I’ll be honest – I’m not actually 100% certain of the theological reasons for fasting in Lent. I have a vague notion that it’s about commemorating Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, and that there is a penitential aspect, too. For me, it’s partly because I love the idea of a religious observance connected with food in any way – I think I’ve mentioned before that I find the idea of the Jewish dietary laws appealing in the way they bring the eternal into everyday life. Lent works like that for me, a bit. Also, of course, I tend to view being vegetarian as being an intrinsically good thing environmentally and on an ethical / animal welfare level. It doesn’t work for me very well physically for long periods, which is why I don’t do it full time at present, but 40 days isn’t too overwhelming.
Having just spent the last three days away from home and at the mercy of caterers, however, I’m beginning to think that Lent has another, very good reason for existing: it promotes empathy.
It’s February, which means that medical researchers from around Australia flock to Lorne for a series of
parties conferences, leaving the rest of us behind, eyeing the beach-friendly weather bitterly and noting that the lab is strangely quiet.
We had about 30 people from our floor go to Lorne Cancer this year, so it was particularly noticeable. Fortunately, the RAs and I have our own February tradition – as soon as all our scientists have nicked off to Lorne, we find somewhere gorgeous to go for breakfast or High Tea. Why should the postdocs have all the fun?
After our appalling experience with High Tea at the Grand Hyatt last November, we decided to fall back on the pricier but more reliable Langham Hotel. And we were very glad we did, because really, this was much more what high tea is supposed to be about.
A little Scoopon is a dangerous thing, or at least it is where I’m involved. Practically all my eating-out reviews (especially the ones that aren’t within walking distance) are of things I have been Scooponed into, and that is no less the case today.
I’ve been wanting to thank my friend Geoff for his help and accompaniment last year with my singing exam and recital, and when I saw a Scoopon for High Tea in the Yarra Valley, this seemed like just the thing. So on Sunday, Andrew and I, along with Geoff and his partner, drove up into the hills (why do they call it a valley when it’s in the hills?) to Warburton and Wonga Park for High Tea at the Jump Inn Café.
The first thing you should know is that this was *worlds* better than the Grand Hyatt. Worlds. The service was pleasant. Their sandwiches did not curl. Their scones were proper scones. And there was so much cake and pastry that we couldn’t finish our little three-tiered stands, though we really, really wanted to.
And, actually, this feels like damning it with faint praise. Basically, it was a really nice high tea, and one that fit the setting very nicely.
It’s very quiet in my Division this week, because there is a symposium on p53 (if you want the basics on p53, I’ve written a little bit about it at the bottom of this post – for the purposes of my story, all you need to know is that p53 is one of my Division’s very favourite proteins) just down the road from us. It’s cheap, it’s a topic that is very relevant to our researchers, and one of my Division Heads is an organiser, so basically all the researchers were there on Monday and Tuesday, before moving back to our own Institute Symposium and Opening for the rest of the week. Not much science is being done just now.
When the researchers are away, it is traditional for me and the technicians to play, and Tuesday’s playground of choice was High Tea at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. We are very partial to a good high tea.
This wasn’t one.
(Yeah, I don’t know what’s happening with the move either. I’ll keep you posted. But on the bright side, my new website for all things musical is now up and running at Cate Sings, and I even have plans for making sure it doesn’t eat my life…)
A few weeks ago, Scoopon had a deal on a 7-course degustation at The Budapest Restaurant and Palinka Bar. We thought this would be a nifty present for our friend T’s birthday, so today Andrew and I sallied forth to Elsternwick to meet T and her husband for a Hungarian lunch.
I had this really irritating dream very early on Saturday morning. I dreamed that I’d gone out to lunch somewhere, and halfway through the meal, the restaurant moved me and my friend to a table with ten other people. Then, when I left, they wouldn’t split the bill, were really rude about my maths when I tried to work out my share, and billed us for the music that had been playing over the sound system (!), as well as for the fact that I had a food blog (the charge for this was $3.75, so clearly they didn’t think much of my blog, either). I woke up very cranky, and then couldn’t get back to sleep for half an hour, because I kept thinking of things I really should have said to them. Esprit d’escalier is totally wasted on my subconscious, but I couldn’t seem to let go. One thing I particularly wished I had said was that normally I only review places I like, but since they were charging me for my blog, I would make an exception…
The three course chocolate Degustation at Shocolate in Fitzroy was nothing like that. It was, in fact, utterly delicious, indulgent and decadent, the service was great, and not only did they not charge me for having a food blog (I’m still annoyed by that, even though it was a figment of my imagination!), our waiter was absolutely lovely about answering my nosy questions about allergies, and he even gave us a couple of chocolates for free.
