Monthly Archives: August 2015

Vitrine’s Pancakes

When we were in San Francisco last month, we stayed at the Saint Regis hotel, which was excellent. Their breakfast restaurant was very good, and the pancakes were amazing, so fluffy and light. I asked if they wouldn’t mind sending me the recipe, and they did. It was a little light on detail so it took me a couple of goes; the first time they were delicious but denser than the ones we had. The second time I tried them with 00 flour and they came out really light (I also think I overworked the batter on the first go).  Using a small ladle, I got 12-14 pancakes. We drizzled on some of the maple syrup we got in Miami – seriously good stuff, wonder if they’ll send it to Australia.


5 egg whites
pinch of salt
4 egg yolks
375g buttermilk
10g vanilla extract
350g plain flour
100g caster sugar
13g baking powder

Making them

1. In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar and baking powder
2. In a separate bowl, combine egg yolks, buttermilk and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients, and gently combine with a wooden spoon, do not overwork.
3. Beat the eggwhites and salt until soft peaks form. Gently fold into the batter, again being careful not to overwork.
4. Heat a pan on low/medium heat, grease with butter, and using a ladle or desired utensil spoon on the batter. Flip once bubbles appear on the top. Serve with icing sugar, jam, maple syrup or desired flavour.

Tips for Travel with Kids


As you may imagine, with newborn twins, I didn’t venture too far in the early days. When at home, in the comfort of my house and carefully orchestrated routine, I found it fine and very manageable, and I must admit, a little boring (it was while on maternity leave that I discovered internet shopping). But going out on my own during the day with two babies, even up to a café or for a stroll, with all the packing and loading and unloading, was just exhausting. Plus the boys were terrible pram sleepers, they wanted their bed, so going out was often not peaceful.

Once past that tumultuous initial twin year, it was time to travel. Gingerly at first, short flights to the Gold Coast, Palm Cove, Port Douglas, then bravely moving on to Thailand and Hawaii. In those early days we’d fly to one spot, park ourselves there, and come home ten days or two weeks later. We didn’t really start the “city hopping” type travel till the strollers were ditched and the boys were happy to walk, eventually hitting mainland USA (tips for Disneyland in this post) and finally, Europe. I saw plenty of travellers in crowded cities like Paris and New York with small children and big prams – they are more courageous people than I was. But hey, twins gives you a slightly different view of life!

So here are a few things I’ve learned along the way. Some of these are general tips and not specific to children, but hopefully they’ll make your family adventure a little smoother. In no particular order

1. Bring a comfort item from home for bedtime. When the boys were little, it was a small blue blanket that they always slept with. These days it’s one of their plush character toys. In an unfamiliar hotel room or house, a little slice of familiar home can make bedtime easier.

2. Buy bright caps for the kids to wear when you are walking around. On our last few trips the Marito and the boys have worn their treasured bright red Ferrari caps. They walk faster than I do, so I would just look for the little three red hat cluster, it made it easy to track them down. This also comes in handy on the beach and in parks.

3. Once the kids start writing, get them to keep a little travel journal where they can write something every day. When they had just started school this was just one sentence every day, but on our recent USA trip it was pages.   They are something to treasure but also they are often hilarious, reading descriptions and perspectives from a child’s eyes.

4. Where possible, book an overnight flight. The kids get on the plane, have something to eat, watch a movie and then have a good chunk of sleep. I also bring their PJ’s onto the plane to change into to help them get into a sleep mindset. Even though they are older now, day flights are still a bit of a challenge and seem interminable to them.

5. Pack a change of clothes for the kids on your carry on luggage – accidents and travel sickness happen.

6. Tie a bright ribbon or something unusual onto your checked in luggage – makes it much easier to identify in that sea of black on the carousel!

7. If you are staying somewhere more than a few days, try and find accommodation with a kitchenette. There are lots of hotels and resorts with kitchenettes these days, otherwise there are serviced apartments and of course Air BnB. I don’t like eating out for three meals a day and I don’t think kids can handle it either. This is especially so if you are travelling with toddlers, or a baby that needs pureed food.

