the capsicum. It can singe. Watch it doesn’t spit at you, though.
– When the Capsicum is done, let it sit, skin side down for a few minutes. Or put it in a plastic bag. Then pull the skin off. Get all the black bits off, as it’s bitter and yuck. Slice it thinly.

– Make the topping. I just plopped the milk, the yoghurt, eggs (unbeaten) into a huge jug and then used the stick mixer thing to beat it all up. You’re probably not supposed to do that. Fuck it. I like it to get a bit fluffy, because those air bubbles will be awesome later.

– Now, you have to build this fucker. This bit is surprisingly reassuring.

– Put all the red bean slop at the bottom of a baking dish. I use a deep dish by accident. A wider, shallower one would have been a bit better. 2 inches deep. Maybe 3. A pyrex one is best so you can see it in action. But not necessary.
-Discover that there’s too much red stuff and too much topping. Drink some of the topping, because it is yum.
– Worry about chucking up.
– Get over it.
– Put about half the red stuff in the freezer for later.

– Now you put all the veggies onto the red slop. Lay them all out to make a nice layer with no gaps.

– Now you carefully pour the topping onto all that. It makes a thick layer. I prefer it if it doesn’t seep down past the eggplant. But wtf, it’s no biggie. The eggplant usually floats to the surface. That’s cool. Don’t freak.

– Ok, put this thing in the oven for ages. Until the eggy topping stuff has set. This is where the bubbles are good – it makes a nice fluffy layer. The very top should kind of get crispy, the red slop will be hot all the way through. It takes 40-60 minutes if your oven is shit and you’ve miscalculated the times. You really want the eggy topping set. That’s why it’s eggy. So that it sets. If it’s runny, it’s not so good.

– I added the grated tasty cheese about 10minutes before it was done. This way it melts, browns, but does not form calcified lava yuck. The eggplant + this cheese + the borlotti beans + the rich wine taste is the reason we bother making dinner at all. This is utterly delicious.

We served it with plain old steamed broccoli. A big pile of it.

This is one TASTY dinner.

No Meat Week: Thursday

(NB I just found this egg picture online. Ours were actually better)

Firstly, let me just point out that yesterday we had fish cakes with salty eggs and a veggie/tofu stir fry take away from the brilliant Thai joint in Summer Hill. Not entirely meat free, but better.

Today I had eggs for breakfast then got STRANDED in Alexandria and missed lunch, so I ate hot chips in Ashfield on the walk home. I haven’t hot chips in three hundred years, and they were PERFECT.

Tonight we had something a friend made us for dinner last week: roasted vegetables. Boring. No. DELICIOUS.

Chop up a bunch of vegetables. Not small pieces, about an inch and a half. Watch out, though, because the potato will take ages longer than everything else, so should be cut a bit smaller.
I used:
– some blue pumpkin*
– a potato
– a spring onion (the type with the little onion at the end bulbing out like a smallish normal white onion, and the long green bits still on it)
– a zuchini (those kids are over, now, but I LOVE them)
– a chunk of eggplant (looking quite handsomely aubergine in its nice, firm skin)
– a bit of red capsicum
– some mushrooms
– a head of garlic broken into its constituent cloves
– and a punnet of cherry tomatoes, chopped. Yes, I know, tomatoes are over. But cherries are kind of ok.

Just splash on some olive oil and some salt and roast those suckers until they’re cooked. 40minutes if you’ve a rubbishy oven like ours. You want it all cooked, perhaps a bit browned on the outside, but don’t over cook them.

Make a dressing: olive oil (not too much!), lemon juice (mostly lemon juice), chopped up parsley (grow your own if you can – YUM), a bit of salt and pepper.

THEN you mix the roasted veggies in a bowl with some salad greens. Baby spinach, rocket, whatever you’ve got. If that’s too exy or rubbish, use some finely sliced fresh spinach if it’s not too tough. Put the salad dressing on and mix it. Put some in each person’s bowl.

Right, now the hard bit. Poach an egg for each person. As soon as they’re done, plop it on the vegetables in people’s bowls. The veggies should be hot or warm, the greens beginning to wilt.

The important bit: the dressing should be quite lemony and parsleyish. If you make it too oily, it’ll be too rich on your vegetables. I’d perhaps even omit olive oil if you’re generous with it when roasting. You really want the zinginess of the lemon and the freshness of the parsley to complement your beautifully runny, rich egg.


