Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Wishing all of you a Merry Christmas and may God bless you and your family with peace, joy and hope!


I am looking forward to leaving for Brisbane tomorrow. Today's been cold and windy, and we were freezing when we took the pic above at the Botanic Gardens where the Carols By Candlelight concert is going on right now. Temp of about 11 C tonight.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Yarra Valley

The weather has been beautiful since we arrived. Although it rained the last two days, the showers were welcome because the country is so dry. Today, however, was wet and windy and it was our only day left to go to the wineries. We love wineries grazing for the (free) world-class wines, the fine food and the beautiful scenery. A not-to-be-missed experience whenever we come to Australia.

Grapes for shiraz at Fergusson Winery
Yi is down with a bad cough. In fact, we all went through a slight flu, although I suspect it was more hay fever because it comes and goes. Anyway, we left for the valley at 11 am, 2 hours later than planned. It was a 1-hour drive and the cloudy weather and cool temperature was really pleasant. However, when we got there, the winds and rain started and it got colder and colder (mid 10s) and it was real disappointing not to be able to take lots of good pictures.
Yering Station winery
There are more than 60 wineries in Yarra Valley but we only went to: Fergusson (nothing much; wine's quite good,esp the port), De Bortoli (my favorite for their pinot noir, and today we thoroughly enjoyed their wine with their cheese platters. I also enjoyed their food the last time we were here), Yering (where we had lunch) and a quick drop-in to Domain Chandon (which has one of the best kept vineyard and scenery; can see Yi having her wedding here...). We went as far as Yarra Warra, as recommended by Yi's connoisseur friend Alan, but by then it was past 5pm and most of the wineries were closed. I drove and followed a sign for 'farm fresh cherries'. There were so many varieties of cherries! I thought all cherries are Bing cherries. We bought the Star cherries and the delicious, juicy, sweet, flavorful, large, dark-red variety called 'Lappin'. Heaven.

Lunch was at Yering Station, voted the Best Tourism Winery for 3 years now:
Bread (excellent, heavy and chewy yet soft) with a pepper pesto.
Side orders of roasted potatoes (good) and salad, A$8 each.
Porterhouse steak; very good. A$32 (RM90)
Today's special: turkey breast wrapped with prosciutto (too dry) n dark meat in a salad. A$30.
Lamb cutlets with mushrooms A$30. Wey said 'Okay only.'
On to De Bortoli (winner of international awards for their wines; my favorite winery so far) for more good wine and cheese:
You can try the cheeses before deciding what you want on your cheese platter. Choose 3 cheeses for A$6 only.
We had 2 cheese platters. Excellent cheese, especially the Tasmanian raclette and the camembert. Wey liked the Stilton. One cheese we sampled was the Vegemite cheddar which Hub said tasted like salted fish. Very good description.

De Bortoli was voted best winery this year. This choc fudge, which can be found in other wineries too, is simply the best I've ever tasted! Soft, very smooth, nice flavor without being too chocolaty and not too sweet. Wow. I'm going to miss this when I'm home.

At the fruits farm:


The apples aren't ripe yet.
Isn't this like one of those cross-stitch pictures??

Friday, December 21, 2007

Hub's Birthday

Everyday, the four of us (poor Hub is an early riser) wake up around 10 or 11 am, get ready and eat lunch in and leave the apartment around noon. We don't come home until past midnight and sleep around 2 am, which is why even though we now have internet access (thanks to Derrick) I still can't blog much because there's so many of us fighting to use the computer.

Yesterday (20th) we didn't have any planned programs for once so we had a lazy morning and left the house at 3 pm. Instead of driving, we walked to the city (5 minutes only) and strolled along Elizabeth Street where people were queueing up to look at Myer's famous Christmas window display. We weren't impressed at all. This year's display was based on a children story by an Australian writer. I don't think we were the only ones unimpressed. People just filed past the windows, not even talking. Nativity scenes have been banned a couple of years ago, which is beyond me. What is Christmas about then? Presents, turkey, feeling good?


It started to pour (who says Australia has an eternal drought?) and we retreated into Don Don, a run-down little Japanese restaurant at Little Lonsdale and Swanston St. The food was surprisingly good and cheap too, at about A$7 per bowl of don/udon.



The salmon sashimi rice was excellent and so was the udon. Wey's bowl of beef don was a little dry.

After Don Don, Yi insisted we try Max Brenner at Melbourne Central. Max Brenner and Koko Black are comfy places where chocoholics can retreat to for everything cocoa. Their fine smooth choc are served in drinks, cookies, fondues, you name it. We had the fresh fruits fondue, hot choc and mocha served in 'hugmugs' and something called suckao, which was a fondue of full cream milk and milk choc chips that you add to your liking. The result was melted choc which you have to somehow suck through a thin hollow metal tube, looking like a choc addict. I had a few sips and felt very nauseous as I ran to the theatre later. Eating good choc is a joy, but sipping rich melted milk choc is just too much for me.

