A new chapter dictated by my skin – Psoriasis

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I normally love winter, but this winter in Brisbane has been particular bone chilling. Over the last weekend, the mercury has dropped down to 3-4ºC and I’ve resorted to hacking my handmade quilt, cheap $25 Ikea coffee table and trusty heater into a makeshift kontatsu. A kontatsu is a low-set Japanese table with a blanket and table top over the top – its genius is in the heat source underneath. You slip your legs under the futon and keep yourself toasty warm in winter without warming the rest of the room.

But winter comes with its downside for me. Every winter, the skin on my right index finger becomes extremely dry and cracks painfully on the side. My elbows too have dry skin. I always attributed it to just the dry air and simply moisturised it as best I can through the season, and wear rubber gloves if I’m doing the dishes. I have now learnt I was wrong – I have psoriasis.

I recently had to take prednisone, which is an oral immunosuppressant drug and wasn’t very good about the weaning off schedule. What happened afterwards shocked me.

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These are psoriasis lesions. The ones on my face began as pimples. Injury to the skin can cause lesions for many psoriasis sufferers. I also always had ‘dandruff’ in certain areas (generally the left back of my head) and it’s now turned into lesions, that are spreading into other areas of my scalp.

Now I must add that I have had prednisone before and weaned off the drug without any issues in the past. But perhaps my body has finally caved from the additional stress of increased work responsibilities of two jobs, joining the EDB 2014 committee and trying to conceive.

 

How do I know I have psoriasis?

Because my younger sister has had it since she was 16 years old and I recognise its characteristics. Psoriasis has a genetic component, so having one sibling with psoriasis puts my risk factor at 24%. Of course my sister and I would’ve gotten it from one of our parents, but neither manifested psoriasis like either of us.

The dermatologist also took a biopsy from my scalp (ie. cut a 3mm chunk of my skin and stitched me up) and the results indicate I have psoriasis AND dermatitis.

 

What’s so bad about psoriasis?

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease and like most autoimmune diseases, there is no cure.

Other than the fact it’s on my face and is putting a HUGE damper on my self-confidence, it itches like a mofo. Imagine an insect bite anywhere on your body. Now increase the affected area of itching to the entirety of your elbows, your scalp and face. In the daytime, I can control myself from scratching too much, but I have woken up in the morning to find blood under all my nails and my scalp feeling raw. This increases risks of infection and aggravating the psoriasis further.

 

So what am I trying to do about it?

UVB treatments

I visited Westside Dermatology in Taringa, which is also home to the Psoriasis Institute here in Brisbane. After speaking to the nurse specialising in psoriasis, we agreed I should start UVB treatment immediately as topical steroid creams are not advisable as long as we’re trying to get pregnant.

Thus far I have had 6 UVB treatments at increasing doses (duration less than 1 minute), but there were no visible difference. This is expected as most psoriasis sufferers reported changes after an average of 20 treatments. Thankfully the psoriasis treatments at Westside Dermatology are bulk billed.

However I have stopped this treatment, as the majority of the lesions are on my face and scalp. The treatments were subjecting my entire body to UVB, which is not very effective.

Cost: AUD$25 for initial consult and first UVB treatment (with referral)

 

Advantan Fatty Ointment

This is a prescription corticoid topical cream. It is generally used for a short period of time on body areas to bring the skin inflammation under control. I started with rubbing the tiniest amount into the lesions twice a day everyday and it has helped to reduce the inflammation and I can now reduce it to once every other day.

Cost: AUD$9.99 

 

Diprosone Lotion

This is also a prescription corticoid topical lotion that I’m supposed to apply to my scalp psoriasis, but the watery formulation stings like a mofo when the lesions are particularly raw and inflamed. The dermatologist has me using the Advantan Fatty Ointment on my scalp lesions until they’re better enough for me to use the lotion.
Cost: AUD$19.99 for 30ml

 

Clipping my nails short

To stop myself from causing my skin too much damage while I’m asleep. I thankfully don’t have fingernail pitting, another psoriasis characteristic and don’t mind having short nails.

Cost: 5 minutes every 2 weeks

 

Moo Goo Eczema & Psoriasis Cream

This is one of the first products I bought from the chemist and it has provided quite a bit of relief from the itching. This white cream is what I apply on all my lesions to reduce the itching twice a day – right after a shower and in the evening. I also keep a tube of it on my desk at work to apply if I feel an itch coming on. The SO helps me apply it to the scalp with a q-tip.

Cost: AUD$18.95 for 120g tube

 

Organic coconut oil

I picked a small sample of this up at my local organic store on the recommendation from one of the staff. After applying this once to my scalp, I didn’t like it. I found the consistency of the oil thicker and harder to wash out. It also didn’t relieve the itching as much as the hemp oil has (see below).

Cost: AUD$2 for 20ml

 

Organic hemp oil

After watching this video by a girl suffering from sebopsoriasis, I thought I might give her treatment a go for my own scalp. I ordered a 500ml bottle of organic hemp oil from Hemp Foods Australia via their webstore. They are south of the border in Bangalow and it only took them a day to ship it out to me. It’s a pain they don’t ship to a PO box, but otherwise service was great and the shipment packed really well.

I apply half a tablespoon’s worth of warmed hemp oil to my scalp and left it in there overnight, sleeping on a doubled-over towel over my pillow and then washing it out in the morning (see below).

The first time I did this, there was instant relief from the itching and I was able to watch an hour of telly before bed without scratching. I still scratched in my sleep. Two days later, I did the treatment again. There was the same instant relief and I was able to sleep well, waking up in the morning with no blood under my fingernails – proof I didn’t scratch myself raw in my sleep.

Has it reduced or removed the scaling? No/not yet, but the scales have been easier to remove with a comb and I find myself scratching less , which is in itself an improvement.

Cost: AUD$$29.95 + delivery ($9.90)

 

Dr Bronner’s Organic Liquid Castile Soap (Baby Mild Unscented)

This is another product the video mentioned: Dr Bronner Organic Liquid Castile Soap (Baby Mild Unscented). I mix half a teaspoon of liquid soap to half a cup of water in a plastic cup, and apply it to my wet hair. If I am trying to wash out the hemp oil treatment from the night before, I usually do at least 2 washes to get the stuff out and prevent my hair from looking like a grease bomb. The soap can also be used for other things and there’s an awesome dilution cheat sheet available.

I’m really enjoying this product. It does the job of removing the oil treatments out of my hair without stripping it completely. While it doesn’t lather as much as commercially available shampoos, it doesn’t sting my scalp’s sore raw spots upon application. My hair feels soft and doesn’t have that uncontrollable frizz I usually get after washing. I definitely want to keep going with this product to see if it helps in the long run.

Cost: AUD$9 for 237ml bottle

 

Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar

I have used apple cider vinegar in the past to rinse product buildup in my hair, with good results, so I was quite happy to incorporate this into my scalp and hair routine. Bragg’s Organic Apple Cider Vinegar is unfiltered, unheated, unpasteurized and 5% acidity – it’s about as unprocessed as you’d probably get a vinegar. It also contains the mother, such is the orangey-brown stuff that collects at the bottom of the bottle. Those are naturally occurring enzymes. I’m not particularly crazy about the American Christian propaganda on the labelling, but it’s one of the best ones on the market.