Dave discovered, on his very first try, that he is a brilliant egg poacher. His poached eggs were round, firm yet soft, runny in the middle with slightly thicker edges on the yellow, white all cooked. They were perfectly formed, and also deliciously perfectly cooked.

When we had this at our friend’s place we actually had it with grilled haloumi. I love haloumi a LOT, but it’s quite rich, and we had it earlier this week. It’s also probably not a good idea to eat a whole block of grilled cheese too regularly. The friend had poached an egg for a lactose intolerant guest, so it was in my brain. At any rate, I actually think the eggs were a slightly better idea, because of the way the yolk and lemon and parsley got together and made sweet, sweet yum.

*not actually blue – the one with the blue skin. I prefer it to butternut or even Jap.

No Meat Week: Wednesday

1. I had a roast beef and veggies sandwich at the deli while waiting for my doctor’s appointment. I clean forgot about the no meat thing. Dave stated that he had not known that the ‘no meat thing’ was “for lunches too”. Jeez.

2. It’s been raining and raining and fucking RAINING so I haven’t been to the shops in a few days. So when I went to the kitchen to make chickpea curry to eat after dancing THERE WERE NO TOMATOES and I suddenly broke my brain.
We got home from dancing and THERE WERE STILL NOT TOMATOES and my brain was twice as broken and Dave was MAKING THE WRONG SUGGESTIONS so crazy girl suggested take away and then there was Thai take away and it was good.

3. Some days some people are just nuts.

4. I am really really tired of all this carbohydrate action. I do not like the way my belly feels really full. Buggered if I know how to make low-carb veggie meals, though. Perhaps I will figure it out tomorrow…

5. Bloody Dave will make bloody stir fry because it is after Wednesday now, and this is when I run out of shopping and cooking steam.


No Meat Week: Tuesday

No meat week continues. Tonight we had ‘asian inspired’ pumpkin soup from the Stephanie Alexander orange book. Meh. I reckon it uses too much stock, but we had a Stock Defrosting Mixup and we couldn’t reduce the stock without waste. This recipe isn’t as good as I’d remembered. I’m not even convinced the actual instructions in the book are all that accurate – I think the timing is off a bit.

Anyways, we had a bit of leftover rice and cauliflower from last night, and we ate the soup, even though it was a bit watery. And, to be honest, a bit simple, flavour-wise, especially after working through brilliant Indian recipes. A blob of jarred Thai red curry paste and some onions, a tomato and a heap of pumpkin doesn’t really cut it, I’m afraid. Not even with our brilliant veggie stock.

I had leftover rubbish veggie risotto for lunch. It was as dumb today as it was yesterday. Too much water, too little flavour, overcooked rice. Gu-ross.
Breakfast was scrambled eggs on wholemeal sourdough.
And plenty of grapes and mandarins during the day.

I reckon I needed some serious salad in there today. Or at least a bunch of steamed greens.

No Meat Week: Monday (& Sunday)

We’ve been living the CSIRO lifestyle for a year or two now, and while I like the lighter evening meals (without carbs), we’ve been struggling, ethically, with the amount of meat the diet includes. Also, it’s bad for your guts. So I’ve instituted a week without meat.

I’ve lived the vegetarian lifestyle here and there over the years, most prominently in a share house in Melbourne between 2001 and 2003. I’d moved to Melbourne from Brisbane, taking the coward’s approach to ending a long term relationship, and moving into a huge terrace house in North Melbourne with a bunch of younger students. They were all about 20 and I was about 26. I loved it. It was a delight to no longer be living unhappily in an New Farm flat with one other person. It was wonderful to suddenly be eating with a household of 5 other people (including ever-present boyfriends and girlfriends). I had my own shelf in the larder, my own milk in the fridge. I took my trolley to the Vic Markets every week, and I walked everywhere. I gave up meat. Alliances shifted within the sharehouse, and two of us began cooking together, tired of being third or fourth in line at the stove each night. We now occupied two shelves in the larder.

