Tea time: Juno & May, Melbourne – in lieu of a Valentine’s Day post, because I’m not into it

Juno & May
662 Burke Rd, Camberwell
http://junoandmay.com/

I’m always surprised when people ask what I got up to for Valentine’s Day and if I got “spoilt.” I’m not a Valentine’s Day kinda girl. After almost 12 years, I’m still completely in love with the man I’m lucky enough to have, and I know he loves me. But we’re not the mushy, over-the-top, lovey dovey, honey-darling-sweetpea types. You’ll never hear us talking to each other like we’re in a bad soap opera (and hey, to each their own, I have no problem with people who do – it’s just not for us!) or pashing in the middle of the supermarket or writing poems to each other. You’re a lot more likely to see our love played out with one of us doing something demented like tripping over an uneven sidewalk, the other saying “you’re a dick… but you’re my dick, so I love you anyway,” and both of us laughing hysterically like teenagers. Or trying to push each other into a pile of dog poo on the side walk (it started off one day with him shoving me out of the way to avoid a pile of poo; it’s now warped into a child-like game of trying to catch each other off guard. Because we still often act like children…).

We also spend a lot of time together, because frankly, we are each others’ best friends. We spend plenty of time apart, as well, but we always make an effort to have at least one day on the weekends for just us. That’s why V-Day isn’t a big deal for us; we don’t wait until Feb 14th to go out for a nice lunch and a glass of wine and put our phones away and just talk, we do that sort of thing almost every weekend anyway! And we don’t do presents either; instead, it’s an all year round effort, because (I know how lame this sounds, don’t worry), we actually love each other all year round. I hate coffee, but am more than happy to make one for him in the mornings when he’s struggling to wake up and I know it’s gonna be a long day for him. In turn, he always puts the kettle on for me in the morning for my pre-work cuppa, and when he knows I’ve had a long day at work, I’ll often walk through the door to a pot of tea and a biscuit sitting on the kitchen table waiting for me. It’s those little things that are bigger gestures than any piece of jewellery or bunch of flowers, to me.

So anyway, Valentine’s Day this year. I love trawling through markets on sunny weekends, so he thoughtfully suggested a walk around Camberwell Market (one of my favourites in Melbourne) before lunch, which I couldn’t have been happier about! But first, sustenance. We skipped breaky so we could enjoy a nice lunch, but thought we’d grab some tea and coffee and maybe a little pastry before we got to the market; enter Juno & May.

Up on Bourke St, a few minutes walk from the market, this place is ready to caffeinate and fuel you for the day. They do breakfast and lunch (menus looked amazing!), but we were just there for a quick pit stop. Husband’s coffee was pretty as a picture, and pretty good too. My tea was hot and strong, just the way I like it. And the almond croissant was phenomenal – golden and crisp, no burnt bits, heaps of almonds on top, and absolutely huge. While I can imagine it’d get pretty busy later in the day, it was a beautiful spot to start Sunday morning off in; sitting at the bench in the window with plenty of sunlight made for great people watching and a perfect little perch to talk plans for our upcoming travels and our home and our goals and our lives.

A pot of tea and a few hours market trawling = perfect Sunday morning combination! Also, massive points to the husband for carrying this very heavy, very beautiful vintage tea pot I scored early in the trip. He, this big, strong, tattooed man, carried it around the market all morning so I’d have free hands to hunt for more bargains, and that’s the sort of stuff he does that makes me love him more every day  : )

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Eat & shop here: Ameyoko Market, Tokyo, Japan

Ameyoko Market and shopping street
Wedged in between JR Okachimachi Station or JR Ueno Station (see below)

*** EDIT: Since writing this post I’ve visited again and written up a guide to the market – click on through to keep reading! ***

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I re-visited Chicago’s Christkindl Christmas Market last week; this week I’m crossing the globe and heading back to Tokyo for a very different kind of market…

The Ameyoko Market is essentially a mammoth maze of streets that are home to 500-odd stalls, selling everything from dried fish to nail polish. It was originally opened as a black market post-war, but it’s visited by what seemed like everyone in the city now.

