Discovering Horticulture in Melbourne's Heritage Garden.

As the long Summer evenings shortened into Autumn, finally tapering into dark winter nights, there was an opportunity to spend ten night's in one of Melbourne's richly historic and specialised gardens, learning about horticulture from stand out experts in their field.

 

As soon as one hears all about this course, its hard to "unhear" it. A fascination for three years filled with "maybe's" finally led to the opportunity to spend ten glorious golden evenings at Burnley, and I savoured every minute.

A scientifically experimental and educational institute for the past 160 years, Burnley Gardens at Melbourne University is still training novice horticulturists, arborists and landscapers.

 

Former graduates who have become experts in their fields have become lecturers and stay well into the evening to teach a fresh batch of students for their infamous course that they lovingly refer to as "Disco Hort".

Whether a home gardener, land owner or looking for a career in horticulture, the course attracts dozens of people twice a year, sometimes a "waiting list" to gain access has been needed to keep numbers at bay for this coveted Melbourne experience.

 

Burnley has always been "the place" in the city for horticultural learning, and this year's guest lecturers included John Patrick (Gardening Australia fame), Greg Moore (former principal of Burnley), Sue Murphy (current lecturer), Peter May (soil expert), Kirsten Raynor (Wisely and now Burnley), and Simon Rickard (Head Gardener Heronswood).

 

With a love for storytelling these experts are lively, entertaining and clearly display their love for Melbourne and for Burnley Gardens to their weekly captive audience. 

 

Topics covered in the course include attaining a healthy soil, plant identification, plant propagation, mulch, pots, water and nutrition, plant form and function, tree and shrub care, garden history, landscaping, annuals, bulbs and perennials and plants for a dry garden.

There were vast opportunities to explore and tour the garden itself both in the long evenings alone and with the whole group led by lecturer John Patrick, who pointed out significant trees and history of the garden, telling stories of his days working in there and pointing out all his favourite plants. 

 

Hands on and practical classes in the Nursery meant that course participants could look under the glass and see what was growing in the heated greenhouses and tried their hands at growing in Burnley's top secret growing medium. Because after 160 years, theres not much they don't know about creating a successful growing mix. Needless to say the plants we struck and took home were bouncing out of their pots with lush green growth!

 

The conclusion of the course included a mini plant fair held by the "Friends of the Burnley Gardens" with goodies a-plenty for the keen early bird.

 

"You've been disco-ed," says Kirsten Raynor, as the course concludes, with new fast friends made, we said goodbye and made a bee-line for our gardens, ready to put all we have learnt into practice.

 

"Disco Hort" has been run over the last 20 years, and is held twice a year, once in Autumn and then again in Spring.

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Lime Burner's Beach Walk

Where once a coastal town nicknamed " little piece of Cornwall" thrived and exported burnt lime to build houses in Melbourne, now lies a charming little cove with clear blue waters.

 

Walkerville South is a little crescent shaped piece of coast line that overlooks Wilsons Promontory, the most southernly tip of mainland Australia. There are but a few homes dotted along the cliffs and its peaceful waters are home to many seabirds, seals, and humpback whales that journey up and down the coast. 

 

 

Remains of the old lime kilns that were used to burn lime for building in colonial Melbourne still appease the coast line, built out of a mix of stone and bricks, its an usual site and makes for a great day exploring.

 

The waters are shallow and cool, a very tropical sea green colour, it is very sheltered even on cold days and the vibes are good for paddling, venturing through rock pools, sifting through colourful shells and admiring sea life and birds.

 

There are also multiple varieties of seaweed to investigate.

 

 

The small seaside town was named "Waratah" and settled on this beach when the first lime kiln was built in 1878 after lime was discovered by a local farmer in 1875. In full production of the six lime kilns, up to eighty men worked in the industry along the beach. 

 

There is a recollection of one residents diary written on a post at the beach, one entry says "Had dinner at Bruce's house. Plenty of beer.", another says "Picnic Day out at the beach", and then "Tired after last nights ball."

 

There was also a 350m long jetty and a cable car that pulled the lime out to the ships, you can still see part of the tram rails near the cliff edges. 

The marble cliff walk takes you up the cliff side, along the top of the lime kilns and joins a loop track from Walkerville South, to Walkerville North.

 

You can enjoy the views of Wilsons Prom in the distance and take a signposted historical journey. 

 

There is also a track to the historic cemetery if you take a left off the track, it's quite a steep hill up there but a very interesting place to gain an insight to the people who once lived there. 

 As you walk the tracks, you may still see nasturtiums and  a rogue fig tree, left over from village days. The kilns closed in 1926, with work men basically downing tools and leaving everything behind. By 1930 the cottages were in decay. 

There are toilets to the left of the small car park and it's lovely to picnic on the beach, it is only 190km from Melbourne. While it's a very small little cove, its easy to lose track of time while exploring and spend hours on end venturing up and down the cliffs.

 

It's known to be a great spot to star gaze and catch a glimpse of the Aurora lights, evenings see yellows, reds, purples and blues as the sun sets. 

 

There is another beach at Walkerville North to the left and Bear Gully to the right, but this beach has the whitest sand and clearest blue waters out of the three. It's a charming little paradise to spend an afternoon in. 

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Wicked Views of Wicklow

Such a small island is Ireland, after living in Australia, you can forget for a minute that it doesn't take too long before you can get anywhere really. 

 

In Australia, walking from one town to another seems a crazy feat, but its quite possible in Co Wicklow, as you take the stunning scenic walk from Greystones Harbour in County Wicklow, along the cliff side up to Bray, which sits south of Dublin. It's a two hour, 7km walk, and on a fine day or evening, is magical!

Greystones itself is a cute seas side town with a long esplanade of it's own, containing Georgian holiday homes of the notable figures from Dublin, it was the place to go for holidays!

 

Now new buildings are also going up along the shore.  Church street is also the location of The Happy Pear, from Jamie Olivers Food Tube fame, and is a wonderful spot to start the walk to Bray, getting in some good wholesome food and coffee from the cafe for the trip.

