Sunday, 27 October 2013

Julie-Ann's baby shower (27th October 2013)

Julie-Ann (aka JAK) had given me a heads up about her baby shower awhile back and when I received the email invitation a couple of weeks ago, I RSVPed straightaway – I’m definitely in! Traditionally an event given only for the family's first child and only women were invited, these days baby showers are just a way to celebrate the upcoming or recent birth of a child by presenting gifts to the parents at a party. JAK and partner Andrew had a small request of guests – to bring a book instead of a card for the baby. Finding the right book turned out to be a bit of a challenge not due to the lack of books but because no one actually knew the sex of the baby (JAK and Andrew chose not to find out) so I was looking for books that were gender-neutral; most books I’ve seen in the shops were quite targeted like Bob the Builder or Thomas the Tank Engine for boys, and brightly pink books such as Angelina Ballerina for girls. I managed to get them two books suited for children age 0-6 months (so they can put them to use from day one) – these books included nursery rhymes with steps for the parent to act and play them out with the baby, encouraging interaction and bond between parent and baby whilst the baby learns.

JAK’s aunt had very kindly offered her residence for the party and around 11am, I arrived at St Leonard’s train station and made my way to Crows Nest where the party was held. Trays of baby-themed cupcakes, cookies and lollicakes filled the dining table, and there was even a chocolate fondue fountain with cut fruit on sticks on the side for your dipping pleasure. I left my present on the gift table and headed into the backyard, mingling with other female guests over copious cups of the delicious fruit punch JAK had prepared. I found out that almost everyone invited to the party (who weren’t family) were at some point work colleagues of JAK’s – very impressed that she has continued to hold such strong friendships with people from her former jobs, some going as far back to when she was on her OE in the UK :) And speaking of former work colleagues, look who just arrived – Violet!

Baby-themed biscuits

Cupcakes of assorted designs


Cute animal banner at the baby shower

With only a few weeks left before the bun in the oven pops out, JAK was totally glowing and in great shape – she was fit as ever, the only major change in body shape was just the protruding tummy. I want to be like that when it’s my turn!

Andrew’s younger sister had organised a little activity for the everyone to keep us busy while lunch was being prepared. A long table was set up with paintbrushes, empty palettes, sponges, colourful tubes of paint, small plastic containers of water to clean used paintbrushes as well as paper plates, each with an unpainted letter of the alphabet. Guests were encouraged to put their creative hats on and pick a letter to decorate – these letters were to become part of the wall decoration for the baby's room. What a novel idea and adds a personal touch too! I went for alphabet A (for Angelica, obviously), giving it a sunny shade of marigold and dotted with little flowers. Not sure what to paint? Don’t fret – there was a colour chart and several design templates on the table you can use as examples. The painting area was not very big so guests took turns, some painting while others adjourned to the outdoor dining area and helped themselves to the fantastic spread the family has prepared for lunch.

Guests getting creative painting alphabets for the baby's room

I couldn’t stay long so caught a ride with Violet to the nearest train station around 2pm. We said our goodbyes to our lovely hostess and were given party favours, little bags filled with an assortment of goodies to take home. Aww, JAK, that’s really sweet – thanks for inviting us :) Looking forward to meet the new addition to the family soon!

Baby shower party favour - biscuit, chocolate, cookie cutter and nail polish

Friday, 25 October 2013

Let's Do Lunch: Kenji @ Opera Kitchen, Sydney (25th October 2013)

As part of The Sydney Morning Herald's Good Food Month, restaurants in the Good Food Guide are offering lunch specials in the month of October for Sydneysiders to sample some of the best dishes they have to offer. Aptly named Let's Do Lunch, for just $38, you get to sample the lunch menu offered by the selected restaurant, choice of a glass of Brown Brothers wine, a Coopers Beer, or a S. Pellegrino sparkling or Acqua Panna still mineral water, plus tea or coffee to finish. Each restaurant lists their menu on the Good Food Month site so you can decide in advance if the menu entices you before heading over. The Let's Do Lunch is available weekdays only during normal restaurant lunch hours though some of the regional restaurants may offer it during weekends as well.

