Victorian mini-breaks: How to spend a weekend in Beechworth part 1 (where to stay, eat & shop)

It’s a bit of a catch-22 when you finally realise that you’ve found what you want to do with your life, but it’s not something you can do so easily; I know I want to travel, but I can’t exactly drop what I’m doing and pack my bags and live on the road indefinitely. That costs money, and I need to work to earn enough of it to hit the road again! That said, just because I can’t give my passport a workout every month, doesn’t mean I can’t still explore and take adventures and appreciate what I’ve got in my own backyard; I am SO lucky to live in Melbourne, where , within a few hours, I can be at the beach, on snowy mountains, or in beautiful forests. Victoria is an incredible unique place, where we literally have it all – we just need to get in the car and actually look for it!

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So, over the next few months, I’m going to start to practice what I preach, and cultivate a little more adventure at home as well as abroad – why the hell not?! I’m going to start taking more mini-breaks, more weekends or even just days away, more road trips and local adventures, because “adventure” shouldn’t just be reserved for “vacations.” Living authentically, for me, means have adventures every day, and that’s something I can control.  And on that note, without further ado, let me take you to stop #1: Beechworth 🙂

 

Distance from Melbourne CBD:
It’ll only take around 3 hours to drive to Beechworth from the CBD – depending on which direction you’re coming from, just get yourself onto the Hume Freeway, and keep going until you hit Beechworth! It’s a really, really easy drive!

 

Stay here:
Beechworth on Bridge

38 Bridge Rd, Beechworth
http://www.beechworthonbridge.com.au/

I came across Beechworth on Bridge through a quick Trip Advisor search for accommodation in Beechworth. Being that the race was on, a lot of accommodation was booked early, and this was one that looked nice, but was still reasonably priced. We had two nights accommodation (Saturday and Sunday) for only $250, and it was a hundred times nicer that I could have possibly expected! Brenda runs a tight ship, and is one of the nicest ladies I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting on my travels 🙂 She welcomed us with a big smile and open arms, and made us feel right at home from the moment we walked through the front door. She gave us menus for breakfast (complimentary and home cooked), invited us to help ourselves to the enormous DVD collection should we need a relaxing evening in instead of heading out, and was happy to help us with anything else we may have needed. She walked us over to our gorgeously appointed room, and it honestly felt just like home (only, a little bit nicer!) – it was the perfect place to spend the weekend!

Features:
* In-ground, solar heated pool
* Rooms have new HD/LCD tvs
* New super quiet Fujitsu AC Split Systems
* Kitchenette with fridge, toaster, microwave, crockery and cutlery
* Tea, coffee, fresh milk and bikkies
* Expresso Coffee Machines
* Electric Blankets and cosy doonas
* Triple sheeted beds to ensure maximum cleanliness with NO recycled bedcovers
* Hair dryers, irons, ironing boards and fresh towels and high quality toiletries
* Beautiful gardens with BBQs on site

Inclusions:
* Complimentary breakfast which you can choose from the a-la-carte menu
* Free WiFi
* Complimentary DVD hire
* Free car parking
* Guest laundry is available at no additional cost

Oh, and Brenda makes some AMAZING pancakes!!! Highly recommend these!

 

Eat here:

Bridge Road Brewers
Old Coach House 50 Ford St, Beechworth, Victoria
http://bridgeroadbrewers.com.au/

Visit for: the beer (apparently) and the pizza. They cater really well for gluten free (gluten free pizza bases, which are actually really good, as well as GF beer and cider), and be sure to check out the specials board, which is where we found the pork knuckle – absolutely phenomenally good!! Really friendly service, gorgeous set up, just be sure to make a reservation because they get super busy!

