Author Archives: gem

About gem

Melbourne-based writer, accidentally converted to eating and beer.

fantasy foosball warm-up

Back when the FIFA 2014 World Cup was happening, Untappd was offering limited edition patches of pride to show others what you’d been tippling or as a reminder of Awesome Beer #793 sampled (perving on some of my beer-nerds’ Untappd feeds could prove this is not exaggeration). As long as you drank a beer from a country competing and checked in, it was fairly easy to get the badge, even halfway through the tournament.

At this particular time, I was three months into the part-time job of holding down a regular sleep pattern and clung onto it greedily. Alas, this meant missing live coverage of England excel at losing or be supreme in defeat. Thankfully, there’s never a shortage of professional sportsmen displaying excellent potential as thespians when brushed ever so lightly by opposing team players. Said fallen player would jump up faster than Sherwin & Liggett could iterate to their listeners that any player (player? player of what? Board games?) got a red card (if they were football commentators…).

Even if you’re a casual football watcher, you’re bound to witness one of these stunts. Refs miss seeing them constantly, regardless of where the tournament’s progressed in knockout stages. It was still going to be fun to watch the rest of the games, even if it was

My culinary prowess is rivalled only by my struggle to keep a healthy sleeping pattern. Why I would upset this balance by supporting a Kickstarter campaign for the very first issue of The Cleaver Quarterly and convince myself that I could indeed follow a recipe for  ‘Sichuan mulled beer‘, before reading the periodical seemed delusional. Previous attempts – expressionist pastiches – of Laura Calder’s mulled, spiced red wine taught me that if your base ingredients are substandard (ie. shite wine, citrus rind with globs of pith), then the end product is going to be an equally undesirable commodity. A puffed-up way of saying that I was prepared for defeat if the call to use the kitchen for warm alcoholic beverages ever piqued my interest.

However, Melbourne finally grew seriously glacial balls this year. One wintry day after coming home defeated by cold and most human beings (save the social welfare personal contact interviewer, who happened to be…nice?!), if I stuffed up this mulled beer thing, it wouldn’t matter too much, right? Screw previous kitchen failures, ha!

I thus present the dress rehearsal: creative arts or writing majors, actual football fans and culinary experts need not read on. Hopefully this pastiche commentary will grant Phil & Paul some reprieve (it should).

Advert campaign shows Pabst Blue Ribbon lager but corporation-crap-cook lone-wolf-blogger went with Australian wildcard McLaren Vale lager. Initial sip indicated its strengths and weaknesses were even, or equally as in/offensive as one another.


Oo-err, play is stopped fairly early in the game for a substitution, what?! Fresh kumquat/kalamansi rinds in, dried orange ones back to the bench. Sichuan province in China is shaking its head at this mestiza pollution! Opposing team’s coach is as livid as Sisyphus dragging boulders over cobble lanes.


First yellow card issued! It is not a good time for a toilet break or coverage is-sues. Pantry raid yields dried red berries that I’ll back against the favourite, goji berries.

Uh-oh, nasty words between opposing team players. Rock sugar missing perfectly positioned header. Palm sugar takes possession, ooh, an upset. Own goal. Palm sugar’s team is, like, totally, devo, maaate. F*ckin’ robbed. Dried red dates watching in disgust – no point hiding it, poor coach mutters to team physio. Random plum sauce meat marinade is not dried red dates, oh dear. Even with goji berries, an effort was made (soaked in a few tablespoons of boiling water to plump them up prior to tournament). Back on the bench of that same team, pomegranate molasses is making rude gestures at not being able to demonstrate an obvious recovery from knee surgery complications.

Rice wine threatens to pull sponsorship from one of the playing teams – advert poster displays their logo next to that of ‘vinegar’: yes, rice wine vinegar instead of rice wine. Subtle but costly mistake? Depends on future sponsorship/Faustian bargaining, flavours for favours. Umeshu for umeboshi? As Ali G might say fittingly, we ‘digest’.

(…) Many apologies for that break in transmission, our viewers back home missed a good deal of hyperlocal anecdotes and related psychogeographical history not relevant to the commentary, but we’re back. Mixture’s in a pot and simmering for three (or so) minutes. Now for the ladling equal quantities into two mugs – trickier than it sounds when blood sugar is at trembling-low point. Half time – the separate cinnamon-sugar mixture as sweetener is brought onto the field, mixed into the concoction to personal preference. It proves fortifying - Sichuan province, China: absolute genius at making passable alcohol drinkable, looks like this game is not going to be a draw after all! That’s the end of the coverage – back to the local commentary team. Thanks for listening, you’ve all been the pineapple of politeness, till next time.

This ‘dummy run’ was deliberate: I’d genuinely forgot to buy red dates so the plum-sludge-marinade was a panic substitution. A moment later it occurred to me that pomegranate molasses could have been more fitting. You’ll need 1-3 cans/bottles to make up 750mL of beer for mulling and various pantry-occupying spices. The sole oddity of the final product was a weird, chemical bitterness sillage atop the dominant top notes o’ cinnamon, despite using a non-reactive saucepan. The beer (pre- and post-mulling) didn’t have it, there wasn’t any pith on the fresh kumquat rinds (again, thank you Ms Calder for teaching me that the hard way when infusing white wine for summer…). Why would it smell like awful beer when it didn’t taste like it? Any consumables/products used and/or mentioned were paid for by myself, or legally foraged. In fact, I’ve chosen two different beers for future mullification, given this initial attempt was passable. These near-future gustatory/science experiments will have pictures and be documented properly. Not like above, as if it were an unfinished live art installation. Pinky-promise-swear!

lie back and think of England


After two months in hospital (incidentally, if you’re curious, I have blogged about its food in the past), finally I was home. Well, not quite. Straight after hospital, I went to Sydney to attend the 2011 Eat Drink Blog conference.

