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Category Archives: art

In the swim for Summer …

Coola Cozzies

Our friend and former Small Business Management student (now graduate!) grazier Julie Brown of Ilfracombe, has launched her new business (above) just in time for Christmas.

Coola Cozzies is Julie’s way of earning valuable off-farm income during the drought but this is no charity … have a look at these wow designs (all created by Julie).

Julie describes them as “Cool, colourful, comfortable women’s and men’s board shorts and UPF50+ rashies, swim shirts and sun shirts.”

Cunningly, Julie has also catered for people at my end of the market (generously composed) and sells men’s and women’s board shorts, men’s and women’s UPF50+ short-sleeve and long-sleeve rashies, and women’s swim tops in sizes to fit women’s sizes 10 to 24 and men’s sizes L to 4XL.

Coola pics 1

Coola pics 2

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Right now Right now in New York New York

Intrepid Eat-Drink-Sleep-Shoppers Erin and Pip are in the audience at Matilda the Musical right now at the Schubert Theatre on Broadway, New York City … and this is what they see!

Earlier they visited the famous Brill Building, which in its heyday was home to some of the great singer-songwriters of the 20th century.

 

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Inside, now (Picture: Erin Cokley)

matilda stage

Pictures: Erin Cokley

At the Brill Building, New York, yesterday

At the Brill Building, New York, yesterday

 

We support local business

Here’s an exclusive sneak preview of Christmas stock at Longreach’s Spinifex Collections, thanks to owner Sue Smith.

Mid-winter, the monthly haul

It’s been a couple of weeks since our last eating + drinking + shopping expedition but one thing’s for certain: north-west Victoria has loads to offer and there’s never a dull moment.

We tried two very different restaurants competing – it seems – in the same market, and within about an hour’s drive of each other.

Gladioli in the tiny town of Inverleigh north of Geelong, offers an evening of what I can only describe as “entertainment with food”. It’s a degustation establishment, which means the normal thing is for the chef and staff to serve you either a five-course or an eight-course set “tasting menu”. Some days of the week a la carte is available.

We dined with friends on a Saturday night late in June which was a tasting menu evening ($75 a head, wine extra) and the experience was at the same time entertaining, enjoyable and tasty … but I think the main effect was indeed “entertainment with food”. For those unfamiliar with the contemporary trend, this is the kind of food you see on television devised by British chef Heston Blumenthal … unusual, somewhat experimental and definitely not “run of the mill”. At the far end of the spectrum is the school of “Molecular gastronomy” but I’m not sure Gladioli chef Matthew Dempsey has gone all the way. See what you think of the olive oil powder and report back by email. The staff put on an impressive performance when they troop out of the kitchen bearing each course simultaneously for each guest. This is how degustation should happen.

sault

Coincidentally, the next night we booked at Sault, at a whistle-stop to the north called Sailor’s Falls, just outside the tourist spa town of Daylesford (and about 30 minutes’ drive from the Eat Drink Sleep Shop Australia’s headquarters in the town of Ballan, central Victoria).

Sault is more an a la carte establishment and that suited us fine after the degustation experience the previous night. With a minor concession to this, we started with the Sault tasting plate for entrée, which allowed us a morsel of the chef’s selections without having to make too many decisions early on.

Also different was the ambiance of the dining room, overlooking a gorgeous lake and lavender farm. Admittedly at the end of June, the fields were a little bare and the outlook decidedly wintery, but it’s all part of the charm. We moved on to luscious mains of venison and salmon: the fish a dependable standard in this part of Australia, while the venison (teamed with a yummy beetroot salad) is becoming more common and indeed should be.

Something unusual and a pleasant addition to the standard service is Sault’s menu glossary, which the waiters point out when they deliver the menus as you sit down. The glossary provides an expert but simply phrased explanation of any more unusual items available that night, such as where the food has been sourced, how the chef works his magic, and anything else out of the ordinary.

Perhaps it has the effect of standardising the message of what’s on offer and why it’s special; perhaps it means a little less work for the wait staff (but they seemed very willing to talk); but all in all we found it an interesting addition and worthwhile. We finished with a pear tart for Pip and a cheese plate for me. Total for the evening came to $211.60 including drinks.

This month’s Shopping News round-up:
We started in Inglis Street, the main drag of our new hometown, Ballan. There’s lots to enjoy here and no doubt we’ll write more as time goes by.