At the end of that first year, two of us left the strange sharehouse anchor guy to set up house in another, smaller terrace in Carlton North with a new housemate. Vegetarianism turned into vegan coeliacism as one of us discovered gluten intolerance and hardcore eating issues (masquerading as ethics). Each week I bought a trolley full of veggies from the Vic Markets, a trolley full of tofu, various not-wheat grains and dried goods from the Melbourne uni co-op and a trolley full of assorted canned goods and giant bags of rice and rice noodles. We were three fairly hardcore athletes. I was a newly addicted social lindy hopper, dancing two or three nights a week and walking or cycling everywhere. One housemate was a serious cyclist/climber/runner with a similarly-afflicted boyfriend in his very early 20s. The other house mate was equally active, but male and voraciously hungry. All. The. Time. We ate all the time. I ate two dinners almost every night. I got skinnier.

In 2003 we moved to another house – a gorgeous free standing colonial in Brunswick. We gained a house mate, the coeliac’s boyfriend. I gained a Squeeze. Eventually the coeliac had to call defeat as her doctor gave her supplement injections and demanded a return to nonveganism. Eggs entered our diet. Milk.

During those three years we ate a lot of what we called ‘veggie slop’ – misceleneous vegetarian curries drawn from Kurma‘s book or our increasingly beleagured imaginations. I remember one particularly awful meal in our third share house together. Kidney beans. Rice noodles. Some sort of rubbishy greasy sauce. But those years also brought kicheri and a new appreciation for tofu. Firm tofu, cubed, thrown into a coconut milk/tomato based vegetable curry. Tofu marinated in lemon juice, honey, miso and ginger then stir fried with vegetables. Brown rice. Basmati rice. Jasmine rice. Arborio rice. Pulao. Biriyani. Fried rice. Rice pudding. Rice noodles: flat, narrow, sheets, fresh, dried. Mung bean noodles. We made delicious dinners, for the most part, though I’ve never really eaten that way since.

But this week we’re going to revisit the vegetarian days of yore. We’re going to eat the way we used to in Carlton North, crowded around the dining table or camped out on the second hand, re-covered sofas in front of the television.

It’s already been a bit of a trip down memory lane for me. Last night we had spinach and ricotta cannelloni. Something I started eating in Brisbane, along with a million zillion other people, when San Remo included a basic spinach and ricotta recipe on the back of the cannelloni boxes. But we substitute a chunk of fetta for some of the ricotta, and we use fresh spinach rather frozen. Delicious.

Tonight we had this easy Cauliflower (queen of vegetables) and onion dish (recipe c/o Madhur Jaffrey’s Invitation to Indian Cooking):

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped coarsely
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped coarsely
2 inch long, 1 inch wide piece ginger peeled and coarsely chopped
1 large head of cauliflower (I just used half a big cauliflower)
8tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 medium fresh or canned tomato, peeled and chopped
1 tbs chopped fresh coriander (I used more than this)
1 fresh hot green chilli washed and finely sliced or 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (I used 1/4 ground chilli)
2tsp ground coriander
1tsp ground cumin
1tsp garam marsala
2tsp salt
1tbs lemon juice

Blend onion, garlic and ginger with 4 tbsp of water and blend to a paste.

Break cauliflower into small flowerets, not longer than 1 to 1.5 inches, and not wider at the head than 1/2 to 1 inch.

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed 10-12 inch pot over a medium flame, pour in the paste from the blender, and add the turmeric. Fry, stirring for 5 minutes.

Add the tomato, green coriander, chili or cayenne, and fry for 5 minutes. If necessary, add 1 tsp of warm water at at time and stir to prevent sticking. Now put in the cauliflower, coriander, cumin, garam masala, salt and lemon juice.
Fry and stir for 1 minute.

Add 4 tbsp warm water, stir, cover, lower flame, allow to cook slowly 35-45 minutes. Stir gently every 10 minutes or so. The cauliflower is done when each floweret is tender with just a trace of crispness along its spine.


We had it with rice: brown half an onion cut into rings in some olive oil, add some finely chopped spinach, half a tsp of ground coriander and half a tsp of sweet paprika. Mix it all in. Add some washed basmati rice, mix it all up. Then add water and cook it absorption method style. I do all that in the rice cooker.

And finally, I grilled some haloumi cheese we’d bought on impulse. And we ate it all. The rice was particularly delicious – the browned onion and greasiness of the olive oil making a perfect match for the cheese. The cauliflower was just a little sour around the edges, from the lemon and ginger. Delicious.

I’d had dodgy rice cooker risotto for lunch, using up tomatoes, zuchini, capsicum, mushrooms, some herbs from the garden. It was a bit boring. Needed some rehydrated porcini mushrooms.

