Monday, 12 October 2015

Wistaria Tea Rooms, Echuca

When you wonder along the dusty road of the Port of Echuca, the most striking eating establishment has to be the Wistaria tea rooms with its magnificent boughs of purple wisteria draped over the verandah.  We ate there twice on our recent holiday to Echuca.

Both times we sat outside to look over the historic Port of Echuca, to wave to the stage coach going by and watch the tourists.  The first time was for lunch.  It was a warm day and we had been told that our meal could take some time as it was rather busy.  So we relaxed with cold soft drinks in large glasses.  Sylvia had creamy soda, I had ginger beer and E had sarsparilla.  Suitably old fashioned drinks for a historic area.

Like many places in Echuca (and country Victoria) the vegetarian offerings were thin on the ground.  I think the fritatta was the only vegetarian meal.  I opted instead to have the focaccia with camembert, cranberry sauce and lettuce but no turkey.  the foccaccia was nice but not amazing.  The bread didn't impress me much.  I was more taken with the lovely crisp chips.

We sneaked a peak indoors.  It was very quiet as it was the end of the lunch hour and besides, it was much nicer to sit outside in the sun.  If the weather had been inclement I would have been very happy to sit inside.

A few days later we tried to come here for afternoon tea with my parents and my brother.  At 3.30 pm they were already closed.

Not to be defeated, we returned the next morning and snaffled a table.  I had decided I was getting scones with jam and cream.  Then my dad ordered the pancakes with berries and yoghurt.  He needed help so I gallantly offered to share it.  When the basket of warm scones came I had a taste and thought them pleasingly light and fluffy.  E and Sylvia were less impressed.  My mother was most displeased that the jam was not home made.  The Wistaria did earn brownie points in having loose leaf tea even for my peppermint tea.

The nicest dish I had at the Wistaria was the pancakes.  They were fluffly with a really generous serving of berries, though I would have welcomed a good drizzle of maple syrup.  I particularly loved that they were served with yoghurt rather than ice cream or cream.  By the time I shared it with my dad and everyone had a taste, I didn't have that much and could have eaten more.

I confess to enjoying the Wistaria more for the historic ambiance than the food but the food was much nicer than most that we had in Echuca.  I would happily return there should we find ourselves in Echuca again.

Wistaria Tea Rooms
51 Murray Esplanade, Echuca
Tel: (03) 5482 4210

Wisteria Tea Rooms Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, 9 October 2015

Sandwiches, CLT and an Avocado glut

I had planned to write another post today and then we slept past the alarm, I took Sylvia to school without my house keys.  a friend drove me to the city to get E's keys and then I helped her dismantle her bed and put together a new bed.  So instead let me tell you how much I am loving avocados right now, especially in sandwiches.

When I dropped off Sylvia at school the other morning, one of the mothers had a basket of mini avocados.  I took lots, forgetting I had just bought three the day before.  You can see how small the little avocados are compared to a smallish regular one.

One of my first ideas for the avocados was this amazing epic avocado sandwich I found on Amuse Your Bouche.  It was like a posh crisp sandwich.  Avocado, tomato, lettuce, potato crisps and cheese.  Mine was only slightly different: avocado, tomato, baby spinach, bbq corn chips and peanut butter.  So delicious with that little bit of crunch from the chips.

I was determined to make myself something healthy for dinner with avocado.  So I decided to make a bowl of goodness with what I had.  This black bean, pumpkin and avocado bowl was made up of:
  • black beans and mixed them with fried garlic, tomato, red capsicum, spring onion, oregano, smoked paprika and cumin,
  • pumpkin roasted with some smoked paprika,
  • steamed asparagus,
  • mashed avocado with lemon juice, garlic, spring onion and a bit of water to thin it down,
  • corn chips

It was so good and I felt so good after eating it.  More of the black beans and roasted pumpkin went into a chilli non carne.  Avocado is perfect on a bowl of chilli and rice.

So today I decided I needed a CLT - that is a Coconut Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich.  This was not a traditional one as I used baby spinach rather than lettuce and a roll rather than slices of bread but, oh my giddy aunt, it was delicious!

