Becoming Australian

Prom dress; singing Waltzing Matliza

Prom dress; singing Waltzing Matliza

Senior citizens in bright pink prom dresses and oversized sports coats stood at the front of Richmond Town Hall while singing Waltzing Matilda, Australia’s unofficial national anthem. Confused, and slightly drunk, I attempted to sing along amongst the 79 other people from 32 countries that would momentarily become, like I would too, an Australian citizen.

Arriving two weeks earlier from London, I sat outside at a pub in Windsor catching up with friends I hadn’t seen in nearly 6 months. At first they seemed unsure of what was so different about me. Was it my hair? Had I grown back into my city slicker ways?


I was pale. They had never seen me so pale! Two winters back to back and I showed up in sunny Australia the color of a ghost.

I was way more emotional coming back to Australia then I had expected. But then again I’m still confused why I didn’t anticipate I would be. Australia was my home for almost 5 years. That’s longer than college, and longer than my time in Hoboken.

It’s strange to come back to somewhere that was your home for so long, and everything is still the same. All of my favorite places; all my favorite people. But I think that’s what made the whole citizenship experience more special.

I went back to my old flat. I slept in my old bed with the same bed sheets, the same towel hanging in the shower, and my shoe rack in the closet. I even had left my summer wardrobe behind. It was like I lived there, but in reality I was in someone else’s bed, using someone’ else’s things that were once mine. The good news was it was at least my best friends’ and not some strangers!

I immediately stomped my old haunts. I sauntered down Bridge Road for avocado on toast at my local Gypsey & Mosquito and bumped into my former doctor. I had mac and cheese and burnt ends at Meat Mother with old coworkers after getting my nails done at my favorite budget salon Paradise Nails. I took Wes’s dachshund Frieda for walks along the Yarra River, she’s kind of my dog too, or at least I pretend she is.

I didn’t realize until I came back home how much I had missed it all. Waking up each morning to the bright sun, coercing me out of bed. Even spending time in Sydney, the place my love affair with Australia first started, made me ache to move back. There was familiarity of running along the coast from Bondi to Bronte, stopping to watch the surfers, and sipping drinks at swanky beach bars.

Iceberg's, Bondi Beach

Iceberg’s, Bondi Beach

So as I sat in the back row in Richmond Town Hall waiting for my name to be called, of course it was in alphabetical order, I smiled to myself a bit. I approached the whole citizenship thing a bit casual at first, I paid my dues and lived in the country long enough, but when I finally entered into it I felt excited to be an Australian.

Lisa Vecchio, Australian Citizenship ceremony

I’m an Australian!

I waved my little Aussie flag high to greet my best friends Anne Marie and Nidya (who amazingly flew in from Brisbane for less than 24 hours to share the celebration). I looked over from time to time and smiled at the Asian guy to my right, who was so excited he kept jumping out of his seat. I was grateful as the mayor explained there is a reason why they have a banner hanging out front stating that asylum seekers are welcome, and felt proud to live in a place that provides refuge.

To sit amongst a group of people who were there for many different reasons, all with varying colors, languages and motivations, and to think about how I got to be in that same room, was one of the most rewarding things I had ever done. And afterwards as I sat with a plateful of dumplings and my bottle of wine with some of my closest friends, I felt damn proud to call Australia one of my many homes and to now call myself a tri-citizen.



Goodbye Melbourne, Hello Again… London

These Two Eyes are on the move again, just a few weeks shy of leaving behind Australia to relocate back to my favourite city in the world, London!

But now this part feels too short; the waiting part. All of the songs I hear sound like home, like Melbourne. The familiarity of my apartment, my commute on my cherry-apple bike, the banter between me and my roommate, the smells and tastes of my favourite restaurants on Bridge Road – they are all reaching out to me saying, don’t go! The red wine and fun times keep flowing though, we stumble a bit but just go with it. Then I smile and remember that this is just another step on an amazing journey.

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Australia is a special place I know I’d like to come back to, even long term again one day. I recognize now the things I’ve taken for granted; the best beaches on the planet, world class food and wine, proximity to remote islands, a refreshing outlook on life, and lifelong friendships.

I’ve learned so much in my close to 4.5 years here and want to always keep these lessons front of mind:

  • Slow down, have fun and stop worrying about getting to the top.
  • The world is both small and accessible, keep traveling, always.
  • Do what you love and don’t settle for anything, or anyone, less. Life is what you make of it and there is no formula to follow.

Making a move is never easy but the outcome is also never regretted. I think it’s because there is so much you can’t anticipate.  When I’m content I associate it with the place I love at the moment, the fun factor. But then the next minute I have a conversation about a 15-year old dying of cancer, and it hits me that life is so short. Do what you want and be happy, yet that is also difficult when family and friends are so far away and traveling to you for a visit isn’t an option. So is happiness Europe on a whim or a swim in Bondi over the weekend? They both win for different reasons.

I’ve always been one to follow through when I say I’m going to accomplish something and this is no different. Australia has given me the opportunity to pursue my dreams time-and-time again and now is just another chance to stay true to what I’ve always said; I want to live in London again one day.

In fact, when I first moved over to Australia I created a bucket list of sorts – check it out, and stay tuned because I will also do the same for this move too. I’m proud to say I’ve ticked off each one and so much more. I’ve snorkelled the Great Barrier Reef 3 times. I’ve visited nearly every major wine region across Australia and New Zealand. I’ve seen and tasted wallaby, kangaroo, crocodile, and a few other interesting creatures. I’ve visited every state in Australia and lived in 2. I’ve watched and learned to play AFL, NRL, croquet and lawn bowls. Visited the outback and red center, various coasts and hinterlands and conquered crazy fears like skydiving and shark diving. And I’m lucky to be a permanent resident and not just a backpacker restricted by timeframes; I got to do it all!

