29 good things (and a few silly ones) about Winter in Canberra

Sunday of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, view from Red Hill, 4pm

It’s the end of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, the ski fields have officially opened, and I’m now staring down the barrel of three more working weeks until the end of the financial year, which means I’m going to be very, very, busy with a number of not-excellent things not fit for this exciting blog.

We also are heading to the shortest day of the year, June 21. I googled different sun set times on Saturday and saw that Canberra’s sunset was scheduled for 4.57pm (Sydney’s was 4.52), yet at 5.10pm on Saturday I saw the most beautiful pink and orange in the sky.

Look at those colours! Filter-free fun here.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I like cold weather. So I’ve put together a quick list of some of my good things about winter in Canberra (some of them are a bit of stretch, even for winter-loving me).

  1. Being cold outside means it’s a good excuse to stay inside and try making some new dishes like dark chocolate, pear and hazelnut torte, ham and vegetable risotto, cardamom and pistachio bread and butter pudding, a variety of soups and shakshuka (things I want to make from June 2019’s Woolworth’s Fresh magazine*).
  2. The bitter cold and icy winds that cut like a knife add an extra degree of difficulty to daily life – which is really an exercise in building resilience and also helps with mindfulness (see? stretch).
  3. There’s the pride of knowing Canberra has the lowest minimum temperatures of all the capitals, everyday. (I don’t know if this is a fact, but it feels like it.)
  4. This makes you appreciate getting inside and feeling cosy (George’s contribution).
  5. “No I don’t have any more!”said George when I asked him if he had any more good things about Winter.
  6. Hot bubble baths. I wonder if Lush has any winter-themed/scented bath bombs?
  7. Frost on the grass and ice on cars left out overnight is so pretty and sparkly!
  8. The Best & Less in Tuggeranong (the name ‘Tuggeranong’ by the way means ‘cold place’ in the language of the Ngunnawal people) has been selling $4 polar fleece couch blankets! I was zipping past on my lunch break and stopped to buy two. This was in the last week of May, so they might be sold out by now.
  9. You can go the whole hog with your winter outfits: woolly scarves, felt hats, driving gloves, fur-look trim on boots and jackets, and I recently saw a girl with fluffy ear-muffs as she walked from the work carpark to the office entrance.
  10. Turning on the heater when you get home at the end of the day.
  11. Weekend afternoons at home finally putting together those IKEA flat-packs and making things cosy. When I moved here the first time, there was no IKEA. So very convenient to have one in Canberra now.
  12. Using a hot cup of coffee as a hand-warmer, and also an insides warmer, and a caffeine hit.
  13. I heard once in a political documentary on Canberra that its location was intentionally selected because of the cold climate, so we’d all be like little hamsters in the hamster-wheel, running to keep warm. Also apparently a cold climate makes public servants think more clearly. (I can’t vouch for this.)
  14. Going to bed and reading books. George came up with another good thing.
  15. Wintry bare trees against a bright blue sky.
The clear winter skies of Canberra on a sunny day are amazing.

Wow, there are 15 good things already, do you really need more? OK, here are some sensible, practical good things that you can put in your diary this Winter, residents and visitors alike…

  1. The Winter Handmade Market June 29-30. Canberra’s Handmade Market is on four times a year and showcases artists, designers, stylists, craftspeople and produce from all over Australia.
  2. The Canberra Region Truffle Festival is a whole range of truffle events from 1 – 31 July.
  3. Living in Canberra we are so close to the NSW snow fields – At 2 hours’ drive you can be there and back in a day. From June 29 Murray’s buses will run daily ‘Snow Express’ trips (link to Murray’s) from Canberra. You can get coach travel, lift ticket and equipment hire from $190. Or from $43 if you just want to go and look at the snow and not ski! Pretty.
  4. If skiing isn’t for you, how about a day trip to Cooma (the home of Birds Nest), Bredbo and Jindabyne? Riot Act has some great ideas here
  5. Corin Forest is an easy morning or afternoon trip at around 40 minutes’ drive from Canberra. There is a mini snow field that’s great for kids.
  6. Winter Festival – for the past few years, Garema Place in the city centre has been decked out like a winter wonderland with an ice-rink and fairy lights.
  7. Ice hockey matches at Phillip ice rink. Phillip Ice rink, 1 Irving Street Phillip.
  8. Going for one of many walks around Canberra – Riot Act has these ideas
  9. The Forage food festival, Dairy Rd Fyshwick, June 15 2019 2pm – 7pm. Although it must be said last time we went there was a lot of traffic getting in and out of the venue.
  10. For an “alpine experience right here in Canberra”, why not have a go at indoor skiing at Vertikal Snow Sports? It’s right next to the Forage (see number 9)
  11. Get inspired to get cosy at ‘Creative Fibre’ at the Old Bus Depot Markets – a day for the regions’ textile artists to showcase and sell their work. See products and learn about processes involved in weaving, knitting, crocheting, hand dyeing fabric and more. July 14, 2019 The Old Bus Depot Markets, 21 Wentworth Avenue Kingston.
  12. More truffle stuff: Truffle-infused winter weekends at the cellar door. Mount Majura Wineyard, June 8 – 25 August 2019.
  13. Warm Soup, Cool Jazz. Literally that – sip on warm soup and mulled wine while listening to live music. June 30, 2019 at the Mercure Canberra, 39 Limestone Ave Braddon.
  14. For other great ideas visit the Visit Canberra website!
Winter skating at ‘Skate-in-the-city’, Garema Place Canberra, 2016.

