I haven’t always been concerned about the plight of asylum seekers in Australia. Infact it was only a few years ago when I was convinced that the boat people should just wait their turn and come to Australia via the proper channels, that is apply for a visa, be accepted, and then come to the country legally. After all, that’s what my parents did, so why couldn’t everyone else? I’m not very proud of holding this opinion today, infact I’m rather ashamed, but I think that’s half the point. I’m a pretty strong minded person and I saw things in black and white. There was no grey area for me. The boat people debate does however have a huge spectrum of grey along it, and the more I thought about the issue, the more I researched, and the more I read the stories of families, of children, of people escaping war torn countries, and people who felt they had no other option but to jump on a boat with only the hope of something better than their current situation, I realised that black and white were not options for people in these circumstances.

The Australian government’s stance on asylum seekers is pretty poor to say the least. You only have to look at the situation in the detention centres to see this. And it’s not really linked to a particular political party either. Both Labour and Liberal have been in power over the last few years, and neither have done anything to better the situation for the people. And I think that’s what we need to remember. The asylum seekers are people. We shouldn’t label them as potential terrorists, welfare cheats, criminals or liabilities, but as people. Just like our friends and family are people, the asylum seekers are people too.

And so it warms my heart, and makes me proud to live in Australia when I hear of initiatives such as Tamil Feasts being run to showcase the skill and contribution these people could make to our country if given the chance. Tamil Feasts was born from an idea by Dori Ellington. Dori met some Tamil refugees in a detention centre in Broadmeadows, in Melbourne’s outer west where she learnt that they were great cooks. When they were released into the community, after six years in detention, she set up a couple of special dinners cooked by Sri and Nirma, two of the Tamil men. Tickets were sold to these dinners, and the events were very quickly sold out. Encouraged by the success of these initial events, subsequent dinners were organised, till they became a weekly and now twice weekly occasions, with most nights sold out. These days the management of Tamil Feasts has been taken over by Molly, but the sentiment and intention behind the event remains the same.

The dinners are held on Mondays and Tuesdays at the CERES community kitchen in Brunswick. Monday nights have vegan and pescatarian options, and Tuesday nights is an all vegan affair. If you have any other dietary requirements, I’m sure you can advise the team at Tamil Feasts, and they will most likely accommodate you.

We went to Tamil Feasts went as a group of eight. With long communal tables set up, it was a great event to catch up with friends. We were all excited about the food, but we were also very proud to be part of an event that positively contributed to the community by creating a space that welcomed and empowered the otherwise ostracised asylum seekers.

The night started with bhajis, or little fritters that were made of onions, silverbeet, spices and curry leaves. They were served with a tomato and coconut sambol, or dipping sauce that was described as making everything delicious, they weren’t wrong! The flavours exploded in your mouth, and even after the bhajis were finished, we were spooning the sambol out of the bowl and eating it!

Before the mains were served, we were introduced to the men who were preparing our feast. Niro, Sri, Nigethan and Nirma were lovely men, who welcomed us to their dinner, and gave us a sneak peek into the feast that awaited us. The smiles on their faces lit up the room, and it was heart warming to see that despite the hardship they had experienced, they were still able to be positive and bring joy to people.

Dinner was served to us on traditional thalis, or large plates with little compartments for the different curries and sides. We had a silverbeet dhal, an eggplant curry, a garlic chutney, some rice, a fresh rocket salad and a coriander sambol. For the vegan option we received a beetroot curry, and the pescatarians received a salmon curry.

Where do I start?! I’m not exaggerating at all when I say that everything was delicious. The food was cooked homestyle, and full of flavour. The silverbeet dhal was just like what I would expect if I was having dinner at a Tamil friend’s home. The eggplant curry was smooth and creamy, and even the garlic chutney which sounds like it would be a little odd was actually delicious! There was no overpowering garlic flavour at all, instead it was mild and complimented the sweetness perfectly. The pescatarians were unanimous in their praise of the salmon curry, declaring it the dish of the night, but we were equally generous with our praise of the beetroot curry. It was hot and spicy, with the sweetness of the beetroot cutting through.

Our Tamil chefs wandered the floor making sure that we were satisfied, and encouraged us to go and get a second helping. Encouraged is probably a mild word, in true subcontinental style, they just about forced us, chastising us if we said we were full! It was all in jest, and illustrated how passionate they were about their food, and feeding us. Against the better judgement of my head, I listened to my heart, and decided to go and get a tiny serve of eggplant curry. No one was going to listen to my requests of ‘just a small serve’ and instead I returned with another full plate! Four of us ended up sharing the second plate, and by the end, we really couldn’t move.

