Tag Archives: eating out

Therapeutic Indulgence: A Rendez-vous with Laksa and a Saucy Chocolate Cake.

In my last post, I confessed to running away from home for the weekend for some seriously self-indulgent R & R after a rough week of medical tests for our daughter .

While Saturday saw me catching the ferry to Palm Beach and time traveling back into my early 20s, on Sunday I caught a lift to nearby Avalon for a seriously indulgent feast. That’s right…food glorious food! So you can go stick your green smoothies and assorted super foods where the sun don’t shine. I’ve now subscribed to the pleasure principle and I’m in hot pursuit of some seriously indulgent foodie treats!!

Yoda has relocated to Sydney's Avalon Beach.

Yoda has been relocated to Sydney’s Avalon Beach.

My first stop was lunch at Yoda. Yoda is the sort of place you’d expect to find tucked away in an alleyway in South-East Asia. Yet, it has somehow astro-traveled to beach-side Sydney via the Millennium Falcon so now I can safely enjoy those authentic Asian flavours without catching some ghastly, turbo-charged, gastro bug. I’m not always an adventurous restaurant eater and often stick with what I’ve had before and really enjoyed. I don’t get to eat out all that often and so I don’t like taking chances. The food not only has to be good, it has to be something I love. L-O-V-E LOVE!! It also has to be better or different to what I cook at home and I’m a good cook. When we go to Yoda for dinner, I tend to order the Tea smoked duck with freshly spiced orange sauce & coriander salad or the Vietnamese chicken cabbage salad with peanuts, roast garlic & house dressing. These are both fabulous, authentic dishes. However, I thought I’d try something different and chose Laksa lemak which is a coconut soup with chicken, prawn, fishcake, noodles & cucumber/coriander salad. This was such a treat and I felt like I was casting a fishing line into the richly fragrant soup. Hey presto! I caught some octopus, fish cake and then a few prawns. It was such a treat and much more productive than any of our fishing expeditions where we’ve only caught fingerlings we had to throw back.The seafood was really well cooked and tender and the Laksa soup with it’s rich, aromatic flavours, was just divine.

However, the food wasn’t all I experienced at Yoda. As I shared in my previous post covering the ferry and bus ride over, when you travel alone you met such a smorgasbord of interesting characters.

Sitting at Yoda, the gentleman next to me struck up a conversation. I’m not saying he was trying to pick me up or anything like that. It’s just what Avalon is like…so community oriented and friendly that you don’t think twice about talking with total strangers. Anyway, my new-found friend is “batching” while his wife’s away for an extended time looking after her sick mum. This has left him in a bit of a spot. Should he spend month after month staying home in front of the box by himself or get out there and keep living? It’s a hard call. He kept saying: “you only come this way once”, which is so true. Nobody wants to waste whatever precious time they have left. From what I understand this means going out to see a few bands. Eating out. We all want to carpe diem seize the day but when you’re married and your partner is out of action for whatever reason, what are you supposed to do? Stop breathing? I don’t know. As an extrovert myself, I could sympathise.  We all have to get out, although that said, there are certain activities which should be curtailed.He told me his wife had called saying she’d heard he was at Palm Beach with a blond and he replied: “At my age, what did you expect me to have? A bucket & spade?” No to be fair, mentioning a blond conjures up all sorts of connotations where as if she’d been hanging out with a woman with glasses, for example, would it be so evocative? Anyway, he had a fine wit and certainly had me in stitches and I suspect he’s been up to no more mischief than wishing he was 21 again!

After indulging at Yoda, I headed across the road to Bookacino, a landmark Indy bookshop with a cafe out the back. For a die-hard bibliophile, Bookacino reminds me of exploring your grandparents’ home with all its nooks and crannies. Exploring row after row of titles, you never know what you might find and the new worlds those pages will open. Being an insatiable sticky beak, I just love it.

Of course, despite our cascading  columns of books and claustrophobically packed bookshelves, I can’t go into Bookacino without taking new “friends” home. After all, how could I ever leave a great book homeless and alone? Oh no! It needs love, family, a place to call home! This might sound like very faulty logic. After all, how could a book living in a crowded bookshop with thousands of friends, or possibly rivals, ever be considered homeless or even  alone? However, the heart tells a very different story. I hear its cries!!

This time, I walked out with The Art of Belonging by Australian social commentator, Hugh Mackay and a colouring-in book: The Impressionists. for our daughter.

Chocolate Cake heaven!!

Chocolate Cake heaven!!

Next stop was Cafe Ibiza. To be perfectly honest, I must confess that I wasn’t going there for health food. Rather, I was looking for the most indulgent, decadent chocolatey chocolate thingy that I could find.  Something so evil it would smash the evil calorie counter. What I found, even exceeded all of my superlatively luscious, chocolate fantasies. A simple chocolate cake warmed and smothered in chocolate sauce and as I ate the cake, the chocolate sauce became a sumptuous soup. I dove deep into its incredible depths and didn’t even rise to draw breath. Oooh! Death by chocolate never tasted so good!

Sumptuous Chocolate Soup

Sumptuous Chocolate Soup

After such indulgence, I’m of a view that “when you’re on a good thing, stick to it” and I’d much rather stick to an endless supply of chocolate sauce than a can of Mortein insect spray.

So now I’m on the search for the ultimate chocolate sauce recipe to hold me over until my return. It’s a matter of life and death!!

“The greatest tragedies were written by the Greeks and Shakespeare…neither knew chocolate.”
― Sandra Boynton

After such therapeutic indulgence over the weekend, I’ve decided that I need to throw caution to the wind closer to home and break out more often. After all, we only live once!

xx Rowena

Our Dog Goes to Ibiza

Before you start thinking that my dog’s won the lottery, packed his bags and traded in his humdrum suburban existence for the wild night life of Ibiza, a Spanish Island and tourist Mecca; Ibiza is also a cafe in Avalon Beach on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

For us, taking our Border Collie, Bilbo, to a cafe was almost as exciting as an international adventure because we’ve never taken him to a cafe before. He’s uninitiated.

