Not all food blogers are the same

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Larissa Dubecki is, as I’m sure almost all of you are aware, the No.1 restaurant reviewer for The Age.

In a comment piece she has let fly in spectacular manner about food bloggers, rampant compromising and basically all the general all-round sleaze she can fit into her magnificent rant.

Here are just a couple of the paragraphs:

“You see them on blogs the next day with really enthusiastic write-ups about how fabulous the venue, the food, the drinks and the owners are (always, mind you, with a little disclaimer at the bottom about how the writer attended as a non-paying guest – their integrity is scrupulous).

I’d love to go (I might even get my face in the social pages!) but, alas, there simply aren’t enough nights in the week. When everyone else is off having their fun, boring old me is off trying to slip into a restaurant unnoticed under a fake name so I might appraise it from an objective point of view to give consumers the best advice about where to spend their hard-earned. How about THAT for a shit sandwich.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Wow …

Actually, I agree with many of her points.

And if the “Melbourne food blogger who is well known for approaching newly opened restaurants for a feed in return for a ‘review'” she refers to is who I suspect, then I share that disdain.

But, oh dear, she’s taken such a broad-brush approach.

It’s simple – not all food bloggers are the same.

Consider The Sauce regularly covers restaurants in the west that are extremely unlikely to ever gain coverage in The Age.

As well, while the writer may grumble about the “shit sandwich” she is so unhappily forced to eat, she works for a commercial organisation that accepts advertising moolah from all and sundry and which no doubt makes all sorts of deals along the way.

The Age and Fairfax are in the marketplace.

Such a high-handed approach would only make perfect, irrefutable sense if Epicure and The Age Good Food Guide carried no advertising whatsoever.

But they do.

And while The Age may be scrupulous about always paying for meals it reviews, is it such a stretch to mention the “media passes” its sports writers utilise to gain non-paying access to AFL games and much, much more?

The Age is also listed as a “partner” on the website of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival. The nature of that partnership is not disclosed, but naturally the newspaper can and does run heaps of stories about the festival.

As well, such a sweeping put down fails to acknowledge the good work that many of Melbourne’s food bloggers do.

This fact, by the way, is periodically acknowledged by The Age and its Epicure section themselves.

Indeed, they have helped Consider The Sauce itself on a number of occasions and I remain very grateful for that assistance – including two stories on the fabulous Westies: Dishes of Distinction!

Perhaps if I am to worry, the very real prospects of becoming an unemployed journalist should occupy my mind.

Truth is, though, the idea of becoming considered a flogger is much more troubling!

Words with baggage

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Feedback and comments are oxygen for bloggers – even when they’re not exactly in “pat on the back” territory.

This assertive comment on matters sartorial in my recent “must not get stuck in a rut” story for instance:

“Good on you Kenny. I don’t mean to sound terrible but i think you need to find yourself as a man in the appearance department. Your sponge bob tshirts and the like are not really a look that women would be attracted to. You would look amazing in a casual shirt and nice pair of pants. At your age a man should look like a respectable gentleman, not like a teenager. As many would scorn what i have just said, i am being honest in my opinion. A woman wants a man who acts and dresses like a man, not a teenage hippy boy. All the best with finding a mate, im sure you will find the perfect one for you.”

Today’s post on the fab Famous Blue Raincoat burgers spurred comments from a friend about the following paragraphs:

“We spy a young mum tucking in to a parmagiana as her partner’s steak sits unmolested.

He’s walking their toddler.

He returns; they swap roles.

Been there, done that … many, many times!”

For her, the word “unmolested” is simply too emotionally charged to be used in such a way and in such a context – especially when the following paragraph mentions a toddler.

What do you think?

I am genuinely interested to know. 

My camera done died

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For the more than 600 posts on Consider The Sauce, I have uploaded more than 3800 photographs to the wordpress blogging platform.

I’ve had some help in that regard.

But overwhelmingly, the CTS photographs have been taken by the above pictured compact camera.

And those uploaded would, I’m guessing, be less than half of those taken.

I’ve been well pleased with the results and the camera’s ease of use and durability.

But now that durability has reached its limit and my camera has died.

The problem is purely mechanical, which means it’s not worth fixing … as far as I am aware.

That’s OK – I have been thinking of an upgrade anyway.

Anyone got any tips for a classy compact camera under $500?

ACCC guidelines

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Some regular readers and followers of CTS may be interested in the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission’s newly released Online reviews: a guide for business and review platforms.

These address knotty issues of all sorts raised by dodgy behavior by reviewers of various stripes on blogs and at sites such as Urbanspoon, as well as equally dodgy behaviour by business owners in their attempts to manipulate this newish and mostly unregulated media landscape.

You can read an overview here and download the document in pdf form here.

