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! 


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



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...."



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.


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! 



Hardy & Sweet Cucumbers that Keep


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)



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:


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


'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.



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! 


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


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.





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.



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.


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. 

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


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)


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!