The Blue House

A weekend away with girlfriends is something to look forward to. The anticipation of being unfettered and unencumbered by the needs of anyone else is certainly something to be savoured. To be surrounded by friends who know your story, who understand ‘where you are at’, who get your eccentricities, your likes and dislikes, who are aware of your good and bad qualities and yet despite all that; they still want to go away with you. (Either that or they are too polite to disinvite you.)

We met when our (now fifteen year old) babies were merely a few weeks old. From that we formed a Mothers Group. Meeting each week reassured us that we were not alone in this journey called ‘motherhood.’ As time went on, some of our number moved away, changed goals and directions and eventually in the end; four of us remained.

To this day, we still meet for coffee and breakfast once a fortnight. That is not a feat to be sneezed at. The mind boggles at the changes we have experienced throughout these years. The birth of more children, the heartache of no more children, moving away, returning, losing loved ones, sharing the joy and torment that is parenting, grieving the loss of loved ones or of changed relationships, learning more about ourselves, not always seeing eye to eye, laughing our asses off, crying our eyes out, complaining, sharing, oversharing but loving each other regardless.

Whether it be serendipity that we met, a fluke or part of some greater plan; I cannot say. But I am grateful to know each one of these beautiful women. Our annual weekends away are a time of fun, heart to heart discussions, good food, laughs, relaxation and reflection.

This year we booked The Blue House in the beautiful Blue Mountains village of Leura. It is a sweet wee cottage just a mere 15 minute walk from town. The house is set in a delightful old school garden and yes, it is actually painted blue. We found it charming, warm, clean and full of welcoming and thoughtful features. Each and every one of us particularly loved the combustion fireplace and the thoughtfully organised kitchen, full of every utensil or dish you could possibly need. (Not that we really cooked on this visit.)

Two meals were eaten at the consistently good Red Door Cafe in Leura. Their salmon in butter dish and their roast pumpkin and fried egg brunch dish are so delicious that I order one or the other every time we eat there. And the coffee is darned good too.

We visited Josophan’s for their amazing chocolate, ice-creams and bags of cooking cocoa; watched movies snuggled under blankets, devoured piggy platters of assorted cheeses, dips and suchforth, we sipped good wine, took winter walks, experienced great shopping be it clothing, homewares or food; and ate seriously good Thai takeaway. What else could a woman want? Maybe just an extended visit next time? Two nights is just never enough and there’s nothing wrong with being a little bit greedy.

The Red Door Cafe

Josophan’s Fine Chocolates

Logan Wines

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Leura and Holmcroft

Our brother-in-law had arrived from the UK and after a couple of days hanging in our usual surrounds, we thought it a grand idea to go and visit further afield. It didn’t take long to decide upon the charming village of Leura, set admidst the quintessential Australian bush environment of the Blue Mountains. After investigating accommodation options online until my eyeballs bled, I chose a charming wee cottage named Holmcroft. Staying in another home elsewhere is like trying on a pair of fine, expensive shoes. You get the feeling of another way of life in a place that is different to your own. Yet you are not required to commit to it.

The bones of Holmcroft wrapped themselves around us. Pressed metal walls and ceilings, wide knotted Kauri floorboards and panels of stained glass panels hark back to the early 1900’s. I stared at the ornate ceilings, imagining those who passed through and have long gone back to dust and dirt. So many unspoken stories embedded into the mitochondria of this building. The spoken and the unspoken, I like to think that we also left behind a tiny part of our own story.

Holmcroft definitely harkens back to a more gracious time. When clocks ticked their steady rhythm, fine bone china clinked and heavy fabricked skirts rustled. The house is plenty big enough, four bedrooms are dressed with good quality bed linen, there are two bathrooms, two comfortable decent sized living areas and a lovely verandah for cup-of-tea relaxing. Mod-cons such as central heating, a dishwasher and an updated kitchen are the icing on this vintage cake. The boys ran out their bottled-up energy in the rambling garden, when they weren’t exhausted from the daily walking.

I happily did very little cooking, unless you can call arranging a piggy-platter of tasty nibbles and opening a bottle of fizzy wine actual cooking? Leura was a pleasant ten minute stroll away and we delighted in the heavily blossom laden trees and beautifully maintained gardens we passed on the way into town.

We ate at a number of restaurants and cafes but my highlight was lunch at the Red Door Cafe. I ordered the same dish on two different occasions, it comprised of a wild rice sage and mushroom rosti, chilli and chive fried eggs, sweet roast pumpkin and all topped with a radish, almond, peach and pecorino salad. Whilst it sounds like a bit of a mish-mash, it was incredibly well balanced and completely delicious. Something to attempt replicating at home for sure.

