Edited highlights: Autumn colours, freakshakes and disco

As Winter marches on new ideas are brewing in my head about the direction of The Alexcellent Life and ideas for entirely different blogs are taking shape.

In the meantime, while I’m plotting and planning, I want to share some highlights from previous weeks.

We have been doing so much since we moved to Canberra, along with work and school, that I’ve been having trouble making time to document it all. So even though we’re now in the middle of Winter and I feel like I’ve been behind all year, I wanted to showcase some Autumn highlights. Click on the pictures for captions. It will be Winter’s turn next post.

Lulu came for a visit and we took her to the Patissez store in the city. I had vowed NOT to have a Freakshake, as the three we ordered when Senorita Magarita came to visit was too much. We ordered one and it was easily enough for the three of us.

We also ordered a proper lunch this time. It was so long ago I can’t remember exactly what I had, but sweet potato fries were involved and I remember they were amazing.

 

That night after popping some champagne at home, we went to Canberra’s annual Enlighten festival – like Sydney’s Vivid, except not, but still good in its own Canberra way. We were intrigued by the idea of  a “Dark Disco” at the National Portrait Gallery… but once we discovered the little room where the disco was, we found it was more like a blue light disco. But it was free.

I’ve really been appreciating Canberra’s distinct seasons…

At the end of Autumn I finished up a work contract and began another one. My colleagues gave me this beautiful hanging basket of petunias. I was warned to actually hang it, rather than just leave it on the ground other wise the frost would get it.

It’s fared surprisingly well – it does droop on frosty mornings but seems to recover quite well in the sun.

I went to the Southside fresh food markets and found these beautiful cabbage flowers. And my rough and tumble Spider Boy found a heart shaped petal and a piece of bark and told me it was a heart next to a skull and crossbones, which was a logo he used to add to every drawing he did when he was four. The heart represents me and the skull and crossbones represent him (he came up with that).

I started a new job in Canberra’s CBD. It is a nice change to be working in the city, but a bit dangerous as I’m close to lots of exciting shops! But I really have needed to add to create my Winter wardrobe here in Canberra. Because the longer I’m here the more I realise Sydney doesn’t actually have a Winter. I wasn’t prepared clothes-wise. But at least I have a reason to wear my old leather gloves now!

Next Time: Canberra Winter Wonderland.

Canberrafication

The past three months has flown…

Well here I am. It’s been three months since my last blog post. Spider Boy and I are moving back have moved back to Canberra. Yeah, I started writing this post in January, right before we moved!

In my previous post I wrote about the science of new year’s resolutions, I gushed about “…my exciting plans for 2016” and how I would catch you up “…in the next one or two days”. Well make that one or two three months because here I am in MARCH APRIL! ANZAC Day in fact. But let me briefly catch you up.

Packing stress

Late December and early January passed in a haze of sweat, dust, stubbed toes, paper cuts, boxes, butchers paper, a shoddy tape gun and backaches. There was Christmas, New Year, family, friends and trying to keep Spider Boy amused between bouts of packing, and weather involving intense heat and extreme rain. There was too much screen time and not enough beach time. I’m sorry, Spider Boy.

Settling into a new life

I don’t blame my new, busy, full-time job for my lack of blogging since moving to Canberra. I don’t blame settling Spider Boy into a new school and setting up a home for us. I blame my Internet Service Provider and the faulty modem they sent me. Then finally, four weeks after “connecting the internet”,  it finally worked! After numerous laborious phone calls to the call centre and a technician visit, we had Wifi lift off. But by then I’d lost my blogging groove.

Why am I in Canberra again?

For  the past 6 years, since Spider Boy was was 2,  we’d been living in Sydney, where I grew up, close to my family and long-time friends. But now it’s time to be back to the city Spider Boy was born in, where his father lives, so he can see his dad regularly. It’s the main reason I moved back. I wanted the logistics of my son spending time with his father, to be easier. And I also have good work opportunities here. And real-estate is a bit more affordable.

We have been promised lots of visits from our family and friends, and we have had some already, which makes us very happy. The time we spend with loved ones and the situations we see them in may have been reconfigured, but they are still in our hearts every day. And even though I feel a connection with Canberra, I’ll always be a Bondi girl.