Once you begin walking up, the cliff side walk follows the coast line the whole way along the east coast aspect, providing wonderful views of the ocean and also of golden grasses the wild flowers that adorn the hill sides.  High Summer and Autumn are the best times for flowers. 

 

It might be one of the only places you can see a lizard basking in the sun, you may be able to spot a basking shark, dolphin or porpoise. 

 

The path is well marked with signs and is wide enough for two people to walk comfortable side by side, and there are resting spots all along it. 

 

If you just want to do one way, you can take the regular DART trains back to your original location. 

This is the scenic walk to put on your list if you're in County Wicklow. The golden summer evenings after dinner is the best time.

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Local Photographer Wins State-wide AIPP Award

Professional Gippsland photographer, Alison Landmeter, recently received two silver awards for her local newborn images and has now also qualified for the National Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP) Awards to be held later in the year. 

“I am a new member with the AIPP after completing my accreditation with rewarding results,” said Alison, who has been a professional photographer specializing in maternity and newborn shots for the last 9 years while also working with local Gippsland John Ansell Photography for the last 7 years. She began her photography career with Colin McKeown Photographics.

 

Alison entered three images in the statewide awards for the newborn category, which was meticulously scrutinized by five judges; their average is then used to score the photo. 

 

“My first print of a newborn from Traralgon scored an average of 78, which is classified as high professional standard, I was very pleased with it,” Alison explained.

 

“To my surprise the next two images, both photographed in Trafalgar, scored higher, 80 for the baby girl and 81 for the Indian themed image, both of these classify as above professional practice and score silver awards,” said Alison.

Alison described the experience as rewarding but nerve wracking and is appreciative of her local family, friends, clients and photography mentors support.

 

“I couldn’t have done this without the support of my local clients and friends, and especially my mentors John and Rosemary Ansell.  I was very overwhelmed and it was wonderful having John Ansell at my side through the awards and knowing friends and family were watching the event live online,” continued Alison.

 

“A special thank you goes out to my local clients who have allowed me to be creative on their newborn shots.  I am very passionate about local maternity and newborn photography and I love capturing moments with families and siblings in new ways.”

 

Alison is now getting ready to create two new images for the national awards to be held in September.

 

You can see her award winning images at www.alisonkphotography.com.

UPDATE:  Alison’s award winning photos have now been featured on the UK’s Daily Mail and have been viewed worldwide on-line by thousands of people. Congratulations Alison!

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Chickens: The Divine Feminine

What's been happening down the red dirt road...

I tripped over right outside the chicken coop, and I swear, all of the chickens looked up and cackled at me. In unison.

 

I'm glad I entertain them as well as everything else. You think there would be some compassion between us as we are all on that feminine wavelength, but no, let's laugh at her, jump the coop every now and then, let her chase us around, and let's turn our noses up at her gluten-free bread. We don't need any of that stuff.

 

Having chickens in the garden for me is a welcome balance. I live in a masculine household where the only female energy besides myself is the ageing Pomeranian "Poppy" and the five little chicken ladies.

Raised as well as any other babies, we hatched out Black Orpingtons Yoko, Zelda and Robot Chicken, then a year later white hybrids Buttercup and Blondie.

 

They were cheeky chickens from the outset, trying to jump out of their box and once succeeded, found playing with my three-year-old on the kitchen tiles, providing many fluffy hugs and kisses before they moved outside.

 

And not into any old shack I might add. They moved into a swish hipster UK made, Nasa designed, ergonomic, heat controlled structure that could be tractored around the garden. Nothing but the finest! La dee dah!

 

Fed our lush vegetable cuttings, organic poultry feed and good country sponges, I think perhaps I have spoilt them.

 

The girly bond that we share is unique though. They talk to me, using different sounds to tell me their food is empty, or the water has run out. They get especially loud when they want to be moved onto new grass. Bossy boots they are.

 

Many a time I've had to go out to break up fights between the black one and the white one. Pecking order disputes no doubt. Never a dull moment.

Be like Zelda.


They work hard most days to provide us with eggs (everyone needs an RDO*)  but it's hard not to lose patience over the winter months. I hold up a big blue tinged egg that Zelda lays, she's easily our best layer, and gather the girls around. I show them the big egg, point at it and tell them to be more like Zelda. They cluck at me defensively. It's their winter holidays after all, and they get back to tucking in to the leftover roast beef and gravy. 
I even try to bribe them, telling them I'll buy them that fancy chicken swing they've always wanted. 
Prying them off their eggs when broody and hot is met with my sympathetic "I know"and "poor lady", giving comforting pats out only for them to go off to their girly pals to complain about me in clucking fashion. Right in front of me. The cheek.
The cry of "escaped chicken" can surely be heard all over town at least once a week, with feathers flying and a big game of Chase ensuing, including all visitors in the house at that time. No one gets off the hook.

 

But sometimes when it all gets a bit too "male" in my house and I just want to leave it behind, I sit next to the chickens with a nice cup of tea and quietly enjoy the pecking and the clucking. Complimenting them on their delicious and constant supply of eggs, there is serenity. 

* For those not living in Australia an RDO means - Rostered Day Off.

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Walking under the Norfolk Pines

Tuross Head, N.S.W

While in New South Wales. it's hard not to fall in love with the Norfolk Pines.  It's a majestic, giant-sized tree that screams of the tropics, originating from small Norfolk Island situated between New Zealand and New Caledonia.  

Although those islands are 1400kms from these shores, you can find many Norfolk Pine trees dotted along the N.S.W coastline, as you road trip up and down. 

 

At Tuross Head there is a particularly special memorial garden, located within a plantation of historic Norfolk Pines.  Its in a beautifully breathtaking and peaceful location that looks out onto the ocean.

 

Upon entry you can enjoy wandering around the old trees, their giant size provides immense coolness and dark shade, where you can catch glimpses of the amazing green-blue seas through their tree trunks. 

