Events and books and … things

Kate, supportive superstar author Oliver P (with one of our mascots!), me and Nat at our CBCA talk

The other week, something exciting happened – our podcast team (One More Page) were invited to present at a CBCA event! It was a meeting of the Northern Sydney sub-branch, consisting of a fab crew including Wendy Fitzgerald, Jan Latta, Jules Faber, Brydie Wright and more. We talked setting up the podcast, highlights and heroes (a.k.a. every one of our interviewees! Cue Wind Beneath Our Wings …. yes, this happened). It was a lovely supportive crowd and a great venue, The Children’s Bookshop in Beecroft. We also got an early look at The Hole Idea, the new picture book collaboration by the bookshop’s owners, Paul and Beth, illustrated by Nathaniel Eckstrom. It’s brilliant!

More events …

Then not long after, it was time to attend the Creative Kids’ Tales Festival, a wonderful one-day event put on by Georgie Donaghey and the CKT team. I got so much out of the talks by Jackie French, Deb Abela, Jacqueline Harvey and Emma Quay, who all offered words of advice and encouragement, and shared their own journeys (and pitfalls – Emma reading aloud a less than flattering review of Rudie Nudie was a masterclass in developing a thick skin in the creative journey).

I also recently attended the SCBWI Sketch and Scribble event at the Art Gallery of NSW, viewing artworks to spark story ideas. There was also the launch of Cocoon by author/illustrator Aura Parker at Kinokuniya, complete with a live drawing session. The book is everything I imagined and more – warm, charming and bursting with character.

Searching for stories with the SCBWI crew

More books …

In other picture book reads – I’ve been reading (and re-reading …) Lottie and Walter by Anna Walker, A Quiet Girl by Peter Carnavas and Love, Z by Jessie Sima. As for what I’m anticipating – loads, but mostly Tilly by Jane Godwin and Anna Walker. You know when you *just know* you’ll love something? That.

Beyond the magical world of PBs, I’ve recently read CATCH A FALLING STAR by Meg McKinlay, a middle grade set in the 70s, that intertwines a historical space event with family and feelings. I really loved the voice in this. I’m currently mid-way through BOY SWALLOWS UNIVERSE, an award-scooping adult read (and feeling like the last person on earth to read it, but I’m enjoying the ride).

What else? Our podcast is careering towards 25k downloads (ahhh thank you, people who listen!), and we’re recording a new episode at the Sydney Writers’ Festival this weekend. We’ll be chatting to two stars of the SWF Family Day events, authors (and so much more) Adrian Beck and Sally Rippin. Can’t wait!

Current book stack …


More things …


There’s been many a new food find lately, with my kids discovering a newfound love of bubble tea (just find us at your nearest Gong Cha). We also had biang biang noodles and ‘Runaway Chicken’ (think fried chicken piled high with dried chillis and sichuan peppercorns) at Xian Eatery in Burwood, and the best massaman curry at Khao Pla in Chatswood – yes, will happily traipse all over Sydney (and beyond) for delicious eats.


It’s cooling down, it’s binge-watch weather, and there’s so much great viewing right now. Am currently addicted to Killing Eve – onto Season 2 now after a mega catchup-athon. And of course, Game of Thrones, and for some food-related wanderlust, Street Food on Netflix, which makes me want to hop a flight to check out the eat scene in Osaka.


… to reveal more news (and the colourful cover!) of my own upcoming picture book release … sooooon!

Literary fun times and new cafe crushes

KidLitVic illustrators' cards

KidLitVic 2017

Pictured above: a few favourite cards picked up at KidLitVic, a fabulous writers’ conference now in its second year. My card stash features the work of illustrators (from top left, clockwise): Allison Langton, Caitlin Murray, Nicky Johnston, Luisa Gioffre-Suzuki, Irene Tan and Tania McCartney. Aren’t they all amazing?! One of my favourite parts of the conference was checking out the illustration portfolios on display (so much talent, sigh!).

