Melbourne Tea Festival 2017: all of the tea you should be drinking!

Melbourne Tea Festival 2017
http://www.melbourneteafestival.com.au/

I couldn’t have been more excited last year when one of my best friends told me Melbourne had a tea festival; this year, I didn’t need any prompting.

Off we went to Tea Palooza; we being myself (the avid tea drinker) and my husband (the food truck fanatic). He heard Ghost Kitchen were back this year and wasn’t passing up the chance for their popcorn chicken.

We arrived not long after opening, and it was noticeably smaller than last year’s. Husband worked it out almost immediately;  last year, Melbourne was in the throes of a matcha trend, while this year it seemed that chai was the in thing; apparently there are less chai dealers than matcha ones It was also a little disappointing to find that not all of the vendors on their program sheet were actually there.

But onto the tea… I did get around to trying a few, and obviously took some home with me. For those of you who didn’t make it to the tea festival (and actually care about tea!), here’s what’s worth trying!

 

TRIED:

1. UMTEA: Champagne Rose
http://www.umtea.com/
This was nicer than I expected it to be – sweet without that overpowering syrupy taste, and the rose flavour was subtle enough to be delicious  (anyone who’s had something with wayyyy too much rose flavouring in it will know what I mean). Kinda sad they didn’t have more teas brewing to try!

2. The Fitzroy Naturopath: Organic Turmeric Elixir
http://thefitzroynaturopath.com.au/
With its trendy superfood label, turmeric is “in” at the moment, so when I was offerrd a taste, I wasn’t expecting much – blended with lemongrass, it was actually really good! Husband commented that he felt like it would be the perfect thing if you were sick with a cold or flu. While I didn’t end up buying any on the day, I’m not ruling out an online purchase…

3. McIvers: Bolshie Brew, Tramtracker
https://www.mcivers.melbourne/
Both really good, strong black brews – would happily drink both of them again, but found a third option that I liked best and purchased (see below).

4. Cloud Nine Teas: Sencha, Gyokuro
http://cloudnineteas.com/
Honestly, I wasn’t impressed. I was actually pretty disappointed; I was really hoping to take some gyokuro home with me, but it didn’t taste like gyokuro (or at least not like the varieties I tried in Japan that I fell in love with) – just tasted like an odd type of sencha. The search continues…

5. Ito En: Genmaicha
http://www.itoen.com.au/
This was fantastic – really delicious, but not overpowering nutty, toasty flavour. Only reason I didn’t buy some is because I was just given a bag of genmaicha from Ippodo Tea!

6. Matcha Matcha: sweet matcha (cold)
https://www.facebook.com/matchamatchacafe/
I didn’t think I’d like this much,  and it was far too sweet to drink much of, but it was surprisingly nice!


TOOK HOME:

1
. McIvers: Vic Market Mornings
https://www.mcivers.melbourne/
This was my favourite from the McIvers range – the perfect strong, black tea to enjoy on a cold, lazy Sunday morning with a good book and a fluffy dressing gown.

2. Tea Angle: Smokey Lapsang Souchong
https://www.teaangle.com/


This was a new one for me – I’d never heard of or tried anything like it before. It tastes like a cold night sitting by an open fire. Great on its own, but I also tried it with a tiny bit of milk, and that was really good, too.

3. Faraaz Tea: Red Hibiscus
http://www.faraaztea.com.au/
I bought this last year for the first time as a reminder of the tea I drank in Egypt. I recently discovered a better way to drink it rather than just as hot tea; mixed with a little bit of T2’s Mint Mix tea, it makes the perfect iced tea to fill my water bottle with and sip on at work all day – so much better than water!

4. Rico Coco’s: Chocolate Tea
http://www.chocolatetea.com.au/
Chocolate tea. Magic. It couldn’t be more simple – just cacao husks/shells, and some cacao nibs. Add hot water and its a hot cup of drinkable chocolate. And it has no caffeine, which is why it’s my tea of choice before bedtime – it’s like drinking dessert before bed! Oh, and it’s organic (good for you) and FairTrade (good for the Peruvian plantations that supply the cacao). Everyone wins!