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Australia has also turned me into a food snob. I have a lot of very expensive average dinners. Or maybe that’s just how pretentious my palette has become. I’ve had to learn to fight the urge to eat before I fly, whilst in the lounge, on the plane and after to maintain a tinge of self-control (and moderate weight). And that’s partly because I fly so regularly my obsession and loyalty to the national airline Qantas is not sane.  I’m like that movie Up in the Air – always reaching out for that higher frequent flyer status.

And sometimes I sit on the tram and look at Flinders Station and think how beautiful it is. Melbourne is beautiful, especially at night. I watch the meter tick by as it gets more and more expensive, but it’s not London. It’s not supposed to be. There are trams instead of tubes, different arts, music and entertainment, secret bars and graffiti-clad laneways and then there’s the food and wine, of course. There’s nothing like it.

Flinders station

Flinders Station and passing tram

After seeing old friends in Brisbane this past weekend, I questioned to myself – why am I leaving all the people and things I love? My response was to also be with those I’ve loved first.

I popped back in London in July just to double check. At times it seemed a bit primal. A true melting pot changing neighbourhood by neighbourhood offering something to meet everyone’s wants. I went to sleep that last night thankful for Tommy and Paul and Jake and Dave and the people already in my life. I’m also thankful to show up in a city and call it my own. I have too many of these situations in too many cities: Brisbane, Philadelphia, Melbourne, New York, London. I love getting off the plane in each of these cities knowing I’ve already mastered the place. I know where to go for a beer, a bite and to kill time shopping or exploring.

Last year after returning from London I was nervous of the influence Australia was having on me. It’s almost as if life is too good. It’s a bit of a utopia of sorts. I realized as I tried to explain my dilemma how disillusioned it sounds. In comparison to the US my income is high, it’s safe, there’s minimal crime, you get free stuff on planes and people accept regular travel as a normal part of life. Oh, and they shorten everything they say which fits in perfect with the vocabulary I acquired as a teenager. So, what’s the prob? Right, I actually feel like I’m losing my street smarts. I’ll become unnecessarily cautious in some situations and too aloof or trustworthy in others that require alertness. I assume affluence is standard and have overlooked aspects of my fortune. This has caused me to recognize how removed from the society I grew up with I actually am.

So do I really just love London because it was my first? It was my first time abroad, my first time living overseas, and my first time traveling alone to new countries. But that’s what happens when you fall in love with a city at 13 years-old.  It will always be ‘my’ city. People respond in shock when I tell them it’s my favourite city in the world. I’ve lived there at 19 and 22. What will it be like 10 years later? American accents are everywhere – I won’t be unique anymore. I won’t have people asking every day where I’m from or how long I’m staying. That is my life on repeat, always asking ‘what’s next’ and despite a bitter sweet goodbye to Australia, I’m more excited than ever to begin life again in London.

I can’t wait to visit old haunts and make new ones. To sit in a dodgy pub with friends I’ve yet to meet and those I know will help me transition. To travel like a big kid all of Europe on weekends and evolve my palette even further on French and Italian wines. To fall in love with boys with funny accents, achieve success in my new international job and to live somewhere where friends and family can and will come visit. There is still so much unknown to get excited about.

Recently, standing in an old warehouse converted into a music venue in a trendy Melbourne neighbourhood watching the Brisbane band The Jungle Giants, I drunkenly smiled a bit and said, “I want the whole time to be awesome, not just the last 20 years.” And so here I go, it continues…

Lisa Vecchio, Tower Bridge, London

Lisa Vecchio, Tower Bridge, London

I won the Ultimate Gourmet Escape to Hobart, Tasmania

We’ve all seen those contests on Facebook and Instagram. They’re ever present. But do you ever sit back and think to yourself, who actually wins them? Would you believe it if I told you I won 3 in one week!

It all started with a raffle at artesian brewer Moon Dog. I had a couple of casual beers on a Saturday afternoon and before I knew it I walked away with a complimentary case of their intense annual brew Jumping the Shark. A few days later I had entered a contest on Facebook sponsored by local food guide The Urban List Melbourne and Crown Melbourne. I had won $200 to dine at world acclaimed Japanese restaurant Nobu. It was delicious of course.

But when my Instagram @Leeveca was pinged as the winner of The Ultimate Gourmet Escape presented by I couldn’t believe it. The prize included economy flights for two people to Hobart, Tasmania valued at $800, one night’s accommodation at MONA Pavilions valued at $700, MONA Gallery entry valued at $50, and dinner for two at Franklin Restaurant valued at $200.

When my friend Renee planned her visit from the US I gave her the ultimate ultimatum. In addition to adventuring around Melbourne, down the Great Ocean Road and across to Phillip Island, sailing the Whitsundays and snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, she had to make a hard decision. Visit Australia’s most iconic city Sydney, or go rogue by adventuring to Tasmania to cash in my Ultimate Gourmet Escape prize. It was a no brainer, Tassie won.

After stepping off a 24-hour flight to Melbourne from Philadelphia via LAX and traveling by Sky Bus into Southern Cross Station, I quickly ushered her to my apartment in Richmond to shower, grab a quick bite and pack a small bag. A few hours later we were back at the airport sipping wine in the Qantas Lounge awaiting our flight to Hobart. Jetlag would have to wait.

View from Coal Valley Vineyard

View from Coal Valley Vineyard, Tasmania

Franklin is one of the hottest restaurants in Hobart right now and deservingly so. The kitchen is the epi-center of this simplistic, cement and timber themed eatery. Dining at the bar, our favourite part was observing the chefs expertly prepare each plate individually; taking their time as if it was their first. I envied both their patience and precision as there was definitely no rush to get it wrong.

Periwinkles @ Franklin Restaurant

Periwinkles @ Franklin Restaurant

Everything bar one dish was awesome. We experimented with periwinkles, a small sea snail with a surprisingly long body and questionably mushy finish. Not your typical escargot. We fought over the last oyster, bite of kingfish and wallaby tartare. The gamey wagyu however let us down.  Renee comfortably slept off her jetlag that evening in the picturesque Victorian era-restored hotel Hadley’s Orient.

