The best of Kai Bae Beach, Koh Chang

Koh Chang

Idyllic Kai Bae Beach, Koh Chang

Despite the presence of some newer resorts and hotels, there is still a rawness to Koh Chang. It is Thailand’s second largest island but far from its busiest, with no high rise development and a jungle covered interior. The thatched bungalows like the type we stayed in here ten years ago still remain, though some have had a bit of a makeover and a price hike. There are lots of mid-range places to stay, and the atmosphere is decidedly chilled, even at the busiest beach, White Sands. Roaming vendors on the beach are few and far between, and you can seek out nightlife if you want it, or easily avoid it.

Behind Kai Bae Beach

Kai Bae’s string of eateries and shops retains a laidback, backpackery vibe (minus the sleaze)

We recently spent a week on Kai Bae Beach, an idyllic spot with lots of families with small kids around (perfect for us!). The beach is lined with palm trees and rope swings, and a scattering of low-key resorts. Behind the beach lies an eclectic mix of backpacker bars, cafes, restaurants, stalls selling flowy beach dresses and ubiquitous massage places. After much exploration on our recent Koh Chang escape, here are my picks of the best of Kai Bae Beach:

Food + Drink

Most of the places to eat and drink are located on the road behind the beach. In amongst the usual mix of Thai and Western offerings we found some real gems. Must-eats at Kai Bae include:

Barrio Bonito

Barrio Bonito – Kai Bae’s must-eat Mexican

+ Barrio Bonito, the most authentic Mexican I’ve ever had in Asia (with all Latino staff you know you’re onto something). Head here for delicious tostadas, tacos and the best margaritas.

+ Took Ka Ta Kai Moon was the best local Thai place we tried. There are chickens cooking over charcoal out the front, and an open air kitchen where women are busy pounding mortar and pestles and making Thai salads. Highly recommended is their amazing som tam, Thai style BBQ chicken and sticky rice, washed down with coconuts.

Took Ka Ta Kai Moon

Our favourite local eatery for Thai salads and chicken

Chicken and som tam

Simple yet delicious chicken, sticky rice and som tam at Took Ka Ta Kai Moon

+ Riddim Shack, where we had jerk chicken and Carribbean-style dirty rice - a unique take on local ingredients. British owner David mans this little Reggae Bar tucked down ‘Walking Street’ – a name usually assigned to girly bar strips in Thailand, though Kai Bae’s version was low key (and decidedly un-girly). The beach was unseasonably quiet given the protests taking place in Bangkok, so we had to pre-order the food here the day before (and it was well worth doing so!).

Coffee on Koh Chang

Coffee on Koh Chang – a surprising number of options!

For coffee, we tried all the main places on Kai Bae, from the little Italian Aperol bar and cafe, to the fairtrade, organic Northern Thai coffee shop, but the best we tried was from Mochaccino. The other cafe worth seeking out at Kai Bae is Papa’s Deli, a Euro bakery/deli with amazing chocolate croissants and charcuterie, should you need a break from all things Thai.

Things to do

Kai Bae is more for relaxing and swimming than strenuous activity, but we did hire kayaks from a stand on the beach for 100 baht/hour (that’s about $3!). Our kayak fit two adults and two children, and it was fun traversing most of the beach, keeping an eagle eye out for any good places to eat along the way.

Kayaking

Kayak rentals – $3 an hour

Every afternoon, two baby elephants were led by their handlers into the water at the northern end of the beach. They were trained to spray water on anyone who had a ride, and stand up on their hind legs. I wasn’t entirely sure about the ethics of riding baby elephants trained to perform timely tricks for tourists, but their cuteness was undeniable.

Baby elephant bathing

Each afternoon baby elephants would visit the beach

We ventured to several other beaches on the songthaews that drive up and down the main road (you flag them down and jump in, and the fare for four of us ranged from 50 baht for a short distance to 100 baht to another beach). White Sands is much more developed than the others, yet still manages to retain that backpackery charm with ramshackle restaurants on stilts, bungalows and cheap massage huts mixed with the more upscale resorts.

