Wednesday, January 19, 2011

the way to a good tourist's heart is through their stomach

The food writing project organised by Nicky at has certainly inspired an exciting collection of perspectives, memories and desires for food and food writing. Ever since my food awakening at the Australian sea-side, food has been an all consuming part of my life. Equally consuming have been travel and cultural history, things I regularly combine.

Often when I visit cultural heritage locations, be they Royal Palaces in the UK, Imperial complexes in China or the ruins of Roman cities in Italy I am drawn, as a food person, to the kitchens. Searching out the warm and safe sensation from my favourite room of the house, and yet often I am left cold. Freshly cleaned floors, so different to mine with skins of onions mixed in with little piles of spilt sugar and pebbles of cat food. A few remnants of material culture - pots and pans, maybe some of which have been put on the hob or hung over the empty fire place. If I'm lucky there might be a wax cast of something that might be a kipper. Or is it supposed to be cake?

The one thing food writers and interpreters should have in common is passion. So why? Why is there so little passion displayed when interpreting our culinary cultural heritage?

For most of us who live in the parts of the world where we're lucky enough to eat every day, food is an integral and essential part of our lives. A cooked breakfast signifies a slow start to the weekend. A decedent meal on a special occasion. A quick bowl of noodles with a good friend on a weeknight evening. These are markers that help us to ascribe meaning to different parts of our lives. So many social events, in all cultures, revolve around food. This can only be reflected in the number of magazines, books, newspaper columns, television and radio programs, and even blogs that are dedicatedly pursuing the art and the essence of food and eating. When we travel food becomes a part of the whole experience. How often have you come back from some exotic location and one of the first things you're asked is "what was the food like?"?

The essence of interpretation theory and practice tells us that for interpretation to effectively tell a story, and allow visitors to engage with a message it needs four things. Without going into the psychology of this, one of these four things is relevance.

If it can be agreed that food and eating is something that we all use to define certain moments in our lives, finding relevance in food interpretation should be straight forward. If I go to Hampton Court Palace*, I want to have a Tudor food experience. Not this:

Don't (just) tell me that the cauldron holds nine-thousand gallons or they cooks started at 4am. Or even that they ate partridge. Why? When? What does it taste like? What does it smell like? There is evidence to show that introducing smell allows visitors to relate tourism sites to their own experiences. So pipe in the smells of meat roasting or bread baking from the cafe or restaurant. Instantly you're taking a cold, hard room and turning it into something warm and familiar.

Similarly, there is this regularly visited shop front in Pompeii, the local take-away:

Admittedly Pompeii - at least when I was there last almost eight years ago - suffers from not just bad interpretation, but no interpretation, and lack lustre maintenance, but what an opportunity to make classical history and the classical world instantly recognisable to the modern visitor! Did the ancient Romans go out for the first century equivalent of fish and chips, or pizza? How was it different to what they ate at home? What does it actually taste like? What can we relate it to in our own food experience?

There are so many excellent opportunities to bring history sites alive for people, particularly the younger members of the family. Make the most of it - make it edible. Appeal to not just the brain and the heart, but the stomach too. Why not put a second century Roman dish on the menu at the Pompeii restaurant (hold the garum for me please), or a Tudor dish rather than devonshire teas at Hampton Court? Let us smell, taste, feel the full experience. Done carefully, without too many unfamiliar or intimidating ingredients, what better way to get visitors excited about their visit (our host for this project has expressed an interest in museum and gallery cafes too).

Why can't we tell someone we've been to the museum and have them ask "what was the food like?"?

* I have used Hampton Court Palace and Pompeii as examples in this post because I've been to both. In no way am I implying that these are bad places to visit, that the experiences are unfulfilling or their interpretation bad. Hampton Court Palace in particular has some excellent and exciting interpretation programmes. If you get the chance I highly recommend a visit. Ask them if they have partridge on the menu!

