Tuesday, 25 February 2014

February Magic

There is something really magical about February in Perth. The city streets come alive as everybody floods out to enjoy balmy evenings under the stars and take advantage of the pop up bars, restaurants and stages as the arts, in all forms, take over!

In Perth, February means festival season. As the Fringe World Festival and Perth International Arts Festival waltz into town we are all reminded that Perth isn't just a quiet little isolated city anymore. Venues all over the place return to life. Comedy, dance, theatre, art, circus, photography, music, street performers and well... mermaids pop up in all imaginable forms in every corner of the city and, for a couple of months audiences are spoilt for choice! 

Not just in festival form however. Independent events also flood the town and the outer suburbs ensuring that everyone gets a piece of the action. 

Although this year I haven't been personally involved in the Festivals (as a participant that is) I have been involved in the magic of February in other ways. 

A couple of weekends ago I was fortunate enough to join the Perth Symphony Orchestra for an incredible weekend in Margaret River performing Diana Krall and James Morrison. 
It was a really wonderful weekend of shows at Leeuwin Estate, a weekend of the best company, beautiful scenery, good food and wine and the most inspiring musicians. Diana Krall and her band were truly phenomenal!!! Such an honour to work with such high calibre musicians who just ooze a love for their art. 

My main venture and joy this month however has been my work with my lovely string quartet, Mill Point Quartet. For those of you who know me, I have a very soft spot for chamber music, in particular for string quartets and for working with this incredible bunch of people. 

There is something very special about playing string quartets. The writing is so involved and varied,  no one has a chance to sit back as every single note is as valuable as the next. Melodies drift from one instrument to the next as conversation is lifted from the page. 

Not only do I have the joy of performing string quartets consistently throughout the year, but I get to do it with some of my closest friends. I know I say this a lot, but I don't think there is much better than that. 

Last Sunday we ran a little concert at the Kidogo Arthouse, a gorgeous limestone gallery nestled right on the beach of Fremantle. 

Inside you will find worn hard wood floors, wooden rafters and whitewash walls, usually covered in fascinating exhibits by local and international artists. I am really in love with this building, every part of it tells a story, and it is such a joy to play in. Not only are the acoustics beautiful, but we are able to share our stories with a space that listens and shares its tales back. 

One of our main goals is to expose audiences to new experiences and share with them music that they may not have heard otherwise. We find that people can be turned off by the traditional concert experiences and concert halls, and as a result aren't exposed to classical music in a comfortable way feel as connected with the music as we do. So when choosing spaces to perform in we try to choose ones that are as welcoming and relaxing as possible. 
As we dance around the stage with bare feet in the glittering candle light, to the sounds of crashing waves from outside, I feel this building allows just that. 

We just performed two works on the night, String Quartet No.21 in D Major K. 575 by Mozart and String Quartet Op.44 No.1 in D Major by Mendelssohn. Both wonderful pieces - if you like string quartets and haven't heard these yet I highly recommend them. 

I am actually sitting here researching repertoire for the next couple of concerts as we speak. There is so much incredible music out there. I can't wait to get the ball rolling on these next projects so that we can share it with everyone! 

It is quite a thing to run your own concert. Very different from being invited to perform at an existing concert series. The amount of background work is obviously much higher and well it is a bit of a risk, but it is so worthwhile when these self run events are successful and everyone leaves with a smile on their face, even if it leaves us utterly exhausted! 

All photos of Mill Point Quartet were taken by Robyn Hamilton. 

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Nothing Like An Island Getaway!

It is so easy to get swept up in the excitement of the big, wide, unknown world and forget what gems are found right on your doorstep. But with all the beauty and adventure I have been fortunate enough to experience in recent years, Rottnest Island is somewhere I will always hold close to my heart. Located just of the cost of Fremantle WA, this picturesque island is playground for all ages, and is a part of my history. 

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to get over to the island for a night to join my family, and a couple of dear family friends who were spending the weekend there. I have been visiting Rottnest, or Rotto, with my family since I was a baby, and it is always wonderful to get back over there with them to explore and reminisce over the thousands of childhood memories we all have hidden in the islands nooks and crannies. 

Unfortunately I couldn't join everyone for Friday night as I had a concert but I made it over on the ferry Saturday morning, ready to squeeze in as much sunshine as I could! 

After just a 30minute ferry ride from Fremantle (Perth's coastal town) I collected my bike and hit the road to meet my parents on one of the far beaches.

Listed as an A-Class Reserve since the early 1900s Rottnest is beautifully kept with crystal clear waters, and stunning flora and fauna. With no private ownership of the land allowed, Rotto is a popular holiday destination for West Australians and International travellers alike. As cars, other than essential service vehicles, are not allowed on the island you are left to explore by walking or cycling. 

As I cycled through the islands salt lakes I was instantly swept up in our local paradise, feeling incredibly relaxed as I rolled across the roads I remember so well. 

I met my family at Stark Bay, one of Rotto's 63 secluded beaches, where they were already set up and about to jump in the water for the first snorkel of the day. With a diverse marine life and protected reefs, Rottnest is a wonderful place for snorkelling and diving. Just a couple of meters off the shore you will be able to see a variety of fish and brightly coloured coral, making it a very accessible activity for everyone! 