Boutique Wine Tours Tasmania led us on a journey the next day through the historic town of Richmond and to sample the famed pinot noir of the Coal River Valley. Having been through here a few times prior, David who guided the tour exceeded my expectations as we visited the oldest church, goal and bridge in Australia (just saying the country isn’t that old), sipped quality pinot and sparkling at my favourite family owned winery Pooley Wines, and tasted chilli cheddar and more outstanding cheese at Wicked Cheese. The hospitality at Richmond Tasting House as Renee tried the local whiskies and I sat trying all the food samples on repeat, was a highlight.

Oldest Bridge in Australia, Richmond, Tasmania

Oldest Bridge in Australia, Richmond, Tasmania

That evening we were welcomed into MONA Pavilions, one of 8 uniquely designed apartments that are situated on the museum property facing the River Derwent, each named after a famed Australian architect or artist, going for $700 a night! Luckily it was my birthday at midnight so we celebrated with the complimentary bottle of Moorilla Estate’s Muse Brut while ensuring we made the most out of the place, the Beatles turned up through each modern speaker fitted in the wall units and sipped our sparkling on the veranda overlooking the river. Ours was coincidentally named Robin, which is Renee’s middle name.

MONA Pavilions

MONA Pavilions

The Source, the very upmarket and nationally respected contemporary, French-inspired restaurant at MONA was our biggest and most frustrating disappointment. While our server Alice was spunky and friendly, our sommelier appeared strangely depressed. The atmosphere, which seemed like a dated hotel function room, didn’t compliment the $200pp price tag for the 5-course degustation plus wine pairings. While I finished every bite of the Morton bugs with apple, wasabi and lime and the scallop gnocchi using a golden spork, I commented, “wow that was so interesting!”  And “oooh, this is so weird.” But Renee said it right at the end, as we requested a cheese plate over dessert and found that to be one of the best bits. She said, “For $200 I don’t want an interesting meal, I want a delicious one.” So true, despite us both being very passionate about food, every dish definitely challenged by palette.

Golden spork @ The Source

Golden spork @ The Source

Before flying out we spent the morning nursing our hangovers with Xavier, the fantastic host at the Moorilla Estate cellar door while working through a tasting flight of both the wines and Moo Brew beers.

Lisa & Renee @ Moorilla Cellar Door

Lisa & Renee @ Moorilla Cellar Door

We then entered MONA – the wacky Museum of New Art.  The exhibition featured the works of Marina Abramovic and it was weird and wonderful. Dark spaces contained videos of people screaming at the top of their lungs, of a woman frantically biting her nails, and a rice counting room where we had to leave our phone and watches behind after putting on a lab coat. Once we entered the room of complete silence we were separated, then a scoop full of rice was presented in front of us. We sat there for about 15 minutes and I thought to myself, to work here for hours staring at people staring at rice in silence would be insane. We then ended the day with a tour of Moorilla Estate, yes more wine.

On our journey home we watched the sunset from the airplane window all the way back to Melbourne. It was a memorable birthday with an old friend in a beautiful part of the world. A special thanks to for making it all possible.

For more ideas on what to do in Tasmania check out my previous post: My Tasmanian Secrets

Top 5 New Wine Learning’s From the WSET Level 1 Course

In my effort to become a professional wine drinker I’ve decided I’ll need to step up my game. I’ve been to nearly every major wine region in Australia and New Zealand, have visited vineyards in the US and South Africa, and next month I’ll tackle the ever famous Bordeaux and often overlooked vineyards of coastal Croatia.

But recently I accepted, with increased encouragement (i.e. nagging) from my mother, that a wine qualification outside of the many wine festivals and events I attend throughout the year, in addition to my far too regular consumption within my own apartment, would really provide the deeper understanding that I need – both as an enthusiast and one with interest in working with the industry.

Last weekend I completed the internationally recognized Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 1 Award in Wines (QCF). I walked away reassured of my pre-existing knowledge of wine varietals, tasting, pouring, storing and food pairing. However, there were definitely a few new things I learned as well. And while I’m pretty confident that I passed the exam, I’m still eagerly waiting for my old-school pencil-filled-in-scantron test to be sent to the UK, then the results mailed back to Australia, so that I can receive an email notifying me that I have passed and then I will go to the Wine House to pick up my certificate and lapel pin.

WSET: Level 1 Course

WSET: Level 1 Course @ The Wine House: Melbourne

Top 5 new wine learning’s from the WSET Level 1 Course:

  1. A Champagne bottle should be tilted at a 30-degree angle and you should twist the bottle, not the cork when opening.
  1. Rinse my wine glasses thoroughly before pouring wine. I’ve never previously considered the affects of detergent on the wine flavors.
  1. I don’t quite have the whole food/wine-pairing thing down as well as I thought and should practice more on how acid, sweetness, spiciness, salt and bitterness affect the taste of wine.
  1. Confusion between Burgundy (pinot noir) and Bordeaux (cabernet sauvignon and merlot) is now clarified. Great timing since I had already booked my trip to Bordeaux.
  1. Sauternes is a sweet white wine I’ve never heard of but will likely try while in Bordeaux very soon.

Next up on my list is completing WSET® Level 2 Award Wines and Spirits (QCF) to learn more in depth knowledge on wine making, wine regions, varietals and food pairing. The challenge here is the astronomical cost associated with it so you could say I’m open to sponsorship. Wink wink. If you’re interested in where classes are offered in your region, visit the WSET website. And if you’re ever looking to share a great vintage, you know who to turn to!

Twelve Apostles

Adventuring the Great Ocean Road

“Iconic Australia,” they say. “Car stopping scenery,” they’ve boasted. “Breathtaking natural wonders,” I read.

And it’s all true. The 243-kilometer stretch of road along Victoria’s Southeast coast is certainly to be admired. Even better, as a first timer I learned that what I like to lazily refer to as the GOR (Great Ocean Road) is the world’s longest war memorial; built from 1919 to 1932 in remembrance of those who died in WWI by it’s own returning soldiers.