8. If you do plan to eat out, contact the hotel in advance of your trip and ask for suggestions of family friendly restaurants, they are always happy to help. Then you can check out menus and locations in advance. OpenTable is fantastic for restaurant bookings in the US, or often the concierge will happily make bookings for you.

9. Another tip for eating out, bring something small to entertain the kids – and by this I don’t mean electronics. We do not let the boys bring their Ipads to restaurants, they can bring some pencils and paper or a small toy; it helps the time pass while they are waiting for their food, or if we have two courses and they only have one. Or, they can talk to their parents!

10. Make sure you take kids Panadol/Nurofen, bandaids, or other key medical items

11. Other things that come in handy – scissors (check in luggage), sticky tape (you never know what you’ll find that you want to pack and bring home!), zip lock bags. Any toiletries that may be prone to leaking, put them in a zip lock bag before putting them into your toiletry bag. I also always take washing powder and disposable gloves. Hotel laundry prices are just horrendous and I can’t fathom paying them. Otherwise look for a Laundromat.

12. I’ve discovered that a lot of hotels don’t have interconnecting rooms, particularly in Europe (or if they do they are extremely expensive). Some hotels do have “family rooms” which sleep 4 or 5 but there aren’t a lot of these so they tend to book out quickly. Plan ahead.

13. If your budget allows, book a driver at your foreign destination to pick you up at the airport.  After a long flight, it is nice to have someone waiting who will haul the luggage and not have to find a taxi queue and just be deposited at your hotel.  You can find plenty of companies on the internet that do this (such as Execucar  in the US) or a travel agent can organise it for your; I generally find that if you organise it through your hotel it is a lot more expensive

14. If you’re doing a country hopping type trip which involves filling out lots of arrival cards with passport numbers, get a business card size piece of cardboard, write everyone’s passport number and expiry on it, and keep it in your wallet. It is a much easier thing to reference and much quicker than opening individual passports

15. Accept the fact that meltdowns will happen. They are kids and they are out of their familiar routine. I remember when the boys were three and we were coming back from Hawaii. It was a day return flight, they were tired and cranky, and our luggage took what seemed like forever to come out of the carousel. The boys went a bit bezerk. Do you best to distract them and calm them down, but don’t do nothing. There are other people around – it is not about what they think of you as a parent, it’s about common courtesy and consideration for others.

16. Line up a home grocery delivery to coincide with your arrival at home. That way you won’t have to scramble up to the shops as soon as you get home to get bread, milk, eggs and other basics.

17. Last of all, have fun! These are treasured family memories.

An evening with George Calombaris

He’s a pretty chirpy bloke, our George. And what’s not to be happy about, with a string of hit restaurants, a hugely popular TV show, and getting to do what he loves every day. “I’m pretty lucky” he tells us, standing in his Projects Kitchen, a small experimental space where he and his team combine science with creativity and the whimsical. And indeed it does look like a bit of a science lab with centrifuges and distillers, and a couple of oversized operating table type lights he tells us he got from a hospital in Brisbane.pressclub (12)

He’s hanging on to fine dining –the decline is a global trend not just an Australian one in his view – loving that it enables him to test the boundaries of what is possible with food, to take simple childhood memories and turn them into something new and inspired. He tells us of one afternoon when he walks into the Projects Kitchen and finds Luke Croston, his head chef, trying to make a cocktail that comes down a long string.

While he and Luke are chatting to us, along with one of his waitstaff from Press Club – who incidentally, are an impressive and incredibly professional lot – they whip up some goodies. Luke comes up with a meringue (created using dry ice) rolled in beetroot then puffed wild rice on the outside, while George gives us these delicious little lollipops of chicken liver mousse, which he pipes onto another piece of heavy duty science equipment which freezes them almost immediately. If only Chupa Chups were like this.

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After having a chat and a bit of a laugh, we move next door into the Press Club. He renovated in late 2013, with a bit of musical chairs – putting Gazi in the large space where Press Club used to be, and turning what was a bar into the intimate fine dining space which became Press Club mark two, a degustation only 38 seater.

