Sometimes when I visit Melbourne in winter, I see her as if for the first time. Perhaps it’s the light. Or maybe it’s the new energy that charges the centre with brio. Gone are the days of visiting Melbourne with an agenda, striding her university precinct to study Mandarin, travelling with trepidation to the top of Collins street to visit overpaid dentists, or trawling her centre to shop in her famous emporia.
These days, I attempt to visit the city without a particular plan. When trundling along by tram, I am often awed by the highly ornate Victorian facades along the southern end of Elizabeth Street, which only become visible from the height of a tram. Winter evokes Melbourne’s past, highlighting the beauty of granite, sandstone, marble and blue stone. While surrounded by modern colour and plenty of action, my lens fleetingly lands on her historic elements.
From Federation Square, where a group of visiting Chinese have set up a colourful display of large pandas to promote tourism to Chengdu, I wander to a quiet spot and find a lone seagull bathing in mystic sunlight, with gothic St Paul’s in the background.
The familiar Flinder’s Street station, an ochre- coloured Victorian fantasy, takes on a new look as its northern facade is under restoration. Christo comes to town.
She was sitting on a bluestone step near the corner of Rutledge Lane, just past the paint splattered wheelie bins. A waif of a girl, pallid and twig like, she looked like a Manga character, except her eyes were too small and demeanor too fragile. She was wearing a pastel coloured checked shirt over faded denim jeans, her long hair bleached white with pale blue dip- dyed ends. She was rolling a cigarette slowly and self- consciously, not street wise enough to adopt the insouciance of more experienced street artists. She didn’t appear to be homeless, there was something too studied about her appearance for that. Perhaps she came to admire her own art, or to contemplate her next one, or to rue the loss of her favourite piece.
Street art in Hosier Lane and its right-angled annex, Rutledge Lane, is transient. Each visit brings new surprises, new styles, as the genre mutates and evolves. Recent additions include more stencil art and written messages, some with environmental and political content, others with random thoughts.
In the digital age, where many children have instant access to famous art images from worldwide galleries, a visit to a national gallery may produce two completely opposite responses: they will either be enthralled, eager and stimulated or bored, indifferent and restless. Fortunately for me, I visited the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) with a young art sponge: the day was a huge success for both of us. Oliver was keen to visit Van Gogh and the Seasons, an exhibition of 50 paintings and drawings by Van Gogh, which is now showing at the NGV until July 12. Like many other 8 year olds, he had some previous knowledge of the works of Vincent, mostly through art programmes at his school. He had also spent time with me leafing through large glossy art books and discussing these images, something that the curious love doing with an older person, unlike the image trawling, swipe, reject, like, swipe attention span deficient pastimes of today, where discussion, reading, and dialogue are sadly missing.
Our visit was planned a few weeks beforehand, with a discussion of Vincent’s works and a look at a couple of other art movements in history. Oliver was also keen to see the work of Picasso, his current favourite artist, and fortunately, the NGV holds one small painting. He was also keen to see the Michelangelo’s Pietà and Leonardo’s Mona Lisa! I think this boy may need to travel to Italy and France one day.
Detail from Van Gogh, Seasons, NGV
Detail from Van Gogh, Seasons, NFV
Detail from Van Gogh, Seasons, NGV
Detail from Van Gogh. Seasons. NGV
Detail from Van Gogh, Seasons, NGV
Before embarking on a trip to the Gallery with young children, consider the following:
The age of the child. Kids’ attention spans differ greatly from age to age.
The interests of the child. Not everyone travels with an ‘art sponge’ but a trip to the gallery can be tailored to meet the interests of the child.
Pre- planning. Go through the collections online and choose a few pieces from one or two areas that are appealing rather than wandering aimlessly.
Limit the visit to one or two sections so that they are keen to return.
Be informed about the works you have decided to visit. Kids ask a lot of curly questions.