Walking past the pines you can find a special war memorial, dedicated to local fallen heroes, which are maintained lovingly by the Tuross community.   

 

The gardens host the annual Anzac Day dawn service and locals say it provides a pleasing sunrise each year by the sea to commemorate. 

 

Past the memorial, you can walk down to the rocky shore and sit at a number of tranquil benches dotted along the coastline, a really fitting way to sit down and finish the journey through the areas above. 

We found it an educational place to visit with the kids, with many signs and plaques to read and our little ones enjoyed it thoroughly.  

The pine plantation at Tuross Head came about as local Hector McWilliam discovered how to propagate the seed and planted 400 trees around the whole village, he had dreams of the town one day becoming a seaside resort.

 

Planting them in avenues and reserves, these pines, of which 276 remain, are now listed as heritage trees.

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The Obsession for Coffee Continues at Sweet Brew Cafe

Trafalgar, Victoria, Australia

You may have noticed on the main street of Trafalgar that locally run “Obsession Coffee House” recently changed hands from Brett and Phoebe Hicks to new owner Lisa Somerville. While the name has changed to the bright red and vibrant “Sweet Brew Café”, both Lisa and Phoebe say the philosophy of the café of “Community, Coffee and Connection” remains intact.

 

Coming from farming families in Central and Northern Victoria and living in Elsternwick, the Hicks family decided to move to Trafalgar in August 2007.  Brett joined his nephew Maris Romans, who had just opened the café called “Obsession” and they were warmly welcomed to join the business.

 

“Our business grew, and so did our family.  We leapt in feet first and with our four children have integrated into the community through running the café,” said Phoebe. 

Very quickly Brett was on the TCDA and Phoebe was involved in the Kinder committee and both in their local church St Mary’s. Battle of Trafalgar, Baw Baw Writers Network, Trafalgar Primary Parents and Friends and now Trafalgar High School Council all have welcomed the Hicks’ into their groups.

 

With the eldest two children beginning school, a connection with 1st Trafalgar Scouts also was added to the mix. Now both Brett and Phoebe are also Scout Leaders, this has become their main focus in the community the past few years.

“We were told when we moved here that it would be more than 20 years before we would be considered a ‘local’. This has definitely not been the case. We received a warm welcome in Trafalgar and are grateful for the embrace of our community,” says Phoebe.

 

“Trafalgar has been the perfect location for our family, these green hills are our home and we cannot imagine living anywhere else.”

 

With Phoebe pursuing a career outside the café the past 2 years an opportunity came to sell the café to the then manager Lisa Somerville. 

 

“Around the tenth anniversary of the coffee house in August 2017, Brett and I felt like we had reached all our business goals and were ready for new challenges in our lives,” said Phoebe.

 

“We couldn’t have sold the café to just anyone and Lisa is the perfect fit as she shares the café’s philosophy of consistently good coffee and strong community connections.” Phoebe added.

 

 Lisa says buying the coffee house appealed to her as she was ready to step back into a permanent role and wanted to create a lifestyle just for herself as she is just about finished raising her son, who is now 18 years old.

 

Lisa was born in Warragul, although her family hails from nearby Yarragon.  She trained as a chef as a teenager and last worked in the industry 15 years ago. She also lived in Darwin for 20 years before moving back to the locality ready to have her son in 1999.

 

“I’ve known Lisa for about 5 years. We crossed paths and in passing I mentioned that I had a feeling the café chapter was coming to a close and we’d been thinking about moving on,” said Phoebe, explaining the handover process.

 

“A few days later Lisa asked about buying it. She came in as manager for a few months while we worked out the details and to see if the fit was right for her. “

 

Lisa says despite the name change, with signage and artwork designed by local creative Alison Landmeter, the friendly staff has stayed on and they will continue to serve a light, fresh and healthy menu, and of course amazing coffee.

 

“Because I am also gluten intolerant, I pay close attention to providing meals for those with allergies and can adapt the menu to suit,” said Lisa.

 

 

 

 

Lisa says she was ready to take the baton from Phoebe in January and appreciates the Trafalgar local patronage, warm welcome and friendship.

 

“It’s nice to buy the café from local people that you know who have built a good reputation for coffee. I’m stepping into a great legacy and I am ready to build on it here at Sweet Brew Café,” concluded Lisa.

 

You can visit Sweet Brew Cafes Facebook page for more info: 

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Autumn Break or Autumn Broken....

What's happening down the red dirt road...

It feels like only a ninny would say that Summer was too long, it was though, long, hot and very dry. It hung on for longer than usual. The dizzying heat has a cabin fever like effect on the human psyche. Staring at brown hills, watching plants suffer and shrivel up, even looking up at the blue sky everyday makes you go a little bonkers. 


Maybe I am a ninny. A ninny whose been out watering every morning and evening with a hose since late November, in the coolest and nicest parts of the day. First off it's an enjoyable thing to do in the evenings with a glass of red, it's a novelty, a sign of the lovely hot Summer and beach days to come, the Summer holidays stretch ahead. By the end of March you are just desperately looking for any signs of moisture on leaves and in the grass, any sign there's a significant change of season on its way at all! 

 

I remember after a large period of drought in the early 2000's (I think it was 5-6 years in), right on the end of a dry Summer just like this, I decided to move to Ireland for awhile to work. When I arrived at my family's place, I just sat inside their porch for the first three days solid, my face pressed into the coolness of the glass, looking at the lush green pasture, enjoying the sight of the rain while drinking good strong tea. Rain and tea. It was bliss. They thought I was mad. They see rain for 9 months or sometimes more per year. It's another extreme on the other end of the spectrum. It can go both ways.