If only Sylvia would eat this.  I let her make lunch this morning while we were scurrying around getting ready and she made fairy bread - yes that is 100s and 1000s (sprinkles) in her sandwich.  But I will be enjoying more avocados on my chilli non carne tonight at dinner.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Echuca holiday, accommodation and what we ate

After lunch and book shop browsing in Castlemaine, we arrived at our rented cottage in Echuca in late afternoon.  Echuca is a few hours drive north of Melbourne on banks of the Murray River.  This post is an overview of the cottage where we stayed and places where we ate.  Echuca did not strike me as a town of amazing foodie cafes.  Yet we ate well.  I will write about the sightseeing in the historic port in a separate post.

Echuca Gardens (The Cottage)
103 Mitchell St, Echuca

Echuca Gardens has a few self catering accommodation options and we chose the cottage that sleeps 8 people because it had the larger lounge and kitchen. As we had so many beds, we invited my parents to visit which they did on the last night with my brother Dave.

I also liked that it was about 150 years old.  The owner, Kim, had renovated the cottage when it was in disrepair.  I loved all the friezes, pressed metal and framed pictures.  The frieze in the kitchen was particularly impressive for its Australiana theme with both the yellow and green colour scheme and the wattle motifs. 

The owner of Echuca Gardens is a talented and fascinating.  He invited us into his house to see his extensive collection of souvenirs from his travels and hear him play piano to us.  He also is an artist and has painted murals in the garden of the place.  There were a few other accommodation options there included gypsy wagons which unfortunately were only large enough for a couple.

The kitchen was well equipped with both an oven and dishwasher, basic equipment as well as some basics in the pantry.  The only thing we really missed was a bowl for E to make porridge in the microwave.  I also had problems with finding the second switch to turn on the stove and oven one night and ended up cooking pasta in the microwave.

What we ate at the cottage

We came with lots of food, most of it in packets or tins that meant it could be taken home again.  I didn't bake any sweet goods for the holiday but I made a loaf of bread and I had a few honey joys that weren't sold at the Carnivale.

Food stuffs we brought included sourdough bread, peanut butter, vegemite, smoked almonds, naan bread, packaged curries, dried pasta, pasta sauce, cashews, soy snacks, crackers, cherry tomatoes, snow peas, margarine, chickpeas, tomato soup, baked beans, crisps, oats, muesli, Sylvia's cereal, tetra pak soy milk, golden syrup, herbal and regular tea, honey joys, wallaby bites (chocolate treats), popcorn, strawberry liquorice, apples, bananas.  I also brought along my favourite small knife and chopping board.  We bought a few vegies, croissants and yoghurt from Aldi in Echuca.

We ate most breakfasts at the cottage.  Mostly croissants (for E), muesli and yoghurt for me, cereal for Sylvia and toast for all of us.  From our holiday pantry we had dinners of curries and naan bread one night and pasta with pasta sauce and salad.  One night we had fish and chips (corn jack and chips for Sylvia and me) from Fish Bite Seafood (158 Hare St).  I made a salad to eat with it which made it less heavy.

I was really glad of some vegetables back at the cottage because there were not many in the meals I ate out.  In fact, much as I loved Echuca it was not a town of foodies.  I did not find any cafes which provided impressive vegetarian meals and had to improvise on a few occasions.  It was only after we left that my mum spotted a cafe that had a sign saying it served vegetarian and gluten free food (opposite the Black Pudding on the High St).

The Beechworth Bakery 
513 High Street, Echuca

We wanted to eat brunch out one day and decided to go to the Beechworth Bakery.  It is an impressive bakery for a cuppa and something sweet but not a place for a vegetarian to find breakfast (given that I don't like eggs).  We all had cheese croissants (except E had ham in his as well).  I hadn't seen many other places that did interesting vegetarian breakfasts but I might have had a fry up at the Black Pudding just down the High St.

As with so many eating establishments in Echuca, I was more impressed with the physical place than the food.  It had amazing views out the front over the High Street from the balcony or at the back over the Campaspie River.

