Eatster…I mean Easter.

Koko Black's bunny range

Koko Black’s bunny range

So this month is chocolate month, also known by some as ‘Easter’. Those who read my blog regularly will know that if I could physically manage to eat my own weight in chocolate each day, I probably would. My occasional swearing off chocolate following a depressing bathroom scales reading tends to last hours rather than days, I just can’t go past the stuff. Food wise, therefore, Easter is a much beloved holiday for me, despite my lack of religion.

I actually get a bit spiritual/religious about chocolate, coveting it in shop windows, setting up miniature chocolate ‘shrines’ in my pantry at home or desk drawers at work, referring to it as ‘my precious’ and, well, you get the picture, I’m very into chocolate. This year I thought I’d use my blog as an excuse to do an early scouting trip of all the best chocolate shops in Melbourne, checking out what their Easter offerings are like. So with less than two weeks to go until Easter, for your gift-giving ease and eating pleasure, below is a summary of what is and is not going to make my Easter wish list this year.

Koko Black
I think Koko Black now counts as a Melbourne institution. It’s still my favourite place to go to get boxes of chocolate as gifts (including gifts for myself…) I visited the Royal Arcade store, whose display/offering is almost entirely dedicated to Easter at the moment. To be honest I’m not loving the very bright art deco inspired gift boxes they have gone with this year, but I did get excited about the gorgeous mini ‘quail’ eggs (sugar coated chocolate eggs replete with authentic speckles) and the Surprise Golden Easter egg made from milk and dark chocolate with a salted caramel ‘surprise’ inside. No idea what that surprise is, but I want to find out. It’s like a giant fancy Kinder Surprise! But for $65 I’d want a damn good surprise – it’s definitely not the most post-GFC friendly option for the Easter Bunny’s basket this year.

Koko Black quail eggs - check out the egg cartons!

Koko Black quail eggs – check out the egg cartons!

Koko Black's packaging

Koko Black’s packaging

Haigh’s
I visited Haigh’s in yet another arcade – the Block Arcade. Haigh’s gets the prize for best theming and colour scheme. The entire store was buzzing with shoppers and absolutely jammed with a huge range of Easter stock. The colour palette this year has gone a little retro/hipster – lots of calico, dark brown and blue with polka dots. Gift options include everything from single hollow eggs for under $10 to pre-made Easter hampers for well over $100. Extra points to Haigh’s for promoting the Aussie ‘Bilby’ over the bunny. Apparently a percentage of sales from bilby shaped chocolates goes to the bilby breeding program at Adelaide Zoo too! If you prefer dark chocolate there were a lot of good options, with all their top selling items available in a choice of milk or dark. I also liked the look of their chocolates in the shape of hot cross buns, but my ultimate pick would be the milk chocolate half egg filled with old fashioned freckles for $15.95. Super colourful and what I would want the Big Bunny to bring me at age six or twenty six.

Haigh's display

Haigh’s display

Spot the bilby!

Spot the bilby!

Haigh's freckle eggs

Haigh’s freckle eggs

Lindt
I love Lindt’s store windows year round and Easter is no exception. Their window on Collins Street features a giant gold bunny and big baskets of chocolate perched on top of bright red wooden crates (see – even Lindt has gone a little hipster this year…). To be honest, inside the store most of the Lindt range is a little boring. It’s predominately just gold foil wrapped bunnies of various sizes. There was a large ‘Heavenly Hazelnut’ egg that looked pretty damn good, though I wasn’t so keen on the crazy-bright yellow packaging. Kids get the best deal at Lindt – there’s a fun looking ‘Easter Hunt’ gift pack for $16.50 filled with chocolates in the shape of chickens, bunnies, bugs and bees plus your own basket and set of bunny ears to wear!

Lindt has also introduced a new coconut flavour small filled egg which is awesome. It’s like a posh Bounty Bar, but entirely creamy rather than having any rough coconut texture. I thought the flavour was going to be either sickly sweet or taste really fake, like those biscuits you get filled with coconut essence, but it was neither, it was delicious. I wouldn’t buy a whole box of them as the flavour could get a bit much, but the addition of this flavour to their small egg repertoire is a good one I think.