To be honest, prior to these school holidays, I’d never thought of taking Bilbo to a cafe.

Although I’m very much a dog person and absolutely adore my dog, taking the dog to a cafe seemed rather crazy. After all, I go to a cafe to chat with friends or to do some writing and dogs are a bit like children…a potential liability. There’s a time and place for the kids and the dog and when I’m at a cafe, I just want to chill out without worrying about who’s doing what. I have spent too many years hiding from my kids in cafes while they’re swinging from the light fittings sucking on those little sachets of sugar and transforming from  “Mummies little angels” into humiliating “little devils”. Now that they’ve matured, I don’t need any fresh liabilities. No, I just want to crank up my sagging energy levels with the next best thing to an intravenous caffeine boost and usually chat with my friends until all our ears have fallen off.
However, we’ve been spending the school holidays in Pittwater. While I’ve been into Avalon on various expeditions, I’ve particularly been struck by the incredible number of dogs hanging out in cafes. These cafe dogs have all been very well behaved. They just sit outside by their owner’s feet and don’t cause any trouble at all. They certainly don’t start barking ferociously, knocking down tables and sending cafe staff skywards when they see another dog, although their owners are probably thankful that there aren’t any cats about!

Taking your dog to the cafe in Avalon is almost de rigeur, much the same way Parisians are known for their love affairs with their beloved and very spoilt chiens. These exceptionally pampered pooches even travel inside spectacularly expensive, flashy leather handbags and are often treated even better than children.
As far as Avalon dogs are concerned, I initially saw a preponderance of what could be described as a golden spoodle or perhaps they’re cavoodles. They’re definitely an “oodle” dog of some description. In this instance, the result is a spaniel-sized dog with a curly, light golden coat. They’re gorgeous looking dogs and initially, I desperately wanted one until we saw them en masse and suspected there’s some sort of covert cloning operation down by the waterfront. However, subsequent trips into Avalon have shown a much-broader cross-section of dogs and they haven’t all been designer breeds either. I even spotted a Border Collie in a cafe last week.
Spotting that Border Collie, started turning a few rusty cogs in my brain. I know Bilbo isn’t exactly a salon dog but I started to wonder whether he too could become a cafe dog…!

I wanted to find out.

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Bilbo in his element as a scraggly sea dog. Mind you, he doesn’t like going swimming.

Hanging out in cafes is quite a lifestyle shift for our Bilbo who is “a bit of a rugged character”. He’s a gorgeous looking dog but he’s a bit rough around the edges, especially after running through the mudflats of Pittwater this afternoon. Bilbo has never seen the inside of a dog salon either. That is unless you count his one encounter with the mobile dog groomer who gave him a rather image-shattering No. 1 two summers ago. The poor dog emerged looking like a totally different dog and even changed colour. Instead of his beautiful, tailor-made black and white tuxedo, he was short-haired and smoky grey. I think he wanted to cry or even bite himself not knowing who he was.
But this clip wasn’t the sort of full puppy pamper treatment some of these canine high flyers enjoy. There was no sweet smelling powder for Bilbo and he was probably thankful too. He’d be just the sort of mutt who’d have to roll in some very dead animal to get rid of a pretty smell.
There were other concerns as well about how Bilbo would go at a cafe.
While he looks perfectly harmless, Bilbo doesn’t always cope well when people visit our house and isn’t exactly what I call friendly. A friend has been giving the kids lifts to school all year and every time she turns up, the dog barks like fury and he just can’t seem to handle her taking the kids away. It also takes him quite awhile to warm up to even regular visitors to our home, except for my mum, of course. She has been feeding him ham scraps even since he was a pup and he always looks forward to sniffing “Grandma’s Hambag”.
Consequently, although Bilbo is largely very placid and happy to go to sleep, he does have “issues” and despite being well-trained, a trouble-free visit to the cafe could not be guaranteed. Taking Bilbo cafe involved the unpredictable unknown.
While I had thought about taking Bilbo to the cafe by myself, I recruited Geoff in case and by the time we’d been for our walk, the kids were on their way home so the whole family accompanied the dog to the cafe.
By the time we arrived in Avalon, it was getting dark and all of the other cafe dogs had gone home. There was just the odd dog walking passed on the other side of the road. That’s all. We didn’t get to find out how Bilbo would behave around other dogs in the cafe setting.

Let sleeping dogs lie...

Let sleeping dogs lie…

Bilbo’s first trip to the cafe was a bit of an anti-climax. He just sat quietly by our feet enjoying a bit of a pat.
Geoff and I loved our Hot Vienna Chocolates with marshmallows. They were served very elegantly in a tall glass with a handle. The kids had banana milkshakes.

Bilbo was also taken care of. While there weren’t any dog-a-chinos on the menu, Cafe Ibiza takes particular care of its dog clientele and provides a bowl of water on the footpath. Avalon seems to be very community-minded and thoughtful like this in general.

However, although you can lead a dog to water, you can’t make him drink. Bilbo was too busy sniffing other dog smells on the adjacent tree. Parenting of both children and dogs doesn’t always go to plan!
Being a Border Collie, Bilbo is particularly smart and understands words we’ve never taught him so I can’t help wondering whether he could read “Ibiza” on the water bowl and fancied that he was in Spain. Of course, he didn’t care where he was as long as he was with us.

Although, given all the dog scents around Avalon, Bilbo knew he was in doggy heaven. He’s never been on such a sniff-fest in all his life. Nose to the ground, it was a struggle to get him moving and to remind him that life wasn’t just about the journey. That you are actually meant to reach your destination.

Our family at Cafe Ibiza, Avalon. You can just see the top of the dog's head near Geoff.

Our family at Cafe Ibiza, Avalon. You can just see the top of the dog’s head near Geoff.