Moving to Canberra was easier the second-time around

I may hail from a trendy beach-side suburb, but I was never the kale-inhaling, chain-smoking, bikini-top wearing type sitting on a crate outside the Paris Go cafe. But I did schlepp up and down Hall Street for 27 years. Three of those years were spent in a part-time job helping tourists and celebrities buy postage stamps, cigarettes, scratchies and bus tickets at Bondi Beach Newsagency. (I sold a pack of Camels to Noah Taylor once.)

When I first told my dad back in 2012 I was thinking of moving back to Canberra, he said, “But you’re such a Sydney person.” The ocean gets under your skin. The first time I moved to Canberra,  I dreamed of the beach and harbour every night for months. But I haven’t had those dreams this time around. Maybe because moving to Canberra for the second time isn’t such a culture shock. But the first time it really was.

The culture-shock of the Capital

When I first moved to the Capital in January 2004, although I immediately loved the mountain vistas, wildlife and people I met, there were things I struggled with:

  • the language – did everyone speak Acronym?
  • no beach
  • not being able to just run down to the beach
  • the dry, baking heat of January
  • dry dusty earth and gum leaves everywhere
  • the reliance on cars
  • the whole “town centre” concept with long stretches of road in between
  • brutalist architecture
  • weird 70s bus-stops
  • unmowed grass hiding the “footpaths”
  • The realisation that the Woden Plaza/bus interchange of the mid 2000’s was just like the Bondi Junction of my 70s childhood

I remember a visit back home to Sydney when I was pregnant with Spider Boy.  I went to a Tupperware party at Señorita Margarita’s house. The Tupperware demonstrator happened to come from Canberra. “Yeah, I escaped” she said gleefully. I felt like hitting her over the head with her food storage solutions. Her glee at escaping served as unwitting mockery of where I now lived, and I felt resentful I had to go back there.

The beginnings of my Canberrafication

But then after I did leave Canberra almost 6 years ago, it gradually dawned on me that there were things I missed about this city  with its developing quiet confidence.

I didn’t realise it until after I’d left, but I’d actually become a bit Canberrafied. And during my visits back to Canberra with Spider Boy, I realised I was missing:

  • fresh air
  • proximity to snow and rural areas
  • mountain vistas
  • the ability to park your car not only in front of your house, but on your own property
  • green space and trees
  • crisp and sunny winter days
  • blossoming fruit trees in spring
  • Braddon’s vibrant coffee culture and cool shops
  • the burgeoning food and wine scene
  • great little hidden-treasure suburban coffee shops
  • the birds, so many birds
  • kangaroos in surburbia and on the walking tracks that weave through the city
  • Tilley’s
  • hot air balloons slowly rising and descending on crisp Autumn mornings
  • all the amazing national institutions, exhibitions and events
  • farmer’s markets
  • the great community feeling

And other things that make it a great place for Spider Boy:

  • sporty places – bike paths, ovals, sports clubs, ice-skating rink, the Australian Institute of Sport etc
  • educational opportunities

These lists just scratch the surface.

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View of Telstra Tower from the National Arboretum.

 

Canberra’s joys

So for the past few years, I’ve been promoting Canberra’s joys to Sydneysiders. On Christmas day I said to Señorita Margarita: “You have to come and stay in Canberra! To see us, but also to see all the things in Canberra. Canberra has things.”

“Oh, here we go, the Canberra has things speech,” she said with an eye-roll.

Converting family and friends (trying to)

Yes, the Señorita has come to stay and we are already planning her next visit in May. Friend Lou-Lou has stayed for a weekend, and my mum (aka BatGran) has also come to stay twice (and is here right now) even though she says she hates Canberra. I’m hoping to change her mind. Thanks for giving it a go Mum.

My Dad was also here last week. He got into the spirit of the Bush Capital by buying a sausage at the local Bunnings sausage sizzle and eating it in the carpark in his Akubra hat. He sees Canberra’s opportunities and possibilities. And whenever he visits he brings bags of my things that I didn’t quite get around to packing. Thanks Dad.

What’s next?