Cost: Forgot how much I paid for this one.

 

Glycerine

According to the psoriasis forums, this one has had mixed results. However it’s extremely inexpensive and since I already had a bottle of it in our bathroom cabinet, I figured I might use it on one of my elbows to see how it takes.
I dip the tip of my index finger to pick up the glycerine and rub it into my elbow. It soaks in immediately and while it makes my skin slightly tacky, it’s not sticky and there isn’t any residue left to wipe off. I do this immediately after my shower and then apply the Moo Goo Eczema & Psoriasis Cream on both elbows as normal.

Thus far there has been noticeable improvement in the skin on the glycerine elbow. The lesions are less red and not as raised. The scaling is improving (but not gone) and I find I do not need to apply more Moo Goo Eczema & Psoriasis Cream during the day as I do with the other elbow.

Cost: A couple of bucks? It’s been too long ago.

 

Fish oil

The nurse at the Psoriasis Institute recommended I take daily supplements of fish oil. It’s known to reduce inflammation in the body and given I’m not consuming as much fish in my diet as I used to in Singapore, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to put more omega 3 into my body. Fish oil is widely available to chemists at varying dosages, so I am taking 1 capsule per day.

Blackmores Omega Daily

Cost: AUD$39.99 for 200 capsules

 

Vitamin D3

Vitamin D is a potent immune modulator, making it very important for the prevention of autoimmune diseases, like MS and inflammatory bowel disease. Although I live in sunny Australia, I have been tested with a Vitamin D deficiency, especially in winter. This is apparently quite common. Appropriate sun exposure is the best way to optimize your vitamin D levels, but when you’re more susceptible to skin cancer (as we are in Australia) and . The recommended dosage for adults is 1,500 to 2,000 IUs per day. I’m taking 1 capsule per day.
Healthy Care Vitamin D3
Cost: AUD$14.00 for 250 capsules

 

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is found in many foods including vegetable oils, cereals, meat, poultry, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and wheat germ oil. It is more popularly used to treat and prevent diseases of the heart and blood vessels including hardening of the arteries, heart attack, chest pain, leg pain due to blocked arteries, and high blood pressure.

Some people have reported improvements with their psoriasis after taking Vitamin E supplements, so I’m taking 1 capsule per day.
Healthy Care Vitamin E

Cost: AUD$21.99 for 200 capsules

 

Dermablend

I’m not particularly vain, but people have asked me what’s up with my face since the lesions appeared (someone asked if I had burned my face). Thankfully the lesions on my face are mostly flat and don’t scale too badly, so I can minimise their appearance by camouflaging their redness with concealer. Dermablend is available in some pharmacies and I picked up the Dermablend Cover Crème in warm beige.

I follow the instructions by scraping a small amount of the Dermablend onto the back of my hand, rubbing it with my index finger to warm the product before patting it onto the lesions and blending it with the rest of my skin. A neutral setting powder is dusted over the areas and I can get through most of the work day without worrying about too many people staring at my face. I’m still learning how to apply it well. Practice makes perfect.

Cost: AUD$56.95 for 28g tub

 

Reducing stress

Unfortunately the additional commitments to manage the psoriasis now takes precedence and I’m the only one who can decide how best to move forward. After the diagnosis, I had to have a very long hard think about how to do that and I repeatedly came back to needing to reduce the stress I put myself in.

My word is always my bond, so when I decided to leave the EDB 2014 committee, I was heartbroken. The committee are a great bunch of people and have been great friends, who have been extremely understanding about my situation and condition.

I also took a week off work to recuperate from 3 days of no-sleep. Sleep has never been an issue for me, but the itching drove me insane and I thought I was going to die. My team at work were so kind and supportive, making sure I got back on my feet when I felt physically ready to tackle my usual workload.

Cost: My pride

The Foraging Quail

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It isn’t often when the SO gets more excited about a new dining establishment than me, but he had been watching the development of The Foraging Quail with a close eye and was adamant we drop in the day after they officially opened their doors.

There has been some excitement in the foodie world, seeing as Minh Le (formerly head chef at Deer Duck Bistro) is at the helm of this new establishment and it is right smack between Chai Thai and Vespa Pizza – not quite as close as the bustling Gasworks, trendy James Street or neighbourhood Merthyr Village. With the newly opened Escobar just down the street, will The Foraging Quail mark the birth of a new chic dining mini-strip?

Now while it is often very novel to visit a new establishment just after they have opened, there are some things diners should reserve some forgiveness for. Thankfully service at The Foraging Quail wasn’t one of those aspects that required any – we were greeted at the door and ushered to a table by the window – a perfect vantage point view over the restaurant floor and directly into the open kitchen. Diners seem invited to indulge in the spectator sport of oogling the staff at work (though I wouldn’t be surprised if the kitchen is also keeping a keen eye on the diners at their meals (hey, it works both ways, right?).

The Foraging Quail

The Foraging Quail

The Foraging Quail’s menu concept is share plates and I’d almost call the cuisine modern Australian with French influence. There were the main items, the formage (cheese), desserts and the chefs menu, which is for those who are too spoilt for choice and want a little bit of everything. The share plates are priced between AUD$16 to $26, but what you might not get in gluttonous quantity, The Foraging Quail definitely makes up for it in quality and variety.

Oh, and if you’re not to date on the latest cuisine terminology, they have also kindly included a glossary page to their menu to help educate diners navigate the menu.

Once we had ordered, we were presented with two unexpected treats – the first was a little warm baby baguette tucked between the folds of a crisp white napkin and a knub of softened butter. The baguette held a surprise inside – it was loaded with an abundance of poppy seeds.

The Foraging Quail

The Foraging Quail

Fresh bread with poppy seeds

The Foraging Quail

Gorgonzola croquetas with pumpkin purée

The second was a tiny pyramid of deep fried crumbed gorgonzola croqueta perched on top a smudge of smooth pumpkin purée. This was really moorish and I joked to the SO that I would’ve loved a bucket of these to munch on like popcorn.

It isn’t often you see a head chef quite as hands-on as to have Minh Le (formerly head chef at Deer Duck Bistro) come out with some of the dishes to each table, introducing each element on the plate and sometimes pointing out how they might have been prepared.

The Foraging Quail - The Sea: Chilli prawns, clams, scallops, mussels, bonito malto and seaweed. AUD$24

The Sea: Chilli prawns, clams, scallops, mussels, bonito malto and seaweed. AUD$24

Minh Le presented this dish to us and calmly pointed out each element. I regret I didn’t have a better camera to capture how gorgeous the presentation was. Appropriately named ‘The Sea’, the careful placements brought to mind the collection of treasures washed up by gentle waves. Even the scent whiffing up was a subtle hint of the ocean.

The prawn was sous vided and brushed with paprika oil. I’ve never had sous vide prawns – in fact the notion had never occurred to me to consider cooking seafood that way, but it makes perfect sense to subject such delicate flesh to the precision the technique offers. Is it a sufficient compliment that I actually went home after this meal researching home sous vide machines because of this dish?

