Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Rhubarb and Rose Bundt Cake with Vanilla Glaze

Roses again! A lady never tires of roses, shoes or chocolate. Or sparkly things or $40 blow dries for that matter. I certainly never tire of pretty cakes. And that's a good thing, as I'm smack in the middle of cake month. Hold that thought - I have an epic chocolate cake recipe to share with you soon.

But for the moment, given Winter is giving it one last crack, let's talk rhubarb and edible flowers.

It's very hip at the moment to scatter edible flowers over everything and I'm so on board. I don't bother with extra long tweezers and fussy placement like a TV chef but I do love the way a liberal scattering of petals can transform a plainish cake into something beautiful, while giving a pop of colour and flavour. 

The combination of almond, vanilla and rhubarb with a hint of orange and rose in this cake is lovely, and it's an easy hand-mix.

It's inspired by this recipe from a favourite blog, Cannelle et Vanille, and it's a kind of variation on the friands I bake for my cafes, like a winter version in a cake. It can be also be made gluten-free by swapping in rice flour for the plain flour.

Tempting though it may be to cut into it fresh from the oven, because it smells all gorgeous and looks all golden and inviting, I urge you to stop and wait until it is cool so you can drizzle over the thick vanilla bean glaze and then attend to the all-important petal bling.

I have used dried edible rose petals by Pariya but you could use any edible flowers to decorate the top of the cake. Buy them from your nearest farmers markets or specialty food store.

Rhubarb and Rose Bundt with Vanilla Glaze
(Serves 12-16)

350g rhubarb, sliced thinly
1 teaspoon caster sugar
285g butter, melted
2 cups almond meal
1 cup icing sugar
1/2 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Zest of 1/2 an orange
8 egg whites (store the yolks in the fridge and use them within a few days to make custard/ice cream/pasta/lemon curd etc)
1 tablespoon edible dried rose petals plus extra for the top
Extra butter for greasing tin

Vanilla Bean Glaze
1 cup icing sugar
Seeds from one vanilla bean or one teaspoon of vanilla bean paste

Preheat oven to 160C. Brush the inside of a 1.5L (22cm) Bundt or kugelhopf tin with melted butter and then dust with flour to ensure the cake doesn't stick.
Place rhubarb slices in a microwave safe steamer with the caster sugar and a dash of water and cook on high for two minutes or until just cooked and maintaining shape. Set aside.
Whisk the egg whites, icing sugar and orange zest together in a large bowl.
Add the almond meal, flour and baking powder and stir until just combined. 
Add the melted butter and stir carefully until all mixed in.
Pour the cake batter into the prepared tin and scatter with rhubarb and rose petals.
Using a skewer, gently marble the rhubarb and rose petals through the cake mix.
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden and a cake tester comes out clean.
Leave to cool in the tin for at least 10 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool completely.
When the cake is cool, make the glaze by mixing the icing sugar and vanilla bean seeds with one tablespoon of boiling water until you have a thick, glossy icing. Add a dash more water if needed but be careful not to make the glaze too thin.
Drizzle spoonfuls of the glaze over the cake and let it drip down the sides in pretty rivulets. Scatter with rose petals and serve. 
* For an extra beautiful touch, add some flecks of gold leaf on top of the roses. You may need those long tweezer thingys for this though, and try not to love yourself too sick when you look at the result. Others will do this for you.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Vanilla, Raspberry and Rose Marshmallows

It's not Valentine's Day, nor is there a wedding anniversary any time soon. We have been going about life, heads down, hard at it, bake after bake. And that is when hearts and sweetness are most welcome, in my book. I have been holding my little family close this week. A little tighter. A little more aware of how very lucky I am. I have been, for lack of a better way of saying it, more present.

I made these marshmallow hearts for my mum a while ago. They're sweet and a bit sassy, just like her. In just over a month, we'll be flying to beautiful Broome to celebrate her birthday. For most of the year it has seemed like a far-off hazy something-to-look-forward-to. But now it's nearly here. Our calendar is stacked almost every week until we go, and I'm going to be more swamped with work than ever, but it's nearly here! 

A week in paradise with the people I love most in the world - I am beyond excited. It's these times, when we get to laugh together and let our hair down, the sharing of old stories and the making of new ones. This is what it's all about. It's how I can counter the fear of this random world and the fragile balance that holds everything dear to all of us in place.

