A quiet, relaxing Easter this year

Easter 2011 was celebrated in Varenna on Lake Como with a large bag of chocolates purchased in Lucerne, Switzerland, the weather was perfect and we spent our time in this beautiful little village cruising the lake and wandering through narrow streets and well tended gardens.

 

In 2012 my husband’s little sister and boyfriend came to visit and we drove inland to participate in an early morning Easter egg hunt at the family home of my other sister-in-law. With three little boys and three slightly larger ones there was plenty of action in the form of backyard soccer, water fights using Nerf guns and wrestling. Later in the afternoon we played poker under the shade of a huge tree and enjoyed a glass or two of bubbles, a fire was lit as the sun set and the little boys were hypnotised by the flames. It was a beautiful time spent with our family, lots of laughter, good conversation and tasty home cooked food.

 

This year we’re staying home, hanging out with the dogs, doing a bit of gardening, some cooking, hopefully take a few photos and there is a huge list of chores to complete, but I’m not complaining. Since November last year I have been acting Director for our unit during a period of uncertainty and change, although the experience has been mainly positive and relatively problem free, my head was starting to hurt and I was desperately in need of a good chunk of downtime. My acting role ended yesterday, next week I start a slightly different job and I’m looking forward to the challenge but most of all, I’m ecstatic to have a few days off to do the things I love and to have the time and energy to get my hands dirty.

What are you doing to celebrate Easter this year?

A weekend trip to the ‘big smoke’

There were many reasons to head down to the ‘big smoke’, as my husband jokingly calls Sydney, but the most important one was to attend the baby shower of my brother’s girlfriend. My brother and his girlfriend are expecting their first baby, this baby is also the first (human) grand child for my parents so on Friday, armed with gifts for the soon-to-be parents, I boarded the plane to Sydney.

Vivid 2012 is a light festival of sorts, you may have already seen photos on This Sydney Life, imagine my delight when my brother’s girlfriend arranged for me to meet her and another friend at Circular Quay to check out it out on Friday night. Of course the area was jam-packed with people wanting to see the installations, the weather was perfect for such an event and this was the last weekend of Vivid. Moving at the pace of a baby learning to crawl we walked from the train station around to the Rocks, stopping regularly to take photos and just admire the show. Light and music combined to create an awesome display on Custom House and the Museum of Contemporary Art whilst the Opera House had slow moving images projected onto the surface of the sails, serious photographers lined the water’s edge with their tripods with the aim of capturing the perfect night time shot. Dinner was from a stall at the night markets, the choice of food was huge and varied from corn on the cob, sweet potato chips, pad thai, paella and organic hamburgers to dutch pancakes, gelato and cannoli. The seafood paella was scrumptious, we squeezed fresh lemon over the dish and looked for a place where we could sit, relax and enjoy the meal.

The baby shower was on Saturday, a fun time was had by all and of course there was plenty of yummy food to snack on, not to mention cakes and apple crumble pie for dessert. Games are always on the agenda at a baby shower, over the years I have played a few different ones but never have I performed so poorly at a task than on Saturday when as part of ‘pass the parcel’ I was required to sing a nursery rhyme. Even with assistance I could barely get out more than a couple of lines and I’m pretty sure that I even stuffed that up, someone suggested a buy a book of nursery rhymes however I’ll probably just end up googling them instead.

While in Sydney it seemed a shame not to go shopping with one of my dearest friends Jo, when I lived in Sydney it was a popular past time of ours and we often combined shopping with a visit to David Jones Food Hall, the Rocks Markets and a gallery or two. The plan was to meet up with Jo on the Sunday, the weather was looking bleak, it was a good idea to stay indoors and thankfully many of the shops in the Pitt Street Mall and Queen Victoria Building are linked and rarely require you to venture outside. Much money was saved shopping in the sales, my objective was to find new shoes, shirts and a handbag for work and I did just that, saving $100-$150 in the process which is pretty good by anyone’s standards. Lunch was in an asian kitchen/laksa house, we assumed that the number of asian people eating there was a good sign and certainly we found both the seafood and chicken laksa to be more than satisfactory. A hot chocolate mid-afternoon sustained us until we had to head home, shopping bags aplenty and a box of cupcakes in hand we joined the throng of people underground, said our goodbyes and caught the train home. With the rain pouring down and the temperature plummeting as night fell, walking into my brother’s home and smelling the heavenly scent of roast lamb and potato bake cooking in the oven was the perfect end to a wonderful weekend.

