Holiday Activities in Melbourne.

Ohi ohi ohi ohi, I’m in love with your body, blasts from of the car radio. The windows are down, the chorus line repeats as the kids burst into harmony. I raise the volume, the crescendo builds and I join in. Come on be my baby come on. The energy of the kids is infectious on this glorious autumn day.

Pelicans, not so uncommon, but always loved.

We’re off to Melbourne Zoo. I’m keen to keep the costs down as school holiday activities can often blow the budget, especially given that Melbourne is such an expensive city. Children receive free admission to the Melbourne Zoo ( as well as at Healesville Sanctuary and Werribee open range zoo) on weekends, public holidays and Victorian School holidays. It’s a good time to go but expect it to be more crowded than usual. Tickets for adults cost between $25- 30. Adult tickets can be purchased online, saving the need to queue at the gate.

Haloumi pies from the A1 Bakery, Brunswick. $3 each.

First stop is early lunch in Brunswick. The kidlets love Lebanese Haloumi cheese pies from the A1 Bakery. Patrons help themselves to large bottles of chilled water and glasses. The children know that any request for sugar drinks will be met with a stern glare. They carry their water bottles when out on a trip: most venues in Melbourne offer water bottle refilling stations, including the zoo.

We park in Brunswick close to the Upfield train line. A few stops down the track is Royal Park Station, a dedicated zoo station and the best way to go. Kids find the train journey as fascinating as the zoo itself. The ever-changing graffiti along the route keeps them amused. If travelling with kids, make sure to purchase a children’s concession MYKI travel card at a staffed station before your trip. Most un- staffed stations have machines to top up your cards, but don’t issue new passes for children, seniors or anyone eligible for a concession.

Orangutan, Melbourne

On the train, we plan our adventure together. Each child nominates one enclosure they would like to see. Melbourne Zoo is huge and as we usually go there once a year, it’s important to make a plan before you go. They agreed on the following: baboons and orangutans, seals and penguins, elephants, butterflies, and tigers. Of course, en route, a few extra characters caught our attention.

Melbourne Zoo’s Giraffes

The 8-year-old was put in charge of the map and leadership for the day. They take turns with this task each year.

Ollie is in charge of the map.

One of the more impressive features of Melbourne zoo is the dense jungle planting near the elephant and tiger park. Over the years it has developed its own micro climate. The area has recreated an Indonesian village, with signs above shaded picnic tables in Bahasa Indonesian, Indonesian artifacts and dense forest planting.

The Butterfly enclosure is enormously popular. I managed to grab a seat inside and while the butterflies were lovely, I was more interested in the human reaction to them. People noticeably changed as they entered. Smiling, serene faces filled the space as old men, babies and children gazed upwards, all delighted. I enjoyed observing a three-month old baby almost leaping out of her pram- her eyes amazed and bewildered by the butterflies above. It’s very humid and close inside, but no one is in a rush and the atmosphere is hushed.

Butterfly enclosure

The zoo staff are active in promoting environmental messages about changing shopping behaviours to conserve habitat. The kids signed a petition to ban balloons from their birthday parties and received a fridge magnet to remind them.

‘Dolphins, whales, turtles, and many other marine species, as well as terrestrial animals such as cows, dogs, sheep, tortoises, birds and other animals have all been hurt or killed by balloons. The animal is usually killed from the balloon blocking its digestive tract, leaving them unable to take in any more nutrients. It slowly starves to death. The animals can also become entangled in the balloon and its ribbon making the animal unable to move or eat.’¹

Display near the penguin and seal enclosure
Penguins, Melbourne Zoo

The other strong message concerned the massive increase in the use of palm oil and its effect on habitat. A display of common supermarket items, ranging from Lindt chocolate to chips, biscuits, soaps and shampoos, made it clear to kids what products contain palm oil.