We start off with the “Hills Hoist” series of snacks – George tells us it is a throwback to his childhood, when he used to get in trouble from his mother for running around pulling the clothes line. Working our way along the pegs we find a sweet potato crisp, puffed black rice puff with miso melitzanosalata (my favourite), kolrahbi, pear and walnut cone, sesame pastelaki with fennel seed fetta, and finally a saganaki crisppressclub (1)

Of course one of our group (not naming any names Ed) can’t resist doing this…..pressclub (2)

We then move to one of my favourite dishes of the night, a crunchy black taramosalata with fine ribbons of cuttlefish.  I love the contrast in texture and the flavour combination.pressclub (4)

The vegetarian option is eggplant done with sagepressclub (3)

Meanwhile, through a small window we see the kitchen is running like clockwork. From the outside, it seems intense yet calm and measured, everyone knows exactly what they are doing and does it with precision.pressclub (13)

Our next course is prawn with almond milk and strips of whitebait.  The mosaic type layer on the plate looks like octopus but is in fact finely sliced prawn.  It gives the previous dish a run for its money.pressclub (5)

Then we have the Greek Green Salad that appeared in Masterchef. A few of the table proclaim this their favourite, saying that they’d never had good tasting Brussel sprouts before, but for me it had pretty steep competition from the dishes above.pressclub (6)

Our last course at Press Club is the Winter Greek Salad (Horiatiki) with some wagyu braesola. George tells us that his traditional Greek customers that come in often give him a hard time. Where’s the tomato, they ask him, Greek salad must have tomato. Like most chefs George runs with seasonal produce, and you won’t find good tomatoes in Winter. “But Coles has them”, his cheeky Greek clients quip.pressclub (7)

Our final stop that night is Gazi, his thumping Greek street food venue; it is constantly busy, and it is most likely this that funds the fine diner and the Projects. We are all really full by now and can’t imagine eating the nicely sized soft shell crab souvlaki that is placed before us. But then we all take a bite and realise how delicious it is, and proceed to polish it off. Such feather light pita, crispy crab and a great sauce, I love it.pressclub (8)

We are seriously bursting now, but there’s a grain salad, some tuna done on the woodfire gril, some chicken done on the spit and chips sprinkled with feta.pressclub (10)

And finally a Bombe Metaxa, theatrically set alight at the table.pressclub (11)

…with an Espressotini to wash it all down. It’s a great night of Greek hospitality, which is what fundamentally George wants to share with his guests, whether its street food or high end. We look forward to seeing what he comes up with in Sydney at his Surry Hills venue mid next year.pressclub (9)


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Beverly Hills & Los Angeles, California

losangeles (6)This post is based on more than one visit. Whenever we go to the USA, we inevitably fly home out of LA, so always do 2-3 days there before heading home. I must say I do like the vibe of LA, entrenched as it is in movies and TV; everyone you meet is connected to it in some way, or wants to be in it. Lots of happy, smiley people – must be all that blue sky and sunshine  – or they hope that you’re someone who’ll ‘discover’ them. With generally lovely weather all year round, it makes a great last stop before leaving the US.losangeles (11)

Then of course there’s the famous Rodeo Drive…..losangeles (3)

….and the Beverly Wilshire where “Pretty Woman” was set. We have stayed there and the service is excellent.losangeles (2)

The Badgely Mischka store is the site of the “Big Mistake. Huge” scene.losangeles (8)

The first time we went we did this awesome three hour tour with a guide called “LA Story”, who had lots of interesting stories to tell and taking us to the major sights.  We started off with the Dolby Theatre where they hold the Oscars.

You can see they are planning to hold the Oscars here for decades to come – plenty of blank spaces waiting to be filled.losangeles (17) The stars go for a few kilometres – there are over 2,500 of them.losangeles (16)

In the front of the Chinese Theatre (where the Oscars were originally held) there are all the concrete handprints.  The Marito perfectly matched Arnold Schwarznegger – I am not sure if that is good or bad.losangeles (15)

The guide also took us up to a very pretty spot called Greystone Mansion, which isn’t visited a lot – in fact there was no one there at all where we went. Plenty of films have been shot here.losangeles (18)

Next we went for a drive around Hollywood and Beverly Hills checking out mansions like this one.  There are some incredible houses…..losangeles (7)

….and also some slightly weird oneslosangeles

And of course up to the Hollywood sign – you can’t get very close as the security is tight, but there are some great spots for photos.losangeles (5)

Though apparently you have to be careful!losangeles (4)

There’s also the Santa Monica Pier; yes it is touristy, but it’s still lovely for a wander.
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And if you’re up for theme parks, of course there’s Disneyland and Universal Studios.

