Monthly Archives

March 2011

A Touch of Delicious Class

March 30, 2011

As I am now firmly in my mid-twenties, I feel I am at an appropriate age to be engaging in regular dinner parties. This sounds very Emily Post of me, what can I say….it feels right.

How fabulous is it to create a theme, dress up a little, decorate your dining room and bake?! Clearly my friends agree with me. On Saturday night, my gorgeous friend, Peta, hosted a dinner party. We’ve had lots of dinners together in our little group, mainly involving take-out with the occasional cook-up. But nothing like this…

Peta invited nine of us over for a lovely catch up and to help celebrate our beautiful friend Vicki completing the 6 hour GAMSAT that day. What better way to say “congratulations, thank goodness that is over, now you can go back to having a life” than with fondant?

Peta decorated the table with cream cylinder candles and little white flowers in crystal cups. She also put golden hearts atop of the serviettes and scattered Turkish Delight along the middle of the table. It was stunning.

White hydrangeas and tea lights adorned the side tables.

We started off with Turkish bread dipped in a lovely extra virgin olive oil and dukkah.

Me and my man.

For our mains, Peta made roasted lamb rack with a coriander crust (recipe link). It was absolutely beautiful! I am yet to really work with this cut of meat, but I am so keen to after tasting this delectable dish. They were incredibly succulent, Peta cooked them perfectly. She pressed the coriander mixture onto the fleshy side of the lamb rack rather than along the bone.

Look at those beautiful coriander seeds…heavenly.

There were also fish cakes and corn cakes for those who didn’t eat meat. Peta picked them up at Camberwell market. These babies are air-vacked and were fast and flavourful.

Baby potatoes.

I contributed my beetroot, goats cheese and candied walnut salad (recipe at the end of this post) and Peta also made a lovely, fresh roquette and parmesan salad with a lemony dressing.

We sipped wine as we ate and chatted about all the exciting things that have happened recently. We’re at the stage when we’re making big decisions in our lives, whether it be work, travel, buying a house or getting engaged. So it was really nice to catch up over a special dinner.

My plate.

The stunning hostess with the mostess delicious lamb!

For dessert, Peta blew us away with a chocolate fondant (recipe link). They were all perfect, and although Peta calls it a “cheats fondant”, as you put a bit of chocolate in the centre to ensure the centre is gooey, they were utterly divine.

Fluffy and rich with a devilishly, oozing centre. We all agreed that the almond meal added a lovely texture and flavour. They were served with vanilla ice-cream, strawberries and raspberries. Perfection.

Thank you, Peta, this was such a lovely night, a real touch of delicious class. I cannot wait to return the favour when we move into our new place. I’m thinking a Moroccan or Thai theme…

Roast Beetroot Salad with Goats Cheese, Candied Walnuts and Pomegranate Dressing

This salad serves 6 and works beautifully alongside some chargrilled eye fillet or roast lamb (it could also serve 4 as more of a main, or 9 as a smaller side salad).

Ingredients

4 medium Beetroot, ends trimmed
150g Baby Spinach
1 large Red Onion
200g Goats Cheese (use good quality cheese here, it makes all the difference! I use Meredith Marinated Goats Cheese or Blue Bay Goats Fetta)
1 cup* Walnuts pieces
2 tablespoons Caster Sugar
2 tablespoons Water
A few pinches of Sea Salt

1.5 tablespoons Pomegranate Molasses (from gourmet grocers or middle-eastern delis. I get mine from the Red Hill Cellars, Oakleigh Market or Oasis Bakery)
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 Lemon

* It is best to double this amount so you can all stand around the kitchen chatting and nibbling on candied walnuts as your fondant is standing.

Method

Preheat the oven to 200 Degrees Celsius.

Wash the beetroot and wrap them individually in foil. Place them on a baking tray and bake in the oven for ~1 hour (it may take longer, depending on your oven and the size of your beetroot). Be careful not to overcook them. You will know it is cooked when you can pierce the beetroot easily with a skewer.

