Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Yarra Valley Wineries (and cheese and chocolate)

My three favorite food/beverage items, hands down, are wine, cheese, and chocolate. So the Yarra Valley wine region is pretty much my utopia. I have wanted to visit for awhile, but it's about an hour outside of Melbourne so it really requires a car. 

Some friends and I took the plunge and rented a car on Sunday for a self-guided tour. Luckily, Katie was willing to test out her left side driving skills and got us there and back without (major) incident. It was a little stressful trying to get out of the city, but once we got to the highway it was pretty much a straight shot. Katie said the hardest part was working the blinkers, as she kept accidentally turning on the windshield wipers. At one point she reverted to the right side of the road out of habit, which I think would be extremely easy to do, but alas we are all still alive. I'm glad she drove and not me! 
Posing with the rental car. 

We drove directly to the Visitor Centre, which was really helpful. We decided to hit a few wineries, then a cheese shop and end with chocolate. First we bought some supplies for a picnic lunch, which we ate at the last winery. 
We bought a loaf of delicious bread and did some wine tasting at a shop in town called Innocent Bystander. They had a really good Moscato that wasn't too sweet, which is pretty rare! 
Here's the view from the first winery, TarraWarra Estate. Their wine was decent, but the views were more impressive.
Michelle and me. 

Next stop was Yarra Valley Dairy, which was the highlight of the trip. They had the most extensive and delicious cheese selection ever, and the lady cut us extremely generous samples! We wanted to buy all of it, but settled on a goat cheese. 
So. Much. Cheese. 
I took this photo out of the car window between stops.  

The second winery we visited was called Sticks. It was the perfect setting for our picnic lunch. 
We sampled all the wine and bought a bottle of the Sauvignon Blac. Side note: it was extremely helpful to have Sylvie, from Belgium, along on this trip to pronounce all the French wine names correctly :). 
The patio at Sticks. 
I may have gone overboard on the pictures! 
Setting up the food
Our cheese selection. The one covered with ash is the one from Yarra Valley Dairy. 
One last photo of the vineyard. 

Our final stop was the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery, where we sampled chocolate and of course got ice cream.
Chocolate Aussie animals! If they weren't $15 I would have bought a few...
The samples...I went back for seconds. And thirds. The place was swarming with kids (who I had to fight off to get to the samples). I guess it's a school holiday right now, but really, when is it not?? I swear these children have a 2-week holiday at least once a month. 
We sat outside on the grass and ate ice cream. 

There was still some time left with the rental car, so we decided to check out the Dandenong Ranges, which is a "mountain range" about 30 minutes from the Yarra Valley. I put that in quotes because they're more like hills than mountains. The terrain actually reminded me a lot of the southern Missouri Ozarks, where we lived before our move to Melbourne. 

It was a pretty drive to the top; the road was lined with vegetation that almost looked like a rainforest. Definitely different from anything I've ever seen. 

We walked around the gardens before heading back to the city. 
It finally looks like spring! 
And here's a somewhat blurry photo of a parrot to end this post! 

If you enjoy wine, cheese, and chocolate (so basically, if you have a pulse) be sure to make the trip to the Yarra Valley! 
Monday, September 29, 2014

Footy Grand Final

Saturday was the AFL Grand Final, which is a pretty big deal in Melbourne. (More about Australian football, or footy.) It's comparable, culturally, to the Super Bowl. And by this is mean that it's an excuse to watch sports and pig out on food and alcohol. Which is exactly what we did. My friend Katie lives in a house in a northern suburb and has space to entertain, so we gathered for brunch at her place prior to the start of the game. We drank mimosas and ate some fabulous food. 
I don't know what these are called but they're Heaven on Earth, made by my friend Lee, who enjoys making sweets but doesn't like to eat them. Is there really a better friend to have than that? I think not! 
These were amazing chocolate chip Madeleines made by Sylvie. 

There was a bunch more food that I didn't get pictures of because I was too busy eating it, but it was all great! We went to a nearby pup around noon in preparation for the 1:30 game. None of us really know much about footy, or particularly cared about the outcome of the game, but in the spirit of all things Melbournian we chose teams to cheer for and had a lot of fun! Since we weren't hardcore enough to arrive hours before the start of the game, we got there too late to get into the main room, so we added on a table in back!
No seats left? That's ok, we'll just move this giant plant to make room. 
In fact, said plant makes a pretty decent coaster! 
Here's the view of one of the rooms in the pub. It was busy but not annoyingly so. We all agreed it was more fun to watch in a place where we could actually sit down than one of the many crowded bars downtown. Apparently there were entire streets where you couldn't even move, and stood shoulder to shoulder waiting to get in to a bar. No thank you...as an intense hater of crowds, I'm glad we chose the low-key option! 
Peter joined after a morning at work! 

The game was between the Sydney Swans and the Hawthorne Hawks. The Hawks upset the Swans and won in what turned out to be a landslide. I have to admit, I didn't pay too much attention to the game. Katie's roommates, however, are die-hard Hawks fans, so they were pretty happy! 
There was a lot of scarf-waving going on.
After the game, we went to get gelato, because why not!? 
We ended the night with a stroll home from Flinders Street Station, during which we witnessed some hilarious antics of extremely inebriated fans. One guy threw a beer bottle into the river in which he had apparently placed a pair of his buddy's sunglasses, who was "going for" the losing team. There was some colorful language in there and it was quite entertaining. One thing I learned, after making the fatal mistake myself, was that "rooting" has an entirely different meaning in Australia. Google it, and then imagine my awkwardness when I asked someone I had just met who they were "rooting for". More appropriate terms are "going for", "cheering for", or barracking, whatever that means. 

All in all, our first Grand Final experience was lots of fun! 
Friday, September 26, 2014

This Post is About Food...Surprise!