The other highlight was the bonito malto. It was an extremely fine pale yellow powder that though strong, held back enough to avoid stumbling into overpowering fishiness. I found myself dipping each morsel into the malto to add an extra touch umami-ness.

My disappointment was the scallops. They were perfectly cooked, seared on one side, but the SO and I agreed there have been sweeter scallops that caressed your mouth with the memories of the sea. These were not overly large either, so perhaps scallop stocks were limited following the long Easter weekend seafood feasting.

The Foraging Quail - Rabbit, pumpkin purée, morels, turnips, broad beans, char leek and truffle jus. AUD$26

Rabbit, pumpkin purée, morels, turnips, broad beans, char leek and truffle jus. AUD$26

The Foraging Quail

The rabbit was the SO’s choice. I found the loin the plainest and least satisfying, while the SO voted the terrine with the best flavour and I favoured the ravioli for its butteriness. The pasta was definitely one of the thinnest I had ever seen.

The Foraging Quail - Gooralie Farm Five Way Pork, apple, chestnut, lotus seeds and baby peas. AUD$23

Gooralie Farm Five Way Pork, apple, chestnut, lotus seeds and baby peas. AUD$23

Not wanting quite to move into dessert after the rabbit, we ordered the Gooralie Farm Five Way Pork on a whim. It included pork croquettes, pork belly, pork roulette and crackling, served alongside two purees – a chestnut and an apple. The apple puree was especially good with the roulette. I found the pork croquettes and belly delightful, but was disappointed by the limpness of my crackling. The SO’s piece was better, so I was the only one left wanting better.

The Foraging Quail

Mint sorbet with crumble

We were then presented with a little mint sorbet palate cleanser. This really popped in the mouth and did exactly as it was supposed to do – clean out the tastebuds in preparation for the next course.

The Foraging Quail - Chocolate Forest Seven Textures of Chocolate with Orange Marshmallow, strawberry and meringue. AUD$23

Chocolate Forest Seven Textures of Chocolate with Orange Marshmallow, strawberry and meringue. AUD$23

The dessert choice was an easy one – while I have an adoration for cheese (much to my mum’s dismay that I might never find a husband for my love of the stinky stuff), the idea of such a variety of chocolate was much too tempting to resist. A forest was promised and was delivered – no expense was spared with the dark bittersweet chocolate in creating the chocolate soil or the mousse, all offset with fresh tart strawberries and the sweet darling mushrooms with caps of orange marshmallow and meringue stalks.

Did we enjoy our meal? Very much so. Were there things we thought could have been improved? Yes, but nothing that would deter us from going back again.

 

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Anise

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Normally when I come home from work, I head straight in the kitchen to start cooking dinner. On this particular day, I was so tired and emotionally drained from the long day, I went into our bedroom to flop on the bed and stare at the ceiling. The SO (who has a sixth sense about these things) came over to lie down beside me and after several moments, dragged me out the door to go on a walk and to find some dinner.

That walk took us up Brunswick Street and into Anise, a tiny restaurant squished between Gertie’s and Majo’s. Anise has been around a long time and has built a solid reputation for intimate fine dining. Save one small table right by the door, everyone else gets to sit up at the black bar.

Anise

Punters get plenty of attention from the wait staff, who run up and down the length of the bar to deliver the extensive selection of wines they have available. And don’t be shy to ask for wine pairing recommendations if you’re a wine n00b (like me).

Anise - Kingfish cerviche, pineapple, radish. AUD$20

Kingfish cerviche, pineapple, radish. AUD$20

I knew I had to have the kingfish cerviche. Every other experience I’ve had with cerviches has been stunning – the backbone of a brilliant cerviche is the seafood’s freshness and I really wanted to see how Anise would deliver – I was not disappointed. The black slate plate was the perfect backdrop for the bright colourful garden bursting with a slight citrus tang that didn’t hide the fresh taste of the sea from the plump kingfish and crisp veg. If this came as a main, I would’ve demanded for it on the spot.

Anise - Kangaroo fillet, pommes dauphin, aubergine relish. AUD$35

Kangaroo fillet, pommes dauphin, aubergine relish. AUD$35

Anise - Greens, almonds, herb butter. AUD$10

Greens, almonds, herb butter. AUD$10

Anise - Pork shoulder pave, porcini & prune, fennel, truffled polenta. AUD$32

Pork shoulder pave, porcini & prune, fennel, truffled polenta. AUD$32

When it came to the mains, the SO and I chose quite differently – he went with the kangaroo fillet, while I was drawn to the pork shoulder pave. And to break up the meatiness, we ordered a side of greens with almondsAnise again delivered a beautiful dish of perfectly cooked kangaroo – juicy and full of promisingly game flavour. No wonder they served it alongside a very spiced aubergine relish.

While the pork shoulder pave I was served couldn’t be faulted – it fell apart with barely a touch and the truffled polenta was embarrassingly creamy, I thought the kangaroo fillet was the better dish.

The SO and I however agreed the side of greens was the best we’ve ever had. Normally, greens are hardly impressive – they serve to compliment the main, not out trump them. But Anise hadn’t simply given a cursory hand to their greens – the bowl was filled with warm purple kale, beans and broccolini, amply dressed in well-seasoned herbed butter and  generously topped with crunchy almonds.

Anise - Flourless chocolate cake with berry coulis. AUD$15

Flourless chocolate cake with berry coulis. AUD$15

Dessert was something we ordered on a whim, but no regrets! Anise‘s flourless cake was moist and slightly bitter from the rich dark chocolate. Unlike many flourless cakes we’ve tried in the past, I was surprised that I could detect the mild nuttiness – an unexpected joy I was glad we had to finish the meal and head home on a fine note.

 

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The Australian Supermarket Spaghetti Test

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Disclaimer: While Barilla provided me with pasta and sauce samples that inspired this experiment, I purchased all the ingredients at my local supermarkets with my own dime for this experiment. My blind taste subjects were not compensated by myself or anyone else to participate in the experiment (nor were they involved in the preparation). And this is not a sponsored post. 

 

When Barilla first contacted me about trying out their pasta, I was hesitant. I like pasta, but it’s always been one of those I’m-too-tired/lazy/uninspired –to-cook-anything-else type of meals. With that attitude, it’s no surprise my pantry is generally stocked with the generic (and cheap) Homebrand pasta. And to be honest, I’ve never had a problem with it.

So I started up this conversation with a girlfriend, who as it turned out is a Barilla fan. She basically bitch-slapped me and questioned my claim to being a foodie.

“I know we think there’s no difference in packaged pasta, but there is. Trrrrrry.”, she begged.

Well, then… challenge accepted.

But let’s be fair: if I’m going to make a comparison, I might as well compare them all… or as many as I can. At the same time. Thus, I give you: the Australian Supermarket Spaghetti Test.

I’m not a scientist or chef, so I’ll try to make the Australian Supermarket Spaghetti Test as simple as possible and something that anybody can do at home. Any resemblance to an episode on Today Tonight is purely coincidental.

 

The Contenders

I’ve chosen the brands that are most readily available to the average Australian supermarket consumer. Obviously there are other brands out there, but if you shop at the big 3 supermarkets, you’ll recognise these easily enough. I also picked the most commonly available pasta shape.