I’m not used to all these evening carbs and feel decidedly full. Tomorrow I’m going to reduce portions and drop the hardcore dairy. I’m thinking the ‘asian style’ pumpkin soup from Stephanie Alexander’s big orange book. Or something involving chick peas. I adore chick peas.

race, food, bikes, gender

Another reminder that green/feminist movements are as marked by gender and class as right wing politics…

I’m seeing correlations between slutwalk discourse and this little trail of articles dealing with race/food politics/gardening/environmentalism/cycling. While I’m fascinated by discussions of food and health and environmentalism as a socialist project, for a while now I’ve had a little voice in the back of my brain saying “Dood, where’s race in all this? Can we talk about ethnicity a little bit more? And not in a ‘Mysteries of the Orient’ Food Safari way?” I stumbled over The Doree Chronicles’ post ‘The Unbearable Whiteness of Eating: How the Food Culture War Affects Black America’ on Tumblr, then traced its references back. This post read as a sort of snippet of idea, in the context of a general Tumblr blog dealing with all sorts of things the author found interesting. Tumblr shits me a bit as this sort of backtracking is unnecessarily complex, but I guess that’s a consequence of personal sites which encourage a ‘collector’ approach rather than a ‘writerly’ approach.

From that little post linking food politics, race, ethnicity and the bike movement, I found Erika Nicole Kendall’s post ‘The Unbearable Whiteness of Eating: How The Food Culture War Affects Black America’ on the Black Girls Guide To Weight Loss site. This post framed the discussion within a broader discussion of race and gender and weight loss as a health issue.

This post led me to Janani Balasubramanian’s piece ‘Sustainable Food and Privilege: Why is Green Always White (and Male and Upper-Class)’ which linked the bike movement talk to race and gender and environmentalism and food politics. I like this piece for the way it links gender to food production, and I like the question:

Can Pollan not drive home the point that Americans need to cook more often without guilting American feminists?

I’m really not up to speed with food politics’ talk, but I feel as though all this talk is echoing some of my reservations about slutwalk, and some of my thoughts about food politics. It also reminds me of some things I’ve read about the civil rights movement in America in the 60s, where the peace movement in particular was also quite sexist. In that context, the ‘free love’ discourse was a double-edge sword. While the pill gave women contraceptive control of their sexuality and bodies, there was also an attendant shift in the way many men began thinking about these women as ‘sexually available’. I wonder if we should perhaps be a little sceptical of a new women’s movement (or new stream in a broader feminism) that lauds heterosexual freedom in such uncomplicated ways. Because of course the pill didn’t function the same way, ideologically, for lesbian women that it did for straight women.

I feel as though we’re also revisiting issues raised (and continually raised) by women of colour from that period and recently. For those women race was a far more pressing concern, organising their activism in a way that gender did not. And these women were very critical of ‘mainstream’ feminists for not interrogating their own privilege. Or, more simply, for not noticing that everyone signing books in the wimminz bookshops was white.

I’m of course thinking about bell hooks and Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism, but I’ve also heard Australian Aboriginal women like Marcia Langton make similar arguments. I haven’t found it, but I’d be certain there’d be some cool stuff written about ‘bush tucker’, the Northern Territory intervention (where government pensions are ‘retained’ specifically for buying food), gender and equity. I’m also certain that there’d be some really interesting stuff by migrant women writers in Australia (and elsewhere) about food, gender, class and social (as well as bodily) ‘health’. Someone has to have taken the bike movement to task as well? I mean, if I’m banging on about it on Faceplant when people say stupid things like “There is no excuse not to ride distances under 10km”, then surely someone else has made the same points more cleverly?

I’ve just had a quick look but I CAN’T find that interesting study a Victorian university group did recently where they found that if women felt safe cycling in a city, then the numbers of cyclists in that city over all were higher. I was telling this story to some hardcore environmentalist/sustainable energy types at a party the other week, and they were all “Oh shit, I’d never thought of that!” And I was thinking ‘That’s because you’re over-achieving, able bodied, young, male engineers living in well-serviced cities who dismiss feminism as ‘something for women’.’ But I didn’t say that out loud. Instead I laboured through a gentle (and brief) point that environmental movements have to be socially sustainable as well as environmentally sustainable. I wanted to talk about how birth control for women in developing countries is directly related to environmentally sustainable development in those same countries, but I didn’t.