The publisher panels offered the inside word on kids’ books, the atmosphere was fantastic, and the organisers (author Alison Reynolds and team) once more did an amazing job pulling everything together. Industry insights aside, meeting up with other writers and talking all things books and publishing was undoubtedly a highlight. Especially when debriefing afterwards over delicious Malaysian food! I stayed at my friend and fellow conference attendee Cat’s place, and we managed to squeeze in some Melbourne must-dos (like Readings Kids!) into our whirlwind of a weekend.

Readings Kids

Melbourne wanderings

With Cat and her kids as tour guides, we hit Lygon Street in Carlton for a cannoli fix at the treat-laden Brunetti’s, before a book-ish droolfest at Readings Kids. I so wish there was a carbon-copy in Sydney! Packed with everything from picture books to the latest #LoveOzYA reads, you can easily spend hours here (and lots of $!). I came away with a small stack of new reads, including some titles from my kids’ current favourite series, Truly Tan and Isadora Moon, about a half-vampire, half-fairy (super cute!).

You're Five series launch

Book launch: The You’re Five series by Shelly Unwin

Along with some other writer friends, I attended fellow critique group member Shelly’s book launch at The Children’s Bookshop in Beecroft. It was the first of several events launching her You’re Five series, with a book celebrating each age from 1 to 5. A great concept, and a beautiful package complete with Katherine Battersby’s charming illustrations. After introductions from bookshop owner Paul MacDonald and guest author Jacqueline Harvey of Alice Miranda fame, Shelly ran a fun storytime session followed by the perfect accompaniment – birthday cakes!

Natasha Lester author talk

In other bookish news, I went to a fascinating talk at Five Dock Library by Perth-based author Natasha Lester, with a focus on her latest historical fiction novel, Her Mother’s Secret. She filled us in on her publishing story, her writing routine and the in-depth research she conducts for her books. Her latest release is set in 1920s and 30s Paris, and centres around the birth of the make-up industry. I love the way Natasha’s books weave historical events with issues concerning women’s fight for equality (highly recommend her previous book too, A Kiss for Mr Fitzgerald, set in 1920s New York). Natasha is such a warm and open presenter, and it was so nice to meet a writer whose work (and advice-filled blog) I hugely admire.

Sydney Writers' Festival

Sydney Writers’ Festival

More books, more authors, more literary fun times! This year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival featured an amazing program, and their family day was no exception. We took our kids to see UK Children’s Laureate and Charlie and Lola creator Lauren Child, who talked about her influences and creative processes. Even Quentin Tarantino movies form the inspiration behind her beloved children’s books. We also saw the always hilarious Andy Griffiths, with glimpses of his upcoming 91-Storey Treehouse book, followed by a session with picture book creators Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys. They shared the stories behind their stunning picture book, Under the Love Umbrella, from initial idea and napkin scribbles on a Brooklyn-bound train, to the intensive illustration process. In other SWF news, I did a children’s writing masterclass with R.A. Spratt (Friday Barnes/Nanny Piggins). As well as being highly entertaining, she offered some great tips from plotting to using IRL observations of conflict as story fuel (recommended: a Saturday trip to Ikea!).

Goodbye Horses

Goodbye Horses

Cafe Crushes

And to accompany everything bookish – coffee, of course! So many cafes … so many crushes. A few on my radar lately:

~ Concrete Jungle in Chippendale, for their super health-packed bowls.

~ The perfectly tiny Glider (in the same laneway), with the cutest coffee coasters, like mini-wooden pallets.

~ And new Summer Hill cafe, Goodbye Horses – great coffee, music and staff (and plants!), and a backroom that feels just like a dining room in a terrace house.

