Sunday 29 December 2019

Christmas sights and lights - gingerbread village, trees and gumnut babies

We got out and about more at Christmas than I expected we would.  One of my favourite places was the Gingerbread Village - see above photo and scroll down for more - which I think was the best I have seen yet.  But there were also lights, trees and the most engaging Santa I have seen.  And at the end of this post, there are some of our presents.

I really liked the native flower display at the farmers market.  They were making native flower wreaths.

We invited some friends over to help decorate the Christmas tree.  It looked lovely and Kerin even magically wove a trimmed branch into a wreath with some baubles, tinsel and bendy metal ties.

The next morning I awoke to this fallen tree.  I have no clue what happened.  Our cat (Shadow) is a suspect but he generally steers clear of the tree so he has grounds to protest his innocence.  Perhaps it was just a year for mishaps.  (We had two broken bowls over Christmas.)  I was mostly sad about our broken star that we had made out of icy pole sticks and buttons.  We put the tree up again and got on as many decorations as possible but it has never looked the same since.

Sylvia had a little tree in Shadow's corner in her room.  She made the little wreath, the gold Christmas tree and the reindeer on the tree at a craft session at the library.  Not pictured are his huge pile of presents, including a lot of stuff from the Cat Show and a lot of home made pom poms.

We went to my parents to help decorate the Christmas tree.  I didn't get a good picture so instead I am sharing a picture of the decorations on the sideboard.

We had an evening out to enjoy Christmas in the city.  It has become tradition that this evening includes dinner from Lord of the Fries and a visit to see the festive doughnuts at Krispy Kreme (though I prefer the Ben and Jerry's ice creams nearby).  Above is Federation Square and in the background is lots of scaffolding which I think is related to the Metro new underground rail stations project.

We've had a few visits in past years to the Gingerbread Village (2018, 2017, 2015, 2013).  This year was the best.  If you look back at past villages you can see that they have developed.  I talked to a volunteer who said it takes 4 chefs working for 2 weeks to make it and some of the village is kept in cold storage for the next year.  What an amazing piece of work.  It was very quiet when we visited late in a new location in Collins Lane this year but a friend went to visit and said there were huge queues on another day.

The Gingerbread Village includes many Melbourne landmarks, with intricate detail even if not strictly accurate.  Above is the crowds outside the Melbourne Town Hall with trams on roads and the Public Purse sculpture on a pedestrian section opposite it.  Any Melbournian knows that the Public Purse is in Burke Street Mall a couple of blocks away.  Likewise Flinders Street Station is opposite not beside Federation Square as in the top photo.

The village has previously included a wonderfully detailed Royal Children's Hospital.  So I am not sure why it was only this year I noticed that proceeds go to this hospital.  However this hospital this year has been rebuilt.  It retains the familiar parts of the hospital especially in the foyer.  I love all the details, especially the below meerkat enclosure which delights kids waiting to see a specialist (in the actual hospital it has a glass wall unlike in the Gingerbread Village).

I have not shared some of the pictures of the village that I have previous shown: the MCG, the kids lining up to see Santa, Brighton beach huts, Luna Park and the zoo.  Instead I have focused on some of the newer buildings that represent Melbourne icons of which I am very fond.

The Shrine is Melbourne's war memorial.  Hence the red poppies in the grass around it.

Young and Jackson's is a well known Melbourne pub built in the Nineteenth Century and is just across the road from Flinders Street Station.  It has bright advertising on its rooftop.

The Arts Centre is a 1980s building famous for its spire, the bottom of which is sometimes referred to as the ballerina skirt.

In the midst of the Melbourne icons is a section of buildings from Osaka because it is the sister city of Melbourne.  I think this is the only place I have seen any reference to this sisterhood.

We then went on to see the Myer Christmas windows.  In the last few years they seem to have revolved around books to the extent that crowds had to wait for an overhead recorded reading at each window and it was very slow moving.  This year it was more visual without the page by page approach and the crowds did not have to wait to move on.  It moved much quicker than on other years.  (Though my sister said on the weekend before Christmas the queues were crazy.)

I was pretty excited about the theme of May Gibbs gumnut babies because I loved my Snugglepot and Cuddlepie books when I was a kid.  I also was pleased to see the Australian theme as I had invited an Iranian colleague to come along.

But while I loved seeing the gumnut babies (and little blossom) I am not sure a Santa Koala ever appeared in May Gibbs drawings but he is the sort of character who might have.  She made lots of characters out of Aussie bush animals.  There were no Banksia men in the windows - they scared me so much as a child that I think it is just as well!

There is always a nativity scene on the last window of the Myer Christmas windows.  Usually it is fairly quiet.  This year they made it into a nativity calendar which grabbed the attention of lots of people.