Melbourne Gastronome has done a splendid analysis full of commentary here.

I have yet to read these guidelines line by line.

And smugness is unattractive.

But still, after a cursory reading, I feel CTS has a clean bill of health – or sufficiently so for me anyway!

Get ready for the Westies!

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It’s Westies time!

Well, almost …

The inaugural winners of the western suburbs’ first food awards have been selected.

All three have been informed – and sworn to secrecy until the big “reveal” at the combined Footscray Food Blog/Consider The Sauce Spring Picnic at Yarraville Gardens on Saturday, November 30 (details below).

The truly lovely award trophies are in the process of being produced.

A big “thank you” to Footscray Life for covering our costs in that regard and to Lauren’s sister, Liz, for the beautiful artwork.

We know of at least one food truck that will be in attendance and we’re working on the coffee angle.

Fingers crossed for a fine day.

Apologies in advance to anyone I’ve met since starting CTS and whose names I may be unable to recall!

See you there, we hope!

Footscray Food Blog/Consider The Sauce Spring Picnic,

Yarraville Gardens, Somerville Road.

Saturday, November 30, from 11am.

The Westies: Dishes of Distinction winners announced at noon.

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Announcing … The Westies!

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After more than three years and more than 600 posts, Consider The Sauce is just as excited as ever about the food of Melbourne’s western suburbs.

If anything, in fact, we’re even more amazed by our food riches and inspired by the people who produce them.

All that is true, too, for Lauren at Footscray Food Blog.

We’d like to think we’ve both played a role in helping to enhance the reputation of western suburbs food and the sense of community surrounding it.

But now we reckon it’s time to step things up a notch or two.

So in partnership with Footscray Food Blog, Consider The Sauce is excited to announce The Westies – the first food awards dedicated to Melbourne’s western suburbs.

The winners of the 2013 “Westies – Dishes of Distinction” will be announced at the annual Footscray Food Blog/Consider The Sauce Spring Picnic.

See you there!

We hope The Westies become a regular, yearly celebration of western suburbs food.

To further that aim, the awards will celebrate three dishes a year chosen by us as excellent representatives of westie food rather than the awards going to the eateries themselves.

The selection process will take into account taste, consistency, pricing, and a sense of uniqueness or tradition.  This year’s winners will be decided after countless emails, Facebook messages, dining-out sojourns and an epic knock-down bar-room brawl.

Eateries responsible for producing Westies winners will be ineligible for similar honours for the following three years.

Footscray Food Blog/Consider The Sauce Spring Picnic,

Yarraville Gardens, Somerville Road.

Saturday, November 30, from 11am.

The Westies - Dishes of Distinction winners announced at noon.

On a photo shoot

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Today I happily hooned around select sites in and around Footscray central.

It was for a photo shoot – the subjects of which were Lauren of Footscray Food Blog and myself.

The camera was manned by a dapper snapper called Mike – who also happens to be Lauren’s dad.

You can check out his work here.

The photos are to be used in the campaign to launch – with much hoopla and fanfare, we hope – a joint and fabulous initiative of Footscray Food Blog and Consider The Sauce.

Details of this initiative will be unveiled and disseminated far and wide next Wednesday, October 16.

We’re VERY excited – and we hope you all will be, too!

Sunday Herald Sun’s Victoria’s Top 100 Food Experiences (yeah, right, whatever)

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After spending more than two decades working for the Sunday Herald Sun and other organs of the Murdoch empire, I am these days extremely firm in my resolve to never, ever pay for any of them.

But today I buckled, buying a copy of the Sunday rag on my way to an impromptu picnic lunch in Yarraville Gardens, figuring that sniggering my way through the liftout section grandly entitled “Victoria’s Top 100 Food Experiences” would see me through lunch.

Look, I know that lists are made to be the subject of debate and even argument.

And I’m aware that by responding I could be charged with feeding the beast, but …

There’s a lot of old standbys in the 100 – Abla’s, Pelligrini’s, the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant and so on.

I’m cool with that – there’s a reason such places are famed, and that’s because they’re often very good, immensely enjoyable or both.

No surprise, either, to see a swag of celebrity chefs and restaurants get a run. But imagine how much more room and numbers they’d have had to truly sing Melbourne’s praises had they grouped these luminaries together instead of allocating so many of them their very own places on a list of 100.

Ho hum …

And we are happy to see CTS faves such as Oasis Bakery, Books For Cooks and Brunetti included.

But the western suburbs?

Let’s just say my cynicism and low expectations have been amply rewarded.

The Station Hotel gets listed in the “No.2: Steak” section.

Of course.

And then there’s this:

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And that, rather dismissively and one-dimensionally, is it.

If I’ve missed anything, it’s been buried.

