Turning Can’t into Vegan Gluten Free Can-Do at Abitza Café in Upwey

We are all reluctantly familiar with the word ‘can’t’. Recently, I’ve had to incorporate a gluten-free element to my vegan diet, and the word ‘can’t’ is starting to emerge more in my travels. Food outlets are accommodating, but usually to a certain extent. I understand that, and I’m definitely not one to seek out special treatment. Though, now I need to for health reasons. A sunny drive into Upwey in Melbourne’s outer east meant a lunchtime stop to try out Abitza Café. There was word that vegan options are free-flowing here, except I wasn’t sure how many vegan gluten-free options would be available.

vegan gluten free lunch chai Abitza Cafe Upwey Melbourne

Stepping into Abitza is like arriving home. This converted shopfront is a little deceiving in the sense that there are a couple of cosy breakout rooms furnished by tables and chairs, a comfy couch and cushions. Before even taking a seat, we stand politely near the counter to discover we can choose a spot wherever we like and we’re encouraged to come back to the counter and order as we wish. Sue is warm, smiling and the matriarch of this calming whole foods café. Her warmth travels along to the acoustic tune from above; the soulful urban poetry of Tracy Chapman’s self-titled album.

Sue quickly showers us with glasses, a big vessel of water and unwavering hospitality. “Yes, we can do something for you,” she declares. After a little back-and-forth, I discover that my lunch choice – Vegan Burger – will be a vegan, chickpea and lentil burger (spiced lightly), potato chips, fresh garden salad and a serve of raw pumpkin salad and sided by vegan mayonnaise (all sans bread bun).

vegan gluten free lunch Abitza Cafe Upwey Melbourne

When we go without, we are blessed with what we get in return and I realise that Abitza Café is all about what it can do for its ‘amazing’ customers. No sooner am I feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude for Sue’s positive ethic, my chai tea arrives in front of me together with its own teeny-tiny bowl of cinnamon. I pinch some of this sweet-smelling spice and roll its scratchy fineness between my fingertips. I sprinkle this light brown powder over the cloud of soy milk froth then lift the cup to my lips as my nose catches that brief scent of cinnamon. The chai, made from scratch here at Abitza, is a melody of spice and sweetness without a need for added sugar. The gentle flow of warm, nourishing chai brings homely warmth to my body; this meal is going to be alright.     

vegan gluten free lunch burger Abitza Cafe Upwey Melbourne

My meal arrives with impeccable timing; within minutes of finishing my moment with a cup of Abitza’s chai tea. Finely chopped raw pumpkin salad is folded through a layer of fresh spinach, topped by sliced tomato and cucumber that’s speckled by a seeded dressing. A dollop of vegan mayonnaise tries to hide under my thickly cut chips. That’s what those chips are going to be dunked in before slicing through my wholesome chickpea burger. My vegan gluten-free burger is transformed into a filling lunch that sees me out through the rest of the afternoon.    

Be guided by Sue’s wholesome food and hospitality at Abitza Café, Healing and Giftware, 56-58 Main Street, Upwey, Victoria Australia 3156. Monday to Friday 7.30am to 5.00pm, Saturday 8.00am to 3.00pm, Sunday 9.00am to 2.00pm. Phone: 03 9754 6850.

Stay a little longer to enjoy Abitza’s book loan corner or buy a coffee for someone in need through Abitza’s suspended coffee program. Giftware is also available to purchase.

If you want to learn more about ‘suspended coffee’ you can read my earlier blog post.

Saying Welcome through Vegan Food at CERES Tamil Feasts

“Thank you for being with us. Your supporting us helps us to start a new life. You come to eat but that support is big things for us in Australia.” Nothing summarises Tamil Feasts at CERES any better than asylum seeker and cook Sri, as quoted from Facebook. I read this quote, as a warmness gathered within every cell of my being. I’ve attended the Tamil Feasts on Vegan and Vegetarian Night twice now and I’ve left on both occasions as if I’ve helped marginalised people living in limbo, in our community, achieve a small win.

