Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter boys

Claire sets high expectations of her boys even at Easter. Their Easter egg hunt cryptic clues were very challenging..and took the boys searching all over the house and the garden..including through bathrooms, bookshelves and behind Davey's ancient skateboard in the garage. How long has that been there Davey?
They found the treasure in the end of course - in Papa's computer cupboard in his office.. of course!

Happy boys!

Rob spent a long time today playing ball with the boys. They play hard and Rob already finds it challenging to keep up with them. Ollie is very competitive and Angus thinks it's all good fun.  We were excited to see Angus's new snowboard and enjoy his plans for a great snow season ahead.  Angus is an award winning artist and has used some of his recent prize money to fund the purchase of this great piece of equipment.

Gorgeous girls

This is our gorgeous Ella, strong as a high performance athlete, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, hands all calloused over from weeks of practising her best moves on the monkey bars, no flying fox holds any fears for her. She's awesome...AND she's now made the leap to successfully riding her very big girl bike - with no extra wheels.

 .....and after a few months of espousing her passion for ninjas and love of all things boyish Ella has just started to admit that some of her previous girly interests might be able to be incorporated back into her new busy, active, big schoolgirl life.

Since this pic was taken 3 weeks ago Ella has lost her second front tooth, leaving her with a very gorgeous gappy smile.

And this is our gorgeous Abi, just 12 months in this pic, and now walking strongly everywhere at 13 months. She's very opinionated, and a passionate lover of her family, blueberries and birdies. She's able to understand almost everything you say to her and is an absolute whiz at unpacking a dishwasher.  I was amazed this day at the park to see her wobble walk over the tanbark and grab hold of the ladder to the slippery slide and try to climb her way up it just like she'd seen her big sister do it.

And this is the gorgeous Maddie and Sophie (16 and 14 respectively) - back at the Hyatt Hotel again for their shared birthday high tea with me (last weekend).  I really look forward to this yearly ritual and the chance for some uninterrupted girl time. Maddie has a particularly big year ahead of her...driving lessons and challenges at school, but great opportunities to test her growing independence.  Sophie is preparing for her French Breve mid year..and then their wonderful holiday in the US straight afterwards - lucky girls.

..... and this is the gorgeous Claire (today). She was up to her usual trick of making Easter special for the younger ones with her cryptic clue Easter egg hunt. While the boys found their chocolate nirvana we indulged ourselves with Maxie's Easter seafood feast and two bottles of Majella. And we spent a lot of time talking about the exciting times ahead for all of us!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


On Monday Jennie and Wayne found themselves with a day free of the urgent need to be picking grapes - but instead of using the time to catch their breath they invited us out to Murrumbateman to experience some of the excitement of the annual grape harvest.

First stop was just up the road from their place, past the net shrouded rows of the winery at Kardinia. 

Here the artist in residence is Alex McKay, certainly one of the Canberra district's top winemakers.  He leases the winery..and it's all shiny steel, expensive looking infrastructure..but when he talks to us it's all about ancient processes, precision science and extracting and nurturing nuanced flavours and complex aromas.

 The Bucher XPlus (French wine press) was busy crushing out the rather luscious tasting Marsanne grapes.

 Yet there is obviously still a place for the human touch in amongst all this machinery. Jerome was ensuring that the skins and seeds were rotating nicely (but very carefully) through this richly coloured tub of Pinot Noir grapes. Alex told us that the huge vats behind us were full of his lovely Collector Reserve Canberra District Shiraz (sigh!)

This visit really brought home to me the complexity and risk attached to these small scale (but high end) wineries. Alex has to replace these barrels every 4 years (French oak) and they're around $1200 each! And you would be shocked to know what the French press costs and the electricity to drive it!! We should all be prepared to pay more for our very beautiful hand made wines!

The Kardinia sheep grazing in the paddocks surrounding the winery must be SO happy at this time of the year - they enjoy a good munch on the grape residues left after crushing!