Lindt's coconut eggs

Lindt’s coconut eggs

Ganache
I popped into Ganache, which is almost next to Lindt on Collins Street. To be honest their large moulded bunnies looked kind of weird and I didn’t like their packaging much. Having said that, they do absolutely beautiful chocolate half eggs filled with their mixed chocolate truffles and filled chocolates. They have a range of sizes from a small egg with just 4 chocolates in it up to eggs the size of your head with 20+ chocolates in them. I know both egg and chocolates are superb because my partner got me one for Easter 2012 and it was a-maz-ing. I think I only shared like one chocolate out of it with him, and it was a coffee flavoured one (’cause I don’t like coffee flavoured anything). Prices are similar to Koko Black, with a half egg filled with six chocolates costing $19.

Ganache half egg with filled chocolates

Ganache half egg with filled chocolates

Big W
Ok, sometimes I have tacky chocolate tastes, let’s be honest here. Yes, when it is Easter I normally go for quality chocolate gifts over quantity, but sometimes it’s fun to get a novelty life sized chocolate chicken nestled in 70 bright pink chocolate eggs, even if you don’t eat it. Who doesn’t want the official One Direction Easter egg and novelty mug set? Or the official Barbie Easter egg with bonus lip gloss? Both only $8! Seriously though, Big W does have a big selection of fun Easter stuff, plus, classic gold wrapped 100g Lindt bunnies are on sale for $4, which is cheaper than at Lindt itself.

Max Brenner
Max Brenner’s Easter offering was predominately 40g wrapped Easter eggs of several varieties – milk and dark, plus one with praline pieces, one with nuts and one with ‘marbles’ inside, whatever that means. At between $2.50 and $3 each they were very reasonably priced and I did like the kinda-girly bright patterned foil wrapping. However, the rest of their gift options were just pairings of these eggs with their normal stock, like chocolate drinking powder and hug mugs. I am so over hug mugs. And, by the looks of the store that I visited (Melbourne Central), the rest of Melbourne is possibly over hug mugs too? It’s hard to make a call on Max Brenner, good value and still very yummy chocolate, but I felt a definite lack of imagination and energy here.

So that’s my wrap up for Easter. If you haven’t started shopping, you better hop to it! Sorry, I know it’s a terrible pun but I could not resist, much as I can’t resist a good Easter egg…

Eggs at Max Brenner

Eggs at Max Brenner

So many bunnies at Lindt! I think they were breeding...

So many bunnies at Lindt! I think they were breeding…

Ten hot Italians…

I LOVE Italian food. I love Italy itself too. You can’t go wrong with the home of pasta, parmesan cheese and gelato. Melbourne has a fabulous history of Italian residents and an abundance of Italian restaurants due to past waves of migration to Australia. In this blog I wanted to share my top 10 Italian dishes in Melbourne. So, in no particular order, here they are:

1. Eggplant parma at Neil Perry’s Rosetta. Gorgeous restaurant that makes you feel like a 50s movie star, with service and food to match. This eggplant parma is beautifully soft on the inside, crispy on the outside and topped with buffalo mozzarella and crispy basil leaves. Yum!

Rosetta's eggplant parma

Rosetta’s eggplant parma

2. Pizza at Oskar’s Pizza. This is my local pizza place and, conveniently, I happen to think that they do the best pizza in Melbourne. Big call, I know.

3. Mess Hall’s polenta chips. These are big fat wedges of crispy polenta, served hot and covered in cheese. So delicious!

4. Dolcetti’s dulce de leche cheesecake. Super creamy and just the right level of sweetness – these babies are a steal at under $4 too!

5. Gnocchi Napoli at Café Corretto on Lygon Street. I know it’s cheesy (both literally and figuratively), I know it’s a little tacky with the car suspended on the roof and the red plastic tablecloths, but I still love a big plate of old school gnocchi at this place. Student living for the win.

6. Rosetta’s zucchini, mint and pecorino risotto. I recently ate here, so my views may be slightly skewed, but this was definitely one of the best risottos I’ve ever had. Super creamy yet not gluggy, cheesy while still tasting fresh and summery. Big snaps also for the risotto at Mess Hall in the city and Sosta Cucina in North Melbourne.