‘To make room for palm crops, huge areas of tropical forests and other ecosystems where conservation is important are being stripped bare. Critical habitat for orangutans and many endangered species – including rhinos, elephants and tigers – has been destroyed. Forest-dwelling people lose their land, local communities are negatively affected.’²

Many products containing palm oil are disguised with labels such as vegetable oil, sodium laurel sulphate, glyceryl, to name a few.

This display had a profound affect on me and the older children eventually got the connection.

Elephants, Melbourne zoo.

Costs per child: Melbourne Zoo, free. Haloumi pies, $3 pp, icypole $3pp. Train fare $2.10 pp. Total per child, AU$9.10 plus adult costs.

¹ https://balloonsblow.org/impacts-on-wildlife-and-environment/

² http://www.treehugger.com/sustainable-agriculture/25-sneaky-names-palm-oil.html

Butterflies, Melbourne Zoo

Fig and Fetta Fantasia

Ever since the fresh fig supply stepped up at Casa Morgana, I’ve been imagining all sorts of fig dishes and recalling fig episodes in my semi sleep. I’m harvesting around 20 plump figs per day and many are beginning to rot on trays before my eyes. One of those memories involves making fig jam in Languedoc, France, in 1985. At one point, we had many ‘baguette with jam’ eating Australians staying with us and we were burning through the confiture at a rapid rate. We noticed a field of ripe figs going to waste and approached the farmer to ask him if we could pick them to make jam. Mais oui, he said dismissively, gesturing that the crop was nothing more than pig food. At some point mid jam making, Helen thought it would be nice to add some ginger to the mix, so we sent the 14-year-old girls off to the local supermarché to buy some. They returned empty handed. Sunshine demonstrated how many times she attempted her best pronunciation of the request. Je voudrais du ginger, s’il vous plaît, was met with blank stares, compelling the girls to adopt some very stereotyped French accents, repeating the word ginger over and over again. They were hysterical with laughter by the time they returned.

Figs and fetta, a marriage made in heaven, or Greece.

Another fig food memory was eating Saganaki served with a sweet fig sauce at Hellenic Republic, Brunswick, when it first opened. That sauce is based on dried figs with pepper and balsamic and can be served all year round with fried cheese.

This little entrée draws on both experiences. It is warm, sweet and jammy on top, and cold and salty underneath, with the nuts providing a Baklava style crunch. It takes 5 minutes to prepare and makes a very elegant starter.

Fig and Fetta Fantasia.

Ingredients, for two serves.

  • 150 gr (approx weight) quality Greek fetta cheese, sheep or goat, such as Dodoni (not Bulgarian as it has the wrong texture for this dish)
  • 6 large ripe figs, halved
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 dessertspoon vincotto
  • 2 tablespoons walnuts, chopped.

Cut the cold fetta into 4 thin batons.

Heat a small frying pan. Warm the honey and vincotto together until beginning to bubble. Turn down the heat and add the figs to the honey mixture. Cook gently on both sides for a few minutes so that the figs absorb some of the liquid.

Meanwhile, toast the walnut pieces in a small pan and watch that they don’t burn.

Assemble the dish by laying two fetta pieces on each serving plate. Top with hot figs and drizzle with the remaining liquid. Scatter the toasted walnuts on top.

Sweet and salty, cold and hot, smooth, sticky and crunchy.

For Lorraine at Not Quite Nigella, a fig fancier.

Smyrna Fig Tree after the rain.  Now in full production after 6 years. Will be rewarded with deep mulch.

a1 Bakery, Brunswick. Winter in Melbourne

Can we go to the a1 Bakery? This is the phrase, a little sing-song mantra, repeated by all the children whenever they’re within a stone’s throw of Brunswick. My six grandchildren, not overly fond of restaurant dining, are all excited about eating here at any time of the day.

Breakfast at A1 Bakery in Brunswick.
Breakfast at A1 Bakery in Brunswick.