Ebi doesn’t even get a nod in the fish and chip section.

This is all to be expected.

So what I find even more staggering is that as far as I can tell there is not a single mention of Indian food or food traditions and culture, western suburbs or otherwise.

At all.

Sheesh!

(There’s undoubtedly other major ethnic cuisines also treated superficially or not at all, but I can’t be bothered to add them up … OK, I’ll name-check one other: North African.)

What’s that I hear you say?

“No such list can possibly cover all bases to everyone’s satisfaction.”

Well, yes.

But in that case, it should’ve been entitled “100 of Victoria’s Top Food Experiences”.

That’s a subtle but important difference.

The conclusion I draw from this is simple: Support your favourite food blogs.

At least I got to gleefully use the rest of the rag as my tablecloth.

Is SEO the antithesis of journalism and storytelling?

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There’s probably few, if any, folks who visit Consider The Sauce who are unaware what SEO is an acronym for.

But just in case … it stands for Search Engine Optimisation.

It’s a term I’d rarely come across before launching this site.

In the two-something years since, I’ve read quite a lot about SEO and related topics.

But I’m not much further ahead in understanding what it is.

Let alone how it works.

The crux of the matter appears to be what are referred to as “key words”, the skilful inclusion of which in a post can increase the regard Google and other search engines hold a post or website/blog.

The internet is awash with “SEO experts” spruiking their services.

There are those who will tell you it’s a science.

There are as many more who will tell you it’s all hooha and voodoo – and that those claiming they’re party to the most significant SEO methods and secrets are full of it.

Early on in the piece, on a discussion thread on a food blogger Facebook page, I opined that SEO must have its place but that as far as I could see it had little to do with me or Consider The Sauce.

A much more experienced blogger than I, then and now, set me right about that.

SEO counts, he maintained, and it was very relevant to me.

Well, of course I want Google to love me and my blog!

But I still have difficulty with idea of inserting “key words” into a story – having never quite made it to the execution stage.

I suspect a significant part of that is that unlike most bloggers and other online operators, I have been a writer and a journalist for almost all my life.

Consequently, for me it’s all about the STORY.

After Bennie and I have hit some likely haven of foodiness and we’re driving home, I’m already writing the story in my mind.

By the time I’ve uploaded the photos and am in the process of resizing and/or cropping them, it’s pretty much a done deal – right down to individual paragraphs and sentences. And even the punctuation.

All that is left is to type it in.

By contrast, the businesses and websites for whom SEO seems most important seem to have mostly commercial purposes.

I’m immensely gratified by the success Consider The Sauce has enjoyed to date, and am certainly wishing for much more.

But I’m not selling anything except myself – in the spirit of “a blog is the new resume”.

For that same reason, I also struggle to mentally connect with a lot that is written and talked about at places such as Problogger and other forums and websites where blogging, SEO and myriad related topics are discussed.

While much of the advice and information is valuable, enlightening and inspiring, I simply can’t relate to “sales”.

It’s difficult to think about such an arcane – to me – subject as SEO when I’m so preoccupied about that all-important lead paragraph, a snappy ending and which photo has the most sparkle and interest to earn its place at the top of the next story.

I’m sure a lot of Consider The Sauce “key words” – for example Melbourne, western suburbs, cheap eats, Footscray, Yarraville and so on – make it into my stories anyway.

But that is an entirely organic outcome of my writing and its focus.

I suspect deliberately using “key words” is something that will elude my grasp for some time yet!

Call me old-school (or worse!), but a lifetime of habit and training ALWAYS has me thinking “story” rather than “post” or “blog”.

And I write stories for people – not search engines.

Our suburban newspapers – the elephant in the room

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My appreciation for and reliance on our suburban press for finding out what is going on in my community have both deepened significantly in recent years.

This process has been hastened by my metropolitan newspaper career fading to memory, at the very time those newspapers fight for survival and seem often to be pre-occupied with major sport, federal politics, shock/horror and click bait.

And, until recently, I was even working on either a regional newspaper (Geelong Advertiser) or its free, weekly “giveaways”, and even (more recently) for the proprietors of one of our three suburban titles.

As well, doing Consider The Sauce has really heightened my desire for information about what’s going on in the greater western suburbs. And I’m not just talking about restaurant reviews – reading the suburban press has hipped me to many festivals and community events, as well as providing information about local politics and so on.

So I am both intrigued and a little disturbed by events of recent weeks that have revealed to me a suburban press “elephant in the room” – how many, or how few, of these newspapers actually get delivered.

Here’s how it unfolded …

A few days before the Yarraville Festival, the festival Facebook page mentioned that there was a lift-out festival program going in that week’s edition of the Maribyrnong Weekly. Someone immediately replied that they hardly ever saw a copy of that publication.

