Ordinary Joys: Donna Summer disco flowers and fancy-schmancy food.

School went back for Term 4 last Tuesday but a bad case of pharyngitis meant poor Spider Boy had a terrible last couple of holiday days and missed the first two days of school.

Still there was much fun over most of the two-week break.

There was launching an air-powered rocket in our local park…

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See the rocket? It’s that tiny black speck above and right of the tree.

There was (attempted) lunching in a local fancy-schmancy grocery store… but it was just too fancy (and expensive) with a very complicated salad selection system. Spider Boy would’ve been happier with a dirty street pie (in the words of Laurina from The Bachelor), or some chicken McNuggets at least. He settled for a toasted cheese sandwich.

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I like the idea of raw cake but thought I could just go home and eat cake batter instead.

There was shopping in our local shopping centre. Later in the car when I turned to look at Spider Boy, I faced this sight… don’t worry, I wasn’t driving at the time.

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“What big teeth you have, my dear!”

So of course the new purchase meant that when Spider Boy packed his little Toy Story suitcase for our trip to Canberra, it looked liked this…

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If only my packing was so simple: a racoon mask and a Despicable Me fart-blaster. What more could you need for a trip to Canberra?

These days I tell him if he packs it, he has to wheel it. And he does. But his clothes go into MY suitcase.

After what seemed like a long day’s journey into Canberra (3 and 3/4 hours due to massive traffic jam on the M5) during which poor Spider Boy vomited three times due to travel sickness (the bus driver took a detour with lots of winding roads near the Georges River to avoid the traffic), we sat down at the bus terminal café. Happily Spider Boy was feeling better by this time and was gesticulating about something when he accidently knocked a bottle of Diet Coke over me. So proud, he takes after his mama.  And then I dropped my phone and the screen smashed. Searching for the joy in the ordinary, I found the ordinary.

We had a few days in Canberra where Spider Boy spent time with his dad, uncle and grandfather, and I caught up with some Canberra friends. We also met Sydney friends Lulu, Mr. M and their son The Magician, at Canberra’s annual Floriade Night Fest.

After navigating our way through the fabulous fields of floral spendour, we navigated our way through the amazing maze of marketing magic.

Our goal was to avoid purchasing any “schmutters*”, as Lulu calls them, but somehow Spider Boy and The Magician ended up with these lightsabers…

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Schmutters aside, the real magic was in the flowers. If you are a real fan of flowers (mostly tulips), go to Floriade during the day so you can see them in all their colourful glory. But Floriade Night Fest is great for an almost other-wordly experience. It was like going to an outdoor floral nightclub, but one where there’s food, families and a ferris wheel.

Lighting changed the colours of the flower fields…

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The “street food” stalls were lit-up with strings of fairy lights…

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Giant coloured lotus flowers lit up the lake…

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And giant flowers lit up and flashed in time to the music that filled the air. I Feel Love by Donna Summer was the standout.

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Iggle Piggle would have felt right at home in this magical night garden.

I made the call and announced that Floriade Night Fest was “Better than Lady Gaga.”

The next day back at our accommodation, Spider Boy had a swim in the heated indoor pool, where he made good use of the available pool noodles.

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Was this the moment when Spider Boy caught the pharyngitis bug? Probably not.

I can’t blame this swimming pool for Spider Boy’s pharyngitis because the doctor couldn’t tell if it was viral or bacterial. The Magician also swam in our hotel’s pool and he didn’t get sick.

On our last morning we had breakfast at Urban Pantry in Manuka, with Spider boy’s family. It was delicious and I was delighted with my choice of lemon pancakes with vanilla yoghurt, lemon jam and grilled figs.  However, I must confess to a bit of breakfast envy about the fact Lulu, Mr.M and The Magician chose to have their breakfast at the Hyatt. Talk about Fancy-schmancy. I have had breakfast at the Hyatt hotel in Canberra twice in my life (a few years ago now) and from memory IT IS THE BEST BREAKFAST IN THE WORLD, what with the omelette, waffle and pancake station.

In a text message that morning Lulu confirmed that her Hyatt breakfast was “very delicious!” and that The Magician claimed it was “the best breakfast he had ever had.”  She did not photograph it, but confirmed they ate “delicious fresh pancakes and omelette, fruit and cappuccino.” I’m sorry, I’m a bit obsessed with breakfasts.

So in case you’re wondering, here are my lemon pancakes… not made to order from the “pancake station” but very good anyway…

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Points for presentation AND taste.