At the end of Summer here it gets to the point where you are just keeping things alive with your garden hose. You can see the green patches of flowers and shrubs sitting next to the listless brown strands of grass. The local farmers and gardeners around here lovingly referring to the "Autumn Break", the phenomenon of the rain arriving.
They romanticise it, although you can hardly blame them. When everything will be green again, they say, all the flowers will bloom again in a spring-like fashion and harvest greens will be bountiful. We fantasise with our gardening friends about turning our hoses off, dancing in the gentle rain with our shovels in hand, tending to our replenished gardens reverently.
Alas, when Autumn breaks, it does so with vengeance. The rain is torrential, not light and misty, nor romantic. The wind is gale force and howls night and day. Even established trees bend in half under the strength of the wind and nearly break my heart, but they just hang in there.  The chickens stop laying, then start again. They're wet and confused.

It's almost a case of "Autumn broken", it becomes a harrowing event on the nerves.  with the pleasure of the rain comes the horror of potentially losing everything you've barely kept alive with that damn hose while the Summer lingered on. 
On the flip-side, from the moment the rain hits those burnt blades of grass, you can observe the greening as it begins, it's almost instant. With the first sups of rain you can see the water dams filling up, and the garden beds are soaked to its bones.
We emerge a few days later to an eerily quiet dripping noise, feeling the gardens relief in it, and relishing in the sensory pleasure that it evokes. It's a renewal and re-invigoration after the hot and sticky mess of a few days earlier. Absurdly, Summers forgiven and all hardship nearly forgotten.

Yes our flippant beach days are over, but our dulled senses are rejuvenated and our green rolling hills are inviting us to enjoy them again. Back to the garden, back to life.  

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Apple Tart - Gluten Free

#glutenfreepastry

When all the cookers are ready, the time has changed and the nights are drawing in fast, its nice to have a bit of apple tart and custard, with crunchy pastry. From a very young age, I watched my mother and grandmother whip up a tart in under an hour ready for after dinner or late afternoon snack with creamy piping hot custard.

 

In Ireland the cooking apples reduce right down in the pie, a Bramley apple is a great variety, and here in Australia, a Granny Smith will do the job.  I had one Granny Smith apple off one of our trees that was so big, it did the whole tart! 

 

I have made the pastry gluten free as I have coeliacs disease. It's taken me along time to perfect, but now although theres many different ingredients to the Irish original, it tastes similar and has the same crunch as it comes hot out of the oven.

Bramley or Granny Smiths Cooking Apples

Ingredients

300-500gms apples. (depending on size of tart)

 

140gms Gluten Free Self Raising Flour (I recommend the Lauke Bread and Biscuit Flour)

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp Baking Powder

100gms chilled butter cubed

200gm boiled cooled potatoes (mashed without milk or butter added)

2 tablespoons desiccated coconut

2 tablespoons raw sugar

50-100ml milk (dairy or nut)

Method

Preheat oven to 180 degree celsius. 

 

1. Put the flour blend in a food processor or thermomix with 1/2 tsp salt and pulse to combine.

 

2. Add butter, coconut and sugar, pulse to combine.

 

3.  Add potato and pulse to combine, add milk a little at a time until dough combines and just only comes together.

 

4. Turn out onto a board or tray, form a ball  with hands, cut in half and then roll out with a floured rolling pin to .5-1cm thick, 2 sheets, one for the bottom of the tray, one for the top of the tart.

 

5. Place first sheet into tart tray. Slice apples into chunks until full, sprinkle with sugar, nutmeg or cinnamon if you wish. Lay send sheet of pastry on top. Prik pastry with fork to aerate while in oven. Coat with egg wash. Sprinkle with sugar. Decorate top with leftover pastry. 

 

6. Bake in oven for 30-45 mins.

 



Enjoy with custard! 

 

Eat hot or cold, you can also add homemade ice cream. I am lucky enough to grow both the Bramley and Granny Smith apples here in my garden as well as many other varieties and they are delicious in this tart. 

 

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Rich Chocolate Cake for Easter

New spin on this "Great Depression" cake, which is easy to make from basic pantry staples, that you always will have on hand.

It's Good Friday! Easter is nearly here, so its time to make some cost effective chocolate treats:

 

When in you live in the country side you meet some lovely older ladies who are only too happy to open up their mother's or grandmother's handwritten recipe books to share with you.  When you have food allergies especially, its like they almost have them memorised and say "i'd think you could eat this great simple recipe from the 1930's" etc.

 

Well this is an old recipe given to me, its basic and turns out beautiful and delicious. I varied this time by only by adding gluten free flour instead of regular flour, I use the "Lauke" Gluten Free White Bread Flour, which acts very similar to regular wheat varieties.

 

I happened upon a really easy chocolate icing also and added crushed chocolate and hazelnuts on the top, which makes it really rich, but would be great for special occasions, like birthdays etc. For Easter, I have decorated it with Easter Eggs and used a milk icing. This cake also makes a great sheet cake for school birthdays as its just so simple, nearly as easy as a packet cake, to make. 

 

I hope you enjoy and find it delicious............

Ingredients

1 and half cups of flour (plain or Gluten Free)

3 tablespoons cocoa or cacao powder

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla or vanilla paste

1 tablespoon white vinegar

6 tablespoons oil (rice bran, canola, light olive oil)

1 teaspoon baking powder


Method

Preheat oven 180 degrees celsius

Grease 20cm round cake tin

Dust inside of tin with excess cocoa powder, so it wont stick.

Add everything into bowl and whisk or use hand beater until combined well.  It will be a runny mix.

Pour into cake tin

Bake 35-40 minutes

Cool for 10 mins, then turn out of tin


Chocolate Icing

200 grams good quality dark chocolate

1/3 cup coconut oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

 

Method:  melt chocolate and coconut oil over low heat, when melted add vanilla and stir.  Put mixture in fridge to cool for 35-40 minutes. Pour over cake, then leave overnight to set or put in fridge for 2 hours to set. It does set hard but is delicious and leaving it at room temperature softens it. 

 

Enjoy! 

Milk Chocolate Icing

400gms icing sugar

2 x tablespoons milk

2 x tablespoons Cacao Powder

 

Method: Mix together with fork, if mixture is too dry, keep adding a splash of milk until runny. Will set in fridge. This mix is great for icing doughnuts too! 


