Monday, 20 October 2014

Melt! Festival 2014, Summary and a Guide for Australians Going In Future

I've wanted to go to Melt! Festival for years, so when I finally had some time off accrued and needed a holiday, it seemed the perfect place to start my holiday (I actually bought my ticket for Melt! before I bought any other tickets).

I've only ever been to Australian festivals, so this was my first Real Festival Experience, and I had absolutely no idea what to expect.

Melt! is held at Ferropolis (in Gräfenhainichen), an open air museum showcasing huge industrial machines from the 20th century. And I mean seriously huge. It provides a stark and impressive background to the festival, as the machines are lit up, or erupt fire as night sets in.


I wasn't entirely sure how to get to the festival, and then I read on the website about the Melt! MiXery Train. Basically, the train takes you to the festival, serves as your accommodation while you're there (each cabin has 6 beds (loosely speaking...)), and then takes you back. The train starts at Köln (Cologne) so I thought it would be worth it to catch it from there and get The Whole Experience. There's a bar (with a DJ) on the train that runs the entire time so it is a lot of fun. Unfortunately, I stupidly didn't look at the map properly, so, at the end of the festival, I caught the train back to Köln (it's something like 8 hours, and a lot slower when everyone is dead because they've been partying for three days), and then caught a plane to Berlin... which is only 2 hours north of Gräfenhainichen. Great work, James. I discovered this from a couple who shared my cabin; they caught the MiXery train back to Magdeburg (or possibly Braunschweig) and then caught a train from there to Berlin, which probably took them 3 hours and I think cost them about €30. Sigh.

I think the MiXery train is a great idea, and it's really convenient (and cost effective; you can also order the train ticket and your festival ticket at the same time through the MiXery website). My major problem was the beds were really uncomfortable, other people are grubby, and it was SO HOT. My bed got the first rays of light in the morning and by about 8am, it was so hot it was impossible to sleep. The shared shower and toilet facilities were nice and modern but, unsurprisingly, after about a day, they were grotty as all hell. So, I'm glad I had the "festival experience", and I would recommend it to people who are into that or haven't had it before. Next time, though, I'm booking a hotel with my own bed, shower, toilet and aircon.


Aside from the MiXery train, a majority of people who come to the festival camp. MiXery provide a range of camping options that are all done for you, otherwise you can rent a camping space and either bring your own tent or rent equipment so it's all waiting for you when you arrive at the festival.

My favourite thing about Melt! is their sense of social responsibility. People who wear homophobic, misogynistic or racist t-shirts are banned from entering the festival; all artists have "meat free Friday" (the first day of the festival), and festival goers are encouraged to do the same); through some weird token system (which no one explains to you but Europeans just seem to understand it?), they encourage you to bring back all bottles you buy so they can be properly recycled. God knows why they don't ban smoking to get rid of that environmental mess but anyway... There's an organisation there handing out earplugs (how sensible!); if you don't want to schlep everything you've brought with you back home, they have collection centres to donate everything you don't want to charities for the homeless; and finally, every stage has a wheelchair accessible area near the sound manager so everyone can enjoy the show.

Of course, this is technically a food blog, so I should probably mention that. At the camping ground, there was only one veg food stand, and everywhere else the only real options were chips, so I was incredibly nervous about what the festival itself would bring. I shouldn't've been worried because it was AWESOME. There were about 3 or 4 dedicated veg food stands, and many of the other stands had veg options. Even the waffle stand HAD AN ENTIRELY SEPARATE VEGAN MENU. Standing on a beach, dancing barefoot to Alex Banks while eating waffles... it's hard to top that.

Seriously. All the food.

I heard a rumour that the organiser is vegan, which is why there's so much vegan food available. Even better, though, the food was actually delicious. None of this hotbox rubbish that is foisted upon us at Australian festivals: at the falafel stand, they were actually making falafel in front of you; there were delicious Hungarian dumplings served with freshly cooked caramelised onions; one of the vegan stalls sold non-canned baked beans... this food was seriously good. And it's pretty well priced: at one stand I got a chicken burger, a carton of soy milk, and a Twilight bar for €7. Seriously. THERE WAS EVEN A STAND WHICH MADE FRESHLY SQUEEZED JUICES AND SMOOTHIES (and you will need some of that by day 3...)

Anyway, since this is meant to be a guide, I should probably actually provide some guidance.

THINGS YOU THINK YOU'LL THINK OF BUT PROBABLY WON'T because I did
Rest up before the festival
The festival was my first real stop in Europe, so I'd just done a stupid international flight, then had a crazily early flight to Köln, had to wait around all day for my train, then... do that. It was stupid. I was sick and exhausted for the entire festival (BUT IT WAS STILL AWESOME). Next time, I'll be positioning it squarely in the middle, after a relaxing week in Italy. Maybe. I haven't decided yet. Also keep in mind that it's the middle of summer and you're in southern Germany so it gets hot really quickly. Nap throughout the day if you manage to find a cool place.

Drink ALL THE WATER and wear ALL THE SUNSCREEN
Buy a bottle at the festival grounds (if you're staying there) and refill that through the day. You can't take empty bottles onto the festival ground (but, for some reason, you CAN take sealed tetrapacks of juice (...)), so do the same thing there: buy a drink to start the day, then keep refilling that throughout the evening. Return it for your refund at the end of the evening and repeat the next day. The acts don't start until 15-17:00, but it's still pretty hot, and the sun doesn't set til 20:00 or 21:00; one act had to do an almost acapella set because the sun pretty much melted their drums. On that note, I don't know why I didn't bring sunscreen but I didn't (idiot), so do that, stay out of the sun, consider wearing a hat during the day that you can then fold up and store in your pocket as night sets in.