I know there are many more good things to do! Please feel free to add your own in the comments!

What do you like to do in Canberra in Winter?

*The Alexcellent Life is not sponsored by Woolworths. I just like their free magazine.

Easter holidays 2019: trains, buses, taxis and crowds.


Well we’re about to hit day 2, week 2 of Term 2, and I can’t believe we’re nearly in the middle of 2019. George was not excited about school starting last week, still being in “holiday mode” he said, the night before. I was still in holiday mode too last Monday morning but now back into the swing of things well.

This holidays, after our afternoon of bath products window shopping, I worked for a couple of days and then we hot-footed it to my Dad’s in the Blue Mountains. This involved a Murray’s Bus from Canberra then a train from Sydney’s Central station. Why did I not drive? I’ve caught the anxiety of the M5 from my parents. So 6 hours after leaving Canberra, we arrived in the Blue Mountains, about 90 minutes west of Sydney.

We witnessed an altercation on the train between two young women over one of the women saving a seat for “a friend getting on at Parramatta”, and taking up four seats (2 for her luggage, one for her bottom and another for her legs). George was quite interested in all the lively high-school/uni student conversations, including from a group of six skateboarder-types perched on chair arms, as there weren’t enough seats.

“Next time, we’re driving!” I whispered to George in a wave of middle-aged defiance against my parents.

In the mountains we met up with Dad’s partner’s daughter and her boys aged 8 and 11, so George had plenty of play time with them. We had some lovely late afternoon walks admiring the red and orange leaves and Dad cooked a lamb roast on Good Friday.

Autumn parade in Blue Mountains streets.
It was a scene from a fairy tale in a local park!

We battled the crowds in Leura Mall (Pitt Street Mall, more like it) while we were coffee-chasing (me) and lolly-shopping (George) and sneakily vintage-clothing window-shopping (me). Leura on Good Friday was like Campbell Parade in Bondi on a Summer Saturday, proportionately speaking.

Bustling Leura Mall on Good Friday

George was disappointed Woolworths was shut – he couldn’t get his hot fried chicken wings, but he cheered up with pizza at Leura Garage, a cafe with Bondi-style prices in a charmingly decorated converted garage. It was very good Margarita pizza though. We bowled up to the host standing behind a lectern at the cafe entrance who informed us we could go on a “wait list” for a table and he would phone us when one was ready. To make the most of our time, we hurried over to the gourmet chocolate shop “Josophans” around the corner and selected a few items. Just as I was about to queue up to pay, I got the call from Leura Garage… a table was ready now! No time to purchase chocolate, I planned to return later. So much for peaceful village life.

Chocolate bunnies perched on some kind of car thing.

After our late lunch George felt better so was tolerant of my browsing (Yes, I was happy browsing) in a few arty and vintage shops. And we went back to Josophans for Easter chocolate gifts.



We got a taxi to Dad’s in the next town as it was late and Good Friday – I did consider waiting for a train but a lamb roast waits for no one!

The rest of our holidays was more trains, buses and taxis. Because our train to Sydney the next day was delayed by 30 mins, it meant we had time to duck across the road for this…

Easter in Sydney was a whirlwind of wheeling luggage around from Central to Bondi Junction, lunches, family, chocolate, pizza, no church, no beach and an Easter egg hunt in Granny’s courtyard.

We caught a bus and taxi (thanks, “track work” on the Eastern Suburbs train line), and then met my friend Nadia to catch a train to the Royal Easter Show with our boys aged 8 – 13, then a train, bus and another bus back to Mum/Granny’s.


Boys 8, 11 and 13 ready for the journey home

After the Show, it was a bus from Central to Darlinghurst to Nadia’s amazing new pad – location, location, location! Then we hot-footed it to Kings X to get a bus back to Granny’s. 14,000 steps later, I collapsed on the couch and George carefully examined his Warheads (sour candy) showbag.

Location, location, location! Perfect for Mardi Gras.

The next day was lunch with Sister Señorita Margarita in the very lunch-friendly Woolworth’s* express in Pitt Street Mall (Leura Mall, more like it), before catching a train and a bus to Skyzone in Alexandria to meet my cousin and her son and then catching a bus back to Bondi Junction where the thought of a train and another bus back to Mum’s was all too much so I jumped in a taxi. Which really was all too much, in the dollar sense.

George found his mothership in Sydney’s CBD. He looks a bit tired. Too many holiday late nights!

The next day, we got a Murray’s bus back to Canberra, then a taxi home to my beautiful, scratched little hatchback that gets me from A to B.

Before the Easter holidays ended, we managed to fit in another Easter, Greek Easter, with family friends of George’s dad. George found a canine friend there. I still haven’t managed to get him a dog. I can’t remember this dog’s name, but I think it was a Greek name and she’s part husky.

George and his Greek-Siberian friend



Much fun was had by all cracking these beautiful creations, by knocking them together and seeing whose egg cracks. It’s sort of like pulling Christmas crackers without the cheap plastic trinkets and hats.

I hope you’ve had a great start to Term 2, or May, if you don’t think in school terms. Less than four weeks to Winter, my second-favourite season! I’d better fit some decent Autumn walks in before then, since it’s my favourite time of the year.

Canberrans say you don’t turn your heater on until after Anzac Day. It’s not that cold yet, so I haven’t needed to. I’m really enjoying sitting with a blanket over my knees in the evening when there’s a bit of a chill. It is SO cosy.