From the list of 47 restaurants available for lunch in the Sydney CBD area (there are 74 restaurants in total participating in Let's Do Lunch), I picked Kenji at the Opera Kitchen. I've been to the Sydney Opera House for many events but never once eaten at Opera Kitchen so this was a great opportunity for me to check it out. Located on the lower concourse of the Sydney Opera House, the Opera Kitchen is a conglomerate of restaurants - Kenji, MissChu, Cloudy Bay Fish Co and of course, Opera Kitchen themselves, each with its own selection of dishes that adds to Opera Kitchen's extensive international menu. The place was buzzing when I turned up at noon with lunchtime patrons and tourists enjoying the spectacular harbour views and warmth of the sun. No booking was required - I was able to order and pay for my set meal directly at the counter. The Let's Do Lunch menu here is available daily between hours 11.30am - 3pm and consists of a plate of sashimi, sushi and carpaccio (choice of salmon, kingfish or scallop). I went for the scallop carpaccio, glass of Brown Brothers Pinot Grigio (you don't get a say in they type of wine - it's pre-selected to pair with the food) and coffee option. I was given a number for my order and also a free large booklet featuring Sydney Opera House's 40th anniversary signature dishes from their iconic chefs to take home.

Opera Kitchen located on the lower concourse of the Sydney Opera House

Hmm, finding a table was harder than I thought. It wasn't the lack of availability but the fact that there were many seagulls lurking around too close to the tables (they are such a menace!). Getting pooped on doesn't appeal to me either...I eventually found one that got me some sun but not too much (shaded but can still feel the warmth) and my pinot grigio turned up shortly after I sat down. Crisp and dry with citrus flavours - nice and refreshing for a beautiful spring afternoon. It was easy to drink but I had to pace myself since the food wasn't even served up yet! Some 10 minutes later, my meal arrived. Beautifully presented on a single large square plate, the food looked fantastic - several thick pieces of tuna, kingfish and salmon, a saucer of scallop carpaccio with the scallop thinly sliced and placed to look like a flower, dotted with bright orange salmon roe, and nigirizushi (aka hand-pressed sushi) of tuna, kingfish, salmon and prawn each, with a small saucer of soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger on the side. Can't wait to dig in but first, photo for my blog!

View from my table towards the covered seating area

"ARGHHHHHH!" I screamed as I jumped up from my seat. While I was busy angling my camera for the shot, two seagulls swooped in from both sides aiming towards the food and one of them swerved and toppled the glass of wine which spilled EVERYWHERE! My dress was soaked in wine and the food had a good drenching too. I wasn't impressed - damn you seagulls! The maitre'd promptly came over and asked if I was OK (it was then I noticed other patrons had their eyes on me). "Let's seat you further in and I will bring you a new set," she said politely as she cleaned up the table. I was still a bit shaken from the experience and numbly followed her to another table, this time located furthest in from the waterfront. Fortunately I don't have to eat the wine-sodden food - it was a really nice of Opera Kitchen to prepare me a brand new meal.

Round 2, this time I managed to get my photo and happily proceeded with lunch. I started off with the scallop carpaccio which was just was divine. Sweet-tasting raw slices of scallop with slightly salty mouth-popping salmon roe in a soy-based mixture. Mmm, I can do with more of this...

Let's Do Lunch: Kenji @ Opera Kitchen ($38) - Brown Brothers Pinot Grigio with a plate of sashimi, sushi and scallop carpaccio

"Again?" asked the South American lady from the next table as she gave me an oh-you-are-so-pitiful look. Yep, I cannot believe my luck. I've moved seats but nothing deters these savage seagulls. I was about to have my first sushi when a seagull appeared from freaking nowhere and flew off with all three of my salmon sashimi - WTF! Instead of having a relaxing Friday lunch, I found myself on guard the whole time and eating with extreme speed in fear of a repeat incident (I probably finished the whole thing including drowning my glass of wine in less than 10 minutes). Even though the food was well presented and fresh, there was just no way anyone could enjoy Kenji's Let's Do Lunch menu with seagulls around; I was traumatised by the whole experience. I'm not sure if Opera Kitchen can make the dining experience any better, perhaps using a cover for the plate (I suspect it is the smell of raw fish that attracts the birds) or better still, use some device that actually gets the seagulls well away from dining customers.

