Mother Nora’s new adventure

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Saffron Kitchen, Laverton Community Hub, 95-105 Railway Avenue, Laverton. Phone: 8368 0177

That much-cherished institution, MiHUB Cafe in Werribee, is ceasing to exist as we know it.

The day after this story is published, the Synnot Street property that has housed this most admirable – and delicious! – community enterprise is to be auctioned, with the chances being it will become a medical centre of some sort.

So MiHUB’s future is way up in the air, with no new venue being yet found.

All is not lost, however, as the spirit is willing … besides, we’ve seen the MiHUB crew and their fare at the likes of the Indonesian Street Food Festival, and enjoyed that fare at a charity bash in Werribee.

So there are other ways of being!

In the meantime, one MiHUB’s leading lights, Mother Nora, has taken up a role at the new branch of Saffron Kitche, operating out of the Laverton Community Hub.

Where Nora goes, we follow … so it is that I rock up for a mid-week lunch.

Under the auspices of the Wyndham Community & Education Centre, Saffron Kitchen “will target training and employment pathway opportunities for local people including the long-term unemployed, people with a disability and people from new and emerging communities”.

It’s a simple place that offers simple, tasty and cheap vegetarian food.

 

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Each of my offerings – an eggy fried rice, a nice lentil-and-veg dish, glassy noodles with slithery mushrooms and gado gado with a beaut nutty sauce – are priced individually, but I snag a “combo” deal for $10.

My $3.50 cafe latte is excellent!

Laverton’s Saffron Kitchen is open 8am-4pm on week days.

 

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ASRC catering rocks!

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Consider The Sauce is at a family reunion in Northcote.

Actually, it’s more like a combined reunion and 30th, with not just family members but also friends and colleagues of birthday girl Nicole in attendance.

I fit into none of those categories but am being made to feel very welcome nonetheless.

It’s also a fancy dress event – and I have done my bit in that regard by turning up in full-blown ageing hippie regalia.

That’s a bald-faced lie, of course, in that ageing hippie is how I always dress!

And the food?

Oh, yes, that is very fine indeed.

 

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A few weeks before, I had received an email from Nicole.

She’s big fan of Consider The Sauce, is especially digging the recent community-based stories and could I suggest place along those lines to cater for her party?

I fired off suggestions she ignored completely – instead opting for the catering arm of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

That’s great, said I, I’ve been thinking of doing a story about them so let me know how it goes!

In fact … and thinking on my metaphorical feet … why don’t you let me blog your party, and then between us both we can give ASRC catering some well-deserved exposure?

To my delight, Nicole eagerly ran with the whole idea.

When I expressed my appreciation, Nicole said:

“It might be marginally preposterous, but if it helps the ASRC, then I’m all for it!  And anyone who knows me will not be at all surprised at this – you have to take interesting opportunities when they arise!”

Obviously, she’s my kinda gal!

 

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So it was that I spent an hour or so with ASRC sous chef Natasha in the Brunswick kitchen.

(As most readers probably know, the Melbourne base of the ASRC is these days in Footscray, but the catering wing will not be making that move until early in 2015.)

Small world department – Natahsa is a Werribee resident who previously worked at Cornershop in Yarraville and has also worked with Jess of Pod @ P.I.D.

But she really, really likes her ASRC gig, which she has had for a couple of years.

It’s mostly minus the crazy hours of restaurant work and she gets a great deal of satisfaction from working with and helping train asylum seekers from many parts of the world.

In this way, the catering business helps people rebuild their lives and is a source of income for ASRC itself.

 

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The food is all vegetarian – this not only avoids any cultural or religious issues with the asylum seekers but is also increasingly seen as an asset and selling point.

Nicole’s party is at the smaller end of the sorts of events ASRC caters, which include weddings and anniversaries and corporate awards ceremonies.

Finger food is the most popular option and plain, no-frills the most common form of delivery, though that can range right up to delivery accompanied by full service and staff

Nicole has chosen two dishes from the ASRC catering “lunch box options” – caramalised onion polenta baked in a rich tomato herb sauce, roasted mushrooms and mozzarella; and chick pea and vegetable coconut curry served with jasmine rice.