Lonely Beach

Lonely Beach is still quite undeveloped

Lonely Beach is quiet with large swathes of beachfront land entirely undeveloped – which is surprising in a place like Thailand. It’s still the most chilled out, but no longer the domain of 20-something backpackers, with more middle-aged and older Europeans and Russians in the mix.

Massage huts are everywhere you look on Koh Chang (with most signposted in English and Russian) – this is another huge difference from when I first visited in ’03, when they were few and far between. The going rate for a Thai massage is 250 baht/hour (around $7) to about 400 baht/hour for different variations of massages from oil to aloe vera. The best massage I had was at Kai Bae’s ‘The Bodiwork’ on the main road behind the beach, which offered a more a spa-like atmosphere and professional experience. I felt like I was walking on air after a visit, and while the prices are slightly more than at the beach huts, it’s definitely worth it.

I loved our stay at Kai Bae and felt it was the right beach ‘fit’ for us – a comfortable middle ground of not too busy, not too crowded, but not too quiet or isolated either. For more info on Koh Chang and what each beach offers, I am Koh Chang offers a no holds barred look at the island, and there’s also the super informative Koh Chang Guide.

Posted in Travel

Destination Mudgee

Botobolar

Botobolar – Australia’s oldest organic vineyards

Botobolar

Botobolar

Logan Wines

Stunning views from Logan Wines

Logan Wines

Tasting at Logan Wines

Over the Christmas break we headed to Mudgee for a few days, figuring the coast in either direction from Sydney would be too crowded. Heading west of the city over the Blue Mountains and beyond, we reached Mudgee and discovered few other tourists around – I’m sure most were at the beach! It meant the wineries were blissfully uncrowded (some empty), the hotel deals abundant, and the vibe very relaxed. The downsides were that a few eateries were closed, and the weather was super hot. Regardless, it was a great three day stay, filled with much eating and drinking, beautiful views and animal spotting for the kids. After experiencing much of what Mudgee has to offer, here’s an edit of the must-dos:

The Wineries

Wineries are Mudgee’s main drawcard, and there are so, so many to visit. Some are clustered together on the main road past the racecourse, but many are sprawled out on the outskirts of town in every direction, with several worth seeking out. Our favourites were:

+ Logan Wines for stunning views from a glass box perched high above the vineyards.

+ Robert Stein for the beautiful setting, the best Shiraz and the most amazing restaurant of our trip, the few months old Pipeclay Pumphouse.

+ Short Sheep Micro-winery for the personal touch provided by the owner couple proud to show us around and explain their wine-making process, as well as the cute breed of short sheep you can feed (especially fun if you have kids in tow).

+ Botobolar for beautiful wine (including some that are preservative-free) at Mudgee’s oldest organic vineyard. We particularly liked this winery’s reds, after first discovering them at Newtown’s Bloodwood.

+ Lowe Wines for the family-friendly feel, with beautifully organised grounds ripe for exploration, complete with farm animals and fruit plantations (the wine was great too!).

Salmon carpaccio

Salmon carpaccio at Pipeclay Pumphouse

Fig mille feuille

Caramelised fig mille feuille with honey marshmallow at Pipeclay Pumphouse

Food + Drink

Like anywhere, there were hits and misses. In a few days we managed to sample quite a lot of Mudgee’s eateries, from cafes to pubs to winery restaurants. We were there just after New Year so a few places that looked and sounded great were closed, like Roth’s Wine Bar, though there were still plenty of places open to choose from. Here’s our pick of the bunch:

Favourite café:

Market Street Café was our favourite breakfast/brunch venue, with nearly everything on the menu sourced in and around Mudgee, from the preserves to the locally raised meat. The ingredients here are of the highest quality and they serve great coffee by Bill’s Beans from nearby Orange.