Oh god, the alcohol is just going straight to my, I need it now! The flat white took forever - for some reason they had forgotten about it and it didn't help that my order number was taken away when they cleared my first table. After enquiring about my coffee twice, it finally came. The coffee here was pretty good. Though I didn't think the seagulls would want my coffee, I was still on guard mode looking around for the bastards...see what I mean about being traumatised?

Flat white (also part of the set meal)

Kenji Japanese @ Opera Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, 21 October 2013

"Monster" flower (21st October 2013)

Sick of the snails and slugs attacking my little vegetable and herb potted plants, I purchased a box of Multicrop 600g Multiguard Snail And Slug Killer (cost $3.98) from Bunnings Warehouse several weeks ago and sprinkled the red pellets all over the garden to kill the pests. There were many brands of snail and slug killer to choose from but I went for the pet and native bird friendly brand - I want the snails dead, not my neighbour's cat who seems to enjoy chilling out underneath our hedge in the backyard. 

Snail pellet

Since putting out the pellets, my plants seem to be thriving however I've noticed some monster-looking flowers popping up of late. Bright red star-shaped flowers with brown sticky slime that attract flies have appeared in the mulch and it looks absolutely disgusting (thus the term "monster"). Jono and I were wondering if this was the aftermath of the snail eating the pellets. After all, both the pellet and flower were similar in colour. Well, it turned out these "monster" flowers weren't exploded snails but are in fact the Aseroe rubra fungus, more commonly known as the anemone stinkhorn or starfish fungus (ah, the world of Google where everything you need to know is at your fingertips). Native to Australia, the fungus can be found in southeastern parts of Queensland through to NSW. I laughed when I read that the scientific name is derived from Ancient Greek and Latin to mean "disgust, juice, red". Oh it's disgusting alright! Those brown slime are actually sticky spore-bearing substance with a foul smell like faeces or carrion attracting flies which helps the fungus spread its spores. Though there aren't any known harm to humans or animals who have come in contact with the fungus, it is best to dispose of them when found since it attracts flies. I'll be wearing gloves when getting rid of mine, that's for sure!

Aseroe rubra aka the "monster" flower


Friday, 18 October 2013

City Rock Cafe, Sydney (18th October 2013)

On the off chance visit to Gateway Food Court in the Circular Quay area to grab some lunch, I noticed City Rock Cafe had large signs promoting their Lifesaving Chicken & Quinoa Soup. "Oh, I wonder if it's similar to the Peruvian version I've had in Cusco," I thought and decided to check it out. At an elevation of 3,400 metres, temperatures tend to drop in Cusco at night - during my travels in the region last year, I've had the local chicken quinoa soup several times and absolutely loved it! It was just the perfect dish to warm you up from the inside and a great way to get more fluids in to help prevent altitude sickness.

City Rock Cafe offers a wide variety of choices for breakfast and lunch including full-cooked breakfast, Acai bowls, salads, sandwiches, burgers and soups, as well as a selection of coffees, fresh juices, smoothies and milkshakes made to order. Their Lifesaving Chicken & Quinoa soup is one of the regular daily soup choices available and comes in two sizes in a takeaway polystyrene container with plastic lid - $3 for a cup, or $6 for a bowl. What is so 'life saving' about this soup? Well, I guess it's because its main ingredient is the quinoa (pronounced 'kin-wah') which is deemed a 'superfood', food that is packed with good nutrients and offer multiple health benefits to the body. Slow-cooked vegetables make up the broth/stock and the soup is dairy, gluten and MSG free. The friendly staff at the cafe will always ask if you want a free piece of bread with your soup, usually a slice of toasted soy and linseed bread. 

City Rock Cafe at Gateway Food Court

Poster promoting the super soup

Ah, the soup brings back fond memories of my trip in Peru and it is such a nice belly warmer for those cold wet days which we seem to be having quite a bit of in Sydney this spring. Very homey - comforting and just good food for the soul :) The soup is a shade of orange from the mix of vegetables used to make up the stock. The quinoa, cooked, tasted quite similar to boiled brown rice and there were several chunks of chicken as well for added protein. Tasty and healthy too! I don't really think the soy and linseed bread goes well with the soup, perhaps a small bread roll would be better suited. Often, I would skip the bread altogether as the bowl of soup was enough to fill me up without the extra carb.

