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Nov 7, 2012

Eat Drink Blog Conference 2012 – Highlights via Instagram

Hey guys!
I am back now from an amazing and exhausting long weekend in Adelaide for the Eat Drink Blog Conference. I am yet to go through my photos on my DSLR yet (I still haven’t even gone through my Vietnam ones… *cough*) but for now you can check out some highlights courtesy of Instagram.

I stayed with my friend Alex for the first night and I was provided with a hooded English flag onesie to sleep in – the height of fashion!

Knowing I had a weekend chock full of eating ahead I went for a healthy lunch on Friday at Galaxy which featured a delicious eggplant and potato filo and generous helpings of salad.

I then met up with a group of bloggers at Astonish Patisserie and we feasted on a variety of amazing desserts including a half-baked cheesecake, chocolate fondant, macarons and pavlova. It was all delicious!

I waddled to meet a friend at Botanic Bar for a cocktail (loved it) before meeting my other friends at Est Pizzeria - the pizza was delicious but the star of the meal was the wood fired gnocci. Oh my goodness.

I was so full I could barely breathe but that didn’t stop us from going to Chocolate Bean for dessert! Look at the array of gorgeous treats! And they also had an amazing gingerbread hot chocolate but I could only manage a sip, I was on struggle street.

I only had 1 drink (sensible Swah) at The Exeter before retiring to bed at The Stamford as I knew we had a big day ahead at EDB!

We first had a tour of the Adelaide Central Market. I was dying of jealousy, why don’t we have something like this in central Sydney? Come on guys!

We hopped on buses, some off to the Barossa and my group was off to McLaren Vale! It was a gorgeous day.

We visited the D’Arenberg winery and did a wine blending class! I don’t usually drink red so I fear my “special blend” may be hideous. Regardless, I have lugged it home and am forcing my Dad to drink it.

My favourite part of blending was that we got to play with dry ice!!

And then we got to drink bubbles! My favourite.

Then it was back to the hotel for a quick outfit change and off to the Hilton for an amazing dinner. The menu was insane! I loved pretty much everything except the ginger snow cones, which confused me.

Dining with the lovely Nat and Sophie

We were up early again for Day 2 and were greeted with a delicious array of pastries from Red Door Bakery

We did a food styling class with Fiona Roberts which was fun. I need more props!

Then we went downstairs to the markets again, where they had opened for us on a Sunday to serve us a VERY special lunch. I ate so much amazing bread, butter, cheese and cured meats.

There was a delicious chocolate fountain by Providore and MORE dry ice! Yes!

After a few more talks it was suddenly afternoon tea time and despite being completely stuffed I managed to sneak in a few cupcakes and cake pops from The Cupcake Table!

What an amazing and filling weekend. I had so much fun, learned a lot, met loads of new people and I cannot wait to return to Adelaide again soon. Thank you Tourism South Australia!

 

Oct 16, 2012

Vietnam via Instagram

Hello everyone I am home! I had a wonderful time in Vietnam and took over 1000 photos (!!) Whilst I sort through those, I will share with you some Instagram snaps I took to give you a little taste of my trip. Highlights included:

♥ Floating down the Mekong delta in a rickety boat, wearing a silly hat.

♥ Meeting far too many snakes in the Mekong Delta, and then drinking SNAKE WINE

♥ Waking up with a Vietnamese family in the middle of the Mekong. I was surprisingly perky considering I slept huddled under a mosquito net, praying that no geckos would fall on me. Meeting this darling old lady who owned the house was a great experience.

♥ Travelled back to Ho Chi Minh City by yet another boat, drank a coconut

♥ Ate delicious pho at Pho 2000 (Bill Clinton ate there once, as demonstrated by the countless photos lining the walls)

♥ I explored the Viet Cong tunnels and booby traps in Cu Chi (very claustrophobic). Back in HCM I finished my dinner and looked in the kitchen to see a kitty lounging on the prep bench (health and safety?!) But it was ok cause I got to play with him and he combed my hair with his claws. His name was Tommy.

♥ Had a fantastic time at the Nha Trang mud baths!

♥ Nha Trang beach was eerily beautiful

♥ Stayed in a gorgeous hotel in Hoi An and thoroughly enjoyed the pool (it was so hot!!)

♥ Woke up at 4.30 to go sunrise bike riding, fortunately there was a strong black Vietnamese coffee with a thick layer of sweetened condensed milk waiting for me at the end.

♥ Ate amazing food in Hoi An, tried betel nut and then wielded a knife at cooking class

♥ Fell in love with a stray, hungry kitten in The Forbidden City in Hue. Probably got cat rabies.

♥ Explored the grounds of Tu Duc’s Tomb

♥ Was disappointed to find out my hotel in Hue did not allow Liza Minnelli-esque prostitutes.