While on the subject of destinations, our cafe visit had an unexpected twist. While we all went to the cafe as a family together to be a part of Bilbo’s first cafe visit, we also had a great time connecting ourselves and I guess doing what has become dubbed: “quality time”. The kids were being cheeky trying to drink our hot chocolates, resulting in a bit of a tickle, some hugs and, as usual, Mummy turning into the paparazzi.

 

Miss with my hot chocolate. It was too late in the day for the kids to have one.

Miss with my hot chocolate. It was too late in the day for the kids to have one.

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I should point out that while we were sitting outside with the dog, Cafe Ibiza had a very enticing open fire going inside and a wonderful ambiance. I was also quite touched that when I went in for a Hot Chocolate yesterday, that the owner recognised me after more than ten years and was particularly helpful when we popped by today offering colouring in books and pencils to keep the kids occupied. We will have to come back for dinner some time soon.

Have you ever taken your pet to a cafe and how did it go?

I look forward to hearing from you!
xx Rowena

A Taste of Brazil

Last night, my husband and I went out on a date. The kids were having a sleep over at their grandparents’ place and my husband and I actually managed to go out with each other. That’s right. We actually went out on a date together! Hurray!

Instead of meeting up at the ubiquitous Town Hall Steps, which is the place to meet anyone in Sydney’s CBD, we met up in the back streets of Mona Vale which in located in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, about an hour’s drive north of the CBD. This is where my husband changes buses on his way home from work and I found a park around and around the corner. As it turned out, getting a parking spot wasn’t much of a problem . Even though it’s school holidays, Mona Vale wasn’t a thriving metropolis. Although to be fair, it is winter and this is a beach area. You’d have to be some kind of lunatic, a surfer or a kid to go swimming at the moment. It’s totally freezing and I’m actually starting to wonder whether we’ll be able to go ice skating on the Hawkesbury River soon. Despite those lying weather reports of daytime highs around 18 degrees celsius, it is definitely sub-zero here and icicles are dangling from the rafters.

Anyway, it’s been a long time since we’ve been out for dinner in Mona Vale and weren’t sure what to expect. We found a Lebanese place down a side street which looked interesting as well as the usual Thai and Indian places. The Thai place is very good (or at least it used to be) but I wasn’t in the mood for Thai. We were on a special night out and Thai felt a bit ordinary. We have Thai so often at home, that it’s now on par with baked beans on toast. I wanted something exotic which would not only tickle my taste buds but was also festive, lively and surrounded by people. I have spent the last week looking out at the sea and as much as I love the view, I needed to see some faces.

There were probably good places to eat out in Mona Vale but the overall atmosphere didn’t appeal and so we headed for Newport, which is the next beach down when you’re heading north towards Palm Beach. As we drove down the hill and hit the main drag, I remembered the Brazilian barbeque place we’d been wanting to try and that was it. We were going Brazilian.

Braza is what is what is known as a churrascaria, which means they barbeque meat in the traditional Brazilian way developed by the “Gauchos” or cowboys on the pampas in Southern Brazil around Rio Grande do Sol. The meat is generally marinated overnight in sea salt, garlic and lime and then it is roasted on a spit over a coal fire. Meat was traditionally sliced off and the Gauchos ate their fill. In keeping with this, the restaurant is “all you can eat” and provedores move from table to table offering beef, lamb, chicken, prawns, sausage and for the more adventurous, even chicken hearts.

Of course, we knew none of this when we walked in off the street. That’s one of the benefits of Google…being able to do your research and actually sound like you know what you’re talking about despite being ignorant. We had no idea what to expect and were totally impressed with what turned out of be a cultural and culinary adventure. We were two humble Australians without a passport or plane ticket, touching down in Rio experiencing World Cup soccer fever and the tastes,flavours, sounds and traditions of Brazil.

Initially, like when you try anything new, the whole Brazilian experience was a little overwhelming. The waitress was Brazilian with a strong accent and the menu was quite foreign, talking about this thing called “churrasco”. I read that it was “all you can eat”. I understood all about that from my high school “chew-and-spew” Chinese experiences where friends competed over who could down the most sweet and sour pork without exploding. Aside from that and a few of the side serves, the rest of the menu was foreign, different and very authentic. We were no longer in Newport. We were now tourists in Rio struggling with a foreign language, menu interspersed with English but fortunately a very helpful waitress appeared and came to our rescue. I don’t know whether she sensed our uneasiness but straight away she asked us whether we have been there before. Phew!!! She walked us through the menu. We order and almost immediately our sides appear and a Brazilian dude in a t-shirt, which I later learn is called a provedore, turns up with some huge king prawns on a plate. I’m sold. They are delicately cooked with a subtle flavour which I love but can’t place. I have so much to learn before I can become a Masterchef, or even write well about food and cooking. It’s not as easy as it looks and takes real talent.

We are three-quarters through dinner and starting to consider statements like “elegant sufficiency”, “riding the porcelain bus” while conjuring up images of medieval feasts and of course, that immortal scene from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, where Mr Creosote regurgitates gallons of minestrone with unforgettable force repainting the room. All these thoughts( or should I say warnings), are going up and down between my head and my stomach when drumming heralds the arrival of the much anticipated Brazilian dancers. When it comes to describing dancing, I really am attempting to write in a very foreign tongue. I love dancing but unlike singing, it’s not something I can do in the privacy of the shower without causing myself grievous bodily harm. So from what I can glean from Google, these dancers were doing the Samba and are referred to as Sambistas. Goodness knows what you call their luxurious, towering headpieces made of intensely colourful feathers and their itsy-bitsy teeny weeny bikinis which jingle jangle as they move rapidly yet smoothly like well-oiled machines. However, the drumming and the dancing certainly created the kind of electric, festive atmosphere I was looking for on our special night out and the place was packed.

By the end of the dancing, I was really reaching the end of my culinary road. Or, to be really honest, I had passed that point and was saving that very, very last rather borrowed space for something extra special and superlatively scrumptious.

