to jam or not to jam

Nothing beats a classic Aussie Lamington — the soft sponge cake that slightly absorbs it’s chocolate icing around all sides, covered in sweetened coconut flakes. And yes, I fall on the side of JAM tucked in the center! If you’re not convinced, omit that portion of the recipe.

LAMINGTONS WITH JAM

Sponge Cake

10 T. butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 eggs
1 2/3 cups flour                                                                                                                  2 teaspoons baking powder                                                                                             3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk                                                                                                              Raspberry Jam, seedless

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease & flour a 9 x 13 cake pan.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and gradually beat in the sugar with the vanilla, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Gradually beat in eggs one at a time.

Sift the flour and salt and fold into the creamed mixture alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with flour. Add a little more milk if necessary so that the mixture drops easily from a spoon.

Spread the mixture evenly in the prepared pan and bake for 30–35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Cut the cake into two even layers and spread with a thin layer of raspberry jam — enough to hold the layers together but not to ooze out when cut. Press the layers together and cut into 2 inch cubes.

Icing

3 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
4–6 tablespoons boiling water
1/2 teaspoon butter
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract                                                                                        5 oz. sweetened flaked coconut

Sift the powdered sugar and cocoa into a bowl. Add the boiling water, butter and vanilla, then stir until smooth and shiny.

Spread  a small amount the flaked coconut on a large plate. Dip the sandwiched cake pieces in the chocolate icing then immediately roll in the coconut, using two forks to turn and coat.  Replenish the coconut as needed. Leave on a wire rack to set.

Recipe adapted from Margaret Fulton’s Baking Classics

ice cream challenge

Today’s Contender:  McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream
Location:  Santa Barbara, CA
Flavor:  Vanilla Bean

This not so boring Vanilla Bean ice cream may just be the best vanilla ice cream I’ve ever had. I have in fact, tried a few of McConnell’s flavors and think the texture of their ice cream to be exactly what I love  — rich and creamy, smooth beyond compare made with premium, all natural ingredients. Which makes their vanilla bean to die for. Just as the carton says, a perfect accompaniment to pie!  But it’s damn good alone as well.

McConnell’s ice cream is a Santa Barbara, California tradition going back over 70 years. But of late, they have joined the Los Angeles ice cream boom with scoop shops downtown, in Los Feliz and Studio City. You can also find them in nearly every grocery store here in town for those that don’t live on the east side — at the premium price of $9.99/pt.

There may be more trendy ice cream shops everywhere here in LA these days but I’d pick McConnel’s over any of them to be honest.

new & notable in melbourne

Just a quick stay in Melbourne this trip, I didn’t have time for a whole lot of new but made a point of getting to some of the places I’ve been dying to get to for awhile. Melbourne never disappoints!

NEW

The Hub General Store:  Down a back street in Collingwood there’s a charming little brick building that houses a million and one basic treasures from around the world. Need a scrub brush? A bar of soap? A bunch of clothespins? How about a loaf of freshly baked bread and a jar of local creamed honey? Or maple syrup from America? A children’s book or miniature stuffed animal? A notebook and a pen or pencil perhpas?  You get the gist.

Piled high and a bit of a treasure hunt, the every day is elevated to the sublime. And before you get to those everyday treasures, there’s a small gallery in front where invited artists treat visitors with a different sort of sensory experience. When I was there the gallery was overstuffed with big, round, white balloons — a stark contrast to the slowly deflating black balloons creeping up and around the exterior facade. Simple objects raised to the level of art.

36 Cambridge Street, Collingwood

Higher Ground:  The new CBD restaurant brought to you by the same folks that own Kettle Black. It’s another beautiful space with unique all day dining. Located in an old power station just across the way from the Southern Cross station, it has soaring ceilings and various seating arrangements from traditional tables, to common tables and cozy lounge areas across multiple floors. Look for their signature beautiful brunch dishes like this polenta porridge offering

and some unusual and interesting fare. Expect a wait even on a weekday. But worth it.

