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Martinis? In this economy?
Or: the year in fancies.
Well, then. We made it through another year. I was going to write something maudlin about how much I loathe December, but nobody needs that, least of all me. Instead, I offer a reflection on my year in food, in books, in new discoveries, in old favourites. Maybe you’ll find something to love too.
Drink of the year
This year, we all wanted to be fancy little bitches and I was not immune. My most ordered drink was a martini, dry, a little dirty, with a minimum of two fat green olives impaled on a toothpick. I know what you’re thinking: martinis? In this economy? My greatest discovery this year was that if you ask nicely, most bartenders will mix you a half-size martini. I recognise this is a very bougie life-hack, but hear me out: you’ll pay $11 or $12 dollars for it and as a bonus, you’re far less likely to wind up underneath the table.
Of course, you can always make batch martinis at home: my favourite way to make them is with this gin, Noilly Prat Original Dry Vermouth and green Bella di Cerignola olives, which are only grown in the specific region of Foggia in Puglia, Italy. They are big and buttery and perfect; you can buy them here (they make a thoughtful gift for the martini-lover in your life).
Cookbook of the year
I’m convinced that Clare Scrine is the Australian Anna Jones – she has a way of creating vegetarian and vegan recipes that feel fresh, exciting, and most of all, achievable. Her first book has become a trusted companion in my kitchen, but her latest release, The Shared Kitchen, might be even better. With each chapter dedicated to a key ingredient, it’s easy to dip in and out of depending on what you have on hand. My first foray was baking the Banana Bundt with Date Swirl and Brown Sugar Glaze – sweet and decadent, it fed a crowd and required no specialty ingredients (whilst also being vegan). I plan to bring this delightful salad to my next family gathering.
Meal of the year
It was a joy to return to eating at restaurants, though the landscape may have changed. I miss the intimacy of tiny spaces and cosy booths, but al fresco has its own charms: it was a year of eating on rooftops, in courtyards, on pavements. I went back to old haunts, some of which had changed post-lockdowns (I took the removal of Marion’s complimentary bread course as something of a personal slight). I fell back in love with the places that not only endure, but never seem to change at all. I ate well – in Melbourne, it’s difficult not to.
On a mild night in November, I visited Parcs, a restaurant that takes a cheffy approach to the low-waste movement. We arrived late, after an event where we’d hovered around a weird selection of canapés (great hunks of bread, chocolate-covered pretzels, giant wheels of cheese – great, lovely, but do you know how hard it is to balance a drink in one hand whilst trying to manhandle an as-yet-undefiled brie?). We were hungry, already a little drunk, happy to be in an almost-empty restaurant after the night’s earlier chaos. The waiter was one of those rare, genial creatures who walked us through the somewhat esoteric menu without a trace of pretension, recommended good wine, and gamely joined in our conversation about what constitutes a romantic comedy.
On the plate, it was just as enjoyable. Chinese donuts – long, deep-fried sticks of piped dough served with a punchy mustard brassica dip – provided a memorable opening. The umami e pepe was equally exciting: chewy hand-pulled noodles swam in a rich miso-based sauce made from leftover bread (the sauce is fermented for three months), as were the wok-tossed greens with fermented ramps relish. Best of all was the dessert: thick brioche miso ice cream, cut through with a surprising tang of umami, and topped with caramel-like poached banana, cacao husk and walnut. You might not think the funk of ferment would work in a dessert, but at Parcs, it’s nothing short of a triumph.
The year in reading
In newly released fiction, I loved Julia Armfield’s briny body horror Our Wives Under the Sea and Gail Jones’ masterful war novel Salonika Burning. Sam Knight’s The Premonitions Bureau was a non-fiction book I read for pleasure, which stoked my appetite for tales of where the rational and occult collide.
As ever, I read more old books than recent releases. Highlights among them were Carol: or the Price of Salt (1952) by Patricia Highsmith, which I read for the first time and predictably loved – no one does it better than Highsmith. Long before the James Cameron blockbuster came out, I developed an obsession with the Titanic, something that still bothers me from time to time: The Story of the Titanic as Told by its Survivors (1960) edited by Jack Winocour, was a welcome discovery, compiling three vividly moving accounts from men who survived the disaster. Tipping the Velvet (1998) by Sarah Waters was another queer classic I finally got around to reading, while On the Road to Babadag: Travels in the Other Europe (2004) by Andrzej Stasiuk (which I’ve written about before in the newsletter) left me missing parts of Europe I’ve never been to.
Some other recommendations
Spout Bakery’s salad sandwich (worth the drive to Castlemaine); Little National Hotel in Canberra; the vegan chicken burger at Lulie Tavern; The Menu (movie of the year!); this song and delightfully weird video clip if you need a little shot of serotonin; Gewürzhaus’ Everything Bagel Blend which improves everything from avocado toast to wintery soups to eggs any which way; Better World Books (for all your obscure and out-of-print reading needs); going to the cinema; wine seltzers on a hot afternoon.
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