Chocolate & Spice

chocolate, spice and the other pleasures in life

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Cookie Monster

That's A's alter-ego. Actually, A's alter-ego should now rightfully be named the Big Bump (think really hard why...), what with all the happy munching that's been going on in this apartment of late. It's gotten to the state of "now you see it.... now you don't" with the boxes of cookies, sliced cakes and muffins I have around the apartment. A, as one can tell by now, really loves his sweet stuff and is always delighted to come home to the smell of freshly baked goodies in all forms.


But what A can't resist most of all are Krispy Kreme donuts - the 8 we had left after giving some away to our friends, Jackson and Michelle, has disappeared in a flash of an eye. A loves donuts in all forms and donuts have a sentimental place in our history; when we first started dating, as we were at opposite ends of the Singapore CBD and couldn't meet for a quick morning coffee, we used to send an email mid-morning to say hi and accompanying our short email conversation would be a donut from Starbucks with our coffee. It became a ritual for a while until my skirt started getting tighter!


So imagine our delight when we discovered that the legendary US Krispy Kreme donuts were available at Sydney's international airport (the first outlet outside the US opened in Sydney in 2003) and we used to lug boxes of these sugar delights back home every new year after the holidays. Krispy Kreme has since made it to Melbourne with the fourth outlet set to open at Melbourne Central Station in December 2006 after outlets at Fountain Gate Shopping Centre, Chadstone Shopping Centre and one in the CBD at the western end of Collins Street. Right now, when an attack of the munchies comes on, A just needs to walk to the other end of Collins Street from his office to get his sugar boost - a fair walk I'd say for a growing cookie monster and certainly easier than lugging a box on the plane!


Monday, November 27, 2006

Another lazy weekend away

The lovely view from a lookout on Arthur's Seat of the Mornington
Peninsula - Sorrento where we are headed is located around the curve

A couple of weekends ago, A and I drove down to the Mornington Peninsula to spend part of the weekend with friends from Singapore. As always, we will happily take up any excuse to see a different part of Victoria and this is a lovely one indeed. It has many wineries, great restaurants, lovely sea views, quaint townships that straddle the divide between country and city very well (since they are mostly well-equipped with fantastic bakeries, coffee joints and boutiques).

Since our friends were staying at Rye, we decide to stay close by at Sorrento, which has a lovely beach-side location, plenty of interesting shops and a long beach front for walks. Unfortunately, by the time we reach Sorrento, I'm scarcely fit to walk anywhere much less check out any shops! It was as much as I could do to make some small talk with our host, John, at Dougal's B&B while A attends to all the checking-in matters and when I could finally crawl into bed for a snooze, I slept blessedly for an hour. All this because of a splendid afternoon lunch at the Vines of Red Hill....

Vines of Red Hill

Lunch at the Vines was the big highlight of our weekend, other than catching up with our friends of course! One of my invaluable resources here has been the 2007 Age's Good Food Guide (to Melbourne and regional Victoria); it's helped us plan our trips around Victoria, taking into account which restaurants are along the way. I would also have bought the Foodie's Guide to Melbourne & Regional Victoria 2007 but on flipping through, realised that I already knew many of these shops. We've been quite fortunate that our neighbourhood has many of the great food places/shops/purveyors listed inside. So when the Good Food Guide listed Vines as the only Chef's Hat rated restaurant on the Mornington Peninsula, we decided a visit should be on the cards.

The view from the restaurant terrace

Situated in the vineyard area of Red Hill on the Mornington Peninsula, the Vines overlooks neat rows of hanging vines and is ringed with wild lavendar. It's a lovely place for lunch especially out on the terrace on a sunny day and I can imagine it would look beautiful at night with lots of candles flickering. Unfortunately, the Vines was booked out for a wedding the day we got in so we had to settle for lunch, which worked out quite well with our plans in any event since we would only be meeting Val and Justyn on Sunday instead. Certainly, it would have been quite perilous to drive back to Sorrento after dinner since we had to traverse windy roads past Arthur's Seat (the kind with near 360' pinturns!!) and these are roads for clearheaded drivers, which we weren't well... not after we had such a wonderful lunch at the Vines!

From the word "go", lunch was a close to 3 hour long session of indulgence. Chef Steve Davidson's food is beautifully presented, in generous but not overflowing portions, and delights with every mouthful. However, because the portions looked just right and each bite wasn't cloying or overly rich, we had underestimated the capacity of our stomachs! After finishing the entrees and the mains, we thought we could manage a dessert each and that was the absolute killer leaving both of us a little glassy-eyed albeit nicely sated. Here's what we had:


After we order, our server brought out a bowl of freshly baked bread (really yummy stuff!) and a trio of salted butter, olive tapenade and light fruity olive oil, the latter being locally grown in the Mornington Peninsula.

That day was turning out to be a rather hot day so we decided to skip the soup on the menu(although butternut pumpkin soup is a favourite of mine) and order something else.

