I am one week down in my Shopping Small experiment and it has been a success so far, probably because I haven’t had to do much shopping at all! Much of this week as been spent eating leftovers from my Mum, or eating out. I did do a big cook up on Sunday night, which was technically still in January, but to get into the spirit I shopped small!

There were quite a few groceries I needed, so I ended up going to an IGA. I also went to a local green grocer to get some fruit and vegetables. I actually found a discounted bag of mixed vegetables which is always a good way to get a range of vegetables which stretch you out of your comfort zone. Sometimes the quality is a little less than perfect, but if you use them up within a few days they are fine.

So what did I end up buying from my first Shopping Small trip?

2L of milk – This is probably the purchase I am least happy about. I wanted to buy ethical, ‘close to the source’ milk, but instead ended up with the IGA generic branded milk. There was a limited variety to choose from, and also the price difference between the options was huge. This milk cost me $2.10, and the most expensive milk cost almost $7 for 2L. Whilst I want to do the right thing, I think finances have to play a part too.

Fantastic instant noodles - Again, a pretty generic option. And again, I had a very limited choice. I did buy the noodles in a bulk pack, with the least amount of packaging though.

Sundried tomatoes and olives. I bought the Always Fresh brand which are an Australian company, and are well priced and taste great. The packaging was in glass which I will either reuse or recycle.

I bought some Danish feta from the deli. I made sure to buy the local Australian variant too.

Also from IGA I bought some watermelon and a red onion. (Yes, I was making my watermelon and feta salad!) IGA support local farmers, so I didn’t feel too bad buying fresh produce from them.

From the green grocer I bought the mixed bag of vegetables I mentioned earlier. There was three eggplants, a red onion, a white onion, a capsicum and a tray of 4 corns. The corns were the only item that was a bit questionable, but still nothing too bad. I used one of them together with the capsicum that day in a noodle stir fry I made, and it was perfect. I also bought a small amount of beans from the green grocer for the noodles too.

All in all it was a successful week. I really didn’t miss the big supermarkets at all. One week down, three more to go! This week I want to try and make my own bread, and also do a little bit more meal planning!
Hipster. Northcote. The two words almost go hand in hand. And together with the hipster in Northcote is the café that they go to have breakfast at. It should have exposed wood beams, there might be concrete floors, the café should preferably be in an old converted factory or warehouse, and the crockery should be mismatched. But most importantly, the coffee has to be good and the food needs to be creative.  The Herbert Café is just what the hipster is Northcote is looking for.

Located just next to the Northcote train station, on Herbert St (hence the name!) the café is located just off the busy High St strip. From the outset, the building really does look like a rundown or abandoned old factory, but as you step inside, the atmosphere changes. The café is very small, and there are lots of little timber tables and timber stools for the patrons. We found ourselves a table, and little clipboards with the menus were handed to us.

We started with our drinks order. The Herbert serves Padre coffee which is what the other half chose, and I got excited seeing Prana Chai on the menu and had to order myself a pot. The drinks arrived quickly and when they arrived at our table, they took up almost all the space! We had to make sure we finished them before the food arrived!

The menu didn’t have my usual option of fritters, so instead I chose to go with a breakfast burger. It had a big juicy portabello mushroom which was well flavoured with garlic as the patty, and also had roast peaches, caramelised onion, avocado, and was served on a wholegrain brioche bun. The burger was very delicious. I had never had roast peaches before, but the sweetness of them and the caramelised onion worked beautifully with the garlicky flavour of the mushroom. If there was to be any criticism, it would be that the burger was pretty tricky to eat. The mushroom kept on sliding out, and so I decided to eat it as a deconstructed burger with a knife and fork. Perhaps that’s how hipsters eat their burgers.

The other half also went for a very unusual choice from the menu, Welsh Rarebit. He had never tasted it before, and had very little idea of what to expect, but when the dish arrived, and he tasted it, he said it was one of the most amazing breakfasts he had tasted. For those that didn’t know what Welsh Rarebit was, like us, it is basically a pimped up cheese toastie. Now I love a cheese toastie, but when pimped up, it goes to a new level. With red onion, Worcestershire sauce and some really good cheese, this was one good toastie. It was the most unique combination of flavour, unlike anything we had ever tasted.

