Hiatus

For the few of you who follow this blog, you may also follow me on my various social media accounts too. If you follow my Twitter, you would have recently seen a post proclaiming that I am taking a social media break (at least from all my Canberra based social media accounts). I thought I’d explain my decision in this post – partly to explain to the few followers I have, but mostly to explain it to myself.

I have struggled with social anxiety since high school. Although most people wouldn’t realise, because I am considered “out-going”, I am trying very hard in social situations to not stand in the corner and cry. Unless I am totally comfortable around a person, I have to force myself to engage – which most of the time backfires and I’m just a super awkward hyperactive mess. I can count on one hand the amount of people I feel comfortable enough around to be my true self, and that is mostly made up of my family.

I started to put myself out there in the Canberra foodie community in early 2014, looking to meet some new people and get out of the house. I started using social media to promote this blog and connect with fellow bloggers. I have been lucky to meet some fantastic people in the time since then. I have spent time with fellow Canberra foodies (bloggers, instagrammers, facebookers) at events that we’re all invited to (or attend on our own accord), or catch ups that we’ve organised amongst ourselves.

I’m not a well-known or prolific blogger – most people know me from my Instagram account, @canberra_foodie, and even that doesn’t have many followers compared to other Canberra food related accounts – most of which started well after I did. I’ve constantly wondered why I bother to continue with the “Canberra food scene” (not that I put very much effort in to it to begin with, let’s be honest); my blog gets around 100 visits a day, but 90% of that is made up of people reading up about my stomach surgery. I doubt my Instagram followers would miss me either, because now there’s so many “Canberra food related” Instagram accounts (when I started there was about two).

I used to remind myself that I don’t do it for the followers – I do it for myself, because I love writing. Which was 100% true for a while. But for the past year I have been at school, where I get to write all the time and it’s writing I love (screenwriting). It’s fantastic and I feel creative and have made some amazing friends who I describe as “my people”. It’s also meant that I’ve lost interest in blogging. I’ve only posted a few times since I started school, and most of those posts were made while I was on holiday and even then I banged out three posts in the space of an hour and posted them all in one day and then didn’t blog again for months.

Let’s face it, I have been maintaining my Instagram purely to stay active in the Canberra foodie community. I thought “if I stop engaging, I’ll stop getting invited to things and I’ll lose friends”. But the truth is, I hardly get invited to any events or meet ups anyway. And by following all my foodie acquaintances on Instagram, I see when they get invited to events that I am not, or have  catch ups that I am not a part of, and well… cue the FOMO. If it’s an event, I get annoyed and think “but I have more followers then them”. If it’s a group of foodies going out to a restaurant and I’m not invited, my anxiety riddled brain thinks “don’t they like me; why wasn’t I invited; what’s wrong with me?” The strange thing is that, while I have made some friends in the foodie community, mostly the people I am getting jealous over  aren’t even my friends; generally they’re just people I’ve met a few times – some of them I don’t even like. I’m not sure what it is about the foodie scene that brings that out in me, because that’s not me. I am not usually that person. I am not competitive or ambitious, I am not one to look down on someone else for petty reasons. I am not so needy and insecure that I get jealous when people who are extremely ‘cliquey’ are spending time with each other without me (especially when I’m not even a part of that clique). But for some reason when it’s a community you are a part of, and when it’s shoved in your face via social media, it’s hard not to have those thoughts. It’s hard not to regress to high school a little bit. And then I get angry with myself for having such idiotic, immature, thoughts.

Oldest child syndrome? I dunno. But then, I hardly ever organise anything myself either. I often leave it up to the other person to reach out or invite me “if they want to”. I guess it’s my deep seeded self-conscious belief that no one wants to spend time with me. Not asking for hugs here, I just want you to know that if I’m not reaching out to you, it’s nothing you’ve done.

The competitiveness and FOMO has crept up in other ways, when a new restaurant opens or one of the foodies I follow goes to a restaurant and takes pictures of amazing looking food, I have to go. I have to try all of the foods. I can’t be the foodie that hasn’t yet been to the new hip eatery… So I end up spending money I don’t really have. I’ve also found that I spend time on social media, obsessing over the Canberra food scene and where I want to go next – when I should be focusing on my screenwriting.

