I’m sitting at a small table in the dappled sunlight, shelling hundreds of broadbeans. Gentle music plays from behind the wire screen door, soft enough to barely enter my consciousness. There is a hint of movement on the verandah, a slight zephyr stirs the heads of the tall-growing lavender out along the fence line. This continual podding, the gentle gouging out with index finger, is a meditative business. Tiny beans fall from their white fur-lined capsules: the pile of discarded pods growing larger as little grey-green gems fall into another basket. Is this the good life? Sitting quietly in the sun, performing an ancient, repetitive task that brings a few vibrant green meals to the table? Or is it the calm before the storm?
Repetitive tasks enable the overloaded brain to sort out the events, conversations and news of the week. To put things into perspective. To discard the useless husks from the good, life giving nuggets. As America, the land that once was great, or so we were led to believe by the myth makers, accepts the shocking reality of Trump’s election, the crude facts of this result spread throughout the globe. American voters have willingly and consciously elected a racist, a misogynist, a climate change denier, a LGBT hater, a narcissistic billionaire braggart with extremely dangerous views of the world and of America’s place in it. All this cheap talk about getting on with business as usual, and being positive seems a bit vacuous to me.
I’ve read enough and I’ve heard enough. I don’t believe we should sit back, wait and see, be nice to one another and be thankful that we don’t live in that country. I don’t believe that a navel gazing approach, a quiet meditation on the real things in life, the metaphorical shelling of fave beans, will get us very far. Time to join the revolution. Time, if you are a worker, to join a union and fight for the things you hold dear, time to pay subscription fees for our independent press so that the Murdochs and Trumps of this world won’t stamp out our ability to reason or to see events clearly. Time to join protest groups in the streets, to speak up loudly against racism and sexism when they occur closer to home, time to take action to reduce our own personal energy consumption while simultaneously pressuring our government to take climate change more seriously, especially here in Australia. Maintain your rage, speak out against injustice, inequality and hatred. And we can meditate and be nice to one another too.
All views are derivative and many of mine are too. These twoarticles inspired me this morning.
There’s nothing more local than a home garden. I often wander around with my camera, capturing seasonal change, growth and decay. The garden takes me away from my moods, my inner chatter, my inside world. In any season, il giardino is quiet and full of sensory pleasure.
This Buddha sits close to our house. It is the stone Buddha from our old garden, one of a handful of surviving objects from the Black Saturday Bushfires of 2009 which destroyed our home. When I find an interesting looking stone or rock, I add it to Buddha’s feet. Bushfire is a hot topic in the local area, with extremely divergent views on how to deal with the bush. One local plant, Burgan, is at the centre of this debate, a bush known by the CFA, a fire fighting association, as ‘petrol bush’. Due to its high flammability and tendency to spread like an invasive weed, most locals like to keep this pest under control on their bush blocks. Permit requirements to clear Burgan were dropped by our local shire council (Nillumbik) after the Black Saturday bushfires. Seven years after that fire, which razed a quarter of the shire, with 42 deaths within the council’s borders and hundreds of homes destroyed, the local council plans to reinstate permits to clear this bush on privately held land. Our local Council has become wedded to an extreme ideology which is at odds with reality. Local Madness.
View from my front door. A dam is a wonderful thing and was the first improvement we made on our land after arriving in our current home almost 7 years ago. It is our local water supply for the vegetable garden, a local water supply for the CFA fire brigade should they need it and is also a local watering hole for native animals and birds. Can you believe that our Local Council does not approve of dams on private property? New local planning laws have become fraught with red tape. A line has been drawn on a map which includes this wonderful dam. It is now part of a Core Habitat zone, which, in effect, prevents us from removing any local plants from its perimeter or fixing the walls should it spring a leak, without resorting to a lengthy and expensive local permit process. Local madness.
Planting in purple and blue attracts more bees to the garden. The local bees have been sleepy this season as the weather has been too cold and wet. Now that the sun is shining and the Echium are out, the bees are returning. This blue flower is often completely covered with bees.