 

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Other menu selections that caught my eye include …

Baya kyaw – Burmese split pea fritters, served with sweet chilli.

Dal kachori – a spicy snack popular throughout India and Pakistan. Golden
fried bread filled with spiced dal (black gram) and served with raita.

Akaree – a typical snack eaten throughout Africa, black eyed bean fritters with onion, chilli and ginger, fried to perfection with a red capsicum and peanut sauce.

Fattoush – fresh cucumber, tomato, cos lettuce, feta cheese, and olives, tossed in lemon, garlic and olive oil topped with crispy sumac pita croutons.

Sudanese curry – a delicious stew of cannellini beans, tomato, eggplant and potatoes. Seasoned with cumin, cardamom and cinnamon, and served with our homemade yellow spice bread.

Tandoori vegetables – chunky, seasonal vegetables and paneer marinated in yoghurt and spice and roasted to perfection. Served with basmati rice.

ASRC cater can also provide beverages, including beer and wine.

For more information about ASRC catering go here, and for a full and extensive menu go here.

 

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Natasha and I make the brief journey from Brunswick to Nicole’s Northcote joint to find the party already in full swing.

Nicole grins when she tells me that she has evolved a simple way of avoiding any misgivings the assembled guests may have about the vegetarian fare she is offering them – she is simply not going to tell them.

She’s going to feed them instead – and it works a treat!

I really like the chick pea curry, which is packed with a variety of vegetables and has a rich gravy not unlike that of a massaman curry.

The trick there is the use of coconut milk – something I’ll be sure to try next time a cook with chick peas. It’s a nice alternative to the usual tomatoes/onions/spices combo.

There’s more food here, mind you, than just the fine ASRC offerings – there’s birthday cake, a tardis full of lollies and more.

Thanks to Nicole and her extended family for making me feel so welcome and to Simone and Natasha at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre for helping make this story happen.

 

 

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Asian tucker without meat?

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shak3
Shakahari Too, 225 Clarendon Street, South Melbourne.Phone: 9682 2207

Consider The Sauce Thing 1 was happy to accept an invitation to a gathering at Shakahari Too in South Melbourne.

Consider The Sauce Thing 2 was rather less keen.

“Vegetarian?,” said he, skepticism plainly writ on his face.

“Think of it not as vegetarian but more as Asian food without meat,” father instructed son.

The occasion was a group dinner organised by Monique of Mon’s Adventure’s fame as part of her Vegetetarian Mission – and we fully enjoyed the whole night, eating different food and meeting new people.

The Carlton Shakahari has been around as long as I’ve been in Melbourne.

Despite vegetarian nightmares associated with previous lives in other countries, I was happy to give the South Melbourne branch a shot.

But in the end, and based entirely on the main courses Bennie and I selected, I confess his skepticism was warranted.

 

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Monique shouted the whole bunch of us an entree called Avocado Magic ($15.50).

This tempura dish was lovely, and its deep-fried vibe even impressed Bennie.

“Avocado wedges and red capsicum rolled in thin eggplant slices, tempura fried in a rice batter” and “served with a jade green coriander and sesame puree” was a terrific, the lusciousness of the avocado an unusual delight.

 

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I have cookbooks and recipes I revere that do without onions, garlic and chilli, so I know great food can be produced by doing so.

Or it is perhaps that we so very regularly eat such highly charged and spiced food?

 

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A tasty retreat in the city

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fo7

Fo Guang Yuan Water Drop Vegetarian Tea House, 141 Queen St, Melbourne. Phone:  9642 2388

The restaurant for lunch is part of a broader set-up.

The dining room proper has a meditation hall right above it, while the outer dining area – in which I am sitting – has a gallery right next door.

They’re all part of a Buddhist centre tucked away in an old Queen St building.

I’m loving the vibe. It’s almost as if I’ve arrived plenty early just so I could spend some time sucking it up.

