Wine tasting in the Yarra Valley.

As you may know, I’m a big fan of wine … so after moving to Melbourne, the Yarra Valley was high on my list of places to visit. Having found a group of likeminded friends and a nice place to stay, we were off for the weekend!

Wines at Allinda

Wines at Allinda

The particular weekend we picked was going to be one of those crazy hot ones that were pretty common this summer, with temperatures reaching over 40 degrees. Some of the group had signed up to go possum spotting, but I had decided to forgo the woodland and mosquitos in favour of an evening by the barbecue with wine …

So, we arrived on Friday night loaded up with snacks and meat for the barbecue. We were staying at a place called Serenity @ Healesville, which was a beautiful, huge house – I claimed organiser’s privilege and took the nice ensuite bedroom with a big, claw-foot bath tub! Sadly I didn’t get to use it though, it was just too hot.

The house was ginormous, with three huge living rooms, and enough space to sleep eleven people. There was a nice big fridge in the open plan kitchen, which was already half stocked with beers and cider from the other group who had headed out to find possums. Once we added our supplies and it was pretty jam packed …

The fridge full of beer and cider

The fridge full of beer and cider

After we settled in and got the snacks out, it was time to chill outside and watch the sun set over the garden – wonderful. Silvio got the burgers going, the beers came out, and then so did the mozzies … luckily Kate produced some pretty effective bug spray, as I usually get eaten alive otherwise.

Friday night sunset

Friday night sunset

Later in the evening, all of us little bit tipsy, it was the perfect time to play one of my favourite card games, known as Cards Against Humanity. It’s terrible and hilarious, and Tom has enough expansion packs to last … well, at least a weekend.

The possum spotters were late home, and we were ready to head off to bed and get a good night’s sleep before hitting the wineries! Yay for wine!

Hurry up guys, we want some wine

Hurry up guys, we want some wine

The main living room in the house had a good supply of maps and leaflets, so we picked a winery a bit of a drive away to start from, and were a couple of routes back where we could stop and continue the sampling. The sun was already beating down on us as we arrived at Yileena Park, we were grateful for the cool, dark, air conditioned room upstairs!

At Yileena Park

At Yileena Park

We got off to a good start with some delicious sparkling wines, while the owner Dianne explained some of the workings of the vineyard. They have underground irrigation for their vines, which had helped keep them watered during the insanely hot summer days this year, and also protected their plants during the bushfires, although they lost the crop from the smoke. The sheep ate them instead.

View across Yileena Park

View across Yileena Park

We tried a beautiful reserve Cabernet, which despite the $60 price tag was so good that several of us bought a bottle or two.

Ooooh, this is rather nice!

Ooooh, this is rather nice!

After the dessert wines – which I was not so keen on at the start of the weekend – Dianne produced some special smoked food, produced using wood chips from old wine barrels, including strangely delicious merlot infused salt which we bought too!

Trying smoked food

Trying smoked food

As we left, Dianne handed us a leaflet for the smaller wineries of the Yarra Valley, most of which weren’t featured on the main map. There was a special offer where if we purchased a dozen bottles from at least two wineries, we would be able to get one free, which seemed like a pretty good deal – and quite likely too!

Relaxing outside at Graeme Miller

Relaxing outside at Graeme Miller

We changed our plan for the day to head to another small winery not too far away. This time there was one gentleman behind the counter, who seemed a bit overwhelmed by our large group, particularly when a hen party came in ten minutes later!

At Graeme Miller (Dixons Creek)

At Graeme Miller (Dixons Creek)

From the tasting room we could see down to the wine storage room, barrels and barrels of wine. Magda fell in love with the Pinot Gris and bought a caseful, I continued to indulge with the Chardonnay and Tom and Kate added to their collection too … then we were off again, this time to one of the larger wineries: De Bortoli, where there was also tasty cheese on offer.

Gorgeous grounds at De Bortoli

Gorgeous grounds at De Bortoli

The grounds at De Bortoli were absolutely stunning, brightly coloured flowers and loads of green, all helped by the lovely sunshine.

Tasting at De Bortoli

Tasting at De Bortoli

After two tastings, some people had had enough and went straight for the cheese, but Tom, Kate, Jen and I were still going strong. The wines were pretty good, but the tastings were much less personal than in the smaller wineries – there was not much explanation of the wine or the vineyard, we just had a taste poured then left on our own. Silvio brought me a piece of the cheese, which made the wine taste even more amazing … mmm, my mouth still waters at the memory while I’m writing …

Yummy salty eyebrows

Yummy salty eyebrows

We followed the tasting with more cheese, sitting outside in the sunshine, and some very special anchovies (they should be too, at $15 a tin …!) Or as Tom called them, salty eyebrows.