Josophan’s Chocolates was another solid fist punch foodie moment. The boys scoffed decadent brownies, of which we got a tiny nibble. I also purchased a bag of their magnificent Belgian cocoa and may (or may not) have bought a small bag of their hand-crafted chocolates. (Shhh, don’t tell the children or The Yak.) We ate hearty pies in buttery pastry and very good sourdough at Wentworth Bakery. This sometimes grown-up also managed to sneak away for some lovely shopping moments in the lush boutiques that dot the main street.

We walked, talked and enjoyed the jaw-dropping mountain scenery. Whilst extreme heights has never been my favourite, I found myself panicking whenever the boys went too close to the vertigous edge. I tried not to pass on this new found anxiety to the lads. Judging from the way they happily trekked down the cliff face to the closest point of the Three Sisters rock formation, I seem to have succeeded. (Despite my small tantrum at not wanting them to go and storming back up the path so as not to witness their descent. Another chapter to add to my ‘Fine Parenting Moments 101.’)

We read by the fire, ate, drank good wine and made new memories. Although the absence of our Joanne weighed heavily at times we hope that it was a small salve to Rob’s soul to be elsewhere for a while, just as it was for us to spend time with him.

Speaking of leaving a part of us behind, we accidentally left one boys favourite soccer cap and two other items of my clothing at the house. So I guess the old adage of ‘be careful what you wish for’ sometimes does come true. If that is the case, I would like to throw another wish out there, that we come back to visit Holmcroft again and not before too long.

Holmcroft

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Blackheath babes and Vesta

A certain girl, who shall go unnamed (let’s face it, everyone goes unnamed in this blog), recently celebrated a birthday of significance. Maybe this blog should be called The Birthday Blog?

The partying did not stop I tell you. Next on the birthday agenda (far more exciting than a political or meeting agenda) was a girly trip for six, away to the Blue Mountains, just west of Sydney. The funky wee village of Blackheath to be specific. This mountain town is one of my very favourite to visit. (Go on now, I love them all.)

The adorable Blackheath Getaway Cottage is a homey wooden cottage with quaint touches and a stone fireplace. This would have been my fourth stay here. (Shh, don’t tell anyone. I would hate it to become popular.) Cherry blossoms lined the streets and the well known rhodedendron gardens were coming into bloom. This weekend spoke of open fires, champagne and Cuban sandwiches. Fish river coffee and secondhand shops up the wazoo.

Wide greened streets and cookie cutter cottages that you want to shrink, pop in your pocket and take home. A dog show and waratah’s so red, lush and unreal, you think you could have fallen down a rabbit hole into a psychedelic wonderland.

Serious conversation, happy birthday toasts and the kind of ribbing that only a loved one can get away with.

Mountain appropriate glad rags were put on and we trailed out to a celebatory birthday dinner. Our destination was a restaurant that was once the iconic Vulcans and has now morphed into Vesta. Having never eaten at Vulcans, I had no preconceived notion of what this space should be or feel like. It was once the Blackheath Bakery, built in the nineteenth century and was made famous by Philip Searle and Barry Ross in the 1990’s who produced iconic food in the woodfired scotch oven.

Vesta is an intimate, rustic and charming space. The woodfired oven sits at the back of the open kitchen for all to see. This oven is a magical kingdom within itself; producing plates of seasonal, slow cooked food tinged with the smokiness that only real fire can produce.

A ruby red blood orange and Campari cocktail was enjoyed by two of our number and a cracking bottle of Provenance Pinot Gris from Victoria was ordered and promptly consumed. Woodfired walnut bread was dipped in olive oil and dukkah and we nibbled on smoked paprika almonds and marinated olives.

My standout dish was a silky light and rich, twice cooked Manchego goats cheese soufflé. I would walk to the Blue Mountains on burning hot tar just to get this down my gob again. The experience of mopping up that cheese sauce with bread requires a sonnet to be written in its honour and bards to sing to its glory. I appreciated my next dish, lobster tail with a blood orange and chervil dressing with asparagus. It was light and spoke of spring, the perfect dish after the rich soufflé.

I managed to grab a mouthful of the delicately smoky and unctuous Persian lamb ragout with dill rice and the very good ratatouille with polenta and Bulgarian feta. These dishes were also served in the black cast iron pans they were cooked in. What’s not to love about food served right from the belly of the oven? Even the sides were grand. Broccolini with garlic breadcrumbs and crispy oven roasted kipfler potatoes.

Because this was a birthday celebration, one candle holding, embarrassment causing ice-cream bombe comprising of a strawberry sorbet and honeycomb ice cream was ordered. We stuffed a gorgeous tasting spoonful into our straining stomachs. Just another wafer thin slice? I think not. Thank goodness we had the walk back to the cottage.

As we left, Vesta was heaving with a mixed crowd of the older well heeled set and uber-cool young, bearded hipsters. (Well, the blokes were bearded, I didn’t notice any moustachioed chicks.) The only question left to ask is, whose birthday is it next?

http://www.blackheathgetaway.com.au/default.asp

http://www.vestablackheath.com.au

http://www.provenancewine.com.au/get-wines-direct-buy-online/