 

Moments & Memories Tea Room
34 Camp St, Beechworth, Victoria
http://www.moments-memories-tearoom.com.au/

Visit for: The devonshire tea with an insane amount of teas to choose from to go with it. Yes, it’s pink and frilly and girly and just SO pink. Not at all my style, but don’t be fooled; the service is as sweet and sassy as you’ll find in town, and the scones are good enough to brave the bright pink interior for! With around 60 different teas to choose from (and yes, you can take them home with you if you like them enough!), it’s a little tough to select just the one to go with your scones (again, gluten free particularly well catered for with a gluten free Devonshire Tea option also on offer, which I also sampled, and can very much vouch for!), but I ended up going with the Devonshire Cream tea – top choice, and I bought a bag to take home with me! You can also find a gorgeous selection of award winning jams and preserves, tea cups and saucers, cook books and other little tea-related trinkets that are waiting to be taken home, too. Perfect way to spend a winter afternoon 🙂

 

Beechworth Bakery
27 Camp St, Beechworth, Victoria
http://www.beechworthbakery.com.au/

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Visit for: A sausage roll and a pie – I like the steak pie and husband like the chicken and leek, but let’s be honest – they’re all good!! The sweets are also amazing, with the beesting being (a sweet, “melt-in-your-mouth” dough bun filled with apricot jam and creamy custard, and topped with toffeed almonds – delicious!) their most popular export, and for good reason! I’m also a huge fan of the flourless orange almond cake, and the snickerdoodles (custard filled pastry tart, topped with fresh raspberries and blueberries) – and don’t forget a bottomless cup of tea to go with these treats! This bakery is the original and the best; we used to travel to Bright most years to spend the Easter holidays when we were kids, and I have the best memories of stopping in here for lunch at the bakery on the way to Bright! While they’ve now expanded to locations in Albury, Bendigo, Healesville, Ballarat & Echuca, this one is the original, and still the best 🙂 Don’t be put off by the long lines – they move pretty fast.

 

The Beechworth Sweet Co.
7 Camp St, Beechworth, Victoria
http://www.beechworthsweetco.com.au/

IMG_7114Visit for: the home made fudge and other home made chocolate and lollies. They’re all delicious – it’s kind of impossible to choose, but the salted caramel fudge is a good place to start! This is another place I have very fond childhood memories of, with many holidays spent eating my weight in musks and chocolate drops from this place 🙂 Their hand made fudge is pretty popular, and they have heaps of amazing flavours to choose from, as well as some pretty delicious peanut brittle. They’ve also got fantastic individual chocolates like the ones below – a little more pricey, but worth it for a special treat!

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Shop here:

Beechworth Honey
31 Ford St, Beechworth, Victoria
http://www.beechworthhoney.com.au/

No doubt you’ve seen this stuff sold in your local supermarket – where better to buy it from that straight from the source?! If you like your honey, this is a must-visit shop in Beechworth, where you can stock up on all things honey; from hand creams and soaps, to honey mead and multiple ranges of honey (everything from the classic original stuff to some fancier orange blossom or creamy honey, fig and ginger), it’s all there.

 

 

Quercus Community Bookshop
Cnr Ford & Church Sts, Beechworth, Victoria

A little heaven of used books, with some very friendly and knowledgeable service to boot 🙂 This is the place to go if you want to browse and/or talk books, with a massive range with new arrivals popping in all the time. If there’s something you’re after and can’t find, just ask – help is at hand and ready to go! With prices starting at only $1.00, you’re bound to walk away with at least a few books.

 

 

Beechworth Antiques
17 Loch St, Beechworth, Victoria
http://www.indigoshire.vic.gov.au/Services/Business_Directory/Beechworth_Antiques

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There are a few little antique shops in town, but this one was particularly beautiful – heads up though, they are genuine antiques and as such, the prices are more for serious shoppers and collectors. There are a few cheaper treasures in there, though, and definitely well worth a look around.

 

 

So, there’s part 1 of my guide to a weekend Beechworth visit, hope you’re enjoying your virtual break so far and have maybe seen something to motivate you to email Brenda and book a room for a weekend away of your own! I’ll be back later in the week with part 2 (what to see and do while you’re there), so I hope you’ll be back for that 🙂 In the mean time, back to reality and back to work for me this morning, already looking forward to the next adventure!

Eat here: Four & Twenty Blackbirds, Brooklyn NYC

Four & Twenty Blackbirds
439 3rd Ave, Brooklyn, New York
http://birdsblack.com

While I was looking at things to do in Brooklyn for this trip, Four & Twenty Blackbirds popped up a few times on websites, blogs and what not. Their instagram is full of gorgeous pictures of amazing pies, with some pretty cool and crazy flavours; among today’s options were sweet potato & apple, and cranberry & sage.

