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  ♥♥♥

a little oz in the oc

Pie NotThere’s a little bit of Australia right here in Orange County, CA:  Pie Not the Aussie Style Bakery. Crappy photos aside, it’s the place where you can get some serious down home Aussie fare. The food of football games and 20 years ago. The meat pie.

Sadly there is no  “Sauce” (ketchup) offered with these pies — a real miss but otherwise, here’s the poop . . . the classic meat pie known as The Dog’s Eye is pretty darn good. Although it would be better with sauce. The sausage roll, also missing sauce on the side, was less good — the filling a bit too sweet and overly ground for my liking. The lamington, on the other hand, a chocolate & coconut dipped square of sponge cake, is a real winner even without jam filling. Whether or not the jam filling is needed is an age old, unsettled argument down under. But either way, this little or rather large square of goodness that sounds so simple and unappealing, is a must have.

So if you have a hankering for some real old-fashioned Aussie goodness, give Pie Not a try.  270 E 17th Street, Costa Mesa, CA

when can i go back?

Gaia LogoI’ve discovered my new “must visit” spot in Australia . . . Gaia Retreat & Spa. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?  It’s co-owned by Olivia Newton John and was featured on Oprah’s Australian extravaganza. But that’s not why I went. I usually spa annually in Mexico but when planning my most recent trip down under, I thought why not try to combine two vacations in one and find a place I could take a few days out to just relax on my own. After a bit of research I chose Gaia because it is one of the few places you can arrive on any day of the week. You can stay as little as 2 nights or as many as you like. I chose a 3 night stay starting on a Wednesday. Three nights of sheer bliss. In fact I was so relaxed and so into the groove of doing nothing, I’m afraid I barely took any photos.

Upon arrival I was whisked into lunch in the main building, Kukura House. I sat with a lovely woman who I learned was a writer & mother, on her third day of a week long stay, just out of a body scrub treatment (looking radiant I might add) and when I asked her what was her favorite thing about her experience thus far she said, without hesitation, “The food!”

I have to agree. The food is magnificent. Three serviced meals are offered each day. Breakfast consists of buffet style fruits, toasts, porridge & mueslis. Freshly blended fruit or vegi juices are whisked out to you along with the cooked breakfast of the day — usually some sort of egg dish. Lunch is always a lovely salad. And dinner is a 3 course affair:  salad, main and dessert. Portions are more than ample. Wine is optional for an extra charge. A great self-serve selection of teas are on offer all day long (along with fresh baked muffins in the afternoon) but no coffee. All the food is fresh & local (the produce coming from their own organic garden), most of it gluten free and not only delicious but beautifully presented. And don’t worry if you have special dietary needs. They cater to all. In fact, I think every single person I met was on a special food plan (detox, weight loss, gluten free, garlic free, paleo, etc . . . ) which made the nightly ritual of ordering a bit humorous. But the friendly wait staff is prepared with notes on all the guests going in.

The guest count is low which makes the individualized service possible. I was there during the busy season and I don’t think I counted more than 20 people at any meal, if that. And to my surprise, most people take meals alone. There is one common table (where I dined with a lovely group of 6 other women each night), several two tops with a few couples but mostly solo visitors enjoying quiet time. And that is what I loved most about Gaia. It is truly a place to have some alone time and recharge.

daily cardsThe days are minimally scheduled and you receive a personalized card every night at dinner outlining the next day. There is yoga every morning at 7:30 am. Partake or not. It’s up to you. I did not this time around. There is also one scheduled activity each morning following breakfast — usually an exercise class but it could also be a cooking class. I hear the exercise classes are quite challenging. Again, I didn’t partake. In the late afternoon there is one more scheduled activity — something quiet like mediation, Chi Gong or a talk of some sort. Otherwise the day is yours to do with what you want. And that can be a visit to the spa (more on that below), private exercise classes, a dip in the pool or a steamy sauna. Walk around the beautiful property or into the nearby village or do nothing at all. I spent one afternoon walking on the beach in nearby Byron Bay — a private car service can be arranged or if you are staying in one of the resort’s villas, use of a car is included with your stay.

