Archive for the ‘Dear Diary’ Category

A Croatian Highlight

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Before we went to Croatia, Gill sent me a link for a must-see tourist attraction in Split’s city centre – Froggyland. A museum/world wonder, Froggyland comprises a collection of over 500 frogs on which a man named Ferenc Mere performed taxidermy and then positioned in scenes representing human activities. As stated on the Froggyland website:

This collection is truly a unique and exceptional example of the art of taxidermy which, together with its technical value, has the artistic value as well, and which intrigues and attracts people and leaves no one indifferent.

I can wholeheartedly agree that I wasn’t left indifferent when Gill was kind, thoughtful and wonderful enough to take me to Froggyland on my birthday. I was overwhelmed.

Welcome to Froggyland.

Welcome to Froggyland.

The whole Froggyland experience is very special – as we arrived we were greeted by a good-looking blonde girl who welcomed us inside and walked us up a flight of carpeted stairs. Half way up, we were invited to touch the lucky frog, whose painted nose was wearing away from eager tourists’ hands.

He sure looks lucky.

He sure looks lucky.

At the top of the stair was a doorway surrounded by a band of fairy lights and thick, red velvet curtains. It looked like the entrance to either a 1970s bingo hall or a brothel. We were then asked to pay the entrance fee, which Gill generously covered, and then instructed to look closely at each of the 21 display cases as the best parts were in the details. How right she was.

Where exactly are we going?

Where exactly are we going?

Who knew stuffed frogs could be so interesting? I have always been a lover of frogs and it was so nice to see them having so much fun in such a wide variety of situations. They were drinking at the pub, playing tennis, undertaking household chores, and even performing in a circus – think of a human activity and there was a frog doing it. The museum describes the scenes as representations of our ancestors, so from these frogs I learnt that in most daily activities there was always someone smoking a pipe and someone was drunk.

Amazing circus skills.

Amazing circus skills.

Two issues that Ferenc would have had to tackle when creating these scenes were the fact that frogs do not have necks and therefore, when standing on their back legs, they tend to stare at the sky. This makes for a very amusing game of tennis. Secondly, a frog’s gender is difficult to determine as boy frogs and girl frogs all look the same and, in my mind, all appear to be male. There were a few scenes where one would jump to the conclusion that the person performing the task should be a woman (e.g. sewing, knitting and any other womanly chore from the 1900s), however the frog didn’t necessarily appear to look like a lady. I would perhaps suggest to Ferenc that more effort into representing the gender of the female frogs (perhaps a skirt or a feminine hat) would add to the displays.

Frogs playing tennis.

Frogs playing tennis.

It was pleasing to see that Gill and I hadn’t been the only visitors to Froggyland that day and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Split. Not only is the wood panelled, green carpeted, bingo room airconditioned, the displays are highly entertaining and educational. You will learn a lot from our amphibian friends.

Marathon Completed!

Monday, April 8th, 2013

I, Jessica Davies, writer of words, traveller of countries, blonde of hair, am now officially a runner of marathons. I DID IT! I am currently experiencing a sense of complete personal pride. In my mind, I am the fittest, most talented, most generally genius person in the world. It’ll pass, but for a few hours I am going to feel really bloody good about myself. And I think that’s fair enough – I just ran 42.195 kilometres in 4 hours, 42 minutes and 24 seconds.

The experience was extremely rewarding – as my group (we were separated into groups by expected completion times) set off from the starting line, I felt a huge surge of excitement and general “wow, this is happening!” as I joined thousands of feet hitting the pavements of Paris. The weather was PERFECT. Sunshine, clear skies and no wind. It was the wind I was concerned about – there was none of that today! It was cold at the start but by the time we got moving it got quite warm. We headed down the Champs Elysées, past the Louvre and through the centre of Paris before hitting the Bois de Vincennes, returning back through Paris, past the Eiffel Tower, through the Bois de Bologne and back to the Arc de Triomphe. Not a bad place to run. Thankfully, Paris is nice and flat so there were no major hills to climb.

