Margaret River Road Trip '15

It's almost Christmas time and what better way to celebrate the season and 2015 with a road trip down South! I've never been to Margaret River and lucky me, I have extremely nice in-laws that organised a 4d3n trip where we stayed in Pullman Bunker Bay, Dunsborough. Its about three hours plus scenic drive from Perth so it didn't feel like we were in the car that long at all.

Day 1: Busselton Jetty, Lunch at Brookwood Estate & Tea at Cape Lavender

It was a slightly overcast Summer's day but that meant that the weather was cool enough for a road trip without the need for air conditioning. We enjoyed fresh air - the light and crisp kind of air when you are away from the city - throughout the journey to Dunsborough where we stayed. On the way, we stopped by the Busselton Jetty which amazingly stretches almost 2 kilometres out to sea. We missed the tram that takes visitors to end where they is an underwater aquarium but a little walk never hurt nobody. On the way back we even saw some mermaids!

We finally arrived at Margaret River a few hours later and the first place we went to for lunch is Brookwood Estate which has really rave reviews. The view was wonderful and we sat outdoors. The food consisted of many Asian flavours and elements and everything looked so beautiful. Then we went to our first winery, Vasse Felix, where we tasted some wines. I'm not really a wine person so I'm there to appreciate the vast vineyards and take photos LOL

For afternoon tea, we went by Cape Lavender for their Devonshire Tea set which includes a pot of tea (your choice), a scone and jam. As we are still pretty full from lunch, we decided to share a set between two. I just had to order their Lavender Ice Cream - made by Millers - because I've never had one and it seems like such a hit in Japan! Everything is so photogenic...

I'm still not convinced by lavender-y food but I guess I can see why some people love it. I mostly "taste" it using my nose but without sugar or milk, it probably doesn't taste like anything in my mouth. Inside, they sell everything that is lavender from lavender sugar, jam, oil etc. to soaps and creams. Hehehe ~ I had a lot of fun here but not so much for B (whom I forced to share my cone) and my in laws.

After that, we checked in at Pullman Bunker Bay and called an early night after having dinner at the hotel's restaurant. Such a pity I forgot to take any pictures of our two-room villa as its such a nice place!

Day 2: Wine Pairing at Cape Mentelle & Lunch at The Berry Farm

After having breakfast in the hotel, we went straight to Cape Mentelle where we had a vineyard behind-the-scenes tour at the winery and wine pairing after that. I thought that it would be a great opportunity for me to learn more about wines and to see if I might like some of them. The tour guide took us to the vineyard where we learn about vintage vines and then to the cellar to see how wines are processed and fermented. It was a beautiful day and the pictures turned out nice.

The tour was really eye opening because I've always thought wine was made by stepping on grapes?! There is really a much larger process going on and even the grapes have to be carefully selected to ensure only the best are used in the better wines and the ones with higher sugar content for dessert wines. Now we are off to a wine pairing session! In total, we paired 3 reds, 2 whites and one dessert wine with some finger food comprised of smoked trout, goat's curd and roast duck. As a rule of thumb, reds go with meat and whites go with seafood. And dessert wine is for anytime of the day ;)

B and I found a white wine that we really like from 2012 and that's the Sauvignon Blanc Semillon. I can't pronounce it well but it sure is easy to drink. It was beautiful with the smoked trout so B and I got two bottles for us to share when I cook seafood at home. Of course, I had to get the dessert wine because its like eating cake with alcohol in it but way better.

After our wine pairing session, we went to The Berry Farm for lunch. I heard that its normally crowded and a favourite among visitors to Margaret River. We ordered a steak sandwich and mushroom and leek pasta to share and had some scones after. The scones were definitely more delicious than the ones at Cape Lavender. We also went to their store to buy some salad sauces and marinades stored in cute jars!

After lunch, we stumbled upon a lookout point to a beautiful beach. It's not often that we see beaches made of stones rather than sand and it was beautiful. The broken tree branches also gives it such nice character. Unfortunately I have no idea what its called but its probably in the Cape Naturaliste area. We ended our day with home cooked food from our villa's kitchenette.

Day 3: Yahaya KoffeeWorks, Jewel Cave, Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse & Lunch at Watershed Premium Wines

B and I are huge fans of Yahava KoffeeWorks' coffee and we would always get a cup at the Manning Road Markets. This Margaret River branch is actually the original so we were very excited to come here for a cuppa. It definitely did not disappoint! My personal favourite is their Iced Coffee because its not too sweet and it doesn't have ice cream or ice in it which tends to dilute the taste of the coffee.