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Crazy busy with an absolutely electric atmosphere, it was a really fun place to explore. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, despite the fact that most of the streets were full of shoulder-to-shoulder pedestrian traffic. Heaps of delicious food stops on the way through, with a lot of the younger vendors having a bit of fun trying to convince obvious foreigners to stop and enjoy a meal with them in their limited English. As I keep saying, food is the great connector of people all over the world 🙂

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I got lucky and stumbled on a sushi house that had a massive line out the front, which to me screams “GREAT FOOD!”

I joined the line, pointed to the picture that had the bowl of what I guessed was a whole lot of tuna on it, and followed the waitress to a bench seat in a crammed, steamy little “kitchen”…

10 minutes or so later, this bowl of heaven was ceremoniously plonked in front of me. The most incredible, fresh, soft tuna I’ve ever had. Fatty tuna, minced tuna, belly tuna, it was all there, and it was all so melt-in-your-mouth soft you barely had to chew it. All laid on top of a generous serving of rice, it was the perfect lunch to fuel up for the rest of the afternoon exploring. Don’t be scared of the long lines at these markets – long lines = good food!

 

Winding my way around the market, I came across another line an hour later – taiyaki! Custard filled, fish shaped waffles. Yes please!

Again, I joined the line, pointed to the picture, and got my steaming hot custard sea creature. Easy to see what all the fuss is about – these things are unreal! Creamy smooth vanilla custard inside a golden crisp waffle, perfect hand held market food.

 

As for shopping, everything did have marked prices, so bartering didn’t seem to be encouraged or accepted at all. That said, the prices were all pretty reasonable; I certainly had no need to barter for anything I was looking at.

It was pretty easy to get to and find, only a short train ride away from my accommodation in Shinjuku, and well and truly worth a visit!

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Tis the season… Chicago’s Christkindl Christmas Market

Christkindlmarket Chicago
http://www.christkindlmarket.com/

Christmas season is in full swing, people! Tis the season! Deck the halls! Eat the pretzels and drink the mulled wine! Unless you’re in Australia, in which case eat the BBQ’s prawns and drink the beer! And pine trees aren’t really cool here – we’re all about giant lego trees instead.  But seriously, how amazing is this?!

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Last year’s Christmas saw us in a very different climate to the one we’re used to at this time of year – icy cold Chicago. And I loved it! If I had it my way, I’d have frosty Christmases a lot more often, and I’m particularly keen for a Euro-Christmas soon (the first and last one I had was back in 2002… holy crap I’m so old!), which is actually on the cards… Anyway, reading Becky’s post late last week on Berlin’s Christmas markets reminded me of the Christmas market we got to experience in Chicago, which is a city with a surprisingly high European population. While we were researching things to do over Christmas in Chicago, we couldn’t have been more excited to have found out they had their own little German-style Christkindl Christmas Market!

The market in Chicago first ran in 1996, and has become more and more popular every year since. The history of the Christkind originates in Germany, and she is a fairy-like creature, resplendent in gold robes, a sparkling crown perched on her equally golden hair. Think of her as the prettier version of Santa Claus, being the official gift bearer to German children.

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We arrived into Chicago the night of December 23rd, and decided to spend the afternoon of Christmas Eve at the market, along with a few hundred others. It was appropriately cold and a little rainy, the smell of mulled wine and pretzels in the air, beautifully decorated stalls selling intricately handmade Christmas tree decorations, beautifully decorated Christmas cookies, warm hats, scarves and gloves, and quaint little wooden handicrafts. I picked up a gorgeous little glass Christmas ornament, and made it my mission to get it home in one piece. God only knows how, but I actually did!

It might not be something you’d automatically think of doing in Chicago, but if you’re there in the weeks leading up to Christmas, it’s the most fantastic way to get into the holiday spirit, and it’s only made me even more determined to get to Germany to check out the markets that inspired this one!

Eat & shop here: Tsukiji Fish Market and outer market streets, Tokyo, Japan

Tsukiji Market
By train: Oedo line to Tsukijishijo or Hibiya line to Tsukiji
http://www.tsukiji-market.or.jp/tukiji_e.htm

Another day, another market in another part of the world… For someone who’s inherently shy and withdrawn and has a bit of a hard time with social anxiety, there is almost no where in the world I’m more comfortable than in crazy, bustling foreign marketplaces. I know, I’m weird.