While the weather was perfect and the scenery beautiful, the toilet situation wasn’t – there were portaloos set up at various points along the course, but by the time my slower group reached them they were all disgusting. Really not pleasant. I quickly ducked into a café along the route and smiled a “I’m running a marathon which is a really long way and you should DEFINITELY let me use your loo” smile and it worked. In and out like a flash, I was. Now I shall move on from discussing my ablutions.

I felt reasonably strong for most of the course and have potentially become addicted to sports-energy-goo-things. They’re DELICIOUS! I was eating chocolate flavoured goop whilst running through Paris in the sunshine! How great is that! The last five kilometres were a little bit extremely tough as my thighs were screaming at me, my feet were questioning my motives and my original plan on telling myself that five kilometres is the shortest distance I will ever let myself run in the mornings on my everyday jogs didn’t really work. Five kilometres became REALLY LONG and as I watched other runners dropping off, getting cramp and walking I doubted whether or not I would make it. This is starting to sound like a soap opera. Anyway, I didn’t stop, I popped another energy goo and as I hit the final kilometre the adrenaline kicked in as I realised that I was about to finish running a marathon. LET’S RUN FASTER! Without any consultation with my brain, my legs started working harder and I crossed the finish line in an impressive non-jogging pace. Hardly a sprint, but still. I was impressed.

Somewhat pathetically, I almost cried as I crossed the line, I was that glad it was over and that proud of my achievement. No tears were physically shed but they were in there somewhere. I collected my horribly green tshirt and my ridiculously hideous medal before walking very, very slowly to the metro. Walking down stairs in currently a challenge. Yes, the medal is awful – it is a huge rectangular thing with very poorly shaped text and images and some terrible colour choices. Whoever designed it needs to go back to design school. But still. I have a medal! WOO! It’s like winning the Olympics.

So I am now looking for another marathon to run! But if I do it I will have to take my amazing friends who met me before the marathon and positioned themselves at multiple points along the route waving flags and cheering for me as I passed. Knowing that they were waiting for me spurred me on and I feel so grateful for having such wonderful, supportive friends. Merci, mes amies! Vous êtes les BOMBS! A super huge thank you to Becky for your artistic sign-making skills and for being heavily pregnant yet willing to stand outside in the cold for hours waiting for me to run past. You’re either crazy or amazing.

And just to make this sound even more like an Oscar acceptance speech, I also would like to thank my friend Brett for making an unexpected, unrequested but ultimately generous and life changing gesture of sponsoring me so that I could afford to run in the marathon. Without him, I probably would have said “Bah, too expensive!” and never gone ahead with it. Then there were my fantastic parents who also helped me out and my friend Sonia who insisted on donating to the “Make Jess Run a Marathon” fund. And finally to my cousin, Sam for his kind shoe donation. I would like to recommend that everyone buys Mizuno shoes. They’ll get you across the line!

So my brain isn’t functioning properly, my legs are so, so, so stiff and I’m not sure I can stand up from this chair. But that was one of the best days of my life. Can I do it again?

Snow Keeps Falling on My Head

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I have an announcement to make. I, Jessica Davies, after two years of patient waiting, a few tears and much disappointment, can finally say that I have danced in the snow in Paris. Well, maybe not danced, but jumped up and down excitedly with a HUGE grin on my face. It has been one of my strange obsessive dreams to see snow falling in Paris, and while a few weeks ago it apparently did snow, I didn’t see it happening and it was pathetic snow that I decided not to count it. Last year I missed the snow completely as I had returned to Perth to renew my visa and was in 40 degree heat while it was snowing here. This year I refused to let this happen again and waited like a stubborn mule for the snow to arrive.

And arrive it did! In big fluffy white flakes that turned my black winter jacket into leopard print. It was a bit soggy and I did get quite wet standing outside staring happily up into the sky, watching the snow fall in the street light. But I felt like a five year old waking up on Christmas morning – I was so ridiculously happy.

The snow has melted but yesterday there were more brief appearance of snow and twice I had snow randomly fall on my head whilst walking outside. Now THAT is exciting stuff!