Fruits fondue A$16 (RM48)


Hot mocha A$5.50 (RM16)

We decided the night before to go for broke, paying RM270 (A$90) per Grand Circle ticket for The Phantom of The Opera. Yi had seen it months earlier so she was banned from going. We were lucky to get our tickets which Yi had only booked one night before the show.


I was a little disappointed that the stage was so small because I was comparing it to the huge stage in Singapore where I first watched Phantom. However, although not as grand, the smaller stage gave a closer view and the actors looked much bigger. The costumes and stage props (I love the masquerade scene) were awesome, and I was moved to tears again (when Raoul pledged to Christine, when the Phantom sang a whiny "I love you", when Christine did what she did at the end) but I must say I didn't find this Christine as convincing and lovely, or sang as well, as the one I saw more than 12 years ago. If I'm not wrong, that Christine was played by Australian Marina Prior. She gave me goose bumps when she sang, and made me wish I could sing too. But still, overall, the whole family loved the show. Wey grew up listening to our Phantom CD and didn't need any explanation of the story. Ming was super romantic and soppy. Hub too, squeezing my hands now and then!

Spaghetti (A$7/RM24), mixed meat sovlavki platter (A$22/RM66)

Yi wanted me to change my mind about Greek food and we stood outside Stalactites (open 24 hours, popular with pub crawlers and people who don't sleep) deciding whether to eat Chinese or Greek when Hub decided for us all. It was his birthday after all. And you know what? The mixed meat (chicken and lamb) sovlavki was the best we've tried so far. The bread was softer and the lamb kebab moist. And who ordered that bowl of so-so spaghetti in a Greek restaurant? I did, and I had to eat most of it.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dandenong Ranges


We first went to the Dandenong Ranges four years ago and I was not impressed. Yes there are quaint little streets and cottages but they were not that many or quaint enough to merit the hour-long drive, and we had the mandatory scones that were more like cakes or monkey bread at the over-rated Miss Marples. In this little English cottage teahouse, you have to line up for 20 minutes before getting seated at a little table, elbow to elbow to the next table. So this visit I told Hub there's no way I'm going to waste a day going there again. Guess what, we went to Dandenong again today, and I am VERY sure I won't ever go there again. Maybe I'm not fair to the place - an overnight stay and a bush walk would probably make the trip worthwhile. I did see a kookaburra sitting on a gum tree while we were drivimg up. It looked a bit like an owl.

It was really by default, because we were driving around looking at display homes. This is something Hub and I love to do when we visit other places. Display homes in Australia are very beautiful and inspiring. Unfortunately, all the large home builders like Simonds and Metricon have closed since Dec 17, until Dec 27, for the Christmas hols. We only managed to see 3 display homes by a land developer. Since we were about 30 minutes away from Dandenong Mts, up we went. We wanted to enjoy meat pies and Devonshire teas (English scones and tea) which the place is famous for, but we got there 5 min before 5 pm, and everybody was closing up (why can't they stay open longer in summer - the sun goes down at 9). I refused to eat at Miss Marples (too touristy) and Yi said Pie In The Sky is good but when we got there it too was closed for the holidays. Aiya. In the end we had to have fish n chips in Olinda, one of those small one-street towns. The Barramundi fish, scallops n chips (A$9 + extra for the scallops) were terrible, soaked and heavy with oil. The yiros soulavki was also yukky. Said it before and I'll say it again, I hate Greek food!


Yesterday, Yi brought us to this fab place for pizza. Bimbo Blonde (Brunswick St.) serves pizzas at happy hours (Mon to Thurs 12 noon to 4 pm, Sundays 7 pm to 11 pm) give-away price of A$4 each! The pizzas are - how shall I describe them- not the usual evenly topped pizzas but rather the chunky toppings were randomly scattered, and the pizzas were the best we've tasted so far. The Caesar pizza was a whole load of cos salad with a coddled egg thrown in, the funghi mushroom pizza (my fave) came with thick chunks of mushrooms, while the chocolate pizza, which had melted/grilled mascarpone and choc, was the least tasty of all. The place is funky (unkindly put, run-down) and hippy, almost like a drug den upstairs! Well, at least it was to me.

Caesar salad pizza

Mushroom pizza

Prosciutto pizza


Artichoke, olives and ham pizza

Melted chocolate, mascarpone and banana pizza


Smith Street for cheap clothing.

Their favourite - candy stores.


We found them passed out in the car. End of shopping.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Graduation Day!


We've been here a week and so far haven't strangled each other yet. In fact, we are having a great time meeting up with friends, going places, EATING, shopping for food, eating lots of potato chips and whatever we can't get at home. We are staying in a nice apartment in Docklands, right behind the Yarra River, about 8 minutes walk to Crown Casino! We walked from the apartment to Crown the other night, then strolled along the South Bank where there are many nice classy cafes and restaurants (such as Nobu), and then on to Federation Square, from 10:30 pm to 1:30 am. It was a lovely warm Friday evening, and people were all dressed up and the atmosphere was festive and lively.