A decided on the spatchcock, which came with its roasted breast with livers, foie gras and herbed brioche gratin and rolled leg ballotine with rocket, together with truffle infused polenta and port-reduced shallots. This was simply yummy - the smell of the truffle subtly whets one's appetite for the spatchcock, which is very nicely done (not too dry as smaller fowls tend to be if overcooked). The polenta had the nice texture and almost similar taste to very good whipped potatoes and was perfect sopping up the jus on the dish. A of course, was delighted by the generous nugget of foie gras nestled in the polenta and just as I thought he was going to polish it off, had the presence of mind to leave me half of it to try. That took some self-control since he simply loves foie gras (to the horror of my mom)! A had the Vines' house label shiraz, which robust flavours was the perfect complement to the intense flavours of his entree.

My dish seemed rather simple in comparison, certainly with none of the complex flavours that A's had. However, executed well, oysters are the perfect starting point for any meal and the chef definitely got this dish right. While I'm not usually a fan of oysters (preferring to have just 1 or 2 and not half a dozen), this dish sounded light and cool for the hot afternoon. Freshly shucked, the 6 Coffin Bay oysters were served with lime marinated yellow fin tuna, Yarra Valley salmon caviar and avocado and herb salsa. The accompaniments to the oysters didn't overpower its natural briny taste and instead added depth and interest to each bite - each caviar roe bursting with flavour as you chew the oyster, the lime adding a slight tart taste to the overall sweetness of the avocado and tuna. The Vines house label Gewurtztraminer, being light, fruity and slightly sweet, was a lovely accompaniment to the oysters.

By now, A and I have these slightly blissed out looks on our faces, and when our server comes over, she smiles when she sees we have mopped up every scrap of our dishes and receives our effusive praises graciously. Thankfully, she allows some time to lapse before bringing out our mains so A and I have time to take in the scenic views of rolling vineyards, wildflowers and lavendar bushes and catch up on the events of the week.


When our server brings forth the mains, A is almost hopping with delight at the supremely large portion of the rib eye on his plate. Generously portioned, his char-grilled Mornington Peninsula grain fed rib eye came with a double potato and prosciutto stack, green beans, local horseradish cream and a light shiraz reduction. Simply done, but very effective on the taste scale, a lot of the credit must go to the chef for using fresh local produce and bringing out the best of each item.

I had decided earlier to order the duck breast, which would be served pink and comes with baby beetroot, cress and walnut salad, butter beans, corn and duck leg pancake and a Jasmine tea reduction. This is superb - ordinarily, my appetite for very rich dishes is a small one and I don't always eat the entire duck breast, preferring just to pick off someone's plate or have it as an appetizer instead. This time, I polish off my plate (with the exception of several pieces of duck reluctantly surrendered to A) and mopped up every scrap of jus with the flavourful duck slices. Although it comes slightly overdone, the pieces of duck breast are tender and juicy and sop up the Jasmine tea reduction perfectly well. I liked the reduction in particular (a not unusual combination with duck given that there is the classic Chinese tea-smoked duck) and how the reduction only had a faint hint of Jasmine tea.


By the time we finish off our mains, we are both slightly stuffed and definitely pondering if dessert is a good idea. One look at the menu and greed takes over prudence - I can't resist trying the slow baked chocolate tart with passion fruit ice cream and pistachio biscuit and since I refused to share mine with A, he chooses the local apple and puff pastry tart with malt cream and Red Hill honey ice cream. Both are the perfect end to our lovely meal. The dark chocolate tart in particular, gives an intense shock to the system with each mouthful and the slightly tart passionfruit ice cream offsets the richness of the chocolate.

A's apple puff pastry tart is really good as well and lends credence to the saying that sometimes, the simplest things turn out the best. I often wish my puff pastry would turn out as nice and flaky as this one, but I guess that's why there are pastry chefs and there are home cooks like me! We leave the Vines with some reluctance to dispel the magic woven by the food, the peaceful setting and the perfect weather - too often, we have been caught out by the weather on our trips out, which mars slightly an otherwise lovely experience, but today, we are lucky on all counts.

Owing to our heavy lunch, dinner that night is a simple fish and chips from the chippie shop in Sorrento after spending the evening walking the Sorrento foreshore and catching the sunset. We play Trivial Pursuit in our B&B after and retire early for the night.

The next day, we enjoy a lovely breakfast and have a good time chatting with the other couples at the breakfast table. In what is becoming a common occurrence so far, we rose from the table quite late at 11 am (and A and I had been the first ones at 830am too!) and quickly clear off to meet Val and Justyn for lunch at Stillwater at Crittendon in Dromana.