Vanilla, Raspberry and Rose Marshmallow Hearts
(Makes 16-20 depending on size of heart cutter)

250g caster sugar
2 teaspoons liquid glucose
6 titanium strength gelatine leaves
2 egg whites
Scraped seeds of one vanilla bean
Two tablespoons freeze dried raspberries*
Two tablespoons dried edible rose petals*
Icing sugar and cornflour for dusting

Line the base and sides of a rectangular baking tray with non-stick baking paper, making sure it overhangs the edges.
Soak the gelatine sheets in cold water for five minutes. Squeeze the water from the sheets and melt in a bowl over simmering water. 
Place egg whites in bowl of an electric mixer.
Place 175g of the caster sugar, liquid glucose and 100ml water in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Simmer for three minutes.
Start whisking egg whites on high until they reach a soft peak, then turn the mixer to a lower speed and gradually add the rest of the caster sugar. 
Continue simmering the glucose syrup for a further five minutes or until it reaches 127C on a sugar thermometer. Add the melted gelatine and the vanilla to the glucose syrup, then, with the mixer still on a low speed, pour the mixture carefully into the egg whites.
Turn the mixer up to high speed and whisk for 10 minutes or until the mixture is cooled and thick and glossy.
Combine equal parts icing sugar and cornflour in a small bowl. Dust the inside of your prepared tin with  the mixture and reserve the rest.
Spread half the marshmallow into tin and scatter with freeze dried raspberries and rose petals, then cover with remaining marshmallow. Smooth top with a pallet knife and place in fridge to set for at least two hours. 
Lift the marshmallow from the tin by the overhanging baking paper and place on a board or flat surface dusted with the icing sugar mixture. 
Dip heart shaped cookie cutter into the icing sugar mixture before cutting hearts from the marshmallow. Dust marshmallows in the sugar mixture before serving. If you don't have a heart shaped cutter, simply cut the marshmallow into squares using a hot, sharp knife.
If doing a chocolate version, skip the dusting step and dip your hearts into your favourite quality melted chocolate (about 200g should do it) and leave them to set on sheets of non-stick baking paper.
* Freeze dried raspberries and dried edible rose petals are available from The Essential Ingredient and other specialist delis and food stores.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Sugar-Free Pear and Pecan Cookies

Biscuits are the best. If I give my kids a bickie, all is right with the world and I have two solid minutes of quiet (them) and productivity (me) guaranteed. So it's tempting to give them out a lot! Well, at least twice a day. I'm talking milk arrowroots or those apple bars from Heinz, but I still worry about the sugar factor.

I guess I'm lucky that my boys love most fruit and can eat nuts, so I gave these sugar-free cookies using grated pears a go and cheered to myself as they disappeared at bickie time. Then the next day, I drizzled a few with chocolate and had them with a cuppa. I can quit sugar no problems, but quitting chocolate is cruel!

My cookies are inspired by these carrot ones I saw on the wonderful cooking site for mums, One Handed Cooks. They are kind of like a fruit and nut Anzac and pleasing in a wholesome, I'm-being-an-excellent-mother-right-now way. But I'll be honest, they were vastly improved by the chocolate.

I used Beurre Bosc pears, because they're my favourite to bake with, but any variety would be fine and they're all in season now.

If you buy your pears from Woolworths this month, you can pick up a copy of this lovely new cookbook from Australian Pears, Rediscover Australian Pears: Volume 2. It's free with a purchase of 1kg of pears while stocks last and features recipes from loads of my foodie heroes like Maggie Beer and Karen Martini. Don't fret if you miss out at Woolies. The cookbook will be available from selected retailers from July 28, 2014.

I was lucky enough to be sent a copy and it is full of delicious winter goodness. The Bosc Pear and Almond Butter Cake by Karen Martini is on my kitchen agenda this week!

Pear and Pecan Cookies
(Makes about 16)

1 cup wholemeal plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped pecan nuts
2 Beurre Bosc pears, peeled, cored and grated
1/2 cup sultanas
1/4 cup desiccated coconut
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup coconut oil or vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 180C and line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper.
In a large mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients, then stir in the maple syrup and oil.
With wet hands, shape mixture into small balls and place on the baking tray, leaving room to spread. Flatten each cookie slightly with a fork.
Bake for 18-20 mins or until golden. Leave to cool on trays.
Store in an airtight container.

