Holiday Activities in Melbourne.

Ohi ohi ohi ohi, I’m in love with your body, blasts from of the car radio. The windows are down, the chorus line repeats as the kids burst into harmony. I raise the volume, the crescendo builds and I join in. Come on be my baby come on. The energy of the kids is infectious on this glorious autumn day.

Pelicans, not so uncommon, but always loved.

We’re off to Melbourne Zoo. I’m keen to keep the costs down as school holiday activities can often blow the budget, especially given that Melbourne is such an expensive city. Children receive free admission to the Melbourne Zoo ( as well as at Healesville Sanctuary and Werribee open range zoo) on weekends, public holidays and Victorian School holidays. It’s a good time to go but expect it to be more crowded than usual. Tickets for adults cost between $25- 30. Adult tickets can be purchased online, saving the need to queue at the gate.

Haloumi pies from the A1 Bakery, Brunswick. $3 each.

First stop is early lunch in Brunswick. The kidlets love Lebanese Haloumi cheese pies from the A1 Bakery. Patrons help themselves to large bottles of chilled water and glasses. The children know that any request for sugar drinks will be met with a stern glare. They carry their water bottles when out on a trip: most venues in Melbourne offer water bottle refilling stations, including the zoo.

We park in Brunswick close to the Upfield train line. A few stops down the track is Royal Park Station, a dedicated zoo station and the best way to go. Kids find the train journey as fascinating as the zoo itself. The ever-changing graffiti along the route keeps them amused. If travelling with kids, make sure to purchase a children’s concession MYKI travel card at a staffed station before your trip. Most un- staffed stations have machines to top up your cards, but don’t issue new passes for children, seniors or anyone eligible for a concession.

Orangutan, Melbourne

On the train, we plan our adventure together. Each child nominates one enclosure they would like to see. Melbourne Zoo is huge and as we usually go there once a year, it’s important to make a plan before you go. They agreed on the following: baboons and orangutans, seals and penguins, elephants, butterflies, and tigers. Of course, en route, a few extra characters caught our attention.

Melbourne Zoo’s Giraffes

The 8-year-old was put in charge of the map and leadership for the day. They take turns with this task each year.

Ollie is in charge of the map.

One of the more impressive features of Melbourne zoo is the dense jungle planting near the elephant and tiger park. Over the years it has developed its own micro climate. The area has recreated an Indonesian village, with signs above shaded picnic tables in Bahasa Indonesian, Indonesian artifacts and dense forest planting.

The Butterfly enclosure is enormously popular. I managed to grab a seat inside and while the butterflies were lovely, I was more interested in the human reaction to them. People noticeably changed as they entered. Smiling, serene faces filled the space as old men, babies and children gazed upwards, all delighted. I enjoyed observing a three-month old baby almost leaping out of her pram- her eyes amazed and bewildered by the butterflies above. It’s very humid and close inside, but no one is in a rush and the atmosphere is hushed.

Butterfly enclosure

The zoo staff are active in promoting environmental messages about changing shopping behaviours to conserve habitat. The kids signed a petition to ban balloons from their birthday parties and received a fridge magnet to remind them.

‘Dolphins, whales, turtles, and many other marine species, as well as terrestrial animals such as cows, dogs, sheep, tortoises, birds and other animals have all been hurt or killed by balloons. The animal is usually killed from the balloon blocking its digestive tract, leaving them unable to take in any more nutrients. It slowly starves to death. The animals can also become entangled in the balloon and its ribbon making the animal unable to move or eat.’¹

Display near the penguin and seal enclosure
Penguins, Melbourne Zoo

The other strong message concerned the massive increase in the use of palm oil and its effect on habitat. A display of common supermarket items, ranging from Lindt chocolate to chips, biscuits, soaps and shampoos, made it clear to kids what products contain palm oil.

‘To make room for palm crops, huge areas of tropical forests and other ecosystems where conservation is important are being stripped bare. Critical habitat for orangutans and many endangered species – including rhinos, elephants and tigers – has been destroyed. Forest-dwelling people lose their land, local communities are negatively affected.’²

Many products containing palm oil are disguised with labels such as vegetable oil, sodium laurel sulphate, glyceryl, to name a few.

This display had a profound affect on me and the older children eventually got the connection.

Elephants, Melbourne zoo.

Costs per child: Melbourne Zoo, free. Haloumi pies, $3 pp, icypole $3pp. Train fare $2.10 pp. Total per child, AU$9.10 plus adult costs.

¹ https://balloonsblow.org/impacts-on-wildlife-and-environment/

² http://www.treehugger.com/sustainable-agriculture/25-sneaky-names-palm-oil.html

Butterflies, Melbourne Zoo

a1 Bakery, Brunswick. Winter in Melbourne

Can we go to the a1 Bakery? This is the phrase, a little sing-song mantra, repeated by all the children whenever they’re within a stone’s throw of Brunswick. My six grandchildren, not overly fond of restaurant dining, are all excited about eating here at any time of the day.

Breakfast at A1 Bakery in Brunswick.
Breakfast at A1 Bakery in Brunswick.

The eldest, Mischa, acquired her taste for Middle Eastern pies at the age of 6 months. Now 19, she is still completely hooked. I met her, quite by chance, in the a1 Bakery last year. She had travelled into Brunswick, more than an hour’s journey by train, to pick up 15 middle eastern pies to take home to the freezer. Stuck in the outer suburbs, she gets ‘a1’ cravings. The children never stray from the halloumi stuffed half-moon pies whereas I go for the spinach and feta triangle, the shanklish or the falafel platter.