The Alexcellent Life was a little quiet for a few weeks months while the actual Alexcellent life got settled. So it wasn’t entirely my ISP’s fault.

We are at the start of a new chapter, and it feels exciting. So here’s to our Canberrafication. But I’ll always have a soft spot for Bondi.

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Bondi Baths. Photo taken by my clever and talented sister, Señorita Margarita. This hangs on my wall.

Eat Drink Blog 2015… Food, fun and photo freedom

In October Alexcellent Lifestyle attended the 6th annual Eat Drink Blog (EDB15) conference. Held in a different Australian city each year, 2015 was Canberra’s turn to host over 80 food bloggers.

I wanted to experience for myself all the new paddock-to-plate dining options and hipster havens I’d heard were happening in Canberra. It was a perfect opportunity to visit the city as a blogger, and for my son Spider Boy to spend some time with his Canberra-based dad. So while I was tasting the best of Braddon and NewActon, I knew my son would be enjoying the sights of Smiggle, Impact Comics and JB Hi-Fi.

The conference committee put together a comprehensive program of our Capital’s favourite foodie experiences as well as education sessions on aspects of blogging and photography from inspiring experts. It was an excellent way to spend a weekend.

The conference was officially launched with a welcome from ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr at The Hamlet, an urban village of food vans and pop-up stores a few minutes walk from Canberra’s city centre. When I read on the EDB15 website that the Friday night launch would include canapés, I imagined little things. I didn’t imagine this:

schnitzel from The Brathaus in Canberra.

Well call me a canapé, it’s pork, veal and chicken schnitzel from The Brathaus!

…or this

Brod Dogs

Hot dogs a-hoy!

…or this

Pies from Thank God it's Pie Day.

It was like all my Pie Days had come at once. Pie Yay.

There was a big table of beautifully presented foods from The Hamlet’s food trucks. There were gourmet pies, artisan pizzas, huge sandwiches, souvlaki, hotdogs, pulled-pork burgers and did I mention the schnitzel and home-made sausages? Real sausages from The Brathaus made from free-range meat sourced locally. Mr Brathaus was very enthusiastic, so I sampled ALL of the schnitzel.

Schnitzel from The Brathaus

There he is carving it up like a pro.

I really wanted to sample everything else on offer but there’s only so much that even I can eat. I did manage to fit in a delicious balsamic marinated beetroot, feta and pistachio pie from Pie Day.

And don’t get me started on dessert. I was so busy sampling the savoury treats, I literally ran out of time to have my favourite course. I grabbed a fancy-schmancy donut from Chasing Mr Morris, wrapped it in a napkin and stuffed it in my handbag for later.

chocolate crackle and fruit loops donuts from Mr.Morris

Donuts ‘R Us.

But what to do about this waffle from April’s Caravan? There simply wasn’t the time to eat it, so here’s a photo for my scrapbook.

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Life is good with polka dots and waffle hearts

As well as the food, there was the ambience. I’d heard of The Hamlet before I went there, and I knew it was in hipster Braddon, so I knew it was going to be hipster, but I didn’t think it would be this hipster…

DJ at the Hamlet in Lonsdale St Braddon.

Crochet hipster.

Or this hipster…

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Chandelier-and-plant-in-telephone-box hipster with not-really-hipster-but-hashtagging dude hipster.

After the champagne, I just couldn’t go the coconut ice milkshake from April’s Caravan… but, I’ll be back to fully enjoy the sugar-filled prettiness. Just as well I’m moving back to Canberra in January.

Milkshakes from April's Caravan at the Hamlet

April’s Caravan… Sweet kitsch(en) dreams are made of this. A coconut ice milkshake. Creative and gorgeous.

After the awesome canapé dinner, it was time to break off into three separate groups of blogger/food-tourists for a tour of three local food and drink businesses.

First stop was Hopscotch, an award-winning gastro-pub with a street-front alfresco area in Braddon.

poptails and bloggers at Hopscotch for EDB15

My fellow bloggers understand me: Erin from Dreaming of Almonds and Megann from Megann’s Kitchen at Hopscotch, doing what all good food bloggers do before anything passes their lips.