That’s when the provedore offered us some of the barbequed pineapple, telling us that it was “good for digestion”. It didn’t take much encouragement to twist my very malleable, rubber arm. This pineapple, which had seemingly drenched in sugar and cinnamon before barbequing, was absolutely scrumdidillyumptious. Yum! Yum! Yum!

I think it is a measure of a truly excellent restaurant when you can be so completely transported beyond your current reality and into another world, even for just a few hours and be some place else. That’s what we experienced at Braza.

As the saying goes, we’ll be back.

Given all the excitement of the World Cup currently being held in Brazil, why don’t you get into the spirit and try a Brazilian Restaurant near you.

Xx Rowena

Featured image Source: Classic picanha cut of beef, sliced at a churrascaria, photo by Nikchick/Flickr Creative Commons License.

Wedding Anniversary by the Sea.

I was listening. I swear I was listening. I just wasn’t 100% focused. That’s all.

I know that as a loving, attentive wife, I should have been staring deeply into my beloved husband’s eyes at all times and not even remotely distracted, especially considering we were celebrating our wedding anniversary. Yet despite my very best efforts to be the perfect wife, my poor husband had some stiff competition.

No! I wasn’t checking out the scenery. Well, not THAT kind of scenery and especially not on our wedding anniversary. That would have been particularly poor form and I do have some standards. I was trying hard to listen. Be attentive. I know how precious these moments are because it’s not often that the two of us get away without the kids. I get that! I didn’t need to be reminded.

Yet, as much as I was trying to focus and connect with my husband, I still couldn’t take my eyes off the sea which stretched out all around us like a marvellous palette. The waves were frolicking in the warm spring sunshine gently rolling in towards the beach. As I watched the waves, I could feel my heart rate actually starting to slow as I lapsed into some kind of semi-dream state. I have painted the ocean a bit lately in an abstract kind of way and I could almost dip my finger in the foam and smear it across the canvas. It was absolutely gorgeous and only a thin pane of glass away.

How could I not be distracted, even just a little by such serene, almost heavenly beauty?

But we were not there to eat the view. We were there for the food although the view was a huge contributing factor. You see, we wanted to Immerse ourselves in some kind of divine culinary symphony where the food was so good that your eyes almost pop out of your head. We wanted the whole Masterchef type experience with our view of the ocean and the sandy beach right at our feet and we got it.

Who else would photograph a reflection of the view on the furniture?

This is why I was more than just a little distracted. The food was stimulating. The view was stimulating and we had a glass of sparkling wine each and you know what, my husband even told me a story I hadn’t heard before. You know after being married for 11 years how incredible that was! He was talking all about flying in a light aircraft in the Solomon Islands. I was pretty sure I’d heard all his old stories. I know he hasn’t heard all of my old stories but he’s heard all the stories he’s going to hear…at least from me!

Backtracking just a little, Geoff and I went out for lunch at a local restaurant to celebrate our 11th Wedding Anniversary. I’m pretty sure this is the first year that we haven’t gone away but in what looked like some kind of conspiracy, our weekend was even more cluttered than our house.  I don’t know why the world didn’t stop for us. After all, isn’t anything sacred? Apparently not!

With no hope of getting away, we decided to have lunch at a favourite local restaurant. Although this restaurant is only down the road, we haven’t been there for over 5 years. It’s been completely redecorated and changed hands in that time. If we liked it so much, why haven’t we been back? Have we been half-asleep or somehow trapped in Sleeping Beauty waiting for some kind of jolt to wake us up? As I said, it’s only down the road and last year we managed to get all the way to Silks at Leura in the Blue Mountains for our anniversary dinner. That was over 2 hours drive and an overnight stay away.

Why is it that “we” (and here I’m referring to the collective “we” because I know it isn’t just us) overlook so many great local gems and yet somehow manage to explore foreign fields? We miss out on so much! A few weeks ago, I drove all the way to Morpeth and back, which was close to a 4 hour round trip but I haven’t been on the ferry to Palm Beach for probably almost 5 years and that’s only a just short drive away. What is wrong with me? I talk all about carpe diem and all of that but I don’t put it into practice. I don’t live it.

But things are changing. I recently made a decision to explore somewhere local once a week and I’m pretty much pulling it off. The school holidays are coming up and I’m determined to explore our local beaches with the kids instead of just being lured like a moth into the bright lights of Sydney. I am determined to do it and will commit it to paper. Write a plan before my best intentions disappear into the ether again. That somehow happens to me a lot.

Anyway, back to our meal.

Cannoli filled with chocolate mouse. I apologise for the crumbs. It’s not quite the done thing to lick the plate when you’re out fine dining.

This meal also had a special resonance for me. Tomorrow, I am going back to the Brown Hospital (as the kids call it) for a repeat endoscopy. That means I’ll be fasting from 6.00AM. So I am conscious that this meal is very much like the last supper and the taste is therefore almost surreal. As much as I would like to just focus on the two of us, enjoy the meal and soak up the beautiful blue skies and the waves outside, I can’t help painting a few dark clouds on the horizon. No matter how much I try to “think positive”, “carpe diem…seize the day” and all that, life is what it is. It takes sun and rain to make a rainbow…light and dark. I love rainbows and paint them in my waking dreams. I guess that’s what it takes to make a rainbow but I would still love clear blue skies all the same!

But in the end as much as the company, the food and the view were all out of this world, like anyone who is caught up in the daily family cook fest, I was also grateful that the meal was:

a)      Cooked by someone else

b)      Didn’t come with a toy included.

c)      Child free

d)      Didn’t have to clean up afterwards

e)      Wasn’t served in a clear plastic container.

PS: Got through yesterday’s hospital visit much better than last time. Didn’t get quite so freaked out by the white hospital gown and woke up feeling very refreshed after a blissful sleep.