This trip we called in at The Skin Inn for some mittens.

Further along we visited Pam at Zirela Fashions who sold Pip a couple of comfy skivvies. Pam told us the origin of her shop name: a combination of the first three letters (backwards) of her surname Rizzo (that’s the ‘Zir’) and the last three letters from her first name (that’s the “ela” from Pamela).

bed chair

Later we called in at Victoria (Tor) Roxburgh’s Omnibus Art Gallery and commissioned a rustic-finish garden bench (above) by locals Sarah and Paul Springfield. In a previous life this was someone’s double bed-head; now it’s been repurposed for our garden. Omnibus Art’s website notes it is the creative base for artist Velislav Georgiev and Roxburgh, a writer. “The gallery complex was designed by Velislav and is based on the idea of a traditional artist’s complex, which is a place where an artist can live, produce work and trade. They also have a FaceBook page.

The next village west from Ballan is Gordon (about 10 minutes’ drive) and in keeping with its Scottish sounding heritage, it’s home to two shops of impeccable UK heritage.

pip gloves

First we found the Shambles Antique Centre, tucked away beside the main street corner and source of this pair of Gaye Abandon tubeway armies fingerless gloves which Pip just could not resist.

But the chief find of the afternoon was Sheina and Bob Petch’s establishment, the Wild Trout’s Gordon Hat Shoppe. If you make it into Gordon and are standing at the crossroads of Old Melbourne Road, opposite the pub, you’re there.

Pip cap

Pip was in the mood for buying and secured this delightful green and blue (with mauve accents) traditional hand-woven Harris Tweed Celtic gypsies’ cap ($58), a modified design which they say originated in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland.

john cap

I fastened on to this typical Irish and Welsh-style eight-piece Harris Tweed floppy Breton cap ($88), very King of the World.

The hats are lovely and warm but the experience of shopping in the Wild Trout with Bob and Sheina (and their dog Chloe) was something completely unexpected and welcoming. We were there on a rainy Sunday afternoon and the place was packed with shoppers, looking for cuddly treats.

Fruit shops

fruits of life BM

We seem to have fallen into a Garden of Eden in this part of central Victoria. Impressively hidden along the Avenue of Honour in Bacchus Marsh, 30 minutes north-west of Melbourne, is the Fruits of Life grocery and deli (plus a coffee shop and ice cream parlour for all seasons). It might be in the Garden of Eden but it’s also an Aladdin’s Cave, with some of the neatest and most appealing shelf displays we’ve encountered. And out the front, an innovative spinner from which hang hands of bananas ready to be grabbed.

wilsons ballarat

In the relatively “Big Smoke” of Ballarat further west lies Wilsons Fruit Market, a secret which we suspect the locals want to keep quiet. When one stumbles on such delights in a capital city, they tend to get trampled to death and loved into oblivion. Somehow I can’t imagine that happening here.

In the hardware

Tumbling Composter:

At Bunnings Ballart I paid $99 for a swish-looking 180-litre tumbling composter imported from Israel, made by the firm D.F. Omer of Tel-Aviv. I liked the look of the unit, the price was the best on the shelf, and most appealing of all was the big sticker “assembles in minutes”.

So how did this work out in practice? Firstly, let me say the tumbling composter is now assembled in our back yard, and it looks beautiful. I reckon it will be every bit as good as our last compost tumbler which was manufactured in Brisbane from galvanised steel and which set us back more than three times the price.

But was this a job of “minutes” or was the story something a little different? Here’s how it went:

I started the assembly process at 11am and by 12:20pm with no stops I had the unit finally set up and working. Time to completion, 80 minutes.

Part of the time was spent watching the multimedia “instruction booklet” which is provided using a Quick-Response Code printed on the glossy green packaging. If you haven’t encountered a QR Code before, this is the speckly square artwork you often see on posters and wrapping. Point your iPhone at the code, snap (using a free downloaded decoder) and your iPhone spirits you to a website where the sought-after content is published. In this case, a video demonstration of a young bloke unpacking the tumbling composter and then, piece by piece, assembling it. The whole video runs for 14 minutes 5 seconds and in practice, you have to watch every last bit of the film to make sure you don’t do anything wrong … so it’s going to take you at least 14 minutes 5 seconds.