♥ Had a perfect example of why Hue is considered the rainiest city in Vietnam. The storm rolled in as we cruised down the Perfume River and soon enough our scenic boat ride wasn’t so scenic anymore.

♥ Returned to our hotel to find out entire street flooded!! Oh dear…

♥ Boarded our private junk boat for an overnight trip on the spectacular Halong Bay. I briefly enjoyed the sun deck before hiding in the shade.

♥ HALONG BAY IS AMAZING

♥ I stole the captain’s hat

♥ And then watched the sunset

♥ Our chef onboard the boat created the most beautiful vegetable sculptures. He demonstrated how to make the lotus out of a radish and a fishnet out of a carrot. A bit beyond my knife skills I’m afraid!

♥ Loved the hustle and bustle of Hanoi

♥ Said goodbye to Vietnam and hello to Hong Kong for a few days. First stop, the Michelin-starred Din Tai Fung for truffle dumplings!

♥ Tried an amazing cocktail featuring earl grey caviar and foam, and took in lovely views before flying home.

What an amazing trip! I am terrified to look at my credit card bill…

 

 

Sep 20, 2012

Vietnam Guide Part #1 – Before You Leave

♥ Travel Insurance

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This should be purchased the minute you book that flight!  Most policies do not automatically include cover for claims involving motorcycling. If you plan on riding a motorcycle (even as a passenger), make sure you include this option on your policy.

♥ Immunisations

Pay a visit to your doctor at least a month before you leave. I got an injection for Hepatitis A and Typhoid, Malaria pills that I must take everyday before I leave and during my trip, an oral Cholera immunisation that is taken twice, 2 weeks apart, and finally some antibiotics and anti-diarrhea medication “just in case”. This all came to just under AU$300 – it’s not cheap but do you want to risk it?

♥ Passport

Make sure your passport has at least six months’ validity from your planned date of return to your home country.

♥ Visa

Australians require a visa to enter Vietnam (as do Americans, English etc – please check with the Vietnamese Embassy in your own country). There are 2 options to obtain the visa – I ended up going with the safer, more expensive option. Firstly print off and fill in this form. Get a passport photo taken (this can be done at the post office), and along with your passport, a self addressed premium express post bag and a AUD$75 money order send it to the Canberra Embassy. All up this costs around AUD$110.

The other option involves arriving at a Vietnamese airport after filling out an online form and then waiting in a queue for a loooong time. I was advised not to go down this route by Twitter friends with previous experience. Yes it is cheaper, but there have been reports of visa scams involving online Vietnamese visa applications – also who wants to stand in a long queue after a 9+ hour flight?

Stay tuned for more parts of my guide to Vietnam!

 

Aug 24, 2012

Next stop, Vietnam!

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I am usually a fairly sensible person. Well, sometimes at least. When I book a trip it’s usually months (often a year) in advance and I research and plan everything to the nth degree because I am a control freak. On Wednesday morning I was chatting with the girls at work about their travel plans this year. I thought “I’d really love to see Vietnam”. After a bit of quick Googling it turned out April and October were the best months to travel, weather-wise. I mulled this idea over in my head and went home. Whilst casually browsing the Qantas website at home before my dinner date to see what I could do with my abundant Frequent Flyer points, the sensible part in my brain snapped and I booked flights. Just like that. And I leave in a month. Wonderful!

Vietnam ticked all the boxes of the perfect travel destination – I wanted to see somewhere new, I needed something affordable and I wanted the destination to be under 9 hours from Australia as I only have 2 1/2 weeks annual leave. Plus I am fascinated by the breathtaking natural sights, the culture and most of all THE FOOD.

So please, dear internet, give me your Vietnam suggestions! I don’t have the time to research this country as thoroughly as I’d like before I leave so please share with me your favourite experiences, foods, sights and any dos or don’ts. I also have a few nights at the end of my trip in Hong Kong so any additional suggestions will be more than welcome!

Where are you off to next?

Aug 8, 2012

Wanderlust: The Northern Lights / Aurora Borealis

I have spent a lot of time travelling throughout Iceland and Scandinavia but it’s always during summertime – so I have never seen the Northern Lights!  Known as the Aurora Borealis in northern latitudes, it is a natural light display in the sky caused by the collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere. They occur most frequently in a belt of radius 2500 km centered on the magnetic north pole. This so-called auroral zone extends over northern Scandinavia, Iceland, the southern tip of Greenland and continuing over northern Canada, Alaska and along the northern coast of Siberia. Whilst I have always associated the Northern Lights with wintertime, they are actually present all year round – it’s just that we can’t see them during the light nights of summer.

One day I will get to experience this amazing phenomenon and cross it off my travel bucket list!

