Saturday, December 30, 2006

Holiday Traipsing About: Healesville, Silvan & Olinda

Or this could be known as "In Which I Blame Neil". Certainly Figman would if he knew ... hehehe

Australia tends to shut down between Christmas and New Year. Even then, a lot of manufacturing industries take the entire month of January off and not a lot gets done elsewhere. Unless you are unfortunate to work in a department store, in which case you may be hiding in a change room, waiting for the hordes to GO AWAY.

Now Figman is also on holiday until after the New Year and while I want to lounge around the house and sort out my study (so full of boxes you can hardly squeeze in there - at least all the Christmas presents are out of there now), he wants to do things. Go places. Have little adventures. Eat out a lot. Unfortunately, as many suppliers and restaurants are also on holidays, this isn't the greatest time to do that. Let me just say we had some dire and yet expensive food this week and that was when we could find the places to serve it.

So I thought that a trip to the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges might be sufficient distraction for F and as these are prime tourist areas I figured that most places would be up and running.

We popped into the Healesville Hotel for lunch and as they were fully booked, had to settle for the bar. Might have been better off at their produce store next door, as the food looked tastier and better cooked. We only just scampered to get a table as a busload of coiffed matrons wandered in, looking most put out that they couldn't be seated in the dining room.

After lunch, Figgy wasn't particularly interested in wineries and said those foolish words "I'm happy to go wherever you want to go". "Right" I said "I want to get some cherries and some raspberries and then there's this little shop in Olinda I want to visit on the way home .."

First stop was
Blue Hills Berries and Cherries
. This turned out to be only pick your own berries and we had a Little One to take home and put to bed so I vetoed this plan and decided to check out the place further down the road. It wasn't in the guidebook, but had cunningly placed its sign right near Blue Hills, proclaiming its excellent cherries to just be 1km down the road. And Chappies were really really good. Despite what many growers say about the smaller fruit being better, these huge, firm cherries were so juicy and tasty that F sent me right back into the store for another kilo!

Then around a few back roads, through startlingly green countryside, rich red soil and tranquil reservoirs and ponds, we wound our way to Silvan Estate Raspberries for a selection of the best berries in town. Figman always gets country-life-envy when we visit this farm, so we had to leave, quickly!

The little village of Olinda is about 10 minutes away and I browsed the Olinda Pantry while the Figman and Little One ate ice cream on the chairs outside Metisse next door. The Olinda Pantry has a solid range of products and I came away (amongst other things) with Cunliffe Waters Barbecue Sauce which I haven't seen anywhere else. I'm a big fan of their relishes and savoury sauces (there's almost always a bottle of their Hot Sour Sweet Salty sauce in my cupboard).

And then Metisse. This tiny store has only been open for 10 weeks, before that it was run from the owner's garage. Linens, antique Frenchwares, chandelier pendants, soaps and did I mention copperware??

There is a small range of vintage copper pans but I was immediately drawn to the shiny new frypans. Lined with tin and about a third of what I'd expect to pay elsewhere. I hummed and hawwed and talked extensively with the owner, hesitating only because I'd just been given a lovely Christmas present by the man sitting eating icecream right outside her door. And it's not exactly easy to hide a frypan under your shirt.

But in the end I succumbed and am now the happy owner of my first proper copper pan. So I don't have to be envious of Clothilde browsing in Dehillerin or Bakerina's preserving pan. She did say that it will tarnish immediately which made me want to cry a little. But I am all about using copper for its wonderful-heat-retaining-and-conductivity-purposes, aren't I? Not for it's glorious glossy looks. That would make me shallow. And I am deep, baby.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Merry Little Christmas

Hope you had a lovely Christmas time with your beloveds. My sister hosted the family lunch this year, so all I had to do was turn up and indulge. Well, I did bring some chocolate macadamias and raspberry truffles but compared to cooking the full Christmas dinner ... I got off lightly!

Mr Figman is doing his best to have a happy New Year - his gift to me was the shiny red Kitchen Aid mixer which I have been wanting for ages. I adore the stand mixer but what I really love is that he got me something he knew I really wanted and wouldn't usually buy myself. Going through my Peters of Kensington wishlist the other day I giggled when I realised I could remove this item which has been on there for a long long time!

And he even chose the right colour! And in time for me to get my free mixing bowl. Now I just have to select exactly the right cake to first grace my mixer ...

Chocolate of course!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve 2006

I remember last Christmas Eve well. Sitting up making insane Peppermint Bark that I'd picked up from Heidi's 101 Cookbooks. A confection that I cannot bear the taste of now, given that I became very sick the next day and Figman wasn't much better.

On Christmas Day, waiting at some traffic lights en route to our THIRD function of the day, Figman turned and looked at me sitting there, giant vat of duck curry on my lap. "You are NOT doing this again next year" he said. "I want you to promise me." Christmas is a lovely time of year I'm sure, but in our family food takes over as the main event and after I'd hosted one event and brought dishes to two more, I was ready to collapse, aside from the flu I'd just come down with.

So this year we were supposed to be keeping it more simple. I wasn't bringing anything to the main Christmas lunch, just turning up. Until there was a request for chocolates.

Since Christmas Eve fell on a weekend, I felt that there was time enough to throw together a private dinner for the three of us at home. Our Christmas lunch will be very non-traditional and so I wanted to indulge in a few basics for dinner tonight. Butterflied turkey breast, stuffed with fruit and roasted with butternut pumpkin. Cranberry and orange sauce. Boiled brussel sprouts as requested by Figman (I told you he came from a parallel universe). Brandy ice cream pudding.