Must confess though that I did indulge in some chocolate cake on the way home. As I said, you always need to balance the light and the dark… beautiful dark chocolate flourless cake with a white chocolate button on top!

But… we did have a gorgeous healthy salad with the dinner tonight. I really am trying to eat healthy to be healthy. I’m about to take this to a whole new level so stay tuned. This is up there with the Tai Chi (I have been once) and takes a bit of educating, planning and commitment. I have to keep reminding myself that chocolate is not my friend but it can sound so convincing: “Don’t lie, Rowena! I know exactly how much you really love me!!!”

Wish me luck and an iron will to resist the temptation. I’m completely surrounded but I just need to practice the two-letter word….NO!

I’m sure I can do it!

xx Rowena

Morpeth Revisited

If you are trying to resist an over-active sweet tooth, Morpeth is fatal.

Same goes for bread.

If you are trying not to be tempted by fashion, art, vintage books, baby dolls, teddy bears and luscious designs, Morpeth is also fatal.

If you long to return to yesteryear with gorgeous cobbled footpaths, streets wide enough for a bullock train to turn around and stunningly rustic historic buildings…Morpeth is impossible to resist.

To top it all off, I know the brochures all talk about the aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafting down the main street but all I could smell when I first stepped out of the car was cow. I won’t be specific but there was that gorgeous country cow smell which for me, is almost more fragrant than a rose.

Morpeth is my kind of place. In fact, I even saw a few signs around town which had my name on them…For Sale…For Lease…For Rent…

I’m sure it’s a sign.

I’m sure it was a sign!

I could so easily move to Morpeth even though I do love our stunning beach with breathtaking views across Pittwater to Palm Beach Lighthouse and beyond.

It’s interesting because of all the things I did see, there was one notable thing I didn’t see in Morpeth… technology shops. They might have been there but I didn’t see any computer shops or shops selling fancy TV remotes you need engineering degrees to operate. Yes, Morpeth definitely seems like my kind of place.

I’m not going to pretend to know Morpeth well or have any inside knowledge of the place. I’ve only been there twice but my grandfather’s grandmother, Charlotte Merritt, was born there back in 1864. While in some circles that could almost make me a local, they didn’t stay very long and never became part of the social framework. I believe her father was some kind of itinerant labourer who moved around a lot.

My Great Great Grandmother, Charlotte Merritt, who was born in Morpeth in 1864.

I ended up in Morpeth for the first time almost by accident about a month ago when we were visiting nearby Maitland. I was a bit curious to see where Charlotte Merritt had come from and friends of mine live in Morpeth and told me all about fudge and ginger beer tastings, Miss Liley’s Lolly Shop, a teddy bear shop and all the cafes. It sounded like a veritable of kaleidoscope of tempting possibilities. We were off.

Morpeth is a historic village located in the Hunter Valley North of Newcastle, Australia. It was founded in 1821 and is a historic river port. It’s 168 KM North of Sydney and roughly two hours drive depending on who’s driving and the traffic conditions.

This is my second visit to Morpeth and this time, I am here all by myself and the world, or should I say Morpeth, is my oyster.

Display upstairs at Campbell’s Store.

If I had to use one word to describe Morpeth, it would have to be “enchanting”. It has that real feel of being in a magical childhood setting like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and I almost expected the oompa loompas to turn up any minute. Or perhaps, I was Alice in Wonderful and the white rabbit was about to turn up.

As much as I could wax lyrically about all the stunning, gorgeous wonderful things I saw in Morpeth, I was a woman on a mission. Both Mum and Geoff had requested more coconut ice from Campbell’s. My son had requested “souvenirs” and I was there with the explicit purpose of visiting the annual Morpeth Weird & Wonderful Novelty Teapot Exhibition and the Morpeth Tea Cosy Challenge. The local newsletter, The Morpeth Whisper had also featured a Leaning Tower of Pisa Tea Set, which I wanted to check out and I was also keen to have more of a lingering look at the very enticing clothing boutiques in Swan Street.

Something told me I should have robbed a bank before I went to Morpeth. There was just so much temptation on so many, many fronts. I had to take a deep, deep breath and muster all the self-restraint I could find and I still have more than just a few confessions!

Me with the tea cosys

I started out at the Morpeth Tea Cosy Challenge. This display was simply inspirational, magical with over 400 entries were on display. Most of the designs were knitted and there were amazingly intricate, detailed and imaginative worlds made out of wool. We’re talking flowers, birds, dainty little tea parties with teeny cups and saucers and even a red back spider. Personally, when I was at school, I struggled to knit the compulsory 20 cm x 20cm woollen squares we had to make for the annual clothing drive. I couldn’t imagine how anybody could produce these amazing creations without a magic wand or a pair of magic knitting needles!

Aren’t they just amazing!

Most of the tea cosies were either for sale or sold. There were so many exquisitely pretty designs to choose from but I opted for something quirky instead. I bought two tea coseys. One was the Queen of Hearts and the other one was Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. I’d had a rough time with our son last week and as I headed North along the freeway to Morpeth, I really did feel glad to get away and have a break…even if it was only for one day. So the Queen of Hearts sort of resonated with me…as did Tweedledum and Tweedle Dee. I couldn’t quite recall what the Queen of Hearts actually did in Alice in Wonderland at the time but she certainly had a very stern look on her face and she had a stick with a heart on the end in one hand. She really looked like a force to be reckoned with. I could use a bit of assistance. Both of kids can join forces against me and make life quite difficult at times so Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee seemed quite appropriate for them. I’m hoping the Queen of Hearts will sort them out!

The Queen of Hearts with Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee.

Once I arrived home, I actually remembered what the Queen of Hearts actually said. That was “off with their heads!”

Oh well!

The New Baby.