While the beetroot is cooking, you can make the candied walnuts.
Line a baking tray with baking paper and toast the walnuts in the oven. Be careful not to burn them! They will take 3-5 minutes.
Place a sheet of baking paper over a chopping board, and have two forks at the ready, close by.
Put a heavy-based saucepan over a low flame. Add the sugar and water and stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar melts into a syrup and turns a slight golden colour. Add the walnuts and stir to coat. Once the walnuts are evenly coated, quickly pour them onto the baking paper covered chopping board. Using the forks, work very quickly to separate the walnuts – they will cool and clump together otherwise. Once separated, sprinkle with sea salt and allow to cool.

As the walnuts are cooling, roast the onion.
Cut the onion in half and then slice into wedges. Place the pieces on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Toss the onion in a good glug of olive oil and pop the tray in the oven to cook for ~15-20 minutes (once again, this depends on your oven and how big your onion wedges are). Once they’re roasted and soft, remove the tray from the oven and allow them to cool.

Once the beetroot is cooked, take them out of the foil and run them under cool water. Using disposable rubber gloves (and wearing an apron!!) gently rub the skin to peel the beetroot, discarding the skin. Be careful, it is messy work and beetroot can stain!

Once the beetroot is peeled, cut it into chunks or wedges.

Wash the spinach and add it to your favourite salad bowl, along with the beetroot, onion and goats cheese.

To prepare the dressing, add the pomegranate molasses and olive oil to a jar. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon (or a whole lemon if it is not a particularly juicy one) and then use a little whisk or spoon, stirring briskly to incorporate the liquids. Add more molasses if you like a sweeter dressing or a touch of water (or more olive oil) if you want to dilute the sweetness a little.

Drizzle the dressing over the salad and gently mix the ingredients with serving spoons or tongs. Scatter the walnuts over the top and voila!

Heidi xo

My Foray into Footscray

March 28, 2011

Footscray is undiscovered territory for me. Having spent the first 18 years of my life on the Mornington Peninsula, and now living in the Bayside suburbs, I have rarely ventured over to the other side of the city.

My only experience was in my third year of University. As part of my course we gained a certificate in basic cooking skills from Victoria University. Here I learnt how to julienne my vegetables, to create a bouquet garni and to perfectly poach an egg (wait, I’m still working on that one…) I also remember my friends fashioning animals out of vegetables (possibly a duck?), but I don’t think that was actually part of the coursework. No I’m quite sure it wasn’t…

This was my first introduction to Footscray, and sadly my eating experience was limited to the hot jam doughnut van parked next to the train station.

A couple of years later, as I became more and more interested in experiencing different cuisines, I identified Footscray as a suburb I simply had to get to know. Ethiopean food was high on my wish list, but I was also aware that there were loads of places to get fantastic Vietnamese food. Where to start?? Luckily, I had a little help to point me in the right direction. Deb, from Bear Head Soup, was my saving grace.

I first met Deb at a Blogger’s Picnic, and could tell she was utterly passionate about her food. When I commented on her blog that I was yet to (but very keen to) try African cuisine, she kindly offered to dine with me at one of her local restaurants.

We met one Thursday night at Cafe Lalibela, an Ethiopian restaurant in Footscray. Naturally I brought Ben along, as he was also very keen to try this food.

We ordered a Castle beer each and got to chatting. This Ethiopian beer was actually very nice, with a mild flavour and no bitterness (just how I like my beer).

We ordered four dishes to share: Fual, Doro Wot, Lamb Tibs (or perhaps it was Kulwha, I can’t recall!) and Shiro.

The dishes are all served on injera, Ehtiopian bread, and you eat with your right hand. This bread is quite thin and airy, and looks like a big, very flat crumpet. It is similar to the bread I ate in Morocco, yet injera has a sour taste to it. This is due to the fermentation process in making the bread. It really is very delicious. You simply tear a piece of injera and use it pick up some of the stew-like dish. Pop it in your mouth and voila, deliciousness!

The broad beans in the Fual were quite yummy, although not overly big on flavour. It was topped with fetta, which I found surprising.

We all agreed that the Doro Wot was a little dry. Although I did appreciate the spice mixture used. After watching SBS Food Safari on African cuisine, I have been very interested in berbere– a spice mix used immensely in Ethiopian cooking. It was so lovely to taste this delicious spice at last (here is a recipe I have found – it looks like an effort, but it will be well worth it, I am sure!)