And then there’s the weight issue. I have an eating disorder (binge eating and over-eating) and I had a $20,000 weight loss surgery (gastric sleeve) to restrict my stomach so I wouldn’t want to (or couldn’t) eat all the foods. I did so well during my first six months after surgery because I wasn’t going out much, I wasn’t eating at restaurants, and when I did I was ordering small dishes (sides and entrees) and sharing them. My food obsession came back because of social media. I started going on Instagram more, seeing photos of new restaurants opening in Canberra and I’d want to eat there. Instead of going to the gym, I go out to dinner. These days, when I am at a restaurant, I over eat because I want to try different dishes or dishes bigger than I should; and in over-eating I stretch out the stomach that I had surgery to shrink. Food makes me happy when I am depressed, and looking at photos of food makes me want to eat it without thinking of the consequences or regardless of the consequences. It’s the same with any kind of food; I don’t think about chocolate for days, but once you put some in front of me, I want all of the chocolate. I am highly susceptible.

I’ve been thinking about a lot of this stuff over the last few months, and then last week I had a massive anxiety attack.

Now, I know it wasn’t just the things I mentioned above that brought on the anxiety attack, I had some financial issues, weight/body image issues, and I was at home sick by myself and feeling very lonely – everything just compounded. I cried for about three days straight and was so psychically drained that I couldn’t leave the house. It’s probably fairer to say that I was in the midst of an anxiety attack, and because I was bored and lonely at home I went on social media, which then made it worse.

I am lucky enough to be quite a self-aware person, as you’ve probably noticed by reading any of my “life-related” posts on this blog. Once I realise what led to an anxiety attack, I make plans to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I cut off a friend from my life a few years ago, because I realised that we fed off each other’s depression – and once I did that I saw improvements in my mental wellbeing. Last week I unfollowed all foodies on Twitter and Facebook. I logged out of my canberra_foodie Instagram account and took it off the account toggle. I have, however, kept my weight loss surgery related and personal Instagram account going – I find the wls one in particular motivates me and I have found some likeminded people on there who are struggling with similar issues as I am.

If you’re a Canberra foodie reading this, please do not be offended by me “unfollowing you”. I needed to do it for my mental health and for the sake of my screenwriting/schooling, I hope you can understand. Please feel free to get in contact if you want to catch up.

And for the people who read this blog for the Canberra food reviews, or follow my canberra_foodie Instagram account, I will not be posting anymore food related topics indefinitely. Perhaps I’ll be back one day – but I have other priorities now.

Cinnabar

Some friends and I hit up Cinnabar, a new Asian fusion restaurant on the Kingston Foreshore, during their soft-opening in late January. The restaurant is located in the new end of the foreshore, next to Molto Italian and is hard to miss; dark colours and luxurious accents lure you in.

We were there on a Tuesday and early (6pm I believe, because we’re Nannas) so the restaurant was pretty much empty. We were given our choice of tables and opted for one of their seriously cool booths – complete with tassel lamp shade. Our view was outward, looking towards the foreshore and the lake.

We ordered some entrees – spring rolls and san choy bau, both of which you can order in individual sizes. Perfect for me! I got one chicken san choy bau and my friends ordered the duck.

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The san choy bua had really nice textures and flavours but I only ate half to save stomach space for the main dish feast to come. My friend ordered three dishes to share between the three of us…

We ended up going for the Chinese inspired dishes; salt and pepper squid, the dry chilli beef and the spicy chicken (house special).

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With everything on the table, plus rice, we were squished in and surrounded by food – essentially my happy place. The food was fresh, hot and the ingredients used were quality ones. Each dish was a generous size, tasty and well prepared. The squid in particular was cooked to perfection, crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside, with great flavours introduced with the toppings and chilli and lime salt. Definitely a winner on the food front.

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My only minor qualm with Cinnabar is the price. Dishes that you can get from ordinary Chinese restaurants are about twice the price – for example the dry chilli beef was close to $30 (I can’t remember the exact price). While I do agree that the food at Cinnabar is definitely of a higher quality than your average Chinese restaurant, I guess cheap (or cheaper) prices for Asian food has been entrenched in me. However, I do appreciate that they have a location-centric reputation to uphold (ie the Kingston Foreshore is generally full of higher end and more expensive dining establishments… except for maybe Chong and Co) and they certainly deliver on both location outlook and beautiful décor.

So in summary the food is fantastic, the service is friendly, the location is trendy and the décor is gorgeous – it’s more of a special occasion place, than a “stuff your face full of Chinese food” place. If that makes any sense at all…

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Mister Zee’s

Mister Zee’s is a new eatery on Bunda Street, opposite the Supabarn entrance to the Canberra Centre. It’s a laid back and chilled place, with seating available for those eating in and quick take-away for those on the go. It’s casual charcoal Middle Eastern food and it’s damn tasty.