650 Little Burke Street, CBD

NOTABLE

Lune Croissanterie:  Not new but certainly notable, Lune might just be a national treasure if that can be said of a bakery in Australia that specializes in signature French pastries. Proclaimed as being the best croissants in the world by The New York Times no less, the lines can snake out the door and around the block to purchase croissants that can cost upwards of $12+ each. Open from 7:30 AM until sold out most days, get there early, stand in line and make sure whatever concoction of a croissant you indulge in, your box of goodies (yes, you will purchase many because each looks better than the next) includes at least one classic ham & gruyere — it’s buttery, crunchy, salty and cheesy goodness not to be missed.

119 Rose Street, Fitzroy

Meatsmith:  This absolutely fabulous (and beautiful) butchery is from my favorite local chef, Andrew McConnell, where you can get the best cuts of meat from local farmers, Australian wines, spectacular condiments in simple glass jars (they make great gifts!) and other specialty grocery items. But I am here to tell you about the house made lasagna.

If you need a heat and serve meal, this one is sublime. Ready in just 30 minutes, it’s rich, meaty, creamy, tasty and the perfect accompaniment to a bottle of red — or maybe that’s the other way around. At any rate, it will only set you back $22 and serves 2-3. My recommendation — leave it in the oven a bit longer to crisp the top to a crunchy charred finish. (My little heat and serve disaster actually turned out to make it that much better!)

273 Smith Street, Fitzroy

Bobbie Burns Shiraz:  No it’s not a place in Melbourne. But If you’re looking for a nice bottle of wine to pair with your lasagna, consider this 2013 vintage from Victorian winery Campbells

I am not a wine connoisseur but I do know what I like. I found this smooth and easy to drink. I liked it so much I came home and bought 6 bottles here in America. And don’t be fooled by the twist top bottle — it’s an Aussie thing.

 

paradise found

I was going to tell you all about my return visit to Gaia Retreat. But with these images need I tell you about the amazing food? The to die for spa treatments? The private tree house spot where you can have a soak in a rose petal and coconut milk bath? The friendly staff that knows your name, likes and dislikes? The friendly neighbors who stop to say hello on your walk into town, who know you are being looked after but just want to be sure? The most charming little 8-ish building town you have ever seen that once upon a time had only a restaurant and now is an unsuspecting tourist enclave with world class shopping? The friendly shop owner who offers you a ride back to the spa on a 90 degree day after you have sweat over all their goods and merchandise? The lovely herbal tea maker in nearby Byron Bay who goes out of her way to deliver tea to you to take home to the States?

I think not. Just sit back and enjoy the view. (shhhh, I’m told they put it on just for the tourists willing to get up at 6:30 am)Gaia Retreat & Spa, Brooklet NSW, Australia

3 aussie artists

As if my obsession with Australia weren’t enough, I have gone and fallen in love with several of the country’s artists as well. I think one of the things that attracts me to Australia is the abundance of creative energy. Having first gone down under when I was 19 to find a country pretty far behind, with the advent of the computer this far-removed country has more than caught up. It’s like an explosion of creativity at every turn from the arts, to the food, to the architecture, fashions and more that just won’t quit. There’s a modern sensibility I find extremely attractive and these artists each capture it in their own way . . .

Artist 1:  Caroline Walls

With a focus on the female form, Ms. Walls is an artist after my own heart. Melbourne based with a history in fashion and lifestyle brands, her artworks are bold, minimal and sensuous all at once. She recently burst upon the scene with a solo show that garnered world wide attention. I long to acquire one of her pieces before prices go through the roof and am oh so sorry I missed out on the one above.

Artist 2: Hilarie Mais

British by birth but working in Australia since 1980, Hillarie Mais is an abstract artist working in Sydney and currently on exhibit at the Tarrawarra Museum of Art in conjunction with the Australian Museum of Contemporary Art that has several of her pieces in their permanent collection.

Highly architectural and abstract, with a strong emphasis on the grid, the works are seemingly simple yet highly complex all at once. The detail and construction alone are enough to take your breath away. But they go much deeper than that. The above detail is taken from the below pair of sculptures that are portraits (2015) of the artist and her deceased partner. Simply stunning.