I think there are also some really important points to be made about ‘food security’ for children in poor communities and families in big cities, and how food security is directly related to educational and social achievements, and how getting enough to eat (let alone eating ‘well’) is directly related to justice and equity in relation to gender and race and all those other lovely identity markers. I don’t know much about this at all, but I heard an interesting Health Report podcast about this and started thinking about the relationships between organic gardening, social justice, ethnicity and economic power. And goddamn bicycles.

To sum up this messy, ill-informed, poorly researched and unsubstantiated introduction to my mess of thoughts, I direct your attention to Tammi Jonas, who’s trekking through the American wilds with the Jonai clan in glorious 70s campervanning style, writing and thinking about food and family as she goes. Her progress is written up at Crikey, but I quite like the posts on her blog. Tammi is all over these issues.

I’d also suggest some time with Cristy Clark who’s exploring ecotarianism in real-family settings (ie, her own), and of course do drop in at Progressive Dinner Party to see related issues taken up. If you’re especially interested in kids and food, then PDP’s Head Cook Zoe is a good source, not to mention the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, which is all about kids, food and well-being.

Everything I did was funky: Cell Block Swing & Speakeasy

This is going to be a crazy, incoherent post about how much fun I had last night.

First, there was a dance at the old Jail in Darlinghurst, in the National Art School‘s Jail House Theatre. Amazing venue. Amazing:

Secondly, the band were the Ozcats, who are a Bob Crosby tribute band, and feature some of the best musicians in the country:

Bob Barnard – trumpet
Trevor Rippingale – tenor saxophone
Paul Furniss – clarinet
Dan Barnett – trombone
Dave MacRae – piano
Stan Valacos – bass
Lawrie Thompson – drums
John Blenkhorn – rhythm guitar
Ron Falson – arranger and 2nd trumpet

I’m a big fan of Bob Crosby, and I really like the Ozcats I have one of their CDs, but I wasn’t all that excited by it. But I’ve seen them live before, and they’re really, really good. This is a very professional, very tight group of musicians who really know their shit. But they’re also very inspired (and inspiring) and really make fabulous music.

From the first song last night, I was enraptured. It was my perfect tempo for the first few songs – about 180 to just over 200. Beginning dancing, I was prepared to just have a nice time. But by the final chorus, my mind was BLOWN. This was the best band I’d lindy hopped to in… well, ages.
I looked around at the dance floor, though, and saw only about ten couples. There were 200 or so people in the room. Uh-oh. After about 4 songs, the band played a version of… ‘Makin Whoopee’. As I heard the first few notes I thought ‘Oh no. Sell out.’ But the dancers (who were mostly beginners – this was a beginner-focussed dance) suddenly surged onto the dance floor. And by about a chorus into the song I had revised my opinion. This was an interesting, exciting arrangement and performance of a (fairly tired) workhorse. And, wonderfully, the dance floor stayed CROWDED for the rest of the night, though the tempos were quite high on average (though there were plenty of slower songs dropped in). It was cool to hear a band do what a DJ might do – play an old favourite in a basic tempo range to fill the floor, then follow up with something fun and high energy to keep them there.

I did hear a dancer say they thought the band was “a bit samey”, but I pointed out “They’re a tribute band.” I refrained from pointing out that, you know, they’re a band and not a juke box. And a good band puts a lot of effort into developing a unique style and sound. But it did really draw my attention to the fact that the acoustics in the room weren’t brilliant. When you got further to the back, the sound lost a lot of its richness and layers. So from then on I danced up against the stage, destroying my eardrums and yelling up at the band between songs.

In fact, I’m embarrassed now by the number of times I told different musicians how much I loved their set, their band, their solo. Nerd. Nerd. Nerd. I was a total fangirl nerd for these old blokes. Eventually I spent the last few songs just pressed up against the stage jiggling about and yelling “YAY!” I’ve never done anything like that before. I’m not usually so shamelessly fangirl for a band.

