Social September; How will you 'Disconnect to Reconnect'?

“Dad – are you okay? It’s been three hours since you checked your blackberry” was my sister’s introduction to my dad in her wedding speech. The ensuing guilty laughter of all those who could relate (or were sneakily updating their facebook under the table mid-speech) is a telling indicator of who –or what – has the upper hand in our relationship with technology. 

Whether playing Words with Friends while crossing the road or sitting on iPads while having coffee with friends, Social September encourages people to connect with each other – by disconnecting. It is an initiative to raise funds for the Reach Foundation, which promotes the mental health and emotional wellbeing of vulnerable young people.
Photo: Social September Facebook 
Funnily enough, Social September is using our addiction to all things techy – facebook, twitter, the whole social media sphere – to get this message across. Recognising the critical role that technology does play in facilitating our social lives, super socialite and founder of Social September, Bianca Venuti-Hughes, is encouraging us to be more conscious of the where, why and how we do it. Don’t quit facebook – but stop checking it when with company. Keep an eye on your emails – but not over dinner with your girlfriend (or at your daughter’s wedding). Answer that SMS – when you’ve finished our conversation with your mum. 
Founder Bianca Venuti-Hughes reconnects using old-school technology
Launching at the stylish Mezzaluna Ristorante Italiano in Potts Point, ambassadors roved the floor with giant plastic phones as guests admired the sparking Sydney skyline. Maria Venuti, the larger than life entertainer of Mad Pizza fame, stunned the crowd with a powerful rendition of “That’s what friends are for” as the connected crowd tweeted, checked in and instagrammed pics of the event. 

Photo: Social September Facebook
As the clock ticks past midnight tonight, we will farewell winter and commence our springtime socialising – so go to for more info, register to host a Reconnect event, or take on a personal Disconnect challenge for September.


Miss Marmalade, Bondi Junction

"Decaf coffee is like kissing your sister!" The wall, Miss Marmalade

8am, Monday morning. I walk briskly to Bondi Junction station to catch the train to work, an icy wind biting the tip of my nose. At 8 degrees Celsius, my head is down, scarf tightly wound and gloved hands jammed into my pockets. Oxford St is a peripheral blur of sleepy shops, loud buses and early morning commuters. 

A warm blast of air and chilled music jolts me out of my determined stride as I pass Miss Marmalade. An oasis of warmth in the Sydney chill, Miss Marmalade is a surprisingly cozy vintage haven, chalk scribbled all over the walls with irreverent quotes amongst the art. The walls may be cheeky but this establishment is clearly serious about its coffee, and appeals to the demand for organic and fair-trade that is flourishing in Bondi but surprisingly scarce in the junction itself. 
I break my mad rush to order a coffee from the dimpled waiter who grins and banters with me while I wait. A laugh, a sensational coffee and a moment of serenity in an otherwise routine trip to work; thanks to Miss Marmalade for a gentle reminder to stop and smell the coffee beans.

Miss M.  on Urbanspoon


Bondi boot camp

Pop down to Bondi at 5.45am, and you would be forgiven for thinking you had entered an alternate universe where the gym has hit the beach. Yogis perform downward dog, surfers catch waves, as soft sand runners count laps. Couples walk dogs, as goggled swimmers breast stroke from north to south. Muscled men compete to see who can complete the most pull ups on the outdoor bars, while backpackers doze on the sand in an attempt to recover from the previous night.

There may be a winter chill in the air, but that hasn’t stopped the perky crew at Bottoms Up Fitness and their trademark girly boot camp on the sand. One of only two fitness groups allowed to exercise on the beach itself, the signature red and white of the group’s trainers is a familiarly cheerful sight to locals in the morning.

Providing motivation for heeding an inhumanly early alarm clock, Head Trainer Libby is always ready to greet the “Bottoms” with smiley enthusiasm. With wrenching myself out of bed proving the most challenging part of my ordeal, watching the sun rise over the ocean as we run through a variety of drills is an uplifting reward to kick-start the day.

Tailored specifically to ladies, the Bottoms Up crew provide a series of high intensity workouts that continually keep the body guessing. They recognise that girls have unique goals and physiology, and focus on making the sessions fun to generate a positive association with exercise and fitness.