Borage flowers can be used in salads, but more importantly, bees also love borage. Many of these flowering shrubs, because they are not native to the district, are viewed as weeds by some prominent local environmentalists. Without bees, our vegetable and fruit supplies would vanish very quickly. There are also many native Australian flowering bushes in the garden. Bees like diversity and so do I.
This weekend, Ailsa, an Irish blogger who inspires with her words and photos, wrote the following:
“No matter where you are in the world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the cesspit of filth currently masquerading as a presidential election in the US. It is downright depressing to be bombarded daily with examples of how low mankind can sink, and frankly bewildering that such a base, unevolved, malignant individual has been allowed access to a world stage from which to disseminate and normalize his poisonous views. I have of late found myself drifting towards cynicism of humanity at large, guilty by association by simply belonging to a species capable of producing such monsters. To counteract this bleakness, I have resolved to actively seek out all that is enlightened, noble and beautiful about being human – and that’s what this week’s travel theme is about. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating the joy of the human condition”
Following this sensational rant about the sad state of American politics, which I share wholeheartedly, Ailsa includes many joyous photos of dance and celebration, of innocent children and messages of love, of life enlightened and invites others to add their own.
Before I add a few special photos, I must share my favourite poem with you. Many will know it. Written by W. B Yeats in 1920, these words resonate loudly in these strange times. What rough beast heads towards the presidency of the USA, and what rough times will be inflicted on the world should he succeed? Mere Anarchy?
The Second Coming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? W. B. Yeats
Many of you will know that I am enamoured with Balinese culture and its people. This love affair grows stronger with each visit, despite the fact that, like many others, I find some aspects of foreign tourism in Bali very disturbing. The best way to avoid seeing the ugly side of tourism is to by- pass particular districts, as well as becoming more receptive to the local culture, religion, ritual, history and the country’s social economic issues.
Here’s my current list of gripes:
the prevalence of plastic in a country that lacks regular rubbish collection and where, traditionally, rubbish is burnt. And, the holier- than -thou tourist attack on Bali’s plastic problem while continuing to shop, collecting plastic bags along the way, and drinking water from plastic bottles.
large foreign-owned resorts built along the shores of major tourist areas effectively blocking local access to their own beach. These resorts are favoured by tourists who have little interaction with the Balinese people or culture, beyond the obvious daily contact where Balinese serve their needs as waiters, cleaners, door openers, masseurs and drivers. Fake palaces dedicated to water wastage and energy consumption, built by cheap Javanese labour, charging a daily rate that would feed a Balinese family for years.
overrated districts devoted to consumerism, in particular the area around Kuta/Legian/Seminyak/ Kerobokan – now one continuous strip of consumer ugliness- with streets choked with traffic, offering tourists a Disneyland version of Bali, where foreign fashion designers and celebrity chefs (often Australian) open branches enabling foreigners to eat the same food that they might when visiting Melbourne or Sydney.
the barbarian dress code of some young Europeans, and others not so young, who turn up in restaurants or holy shrines wearing very little, displaying a cultural arrogance and ignorance beyond belief.
Don’t get me wrong. Tourism, on the whole, has been good for the Balinese. Over the 37 years or so of visiting Bali, I’ve noticed huge improvements, with access to electricity, education and clean water providing the Balinese with a much improved lifestyle. In my chats with some of the locals recently, they have told me that they have more skills now and no longer want to work in industries such as fishing and building, these jobs being carried out by low paid migrants from Java and Madura. The tourist industry is now central to the Balinese economy ( 3.7 million visitors in 2014) as it is to other countries such as Italy ( 48.6 million in 2014 ) and Greece ( 22 million in 2014). Take tourism away and the Balinese economy would collapse.
After a twenty-one year absence from the commercial and congested strip of tourism that gives Bali a bad name, with Seminyak at its epicentre, I visited the area two days ago, in the interests of research and in the hope that things may have improved in that district. My notes from that journey are not worth repeating and no photos were taken. Enough said.
