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50 Happy Days and what I’ve learned from them

It is now #day52 of #100happydays. I can’t believe I’ve lasted this long.

DAY 2 - #100happydays #yindilah #costco #giantteddy #friends #cute #babes #softtoy  #cuddles #sleepy #shopping (repost credit to @_southeast ) #100happyindienomdays

DAY 2 – #100happydays #yindilah #costco #giantteddy #friends #cute #babes #softtoy #cuddles #sleepy #shopping (repost credit to @_southeast ) #100happyindienomdays

DAY 3 - #100happydays #100happydaysday3 #day3 is #pho with #friends to break up the #workday #lunch #phoma #foma #foodcoma #foodporn #vietnamesefood #omnomnom #nomsandrambles #phove #phocoma #pholove #100happyindienomdays

DAY 3 – #100happydays #100happydaysday3 #day3 is #pho with #friends to break up the #workday #lunch #phoma #foma #foodcoma #foodporn #vietnamesefood #omnomnom #nomsandrambles #phove #phocoma #pholove #100happyindienomdays

When I first heard about the 100 Happy Days Challenge, I wasn’t sure if there was any point in my participating in it for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’m that annoyingly positive person who is happy every day with few (but not zero – I’m only human) exceptions; but because I consider myself as having a calm, inwardly-directed sort of happiness, not derived from any specific excitement or experience, I wasn’t convinced I could think of one tangible or photograph-able thing each day to depict it. Secondly, I’m hopelessly bad at regular Instagram-ing or any sort of routine social media update. I’m online everyday, yes, but I don’t like the pressure of having to contribute or output something everyday.

DAY 8 - #100happydays #100happydaysday8 #day8 #ladydate with @c0uc0u #nomming #gyoza  and #liquidnitrogen #gelato ! #japanesefood #japanese #dumplings #soup  #foodporn #spicy #miso #mushroom #teppanyaki #gyozadouraku #wiat #instafood  #fooddiaries #popcorn #saltedcaramel #chocolatebrownie #thelab #100happyindienomdays

DAY 8 – #100happydays #100happydaysday8 #day8 #ladydate with @c0uc0u #nomming #gyoza and #liquidnitrogen #gelato ! #japanesefood #japanese #dumplings #soup #foodporn #spicy #miso #mushroom #teppanyaki #gyozadouraku #wiat #instafood #fooddiaries #popcorn #saltedcaramel #chocolatebrownie #thelab #100happyindienomdays

DAY 11 - #100happydays #100happydaysday11 #day11 #packing for a #weekend in #Sydney  #trip #holiday #flight #luggage #bag #Sportsgirl #duffel #plaid #purple  #travelpillow #clothes #100happyindienomdays

DAY 11 – #100happydays #100happydaysday11 #day11 #packing for a #weekend in #Sydney #trip #holiday #flight #luggage #bag #Sportsgirl #duffel #plaid #purple #travelpillow #clothes #100happyindienomdays

After thinking it over, however, these turned out to be the precise reasons why I decided to go ahead and take up the challenge. Let’s think about what this whole “100 Happy Days” thing is for. What it is is simply posting a photo each day for one hundred days depicting something that made you happy that day – but why do it? To quote the official website: “while the speed of life increases, there is less and less time to enjoy the moment that you are in. The ability to appreciate the moment, the environment and yourself in it, is the base for the bridge towards long term happiness of any human being.” Upon a first skimming, I thought “oh yeah, it’s saying that people need to take the time to stop and think about how good the little things – the ‘moments’ – in their life can be, as this will help them to achieve happiness… well, I don’t need to do that, I already have happiness.” But then I stopped a beat and tried to recall some of the everyday things that made me a happy person, and they didn’t all immediately leap to my mind. Mostly, I just thought “FOOOOOD! OMNOMNOMNOMNOM!”

DAY 13 - #100happydays #100happydaysday13 #day13 - a #beautifulday in #Sydney today,  just the perfect strolling weather! #koreatown #koreanfood #kimchistew #mandu  #tartan #dress #tartandress #riverisland #ootd #wiwt #instafood #instafashion  #fashiondiaries #chunkycanvasshoes #pittstreetsydney #sydneycbd  #meritonservicedapartments #nomsandrambles #100happyindienomdays

DAY 13 – #100happydays #100happydaysday13 #day13 – a #beautifulday in #Sydney today, just the perfect strolling weather! #koreatown #koreanfood #kimchistew #mandu #tartan #dress #tartandress #riverisland #ootd #wiwt #instafood #instafashion #fashiondiaries #chunkycanvasshoes #pittstreetsydney #sydneycbd #meritonservicedapartments #nomsandrambles #100happyindienomdays

DAY 14 - #100happydays #100happydaysday14 long overdue #catchups with really  #oldfriends. Like, as in, we are #ancient! #Sydney #sydneycentralstation  #friendship #oldtimes #memories #reunion wishing @cherryb33 was here!

DAY 14 – #100happydays #100happydaysday14 long overdue #catchups with really #oldfriends. Like, as in, we are #ancient! #Sydney #sydneycentralstation #friendship #oldtimes #memories #reunion wishing @cherryb33 was here!

The fact is, I am happy and in sync with life because I’m lucky enough to be very content with and secure in myself as a person, and in turn that makes it easier for me to get out of bed and face the world with a sense of safety and a positive energy, embrace most events as essentially positive, and appreciate what my day has to offer. But I’m not aware I’m doing all of this. Or, I know I’m doing it, but I’m not paying attention to what’s actually happening most of the time, and I let too many days slide by because they seem to be routine, when in fact they’re often filled with lots of minor things that keep me in my usually upbeat mood.

That was the first reason why I decided to participate in #100happydays – I already know I’m happy when it comes to the big things in life, but I wanted to pay more attention to the details. That was the big goal.