The Herbert Café was certainly a good find. Next time, perhaps we will have to ride our fixies there, just to get into the spirit.
The Herbert Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
This year I want to try and do a recap of each month. This set of Taking Stock questions were originally published on Meet Me At Mike’s by Pip, and then I stumbled upon them at I Spy Plum Pie by Liz. They seem like a great way to get a snapshot of what’s going on in my world. Hopefully you enjoy reading them as much as I have compiling them!

Making: Watermelon and feta salad. It’s been so hot recently and this is a really refreshing salad that takes advantage of the sweet watermelon that is in season and the limes that my tree is fruiting. It was also a great salad to take to the Australia Day festivities.

Cooking: Pita bread muffin cups with potato and herbed onion. I made them early in the month and they were a big hit. I paired them with some chilli jam which worked a treat. I might blog them soon so you can all partake in the deliciousness.

Drinking: Water. It’s usually water, and my water bottle is usually within arm’s reach.

Reading:  My Darling Lemon Thyme cookbook. This was a Christmas present, and I am really loving it.

Wanting: A new mobile phone. I dropped mine the other day and shattered the back of it. At the moment it’s being held together by some creatively applied duct tape, but I think it’s time to bite the bullet and upgrade from my iPhone 4S.

Looking: At the herbs that are growing. The luxury of having fresh herbs at my disposal that I can just pop out and pick while I am cooking is something I will never tire of.

Playing: Candy Crush. I’m always playing Candy Crush.

Deciding: What clothes to buy from The Iconic. I only recently discovered this website, and I am hooked. I have limited myself to only one order a month, otherwise I’d be buying things every second day!

Wishing: That I could have more holidays. You can never have enough holidays.

Enjoying: The plethora of sport on at the moment. Between the Indian cricket tour, the Australian Open tennis and the Big Bash League, there is so much sport on offer in Melbourne, and I am loving it!

Waiting: For lunchtime. I’m always hungry.

Liking:  My new black flats. Bought from The Iconic of course.

Wondering: What the new season of MKR is going to be like. I love this show. I love the cooking and I love the bitchiness. Can’t wait for it to start!

Loving: Welcome To Thornbury. This place is seriously awesome.

Pondering: The future. Doesn’t everyone?

Considering: Buying some Who Gives A Crap toilet paper. As part of shopping small, I need to find somewhere to buy toilet paper, and this is an initiative I have been wanting to support for a while. It’s time to do it I think.

Buying: Vegies at the market. It’s all part of shopping small for February.

Watching: Star Wars. I popped my Star Wars cherry and have now watched all 7 episodes. Strangely I actually enjoyed the newer movies more than the originals, with the exception of Episode 1. Jar Jar Binks needs to be buried in a very deep hole.

Hoping: That the presentation I have to give to senior management at work this week goes well. I’m a little bit petrified. I don’t want to be ripped to shreds.

Marvelling: At ultra marathon runners. How the bloody hell can someone run for 230kms?!

Cringing: At the Donald Trump Freedom Rally. ‘Nuff said. 

Needing: A new mobile phone. I dropped mine the other day and shattered the back of it. At the moment it’s being held together by some creatively applied duct tape, but I think it’s time to bite the bullet and upgrade from my iPhone 4S.

Questioning: Steven Avery. Like much of the world population I am hooked on Making A Murderer, but I’m not sure whether he is guilty or not. I think I am more inclined to believe he is guilty, especially with all the evidence that has popped up online since the show was released, but I’m not 100% sure.

Smelling:  All my delicious Lush products, some of which I bought, and some I received as a gift. I’m trying to shift all my toiletries and household items to be cruelty free, so Lush has become one of my regular shops.

Wearing: My new playsuit from The Iconic. Like much of my wardrobe it’s a super bright colour, orange, and I love it!

Following: I Spy Plum Pie. I met Liz at a blogger event I was hosting for work, and since then have been following her blog. As she describes it, it is one part vegetarian cuisine, and two parts sustainability. I describe it as awesome reading.

Noticing: The grey clouds outside. A storm is brewing…

Knowing: That I know nothing. Like Socrates said, ‘True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.’

Thinking: About how the hell I am going to following through on my resolution of running a marathon this year. Sometimes I really do come up with some stupid ideas.