Moody Melbourne in winter and Haloumi Pies
Moody Melbourne in winter and halloumi pies

The a1 Bakery is an institution in Brunswick and the place is usually packed on the weekend. It is the home of the cheap and cheerful snack as well as freshly made pide and Turkish bread. Over the last 20 years, the pies have gradually increased in price from $2 to $3.50. The middle eastern pizzas are light with delicate toppings, while the platter of labne, pickles and bread is a new treat. The falafel comes wrapped or deconstructed. A caffè latte is only $2.50 and cold water bottles and glasses are free for the taking. The coffee is delivered to your table with a smile. Good coffee in real cups, no fake American sizing, food cooked to order, enjoyed by kids and adults alike.

A1 Bakery, the perfect snack.
a1 Bakery, Brunswick. The perfect snack.

The a1 Bakery menu can be found here.  http://a1bakery.com.au/

643-645 Sydney Rd. Brunswick VIC 3056

Slow and Fast Pizza

pizza
Pizza Napolitana con Pomodori Gialli e Gremolata.

There is an odd family tradition at Casa Morgana. Whenever we go overseas, or even into the city for a quick getaway, our adult children move in for a Pizza Party. A case of when the cat’s away… except that these mice are mature, responsible adults most of the time, unless it’s pizza party night and then it’s play time. Part of the ritual involves numerous preliminary texts and FB messages enquiring about the dough recipe, or my stand mixer, or the settings on my Ilve oven, or do I have anchovies. This post is partly for them, but it I hope it serves as a basis for a good pizza for you too, dear reader.

Golden Pomodori or is that a tautology?
Golden Pomodori or is that a tautology?

This pizza utilises the garden’s summer bounty: sliced golden tomatoes with a dressing of parsley gremolata, a finely chopped parsley and garlic moistened with EV olive oil, which anoints the pizza once it has emerged from the oven. As we have a preference for Pizza Napolitana – and in Melbourne, that means olives and anchovies-  large supplies of both ingredients are always kept in the fridge. These huge tins of Italian anchovy fillets (700g) last well. The fillets stay ‘sott’olio’-  you can always top up the oil- and come with a handy plastic cover. No more fear of anchovy deprivation.

Anchovies in bulk. 750 grams. Some for the Pizza and some for Daisy, straight out of the tin.
Anchovies in bulk. 700 grams. Purchased at Gervasi, Sydney Rd, Brunswick, for around AU$14.

My pizza dough recipe comes from Carol Field’s The Italian Baker. I have revised and simplified this recipe from my previous post of two years ago.

Ingredients for Two Large Pizze

This dough is made in a stand mixer. If you prefer, you can make it by hand or in a food processor. Use cold water if using a processor. If you double the mixture, make it in two lots as most stand mixers don’t enjoy mixing a kilo of flour. I have listed ingredients in cups and by weight. My children generally depend on cup measurements even though they are all excellent cooks. I prefer to weigh.

  • 1¾ teaspoons/5g active dry yeast
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1¹/³ cup/ 320g warm water
  • ¼ cup/ 55g olive oil
  • 3¾ cup/500g bakers flour*
  • 1½ teaspoons /7.5g sea salt

Stir the yeast and sugar into the water in the stand mixer bowl; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the oil with the paddle. Mix the flour and salt and add to the yeast mixture. Mix until the dough comes together. Change to the dough hook and knead at medium speed until soft and satiny but firm, about 3 minutes or more. Finish kneading briefly by hand on a lightly floured surface and form into a ball.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat then cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled. Depending on the weather, and the room temperature, this may take one to two hours. In summer, things move more quickly.

Shaping and second rise. Knead the dough briefly on a lightly floured surface, for 1-2 minutes. Divide the dough into two (this amount will make two large pizze). Roll each piece into a ball on a floured surface then flatten to a thin disk or shape and stretch by hand.

Place the dough on large trays dusted with semolina or polenta or lightly oiled then let them rise another 30 minutes, covered with a towel. Dress them with your favourite topping. Preheat oven to 250c. Place in the oven and drop the temperature to 220c. Cook for around 20 minutes. You can usually smell when the pizza is ready. It is done when the outer crust is crisp and a little charred and the underside is golden.

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Pizza Estiva

The fast pizze are those we make for a quick breakfast/brunch. For a cheat’s pizza, they are still good. Grab some large rounds of yeasted Lebanese Pide. These are not the usual flatbreads used for wraps or roll ups but are much puffier; they are  also much nicer than those supermarket cardboard pre-made bases. A packet of 4 costs $4.00, they measure around 30 cm in diameter and last well in the fridge of freezer. Look for these in a Lebanese bakery near you.

Yeasted Pide from A1 Bakery, Sydney Rd, Brunswick. Not available every day.

On goes some passata di pomodoro, mozzarella, a manciata or handful of olives, herbs in season, chopped garlic and a few summer tomatoes, roughly sliced. Count on a total prep and cooking time of 10 minutes and it’s back to the orto. 

Everyone has their own favourite pizza sauce. I usually leave this up to Mr Tranquillo, who makes a nice garlic laced version but I love the simplicity of this pizza sauce from Signorina Napoli at Napoli Restaurant Alert. And as for her cake recipes, a world of temptation awaits those who enter.

* Bakers flour is used in preference to unbleached white plain flour. A reliable brand in Melbourne is by Manildra which comes in 10 kilo bags for around $15.00. I have never had any success using Italian doppio zero flour : I find the lack of gluten in ’00’ flour makes the dough too wet or soft.