For many years, there was a truckies’ café called Zorba’s on the corner of Sydney Rd and Munro St, which served cheap souvlaki, chips, hamburgers, and other food of that ilk until 2am weeknights (4am on weekends). In my more nocturnal days, these late hours were an absolute boon, though the souvlakis were occasionally… less than boonful.
Sometime in the last year or so, they closed down, and for a while there was nothing on that corner, but for the last few weeks, as I’ve been walking home of an evening, there has been a lot of activity in that old café. Every day has marked new developments… painting… refurbishing… black and orange café furniture… then some really gorgeous things like a feature wall of what looks like Moroccan photos and architecture, and four big, ornamentally-tiled tables pushed together in the centre of the space to form a communal table. Very attractive. The sign out the front says ‘Zaatar’, which I thoroughly approve of as a name, since it continues the ‘Z’ theme for this corner and is of course the name of a Lebanese herb, seed and spice mix, generally served on bread. (Indeed, their website, which I am already charmed by, tells us that “Zaatar makes you big and strong… and SMART!”)
Walking past this morning, I saw that they were actually open! (Yes, I really was that excited – remember, I walked 14 kilometres to Williamstown yesterday after work, and then went on a ghost walk – you can bet that I was ready for someone else to make my lunch today…) The late morning was set aside to help a friend with house-hunting, but I insisted we go there for lunch. After all, it’s our new local Lebanese place – we need to check it out!
I’ve been a bit of an absentee blogger of late, largely due to extreme tiredness, which is not conducive to exciting cooking. One of the reasons for this is probably the Global Corporate Challenge, which I am currently participating in through work. It’s a walking challenge, where teams of seven wear pedometers for 4 months, enter their numbers online daily, and try to walk a distance that is equivalent to around the world. Or something along those lines. The fun part is that they have this map of the world and a route which you follow, and you don’t know where you are going until you get there.
My workplace has three teams, two of which are in my Divisions. I’m captain of one team (5 West Girl Power!), and it is therefore my job to keep us motivated. I’m doing this by bringing in healthy energy snacks, providing random historical information about the locations we are in, organising team photos with us all dressed up with feather boas and brightly coloured costumes, and, when I can’t think of anything better to do, organising things that might contribute to our step count.
Things like a chocolate walk. Because spending two hours ambling around the centre of Melbourne eating a lot of chocolate is *totally* in the spirit of this challenge!
We met up with Andrew’s parents for lunch today. They live in Glen Waverley, which is not terribly close to Coburg, and given Andrew’s current homework load, and my current tiredness load, I suggested meeting somewhere between the two suburbs to save everyone driving and cooking time. Ivanhoe looked like a good compromise location, so I went a-Googling and suggested Sabas.
I haven’t eaten Lebanese food in years. We used to go out for Lebanese reasonably often when I was little, but when we moved to Adelaide there was a distinct lack of Lebanese restaurants, so we’d go Greek instead. The part of Coburg I now live in is known as Little Turkey for its very large Turkish population and commensurate number of Turkish restaurants, and there’s a somewhat dodgy Greek place on our corner, but not a Lebanese restaurant in sight. So I was pretty excited at going back to my childhood in this way! And also at going to a new restaurant, something we don’t do very often.
I’m having rather a nice re-introduction to work this week after my holidays, at least as far as the non-work parts are concerned (alas, work itself has been pure trained-monkey stuff since Monday). About half my scientists are off at a conference at a Queensland resort island, and the rest of us have been assuaging our feelings of envy with High Tea at the Langham on Tuesday, and a champagne breakfast today.
(Of course, the main topic at today’s champagne breakfast turned out to be whether or not our travellers would actually make it home, since the airline helpfully cancelled their flight 36 hours before departure, and I’ve spent most of the intervening time trying to get them re-booked, despite the best efforts of said airline. We’re still not all that sure that they won’t wind up stranded in Sydney tonight.)
But I digress. We decided to investigate a new cafe in Brunswick, Veri Koko, which is on Sydney Road between Albert and Glenlyon and serves food with a Mediterranean and Greek feel. Actual Greek food is pretty rare on Sydney Road – you can take your pick of literally dozens of Turkish restaurants, and we are certainly not lacking in pizza shops, but I don’t think there are any other Greek places there at all. I cook a lot of what I think of as Generic Mediterranean food, and am rather fond of Turkish food, which uses similar ingredients and flavours – but it’s only when I actually eat at a Greek restaurant or café that I am reminded just how distinct the flavours are. Greek flavours seem to be cleaner and freshers, at least to my palate – more imbued with lemon and oregano, and much less imbued with yoghurt and cumin.