{Cafe crush} Anonymous Cafe, Blackheath

Anonymous Cafe

Anon cafe_interior

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

{Cafe Crush//Sydney} The Copper Mill

The Copper Mill

The Copper Mill, Alexandria

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

Matale Chocolate: from bean to bar

Matale Chocolate bars

A chocolate addiction, refined

I have this thing where I must eat chocolate every. single. day. Some might call this ‘thing’ an addiction. I’d like to think of it as more of a….passion?! I definitely do love chocolate, and while sometimes anything under the wide banner of ‘chocolate’ will do (I’m looking at you, purple packaging of sugar-filled evil) I’ve come to appreciate better quality, dark chocolate these days, particularly the artisanal bean-to-bar variety. The taste has a whole different level of complexity, it’s healthier, and the idea of supporting small-scale cocoa bean farmers is another reason to seek out quality, independent chocolate labels.

My first brush with ‘real’ chocolate was on my honeymoon in Barcelona, where my tastebuds sang with the discovery of a world of chocolate far removed from the mainstream. I sat in a small square in the Gothic Quarter clutching a fist-sized truffle of rich, dark chocolate, and my life was never quite the same again! In New York, I traipsed around Williamsburg in Brooklyn on a mission to visit Mast Brothers, a true bean-to-bar chocolate business run by two bushy-bearded brothers (and was excited not only for the chocolate, but that the brothers themselves were actually in the shop – food geekery much?!). In Australia, there are several players in the bean-to-bar chocolate scene, with one of the newest taking form after a revelatory visit to some long forgotten cocoa plantations in Matale, Sri Lanka. Enter, Melbourne artisanal chocolate makers, Matale Chocolate.

The taste test

I recently tried two of Matale’s single origin chocolates. The first was a 68% variety using cocoa beans sourced from the Somia Plantation in Madagascar. The chocolate comes as a thin, snappable sheet rather than divided into squares (not that anyone needs their chocolate portion controlled, right?!) and imprinted with a textured diamond pattern. It is dark, glossy and seductively scented. This variety has a unique flavour with more than a hint of fruit. Supposedly citrusy, to me it seems to have more of a pineapple flavour. It’s complex, strong and different to any chocolate I’ve tasted before. The richness of the chocolate prevents you from eating it all in one go, which is quite unusual for this self-declared chocolate addict.

The next bar sampled was the 72% cocoa from the Malekula Plantation in Vanuatu. Compared to the 68%, this is more of a traditional, dark chocolate, with a more familiar taste than the quirky Madagascan variety. It has a rich, deep, earthy flavour with hints of smoke and spice. Of the two, the 72% is my pick.

The lowdown

Matale Chocolate makes dairy, nut and gluten-free bean-to-bar chocolate. It is hand made, and uses organically grown, ethically sourced cocoa beans from small farms and co-ops. If you ever need to justify your chocolate addiction (raises hand) Matale ticks all the boxes for a feel-good, guilt-free antioxidant boost. Check here for stockists, follow Matale on Twitter or like their FB page. (I’m super jealous these guys source, make and TASTE chocolate for a living – dream job!).

Disclaimer: This post was made possible with the generous support of Matale Chocolate, who supplied the products reviewed. As always, my views are my own.

Image: Matale Chocolate

{Sydney eats} Chi and Co., Canley Heights

Inside Chi and Co

Inside Chi and Co

It was really hard to visit Canley Heights without eating at the amazing Thai-Lao Holy Basil, but this time we had Chi and Co. firmly in our sights.

Tucked just around the corner from Canley Heights’ bustling main street, Chi and Co. (formerly known as Chi Chi) would not be out of place in the inner-city. It features a pan-Asian menu spanning everything from Vietnamese classics to Thai treats and hawker-style Malaysian fare. It’s a mish mash of cuisines, but somehow, it all works.

Chi and Co. inhabits an expansive space with a converted warehouse look, mostly black and white with touches of yellow. A huge mural spans one entire wall. It’s seriously gorgeous and the food is outstanding, from the more-ish son-in-law eggs topped with spicy XO sauce (said to be their signature dish), to the expertly smoky char kway teow. Our favourite dish was the fried crispy skin salmon and green papaya salad – an amazing jumble of texture and flavour, all zesty, herby, crunchy goodness.

