Jaffle Degustation at 54 Benjamin

12 Feb 024b

In the last few years, the Belconnen Town Centre has grown and changed in more ways than many of us could have imagined. One of the best parts about that has been the number of new businesses that have opened. 54 Benjamin is one of these: a hole in the wall cocktail bar at the bottom of the Churches Centre which just recently celebrated its first birthday. Its wide-ranging menu, convenient location and late-night jaffle menu makes it a favourite among residents and workers alike – and I’m proud to call it my local!

I have to say it wasn’t until Two Before Ten started showing up with their van and breakfast jaffle menu at the Aranda Shops – as it was developed to make way for the new cafe and the Bolt Bar that I was reminded of just how good the humble jaffle is. It’s the warm sandwich that doesn’t fall apart, with no end of delicious fillings. The only risk is a burnt tongue depending on your fillings – tomato, I’m looking at you – but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

54B – as it’s known – has brought jaffles back in a big way, with butter chicken jaffles and alphabetti-cheese jaffles proving a hit: so much so that 54B decide to shake things up a bit by kickstarting their Thursday night ‘event’ series with a jaffle degustation.

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My first time at Summernats

10 Jan

Every early January, it seems like all Canberrans heave a sigh and say, “It’s that time of year again.” Engines deafen Braddon’s cafe conversations and the heat already beating off the streets becomes hazier, smokier. It means busy hotels in what should be a quiet season and advice to “avoid EPIC”. Ever since I moved to Canberra, with one sentence I’ve heard people defend it and lament it: “It’s not what it used to be.

I’ve always wanted to attend Summernats simply to see what the fuss is about. What is so attractive about it that it draws people across Australia to Canberra on what is often one of the warmest weekends of the year? Is the tourism boost worth the event’s dubious reputation – and is its reputation even warranted?

I’ve procured a ticket online and when I arrive on the sweltering afternoon, there’s no line to get in. I hand my ticket over and get a lime green wristband which clearly marks that I’m only there for the Friday session and that’s it. Through the gates, the first challenge: crossing Tuff St. Cars are just cruising and cruising, some occasionally – spontaneously – shooting forward a few metres, making it only safe to cross when there’s quite a big distance between cars.

My first experience is a tame one, heading across Main Street and into the judging pavilion. My phone camera gets a workout before we even step inside.

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Inside, there’s a barrier around the entire pavilion and people are leaning up against it, admiring the cars being judged. Even with just a few cars slowly on the move it’s very, very loud. The cars go up a small ramp so they can be judged all over and for some cars which have been lowered – and I mean really lowered – it’s a close call to not scrape off paint or do them damage. In half an hour I see cars modified with hydraulics, some amazing paintwork and one car which has all the judges engaged with tiny torches looking at every single detail. This car takes the judges five times as long to finish judging as all the others we see and later it’s confirmed it does very well.

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Hydraulics! This car appears in a video later in this post…

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From we walk through the exhibitors pavilion where there’s plenty of things on display to help you modify your car – anything you could think of (and plenty of things I have no idea about).

Outside, we walk up Main St. Crossing the road again is an adventure and my friend – a Summernats veteran – stresses the key to an enjoyable and safe Summernats is being situationally aware at all times; consciously knowing what’s going on around you and being prepared to move if you need. Every second stall seems to either be one with fried food – I enjoy two dagwood dogs during the day! – or with alcoholic slushies (bourbon, rum, tequila, and vodka fire engine). A bar with undercover shade is further up with security inside. There’s a range of mid-strength beers on offer, a cider, and the most expensive beer – at $8 – and the only full-strength is a can of VB. It’s the most popular. Outside, I have the first of a few experiences where a car goes past so loud that it feels like my eardrum is shuddering.

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One of the ‘highlights’ of Summernats is the burnout track. We’re there for over an hour in the stands with the sun scorching skin all around us. Without my friend explaining the purpose of the burnout competition to me, I’d have no idea what I’m watching. We’re upwind so we’re saved from the constant billowing smoke but not from the flecks of rubber. Within minutes I’m coated in the black powder that mercilessly spreads as soon as I try to rub it off.