In a lifespan rapidly approaching the proverbial – or should that be Biblical? – three score, the time I spent as a fully paid-up card-carrying Buddhist seems a long time ago and very brief.

But there’s no doubting the influence Buddhism in general continues to have on my life.

Even if that first-hand experience was in another country and involved the traditions of yet another country and what is generally regarded as a much more complex and some might even say political branch of Buddhism.

It’s a pleasure just to sit, as they say, and rapidly regain my equilibrium in what has been – so far – a crazy week.

I think about the fun to be had in meeting another blogger, Katherine, who writes prolifically in her own pithy and fetching style at New International Students.

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The card motto on our table seems weirdly un-Buddhist to me – but I could well be wrong.

And I think, of course, about food on offer here.

It’s a hardcore vegetarian place, with mock meat prominently featured – something that still doesn’t grab me.

But there’s plenty of other action.

There’s daily specials that appear to be served in bento boxes with bowl of soup on the side that look like they play he same role as miso soup in Japanese box meals.

There’s quite a long list of $8 appetisers such rolls, puffs, dumplings and buns that would seem to offer scope for a nice vego yum cha sitting for two or more people.

And there’s stir frys and soup noodles of various kinds.

But I wonder if I’m soon about to wish we’d chosen somewhere with higher levels of salt, oil, spice and oomph.

And surely ordering laksa in such an establishment is an invitation to be presented with something watery, anaemic and comprehensively lacking in spice or heat levels – or any allure whatsoever.

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I order the laksa ($12).

I’m instantly surprised and delighted.

There’s three chunks of what I presume are mock beef. I eat one. It’s chewy, meaty but – to my mind – kind of creepy.

I wish they’d replace the mock meat with eggplant, but other than that my laksa is a winner.

The spice levels aren’t extreme but it’s identifiably an authentic laksa, denoted – if the taste, flavour and texture were not enough – with a great many curry leaves.

In addition to the regulation egg and rice noodles and bean sprouts, there’s broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, tofu and – most delightful of all – shredded cabbage.

I’d be happy to get such cabbage an any laksa – vegetarian or otherwise – anytime. It’s cheap, healthy and adds textural interest.

This is a beaut laksa – not as fine as, say, those from my favourite laksa joint, but much better than the listless, weak speciman Bennie and I shared the previous week at the new dumpling place at Highpoint.

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Curry puffs ($8) are excellent – grease-free with crisp short pastry outers and mildly spicy spud-based innards.

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Katherine likes her vermicelli with vegetarian dumplings in vegetarian minced pork sauce with soup on the side ($10.50).

It’s presented in a sort-of Korean/Japanese fashion and I’m pretty sure it tastes a whole lot better than it looks.

Certainly, my companion cleans her bowl so it gleams.

For all its charm, I wouldn’t want to visit here to too frequently. I reckon the prevalence of mock meat and certain sameness across the menu might lead to interest fatigue.

But as it’s a tranquil, affordable hideaway/retreat, if I was working in the CBD I would be a regular – even if it was of the sometime variety.

By the time we leave halfway through this mid-week lunch sitting, the place is doing brisk business.

Nice to meet you, Katherine!

 

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Lentil As Anything

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 Matty (left) with Lentil As Anything pals.

Lentil As Anything, 231 Barkly Street, Footscray. Phone: 9689 9784

You all know the drill about Lentil As Anything – pay as you go, or pay as you deem it worthy, or pay what you can … if you can.

The place has been through some well-publicised downs and ups, but seems to be hanging in there.

The reason it hasn’t become a regular for us relates strongly to a couple of rather ordinary meals we had there early in the piece.

Bennie, in particular, has a displayed a profound unwillingness to entertain the idea of a return visit.

For my part, not warming to the place has more to do with the sheer, overwhelming plainness of the food I’ve had there – this just doesn’t click with tastebuds used to the supercharged seasoning of all the other places we habituate, and moreover it all reminds me of vegetarian food nightmares.

And that’s a shame, because in terms of community engagement, Lentil As Anything is darn brilliant and the seasoning tactics reflect the place’s umbrella philosophy.