I really got my first taste of summer for the year with this delicious and more-ish poptail. So creative, I’ve never seen anything like it. I should’ve noted down exactly what it was – it might have been some kind of moscato or rosé with a mango-daiquiri popsicle in it. There were non-alcholic versions as well, but I would know even less about those.

As well as the great food and company, something I really enjoyed was that for the first time, I felt I was able to photograph my food and drinks with wild abandon. There was no one saying “Oh come on, not another photo, can’t you just eat/drink it already?!” which is what I always hear when I’m eating out with non-bloggers (or at least what I imagine they’re thinking). This weekend I felt I was with my food blogger-soul peeps.

Next stop on the tour was whiskey and food matching at Marble & Grain, a European Steakhouse gastro-pub. I have never been a whiskey fan, but I still appreciated the opportunity to learn more about it, especially as food was involved.

Marble and Grain

We sampled Glenfiddich 12, 14 and 15, along with matching canapés. Goat’s cheese with fig and rye pumpernickel and hickory smoked duck prosciutto, rock melon and cocoa nibs.

After attempting to inhale the bouquet of the first whiskey (Glenfiddich 12), Bec from Inexplicable Wanderlust told me that this was a no-no because it’s too strong on the nose. You’re supposed to dip your finger in the whiskey, rub it on the back of your hand and smell that. Better.

Our third and final official stop of the night was at Frugii Dessert Laboratory. John Marshall, a former public servant turned ‘ice-cream alchemist’ produces chocolate gelato right from the cocoa bean. All products at Frugii are made from scratch using freshly made extracts, nut pastes and oils. They also make chocolates and chilled cakes.

Frugii Dessert Laboratory in Braddon

Frugii Dessert Laboratory in Braddon where I sampled this lemon myrtle ice-cream.

John gave us a short education session on chocolate ‘bean to bar’ and we all got a generous sample of the ice-cream of our choice. Knowing I already had a hipster chocolate crackle-donut hybrid in my handbag, I chose the lemon myrtle, because I’m all about the balance, you know? (the lemon myrtle was every bit as good as I thought it would be).

The next morning, conference delegates were picked up by a dedicated ACTION bus and taken to the Capital Region Farmers Market in the north of Canberra. Here they experienced a local producers breakfast and a cooking demonstration by young chefs from the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT).  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it to that part of the morning and I believe I missed out on a fabulous croquembouche demonstration, among many other things.

I did manage to make it to the keynote address from former chef/food critic and now SBS TV presenter/farmer Matthew Evans at the beautiful Nishi Gallery at NewActon. After Matthew’s entertaining session, we took a scenic lakeside walk to Westside Acton Park, a new pop-up food and entertainment venue made entirely of shipping containers.

Westside Acton Park

Spoilt for choice at Westside Acton Park; Friendly bartender at Aviary Bar, Westside; Sparkling white from Capital Wines was lovely with my Thai pulled-beef taco.

We were able to choose from an interesting and varied selection of lunch choices. I chose the Thai pulled-beef soft tacos. I ordered two thinking they’d be small but they were quite substantial. I couldn’t even finish my second one what with being so busy meeting and chatting to other bloggers at Westside’s upstairs Aviary Bar, where we were also given a glass of wine from Capital Wines.

After lunch we went back to the Nishi Gallery where we learnt about the ups and downs of restaurant reviewing from writer and communications consultant Wendy Johnson, the secrets of Search Engine Optimisation from marketing expert Todd Wright of Threesides Marketing, food styling with photographer and stylist Tess Godkin and smart phone photography and videography from Alice Lau of the Girl in a Food Frenzy blog and You Tube channel.

Eat Drink Blog Conference 2015

The Nishi Gallery was the ideal conference space. Todd Wright and Wendy Johnson deliver their engaging presentations.

Eat Drink Blog Conference 2015

Photographer Tess Godkin reveals her secrets to food styling.

These sessions were punctuated by an afternoon tea which showcased some of the Canberra region’s finest food and wine producers.

I sampled some fresh cows milk curd made by The Cheese Project. Established by Maureen House in 2014, it’s the only commercial cheese-making business in the Canberra area. I tried more than one of these little delights below. The milk curd on these was blended with orange zest (and a bit of sugar) and paired with the biscuity-base (made by Maureen’s husband), it was a match made in heaven.