They mix cardio, movement, boxing and weights with yoga and dance classes, targeting the problem areas of women’s bodies and focusing on health and well being.

With a mission to get us fit and healthy, Libby, Ali, Jay and the crew have found an effective combination of ingredients to encourage exercise during the colder months – fun and different workouts to keep us guessing, spectacular sunrises to make us smile, and constant contagious energy and enthusiasm.

My first early start feels like torture, but after a week of jumping, burpies and boxing on the sand, I’m feeling motivated, energised and ready to join the alternate universe of fitness on the beach!

Read fitness tips from Head Trainer Libby Babet, and the full article at

Libby is the founder of Bottoms Up! Social Fitness and is a passionate advocate of health, nutrition and fitness. You can read more from Libby and her team at


Guest Post: Big (city) love

Guest post by Julia Grundy
London in Summer
I’ve had more spare time recently. The kind of time that lets me watch a French cooking show on TV, consider actually baking madeleines, and from there googling the show’s host, then drifting from one website to another, following links, reading blogs, until I found myself looking at photos of some woman’s favorite caesar salad in San Francisco - from every angle. 

At this point I stopped. Photos of lettuce leaves covered in cheese are sad.

But along this meandering online journey I did find several pretty websites and blogs dedicated to “loving Paris”, and similar fan sites for London, and of course, for New York. Do you know anyone who doesn’t LOVE New York? Expressing dislike for New York is like saying you don’t drink, people accept it but mentally mark you as a fun-hating weirdo.

I do like New York. A week there last summer left me tanned, happy, well-fed and slightly better dressed. But I don’t LOVE New York. I’m sure I’d be perfectly happy living there, but I’m not hell-bent on making it happen.

As for Paris, it totally defeated me as a cold, tired and broke 21- year-old backpacker. Anyway, my point is all these fawning blogs and websites made me think about the hole in my life that is a beloved city.

How many colorful books have been written by people who fled to a foreign city, fell in love with the people, the food, the culture, the architecture, whatever, and in the process found love, found themselves, blah blah blah? Heaps. Then why haven’t I experienced this?

I've been places, I get inspired, I’ve made the effort to fly everywhere from Istanbul to Berlin to LA…but no one city has really and truly grabbed me. 

I like cities; I like big galleries, big bridges, big parks, good coffee, noise, local food markets and overpriced restaurants. I like being anonymous in a city, I like the variety of people, houses and character that a walk through any city brings.  But I haven’t found MY city.

It took me over 20 years to figure out Sydney isn’t it. I totally get its appeal, and parts of it I love – like North Bondi, Bronte baths, and cheap, delicious Thai food anywhere- but there are too many things I dislike about Sydney. Given the nature of this blog I won’t bang on about them.

I really like my new city home. London is wonderfully low-key when you need it to be, but also open for any kind of fun, at any time, in all costumes and price ranges. And anyone who’s been here in summer gets it. The mood of the city completely lifts, the sidewalks outside pubs fill with happy drinkers, and every park turns into an unofficial music and cider festival. It’s so great. 

So, London has a lot going for it, but I’m not gaga enough to write a blog about it.  Is it me? Am I not open or daring enough to fully launch myself into a city? Is there a language barrier? Or, like a lot of relationships, is it more a case of being at the right place at the right time?

I recently married a lovely Englishman, so I can happily tick that relationship box. But after years of travelling, I’d love to find that “special” city too. There are still plenty I’m yet to see – Amsterdam, Budapest, Buenos Aires, Tokyo…. maybe it’s a numbers game, like that 100 cities thing people are doing on facebook. In the meantime, I’m giving Paris another shot this summer, hoping a better budget and serious interest in French food (thanks to that cooking show) will make all the difference.

Julia Grundy is a writer who is searching for her one true (city) love.


A Taste of Greece with Lyndey Milan

“When in Greece you cook with a Greek heart” declared celebrity chef Lyndey Milan as diners were tantalised with the wafting aromas of Peloponnese cuisine. As jovial chords of live bouzouki music bounce over the twinkling lights of the harbour, it is not a far stretch to imagine ourselves seated in a traditional restaurant on a Mediterranean island.

