A Spot of Tea in Sassafras

I’m kinda digging Autumn. A lot. I seriously have to resist the urge to stop and Instagram every gorgeous, fiery tree I see. The incredible colours creeping into the canopies of Melbourne are just magical. I’m not even so bothered by the fall in temperature (though that may have something to do with the semi-smug knowledge that I’ll be in sunny Europe climes for half of winter).  Yes, there’s definitely something about this change of season that actually has me excited to explore the cooler months of Melbourne this year.

My first tip for Wintersome wandering? Sassafras, in the Dandenong Ranges.

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It was an overcast, drizzly Saturday when Mat and I decided to make the trip out to Sassafras. The kind of day you’d not be faulted if entirely spent under a blanket on the couch marathoning Orphan Black. It was a long weekend, however, and we were determined to get and out do at least a little adventuring. We left around noon and within just forty-five minutes the forest of the Dandenong Ranges had closed around us. An incredible mist had settled over the forest; the way the trees sloped away and disappeared into a white fog just metres from the winding mountain road was almost otherworldly. The rain had also given everything the most stunning saturation of colour. I started to think that a trip to this part of greater Melbourne was perhaps even best done on such drizzly days.

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Once arriving in the little town, we beelined for a Sassafras icon: the cutesy Miss Marple’s Tea Room. The old-fashioned English tea house, styled after Agatha Christie’s beloved Marple and her crime-solving exploits, was packed to the rafters and had a lengthy line to wait – so we popped our names on a list and were told to return in an hour.

Turns out an hour goes by very fast in the gorgeous tea shop just next door, Tea Leaves.

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With over 300 tea varieties and blends, coffee beans ground to order and all manners of brewing devices and implements, Tea Leaves is a bounty for hot cuppa folk.  From Black Chilli Cinnamon to Sticky Toffee Pudding, Australia Billy Tea to Gunpowder Mint – we had a blast smelling our way through a heck of a lot of teas. We ended up settling on ‘Blue Mountain’, a China and Ceylon tea blend with a subtle fruity flavour and sprinkled with blue cornflowers. After many a pot of Blue Mountain since, I can confirm it both smells and tastes delightful. With some ground coffee beans and a couple of chocolate freckles to go, our Tea Leaves trip was a fun and fruitful one.

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And so – back to Miss Marple’s. The tea house is quaint and perhaps a little out-dated beyond the theme, but we found it a cosy enough retreat from the weather anyway. To be totally truthful, the lunch items we chose – the fresh chicken, cheese and asparagus fingers, and Welsh rarebit fingers – were ordinary. It would be ‘Miss Marple’s Sundae Best’ that won us over in the end. The tower of vanilla ice-cream, berry sauce, chocolate fudge, whipped cream, toasted almond flakes, strawberries and biscotti that arrived at our table actually prompted an audible gasp from every table around us. It was delicious in a simple, childhood-esque way, and (thanks mostly to Mat) we managed to polish off the whole thing!

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And that was our little Sassafras sojourn. A meandering afternoon trip on a rainy day – and it was kinda perfect. There were no true gourmet finds – perhaps those will come upon return visits. Miss Marple’s was fun to experience, though it would certainly only be that wondrous sundae that would draw us back again. Even their Devonshire scones (strictly no tea included) looked far from the norm (moreso cakey squares cut from a large baked slab) – so next time I look forward to hunting around somewhere new for the famous Sassafras Devonshire tea. This trip was a truly wandersome day – no expectations, just exploring – and we had the best time because of it. It makes me incredibly excited to do more little adventures in and around Melbourne! Not to mention that sunny Europe trip…

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Miss Marple’s Tea Room | 382 Mt Dandenong Tourist Rd, Sassafras, VIC 3787
http://www.missmarples.com.au/
Open | 
Mon – Fri : 11.00am – 4.00pm, Sat – Sun : 11.00am – 4.30pm
No Bookings.

