Monday, 20 July 2009

Pack your bags, it's time to move!

Jetsetting Joyce is moving to her new home! It's got bay windows, a large vege patch, a huge sunny kitchen, a walk-in wardrobe, sea views and a cosy fireplace.

Well, sort of. Come visit me at my new location ( because I'm putting the dust covers on this page today.

Friday, 17 July 2009

HOT: UK Overgrown, Panelpop, 117 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

I'm a little disappointed that I won't be in Melbourne this weekend, as otherwise I'd be completely immersed in State of Design, Victoria's design festival.

Fortunately, some of the events are open during the course of ten day festival. So today I decided to visit the venue closest to me, Panelpop, which is displaying a series of photographs entitled 'UK Overgrown'.

This small exhibition displays a handful of photographs by Collingwood-based photographer Adrian Lander, taken while he was visiting London, Sussex and Wales. The works explore our desire to tame the natural environment around us, but if we're not vigilant, Mother Nature will laugh delightedly and quickly reclaim it. The atmosphere of the pictures ranged from creepy to comical, with my favourite works being a pair of photographs of 'plants gone nuts' - a hedge looking like it was about to attack a suburban garage and a vine creeping up a lamp post like strangler fig, pointedly juxtaposed against a background of uninspired cement buildings and other man-made objects. The other work I loved was a photograph of another lamp post, but this time it looked like the electrical wires were radiating from an organic core.

While I was giggling at the cheeky plants, Tony the owner of Panelpop told me to touch the paintings. Wow! I could feel the ridges of the panelled fibreglass house and the coarseness of a hedgerows under my fingertips. Panelpop specialise in what they call a 'new art medium'. They claim recycled wood from people who would normally throw it in the tip and reuse polystyrene from the Queen Victoria Market stallholders to reinforce the back of the frames. The framed surface is given a coating made from gypsum based cement and industrial by-product which means that the works are scratch and weather resistant and don't require glass protection.

If I had a spare $980 then I'd be buying one of Adrian Lander's prints and hanging it on my balcony next to my vege pots. As such, I might have to be content with uploading one of my own photos to Panelpop.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

HOT: Telegramstop

Today I've been channelling my inner Swedish housewife by baking some cinnamon buns and walnut and sultana bread. As I haven't managed to leave the house yet (it's so warm and smells so good!), I thought I'd write an overdue HOT about Telegramstop.

Everyone's communicating via the electronic world these days. I confess that I write emails to my friends more often than I call them, RM often likes to send me hyperlinks to articles and my mum forwards me Youtube clips. So when RM and I wanted to send our guests a 'Save the Date' notice for our wedding, we didn't just want to just ping a mass email or post a cream-embossed card with calligraphy and pink hearts on it.

Enter Telegramstop. I don't normally review online businesses as generally there's nothing specifically Melburnian about them. However, in this case I know that Telegramstop are based in Melbourne and I think they deserve a lot of love. Basically, the easy-to-use website allows you to write a personalised message (with STOPs!), which is printed on authentically vintage paper and date-stamped in a wonky post-office-worker kind of way. The telegram is then popped into a bright yellow envelope and can be posted to anyone in the world for US$4.70.

I was one of the first bulk orders they received and the service I was received was thoughtful and patient. Most importantly, all of our guests located all around the world loved receiving their telegrams!

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

HOT: Degraves Espresso Bar, 23 Degraves St, Melbourne

Blind dates are always a risky endeavour. But I've always had good luck forming close friendships when my friends set me up with their friends, and even once managed to sustain a two year relationship as a result of a blind friend date. So when Matchmaker Huy suggested that Jenny and I meet Andrea (' I think you all will really get along, mainly because you're all Asian chicks with white boyfriends'), I thought 'of course!'.

Degraves Espresso Bar is the worst-kept secret of the best of Melbourne's secretive laneway cafes. Cosy and convivial, it was one of the first places which gave Melbourne its European-living reputation and those cinema seats and school desks are still rocking it. However, the louche atmosphere and quirky decor are basically propping up the so-so food. My spaghetti with mussels and chorizo ($17.90) was fragrant and hearty, but the pasta was overcooked way past al dente - in my book an unforgiveable error for a professional kitchen. Despite that hiccup, the date went well - Andrea really is very similar to Jenny and I, except with long hair!