Jul 6, 2012

Wanderlust: Pamukkale

I recently discovered Pamukkale, Turkey through a friend’s photos on Instagram. It came as no surprise to me that Pamukkale translated as “cotton castle” – it looks like these hot springs formed against cliffs have been draped in white cotton candy! Pamukkale’s terraces are made of travertine, a sedimentary rock deposited by water from the hot springs. I am adding Pamukkale to my bucket list!

Where in the world are you currently fascinated by?

Jul 3, 2012

Dulce de Leche / Doce de Leite

Edit: Thanks to my lovely readers I have now sourced some locations to buy authentic Dulce de Leche in Australia. Firstly online from Mi Casa Fine Foods, or at a store called La Torre, 9 Nelson St Fairfield.

I was recently gifted 2 jars of delicious Dulce de Leche (or in Portuguese Doce de Leite) from my cousin who had just returned from South America. The jar on the left is from Brazil and the jar on the right is from Argentina. This caramel is hugely popular in South America and has been steadily gaining popularity in desserts within Australia.

After doing some taste testing (for scientific purposes of course) I think I am learning towards preferring the Brazilian Doce de Leite – it’s darker and richer and a little less sweet than its Argentinian friend. However both are sublimely delicious and I have been sprung on numerous occasions by my housemate at the refrigerator, spoon in hand.

Now, with nearly a kilo of caramel, what does one do with all of this deliciousness? I can’t keep eating it with a spoon, my teeth will fall out. Here are some of my recipes I am considering using it in:

Sesame Seed Biscuits with Dulce de Leche

I want to whip up a batch of these tasty sesame seed biscuits and sandwich them together with my caramel (a nice and quick way to avoid boiling sweetened condensed milk)

Banoffee Pie with Salted Pretzel Crust

For a super quick Banoffee Pie-  make a biscuit base, spread with the caramel and let set in the fridge. Then top with sliced bananas, whipped cream and shaved chocolate and serve. Too easy!

Ginger Biscuits with Salted Caramel Buttercream

To make salted caramel buttercream simply beat the dulce de leche with butter, icing sugar and a pinch of sea salt until a spreadable consistency is achieved. Then sandwich between ginger cookies, or pipe onto cupcakes.

Some other popular uses in South America include spreading it on bread/toast (like a super sweet and decadent version of peanut butter I guess?!)

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Or freshly cooked churros dipped in dulce de leche. Yum!

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Have you tried the authentic doce de leite before? What are your favourite dulce de leche desserts?

Apr 19, 2012

Planning a holiday?

I’m getting itchy feet again and am starting to plan my next holiday – once I finally decide on my destination of course! I’m thinking a few weeks in Reykjavík and New York. Heaven.

I thought I’d share with you some of my top travel tips to help you in planning your next escape.

Research and planning are always integral to a successful trip. My first step is always to investigate the climate in my destination(s) of choice. Knowing when to travel and how the seasons will affect your experience is super important. You don’t want to spend your beach holiday locked in your hotel room whilst a tropical cyclone rages!

Once you’ve settled on your time to go, start thinking about what sort of travel experience you want to enjoy on your next trip. Do you want to go on a group tour or embark on a solo adventure? Are you going to stay in a hotel, an apartment or a hostel?

Now that you’ve booked in all the components of your trip it’s time to start ticking things off your pre-departure checklist. Travel insurance, immunisation injections and visas need to be organised to ensure you stay safe and healthy during your holiday and don’t come back with any nasty bills or diseases!

Brush up on your long-haul flight survival skills and advice on how to stay healthy on a trip. But most importantly, relax and have an amazing time!

Once you’re finally home you will suffer the inevitable post-holiday blues - take time to appreciate what you have at home, then start fantasising about your next adventure!

For more travel advice check out my Travel Tips page.

Mar 27, 2012

Weird and wonderful food around the world – A guide for the adventurous foodie

I was writing an Icelandic travel guide yesterday and after detailing the Icelandic delicacy of putrified shark meat (apparently it tastes and smells as bad as it sounds) I thought I would go into more details of unique (and often stomach-churning) local delicacies around the world.

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Putrified Shark (Hákarl) – Iceland

Hákarl is shark meat that’s been fermented for 4-5 months until it becomes (questionably) safe for human consumption (the sharks in the waters around Greenland are in fact poisonous). It is described as smelling extremely high in ammonia and people often vomit at the mere smell of it – enjoy!

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Chicken Sashimi (Torisashi) – Japan

Japan is home to many unique local dishes including live prawns and octopus and horse meat. But one dish that leaves me feeling particularly squeamish is chicken sashimi. The raw chicken is sliced thinly and served with a mirin sweetened soy sauce.

