Monday, 21 April 2014

Travel: Ossian Hall Valley Retreat, Sydney

Another 4 days long weekend as Easter holiday has just passed. As always, I left it to the last minute (roughly a month prior) to look for suitable holiday accommodation and a lot of places were already fully booked. But somehow despite of my lack of planning, I am glad, because in the midst of my desperate search for a short getaway, I got to find Ossian Hall Valley Retreat.

Located only around 1 1/2 drive north of Sydney, about 15 minutes drive from Windsor and practically almost side-by-side with the iconic (and more touristy) Hawkebury River, Ossian Hall is a secluded retreat surrounded with beautiful nature, farm animals, and well - pretty much nothingness. No internet, no mobile phone reception, no stress, hardly human contact apart from 1/2heart, and the excellent hosts - Jim and Diane.

Now unlike a lot of premises that take advantage of the public holiday and jack up the price by the double (and not to mention having 4 or 5 nights minimum stay), Ossian Hall is very reasonably priced and for what you have (and don't have for good reasons) at the premise - provide very excellent value.

From the moment we drove along the seemingly never-ending driveway, we knew we have come to the right place.

We booked into the Lyrebird Lodge - one of the three available self-catered and fully-contained holiday cottages. 



View overlooking onto the farm and the valley from the balcony.


Cute teddy bears serving as guestbooks.

Everything you think you'd need is inside the cottage, down to the small details you would not expect normally - the wood log heater, BBQ on the balcony, even the backpack thoughtfully provided for your walks.



There is also a small gaming room with a pool table and an adjacent room housing a big spa bath and a sauna (which I fully utilized every day :))


And the surroundings are simply beautiful.


There is also a wood-fire pizza oven, where Jim cook his pizzas (yes we did order)

The tariff (we paid $239 per night) includes sumptuous breakfast hamper and fresh bread (made by Diane herself) provided daily. It is more than enough for two people, and being gluttons that we are, we did ate more-than-enough breakfast every morning there.


The breakfast hamper quickly became cooked massive breakfast every morning, utilizing the outdoor BBQ.

We chose Ossian Hall because we wanted to get away from 'busy' and people. We got what we wanted. The animals at Ossian Hall are aplenty though and well, they don't talk back :)

Toby the Jack Russell and Meah the Border Collie. 


Resident peacocks






And beautiful deers who're not shy at all.





The farm also has a number of other animals; including sheep, cows, alpacas, and horses.







There are a number of activities guests can do at the premise; Ossian Hall is located just by the Colo River and they provide kayaks for guests to use. Mountain bikes are also available. We did some walk around the premise and do some flora and fauna watching. I suck at taking pictures of moving animals though... .


We drove to the nearby Wollemi National Park to do a bit of bushwalking (and to burn those calories from breakfast). The track (Bob Turners Walking Track) took around 1-2 hour each way and going down from the entrance of the trail, you will eventually reach a small beach by the Colo River.




Going down was fairly easy, going back up was ..... ..... ..... .... .... T_T Well, this was nothing compared to the hike we did a few years ago up Mt Gower at Lord Howe Island (that was a mad 4 hours up, 4 hours down).



During our stay, we ordered two of the available menus provided by Jim & Diane - one of which was the seafood platter we had on the second night of our stay. This was actually a three-course meal and really put seafood platters provided by a lot of Sydney restaurants to shame. This costed us $150.

Hot Entree of scallop, mussel, and prawn.

Then came the main dish - tempura fish, calamari, and prawns; and cold platter of balmain bugs, lobster, crab, and juicy prawns. We polished them off (apart from the chips), and Jim said that we were the first in 15 years to finish the seafood platter. Yep, don't underestimate our black-hole bellies. But then again, he said as we did not finish the chips, then we did not fully finish the platter :P


Dessert: meringue pieces with cream and berries with dash of liquor.

On another night (not at the same day we had the seafood platter, thank you very much. We are not that much of an ogre), we had pizza - made by Jim using his wood-fire pizza oven.


The pizza menu is a set of one savoury pizza. and one dessert pizza ($38). Quite simply one of the best pizzas we have ever had (and add to the fact that we were famished after our Bob Turners' walk). 


One of our most favourite moments was to go out during the night and simply look at the sky. We had clear cloudless nights during our stay where lots of the stars blinked their lights for us. Truly a sight to behold, the stillness to feel, the sensation that us being there - underneath the vast sky - at peace, calm, and humble.






