A DIY fire pit, a new Arras wine and Bundeena beach fun

Since international and interstate travel is off the cards for us, Christina and I have been finding other ways to entertain both ourselves and our bit-champing travel bugs.

I’m sure you’re doing the same.

In this Edition, we’re talking about a new home improvements project we’ve been working on (i.e. a fire pit for our balcony), an online wine-tasting masterclass and a hint of travel down to beautiful Bundeena just south of Sydney.

We hope you enjoy this Edition and that you’re safe and well.

Cheers – Jim & Christina xx

Cheese platter

Friends of ours have just finished moving down to Bundeena for a bit of a tree change.

It’s quite a difference from living in the city suburbs to the leafy, beach town surrounded by national park.

Thankfully, the isolation hasn’t affected our friends’ ability to plate up an excellent cheese plate.

Lamb shanks

And for dinner, our friends have slow-cooked lamb shanks with excellent creamy mash.

It makes me want to do my special five-hour lamb shoulder with dukkah crust.

After dinner, we head out to garden and their wood fire pit for more wine and more good long chats.

It’s great to see these guys and to be back in Bundeena too. It’s so tucked away it often gets overlooked, but there’s a ferry from Cronulla or the drive through the Royal National Park here is stunning.

Corn fritters

Breakfast this morning is a revelation. Our friends have a recipe for corn fritters. I have my own corn fritter recipe, which I’ve always thought was pretty good, but this one is amazing.

I’ve got a copy of how you make these super fluffy, crunchy delicious corn fritters and our friends’ blessing to share it, so watch this space.

Jibbon Beach Bundeena, NSW

After a careful look up at the sky, we decide there’s just enough time for a quick hike to the ‘local’ beach – Jibbon – and a look at the Aboriginal rock art that’s here.

Jibbon is a beautiful sweeping beach that’s usually quite well protected from the wind… but not today.

Rock pools at Bundeena, NSW

Rock pools at the far end of Jibbon hold so much promise of exciting finds for our friends’ little boy… though I think we’re more excited about looking for creatures than he is.

The landscape around this area is incredible.

Aboriginal rock art Bundeena, NSW

Inland a little way and along a bush track, rock carvings by the local Dharawal people tell stories of how this land was shaped and why the whales – sacred to the Dharawal-  have been migrating up and down this coast for millennia.

It’s amazing to see these rock carvings and to think about how old they are. It’s so good to be able to find ancient rock art like this so easily.

Today we’re round Christina’s sister’s house. Ostensibly to see the family and play with the cat, but in reality, we want access to our brother-in-law’s extensive tool kit.

This is Monte by the way. She’s a lovely little thing.

DIY fire pit

And this is the finished product: inspired by our friends in San Diego, encouraged by our friends in Bundeena, we’ve created our own little fire pit for our balcony!

DIY fire pit

It all started as a DIY project to harvest bits off our old barbecue that finally died recently.

And so after a bit of research, some careful shopping and a brother-in-law with all the gear, we’ve got a DIY gas fire pit. The gas bottle lives inside the big plant pot and the specially made burner sits on top of an old wooden platter.

We’ve got all the instructions and details on how to build your own balcony fire pit coming up, so watch this space!

Easy homemade pizza dough recipe

One of my favourite things to make at the moment is pizza dough. After a few years of making my own bread, I’ve finally got bored of that and moved on to something a bit cheesier!

This is a brief collage of how I do it, but the full instructions on making the best pizza at home are all here.

Easy homemade pizza dough recipe

We’ve left our dough in the fridge before and this is what happened! It’s good to see such beautifully developed gluten structure, but it makes shaping the pizza quite difficult.

Easy homemade pizza dough recipe

It’s still not quite the same as going to a proper pizzeria with a 450ºC stone oven, but it’s pretty close.

I also like to make my pizzas square or oblong, not only because that’s the shape of our tin, but also because it’s easier to cut up and share.

House of Arras 2020 release

This afternoon, we’re learning about the new sparkling wine to come from multi-award-winning House of Arras.

House of Arras are a Tasmanian winery and produce sparkling wine to rival anything to come from the Champagne region of France.

And these are two from their 2020 collection.

On the right is the Arras Blanc de Blanc NV. This is the first time Arras have released a non-vintage Blanc de Blanc – a style usually saved for the best wines, and therefore usually more expensive.