On reflection, I realised this was very true for us, too! In fact, and speaking very subjectively, it seemed at that point like we’d seen any or all of our three suburban newspapers little more than a handful of times each in about six months.

So I made a phone call to register my unhappiness. You’ll be unsurprised to learn, given the way this story is headed, that the nice people I spoke to were and are well used to receiving such phone calls.

The upshot was that the following week I got a door knock from a representative of the company that distributes the Star and the Maribyrnong Weekly.

After discussing our specific non-delivery issues, I mentioned that as I’m in “full-on job-seeker mode”, perhaps I should be delivering these rags my own self.

One thing led to another, many phone calls were made and it was settled I would become a “walker” for a particular area of Yarraville.

For several reasons that I won’t address here, it all came to nowt – I pulled the plug without delivering a newspaper, let alone getting paid for it.

I will say, though, that my decision had nothing to do with the professionalism or competence of the various people with whom I dealt.

But it’s fair to say I now have insights into how and why getting these newspapers delivered is something of a logistical nightmare.

I have long assumed that non-delivery issues amounted to little more than a fraudulent scam perpetrated by the various distribution companies.

I now know that’s not the case – or not always the case.

The people I conferred with seemed to be doing their very best to deal with a complex operation that involves every neighbourhood being drawn up into sectors that are assigned to the available “walkers”.

Then there are the “walker” issues themselves.

Let’s face it – the pay is pitiful. Had I embarked on this new, um, career, I would’ve been paid at a rate unlike anything I have received since I was a pre-teenager. About $10 an hour, I estimate, and that’s if I’d been going like a bat out of hell.

So, as was said to me this morning, “this is not work that suits everyone”.

Nor, I was informed, is it viable to rely on such work for a living wage.

All this reduces dramatically the pool of potential “walkers”.

Finally, and inevitably, given all this – poor pay, hard work, the changing seasons and more – some regular “walkers” end up taking the sly, dishonest way out by simply not doing the runs for which they are claiming payment.

This is an unhappy state of affairs on several levels.

For one, my respect for the journalism and journalists of the suburban press is these days very high indeed.

They are covering – in some cases superbly – issues, people and events that simply don’t get a look in in The Age or the Herald Sun.

To cite just one example – during the recent local body election campaigns, from what I could see it was very much the suburban press that was on top of the issues and what the various candidates offered or were not offering.

For these journalists, and the sales staff who sell advertising space on the basis that their newspapers will be delivered, such non-delivery issues must be extremely frustrating.

Like many of my former colleagues, I got well used to fielding phone calls from angry and upset readers.

For many in our communities, particularly older citizens who may not have internet access or skills and for whom the daily papers are an unjustifiable expense, the suburban press is a cherished and essential part of life.

Finally, and perhaps most profoundly, it seems to me that our suburban press, and regardless of its corporate ownership, remains a vital ingredient of the glue that keeps our communities together.

And, yes, I believe that holds true even in a cyber age that includes Facebook and Twitter.

Am interested to hear about suburban newspaper delivery from Consider The Sauce visitors – good and bad both welcome!

Irony

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My new paying gig takes me from Southern Cross Station, up the road and along Clarendon St to York St in South Melbourne for work on publications and with management that overlap with my already existent and ongoing gig at Media House.

The first couple of mornings, and with plenty of time before my 9.30am start, I enjoy the leisurely stroll.

But those two days’ work become three, with a fourth declined because of another commitment, and by now I’ve had enough of the whole Flinders St, Crown noise-and-ugliness, so I hop the light rail.

I’m looking forward to ambling through the early hours of a new day at South Melbourne Market, pondering lunch options as I go.

But to my surprise, the market is closed.

It seems bizarre that such a major-league market is closed on a Thursday.

Oh well, I happily settle for a coffee from a  top spot adjacent to the market at which I have already become a regular. Only two more coffees and I’m up for my first freebie.

As well, just up York St is a low-rent Indonesian joint – just the sort of place to set my pulse racing. At lunchtime, though, I majorly wuss it, deciding against one of the ace-looking laksas that several customers are slurping for fear of ponging up my new office and irritating new colleagues.

It’s a mistake – the gado gado I go for is barely acceptable, though my two fried pork balls are pretty good.

My new workplace is fine and the work nothing but a pleasure. Over the course of three days, I work on a lot drool-worthy food stories and mostly well-written pieces and profiles about many interesting topics and people.

Predictably, I already a know a few of my new colleagues from other places and times – including one fellow sub-editor with whom I last worked on the long-defunct Sunday Herald more than two decades previously. There is barely one degree of separation between myself and every other journalist in the place.