Winter time and the living is – expensive. Electricity prices have increased at nearly four times the rate of inflation over the last 5 years and will probably continue to do so. One solution to the soaring power bills stemming from heating, lighting and the immoderate use of the oven, is to run away to a warmer place, preferably somewhere in Asia, where the living is cheaper and the climate is tropical. Another is to stay cocooned in a doona all day, watching addictive Icelandic Noir drama series that makes the Australian winter look tropical. Then, like many others, you could traipse around a heated shopping centre all day, drinking coffee and playing with your smart phone. Or you could make a conscious effort to adopt some energy saving routines, at least when it comes to routines in the kitchen. This post is a reminder to myself about energy use.
After baking, use the residual heat of the oven to make other basic things for the week.
Boiling water is a huge energy waster. Fill up a Chinese thermos with green tea.
Always cook too many beans. Finding a stash of pre-cooked cannellini and borlotti beans or chick peas in a zip lock bag in the freezer is like finding a golden nugget. Soup making becomes a breeze. Two of my winter favourite bean based soups can be found here and here.
Add barley to root vegetable soups. What is it about Barley Soup that warms us up, both physically and emotionally?
If you have just split open a large pumpkin and are baking chunks for a recipe, double the quantity and store the leftovers in a covered bowl in the fridge. Stuff the pieces, along with fetta and herbs, into filo pastry triangles, add them to a risotto, use them with cooked lentils in a pastie, or toss them through barley to make a winter salad with spinach and nuts. Or head to Ottolenghi land and make this or this.
Always double the pizza dough, whatever quantity you decide to make. Most weeks I make a 500g batch of yeasted pizza dough using this recipe. If the hungry hordes don’t visit, I stretch and shape half the risen dough to make one 35 cm pizza, more than enough for two hungry people, then stash the other half in a zip lock bag in the freezer. Then it’s simply a matter of defrosting the dough, bringing it back to room temperature, and shaping it into a slice baking tin, allowing for another short rise, before dimpling the top with oil, salt and herbs or other leftovers.
Pumpkin, Red Onion and Sage Foccaccia
risen dough, made from 250 gr baker’s white flour
EV olive oil
one red onion finely sliced
1 cup pre- roasted diced pumpkin
coarsely ground sea salt
Preheat oven 200 c FF. Oil a small slab tin ( 26 cm X 17 cm) and stretch the dough to roughly fit. Leave for 30 minutes or more, covered with a tea towel. Push the dough into the corners of the tin and using your fingers, make small indentations in the dough to carry the oil and salt. Brush on a generous amount of olive oil, letting it pool a little in the indentations. Spread on the finely cut onions, then the pumpkin, then some sage leaves, then plenty of coarsely ground salt. Bake for around 15 minutes, check on the colour of top and bottom, and cook a further 5 minutes if needed.
This month, Maureen is taking a break from hosting In My Kitchen, but the series still goes on. Below you can find an informal link up to some other IMK posts for this month:
I’ve been thinking a lot about eels lately, eels to eat and those other slippery and be-suited characters poncing about in politics and local government. There are the crafty eels standing for election, their slick barrage of three word slogans masquerading as debate. Then here in Melbourne we have the serpentine organisation called VCAT, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, their nefarious machinations designed to twist words and regulations faster than an eel can swim backwards. Our local government is not immune from eeliness, with self-important planning committees proposing an eel pit full of new draconian restrictions, designed to trap the unwary ratepayer, like a sharp toothed moray lying in wait.
How did poor innocent eels get to be connected to untrustworthiness and devious dealings? The saying ‘as slippery as an eel’ is associated with the most duplicitous and sly behaviour.
