March 28, 2015

Melbourne park

In today's world of oversharing, it's almost an unwritten rule that you need to document everything that happens to you. Like they say, "photo, or it didn't happen." Sometimes I am really into that concept and other times I cannot be bothered. Last June--almost a year ago now--my husband and I went on our honeymoon to Australia for a month. We took a lot of photos like we normally do on trips. This time however, I was a little less concerned about capturing perfect shots, and getting all of the tourist appropriate photos, and more focused on enjoying myself. It was also so unlike me to hardly take any food photos. The trip was a much needed vacation after all of the wedding craziness. Australia was the perfect place to unwind and take in the beautiful sights and adventures. 


The only problem with Australia is that it is far from Canada. Like about 29 hours of traveling far. I can deal with sitting on one plane for a long period of time, but I hate transferring from plane to plane for short bursts of time. We flew from Ottawa to Toronto to Chicago to Sydney and then to Melbourne. There were times when you are sitting on a plane for 15 hours when it can drive you crazy if you let it. You actually lose a day of your life. 

The first stop of the trip was Melbourne. We wanted to start up from the near bottom of Australia and make our way up the coast. It would have been easier to fly into Sydney, as everyone goes to Sydney. I wanted to see many aspects of Australia and Melbourne were also on the list for me. I would suggest anyone going to Australia make a stop in Melbourne. To be honest, when we first arrived I didn't think the city seemed very "Australia" at all. It seemed like most other big cities. Seeing that we went in June, it was actually the middle of winter. At first, I was a little underwhelmed. Then I started to discover neat little pockets of the city--and all of its charm and culture--and realized that it ended up being my favourite city of the trip. 


Melbourne is located on the coastline of Victoria and has a population of about 5,000,000. If you were to compare major cities in Australia to Canadian cities, Melbourne would probably be Toronto and Sydney would be Vancouver. I would say it is probably the fashion, food, art and culture capital of Australia and the city knows it. You could say it is where the country's hipster culture resides. It has a lot of art galleries, restaurants, concerts and boutiques, as well as a neat mix of architecture in the city centre and surrounding suburbs. 

On the first day we hopped on the free City Circle tram rides around the city with somewhat cheesy commentary of the sites. I usually feel bad for the first city we travel to because I'm either jet lagged or just getting into the traveling rhythm. It takes a few days to adjust to any new situation, so I usually start off slow by going for a few walks around the city interspersed with adequate naps. 

Melbourne park

The above photos were taken near Federation Square, which is one of the main public, green spaces of the city. You know, the one every major city has usually smack in the middle of all of the action. The square also has a visitors centre, art gallery, theatre and restaurants. When I go to any new city I usually either check out the main market or the main square first. You will usually see and experience the hustle and bustle of the city's natural groove there. 

On one of the days we met my cousin for lunch in the Southbank area, another bustling Melbourne spot with the main focal point being a casino and entertainment complex. My cousin has lived in Melbourne with her husband and little boy for a few years now. It is also nice to know people in the cities you travel to so they can give you recommendations and suggestions of where to go. Catching up with someone you haven't seen in a long time is also nice, especially when you are somewhere unfamiliar. 



After a few days of getting over jet lag, we booked a day tour to Philip Island. Everyone I talked to about Melbourne said "you have to go see the penguin parade on Philip Island!" It is one of those essential--albeit completely tourist--things you have to see. Day trips are fun and penguins are cute, so we thought, why not? We hopped on a bus in the morning at a Melbourne tourist office and headed out for a day of activities. The penguin parade didn't actually start until the evening, so the tour made sure to fill the day with other things. 

The first stop was at the Moonlit Sanctuary about an hour outside of Melbourne. This was the typical Australia I was expecting. The sanctuary is a wildlife park where you walk around and see koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, dingoes and all sorts of other animals up close. See a koala and or kangaroo in the first few days of being in Australia: check! 

Koala bear, Australia

Moonlit Sanctuary, Australia

Moonlit Sanctuary

This precious dingo with only one eye was behind a fence. Obviously he's a little too dangerous to be walking around the park. The place is actually a sanctuary for rare and endangered animals--and not only a tourist attraction--so they take great care of the animals. The animals not behind fences are super friendly. 

Dingo, Moonlit Sanctuary

wallabies, Moonlit Sanctuary

You get bombarded with licks and nudges if you're holding a bag of food. As soon as we turned the corner of the first path, a group of wallabies emerged from the bushes ready to see our group. And you can't give all of the food to the first few animals you see. We had miles of animal paths to cover. I'm sure the animals also appreciate selfies and the many photos people take as appropriate affection. 