But while I work across a number of mastheads, I have been summoned here for one specific purpose – to work on Geelong stories for the flashy, glossy new Weekly Review that is being launched in the town of my former employment.

The irony is rich and deep.

Just a few months after being given the flick from the Geelong Advertiser, I am happily working on a project that is targeted directly at that newspaper’s advertising base.

In the process, I am handling stories written by people likewise dismissed from the Advertiser and writing captions for photographs taken by another former colleague who left about the same time.

Moreover, my understanding is that this new publication is no tentative step into Geelong and that this is very much about being in it for the long haul.

There are jokes in my new workplace that the Geelong Advertiser should be renamed the Geelong No-Advertising.

If this was just a matter of sticking it to News Ltd management that has seemingly been so busy, um, streamlining the company, by some accounts turning its suburban and regional titles into branch offices for the Herald Sun and seeing sub-editors as a cost burden rather than assets to be fostered and fought for, I would glory in every story, every headline written and every paid hour, and all those to come.

But the pleasure is muted somewhat by the knowledge that this is bad news indeed for many good people who were so recently my colleagues at the Advertiser.

Still, I can’t help but reflect on the swings and roundabouts of it all.

There’s no permanent positions for me, or a whole lot of other folks with whom I’m currently working. Those days, perhaps, have gone forever.

But there’s security of a kind in being in places and at a time where what I’ve always done is accorded value.

Book review: Lost Restaurants of New Orleans and the recipes that made them famous

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Lost Restaurants of New Orleans and the recipes that made them famous – by Peggy Scott Laborde and Tom Fitzmorris (Pelican)

Tom Fitzmorris remains very active on the New Orleans food scene, but I am unsure about just what form – if any – his Crescent City food guide takes these days.

The books listed on his website are, one, a history of New Orleans food culture, and two, a recipe book.

For many of my visits to New Orleans, his restaurant guide was toted all over the city and I found it indispensable, although in the end so frequent did my visits become that I was able to move beyond it as I discovered gems – through friends and familiarity with the city – that were not included in the book.

Nevertheless, I was excited about getting my hands on this book on “lost” New Orleans restaurants.

It’s not quite as comprehensive as the title suggest.

As Fitzmorris points out in his introduction, to be comprehensive the book would have to unfeasibly weighty. Besides which, as with any other locale, many restaurants have closed because they don’t deserve to be remembered.

Instead, the book focuses on 100 eateries of many different kinds that are remembered by “a fair number of New Orleanians still living as of 2011, when we composed it” and are worthy of being celebrated.

Given that sort of timeframe and timing of my own visits to that city, I was unsurprised to find restaurants I was familiar with – in some cases very familiar with – featured in the book.

I spotted three right off.

Looking a little closer, I noticed another half-dozen or so.

A profound sense of deja vu leads me to think there’s maybe another 20 or so that I set foot in at one time or another.

(I’d have to dust off and unearth the detailed diaries I maintained of those trips to be sure. A former partner once stumbled upon this trove, and was excited because she thought she was going to get the inside story of my sordid behaviour while in New Orleans. She was thus very disappointed to find every meal eaten, every record bought and every gig attended described in minute detail … but very little else!)

The hardcover book is beautifully presented, and is stuffed with fantastic vintage photos, menus, matchbooks and other memorabilia.

The individual restaurant entries are likewise full of stories not just about food and recipes and dishes, but also the colourful characters and history and stories that made these places legends.

Lost Restaurants of New Orleans is very highly recommended to anyone even remotely interested New Orleans, its history and/or its food and cooking.

Here’s some of the places included the book that I remember most fondly, with appropriate quotes from the book:

Hummingbird Grill, St Charles Ave (1946-2001)

A fabulous 24-hour diner-style place run as an adjunct of an equally seedy hotel.

Good for very good – and ridiculously cheap – burgers, breakfasts and red beans-and-rice.

“People who would spend their last dollar, then had to find a place to sleep that night, were at the Hummer’s counter. But so were men and women in formal wear, en route home from an underfed, oversloshed high-society party … Those who could not be dragged into the Hummingbird Grill had problems with the neighborhood. Those who did like the place pointed out that the lunch counter was always full of uniformed New Orleans policemen on their meal breaks. Only an idiot would try to start a rumble there.”

Barrow’s Shady Inn, Hollygrove (1943-2005)

You could get anything you wanted at Barrow’s – as long as it was catfish!

“When the fish came to the table, it was the definitive golden brown and so hot you shouldn’t have eaten straight away. But there was no way to keep from diving in. It was so good and light, with that background glow of red pepper, that you wanted to inhale it.”

Uglesich’s, Lee Circle area (1924-2005)

A ramshackle and truly legendary (mostly seafood) place – no menu, just notices pinned all over the walls. Super cheap!

