Saturday, 7 December 2013

brazilian carrot cake of deliciousness (with orange and chocolate)

After a week of watching the Great British Bake Off S4 (I love Sue), it was time to bake Danni's birthday cake. It didn't rise super well and there are things I would change, but a friend said "I never liked carrot cake before, but I loved this!",* and I think that's a job well done.

This cake is moist, fragrant when cut into, and retains a beautiful flavour. The carrot, chocolate and orange all work very well together. I would have baked this again immediately but for a sugar, carrot and flour emergency in my kitchen.

This recipe came to me via Cindy, but I changed it up a bit.

Brazilian Carrot Cake (called such because the recipe's original progenitor is Brazilian)

cake ingredients:
2 cups plain flour
1 cup sr flour
1.5 tbl baking powder
pinch salt
1.5 cups sugar (I used a combo brown, coconut and castor due to a dire sugar emergency in my kitchen)
400g carrots, coarsely grated
5 tbl soy milk
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
half an orange's juice + zest

chocolate deliciousness for the top:
2 tablespoons cocoa
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons nuttelex
2 tablespoons soy milk
10g dark chocolate couverture

for on top of the top:
some dark chocolate couverture
a handful of walnuts

to make it a cake:

set ovens to stun180C.
sift together flours, baking powder, salt and sugar. in a blender combine carrots, soy milk, vegetable oil, orange elements and vanilla extract. pulse together until a thick, rough, fluorescent orange goop appears. mix through the dry ingredients.

pour into a greased baking tin, and bake for about 40 minutes; at which point, bake at 170C for another ten minutes. allow to mostly cool.

over a low flame, mix together the elements of the chocolate deliciousness. when it's all melted and smooth, allow to boil for a minute and then take off the heat. put aside to cool for about 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

chop up the walnuts, shave the chocolate. before the chocolate deliciousness can set, pour gently over the cake. top with walnuts and extra chocolate.

serve at your bestie's birthday dinner, and be annoyed when there's none left to eat later because everyone gobbled it up despite being full of burgers.

* where do we think this comma goes? '!",' seems awkward.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

weekend waffles at mr nice guy

I think by now most Melbourne vegos are aware of the 100% vegan delights to be found at Mr Nice Guy. But what you might not know is that their expansion from sweet goods has moved into savoury and meal foods, which I highly recommend. On a recent visit to the Ascot Vale shop with K the Moody Noodle and Ms Fi, there were bagels and cornbreads (gf) consumed; and on an even more recent visit with both Moody Noodles (and Danni and her E) there were spinach and cheese scrolls, sausage inna bun, and even more bagels. But most important of all, on weekends they veer back into more sweetness, and make available a gluten-free, fructose-free, and corn-free waffle.

My friends, do not be that person with their skeptical face on. These waffles are so good. They come in three flavours (caramel + banana, original, and strawberry + chocolate), and they are all good, and the only thing that could make them more perfect would be if the icecream were made onsite and not that So Good vanilla stuff. There was the perfect amount of toppings to make it excellently covered and not too sweet. I finished my waffle and was perfect but could not move, could barely roll on out of the shop.

Of late I also recommend the chocolate babka and the blt bagel, which are available along with some cupcakes at the Prahran shopfront.

Nobody else has reviewed the waffles yet, get on it.

Mr Nice Guy
151 Union St Ascot Vale (get there on the 59 tram)
Prahran Markets, Commercial Rd Sth Yarra (get there on the 72 tram)

Friday, 29 November 2013

icecreams and sundaes out and about

Yesterday was 32C here in old Melbourne-town, and despite today's amazing and delightful rain and coat weather it truly is heading towards summer, so I've started meeting people out and about for fancy iced treats.

Notable eats so far:
Coconut + Sago Sundae - St Ali South (pictured)
At $13.50 this sundae is not cheap, but it's also giant, gluten free, filling, and totally shareable between two people, which I wish is how I'd eaten it. It's served with gluten-free muesli, pineapple, mango, and topped with freeze-dried fruit. I ordered it without the pineapple, and despite my scepticism re: the muesli I was totally into it. It was very, very rich though, which is surprising to me given it's on the breakfast menu. I would eat again, but only if I was feeling rich and could share it with someone. 12-18 Yarra Pl, South Melbourne

En-Thai-Sing - Gelato Messina
$9, still pretty exxy, but SO INTO IT. Pandan and coconut sorbet, mango, simple but delicious. Desperately want to make coconut and pandan sorbet this summer at home. I believe their menu also includes a huge range of delicious dried fruits including dragonfruit, and a ginger and five spice pudding. They also do a chocolate sorbet, which intrigues me. I would eat this again but probably not too often, and definitely not while their queue goes halfway down Smith Street. Also that NAME, geez. The owner had better be South East Asian is all I'm saying. 237 Smith St, Fitzroy

Passionfruit Sorbet with Chocolate Soya Icecream - Casa del Gelato
This is my standard, I will never part from it, it is the best combination so give it a go. Casa is the best because they have so many vegan options including baci, and also they are just down the road from my house. Cones start from $5. I just wish they'd engage in some queue management on beautiful days when you have to push five people deep. 163 Lygon St, Carlton

Blood Orange Sorbet - Spring St Grocer/Primavera Gelateria
Primavera Gelateria does a variety of rotating flavours, with at least two dairy free on each of my visits. I think it was $6 for a scoop, so it's exxy but it's good. 157 Spring St, Melbourne

Eats to which I'd like to extend:
Frozen Cheezecake - Merry Cupcakes
I miss ice cream cake a lot. I hope this will turn out to make up for that. 261 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

Any icy highlights come your way yet? Please share the icy love.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

totally not feeling the good food night noodle markets

Let's talk Pasar Malam. 

Pasar Malam (or night market) is a stalwart of my childhood: many evenings spent swinging my legs under my chair, eating my char kuay teow or my lontong and slurping on my freshly squeezed watermelon juice, served to me in a clear plastic bag. The noise and the clatter of two dozen stalls, woks hissing, and over it all the yelling and the chatter. The floors were always solid, the chairs plastic and uncomfortable. The food was fast, and cheap, and if I was feeling picky I'd stand with the lady at the front and add and remove things from my order until my char kuay teow was perfect (I've never liked prawns, or chinese sausage), and this was not an inconvenience, it was merely an expectation. 

There are other Night Markets, across the rest of Asia and indeed the rest of the world; but to Australians, the image of a night market most frequently conjures something like a pasar malam. 

This week, the Night Noodle Markets have come to Melbourne as part of Good Food Month, and it is nothing like this. 

If you were lucky enough to gain entry on Monday night (25 000 people attended, and some were turned away at the gates), you might have passed through a Shinto Arch, erected at the Western Entrance. That's funny, you might think. Shinto temples do indeed host festivals, and I've had some delicious noodles at festivals held on Shinto grounds, but they're nearly always religious and the Shinto Arch, religious as it is, seems an odd choice for a pan-asian food festival. 

To one side are the food trucks. If you're wondering where you're going, there's poorly planned signage: with streets like Lotus Avenue, Jasmin (sic) Way, Orchid Lane and Peppercorn Lawn, coupled with the Shinto Arch and the names of some of the vendors, perhaps you're thinking about losing your way. 

The Night Noodle Markets are nothing like what they're trying to evoke: they're trying to evoke something South East Asian. The Good Food Month webpage talks about SEAzn experiences, describing the market as hawker-style, and even quotes Teage Ezard (of Ezard), saying about his first pasar malam experience in KL: "I ate late at night with a local who took care of our ordering. We ate a huge amount for next to nothing!" 

Here's what I ate on Monday night:
Mint, ginger and lemon iced tea: $5
Serving of sweet potato fries (not that large) and one single spring onion pancake from Ghost Kitchen: $10.50 
Pandan, coconut and mango sundae (called the En-Thai-Sing, which, ew but also lol): $9

Originally I joined the Wonderbao queue, because I've never tried Wonderbao and I've heard many a good thing. However after standing in the queue for ten minutes and not moving a single step, I ditched it and wandered over to the food trucks, where at least the queues were faster, though dumplings were still $2.50 each. 