*This post is not sponsored by Woolworths. I just go there a lot.

Vampire skin and raspberry meringues

What to do in the school holidays on a day off from work? The 11-year-old son formerly known as Spider Boy was annoyed that he had to go to Vacation Care the next day, so I told him we could do whatever he wanted (within reason) today. He declined offers of ice-skating and movies; top of his list was to go to Lush, the bath products shop.

George’s love for Lush started one Sunday last year when we happened to be in the newish Monaro Mall beauty precinct at the Canberra Centre, and he spied Lush’s bright colours. “Oooh, let’s go in here!” We went in and he’s been hooked on the idea of bath bombs ever since.

That day we bought a bright blue, pink and gold dusted “galactic bath bomb” for $8.95. He enjoyed its fizz, bubbles and disintegration as it quickly coloured his bath water bright blue with little gold sparkles.

At $8.95 a pop on average, I suddenly became interested in seeing what we could make ourselves for less money. Lush’s selling point is that the bath products are fresh and handmade so surely I could whip up a few at home? And so our short-lived bath bomb making frenzy was born.

We watched You-tubers make bath bombs that looked like watermelon and Oreo cookies, stocked up on Citric acid and essential oils and food colouring and made bath bombs in ice-cube trays and plastic bauble toy containers from the supermarket. We came up with all kinds of names for our business, like “Bombs Away” and “Buttercream Bath”. But after about a month, our bath bomb business had become a bit of a fizzer quite frankly.

This holidays, George had fun choosing one out of 50 billion products there. He seemed disappointed that I wasn’t going to get anything for myself, but as his cost twice as much as I originally planned to spend, I thought I wouldn’t. But I did end up buying myself a soap.

We then popped into L’Occitane across the way. Our arms were a canvas for rose-scented hand cream and perfume testers.

“So many good smells here, so many good shops!” he said gleefully. I agreed, it was good for the senses and the soul.

Once back in the main thoroughfare of the beauty wing, we came across a makeup bar, specifically the section with body shimmer and other glittery products. This makeup was different to the heavy body glitters of the 90s that were part of my routine Saturday night look (Like hair gel for the skin). These body shimmers were so light and delicate they looked like they’d been harvested from fairies wings.

The friendly sales girl shrieked with excitement “They’re all testers!” as she invited us to dip our fingers into little delicate pots of rose gold and silver and shimmer up. Our inner arms smelled like roses and sparkled like a vampire’s skin in the late afternoon sunlight.

We capped off our shopping trip with some eye candy – by staring at the counter of Passiontree Velvet patisserie. It was the the hot pink cafe sign that caught my eye, followed by the delicate and beautiful cake art in the cabinet. The fluffy raspberry meringues looked like clouds at sunset. Actually, they didn’t look that different from what we’d just seen at Lush.

I had a realisation that buying bath and beauty products could be a very good substitute for the pleasure of buying cakes and chocolates. For me, part of the attraction of the cake shop is how the merchandise looks, the craftsmanship that goes into these sugary creations. It’s not JUST about the eating. I’ve realised delicious cosmetics and beauty products give me the same little burst of excitement and feeling of indulgence.

I thought of the time I walked past the old Jazz Apple cafe on Canberra’s City Walk when George was almost 2, he started pleading for an “ukcape, ukcape, ukcape”. Amazing, as I didn’t think he knew what a cupcake was.

We left the Monaro Mall beauty precinct talking about all the things we liked about it – George’s top thing was that it was uncrowded and no one seemed to know about it – well, it was 4pm on a weekday. The cashier at Passiontree Velvet said the same thing about the cake shop – not many people seem to go there while they’re beauty shopping. But to me it makes perfect sense to have the pretty soaps and the pretty cakes close by in one pretty sensory shopping destination.

Once we got home, George set up his own little mini-Lush bar in a corner of the bathroom.

David Jones, near the Monaro Mall beauty precinct, where the magic happens.


Autumn (?) flowers add to that fresh fragrant feeling.


A bath truly is one of life’s great pleasures.


The anticipation of a bath bomb hunt… like a jungle cat stalking it’s prey.

Like jewels on display…


A bizarre confectionery version of reef and beef? Surf and turf? I see starfish and shells and a rabbit.


Raspberry body butter bar from Lush, or meringue from Passiontree Velvet?


If it weren’t for the wrapping, you could mistake it for a Blue Hawaiian icecream bar. But no, it’s soap.


Summer 2017/18

While I was thinking about blogging, but not blogging, here’s the summer life we were living in Summer 2017/18. Click on the pics to read the captions.

Cocktails and dreams: back to the 80s at 88mph

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As an 80s teen and someone who saw Back to the Future three times when it was first released, AT THE CINEMA, I knew Canberra’s new 80s-themed bar, 88mph, had my  name all over it. I couldn’t wait to go Back in time! (thank you Huey Lewis and the News).

This new venture by owners Ant Arena, Lorenzo Focarile and Dean Brown, the team behind Canberra bars Highball Express, Black Market and Molly,  had its opening night earlier in November.

With my visiting Sydneysider sister (Señorita Margarita) in town for a Day of the Dead festival, a perfect opportunity presented itself afterwards to jump into my DeLorean (aka my Toyota Corolla hatchback), flux up the flux capacitor and go be with my people, the 80s McFly barflys.

After a quick stop at Kokomo, we drove the few blocks to Hobart Place. It was unseasonably cold, we were bare-legged, high-heeled and Señorita Margarita was in full Dia de la noche sugar skull face paint. She looked amazing and I admire how she always embraces the theme of any event, but to the uninitiated, she was a hybrid of Marcel Marceau, Skeletor and Frida Kahlo.