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From what I can gather, the whole purpose is to pop as many tyres, create as much smoke, and spin the car around in a quite small area and try not to hurt anyone. It’s all at once senseless, entertaining, polluting and concerning. I watch talented drivers who spin their cars so hard and fast and blow tyres and create so much smoke that I then can’t even see what they’re doing to assess if it’s any good. I watch other drivers barely create any smoke and drive almost into a wall before 10 seconds are up, to jeers of the crowd.

For something where I still have no idea what it’s actually supposed to achieve, it draws an enormous crowd.

At the end of the qualifying round we depart to the Show n’ Shine field but many of the cars have departed as it’s about to transform into the arena for the night’s entertainment with Seth Sentry. In addition to a few remaining cars there’s a V8 simulation (not worth it), a Slingshot and helicopter rides.

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This car gets in trouble in a vehicle you’re about to see…

I’ve had a real assault on the senses by this point – the sun has sunk so low it feels like it’s glaring at eye-level, and combined with the fumes and smoke means I’ve got tears streaming down my face – even in the middle of the field! After a rest we head back to Tuff St where there is a lot of action. This is probably the most entertaining part of the day for me. The cars are interesting, and it’s great to see many of them in action. Directly across from us are a group of blokes who help make it even more interesting by asking cars to spin their wheels right in front of them. Given how close they are to the road, I’m also terrified that tyres are going to run over feet (and so surprised this doesn’t happen). This is also the only point that I see any, uh, exposure – of two vehicles, one is particularly devoted to this (but I see no competitions!) (this does not add to the entertainment factor for me!).

And that’s my experience at Summernats. The ticket is valid for the rest of the evening and there’s entertainment to be seen – as well as plenty more cars, and the judging pavilion is about to reveal the best cars – but five hours of heat, noise and fumes exhausts (ha, ha) me.

Does Summernats warrant its reputation? Yes and no. It’s loud and a lot to me seems senseless and plenty about it is crude. But I also saw so many families – so many very young children – having a truly great time. I saw how passionate people are about their vehicles and the money that’s gone into some of the cars and the effort that it takes to become someone who understands their vehicle’s every join and exactly how to make it do what you want. I saw a lot of security and spent a lot of time watching them, particularly on Tuff St, and their approach looked to me to be fair – having a chat to people when their behaviour made things a little unsafe, pushing crowds back a little bit, but largely being very watchful and quite simply very present.  It’s also no where near as big as I expected it to be.

It’s unlike anything I’ve ever been to in Canberra, ever. It brings something totally different to our city. While I know I’ll never totally get it – and some things I certainly question – I can see what the fuss is about.

The best Belconnen Christmas lights

19 Dec 051 web

Every year I see the published lists of Christmas lights in Belconnen, and every year I feel overwhelmed by the choice and limited time to see them all (especially when I leave it to the last minute/week).

For me, the perfect Christmas lights experience is getting in as many ‘Wow, that’s awesome!’ houses before I get annoyed listening to the GPS and/or too many hours go past. Achieving this means knowing where the best houses are. Once you’ve knocked these over, you can enjoy the fantastic efforts of so many contributors throughout town – every house offers something magical!

So, if you’ve only got a limited amount of time before your patience runs out, here are my top three picks in Belconnen (and they’re all pretty close together!).

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IKEA Canberra: Hidden Catalogue CLUE!

12 Oct

Last week you would have read my post about IKEA Canberra – soon to open on Monday, 16 November – launching a treasure-hunt style game across Canberra: the IKEA Hidden Catalogue.

This week I’ve got a clue! Remember by participating you can win up to $1000 to spend at the new IKEA Canberra store. The steps are all outlined here. Remember, it’s not just about guessing where it is, but actually going there and posing with the item and tagging #IKEAHidden on your social media channels.

Without further ado, here’s the clue!

You’ll feel like a giant when you reach this Canberra institution that boasts reptiles and dinosaurs as its neighbours. Little ones will love it here and if they find this one, they could be cooking up a storm.

The fine print: You have to be 18 years+ to participate. For more clues and full terms and conditions head to ikea.com.au/hiddencatalogue.