Again another lazy afternoon, but this time, we go easy on the food (mainly just entrees and desserts) and instead polish off 3 bottles of very good sauvignon blanc. After all, the focus this time was on catching up with our friends and 3 hours go by really quickly before they have to scoot off to view a house down at Portsea and we arrange to meet at the National Golf Club at Cape Schank for coffee with ocean views later on in the afternoon.

With a couple of hours free, A and I go check out the various produce places and load up on locally produced apple juice, first harvest cherries and Desiree potatoes. Visiting produce farms and sampling their wares in each region we visit is one of my favourite activities, and recalls to mind my childhood holidays with my parents spent picking strawberries and visiting orchards. We also visit the Gordon Studio Glassblowers with very lovely sculptural glass pieces and with very little time remaining before we have to drive to Cape Schank, we stop by the Red Hill Art Gallery to browse the pieces. The friendly owner offers to show us his farm and before we know it, we are taken to see his very very cute alpacas and A has a go at feeding them. One alpaca in particular catches our eye, it looking very much like an Ewok and for the most part, they are docile and relatively friendly (with A at least who is holding the feed) although they do occasionally spit and hiss and kick at each other.

We end off a lovely weekend trip taking coffee with Val and Justyn at the National's clubhouse overlooking the putting greens with the spectacular ocean views in the background playing off the setting sun.

The all-important contact details:

Vines of Red Hill
150 Red Hill Road, Red Hill Mornington Peninsula
Tel: (03) 5989 2977

Chef's Hat - 1 with a rating of 15/20
Definitely call ahead (suggest at least 1 or 2 weeks in advance) to reserve a spot as this place seats just 80 and fills up quickly for the prime Saturday night bookings. I had called the week before and was told that Friday and Saturday night and Sunday afternoon were fully booked. Also, as this is a popular wedding venue, there may be nights which the restaurant does not open to the public either. The dishes we had were from the menu for the 17th to 19th November so next time you visit, there is likely to be something new!

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

What keeps me busy most days

I'm commonly asked (as is A) what I do with my time here now that I'm not working. Initially, keeping myself occupied and filling the hours was a tough task, me waking up promptly at 7:30 am and fidgeting around the house and checking my email every couple of hours. Now, it's a breeze finding activities to do to fill the hours every day!

A lot of my friends are now calling me a "domestic goddess", hopefully with the image of the luscious Nigella Lawson in mind! I guess it's because a lot of my time now revolves around cooking and food and shopping for food. I spend many happy hours walking past the swanky boutiques on Chapel Street until I reach its extreme end in the district of Windsor to wallow in the op shops with their extensive collection of vintage cooking books (how quaint are recipes for good old 70s and 80s classics like prawn cocktail, avocado and trout pate with Melba toast and Steak Diane?!) and browsing the shelves at a favourite shop, Flavours Herbs and Spices, for spices, herbs and other cooking equipment. Walking back along Chapel Street, I look at the lovely cakes at Patterson's Cakes, and the many other old-fashioned cake shops (with garishly decorated cupcakes) along the way. Sometimes, I pop to the Prahran Market to check out the produce at the organic supermarket there although by now I do most of my shopping at the cheaper Chinese produce market (the Fresh Supermarket on Chapel Street, Prahran). Other times, I swing by special providores such as Oliveria - a Melbourne institution (particularly amongst chefs) specialising in olive-based products and is best known for its range of olive oils.

I am usually unable to resist buying something new to try and a week back, having run out of olive oil (the normal kind from the supermarkets), I finally decide to try the olive oil sourced by Oliveria from various parts of the world - ranging from Spain, Australia, Italy and even France. These oils are decanted from huge stainless steel buckets into individual packets and because they are packaged under Oliveria's own label, the cost of trying these oils are significantly lowered.

First, one has to decide on the type of olive oil one wants - spicy, fruity, mild.... the various attributes of olive oil is unending. Buying olive oil can be akin to buying wine - you definitely have to try some before deciding. After sampling a variety, I decide on the Chef's Choice olive oil, which I'm told is a popular choice amongst many Melbourne chefs. Later that night, drizzled over a rocket salad and served separately with some of my Tomato Powder (from New York) as a dip for bread, I can see why this olive oil is in demand!

I don't just spend all my time drooling over the produce in specialist shops or a lazy afternoon reading the latest cookbooks at Borders (just a short 10 minute walk away!) or cooking up dinner. For the past couple of months, I've been faithfully tying on the apron and whacking on the oven to try my hand at a variety of bakes - cakes, slices, muffins and biscuits. I'm way past the first time I made pastry after many years, although there are some near misses (like the time I tweaked my Chocolate Peanut Cookie recipe with orange marmalade instead and turned out a dense chewy cookie, which thankfully A still loved).

The latest recipe I try is a Double Chocolate Muffin from the Everyday Cooking book I'm so attached to. Originally a Triple Chocolate Muffin (how's that for chocolate overload?!), I leave out the white chocolate chips and chocolate fudge icing the recipe calls for and instead add in freshly chopped dark chocolate with the dark chocolate chips I'm using. I don't have any more chocolate in the fridge to make the icing so I use my beloved Nutino instead. Instant yums!

