Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Jam sessions...with scones

I have recently mentioned my affinity for jam, even though I don't eat the stuff much. Although I can now rest assured that I'm not the only one with this jam obsession. The lady serving me at the French Cheese Shop in Melbourne's Queen Victoria Markets confessed to having 4 unfinished jams in her fridge & 1 lurking in the cupboard! When I ummed over one of the jams she was selling, she advised in the nicest possible way, "Why don't you tell yourself, finish 2 jars of jam & then when you come back to Melbourne, you can buy another one!" What sensible advice....

So it is places such as the Merricks General Store (pictured above) down in the Mornington Peninsula, that jam temptations start to surface! Built in 1924, this lovingly restored place welcomed us from the blustery cold wind & rain outside. It contained a cafe, a cellar door to taste wines from the owners' local vineyard, and a beautifully-presented food store stocking lots of yummy goodies like fudge, biscotti, imported pantry staples, homewares and the store's own range of olive oil, jams and condiments:

While I was busily distracted by the array of yummies on offer, it was my hubbie who spotted people having scones with jam & cream in the cafe. Never mind that we'd recently had lunch in a local winery...hey, it was 3.30 - it's afternoon tea time! So down we sat to the most humongous scone I've ever seen in my life. Both of us were like, "Whooaa!" I should have taken a pic with my fist alongside it, cos it was bigger than that....more like 3 scones in 1! Thank goodness we were sharing...

Now...I'm normally sceptical about scones that aren't small & dainty, so I didn't get my hopes up! But the scone turned out to be one of the best I've ever had...crunchy on the outside, warm & moist on the inside...spread with a little of the housemade strawberry jam & cream...& voila, I was in scone heaven! It was so good, we came back the next afternoon to have it again...this time with raspberry jam and cream. Hey, it was really cold outside, we needed something warm & comforting!

Oh well, there's no need to justify our double scone-fest...the good news is that I actually restrained myself from purchasing any of the homemade jam! I did come away with an enamel milk pan, some local honey, and a jar of imported French chestnut cream....but the point is...no jam!!! N

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Beach colour

After spending 2 days in Melbourne, it was nice to get away from the hustle & bustle of the city. Just an hour's drive from Melbourne lies the Mornington Peninsula, a popular getaway for Melburnians...a mix of beaches & little coastal towns (like Sorrento, above), rolling countryside and a reknowned wine region. We weren't blessed with the best weather conditions...lots of intermittent raining...& the wind coming off the notorious Bass Strait (separating Tasmania from the mainland) certainly chilled us to the bone!

But the rain did manage to hold off long enough for us to enjoy these colourful little beach houses lining Mills Beach in the town of Mornington:

All were very individual in design & colour, although some were quite quirky like this Warhol-inspired beach house...

while others were just a little bit funny!...

The beach was deserted...but one can only imagine the people-watching that can be had in these prime pieces of real estate in high summer! N

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Goodies for your life

Tiff has shared about many of her Tokyo shopping adventures and her love for Japanese trinkety bits, handbags, homewares & the like. Well...because of her, I have a new-found appreciation of all these things too (except for the handbags...that passion goes WAY back). So while the hubbie & I were in Melbourne, I couldn't go past shopping at Zakkaya - a shop Tiff discovered by way of a blog. Zakkaya's blurb is "contemporary Japanese goods for your life". And it was the closest I could get to experience Japanese goodies without a trip to Tokyo!

Zakkaya has been only open for about 6 months & is run by the sweet Kumi. The store sells homewares, handbags, accessories, lovely wooden toys, ceramics and other knick-knacks. Here's a few pics of what's in store:

Quirky teapots, ceramics & place settings:

Wooden trinkets, socks, handmade woollen mittens, scarves & beanies:

Lovely printed handbags & purses:

Two little guys enjoying the view:

And this is little Momo...a very curious & cute long-haired daschund who sniffed us & followed us around the shop, but was a little shy when it came to receiving a pat:

There were so many things I wanted to buy, but I had to control myself! Here are some things I gave in to...some placemats & matching coasters, a handmade handbag with polka dot lining, a little wooden apple calendar with an elephant magnet & a linen table runner:

I wish there were more stores like this in Sydney...but come to think of it, that could be very dangerous! N

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Almost too good to share...