Miss Marple's Tearoom on Urbanspoon

Tea Leaves | 380 Mt Dandenong Tourist Rd, Sassafras, VIC 3787
http://www.tealeaves.com.au/tea-leaves-sassafras/w1/i1004328/
Open | Mon – Sun : 10.ooam – 5.30pm

Raspberry & Innocent Bystander Moscato Sorbet

Last summer Mat introduced me to the wonderful world of homemade ice-cream. With the help of his little Sunbeam ice-cream machine, we happily snacked our way through flavours like chai choc-chip, peppermint, espresso choc-flake and cinnamon frozen yoghurt. Despite the soaring temperatures this year, however, we’ve been very lax in pulling out the ol’ Sunbeam bowl from the freezer. Well, no more! I’ve decided I’m determined to churn out some delicious new creations before the season ends. To kick-start it all off, Mat suggested a delicious twist on a Raspberry-Rosé Sorbet favourite from last summer – and so it was. Introducing: the Raspberry-Moscato Sorbet, using our much-beloved Innocent Bystander Moscato.

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David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop is a veritable bible for home-made ice-cream makers, and his Raspberry-Rosé Sorbet was a smash hit in our line-up last summer. The whole thing became particularly memorable when I Instagrammed the latest batch one night and the man himself chipped in with his endorsement:

 

 

On the other hand, this year Innocent Bystander’s famous moscato has become a delightfully refreshing go-to for hot summer nights. If you’re ever in Healesville in the Yarra Valley, you seriously must go to the Innocent Bystander winery and restaurant. It’s a big, beautiful warehouse-style dining hall that feels industrial yet wonderfully warm and cosy – and most importantly, the food and wine is stunning. We visited again over the New Year’s period and finished off a night of indulgence with a glass of the signature moscato – and so the love affair began. It’s sweet (but not so much to set the teeth on edge) and smooth and packs a candy pink punch – and incorporating it into a favourite sorbet recipe was an exciting prospect indeed.

I actually ended up using Lebovitz’s Raspberry-Champagne recipe – it’s very similar, but makes a smaller batch and includes a little water. Being a bubbly wine, I thought the usage of moscato might need to follow this method too. I could be wrong, but I was very happy with the results – so I suppose that’s all that matters! Lebovitz actually encourages experimentation with the sparkling wine used in this recipe – so definitely have a go at subbing in your own favourite bubbly!

This Raspberry-Moscato Sorbet is an excellent expression of Innocent Bystander Moscato – wonderfully fresh and sweet, with a little hint of tartness that tickles the whole mouth.

Raspberry & Innocent Bystander Moscato Sorbet
Adapted from: David Lebovitz’s ‘Raspberry-Champagne Sorbet’, The Perfect Scoop

during

Makes approx. 500ml (about 3 little bowls of sorbet). Cup measurements according to American standards.

  • 310ml (1 1/4 cups) Innocent Bystander Moscato
  • 60ml (1/4 cup) water
  • 100g (1/2 cup) sugar
  • 220g (2 cups) raspberries, fresh or frozen (I used frozen!)
  1. Add the moscato, water and sugar to a medium, nonreactive saucepan (I used a stainless steel Scanpan saucepan; anything made of stainless steel or lined with stainless steel is fine!). Bring to a boil.
  2. Remove from heat and add the raspberries to the mixture. Cover saucepan with lid and let sit for at least 10 minutes. This allows the raspberries to soften so that you can…
  3. Pour the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl. Use a flexible spatula to press the raspberries through the sieve. This is my favourite part! Keep at it until you’ve pressed through as much juice as you can. Discard the pink lumpy mass of seeds left behind. Give the mixture a little stir to make sure everything is combined well.
  4. Cover the mixture and pop into the fridge until chilled. I left mine for a couple of hours.
  5. Freeze the chilled mixture in your ice-cream machine as per instructions. I use a basic freezer-bowl Sunbeam Snowy machine, and churned the mixture for a good 20 minutes. Because of the alcohol content, it takes on more of a slushie-like consistency – so don’t be too worried if it doesn’t look like it’s freezing enough in this type of machine! It will firm up in the freezer.
  6. Pour sorbet into a container, close and pop into the freezer. I left mine to freeze overnight – though if you’re super keen I’m sure a few hours would do!
  7. Before serving, take out of freezer and let stand for 5-10 minutes (depending on how long it’s been in freezer). Home-made ice-cream and sorbet generally appears to set quite hard, but it softens up quickly and still has an amazing texture.
  8. Enjoy!