Inside Myer were more gumnut baby decorations.  After a couple of years finding that the queue for Santa was too long, we were surprised to be told that there was only one family ahead of us and we were welcome as the last guests of the night.  We did a fun train ride where we watched snowy scenes go by out of the windows.  Then we waited briefly and were able to go into see Santa.  He was one of the most engaging Santas I have seen.  He made Sylvia feel comfortable and amused us with magic tricks with a colouring book to demonstrate his magic that helps the reindeer fly.

We did a quick drive around a couple of days before Christmas.  We like to look at the local lights and one of the best houses that always does a spectacular light display, had a snow machine added this year.

Finally here are many of Sylvia's presents.  You might notice a theme of cats this year!

And some of my presents.  Both Sylvia and I are very lucky to have such generous and thoughtful people in our lives.

Friday 27 December 2019

Christmas eating 2019 (including Coburg Night Market)

'Tis the season for feasting.  And indeed I have eaten well this festive season.  Here are some of the seasonal eats.  Let's start with one of the cutest foods I have had this year.  My mum visited my sister in Dublin and came home with a packet of chocolate brussels sprouts for me.  They looked so cute and green but tasted so good.

Every year we love going to the Coburg Night Market in the last four Fridays leading up to Christmas.  This year they changed it to four days in a row in the last weekend of November.  It wasn't the same.  We missed having dinner there each Friday.  And the weather was up and down.

Yet we made a few visits.  The first night I was tired after work, the next Sylvia was sick and it was raining but I had arranged for my dad to visit, and the third night the weather was beautiful and I took Sylvia who hung out with a friend.

The market has lots of food trucks and craft stalls.  It wasn't close enough to Christmas to fancy much present buying but I did want to taste some of the food on offer.  The vegan kebabs were fascinating but when I tried them it was raining so much I took my kebab home and found it a bit cold to appreciate it.  But the eggplant was lovely and so was the pita bread on the side.  I quite enjoyed the areapas with cheese in the middle and guacamole on top but they were quite pricey.  Sylvia and I shared some panzerotto (fried cheese and tomato pasties), potato and cheese pierogi and a potato twist.

We also went to Saint Gerry's to share doughnuts - one with salted caramel and popcorn and one with nutella and fairy floss.  They were fantastic.  It was a fine ending to our time at the markets.

We took a picnic to a carols service.  For the savoury food we had home made garlic pizza, dips, vegies and crackers.  I made some gingerbread and Sylvia decorated some of it.  My mum was away but my dad went to a bakery to buy a selection of sweet goodies.  I was excited that grapes and cherries had come into season in Australia.

My workplace had a big workshop at the Arts Centre.  The catering was great.  I was so pleased that much of the catering was vegetarian in an effort to go sustainable.  Lots of nice salads and some cute little pumpkin quiches.  I loved the cute desserts, with even some little Christmas tree cakes.

It was great to catch up with a friend and partner from Adelaide in Geelong before Christmas.  We met at a cafe called Untitled (Yarra St, South Geelong), where I had what I think was called The Falafel.  It was delicious with falafel, hash browns, carrot hummus, roasted tomatoes, spinach, fried mushrooms, chilli jam and sourdough toast.  After lunch we had brownie at That Place (Mt Pleasant Road, Belmont) and then off to see my parents lovely garden.

Sylvia was quite taken with these Festive Gingerbread Cones with a Caramel Ripple.  I didn't taste them at all but am happy to take her recommendation, given she is a bit of an expert on gingerbread tasting!

I resisted a lot of festive products until the weekend before Christmas when we came home with a haul.  The Festive Flake Cakes are so light and airy that they disappeared quickly.  The Cadbury Dream White Christmas is so sweet we are still making our way through it.  The Candy Cane Popcorn is quite moreish (with caramelized strawberry and peppermint popcorn) but we still have plenty about.  And Santa had one mince pie but the rest are still about.  Hmmm slowly but surely we will get through it all.

Another Christmas treat I could not resist was this really cute Walkers gingerbread tin.  I had no energy for making a gingerbread house this year so this was the next best thing!

I also had a bit of farmers market shopping.  The mince tarts were a bit of a mess once they got home but tasted lovely, and Sylvia was a fan of the ginger trees from the Celtic Bakery.  The fresh produce is also pretty amazing at this time of year: asparagus, cherries, apricots.  Though none of the produce as amazing as peaches straight from the tree at a friend's recent potluck dinner party.

On Christmas Eve I spent some time baking, though it felt it was less than usual.  I still had brown rice salad leftover from the peach potluck dinner party.  It went well with the pizza I made for tea.  I also made nut roast, panforte and cranberry nut rolls.