Well get out of my dreams and into my car! I couldn’t believe we got a free car park literally right outside the front of the building (the aptly named Neon House) where 88mph is located.

“See Marg?” I said, ready to launch into another iteration of my “Canberra has things” monologue (#canberrahasthings).

“You couldn’t do this in Sydney! Can you imagine parking right outside anywhere you wanted to go in the city in Sydney on a Saturday night? Can you??”

“No Al, but it IS only 8pm.” she observed.

We were greeted by the warmly familiar, yet exciting, neon glow of the 88mph signage, all dreamy purple and pink reflecting off the wet-look black subway-tiled entrance. Down the steps we went, into another world, back in time.

I knew I would love it even before I got in there, but once I was in the bar, I knew my love was real (because as Cheryl Lynn says, it’s got to be real). The owners refer to 88mp as a bar, but it is so much more than that. There is a dance floor that lights up. Not huge, but big enough for fun with your peeps, and other peeps. There are video games, pinball, menus presented in VHS cases, hot pink cassette tapes and black VHS tapes representing an equaliser as wall art, pizza, and oh hail, lord-of-the-night-that-doesn’t take-itself-seriously – three karaoke rooms!

There were colourful cocktails on tap for $14 for a standard cocktail glass, an extensive list of wines, and beers on tap. Feeling hungry and hoping for something to nibble, I looked at the menu and realised it was pizza ($14) or nothing.

I ordered the “Chicken Pizza” and the cute, young, young bartender with not a whisker of hair on his baby-face, seemed amused. “You want the Chicken Pizza,” he said, like it was funny. He explained there is no “Chicken Pizza”, the “Chicken Pizza” is a nick-name for the “Vegetarian Pizza”. Then I realised I hadn’t actually read the fine-print description of the “Chicken Pizza” because I thought the name was pretty self-explanatory. And I’d been too vain to wear my olde lady middle-aged reading glasses. Oh how we laughed!

I studied this young whipper-snapper as he poured a cocktail, as Heaven 17’s Temptation (1983) was playing, and mused that he wouldn’t even have existed in the 80s.  This was reminding me too much of Back to the Future 2, and I was a crumpled, middle-aged Lea Thompson, aka Lorraine Baines McFly, Marty McFly’s mother. But fortunately the lights were low, being a bar and all, so when I told my bar tender, “You know, I was going out to bars in the actual 80s”,  he replied, “Surely not?!” Dude knows how to score a tip.

Meanwhile back in my own era, I chatted to a friendly middle-aged group and we reminisced about the decade in which we came of age. Then my buzzer went off telling me my food was ready.

A dedicated pizza guy was whipping up made-to-order pizzas. It was served to me hot and fresh on a gingham-patterned plate. My sister and I walked around with said plate trying to find somewhere to sit; both of the two long booths we approached were taken up with guests from two separate parties.

A handsome bearded man suddenly appeared in my path, apologising for the lack of tables, and I realised he must be one of the owners. There’d been a hitch, he explained, but tables and chairs would be arriving Monday he said. It was easy to forgive, after all this was only the bar’s second night.

Senorita Margarita and I perched on bar stools and rested the pizza plate on the top of one of the booths. I inhaled half the pizza immediately.  It was hot, fresh and delicious. I decided I wanted to take the rest home and the guy at the pizza oven was very helpful; apologising for the lack of pizza boxes as he put it in a plastic takeaway food container for me – more handbag friendly than a pizza box, and all to the strains of Alison Moyet’s Don’t Go (1982).

Now The Jackson’s Can you Feel it?  (1980) was playing and it was time to hit the dance floor. Super Freak (1981) was next and Señorita Margarita busted her best moves in her sugar skull face paint. She sure is super freaky.

At about 8.45pm the place really started filling up. And not a moment too soon, because when you’re my age, you turn into a pumpkin at 9.30pm. In a joyful flashback to my 1989 Queensland girls’ holiday at the Contiki Island Resort, the B52s Love Shack brought the crowd to the dance floor – in fact I would go as far as saying, the whole shack shimmied!

Then suddenly I was back in Oxford Street Sydney’s pre-Kardashian Klub Kakadu with Yaz’s The only way is up (1988). We had a quick peek at the three Karaoke rooms and promised to book one on another night.

Then it was a journey back to Year 7 with Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1982). A twenty- something guy in a yellow bow tie started doing the Thriller dance – and the whole shack was still shimmying as everyone on the dance floor brought their best zombie/wolf arms.

Then suddenly a man was dancing in front of me. He told me it was his buck’s night. I told him I was going to places like this in the actual 80s.

“Me too, ay” he told me. “I’m old, this is my second buck’s night. I’m 37!” Huh. Spring chicken pizza in my book.

Because Girls just wanna have fun, Señorita Margarita danced with him in her huge pink tutu. Buck’s night guy may have been Hungry like the wolf, but it was Margarita who went into full Thriller mode as she zombied-it up.

It was an early one for us, we left at 9.15pm and not a moment too soon, as my scalp had started itching with a post-pizza hives breakout mid-way through my Walk This Way air-guitar solo. I could feel the hot and itchy beginnings of a full-body hive attack under my body-suit. Feeling like Michael J.Fox on the verge of a Teen Wolf-style werewolf transition, I knew I had to get out of there fast before my itchy secret was discovered.