Snow by the canal

Snow by the canal

YAY! SNOW!

YAY! SNOW!

Marathon Training Run #2

Monday, January 14th, 2013

Another Saturday morning has passed and therefore another painful long-distance run in preparation for the marathon. The weather forecast said it was going to be rainy and so I told myself 10 kilometres would be a minimum, 15 would be good, 20 would be better. I figure there isn’t much point in getting myself sick while training and everyone likes telling me that running in the rain equals instant cold. I don’t actually believe this fact, however am willing to go along with it if it means I don’t have to run so far.

As I set off at 8.30am, it was cloudy, cool but not raining and the weather was fine for the entire morning. In fact, it was great running weather without too much wind. So good weather, new music on my iPod, feeling good and getting somewhat lost resulted in me running a total distance of 23 kilometres. That’s more than a half marathon! That’s more than half way! Sure, I suspect the second half is going to be significantly harder than the first, but I am still very, very happy that I can run that distance and not be intense pain at the end.

I think I need to work on relaxing my shoulders when I run, because one day later and my neck, shoulders and back are extremely sore. I also need to watch what I eat before and after as I spent the rest of Saturday in a very weary state and just wanted to keep eating, eating, eating. It wasn’t until after I had had lunch, multiple afternoon snacks and a very large ramen noodle soup and a fondant chocolat for dinner that I felt somewhat normal again.

But in case you missed my previous announcement, I RAN A HALF MARATHON! Go me.

She's going the distance. She's not going for speed. She's all alone (all alone), all alone in a time of need.

She’s going the distance. She’s not going for speed. She’s all alone (all alone), all alone in a time of need.

Oh wow. I just wrote the caption for that photograph and for those of you who don’t know, I stole the words from a band called Cake and their song “The Distance” and I have just realised that that song is now about me and I need a tshirt for the marathon that says “She’s going the distance” on the front and “Powered by Cake” on the back. Yes. Brilliant.

Hands Off My Croquembouche

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

I have always thought my brother is a bit of a genius and have often had little sister jealousy over his ability to be brilliant at EVERYTHING he tries. At school he was always the smart one – he won all of the awards, he was good at maths AND art, and he was loved by all the teachers and students. He has studied various degrees (and been good at ALL of them) and has now moved to England where he is studying artisan baking – the ultimate mix of mathematical precision and artistic flair. He is, of course, doing very well at it.

And while part of me is jealous that once again he has found something he’s freakishly good at, this skill I have been able to benefit from in the form of delicious, delicious baked goods. Mmm… food. Ben met me at Dubai airport on our way home to Perth with a large bag of crumbs which, a few hours earlier, had been chocolate biscuits. I can tell you that there is nothing more satisfying than standing in the middle of Dubai airport at 2 o’clock in the morning stuffing your face with chocolate crumbs. We may have looked like drug addicts eating weird powdery goods from a plastic bag, but it was worth getting arrested over.

And that was just the start – the real treat came for Grandma’s birthday when Ben decided he would attempt the impossible by making a croquembouche (a profiterole tower) in a kitchen he had never been to, in a hotel chalet at the Bunker Bay resort. INSANITY.

Ben baking

I don’t think this kitchen had ever been used for any sort of real cooking up until now.

I volunteered myself as sous-chef and was given the task of finding a round object about the size of a 20 cent coin to then trace circles on baking paper for Ben to pipe regular sized choux pastry balls. Luckily, I have a collection of oversized red rings, one of which was the perfect shape. I was fulfilling my role as sous-chef well so far. A much harder task was to sit for 35 minutes watching a chocolate cake bake in my cousin’s chalet, inhaling wafts of delicious 70% dark chocolate smells as the cake rose and my mouth filled with saliva. That was just cruel.

Ben had never built a croquembouche before and so there was an element of “Is this going to work”? for a majority of the morning. However, as I carefully selected each profiterole based on size and shape, handed them to Ben and he then dipped them in molten sugar and stuck them all together, the miracle of Grandma’s-90th-Birthday came to be. The sugar hardened, the profiteroles stuck together and the tower of goodness came to be.