*Mummy/Daddy option: when cookies are cool, melt 50g dark chocolate and drizzle over with a teaspoon.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Slow-Roasted Quince

Sometimes I get just as excited seeing an empty weekend on our calendar, where the only thing planned is a walk to the local shops for a "cino" and maybe a visit to the park, as when our schedule is jammed with catch-ups.

Time is such a luxury these days, so when I get a large undisturbed chunk of it in winter, one of the most satisfying things to do with it, apart from a colour/cut/blowdry, is to slow-roast something. 

It would usually be meaty - a shoulder of lamb or Mr LP's excellent beef stew. But I'm still wearing my tutti frutti pants and serving up all kinds of weird to the kids, so I bought some quinces instead and waited patiently for the weekend to roll around.

In their raw state, quinces are pale, hard and bitter to taste. But when cooked long and slow, their flesh becomes beautifully tender and sweet, and it transforms into a deep, earthy orange colour. They taste like the country, if you know what I mean. Kind of somewhere between an apple and a strong pear, and they go superbly with classic baking flavours like vanilla, citrus, and almond.

For my basic roasted quince, I turned to the quince queen, Maggie Beer, for inspiration. Maggie roasts her quince for seven hours, which was a little too much oven hogging time in my kitchen, so I had to tweak.

Here's what I did:

Roasted Quince with Cinnamon and Orange 
(Recipe adapted from Maggie's Kitchen)

Three large quince, peeled and cut into large wedges (reserve the peel)
Juice of two lemons
One orange, zest peeled in wide strips, plus juice
One cinnamon stick
Two vanilla beans, split and seeds scraped out
Two star anise
400g caster sugar
600ml water

Preheat oven to 150C.
Place quince pieces in a bowl and squeeze over the lemon juice. Set aside.
Tie quince peel and orange peel strips together with kitchen twine and place in a medium sized saucepan with water, caster sugar, cinnamon, orange juice, star anise, vanilla beans and scraped seeds. 
Bring to a boil and simmer on medium heat until syrupy (about 10 mins). Remove the twine and zests.
Place quince pieces in a baking dish along with syrup, including cinnamon stick, vanilla beans and star anise.
Cover closely with a piece of baking paper, cut to fit the inside of the baking dish.
Roast for two hours, then turn the quinces and return to the oven for a further one to two hours, depending on your taste and whether you want the quince to be a blushing pink, deep orange or dark crimson. The longer you bake them, the deeper the colour and intensity of flavour.
Keep the fruit and syrup in a container in the fridge until ready to use. It will last about a week to 10 days.

It would be perfectly fine to stop here, and serve these blushing beauties warm, drizzled with their syrup and a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream.

They are also wonderful on porridge for breakfast or you could include them as part of a brekkie parfait, layered with vanilla yoghurt and hazelnut granola.

Here are three other ways I put them to use: 

Quince and Almond Tarts
(Makes 12 small tarts or one large tart)

Six large pieces of roasted quince, thinly sliced

125g butter, melted
3/4 cup almond meal
1 cup icing sugar
1/4 cup self-raising flour
Zest of 1/2 lemon
3 egg whites

250g plain flour
50g icing sugar (powdered sugar)
125g cold butter, cubed
1 egg, lightly beaten 
Dash of milk

For Pastry:
Place flour and icing sugar in a food processor and blitz until combined.
Add cubed butter and pulse until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Whisk the egg and milk together and add to the processor while the motor is running.
Pulse until the mixture just comes together to form a dough. 
Wrap dough in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

For Frangipane:
Sift flour and icing sugar into a large bowl. Stir in almond meal and lemon zest.
Add egg whites and stir until combined, then carefully stir in melted butter.

