Ten Healthy Food Trends I Will Not Be Adopting

A new cafe, called Code Black, recently opened up in North Melbourne (sister to Code Black in Brunswick) and my partner and I naturally had to try out its brunch, multiple times. The brunch was good, not mind-blowing, but very tasty with a nice range of options. They even did a good chai latte and over cooked my eggs, as per my request.

Feeling confident with the menu after a couple of visits, I decided to branch out and have a smoothie with my breakfast. There were no flavours listed – just a daily special. Great, I thought, they must pick seasonal fruits for their smoothie, so maybe it will be a berry one, or even mango and banana (my favourite). Luckily I asked what the daily flavour was before ordering, because it turned out to be a goji berry and almond milk smoothie.

Sorry what? I mean, WTF? Does anyone actually want to drink a goji berry and almond milk smoothie?? Ever?

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Avocado, beetroot and seeds all in their proper place, not hiding in cakes.

Code Black is definitely not alone in their use of slightly oddly placed ‘super foods’ on their menu. Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of plenty of healthy foods. I have fully embraced kale, I am pro-quinoa, I am a paid up member of the organic-vegetables-of-Australia party. However, there are some healthy food trends I just can’t wrap my head, or my tongue, around. My top (or bottom) ten healthy food trends that cafes should just stop trying to sell me are:

1. Avocado as butter or cream: I very much enjoy avocado, but please don’t sneak it into my banana cake, or even worse, try to sell me something called ‘avocado cheesecake’. I may consider taking a claim to the ACCC for false advertising if you do.
2. ‘Surprise’ ingredients in smoothies: see above, I don’t take kindly to weird ingredients in my smoothies, especially in the mornings and doubly if they’re lumpy.
3. Spirulina powder: the super green colour is pretty awesome looking, sadly the taste does not reflect this. It tastes and smells like a combination of industrial waste, sunscreen and seaweed.
4. Goji berries: see above, these things taste like sweaty arse. Sorry, but they do. Don’t bother coating them in yoghurt or chocolate either, then it’s just sweaty-arse-flavour-covered-in-chocolate. While that actually potentially sounds very ‘in’ and Fifty Shades of Grey-esque, it’s really not worth the calories.
5. Chia seeds in drinks: nothing against chia, but once you put those little seeds in liquid they puff up and get slimy and it’s like drinking frog spawn. Not that I have had frog spawn recently, but you get the idea. Shudder.
6. Seaweed: fine at a Japanese restaurant for dinner, definitely not fine sprinkled all over my avocado and toast in the morning. Seriously.
7. Oat milk: this is the loser of the milk family, even rice milk refuses to play with oat milk in the school yard. And I’m calling it – enough with the new ‘milks’ please! You can’t just soak anything in water, sieve it and call it a ‘milk’. What is next? Reclaimed floorboard milk? Handpicked dandelion milk? Recycled plastic bag milk? Gahhhh!
8. Quorn: if you’re not vegetarian you might not know this one, but it’s basically a healthy meat substitute. It’s made from a micro fungus or something like that…which says it all really. Avoid.
9. Beetroot chocolate cake: I like beetroot. I definitely like chocolate. But I cannot get behind this one, I’ve tried it so many times and every time I just think ‘oh great, now my perfectly nice chocolate cake has a weird aftertaste of dirt.’
10. Green tea flavour: green tea is not delicious, it tastes like grass clippings. Why would you want to impose this grass flavour on perfectly nice things like cupcakes, KitKats and ice-cream? Wheatgrass also falls into this category (the ‘I actually taste like your lawn’ category). So no, I do not want a wheatgrass shot with that, thank you!

PS – should dandelion milk take off as a ‘thing’, you heard it here first. Or Fifty Shades themed goji-berry treats…that one could actually be a winner.

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Actually delicious ‘super’ foods: fresh fruit and berries.

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Beautiful ingredients

I think there is only one secret to delicious cooking. It’s not, as the French might have you believe, butter. It’s beautiful ingredients. That sounds obvious, but I think a lot of cooking shows and cookbooks are missing that important step in making a fantastic meal.

You do not need an ice-cream maker or a sous-vide water bath to create something spectacular. You need fresh, vibrant vegetables, decent olive oil and perhaps some quality cheese or protein. Don’t get me wrong, I love kitchen gadgets and I also love eating at fancy restaurants full of foam, gel and freeze-dried-who-knows-what. But it just occurred to me the other day how little attention we give to selecting and appreciating the basic ingredients.

So today is ‘ingredients appreciation day’ on my blog. Here’s a picture I took of rhubarb. Just rhubarb. Isn’t it beautiful? Those gorgeous pink stems on my bright green plastic chopping board. It’s sexy! It’s inspiring. (And no, I’m not high, just take a second and look…)

rhubarb pic

A place where you can really appreciate the beauty of ingredients is farmers markets. Regular readers will know that I LOVE markets. I’m also lucky enough to live fairly close to the Queen Victoria Markets. I adore going and looking at (and buying) the displays at markets. Everything is a little imperfect, plentiful and displayed in a happy-organic sort of way. You can pick things up, see them in natural light rather than under fluorescents and, of course, smell them! Markets also give you an appreciation of what’s in season. You know it’s mango season when they’re going for under $10 a box. You know mushrooms are at their best when the mushroom man has eleven types on display. And you know it’s summer when berries’ prices halve. I personally don’t haggle at food markets, but that is also a fun element to shopping at markets if you’re into that kind of thing.

At the Queen Vic markets, it is easy to get overwhelmed, since the markets themselves are huge and, especially on weekends, completely packed. You could spend ( and I have spent) a fair amount of time wading through cheap handbags and dodgy looking kids’ toys before you find the fresh produce and even then, quality varies between stalls. I’ve been hitting up the markets for fresh produce since 2007 and have spent way too many hours dawdling round the stalls, sniffing oranges and squeezing avocados. Below are a few of my recommendations for beautiful produce at the Queen Vic:

Curds and Whey
This is a great cheese and dairy shop in the deli section. I particularly like it for its extensive and well labelled range of vegetarian cheese, including an organic Italian parmesan. They also sell butter (salted or unsalted) from huge blocks on their counter, quark, yoghurt, vanilla beans, saffron and other little gourmet delights. Most importantly, they’re always happy to offer you a taste before you commit to that wedge of cheddar or block of gruyere.

The Queen Vic Deli
I love this place for one reason: hummus. Their homemade hummus is the best I’ve ever had. I think they mix in a fair bit of tahini, making it really creamy and yet still tangy and tasty. The selection of olives at this deli is also worth a stop, though I think some of the other offerings are a bit overpriced.

Garden Organics and VicMarket Organics
These are my two favourite fruit and veg stalls. Both stock almost entirely organic produce. They also indicate if the produce is locally grown, which is helpful if you’re considering food miles. The staff are friendly (if not a bit cool) and really care about their produce. Plus Garden Organics has precious tiny little perfect pink lady apples (when in season) which I’m kind of obsessed with…

Also worth a mention not so much for gorgeous ingredients but for great snacks and prepared food, are the Borek shop in the deli section (and their sister shop further down on Elizabeth Street which has THE BEST gozleme), the Traditional Pasta Shop for fresh pasta and really good bake at home garlic bread and market juice for yummy (but super sweet) smoothies and my favourite Evia brand of yoghurt.