My Double Chocolate Muffin
(makes 8 - 9)


150g (1 cup) self-raising flour
50g (1/2 cup) cocoa
90g (1/2 cup) soft brown sugar
165ml (2/3 cup) milk
60g (4 tbsp) butter, melted and cooled
1 egg
90g (1/4 cup) dark chocolate chips and dark chocolate chopped up, mixed
Chocolate fudge icing or Nutino for icing


Preheat oven to 180'C and line 8 x 125ml (1/2 cup) muffin pans with paper cases.
Sift the flour and cocoa together, then add brown sugar and stir through. Whisk the milk, melted butter and egg together.
Add the wet mix to the dry mix and whisk together until it forms a smooth batter. Fold through the chocolate chips and bits.
Spoon the mix into the prepared muffin tins and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until risen and golden brown.
Allow to cool, then top with Nutino frosting or the traditional chocolate fudge icing if desired.

The prepared mix all ready to be bunged into the oven

The muffins before the Nutino icing is spread

These muffins are probably not something you'd want to eat every day, but these are no doubt fantastic once in while!

Check out Oliveria at:

Pran Central Shopping Centre, Shop G36
Corner of Commercial Rd. & Cato St, Prahran
Tel: (03) 9510 0690

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Friday, November 24, 2006

The Great Ocean Road Part II

A trip down the Great Ocean Road won't be complete if one doesn't partake of the culinary delights that each town offers. Indeed, besides the sights shown in my previous post, some of the best moments on our trip revolved around our creature comforts.

First of all, it's definitely important to choose a comfortable B&B (bed and breakfast) with the all important "full country breakfast" included. A and I don't usually have a big breakfast most mornings but we do enjoy partaking in this particular pleasure of staying at a B&B. It was a little difficult with the accomodation choices for our trip, which took place over the long Melbourne Cup weekend, as either quite a fair number of accomodation choices were fully booked up or else required a minimum 2 - 3 night compulsory stay. Still, if it hadn't been for these difficulties, we wouldn't have stumbled upon one of the highlights of our stay.

Timboon House

Timboon House (circa 1855), a heritage Victoria-listed property, is located at Camperdown, which is about 56km north of the Great Ocean Road. We had a night's stay there on my birthday, as I could not find any suitable accomodation nearer the Great Ocean Road. Despite the 45 minute journey up north, A and I were delighted to come across this historic homestead in the late afternoon sun and to be warmly greeted by our affable host, John King and his Jack Russell terrier, Mr. Darcy.

Our pretty bedroom

Timboon House is beautifully proportioned with antique furniture and Laura Ashley-like furnishings and is set amidst peaceful, matured rose gardens. I liked the incredible details each bedroom presented, from the clawfoot bath in the spotless private bathroom, the little bon bons next to the water jug, and particularly the antique light pull next to the door (pull once to switch on the light, pull a second time to turn it off!). John was also extremely helpful with suggestions for our trip and dinner that night and over the course of the night and the next morning, proved to be an engaging and hospitable host. We spend part of the afternoon enjoying a very prettily arranged afternoon tea on the patio with John and chatting about travels (and his visit to Singapore last year), food, work and passing the time quite nicely indeed.

The welcoming dining room all neatly set for breakfast

By the end of the evening when John calls up to us to ask if we still want coffee and a nightcap before turning in, we're starting to wish we had booked ourselves in for the next night as well. Especially when we descend the stairs the next day to the dining room, with the strains of classical music playing and a crackling fire going, to see the spread laid out for us in the dining room!

The cereals and poached fruits table all nicely laid out

My lovely brekkie!

Both A and I love a big breakfast on weekends but rarely do we go the whole hog with cereal, poached fruits and yoghurt, toast and preserves and the cooked portion. We do here, as the peaceful night we enjoyed in the comfortable bed upstairs whetted our appetite. A stays with the traditional eggs, bacon, mushroom, tomato and sausage combo while I decide to try John's suggestion of scrambled eggs with smoked salmon on rye toast. We pass a lovely morning at the breakfast table chatting with the other couple about Melbourne and their part of Victoria, which turns out to be Red Hill in the Mornington Peninsula. We push back out chairs from the table around 10.30 am but not until the couple gives us tips of where to go during our upcoming weekend on the Mornington Peninsula.

We leave Timboon House to the accompaniment of a volley of goodbye barks from Mr. Darcy. There are B&Bs and there are those B&Bs that rise above all others - Timboon House is one of the rare few that we would consider coming to stay at again and again, by virtue of the host of creature comforts, its peaceful setting and most of all, its cheerful and welcoming host (and dog).