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

HOT: Red Cliff, Cinema Nova, 380 Lygon St, Carlton

Red Cliff is an epic Chinese drama based on events described in the ancient Chinese historical text "Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms". The story is very well known in Chinese literature in a romantised version 'Romance of the Three Kingdoms', which may partly explain the film adaptation's phenomenal box office takings in China and Hong Kong. It's the most expensive Asian-financed film to date and it shows.

In the final days of the Han Dynasty, the Prime Minister Cao Cao invades the land of Wu with his immense army and navy in an attempt to unite China for the Han Emperor and for his personal ambition and infatuation. He is held back by an alliance between the ruler of Wu, Sun Quan and the warlord Liu Bei, which culminates in the Battle of Red Cliff. Obviously the cause of the just and good prevails.

The film is clearly in the oeuvre of 'beat-em-up' action director John Woo. There are extended bloody battle scenes with thousands of cavalry, blood splatters frequently arc across the lens and there is lots of rapid-fire zoom-in zoom-out camera work. The action is laughably ridiculous at times (catching arrows in mid-air while galloping), there is an element of overacting and the characterisation is generally one-dimensional. However, what the film lacks in subtlety it makes up for sheer grandeur of a huge cast and the sweeping CGI work in the scenery of the Yangtze river and the battle scenes. This is the kind of film which can only be appreciated on a big screen. It's the bigger than Ben Hur aspects of the film which are the most enjoyable and exciting aspects, rather than the contrived personal moments of the warriors, including many unnecessary lingering shots of Zhou Yu's beautiful wife Xiao Qiao.

HOT: Japanese Bath House, 59 Cromwell St, Collingwood

The Japanese Bath House is located just a short walk from my house, so as part of the extended 30th birthday festivities I thought I'd treat myself to a rejuvenating soak. I'm not old, I'm just dehydrated!

The bath house is an unprepossessing white brick building, sitting amongst the grungy warehouses of fashion wholesalers. However, slide open the glass door and it is an oasis of calm, with trickling water and green foliage. You're handed a bath towel, a scrubbing towel, a smaller towel to protect your bum from the heat of the sauna benches and a robe, and then you can proceed upstairs to the gender segregated baths.

The procedure for bathing was much the same as any other sento/onsen (which uses natural spring water). I stripped naked, sat on a small stool and scrubbed myself pink, then slid into the warm bath, breathing in the wafting scent of cedar wood as I closed my eyes. After it got too hot, I washed myself again, popped into the sauna for a steam, then back out for a refreshing shower, another dip in the warm bath and one final shower. The whole process took about an hour, after which time I wrapped myself in a robe and lazed in the tatami room reading 'The Housewife's Handbook: How to Run the Modern Home'.

While I love the soothing ritual of Japanese baths, and the egalitarianism of young, wrinkly, fat and thin all bathing together, I'm not sure I would go to Japanese Bath House again because my silky smooth skin cost me $26 (more if you book a shiatsu massage). Cheaper than flying to Japan, I guess.

Monday, 13 July 2009

HOT: Anada, 197 Gertrude St, Fitzroy

If you have a Monday birthday there aren't too many options for a birthday meal, so I was delighted when Tranzie suggested that they treat me to dinner at the Spanish restaurant Anada, one of those funky Gertrude St places that I just never got around to trying before.

The chef has previously worked at Moro in London and Movida so with that pedigree we quickly decided on the 9 course banquet ($48). Unfortunately my camera couldn't handle the dim lighting so I can't show you the procession of delicious dishes, from little glasses of celeriac soup with black salt, sardines wrapped in vine leaves and pork cheeks with crispy crackling and rice pilaf. I highly recommend the banquet for its breadth of flavour and textures, and you come away extremely full (so I don't recommend splashing out on the 12 course banquet). In fact, I suspect the proper adult-sized portions makes Anada the 'Anti-Gigibaba'.

HOT: Every Little Step, Cinema Nova, 380 Lygon St, Carlton

A Chorus Line is every dancer's story: the childhood dreams, constant work and injury, the ruthless auditions, hope for the 'big break' and soul-destroying disappointment.

