Monday, November 17, 2014

Real Foodies: My Top 5 Food Memories with Megan

I have a theory that food always leads me to exactly where I'm supposed to be. 

Over the past few years, I've followed my passion for food more and more, because it makes me happy. And in doing so, I've ended up in some pretty random places around the world, and met some amazing foodies along the way too. The only logical explanation is that there is some mysterious food force out there (like a force field, but different) that lures good things and good people in my direction as soon as I say to the universe: "Yeah fuck it, I want to do that, because... food."


Dijon, France

Example. Last year I had the option of going on exchange to a fairly swanky university in Paris (HEC Paris), considered the most prestigious business school in France, and possibly the best one in Europe. But instead, I chose to go to a university in Dijon that nobody really knew about. And I'm not gonna lie. Mustard had a lot to do with it. But ESC Dijon also offered courses with names such as "Marketing of Food" and "Wine Studies", had its own student-run wine society, and was smack-bang in the middle of the Burgundy wine region, home of my all-time favourite French dish: Beef Bourguignon.

And that's where I met Megan. 


Australia and America unite!

At the time, Megan was studying EcoGastronomy (as you do) at the University of New Hampshire and had also chosen to come to ESC Dijon. I remember dying of jealousy when she and the other UNH students told me what they were studying back home, which is basically a mix of sustainable agriculture, hospitality management and nutrition. I also decided that they were all awesome, because they were foodies like me, and invited them to my apartment for brunch along with some other international students. Sunday brunch quickly became a weekly affair after we figured out this was the most cost-efficient way to binge on bacon, pancakes and mimosas.


Happy food faces 


England, Mexico, Germany, Belgium, Brazil and France


Mamma Megan 

But I couldn't help but notice that while everyone else was sitting down, eating and chatting with each other, Megan usually insisted on staying at the stove to finish cooking so that everyone had enough to eat. And when everyone finished, she insisted on doing all the washing up too. Once, she even come over an hour early so that she could cook apple sauce from scratch to go with Courtney's pancakes. So from the get-go, I knew she was a true foodie.



The Megan & Belinda Dijon Special

And you know how there's always that one hilarious night out that cements the friendship forever? That happened about a week later, when Megan and I headed to the local club for student night, stopping at Mac Callaghan's to fuel up on Irish coffees and mozzarella sticks. I don't really remember what happened after that. All I remember is a lot of electro eurodance music, stealing glowsticks from strangers and falling over laughing with Megan all night long. And I don't know who the blonde girl wearing the giant glasses is either. 


The first of many nights at Le Chat Noir

Over the next few months, we became the best of friends and spent our time divided into two activities: partying and food. She took me to latin dance night and taught me how to salsa (or rather, she tried to teach me and I decided I was better off sticking to the hokey-pokey). Brunch preparation became more elaborate, and soon she was coming over the night before to stay up late cooking up a storm with me. But no matter what we did together, two things stayed the same: we could just be ourselves around each other, and we always had a good time.



Double trouble


Foodie night in


Aussie sausage rolls for Sunday brunch


Our last night out in Dijon

At the end of semester, we were very sad to say goodbye to each other, but knew it wouldn't be long before we were reunited again for our next adventure. Since then we've partied in Portugal, taken on the streets of Madrid together and eaten our way through all the food specialties of Maine. But out of all my memories with Megan, these are my favourites.

***

#6: Lunching in Lisbon 

I arrived at our hostel in Lisbon the night before Megan, and unfortunately my dodgy airline had left my luggage behind in Casablanca. Literally all I had were the clothes on my back, my passport, and a hairbrush (my friends will know what I'm talking about). But as soon as Megan arrived the next morning, I forgot all about my worries and gave her an enormous hug. I grabbed a white dress for 10€ from the H&M across the street and we headed out to explore the city. 



European sunshine



Streets full of stories


Bacalhau and mango salad

Vacationing in Europe is hard work, so we stopped at a nice breezy spot for iced tea and bacalhau. Bacalhau is salted and smoked cod, a quintessential ingredient in Portuguese cuisine that Portuguese people will proudly tell you can be prepared in 365 different ways for each day of the year. This was the stuff that kept Portuguese explorers alive when they were undertaking long voyages around the world, trading this and conquering that. Along with Brazil, Mozambique and East Timor, the Portuguese actually had a colony in Malacca in the 16th century, the town where I was born. 


Now that's some serious looking pastry sellers 

After lunch, we headed straight for Pastéis de Belem, a bakery that I had been longing to visit since my arrival in Europe. This place is the holy grail of any foodie who loves pastel de nata, a succulent, flaky portuguese egg tart smothered in icing sugar and cinnamon that is horrifyingly fattening, sweet and addictive. The recipe was born in the 1800s when Catholic monks in a monastery in Belem started using egg yolks leftover from starching garments with egg whites. When the monastery closed in 1834, they sold the recipe to Pastéis de Belem, a family business. The descendants still run the store today. 

