Spring starts on Sunday and the flowers are getting ready to celebrate. Our snowdrops were out first, followed yesterday by the daffodils, and we can see new buds on the rose bushes in our long garden.
Pip’s pruned them all on July 7 and those “in the know” out here say 154 days from then, we’ll see the first flowers on the bushes on December 8, 154 days after pruning. We shall see … but the first shoots shot out this week and they look strong and healthy.
More pruning and shaping happened last week when Pip attended her first Wild-Wood Chairs Workshop organised by the Wombat Regional Arts Network in the Shire of Moorabool. Here’s her glorious chair, shaped, drilled and nailed using found timber and her own hands. Might look rickety but it’s tough and strong and now occupies pride of place on our veranda.
We’ve been frequenting the “locals” in the Ballan district now since the start of the year and we can report back on eating experiences.
Hudson’s in our hometown Ballan has recently re-opened its dining room and looks like becoming a familiar haunt. Host Kathleen is encouraging a local music group (of which I could become the humble keyboard player) which tries to rehearse weekly and had an acoustic afternoon last Sunday. Ah, beer and music! So far we’ve tried the lamb shanks (cooked to perfection to falling-off-the bone stage), pork chop, salt-and-pepper calamari and mixed grill and not been disappointed in quality or serving size.
The Royal Hotel in Meredith is a nice place to stop off between our base and our friends to the south in Lethbridge and Bannockburn. Quiet dining room and easy parking.
We enjoyed our visit to the Gordon Hotel in Gordon (now there’s a surprise) because lunch was easy, pleasant and warm and it set us up just nicely for our magic visit to the Old Trout Hat Shoppe over the road.
The Farmers Arms Hotel in Daylesford holds happy memories because we enjoyed lunch with new friends and so far have been there twice. Established in 1857 (according to its website), it claims the prize as the oldest pub in town. It probably boasts the most extensive menu and beer+wine list among the crop we’re reviewing today and you’d expect that in a tourist town like Daylesford.
And our surprise find of the month is the Wallace Hotel (yes, in Wallace, just up the road from Gordon and Ballan). It’s like Dr Who’s Tardis: bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside. There’s the very respectable dining room at the front and a pub bar, then whoa, a huge restaurant and functions room at the back, big enough for any country wedding. So far we’ve enjoyed two Sunday lunches there and then met the good folk at the Ballan Chamber of Commerce at their monthly dinner. Let’s see: we’ve had the fish and salad, vegetable soup, Margarita pizza and steak pie … good nourishing and tasty fare, what more could you ask? Well, how about the ornate pressed-metal ceiling and the welcoming fireplace?
The pubs round here? We’ll be back!
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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”.
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.
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.
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!