Dawn XXXIII by Sabine Marcelis, currently part of the NGV Triennial
It's a bit nonsensical to put the words best and 2020 in the same title. In January 2020 Victoria experienced catastrophic bushfires and Melbourne was engulfed in smoke; the mood was apocalyptic and I didn't have the heart to blog at all. Little more than a month later we were plunged into pandemic lockdown, and it has driven our choices ever since.
It's meant that we've depended more than ever on home cooking. We've always lived close to the supermarket and stopped in every couple of days, rarely planning further ahead than what we felt like for our next dinner. This year we shifted to shopping just once per week, and found that we can easily carry supplies on foot between the two of us, ideally escaping the crowds and having it all packed away before working from home on a weekday. It's been safer, it's taken up less head space, and it still actually serves my eating whims well enough. I hope to keep it up.
A Singaporean 'fish' curry
Home cooking has been big on comfort food. We've been making lots of old favourites again and again. New favourites entering our where's the best? page include Rachel Ama's peanut stew, a roasted tomato and white bean stew, pastitsio, a Singaporean curry, and an over-the-top cornbread. A welcome distraction during Melbourne's first lockdown was working through the recipes in my Lab Farewell Cookbook, and I completed them all by the end of May. It was a bright spot in my day to send notes and photos to the recipe givers, and ask how they were coping at home.
These recipes also got me in the habit of baking cakes, which we'd slowly ration out across the week, and I continued baking through much of the year. I've picked out the pre-COVID Brunsli chocolate cookies and mid-winter red velvet cookie sandwiches as the best of the bunch. As Melbourne has warmed up and tentatively opened up I've been revelling in picnics. They've often just involved convenience foods, but when I had the energy I was also proud to share around a blueberry and cream cheese crostata, and most recently some raspberry ripe cups.
A red velvet cookie sandwich
We ordered takeaway food about once a week. Old faves Mankoushe, Bhang, Origin Tales and Vegie Mum were on regular rotation. I followed through my vow to explore Brother Bon's menu via home delivery, and I'm looking forward to visiting them on site again soon. We tried and loved Green Acre Pizza and Jaen Jumah for the first (and second, and third...) time. We've been eating out a little this summer, but haven't yet figured out the extent of restaurant closures around Melbourne. East Elevation no longer seems to be running as a cafe (but remains a function venue), and Samba's Jhol Momo has been replaced by Luther's Scoops.
The world has changed in 2020. For us, food has been a comfort and a distraction, a way of showing care for each other, a way to remember people and places, and most recently a way of reconnecting with friends and family face-to-face. Though our posts are less prolific with each passing year, we still intend to check in to share the foods that bring us joy.
Optical (tinted) by Stuart Haygarth, currently part of the NGV Triennial