So now the blog is back, here’s a quick run down on the good stuff I got up to between the end of May and the end of August. That’s pretty much three months of things, so this is a bumper post!

Working in Winchester: At the end of May and start of June I went back to the UK for work for three weeks for a special project, based in Winchester. I was going back for a holiday anyway, so the trip timing right beforehand worked out quite well. I had weekends and evenings free, so managed to fit in some good socialising while I was over. Highlights included a whole lobster at Loch Fyne with Kim, Tom, Rhiannon and Phil from the canoe club on my birthday and dinner with Southampton Uni friends at Rick Steins fish restaurant. I also went for work at night time to some road works nio the A303 at Popham. I got to wear full high vis and a hard hat – glamorous!

Birthday lobster

Birthday lobster

Rhiannons Hen Party: As I was back in the UK early for work, I got to start my holiday early and made it along to Rhaiannon’s hen party. It was great seeing everyone, especially as I didn’t think I would make it.  We did an aerial yoga session which was really fun! We got to do lots of crazy poses, with lots of hanging upside down and a fair bit of screeching and giggling! (OK that was mainly me!)

Aerial Yoga!

Aerial Yoga!

London: Matt arrived at this point for our actual UK holiday, and we went for a day trip up to the big smoke. We went around the Tower of London like tourists which i’d not done before, went on a Beefeater tour and saw the Crown Jewels. Later on we met my dad and Flick for a trip to the art gallery and a yummy crispy duck in Chinatown, before walking back to the station past Buckingham Palace.

Tower of London

Tower of London

Stourhead: We went for a walk around Stourhead gardens, which were beautiful. I don’t think I’ve been there before, which is surprising becasue its so close to where I grew up The views and landscaping were really nice.

Stourhead Gardens

Stourhead Gardens

Brighton: We went with the Shorts down to Brighton seaside. We played on old school amusements, went on the pier, the big wheel, the Voilks electric railway, went around the lanes, had fish and chips and I even got a cream tea! Happy days.

Amusements in Brighton

Amusements in Brighton

 

Southampton: We met my Uni friends for an epic and very tasty picnic at the park down in Southampton and then went for dinner in the evening. It was lovely catching up with everyone, and pretty scary seeing how all the children had got so much bigger!

Southampton Picnic

Southampton Picnic

Gruffalo: After a night in Bath with my nan, we went around Westonbirt arboretum, and met a Gruffalo hiding in the woods!

Me, dad and the Gruffalo!

Me, dad and the Gruffalo!

Royal Ascot: A bunch of 8 lovely ladies went along to Royal Ascot for ladies day. The weather was glorious. We had another epic picnic, along with plenty of fizzy wine. This is the only kind of alcohol you’re allowed to take in yourself – tragic! It was great fun getting all dressed up and hanging out in the sunshine. I even had a couple of wins, including a fairly good one and ended the day about £65 up! Woo.

Lovely ladies at Ascot

Lovely ladies at Ascot

Leith Hill Geocaching: Around Horsham we went for a geocaching adventure up Leith HIll, and helped Kate find her first one (I think). We also found bacon and maple syrup flavoured popcorn – nice!

Leith Hill Tower

Leith Hill Tower

Porter wedding: The key event in the 2015 visit was of course Phil and Rhainnons wedding. It was a really lovely day, and we were their witnesses. It was great to see them so happy and catch up with a lot of our friends who we hadn’t seen for a long time.

Phil & Rhiannon's Wedding

Phil & Rhiannon’s Wedding

Germany: I spent 5 nights in Germany, visiting my brother and Lucia, and meeting my new niece, Ella for the first time. She is super cute and very well behaved. I didn’t drop her and she wasn’t sick on me, so overall very successful! I took her a play mat which my friend Bex made which we had fun playing on. I found a sausage vending machine (yes!) and mistakenly ordered the normal (not small) size schnitzel one evening, which turned out to be TWO schnitzels!

Owen and I at German Garden Show

Owen and I at German Garden Show

Peak District long weekend: We had an amazing weekend in a giant cottage up in the Peak District. We arranged to get a bunch of people together from Horsham friends, climbers and canoe club. A lot of them didn’t know each other before, but it was a great weekend. We have a common love of board games, so played a LOT of those, as well as doing some geocaching walks with great scenery and having a massive BBQ – the British way, with charcoal. I managed to squeeze in an extra cream tea too.

Peak District Shennanigans

Peak District Shennanigans

Bristol: After the Peak District it was the end of our holiday, so Matt flew back to Australia. I stayed on and spent some time in Bristol with my mum in hospital, and got to stay with the Cornishes. John introduced me to the Navy game Uckers, which I promptly lost my first game of in spectacular style after a rookie error! I did later go on to beat him. We also went on an adventure to fund some Shaun the Sheeps which was exciting, and I bought a Union Jack Gromit souvenir.

Me and Ice Cream Shaun the Sheep

Me and Ice Cream Shaun the Sheep

Blue Mountains Snow: I got back to Australia  in late July, and it was cold! We went up to the Blue Mountains with some new friends to stay in a cottage for the weekend and go climbing. On the Thursday before we left it snowed up there, and there was still snow left when we got there on Friday which was pretty exciting! Unfortunately on Saturday there were a lot of road closures, which meant we couldn’t go climbing, so we went for a nice walk instead. Although chilly it was nice and sunny. In the evening we drank mulled wine, had a nice meal and unexpectedly played a game of Munchkin!