Get a locker at the festival
There's a portable locker van just outside the festival grounds which is really cheap; get one. I kept my wallet, passport, and some of my travel stuff in that, and just took my phone and cash into the festival (there's also an ATM right next to the lockers, so you can get cash out easily).

Go for a swim
Ferropolis is right on a massive lake, so get your valuables in a locker and then go for a swim. The water was beautifully cool and I'm pretty sure it's the only way I avoided heatstroke.

Charge your phone in the toilets
This was the worst part of the whole experience. They do have charging stations at a few places across the campsite but, of course, they were always full of people and, sensibly, in direct sun. Yeah, that's a winner. Instead, I had to sit in the (gross, filthy) toilets for an hour waiting for my phone to charge (because you can't just leave it there and trust no one will take it). On the other hand, no one else seemed to realise that it was there, and it's nice to have an hour to just sit down in a covered area. Alternatively, don't use your phone for 3 days.


Small bag is best!
This is sort of just a general travel tip. You don't need a huge checked bag; take only essentials and fit it in a carry-on bag (I got this bag from Kathmandu, which was a perfect size; it's also really nice to walk straight off a plane and not have to wait around for hours for your bag to come out). If you're camping or doing the MiXery train, you'll need to do this anyway as there's very little extra room for luggage storage. Remember also to get a locker to store your valuables.

AND OF COURSE
As tempting as it is to get wasted on the substance/s of your choice, you'll be tired and dehydrated enough as it is. And, hey, if you need to get high to enjoy the music, you probably aren't there for the music, and getting there ain't cheap. I probably spent €40 a day on food (sometimes more because dancing makes you hungry and also SUCH FOOD); if I'd also had alcohol, that probably would've been more like €100 or €150. My bank account is still sending me love letters.

Oh, also, don't get sick, cause I was the entire time and it sucked more than you can ever know.

All of that aside, attending Melt! is among the best experiences I've ever had. I got to see some musicians I never thought I would, and I finally went to a festival I've dreamed of attending since I was in my early teens. Fingers crossed I can go again next year.
L-R, T-B: Chet Faker, Haim, Robyn & Röyksopp, Alex Banks, Sleigh Bells, Breach, SOHN, Moderat, Portishead

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This is the first in a series of posts about my adventures overseas in the middle of the year. Next up: Berlin!

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Easy Chocolate Mousse

There are millions of vegan chocolate mousses out there and they vary from the ridiculously easy to the stupidly overcomplicated (and, usually, with very little payoff). Similarly to brownies, there is a lot disagreement among what people expect from a mousse: some people want super fluffy (the texture I associate with that creepy brown paste served at fast food "restaurants"), others want something rich but still light, as though someone put chocolate in a cream gun. Other people don't care as long as it's chocolate.

This is an incredibly dense chocolate mousse; I'd love to say that a couple of spoonfuls is enough but yeah, that's a lie. My one big tip is: don't tell people what's in it until they've eaten it! And then they'll be amazed and you'll give them the recipe and they'll go home and make it and the deception will spread across the world...

HA.

The craziest thing about all that is that most people don't know what's in mousse anyway, but if you give the slightest hint that it's not "normal", they'll freak out. "You mean it doesn't contain BUTTER?!"

Anyway...

The easiest way to do this is using a stick blender, but you can always use an upright blender if you don't have one (but then go out and get one, seriously, why don't you have a stick blender). You can easily double the recipe, but keep an eye on the size of the container; the first time I made this, it ended up about half a centimetre below the top of the container, which made blending... very nerve-wracking.

In an appropriately sized, microwave-safe container (pick depth over width; an 8 cup pyrex is a good size), blend until completely smooth:

300g silken tofu (I use Morinaga tetrapack tofu which says it's 298g)
150g chocolate coconut or soy milk (if you don't have chocolate milk, you can just use plain)
50g liquid sweetener (I used golden syrup; using liquid sweetener means you don't have to worry about granulated sweetener dissolving)
5g vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Add 300g good quality dark chocolate (I use Callebaut). Microwave for 1 minute on high, stir well, then microwave for 30 second intervals (stirring well each time) until the chocolate is almost completely melted (chocolate will melt at around 36 degrees, so it really doesn't need to be that warm to melt properly; 1-1:30min should be enough). Stir until the mixture is a uniform colour. Blend with the stick blender for a couple of seconds (this will pull air into it and give it that sort-of Aero texture), then cling wrap and place in the fridge OR distribute to smaller serving glasses, cling wrap them and then refridgerate. Small servings should set in one to two hours to set, but overnight/overday is best to be totally sure (and a must if you're just going to do it in the one container and then eat it with a spoon, which is what I do).

If you're feeling particularly decadent, use it to ice a chocolate cake. And then thank me.

And you're done! Seriously, that's it.


I will be back soon with seriously belated travel-related posts, or maybe another recipe so I can just keep on delaying actually finishing the travel posts... we shall see!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

On Robin Williams' passing.

Note: I hesitated to post this, in all honesty, with it originally going to be a lightweight beard vanity piece containing a veganised muffin recipe, and somehow turning into an overwrought overshare and an unworthy almost-Eulogy of the late, great Robin Williams. But, as I stared at my good-looking but average tasting muffin and listened (for the first time) to Antony & The Johnsons'  "I Am A Bird Now", something deep within me wanted to put this out there. And what is life, or death really, if it isn't putting yourself out there?