Any people reading this with a Chinese background will see that it resembles the egg tarts we order at dim sum. Yep. Now you know who we ripped them off from. 


DIY obesity

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#5: Cascaís and the House of Wonders


The good life 


Gelado

Don't get me wrong. The beach was pretty amazing. But not as amazing as this meal: 


Strawberry salad, white sangria and a vanilla milkshake

It was completely by mistake that we stumbled across this hidden café called House of Wonders. We walked down the tourist strip until we found ourselves in a deserted square, and saw an arrow pointing up a flight of stairs. At the top we found a rooftop café draped in white sails, overlooking the ocean, and each table had a strawberry pot plant on it. It was at this café that my obsession with strawberry salad began, and also where chocolate cake was ruined for me, forever. Nothing can describe how perfect that slice of cake was. Nothing. 



Brigadeiro cake and fresh strawberries

***

#4: Motorcycles and Duck Fat


Home for a week

After a year of talking about it, I finally did it. In July this year, I sat on 3 different planes over a span of 30 hours and landed in Portland, Maine where Megan picked me up from the airport. I took a couple of days to get over the jetlag and dehydration (I had stopped over in Jeddah Airport for 6 hours where I basically lost the will to live), but after that, I was up for some serious food adventures. Meg called up Bill and Ben, and 20 minutes later I was being whisked around Portland on a sightseeing joyride. 

Then we got hungry. 


Zoom zoom 


"Hand cut Belgian Fries fried in duck fat with your choice of dipping sauce"


Vanilla milkshake


Cuties


Poutine fries

Between the four of us, we demolished a couple of milkshakes, ginger beers, and two whopping huge servings of fries, one served with garlic aioli and another served as poutine fries, a Quebecois dish doused with gravy and cheese, topped with a runny egg. 

Half way through our meal, the waiter came over and asked us how our meal was going. I exclaimed: "Are you kidding me? This is the best shit ever!" The guy stared at me, puzzled for a second, and then his face split into a huge grin: 

"Well aaaaaahhhhhh'll be damned. You must be from Ah-stralia! Girl what awn earth you doin' here in Maine? You know ah lurve Ah-stralians, y'all have such a cute accent, what is it you guys say down there?"

At this point I was close to tears laughing at how amazing his Tennessee accent was that I couldn't answer. And then he jumped up and down flapping his arms around and yelled "DINGO STOLE MAH BAY-BEE!", and then the entire café was staring at me, and then Meg and the twins started laughing and then I was interrogated on all the intricacies of Australian culture for a good five to ten minutes. 


My favourite waiter in Maine


Putting one of these in my café one day

***

#3: Denny's


DJ Tinydancer


Oasis antics

One thing's for sure, the Letendre sisters know how to party. Megan's sister Jenny is a DJ at Oasis, and I think within a 9 day period we must have gone there at least 3 times. After a big Saturday night out, we all headed to Denny's, a 24-hour diner. 

They'll never know how excited I was to go to Denny's. As an Aussie girl brought up in Perth, I grew up watching American shows, watching beautiful American people go to American diners to get their American breakfasts. So for me, this was like walking into a TV and BEING ABLE TO EAT THINGS INSIDE OF IT. 


4am munchies


Double yoker

#2: Independence Day 



Sticking to the national colours

This was an unforgettable experience. On the morning of the 4th of July, I tagged along with Megan's dad to the nearby lobster shop. Don went up to the counter, and a few minutes later, handed me a sack the size of a small person that was actually filled with steaming lobsters. When we got home, Donna had prepared corn, potato chips and melted butter for our Independence Day feast, and Megan gave me step-by-step instructions how to correctly de-shell and eat a whole lobster. It was like eating a small, red, deliciously juicy alien. And boy, was it fun. 





#1: Camp at Lake Arrowhead 



And suddenly I'm on The Parent Trap

Ever since I met Megan, she's always been talking about her "camp". In Australia, the verb "to camp" means you get a foldable tent, stick it in your car, drive out into a nice spot in the bush, poke someone's eye out trying to set it up, and sleep in it. You will usually sleep very badly. And there will be a lot of bugs. It was only when we arrived at Megan's camp that I realised that "camp" in America means "incredibly picturesque holiday home on a lake intended for summertime leisure and water sports". Slightly different to the Australian version.