Snowman in July!

Snowman in July!

Fort Dennison: Matt took me on a surprise trip to Fort Dennison, for a tour and then lunch in their fancy restaurant. Fort Dennison is a small island in the middle of the Harbour, which you get to on the ferry. It was used for defense and sending convicts into isolation. We went on a tour around and up the tower, and the views back to the city were amazing.

Fort Dennison View

Fort Dennison View

Top Gear Festival: We had tickets to the Top Gear festival earlier in the year, but it got posponed after the Jeremy Clarkson issues. They re-badged it as ‘Clarkson Hammond and May Live’ and we went along. They did the ‘Cr-Ashes’, a series of car based games with the Top Gear guys against an Australian Team. England ended up losing quite badly, but it was good fun. The three wheeler football at the end was especially entertaining, as they kept flipping over.

Cr-ashes at the 'Top Gear' show

Cr-ashes at the ‘Top Gear’ show

UK again: The next weekend was the one my mum died, so I went back tot he UK unexpectedly to sort things out. It was a very sad and stressful time, but it was also nice to see family again. I went on a nice scoping trip with my brother to Glastonbury, somewhere my mum really liked and where we used to go quite a lot when I was little. It has a good hippy atmosphere and lots of nice shops and cafes. We walked up Glastonbury Tor which i’d not done before, and went back there to scatter mum’s ashes after the funeral. We took my niece Ella to meet my nan, her great-grandmother in Bath which was nice.

Owen, Martin and I at Glastonbury Tor

Owen, Martin and I at Glastonbury Tor

Once I got back at the end of August we went for a climbing trip in the mountains one day, and I even did a climb as well as reading two books! We also  went for pie at the famous Harrys Cafe de Wheels, before seeing the show Les Mis. We watched the move on DVD the week before as I’d not actually seen it. It was a good musical, although didn’t quite make it into my Top 4 (Wicked on Broadway, Lion King, Phantom of the Opera and Avenue Q).

Next time i’ll do a shorter post on September.

Pie Palace

Pie Palace

 

Fondant Aussie animals

Fondant Aussie animals

In August we got invited to a friendly Bake Off at a friends place in the Blue Mountains. This was their fourth one, but the first for us. They needed people to bake, and judge. Seeing as I love making and eating cake, I was totally in!

I’ve never done a bake off before, but having watched a lot of Great British Bake Off (which happened to have started again about the time of this bake off), I wanted to do something exciting. A few people I know have made some pretty impressive decorated cakes before. I’ve made a lot of cakes, but had never done sugar work before, so this seemed like a good opportunity to give it a try. Conveniently I also had a few days off from work, so had some time to research and practice my new skill.

I decided to go with a Great Aussie bake off theme. I particularly like animals, so decided to decorate the cake with fondant animals. I drew a very bad design on some paper, with a round cake, map of Australia and 5 Aussie animals I like around it. I planned to do them sort of to scale, with a big kangaroo as the centrepiece, along with a koala, wombat, snake (becasue its easy) and of course a penguin! I went to a local cake shop and bought some fondant, gel colouring (which doesn’t make the icing runny like liquid colour does) and tools.

I found some guidance about doing a kangaroo and a penguin on the internet which was helpful as I had no idea what to do! I started with the snake as it was basically a sausage! I made it a red bellied black snake, so two sausages stuck together. I bought black and white icing and coloured the white with the gels. Its better to buy black as its hard to get a true back colour with the gel apparently. After the snake I went for the penguin, and was really pleased with how well he came out.

Icing penguin

Icing penguin

The other animals were bigger, so I used something called tylose powder. This is basically plant cellulose, so totally edible. you mix a small bit into the fondant and it makes it harder and easier to work with. It holds it shape better, but also makes the fondant prone to cracking, so you have to be careful not to use too much. The wombat, kangaroo and koala were all made in a lot of stages, and left to harden up over night in various stages of creation. The koala and roo each had a cocktail stick in them to hold the heads on. I also used various things to keep them in shape overnight like little magnets, nail varnish pots and pots of herbs! I used edible glue for some of the limbs too on these ones too. You can use water or alcohol, but I was nervous about how well that would work. Seeing as I’d not done it before I decided to play it safe and use the glue.

Having opted for doing sugar work the outside of the cake was going to look pretty cool, but I knew it had to taste good too. I thought about doing chocolate, but decided this might be a bit obvious. I’ve only made one other cake in our new oven, and it is viscous so I decided to go for a recipe I’d made before. I went for a 4 layer cake, with vanilla, caramel, choc caramel and chocolate layers. I covered it in a chocolate butter cream which I left to harden a bit overnight before covering it with the fondant. The cake has ground almonds in which make it quite robust, so I thought it could cope well with the weight of the animals. You can read about when I made it before, and get the original recipie, here.

 

Sharks!

Sharks!

 

Originally I thought about making the top of the cake green for land, and the sides blue for sea, but I thought the join might be tricky. In the end I went for a blue marbled covering to represent the sea, and made the map of Australia light green. I don’t like really bright dyed cakes as they seem quite artificial, so I kept them pastel tones. I printed a map of Australia out and made a template for it with baking paper, complete with Tasmania.The cake itself was pretty tall, so I thought the sides needed some decoration. I through about ribbon, but then decided it would be better to make more animals! I didn’t want to go much more complicated with many different sea animals, so went for three big sharks circling the cake.