Croquembouche

Adding the final sugary touch

Standing back and watching Ben create this tower was really exciting. Not only was it amazing that the tower didn’t fall over, but the skill and precision Ben used to create the croquembouche meant that the end result was beautiful and looked professionally crafted. So this time, I wasn’t so much jealous of Ben’s skills but proud of the fact that it was MY BROTHER who had made such a wonderful birthday cake for his 90-year old Grandmother. And that I was going to get to eat it.

Birthday cake

Oh cake. I love you.

Ben is almost at the end of his baking course and is currently planning on establishing a bakery with a fellow student in Sheffield. Looks like I’ll be making many trips to England for free baked goods.

Percival the Pig

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

My friend, sewing-and-cooking inspiration, and ex-boss, Claire, recommended I read a book she had recently read with her children. Yes, at the wee-ages of two and four they are slightly younger than me but I feel we have similar interests when it comes to well-written and beautiful illustrated children’s books. The ABC Menagerie by M.H. Clark and Elena V. Targioni is a book for everyone – it is so beautiful, funny and heartwarming that even robots would feel emotions while reading it.

ABC Menagerie

ABC Menagerie - image from LiveInspired

Each page of the book introduces a new animal and their particular habits and the rhyming text is accompanied by a photograph of a felt/material version of the creature. Similar to my sock creatures, these guys are slightly odd and always have something ‘different’ about them. There are many amazing personalities and the creatures themselves are so wonderfully crafted that you feel like you could reach into the page and pat them.

abc menagerie

Jesenia the Jaguar – image from LiveInspired

I thought I would share the text from one of the pages as I currently feel like this animal. Last night I went for dinner with friends at Le Jardin D’en Face and ate far too much and therefore wish I had the same release mechanisms as this guy:

Percival the Pig

Percival’s dinners are rich and gourmet,
with plenty of chocolate éclairs.
Whenever he’s had one too many that day,
his safety valves let out the air.

Buy and read this book. No matter what age you are, it will make you smile. Thanks for the recommendation, Claire.

Need Some Inspiration?

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

I watched this today while eating cheese and baguettes and suddenly felt a lot better about doing what I am trying to do. Cheers, Neil.

Not Disgusting At All

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Restaurants should really change the name “Degustation” because, in my limited but existing experience, they’re not disgusting at all. HA. Get it? Hilarious.

Anyway, moving on from that pun, while visiting the South-West last weekend, my parents demonstrated how much they love me by taking me to The Studio Bistro for a degustation. I think they REALLY love me. I have never had a degustation menu before but my ever growing love for food has made the idea of eating that many courses potentially the best possible thing to do. Ever. I was very excited.

The Studio is a relatively new establishment with an art gallery and restaurant under the same roof. At dinner time, they spread tables throughout the gallery so you sit amongst paintings and sculptures contemplating what you will purchase after you have had a few glasses of wine. What I really liked about The Studio was the lack of pretentiousness – while the food was of a high quality and there was a general feeling of elegance, I didn’t feel like I was under review or that I had to sit with my hands folded in my lap. This was potentially due to a couple of the wait staff who were clearly still learning the ropes of how to serve in fancy restaurants. Walk to table, place hand behind back, pour water from jug slowly into glasses…

Our dinner consisted of five main dishes, plus numerous little surprises in between. One of my favourite dishes was the amuse bouche – a slice of nectarine wrapped in cured ham. Very simple yet very yum. We had crab, hot smoked tasmanian salmon (an entire fillet – it was incredible), pork belly, fillet steak and then a chocolate mousse cake for dessert. The salmon was a highlight – it melted in your mouth and has a soft smokey flavour. I had never tried pork belly before as usually the idea of eating that much fat doesn’t sit well with my stomach or thighs, so I was keen to give it a go. WOW. Who knew fat could taste so good? Well… lots of people, probably. But as a regular remover-of-skin-and-fat-from-meat, it was news to me, and I am pleased to announce that I ate every last drop of artery clogging flab. Amazing.

