Friday, February 18, 2011

Things That Make Me Happy No.1

I know it's not gluten-free, or Melbourne related, but I've decided to do a few entries on things that make me happy. Just those small, enriching things that make you smile and sound like a nerd when you bring them up in everyday conversation. Included in this category are tea, teapots, fondue sets and the topic of today's blog... Herb Gardens.

I love my Herb Garden. I'm not afraid to say it. I don't care if I sound crazy when I'm caught out talking to my herbs, or berating the spiders who are currently trying to house in it. There are few feelings as nice as using your own home-grown herbs in your cooking. Whether its bay leaves in your home-made stock, basil in home-made pesto, or mint in your own Mojito concoctions.

My current herbs include Rosemary, Basil, Mint, Bay Leaves, Chives, Thyme, Lemon Thyme, Sage, Lemongrass, Parsely and Oregano.

See if you can recognise which is which!

I know herb gardens seem like a lot of effort, but trust me when I say they're not. I'll be honest, I've killed a few seedlings in my time. I may be the only person who has successfully managed to kill mint, widely regarded as the weed of the herbaceous world.

I got a little greenhouse from Bunnings, which keeps even basil alive in winter! I know, I was surprised too.

The trick with a herb garden is just to keep an eye on it. Pluck any dead leaves, try and remember if its rained recently or not. I always make the mistake of over-watering, and then over-compensating by leaving them in spots that are too sunny. Learn from my mistakes!

You'll (hopefully) notice straight away the difference in your food taste quality. I'm sure lots of you buy fresh herbs for special occasions, but when you figure out that a herb seedling costs the same as the fresh bunch, a garden starts to seem more and more appealing. Plus it gives you added bragging rights! 'Oh that flavour? That's just fresh picked basil that I've nursed from a seedling to the flourishing plant you see before you.'

All I can really say is that the amount of joy you get from using your own herbs in your (hopefully) delicious cooking is inestimable. Flavours are stronger, colours brighter, shiny things shinier. And ignore people who tell you you're a 'nerd' or 'grandma' for caring about your herb garden. Just tell them you're 'earthy.'
(Thanks Mom!)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Gluten Free Bread

Gone are the days when gluten-free bread was a groan-inducing option. Today's variants are a vast improvement on even a few years ago. Here's a run-down on the various options available around Melbourne, some easy to find, others not so much.

1. Country Life

The supermarket staple. From what I can tell, they've improved their recipe fairly recently. Not the most authentic bread replacement, but it does the job. Great to keep in the freezer for emergencies. Weirdly enough, I find their yeast free version to be the best. Sadly, not dairy free, although it is nightshade-friendly. Slightly cakey texture, as opposed to slightly crumbly.

Where to find it: pretty much all supermarkets, Coles, Woolworths or otherwise. I recommend the yeast free or multigrain options.

2. Lichtensteins

From the kosher bakery on Carlisle st, this one is easy enough to find on the south-east side of town, and a lot more difficult everywhere else. A great dairy free, egg free, nightshade free and (mostly) soy-free option. If you're lucky enough to grab a loaf on the day its baked, you can even eat it without toasting first! A rare but appreciated luxury in the gluten-free world. Available in white, soy and linseed or fruit loaf, all are great allrounders. Can be slightly crumbly, beware while transporting it!

Where to find it: Lichtenstein's Bakery, 287 Carlisle St 03 9530 3366, Coles Malvern. Unsure of other locations.

3. Fatto A Mano

I discovered these guys thanks to the lovely boys at The Bell Jar. (Check out my earlier entry about them.) I stopped in for the first time today, and was pleasantly impressed! Known well to locals due to their organic sourdough, they also have a wide gluten free-selection of white, multigrain, olive, date and fruit loaves. Some variants are vegan, just ask which and they'll happily tell you. Foccacia style rolls and pizzas are also available, in pre-made sandwiches as well as loose. Sadly not nightshade friendly due to a bit of potato starch, but a truly excellent tasty, slightly chewy option. Not yet available anywhere else as far as I'm aware, but worth the trip. The little strip on Gertrude St has a number of things to interest the gluten free, including Birdman Eating a few doors down.

Where to find it: 228 Gertrude St, Fitzroy 03 9417 5998

4. Mattisse

My personal favourite! The bakery itself is located in Moorabin, but I'll admit I've never been. This beautiful gluten free, dairy free, soy free Buckwheat Sourdough is available at stockists all around the city. I can get through a loaf of this delicious bread in a day or two, just lightly toasted and dipped in olive-oil and balsamic. Chewy, tasty and soft, this is a bread in it's own right, not just a Gluten-free substitute. Not nightshade friendly, but remarkably good otherwise. You can tell a lot of care has gone into its creation.

Where to find it: 161 Chesterville Road Moorabbin 9532 6182. Stockists include stores in Victoria Market, Caulfield South, Camberwell Market, The Pines Shopping Centre. Just let me know if you need specific names

Some honourable mentions.

Dovedale - Their chia bread is quite lovely. Very moist and cakey, but not bad for that! Definitely unique, and easy to find at health food stores all over melbourne. I can highly recommend their pizza bases and chocolate muffins too!

Silly Yaks/ SACS - I was never particularly impressed with their bread, but I will happily acknowledge their useful contribution to the gluten-free scene in Melbourne. Available almost everywhere, really, with the flagship store in Northcote.

Vitality - a beautiful loaf, but not very allergen friendly apart from gluten free. Their olive loaf is wonderful. Available from Leo's supermarkets as well as health stores.

Zehnder - A really deliciously tasty and fantastically textured bread, but difficult to find! I've only ever spotted it at Sunnybrook Gluten free in Ormond. If you haven't been there yet, hop to it! However, I've just been tipped off that it's available at quite a few IGA's including Piedmontes and North Melbourne. If you can get your hands on their pumpkin bread, you won't regret it!

If you know any exceptional breads that I haven't mentioned, please let me know! I'm always on the lookout for new brands.