I wandered out of the Tea Cosy Exhibition and into the baby Doll shop. Cathy Brady meticulously transforms doll parts into incredibly life like works of art or is it real life? This is a highly skilled and painstaking process taking 180 hours of work over a three week period…almost like a long labour. I personally thought these baby dolls were a vast improvement on the real thing. They’re low maintenance. They don’t cry. There are no dirty nappies. You can put them down and they’ll still be there when you come back. These dolls are also so lifelike that they do indeed have personality. But they can’t love you. Hug you. They’re not quite the same as the real thing but a very, very close impersonation. You can visit the dolls at http://www.cathybradyartist.com/realistic-baby-dolls-for-sale

Cathy Brady- the Artist at Work.

Next, I wondered downstairs to the teapot exhibition. Now, I have a funny feeling I missed out on some of these. I did see a lot of teapots but most weren’t handmade. I am wondering how I managed this considering that was the main reason I went to Morpeth but there was just so much to see, perhaps I was a little overwhelmed. I ended up buying Geoff and I the leaning Tower of Pisa for our upcoming 11th Wedding Anniversary. I thought it summed our relationship up pretty well. We’ve had some tough times. We’re leaning a bit to one side but we haven’t toppled over. We’re still standing almost tall.

The teapot Exhibition

I wondered across the road into Miss Lily’s Lolly Shop. Even an adult feels quite childlike going into a candy store. I found some beautiful looking lollies that looked like polished stones. Unfortunately, I’d run out of cash and went on so many deviations along the main street that they had shut by the time I got back so that leaves something to look forward to for next time.

My New Suicide Shoes

Further up Swan Street, I saw the most deadly pair of heels in my size. I don’t know what was going through my head because given my muscle disease, I only ever buy sensible shoes. But I was in holiday mode. I was feeling frivolous and for once, I wanted to buy a pair of sexy shoes. So what if I couldn’t walk in them? I could always use my walking stick although that would look a bit silly. I’m sure it’s not written in the rule books but you can’t wear a pair of staggering high heels and use a walking stick! They’re diametrically opposed opposites. But they were only $30.00 and they have a solid block heel and surprisingly, I could actually walk in them after all. When I told Mum about them, she told me they could be my “under the table shoes”…uncomfortable shoes which you wear to a venue and discreetly take them off under the table. Sounds good to me although I suspect we’ll have to park right next to the table.

Writer At Work.

With so many nooks and crannies to explore, I wasn’t that interested in eating even though, yet again, there was so much temptation. I stopped for lunch at Cups N Crepes and had a banana smoothie, a cappuccino and a sumptuous Mars Bar and Caramel Cheese cake, which was delightfully mousey and melted in the mouth. It took me awhile to get through the smoothie and so I ended up writing for about an hour. I love writing in cafes and just letting my pen run wild. Shame I didn’t have the laptop though. I wouldn’t have to type it all up now.

Orange Trumpet Vine

While I was writing, I was almost mesmerised by a carpet of bright orange flowers (the Orange Trumpet Creeper) trailing down a boutique across the road. Growing on a rusty tin roof and back dropped against the deep blue sky, the composition was perfect. I zoomed in. I zoomed out. Just fabulous!

I also watched to get some shots of the bridge. The white wooden bridge over the Hunter River is a prominent feature in Morpeth. I was actually hoping to walk across but there was no footpath. I had to make do with photos from the bank.

The wind was incredibly strong and the river was so choppy that you could almost go for a surf. Okay, you know I’m exaggerating but you get my drift. I wanted to capture the raw energy of the wind in my photos. There is a very tall gum tree near the riverbank and its leaves and branches were exploding in a cacophony of sound as they thrashed away in the wind. There was such brute force and spirit but photos just didn’t do it justice.

Time was starting to get away from me by now.

Next stop, was Arnott’s Bakehouse, home of the famous Morpeth Sour Dough. I am a bread lover from way back and I was like a kid in a candy store staring at all that beautiful bread. At the time, I didn’t really have much of an idea about sour dough and was a bit wary to be honest. I chose a wholemeal loaf, which looked scrumptious and relatively “safe”. I really do recommend checking out their website at www.morpethsourdough.com.au. There are too many stories for me to encapsulate them here but this story was so funny, I’ll provide a direct link: http://www.morpethsourdough.com.au/media/14444/wish~july%202009%20v1.pdf

I don’t know if this is sacrilege but I brought my sour dough home and covered it in butter and Vegemite. The remaining loaf was converted into French toast for Sunday lunch and it was definitely scrumptious…a far superior product to my previous efforts. I’ve got a feeling I can buy this bread locally and if it wasn’t close to midnight, I’d be in the car and on my way!

I knew I only had a day or actually it was only three-quarters of a day in Morpeth and the Cinderella hour was rapidly approaching. Perhaps, I should have just felt grateful for the time I’d had but it was very hard to leave when I was having so much fun!

I had to be back by 6.30PM at the very latest to pick the kids up from after-school care. You don’t want to be the bad mother who arrives late and keeps everybody waiting even though the staff are well aware that “things happen”. I want to be responsible but at the same time, I feel like being wicked. I definitely have a bit of bad attitude what with buying the Queen of Hearts “off with their head” tea cosy, the suicidal high heel shoes and not caring about how late I arrive home… not to mention how much money I’ve spent. I know I’m over-compensating for something! Do you think I could blame the prednisone again?

Last stop Campbell’s where I stock up on Coconut Ice, Peanut brittle musk sticks and some boiled lollies for the kids. It sounds like I’ve bought a lifetime supply but I’m sure they’ll all be gone by the end of the week!

The clock has now struck four o’clock and contrary to my expectations, the car hasn’t turned into a pumpkin and my clothes haven’t turned into rags. There is no mad panic around me. It is all a matter of self-discipline. I can be strong and go now or I can push the envelope a little and hope the accelerator will do the trick. After all, it’s not every day you get to go to Morpeth and Geoff could possibly pick them up if I’m “stuck”.

Photographing the shadows on the cobbled footpath.