They probably won’t read the plaques alongside each painting. Kids will find stories in the works that will surprise you. I usually ask them to read the date and the artist of each piece.
Don’t be surprised if they move along faster than you would like.
Factor in a few breaks. There are lots of chairs and couches about the gallery. Have a break here and there.
Buy them a few postcards of famous artworks at the end as mementos of their visit.
If visiting a temporary exhibition, such as Van Gogh and the Seasons, book the tickets online before you go and arrive at opening time. There is nothing worse than trying to appreciate art through a sea of heads and iPhones.
The NGV is free of charge- only temporary exhibitions have entrance fees – and is surprisingly empty on a Saturday morning.
A few surprises for Oliver included Tiepolo’s The Banquet of Cleopatra, held in the 17th to 18th Century European Paintings Gallery, Level 2, NGV International. I am saving a few edited stories about this one for our next visit. He loved the grandeur of it, the dog, and the costumes. Other surprises included the Egyptian Sarcophagus, 700 BC, which led to an endless array of questions about dates, maths, AD versus BC, and the promise that we would return to visit the Egyptian and Ancient Art Collection next time.
I also discovered a few gems and am looking forward to returning to immerse myself in the Art of the Sublime, an English art movement that I find intriguing, and a concept where the word ‘sublime’ ( like other tainted words such as awesome, terrible, amazing, horrible) held far more meaning that it does today. Two works from this movement caught my eye. Mount St Michael, Cornwall by Clarkson Stanfield, 1830 and After the Massacre of Glencoe, by Peter Graham 1889, might need a solo visit, with the stories and the history of Glencoe stored until the young ‘art sponge’ is 14 or so. Let’s hope he’s still keen.
Oliver was impressed that there were no fakes in the gallery, something that I just took for granted but that many kids don’t. The geekish acronym IRL, or In Real Life, resonates loudly here. He is keen to return and I can’t think of a lovelier person to accompany me.
Have you ever eaten something wonderful at a restaurant, determined to replicate the same dish at home? After enjoying the two course lunch special at Cecconi’s cellar bar earlier this week, I inquired about the dessert of the day, hoping that it would be something wintry and old-fashioned. Oh happy day, the dolce del giorno was a wedge of apple, walnut and cinnamon cake, comforting and grandmotherly, jazzed up with modern restaurant toppings, including cinnamon ice cream, tiny cubes of apple jelly and something crunchy, perhaps a disc of meringue. No photo was taken: greed intervened long before any thoughts of pics entered my mind. It was good.
My version is close enough to Cecconi’s torta, without the flash toppings. A little dusting of icing sugar is enough but a dollop of Frangelico infused mascarpone goes well too. The cake morphs into a simple dessert when warmed and served with custard or ice cream. Hideous winter begone with a little warm pudding.
Torta di Mele, Noce e Cannella. Apple, Walnut and Cinnamon cake.
200 gr butter
250 gr caster sugar
300 gr plain flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
100 gr chopped walnuts
500 gr apples, peeled, cored, finely diced
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter a 20 cm square tin. Dust with flour or line with parchment if you prefer.
Cream butter and sugar well then add eggs, one at a time, and beat until creamy.
Mix together the flour, cinnamon and baking powder then add to the batter.
Fold in the walnuts and apples. Place in the prepared baking tin, ( it will be a stiff batter), smoothing the top, then bake for 60 minutes. Rest before turning onto a wire rack.
In my kitchen and its surrounding leisure zone, we are keeping warm as today’s temperature hovers between 2°C to 14°C. It will get colder. Spending more time indoors, mostly hanging around the old Huon pine table, means efficient heating becomes imperative. One early improvement we made to the kitchen and dining area was the installation of double glazing. This, more than any other home improvement, has been worth the cost. In this much lived in area, the windows face north with narrow overhanging eaves. The house, designed in the 1980s, incorporates some aspects of passive solar principles, whereby the low angle of the winter sun warms the room, with the reverse occurring in the height of summer.