Tamil Feasts CERES vegan vegetarian food Melbourne Australia

CERES Community Environment Park in Melbourne’s inner north-east is a non-profit sustainability hub over 4.5 hectares on Meri Creek. CERES engage in supporting environmental and green technology education, urban community projects and social enterprise. The grounds also host a community market, onsite café and grocery, community kitchen, permaculture and bush nursery. An organic, online supermarket brings CERES’ community spirit even closer to Melburnians living in outer areas around town. As the name spells out, this Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies aims to make social and environmental change through powerful means that only education can offer. Even the land on which CERES resides is traditional to Wurundjeri indigenous Australians. Merri Creek was the backbone to the Wurundjeri community – a spot to swim and play and, importantly, a vital source of food.

CERES Melbourne Australia vegan food

Through traditional meals served on a weekly basis, CERES hosts one social enterprise that has gained constructive momentum and community awareness – Tamil Feasts. Four Tamil men from Sri Lanka are currently seeking asylum here in Melbourne. Together, Sri, Nirma, Niro and Nigethan are being supported through Tamil Feasts. They prepare, cook Sri Lankan meals at the CERES Community Kitchen on Monday, Tuesday and Friday nights up to a maximum of 50 guests each night. It is a celebration of culture…and seriously delicious food! 

Tuesday’s vegetarian and vegan menu is packed with delicious traditional Tamil fare such as onion and spinach bhajji for starters, then eggplant and chickpea curry, garlic dhal (some of the best dhal I have ever eaten), spiced green bean curry, gotu kola (a Sri Lankan green salad of cabbage, bean sprout and broccoli), parsley salad and eggplant chutney, all served on a feast plate with rice jewelled with sultanas or roti. For dessert, gulab jamun is prepared for vegetarians while vegans like me swoon with every mouthful of payasam – a Tamil style sago pudding prepared with coconut milk. 

vegan food Melbourne Australia vegan CERES

But, it’s not just all about turning up and eating the delicious food on the menu; it’s ‘more than just a meal’. Tamil Feasts offers Sri, Nirma, Niro and Nigethan a platform on which they can share their culture and their experience while going through the paces of seeking asylum in Melbourne. Through community interaction, Sri, Nirma, Niro and Nigethan can continue their unpredictable journey with just a little less stress. Their authentic Tamil cuisine is an avenue these brave men travel along to help us – Melburnians – build tolerance and understanding while they await the decision of their permanent destination. Will they be granted asylum in Melbourne?

vegan food CERES Melbourne Australia

Over a banquet of starter, curries, and dessert, we are taken on a journey that transcends the viewpoint of tonight’s feasting guests that Sri, Nirma, Niro and Nigethan are welcome in Melbourne; in Australia. By supporting Tamil Feasts, we’re effectively declaring what has been in our hearts and minds all along: “I say welcome.”

Bookings for the CERES Tamil Feasts are essential and can be made via their website. $30 per person, $20 for kids and includes three courses. A bar is available and beer, wine and kombucha are available to purchase as priced on the night. The fourth Tuesday of each month is also dedicated to Spice Night.

Book here for Tuesday nights where you can book as vegan or vegetarian.

Takeaway containers of leftover meals can be purchased at $5 a container
or bring your own container to save on plastic waste for the same price

For more information, you can visit the CERES website.
CERES Community Environment Park, corner Roberts and Stewart Streets, Brunswick East Victoria Australia 3057 Phone: 03 9389 0100


Being an Urban Nomad is Easy and a Lonely Planet Best Of giveaway!

I’ve been travelling through the past few months in a topsy-turvy and unpredictable way. You could say I’ve been coasting along with no real game-plan or fixed address, a little like travel in many ways. While I’ve been living out of home due to home repairs and managing the daily life of work, writing, blogging and R&R, I’ve been living the life of an urban nomad (as explored in this previous post).

When we travel – whether it’s overseas or interstate – we as travellers can sometimes succumb to travel uncertainty. Where will I go today? Who will I meet on my journey? Will the journey be long or short? How will I get to my destination? Cities are amazing, in the sense that they provide us with the answers to our travel questions, transforming uncertainty into exhilaration.

Lonely Planet Best Of Barcelona 2017 travel
Lonely Planet Best Of London 2017 travel
Lonely Planet Best Of New York City 2017 travel

Cities are like anchors to balance us in our travel ambitions; there are nuggets of authentic experiences to discover, delicious local food to eat and amazing locals to meet before we trek further. Being an urban nomad in a city helps us to the build the travel courage we need so we can explore authentically. Then it’s just a matter of reeling in our anchors to travel further beyond the city limits.