Rosetta's zucchini risotto

Rosetta’s zucchini risotto

7. Cellar Bar’s Melanzane Alla Parmigiana, so many soft soft layers of eggplant with the sweetest tomato sauce ever. The service is kind of patchy, sometimes rude, but the eggplant is worth it.

8. Potato, cabbage, sage and tallegio pasta at Sosta Cucina. I don’t think it’s currently on the menu but it does appear quite frequently. It’s two types of carbs plus a very delicious kind of cheese, plus criminal levels of butter – need I say more?

9. The French custard tart at Brunetti. Amazing silky custard tart studded with big juicy sour cherries. Also can’t go past the Panzerotti (shortcrust patstry parcels, filled with vanilla pastry cream).

10. It sounds cute but my final favourite Italian dish is…my sister’s pan-finished roast pumpkin gnocchi with homemade Napoli sauce. It’s not readily available, but it is fabulous!

Rosetta on Urbanspoon

Review: B’Stilla

Like many a good Melbourne restaurant, B’Stilla is tucked away in a small semi residential street behind Chapel St. It’s unlikely to stay an in-the-know secret for long though, with it winning this year’s Best Restaurant in the Good Food Guide under $30 awards. The award was my motivation for wanting to try it out, though the prospect of Moroccan food done by the person who bought trendy Mexican (Mamasita) to Melbourne was also appealing! It’s also not technically north of the river, but I feel a little adventuring over to the dark side is allowed…

With two gorgeous girlfriends, Miss Pony and Dr S (as we decided they should be called in my blog after a cocktail or so) we worked our way through the $65 banquet. For $65 you get a really good sample of what B’Stilla has to offer. It was distinctly North African flavours, but very approachable, with slick plating, lots of colour and a friendly level of spiciness for sooks (not souks…sorry that was lame!) like me. As a vegetarian, I was well catered for with no fuss from the friendly staff.

The menu says $65 will get you 4 a course banquet including dessert, but those 4 courses are made up of several dishes, meaning the option did live up to its ‘banquet’ name. The very first dish was a winner – a little pile of artichoke and pumpkin covered in some sort of delicious sweet/spicy sauce. This also came with grilled ‘batbout’ bread and a spicy (but not too spicy) tomato jam. The batbout, which I later googled, was like a chewy rich pita bread with gorgeous chargrilled iron marks on it.

The first dish - a little pile of tasty goodness

The first dish – a little pile of tasty goodness

These first small dishes were followed by a second round of slightly larger small dishes. The lentil filled semolina crepe (very much like a fine flat bread) which I received in lieu of lamb ribs was very tasty, with something (not sure what, possibly zucchini?) which was pickled and zingy on the top of a creamy lentil mix and fresh flatleaf parsley. The ribs were well received by Miss Pony and Dr S, who were able to literally nudge the super soft meat off the bone with the pack of their forks. They also had the signature ‘B’Stilla’ dish, which was a parcel of duck and chicken meat dusted in spices, whereas I had super delicious cauliflower with pine nuts and spices. I’m not sure what they do to the cauliflower, possibly deep fry it, but I’ve had it this way once or twice when eating out before, including at both Anada and Coda. It takes on a whole different texture from your standard steamed cauliflower, it’s a little bit crispy, like a big hot chip, while still retaining its juiciness.

My kind of coleslaw: Moroccan style!

My kind of coleslaw: Moroccan style!

The main course was a large shared vegetable tagine, which looked fab piled high with fresh herbs and figs. There was also a duck sausage on the side for non-vegetarians to add, as well as a cabbage salad and couscous. The couscous was really nice and fluffy, but filled with large pieces of orange rind which were very overpowering I thought.

Dessert was a highlight for me, of course! It was an ice-cream cone each, topped with Persian (or Moroccan perhaps?) style fairy floss. The ice-cream was, wait for it, tahini flavour! It has to be tasted to be believed. It was sweet, not savoury. The balancing act to make it delicious and not disgusting is an impressive one. It was so unusual but really creamy and had just the right level of sweetness. Plus, hiding right at the bottom of the cone was a big dollop of dulche de leche – yuuuuum!