  • Homebrand Spaghetti
  • Coles Solid Spaghetti  No. 1
  • Zafarelli No.4
  • San Remo Spaghetti No. 5
  • Barilla Spaghetti No. 5

The Australian Supermarket Spaghetti Test

 

Method

300gm of each pasta will be cooked as per box/packet instructions in equally salted water and prepared as a carbonara. Here is the recipe I’ll be following, adapted from the above mentioned girlfriend:

Spaghetti carbonara

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 13 minutes

Total Time: 23 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Spaghetti carbonara

Ingredients

  • 300 gm dried spaghetti
  • 4 sices of pancetta, diced
  • Half an onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Small cube of butter
  • 100gm mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons of cream
  • 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese, grated
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Instructions

  1. Boil the spaghetti in salty water according to the packet instructions.
  2. Into a hot frying pan, add the pancetta with a dizzle of olive oil and butter. Fry into just crispy.
  3. Add the garlic and onion into the frying pan, sweating them until soft before tossing in the mushrooms.
  4. Drain the pasta into a mixing bowl, reserving some of the pasta liquid.
  5. Add the pancetta and mushrooms, beaten eggs and cream. Toss well.
  6. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Sprinkle the parmesan on top before serving.
http://www.melissaloh.com/2014/03/17/australian-supermarket-spaghetti-test/

 

Assessment criteria

  • Cost
  • Nutrition
  • Texture
  • Taste

 

Cost

Cost is an easy one to compare, so here’s what I paid for each packet of pasta at the local Coles supermarket, with the exception of the Homebrand. That I bought at the local Woolworth’s supermarket.

Brand Homebrand Coles Zafarelli San Remo Barilla
Cost $0.70 $1.00 $1.83 $2.44 $2.55
Weight 500gms 500gm 500gm 500gm 500gm

Homebrand is the cheapest and the other brands’ prices get increasingly higher, with Barilla being the most dear. In fact, Barilla’s spaghetti was 264% more expensive than the Homebrand and 155% more expensive than the Coles brand.

$2.55 for a packet of pasta doesn’t sound a lot, but families with a sharp eye on their budget may not look too kindly on the price difference. Supermarkets also run specials every month, so prices can vary from time to time.

 

Nutrition

There are a number of nutritional areas to compare. This information was extracted from the back of the packets.

Brand Homebrand Coles Zafarelli San Remo Barilla
Serving size 100 gm 100 gm 125gm 125 gm 85 gm
Calories per 100gm 361 356 363

(1520 kJ)

200 356
Fat per 100gm 2.0 gm 2.2 gm 1.5gm 2.0 gm 1.5 gm
Protein per 100gm 12.8 gm 12.7 gm 12.0 gm 12.0 gm 12.5 gm
Sodium per 100gm 29 mg 6 mg 38 mg 30 mg 20 mg
Carbohydrates per 100gm 69.7 gm 68.6 gm 74.0 gm 72.0 gm 71.7 gm
Sugars per 100gm 2.8 gm 1.4 gm 0.6 gm 2.5 gm 3.5 gm

Homebrand and Coles have the highest amounts of protein, but the lowest in carbohydrates.

Coles has a significantly lower amount of sodium compared to the other brands.

Surprisingly Zafareilli has the highest number of calories per 100gm, but has one of the lowest amount of fat and sugars.

Barilla’s serving size is the smallest and has the most amount of sugar per 100gm.

 

Texture And Taste

Texture and taste are subjective assessment criteria – it depends on one’s personal preferences. Since I would need to prepare the pasta, I invited the SO and one of his buddies, Bean to do a blind taste test.

I cooked all the pastas at the same time according to the packet instructions and the experience has taught me I’m not cut out to be a commercial chef. If you’ve never tried cooking exactly the same thing five times at the same time and have your mind/eye on a million things happening, you might not understand the chaos. Knowing I would forget which bowl would hold which pasta, I grabbed a Sharpie and masking tape to label the bottom of each bowl.

And a good thing I did, as I had forgotten which pasta was which by the time all the food was prepared (including the simple tomato, cucumber and onion in balsamic vinegar dressing to clean the palate).

The Australian Supermarket Spaghetti Test

The Australian Supermarket Spaghetti Test

The Australian Supermarket Spaghetti Test

During the blind taste test, we referred to each bowl numerically. It was a fun exercise and the guys were quite surprised by the differences between each pasta. The bowls were finally raised to reveal the brand at the end of the taste test. Here are their comments during the tasting:

Coles pasta strands are thicker than Zafarelli, Homebrand and Barilla, and about the same thickness as San Remo. There was no clumping and it had the most neutral flavour, meaning one could  taste more of the sauce than pasta. It was noted that Coles might be the most suitable for very subtle sauces, such as a vongole.

Zafarelli pasta strands were as thin as Homebrand and Barilla. There was clumping and the SO described it as ‘gluggy’. We found that biting into it, the pasta stuck to teeth. And overall, it was the most similar to Homebrand.

Homebrand pasta strands were as thin as Zafarelli and Barilla. There was clumping and it was described as ‘sticky’, sticking to teeth similar to Zafarelli. It also had the most ‘pasta’ flavour of the five brands.

San Remo pasta strands look as thick as Coles. There was no clumping and biting into the pasta didn’t stick to one’s teeth. The SO noted it had a stiffer texture.

Barilla pasta strands are thin, like the Zafarelli and Homebrand. There was some clumping, but it lacked the stickiness of Zafarelli and Homebrand. Bean commented it looked the ‘prettiest’, because he could see more of the ingredients, possibly because the strands were thinner. It also had the darkest colour of the 5 brands, and while it didn’t have as heavy a pasta taste, Barilla was not as taste neutral as Coles.

Some might argue a pasta’s texture is determined by the cooking time, so here are the recommended cooking times on the packets for reference.

Brand Homebrand Coles Zafarelli San Remo Barilla
Recommended cooking times 13 min 13 min 9 min 13 min 8 min

Bean voted for Coles and Barilla. He didn’t like Zafarelli and Homebrand.

The SO voted he liked San Remo and Barilla best. He didn’t like Zafarelli and Homebrand, with Zafarelli the least favorite.

 

The Verdict

Barilla was identified by both the SO and Bean to be favoured for its taste and texture, with San Remo and surprisingly Coles as the next alternative. Zafarelli and Homebrand were the least favourite of the 5 brands… and it was reinforced when I offered Bean to take the leftovers of whichever brand home – he chose the San Remo and Barilla.

Was I surprised by the results? Yes! All these pastas are made with the same ingredients – durum wheat semolina. So how is it they can taste different? What is it that makes one pasta have a more ‘pasta’ taste or be ‘stickier’ than the others? I honestly thought there wouldn’t be any difference between any of the brands. I now stand corrected.

Do these results mean I will now change my pasta purchasing habits? I don’t know, because as the SO said, it’s unlikely we would be able to distinguish one brand from another, had we had each on a different day.

However the SO later added (with a wink) that he was calling dibs on the last container of leftover Barilla carbonara.