After breakfast it was onto the Murray’s bus back up the highway to Sydney. Our return passage was much smoother and this time no plastic bags were required. Phew!

Have a great week!

*Schmutter: worthless material, rubbish. From Yiddish schmatte, ‘rag’. (oxforddictionaries.com)

Dinner with a “Day of the Dead” Devotee

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My dinner companion

My sister, Senorita Margarita, has just returned from Mexico and has fallen in love with its cultural traditions. There were no Jennifer Aniston-style antics by the pool in Cabo. No, Margarita’s journey was more spiritual. She did a tour of Mexican villages with middle-aged achaeologist-type people and took part in a traditional Day of the Dead ceremony. The Day of the Dead is a yearly festival where people pray for and commemorate friends and family members who have died.

So when Margarita stumbled upon El Topo, a new Mexican restaurant in Sydney recently, she knew it was the perfect venue to celebrate her birthday, a la Mexicana. Margarita also happened upon a makeup artist at a local makeup store who knew how to do Day of the Dead-style makeup. Margarita’s face was painted to resemble a skull, a symbol of the Day of the Dead.

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Strike a pose Day of the Dead style. Check out the skeleton-back chairs!

El Topo’s decor is colourful and, from the perspective of someone who’s never been to Mexico (except for that four hours in Tiajuana in 1992), very authentic. I walked in there and felt I was escaping to a Mexican holiday destination. Or at least, escaping Westfield. (Yes, it can be accessed from Westfield Bondi Junction).  It has an exceptional outdoor terrace area with a private dining room (where my sister’s party was). There are also cosy booths, each one decorated with different Mexican-style themes, from traditional Day of the Dead skulls, to religious iconography, to pictures of guitar-strumming, movie star-style senoritas.

Cosy booth with traditional decorations

Cosy booth with traditional decorations

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Margarita displayed this poster of Our Lady of Guadalupe

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An El Topo cocktail – hibiscus, lime juice and rose (it was “el Topo”)

The food was unlike no other Mexican I’ve ever had – it was authentically Oaxacan (Wahacan). There was not a Dorito in sight –  yes, it was a Nachos-free zone. While there are fried crickets (the insect) on the menu, there are so many other delicious items for the not-so adventurous diner (that’s me).

Senorita Margarita had told me she’d eaten fried grasshopers in Mexico and crickets were on the menu here. I warned her before we went, “I’m NOT eating grasshopers! But I will try the Mole”, I said, pronouncing it “Moll”.

“And don’t call it Moll!” Margarita warned.

When Senorita Margarita first returned from Mexico, she brought over a bottle of what look like chocolate sauce. “Mole” read the label.  “What’s this Mole?” I asked, pronouncing it “Moll”.

“Mol – ay” she corrected.  Mole is a Mexican sauce containing chocolate, chili and other spices.

“What’s this Mole”? said my dinner table neighbour as she perused the menu, pronouncing it “Moll”. Some people, honestly!

I later tried some of the famous “Mol – ay” from my neighbour’s plate of “Pollo en Mole Negro y Garbanzo” (chicken maryland, mole and chickpea) and we agreed it was like “a party in the mouth”, with about five different flavours at once, like a spicy tomato chocolate sauce. On chicken. Quite amazing.

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Not Mole. Hot stuff though.

I ordered a Quesadilla or “Queso y Flor De Calabaza” which was four folded-over triangles of burrito with a Oaxacan cheese, quinoa, salsa vierge and zuchini flowers. It was delicious,  with the delicate flavours of the zuchini flowers and the salsa. It was tasty, satisfying and at $13 a great price for a meal. Wish I’d photographed the quesadilla, but was too busy eating and talking. But here’s a shot of dessert. Mmmm… donuts.

These donuts were made for dunkin’

The dessert menu is amazing, and I had trouble choosing between the “Flan Roto de Coco con Chocolate y Cajeta” (smashed flan of coconut, single origin Mexican chocolate, hazelnut and goats milk caramel) and the “Bunuelos con Chocolate” (donuts and chocolate sauce). I chose the donuts, and despite my eagerness to dunk the hot, crispy, sugary goodness into the melted Mexican chocolate (which was NOT Mole), I managed to photograph my plate first (because I had to wait for the donuts to cool down).

El Topo is located on the rooftop (level 3) of the Eastern Hotel, 500 Oxford Street, Bondi Junction, and remember, can also be accessed via Westfield!

So, Senorita Margarita, Feliz Cumpleanos! May it be a wonderful year for you.