The lamb in the Tibs (or Kulwha) was surprisingly tender (although not melt-in-your-mouth, by any means) and I enjoyed the more subtle flavours in this dish.

Although my favourite dish was the Shiro. I really enjoyed this full, earthy flavour, which I assume comes from the ground pea flour. It was perfectly sloppy too – which is good for mopping up with injera.

Even though I wasn’t blown away by many of the dishes, I really enjoyed my first experience of Ethiopian food. I am excited to experiment in the kitchen myself, to become more familiar with Ethiopian cooking. I just love the way that meals are served – the injera plays such a fundamental role in the meal both practically and nutritionally, and it is a fabulous vehicle for flavour.

I had a lovely time with Deb, she truly is wonderful company. Naturally the conversation revolved around food, where we have eaten and where we wish to eat next…

Heidi xo

Date and Walnut Loaf

March 26, 2011

Last Sunday my beautiful friend, Denita, hosted a Morning Tea for her Bridesmaids to talk all things bridal. I am lucky enough to be one of five Bridesmaids, who are all heading over to America in August for her wedding. I am so incredibly excited, I can hardly contain myself!

De served up a gorgeous Date and Walnut Loaf with Cinnamon Cream Cheese for Morning Tea, which we ate while sipping Green Tea.

De is a recently retired Athlete – she was a gymnast for years and then became an Aerial Skier (I know, right?! Check this out). So she is very aware of how important it is to feed your body with good nutrients. We have so much in common with food preferences and are always exchanging muesli and yoghurt tips. Naturally I knew we’d be eating something delicious but also on the healthy side for Morning Tea. This loaf was exactly that. De got the recipe from taste.com.au (recipe link here), and I cannot wait to make it again myself. It was so yummy.

To make the Cinnamon Cream Cheese, De combined 200g low-fat Cream Cheese with 1 tablespoon of Honey and 1 teaspoon of Cinnamon.

The loaf was super moist and delightfully sweet thanks to the natural sugar of the dates – the recipe uses very little added sugar. The recipe also instructs you to rehydrate the dried dates with boiling water and some maple syrup, which is a nice little trick. While it is fairly dense, a slice of this loaf doesn’t sit heavy. The walnuts are a lovely addition, providing some crunch and allowing a break from the sweetness. I used to consistently leave walnuts out of my cakes, cookies and muffins, but now I adore them.

After we ate a delicious slice (or two) and engaged in some bridal chatter, we set off to DFO to look for Bridesmaid dresses. It ended up being a really easy process. We’re lucky that we all have fairly similar body shapes, so the same dress suited us all perfectly. They’re really pretty, with a hint of 50’s style, in a lovely mint colour.

Having my dress hanging in my wardrobe is making me even more excited for August! Every time I see it, I get a stirring of glee and have to do a little dance. It is going to be a beautiful wedding.

Thanks for the lovely day, De, and for introducing me to this delectable recipe! Only 5 months to go…

Heidi xo

Phantastical Pho

March 23, 2011

After leaving you with our deflated experience of Pho in Ho Chi Minh City, I feel a little sheepish. You see I like to think of myself as a bona fide Pho lover. And, as I feel my love is true, I should stand by Pho through thick noodles and thin, for better broth or worse.

But to the first bowl I had in Vietnam that didn’t live up to my inflated expectations, I turned a cold shoulder. That is not how you treat a loved one. I am so sorry, Pho. Please forgive me…

I want to make it up to you with a tale of Phantastical Pho.

I had no doubt that whilst visiting the beautiful land of Pho I would be presented with a heavenly bowl, yet I was unsure when it would come to me. It turns out, the chosen place for this holy experience was Hoi An. Being on the central coast, I was not sure what broth flavour to expect. Hoi An is closer to the south than the north, so perhaps this would mean the flavour would be sweet? Well it was on the sweet side, but not too sweet. More like “Sweeeeeeet!” (said by an Aussie teenage surfer in the early ‘90s)…

Initially when I walked past this hidden restaurant, I assumed it was someone’s house. Actually it probably is. But what I mean is that I thought it was out of bounds to hungry tourists. And so, day after day, we would pass by this little place on the way into the Old Town and watch the locals drink together from steaming bowls.