DAY 16 - #100happydays #100happydaysday16 #day16 #onlineshopping #deliveries of  #cutethings ! #modcloth #puppy #blouse #chiffon #dailylunchdatetopindogs  #betseyjohnson #beminetote #quilted #quiltedtote #handbag #shoppertote #jeffreycampbell #shoop #jcshoop #platforms in #redboxwhite #redshoes #pumps  #tbar #maryjanes #chunkyheel @modcloth #100happyindienomdays #nomsandrambles

DAY 16 – #100happydays #100happydaysday16 #day16 #onlineshopping #deliveries of #cutethings ! #modcloth #puppy #blouse #chiffon #dailylunchdatetopindogs #betseyjohnson #beminetote #quilted #quiltedtote #handbag #shoppertote #jeffreycampbell #shoop #jcshoop #platforms in #redboxwhite #redshoes #pumps #tbar #maryjanes #chunkyheel @modcloth #100happyindienomdays #nomsandrambles

DAY 19 - #100happydays #day19 My favourite thing to do in #Melbourne is trying out  #new #eateries! #mensousai #mugenramenbar #ramenbar #wafu #ramen #dashi  #curry #tsukemen #aburichashu #chashu #pork #housemade #noodles #blighplace  #flinderslane #japanese #japanesefood #foodporn #wiat #instafood #fooddiaries  #nomsandrambles #100happyindienomdays

DAY 19 – #100happydays #day19 My favourite thing to do in #Melbourne is trying out #new #eateries! #mensousai #mugenramenbar #ramenbar #wafu #ramen #dashi #curry #tsukemen #aburichashu #chashu #pork #housemade #noodles #blighplace #flinderslane #japanese #japanesefood #foodporn #wiat #instafood #fooddiaries #nomsandrambles #100happyindienomdays

My other goal: to stop being a commitment-phobe. I’ve never been great with that feeling of obligation and I have years of overdue assignments and turning down personal trainers to prove it; and when it’s a regular commitment, well that’s even worse. Even if it’s enjoyable, I often still have trouble – because the activity is not the point… I just don’t like being told what to do, even if I’m the one who put myself in a position to be told. This is something I’ve never really tried to “fix” about myself, but I’m grown up enough to start trying.

As a bonus goal, I wanted myself to stop thinking about food as the main “superficial” source of my happiness. I could see the challenge stretched out in front of me, probably 90 out of 100 days of just food porn photography. But out of all my other daily experiences, what else makes me smile?

DAY 20 - #100happydays #100happydaysday20 #day20 #grinding #fresh #herbs and #spices  for making #delicious #vermicelli #salad omnomnom! #mortarandpestle  #lemongrass #chilies #chilli #chillies #ginger #garlic #coriander  #nomsandrambles #cooking #food #foodporn #bunboxao #100happyindienomdays

DAY 20 – #100happydays #100happydaysday20 #day20 #grinding #fresh #herbs and #spices for making #delicious #vermicelli #salad omnomnom! #mortarandpestle #lemongrass #chilies #chilli #chillies #ginger #garlic #coriander #nomsandrambles #cooking #food #foodporn #bunboxao #100happyindienomdays

DAY 21 - #100happydays #100happydaysday21 #day21part2 #pointnepeannationalpark #beach  #observatorypoint #royalbotanicgardens #cranbourne #watersaving#garden  #futuregarden #summer #beautifulday #morningtonpeninsula #mum #nomsandrambles #australiangarden #100happyindienomdays

DAY 21 – #100happydays #100happydaysday21 #day21part2 #pointnepeannationalpark #beach #observatorypoint #royalbotanicgardens #cranbourne #watersaving#garden #futuregarden #summer #beautifulday #morningtonpeninsula #mum #nomsandrambles #australiangarden #100happyindienomdays

So, standing here at the halfway mark, what have I learned? I’ve definitely discovered more about myself and how I tick on a daily basis than I thought I would. Here are some of my observations:

Forcing myself to pay attention to the little things that make up my day has made me much more aware of my mood
The fact is, though I’m happy with life in an overarching way and I’m very seldom sad or angry, I go through more days in an ambivalent, “neutral” sort of mood than I thought. I would estimate those lacklustre days to be about once or sometimes twice per week; I don’t find myself “unhappy” on those days at all, just a little bit “whatever” and robotic – they are the times when I take a few minutes longer to post my photo, to remember what made the day special. This isn’t necessarily a horrible thing, but it’s just slightly at odds with how I thought of myself – as this bubbly individual who springs out of bed everyday in a nauseatingly good mood. Nope.

DAY 25 - #100happydays #100happydaysday25 #day25 #froyo with @findapenny_ on a perfect  #sunny day #summer #harbourtown #frozenyogurt #wildberry #coconut #mango  #chocolate #poppingboba #mochi #strawberries #foodporn #dessertporn #wiat #lychee #nomsandrambles #fooddiaries #yobar #selfserve #100happyindienomdays

DAY 25 – #100happydays #100happydaysday25 #day25 #froyo with @findapenny_ on a perfect #sunny day #summer #harbourtown #frozenyogurt #wildberry #coconut #mango #chocolate #poppingboba #mochi #strawberries #foodporn #dessertporn #wiat #lychee #nomsandrambles #fooddiaries #yobar #selfserve
#100happyindienomdays

DAY 32 - #100happydays #100happydaysday32 #day32 the #littlethings that make me happy!  Getting #deliveries of my favourite #haircare range and a bucket of  #jellybelly for my #birthday #party and the boy bring me a big #boost  #smoothie ! #boostjuice #osmo #parcel #candy #dryshampoo #shampoo  #colourrevive #blonde #silverising #mangopassion #mango #juice #100happyindienomdays

DAY 32 – #100happydays #100happydaysday32 #day32 the #littlethings that make me happy! Getting #deliveries of my favourite #haircare range and a bucket of #jellybelly for my #birthday #party and the boy bring me a big #boost #smoothie ! #boostjuice #osmo #parcel #candy #dryshampoo #shampoo #colourrevive #blonde #silverising #mangopassion #mango #juice #100happyindienomdays

I’m more aware of the things that improve my mood throughout the day even if I didn’t wake up like a Disney princess.
An achievement at work, something sweet the boy did for me, an online shopping parcel received (that was a popular one!), spreadsheet-OCD satisfied, travel planning, a good conversation with a friend, a well written article or engaging book, certain social events, and yes, food. All the food. It’s not that I was completely clueless about the effect these things had on my happiness before, but now I’m just more acutely conscious of it happening, and while it’s happening (often thinking, I should take a photo right now).