By the time we had reached the fillet steak, my stomach was questioning whether or not I really needed to eat more food. Shut up, stomach, was my response. The steak was beautifully cooked and despite thinking I was full, I managed to move things around in order to fit it all in. Then came the dessert.

When I had first read the menu I became instantly excited by the description of the dessert – Caraway and chocolate mousse cake with compressed stone fruits and vanilla. Oh, yes please. Sadly, the description was better than the real thing. I was expecting a real kick from the caraway but sadly I could barely taste it at all. Plus the consistency of the mousse cake was very strange – they had created multiple layers of cake, mousse, cake, mousse, but as a result, the cake had spread out through the mousse layers, giving it a very sandy texture. Mousse needs to be smooth – it’s a fact of life.

Chocolate cake

Degustation Dessert

I am still trying to work out how the stone fruit was ‘compressed’. It just looked and tasted like a piece of peach to me. Plus it was under-ripe peach to make things worse – the consistency was like eating an apple. The plate had a drizzle of a peach and vanilla sauce which was probably the highlight of the dish – lovely and refreshing. The dessert wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t what I had imagined it to be.

I found that to be the case with many of the dishes in the meal – while the food was of a high quality, the ingredients were generally fresh and the presentation was nice (except for the steak that looked a bit like someone had thrown up on it), there was something lacking. Sometimes it felt that the chef was putting too many things on one plate, other times the combination of flavours didn’t quite work. There were also far too many dishes with carbohydrate-filled root vegetables so by the end of the meal you were feeling very heavy.

It has, however, sparked a new interest for me in long, multiple-coursed meals and I plan on trying some more. I suspect the French do it very well – it is their word, after all.

Happy Extra Day!

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

It’s the 29th of February! There is something exciting about having an additional day in the year and I am pleased that February gets to catch up to those other months with their larger number of days. Poor February misses out three quarters of the time. Pauvre Février. I’m sure there will be lots of girls dropping to their knees on top of the Eiffel Tower today as they grab the opportunity to snare themselves a husband. Don’t climb any towers today, boys.

Going South

Monday, February 20th, 2012

I appear to have reached a stage in my life where everyone is getting married or at least announcing their engagement, although I am trying to ignore this fact because I am definitely not old enough for this to be happening. Gosh no. I’m practically a teenager.

I spent this past weekend in Denmark, five-ish hours south of Perth, celebrating the marriage of my friends Danielle and Ryan. The weekend was lovely as I caught up with friends who I haven’t seen in a while, drank plenty of good wine (yes, Australian wine IS good, all of you French-wine-is-the-best-snobs), and ate lots of good food. I got a bit teary eyed watching my beautiful friend, Dan, walk down the aisle and become a Mrs. It appears Paris may have made me a romantic after all.

One of the highlights of the weekend was dinner with my friends Velia and Alex at Pepper & Salt, a restaurant attached to the Mathilda’s Estate winery. The food, while priced at your now average Perth prices (i.e. ridiculous), was absolutely delicious with locally sourced ingredients and an interesting mix of flavours. I had pink snapper that was lightly battered with a hint of lemon myrtle, homemade chips and a decent salad. This satisfied my craving for fish and chips while being light and not horribly greasy.

Fish and chips from Pepper & Salt

Fancy fish and chips.

The highlight of the meal was dessert (of course). You can imagine my extreme excitement when our lovely waiter described our dessert options and said the words “Flourless, dark chocolate torte with pepper and chilli”. HOLY MOLY. It was good. It was dark, rich and the pepper made the chocolate buzz. It was served with a piece of chocolate through which were crunchy chucks of pepper. The berries served on the side had been stewed in what I presumed was port and added another dimension to the dish. I was extremely satisfied and very happy to wash it down with a rich, bold Shiraz from the Mathilda’s vineyard.

Chocolate torte

Chocolate and spice

Pepper & Salt Restaurant on Urbanspoon