Moonlit Sanctuary, Australia

Moonlit Sanctuary, Australia

And yes, there is a difference between a wallaby and a kangaroo. Although they are both marsupials, kangaroos are much larger with longer legs. Wallabies usually have a lighter coat. Think of it like kangaroos being regular dogs and wallabies like corgis. You can definitely tell when the kangaroos jump toward you, like this guy:

Kangaroo, Australia

I know it's a rarity for me to take way more animals photos than food photos. It was Australia after all; it's the home of the Steve Irwin legacy and getting right up close to cool animals. Then there are the not-so-cute animals. Sorry Tasmanian devil, you are not the most appealing of the bunch. 

Tasmanian devil

After the sanctuary, we stopped at Phillip Island Chocolate Factory. It was another fun tourist attraction with exhibits about chocolate and chocolate goodies for sale shaped like penguins and koalas. I bought a few chocolates that I was going to give away when I got back. Unfortunately they smushed in my bag so I just HAD to eat them myself. 

Then, right before the penguin show started we saw the sunset near the beach where the penguins make their burrows. The coastline was pretty cold that night--it was winter--so we had to bundle up before going to see the penguins. The island covers about 100km and sees a lot of surfing activity as well as Grand Prix racing. 

Philip Island

Philip Island Australia

These are some of the burrows that the penguins find when they come in out of the water. You are probably wondering what the "penguin parade" actually entailed. Every day on the island, thousands of penguins emerge from the water and race along the sand to their burrows. It is quite literally a "parade" of penguins. 

penguin burrows Philip Island Australia

Philip Island Australia

It is one of the most bizarre tourist attractions I have ever seen. There were huge concrete bleachers set up on the beach with spotlights shining down on the water. Hundreds of people wait eagerly to see a glimpse of the penguins. The staff there have to make sure everyone is quiet when the penguins come and especially make sure no one takes any photos, which is why I have none. 

Mike and me were joking that it is like hundreds of people staring at you on your commute home and you being like "I just want to get home in peace, come on man!" The crowd freaked out when the first few penguins emerged in a group and then left into the sand. I was like "that was it?" Then more and more groups of penguins emerged. The best views we got were walking along the boardwalks and following the penguins instead of sitting on the bleachers. There is also a giant gift shop of everything penguin related you could ever want. 

Penguin Parade Philip Island

Philip Island Australia penguins

Melbourne has many other things to experience besides a penguin parade. Our hostel was in the Fitzroy area, a suburb of Melbourne that has gone through an extreme gentrification. It is now the hipster spot to go to in my opinion, for shopping, cafes, restaurants, live music and bars. One of the main streets called Gertrude St is Melbourne's "street of the moment" according to Lonely Planet. Every night we were there we walked down into the neighbourhood and had a hard time deciding 
which restaurant, boutique or coffee shop to choose. 

Melbourne's Chinatown is another solid choice for food. The driver of the Philip Island tour dropped us off in Chinatown on the way back from the tour and we had dinner there that night. Lygon Street is another popular food destination with more pizza and pasta restaurants than you know how to deal with, as it is also the city's "Little Italy." You won't have a hard time finding good food in Melbourne--and you know how I feel about cities that deliver on that promise. 


Our hostel was across the street from the Melbourne Museum and was about a 10-15 minute walk from most things. Now here's where I tell you about the one somewhat bad thing that happened on our trip. That one bad thing also clouded my judgment of the place. We stayed at The Nunnery. For the most part it was a nice hostel, for a hostel. This trip sort of pointed out to me that I am over the whole hostel scene. It was a nice hostel, for a hostel. We got a private room with shared bathrooms.

At nighttime it was noisy, the bathrooms were not great and the room was just alright. Then on the second night Mike found bed bugs crawling along our bed. I discovered the next day that I had been bitten all over by the bed bugs and we had to wash every single item of clothing we brought--only a few days into our month-long trip. The staff moved us to a much nicer room in the guesthouse that was also much quieter. So yes, I am over the hostel thing now. I am getting too old to deal with it. I would much rather stay in cheap hotels than in a hostel again. At some point you are over that scene. 


Melbourne Museum

For that being the only bad thing to happen, we were lucky. I am always careful when traveling anywhere to avoid bad things like that happening to me. I hold my wallet a little closer, don't take my nice camera to certain places or only find licensed taxis because that's how I am. I would much rather over think things than have unexpected bumps in the road happen. I am an a-type, need things planned type of person who can also have fun. 

St. Kilda beach Melbourne

Speaking of fun, how awesome is it to take a 20 minute train ride to a gorgeous beach? Australia, I am so jealous. St. Kilda beach is another hot spot for beach goers, nightlife cravers and penguin seekers. Yes, they also have a penguin viewing area. Like I said, it was winter there when we went, but if this is what winter looks like then Canada could take a few hints. 

St. Kilda beach Melbourne

Sadly, this was the only food photo I took in Melbourne. I told you, I was less focused on the perfect food shot and more focused on animals, beaches and other cool things. This photo was of the sliders I had at Belle's Diner in Fitzroy. I recently read that they have re-branded themselves to be more of a fried chicken focused establishment. It was one of the many awesome places we visited in Melbourne, including these places listed below. Then it was off to Sydney, Cairns, Brisbane, Noosa and the Whitsunday Islands.