Admiring: The people behind Tamil Feasts. We are going to this on Monday, and I have done a bit of reading on the people behind the scenes. What they have been through is almost incomprehensible to me, and I really tip my hat to them and their ability to not only keep going, but to do it in a positive manner. #RealAustraliansSayWelcome

Sorting:  Through my clothes. I have so much stuff that needs to be put in charity bins because I don’t wear it any more.

Getting: Annoyed. People annoy me.

Bookmarking: Pink Moscato and Nutella cupcakes. I have bookmarked these when this recipe was first posted, but I still haven’t made them. I really should make some time to bake!

Coveting: A new bike… I have a restored one coming to me, for me to decide whether I will ride it enough, and whether I deserve a new one.

Disliking: The heat. I HATE SUMMER. Yes I’m weird, I know, but I’d much prefer winter over summer.

Opening: Bills. Why is it that every time I get mail, it’s a bill?

Giggling: At episodes of Big Bang Theory. Sheldon, Leonard, Howard and Raj can always make me laugh.

Feeling: Lucky. Just generally lucky. I have friends that I love, family that are always there for me, and my health. It is more than many others, and I really should be grateful.

Snacking: On cherries. I love cherries, especially when they are sweet. I really should make a trip to a cherry farm this season.

Helping: My parents move house. They have just moved out of the house they lived in for 27 years and into a new house. This has been a lengthy and difficult process given that both of them are hoarders. Goddamn.

Hearing: Podcasts. I know I’m very late to the party, but I’m finally listening to Serial.

How has the first month of 2016 been for you? If you want to do a recap using these Taking Stock questions, please feel free to leave me a comment below, I would love to have a read!
Sometimes all you need is a bowl of Asian soup to make everything better. My soup making skills are non existent, so it is important to have a trusty Viet place to visit. Bang Bang is located in the heart of Northcote on High St, surrounded by many other restaurants so it definitely had to be of a high standard to survive.

We went on a Monday evening unsure of what to expect and were faced with a packed restaurant! There were people sitting outside but it was pretty warm, so we decided to stick with air conditioned comfort inside. There was a little table for two available, so we sidled our way through the patrons and made ourselves comfortable. There was Chinese tea on the table so we poured ourselves a couple of cups and set about deciding what to order from the menu. Like a typical Asian restaurants, like the ones I had often frequented in Springvale, the Bang Bang menu was long and very comprehensive. There was sections devoted to entrees, soups, rice and noodles, and then each kind of protein. There was over 250 dishes to choose from! I was extra excited to discover there was a separate vegetarian section which had stir fries, rice and noodle dishes, and the soup I was craving.

I decided on a tom yum soup. I felt that the hot and sour would work better in summer. Summer is a season where I love eating strong flavours, bitter, sour, spicy, so the tom yum seemed to fit this bill. The other half went for a combination cashew stir fry with steamed rice. We also ordered some vegetarian rice paper rolls as an entrée.

Bang Bang have a fridge of soft drinks, but no liquor license. Instead many of the diners had brought their own beer, cider or wine and were enjoying it with their meal. It seemed like a good option. We hadn’t brought any drinks with us, so instead stuck to our Chinese tea.

Our dishes arrived quite quickly. Two plump rice paper rolls were placed on our table with some hoisin dipping sauce. The rolls were packed tightly with noodles, vegetables and tofu, and when dipped into the sauce were very yummy. It was a good start to the meal.

Once our entrée was finished and the plate was cleared, our mains were brought out. I was very excited to see my big bowl of steaming soup. It was filled to the brim with lots of vegetables, noodles and plump cubes of bean curd. I dressed the soup with bean shoots, Asian herbs, and a squeeze of lime and proceeded to dig in. The soup was exactly what I wanted in a tom yum, full of flavour and lots of tang! It was a good sized serving too, with the ratio of liquid to other ingredients just right. 

The other half’s dish came out, but it wasn’t quite what he expected. He had assumed that combination stir fry with cashews would mean that the cashews were mixed into the rest of the dish, but instead they were generously scattered over the top. Despite this, he did say the dish was very tasty.