Lifesaving Chicken & Quinoa Soup in a bowl ($6)

The chicken quinoa soup here is popular so do go in early if you want some - I went over to the cafe at 1pm one day and they were already sold out! 

City Rock Café Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Bar Cupola, Sydney (16th October 2013)

“Angel Place? Where??” Su Wei gave me a bewildered look when I suggested heading over to Bar Cupola for lunch today. Hmm, sounds to me Su Wei hasn’t been there despite her office located only a block and a half away. Alright, follow me...

Like my previous visit, we came to lunch at the bistro without prior booking but they were always accommodating and we were seated in mere minutes of arrival. It was rather quiet for midday, only a few customers dining in, perhaps still early for lunch. It didn’t take us long to decide on what we wanted - I've been meaning to try their Prawn Linguine which Nicky had when she and I were last here; Su Wei took my recommendation and ordered their delicious Salt and Pepper Chicken. "Good choices," said the waitress who took our order. I think so too ;)

About 10 minutes later, our meals arrived, first the linguine and shortly followed by the chicken dish. The Prawn Linguine is of the oil-based type pasta that I like and comes with prawns that have been deveined and shelled, cherry tomatoes, olives, parsley, lemon, chilli and sprinkled with toasted breadcrumbs giving it a bit of crunch. No wait staff came by to offer cracked pepper on my pasta –mini salt and pepper grinders were available at each table for use. Hmm, the linguine would have been a lot better if it had more flavour. I felt it was rather bland and kept adding salt and pepper to improve the taste. Somewhat disappointed as I had expected the linguine to be as good as the Salt and Pepper Chicken (least Su Wei enjoyed her meal). Might just stick to their Asian dishes when I next return...

Service was friendly, prompt and professional as usual. Cost us a total of $44.16 for lunch inclusive of the 25% discount from the Entertainment Book voucher.

Prawn linguine with cherry tomatoes, olives, parsley, lemon, chilli and toasted breadcrumbs ($19.50)

Bar Cupola on Urbanspoon

Monday, 14 October 2013

Son of Tuysuz, Sydney (14th October 2013)

I'm quite fussy when it comes to my falafel (deep-fried chick pea pattie) kebab/wrap - the best I've had to date is from Sahara Cafe in Wellington (was once my weekly lunch haunt so much so the folks there knew my order the moment they see me walk in). Lightly toasted flatbread spread with delicious hummus, topped with fresh vegetables, crushed up falafel balls that are warm and still crispy on the outside, and your favourite sauces (LOVE the tahini sauce). Oh how I miss Sahara Cafe – thinking about their falafel kebab is making me hungry! They have definitely set my benchmark for a good falafel kebab and since moving to Sydney, I’ve not found a place that is at par until my chance discovery of Son of Tuysuz recently.

I've been seeing the physiotherapist at Sydney Medical on Park St during my lunch break in the last couple of weeks for my sprained ankle and on the way back to the office, taken a quick zip into The Galeries to  pick up a falafel kebab from Son of Tuysuz. Located in the lower ground Foodhall, Son of Tuysuz serves a variety of Turkish cuisine including gozleme, kebabs and wraps as well as salads and burgers. Twice I've been here and despite during the lunchtime rush, there were hardly any queue at the stall (unlike the others which have hungry customers hording the order counter).

Wraps, dips and salads

Son of Tuysuz in the Foodhall, The Galeries

For $9.50 (they take cash only), the felafel (spelt phonetically instead) wrap consists of falafel, hummus, tabouli, tomato and lettuce. I was surprised to find the wraps here are premade rather than made on order – all they do is toast it on the sandwich press. You would think that the wrap would be soggy sitting on the display counter the whole morning, absorbing moisture from the hummus and fresh vegetables but I can assure you it wasn’t at all. The ingredients tasted fresh and on close inspection looks it too. Serving size was good though smaller than the average wrap served at other kebab joints (they do not overfill). Sahara Cafe still reigns in my books but Son of Tuysuz  is not far off and good enough to satisfy my falafel cravings. Definitely recommended and keen to come back to sample their other dishes :)

Perfectly encased felafal wrap

Felafal wrap ($9.50) - chick pea pattie, hummus, tabouli, tomato and lettuce

Son of Tuysuz on Urbanspoon

Friday, 11 October 2013

Red Horn Pizza, Rockdale courtesy of Menulog (11th October 2013)

I've seen Menulog ads on billboards at train stations around town though have not personally tried them to date so when I was approached to trial and write a review on their online ordering system, I said yes!