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I chose a slice of black bottom oat pie (all slices USD$5.50 each, whole pies also available) which was pretty darn perfect. Golden, crisp, flaky crust, baked to perfection, with a chocolate cake/brownie-type bottom and the most incredible baked oat filling.. It was sweet and a little buttery, crunchy sugary oats on top, it was sooo good!!

Also grabbed an earl grey tea for me and a latte for husband – USD$12.00 all up for the lot, which was pretty reasonable for such a big piece of pie in such a lovely little hipster establishment! I’m also finding that a good cup of tea is next to impossible to find in this country, so I’m happy to pay a little more for tea that tastes like tea and not like sugary milk. Apparently the coffee was very good, too. More than worth the trip out there, perfect spot for afternoon tea after a long day on your feet!

Four & Twenty Blackbirds on Urbanspoon

Eat here: Kanga, Toronto

Kanga
65 Duncan St, Toronto
http://www.eatkanga.com

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So we’re about half way through our trip right now, and it’s not that we’re missing home per se, but being proud Aussies, it’s simply not in our nature to turn down the opportunity for a good meat pie.

We’d heard about Kanga before we left and then kinda forgot about it once we got here. Walking back to our hotel from Kensington Market this morning miraculously took us straight past the bright shop front, and we pretty much ran straight across the road to get the taste of home we didn’t realise we both wanted.

The menu is a solid mix of cultures, with everything from the Butter Chix (northern Indian) to the El Diablo (pulled pork and mash), but our hands were tied; we went with the Traditional Aussie. Not particularly cheap at almost CAD$8.00, so we were expecting big things, and Kanga more than delivered.

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The most perfectly crispy golden pastry filled with quality beef mince and rich gravy, and smothered in tomato sauce (ketchup), obviously. Because that’s the Australian way.

If you ask most Aussies, they’ll probably tell you that despite the stereotype, they don’t really eat meat pies often. That’s because, frankly, they’re pretty average for the most part. This was hands down the best “traditional” mince meat pie I’ve ever had, absolutely no contest. The flavour was perfect, the ingredients were quality, and the price was justified. Any Aussies in Toronto need to get here soon, because that’s what a meat pie is meant to taste like! Thanks guys!

Cook this: Chocolate bourbon pecan pie

Not that anyone’s counting, but we’re off in 4 sleeps for our USAdventure! That means we miss Christmas at home with our families. Which in turn meant that we got to celebrate two early Christmases with them, which naturally involved a lot of very delicious food (both my mum and mum-in-law are pretty amazing when it comes to putting on a Christmas feast!).

My contribution was chocolate bourbon pecan pie. Not a traditional Aussie Christmas dish at all, but instead I figured I’d do something a little more representative of the country I’ll be spending Christmas in. Also, the recipe I found in one of my cook books was for straight pecan pie, but I felt like the addition of bourbon and dark chocolate could only be a good thing.

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Ingredients
– pastry – either store bought shortcrust, or you can use this recipe; just replace the salt with 1 tbsp caster sugar, and double the recipe!
– 3 tbsp plain flour
– 150g brown sugar
– 2 large eggs
– 200g golden syrup
– 200 g dark chocolate, melted and cooled
– 30g butter, melted and cooled
– 2 tbsp vanilla extract
– 3 tbsp bourbon
– pinch of salt
– 300g pecan halves – half crushed into smaller pieces, half left whole

Method
1. Make the pastry as per the instructions in this recipe (steps 1 and 2), replacing the salt with sugar as above, and preheat the oven to 180°C.
2. Grease a 9 inch pie dish and roll out the pastry to line it. Prick a few holes in the bottom with a knife or fork, line it with baking paper, fill with pie weights/rice/dried beans and bake for 15min or until the edges start to turn golden.
3. To make the filling which the crust is blind baking, combine the flour and sugar in a large bowl.
4. Whisk in the eggs, golden syrup, chocolate, butter, vanilla, bourbon and salt.
5. Mix in the crushed pecans.
6. Remove the pie from the oven and pour in the filling. Arrange or sprinkle the pecan halves on top.
7. Turn the temperature up to 200°C and bake for 10min, then lower the temperature back down to 170°C and bake for a further 45min or until set.8. Rest in tin until cool enough to handle, then transfer to a wire rack.