The eldest, Mischa, acquired her taste for Middle Eastern pies at the age of 6 months. Now 19, she is still completely hooked. I met her, quite by chance, in the a1 Bakery last year. She had travelled into Brunswick, more than an hour’s journey by train, to pick up 15 middle eastern pies to take home to the freezer. Stuck in the outer suburbs, she gets ‘a1’ cravings. The children never stray from the halloumi stuffed half-moon pies whereas I go for the spinach and feta triangle, the shanklish or the falafel platter.

Moody Melbourne in winter and Haloumi Pies
Moody Melbourne in winter and halloumi pies

The a1 Bakery is an institution in Brunswick and the place is usually packed on the weekend. It is the home of the cheap and cheerful snack as well as freshly made pide and Turkish bread. Over the last 20 years, the pies have gradually increased in price from $2 to $3.50. The middle eastern pizzas are light with delicate toppings, while the platter of labne, pickles and bread is a new treat. The falafel comes wrapped or deconstructed. A caffè latte is only $2.50 and cold water bottles and glasses are free for the taking. The coffee is delivered to your table with a smile. Good coffee in real cups, no fake American sizing, food cooked to order, enjoyed by kids and adults alike.

A1 Bakery, the perfect snack.
a1 Bakery, Brunswick. The perfect snack.

The a1 Bakery menu can be found here.  http://a1bakery.com.au/

643-645 Sydney Rd. Brunswick VIC 3056

Cafe Bellino and the Demise of the Local Italian Restaurant.

Hand crafted thin crusted pizza at Cafe Bellino, Brunswick.
Hand crafted thin crusted pizza at Cafe Bellino, Brunswick.

Dean Martin sings ‘Cha cha cha d’amour” in the background; locals drop in for a quick chat or a coffee, groups greet each other warmly with ‘auguri‘ or buona sera‘. Introductions are swift- meet Dino or Toni- as working men greet their friends and gather for an antipasto or a hearty bowl of pasta and a glass of rosso. Poking one’s head in to greet the chef at work in the semi open kitchen seems to be the norm. The style is distinctly Italo- Australiano and I feel very much at home here. Front of house is a charming young waiter from Milano, no doubt working on a 457 working visa, like so many other young Italian camerieri in Melbourne, and the pizzas are truly excellent, dare I say, the best I have had in a long while. At $13- $15 for a large hand crafted thinly crusted pizza, they are a steal.  But here’s the sad news. Cafe Bellino in Victoria Street, Brunswick has less than 90 days left to run! Like so many others in the district, the couple responsible for the excellent cooking here is about to retire. The signora is looking forward to spending time with her grandchildren: restaurant life is hard work, she explains. The young Milanese waiter hopes to be able to work for the new lessee, but no one really knows what kind of business will replace the beautiful little Cafe Bellino.

Young Italian Camerierie at Cafe Bellino, Brunswick
Italian Cameriere at Cafe Bellino, Brunswick

It’s a common story around the inner suburbs of Melbourne, as more Italian couples reach retirement age and sell up. A recent closure was Cafe Mingo in Sydney road, when Jo, his wife and helpers retired. Their simple Italian restaurant became home away from home for many. I loved the way that Jo would slide over a complimentary plate full of sweet wafers and a tall bottle of grappa at the end of a meal. Sweet memories. The place has since become an Indian restaurant. It’s always empty, there is no licence and no ambience. It has lost its soul. Last week when we dropped into La Bussola Ristorante e Pizzeria in Lygon Street east, we found that retirement had struck again! La Bussola, home of the simple pizza and cheap pasta, a warm retro space where you could bring your own wine or buy a caraffa di vino da tavola for $10, has become the Compass Pizza Bar. The emphasis is now on the word “bar” as this seems to be how the young Brunswick cafe managers make their money. It’s all about mark up and less about the food. We were ushered into the old retro space but shock horror, a head-phoned  DJ had been installed, playing extremely loud music at 6pm. We were told curtly that our BYO bottle was not welcome, and no, we couldn’t pay extra for corkage or glasses. We promptly left. Another wonderful family run institution had become gentrified and in my humble opinion, wrecked. Crap bottled wine, of unknown source and vintage, was offered at a starting price of $32 a bottle. Most were more costly.