Just like them we had a plan. Luckily though we averaged more than 3 kilometers a month. Leaving early on a Saturday morning we took the highway coupled with some back roads and traveled inland for about 4 hours directly to Warrnambool, the largest city along the Road just near its start. From there, we slowly made our way along the coast back toward Melbourne while seeing what was on offer.

Great Ocean Roadtrip

Great Ocean Roadtrip

And as far as Warrnambool is concerned I’ll tell you what’s on offer. Kermond’s Hamburgers is its biggest claim to fame and rightfully so! This old-school joint, still serving thick malted milkshakes in white aprons, was packed to the rafters. They keep the menu simple: burger, fried onions and bun. Customize it with normal stuff: tomatoes, lettuce, cheese or Aussie add-ons i.e. fried egg, beetroot, mayo. “Every bite of that vinegar jalapeno was like heaven in my mouth,” my Aussie travel companion slash foodie Nidya, slurred with her last bite.

We left excited to officially start our GOR journey but were quickly disappointed once we entered Allansford Cheese World. With a name such as Cheese World they set pretty high expectations. I mean, we practically did a 180 to get there as one would assume according to their advertising that there would be a monumental amount of cheese coupled with delicate wine tasting. What we experienced though was a service station, fast-food restaurant, Yellowtail retailer and tourist shop rolled into one. In the back, in the small room labeled Cheese, we were resurrected by delectable aged cheddars and somehow walked away with a varietal of 5 hefty wedges to consume over the weekend.

Cheese World

Cheese World

We traveled on and just as we began to smell the salty sea air and the coast came into view the sky turned overcast and it began to drizzle. We pulled off at the first few scenic lookouts to get some early snaps in a foggy view of the cerulean ocean contrasted against amazing limestone formations. I was starting to panic that my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to snap the much anticipated – the whole reason we drove for hours and hours – this is not really happening I’m sure it will clear up any second – no really, is it seriously raining – iconic rock formations would be ruined by fowl weather.

Finally we reached the holy grail of Port Campbell, home to the famed Twelve Apostles (now actually ten) and “heart of the Great Ocean Road”. The tourist buses lined the parking lot and the selfie sticks were endless. I was thankful that I canceled the tour I booked six months ago and was here on my terms, or at least in a small group of intimate friends thanks to Wes’ amazing patience and driving skills.

But we were fast about it while still taking it all in. My head unknowingly blocked endless selfies and my hair whipped against my face causing a uni-brow in nearly every picture. Just as we were about to depart and began walking away the clouds cleared and the sun shimmered causing the right light on the striking water. It was stunning. Camera out, I finally got my shots. We could conclusively rest for the evening.

In Apollo Bay, our 4-bed lofted studio at Coastal Motel offered the right mix of comfort and location just across from the beach and walking distance to all of the charming restaurants and shops in town. Even better, we had a heap of cheese to consume along with boutique wine and beers we brought with us. In fact, the week prior I had just won a case of 14% (ABV) Jumping the Shark (Hungarian oak barrel-aged saffron’d imperial red ale aka intense) from Melbourne craft brewers Moon Dog and needed a team to consume them with. The Fonz couldn’t have done it alone either.

Sunday morning we were back on the road heading inland to explore Great Otway National Park and the Otway Fly Treetop Adventures. Word to the wise, the winding, twisting, I-was-near-vomiting curves of the road to get there are to be cautioned about. But for real, my window was rolled down and my head was hanging out like a fatigued dog. $25 is a steep fare to walk on steel structures at the top of some trees and better value if you opted for their zip lining tours albeit for a much heftier price. We proudly boasted that between four of us we had zip lined in South Africa, Peru, and Laos so gave that a pass. But at 25 meters above the ground, the lush rainforest and distinct natural fauna made for a unique walk and we had no regrets for the experience, despite us nauseatingly needing to snake back the way we came once in the car.

Further along the coast sat the most amazing pub in the small town of Wye River. Wye Beach Hotel is more than just a charismatic beachfront bar and restaurant. Its exquisite food, coupled with an unexpected local beer selection and epicurean wine list was remarkable. For a true quiet holiday off the grid I’d recommend staying at one of the small hillside lodges. We closed our evening off with a curry back at local yet upmarket Apollo Bay Hotel before our final stretch home the following day.

Some of the best and curviest parts of the drive are around the quintessential beach town of Lorne. Shopping, restaurants, bars and beach – this popular spot with Melbournians was very busy on the sunny Monday. Luckily we were able to snag a table for breakfast at Lorne Beach Pavilion overlooking the beautiful sea to the sweet sound of children running and crying everywhere. Full on avocado smash, we parked ourselves at the edge of the sand and took in a few rays before continuing on and passing under the famed Great Ocean Road sign.

Now here’s the best part of coming home. We missed out, or actually intentionally avoided the popular seaside towns of Anglesea, Torquay, Jan Juc and others on our way back to the city in order to side track to the Bellarine Peninsula just outside of Geelong.

Terindah Estate and Jack Rabbit Vineyard share both a driveway and the coastline offering picturesque backdrops of vine against sea to sip against yet are two separate wineries. Applause to Will at Terindah for an exquisite presentation of their wines and scoring us a seat in the fully booked out restaurant to taste beautiful kangaroo, dory and lamb. Terindah was an all around standout! Their Chardonnay soft and buttery, Pinot Gris and Sauv Blanc surprisingly untraditional and their Shiraz/Viognier and Pinot Noir no brainers. I bought them all and want to come back again and again and again. So I will…

Terindah Estate Group Shot

Terindah Estate Group Shot

3-Day Pressed Juice Cleanse

The evening before I started my pressed juice cleanse I had nightmares. I dreamt about being tempted by chocolate, steak, waffles and cold beer which made me fail at the task of staying ‘clean’. I agonized about the unattainable. Not only because I was on a strict no-solids, no-alcohol, no-caffeine regiment, but also because those delicacies I fantasized about also weren’t available to be purchased or consumed from my office, where I unfortunately was in my dream. Plus, I don’t even like waffles.