Some friends and I met up before going to a movie on a rainy Thursday evening, we got there at 5:30pm so naturally the place was quiet. We stood for a while perusing the blackboard menu and eventually we all decided on the same meal: the Baba Kebab.

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The Baba has charcoal chicken, chips, lettuce, tomato, pickles and a toum (garlic sauce). Om nom nom. The kebab has fluffy bread and fresh ingredients – the pickles give it a nice salty kick. The only thing I think I will ask to be added next time is some chilli or something spicy for that extra oomph – but that’s personal preference.

The service was fast and friendly and the food was tasty, I’ll be back for more “pre-movie” dinners I suspect.

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Molto Italian

Molto Italian opened about two weeks ago in the new section of Kingston Foreshore. It is a new venture by much loved Canberran, Carlo Tosolini – and if you don’t recognise that last name then I don’t really know what to tell you… except that you’re probably not Canberra or don’t like Italian food.

We hit up the new eatery on a busy Friday night, and I was greeted with a kiss on the cheek by one of the waiters and I’m still not sure if he thought I was someone else, or he’s just Italian – all the waiters are Italian. The place was buzzing, and it was only 6:30; not a single table was free and the waiters were kept busy with drink orders and plates of delicious smelling food whizzing past.

After the friendly welcome we were informed by Carlo himself that our table wasn’t ready, thanks to a group that wouldn’t leave, so they sat us up at the bar and we ordered some cocktails from the delicious, but not extensive, cocktail list. I had the Blood Sgroppino and my friend ordered the White Peach Foam Bellini. I was drunk off the one cocktail, so was extremely happy watching the cute bartenders do their thing.

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Eventually we were sat at our table outside, with a lovely view of the foreshore and the scaffolded building on their way up. Perfect spot for people watching the crowds as they wander Canberra’s trendiest new spot.

The menu is very Italian, with classics and provincial favourites, and a weekday special. I must admit I had to google a couple of the ingredients as they’re listed in their Italian names.

We ordered the garlic flat bread and burrata to start, and happily dipped the warm crusty bread in the creamy cheese. Our waiter looked at us a bit like we were crazy when we stated that our intent was to eat the two together, but it worked and was delicious so we didn’t care.

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For mains, I ordered the beef carpaccio (which is actually an entrée) and my friend ordered the House Made Ravioli with spinach and buffalo milk ricotta in burnt butter and sage. Both were delightful, fresh and well prepared.

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We had promised Carlo that we’d have the table back for him by 8pm, and the growing line at the front door pressured us in to leaving before we could order dessert – but the dessert menu looks heavenly and I’ll definitely be back to try.

I quite enjoyed our visit to Molto, although a little rushed, I still enjoyed the busy atmosphere and the simple but elegant food. The service was polite and sweet (and hey, it’s not every day you get a kiss from your waiter!) and the location was perfect for a warm summer evening.

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Stomach Surgery: The side effects

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about my surgery, but a few things have happened over the last few months that I thought should be written about.

The first thing is that I have stopped losing weight. I stopped losing weight about 7 months ago. Thankfully I haven’t put weight back on, at least nothing worth worrying about (more on that in my gallbladder issues below), but I haven’t budged it either. I hit that “portion control can only do so much” limit. I got back in to bad habits, namely snacking. I have been studying, I’ve been exhausted, and I haven’t had time for exercise. I got lazy. I finish school in two weeks and I’m joining a gym. Hopefully I can get my butt back in to gear. I’m finding the #wls and #vsg tags on Instagram have been great for my motivation over the last few weeks and I’ve gotten to that point where I really want to kick start the weight loss again.

B12. In June this year I went to see my Doctor, concerned that my energy levels were pretty much non-existent. I was annoyed that I’d lost 30 kilos yet somehow I was more tired than before. After some blood tests it was revealed that I was B12 deficient. Essentially I had become anaemic. B12 is found in animal based products and supplements, so even though I’ve been eating a fair amount of meat to keep my protein up, I’m still not eating as much as I used to. B12 is also broken down in your stomach acid – of which I now have less, thanks to the surgery and my GORD inhibitor tablets. My doctor put me on B12 injections (yep, needles!) and I’ve started taking vitamins in between the shots (which I get every two months). I have noticed a slight increase in energy, which probably is being reflected in my motivation to start exercising again, but I still have a while to go before my levels are back to what they should be.

