Sep 30, 2011

The Best Friday Evenings Are Those That Start A Long Weekend..

The day started with a hot cup of tea and is ending with another one.  I love the Friday evening that starts a long weekend.  It doesn't matter if that extra cup of tea keeps you awake later than usual.  If you don't feel up to a glass of sparkling tonight, it doesn't matter because you still have 3 whole days over which to finish a bottle.

The youngsters in your neighbourhood can play that music as loud as they want until as late as they want because everyone's safe in the knowledge that it's the kind of weekend where everyone can cut a little loose however they see fit.  The rest of us will be joining them for either or both of the grand finals scheduled for the rest of the weekend.  Even if you're not a sports fanatic, it's hard not to get swept up into the human side of finals footy.  Not to mention football food.  It's going to be home made sausage rolls for us.

Speaking of food.  I have an update on the Salted Caramel Tart.  Those of you wise enough to refrain from making it until you had a full house of people to share it with were very wise.  It's awesome.  Considering it is so quick to make and is based on can of Top'N'Fill, the final result is a pretty sophisticated and decadent dessert .  My tip is to splurge on the dark chocolate ganache.  The better the chocolate, the richer the ganache.

I have been so slack in replying to comments and updates about stuff in general.  People are moving here to Sydney - welcome!  There have been people reading books from The Weeknight Book Club and enjoying them as much as I did.  Yet others have the same (amazing!!) taste as I and are shirt twins.  I am going to knuckle down and track you all down this long weekend.  At the moment, I seem to be better on twitter.  So if there is anything urgent you need to share or ask - give it a tweet.

Now for a clothing wash and wear update.  Those Emerson Ts from Big W have held their own in the front loader.  They iron well and have held their shape.  To paraphrase the great Faux Fuchsia - 'Run, don't walk'.

Sport aside, I'm going to be lounging on the sofa with an impressive haul of magazines.  I've heard cruel rumours that it is going to be wet all weekend here in Sydney and I've made preparations.

The 10th Birthday edition of Donna Hay magazine and the tricksy Australian Gourmet Traveller.

Current affairs involving Jessica Simpson and the Kardashians.

More Julie Goodwin recipes and a free mascara from the AWW.

Okay, that's it from me for the moment.  I'm going to make a start on my magazines.

Have a good one.

Berkelouw Books Newtown

Doesn't it make your day when you find yourself a magical space that feels like an oasis of calm and positive energy? A place that seems so far away from the everyday yet doesn't take hours of travel on congested roads to get to?  Mr SSG and I found such a place in Berkelouw Books, a combined cafe and bookstore.  Where the coffee and books are equally strong partners in the union.

Tucked away on the second floor of discrete retail space on O'Connell Street  is where you find what is now officially my favourite place for coffee in Newtown.

The ground floor of Berkelouw houses an ecclectic range of new books and gifts.  As we'd (just) survived peak hour traffic, Mr SSG and I both went straight up the stairs in search of coffee and food.  It was a rare occasion where my hunger overpowered my urge to window shop and browse.

Walking up the wooden staircase to the cafe was like entering the cosy attic or studio that achingly hip friend from uni who could turn everything into memorable art. 

There were wooden book cases piled high with a wide range of interesting, almost new condition secondhand books. classified by subject for non fiction and author for fiction.  Which is hardly a surprise but still it had to be said.  Regulars made themselves comfortable at their favourite tables with their computers and browsed the shelves as they waited for coffee or inspiration or perhaps both.  It was the way I wish the libraries at uni operated.

I found one of Sophie Lee's novels on my travels.

I've always been fascinated by Sophie.  She managed to survive the sex symbol tag when she first burst into the public eye as a host of a childrens' cartoon program to become the person she wanted to be.  An author, an actress, a mother and a partner.  And all without a dependence on reality television or tabloid publicity stunts to promote each phase of her career and each milestone of her life.  In control of her own destiny.

