Friday, 18 February 2011

The Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book (Vintage Edition): Back by popular demand!


Reprinted Birthday Cake Book

I normally don't promote products on the blog, but I'm breaking my rule because I'm so excited about this news: boys and girls, the ORIGINAL Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book has been reprinted due to popular demand, and is for sale once more!

Yes, no longer do you have to trawl eBay for second-hand copies or (*gasp*) buy the fondant-icing-is-cheating modern version! The one we all knew and loved as we were growing up in the 80s is back in newsagents as of today and will be in Big W stores from March.

The Classic Birthday Cake BookThe new Birthday Cake Book

The photo below is me, aged 6, with the candy castle cake.

I've written before about the special place this book holds in my heart. The Facebook group I created called The Women's Weekly Birthday Cake Book is awesome at last count has over 6,600 nostalgic members and nearly 800 photos of book-inspired cakes, and last year I fielded a couple of book-related questions from comedian Josh Earl as he prepared his Comedy Festival show Josh Earl vs the Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book (I went and saw the show, it was hilarious).

Poppy's 6th birthday

I've been lucky over the last few years to have two dear friends of mine, C and J, make me book-inspired birthday cakes. In 2007, C made the piano cake, with a handmade candelabra and miniature bound sheet music to Rock Lobster (book photo on the left, C's version on the right).

PianoPiano cake with Rock Lobster sheet music

In 2009, C made the bunny cake, another one I'd always wanted as a kid.


In 2010, J made the gorgeous piggy cake, with snakes for Medusa-like hair.


And this year, C decided to make the infamous swimming pool cake, with a contemporary spin.

Rather than a swimming pool filled with green jelly (a feature that had always repulsed yet fascinated me as a child), she made a hot tub with cream cheese frosting cleverly mixed with blue and green food dyes to give the illusion of swirling water.

Swimming poolHot tub birthday cake

She also threw in two bikini-clad dolls, seated close to each other to leave open the possibility of some girl-on-girl hot tub action, and painstakingly constructed a ladder out of bamboo skewers. LOVED IT!

Hot tub birthday cake

So which was your favourite birthday cake from the book? :)

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The Melbourne Food & Wine Festival is almost upon us

MFWF media launch

The Melbourne Food & Wine Festival (4-14 March) this year is shaping up to be a big one, if my experience last year is any indication. Detox starts the week afterwards. Oh yes. Seeing as it's just around the corner, I thought I'd put up a blog post asking what your festival tips are and giving a few of mine (plus it gives me the opportunity to use the nice photos I took at the festival's media launch that I was invited to when the program first came out!).

Asparagus, broccoli, pickled strawberries, coriander, honey

The media launch was held at Arteveneta, the kooky venue where the Pierre Roelofs/Raúl Moreno Yagüe event was held at last year's festival.

At the lunch, Adrian Richardson (La Luna) took care of the meats, Nic Poelaert (Embrasse) did the vegetables and the big cheese himself, Will Studd, picked out some very very nice cheeses. I've gotta say, it was pretty special. I was particularly pleased to master the tricky art of serving up the aligot (a delicious, elastic, cheesy potato mash), based on how I'd seen Camm serve it at Embrasse, and I did so for my whole table.

Free-range crispy pig's faceOrganic beetroots baked on curry and eucalyptus
Cauliflower, pickled cherries, black mustard dressing, organic carrotsHoly Goat La Luna, Cave-aged Talleggio, Carles Roquefort

So anyway, MFWF 2011: what to choose? The program is intimidatingly big and the MFWF website difficult to navigate, but don't think it's all fancy-pants degustations (that said, *cough*, I'm very excited about the Roy Choi dinner, the Der Raum/Burch & Purchese event and the Sommeliers Australia Long Lunch!). I've tried to pick out a few of the more unusual events.

Several MFWF events are free, eg a cooking demo and film screening of 'Eat Drink Man Woman' in Fed Square, spectating at AASCA's Victorian syphon brewing competition at Auction Rooms, cooking demos in the edible garden planted by The Digger's Club (I went last year, it was impressive), dumpling-folding and bun-making in Chinatown and the West African cultural festival at the Immigration Museum (free with museum entry). And there are some interesting-sounding events for those foodies with a social conscience: a tour, talk and meal at VicRelief Food Bank (Victoria’s largest food rescue charity), a seminar on social or environmental entrepreneurship in retail food and hospitality, and of course the Front of House Allstars dinner (all proceeds of which go to StreetSmart).

I'm also curious to check out Broadsheet's temporary cafe, taste medlar and shadberry at Southpaw's Forgotten Fruits High Tea and maybe - just maybe - psych myself up to try lobster brain sashimi.

MFWF media launch

Which events are you planning on attending, or would you recommend?

MFWF media launch

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

New Zealand Gastronome


In January I went to New Zealand for the the first time, to the South Island. I was there with best-friend-K for a hassle-free week of R&R. We flew in and out of Christchurch, hired a fluorescent yellow car and decided to drive up north because the weather would be warmer and we wanted sun.

It wasn't a particularly gastronomically-focused week for us, but I wanted to put up a post of photos and highlights to share with you.

Cafe Vue at Tullamarine AirportDuck egg, bacon and hollandaise jaffle

Flying overseas gave us the chance to check out Shannon Bennett's new Cafe Vue at Melbourne Airport, in the international terminal past duty free (sorry, boarding pass holders only). B-f-K had porridge and I had the duck egg, bacon and hollandaise jaffle, which came out with ludicrously thick bread. Man, that duck egg was good though - as were the yuzu and cassis macarons we took to eat on the plane.