Street food across Asia is a success because it's ordinary, cheap, accessible and fast. Vendors often do only two or three things but they do those two or three things well, and fast, and to order, which none of the vendors were doing. As a vegan, when I'm hanging in the pasar malams of Penang with my sceptical extended family I never have any problems modifying my dish to get exactly what I want. Asian street food gets a bad rap amongst vegos, which is totally unfair - I so rarely have problems, particularly in SEA, due to the fact it is literally put together in front of me. It is always convenient, cheap, fast, and exactly what I want. The food available at the Night Noodle Markets is none of these things, and is the antithesis of a pasar malam in every way. 

In part, this is due to the participating vendors. To get a more accurate night market we should be staring down the face of Camy's Dumpling House, a Dessert Story or two, and the Noodle Kingdom. Some of the vendors come from outside the CBD (Footscray and Burwood), and some are lower range, but for the most part the vendors were all inner-city, catering to toned-down Asian (ie, for white people) mid-range to high-range dining. The Good Food website describes the vendors as "Top-notch eateries." If I wanted to eat at a top-notch eatery at higher than usual prices, I'd go to those eateries and book a table. That's not what a night market is for.  

This is different from the specific cultural events like the Melbourne Malaysia Festival, which are usually run in partnership and aimed at both those whose culture is being eaten, and those who just want to share in our deliciousness. This superficial pan-Asian (but not even really) event appeals to us, but ultimately cannot meet our expectations, because they're not designed for us, the Asian-Australians (or Asian Expats) who long for these things familiar to us. This event is not that event. This is exotification and appropriation, dressed to be Good Food. Good Food is special, by this definition. Hawker food is not Good Food, and there will never be a real pasar malam if this is all we can aim for: an event for those who love us for a specifically modified image of our food, rather than its reality. 

Even the setting was like nothing out of a pasar malam. When I arrived, everything was wide and spread out, necessitating a five minute trek between sections. When I was leaving, there were queues at each entrance, with people being turned away or choosing to turn themselves away and venture into the CBD for their dinner. 25 000 people visited on that first evening, and that is a fucking nightmare by any standards, in a space the size of Alexandria Gardens. The queues at each vendor were ridiculous, and often poorly managed, and a commenter on the Good Food webpage mentioned that it closed at 9pm, which is hardly late at all given sunset is currently 20:16.

The punters were heavily on the asian-side, which isn't a surprise: we love our night markets (a generalisation by which I will stand). The servers at a number of the venues were not-Asian, though, and this is not an article on authenticity (which is why I haven't really talked about the food) but it does serve to support the idea that this is a Night Noodle Market that doesn't really meet Our Asian Needs: it's got some familiar elements, but it's not exactly what we want, the cheapness, the accessibility, the speediness, the convenience. 

This failure and disappointment was inevitable, given the lack of a real pasar malam. A part of a night market is, in its way, its accessibility and familiarity. A pasar malam should not be an Event - it should just be a thing. Perhaps the real answer is not a Good Food Month night market which runs (poorly) for two weeks out of the year, but a year-round (or summer round) under cover pasar malam, with actual prices (not show prices - Hayley, my companion in this adventure, noted that Wonderbao had increased its prices approximately $1 per item for the market). It leads to the question, then: at whom is Good Food Month aimed, if the Good Food Month Night Noodle Market met none of the assumed criteria. What defines good food? Surely the very definition of good food as presented here, with Chin-Chin and Longrain right here before us, cannot include hawker food. Perhaps the actual real answer is not a year-round pasar malam: perhaps the answer is that Melbourne can't support a real pasar malam, because costs are too high and there's no established history of it and who is going to establish it and keep it running? I'd like to say it'll be me, but it really won't. 

Actual Night Market food, it seems, and an actual night market, is not good enough for Good Food Month. 

And there was a detestable lack of noodles. 

The Night Noodle Markets are held at Alexandria Gardens from now until November 30th. Entry is free. Don't go. 

Monday, 18 November 2013

lunching and music at little king

Today I ventured in to Little King twice: once, to see my friends play at 9am, as part of Melbourne Music Week; and the second time, to meet Hayley for lunch before we ventured off for an afternoon of art and criticism (and later, crowds and a severe lack of noodles - review to follow probably Wednesday).

Little King is a tiny little cafe just off Flinders Lane, behind St Paul's Cathedral, situated in the alley that links the Westin with Fed Square (across several roads). And before this weekend when my friends told me I needed to go, I'd never heard of it (despite its regularly vego menu and its adorableness). It's a beautiful spot, when it's not filled with chefs from the Westin smoking, and at 9am on a lovely warm day it was a great place to listen to Prudence Rees-Lee play (my friends are her harpist and her percussionist).

After the lunch rush (and racing home to do some work), I zoomed back down on my bike, which I locked to the gate (a serious lack of parking on Flinders Lane on the east side of Swanston! Totally outrageous), and settled down to wait for a delayed Hayley with my book and my notebook and a coffee served in a totally adorable cup and saucer.

Little King's menu changes daily, based on what they feel like making. It's mostly vegetarian. There's some vegan baked goods and a soup (today: vegan pumpkin and leek), but today despite the simplicity of it all I elected for the avocado on toast with a bit of tomato. Topped with some lemon and pepper and a bit of herbs and things, and served on some sour dough, this was actually really lovely and I had no regrets.

I bought a berry friand to snack on later. Total costs came to about $20 for the lot. Seating is some excellently hipster boxes and tables at the same height, and the venue is awfully inaccessible with misc steps all over the place. Credit card facilities are available. 

Little King
4/209 Flinders Lane
(just behind St Paul's Cathedral)
Melbourne CBD

Sunday, 20 October 2013

vegie mum, doncaster

When I first went vego Lotus, the Chinese-Malaysian restaurant in Northbridge, was my life saver, giving me all the delicious comfort foods that I required without schlepping out to my parental house or cooking it myself. The biggest problem with Malaysian food is all the secretly animal stuff, the cockles in your laksa and the lard in your CKT, which requires intense questioning deng deng boring lah, so I usually just have to make it myself.

So I've always wanted to go to Vegie Mum in Doncaster, because I'd heard it was Chinese-Malaysian vego but whenever I tried to go I was prevented by things like Chinese New Year and failing to book, or the lack of PT out there and my lack of car ownership (no regrets).

Anyway now I have been twice in the last three months, and it is all Fiona's fault as she lives in the dreaded Eastern Suburbs and can't travel very far because baby. We even went there this week, which Fi has already blogged! Plus added park.

Because we are not heathens Chinese-Malaysian food is, like regular Chinese food, a sharing kind of thing, except when you are selfish like me and insist that it's very important you get char siu noodle soup because it's one of your favourite things to eat ever and you never get to eat it because you're not gonna make your own vegan char siu.

I did this, and then Fi ordered the laksa because she had never had it before quite recently and now like all good people loves it, and then I tasted her soup and I have never before experienced such regrets. Next time I am gonna eat that laksa for sure. Look at that mock prawn! The only downside of the laksa is that it contains eggplant, which is a crime against laksa. There is no downside to the char siu noodles, except a) it's not laksa and b) you have to remember to specify not wonton noodles, because wonton noodles contain secret egg.

I have previously eaten their CKT (which is excellent); their kari kapitan and roti (good); and their spring rolls (nothing special).

Vegie Mum is pretty standard suburban Chinese except for its vegetarianness; the tables are plastic and so are the chairs, it's all bright white tiles and a little dingy. There's a small step in to the restaurant, can order and pay at the table; CC is taken. There are always people in there, and the menu is in Chinese and English. The Chinese Malaysian owner doesn't seem to believe that I'm Malaysian, so one day I'm gonna take my mother in there and really pointedly talk in Hokkien or Manglish or something.

Vegie Mum
27 Village Ave
Not open Mondays

Sunday, 13 October 2013


how i spent my sunday night, by stephanie a penguinface (aged 31 and a bit)

a) cooking japchae
b) watching and writing about Serangoon Road (new blog posts on this show occur every Monday morning on my blog No Award; I live tweet my rage at @yiduiqie on Sunday nights)
c) scones (sweet scones are the best okay)

scones are easy and delicious

to make them you need: 2.5 cups of SR flour
one third of a cup of sugar (pref white)
30g marg/nuttelex/etc
half cup milk
half cup water
1tsp apple cider vinegar
half cup sultanas (optional)

extra sugar and flour

add milk + vinegar; set aside.

rub together sugar, flour and marg; add sultanas if you're adding them. make a well, pour in all liquids, mix with a knife or something but don't over mix i learnt this the hard way. flatten out to 2cm (i just pat them with my hands) on a floured surface. cut out (i use a tumbler), sprinkle with the extra sugar, bake at 220C for 15 mins or until golden brown. eat straight away plain or i guess you could use jam or something but why wait.

i've taken to taking out a cup of the flour+sugar+nuttelex mixture so i can make a non-sultana batch of about five for non sultana people eating; so this batch made in total 13.

i'm not saying i accidentally used plain flour this evening and had to desperately try and save it with baking powder but uuhhh see pt d below

d) dancing around the house to Laure Shang (visit that song, you won't regret it).