DAY 33 - #100happydays #100happydaysday33 #day33 taking #selfies while #shopping at  #Sportsgirl before #birthday #dinner at #Rockpool ! #GingerFizz #dress #asos  #tonybianco #wedgeheel #platformheel #strappyheels #sandals  #rockpoolmelbourne #ootd #ootd #wiwt #fashiondiaries #instafashion  #fashiondiaries #girl #100happyindienomdays

DAY 33 – #100happydays #100happydaysday33 #day33 taking #selfies while #shopping at #Sportsgirl before #birthday #dinner at #Rockpool ! #GingerFizz #dress #asos #tonybianco #wedgeheel #platformheel #strappyheels #sandals #rockpoolmelbourne #ootd #ootd #wiwt #fashiondiaries #instafashion #fashiondiaries #girl #100happyindienomdays

DAY 35 - #100happydays #100happydaysday35 #day35 It's my #birthday! And I had a  #summer #rooftop #party - it was a #gorgeousday #sunny #beautiful #friends  #babes #bmvic #blackmilk @blackmilkclothing #bmtartanskaterskirt  #bmgalaxypearlmaxidress #staffbymaff @staffbymaff_official #alligatorblouse  #balcony #richmond #abbotsford #view #nomsandrambles #100happyindienomdays

DAY 35 – #100happydays #100happydaysday35 #day35 It’s my #birthday! And I had a #summer #rooftop #party – it was a #gorgeousday #sunny #beautiful #friends #babes #bmvic #blackmilk @blackmilkclothing #bmtartanskaterskirt #bmgalaxypearlmaxidress #staffbymaff @staffbymaff_official #alligatorblouse #balcony #richmond #abbotsford #view #nomsandrambles #100happyindienomdays

My life reeeally isn’t particularly exciting, especially during the week.
While I have numerous social engagements on weekends and struggle to fit all the wonderful things from each Saturday and Sunday into the one photo (usually I just end up posting multiple), the things that make me happy every day from Monday to Thursday are much the same. Aside from the odd after-work girl date there’s: food, parcel deliveries, good weather, relaxing with a girly TV series marathon, interspersed occasional evening activities such as crafts and jigsaw puzzles. This takes me to the next point.

DAY 41 - #100happydays #100happydaysday41 #day41 #100happyindienomdays #mexican for  two from @fondamexican #tacos #fishtaco #pulledpork #quesadilla  #chipotlechips #salsa #fonda #braisedbeeftaco #chipotlemayo #foodporn #food  #foodie #instafood #wiat #fooddiaries #nomsandrambles

DAY 41 – #100happydays #100happydaysday41 #day41 #100happyindienomdays #mexican for two from @fondamexican #tacos #fishtaco #pulledpork #quesadilla #chipotlechips #salsa #fonda #braisedbeeftaco #chipotlemayo #foodporn #food #foodie #instafood #wiat #fooddiaries #nomsandrambles

I want to be doing more with my life.
I spend an awful lot of time on my daily routine and organisational activities due to being as pedantic and obsessive compulsive as I am so I won’t even go into them, but with better managed time, I could be doing more, and have in the past done more. What happened to my blogging? What happened to experimenting with new recipes? What happened to going to book club meetings, going for a riverside walk in the new suburb I just moved to and taking some photos? What happened even to constructing beautiful, creative outfits out of my way-too-large wardrobe and photographically noting them (yes, that is a fancy way of saying “moaaar selfies!”)? Happy though I may be, I seem to need a kick up the arse – I need to stop squandering my time, clearly.

Let’s not even talk just talk about the “productive” things I mentioned above – what about making more of an effort to get out during the week and do fun things? Most of my social engagements seem to revolve around food, and maybe it’s because I’m getting “old”, stagnant and boring, but I could also go to the beach, go to gigs, go for a long, leisurely bike ride, take Japanese lessons, see more arthouse films, have a picnic in the park.. the list is endless. I don’t think I’ve done half of those things this entire summer, and the ones I have were probably once or twice! I feel I need more excitement in my day-to-day life to lift my mood on my “whatever” days, and even though a good mood isn’t equal to true happiness, I have no excuse for letting life pass me by while I just sit around boringly contented, either.

DAY 43 - #100happydays #100happydaysday43 #day43 #100happyindienomdays trying and  failing to figure out my #new #sewingmachine ! #noob! But hey, it's #pink and  that's what's important! #brother #unboxing #sewing #bc2100prw #projectrunway  #brotherbc2100 #computerised #cute #birthdaypresent

DAY 43 – #100happydays #100happydaysday43 #day43 #100happyindienomdays trying and failing to figure out my #new #sewingmachine ! #noob! But hey, it’s #pink and that’s what’s important! #brother #unboxing #sewing #bc2100prw #projectrunway #brotherbc2100 #computerised #cute #birthdaypresent

In spite of the areas that have room for improvement I’ve spotted in my life, out of 50 days, I only had one sad day
For one day, I felt very low and it all came crashing down quite suddenly due to stress and a number of other factors. It was quite distinct from a mere “meh” mood sort of day. Still, it didn’t take long for me to realise that it was my amazing friends who helped get me through that. Guess what my photo for that day was of? I’m grateful that, if this sample is representative of my life, this means I am only unhappy 2% of the time.