One day we tried our luck. Ben, the conglomerate of races he is, went in first (he liked to try and convince people he was a local). Wearing his most charming of smiles, he successfully secured us a table. And so we sat on our plastic stools, surrounded by discarded tissue paper, and waited for our breakfast.

Excited much?

And then it came…

Wow.

All the elements came together to create one bowl of bliss; a broth that was not overwhelming, yet could stand alone as a beautiful, aromatic soup; fresh, slippery noodles; oh my goodness, melt-in-your-mouth, super thin slices of tender beef ; bunches of fresh, vibrant herbs positively bursting with fragrance and flavour; and a touch of chilli – just a touch. Sweeeeeeet

Heidi xo

A Lazy Afternoon before Morning Glory

March 21, 2011

On day four of our visit to Hoi An, we had quite an Indulgent Day. Shopping, eating, pampering – you know, the usual. Naturally, after all this grand exertion, we found ourselves exhausted. And so we retreated to the inviting couches of the Yellow River Restaurant, where we whiled away the afternoon in a lingering, lazy fashion.

Contentedly we sipped our coffee as we read our novels. In Vietnam Ben was preferring his coffee hot, while I tended to favour mine over ice.

Hot or cold, it is hands down best when your coffee is served with separate coffee and sweet milk layers – all the better to mix yourself, my dear 🙂 I do so love to play with my food.

We also engaged in some quality people watching. I love observing life from (not so) afar. All of a sudden, it appeared that we were being watched too! And with great interest, I might add. What a cutie.

As the clock ticked on we got a little peckish, and so we decided to share a mango shake. Our drink was very much like a lassi – super refreshing and took the edge off our hunger perfectly.

After more time reading in our comfy little cove, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up before dinner. We had a reservation at a fancy restaurant, you see, and dusty feet and a sweaty brow would not suffice. This was a little bit special, as usually we opted for street food as our dinner. However we had heard great things about Morning Glory (who also run a very popular cooking class), and so we decided to depart from our usual eating habits and brave the restaurant scene.

Morning Glory, named after the delicious vegetable, is a beautifully laid-out restaurant, with comfortable, spacious tables complemented with soft, golden lighting (note, whilst this was incredibly pretty, it did not allow for very attractive photos).

The room felt relaxed but the vibe assured. The open kitchen in the centre of the main room gave us the welcomed opportunity to watch the famous Ms Vy or Ms Lu in action! The smell of fancified street food sizzling on the hot plate was an utter tease, enticing us to order more. What a sneaky and, as it would turn out, effective technique, for we complied with an eager order.

The menu is quite large, with so many beautifully composed dishes to tempt your taste-buds. The list of soups, grouped according to their long-believed health benefits, was a favourite section. After much serious discussion, we gave our order.

These cocktails were a little sweet for my liking, but very easy to drink. Luckily the alcohol content was minimal, otherwise I am sure there would have been even more ordering taking place at our humble table for two.

To start we ordered the chả giò (spring rolls), which had a cute name, along the lines of “3 friends”, referring to the three types of meat used to make this delicious treat. A delicate, crisp casing filled with succulent pork, prawns and…oh my, I have forgotten the Third Little Pig – three is a crowd, clearly, but not when it comes to taste. These really played to my preferences – strong flavours that all worked together beautifully. We were in heaven. I have stated previously that I am often disappointed with spring rolls in Australia, and this had also been to case in Vietnam…but not anymore. These little parcels were utterly divine.

White rose are pretty, delicate little dumplings filled with shrimp and are a local delicacy (along with Cao lầu). We found them similar to Cantonese dumplings, yet not quite as delicious. So after trying them a couple of times we didn’t bother with them again. If you are keen to try them, I am sure you would be in safe hands at Morning Glory. They also do shrimp paste on sugar cane, which is another popular local street food.

Back to our starters, we also tried the barbequed pork skewers with rice paper, green banana and fresh herbs. Interactive food is always fun – fill, roll and dip, it’s fabulous. We had tried this dish on our very first night from a street vendor, and fell in love with it. Hence we were very keen to try a restaurant version as a comparison. Honestly, I preferred the street version. If I can attempt to articulate why this was the case, I would say that the street version tasted less “done up”. There you go 🙂 However Ben found them both equally good – and he’s right in that Morning Glory’s version was really very delicious.