In 2006, the musical was revived for Broadway and open call castings were announced. 3000 dancers lined the streets to audition for nineteen roles, from seasoned Broadway performers to newbies from New Jersey. Every Little Step is a documentary following the audition process from the beginning to the end and it provides an insight into the tough life of showbiz. Basically, you've got to like yourself, because not everyone will like you every time. You've got to believe in yourself, as it's possible that you are a great dancer, great singer, great actor, but you're not at the right place at the right time, and even though you try your best and do everything right, you still may not end up with a job.

The audition process is interspersed with interviews with the original 70s cast production, who discuss how A Chorus Line was developed from midnight taped interviews that dancer/choreographer Michael Bennett conducted with a group of dancers.

Every Little Step is an engaging and entertaining film and in fact seeing all those bright young hopefuls go away empty-handed had me bawling. Maybe I identified with them a bit too deeply, because they, like me, need a job.

HOT: Mediterranean Wholesalers, 482 Sydney Rd, Brunswick

I think the best way to navigate Mediterranean Wholesalers is to bring your own Italian nonna. Really, they should offer a No-Nonsense Nonna rental service along with the shopping trolleys.

Since no such service exists, I was left to face the fomidable rows of dried pasta shapes on my own. The supermarket also sells pallets of other mediterranean goods, from caranoli rice to tomato passata, jerry cans of olive oil, frozen filled pasta, as well as offering fresh bread, wine, sweets and deli products such as chorizo and baccala. When you're done with your shopping, you can even settle down at the authentic-looking Italian bar for an espresso and a slice of super-cheap apple cake or marble cake.

My shopping basket:
  • frozen beef tortellini ($5.50)
  • Carmelina sundried tomatoes ($4.55)
  • Mazzetti pesto because I don't have enough basil to make my own now ($4.65)
  • La Risera Arborio rice - just picked a brand randomly ($2.99)
  • Reggia pasta - again no idea, but I spotted a little old lady stocking up on the sale items, so figured it must be ok ($0.99-$1.19)
  • Di Martino bucatini - mainly just so I'd have a point of comparison for the Reggia pasta ($1.19)
  • Di Martino Calamarata - cos it came in a nifty box and was an unusual ring shape ($2.29)
  • Montefiore mozzarella and prosciutto for my pizza ($3.99)
  • Giant hunk of grana padano - 600g was the smallest I could find! ($11.91)
  • Arroz de Calasparra - the best rice for paella as told to me by a snobby Spaniard ($7.95). It's double the price at Simon Johnson!
If anyone can enlighten me as to what brands I should have been buying or whether I made the right choices, please let me know!

HOT: A1 Bakery, 645 Sydney Rd, Brunswick

I remember my first visit to A1 Bakery and being astounded by the cheap prices for the freshly baked lebanese pizzas. Well, amost 5 years on and it's still dirt cheap, mostly hovering around the $3 mark.

My zaatar pizza ($1.50!) consisted of a soft pillowy base, the complete opposite of a crispy Italian crust, topped with a tangy zaatar. There's lots of other (basic) toppings to choose from, and the warm bready base was so good that I could have kept eating and eating. However, I wanted to save room for one of the delicious baklava - a morsel of intense sweetness with firm filo pastry and a hint of orange-blossom water ($1).

On a Monday afternoon the spartan dining area was a microcosm of harmonious multicultural Australia: pimple-faced youths; middle-aged Lebanese men arguing animatedly; stout po-faced matrons dressed in black hajibs; and Anglo families with kids mesmerised by the lurid Lebanese music video on the flat screen TV. It made me feel warm and fuzzy inside!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

HOT: Hausfrau Bakery and Cakes, 32A Ballarat St, Yarraville

Hausfrau is a cute bakery cafe styled with kitsch 50s-style laminate, enamel jugs and crockery of bright blooms which serves an array of savoury and sweet treats as well as selling loaves of bread. Its warm cosiness was very popular when we popped in for a movie post-mortem so we had to wait a while before securing a table on a Sunday afternoon.

It's the perfect location for an afternoon nibble and general gossip - flaky mini sausage rolls, a pastry snail, cute citrussy cupcake and a corn cake with tomato relish. And if you're a true hausfrau, you can even buy a hausfrau canvas shopping bag ($4.50) or apron ($20)!

