Category Archives: Reviews

Travel Post: Paris and the Subterranean Weekend

On Saturday, the floods having retired somewhat (I sent out a dove to check), I decided it was time to start my proper underground exploration of Paris. And with garbage strikes allegedly over, but rubbish nonetheless still piled high on the streets, it seemed timely to investigate the sewers of Paris.  (My hostess warned me that it might be smelly, but I pointed out that right now, I was probably as used to smells as I was going to get.  It’s not that Paris has been unremittingly stinky, but with the warm weather, one does detect a certain aroma as one passes the rubbish bins…

I began making my way down towards the seventh arondissement, but then realised that I was going to be too early for the sewers, and decided to stop by the Rodin museum on the way.  As you do.

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Travel Post: Paris, with Bois de Boulogne, Saint Denis, and some museums

So.  After my perfect Paris chocolate day (which still makes me smile whenever I think of it – it really was an absolute gift), I realised that Wednesday could not POSSIBLY live up to the same level of Parisian wonderfulness, and that was OK.  Really, one fantasy-Paris day in a visit should be enough for anyone.

On Wednesday, therefore, I decided to get started on my project of walking through as many arondissements in Paris as I could.  Having already explored the Tuileries Gardens (before getting distracted by chocolate), I took the Metro to the Place de Concorde, and began heading westward along the Champs Élysées.

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The Champs actually starts out quite leafy and green, but pretty quickly becomes a very busy and rather touristy and expensive shopping strip.  There is even a McDonalds, which I thought was a little sad.  I walked along, and snuck into a FNAC to pick up my concert tickets for later in the week and continued my approach to the Arc de Triomphe.

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Recipe and Review: Blood Orange Jaffa Cakes and Deceptive Desserts

When I got back to work after my long service leave earlier this year, I discovered a cookbook on my desk, courtesy of one of my Professors.  This is an excellent way to come back from long service leave and I highly recommend it to any who are considering such a thing.  The book was  Deceptive Desserts: A Lady’s Guide to Baking Bad! (which I see is actually discounted at the Book Depository right now), and it is a rather brilliant collection of recipes for ill-advised treats – face-hugger cake, cannoli with little kitten faces, Frankenstein’s monster cake, terror-mi-su, cinnamon buns shaped to look like serpents ready to strike, cat-lady jello, and my personal favourite, screaming strawberries in vanilla mousse with chocolate tentacles.

It’s kind of like someone watched a lot of 1980s Dr Who and then read the Australian Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake Book right before bedtime, and then had nightmares.

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The illustrations are truly a thing of beauty – Christine McConnell, who is a stylist and photographer as well as a baker, photographs herself in vintage costumes that coordinate with her various disturbing desserts, with the occasional cat in the background, looking appalled.

The recipes are also nicely varied – it isn’t the sort of cake book that gives you six basic recipes at the start and then focuses on how to decorate them; there are recipes for sugar cookies (decorated to look like gravestones), waffle cones, various mousses and jellies, lime meringue cakes, devil’s food cakes, donuts (disguised as fried chicken and vegetables), banana bread, caramel popcorn, peppermint brownies, and apple pie, to name a random assortment.  I would note that the recipes are American and thus tend to have rather more sugar than I prefer in my cakes, but this is a minor quibble for an extremely fun and comprehensive book.

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Eating Good Things In Paris

I am, in fact, still writing my travel diaries, but adding pictures on this laptop is an absolute pain in the neck, and they still come out sideways half the time, so I probably won’t post any more of those updates until I’m in Australia again.  (And have dealt with the 16 ungrouped independents on the Senate ballot, aargh.)

But since tonight is my last night in Paris, I thought it was timely to write a post about the best meals I’ve had here, and also about the best patisserie I’ve had here.  I will add photographs at a later date, but good food information is always urgent, and now you will know why I will be radio silent until after the election, probably.

Edited on October 14 – I have finally added the photos!  Sorry this took so long.

Excellent Meals In Paris

I have to admit, I have found some terrible meals in Paris.  I had quite the run of bad luck last week, culminating in Café Panorama in Montmartre, which managed the brilliant combination of really poor service and really terrible food (I didn’t know you could make steak that tough and dry), with the waiter then getting terribly offended that I didn’t stay for dessert, even though I’d paid for it.