Bang Bang is a no frills restaurant. The food is very good, the staff are friendly, and the prices are very reasonably. But don’t expect fancy décor and silver service, that’s not what Bang Bang focuses on. Instead, when you need to satisfy your craving for good Asian food, Bang Bang should definitely be on your list of places to try.
Bang Bang Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
I have made a resolution. Not a new year’s resolution, just a February resolution. For the next month I will be shopping small.  What does this mean I hear you ask? It means that I will not buy anything from a Coles or a Woolworths. Why? For a variety of reasons…

Transport activities hurt the planet significantly. Whether it be transporting food across the country, or across the world, there are significant costs both financially and environmentally. Most of the foods in a major supermarket are bought en masse due to the buying power they command, so there is little chance that they are produced locally and instead have travelled long distances to arrive on the shelves. As an alternative, if produce can be bought locally, it means that is has had a much shorter distance to travel, reducing transport costs and lessening the environmental impact.

I also believe it is important to support our local farmers and producers. The stories of Coles and Woolworths using staple items like bread and milk as loss leaders have been around for a long time. By selling milk for $1 a litre, the supermarkets have squeezed out any margins the dairy producers would have made and forcing many of them to leave the industry due to unsustainable circumstances. I am guilty of purchasing this cheap milk on most occasions purely due to the impact on my wallet, but when I think about the bigger picture, I feel it is my responsibility to do what I can to ensure that we do not kill the dairy industry in Australia. Of course this situation applies to many of the food industries, whether it be the bakers, the fruiterers, or for the non vegetarians, the butchers and the fishmongers.

Often buying from the smaller retailers means that you may have to pay slightly higher prices, but it also means that you go into a specific shop to buy a specific item. There have been so many instances when I have gone into Coles to buy one item, let’s say some cheese, and in the process walked based half a dozen displays with things on special. In the end, I bought not only the cheese but also some chocolate, some biscuits, maybe a tub of ice cream, some toothpaste and probably a punnet of strawberries. Yes, they were on special, but were they necessary? Probably not. On the contrary, if I was to go to a deli to buy cheese, none of the other items would be around to distract me, so potentially I would be saving, or rather not spending money on items I didn’t need.

Of course there are some items that are difficult to buy from anywhere other than a supermarket. Basic staples like flour or sugar, or cleaning items like garbage bags. For these items, I have decided to shop at IGA. IGA supermarkets operate as independent franchises and thus support the local community, which aligns with part of the reason I am trying to avoid Coles and Woolworths. I will try and limit the amount I buy at IGA, but I know that some things will be unavoidable.

Shopping small will involve a significant amount of planning. Small businesses are often not open for extended hours, so I will need to plan out my meals for the week and make sure I do a bulk load of shopping on the weekends. This will probably be advantageous is many regards too. It should mean that food doesn’t go to waste, and that I don’t come home and have no idea what to make for dinner! I also plan to pre make lunches for the week, which is always handy, and means I will be eating relatively healthy.

I will be documenting my shopping small adventures weekly on this blog, so tune in to see what works and what doesn’t! And if you’re extra keen, follow my hashtag on Instagram, #ShoppingSmallWithMoni!

Have you ever tried Shopping Small? How did you find the experience?
Grand Trailer Park Taverna had been on my wishlist for a while. We had tried on a previous occasion to go there for a quick dinner before an evening show, but unfortunately it had been too full to get a seat and we weren’t prepared to wait. This time, having learnt our lesson, we arrived nice and early before we went to see Cats The Musical.

The restaurant is located at the top of some dimly lit stairs, a complete contrast to the surroundings outside. It is actually set up like a trailer park! There are camper vans that form part of the décor, and an American diner style set up to capture the theme.

The menu focuses on burgers with names that pay homage to Hollywood. There are a large range of beef burgers and also the token vegetarian burger.

Naturally I chose the vegetarian burger, the Cynthia Benson, which had the most unique patty. The description told me it would be a mushroom patty, which I assumed would be a grilled Portobello mushroom but I was totally wrong. It was infact a patty that was made with minced mushroom (instead of minced meat) which was crumbed and fried. It was a concept I had never thought of, but it was amazing. There was also American cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, special sauce and American mustard all on a brioche bun. I am not usually a fan of the brioche bun, but on this occasion it worked well. This was definitely one of the best vego burgers I have had.

The other half decided to have the Atomic burger. This burger contained a beef patty with American cheddar cheese, caramelised onion, chilli cheese kransky, streaky bacon, BBQ sauce, cayenne truffle mayonnaise on a brioche bun. It was only until he was about half way through the burger that he realised that there was no salad element to his burger! No lettuce or tomato! He wasn’t sure if this would make the burger better or not, but he too deemed his burger one of the best he had ever had.

