Puffer, thermals, layers, stew: How a girl from the tropics learned to survive Melbourne winter
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It’s not yet officially winter. But Mother Nature insists it is. Melbourne began the month with its coldest May weekend in 23 years. There was widespread rain, hail and snow. It seems like we skipped autumn altogether.
The single-digit temperatures have arrived. It means waking up to 6- or 7-degree mornings and rugging up. As I bundle up to walk the dog in my long puffer coat, scarf, beanie and thermals, there they are – the hardy Melbourne men in shorts and a thin sweatshirt.
Brace yourself: Melbourne winter seems to have arrived early.Credit: Jason South
Surely, I am overdressed. But this island girl was born in the tropical climate of the Philippines where the mean annual temperature is 26 degrees. But as I write this, it is a scorching 42 degrees in Manila. I’ve never experienced 40-degree days there in my childhood. Climate change is real.
I’ve had my fair share of winters when living in Massachusetts, where I didn’t see the soil from late November until late April, or even May. It is covered in snow or slush. I’ve also endured Hong Kong’s windy winter months and visited Bhutan, on the Himalayas’ eastern edge. But given a choice, I avoid the cold.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Melbourne. And its winters are mild compared to most parts of the world. But once that cold wind blows and the temperature plummets, Melbourne melancholy hits me.
The biting wind on my face and the overcast days, I wonder how many winters more I can survive. I count the number of days until spring. My friend Mia takes a more practical approach and keeps her eyes open for wool thermals on sale.
Having survived three winters in Melbourne, this is what this island girl has learnt so far:
First, invest in a good winter coat. I prefer a long puffer coat as it keeps me dry on rainy days, and a longer coat keeps your bum warm. Arm yourself with gloves and fleece earmuffs or headbands. My hands and ears are first to get cold. Buy a few scarves to keep your neck warm. Layer up. Don’t forget to invest in gumboots to keep your toes dry and warm.
Invest in thermals to keep you toasty. My joy this winter is having new cosy fleece pyjamas and soft fluffy loungewear. For years, I have resisted the very unflattering oversized fleece hoodies. This winter, I finally embraced comfort over fashion. Oh, what a joy it was this morning to celebrate the 6-degree morning cuddling my dog, cosy in my Oodie knockoff.
Second, celebrate winter with hot warming dishes. Australians love roasting meat. It doesn’t come naturally in my culture. But last year, I realised I didn’t enjoy winter because I didn’t know how to cook winter dishes. It’s all about cooking stews, soups, and roasts.
Maida Pineda keeps warm in a long puffer jacket and scarf.
In the Philippines, when typhoons hit us and school is called off, we celebrate with champorado, a chocolate rice porridge for breakfast eaten with fried salted fish. Think sweet and salty contrasts. We eat arroz caldo – chicken rice porridge with ginger – with a squeeze of calamansi on cooler days.
I cook these warming comfort dishes along with sinigang (a tamarind broth with fish, pork or beef and vegetables) eaten with steamed rice. This winter, I vow to learn more Australian winter dishes, using Victorian produce in season. I will also schedule a hotpot dinner with friends, the same way my Hong Kong crew celebrated winter every year.
Third, the colder months mean hunkering indoors. While the temptation to binge on Succession or MasterChef is real, it is a good time to embark on creative projects. For me, it means dusting off draft chapters of my third book and getting busy writing. It’s also a great time to catch up on the stack of books by your bedside. We are abundantly blessed in Melbourne with charming libraries to hole up in with the scent of old books.
Melbourne is not lacking in indoor creative entertainment like spending hours in the NGV or watching musicals like Once and & Juliet. There are also winter festivals like Rising, complete with an outdoor ice-skating rink, and Lightscape at the Botanic Gardens which are definitely worth leaving your house for. These spectacular light installations lifted my spirits last year.
The single-digit temperatures have arrived.Credit: Justin McManus
Fourth, keep moving. My Fitbit stats show a significant drop in steps each year during winter. Inversely, my weight spikes during the colder months. I move less and eat more. I blame the cold for my weight gain, lose the weight in the summer months, and repeat the cycle.
This winter, I vow to break the cycle and move more. Hello, gym, nice to meet you again. Living in the tropics, I could not see the point of hot yoga. But in the winter months, hot yoga is bliss!
Fifth, soak up the sun when you can. Melbourne’s fickle weather allows for sunny days. When you see it, go for a walk and enjoy the sun on your face. Vitamin D deficiency is real.
See your GP to check your levels. I’m considering buying a lightbox to lift my mood, boost my concentration, increase energy levels, get better sleep and beat seasonal affective disorder.
And if Melbourne’s winter still feels too long and cold, it’s perfectly alright to migrate north to Queensland for a few weeks.
Maida Pineda is a food and travel writer, author and has a Master of Arts in Gastronomy. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
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