 

Additional Notes:

Of course there may be other aspects you may consider when making purchase choices. These are the additional information on each packets.

  • While Coles and Homebrand are both labelled ‘product of Australia’, only Homebrand states they are ‘100% Australian grown wheat’.
  • While Zafarelli and San Remo are both labelled ‘free of genetic modification’, only San Remo is labelled ‘Halal’.

 

Do you have a favorite pasta brand?

 

Disclaimer: While Barilla provided me with pasta and sauce samples that inspired this experiment, I purchased all the ingredients at my local supermarkets with my own dime for this experiment. My blind taste subjects were not compensated by myself or anyone else to participate in the experiment (nor were they involved in the preparation). And this is not a sponsored post. 

My Top 5 Brisbane Breakfast Discoveries of 2013

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It’s taking me a little longer to get back into the swing of things after my 2-week work trip. Who knew I could accumulate that much laundry?!

While I’m getting my life back in order, I discovered my 2013 has been full of breakfasts. And they’ve been good ones, bad ones and ones that could’ve done better. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and you need to have a great start to any day, so here are my top 5 Brisbane breakfast discoveries from 2013.

 

1. The Baker’s Arms

Fruit crumble. AUD$8.50

Fruit crumble. AUD$8.50

The Baker’s Arms might be a little out of the way for us and the parking situation in the area can be tricky, but it’s well worth the trip for freshly baked goods, healthy breakfast options and good coffee (try their cold drip). Bookings are not compulsory, but I have no doubt if the word keeps spreading, eventually that’ll be the only way you’ll be able to grab a table with them.

I still have dreams about their divine fruit crumble, but their menu is whatever they have in the chiller and on the counter. But do me a favour: try their almond croissant.

 

2. Double Shot Espresso

Double Shot Espresso

Why on earth did we wait so long to give Double Shot Espresso a go? And they are right around the corner from us.

These guys can rival some of the best breakfast cafes in New Farm (and there are some seriously strong contenders), but at least with Double Shot Espresso, there’s slightly more on-street parking, there are plenty of trees lining the streets to offer shade while you wait, and the food is worth it (try the Croque Madam if you are carving something sinfully rich and savoury). You just have to remember to bring cash.

 

3. Comfort at My Table

Comfort At My Table

Comfort at My Table might have the largest premises amongst my top 5, but they are so popular, you might not get a table without a little planning. We’ve been turned away several times, but that hasn’t deterred us from trying whenever we can to get back in.

Sure, the decor might be a little too sweet for your crotchey grandpa or pre-coffee partner, but the service is swift and the tucker soul satisfying. Keep an eye on their Facebook account for updates on themed menus. The menu doesn’t stick around long enough for you to get bored.

 

4. Ponycat

Avocado Smash on rye toast with a preserved lemon salsa. AUD$10

Avocado Smash on rye toast with a preserved lemon salsa. AUD$10

Forget that their name is super quirky and vibe funky, the same could be said about Ponycat‘s menu. Their offerings go beyond just poached eggs, ham and hollandaise sauce, and that’s one of the many reasons why we love stopping by. If you’re a sweets person, try their French toast.

The Ponycat crowd tends to be early and it isn’t a large cafe, so if you’re willing to have a later breakfast and park around the corner (Brunswick Street is the pits for on-street parking), I’d recommend having a breakfast at Ponycat.

 

5. Bungalow 4171

Savoury mince with tomatillo and charred corn topped with mash and a chipotle chutney and toast. AUD$15

Savoury mince with tomatillo and charred corn topped with mash and a chipotle chutney and toast. AUD$15

Bungalow 4171 might be last on the list, but they’ve certainly made a strong impression and were a surprise of my year (ie. I never knew they existed till I walked through their front door). Their vibe, decor and variety of seating areas are testament to the amount of consideration they’ve put in to making their cafe a true local. If the weather is fine, be tempted to sip your coffee and read a book out the front of Bungalow 4171 .

And don’t just check their menu. Get off your butt and survey the assorted goodies at the counter to add their little works of pastry art to the list of temptations.

Oh, and because Bungalow 4171 is a little further out of the way and in the burbs, they will probably be the easiest to find an on-street park.

Brisbane Gangsters Ball 2013

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Playing dress up is a game almost everyone in every culture has done. Whether you did it as a child or an adult, dressing up as your parents, favourite character, a profession or a particular time period can be a lot of fun.

Being able to do so when you’re a particular ethnicity can be tricky though. Being Chinese, I cannot bring myself to dress in European medieval or Edwardian era clothes (no matter how much I love it), because in those days, the Chinese just weren’t in that type of garb.

The 1930s to 50s on the other hand, is an entirely fair game! I had so much fun with the girls at last year’s Gangster’s Ball, it was a no brainer to sign up for this year’s event as well. The only difference was I had time to plan the look I wanted to go with.

Rather than wear what everyone else typically wears, I decided to take advantage of my ethnicity to pay tribute to the Shanghainese from the 1930s. Women were coming into their own and the city was the undisputed financial hub of the Asia Pacific before the communist party took over in 1949. Shanghai then was as big as New York and definitely did not have the same ‘prohibition’ towards alcohol. It was the place and time to be.

Brisbane Gangsters Ball 2013

This influenced the fashion and the loose traditional qipao evolved into the cheongsam, accentuating the wearer’s figure and reflected influences from East and West in fabric and style. It was no wonder it became popular with women in high society, and still holds its appeal today.

But it’s one thing to research the period and quite another to bring the ensemble together. A cheongsam is a cheongsam, and I am really pleased with how this cheongsam turned out. It took an hour to alter it at home with the help of the SO and some pins, but well worth the effort.

But what brought it together and took it back into the 1930s, is the hair and makeup. It takes a lot more research to DIY, if you don’t want to spend a fortune with a makeup artist or hairdresser. Thank god for:

  • Youtube and pin curl tutorials. And the girls for helping me pin the back of my hair.
  • Bobbi Brown’s concealer, for hiding my skin breakout
  • Urban Decay’s Naked palette, for making neutral eyes a breeze
  • MAC’s Russian Red lipstick, for giving me the perfect red lips

20130913gangstersball02

Cheongsam: Taobao
Shoes: Tony Bianco
Accessories: Fur collar – borrowed. Pearl necklace – Diva. Flower hairpin – Purchased in Bangkok.

Have you ever dressed up? What did you dress up as and how much research did you put into it?

The Garden Share Collective: An introduction to our balcony garden

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If you’ve been following me on Twitter and Instagram, you might have noticed an increasing number of photos about things growing in our balcony garden. So I was excited with Lizzie of Strayed From the Table asked if I would be interested in joining a Garden Blog Hop. I have said ‘yes’, created the new category ‘In the Garden’ and am looking forward to making regular updates about how well (and poorly) the garden is going, because there’s only so many words one can fit in a tweet.

Nasturtium

To kick off this Garden Share, allow me to play host and introduce you to my little garden space.

We live in an inner-city apartment, which thankfully comes with a 8m by 1.5m balcony. It gets full morning sunlight on one end and then full afternoon light, which warms the wall for the rest of the evening. We don’t have a lot of wind, but when it is stormy, it can get a little crazy and some plants will get moved to a more protected area of the balcony.