Our new wood heater adds another layer of warmth and an appealing glow. Nectre heaters are Australian made and have a great reputation. This bakers oven heats a 10 square space very efficiently. Cooking stock on the top of the heater saves on gas. I look forward to mastering the use of the little oven.
In this warm space, little vignettes of domesticity capture my attention, especially when a few strong shafts of light stream in. I find myself grabbing the camera more often, trying to capture that heavenly baroque light. That, or curling up on a sun bathed couch with a good book. Note that the new interloper, the clothes airer, has been edited out, along with the oversized kitchen table, now cluttered with a deluge of pastimes, paperwork and pencils.
Drying out mandarin and orange peels on or near the wood stove fills the kitchen area with citrus fragrance. The dried peels make great firelighters.
A large express postal bag arrived last week. Peter, who lives in Far North Queensland, sent me an assortment of tropical fruit he picked that morning. The slightly squashed papaya, the rambutan and mangosteen brought the heady perfumes of tropical rainforest to my kitchen. Peter also sent a swag of ginger, galangal and turmeric which grow in plague proportions in his yard. I’ve frozen most of these gems to make an authentic Indonesian curry in the future.
Today I picked all the remaining borlotti beans from the garden. The first frosts of the year will arrive this week: all the green tomatoes need to be gathered and the lemongrass divided and potted up for winter. The borlotti beans prefer Autumn weather. They were sown in late February and matured slowly. I am very pleased with this year’s haul.
There’s a stack of recently acquired cookbooks in my kitchen. To be truthful, there are little stacks of books everywhere in my house. Not mess, I’ll have you know. Decor and Inspiration! Some of these books were found at my favourite second-hand shop: My China by Kylie Kwong cost less than a copy of a weekend newspaper, as did Beverley Sutherland Smith’s The Seasonal Kitchen. Made in Italy by Silvia Colocca was a birthday gift from my sister. I bought Bourke Street Bakery online and am not finding it so useful, and Leanne Kitchen’s Turkey and The Baker also turned up somewhere very cheaply. Now I have to address the lack of bookshelf space.
Some baby Roma tomatoes, the last of the season, ripen on the northern windowsill.
A couple of second-hand items, a matching spotted jug and sugar bowl, found in that same second-hand store now hang out with the white stuff, shells, feathers and dead lizard on my kitchen dresser. As my friend Di would say, ‘Well spotted’.
Thanks Sherry of Sherry’s Pickings for hosting this monthly series. Your new system is working smoothly.
It’s shopping day. Come along with me to the Brunswick Market, not many Melburnians know about it. The uninviting blue concrete facade gives no hint of the treasure hidden within. I’ll lead the way, just follow me down through the windowless cavern, past the Turkish Kebab place on the left ( try to resist their big bowl of red lentil soup or the eggy Shanklish ) and the Iraqi Barber on the right, the one favoured by Mr T for $15 haircuts. In the centre of the hall is an open sided cafe, whose owner set up about 18 months ago. She is now doing well. Her gozleme are as soft as fresh lasagne, stuffed with intense green spinach, and receives my ‘Best Gozleme in Melbourne’ award. We’ll grab one on the way out. She makes other savoury pastries, including potato and onion Borek and Simit, as well cakes filled with almond meal and nuts. There are many other specialty stalls here: a shoe shop and repair business run by a Greek man, a mobile phone fixit guy, run by a Chinese man, a clothing alteration store, a Turkish CD shop, just in case you fancy a bit of belly dancing on the way through, and a clothing store selling nazar boncuğu, those lucky blue eye amulets, hijabs, colourful scarves and outrageous silver embossed leggings.