To celebrate the launch of the Taste of Greece cookbook on the back of her successful SBS series, Lyndey Milan teamed with the George’s Mediterranean Bar & Grill to host a feast drawn from the recipes in the book. Showcasing the highlights of a mother and son food-focused road trip around the Peloponnese, the evening was a heart (and stomach) warming tribute to both the region and Lyndey's late son, Blair.
Lyndey Milan regales diners with tales of the Peloponnese
We begin our culinary journey with a traditional eggplant dip (similar to baba ganoush) and a freshly grilled pita, a tasty portent of the flavoursome delights to come. An exotic collection of mezedes follow, a range of chickpea fritters, BBQ squid filled with fetta and spinach, and zucchini dill and mint fritters.
BBQ Squid with fetta and spinach

Village salad

The main course consists of slow roasted lamb, lemon potatos and village salad. Lyndey introduces each dish with a story, describing how she and Blair stumbled across each. She says that the Hercules Blood cocktail, a concoction of pomegranate seed and tequila, was created by Blair after extensive sampling of cocktails with locals throughout their trip. 
Slow roasted lamb
Matching wines are a carefully chosen selection also hailing from the Peloponnese region, and complement the hearty cuisine. The sweet Kourtakis Muscat of Samos is a memorable finale and dessert is an indulgent cinnamon cheesecake with Samos-soaked muscatels, topping off a mouth watering testament to George’s Executive Chef, Keith Higginson. 
Hercules Blood cocktails
Lyndey reminds us that Greek hospitality is focused on ensuring guests are happy, no matter what it takes. Enjoying a night under the stars with atmospheric music, traditional dishes prepared by a renowned chef and a welcoming host, the mission is well accomplished.  We raise our glasses and toast: Yamas!
Bouzouki player entertains the crowd
George's Mediterranean Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Lifeafterfive* was a guest of the event.


Guest Post: Why I’d rather give to Leisure Suit Larry than to charity

Guest post by Prashan Paramanathan

It was the mid-90s and personal computers were starting to find their way into every home. Dial up modems were still screeching and the Y2K bug lay on our doorstep, ready to destroy all that was good. Our family had just got its first PC (with its top-of-the-class 128MB hard drive) and I, the typical 13 year old boy, was just discovering computer games.

Adventure games were the hot genre of the time and alongside Police Quest, Hugo's House of Horrors and Bubble Bobble, stood - I'm a little embarrassed to say - Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of Lounge Lizzards. Larry was a dodgy, balding 40-something lovable-loser type in Las Vegas and you were trying to help him pick up. It was more comical than raunchy.

Larry has lain dormant for well over a decade now, so I was more than a little surprised when he re-emerged a few weeks ago on Kickstarter, a US-based crowd funding site. The creator of the Larry series, Al Lowe, was looking to raise $500k to remake the Larry game, and strangely, well, disturbingly, I felt myself compelled to give to the ‘cause’.

Now, despite working in the non-profit world for over 4 years now, I’m not very good with giving money in general. And so, as I was clicking the donate button for Larry, it suddenly dawned on me what I was doing. Did I really feel more compelled to give to Larry than I did to, say, World Vision?

Disturbingly, the answer to that question felt like a yes.

It made me ask around my friends – did they give to charity and how did they decide whom to give to?

The response I got was oddly contradictory: they wanted to connect, interact and contribute to the non-profit world but also had a healthy dose of distrust, distance and disillusionment with “charities”. I heard a lot of “I don’t really know how they spend their money” and “I don’t know if they’re any good”.

As I pondered this some more, I realised that what I was really hearing was this: “If I’m a young, 20- or 30- something professional, the traditional benevolent ‘charity’-model doesn’t really speak to me”.

So, what should you do if you’re a socially-conscience young professional wanting to connect to the non-profit world?