DAY 46 - #100happydays #throwbackthursday #latergram #day46 #100happydaysday46  #100happyindienomdays Had a crappy and stressful day #yesterday and totally  forgot about this challenge... But then I realised what amazing people I have  in my life and how they make even the worst days worth living! #cheese  #friends #friendship #girls #bmvic #love #bestpeopleonearth #yindilah  @missmiadoll @charliana @yennipenni @_southeast @meooowcat @n2melbourne #holliava #bmvicxmasparty2013

DAY 46 – #100happydays #throwbackthursday #latergram #day46 #100happydaysday46 #100happyindienomdays Had a crappy and stressful day #yesterday and totally forgot about this challenge… But then I realised what amazing people I have in my life and how they make even the worst days worth living! #cheese #friends #friendship #girls #bmvic #love #bestpeopleonearth #yindilah @missmiadoll @charliana @yennipenni @_southeast @meooowcat @n2melbourne #holliava #bmvicxmasparty2013

DAY 47 - #100happydays #100happydaysday47 #day47 #100happyindienomdays  #abbotsfordconvent #suppermarket #market #nightmarket #food #foodtrucks  #foodstalls #stalls #taiwanesefood #chicken #waffle #nutella #nutellawaffle  #abbotsford #melbournesummer #iskindoffreezing #foodporn #wiat #motd  #instafood #fooddiaries

DAY 47 – #100happydays #100happydaysday47 #day47 #100happyindienomdays
#abbotsfordconvent #suppermarket #market #nightmarket #food #foodtrucks
#foodstalls #stalls #taiwanesefood #chicken #waffle #nutella #nutellawaffle #abbotsford #melbournesummer #iskindoffreezing #foodporn #wiat #motd #instafood #fooddiaries

At around Day 40, I did a big audit of all of my photos so far and and determined that just under half of my #100happydays photos were of food
For someone whose Instagram account featured almost exclusive food and #ootds before, I think that’s not half bad!

DAY 48 - #100happydays #100happydaysday48 #day48 #saturday #lunchdate #burgerdate  #burgers #brunswickstreet #fitzroymelbourne #melbournesummer #melbournefood  #brotherburger #veganburger #food #foodporn #instafood #fooddiaries #shopping #impulsebuy #cushions #puppies #kittens #cute #froyo #berrissimo #wildberry #poppingboba #nomsandrambles #bmvic #bmau

DAY 48 – #100happydays #100happydaysday48 #day48 #saturday #lunchdate #burgerdate #burgers #brunswickstreet #fitzroymelbourne #melbournesummer #melbournefood #brotherburger #veganburger #food #foodporn #instafood #fooddiaries #shopping #impulsebuy #cushions #puppies #kittens #cute #froyo #berrissimo #wildberry #poppingboba #nomsandrambles #bmvic #bmau

As I said, I can’t believe I’ve lasted this long… but I know I have because the insight into my life that this exercise has given me makes me feel like it’s worth completing. It’s also a little addictive!
For the next 50 (or rather, 48) days, I hope to make some adjustments to my daily life that will help add more colour and excitement to my challenge photos. Curious to see how I’m doing down the track? I’ve given my photos their own unique hashtag of #100happyindienomdays

DAY 48 (almost day 49) - #100happydays #100happydaysday48 #whitenight #whitenightmelbourne #melbourne  #lightshow @sleepykitten @missmiadoll @charliana @findapenny_ @quietwhore #whitenightmelb

DAY 48 (almost day 49) – #100happydays #100happydaysday48 #whitenight #whitenightmelbourne #melbourne #lightshow @sleepykitten @missmiadoll @charliana @findapenny_ @quietwhore #whitenightmelb

Spotlight on SO’ME… with Truffles!

When I first moved to Melbourne, I lived right on the cusp of Southbank and South Melbourne and as KP was still working in Auckland, I spent many an evening after work and many a Sunday afternoon wandering alone through the two areas.

The atmosphere and pace of life of these two adjoining neighbourhoods are vastly different – worlds apart. Southbank is one of Melbourne’s main centres of entertainment and nightlife, thanks to the massive Crown complex and the Southgate precinct, comprising a casino, cinemas, upscale shopping and countless restaurants, food courts, bars and clubs. So, by night, Southbank buzzes with excitement, and by day, it’s a haven for families – you can stroll along the river with a gelato in hand, or there is the Melbourne Aquarium. On the residential side, City Road is littered with high-rise apartments and the Southbank Boulevard area with low-rise ones.

South Melbourne, in contrast, is a much quieter neighbourhood which feels every inch more like a suburb than part of the inner city. Cute old rickety houses populate green, tree-lined streets along with unassuming but often very good cafes and bars also hiding among them.

Clarendon Street serves as its main road and “town centre”, containing everything you could need from supermarkets, pubs, Asian and pizza takeaway joints, Max Brenner, a fish and chip shop (Hunky Dory), Nandos and Grill’d, Telstra/Optus/Vodafone stores, a hardware store, even a printing shop. More recent additions include a modernised Vietnamese pho eatery cheekily called Wat Da Pho and a Malaysian restaurant.

But I believe the real linch-pin of this neighbourhood is South Melbourne Market. I’ve been to quite a few markets in Melbourne, and this is by far my favourite in terms of size, selection of vendors and most importantly, the atmosphere. I now live closer to Queen Victoria Market, but I still always to go to So’Me for all of my meat and produce needs. QVM is too messy, scattered and busy, and somehow the people who shop at So’Me just seem more well-behaved and considerate. Maybe it’s the snob and yuppie in me?

South Melbourne Market has been around since 1867, which makes it 11 years older than its more famous cousin Queen Vic Market, and is also the oldest continually running market in Victoria. Some of the highlights include The Fresh Pasta Shop (don’t let the unoriginal name fool you), Fruits on Coventry which has every herb for Asian and European cooking you could dream of, Padre Coffee for their coffee, Clement for their amazing filled donuts – a variety of flavours available every week (together these two coffee shops are bringing hipster culture south of the river), Georgie’s Harvest for their impressive selection of potatoes and root veges as well as their knowledge and enthusiasm about what they do, and of course most of the butchers and poultry shops are also of a great standard. There are a few cupcake shops and places that sell macarons, and all are fine but none have wow’d me so far.