Gallbladder. Yarp. While I was in Japan in May of this year, pretty much one year to the day of my surgery, I got a chest pain. At first I thought I was having a heart attack, then I thought maybe I was dehydrated. But then it kept happening. Every few weeks to start, then eventually it became more and more frequent, until I was having around two attacks a week. The attacks have also increased in strength. The first ones started around 10-20 minutes, now they last up to four hours. I also now vomit when I get the pain, and one time I passed out. It is the worst pain I think I’ve ever been in in my life. However, being the non-hypochondriac that I am, I didn’t do anything about it. I thought “but I know it will eventually stop”. Eventually I did see my doctor and she originally thought my oesophagus was inflamed. I started taking my reflux tablets more frequently and that did…squat. The attacks kept coming and they got worse and worse. I spoke to a friend of mine who had her gallbladder out a few years back; I told her my symptoms, and she told me to start tracking what I was eating beforehand. Sure enough, whenever I’d eaten fatty foods – pork and dairy were the main culprits – I would have an attack. I booked back in to see my Doctor and demanded an ultrasound. And there on the ultrasound screen was my gallbladder full of stones. The stones are “mobile”, which means they float around and get stuck, causing me pain. My gallbladder is also inflamed and bigger than it should be, which accounts for my upper abdomen always feeling tender (and bloated). My blood tests also showed an increase in fatty liver, which is frustrating because my surgery cured my fatty liver disease and my naughty gallbladder is making it bad again. I have gained two kilos since the pain started to get really bad in August, despite eating better (thanks to my fear of fatty foods) and giving up alcohol. So now I am booked in to see a surgeon – the same one that did my gastric sleeve actually – and hopefully I’ll be able to get my gallbladder out soon. As bad as the pain is (and I’ve heard people say it’s akin to labour), it’s more the fear and waiting for it to return that has made me an anxiety ridden mess the last few months. I’d like that to stop, please.

(Edit: I had my gallbladder removed on November 10th. Cost me a few thousand dollars to get it done through a Private Hospital, but that meant I didn’t have to wait years. After the removal – which was keyhole and included a night in hospital – I still had a stone stuck in my bile duct and a week later I had to have another operation – which thankfully was free and quick and successful.)

Blood Orange Pork Belly

I had some friends over for dinner last night, one of our fortnightly catch ups where we challenge each other to cook something we’ve never cooked before. Despite being one of my favourite foods, I’d never cooked pork belly myself – I always order it at restaurants, but have never done anything with it at home. I decided that I wanted to give it a try for my round, but I was worried about timing. If I get home at 5:30pm and my friends show up for dinner at 6:30pm, how am I supposed to produce slow cooked pork belly with a crispy crunchy top? Erm. I’m not.

So, armed with my determination to cook pork belly at home, I thought about the ways I’d eaten it in the past. One particular dish came to mind, Pad Prik Kingh, a Thai dish where the pork belly is served in a thick spicy sauce – it’s amazing! Combine that with the kilos and kilos of amazing Red Belly Oranges that I’d been gifted and I came up with my own saucy pork belly dish. And you know what? It’s freaking amazing and I’d like to eat it all the time thanks.

The combined citrus tartness of the blood orange with the sweet kecap manis works so well, the flavours in this dish worked together perfectly. But best of all? It took about 30 minutes to make the entire thing.

Ingredients (makes 2 and a half serves – or 2 big serves):

Pork belly (I used about 400grams – but you can use as much as you like and adjust the other ingredients accordingly)

One small blood orange

Shallots

Sesame seeds

Garlic

Ginger

Chilli flakes (fresh chilli is also good)

Kecap Manis (sweet soy sauce)

Oyster sauce

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Method:

Cut the pork belly in to 1cm x 5cm pieces. Season with salt and white pepper (black is fine too).

Add the pork belly to a large frying pan on a medium high heat. Cook the pork belly until it is browned, turning the meat every few minutes to ensure it is evenly cooked.

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 There’ll be lots of oil and fat, so make sure you use a splatter screen and that you drain off the excess fat a few times during the cooking process.

 While the pork is cooking, make the sauce. Add the grated zest of half the blood orange to a bowl, combine it with the juice of the whole blood orange, two cloves of garlic (chopped finely), one shallot (also chopped finely), a teaspoon of minced ginger (I use the stuff in a tube, so I just give a big squeeze), two tablespoons of kecap manis and one tablespoon of oyster sauce) – add the chilli flakes to your desired heat level. As always, adjust this to suit your tastes, and the amount you’re cooking.