Let’s talk spa . . . Some of the best treatments I have ever had and the topic of most discussion amongst the guests. We all compared notes and mostly raved that our service provider was the best. From what I could tell the lymphatic drainage massage and body polishes were the most popular treatments. I had three different treatments:

  1. Shirodhara — warm oil poured over the third eye in a continuous stream then rolled back and forth over the entire forehead. When that warm, thick oil rolls off your forehead back into your hair it is like sheer heaven and may qualify as the most relaxing thing I have ever done. Not to mention the 30 minute head massage that kicks it off. It was something new for me and the perfect way to start the most relaxing 3 days I’ve had in quite some time.
  2. Kahuna Massage — a 90 minute full body massage incorporating ancient Hawaiian techniques using not only the hands but the entire forearm, rubbing the body with long strokes from both above and below with a lot of breath regulation. It’s hard work on the part of the practitioner and not for the bashful. I don’t know who needed a shower more afterwards, me or Tim my masseur. I can venture to say he walked away exhausted and me rejuvenated.
  3. Reflexology — this is my favorite thing of all time and I do it whenever and wherever I can. Therefore, I am qualified to say that Angelica is a master at it. She said it was her favorite thing to do and it showed. I don’t think most people give this type of massage enough credit. But the feet are connected to everything else in the body. So not only do you get the sheer ecstasy of somebody rubbing your feet for an hour, they are also aligning and working on other parts of the body at the same time. At one point my head suddenly filled with static and my ears starting ringing with the simplest touch of the palms of her hands to the palms of my feet. “I’m working on your third eye and balancing the two halves of your brain,” she said. Well that explains that. Then I walked out on cloud nine. Simply the best!

The spa also acts as a day spa for people in the area so on weekends it will seem busier with unfamiliar faces in the waiting room. In fact, I would venture to say that weekends are probably busier than weekdays at the whole retreat. So if you are looking for a quieter time maybe choose a weekday stay; a little more social activity, choose a weekend.

Here are some other tips I gathered on this first visit:

  • Fly in and out of Ballina/Byron airport and free shuttles are provided to & from the spa at times that coordinate with standing flights. An unscheduled transfer will cost you AUS $50. The ride is apprx. 20 minutes.
  • Treatments are generally scheduled at two times a day: 11:45 am or 2:30 pm. Unless you plan to partake in lots of private exercise classes or take an afternoon to go do something specific, I recommend requesting your treatments in the afternoon to fill your day a bit more evenly.
  • Just down the road in walking distance (apprx. 30 min) is the darling little hamlet of Newrybar, est. 1881. If you are inclined to miss a meal at Gaia schedule lunch at the very nice Harvest restaurant or grab a coffee (if you are having withdrawal) at the sister deli/bakery right next store. The town, if you can call it that, also sports a couple of shops, an antique store and is always bustling.
  • Byron Bay, the famous laid back beach town is also close by but must be reached by car. There are other small towns along the coast as well, good for a shop or a look around. But beware, it is very expensive catering to a high volume tourist trade. We opted to just take a long beach walk and save our pennies for more spa treatments.
  • Don’t pack much. A robe is provided in your room and more are available at the spa. A bit of yoga gear and casual fare for dinner although many don’t even change out of their exercise gear, nor is it necessary. I was the only one that packed a sweater which was the cause of jealousy on a couple of cold rainy evenings. But how much do you need to sit around and read a book, take a little walk or get naked for a massage? There is also a small shop for anything you may need — from clothing, to books, to Gaia branded food items, to that allusive Olivia Newton John CD.

Gaia Retreat & Spa   933 Fernleigh Rd, Brooklet NSW 2479

Logo Image Courtesy: Gaia Retreat & Spa

flinders fabulous

Flinders Lane MapFlinders Lane, Melbourne. Easily becoming Restaurant Row of the CBD. Start at one end and eat your way down to the other. I even have a great recommendation for an Air BnB at the starting line — and a few shops and cultural finds along the way. Click map to enlarge.

Here are my October 2015 stops:

cumulusCumulus — There is no going to Melbourne without a meal at Cumulus. It is my on the record, favorite restaurant in the city. I love it so much, I’ve been known to dine there multiple times on every trip down under — sometimes multiple times in one day given they are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s been such a love affair, I’ve never even ventured past the front door and up the stairs to their evening wine bar Cumulus Up, Next time I swear. Pictured: House made Crumpets with Whipped Ricotta & Honey.

supernormalSuper Normal — The CBD incarnation of the restaurant I declared orgasmic once upon a time (see here) and another hit in chef Andrew McConnell’s (Cumulus) growing empire. The menu is very similar to its St. Kilda predecessor but the vibe is decidedly more urban and Tokyo neon. And there is a long bar perfect for dining solo. Plus you can order half portions of most things on the menu so you don’t miss out on the multiple tastes, shared plate experience larger parties are having. Pictured: Prawn & Chicken Dumplings, Brown Rice, Roasted Pumpkin Seeds (complementary), Spicey Cauliflower, Sauteed Greens in XO Sauce. For dessert: Plum & Green Tea Soft Serve — the perfect cool down after a lot of spice that honestly made me sweat.