Thirdly, three of us did a performance at the dance, and it went well. This probably accounts for some of my crazed love for the band. It’s hard not to love music and musicians when you’re pumped full of dancing and performing adrenaline. But I loved them before we performed (which was at 10:45, with the dance starting at 8). We:

  • had proper matching costumes,
  • did the Tranky Doo (because we know it and we wanted to do a famous routine for our first go),
  • had a special announcer (Jase! Excellent! Host with the most) who we’d prepped with a special speech,
  • organised it so that we sort of waded into the crowd, clapping and clearing space, rather than turning on all the lights, having everyone move back and sit down,
  • organised it all with the DJ, carefully, so we were framed properly (yay Tim! Yay!),
  • did quite a bit of yelling during the performance – stuff like “apple jack!” to each other and “I’m looking at you, Sam!” before our solo and “Again!” before the repeating section. We did that mostly because we’d done it during the practices to remind us of the bits we forgot, but also because we watched the clips of our practices and thought it seemed fun,
  • followed it up by calling out to the crowd “Do you know the shim sham?! Can you bring the shim sham!” and initiating a shim sham, in honour of Mr Frankie Manning of course. That was a fun thing because it’s Frankie’s birthday on the 26th, and teachers have been running shim sham classes the past few weeks, so the beginners were all excited about it.

It was brilliant fun. It felt as though the crowd really enjoyed it. There felt like lots of energy, and while we did about three phrases of our own (very basic) choreography to get into position, when we started the Tranky Do, the crowd just SHOUTED. It was so exciting. I like to think that people shouted because they recognised the dance, and were all ‘yeah! old school routine!’

It was very nice to have such support, as I haven’t done any performing in ten years, so I have next to no performance skills, and I was rusty. I also made mistakes. We were pretty nervous before hand, and all the shouting and support felt very friendly and was very encouraging. I think of this as a beginning place. We weren’t brilliantly perfect, but we got up there and had a lot of fun, and did a very honest performance that was actually solid and people enjoyed. No cheese. Just a lot of love for the routine and the song and for dancing.

What I hope now, is that other people think ‘hey, I could that!’ and put together something. We’re not a formal troupe or anything (though we used the name ‘the Harbour City Hot Three’), but we did get together and work on the routine pretty thoroughly. We didn’t choreograph a new routine, we used a famous routine. So I hope other people have ideas for a little performance and do something. I’d like to see some more grass roots type performances by people doing shit they just love. Especially if they’re not already performing.

Incidentally, the song we used was ‘Milenberg Joys’ by Gordon Webster‘s latest album Live in Philadelphia, and it was wonderful. It’s a live recording, with lots of energy and a good, exciting finale, so it felt just right. I do recommend that album if you don’t have it – it’s really good stuff. Lots of good songs for lindy hopping, blues dancing, balboaing, everything good.

But my night wasn’t over yet!

After the dance, a few of us had organised a late night dance – the Speakeasy! – at the studio where I did my hip hop class this week. We’d run one at this venue before, and it’d been very popular. This time it was even more so! It’s a really fun party type dance, lots of people help organise it, do door shifts, set up, DJ, cook food and generally help out, and it’s good because it isn’t like a hardcore lindy hop late night.

What makes it good?

The room is a really good shape. The elevator to the venue opens straight into the room, onto the registration desk, which is an island in the middle of the room (where we put the DJs). So the ‘bing!’ of the lift is exciting as it opens and a whole group of people pour out. You’re also immediately in the party. There are lots of couches to sit and talk, room for some dancing (but not a whole big, empty space), and there’s also a smaller room off to the side, through a big archway, where the ladies set up a table for food.

There are a lot of keen bakers in the Sydney dance scene, and this time people went all out. There was a table of really top notch baked goods (cornbread, brownies (two types!), cupcakes, muffins, biscuits, YUM!), all marked with a little sign saying what they were and who made them. That was a really nice touch – it was nice to know that all sorts of people had contributed. That little room had a nice couch in it as well, so it was a nice little place to find some food and move around.

The music is ‘party’ music, and stays below about 150bpm. This is nice, because it feels really accessible, tempo wise. After such a fast, exciting band, it was nice to have less intense music. The DJs usually play a combination of blues (all types, usually higher than about 90bpm), early rnb, some soul, some funk, a little hot jazz, a little swing. There were even a couple of slower songs by neo bands. It’s a really good mix, because the DJs all favour really good songs, and they’re really high energy and lots of fun.

I’m ordinarily a real purist, and hate a DJ who plays unswing at a swing event. But this isn’t a swing event. It feels like a house party. When I walked into the room from the lift, it felt like a real party. Most of the room was standing about scoffing yum baked stuff, drinking beers, and talking really loudly. There was very little standing about awkwardly. It’s a hot, sweaty room, so it feels kind of good on your skin. People tend to get really loud and shouty.