Luckily we all managed to kick our dessert stomachs into gear with the aptly titled, ‘Yes-You-Can-Fit-It-In-Fruit Salad With Homemade Coconut Jelly.’ There was lots of fruit all chopped up, a big chunk of delicious coconut jelly and a generous drizzle of liquid jaggery, or palm sugar. Many on the table hadn’t tasted jaggery before, and they were quickly won over. I, on the other hand, was transported back to my childhood where I consumed much milk rice with jaggery. Yum.

This still wasn’t the end of dinner. We invited to bring a lunch box to the counter, and for a donation of $5, lunch would be packed for us, for the next day. I couldn’t have been more excited. I carefully chose my curries, eggplant and beetroot, although regardless of what was put in that box, it would have all been good. I can’t tell you how many times I looked at the clock the next morning to see if lunchtime was getting close!

Our night at Tamil Feasts was fabulous, and despite the fact that the food was amazing, this was only one component of it. It was so special to be a part of a community that welcomed these men, who had such a positive contribution to make to society. This, for me is what the Australian spirit encompasses, and I was glad to know, that despite the government’s stance, just like the hashtag, real Australians say welcome.

For more information on Tamil Feasts, or to book a ticket to dinner, you can visit the CERES website. Do it, you won’t regret it!
Tamil Feasts Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
This product talk is brought to you by Ocean Spray and Nuffnang.

Soft drinks have a reputation of being laden with sugar, which is the main reason why I rarely drink them. But when you investigate further, juices and fruit drinks are not much better. They too have a high sugar content, which makes them very unhealthy. When I was approached to try the Ocean Spray Low Sugar Cranberry Drink, I was curious. How could a fruit drink work if it wasn’t as sweet?

Turns out that Ocean Spray Cranberry Drink is sweetened by stevia, and contains only 10 calories per serve. Stevia is a natural sweetener and sugar substitute extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant. As a result the taste of a fruit drink is not compromised despite being a much healthier option.

Cocktails and mocktails are traditionally thought of as high calorie drinks, but by using Ocean Spray Cranberry Drink instead of a usual juice or soft drink base means that it contains a lot less sugar then expected.

I created a cranberry and citrus mocktail which proved to be highly refreshing on a summer’s day.

Cranberry and Citrus Mocktail


1 cup of Ocean Spray Cranberry Drink
5 or 6 mint leaves
Juice from half a lime
Juice from quarter of an orange
1 cup of carbonated water (optional)
5 or 6 ice cubes

Combine all the ingredients and serve!

Disclaimer: I received these products courtesy of Nuffnang and Ocean Spray , however I was not paid for this post and all opinions are my own.

Wow, it’s February. I know I say this every year, but time has seriously flown. Most of the last few weeks has been spent catching up with people post Christmas, lots of big meals with friends and family, and not much time spent in my kitchen. There has been a few new additions and some new toys to play with, which is always fun.

First off the rank is this awesome strainer that I got as a present. My sink usually has dishes in it, so I can’t really place a colander down in it, so I’m always trying to juggle the colander in one hand, and a heavy pot in the other and drain my rice, pasta or whatever other item I’m cooking. This new strainer sits over the top of the sink and I don’t need to hold on to it! Genius!

It was pretty hot on the weekend, so I made myself some ice tea using one of the flavours in this T2 fruit tea pack. It was a citrus blend, and quite refreshing. I avoided adding any extra sugar, so it wasn’t very sweet, but still quite nice.

Staying on the drink theme, and also as part of my Shopping Small mission for the month, I got some Summer Snow apple juice. Summer Snow apple juice is pressed locally at an orchard in Officer (just near Pakenham). The family run orchard originally grew apples to supply to the markets but in the late 90’s they crop was hit by a huge hailstorm and none of it could be sold as fresh fruit. To try and salvage the produce, the family decided to juice the apples and as a result, Summer Snow juices was born. These days the juice business has become the primary focus and the juice they produce is spectacular.

I also made these fake meatballs which I saw on Tara’s Vegetaraian blog. The original recipe calls for eggplant and cannellini beans, but I didn’t have any cannellini beans so I substituted for kidney beans. They were still pretty delicious, but a little bit messy to fry. I was planning to make my own pasta, but I got lazy and instead used some angel hair pasta I had in the pantry.

This post is part of the In My Kitchen series hosted my Maureen from the Orgasmic Chef. Head over to her blog to see what is going on in other people's kitchens!

That’s about all from my kitchen this month! What’s been happening in your kitchen?
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