Food for Thinkers is a week-long, distributed, online conversation looking at food-writing from as wide and unusual a variety of perspectives as possible. Between January 18 and January 23, 2011, more than thirty food and non-food writers will respond to a question posed by GOOD's newly-launched Food hub: What does—or could, or even should—it mean to write about food today? You can check out the conversation in full at, join in the comments, and follow the Twitter hashtag #foodforthinkers to keep up-to-date as archaeologists, human rights activists, design critics, and even food writers share their perspective on what makes food so interesting.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Consuming passions - the culture of food writing

Late last week I received an invitation via my good friend Dr Space Junk to participate in a food blogging event - yes DSJ knows me well. However, rather than just blogging about food we've eaten, or food we'd like to eat, or food we've cooked, or food we're thinking about cooking, this is a blog event about writing about food.

Walk in the park BHG I hear you say.

Well, yes.

And no.

And as I've been thinking about this post, and what it will contain, I'm taken back to - of all things - one of those team building events that one is often submitted to in the workplace. In this one all participants were asked to bring an item of significance with them and the rest of us had to see if we could conjure up which one of us it belonged to. I bought along a plastic spade from my days as a sandcastle architect. Resplendent in hot pink it has little seagulls and wave ripples moulded into it.

This spade, correctly or not, represents to me seemingly endless summers spent at Silver Sands beach in the outreaches (then) of the Adelaide suburbs. This was an idyllic location, and certainly the best of my childhood memories. Family upon family crammed into this beach house (many thanks to google.maps).

In the days before we were concerned with skin cancer, and with feminism and multi-culturalism on the rise a motley crew of women, children and men, Anglo, French, Italian, Greek, gay, straight were all crammed into the three bedrooms. I particularly remember the curtains the room where the children slept and I fell out of the top bunk without waking. I also remember the year I broke my foot and couldn't go because of the perilous stairs. I remember the sand running out of our swimmers in the downstairs shower and the musty smell that came out of the shed that contained surfboards and the ping pong table. I remember hot, hot days and cool nights of cricket in the backyard. I remember FABULOUS 1970s brown bottle glass in the windows which now, sadly, seems to have gone.

But aside from these drifting memories of the pre-iPod Australian summer, I remember two things. And both of these things relate to the long dining table, which probably wasn't as long as I remember it. I remember intricately prepared dinners where everyone, kids included, pitched in. I remember going out to the local farms to pick ears of corn and fresh berries that ended up on that table. I remember making fresh pasta and mousaka and wonderful crisp salad. And I remember the variety of languages spoken and the cultures that made up that commune.

Looking back at that plastic spade that I chose to bring along to my team building day, it represented the dining table. And I realised that's where two of my greatest loves in adult life emerged: food and language (and dinosaurs, but that's another post).

On an unconnected trip to a local ramen restaurant one of my friends commented on her inherent distrust of people who eat to live rather than live to eat. That summer holiday dining table certainly made me one of the later. And so now I talk about food, think about food, think about eating food (yes, I'm thinking about eating ramen as I type this), and I write about food. Even though I have famously said that this is no longer a food blog, you only need to look at the list of blogs that I follow to know that that's not really true (mmmmm... and the amount of time I blog about food).

This is a long (very long) and involved way of letting you know that is starting a week of food blogging posts from an interesting and eclectic bunch of bloggers with an interest in food, and an interest in writing about food, or writing about the cultural implications of writing about food.

At some stage this week I will be blogging about cultural heritage, interpretation, and food. Now I have set the scene and provided the background of life dedicated to bigger thighs, stay tuned!

Monday, December 27, 2010

"Adelaide all but closed on Boxing Day"

Well, Merry Christmas to you all. I hope you enjoyed a festive day, what ever your connection to Christmas, and had some good company and something good to eat. I certainly did, and all in all the eating seems to have continued, spurred on by a bout of hangover related pork consumption today.

And with the arrival of the post-Christmas haze comes the inevitable discussion on whether we can all survive another couple of days without punching someone in the face to get to a handbag in the post-Christmas sales. My thoughts on the matter, frankly, is that we can.

Admittedly, I'm not a shopper. I don't like to shop. I don't like to be in shops. In fact if I never had to spend a cent again, I'd probably be happy. The one major exception to this rule is cheese, but one so rarely finds cheese in the post-Christmas sales, if this is ever to change I am more than willing to revisit my stance on the sales.