1928 Putty Rd, Colo
*Prices mentioned on this blog post is correct as of my date of travel.

Kitchen: Microwave Taiyaki

Got this nifty little thing from a Japanese section of a dollar shop located on level 3 at Market City (or you can always scour your local Daiso. They usually stock them too).
It is a microwavable Taiyaki mould, perfect if you don't have (or don't feel like cooking on a stove top) the traditional cast iron Taiyaki pan. The texture is somewhat different from regular taiyaki though, as to achieve the fish pattern on both sides of the fish using this plastic mold, you have to press on the surface quite firmly, and thus the end result is not of those fluffy pancake-like nature of normal taiyaki.

But well, this is easy and quite yummy for a quick fix.


 

The package also comes with instruction (in japanese, unfortunately. But it is quite easy to understand :))


I just used store-bought pancake mix. Isn't it ironic, that although I bought a egg free pancake mix (as I did not really pay attention when picking this off the shelf), I still added an egg to it -_-. Anyway, you can just use any pancake mix you like and if you want, you can add flaouring into it. I added matcha powder, coz' well, I am a matcha nut.


1. Make your pancake batter according to labelling's instruction. You may want to grease the plastic mould slightly before using it.
Pour about 1 table-spoon of the batter into the plastic mould (don't put too much, as the batter will rise). Cook it inside the microwave (do not use the lid yet). The instruction leaflet suggests 40 seconds for a 500 watt microwave, or 30 seconds for a 700 watt microwave. I don't know my microwave power, but after around 20 seconds, it is done.

2. Put in your favourite filling on top. Traditional taiyaki filling is sweet red bean/adzuki. As for me; well, as I am a Durian nut as well as Matcha nut, I put durian puree on them. You can use custard, chocolate, your favourite jam, or anything else  you fancy.

3. Pour in another one table-spoon of batter to cover the filling. Microwave them again (same time with step no. 1). Remember, once again, they will rise. You may pour just a bit more than 1 table-spoon to cover the filling thoroughly, but not too much. Otherwise, the batter will overflow.

4. Take your inflated funny looking taiyaki from the microwave, and immediately put on the provided lids and press on top of the cooked mixture. Do this when they are still hot. The lid will provide the fish indentation unique to taiyaki on the top side of these little morsels.


When you lift the lids, the taiyakis should stick on the lids as well, making it easier to take them out. But if they don't, just lightly tap the mould upside-down onto a flat surface or a plate, and the little fishies should come out very easily.

And... it's done. My taiyakis have nice brown glaze on it as I put them briefly inside the oven afterwards (to crisp the outer layer a bit. Taiyaki has that slight crispy texture on their outer skin if cooked on a cast iron).

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Random: Easter Show 2014, Sydney


Sydney Royal Easter Show is probably the largest 'pop-up' annual event, held around this time of year - as the title suggests - of Easter. However there are a lot more of the easter show than just easter eggs and bunnies. It exhibits crafts, arts, cakes (yep), cats & dogs competition, to farm animals.

Last Saturday we drove to Olympic Park to go to the Easter Show. We arrived early - around 9 a.m. - and there were hardly anyone around yet.





The admission ticket is not inclusive of vouchers you will need to purchase separately to ride the various of amusement/ theme park type rides inside - from roller coasters, bumper cars, to a ghost house. Nothing as grand as the ones at Movie World or Dream World at Gold Coast though, and the vouchers are expensive too. I guess if you had kids, you would be spending more than a pretty penny at the Easter Show.



I have to mention that the Easter Show is a pretty big area to cover, so it's a good idea to get the map and daily schedule information leaflet from the information stand. We headed to the Domestic Animal Pavillion to see .... ... cats! I was a bit disappointed that despite what the online schedule said, there was no Scottish Fold or Munchkins in sight. But well, cute kitties are cute kitties, no matter what type they are :D

These are pamper felines worth of medals, and that's exactly what it was about - a competition. Kinda felt sorry for them though as they were cooped up inside those tiny cages for quite a while, while the judges examined each cat from ear tips to paws.

The cat on the right was very energetic and kept trying to escape from its cage - to no avail of course.

And some cats didn't look too thrilled to be probed around by the humans.


Not only cats, they also have dog shows and competitions




Around closer to lunch time, we headed to Woolworths Fresh Food Dome for some free food because we were too stingy to spend our money on overpriced snacks sold samples. The pavilion houses of a lot of food manufacturers & suppliers, most of them provide free samples to try. I suggest to come early rather than late in the afternoon. Around brunch time should be good, as the stands inside would still have a lot of supply to give to visitors. When we headed back later on in the afternoon to get more free food buy some stuff that strike our fancy, there were hardy any noteworthy food samples left. We ended up buying some chilli sauces from The Chilli Factory (I almost run out of the Scorpion Strike I bought from them about a month ago) and a very fragrant and yummy Fig Balsamic Vinegar from Pukara Estate.