“The ventilation system was so ineffective that when your returned from lunch there, nobody had to ask where you’d dined. You smelled as if you’d fried fish all day … A host of unique characters … hung around the place all day long. The most famous of them was Ding Ding the Singing Bird, who delivered sandwiches on a bicycle to the area and sold peanuts at Tulane Stadium.”

Kolb’s, St Charles Ave, CBD (1899-1995)

A very Germanic place with whacko Teutonic decor and lots of German dishes on the menu – although the only thing I can recall eating during my frequent visits are oysters and gumbo.

I loved it there – despite its central location near Canal St, it was always cool and dark-ish.

According to the book, the famous sign is still in place.

” …When I finally got to Kolb’s, in the mid-1970s, it was in decline … the German food was not all that good … by this time, most people who went to Kolb’s at not the German food but the creole cooking. During a couple of years during which my office was two blocks away, I ate there once or twice a month and remember eating turtle soup, barbecue shrimp, baked oysters with crabmeat and hollandaise, roast chicken, and bread pudding … All of this was actually pretty good.”

T.Pittari’s dining room in the 1950s.

(This post written while listening to Bunk Johnson.)

Book review: Day of Honey

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Day of Honey by Annia Ciezadlo (Simon and Schuster)

A review copy of this book was handed my way by a mate at my previous place of employment.

He figured it would tick almost all my boxes.

And why wouldn’t he?

It’s about food, it’s about writing, it’s about – more precisely – Middle Eastern food.

And it’s about international and current affairs, and the turbulence and conflicts and joy that accompany them, something I find endlessly fascinating, although I have rarely let that interest intrude on Consider The Sauce.

Truth is that while I stay on top of such things, they often leave me feeling down.

So why did Day of Honey sit around the house unloved and gathering dust for several months?

Why did I pick it up, read a few pages then discard it several times?

Why did it take only the most desperate boredom with every other available reading resource at hand before this book got its hooks into me?

A couple of reasons at least, I think …

One was the simple fear of confronting the horrors of the Middle East in a too-real account.

Reading about the Middle East’s trial and tribulations in news stories in newspaper and magazines or online is one thing.

There’s a certain dryness there that insulates us from the realities, brutal or otherwise.

Reading on-the-ground accounts of happenings in Baghdad and Beirut written by a gifted and eloquent writer is quite another.

I wasn’t at all sure I was up for it.

Another reason, one that was completely irrational given the nature of the subject, was that I feared the book would have a foodie-light veneer, making it a sort of Under The Beirut Sky.

About that, I turned out to be very wrong.

Once I started reading in earnest, this turned into a joyous page-turner.

I knew the author had me when she writes:

“The Mesopotamians baked a lot of their bread in a tinuru, a cylindrical clay oven with an open top and diabolically hot radiant heat inside. They rolled the dough into little round pats and left them for the gluten to relax. Then they flattened them into pancakes and slapped them onto the oven’s scorching inside walls, where they bubbled into chewy flatbreads.”

Hey, that sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Ciezadlo continues:

“Thousands of years later, Iraqis still make bread exactly this way at neighborhood bakeries … The Akkadian tinuru lives on as the Arabic tanoor, the Iranian tanura and the South Asian tandoor. Next time you order chicken tandoori at an Indian restaurant, chew on this: you are speaking a word that human mouths have been pronouncing, in one form or another, for at least four thousand years.”

Day of Honey follows the journey of Ciezadlo and her Lebanese husband Mohamad as they ply their journalistic/media trade in Baghdad and Beirut in the early-to-late 2000s.

If I skip going into any detail about the exact locations and conflicts they are involved in, it is simply because in many ways they are the background detail of the book’s major themes.

For this is a book, primarily, about people. Or more exactly, about people and how they deal with war.

And as Ciezadlo reveals, they do this largely through food.

There is a good deal of violence in the book, particularly towards the end.

But the author covers it in quite a dispassionate way, and always in the context of the people she loves, friends and family.

She simply lays out the absurdly sectarian nature of so much of life and politics and conflict in the Middle East without ever losing track of her focus.

That leaves her – and us – to revel in the food, its rituals and fabulous cast of characters who are by turns droll, hilarious, romantic, inspirational and more.

Particularly beguiling is her ongoing portrait of her mother-in-law, Umm Hassane. I’m tempted to describe her incredible and maddening wiles as “adorable” or some such, but then I don’t have to put up with her!

Through Day of Honey, I have had some of my beliefs about the Middle East buttressed.

But in many ways, I have had others shaken.

Mainly to the extent that what we read and hear about the region in the media is appallingly superficial or little more than window dressing and spin of various kinds.