After a little while, while the DJ was playing the sort of good music that gets the room warm, and a few people danced a little bit, the DJ (Tom) changed gears. It was like the bass got deeper, and the music suddenly made me want to dance. The dance floor filled a bit. It’s a good venue, though, because the dance floor is kind of just one space in a range of types of spaces in the room, so you don’t feel as though there’s nothing to do if you’re not dancing. A lot of people were standing about talking and laughing, though they were happy to have a dance or two if they were asked. But it definitely wasn’t the sort of gig where you feel you’ve had a shit night if you didn’t dance every song. But there’s still lots of energy and lots of good dancing going on. Watching the dancers, I was struck by how much fun they were having. There were no serious, worried faces. Just lots of laughing and talking and shouting on the dance floor, as well as people really getting down.

Because the music is varied, people dance in lots of different ways. I saw some bal, some hardcore lindy hop, some blooz, the VERY BEST HIP HOP by one of the studio’s teachers, some kids dancing de disco and getting down, some kids jumping about and just jiggling with fun. It was a nice mix. There were lots of people sort of grooving it while they stood and talked as well, which was nice.

I’ll do a separate post with my set list (and perhaps an 8track) so you can see what I mean when I talk about the music. It’s a BRILLIANT gig to play. I really feel as though I do my best work there. I feel like I connect with the dancers, and keep the energy high, but also working an energy wave. I like the challenge of working between styles – hot dirty old school jazz, 60s protest song blues, super-familiar soul and funk favourites and early r n b. It’s tricky to make all these styles work together without abrupt, clutch-less gear changes, and I like the challenge. I like it that I’m DJing standing up and in the very middle of a crowded room, literally a hand’s breadth from the dancers. It’s exciting and I really feel I can connect with the dancers. But it’s also a very tiring gig where I work really hard. And sweat!

After I DJed (at about 12:45am), I ate some more cakes, then danced about like a fool. Dave and I danced together a LOT, like Uma and John Travolta, like our own bad selves, and like idiots. I talked and shot the shit, I sat on the couch and watched people having a great time on the dance floor, I heckled the DJ and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

At 3am, we admitted exhaustion, hunted down a cab and went home. Happy, achey and very very tired.

pork cooked slowly in milk

This is a Stephanie Alexander recipe. Or maybe it’s Maggie Beer’s. Buggered if I can remember.

Shoulder of pork. Any size, but I get a biggish one as you really really really want to eat leftovers. With the curds. On mashed potato. Fuck YES. Get an organic pork shoulder if you can afford it. I’ve done it with organic, and it’s so good it melts your brain.
If you can’t get organic, or can’t afford it (it is much more expensive), you can get a good one from a Chinese butcher. Get one without the bone, as that shit is annoying. Leave the fat on, but make sure the butcher scores it (ie cuts a heap of slices in it). If your butcher is Chinese, like mine, and doesn’t speak a heap of English, and you don’t speak any Chinese languages, be cool and use hand gestures. They’ll know what you mean. You can do this yourself, but your knife will have to be fuckoff sharp. It’s maddening otherwise.

Get these things and put them in a fry pan (no oil or any of that stuff):

2tbs fennel seeds
1tbs sea salt
zest of one lemon

-> dry fry all that stuff. You want it to get hot enough so the flavours really rise from the pan. But don’t burn anything. If you do, chuck it all out and start again.

Tie the shoulder up with string. Not plastic string. This string will stop it all falling to bits. Which it will. Rub all the fennel/salt/zest into it, esp in the fat. If you can be arsed, leave it overnight in the fridge.

In a big, heavy pan (with a lid), plop the pork on the middle. Pour milk around it. I used about 3/4 of a 2litre container, because I needed some for tea. You can use it all if you like, it won’t hurt it. Use organic milk. Really – do it. It’s more expensive, but only about $3. It makes a HUGE difference. They sell organic milk at Coles, but not Woolies near us.

Squeeze the juice of a lemon into the milk. This is important, as the acid makes the milk split into curds and whey (no way! WAY!).

Put it all in the oven on about 150* – a low heat. Let it lie like a pig in the mud for as long as possible, with the lid on. I went four hours this time and it was neat. Every hour or so, peak inside, spoon milk over the meat, turn the meat over. The milk should split into curds and whey. The curds are big, soft white blobs. The whey is watery. This is where the organic milk is awesome – the curds are bigger, softer and fluffier, more succulent and richer in flavour. It all makes the meat taste better. Also: leftovers in mashed potatoes. YES!

