Wednesday, 29 June 2011

B&P Sweet Studio

Inspired by a Masterchef appearance by Darren Purchese, I (like hundreds of others, evidently) convinced a friend to meet me for 'cake' at the Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio in South Yarra recently.

This is your ultimate cake shop, with sweet delicacies the likes of which I've rarely seen. Each of about fifteen different cakes/desserts on display contained too many different components for me to remember, with combinations of flavours you just couldn't predict. Dustings of this, macarons of that, fillings of something else, fondants of yummy . . . All so very special and amazing. Spectacularly so.

The Sweet Studio sells its cakes in large sizes for entertaining (either standard or bespoke), plus individual portions that are perfect for sampling. From memory, the individual cakes cost $9.50; considering all the work that goes into them, I think this is very reasonable.

It does not, however, sell anything else, other than a few sweet condiments in jars, so all cakes are take-away only. This thwarted our original plans for cake and coffee, so we had to go find another South Yarra cafe in which to have an early lunch (it's a hard life) and then enjoyed our treat in the foyer of the Como Centre, which is across the road from the Sweet Studio. (B&P do provide plastic spoons for those who are desperate enough!)

My chosen dessert was as follows:
Kendari 60% chocolate mousse/Murray River salted caramel/burnt mandarin cream/St Clements marmalade/aerated chocolate shortbread/chocolate mirror glaze
(They stuck a label containing the above information on the inside of the box.)

Needless to say, it tasted rich and delicious, with the citrus flavours complementing the chocolate beautifully. I think I tasted all the different components . . . And it wasn't too big either, allowing it to be appreciated without that feeling of over-indulgence. Will need to get back there soon to try something else . . .

These cakes/desserts would be a seriously good option for an elegant dinner party. Just make sure you get a bigger one than you need, so there's some left over.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Bonfire of the vacuums

Another midwinter's day, and another memorable winter solstice celebration. This year's event will forever go down in history as bonfire of the vacuums.

But let me start at the beginning...

It was a perfect evening, fine and clear, with very little wind. Chilly, sure, but we had a bonfire. A mighty big bonfire, and lots of fuel for it. (Some of it was even timber!) Before dinner, we partook of a short ceremony during which we exhaled a specific negative emotion (me: doubt) and inhaled its opposite (confidence). Then we welcomed back the sun (woo hoo) as now the days are getting longer.

After dinner (more of a banquet, really), most of us headed back out to the fire and built it up again, piling on log after log after tree branch. We also sang a few songs and even succumbed to a little dance around the fire. But all the while we were chilling and chatting, embracing the warmth and dodging the sparks and smoke, weird humming sounds (a bit like a WW2 air raid siren) were coming from the adjacent shed...

And then we discovered some of the guys were busy converting old vacuum cleaners into flame throwers. (War had apparently arrived!) Which prompted us to sing a little song:
Three red vacuums, sitting in the field
Three red vacuums, sitting in the field
And when one red vacuum accidentally caught on fire . . .
There were two red vacuums, sitting in the field.
Exploding vacuums
The first vacuum didn't really work; it just burst into flames. (We were cowering behind a trailer.) The second vacuum rather impressively managed to spurt a jet of flame for about 5 seconds, before bursting into flames. The third was even better, but still ultimately ended up in a ball of fire.

Despite knowing how wrong this all was (and how dangerous) we were by now finding it all rather entertaining. But that wasn't the end. Next came a procession of . . . certain objects containing flammable gases and fluids. Most were chucked onto a fire contained within a 44 gallon drum (even so, we still cowered behind the trailer until they went 'bang'). And we scuttled further away for one object in particular, which produced a massive and rather impressive fireball.

Yes, well, as I said: bonfire of the vacuums.

An excellent and memorable evening, with a canopy of amazing stars and some interesting people to hang out with.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Walking with Jeddah

While Jeddah has been staying with me, he's been dragging me out on daily walks -- which has been very good for me! There are a few different walks we've been doing, depending on time, weather and my inclination.

The moment I've finished breakfast, Jeddah props in the middle of the floor, looking very expectant. He's fairly patient while I clean my teeth, but follows me around the house. When I grab my shoes and socks, he jumps up and down with excitement. He avidly watches me gather stuff -- phone, wallet, keys -- until I pick up his lead and then he goes mad. Leaps, cavorts, whimpers, barks, all while I'm trying to get his lead on. It never fails to make me laugh, to the point that sometimes my efforts to clip the lead to his collar are ineffectual. Then I open the door and he burns down the driveway as though he hasn't been on a walk for a week.

If it's sunny and/or early-ish and I have no other commitments, then we head to Elsternwick Park. The park itself is an extremely popular and attractive dog off-lead park. There is a fenced-off pond with swans and ducks and other waterbirds, so it's a lovely walk for me as well. Jeddah has a ball -- running around and sniffing and weeing and sniffing other dogs' tails as we do a wide circuit of the entire park. The return trip is about an hour.