Pipeclay Pumphouse

Pipeclay Pumphouse at Robert Stein

Entering Pipeclay Pumphouse

Entering Pipeclay Pumphouse

Favourite restaurant:

The afore-mentioned Pipeclay Pumphouse at Robert Stein is the new Mudgee hotspot and by far our favourite experience of the trip. If you venture to Mudgee you MUST eat here! The setting is amazing (another glass box-like structure making the most of the stunning views) perched over a dam, backed by vineyards, backed by rolling green hills. The food is beautifully executed fine dining, with a 3 course menu at $60 and a seven course degustation at $85. It has it all, from genuine, professional service, beautiful Stein’s wines, a stunning setting and decadent, delicious food.

Favourite beer:

There are so, so many pubs in Mudgee, what seems a disproportionate amount for a small town(!), but the best place for beer has to be the Mudgee Brewing Company. The barn-like microbrewery and restaurant is in the middle of town and features a simple menu of typical Oz bar food and live music, along with an extensive array of beers brewed on site. The IPA was a standout, and the Razz Ale my overall pick, a raspberry-infused brew which is not at all sweet or sickly, just oddly refreshing.

The family factor

We travelled to Mudgee with our kids and they managed to find much to enjoy, though the hotel pool was right up there with their favourite things about the trip. Several of the wineries double as farms, so kids can see alpacas, pat sheep or goats or even explore a chicken coop (visit Lowe Wines for that!). Most have extensive grounds so there’s lots of room to run around outside. Many of the wineries also have some kind of ‘kids’ corner’ with colouring books and chalkboards to keep kids entertained. In town, one of the most kid-friendly cafes is Outside the Square, where there are highchairs, kid-sized tables and even colourful crafts for sale similar to what you’d find in an Oxfam or other NGO-run shop. It felt like Mudgee was really welcoming of kids, despite it’s food and wine-focussed adult appeal.

Where to stay

We stayed at Parklands Resort & Conference Centre, which I highly recommend. We got a great last minute deal so stayed for less than half the usual rate – so do that if you can! It’s located across from the racecourse on sprawling grounds on the edge of town, and is just at the start of the main road to the wineries. It has an oversized indoor pool (which was a godsend on one 42 degree day!) along with a Jacuzzi and sauna, and the rooms are really spacious. Ours had a double bed, a single bed and a foldout couch that could sleep two, so it was great for our family of four but could have really comfortably slept five! For a boutique hotel option if sans-kids, De Russie Suites looks gorgeous.

Posted in Travel

{Cafe crush} Anonymous Cafe, Blackheath

Anonymous Cafe

Inside Anonymous

Anon cafe_Ploughmans

The Blue Mountains offers many a cafe option for travellers heading west of Sydney and back, but Anonymous Cafe in Blackheath is a standout. Not only does it brew a mean cup of Campos and offer a range of unique herbal teas (like Green Mango) from T Totaller, but features an enticing menu using much locally-sourced produce.

The Ploughman’s Lunch is no ordinary version – it comes laden with ‘real’ ham as well as prosciutto, a hard, soft and blue cheese, delicious homemade herb bread, figs, relish and salad, all vibrant and artisanal and all-round awesome. I would never normally order this dish (placing it firmly in the yawn category), but am now a convert. Also delicious – the baguette with roast pork, crackling and Vietnamese herbs and salad. Anonymous bypasses touristville and serves up food on par (or better) than many urban offerings. So happy to have a new go-to place for future Blue Mountains sojourns!

Anonymous Cafe, 237-238 Great Western Highway, Blackheath, NSW

Anonymous Cafe on Urbanspoon

Posted in Blackheath, Blue Mountains, Cafe, Food, Sydney

Travelling with kids at different ages

Hoi An with the kids

Exploring Hoi An at 2 and 4

In the next few weeks my current bout of travel anticipation will culminate in several trips – a roadtrip to Mudgee (NSW wine country), then a couple of weeks in my old home (and ongoing obsession!) Southeast Asia, with time in Bangkok, Koh Chang and Kuala Lumpur.