Please take this in the spirit it was intended. Rambling awkwardly with respect.

One of the perils of being a man and having a beard is that some days - it's unavoidable - you wake up with a case of "bad beard". Whether it's sticking up at the corners of your moustache and making you look like Ye Olde Time Fruitcake Fellow, or whether it has been dreaming of the ocean and has curled to the side, therefore going Full Mermaid on you, there's not much you can do. The Beard has a mind of its own and resistance is futile. 


Waking up sad, with a case of a Mermaid Beard.

I woke this morning, saw my beard, grumbled, rolled over and checked my Twitter, only to receive horribly sad news. The great man who smiled and laughed through the pain, Robin Williams, had died. Of apparent suicide. What can one say, really? Not much that could be of any comfort. 

As an only child whose parents got divorced and were *not* getting back together, Mrs Doubtfire was a huge comfort for me. As a child of *parents and step-parents who were people, too*, with broken hopes and dreams, busy careers, but ultimately loved their weird, precocious, lonely performer kid as best as they could despite still trying to find their own way, Mrs Doubtfire made me feel less alone, and more understanding.

As an awkward gay pre-teen who didn't fit into any conventional boxes, and long before gay couples and families were in vogue in Hollywood, The Birdcage made me laugh - and showed me a beautiful, real, boring/exciting, openly affectionate but not sleazy, happy-in-their-quirks gay couple who, with a little effort, patience and understanding, found the love of an extended step- and in-law family; and loved a son who also loved them. Something to aspire to.

As a Genie who cared fiercely for those around him, watching them fall in love and live a life he would never live, while yearning to be free, I related to him. 

As an overweight, hairy, awkward, unstereotypically-masculine teenage alcoholic suffering from mental health issues who tried to crack jokes through the pain in between various private and public meltdowns, I sought solace in seeing my own pained smile reflected in his, understanding the depth and complexity of his expressions, and his desire to make others think, and laugh.

Enough rambling.

Robin Williams was who he was, who he wanted to be, and who he didn't want to be. So were his characters. He defied convention, insisted on being real. The characters he portrayed were so human, always touching your heart with their combination of love and loneliness, always with a sense of "standing on the outside, looking in". Thanks for the love and understanding, Robin. We can only offer you that in return, and hope that you're now free.

Because - as another beautiful, beloved, complex character (the fiercely intelligent and always comforting Nigella Lawson) would awkwardly phrase it on her TV chat show - "life is a combination of light and shade", I was also going to post a veganised/adapted version of Nigella's Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Muffins that I made this morning, to comfort myself. They're not chocolate-chocolate chip, just chocolate chip. But... although they looked fine, on the inside, they didn't quite taste up to standard in their vegan form. So I'm going to keep working on them.



Here's to Robin and Nigella, who both will always make a difference by living their lives in their own ways, who are deeply complex, with unshakeable dignity, now and forever. And here's to all of us who live our life as flawed, complex characters, who don't always know that someone, somewhere *gets* what is going on understand the surface of our smile, and appreciates our existence. Love is always somewhere.

Matt

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Quick & Easy Vegan (Yeasted) Cinnamon Buns

Cinnamon Rolls. Cinnamon buns. I won't quibble over specifics - if there's bready goodness with a sweet, creamy, gooey, cinnamony filling - I will be there in a flash. With or without the glaze that makes them totally over the top.

I grew up with a single, working Mum who didn't have a lot of spare time. But every now and then, I'd wake up to gorgeous scents floating through the house, jump up excitedly, and run to the kitchen to find that she'd made us cinnamon rolls. 

Now, my Mum was a busy, single working mother, so she didn't have time to mess around with yeast and kneading, so the cinnamon rolls she made were unyeasted - basically, a rolled and filled almost-shortcrust pastry. And they were darn delicious. My mum is actually extremely, horribly allergic to dairy and eggs, so I grew up with cinnamon rolls that were unintentionally vegan, which made returning to them as an adult even easier - they didn't even require any tweaking of the recipe. I still make them sometimes.


Me at approximately 4, baking with my Grandma. Look at my crazy eyes - I loved it.

As I've gotten older, I've also found an equally passionate love of cinnamon buns - which, are obviously more bakery style - and are yeasted, with a silky, tender, puffy, slightly chewy tender dough in place of that creamy almost-shortcrust I grew up with, but are otherwise pretty much the same. The yeasted nature gives them an almost un-explainable umami richness.

I have a Kitchenaid stand-mixer, so pretty much the only thing that stops me making either buns or scrolls is a) the unavoidable rolling-out of the dough and the sprinklings of flour that I know are going to get everywhere and b) the time component.

I'm now learning just to relax, put down a Silpat (silicone baking mat), and spread that flour everywhere, knowing that it won't be hard to clean up afterwards. If I just start, I'll overcome the mental hurdle of hatred of mess. Watching the way Nigella Lawson gleefully gets her hands right into every step of the cooking process has also helped me too. It just takes a quick wipe down and a hand-wash for her to revert to looking pristine. Maybe I could too... Now if only I had her lighting team, and luscious, luscious hair...
A screenshot I took from Nigella's 2005 talk show on dieting, as she announced she was giving the entire audience free Krispy Kreme donuts, because "you mustn't deprive yourself". You've gotta love her.