Mostly, though, the book has emphasised for me how fortunate I am to be living in a part of the world where I am so free to participate in and enjoy food, food rituals and traditions, and the people who keep them alive.

And in one vivid account of a meal, Ciezadlo makes me believe more than ever that in the likes of Abbout Falafel House, Al-Alamy and so many more we have a genuine, life-affirming way of being part of what really is the greatest story ever told.

There are very many lovely examples of food anecdotes, recipes, lore and history.

At its end, the book includes more than a dozen recipes of food featured in its pages.

A lot of them seem sufficiently complex to deter me from attempting them.

But happily, the one that most intrigues – a simple Lebanese dish of onions, potatoes and eggs called Batata wa Bayd Mfarakeh – is the subject of a short video on the author’s website.

Unsurprisingly, what she creates there looks not at all like I imagined it would!

Day of Honey is a terrific book and I look forward to reading future posts on the author’s Facebook page for revealing and uplifting insights on Middle Eastern food, culture, people and – yes – politics.

GRAM birthday party

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Prime Creative boss John Murphy looking chuffed after successively opening a round of beers as dessert is served.

GRAM birthday party, Malvern.

It’s midweek, it’s a full moon, I wish it was on a Friday night … but I am looking forward to the GRAM birthday party.

It’s not so much a celebration of the magazine itself as a party about its eventual handing to the stewardship of Prime Creative Media.

As a food blogger, I’ve been involved from the magazine’s earliest days and am happy to have an ongoing involvement.

In the face of some resistance, I even wrote a piece expressing my support – you can read it here.

The party is in a function room far from my usual stomping grounds, the finger food is good and the beer is free.

I take the earliest opportunity to quiz Prime Creative Media boss John Murphy about how GRAM is going, given that it has expanded to Brisbane and Adelaide, Sydney is on the way and national distribution not too far away either.

Prime Creative boss John Murphy with GRAM editor Danielle Gullaci and yours truly.

I dig, too, catching up with Roberto Cea, whose brainchild GRAM has been and who has enjoyed an ongoing relationship with his “baby” as it has been rolled out in other cities.

Roberto Cea, Maria and yours truly.

I enjoy hanging with Nat Stockley, my handbag for the night. Sorry, buddy, none of the pics worked out. It was a challenging situation, as I’m sure you understand.

I believe there are other bloggers in attendance, but get to talk with just a few before bedtime deadline looms.

I forget to take a GRAM showbag with me as I depart.

Oh, well, it’s been cool and a treat to attend the sort of party that not so long ago was a weekly, almost daily, part of my life.

Would you like a serve of hypocrisy with your burger?

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So Grill’d doesn’t like, among other things, blogging, facebooking and tweeting.

But … wait a minute … let me check.

Why, yes – Grill’d does indeed have a Facebook page and a Twitter account!

Hey, this is pretty lame.

Always liked the product, but maybe not so much any more.

(Yes, I know it’s a joke and that by posting it here I am a witting participant in their sneaky PR exercise, but still it’s a bit rich! I’ve posted a link on their FB page, so will be interested to see what – if anything – they say!)

Lunch for $135 or gold coin donation?

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A few months back, I became involved through mega-big advertising agency Ogilvy, in a Bank of Melbourne promotion/competition tie-in with Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, for which for the bank is the main sponsor.

Some of the harder heads in the Melbourne food blogger community advised all those thinking of responding to the invitation from Ogilvy to think again, the main gist of their opposition being that it was just another example of big-bucks outfits treating bloggers with contempt and their content as worthless.

I forged ahead anyhow, and after a few ups and downs the whole thing is operating pretty smoothly.

You can see the Consider The Sauce “food tips” up there with those of a handful of other bloggers, all being utilised as teasers to get customers to submit tips of their own.

True, no money changed hands.

But I’ve enjoyed the experience, even when things got a little hairy in the preparation stages.

It’s a networking thing, getting the Consider The Sauce name out and about. I’ve made a nice contact and had a lovely lunch with her.

The number of visitors the promotion has driven to Consider The Sauce has been mostly on the pitiful side, but I had no great expectations in that regard. Positively, some of those who found us through the promotion were previously unaware of Consider The Sauce and yet have become regular visitors.

That’ll do me!

As part of the promotion, I was provided with two complementary tickets to the World’s Longest Lunch.

Now, my original intention was to play fast and loose with the unwritten arrangements of my whole relationship with Ogilvy, the bank and the festival by using these tickets for myself and Bennie.

But, as luck would have it, I was down to work that day and Bennie was in school.

So, through no great generosity of spirit or ethical righteousness, I did the “right thing” and gave them away to a Consider The Sauce friend.

You can read Daniel May’s post about the event here.