On these holidays, our kids will be 3 and 5. I have a feeling (fingers crossed) it will be slightly easier this time than last time, and the time before that and the time before that… after all, they’re older and therefore should be easier, right?!! Here’s hoping, but in the meantime I thought I’d look back at some previous trips and compare the pros and cons of travelling with kids at different (young) ages.

Less than 6 months

Positives:

- They sleep alot during the day – this allows you to explore and eat out relatively easily. We had a surprisingly successful weekend in Singapore when our first was four months old – she spent alot of time in the day asleep in the stroller and we had a lot of opportunity to wander the Arab Quarter, Chinatown and Little India. It was easier then than it would have been a few short months later.

- They don’t need things sterilised if they’re breastfeeding exclusively and aren’t onto solids yet. Travel with a baby is much more simple before they move onto formula and food.

- They’re portable – they’re small enough be strapped into a Baby Bjorn rather than be carted around in a stroller, which makes things a bit freer and easier, especially in less developed places where strollers are harder to manoeuvre.

Negatives

- Sleep deprivation – with a newborn waking all night long, it makes it harder to relax and appreciate your surrounds (or be fully focussed on much during the day).

- The baby’s sleep routine  (if you have one) can be disturbed by getting in and out of different modes of transport all the time.

- They are at their most fragile, and susceptible to the heat and illness.

- They require frequent breastfeeding which isn’t always convenient, especially if you’re out and about in a heaving, hot and humid Asian city.

Between 6 months and 2 years

Positives

- Attention and help – at this age, kids are past the super fragile stage and are a bit more playful and smiley, so we found this was the time of receiving the most attention, hugs and whisking away by staff at cafes and restaurants. All our travel then was in Southeast Asia (where we were also living) so it might not be the case everywhere!

- Curiosity and learning – this was a time our kids explored and learnt alot, from roaming around temple grounds to sampling lots of different foods, like developing an appreciation for pho and snacking on dried river weed in Laos (mmm, green chips!). With all the curiosity came a relentless need to run around and a total inability to sit still anywhere, so this one hovers between being a positive for them and a negative for the parents!

Negatives

- This was the most intensive time in terms of sourcing milk and food, sterilising things, and needing ridiculous amounts of equipment. Between 6 months and one we had to source pureed food from restaurants and hotels, mostly in Vietnam. We would sometimes end up with strange, salty soups people would concoct for us, which was well meaning but sometimes not quite right. We found the best thing to do was to request boiled or steamed vegetables like carrots, then mash them up ourselves. Once they moved onto slightly more solid food, all things carbs became a godsend. Think baguettes and bowls of rice.

- They’re not quite old enough to appreciate things – this isn’t their fault of course(!) but sometimes we had travel experiences where we wished our kids were slightly older and able to enjoy certain things more. One example was a beach holiday in Khao Lak, near Phuket in Thailand, with our first when she was about 20 months old. We stayed at a huge resort with different pools and even waterslides, but she was a bit scared of the slides and favoured the smallest pool. We would love to be back in the same place now with our kids at 5 and 3, as we know they would absolutely love it. Another was when we were at an elephant park in Chiang Mai, when our oldest was 3 – we thought she’d be more excited, but she seemed a bit blase about the elephants and more focussed on the biscuits she was eating. Again, something that would’ve been better a year or two down the track.

Two kids: aged 1 and 3

When our kids were one and three, we’d not long moved back to Australia but were craving a return to Southeast Asia for a holiday (this may happen forever!). We ventured to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phnom Penh and Singapore, and in hindsight realise this was a bit too ambitious with such young kids. We’d just be settled in one place then we’d be moving onto the next, when it would’ve been better to stay put in one place for the majority of the time. At these ages, I’d recommend a one-destination kind of holiday.

Positives

- Car hire! One of the best things we did was hire our own car in Chiang Mai, complete with a car seat for the one year old. We drove outside town to the zoo, to the hilltop temple Doi Suthep and out into the Thai countryside. It was easier having the kids secured in the car than holding onto them in a tuk tuk or taxi, and they managed to sleep while we drove and explored.