Tahini ice-cream cones

Tahini ice-cream cones

B'Stilla on Urbanspoon

Hipster-World Problems

You’ve no doubt experienced and likely complained of “first world problems”. I have them so often now I’ve almost forgotten what a non-FWP looks like. Can’t decide between sushi and rice paper rolls for lunch? Need to go to your friend’s wedding in Bali and your cousin’s birthday in Noosa on the same weekend? Have too many brands of organic milk to choose from? Feeling guilty about illegally downloading eps of Orange is the New Black? Yep, FWP.

But now there’s a new breed of problem out there, looming large in the streets of Melbourne, Sydney and even Adelaide, afflicting far too many. I’m even one of the afflicted on occasion. This plague is more specific, more brutal, and just more damn scary than the FWP. Scientists are unsure why, but rates of affliction are particularly high in certain suburbs, with the problem reaching epic proportions in the Melbourne suburbs of Fitzroy, Brunswick, Kensington, North Melbourne and, increasingly, Footscray. Be alert and alarmed. But act like you don’t really care. We are now facing the growth of the hipster world problem, or “HWP”.

One of my attempts at hipsterness: Pimms in jars with paper straws!

One of my attempts at hipsterness: Pimms in jars with paper straws!

Don’t laugh, this is serious! There are hipsters (and a tiny bit hipster slash confused yuppies like myself…) suffering HWPs every hour of every single day. If you’re a hipster or know someone who might be, then no doubt they are suffering with HWPs. To help you, and them, out, here’s the top twenty HWPs I’ve seen (or possibly imagined) in North Melbourne. Be afraid hipsters, be very afraid:
1. Your favourite hole-in-the-wall cafe gets a write-up in The Age. People from Toorak now go there on weekends. Sigh.
2. Your mother gives you a jumper for your birthday that both fits snugly and lacks any holes whatsoever. Also, it is lolly pink or cream.
3. You sell your soul and get a corporate job, which means you can now afford to replace your milk crates with chairs.
4. You are discovered at a non hipster locale, such as at Coles buying non-organic non-soy toilet paper, eating Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream at Chadstone or sunbaking anywhere on a beach. So unoriginal.
5. You develop an allergy to beards.
6. You develop an allergy to coffee.
7. Someone gives you a non-hipster-friendly Christmas present of a Red Balloon speed sport voucher (can you spell mainstream?) and half way through the experience you realise how unsuitable yoga pants, oversized glasses and a natty beret are for jet boating on Sydney harbour.
8. You’re on Sydney Harbour. Like, ever.
9. Your beloved decides to send red roses/a teddy/chocolates/lingerie to your work on Valentine’s Day in an uncharacteristic display of mainstreamedness. Your boss, who wears crocs, thinks it’s cute.
10. Your Frankie magazine gets stolen by your housemate who uses it to line their hermit crabs’ tank. Yep, hermit crabs are back in. They’re so uncool they’re cool, right?
11. While reading Eat Pray Love in a completely ironic way you start to really like it.
12. Your preferred micro brewed beer becomes available on tap and all the College douche-bags from Melbourne Uni start drinking it.
13. You get a haircut that turns out looking like Jennifer Aniston’s circa 2000 (or 2013, ‘cause that woman’s hair seriously never changes).
14. The giant papier-mâché pirate ship you constructed with your housemates and put in your neighbour’s front lawn gets rained on. Now it just looks like a dog vomited up a phone book. Do people still use phone books? You are totally going to bring them back, anyway…
15. You run out of clean checked flannelette shirts. You run out of dirty checked flannelette shirts.
16. You forget to rinse your quinoa before cooking it and get that nasty bitter aftertaste which is most likely from non Fair Trade dirt particles.
17. You rock up too late for the independent Spanish film festival film you were planning to see and have to watch Last Vegas instead.
18. A nasty Chlamydia infection works its way through your Theatre sports team/ Zine store employees / ironic book club / apple pressing collective.
19. You have so much political election mail left over in your garage that you decide to build a small fort with it. For a short time the fort is so awesome that you eschew your bed and sleep inside it, until you realise Christopher Pyne and Joe Hockey are staring at you from the left hand wall of the fort.

And yes, this is finishing on number 19, because 20 is a round and conformist number. And I’m not going to add yet another HWP (having your name forever attached to accidental-lame-numerical-conformity) to my increasingly long list.