So, how can we make the most of being an urban nomad? For me, research works – each and every time. Being an innate researcher, I am gathering my own nuggets of information constantly through reading, surfing the ‘net and brain-picking my friends. Though, we live in a time where time is limited and intimate knowledge may be scarce. This is where curated, up-to-date travel guides can give us as travellers a step-up in the research stakes; a trusty local secrets ‘share’ so we can leverage our authentic travelling experiences.

Lonely Planet has decided to meet our demands for authentic city travel knowledge by launching a series of ‘best of’ city-specific annual guides. Now, we have access to easy-to-pack city guides with the magnifying-glass focus on authentic experiences for the urban nomad in all of us.

Lonely Planet Best Of Paris 2017 travel
Lonely Planet Best Of Rome 2017 travel

It’s exciting to see these cities being spotlighted in their 2017 editions:

Best Of Barcelona – imagine roaming the cobblestone streets within Barcelona to discover the city’s culinary gems. There are even a few local tips for vegetarian travellers.

Best Of London – for those who are keen to back-track the heritage trail, experience edgy bars, backstreets filled with history and galleries, London is a prime city to start your UK journey. 

Best Of New York City – The city that never sleeps needs an energetic urban nomad to explore its round-the-clock surprises, from the rolling acres of Central Park to the gleaming surprises each turn can offer. Vegan and vegetarian travellers – there are some tips in here to keep you nourished along your way.

Best Of Paris – fall in love with this leafy city, and be captivated by the sights such as the Eiffel Tower alongside gothic-style points of interest while devouring all that Parisian cuisine this cosmopolitan has to offer.

Best Of Rome – Rome wasn’t built in a day and travellers can discover why. From the Sistine Chapel to the Roman ruins scattered around the city, there are centuries of history to explore, not to mention rich, local Italian food and experiences.

All Best Of guides are equipped with dedicated fold-out maps and a ‘survival guide’ so you can plot your individual journey while navigating language and local custom.


Can you see yourself being an urban nomad in one or all of these cities? Then, you’re in the running to win one of these five Lonely Planet Best Of guides!
I have one for each city to give away, with many thanks and gratitude to Lonely Planet.

For your chance to win, simply complete the entry form below. Choose which Best Of guide you’d like to win and tell me what an authentic travel experience means to you. Entries close at 9am on Friday, 21 October 2016. Full terms and conditions are below, too!


Name *
Terms & Conditions *
Fire & Tea newsletter

Terms and Conditions

1.    The Promoter is Fire & Tea (ABN 99 756 354 477).

2.    Information on how to enter and prizes forms part of the terms of entry. Entry into the competition is deemed acceptance of these terms and conditions.

3.    If there is any inconsistency between these Terms and Conditions and anything else that refers to this competition, these Terms and Conditions will prevail.      

4.    Entry is open to all readers of Fire & Tea.

5.    The competition commences at 9.00am AEDT on Friday, 7 October 2016 and concludes at 5pm AEDT on Friday, 21 October 21 2016. Entries must be received by the Promoter prior to the competition close date and time.

6.    The time of entry will in each case be the time the online entry is received by the Promoter’s database, not at the time of transmission by the entrant.

7.    The Promoter accepts no responsibility for any late, lost or misdirected entries including entries not received by the Promoter or delays in the delivery of the entry due to technical disruptions, network congestion or for any other reason. Entry via computer generation and not attributable to a valid phone account is invalid and will not be accepted.

8.    Entrants may enter the competition by visiting the It’s Easy to be ab Urban Nomad blog post at www.fireandtea.com and completing the entry form including (but not limited to) full name, postal address and email address. The cost of accessing the promotion website will be dependent on the entrant’s Internet Service Provider.

9.    Any entry that is made on behalf of an entrant by a third party will be invalid, unless the entrant requires the assistance of a third party to enter due to a disability.

10.  The Promoter reserves the right to disqualify any entrant who tampers with the entry process, who submits an entry that is not in accordance with these Terms & Conditions of Entry or who has, in the opinion of Promoter, engaged in conduct in entering the Promotion which is fraudulent, misleading, deceptive or generally damaging to the goodwill or reputation of the Promotion and/or Promoter. This includes, but not limited, to entrants and households using multiple email addresses, postal addresses, PO Box addresses or SIM cards to register single or multiple purchases.

