Wednesday, April 21, 2010

An image to inspire

There is so much to adore about this ad - the typewriter, the cup and saucer, the fabric covered books, the cushion, not to mention the Karen Walker hat that featured in a previous post. If I lived in Sydney, it would surely lure me to the event it is advertising, 30 Days of Home and Entertaining. I am seeing yellow at every turn and loving it. Hope you're sharing the love. Stay tuned for the unveiling of my yellow chair (painting in progress).

Monday, April 19, 2010

The impossible demand

Hunt for the card at Typo and roses in a garden or florist near you. These beauties are from our wild bushes.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

No inner demons lurking in Geelong's Mr Hyde

On a Sunday lunch and stroll around Geelong, there is no doubt why they call this Victorian coastal city Sleepy Hollow. The eatery crowned Country Champ in The Age Cheap Eats guide is so quiet at 12.30pm that we laugh at ourselves for making a booking. Perhaps all the locals are still eating breakfast or prefer their own cooking. Oh well, it's their loss. The solitude at Mr Hyde allows us to explore the impressive historic bank building without inhibition.

In contrast to the light and airy feel of the main room, the two side rooms are darker, but more sophisticated than gloomy. A lamp casts a soft, golden light over the dark club lounges in one, and time in this space is sure to result in taking up whiskey and cigars. In the other, purple reigns. A wall of art deco mirrors and replica Philippe Starck Louis Ghost chairs add some design class but this is the less impressive of the rooms. I am enamoured by the huge chandelier and decorative ceiling in the main room. Bro #3 likens the pattern on the cornices to a continuous swastika. I prefer to see a Celtic influence but either way, it's nothing short of dashing and provides a fitting overhead from the grand chesterfield booth we settle into.

As for the food, it is friendlier than the surrounds may suggest. The Turkish pizzas had some stiff competition with recent visits to pizza supremos L'uccellino in Yarraville and Pizza Verde in Kyneton but it held up well. The tiger prawns got me.
Marinated tiger prawns, red pesto, sweet corn, coriander ($16.50).
Screaming Seeds Marrakesh spiced butternut pumpkin, Meredith goat's cheeese, fried sage ($15). Mmm, loving sage right now. I'm pleased as punch to have acquired a sage cutting this weekend from the Jan Juc clan's garden.

L-R: seared Istra chorizo and scallops, shaved fennel, garlic oil ($12.50), fried rough cut sweet potato, cumin salt, lime and dill mayonnaise ($9.50), pan flashed calamari strips, harissa spice, slow roasted garlic ($10.50). 

My pick of the mezze dishes is the scallops with delicious morsels of fennel sliding around them.

Geelong is lucky to have Mr Hyde but even with the accolades it has received, I'm not sure the locals realise what they have, or at least they didn't today. There is nothing like people to create atmosphere, if only there were more of them. Surely, they weren't all at the football?!

Mr Hyde on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 12, 2010

Le Menu

In life it is important to allow yourself to be excited by the little things, or at least feel a little inner glee at the things that make your heart sing. Sucessful people are passionate, or so it seems. And for passions to become passions, one must embrace them for yourself and disregard how they seem to others.

One thing I am passionate about is meal planning and the important correlation between this and food waste. Throwing away food makes me sick. It's a waste of money, time, resources and most of all, there are plenty of people in the world who could have enjoyed or at least appreciated it. After reading Angela's Ashes as a teen, I hammered my little brothers at the dinner table with stories of how hungry some children are. When they didn't eat their veges, at least I could console myself with the knowledge that their scraps were sustaining our chooks who gave us eggs in return. There is little room for chooks in my small yard so instead I plan a weekly menu and eat every scrap on my plate (warning: this can be bad for your waistline so learn to dish up reasonable portions).

Food waste is also disastrous for your carbon footprint. According to an article I read last October titled Sydneysiders 'dump food, degrade planet', decomposting food is a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions. Alarmingly, one is seven shopping bags purchased is thrown away uneaten.Can you believe that?

On shopping day, menu planning requires you to find out how many people will be home for dinner on each night of the week. It also requires checking what you do have in the fridge before you shop so that you don't end up with too much of something that will go off before you eat it.

