Country livin’

It was my birthday last Thursday (don’t ask me my age though – it’s way too depressing). I was a bit of a spoiled brat this year as one of my presents was a family holiday to beautiful Birregurra in the Otways. We got back on Monday, and it was such an ace weekend.
We stayed at King Parrot Cottages with horses, donkeys and alpacas on-site; bush-walking tracks and views to die for. The second photo below is of a bowerbird nest, gleefully discovered by my 8-year old, right behind our cabin. It was an incredible construction; scattered with bright blue things – bottle tops, cigarette lighters, doll parts and food wrappers. That is one dedicated bowerbird, as the scenery was pristine so it would’ve required some serious hunting to find all those treasures. I totally admire such dedication in a collector!
Our boys had a ball; lizard-chasing, kangaroo-spotting and exploring the bush.
We were mainly there though to visit the Birregurra Festival. I LOVE a good country fair and this one was a winner: a woodchop event (blokes in Dunlop Volleys and white pants – corrrr – hacking into log chunks), dog-jumping, farm equipment displays, animals everywhere (including camels!) and so many stalls selling local produce, home-made chutneys, relishes and cakes. Heaven.
We had some fab food. The lovely ladies in my photo below were whipping up spinach gözleme at a furious pace. The Vietnamese coleslaw was fantastic too.
Birregurra itself is such a pretty country town, all awnings and timber shopfronts. The General Store, an unassuming-looking milk bar, serves up perfect coffee, killer hamburgers and amazing lahm bi ajeen (Lebanese lamb pizzas – photo below), drizzled with lemon juice and fresh chilli. We make these at home quite often, with planned-overs from this lamb pilaf. Will provide the recipe soon!
So, I’m still on a high after such a lovely break. Finding it hard to concentrate at work. *sigh*

Birregurra holiday

A fairy nice day

Had to share some photos of Anakie Fairy Park, where we spent Father’s Day.
I think it’s the old Dutch lady in me, but I just love classic kid’s theme parks. One of my earliest childhood memories is a visit to the Efteling in Holland. It had talking bins, a steam-driven carousel and a fairy tale forest. Anakie Fairy Park is like a very scaled-down version of it.
It was built in 1959 by Peter Mayer, a German immigrant. He and his family made many of the original displays by hand and they’re divine. Look at Humpty at the front gate!
It’s a treasure of a place, wedged into the top of Mount Anakie, with giant (real!) boulders everywhere you look. There are whimsical animatronic fairy-tale displays (mostly Grimms’) of the Three Bears, the Seven Dwarves, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Pinnochio… too many to list (apparently 22 in total but I lost count).
Sid, our youngest, hadn’t been there since he was a baby and he was beside himself with excitement, literally running from display to display. He has spent the last few days (on and off) in dress-ups, pretending to be an animatronic window display; sitting frozen on his little chair until one of us presses ‘the button’ (rigged up by our 8-year old) to make him move and talk. Very cute.
Had a hard time culling the photos as it’s such a photogenic place. The only bugger is the distance – 1.5 hours each way for us (just over an hour from the centre of Melbourne); but it’s worth the trip. My 8-year old describes the playground there as ‘the best in Melbourne’.
If you’re planning to visit, bring a picnic as there is no ‘real’ food for sale. We brought meatloaf and salad sandwiches, and honey banana cake. There’s an on-site fast food van that actually has very good coffee though. I’m a self-confessed coffee snob so you can take my word for it! They have on-site BBQs too, and plenty of seating.

Anakie Fairy park

Market in your diary

A few happy snaps from the Luna 1878 Winter night market at the Queen Vic last night. The queues for food were hellish, but the atmosphere was fab, the aromas were drool-worthy and I scored a gorgeous ring for my upcoming birthday from Greg Mann (thanks Judy)!
It was so lovely strolling around, glass of wine in hand, having a sniff and a prod of all the delights on offer, in the middle of a torrential downpour.
The next night market at The Queen Vic is the Suzuki Night Market on November 14th, so if you’re in Melbourne be sure to (ahem) market it in your diary.