Scallops with nam jim

Scallops with nam jim, son-in-law eggs with XO sauce, crispy skin salmon & green papaya salad

One of my favourite things about the menu is the selection of small starters at under $5 a pop, like the spanner crab on betel leaf and the grilled scallop with nam jim – bite-sized morsels bursting with flavour. I love being able to sample as many things as possible when I eat out, and Chi and Co. is the perfect place for those who like a pick and mix approach. I keep telling people about this place (first reaction – ‘Where?!’) and have plans to return with food loving friends and family, who I know will have a ‘can’t believe this place is here’ reaction, like we did! Even if Canley Heights is far from your usual haunts, it’s definitely worth the trip. And it’s an easier place to find a park than neighbouring Cabramatta (just!).

Chi and Co., Shop 3/264 Canley Vale Road (entrance via Derby Street), tel: 02 9727 2068, 

Chi and Co. (Chi Chi) on Urbanspoon

{Sydney Eats} Ester, Chippendale

Wandering Chippendale’s dark, desolate streets in search of Ester, we wondered, why aren’t there more restaurants in Chippendale? There are great cafes in the daytime (like Cafe Giulia and Brickfields), art galleries, bars (Freda’s and now Zigi’s Wine and Cheese – which were both frequented for wines pre-Ester!), but why aren’t there restaurants on every corner?! Chippendale will undoubtedly become a new food and drink hotspot come the completion of the ginormous, plant-wall covered Central Park development, but for now, Ester is a shining beacon of promise in a still slightly off the radar patch of inner-Sydney.

So, Ester – where to begin? The decor – minimalist with a 60s touch, the vibe – lively, unpretentious yet city sleek, the service – unobtrusive, friendly and just right, the food – out of this world. Part of the Vini/121BC group of restaurants, the head chef Mat Lindsay is ex-121BC and Billy Kwong, and is now apparently all about the wonders of the wood-fired oven.

We ate a ridiculous number of dishes, but here’s what you should order: the cured meats plate for melt in your mouth coppa, flavour packed nduja and spicy salami; the raw fish, brought to life with the contrast of crunchy, baked capers; the most ridiculously amazing lamb cooked in the wood-fired oven (think silken in texture), the almost show-stealing side of charred broccolini with chilli and crispy flaked almonds, and all of the icecreams (the vibrant, refreshing fennel, the strong, bitter chocolate and the buttery salted caramel semifreddo). There were some wonderful wines consumed (pinot noir and grenache) from the well-curated drinks menu, but mostly I was all-consumed with dying over the food. In a nutshell – you have to go to Ester!!!

Ester, 46-52 Meagher St, Chippendale, tel: 02 8068 8279

Ester Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

{Sydney eats} Burmese food at Bagan, Strathfield

Bagan chicken

Sticky, spicy Bagan chicken

Bagan is an unassuming little eatery in Strathfield’s busy restaurant hub, decidedly daggy inside (think ageing Burma tourism posters and mocha coloured walls) but it’s the food that counts, right? Bagan’s extensive menu spans soups, salads, curries, noodles, rice dishes, meats and seafood, with dishes ranging from the heavily Chinese influenced, to Indian-inspired, to uniquely Burmese.

The only other Burmese place I’ve tried was a hole-in-the-wall eatery in Phnom Penh, run by Burmese people of Indian ethnicity, so it was all paratha breads and curries. Bagan’s menu is quite comprehensive though, so we pick the crispy, sticky ‘Bagan Chicken’, a bit 80s Chinese but with a delicious spicy kick balancing out the sweet honey coating, and tuck into Burmese fried rice, loaded with prawns and richly dark from soy.