We transported the cake up to the mountains carefully wedged in the car foot well. I kept the animals separate, wrapped up in another tin and put them on when we got there. The bake off was really good. We started with roast lamb and pumpkin pie (also entered into the bake off), with lots of other yummy savoury things including a very nice pasta with yoghurt, pea and mint. The bake off then had EIGHT cakes. They were: my cake, chocolate brioche, lemon cupcakes, peanut butter brownies, sticky date pudding, pear and ginger cake, chocolate chip cookies and ginger cake. Matt made the penut butter brownies which came a respectable fifth out of ten. I had two lots of four cake, which was a lot even for me.

 

Winning cake

Winning cake

I loved the chocolate brioche which came second. My cake won by a pretty big margin – woo! There were actual prizes as well. I got a card with makes clapping noises, a lovely sparkly tiarra (which will be passed on next year) and a $50 Bunnings voucher! I was just happy to get to eat a lot of cake really.

I have a lot of blue icing left so need to think of something else to try next. I think I’ll try and make smaller decorations next time as they’re a bit big to be easily edible. Matt is gradually making his way through them now, part from the penguin which I’ve hidden!

My Agricola farm

My Agricola farm

Liking: Living in the new flat. There are lots of birds, its very green around, and apart from the trains its pretty peaceful. I’m also enjoying being able to walk to work, which takes about 25 mins. I see a lot of birds, including parrots, kookaburras and even a couple of bush turkeys!

Disliking: I was ill with a horrible virus and off work for a few days. It really knocked me out and I slept for 16 hours one day!

Watching: While I was ill I watched a lot of Wire in the Blood on my iPad. I really like that show. now we have the internet back finally I’m back on the iPlayer, and we’ve started Coast Australia seeing all the places we need to go and visit!

Playing: We bought a new game called Agricola – all creatures big and small. We already have Agricola which is a farming game where you collect animals, grow crops, feed your family, improve your farmhouse all to get points. This version is for two players, and mainly all abut the animals. That was my favourite part of Agricola anyway, so I like the new simple version.

Consuming: I have found a new exciting kind of biscuit through work. Its called a Monte Carlo, and is like a jammy dodger only much better becasue instead of shortcake the biscuits are oaty like a hob nob. And inside as well as chewy jam they have a creamy filling. Tasty! The new oven is much more powerful than the last one. The last one needed you to cook things for at least double the recommended time for them to be anywhere near done. This one, even with it adjusted for the fan its about half. So since moving in we’ve had a few meals on the slightly well done side! We’ve tried out the café down the road which does a yummy brunch.

Buying: In the old place we had two outdoor chairs and a small table. Now we have a giant table on the big balcony, so we bought six more chairs and cushions to go with it. We also bought all the chemicals for the spa so have been learning some chemistry about that, and got an almost free rubber duck thermometer!

Thinking about:  Holidays. We’re doing some planning about holidays at the moment, to see about buying leave for next year. We only get 20 days basic, and have to use 6 at Christmas for the shut downs, which doesn’t leave a lot, especially if we come back to the UK for a visit.

Visiting: In early June we had a Bank Holiday for the Queens’ Birthday – huzzah! We got invited away with our friend Paul and a bunch of his friends, who hired a big house down the south coast near Nowra. In the area there is good sea cliff climbing and awesome beaches. We had a great weekend including cream tea, a visit to kangaroo valley, climbing (of course), BBQ, roast dinner, walk on the beach and a game of sardines in the big house.

Missing: My old job – sad I know. My new job is fine, but I really liked my old one. We also missed some good friends weddings this month which we would have loved to be at. All the bets Mr and Mrs Frame! 🙂

Looking forward to: At the end of June we’re going to the Dubbo Western Plains zoo, way out west. You hire bikes and cycle around as its a big safari park, so I’m looking forward to seeing all the animals. We also have Ellie from the UK visiting for ten days, so we’ve got some exciting plans lined up for that too.

Albert and I

Albert and I

Soon after we first arrived we bought annual Merlin passes which are a great value way to see a lot of Sydney attractions. They included Madame Tussaudes in Darling Harbour.

This isn’t really the kind of attraction which would usually interest us, but as it was effectively free with our pass we thought we might as well check it out. The place is divided into about 12 sections including things like history, movie stars, A list, musicians, world figures and sports. Its fairly heavily geared around the big ticket celebrities with some other world figures thrown in like President Obama, the British Royal Family, Einstein, the Dali Lama and some heavyweights from the medical profession too. Being in Sydney there was some bias to famous Aussies including Paul Hogan, Hugh Jackman, Kylie, Danni, Rolf Harris (no mention of any scandal) and Dame Edna.

Mark Webber

Mark Webber

We went on a Sunday so it was pretty busy, especially around the more popular figures where people were queuing to have their photos taken (the longest one was for One Direction which had its own queuing system set up). There were props provided which you could use in your photos like a Crocodile Dundee hat, which I thought was a good idea.

I thought the wax works were pretty realistic. You definitely got a creepy feeling looking closely at them that they were going to move and make you jump! (Well I did anyway). They had a Justin Beiber which amused me as one man was walking around and said ‘Ah, there’s Beiber. I wanna punch him!’