Negatives

- Too much travelling takes its toll. At this age, we should’ve taken the kids to one place rather than packed a lot in, but although it was a difficult trip we still don’t regret it!

- Kids just want a swimming pool – we made the mistake of choosing a small, boutiquey kind of backpackery guesthouse in Chiang Mai, which was in a great location but didn’t have a pool, which we thought didn’t matter. It did. We ended up checking out and having a few days in the super luxurious Shangri-La, complete with ginormous swimming pool. The kids were so much happier! Talk about high standards….

- Heat, dehydration and food and water hygiene are all still important issues at this age. Our kids came down with a bug in Phnom Penh which saw our one year old so dehydrated she was hospitalised for a few days once we reached Bangkok. Which sounds really dramatic but basically consisted of being hooked up to a drip and fed lots of rice porridge until back to normal again – after a few days she was good as new and we continued with the holiday. In the meantime, we took it in turns taking the three year old out and about and hanging out with friends who live in the city, which was really enjoyable. A positive is that the hospital situation in Bangkok for such incidents is really good –  we actually ended up back in the same hospital both of our kids were born in, so it was a bit nostalgia-tinged!

Two kids: aged 2 and 4

This time last year our kids were aged two and four, and we took them to Vietnam for a few days in Saigon and a longer stint in Hoi An. We managed to mix beach time with lots of food, exploring and culture in Hoi An’s beautifully preserved Old Town, and overall this was a far more successful trip than the previous one.

Positives:

- Our youngest was far more independent and able to run around and explore alot more than on previous trips, while our four year old was far more outwardly focussed and observant of the world around her. She noticed alot more, asked lots of questions, was more interactive with people and got much more out of travelling than when she was three. The difference between three and four was huge!

- The kids could play with each other alot more. The previous year, our youngest was essentially still a baby, but this time she could play with her sister on the beach and in the pool.

Negatives:

- The last days of nappies and strollers – we still had a bit of ‘baby’ equipment to lug around.

- Tiredness – the youngest still needed a day sleep and sometimes even fell asleep while out at an early dinner.

For our upcoming trips with our now 3 and 5 year old kids, I am anticipating the following:

Positives:

- No more baby equipment (yay!). This will be our first family holiday without lugging a stroller around, and with no-one in nappies (or even swimming nappies). Our youngest is out of a cot too, so no need to organise for our hotel rooms to have cots either. On Koh Chang, we are staying in a bungalow with two double beds so the kids have their own. There’s been a lot of bed sharing in the last few years on our family trips, so this sounds like a pretty good setup!

- Screentime on the plane – this time last year, our then two year old had zero interest in anything screen-related on a plane ride from Sydney to Vietnam. Which meant I had to think of other ways to entertain her the entire way. Did I mention I was flying alone with the kids on this trip (we met my husband there as he was already over there for work)? Fun times! At three, our youngest has changed immensely and actually has a concentration span. This time around, the kids will hopefully watch lots of movies and TV shows!

Negatives:

- Potentially carrying the kids around alot – although I’m excited about finally travelling pramless, it is inevitable we’ll end up having to carry the kids around when they get tired. Not so much at the beach, but in the cities where we’ll no doubt end up walking long distances.

- The kids are now old enough to fight with each other(!)

As for the rest, we’ll have to wait and see, but I’m hoping it’ll be our most successful trip yet. I keep hearing how between 6 and 12 are the ‘golden years’ of family travel. Only a few more years and we’re there!

Do you have any family travel tips for different ages? Or an age range you’ve found the easiest for travel? Please share!

Posted in Asia, Hoi An, Thailand, Travel, Travel with kids, Vietnam

{Cafe Crush//Sydney} The Copper Mill

The Copper Mill

The Copper Mill, Alexandria

Galette

Galette with poached egg, pumpkin, peas, haloumi & bacon

The Copper Mill is a new cafe in the once industrial no-man’s land of Alexandria, joining the neighbourly ranks of cafe luminaries like The Grounds and Bread & Circus. With a rustic and raw interior reflecting its factory heritage, Golden Cobra coffee and an innovative, ever-rotating breakfast and lunch menu, The Copper Mill is well worth checking out. Head there if you love the aforementioned places, or cafes like West Juliett or Reuben Hills.