I couldn’t tell you why, but there’s something about being able to blend into the crowd and observe the mayhem that I find really comforting. And to that end, the Tsukiji Market area was the perfect place for me! I’d read that you have to be there really early (like 5am) to see the actual fish market in action; we rolled up around 8am though, which was just in time to see everything being packed up, which was still pretty cool to watch…

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After a bit of walking around and a bit of shopping (found a little stall selling the most beautiful tea pots and tea cups), I was getting hungry. Being one of the world’s premier fish markets, I couldn’t leave without a traditional sushi breakfast, but the lines were insane! 50 minute wait with a few dozen other tourists?! Not a chance! Just as defeat was looming, I saw this place with an A-frame out the front; a quick peak through the window showed not a tourist in sight, which meant that’s where I wanted to eat.  As fate would have it, great decision.

Comfortably some of the best sushi of my life. For around AUD$25.00, I received a bowl of hot miso soup, an enormous piece of teriyaki grilled eel, and the amazing spread you see below. It was the smallest breakfast option on the menu and it was massive! I couldn’t quite get through it all which I didn’t think was too bad, until I looked around and saw everyone else around me plowing through bowls twice the size as mine with ease! The Japanese are BIG breakfast eaters!!! Like a lot of other places, no English was spoken and I ordered by pointing to the laminated menu handed to me, and it was such an awesome experience which I feel really fortunate I got to enjoy!

 

After breaky, we went our separate ways, and mine took me through the outer market streets on the way back to the train station. I made a mental note to return, and that’s exactly what I did a few days later. The outer markets are amazing, and you’ll encounter them on the left side of Shin-Ohashi Street walking from Tsukiji Station towards the fish market. Food galore for the most part, with plenty of other goodies thrown in for your shopping pleasure! I’d recommend starting with the most magnificent omelette you’ve ever had the pleasure of devouring, from one of the many folded omelette stalls than line the streets…

And then, just walk. Enjoy the people watching. Let yourself melt into the market and take it all in.

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Shop here: Preston Artist Market, Melbourne

Preston Artist Market – PAM LANE
Corner Murray Rd and Cramer St, Preston
http://www.pamlane.com.au/

I said it a year ago; the hipsters are on the move. Real estate is running out in the Fitzroy/Collingwood/Brunswick areas, so the young, cool and enterprising are moving outwards, and creating some amazing spaces and opportunities in the process. Look at High St, Northcote and Thornbury to start off with, which is now home to some beautiful homes, apartments, shops and eateries now (like Sookie La La and Lievita), places that take what they do seriously and are really making big efforts to put out good food to the community, as well as big new food truck park Welcome to Thornbury.

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Move a little further out, and even Preston, the area I spent so much of my childhood in, is getting a little bit nice and fancy now. It wasn’t like that 30 years ago. Back then, it was factory after factory, run down pubs filled with bums, crappy little milk bars on street corners with piles of trash out the front. Fine dining options were McDonald’s or Hungry Jacks; now, we’ve got some seriously amazing food, places like Chew Burgers, Boundary Espresso, Cheshire, Chumanchu, hell even another food truck park.

Even little old Preston Market, the place I used to visit with my grandparents when I stayed with them on school holidays, is getting a bit of a make over with the addition of shiny new PAM Lane – the Preston Artist Market. From the crew that brought us the Rose Street Artist Market (another favourite of mine), this little corner of the Preston Market has been created as a space for makers to “create and sell their wares in the one location.”

It’s not just a space to sell; while the market is only open to the public four days a week (Wednesdays – Saturdays), stall holders have access to their spaces on Mondays and Tuesdays, too. From Pam Lane themselves,

The best part is, we’re on the lookout for all types of makers to fill the space and showcase to a huge market audience! Want to open a pop-up shop? Here’s your chance. Need more space to get creative and make your products? We have just the spot!

Each studio can be customised as you see fit and has great lighting and access to power.