We enjoyed our croissant and juice but I wanted something sweet.  Fortunately we were there late enough to justify morning tea and we each had a doughnut.  I had to try the nutella doughnuts which I loved, Sylvia had a cute frog in a pond which amused her and E went the traditional route and had a cinnamon doughnut.

I loved looking at the cakes and slices display in the Beechworth Bakery.  It was so much fun with all the marshmallow creatives and decorated cupcakes.  I really loved that it also had lots slices (lamingtons, jelly slice and vanilla slice) that you would find in a traditional Aussie country bakery.  They also sell pies and pasties which I have enjoyed before.

Beechworth Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Star Hotel
45 Murray Esplanade, Echuca

One of the lunches that I most enjoyed was the Star Hotel.  We might well have been here after the Beechworth bakery as we only had a light lunch.  E ordered the tomato and basil bruschetta which he enjoyed with a nice rocket salad.  Sylvia and I shared the spicy capsicum, hummus and tzatziki dips, olives and pizza bread.  The dips were nice but the pizza bread was amazing.  It was crisp on the bottom and light and airy and warm.  In fact as I look at their online menu I curse that I missed their dessert pizzas.  However I wasn't that hungry and they weren't that cheap.

We ate in the leafy courtyard.  Our time in Echuca had perfect mid 20s temperatures, blue skies and sunshine.  So we welcomed the shade.  However the dappled light beneath the tree did not make for great food photography.

I really liked the place and would have liked to have returned if we had time (and E had liked it more).  It was one of the pricier places we went.  However the staff were friendly and I loved the little interesting touches in the decor.

The Star Hotel is situated in the heart of historic Echuca and had a door to a downstairs area where one of the staff told us people used to drink beyond the legal hours.  Sylvia, bless her little innocent heart, asked if the people who worked there would have known.  We were invited to have a look but we had a paddle steamer to catch.  We meant to return to check it out but just ran out of time.

Star Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Port Ice Creamery
616 High Street, Echuca 

Sylvia loves ice cream so we went for an ice cream at the Port Ice Creamery.  I had a cherry ripe with coconut and cherries and chocolate swirl.  It was pretty ordinary.  Lots of artificial and not much flavour.  Sylvia had a rainbow ice cream which is for kids with all their taste in their eyes.  E hit the jackpot with an English toffee ice cream that I wished I had ordered.  Sylvia and I tried to snatch as many mouthfuls of it as we could.

Brownz Courtyard Cafe
591 High Street, Echuca

I had promised Sylvia pancakes at another cafe but I think it was the echoes of my favourite cheese pancakes at the Pancake Parlour that drew me into this Brownz Courtyard Cafe with Pancakes written large on its side.  As well as pancakes there were lots of breakfast options and kid's meals.  I liked this place with its friendly staff and extensive options.

I chose the deckhand's choice which was a cheese and onion pancake with salad on the side.  The pancake wasn't as good as the Pancake Parlour but I enjoyed it.  The addition of onion was great.  It was a relief to have some vegies with my meal.

I was pleased hat Sylvia had baked beans.  By the time we were here she was over having chips at every place!  She did balk at the toast being buttered and cut the wrong shape.  I let her deal with it and she eventually ate some.  I guess whoever said that travel broadens the mind, never thought it might mean having your toast cut differently!  She was more excited about her raspberry spider (ice cream in raspberry lemonade).  E enjoyed an egg and bacon sandwich.

Brownz Courtyard Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tara's Hall Hotel
130 Pakenham St, Echuca

On our last night we went to dinner with my parents and my brother at the Tara's Hall Hotel which was the local pub near our accommodation.  We were told that it was the place the locals ate.  For some people this is high recommendation but I find this makes me quite nervous when dining in the country (where a country chef once told me vegetarians like me was the bane of his life).  And my concerns proved to be well founded.  The pub was a meat eaters delight.  In fact the huge steaks even defeated my parents who love their meat.  The steaks were almost the size of their heads!