If I want to keep the walk to half an hour, then we go to a local park that is closer. It's not an official off-lead park, nor is it as large, but there are not usually too many people around, so Jeddah can get a good run around. He always seems quite happy to go here, and several times some of the local kids have been very excited to see a dog while they're in the playground with their parents.

Sometimes he's lucky and gets another short walk in the afternoon -- usually when I emerge from the study, bleary eyed and brain dead in the late afternoon. I figure a quick walk around the block is a good way of clearing my head, and is nice for Jeddah too, since he's invariably been sleeping all day. There's a cute little park around the corner, really small, where I let him off the lead for about 5 minutes.

So it's definitely been good having Jeddah to make me get outside and go for a walk every day. He's been very good on the lead, not pulling too much, although he does stop/sniff/wee a lot! And off-lead he's been very well behaved as well, with both me and other dogs and their owners. In many ways, I will miss him when he goes home again. (But I don't think Chenna will...)

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Edna's Place

One of the local Elsternwick cafes I frequent most often is Edna's Place, a homey-yet-funky cafe with an expansive Israeli-inspired menu spanning salads, all-day eggs, flat breads, toasted pides and the wonderful 'chicken baguette' (pictured).

I discovered Edna's soon after moving into the area and first trialled the popular chicken baguette (heavily marinated chicken and caramelised onion with tomato, lettuce and mayo in a white baguette) when prompted by a big red sign out the front of the place. The chicken baguette is juicy, flavoursome mouthfuls of awesome. Now my addiction is such that most times I decline a menu on the grounds that to simply order my chicken baguette with my large skinny flat white is more time-efficient.

I am not alone in this addiction. It is shared by my cousin, who lives just down the road, and we have been known to send each other texts on the weekends with the simple message: "baguette?". I am somewhat ashamed to admit, however, that I have frequently gone for a solo baguette if company is unavailable.

As a result of this obsession, I've not actually tried much else on the menu, although it all looks fabulous. The coffee is Map and is decent enough, and there is usually a choice of cookies and homemade cakes. Plus they don't mind me sitting there for a while with computer or book, and it's a comfortable environment in which to do so.

Recently my association with Edna's Place has shifted up a gear. Now it is not merely the place where I go for a baguette fix on the weekends; it is also the place where I meet my sister and two nephews (and occasionally my mother) on an almost weekly basis for coffee/early lunch. This is one of the perks of not working, and I daresay will have to end soon, but for the moment it's fantastic to meet them there on Wednesday mornings for cuddles and smeared Vegemite sandwiches and spilt milk and even the occasional chicken baguette!

[This is the first in a series of intended posts on local cafes in Elsternwick.]

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Jeddah, Chenna & me

Jeddah (my mum's miniature schnauzer) has been hanging around at my place quite a bit of late. And he's back again for a stay of a few weeks while the folks are on a road trip to South Australia.

We've got our routine all sorted -- him, me and Chenna. Right now it's the devilcat perched high on her cushion, me at the other end of the couch, and Jeddah on the middle cushion all curled up asleep. Lucky it's a big couch!

The mornings are interesting. Chenna no longer wakes me up at 6:30am due to her autofeeder, but Jeddah gets me out of bed at about 7:30 to be let outside for all of about 2 minutes (the mornings are cold, after all) and then he sneaks onto the couch until I get up (because I've crawled back to bed by now).

He's not actually supposed to get onto the couch unless invited; this is my mum's rule and she's very strict. But somehow he knows I'm a softy, and although he started off being pretty good, there came a point a few weeks ago when he was on the couch every time my back was turned. I began by relocating him to his own bed on the floor, but it only worked until I left the room. So I gave up. And now the couch is his bed during the day -- although I still make him sleep over night in his bed at the foot of mine. (I rather think he'd be happy to sleep on my bed, but that's Chenna's domain.)

After I've had breakfast (and he's had breakfast -- Chenna had hers hours previously), Jeddah gets very excited. But if I go near my computer he gets grumpy. In fact, if I do anything other than put on shoes and grab his lead he gets grumpy. (woof) So we head off for a walk. I have the 30min walk and the 60min walk, so it depends on the weather and how much time I have as to which one we take. (Lucky I'm not working, hey.)

If I've timed all that right, it's mid-morning by the time we get back and then I'm allowed to switch the computer on -- and finally I get my coffee! Jeddah is then quite happy to sleep on the couch for the rest of the day with Chenna -- it's so cute to see the two of them there!