Sunday, 6 October 2013

shu restaurant [collingwood]

蜀 is a short form for Sichuan, and Shu is all about the Sichuanese food and flavours, though a little toned down for the Collingwood palate.

The dishes at Shu are seasonal and organic where possible. There is no menu, the food you're served is dependent on what's available and what the chef wishes to prepare. And every Wednesday is Vegan Wednesday at Shu, where you can get a 12 dish vegan banquet for $40; and so, having only found out of its existence less than 48 hours earlier, this is what Cindy and Michael, Hayley and myself decided to do this Wednesday past.

We started with four individual portion dishes: house made tofu with cinnamon-infused soy sauce and a rocket flower (cold); purple carrots with house made pickled chilli and borage (the purple carrot was raw and thinly sliced so it became a sort of plate) (cold); daikon roll with enoki, zucchini flower and cucumber (cold); tofu, soybean and sesame dumplings.

I was especially taken with the cinnamon-infused soy sauce and the house made tofu: the flavours were mild enough to really appreciate the loveliness of the tofu, but I loved the delicate cinnamon-ness of the soy sauce.

It's good that three of these dishes were cold and therefore we didn't have to eat them in a hurry; four bloggers at a table meant it took approximately a million years to photograph and take notes.

This was followed by a mizuna, pickled cucumber and trumpet mushroom salad, and a cashew, kale, broccoli tops and garlic shoot salad. Later in the evening, when yet another greens dish came out (broccoli and cauliflower, this time), this started becoming all a bit overwhelming, but at this point I loved the broccoli top and garlic shoot salad, it had a beautiful light flavour and the garlic shoots were excellent.

We also saw dishes with eggplant with broad beans, chilli (lots), calendula and onion; fried tofu with bean shoots and nasturtiums (not spicy at all); and tofu with wild coriander (kind of mapo doufu-y but sad lack of mala).

We ended with unanimously the greatest dishes of the evening. Dish number 11 was individual portions of fresh noodles, served with asparagus, preserved gailan and a walnut infused oil. This had a lovely flavour, maybe there was sichuan chilli in it (but if so only mildly), and I could definitely have kept on eating these noodles and I'm glad it's not a seasonal dish because I want to eat it again.

The final dish was potatoes in a whole lot of spices. Not necessarily hot spicy but my word was it delicious, and I happily ate the last remaining potato in the bowl.

The repetition of the green-ness is obviously a restriction of the seasonal element of Shu's menu - though I do not at all criticise them for it - Rebecca and Shu go out to a farm to pick the ingredients every Wednesday and it's all a bit fun. I love the variety of it and the surprise as well, the flavours were lovely (though I could have used some more spiciness, and we'd been warned it was spicy and this was a lie~).

I wasn't stuffed full by the end, which was a little disappointment (we walked to Berrissimo for desserts), since I'm used to having too much to eat at a Chinese banquet.

I will very cheerfully visit again. I hope there are more adventures in delicious carbs.

The service was lovely though disclaimer: Rebecca knew who we all were. The lighting was dim and there was a step going in. I didn't check out the toilets, but Michael broke them so look out for that.

Shu Restaurant
147 Johnston Street

Sunday, 29 September 2013

bush tomato marinade

Bush tomato is not really tomato, it is more closely related to eggplants but it looks a bit tomato-y in its fruit form and colonialism and English, ugh, yo. They're found in various species and forms across Australia and are super delicious but also occasionally poisonous! Which is a great punchline for a joke about Australia, I guess. Because it's so widely spread it has a lot of indigenous names, commonly akudjura (when crushed or powdered) or kutjera.

Anyway in my quest to use more indigenous spices that have been pushed aside by racism and the euro-centricity of Australian cooking, I am currently playing with bush tomato, and at the recent vegmel 4th birthday picnic I made a bush tomato salad where I marinated basically everything in bush tomato. This is the GREATEST MARINADE ever. If I ate meat I would put it on all of them, but I don't so TOFU and maybe I have yet to try tempeh with it but I'm sure it'll work.

Bush tomato tastes smokey and kind of like amazingness.


2 tbl ground bush tomato (I get mine from Gewurzhaus on Lygon Street where they love me)
2 tbl sunflower or macadamia oil
2 tbl olive oil
1 tblish of minced garlic

Mix it all together, slather it on some tofu and leave it to sit. This amount goes across about 400g of tofu (firm! as always with marinading).

I served it with shaved carrot and zucchini and some cherry tomatoes, in a bush tomato-based dressing.

BTW if anyone in the Melbournes knows where I can buy not-ground bush tomato, please let me know, I want to try turning these into scones.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

lemon myrtle and macadamia nut biscuits

Last night I used some newly purchased ground lemon myrtle to make lemon myrtle and macadamia biscuits. They were so amazing they were immediately eaten all up, not all by me fiona is also to blame! So sadly there is no photo to share. Lamentably, this means I will simply have to make them again immediately. Maybe gluten-free.

Lemon myrtle is my favourite indigenous Australian spice, and a little bit goes such a very long way. Macadamia is a nut I always forget about, even though it tastes amazing with all sorts of things, and I only ever remember it when I'm passing through the airport and it's filled with macadamia products (because macadamias are Australian and apparently really expensive overseas).

lemon myrtle and macadamia biscuits

you will need:
240g plain white flour
100g sugar (i used raw)
200g margarine + sunflower oil (i used about 150g nuttelex and 50g sunflower oil)
1 tsp baking powder (FLAT)
1 tbl lemon myrtle (FLAT)
comfortable handful of macadamias

oven: 200C

Cream together the sugar with the oily things until looking good and fluffy. Add the flour, baking powder and lemon myrtle, and combine until lovely and smooth. I ended up having to rub it all together with my hands, but that brought it together beautifully. Crush or chop the macadamias and mix into the rest of it. Roll into circles and squash down on baking tray. Bake for 10-13 minutes, depending on how chewy or firm you like your biscuits. I forgot about mine and so they ended up beautiful and brown and fragrant and firm like a rock (though still edible).

I promise to photograph mine next time, but really the most important thing about them is the smell. Baking lemon myrtle is the best.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

rolling like a steamed bun: a day of eating in singapore

If you're around this blog for more than five seconds, you'll know how much I love sharing meals I ate at places you can't go because they're not in Melbourne, so here is a recent day of Singapore noms and fun times had by me and my darling friend Em of Sugarspoons, who you may remember from previous adventures on Vegmel when she lived in Melbourne.

We started our day at Jones the Grocer at the Mandarin Gallery. Jones the Grocer is an Australian chain that does groceries and has a few cafes across Australia and into Singapore. The centre was mostly closed but Jones the Grocer was bustling - so bustling it took forever for us to be seated and served! However the service was an aside, because the Very Important reason for our visit was that Jones the Grocer, as an Australian chain, can actually provide us with soy flat whites! (Unlike the Dome at the Singapore Art Museum, which, despite being Western Australian, cannot) We shared a perfectly serviceable tomatoes and avocado and jam on toast (and I had a second soy flattie), before we meandered off to buy presents for babies and also on secret Azn Girls Business. 

After ogling the totally expensive teas at TWC (you know it's expensive because their waitstaff are tall white anglo boys! and also their tea is like $100SGD for 100gm) and visiting the masking tape exhibition at the top of Ion (totally amazing, Em had to be physically restrained from touching and buying things), we were met by G and headed off to the Living Cafe, a rawish cafe that has lots of delicious vegan, raw and gluten-free treats.

At the Living Cafe we were overwhelmed by choices, and went for the time honoured tradition of sharing a whole lot of things. We ordered the raw zucchini lasagna and the veggie bowl with brown rice as our mains to share. The zucchini lasagna was lovely, however it had to deal with the unfortunate competition of yong's in my heart, and it couldn't compare. The lasagna was placed together as we watched (rather than pre-prepared and stored for delicious cashew cheese compression as at yong's), and while the tomato and red capsicum sauce (and the cashew mayonnaise) was extremely tasty, the slightly under-ripe-ness of the tomato was off putting. Fortunately the veggie bowl was a nice thing to alternate with it, and we were able to cap off our savouries by stealing some of G's sweet potato wedges.