The Flour Market

At 7:30am this morning I was awake and out of bed. On a Saturday. There could only be one reason for this very uncharacteristic behaviour: the pursuit of pastry!

This morning I went to the Flour Market, a pop up bakery market in Fitzroy. There was one held late last year which I missed, so I was determined to get in early and go into a cake-induced coma at this one. There were about 12-15 stalls at the indoor market, which was hosted by The Baron Said in Fitzroy, just near the corners of Johnston and Brunswick Streets. All the stallholders were artisan bakers of some description, plus there was a coffee stand and milkshake stand to help wash it all down.

I arrived about 8:40am to a line maybe 80 people deep. The crowd was mostly young locals, foodies, plus quite a few parents with (surprisingly well behaved) kids. Doors opened at 9am, except for people with early bird entry tickets. Given how crowded and crazy the place got, next time I’ll definitely be trying to get my hands on an early entry ticket. I think one issue was that there was no crowd control, so when the doors opened at 9am, everyone poured in rather than say letting 50 people in at a time. The crowd was great though, everyone was polite and really happy to be there. We formed relatively orderly queues at our chosen stands, accidentally elbowed each other and greedily eyed each other’s choice of treats. Traffic flow and direction was a bit of an issue though, with half the crowd going left upon entry and half going right and everyone smooshing together at the central stands!

Anyway, enough about crowd control, on to the important stuff, like salted caramel donuts. So there were so beautiful looking goods at the stalls, I didn’t really know where to start. There were gorgeous solid looking savoury pies by Pure Pie, big stacks of waffles at Waffle Jolie, fresh artisanal breads, vegan cheesecake, homemade donuts of several shapes, sizes and flavours, glossy bagels, homemade oreos at Bakewell & Co, pecan pies and lemon tarts.

flour carry bags

crumpets

I started off by perusing all the stalls and buying a couple of bags of Dr Marty’s Crumpets, as I’d heard of them before but had never tried them. They are currently sitting in my fridge, ready to be toasted and covered in honey and butter, as they conveniently last a couple of days in the fridge. Then I joined the bagel line for 5 & Dime, which was epic! I think it must be the current obsession with American diner style food in Melbourne at the moment, but everyone wanted a bagel. I grabbed myself a plain and a sesame seed bagel. I was tempted by the more unusual sounding white chocolate raspberry bagel, but resisted as there were a lot of sweet options on offer at the Flour Market that I needed to get through. I’ve just had one of the bagels for lunch with a big smear of cream cheese and spinach dip from the Queen Vic markets. Oh baby. There was a reason for the line. Melbournians know their food. 5 & Dime don’t have a store sadly, but do sell at farmer’s markets. They also supply to some very cool cafes across Melbourne, include Pope Joan and Bowery to Williamsburg (which I recently visited, a CBD brunch gem!). The bagels are super soft and just a little yeasty on the inside and have a chewiness on the outside which comes from the traditional boil then bake method. My only criticism was an aesthetic one – the bagels are so generous and puffy that they basically have no hole in the middle, so when you cut them in half, they don’t really look like a bagel to me.

bagels 01

bagel stand

Then it was on to the sweet stuff, starting with a milkshake at MilkBar. I went with the ‘Choc Haze’ milkshake, essentially a nutella flavoured milkshake. The ingredients were delicious but the texture wasn’t brilliant, it lacked bubbles and volume because they were using dinky little blenders with hardly any power. But I do love a good milkshake and expect a lot from them, so perhaps I’m being too tough.

I think the highlight of the morning was the salted caramel donut from Cobb Lane Bakery. It was just unreasonably soft and delicious. So light and doughy and then the salted caramel filling was very salty, very sweet and very smooth. It wasn’t the easiest thing to eat out of a paper bag, but hey, it was worth getting powdered sugar on my nose for! Cobb Lane Bakery is based out in Yarraville, but Twenty & Six Espresso on Queensberry Street stock their donuts, so they could become a regular and extremely dangerous habit of mine.