lanewaygreensLaneway Greens — This is my kinda place. Healthy. Yummy. Perfect for everyday fare and the kind of place I could eat at every day. Why is salad so much better when somebody else makes it?  But don’t stop at salad — although the 6 seasonal menu choices are spectacular — they also have great smoothies and the occasional soup on a cold winters day. I love this place! I even love the stoneware bowls they serve in. While most people opt for take away, do take a seat at one of the 12 stools and enjoy the stoneware. I’ll be back for sure! Pictured: Wombok Chicken Slaw with the most intriguing Flaxseed Cracker.

huxtaburgerHuxtaburger — I’ve been wanting to try a Huxtaburger for years but somehow with the ever growing list of restaurants I bring with me each trip, I’ve made other choices. How stupid of me. These burgers live up to the hype. My dining partner even declared it “the best burger” he’s ever had. Yes, they are that good. The perfect mix of good beef cooked perfectly pink, lettuce, tomato, pickle, mayo & ketchup on the most delicious brioche bun. Not too small. Not too big. Just right. I’m not normally a fan of the crinkle cut fry either but theirs are just the right complement — fat, fluffy and hot. Truth be told, Shake Shack has nothing on this place. Pictured: Denise (the hot one) Combo Meal.

new & notable in melbourne

When you haven’t been to a city in over a year and a half, there’s always so much to see & do that’s new. Between visiting my favorite old haunts and trying to hit as many new places as possible, I filled a whole week super easily and still left wanting more. Which means I’ll be back. Here’s the small selection of new to new-ish businesses I found this time around:

Mörk Chocolate Brewhouse, 150 Errol Street, North Melbourne

Mork Chocolate BrewhouseYum!  Handcrafted hot chocolate that’s deep and rich and oh so good. Put that together with a charming space and even more delicious chocolate offerings and you’ve got a winner on your hands. Way at the far end of Errol Street in a barely marked brick building, this tiny two table, chocolate-centric cafe is worth a visit. My treat of choice, a specially made Layered Chocolate (AUS $8) — that’s warm orange custard over rich dark hot chocolate (normally made over chilled dark chocolate) that followed a complementary glass of vanilla infused sparkling water to cleanse the palette. Choose from a menu of special hot or cold chocolate concoctions, chocolate baked treats or 3 levels of dark, darker or darkest hot chocolate. So good!

Bassike, 1-3 Rankins Lane, CBD

bassike melbourne cbdIn true Melbourne fashion, this lovely clothing shop is hidden down a backstreet laneway. With a beachy laid back style mixed with a Scandinavian aesthetic the shop is worth seeking out. Find casual denim and T’s on the ground level then climb the stairs for a peek at the signature line. And as luck should have it, their first Stateside shop has opened in Venice, CA just weeks ago. Lucky me!

Otto & Spike, 324 Victoria Street, Brunswick

Otto & SpikeKnits, knits, everywhere knits. Hats, scarves, gloves, socks and blankets galore. Tons of colors and patterns, the shop stocks their entire line. Sadly, open just 4 days a week (Thur – Sun), the shop was locked up tight when I happened by. But I guarantee I left a window full of nose and finger prints behind trying to take it all in.

Sardi, 111 Church Street, Hawthorne

A bustling little cafe that’s perfect for the healthy set and those looking for something a little more sinful. On a very cold day, i toed the line down the middle with a selection off the all day breakfast menu — Wild Mushroom Ragout with free range poached eggs (pictured, AUS $17.50). A huge serve that was more than this girl could eat but mighty tasty. Get there early or there may not be any available seats. That’s how bustling this place can be.

Hi Petal, Greater Melbourne

Hi Petal PosyI have mixed feelings about this little business. The concept is great! $35 AUS unique daily posies in a mason jar with a cute little tag and a personal message, delivered anywhere in the Melbourne area. I thought I’d liven up my rented apartment with a Friday selection that turned out to be a celebration of pink roses in support of breast cancer. The website, unfortunately, was not mobile friendly so to place my order I had to contact them via email which led the owner to try to stick me with fees by requesting payment via bank transfer or PayPal payment request. With the prospect of losing the order she agreed to take my credit card as if I had placed the order online. Not quite up to handling the demand of a charity driven day, the delivery was more than 2 hours late, far beyond the 2 hour window I was provided causing me to miss a Creative Mornings talk I had been lucky to score a ticket to. But the flowers made me smile — a unique combination of roses & eucalyptus. So yes, I’d give it another shot. If you’ve got a gift to give, it’s an affordable option to spread some cheer. Available in a prickly cactus version too. Hopefully as a business they will mature some in coming days.