What this means in effect is that you’re going to be able to find gorgeous hand crafted jewellery and one off pieces of artwork, sold by the creative souls who are actually making them. And it’s not just homewares and art; you can get yourself some fancy coffee down there now, too. And chocolate. Oh my goodness. Wawa Chocolatier has set up shop down at PAM Lane, and they probably need to be your first stop. I’m a lucky lady and was a little bit spoilt when my husband dropped in and picked me up a block of balsamic salted caramel dark chocolate, and that stuff is MAGIC!

I’m down there every Friday night to do my grocery shopping, so now that PAM Lane is officially open to the public, I think I’m gonna need to start budgeting a little more for groceries/a treat-yoself slush fund…

Tea time: Aoyama Flower Market Tea House, Tokyo, Japan

Aoyama Flower Market Tea House
5-1-2 Minamiaoyama, Shibuya, Tokyo
http://www.afm-teahouse.com

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Yay Wednesday! I actually really like Wednesday, because it’s generally my work from home day, which means that I can enjoy perks like singing along to my favourite music loudly as I work, walking Marley on my lunch break, and drinking any tea from my extensive collection that I want, all day long! Today’s post is brought to you by tea, by the way…

Being a premature nanna/tea lover, this was by far one of my favourite experiences in Tokyo, and probably one of the first places I’d visit when I go back  : )  But before I tell you about this magical flower and tea haven, let me tell you how I actually got there…

So, there’s Jess, tall (comparatively), auburn-haired, freckled and tattooed foreigner that I am, sticking out like a pink polka-dotted emu on the streets of Tokyo. I’d successfully navigated my way from my hotel in Shinjuku to the Yoyogi Gardens, to the general region of the Aoyama Flower Market Tea House. I knew I was close, but after 10 minutes of wondering the streets, I couldn’t for the life of me find it. I swallowed my pride and approached a young woman around my age to see if she might know where I should be going; she had no idea and apologised profusely. All I could do was smile back – no problem, I’ll keep looking, arigato!

Off I walk, up the road, to complete another circuit in search of the elusive tea house, when I hear “excuse me, miss!” behind me; the English-speaking friend the lady I approached a few minutes earlier was waiting for at the train station had arrived with her elderly mother, and she promptly sent them running up the road after me to help me find the tea house! The young girl and her mother walked me back down the road to the tea house and waved me off, and it absolutely made my day  : )  If there’s one thing I can say with certainly about the wonderful people of Tokyo, it’s that they are the kindest, most generous, friendliest people I’ve ever come across. Even if they can’t speak English too well, they’ll do their absolute best to find a way to help you out anyway!

Finally arriving at the tea house 3 minutes before opening time, I joined the already lengthy cue, and was promptly seated along the communal bench by the window. On the way through, though, I got to take a good look at the stunning flower arrangements, because the Aoyama Flower Market is in fact a florist…

Imagine the most breath-takingly beautiful indoor garden/green house, the most intense colours and floral smells, and the most perfect tea cafe you could possibly imagine, and you’re half way there.

I was seated along the communal table by the window, which was picture perfect, decorated with both the flower of the month (rose) and Halloween inspired miniature pumpkins…

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They even managed to make a witch’s hat and broomstick look elegant and classy!

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After a quick read over the menu (they have menus in both English and Japanese) and weighing up a dozen or so options (herbal, black, green…), I finally decided on a sweeter, dessert-y tea – a black tea with vanilla, caramel and nut flavours. A few minutes after ordering, I was presented with the tea set of my dreams; a big glass tea pot containing an over sized tea bag floating in boiling water, a matching glass tea cup and saucer, a little jug of milk, sugar cubes, a tiny rose and an hour glass – it came with strict instructions to let the hourglass run its course before pouring the tea, so that it was perfectly steeped when I drank it. Wow.

The tea, as expected, was magnificent. And sitting there at the window in the warm mid-morning sun, all alone (and yet surrounded by softly giggling women enjoying tea with their friends), I couldn’t have been more content. It was one of those perfect moments that you know will stick in your mind forever…  : )

After my tea was gone, I made my way out past the pumpkins and roses, and onto the next adventure…

Shop & Eat at The Grove Farmers Market, LA (Bryan’s BBQ Pit, Bob’s Coffee Doughnuts & Short Cake)

The Grove Farmers Market
6333 W.3rd St.Los Angeles
http://www.farmersmarketla.com/

“When did you get back?”
“Ohh like 2 weeks ago now!”
“How was it?! Did you have a favourite place?”
“Nah, I loved everywhere. Except LA. What a hole!”