But until that happens, seriously people, stay at home with friends or family, or if you're sick to death of friends and family pop a DVD in the machine, or take a long nap. Enjoy a couple of days embracing the relaxing time of year, particularly as this year in Adelaide is experiencing some mild summer days that make doing not very much at all very very easy to do.

There is an argument that tourists will be upset that they can't shop. Now, I like to think I'm relatively well travelled, my little facebook widget thingy tells me I've visited over 200 cities in more than twenty countries. And never. Never. Has the opening hours of department stores influenced my travel decisions. However, if you are a tourist in this fair city, and perplexed as to what you will do as you're not able to purchase cut-price crystal ware, here are my top 10 suggestions of alternative activities to fill your time.

1. On Your Bike
Bike SA allows you to hire a bike and a helmet from a number of 'hubs' around town, including backpackers and hotels, meaning that on Boxing Day you can hire a bike and hit the roads. Adelaide is pretty flat and surrounded by parklands, so unless you're planning on tackling the peak hour rush on some of the city's less friendly arterial roads, it's easy to get around. I suggest taking the linear park track from the city at Elder Park to Henley Square (passing the Christmas decorations at the brewery), where you can have coffee, walk along the jetty and dip your toe in the ocean. Alternatively put the bike on the train (which is free on weekends) and take the Marino Rocks to McLaren Vale route, which is longer with bigger hills, but you end up in McLaren Vale, which is coffee and cheese! See a theme here?

2. Don't Just Sit There - Eat Something
One thing that SA does well is food. And inexpensive food at that. For some uber-chic people watching on a budget, hit the Exeter or Austral Hotels in Rundle Street early to snap up an outdoor table. Enjoy a couple of pints of SA's Pride and Joy, with some of the best pub food you'll find anywhere. I personally recommend the mushroom burgers at the Exeter.

If you want a bit of spice in your life, head to China Town. Not the biggest complex you're likely to ever encounter, but lots of gems. Silky prawn jiaozi at Dumpling King, pork noodles at the Noodle Kingdom, BBC at Yin Chow, or salt and pepper eggplant at East Taste. Or go Indian at Maya or the Village. Wash it all down at the end with another Adelaide institution, gelati at Cibo.

3. The Real Boxing Day Tradition
The Boxing Day test. Find a pub or a bar or an RSL showing it on the big screen - it won't be hard. If you're from a cricket playing nation, mock the appalling form of the previous world number ones. If you've never watched the game, sidle up to a local and get them to explain the rules. You probably won't understand it on the first run through, but it's a great way to meet some locals, have a couple of drinks, and it's something to tell the folks about back home. Warning though, once you get the knack of it, it's addictive!

4. Fur, Wings and Keratin Spikes
The Adelaide Zoo, Monarto Zoo and Cleland Wildlife Park are all open over the holidays, although you'll need wheels to get to Monarto (but the Adelaide Zoo is a bike hire hub, see number 1!). Yes, we have pandas, if you've been here for more than ten seconds you'll have worked that out. But Cleland has all of the cuddly critters those from overseas expect to see. Monarto has a new chip exhibition, and southern white rhinos. Be there for the keepers talk as if the right animal is there with the keepers supervision you can touch his impressive horn. No, not that one......

5. Hit the 'Burbs
One of the joys of a small town is that stuff is easy to get to. If you've got access to a car, hit some of the best suburbs anywhere. The Adelaide Hills are alive with cherries, almonds, oompah bands and some of the best wineries you'll ever want to discover. If you're feeling flush, splash out for lunch at the Bridgewater Mill, or the Lane. If you're feeling slightly more frugal try Pot Belly Pies in the main street in Hahndorf.

Or go south. McLaren Vale is less than an hour's drive away. Wine, coffee, cheese, chocolate, art, jewellery. It's got it all. I can't go past the pate at the Currant Shed. Go hungry. And you're close enough to the ocean that you can go swimming after (find a beach patrolled by a Surf Life Saving Club)

6. Walk the Gangplank, 'me hearty
A good one if you've got kids. The Maritime Museum at Port Adelaide has something for all ages, but at the moment they've a special pirate Skulduggery experience for the wee ones which will win you brownie points and buy you some time at the cafe across the road after. While in the neighbourhood you can also take a cruise on the Port River and try some dolphin spotting.

