Through my eyes: Sacré-Cœur, Paris, France

It was a decent, cold, rainy walk to the top, but goodness was it worth it… what an absolutely stunning church…

10.120

Eat here: Mai Lan Bakery, Melbourne (banh mi)

Mai Lan Bakery, Preston, Melbourne

IMG_4183.JPG

Husband and I are those idiots who get up on a Sunday morning and go for a 15 – 20km walk, finishing up when most other people are waking up to a nasty hangover. Maybe because of our past jobs in the health and fitness industry that necessitated early starts, our body clocks automatically wake us early even when there’s no alarm set, even if we have been partying a little bit the night before – me around 7am, he around 8am. The bonus of these walks around our northern suburbs is that we’ve found some absolutely amazing places! This is why your own two feet will always trump any other form of transport – you just can’t find as many cool things when you’re not exploring on foot!

We came across this place on High St, Preson on one of our walks; because it was early Sunday morning and we’d already had some breaky, we didn’t stop to eat, but returned the weekend after for lunch on Saturday, and have been back more than a few times since. Preston is lucky to have a pretty big Vietnamese community, which means there is a lot of really good food around – the banh mi is absolutely phenomenal here, easily as good as I ate in Vietnam!

The standard Vietnamese pork roll is delicious, but my favourite one here is the BBQ’d pork, which is this scary looking sausage thing below. It tastes incredible, I don’t even want to know what’s in it; I don’t care. It tastes SO GOOD! Also, heaps of carrot, cucumber, sauce/pate and coriander on a super soft roll baked in house. It’s just magic, really, not much else I can tell you. And the best part? Unlike all the fancy sandwich establishments popping up which are feeling the need to charge upwards of $9 for a banh mi sandwich, it costs only $4.30 here! Which leaves you change to buy a tasty sugary treat on the way out (it IS a bakery, after all)!

IMG_4182.JPG

It’s not fancy, it’s not gourmet, it’s not going to be in any foodie magazines. But it is good, honest sandwiching from lovely people, with a pretty good local Vietnamese client base, so you know they’re doing something right – get stuck into it!

Mai Lan on Urbanspoon

My favorite book: The University of Hard Knocks by Ralph Parlette

The University of Hard Knocks
by Ralph Parlette

IMG_3515.JPG

I found this book years ago on the shelves of the Grub Street Bookshop on Brunswick Street. To this day, I cannot tell you how I came to own it. I don’t know what drew me to it – it wasn’t on a shelf at eye level, I had to crouch down to find it. It was tattered and torn and faded and old. It had no blurb to pique my interest, nor pictures. But as soon as I saw it’s broken spine and gently pulled it from the shelf, I knew it was mine. Is that weird, to feel a connection to a book? Probably. But I am a bit weird, so I’ll own it.

I took it to the counter and paid $5.00 for it. How could I have known then that $5.00 note would change my life, would change my soul, irrevocable and irreversibly? How could I make such a huge investment in myself and my life for only $5.00? Is that fate? Do you believe in fate? Do I?

It took me all of about 2 days to read it cover to cover. I was completely transfixed. This was the book I needed. The universe knew I needed it.

This first page, these first few lines, had me hook, line and sinker. Not long after reading and re-reading and re-re-reading the book, I ended up getting that line tattooed on my arm: “Every bump is a lesson.”

IMG_3514.JPG

Basically, this book came to be from Ralph Parlette’s lecture “The University of Hard Knocks.” This is, as far as I’m concerned, the ultimate users guide for life. There’s no other way to describe this book, and it’s almost impossible to summarise or review. Instead, let me show you some of my favourite quotes from this book (it’s damn near impossible to select a few, the entire book is one perfect quote) that’ll open your eyes, heart and soul, and teach you a few things about really living your life…

 - – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 

I used to say, “Nobody uses me right. Nobody gives me a chance.” But if chances had been snakes, I would have been bitten a hundred times a day. We need oculists, not opportunities.

 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 

As we get bumped and battered on life’s pathway, we discover we get two kinds of bumps—bumps that we need and bumps that we do not need. Bumps that we bump into and bumps that bump into us. We discover, in other words, that The University of Hard Knocks has two colleges—The College of Needless Knocks and The College of Needful Knocks. We attend both colleges.

 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 

“Ralph Parlette,” I said to myself, “when are you going to learn to see as well as that blind man? He learns his lesson with one bump, and you have to go bumping into the same things day after day and wonder why you have so much ‘bad luck’!”

 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 

All over America are fathers and mothers who have struggled and have become strong men and women thru their struggles, who are saying, “Our children shall have better chances than we had. We are living for our children. We are going to give them the best education our money can buy.” Then, forgetful of how they became strong, they plan to take away from their children their birthright—their opportunity to become strong and “prepared”—through struggle and service and overcoming.

 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

Trust me, if you read not a single thing more for the rest of your life, you do need to read this book. It should be compulsory reading for every single human being. If you can’t find a magic copy like I did, you can buy a newer one here, or alternatively thank the good people at Gutenberg.org for recognising how completely important this text is and providing a free copy you can read online.