This was a conversation that went on in my office last week. Poor old Los Angeles. It gets SUCH a shit wrap from Aussies who visit! And I blame Hollywood – after spending 10 minutes on Hollywood Boulevard, I found myself asking my husband, “is that it?? Seriously?!” So very underwhelming… BUT there are some absolute gems hidden around the city if you’re willing to let go of the “Hollywood” fantasy and see something else! Greystone Mansion & Park was one of my favourite not-shit spots in the city, with Grand Central Market , the whole Venice Beach/Santa Monica area and The Grove’s Farmers Market coming right in behind it; these are the three places I’ve been recommending to people going to LA who are already wary of it’s disappointing and tacky reputation.

The Grove’s Farmers Market in LA was the nicest surprise possible for someone like me. After running the gauntlet of designer clad, miniature dog-clutching “ladies” and “gentlemen” rolling up in their fancy cars, throwing their keys to/at the valet, I felt like I was walking through the world’s biggest cliché! Not at ALL my scene! We pushed on through the crowd though, determined to see this Grove we’d heard about with it’s pretty Christmas decorations and nice shops (which people neglected to mention we wouldn’t be able to afford to actually shop in, for the most part).

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Yes, it was mental. Yes, there were kids running around all over the place. And ladies swinging oversized handbags around, paying no attention to anyone passing them. And tourists stopping to take a photo beside every Christmas tree (and there are a real lot of trees there). And incessant Christmas carols. You don’t want to spend too long at the Grove at Christmas, but you definitely do want to experience it. After all, what’s Christmas without sparkling lights and complete mayhem?! After 15 minutes of that, we were ready to give up and call it a night, when I saw the sign for the Farmers Market. I was out of the twilight zone and back in my world, even though it was on the other side of the world…

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The Farmers Market is part fresh produce, part eateries, part tourist shopping. It reminded me a lot of the Queen Vic Market in Melbourne, but on a smaller (and much more American) scale. The beauty of this place is that, unlike other farmers markets, it’s open daily, not just on set dates! Foodies rejoice! The touristy souvenir stalls were a bit tacky for me, but the produce looked quality, and the little food stalls were fantastic, heaps of variety, and all busy. We visited of an evening, and also during the day, and the crowd didn’t seem to have been any lighter at either time, which I guess speaks to the quality of the market. It’s absolutely a must-visit in LA if you want a proper food experience without the “fanciness” factor and price tag (and especially if you need to escape the Hollywood hip crowds). As for places to eat, I’ll recommend the following…

Bob’s Coffee & Doughnuts
http://www.bobscoffeeanddoughnuts.com/

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/436/65412241/files/2014/12/img_4767.jpgFirst up, check out the variety – cake, raised, original, glazed, decorated, they have it ALL! And while I can’t speak for the coffee, but the doughnut I had here was amazing – I got a buttermilk glazed and it was light, fluffy, sugary perfection. Absolute must.

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Short Cake
http://www.shortcakela.com/

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/436/65412241/files/2014/12/img_4768.jpgVegan? All good. Caeliac? No worries. Not only does Short Cake cater for the regular sugar lovers, the dietarily challenged can indulge here, too! I’d heard amazing things about their date and sesame seed scones, so I had one of them with a cup of tea – fantastic, particularly as a winter warm up! Would have loved to have had more stomach space to try some of those cookies – the coconut avocado one really had me intrigued! Anyone else tried them?!

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Bryan’s Pit Barbecue
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bryans-Pit-Bbq/356609594406484

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/436/65412241/files/2014/12/img_4769.jpgThis isn’t fancy food. It’s not typical hipster LA. There’s no gluten free/refined sugar free/lactose free/super food charged/vegan option. It’s meat and carbs and grease and deliciousness. Pulled pork sandwich. Mac & cheese. Big serving for a decent price. That’s what happiness looks like my friends.
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