Vineyards at Allinda

Vineyards at Allinda

Half of the group decided to head back to the house after that, but the more determined among us – including me – felt that we had one more winery in us at least, so off we went to Allinda, back on the small winery trail again, run by Al and Linda.

Tom and Kate trying the wine

Tom and Kate trying the wine

I don’t know if the wine starts to taste better after I’ve had that many, some say that you can’t tell anymore after two or three tastes anyway (but why stop when it’s so much fun?) Either way, the wine at Allinda was delicious, and we bought several bottles including Chardonnay and a more unusual Savagnin, as well as some red, it was too good not to! I also began to appreciate dessert wines more, and we had enough stamps now for a free bottle – so we took one back for that evening.

Silvio was very tempted

Silvio was very tempted

Before heading back, it would have been sad to miss the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie, especially since they were selling ice cream too …

Yes, this is ONE SCOOP

Yes, this is ONE SCOOP

I asked for one scoop in a cone, well that was the largest scoop of ice cream I have ever seen. We wandered around the chocolate shop finishing our ice cream, I was very tempted … but we had indulged enough for one day.

Temptation.

Temptation.

We stopped for groceries on the way home, Tom had offered to cook for everybody but was looking for inspiration in the supermarket. He found it with some pork belly, and we stocked up on veggies and flavourings, and got some prawns to cook as well.

Sunset in Healesville

Sunset in Healesville

Back at the house, we sampled some of the wine and some G&Ts, Kate and Tom prepared the food for dinner, and then we watched the sun go down over the garden … fabulous.

Enjoying the sunset

Enjoying the sunset

With a little more wine, the Cards Against Humanity soon came out again with the entire group this time – once again, it was hilarious, far too many cards played that are very unsuitable for my blog …

Pork belly, yum

Pork belly, yum

Then it was time for dinner – wow! There was piles of food, soft, tender pork belly, salad with feta, potatoes, veggies, and all of it tasted amazing, we were spoiled. It was a long, lazy meal finished off with the dessert wine, and finally collapsing into our big comfy bed.

Rob was excited for dinner

Rob was excited for dinner

On Sunday, we were allowed a late checkout, so we could hang around the house until 3pm – wonderful. Rob and Jen had frozen some bananas to try and make a kind of healthy banana ice-cream, but not peeling them before freezing turned out to be a bit of an error … I believe it tasted pretty good in the end though.

Rob looking for ways to peel a frozen banana

Rob looking for ways to peel a frozen banana

Most people were happy to stick around the house, but Andy, Tom, Kate and I were up for a bit more tasting, so we headed off to “just one winery, maybe two”. Boat O’Craigo was just a couple of minutes’ drive from the house, so we started out there – they also had some lovely looking food, I almost wished we’d come there instead of eating at the house.

Andy waiting to get in and taste some vino

Andy waiting to get in and taste some vino

I was under strict orders from Silvio not to buy any more wine – “We don’t have space in the car for any more! Let alone at the flat …” – so I felt slightly guilty, but the Cabernet was so lovely, and they also had an unusual white Gewürztraminar which was rather nice …

Fruit covered at Boat O'Craigo

Fruit covered at Boat O’Craigo

Badgers Creek was also really close, so we stopped by there – it was a very small tasting room in lovely grounds, with a restaurant attached too. They had a delicious rose, well, I was already going to be in trouble, in for a penny in for a pound, as they say.

Wine choices

Wine choices

The trouble was, I still hadn’t found a really good chardonnay to take home … and it wasn’t all that far to Yering Farm, so … whoops, just one last stop.

Tasting at Badgers Brook

Tasting at Badgers Brook

Yering Farm was my favourite of all the wineries. As we arrived, the first thing we were offered was some very special Pink Lady Syder – it was actually pink, icy cold, and really delicious, cider made within pink lady apples.

Yering Farm

Yering Farm

We moved slowly through the white wines, and I finally found my chardonnay! Unfortunately, it was a reserve one, but wow, it was so delicious, how can I resist? As we moved on through the reds, the owner took a glass of the recently opened cabernet, shook it up and showed us how different it smells and tastes afterwards.

The tasting concluded with a deliciously lemony dessert wine, I really want to make a lemony desert to try with it now …

We all left Yering Farm quite a lot more weighed down than we had arrived, I had entirely given up on resisting any purchasing, oh well. It’s not as though any of it will go to waste :)

Back at the house, we were starting to get packed up and ready to go. We dragged the hose out to wash the worst of the dust off of our rental cars, and packed up – Silvio was right about the lack of space in our car, luckily Andy had offered to take some of the excess wine back for us!