One thing is for sure, though, there’s no way – No Way, NO WAY – I would ever have attended that lunch had I been required to fund the tickets myself.

Judging by Daniel’s photos, this looks like it was a matter of a quite nice three-course meal and wines to match.

But $135 per person?

Blimey!

Daniel, too, being a paid-up Westie these days, was happy to concede he would never have attended had he not scored a couple of freebies.

I have no doubt the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival is not setting out to gouge people, nor charging as much as they think the market will bear.

I’m sure they have good reasons for doing what they do.

When concerns are raised about their pricing structure – and I’m pretty certain I’m not the first to do so – I’m sure they can and do point to festival events that are free or low cost.

Nevertheless, as it stands I am simply unable to engage with festival in any meaningful way, mainly for one simple reason – I can’t afford to do so.

I’m a passionate Melburnite and passionate about the city and its food.

Consequently, it feels damn strange to feel so estranged – financially, socially, culturally – from an event that seems like it should be such a perfect fit for me, my son and our blog.

And if that’s the case for myself – with all the positive motivation I have – for how many more Melbourne folks is it even more true?

It may be unfair, but there’s an abiding impression that the festival merely packages – at premium prices – goodies that are available all year round.

And in Footscray, that means every day of the week, including Mondays and Christmas Day.

I’ve also heard some grumbles about pricing at the Geelong leg of this year’s festival

It could be, mind you, that myself and other like-minded folks are simply out of the loop with the festival in a more fundamental way.

The big names seem to be a key part of the festival’s marketing and appeal.

Yet the celebrity chefs and the like seem far less heroic or notable to me than the ordinary chefs, food folk and business people I talk to and meet on a weekly basis.

Meanwhile, the Lara Food and Wine Festival will be held on Sunday, March 25, at Pirra Homestead.

There’ll be plenty of food you can pay for at this bash from an impressive and long list of exhibitors and stallholders.

I’m particularly interested in Smokin’ Barry’s Barbeque.

It’s been a long-time lament of mine that ‘Merican style barbecue goodies such Really Great Ribs and so on are such a rarity in Australia and Melbourne.

But based on the slide show at their site, it looks like a good bet these folks have it nailed.

And they have a killer slogan: “You don’t need teeth to eat our meat!”

But a colleague who is something of a veteran of this festival tells me there’ll also be no shortage of exhibitors offering samples of their wares.

If I don’t contract “festival fatigue” the previous day at the Brimbank/Sunshine celebrations, I’ll be there.

Admission to the Lara Food and Wine Festival is by gold coin donation.

A sister blog for Consider The Sauce

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FIND IT HERE

Originally, I envisaged Consider The Sauce might combine both the foodie themes for which it is now famed AND my musical loves.

However, as I climbed the steep incline of learning about blogging and its dynamics, I realised that would be muddying the waters.

As well, it seems – perhaps for the first in my life and perhaps only in the short-term – I am all “written out” when it comes to music.

For more than a decade now, it’s been part of my routine, upon rolling out of bed, to feverishly log on to the likes of the now defunct Blue Note bulletin board and forums at places such as Jazz Corner and Organissimo for endless, often fiery and frequently hilarious talk on all manner of music, along with politics, sport, religion and food. And, not infrequently, all at the same time!

The pleasure, enlightenment, wisdom and friendship I have been blessed with by being part of these conversations has enriched my life immeasurably.

Yet, as with others, the need is less pressing these days – indeed, as of today, it’s been about two weeks since I checked into the big O.

At the same time, though, doing Consider The Sauce has not only heightened my awareness of the food culture of the Melbourne’s greater western suburbs – it has done likewise for the western suburbs in general.

This, of course, is a very fine thing.

But along the way Bennie and I are coming across things, people, places and scenes that tickle our fancy, make us think and reflect or burst out laughing that simply don’t fit within the Consider The Sauce framework.

Of course, some of them have been getting a run here anyway – a car atop a shipping container in Tottenham, some apologetic graffiti in Sunshine and the like.

But now it’s time for these snippets of western suburbs life to have their own home at a sister blog to Consider The Sauce.

Called Snap West, its aim will be to post a photo a day of some of aspect of western suburbs life that has caught our eyes or turned our heads.

A photo a day doesn’t sound like a lot, but I’m sure there’ll be times when it’ll the last thing on our minds and quite a hassle.

Yet oddly enough, I have a hunch that it’s the snaps taken in those sort of circumstances that may end up being the most evocative.

Perhaps unlike Consider The Sauce, there will be no great ambitions for this new blog.

Hopefully, it’ll just simply unfold and evolve.

If folks visit and comment, that’ll be very cool.

If not, well that’ll be OK, too!

PS: I reckon the Vertigo theme of Snap West is gorgeous! How about it for Consider The Sauce?