The cranberry nut rolls were great on Christmas morning with swiss cheese and cranberry sauce.  Sylvia made us a special Christmas morning mocktail of spiced ginger beer and orange juice garnished with mint, ice and orange wedges.

And on Christmas day we had lunch at my mum and dad's.  I took down nut roast as usual and ate it with cranberry sauce, roast potatoes, roast pumpkin, roast carrots, peas and a cauliflower cheese with a really crispy cheese topping.  Then I had a piece of plum pudding with custard and was so full and tired I had a nap.  I rarely nap during the day but this Christmas had really tired me out.  So now it over and we are into the blissfully quiet period between Christmas and New Year.  Time to rest and revive!  Hope you are enjoying the festive season too!

Saturday 21 December 2019

Cornish Arms: Brunswick vegan-friendly pub

For some years I have been aware of the Cornish Arms pub in Brunswick as a vegan friendly pub but it was only last year I finally got there for a meal.  I had been there for a Barb Waters gig years ago but that was before their famed vegan menu.  I think that their heavy emphasis on mock meat was one thing that made me take my time.  However I have been there quite a few times since and while I have sampled a few mock meat dishes, I have been pleased that there are plenty of other vegan options.

The pub is large with lots of seating inside, a roomy beer garden and a rooftop bar.  When I last visited last week there were christmas parties inside and it still felt like there was lots of room.  I am not so keen on the ambiance of the black decor inside but it is the cool option on a warm day.

If it is a nice day, the beer garden is lovely with its quirky artwork.  I haven't eaten upstairs - but would like to as they have wood fired pizza up there and a great view of Sydney Road.

Traditionally pubs have not offered much if you are not after alcohol.  (The pub where we had our work Christmas party last week was typical with not much more than coke, lemonade, ginger ale and lemon, lime and bitters.)  I love the the Cornish Arms has kombucha and a mocktails menu.  On my first visit I had this very nice OK cola and lime kombucha.  Since then I think the kombucha option has been Remedy.

I was there with Sylvia and E so we chose a few dishes from the snacks menu to share: bowl of chips, vegan fried mac n cheese with bacon bites, and macho nachos (see top photo).  I really liked the cheesy nachos with a generous topping of blackbean chilli, sourcream, guacamole, jalapenos, corn salsa and hot sauce.  It was spicy but not too hot for me.  I didn't get the vegan option but it is available.

The vegan mac n cheese bites were lovely with vegan cheese and facon served with aioli.  Sylvia was a fan.  However it was a big serving and we found the bacon a bit intense after a while.

Sylvia also had a home made pink lemonade that she really loved.

My next visit was with my mum.  We ordered the fried tempeh salad and Vietnamese inspired noodle and greens salad with a peanut dressing, the korean fried cauliflower with a chilli sauce and aioli, and the eggplant chips with chipotle aioli.  I also had a mulled wine which I enjoyed on a winter day but found rather strong.  The cauliflower was amazing.  Crunchy though a bit spicy.  The eggplants chips were nice but were really round fritters rather than chips which should be long and thin.  The whole meal was a lot of fried food and felt quite heavy.

Then I went with a friend Sarah who had the house-made potato gnocchi, pan-fried with butternut pumpkin, shallots, goat's feta and sage.  It looked even better than it sounded and Sarah enjoyed it.

On that occasion I finally tried the Vegan Royale with Cheez.  It is a local VEEF patty, deep fried american cheddar cheez, pickles, lettuce, facon, ranch sauce and ketchup and is served with a side of chips.  I really enjoyed this burger.  I could eat it with my hands.  The name seems an allusion to Pulp Fiction where they discuss a McDonalds Quarter Pounder being called a Royale with Cheese.  I've never watched the film and am not sure I ever had a Quarter Pounder in my meat eating days.  But it still gave me a nostalgic feeling for meat burgers that I had occasionally as a kid, even though it is now decades since I went vegetarian.

Most recently I went there for lunch with Faye last week.  Luckily it wasn't on one of the ridiculously hot days we had.  Just a normal hot day of 30 C.  Which was still had me gasping for a drink after riding my bike there.  I tried the Blackberry Fizz and it was wonderful and refreshing.  I asked what was in it and was told blackberry juice, lemonade, lemon juice, lime juice and served with mint leaves.

The reason we had chosen the Cornish Arms for lunch was that this year it is holding a 12 Days of Vegan Christmas.  I was pretty excited about a vegan Christmas special.  On the day we were there the special was the roast seitan and gravy rolls with sweet potato fries.  The bread roll had roast seitan, potato, carrot, peas, gravy and cranberry sauce.  This was not quite my family's traditional Christmas and I am not a big fan of seitan but I enjoyed it.  I could have done with less gravy in the roll but the star of the show for me was sweet potato fries with cranberry sauce.  They were amazing.