Pretty neat display on oyster farming, describing various stages of their maturity level.

Then it's just more walking around to other exhibits... .


Pumpkins on steroids? Look at the weights of those monsters written on them. No joke, they are bigger than people

Flowers/Plants exhibits...




The cake/sugar arts exhibit is always a popular spot, as it showcases crazy awesome skills from cake artisans.









Cakes featuring more well known characters...

And after all those, well, more farm animals...


Row Row Row of butts....






I should have had more pictures - if only I did not forget to bring the spare battery for my camera -_-. We ended up spending around 9 hours at this year's easter show - the longest we have ever spent. We mainly got stuck watching the animals though :D

Sunday, 19 January 2014

NomNom: Grounds of Alexandria, Alexandria

One hot Saturday morning, I decided to wake up earlier than 11 a.m. (:D) and forced convinced 1/2heart to drive to the suburb of Alexandria for a lovely Saturday breakfast. Amidst the usual industrial buildings and factory-warehouses well known to the suburb, Grounds of Alexandria was bustling with customers.



We arrived at 10 a.m., duly put our names on the waiting list and just shrugged when we were told that we would have to wait around 45 minutes until our turn. We knew about the notorious length of waiting time at this place. However it is actually quite lovely to pass time while waiting to explore the grounds - from the small farm, the lovely flower beds, and the herb gardens.
People on the waiting list receive a buzzer that will beep (much like the food court buzzers) when it's their turn to come. So there won't be any problem to walk away from the reception area.


There is also a dining area outside and a small takeaway kitchen serving simple breakfast options if you didn't want to wait to get inside the main dining area.






right: the pig with the tastiest name ever


And some space for furry guests...
The grounds also has small stalls outside selling lemonade, pastries, and snacks.


True to their word, 45 minutes later, our buzzer produced the best sound we had heard all morning: empty table for us!


Well-Being Breakfast ($19) was plentiful, simple, and soulful. The green bean & fennel salad is seasoned to the minimum, letting the natural sweet taste of the vegetables to shine through. I have to say, the star of this dish would be the beautifully smoked trout, yumminess added when combined with the beetroot relish. Ooh, so good.


1/2heart had The Grounds Breakfast ($19). The home-made pesto was so fragrant and delish.


We also ordered some ice coffee and mocha. The iced coffee and mocha were a bit too weak for my taste, I think next time I will order some espresso instead to have a real taste of their coffee.
The counter also serves various pastries and tarts - all looking divine. Alas, our breakfast was more of breakfast + lunch fare (due to the portion), and we could not push ourselves to eat any more - not even those jam doughnuts we have been eyeing at the outside stall.



Lunch is served from 12 p.m. onwards, so we are looking forward to come back to this place and try more on their menu.

Also worth mentioning, is the deli/grocery/food store located just around the corner: Salts Meats Cheese. Beautiful (and expensive) imported food, lots of organic and home-made sauces (pasta sauces as well), home-made olive oil, etc.



You can fill the bottles with some home-made olive oil or balsamic vinegar.

Worth the waking-up early? Definitely

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Random: Collins Beach, Manly, NSW

It is almost an end of yet another year. Looking back, I have had a lot of blessings. Sure, there were sad times and there were even times when I really wanted to murder some people, but when I pause amidst the chaos, take a deep breath, and try to reflect on what I have and who I have around me:

Life is awesome.

Anyway, I am looking forward to the new year ahead, although I don't think I will travel as often as I would like next year - all in pursue of building a house. *sigh... succumbing to the great Australian dream.
As when that's done, 1/2heart and I will move to the northern suburbs, we decided to hit one of the many beaches strewn across the northern line. I'm sure sydney-siders are very familiar with Manly (no, we are not building a house there), but this time we visited a quiet beach located just above the Little Manly Cove: Collins Beach.

Collins Beach is tucked away from the main road and can be accessed from a small walking trail at the end of Stuart St.
Pretty as a picture.


Actually, it kinda reminded me of the old Little Bay beach. Mostly untouched but beautiful, small and quiet. The unfortunate side of it, is that the beach is quite dirty (in comparison to more crowded touristy beaches such as Manly or Bondi) - lots of plastic wrappings and glass bottles left by irresponsible patrons.


Apparently it is also home the little penguins. The sign says that their breeding time is in between July until February, but we did not come across the cute birds.


The Waterfall




Look at that beautiful clear waters. More daring people will probably jump from this spot into the emerald waters below, but count me out -_-

Thus the end of our small weekend excursion. If you don't know of this little spot, it is definitely worthwhile to check it out. There is no eateries or shops within the vicinity, so if you decided to bring your own food, please make sure to clean up and take away your rubbish.