Tips for Disneyland
losangeles (1)I never went to Disneyland as a kid so went as an adult with my own kids. I didn’t have high expectations actually and I had a total blast! Here are a few (hopefully useful) tips:

1. Try and stay at the hotels on the Disneyland resort complex – either the Disneyland Hotel or the Grand California (but note they tend to book out a long time in advance). Why? A few reasons. First, it’s a nice stroll from there to the park so you don’t have to get a shuttle; on the way you’ll pass plenty of cafes and restaurants and a few stores. Secondly, staying at one of these hotels lets you enter Disneyland or California Adventure Park (note these are two parks next to each other in the grounds), an hour before general admission. We actually ended up going on some rides early in the morning before breakfast, there were no queues at that time. Third, if you don’t want to walk to the park from your hotel, show your room key and you can get the monorail which drops you off inside the park, so you don’t have to go through the (sometimes very long) queues at the entry.  And finally, if you buy items at the stores, several stores will send them to your room for you, rather than having to carry them around all day.

2. Be prepared for the fact that the food inside the park is generally horrendous and very expensive. I think you can bring your own, but not sure what condition it would be in after some roller coasters and on a hot day!

3. Wait till your kids reach 125cm (my personal opinion). I saw loads of people with smaller children and toddlers and strollers, and sure there is stuff for them to see and do, but they can’t go on many rides if they aren’t at this height.  If you have kids of varying ages and one is smaller, one parent ends up going on the ride with some kids while the other one waits with the younger child – not quite as much fun!

4. Take note of which rides offer a “Fast Pass”. The queues for the popular rides can be astronomical, so some have a Fast Pass option which allows you to go down the “fast” queue. Just go up to the Fast Pass kiosk for that ride, scan your Disney admission pass, and it will allocate you a specific time for the ride and a ticket. When it gets to that time, go to the ride, present your Fast Pass, and you get to go down the very short and quick queue. Note that you can’t just wander around collecting Fast Passes for every ride one after the other; once you have used one Fast Pass ticket you can get another one for the next ride. There are a limit to the number of Fast Passes per ride, so often your allocated timeslot might still be a few hours away.

5. If you go pretty full on, in three days you can do most of Disney (assuming you won’t want to go on every single ride) and have a wander through California Adventure Park; the latter has a lot less rides. We found three days enough, but if you want to take your time, go for a 5 day pass.  The “Park Hopper” ticket allows admission to both.

6. Disneyland does not have a ‘low season’ – it is ALWAYS busy!

7. Rides not to miss – the “mountain” rides (Ice Mountain, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain); Indiana Jones; for Star Wars fans Star Tours is great. In California Adventure Park we loved Soarin’ Over California and the Grizzly River Run is fun

8. Various hotels and restaurants in the theme park offer “character breakfasts” where Disney characters are wandering around at breakfast entertaining the children. These are ridiculously expensive. Plenty of characters wandering around the park you can take photos with so I don’t think this is essential.

Universal Studios
Unlike Disneyland, it’s a fairly small park and a day here is enough. If you pay extra there is a “front of line” pass which lets you skip the queues – the wait times for some of the rides on the day we were there were well over an hour. Next year the Harry Potter ride opens and queues will be even bigger.losangeles (9)

The backlot tour is very cool. All the sets are fake – made out of plastic and wood. Some of the building facades are roll on fibre glass, and the buildings are narrow and not at all full size. Clever camera perspective makes them appear much bigger.losangeles (21)

For instance the Psycho house is really small in real life!losangeles (23)

Sets get used and re-used with a bit of tweaking so that you don’t recognise them from previous films. Here is the Back to the Future set which has been used many a time. The gazebo was used more recently in Saving Mr Banks.losangeles (20)

You’ll see how they create a flood….losangeles (19)

And the fake subway that was first built for Boneslosangeles (10)