But not only 14:05 … for me, I had to watch some sections several times to get the drift, and then stop the movie to actually do the steps shown in the video. Sometimes I had to watch a scene two or three times to work out how to do it properly. More than once I had to resort to the printed booklet also included with the kit, to make sure I had the right idea.

But unlike nearly every time I buy something from IKEA or similar stores and try to assemble it, I never had to backtrack and undo what I had just done, so the verdict is: the combination of the video tutorial and the printed booklet had me finished in what now looks like reasonably good time, with a well-engineered product. Time will tell, obviously, but at this stage, things are looking up.

Things to remember: for starters, I had to complete the assembly job on the veranda outside my office, in range of our home Wi-Fi router system because the instructions were online and the video would not download over 3G … apparently I needed the stronger wireless signal. Also, I needed the know-how of the QR-code camera and decoder system to get the video in the first place, otherwise I would have had to manage with the printed booklet.

Viewing the video required a little more dexterity than using the booklet, because I had to be able to work the iPhone video player controls and then quickly pause the movie, put the phone down and attack the job with screwdriver and tools before going on to the next section.

Having finished the tumbling composter job, I turned my hand to the next task: putting together a rack of DIY shelving also picked up at Bunnings. Same idea … we selected the 5-tier Romak shelving system because it was under $100 ($94.86) and because printed boldly on the colourful label were those enticing words “simple instant assembly”.

quick shelf

Now I’ve put similar shelving systems together before and I know the word “instant” has a spectrum of meanings. In this case I was able to manage go to whoa in 40 minutes (12:30-1:20pm). So no one would call that “instant” and if I didn’t have my trusty rubber mallet and my previous experience handy, I might have found the assembly a little more challenging than “simple”, but all in all, not bad, and in the shed the unit is standing quite strong and firm.

Chocolate

And finally a quiz, or is that a poll, or is it a review? We’re heading north to Brisbane and during the trip we hope to have a tasting at Monty’s Chocolates, where our younger one Erin is a new staff member. We hope to taste some of their reportedly exquisite imported chocolates so we have been boning up on chocolate varieties available locally.

Until Erin started work at Monty’s we didn’t really appreciate the sweeping range of chocolates now available in Australia. It’s no longer just Cadbury Country or MacRobertson’s Down Under.

In Milawa we picked up a 45g block of “Koko Black 80% Dark” on the same outing as an intriguing 45g box of organic, “anti-oxidant rich” Pana Chocolate (60% cacao) flavoured with blue-green algae.

mocha shop

Later in Ballarat, at the Mocha Shop and Café in Bridge Mall, we tried a 75g block of Madécasse sea salt and nibs (63% cocoa, “crunchy with a touch of salt”), and a 200g gift box of Newman’s Ginger chocolates (with a homesick touch of Buderim ginger).

The Koko Black might appeal to the connoisseur with its rich, dark and bitter notes, just as a mysterious Islay single-malt whiskey, with its salty, peaty medicinal tang grabs the attention of a Scotch aficionado.

And the Newman’s, with its dependable and possibly conventional sweet and sour blend of ginger and creaminess, will appeal to most fanciers, especially on the table after dinner with coffee (as indeed we enjoyed it that night).

Most challenging of this selection was the Pana Chocolate with blue-green algae, followed closely past the flag by the Madécasse sea salt and nibs. This is definitely going to be a matter of taste, but if you can, grab a morsel of each and let us know what you think.

See you next time!

Queen’s Birthday on the wine trail

prosecco road

The Queen’s Birthday Weekend (last weekend) was our chance to visit the King Valley Prosecco Road wine trail in north-eastern Victoria, a much-awaited return visit to Beechworth and a chance to return to favoured old haunts are well as to sample new places.

brownBrothers

We started at Brown Brothers winery for a tasting of their non-vintage Prosecco  and to soothe an old wound. You see, last time we visited in March, the place was so busy we couldn’t get a shoulder in edgewise at the tasting bar and actually left disgruntled and in a huff … which takes a bit of doing at such a gorgeous winery.

This time, on Friday June 7, and around 10am, we found much more attention from the tasting room staff and much more room to move. The ladies serving were at the top of their game and ran us graciously through the tasting list. We tried the latest Patricia Chardonnay (the launch of which had interrupted our previous visit, it turns out) and a Banksdale single-vineyard Chardonnay … We also tried a Tempranillo blend and came away with two bottles and a membership of their wine club. Persistence pays off for winemakers as well as shoppers.