Dessert caused us some consternation. There was a whole cabinet full of amazing looking delicious raw cheesecakes - most of them containing honey! We were devastated, but fortunately and to our delights we were informed by the chef (a vegan!) that the recipe on the chocolate cheesecake had recently changed, and so we were able to sample these two raw vegan cheesecake delights. They were amazing, a++ would eat again.

I was so happy with these desserts that I took back to my hotel raw cookies for the fam, and a piece of banana cake for myself for my plane ride back to Australia the next day.

I would sample the delights of the Living Cafe again, but I probably wouldn't try the same savoury dishes.

After some meandering (and purchasing of Crumpler products - by the Singaporeans, not by me, obviously) we headed over to JOY OF JOYS Haidilao, which you may remember from such adventures as that time Stephanie lived in Beijing and ate nothing but hotpot. Haidilao has recently opened up its first Singaporean branch and I loved it so much I took the fam back the next day! Totally worth it. My Chinese tutor (from Beijing) joined us, and it was lots of fun catching up with her, gossiping in Mandarin and stuffing my face with all my favourite things. We ordered the spicy/mushroom double pot, because it is always the perfect choice, and I got to use my old friend the Haidilao ipad and we got dancing noodles and lots of mushrooms and it was just the best.

And then I went back to my hotel, had a cup of tea with the fam and fell into bed, my belly stuffed until I was a steamed bun! Perfect.

Jones the Grocer is located in the maze that is the Mandarin Gallery. There's no steps but the tables are close together. It is cafe and cafe-goods only (though I love the supermarket located in Ion near the H+M). Get to either of these places on the MRT.

The Living Cafe is located at 779 Bukit Timah Rd. I can't remember if there's a step for entry. There is a little bit of free parking (though not much).

Haidilao of joys and delights is located at River Valley Road in Clarke Quay, near the Japanese Centre. Get there on the MRT.

No idea of prices as my noms were sponsored by Em, in exchange for my love and a giant bag of vegan goodies from Melbourne.

Friday, 9 August 2013

carlton noms: crafternoon + the beaufort

Ms Hayley recently gave herself blog amnesty and I've been feeling all blocked vis food blogging (not vis media and social justice blogging at no award though) so I'm gonna do a similar thing. 

Crafternoon: Emma and I went to Crafternoon a few Sundays back as a way of getting out of the house when we'd both been having lazy Sundays. We took the Sooty Monster and meandered down to Crafternoon in the hopes that it was still open, and it was! Crafternoon is open seven days a week, and it's a small, lovely cafe that offers crafts with your coffee and cake and brekkie and lunch. Vegan items are clearly marked on the menu, as are GF options, so I was delighted to order the lemon and almond tart with berry compote and coconut icecream. I am not usually a huge fan of tarts (on the grounds that I am not a huge fan of tart flavours) but this one was beautiful, and combined with the compote and the icecream made a lovely flavour sensation that I was sad to finish. I enjoyed the presentation of the tart, and I appreciated the paper and crayons already on the table so I could start designing the Mecha Penguin Jaegar that Danni and I are gonna be piloting when the apocalypse comes.

Crafternoon is located at 531 Nicholson Street, North Carlton. There is street seating, and a step up into the venue (plus what seemed like a narrow door). Ordering happens at the table. Reasonable prices ($4 for my tart). $0.5 soy surcharge.

The Beaufort: Hayley's blog amnesty includes a review of her first visit to the Beaufort. My visit two Fridays past was also my first, I went with my Beijing Ren for our usual monthly catchup (we're trying to move beyond Chinese restaurants). I had thought it would be more Gaso/EBC in its vegan opportunities, which I was sadly incorrect about: there were only two vegan options, the Philly Cheese Fake and the vegan Bahn Mi. I went the Philly Cheese Fake with vegan cheese, which was delicious containing a million mushrooms and wrapped by some lovely bread. The Fake comes with some fries which were sadly the saltiest fries I've ever tasted, but I was also delighted by my Granny Smith with alcohol (freshly juiced in front of me and served with Gin). Music was hilariously nineties.

The Beaufort is located at 421 Rathdowne Street in Carlton. Its interior is way too dark, but they let your puppy inside and the service is prompt and friendly. It has also been reviewed by Cindy and Michael.

Monday, 15 July 2013

ginger and chinese five spice cupcakes

My friend Sara-Jane is on the Great Australian Bake Off, so despite my usual reluctance to watch tv I wrote it in my diary, and Tuesday at 8pm found me watching commercial tv with ads and everything. 

This first episode included the challenge 'signature cupcake', which, who has a signature cupcake? If you have one, let me know, because I've never heard of anyone having a signature cupcake. Signature cake, sure (berry and dark chocolate double layer cake, thanks). But signature cupcake? 

So I made one up. And went shopping for ingredients at 10pm, after the show finished. 

Ginger and Chinese Five Spice Cupcakes with Lemon Icing

Someone referred to the ginger and chinese five spice biscuits I bake basically once a week as my 'signature cookies' about two weeks ago, and it's what my mind drifted to when I was considering what would be my signature cupcake. 

what you need:
photo stolen from SJ
2 heaped cups of SR flour
3/4 cups of brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbl ground ginger
2 tbl chinese 5 spice
3/4 cup milk
150g margarine
2 tbl light agave or golden syrup
2 chinese soup spoons of apple sauce
1 tsp vanilla essence
handful of crystallised ginger

for the icing
more crystallised ginger (not heaps)
300g icing sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
140g marg

what you do:

Oven: 190C

Melt together the margarine, sugar and golden syrup over a low heat. Allow to just melt, then cool a little, before adding in the milk and the vanilla essence. Follow this with the apple sauce and combine. Sift together the flour, baking powder, ginger and five spice. Mix into the liquid until just combined. 

Into lined/greased cupcake pans, spoon a base, and insert one piece of crystallised ginger (i make them smaller), then cover with more batter. Continue until you've got all your cupcakes. 

Bake for about 20 minutes, then allow to cool on a rack. 

Icing: beat together all the icing ingredients except for the crystallised ginger. When the cupcakes are cool, then ice. Chop up the ginger so it's tiny and sprinkle on top. 

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

cold weather soooop

It's cold and I'm usually tired and lazy, and I'm still very much unemployed (so I'm cheap), and also I'm suffering some injuries right now, and I'm not very good at soups that aren't laksa or dumplings with noodles. So I've been trying to branch out, do some other things that aren't noodles in broth (which, we'll talk about another day) but which are still easy and delicious and good for me. 

Anyway, this is a lentil soup I stole from a friend's partner. I don't know if mine turns out the same because I've changed it a bit but it's pretty delicious and it makes me happy on a cold winter's day. 

I know it looks gross but it's super great. Souper Soup! (haha) 

Lazy Lentil Soup

you will need:
2 cups of dried red lentils
1 brown onion
1 carrot
1 potato
1 stock cube
a chilli 
about 2cm of fresh ginger, sliced (or a tablespoon ish of minced ginger)
about a tablespoon of lemon juice (a bit less if fresh)
lots of chilli flakes
salt and pepper to taste
a litre ish of water

what you do: rinse and drain the lentils. dice the onion and fry it in a little bit of olive oil. dice the carrot and the potato (you can peel if you want, but i usually don't bother) and when the onion has softened add them in. stir them around a bit and add the lentils and the chilli, chopped thin, and the ginger. add the stock and the water and bring to the boil, after which drop it and leave to simmer. just let it go for about half an hour, until the carrot and potato are cooked through and the lentils are super soft. while it's still simmering, use a masher to roughly mash it all. you can blend it if you want but i prefer it this way, it leaves it a little rough and filled with bits. add in some of the chilli flakes and all of the lemon juice, turn off the heat and let it sit for five minutes. serve sprinkled with more chilli, and salt and pepper. so good, so easy. 