I have just spent the last 4 days relaxing in Melbourne and the nearby Mornington Peninsula with my hubbie. It was our 6th wedding anniversary on Saturday & we were both in need of a break as work has been hectic for both of us these last few months! It ended up being a weekend of eating, shopping, relaxing, wine-tasting...but mostly...eating.

And this is where we come to one of our favourite must-eat foodie places...Brunetti. It is a bit of an Italian institution in Melbourne, comprising a restaurant, pasticceria and adjoining cafe. I discovered Brunetti with my family in January last year when we were wandering the streets of Carlton looking for a spot of breakfast. They had the most delicious savoury pastries I've never seen before. I have NEVER heard my Dad speak so enthusiastically about brekkie before. And when I told my Mum I was going to visit Brunetti's, you should have seen the look of longing on her face! It's that kinda place - once you visit it, you wanna go back again & again! I have since introduced Tiff to this place & subsequently my friends & family, Tiff has told her friends & family...and we've also told anyone within earshot who might be visiting Melbourne!

So on Friday night after dinner, the hubbie & I took the tram to this gastronomic temple of dessert. Nothing can quite prepare you for the amount of choice on offer. Here is just a smidgen of the biscotti on offer (sorry about the bad pic...it was really crowded!!):

I decided on the sfogliatelle, a pastry filled with sweet ricotta and mixed peel. Hubbie decided on a very impressive-looking pear tart, consisting of a whole pear sitting in a deep strawberry-jam lined pastry case, with vanilla custard and the top glazed with apricot jam and sprinkled with pistachios...mmm yes, quite a mouthful!

My sfogliatelle:

A cross-section of the pear tart:

It appeared that my hubbie won in his choice - the pear tart was amazing! I was a little disappointed about my pastry, definitely not as good as the one Tiff & I had at Pasticceria Tamborrino in Sydney's Five Dock as reviewed here.

Nevertheless, I didn't leave empty-handed, taking away some chocolate almond & fig nougat, some Italian lemon sweets and a mini panzerotti...a delicious shortbread pastry filled with vanilla custard! Even the next day, I popped into the much smaller city branch & bought a "lobster tail"...a similar-looking pastry to the sfogliatelle, but filled with a flavoured custard-cream. Sorry, neither the panzerotti or lobster tail lasted long enough for me to take a photo!

All I can say is that when Tiff & I shared a Brunetti lobster tail on a plane on the way home from a business trip last year, we both regretted having to share it....we were literally licking the plate clean with our plastic forks! Some things are just too good to share...N

194-204 Faraday Street
Carlton VIC 3053
P: (03) 9347 2801

Brunetti City Square
214 Flinders Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
P: (03) 9663 8085

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Makin' mail

Nicky has signed up for a postcard swap over at Betty crafter! Hi guys! We have to create crafty postcards with a recipe on the back... I have been drafted to come up with a cute drawing for the front. So I thought I would give you a bit of a glimpse of what we are planning so that you guys know we are on to it!

It is a little portrait of Nicky as I see her... always serving up some bakery goodness!

Thankfully I have finished all the artwork and printed it out... as my Mac died yesterday. Sob. Sob. We are currently trying to revive it, that is my boy technical support backup is trying to revive it... but typical male, he is already looking online to get me a "much cooler and bigger" Mac. I am a little sentimental about my little laptop... it was the first computer that was all mine. I didn't have to share! But we will see... T

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Back Tack Begins

I have a confession... I have been a bit slow on beginning my Back Tack project... part of the reason is that it has been a bit of a struggle to find some fabric that I think is exciting enough. I have loads of fabrics that I love, but none meet the strict black & white theme. So in the hope of discovering some fabric that I had forgotten I went through the stash. Here are some of the ones I found & a couple of potential felt embellishments I cut out....