Our last starter was the chicken rice, and it was so delicious. Simple, clean flavours – utterly scrumptious. The rice was al dente, the shredded chicken moist and the additional flavourings of herbs and spices friendly, not overwhelming or ostentatious. It was a happy dish.

When we both saw this next item on the menu, we instantly agreed we simply had to try it – prawns cooked in a coconut. Yes. And it. was. good. The prawns were fresh, plump and sweet – just the way I like them. The coconut flesh was soft enough to spoon out and eat alongside a mouthful of prawn or mushroom. It was delightful, so creative and well, fabulous.

After hearing that we simply must try the caramelised pork at Morning Glory, we gave it a go. It was beautifully tender and perfectly caramelised. The flavours were quite familiar to us, in that it was similar to Chinese dishes we have on occasion. And so on this night of enthusiastic ordering, we didn’t pay much attention to this dish (even though it as very yummy). So much to eat, such limited stomach space 😉

I was keen to try a soup, and so we chose a fish soup, which was supposed to help balance us internally…?? We were impressed, although I can’t say if it really helped to balance things… A beautiful, full-bodied broth, similar to Tom Yum with the hot and sour to and fro. The fish was meaty and the vegetables crisp. We loved this soup – fresh ingredients and lovely strong flavours, all dancing beautifully together on the palate. One, two, three, one, two, three – it was a glorious, graceful yet spirited waltz in my mouth.

* On our last night in Hoi An we visited Morning Glory again, for a somewhat less indulgent meal. We tried the caramel fish in claypot (so yummy) and eggplant also cooked in a claypot – it was a claypot kind of night. We were very pleased again, but our choices on our first visit were better. Try the spring rolls, chicken rice and prawns in the coconut, in particular. And we never got around to trying the cinnamon beef, which sounds fabulous.

I really recommend this restaurant to those who are lucky enough to visit beautiful Hoi An. Comfortable surrounds, with top quality ingredients and spot on flavours. And all for very little cost, too – between 15-30,000 Dong for starters (0.75 cents to $1.50) and 30-120,000 Dong ($1.50 – $6.00) for mains…I know, right? Hey, this is Vietnam! And boy is it delicious.

Heidi xo

Demitri’s Delicious Pancakes

March 19, 2011

A couple of Saturdays ago, we revisited Demitri’s Feast. It was a necessary visit. You see, I had been dreaming about their pancakes for months, longing to try them.

These aren’t just any pancakes, they’re Semolina Pancakes with thick Greek yoghurt, rose jam, pistachios and orange honey syrup. Oh yes. And so, as soon as we had a free morning, we headed straight to this cute little café.

We were seated out the back in their little courtyard. It’s a little cozy back there, but we didn’t mind. It was a beautiful Saturday morning and the sun was already shining brightly – one of those kinds of days…

We ordered coffee to start. Ben went with a Freddo, which is an espresso shot mixed with ice, plus milk and sugar as desired. We both had our first Freddo in Silicy in 2009, right in the middle of the Italian summer. We craved something cool, but didn’t want to forgo our morning coffee. And thus, we discovered the amazing Freddo.

I went with a skinny latte, although I kind of wish I ordered the Freddo. No reflection on the coffee, which was actually wonderful, I just wanted a Freddo! Plus it is fun to say…

Not long after we had finished our coffees, our breakfast came out.

Pancakes, oh glorious pancakes, how sweet you are…

After my first bite I had to put my knife and fork down and breathe, I was simply overwhelmed with happiness and excitement! I have a tendancy to be a bit dramatic, but I don’t feel I am exaggerating here. It was necessary to savour every morsel in utter rapture.

The semolina gave the pancakes a light, grainy, sandy texture. And they were insanely fluffy and airy, which was very fortunate. Why? Well, you get a little jug of orange honey syrup to pour over your pancakes. This fluffy texture created grooves in the pancakes, into which the syrup would seep in an oh so sensuous manner. Sigh. It was a thing of beauty. The yoghurt served atop of the pancakes was a welcome departure from the saccharine syrup. Crushed pistachios are just the icing on top of the pancake.

I could only finish half of my plate (if that), the serve is very big. But at $13.50, the price is fabulous – Demitri’s Feast is so affordable and the quality outstanding.

