The Alchemy of Autumn

If you were hanging about Little Wanderings this time last year, or happen to follow me on Instagram – you probably have an inkling that I have a certain fondness for Autumn. It is, without question, my favourite time of year. It feels magic. The reds and golds that blaze through the trees signal a seasonal alchemy that sets my little creative soul alight. 

Little Wanderings - The Alchemy of Autumn 1

Autumn means beautiful, brilliant change. I am so lifted and inspired by this season. Almost too much so! I find myself almost overwhelmed by creative desire at the moment. I want to write. I want to scrapbook all my travel photos. I want to learn how to paint in watercolour. I want to bake delicious new things that make my house smell divine and then curl up on the couch and devour a good book. 

I’m reminded of something that Isobelle Carmody – my favourite author, who I’m lucky enough to have heard speak several times – mentioned during one of her events at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival last year. She said that she sees her creative life as a kind of tapestry. This tapestry is woven with many different creative threads, and she approaches her work by simply pulling on whichever thread will be the most fruitful at the time. This idea really resonated with me, though I think I’m yet to truly develop the intuition – or perhaps discipline – to reach out and run with my own most-fruitful threads. This current burst of Autumnal inspiration has made me realise it’s something I need to work on.

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And follows another piece of Carmody wisdom I seized during the same talk: that there is a time for creative input, and there is a time for creative output. I’d just come back from Europe when I attended this event and was feeling stupidly guilty for not having blogged whilst travelling. This input/output notion hit a nerve, and I brought it up later with Isobelle when I got to the front of the signing line. She urged me not to feel guilty; instead I must surrender to those input periods (in this instance, travelling) in order to truly take everything in – so that later, when the time does come for output, I am truly primed to draw on that experience during the creative process.

Autumn is one grand, tangible transition – and right now I get the feeling that it’s also a transition from a high-input period to a high-output period for me. It does make a natural kind of sense, I suppose. The cooler weather is certainly more conducive to days inside tinkering on little projects than the adventuresome call of summer sunshine. It feels like a kind of reverse hibernation, and I’m excited to wake up and see what I can create. x

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

Fodder for Failure

A couple of weeks ago I came upon the most gorgeous-looking recipe for Oven-Poached Quince from an equally gorgeous Melbourne-based food blog. I was mesmerised. The blogger sang of the riches of seasonal Autumn produce, the heady aroma of simmering spices and the generous ruby-red reward after hours of slow cooking. I was thrilled to try it. I’d not eaten poached quince before, but as a raving fan of quince paste, jam and jelly – I was delighted by the wonderfully arcadian idea of popping a few oven-poached quince wedges into my porridge each morning. I tracked down fresh quinces at my local organic grocer, almost sliced a(nother) finger off cutting them up, and piled my spices and water and sugar into a cast-iron dish. As the apartment filled with the tantalising scent of anise and cardamom, I started to feel mighty proud of myself.

Six hours later, however, when I lifted the dish from the oven and cracked the lid – my stomach fell with that dreaded ‘this definitely does not look like the picture’ feeling. Instead of plump, ruby-red pieces in a vibrant, juicy syrup – I had a thick, sticky mess highly reminiscent of True Blood -esque vampire remains.

My quince caper was a total failure.

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I’ll admit, the whole thing left me feeling very disheartened. For some reason, this didn’t just feel like a stuff-up. It was a failure. There would be no wedges of oven-poached quince in my porridge, and the tentative blog post I was excitedly dreaming up on seasonal foodie adventures was now kaput. I’d spent precious money on fresh fruit and spices, all for nothing. The fact that I’d initially been so thrilled and optimistic now made me feel naive and impostor-like. 

The very next day, I put my apron back on (but very nearly, almost didn’t) to tackle Cupcake Central’s Salted Caramel Cupcakes for the first time as a pre-Easter treat for the Ruby Slipper office. And as I took those cupcakes out of the oven, I felt a little flicker of hope. They looked kinda perfect. I  even took out my camera. Perhaps I’d not lost a blog post after all.

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After making up some salted caramel, my spirits were seriously lifting. I love making caramel – oh, that magical moment when the syrup turns amber, that great puff as you pour in the cream! And what fun it was to cut little cores in the cakes to spoon in hidden caramel pockets, before popping the tops back on. These cupcakes would be my saving grace, I thought.

Moments later, I realised my buttercream frosting had split.

I had no time or ingredients to start again. The frosting was useable – but I couldn’t un-see that ever-so-slight separation of the mixture. And so here it was. Another failure. I did the messiest, most frustrated frosting job I’ve ever done, and poured on some extra salted caramel. As I left home that night for dinner with friends, I messaged Mat – “The cupcakes I made look like absolute arse, I was too frustrated to try one properly before I left so you are welcome to try but the icing is just a giant fail. Not winning in the kitchen lately! :(“

A couple of hours later I received his reply.

“What. Are. You. Smoking. That was delicious. So yum. Yum. Yum. Yum.”

The ladies of Ruby Slipper and friends had rather similar thoughts. Despite my continual apologies for the ugly icing, no-one seemed to care – and in fact insisted I was bordering on delusional. It seemed that while I was determined to sell the cupcakes as a total failure, they were actually a hit. To realise as such was an interesting and perhaps even humbling moment.

Baking blunders certainly aren’t the end of the world. I started this blog as a place to share my explorations and wanderings – but to also share the journey of learning and discovery. Labelling something solely as a failure neglects the importance of the learning experience, and tends to rule out the possibility that something good may indeed still come of it. It’s also an awfully serious way of looking at the world, and I know that’s just not my style. In a world of beautiful blogs and carefully constructed Instagram uploads, it’s easy to imagine that botched quince and split buttercream simply don’t exist. Well, turns out they do. And I’m going to stop beating myself up about it.

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