Here we are at the food section. In the centre is a large Turkish deli, specialising in all sorts of yoghurt, brined cheeses, grains, pulses and condiments such as Pekmez and Biber Salçası. Further along is the Vietnamese fish shop. They also manage supplies for hotels and restaurants so you can order anything you fancy. The fish here is sparkling fresh and they know the source of all species on offer. Ask the lovely woman from Hanoi to shuck six Tasmanian oysters for you then devour them on the spot. Over from the Vietnamese fish shop is the Italian butcher, with his sign, Vendiamo Capretti ( we sell young goat). His pork sausages, full of fennel, chilli and spice, are the best in Melbourne according to my carnivore sons.
Until recently, there was a Halal butcher shop and a free range chicken shop but both have recently closed. A sign of things to come? Finally we get to Russell’s fruit shop, owned by Turks but staffed by Nepalese and Indians. It’s the busy end of the market where you can find the things that never turn up in supermarkets: knobbly yellow quinces, tables full of cheap pomegranates, ready to split and reveal their bijoux, piles of red peppers, shiny and irregularly shaped, curly cucumbers, every kind of bean- Roman, Snake, Borlotti, lime coloured Turkish snake peppers grown in Mildura, rows of eggplants, long, short, miniature and striped. It’s the antithesis of a modern supermarket.
Part of this walk involves chatting. While buying red lentils at the Turkish deli, I’ve nodded politely as two ladies gave me their different versions of the best way to make Mercimek Köftesi, orred lentil kofte. I once went halves in a kilo of filleted Western Australian sardines at the fish shop. An Egyptian woman told me in detail how she would cook her half. People love to talk about food here. You will also be recognised and remembered. And the hipsters of Brunswick? They mostly avoid the place. I wonder why?
Fresh fish at the Brunswick Market. Knowing the source. Ready to chat and clean to order.
My market friend.
Fresh fish stall, Brunswick Market.
Red Lentil Soup with Minted Eggplant is based on a recipe by Leanne Kitchen. The original recipe ( see below) makes a truck load. I halved the quantities and still had enough for 6 bowls. I also lessened the salt, added 2 tablespoons of Biber Salçası ( Justin Bieber in a jar) and kept the amount of garlic. The original is pale in colour. With the added Biber paste, the soup looks more vivid. Eggplants are now in season, and red lentils are one of my favourite budget foods. Eat well for less.
150 ml extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
625 g red lentils
2.5 litres chicken or light vegetable stock
60 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons salt
500 g eggplant ( about 1 large) cut into 1 cm pieces
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 teaspoons dried mint
2/½ teaspoons sweet paprika
3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped, to serve.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 6-7 minutes or until softened but not brown. Add the lentils and stock, then bring to a simmer, skimming the surface to remove any impurities. Add the Biber Salçası if using. Reduce heat to low, partially cover the pan, and simmer for 40-50 minutes. Add the lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Meanwhile sprinkle the salt over the chopped eggplant in a colander and set aside for 20 minutes. Rinse the eggplant, then drain and pat dry. Heat the remaining oil in a large, heavy based frying pan over medium high heat. Ass the eggplant and cook for 6 minutes turning often, until golden and tender. Ass the garlic and cook for 2 minutes then add the dried mint and paprika and cook for another minute or until fragrant.
To serve, divide the soup among the bowls and spoon over the eggplant mixture and scatter with the fresh mint.
Recipe by Leanne Kitchen. Turkey. Recipes and tales from the road. Murdoch Books Pty Ltd 2011.
Brunswick Market, 655 Sydney Road, Brunswick. Let’s hope this market survives as the sweep of gentrification and apartment wonderland takes over the inner city.
Melbourne’s secret lanes, inner suburban streets, Victorian historic precincts and 19th century abandoned factories and warehouses have turned from grunge to gentry. Colourful street art provides a changing landscape; painted facades give life to the severe modern apartment blocks tucked behind. Good graffiti is embraced. Railway bike paths open up a whole new world to the backstreet artist and walker.