Preheat oven to 180C.
Roll dough out on a lightly floured surface to form a rectangle, about 3mm thick, enough to cover the base and sides of a long rectangular loose bottomed fluted tart tin. Press to the edges and trim any excess. If making small tarts, cut out circles with a pastry cutter and press into a 12-hole muffin tin. 
Place tin in the freezer for 5 minutes. This will help to prevent shrinkage when the tart bakes. 
If making a large tart, blind bake with pastry weights and baking paper for 8 mins, then remove baking weights and bake for a further 8 mins or until tart shell is light golden.
If making small tarts, blind baking isn't necessary. Just bake the tart shells for 10 mins until light golden.
Reduce oven temperature to 165C.
**Because I sometimes have things like left-over salted caramel in my fridge, and just happened to on the day I baked these, I added a teaspoon of caramel in the bottom of each tart. If you have any around, or care to make the caramel in the pudding recipe following, I highly recommend this step.
Pour frangipane into the tart shell(s) and arrange slices of quince along the top.
If making a large tart, bake for 20-25 mins or until puffed and golden brown.
For small tarts, bake for 18-20 mins.
Cool slightly before serving with a light dusting of icing sugar.

Quince Butterscotch Pudding

1 1/2 cups slow roasted quince, sliced
125g butter, melted
3/4 cups caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 cup milk

75g caster sugar
65g butter, cubed
1/4 cup cream

For butterscotch, place caster sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat and melt without stirring. Tilt the saucepan to spread the molten sugar around the pan surface to ensure it all melts without burning.
When the toffee begins to bubble, carefully add the butter and cream. Take care as mixture will spit.
Turn off the heat and stir until all combined and a nice caramel colour (about 1 minute).
Set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 160C. 
Spray the bottom of a medium sized pudding dish with non-stick baking spray.
For pudding, mix all ingredients except quince in a large mixing bowl until combined.
Pour the butterscotch into the bottom of the pudding dish. Place quince slices on top.
Cover the quinces and caramel with the pudding batter, spreading gently to the edges with a spatula.
Place the pudding dish inside a large roasting tray. Pour warm water into the roasting tray until it reaches half-way up the side of the pudding dish.
Bake for 45-55 mins until puffed and golden. If you think pudding is browning too much on top, cover with foil at around the 40 minute mark.
Dust lightly with icing sugar and serve with cream or custard.

Chocolate tart with Quince Vanilla Bean Syrup

250g plain flour
50g icing sugar (powdered sugar)
125g cold butter, cubed
1 egg, lightly beaten 
Dash of milk

300g quality dark chocolate, chopped
100g quality milk chocolate, chopped
400ml cream
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Quince Syrup:
3/4 - 1 cup of syrup reserved from roasted quince recipe above

Preheat oven to 180C.
Place flour and icing sugar in a food processor and blitz until combined.
Add cubed butter and pulse until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Whisk the egg and milk together and add to the processor while the motor is running.
Pulse until the mixture just comes together to form a dough. 
Wrap dough in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Roll out to 2mm thickness and press into a 23cm round, loose-bottomed tart tin.
Blind bake for 8 mins, then remove baking weights and continue baking for a further 10mins until tart shell is light golden. Set aside to cool in tin.
Reduce oven to 130C.
Pour tart filling carefully into the tart shell and return to the oven with a steady hand for 30-35mins or until just set and filling has a slight wobble in the centre. 
Refrigerate until cold and completely set.
When ready to serve, remove tart from tin, place on serving plate and dust with quality cocoa.
Cut tart with a hot knife and serve drizzled with quince syrup and thick cream. 

Tart Filling:
Place chopped chocolate into a heat-proof bowl and set aside.
Heat cream in a saucepan until boiling point and pour over the chocolate. Leave for 3-4 mins and then stir very gently until the mixture combines into a smooth ganache.
Stir in beaten eggs.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Prawn and Papaw Rice Paper Rolls with Dipping Sauce

The other day at the park, my three-year-old ran up to me with a couple of his little friends and asked if we could have sushi for lunch, "because that's what Jack is having." 

I said this was fine. And then the precocious mini foodies started discussing what type of sushi they wanted. One was after salmon and avocado, another said teriyaki chicken and Master N announced he wanted avocado and carrot and prawn. I was proud. At three, I don't think I knew what an avocado was, and I certainly wouldn't have stood for anything wrapped in seaweed. I know that kids liking sushi is unremarkable these days - Master N regularly has it at preschool. It's all about what is normal for them. With this in mind, and an unused papaw on my bench, I thought I would put it to good use on my prawn-loving youngster in a rice paper roll. 