If you can tear yourself away from the coffee (I had their regular Golden Cobra blend called Human Cannonball and it was the best coffee I’ve had in ages, plus there’s a blackboard featuring the current single origin beans), there are some interesting drink menu inclusions like coconut hot chocolate. Must-have brunch items include the Peruvian sandwich, featuring slow cooked pork, egg and sweet potato, or the galette (think a puffy pie lid) topped with a perfectly poached egg, served with a hearty side of pumpkin, peas and haloumi (tip: add bacon). The menu changes often, and I can’t wait to see what else this tick-all-the-right-boxes cafe has in store.

The Copper Mill, 338-356 Mitchell Road Alexandria, tel: 02 9517 3214

The Copper Mill on Urbanspoon

Posted in Alexandria, Cafe, Food, Sydney

Diary of a NaNoWriMo newbie – Part 3 (the aftermath)

The dust has settled on the month-long novel writing-fest that is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) – and… I finished!! The first couple of weeks weren’t too bad, but by week three I was stalling a little. If there’s one thing I learnt from participating in NaNo, it’s that consistency is key, and a little bit each and every day soon adds up to a lot. And if you stick to the doable word count each day without skipping a few, you won’t have any 7000 word days to get through (can I sleep now?!).

As for what my book is about – it’s a fictional foray into expatland in Southeast Asia, with the 20-something protagonist torn between life in Newtown with her ever-serious boyfriend, surrounded by friends who are starting to ‘settle down’, or heeding the call of a life of adventure, travel, exciting job prospects and potential new love against the backdrops of Thailand and Cambodia. I’m thinking it’s the literary lovechild of Emily Barr’s Backpack and Emily Maguire’s Fishing for Tigers(!) And that it also needs much, much work if it’s ever going to be seen by anybody at all…

Overall I loved the NaNoWriMo experience, as torturous as it felt at times. If you’re thinking of doing it next year, I would say go for it. It ultimately helps you develop a writing habit, and prove to yourself that you’re capable of churning out lengthy work, even if it’s not of the greatest quality – and a 1500 word essay or story will never seem daunting ever again.

Did you attempt NaNo? Here’s a few tips now it’s over:

7 things to do when NaNoWriMo is over

5 tips for NaNoWriMo: The post NaNo re-entry process

6 step program for life after NaNo

And finally, all is not lost on the ‘all things produced during NaNo are destined for the scrapheap’ idea. Here are 8 bestsellers started during National Novel Writing Month.

Posted in Words

{Delhi eats} Veda Restaurant

Veda - a taste of decadent Delhi

Veda – a taste of decadent Delhi

One of the most amazing meals on our recent India trip was at the gorgeous Veda Restaurant in downtown New Delhi. Located on busy Connaught Place, it features a North Indian menu with lots of familiar dishes and some with interesting twists. It inhabits an opulent looking space (think ornate mirrors and chandeliers, a shimmery, glittery ceiling and lots of red), like Moulin Rouge meets fine Indian diner.

Veda Restaurant, New Delhi

Veda Restaurant, New Delhi

We went with a local friend who ordered an amazing spread of curries but insisted we try one thing – a whole leg of lamb on the bone, cooked in the tandoor. If you find yourself Delhi-bound, you must must must eat at Veda and order this dish! After a waiter dramatically set it alight as it was served, we tucked into succulent, slow cooked, charcoal-imbued spicy meat. The best lamb of my life.

Tandoori lamb leg at Veda

Tandoori lamb leg at Veda

The other standout must-order and a Veda signature dish is their crispy okra. We ate alot of okra in India but it was usually stewed or sauteed, however in this dish it was finely sliced, tossed with spices and a liberal amount of salt, and deep fried into crispy more-ish discs.