La Dolce Vita: Sweet Dreams and Chocolate Memories by Isabel Coe

La Dolce Vita: Sweet Dreams and Chocolate Memories book cover

A friend of mine suggested I read Isabel Coe’s La Dolce Vita: Sweet Dreams and Chocolate Memories, a fascinating story about a woman and her family in Italy and Switzerland and the fond memories she has about cooking, especially with chocolate. My friend and I had been discussing our favourite desserts that our grandmothers once made and knowing how much I love all things Italy and chocolate, she kindly let me borrow her copy of the book.

The recipes featured in this book sound heavenly, I have not dared to test them myself because I don’t know whether the end result would be successful and if it was, then how do I stop myself from eating the entire dessert? Isabel Coe talks of her Omama’s Chocolate Mousse, Nonna’s chestnut truffles and her Mother’s chocolate sandwiches, Isabel learned to cook at a young age and finds comfort in these recipes handed down through generations now that she lives in Australia and lives with the feeling of being homesick. One of the first recipes to grab my attention with its simplicity is Omama’s Creme Chocolat, described as a dessert that ‘tastes rich yet is somehow light to eat’ and is best served with chocolate madeleines.

Omama’s Creme Chocolat (Isabel Coe)

  • 300ml double cream
  • 1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons boiling water
  • 150g dark chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar

Method:

  1. Place the cream in a bowl with the vanilla pod and leave to infuse.
  2. Pour the boiling water over the chocolate and stir until dissolved. Stir in the sugar and leave to cool.
  3. Lightly whip the cream and fold into the chocolate mixture.
  4. Eat slowly and savour every mouthful.

I particularly love the last step in the instructions for preparation 🙂

If you have read the book and made any of the recipes contained within I would love to hear about it and if you haven’t read the book but love a good story about family and food, I recommend reading ‘La Dolce Vita’. Reading this book brings back many food memories of my own: shelling peas into a bucket for my Nanna as she prepares Christmas lunch for 20-30 people; beating sugar and butter by hand while sitting in the sun hoping that the warmth would speed the process; and eating the blackest, juiciest plums straight from the tree in my Grandmother’s backyard. It makes me wish that I had captured more of my family stories while my Grandparents were alive.

Upcoming arty farty, foodie and shopping extravaganza

In a couple of weeks I’ll be heading off to Melbourne for a long weekend of shopping, eating and visiting art galleries with one of my dearest friends Jo. One of the first stops will be a chocolate shop/cafe called Chokolait which I’m told serves the most divine hot chocolate, Greek and Italian dining is apparently excellent as well and I’m really looking forward to eating Greek food again, Greek restaurants a few and far between where I live. Shopping in Melbourne is supposed to be the best, better than any other Australian city anyway and Jo has suggested hitting the factory outlets as well as checking out Chapel Street and other areas of interest.

We’ll be staying somewhere in Bourke Street, central to most of the activities that we have in mind. Federation Square, home the National Gallery of Victory and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image is not too far away, also reasonably close is the Arts Centre at Southbank on the Yarra River, another destination on the list of things to do and see. Of course I will be taking my camera, I rarely go anywhere without it and having never been to Melbourne it will be hard for me to resist snapping pictures of everything we see and eat.

It has been several years since we caught up with each other and that was in Sydney and during that visit Jo and I hopped on a ferry and crossed the harbour to visit Taronga zoo, in the afternoon we drank at a pub in Woolloomooloo and wandered around the Gallery of NSW. They are places I’ve been before, having lived in Sydney for a few years but I still took lots of photos, none of the food though which is highly unusual. Jo lives near a National Park, when you dine on her balcony it is often in the company of Rainbow Lorikeets, Cockatoos and other native birds.

Rainbow Lorikeets
Rainbow Lorikeets
Darling Harbour Fountain
Darling Harbour Fountain
Sydney Ferry with Harbour Bridge in background
Sydney Ferry with Harbour Bridge in background

I’m really excited about this upcoming trip, Jo is my arty, farty foodie friend and shopping is always on the menu, this trip we’ll both be able to do some Christmas shopping as well as buy some pretty things for ourselves 🙂

Food, glorious food…part one

Plane food, Emirates
Plane food, Emirates

You get fed well when flying Emirates, the meals are pretty good in comparison to many airline meals I’ve eaten but it is important that you don’t eat all the food on offer otherwise you will feel extremely uncomfortable and besides delicious treats awake once you reach your destination. When travelling around Europe you expect to eat good food and drink lots of wine because its usually cheaper than soft drink and mineral water and generally tastes good as well. We’ve had some great, inexpensive meals and also a couple of ordinary expensive ones, most of the time we’re dining on baguettes, paninis or crackers with cheese and cold meat but after a while the craving for vegetables and a different taste can’t be ignored.