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Guinea Pigs (Cuy) – Peru

Yep, that cute and furry animal we often keep as pets is a local delicacy in Peru! From high end restaurants to street carts selling guinea pigs on sticks, this animal sure is popular – Peruvians consume an estimated 65 million guinea pigs each year!

Here are some eggs. I couldn’t bring myself to post a real picture of Balut. It looks that disgusting – Google if you dare!

Fertilised Egg (Balut) – Philippines (and other parts of SE Asia)

Take a fertilised chicken or duck egg, boil it alive and eat it straight out of the shell. I have enough issues eating normal (unfertilised!) eggs so this dish is completely beyond my stomach’s capabilities. Apparently it is a hearty snack that is thought to be an aphrodisiac.

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Rotten Cheese (Casu Marzu) – Italy

Hailing from Sardinia in Italy, larvae are added to cheese to promote a level of fermentation close to decomposition. Apparently the tiny worms can jump up to half a foot if disturbed – who knew eating cheese could be so frightening?

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten overseas?

Feb 3, 2012

Knowing when to travel – take note of the seasons!

I am constantly surprised by the amount of people who head off overseas after scoring a cheap flight or accommodation package and then complain when there are monsoonal rains/40+ degree humid weather/cyclones. Seasons regularly dictate when and where I travel and I am careful to research my destination properly so that I don’t end up spending my holiday trapped in a hotel as the heavens rain down.

The monsoon in Hanoi. Image source

I don’t want to bore you with detailing the weather conditions of every country around the world, but here are some popular destinations and tips on when to enjoy them.

Western Europe 

Western Europe can be enjoyed all year around and each season has its perks and drawbacks. My favourite time to travel to Europe is in Spring and Autumn – the weather is more temperate, the prices are moderate and there are (slightly) less tourists. Summer is a very popular time to travel as tourists enjoy the warm weather, long days and flock to the beaches – be aware of inflated prices, LONG queues to basically everything and and lots and lots of tourists. Winter can be COLD (although not as bitterly cold as Eastern Europe but more on that later) – but travelling to Europe in Winter has its perks. There is of course skiing and Christmas Markets, as well as the advantage of less tourists (so you can mingle with the locals more) and cheaper prices. But be aware of the drawbacks of shorter days, freezing temperatures and the risk of planes being grounded in blizzard conditions (learnt that the hard way).

♥ Eastern Europe 

Eastern Europe tends to be hot in summer and freezing in Winter, making autumn and spring the ideal times to explore the area. I remember sweltering in Hungary in the height of summer and nearly freezing to death in Prague in Winter (and it only gets worse the further east you go – there are scores dying in Romania and Poland as we speak). The South East is a hugely popular summer beach destination particularly around Croatia so be aware of inflated prices and lots of tourists like the rest of Europe!

♥ Northern Europe 

By far the best time to travel to Northern Europe (Scandinavia, Iceland etc) is in the summer. Yes the prices are higher and the tourists are plentiful but the weather is by far the best and those long loooooong summer days make for plenty of sightseeing and partying time. Winter is long, dark and very very cold. HOWEVER there is the added bonus of seeing the Northern Lights and doing snow related activities such as dog sledding and visiting Santa in Rovaniemi.

♥ Japan

Japan’s summer months are hot, humid and WET – I would definitely avoid travelling in this period. Winter time in Japan is cold but absolutely feasible if you dress appropriately. Spring is absolutely amazing with the blooming cherry blossom trees however the Japanese love to also experience the cherry blossoms leading to high prices, busy trains and sold out hotels. Autumn is a great time to travel with temperate weather and moderate prices.

♥ USA 

The lower half of the west coast of America (San Fran, LA etc) is fine to travel all year round but Spring and Autumn carry the added perks of mild temperatures and less crowds. Further up the coast (Seattle, Portland) the Winters are bitterly cold and dark.

Similarly the East Coast has gorgeous weather in Spring and Autumn.  New York/Boston and the rest of the North East have bitterly cold winters and hot and humid summers.

♥ South Pacific

The best time to visit most of the islands in the South Pacific is during the dry season, which is between May and October. Outside of these months you are looking at high humidity, tropical rain and the risk of cyclones.

♥ Hong Kong

Avoid Hong Kong during the summer, it’s hot and humid and STINKS. Plus the pollution seems even more oppressive. Oh and there are typhoons from September. I personally prefer travelling to Hong Kong in Winter – it’s not too cold and the air quality seems almost cleaner.

One country that I have always wanted to visit but have been put off by its vicious climate is Vietnam. It seems to be either in the grips of a summer monsoon or a winter monsoon, with freezing cold weather or sweltering heat.

If you have been to Vietnam, when did you travel? What was the weather like?

 

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