But getting back to my foody eel thoughts, I was excited last week when my fishmonger turned up with one long smoked eel, vacuum wrapped but otherwise fresh. This set my mind racing. Eel is rich and has that umami taste missing in my diet. Time for a Spaghetti Carbonara I Can’t Believe its Not Bacon. It’s a pescatarian delight.
Spaghetti Carbonara with Smoked Eel. Recipe serves two.
200 g spaghetti
2 large egg yolks, beaten
20 g grated parmigiano, reggiano or grana
one large handful of Italian parsley, very finely chopped
15 g or so of unsalted butter
85 g diced smoked eel, skin and bone removed. This amount was from about one quarter of a whole smoked eel.
Cook the spaghetti in ample boiling and salted water until al dente. Reserve a half cup of cooking water.
Meanwhile, fry the diced smoked eel in butter in a large frying pan. Fry gently until golden, around 5 minutes. I like using a non stick wok these days, providing room to toss through the pasta at the last stage of preparation.
Beat the egg yolks, grated parmesan cheese and parley together.
Drain cooked spaghetti, add to the pan with the eel, toss about, then pour in egg mixture. Toss until the egg sets, adding a little reserved cooking water for creaminess. Keep tossing and heating for a few more seconds, adding a little more water as you go.
Serve with lots of freshly ground pepper and more parmesan.
This recipe has been adapted and simplified from a Gourmet Traveller recipe, March 2014. It has been filed in my mind for two years now, waiting for that illustrious smoked eel to appear.
Another weird eel expression found while researching this post.
Sposarsi è come mettere la mano in un sacco pieno di serpenti, nella speranza di tirar fuori un’anguilla.
Marriage is like putting your hand into a bag of snakes in the hope of pulling out an eel. Attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.
Day 9 and the cough has become a terrorist. Rasping, lung aching cough, violently rocking the rib cage, reconstructing thought and memory, randomly re-ordering the day’s events. Robber of time, stealer of sleep. Ask me a question I’ll give you a Saint Vitus Dance answer, a voiceless croak or maybe a sign. I don’t know, please don’t talk to me now. A toilet roll trail of debris, the tissues and hankies now long gone, catches the phlegm of one lucky cough, but not of that dry one, not the Dostoevsky special, that searches and scratches and delves deep within then leaves for a minute, hands out a headache, and returns for another gut wrenching go. Stationary diversions blur together as writing, reading and foreign films join into one continuous heated dream as cruel cough moves in for the night, making sleep a permanent nightmare, vitality spilling from every pore and orifice, as dreams become more lurid, aberrant, repetitive. Each cough causes a Candy Crush spill, with long rows of colourful gems flashing in my sleeping mind’s eye, idiotic patterns, reminders of imminent madness, but now Riccardo Scamarcio arrives with his Botticelli stare and I am momentarily transfixed; it’s 1968 and the students are revolting, but then I see that other man’s ugly penis lying inert on a bed, a scene from a repulsive French movie where all the men are bastards. I skip to my book, and the tripe cauldron rises, the overflowing pot steaming with stomach lining and calves’ feet, and I’m trapped in medieval Florence, when suddenly Chris Uhlmann’s interloping fat head appears on the TV screen, intruder in a boring election debate, put him in the tripe vat, will someone say something real now? The cough returns, and the Candy Crush gems explode purple, shattering my dream, and it replays over and over again.
I write posts to keep the terrorist at bay, stories of domesticity, of cakes and travel. They are as fanciful as my dreams.
We never ate quince at home when I was a child, nor did my mother make jam from quince, but I do remember tasting it when I was very young. That unusual sweet tang was firmly embedded in my food memory, like a little chip of sensual data, by my Aunt Edna. She was an excellent cook and often made quince jelly, one of the many jams that appeared at her banquet sized afternoon tea of scones and cakes. I didn’t understand the taste then, but I loved it. Now, I might describe it as ambrosial, ancient, and enticing.