It was worth seeing and I’m glad we went, but I certainly wouldn’t have paid the walk up price of $40. In all we probably spent about 45 minutes there. 

After we went to Pancakes on the Rocks pancake house. Matt won a $50 voucher to go there at a chin up competition at a friends circus event. The pancake house is open 24/7 to meet your pancake needs at any time of day or night. They have a selection of both savoury and sweet pancakes, breakfast pancakes and also meals not involving pancakes for those who want to go to a pancake house and eat something you’d find at a pub! We started with some savoury pancakes of course. Mine was mexican beef which was OK, but nothing massively exciting. The real win was in the dessert pancakes. Matt had Devonshire pancakes (buttermilk bancakes with clotted cream and jam) and I went all our for the Jaffa Pancakes. These had orange segments in grand marnier sauce aside chocolate buttermilk pancakes with cream and vanilla ice cream and topped with chocolate sauce and chocolate chips. Yummy! I was defeated,  couldn’t even finish it all and thought I might explode. The chocolate pancakes were an excellent idea, and although they were slightly dry all the sauce, ice cream and booze soaked orange pieces covered this up pretty well. If you twisted my arm I’d definitely go back for some dessert pancakes.

Rolf Harris

Rolf Harris

 

Day 8: Southport to Hobart

2298km, 36h, 47min

In the morning we took the short drive to Hastings cave and went on the first tour of the day. The tour guide Laura was very knowledgable explaining about all the different formations and giving us some broken stalagmite out hold. The cave itself was very impressive with lots of different formations including stalagtites with horizontal bits coming out the sides called helictites. I’d not seen these before and scientists don’t agree how they form, maybe capillary action.

Inside Hastings Cave

Inside Hastings Cave

At the visitor centre are also Thermal springs which average 28 degrees, and entry is included in the ticket. We went for a look but rather than natural looking springs the water is pumped into a fairly small swimming pool which was brimming full of families with kids and inflatables, so no chance of any actual swimming. I dunked my toe in and the water didn’t feel especially warm so we decide to give them a miss and head straight into Hobart.

After a bit of parking faff we managed to make it to Hobart in time for the weekly Salamanca market with over 300 stalls. There was lots of jewellery, wooden products, local food and crafts. I managed to escape with just 1 pair of earrings. It had elevated up to a toasty 28 degrees so I was a bit warm for any proper browsing.

Over the Christmas period the Taste of Tasmania festival was also on right next to the market. It was held in one of the giant wharf sheds with stalls outside too and food vans near the entrance. There were loads of local foods and drinks on offer including wine, beer, juices, oysters, berry products, cheeses, ice creams and international foods too. It was incredibly busy being a warm Saturday afternoon so we opted for a bacon and gruyere potato rosti outside, followed by a nice cream sundae dusted with sherbert which Matt wasn’t quite expecting and made him cough!

After a quick trip to Treasure Island camp site to put the tent up and a mince pie, we went back into Hobart for the evening. Mainly by coincidence and a bit of internetting we were lucky to catch the end of the Sydney Hobart annual yacht race. We saw the winner Wild Oats XI come in through the harbour from a prime spot and they then sailed (motored) right past us to moor up for their prizes. Being by the harbour we were obliged to go for some fish and chips after that from one of the floating fish and chip stalls. We pieced the one shaped like a fish! Matts chip box had an unfortunately collapse due to too much vinegar which bought the circling Chip Vultures (seagulls) very close! Out of spite at their incessant annoyance he picked them up and put them in the bin in the end! For pudding we went back to the Taste festival and had ice cream sandwiches – locally produced ice cream sandwiched between two freshly baked warm cookies – yummy!

Wild Oats 2

Wild Oats 2

Day 9: Around Hobart.
2406km, 39 hours 15 mins

From early on on our trip we had two key activities for Hobart planned out – the MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) and Putters mini golf! We picked up a leaflet about Putters on the ferry. Not only did it have an indoor and outdoor course, the leaflet also entitled us to a free fries and soft drink so we really were obliged to go. Of course we signed up for both courses ($22). The first one was outside with lots of water features which were both scenic and hazardous to my playing! Along with the sand traps they caused me a lot of penalty points and I lost by quite a lot. But having won the earlier pirate mini golf, that made it one all.

Inside we played the decider with a lot of friendly banter. This time the course featured a lot of wood and tubes and tunnels to transport the balls up down and around to different parts of the holes. My game was match improved, and I even did some decent putting from longish distances which normally I’m rubbish at. I totally psyched Matt out and won by a massive 12 points in the he mend, which took me to 2-1 up including the Pirate golf! We had our free fries which were massive and tasty with Cajun flavour salt. The frozen raspberry fanta was just weird though so we won’t be having that again!

Mini Golf Round 2

Mini Golf Round 2

As the sun was mainly out we decided to make another trip up Mount Wellington to try and see the views of Hobart. The top was cloud free with excellent views although totally freezing. It was only 4 degrees and with a lot of wind it definitely felt below freezing. There was even a small amount of snow left on some of the big rocks at the top.

Back on top Mount Wellington

Back on top Mount Wellington

After lunch half way down we headed to MONA. Unfortunately it wasn’t free like my book said but the lady took pity on us and let us in for the concession rate of $15 instead of $20. The book was also wrong about the opening times and it was shutting at 6 instead of 7 so we had just over 2 hours to look around. MONA is bit, over 4 levels set into the hillside by the river, so we were a bit rushed looking around. They had a thing called the O Device which you use – its an iPhone with info about all the exhibits loaded on including audio so there are no signs. Matt loved it, I personally found clicking through and all the searching ruined my experience of wandering about looking at art and made it too disjointed. Maybe i’m too old fashioned!