I walk out of Campbell’s and notice the shadows on the cobbled footpath. My camera is in the car. I was going to going to head off but just one last photo, then I’ll hit the road. Make it ten.

I somehow managed to get lost leaving Morpeth and was heading North towards Raymond Terrace. I also got stuck in heavy traffic but I still managed to pull up at after-school care at 6.00pm with half an hour to spare. I walked in to catch the kids in the middle of a fight. Another child had taken my son’s bag by mistake and later on that night my daughter had a bit of a tummy bug. I always expect payback. I can’t expect to have pure unadulterated fun without repercussions.

I’m hoping to get back to Morpeth again soon to do their walking tour. It looks fabulous. Stay tuned.

One final note…this morning when the musk sticks ran out, the kids I should go back to get some more. It was then that my son remembered the huge rainbow lollipops he’d seen at Campbell’s.

“The size of those rainbow lollipops!” he gasped. “I don’t care if I die. I just want one of those rainbow lollipops!!

“Make that two,” gasped my daughter.

“They have rainbow lorikeets in them,” my son exclaimed. “That’s why they’re not healthy. They have feathers in them.”

I don’t know where he got that idea from but it’s definitely “creative”.

I am already planning another trip. I still haven’t done the walking tour and I would mind a long lunch with some friends either.

Do you have any tales about Morpeth?

xx Ro

When the ordinary becomes extraordinary…

Last weekend, we had the privilege of catching up with a very close friend for dinner. Now, surely that isn’t something blogworthy? It’s possibly not even worth mentioning on Facebook. It’s like issuing a press release announcing: “I had a Vegemite sandwich for lunch”…blah, blah, blah, blah.

Well, I disagree. It’s been a good five years since we last went out for dinner with Emma. That’s not because we’ve been slack, lazy or had “good intentions”.

Sometimes, just getting out to dinner takes military planning. My friend has two young kids with special needs and she had escaped for the weekend “on respite”. That’s what it takes to have dinner with Emma. Things at our end weren’t that much easier. My auto-immune disease has flared. My prednisone has gone up and if things don’t turn around soon, my specialist is talking hospital. The pathology lab has also rung us twice lately concerned that I’m about to have a heart attack. After one stressed trip to Emergency, we are attributing those results to the auto-immune disease which seems hell bent on getting more attention. It’s wanting star billing and wasn’t happy just appearing at the bottom of the trailer. This means I’m not really about to have a heart attack. It just looks that way…I hope!

Considering how little we see Emma, I shouldn’t have felt guilty about going out but for a moment, I did. As much as I believe in seizing the moment, I still hesitated. Our kids had just come back from Camp Breakaway and I felt pretty bad about going out and leaving them behind. I also wondered whether I should be “resting” instead of going out. Actually, I knew I should probably be at home taking things easy but I wasn’t going to do it. I really wanted to see Emma and have a fabulous night out and celebrate. Emma has a very special place in our hearts. She introduced the two of us and our world might have been very different without her.

You can also see from the photos just how close Emma and I are. We are even wearing matching outfits and as I said, we don’t get together often but it almost always happens. I will point out that I gave her the owl necklace for her birthday so that matching bit was intentional.

So you see our dinner was really rather extraordinary. The fact that the three of us could sit in a restaurant and just talk was truly amazing!!

Not a care in the world!

Emma and I met up again for coffee on the Sunday and were joined by my daughter. Having coffee with your daughter is something so many people take for granted but with my health situation, I don’t. I haven’t seen Emma’s kids for a long time but I gather that going out for coffee isn’t possible at this point in time. They do lots of things together and Emma is an awesome Mum. She loves her kids to the very depth of her heart and fights tooth and nail to help them reach their potential just like any other parent. However, most of us don’t have to lobby, campaign and fill out 500 forms to pull that off!

I had the feeling that Emma and I both wanted to stretch the day out as long as we possibly could. We were just around the corner from the beach and I suggested that we pop down for a last look before we left. I wasn’t sure whether she would go. She was already on borrowed time but she did.

Ordinary…Extraordinary.

Again, it was a very ordinary thing for the three of us to go to the beach. No one looking at us would have had any idea just how amazing it was for us to be there. Emma made a few remarks about the extraordinariness of a little girl walking along the beach collecting shells with her Mum. I had my camera with me and I was photographing Miss doing cartwheels in the sand in her petit skirt. She was so pretty. I watched her looking at her hand and footprints in the sand as she cartwheeled down the beach. She also collected star shells and little bits of bright pink coral. Emma showed Miss the crab bubbles in the sand as the waves receded and I couldn’t help wondering why life had to be so complicated. Why should going to the beach with your Mum be such a privilege and why do so many people just take it all for granted? I know I don’t.

Cartwheels in the sand.

Footprints.

I was also having my own thoughts quite grateful that Emma knows me. Knows the real me that I’ve always been long before I had kids and she could share “me” with my kids if required. I know that all sounds a bit intense but nobody knows the future and that’s what makes the present so, so precious. I’m not talking about being morbid. It is just a reminder to seize the day, seize the moment and squeeze out every last drop. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

My daughter took this photo of me and you can really see the connection between us. Mummy playing up for the camera.

That said, even I don’t do it.

I really wanted to raise these issues in light of a recent blog I read by Stella Young on Mamamia. Stella Young is a disability activist, comedian, knitter and the Editor of Ramp Up, the ABC’s online space for news, opinion and discussion of disability issues. I recommend reading her post at

http://www.mamamia.com.au/health-wellbeing/stella-young-says-were-not-here-for-your-inspiration/

I liked some of her comments but I really believe we should be doing more to encourage others- not less. So what if we are celebrating the mundane, the everyday? For some of us, it really is extraordinary, inspirational…especially for people living with “invisibilities”. Just think about people living with anxiety, for example, who might be too afraid to leave their home. They need some inspiration!! If you can do it, I can do it. Seeing is believing. Moreover, I’d much rather have Stella as a role model than so many trashy celebrities.