Then it was back down the road to Jennie and Wayne's vineyards, and before we begin our tour of the vines, a chance to look at those Italian tractors that always choose the worst moments to wear out small but vital components.

The Shiraz grapes are ready for picking this week. Jennie and Wayne have a good idea of the different baume (sugar) levels of all their different Shiraz clones, and their winemakers (mostly Alex and Nick O'Leary) have a good idea of which clones they want and when it's best to pick them.

Jennie and Wayne very patiently explained all this to us and guided us through tastings of some of the different clones. It was fairly easy to pick up the differences in quality and flavour once you have your awareness raised.

Although the vineyard was originally set out on an industrial scale in the heady days when Hardy's ruled Canberra region wines, Jennie and Wayne now grow their vines on a much more human AND INTENSIVE scale. Their intelligent management of the vines and high quality "picks", even in difficult seasons, is renowned - no wonder their grapes are favoured by the district's best wine makers. Good drainage and perfect aspect help a lot too.

These beautiful pendulous bunches are destined for Nick O'Leary's famous Bolaro Canberra District Shiraz..not only a wonderfully gorgeous tasting grape but stunningly beautiful looking too.

We walk around the dam, source of the vineyards' irrigation system, to the 1997 plantings, many of which have since been regrafted with clones that are better geared to the evolving wine market (including lots more Italian varieties).

There's miles and miles and miles of netting. We're awestruck by how two people can possibly manage all the work involved here (with some help from Jerome and occasional groups of contract workers).

 We stop to admire and enjoy these beautiful Sangiovese grapes..already earmarked by Alex McKay for the 2013 vintage. He hasn't released his Sangiovese on to the market yet - it's still in barrels from previous vintages.  We'll be trying it when we can. The grapes have an amazing flavour (and beautiful looking too).

Birds are the grape growers' enemy at vintage (they even get in under the miles of netting.  Jennie and Wayne have these amazing contraptions around the vineyard. They can be programmed to produce ear splitting sounds at intervals that frighten birds witless. It's easy to see (hear) why.

We've learnt so much - and admire Jennie and Wayne's vision, HARD WORK and drive for excellence so much more fully - if that is possible..... AND urge everyone to appreciate and drink more wonderful Canberra district wine, now and in the future!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

100 Canberra

March is a very big month in Canberra: the start of the best season of the year in the nation's capital (Autumn), the launch of our favourite Alliance Francaise French Film Festival, the staging of Enlighten (see Canberra in a whole new light) and the Canberra Day long weekend - this year celebrating 100 years since the official naming of Canberra as the nation's capital.

We braved the crowds at Enlighten last Thursday night after the screening of La Vie d'Une Autre at the groovy new Palace Theatre and coffee afterwards at Mocan and Green Grout

There were lots of gasps of approval from the crowds of onlookers with each change of lighting effects on the National Library (celebrating books - duh!)....

and on Questacon (all things biological and scientific)...

and on old Parliament House (now the Museum of Australian Democracy) - looking only slightly more cartoonish than when it was the seat of government (prior to 1988).

The National Portrait Gallery was lit up like a festive bauble.

and the National Gallery of Australia took every chance to promote its current big Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition.

Another scene at the National Portrait Gallery............

Sunday was one very big day in Canberra - the big party day, staged around Walter and Marion's lake, celebrating Canberra's 100th birthday.  They estimate there were around 150,000 people enjoying a perfect Canberra day and all the activities planned (mainly for families) around both sides of the lake.

The theme of the celebration was Canberra in so many words - quite apt really as the whole of Canberra revolves around the spoken and written word.

But quite simply, w-e-l-c-o-m-e is probably the best word of all - especially considering Canberra is largely a town of immigrants.

We thought most of one very big day was geared for young families (with the exception of the longest bubbly bar in the world, stretched out along the southern side of the lake front).  Sitting in the shade of a willow tree across from the Carillon on Aspen Island, listening to an Irish band, was a highlight for us.

