Thursday, 26 September 2013

Lost In Venice

"There is something so different in Venice from any other place in the world, that you leave at once all accustomed habits and everyday sights to enter an enchanted garden." 
~ Mary Shelley

These days, it is rare for me to leave a performance I am involved in feeling inspired. Last night however, I was involved in a project that left me knowing there was so much more to gain and reminding me how incredible my job really is. I was fortunate enough to perform with the Perth Chamber Orchestra as we presented Vivaldi By Candlelight, a beautiful evening inspired by 1700s Venice. Imagine sitting back in a candle lit church, entertaining the senses with magnificent food and wine, drifting back in time as you explore the exquisite sounds of Vivaldi.
(To read a review on this performance please visit the link here) 

Apart from returning home with new drive for my playing, and looking forward to the next project with this exciting new orchestra - it made me reflect back to my time in Venice... 

I have visited Venice twice now, once in 2006 on my first trip to Europe with my mum and the second in 2011.  Both times falling in love with the fairytale maze of canals and bridges. Allowing myself to be swept away by the charm of this run down city. 

Venice is a city where a map is simply not needed, the joy is through the discovery of hidden treasures found in nooks and crannies stumbled upon as you get lost in the tiny alleyways locals have walked for centuries. To find your way again all one must do is "follow the people". 

My biggest tip would be to stay on Venezia itself. The first time I visited, we stayed on the mainland, Mestre, and caught the train on and off the island. The only way I can describe this is that it is like watching a movie on the television with ads. You want to immerse yourself in the enchantment, not become detached or distracted at the end of your day. 

Be sure to give yourself the space to wander the streets in the late evening and at night - Spending time sitting in Piazza San Marco at midnight, for example, watching the bands dotted in restaurants around the square compete for the remaining audiences attention is quite an experience. 

Don't get me wrong, people watching in Piazza San Marco is a must anytime of day, but the hoards of tourists does become overwhelming at times. But as people can come and go from the island easily, most people are only there for the day. Tour groups and cruise liners just visit for short day trips meaning that after dinner the city is given space to breath.

If you have the chance, after an early morning stop under the breathtaking gold mosaic celling of Saint Mark's Basilica (be sure to visit St Mark's either early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid the peak of the day. Make sure to have your shoulders and knees covered out of respect, otherwise you wont be allowed inside) wander next door to the Doge's Palace. 

Constructed in the 14th century the palace is a perfect example of venetian gothic style architecture containing beautifully restored rooms. I have seen a number of palaces across Europe, and found the Doge's Palace to be particularly unique and memorable.

Grab an audio guide to take you on a fascinating tour of the palace as you explore the history of each room. You will also be given the opportunity to walk the Bridge of Sighs, a corridor built in 1614 to connect the palace to its prison.

Whilst buildings are being restored the scaffolding is covered in large ads like the one seen above whilst The Bridge Of Sighs is being cleaned. 
Depending on how long a stay you have, I recommend taking a day to explore the outer islands of the Venetian Lagoon with an all day pass for the vaporetto (Venice's ferry service). 
Why not hop off at Burano and explore the canals lined with brightly coloured houses and stores of the traditional lace specific to the island?

Or how about Murano? An island filled with workshops, galleries and shops dedicated its world renowned hand blown glass. 

This is a photograph of an a sculpture entirely made out of Murano glass. 

There are water taxi's as well, services are on all canals, to all islands, and even from the airport to the main island. If however, you have less time, or don't want the expense of experiencing the canals by private taxi, make sure you jump on the No.1 Vaporetto which will take you for a short cruise down the grand canal.


Not only did some of the worlds greatest composers such as Vivaldi once call Venice home, from the late Middle Ages until the mid 18th century, artists of the highest caliber including Titian, Tintoretto, Tiepolo and Canaletto, left their mark on the city. The vivid artistic scene isn't just for the Venice history books with a large contemporary art scene visible in studios and galleries all over as the magic continuously inspires. 

From the galleries, museums and concerts to the gondola rides and aperitivo, there is a huge amount to discover in Venice, most of which I am still yet to explore. No matter what, make sure you simply wander until you find yourself alone - only then will you discover the real Venice. 

I can not wait for my next opportunity to become lost in Venice. 

For more ideas on what to do in Venice visit TimeOut's guide here.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Rainy Sundays And Old Bananas

    For me there is only one thing to do with old bananas.... Banana Bread!

I found myself with a few hours free today to catch up on admin and practice. I also found myself in the house with a couple of old bananas and the desire to stay inside out of the weather... All I could do was follow the path laid out leading me to a relaxed afternoon of delicious banana bread baking.

