To Market, To Market: Farmers’ Market, Collingwood Children’s Farm

I used to think that visiting a farmers’ market meant travelling to a country town, or driving across the city to a hard-to-find spot on the city fringe. And since I don’t own a car, getting to a farmers’ market seemed more trouble then it was worth.

Then I learnt of the Melbourne Community Farmers’ Markets collective, which co-ordinates markets every week in various inner-city locations. Better still, they’re quite accessible by public transport.

So yesterday morning, I forgoed my usual Saturday morning sleep-in (if you consider getting up at 8am early) and made a trip to the Collingwood Children’s Farm’s market.
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I’m Still Here!

Oops, I did it again.

I said I’d create more content for this blog last November, but before I knew it, six months came and went. It’s now mid-2012, and it’s kind of scary that half the year is almost gone. Where did all that time go?

I’ve had some readers leave comments over the past few weeks, and I just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to do so. In case anyone was wondering, I haven’t abandoned this blog, I’ve just been busy with the day job, moving house, blah blah.

Meanwhile, there’s so much to write about. I moved into a new place in late 2011, and have been busy settling in while establishing a small kitchen garden in my backyard. Having my own garden is a dream come true and I’m hoping to finish the garden in time for the spring planting later this year.

I’ve also just returned from a 3-week trip to my native Singapore, soaking up the sun, spending time with my family there and eating plenty of the local hawker fare. Coming back to a cold, wintry Melbourne was quite the shock to my system, but it also gives me the opportunity to cook comforting winter stews and soups – and blog about it.

Got to go now, but I’ll see you around!

Food Snob

Recently, a commenter on an earlier blog post wondered why I drew attention to the fact that the noodle dish called ‘Singapore Fried Noodles’ actually doesn’t exist in Singapore. “I find food snobs amusing,” the commenter added.

Hmmmmm. Does this mean I’m a food snob? I mean, I’m really, really, passionate about food and cooking, but does this make me a snob? And what is a ‘food snob’, anyway? I’m not sure, but I’m going to assume it refers to someone who’s really fussy about their food and demands nothing but the best.

And my mind naturally conjures up the kind of snob who looks down on non-Michelin starred establishments as inferior, and insists on cooking only with expensive gourmet ingredients like black truffle oil. These are the people who frown if you bake with cooking chocolate instead of the best couverture made from single-origin cacao beans, and think home-cooked meals aren’t any good unless the recipe came from some celebrity chef’s cookbook. Personally, I think these people aren’t amusing, they’re pretentious.

Good food and cooking should be fun, and we shouldn’t be overly concerned about whether our cooking compares to the gourmet creations features on Masterchef or whether we’re dining at the latest ‘it’ restaurant all the food critics are raving about.

However, I believe that if you care about the food you cook and eat, then you will naturally want it to be as real and authentic as possible. To me, this means that besides tasting great, food should be prepared with the freshest ingredients available, and in the case of ethnic food, be authentic and true to its origins.

So yes, I do find it a bit annoying that nearly every Chinese restaurant in the West features a bland, uninteresting noodle dish on their menus, calling it ‘Singapore Fried Noodles’. That’s like tossing kimchi together with spaghetti, calling it ‘Korean Pasta Salad’, and passing it off as an authentic Korean dish.

And if insisting on authenticity makes me a food snob, well then – I’ll own up to being one. Now, where can I get some black truffle oil?

Melbourne ProBlogger Event 2011 (The Day I Met Tim Ferriss)

Sometimes I feel like a terrible blogger. I post sporadically at best, and at other times I struggle with writer’s block.

So when Darren Rowse announced on his Twitter stream that he was organising #PBevent (ProBlogger Event), a bloggers’ training day/conference to be held here in Melbourne, I jumped at the opportunity to grab a ticket.

Now, the speakers had not been announced when the event was launched, and I normally don’t sign up for conferences without knowing who the speakers are. But I bought a ticket anyway because a) the event outline/sales page was appealing; and b) my intuition told me to go.

So I showed up at the event on a rainy Friday morning two weeks ago, and it was definitely well worth the time and expense. There was a good mix of keynotes, workshops and panel discussions available, and I think there was something for everyone.

Personally, I found the sessions on the ‘business’ of blogging to be most useful. In particular, Phoebe Montague of Lady Melbourne presented an incredibly useful talk on working with advertisers and sponsors. I have to admit I had no idea what a media kit was until Phoebe’s talk, but I now know how to prepare one when the time comes.

However, the highlight of the day definitely has be meeting blogger/author Tim Ferriss in person (albeit very briefly).