Saturday, 25 May 2013

slow cooked lentil ragu with fettucine

last saturday i had my very first visit to little deer tracks in coburg, where i had an amazing lentil ragu over linguine and obsessed about it all week, until finally i cracked and on friday attempted one of my own. it was delicious, we finished nearly all of it and i was so sad when i ran out of pasta. 

it filled the house with beautiful, rich aromas and filled my mouth with tastiness and my belly with warmth, i recommend you make this immediately as we now, finally, appear to be commencing our descent into a melbourne winter. 

slow cooked lentil ragu over pasta

1 brown onion (diced finely)
2 celery stems (diced finely)
1 carrot (diced finely)
1 field mushroom (chopped finely)
1 garlic clove (diced finely)
1 red chilli (diced finely)
200g puy lentils
600g diced tomatoes (i used canned)
4 cups stock
1 bay leaf
handful of basil leaves (shredded)
splash of dried oregano
long pasta (fettucine, linguine)

what you do
soak the lentils in some hot water while you chop your veggies. 
in some olive oil, brown the onion, then add the celery and carrot with the mushroom. allow to fry until the mushroom starts to release its juices, then add the garlic and the chilli and fry through for a minute or two. drain the lentils and add these and the tomato to the pot. simmer for a few minutes before adding the basil, bay and oregano, as well as the stock. bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, and leave simmering, half covered, for as long as it takes for the lentils to cook through. the longer the better - i simmered for about an hour. top up with stock or wine as appropriate, if necessary. 

cook the pasta as appropriate and serve together. 

i also shredded a small handful of baby spinach leaves and added them in right at the end. if i'd had some some red wine i would have added a splash or five at the beginning to bring out a rich flavour, but it was totally fine and rich without. 

will make this again almost immediately. i'd love to try this as a lasagne sauce. you can barely tell there are mushrooms in it if you chop them finely enough. 

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

a whole lot of pumpkin pasta

It's been getting cold and it's been getting rainy, and last week I went to the Caterpillar's Dream and had a very disappointing lasagna, and I wanted to do something exciting with my pasta. I remembered that Cate had issued a challenge: Sweet Spices, Savoury Suppers, and I realised this would be a perfect opportunity to try making a pumpkin sauce and throwing everything in the house into it. 

you will need:
1kgish of pumpkin
1 shallot (sliced thin)
some minced garlic
half a zucchini, grated
100g firm tofu
1 cup soy or almond milk
half cup stock
olive oil
small head of broccoli
handful of nuts (i used pecans)
some baby spinach
1 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp sage (or more if it takes your fancy) (you could also add a shake or two of cinnamon)
soy sauce
whole lot of salt and pepper
long pasta for four people

what you do:
boil and mash the pumpkin. puree/mash it with the stock and the soy milk until it's all lovely and smooth. add in the minced garlic.

during the pumpkin prep stage, put the pasta on to boil. when it's almost done to your satisfaction, add the broccoli florets and let them boil a little. drain, rinse with cold water, and put it all aside.

dice the tofu, marinate in some soy sauce, and then fry until it's all lovely and crispy. put this aside.

in a little oil, fry the shallot until golden, then add the zucchini and fry for about five minutes. add in the pumpkin mixture, and let it simmer for a while. add the nutmeg and the sage, and as much salt and pepper as you like (i stood there cracking pepper and salt for a while so i'm not sure how long - taste it, but remember you'll also be adding tofu that was marinated in soy sauce). when you're happy with it, stir the baby spinach through, and then combine with the tofu, pasta and broccoli. top with nuts and serve. (i shallow fried and chopped the nuts but raw is fine too)

If you haven't previously checked out Cate's blog, I recommend it - it's not vego but she does lots of great cooking for various dietary requirements, and I have personally had the pleasure of eating all sorts of her delicious creations.

Friday, 5 April 2013

[wa] veggie mama, mt lawley

On a cycle up to my beloved Mt Lawley for a compulsory visit to Planet Books and Fresh Provs, I spotted a new face on the Beaufort Street landscape: Veggie Mama, next to the adult shop on Vincent Street (where no veggie restaurant had been before).

I returned the next day for lunch with my friend V, ready to be delighted. And delighted I was! Clearly labeled (egg free, dairy free, gluten free), there was an array of baked sweets, baked savouries, fresh salads and made to order juices, and I was overwhelmed for choice.

lunch at veggie mama

For about $20 I got this filling plate of filo and salads, and a fresh juice of apple, orange and ginger. The quinoa salad in particular was lovely, and the filo, filled with potato, spinach and pine nuts, was delicious and filling. Despite it being a warm and busy Autumn (Easter) public holiday, service was fast, friendly and helpful. And afterwards, I was too full for a muffin, which disappointed me mightily.

Well located and with early opening hours, Veggie Mama is almost certainly a place I will return to on a future visit home.

Veggie Mama 
Cnr Beaufort and Vincent Streets
Mt Lawley

Get there on any bus that goes up Beaufort Street
Entry to the shop is a wide door, but ordering happens at the counter, which is accessible only by a two-step flight of stairs. Credit card available.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

dainty sichuan [melbourne cbd]

Monthly 北京人 dinner was held at Dainty Sichuan on Bourke Street last week, and it was so good that I not only can't believe I've never been there before, but I cannot wait to get back there again.

the spread at dainty

Just getting inside was the most Chinese experience I've had since returning to Australia. A broken escalator, a queue at the door, westerners turning away with a grumble when told of the wait time, a lot of Chinese people sitting around waiting for their turn to get in. The smell of chilli and frying and tea and beer on the air. Oh so good, oh so delicious. I even spoke Mandarin on my way in.

We ordered five dishes between the six of us, which actually turned out to be a perfect amount of food. One was meaty (kungpao chicken, ex-housemate V reports it was really good), the other four were straight from the 'vegetable' section of the menu: fish-fragrant eggplant, tudousi (yesssss), a mushroom + greens dish, and a dish predominately comprised of lotus root and black fungus.

The mushrooms and greens dish had a whole lot of oyster mushrooms, and those oyster mushrooms were perfect. The tudousi was tudousi (ie, potato and delicious and oily), and the fish fragrant eggplant (free of fish, if you are unfamiliar with the dish) was so good. The dish with the lotus was a refreshing change from the spice and the oil.

Service was a little hard to attract, and tea was charged $2pp which is the most I've ever paid for tea at a Chinese restaurant (though they did obey the action for 'omg more water in my teapot'). Bookings are definitely required as it was so busy. But I loved this meal. Food came out food and it was all delicious, and it only came to $17pp. I definitely look forward to returning.

Next time I'd like to order the mapo doufu (modified to have no meat), the cabbage and chilli, and the cold black fungus with chilli, which is an old favourite. I hope to eat these things in the very near future, so hit me up if you need a friend to go with!

I really love Sichuanese food. Om nom nom.

Wendy has reviewed the South Yarra location recently and said nice things about the cabbage and chilli (om nom, one of my favourite dishes)

Dainty Sichuan
Level 2
206 Bourke Street

Get there on most trams and trains. It's in the shopping centre next to JB-Hifi, follow the signs up to the karaoke on the top floor. There's an escalator up, but I'm not sure if there's a lift.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

vegan about china: eight tips to getting by as a vegan in beijing

Some words and things to help you navigate your way, especially if you don't speak (much) Mandarin. It helps to bring a buddy along who speaks it, though.
  1. wǒ shì sùshí zhě - 我是素食者 - this is "I am vegetarian", but it's not as helpful as you might hope. Often in Beijing, eating vegetarian just means you don't want meat as the main ingredient. So you want to emphasise that no meat thing.
  2. wǒ bù chī ròu - 我不吃肉 - I don't eat meat. This isn't going to cover you for everything, but it's a start.
  3. méiyǒu - 没有 - in a pointing at the menu context, méiyǒu means 'without'. So many of my non-Mandarin speaking friends got by in Beijing by pointing at the menu and going 'meiyou X'
  4. ròu 肉 meat; yú 鱼 fish; dàn 蛋- egg; niúnǎi 牛奶- cow milk
  5. dòunǎi - 豆奶 - is soy milk, critical for ordering your coffee at Starbucks.
  6. Things you can order relatively free of meaty secrets: suàn lā tǔdòu sī - 算拉土豆丝 (sour and spicy shredded potato); suàn lā báicài - 算拉白菜 (sour and spicy cabbage); dì sān xiān - 地三鲜 (the three earth treasures, eggplant, potato and capsicum, I love this dish a lot). 
  7. Eggs are considered a savoury ingredient - if you ask if something sweet has egg in it, you will be told no, but it will almost certainly contain an egg wash. 
  8. Emergency breakfast: hot soy milk from the street venders in winter. It's vegan, it's delicious, it's warm. 
Good luck, vegans! Get out there and eat China. It's delicious, even for vegans.

delicious delicious luck

Bonus: Check out the cold menu. Lots of good vegan stuff on there.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

choc hazelnut cookies

These are a variation on the ginger and five spice cookies that I bake all the time. If you've never tried my ginger and five spice cookies you should give them a go, or ask me to bake them because I love them and I will.

a mix of cookies

Chocolate and Hazelnut Cookies

150g bakers flour or SR flour (or combination of the two)
100g coconut butter (or marg/nuttelex)
75g raw sugar
90g light agave/dark agave combo
50g cocoa
halfish teaspoon of bicarb
big handful of hazelnuts, crushed to smallish but not too small

Melt the coconut butter, combine with agave and sugar. Add in all the other ingredients (not the hazelnuts), and mix until it's even. Then mix in the hazelnuts. Roll to about a centimetre thick, cut into biscuits. Bake on lined/greased baking tray, and bake for 8 minutes at 180C. Allow to cool (someone I know burned their mouth on these today!), then eat.