Our next activity for the second day was to visit a cave because I've never been to one. They have all gone before but I was keen to see what a cave looks like on the inside. So off we went to Jewel Cave and it was such an eye opening experience! The formations are really cool and its really easy to walk on the bridges that were built for visitors. There were more steps than I expected so its probably not suitable for younger kids or elderly people. To be honest, it's a little intimidating to have to many sharp things pointing at you from above that could potentially stab you LOL

We also visited the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse and took the tour that allowed us to climb to the top of the lighthouse for helicopter-ish views. The wind atop is super strong and it can easily blow someone's hat, glasses or a whole bag away. Cape Leeuwin is the most south western point of Australia, which means we were literally standing on the edge of the continent. It is also where the Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean meet which explain the extreme wind. The waves were crashing onto each other in opposite directions and we could hear loud claps by the water. I've also never seen a sky any bluer :)

For our last lunch of the trip, we ate at the beautiful and renowned restaurant at Watershed Premium Wines. Not only was glass ceiling window setting extra beautiful, the food was also amazing. The menu was limited but thats what ensured its quality throughout the entrees, mains and desserts.

How amazing do these dishes look?! We ordered the fish of the day: barramundi, gnocchi for B and harvey steak for my dad-in-law. For dessert, we shared the peanut butter parfait with parsnip ice cream and dark chocolate. It. Was. Heavenly. I was thoroughly impressed with this place also because it is truly value for money as well.

After lunch, we went on more wine tasting journeys! The next place we went to was Voyager Estate which is a grand looking vineyard that had a rose garden. Anyone looking for a photo opportunity with roses should come here. We also went to Leeuwin Estate but that was pretty average in our opinion. Some say that they have great wine though.

(These are wallpapers!!!) We concluded the trip beautifully by watching the sunset at the beach behind our resort. It was a view that could rival Cottesloe's sunset, which I still think is the best. There is nothing quite like being next to an open sea - no boats or ships. The sound of the waves is so loud some even managed to make me jump. It's such a beautiful feeling.

Till next time!


In the Kitchen: Blueberry Tart with Vanilla Custard

Look at that view! ^^^ Such an amazing sight!

I told myself to religiously blog about my every bake but look what has happened - I completely forgot about it again. And as a result of that, I have completely forgotten about what ingredients I used but meh, I have pictures so at least that's something, right?

I've made blueberry tarts before since we have an abundance of blueberries in the garden. It seems like each tree produces a million blueberries and we can't quite eat them fast enough, especially for me because its a little sour. So I thought why not make a dessert out of it?

Because I'm a lazy person, I basically blitzed the main ingredients of the crust in a food processor - flour, butter, eggs. It's way less tedious than the hand method. After chilling the dough and rolling it out over my tart mould, I poked some holes at the bottom of the crust and blind baked it. Took about 15 minutes in the oven but I'm not good at telling when its ready so i check the bottom every few minutes. I weighed the dough down with ceramic beads.. Most people would use beans but I prefer the beads.

For the vanilla custard, I think I used eggs, ground vanilla (you could use essence or paste), sugar and milk. After beating the eggs until pale and then cooking them on the stove until it thickens, I left it to cool before spooning it into the chilled tart crust. Then I finished it off by adding the blueberries and glazing it with strawberry jam (jam and some water heated over the stove to make it more runny). After chilling the tart for about three hours to make sure the custard is thick and nice, its ready to be eaten!

At this point I always think, it took me my entire afternoon to make a tart and I ate it in 10 minutes. Very satisfying though. The vanilla custard is way better than the cream cheese filling I used in my first blueberry tart.


Officially an Australian Resident! Yay!

Great great great news! I'm now officially an Australian resident since I got my Partner Visa two days ago. This means that I can stay in Australia without having to shuttle back and forth Singapore every 90 days. God it feels good not needing to count the days...!!!

A few things that I'm pretty excited about my brand new life in Australia: 1) learn to drive 2) adopt a dog. We've been to the shelter to look at some of the doggies they have there and I met this lovely girl named Sienna who is just so sweet and I was quite devastated to leave her at the shelter last month. If she's still back there at the end of the year, I would have to adopt her. Part of me wishes she has already found a loving home but the other selfish part of me wishes she is mine instead... sigh!