Getting over this hasn't helped fix the time component for yeasted buns. I'm pretty bad at delaying gratification - so making something and waiting four hours to eat them is akin to slow, painful torture for me. And then, this morning, the Universe smiled down on me, and I saw that my friend Kittee had made quick cinnamon buns, based on the recipe that Somer McCowan of Vedged Out had posted on Instagram. They're yeasted, but only require 10 minutes rising time, thanks to a special ingredient she (and I) had on hand after making Bryanna's palm-oil-free vegan butter, called Liquid Lecithin, an emulsifier and humectant which I've discovered has properties that greatly improve yeasted doughs, and require little or no rising time.

I thought I'd take a punt and give them a try, and they worked out gorgeously. You may still get covered in flour, but at least you won't have to wait. I can't find the recipe on her website, so thought I'd share it here. It's quick, little fuss, and very satisfying. Thanks very much to Somer for pulling this together.

Somer McCowan's Quick & Easy Cinammon Buns, re-written (so blame me, not her!):
1. Preheat your oven to 180 C or 350 F and grease a square or circular baking dish (I used a glass Pyrex pie dish and canola spray).

2. In the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with the beating paddle, add:
1 cup warm water (not too hot, or you'll kill the yeast)
1 tablespoon instant yeast (I used Lowan brand)
1 tablespoon liquid lecithin (eyeball this, because it's near impossible to get it off either utensils, OR your hands - trust me, it's a very unpleasant feeling to have this all over your hands)
2.5 cups + 2 tablespoons plain flour
1 teaspoon sea salt

3. Knead for 8-10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. My dough was pretty touchable, and not sticky.

4. Flour your work area and your rolling pin, and roll the dough out into an 8 x 14 inch rectangle (my silicon mat has inches marked, which is fantastic).

5. Mix together
1/4 cup softened butter (I'm not going to get into naming wars. Use whatever you use as butter - whether nuttelex, earth balance, or dairy butter - just don't write to me proselytising and raving about how unhealthy butter/margarine is, because I truly don't care. Add salt as needed, if what you're using is unsalted. Salt makes things delicious).
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

6. Spread butter mixture all over the dough, right to the edges (I used a pastry brush)

7. Grasp both edges of the longest length side (bottom of the rectangle), and gently roll it forward, taking care to keep the filling even, until you end up with a cylinder which is spiralled inside. 

8. Cut cylinder into one inch rolls, turn them sideways (spiral visible from above), and place in your greased baking dish. Continue cutting and arranging until complete. I had to squish some of mine up, but that's okay, their will to rise is strong, and they will be fine.

9. Set the dish, packed with yummy buns full of potential in a warm (but not hot) place, to rise for 10 minutes, or until almost doubled (which I admit I forgot to do, I was so eager - and they turned out fine, with no "yeasty" taste).

10. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, until the tops are lightly golden.

They're good as they are, or you can make an icing sugar/butter/milk glaze to drizzle over them if you're feeling really Nigellicious and want your hands dripping with sugar and fat.

Unfortunately, I was pretty slap-dash and devoured half of them like a ravenous beast, so I don't have a photo of the outcome, sorry (not sorry). So here's a photo of my darling Devon Rex cat Sylvia, when she was a baby kitten and I had just brought her home. Today, she's a ferocious beast, but she's still gorgeous.


She's not shy. Work it, girl!

I'm also interesting in hearing about your experiences with liquid lecithin - I've read you can use it to make super fast-rising pizza dough as well. Let me know what you think.
And in the words of Nigella Lawson - "I don't believe in deprivation. Enjoy yourself".
Matt










Monday, 7 July 2014

5 Housework Helping Hacks for the Helpless

I used to detest housework. Detest detest detest. I used to have help. Two cleaners, over the years. The first, a friend of a friend's mother who arranged my bathroom toiletries in new and terrifying ways, like gorgeously/innovatively arranging my shampoos and body washes around the vanity sink. She was really short though, so if I didn't want her to see or move anything, I just had to hide it on top of a cupboard. Win. I guess she was blind. Then there was another lady I employed after moving house, who snarled "I don't work well with other people, so now I clean. Alone", when I first met her. I'm not gonna pretend that sometimes my spirit animal isn't Paranoid Parrot, so I admit to sneaking up to the driveway and taking a photo of her car and registration plate, in case she decided to kill me. How would that help? Oh, I'm so glad you asked. Let me tell you: You know it and I know it. If I die, the first thing my dear friends/neighbourhood policeman are going to do is go through my camera roll on my iPhone, looking for concrete evidence of my misplaced vanity. And maybe some cute photos of cats. They'll see the photo of her car, remember I'm paranoid and crazy, and my death will be avenged. Anyhow, I digress. I ended up not booking her again after she took 6 hours to clean my one bedroom apartment, and didn't get time to wipe down surfaces. And, because, despite my warnings, I came home to find my cat Sylvia in a mega-drugged up state, rolling around with a bleach soaked rag, in fits of pure heaven/hell. Apparently some cats find bleach THE BEST THING EVER. "Help, My Cat Is Addicted To Bleach" is a common veterinary advice column question.

Anyway, I found myself growing up and reaching the age where I care not only about what other people will think about the tidiness/state of my house, but also, I just wanted things to be clean and organised so I feel comfortable and can sit down without embedding myself with shards of potato chips, or falling over shoes and roses in a stumble in the dark of night.

So, without further ado (what a stupid saying - i'm gonna say "hairdo" from now on, because then I can say "hair-don't" and people will laugh), here are the things that got my lazy, potato chip-scarred butt into gear, and also made me a house-proud house-dude. In order from "tiny, c'mon, just do it, it's a bare minimum", to "this is nice and worth it, you should still do it". Along with photos of my very own models.

