About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006
A Short Holiday
You've got to love a place that lets you have four days off because of a horse race. Yep, it was Melbourne Cup time here and we decided to go away for most of it, as do plenty of Victorians. Our destination was Avoca where we stayed at the lovely self contained Avoca Cottages with my two sons and a girlfriend, as well as some friends who have an autistic son as well.

I have so much to tell you all.

First up I went shopping at Prahran Market for some goodies for our stay. Found some nice cow's, goat's and sheep's milk cheeses and was looking for anything else that looked interesting. I was lurking outside Cleo's, sort of poking my head in to have a look, when one of the assistants, probably the owner, spotted me and ushered me in by giving me a taste of a falafel, then handed me a container of Turkish delight absolutely free, followed by more tastings. There was some gorgeous looking smoked salmon in the window, so I got to try a piece of that and the taste matched the looks. It was lightly smoked and full of flavour with a lovely moist texture. The assistant explained to me that they had recently changed from The Springs smoked salmon to the Black Rock brand and I would have to say it was some of the best smoked salmon I have ever tried.

I bought a few more things like cornichons and marinated black Kalamata olives that later on got me to thinking about how people perceive food. Just because I was there, I went to The Cheese Shop to pick up some Ortiz anchovies that Reb has been raving about and Ed pointed me at after a long and fruitless search, but my journey is still continuing as they had run out of stock.

After the shopping, we packed the car and headed off so that we could have have a lunchtime barbecue at the cottages. There are two central barbecues that lead to a large deck area that overlooks a golf course and the Avoca River, which because of the continuing drought is little more than a series of connected pools. The deck is shaded by some magnificent Red Gums and is the perfect spot to have a meal or just sit and catch up with a glass or two of the fabulous local wine.

Our friends were well into a liver cleansing diet or detox and weren't eating any red meat, animal fats or products, sugar, oils, wheat or alcohol. Knowing this I made my Mexican Rice Salad, though I didn't know that olive oil was on the banned list. V asked if it was dressed with oil and when she found out it was refused to eat it, but her husband S didn't share her qualms and chowed down. Why I found this part of the diet strange was a little later on V quite happily ate the marinated olives I brought along and the last time I looked, olives are the source of olive oil. Hmmm.

Later on that afternoon we all headed up to Moonambel for the fireworks festival that they hold every year. It is a very child friendly event with all sorts of activities for the little ones and culminates in a fireworks display and a huge bonfire. There were bands, roving performance artists that surprised more than a few visitors. The Second Hand Circus was there as well as pony rides and a jumping castle. Local wines could be purchased and naturally the wineries sponsored the petanque competition which seemed to be the source of much hilarity amongst the competitors.

I never would have expected Avoca to be the first place where I would try Krispy Kreme doughnuts, but my son N brought along two boxes of them. I can now see why people would like them for they are very sweet and moist, the kind of moisture that comes from fat. They were cloying for me and even given all the different flavours, there is a sameness about them. I think I will stick to Polish doughnuts instead.

The next morning saw us back at the barbecue for a fry up. Lest you are expressing concerns about our eating, we barbecued a large variety of vegetables as well as the more traditional bacon, egg and sausages. After breakfast we went to a winery, Blue Pyrenees, for S wanted to get some wines for Christmas as they are having guests from overseas, then we all headed for Maldon, another country town to give the kids a steam train ride to Castlemaine. Maldon is one of the many Central Victorian towns that sprang into existence from the discovery of gold. This quaint town for the most part has been untouched since the 19th century and has a wonderful charm to it. We ran smack bang into their Folk Festival which brought the streets to life with people and entertainers.

We didn't have any time to explore as a wrong turn meant we were almost too late for the train, but we got there just in time; we piled on the wives and kids and the menfolk drove to Castlemaine to meet them. We decided to have a picnic lunch there, so after some very happy kids disembarked the train we made our way to the lovely Botanical Gardens, which had a central lake surrounded by lots of lovely shady trees and spent a very pleasant two hours watching the kids play and chatting amongst ourselves. Our friends then left to go back home and we returned to Avoca.