For the last hour, cook with the lid off so the milk evaporates a bit, and to make the meat taste better. Make sure the fat side is up out of the milk. This way it’ll get a bit hotter in the oven. and this makes the fat get richer and caramelly. It’s fucking great.

When you serve it, make sure you eat the fat. It’s amazing. But so rich. I found the organic milk made the whole thing much richer, so maybe eat it with some sort of veggie dish that’ll cut the fat. I reckon a fennel dish might be nice. It’s the sort of dish that you’ll really want to eat and eat and eat, but you should be careful. It’s really rich and will make you chuck. So go easy. Or, you know, don’t.

Nepalese food in Ashfield

Tonight a second Nepalese joint in Ashfield, and it was neat.
The first one, Mandap, the larger one we went to the other night, and had sent us a take away flyer, was pretty good. But we ate the Indian stuff from the menu because the Nepalese stuff didn’t look that exciting. An excellent biryani, but the saag gosht was just okish. But it was all pretty spicey and good with the chilli, which I like.

Tonight we went to Cafe Kathmandu, and I liked it. It’s in what was a fairly ordinary, if not downright dodgy ‘Italian’ cafe, and it has kept all the furniture, fittings and servery stuff. It’s a small place, only about eight tables inside, and two larger tables outside. As we arrived a couple of young blokes were carrying a carton of beer to the tables. Those tables are always full of a) Indian blokes, b) Chinese blokes or c) Nepalese blokes, all in their 20s, smoking and eating plate after plate of momo.

This is what the menus look like:
‘ordinary’ cafe food – big breakfasts, sandwiches, coffee, tea, etc – during the day
Nepalese food. For lunch and for dinner.
Nepalese menus are kind of cool because they’re usually a combination of Chinese dishes – noodles (chow mein especially), stir fries – and Indian dishes, as well as more specifically Nepalese food. Which makes sense, geographically and culturally.
I really like Nepalese vegetable dishes, so I hunt them down.

We shared a tali and a plate of chicken momo because we were a bit full. The tali was delicious – a cold veggie curry, a little pile of wilted spinach (perfectly cooked), a blackbean dahl and a bit of goat curry, all in little pots next to a nice pile of perfect rice (white, absorption-cooked medium grain). The momo were largeish, very fresh and super tasty – chicken with coriander and shallots and things. Dave had a mango lassi that tasted pre-mixed and was a bit sweet for me. But I don’t like lassi, usually.

In retrospect, I wish we’d had the Khaja set, as it had a heap of delicious looking potato dishes and things.

The owner was a casual and friendly middle aged woman who, while she had to delay in serving us called out ‘just be a minute!’ and kept us informed of her progress. She was helped by a younger bloke was who was equally friendly.

While we were there (about an hour, tops) they shipped plate after plate of momo out to the young blokes outside, and three other tables worth of diners trooped in and out for quick, casual meals. Including one middle aged Singaporean woman and her Anglo-Australian husband. She was my favourite, obviously having her first Nepalese meal and determined to taste everything and engage the owner in conversation about the food, asking lots of questions and inquiring about the different speciality Nepalese dishes.

This is what I liked about it:

  • Cheap;
  • Freshly cooked;
  • Simple;
  • Delicious;
  • The veggie dishes (my favourite part) were fresh and nice;
  • The people working there were friendly and nice.
  • The original cafe features were still in use, and it was a practical combination of ‘cafe’ and Nepalese food.

    I also like the Malaysian joint in Ashfield for some of these things. That place has been set up in a classic ‘fish and chip’ joint near the station. They’ve even left all the signage and menus in place. Except now there’re ‘Malaysian food’ and ‘Australian food’ menus chalked in. There are tables (just a few) set up, with the usual pots of copsticks, sauces and so on on the tables. The chef chats with the punters and you’re very welcome to join in.

    I like these places, I like the way they move into smaller venues which embodied the anglo/euro history and diet of Ashfield and adapt them to suit the new dietry and cultural needs of the community. Small sites, working on a very tight budget with small staff, specialising in a particular cuisine for the local ex-pat communities, but in the sort of welcoming multicultural way that really illustrates Ashfield today. This is one of the things I like most about Ashfield.