The benefits? Well, Let me just say this - I don't have to brush my feet anymore. There's no dirt or crumbs for this reformed slob to walk around the house anymore. I don't have to brush my feet against each other when I go to bed (I know you've done it, don't get all hoity toity on me).

I warn you, the photos I took of myself demonstrating make me look, upon reflection, a little unbalanced.

1) Detergent-dispensing washing up wand. (Around $6).
So. Easy. There's nothing that makes me feel more unclean than dishes sitting in the sink, in various stages of water-filled, clean-ish, and dirty. It makes me shudder. When cooking for one, there may only be a couple of pots, a plate, and a piece of cutlery or two. And that's hardly reason to don gloves and fill up the sink. Bazinga - in comes the detergent-dispensing washing up wand. There's no excuse to not have one of these if your washing up jobs tend to be small in number. They're available pretty heavy duty these days (even coming with scourer heads for tougher jobs), and are nearly as planet friendly as just a sponge - you just replace the head when the old one is getting manky. To wash up a dish or a pot, just turn some hot water on, hold the stick, and rub the sponge head over the surface. Like most things, I find it easier to do it as I go, washing dishes up immediately as I use them. While you're rubbing/sponging, it's automatically releasing your detergent of choice through the sponge head. And your dishes are clean, and you can go dirty them again with endless cups of herbal tea, vodka, and spaghetti. Magic.

You could even do dishes whilst kneeling on the hardwood floor in front of your computer's camera! So amaze!

2) Robot-sweeper. (Mine was $89).
Oh my goodness. I'd wanted a robot vacuum for so long, but really wasn't convinced the hassle was worth the trouble. Creating "walls" and setting "boundaries" and "programming directions" on a $500+ machine wasn't my idea of fun. Also, I can't think of anything worse for regular use than it wandering around the house with the sound of a vacuum running all the time. Too noisy, and annoying. In comes the Robot Sweeper, entering the scene, in affordability and swishing movements, brushes blazing.

Like Rex Hunt with his fish, but I ain't throwin' this baby back!

I fought for this. I was shopping with The Academic, saw the Robot-Sweeper, and fell in love. He really, really, didn't want me to get it. He told me I was wasting my money, that I already had a Dyson vacuum cleaner, etc, etc, and was so vehemently opposed to me purchasing it that it made the prospect of me buying one IRRESISTIBLE. So I did, and I've never looked back. I have genuine emotional feelings towards my robot sweeper.

It's bare bones in terms of features, but so effective. The first time, you attach the brushes, turn it on, and it's off and on. The only settings are for optic sensitivity (if you have stairs or ledges you don't want it fall off). You charge it for 3 hours, and it wanders the house for about 40 minutes to a cycle. If you want it to do just one room at a time, shut the door. It doesn't make the loud noise of a vacuum, but instead has circular brushes that look like spinning whiskers underneath it, which it uses to sweep dust, dirt, hair, and small debris up into its collection receptacle. It doesn't have bags or any of that drama, so, when full or after a completed cycle, you just remove the receptacle, tip it into a bin, and bang the filter to shake the dust up (it's also water rinsable). It does a remarkable job, getting right into corners and under tables and beds that I would never bother with, and navigates the terrain really well - just remove most things from the floor and it'll go about its business. It has a movable part on the front that recognises when it has come in contact with an obstacle. The only difficulty you may have is that it's not carpet-friendly - it can damage the whiskers. (Mine goes over my rug just fine).

So, does it really do a good job? Is it worth it? In the beginning, I didn't imagine it would, provided  I was vacuuming regularly, and it was cheap. But even after doing my entire timber/tile house super thoroughly with the Dyson, the robot sweeper STILL seems to collect a full collection receptacle each cycle. It gets all the dirt and dust and hair you don't even see, just as a matter of course. And because it's quiet, I run it once every day or two. The fact that Sylvia hates the Dyson, and hisses if you even just touch it, the robot-sweeper is a life-saver. She looks at it with bemusement and slight annoyance, but not anger. It does a pretty darn good job of maintenance cleaning, and I'm a hairy-shedding-beast. I wouldn't want to be without it now. 6 months on, The Academic now admits that it's a good purchase - and has one himself.

3) Steam Mop (plugged in to extra-long extension cord). (Mine was $99).
Mopping with a traditional mop is THE WORST. Water and cleaning solution and lugging buckets around the house and squeezing and waiting for things to dry, pouring dirty water into the bathtub and splashing it all over your face and then wanting to cry - it's just not worth it.

In comes the steam mop. I used to tease my Dad about his steam mop collection, not realising how useful they were (I'd actually never... I mean, NEVER, mopped anywhere I'd lived, after 10 years of living away from home, until I got this steam mop). So, after being freaked out and fed up with constantly spot-cleaning areas with paper towels where Sylvia had a) vomited, or b) dragged blood-seeping meat around the house, I had the bright idea to ask Dad about what steam mop to buy. After he went on for about an hour about how good they were, whilst talking in a very slow and deliberate voice, like he was The Lion King passing very important knowledge on to his adult son, I eventually got a brand recommendation out of him.

So off I trundled to purchase it. I got it home and it sat on the lounge room floor in its box for a couple of weeks, until Sylvia had ripped a big enough hole in the box (she'd sit on top, and use a technique comprising fang hooking in concert with paw-clawing, sometimes at the same time) for me to be able to see into. 