Matt and his O Device

Matt and his O Device

Some of my favorite bits were a gigantic metallic head with robotic birds and moving bits inside, sculptures by Hubert Duprat and a giant Buddha. It is made using a giant mold with incense from temples in Nepal so it smelt nice too. Unfortunately its head had fallen off (!!) but I thought this made it more interesting.

Incense Buddha

Incense Buddha

That evening we took the main opportunity of the holiday for a meal out and went to a curry house called Annapurna. It’s one of the highly rated places in Hobart and according to their sign also Tasmania’s best curry house 2013 (out of how many we don’t know!) After the tasty meal we went to see some more of the boats that had arrived from the yacht race and ate some more ice cream sandwiches from Taste of Tasmania for desert.

Exciting news – we have a new page on our website!

On our fridge, and in more detail in my head, we have a To Do List. It’s not one of those boring ones about hoovering and chores though, but about all the places to go and things to do while we’re over here in Australia. We’ve added the new page to share it with you and you’re more than welcome to give us ideas too! I’ve also summarised what we have done so far with handy links in case you want to know about something in particular.

You can get to it by clicking the button under the main picture called To Do List (to the right of Home) or by clicking HERE.

Apprentice Restaurant, Sydney

Apprentice Restaurant, Sydney

We went for a meal out recently at the Sydney TAFE Apprentice Restaurant. This is nothing to do with The Apprentice TV show or Lord Sugar. Rather, its part of the collge where they train chefs and front of house staff.

For $30 you can book in which includes a welcome drink and a 4 course meal – bargain! I People at work did make some food poisoning jokes, but I’d heard good reviews and figured they wouldn’t let anyone loose on the paying public if they couldn’t cook things that were edible!

The restaurant was on the 7th (top) floor of the college building, and set out like a proper restaurant. It was half used as it was a slow week night – with a table of 10 celebrating a birthday and 4 tables of 2. Our welcome drink was our own choice (woo), so we went for a different wine each. I had a NSW Semillion Sauvignon Blanc. They were very generous and filled our huge wine glasses very full, so we probably had about 1/3 of a bottle each in one glass! They were very drinkable too. By the end of the second course we decided to go for another glass each and pay for that on top.

For each of the four courses there were two things on the menu. We weren’t too sure if we got a choice or not. Turns out we got one of each dish and it worked out well as we probably would have ordered different things anyway. We ate:

Appetiser:

King fish ceviche with tomatoes and avocado wrapped in a courgette slice (E)

Sushi rolls with wasabi soy sauce (M)

Entrée:

Warm salad of duck breast with roasted beetroot and cider dressing (E)

Cream of pumpkin and ginger soup (M)

Main:

Stuffed roasted leg of lamb with mint jus, garlic potatos and baby vegetables (E)

Green chicken curry with green beans and jasmine rice (M)

Dessert:

Vanillla panna cotta with strawberries and almond biscotti (Shared)

Bannana pudding with toffee sauce and pistachio ice cream (Shared)

The duck salad was my favourite thing. It was presented really well on a long rectangular plate  (shame I didn’t take a photo) and had loads of tasty bits and pieces in it. The duck was medium so still pink with crispy fat. In the salad was also roasted beetroot, salad, tomatoes, grapefruit segments for sourness and honey roasted macademia nuts for sweetness and crunch.

Laura our waitress was helpful and friendly. Apparently they are assessed a every service. At the endof the night we got the bill for the extra drinks, and it turns out the extra wine was $3.50 per glass. Considering getting wine anywhere in Sydney for $7.50 is a total bargain, this was amazing!

Overall I’d give it a definate 8.5/10 ad would be keen to go back. There was very nice food, good service and overall a total bargain!

The wine haul

The wine haul

In late October Matt and I went for a weekend away in the Hunter Valley. We had it booked before his work trip came up, and thought we might as well go again and see some different wineries. You can read about our first trip here.

We headed up Friday night and got dinner in Cessnock on the way. We stayed just north of there in the YHA for a bargainacious $85 a night. It was in a good rural location although the showers were cold!

Adventurously, we had hired bikes for the Saturday to ride around the wineries! Given the last time I rode a bike resulted in a broken helmet and a lot of scrapes, I was a bit nervous, but decided to face my fear! We did well, and I reckon we cycled about 25km! It was mid 20’s in termprature, so pretty warm but not too hot with a nice breeze. The day went a bit like this:

10am: Drive to Cessnock for breakfast – bacon and egg rolls to set us up for the ride

11am: Get the bikes and helmets all sorted and set off up the road

12am: First winery – Calais Estates! I was well ready for a nice chilled white after the longest cycle i’ve done in a long time.

12.30pm: On to Waverley Winery. The only winery doing aged wines, although the lady was vague about what counts as aged. We enjoyed the 2006 Cab Sav.

1pm: First Creek winery. I really enjoyed a lot of the wines here, and our pourer was very friendly and helpful.

2pm: Lunch at the Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese Shop. We had the large cheese pizza and chips to share. It was  totally epic amount of cheese. We didn’t even have space for a nice palette cleaning ice cream after.