Here, also, is the practically iconic South Melbourne Market Dim Sims – opened in the 1940s, this was one of the first places responsible for popularising the unique Melbourne-style “dim sim”, not to be confused with dim sums (Cantonese for “snacks”, usually dumplings). A Melbourne dim sim is basically a giant-ified pork siu mai but about twice the size and usually served deep-fried and somewhat adapted to the Western-dude-eats-Chinese-takeaways palate. I’m not the hugest fan – they can’t hold a candle to the delicate steamed dumplings you get at a good old traditional yum cha – but they’re great for a quick winter snack if you get hungry while grocery shopping.

Out of the restaurants attached to the market, my favourites would probably be Simply Spanish and Claypots Evening Star, although one visit to Koy convinced me that it’s not too shabby either. Aside their table service, Claypots does a roaring “street food” trade of skewered BBQ octopus and fish rolls, while Simply Spanish cooks up huge paellas outdoors that serve as a perfect gourmet takeaway dinner.


Also worth checking out nearby: Passionfoods (behind the market, on Ferrars Street, below the Tram 96 light rail) – a well-stocked whole foods grocer which has all the healthy/vegan/organic products your heart can desire, which I much prefer to the smaller organics shop within the market itself – and Chef’s Hat (just across the road from the market) – a huge kitchen supply (and appliance) store with reasonable prices.

^ Passionfoods

^ Passionfoods

^ Chef's Hat

^ Chef’s Hat


Then there’s Coventry Street, running perpendicular to the market, which, lined with its variety of charming fashion, art and homeware boutiques, independent bookshops and cute brunch spots, could be my favourite part of South Melbourne.

My personal food favourites here include Giddiup, a tiny, cute cafe with good coffee, and wood crates for seating, Chez Dré with its delicious breakfasts, French cakes and pastries and delicate macarons.

Amongst all the other wonderful finds on Coventry, I have a soft spot for OnStone – a studio where you can have your own photos and images printed on stone, framed lovingly with recycled wood and backed with recycled styrofoam, and there are also pre-printed art pieces for purchase. Their service is excellent and they once rushed a job for me in 2 days, when I needed it in time to fly back to New Zealand with a Mother’s Day gift, and even let me pick it up after hours.

Adding to the delights of Coventry – Gigi a la maison (photos above), an adorable little boutique full of French-themed household items; a design store I can’t remember the name of with funky random homeware and apparel stocks big stackable crayons, wallets made of recycled paper (many with prints that also happen to appear on Black Milk items), and scrunchable city maps that you can “crumple” up and stick in your pocket on your travels; Nest, with natural skincare and gorgeous homeware galore; and Coventry Bookstore, which has a carefully curated selection of books, a clean, appealing and modern interior and a little children’s nook at the back.

Not particularly interesting but super convenient is the stretch of Clarendon Street between Coventry and Dorcas Streets, which are filled mostly with chain establishments such as Kikki K (not that there’s anything wrong with Kiki K!) and Coles and others I mentioned earlier, like Max Brenner (again, who doesn’t need some Max Brenner hot choccie on a wintry day?)
There’s also a pretty florist and a cute cafe called the Old Paper Shop Deli that I frequented when I first moved to Melbourne as it had such an enticing window display of cakes and sweets (which in taste weren’t always as beautiful as they appeared).

Of the various joints scattered throughout the rest of the neighbourhood, I would mention Garamerica – a good Indonesian restaurant, Dead Man Espresso – they really know their coffee and have beautiful blends as well as single origin beans, Lamaro’s Dining Room and Bar – a great gastropub with a charming atmosphere and a host of devoted regulars and who once took KP and I on a wine and produce tour of the Mornington Peninsula followed by a degustation meal of wild mushrooms and duck and other delights back at the bar, Peko Peko, the Taiwanese cafe I reviewed recently, Hercules Morse, a small bar named after a dog in New Zealand children’s book with an excellent sharing plates menu and friendly, attractive bartenders… and then of course, St. Ali.


Located in a quiet, graffiti’d lane off Yarra Street (which is off Clarendon), St. Ali, along with Chez Dré, was one of my more regular brunch haunts back when I lived on the edge of South Melbourne. I believe I’ve been about seven or eight times, which for someone who likes to constantly be trying new places is quite an achievement. But why? The coffee is excellent, but I’m not a huge coffee drinker nor a connoisseur, and the food, frankly has been hit and miss and I tend to like Chez Dré dishes better. It has to be the combination of a few reasons – firstly, the buzz and atmosphere play a big part. It’s just such a happy, vibrant place to be on a Saturday morning, and the service is efficient but warm, especially if you ask them about the coffee specials. Secondly, when the food is good, it’s brilliant.

St Ali on Urbanspoon

Thirdly, they have seasonal menus, so it’s always worth going to try something else to see if you’ll love it. Fourthly, well fine – it was hip and trendy and maybe we bought into that just a little. Fifthly (I think we might be getting to a number where this isn’t really a word?) they had great lamingtons at the counter and I would grab one to take with me after brunch and sixthly, well, they were just super close.


And then each winter, there’s an extra incentive to head to St. Ali. Truffles. The fungi kind, not the chocolate kind. Fresh, marbled, deliciously aromatic. There’s a sort of shed next to the cafe which played host from July 4th to August 10th to Madame Truffles, a seasonal pop up shop for fresh Australian truffles. When you went in, the helpful and knowledgeable staff would let you smell a variety of truffles and then select the one you wanted to take home. They would point out to you the beautiful marbling detail in a cross-section and explain the differences between the truffles sourced from various areas.