Veda is the perfect place to experience decadent, date night Delhi, or a world far removed from sightseeing in the heat. For more Delhi restaurant ideas (and there’s many – I needed more nights for Dum Pukht and Gunpowder!) see these round-ups by The Culture Trip and Travel + Leisure.

Veda Restaurant, 27 Outer Circle, Connaught Place, New Delhi, +91 11 4151 3535, (website currently down).

Posted in Asia, Food, India, Indian, Travel

Diary of a NaNoWriMo newbie – Part 2

Vintage typewriter

Image credit: The Maple Tea House

NaNoWriMo begins on 1 November, and I get off to a flying start writing well over the expected word count. I know it’s just first day excitement though, a built up idea pouring out with enthusiasm. I continue this way the next day and the next, before I falter and it starts to be more of a struggle to even reach the 1667 word mark. I’m glad I went hard and fast at the beginning, as it offers me leeway when the words aren’t as forthcoming.

I find myself unnecessarily updating my word count after a few hundred words, checking the NaNo site’s stat counter to see how close I am to my target. I have a few supportive exchanges with some other participants over email, which spurs me on to keep going. The very fact you update your word count on the site is like a reminder that I’ve pledged to do this, and my progress is visible to others. I have to keep going! Each time I reach a new thousand mark it feels like a small victory, particularly reaching 10,000 words (and this week, 20,000).

It sinks in how long the story is becoming when I attempt to read it one night, and keep reading…and reading…and reading to reach the end. My story is long! It’s like reading…a book! All things NaNo keep referring to the two week slump, and I worry my motivation levels have taken an inevitable nosedive. It’s the halfway point already, but there’s a still a long wordy road ahead….

Posted in Words

{Sydney} Weekend wanderings 10.11.13

Armchair Collective

Image credit: Armchair Collective

Sydney weekends mean wandering to me – from exploring new places in our ‘hood to venturing far and wide, often in search of good eats. Here’s a little round-up of some food, finds and fun from recent weeks, which will hopefully inspire you to set out and explore your city.

The last few weekends have been a blur of kids parties (sooo many kids parties), beach walks and cafe hits and misses. We recently ventured to the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Month’s night noodle markets in the city (twice) and now have a full blown Mamak crush (best roti this side of KL). We’ve dragged our kids out for Mexican, Vietnamese, and too many places for babycinos.

Homewares at Armchair Collective

Image credit: Armchair Collective

One of my favourite cafe jaunts has been to Armchair Collective in Mona Vale. We were in the area anyway for a birthday so took a beach detour afterwards. The cafe looks kind of 70s from the outside, but inside is like a colourful beach shack. It’s a combined cafe and homewares store, and I fell a little bit in love with the ikat cushions, Moroccan ceramics and hippy luxe by the beach vibe of it all. The menu offers a great mix of typical cafe fare, not particularly experimental but hearty, wholesome and with high quality ingredients. The salad of beetroot, pumpkin, spinach and quinoa with goats cheese was light on the quinoa, but vegetable heavy and featured a tangy dressing – virtuous and delicious. There’s also a great BRT (with rocket substituting lettuce). If you’re stopping by for a post-beach takeaway Single Origin, you can also pick up a bunch of hydrangeas to go from the onsite florist, which adds to Armchair’s already colourful and inspiring aesthetics. And yes, the beach is a short walk away at the end of the street, so it’s an excursion-worthy combo.

On last weekend’s agenda: a school fete where I scored big time at the book stall (a wine box worth of books for the grand total of $15, including four cookbooks, some kids books, travel anthologies and novels, including one by my favourite travel writer, Pico Iyer. Score!), and a girls’ night to Icebergs Dining Room and Bar in Bondi with two of my food loving friends. Sipping cocktails on the glass-panelled balcony perched over the iconic Icebergs pool and a sprawl of surfer-studded ocean was not a bad way to kick off a Saturday evening. Dinner was a fishy affair, with shared oysters, school prawns and crab, with cod and delicious sides including my favourite, the lemon drenched kale. Icebergs had a kind of special occasion, date night vibe, but was nevertheless a beautiful setting for a catchup.