after

Innocent Bystander Winery on Urbanspoon

Soumah of Yarra Valley

Discovering the magic of the Yarra Valley was a big highlight of 2013. After an incredible all-day wine tour with Vinetrekker in February, Mat and I found ourselves drawn back time and time again. It’s easy to forget just how close it is – but from Parkville it’s often less than an hour’s drive before the sprawling green vineyards make the big city feel a world away. We recently took the opportunity to spend some time in the Yarra Valley over the New Year period to relax and see in 2014 with our good friends, Food and Wine.

A visit to the Soumah cellar door was recommended to us by Ozzie, one half of a delightful duo that helm Tuck Inn – a gorgeous bed and breakfast in Healesville of which I cannot speak highly enough. Ever eager to make their guests’ stay in Healesville an enjoyable one, Donia and Ozzie are a wealth of knowledge on the area and love to give recommendations and advice on how best to make use of any time in the Yarra Valley. Small and no-fuss, Soumah sounded like the perfect place to begin a lazy day amongst the vines.

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Soumah is located less than ten minutes’ drive from Healesville in the town area of Gruyere. We arrived just before midday and will freely admit to the excitement of finding the place to ourselves!

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The Soumah brand was launched in 2010, and takes on the cool climate of the Yarra Valley with a Northern Italian varietal twist. The winery’s pride at the moment seems to be the award-winning ‘Savarro’ – a white wine made from Savagnin grapes with an interesting story behind its name. As the lovely lady taking us through our wine tasting told, apparently Australian grape farmers and winemakers mistook the Savagnin Blanc grape as another variety, the Albarino, for years! Only recently has it come to light that most ‘Albarino’ vineyards are in fact Savagnin Blanc. The Savarro name gives a nod to both varieties. To be honest I’d not heard of or tasted either – but the 2012 Savarro we tried was a really pleasant change from some other Yarra Valley whites we’d tasted. We ended up buying a couple of bottles ($26 ea.) and some surprisingly delicious Chardonnay cleanskins ($15 ea.) as well.

The cellar door tasting consisted of a generous eight or nine wines, and is free of charge for groups under six. As the only visitors at the time, we were really able to take our time tasting each wine and listen to the story behind each. In the end we picked a glass each of the 2012 Pinot Noir ($10 ea.) and set up on the outdoor seating area with an Italian cheese board of Black Truffle Pecorino, Buffalo Parmigiano, quince jelly, fruit, nuts and lavosh ($18).

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The vineyard view from the outdoor seating area was beautiful, and can definitely still be enjoyed in cooler months from the rear indoor seating area (there’s even a wonderful wood fire for winter visitors!). It certainly depends on what you’re looking for when choosing which wineries to visit in the Yarra Valley, but the quiet, relaxing atmosphere of Soumah is something we really loved. If that sounds like your style – or the Domaine Chandons and Yering Stations of the ‘Valley have simply got you a bit worn out – I’d definitely recommend a trip.

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Soumah of Yarra Valley | 18 Hexham Road, Gruyere, VIC 3770
http://soumah.com.au/
Open | Mon – Fri : 11:00am – 4:00pm, Sat – Sun : 10:00am – 5:00pm

Soumah of Yarra Valley on Urbanspoon

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