Kettle Black, 50 Albert Rd, South Melbourne

This modern and sunny cafe that serves seriously beautiful all day breakfast is in my mind, the ultimate girls day out spot. But to my surprise the restaurant was filled with men, women, young, old and muti-cultural alike. I guess the word is out. Everybody it seems likes pretty. Just look at the flower, seed & maple cream topped Hot Cake — that was seriously like eating a whole cake and if you can get through more than half, my hat’s off to you. It’s the house specialty and I’m glad my waitress talked me into it. But I am excited to go back next time and try some of the more savory options too. Seriously, everything that passed by on the way out of the kitchen was drool worthy. A note: I didn’t so much enjoy sitting at the counter and suggest a seat at a communal table or better yet, go with friends and share not only a table but multiple selections off the menu.

A-Esque, 555B Chapel Street, South Yarra

A-esqueHave you ever walked into a store and wanted to buy every single piece on display? I could easily have done that at this Melbourne based leather goods shop. All the bags are hand made in a local workshop of Italian leather. Refined and sophisticated styles that you can easily wear without the bags wearing you. In fact you won’t find any branding on the outside what so ever. Just my style . . . every single one of them. I chose just one this time around but with free international shipping there may be more in my future.

The Standard Store, 159 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy

The Standard store MelbourneOn my list to get to in Sydney years ago, it never happened. Then last year, they opened a branch in my favorite neighborhood in Melbourne. And it is a fantastic little store! The selection of casual men’s and women’s wear is well curated and well, fun. The staff enthusiastic, personable and well trained on all the merchandise and brands. They even carry Ally Capellino bags (someone i once carried in my shop once upon a time, learn more here). And even better, they have an apartment for rent upstairs through AirBnB. Now you can live the same curated design sense for a night or more. How fun is that?

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As you can see, I made the rounds neighborhood-wise. But that’s not all there is to see in these neighborhoods, just those places I took note of this time around. Set out to see these stops and wander around nearby to find all sorts of interesting shops, cafes and more. Myki card (public transport pass) in hand and Melbourne is the most amazing playground. Just have fun!

All images (with exception of hot cake and flowers) courtesy of respective business.

new on the web

WHOOP!  WHOOP!!    OMG!!    YOU GOTTA SEE THIS!!     FANTABULOUS!! 

Even though in stark contrast to the quiet voice of my most favorite brand, I can’t help but holler about the new website from Aesop. Of course, this is how they so eloquently announced themselves:

Aesop entryCome screaming or ever so quietly . . . upon entering the site you will find detailed documentation of the designs for many of their stores around the world. One after the other. Each unique. All specimens to behold and admire.

AESOP-UK-RICHMOND-34-3_xT2ap4y

AESOP-AU-BONDI-BEACH-1-5_hIGy8zL

AESOP-US-CHELSEA-37-4

AESOP-AU-FLINDERS-LANE-7-7AESOP-FR-LE-MARAIS-10-2 AESOP-AU-NORTH-MELBOURNE-8-4I am tickled pink (and still a little bit amazed) that they can keep up this rapid growth of what I will call not just lovely stores, but true design experiences around the globe. Wouldn’t it be a fun journey to try to visit them all?  I have yet to get to all the outlets in just the cities I frequent: Melbourne, Los Angeles & New York — let alone the ones further afield. But now, whenever the urge strikes with just the click of a mouse, I can see what beauty awaits me should I ever choose to take this journey.

images courtesy:  taxonomy of design

favorite apps

The things you can do from your iPhone these days still amaze me. From navigating through a foreign land, to hailing a cab, to paying for lunch. It’s all so easy and still gives me a thrill each and every day. Maybe I’m just of that age where the technology was introduced just late enough that I remember life before a little too clearly. But boy, I like it! Here are my current top 10 favorite apps that get a regular workout on my phone these days:

PostmatesPostmates — if you’re a regular reader you’ll no doubt remember that Postmates offered free ice cream delivered to your door on National Ice Cream day. That freebie is indicative of the types of regular promotions this service offers in addition to delivery of just about anything your heart desires, especially food from your favorite restaurant that doesn’t normally deliver. Charges are based on distance and no cash changes hands (except for tips). Available in most major cities.

mobile nowMobile Now! — you don’t need coins for a parking meter anymore, or annoying $2-3 charges on your credit card. Simply type in the space number on your meter and you’re all set to park. Stop your session at any time or get a text reminder that your time is about to expire. Top up your account to any amount you like and it automatically refills when you hit zero. This app has saved me from parking tickets more than once. Not all cities use this app but they should!