7. Discover your inner-Hippy
The Adelaide Botanic Gardens may not have size, but they make up for it in charm. The guided walks are done by volunteers, and if you get a good one they're fantastic. Make sure they take you to the mortuary of the old insane asylum. Who said gardens are boring! The garden has lots of hidden little nooks and crannies, wander down the paths and suddenly find yourself in a wide open grass area, with a creek flowing through and not another soul around.

8. Commune with the Dead
It may seem like an odd thing to do, but you learn a lot about a place from it's cemeteries, and they're open every day! Have a dig about (pun intended) and find the Jewish section, and the Catholic section (lots of nuns and Jesuit priests). I understand that the cemetery is working on a guided walk, but I don't think it's ready yet, so just wander. It's close to town and within strolling distance of everything.

9. Get some Culture
Adelaide's North Terrace has something for everyone. The Art Gallery has a great permanent collection of classical, contemporary and Indigenous art, and usually has at least two touring exhibits on at any time, at the moment they have one on Indigenous dessert artists. The SA Musuem has all of the usual contenders, but also has a new Biodiversity Gallery, you can walk in the footsteps of Douglas Mawson and check out his Arctic hut and marvel at the old world kookiness of the Egyptian Gallery, including mummies. Make sure the kids checkout the lion in the entry. Wait for his tail to flick and scare the living daylights out of them. Just next door is the Migration Museum, which has a great collection of artifacts from all of the people who have contributed to making South Australia what it is today. Their community gallery features a changing collection of exhibits, produced in collaboration with Adelaide's different ethic communities.

10. Get Wet
Heard that the waters of SA are full of sharks? Well - they are. Lovely to walk along but sometimes dangerous to get in. If you're swimming in the sea, please, make sure you swim between the flags at a patrolled beach as they will have a shark patrol. If you'd like to get into the water, but fancy going home with all of your limbs, Adelaide has some great swimming pools. The North Adelaide Aquatic Center is indoors and has a range of pools for those intending on doing the laps, or those who just want a paddle. On some days the dive board is also open to amateur bellyfloppers. If you'd like something out doors, and a little more sedate many councils operate swimming pools. My suggestions are Unley, Hazelwood Park and Marion.

There you go. If that doesn't keep you amused for two days when the shops are closed I don't know what will. If you're reading this, now or ever, and think you'd like to check out one of these places, please ring first to check opening hours, current exhibitions and prices.

If you're reading this and you're from the SATC you can contact me through this blog to let me know where to send the invoice.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

a tour of chez-bhg

Whilst tidying up so that I can do the floors, I realised you could do a tour of my house, and my life, through shoes. All of these photos were taken in the last 10 minutes – i.e. these shoes were already here, I didn't put them down for the purpose of this post.

Please also note the first sentence. I am about to clean my floors. This is as bad as it gets. Also note, it's molting season for my three cats....

So, welcome inside. If you've been out riding, please leave your shoes at the door. The cleats can damage the floorboards

Just inside is where you leave the shoes you put on when you go to take the bins out, or breakup late night cat fights.
To your right, you'll find the lounge room. A place to relax and take your shoes off after a long day at work, or a walk up the hill.

These purple shoes are the ones I wear in the garden, and around the house. They're so comfortable, but unfortunately too dirty for proper company. The pair underneath are also very comfy and together they form a nice group of dangerous Australian aquatic life, cros and sharks.

I was going to wear these ones out to breakfast today, but couldn't find the other, so this poor lonely shoe was abandoned on the couch.

Before we continue to the tour, maybe you need to use the facilities? Of course here's the answer to age old dilemma of when you get home late at night and you can't work out what you want to do more - pee or take your shoes off.

From here we move to the bedroom - always a hiding place for many an abandoned pair of shoes. I got this pair on a trip to Rome about six years ago - so they're my Roman Sandals

This one was lost behind one of my speakers. Very old and shabby but very comfortable.

These are hand embroidered, but so old, they're covered with dust and have a loose piece of bubble wrap sitting on top of them.