Belle's Diner Melbourne

Favourite Restaurants in Melbourne:
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March 03, 2015

Roasted beet pasta sauce

This was the meal I was going to make on Valentine's Day. For some reason, Valentine's Day also falls on the same weekend as Family Day in Canada. That means that most restaurants and hotels are packed that weekend and Valentine's Day celebrations seem to be overshadowed by other things. Maybe the "family" part is more important now than those gushy, Valentine's Day gimmicks. In the case of my schedule it was, as my parents were visiting from out of town that weekend. I suppose beets aren't the most romantic of foods when you think about it. 

Beet tart

When you do eventually have time to celebrate Valentine's Day alone or have a quiet night together, I would recommend not bringing up the subject of the "beet test" while you're eating something like this beet tart I made awhile back (pictured above). Did you know that you can discover the "transit time" of your digestion by eating beets? And guess why? Because of the bold colour. Although with our relationship, this is probably something we would laugh about because we're the type who aren't afraid to talk about each other's digestive habits. According to the "beet test," you should be "seeing red" within 24 hours otherwise your insides are too slow. 

Barilla products

I am not normally a gluten-free eater, but sometimes a break from carbs is probably good for digestion. And luckily, Barilla knows the key to my heart with lots of pasta. The Zeno Group mailed me this lovely assortment of pasta and healthy living gifts to try, including 3 boxes of Barilla Plus pasta, a Barilla apron, a Mediterranean Diet cookbook, some 2012 Dolce Vita Chianti wine by David Rocco, some Olive and Olives extra virgin olive oil, an ibitz family activity monitor and a copy of the new Living with Gusto magazine. Barilla strongly supports the Mediterranean diet with its emphasis on vegetables, fresh ingredients and a balanced diet. According to the Mediterranean diet pyramid, you should be eating 55% carbohydrates, 30% fats and 15% protein. 


With some of the Barilla rotini I made an eggplant stew from this Persian seared eggplant and tomato beef recipe. Although it's not quite a Mediterranean recipe, it was a hearty mix of meat, vegetables, protein (with a spicy yoghurt sauce) and carbohydrates with the gluten-free Barilla pasta. 

I like to think of myself as somewhat of a pasta connoisseur. When it came to the difference between regular and gluten-free pasta, I couldn't really tell the difference between the two taste wise. Barilla's is a white pasta using a blend of corn and rice flour. The only downside is that after a few days in the fridge, the leftovers with the gluten-free pasta don't hold up as well as regular pasta. For my next dish, I was inspired by one of the beet pasta recipes they sent me for a Valentine's Day inspired menu. 

Barilla Plus pasta

I used Barilla penne pasta and inspiration from a few other beet pasta recipes that I found. When I am developing recipes, I search for many recipes of the same thing and take bits and pieces from each to make my own. This beet pasta uses roasted garlic, milk and cottage cheese to add creaminess to the tartness and bold flavours of the beets. To be honest, beets aren't my all-time favourite vegetable. I don't eat them by themselves as much as I should. It might be the fear of getting the colour everywhere or the strong earthiness. Either way, I enjoyed this pasta dish, as I usually do with most pasta dishes. 

Beet pasta recipe

Roasted Beet pasta (adapted from this recipe)    

3 medium sized beets, peeled and cut into slices
3 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup cottage cheese (or parmesan cheese)
1/2 cup milk (I used almond milk)
1/2 pound penne pasta
A splash of red wine
Oregano, thyme, salt and pepper to taste

Roasted beets

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a baking sheet with foil, toss the beets with olive oil, salt, pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Wrap the garlic cloves in foil with a bit of olive oil. Roast the garlic and beets for about 30 minutes.
2. Transfer beets to a food processor with 1/4 cup cottage cheese, garlic and a bit of water or oil if the mixture is too thick to blend.
3. Transfer the mixture to a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the milk and the splash of wine. Add the remaining cheese, sugar and seasoning. You can also use a potato masher to make the mixture smoother. Heat for a few minutes until everything is combined.
4. Cook the pasta in boiling water until al dente. Add the beet sauce to the cooked pasta and sprinkle with a few more herbs and more cheese if you want.

Roasted beet sauce

As soon as the beet sauces hits the pasta, it turns a lovely pinkish, red colour. Alternatively, you could boil the pasta in a bit of beet water to get the same effect. Did you know that bakers sometimes use beet juice in red velvet desserts for colour? It's like an all-natural food colouring. 

Roasted beet pasta

So you get some romance, digestion talk and a neat pasta dish that will impress your special someone. I'm pretty sure pasta is the second or maybe third love of my life--have to include my cat in there too. Barilla has some great pasta recipes on their website you should try that you can "feel good about." 

Happy belated Valentine's Day!
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