So with a brief shopping visit to Little Saigon Market dispensed with, it’s time for another look.

I’m rapt to be able to put together an Asian-themed plate with ease – and there’s seasoning to spare.

And this means I don’t have to mess with other offerings, such as coleslaw, sweet potato and pineapple salad,  baked macaroni.

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Dal – smooth and delicious with onion texture and a nice chilli kick

Spiced beans – lukewarm-turning-cold, but nice and crunchy if a bit stringy at times. There’s a nice chilli zing here, too.

Potato and bottle gourd salad – not as snappy as its companions on my plate, but quite acceptable.

Overall, it’s a fine lunch – and with seasoning and spice levels that could see me becoming a more regular visitor.

It’s as I’m completing my eating and looking to snap a few interior photos that I run in to an old mate from my Sunday Herald Sun days, Matty the photographer.

I am utterly amazed to learn he has been volunteering at Lentil As Anything for a couple of years and even occasionally working at the Ethiopian joint next door.

Equally surprising seems the fact we haven’t crossed paths before now in the west.

Matty and I, like most of our then colleagues, played the newspaper game very hard in every kind of way, most of them extremely unhealthy.

Yet here he is, deeply embedded in Footscray and seemingly happy as all get out to be so profoundly connected to the community.

He talks with pride of the work Lentil As Anything does and we share a moment of wry reflection on how what seemed so very important then seems of so very little account in our new lives.

It’s been good to see you, brother!

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Charitable Vegetarian Restaurant

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Charitable Vegetarian Restaurant (Quan Chay Tu Thien), Shop 11 Alfrieda St, St Albans. Phone 0435 397 129

Mock duck, vegan ham, vegan crispy chicken?

I’ve always been a bit sniffy about the concept of “pretend meat”, even if it is a venerable Asian tradition.

We love, eat and cook quite a range of non-meat food, especially Indian at home.

But I’ve long held that if we are to do without meat, then let’s not pretend … so to speak.

I now suspect my ambivalence about mock meat has had quite a lot to do with the fact the Chinese food is not way up high on our list of favoured cuisines – and it’s with Chinese cooking that I most associate these kind of products.

Because I find that when they are matched with Vietnamese food, my whole outlook is transformed.

I am intrigued and tickled pink as I take in the menu at Charitable Vegetarian Restaurant.

Pho, rice paper rolls, vermicelli, “beef” stew, crispy “chicken rice – the menu is packed with Vietnamese staples done in ways that are completely free of meat and seafood.

But whatever broadening of my mind that is transpiring here, I play it safe by ordering a dish that looks like it’ll be a very close cousin of its non-vegetarian version – bun bi cha gio (8.50).

Instead of shredded pork, there’s shredded tofu.

The spring rolls are much more genteel and smooth of interior than I expect, with none of the crunch and texture of nuts or mushrooms I had foreseen.

There’s lettuce, grated carrot, mint, peanuts and bean sprouts, of course, along with the vermicelli, and the accompanying chilli sauce adds a good seasoning kick.

It doesn’t quite have the same flavour kick of the various meaty versions, but a degree of subtlety is only to be expected.

But it’s a nice change, even if a certain mealiness becomes more apparent as I near the end.

It’s big serve and I don’t quite leave my bowl clean.

It’s not until later that realise there’s been no onion or vinegary tang. Perhaps the spiritual and philosophical outlook of the place prevents it, though I notice there are menu items that include garlic.

I’m very interested in this place in general and what’s in those spring rolls in particular.

But I find the robed and smiling staff are no more adept at English than I am at Vietnamese.

So we’re at a stalemate until I gently accost a customer seeking a takeaway lunch, and discover that, yes, she speaks English and will be only too happy to help out.

The spring rolls contain, I am told, nothing more than vegetables and tofu.

The restaurant has been open since late July.

It’s a Buddhist establishment, basically – as the name indicates – being run as a charity, with all the cooking done by monks and nuns.

My lovely translator, Mo, tells me she herself is Buddhist, as are her parents.