11.  Only one entry per person. Multiple entries submitted by one person will be deemed invalid.

12.  The winners will be the first five valid entries submitted in accordance with these terms and conditions that is drawn by random computer selection at 5.30pm AEDT on Friday, 21 October 2016 at Fire & Tea’s residential address.

13.  The Promoter’s decision is final and the Promoter will not enter into correspondence regarding the competition result or any other decisions the Promoter makes in connection with the Promotion.

14.  The winners will be notified by email as soon as possible after the draw and prizes will be posted out to winners within three days of the draw.

15.  Prizes will be awarded to person named in the entry. However, in a dispute, will be awarded to the account holder of the entry mechanism used to submit their entry (i.e. mobile phone account holder or land line account holder).

16.  Should an entrant’s contact details change during the promotional period, it is the entrant’s responsibility to notify the Promoter. A request to access or modify any information provided in an entry should be directed to the Promoter.

17.  Individual prize value is up to AUD$30 (including GST). Total prize pool value is up to AUD$150 (including GST) as at Wednesday, 7 September 2016.

18.  Prize values are based upon the recommended retail prices at the time of publication (inclusive of GST). The Promoter accepts no responsibility for change in prize value between now and the ultimate prize redemption date.

19.  Five (5) prize winners will receive a Lonely Planet’s Best Of Guide 2017 of their choice. Choices include Barcelona, London, New York City, Paris or Rome.

20.  Prizes cannot be transferred, exchanged or redeemed for cash.

21.  It is a condition of accepting the prize that the winner must comply with all the conditions of use of the prize and the prize supplier’s requirements. Winners should check passes for full terms and conditions. It is the responsibility of the winner to confirm such conditions with the prize supplier or other relevant third parties.

22.  Once awarded, the Promoter is not liable for any prize that has been lost, stolen, forged, damaged or tampered with in any way.

23.  Subject to complying with all relevant legislation, the Promoter reserves the right to amend, cancel or suspend this competition if an event beyond the control of the Promoter corrupts or affect the administration security, fairness, integrity or proper conduct of the competition. The Promoter will disqualify any individual who has tampered with the entry process or any other aspect of this competition.

24.  The Promoter and their associated agencies and companies assume no responsibility for any error, omission, interruption, deletion, defect, delay in operation or transmission, communications line failure, theft or destruction or unauthorised access to, or alteration of entries, and reserves the right to take any action that may be available.

25.  If for any reason this competition is not capable of running as planned, including due to infection by computer virus, bugs, tampering, unauthorised intervention, fraud, technical failures or any causes beyond the control of the Promoter, which corrupt or affect the administration, security, fairness or integrity or proper conduct of this promotion, the Promoter reserves the right in its sole discretion to disqualify any individual who tampers with the entry process, take any action that may be available, and to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend the competition, subject to any direction given under State Regulation.

26.  Entrants are responsible for any cost associated with accessing the promotional website. Access to that site is dependent on the Internet service provider.

27.  If an entrant uses any form of software or third party application to enter multiple times (including scripting software), organises for a third party to enter on their behalf in breach of these terms and conditions or enters using incorrect contact details, his or her entry will be deemed invalid. If such an entrant wins a prize, the entrant must immediately return the prize to the Promoter. The Promoter has sole discretion to determine whether an entrant has breached this clause. The Promoter reserves the right to request whatever documentation it deems necessary to confirm whether an entrant has breached this clause. Entrants must provide whatever documents the Promoter requires upon request.

28.  The Promoter will make reasonable efforts to deliver prizes to the addresses provided by competition entrants. If a prize is returned to the Promoter because it could not be delivered to the address provided, the Promoter cannot guarantee that it will be able to resend the prize to the prize winner. The Promoter and its associated agencies and companies will not be liable for any damage to or delay in transit of prizes.

29.  The Promoter reserves the right to redraw the prize if an entrant who claims to be a prize winner is unable to satisfy these terms and conditions.

30.  The Promoter reserves the right in its sole discretion to disqualify any individual who the Promoter has reason to believe has breached any of these conditions, or engaged in any unlawful or other improper misconduct calculated to jeopardise the fair and proper conduct of the promotion. The Promoter’s legal rights to recover damages or other compensation from such an offender are reserved.