This was the day before the King Valley region’s seasonal festival Wines Fit For a King and a more winery specific festival Chrismont’s Festa Rustica right at the end of the promotionally named Prosecco Road.

So really it suited us because we could still find the wineries in their finery, still enjoy tastings, but beat the expected crowds!

PaulBettio

We certainly beat them to Paul Bettio wines near the top of the valley. There we found only Helen Bettio behind the counter and we had her undivided attention. Helen told us she was the wife of the winemaker of the eponymous Paul Bettio Wines and they had been making wines there for the past 19 years since Bettio senior and the family stopped growing their lucrative tobacco crops and turned to grapevines and wine instead.

A wistful note of nostalgia sounded in her voice as Helen recalled what she said where the profitable days of tobacco, and we noticed that out the front there was one of the many property “For Sale” signs we saw along the road that day. What we didn’t know at the time was that this weekend of all others was the moment of their final wine and equipment clearance sale …

We got in early with a bottle of their delightful Barbera style red and another of a cheery and pleasantly dry rose. Helen showed us round the winery engine room, including the presses, barrel room and even the lab.

Gary Nash First National real estate signs were growing like weeds in the King Valley the day we visited, so he’ll clean up if they all sell.

LaPausa

While in Beechworth this time we stayed two nights at the La Pausa luxury B&B. Look for the artfully decorated lounge room complete with a fascination with Coco Chanel. More about this later …

Tanswells

On night #1 we enjoyed pre-dinner drinks at the Cellar Door Wine Store and dined just up the street at the Tanswell’s Commercial Hotel. Innocent Bystander Pinot noir accompanied three mounds of Irish sausage and mash, a lamb shank and a roast duck leg, followed up (for me) by a glass of Laphroaig Single Malt peated whisky from Islay, claimed to be the most richly flavoured scotch whisky in the world. As a bit of an aficionado of such items I reckon that’s an arguable claim … Oban is a stiff competitor. But what the hell, they’re both delightful.

With a neat segue we retired to the back bar as the pub held its monthly one-mike open-mike music night and among acts that caught our eyes and ears were Kissin Cousins and Whiskey Dram.

Great newgrass sounds and friendly endearing musos had the crowd’s toes tapping and hands clapping. If you get a chance to hear these guys … who seem to have at least one member in common … take it. They’re great! Reminiscent of Crooked Still, one of the frequent plays on our CD machine.

ox and hound

Next night we dined at the Ox and Hound bistro.

What did we enjoy? 2 serves of pork shoulder, 3 of the trout, 1 of the roast chicken. We matched the meals with Yarra Valley wines all round: the chicken and trout went with Rob Dolan Pinot Gris 2012 and the pork (and the chicken) went superbly with a Toolangi Pinot Noir 2010. Desserts were the chocolate mousse and panacotta. Check the menu here.

Above our heads we noticed artfully arranged tungsten filament bulbs in wattle branch light holders. Our waitress made the evening enjoyable with lots of gossip about the chef, the shop and the food, and speedy service. I guess we’ll be back!

Shopping in Beechworth

BEECHWORTH: The first thing we noticed about the Main Street of this north-east Victoria town this month was the cute and apparently faithfully preserved historic shop fronts in the main shopping precinct of Ford and Camp Streets.

The second thing was that unlike many other tourist towns we’ve visited over the years, Beechworth shops are actually worth stopping at and walking into. The tired imported trinkets we’d seen and rejected in many other places — pejoratively known as tourist traps — were absent, and replaced here by delicate handmade local items, or gorgeous imported fabrics, fashions and furniture which made the three-hour journey from Melbourne well worth the effort.

That was a welcome relief. As was the pet ferret being led up Ford Street by the ageing and friendly gent.

To us shopping scholars, however, there was a third interesting thing in one section of town. The shop signs were different. Normally shops have prominent name signs out front — on the footpath and on the windows as well as on the real estate (the buildings themselves) — but this is more often not the case here, especially along the south side of Ford Steet, where the odd numbers are ranged.