5. Storm In A Teacup: Breakfast Tea
http://www.storminateacup.com.au/

My favourite loose leaf breakfast tea – despite the dozens of other black teas I have at home  (yes, seriously, more than one dozen), I’m onto my third bag of this since discovering it at last year’s tea show. When I work from home, I brew a big, strong pot of this first thing in the morning, and its the perfect start to the morning. Also gets a great run on lazy weekends at home.

5 Reasons To Renew Your Library Membership

Remember back in the day when you used to go to the library after school, pick up your books like it was the most exciting thing in the world, and head home to your juice box and teddy bears to read (chances are if you weren’t born in the 80s, you probably don’t)? Unsurprisingly, I had pretty high library attendance rates when I was a kid. I went through books like a pack-a-day smoker goes through cigarettes, and it wasn’t cheap for mum and dad to keep up with my habit. So I went to the library.

Many years later, not much has changed. I don’t smoke. I don’t really drink, other than the odd glass of wine. I don’t buy myself nice clothes, fancy shoes, new handbags or jewellery – my money goes towards books. That’s my guilty pleasure. But with my travel habit getting more and more expensive, something’s had to give. So I toddled on down to the local library, and signed myself up, expecting a half-decent collection of old books, at best. What I found instead, I was not expecting.

Libraries have upped their game since I was last a member back in the 1990s. They’ve got new books, old books, and so much more than books. I’m kicking myself for not having signed up earlier, because the easy access to books has meant I’ve been able to tear through 24 of them so far this year already! My habit is satisfied, and I’ve found a whole new world I didn’t know existed a few months ago. I’m really glad I went back to the library, and here’s why you should, too…

 

1. It’s not just access to your local library – it’s your whole council.
Say you live in the confines of the Whitehorse City Council. Say you live in the suburb of Blackburn. It’s not just Blackburn’s library you can borrow from; you can use your library card to borrow from Box Hill. Or Doncaster. Or Nunawading, Vermont, Bulleen or Warrandyte. You have no idea how nifty this is until you want to borrow a book on your way home and it’s way easier to drop into a different branch!

2. Easy reservations online or with apps.
You know how frustrating it is when you finally get to the library and they don’t have the book you want? Well that’s a thing of the past, now. Councils like Darebin have introduced an app you can download; from there, you can search the library catalogue and make a reservation! And, to prove step one really is efficient, it doesn’t matter which library the book is currently residing in – they can bring it to your library of choice for collection! AND you’ll get a handy sms to let you know when it’s ready for you, so you don’t have to make the trip down for nothing. Amazing!

3. They look after the kids.
Libraries have seriously upped their game when it comes to activities for the small ones. The City of Moonee Valley are outstanding, providing not only sessions for kids of all ages (rhyme time for babies, a mix of singing and stories for the toddlers, a story time program for pre-schoolers, and even an after school program for the older kids), they also have a gorgeous initiative called “Begin With Books” that gives a free book bag to all babies born within their council 🙂

4. Free community events.
Did you know that most libraries actually hold a ton of free events?! Libraries like those in the City of Yarra host regular events, ranging from social (crafternoons, Lego clubs and kids’ reading clubs) to educational (digital coaching and how to create your own food gardens), and all you have to do is register online and turn up!

5. Free books – duh!
Sooooo many books! All yours! For free! For a time, anyway. Oh, and it’s not just physical books that libraries lend out anymore; you can also get eBooks to download to your favourite electronic reading device! And as you can see on Moreland City Council’s library page, you can also get eAudiobooks, And eMovies. And eMagazines. Libraries are keeping up with technology to stay relevant and accessible, and that can only come in handy!