Cheese overload

Cheese overload

2.30pm: Tamberlaine winery. These guys make organic wine and some ‘biodynamic’ wine too. I was keen to go as we had some of their wine at a restaurant and really enjoyed it, but none of the ones we tasted really hit the mark. Heading off from there we cycled past a dead kangaroo which was pretty upsetting.

3pm: Olive, jam, chutney, oil and balsamic tasting at the Hunter Olive Centre. We bought some caramelised balsamic – yummy!

4pm: Final winery – Hungerford Hill. The winery is shaped like a barrel. They had some good drops worth a trip back for too.

Proof of me with a bike

Proof of me with a bike

After a shower and rest back at the YHA we walked 450m for dinner at Potters Brewery just up the road. We were stuffed by then really so didn’t managed much more food and drink before tottering off to bed tired, full and happy!

We didn’t buy any wines on the Saturday, but made some notes (yes – In am that organised) and went back with the car and picked them up on the Sunday – after another nice breakfast of course (Eggs Benedict and smoked salmon for me and with Bacon for Matt.)

At Waverleyx we inquired about the free case. Turns out they had some 1999 Chardonnay and 2001 Shriaz that were getting near the end of their lives. They reckoned most were fine, there might just be the odd bad one as long as we drank them soon. So we took the plunge and spent $100 on fancy aged Cabernet Sauvignon for Christmas and took the 12 free bottles! We also went back to my favorite winery from the first trip – Pepper Tree – to buy their liqueur wine I didn’t buy last time. Turns out it sold out, but I got the summer substitute version which was also pretty yummy!

We went on a house long wine tour at Tyrells for $5 too. It was jam packed full of information and very interesting. The guide was good and the winery has loads of history, still being family owned in the 5th generation. At the wine makers reunion dinner of 17 guys they drank 84 bottles!

We ended up with 20 bottles, slightly more than planned but with the free case they came in at an average of just over $10, so can’t complain! For the wine buffs, we got:

  • 2 x 2010 Organic Pianco Puro from First Creek ( a mix of Verdelho, Chardonnay and Semillion)
  • 1 x 2011 Late Harvest Shiraz from First Creek
  • 2 x 2013 Hunter Valley Early BIrd Semillion from Hungerford Hill
  • NV Muscat from Pepper Tree in fancy bottle
  • 2 x 2005 Cab Sav from Waverley Wines
  • 6 x lottery 1999 Chardonnay from Waverley Wines and
  • 6 x lottery 2001 Shiraz from Waverley Wines

All in all a top weekend! 🙂

Vines

Vines

Post warning: Best not to read if you’re really hungry!

For our first wedding anniversary we went for a meal at Restaurant Tristan in Horsham, which was awarded a Michelin Star shortly after and was excellent. I totally recommend it.

How time flies – recently it was our second anniversary and being a bit of a food lover I thought we should go somewhere for a nice meal. In Australia they don’t have the Michelin system, but use Chefs Hats instead. Good top restaurants can get one, two or three hats. 

After deciding I wanted to go somewhere with a degustation menu (‘A menu in which a series of small portions of unusual dishes is offered for tasting’ (Wikipedia)) I did some research and picked Sails in Lavender Bay. Its a One Hat restaurant, which seemed like a good place to start our Sydney fine dining adventure. The 9 course menu looked great, was reasonably priced in comparison to other places offering a similar thing and the restaurant itself it on the waterfront opposite Lunar Park with a view back to the Bridge and Opera House.

We decided to go all in with the matched wines which I’ve not done before. All in all we got 9 lots of food and 7 drinks – prosecco, 2 whites, 2 red, dessert wine and a port!

Here’s what we ate:

 SailsMenu

Its hard to pick a favorite course. The goats cheese pannacotta was really nice, super smooth and was presented really nicely with bright flowers, normal and orange beetroot slices and little colored jellies. I really enjoyed the scallops and surprised myself enjoying the cauliflower puree with those ass i’m not a cauliflower fan. The duck was awesome with masses of flavor and of course the chocolate desert with port was top notch. Although the wines were small 7 was quite enough!

10 our of 10!

Our mini balcony garden

Our mini balcony garden

Here’s a quick run down on our September. We have been….

Liking: Generally having lots of things to see and do and an awesome choice of really nice food places. Also the new plants (see above and below).

Disliking: Getting my first ever food poisoning – NOT fun. And the police being really slow and not getting back to us about the dent in the car.

Watching: More Grimm – its still going. Also we just purchased StarGate Atlantis, so have started on that too. There’s really not a lot on TV worth watching here.

Consuming: I recently made chicken min-roast and chocolate fondants which were awesome. Unfortunately the fondants were gooey on the bottom/top still so didn’t look good, but tasted very yummy. Will have another go with our dodgy oven soon. I’ve also been trying to be healthy after a bad diet during the bid, so cooked successfully with some tofu and have some quinoa in the cupboard to try. On the going out front we have been to Messina Gelato (awesome) and had a 9 course meal for our anniversary which was also brilliant – more about those in upcoming posts!

Buying: Plants for the balcony. We have a collection of six plants now out on the balcony which I really like – not only are they pretty they help draw attention away from the boring flats next door!

Working on: Our second RoadsPlus bid, this time for Queensland. This one goes in at the end of the month, then its back to waiting for the result, so fingers crossed!