Due to the lack of inspiring fabric... I thought about designing some of my own and using Freezer paper, which has been every where! But do you think I could remember to buy some when I am at the supermarket? But I do have iron-on transfer paper so I may turn to that. Here is a sneek peek of what I am conjuring up. Hopefully it works out.

The cute pointy kitty appeals to me the most... so it was time to give it a whirl and see if I could actually make it! Here is the trial run. The head isn't connected to the body yet, I hope to get around to it tonight.

Well, hopefully it won't be too long til I can give an update ... because time is quickly running out! T

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Market Daze... and sometimes confused!

Having a stall at Paddington Markets seems to be really working for us... it has really confirmed our suspicions that softies can make the heart melt. We have had kids, grannies, young guys just out of night clubs, mums & groups of teenage girls giggling around our bear cats. It has even led Nicky to develop theories about how making softies would be good therapy for hardened crims... I think she is fully convinced that our "Rescue Softies" could help in the reduction of crime! Fancy that! It would be nice...

Another thing we have discovered is that it is a lot of hard work... neither of us are fabulous at sewing so it has taken many hours to get these guys just right. I think we are finally getting the hang of it and developing a face and a shape that we are happy with. We may have to play with the pattern a bit... as cutting, sewing & stuffing the individual limbs is more work than we bargained for! But we are loving it... and enjoying the fact that our little creations make many people smile and laugh.

Here are some of the guys from the last market.

Wallace (wants to be an inventor & loves waffles) , Dudley (wants to be a motivational speaker & loves pancakes) & Winston (wants to be prime minister & loves queen of puddings).

Nigella (wants to be a Domestic Goddess & loves chocolate fondant) , Erin (wants to be a leprechaun hunter & loves cream horns) & Suki (wants to be a romance novelist & loves Sacher Torte).

Orville (wants to be an aeronautical engineer & loves marble cake), Toshie (wants to be a concert pianist & loves palmiers) & Bruce (wants to be a martial artist & loves banana split).

We also really enjoy hearing where these guys are headed off to... Errol up the top with the red heart is off to Canada to live his dream of being a ski instructor and a heart breaker. Bruce is a present from a mum to her daughter who is moving out of home to go to Melbourne. Nigella, Erin & Winston all went away with a lady from Melbourne who loves to read blogs! It is really nice to know they are being adopted into good homes near & far! T

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Making good....

I didn't think I would make good on my word to use my Japanese craft book so soon... instead of just oohing & ahhing over the pages of goodness I got out the scissors and sorted through fabric and then got cutting. This was late at night of course, because this is when the madness always hits! After ironing my proposed seams I looked up to see it was almost midnight and promised myself to start sewing the next day.

The picture that inspired me was this happy little chef...

My version....

is for a little girl from country Australia who is currently in hospital in Sydney.... she is far away from her cubby house at the moment. But I know how she loves to have tea parties & playing in there with her brother.... and everyone knows you have to have an apron when you are preparing for high tea. Last time she was in hospital I had a lovely plastic muffin with her...

Cute fastening for the neck...

My version, with a few self-fabric covered buttons...

That's this month down! Love the sense of achievement of ticking something off the list! Better get back to work. T

Monday, May 15, 2006

Year of Cakes - Teatime Coconut Layer Cake

Was it really Martha time again?? It was indeed. We decided to make this month's Teatime Coconut Layer Cake to coincide with Mother's Day and my sister-in-law's birthday. There's no way Tiff & I could get through that much cake with our hubbies! And the cake certainly looked like a celebratory cake!

As usual, there was an ingredient we couldn't get our hands on - sweetened flaked coconut...so we improvised with shredded coconut mixed with icing sugar! We thought this cake was like the coconut version of January's lemon cake...very similar in technique & construction. That meant it was also going to be similar in duration to make ie. a marathon! (see January's attempt here). Because of this, I thought I might be clever and make the coconut meringue buttercream the night before...to buy us some time!