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Frolicking in the Fairy Dell

#loveeastgippy

 

A couple of years ago, as we drove to New South Wales, I spotted a sign that read "Fairy Dell Reserve" out of the corner of my eye, the sign that grabbed my attention was located just outside Bruthen, one of the last towns before you leave the state of Victoria. 

 

Despite spending quite a lot of my time exploring East Gippsland as a child, I had found a new place to put on the "to go" list. It had stayed in my mind there for all this time, when Merryn Padgett from "3 hrs from home" invited me to join her in the rainforest for a special day out with a few other local social media folk. So I jumped at the chance, knowing it was time to head off, make some new friends and go exploring. 


East Gippsland Fairy Dell Reserve, Victoria, Australia

So its a bit of a hike for us in the car, but I am used to that, from West Gippsland to East Gippsland, its about 3 hours (remember the Gippsland region is relative in size to Switzerland, yes the country) to Wiseleigh, just outside Bruthen. 

 

Just as you drive into Wiseleigh, you turn left onto Deep Creek Road and follow the signs through undulating tracks until you reach the reserve, which is 5km of dirt roads. It is suitable for 2WD vehicles as well as 4WD, but 2WD vehicles be advised not to turn off the main track as its mostly little fire tracks that run off this. 

 

We were met warmly by the lovely Merryn and local icon "Pixie Violet" who had come along to take the kids through the walk to look for fairy doors and easter eggs, a really nice way to keep the kids interested in the forest. She told us there was (biodegradable) fairy dust sprinkled through the forest so we could see where the little fairies had been! 

 

Fairy Dell Flora Reserve is a nature conservation reserve of special significance to the local area of Bruthen, established in 1984. At 80ha in size, it protects an important area of warm temperate rainforest and is an amazing scenic spot to explore. Old trees are covered in mosses (even in Summer), lovely native orchids bloom in spring, and vines and ferns also dominate the landscape. 

 

Facilities included toilet block, picnic tables nestled in the trees, barbecues and circular walking track.

 

While rain held off, we explored with Pixie Violet through the low circular track, over bridges, up a hill and down into the Fairy Dell, which was still lush and green despite the long hot spell we had been having. I enjoyed running my fingers over the different mosses, amazed at the variety.

 

The unique birds that roam the forest include the Rose Robin, the Lewin’s and Crescent Honeyeater, Australian King Parrot, Gang-gang Cockatoo, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike and White-throated Treecreeper and many others, we heard the elusive lyrebirds, of which I am yet to see one!

 

All in all the friendly East Gippsland welcome was warm and inviting, having many lovely conversations and connecting with some amazing people who dearly love their region. I'm sure I will revisit the Fairy Dell for a look in the winter time, to see its green lush mosses at their peak! 

 

 

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Vanilla Maple Strawberry Dessert Sauce

Oh with the bizarre return of "high summer" temperatures, and a really dry brown view of our hills to contend with (poor farmers), ice-cream making has returned to lift my spirits while in the kitchen (aircon firmly back on while cooking). When it's really hot and the long weekend seems even longer, nothing is better than indulging with a sundae that calls for a rich strawberry sauce.  

 

It's simple, tried and tested (honestly more than a couple of times), and so delicious! 

Ingredients:

1/2 lemon - a big squeeze

1 x punnet strawberries

3 x teaspoons raw sugar

1 x teaspoon vanilla essence or paste

1 x tablespoon maple syrup

 

Method:

Chop strawberries into quarters

In a shallow pan, add strawberries, vanilla, sugar and lemon.

Cook on high heat, while using a wooden spoon to crush some of strawberries and leave some whole, until sauce starts to bubble and strawberries reduce in size.

Add maple syrup and cook for 1-2 minutes until sauce is dark red and thick.

Let cool and spoon on top of ice-cream.

You can also make this in advance, and pop it into a jar in the fridge for later or use in milkshakes.
You can shave chocolate or crush nuts on top. 

So next time the hot weather is getting to you, break out this recipe and enjoy! All of us here are awaiting the "Autumn break", and wishing for some rain to hydrate our hills and water our lovely plants.
Until then, it's probably sundae time! X 
P.S - We finally did get a small drop of rain and are eagerly awaiting more (and singing) " I bless the rains down in Africa...."

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Iconic Music Venue Overwhelmed By “The Corona’s” Fans in Small Melbourne Pub

This week popular Irish band "The Corona's" played a one-off show in Sydney and announced dates for their upcoming Australian Tour in November 2018. As a Saint Patricks day celebration on the blog I revisited an article that I wrote in November 2017, when they last played at Melbourne's iconic Corner Hotel ...........

Australian fans thoroughly enjoyed a rare treat, an intimate night with “The Corona’s”, on the last leg of their Australian tour, as they left their musical mark on Melbourne’s most iconic music venue “The Corner Hotel” in Richmond.

 

On one of the balmiest evenings Melbourne has seen in a while, the crowd eagerly anticipated the night ahead. 

 

The benefits of being an ex-pat ensured the loyal had their tickets in hand, as half the line waiting to get in were sent over to the ticket box to hastily purchase the last few. The excitement in the air was tingling, everyone glad to see a popular Irish act, which have been few and far between in the town over the last couple of years, amazed at the prospect of enjoying a close up pub show instead of a sold out Olympia theatre.

 

Whisperings inside the venue as it filled up, was that there was quite the line of people waiting to get in, and it was debatable if they would fit everybody in. It was clear since their last show two years ago, that the Irish had come out in force and this time had also brought their Aussie counterparts along with them.

 

The Dublin boys kicked off the show as enthusiastically as the crowd, launching into the first set with professional gusto, Danny O’Reilly stopped after just 2 songs in to tell the crowd it “already felt like it was going to be a special night,” for them and exclaiming “we are all melting in the heat, but sure we’ll all melt together!” In fact, bottles of water had to be handed out to the audience by security during the night. 

 

The band belted out their original songs from their first album, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, including “as gaelige” version of “Heroes and Ghosts, in which he sang along with the crowd with his acoustic guitar, as well as their very latest single “Give Me a Minute,” in which he serenaded them on the keyboard.