It’s not 88mph’s fault – It took a heavy gluten day for me to finally accept I have a gluten sensitivity that must be respected if I don’t want to be red, itchy, scratchy and spotty and, let’s face it, the rest of the seven dwarves (sneezy, grumpy, and sleepy). But that’s probably a story for another blog post.

If it wasn’t for the hives, I could’ve hit that high like George Michael in Wake me up before you go go. That and the fact that mum-duties beckoned, as I’d promised Spider Boy’s dad I would be home at a reasonable time.

But, I promise 88mph,  like the 80s themselves, “I’ll be back.”  I’m so happy I can feel like it’s the 80s again whenever I want. It’s a full-immersive experience. It’s amazing how music and decor can bring the feeling.

The verdict: 88mph was a fun night out with positive vibes from the crowd. On the night we went, there was a good mix of ages, ranging from twenty-somethings to people my age and possibly even older. But everyone was smiling and having as much fun as a Wham! video. Sydney-dweller Margarita observed, “I love how in Canberra you get all kinds of different people in the one club.”

As owner Ant Arena told goodfood.com.au earlier this month, “We want this to be Canberra’s most fun night out – that’s the idea. You come here, the cocktails are gonna be great, the environment’s really cool, and the music – you can’t listen to the 80s and not smile,” he said. I’ll drink to that. Now, baby-faced bar keep, pass me a Blue Lagoon.

 

Literal: Basement, 8/10 Hobart Pl, Canberra, ACT

Virtual: www.88mph.bar

Pop quiz: What 80s movie does this blog post’s title come from? (Hint: there is a link to the song Kokomo)

Are there any fun 80s bars or clubs where you live?

Sydney visitors

Moving to Canberra means that we’ve been able to host visitors from Sydney.

In the past month we’ve had Lulu and Señorita Margarita to stay (on separate weekends). It’s been wonderful just hanging out with them at home but also showing them just a little bit of what Canberra has to offer. As my sister is always throwing back at me, “…because Canberra has things”.

Here’s just a few pics from their recent visits. I’ll post more later about specific adventures.

 

 

 

Christmas recycling inspiration

On my web searches lately I’ve been seeing a lot of very creative Christmas decorating ideas using discarded items or just plain rubbish.

Apparently even plastic lunch bags and soft-drink can ring pulls can be turned into beautiful Christmas ornaments… It’s probably a bit late now to get your DIY on for this Christmas, but here’s a bit of Christmas craft eye-candy and perhaps some inspiration for next year.

One of my Instagram friends, Anne, made this incredible Christmas tree from an old ladder. Perfect to display her Christmas villages! Very clever.

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This egg-carton tree is not just for the birds…

Eggcarton-Christmas-Tree

And this book tree is giving me ideas for next year. I need to start using my books as furniture, or a tree.

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Egg carton and book Christmas trees from  clabtrouse.com

And then there are the Christmas wreaths…

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This tin can wreath from  Etsy

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Don’t toss those ring pulls! This little ornament comes from dumpaday.com

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Plastic lunch bag wreath from allfreechristmascrafts.com

Christmas fun in general

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Plastic drinking cup snowman from Greenmoxie.com

Beer-cap-snowman

Bottle lids can be made into cute little snowmen. These are from Greenmoxie.com

ornament on a gift bag

A very creative use for shower curtain rings at creative green living

Merry Christmas!

Eat Drink Blog 2015… Food, fun and photo freedom

In October Alexcellent Lifestyle attended the 6th annual Eat Drink Blog (EDB15) conference. Held in a different Australian city each year, 2015 was Canberra’s turn to host over 80 food bloggers.

I wanted to experience for myself all the new paddock-to-plate dining options and hipster havens I’d heard were happening in Canberra. It was a perfect opportunity to visit the city as a blogger, and for my son Spider Boy to spend some time with his Canberra-based dad. So while I was tasting the best of Braddon and NewActon, I knew my son would be enjoying the sights of Smiggle, Impact Comics and JB Hi-Fi.

The conference committee put together a comprehensive program of our Capital’s favourite foodie experiences as well as education sessions on aspects of blogging and photography from inspiring experts. It was an excellent way to spend a weekend.

The conference was officially launched with a welcome from ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr at The Hamlet, an urban village of food vans and pop-up stores a few minutes walk from Canberra’s city centre. When I read on the EDB15 website that the Friday night launch would include canapés, I imagined little things. I didn’t imagine this:

schnitzel from The Brathaus in Canberra.

Well call me a canapé, it’s pork, veal and chicken schnitzel from The Brathaus!

…or this

Brod Dogs

Hot dogs a-hoy!

…or this

Pies from Thank God it's Pie Day.

It was like all my Pie Days had come at once. Pie Yay.

There was a big table of beautifully presented foods from The Hamlet’s food trucks. There were gourmet pies, artisan pizzas, huge sandwiches, souvlaki, hotdogs, pulled-pork burgers and did I mention the schnitzel and home-made sausages? Real sausages from The Brathaus made from free-range meat sourced locally. Mr Brathaus was very enthusiastic, so I sampled ALL of the schnitzel.

Schnitzel from The Brathaus

There he is carving it up like a pro.

I really wanted to sample everything else on offer but there’s only so much that even I can eat. I did manage to fit in a delicious balsamic marinated beetroot, feta and pistachio pie from Pie Day.

