Top Things to Do In and Around Barmera

If you’re heading to the Riverland these school holidays and you’ve got your accommodation sorted, then you might be starting to plan what you’re going to do and where you’re going to eat. Here’s a short list of things you might want to consider …

Got kids?

Monash Adventure Playground
Adventure Ahoy!

You definitely need to hit the Monash Adventure Park. Just 10-15 minutes drive out of Barmera is the town of Monash. It’s a small town that’s home to a massive playground that will suit children of a range of ages (that includes the adult-sized children …). Climbing, sliding, swinging … it’s all covered. You need to be prepared to spend quite a long time there and if your children are particularly playground crazy, I’d suggest leaving it til late in your trip to make your visit (otherwise you might have to go back every day). When we were there the Paddleboat Kiosk was closed (and it seems it’s at least semi-permanently closed) so I’d suggest taking along drinks and snacks. The playground is free but you are encouraged to leave a donation.

Directly opposite the playground is a chocolate shop (Chocolates & More) which was closed when we were there. Also opposite, is the Monash Club. On the advice of staff at the caravan park who said it was very family friendly, we headed here for dinner on our final night, which also happened to be a Sunday evening. This was quite a result as it was the night for children eating free (Sundays and Thursdays, but if you’re banking on this, do check with the club in advance!)! I was also impressed because the Monash Club offered me a half-sized chicken schnitzel. The meals are served with chips and there’s a small salad bar. Drinks-wise, you order from the bar. I ordered a glass of local Lagrein – a red wine which had clearly been open a day or two too long – so I’d recommend sticking with beers or ordering a whole bottle.

I absolutely love country pubs – I’m never quite sure what it is – maybe it’s the relaxed attitude of everyone (staff and punters), and maybe it really reminds me of my childhood (rest assured, I didn’t spend THAT much time in pubs either!) – but I just think they’re fantastic. OK – the food might not be exciting (and often it’s better that it’s not) – but the experience is invariably great. The Monash Club gets a big thumbs up!

And while we’re on pubs …

We also had dinner at Monty’s in the Barmera Hotel. I ordered the kangaroo special which was a bit of a disappointment (not least because I specifically asked for it with chips instead of mash and I got mash) – even though the meat was nicely cooked as a whole the dish didn’t work for me. Andy and Master then-5 ordered more conservatively (schnitzel, fish) and were rewarded for their sensible choices. 

Kangaroo and mash
Beautifully cooked meat but an underwhelming dish overall

A big plus of Monty’s is that it has a very impressive salad and veggie bar, providing you with plenty of opportunity to eat too much!

Not a pub, but casual dining very handy to the caravan park and also on the shores of the lake is The Lakes Bakery & Cafe. Our first visit coincided with that of a very large group of motoring enthusiasts who had neglected to inform the cafe of their arrival. The staff were harried (and apparently copping some abuse) and, with no notice, they were somewhat short on a few items. None the less, we enjoyed our lunch – Master 5 packed away the most enormous burger – and headed back the next morning for a coffee – in much calmer and happier circumstances.

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You’ll also find your morning coffee fix (and some pretty tasty sweet pastries!) at the Barmera Bakery on the main drag. While The Lakes Bakery & Cafe will do you a solid meal, the Barmera Bakery is more light snacks – think morning or afternoon tea.

Looking for something a bit fancy?

Banrock Station
Prawns, fishcakes, views, wine …

On our way home we stopped at Banrock Station (Kingston SE). The winery’s Wine and Wetland Centre has not only wine tasting but a beautiful deck that you can sit on and enjoy some food. While we were there we tucked into pork belly and prawns and fish cakes but the menus do change and if you’re early enough, they even serve breakfast!

Further afield?

Murray River at Renmark
The mighty Murray

Beer lovers – head to Renmark (well, slightly beyond) to visit The Woolshed Brewery. There are beers on offer – including tasting paddles if you’re inclined, and you can buy a selection of produce to create your own platter – but you are also welcome to bring your own picnic. Our timing was impeccable – we sat on the deck on a warm day, enjoyed the river views, ate crisps with our beers and were finishing up just as a couple of largish groups arrived! The view is lovely – you are literally perched above the river!

Beer tasting paddle
Tasting paddle at the Woolshed Brewery

In Renmark you’ll also find the very new 23rd Street Distillery. You can do a tour, a tasting (or combine the two) or just sit and have a gin and tonic or a coffee. It’s a lovely relaxing space and definitely worth dropping in for a drink, even if you’re not interested in a tour.

23rd Street Distillery
23rd Street Distillery

You can even fit in a bit of wine tasting … on a rainy day we headed to 919 Wines in Glossop, run by Eric and Jenny Semmler. Give them a call to let them know you’re coming and taste your way through their wines – made from familiar and not so familiar grape varieties. This was a really friendly cellar door experience and Master 5 loved drawing on the winery floor in chalk! Thanks to Eric for taking the time to show us the wines.

The Viewpoint Cafe in Waikerie is a great place to break up your drive. We stopped here on our way into Barmera. We had to wake up Master 5 – he was NOT happy about that, but his grumpy face was transformed by the prospect of a chocolate doughnut and a chocolate milkshake (this is what happens when daddy is around … ). Pies, pasties, sausage rolls and … coffee. There is also a fenced playground so you can sit on the deck and watch the little ones wear off some energy.

playground
Viewpoint Cafe Playground

And finally … if you head along to the Riverland around October time – make sure you drive around with the car windows open. If you wonder what the gorgeous scent is – it’s orange blossom!

