Sunday, 18 March 2018

Chinese Garden of Friendship and Tea House, Sydney

The Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney was a fitting place to catch up with an old friend and her husband.  I visited there many years ago with E and loved it, though I remember it being busy.  This visit it seemed less busy but every bit as peaceful.  It was a great place to wander around with friends and chat in a relaxed surrounding.  It is all the more oasis of calm for the constant reminder in the surrounding skyscrapers that we were in the midst of a busy city.

The gardens have many areas and I read you can't see all of the gardens from any one point.  Here is the bonsai garden that greeted us upon entering.  It was good to have a map to find where we were and what paths we could follow.

There were lots of interesting views through windows into the garden.

When I saw a couple dressed in Chinese robes I thought they must be part of a Chinese organisation.  But no.  They had just hired the robes to wander around in.  It was quite amusing seeing groups wearing Chinese dress.

The waterfall was really lovely.  It was a very popular spot for photographs.

The Clear View Pavillion was clearly visible from afar and a great place to view a lot of the gardens.

This gorgeous little statue was tucked away behind the Clear View Pavillion.  Can you see two little mice on the statue?

We spotted a lot of water dragons as we wandered around.  They are very ugly but fascinating to see.  Sylvia didn't like them at all.  There were also lots of large koi carp in the lake.

The Peace Boat Pavillion was one of my favourite buildings.  I also loved the weeping willows.  I am very fond of them because we had a weeping willow in my backyard when I was young and particularly loved it because we had an Andy Pandy book where he made a house in his weeping willow.  But I digress!

Here is a little of the intricate detail in the Peace Boat Pavillion.  And here is Sylvia being very intent on her Emperors Quest map.

The Emperor's Quest was a kid's activity where they had a map and clues to find the 12 signs of the Chinese Zodiac.  Each zodiac animal was a little red metal statues like this monkey here.  It was a fantastic way to keep Sylvia's interest throughout the garden walk.

Finally we got to the Tea House at the end of the journey.  It had large open archways with spectacular views of the gardens.

I was quite peckish, having only had very little at lunch at a vegetarian-unfriendly restaurant.  I was tempted by the vegetarian dumplings and the scones but went for the spinach quiche and salad.  It was good basic food.  The quiche was nicely warmed and the salad was as substantial as a green salad can be without dressing.  It was good to have a light meal this late in the afternoon as we were planning to go out for tea.  Sylvia had a milkshake and a strawberry cupcake.  Clare enjoyed a traditional tea.

By the time we finished, we hadn't enough time for the Powerhouse Museum but I think the Chinese Garden of Friendship was a better option.  It was nice for Sylvia to run around outside and a garden is far more relaxing than a museum when catching up with friends.   I look forward to the next time I have the opportunity to visit these gardens.

Read more about my recent Sydney visit.

Chinese Garden Teahouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chinese Garden of Friendship
Corner of Day Street and Pier Street
Darling Harbour, NSW, 2000
(02) 9240 8888
Emperor's Quest (kids activity)

Friday, 16 March 2018

Sydney visit: Aquarium, Habour Bridge, Opera House etc

On the weekend, I flew to Sydney with Sylvia to visit a friend whom I worked with many years ago in Scotland.  It was a whirlwind trip but we managed to see a few icons, spend a lot of time by the water (sadly no swimming) and eat at a few places I've dreamt about visiting.  Here are lots of photos and reflections on the trip.

We stayed a night at the Capital Square Hotel.  It was pretty basic.  And by that, I meant that when it said "free toiletries" that meant a shower cap and some soap dispensers on the wall of the bathroom!  But it is was clean and comfortable and close to Central Station.  It would have been a nicer location if they weren't digging up the road for a new light rail system on the Capital Square.  But roadworks and scaffolding seem to be part of a big city!