Artost 3: William Rhodes

There are a series of tiny landscape paintings that hang in a resort in William Rhodes native Tasmania that I covet. Perfectly curated by designers Hecker Guthrie. At once reminiscent of European masters and yet somehow capturing a modern simplicity, I long to commission a piece so I can have my own tiny piece of the Tassie landscape in my midst. You can bet, next trip to Hobart, I will be making a b-line for the artist’s gallery.

dandy dandenongs

Looking for a place to escape to outside Melbourne — within an easy drive or train ride? The Dandenong Ranges offer lush hills, giant forests and quaint country town experiences. Perhaps a few too many bugs but that’s a small price to pay for a 1+ hour escape that’s a world away. And don’t think you need to leave your sophisticated sensibility behind either.  You can have it all and a little romance too!

Where to Stay:

If Mid-Century Modern, approachable artwork and peace and quiet are your thing, may I suggest a stay at Jacky Winter Garden — the most charming cabin in the woods you could ever imagine. Just a hop, skip and jump away from downtown Belgrave, Victoria.

JWG Interiors.pngThe charming little house sits at the bottom of a steep gully along a winding creek, surrounded by lush gardens of the overgrown variety full of fruits, flowers, herbs, trees and more…

If that weren’t enough, each guest is gifted this wonderful screen print of the property as a keepsake. (Bring a carrying tube as I had to leave mine behind for fear it would be a wrinkled mess by the time I reached home.) And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the art treasuresThe entrance has a hand painted, gold leaf glass panel in the door. Framed artworks by artists from around the world abound. Hand blocked wallpaper carries on the garden theme inside. And a plethora of other artworks are to be found at every turn. As are well curated furnishings, lighting, details, etc . . . Don’t miss the antique bird towel hooks in the bathroom as those were my favorite touch!  The entire place from the penny tiled bathroom complete with soaking tub, to the cloud-like king sized bed, to the fancy coffee in the kitchen is thought through down to the tiniest detail.

If you, yourself are an artist, consider applying for their artist in residence program. I can’t think of a better place to escape to and create. But if you’re just looking for either a solo quiet getaway or romantic hideaway for 2, it can be booked at an affordable rate.

What To Do:

Belgrave itself is home to your typical small tourist town restaurants, shops, galleries, movie theater (a good size multi-plex at that) and the famous Puffing Billy steam powered railway that is stationed right in town. Carrying nearly half a million passengers a year (mostly tourists from China) it is a fully restored treasure that puffs it’s way several times a day for a 3 hour Dandenong tour. Once upon a time, you could dangle your legs out the windows as you watched the countryside whizz by but an accident with a passing vehicle recently (nobody was hurt) put an end to that. Kids and dare I say men, are intrigued by the historic feat of engineering. It’s a bit pricey to ride but you can just check it out in the station too. The sweetest and most knowledgeable conductors are happy to share the history, take photos or simply chat about their storied career on the railroad.

About 40 minutes away by car and you are in the Yarra Valley wine country.  Don’t miss the opportunity to visit Tarrawarra where you can view more art in the lovely modern art museum, sip wine and nibble on cheese while overlooking the spectacular valley views or simply relax the day away perched in a bean bag chair on the hillside. How’s that for a calming afternoon out?

While you’re out and about, stop for a meal at the newish and unexpected restaurant BamBam Italian, located through the windy roads in the small hamlet of Avonsleigh. Unexpected because it’s attached to a convenience store and sports a McDonalds style kiddie play park. But despite the family friendly atmosphere, the food is quite good, moderately priced and the staff super friendly. Open for brekkie, lunch and dinner. An Italian feast awaits!

Also in the area are plenty of nature walks, gardens, markets and even a day spa. Truly a relaxing time to be had. There is full dossier of local haunts on the Jacky Winter Garden website for your planning pleasure. All in all, a highly recommended place to get away and be a slug or a tourist for a few days.

jet lag sucks – get over it!

I have no magic cure for jet lag.  All those tips and tricks about setting your watch, eating certain types of foods, taking supplements, adjusting your sleep schedule days and weeks before flying . . . I don’t know if any of it helps for sure.  We may be able to fool the mind but it’s hard to fool the body.