And don’t get me started on dessert. I was so busy sampling the savoury treats, I literally ran out of time to have my favourite course. I grabbed a fancy-schmancy donut from Chasing Mr Morris, wrapped it in a napkin and stuffed it in my handbag for later.

chocolate crackle and fruit loops donuts from Mr.Morris

Donuts ‘R Us.

But what to do about this waffle from April’s Caravan? There simply wasn’t the time to eat it, so here’s a photo for my scrapbook.

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Life is good with polka dots and waffle hearts

As well as the food, there was the ambience. I’d heard of The Hamlet before I went there, and I knew it was in hipster Braddon, so I knew it was going to be hipster, but I didn’t think it would be this hipster…

DJ at the Hamlet in Lonsdale St Braddon.

Crochet hipster.

Or this hipster…

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Chandelier-and-plant-in-telephone-box hipster with not-really-hipster-but-hashtagging dude hipster.

After the champagne, I just couldn’t go the coconut ice milkshake from April’s Caravan… but, I’ll be back to fully enjoy the sugar-filled prettiness. Just as well I’m moving back to Canberra in January.

Milkshakes from April's Caravan at the Hamlet

April’s Caravan… Sweet kitsch(en) dreams are made of this. A coconut ice milkshake. Creative and gorgeous.

After the awesome canapé dinner, it was time to break off into three separate groups of blogger/food-tourists for a tour of three local food and drink businesses.

First stop was Hopscotch, an award-winning gastro-pub with a street-front alfresco area in Braddon.

poptails and bloggers at Hopscotch for EDB15

My fellow bloggers understand me: Erin from Dreaming of Almonds and Megann from Megann’s Kitchen at Hopscotch, doing what all good food bloggers do before anything passes their lips.

I really got my first taste of summer for the year with this delicious and more-ish poptail. So creative, I’ve never seen anything like it. I should’ve noted down exactly what it was – it might have been some kind of moscato or rosé with a mango-daiquiri popsicle in it. There were non-alcholic versions as well, but I would know even less about those.

As well as the great food and company, something I really enjoyed was that for the first time, I felt I was able to photograph my food and drinks with wild abandon. There was no one saying “Oh come on, not another photo, can’t you just eat/drink it already?!” which is what I always hear when I’m eating out with non-bloggers (or at least what I imagine they’re thinking). This weekend I felt I was with my food blogger-soul peeps.

Next stop on the tour was whiskey and food matching at Marble & Grain, a European Steakhouse gastro-pub. I have never been a whiskey fan, but I still appreciated the opportunity to learn more about it, especially as food was involved.

Marble and Grain

We sampled Glenfiddich 12, 14 and 15, along with matching canapés. Goat’s cheese with fig and rye pumpernickel and hickory smoked duck prosciutto, rock melon and cocoa nibs.

After attempting to inhale the bouquet of the first whiskey (Glenfiddich 12), Bec from Inexplicable Wanderlust told me that this was a no-no because it’s too strong on the nose. You’re supposed to dip your finger in the whiskey, rub it on the back of your hand and smell that. Better.

Our third and final official stop of the night was at Frugii Dessert Laboratory. John Marshall, a former public servant turned ‘ice-cream alchemist’ produces chocolate gelato right from the cocoa bean. All products at Frugii are made from scratch using freshly made extracts, nut pastes and oils. They also make chocolates and chilled cakes.

Frugii Dessert Laboratory in Braddon

Frugii Dessert Laboratory in Braddon where I sampled this lemon myrtle ice-cream.

John gave us a short education session on chocolate ‘bean to bar’ and we all got a generous sample of the ice-cream of our choice. Knowing I already had a hipster chocolate crackle-donut hybrid in my handbag, I chose the lemon myrtle, because I’m all about the balance, you know? (the lemon myrtle was every bit as good as I thought it would be).

The next morning, conference delegates were picked up by a dedicated ACTION bus and taken to the Capital Region Farmers Market in the north of Canberra. Here they experienced a local producers breakfast and a cooking demonstration by young chefs from the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT).  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it to that part of the morning and I believe I missed out on a fabulous croquembouche demonstration, among many other things.

I did manage to make it to the keynote address from former chef/food critic and now SBS TV presenter/farmer Matthew Evans at the beautiful Nishi Gallery at NewActon. After Matthew’s entertaining session, we took a scenic lakeside walk to Westside Acton Park, a new pop-up food and entertainment venue made entirely of shipping containers.

Westside Acton Park

Spoilt for choice at Westside Acton Park; Friendly bartender at Aviary Bar, Westside; Sparkling white from Capital Wines was lovely with my Thai pulled-beef taco.

We were able to choose from an interesting and varied selection of lunch choices. I chose the Thai pulled-beef soft tacos. I ordered two thinking they’d be small but they were quite substantial. I couldn’t even finish my second one what with being so busy meeting and chatting to other bloggers at Westside’s upstairs Aviary Bar, where we were also given a glass of wine from Capital Wines.

After lunch we went back to the Nishi Gallery where we learnt about the ups and downs of restaurant reviewing from writer and communications consultant Wendy Johnson, the secrets of Search Engine Optimisation from marketing expert Todd Wright of Threesides Marketing, food styling with photographer and stylist Tess Godkin and smart phone photography and videography from Alice Lau of the Girl in a Food Frenzy blog and You Tube channel.

Eat Drink Blog Conference 2015

The Nishi Gallery was the ideal conference space. Todd Wright and Wendy Johnson deliver their engaging presentations.

Eat Drink Blog Conference 2015

Photographer Tess Godkin reveals her secrets to food styling.