Anything but ordinary…

This was originally written just to be shared on the site for my new little project, Ordinary People, Extraordinary Stories, but some kind words from my sister and her saying that it was “relatable” encouraged me to share it here, too. And the more I thought about it, the more I realised she was right – relatable is exactly what I was hoping for, and relatable is what we need more of. While I was writing, I believed I was writing for the sole purpose of encouraging more people to join the project and contribute their stories. I see now that it was much more than that; as I typed it up earlier today, with a dog napping on my lap and a pot of green tea steaming in my face (ahh, the perks of working from home occasionally), my subconscious clearly had a lot of feels stewing inside of it, and consequently, a lot to say…

 

 

Despite what everyone’s social media accounts might have you believe, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. This time that we’re living in right now is the most unique in history; we’ve never been simultaneously more and less connected to each other before.

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With a tiny little computer we can carry around in our pockets, we can send a photo of our birthday celebrations to the family member on the other side of the world who can’t be there, and we can just as easily send anonymous abuse to a stranger who we’ve decided that we just don’t like. We can see what our best friend is doing while they travel around the world as they’re doing it, and at the same time get so wrapped up in what they’re doing that we ignore the friend we’re having a coffee with in real life. This constant connection truly is a double-edged sword.

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With being constantly connected and observed comes another issue; the pressure to portray constant perfection. We’re acutely aware that the whole world is watching us, because we’re watching everyone else as well. And the more we see perfectly edited and filtered images of other peoples’ lives, and their carefully worded (and re-worded) captions, the more inadequate we feel unless we can curate our lives in the same way.

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So we show our perfect new shoes that we wear out to eat our perfect brunch with our perfect partner that we gush about so that everyone knows how perfect things are. What we don’t show is the hours of nightshift work that went towards being able to afford those shoes. Or the anxiety attack over going out to brunch with an eating disorder. Or all the fights and hard times your relationship has survived to make it to that weekend brunch. We all work so damn hard to keep up the shiny veneer of exciting and extraordinary, for the fear that we will be irrelevant and left behind if we show how “ordinary” we really are.

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The irony is that the ordinary stories (the nightshifts, the eating disorders, the fights) are what truly connect us. They connect us so much more than the new shoes and fancy smoothie bowls. Human beings have an innate desire to be understood and accepted and acknowledged. When all we see is perfection, it’s no wonder we feel so misunderstood and inferior.

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So here we are. A little space where we can be raw and honest in a scarily “perfect” world. Let us “ordinary” people share our extraordinary stories, so they all of the other “ordinary” people out there will feel less alone. And let us realise how extraordinary we really are.

Are you ready to share your story?

Eat here: Miss Margaret, Melbourne (café/brunch)

Miss Margaret
14-18 Gilbert Rd, Preston

http://www.missmargaretcafe.com.au

I’ve not been food blogging much lately; I’m getting a bit over it, to be honest. While I appreciate a creative menu and nice interior design, I am finding that I’m just not interested in being the first person to rush into a new place and sample the fancy menu in an uber-shiny new space anymore.  More and more, I’m valuing local places with a warm, homely feel, a less pretentious menu and actual friendly staff.

Enter Miss Margaret, in Preston. The neighbourhood is slowly but surely gentrifying, a far cry from the more working class suburb that my Italian family first settled into. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, particularly when it brings places like this.  Turning up on a Saturday morning  (when cafés are usually at their busiest and staff at their most stressed), we were greeted and seated not only with a smile, but with a genuine “how’s your morning been?” and a poured glass of water (as opposed to the usual huff and slide of the glasses and water bottle across the table at you). Unexpectedly and pleasantly surprisingly good start!

After our water was poured, we were offered hot drinks to start – they were ordered and brought out very quickly. Husband was very happy with his Cartel Coffee Roasters brew, and I was stoked with a good strong pot of Australian Tea Masters’ English breakfast. Food was ordered, too – usually there’ll just be one item that’ll jump out straight away, but there were quite a few we had our eyes on this time…

Husband went with a savoury option, smashed avo and saganaki on sourdough with a poached egg, grilled asparagus and lemon pepper. He loved it – first time we’ve seen saganaki with smashed avo, and can’t understand why now; it’s unreal!! Even the vegetable element that would usually get a cursory taste before being dismissed was entirely devoured. Well done Miss Margaret; you’re the first one to successfully get my husband to eat asparagus!