I have people tell me I inspire them and I am so grateful because they look beyond my messy house, my parenting imperfections and they see what I do well. They understand that I face some hidden obstacles yet still manage to live life to the full. I say bring it on!!! We need so much more of that and so do our kids!

Thinking about seizing the moment and being inspired, I’ll just finish this off with this last little postscript because this week Miss was really inspired and I am so grateful.

Miss had had a term of violin lessons and gave up after too much screeching. Understandable perhaps but disappointing because I’d seen how much she’d loved it, connected with her violin and I thought she’d regret it. I just didn’t know how to ease her over those initial speed humps of learning a new instrument. I have practiced the violin almost daily and persevered myself to be an example to her but it wasn’t working. I have also been attending her violin lessons and keeping her spot warm. We had also tried switching her over to piano but she was still reluctant and getting very, very naughty in lessons until I decided to go it alone. It was all too hard and I was really loving my violin lessons with my beautiful teacher!

Well this week, Miss performed in Central Coast Showcase with the school choir and heard a young girl who was totally sensational playing her violin. She came home completely unprompted and said: “Mummy, I want to play my violin again.” I was so excited. Of course, I saw this as turning the corner…a new beginning. I’m not a cynic and sometimes it pays not to be because today she practiced. She was the one asking for her violin and we went through the pieces together. She actually played quite well and there weren’t that many squeaks after all.

That’s what inspiration can do! Bring it on

Adventures of A Cheesy

You could be excused for thinking you’re having flashbacks to the 1960s when you see a couple of purple cows grazing beside the road.

Don’t worry. Be happy! You’re not hallucinating. They’re real… albeit plastic… another quirky marketing gimmick. I don’t know why they couldn’t just stick a sign out the front saying Old Wyong Dairy? It’s not rocket science. After all, that is where we are!

Rustic signage at the Old Wyong Dairy

I am a woman on a mission. I’m sure you’ve heard of “foodies”. Well, that must make me a “cheesy” because I’m mad about cheese and that’s why we’re here. I’ve heard about a boutique cheese making operation and I got here as fast as I could.

Must have been a mouse in a past life!

I’m a seasoned cheese tourist. A few years ago, we visited my husband’s homeland, Tasmania. While other tourists were climbing Cradle Mountain, we were driving from coast to coast chasing the mighty cheese. There was the Pyengana Cheese factory in the North-East followed by the Lactos Cheese Factory at Burnie on the North-West Coast and followed by Ashgrove Farm at Elizabeth Town again in the North-West. I was in heaven.

So you could just imagine my excitement when I heard there was a cheese factory locally on the Central Coast. It was still about an hour away but I was busting to get there. I’d also heard they made their own yogurt using jersey milk and that sounded great too.  My husband grew up on jersey milk and raves about the stuff. So on the way home from dropping the kids off at Camp Breakaway, I managed to divert Geoff and we were in heaven.

Now, I always prefer rustic to commercial and the Little Creek Cheese Factory was quaint, intimate, filled with cheese and yogurt and then there was John. I always love somebody who can tell a story and John really draws you in with his down to earth character, his enthusiasm and a good yarn. Just ask him about how he started the business. It’s a great story.

I’m not going to go into a running description of all the cheese and yogurts. Personally, I can’t understand how all those food and wine critics come up with all those weird and wonderful descriptions of things. The cheese looked like cheese. Smelled like cheese. Tasted like cheese. Thank goodness it did. I mean would you really want to buy cheese that smells like a pair of old joggers? Don’t answer that. This cheese fit all the cheese requirements but it also had lots of extra bits and pieces such as garlic, chilli and wasabi. They were all beautiful. I’ll just let you know that we bought a box load of the stuff to take home. That’s a pretty glowing endorsement! I can assure you, we’re not the last of the big spenders. I even bought a couple of wax cheese candles. They had definite character a bit along the lines of the purple cows but I’ve never claimed to be normal!

Cheese Candle

As a bit of a postscript, I should let you know that I fried some of the BBQ Cheese, a cow’s milk Haloumi, tonight and served it on top of lamb shanks, mash and hommous. It really gave my dish a bit of finesse. As we all know, you can’t just dish anything up these days. You have to “plate up”.

Slow Cooked Lamb Shanks with BBQ Cheese, roast tomatoes, mash and hommous

I have also been eating my way through their range of yogurts. First, there was the chocolate yogurt, then the toffee yogurt and I’ve had a day off today to squeeze in a slice of home-made Iced Vovo Cake for dessert.

I’m enjoying a great cappuccino at Cinnamon Beans Cafe

Back to the Old Wyong Dairy… John was happy to mind our cheese stash while we headed next door to Cinnamon Beans for lunch. This was another great “find”. The food was out of this world. Now, I know I shouldn’t be eating chips and it sounds like I am on some kind of high-fat, see-food diet but my husband and I rarely go out on a date so this was pretty special. Anyway, I don’t eat the chips unless they’re good…very good! These were possibly the best chips I’ve ever had and as much as I hate to admit it, I’m already thinking about ways and means of driving up the freeway to get some more. We had a serve of mixed chips with our open steak burger which filled the plate, by the way. The whole thing was excellent value at around $12.00 and just beautiful! This cafe was a real find!

I’ve always liked to share those unexpected experiences… real “finds”. I’d arrived at the cheese tasting with a heavy heart. I’d spent the previous day having tests at Royal North Shore Hospital and we’d just dropped our kids off for respite at Camp Breakaway. Even though I knew they were going to have a fabulous time, I couldn’t help feeling “emotional” leaving them behind.

Our visit to the Old Wyong Dairy really cheered me up and left me feeling completely recharged. It has a really positive energy and comes highly recommended.

Enjoy!

Xx Ro

The Old Wyong Dairy 141-155 Alison Road, Wyong.

Little Creek Cheese Factory  www.littlecreekcheese.com.au