We've rented a car, which makes moving around so easy. Yesterday was Yi's convocation. This time of the year, the convos are for foreign students who have to leave for home, while local students will have their convos in March. We got to U of Melbourne early, 5:30 pm. Many of her friends turned up, which was really nice of them. The ceremony was at 7:30 pm, until 9pm, followed by light refreshments. The graduation ceremony was not as grand as, say UMS' or even the ones I attended in Canada. I thought it was quite boring - the valedictory speech was not impressive too. However, the whole atmosphere was very happy and the weather was perfect. So many parents came from different countries, some wearing their national costumes (I threatened to wear a cheongsum at Yi's final convocation like the other mothers and she was horrified). There was a real sense of achievement, pride and also the feeling that our little girl is now an adult, ready to face the rat race, or so we hope. Yi went for an interview a few days ago (we all waited in the car), and was offered the job yesterday. But looks like she'll stick to the first offer.

I've not been able to access the internet because Yi just moved in and doesn't have internet access. Ah well. Here's some pics.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Melbourne Here We Come

This will be the only second Christmas away from home for us. The first one was years ago when we spent it in Genting Highlands. We had the worst turkey dinner ever in one of the hotels - the crowd was so big they couldn't cope and our turkey came with white skin and half-frozen meat. Genting, as many of you know, is a huge concrete maze of cheap amusement arcades, casinos and hotels. The air was stuffy and stale. What a pity, because the highlands are really cool and pretty but bad design has made the place like a kinder version of hell. It totally convinced us that Christmas should be spent at home. Our pastor is right. Christmas away from home means a commercial celebration of Christmas without "Christ", especially in Western countries.

Yes, I've been busy getting ready to go to Melbourne this Sunday. We, or rather my hub, had last minute guilt pangs last Sunday and decided to bring Wey, our youngest, so that he wouldn't end up living inside the computer room while we are in Oz. That meant buying a ticket for him at the prevailing high season price so he could be on our flight. Then on Tuesday, Ming was feeling rejected and miserable and we both felt terrible about leaving him at home (he has school till 14 Dec) and so there was a last minute frantic scramble to get him a seat too (he'll fly Royal Brunei Sunday instead while we'll transit for a day and half in Singapore. Haha, I get to shop. I hope.). And then there's all those visas to get and money to change. I just came back from Wisma Merdeka empty-handed. The town is out of Australian $$. Is everybody going there for Christmas too?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

My New Tool: A Mezzaluna

You must've seen Nigella cut up onions and stuff with a mezzaluna, peeking up at you seductively as she tells you how she loves this thing. She convinced me that I not only can make the cutting of onions and garlic a sensuous task, but also enjoy it.


My friend Elaine got me this super cutting tool from her latest trip to Sydney and so far I haven't gotten my hands on it because mom wanted to try it, then Leila too and soon all my garlic was done and anything that needed to be minced got minced. Quite the dangerous tool. The response so far is very good. Leila said it cuts ginger very well, very finely and also brings out the juice. Another good thing about it is, it slices rather than cut so that your onions or even choc bits don't jump all over as would happen if you chop. So, do consider getting one. I hear they even come with double blades.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Singapore Fried Noodles


The funniest thing about Singapore fried noodles (singjou chawmei) is it doesn't seem to be a Singapore dish at all. The first time I came across this dish was in Canada, and it was ordered by a friend from Hong Kong. It was the typical delivery/take out order for Asian students along with gonchaw ngowho (dry-fry flat rice noodles) for snowy winter nights. And until today, I have never tasted good Singapore fried noodles in Malaysia or Singapore. In fact, Singapore fried noodles is not available in most restaurants here and even if they oblige you, you'll regret ordering it because it usually is plain and bland.

My friend K of Ohio, USA has requested for a recipe for Singapore fried noodles. This makes me even more convinced that this dish was probably cooked up by some chinese restaurant overseas for undiscerning western people. Whatever it is, I cooked this dish a few days ago and although it tasted better than what we get in the restaurants here (because I used lots of prawns and cha sao and scrimp on the oil), it made me wishing for some good old Canadian/American Singapore fried noodles.

Basically, you just fry each of the items (see pic) separately in a little bit of oil and salt. Then heat up some oil, add 1 T curry powder + 1 t tumeric powder (for color) and fry till fragrant, and then add the noodles (mifun) and some oyster sauce and sprinkle some water and fry until noodles are of desired softness and then add all the other fried ingredients and toss thoroughly. Please adjust the ingredients, K, because it's been so long since I had a good plate of authentic North American singjou chawmei.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

ZheYuan's Rory Lion Cake

rory lion cake

This is a very easy cake to make, and I've made it many many times, for my children and for children of special friends. It warms my heart that they liked it and that I have made them happy. This cake was for ZheYuan's 2nd birthday on 18/11, and he was put off by it at first. After a few minutes, the cutie was happily taking photos with it.


This is not my creation; I made the cake based on the recipe and picture in The Complete Guide To Cake Decorating, published by Merehurst Ltd, London. Because I'm concerned about their copyright, I won't be giving the how-to here.

Yes, those are the features of a dog. I used home-made sugarpaste/fondant.
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