And so the following morning, we got straight into making the cakes...all 3 of them. I delegated the separation of 14 eggs to Tiff...much to her joy...not! An egg separator is the one kitchen gadget I don't have, but something tells me this is a Martha must-have! The cakes were pretty easy to make, but that's cos the Kitchenaid was doing all the work. Alas, she was working overtime beating all those egg whites! Next came the folding of the egg whites through the cake batter & thank goodness there were 2 of us to do this task....it was tiring on the arms:

While the cakes were baking, I proceeded to make the coconut syrup. No dramas here. The cakes came out of the oven puffed and golden and we let them cool. And this is where we had our 1st drama. When I took last night's buttercream out of the fridge, it was as hard as....butter! That's ok...Martha says to beat it, & we proceed to do so....but something's not right...it's still too hard & lumpy. We improvise & pop a portion of it in the microwave, then add it to the rest....uh-oh, big mistake - the coconut cream is separating from the cream! After some more patient beating, we manage to salvage it, even though it wasn't the right colour or consistency. While Tiff diligently attempted to spread it on the cake layers, I proceeded to make another batch...so much for buying time!

By this point, we were both a little despondent....which may explain the anti-Martha behaviour that followed. We couldn't be bothered to trim the cakes evenly (resulting in the lopsided final cake), nor could we be bothered with the numerous buttercream refrigeration stages (I think we only refrigerated once). And we didn't use nearly enough coconut syrup on the cake layers as instructed. Although as you can see below, we did relent to do a bit of vertical trimming:

After smoothing on the 2nd buttercream layer, Tiff piped on the wavy pattern on the outside. While she took Horlicks for a walk, I put on the finishing touches. All done & it was 6pm....at last! Here's the result:

Martha's Teatime Coconut Layer Cake:

Our Teatime Coconut Layer Cake:

And here is a slice:

The taste? The cake was moist from the syrup and had a subtle coconut flavour...the cake itself didn't seem too rich, as all the butter was in the buttercream...& that was rich! This has gotta be the highest cake I've ever made (15cm/6 inches high) and both our families were suitably impressed with the taste...and the size. They were heard to comment "This cake is bigger than your head", "This cake weighs more than your head", "It's so dense, I need 2 hands to slice it", "This is the best cake I have ever tasted!" Well, how are we gonna top that one?? N

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Party time!

Yesterday I got to re-live my childhood...via my niece's 3rd birthday party. While my niece knows me as Auntie Nicky, I think she also knows me as Auntie Cake, as I'm always bringing dessert whenever I come over! And when I do, I now have to smuggle it into the kitchen (using my hubbie as a distracting decoy)...otherwise if she spots cake, she'll never eat her dinner...but she'll ALWAYS make room for cake!

But yesterday, there was no need to do any covert smuggling. She could eat as much cake as she wanted in my books! When I was asked to make the big birthday cake, I was a little daunted as I've never made a kiddie cake before...but how could I say no when I was asked by the little one herself!

I decided on the Buttermilk Birthday Cake with butter icing from Nigella Lawson's 'How to be a Domestic Goddess'...cos she claims it as "the best-tasting birthday cake you will ever come across". Right. So I tripled the quantity to make 2 cakes, sandwiched them together with wild cherry jam, then slathered the cake in pink icing, before covering the whole thing with pink & white mini marshmallows. Man...did those alternating pink & white marshmallows take a long time to put on...but not so long to take off by those little kiddie fingers as you can see here:

The cake was a big hit with the kids & adults alike...although I think the kids liked plucking off the marshmallows more! Surprisingly, there was even a bit of quiet contemplation by the birthday girl...