My decision to cleanse was fast and without waver. Coming back from a long New Year’s celebratory weekend in Sydney my body felt overworked and screamed for a rest, both mentally and physically. I even contemplated running off to a wellness retreat for a few days, and a few thousands of dollars of debt. Luckily once I discovered I didn’t have the transport means to get there I came to my senses and started brainstorming on something much more sensible albeit my first time ever going 3 full days without a solid meal. Others may not deem that as sensible.

I chose Pressed Juices simply because they are a Melbourne based company and they made the whole experience easy for me. After a bit of research, I felt confident that I would get the right balance of nutrients to sustain off solids for 3 days at the same time do my body some well deserved recovery and rejuvination. The process was simple:

  1. Choose your cleanse: Basic, Advanced, Master
  2. Choose for 3, 4, or 5 days
  3. Choose 6 of 8 juices to consume daily. The options online were presented from a drop down list in a calculated way so that from whichever option I chose I had the right balance of fruit, veg, nuts and nutrients in the next.
Pressed Juice: Almond Mylk

Pressed Juice: Almond Mylk

Juice 1: Black Lemonade – pre-selected (Alkaline Water, Lemon, Activated Coconut Charcoal, Cayenne) Juice 2: Green 6 (Spinach, Cucumber, Silverbeet, Cos Lettuce, Pineapple, Lime, Mint) Juice 3: Earth 3 (Beetroot, Apple, Lemon, Ginger) Juice 4: Green 2 (Spinach, Cucumber, Lettuce, Celery, Kale, Parsley, Apple, Lemon) Juice 5: Earth 5 (Carrot, Orange, Pineapple, Celery, Lemon, Turmeric) Juice 6: Zest 3 (Grapefruit, Mint) Juice 7: Save the Date Almond Mylk (Filtered Water, Almonds, Vanilla Bean, Sea Salt) Juice 8: Slippery Elm – pre-selected (Alkaline Water, Licorice Root, Marshmallow Root, Chia Seeds, Slippery Elm Bark Powder, Cinnamon)

  1. Pick up (with 8 stores to choose from in the Melbourne area and apparently a pop up coming to Richmond soon!) or Ship for an additional charge. The shipments were made to my office in two installments containing a day and half’s worth of juice per delivery. Because they have no added preservatives and are unpasteurized, the daily delivery meant that I knew that what I was drinking was fresh.
  2. Start juicing!
Pressed Juice: Delivery

Pressed Juice: Delivery

Day 1: I woke up hungry from a light dinner the night before in which I’m still unsure was a good thing, or set me up for success. I was excited and eager to try each juice, anticipating one before the next in the hopes that it would be equally as tasty as the last, or in the cases where it wasn’t my favorite, at least better. As the 6 primary juices are meant to be consumed over 12 hours, I found myself constantly checking the clock every two hours in anticipation of my next juice. In fact, I’d even argue that it made me more productive at work as I rewarded myself in between small tasks and projects.

Around mid-day I was relieved to know the Earth juices tend to have more fruit than veg and the sugar intake was most definitely welcome. Coming down from Earth 3 I started to feel a slight light headedness. By Earth 5 I was starving. I managed to maintain my composure and stand by my cause at dinner time while my roommate cooked the most enchanting smelling pasta.

I found Zest 3 absolutely refreshing and the almond mylk interesting to say the least. By the last juice it was nearly 10 pm and I was spent. I must have started too late in the morning as I felt like I had been consuming all day and a bit bloated with water weight. I went to bed hoping to feel lighter in the morning.

Day 2: I approached the second day with the same amount of enthusiasm as the first and was really ready to do this thing. I didn’t feel in the slightest that I would break. Two juices in however my tummy gave a rumble.

Throughout the afternoon I truly got to understand what the meaning of ‘cleanse’ was all about. By late afternoon I felt back to ‘normal’ in juicing terms and looked forward to one juice to the next. Simple mentions of solid food items and the normal task of walking by a restaurant made me talk in detail about the ‘could be’ but I knew it was all in my head. Things became a bit awkward that evening when I went to a friend’s house and BYO’d my juice to his dinner gathering, strong and proud.

Day 3: Despite not being able to finish my Slippery Elm the night before, I woke up hungry again. However, overall for the last day I felt great! While my intention wasn’t to use this as mechanism for dieting, overall I felt lighter and tighter and I anticipate over the next few days as I transition back to solid food the water bloating will reduce.

As the afternoon wore on I noticed that my intervals between juices were getting shorter. The hunger pains were definitely increasing, but I also wonder if it was my subconscious knowing I was getting closer and closer to ‘real’ food.

During  my first two days I felt the need to keep my juicing a secret in the office but by day 3 I had a few converts convinced. On the last day I joined my friend to Hawthorn’s Pressed Juices store as he wanted to try it out on a one day trial. Shopkeeper Morgan did an awesome job explaining the various cleanses and juice combinations and for a second I was tempted to even go for day 4.

However, going to bed knowing that I completed this awesome, healthy challenge made me feel empowered and gave me the want to continue to think more healthily about how I approach my eating and drinking habits – even if it is just for a short time before I get distracted again.  Baby steps are best but I will definitely take Morgan’s recommendation of trying a 3 day cleanse seasonally.

Favorite Juices: Earth 3, Zest 3 and Black Lemonade
Least Favorite Juice: Slippery Elm, Green 2
Pressed Juices: Thanks for such an awesome experience. One tip, your bottles are so hard to open butI look forward to seeing you move from plastic to glass in the near future, and in Richmond soon!

Lisa Vecchio with Pressed Juice

Lisa Vecchio with Pressed Juice

Christmas in South Australia

Port Neill Bay

My first Christmas in Australia, what can I say. Simply put I was sold on the promise I was going to shear a sheep.