I could have spent all morning reminiscing about the past but our morning tea had arrived.  There is a full kitchen as part of the cafe at Berkelouw and the walls are stacked high with all sorts of ingredients. I have a sneaking suspicion the cheesecakes are made in house.  We ordered a mango baked cheesecake and it was get out of town one of the best cheesecakes I've had at a cafe in ages.

Despite the number of books and the number of seats in the cafe, it still felt airy due to the great natural light and open floor length windows.

Looking back at my photos, I realize they all have a languid feel to them.  Partly because of the light and the general Newtown vibe but also because I went hipstamatic for today's review.  All this iPhone 5 news is very exciting.  I have heard rumours that we are talking of an 8 megapixel camera with a new lens come October 4.  I'm in based on this alone.  I love the photos I get with my iPhone and hipsta, especially now that there are all these new lens and films packs coming out all the time.

As I alluded to earlier, seriously the best coffee in Newtown.  No burnt aftertaste, perfect temperature, top grade cocoa.

Oh sigh.  Retro, deconstructed style everywhere I looked.

Inner city landscapes looked back at me from the windows.

If I sat in one of those easy chairs, I don't think I'd ever leave.

Mr SSG was quite content with his flat white but alas, that was not bottomless and when he had drained his cup, we had to hit the road.

There was a friendly sight back on street level, the local T2 store's window display.

My favourite tea and coffee on the same street, how good is that?

Berkelouw Books Newtown on Urbanspoon

Sep 29, 2011

Peak Hour On The Information Superhighway.

Have you ever had one of those days where you can't help but discover ground breaking news at every turn?  Is it just coincidence or are you in fact a conduit for peak hour on the information superhighway?  Did the news find you or did you find it as you tried to put together a blog post in your head on the drive home from work?  Do we need to question the why?  Why so many questions?

Question marks aside, I was having my moment on the information superhighway today.  It all started when I was having a leisurely cup of coffee and reading Sydney's tabloid daily newspaper.

I nearly forgot to look for Sydney Confidential after seeing this ad.

Hello fun filled summer.  I loved Vanilla Diet Coke back in the day when a 600ml bottle at lunch time or at 0200 on night shift ensured that I'd be on my feet and nearly bright eyed for the end of the shift.  Vanilla Coke Zero in 2011?  I'm there.  I'll just brush my teeth after each bottle now.

Image courtesy of

Then there was the announcement that the Kindle Fire is to be released on the US market in November.  There is something ... intense about the CEOs of category killer computing devices, isn't there?  Each word is precise and each look at the cameras penetrating.

It sounds fabulous and at a very nice price point.  If and when it finally reaches Australia, I would definitely upgrade my current Kindle to the Fire.  My novels in colour, the US magazines I could subscribe to, the TV programmes I could download.  Please hurry Amazon and make an Australian release as soon as possible.  Even with the dollar going south, we're still very interested!

Image courtesy of

It was the release day for the food edition of The (Sydney) Magazine today.  In my excitement, I forgot to bring my copy home to photograph for this post so we will have to make do with this image from the cover.  It was a great read, to be honest.  A fascinating look at the numbers and deals behind the more prominent chefs in Sydney.  There is certainly a great deal of celebrity involved but this drives the reality that though food is a passion for chefs, money still has to be made to survive and that big dreams need big financial backers who look for monetary returns as well as the realization of culinary visions.

Image courtesy of
Moving on to Australia in general.  Did you know our population now stands at 21 million?  And that 7 million of us live in and around Sydney?  No wonder the traffic is so horrific and no wonder we now have 2 Ikeas and a Costco and no less than 2 Maccas outlets within 10  minutes of where any of us live.

Image from

On a sadder note, did anyone else hear about Ashton and Demi?  It's made the pages of the International Business Times so there must either be a grain of truth to it or it might potentially have some influence on the sovereign debt crises sweeping much of the world.  It sounds nasty.