It couldn't be easier to use. You just draw-string a fluffy cover over the head, fill the back up with water, plug it in, and you're off. The only important thing is to use a mega long extension cord. I can't think of anything worse than having to plug and unplug per room, reaching the end of my cord. It's important to remember with a steam mop that it takes a bit of time to develop your technique. You want slow, steady motions back and forth. Find a stain or dirt on the floor, and start with that, watching how your different technique attempts affect the stain/dirt, and you'll see what works and what doesn't pretty quickly. And make sure you work from the back of the room to the front, so you don't walk in the already-cleaned wet spots. It only takes a few minutes to dry, though, so it's not a big drama if you forget.

At the end, you just remove the head cover, and throw it in your next laundry load. It's also really satisfying, because by noticing how dirty/clean it is, you can see how dirty/clean your house was.

I wanted to go all "American Gothic" like this one, but it looks too much like something Ariel's Dad would wield undersea

4) A Decent Cordless Stick Vacuum (Mine's a Dyson. It was around $500, with a number of "bonus" attachments - everything required from cleaning the car, to ... god, I don't know. I don't use any of those attachments. They sit in the closet and make me feel inefficient). 
What are the worst things about vacuuming? 1) The weight you're dragging along behind you, and 2) The cord that's never long enough, tangled, in the way, etc, etc, etc. I don't know if bags are a 3rd, because I live in a post-bag-vacuum society.

In comes my wonderful Dyson cordless vacuum to fix all of the problems of the world. You charge it for 3 hours, and it gives you around 15 minutes of cleaning time per charge. It's light as, a perfect height, has a motorised head, and makes cleaning as simple as basically walking around the house with it comfortably in your hand. To save on battery, you have to squeeze a "trigger" to activate the suction, so no moment of battery is wasted. OH MY GOODNESS IT'S SO EASY. For carpets or more heavy duty areas, it has a "max" button, as well, which I really only use on the rug or on cat litter pellets (AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO HAS A CAT WHO FLICKS CAT LITTER ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE?! Gee those things hurt when you stand on them unexpectedly). 

When you're finished, you just press a button and a cover pops open, allowing you to just shake the collection receptacle area into the bin. Woohoo.

As a bonus - imagine if the witches of Hocus Pocus had this? I mean, no extension cords, they could just fly off into the night? I'm pretty sure the children of Salem would have lost that round...

Come here, Zachary Binx! Zachary Binnnnnnnx! Dueeeeell!

5) And finally, getting off your backside and just doing it. Get into a routine if you must. ($Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, and it develops discipline, which is priceless).
I have actually grown to quite like cleaning. It makes my home nicer to be in, it's a little bit of exercise, and it has visible results, which is uber satisfying. I've made it super easy for myself with the aforementioned tips, and I always feel great after relaxing in my newly clean home. BUT STILL, I struggle to get started. That little voice of procrastination in the back of my head tells me it's awful, it's a chore, that I don't want to do it, that it's boring, and it'll take me ages. Despite me knowing that's simply not true, it can still be a bit of a struggle to get started. But the magic is: once I start vacuuming, I almost instantly remember how easy it is, and how much I like cleaning (and the results - a clean house!), and I go for it, not stopping until my floors and dishes are clean. Then I have a shower and relax. 

To overcome this, I made a deal with myself. On the first day of my work weekend, before I do anything else, I clean. And in a particular order, so it gets into my muscle memory and helps the habit form. First I vacuum, then I steam mop, then I send the robot-sweeper on its mission, and finally, I do the dishes (if there are any from the day before). It takes me no more than an hour and a half before the house is spick and span, and I'm free to enjoy myself in or out of a clean house without the nagging feeling of guilt or grossness.

It takes about 5 weeks to form a habit, so stick with it. Set the same time every week aside at the start of your rest period, and just do it. Convince yourself to just get started on one task, preferably vacuuming. Like brushing your teeth, it'll become a habit, and you'll get used to it and do it without thought in no time. 

You'll be enjoying the benefits and relaxing afterwards in no time. Then you can lock yourself in your bathroom with a bottle of red wine and a book (okay, your mobile phone/ipod, which you constantly live in fear of dropping into the bath and electrocuting yourself with - NB. I do not advise this, but I know you probably do it anyway, so don't get litigious with me). ENJOY!






Thursday, 26 June 2014

Vegan Tasting Menu at Sono Portside

A couple of weeks ago, we were invited by Lindsay Bennett marketing to attend Sono Portside to experience their tasting menu. I promptly replied with "Will they do something vegan?" and was pleasantly surprised to hear that they were happy to come up with a vegan tasting menu.



Sono Portside is the sister restaurant of Sono Brisbane CBD (in the Queen Street Mall), opened some 10 years later with a slightly more modern look, but the same commitment to tradition. We had a brief chat with the owner of both restaurants who considers himself simply an "coordinator", someone who organises the best of the best for the various areas of the restaurant (waitstaff, bar, restaurant (in fact, he noted that many of the chefs are brought over from Japan)). Rather than chasing food trends, and aiming to find the latest Japanese "fusion cuisine", Sono's aim is to provide a consistent and traditional Japanese restaurant experience, with a menu that has slowly evolved, but rarely changed, over the years that both restaurants have been trading.

We all slowly gathered in the bar, where we each enjoyed a libation of our choosing. When everyone had arrived, we were ushered into one of the private tatami rooms, which meant our shoes had to come off (I was very glad I had picked non-holey socks, not that I have any holey socks, that's crazy who would do that). Once we were all seated, and had wisely opted to do the matched wines/sake, the meal began.