We left around 10am and things were already starting to sell out, including Cobb Lane’s donuts. I noticed La Belle Miette’s macaroons weren’t selling as quickly though, suggesting to me that the Melbourne love affair with macaroons is well and truly over. They are still very beautiful though, and great if you’re wanting gluten free. If you haven’t been, their shop in Hardware Lane is super cute and their pastel coloured gift boxes elevate their macaroons into a very stylish little gift I think!

pecan pie from Bakewell & Co

pecan pie from Bakewell & Co

It was great to be reminded of what a wonderful foodie city Melbourne is with such passionate producers and purveyors. And the best part? I was back on my couch, bagel at the ready and air conditioning on by 12 o’clock today, the time when I’m normally just emerging from the doona covers!

Cobb Lane on Urbanspoon

La Belle Miette on Urbanspoon

Eco baking?

My parents are ex-hippies. I consider myself a fairly environmentally friendly kind of girl, for someone living in a first world country like Australia. I turn off lights and taps, I don’t own a car (primarily because I don’t drive…), I buy environmentally friendly cleaning products and I care about the whales. But as I was walking home yesterday, sweltering in the ridiculous summer heat and pondering climate change, it occurred to me, how eco friendly is baking? Is my passion having a positive, negative or neutral impact on the environment and is there anything I can (or will) do to change this?

So first, the positives. While I haven’t got studies to prove it, it seems like common sense that cooking a meal at home is going to be more environmentally friendly than eating at a restaurant or buying takeaway. You reuse dishes rather than having to produce and then throw away takeaway containers. Home cooking is likely to be more simple and use less resources than a restaurant meal – no tablecloths to wash, you drink tap water not bottled and fewer ingredients in meals means less food miles, less water and fertiliser and land used. Also, eating at home means you don’t use your car or other transport to go out. And it’s not that I’m against eating out, I absolutely love it, but I’m trying to get an overall picture of the good, bad and the ugly of my baking and cooking habits.

Also in the positives is that I shop locally and buy a lot of Victorian produce at the Queen Vic Markets. This reduces my ‘food miles’, the carbon emissions needed to transport food from the farm to me. I do think about seasonal availability when planning meals. Just yesterday I made a cheesecake, choosing to make it a strawberry one since those berries are at their best (and cheapest) in summer. In addition, being vegetarian and cooking only veggie meals and baked goods does reduce your carbon footprint quite significantly, since meat production is resource heavy and animals like cows and sheep produce large amounts of methane. Methane is many many times more powerful than carbon dioxide when we’re talking about global warming. In fact, it’s so significant that there’s actually a National Livestock Methane Program in Australia aimed at reducing methane emissions on farms!

One of my eco friendly vegan salads using home-grown basil and market produce

One of my eco friendly vegan salads using home-grown basil and market produce

On to the negatives now. I might not be eating meat but my baking does use a hell of a lot of butter, cream, milk and eggs – all produced by lovely yet methane emitting animals. Plus most of the baking ingredients I buy come in packaging, much of which is not recyclable. Then there’s my love of kitchen appliances. Chief among these is of course my Mixmaster, but there’s also a blender, juicer, rice cooker, sandwich press, toaster, kettle, ice-cream maker and vegetable dicer thingie. The ABS has actually done studies showing the trend for household appliance ownership is steeply upwards as we become more affluent and appliances become more affordable (apparently!). All those appliances I have use energy. On the other hand, they only use it for short periods of time, unlike, for example, a second television, my Mixmaster isn’t plugged in at all times. However, I would never plug them in if I didn’t own them because I didn’t do any cooking or baking.

My (climate busting?)baking: caramel popcorn and marshmallow brownies

My (climate busting?) baking: caramel popcorn and marshmallow brownies

Sigh! Pondering this is now starting to give me a headache. Maybe it’s a sugar cravings headache from lack of baked goods…I certainly don’t have the answers and I’m not about to stop baking and become a raw food fruitarian. But there are sites where you can buy eco baking supplies (think unbleached baking parchment and mixing bowls made from recycled plastic or bamboo), so it’s clear others have pondered this issue too, even made successful businesses out of it. There’s also plenty of blogs out there with enviro-friendly tips for the kitchen. I’m a big believer in there always being room for improvement, so it’s something I’m going to look into. It’s definitely worth contemplating…while enjoying a slice of my strawberry cheesecake!