Easy peasy.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

accidentally vegan

One of the things I love is when you pick up a packet of something that is surely not vegan and miraculously, accidentally it is! (I'm looking at you, Arnott's BBQ Shapes and Nanna's Lite Apple Pies).

For the good of all vegankind, or at least those who will be attending the Melbourne Queer Film Festival this year, in the comments I'd appreciate it if you'd tell me your favourite accidentally vegan lollies! I specify accidentally, because I don't think the budget will stretch to delicious lollies that are carried by Radical Grocery or are otherwise more costly than generic packets you get at your IGA.

Sherbies are still vegan, I think. And those hard jubes from K-Mart.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Colourful Yunnan [carlton]

For all the food blogging I did while I was in Beijing, there are a few places I visited regularly that I never got around to blogging, for a variety of reasons. One of those places was a little Yunnanese restaurant close to where some of my friends lived, at which we quickly became regulars, often ordering the same dishes over and over again. It was my first real experience with Yunnanese food, and when I left China it was one I was worried I'd struggle to continue, given the lack of Yunnanese food in Melbourne. 

The only restaurant that Google spits out, other than the Neil-Perry Spice Temple, is Colourful Yunnan, on the corner of Grattan and Swanston in Carlton. So it was to here that me and my China adventure compatriots ventured on Friday night. 

There are so many amazing things on the menu here (take your meat eating friends). 

Wendy and I carefully selected some noodles, a delicious cabbage dish, and my long-time favourite, 土豆丝 (shredded potato). 

Yunnan food is spicy. Not as spicy as Sichuanese food, but it's getting up there, with lots of chilli all over the place. So I tried to order a mix of dishes, including some that would be less spicy for our less spicy friends, which means that we missed out on some of our favourites (cold black fungus - so good, but if anything the fact that it is chilled makes it more spicy. I know it sounds odd but trust me, if you like mushrooms and spicy food, order this. Or wait for my next review). 

土豆丝 was fine. Nothing super special, a little too heavy on the chilli and the oil, but pleasant enough. 

Chinese cabbage I love at any time, and I especially love it sour and spicy (算拉白菜). So good, and this one was great, I haven't had it in a while and it was a delight to eat. 

oooh noodles

These noodles! Wendy cleverly took a photo of the menu because the name was long, but foolishly I thought I'd remember it. I was wrong, and I will update this post when I am able with the name. However what I was not wrong about was the deliciousness. We had to order this vego specific, I think, and it comes with chilli, carrot, peanuts, mustard greens, beanshoots, hand pulled noodles and tofu, and you mix it all together and it's great. 

Service was prompt, even when we ordered more dishes halfway through the meal. This entire meal cost me $12. So cheap, so good, so happy. Will return, even if just for the noodles, which would make a meal for me and maybe even some takeaway.

Colourful Yunnan
680 Swanston Street

This blog post suggests there is also a Flinders Lane location

Get there on any tram that goes to Uni Melb. Totally inaccessible to wheelchairs. Very brightly lit, can order and pay at table. Outdoor seating. Menu is in English and Chinese characters, but is very word heavy and a little confusing. Cash only.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Gong De Lin / 功德林 [melbourne cbd]

Hey remember that time I lived in China and ate the most amazing Chinese vegetarian food? Yeah, me too. I love Chinese Australian vego food, but there are definitely some distinct differences, so I was super excited to hear that Gong De Lin, one of China's oldest and most awesome vegetarian restaurants, had come to Melbourne. Wendy canvassed her veg family members who claimed it was part of the brand, not some copy cat, and we immediately scheduled a visit to check it out. 

Gong De Lin specialises in Shanghainese style food, and the menu is filled with all sorts of delicious goodies, lots of mushroom dishes and an awesome cold menu, which is definitely something I've been missing. If you've never tried the cold items on a mainland Chinese menu, I recommend it. 

twirling the 上海冷面 at gongdelin

Wendy and I were immediately drawn to the 上海冷面, which literally translates to Shanghai Cold Noodles, but I'm not sure if that's their English name. Anyway, they are some fun noodles to eat and I love them very much. They are hand pulled and freshly made. They are usually served with an array of sauces so you can mix up whatever your favourite combination is. My favourite is soy sauce, sesame sauce, and chilli oil with a smattering of vinegar soy, which nearly brought Wendy and I to blows because she likes to use all of the vinegar soy. 

sauces for 上海冷面 at gongdelin

Although the noodles are on the menu as a two person serving, we decided to supplement by sampling the mapo doufu. This was a great if disorienting version of this dish, mostly because I'm so used to eating mapo doufu in non-veg restaurants, where I ask for it without meat, so to get it with the little meaty bits was freaky. But delicious. I enjoyed this dish, though it was a little sweeter than I'm used to, mostly because Shanghainese food is often a little sweeter than Sichuanese food. 

mapo doufu at gongdelin

Gong De Lin is brand new in its Swanston Street position. The service was really delightful, with the waitstaff being very helpful letting us buy off menu (extra noodle portions) and very friendly. The menu is a little on the upper edge of a reasonable city lunch, at $38 for the two of us, with a little extra noodles each to take home for dinner. 

Gong De Lin is located on top of Noodle Kingdom, and I think they share a kitchen which comes up via a food elevator that buzzes when the food arrives. This was annoying but easy to get used to.

And I'm going to get used to it. I definitely plan to return. As much as I love Enlightened Cuisine, I think this is probably my new favourite Chinese vego restaurant in Melbourne, and I'm very happy to have another choice when in the CBD.

Gong De Lin
Level 3, 264 Swanston Street
Open 10am-10pm 7 days

Get there on any train or just about any tram. Brightly lit, menus in English and Chinese. Access via an elevator, no stairs. Toilets are accessible. Ordering and paying can take place at the table, though they're fairly tightly packed. 

Other reviews: Milkbar Mag

Monday, 11 February 2013

into the new year

water dragon, claire tracey, 2012 
dragon made of water bottles!
恭喜发财!新年快乐!etc etc

hope the nian was scared away and you got lots of oranges and noodles and good wishes and little sacks of gold (ie, dumplings). i had a dumpling party and failed to take any photos, except of me pulling faces with my decorations, but hayley brought tofu pancakes and catherine made saffron bread shaped like a snake, and everybody wore red and at 1am i called my mother whose reunion party (3 hours behind) was still going, and i had a lovely time.

dumplings are super easy to make, you should make them always

i hope your year is prosperous and golden

and full of noodles

Friday, 8 February 2013

vegan about china: things to do when you're in beijing

Tomorrow's LNY Eve, and two writers of my acquaintance are about to go to Beijing, and this time last year (this time lunar-wise, not gregorian) I was in Beijing wishing the fireworks would stop, and it means I've been thinking a lot about Beijing lately.

So I thought I'd put together this list.

There are so many of these lists floating around the internet, but how many of them were written by a queer, half-Chinese vegan Australian who fell in love with Beijing while working in an environmental organisation which was situated in the Emperor's Ancestral Temple next to the Forbidden City, and who got there by bike every day? None of them, that's how many.

If you are severely, severely limited by time, take them in this order until you run out of time.