We stayed on the edge of Sydney's Chinatown.  It seemed much bigger than the one in Melbourne.  Trying to find lunch there was a tyranny of choice.  We ended up walking into a place where they said yes there was vegetarian food but (after some miscommunication about spring rolls) it was just a tofu dish that was too spicy for me.  So Sylvia and I ate rice and drank soft drinks while my friends ate with a higher tolerance for spice.

Then we went to the Chinese Garden of Friendship.  This was possibly my favourite place and I have written a separate post on it.  We had intended to go the Powerhouse Museum afterwards but it was too late to go there or explore Paddy's Market by the time we finished at the garden.

Instead Sylvia played in the little fountains in front of the International Convention Centre.  It doesn't take much to tempt her to get her shoes off and her clothes wet.  I stood by and enjoyed the wonky reflections of the city skyline on the building.  We then hurried off to eat dinner at Gigi's Pizzeria (which I will write about in a separate post).

On the train home from dinner I decided to detour via Circular Quay to see the Harbour at night (left is the Harbour Bridge and right is the Opera House).  It is such a great view to have from a train station.  I really loved the trains in Sydney.  Sylvia was very excited that they were double decker and the seats could be changed to face either way.  I loved that we could get a train to the city in 10 minutes from the airport and that the underground stations have a fine history that is reflected in their decor.  And the city circle train is a great way to get around the city.

The next morning, once I had got over my drama of my camera battery dying and my phone charger being left at home (thank goodness on the second request, the hotel found a spare one in lost property), Sylvia and I took a bus to Bourke Street Bakery (another post coming on this).  Then we headed to the Sea Life Aquarium.

The Aquarium has one path that you have to follow to the end - no detours.  It has lots of really interesting information as well as lots of little windows with different sea creatures in the first section.  We really loved the above board which had names of fairy penguins and descriptions of them (such as "over dramatic, a good mum, loyal" or "good homemaker, keeps to himself but can cause trouble").  Kids could look a specimens wearing a lab coat or play a game to educate them about too much plastic in the sea.

One of my favourite parts of the exhibition was the jellyfish.  I could have stood for hours watching them moving about so gracefully.

I had expected that the tunnels would be my favourite part.  Last time I visited the aquarium I was mesmerised by the light infused perspex tunnels that allow punters to walk through the ocean seeing larger sea creatures such as dugongs and stingrays swim beside and over them.  But there were lots of little kids screaming and crying, which echoed around the tunnels.  It was so unpleasant that Sylvia just wanted to rush through the tunnels and get out.

She was not at all impressed by the stingray floating over her.  The dugong did not interest her at all.  I felt a bit the same about the dugong.  Then we went upstairs after seeing it and we were quite interested when we read about it.  Unfortunately there was no going back, we just had to keep going.  To the shark tank.  Sylvia had enough of the tunnels but now but we had to go forward.

By then she wasn't that impressed by the fish that looked just like they came out of Finding Nemo.  Nor was she impressed by fighting the crowd to see the penguins in the snow.  We hurried along the rest of the path, which seemed long by then, and were relieved to finally get to the gift shop.

As we walked out of the aquarium, we were both thirsty.  After reading all the damage that plastic does to our oceans, I was disappointed to see them selling plastic bottles in the aquarium cafe.  Sylvia begged for a drink from the fridge but I insisted that we walk on and drink from the reusable bottle in my bag.

So no ice cold drink but we did have a Rivareno Gelato each.  Sylvia chose the raspberry one first and I was exercising great self control until I tasted it.  Then I had to have one too.  They were lovely to eat while watching the ferries glide past on the Harbour.

One of my favourite things to do in Sydney is to take the local ferry service from Darling Harbour to Circular Quay.  It is a quick and cheap way to see Sydney from the water, to take in the iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House, without having to fork out for a long expensive tour.  Above is one of the traditional green ferries.  Ours was not the traditional type.  But it was called the Shane Gould which pleased me as she was a great Aussie Olympic swimmer.