Trev’s at Dickson, Dickson*

10 Oct

* I reviewed Trev’s at Dickson as a guest.

Not that long ago, Trev was The Lodge’s resident chef for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. A little over five years later, Trev leads his eponymous cafe/restaurant tucked away in the office area of Challis Street, Dickson.

Trev’s is open seven days a week for breakfast/brunch and dinners on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Today’s a Thursday at what seems a very early 7.30am. On arrival we’re greeted with requests for coffee orders and my large chai latte arrives truly large with a yummy crust of  cinnamon sugar on frothy milk.

Trev’s is also renowned for its similarly eponymous dish: the Trev’s Taste Collective. Have you ever perused a breakfast menu and felt like you really want something sweet but you also really want something savoury, and somehow early on a Saturday morning you’re still required to make that very difficult choice? For me it’s almost always pancakes with fruit and ice cream versus a dish – any dish – that has poached eggs. The eggs usually win (unless it’s pancakes from Ha Ha Bar – then pancakes are victorious!).

Trev’s Taste Collective goes some way to solving this. At $18.50 you get a small stack of thick pancakes with strawberry and basil compote, marscapone and a smatter of icing sugar, a very thick corn fritter with a heaping of avocado and tomato salsa and a bacon rasher, followed by a two-fruit salad (today it’s strawberries and watermelon) with kaffir lime syrup and a wisp of fairy floss. It all comes with their mini JOD (juice of the day) – today it’s apple, orange and cranberry and it’s tangy and delicious and all too small; I’d love it slightly larger with an ice cube.

Corn generally is not my thing but what I do have of the corn fritter is tasty. The generous helping of avocado salsa is a stand out and I could eat plenty of it with the bacon. The strawberries and watermelon are sweet and fresh and it’s easy to devour. The pancake batter is a little thick rather than fluffy but they’re just enough to make the whole dish very, very filling.

I’m sure a few friends have questions about eating it altogether or separately, and whether it’s weird to have sweet and savoury near or touching each other. While it’s clear from the photo that some of the juice from the berry compote and syrup leak under the fritter, I don’t know it at the time.

Trev’s idea is a very clever one which finally provides an answer to so many people’s early morning dilemmas. But to answer mine, it still needs a poached egg in it somewhere!

Date: Thursday, 8 October 2015

Where: Challis Street, Dickson

Cost: I dined as a guest of Trev’s at Dickson. The Trev’s Taste Collective costs $18.50 including a small juice of the day but not including coffee/s.

Want more? Trev’s has a very comprehensive website and detailed menus.

IKEA Canberra – find hidden furniture for your chance to win!

6 Oct

You may have (ha! I mean will have!) heard that IKEA Canberra is opening on Monday, 16 November. And in case the excitement wasn’t already at fever pitch, from this week IKEA is launching a treasure-hunt style game across Canberra: the Hidden IKEA catalogue. $50 IKEA gift cards are up for grabs each week with a grand prize of a $1000 gift card. That’s a lot of IKEA!

Intrigued? Here’s how to play.

Each week from 6 October there’ll be weekly clues on ikea.com.au/hiddencatalogue. Use the clues to get searching for the secret location and find the hidden piece of furniture somewhere around Canberra!

When you find the hidden IKEA product, it’s up to you to take your most creative IKEA catalogue shot and share it on your social media channels – Twitter, Facebook or Instagram – with the #IKEAHidden hashtag to be in the running to win!

Check back to my blog in the week beginning 11 October for a post with a clue!

The fine print: You have to be 18 years+ to participate. Full terms and conditions are here.

Bolt Bar, Aranda

5 Oct

A year ago Aranda Shops were empty. And they had been empty for more than a decade. The car park and the centre were dilapidated and if you were new to the area, you wouldn’t even know that it had once been shops.

That’s changed now. Two Before Ten has set up shop in the whole building, starting with its cafe on a far corner, followed by a library, followed, at the other end, by the adjoining, long awaited pub: Bolt Bar (named after Dirk Bolt, who designed the unusual building). Aranda Shops is now full of life in the mornings, and, with the Bolt Bar open til at least mid-evening seven days a week, I think it’s likely the whole area will be constantly humming very shortly.

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