  1. Hire a bike
    You can hire a bike from just about any bike shop, and although the subway is cheap and extensive, if you're staying (and playing) within the 3rd ring road, bike is the way to see Beijing. Sure there's pollution and lots of cars, but I fell in love with Beijing from the saddle of my bike, weaving my way around the original city's walls and in and out of the hutongs. The bike lanes are huge, the city is flat and there is no wind, and there's a bike repair dude on every major intersection.
  2. Eat hotpot for dinner on Ghost Street
    Below I recommend places to eat, and Haidilao hotpot is on there. It's awesome, I love it as a food chain, and the food is the best of the chains I've been to. But for an experience, I recommend wandering down Ghost Street at night, and being sung into Little Sheep by the staff out the front wearing sashes after avoiding all the hawkers, having a man with noodles dance for you, and yelling across the restaurant. It's lots of fun. Order the tofu mix dish. You'll recognise Little Sheep by its flourescent ugly green lighting and signage.
  3. Dawn/early morning out at the Lakes Specifically Beihai, early in the morning when the sun is bright and clear and the oldies are doing their competing Taichi battles. It's musical and beautiful and hilarious and so China all at once.
  4. Take a biking tour You can and should guide yourself, but there's heaps of guided bike tours led by Beijing-ren who have lived in the hutongs their whole lives and know lots of random facts, and I really recommend it as a pleasant two hours to see the lakes district. I went with Chihaner, which is run by a friend of a friend, but I've heard good things about the ones run by the China Culture Centre (where I learnt to paint).
  5. Visit 798, the art district
    If you have any interest in art, visit 798. Located in an ex-warehouse district, it's filled with art of every kind by Chinese artists, tens of galleries and public art spaces and just a whole lot of awesomeness. When I was living in Beijing I visited at least once every two or three months. Definitely visit the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art .
  6. Take a Cooking Class
    The Hutong Kitchen is an awesome cooking and cultural school in an old Courtyard House, run by an Australian. They're super accommodating of my vegan requirements, and also sell the most delicious infused white teas. Email them in advance to book a place and let them know about dietary requirements.
  7. Eat at the Veggie Table (six times)
    The Veggie Table is the only western vego restaurant in Beijing. It's got great couches, free wifi, and is next to the fixies and juggling store! It's located in Wudaoying Hutong, which is a great place to visit.
  8. Visit the Great Wall
    This is the only big famous thing I'm recommending. The Forbidden City is fine but it's huge and crowded and tiring and you'll have time for it later. The Summer Palace is pretty (go if you have time, for sure), and Tiananmen is iconic, but the Great Wall is the Number One Must See of these big historic locations. It would also be higher on the list except that it takes up basically a whole day, so can be difficult for someone on a tight schedule. Please note however that not all parts of 长城 are made equal - don't go to Badaling, go to Mutianyu or Jinshaling sections. And take the go cart down the wall. 

ghost st

bonus: top three places to eat
  • Haidilao, various locations around Beijing. Haidilao is a hotpot chain across Beijing. It's delicious and fun. It's not a vegetarian restaurant but several of the stock soups are, and everything comes out separately so it's all good.
  • Sunao, Dongsishitiao, Dongcheng. Fancy-pants vegan Chinese tea house. If you go at lunchtime either read Chinese or bring a friend who does, but dinner has a colour, multilingual menu. Eat the fish. It's delicious.
  • The Veggie Table, Yonghegong, Dongcheng. Vegan western food. The chocolate cake is so good, and it's the only place I was able to get a vegan pizza in Beijing.
bonus bonus: three places for books and things
  • Wangfujing Bookstore, heaps of books, including a floor in English; a great array of learning books (ie, books that are in characters with pinyin subtitles); and lots of fun tourist maps and the greatest of postcards. 
  • Xidan Bookstore. Overwhelming but comprehensive. No English.
  • The Bookworm. Expensive but fun. Mostly in English. For a subscription fee you can become a member and borrow books. Just try to return them (unlike my friend J). 

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

yemen skhug sauce at lotf

Thanks to the generosity of Lord of the Fries, I ended up at a tasting event in December where I tried lots of things on the menu that I'd never eaten before. Part of my delicious problem with the Lord is that I have some things I really really love, so every time I go there I buy the same thing (cone of vegan french canadian, mini original burger OR mini parma burger), which is delicious and wonderful but sadly means there are huge swathes of the menu that I've never tried.

Fi has already blogged about our excursion to this tasting event, which is handy because in my uncharacteristic* tardiness in blogging, I've managed to delete all the photos I took of the evening. However I can tell you that it was delicious and fun and the owners are charming, answering all of my questions and allowing me to sample anything I wanted to, including the chocolate mousse,** and the vegan mayo, and the chilli poppers, which are breaded hot chillis stuffed with vegan cheese and basically the most delicious, most ridiculous things I've ever eaten. I love them. 

Anyway, now I order the chilli poppers all the time, which is great because now I can order the potato cake and chilli popper munch box. And I was also furnished with this awesome VIP card, which lets me get a free cone with any sauce every month, and which I am using for the awesome experiment of trying every Sauce of the Month for the year of 2013 without depriving myself of the poutine in my LotF budget. 

I think, in the three and a half years*** I have been living in Melbourne, I have tried LotF's Sauce of the Month once only. I know! So now I am living on the edge, trying them every time. 

Today Fi and I had a midweek lunch picnic at Flagstaff Gardens, joined by Danni and E, and of course the Rocket. I baked orange and poppyseed biscuits (recipe tomorrow), but in my geniusness decided to scoot on over to visit the Lord at Melbourne Central and grab a cone of this month's sauce in my handy-dandy tupperware container.****

yemen skhug
This sauce, the Yemen Skhug, is super delicious and this evening there has been much lamenting around the house that no sampling of this delicious sauce had occurred previously, and now the month is nearly over! The Yemen Skhug is based on skhug, or zhug, and the Lord's January newsletter tells me that it is a hot paste common in Middle Eastern and North African cuisines, and the Lord mixes chilli, tomato, garlic, olive oil, coriander, parsley, lemon, herbs and spices together. 

I'm interested in learning more about skhug, in both its red and green forms, and the Yemeni cuisine it traditionally accompanies. That's how great I found this sauce. 

Lord of the Fries
You know where to find it, it's everywhere. Except Brunswick and Southern Cross, where I really want it. 

*this is a lie
**at this point in writing this review, I paused to go and buy the ingredients for chocolate mousse, which is now setting in the fridge
***TECHNICALLY two and a half years, because China
****this was a genius idea and I recommend it to you and all of your friends, especially when you're on your bike

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

berry and chocolate slice

The super awesome Fi bought the also awesome Danni the Vegan Junk Food cookbook for her birthday, and then it sat on the shelf for a month until I decided something needed to be cooked from it. I was, as I often am, keen to bake something but completely uninterested in leaving the house, so I picked the white chocolate raspberry bars (pg 205), and then modified them to work with what I had in the house and what I felt like.

And they turned out sweet, but excellent. Seriously, so sweet I needed water or black tea to drink with it to offset the sweetness, but if sweetness is your thing please feel free to go with it. 

choc raspberry slice
I used a combination of strawberry, raspberry and mixed berry jams, because that was what I had in the house (there is a surprisingly large amount of jam in my fridge), but I suspect just about any jam would work. I have a pear and blackberry from Babka's that I particularly want to try in it. 

I've tried a couple of other recipes from Vegan Junk Food; book review coming soon!

berry and chocolate slice
modified from the white chocolate and raspberry bars in vegan junk food

you will need:
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup margarine and/or copha
2 tablespoons plain oil (canola or similar)
1 teaspoon vanilla
shake of salt salt
2 and a half cups of flour (I used a mix of plain and baking)
1 teaspoon baking powder
100g chocolate
half cup applesauce 
1 cup of raspberry jam

so then:
Preheat the oven to 175C!

With a fork, beat the sugar, vanilla, oil and margarine (melt the copha if you're using it and be prepared to wait one million years). Add in the flour and mix until crumbly. You may want to use your hands for this. When it's all crumbs, set aside a heaped cup of this mixture. 

Melt the chocolate, and add this and the apple sauce to the bigger portion of the crumb mixture. Mix it all together and then press into a lined square tin.* Bake this for 12 minutes, then remove from the oven, spread the jam over it, and sprinkle with the remaining crumb mix. If you had any more chocolate lying around the house you could put some on top, but I ran out. 

Bake for 25 minutes, and allow to cool completely before cutting. It'll still fall apart a little anyway, but it's better this way. 

Variants: desiccated coconut on top of the crumbly topping.

*I used a circle tin but only because while I was in China my square tin went missing !!!