Our ferry was pretty crowded so I did not have the best view but I did insist upon being outside despite the sea spray in our face, which did not please Sylvia.  We got a great view of the city skyline.  When I see Sydney Tower I still remember my first visit to Sydney with my family when I was 14.  Who could ever forget a roadtrip from Melbourne with seven kids in a station wagon!  I think that might be the only time I went to the top of Sydney Tower.

I am also very fond of the old warehouses on the wharves between Millers Point and Dawes Point.  I went to a building heritage conference in one of these old buildings, many years ago.  In the above photo they are dwarfed by the bridge.  I especially wanted to be outside on the ferry just so we could look up in awe at how huge the bridge is when we went under it.  The Coathanger is wonderful to behold in the flesh.

Sydney Opera House is also quite special to see.  Sylvia had seen the postcards of it lit up with rainbow colours.  She looked at it musingly and said, I would love to see it lit up.  Bemused, I responded, but you did last night.  It turns out I had assumed too much and she had only noticed the Harbour Bridge lit up.

When we alighted at Circular Quay, I chose not to walk towards the Opera House (as we had when we took Sylvia to Sydney when she was one).  For this trip I had decided I would like to visit the Rocks.

It is a fascinating area with a colourful heritage of slum dwellings and unions imposing green bans to stop the buildings being demolished in the early 1970s.  These days the area is far more gentrified but I still am grateful to the unions for their stance in saving the historic buildings.

I had intended to walk around the Rocks to look at the old buildings that huddle at the foot of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  However we did not have much time and Sylvia still had to buy some souvenirs.  So we mostly spent money in the Rocks.

We were still thirsty so I bought this Roogenic Native Strawberry Iced Tea.  It was quite sweet but had a really nice flavour.  (And it came in a glass bottle.)  So refreshing on a hot day when we had been walking around a lot.

Finally it was time to collect our case from the hotel, hop back on the train to the airport and watch a few planes before we flew home.  I took a photo of our dinner.  It was quite surprising to have just one hot dish.  Mostly airplane meals seem to have lots of little dishes.  The pasta with olives, vegies and cheese was nicer than many airline meals I have had.

It was a bit of a comedown as we had flown business class on the way there in quite fancy seats.  The chairs could be moved in all manner of ways and had a massage function.  The screen was big and the headphones were more comfortable.  The food was nice and the service was prompt and friendly.  However they were so fancy they had big screens between the seats.  Not so great when your neighbour is your 9 year old daughter.

Coming back it was nice to not have to lean forward and crane my neck around the partition to see her.  The plane was really quiet so there was plenty of room for her latest cuddly companion to have his own seat!

Monday, 12 March 2018

Tempeh and corn loaf with tomato tahini basil sauce

Tempeh has the ability to divide a crowd.  Some hate it, some love it and others are scratching their heads in ignorance.  I don't eat it a lot but it can be brilliant if used well.  One of my favourite tempeh recipes that I made regularly is tempeh and corn soup.  So when I saw a recipe recently for a tempeh and corn loaf, I was curious enough to give it a go.

The recipe needed tweaking because it used tinned corn and was aimed at one person rather than four.  Once I had mixed all the ingredients together it looked more like a scramble than a loaf mixture and I had to give it a good press into the tin.  (Even more than in the photo below.)  However it sliced up pretty well once it was cooked.  (For those who remember my current oven problems, yes my oven worked for that loaf but the saga continues.)

The recipe suggested serving it with a mushroom tahini gravy.  This seemed a bit heavy old school vegan for me.  I love a good home made tomato sauce with any loaf ans saw it as a great opportunity to use some basil from the garden.  In a nod to the recommendation I added tahini.  Tahini adds a lovely richness to a tomato sauce.

The final meal was very good with some leftover fried pizza (yes that is oven problems) and greens.  We had the loaf again a night or two later with rice and greens.  Then on the last night I didn't have enough loaf left so I crumbled the loaf and mixed it with the tomato sauce through some rice and it was very good.

The corn added an interesting texture and flavour to the loaf that is quite unusual and I would highly recommend.  I can't promise it will convert the hardiest tempeh hater but I didn't notice the tempeh too much.  I suspect the loaf might go well in a sandwich.  It would brighten up a celebratory table, especially in spring and is a great alternative with vegies for a roast dinner.

