There isn’t much I miss about Melbourne. Friends were the obvious highlight of my time there, but I don’t know if I could find a culture more opposite to mine than Australian culture. Functioning in Melbourne involved giving up many aspects of life that I loved and valued, and I felt like I was constantly having to adapt to be able to fit in. But adaptation has its benefits. I picked up many new skills in Australia for which I am thankful – driving, camping and beach-ing to name a few.

My favourite gift from Melbourne though was its food. I have done my share of world travel, and I think I have been to the majority of significant world cities, so I don’t take it lightly when I make the following statement – Melbourne has some of the best food in the whole world. It’s probably because the whole world, almost, is in Melbourne. It doesn’t hurt that the cost of eating out is also reasonable.

That city nourished and taught my taste buds and gave my hands confidence in the kitchen. It’s only now that I enjoy the benefits of the years of eating out at Vietnamese, Thai, Greek, Turkish, Indian, Afghan, and so many other restaurants.

One of the vegetables I learned to love in Melbourne is the pumpkin. I grew up eating it in Sri Lankan pumpkin curries, and in the US it is only a dessert, of course. But in Australia (and the U.K., I found out later) pumpkin is roasted regularly for dinner. It is now a favourite vegetable of mine, but sadly it is rarely, if ever, available in the supermarket here. I gave up on ever eating it until a few weeks ago when there was a bin of autumnal gourds in Coop. Apparently pumpkins and squashes only come out in the fall here. I bought a pre-cut and wrapped C-shaped piece of pumpkin, but it was tasteless and disappointing. My second attempt was much better.

This one is technically a butternut squash (based on what it looked like), but tasted like a pumpkin after it was cooked. The Penang curried beef was spicy, salty and a bit sweet, and the pumpkin was predominantly sweet (naturally) and a bit spicy. The broccoli is for good health (just boil it for a few minutes with salt).

  • Penang curry let the beef cook in the liquidy sauce for a while until the sauce thickens. I didn’t have the thick coconut cream, but the regular coconut milk worked just fine. As always, pay attention to the proportions of curry paste, coconut milk, fish sauce and sugar.
  • Butternut/pumpkin chop it into similar-sized pieces so that it roasts evenly. Heat your oven to a medium temperature (I would give an exact one here, except that our oven doesn’t have temperatures, only 1-8, and I have yet to figure out what that means except that I cannot bake). Toss the chopped pumpkin in olive oil, salt and whatever spices you want. For this pan I sprinkled paprika and chili flakes. I personally find that savoury flavours work well with pumpkin because it is so naturally sweet. Bake for however long it takes to cook (usually between 20 and 40 minutes).

My sister was with us last week and did most of the cooking for me, which was amazing. Marriage surprises me in several ways, here are two: I love to cook, and cooking every day is hard work. I’m easily bored with old recipes and enjoy trying new things, but I’m also getting a sense for what kinds of flavours and foods we like to eat. So I don’t try any old thing.

Thai food is one of our favourites, and I find that it is a much simpler kind of food to make. The flavours are always fresh and sharp. This recipe for pad thai rice was simple and delicious. It can be eaten alone as a vegetarian meal, as we did, or with a meat dish like a curry.

  • Pad Thai Rice I dramatically increase garlic and ginger in most recipes I cook. This one calls for one clove of garlic; I think I put in six. I skipped the shrimp because I can be a bit allergic to it, and I forgot to buy lime juice, but the taste was still beautiful. I put in loads of spring onions as well because it gives a wonderful crunch along with the peanuts (I also roasted the peanuts a bit on the stove).

Food and friends. Is there a better combination? Louise and I had lunch several weeks ago and discovered we both have a love for food, cooking and regular events. Convinced that there were many others like us in Geneva, we decided to start an informal foodie club. Our first dinner was last night, and our theme was Tapas.

There was so much food – paella, patatas bravas, caramelised onion and feta tarts, a frittata and beautiful salads. My contribution was a pot of chorizo meatballs. We laughed together, ate a good quantity of food and got to know each other better. Hopefully there will be many more of these meal meetings in the future.

As for the meatballs, the recipe is easy enough to follow, but I wouldn’t recommend it. There was so much work involved in assembling and frying each one, and chopping the chorizo alone drove me crazy. If I’m going to spend a few hours on a recipe, it needs to be something spectacular, and this wasn’t.

A small cooking note for those who choose to try it – fry a small meatball before making the whole lot just to check for salt. I found that this definitely needed more salt (the recipe didn’t call for any – I thought the chorizo would add salt, so I didn’t add much more of my own, but the chorizo wasn’t enough).

Alora is a filler word in Italian. Our waitresses came to the table, and usually the first word out of their mouth was, “Alora…” It sounds like a magical faraway place or the most radiant of princesses, but it means well, anyway or so. The word rings in my head now, and I want to use it as part of my conversations. Or give it to my first daughter as a name.

Alora…

Husband and I took a four-day road trip through parts of Italy and Switzerland. We ate out a lot, which should mean lots of yummy food photos. However.

We are not into photographing our food in restaurants. Even though we have never had a conversation about this – although we might now – my sense is that we both enjoy sitting down to eat our meals in peace and harmony. Food is enjoyable to see, but even more enjoyable to…enjoy.

Alora, there are no food photographs to accompany this short note. I only have one piece of advice that will seem so glaringly obvious to most except for me. But here it is.

When in Italy, eat pasta.

I’m not a pasta person and try to avoid it for many reasons unless I need to make something for a large group of people (in which case spaghetti is the only answer). I told myself, though, that I’m in Italy. Pasta must go on the “Try” list. From my first mushroom tagliatelle to the last seafood spaghetti, it was amazing, amazing, amazing. I could have eaten pasta forever. Cooked to firm perfection, salted beautifully and popping with taste, it was probably some of my favourite European eating to date.

Kitchen-related items were dangerous, unknown territory for me until a few years ago. Cooking didn’t come naturally to me, and my lack of co-ordination led to several kitchen disasters in the past. I tended to avoid it for easy meals of ramen with frozen veggies when I was a college student. Or lots and lots of hard-boiled eggs. Two years ago I decided to conquer my fear of the kitchen. I started cooking one meal a week for my family. Thai meatballs, watermelon and feta salad, moroccan lamb soup and others were hits not just with my family but with my self confidence.

My culinary friends told me that it gets easier, and it’s true. I still love a good recipe, but now I know that certain kinds of fish sauce, lime and coriander are all you need to spice up a Thai dish. Cinnamon, honey and cumin make Moroccan.

I love Moroccan food, and one day I want to visit this exotic, colourful country. I made this recipe last week and loved it. Like most of my favourite meals, it didn’t take a long time to prepare. A moist roast chicken is always welcome in my home, but the real star of this meal is the cous cous.

This grain should be every cooks delight. A cup of it to a cup of boiling water plus five minutes – you are finished. If you want to spice it up, add whatever textures or flavours you want. The dates and the pistachios makes the cous cous salty and sweet, crunchy and soft. I would make this dish with any Middle Eastern or Moroccan main course. I could even eat it on its own.

  • Moroccan Roast Chicken roast the chicken for at least an hour. Mine took about an hour-and-a-half before it was fully cooked. Salt it thoroughly and put more spices than the recipe requires so that the whole chicken is well flavoured.