Ben tried the Omeletta. It was deliciously fluffy, although perhaps slightly overcooked for our liking. The omelette was filled with fried potato cubes, Greek sausage and kefalograviera. All these strong flavours were punctuated, but they weren’t overwhelming. The sausage had a lovely sweet bite to it. The omelette was served with roquette and toasted sourdough. Ben also ordered a side of the sage mushrooms, which were quite yummy too, and not overly oily.

We skipped away (well, I skipped) feeling far more than content. We were elated, charmed by Demitri’s Feast. Our little meal was a beautiful start to a glorious day. And isn’t that what breakfast should be?

Heidi xo

A Delightfully Indulgent Day in Hoi An

March 17, 2011

When you visit Hoi An, you’re more than likely to come away with a few tailor made goodies. Whether shoes or suits, coats or dresses (or in our case, all of the aforementioned!), you can easily grab a bargain – and one that fits you like a glove, to boot!

Back home I rarely shop for clothes. I find it so expensive, and as I am perpetually saving for more travel (and a house, and a wedding) I don’t find clothes shopping a necessity. Rather, it is more of an indulgence. I may want a cute dress, but I don’t need it. So it was nice to forget my rules get a some pretty clothes made on this trip, all while still staying within our budget.

That is one of the blessed things about travelling to Asia instead of Europe, you can afford to treat yourself and indulge a little…

Choosing your tailor can be an overwhelming experience (read the Buy section here for tips) – there are just so many to choose from, and they all raucously vie for your business. We strolled around for a while before settling on our tailor, the lovely Ngan. How did we pick her? It was quite simple, really, we instantly felt a connection with Ngan. She came up to us as we were passing through the crowded cloth hall and was friendly, confident and assured. We just knew she was our tailor. It sounds corny, doesn’t it? But it’s true, we just knew. It was love at first stitch…

I took in some pictures of clothing I wanted copied – the classic Burberry Trench Coat and a Valentino dress (big call, but she came through). Ben got 4 slimline suits made, as well as a bunch of business shirts and some casual ones too. We also had a suit and two shirts made for my brother, Jackson. Just in case you’re interested, the suits were 120 AUD each and the shirts 15AUD each. My coat was 90 AUD my dress was 60AUD. We were thrilled with them all! I absolutely adore my new coat and dress. I don’t have pictures of our goodies yet, as we are currently in the process of moving apartments and everything is packed up. No doubt I will be flaunting my new coat soon, though 😉

We (read: Ben) bargained the prices down a little (mainly the shirts) but honestly, it is not like in Morocco or other places – the price they quote you is usually very good, and in the end you may get it down a little, but what for…to save $5?

Ngan was the perfect tailor and hostess. On our last day, as we picked up our purchases, she brought over some Cao lầu and we sat in her little nook in the cloth market and enjoyed a meal together. I was sad to say goodbye.

We also had some shoes made by a different lady – cute booties and work flats for me, and a great casual pair of shoes for Ben. They were between 20-35 AUD for each pair, and they’re fabulous.

After all that intense shopping, it is incredibly important to replenish your stores… with some Cơm bình dân (which, according to noodlepie, means “food for the workers”).

We visited this little stand, just outside of the Old Town, for a serve of chicken, tofu, vegetables, egg, rice and soup. There are loads of Cơm bình dân restaurants all across Vietnam, a popular place for locals to fill up on the cheap.Our meal was really yummy! Well, the rice, tofu and vegetables were. And the soup, which is apparently flavoured with the rau má leaf (thanks for this information, Linh!), was also delicious – very refreshing, good for cutting through the heat of the chilli. The chicken, on the other hand, was not so great – very little meat and quite fatty. But we were quite impressed overall, especially for a dollar…

Staying hydrated is also necessary when indulging. A fresh coconut off the street from a man with a machete and a cart full of coconuts (and branches) is clearly the ideal choice.

Happy coconut juice dance…

And lastly, we felt it prudent to undergo a little pampering.

A haircut for Ben – please note the hilarious pictures on the walls. Clearly they served as inspiration for Ben’s hairdresser, who was 100% rockin’ the look.