Years later, at the age of thirty to be precise, we moved to the country and I rediscovered that refined sweet flavour of Persia, Aphrodite and roses. The annual gathering of quinces from Norma’s orchard involved roaring down a rutted and overgrown dirt track in her old Subaru, with Poppy the dog on board, to the old fairyland quince grove beside the banks of the Diamond Creek. It was well hidden from human and bird predators. The trunks were grey and lime with lichen, the neglected trees gnarled and contorted, but they still cropped yearly. They were planted by the creek banks in the 1890s when the area around St Andrews was largely a fruit-growing district. That secret quince grove disappeared in the devastating bushfires of 2009.
In the old days, the orchards bordering the Diamond Creek relied on its regular flow through this valley from its source in the Kinglake hills to the north. Records were maintained by orchardists up until the 1960s. As land holders turned away from agriculture, records of the Diamond Creek’s flow became impressionistic, but most locals will tell you that the volume has decreased significantly over the last 25 years, and in summer, the creek invariably dries up. Coincidentally, Coca Cola/ Amatil began buying up most of the underground water in the aquifer at Kinglake from the 1990s onwards, effectively dehydrating the communities further downstream. Kinglake water is bought for a song and is used to bottle Mount Franklin water. Thoughtless consumers drink pure water from plastic bottles, when they have a very good source of it in their own tap, while a beautiful local creek, a tributary of the Yarra, is left with an irregular flow, not to mention the ramifications for wild life, further desiccation of the bush, increase in bushfire hazard and the problem of plastic.
Returning to the glories of quince, I am happy to see that quinces are now widely available in markets, appearing from April onwards. My 5-year-old Smyrna quince tree produces well, but wild birds and summer water shortage makes for a small harvest. I make a few batches of poached quinces each season, which last quite well under poaching liquid in the fridge. I take out slices to make various cakes and desserts, then boil up the poaching syrup, reducing it to a jelly glaze to use as a sauce or jam.
The Original Recipe
250 g butter, at room temperature
1 ¼ cups caster sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind
½ cup almond meal
¼ cup flaked almonds
2 ¼ cups self-raising flour, sifted
2 large pre- poached quinces, drained and cut into slices, liquid reserved.
Preheat oven to 180°C or 160°C fan forced. Grease base and sides of a 22 cm springform pan and line with baking paper.
Use an electric mixer with a paddle attachment to beat butter, sugar and lemon rind in a bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Stir in almond meal and flaked almonds. Then stir in milk and flour, alternating. Spoon 2/3 of batter into prepared pan. Top with half of quince. Top with remaining batter. Top with remaining quince. Bake for 1 hr 20 mins or until a skewer inserted in centre comes out clean. Stand in pan for 5 mins, then remove sides of pan. You may need to cover the cake with tinfoil after an hour if the top is already brown.
Serve cake warm or at room temperature with cream and reduced, thickened quince syrup or more simply with sifted icing sugar.
The Adapted Recipe. I didn’t like the sound of flaked almonds inside the batter but I still wanted a strong almond taste. I changed the ratio of almond meal to flour and removed the flaked almonds altogether. My version used 1 cup of almond meal to 1 and 3/4 cups of SR flour and a scant teaspoon of baking powder. Try either version. Maybe add a little slurp of Amaretto or a drop of almond essence. I also glazed the cake with some of the reduced hot syrup.
The best laid plans often go awry, especially when travelling economy class on a budget airline. Just go with the awful flow is my advice. This was aptly demonstrated recently when Mr Tranquillo studied the seating layout of the plane a day before departure and re- assigned our seats, so that we would be surrounded by fields of empty space, rows to colonise, restful rows on which to loll and spread. Foolish man. He hadn’t factored in those travellers who had left their seat allocation to chance at check in. I am now left wondering how peaceful our original chosen seats might have been.