I feel that I've grown up against a back drop of Demi Moore's life.  First there was St Elmo's Fire when I was fourteen.  Then Ghost and that song from the soundtrack that I played to death and have now forgotten the title of.  Was it Unchained Melody?  Demi had her children and posed for the cover of Vanity Fair with one of her bumps body painted.  This paved the way for many skeletal looking pretenders.  She hid away for a bit but re-emerged for Charlie's Angels and as one of Rachel Zoe's major clients.  That's at least 20 years of my life right there.

I think I need a bit of a lie down after recounting all that news.  I need to rest up for my favourite day of the working week.

Take care everyone and see you soon!  Are you excited for the weekend already?

A Super Easy Salted Caramel Tart.

I'm back.  The twitterverse has demanded that I post the recipe to that Salted Caramel Tart.  I'm going to take up where I left off yesterday.  To recap, this recipe is from the September 2011 issue of Super Food Ideas.

Last night's post ended with this photo of some of the ingredients for the Salted Caramel Tart.  The carton of pure cream is purposely obscured because just looking at these ingredients is enough to send anyone into a diabetic coma let alone a touch of cholesterol on the side.

It was sheer willpower that saw me mostly resist the lure of Caramel Top'N'Fill straight from the tin and Lindt 70% straight from the foil.

The Coles Frozen Goods Inventory was on my side last night.  This was the second last sweet flan case in the freezer cabinet. It was craftily hidden in the back section of the savoury flan case shelf.  The whole recipe hinges on a ready made sweet flan case and I was going to do whatever it took to get my hands on one.  Even if it meant plunging half my body into the freezer.

It's actually a pretty simple recipe.  Blind bake the flan case at 180C for 10 minutes.  I forgot to do that sheet of baking paper and baking weights thing for this step so I had a few bubbles in the base of my flan.  Then, pour the caramel Top'N'Fill over the base of the flan.  That's right, the entire tin.  Bake for  further 30 minutes.  Scatter 1/4 tsp of salt flakes over the caramel layer.

The chocolate ganache is simply 180g of dark chocolate finely chopped and 1/4 cup of pure cream.  Relax, this is a low fuss recipe, no double boiling is required.  Heat the cream and chocolate in the microwave on medium in bursts of 30 seconds.  Stir with a metal spoon at the end of each time block.  It took about 90 seconds total for me.  It really works.  I got the fabulously glossy ganache at the end of it.  Pour your ganache over the salted caramel and refrigerate overnight.

To finish, dust with cocoa powder.  The recipe can be made up to 3 days in advance of when you require it.  I will report back after the taste test tomorrow but it smells fantastic.

Sep 28, 2011

Wednesday's Bits and Pieces.

Wherever you may be right now, I hope you're safe and dry.  The weather over east is crazy right now and I hear that there is some flooding already in Melbourne.  I don't know how any finals football is going to be played at the rate we're going.  It will probably be all mud wrestling if the games do go ahead.  I hear that Meatloaf himself will be singing at the AFL grand final.  I'll admit it, I'll be singing along at home, karaoke style.

Has this week been dragging by for you?  Do you reckon it's because it's been a week of counting down?  To the long weekend?  To a weekend of sport?  To the end of the last single digit month before the first double digit month of the year?  The choice is yours.

Anwyway.  We're well and truly past Wednesday and we're on the home stretch.  I don't think I could have gotten to the home stretch before the long weekend without some quality instant coffee on hand.  Some might say that this is a contradiction in terms but I have this thing about instant coffee at work.  It always seems to taste so much better than I expect it to.  My morning commute technically ends with that first cup of instant in the morning and not 10 minutes earlier in the car park.

The Starbucks instant coffee sachets were from my trip to Hawaii in May.  I like them because they have that filter coffee taste that always brings a smile to my face because it reminds me of holidays to the US where cheap cups of coffee could be bought almost anywhere that other things were being sold.  Buying those cups of coffee was always an adventure in people watching and an excuse to browse the entire contents of the store that was selling the coffee. 

I'm getting all misty eyed about American holidays just with these memories. Today I even wore an entire outift based on things I've bought on my travels to Hawaii and New York.