First course: pumpkin with edamame and tofu in broth. I thought the edamame could have been much more salty, but I absolutely adored the tofu in broth: delicious!


Second course: assorted sushi with wasabi and pickled ginger. Yes, I finished off that whole lump of wasabi and, yes, I couldn't talk for about 10 minutes afterwards. But hello clean sinuses!


Third course: eggplant with miso. The slice of eggplant was a little thicker than I'm used to having it (and made it difficult to eat with chopsticks!), but it fell apart and melted in your mouth, and had absolutely no bitterness. The miso was quite thick, so it will difficult to eat without getting too much miso in every second bite, but as a big miso fan, I was pretty happy with that. 


Fourth course: mixed vegetable tempura. This photo doesn't really capture how beautiful it looked when it came out. Not at all oily, and delightfully crispy.


Fifth course: tofu, shiitake mushrooms and mixed vegetables in teriyaki sauce, with miso soup side. As I'm sitting here writing this, the cold air is blasting through the windows and I just want to jump inside these photos and have this dish again. The teryaki sauce was well balanced, and mushrooms and vegetables were perfectly cooked and SO MUCH DELICIOUS TOFU. I don't think I've ever eaten this much protein at a non-vegetarian restaurant. I nearly cried. This was also the only course that had it's own matching wine distinct from the omnivore courses. The miso soup was also lovely. I think I may go and make some now.


Dessert: fruit salad. Eh.

Matt trying to convince Charelle to top him up a little more
What stood out most for me during the whole meal was the service. We were served Charelle, who managed to perfectly be present when ever we needed her, but then seemingly disappear when she knew we didn't. Before each meal was served, she gave a detailed description of the wine or sake matched with each course, including how it would match with the dish. She was also sure to inform us that they weren't sure about the fining agents for some of the wines, something with a number of sommeliers (from our experience!) are apparently ignorant about! She was truly wonderful and is such an asset to the restaurant.

The food, for me, was a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, I found several of the dishes felt rushed in their conception, or weren't quite flavoursome enough for my tastes. This is a common complaint amongst restaurants offering vegan options (even in vegan restaurants, to be honest), however, and is often easily fixed with a bit of practice and feedback. The biggest disappointment was, of course, the fruit salad (especially as the omnivores had brownies with chocolate sauce!). On the other hand, it is probably the most protein-rich meal I have had at a non-veg restaurant in Brisbane (I was particularly pleased that they didn't skimp on the tofu for the final savoury course; I actually left satisfied!), and many of the individual elements of some of the courses were wonderful.

As for drinks, I couldn't name a single wine or sake we had on the night (which is why Charelle has the job, not me!), but all were wonderful. Though most of the wines were only matched to the omnivore menu, I was very pleased that our "main" had it's very own wine matched to it.

Finally, I could not find one thing to complain about with the decor and ambiance; it strikes a fine balance between traditional and modern, and though the restaurant was packed, and the door to our private room open, we never had any trouble with noise. The view is also quite lovely, though I was facing the wrong way to enjoy it. (I would suggest, with the cooler weather, wearing some thick socks if you're in the tatami room, though!)

In sum, I had a very enjoyable evening. The menu was diverse (both in flavour and texture) and very protein-rich (and, consequently, satisfying), the drinks were wonderful, and the service and ambience were impeccable.

As we only had the tasting menu (designed for us on the night), I can't comment on how many vegan items are on the regular menu, so I would still recommend calling up in advance to check what's available, or simply calling up to book in for a tasting menu! Portside is close to several bus lines, about a 10 minute walk from the CityCat, and, due to the large number of other venues there, usually has plenty of cabs available, should you choose to also do the matched wine/sake.

Thank you to Lindsay Bennett for the invitation and hosting a delightful evening. It was good to get back in the game and try somewhere new!

Sono Portside
39 Hercules St Hamilton (in the Portside Wharf precinct (where the Dendy is))
3268 6655 | www.sonorestaurant.com.au/sono-portside/ | facebook

Lunch: Wed-Sun, 12pm-2.30pm
Dinner:  Tues-Thurs & Sunday, 6pm-9.30pm; Fri & Sat, 6pm-10pm

Sono was busy when we went (a Tuesday night), so it would probably be wise to make a reservation no matter what day you decide to go. Sono is on the second level of the Portside centre, but is accessible by stairs, an escalator and an elevator. While the bar may provide some accessibility issues, the main seating area would provide no problems, and the entry is quite wide. Other guests on the night included Miss Foodie, Eatin Mess and Food Me Up Scotty.

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In unrelated news, I have partnered with Laneway Learning Brisbane to do some cooking classes! It's only about a week til the first class, so I probably should've promoted this a bit earlier but HEY that's life. I will be taking a "breakfast" themed cooking class, where I demonstrate how to make vegan savoury crepes, pancakes, scrambled tofu, and a quick and easy marmalade, and then a dinner class where I demonstrate a couple of entrees (dips, bruschetta), a creamy pasta, and then an easy chocolate pudding.

Each class is limited for about 20 people, so hopefully it's popular and I have to tell you to rush but please rush anyone because it will make me feel good and not nervous, which is how I feel right now!

Register for the breakfast class and/or the dinner class.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Urbane's Vegan Degustation - June 2014

So the other night I had the pleasure of attending Urbane Restaurant for another degustation, under the guidance of Head Chef (and a man I'm proud to call "friend"), Alejandro Cancino.