We also had some chips to share, beer battered, thickly cut chips that were crunchy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. Yum.

Trailer park also has a section on its menu dedicated to milkshakes, spiked milkshakes to be specific. You can have a Kinder Surprise, Nutella and Frangelico milkshake, or a crème brulee, vanilla, brandy and toffee top milkshake just to name a few! We decided it was a bit early in the week to be having such an indulgent drink and instead opted for the virgin version of the crème brulee milkshake. It was still delicious, and such a treat! There is also a bar with rotating beers on tap, so you can have traditional alcohol too.

Grand Trailer Park Taverna certainly lived up to the hype I had heard about. I had gone in with pretty high expectations and they were delivered upon. Melbourne has well and truly caught on to the burger craze, and Grand Trailer Park Taverna is a worthy member of the scene.

The Grand Trailer Park Taverna Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
This year I’ve decided to join the monthly In My Kitchen posts hosted by Maureen from The Orgasmic Chef. It’s a lovely way to document the things that are happening on the food front, and it is always interesting to see what other people are up to. Usually the posts have to be done by the 10th of each month, so I’m obviously a little late for January, but I will pick up my game from next time now that I’ve got myself organised!

Santa brought me lots of lovely things for my kitchen. Everyone that knows me, knows that food is a massive part of my identity. Whether it be eating, cooking, or talking about food, it is a topic that dominates my personality and who I am. I often say that I really can’t be friends with someone that doesn’t like food!

Anyway, onto the crux of this post…

In my kitchen there are a lovely trio of jams and jellies. I love condiments, although I rarely buy them for myself, but I received this gift for Christmas from Jenny! I haven’t opened them yet, but it won’t be too long… That chilli jam is calling out to me!

We also received this Moroccan spice from Treeze. It is a blend of cumin, coriander, garlic, cayenne pepper and other delicious things, but I’m not quite sure what to use it on. I imagine the traditional use would be to sprinkle it onto some meat or chicken and grill it, but I need to find a vegetarian use for it! I’m thinking it may work on a tofu steak, but I will have to do some experimenting!

Jenny also gave me this fabulous cookbook from Emma Galloway, the author of the My Darling Lemon Thyme blog. I have often used her blog to find recipes, and this book follows in the same steps. There are some great ideas that take advantage of fresh produce and healthy (but tasty) eating, and I can’t wait to get cooking from it. There is a breakfast recipe of baked eggs in pits bread cups that I really want to make!

Whilst I try to make most of my food from scratch, there is the odd occasion when I just don’t have time, or I’m not feeling up to it. In such cases, the range of frozen Vegie Delights foods are a lifesaver. There are burgers, falafels and other mock meat products. I know that these are processed, and really not that great for you, but for the occasional emergency food they are brilliant, and I think they taste great! Coles had a big sale on them where the whole range was 50% off, so I stocked up, and the freezer is full of them! We’ve already eaten a box of the burgers for lunch, and we had chickpea falafel wraps for dinner tonight, yum!

And in stark contrast to the processed foods, I also have some super fresh produce in my kitchen. There are fresh eggs from backyard chickens, home grown lettuce, home grown cucumber and home grown basil. I love fresh produce, and when you eat it regularly, you can taste the huge difference.

I now always say that I have been so spoilt, that I couldn’t go back to store bought eggs. The backyard chickens (and ducks, don’t even get me started on how good duck eggs are) produce the best eggs with the yellowest yolks, that anything else just seems sub-standard. It is also important to me that the animals are treated well, and I know that this poultry is living the good life. Whilst supermarkets may make claims to stock free range eggs, a little research reveals that ‘free range’ chickens can be stocked with a density of 5 birds per square metre and up to 2500 birds per shed. It’s a far cry from the 4 acres that the 50 or so poultry that I get my eggs from have. I know that not everybody has the luxury to have access to poultry like this, but I think it’s important to be aware of what is going on, rather than turning a blind eye.

The fresh lettuce and cucumber will go into a salad, and I used a lot of the basil yesterday in a simple but delicious pasta sauce of garlic, cherry tomatoes and basil. These flavours combine well together, and this sauce tossed through some spaghetti and topped with freshly grated parmesan makes for a perfect meal.

And that’s about all from my kitchen this month! It’s heating up a bit now, so we’ll have to see what summer treats are happening in my kitchen in February!