HOT: Coco Avant Chanel, Sun Theatre, 8 Ballarat St, Yarraville

Gabrielle Chanel wasn't just a seamstress who made pretty clothes. She deserves respect for being a canny and ambitious businesswoman who freed generations from corsets, crinolines and big patisserie hats. By doing so, she also helped bring forth the kind of feminist thinking that was ahead of her time.

This film covers the beginning of her amazing life from her poor childhood, dumped at an orphanage, to couturier and fashion celebrity Coco Chanel. The film is a beautiful set piece for the deep dark eyes and poised elegance of Audrey Tatou, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Chanel and who manages to bring some depth to a thinly written character.

The pace of the film is also a bit unbalanced. We spend an inordinate amount of time with her when she is the lover/protegee of the rich, middle-aged Etienne Balsan, only spend a little bit of time on her ill-fated romance with the English aristocrat Arthur Capel, who funded her first stores, influenced on her style and who's death was probably the most devastating event in Chanel's life, and when she leaves Balsan's chateau for Paris, it's like all of a sudden she's a success! The film has also been criticised for glossing over the more unsavoury aspects of Chanel's life in her later years, but her life was so full of drama that one film could only ever cover a segment of her life.

The film isn't terrible or fantastic, and it's a nice girly day out (lots of beautiful clothes to admire), especially in the Art Deco surroundings of the Sun Theatre. The wide leather seats (some double love-seats) were incredibly comfortable and reminded me of the plush surroundings of the Electric Cinema.

Friday, 10 July 2009

HOT: Alice in Wonderland featuring Little Creatures, Cafe Vue, Little Collins St, Melbourne

As I mentioned before, my birthday treat from my parents was dinner and drinks at Cafe Vue.

It wasn't as busy on Friday night as I was expecting, so we had our pick of the outdoor tables (with overhead heaters). For the next three hours, we tripped through Alice in Wonderland with drinks in hand, alcoholic for RM, non-alcoholic for moi.

First up was triangles of gruyere and mushroom croque monsieur topped with intensely fragrant truffles. A taste sensation of wintery earthiness matched with The Mad-Hatter's Tea (Pipsqueak apple cider with lime) and a blood orange juice and ginger beer concoction.

Then my favourite dish, steamed Angasi oysters with Chinese wine and brown bread. The juicy and creamy oysters apparently came from the best oyster man in Australia and each rested in an edible 'shell' - brown bread baked into the shape of an oyster shell. Served with a pint of White Rabbit ale and pineapple juice, chinotto and honey syrup mix which tasted surprisingly like the ale, without the beery bitterness.

'Cabbages and King...Fish' consisted of a topsy-turvy plate of chips that looked like fish and fish that looked like chips! The dish was served with a pint of Little Creatures Pilsner and a mocktail of mango puree, limonata, orange blossom water and soda water.

A bizarre March Hare's carrot and goat's cheese gnocchi with beetroot dressing. The 'gnocchi' was actually cheese that had undergone some chemical process so they were presented as little tubular marshmallows. The carrot had been cooked over many hours so it had infused the flavours of stock. A bit of magic went into the Pale in Thyme cocktail, which consisted of a pale ale with the initial bitterness removed by the flavours of thyme, leaving only the lemon myrtle flavour at the back of the palate. My drink consisted thyme syrup, passionfruit puree, lemon syrup and sugar syrup.

Finally, breakfast-as-dessert reminiscent of The Fat Duck. We each received an egg carton labelled Pullet Eggs (poulet, haha) where the eggs had been replaced with madeleines filled with lemon curd or topped egg shells filled with a layer of vanilla custard and tea jelly. Hmmmm.....

All in all, a very enjoyable night of creative and delicious food, lots of drinks and the great service typified by all my Vue de Monde experiences. You'll have until the end of July if you want to follow me down the rabbit hole.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

HOT: Gertude Walkabout, Gertrude Street Projection Festival, Gertrude St, Fitzroy

Like High Street Northcote, Gertrude Street is a creative hub which runs an arts festival in partnership with residents of the street. The annual Gertrude St Projection Festival exhibits projection art onto shops, restaurants and pubs and this year artists had to interpret the theme of 'dream'.