I nearly fell out of my chair when I found myself sitting two seats away from Tim Ferriss during the last session for the day. I did not recognise him at first until he took off the beanie he was wearing, so I gathered he either wanted to keep a low profile or was there as a surprise guest (which turned out to be the latter).

Now, I wanted to take the opportunity to say hi and introduce myself, but how was I to do this without attracting too much attention and coming across like a rabid fan? Finally I leaned over and whispered, “Excuse me, are you who I think you are?”

“Yes,” Tim whispered back.
“Great, I just wanted to say hi- I’m Gilbert.”

We shook hands and went back to listening to the talk that was going on. Not long afterwards Tim was introduced as a surprise guest and gave did a live interview with Darren on what had worked for him as a blogger. Once again he emphasised the importance of writing ‘evergreen’ content, which remains relevant even years after it is created. It’s definitely an approach I’ll be adopting as much as possible for Kitchen Dojo.

Another lesson I learnt on the day was the importance of networking. Many of the other bloggers I met during the networking breaks had come prepared with business cards, and were actively seeking out the high-profile bloggers they followed and wanted to meet. I realised I definitely need to value the networking opportunities at conferences more.

In all, I left the conference with renewed inspiration and fresh ideas for Kitchen Dojo, and I’m looking forward to finally putting them to work.

On Throwing Food Away

“There is so much food on this planet that we could feed everyone. Yes, there are people who are starving, but it is not the lack of food, it is the lack of love that allows this to happen.” — Louise Hay

Recently some friends and I decided to indulge in an all-you-can-eat buffet. And by ‘indulge’, I really meant we ate until we were too full to move. It’s hard not to go overboard when faced with a cornucopia of mouth-watering food. There was a dizzying array of dishes, from roasts to stir-fries to various soups and salads, not to mention a huge selection of desserts. The food wasn’t exactly gourmet, but still tasty and flavourful. And it was priced nicely for an all-you-can-eat buffet.

For nearly two hours, we ate and chatted as we moved back and forth between our table and the ever-abundant buffet, which never seemed to run out of food despite the fact that the restaurant was packed with hungry diners. I even remarked to my friends that we were getting great value for money because the buffet was still being restocked even though it was approaching closing time.

As closing time drew near, the restaurant crowd began thinning and the staff began dimming the overhead lights over the buffet. My friends and I kept chatting as we finished our desserts since we had another half-hour before we had to leave the restaurant.

During a break in conversation, I watched the restaurant staff clear the buffet while staring wistfully at the delicious food I was now too full to eat. The staff moved quickly and efficiently as they lifted the overflowing trays of food off the warmers and tipped them into a trolley they were pushing behind the counter.

Still lost in my post-gluttony haze, I began wondering what happened to the leftovers. I hope the staff get to take them home, I thought. It was then I saw that the trolley I thought was being to store the leftovers was actually a wheeled garbage bin labelled ‘Food Waste’.

They were throwing away all that freshly-cooked food.

My heart sank. Most of that food being thrown away had left the kitchen only fifteen minutes before. And I began to feel terribly guilty.

As a child, I had been trained never to waste food. My parents used to tell me how lucky I was to have regular meals, because they grew up in poor families and often didn’t have enough to eat. As a result, I dutifully ate everything on my plate. Even today, I keep any leftovers and eat them the next day.

So watching all that perfectly good food in that restaurant being thrown away was incredibly heartbreaking. I already knew that most restaurants throw away their leftovers, but to see so much food being thrown away first-hand was a sombre eye-opener.

Although I wasn’t the one physically throwing away the food, I still felt complicit in allowing this to happen. I thought of the people experiencing hunger in other parts of the world, not to mention the homeless on the streets of Melbourne. And meanwhile I had patronised a restaurant that cooked enough food to feed fifty people knowing it was to be thrown out in fifteen minutes.

I can’t save the food that got thrown out that night, but I see this experience as a lesson to be more conscious about my role in food wastage. So I’ve decided to avoid all-you-can-eat buffets from now on, and I definitely won’t be returning to that particular restaurant.

I’ve also begun to realise the increasing importance of cooking my own food, which I will try to do more of. At least in my own kitchen I can ensure that perfectly good food doesn’t go to waste.

Going Gluten-Free: The First 45 Days

I shifted nervously in my seat as the man sitting across the desk separating us looked at me with a serious expression on his face. “You need to go on a restricted diet,” he told me. “This means no caffeine, processed foods or sugar, red meat, dairy… and no gluten, either.”

“No… gluten?” I said weakly.
“Nope,” replied my naturopath.

“Oh, OK” I managed to say, but in my mind I was screaming, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!”

If this was a sitcom, the camera would now zoom out to a bird’s eye view of the city, then a satellite view of the country and finally into space looking down at Earth as my anguished cry echoed around the globe.
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