We went home via the Coldstream Brewery, where I managed to forget to order Silvio’s pizza, and without realising, he ate Tom’s instead … oops. There was a fair bit of food, and nice ciders, so I don’t think he went too hungry! After dropping off Tom and Kate in Brunswick, all that was left was to head back to Prahran and cart all of our own purchases up to the flat!

If there’s one thing that I learned from that weekend, it was the difference that it makes when you get the right wine with the right food (oh yes and I also discovered that I like a good cabernet!). That’s something I’d love to know more about … for now, I’m just enjoying the taste of a nice steak or some strong cheese with one of the many bottles of yummy red that we brought back, and feeling very lucky and spoilt!

Shrimps on the Barbie.

For the first time since arriving in Australia, this year I wasn’t on holiday for Christmas! Spoiled or what?

Silvio and I started with a pretty awesome Christmas Eve dinner: roast chicken with sage and pistachio butter, Silvio’s Special Roasted Potatoes, and gravy made with quince paste, which was so yum. I did some of the preparation before heading out for a catch up over wine with Bridget, who was in town for a few days, leaving the rest of the cooking to Silvio (who did a perfect job).

Alex and Jen enjoying the Christmas meal

Alex and Jen enjoying the Christmas meal

On Christmas Day, we headed over to spend it with a bunch of friends including Jen, who had arrived from London in October. We were pretty early, with cake and salad, so by the time the other guests arrived (bringing MEAT!) we were already enjoying some Christmas “spirit”. Jen had a K-Mart frozen daiquiri mix turning slowly to icy slush in the freezer, I had my favourite Chardonnay in the fridge, Silvio was eyeing up the enormous ribeye steaks that Brady was pulling out of the bag, everybody was happy.

Cooking the steak

Cooking the steak

The barbie was fired up and the first thing to go on was the massive prawns! Or shrimps, as I believe they are called here. Such an Aussie cliché, shrimps on the barbie, that of course it had to go on to facebook.

Shrimps on the barbie!

Shrimps on the barbie!

While we feasted on the prawns/shrimps, the steak was next. Alex had put together a yummy summer salad with watermelon and pomegranate, mine was spinach with beetroot, feta and sweet potato, and that was also going down pretty well. While the steak cooked, Silvio hovered around the barbie with the meat thermometer, guarding the precious. It really was enormous, but finally it was cooked and Alex carved it up on the table before digging in to what was left on the bone.

Brady and Alex feast on the bones

Brady and Alex feast on the bones

Meanwhile, Kai had put ribs in the oven, but since they take so long to cook, Silvio was carefully leaving room for them when they were finally done.

The massive steak

The massive steak

We finished up with slices of my Christmas cake, finally I got to cut it up! The icing was delicious. Full of food, I was feeling rather sleepy, in fact I think we all were … the lovely warm weather was helping us along to nap time! Jen was first to succumb, heading off for forty winks while the rest of us played Dixit, a game involving picture cards and a scoring system so complex that they have to write the rules on the game board. I won, thanks to a lucky round with a crytic card that Silvio played.

Dixit

Dixit

Jen returned just as we got started on Guitar Hero, and just in time to pick up the microphone! It was really heating up in the house, so she plugged in the air conditioner.

Guitar hero!

Guitar hero!

Halfway through the track, I could smell a bit of a burny smell, but it didn’t seem too bad, so I kept concentrating on the notes, until – POP! The electricity tripped and the game was unexpectedly cut short. We all walked around sniffing and trying to locate the cause of the problem, eventually isolating it to the plug socket with the air conditioner plugged in to it. The plug itself was too hot to touch, but when I pulled it slowly out of the wall by the wire, the plastic oozed apart leaving a blackened hole and a small wisp of smoke. So that was the end of the air conditioning, but at least we got the guitar hero back on!

The burned out plug

The burned out plug

Eventually the food coma hit and I drifted off for a while as Die Hard played in the background. As the sun started to go down, we finally wished everybody a merry Christmas, what was left of it, and headed back home to enjoy the last of the evening.

Sleepy from food, wine and warm weather

Sleepy from food, wine and warm weather

Mmmm cake.

Shortly after typhoon Haiyan hit the Phillippines in November last year, some of my colleagues organised a bake sale at work. At the last minute, Adel (one of my fellow team members and also a very good baker) was talking about the delicious sounding lime and coconut cupcakes she was planning to make, and asked me if I was going to do anything. I was about to chicken out, but I decided to join in and make a typical English feast: scones with jam and cream.

Ingredients, check. Wine, check.