More tempeh recipes:
Pumpkin and kale soup with tempeh crumbles (gf, v)
Tamarind tempeh with noodles (v)
Tempeh and corn soup (gf, v)
Tempeh and pumpkin lasagne (v)  
Watercourse Foods tempeh burger (gf,v)
Will's mini farmhouse pies

Tempeh and corn loaf
Adapted from The Single Vegan by Leah Leneman
Serves 4

300g tempeh
kernels of 2 corn cobs
1 cup water
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
100g wholemeal breadcrumbs
3 tbsp soy milk
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

Simmer slab of tempeh and corn in water and soy sauce in a saucepan for 10 minutes.  Meanwhile fry onions until browned.  Drain tempeh and add to onion mixture and mash with potato masher.  Fry a few minutes.  Remove from heat.  Add breadcrumbs, milk, thyme and season.  Press into a greased and lined loaf tin.  Bake for 30-45 minutes or until top is lightly browned.  Leave 5-10 minutes and then turn out onto a plate to serve. 

Serving suggestion: Great with rice and greens and tomato sauce (below).

Tomato tahini basil sauce
an original Green Gourmet Giraffe recipe

1-2 tsp olive oil
1 onion
400g tin diced tomatoes
remains of soy sauce and water mixture
1 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp tahini
handful of chopped basil

Fry onion in oil until browned.  Add tomatoes, soy sauce mixture, and maple syrup.  Simmer for 10-15 minutes until thickens slightly.  Stir in tahini and basil.  Thin a little with water if desired.

On the Stereo:
Donkeys 92-97 - Tindersticks

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Cat cupcakes

We've had some busy times lately with Sylvia's 9th birthday.  As usual there were many plans, pouring over cake books and changes of mind.  There was a visit to a trampoline/rock climbing centre, fun at the pool, cat cupcakes, sparkly cupcakes and lots of sausage rolls.  Exactly what a little girl needs to celebrate.

She wanted vanilla cupcakes for school and her party so I made some for school and froze some for her party.  Though I didn't have to do much with the visit to the activity centre, I had a light lunch afterwards.  Sylvia had cats as the theme of her cupcakes and party bags.  

She wanted our cat Shadow to be there too.  Two days before her party he disappeared.  After 36 hours we were beginning to fear the worst.  Luckily a neighbour arrived late at night just before Sylvia's birthday with our slightly nervy cat who had been shut in a back shed when the door blew shut on him.  Poor wee thing.

Sylvia decided on both white cat cupakes (to remember our cat Zinc who was white) and black cat cupcakes (for Shadow who is black).  They were fairly easy to make.  Sylvia did a lot of them.  I regretted not buying more smarties.  I bought both smarties and MandMs.  The smarties were bigger and better for the eyes.  We found some gel black food colouring in the supermarket that was pretty intense.

So the party lunch was just sausage rolls, cupcakes and a fruit platter.  Honest good party food.  Everyone enjoyed it.  They were starving after two hours of intense activity on trampolines, rock climbing walls, tightropes and jumping into the foam pit.

We also went to see family in Geelong where Sylvia had requested a Victoria sponge and vanilla cupcakes.  I don't know how I ended up with a daughter who just wants vanilla.  I didn't take photos of the school cupcakes but we had leftover teal buttercream icing to bring down and some leftover black from the cat cupcakes.  Sylvia had fun decorating the cupcakes with mini freckles and popping candy.  I took down sausage rolls and a salad for lunch.

As well as cakes there were meringues, caramel tart, lamingtons, aero mint slice and fruit.  I was happy to have some chocolate and Sylvia loved everything.  After lunch we headed to the pool for a swim.  The kids all had a go on the monster slide with adults in tow.  So I got to go twice with different kids and my heart was pounding after a couple of steep drops down that slide.  It was Sylvia's first time on the slide and she loved it.  A great end to her birthday celebrations.