The coffee shop on the main roundabout, for instance, opposite the Post Office, looked completely unnamed to us from the outside. I took enough pictures to check afterwards and it’s true enough. It didn’t seem to be hurting business, though, because there was a tiny sign in the window alerting passers-by that a certain brand of coffee, Merlo, was on sale inside. That brand comes from our hometown of Brisbane and we found ourselves sucked into the shop by a maelstrom of memories. “Do you really have Merlo coffee?” we asked the man behind the counter. “We do indeed,” he replied with a smile. “It’s what brought us into the shop,” I told him. “Ah, you’re from Brisbane,” he said. Now that’s what I call clever. Merlo coffee has a good reputation anywhere and will probably get most drinkers through the door. But as a name brand in a foreign country like Victoria, it will definitely lure the Queensland mob in!

We continued walking uphill along the odd side of Ford Street, photographing and shopping and the sign trend continued. There were signs on the buildings visible from across the street, but few visible right there on the footpath. The grocery store, then Hotch Potch the kitchen shop, and Frances Pilley the very classy giftware shop … Same.

Big change at the top of the hill opposite the church, appropriately on the corner of Church Street. There we found the Beechworth Honey Experience, which had plenty of signs. But this is an amazing shop altogether … A truly experiential retailer. You can taste, touch, hear, examine and watch bees and bee products until the cows come home. Pip bought three different varieties of flavoured honey, a honey and ginger sparkling drink and a honey hand lotion. And John — perpetually the youngest child — stood mesmerised by the exposed working bee hive, with the little buggers crawling all over their mates, then buzzing up the clear Perspex pipe to freedom and back. And in memory of our scientific ancestor Keith, John peered down microscopes at bee eyes, bee wings and hairy bee legs!

The north side of the street (even numbers) told a slightly different story. Here there were more signs — including sandwich boards and hanging from the awnings overhead — but still strangely diffident. In one case, at The Growing Suitcase, the sign was painted on the door but then casually obscured by some wonderful fashions owner Rob Cowell had hung there for display. Lovely shop, very French.

Nearby I also loved the Beechworth Boudoir, piled high with frilly, lacy and other bedroom delights, including a complete bedroom along the back wall.

Around Camp Street we found where all the signs had gone. Here there was a surfeit of signs, more than you could poke a stick at. Especially cluttered was the Beechworth Sweet Company, which was practically covered in signs at the front, including instructions on how and where to enter and exit the shop. Unsubstantiated guess: but it looks like they’ve had some problems with sticky fingered customers here … now there’s a surprise. Probably a function of the tender age of the majority of shoppers … That might account for the number of signs inside about watching small children and paying for broken delicate goods.

Across the street at the news agency, there’s a different kind of sign … suggesting loyalty and provenance … something journalists of the 21st century crave and need now perhaps more than anything else.

New Year’s Eve approaches … and departs

Were you ready for New Year’s Eve? We dug in for the NYE buffet right on the sand at St Kilda in Melbourne, at Beachcomber, which turned out to be directly in your line of sight if you’re sitting out the front at the formidable Esplanade Hotel, The Espy, home to the wonderful Rockwiz series.

Beachcomber

Espy

We visited the Espy just before Christmas and sat in the front bar cradling our pots and chips. Only pots, the young woman behind the bar insisted. Interesting place … interesting décor. Then we trouped through the passageways in search of the Gershwin room and a look at where Brian, Julia and Dugald pump through the questions and scores, and James Black, Mark Ferrie and Peter Luscombe pump through the classics and the mysteries (visit). Another curious drinker was on the same mission. But we came up against a locked door and, well, didn’t get in.

The Beachcomber NYE buffet was $50 a head including all the food we could eat, and our party of six (aged a la palindrome from 18 to 81) had a great time. The oysters and prawns were in superabundance and the barbecued beef was cooked to perfection. It was our first time for dinner at dusk at Beachcomber and it was a delightful surprise that we had picked just the perfect spot to enjoy sundown over Port Phillip Bay and the sights of the lights right along Docklands. We hung around until 9.30pm but didn’t see any of the hoped-for early fireworks from the city … so it was off home in the Rav4 to settle down in front of the tele with a little something to sip.

Where were you on NYE? Please leave a comment today …

IT’S BEEN a big month of exhibitions and galleries here at EDSDA (Eat Drink Sleep Shop Australia) and we’ve had a ball. Took the Qantas great iron bird north to Brisbane and saw the newly launched 2012-2013 Asia-Pacific Triennial (the 7th since 1993).

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Then we jetted back to Melbourne to become acquainted with the ever-changing exhibits at the Museum of Victoria …

Cole's Book Arcade display

Cole's display

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… and the slowly-being-restored Royal Exhibition Building opposite.

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