Cafe Vue at Tullamarine AirportYuzu and cassis macarons

We found some great holiday accommodation through Book a Bach, a snappy, easy-to-navigate site connecting bach (NZ holiday house) owners with prospective renters. In our first destination (Kaikoura) we stayed in a lovely little bach called Room With a View. How could I resist a place that had a claw foot bathtub on the balcony?!

Room with a View Kaikoura

Kaikoura was sleepy and gorgeous. I'd never seen mountains so close to the ocean. Our first meal in New Zealand, at local pub The Whaler, was fush and chups washed down with a couple of glasses of Monteith's.

Kaikoura beachFush and chups

The next morning we went out whale watching and spotted not one but two sperm whales. So, so awesome to see them up close.

Sperm whale

I'd been told by about half a dozen people that we simply HAD to stop off at Nin's Bin for crayfish (the local specialty from which Kaikoura derives its Maori name). Nin's Bin is a famous roadside caravan about 20-25km north of Kaikoura that has been serving up fresh crayfish to passersby for the last 35 years.

Nins Bin

The price of each crayfish is written on its tail. Once we'd selected ours, the woman serving us lined it up under the guillotine and chopped it in half with a loud thwack.

CrayfishNins Bin guillotine

You're given the option of having your crayfish served hot with garlic, but we preferred to have ours cold - as nature intended it. We took Pinchy to one of the picnic tables outside and ate him then and there with our fingers.


My favourite thing that I ate in NZ. Deeeeelicious, especially the meat in the legs.


We stayed in Picton for a couple of nights - if Kaikoura was sleepy, then Picton was practically comatose. But again, oh so pretty. From our B&B up on the hill, we had a lovely view over the valley and down to the harbour.

Sunset at Picton

One night in Picton we went to local restaurant Le Cafe for dinner. The warehou carpaccio I ordered was sensationally fresh (although HUGE points off for covering it with cheap nasty dried parsley) and B-f-K raved about her NZ green-lipped mussels. We were also served some Seresin Estate extra virgin olive oil that was so good we drove to Seresin Estate the next day to buy a bottle.

Warehou carpaccioGreen-lipped mussels

Two of the days were spent grape grazing through Marlborough. B-f-K and I are both pinot noir fiends, so the excellent 2009 Marlborough Report from the fellas at Pinot Unearthed was a useful resource.

But our biggest surprise in Marlborough was discovering NZ sauvignon blanc that was not only drinkable, but actually really nice! My favourites were the Mount Riley Seventeen Valley 2008 and Mahi's The Alias 2008 (the fact that they're from small vineyards and both oaked may have something to do with it).


The other wines we adored were Forrest's The Doctors Arneis 2010 and several from Bladen Wines: the 2007 Merlot/Malbec, the 2009 Riesling and the 2008 Gewürtztraminer, a variety I usually despise. Happily, Bladen's wines are available in Melbourne at Burwood Cellars, so I drove out there to buy a case last weekend.

Grape grazing

One morning we got up early and caught a boat across the Marlborough Sounds for a day of tramping along the spectacular Queen Charlotte Track.

Queen Charlotte Track

15km later, we were ferried back to Picton on the boat. We saw dolphins!


The one posh meal we had in NZ was the degustation at Herzog, on the recommendation of Kate. While the setting, food and wine were all beautiful, we didn't enjoy the meal as much as we thought we would - probably because the very formal atmosphere and mannered service from the army of German/Austrian/Swiss girls working front of house came across as a bit old-fashioned and stuffy to the two of us who were in chilled out holiday mode.


Highlights amongst the dishes were the beetroot cured freshwater salmon with tuna tartar and cucumber/wasabi sorbet, and the wonderful cold smoked quail brest with a curious pea/mint mousse.

Beetroot-cured freshwater salmon with tuna tartar and cucumber-wasabi sorbetCold smoked quail with pea-mint mousse

We ate handsomely from the cheese trolley and enjoyed a "symphony of cherries, chocolate and hazelnut".

Selection of cheesesA symphony of chocolate, chocolate and hazelnut

Leaving Marlborough and heading back south, we stopped in at The Store at Kekerengu, a stylish cafe halfway between Blenheim and Kaikoura, for a strong coffee and shared slice of cake.

The Store at Kekerengu

After a night up in Hanmer Springs (where we soaked in the hot springs and mineral pools), we drove to Waipara Valley for more grape grazing. We hadn't heard of many of the Waipara's wineries (other than Pegasus Bay), and were delighted to discover some lovely pinot noirs and rieslings, as well as the 2010 Bascand Pinot Gris from Waipara Springs that was ridiculously good (and a steal at NZ$19 a bottle).

Riesling Challenge

In Christchurch (or CHCH, as I learned it is called), we stayed in a fantastic self-contained heritage cottage Mayque Cottage on Caledonian which we can't recommend highly enough. Beautifully kitted out, startlingly cheap and in a handy location. We spent an afternoon wandering around town, browsing in shops and noting the earthquake damage to older buildings.

Mayque Cottage on CaledonianCHCH scaffolding

On our last day we went to the Banks Peninsula and drove down to Akaroa. The dramatic landscape and harbours are due to the twin craters of a massive ancient volcano.

Road to Akaroa

Akaroa is a cute, slightly kitsch village whose French street names tout its Gallic connection (it was briefly settled by the French, before the Brits claimed New Zealand as their own). We stopped off at The Pepper Tree for a sandwich in their garden.

Pepper Tree, Akaroa

Akaroa harbour. Gorgeous colour of the water.


All in all, a lovely trip! Next time though, I'm definitely going to Central Otago (pinot nerd) and Queenstown. Any tips for me in either of those locales?