Thinking about: Christmas in Tasmania. We booked a trip for Christmas over to Tassie. Matt has a two week mandatory shutdown and I theoretically have a three week shutdown so it seemed sensible to make the most of it. We are going to drive to Melbourne and get the ferry so have that booked. Now we’re planning our route and some places to stay.

Visiting: We were due to visit Canberra but had to postpone that. This month we have mainly been in and around Sydney including the Lane Cove National Park, Middle Cove for some climbing and Ryde waterfront for Matts ~Dragon Boat Race. At the end of the month we are going on a trip tot he Hunter Valley for the day with Matts work which should be good (wine and cheese – woo!)

Looking forward to: October – we have an action paced month including another Hunter Valley trip and the Wolgan Valley which is wombat central – yay!

What have you guys been up to?

I made some cookies recently. Matt wanted brownies, again. I wanted to do something different, so I went with these. They have a cake like texture rather than being biscuity, so it seemed like a good compromise. They were tasty, and reminded me of my friend Bex’s ‘cakies’ – a cross between cookies and cakes. I personally still find the texture a bit weird, why not give it a try and make up your own mind?

Ingredients (to make about 20):

  • 60g butter
  • 175g plain chocolate
  • 175g plain flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 1tsp vanilla essence
  • 60g icing sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • white chocolate chips (optional)

1. Melt chocolate and butter over a pan of hot water. Leave to cool slightly.

2. Mix flour, baking powder and salt

3. Beat eggs and sugar until pale (about 2 mins)

4. Reduce speed and add chocolate mix and vanilla

5. Add flour

6. Cover and refrigerate for between 1.5 hours and 2 days (I did 2 hours). Resist the awesome smell!

7. Put icing sugar in a shallow bowl and preheat over to 160c

8. Roll the dough into 4cm round balls and roll in sugar

9. Put on a lined tray and flatten with the back of a spoon

10. Bake for 12-15 minutes so centre is still soft

11. Cool on sheet for 5 mins and then on a rack

 

 

 

Yummy brownies - not many left by the time I remembered to take a photo!

Yummy brownies – not many left by the time I remembered to take a photo!

Everyone loves a chocolate brownie right? Here’s my recipe, totally stolen from Jane Short. They are excellent!

Ingredients:

  • 400g white toblerone (or white chocolate)e 
  • 350g plain chocolate
  • 250g butter
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 3tbsp black coffee
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 75g self raising flour

1. Melt chocolate and butter over a pan of hot water. Last time I made these I also added some rum (we bought it, its not very nice to drink, seemed like a good way to get rid of some. They turned out to be the best ones I’ve done so I might try that again next time.)

2. Roughly chop the toblerone. I find 4 bits per large triangle works well.

3. Whisk eggs and sugar  together. Add in the coffee and vanilla.

4. Add melted chocolate mix to the eggs and mix.

5. Stir in flour and then add in toblerone.

6. Pour into a greased and lined tray

7. Bake at 180 degrees. – unhelpfully i didnt write down how long – I check after 30 mins and go from there

Yummy! 🙂

Waffles and hug mug

Waffles and hug mug

Here in Sydney, there are quite a few chocolate cafe’s. These are places which serve hot drinks and cakes, mainly chocolate based with some standard caffinated drinks to broaden their appeal.

Recently I’ve tried out two kinds, a Max Brenner and a Lindt cafe.

At Max Brenner I had the dark hot chocolate drink and waffles with dark chocolate sauce. Ellie had milk hot chocolate and chocolate crepes with banana.

We took Matt to the Lindt cafe too and enjoyed milk and dark hot chocolates again, profiteroles and chocolate and pear cake.

So which was better?

The Max Brenner hot chocolate was lovely, but so rich I couldn’t finish it (even though a lot of it went on my waffle as it was nice and thick). At the Lindt cafe you get hot milk and hot chocolate sauce which you mix together yourself. This tasted awesome, although I would have preferred it slightly hotter. The Lindt cafe had a better selection of high quality cakes (compared to mainly waffles, muffins, cookies, crepes and chocolate pizza at Max Brenner), although the price tag reflected the extra effort involved in creating them. Both had a shop with a selection of things to take away, including some Lindt ball flavours I’d not seen before like raspberry, milk and white chocolate together and mint. The Max Brenner rounded ‘hug mug’ was nice to drink out of, and a bit different. Both places smelt gorgeous.

All things considered, Lindt edges it for me.

Next up is a San Churro (Spanish themed, with churros) and a Guylian cafe.  Maybe not for a while though or I’ll end up super fat! I think Ill make a proper decision on which one is best once I’ve tried them all! 

The Baxter Inn wall of whiskey

The Baxter Inn wall of whiskey

Down a lonely looking alley way in Sydney, and further down a concrete stairwell, we recently found The Baxter Inn, one of the Top 10 small bars in Sydney. It specialises in whiskey.

Luckily we had the address, or we’d never have found it. You go down an unmarked access road into what looks like a loading bay. We spotted a man there who turned out to be a bouncer, so when we asked for directions he pointed us down the equally unassuming stairwell into the basement. I see why they have someone outside!

We went on a Monday night. There were a few seats left, but it filled up more after we arrived. Normally there is a queue to get in apparently (one in one out), so pick your time carefully.