How To: Meringue

Mini Meringues

I’m surprised but it seems as though I’ve never posted a basic meringue recipe. This is very remiss of me, because, if you’re anything like me you’ll often find yourself with a rogue egg white that needs using up. Perhaps after you’ve made pastry for a quiche lorraine, for example!

Before a ‘recipe’ (such as it is) some notes on egg whites and meringue making in general.

Fresh is best. Don’t use an ancient egg, and don’t use an egg white that has been hanging around in the fridge for a week. However, egg whites freeze really well. If you don’t think you’ll be able to use it up quickly, simply put it in a clean container and freeze. Egg whites defrost quickly and they’re as good as new.

If you can use an egg white that’s at room temperature, that’s better still.

Fat is your (meringue’s) enemy. Freezing the egg white? Use a scrupulously clean container. Cracking it into a bowl or ramekin? Scrupulously clean. The bowl you’ll be beating it in? Scrupulously clean.

I cannot emphasise that enough. NO FAT.

The recipe below scales up easily and, with just two ingredients, there’s no excuse for not giving it a try.

The real question is … should a meringue be gooey in the centre or crisp the whole way through?!

Basic Meringue Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 egg white
  • 55g caster sugar

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 100°C (conventional). If you're in a bit of a hurry about 140°C is as hot as you want to go. If you are cranking up the temperature, you'll need to keep a close eye on the meringues to make sure they're not taking on too much colour.
  2. Alternatively, cook something like a cake and turn off the oven. Leave the meringues in as the oven cools - even overnight.
  3. Beat the egg white until quite stiff. The stiffer it is, the glossier and firmer your meringue mix will be and the easier it will be to manipulate.
  4. When the egg whites are stiff, add the caster sugar slowly while you continue to beat. If this is your first time making meringue, add the sugar a tablespoon at a time. Otherwise, use your cooking wisdom to guide you.
  5. Ensure the sugar is really well beaten into the egg white. The mix should be smooth and glossy and not at all grainy.
  6. If you wish to make mini meringues (the best type for cheeky tea time treats!), scope the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a wide, fluted nozzle. Pipe the meringues on to a baking tray lined with baking paper.
  7. Of course, you can make any shape or size you want: using a teaspoon or a tablespoon works just as well, even if the finished product isn't quite as dainty.
  8. Cook in the low oven until dried out and crisp.
http://eatingadelaide.com/meringue/

Top Tips for Dinner Parties

The Dinner Party
your dining room: probably not quite this big*

On Wednesday night I chatted to Peter Godfrey about cronuts, the Google burger and dinner parties. Here are my essential top tips for hosting a dinner party where EVERYONE will have fun.

  1. Be realistic – about every detail. How good a cook are you really? How familiar are you with the dishes you’re making? How many people can you seat comfortably? How much time will you have to prepare?If you’ve spent all day at work you’re unlikely to be able to throw together a gourmet meal of untried recipes for eight people and get everything cleaned up (if you have an open plan kitchen/dining area) by 7pm if you get home from work at 6pm.
  2. Be prepared. Yes, this is boring but being prepared is an essential part of ensuring things runs smoothly.I personally read through recipes fully three times before I consider going near the kitchen. Do this, make a shopping list and double check it. When you’re out shopping, double check you have everything you think you have before hitting the till. Write yourself at least a list of what you need to do, and, if a schedule won’t stress you out, create one of those too.By being prepared you avoid any last minute nasty surprises. A stressed host is not a fun person to be around.
  3. Balance your menu. You might love pastry but a pastry entrée, followed by a beef Wellington, followed by a sweet pithivier is probably going to leave everyone comatose by the end of the evening.Choose one star dish where you can show off your culinary prowess and use a variety of seasonal ingredients (which will also help you save money). If your entrée and main courses are particularly rich, consider a lighter, fruit based dessert. You really want to make a rich, pastry laden dessert? Then ensure your main course is not heavy with carbs and starch.
  4. Cook in advance. Avoid last minute preparations or finishing touches as much as possible.If you’re likely to have had a few red wines by the time dessert comes around, you don’t want to be in the kitchen spinning sugar! Desserts, in particular, lend themselves to being completed early in the day or even the day before. And many hearty winter mains can at least be started early. Remember: your guests want to see you so make sure you have time to play host as well as chef.
  5. Over cater. You can eat or freeze most leftovers. You can’t, however, magic up a second portion of something from thin air.This doesn’t mean you need to cater for an army when there will be four of you for dinner, but do ensure you have one or two portions spare for anyone who is particularly hungry – or loves your food that much.  This applies to drinks (don’t forget non alcoholic!) as much as food.  Yes, hopefully your guests will be good guests and bring a bottle (or two, or a few beers) but don’t rely on this.  An open bottle of wine will keep for a day or two (and unopened bottles keep well too!) so it’s better to have a surplus to hand than have guests go thirsty.

    Part of being a good host is being a generous host.

Hopefully these ideas will help your next dinner party be a stress free event.  How do you stay calm when cooking for others?

* this is a cc licensed photo by Eric Wilcox.  It is of an installation called The Dinner Party by American artist Judy Chicago.  This piece is now on permanent display in the Brooklyn Museum, in NY.