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

spiced sweet potato and pistachio cake

I wanted to bake something today, and there was half a sweet potato in the house, and I thought, why not? No regrets, it was delicious straight out of the oven and if you give me half a mo, I bet I'll declare it's delicious cold with a cup of tea, too.

sweet potato and pistachio cake

sweet potato and pistachio cake

you will need:
one and a third cups of flour (I used half self-raising and half plain)
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 very heaped teaspoon of ground ginger
a shake of salt
a shake of ground cloves
half a teaspoon of nutmeg
an amount of sweet potato that makes 1 - 1.5 cups after it's boiled and mashed
1 cup of sugar (i used castor, but i bet brown or coconut sugar would also work great)
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
one third of a cup of oil (canola or something plain)
two chinese soupspoons of apple sauce
a handful of pistachios.

to make it:
peel, dice and boil sweet potato, then drain and mash. let it cool down a bit (i used this opportunity to read some more blogs). then combine flour, baking powder, spices and salt in a large bowl. in a separate bowl, whisk together the oil and the sugar until combined, then add the vanilla essence and the apple sauce. mix this with the sweet potato until it's a nice consistency, and pour into the dry ingredients. mix until it's just combined, then throw in the pistachios and give it a stir twice more just to get those through.

bake at 180C for about 30 minutes, or until baked through. i used baking paper in my loaf tin.

Monday, 14 January 2013

laksa king [flemington]

One of the hardest things about being a vegan from Penang living in a not very Malaysian Australian city (Melbourne why, all I do is love you and this is how you treat me) is how hard it is to find good (vegan) laksa. Perth, no problem! Penang, obviously no problem. Melbourne, why.

Anyway, all that is to say, I have been wanting to visit Laksa King in Flemington for a while now, having heard many good things about it, and when the opportunity arose Fi and I moseyed on over there and both ordered the vegetarian laksa, made vegan. While ordering the vegetarian laksa, with vegan option (this emphasis may be annoying but I promise it makes sense soon), we also ordered the fresh-made tofu with mushrooms and wolfberries (you may know them as goji berries), and I ordered a soya bean milk because I'm Malaysian and can't drink a Milo Ais or a teh tarik, which is the only way I could have been more Malaysian at that moment. 
least favourite soy milk

Sadly, they brought out my nemesis, Vamino soy milk, the only azn soy milk around that contains cow milk, and also incidentally tastes gross. Why a Malaysian place wouldn't serve Yeo's, basically the most SEAZN brand there is, I don't know. 

Then came the tofu fresh made on premises, and I knew. Oh, I knew. I stuck my chopsticks into that tofu and broke off a piece, and I knew. That fresh made tofu was egg tofu. Which was a shame, as we'd made such a point of ordering the vegan laksa that I didn't even think to check that the fresh tofu wasn't egg tofu. Saddest. 

The laksa was fine. There was my least favourite tofu (least favourite other than egg tofu, obviously), but lots of noodles and greens, and as is traditional I took most of Fi's noodles because she can't eat all the joyous carbs and she stole some of my soup, which was much less coconutty than hers. And I slurped my way through my noodles, piling them into my spoon and getting laksa everywhere, and laksa is like a little balm on my soul no matter its quality. But they were super coconutty laksas with no spice at all, though nicely oily, and in the end it was okay but nothing spectacular, and maybe if I was in the area again I'd try one of the other Malaysian places nearby, or default to Chillipadi across the street.

Ugh will no one make me an assam laksa?

Other reviews: Fi (on our visit); Cindy and Michael; Pip. Non-veggie meh agreement: the cooking capers.

Laksa King
6-12 Pin Oak Crescent
Get there on the Craigieburn train or the 57 tram. Ramp to get in, didn't check out the bathrooms. Mid-to-high price for a lunch ($9 something for the laksa, but $17 something for the tofu).

Monday, 7 January 2013

easy good food: pasta salad with marinated tempeh

I've had a few requests lately for easy, nutritious, fast, after-work vegan food, so this is the first post in an occasional series of easy good fast foods. For the most part they're rounded meals on their own, or close enough. They're my comfort foods, my lazy foods, my whatever is in the house foods. I almost always have the supplies, or most of the supplies, in the house required to make these meals.

They do rely in part on pre-prepared things, but no shame, I mean, I'm not gonna sun dry my own tomatoes, am I? (spoilers: I'm not)

noms on a hot day
We'll start with one of my favourite summer recipes, sun-dried tomato pasta salad with marinated tempeh.

I know! How can something that involves marinating be fast? Trust me on this one. It's great. It's so great I made this salad twice on Thursday last week, and a big batch of it on Boxing Day (not just for me).

To serve two people (maybe three)
Pots and things that will need washing up: two (a pot for pasta, and a frypan, but maybe you can mix the pasta in the pot). Also a colander.
Time: ten minutes for prep, ten-fifteen for cooking
Complete meal: you got your proteins, your fresh vegetables, your grains, your oils/fats, your deliciousness.

You will need:
100g plain tempeh
some five spice powder
little bit of sesame oil (teaspoon or two)
a tablespoon or three of light soy sauce

200g pasta spirals (spirals! very important!)
100g sundried tomatoes (if they're pre-sliced strips, this is easier, but if they're not remember to cut them into strips)
dash of lemon juice
dried chilli flakes to your desired hotness (I usually use about half a teaspoon) (these really should be flakes, by the way, not ground)
big handful of something fresh that you can eat raw (such as snow peas, or capsicum)
handful of nuts or seeds (such as cashews or sunflower seeds)

What you do:
Slice the tempeh thin, like bacon strips or something, then mix together the five spice, sesame oil and soy sauce and marinate the tempeh in it. If there's not enough liquid, add some more. Sometimes I add minced ginger if I have any in the fridge, but it's totally not compulsory. Leave to marinate.

Put on the pasta to boil. Slice up the fresh things (and the sundried tomatoes if necessary) into nice single bite chunks. You will notice this is basically everything. At this point, fry the tempeh in a little vegetable oil until it's nice and brown on both sides.

When the pasta is firm but ready, drain it and then in a bowl (or the pot!) mix together all of those ingredients that aren't the tempeh or marinade, including the things that look like dressing (lemon juice, chilli, and the oil from those sun-dried tomatoes!), and the nuts. Mix well to make sure the dressing is even! Serve with tempeh on top or beside. Eat.

This seems oily, I know, but you control the oil via how much of the sun-dried tomato oil you put in. Other than that, you can change up your fresh veggies, your nuts and seeds, and even swap out the tomato for marinated artichokes or capsicum if that takes your fancy! Don't swap out the spirals, they are perfect for grabbing onto the flavour.
I am submitting this to Cate's Cates for the Substantial Salads Challenge. You should submit stuff too!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

curious goose [brunswick] (or: spoilers, secret dairy)

My friend Liz and I occasionally meet up on Wednesdays for brunch at random places. Yesterday we were hoping to go to A Minor Place, but alas it was not to be, for they were closed for the new year, as were Wide Open Road and Tom Phat. So we decided to give newish cafe Curious Goose a go.

Let me start with: the service was really great. Our waitperson was really helpful, friendly and lovely, very attentive, and didn't mind all the questions I asked about the menu and making it vegan. Which was handy, as it turned out basically nothing was vegan. The mushrooms were soaked in butter, the potatoes had cheese, the avocado had aioli (apparently usually there were fresh avocados too, but their delivery was unripe and they didn't want to serve it to me, for which I thank them. This aside is getting very long but I recall the time Miss T was served unripe avocado, and am glad that wasn't me).

misc vegan brekkie

In the end I got a whole bunch of things (and somehow some mushrooms, though I had been denied them earlier with suggestions of butter), and they tasted good. Though beetroot is never my thing, this one, hidden behind the beans, was so delicious I ate it all up, and was served with a chilli dukkah that was pretty great. The beans were delicious and the bread (baked on premises) was lovely.

But my friends, not only am I vegan, but I am lactose intolerant, as is (non-vegan) brunch-buddy Liz, and after our meals, after a short period of wandering up Sydney Road doing errands, we ended our brunch date in order to go and commune with the porcelain gods, which can only mean one thing: stealth dairy.

There are so many amazing places willing to provide a brunch-oriented vegan with food in Brunswick, that despite the nice flavours and the excellent service and the really fun (but not vegan) menu, the Curious Goose is unlikely to be a repeat for me.

Curious Goose
307 Sydney Road
7 days a week, breakfast and lunch

I was distracted and didn't check steps and things: tables are spread apart and service is seated at them. Lighting is low during the day but not too low. Get there on the 19 tram.