I have spent the afternoon devising a stuffing recipe, trying to recreate a magical one eaten one Boxing Day from the carcass of a turkey at a friend's house. Dried peaches, dried mango, breadcrumbs, onion, garlic, stock. Preparing vegetables (I almost forgot the brussel sprouts!). Dipping the last of the macadamias I roasted in chocolate. The two boys slumbered until almost 7.00 pm and we missed the neighbours' party. (Unfortunately I suspect we are about to become pariahs as it was abundantly obvious we were home.) And now the turkey is roasted and resting, all the chocolates are in the fridge and just need parcelling up tomorrow. Dinner will be served in about 17 minutes and the Christmas cooking is done. It feels wonderful.

Lest you think I am one smug cow, I must say that I will no doubt be up late, wrapping and arranging presents, hunting madly for the gifts I bought months ago and which are now hidden under a pile of other things. But I will not be up at midnight this year crushing candy canes and waiting for chocolate to set. And that feels very good ideed.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Mecca Bah Restaurant Review

I'd never actually visited the Docklands area before, so when Figman needed to check out a venue I suggested we all head out for an early lunch at Mecca Bah. We mostly skipped breakfast and therefore managed to arrive shortly before 12 on a breezy Sunday morning.

Mecca Bah does not take reservations, hence the reconnaissance trip. We were hoping to "persuade" a manager into allowing a small booking for a festive lunch. Yes, that was likely to be successful ....

I had had a hankering for bastilla and above is a picture of , well, a half bastilla (I couldn't wait!). It was very soft, with tender shredded chicken and I adore the traditional sprinkling of icing sugar on these pastries.

The spicy lamb and pine nut bourek was the surprise hit. I mean, lamb wrapped in pastry is always going to be good, but the pine nuts took it to another level. I no longer have a hankering for bastilla. Instead, I am plotting how soon I can get back to Mecca Bah and scoff some more of these!

The fattoush was not successful. The dressing was too sour to be palatable and this bowl was almost as full when we left the restaurant. The service was also a bit haphazard and unfocussed, with different staff serving the table and all the dishes arriving at once, resulting in half being cold when eaten.

I ordered mostly from the mezze section of the menu, with a couple of Turkish pizzas thrown in. (Query - if they are Turkish, then is it accurate to describe them as pizze in the plural? Semantics.) It would have been more balanced to try a tagine and something from the grill, but I couldn't decide between the spicy chicken pizza with thick slices of eggplant and the pumpkin pizza with feta and rocket. So we had both and they were tasty and filling (so filling that we couldn't manage dessert!).

Above is the view from our table. It was excellent for keeping a small child entertained, as he not only had other diners to look at, but boats, birds and the occasional dog on the jetty. We had no trouble getting a prime seat for the lunch sitting but the restaurant filled up quickly. I can understand why they might like a "no reservations" policy, but it's frustrating for occasions when it simply won't do to be told to go away and eat an ice cream for an hour until a table is free. Even the offer of a substantial deposit failed to sway the staff and so the search began for another venue.

But if you're at a loose end or up early, Mecca Bah is a great casual dining spot amongst the plethera of Docklands restaurants.

55a Newquay Promenade
Docklands 3008

Monday, December 11, 2006

Menu for Hope III

The prizes for Menu for Hope III are up now. It's all very exciting - I can't believe how many there are and the variety. I had actually intended to donate a prize myself but have been offline for this week and only realised last night that I'd missed the cutoff.

We'd had a couple of our favourite boys visiting us in Melbourne and I'd been out taking them on their idea of a gastronomic whirlwind tour - "We don't have Boost Juice at home" "Can we go back to that lolly shop again?" and after a trip to Nandos, "That was a really good burger". Lest you think they are not discerning, the elder one asked if we could make it back to Cafe di Stasio (scene of a lunch on another visit), but there just wasn't time.

Helen at Grab Your Fork has co-ordinated the Asia Pacific prize list. There are FORTY different meals, books and experiences up for grabs. Some are from blogs I know well, such as Cin at A Few of My Favourite Things, Barbara at Winos and Foodies and Neil from At My Table. And others led me to new discoveries, like Phomenon. Phil is offering half a kilo of Cambodian Kampot peppercorns, which sound intriguing, although I'm a bit concerned about what Australian Customs would do to it, should I win.

I sent a penitent email to Helen yesterday and she kindly advised me to buy up raffle tickets instead of a last minute prize. So here are the instructions for donors:

Here's what you should do...

1. Go to the donation page at (

2. Make a donation, each US$10 will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize or prizes you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. Do tell us how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code -for example, a donation of US$50 can be 2 tickets for AP01 and 3 for AP02.

3. For US donors, if your company has agreed to match your charity donation, please remember to check the box and fill in the information so we may claim the corporate match.

4. Please also check the box to allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

5. Check back on Chez Pim on January 15 when we announce the results of the raffle. (The drawing will be done electronically. Our friend the code wizard Derrick at Obsession with Food is responsible for the wicked application that will do the job.)

I've had a look down the list and know what I have my eye on. A very naughty part of me thinks that if I didn't add to the publicity for this, I'd have a better chance of winning the ones I want! But I've been bad enough for one week ....