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

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!

tricks to booking with miles

A friend recently gave me some great advice — always have your next trip decided before you finish your current one. That way you’ll have something to look forward to vs. experiencing post vacation blues. I plan on living by this advice.

To that end, my next trip Down Under (decided upon while recently traveling in Lisbon) is well underway in the planning department. First stop, booking my flights with miles. And imagine my disappointment when nearly two full weeks of return flights from Melbourne were blocked out on American Airline’s online booking tool during my chosen travel dates.

After nearly a full day wasted, spent looking at actually purchasing tickets and comparing multiple itineraries across multiple airlines where prices and options varied wildly, I was convinced there must be a way to book the trip I actually wanted to take, on the dates I wanted, flying in and out of the cities I wanted to. And darn it, I was gonna use miles — which is not free by the way. You have to pay the tax on the flight, you have to pay for a seat, and as it turns out you have to pay a booking fee. That’s right, $40 ($75 if within 21 days of departure) to speak with a live person can get you exactly the trip you want as long as you do the legwork first. Not a terrible financial penalty when you consider purchasing those tickets could be in the thousands.

So, for all you One World Alliance members out there, this is how you do it. . .

If you are an American Airlines Advantage member like me, start by looking online at AA.com. A few years back AA made using miles and booking international flights online possible which can save you the booking fee if you’re lucky.  Sometimes you’ll  find exactly the flights you want. Other times you won’t. And that is where this bit of knowledge comes in handy:

The AA online booking tool lies. It does not give you all your hard earned flight options when it comes to using miles. In fact, it only shows you other airlines if their own flights are not available and even then (as in my case), not always. Now that AA flies their own planes to Australia and are not just a One World partner to Qantas, never does a Qantas flight option appear on their website.

The good news … there are other search tools out there to help. Both British Airways and Qantas online booking tools, have search functions that allow you to see most, if not all,  flights available for miles anywhere in the world, on any One World Alliance airline. Search on these websites, find your exact flights, call an American Advantage international ticket agent, pay your forty bucks and tell them exactly the flights you want to book — et voila! Plane tickets sorted.

HELPFUL HINTS:

  • To use these search engines, you must be a member of that airlines rewards program. You’ll need a member number and password to search reward flights.
  • From the Qantas home page, (my search tool of choice) when you start typing in a city to fly in or out of, you immediately get the drop down planning tool below.  Fill in your plans, provide your rewards member info and click USE POINTS — CLASSIC FLIGHT REWARDS ONLY to search all One World airlines rewards availability.
  • While it may cost extra when paying for a ticket, it is no extra miles to fly into one city and out of another. All miles flights are calculated as one way rewards redemption. Use the Multi City tool to search available options.
  • Searching on the British Airways site is a little trickier but often more thorough depending upon your destination. First select the tab for Executive Club at the top of the home page. In the Executive Club drop down click “Spending Avios”.  When on the Spending Avios page, scroll down to “find availability” just above the book reward flights button. Then to find flight options on One World partner airlines, select the blue “search & book” button on the right. From there you will be directed to sign into your Executive Club account before you can start your search.
  • Have an American Airlines credit card? You qualify for Miles Saver Rewards — for a trip to Australia, that’s half the amount of miles for each leg. My round trip coach ticket into Sydney and out of Melbourne was 80,000 miles. When you consider you can easily use 60,000 miles to fly to NYC that’s a bargain, even with the $40 fee.
  • Have premium status on American? Lucky you — fee waived!
  • Business & First Class reward flights to Australia, come up just a few times a year, if at all. In other words, don’t count on being comfortable while in flight.
  • Seats on American Airlines to Australia start at $95. I opted to pay $150 for an extra 5 inches of leg room which on a long haul flight can make the world of difference. Because I was using miles, the extra $55 didn’t hurt too much and it gave me the opportunity to try out the new Dreamliner aircraft in one direction. Coming home I am flying Qantas where standard coach seats on the A380 are only $30 by comparison.
  • You should be supplied a different ticket locator number for each airline you book. You’ll have to go on the partner website with that partner airline ticket locator number to make & pay for your seat selection, provide your travel document information, etc . . . Once done, however, all that information will show up on your American Airlines trip overview using the AA ticket locator number so you can print it all out in one document.
  • DO opt to pay and choose your seat regardless of what airline you choose. You don’t want to get stuck in the middle when you could have paid a small fee to be on an aisle and free to get up and walk around at will. I promise you, on a 15 hour flight it is worth it!
  • Dress well, smile and ask for an upgrade at the airport. You never know when you might get lucky!

 

nine things i can’t live without

must have list

Row 1 (left to right):  Aesop products & the lovely stores they sell them in   natural light flooding into my home   a Duxiana mattress

Row 2:  my favorite piece of art — a printed mailer received from a vendor in the early 90’s floating in a frame. it makes me smile to this day  |  ice cream in any form but especially one of the crazy flavors from Gelato Messina  |  Vogue Living Australia magazine —  i have a 20+ year collection!

Row 3:  morning hikes in the Santa Monica mountains  |  a good mid-century modern staple like this Saarinen dining table  |  Australia — just 19 when I first visited, my heart has belonged to the land down under ever since  ♥♥♥