Christmas away from home will never replace Christmas as I know it, nor should it try to.  But at a minimum this Christmas gave me insight into a new Australia. I wanted to avoid the feeling of Christmas but in the end I walked away with more than I could have anticipated.

I flew to South Australia the evening before Christmas Eve to spend the holidays with my flat mate Wes and his family. All I knew about where I was going is that I would first fly the hour to Adelaide, then get on a small commuter plane and after arriving in Port Lincoln drive another hour north. Tell that to any Australian and they nod, “ah the middle of nowhere”.

Peering out of the window before landing in the Eyre Peninsula, farmland stretched for hundreds of miles then hit the sea. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the contrast of country and sea smashed against each other. I started picturing mermaid sheep.  Mer-sheep? But once I arrived I was greeted with such gracious hospitality that didn’t stop until I boarded the plane back to Melbourne.

Rockeby Farm Pantry

Rockeby Farm Pantry

I spent that first evening on Rockeby Farm, the family farm Wes grew up on. Driving down the pitch-black dirt roads late at night, the air quiet, I squirmed at the thought of knowing that there was no one around for miles. Everyone knows I’m scared of the dark. But the old farmhouse, built in early 1900s, was warm and I spent a few hours getting to know his parents, Sue and Mark, who kindly taught me a bit about their farm properties as we sipped a few wines. We spent only that first night on the country farm though and were off to the beach in Port Neill for the next few days.

But first Wes took me to town. We spent Christmas Eve morning sitting on the Tumby Bay pier eating fresh chicken sandwiches from Ritz Café, watching a young boy expertly fish alone off of the side, as Wes told me stories about growing up in such a small, rural area. Tumby as it’s known, is a good 30 minutes from the farm and is where he went to school – one school for all children from kindergarten to 12th grade. There were 46 kids in his grade when he started; he graduated with 16 and was only one of 6 to go to university. Talk about small town ambition.

He then whisked me away to Boston Bay Wines, a small boutique vineyard and cellar door set on a hill where the vines overlook the ocean, just outside of Port Lincoln. We sampled the gamut and stocked up for Christmas with their Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and award winning Riesling.

There was no stopping us there, so we were off to Delacolline Estate next. Stepping out of the car we were greeted with the sound of hundreds of bees chatting away over their afternoon lunch.  I was so ecstatic at the thought of visiting my first lavender farm, the sweet scent overwhelmed the property and the fields of purple snuggled next to the vines made for a beautiful backdrop. Not to mention the 2005 Riesling was a stand out and we also couldn’t resist a bottle of Sparkling Shiraz, as it’s an Aussie Christmas tradition after all.

The Eyre Peninsula is known to be one of the purest seas in the world. Remote and desolate, with many untouched bays it makes for pristine fishing grounds. It’s a region that prides itself on sustainability and is where seafood such as oysters, abalone, tuna, prawns and more is exported from daily.  Of course I had to try some. Sarin’s Restaurant in the Port Lincoln Hotel is the best spot in town to devour the famous Coffin Bay oysters, which is exactly what we did before stopping off in quiet and stunning Coffin Bay itself.

We stayed at the beach house for the next few nights, and that evening I accompanied his parents and siblings to the local pub. Wes unfortunately had an emergency oyster spew on our ride home so recovered in bed alone. In a town of 300 people, the one pub is where everyone, and I mean everyone, goes for a social gathering; parents, grandparents and small children included. I felt a treat being introduced as the foreigner from far away America and giggled to myself as it seemed every second person was named Hannah.

I woke up Christmas morning to a quiet house and decided to start the day with a run on the beach. As I approached the half-moon bay of Port Neill, Mark’s words at the pub the night before couldn’t ring in any truer. He told me, “Why go to a beach with lots of people? If there’s people, just go to the next one”.  I told him I never knew such a luxury.

Port Neill Beach

Port Neill Beach

As I began to run, I saw the sand ahead, the water clear blue to my right and the sun beaming down against it; and that’s when I got emotional. I think it hit me all at once. The sparkling water and unexpected beauty really let the distance and pure remoteness sink in. Christmas, and this couldn’t be any more of a contrast of what I’d be doing at home. It’s exactly what I asked for if I couldn’t have the real thing. In that moment I felt the luckiest person in the world, and it was a moment for me that was incredibility awesome.

Even more awesome was when I got back to the house I had eggs and bacon waiting for me. We then exchanged a few gifts. I was overjoyed for the generous touch of perfume from my flat mate and homemade heating pad Sue made with grain from the farm, a gift I had been secretly hoping for. Even more special was the Christmas-themed box and stocking that made its way from the US then onto the plane with me so I could open a gift from my family on Christmas morning. The day followed with an impromptu game of tennis in the sun, some reading and sunbathing and the enjoyment of our wine purchases from the day prior.

Wes watering flowers in the sun

Watering flowers

Boxing Day, while still very casual and relaxed, was celebrated with even more grandeur as all of Wes’ 3 siblings and their partners, as well as his grandparents attended at the beach house for a traditional seafood lunch feast.  As I cracked open my popper, I found myself realizing I’ve picked up some Aussie slang like the common contradictory response of “yea, no”. The outback must have gotten to me.

Before getting too settled in Mark had myself, Wes’ brother Lewis and girlfriend Chelsea out on his boat at dusk to catch the next day’s lunch. Chelsea and I caught 7 snoek between the two of us, a great success as it was her first time fishing.

On my final day Mark, Wes and I headed back to the farm. Unfortunately due to the holidays there wasn’t enough time to get the sheep ready for shearing. Mark made up for it though and gave me a full tour of the farm. First he emptied the trough, and then Wes and I hopped out of the cab of the truck to herd 340 lambs from one paddock to the other. We simply walked along through the fields, both casually and slowly, and those fools just kept running away…right where we wanted them to go. My deed was done.