I don’t go to extremes to try to cure jet lag. But I have found the following tips make it easier:

  • Drink plenty of and only water (yes, even if it means using the stinky airplane bathrooms)
  • Fly at night, so you have a better chance of sleeping on board — bring your own wrap/blanket, pillow and eye mask. I promise it is worth it!
  • Eat a healthy meal before boarding and don’t eat the airplane food, especially the tempting sugary snacks — avoid the free for all Tim Tams at all costs!
  • When you arrive at your destination, jump right in. Don’t nap.
  • Sweat it out! Fresh air and exercise are great but a real sweat session is even better.
  • Fly the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner* (pictured above) if possible. They say the air circulation is different, the vibration different, turbulence is reduced, even the lighting is better. Maybe it’s a bunch of marketing malarkey but having flown the Dreamliner in both directions between Los Angeles and Australia recently I can honestly say for the first time, I had absolutely no jet lag upon arrival (in fact after a 2 hour walk in the sunshine I was feeling absolutely euphoric) and was fully back and adjusted on my normal schedule within just a couple of days on the way home.  Never been able to say that before.

*I flew both the American Airlines and Qantas versions of this plane. While American offered 5″ of extra leg room for only 50 dollars in coach (a real comfort boost for little cost), I found and always prefer the Qantas experience. More detail and care go into the customer experience on Qantas from the seat design, to the airplane layout, to the service and general attitude of the crew.  Although there is still no way to avoid a full aircraft regardless — both airlines fill every last seat. It is astounding to me how many people fly to Australia and back each day!

 

australian television rocks

To round out my obsession with Australia in general, I have discovered that there are some pretty awesome Australian television shows worth a binge watch. Here are a few of my favorites:

A Place to Call Home

The Downton Abbey of Australia. Wealthy land owning family in a small country town outside of Sydney set just after World War II, deals with the changing times and a whole host of intriguing social issues. Currently in season 5 and available through the subscription service Acorn TV on Amazon for under $5/month or as a YouTube subscription

The Kettering Incident

A sci-fi mystery set on the beautiful and unmistakable Tasmanian coast. The setting is as much a character in this one and done series as are any of the actors — who are superb! Dark, mysterious and simply breathtaking. Available on Amazon Prime.

Janet King

Featuring the same lead actress as A Place to Call Home, Marta Dusseldorp (how she does two ongoing hour long dramas at the same time is a mystery) this series is three seasons in and a spin off of the equally binge worthy Crownies following the equivalent of the Sydney DA’s office prosecuting a host of serious murder and sex crimes set against the personal lives of the young and sexy prosecution team. Janet King sets a more serious tone than the original, following the burgeoning career of the most senior prosecutor as she faces personal drama, dangerous retaliation and increasingly challenging career opportunities all in the name of justice — yet still surrounded by the original host of familiar likeable characters.  Both shows are available on Acorn TV through Amazon.

The Wrong Girl

A likeable romantic comedy drama series based on the novel by favorite blogger & instagrammer Zoe Foster Blake. I watch the show more because I’m a fan of Blake’s dry wit and seriously diverse talent — she’s a beauty editor, turned novelist, turned travel writer, turned beauty company founder and hipster spokesperson, winding her way through early motherhood and sharing it all with the world. Not to mention, she’s not afraid to cast her husband in her hit TV series. I just like her style! And the show’s not bad either. Available through various streaming services online — just takes a search.

All good TV!

a note to californians

Did you know . . . starting October 2020, current California drivers licenses will no longer be a valid ID form for airport security?  Which means that you either carry your passport with you when traveling (if you have a Global Entry card that will work too) or get a new license that will meet the federal guidelines. California will start issuing those new format licenses on January 2, 2018. And while we all hate going to the DMV you’re just going to have to suck it up because you can’t apply online. And don’t forget to bring your birth certificate, two documents proving residency and your social security card — yes, all of these!

I suggest going sooner rather than later because while nobody knows about this now, come the last few months of 2020, it’s going to be a scramble and those DMV lines will be even longer. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!