Antipasto selections at Cafe Bellino.
Antipasto selections at Cafe Bellino.

The simple joy of stepping out for a pizza or a bowl of pasta with a shared a bottle of wine is quickly vanishing. I have nothing against licensed restaurants. Most of the old style BYO places hold full licences as well, offering the diner a choice. What disturbs me are the ridiculous mark ups on wine at these new hipster places. Take a bottle of ordinary wine that retails for $8 and mark it up to $35 or more. Why? Isn’t turnover and ‘bums on seats’ more important in these leaner times? Cheap, affordable wine, as well as BYO wine, has made the Melbourne suburban restaurant scene dynamic and lively in the past. These practices enabled families to regularly dine out at their local restaurant, introducing children to restaurant life and the culture of food. Simple places with prices to match. Hipster joints with their huge mark ups on wine will attract only one type of customer, young affluent singles and childless couples. A sad trend indeed, and one that would never happen in France!

If you’re in the area, footloose and fancy free or loitering with intent and in need of a drink, a coffee, or a bowl of something authentically Italian, try Cafe Bellino, 281 Victoria St, Brunswick VIC 3056. ( Just around the corner from Sydney Road). Open from 10 am to 10 pm. Closed on Sunday. You only have 80 days left.

Cha cha cha d’amour
Take this song to my lover
Shoo shoo little bird
Go and find my love

Cha cha cha d’amour
Serenade at her window
Shoo shoo little bird
Sing my song of love

Sydney Road Street Party. March 2015

The annual Sydney Road street party has been going strongly for around 25 years and each year it gets bigger and better. There is something wonderful about walking down the middle of Sydney Road, one of the busiest throughfares in Melbourne. Many thousands attend this colourful, bustling event. Tented stalls along the pavements provide snacks and small plates, most belonging to the Sydney Road restaurant community. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA On offer are Pintxos from the new bar Basco Brunswick, sate and other Indonesian snacks from one of my favourite restaurants, The Uleg, French offerings from my favourite cafe, Choukette, and small plates from Albert Street Food and Wine, just to name a few.

The friendly owner of the Uleg Indonesian Restaurant. Indonesian language classes are offered weekly over a snack or a meal.
The friendly owner of the Uleg Indonesian Restaurant. Indonesian language classes are offered weekly over a snack or a meal.

The closure of Sydney Road extends from Victoria Street in the North to Edwards Street in the South. At each intersection, bands pump out the music from large stages, with chairs and tables set up for those who need a rest from walking or dancing.

Band performing on the youth stage.
Band performing on the youth stage.

The street party marks the opening of the Brunswick Music Festival which runs through March. Many performers include a gig at Brunswick Music Festival before or after they have performed at Womad or Port Fairy folk festival. There is an equal balance of local and overseas performers. Over the years I have enjoyed hearing many stirring performers, purchasing their CDs to bring back sweet memories.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMeandering through the crowds, brass bands and dancers seem to materialise from nowhere as they weave a path through the masses. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome stalls were very well patronised on the day (this year on March 1). Notice how many hats are being tried and purchased. This hat stall does a roaring trade on the blindingly sunny day. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPut the event in your calendar for next year and come along and enjoy the party!