A huge fan of all kinds of Asian salads, I eagerly await the Laphet Salad, a traditional Burmese salad of fermented tea leaves often served at traditional ceremonies, but for once am stumped. There is a really strong, fermented odour, almost fishy. The salad has a beautiful mix of textures but is overpowered by the pungent taste of the tea leaves. It kind of reminded me of eating something in Cambodia packed with prahok, everyone’s favourite fish paste. Next time, I’ll stick to green mango, or try the pennywort. The plus side is the ridiculously good prices at Bagan – the salad’s are mostly $5.80 each!

The standout dish was the Watt Thanut, or pork curry with green mango pickle. So rich, earthy and complex, with melt in your mouth slow cooked meat and a subtle hit of green mango pickle, mellowed in the cooking process. If you’re a fat fan, you'[ll love the little chunks of silken pork fat swimming in the curry (too soft and gelatinous for me though). The curry dishes at Bagan are $8.80 – they’re not huge servings, but enough for two people to share if you order several dishes. Bagan is a unique eatery with much to explore, from comforting staples to more unique flavours.

Bagan, Shop 4/41 The Boulevarde, Strathfield, open Tues-Sun 11am-10pm

Bagan on Urbanspoon

Cool cafes in Canberra

photo (20)

Thanks to a little research, blog stalking and tweeting I headed off to Canberra for a cold but fun-filled weekend clutching essential information – where to get good coffee (thanks Miss Piggy and Corridor Kitchen!). And I’m so glad I did, as wandering (I mean, driving) around Canberra it’s pretty unlikely a non-native would accidentally come across a decent place for a caffeine fix. But tucked away in some unassuming spots are some amazing places that seem straight out of Surry Hills or Marrickville, or whatever your benchmark best coffee suburbs may be. Case in point:

1) Mocan and Green Grout
Mocan and Green Grout is a gorgeous cafe a short drive from the city centre on the ground floor of a very new looking apartment development, fronted by herb gardens. Inside, it’s all rustic wood and recycled objects, with a warm and homely atmosphere, cool music and cooler staff. The coffee is amazing (strong, smooth, just right) and the atmosphere noisy and communal, in a want-to-stay-all-day kind of way. We had brunch here – a blackboard special of poached egg with smoked salmon, snow pea tendrils and horseradish (delicate and subtly flavoured with high quality ingredients – the salmon was silky soft, the horseradish not too overpowering) and the triple baked eggs with hummous, pickled radish and yoghurt (also subtle, delicious, quality – are you sensing a theme here?!). This was my overall favourite cafe of the trip.

Mocan & Green Grout on Urbanspoon

Mocan garden
2) Two before Ten

Two before Ten has a sleek, industrial warehouse kind of look and reminds me a little of Double Roasters in Marrickville. It’s a serious coffee joint – they roast their own coffee on the premises and use ethically sourced beans. We had breakfast here twice – the first day I had their warming porridge with poached quince and walnuts, which was the perfect antidote to the chilly temp outside, and the next day, the poached eggs with cherry tomatoes, pesto and greens on sourdough, which was delicious, but perhaps not as refined as the equivalent at Mocan and Green Grout. The staff here were super friendly and it’s the kind of place you can imagine being your regular if you worked nearby.

Two Before Ten - Cafe & Coffee Roasters on Urbanspoon

Two before ten
3) Lonsdale Street Roasters

We only stopped by here for takeaways but I loved it – think photography, bikes and buzz. The coffee was beautiful and caramelly and smooth – a Colombian blend. Just go here!

Lonsdale Street Roasters on Urbanspoon

There are so many more places on the to-try list for next time, but for now, I’m blown away by Canberra’s cafe offerings. I’m loving escaping my Sydney bubble now and then and realising that perhaps this is not Australia’s cafe epicentre after all (and I know most Melburnians would beg to differ that we are anyway!).

Which Australian city or town do you think is worth exploring for unexpectedly cool cafe finds? I’d love to hear your thoughts!