These sessions were punctuated by an afternoon tea which showcased some of the Canberra region’s finest food and wine producers.

I sampled some fresh cows milk curd made by The Cheese Project. Established by Maureen House in 2014, it’s the only commercial cheese-making business in the Canberra area. I tried more than one of these little delights below. The milk curd on these was blended with orange zest (and a bit of sugar) and paired with the biscuity-base (made by Maureen’s husband), it was a match made in heaven.

The Cheese Project

Pretty pieces of orange on fresh cows milk curd tarts and the perfect bite-size treats for afternoon tea from The Cheese Project.

The conference dinner on Saturday night was held at A.Baker in the NewActon Precinct. As well as its daily baked artisan breads, A.Baker is known for sourcing local and seasonal produce for its dynamic menu. Bloggers were treated to a five- course meal comprising shared plates. I loved this idea as it meant my table-mates and I were all focused on the same dish and we could serve ourselves the portion-size we wanted.

A.Baker in the NewActon Precinct, Canberra, ACT

Pre-dinner drinks in the courtyard of A.Baker; the view of the terrace and the Nishi building; A.Baker’s interior.

After canapés and sparking wine from Mt Majura, ACT on the terrace, we sat down at long tables where the shared plates were delivered.

A.Baker dinner menu Eat Drink Blog 2015

Clockwise from top left: venison canapés; charred cauliflower with sesame and ponzu; braised octopus, skordalia, baked pancetta, blood orange and almond; baked local mushrooms, dutch cream gnocchi, kale and local primo sale; charred lamb neck, harrissa, bean, raddish and sumac salad.

The dessert of black sesame bavarois, strawberries, pink peppercorn meringue and sorrel looked and tasted beautiful and was the perfect way to finish dinner.

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During the evening the conference writing and photography competition winners were announced. I was honoured when writer and competition judge Liz Posmyk from Bizzy Lizzy’s Good Things called my name as the recipient of a consolation prize in the narrative category for my recent blog post Is it time to give up my sugar crush?  The other winners and links to their winning blog posts are on the Eat Drink Blog 2015 Competition Winners page. So thank you judges Liz and Wendy Johnson, and thanks to Capital Wines for my lovely rosé!

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Unfortunately I had to miss the next day’s activities due to a sick Spider Boy but I got so much out of what I’d already experienced at Eat Drink Blog 2015. Plus I’ve got a goodie bag to remind me of all the good times…

Eat Drink Blog 2015 goodie bag

Thank goodness for goodie bags.

The Eat Drink Blog 2015 program lists the Sunday activities, or you can read about the conference from some of the other delegates’ perspectives.

This was my first Eat Drink Blog conference (well, half-conference for me) and I’m determined it won’t be my last. It was real value for money – all meals and drinks between Friday dinner and Sunday lunch (as well as all the blogging wisdom) was included in the very reasonable $150 conference fee.

I was inspired by the passion, enthusiasm and extreme organisational skills shown by the conference organisers who volunteered their time to make EDB15 happen; Amanda of Her Canberra, Tara of In The Taratory, Belinda of The Forage, Giulia of Love at Every Bite, and Rachi of Le Bon Vivant. The team pulled together a truly entertaining and informative weekend. Well done committee and thank you! I am looking forward to next year.

And there might be a new little food blogger rising up the ranks: Spider Boy said to me on Day 1 of the conference: “I want a food blog! I love food – it keeps you alive and it tastes good!” Ain’t that the truth.

Link Love

As well as the work of the organising committee, the EDB15 success was also due to the generosity and hospitality of the sponsors.

Major Sponsor: Her Canberra

Gold Sponsors: Visit Canberra, ACTION Buses, A.Baker

Silver Sponsors: Frugii, QT Canberra, Bentspoke Brewing Co., Hopscotch, Marble & Grain, The Hamlet, Six8 Coffee Roasters, Westside Acton Park, Capital Region Farmers Market, NewActon, the Boat House by the lake, The Canberra Wine House, The Cupping Room, Two Before Ten, Yum Digital Magazine, Poacher’s Way, The Fix juices, and The Muesli Bar.

The EDB15 conference delegates have been busy posting their content. Please visit the Eat Drink Blog Testimonials page for links to their posts for some fantastic photos and words about EDB15 that I wasn’t able to capture.

Fun, free kids entertainment.

There have been many offline goings-on at Alexcellent Lifestyle headquarters lately, but it is now time to sit down with my cup of instant coffee and share some of the events of the past month.

There’s an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art at the moment which I took Spider Boy and his friend to, during the recent school holidays. (I’m just realising that the school term is almost half over, again. How does that keep happening? Time just continues to do its thing.)

Anyway, the Energies exhibition runs until early September (more details at the end of the post) and as it’s so interactive, it’s great for kids.

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Spider Boy and friend: the cold wind seemed to give them more energy than usual.

When we arrived at the museum, which was lovely and toasty inside, we were directed up to the National Centre for Creative Learning. Here the kids were presented with activity sheets on a clipboard, to fill in as they went around the exhibits.

“Look boys, it’s like a school excursion!” I enthused. They didn’t seem to mind the idea of “work” (well if they did, they didn’t show it) so we all bounded down three flights of stairs (there is a lift, but why take the lift when you can bound).

The exhibition’s energy theme was a great fit for my two little friends.

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Energies: Haines and Hinterding, is an exhibition of the unseen energies around us, by Australian artists David Haines and Joyce Hinterding. Very low frequency radio waves, television signals, satellite transmissions, solar winds, aroma molecules and even psychic forces are brought to the senses.