Menulog makes online takeaway ordering a breeze with its easy-to-navigate and simple-to-use website - hop on the website, key in your suburb or postcode, and a list of restaurants that cater to your suburb appears. Still new to Rockdale, Jono and I have yet to discover where the locals eat so often fall back to trusty Crust Pizza (ordered online and delivered) or walk to the nearby Thai takeaway on nights when we are too lazy to cook; I was delightfully surprised to find over 30 restaurants that cater for my suburb on Menulog. You can easily filter the results using the search criteria available on the left side panel (e.g. by cuisine, specials, payment method), as well as sort your list by consumer favourites, name, speed, rating and minimum payment. I thought the speed column was pretty handy, especially if you're super hungry and want somewhere that gets your meal ready and to you fast. Some restaurants also offer first order and loyalty discounts, while others provide meal deals. Menulog pride themselves as 'No.1 For Online Takeaway in Australia' and a quick Google search reveals several competitors in the market offering similar services but none have as many user reviews or number of restaurants on their system. Having apps for both iPhone and Android also makes Menulog fully mobile and it's free to download. 

Menulog homepage - find restaurants by suburb or postcode

List of restaurants that deliver to Rockdale

You can use the search filters on the left to narrow down your list as well as sort the search results

Each restaurant has its menu laid out and categorised clearly so it didn't take us long to decide on the restaurant and what to order. We went for Red Horn Pizza and ordered ourselves a Super Meat calzone, a medium Red Horn Supreme pizza (the pizzas come in medium or large) and the Wild Rocket & Roasted Sweet Potato salad with choice of one dressing - Balsamic, Italian, French or Caesar; we went for Balsamic. The folks at Menulog have kindly given me a $25 voucher which we've put to good use this evening. Because it was our first order, we also received a 10% discount though was slapped with a 1% credit card surcharge on the Visa on checkout - there was no way we could have avoided the surcharge since you must use a credit card when redeeming a voucher (surcharge amount varies depending on the restaurant). Delivery cost was $2 making the total cost of the order $34.31 (actual cost to us was $9.65). We entered our payment details, clicked 'Pay' and the order was placed. 

Red Horn Pizza menu

Checkout page

Payment details page

In addition to the order placed confirmation page seen on screen, I also received a copy of the confirmation sent to my email. Within a few short minutes, I heard a 'ding' on my mobile indicating I've received an SMS - it was the confirmation from Red Horn Pizza. The SMS also advised that the expected delivery time was 8.55pm (which was about 45 minutes after we submitted the order). So now we wait...

Our takeaway arrived 10 minutes earlier than expected. The food was packaged nicely in boxes, and both the pizza and calzone were still warm when the delivery man handed them to Jono at the door. Time to eat! 

The quality of food was good and reasonably priced. The Red Horn Supreme pizza was of the thin-crust kind and not overloaded with sauce or toppings which are pluses in my book (personally, I find overloaded pizzas just too much). The Super Meat calzone (folded pizza) was delicious and my favourite of the lot. A squeeze of lemon juice on the top gives it a nice zing. Though I enjoyed the peppery Wild Rocket & Roasted Sweet Potato salad, I felt it could do with more cheese - the box was generously filled with rocket, sweet potato and pine nuts but only had four small pieces of brie :/

Our home delivery from Red Horn Pizza

Red Horn Supreme Pizza (medium) ($16) - smoke cured pepperoni, smoked ham, Italian sausage, fresh capsicum, Spanish onions, mushroom, pineapple & kalamata olives on a tomato base

Super Meat Calzone ($10.90) - Italian sausage, pepperoni, double smoked ham, mozzarella with marinara sauce. Served with a wedge of lemon.

Wild Rocket & Roasted Sweet Potato Salad ($9). 
A mix of fresh wild rocket, roasted sweet potato, pine nuts & brie. 
Balsamic dressing packed separately.