And the War of the Worlds set that took nine months to build for less than five minutes of film timelosangeles (25)

We also got to go into the prop room which was very cool. It’s a four level building, with larger stuff like furniture down the bottom, and tiny things – as small as hair clips – on the upper levels. You’ll see “hold” signs throughout where various shows have reserved an item.losangeles (22)losangeles (24)

Where to eat in Beverly Hills
We’ve tried quite a few places, from casual to high end. For casual and family friendly Italian, try Il Fornaio or Il Pastaio in the heart of Beverly Hills. For something a little fancier, try Mario Batali’s Osteria Mozza – sophisticated environment, excellent service, and some great food. I particularly liked the duck “alla mattone”. For steak Wolfgang Puck’s Cut is renowned, and it is very good with very attentive staff, but comes at a price. Ivy, the supposed celebrity haunt, was a big miss on the food, even though the surrounds are pretty – overpriced and overhyped, even though every guide book suggests it. Villa Blanca, apparently owned by one of the Real Housewives, is pleasant, sit on the verandah and people watch. Scarpetta has also opened in Beverly Hills – if it is anything like Scott Conant’s New York one, it will be worth a visit. For a sweet treat after dinner in Beverly Hills there’s plenty to choose from on South Santa Monica Boulevard – Sprinkles for cupcakes, then Sprinkles Ice Creamery, the Ice Cream Lab for liquid nitrogen ice cream, Sugafina for pretty sugary things, and then Italy’s Amorrino Gelateria, which is great quality gelato.  I have heard the Grand Central Market in downtown LA is great, but ran out of time.

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In my (overseas) kitchens, August 2015

Whenever we travel, if we are staying in one place for more than three days, I like to try and find accommodation with a kitchenette. I just can’t handle eating out for three meals a day, day after day. Sometimes a bowl of cornflakes rather than a big cooked breakfast does the trick. And when you are visiting somewhere like Italy, where there are fabulous delicatessans and food markets (like in Florence for instance), buying local produce and preparing a simple meal is the business! So on our recent trip, in both Miami and Turks & Caicos, we had a kitchenette. And here is a glimpse into those kitchens.

In my Miami kitchen is an Illy pod coffee machine. Very cool. We also had this same machine at the house we rented in Greece last year. The Marito is Head of Caffeine in our house, and we don’t function without our morning espresso so it was great to have this.imkaug (2)

Freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. The hotel left this for the kids. They were delicious (I had to taste test to make sure they were ok for the kids to eat), reminded me of a recipe in one of Mamma Rosa’s cookbooks that I used to make, must track it down.imkaug (1)

For the grown ups, some lovely Laderach Swiss chocolates.imkaug (4)

In my Miami kitchen is a Sub Zero fridge.  These are apparently the Rolls Royce of fridges.  I’m guessing they are cheaper in the US, in Australia they are the price of a small car.  The way the circulate air – or something – is meant to be very good for food preservation, leading to less waste.imkaug (6)

In my kitchen were some basics for some sandwiches for the boys, bought from the deli up the road.  Everyone in the deli just spoke Spanish, pointing did the trick.imkaug (5)

And some “Grade A” maple syrup for pancakes.imkaug (3)

In my Turks and Caicos kitchen is some butter……from New Zealand.  I go to a tiny dot of an island in the middle of the Carribean and find NZ butter.  It was the only one that was pure butter, everything else at the local supermarket was a blend of some description.imkaug (7)

I also found it interesting that many brands of  American milk heavily marketed that they had Vitamin D.  I know in Australia we have a big Vitamin D deficiency issue, same elsewhere?imkaug (10)

Some local produce.  In Turks it only rains about 8 days a year, hence they don’t grow much and most food is imported (and expensive).  So I was happy to buy some “Provo grown” tomatoes and cucumber.  The avocado was from the US though.imkaug (9)

In my Turks and Caicos kitchen is spaghetti and sauce.  The Napoli boys can’t go too long without their pasta, no matter where we are in the world.imkaug (11)

While cooking, I was flipping through the local real estate magazine – the properties ranged from $500,000 to $25 million.  Wow.imkaug (8)

Thank you as always to Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for hosting.