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When you’re happy with the colour of the pork belly, and the level the fat has reduced to, drain off the excess and wipe the frying pan with a paper towel to mop up the leftover fat. Add the sauce and stir through. Continue to cook the pork on a medium heat, stirring occasionally – you want the sauce to reduce a little and become thicker. Once you’re happy with the consistency, stir through a handful of sesame seeds and some fresh shallots (sliced).

Serve with jasmine rice and blanched Asian greens (I used pak choy).

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Blood Orange time!

Blood Orange time!

Oh yes, it’s my favourite time of year. Citrus time! Or more importantly, blood orange season. Last year I took place in a recipe competition (that wasn’t really a competition) held by the lovely people at Red Belly Citrus and this year I was lucky enough to score some more blood orange bounty from them again. Red Belly Citrus is located in the Riverina on the Murrumbidgee, their land has 32,000 citrus trees, which sounds like heaven to me! I really love their produce, so I am happy to try out some new recipes and have a play with my old recipes, to help spread the word about the amazingness of Australian grown blood orange.

… so look out for a bunch of blood orange recipes to come!

First up, these suuuuper easy and suuuuper tasty canapes that I made for a Tupperware party over the weekend.

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 Just slice some cucumbers, top with a cream cheese/dill combination (can also add horseradish to this mixture for a bit of extra oomf), then pop a small shred of smoked salmon on top and a tiny slice of blood orange – hold it all together with a tooth pick. Boom! Amazing!

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Lazy May’s (again)

I swore I’d be back to Lazy May’s and I did go back. Twice. Twice in one day. This morning I ate breakfast and then lunch at the new Tuggeranong eatery. Sadly there still wasn’t many patrons on either occasion – word of mouth is slow in these parts – and we only had one or two other patrons in the space at the same time as us. The sun shone through the big windows and warmed the bright open space up nicely. This morning we watched the tellie and over lunch they pumped some tunes through the overhead stereo. It’s a nice welcoming environment, and I can’t wait til people start checking it out and add to the atmosphere. On both occasions we were welcomed by the nice staff and after we took our seats, menus were bought over. It was a tough decision for both breakfast and lunch, because everything looks pretty awesome! For breakfast I ordered the ‘Smashed Eggs on Toast’ – 75C sous vide eggs served with avocado smash and wilted spinach salad on crispy rye bread. IMG_8039 This was a well cooked, nice dish. The egg came ‘pre-smashed’ so the yolk was perfectly runny over the yummy avocado. The rocket was a yummy touch, and added some extra flavour to the dish. Unfortunately I felt like there was something missing, perhaps some feta cheese – just to break up the egg/avo taste. The bread wasn’t overly crispy either, but it certainly wasn’t soggy.  My friend ordered the Classic Breakfast Burger – Crispy bacon, sunny side fried eggs, brie cheese and homemade tomato relish on a toasted brioche roll. IMG_8036 This burger is a decent size and all the ingredients looked delicious – the mushroom in particular was giving me serious food envy. My friend said she liked the homemade tomato relish, but that there was too much – easily fixed by some scraping. There was no salt or pepper on the table and we had to ask for it, then we were supplied what seemed to be the only shakers in the restaurant. Weird. I’m hoping it’s just a “newly opened” thing, because how annoying for their staff to have to get the salt and pepper shaker for every customer whenever they need seasoning. Breakfast was filling and a really good price – I’ll definitely be back for brekkie! I have my eye on their brioche sweet French sliders!) For my return visit, a mere three hours later, I ordered the ‘Slow cooked pressed pork belly’ – 16 hour cooked suckling pork belly, pressed with popping pork skin crackle, served with sprouting broccoli and roasted pumpkin and pear atop a honey, orange and fig jam. IMG_8041 The pork was really tasty and the vegies were nice and fresh, but wintery and comforting at the same time. The crackling wasn’t crispy, but it had good flavour and I woofed it down happily. The pear and jam were really yummy hits of sweetness and I enjoyed them both. This dish is yum! My friend ordered the ‘Buttermilk Southern Fried Chicken’ – Southern style spiced crispy butterfried chicken breast served with beer battered chips, house garden salad and buttermilk ranch sauce. IMG_8042 Both my friend and I were expecting pieces of chicken, rather than a schnitzel like cut – but who cares when it tastes so yummy! The outside was crispy and the chicken juicy, and the ranch dressing was creamy and moreish. It’s like the public servant ‘schnitty lunch’, but trendier. I’m really liking having Lazy May’s across the road from work, and I think there’s a lot of potential for it to be a great Tuggeranong locale. It’s still only day three and they’re doing pretty well – the staff are lovely, the atmosphere is welcoming and the food has been good. Now people just need to start visiting! Support your local, people!