That evening we BBQ’d the most exquisite, uhum, lamb for dinner then ended in the late hours laughing till I cried playing the vulgar game Cards Against Humanity the Australian edition with the family.

Thank you Wes, Sue, Mark, Lewis, Karl and Hannah for your amazing hospitality, beautiful homes and an amazing holiday adventure!

Game On Adelaide: A Weekend of Food and Wine

Adelaide’s pretty rad – and there’s more to it than the mocking nickname of ‘Rad-elaide’. Ever since I first visited in 2011 I’ve stood behind its defense, but even more so now that I’ve learnt on my most recent visit that is has made a conscious effort to play cultural hard ball.

This trip no doubt contained another visit to the Barossa Valley disguised behind a work-related conference held at the Adelaide Convention Center. With the Intercontinental, albeit a bit dated, in a prime location overlooking the Adelaide Oval and the beautiful running tracks along the River Torrens, I was already set up to achieve great sights.


River Torrens

Upon arriving I gave my friend a tour of the small city.  We started along North Terrace beside University of Adelaide’s beautiful 19th century sandstone buildings, a contrast against the neighboring modern architecture of its newer lecture halls.

Looping around at Rundle Park took us onto Rundle Street, home to boutiques, cafes, pubs and assortment of restaurants. For a sunny Friday afternoon we stopped off in the Belgian Beer Café and historic pub the Austral for a few pints to start the holiday off.

Lisa Rundle Street

Rundle Street

Rundle Street turns into Rundle Mall where you can find most of your common name brand stores like Meyer, Sports Girl, JB Hi-Fi and the likes. Most famously on the corner of Rundle Mall and Hindley Street sits Australia’s oldest family owned chocolate maker, Haigh’s Chocolates.

My perception of Adelaide was turned upside down when I discovered Peel Street later that evening. Here sits the latest note-worthy restaurant in the city with the same name, Peel Street, and it’s a must stop off (restaurant bookings required). The closest thing Adelaide has in comparison to big sister Melbourne, this small laneway has a splattering of hip bars and underground cocktail lounges to make any local feel privileged thanks to the new small venue license recently instated to help entrepreneurs bring a new vibe to the CBD.

Highlights include Clever Little Tailor, a tiny bar offering a variety of top notch spirits and hand crafted beers set against the original exposed brick and structure. Next door, dine at Bread and Bone Wood Grill for a quick and fancy burger or dog. They really are all the rage but we went a bit rogue by ordering the fish and pork belly, both also to be admired. The waiter kindly offered us entry into the cocktail lounge downstairs, Maybe Mae, where I felt as if I entered some secret world found only in the 1920s, green leather booths, plush carpet and drinks served in crystal. One more stop across the street at Mexican inspired Chihuahua Bar for a wine and a lovely chat with the want to be rock star spun bartender before calling it a night as we had a full day of wine touring ahead of us.

Since I’ve made my rounds in the world-renowned Barossa Valley previously, this time the goal was to visit boutique wineries in a small group to uncover the greatest Shiraz presented to me. Cellar Door Wine Tours asked in advance where we wanted to visit and hand crafted the itinerary amongst all the guests’ top picks.

  1. Murray Street Vineyards was the perfect first stop, as we tasted while sitting around a square table so that all 10 guests had the opportunity to get to know each other. It was refreshing to be greeted by a young host, as Ryan was enthusiastic and knowledgeable, specifically as he demonstrated double aeration. I wanted to walk away with the Gomersal Estate 2010 Shiraz but was nervous to purchase any wine too early in the day– my greatest regret for sure.
  2. Maggie Beer is a gourmet food brand well known by dinner party hosts and the like. The beautiful shop sits on top of an aqua green lake making it a fantastic picnic spot. The best part about the small shop is there is something to taste in nearly every nook and cranny – from fig paste to pate to cider and caramel topping. I spent my time devouring enough homemade bread dipped in olive oil and damper to hold me over until lunch. I also took note of the cooking school that could be a good excuse to come back.
  3. Penfolds was my biggest disappointment of the day. While this isn’t boutique in anyone’s mind, it was a special request from another guest. Honestly, what they offer on tasting is the same as what you can buy in the liquor store and it was only the Tawny I was tempted to buy until I found out that too is distributed in my local bottle shop.
  4. Chateau Yaldara and Café Y is where we stopped for both a tasting and lunch. I wasn’t too impressed with their wines except their sparkling Shiraz and while you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I definitely would recommend they undergo a branding exercise for their labeling. Luckily the family-owned cafe made up for it with lunch that was described to us by the son in the most intimate detail and while I’m not much of a pasta lover I couldn’t resist the duck ravioli.
  5. Rockford Wines interestingly do their tastings in an old horse stable making it a unique atmosphere for the much anticipated tasting. This winery was our tradeoff for Grant Burge (the one we asked to visit) being too busy. I found the pourer entertaining as he reminded us of Murray from Flight of the Concords so I walked away with a bottle of their Tawny as a Christmas present for my hosts.
  6. Turkey Flat is one of the oldest boutique vineyards in the region. I was sold on a bottle of the now-sold-out 2012 Cabernet as the wine maker was both very chatty and informative, reminding us that 2010 and 2012 were the good years for grapes after the drought. I also couldn’t resist buying the cheeky fortified NV Pedro Ximenez too.

The biggest surprise from the day was the amount of cabernet sauvignon coming out of the Barossa Valley. I truly didn’t expect it and while I didn’t find a long lasting lover in Shiraz to take home, it did make me have a deep think about how much my taste buds have changed as of late.

Back in Adelaide central, one more spot not to miss is the Gouger Street restaurants and the Adelaide Central Market. My absolute, hands down, no questions asked top notch visit was to Cork Wine Café who specialize in organic and biodynamic wines from all over the world. I melted over the La Distesa 2013 ‘Terra Silvate’ Verdicchio and Architects of Wine 2013 Chardonnay. As they do tasting flights, with quite generous pours mind you, it was easy to fall into place here for a few hours.