Ingredients, check. Wine, check.

The evening before, I bought posh jam from Coles, went home, set out all of the ingredients (and a glass of vino, of course), and got stuck in with the rolling pin. They didn’t turn out too badly, and let’s face it, most things taste good with a scoop of jam and cream on top :) I always put the cream on first, although I do have friends who’ve insisted this is just wrong!

Customers

Customers

The next day, I took the cream upstairs to ask for a bowl, and instead the chef in our cafe swapped me my pot of cream for a full bowl, ready prepared – bonus! I laid out the scones alongside everybody else’s efforts, all of which looked delicious, then came downstairs a short while later to hand over my money for a good cause: charity and cake. I had to buy one of my own scones, along with Adel’s cupcakes topped with candied lime – it was a bit of a sugar overload, but so yum.

Scones for sale

Scones for sale

As Christmas got closer, I was also determined this year to make a “proper” Christmas cake – a rich fruit cake, topped with marzipan and delicious, naughty, sweet icing. I made the cake a few weeks early, and in the weeks coming up to Christmas, took it out of its foil wrapping to give it a sneaky drink of brandy.

Christmas cake!

Christmas cake!

The marzipan went on a couple of weeks before Christmas. It worked fine, although I only just had enough to cover the cake, and next year I think I’ll get more and do a thicker layer. Sadly I couldn’t find proper yellow marzipan – the white one still tastes the same, but the yellow one looks prettier! Next time I’ll also make sure to put sugary water or something on the cake to make it stick better, the icing falls off when I cut the cake now … although that’s not always such a bad thing, that is my favourite bit :)

Rolling out the marzipan

Rolling out the marzipan

Cake almost marzipanned

Cake almost marzipanned

Me!

Me!


In the last week before Christmas, I made the icing. I had wanted to find a non-edible decoration with the words “Merry Christmas” but I hadn’t found one, but I had bought some star and snowflake cutters and special papery (edible) snowflake confetti. My idea was to make a light blue cake to be like a sky, with snowflakes. I had blue ribbons and glitter to finish it off.

Partly decorated cake

Partly decorated cake

The snowflake cutters proved a bit difficult to use, and I only managed to get two usable snowflakes to put on the cake, so it ended up with more stars! I managed to cut out the letters for Merry Christmas, and pipe icing into little decorations around the edge. The initial icing layer was a bit too soft and runny, so although that made it fairly smooth, the decorations around the edge slipped a bit so the whole thing looked a bit drunk! Apt, maybe, given that I enjoyed a glass of wine while baking it … the ribbons mostly hid the errors, luckily.

Decorated Christmas cake

Decorated Christmas cake

The finished cake looked pretty awesome actually, far from perfect but one of my better efforts :) Next time I will definitely make the icing a bit thicker first, and follow Mum’s advice to let the first layer dry before decorating it! I also got a nice response from Baking Pleasures, the website that I ordered the snowflake cutters from, with some advice to try some different things next time. All in all, it was good fun making the cake and so far, it’s been even more fun eating it …

Farewell Manly, Hello Prahran.

Friday.

I woke up at 6:30 this morning with the realisation that I’d forgotten to pack a drawer of cutlery. Why can’t my brain remind me of these things at a relevant time, for goodness sake? I stumbled sleepily into the kitchen and yanked the drawer open, that’ll remind me when I can be bothered to actually get up.

All packed and ready to go

All packed and ready to go

The final few things were cleared up and packed before Silvio went off to work. The removal company called me just before 9am to say they were around the corner, and I decided I had just enough time to pop over the road and find out if they sold tea in the shop. They did – oh joy! – and while I was waiting for mine to brew, the shop owner Michael chatted to me and greeted other customers by name, he was so nice that I felt kind of sad we hadn’t been in more often.

Removal van

Removal van

Out goes the sofa

Out goes the sofa

Our stuff barely took up a corner of the van

Our stuff barely took up a corner of the van

The movers turned up, three stocky guys in an enormous truck, who declined my half-hearted offer to help carry a box or two. I stayed out of the way but couldn’t resist taking a few photos. We’d been worried about whether all of our things would fit – we may have had a “few” more boxes and bags than we’d originally estimated … well, if our stuff took up more than a tenth of that truck space I’d be surprised.

They were done in a little over an hour, all of our things safely wrapped in blankets and secured against the truck with ropes. I was relieved it was done, although much more worried about the delivery the following day, which would involve carting everything from the loading bay to the basement car park to a shared lift … shudder … don’t even want to think about it yet.