After a good night's rest, I would say the next important consideration would be getting a good meal. A loves his food and can happily eat anything as long as it's not too badly cooked but he's increasingly starting to take an interest in visiting way-off places just for the food! We were relatively blessed on this trip to experience 3 differing dining experiences with the freshest regional produce available.

The Bend Cafe

Our first stop for the night was our B&B, Whispering Seas B&B at Glenaire. This is about 20 minutes from Apollo Bay (our original stop) and was one of the few B&Bs who would take us for one night. Our host Susan Collingbourne points us in the direction of the Bend Cafe for dinner and warns us that while Paul would feed us well, "he's a bit of a character!". I knew from reading some articles on the internet and an earlier article from The Australian, that Paul, the chef at the Bend Cafe, had been dubbed "a reluctant chef" and "possessing a wicked sense of humour" and we would soon find out what Susan meant!

You can see the Bend Cafe with its green roof in the distance

Making our way down to the Bend Cafe that evening, both of us were hungry and looking forward to dinner. Paul greets us with a beer stubbie in hand (in fact, when he's not behind the grill, he has a beer bottle firmly in hand that whole evening!) and tells us to sit anywhere. I look around for a menu and read the 'instructions' on the blackboards next to the kitchen and around the cafe with amusement when Paul rolls up to tell us that what he's got in the fridge and how he plans to cook it!

Paul behind the stove and his amusing instructions on the blackboard. If you can't read it, it says "Your conversation may be monitored for future training purposes: If you do not wish to participate, please inform your server and thank you for your cooperation. In a rush ---> MacDonalds - Colac 63km, Torquay 127km, Warrnambool 131km DRIVE SAFELY"

No menu in sight and with no idea about the prices, this is a leap of faith on our part and we decide to fall in with his suggestion of "the heavy meal" - a roasted lamb rump stuffed with feta cheese served on grilled aubergine, potato cakes, mushrooms and tomatoes. Following his query whether we had any food preferences and our reply that "we eat everything", Paul grumbles that "Americans say they eat everything and I serve them feta and they dig it out of the lamb and leave it by the side of their plate..." and by his stern look, we take it that we should not commit such a sin. A plate of bread and pesto appears on the table and when we are asked if we want wine, no wine list is presented - instead, it's "Do you fancy a Cab Sauv, Merlot or Shiraz?". Shiraz it is. We make ourselves comfortable with the newspapers as appetizing smells emanate from the kitchen and Paul banters with us and the other guests.

Not too long later, our food comes out together with a generous pouring of the shiraz A wanted. Taking mouthfuls of both, we realise that even without a menu or a winelist, Paul's food and drink is more than plain good - it's hearty and very very tasty! The unknown shiraz is plummy with every mouthful of lamb we take. Quite stuffed, we end off with a slice of freshly baked cheesecake for dessert and a cup of coffee each. We never find out how much each item cost as the bill came totalled up and we paid a reasonable sum for the amount we had. Come to think of it, we never found out what the mysterious shiraz A drank as well.....

The Dining Room at Dublin House Inn

When I was booking our accomodation at Port Fairy, I had made calls around to our first choice, the 2 Chef's Hat rated joint serving up Middle Eastern-inspired/Mediterranean cuisine, Portofino on Bank. Unfortunately, Portofino is closed on Mondays and we rue our chance to eat at this highly-lauded restaurant.

We opt instead to visit the Dining Room at Dublin House Inn instead, being lured by the premise that the menu involved quite a fair bit of seafood! Our arrival in Port Fairy and the subsequent afternoon spent visiting the galleries was marred by the constant drizzle and dreary skies, so we were greatly cheered to find upon arrival at Dublin House Inn, that we would be seated next to the fire blazing in the fireplace.We decide to go with seafood for both our entrees and mains and here's what we had.


A decides on the special appetizer of the day called "Flavours of the Sea", which has a trio of small starters - Scallops seasoned with Piri Piri spices, smoked Timboon eel, seasoned oysters battered and fried.

I opt for the Marriner's Linguine, which is al dente linguine tossed in a garlicky, semillon-based sauce with mussels, scallops, smoked eel, oysters and prawns.


A has the catch of the day, which is a duo of Tasmanian salmon and freshly caught local Ling, served on a bed of green olive potato mash and with a green salad with Roquefort dressing. No picture unfortunately as the various pictures I took turned out too dark.

This is my main dish - Zarzuela or a Catalonian Seafood Stew, served with olive tapenade and something similar to gremolata (I forgot what it was but think its called picada).

We end off with a shared dessert as by this time, we are both full to bursting point on the really generous portions. Although we decide on a steamed cranberry pudding with orange caramel sauce, homemade vanilla bean icecream, mascarpone and cranberry compote, I am intrigued by another dessert with Persian saffron cotton candy, which is a common fixture in Middle Eastern desserts that I've heard lots about but never tasted. I decide to try my luck and I ask the server if we could have the pudding but as I couldn't stomach another dessert alone, would she be so good as to let me have a taste of the Persian "Fairy Floss" and she very nicely accedes and comes back with a big portion the size of a fist!