As many of you would know, Alejandro calls himself "vegan at home". He's a big supporter of the vegan movement and is an excellent example of someone who complements and works with people to achieve progress, rather than shoving propaganda down people's throats and pissing them off. He has successfully opened the eyes (and tastebuds) of many of the food community I've watched scoff at vegan food for years. He's winning over the militant vegans who used to bitch about him for cooking meat at Urbane. He's also The Queensland Good Food Guide 2013 Chef of the Year. The fact that he's hugely inspirational, animated, and a really lovely guy doesn't hurt either.

For those of you who haven't been to Urbane in a while, you'll notice less of a focus on molecular gastronomy than when Kym Machin (The Queensland Good Food Guide 2012 Chef of The Year!) was at the helm. Kym is another of my favourites, now running his own "cafistro" called "Bare Bones Society", which I also highly recommend. Kym is also an immensely talented Chef  - particularly with vegan food. 

Below are the 8 courses (plus bread, amuse bouche, and bonuses) we were served. My companion was enjoying the omnivore degustation at the same time, so some of the amuse bouche were mixed vegan/omnivore. We were both really, really impressed by the fact that the vegan degustation was not missing anything or "less than". Both omnivore and vegan degustations were totally on par in terms of taste, texture and flavour enjoyability. 

I'm going to keep the commentary light - my memory fails me because I was enjoying it so much in the moment - and you know the food was good - I don't need to tell you that. Dining with Alejandro is an experience I wish everyone could have. Names of menu items are in italics.

Note to other chefs reading: it's so great to be able to get creamy sauces, potato, charred flavour, and a variety of proteins (and I'm not talking three cashews over 10 courses), in an upscale restaurant. Please consider this when feeding vegans - it really helps add that missing component and stops us leaving your restaurant unsatisfied.

The service was good - in particular, a charming, infectiously kind bearded man, and a very efficient blonde woman. However, I was a little unsure how to take our first waiter's comment of "here you go, Brisbane's finest" when he brought our tap water, to the table, though, with an odd smile. I may be humourless at times, but that's not generally the first introduction I expect from a waiter in a fine dining restaurant.

Overall, A winner, as always, and so far, the best degustation I've attended at Urbane.


Shitake consommé. This was perfect. Such a delicious, umami broth, holding the best dumpling I've ever eaten. Mushroom richness with the dial turned up to 1000.


Coffin bay oyster with wasabi and pea broth (omnivore) alongside potato and sesame thing. Like a really fancy potato chip. I would love to eat a bag of them, let me tell you. Even whilst running the risk of ending up with many sesame seeds in my beard.



(Right) four week pickled carrots. A nice segue-way between dishes.



Smoked corn... dust? Became instantly creamy in the mouth. Very cool.



Tofu, ponzu. Avocado, capsicum. The tofu in ponzu, kim chi and toasted buckwheat was interesting, but I found the vinegaryness of the broth a little overpowering, especially when previous dishes had gone along these lines. The thing in the middle - a sort of latin american spiced AWESOMENESS with the avocado was really something to behold. This is where the art comes in - something so small and simple has no room for error - and there was no error. Perfection.



Just bread, right? No way. Rich, dense, chewy, incredibly moreish bread studded with macadamias. I knew this was going to fill me up, but still couldn't stop.



Quinoa, cucumber, apple. Varieties of cucumber preparation, in a creamy sauce with quinoa and a char. A really interesting variety of textures, and the toasty quinoa was really unique.



Onion, macadamia, dill. Onion and dill, in a macadamia cream sauce. The omnivore version was served in a beurre blanc, but we both agreed that this was the winner. So creamy and delicious.



King brown mushroom, kombu, dashi, wasabi. The mushrooms were so delicate, smooth, and toothsome - really artfully prepared.



Tempeh, jerusalem artichoke, lime. Local tempeh by our friends at "Totally Tempeh" prepared in a really inventive way - crumbled and toasted/sautéed to perfect brownness. Jerusalem artichoke too, which is something I don't prepare at home. Nice and savoury.


Turnip, potato, onion. Parsnip, smashed potato (yes, yes, yes!) and onion. Some interesting flavours and textures in the land of the middle - between light and dark. Lip-smacking but light umami.


Pearl barley, eggplant, mushroom. Mushroom barley risotto with various mushrooms (including "dust"), and eggplant puree. The omnivorous equivalent of this featured lamb, but... this vegan version really knocked my socks off. This vegan dish had the flavours and satisfaction of a naturally charred smoky meat that would impress any omnivore. A real showstopper.


A palate cleanser. Grapefruit gel. Very runny, and so sour. A great opportunity for someone to take photos of me pulling awful faces. I'm super sensitive to sour or bitter, and this almost hurt my feelings.


Local pink lady apple, lemongrass, ginger. (On the menu. Though perhaps this changed before service?) Dessert one. Granny smith apple was the featured ingredient. Sorbet, maybe poached (?) and an almost marshmallow textured sample, topped with dehydrated apple. The marshmallow-y confection was my favourite.


Coconut rice pudding, peanut, raspberry. Coconut sorbet with raspberries, toasted peanuts in a creamy peanut sauce. The sorbet was so rich and creamy, and who can go wrong with peanuts? For the win. A really nice way to end a highly enjoyable evening.

Keep an eye on Alejandro. Every time I see him, he's doing greater and greater things. This man is going to continue to push the boundaries and rise up. Urbane is very lucky to have him, and keeping people on the edge of their seats too, when so many restaurants are playing it safe. Bravo.

You can find our previous post about Urbane here. For more information about dining at Urbane, please see their website. 
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