My wife wanted to return to Maldon so we could explore, so the next morning we headed in that direction. We checked out the old Beehive goldmine workings then headed for the information office to see what was on offer. My daughter M fell in love with the record attempt on the world longest scarf, making off with one of the segments. On putting it back I asked how the attempt was going and was told they had knitted 3.5 kms (2 mls). When I asked how far they had to go, the woman replied they had to get to fifty kms (31 mls)!

My seventeen year old son was getting decidedly grumpy by this stage as he wanted to go home, but we kept at our tour. There was a wonderful chocolate shop with handmade chocolates and when I told the owner about my son's demeanour he just smiled and said he must be a teenager, bang on. A little later on as we were walking down the main street, our daughter was introducing herself to everyone on the main street. Some responded warmly, others ignored her with strange looks, then M came to a table of people outside a cafe. She walked straight up to a woman with dyed bright red hair and said "hello", looked at her hair, then said "nice hair!". We all had a good laugh at that including the woman.

Driving through the countryside, the effects of the drought were evident everywhere. Fields planted out to canola were stunted, paddocks carrying stock were bare with the animals looking hungry. Dams were all low, creeks and rivers weren't flowing and everything was brown, a bad sign so late into spring when good rains should have fallen.

We then left Maldon determined to come back and traveled back through Castlemaine and several other notable gold towns. As I was driving, there was a sign which I'm pretty sure said that this spot was the site of the richest alluvial gold field in the world. It sort of made me wonder why there hasn't been any modern attempts at looking for and mining gold in these old towns. Surely the old miners couldn't have got it all. In Bendigo, which is not too far away, a new mine was established and they are now getting very good gold with the discovery of a rich new seam.

Back in Melbourne we put our feet up, looked through the tourist brochures from Maldon and plotted our next holiday. We reflected on the three days we'd been away.

It had been great.
  posted at 7:11 am

At 11:18 am, Blogger plum said...

that's funny about the olives!

At 12:50 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi plum, I thought so too. Not only that, she was eating nuts and seeds as well, plenty of oils in that lot, though not as much as the krispy kremes!

At 4:16 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No oil but olives are OK. Wonder where my blind spot is? We all must have at least one.
Don't like krispy kremes! Only my daddy's fresh from the fat are worth eating!
That was a packed get away! Sounded like wonderful places.

At 4:27 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi tanna, mine is on the passenger side mirror, damn cars sneak up there all the time. I've never mad doughnuts but am starting to get that tingly feeling, have all ready consulted a recipe book. It was a great trip and best of all we didn't come back too tired.

At 5:14 pm, Blogger Haalo said...

You should have tried another deli - just about every deli in Prahran market sells the Ortiz anchovies as does the Essential Ingredient.

At 7:56 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi haalo, that's weird about the Essential Ingredient. It was the first place I tried and an assistant told me they didn't stock them. The Cheese Shop said more were coming this week, but I will definitely will check out the other deli's, though I did have a quick look in Cleo's but didn't see them there either. They must be in my damn blind spot!

At 9:21 am, Blogger Haalo said...

Delicatess always has them - they even sell spanish anchovies "loose" so to speak. That's odd about Essential - I'll have to look again, they are constantly moving things around in there.

At 9:22 am, Blogger Ange said...

Sounds like a fantastic weekend away, I have never really spent any time in that area, will have to add it to the list

At 5:46 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi haalo, when the planets align, I know I'll get them. Hope they live up to the hype.

Hi ange, there are plenty of great wineries all around, Taltarni, Blue Pyrenees, Dalwhinnie, Redbank et al, and the food is slowly starting to improve, you certainly can't go wrong in a pie shop that sells fifty different varities!


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