Suzuki night market

Meals on wheels

We FINALLY caught up with Taco Truck today, and it was well worth the wait. It very occasionally travels south to St Kilda, but we always manage to miss it, so today we hot-footed it up to Coburg.
For non-Melbourne readers, Taco Truck is a fab food van that trawls the Northern suburbs (mostly) of Melbourne; dishing out freshly-made tacos. You’re alerted of its’ location on the day, via Facebook or Twitter.
Today it set up shop on Gaffney Street Coburg, opposite Harmony Skate Park. We met up with some Northern suburbs pals, for what turned out to be a super-tasty spontaneous lunch.
I had the taco plate; which came with two tacos, fish and chicken (the other taco option was potato and ricotta and it looked pretty fine too). The fish was coated with a thin tempura-like batter; and was served with slaw, poppy aioli and a good squeeze of lime. The chicken taco (my favourite) was plugged with a zingy corn salsa, chipotle mayo and baby spinach. On the side were beautiful freshly-cooked tortilla corn chips. Very tasty overall. The boys were happy too – my picky 5-year old scoffed a huge serving of guacamole and the aforementioned tortilla chips, and my 8-year old loved the chicken tacos. Both hooned around the excellent playground for a while; then we piled back into the car, well sated, and headed for home. Gracias Taco Truck! Do come south again one day, por favor.

Taco truck Melbourne

To market, to market, to buy a fat fig

I have three words to say to you. Fig jam doughnuts.
They were my brunch at the Saturday market at Ceres and they were fabulous. I absolutely love that place. We gathered up our motley collection of family bikes, drove to Brunswick, parked the car, and had a lovely ride along the Merri Creek to Ceres.
Locals will know it well, but for those who don’t, it’s a little slice of country, 5 minutes from the city. It was built on the site of a decommissioned municipal tip; and is now a gorgeous eco park and farm. Their market is on every Saturday and you can stock up on organic vegies, hand-made clothing, bric-a-brac (yes!) and craft.
The on-site cafe is fab too; shaded by tea trees, with a mega sandpit for the kids, and dogs are welcome. We met friends there for lunch and I tucked into a pumpkin, tofu and miso filo roll with salad; and a perfect coffee. The kids love the Ceres sausage rolls, which are plugged with vegies and brown rice, and served with home-made relish. There is also a permaculture nursery on site and big fat chooks mooching around. Heaven!

Ceres Brunswick

Taking it on the chin

My lovely youngest had his birthday on the weekend. Happy 5th birthday Sidney! We celebrated with a Beard Party. I promise this was a request from him and not an attempt by us to leap onto Melbourne’s bearded hipster craze – which incidentally I am still loving, even the bushranger thing. The husband has sported a rather fetching beard for years.
My 5-year old, mimicking daddy, has worn stick-on beards in various configurations over the past year. We’ve made them from cardboard, cotton wool, faux fur, fabric, paper and even the pointy bits inside an egg carton. For a while there, he had a collection of them taped to the door-frame, so he could make his selection for the day.
The party was a hoot. With all that facial hair, at one point it looked like we were hosting a mini Spanish inquisition. Lots of kids brought their own beards – the blue beard drawn on with pastels and the brown knitted woollen one were personal faves. A girlfriend of mine sacrificed some of her own hair which she adhered to her chin and upper lip with eyelash glue. She was a terrifying, living vintage circus poster and frankly, she creeped me out.
We eased into the party with some craft. I found ace blank cardboard cut-out faces at Riot Art and we supplied paper beards, textas and glue for the kids to make their own bearded faces. It was a nice calm start to the afternoon. The peace and quiet was soon shattered with shrieks though when 
the husband bounded in, having reprised his popular role as El Camino, sombrero-toting balloon-animal-maker extraordinaire. We also played Pin the Beard on the Anthill Mob Dude (photo below). The weather was totally crappy so indoor games were an absolute necessity.
The beard cake was super easy to make. I made the beard hair by pushing ‘sausages’ of fondant icing through my son’s playdough string-maker. Ready-made fondant icing is fantastic. It’s super easy to use, and makes such an impressive, smooth coating. It’s simply rolled flat like dough and cut to fit. I used it for the bearded cupcakes too. You can buy fondant icing online (even on Ebay!) or from Merryday Cakes, Something for Cake or CakeDeco on Flinders Street.
The treat bags contained a mini bag of lollies from Aldi, stick-on moustaches from Ebay, a colour-your-own people paper chain from Riot Art, and bearded character badges (or ‘buttons’ for our American friends). One of the badges features a photo of my son’s favourite Thunderbird doll, with a beard and moustache made from plasticine. The girl’s badge features a fab bearded lady illustration found on Pinterest (who looks spookily like my aforementioned girlfriend). My 8-year old and I caught the train to Sticky Institute to make the badges. It’s in the beautiful Campbell Arcade in De Graves Subway – without a doubt one of my favourite places in Melbourne. Sticky Institute have an online badge template on their website, so you can pre-make your artwork. The 8-year old had a ball making all the badges, while I perused the zines and quaffed a perfect coffee from Cup of Truth.
The party food was nearly all eaten, which was a relief as I nearly always over-cater. We had popcorn, little sausages, fruit, guacamole with crackers and carrot sticks, honey joys, bearded cupcakes (I made my sneaky pumpkin chocolate muffins in oval-shaped friand pans), tsukune (teriyaki chicken balls) and cheese and spinach pastries from Oasis Bakery.
Jeez, didn’t mean for this post to become such an epic! Sorry guys. Ciao for now. New recipes coming soonish…