Beautiful Lake Arrowhead 


Megan doing what Megan does


Breakfast bagel 


Blueberry pancakes 


Campfire time



My first s'more

We spent three days up there with Megan's family and friends, waterskiing, swimming, and of course, eating ourselves into oblivion. I also had my first American s'more, which is a marshmallow melted over the fire, squished between two Graham crackers and a square of Hershey's chocolate that melts in the middle. If it's not slightly burnt, then it's not a real s'more.

But all the waterskiing and bacon and s'mores aside, my favourite thing about going to Megan's camp was being a part of those few days where everyone spent time enjoying the simple things in life. I really have to thank Megan's family for all their hospitality during my stay. If you guys are reading this, I hope you know how grateful I am for everything you guys did for me.


Bliss


Step aside


Bacon wrapped scallops

My "Real Foodies" series is about foodies who inspire me, and Meg is one of them. I love the fact that she studied food at university because it's something she's genuinely interested in, not because it will make her rich. I love that she's generous with food and doesn't stinge on quality, whether she's cooking it, buying it for others or having it herself - a person who knows how to enjoy food knows how to enjoy life. I love her adventurous streak, that she never once hesitated to eat something new I offered her while we were traveling together in Europe, or weird Asian stuff that I cooked for her. But if there's one thing I learned from Megan, it's that a Real Foodie is not just someone who loves to eat. A Real Foodie is someone who loves to see other people around them enjoying food too. 

And I was lucky enough to be one of those people. 


Until we eat again! 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Switzerland Sky

It is a generally accepted idea that everybody has a favourite colour. Therefore it must logically follow that everybody has seen that colour before, at some point.

I hadn't, until this morning.

When I was nine years old, my mum bought a house. We moved in over the summer and started doing simple renovations. First, we replaced the sad-looking brown carpets with clean white tiles. Next, we wanted to paint the walls. To start fresh.

"What colour are you thinking of, dear?"
"It's hard to explain, mum."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't want just one colour. I want a colour made up of many colours."
"Well it's a bit difficult to do that. Can't you just choose from what we have here in the booklet?"
"But it's not here."

Anthony had already picked the paint he wanted: a dark, serious blue. But I remember spending hours poring over pamphlets from the hardware store containing rainbows of swatches, ripples of tiny coloured squares that went from jet black to emerald green to butter yellow to pure white. I would run my finger over the purpley-bluey-pinkey section if there was one, but could never find exactly what I had in mind. I settled for a light shade of lavender in the end.

I am now twenty-two years old. I painted my room thirteen years ago. And this morning, as the plane was flying away from Paris over Switzerland, I turned away from my movie so I could look out the window.

There, in front of me, was the colour I had wanted.

Laid out over the earth was the exact hue of purple I'd imagined: fresh, light and so alive that you could almost hear it breathing. It melted into a soft, baby blue, the colours dissolving so perfectly that your eyes would get lost in them. Then, the best part: a layer of rose petal pink that sighed along the curve of the earth, touching both ends of the sky with its fingertips. I sat with my forrid against the freezing glass, mesmerized, drinking it, filling my eyes with it.

Too often, we let others convince us that what we see in our mind can never exist.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

"What do you desire?"

I have been so busy over the past 12 months, travelling non-stop, not to mention the small issue of trying to survive the final gruelling years of my law degree in Australia. I haven't had time to devote to my blog, which makes me sad, but I know the time will come around again when I'll be able to pour more of my time and energy into my passion for food. Until then, I have to focus on my priorities.

That being said, I will post something up on here once in a blue moon when I feel it is particularly awesome or important. This is one of those times.

The comic below is based on a well-known YouTube video of Alan Watts delivering a speech. I watched this video a few years ago in my early years of university, and found it so moving that you could say that it changed my life.

It was a combination of that video, many mistakes, a lot of traveling and some amazing people I met along the way that made me realise that I don't want to be a lawyer. Not in the immediate future anyway. I've enjoyed learning to master words by studying law, learning how to argue, learning how to think critically. But my real passion is food.

I don't light up when I'm talking about Constitutional Law the way I do when I'm talking about a pastrami sandwich in New York. I don't burn with yearning when I flit through a law firm pamphlet, but I do when I flit through a Michelin Star restaurant's menu online. I don't see myself sitting at a desk for 10 hours a day, Monday to Friday, 48 weeks a year for the rest of my twenties. But I do have a dream of opening a café that serves the best brunch in town.

No, I won't make enough money to pay for a big house or a nice car. No, I don't know exactly how I'm going to achieve it. And no, I don't know if it will be successful or not. I'm 22 years old. I don't know much about anything really.

But I know what I love.

And as long as I know that, I think I'm going to be okay.









Disclaimer: Image is not mine, it was taken from here