So that's the average day really. So long as he gets a walk first thing, he's happy enough. And although it does eat into my morning a little, I figure that at least it's making me go for a walk every day.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

A lapse

Part of the up-down (doubt vs euphoria) cycle of life-as-a-writer is that every so often we have a day when we lounge around moping. We think about every negative thing anyone ever said about what we wrote and completely forget the positive comments -- or if we do remember the positive comments, we tell ourselves that their authors were just reaching for something good to say, because really they hated ALL of it, and we can't actually write at all. And who are we kidding anyway, and why don't we just give it up all together.

Darn -- I swore I wasn't going to write a moping post (have been resisting all day, in fact), but it seems I just did. I'll shut up now and go away back into my cave.

Where there is wine and chocolate and coffee.

For something more upbeat, where I use phrases like 'onwards and upwards', please check my other blog.

P.S. I have actually had a very good writing week, making positive progress on the new project.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Pete Morton and Little Musgrave

I'm having a moment, sprawled out on the sofa at Phillip Island. I'm listening to Pete Morton's Trespass CD, a recording of around a dozen traditional folk ballads, performed with the artist's special alternative flair.

My absolute favourite track -- Little Musgrave -- I first heard live at my very first Port Fairy Folk Festival (~2002). In fact, Pete Morton was the first artist I saw perform at that event. He stunned and exhilarated me with his performance of Little Musgrave (based on Child Ballad 81). It goes for around 7 minutes and is a tragic story of adultary and death. Love it, love it, love it. Pete's rendition is achingly powerful -- and a little bit manic. Brilliant stuff. And ever after I was hooked on trad accoustic folk. (Having said that, he mostly performs original tracks, which are also awesome.)

I've tried to find the lyrics to Pete's Little Musgrave, to no avail. But this version from John Wesley Harding is similar, possibly a bit extended:

Lyrics to The Little Musgrave

As it fell out upon a day
As many in the year
Musgrave to the church did go
To see fair ladies there

And some came down in red velvet
And some came down in pall
And the last to come down was the lady barnard
The fairest of them all

She's cast a look on the little musgrave
As bright as the summer sun
And then bethought this little musgrave
This lady's love I've won

Good day good day you handsome youth
God make you safe and free
What would you give this day musgrave
To lie one night with me

I dare not for my lands, lady
I dare not for my life
For the ring on your white finger shows
You are lord barnard's wife

Lord barnard's to the hunting gone
And I hope he'll never return
And you shall slip into his bed
And keep his lady warm

There's nothing for to fear musgrave
You nothing have to fear
I'll set a page outside the gate
To watch til morning clear

And woe be to the little footpage
And an ill death may he die
For he's away to the green wood
As fast as he could fly

And when he came to the wide water
He fell on his belly and swam
And when he came to the other side
He took to his heels and ran

And when he came to the green wood
'twas dark as dark can be
And he found lord barnard and his men
Asleep beneath the trees

Rise up rise up master he said
Rise up and speak to me
Your wife's in bed with little musgrave
Rise up right speedily

If this be truth you tell to me
Then gold shall be your fee
And if it be false you tell to me
Then hanged you shall be

Go saddle me the black he said
Go saddle me the grey
And sound you not the horn said he
Lest our coming it would betray

Now there was a man in lord barnard's train
Who loved the little musgrave
And he blew his horn both loud and shrill
Away musgrave away

I think I hear the morning cock
I think I hear the jay
I think I hear lord barnard's horn
Away musgrave away

Lie still, lie still, you little musgrave
And keep me from the cold
It's nothing but a shepherd boy
Driving his flock to the fold

Is not your hawk upon it's perch
Your steed is eating hay
And you a gay lady in your arms
And yet you would away

So he's turned him right and round about
And he fell fast asleep
And when he woke lord barnard's men
Were standing at his feet

And how do you like my bed musgrave
And how do you like my sheets
And how do you like my fair lady
That lies in your arms asleep

It's well I like your bed he said
And well I like your sheets
But better I like your fair lady
That lies in my arms asleep

Get up, get up young man he said
Get up as swift as you can
For it never will be said in my country
I slew an unarmed man

I have two swords in one scabbard
Full dear they cost my purse
And you shall have the best of them
I shall have the worst

So slowly, so slowly he rose up
And slowly he put on
And slowly down the stairs he goes
Thinking to be slain

And the first stroke little musgrave took
It was both deep and sore
And down he fell at barnard's feet
And word he never spoke more

And how do you like his cheeks, lady
And how do you like his chin
And how do you like his fair body
Now there's no life within

It's well I like his cheeks she said
And well I like his chin
And better I like his fair body
Than all your kith and kin

And he's taken up his long long sword
To strike a mortal blow
And through and through the lady's heart
The cold steel it did go

As it fell out upon a day
As many in the year
Musgrave to the church did go
To see fair ladies there

[ These are The Little Musgrave Lyrics on ]