I went for a wander along the beach while I waited for the cleaners to show up. It was a bit worrying handing over our keys when they didn’t seem too sure who our real estate agent was to return them to, but hopefully that will all work out just fine.

I dawdled along the beach again, up to Ash’s Table, where I found I couldn’t resist their fish and chips lunch. Time was ticking slowly by, as I wandered back through the Corso to the Wharf Bar. The weather was turning, the sea was choppy and the wind was picking up; the clouds were threatening rain but I really wanted to sit outside in the jetty bar. I’ve had so many fun times there, joining the crowds on sunny afternoons and balmy evenings, but today it was empty apart from me, my wine and my laptop. I found a spot tucked under the umbrella and watched the sea dancing in the wind, and the minutes winding down to the ferry.

Wine at the Wharf Bar

Wine at the Wharf Bar

Perhaps I should have felt more sad to actually be leaving Manly. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was feeling – mostly, just impatient to get the next few stressful hours of travelling and shifting boxes out of the way. I was pretty unsettled – it was the second furthest I’ve moved (after leaving for Australia) and by far the most difficult logistically, but exciting, and sad, all at once.

The ferry pulled away and I watched the wharf recede and disappear as we turned the corner. At Circular Quay, Silvio arrived from work, and we headed out to get our plane. I was delighted to get an earlier flight, but with the heavy winds and crappy weather, all the planes were delayed, so we ended up leaving right about when we should have. At nearly 11pm, finally … we were home.

Saturday.

My phone jerked me out of a much needed sleep shortly after 8am. I tried not to sound like I’d just woken up as I answered it to the movers, who were not far away. We had just about enough time to jump out of bed and make a cup of tea, but not quite enough to drink it, before the van was pulling up outside.

Boxes starting to arrive

Boxes starting to arrive

Sofa in the new house

Sofa in the new house

The bedroom was crammed full

The bedroom was crammed full

They had four guys and a stack of trolleys, and before we’d really even woken up properly, half of our furniture and boxes was already upstairs in the new flat. They were done in just over an hour, paperwork signed, over and out.

We went back to the apartment a bit shell shocked, wondering how our boxes had managed to somehow multiply overnight on the van, or at least that’s how it seemed … the spare bedroom was absolutely full, we couldn’t even get into it, and the living room was complete chaos.

The living room was pretty full

The living room was pretty full

Something somewhere had leaked, there were a few damp looking marks on the boxes and I could smell something like vinegar, so I started with the stinkiest box and discovered a leaky bottle of balsamic. Luckily we’d used a LOT of newspaper so there wasn’t much damage, although it did reek for a while.

Eventually, we burrowed a path through the boxes big enough to rearrange the bedroom furniture, then we cleared a few more until we could put the TV back up. I made seemingly endless trips with bags of rubbish, and we stuffed things anywhere they would fit until the boxes were all empty, and straight away advertised on Gumtree, please, somebody, come and take them away! And on Sunday morning, somebody did :)

Somebody please take them away!

Somebody please take them away!

I dug Quackers out of his box, the poor thing had been packed fairly early on, and I don’t think he had a very comfortable position :( His head isn’t quite straight anymore, which gives him a permanent rather quizzical look. He’s now safe and comfy again, back in his old spot on the shelf.

Quackers in the new home

Quackers in the new home

In the afternoon, we were starving – we’d barely had time to eat anything for breakfast before carting boxes around. Luckily there’s a pizza shop right downstairs … I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a pizza quite so quickly, or enjoyed it quite as much, except possibly that one time in Byron Bay :)

Dinner. I was too hungry to take the photo before.

Dinner. I was too hungry to take the photo before.

On Sunday morning, we took a trip over to Prahran Market. It isn’t as big or as cheap as the Queen Victoria Market, but they had some nice food stalls, and we picked up some steaks to get the barbecue going again with – yum!

I didn’t want to spend all day on Sunday unpacking, I had a new job to prepare myself for on Monday morning, but it felt pretty good to get things organised. By the end of the day, everything was unpacked – the wardrobes are full, and we still need more storage, and definitely some extra shelves for the gazillions of photos, but that will get resolved over the next few weeks. The walls look wonderful, especially with the sofa, and with softer lighting the living room is really cosy and comfortable. Home sweet home!

I Love Fridays.

Yummy team lunch provided by ThoughtWorks!

Every week, ThoughtWorkers in Sydney gather at the office to catch up and share lunch. This week it was from Alpha Gourmet … after the vultures swooped in, there was still plenty of salad left, although most of the naughty fried things were gone.

Topped off with a Paddle Pop out of the ThoughtWorks freezer – “The best ice cream in Australia”, declared Miss Howe, I think that’s slightly overrating it though!