He'd never had rice paper rolls before, but I sat him up at the bench with some carrot sticks and he watched as I soaked each wrapper in turn and then he helped me lay the ingredients inside. He even had a go at rolling one, which ended with the rice paper wrapped around his fingers and everything else on the floor. Feeding his pet dragon that lives under the bench, he calls it, whenever he drops food. It's a fat dragon. 

I made two versions of rolls: one with plain cooked prawns, avocado, carrot, slices of papaw drizzled with lime juice and coriander leaves for the kids, and the other with chilli and ginger prawns, shallots, carrot, papaw and coriander for me and Mr LP.

As mentioned in my papaya cheesecake post, papaws have a distinctive smell and getting kids to eat them willingly can be a challenge. I have found that the best way to introduce little people to anything they may be suspicious of is to either pair it something sweet or to hide it. In this case, I hid slices of yellow papaw behind shaved ribbons of orange carrot which were underneath orange prawns. I thought this was especially genius because one of the things Master N liked best about the rolls was how he could see through the rice paper to the contents. And the dipping in sauce bit. 

He ate nearly half a roll before he screwed up his face and inspected the contents closely. He identified the rogue ingredient so fast it made me laugh. "What's this Mummy?" I told him it was papaw and that it was kind of like mango, which he loves. "I don't like it." And that was that until I pulled it out. The coriander too. 

Mr LP though, scoffed three without blinking. So the verdict is that three year olds will be three year olds and that I would happily make these again for friends with drinks as canapés or a light and healthy entree with a tropical surprise. Haha, yes I just said that. Best of all, they're really, really easy and just as yum.

To learn more about the versatility of #aussiepapaw, visit

Prawn and Papaw Rice Paper Rolls
(Makes 12)

1 clove garlic, crushed
12 rice paper wrappers
24 medium sized green prawns, deveined and washed
1 carrot, peeled and shaved into ribbons 
Half a papaw, peeled and sliced
Half an avocado, sliced
Juice of half a lime
Half a bunch of coriander

*For grown up version, add:
6 shallots (scallions), halved length ways and then chopped in two to make 12 halves
Thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, grated
One Birdseye chilli, deseeded and finely sliced

Dipping sauce: 
Juice of half a lime
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon of brown sugar

Sauté garlic in a tablespoon of oil (I used coconut oil) on medium high heat until just fragrant. 
Add prawns and stir fry for three or four minutes until cooked (just firm and colour has changed to a coral pink). Place prawns on a plate and set aside until cooled.
Prepare carrots, papaw and avocado. Drizzle lime juice over papaw slices.
Soak each rice paper wrapper one at a time in a pan of warm water for 5 seconds and then lay flat on a chopping board and leave for 30 seconds to soften.
Place coriander leaves in centre of wrapper in a line, slightly overhanging the top. Leave about 2cm of space at the bottom for rolling.
Place a carrot ribbon on top, followed by slices of papaw, avocado and two prawns.
Roll up tightly from one side, stopping halfway to fold and tuck in the bottom.
Serve with dipping sauce.

For dipping sauce, mix all ingredients in a small bowl. 

* For grown up version, add ginger and chilli to the prawns when stir frying. Add shallots to the rolls when assembling.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Red Papaya, Lime and Coconut Cheesecake with Lime Syrup

To me, this cheesecake tastes of summer and Bali. Summer, because it's tropical and bright, and Bali because it was there, feasting on exotic fruit every morning, that I really grew to like the unusual flavours of papayas and papaws.

I like papayas best. They are sweet and floral and taste amazing with lime and anything salty. They do have a distinctive and acquired smell, so be prepared for some sweaty sneakers jokes from any kids around. Just tell them to be adventurous and if they never tried anything, they wouldn't have discovered chocolate. Don't tell them papayas are a thousand times better for them than chocolate, or it will be game over. And I mean really good for them - and us of course! The fruit is rich in Vitamin C and potassium, it contains beta-carotene for healthy skin and it's a great source of fibre.

When cut, papayas are a vibrant coral colour - yep, like a sunrise - and I thought they would look gorgeous sliced and arranged on top of a creamy baked cheesecake. They pair beautifully with South East Asian flavours, so I have used lime and coconut in the cheesecake, and the base is made from Gingernut bickies. Finished with a drizzle of tangy lime syrup, it's my ideal papaya dessert, and a great way to introduce your family or guests to something a little bit different. Fancy even!