So I am glad to be making up for lost time with the Cornish Arms.  This is not for health freaks.  The food is traditional pub grub with lots chips and frying.  It is not something I would want to eat too regularly but once in a while it is a nice treat and a good reliable place to eat.  I love that they are seasonal in having food to celebrate occasions as well as a good mocktails menu.  If only I had the time to fit in one more 12 days of vegan Christmas meal!

The Cornish Arms
163A Sydney Road, Brunswick, 3056
Open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner

The Cornish Arms Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday 13 December 2019

Roast potato and rosemary bread (overnight, no knead and sourdough)

It is a little ironic that I am sharing a recipe for bread at a time when I have absolutely no energy to bake bread.  But this recipe is too good to let linger in draft form in my folder.  It came about at the Farmers Market when Sylvia really wanted me to buy a loaf of potato and rosemary bread.  I could make it at home, I promised.  And so I did.

I asked the stallholder how they cooked their potato but I forgot what they said.  No doubt, this was partly because I already had decided to roast the potatoes.  Roast potatoes are food of the gods!  They take a little time but once I am eating them I never resent that time.  I only wonder why I don't make them more often.  These potatoes were perfectly golden brown with that rustle that comes with lovely crisp potatoes.

I was glad I went easy on the rosemary.  One recipe I looked at asked for three times the amount of rosemary.  This made me worried I didn't have enough but I don't like a really strong rosemary flavour.  When I tasted this it had plenty of rosemary flavour for me.

The amount of potatoes in the mixture was based on what was left in the cupboard.  It seemed about right.  I quite liked how the dough had lumps in it, to show the potato lurking under the surface.  It made it look a little rustic and a little interesting.

When the bread came out of the oven we just had enough patience to wait about an hour before slicing into it.  It was magnificent with that herby rosemary aroma and chunks of potato when we sliced it open.  We could have inhaled a loaf, it was so good but we managed to stop!

Sadly the loaf is all gone and we only have shop brought bread this week.  On top of the Christmas festivities, this week I had a very busy three day workshop at work that has totally drained me with long hours and lots of meeting up with colleagues.  Thank goodness that is over for another year.

Only a week until my summer holidays start and then I have should have more energy for bread baking.  I just hope the weather is kind to us.  It is forecast to be in the 30s for most of next week and 41 C on Friday.  But I am grateful for our weather after meeting with Sydney colleagues this week who were so happy to be in Melbourne and away from the smoky atmosphere of Sydney with the terrible bushfires so close.  Let's just hope we have more weather that is kind to bakers than weather that kind of bakes us!

More interesting bread baking on Green Gourmet Giraffe:

Roast potato and rosemary bread
Adapted from Green Gourmet Giraffe
Makes 2 loaves

350 g potato chopped
300g of bubbly starter
570g water
18g salt
3 tbsp oil, plus extra for roasting potatoes
1 tbsp chopped rosemary (about 3-4 sprigs)
1 kg of flour

A few hours before making the loaf, take sourdough starter out of the fridge and feed it so it gets nice and bubbly.

While the sourdough bubbles away, prepare the potatoes.  Peel them and chop into large dice.  Bring to the boil in salted water for 10 minutes.  Check potatoes.  They should be keeping their shape but cooked through even if not quite soft.  Toss in a roasting dish with a little oil and roast at 200 C for about 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown and crisp on the outside and soft inside.  Cool.

About an hour before going to bed (or first thing in the morning) mix everything together.  It is easiest to mix starter, water, salt, oil and rosemary first, then potatoes and then flour.  Once the potato is in, stir very gently so you don't crush the potato.  Use hands to mix if required.  Set aside covered with a tea towel for half an hour.  Knead in the bowl for about 15 seconds.  Cover with greased clingwrap or a bowl cover and leave at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours.

Scrape dough out onto a lightly floured board.  Shape into a loaves (or cut and shape into rolls - if doing rolls I let them rise in the casserole as they don't need much in the way of slashing but slashing loaves is hard in the casserole dish.)  Place on a floured surface and cover with the lightly greased clingwrap or beeswax.  (I used semolina to dust the surface here.)  Set aside to rise for 30 minutes.  While the loaves rise, preheat oven to 240 C.  I use enamel casserole dishes and don't heat them but used to heat them when I used ceramic casseroles.

Slash the loaves and put in the heated casserole dishes with lids on (or on a tray or in a tin).  Bake for 20 minutes with lid (or foil cover) on.  Remove lid/foil and bake another 20 minutes.  Bread is ready if it sounds hollow when tapped.  If needed, return to oven for another 5-10 minutes to make sure the crust is crispy and sounds hollow.  Cool on a wire rack for at least an hour before slicing.

On the Stereo:
Tigerlily: Natalie Merchant