 

If the thousands of kilometres they had travelled from city to city in Australia had taken their toll on the boys, they didn’t show it, providing an energetic end to a hot and sweaty week for many. They had taken in the 3 cities of Sydney, Brisbane and Perth in as many days, flying over 7,000km from Perth that very day to hit the stage on Sunday evening.

 


The discreet grey colonial style pub has been showcasing local and international live music for over 80 years, and is an important right of passage for any rock musician looking to create credibility within the Melbourne music scene. It’s seen the likes of Mick Jagger, White Stripes, The Black Keys, Blink 182, Powderfinger, Midnight Oil and even Hozier grace its band room stage over the years. 

 

The pub’s reputation is well respected by front man Danny O’Reilly, who spent time in Melbourne as a lad, enjoying the local live music Melbourne had to offer.

He thanked the staff profusely and voiced his gratitude at being able to play there many times over the last few years.  

 

He told Melbourne indie “Beat Magazine” earlier that week that they were proud to take their latest album to Australia and he hinted at the prospect of touring again in the New Year.  The Coronas have now announced a Australian Promo Tour for 2018, and a concert for Sydney fans in March at “The Basement”.

 

The brilliant night was wrapped up with a lively 30-minute encore, surely cementing The Corona’s place in the historical line up of the Corner Hotel’s discography of performers, the audience most likely departing in the knowledge that next time they see the boys in Melbourne it will probably be on a  bigger stage.


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Enthralling Weekend of Classic Boats.....

While spending a weekend recently in East Gippsland, to do something as mundane as getting the old jalopy serviced, we decided to head a further 16kms to Paynesville for the morning, only to find we had stumbled upon the "Paynesville Classic Boat Rally," completely by accident!

 

The rally, which only began in 2016, is a celebration of the boating history and lifestyle of the Gippsland Lakes. The town was buzzing with activity and onlookers, like ourselves, from the very early hours of the morning, right up to the boat parade at 11am, where all the local, vintage and hand built boats were paraded.

The weather was radiant and calm, hot with wonderful sunshine for onlookers to bask in. The esplanade featured a regatta style big band playing all sorts of tunes, which added to the character of the event, and everyone had their fancy hats on.

 

There was an expo showcasing different types of boating hobbies such as model boats and ships, sailing and yacht clubs, marine electronics, rowing clubs, timbers and also delicious local food outlets such as Forge Creek Lamb and Gippsland Gourmet Sausages. 

 

We found a highlight of the "Sail Past" parade was the sight of the tall ship "Lady Nelson", that came from Hobart to visit the lakes for a weeklong stay. 

 

There were also speedboats. hand built boats, vintage boats and even an old aussie-style tin shed in boat form gliding by during the parade. We had excellent viewing standing on the front of the Raymond Island Ferry which sat in the middle of McMillan Strait. 

 

 

 

We sat here to watch the kids play and have a coffee, and as you could agree the view was stunning and relaxing for a Saturday morning outing. 

 

We found out the rally has been a community-led initiative created by Peter Medling, whose family have been associated with boating for over 100 years in the area. 

 

Peter wanted Paynesville to again showcase the long history and popularity of boating in the area.  

I do indeed remember when I holidayed in nearby Lakes Entrance as a child seeing the signs for the Paynesville Boxing Day Regatta, which was a popular event around Christmas when there were many visitors. The local committee, supporters, enthusiasts and businesses wanted to revive this spectacle, and its proving wildly popular.

So from an expected quiet walk along the water, we were instead incredulously delighted to enjoy the busy buzz of activity that the boats brought with them, flags and all. What a happy accident! 

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Hardy & Sweet Cucumbers that Keep

#lemoncucumber

I've traditionally not had much success at growing cucumbers in my garden.  You could put it down to inexperience, the heavy clay soil, or just to the fact that I get preoccupied with my tomatoes!

 

However, after spending a couple of years growing the "straight from the nursery" long, green "run of the mill" varieties that would go bitter rather quickly, I decided to go and see what the locals were planting. 

 

It turns out Apple Cucumbers are the norm to grow up here in the Strezlecki Ranges.  So I decided to get onto one of the heirloom seed websites and found a brightly lemon coloured round variety that suited my bright and cheery personality down to the ground!

Perfectly sized to be eaten by one person, the old heirloom variety called "Lemon Cucumber" (because of the colour of the skin, not taste) ticks all the boxes!

 

It's prolific, easy to grow, even here in our cold temperate climate, and miraculously develops a thick skin once it's picked, but remains sweet and juicy on the inside, without a hint of bitterness at all!  It also tends to have a longer growing period than other cucumbers.


In fact, you can plant these varieties when the soil temperature reaches just 12 degrees (instead of the usual 15-18 degrees).  They also produce a high yield on their vines, which can run between your tomatoes along a vegetable bed, or up a vine to compact its size.

 

As they begin to grow on the vine, they change colour from light green to pale lemon to a bright golden yellow as they ripen.  However, they do develop tiny black bristles on their skin, similar to that of a kiwifruit, but I've found that they brush off easily with your hands as they are picked.

 

The mild cucumber taste has a cool and crisp texture and even as it is stored and the skin thickens, the taste remains consistent as well as the texture.

 

These heirlooms are a very old variety, spotted in the Middle East from the 1600's and feature today in Indian produce markets, where they traditionally add them to soup, daal, and chutney.

 

I love to eat them fresh, take them on picnics, or slice and pepper them with dill seeds and mayonnaise, but this variety is also perfect for juicing, water infusion, pickling, gherkins and of course salads.  

Growing three inches to an attractive spherical shape, the lemon cucumber offers a dazzling yellow burst of attention in the garden, and it's easy to reap the rewards from this long growing seasonal plant. 

(serving suggestion)

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The Oldest Book and Longest Library in Dublin

Where to take the biggest little bookworm I know in the world? To the oldest book and longest library in Dublin. 