After going back and forth between sweet and savoury, I ended up going with the coconut crumpets with coconut yoghurt, toasted coconut and raspberries. I also asked for the peach syrup on the side, because fructose isn’t my friend. The lovely lady looking after us let me know that they were actually using plum syrup – I told her it didn’t really matter, all stone fruits are the enemy with fructose hating tummies, I’d be more than happy with just the coconut yoghurt and berries. She had a word to the chef who followed her out with our breakfast, carrying a little pot of maple syrup for me to use instead. These are the little things that make all the difference; by that stage, they were pretty full up and the kitchen was getting busy, but he still took the time to pop out and bring the maple syrup himself. That is why these sweet little local neighbourhood places win out over the hottest new place with the most OTT social media campaigns by the people that brought you X, Y and Z every single time.

And they were the best damn crumpets I’ve ever had!!! They will be happening again, believe me! 

If the good, honest food (in their own words, “Our food is made using ingredients that are good for the mind and body. Seasonal fruit and vegetables that are high in vitamins and minerals are transformed into delicious smoothies and salads, and seeds and grains fill you up and provide you with protein and fibre. We don’t want you to go without the sweet things in life so our cakes, slices and muffins are made on site so you know there are no nasty preservatives.“),  the homey atmosphere and some of the best servive around isn’t enough to convince you, these legends are also all about helping those less fortune in their community:

Miss Margaret is a social enterprise café born out of a strong desire to help those in need. Our aim is to bring like-minded people together over a cup of coffee and a delicious plate of food, so that collectively we can help even more people than any one individual could. We do this by fostering a community spirit, donating proceeds from our café sales to various charities, holding special fundraising events, and employing refugees to help them develop new skills and networks within the local community.

There is a lot of sadness and inequality in the world and something we are passionate about is access to education for women in developing counties. Women in the developing world are often denied opportunities for education. When women miss out on education their prospects are limited, overall family income is low, it increases the likelihood of ill health, puts women and girls at risk of trafficking and exploitation, and limits the economic advancement of entire countries.

Everything you buy from us helps us help others because we donate part of our profits to charity! All the spare change you give to us in the café gets donated to charity and if you attend a charity dinner which we hold once a month, then $20 gets donated – all because you are eating and socialising with us and others!

Keep doing what you’re doing over there, guys; consider yourself plus two new customers 🙂

Through my eyes: Beechworth Cemetery, Victoria

We had a quick backyard adventure last weekend, spending a night in Beechworth – with the old streets lined with big, leafy trees, it’s the most stunning place in autumn as they all turn golden, orange and crimson…

Last Sunday morning, husband asked what I wanted to do with the morning. I wanted to take a nice stroll; through the cemetery. I know, I’m weird.

The Beechworth Cemetery sprang up in the 1850s, along with the gold rush, huge influx of people to the town, and outbreaks of disease as a result of the less than civil living conditions. Their website states that “Between 1853 and 1860, an average of one child per week died of disease including measles, scarlet fever, dysentery, diphtheria and typhoid.” Pretty grim numbers…

Despite the nasty start, the cemetery is an important place to the community. Again, from their website (because I couldn’t possibly word this any more eloquently),

Lives are commemorated – deaths are recorded – families are reunited – memories are made tangible – and love is undisguised – This is our Cemetery.

Communities accord respect – families bestow reverence, historians seek information and our heritage is thereby enriched.

Testimonies of devotion, pride and remembrance are recorded and preserved to pay warm tribute of accomplishment and to the life – not the death – of a loved one. Our Cemetery is homeland for memories that are a sustained source of comfort to the living.

The Cemetery is a history of people – a perpetual record of yesterday and a sanctuary of peace and quiet today.

Our Cemetery exists because every life is worth living and remembering – always.

The cemetery is laid out in sections – Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Methodist United, and so on. Two of the more fascinating areas for me were the Chinese Section and the Strangers Section.