More animal cakes on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Animal cupcakes: chicks, pigs, frogs and mice
Hedgehog cake
Monkey cake
Owl and spider cupcakes
Panda cupcakes
Viking cat cake

How to make cat cupcakes:

You will need:

1 batch of vanilla cupcakes (or cupcake of your desire)
vanilla buttercream frosting
black colouring and cocoa (for a black cat)
smarties for eyes
red mini MandMs for noses
liquorice strips for mouths and pupils of eyes
liquorice for black ears or white chocolate for white ears cut into triangles

To put them together:

Colour icing if you desire black cats.  Spread white or black icing on cake.  Arrange nose and eyes.  Use a tiny dab of icing to stick pupils to the Smarties.  Arrange the black liquorice in the shape of a mouth (beware it curling wherever it wants) and ears at the top with either liquorice or  white chocolate.

On the Stereo:
Sweet Liberty: Cara Dillon

Monday, 5 March 2018

Fried pizza or What to do when your gas flow goes low!

Ever since our new gas maters were put in, whenever it rains we have trouble lighting our oven.  So much trouble that on Friday night when I tried to light the oven to bake pizza, I ended up frying pizza on the stovetop.  It was ok but not the same as baked pizza.  But as I  may have to do it again, I thought it was something to write about.  It seems crazy to fry pizza but it is an option when ovens break or you don't want to turn on the oven in a heatwave.

I have had a few times when I could not light our oven. Or rather the oven lights but will not stay lit, or even more frustratingly will seem to stay lit until I check in 5 minutes, 10 minutes or even when a cake should be baked and it is out.  I have had more than one occasion when I have sat with a newspaper to read while I hold my hand against the oven knob to keep it on to bake sausage rolls.

So right now I usually bake with contingency plans in mind.  Meaning that I am quite cautious about what I bake and am baking far less than I would like.

The pizza I made is my regular Fast track sourdough pizza dough. Let me tell you how I fried it:
  • This pizza recipe makes a very sticky dough so I had to pat it out on baking paper.
  • Flip the dough with paper still sticking to it upside down on a buttered frypan over medium high heat Fry for a few minutes with the paper on dough and a lid on the frypan until it gets a cooked dumpling look - doughy but less floppy.
  • Peel the paper off the dough.  If it sticks the pizza is not quite cooked enough and might need another minute or so.
  • Flip the pizza (I used an eggflip), it should have brown markings on the underside when it is turned
  • Spread the tomato paste and sprinkle with grated cheese.
  • Cook a further few minutes with the lid on again.  It is cooked when brown marks on the underside and the cheese is melted.
  • Slide it onto a plate cheese side up!

Next time I might put it under the grill at the end to crisp up the cheese.  I lost the will to add extra toppings but might if I fry pizza again.  If I wanted to put extra toppings on top I would make sure they are cooked before cooking the pizza (eg mushrooms and red peppers) or use toppings that don't need cooking (like olives and tinned pineapple).

Yes I was pretty annoyed about my oven.  I blame the gas company because this has only started to happen since the new gas meters went in.  So as I stood there in despair over my oven I rang the gas and was told they would check the meter.  Ironically instead of having my pizza cooked by 6.30, it was not cooked until about 8pm when I was doing the last pizza.  At which time the gas man arrived to turn off my gas and check the meter.  I was pretty unimpressed at how hard it was to cook a pizza!

He says there is no problem.  I say there is.  He checked my appliances and found the gas hose under my oven is pinched so the flow is not great.  So I need a plumber to fix it.  But it still doesn't explain why I have had poor gas flow since I have lived in the house and why it got even worse since the new meters arrived (as well as them doing their best to ruin the bit of garden by taking out all the plants and then leaving off the garden edging so all the soil ran out when it rained next).

 Yes I am frustrated.  Indeed.  But I am relieved that I can fry pizza!  And can you blame me if I need a chocolate dessert pizza to get me through the night!