To learn more about #aussiepapaya or #aussiepapaw visit

Red Papaya, Lime and Coconut Cheesecake with Lime Syrup
(Serves 16)

200g Gingernut biscuits
40g desiccated coconut
120g butter, melted

250g fresh ricotta cheese
500g cream cheese at room temperature
150 ml coconut cream
225g caster sugar
2 tablespoons cornflour
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of one lime
1 red papaya
Edible violets to decorate *

Lime Syrup:
100g caster sugar
Juice and zest of one lime
1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 180C.
Grease and line the base and sides of a 23cm springform tin with non-stick baking paper.
Blitz biscuits and coconut with a food processor until they resemble fine breadcrumbs. Pour into a bowl and mix in melted butter. Press mixture into the base of prepared tin and smooth with the back of a spoon. Bake for 10 mins.
Reduce oven to 160C.
For the filling, process all ingredients except the papaya and violets with a food processor until smooth. Use a spatula to scrape the mixture down the sides of the bowl and process again until it is perfectly smooth. Whisk out any stubborn lumps. Carefully pour the mixture into the tin on top of the base. Bake for 55-60 mins or until the edges are golden brown and there is a slight wobble in the centre. Cool in the tin and then place in the fridge until cold.
To assemble, remove cheesecake from tin and place on a serving plate or cake stand.
Now to make the lime syrup. Place caster sugar, lime juice, zest and water into a small saucepan and stir gently over medium high heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture begins to boil. Stop stirring and simmer for 3 mins. Remove from heat and leave to cool.
Slice papaya in half and remove the seeds and skin from one half. Slice the peeled fruit thinly and arrange the slices on top of the cheesecake, starting from the edges and working in.
Drizzle lime syrup in large circles on top of the papaya slices with a teaspoon and finish with scattered edible violets.
Cheesecake can be made a day ahead, but assemble the fruit and make syrup on the day of serving.
*Edible violets and other edible flowers are available from select Farmers Markets. I bought my violets, produced by Darling Mills Farm, from Orange Grove Markets in Rozelle, Sydney.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Road Trip: Adelaide to Sydney

There is something so liberating about a road trip. That feeling of throwing your head scarf into the wind. I don't wear nearly enough head scarves, but I did recently hop a plane to Adelaide on a Friday afternoon without my kids and husband, and it felt almost the same. Not so much joy, but sheer weightlessness. It was beautiful for about a half hour, before I started missing them. When I'd finished shopping. 

I was on my way to meet my Mum in Adelaide. She was in the middle of a road trip to explore Kangaroo Island with her friend Deb (wearing Thelma & Louise T-shirts no less). After the island, Deb had to get back for work so I flew down to share the drive home to Sydney. 

Mum put me in charge of choosing a couple of places to stay along the way and then I guess she crossed her fingers because my efforts as travel agent in the past have been a bit hit-and-miss. I once booked the wrong date for a water taxi in NZ and the whole family was left shivering on a wharf in the middle of the Malborough Sound as dark fell. These days, I'd Instagram it. It's a pretty place. Back then, no one saw the funny side for a long time.

My Mum and I have done some fantastic trips together. We're good travel mates and she doesn't look at me funny any more when I plan our stops around what restaurants and cafes I want to visit. She has been doing a few road trips lately so I bought her a book, Gourmet Touring Around Australia, to take on this one. You know, so she could do her own little version of Food Safari. Maybe she didn't quite get the point because she left it at home. So I went to her house and got it and brought it with me on the plane.

As much as we both would've loved swanning around the Barossa Valley for the weekend, we had 1500kms to cover in two and a bit days, which meant we swept through the Barossa after 45 minutes and entered the Riverland as the sun began to set.

This is old bushranger country, red-earthed and knarled but with its own spooky beauty. It follows the Murray River and its network of backwaters, and is renowned for its bountiful crops, orchards and vineyards. Also, birds. Native ones. The wetlands and their eerie, finger-like trees are home to a lot of them. If you're into bird watching, this is the perfect place for you. I prefer to admire anything with feathers from a (significant) distance or at least be separated from it by a pane of glass. With this in mind, choosing to stay right on the water at Pike River Villas was risky.

