1. Food for you is what? Two things – by myself it is fuel; out with my friends, it is an occasion. 2. What was your favourite food/meal as a child? Strawberry ice-cream cake. 3. What did you have for dinner last night? Pan fried prawns, with Moroccan spices, on a rocket and pear salad. 4. Favourite restaurant? Tinderbox. 5. Do you grow food, and if so, what? No, but would like to. 6. Local hidden gem? Byblos at Portside. 7. Your favourite food shop? Clayfield Market. 8. What do you hope never to eat again? Tripe. 9. How often do you cook? Every night. 10. Most used cookbook? Gwinganna Cookbook.
The Dandenongs are always about 4 or 5 degrees colder than Melbourne, which means about 15 degrees colder than Brisbane over Easter. It was great. Scarves and boots worn with long neglected coats pulled out of the back of the wardrobe. My friends David and Janet have a couple of acres near the toy town of Olinda, which, like other towns in the area, is large on twee Tudor style tea shops and lolly stores.
Winter hasn’t a grip on the Dandenongs yet. At Brambledene, the gardens are still green with many flowers having survived the onset of the cold. The big winds up there have blown the chestnuts onto the ground, but as yet, there is only a scattering of autumn colours on the trees.
On Easter Monday, we left the hills for a day trip to the Mornington Peninsula. The Peninsula is about 80 km south of Melbourne, As well as bay and ocean beaches, the Peninsula is a well known wine district, specialising in cold climate styles. At Paringa Estate we tasted the pinot noir and shiraz. The pinots were a bit thin, suffering from a couple of dry summers, so we bought a bottle of the shiraz for dinner.
Port Philip Estate at Red Hill is spectacular. The cellar door and dining room sit within a curved building, designed by Wood/Marsh Architecture, with views to the coast. Again the recent pinots were a bit thin, but described as ‘elegant’ by the woman doing the pouring. She didn’t convince the visiting French man next to us who much preferred the softer wines from home.
Back in the Dandenongs, the wind had come up and it was getting cold. For dinner, David cooked a pea, pumpkin and shitake mushroom risotto, with a side of sugar peas and lightly dressed avocado.
We finished with a plum tart recipe from last Saturday’s Weekend Australian and the shiraz from Paringa Estate. The next day, it was back to Brisbane to put the scarf and boots away until that one day in August when it might drop below 20 degrees.
Like many people, I don’t know what to eat anymore. Having decided to renovate my diet at the start of the new year, I now go around in circles before every meal. Do I eat too many carbs? Should I give up sugar? More protein? Less protein? Gluten Free? Are oats gluten? Is quinoa a carb? Should I go paleo? At least I had the good sense to not even consider intermittent fasting. There is no way I can go on short rations two days a week.
To consolidate the change I went to the Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat in the Tallebudgera Valley for four days. Their food ethos is based around fresh, organic produce with low levels of human intervention. The eggs and most of the vegetables are grown on the site and the chef produced food was the highlight of the stay. Breakfast started with two big bowls on the table, one with porridge and one with stewed fruits. The porridge was different every morning with versions with millet, polenta and quinoa. Then some protein appeared. Usually poached eggs, frittata or baked beans.
Lunch was the main meal of the day with choices such as a chicken or fish Thai style curry, with a big bowl of salad and one of vegetables to share. Dinner was smaller with a tasting plate for entree, soup and vegetables. The idea was to have your main meal in the middle of the day and a smaller meal at night when you needed the energy less.
This is a great way to eat if you have a team of chefs in your kitchen to start the prep work for lunch right after breakfast service. I did buy the cookbook and have expanded my repertoire to include some of their dishes, accompanied beforehand to a visit to the health food shop for organic vegetables.
For further research, I headed down to Primal Pantry, a paleo cafe in Florence Street, Newstead, for some breakfast. The breakfast menu seemed familiar but filled with dishes which were artfully contrived to remove all grains, sugar, dairy and legumes. So the pancakes were made from cauliflower and the paleo toast I ordered tasted of coconut and hazelnut meal. There are more exotic choices like Nasi Goreng Style Sweet Sticky Pork ($21.50) but I had the more traditional poached eggs with avocado ($16.50). Paleo eating seems to involve a lot of work to recreate dishes that are recognisable to all of us carb lovers, but this becomes an expensive way to eat. $20 for some poached eggs and coffee seems a tad excessive, and really, it is hard to believe lentils aren’t good for you.
So back home in my kitchen, what have I learned? From Gwinganna, I have kept up the warm breakfasts, such as the poached fruit and porridge and moved away from muesli and yoghurt. I have put more attention into lunch and try and make sure I have some protein in the middle of the day and pretty much cut out pasta and other carbfests for dinner. The ritual I particularly liked at Gwinganna was after dinner when pots of digestive tea were put on the table. These simple teas are made from fresh herbs and fruit. For instance a slice of lime with some lemon myrtle, or ginger and mint. Very soothing after dinner.
I still don’t know what to eat but at least I now have a long hard think about it before I put it in my mouth. What are you eating?
OK, I’ve been holding out. I was through the door at the Tinderbox pretty much when they opened in November last year and have been a regular ever since. Tinderbox is the noisy baby brother of PJ McMillan’s Harveys and sits just behind it off James Street.
Tinderbox doesn’t take bookings, except for large groups, which means it can be hard to squeeze a table out of them on the weekend, giving me an incentive to reduce traffic. On a recent Friday, however, the swarms have moved on. So I invite you all to enjoy the delights of Tinderbox.
The restaurant is bright and breezy with seating outside and in and is set up for casual dining. Close to the Palace Centro, the restaurant is a good place to meet up on the weekend for a glass of wine and dinner. The centrepiece of the inside space is the wood-fired oven, around which the menu is based.
A lot comes out of that oven with roasted meats, creative vegetables and pizzas as the basis of the menu. You can go a couple of ways. Order the roast or one of the Italian inspired pasta dishes with some sides from the Market Garden part of the menu or head for the pizzas. The last couple of visits I have not been ale to go past the pizza with Mooloolaba prawns, chili, zucchini, fior de latte and cherry tomatoes ($23). This pizza is guaranteed a crisp base from the woodfired oven, though on the right side of chewy, with fresh and flavoursome toppings. For the gluten adverse, gluten free bases are available.
The stars of the menu are the vegetable dishes. The wood-roasted leeks are soft and silky and at the moment they come with capers and goat’s cheese ($12). There is also a William pear salad with rocket and parmesan ($12) and fire-roasted mushroom with balsamic onions and blue cheese ($12).The menu is seasonal means recent favourites can suddenly disappear.
The same happens with the small, though carefully chosen wine list. The staff sold me on a marsanne roussanne, a style I had never tried before, and after enjoying it a couple of times, it went the same way as some vegetable favourites. None of this I think is bad. The philosophy is to deliver produce driven and seasonal food which means sacrificing some preferred choices as the seasons turn.
The one source of anxiety at the Tinderbox is occasional difficulty in flagging down the wait staff. The staff are under pressure on busy nights and can sail right past. It is not the sort of place to dither about ordering. Yet despite, the pressure, everyone who turns up seems to get settled, receive a drink and a feed.
The Tinderbox serves fresh food, particularly great vegetables, and has a creative and evolving menu. Just don’t get too attached to your favourites.
7/31 James Street, Fortitude Valley
Open: Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner
Phone: (07) 3852 3744 (for bookings over 8) http://www.thetinderbox.com.au