 

Even first thing in the morning, the line outside Trinity College in Dublin can be long (and drizzly), but thankfully there's a brilliantly placed coffee cart halfway down the line, where you can perk up and get your caffeine hit before you walk in.

 

The courtyard at Trinity is an experience in itself, with a beautiful kept lawn, buildings and small cobblestones to walk on, its entrance is memorable to say the least.

 

Like stepping back in time, its a hint of whats to come.

The Book of Kells

The "Turning Darkness into Light" exhibition, that takes you into the "Book of Kells" is an interesting historical journey, with large glass panels lit up with photographs and text that emerge from an otherwise dimly lit room. 

 

The "Book of Kells" is thought to have been created around the year 800, although dates are disputed and three artists may have elaborately decorated the pages.  These artists are likened to todays goldsmiths and the books contain the four gospels in ancient latin, written on calfskin.

 

When entering the room containing the Book of Kells, you can see there are two pages open on two volumes, one in each side of a glass cabinet.  The pages are quite small really, measuring just 33cm x 25.5cm, but the gold and green and red colours are so vibrant the pictures just jump out of the page at you, which is amazing for such a small item that is so incredibly old.

 

Even my little bookworm, who has been born into the digital age, exclaims "wow" as he approaches it!

The Long Room Library

We next walk into the magnificent "Long Room", which is the old oak historic lengthy library of the college. It is called "The Long Room" as it is 65 metres long and filled with 200,000 old leather bound books.  It provides such a long walk, I believe I can add this story to my "Scenic Walks" section of the blog.  It certainly makes for great indoor rainy day exercise!

 

Impressive to the eye, the smell of the leather, combined with the aged oak is magical and there are some amazing artefacts to view, my favourite being a 15th century wooden harp, an familiar emblem to anyone with an Irish upbringing, and a national symbol on Ireland's currency coins. 

 

The library was built between 1712 and 1732 and the stunning upper gallery was built in 1860.  Stern looking marble busts line the walkway. they are all men of note who have a connection to the college. The library itself has a masculine energy, as in the beginning only men would have used this library.

All of the old shelves are roped off and visitors can walk to entire length of the library.  There are many security staff to ensure you don't enter the roped off areas.  No amount of "high 5's" could get my little bookworm past them, he did make a few friends though!

With its lovely ancient ambience and magic bookshop-like smell its easy to see why its one of Dublin's biggest attractions, with over 500,000 visitors walking the lengthy halls every year, and definitely a "must see" if you happen to be in Dublin on a misty cool day.

 

 

If you are too far away for a visit, you can see the "Book of Kells" right here:

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Everywhere you go....take a traveller tomato with you.

#reisetomate

'Vigorous', 'perennial' and 'oddity' are just some of the words that jumped out at me from the seed packet of the "reisetomate" traveller tomato, a Peruvian heirloom vegetable that made the cut for the new vegetables to plant in my Summer garden this year. 

 

I had heard the previous Summer that this tomato was ideal for taking out to picnics, bushwalking, and day trips as it grows in tiny tomato segments (think of a mandarin) which grows in clusters to make beautiful and unique shapes. After seeing some pictures online, I was sold. They were going in the garden for sure! 

No knife is needed to eat this wonderfully lumpy bespoke fruit, with the Germans naming it a “traveller tomato”, you can pull it apart one section at a time, which is perfect for munching! It was also a favourite with the Greeks.


This tomato originally comes from Central America with natives carrying the fruit on treks through the Andes.


The fruit is thick skinned, full of fibre, vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin B6. 

I obtained the seed from The Diggers Club and added them to my rotations for the Summer garden this year.  It should be noted that they should not be placed with other tomatoes , they need their own seperate garden bed, as they cross pollinate, as many ancient heirlooms do.

Growing from the seed, they were strong and hardy seedlings, germinating quickly and loved the spring humidity in my greenhouse.
Now gone into their seperate bed they are producing very well.  We are getting much more than 1.1kg per plant, at least three times that.
Listed as bitter and sour variety, here in our volcanic red soil they are sweet little baubles with not a hint of acidity and a fabulous snack to take on the go.
They are ideal for adding into school lunch boxes, a schoolyard talking point perhaps! 
I have added them to sauce, like all my other varieties, when they meld together, it makes the loveliest bottles for saucing.
Since they are hardy and grown well, they will now be on my permanent list, joining tigeralla, tommy toe, Scottish tomatoes and San Marzano.

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Healthy Zucchini Bread Muffins

All the "Back to School" hype of the last couple of weeks led me back to the cookbooks and trolling the internet for some healthy style snacks for the lunch boxes. My youngest son tends to be a "grazer" so I figured some light bread style muffins filled with vegetables from the garden might be just what was needed.

 

As I only bake gluten free (due to my own coeliac disease, I do not need to be inhaling flour dust), I decided to give these ones a go to see how they would turn out. They came together really well and actually rose, which is rare when using gluten free flour, but I did notice that putting them in the patty papers is not effective as they stick to the side a little, and I have adjusted the recipe to reflect this.

 

This recipe is a great snack that can also be made using nut milks so it can be made vegan. I noticed my gluten free mayonnaise was also vegan.

 

Serving suggestion: They would also be nice served, cut in half with a spread on it, a little like a savoury scone.

 

My son loved them, a win for the lunchbox! 

Ingredients:

1 3/4 cups of Gluten Free (or regular S.R) flour

4 tbs Gluten Free (and vegan) Mayonnaise

1 x cup skim or full cream milk (or any nut milk to substitute)

250 gms cubed zucchini

2 x shallots

1 x clove garlic

6 x small cherry tomatoes - quartered

1 x handful of swiss chard or spinach

Method:

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Grease a muffin tin lightly with oil.

 

Fry up zucchini, chopped onion, garlic, tomatoes and chard in rice bran or olive oil until wilted (see pictures above).

 

Mix remaining ingredients together and whisk until smooth. Add frying pain contents and mix thoroughly.