Turkish Red Lentil ‘Bride’ Soup.

ottoman designs
ottoman designs

I first tried this nourishing soup a few years ago in Brunswick, near Melbourne. A young Turkish woman opened a small lunchtime cafe in the middle of an empty space in the Brunswick Market. She cooked her grandmother’s food from memory; it was cheap, sustaining and delicious. Her little restaurant didn’t survive, given its location inside a dingy arcade. Every now and then I see her around the streets of Brunswick and I feel like running up to tell her how much I loved her soup.  She served it in big deep bowls with a small pourer of white vinegar and a separate little saucer of dried chilli flakes on the side, along with fluffy Turkish pide, toasted in a flat sandwich maker. I have been making versions of this soup ever since then, trying to replicate her flavours and texture. It is so cheap and nourishing, you could live on it. The key to the ‘bridal’ quality of this soup is the butter. You could ‘veganise’ the recipe, but it wouldn’t taste as good.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I am indebted to Patricia Solley’s Soupsong for this close version to the real thing, to which I have made slight adjustments.

Turkish Red Lentil Bride soup –  Ezo Gelin Çorbasi

  • 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 cup red lentils, washed and picked over
  • 1/2 cup fine bulgur wheat
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste, or Biber Salcasi ( red pepper paste)
  • 8 cups vegetable stock, or water and 2 stock cubes ( use chicken stock if you prefer)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or dried red chilli flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon dried mint leaves, crumbled
  • Traditional Garnish: lemon slices, or vinegar and chilli flakes, mint.  Inauthentic garnish, yoghurt, mint leaves and chilli flakes.

Heat the butter in a large saucepan and saute the onions over low heat until they are golden, about 15 minutes. Stir in the paprika, then the lentils and bulgur to coat them in the butter. Add the tomato paste or red pepper paste ( or Biber Salcasi), the  stock and hot chilli, then bring to a boil.  Reduce to very low simmer and cook until soft and creamy, for about an hour. ( You may need a simmer mat for this and check that it doesn’t stick). OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA When ready to serve, tear the fresh mint into the soup or crumble in the dried mint. Stir, remove from heat for 10 minutes, covered, then ladle the soup into large serving bowls, serving with lemon wedges and extra mint on the side. Great with warm or toasted Turkish Pide. It’s a meal!

Turkish Bridal Soup
Turkish Bridal Soup

“The origin of this rich Turkish soup is attributed to an astonishingly beautiful girl born in 1909 in the village of Dokuzyol, located on ancient caravan routes in the Barak plain. Ezo had red cheeks and black hair and was adored by camel riders who stopped by her house for water. Her story ends badly, though–her first marriage to a villager was unhappy and she was permitted to forsake him on grounds of maltreatment. Her second marriage took her to Syria and a mother-in-law who couldn’t be pleased…and for whom, it is said, she haplessly created this soup. Ezo died of tuberculosis in Syria in 1952, but in the interim had become a legend in her native land in both folksong and film. Her name lives on in this very popular, stick-to-the-ribs soup–which is now traditionally fed to new brides, right before their wedding, to sustain them for what lies ahead.”

Patricia Solley, An Exultation of Soups.

The bridal shops of Sydney Road, Brunswick, are notorious. Some specialise in elegance.
The bridal shops of Sydney Road, Brunswick, are notorious. Some specialise in elegance.
And others do amazing bridal kitsch.
And others do amazing bridal kitsch.

In My Kitchen, August 2014

View from the kitchen windows.
View from my kitchen window.

In My Kitchen, I have assembled a few representatives of my Australiana collection, as I still call Australia home when not overcome by the need to leave or travel.  Celia, at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, generously hosts this monthly kitchen event.  Sit down, grab a coffee and take a look at other kitchens around the globe.

Temproary home for displaced items
Temporary residency for the displaced.

Things lurk in kitchen drawers, on benches or in the pantry and are ridiculously retro in style. Tins house biscuits or serve as decor, bowls provide colour, drawers are laden with linen.

Old Allens tin with Budgies. Much cuter than that other Budgie Smuggler man in speedos.
Budgerigar tin made by Allens, Melbourne.  Much classier than the Budgie Smuggler speedos favored by a certain Prime Minister.

My daughter entered the kitchen brandishing this rolling-pin in a proprietorial manner, teasing me about her wonderful op shop find.  She fully intended to give it to me, but wanted to hear me beg. So mean. Revenge is sweet.  I find things for her collections, claiming ownership for a time, then hand them over. Collectors need scouts in the field.