Sweater - Ralph Lauren outlet in Hawaii, belt and chinos GAP in NYC, T - Emerson @ Big W.

Mr SSG and I are trying to work out when we can next visit.  I'd love to return in the Northen Hemisphere summer.  Not only to escape winter in Australia for a few weeks but because travel to me is more fun in the summer.  The long daylight hours, the freedom of lighter clothing, endless hours by the pool or the beach and coming home with a tan - they are my ingredients for a perfect getaway.

My next big holiday isn't until December so I'll have to be content with gazing at the Kiehl's aeroplane logo that graces the tube of  hand cream on my desk.  One of the casualties of the change in weather is the skin of my hands.  They are so dry these days.  Even after spending the night in a thick layer of Vaseline under cotton gloves.  I've been using Ultimate Strength Hand Salve like it's going out of fashion.

I'm on a bit of a baking frenzy at the moment.  We're having a little afternoon tea on Friday at work and I'm getting started early with my contribution.  I love a good make ahead dessert and the salted caramel tart recipe from the September 2011 edition of Super Food Ideas is definitely a recipe that ticks all my boxes.  The problem with it though is that the ingredients taste so good on their own.  Would there be any Top'N'Fill left for the tart once I started 'taste testing it'?  And ditto for the chocolate ganache?  Cream and dark chocolate melted together?  They don't stand a chance with me.

All will be revealed in tomorrow's post.  Right now, I'm off to wait for Glee to start.  I have a late start at work tomorrow and it feels like a Friday night to me.

Sep 26, 2011

Date Night For The Older Person. The Bellevue Hotel, Paddington.

I should probably be patting an impossibly black (I am Chinese after all), shellaced helmet of collar length hair with a gravity defying amount of lift in the root section at the crown yet sections of face flattering movement around the the jaw as I write this - but date night for the older couple is not the song and dance affair it was back in the younger years of the relationship (and for that matter, the individuals involved).

The needs for date night are simple.  They begin with two consenting adults who are willing to get into a taxi with each other on a wet Saturday evening.  Having resisted the pull of the sofa, the television and their associated wireless Apple devices, the also need to make some Effort With Their Appearance.  For some this involves faithfully wearing the 'loud' sweater their wife bought for them from 'some fancy European place'.  For others, this involves spending the afternoon at an uptown hairdresser AND applying a face of subtle make up.  Both replace their ugg boots with sensible flat shoes (for the weather and the walk to the taxi) and finally, the procession is ready to leave for the evening - at 5.45pm.  I told you we are oldies.

Amongst the many good things about long term coupledom (why hello, Mr SSG, great to know you're reading the blog today) is that going out is about having a few hours together to shoot the breeze about life and the world.  There's no need for chest pounding music, food as art or a movie to fill in any moments of awkward silence.  These days, if there is awkward silence it is because someone said something to deserve one.

Which leads me to how Mr SSG and I spent a very enjoyable date night at The Bellevue Hotel in Paddington.  The hotel has been recently renovated and the interiors were designed by Michelle Leslie. The design brief focussed on warmth, comfort and the heritage of the original hotel.

Vintage chandeliers hung throughout the hotel and cast soft light and sparkle over the rooms.

It was World Rugby night so this is as close as I got the blackboard menu and the open kitchen.

An open bar and restaurant are the features of the ground floor but we spent the evening upstairs which features two private dining rooms and a second bar.  The whole hotel was heaving by 6.30pm.  The cool weather, the big rugby game and it being a Saturday night all making it the perfect night to be down at your local pub.

We were here not only for a good night out, but also on a SSG as Food Critic assignment.  Charlene, who was managing the functions area for the evening found us a quiet corner so that I could think and observe and reflect upon the teachings of Terry Durack, who has been The Source for the restaurant review aspects of my blog, though I don't think he knows this yet.  Terry is big on social commentary and the context of food in his reviews and I shall endeavour to provide the same albeit from a less evolved perspective.

We began the evening in the second private room which was furnished with generously stuffed easy chairs, candelabras and an antique wood buffet.