Inside are two large walls stocked full of over 300 different kinds of whiskey on 5 or 6 rows of shelves, which the barmen access via moving stepladders. There place has a sort of 1930’s American smooth vibe, and free pretzels!  As well as the straight up whiskey you can have whiskey cocktails and whiskey with freshly made apple juice, which apparently is a classic!

Verdict: 8/10  Good place, worth a visit, be prepared to stump up some cash though!

Twisties are awesome!

Twisties are awesome!

Lately, in July, we have been:

Liking: Having Ellie visit and motoring about. We’ve been out and about a fair bit in the car, which is great. More about that in upcoming posts, and having Ellie visit from the UK was great (although people at work did seem a bit confused at times, when I seemed to be talking about myself in the third person).

Disliking: Rain! It was the wettest June on record in Sydney. In between getting soggy we used it as an excuse to play board games, including our latest addition, Agricola, based on making a farm. I love making herds of sheep, cows and boar.

Watching: Rome Series 2. After finishing Series 1 in June, with all the wet weather we cracked right on with Series 2 – that’s not finished too. We also went to see the new Superman at the Imax (see separate post on the massive Imax!)

Consuming: Lamingtons. For my friend Ellie’s visit we ate lots of tasty things, including some traditional Australian Lamingtons. They are 2 layers on vanilla sponge, with jam in the middle, chocolate on the outside and sprinkled with dessicated coconut. They are totally edible, but I’m still not convinced by the coconut. Give me a classic Victoria Sponge any day! I have also been seriously liking Twisties. They are like Nik Naks, but cheese flavoured and awesome!

Buying: Not a lot. After buying the car and a surprise parking fine from when we were in the car club, we’ve been skimping a bit this month. Turns out its a $165 offence to park not in the direction of traffic. Now we know! 

Working on: Bids bids bids. Work is hectic, soon to be very hectic. So hectic I got given another underling. My empire is expanding!  

Thinking about: A holiday. Were thinking of heading to Darwin and the Kakadu National Park late September time. We want to learn to dive here before going to the reef, and apparently Tasmania is fairly like New Zealand. Darwin and the Northern Territory look like the Australia you always imagine – all red, dry, dusty and full of crocs!  

Visiting: Lots of places nearby in the car. We have had my friend Ellie visiting at the end of June so we did lots of things including a boat trip in Ku-Ring-Gai, a trip to Palm Beach and Barrenjeoy and lots of places in Sydney.

Looking forward to: an upcoming trip to the reptile park! I love reptiles, and used to have some as pets. The reptile park also has kangraroos, koalas and wombats, so should prove to be an awesome day out! 

What have you guys been up to?

Palm Beach

Palm Beach from Barrenjoey

Palm Beach is about a 45 minute drive from our place.

Palm Beach is a pretty affluent area and where they film Home and Away. The beach is attached to a massive bit of rock called Barrenjoey Head with a lighthouse on top. From the air the whole thing makes a mushroom shape, with water on both sides. To the east is the Tasman Sea, and to the west is an inlet which looks over to West Head and the Ku-Ring-Gai National Park.

We went for a walk up Barrenjoey Head and went on the half hourly tour of the lighthouse which runs from 11am – 3pm on Sundays. For $3 it was a bargain (although you also have to pay about $5 an hour for parking). You got to see old photos of the area and go up the tower. The views our to see and Ku-Ring-Gai were good (if windy) and we even spotted evidence of a few whales out at sea.

Barrenjoey Lighthouse

Barrenjoey Lighthouse

After the walk we had lunch at the The Boat House which is right next to the pier where they film Home and Away. It was very busy, and justifiably so as the food was both excellent and massive! (We had calamari, steak sandwiches, chips, massive smoothie and of course some tea). We managed to grab a seat outside with prime waterfront views across to Ku-Ring-Gai. I’d definitely advise eating after the walk, we were too stuffed for much afterwards!

View from the Boat House cafe

View from the Boat House cafe

Barrenjoey also has climbing, which Matt will get around to writing about sooner or later!

Kurtosh

Kurtosh

I am getting into yoga at the moment. Luckily the studio is about 5 minutes walk away, and even more luckily its next to an awesome cake shop called kurtosh!

I fairly regularly walk past, sometimes popping in for a quick browse and sample! Recently with Ellie visiting, we had an excuse to go properly.

Kurtosh is a small chain of several cafes, named after ‘Kurtoskalacs’ – Hungarian pastry based chimney cakes (see here). The pastry is rolled out in a thin ribbon, and wrapped around a wooden cylinder to make the chimney. They’re then baked in a rotating oven, fresh to order in about 10 minutes, and served lovely and warm. They make a whole lot of other delicious looking and very tasty cakes too including cookies and chilled cakes.

There are 7 flavours – some like nutella are added in before the pastry is rolled out, others like cinnamon or nuts go on just before baking.   

Nutella kurtosh

Nutella kurtosh

It was a tough choice, so on our visit we went for a nutella version and the classic cinnamon too. They are $7.50 each, or $8.50 for nutella. Really one between two would have been fine, unless you’re really hungry! On balance I slightly preferred the nutella one. The flavour was yummy with the runny nutella in the middle and it was glazed which was nice, but slightly doughy on the inside. The cinnamon was nice too, with a slightly better texture inside.

Sydney is an awesome place for food and I love that there is more (often better) European food than you get in the UK, which is much closer to Europe.  

Anyone eaten or made anythign super tasty recently?