On the positive side, you can look forward to not having to answer that much-asked question "what's for dinner?" because you'll have it all mapped out. Another plus can be having the meal started or even cooked by other members of the household who beat you home and look at what's on the menu. If you're worried that others don't know how to make that evening's dish, get into the habit of leaving your recipes on the bench each day (if they can read and follow instructions, they can cook!).

When I started planning our "menu" several years ago, I would hide it in the pantry for our eyes only. It seemed daggy in the way that it took away the spontaneity in the nightly routine. The biggest driver in creating the menu was to make life a little easier at the end of the day -coming home hungry, tired and stressed makes decision making difficult - but there is no denying that the other two drivers were saving money and waste. Rubbish and saving can both be yukky but the weekly menu is ingenious and very soon it moved to the fridge for the world to see.  Now I've moved it to a blackboard on the wall, mainly because I found a blackboard that makes my heart sing. So far I've written out three weekly menus and it has been fun to make like an old-school teacher putting chalk to blackboard. What do you think of 'Le Menu'?
Bistrot De Paris blackboard from Bed Bath N Table (03) 9654 7510

In life you have to do what makes you happy, or at least what gets you by.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A cup of happiness

The latest Sunday Life magazine published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age contained an article called '15 simple steps to happiness'. The quote in the breakout box reads: "Really notice what you are seeing, smelling, hearing, so you can appreciate where you are right now and be happier in the present". These words of wisdom are from mediatation teacher Limor Babai. Sounds simple, right? For many of us, nothing could be harder as we plan the hours, days, weeks and years ahead. If we are not thinking about the million things we need to do when we leave work for the day, it's the zillion things we need to buy, do or create to finish a project, improve our life or feel satisfied before we die.

Last year my delightful KT recommended a valuable book called 'The Happiness Trap' by Russ Harris. It delves into mindfulness and living in the present, but simply reading the book once won't transform you. It takes practise. Maybe a re-read is in order on my part. And practise, a lot more practise.

For now I rely on tea! Yes, that ancient tradition of brewing dried leaves and water. A nice cuppa at the end of the day, a little alone time to inhale the day's flavour of choice and simply be. As a little encouragement, I hunt for lovely herbal teas to sweeten the ritual. There is no need to look any further than T2. Their styling is divine and makes the simple act of making tea into an art. After opening in Melbourne ten years ago, T2 now has stores in Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra and Perth as well as seven stores in Victoria. Cafes and restaurants all over use and sell their products plus you can now order online, but for visual stimulation and taste testing sensations, nothing beats their stores.
T2 at Highpoint Shopping Centre

Tea is big in my family. Plain tea with milk, usually one or two sugars. I have often wondered if we went straight from the breast to a cup of tea. Maybe a weak, milky one until our taste buds developed. Coffee was a big no-no growing up in our household but it was tea all round, all the time. My husband doesn't like tea and this used to make me sad as he missed out on the family's cuppa rituals (somehow hot chocolate doesn't slip naturally into the cup line-up). I once whined "why can't you just learn to like it so you can really be a part of the family?" to which he replied without a moment's hesitation "because then I'd be like the rest of you, stopping for tea every half an hour and I'd never get anything done". Mmm, point taken.

My brother once got my parents a kettle with a 'warm' function to save them waiting for the kettle every time they wanted tea, which was seemingly most of the time. It seemed like a genious gift but we soon realised that mum is too much of a greenie to use it. In fact, she has been known to fill a thermos to leave on the kitchen bench to have hot water on hand all day without turning on an electric kettle!

Making tea can be habitual, like it is with my English nana who makes a cup and hardly drinks it sometimes. It can be an indicator to stop work for a few minutes, like smoko time in a factory. It can be a welcoming gesture to guests in your home, like when you instantly turn the kettle on when a friend turns up on your doorstep. It can be a conversation filler, like it was for us growing up when adults visited while our parents were out. Asking how someone takes their tea or coffee and then preparing it gives you something to do and say until you get rescued!

Tea can be many things and when and how to make it are quite personal. China cup, mug or pot? With food or without? Before breakfast or after?

Teapot wall display at Country Road in Australia on Collins. 