But I have also had some amazing meals.

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Travel Post – Paris with chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate

I was going to be good and write about Bath today, and I still might, but first, I must tell you about the absolutely excellent day I spent in Paris.

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Which is still quite underwater, incidentally.seine2

There are those who feel that I have an idealised view of Paris, and they are probably quite right, but honestly, today lived up to and beyond my wildest chocolate-related Paris fantasies, and this post might be a little incoherent because I am very full of chocolate right now (and not of much else, since it must be confessed that my essays into healthy, non-chocolate related food today were rather disappointing).

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Basically, I got to spend a really quite significant portion of the day discussing chocolate, in French.  With attractive men.  Who were offering me free chocolate to taste.  And they were really good chocolates. Continue reading

Travel Post! Todmorden, York again, and a little of London with the Ritz and Côte

OK, I have reached London, and am staying with my lovely friend N, which is a good thing for many reasons, not least of these being that I have a nasty cold *and* cramps, and the weather is uninspiring, so it’s a good day for staying inside and catching up with my travel journalling!  And there has been much to journal!

On Sunday, I went to the 11am Mass, at St Mary’s Todmorden, celebrated by my friend Jo.

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It was a really lovely service, with a sermon that made me think, which is always a fine thing (also one which contained, apparently, completely unintentional subliminal pro-EU propaganda in the form of hymn tune choices. Who knew this was even possible?).

Gallipoli window at St Mary's. I hadn't realised that East Lancashire had sent regiments to Gallipoli, too.

Gallipoli window at St Mary’s. I hadn’t realised that East Lancashire had sent regiments to Gallipoli, too.

I do wish Jo lived within reasonable churchgoing range of me, but while Todmorden is many lovely things, convenient to Melbourne is not one of them.  Also, I was amused to find that I did, in fact, know all the hymn tunes – Alistair at Wesley was raised Scottish Presbyterian, as was Jo, so perhaps this isn’t surprising!

View from Saint Mary's.

View from Saint Mary’s.

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Travel Post! Newcastle, Wallsend, York, and the Blackbird Bar, Todmorden

I’m having a domestic sort of day today, and the friend I’m staying with is busy writing her sermons for tomorrow so I thought I’d pop in with a quick update on my trip so far, my English Food Experiences, and a review of the bar we went to last night.

I reached Newcastle on Wednesday, and was greeted by my friend Tora, who I have known online for more than a decade, but have never previously met in person.  She drove me back to her house for a much-needed nap, and then pointed me in the direction of a walk in the countryside of Blaydon on Tyne, to stretch my legs, and help convince my body that it was on UK time.

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Blaydon Burn is extremely pretty – I’ve never been to England in spring before, and so I derived an unreasonable amount of pleasure from things like hawthorn blossoms and buttercups.

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Also from spinning around on the buttercup field pretending to be Kate Bush singing about Heathcliff.

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Review: Floral High Tea at Josephine’s

As you surely all know by now, I am *very* enamoured of Josephine’s amazing food, particularly her delicate touch with flavour.  In fact, I am so enamoured of her work that having had this beautiful floral High Tea less than two weeks ago, I was back again for her standard High Tea yesterday for a work function.  (I didn’t actually organise this particular function, I’ve just done a fine job of sharing my addiction.)

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So you can imagine that when I saw that Josephine was doing a special floral High Tea for Good Food Month, my immediate thought was ‘sign me up!’.  My best friend was visiting from Darwin, and needed to leave for the airport at 4pm, so we booked in our fancy High Tea for two at two, and sat inside where it was warm while Melbourne expressed its feelings about visitors who always complain that its weather is cold and rainy.

(ask and you shall receive – I can’t remember the last time my friend’s visit did *not* herald a sudden cool change.)

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We arrived a few minutes early, laden with bags and suitcases, which Josephine kindly let us hide out the back so that we could enjoy our lunch/tea unencumbered.  Friday at 2pm is a good time for High Tea – the lunch crowd has left, and it’s a work day, so not too many people are coming in for an afternoon snack.  We didn’t quite have the shop to ourselves, but it was a lovely, quiet space for delicate food and a last round of chatting before my friend had to catch her plane.

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Catherine Day and High Tea at the NGV

It lives!