Porcelain rolling pin. Made in Melbourne in the 60s?
Porcelain rolling pin. Date unkown. Weapons of pastry construction.

The teatowel collection is mighty large. All linen, retro and very colourful, they depict Australian birds, outback scenes, 70s beer labels, flora and fauna, and silly poetry. They are cheery and soft to use and are handy in bread making, or useful as gift wrapping, alla Australian-Japanese kind of wrapping.  An unused retro teatowel is often the same price as a sparkly piece of paper.  Which would you prefer? The retro linen teatowel collection. I must confess to an Italian teatowel collection too!  Some of these Aussie Icons don’t get used;  they are works of art!

This classic Teatowel stays in the linen press.
North Queensland Kitsch.
 In north Queensland, Chinese workers from the goldfields established banana plantations in the 1880s around Cooktown, Port Douglas, Cairns, Innisfail and Tully.
Italian migrant labour enabled the sugar industry to thrive, after indentured  ‘kanaka’ slave labour ceased in 1901.*
Italian migrants to Tully also furthered the Australian banana industry in the 1920s.*

I make pizza and bread quite often and this Wallaby baker’s flour is just right. The flour is super fresh due to high turnover, it is GMO free, strong, and the wheat is grown in South Australia. The company is still owned by the Laucke family who have been milling flour since 1899.

Lauke Bakers flour from South Australia
The Laucke family migrated from Germany in the 1890s. What a wonderful contribution they have made to this country.

I am making a shift to Australian grown and owned products. Although I love the taste of Italian tomatoes, I am concerned about the labour exploitation involved in its production. The SPC company in Shepparton, Victoria, has struggled to maintain its operation, due to the dumping of cheap foreign goods. The Australian anti- dumping commission found that

‘56% of tomatoes imported from Italy had been dumped on Australia and two of the major exporters, I.M.C.A and Lodato, had been selling them for about 26% below their value.’

The peanut butter shown is made wholly from Queensland’s peanuts and is produced by an Aussie owned company. Whilst not wishing to sound overly patriotic, I do believe in supporting local industries. It’s good for the environment as well as supporting employment opportunities in regional towns. The detailed information on the packaging is often initially confusing  as to country of origin so now I need to take reading glasses shopping with me.

Beans means= SPC.
Beans means SPC.  Shepparton is home to 3000 Iraqis, 1300 Afghans and 1200 Sudanese, along with long standing Greek and Italian communities. Many are employed by SPC Ardmona.

Next in line are these burnt matchstick bread boards featuring Kookaburras, gum leaves, and that bridge in Sydney. As they are collector items, they are rarely used.

Australian Burnt matchstick breadboards.
Australian Burnt matchstick bread boards.

I have previously mentioned my passion for Australian pottery basins and bowls on IMK. Here is the full collection. These were made by either Hoffman or Fowler, between the 1930s and 1960s. The Hoffman pottery, located in Brunswick, Victoria, may still be seen today. Although no longer functioning, its kiln and tower have been incorporated into a modern townhouse development.

Collected Australian bowls by Fowler and Hoffman.
Collected Australian bowls by Fowler and Hoffman.

But wait, there’s more. The Arnotts biscuit tin collection, once Australian owned, covered in a plethora of parrots, Aussie honey, Tasmanian smoked salmon in the fridge, Maffra cheese, Diana ware jugs, Vegemite ( the latter icon being Australian made but now foreign-owned, is disqualified) as is Uncle Tobys ( now a subsidiary of Nestle`).

This post was brought to you by Op Shops ( thrift shops/charity stores), home of the ‘well- spotted’, and recycling.

Blokies on the kitchen bench.
Blokies sit along the kitchen bench.
  1. https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/eserv/UQ:210147/p9780646519197_2_165.pdf
  2. http://www.australianbananas.com.au/banana-facts/world-history