The best way to enjoy Melbourne is to wander. The tram network services all inner suburban areas. Leave the car at home, take the tram then stroll. These images were taken recently along Rose Street, Fitzroy, close to the city. Catch the tram along Nicholson street and disembark at Rose Street. Start walking, and do not get distracted at the Brunswick Street intersection.
The following collage can be viewed as a media file. Open one picture below and the journey down Rose street will follow.
I rang my 13-year-old grandson to ask if he had eaten any hot cross buns today. He sounded disinterested and replied ‘no’, in a polite but bemused way. I could almost hear his brain ticking over, perhaps with a ‘What the ..? Has Nanna finally lost the plot, ringing me about Hot Cross Buns?’ After all, the kids have been eating these buns since Boxing Day. That’s when they begin appearing in Australian supermarkets. By the time Good Friday comes around, the novelty has worn off. So much for tradition.
I then rang my eldest son, and asked him the same question. At least he is perfectly aware of the symbolic nature of these buns. No, he had also had his fill of the supermarket product along the way, and was whipping up some scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast. Yes, another pagan in our midst. I am the first one to appreciate the secular nature of our society: I am not only a ‘collapsed’ Catholic but also don’t count myself as Christian. Having said that, I don’t see much point in throwing the baby out with the bathwater. After all, these buns are a seasonal and festive treat and it’s important to explain the meaning of the added crosses to the young folk. History and tradition form a part of who we are. At the same time, we happily appropriate any Buddhist and Hindu rituals that may suit us along the way. Buddhist meditation becomes mindfulness ( and loses a lot in translation), Diwali is taking off in Australia and Chinese New year is popular too. Australia is a wonderful melting pot of cultures, but as we grab hold of the new, we should also at least understand the old, and adapt some of those traditions to our modern taste.
I now make hot Cross buns annually, just a dozen. The yeasted variety is light and perfect for our Autumnal weather. Next year I will increase the amount of spice in the recipe I used. They cost very little to make and are far more digestible than the common supermarket variety. If you are a beginner at yeasted baking, try Celia’s recipe here. It is foolproof and very straightforward.
The other fond tradition I hang on to is my dedication to cooking smoked Cod on Good Friday. This is an old Irish Catholic Australian thing. Most Scottish descendants did not have this bright yellow dyed fish imposed on them as youngsters on Good Friday. If you feel slightly ambivalent about smoked cod, go to the fish market and buy the real thing from the Shetland Islands which tastes peaty and less salty. I buy it at the Preston Market, from one fishmonger who has, by 9 am on Easter Thursday, queues 5 deep. I am told by Sandra that it is available all year round at the Prahran market.
One way to enjoy a piece of good quality smoked Cod is to forget your grandmother’s recipe, which consisted of an overcooked piece of fish, served with white parsley sauce, alongside boiled vegetables. Maintaining the tradition but stepping it up a notch or two makes the elements of this dish more appetising. Make an Easter fish pie, incorporating the poached smoked cod, along with poached white fish and a handful of shrimp, in a white sauce, and top with buttery mashed potato. The sides? A tossed green salad with lots of mustard in the dressing, another Irish note.
This post was inspired by my friend Peter’s comment a few days ago. Peter lives in tropical Far North Queensland, where some of these culinary traditions would seem totally out-of-place.
When the first suggestion of Winter arrives, right in the middle of Autumn, it’s a reminder to gather wood for the fires and adjust the wardrobe and mental outlook for the oncoming cold season. Many Melburnians still have their head in the sand, believing that Australia is a hot place. For six months of the year, it’s cold and inhospitable, with dreary grey skies dominating the landscape, and black dressing de rigeur. Out come the Michelin man garments, those unflattering and un-environmental puffer jackets and vests that work rather well, along with fingerless gloves, berets and warm leggings, umbrellas and wind jackets. I’m not a fan of Winter but in theory, it does have a certain romantic appeal.