After an exhausting couple of hours fighting against the currents and playing in the sun we cycled back to our chalet where we were staying for the night. 

The island has a range of accommodation options, from camping, chalets and even the Rottnest hotel. 
Our chalet wasn't anything overly fancy, but incredibly relaxing never the less and is equipped with everything you may need for a night away. It is possible to just visit the island for the day, and if that is the only chance you have then please do, but if you have the option I highly recommend staying on the island for a couple of days. Something I hadn't done for many years. 

The afternoon was spent lazing with our books, fishing and wandering the beaches at our doorstep before a quick shower and heading to the pub for dinner. 

My sister, Kelly, is a very talented sound engineer who was working a gig that night with the band Hundred Acre Wood at the pub, so we all went down for a spot of dinner, a drink and a night of great live music! 

I would like to take this moment to mention the Quakkas! Rotto isn't Rotto without mentioning these incredibly cute native marsupials! In 1696 the Dutchmen Vlamingh passed by the island and described these little guys as a "kind of rat as big as a cat" and decided to name the island Rottes Nest (Rats Nest). 

Sunday was spent pretty much the same. After a morning stroll with the Crested Terns on Fay's Bay, we grabbed our bikes and headed to Little Parakeet Bay for a morning snorkel.

Crested Terns

We then headed to the main Settlement for a well earned lunch at the Rotto Bakery (A must!) before a couple of us visited the other side of the island where the old army barracks are found. 

The Rottnest Bakery

After being a location of a Prisoner of War Camp during World War 1, the island was used as a defence point for Western Australia in the 2nd. The history of its military use is still seen today as you can visit its key sights and be guided through its tunnels. 

My family and friends had a ferry at 2pm that afternoon so we reconvened for a spot of tea before parting ways. I still had a couple of hours on the island, meaning more than enough time to visit some more of my favourite locations and read a couple more chapters of my book on a beach before heading back to Fremantle on the ferry. 

No matter how long you spend on Rottnest, it never feels like long enough, yet you have been transported to a world away from home. You are left watching the stresses of city life float away across 18km of ocean, left simply with the wind in your hair and sand in your toes. 

The only problem is deciding which exquisite bay to explore next. 
All further information about Rottnest can be found on their website here.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Carrot Cake

There isn't much better than knowing you have a cake waiting at home to help get you through the week. This is a delicious, moist, easy to make carrot cake with a scrumptious cream cheese frosting (possibly the best bit!), that is perfect for any time of year and will have all of your guests leaving with happy tastebuds. 

Even though it is already February, I don't feel that I have gotten my head around the fact that it is actually 2014! So with school going back and projects on the rise this is the week to kick start and get my act together. The result though has been turning my house into a cafe... but now the procrastination is over and the tea and cakes are in place, it is time for me to sit down at my laptop and get cracking on the year ahead. 

Carrot cake is one of my favourite cakes. This is a great, reliable recipe that is perfect as a full cake, loaf or even scrumptious cupcakes! 

Heat your oven to 180degrees celsius. 

Beat together 1 cup brown sugar and 1 cup of sunflower oil (you can also use vegetable oil) until think. One at a time, add in 3 eggs beating well in-between.

Add a pinch of salt, 1/2 a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, 1teaspoon of vanilla, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, a teaspoon of nutmeg and 2 cups of self-raising flour. Grate 4-5 carrots (roughly 2 cups worth) and roughly chop a cup of walnuts, add to your mixture and stir through until combined. 

Pour batter into prepared cake tin or muffin trays and place into the oven. The cake should take 40-50mins, and the cupcakes 15-20 or until a skewer comes out clean. 

Once cooked, remove from oven and leave to cool completely. 

In the meantime prepare your icing cream cheese icing. 
Beat together 50g of unsalted butter (room temperature) and roughly 300g of icing sugar. Once combined beat in 150g of cream cheese. Beat at a high speed until light and fluffy. 

I like my icing with a little bit of zing so I include a teaspoon of lemon juice, and a teaspoon of lemon zest as well as a touch of vanilla. If you decide to go with this variation you may need to add a bit more icing sugar to your mixture to keep the icing thick. 

Be careful to only ice your cake once it is completely cooled. Otherwise your icing may run. 
To decorate, top your iced treats with a handful of roughly chopped walnuts and a hint of lemon zest. 

Ingredient List:

1 cup Brown Sugar
1 cup Sunflower Oil (or vegetable oil)
3 large Eggs
Pinch of Salt
1/2 teaspoon of Bicarb Soda
2 cups Self Raising Flour 
2 cups grated Carrot
1 Cup roughly chopped walnuts (more for decoration)
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Nutmeg
1 teaspoon Vanilla

Cream Cheese Frosting
300g Icing Sugar (possibly more)
125g Cream Cheese
50g Unsalted Butter (room temp)

1 teaspoon Lemon Juice 
1 teaspoon fine Lemon Zest (more for decoration)
1 teaspoon Vanilla