2013 In Review: Salted caramel, soda streams and quinoa

Hello! After a month off on holidays, I’m back at work, back eating (and sweltering) in Melbourne cafes and back blogging. I feel a little reflection and review of 2013 is in order for this blog before I move on to a few new foodie delights (including upcoming blogs on yummy new Mexican menus and what vegetarians really eat for dinner).

So my partner and I hosted Christmas this year for both our families. Luckily this just meant 8 people (parents on both sides, one sibling each and us), as that was definitely the most that would comfortably fit in our little apartment. The morning started with the two of us exchanging gifts and enjoying banana pancakes (or ‘drop scones’ as I like to call them thanks to my Anglo heritage) with homemade blueberry coulis and vanilla yoghurt.

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Being the wanna-be domestic goddess that I am, I had a lot of fun planning the table setting for the Christmas day lunch. We had a green and gold theme for the table, being both Christmassy and Australian in one!

Image

 

The menu, designed to appeal to, and cooked by omnivores, pescetarians and vegetarians alike was:Image:

- smoked salmon on ricotta blinis with horseradish creme

- polenta rounds with guacamole, toasted pepitas and pomegranate

- tomato and goat’s cheese galettes

- a ham (not cooked by me obviously!) 

- chilli garlic prawns

- leek and cheese croquettes with red onion jam

- zucchini, hazelnut and baby bocconcini salad

- classic potato salad with organic dutch cream potatoes

- traditional Christmas pudding with brandy sauce and homemade vanilla bean icecream

- raspberry custard tart with gold leaf

- pistachio slice, rocky road, rum balls, shortbread and lots of alcohol!

I’m feeling hungry yet exhausted just thinking about that meal, but it was great fun! We ate leftovers in a sort of lunch-cross-dinner on Boxing Day and I’ve only just finished off the last of the rum balls, which were made by my partner’s mum and are so so very delicious.

Moving on from Christmas though, to think more broadly about ‘the best of life, love and cake in North Melbourne’ in 2013, I have to say it has been a very big year for me. Some parts have been tough, some parts fantastic. I’ve felt very down during some weeks in 2013. I’ve completely changed careers and started re-thinking about what I want in life. I’ve had to let some things go and welcome other things into my life, whether I wanted to or not (including a couple of kilos!). A constant in 2013 has been the quality and variety of food in Melbourne and the joy I get from sharing a meal with family and other loved ones. Baking a cake is still the ultimate zen-like yoga for my mind. Putting down a delicious healthy meal in front of my partner for dinner still gives me immense satisfaction. And the opening of a new café, emergence of a new food trend or the purchase of a new kitchen appliance will always fill me with joy. To finish this review blog, below are my top 5 foodie trends from 2013 and what I predict is going to be the top 5 in 2014:

For 2013

- salted caramel: I’m not complaining, I love this flavour!

- coconut water: Miranda Kerr drinks it, now everyone else does too.

- cold pressed juices: I personally think these are overrated and overpriced, but a healthy trend and very big in South Yarra apparently.

- quinoa: I’m on board, it’s like couscous but hardcore.

- the soda stream: I hate bubbles in my drinks, so not one for me, but everyone seemed to be buying them in 2013

For 2014:

- artisanal ice-cream and gelato: given global warming and the arrival of N2 and Messina Gelato in Melbourne last year, I think this is on the rise

- cold drip coffee: Auction Rooms is doing it, Di Bella is doing it, everyone will be doing it in 2014! And again with the global warming thing, hot coffee isn’t so appealing in heatwaves…

- beyond Fair Trade: I read a great article recently on the problems with the Fair Trade system of certification (e.g. a global, non country specific pricing system and complex compliance rules) and what some people are doing to get more ethical and creative options out there

- blueberries: I’m not sure why, I just have a feeling about this one, I think this little berry’s time has come to shine.

- duck eggs: More interesting than a chicken egg and less cutesy than a quail egg, I can see the appeal, but to me they kind of taste the way ducks smell. This is coming from a country girl who had several pet clutches of ducklings, most people don’t know what ducks smell like, so it’s probably not an issue, hence the prediction on their growing popularity in 2014.

Thank you for following my blog in 2013, I hope to bring you lots more cookie-filled delicious joy this year!