Finally, we make our way into the kitchen for a cuppa. Take your shoes off, make yourself at home.

And these are the ones I had on when I was taking the photos. They are now sitting on the floor of the study as I type this. Which as turned out quite nicely as the typing has formed a distraction from cleaning the floors, which means that I can leave the shoes there a little longer.

All together - fourteen pairs.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

life is pretty good

I went to a gig last night. Years ago that would be have a standard Saturday night out, these days – it's extraordinary.

Good mate Princess and I went to see the Charlatans, who have been in my life almost as long as I've been an adult, with their stonking track The Only One I Know* coming out the year I turned 18 (go on, do the maths). When I lived in the UK my flat mate, Geordie, and all round party girl Debs and I had it bad for Mr Tim Burgess, and I was kinda wishing I was able to be with her to see them play. All in all it's probably a good thing Debs didn't make the trip from her cosy house in Tyne-on-Wear. The band looked old. The band looked bored. And not long after so did I. And Princess too. I leaned over and said 'I'm happy to go back to the Worlds End for a pint if you'd rather'. She rathered. She also said it looked like Mr Burgess had taken a particularly strong trip in about 1991 and had never come down from it. Too bad it didn't get them bouncing off the walls. I didn't get to hear Only One I Know, but I was sure it would be an encore and I just couldn't be bothered waiting around that long.

So we did go back to the Worlds End, where we'd eaten before the show (tip: Saturday night is $15 parmie and pint night, and very nice it was too). These days I'm nearly 40 and Princess has two kids under the age of three, so late Saturday nights at the boozer are not a common event for us. This venue used to be a semi-regular haunt for us when we were young and on the streets, and the clientele has certainly changed, but that's probably for a future post on the death of feminism....

This evening, and conversations with some of more-academically minded friends have made something apparent to me. In my early twenties my successful, academically minded friends were nose-down-bum-up, hard at study and focused on where they were going. I on the other hand, was hanging around at gigs and drinking waaaay to much beer with musos, roadies and groupies. Hence me slogging at a Masters degree in my 40s, while many of my friends had PhDs under the belts in their mid twenties.

Would I change it? Hell no. As Princess said, quite out the blue - we've done some good stuff in our lives, haven't we. This was sort of phrased in a "we're old and boring now, but..." kind of way. But it was 9.30 and we were both tipsy on our fifth beer and ready for home, so I knew what she meant. Princess and I have travelled Australia and the world together, been in at least three share houses together, laughed, cried, and held each other's hair while we were throwing up. We can also fight like no other friends can.

She's right tho, between us we have:
  • gone to school in France
  • lived in a small village in rural China
  • built an orphanage in Kenya (not single handed though!)
  • shared a lift with Nick Cave
  • lived through hepatitis and malaria (one a piece)
  • danced in precariously high heals to Robbie Williams with the cutest boy on the floor
  • done tray after tray of shots in those horrible sticky, plastic shooter glasses
  • ridden cycles and vespas to exciting locales
  • woken up with the rhythm section of the support act asleep on our lounge floor
  • picked up the lead singer of strange country-ska acts
  • done countless all night sessions of Donkey Kong Country
  • got some of the best tattoos in town, from the best tattoo artists in town
  • eaten BBQ'd chicken hearts on the silk route
  • SCUBA dived, parachuted and paraglided
  • ended up homeless on the streets of Athens
  • bargained for carpets whilst drinking endless cups of tea in Varanasi
to name just a few.

And last night we got caught up in a friendly street tussle with the Hilltop Hoods.

Yep, it's been a good life.

* it should be noted that this stonking dance floor favourite is now being used to flog chocolate.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

exciting things are happening

What's been happening? I already told you - exciting things. There have been some non-exciting things too. I'm not going to the IAA conference in Tasmania next month (no leave, no cash). In fact the no cash thing is pretty much the most unexciting thing in my life, making the very act of eating a financial decision - can I afford to eat that? The answer, usually, is probably not.

But why so cash-strapped BHG? Glad you asked. It has to do with - exciting things!

Exciting Thing Number One
And expensive thing number one. Flights booked.