Dinner in Paris, Rue Mouffetard
Dinner in Paris, Rue Mouffetard
Frites and mayo, Amsterdam
Frites and mayo, Amsterdam
Dinner at the Blazer Brasserie, Amsterdam
Dinner at the Blazer Brasserie, Amsterdam

In Paris we tried escargots in herb and garlic butter at La Grange on Rue Mouffetard, nice except for the slight hint of dirt on one particular snail. The bread served with the meal soaked up the herb and garlic butter nicely, in France and Italy the bread comes free with the meal. The cheese we bought made our fridge smell, we threw one lot out (it may have been perfectly okay to eat however the smell made us heave) and ate the rest cruising on the train to Amsterdam. Wine was cheap and much lighter in flavour than Australian wines, we ordered the house wine on most occasions and it was served up to us in a carafe or jug.

My favourite meal in Amsterdam was frites and mayo, the dinner we had at the Blazer Brasserie was delicious and the cheap thai (9 euro) on our last night was the best value. No way was I trying the pickled fish that are sold at stalls, I’m fussy about fish and they look horrible and slimy.

I’ve tried to remember to take photos of all our meals eaten at restaurants and cafes, having started well I’m now failing dismally and usually half way through my meal before remembering that I have a camera on me. The most expensive meal we had was in Lucerne Switzerland, I forgot to photograph the main and should have scanned the bill because it is a meal we won’t forget and not because it was the best one we had. The meal was nice, local produce and wines followed by luscious creme caramel with cream and strawberries, for 120 swiss francs you might expect more, but hey, we’re in Switzerland and everything is expensive.

Fresh asparagus, Hotel des Alpes, Lucerne
Fresh asparagus with Hollandaise, Hotel des Alpes, Lucerne
Creme Caramel and Strawberries
Creme Caramel and Strawberries
Macaroons, Lucerne
Macaroons, Lucerne

In Germany, Marty ate Weiner Schnitzel four nights in a row, it is a dish that brings back wonderful memories of childhood meals with his Grandparents and I have to admit that it was quite tasty. I tried having different meals even though we ate at the same restaurant in Bacharach and Rothenburg ob de Tauber, we enjoyed the company of the host at each place and the food was good. Our most memorable meal and one of our favourite experiences was courtesy of a friend of Marty’s, he took us to Neuschwanstein and showed us some of the surrounding area and then we went to his family home for the most delicious meal of roast pork, crackling, potato dumplings and salad. Just when we thought we couldn’t eat anymore Joe’s Mum brought out cherries and Bavarian cream and his Grandmother started cutting up cake. Their hospitality and friendliness really made our day, it was also nice to have freshly brewed coffee to finish the meal – we hadn’t had much success with coffee in Germany.

Salad for starters at Rusticana, Bacharach
Salad for starters at Rusticana, Bacharach
Venison stew with potato dumplings, Rusticana Bacharach
Venison stew with potato dumplings, Rusticana Bacharach
Wiener Schnitzel, Rusticana Bacharach
Wiener Schnitzel, Rusticana Bacharach
Roast Pork and dumplings, Rothenburg ob de Tauber
Roast Pork and dumplings, Rothenburg ob de Tauber
Roast pork knuckle and potato dumplings, Hofbrauhaus Munich
Roast pork knuckle and potato dumplings, Hofbrauhaus Munich

The food in Italy is so far, so good, breakfast was lacking initially (prepackaged croissants and toast) but our stay in Varenna on Lake Como has proven to be a ‘filling’ one. Seafood in Venice is a must, I even ate little fishes fried in batter, at first quite nice but after a while I couldn’t eat anymore and the whole prawns fried were nice (couldn’t bring myself to eat the heads) although I after consuming half the meal I was a little over eating whole fried creatures. Chocolate shops and sweet shops line the narrow streets, Lindt and Perugian chocolates of all kinds and you can pick and mix – we added to our stash of sweets for the Easter weekend. We couldn’t find crostoli anywhere, a small bakery over near the Rialto markets sold something very similar and we ate the sugary fried treat as a snack while walking back to the hotel, wish I could remember what it was called.

Flavoured cheese, Lucerne Markets
Flavoured cheese, Lucerne Markets
Gnocchi with prawns and zucchini, Venice
Gnocchi with prawns and zucchini, Venice

In Florence we’ll be attending a cooking class, maybe I’ll have something more interesting to write about, until then I’ll try to remember to take more photos.