31.  All entries become the property of the Promoter. The Promoter collects personal information about you for the purposes of conducting this promotion. Any disclosure of such information will be made as required by law and in accordance with these terms and conditions but no further use of this information will be made without prior consent.

Mapping Out a Vegan Foodie Tour of Inner City Sydney

Inner city Sydney has an insatiable appetite for vegan foodie locales, from the likes of eclectic Newtown, to the alternative digs in Enmore and the outer rim of Sydney’s central business district; all within walking and accessible by quick and affordable public transport. The day’s stock-standard three meals are covered for any traveller, though inner city Sydney’s established vegan scene covers all the in-betweens, too.

When travelling to Sydney, vegan foodies must travel the extra ‘mile’ or so to experience all the vegan goodness that these foodie destinations have to offer. It’s not about where to go; it’s a matter of where to start! Here are my recommendations – all tried and tested – so you can spend a couple of days mapping out your own vegan foodie tour of inner city Sydney. 

Lazy Vegan Brunches and Lunches

It’s the last place you want to see ‘butcher’ in print, but Suzy Spoons Vegetarian Butcher proudly claim the word in a compassionate light. I recommend heading there for an early-ish breakfast/brunch so you can keep travelling and eating later in the day. Vegan sausages, pepperoni, rashers, patties and roasts can be purchased here, though stay longer and order a fry-up of cauliflower and kale sausage, hash-browns, toast, grilled tomato and wilted spinach. Suzy Spoons will have you powering for the morning.     

Bliss & Chips fish and chips Sydney Australia vegan food travel

I never thought I would ever be eating vegan ‘fish’ and chips. It’s a reality at Bliss & Chips, where you can choose from ‘fish’ burgers, various deep-fried ‘seafood’ sides such as ‘crabsticks’ and ‘calamari’. Or, be a traditionalist and order a bliss and chips pack, a ‘fish’ fillet resting on a bed of crispy chips, pot of tartare sauce and lemon wedge. Just don’t go past a serve of crunchy sweet potato cakes (that’s scallops to Sydneysiders). Drinks and salads stand at the ready as well.   

Dining Out for Vegan Dinner

Golden Lotus is a 100% all-vegan Vietnamese restaurant with all your favourite authentic Vietnamese flavours…and then some! This vegan Vietnamese dinner destination prides itself on fresh and healthy meals, accentuated by vermicelli noodle salad and Saigon fried spring rolls. Serve up all your dishes with brown and white broken rice, then finish up with a dessert serving of banana rolls with coconut cream and soy icecream.  

Golden Lotus Vietnamese Sydney Australia vegan food travel Newtown

The crowning glory of any vegan visit to King Street (nicknamed ‘Eat Street’) in Newtown requires a mandatory sitting at Gigi Pizzeria – all Italian pizzeria that has recently converted to an all-vegan experience. Though, this comes with a warning. Get in early, because you can’t book! Once you do secure a table, make your choices quick and swift, such as authentic Napoli flavours served up in crocchette di patate (almond coated potato croquettes), rucola mele e canella (salad of rocket, roasted apple, radicchio and pistachio) and a pizze handmade to strict Napoli traditions, then stone-roasted in a wood-fired oven. Specials are available daily though leave enough room for the incredible vegan dessert selection. My tip? Don’t stop at one – chocolate custard cannoli, and the classic tiramisu di Gigi. Bellissimo!     

Gigi Pizzeria Sydney Newtown Australia vegan food travel

Delectable Vegan Sweets and Treats

Gelato Blue is a gelato and espresso bar transformed into an all-vegan gelato destination. Almost every gelato flavour has been considered, such as Carrot Cake, Vanilla Panna Cotta, Espresso Swirl, and Caramelised Fig bringing to walk-up customers a freezer cabinet bursting with house-made gelato. Free taste tests are available, too! Vegan waffle cones can be loaded with up to three scoops. Or, try a sundae, loaded with your gelato choices, and topped by a waffle cone, crushed peanuts and dripping with melted Belgian chocolate. And, then there's the vegan cake cabinet...