It turned out to be quite a lot of food for two - we only managed to finish the calzone, half of the salad and a third of the pizza. Guess we'll be having leftovers for lunch tomorrow! All in all, the online ordering experience was a good one from order to consumption - I'm glad I've finally tried it out :) Jono is all for supporting local businesses; I'm sure you know where we'll be ordering our delivery pizza from next time round.

Red Horn Gourmet Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

At the time of order, the confirmation page provided a voucher code for $5 off on our next Menulog app order - we totally intend to use it to try out one of the other restaurants that deliver to our suburb before the code expires next week :)

Though Menulog provided a voucher for use on their website, opinions on this post are my own. Thanks Menulog for inviting me to trial their online ordering system.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Ankle ultrasound at Vision Xray Group (4th October 2013)

I had a mild ankle sprain during my recent snowboarding trip in Queenstown - it happened early in the trip (possibly due to not tightening my new boots sufficiently) and there was a bit of swelling around the left ankle and tenderness but was fine when it was locked in place inside the snowboard boot so I continued snowboarding for the entire trip and wore a support when the boot was removed. It has been several weeks since and my ankle still doesn't feel quite right; it felt as if it needed 'oiling' so the joint could move more smoothly, and the ankle gets a bit sore if I walked for too long, neither of which seemed normal to me. After much thought, I decided to see the doctor about this niggling ankle who referred me to a medical imaging centre in the city for an ultrasound to see how severe the injury was. Frankly, I've seen quite enough of doctors and medical folk in the last few weeks due to my fractured wrist but I just want to be well and 'fix' whatever isn't - pile on the medical sessions...

Around lunchtime yesterday, I headed over to Vision Xray Group on Macquarie Street for my ultrasound appointment. Vision Xray Group is an independent, wholly radiologist owned medical imaging practice with several locations in NSW and provides services including general xray, ultrasound, mammography, CT scanning and MRI . Shortly after completing a patient form at reception, I was called by an ultrasound technologist (person who conducts the ultrasound examination) and followed her to the examination room. "Take off your shoes and lie down," said the technologist as she prepared the machine and I proceeded as requested, taking in my surroundings at the same time. The room was exactly how I pictured it to be, much similar to those seen on TV, often a scene of a pregnant lady on the bed, both her and the technologist looking fondly at images of the baby on the screen. Only difference was we weren't looking for any babies but conducting a musculoskeletal ultrasound to look at the structure of my ankle and identify any abnormal areas. Not quite how I imagined my first ultrasound to be...

I was totally bracing myself for the cold ultrasound gel on my skin when the technologist began to squirt it onto my ankle but surprisingly it was soothingly warm - I guess they use gel warmers here to give patients more comfort. Used together with a probe, images of the structure of my ankle appeared on screen. The ultrasound technologist was not much of a talker (I tried to make conversation but it never got very far), busying herself with the examination, slathering on more gel as needed and pushing the probe all around my ankle, taking snapshots along the way during the 30-minute session. My entire left feet from ankle down was covered in sticky gel by the end of it!

None of the images seen on screen made any sense to me - they were nothing but grainy images to the average eye. There were some that had a black hole in the middle which the technologist marked with the cursor. "Urm, what is that?" I asked. It didn't help that the technologist had the same deadpan look the entire session so there was no indication if the images were normal (or not). The only thing I managed to get out of her was that there was fluid inside my ankle. What? Fluid? How did it get there in the first place?? Whatever does that mean?! "The doctor will send the report to your doctor," was all she said and sent me on my way back to reception to wait for the film. Brilliant, now I have to make another appointment to see my doctor for the results. Sigh, when WILL all these medical visits end? No payment was required for the ultrasound (bulk billed to Medicare) which was some consolation. Images taken from the ultrasound on the film I took home:

Earlier today, I went to see my doctor for the results and was informed the radiologist who reviewed the images has found that I have a small effusion in the tibiotalar joint. The good news is that my ligaments and tendons were intact (no evidence of tear or significant strain) so I would just need to 
elevate my ankle and use a cold pack on it, as well as see the physio for the next couple of weeks. However, if it the symptoms do not subside, further assessment with MRI will be required. I'm seriously hoping the ankle will heal in a few weeks - I want to resume normal function so I can get back to my routine activities and gym. I need my life back!