After boring everyone with my plans to spend my fortieth in Greece next year, I've put my money where my boring is and booked. Actually I booked for three. The other two will come back to me, but not for a while, so Exciting Thing Number One has made me very very poor. But excited

Of course, I have also booked rooms and bought guide books, so the guide orgy has begun. Bus schedules, hotel prices, museum opening hours, I can quote you the lot!

Exciting Thing Number Two
Ethics granted.

Mercy lordy, this has been a hard and bloody slog. Hundreds of pages of forms, and other forms, and extra questions and comments called for. I understand that ethics are important, but it's like a job application - the same questions asked a thousand times in a different format. My university also also famous for, amongst other things, producing the most god-awful, unusable, badly formatted forms known to god. This particular one is a the pinnacle of bad design unfortunately.

But, it's over now and the permission seeking stage has begun!

Exciting Thing Number Three
It's a little bit sunny. I don't like really sunny, but this is OK. I still need a jacket on inside, but the laundry's dry, the cats and warm and snuggly and ready to have their tummies kissed, and outdoor eating is upon us.

So, I feel it's time to mark Exciting Thing Number One with a Greek lunch. Which means a couple of hours away from the methodology chapter to write out the invites. Like I said, exciting things.

Exciting Thing Number Four
My mummy comes home next weekend.

Over and out.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I dream of themes

It is well documented that I am lazy. Bone lazy. Actually, that's not technically true. More, that I like to do what I like to do. mmmmm.... what do I like to do?:
  • sleep
  • eat dumplings
  • scour for old Blur videos
  • write
And write this sort of stuff, truth be known. Not writing theses, trying to make a lot out of not very much at all. And recently it's turned me into a bit of a social networker (in an attempt to write what I want and not what I should. There's this blog. And a couple of others. And facebook. And more recently Twitter. I've bagged twitter very much for a very long time, but now it turns out I quite like it. I have no followers except for Dr Space Junk - so go and find me and follow me now. oooooooo.... how I long for approval.

And all of this tweeting, and blogging and stuff has drawn my attention to one thing - I'm not writing the stuff I like to write and writing the thesis is actually distracting me for the stuff I really like to do, and that's Interpretation.

And how did I get on this roller-coaster of unemployability** I hear you ask... well, here's the story.

One day, dunno about four years ago, I was at my desk as a state government employed events manager. It was OK, the events weren't big and I got to hob-knob it with those in the art world from time-to-time. But in government you have to do PD (professional development) with clockwork like precision. And one eventually runs out of things in which to develop oneself. So I googled 'events professional development', and up popped a little university run events course. Not that I though that much about it, it was just another tick in a bureaucratic box for me, so I rang to enquire.

Now, I ended up talking not to the events guy (now known as Brown Steve), instead I got JJ. JJ could sell ice to the penguins. I rang up to enquire about 3 days of PD, and by the end of the call I was enrolled in a Masters degree. No - really. She's that good. I tell this story sometimes as part of my introduction during workshops and people think I'm making it up. But part of this degree was another 3-day workshop on Interpretation, which I had never heard about and if you'd asked me I would have thought it was something about languages.

Hooked. Instantly hooked.

I was like someone had turned a light on inside me, and I saw the world in a whole new way.

And so I am here, writing the thesis, and really wishing I was writing interpretation. And recently I've been tweeting about interp, and reading interp blogs, and posting things about interp (like the dollar bill post below) and just dying to write something creative.


And this is another little tit-bit that I got from IBD (and which you can also see on the Kulula airlines website).

As IBD point out, this is hardly the height of sophistication, but by-golly-by-jim, it caught my eye and made me giggle (and now I'm writing about it, so it must have worked). Maybe it's the references to Dead Poet's Society – which is actually a reference to Walt Whitman – or maybe it's because I have always had an affinity to airlines because of my beloved Uncle John.

Speaking of Uncle John, I get to see him in Greece next year. For my fortieth birthday party. For which I am on the verge of booking flights.

I'm sure there's a theme in there somewhere, dying to get out.

** like degrees in Classics and Archaeology in the 1990s didn't make me unemployable enough!!