She says that while younger generations of Vietnamese are less likely to embrace such spiritual or food traditions, among older generations she believes adherence may be even higher than 20 per cent.

I’m excited about the idea of exploring the menu further – there’s Singapore fried noodles, some good-looking salads, steamboats, straightahead vegetable dishes such as sauteed pumpkin leaves and a whole lot more (see full menu below).

If anyone tries it, please let us know your hits and misses!

There seems every chance Charitable Vegetarian Restaurant will become a magnet for vegetarians, not only from the western suburbs but from all over Melbourne.

Thanks, Mo, for being so gracious about being asked to provide translation aid!

Wholefoods Cafe

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Wholefoods Cafe, 2 Baylie Place, Geelong. Phone: 5221 5421

Spending some time in Wholefoods Cafe in Geelong is, for me, like being in an echo chamber.

Long before I plonked myself down in Melbourne, I had immersed myself in a sort-of hippie scene that started in Dunedin during my school days, was nurtured in London even as many of us were simultaneously embracing punk rock and its more caustic love children, and became firmly entrenched in Wellington.

Truth is, almost all my mates were and are too young to claim true hippie status, but we ran with it anyway.

Yoga was big – or, in my case, tai chi and a deep involvement in Tibetan Buddhism that has continued to have profound influence on my approach to life long after I became disenchanted with the baggage that went with it.

Patchouli oil was hot and the pretty much the whole gang – of both genders – sported hairy armpits and legs.

The parties were wild.

It was during this time that I started my long love affair with Indian vegetarian cooking.

It is no doubt extremely immodest of me to say so, but my recollections are that my efforts in that regard were far better than what was generally being eaten.

The food was awful!

Brown rice casserole, anyone?

We cooked with woks, but in our utter and complete ignorance, would chop up the onion, throw it in the wok, then chop up the next vegetable, throw that in … and so on.

The results were, as you can imagine, nothing like the flash-fired wok food we all eat today.

More like mucky, mushy stews … edible is about the best that could be said.

But mostly the memories are fond, so I have no hesitation about wallowing in the nostalgic vibe Wholefoods Cafe summons up in me.

It starts with the mandala signage outside and continues inside with the lovely burnished and creaky wooden floors and the wholefoods takeaway section out back.

The noticeboards have signs for share accommodation, budgies and zumba.

But – oh yes! –  there’s all sorts of people flogging the likes of reiki, shamanic hoop drumming, meditation of various kinds, compassion exercises and worthy causes and belief systems too numerous to list.

(Time out here as Kenny cranks up a Grateful Dead CD …)

The deja vu continues with the menu:

Thus it is that in a happy and reflective mood – and, for once, with time to spare in a Geelong working day lunch break – that I look forward to my meal.

Moreoever, having scoped the place out some time ago, I am intent on sampling their “dahl”.

Regular visitors will know that I am never happy about paying upwards of $10 or more for a bowl of lentils when we do such a fine job of cooking them and their pulse cousins various ways at home.

But today I’m relaxed about that, too.

I am expecting a bowl of hippie-style dal (mildly seasoned, unoily) – as opposed to Indian-style-dal (highly seasoned, oily).

Here, customers order at the counter.

The wait seems long, but maybe that’s because I’m standing and the staff seem very busy.

Given my number and taking a seat at one of the communal tables, another longish wait ensues, but I’m happy reading the various newspapers on hand.

What I get for my lunch is a $9 bowl of … hippie-style dal with trimmings.

It’s lovely – and just what I expected and desired.

The dal is smooth and goes down easy.

The yogurt is creamy and even the smear of what I think is commercial chutney works a treat.

The pappadam is crunchy and grease-free.

It’s been more years than I can recall since I had brown rice, but here its nuttiness is the perfect foil for the rest of my meal.

Wholefoods – cafe, shop and catering – has been around for what I am told is “decades”.

These days it’s an arm of Diversitat, so is deeply embedded in its community, offering training and cooking courses and the like.

If I lived locally, it’d be a regular part of my routine … for all sorts of different reasons.

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