I know I’ve got a slew of Melbournians here, so let me know, which are your favourite cafes in the CBD? I can generally be spotted hanging around Journal because it’s always full of creative types, or Andiamos because I love their caramel lattes, but I feel like I need to explore a little further outside the Degraves side of town. Where would I be welcome to nurse a coffee or two while I draw or write for an hour?
Much love to all <3
when they say it
later that day
This is for Khale.
In the first year I lived in Hawaii, my mom and sister came to visit me. We drove to a beautiful lagoon, surrounded by jungle on three sides, with clear blue water. Floating in the water was a big fruit, like a giant grapefruit, perfect and intact. We split it open and ate it. I know now it was a jabong — pomelo — and it was delicious. Tart, a little green-bitter, terrifically juicy. The rind was thick and soft, like foam. Our fingers were salty when we pulled the fruit apart, and we laughed in the sunshine while we ate it. It was perfect.
My Aunt Ingrid lives on this gorgeous farm with a big old restored mansion. There’s a back porch, enclosed by honeysuckle, and the floorboards are painted sky blue. When my family would visit in the summer, we’d have breakfast on that porch, and one of Ingrid’s specialties was waffles. She had two very old waffle irons, one heart-shaped, and we ate the waffles with sour cream and freshly-made blackberry syrup, from the blackberry bushes that lined the long driveway. (My sister and I would be sent out with buckets to pick blackberries, and we’d come back with purple-stained fingers.) Hummingbirds flitted around the honeysuckle while we ate, as we planned a day of swimming, feeding chickens and playing in the garden.
A few years ago, my husband went on a business trip to Taiwan, and returned with a passion for real Chinese food. He surprised me one day by cooking something he’d read about: twice-cooked pork. It was so different from what we were used to eating, different from what I was used to cooking. It was so spicy it made our noses run, and we soothed the fire with glasses of cold milk. It was tender, intense, deceptively simple. Meat, leeks, chili, bean sauce, shoyu, rice. It made us sweat. We felt like we’d earned the meal. And best of all, we discovered this thing together: a passionate flavor. It’s a regular menu item in our house now.
Before we were married, I flew to Texas to see him graduate from Air Force basic training. It was just he and I in San Antonio, lovesick, far from home, knowing we would have to be apart for a long time again. Neither of us ate for those three days. We were too busy being in love. When I flew home, heartbroken, my family picked me up from the airport and took me straight to an Italian restaurant. I thought I was too sad to eat, exhausted from crying. They brought me a bowl of Italian wedding soup (how appropriate), with tiny pasta, like pearls, in a quiet broth. It flooded me with strange comfort, nourished my bruised heart. It was honest and good.
People say chocolate is good for your disposition; relieves stress, releases endorphins. I believe it, but then I grew up with chocolate everywhere. My mother has a special way with it. For as long as I can remember, she’s been making chocolates: little molded cameos and hearts, chocolate roses, chocolate-dipped cookies and pretzels, coconut haystacks, peanut clusters, peanut butter buckeyes, and the most exquisite truffles. Every winter around the holidays, she would be busy making them — tray and after tray filled with mirror-shiny chocolates covered every horizontal surface (the counters, the sideboard, the piano). They were like gems. She always let us eat the “ugly” ones, but because it was everywhere, I guess we never really craved it. She would let me help her when I was little, using a squeeze bottle to fill plastic molds with melted chocolate. Then she let me dip pretzels, fishing them out of the Pyrex pitcher with a fork, laying them one by one on wax paper to set. She enlisted me to roll peanut butter dough for buckeyes, drizzle the Oreos with white swirls, pack a dozen truffles neatly into boxes. “Fancy Fox Chocolates”, read the gold label.
And then one day, she taught me to make the truffles. For the centers, she melted best-quality chocolate wafers with heavy whipping cream, adding a flavor essence from tiny bottles — amaretto, butter rum, raspberry — and then pouring it into a pan to cool in the fridge. When it was set, she turned it onto a cutting board with a great WHACK, and cut it into cubes with a butcher knife. The sides of the pan were rounded, so she would trim the edges and let us eat them. Because the truffle centers were so soft, we had to work quickly. Into a bath of pure melted chocolate they went, and lifted out with a special tool (a plastic stick with a spiral on the end), and carefully flipped right-side-up onto wax paper with minimum pooling. When the truffles were set, she decorated them with a little signature flourish; milk chocolate swirls on dark chocolate coating for the butter rum, white swirls on milk coating for the amaretto, little pink raindrops over dark coating on the raspberry, and so on. She taught me how to stir the chocolate so it melted perfectly without lumping, how to make sure every one was perfect. They were really exquisite, and I felt (still do) like I’d learned a very valuable secret. Nothing is ever quite like biting into a room-temperature raspberry truffle — the soft crack of the dark chocolate coating giving way, the cold center melting in your mouth, the tart kiss of raspberry, so perfect where it seems like it shouldn’t belong.
Grape popsicles on the deck in the dead heat of summer; Spam and (glorious) cheap-shit macaroni & cheese when Mom was at choir practice; Daddy’s World-Famous Scrambled Eggs with ketchup; mulberries from the tree in the Buch’s backyard with the Slip N’ Slide; pancakes with pinwheels of apple slices on snowy Saturday mornings; my first time tasting oven-crackled ham fat; fresh grapefruit in crystal champagne glasses; lamb gyros at the Greek Marina in Hawaii Kai; chicken feet in Chinatown where they looked at us sideways; an island of sour cream on a little pond of beautiful purple borscht; cardamom pods exploding in my mouth at the Indian restaurant with Jen Newton. A bowl of udon in duck broth, with the man I love, on our anniversary.
I say it all the time, but it’s really true: there’s good food, and there are good meals, and it relies so much on the company, on your surroundings, your memories. And you get to make new memories all the time.