Both of us thoroughly enjoyed the food there, particularly as the seafood was really fresh (quite a fair bit was freshly caught that morning). I liked the Zarzuela very much, which was tangy and spicy and definitely a wonderful dish to have on a cold evening. Best of all, service here was attentive and flexible and definitely a crowning touch to the wonderful food. Warm and cosy, the Dining Room is blessed with an extremely professional and accomodating host in Michelle and a very competent cook in Nick. Another place to mark in our diary for a return visit in the future!

Wisharts at the Wharf

The next day after our meal at Dublin House Inn, we eat a hearty breakfast and make a trek to Griffiths Island to see the island in the daytime (after our teeth-chattering visit the night before in the light drizzle to catch the shearwater birds return to their nests at dusk). Tramping around the island works up an appetite (even after the substantial breakfast) and we decide to fuel up on fish and chips before heading onto Tower Hill Reserve for another ramble on our way home.

Wisharts at the Wharf is your typical unpretentious chippie shop, save for the chilled display case showcasing the catch of the day and all the fish used in their fish and chips, all freshly caught and unfrozen. This is a rarity in any chippie shop and indeed, we had been quite let down by the fish and chips we had bought in Port Campbell a couple of days before as the fish had all the texture and taste of frozen fish.

When fish and chips is nicely done, nothing quite compares to tearing open the paper its wrapped in, having it steaming hot and doused liberally with vinegar and salt, and then bathing your face in that aroma. Not only is the fish really fresh, the batter is light with none of the oil-laden sogginess lesser chippie shops would have. Sitting on the deck overlooking the River Moyne and enjoying our hot treat, this was a simple but lovely way to wrap up our holiday.

All the details you need:

We stayed at Timboon House, located at 320 Old Geelong Road, Camperdown Victoria. For more details, contact John King at (03) 5593 1003.

We ate at these places:

The Bend Cafe

3225 Great Ocean Road, Glenaire Victoria
Tel: (03) 5237 9102

Definitely phone ahead to check with Paul if the cafe will be open for dinner as opening hours are not fixed, although the Bend Cafe usually opens on Friday and Saturday nights for dinner. Ask him nicely and he might just decide to cook for you that night!

The Dining Room at Dublin House Inn

57 - 59 Bank Street, Port Fairy Victoria
Tel: (03) 5568 2022

Wisharts at the Wharf

You can't miss this - just walk along the River Moyne to the wharf in Port Fairy and you'll find this little fish and chips shop with outdoor seating. A swankier restaurant just across the carpark also serves the same but at a higher price.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Resin Jewellery Class # 4

Today's the 4th session of our 5 week course and having mastered the basics, we're left pretty much to our own devices. Some of us work on casting our remaining pieces of jewellery or little bits and bobs in resin - this is the easy bit. Most of us take the chance to use the heavy duty machines available to start on polishing and refining the earlier pieces we had cast.

Gayle using the sanding machine to file the rough edges of her bangle

1/2 to 1 hour of solid elbow grease using emery paper (to smoothen the rough edge of the resin piece) and the leather polishing cloth (to give shine) takes just minutes on these machines so it's no wonder we're taking the opportunity to start the finishing process. I've cast quite a number of bangles and smaller items, all of which have not been sanded or polished. Unfortunately, I spent too much time mixing up a new batch of resin to finish off my pieces that I only manage to finishing sanding and filing one bangle (with another 4 more to go....).

Edit at the polishing machine

Part of the fun I've been having in class is checking out what everyone else has been doing since I'm the boring one, casting bangles (ha, some of you might think you're getting bangles for Christmas but not at the rate I'm progressing with the finishing process!) and small shapes with the intention of stringing them as beads (again I stress intention). Many of the other girls are thoroughly creative, particularly Edit, who's been putting in the hours at home casting new rubber moulds and resin pieces and coming to class with very interesting ideas she's managed during the week. Viliama proves to be quite thrilled with some of Edit's pieces, modelling them below in an improvised necklace (mine is the tiny little yellow triangle object).


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Great Ocean Road Part I

A couple of weeks ago over the Melbourne Cup long weekend, A and I took a trip down the Great Ocean Road to celebrate my birthday. The trip also marks our first road trip together (seems like 2006 is a year of firsts for us). Taking place over 4 days, we saw quite a lot of sights, met heaps of lovely people and ate some really good grub so I thought it might be better to split my posts into 2. This one is going to focus on the sights and the second on the creature comforts of the trip.

According to tourism statistics, more people travel the Great Ocean Road to visit the Twelve Apostles than Kakadu and Uluru combined. As one of the most popular highlights of any visit to Australia, the vast part of the Great Ocean Road stretches from Torquay all the way to Portland (about 4 hours drive via the inland route on Princes Highway from Melbourne).