My heart sank when I saw that the only vegetarian dish on offer was tomato soup.  It is not my favourite soup and though it was served in a cup it was a huge bowl sized cup.  Sylvia had some pasta with parmesan that she didn't eat so I added a bit to the soup.  We also ordered garlic bread - which came in surprisingly small serves.  It was just two small pieces of bread.  I guess guests usually have to save room for the huge steaks.  And we had some chips too.  E had bruschetta which he liked.

It was my brother who was happiest with his meal because they let him have the kid's serve of the chicken parmigiana with chips, which was plenty for him.  It was a nice place to eat and the staff were lovely but I just would not return because they do not cater well to vegetarians.

We also enjoyed eating at the Wistaria Tea Rooms which I will write about in a separate post.  I would not rush back to Echuca for its food offerings but I think it did a decent job for an Australian country town.  I am sure there is more food to explore in Echuca.  However I really loved the historic buildings and port and will write more about that soon.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Saff's Cafe, Castlemaine

So we are back from our trip to Echuca.  The suitcases are unpacked.  A couple of loads of washing have been dried on the line and put away.  And today we even washed the car.  All the remains to be done is upload a few posts on the holiday.  Starting with our lunch stop at Castlemaine en route to Echuca.  This was possibly the best cafe of the holiday.

 Firstly we admired the buildings of Castlemaine in the glorious sunshine.

Well actually we firstly confused Chewton for Castlemaine, then I tried to take E to another place that I swore said Restaurant and Barn but it turns out that it said Restorer's Barn.  Finally we found Saff's Cafe.

It was just our sort of place.  Street art.  Some historic touches.  I particularly loved the old faded signs on the facade that were a reminder it was once a building that sold ploughs, horse nails and fencing wire.  The mural on the side was delightful and humourous.  The backyard was a joy to look at through the french doors.

I chose the red lentil burger in Turkish bread with tomatoes, lettuce, avocado, relish and yoghurt.  It was really soft when I cut the huge burger in half.  But very good and interesting to have the relish and yoghurt come on the side.  Sylvia had the small bowl of fries.  I was really pleased we didn't order a large bowl. There were heaps and they were very good.  Hot and crisp.  E had a very substantial egg and bacon sandwich.

I was very full but I still wanted dessert.  The baked blueberry cheesecake was calling my name.  Fortunately there was only a small slice left (and we received a discounted price).  E and I shared it and it was delicious.  Really dense cheesecake with lots of fruit, albeit a bit jellied.

Sylvia insisted on a slice of lemon tart.  Then she barely touched it.  Fortunately E was at hand to help out.  He enjoyed it.  I have so little desire for lemon tart that I didn't bother having a bite but that is a personal preference.

And just to proove that we had chosen well, the place was quite full. 

Sylvia did a little happy dance and then we left.

We couldn't leave Castlemaine without some time in a bookshop.  Stoneman's Book Room was fantastic and we could have spent hours there.  Our fleeting visit to Castlemaine was enough to convince us we should head back some time.

Saff's Cafe
64 Mostyn St, Castlemaine, VIC
(03) 5470 6722
Facebook page

Saffs Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, 3 October 2015

In My Kitchen - October 2015

We are back from our Echuca holiday with October heralding that Spring is well and truly here.  It is 30 C today.  Hot enough for suncream, for the garden to need watering and for our white cat to need to stay indoors.  My cooking mojo is low with the post holiday slump.  However term 4 starts next week.  Once we are all back to school, to work and into routine, I am sure more cooking will be happening here!  Meanwhile let's see what has been happening in my kitchen.

Recently, I made Mars Bar Slice.  It has been a long time since we indulged and how I missed this slice.  It was a wedding anniversary treat.  I used a mixture of milk and dark chocolate on top and managed to overcook the chocolate.  It still tasted great but the chocolate didn't look as glossy and smooth as it should.