Truffles were priced based on origin and weight, packaged in a little glass jar, and you would take home along with it a little piece of card with the name of the dog who had found your truffle. It was a really cute touch. The first truffle we bought was from Deloraine, Tasmania, and Rex was the doggy who had sniffed it out for us. When we returned, we chose a truffle from Braidwood, NSW and it was a labrador named Sal who had discovered it.

Next door, in St. Ali itself, they were serving the seasonal special dish of truffle toasties, which were as delicious as they sound. Truffle, pecorino and truffle vinaigrette on toasted sourdough – it doesn’t get much better than that. I wish I could share a photo of it, but it was on a phone that I stupidly wiped without backing up before selling it.

Simplicity was the key here – let the truffle’s truffliness speak for itself! Inspired, I went home and experimented with a few dishes and I shall be posting those which I think made the most out of the beautiful truffles we obtained this winter.

Playa Del Carmen and the Riviera Maya

Warning/Disclaimer: Half the photos were taken with an iPhone camera.
The events in this post follow on from our time in Merida and adventures in Uxmal, Chichen Itza and Izamal.

I hope you all enjoyed the respite from relentless photo bombardment? I guess I took a longer break than intended. Here’s a penalty pic.

So anyway, where were we?

Right, we left Mérida on a sunny morning on a first class ADO bus bound for Playa Del Carmen. Before I left Melbourne, I had romantic visions of sitting on a Mexican bus pitching down the dusty freeway, writing a thoughtful blog post about my adventures so far. The reality wasn’t anything like that. The bus was super comfortable and the ride very smooth, there was no wifi and the locals on the bus kept their curtains drawn the whole time so it was really dark, making me feel far more like watching a movie.

We arrived in Playa in the middle of the afternoon, the hottest part of the day, and were immediately accosted by a guy in a bicitaxi. In fact, it barely qualified as one of those, as the “seats” were just a couple of planks and were placed in front of the bicycle rather than behind it. We rode with him for a bit, mostly because he was so insistent despite not speaking a word of English, but also because we were melting and had no idea where we were.

We checked into our accommodation, which was a fully self-contained little unit in a complex called El Taj, probably about 100m from the beach. It wasn’t perfect, but it was cute and well located and meant we could cook breakfast, and immediately I wished we could stay there for our entire time in Playa del Carmen.

The moment we cooled down sufficiently, we went for a stroll down Quinta Avenida (“Fifth Avenue”), downtown Playa’s main promenade. It reminded me a bit of the Pub Street in Siem Reap. Different sort of demographic of travellers but similar atmosphere of holiday-making and enjoyment with tourist-targeted restaurants and bars lining the avenue. Contrived as it kind of was, I quite enjoyed it.

Inexplicably, there was a clothing store on Fifth Avenue called “Maori Fashion”, which didn’t look like it sold anything like what the name suggested. Perhaps the owners were hoping the Americans wouldn’t know any better?

The ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica were known for their history of chocolate consumption. With no better time than after a long bus journey, I hunted down a chocolate cafe called Ah Cacao to sample some Mayan chocolate. Supposedly. I had an iced chocolate and wasn’t impressed with the drink at all. Later, we went back for their ice cream, which was much more delicious.

After spending a few days in Playa, I observed that at least during the day, the downtown area was mostly occupied by European travellers and tourists from other parts of Latin America, and I even overheard the odd few Kiwis. Considering the huge volume of North American vacationers in those parts, there were surprisingly relatively few to be seen on the streets. It later became clear that most of them were hiding in big resorts, not needing or wishing to leave the comfort of the big all-inclusive complexes for the town.

While doing my first real bit of shopping in Mexico, I stumbled across a clothing store which stocked lots of funky, colourful apparel very much to my taste (as well as a few tackier pieces I chose to ignore), a Hello Kitty cushion, sky-high platforms including the biggest range of Jeffrey Campbell shoes I’ve ever seen in a physical store (being somewhat deprived of them in Australia, apparently). If you’ve read the fashion posts on this blog before, you’ll realise that my feet live in JC’s basically permanently. Suddenly, I was wishing I didn’t travel so light.

The ambiance prevailing over Quinta Avenida after dark was lively and infectious, different from the laid back atmosphere during the scorching daylight hours. The avenue and all the little streets off it were full, as even the resort-dwellers came to town for the nightlife.

That first night, we went down one of the side streets and entered the restaurant, called Mayan Bistro, attached to the Hotel Aventura Mexicana. A clean and well managed decent three-star hotel, I’d heard that the food was surprisingly delicious here. We weren’t disappointed. The menu was interesting, and just a little bit fusion, the service was friendly and unforced. The portion sizes were huge, the flavours bold and rich. The restaurant opened out into the internal courtyard of the hotel, which was quite landscaped and very atmospheric in the moonlight.

We ordered the aguachile-style ceviche, which had a great, citrussy punch and was incredibly refreshing – it had us totally addicted to ceviche for the remainder of the trip as a mouth-watering foil to the hot weather.

KP and I both chose seafood mains, as now that we were back on the coast we wanted to pack in as much of the fresh stuff as possible before returning to good-seafood-deprived Melbourne. You chose the type of seafood you wanted (fish, shrimp, squid or “scallops” – more on the inverted commas later), then a sauce and cooking style, and finally a side to go with it.

I’m such a sucker for tender, delicate white fish, which is what I got here. I chose to have my fish cooked a la talla, described as “prepared in an aioli sauce of ancho chilies, garlic and lime” and turned out to be extremely creamy and rich as well as packed with flavour. Out of curiosity, KP ordered the “scallops”, which surprised us when the dish arrived as they were nothing like the scallops we have at home. These were about a quarter of the size and had a strong “fishy” taste which wasn’t exactly what we were after from fresh seafood. And, to be honest, they kind of looked like gnocchi. My side of Mexican-style “street corn” wasn’t what I envisaged, either – I expected grilled corn on the cob – but it was nevertheless delicious.

Our second day in Playa Del Carmen coincided with our anniversary, and initially we wanted to head out to a beach club for some sun and snorkeling, but woke up too late so it was going to be a day of pure relaxation for us instead.