 

Cook this: Gingerbread men!

Exciting times ahead – we leave for our 6 week American adventure in 18 DAYS!!! WHAT?! That’s happened really quickly… Anyway, because we’re missing Christmas at home this year, a number of Christmas traditions, such as gingerbread men, have needed to be moved forward. Other traditions, like my husband’s repeated viewings of Chevy Chase’s National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, I’m not pushing quite as hard for an early start on.

IMG_4184.JPG

I’ve tried so many gingerbread recipes and it has taken batch after batch after batch to finally come up with a version I love – hope everyone else enjoys them, too :)

INGREDIENTS
- 125g butter, softened
– ½ cup brown sugar
– 60g golden syrup*
– 60g maple syrup*
– 60g honey*
– ½ tsp vanilla extract
– 2½ cups plain flour
– 3 tsp ground ginger
– 1tsp baking soda

* if you don’t want to buy all three/can’t be bothered with them all, use 200g golden syrup

 

METHOD
1. Combine the flour, ginger and baking soda in a bowl and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer for 4 – 5 minutes, until pale and creamy. Add in the golden syrup and/or maple syrup and honey, as well as the vanilla, and beat for another 30 seconds, until combined.

3. Add in the dry ingredients, and beat on low speed until a dough comes together. Don’t worry if it is crumbly, you’ll be able to bring it together with your hands.

4. Roll the dough out to your desired thickness between two pieces of non-stick baking paper and put it in the fridge for half an hour.

5. Pre-heat the oven to 160°C and line 2 large oven trays with baking paper.

6. Take the cold dough out of the fridge and cut out gingerbread men of your preferred size. You can see from the photo below that I made quite little ones – for your reference, I got 90 (yes, 90) little gingerbread gentlemen out of the dough made from the ingredients above. Re-roll the dough as necessary until it’s all been cut and placed onto the oven trays.

7. Bake for 7 – 10 minutes until lightly golden.

8. For a softer cookie, remove from the oven and let the cookies cool on the trays for 10 minutes before moving to cooling racks. If you like them a little crunchier, turn the oven off and leave them in there to cool completely.

IMG_4201.JPG

Eat here: Vegie Bar, Melbourne

Vegie Bar, Fitzroy, Melbourne
http://vegiebar.com.au/

IMG_3165.JPG

If you live in Melbourne and you haven’t eaten at this Brunswick St institution at least, like, twice, well then shame on you. This stalwart of the Fitzroy cafe scene has been dishing up internationally inspired meat-free dishes for around 20 years, looooong before the gluten-free, organic, vegan etc were “in.”

If you’re planning to visit for dinner, on a weekend, on a sunny day (or, heaven forbid, a combination of the three!), expect to wait in a line that often hangs out the door. Despite the fact that seating is available not only in the main “restaurant” as you walk in but also the little alcove area to the right, upstairs seating above the kitchen and a courtyard out to the left, it is ALWAYS packed, which speaks pretty highly to the quality of the food being served up in an area with other seriously good options.

The main menu had remained relatively the same over the last six or seven years I’ve been visiting, but my most recent visit, last weekend, showed some big changes. My previous favourite dish, the falafel roti wrap, was gone. I was upset. Really, really upset. You know when you go to a place just to eat a specific dish? Yeah, that was my dish. For under $10, you were facing a golden slab of roti bread filled with crispy shelled falafel that are some of the best I’ve had, as well as hommus, tzatziki, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and beetroot curls (below left). It’s been replaced with a falafel pita bread thing (right). It was basically the same thing, but the roti had been replaced with a soft pita bread (nice, actually), and the falafels were different. Spicier. Didn’t enjoy that part. It was nice, but I liked the old one better!

vegie bar

The recent visit also saw us order another old favourite – the rice balls with satay sauce. These had also changed – they were bigger and better! Brown rice balls of deliciousness with a crunchy shell, much more flavour than the last time I had them there pre-change, and still the best satay sauce going around. Husband also got the lentil burger, drenched with more satay sauce. Messy, but good – however, he also preferred the old version of the burger.

vegie bar 2

And just because it’s a “vegie” place, doesn’t mean you should skip dessert. These guys make two of my favourite desserts in Melbourne – their flourless chocolate cake and raw berry cheesecake. Beyond amazing, nothing different there, and absolutely enormous – bring your appetite, and bring a friend with an appetite, too.

IMG_4683.JPG

I’ve been eating at Vegie Bar for years now, as have a truckload of other people. The waiting for a table, sitting elbow-to-elbow with strangers, occasional mistake in getting the wrong order because it’s so damn chaotic are sometimes frustrating but have always been bearable because the food has always been so good. I wasn’t overly thrilled with the changes from this last visit, but I also recognise that not everything had changed, and that sometimes some changes are necessary. I’m looking forward to another visit, to try some other old favourites on the menu, and to see what else has changed!

 

Vegie Bar on Urbanspoon