Turned out I was actually right about the chocolate and bourbon – it worked magnificently! Dad helped out further by making some vanilla bean ice cream, which perfectly balanced out the richness of the pie. I’m looking forward to eating much more pie now over in the States – I’ve heard that Four & Twenty Blackbirds in Brooklyn and Bang Bang Pie Shop in Chicago are pretty solid options – any other suggestions??

Cook this: From scratch beef & bacon pie

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Flaky, golden pastry. Tender, soft chunks of beef. Crispy bits of bacon. Gooey, melted cheese. And that punch of red wine and thyme that you can smell from the next room. As if you need any more convincing! Home made pies; yeah, they’re a little time consuming, but if you’ve got a few hours to kill over the weekend, I promise you that the end product will be MORE than worth your time and efforts! Husband and I were both craving some good, old fashioned meat pies, so I needed a good, no, a great recipe to satisfy; I needed help from Donna Hay for this one. Well, for the filling anyway; I’d like to think I’ve already got pretty solid pastry skills.

So, first things first – get that pastry going. It needs to rest in the fridge before you even think about turning the oven on, for at least 30 minutes, up to 2 or 3 hours. You can use my recipe for pastry right here, making it from scratch, or if you’re a little short on time or patience, feel free to buy some from the supermarket! If you’re going the whole hog from scratch, I doubled this recipe to make 4 pies that were made in Texas muffin tins (read: giant cupcake sized).

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While the pastry is chilling in the fridge, get the filling going. I used a recipe from an old Donna Hay cookbook as a base for my pies; here’s the recipe with my changes!

Ingredients:
– 800g chuck steak, cut into bite-sized chunks
– plain flour, for dusting
– olive oil
– 4 rashers bacon, diced
– 1 small brown onion, diced
– 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
– 1 cup red wine
– 1½ cups beef stock
– 2 tsp thyme leaves
– sea salt and cracked pepper
– 1½ tbsp plain flour
– 3 tbsp water
– 4 tbsp grated manchego cheese

Method:
1. Once you’ve made the pastry and popped it in the fridge to chill, place the steak in a large bowl and dust with plain flour. Make sure all pieces are well coated. And, preheat the oven to 180°C while you’re at it!

2. Heat a large pot over high heat and add a generous amount of olive oil. Add the meat, in batches if need be, and cook for 3 – 4 minutes until well browned.

3. Remove the meat from the pot, add a little more olive oil, as well as the onion and bacon. Cook, stirring constantly for a few minutes, until the bacon starts to brown. Then add the garlic and cook, stirring, for another minute.

4. Return the meat to the pot, along with the red wine, beef stock, thyme, and as much salt and pepper as you like. Bring to the boil, then simmer, covered, for half an hour.

5. While the filling is simmering away, take the pastry out of the fridge and roll it out. Personally, I like my pastry a little thicker, but each to their own! Cut out larger circles of pastry for the pie shells, and smaller circles for the tops. Spray your pie (or Texas muffin) tins with cooking oil, and fit the pastry in, pressing firmly around all edges. Prick a few holes on the bottom of each pastry shell, line with baking paper, and fill with pie weights or rice. Put the tray in the fridge until the 30min of covered simmering time is up.

6. When that 30 minutes is up, take the tin out of the fridge and put it into the oven. At the same time, remove the lid from the pot and simmer for another 15-20 minutes. When that time is up, take the pastry out of the oven – it should be a light, golden colour.

7. Mix the flour and water together in a small bowl, and add it to the pie filling. Bring the mixture to the boil again, and stir until it thickens up to a consistency you’re happy with.

8. Fill your pie shells with mixture, add a little grated cheese on top, then place the pastry rounds on top, carefully pressing on the edges. If you need a bit more stickyness to help you, brush a little water around the edges of the rounds. Make one or two small slits in the tops, and pop them back in the oven for another 20 minutes, or until golden (For added golden-ness, I like to brush a little melted butter on top first).

What’s gonna come out of the oven and onto your plate (let them cool for a few minutes first, or you can kiss your tongue goodbye!) is probably not going to be the most beautiful pie in the world. Mince certainly weren’t. But you’re going to have a crispy little golden shell filled with soft, tender beef, and the subtle melty cheese which adds the perfect touch to balance out the rich, strong flavours of the filling.

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I was so stoked with how these pies turned out, with the fabulous Ms Donna Hay once again coming to my rescue! Who else has a stock pile of her cook books that never let you down?!