Have you ever noticed that you know who is in a room without looking at them? I love how we somehow identify our loved ones by the sound of their movements. As a teenager, I would lie in bed and know who was up first. My dad was a giveaway with his vigourous tea-stirring. He almost whisked it with the teaspoon creating a ringing noise against the mug.

Happiness is the little things. Be happy. Drink tea.

Top photo of the teapot and cups (in delightful yellow, no less) taken of a store window in Central West Plaza, Braybook.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sustainable food, superb quinces

There is a part of me that fantasises about donning a big, practical apron each day to cook and run a household. Life would be part Five Quarters of the Orange (a Joanne Harris novel centred around a French provincial woman who opens a creperie using produce from her garden and her mother's recipes) and part Tomorrow, When the War Began (a John Marsden young adult novel about surviving by hunting and looting when a world war hits).

As individuals we are far less self-sufficient than our great grandparents were. While they could have survived a fortnight isolated in their homes, many of us would struggle without a trip to a supermarket for essentials. Times have changed and food production is a huge, global business. If a recipe calls for an ingredient that’s out of season, it rarely stops us, in fact we hardly notice. Imported foods abound and preserving has come a long way, so anything not imported can be found frozen, dried or tinned. This may be called advancement, development and even prosperity, but in some ways there's a disconnect from our food and a loss of basic survival skills. Gardens are full of yukkas and river rocks these days, rather than fruit trees and vegetables to feed our families.

What’s my point? I don’t devote as much time and money as I possibly should to growing my own or buying local food but I love the idea. Creating something from scratch may be harder than a trip to Coles but the rewards are so much greater. The accomplishment is something in itself, but when the ingredients used have very few food miles, it’s even better. Maybe creating something from the dirt in your backyard (or your neighbours or the guy at the farmers market) brings a new appreciation for the food and a sense that we are still capable of honouring traditional methods. I think so anyway.

Last night, I made quince paste with fruit from my nana’s garden (top photo) in central Victoria and some white sugar of the cheap Black and Gold variety (a product of Australia at least). I didn’t wear an apron for the task but having a stockpot of fruit simmering on the stove top for over three hours certainly had me imagining I was some pioneer woman out on the homestead stewing my fruits to feed the brood for the winter ahead! I have already been asked “why not buy it?” but I don’t think that question even warrants a response. I should also mention that I received some appreciative murmurings and thanks from other colleagues so the world is not full of consumerist cynics just yet.
 Here are some of the quinces displayed on our hall table (the one I "won" on ebay as mentioned previously).
The quince paste bounty, beautifully red and glossy, setting in a slice tray, a muffin tray and various pots. I used plastic wrap to line the trays, making it easier to lift out and wrap up. 
Turn a piece onto a plate whenever you're ready (it lasts four months) and serve with cheese. Voila!

This weekend I will be devouring this with friends along with a pot of my home-made chicken pate (photo below) that I'll pull from the freezer. Parfait! I haven't attempted cheese making yet so I will be shopping for some additions to the platter, locally of course.
If you would like the recipe for the quince paste or the pate, please leave a comment to encourage me to document the recipe. I read a few recipes for each and then did my own thing, particularly with the quince paste as many recipes had fiddly steps that I bypassed. Simple is sometimes best.

Kyneton calls from the Calder

Up until two years ago, the town of Kyneton in Victoria's Macedon Ranges conjured up childhood memories of school holidays spent with my cousins. Then Kyneton's Pizza Verde was crowned 2008 Cheap Eats Champ by The Age and suddenly I was keen to return even though my family has long since moved back to Melbourne.

Things have changed in town since the days when we set off on adventures to the golf course to make cubbies in the treed areas and then pooled our money to buy a plate of nachos on the High Street. Now the historic Piper Street is the hub of the town on weekends, attracting foodies as proprietors and customers alike. There are no charcoal chicken shops in sight along the cobbled footpaths of this charming strip nor are there any multinational corporations or franchises screaming for your attention with expensive graphics and neon. The historic surrounds provide a more relaxed environment to showcase slow living and some of the finer things in life, mostly top-notch food with homewares, antiques and nurseries thrown in to pass time between courses.