On a wintery Thursday night some of my book club members and I joined Gertrude Walkabout, a walking tour from Smith St to Nicholson St conducted by the Gertrude St Association. The talk was particularly informative because en route we ran into some of the artists, who were able to discuss the inspiration and techniques behind their work.
I was entranced by the work of the feature artist Yandell Watson, particularly Night Walkers. If you weren't looking at it closely you would just think that it was the tree casting the shadow on the wall, but then things didn't seem to quite match up....within the shadow leaves would float away, borne by an invisible wind, rain would drizzle when it was dry, a person's shadow would walk by but there was no one around and then snarly night monsters started emerging and creeping up the wall. Her other work was a projection of posters for a girl band, then kind that you'll see pasted everywhere in Fitzroy. But again, out of the corner of your eye you'd catch one of the members blinking at you, or wave. Or was it merely your imagination?

When you glanced down the street the most eye-catching works were the colourful large-scale projections on pubs, one on the Gertrude Hotel of Ian de Gruchy's drawings and another playing with the colours and contours of the Builders Arms (Kit Webster).

Some of the smaller works are worth mentioning too. The round window at Bar Radio was perfect for displaying projections and when we arrived the barman/artist came out to tell us about his video of speeding balloons. Basically, he noticed a hot air balloon race from his friend's apartment window, so he set up his camera and went back to sleep. So it literally was a work devised from dreams!One of my favourites was at craft store Cottage Industry, where the mysterious and shadowy installation consisted of tree branches and small projection screens. However, on closer examination, all the tree branches had been wrapped in crochet (by Pene Durston, the owner of the shop)! To be honest, I was more mesmerised by the detail and time it would have taken to crochet these branches (and the tree outside the shop), rather than the projection of cutesy animals being killed.

Some of the works really enhanced the vibe of Gertrude Street and it's a shame that they were removed after only a week. Now, I wonder where I can get hold of a set of tree doilies?

HOT: Stephanie Alexander, Art Chat, NGV Australia, Federation Square

I come from a family where food is what binds us together. We reminisce about food we've eaten, anticipate the food we're going to eat, compare cooking methods, discuss Masterchef and take family outings to farmers markets. I think I'm very fortunate that my upbringing has taught me how food gets to my table, the value of eating well and the important role food plays as part of family, society, culture and history.

However, not all children have been brought up like me. Not all kids eat well, many are overweight and many do not seem to understand where their food comes from. In today's busy world, families no longer seem to have time to prepare proper meals and to sit down at a table regularly to share food, thoughts and experiences.

Stephanie Alexander, a respected chef and restauranter, realised that something should be done about this, so in 2004 she established the Kitchen Garden Foundation. Like me, Stephanie feels strongly that sharing food is about comfort, intimacy, discovery and an opportunity to listen and to be heard. As part of NGV Australia's Art Chat program, she spoke eloquently about her goal to provide pleasurable food education for children. Her core belief is that you can positively influence food choices from an early age, and the best way to inspire kids is through a school curriculum incorporating a hands-on kitchen and garden.

The point of the program is not about finger-wagging at kids to preach what is healthy and not healthy. Nor is about teaching kids middle-class food wankery. Instead, helping kids to maintain a kitchen garden and to cook their own-grown produce is an enjoyable and enriching way to teach them about the value of eating a balanced, healthy diet. The gardening and cooking tasks are also linked to the needs to the general curriculum. Measuring out a garden, designing an irrigation system, estimating water supply, learning about the properties of heat, steam, yeast and eggs, multiplying recipes and seeing the interaction of plants and seasons are all practical applications of numeracy and literacy skills. In addition, the kids have to learn how to problem-solve, how to work together and bear shared responsibility, and thus the program can enhance their social skills, patience and self-confidence.

Thanks to Federal Government funding (after
Minister Nicola Roxon had lunch harvested, cooked and served by the kids at Westgarth Primary School), the scheme will now been rolled out to 190 primary schools throughout Australia. I am so inspired by the passion of Stephanie Alexander and the work of the Kitchen Garden Foundation that I'm going to investigate volunteering opportunities at the pioneering school, Collingwood College.