I made these crackers with some leftover sun dried tomato butter from recipe testing.  The butter had been in the freezer for ages so it needed to be used.  I had about 1/2 cup of butter, added almond meal, wheatgerm and self raising flour until it got a little crumbly.  Then I added a tbsp or so of water until I could bring together and briefly knead into a ball.  Then I rolled it out and cut it into squares.  I baked it at 180 to 200 C until golden brown.  They were so good that I wished for a proper recipe.  They were short, a little crumbly and full of flavour.

This is my favourite eggflip (spatula).  It is made of melamine and I am very attached to it.  When it cracked I kept it.  E recently dropped it and one of the prongs has broken off but I have not yet had the heart to stop using it or throw it out.  I have one or two alternatives but I need to look out for another like this.

When I visited the new Coburg North Coles with E and Sylvia there was very little holding back in the chocolate aisle.  The banana jelly blast chocolate was disappointing because it was not terribly good milk chocolate and I didn't find any decent sized pieces of banana lollies that I had expected.  The grape twists were ok but I have always found grape flavour quite odd and overpowering ever since tasting hubba bubba grape bubble gum as a kid.  E took the orange chocolate to work and of the little chocolates I much preferred the jam doughnut one.  They had unexpected creamy fillings.

I was swayed by the combination of sesame, poppy, sunflower and mustard seeds in a rice cracker.  Just my sort of thing.  They were very lightly seasoned.  I thought it would be too many seeds for Sylvia but she enjoyed it just as much.

I bought a bag of sweet potatoes and baked them up with good intentions of making Kari's Stuffed sweet potaotes with tahini, sun dried tomatoes and paprika.  Time got away from me and I used them up in sandwiches, stews and pasta.

We had paper chains around the house from our Christmas in July lunch but when Spring arrived, we needed some decoration to welcome the warm weather and made these daffodils out of egg cartons, yellow paper and green pipe cleaners.  They are up around the loungeroom window but we need more so I consider it a work in progress.  As we haven't bought eggs for weeks I haven't had any cartons but now that a neighbour has given us some, we will need to make some more.

Once day I will write more about the amazing Smith and Deli but for now I will just share my Foghorn Legless sandwich with crumbed tempeh, facon, tomato, lettuce and dressing.  I was such a fan of a chicken schnitzel many years ago before I became vegetarian that I was really excited about this.  Until I found the crumbed tempeh was cold.  So I took it home, fried the tempeh and bacon, toasted the sandwich with some biocheese and it was really truly amazing!

This was a recent lunch.  Leftover beetroot stew (made with quinoa), toasted bread, and salted caramel popcorn.

I had lots of cheap strawberries before we headed off for holiday in Echuca.  I had a notion to make strawberry jam but I was too tired and many of the strawberries were past it.  However I made a simple strawberry sauce.  It was really good with yoghurt and muesli the next morning.  Sylvia had some with her ridiculously sweet three grain cereal.

We couldn't finish the sauce before our holiday so I mixed it with vanilla yoghurt and froze it.  Mixing strawberries and vanilla yoghurt has been a great way to save quite a bit of yoghurt and berries from the bin.  Most have gone into icy pole moulds and are a great healthy snack for Sylvia.

While on holiday in Echuca, E bought four different fudges.  (Jam doughnuts, chocolate and caramel, malteser and butterscotch.)  I think this is the reason that the packaged steamed puddings he bought were never used and still are sitting in our kitchen.  This fudge is so sweet but rather good.  We really enjoyed eating it on a seat in the Port of Echuca.

I couldn't resist this Victorian floral plate at one of the second hand shops in Echuca.  The shopkeeper estimated it came from the 1880s.  I'd love to know its story.

Finally here is some of my shopping from this morning at Preston Market.  As it is the school holidays, we don't have gymnastics this morning and I had a notion to go to a Farmers Market.  There were none near me that I could find online so I went to Preston Market instead.  It is a market I could probably get used to if I was a regular but as I have only been a couple of times before, I find it very overwhelming.  I did love the bread with its name on it though.  I came home with lots of lovely fruit and vegies which we need after being away.

I am sending this post to Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for her In My Kitchen event.  Head over to join in (by 10th of each month) and/or check out what is happening in other bloggers' kitchens.