Balcony Garden from Nightchild80 on Vimeo.

At the moment, the balcony garden has:

  • Aloe vera
  • Apple mint and regular mint
  • Asparagus
  • Basil
  • Beetroot
  • Broccoli
  • Celery
  • Chilli
  • Dwarf sugar snap peas
  • Lettuce
  • Mizuna
  • Pea shoot
  • Potato
  • Rosemary
  • Spring onion
  • Tatsoi
  • Tomato
  • Nasturtium
  • Alyssum

This might seem like a lot of plants, but I’m only secure about my aloe vera, spring onion and rosemary. I share a testy first-date type of relationship with everything else, as I have never been raised as much of a gardener and haven’t had too much luck with plants. In fact, be prepared for a report on something dying every time this blog share comes along.

While the balcony garden is protected by larger pests and predators, like possums, it has already seen battle with aphids and white moth caterpillars. I am currently trying to do companion planting to minimise pests and maximise the available space. Commercial chemical warfare against pests will be a last resort.

Over the next month, I’m hoping to harvest my first pea shoots, which will hopefully be ready in about 2-4 weeks and some of my baby salad leaf veggies – beetroot, lettuce, mizuna and tatsoi. Most of these are still at the two leaf stage, so I am learning to be patient.

TheGardenShareCollective150pixThis blogpost is the first as part of the Garden Share Collective, where we tour around the web looking at food lovers’ veggies patches, container gardens or herbs on the window sill.

Drop in and have a look at how other contributors are going with their planting affairs.

Baked bean curry: the simplest curry you will ever make

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It’s been crazy busy the last 2 weeks at work. Whenever work is a bitch, home time (loosely translated into ‘snuggle time’ with the SO) becomes more precious and the beckoning of the couch is far too strong! The last thing I feel like doing is chores or spend too long in the kitchen.

When I get days like that, ordering pizza or takeaway would be the easiest thing to do, but the price of pizza these days is ridiculous. Even with coupons, it is hard to convince myself to fork out the money for the most basic of takeaways. After all, I just want something ridiculously quick and easy.


This is literally one of the urgh-no-time-to-cook recipe I fall back on all the time. It is also mindbogglingly cheap to make and it was a regular menu item during my university days.

To prepare, it takes 3 minutes to wash and put rice on to cook in the rice cooker. And while that is cooking away, I can whip this super easy baked bean curry to go with it.

Baked bean curry

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Yield: Serves 4

Baked bean curry

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 200 gm beef mince
  • 420 gm baked beans
  • ½ cup water
  • 3-4 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tbsp chilli powder (optional)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Instructions

  1. Heat a frying pan/saucepan with the olive oil.
  2. Cook the onion until translucent before adding the mince to brown.
  3. Add the baked beans, water, curry powder and chilli powder. Stir until it starts to bubble. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 5 mins.
  4. Taste and add more curry/chilli powder to adjust to your liking.
  5. Serve on a bed of steamed rice.
http://www.melissaloh.com/2012/03/26/baked-bean-curry-the-simplest-curry-you-will-ever-make/

Kimchi Fried Rice

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As much as I love kimchi, I hardly stocked it in our fridge. A small tub of the stuff at an Asian or Korean grocer would easily cost AUD$5 and I could not bring myself to spend that much on fermented cabbage, except on extreme occasions when the hankering just got too much to bear.

And especially when I can easily polish it off in one sitting, like a menstruating crampy heartbroken teenager with ice-cream. Which in saying that, we generally don’t stock ice-cream either.

Besides, I was terrified something might go wrong (as it often does with me) and I would be growing alien life forms instead of delicious spicy cabbage.

Still if I wanted kimchi and was going to be too tight-arsed about it to buy the pre-made stuff, then I was going to have to learn to make it at home. Cue lots of research and I found this simple kimchi recipe, a head of wombok for the ridiculously low price of AUD$0.80 and got to work.

It worked with great results, even without the seafood bits! I’ve already made three batches and each time has been really good. Wombok is one of those vegetables that is cheap and you get lots of it – one head yields enough kimchi to last a week. It keeps well in the fridge and now I always have big tubs of kimchi waiting to be a side dish to a packed lunch or dinner.

Or if I am particularly lazy, to be cooked into kimchi fried rice. This is not only filling, but healthy and incredibly tasty.

If you want the vegetarian version, substitute the animal protein for more kimchi, without the liquid or a firm tofu.

A vegan version would require you to substitute the fish sauce in the kimchi with something else.

 

Kimchi Fried Rice

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Kimchi Fried Rice

Ingredients

  • 4 cups cooked rice (or 2 cups uncooked rice)
  • 1 cup kimchi with liquid
  • 1 cup minced pork or beef
  • 2 stalks shallot, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Cook rice as directed in a rice cooker or in a pot.
  2. Allow it to cool and dry a little if it is too moist.*
  3. Chop kimchi into small pieces.
  4. Season the minced pork or beef with soy sauce and pepper.
  5. Heat the oil in a large wok/frying pan.
  6. Sauté the minced garlic before adding the pork/beef to brown.
  7. When the pork/beef is cooked, add the kimchi and cook for 5 minutes.
  8. Add minced garlic and green onion. Cook a minute and turn off the heat.
  9. Add the cooked rice and mix all ingredients well.
  10. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  11. Cook a minute and turn off the heat.
  12. Cook the eggs sunny side up in a separate frying pan.
  13. Put rice on a dish and place a fried egg sunny side up on top of each serve.

Notes

* - using day old rice that has been cooled in the fridge helps dry out the rice a little, which makes for a less gluggy fried rice. Stir fry the rice in the wok before browning the meat to reheat it through.

http://www.melissaloh.com/2012/03/20/kimchi-fried-rice/

A last minute DIY project: my sister’s wedding hair accessories

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I never planned on doing any crafting while I was in Singapore for my sister’s wedding – how could I when all my supplies are at home in Australia?

But as fate would have it, my sister is a terrible organiser and her make-up artist did not have any accessories to lend her. We tried trawling up and down Orchard Road, but she found nothing suitable and each store would simply point us to the next one.

Frustrated, I said if we found nothing by the end of the day, I would handmake her something.

Me and my big mouth.

We ended up making a trip to Arab Street to select some beads, pearls and wire, costing her less than SGD$10. And after showing her what I had in mind and how to twist the beads, we worked 2-3 hours into the night side by side to complete this.

While I have not gone scuba diving in years, I drew on my memories of elkhorn corals seen in our tropical waters and watching in wonder at documentaries of coral reefs spawning on the same night – it is such a time of wonder to think so many coral species spawn at the same time, yet eggs and sperm of the same species do meet in the vast sea to create new life.

I thought this would be an appropriate motif to use, seeing as my sister and her fiance are from such different parts of the world, and have found each other.

It didn’t hurt they also have a shared love for scuba diving.

Congratulations to my gorgeous sister and her new hubby! I would only hurt my fingers twisting wire and beads for you.