For brunch, we headed out in search for a Venezuelan eatery I’d read about called Kaxapa Factory.

What on earth is a kaxapa, you ask? It’s a thick, corn pancake hailing from Venezuela, eaten with a variety of possible fillings, often for breakfast. Jose, the owner of Kaxapa Factory is honestly one of the nicest guys you will ever meet; so genuinely warm and friendly and endearingly chatty; for two somewhat antisocial travellers, we were absolutely blown away! Just take a quick look at any online reviews and you’ll find that we weren’t alone in this feeling.

The food was simple and honest but to die for, the ultimate indulgent yet “real food” breakfast. KP had beef arepas while I opted for the signature kaxapa with 3 quesos (3 cheeses). My kaxapa came piping hot and perfectly browned, with oaxaca cheese, ranchero and manchego. We shared an order of bolitas de queso, deep fried balls of corn and cheese with creamy sauces.

After the decadent meal, we collapsed on the beach with our Kindles, in the private enclosed area for our hotel. I spotted the cutest little puppy. Totally relevant!

Weighed down by a rich dinner and heavy brunch, and having got enough sun, we actually headed to the gym in the afternoon for a sesh – it was a large, fancy local gym which we were allowed the use of through our hotel, but it wasn’t actually part of the hotel.

So now I will always be able say that we spent our 4th anniversary working out together in a Mexican gym after eating Venezuelan food, puppy watching on the beach, to be followed by a French fusion meal cooked by a Dutchman.

Speaking of which…

We booked dinner at Oh La La because it was touted as the finest haute cuisine in Playa Del Carmen as well as being rated the top restaurant on TripAdvisor. Unfortunately, this experience reminded me that TripAdvisor is, at best, a location-relative thing. This may be best establishment in Playa, but it doesn’t hold a candle to a good, mid-range restaurant in little old cosmopolitan Auckland.

Don’t get me wrong, the food here was nice enough, with plenty of potential. The meat and seafood were cooked very well, but the flavours were safe, the dishes not very creative, and the side accompaniment portions too big for delicacy (eg. too much mash), throwing the composition of the dishes off balance (ie. too much carb).

Funnily enough, I had a very juicy, plump lamb rack all the way from New Zealand, which was also the standout dish of the night with a lovely jus. The roasted vegetables were the big let down.

The service was attentive and efficient, but not too friendly. Not cold, exactly, but there weren’t too many genuine smiles and the general feeling was that they were trying a little too hard to be professional. At the end, however, they redeemed themselves by offering us a complimentary dessert in celebration of our anniversary.

The next day saw us up early and off to a private beach club called Blue Venado. Although recommended by our hotel, I had checked and double checked online that it was actually good and not a tourist trap. We had tried to cook breakfast that morning, and had the beginnings of a delicious Mexican omelette, but heartbreakingly had to chuck it out so as not to miss our ride.

When we arrived, the beach was completely devoid of people other than us. It was beautiful. Can I just say that the Caribbean waters are ridiculously clear?

PDC46

I immediately ordered a virgin piña colada, and here was where I learned that such a thing was called a piñada! It made ordering them in the future so much easier.

After a morning of cocktails, reading and swimming, we had a spot of lunch before heading off to ride quad bikes (ok, ATVs) through the sand dunes.

Oh yeah, there was also snorkeling. And we clamboured through a wet cavern, a gruta (a cave-type cenote). Unfortunately, through all of this, all I had on me was a shitty disposable waterproof camera. You know the ones popular in the 90s? How retro (and stupid) of me.

Just imagine how I felt when I had to walk into a good old fashioned photo store (is that even what you call them? It’s been that long) to develop the actual, physical, film and was handed back a stack of horrible grainy photos, negatives and all. Some of the pictures didn’t even have anything in them! Hey, you try looking through a little viewfinder with a big snorkel mask on!

Knackered and still wet and sandy, we went straight from the club to pick up our second car rental of the trip, and from there headed to the massive Iberostar Tucan/Quetzal Resort in Playacar (Playa’s upmarket hotel strip) for the start of the festivities for which we actually came to Mexico for! We checked in and rushed to the buffet for dinner, and suddenly found our exhausted and socially awkward selves surrounded by lively, happy Americans there for the wedding. More on this resort and the wedding festivities in a later post!

We drove to Tulum first thing the following morning (again, more on that later) and afterwards, returned to Hotel Aventura Mexicana for a late lunch, where I was served the hugest piñada ever! And then another one… er, accidentally. You know when the waiter comes to take your empty glass and casually asks if you want another one? Yeah, and you know how if they say it in a different language, you might, at first think they said “can I take this away” instead, so you say “yes” before realising your mistake? That’s how you accidentally get a second glass. This happened more than once.

On our last full day in the Yucatan, we took the car to Coba, a large group of Mayan ruins which were the ones I had most wanted to visit from the start (you know it – more on that later!)

Back in Playa, we decided that buying a bunch of hot sauces to take back home would be just the thing to do. So we went to Walmart for what was actually the third time (the first two times being for groceries and swimming gear).

^ And that is what we came back with. Very restrained, I think.

We then had one of my top 5ish meals of our stay in Mexico. Cheap for Playa Del Carmen, unairconditioned and and full of locals and tourists alike, Los Aguachiles had a menu packed with fresh seafood options within colourful tacos, tostadas and ceviches.

There were half a dozen sauce options just sitting on the table – just how I like it: DIY condiments and flavour adjustment!

We stuffed ourselves full of seafood, yet didn’t leave feeling fat at all as it was all so light and fresh, and the citrus flavours helped with digestions so that, combined with an active morning riding bikes and climbing pyramids, we were starving again by dinnertime.

In between the two meals, while finishing off my gift shopping, I found an artisan store full of these beautiful, hand painted, hand carved, extravagantly colourful and exotically fantastical wooden animals! These carvings are called alebrijes, and most are produced in Oaxaca. For my mum, I bought a cute bunny with impossibly long ears, and KP got for our home a little tribal skeleton-warrior.