The Chinese Section was introduced to accommodate the Chinese who passed away after coming to Beechworth to get in on the gold rush, so that they’d have a place to cater for their cultural needs. This includes not only grave sites with simple markers, but also the two Chinese Burning Towers, used to burn offerings and gifts for the afterlife.

As for the Strangers area, as per the Cemetery website: “An area has been set aside for the purpose of the burial of bodily remains of deceased poor persons.” This was an area for those who came to Australia to look for gold, and were killed before they could return to their homes. This was also an area for those whose religions were unknown. And, given there was an asylum located there, well…

 

Next time you’re in Beechworth, take a drive down Balaclava Road and take a stroll through some local history. It may not be the most obvious romantic weekend walk, but it’s more peaceful and beautiful than you’d think 🙂

Logistics of RTW travel – part 5: 10 things to do before you head off

If you need to catch up first…
Part 1: When & where are you going?
Part 2: How to create your spendings budget
Part 3: How to create your savings budget
Part 4: Tracking your bookings (& saving your sanity)

 

Whether you’ve decided to plan ahead like me or just wing it, this list is for everyone; some things are too important to leave to chance.

1. Check whether or not you need visas
Some countries won’t let you in without a visa, and they’ll have no qualms about shipping you right back to where you came from. For that same reason, even if certain countries do offer visas on arrival at a cheaper rate, you’re still better off organising them beforehand. Imagine if you spent all that time and money on your dream adventure only to be turned away before even leaving the airport?! And yes, it does happen – I worked as a travel consultant and heard a colleague dealing with that situation on the phone one day!

 

2. Get travel insurance
If you can’t afford insurance, you can’t afford to travel. It’s as simple as that. This should be the very first item you purchase, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s absolutely non-negotiable. And if you think it’s expensive, consider how much an ambulance or surgery could cost in a country like America, where the health care system isn’t quite what we have in Australia!

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3. Register your plans with Smart Traveller
I’m a big believer in “hope for the best, but plan for the worst,” so the next few points are along that path. First up, register your plans on Smart Traveller. It’s a service provided by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and is basically the place to register your travel plans for any “just incase” situations (think natural and man made disasters). If you’re a non-Aussie reader, check if your country offers something similar.

 

4. Put an itinerary together for family/friends
As well as registering plans with Smart Traveller, I always leave a copy of my itinerary with family and/or friends. Because if anything were to happen to me overseas or to my loved ones back at home while I’m travelling, I want them to know how to find me quickly. My itineraries will always have:
– passport & visa copies
– insurance details
– flight/train details (dates, times, cities & flight/train numbers)
– accommodation details (name, address, phone, email, booking number, dates)

If you don’t want to print everything, Evernote is an app you need. I wrote more about it here, but basically it’s a note taking app which I used to plan this entire trip! The advantage it offers is the ability to share notebooks with other users, so if you have an itinerary folder with all those details, you can just share access to it via the app! It also means that if you change or update anything while you’re away, the people you’re sharing with will be able to see the changes.

 

5. Know where your local consulates are
Call it overkill, but with some of the scary stuff going on in the world today (if Kim Kardashian isn’t safe in her Parisian hotel, what hope do the rest of us have?!), I’m erring on the side of caution. It doesn’t take long to Google and save the addresses, phone numbers and/or email addresses of your country’s consulates in some of the bigger cities you’ll visit. Save them in your phone, it couldn’t hurt!

 

6. See  your doctor
A quick phone call to your GP’s office should be able to tell you if you need any immunisations. Also, if you take prescription medication, make sure you have enough to get you through your trip. Some countries can also be quite strict regarding medication coming through customs, so if that’s going to be an issue for any places you’re visiting, ask your doctor for a letter to bring along with you.

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7. Call your bank and organize your foreign currency
Seems like a no-brainer, but make sure you know what currency you’re going to need! Rather than travelling with cash or being stung with foreign transaction fees at ATMs when you’re away, consider a travel debit card. I use a Cash Passport, and it’s perfect for what I want; I can load multiple currencies, use it overseas in ATMs or as a regular debit card with no transaction fees, and best of all is that I can top it up whenever I’m running low on cash via their website!