Kyneton is located 87km north west of Melbourne, just off the Calder Highway. We pass the exit quite often when driving up and down the Calder, yet it's taken until the long weekend just gone to make the tiny detour off the highway and into the town (well, we did stop in late last year but we ended up eating an uninspiring pie at one of the only places open due to the local cup day). It's so easy to neglect a town once a bypass goes in, leading to a slow death of a community in some cases. Kyneton has survived and if you look at Piper Street, you could say that the town is stronger than ever.

Pizza Verde was the obvious choice for lunch and the cheery triangle flags strung between the verandah posts greeted us and set the muted green colour theme from the street.
The interior is clean and simple, pared back with retro features and exposed brick walls. The triptych below provides a little colour and the botanical features cleverly carry over to the design on the menu and signage.
We chose the fried calamari with fennel salt and lemon ($8) from the seasonal antipasto menu. The duck liver, sage and port pate ($8) was calling my name, as was the baked polenta with gorgonzo ($8), but as we were on Day 4 of an eating fest - known as Easter - they had to be relegated to next visit. The calamari was perfect and not a crumb was left on that board.
The pumpkin pizza ($17) did not disappoint and again we devoured every crumb. The toppings were as described on the menu: bianco, fior di latte, roast pumpkin, Holy Goat organic fromage frais, pine nuts and fresh rocket. It was the base that set it apart - so thin yet it retained its shape and wasn't at all soggy. As the photo shows, the crusts puffed slightly and were deliciously crispy.

Pizza Verde on Urbanspoon

We deliberately chose to leave at this point and have coffee at another venue to extend the experience. Inner Biscuit, an organic patisserie and cafe had caught the eye earlier with its quirky blackboard display with rolling pins and teapots bursting with succulents.

Inner Biscuit is light and bright with many colourful displays to liven up the expanse of white on the tables. Rows of cookbooks, teapots and cookie jars keep the eye stimulated while waiting for your treats to arrive.
We had a cappuccino, mexican hot chocolate, almond rose crunch and a chocolate hazelnut macaroon. All were nice but it was the macaroon that took the cake. Made on the premises by sunny owner Mara, these tasty morsels strike a balance between crunchy and chewy and can be purchased in a big pre-packaged bag to take away. The bill was $10.50 for the lot. 
Inner Biscuit on Urbanspoon

I would recommend a trip to Piper Street to all who enjoy good food and a dose of fresh country air, and I give a tick of approval to both Pizza Verde and Inner Biscuit. It would seem remiss though to leave out my one disappointment with both venues, that being the demeanour of staff. I expected cheery folk pleased to welcome customers as they enjoy a booming trade in an otherwise sleepy town. Instead I found both staff that served us to be aloof and disinterested as though we had interrupted their weekend siesta. You would be forgiven for thinking that they were wishing they were working on High Street, Armadale instead. No country welcome here but I'll be back for the food and the lovely streetscape.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Optimistic afternoons

The smell of Donna's home-made hot cross buns made my heart sing this weekend. So did the taste of mum's gravy. Not to mention the four days off work to indulge in chocolate at every opportunity. Weekends pass at double-speed though, even when they're twice as long, so I've got that dreaded Sunday night feeling a day late. It's the realisation that the list of things to do on the weekend, whether written down or in your head, has no chance of being checked off. Tomorrow looms large. Another day, another chance to hunt for a ray of sunshine. Or that's what I'm telling myself.

A quick review of recent photos has revealed that I am more optimistic on the way home from work, not the way there. In the afternoons, I see things that I want to photograph. I'm not sure what I see in the mornings. Most likely a blur of stony faces on the train heading in the wrong direction.

One afternoon last week, a train pulled up at Flinders Street Station and the carriages framed a lady on another platform. Presumably she was trying to get home. Like all of us.
I caught the bus another afternoon and saw a world from their windows not seen from the train. Like this imposing and delightful building on Collins Street that reminded me of the many that were here before us and that in some ways we are just a little blip in the scheme of things.
A few metres down the road and the same building reminded me that even the things we think are big and dominant can be dwarfed by another.

Finally, there's this picture of the Shrine of Remembrance taken late one Friday afternoon, my favourite of the bunch. It's grey and moody with a glint of promise. Tomorrow we're expecting light rain, mostly cloudy, mild. Enjoy.



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