Urbane’s 8 course omnivore degustation

Life has been a hectic string of activities for FoodMeUpScotty, Feed Me Now Brisbane and myself. We had been trying to organise a get-together for much of the year, but something always got in the way. When we caught up again at Eat Drink Blog, we promised we’d have dinner and as luck would have it, we were able to lock something in to sample Brisbane’s two hatted restaurant, Urbane.

Seeing as the restaurant came with many positive reviews (many from FoodMeUpScotty) and it has already been awarded two hats by the Australian Good Food and Travel Guide, we arrived buzzing with anticipation at having an amazing night. Urbane offers a 5 or 8 course degustation menu, with an omnivore or vegan option – an rarity I was both delighted and intrigued to learn as Chef Alejandro Cancino is apparently a vegan. We opted to splurge on the 8 course omnivore degustation, giving us the opportunity to savour the same menu and simply concentrate on the conversation.

If we had any doubts the night was going to be amazing, Chef Alejandro Cancino and the Urbane team made sure to dispel them and they definitely did not disappoint. We did have to wait a couple of minutes to be seated, but everything from the attentive service to the intricate plating was stunning, making it one of the best nights out.

Urbane - 8 course degustation dinner

Kombucha

The first item off the rank was the kombucha, a fermented tea. This one was made of pineapple and chai, and made for a far more pleasant sweet beverage than previous kombuchas I’ve sampled. The tiny glass glasses were accompanied by fluffy white hand towels infused with lemon myrtle, which were so inviting, Feed Me Now Brisbane and I desperately wanted to smoother our faces into them.

Urbane - 8 course degustation dinner

Potato

The degustation menu really doesn’t lend itself to much in the description department – these paper thin strips were simply listed as ‘Potato’. What they failed to convey was that these sesame seed potato crisps were possibly the best version of potato chips I have ever had. These were incredibly moreish to nibble on without being so salty you’re gasping for water.

Urbane - 8 course degustation dinner

Avocado, Quinoa

The black quinoa crisp was not much bigger than a stick of Wiggley’s chewing gum, and served as the platter for tiny fresh pale green cubes of avocado and dots of red chilli capsicum. An interesting little number, though the capsicum flavour was strong and lingered awhile.

Urbane - 8 course degustation dinner

Tomato, Green Strawberry

We couldn’t help but be intrigued by this tarty refreshing number as our waiter described the techniques involved in bringing this one together. The tomato was skinned and dehydrated under heat lamp, so although it lacked a ‘skin’, the dehydration process created a skin-like texture to encase the juicy insides. Its companions were pickled radish that seemed quite traditionally Japanese and green strawberry in tomato water.

Urbane - 8 course degustation dinner

Smoked Corn

The smoked corn could’ve almost been labelled a dessert. What looked like a soil texture was really super cold smoked corn ‘soil’ granules. The play on texture and temperature made it a delightfully childlike experience and I wouldn’t mind having a large tub of it sitting in my freezer.

Urbane - 8 course degustation dinner

Tofu, Kombu

While the tofu in kombu sauce looked the least imaginative of all the courses – it resembled many a Japanese chilled tofu dish, I still enjoyed it. The kombu sauce was thick with umami flavour and the tofu was silky.

Not pictured was the macadamia bread with smoked sea salt butter. Presented in a warmed stone bowl and cupped in the folds of a crisply starched white napkin, the quartered bread was fresh and lacked the yeastiness many breads tend to contribute to a bloaty tummy. Feed Me Now Brisbane and I each had 1.5 slices of the bread, slathered in copious lashings of the smoked sea salt butter – this was the way bread should always be made.

Urbane - 8 course degustation dinner

Carrot

FoodMeUpScotty was particularly excited about the Carrot dish, as he had had it before and quite enjoyed this little number. This dish incorporated a carrot foam and a thick creamy (though I doubt there was any actual cream in it) soup beneath a delicately balanced covering of finely sliced carrot discs. This was not my favourite dish, but the technique needed to bring this one together is to be admired.

Urbane - 8 course degustation dinner

Watercress, Sugarsnap, Smoked Tapioca

The water cress purée with white asparagus, tapioca cream and onion petals was one of the highlight dishes for me. How on earth did they turn water cress into such a thick savoury purée that had all three of us licking our plates clean (note: if you ever wish to invite any of us to dinner, be prepared for plate licking. It’s a compliment.)

Urbane - 8 course degustation dinner

Quinoa, Cucumber, Apple

The quinoa delicately cupped by a cucumber stack didn’t really hold up on its own – the salty toasted buckwheat with cubed sweet apple brought everything together, while the bottom swirled the citrus milk.

Urbane - 8 course degustation dinner

Octopus, Jerusalem Artichoke, Finger Lime

I love all my seafood, but octopus can be a tough one to get right. Often in unskilled hands, octopus flesh transforms into rubber bands and is chewier than old boots. Thankfully Urbane have this down pat. Unlike the octopus I love Gerard’s Bistro, their octopus has a crunchy exterior that encases the plump octopus flesh within and the textural difference continues in the Jerusalem artichoke preparation and the squid ink with finger lime that burst like fairy bubbles in your mouth.

Urbane - 8 course degustation dinner

Sweetbread, Charred Leek, Onion

Feed Me Now Brisbane had some hesitation with this dish, after her first encounter with sweetbreads at Café Arlette. Texture was her issue, but one she needn’t have had. Duck tongue combined with charred baby leeks and onion turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable dish, which none of the dreaded squishiness.

Urbane - 8 course degustation dinner

Wagyu, Oyster, Tendon

Quite honestly, my well-done wagyu cap steak really should’ve been classed as a medium well-done. Now I am thrilled they left a little pink in the centre, but I know had the SO been looking over my shoulder, he would’ve arched an eyebrow and subtly hinted I should consider sending it back. None the less, this was the most stunningly satisfying dish that had me licking the plate to savour every last drop of the thick oyster sauce. Sure, it might have looked the most ordinary on the plate, but trust me when I say it capped off the mains quite beautifully and left me aching to start the dessert courses.

Urbane - 8 course degustation dinner

Local Pink Lady Apple

The Local Pink Lady Apple was a pre-dessert course. Now I have never heard of a pre-dessert course, but I totally love the idea. Pink lady apples were done in several ways, including a subtle sorbet and dehydrated skin. The apple was complimented with a lemongrass and ginger reduction

Urbane - 8 course degustation dinner

Mandarin, Honeycomb, Basil

This Mandarin grapefruit parfait with honeycomb was my favourite dessert course of the evening. Served with bush basil for a twist on the sweet citrus flavour, the parfait included honeycomb was made with honey from Urbane’s rooftop hive.

Urbane - 8 course degustation dinner

Chocolate, Lemon Myrtle, Hazelnut

For some reason, I mentally compared this dessert to the chocolate one we had at the Foraging Quail, but they were nothing alike… besides the fact they had a chocolate soil element. Urbane’s chocolate course had very subtle flavours, just the hint of lemon myrtle and hazelnuts to balance everything and avoid a sugar overload. In fact, I was quite surprised by the little burst of saltiness in my last spoonful.