And that appeal centres around soup. Late Autumn soups become thick and creamy, a French purée or perhaps an Italian crema. Lunchtime zuppa del giorno loaded with beans or pulses, is eaten as a piatta unica withcrusty bread. Vegetarian shepherds pie makes a comeback, Autumn’s new eggplants feature in rich Turkish fare dressed with Pekmez, and the day might culminate with a sharp cheddar cheese served with whisky laced fig jam, a salty, sweet and peaty treat beside the fire. Served with a single malt of course.
One of my favourite creamed soups, Cullen Skink, features smoked fish. Cullen is a small fishing village on the east coast of Scotland and is well worth a visit, while Skink ( no, not a small lizard) may be derived from soups made with shins or ham bones. There are as many versions of Cullen Skink as there are Scots. Some like it chunky: others, like me, prefer it pureed. The main thing that each recipe has in common is simplicity: potatoes, smoked fish, onions and milk. Once you begin adding fresh fish, or bacon or any other bits and pieces, the soup becomes a chowder.
Cullen Skink, for four servings or two greedy sized servings.
I tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large stick celery, finely chopped
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1cm cubes
300 ml water
250 g smoked haddock, or mackerel, skin on.
1 bay leaf
250 ml milk
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley or chives
In a large heavy based saucepan, sauté the onion and celery till soft. Add the potatoes and cover barely with water. Bring to the boil, lower to medium heat and cook until the potatoes are soft.
Meanwhile, in a separate pan, add the milk, smoked fish and bay leaf. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 8 minutes or so while the potatoes are cooking.
Remove the fish from the milk. Skin the fish, carefully remove the flesh, discard all the bones and skin, then strain the milk back into the pot containing the potato. Add the flaked fish. Bring back to high heat. Then puree using a hand-held stick blender. Add more milk or cream to thin a little if you prefer. Reheat,
Add finely chopped parsley or chives to serve, with crusty bread.
* The choice of smoked fish is important. Look for small, dark whole fish, not the supermarket, chemically dyed yellow cod, or smoked salmon or trout, the latter being too mild in flavour. New Zealand readers will have more options as more varieties of smoked fish are readily available in NZ supermarkets and fishmongers.
An interesting Guardian article about the ins and outs of Cullen Skink can be found here.
Which season do you prefer? What are your thoughts on Puffer Jackets? Do you like smoked foods?
The sandy perimeter of Port Phillip Bay is transformed into a natural amphitheatre on sunny evenings as thousands of residents and holiday makers drag their chairs onto the beach to watch the unfolding drama. The lighting is usually spectacular and moody, heat haze softening the detail of looming vessels, late afternoon sun turning the ripple of a ship’s wash into a flash of diamonds, while lone paddle board rowers or frisbee throwers appear as blackened puppets in a Wayang show. The vast expanse of water and sky are a Cyclopean back drop. Let the show begin.
Enter the crippled Norwegian Star, a cruise boat that had left Melbourne Port the preceding Thursday, now being pulled and guided along by two tug boats. The Norwegian Star became stranded at sea due to a malfunctioning propeller system. As the ship was still only 30 kilometers from Wilson’s Promontory, Melbourne’s famous heroes, the tug boats, came to the rescue. The movement across Port Phillip Bay took more than 10 hours as the audience raised a glass, stubby or binoculars from the comfort of their gold class seats. A tragedy in slow motion.
Heroes, the tug boats of Melbourne
The Norwegian Star
Relax with Max at the Bay Show
The crippled ship assumes the shape of a glowing white ingot as it turns the corner at Mt Martha on its slow journey back to port. The cruise ship, with its 3000 passengers, has been saved by the powerful little tugs.
Another creature enters stage left, a dark, elongated and slightly menacing container ship, the Hyundai. The sky blackens: the sea turns turquoise.
This sleek, fast-moving character is transformed into a comic figure as it moves off into the distance; the lighting changes once again, as the Hyundai becomes a colourful Humpty Dumpty or a cubist cupcake on the horizon, precariously balancing its load.