I’m still adjusting to life after hospital so I won’t be writing about the conference but I can give you my ‘cricket highlights’: I met lots of ace folks, ate lots of ace food and got to hang out with some (shock horror) non-foodie mates. Hours of Test matches in a non-airconditioned home after having moved from the UK to Australia is possibly character building but really bloody boring. The highlights after the news bulletin, however, is another matter.

It was, of course, good to head home. Lately I find I miss England so I decided to try my hand at making trifle, as one does when one misses home (no, I don’t quite get it either).

To warm up, I deliberately started with a piss-easy recipe: it’s common knowledge I’ve little prowess to speak of in the kitchen – nope, it’s not a schtick, it’s actual fact. Not really something I’m particularly proud of, it just is. There are several boring reasons for this, none of which I feel the need to disclose. Anyway, I couldn’t fully read the recipe @eatnik had posted on ze twitters, so I Googled a few and started with one entitled ‘big berry trifle’.

selected berries

Fair warning: I got dumped so no more fancy photos: for now, it’ll be my crummy phone ones. Back to the blog’s roots, yo.

To say I mucked around with the quantities and used an inadequately deep dish would be an understatement. Make sure you don’t do the latter!

Swiss roll

Line your dish with slices of the Swiss roll. Squish them up and fill any spaces you see.

Swiss roll lining

Top with the sliced strawberries, raspberries and blueberries.

mixed berries on Swiss roll lining

Pour vanilla custard on top of the fruit layer.

vanilla custard drowning fruits

Slather raspberry yoghurt over fruit and custard.

raspberry yoghurt on top of the custard-drowned berries

I managed to barely fit one more Swiss roll layer on top of all this, then smoothed the whipped cream over said layer. At which point it became clear my dish wasn’t deep enough…dear god, trifle-making is becoming a metaphor for my life…

finished trifle

Enjoy with a cup of strong tea and the promise of a coronary. I was going to have a glass of elderflower cordial but it was too gloomy an afternoon.

final product

It’s been a week and the trifle is still edible. It’s also nicer a couple of days after being assembled.

a fortifying dinner at Daruma Japanese Kitchen

I really envy old people. Somewhere along the line, they get to this stage where they can tell you how they feel about just about everything and not care whose feelings they hurt.

Thus, gamba rehearsals were starting to become bittersweet. The lady who very graciously allows me to come to her house and play with her posse while certain regular members are in absentia was starting to get me down. Don’t get me wrong, I know my playing is bad: I’ve only just started to practise again, am having lessons but not able to do so regularly and my instrument still has a few technical teething problems. However, I love playing so even though I know the organiser will ‘sledge’ me in front of everyone (by all means, criticise but do it in a constructive manner), I still go because I need the experience and there isn’t exactly scores of folks to jam with.

front window

Tristan knew all of this, so he consented to treat me to dinner near the rehearsal venue. Despite getting a good sashimi fix at Matsu Hashi recently, my craving wasn’t fully sated. He suggested we try out a place in Camberwell called Daruma Japanese Kitchen. Again, someone still loves you, Urbanspoon.

I lugged in my instrument and Tris was already there, with liquid refreshment. They have several sakes to choose from and also have a shochu list. Throughout the course of our dinner we ordered three small flasks of sake (large is also available) – Bishounen Junmai Ginjo (smooth, a little fruity, 15% ABV), Kizakura Yamahai Jikomi (semi-dry with a rich body, 15% ABV) and lastly Nenihi Junmaino sake (dry with a mild, rich flavour, 16.2% ABV. Only available in a small flask). The bracketed descriptions are directly pinched off the menu. All of the ones we had were served cold and staff even recommended we wait for particular ones to cool for longer. My guess is they know their sake, excellent!

sake flasks on cold ice

It was unusual, however, to not be drinking beer, especially when signs all about us were telling us that Hokkaido, Japan’s most northern island, is nature on tap: who can resist such a catchy slogan?

Hokkaido is nature on tap

We shared two starters, firstly horenso and enoki mushrooms, cooked spinach with enoki mushrooms in a sesame dressing. They may have neglected to mention that it also had Japanese mayonnaise. Win! The enoki isn’t highly visible in this photo but it was plentiful.

horenso & enoki mushroom

The second starter was scallops cooked two ways, one grilled, one crispy and topped with caviar. It looked impressive and we were both at a loss as to how to divide it and spoil its presentation. The crispy one was rather sculpturesque.


The one in the shell less so, but still highly elaborate. Both were enjoyed greatly. I would probably suggest getting a serve each rather than sharing – it’s definitely worth it.

one half of scallops cooked two ways entree

My main was a no-brainer; remember, I was here to get my raw fish craving killed. I decided upon the tuna and salmon sashimi and augmented this with maki – tuna, salmon and oshinko. Um, I think the maki may have been the gut-buster…silly me. After eating the sashimi, I was left wondering why this place wasn’t packed to the gills (ha, fish pun!) – by comparison, Matsu Hashi was a blip on the raw fish radar. Their fish was exquisite.

tuna & salmon sashimi

tuna, oshinko & salmon maki

Tristan chose the most exciting main on the menu – the grilled black cod with yuzu miso. It doesn’t look particularly special but once in your mouth, a completely different story.

grilled black cod with yuzu miso

Ack! Rehearsal time. Tristan told me I could head off while he settled up and thus I headed into the night, towards my personal Bermuda Triangle, that damned Camberwell Junction. The restaurant was pretty quiet the evening we dined though it was Monday. It definitely deserves more patronage as it serves excellent Japanese food as well as drinks. I will be back to make my way through more of their sake and sample their shochu.

Daruma Japanese Kitchen on Urbanspoon