The Melbourne to Thailand flight, on a good day, takes just over 8 hours, not exactly a short trip. Behind us we have a mother with two small children who enjoy the healthy pastime of kicking of the seat in front of them – ours. In front we have three women who enjoy a few cans of Bourbon and Coke, their seats fully reclined by 3.30 pm, shortly after take off, and who are partial to random bursts of shrillness. Their partners have taken up the standing room between the toilet and the plane door exit: they are enjoying their own beer festival for four hours. I am so pleased we not sitting in that leg spacious area.
Being prepared, we look forward to our longish flight with one pre-ordered meal. It arrives 40 minutes after take off, at 3.45 pm. I ask politely if it could stay warm somewhere until a more reasonable eating hour, such as, say 6 pm. No, that was not possible. OK, could the meal be kept somewhere until we are ready to eat it, warm or cold. No, he couldn’t do that either. I then suggested curtly that he could stick the meal in the rubbish bin (I promise I did not preface the word ‘bin’ with any expletive beginning with the letter F ). Mr Tranquillo, known for his inner calm and reasonable approach in the most annoying situations, intervened and told the young male attendant that the food would stay warm, and that we would like it in two hours. End of story. How did he do that? Flight attendant whisperer?
The kicking from the rear continues with a persistent rhythm, thumpthumpthumpety thump_thumpthump_THUMP, directed at my lower back. I ask the father could he tell ‘the child’ to stop. Not long after, Mr Tranquillo, who is being kicked constantly by the other little darling, half stands, turns and firmly addresses the mother with the same request, a distinct edge to his voice. I smile inwardly. Not so tranquillo after all! The kids finally stop. They take up singing and loud games with their Mother, which is lovely, really, except that the din drowns out all sound from our earphones.
We finally ask for our meal at 6 pm: the packet is still super hot, and the ice cream melted. I don’t mind melted ice cream, although the exploding affect, when removing the puffed up foil lid, produced a sticky foamy spray over me, my clothes and the back of the seat- but not on the kids behind, who by this stage, had found a way to pull my hair as they climb the back of the seat.
Note. If you don’t pay $24 for a pre-ordered meal, you can eat a $10 meal any time at all: just press the button and along comes a bit of industrial fodder from the Pie Face company, a slab of ham and pineapple thing vaguely resembling a pizza, or a vacuum packed salad that purports to have health properties.
We resort to wine, a saviour in situations like these. There is an attractive picture of a barrique on the back of the food brochure where the words ‘cellar selection’ are mentioned. The choices are- Sauvignon blanc or Shiraz. Hmm great, how much do I dislike Sauvignon blanc, let me count the ways. The cheap red slides down well enough although the desired effect, relaxation, is replaced by headache. No water bottle is delivered at any stage throughout the flight: a purchased meal is accompanied by a miniature foil topped container of water, such fun to open. I notice that the Bourbon women are now drinking water from tiny paper cups from the toilet and I consider doing the same.
I try to meditate, to think more calmly, to recall a few Dalai Lama quotes of the day. “The ultimate source of comfort is within ourselves”, he advises on his Facebook page, but it’s not working and besides, I am sure HH travels business class. I watch ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ or rather, I see it mimed: fortunately Hardy’s story hasn’t changed in all those years of remakes, the cad is deliciously rakish and the good guy, in the end, wins.
My advice for travelling on budget airlines?
Don’t plan anything and consider taking calming or sleep-producing substances.
Buy noise reducing headphones which won’t work in the Jetstar sockets unless you get a double pronged plug attachment that happens to match.
Have your own media loaded onto your own device using your top quality earphones.
Take an empty large plastic bottle in your hand luggage. Filtered water bottle filling stations can be found in various spots throughout Melbourne’s international airport.
Prior to departure buy your own food for the flight, such as packed sushi, mixed nuts, biscuits and cheese, or home made slices and sandwiches.
If travelling as a couple, choose an aisle seat and a window seat. Very rarely is the centre seat filled.
If you have paid for Jetstar’s media ($10), note that this prepayment will be loaded into your allocated seat. If you move, you may lose your media.
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.
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.
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!
Friendly proprietor and chef, Cafe Bellino, Brunswick.
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