And I treated myself to a little manicure. However my manicurist was decidedly unimpressed that I requested a clear polish. When I pointed out my desired colour (or lack there of), she let out a big sigh. Sorry, lady! I know you were pulling for lime green.

Tough day, hey 😉

Heidi xo

Exploring Hoi An

March 15, 2011

Vietnamese Iced-Coffee, cà phê đá, and an English language paper. The perfect way to start to your day? We thought so.

After our Whirlwind Day in Ho Chi Minh City (links to parts 1, 2, 3 and 4), we caught an overnight train to Danang and then a taxi to pretty little Hoi An – see a recap of this journey here. Unfortunately, our photos from the first 2 days in this beautiful town were lost *sigh*. I cried. Let’s move on…

Day three in Hoi An started like this…

Chilling in a little cafe just outside of the Old Town, fuelling up for the day ahead.

We ordered Cao lầu to share, which is a local delicacy.

This was our second Cao lầu, and probably our favourite. Hoi An is famous for Cao lầu, a dish consisting of beige-coloured rice noodles topped with thin pork slices, bean shoots, herbs and bits of thin, crispy rice cracker. Water from an ancient well is used to make these special noodles, and this gives them a unique flavour and chewy texture. See this fabulous post for a more detailed, educated explanation of Cao lầu. While we enjoyed trying this local delicacy, we weren’t particularly enamoured with the dish. Just our personal preference, I suppose. I can’t quite pinpoint where these blasé feelings arise from – perhaps too much blatant love for Pho?…

Also a part of the dish was this pretty, club-shaped herb. See how attractive it is?…

Don’t be fooled, my friends, for this is a devil herb. This gross greenery was everywhere in Hoi An, sneakily popping-up in our meals. Ben and I could not stand it. Usually I am a herb lover, but this was bitter and sharp and utterly unpleasant. We asked many locals to identify it for us, hoping to get an English translation, only the same name in Vietnamese kept popping up “yap ga”. Is this correct, can anyone pretty please help? I would like to know what it is so I can expressly avoid it in the future 🙂

We also shared a Bánh chuối. During my research I stumbled across recommendations for Bánh chuối, it’s English translation being ‘banana pancake’. “Yes. I will definitely be trying this”, I told myself. And so try it we did. It tasted just as it looked – like any regular pancake filled with banana. It was yummy, especially with sweetened condensed milk drizzled on top. No gastronomic feat, but tasty nonetheless. This pancake wasn’t fried – I have seen pictures of many fried versions, and while initially delicious, I am sure, they must be oily and a little heavy.

After filling our bellies and catching up on the news 😉 we set off to explore the Old Town…

Everywhere I turned there were gorgeous, ageing yellow walls with quaint, coloured wooden shutters. The old and wise trees were accessorised with pretty little golden lanterns. I found myself enamoured with these beautiful buildings…

We also spent a bit of time wandering around the An Hoi Islet, just across the bridge, which is a more raw, untouched area.

Visiting this side of the Thu Bon river affords you a beautiful view of the Old Town, especially at night. We would sit with a Bia Hoi (“fresh beer”, popular throughout Vietnam) and watch the twinkling lights of twilight in this sleepy little town.

Hoi An really is an enchanting place.

Heidi xo

Family Brunch at Red Hill

March 13, 2011

The weekend that Ben and I arrived home from our Asia trip, my family organised a lovely brunch. We told stories of our travels, recounting exciting adventures and beautiful moments. It was wonderful.

The air was crisp, unusually so for February in Melbourne. And so we found warmth in each other’s company. Cups of tea and beautiful local produce were also welcomed…

Outside on the barbeque, Dad cooked eggs (courtesy of our chooks).

Gathered around the hot plate, we caught up and had some laughs with Roo – David, my older brother, named my grandfather “Roo” when he was very small, and the name has stuck.

My grandparents are so special to me. My cousins and I would watch all the “Road to…” movies with Roo when we were young. Just this past Christmas we all watched Road to Morocco together – my favourite. Bob Hope and Bing Crosby – is there a better combination? I don’t think so. He and my gorgeous Nana have such a fabulous, fun relationship. They’re so active and are always travelling. I hope to be just like they are when I’m their age.

Back to the barbeque, we also cooked a heap of mushrooms and a big bunch of asparagus. I found myself quite enamoured with the beauty of the mushroom.