With all that distance, the environment that one traverses on a trip down the Great Ocean Road would be incredibly diverse, ranging from the Surf Coast (Torquay to Apollo Bay - for the biggest waves a surfer can desire) to the Shipwreck Coast (Cape Otway to Warrnambool - the coastal bits where many shipwrecks occurred in the 19th century). Travelling just half an hour north from the Great Ocean Road would lead you to rainforests, waterfalls, volcanic territory and quaint country towns. So a trip down the Great Ocean Road would have enough varied activities for a group with different interests.

Better yet, one now has the option to either drive down the Great Ocean Road (which most visitors choose) or to walk part of it in the Great Ocean Walk, which covers about 91km from Apollo Bay to Glenample Homestead near the 12 Apostles. We drove of course….

Our trip took us as far as Port Fairy, which is about 290 km west of Melbourne. The beauty about travelling the Great Ocean Road is that you can decide how far you want to venture as there are many turn-offs along the way leading north up to the inland route back to Melbourne. On hindsight, I did wish we had taken it a little easier and not ventured so far this time around as most of our days were quite packed. It's also prudent to remember that driving times between attractions will also take slightly longer owing to the winding roads and occasional offroad conditions (particularly at the national parks).

Still, we packed in a nice variety of activities ranging from exploring the quaint fishing village of Port Fairy and the other little country towns we passed through, climbing up the many lighthouses along the coast, trekking through rainforests to see waterfalls, attempting to see glowworms at night and aborting the same as it was terrifyingly dark and our torch was but a tiny beam of light in a pool of black, visiting a migratory bird sanctuary island (at night in the pitch black again and then the next day when it's light) and a wild-life reserve set in a dormant volcanic crater…..

I could go on and on about the fun we had, the places we'd visited and the people we met. Instead, here's a selection of some of our memories:

The views and townships we passed through

We saw plenty of views from the many lookout points along the Great Ocean Road. Here is just one of the many beautiful views on offer.

Each of the towns we passed through had their own character. We were lucky when we rolled into Apollo Bay on Saturday that their weekly market was in session - so we took the chance to buy some excellent jam and check out the wares on offer.

A buying some yummy watermelon, lemon and orange honey jam in Apollo Bay

Camperdown is an excellent example of an old country town and nowhere is it evident that it is also cattle country than by this sign displayed next to the town's historic clock tower.

Port Fairy is a charming (if slightly sleepy) fishing village, which has been gentrified by the arrival of retired Melburnians. Lots of very good cafes and top notch restaurants (which I will post about next) would be found on the single stretch of shops down its "high street" and Port Fairy has fast acquired a reputation as a foodie town - indeed, there are no less than 4 restaurants in Port Fairy listed in the Age Good Food Guide and the Australian Gourmet Traveller but seeing that we only had 1 night there, we had to settle for just one of those 4 restaurants! Other attractions include a thriving artist community scattered around the town, fresh seafood hauled in by the fishing vessels and a migratory bird colony on a nearby island. Take a lovely stroll down the River Moyne and better yet, book one of the B&Bs (bed and breakfast) places with a view overlooking the river. Unfortunately for us, the weather when we were there was rainy, overcast and extremely cold.

A view of the many B&Bs along the River Moyne - we stayed in Gobles Mill House (the grey building with the red roof)

Further along this stretch is the port where fishermen pull up and the fishermen's co-op where you can buy fresh fish, crayfish and even abalone (in season)!

Driving back along the Princes Highway, we were treated to a different type of view altogether of rolling hills, golden pastures dotted with sheep and cows and miles and miles of these dry stone walls. If you look closely, you'll notice that these walls have been constructed without the aid of cement or any binding agent. Drystone-walling is an artform in itself, handed down from generation to generation and nowhere is this art more in evidence than in the countryside surrounding Camperdown and Colac.

Lighthouses a plenty

Split Point Lighthouse

This being the part of the coast where ships from England and Europe used to pull in, lighthouses abound plentiful. All the lighthouses we visited continue to be in operation, save that with advances in technology and the light beams now being automated, a lighthouse keeper is no longer required. It was quite fascinating to read about the history of the pioneer lighthouse keepers and the solitary and spartan life they led, which was evident from our visit to their homestead in the lighthouse grounds.

Cape Otway Lighthouse - the oldest lighthouse in Victoria

The lonely lifestyle of a lighthouse keeper and his family is most evident when we visit the lighthouse on Griffiths Island (an island next to Port Fairy), which is now a protected migratory bird sanctuary. The lighthouse stands as the last bastion against the howling winds and the huge waves of the Southern Ocean and when night falls (as we experienced it one night when we went to watch the migratory birds called "muttonbirds" or shearwater birds come back in droves from feeding time), all is pitch dark in this part of the island except for the great beam of light. Oftentimes, the small footpath connecting Griffiths Island to the mainland would be flooded at stretches, leaving the lighthouse keeper and his family cut off on the island.