Gelato Blue Sydney Australia vegan food travel

Doughnut Time isn't an exclusively vegetarian/vegan doughnut destination, yet they do stock a couple of delicious vegan doughnuts. Going by their tagline, it's 'always a good time' when you can find a blueberry jam-filled, sugar-coated doughnut. It's aptly named Blue Ivy. Oozing jam as you bite into one of these soft and fluffy rounds is assured.

Sadhana Kitchen Sydney Australia vegan food travel

If plant-based, organic and raw vegan is your fancy, head towards Enmore for Sadhana Kitchen (a quick walk from heart of Newtown, actually). Ask for a slice of Sadhana’s daily cabinet special, such as their homemade mango vegan cheesecake then partner it with a gorgeous beverage as you sit at one of their warm wooden benches.  

Have you visited Sydney's vegan foodie destinations? Or, have you experienced one that wasn't listed in this round-up? I'd love to hear about your vegan eating travels in Sydney. Perhaps, this post has inspired you to go, as a vegan first-timer?

How to Fit More Green Time into your Life

When you think of ‘green time’, what thoughts come to mind? Are you drawn to the colour green in your mind? Are you seduced by the view of your garden through a window or a forest from a bus? Or, do you feel a compelling urge to reach for colouring pencils or a paint brush? For me, green time is the important ritual of listening to myself then searching for the green, mindfully, that exists beyond the comforts of the indoors. Then, how do I fit it in to my life?

green time, nature, travel, walking, switch off, travel tips

Start by shouting a resounding ‘NO’!
Being trapped indoors, gripped by daily deadlines, demanding bouts of screen time or being bombarded by the demands of daily life all drain my energy reserves eventually. The opportunity to refuel each day can sometimes slip away from me. So, there are times when I have to stamp my foot down and shout a resounding ‘NO’ when demands become too demanding. For me, saying ‘no’ is what I’ve discovered to be as saying ‘YES’ to myself. What good am I to my writing, my work, family and friends if I’m not functioning well? That’s when my ‘green time’ starts. The skill is to know when you need to say ‘no’. Learn to listen to your inner voice. What is it saying to you about your inner state? Do you need a break? Do you need to recuperate?   

Switch off and tune in with the within
It seems almost impossible in this life to switch off. Notice, I said ‘almost’? Start with your conscious ability to switch off like switching off that phone, tablet, laptop and PC. Have you ever gone out for a few hours without your phone? I recommend you try it. Then, choose how you’re going to spend those couple of hours – device-free.

green time, travel, travel tips, nature

Choose an outdoor activity that’s right for you
My easiest go-to activity is walking. Walking has been my foundation exercise for years, even during the hardest times in my life when I could barely walk due to exhaustion, sickness, or chronic stress. No matter how far I walked during those times, I realised that my energy was gaining on me step by step. I was breathing in pure, fresh air, the momentum of my stride made me feel I was in flow and my surroundings rejuvenated me. I’m grateful that I have a gorgeous view of the Dandenong Ranges at the top of my street – the pinnacle of my daily walks.

Now, much stronger and energised and feeling the most alive I have ever been, I’m considering running. For now, long-distance walking and newfound yoga classes are further increasing my strengths in which to try running. Is walking your thing too? You can also mix it up with a walk with a friend, changing the location of your walk or going for an extended walk in nature that will take you a couple of hours.

green time, nature, travel, travel tips, switch off

Take advantage of long weekends and annual leave by travelling
Long weekends and annual leave are your tickets to holiday time. Choose a destination you always wanted to visit and book it! Or, start a savings fund in order to pay for your break away. Before you leave, research the activities you want to engage in – walking trails, day-trips to a forest, beach or local national parks, or even exploring local restaurants to try vegan, plant-based food. If you like to volunteer is there a reputable animal sanctuary where you can dedicate some of your time while embracing your love of animals and nature? Or, is there a goal you wish to achieve? For me, this came as a hike over four days in Tasmania earlier this year.

Your green time is in your hands. All it starts with is a ‘no’ to your demanding world, then a ‘yes’ to yourself. Only then, you can embrace your inner yes to leverage your chances at green time. If anything, consider it as a basic, primal need to your survival.

How do you fit the green time you need into your life? I'd love to hear about how you achieve your time back to nature, or the rituals of which you abide by. I'd love to hear your stories about how you say no, then yes, too!

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