Today's sound track is Every Kingdom by Ben Howard.
An album given to me by a friend earlier this year that I completely forgot about! Turns out it is perfect album to dance around the kitchen to.

This recipe is loosely based on Nigella Lawson's Italian Breakfast Banana Bread Recipe. But has a few tweaks of my own. What I love about it is that it is all thrown in just one bowl.

Pre-heat your oven to 170degrees C.

In a large bowl place 3 very ripe bananas and mash with a fork. To this, mash in a teaspoon of vanilla paste (or 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract), a teaspoon of cinnamon, nutmeg and a pinch of salt before beating in 150ml of vegetable oil.

Once combined beat in 2 eggs, one at a time, followed by 150g caster sugar.

Loosely mix together 175g of plain flour, 1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and a couple of teaspoons of espresso powder before combining with the wet batter.

Then, fold through 1/2-1cup of crumbled walnuts and a handful of Gabriel Chocolate cocoa nibs (optional).

Gabriel Chocolate is a wonderful bean to bar chocolatier located in Yallingup, WA. Last time I was down south in Margaret River we dropped into Gabriel to try their range of yummy chocolates varying in cocoa percentages, all available to purchase and taste in store! When I was there I picked up some of these cocoa nibs - pieces of fermented, dried, roasted and crushed cocoa beans which are perfect for cooking.

As I found a packet of these cocoa wonders lying in my cupboard I thought I would include a handful in this recipe! (tip from a friend)

Once all ingredients are folded through, pour the loose batter into your prepared loaf tin, sprinkle with a couple more walnuts and cocoa nibs before placing in the oven. Bake for 50-60minutes or until the cake is coming slightly away from the sides of the tin, and your cake tester comes out clean.

And that is it - Simple. 

If you can resist waiting even half a day before slicing in it is worth it. Otherwise serve as is, with a dash of butter, or if you feel like being really decedent smooth over a layer of chocolate spread - or mascarpone cheese with a dusting of cinnamon.

Happy Sunday!

Ingredient List:

150g vegetable oil
3 very ripe bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon 
Pinch of salt
2 eggs
150g caster sugar
175g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoons espresso powder
1/2-1 cup walnuts
Handful of Gabriel Chocolate cocoa nibs (optional) 

Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Docklands of Hamburg

When informing people that I would be visiting the beautiful city of Hamburg I was often told something along the lines of "The city has an air of snobbiness - but when you arrive and see the city you give them a pat on the back, a wink and simply understand" 

Over the next little while we will backtrack and visit some of my favourite places and memories of the past few years of travel. This is one of them - Today we head to Germany...

One of my dearest friends in the whole world currently lives in Berlin. Ever since we met and I started visiting her and her family in Germany we try to get away together, escape cities we both know and explore somewhere new. This year it was Hamburg...

For three nights we ran around the immaculate city exploring as much as we could, trying to get the most out of the long relaxing days of perfect summer. 

The Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg is situated on the Elbe River, it is the second largest city in Germany, the ninth largest in Europe and the tenth largest port in the world. 

We had such perfect weather, bright blue skies every day. Weather where you just want to be outside in amongst it for as long as you possibly can. Families and businessmen were spilling onto the streets, chatting away on the river banks and in the huge network of parks.

I was quite jealous of Hamburg's vast parklands. The Planten un Blomen, where we spent a lot of our time, covers a huge area just by the central city it is full of water fountains and lakes and endless space to sit and read in deck-chairs in the dappled shade. There are cafe's, miniature golf, table tennis huge playgrounds (that Ursula and I desperately wanted to climb all over) and even contains a free circus with a petting zoo for the kids! 

I found the old docklands(as seen below and at the very top) particularly stunning, nothing like I had ever really been through before. Wandering over some of the 2000 odd bridges between the well preserved industrial red brick warehouses with pale green roofs of oxidised copper and the new age architecture is a must. 

I highly recommend taking the time to explore the harbour and the Elbe River. We grabbed an all day public transport ticket which allowed you access to some of the core ferry lines. For the price of a train ticket, you can jump on the red ferry which will take you most of the way up the harbour towards the ocean. 

It is a hop on/hop off system meaning, you can jump off at various points to explore other parts of the city, relax on the beach and munch away on fish sandwiches and ice-cream on the riverbank (maybe not at the same time), or you can just sit back and enjoy the ride! 

There are a few different routs and ferry options so do a little research and see what you where you would like to explore. 

Opened in 1911 the Elbe Tunnel is a functioning pedestrian and vehicle tunnel stretching under the Elbe river, connecting the docks to the shipyard. Once on the other side of the river you will be able to enjoy beautiful panoramic views of the city and its harbour. 