If you've followed my blog at all, you know that one of my favorite topics is food. Because it's just SO GOOD here. Peter's boss is in town, so we have been showing her around Melbourne and trying out a couple new places in the process. I have a few places to HIGHLY recommend to anyone in the Melbourne area. Those that are thousands of miles away...don't worry, I've got pictures for you. These food posts exist solely to lure visitors, by the way :). 

We went to Paco's Tacos for lunch today, which absolutely falls into the "hipster taco bar" category Peter dubbed awhile back. I didn't get a picture of my actual food because I ate it too quickly. It was that good. But here's the outdoor seating area.
Tacos seem to be a standard $6 (per taco) which I thought was absurd until I tasted my first hipster taco and realized it was amazing and definitely worth the money. The fish tacos were especially good. 

The other day, we went to LuxBite, which is a cute boutique dessert shop in South Yarra. 
I ordered a raspberry filled chocolate dessert with white chocolate hearts. 
Peter and his boss both had macaroons that they claimed were the best they had ever tasted, so obviously I'll need to go back! 

Another recent favorite is N2 Gelato, which I visited with friends a few weeks ago. 
I have a thing for ordering gelato that incorporates syringes, I guess. N2 is a quirky place and has abandoned the standard table-and-chairs in favor of faux grass. Really. You can kind of see it in the picture below. 
My friend Sylvie and me with our gelato! 

So, if you're around Melbourne, hit up these spots! If you're not, come visit :). 
Wednesday, September 24, 2014


There are some things in Australia that just confuse me. The first time I tried to plug something into an outlet, I turned it on and nothing happened. Frustrated, I unplugged and re-plugged it in about 10 times before deciding it was a bad outlet and moving on to the next one. Same thing. I was just about to call the front desk (this was when we first got here and were staying at the hotel...seems like a lifetime ago) when I spotted a little switch above the outlet. I flipped it, and sure enough, it worked. At first I thought this might be a feature unique to the hotel, but all the outlets I have seen since have to be "turned on" like this. Here's a picture of an outlet in our apartment, switched on. 
I've gotten used to turning on and off the outlets, but am still confused about the purpose behind it? If any Australians are reading this: can I just leave them switched on all the time or will I blow up my apartment if I do that? 

Secondly, and I think this is a European thing as I remember seeing it there too, there are two buttons to flush the toilet. It looks like this 
I've quickly figured out other countries are much more stringent about their water consumption than we are in America, so I assume this is a water saving feature. Apparently one is a half flush and one is a full flush. It seems totally disgusting to me, so I exclusively use the full flush. Enough said. 

By far the strangest feature of our apartment is the dishwasher. Prize to anyone that can spot it in our kitchen: 

Bottom right drawer. That's right. We have what's called a "dish drawer". Needless to say, it's not very big, but it's much better than hand washing everything. 
It's a pretty cool space-saving measure in an apartment that would probably otherwise exclude a dishwasher! 
Monday, September 22, 2014


After visiting the grocery store a few times, I've noticed some interesting differences between food in Australia and America. For instance, most produce seems bigger here (avocados are GIANT) and I cannot for the life of me find sticks of butter, only the block or spreadable kinds. And then there's the prices-don't get me started on that again. But this surprised me the most:
The first time I saw non-refrigerated eggs I was really confused, as it's been drilled into my head that eggs always need to be refrigerated (or else chances are good that you'll face imminent death via salmonella). Well, we have eaten a few eggs now and are happy to report we're still alive. In a strange coincidence, I came across this article the other day that solved the mystery! While Australia is listed as a country that refrigerates eggs, so far I have only seen them either in the produce section or in the bread aisle. 

On a random note, one of the only foods I have found that's cheaper than in the US is artichoke! I got two at the market the other day for .50 each. If that isn't a steal, I don't know what is.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

I Always Come Back to the Lack

We spent the day running errands and picking out some apartment furnishings at IKEA. Before shopping, we stopped off in Prahran for brunch. I chose ISIT Cafe based solely on its inclusion in an article awarding the 10 best avo toasts in Melbourne. Avo toast has become somewhat of an obsession of mine. The food lived up to the hype:  
It. Was. Amazing. The more stuff they pile on, the better! 
Outdoor seating at the cafe. 
Enjoying the beautiful morning! 

We picked up some produce at the South Melbourne Market and then headed to IKEA. We picked out a few pieces of furniture but failed to consider one tiny detail- we don't have a car. So, after going to the warehouse portion and testing out the weight of the items we selected, it became pretty clear that we would need IKEA to deliver them. Fine, except that we didn't have a kitchen table and that was sort of an immediate need. But never fear, the black Lack side table to the rescue! At $7.99, I have to admit that it's quite the steal and, most importantly, small enough to carry on the tram. I am convinced I hold the record for total number of black IKEA Lack side tables ever perchased. I went through at least 4 in college, and we had 2 in our apartment in Springfield. Every time I move, I ditch the Lack side table, thinking it's finally time to upgrade and swearing I'll never need it again, and every time I end up buying a new one. 

I assembled the table while Peter cooked, and we had basil pesto and chicken pasta using ingredients we got at the market. The set up was a little amateur, but hey, it's better than eating on the floor! 
So, once again, I can't shake the black Lack side table. When our actual kitchen table arrives, it will probably be demoted to the balcony. Speaking of the balcony, if you lean over the railing and effectively risk your life, or your iPhone's life in my case, we have a pretty nice view of the bay! 


Welcome! I started Laura and Peter Down Under in July 2014 when my husband and I moved from the States to Melbourne, Australia for his job. I blog about expat life, our travels, food, and whatever else comes to mind. Follow along on our adventures Down Under!



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