The Cheese Project

Pretty pieces of orange on fresh cows milk curd tarts and the perfect bite-size treats for afternoon tea from The Cheese Project.

The conference dinner on Saturday night was held at A.Baker in the NewActon Precinct. As well as its daily baked artisan breads, A.Baker is known for sourcing local and seasonal produce for its dynamic menu. Bloggers were treated to a five- course meal comprising shared plates. I loved this idea as it meant my table-mates and I were all focused on the same dish and we could serve ourselves the portion-size we wanted.

A.Baker in the NewActon Precinct, Canberra, ACT

Pre-dinner drinks in the courtyard of A.Baker; the view of the terrace and the Nishi building; A.Baker’s interior.

After canapés and sparking wine from Mt Majura, ACT on the terrace, we sat down at long tables where the shared plates were delivered.

A.Baker dinner menu Eat Drink Blog 2015

Clockwise from top left: venison canapés; charred cauliflower with sesame and ponzu; braised octopus, skordalia, baked pancetta, blood orange and almond; baked local mushrooms, dutch cream gnocchi, kale and local primo sale; charred lamb neck, harrissa, bean, raddish and sumac salad.

The dessert of black sesame bavarois, strawberries, pink peppercorn meringue and sorrel looked and tasted beautiful and was the perfect way to finish dinner.

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During the evening the conference writing and photography competition winners were announced. I was honoured when writer and competition judge Liz Posmyk from Bizzy Lizzy’s Good Things called my name as the recipient of a consolation prize in the narrative category for my recent blog post Is it time to give up my sugar crush?  The other winners and links to their winning blog posts are on the Eat Drink Blog 2015 Competition Winners page. So thank you judges Liz and Wendy Johnson, and thanks to Capital Wines for my lovely rosé!

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Unfortunately I had to miss the next day’s activities due to a sick Spider Boy but I got so much out of what I’d already experienced at Eat Drink Blog 2015. Plus I’ve got a goodie bag to remind me of all the good times…

Eat Drink Blog 2015 goodie bag

Thank goodness for goodie bags.

The Eat Drink Blog 2015 program lists the Sunday activities, or you can read about the conference from some of the other delegates’ perspectives.

This was my first Eat Drink Blog conference (well, half-conference for me) and I’m determined it won’t be my last. It was real value for money – all meals and drinks between Friday dinner and Sunday lunch (as well as all the blogging wisdom) was included in the very reasonable $150 conference fee.

I was inspired by the passion, enthusiasm and extreme organisational skills shown by the conference organisers who volunteered their time to make EDB15 happen; Amanda of Her Canberra, Tara of In The Taratory, Belinda of The Forage, Giulia of Love at Every Bite, and Rachi of Le Bon Vivant. The team pulled together a truly entertaining and informative weekend. Well done committee and thank you! I am looking forward to next year.

And there might be a new little food blogger rising up the ranks: Spider Boy said to me on Day 1 of the conference: “I want a food blog! I love food – it keeps you alive and it tastes good!” Ain’t that the truth.

Link Love

As well as the work of the organising committee, the EDB15 success was also due to the generosity and hospitality of the sponsors.

Major Sponsor: Her Canberra

Gold Sponsors: Visit Canberra, ACTION Buses, A.Baker

Silver Sponsors: Frugii, QT Canberra, Bentspoke Brewing Co., Hopscotch, Marble & Grain, The Hamlet, Six8 Coffee Roasters, Westside Acton Park, Capital Region Farmers Market, NewActon, the Boat House by the lake, The Canberra Wine House, The Cupping Room, Two Before Ten, Yum Digital Magazine, Poacher’s Way, The Fix juices, and The Muesli Bar.

The EDB15 conference delegates have been busy posting their content. Please visit the Eat Drink Blog Testimonials page for links to their posts for some fantastic photos and words about EDB15 that I wasn’t able to capture.

Things you might not know about me

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

I’ve been Liebsterised!