It was a room designed for comfort - I love the checked carpet.

The art work on the walls harked back to our Australian colonial heritage.  Despite the coziness, there was also a sense of space and an air of correctness of the 'olden days' with a relaxed tone.  It's hard to describe but it just felt Australian and not a nod to the past of American or British culture.  Have you ever felt that way about revisiting the heritage of our country?  You can't put it into words but it's definitely and distinctly present.

Mr SSG was equally enamoured of the flat screen.

After settling in, we placed an order for dinner.  The head chef at the Bellevue is Nathan Lakeman and I will say right now that the food is outstanding and reflects the current focus on pub food being at the same standard if not higher than what you would expect to find at a restaurant.  We are definitely in gastropub territory here.  The food at the Bellevue caters to both the classics of pub fare such as burgers as well as shared plates or long boards with a Spanish influence.  There are separate menus for the upstairs bar (where we were) and the restaurant downstairs.  Details for both are on the website which I have linked to earlier.

Tapas in a pub with the sport on a flat screen and a bottle of red.  Could date night get any better for Mr SSG?

I was in my element with a glass of prosecco and a a towering flower arrangement.
Our food arrived and I busied myself being a food writer and photographer....

The long board is a shared plate of four dishes that would feed 2 hungry people as part of dinner or 4 to share with drinks.  I think I'm a convert to wooden serving platters.  They are rustic, indestructible and photograph so well.

The stuffed mushrooms were full of flavour and tempted me to rekindle the idea of becoming a part time vegetarian.  Vegetarians, do not despair, there are meat free shared boards for you at The Bellevue as well.

What is not to like about salt and pepper squid?  Lightly battered, fresh ringlets with a drizzle of mayonnaise and a fennel dipping sauce.  The fennel sauce is something I've never tried with squid and it was actually a very successful pairing.

The garlic prawns refused to be photographed in focus.  I can't think why.  They were deliciously plump, not overpoweringly garlicky and shared their cast iron serving dish with some cherry tomatoes.

I took a break from the food for a moment to have a look outside the window of the dining room.  I have this thing for shuttered windows.  It was a cosy view out on to the historic terrace houses that Paddington and this part of Sydney's East in general is famous for.

The last dish of the board were the pork and fennel meat balls.  The sauce was so fresh that there were crushed cherry tomatoes in it.
Mixed long board $45.

After I faffed around taking food photos, it was time to head out to the open bar and park ourselves on some leather easy chairs for the rest of the evening.

Bellevue burger $18.50.
Mr SSG still had room for a Bellevue burger.  These were very popular on Saturday night and I saw many burgers on boards sail past me down the stairs to the pub on the ground floor.  The patty was perfectly seasoned and there were chunky slices of fresh tomato and beetroot with the salad.  The french fries were perfectly crisp.

Cinnamon dusted churros with a whisky chocolate dipping sauce $7.50.
Date night means dessert is a given.  We shared some churros.  These were the first churros I've eaten in Australia and they were everything I thought they'd be.  The batter was light and they were fried to a perfect crispy crunch on the outside whilst still being a little like cake on the inside.

The crowd at the hotel was an easy mix of small groups and couples out for a quiet evening, gently boisterous and good humoured rugby fans and the guests of a fancy dress party.  Everyone was out for a night of good food and a bit of fun in a relaxed atmosphere away from the horrible weather and I think we all got what we wanted.

I can't think of a better way to have your whisky than in a chocolate sauce with a churro or three...

The roars with each goal for the rugby were getting louder as the night progressed and the guests for the fancy dress party in the dining room were arriving with more and more original costumes. 

Mr SSG and I were on to our final drinks for the road before responsibly heading out for a taxi.  We will be back.

Mr SSG and I had dinner at The Bellevue as guests of the hotel and their agency Trish Nicol.  We extend our thanks to Charlene Burke and the wonderful staff from The Bellevue as well as Kalli Marshall from Trish Nicol for their generosity and hospitality.

Bellevue Dining Room on Urbanspoon


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