With so many restaurants to choose from on Gouger Street, primarily deriving from Asian influence, it was hard to choose. Thankfully the staff from Cork Wine recommended the two best places (and most sought after as we couldn’t get a table until 9 pm so book ahead) on the strip including Little NNQ and Concubine.

For a quick weekend of social activities before putting on my work hat we sure managed to cover a lot of ground, including Jamie Oliver’s latest wave to hit Adelaide Jamie’s Italian. But Adelaide, you’re still missing one key element before you can truly reach your cultural trophy and that is – what’s open for breakfast?

Uluru: where camel is the new skinny

Uluru Camel Trail 2

I’m out of breath. My heart is racing to the point that I think it might even be boiling. It’s 106 degrees Fahrenheit and I’m standing in dry heat in the center of Australia. Red dirt, green bush and flies. Oh, the flies. What seems like millions of them buzzing in my ear, my nostrils, my eyes. I can’t keep my concentration or focus on the incredible Walpa Gorge in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park because of the constant buzz. I’ve only been off the plane for less than an hour and the green fly net covering my face has become my new favorite accessory.

I’m awake at 5:20 am on day 2. We hike through the long grass up to Imalung Lookout to watch the sun rise over Uluru. It’s pretty magnificent. By 8 am we’re at the base of the enormous rock to join park ranger Steve for the free Mala walk. Steve shares with us stories about aboriginal culture and introduces the fauna and wildlife. He’s passionate yet I also sense bitterness over the much controversial topic of climbing the rock. This guided walk is one of the few free things to do but it’s slow and ventured over 2 hours so we escaped before the end.

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By 10:30 am the sun becomes intense. We hire bikes and begin the 10.5k ride around the base of the rock. By 11 am the tracks have all been closed off for the day because of the heat. About half way through my thoughts get the best of me. The heart boiling sensation returns and I attach my mouth to the Camelback resting in my bike basket like an umbilical cord. There’s no giving up though. We’re literally in the outback with no one else around. There is no escape route or emergency eject button.

By the time we’ve returned I’ve coined Ayer’s Rock Resort a decrepit Disneyland. Sun faded, run down with nowhere else to go. I’m hungry and feel trapped. It might be the Melbourne food snob in me but I’m completely underwhelmed by my options. The wallaby shank from the more upmarket restaurant Bough House was average and the noodles from Ayer’s Wok were bland yet cleverly marketed. Luckily we brought some decent chardonnay with us and snagged some crumbled aged cheddar from the grocery store to treat ourselves back in the hotel room.

It’s been a long day but there is still one more thing on the agenda, a camel ride to view the sunset over the Olgas. Jesse and I get paired up with Tas, one of the smaller camels from the group of eight roped together in a conga line.

We were greeted with a good-humored safety briefing and were educated throughout the 1-hour ride on camel back. I learned that Australia is home to the largest population of wild camels in the southern hemisphere and the only feral camels left in the world. The exact number of wild camels is unknown but they guess anywhere from 500K to a million. In fact, Australia exports its camels to the Middle East.

Camel meat is full of protein and I’m anticipating it will be the new fad diet to join kangaroo and crocodile. Camel burgers truly are the new skinny.

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Just as the sun was setting we stopped propped up on a hill to witness the beautiful hues change from blue to orange and then dusk hit. Pete, the large camel tied behind Tas kept giving Jesse kisses and snuggles. Once back at the ranch we were given the most delicious damper (bread) and a healthy offering of beer and wine.

This tour was my most anticipated part to the trip and I applaud Uluru Camel Tours for exceeding my expectations. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the 4-hour delay we had at the airport the following day on our return to Melbourne.

To visit Uluru, one of Australia’s most iconic destinations, was definitely a bucket list item I’m so proud to have ticked.

Brisbane’s become cooler than me

Everyone always digs on Brisbane. Even when I first moved to Australia it was all “it’s too small; everything closes early; there’s nowhere good to eat.” Compare it to likes of Sydney or Melbourne, and yeah, I get it. But guess what haters, at some point since moving away a year and a half ago, Brisbane’s upped its ante.

I always said if I could have the culture of Melbourne coupled with the weather of Brisbane I would be set for life. Now, I’m not going to go as far and say it’s been accomplished but seriously Brisbane, you’re picking up your weight.

On my most recent visit I was blown away at the duck liver parfait served at James Street’s trendy Gerard’s Bar. In fact, I added it on my “best thing ever” list and that was even after devouring truffle salami and mackerel tartare. Could the Brisbane dining scene be creeping in Melbourne’s wake?

And as for Fortitude Valley, the once seedy and still may be but only if you don’t know where to go now that Brisbane is cool, nightlife neighborhood, I didn’t go out ‘in’ the Valley but rather ‘under’ the Valley. Greaser, an American themed bar is housed in the cellar of a 130-year-old heritage building offering craft beers, American imports and a stellar whiskey list on the side of classic hot dogs.

Sure, I was still living in town when the hippest thing was old Queensland cottages being converted into uber-chic bars like Alfred & Constance, Kettle & Tin and Sixes & Sevens – as they all have uber-cool names too, but I hear even ‘hippie-haven’ West End has transformed itself upmarket with some new additions in its pocket.

I think it goes without saying another area where Brisbane hasn’t failed us is the craft beer front. From my old hang The Scratch to Tenerife’s Tippler’s Tap and their recent Southbank prodigy Tomohawk Bar and let’s not forget the micro-brewers Green Beacon and classic Bacchus Brewing, Brisbane is where its at.

What’s still not cool is having to leave an establishment to go find a bathroom somewhere down the street rather then in the bar/restaurant/café, but over time you may just get that right too, Brisbane.

In the meantime, I recognize there’s all the extra stuff that even made Brisbane cool back when I was living there. An awesome music scene, a laid back life style and pristine beaches in an arm’s reach, so yeah Brisbane, maybe you were cool all along.

Read more about my adventures in Brisbane here.