 

Spoon mixture into muffin trays. Bake for 20-25 minutes until browned and knife comes out cleanly.

 

Enjoy! 

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A Room Full of Conversation

"High Tea" at the historic Windsor Hotel in Melbourne.

There's something very inspiring, especially for a writer, about the gentle clatter of cups and saucers, whirring of the old timber ceiling fans, smell of freshly baked scones and murmur of conversation, along with comfortable feeling and sense of knowing that this is always how this has been done at the Windsor Hotel in Spring Street Melbourne.

 

Serving one of Melbourne's oldest and perhaps most famous cup of tea, the Windsor Hotel has delighted over two million cake eaters and tea drinkers in the majestic tea room since 1887, one of which now includes me!

Tea's Ready!

Upon entering, we were served a glass of sparkling wine, giving time for dietary requirements and tea preferences to be sorted, while also being told that the old "service" buttons were only there for show and are no longer in use, just in case we were wondering, and the waitress assuring us that she would tend to our every need.

 

The menu catered extremely well for my gluten allergies. my tray was served complete with gluten free ribbon sandwiches, dainty mini muffins and pastries, cakes, as well as the most delicious gluten free scones I've ever had. 

 

Age old tradition meets modern culinary desserts , while a tray is brought to your table to enjoy there is also a buffet on offer for seconds, complete with chocolate fountain, ice cream and also an assortment of desserts and cakes.

The long red drapes, old bench seats, matching cake trays, silverware and cups, plates and saucers really bring a sense of stepping back in time and provided an opportunity for a proper long conversation and spot of story telling about family high teas been and gone.  The staff left a postcard for us and invited us to write a letter to a friend, which added to the authentic ambience of yesteryear that the hotel induced.

 

An afternoon at the hotel has much more to offer than just the high tea.  Visitors can explore various corners of the hotel's ground floor and read about the incredible history, personalities and even parties held at the venue. 

 

A display on the ground floor in the original hotel elevators means that you can step inside and read about the penthouse parties and famous glamorous Hollywood guests that have stayed, including Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, The Royal Family, past prime ministers, and Sir Anthony Hopkins, to mention a few.:

We even snuck inside the ballroom for a look at the ornate decorations and fantasised about all the grand parties held there. The lobby includes a floral display, leather seats and tables, as well as a grand piano. The walls are adorned with old paintings of persons who frequented and lived at the hotel, including a stunning self portrait of one of the painters.

 

Was it a nice cup of tea?

Absolutely! It was full bodied, very strong and we drank three large pots between us. 

 

For a step back in time and experience like no other, you can visit The Windsor any day of the week for High Tea.

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Melbourne's Butterfly House

A heartening and unique immersive experience can be found at Melbourne Zoo, in its 32 year old tropical native Butterfly House.  Despite the many animal enclosures that the zoo is famous for, this little corner of the zoo, between the tigers and elephants was the star attraction for this small group of wanderers.

#melbournezoo

It feels like a really "Melbourne" thing to have something strikingly different as a zoo exhibit, more botanical than zoological, 10-11 species of colourful native butterflies from tropical North Queensland and the Northern Territory fly around the stunning greenery everyday, lighting on spectators heads and shoulders, providing a truly immersive experience to get up close and personal to these "flowers of the sky".

As hundreds of butterflies choose territories, mate and lay eggs in the greenhouse, visitors can also enjoy the 28 degree warmth in the tropical oasis, which sits at 60-70% humidity all year round, providing a welcome escape for all on a wet and windy Melbourne day I'm sure. 

Staff say the butterflies are more active in the morning and are more likely to light on you if you are wearing bright colours, as they think you are a bright tropical flower. 
On a very hot January day we joined a very long line to wait to go inside, we know there must have been something very special behind the glass to have all these visitors waiting. As you walk through the doors you are really taken out of yourself for a moment, a little gasp escapes as you look up at the butterflies, it's one of those experiences of wonderment for both adults and children alike.
There's something very quietening about butterflies, even though packed with visitors the day we attended, hushed whispers travelled around the crowd as they held out their hands in hopes of feeling the butterflies faint weight on their arms.
My fedora attracted many to light on me, perhaps because of the flowery fabric on the brim, a happy fashion accident that I decided to wear it that day! I became a bit of an attraction to a group of foreign tourists when about 20 butterflies landed on me.

The exhibit encourages visitors to identity the butterflies that are flying about and provides information on how to attract more butterflies in your garden at home, heightening awareness of the plight of butterflies and bees, roughly 63 butterflies hatch every day of the year in the sustainably warmed habitat.  
As one of those experiences that truly takes your breath away and takes you out of yourself for a moment, it's a memorable experience thats worth more than just one visit. 
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How to Handle a Heatwave: Mango Lassi

It's been a hot one today, the mercury hit 40 degrees (celsius), and after an intense amount of watering the outdoors everything, it was time to spend the day eating cold icy things.

 

Think "Baking Day" but all icy recipes! 

I recently had a "Mango Lassi" at a local cafe, so decided to re-create it at home, since I had mango slices and fresh yogurt that we make weekly.

 

A Mango Lassi is traditionally an Indian yogurt based smoothie or milkshake, but I have also seen them made with coconut yogurt, which makes them vegan. Traditionally you can also add cardamon spice to the shake if you have it in your pantry. 

 

I have used our local Hill Top Hives honey to replace sugar in the recipe, ice cubes add froth to the shake and mango slices ensure the drink is velvety smooth. 

 

This recipe contains plenty of smoothie for two people, simply double the recipe for a little crowd of friends.

Mango Lassi

Ingredients:

200gms mango slices or thick mango juice

200gms fresh yogurt 

100gms ice cubes

1 tsp vanilla

1-2 tsp Hill Top Hives honey (or your local honey)

Splash of milk (dairy or nut)

Method:

Add the mango slices and ice to the blender and blend till smooth and creamy.

 

Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smoothie consistency.

 

Pour into glass.

 

Add mint leaves as a garnish.

 

Stay cool and Enjoy! 

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