I guess its time for me to really settle down here and that means I will have to do lots of adult things like opening a bank account, applying for the Medicare card etc. I'm not sure if I will find a full time job as of yet because I don't see how it would work out for both of us. We will have to eat out everyday and it's not as easy because I can't do the house chores in the day. Hopefully I'll be able to get a part time job that has good hours in due time ~ 

B and I also recently just bought a car (!!!!). We were looking at an affordable car that doesn't compromise on safety, fuel consumption and space since this car will probably be our "family car" carrying little ones. We needed something with 5 star safety ratings, huge boot space, comfortable seating (for our potential guests) and high fuel economy. We found a perfect deal that's within our budget and bought a Suzuki S-Cross, an all-wheel drive SUV. B is just delighted that its an AWD because it opens up many more off-road opportunities for us hehe~ With a 6.3 fuel rating (less than twice the amount of the Toyota Prius which btw is a hybrid car), this deal was too good not to take up. Granted it's a used car, but its only a baby: 1 year old with only 17,000km on its odometer. According to B, it drives like an angel. I said to him, since this is a black car, we can treat it as Bluxy's reincarnation and love it like a baby LOL.

Till next time!


In the Kitchen: Chocolate Macarons with Chocolate Ganache (Yum!)

Macarons are absolutely divine, that is, when they are baked just right. I'm talking about the famous Ladurée colourful macarons and the glamorous gold dusted Pierre Hermé ones. They are cute to look at (so Instagrammable!), soft when bitten into and contain explosive melt-in-your-mouth flavours sandwiched between the two biscuits.

When in Perth, however, I have not been so lucky to find such delicious macarons. I've had some here and there in Garden City or at Saturday markets but they have always disappointed. ): Mind you, these little French treats don't come cheap. In my desperate search to find decent macarons, I thought, why don't I make myself some?! You know, it doesn't hurt to try.

Fast forward two weeks of baking practice (butter cake, banana bread.. all the basics), I've finally grown enough balls to try making some of my very own macarons! It's my first time and I went easy on myself by selecting a really simple macaron flavour by Chowhound: French Chocolate Macarons with Chocolate Ganache. 

Naturally, I was giddy with excitement over the weekend. I was surprised that I didn't need any traditional plain flours to make macarons so I had to go out and buy some almond flour/almond meal which is crucial to making those little biscuits (who knew?). The preparation of the recipe was pretty breezy as I went along and I caught myself thinking "Wow, I'm winning this!" since I am known to be a baking disaster.

Prep... prep... prep... and the macarons were ready to be piped onto my Lékué Macaroon Kit mat which came together with this set that I received as a gift some years ago. I've never had to chance to use the kit but these days with more time on my hands, I've finally put it to good use! I must say, any Macaron fanatic or aspiring baker should really get one of these because it makes piping those little biscuit circles so easy! No more worrying about uniform circles.

Off into the oven it goes ~ I actually made enough batter for about 50 macarons (that's 100 biscuits) but only ended up with 15 because I killed burnt the rest off. Getting the temperature and time right for baking macarons is seriously not the easiest thing in the world. Too short and the biscuit is undercooked, too long and it burns and cracks. It's also extremely time consuming because after piping the circles, they have to be left to dry for at least 30 minutes or else the shells will crack. 

After burning and cracking my first batch of shells, I looked up on Google and was overwhelmed by the number of "Macaron Troubleshooting" tips out there. Its a testament to how difficult and delicate these things are. I decided to just wing it and went for the trial-and-error method instead of reading them up because there could be 101 reasons for cracked macaron shells.

Finally after my fourth attempt, my shells came out beautifully (only 7 in the 36 actually cracked)! I finally figured out the ideal temperature for me: 150˚C for 20 minutes by baking multiple batches and using a lower temperature. While many recipes encourage baking at 160-170˚C for 12-15 minutes, I find that a lower temperature for a longer time results in a more evenly cooked shell.

After it cooled ~more waiting~ I could finally put in the dark chocolate ganache. I popped the first successful one into my mouth and was horrified by the texture - it was way too chewy! I was left feeling pretty disappointed last night. It seemed like my macaron plan has failed.

So, imagine my surprise this morning when I ate one and realised that when left overnight, it became so soft yet crisp just like a real macaron should be! I would recommend eating the macarons only the next day. I think the trick to macarons is in the patience and waiting (and not to mention, not over-beating the eggs and sugar, or over-mixing the batter, or setting the wrong temperature....) LOL.

I took about 4 hours to bake and only 15 survived the challenge but hey, at least I got the good fifteen and learnt a few lessons.