Beard cake

Beard party ideas

Melbourne chick

Bootsy Collins the chickenIntroducing Bootsy Collins, possibly the luckiest chook in Melbourne. Her owners, Jess and Dean, carry her around in a special Thai-made chicken carrying basket. She’s a beautiful chicken, a wyandotte, and she has the nature of a Persian cat. I first noticed her when I spotted Dean furtively dropping little pieces of bread into his bag. The bag responded with a cluck!
Bootsy frequents one of my favourite cafés, just down the road from my work in St Kilda, Neighbours, makers of a consistently-perfect café latte.
I’m spoiled for choice with cafés locally. There are so many good ones in fact, that I gravitate towards the ones with a special something. These are my top 3, in no particular order.
1. NEIGHBOURS CAFE. Corner Chapel Street and Inkerman Street, St Kilda.
Perfect coffee. Check.
Nice people. Check.
Special something: They have a fab outdoor area with real grass and dogs are welcome! Great chicken salad (sorry Bootsy).
2. UNTITLED CAFE. 544 Glen Huntly Road, Elsternwick.
Perfect coffee. Check.
Nice people. Check.
Special something: They have their own art supplies store. They provide paints, paper and brushes for the kids. They screen vintage Disney cartoons non-stop. What’s not to like? Oh, and they run life-drawing and soup nights – the husband is there as we speak.
3. MONK BODHI DHARMA. Rear 202 Carlisle Street, Balaclava.
Perfect coffee. Check.
Nice people. Check.
Special something: There are usually friendly dogs lounging outside. It’s so darn cute, having been a bakery in the 1920s – like a mini warehouse hidden in a carpark. The food, all vegetarian, is drool-worthy. AND… once a week the staff spend the day in fancy dress for ‘dress up Tuesday’.
Have a most excellent weekend folks. Recipes coming soon. Oh, and just in case you’re unfamiliar with Bootsy Collins’ namesake, check out this.

Favourite local cafes

A well-crafted weekend

Hey guys. If you live in Melbourne and you’re looking for a way to (ahem) easel into a relaxing Sunday, may I suggest the Dandenong Ranges Open Studios weekend. It started today and finishes tomorrow. I spent today at the beautiful studio of my friend Jacqui in Upwey (see the photos below). Jacqui and I met on the first day of our Graphic Design course in the 80s; she sporting short white asymmetric hair and a love of OMD and the Tom Tom Club; and me resplendent in a men’s paisley pyjama top, mohair cardigan and winkle-pickers. Jacqui now makes gorgeous bespoke embroideries (featuring typography, vintage apothecary labels, machinery and bird cages), custom-printed fabrics, cushions, paintings and cards; all under her fab-named label, Vonda. The girl is so prolific! Her studio is to die for with incredible views, chooks and a lush rambling garden.
You can see the list of artists and their addresses on the website. Jacqui is number 3 on the list. You must also visit number 11, Joy Serwylo. She makes hand-bound artist’s books and zines, including tiny little intricately-bound books about 3 cm (1-inch) high, on subjects as diverse as bus shelters and cemeteries. Her studio is eye-poppingly amazing, filled to the brim with mini dioramas, dolls and other stuff. You can sit in her lounge-room and make your own little book with her – for free.
The Dandenongs are so beautiful at this time of year, the paths peppered with red and yellow Autumn leaves. So lovely to stroll around and have a peek into people’s studios and workshops. Highly recommended.
Have a happy weekend. Recipes coming soon…

Dandenong Ranges collage