On the whole Canberrans have been enthusiastic about the celebrations and there would be very few of us who haven't taken some time to reflect on what makes the place special to us. It's just as well we have because the rest of Australia seems to have an ambiguous relationship with the place. Happy centenary birthday Canberra!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Lobster March

Canberra Day long weekend coincides with the best time of the year for lobsters and oysters on the South Coast, so we always know when it's the right time for our annual gathering at Rosedale for the "lobster lunch". 

This year our Chef Jane is travelling OS (she was thinking of us apparently from some lovely spot in Sri Lanka). So we had to prepare our lunch OURSELVES this year. Judy & Jurgen sourced the amazing seafood from Batemans Bay Fine(r) Food, and everyone else contributed starters, salads and desserts.  Apart from our traditional Majella aperitif, all the wines this year were sourced from the Canberra region - in honour of Canberra's 100th birthday weekend.

It was another beautiful Rosedale day on Sunday: 24oC , kookaburras overhead, brilliant flashes of king parrots, and soft glimpses of the ocean between the trees - perfect!

Jennie's contribution was canapes: duck breast in orange jus, lamb fillet with ginger and fresh figs wrapped in proscuitto, grilled lightly in the oven......what a way to start - all my favourite foods in one hit and a perfect match for the Majella!  

Maxie's contribution was the dressings for the 6 dozen Clyde River oysters. She had created three different dressings: green apple jelly and young ginger (from Michael Milkovic's, mirin and soy (from Neil Perry's Rockpool) and diced pickled cucumber, salmon (substituting flying fish) roe and chives (from Richard Ptacnik's Otto). It was quite labour intensive plating all this up, especially after 2 glasses of Majella. James proved to be a very good man in a kitchen oyster dressing crises.

Naturally the oysters finished up a real work of art - both to the eye and to the palate.

With no Louise here this year it was up to the beautiful young things to do table service.

Luckily they managed to fit their own lunch in around their duties.

As usual we relied a lot on Jennie and Wayne to guide us through the wine choices.  An amazing selection of Rieslings, a beautiful Kardinia Viognier and a Chardonnay accompanied the oysters and our main course lobster. Some standouts were the Half Moon 2010 Alex McKay Riesling, the Ravensworth 2012 Bryan Martin Riesling, and, of course the Vickie + Jennie Viognier and the Adam's Rib Chardonnay Viognier. Jennie and Wayne looked very sparky today despite them being in the midst of high season grape picking dramas at the vineyard and hosting a team of young pickers from France and Germany.

Judy's roast jacket potatoes (Dutch Cream and low GI) and her lime and lemon aiolis were perfect accompaniments for our lobster dish. Maxie's couscous and harissa salad
was a big hit and my roasted beetroot salad and marinated mushrooms with walnut and tahini yoghurt (both from our darling Yotam Ottoleghi) rounded out the main course selections.

Fiona and James faced the challenge of preparing the traditional Bombe - always our dessert of choice at Rosedale lunches. I was so glad I didn't score this course. Naturally their Bombe turned out beautifully.

We all demanded a lesson from Fiona on how it was done.  She used Maggie Beer's burnt fig ice cream as a base and then worked her wonders with chocolate cake and meringue layers served with a rich chocolate sauce, using the limited facilities available in these south coast holiday house kitchens - amazing!

Fiona had sourced a beautiful 2010 Lerida Estate Botrytis Pinot Gris - which matched this luscious dessert beautifully.

By late afternoon we were able to rouse ourselves sufficiently to walk off some of our indulgence around the beautiful Rosedale coastline.

The kids had got going much earlier than us and were enjoying playing in the surf and doing handstands on the beach in the late afternoon light.

Doing our lobster lunch ourselves has been an unqualified success.....but no doubt involving more adrenalin charged moments for everybody in the process. It's made it a particularly memorable celebration..lucky us! Thank you to Judy and Jurgen for their generosity in hosting our lobster lunch at beautiful Rosedale each year.