Urbane - 8 course degustation dinner

Native Fruit Infusion, Mint Chocolate

The native fruit infusion was a Davidson plum tea. The last time I had tasted anything with Davidson plum was Kelly Kwong’s pork buns with Davidson plum sauce and I didn’t enjoy the strong incredibly sour flavour (the chilli version on the other hand was far more palatable).

I’m afraid Urbane have not been able to change my mind about this ingredient. The potent sour tea knocked my tastebuds around and I was unfortunately declared the loser after several attempts to sip it. Much of it was left in the cup and I had to soothe my bruised foodie ego with the handmade chocolate mint, served on a plump pillow of green which we were allowed to pinch for a surprising minty flavour boost.

Urbane on Urbanspoon

Eat Drink Blog 2014

I debated about whether I should write this post, because I am in the unique position to have had a foot in both the organisers’ and attendees’ camp at this year’s Eat Drink Blog conference. I made the very hard decision to pull out of the organising committee after a bout of health issues and was later given the privilege to come as an attendee. It was a very generous gesture on the part of the comm, who all welcomed me with open arms, and it just goes to show what awesome people they are.

But the experience is worth being chronicled and inevitably compared to previous years’, so here goes.

The Venue

Eat Drink Blog 2014

This year’s conference was held at Wandering Cooks, Brisbane’s first incubator for food entrepreneurs, such as market stall holders, caterers and gourmet food vans. While it wasn’t as fancy as EDB Adelaide or as hippy as EDB Perth, Director Angela Hirst has created an amazing space that was perfect for showcasing what can be possible when you pursue your passion at whatever stage in your life.

The committee definitely made the right call to hold it in September – the weather was perfect and we got a touch of delicious warm Queensland sunshine during the breaks. While the Weather Man forecasted showers, the skies only blessed us with the faintest of spits during lunch, so big thumbs up to the comm on that decision.

Eat Drink Blog 2014

My sole gripe was that sitting in the back row meant the passing street traffic made it difficult to hear the presentations if the roller doors weren’t down and the volume of the speakers turned up higher.

 

The Program and Speakers

There were a couple of similarities in the topics between this year’s conference and previous years’.

The highlights for me were the chefs’ panel, which comprised of Philip Johnson (E’cco), Brent Farrell (85 Miskin St), Tony Percuoco (Tartufo) and Josh Okron (Prive 249), Claire Davie of Melbourne Gastonome‘s presentation on ACCC guidelines and Brenda Fawdon (Mondo Organics)’s presentation on Ethical Food.

Then there was the post-lunch activity. All the bloggers were asked to get in a line according to how long they had been blogging – the objective being that everyone would get the opportunity to meet other bloggers who started the same time as you. Anthony the MC gave the arbitrary 10 year blogger as the oldest, but as it turned out, I was the OLDEST blogger at 13 years. The next closest bloggers had been blogging for 11 years.

The Sponsors

Where would the conference be without the sponsors’ generosity? Kudos to the businesses and organisations for taking a chance and working with the committee to bring together some amazing treats for attendees.

My favorites in the goodie bags:

  • Dreamfarm’s Mini Supoon (this product has now become my go-to spoon for getting the last dregs at the bottom of jars.
  • A trio pack from Roza’s Gourmet Sauces: the sweet mustard is divine
  • Go Natural (the bar is still my favourite)

Eat Drink Blog 2014

Eat Drink Blog 2014
Other sponsor favorites:

Eat Drink Blog 2014

Eat Drink Blog 2014

Eat Drink Blog 2014
Unfortunately one of the biggest difficulties for this year’s committee was securing financial sponsorship to help with some of the running costs of the event. Perhaps it was due to the wide range of other food related events happening in Brisbane around the same time or the focus on the G20 in November. Whatever the reason, this has been the first time a committee had to request for donations from attendees. Now the question about whether the conference should become a paid event has never been more pertinent – She Cooks She Gardens has a very succinct blogpost on the issue and these might be some considerations for next year’s committee.

 

The Conference ‘Dinner’

This is the first time I’ve attended an EDB dinner function that 127 Bar and Bistro for a stellar canapé dinner (and apparently mind-blowing dessert surprise, which I missed out on).

 

The Sunday Activity

There were three Sunday activities to choose from, but as I’m off alcohol on doctor’s orders, I only had two options available to me and the comm allocated me to the Bee One Third session at Gerard’s Bistro. Read more about that session here.

Something big this way comes

Things have been a little quiet on this blog. I won’t apologise for the lack of updates, because we have something huge to announce and have been waiting for everything to settle. But now it’s time to let you in on the secret.

BabyAnnouncement2014

Bee One Third workshop at Eat Drink Blog 2014

Sponsored: The Bee One Third on James Street was one of three Eat Drink Blog 2014 workshops available through the event sponsors. Attendees were invited to nominate and participate in a workshop for free.

It’s weird that while I’m not a huge fan of sugar, I have a thing for honey. Thick luscious ropes of liquid gold drizzled over pancakes, muesli, slices of simple tea cakes or into a steeping cup of herbal tea is something I’m more than happy to indulge in. But when one talks about bees, there’s often a flash of panic in people’s eyes.

Bee One Third is helping to bring these amazing creatures into Brisbane’s urban environment and it was very heartening to hear that local businesses have been hopping onto the program, and one of the first was the James Street Precinct.

Bee One Third

Our Bee One Third guide Jack spots a mop of harvest gold curls with the matching hipster beard. While all of us donned the unflattering billowy white apiary tops to protect ourselves and our egos from these tiny creatures, the man oozed a touch of Nirvana calm as he led us up onto the rooftop to smoke the hives and show us its inner workings before returning us to the forest floor for scrumptiously sweet morning tea by Gerard’s Bar and sampling a range of honeys collected from various Brisbane districts.

Bee One Third

Bee One Third

Bee One Third

Bee One Third

Bee One Third

Bee One Third

Bee One Third

Bee One Third

Bee One Third

My favorite jar of honey was from the Valley, which had a depth of smokiness I had never imagined possible from honey. Who knew something this amazing could come out of one of the trashiest areas of Brisbane?

Bee One Third

I’m bummed that all my photos of the amazing honey desserts by Gerard’s Bar were blown out, but trust me when I say they were freaking amazing without being overly sweet and I DEFINITELY want to come back to try their menu – particularly their vegan platter. Yes, you heard right – they offer a platter for vegans.

Sponsored: The Bee One Third on James Street was one of three Eat Drink Blog 2014 workshops available through the event sponsors. Attendees were invited to nominate and participate in a workshop for free.

Good Food and Wine Show kicks off today in Brisbane!

The Good Food and Wine Show kicks off today in Brisbane! I missed it last year due to being in Perth for the Eat Drink Blog conference, but I’ve always had a great time every other time I’ve been.

The Good Food and Wine Show is running October 17-19 at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre and I get to go Saturday AND Sunday! I think I’m going to need their online timetables to ensure I don’t miss out on anything. Adriano Zumbo is also visiting for the first time (remember my little gush about his V8 cake when I visited Adriano Zumbo Pâtissier at The Star in Sydney two years ago?), so there should be plenty of fun.

Now if the show could bring Yotam Ottolenghi onto our Aussie shores next year, that would be freaking AH-mazing!

What are your plans this weekend?