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The awesome Alana from Housegoeshome has nominated my blog for a Liebster award! For those that don’t know, the Liebster awards are an opportunity for bloggers to answer questions about themselves and then nominate other bloggers to do the same. It’s a great way to discover new blogs.

You can read Alana’s answers here.

And mine below…

What makes you happy?
Having a hearty chuckle with my son. hearing him singing to himself after he’s gone to bed. Watching him in his element. When my family is happy. sitting in a cafe with a hot coffee and my laptop or a notepad, maybe with a scroll of some sort (of carbohydrate, not paper). Sister-jokes with my sister. Having a wine (as opposed to a whine) and chat with friends. Writing, blogging, taking photos, colouring in. Time for craft. Being in the flow of creating something. A good night’s sleep.

Why did you start blogging?
I blog because I enjoy the process, and sometimes I just feel a need to tell a story. I like packaging words and photos together and sharing information. I also wanted a “digital scrapbook” of sorts.

I started reading blogs when I was home with my new baby 7 years ago, and I realised that what I write doesn’t just have to sit in a drawer going to waste (well some most of what I write should) but some of it, I wanted to put out there for other people to read, and hopefully enjoy. But it took me a few years to get the confidence to actually put it out there and to define the focus of Alexcellent. I’m still defining it, but it’s morphing into more of a food and lifestyle blog.

What’s the best thing anyone has ever said about your blog?
People have said certain posts are funny, well-written, and that the photos are good.

What is the one piece of advice you would offer or one saying you live by? Sorry, there’s going to be more than one here…
Progress, not perfection. If you want to do something, just start it, because it is in the doing that it takes shape.  I tend to be reluctant to start things until it’s all perfectly planned, I need to take my own advice and “just do it!” I wish I’d started blogging years ago – I’m not exactly a futurist; When I was trying desperately to “break into magazines” in the early 90s, someone advised me, “You should write a gossip column – on The Internet”, to which I replied with a derisive snort, “The Internet?? That’ll never take off!”.

Also, enjoy the little moments. Life itself is difficult (as M. Scott Peck reminds us in The Road Less Travelled  – and it is), but try to be conscious of the things you enjoy or are grateful for during particular moments. Being able to isolate and appreciate little chunks of good, makes life sweeter. Tend your roses – the rocky patches will still be there, but hopefully if you tend your roses, you won’t notice the rocky patches so much. (Picked up that sparkler of a metaphor in a positive psychology seminar during my time in the Public Service).

What are your top three bucket list items?

1.Take my son to Disneyland

2. Write a novel and have it published. A proper hard-copy novel.

3. More travel generally.

There’s many more items on this bucket list but I will stop at three today as requested.

What is your ultimate guilty pleasure?
Lightweight popular culture; Celebrity gossip in trashy mags (feeling guilty just writing it) and second-rate reality TV. I know it’s such a waste of time, nothing more than brain-candy (everything in moderation though, right?). Caught a cracker of an episode of Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners last night, the show where obsessive compulsive cleaners meet housework-dodging hoarders (perhaps I should actually clean the house instead of watching people literally dry-retching at the sight of other people’s dirt and clutter). Also, every year I say I’m NOT going to watch The Bachelor, yet I always get sucked into it. And I just know I’m going to succumb to Farmer Wants a Wife.

What is the one product or service you can’t live without?
The Internet! Ha! Note the irony. I could live without it, but in this day and age would be very frustrated without it.

What’s your favourite Australian travel destination?
I love north eastern Victoria and all those tiny little towns (Beechworth, Bright) on the way up to the Victorian Alps, and all the ski fields. Also south east Queensland. And Cairns.

What two countries make you happiest to visit?
My first pick is definitely Hawaii (I know it’s a US state, but to me it’s like a country in it’s own right). Hawaii is more than a geographical location, it’s the Aloha vibe. I really loved England when I was there 16 years ago and would love to go back and see more of it.

What is your dream destination?
See above. And also Alaska. Never been but would love to see it. I like the extremes. And somewhere else rural and rustic. And Paris.

Now it’s my turn to pass on the baton…

Lyne from Sugar Coated Baking

Shannon from Dash of Tonic

Holly from Simplify. Create. Inspire.

Maria from Pastels and Macarons