It was fascinating and unlike anything I have ever seen before.

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The museum photographer happened upon the boys and grabbed a few happy snaps for the museum’s publicity material.

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The exhibition explores the power of electromagnetism, light, smell, sound and vibration. The artists’ work, according to the blurb, “…encourages us to marvel at the wonders of the universe, …to experience the everyday world as a place buzzing with energies, curiosities and sensations.”

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It certainly did all that. Not only for the boys, but myself. And we managed to find a Spiderman reference with all that electrical energy buzzing around some TV antennae hanging from a ceiling in a darkened room. “Electro would love this!” we agreed.

The boys didn’t even seem to mind having a go at their worksheets. Well maybe a bit.

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After all the electro-business we went back upstairs to the National Centre for Creative Learning for some free holiday craft ($5 donation per family to cover craft supplies – well worth it).

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After the museum we went for a walk at Circular Quay, where we showed our support (literally) for a street entertainer… as the boys still had energy to spare.

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Exhibition: Energies: Haines & Hinterding

Where: MCA, 140 George Street, The Rocks, Sydney.

When: 10am – 5pm daily until September 6, 2015

Admission: free

More info: http://www.mca.com.au

Fun Food at Sydney’s Winter Garden. And Dolph Lundgren.

Have you got a hankering for a bit of apres-ski adventure, but not the funds to actually hit the slopes? Don’t worry; Sydney’s pop-up “winter garden” is the answer to affordable urban apres ski-style adventure, complete with alpine-style huts selling sausages, mulled wine and hot chocolate. And Tornado Potatoes.

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It was almost taller than he was!

But more about them later… IMG_6308 Although the main attraction, the ice skating rink in the forecourt of St.Mary’s Cathedral, is not what I’d call a cheap activity for a family, it is still a billion times more affordable than a ski holiday/actual alpine adventure. And even if you don’t want to fork out the dollars for skating, you can sit down at the outdoor chairs and tables and soak up the winter wonderland atmosphere for free. IMG_6065 Kids can experience weaving their way down the slopes on a mechanical snowboard, a giant slide or for milder fun they can visit the baby animal nursery. They can also float around a pond in a giant Lindt ball. Spider Boy didn’t meet the 140cm height requirement, and I was secretly relieved. IMG_6169

There are also igloos available to “chill-out” in of course…

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Because the Winter Garden is in a prime city location, we’ve been to this frozen funland three times in the past two weeks when we happened to be in the neighbourhood. We haven’t ice-skated, because, budget, but we’ve enjoyed sitting in the winter sun with our hot chocolate (and yes alright, our potato-on-a-stick) watching the skaters carve up the ice to a pop-music soundtrack. But if you think the only food available is the greasy fair-ground type, you’d be wrong. Agape Organic has a kids menu including vegetarian nachos and organic fruit juice, there’s teppanyaki noodles, gozlame, wood-fired pizza and of course no alpine-style adventure would be complete without German sausages and Nutella crepes. If you want a really good hot chocolate, try the pop-up Lindt chocolate cafe for a hot sweet, thick beverage and, Lindt balls wrapped in every colour of the rainbow.

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But back to the potato-on-a-stick, aka the “Potato Tornado”. I couldn’t resist its greasy, salty allure, so we bought one to share. It was exactly as I imagined plus oh-so chicken-salty. The charming young man working the potato counter (and also the German Sausage counter) had a charming alpine accent: I assumed it was German but my sister Señorita Margarita later pointed out it could be Austrian or Swiss.

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Clockwise from left: “Dolph” patiently explains the Tornado Potato to customers at the German Sausage Hut (he was multi-tasking). The Tornado Potato machine. Don’t worry, Spider Boy didn’t eat all of this, I finished it off for him; The deep-fryer, spectacular and frightening all at the same time. 

I do want to acknowledge Mr. Potato’s great customer service. He patiently explained the Tornado Potato concept to customers, and with his well-groomed northern European style and charming accent, Margarita and I dubbed him Dolph Lundgren. We may have been referencing a character in an Adam Sandler movie. Because sometimes with my sister, I am 15 again. I had mentioned “Dolph” to Margarita on the phone when I called her to get her ETA. She and Spider Boy had an auntie-nephew afternoon planned at the Australian Museum across the road. Later when we all met at the Winter Garden again, Margarita went to the counter of the Tornado Potato/German Sausage Hut, not to purchase a potato, or a sausage, (because, deep-fried carbs and fat) but to hear “Dolph” speak. I observed the exchange from a distance. I couldn’t hear what she asked him, but I believe she went with my suggestion of “How many potatoes are there in a Tornado Potato?” Then to my delight I saw Dolph hold up a whole unpeeled raw potato, on a stick, and point to the machine that spins the potato into a long coil, and then he pointed to the deep-fryer, with the exaggerated and engaging hand gestures of a flight attendant. IMG_6464

The Sydney Winter Garden: Fun, food, alpine adventure and Dolph Lundgren.

As that other* Austrian superstar would say, “I’ll be back.”

*The real Dolph Lundgren is actually Swedish.

Sydney Winter Garden: St Mary’s Cathedral, Cnr College St and Cathedral Square, Sydney.

June 19 – July 19

Skating (including skate hire) $30 (adults) $20 (children). Family skate 4 pack: $90 Rides (Zorb ball, slide, snowboard machine)

1 ride/3 rides/unlimited $6/$15/$20

Winter Garden