NPRKCRW — Simply the best NPR station in the country. You can listen to what’s live on air or choose from a series of taped shows. Makes me a little less homesick for LA.

 

 

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Nat Mall DCThe National Mall by Bluebrain — Music composed for your interaction with The National Mall in Washington, DC. Just launch the app, don headphones and the music plays and seamlessly transitions according to your location. I also have a similar app for Central Park in NYC but that no longer seems available for download. A truly wonderful location based experience, the brainchild of two local composer brothers.

tripcaseTripcase — If you like to travel, this app will keep you organized. Make a reservation of any kind — airplane, train, hotel, air bnb, car rental, etc . . . and simply forward the confirmation email to the provided address and it loads all the details to your profile by trip. It keeps up with you as your trip unfolds and provides up to the minute gate information (even before it hits the airport displays), alerts you to delays, indicates alternate flights (just in case), gives directions and even has a direct link to Uber. Travel made simple

silver carSilver Car — all Audi A4 rentals, all the time with no lines, no hassle. Free Wi-Fi and GPS with every car. Simply deplane, proceed to your car, use your iPhone to unlock and go. Return with the push of a button and your receipt is emailed to you. Couldn’t be simpler when you need decent wheels. Limited cities currently (LA, Dallas, Phoenix, Austin, Miami, Denver, San Francisco). Cars rent at approx. $80/day, include unlimited miles, and fair pricing gas (local price plus $5 fee) so no need to stop and fill up in a sketchy neighborhood on your way to the airport.

Melbourne PTPublic Transport Victoria — my time in Melbourne wouldn’t be as easy without this handy app. It tells me the best way to get to anywhere by tram, bus or train. Simply type in the address where you want to go and you get door to door instructions with available times for your public transport method. I used a similar app in Auckland and made it far and wide across that city without fail. So the lesson is your local public transport authority usually has the best solution for free. Wi-fi or 4G required.

WellsFargoBanking Apps — check deposit by app has changed my life. I can’t recall the last time i went to an ATM or into an actual bank. But should you need to, with the push of a button the closest location will reveal itself. Pay Bills, transfer funds, check balances, deposit checks. Now if only it could dispense cash and life would be really good — but I assume that soon, we will be a cashless society so no worries there.

 

FandangoFandango — I keep all my favorite theaters listed so I can check out what’s playing near me and show times. For a small fee, you can even buy advance tickets, usually saving time and long lines at the theater. Also provides reviews, trailers and probably a million other movie-biz tid-bits I never even bother with. I’m just in it for the convenience.

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PinterestPinterest — I am not a game girl. So to keep me occupied while waiting idly somewhere, I turn to Pinterest. It’s all the visual stimulation I need.

messina does it again

Just when I thought, “My favorite gelato place is now in my favorite city, I don’t need to find my way back to Sydney anytime soon,”  BOOM! Gelato Messina opens a new experience that, of course, I want need to try.

messina dessert barIntroducing The Messina Dessert Bar. The make your own adventure / sundae bar featuring two flavors of soft serve gelato weekly, flavored waffle cones, crepes, donuts, sauces, coulis, candies, foams, cream, cookies, floss . . . the list goes on and on. And if you can’t decide for yourself what to concoct, they have suggested combinations to choose from. All as inventive as the unique flavor combinations they are known for in their original gelato shop.

Messina SundaesJust some of the suggested treats, from left to right:

Carni Candi
Waffle cone filled with fanta sorbet, redskin custard, strawberries & cream jellies then dipped in chocolate & topped with fairy floss

Honey I Burnt The Kids
Burnt vanilla gelato, burnt honey mousse, smoked butter popcorn, smoked chocolate fudge served in a cup

Pavlova-kona
Raspberry waffle cone filled with burnt vanilla gelato, raspberry jellies, passion fruit curd, raspberry coulis & topped with raspberry meringues

6 months now and no Australia for me, none of my favorite gelato. Oh, the horror! You can bet, that one of these days I’m gonna be back in OZ and this is where you’ll find me:

MESSINA DESSERT BAR
243 Victoria St, Darlinghurst NSW 2010

All images courtesy Gelato Messina