Here is A plodding along on our walk around Griffith Island to the lighthouse at its extreme point

Inland attractions

The Otways region is rich in flora and fauna and we took the opportunity to visit a few of the rainforest walks in the national parks and check out some of the noted waterfalls.

At the Triplet Falls - I only managed to capture one of the 3 waterfalls owing to vegetation being in the way

Taking one of these walks (there are many to chose from with different gradients of difficulty) is a good respite from the ocean winds and views and is just a short 30 minutes north from the Great Ocean Road. We're also fortunate that we came just before the summer rush so much of our treks in the rainforest is blessedly quiet and peaceful - very Lord of the Rings as A put it.

Soaring views of the treetops

Anyone intending to do a "glowworm" trek at night at Melba Gully or Kennett River is definitely encouraged to check out these places in the daytime. A and I went to Melba Gully our first evening and couldn't find out way from the carpark to the start of the trail in the pitch black darkness, even with the help of our torch and the car's headlights. Needless to say that in the dark, one does get a little disoriented and everything takes on an extra sinister aspect so not seeing anyone around (but several cars in the carpark) was enough to spook us badly so that we slunk back to the B&B without having seen any glowworms.

The Twelve Apostles and Lord Ard Gorge

One of the most famous attractions along the Great Ocean Road, the Twelve Apostles probably need no introduction. Lord Ard Gorge is another beautiful rock formation further down from the Twelve Apostles, and is also where the sailing ship, the Lord Ard, was shipwrecked, leaving only 2 survivors. The sinking of the Lord Ard is retold every night in a lights and laser show at Flagstaff Hill (at Warrnambool).

Unfortunately, when we reach the Twelve Apostles, nature conspires against us and the skies go all dark and broody. Hence our dramatic stormy looking shots!

As our tummies are rumbling and we need to turn off the Great Ocean Road to get to Camperdown for the night, we decide to skip the rest of the rock formations after we visit Lord Ard Gorge.

All the animals we spotted

The nesting burrow of a shearwater bird but no bird in sight!

On the plus side, fauna was in abundance on our trip. We started off with a sighting of koala bear mothers and their cubs in the trees when driving along the winding road away from the Cape Otway lighthouse. Cars would progressively pull over to the roadside to stand beneath the trees to check out one of Australia's national icons in the wild. Ignoring the threat of snakes in the bushes (actually, A told me that there aren't any snakes in bushland but he was WRONG!), we plunged into the scrub to check out that koala mama's extended family. Luckily I was toting my long range lens and was able to capture quite a few shots of the happy family.

Emu chicks

We spot plenty more animals along our drives, including what looked like a hedgehog ambling along the highway (A tells me its actually an echidna). The bumper crop of sightings comes on our last day when we check out the shearwater bird colony on Griffiths Island and visit the Tower Hill Game Reserve.

The shy echidna who hid his face everytime it heard my camera click

We don't see very many shearwater birds (being out fishing the whole day) although we do see evidence of their 'homes' - they nest in burrows much like puffins do. What's quite interesting to us is that every year, these birds fly 15,000 km from their wintering grounds in the Aleutian Islands and the Kamchatka Peninsula to Griffiths Island to next. Individual birds return to the same nest burrow they occupied the previous year and what follows is several months of housekeeping, feeding and nesting. The young are eventually left by their parents who make their way back to their wintering grounds and these young chicks are able to eventually find their way back there without the guidance of the older birds! Griffiths Island is also an ornithologist's paradise, with its proliferation of sea birds, To our surprise, I spy a joey in the midst of this island (A thought it was a rock initially until it move).

No shearwater birds to be seen but there is a joey!

Later on that afternoon, we went for a ramble in the Tower Hill Game Reserve. Tower Hill Game Reserve is noted for being located in a dormant (not extinct!) volcanic crater. Noting that the signboard warns us to be careful of poisonous snakes (leading me to scold A thoroughly for misleading me about snakes in Australian bushland), we make our way through the scrub and have lovely views of the volcanic crater.

The ditzy koala finally ensconed in the right tree

Along the way, we spot emus and their chicks, an echidna hiding in the bush and a ditzy koala in the carpark. What amused me most, prior to spotting the koala ambling on the ground (a rare occurrence as they are mostly treebound during the day) was that A said something about spotting a strange-looking dog. One glance told me it was a koala and I grabbed my camera, yelling to him to follow at the same time. Apparently, the koala had climbed up a wrong tree instead of a eucalyptus and proceeded to do the same thing again in our presence before finally finding the correct tree to join his mate. It must have been a little disconcerted to find an audience observing his ditziness!

Seeing so many animals in the wild was a nice ending to a great trip. Indeed, the ditzy koala provided many laughs on our long drive back home.

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