As for this weekend – we made a round two visit to Chi and Co. and it was just as good, if not better, as we had an extra person this time hence more dishes! If you go, the XO pork belly is a decadent, spicy, rich must-have. We also gorged on cannolis, jam doughnuts and lemon tarts at the Italian sweet-fest Pasticceria Tamborrino in Five Dock (they have everything from arancini to gelato, and all the cakes, biscuits and Italian desserty things you can think of – heaven).

How do you like to spend your weekends? And how was yours?

Posted in Beach, Bondi, Cafe, Canley Heights, Dessert, Five Dock, Food, Mona Vale, Shoptalk, Sydney, Vietnamese, Weekend wanderings

Diary of a NaNoWriMo newbie – Part 1

nanowrimo

It’s NaNoWriMo eve, and I feel a strange sense of calm before the storm. I’ve decided to give NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, a red hot go. That is, to pump out 50,000 words in 30 days. A novel in a month. Almost 2,000 words every day in November. Here’s a little window into the process, if you’re thinking of joining:

Signing up

The first step in committing to NaNo is signing up (which you can do here – it’s (almost) not too late!). Then it’s time to navigate the forums. The event is a social one, in a virtual kind of way, yet all the ‘buddy’ making and ‘newbie’ meeting (so much terminology!) spills over IRL, with meet-ups and write-ins to attend, should you feel inclined. I sign up, full of trepidation on whether I can really do this. I discover another NaNo term is ‘winning’, which actually just means completing. Apparently if you reach the 50,000 word goal, you have ‘won’! Although the only pressure to do so is your own.

Finding your tribe

A peruse of the forums offers a fascinating insight into the world of writerly types. There are a lot of self-confessed introverts (no surprises there), participants racked with self-doubt, many gamers and many more with  ’fur-babies’. I zero in on the Mainstream board where my story belongs, and so do I it seems, catless and all. In a world of dystopian this and paranormal that, I’m feeling slightly off-trend and commercial with my ‘real life’ fiction idea, but nevertheless find some like-minded souls. The forums serve to help you find your tribe, so you can send each other words of encouragement, tips, advice and also keep each other spurred on. I discover a diverse scattering of people whose story synopses resonate, and enter the encouraging world of NaNo buddies.

How to prepare

After signing up, buddying up and perhaps engaging in a bit of supportive emailing with other WriMos (I’ve found this interaction immensely helpful already!), preparation can be as little or as much as you think you need to feel ready for NaNo. I write out descriptions of settings, characters and plot, a brief overview of the story and a longer, more detailed one. I then try to break down the story idea into chapters, with a rundown of what will happen in each. My idea is something I’ve played around with for a while – a fictional account of, you guessed it, a girl in expat-land in southeast Asia. While I’m using some settings and scenarios based on my real life experiences, it’s going to be fictional rather than a memoir.

Resources

Another part of preparation is seeking tips from writers who have successfully tackled NaNo before. I’ve been trying to soak up as much advice as possible, and there’s a wealth of NaNo related reading out there. If you are doing NaNo or contemplating it, here are a few helpful posts in getting started:

10 NaNoWriMo tips

10 tips to help you make it through NaNoWriMo

5 resources to help you plan your NaNoWriMo novel

How to write a novel

It’s ok to wing it

A NaNo term flying around the forum boards and social media is ‘pantsers’. Pantsers are those who don’t feel inclined to come up with characters, settings and plots beforehand, and prefer to fly by the seat of their pants, letting their story organically unfold. I like this concept, but I’m going with a happy medium – a rough outline and chapter breakdown, but much leeway to let my story veer in various ways as NaNo gets underway. Which is tomorrow! Ok, maybe not feeling so calm now…

Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo this year? Best of luck if you are,and if you’re contemplating joining, why not take the plunge?! 

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