Sunday, November 7, 2010

Book launching a go

My little food guide celebrated its third edition just this Friday, 5th November 2010. Like all good book launches before, it was backed by a supportive crew of booksellers at Avid Reader. An interested audience came along and an interesting foodie panel discussed, well, food and coffee! The fabulous duo, Margaret Connolly (on violin)and Dorothy Williams (contralto singer) entertained us with Black Coffee and One Meatball. I had a food and travel writer (Karen Reyment also wrote the foreword to my book), baker-food blogger (Julia Tuomainen), food journalist (Natascha Mirosch), cooking school/food tour operator (Sally Lynch) and a fantastic barista (Ben Graham).

What a great window display - thanks Avid crew!

The foodie panel at work

More foodie panel.

M & D doing their thing.

In the year of writing the guide, getting caught up in the craze of MasterChef and other food-related madness - one thing always disturbed me. The fact that while a large percentage of Brisbanites are gorging on food in every way possible, a growing percentage of people are increasingly left with nothing or not enough to eat.

About 14 years ago I decided to have a meal in a soup kitchen in Sydney. It was an experiment for my writing. What I didn't expect was that the experience left me completely humbled. I walked away feeling ashamed of my excesses even though I was a uni student then surviving on using past use-by-date milk and two minute noodles. That soup kitchen meal has never left me. I was lucky to stumble on Mama Rene's charity recently. The charity is locally run by a Pastor John Dowell. They run a mobile soup kitchen and grocery distribution from a carpark in Spring Hill and have other operations down on the Gold Coast and other suburbs around Brisbane. They don't turn anybody away - individuals that need a hot meal and groceries are welcome. For my third book launch, I had a fundraiser event for Mama Rene's. Daniel and Tina are two very hardworking and generous souls from Mama Rene's who came and spoke to the audience about the work they do for the homeless. Together we raised a neat amount of funds that I hope will help them. So thank you to all who generously donated their time and money on Friday night. The money will be put to good use I am sure of it.

The queue lining up for groceries on a rainy night in a Spring Hill carpark.

Those who want to check out what Mama Rene's website can go to

For delicious baking check out

For budding travel and food writers

Food journo's foodie adventures check out

Coffee lovers drink this up

Brush up on your cooking skills?

Intrepid foodies who want a copy of my book go to

Below is a short piece I wrote all those years ago about the soup kitchen I ate in.

Meanwhile on the other side of Chinatown

It was the sign that did it. It read Free Meals – All Welcome!

The soured smells of old men with bags for hats and cans for cash hang in the air. In the dead of winter, a bare-chested man with a leather jacket sits hunched up rolling cigarettes while he waits for his four course meal. He has rings for knuckles and sunglasses for eyes. The leather man shreds bread as if feeding pigeons, scattering crumbs into his dishwater soup. He waits for the bread to suck up the hot soup, waits patiently for them to plump up into wheaten dumplings before gulping them down greedily.

Another man, more decrepit, holds two slices of bread in his left hand spoons soup slowly and meticulously into his mouth. He has a plastic bag for a bib and looking a little like a displaced cricket player, sports a smear of sunscreen on his forehead and above his eyes. His hand luggage is a swagger of plastic bags. Bags within bags. The balloon of bags rustle as they rub against his body. Huge rubber bands clump together around his shoes to keep him from losing the sole from the rest of his shoe. His hands shake.

A toothless old man with a brown hat and a brown jumper stares at the men inside and the other men stare at his brand new shoes. The toothless man leaves almost immediately after he finishes his meal. He is uncomfortable. He eyes the men as he walks out, his brand new shoes squeaking and clicking under him.

Pictures of Jesus and Mary loom overhead together with cardboard cut-outs of the Easter bunny. The volunteers all stand around in plastic aprons, strangely grim, all of them with beards. An older volunteer suggests to the leather man that perhaps he should say grace. The volunteer and the leather man both break out in laughter. Leather man is obviously a regular.

Skinless sausages with gritty gravy is on the menu. Dishwater soup with bloated vermicelli, a floret of cauliflower, a spoonful of spinach, a small serving of boiled pumpkin, a handful of mushy chips on the side also feature on the menu. The basket of soy and linseed bread is a nice surprise. It sits there on the communal table – touched by all hands. Hands that have rifled through old newspapers. Hands that have dug into rubbish bins for edible scraps the night before. The fruit salad is close to fermenting as it sits in the plastic container. The old men imagine fermenting grapes turning into wine before squashing the rotting grapes and mandarins down their throats.

A child and his mother pass by the soup kitchen and the boy yells out to his mother that there are free meals here. The mother pulls her child away and chastises him that this is no place to eat. No place for them to eat.

The old man with the two slices of bread in his hand gnaws at his bread, obviously leaving the best for last. He fastens his plastic bag bib, brings the plastic bowl to his lips and drinks every last drop, mops up sausage gravy and swallows every grape seed and savours the hot tea. This is a place where homeless men and women break bread, eat like it is their last meal. This is also a place where the arrogant are humbled.