...but a short time later she was spotted voraciously licking off the icing! Anyway, the party wasn't all about cake, it was also about:

Stacking on top of Auntie Nicky in The Wiggles jumping castle...the kid came out in me here:

Unravelling as many sweets as one can manage:

and giving out party treats to the little guests:

We had a lot of fun and the party was all over in 2 hours flat. Yes, the little party people needed to go home to have their naps (birthday girl included)...although I have no idea how they would have done that given the amount of sugar pumping through their little veins! But I know I would have gladly taken their place I was so tired! N

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Girl's best friend

I am so lucky that my boy understands my addiction to Japanese craft books... he even encourages it. The other day he rang me from Kinokuniya Japanese bookstore. He was whispering....

"Have you got the Aranzi Aronzo book with a bunny on the front?"
"Yesss... why?"
"What about the Aranzi Aronzo catalogue?"
"Got it"
"How about the one with the bags, keys and stuff on it?"
"Nicky has got it, I can borrow it from her"
"Man, I want to buy you a craft book... how about one called 'Fleece dogs'?"
"No I haven't got that one. Is it cute?"
"Yeah it's cute"
"Well... okay! Thanks!"

So this is what I got!

The cover:

The book has two sections. The first is where the dogs are made from fleece... which I think is wool.

The second is called "Dogs made of fleece + dog hair". I don't know why, but this I find a little bit strange! I think I am used to making softies that resemble something but aren't actually constructed from the "real" thing! I am sure my pup Horlicks will think it is a bit strange if I started collecting his hair which turned into a look-alike doggy that smells like him too.... This cutie is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and its "mini me"!

I have heaps of these craft books that I love to flip through but haven't really used. So I am thinking about trying to make something from one each month. I am not going to commit or anything! We have been run off our feet working at the markets at the moment, it has been crazy....but I will try and make time. I know it will be fun. T

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A puffball of cream

It shouldn't surprise me that I got sidetracked doing my errands yesterday. Especially when I "happened" upon (no, I did not go out of my way to look for it!) Beard Papa's cream puff shop at my local Westfield shopping centre. Tiff has enjoyed these puffs overseas...& there seems to be a bit of a craze for them in Asia. When she spotted a Beard Papa poster on my local Japanese bookshop's window last week she couldn't believe they were now here in Australia! She was explaining these little puffballs to me & I was intrigued! She was like "We need to go there for research....for our blog!" Oh yeah, like we need a reason to eat!

Well, when I first saw it I was like, "Oh, there it is" & rushed right past it. A little while later I was on my way back to the car...and there it was again & since there was a yummy smell wafting out of the shop...I thought, ok I will treat myself. There wasn't a single person waiting & I was warmly welcomed by the Japanese salesguy. I bought my cream puff & I can't believe my restraint to not nibble it in the car on the way home...so I could take a photo! Lucky my home is only 2 minutes drive away!

The verdict? The airiest, lightest crispy choux pastry I've ever had, filled with a runny vanilla custard cream. You can even see the flecks of real vanilla. Yum. I've never had anything quite like it before...but I vow not to get addicted to these sweet little treats...too many of these & I will turn into a puffball! N

Saturday, May 06, 2006


Rescue Softie #6

Name: Francesca
Wants to be when she grows up: A photographer
Favourite Dessert: Ricotta cannoli

Francesca is the littlest of the bear-cat clan. She is still hoping for a growth spurt. Her swirling fabric comes from an Italian fabric mill and we don't think there will be enough for her to grow.

Last week little Francesca found a new home... with a 9 year old girl who promised me that she will take care of her. I believe her! Her budget was only $10 for the market... but she managed to beg the rest off her mother, in such a lovely way. Bye Francesca hope you are having fun! T

Friday, May 05, 2006

... makes me happy!

Japanese postcards ...make me happy. Here are four of my current favourites that are lurking in places around the apartment, cheering it up.

This one is my ode to Autumn..appley goodness!

...And then there is the possible friendship between a girl, hens & wolves! Quirky nonesense makes me laugh.

This guy looks so miffed. The colours really get me in.

These guys are reminding me about how good hanging out with your buddy at the sea is. In summer of course!

Have a lovely weekend! T