But I took one look at the view and got over the phobia. It was so quiet. The sort of quiet where you can hear a hush of breeze before you feel it. And the morning light was so clear, and the air so clean, it felt good just to breathe. And slow down a little.

The villas were exactly what we were after - big luxurious log cabins in the middle of nowhere. We stayed in the Water apartment, which had two bedrooms off a main living area and a fully equipped kitchen with provisions for a simple breakfast. I especially liked the bathrooms, off each bedroom, with their stone and timber details and huge rain shower heads. The power and water supplies to the villas and the nearby Woolshed are powered by an onsite solar farm, so I could feel good about standing under said shower. The views of the river from the outdoor decks are lovely and each villa has a private jacuzzi. I know, fancy! If you are looking for a bit of romance after a hard day's vineyard hopping, Pike River ticks all the boxes.

Pike Creek Rd
Lyrup, SA

Day two, we headed over the border into Victoria and drove for an hour or so past countless roadside stalls and honesty boxes with their little blackboards shouting of almonds, olives, all manner of citrus fruit, table grapes and honey. If it wasn't for the dead straight road and the odd gum tree, we could've been somewhere in Tuscany. There was even the occasional fountain.

We stopped in Mildura for our morning coffee fix. The Touring Guide pointed us to Stefano's cafe/bakery and instantly proved it was worth its baggage weight. Stefano de Pieri, chef and author of A Gondola on the Murray, is an institution in this town, along with his restaurant and bakery. 

A latte and a delicious cannoli (one end filled with vanilla custard, the other chocolate) was not enough. I had to have some of their house baked beans with bacon and poached eggs. They were pretty fabulous, in their terracotta bakeware, eaten in the sun under a canopy of red and orange leaves. I could've been greedy Miss Piglet and bought one of everything in the cabinet (I still regret not trying the coffee cake) but instead we were sensible and left with takeaway ham, salad and chutney rolls. I did grab a jar of Stefano's beetroot and apple relish and a tub of famed Murray River pink salt, both of which I have been putting to good use ever since.

For our second night, I chose the charming Wisteria Cottage in Narrandera, in the NSW Riverina. With not much going on in town, we decided on a simple pizza from Venice Pizza in the main street and settled into the cozy living room in front of the TV with a bottle of Tasmanian Pinot Noir and a huge pile of the owners' Vogue Living magazines. Mrs Owner is an interior designer with her own rather fabulous homewares store on the QLD Sunshine Coast, and her taste is impeccable. Look at the pretty...

It was like staying in an outpost of The Country Trader for the night. The two bedrooms were large and beautifully furnished with rustic, homely pieces. I very much liked the huge fluffy towels and handmade soaps. It's the little things, isn't it. After a good sleep in our queen beds, we woke refreshed and ready to tackle the home stretch back to Sydney. We bought our own breakfast supplies this time and were soon on our way, once again in search of coffee. 


Absolutely nothing was open on a Sunday morning in Narrandera, so we drove towards Wagga Wagga and deferred to the ever-wise Touring Guide which pointed us to Premium Coffee Roasters, a little cafe tucked in a back street with a sort of cult following. The coffee was good and strong, and we felt quite hip and in-the-know as car loads of locals kept pulling up.

On we drove, and in between hours of girly gossiping and empire building, we ate cold pizza somewhere around Goulburn on the freeway. And then it was time to pull in and recharge in the Southern Highlands.

We stopped in Berrima because of its proximity to the freeway, which is very close, but you'd never know it. I'm going to sound like I need a grey rinse, but how lovely is Berrima! The little village is packed with homewares, foody and antique shops, and loads of cafes. We had afternoon tea at Stones Patisserie, a french-inspired bakery/tea room opened earlier this year by chefs Mark and Megan Stone, and I was in pastry heaven. Fresh hot jam doughnuts rolled in sugar sat across from chunky dark chocolate brownies which were next to a pile of peanut butter chocolate s'mores. My goodness. It's a testament to how much I can't resist a fluffy looking scone that we opted to share a Devonshire tea. 

The scones didn't disappoint. We took the peach Danish thingy home because sometimes, particularly after sitting in a car all day, I have to put a leash on my inner Miss Piglet. Also in the doggy bag: one of those doughnuts and a peanut butter s'more for Mr LP as a small thank you and a sweetener for next time. I hear Margaret River or Tasmania could be on the cards!!