Asparagus spears are quite pretty too…

Blue cheese for the mushrooms – Dad’s a cheese nut. He’s actually a member of the Richmond Hill Larder Cheese Club. He’s a nerd and we love it. I must say I am beginning to fall a little in love with blue cheese myself.

My parents still have leftovers from their sizeable Christmas pork purchases, so naturally we nibbled on some freshly sliced prosciutto.

On this occasion we tried Boks Bacon, a high quality product from Tasmania. It was absolutely divine, a real treat! Possibly the best bacon I have ever had.

I had fun exploring the property – actually they only have half an acre, but there is lots to photograph and plenty of room to frolic. And frolic I did. I missed this house while we were away.

Our chickens scare me…it’s a bird thing. It has something to do with me being terrified they’ll poke my eyes out with their pointy little beaks. Yeah. I would always get my younger brother, Jackson, to feed them. Sorry, little chickens. I do so love the eggs you give me, though…

The garden is looking so beautiful – the vegetables are flourishing and the roses blooming!

Although the lemons are becoming scarce *sob*.

My parents planted these orange roses for David, and they’re just beautiful. Mesmerising. Orange was his favourite colour. He even had orange Converse.

As a child, I would spend so much time in the garden. I would find a little corner and sit under a tree, pretending to be Alice in Wonderland or Mary in the Secret Garden.

As a gift from our travels, we bought mum an assortment of hand-woven placemats from Baan Dada. This is one of them. Some of the kids and local women make gorgeous hand-woven products to earn a living and raise money for the home.

Isn’t this rocking chair sweet? Mum recently stumbled across it and had to have it. She has such a skill for finding gems like these.

To follow our eggs we had fruit salad and thick, natural yoghurt. Mum knows me so well, she always has fruit and yoghurt on hand when I visit.

Dad came up with the ingenious idea of sprinkling a little cardamom and pistachio sugar over the yoghurt. Mum and Dad have recently introduced me to Gewurzhaus, a fantastic new spice shop on Lygon street. This cardamom and pistachio sugar is from this store. I constantly find myself dreaming up excuses to visit Gewurzhaus, I adore it.

We chatted and laughed as we ate. I do so enjoy weekends together.

Family brunch at Red Hill. Lovely.

Heidi xo

New York Tomato

March 10, 2011

Last Sunday Ben and I had breakfast at New York Tomato. What a delightful burough this is. I find it trendy without being pretentious. Quite the popular hangout for a lazy weekend brunch (as we left there was a substantial queue for tables), but it has the goods to back up the hype.

New York Tomato has swiftly become one of our favourite breakfast spots. I had once before visited New York Tomato with my lovely friend, Phe. But this was years ago, back when I rarely ventured away from my typical order of muesli. Things are a little different these days…

This particular Sunday I found myself torn between my desire for sweet or savory. As I had heard such great things about the eggs at New York Tomato, savory one out. I guess I will have to visit again soon to try their Belgian waffles with spiced labne and orange blossom maple syrup… sounds divine, I know.

First, coffee…

Ben opted for an iced-coffee, which he enjoyed. It wasn’t too creamy, with only one scoop of ice-cream – so often when you order an iced-coffee it ends up being a meal in itself…in a glass.

I enjoyed my skinny latte, although it was not one of the best I have had. I think we’re spoilt with such good coffee in Melbourne. Yet I was quite content to sip away whilst reading the papers, the sun shining through the windows and the smell of toast and eggs wafting around me. Morning smells so good.

Ben and I decided to share New York Tomato’s popular baked eggs, as well as their claypot of chickpeas.

The baked eggs are cooked in a rich napoli sauce with capsicum, fetta and green olives, and topped a generous sprinkle of sesame seeds. They were delicious! The eggs were slightly overcooked, but that is just our personal preference. The sourdough toast that came with the dish was a perfect tool for mopping up the lovely sauce. What a satisfying meal.

The claypot was our favourite dish. It consisted of pancetta and chickpeas, along with some spices, preserved lemon and basil. All topped off with two eggs, and more toast for dipping in the yolk. This was absolutely beautiful. I loved the combination of flavours, especially the addition of preserved lemon.

We will definitely be spending more lazy mornings here in the future…

Heidi xo