This one, however, is only RRP $34.99, and it’s very approachable… which means very drinkable!

On the left is the latest Brut Elite Cuvee – a substantial, elegant sparkling wine that’s complex and truly superb. At RRP $60.99 it’s still very reasonable, but easily good enough to give as a gift or for a special occasion.

This wine was awarded ‘Best Australian Sparkling Wine’ at the 2019 Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships.

House of Arras 2020 release virtual masterclass Ed Carr

To lead us through an online this tasting and masterclass by the truly talented Chief Winemaker for Arras, Ed Carr.

We’ve mentioned Ed a few times here – most recently was when Ed gave his insights into drinking sparkling wine in winter.

Tonight though, we discover just how deep Ed’s knowledge into the industry goes. He explains about soils, grape distribution, lees, ullage… it’s fascinating to hear someone with his expertise talk.

Ed Carr is the only non-chapenois winemaker ever to have received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships in 2018.

As for this year, four of his wines have received 97+ points in the 2021 Halliday Wine Companion Awards – one, the E.J. Carr Late Disgorged 2004 – received 99 points and was named ‘Australia’s Best Sparkling Wine’.

House of Arras 2020 release

It’s exciting to look at the House of Arras timeline, which started in 1995, and to look at this year knowing we were among the very first to try this House of Arras Blanc de Blanc NV.

We’re part of this vineyard’s history.

This morning, Christina is up early for a walk around Balmain.

She’s come back to a favourite part of the suburb or ours and has this shot of the Waterview Wharf Workshops.

These bright buildings were once used for shipbuilding – the Adelaide Steamship Company repaired its fleet here.

Now, it’s a hub for a range of interesting small businesses – not a bad spot for your office, is it?

Peanut caramel slice

This is possibly the most dangerous thing I’ve ever made.

It’s a salted peanut caramel slice with a coconut base, peanut butter and white miso caramel and salted peanut top. It’s insane.

Recipe on its way, folks.

Bloodwood restaurant, Newtown - entree

Tonight, we’re out with our awesome friends Danny and Vicki for Danny’s birthday. Ordinarily, there’d be a big party with lots of people… but these times don’t do ‘ordinarily’ very well.

However, we’re very happy to be having dinner with these two excellent people at Bloodwood in Newtown.

We’ve opted for the banquet menu partly because we want to try everything and also we put Danny up for choosing what we all eat. I don’t blame him for going for this option!

First out is beautiful house-made focaccia with pickled vegetables, pecan pate and roasted chickpeas.

Bloodwood restaurant, Newtown - polenta chips and gorgonzola dip

Next are these chunky, crispy yet soft-centred polenta chips with a gorgonzola sauce I just want to drink.

Bloodwood restaurant, Newtown - pear and lentil

This is the roasted pear, lentils and goat’s curd with walnuts – a really delicious, clever dish.

Bloodwood restaurant, Newtown - fried chicken

Then the crispy fried chicken comes out with its crispy maple szechwan and black sesame coating and a slaw that works well with the richness of the chicken.

There are other dishes in the banquet, but we’re too busy finding space on the table and in our bellies to take photos. You’ll just have to visit Bloodwood yourself and find out what they are.


DIY firepit - Jim & Christina

We hope you’ve enjoyed this Weekly Edition and are feeling inspired to make the most of this enforced time at home. There are ways to make it work for you, and know that this won’t go on forever.

Stay safe, stay happy and take care of one another.

Cheers – Jim & Christina xx


  • Reply August 30, 2020

    Peter Hook

    Totally agree with you two about Arras – what a gem! So much vin ordinaire Champagne that people buy on label, without any appreciation of what’s in the bottle. Funnily enough, we “Poms” are often accused of being snob-conscious, but Aussies are incredibly label oriented when it comes to sparkling wine. Never mind the quality, just regard the label. Many of the French Champagnes (and yes, I appreciate that is a tautology) are rather like our Jacobs Creek wines – very consistent, safe and palatable, but consumers can do so much better picking Australian sparkling wines with attitude and style.

    • Reply August 31, 2020

      Mr Romance

      You’re absolutely right, Peter. People here do tend to be much more label-focussed – or at least label-loyal. Look at the ever-lasting Ford-Holden argument. But thankfully I think people are starting to see the benefits of buying domestic over mass-produced imports. And not just the cost element. Here’s to more excellent Aussie wines taking the lead.

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