Once again, I am emerging briefly from the insanity that is my work this year to give this whole blogging thing another try.  I suspect that this will be a one-off again, as my next event is only four weeks away and right now I don’t have much time or energy for cooking, let alone thinking of new recipes, but you never know.  Also, while I am boringly not talking about food, a quick admin note – I’ve recently switched to a new webhosting provider, because I got tired of waiting 40 seconds for a page to load, and figured that you were probably tired of it too.  Hopefully the site is now running a bit better, but if you notice any issues (or broken links), please let me know!

Today was Catherine Day at the National Gallery of Victoria.  This event was announced about a week ago, in honour of the current exhibition of works from Catherine the Great’s Hermitage.  Anyone with the name Catherine or Kate (any spelling, middle names count) could get into the exhibition for free.

The greatest of Catherines, in a rather crooked photo because the gallery was full and it was hard to get near enough to the portrait for a photo without someone standing in front of me!

As someone who has spent her entire life in the middle of a crowd of Catherines and Kates (and who regularly signed her letters ‘Catherine the Great’ as a teenager), with the only benefit to date being the inability of anyone to ever guess the spelling of my name correctly (a pox on all those people who call their daughters Kathryn!) this was absolutely irresistible.  So I informed my longsuffering lab heads that I was taking the day off for a Very Important Event, and this morning I hied me forth to the gallery at 10am to see just how many Catherines would show up to a Catherine-centric event.

The answer was… quite a lot.  About fifty of us were milling around the door before the gallery opened (“Is this the Catherine area?”  “Are we all Catherines?”  “Well, he certainly isn’t!”), and by the time we were gathered for a photo, there were at least a hundred, maybe even double that.  When they grouped us together in front of the big portrait of Catherine the Great, we filled the area all squashed together (“Tall Catherines at the back!” one Catherine suggested “OK, which Catherine blinked?” asked another).  It was highly amusing.  The premier’s wife, Catherine Andrews, came around and greeted us all and asked us whether we were Catherine with a C or with a K, and high fived us for being C Catherines (something tells me that she, too, has suffered from the tendency of everyone to always assume K.  I blame L.M. Montgomery).  Other guests looked at us askance, evidently not aware of the event and rather wishing they had picked another day to visit.  We were photographed by several newspapers and a couple of TV channels (nice and well-deserved publicity for the NGV), and then released into the wild to enjoy our Catherine exhibition.

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Review: Vegan Degustation at Shu Restaurant, Collingwood

A couple of weeks ago, I had a message on my Facebook page from Shu, the owner and chef at Shu Restaurant.  Shu Restaurant is a relatively new (three years old?) restaurant in Collingwood specialising in Sichuan fusion cuisine, and Shu wanted to invite me to a twelve course Christmas in August vegan degustation that he was organising for a group of Melbourne vegetarian food bloggers.

A vegan Sichuan fusion  Christmas in August degustation.  I had absolutely no idea what that entailed, but it sounded completely fascinating.  I was in.

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To really do this review justice, I think it is important to start by noting that I am actually a fairly terrible audience for Sichuan food.  I am not good with food that is very spicy – and really, all I knew about Sichuan food was that it was very spicy indeed – and I very rarely eat Chinese food of any stamp.  This is because I always disliked Chinese food whenever we ate it when I was growing up, and I have not really explored the cuisine enough to give it a fair try as an adult, mostly because the prevalence of peanuts, soy sauce and chilli has tended to discourage me.  (Having said that, on both the occasions on which I have both eaten and enjoyed Chinese food as an adult, that food was vegan, so the omens were not entirely inauspicious.)

The point is that while I was really excited to be asked to this degustation, and I do really want to give new food experiences a chance, I was also a little terrified that I’d walk out with my head on fire from all the chilli.

I didn’t.  The food was delicious and delicate and very, very pretty, the spice levels were varied, but had enough gentle dishes among them to keep anyone from combusting, and it was a truly new set of flavours for me.  I would definitely go back.

Oh, and two more quick disclaimers / apologies before I start.  First, in case I have not made this sufficiently clear, I am horribly ignorant about the flavours and ingredients used in Sichuan cuisine.  So I have described everything as well as I can, but I may well have things wrong.  Second, I forgot my camera when leaving the house, so the photos were all taken on my phone, and are thus not very good.

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