So what about the notorious nightlife I hear you ask? The Reeperbahn is Hamburg's famous red-light district. The sense of nightclubs, sex shops and brothels can still be felt in areas of the city, but unless you really searched (which we didn't) you wouldn't really know it was there. 
It was however, an area which helped shape the pop-culture of today. The Beatles famously played in bars along the street regularly before the band took off. 
"I might have been born in Liverpool - But I grew up in Hamburg" - John Lennon 

Overall Hamburg is an incredibly beautiful city. With a huge cultural scene, Hamburg is dotted with museums, galleries and theatres. In fact, see the spiky building being built to the right of the photo above? That is going to be Hamburg's newest concert hall! I am quite excited to visit the finished product! All this connected with a prominent cafe culture really makes Hamburg a city where anyone could imagine living. I kept trying to convince Ursula that she should move there just so I had an excuse to visit the city again. 

We only scratched the surface... 

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Gusto Food

With yesterday filled to the brim with students, gigs and way, way too much rain for a Perth spring, I knew today needed to be a day of good food and great company.

My good friend Claire has been going on about Gusto Food, in South Perth, for a long time now.  It is her "go to" breakfast spot. So, we thought it was about time to co-ordinated the dairies and scheduled ourselves a lazy Sunday brunch.

Gusto Food is a cute boutique cafe located on Angove Street in South Perth serving its own array of gourmet food. Nattering guests (mostly locals) pile out the door waiting for tables as the cafe buzzes with happy customers filling up on pulled pork sandwiches (yep - pulled pork for breakfast!),  homemade crumpets, donuts and perfectly cooked eggs. 

Claire went for her usual - the pulled pork sandwich.

While I went for goats cheese scrambled eggs with grilled tomato, basil and quinoa crunch on ciabatta toast.

With a large selection of house-baked goods, as well as gluten free, vegetarian and vegan options available, this is a great little spot for everyone.

If you are in the area, I highly recommend Gusto's for guaranteed good food and coffee. It is open for breakfast and lunch Tuesday to Sunday. The menu changes regularly and its breakfast menu is different each day of the weekend making it hard to resist returning simply to sample all the goodies on offer! 

My afternoon was spent in the beautiful Perth Town Hall celebrating the launch of the West Australian Camerata. My string quartet, Mill Point Quartet, was invited to be an integral part of this new chamber orchestra and we are incredibly excited to see it successfully launch onto the Perth music scene*.

Meet Balthazar!
After an early dinner at el Publico (unfortunately I forgot my camera meaning I will have to take on the incredibly difficult task of going back to review it properly for you all... what a shame!) I have returned home to spend the evening with my viola, a pot of tea and the fish to bid the weekend goodbye and prepare for the week ahead. 

What did you get up to this weekend? 

*I will soon be updating my blog with information on all the projects I am currently partaking in here in WA. I am sure you are just as thrilled as I am to see so many incredible cultural events occurring in this city! 

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Chocolate and Hazelnut Cookies

Today I thought I would start my recipe list with one of my easiest and most requested cookie recipes. 
Who doesn't love the wonderful combination of chocolate and hazelnuts in a scrumptious handheld treat?! 

This will make roughly 40 medium size cookies. 

First things first, choose your soundtrack - today I am listening to/studying Beethoven's String Quartet Op. 18 No. 6. Slightly nerdy I know, but incredibly beautiful all the same! 

Preheat your oven to 170degrees C. 

In a large bowl sift together 250g of all purpose flour, 1/2 a teaspoon of bicarb soda and 1/2 a teaspoon of salt. 

In a separate bowl, or your standing mixer, beat together 170g of melted butter, 200g of brown sugar and 100g caster sugar. 

Beat in 1 large egg, then a min later add another yolk before pouring in 1 teaspoon of vanilla paste. You can use vanilla extract if you have that instead, I just prefer the taste of vanilla paste.  

Slowly pour in your dry ingredients and mix well. 

Roughly chop 100g of hazelnuts and about 250g of chocolate. I am using Lindt 70% dark chocolate. Instead of chopping into pieces or using chocolate chips, I usually like to have really rough shards of chocolate that melt through the entire biscuit. 

Mix your chocolate and hazelnuts through your batter before creating small balls of dough to the desired size and place them on a prepared baking tray. 

Bake for 10 - 12 minuets and cool on a wire wrack. 

The cookies should last a couple of days in an airtight container - but to be honest, the batch has never really lasted long enough for me to test this theory! 


I will have a couple of happy housemates when they return home today... 

Ingredient List: 

250g of plain flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarb soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
170g unsalted butter, melted
200g brown sugar
100g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla paste 
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
250g good quality chocolate
100g hazelnuts