It’s also worth letting your bank know you’re going to be overseas for a while so if there’s a lot of international activity/you don’t touch your account for several weeks, they won’t shut it down!

 

8. Sort out your phone/communications
I don’t have international roaming on my phone, nor do I intend to. When you travel, there is pretty much always access to free Wi-Fi somewhere. If you don’t want to worry about a horrific phone bill while you’re away (especially if it’s for a few months), think about using apps like Skype, Viber or WhatsApp that you’ll be able to use when your connected to free Wi-Fi instead!

Husband and I are also those weirdos who aren’t on Facebook or Twitter, so we’ve told our family and friends who want to keep up to date with the trip to follow along on Instagram. We’ve also created a private, password-protected mini-blog using Tumblr (totally underrated app) that only our family and friends have the password to, so we can share more personal stuff. There’s also the functionality of a private message section and a public post section, again to make it easy to communicate without international roaming.

 

9.Bills, bills, bills
Unfortunately, just because you’re checking out of the real world for a while doesn’t mean it stops. If you’re like us, there’s still a mortgage, bills, car and health and home insurance to be paid while we’re away! . I’ve gone into way more detail about the financial side of things in this post, so a few small points here.

We’ve been saving and budgeting for this trip for quite a while, and have been putting a bit of extra money away each pay day to cover our mortgage repayments and other direct debits while we’re away. This way, any money we get paid for annual leave from work goes straight to our trip instead of those bills.

We’ve also elected to receive electronic bills for utilities, so we won’t miss anything. If that’s not possible, it’s a good idea to ask a friend to check your mail every week and open anything that looks like a bill, so you can pay it on time. The other option is to see if anything else can be set up on a direct debit payment plan.

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10. Record it all!
I’m obviously one for recording the memories I create, and I don’t think I should be the only one – think about how much time and effort you’ve put into planning this adventure. You won’t want to forget it all a few weeks after you get home! Invest in a good camera, get a travel journal and nice pen, create a travel blog. However you want to do it, make sure you have some place to keep all of the magic moments that happen on the road; those are the moments that turn into golden memories years later 🙂

Read this: La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy by the Italian Academy of Cuisine

La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy
by the Italian Academy of Cuisine


So, at almost 1000 pages long, it’s not exactly a “curl up with a pot of tea and read it on Saturday morning” kind of book. But, it’s also a lot more than just a cookbook. I’ve found myself picking it up and flicking through it more than usual lately, and as you can probably tell by the top of the dustcover, I spend a bit of time with this book…

A few decades ago, some thoughtful, clever Italians came together with the idea of preserving their culinary legacy. They formed the Italian Academy of Cuisine and set their sights on the lofty goal of recording the classic Italian recipes from all over the country. Including/especially those very specific, regional ones that have (until now) only been passed down verbally through the generations.

With over 7,600 members across the country, they were able to get their paws on some 2,000 recipes, covering everything from pasta to vegetables to desserts and literally everything in between. These are the precious recipes that are cooked in only this or that region of Italy. Recipes that have graced the dinner tables for generations. Recipes that would have eventually been lost as the generations stopped cooking them, or stopped remembering how much flour and salt Nonna said the dough needed.

Not only are there the recipes, but like in the photo below, scattered throughout the book are little snippets of “local traditions;” with half of my family from Northern Italy and the other half from Southern Italy, there’s a lot in between I don’t know much about! And if you love to travel and learn about other cultures through their culinary traditions half as much as I do, you’re going to find a veritable treasure trove in these pages…

One of the most beautiful things about this book is the point made in the introduction – it is very much recognised that every Italian has their own way of making a dish their own (I can vouch for that), so this is not intended to be a “correct to the last letter” type of cookbook…

“Interpretation, improvisation – these are essential characteristics of Italian coking. Thus while we have strived to present the most iconic version of key regional dishes, it is up to you, the home cook, to make them your own.”

Pick up a copy here and start reading/cooking!