Our last night in Mexico was spent with a couple of friends who were also there for the wedding. On our way to dinner with them, we stumbled upon some street food stalls I wished I had discovered earlier.

Being our final meal in the Yucatan, we decided to go for Mayan cuisine. We hadn’t had any Yucatecan nosh since Mérida, having basically just inhaled seafood daily since arriving in Playa.

At Xulam, the ambience and decor were a little over the top and the dim lighting a little too… “romantic”, but it was a pretty decent feed and not a bad way to end our Yucatecan experience.

So, five down, one to go, and I’m almost burned out! Stay tuned for the last installment of my Mexico travel story sometime… whenever I feel like it. Next up will be the world of Iberostar Tucan, a beautiful beach wedding, and the Maya sites of Tulum and Coba.

You can see the set of full-sized photos on Flickr.

Tiny Taste of LA

At the beginning of our recent trip to Mexico, we spent an aimless day bouncing around various parts of central Los Angeles during a long layover. Airport time excluded, we had about 8 hours to kill. I’d done some research but had became overwhelmed by the logistics of where to go when faced with all the factors of trying not to spend hundreds of dollars on taxi fares, fitting in at least a few different things, considering the geographical relationships between the various areas, not understanding the traffic situation of the city and trying to get back to the airport in time for our connecting flight.

In retrospect, we could have just spent the entire day in one area, like Santa Monica, instead of stressing and trying to do too much… but you know, then I wouldn’t be me!

The Grove and The Farmers Market Trolley

The Grove and The Farmers Market “Trolley”

After some unexpected dramas trying to get rid of our luggage for the day (as LAX no longer had lockers or any on site baggage storage since 9/11), we set off for the city later than expected. It turned out that in a mere day we took a taxi, experienced the LA metro, the public bus system and a private airport operated bus – basically, all the transport options. I was also a genius and decided that to get to the Griffith Observatory cheaply, all we had to do was take the metro to the station closest to it and then a cab the rest of the way. Little did I know that we would emerge from the underground at Vermont/Sunset station and then fail to find a single passing taxi in half an hour… but at least we got to check out a random neighbourhood.

So we never made it to Santa Monica in the end and spent the most time around Fairfax, West Hollywood and Hollywood being tourists and doing a bit of shopping.

Fountain at The Grove

Fountain at The Grove

We went to The Grove, a beautiful outdoor shopping and entertainment complex with a “trolley” (which we’d probably call a “tram” in Melbourne!) which took you on a little ride down to the “Farmers Market“, which used to be an actual farmers market but is now more of a food vendor paradise along with some produce merchants, bakeries and other shops. The most interesting thing we saw there was a big store which sold nothing but hundreds of types of hot sauces from all over the world! With names such as “Dr. Assburn’s” and “Ass Reaper”, I don’t know whether I should regret not buying any.

I had some spicy Jambalaya, which was satisfying but wasn’t the best gumbo I’ve ever had (is it even a gumbo or just a cousin to gumbo?) yet it was so cheap considering I was in an upscale shopping centre in a nice neighbourhood! Damn you, Australia, and your overpriced food.

Spicy Jambalaya at the Farmers Market

Spicy Jambalaya, corn bread and potato salad at the Farmers Market

We also chanced upon an Umami Burger, which I’d heard about on the blogosphere years back, and I wanted to see if it was worth the hype. It wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fairly tasty burger – just nothing particularly special! The meat was good, and cooked to medium rare as promised, but it just lacked flavour punch all up (especially for a place naming itself “umami“), and I was a bit disappointed by the truffle cheese in the Truffle Burger.

Truffle burger from Umami Burger

Truffle burger from Umami Burger

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

It felt odd to finally be in the States for the first time, after having grown up with so much US-centric pop culture – television and books like the Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High, *ahem*, I mean all that Ernest Hemingway.

I was probably unreasonably excited to encounter such mundane things as my first In-N-Out Burger, IHOP (International House of Pancakes, HELLO!!?) and yes, even the 99c Store. Because what you can buy for 99 cents in California looks like the equivalent of what you can get at a $2-$3 shop in Australia – with the dollar almost identical, how is this fair? You know what else? They had huuuuuge pharmacies. More like supermarkets. Super pharmacies!

Spent a bit of touristy-time on Hollywood Boulevard trying to spot the names of stars we recognised. It was surprisingly difficult (!) and then when we did, I forgot to take photos. I marveled at how un-Chinese the Chinese Theatre really is, and ooh’d and aah’d over a soda fountain, and how cute the little external Box Office at El Capitan was.

Hollywood Boulevard and El Capitan

Hollywood Boulevard and El Capitan

The TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, where the Academy Awards are held

The TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, where the Academy Awards are held

Next up was shopping, but before I could buy anything, I found Jelly Bean Heaven! And then Lingerie Heaven! KP bought us both sunnies, then we both went on to lose them during the later stages of the trip.

Los Angeles

So ok, we didn’t have the most rewarding day in LA, but we got a good taste of Cali, confirmed first-hand that the Los Angeles public transport system is shit, and I satisfied my inexplicable desire to see American fast food and discount store chains in the flesh. And then there’s this: a vending machine in the middle of a shitty LAX terminal that sold iPhones and iPads and other not-exactly-cheap gadgets. Yes, folks, a vending machine for Apple products. And it was Best Buy, so that’s another chain crossed off my list!

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

While I didn’t not like LA, I didn’t really get a great vibe from it overall. You know how sometimes you spend just a few hours in a city and you get this great feeling – like falling in love the first time I set foot in Melbourne – and you just know you have to return again? I so did not get that from the City of Angels. And really for summer… it was kinda cold and damp! Now I know what they were singing about in “The Lady is a Tramp“!
We were more than ready to move on to Mexico.

You can see the set of full-sized photos on Flickr.

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