Here are two really simple things:
  • Be trendy, eat social enterprise-style: Social enterprises are essentially businesses run for a social purpose. For some reason, the most common types seem to be food-related. Two of my favourites for the Melbournians are STREAT (coffee/food carts run by homeless youth and Scarf (borrows restaurants to train marginalised young people in hospitality). 
  • Find your tribe: There are plenty more people like you out there. In Sydney, they hang out at many places, but three of my favourites are Emerging Leaders for Social Change (ELSC), Think Act Change and Young Social Entrepreneurs. It’s pretty simple, just turn up and see if you like it.
To make it even easier for you, I’m working with a mate (that I met at ELSC) to create Chip In Australia, a site that profiles some of the best Australian non-profits and social enterprises to make it even easier for you to connect to them.  You can check us out here.
STREAT's Stop Homelessness the Delicious Way campaign
And, if it all goes well, who knows, I might even be able to find something better to give to on there than Larry.

During the day, Prashan Paramanathan dons his non-profit consultant outfit but after five he spends his time writing for The Education Report and tinkering at Chip In Australia.

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“This is where the journey starts” begins the dapper sommelier, referring to the meticulously scattered design in the vast warehouse. Channelling Willy Wonka on a tour of mind-boggling creations, our enthusiastic guide leads us through the sensory wonderland of scented sculptures and mysterious art at THE BLOCKS
Catering to Gen Y’s notoriously short attention span and penchant for the new, pop ups venues continue to address our insatiable quest for novelty, quality and entertainment. From the long-standing Bucket List that still draws a crowd, to Bizarre Bazaar’s laneway markets, each seems to be more innovative then the last. The allure of limited time, perceived exclusivity and reliance on word of mouth combine to create a recipe for success that challenges the long-held dominance of permanent venues. 

Open in Sydney for only three weeks before embarking on a world tour, the collaboration between Penfolds and London’s Studio Toogood is an inspired example of a creative installation. Imploring us to disregard the snobbery associated with wine and follow our intuition, the team has invited Australian artists, perfumers and sculptures to create wine inspired experiences for visitors. 
Starting with a virtual number 1 that is a fragment of light projected onto the wooden floor, we smell a sculpture, enjoy the art works and assess our instinctive reaction to both. Each category of art and smell has been derived from the words usually associated with particular brackets of wine, and are intended to help us disregard preconceived notions of wine. 
Our journey through the senses is educational and fun, stretching our minds laterally to fuse art, wine and food (not too much of a struggle really). Once we’ve picked our favourites, the sommelier reveals the corresponding Penfolds Bin and Luxury wines that sit behind them. We choose 1. Aromatic Whites and 4. Regional Reds, and sit down for a tasting. At $35 for 4 x 75ml glasses, we’ve discovered the grape version of Wonka’s chocolate river paradise, and start to appreciate the subtle differences between the blends. 

Despite the transient nature of the venue, no detail has been overlooked. From Riedel crystal wine glasses to Mud Australia porcelain plates, we sit under canopies of illuminated glass grapes on chairs hand cast from raw aluminium specifically for the event. While Sydney’s last undeveloped historic wharf building will feel empty when THE BLOCKS departs for Melbourne on 4 May, Penfolds and Studio Toogood have further raised the bar (literally) for pop up innovation. 

Lifeafterfive* was a guest of THE BLOCKS and enjoyed a free tasting bracket worth $35.

The Blocks
16th March-5th April
Pier 2/3 13 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay
Wed-Fri 4pm-11pm and Sat-Sun 1pm-11pm


Bread & Circus, Alexandria

“We were the generation of dreamers”, says John Bechara, stopping for a chat while gathering plates. Reclining in stripy deck chairs, we bask in the Autumn sunshine and find ourselves engaged in a philosophical discussion while sipping organic blueberry smoothies. “We studied for the sake of learning, challenged traditions and explored the ideas of the world…”.
Riding the revolving door schedule of fast paced city living, days blend without warning into indistinctive weeks and months pass before we seem to have a chance to blink. It’s a rare treat to venture out of routine, crack a pattern and find our eyes jolted open to delights on our doorstep.

At ‘Bread & Circus’ in Alexandria, Bechara’s daughter Amanda is busy preparing food in the kitchen, laughing with customers and generally running the show (with her boyfriend and co-owner, Danny Goldstein). A trendy warehouse style canteen in a re-used brick factory, giant spoons hang on the wall, gourmet condiments line the counter and pineapples hang out with jars of homemade jam on geometrically aligned shelves. The version of the latin phrase panem et circenses is an apt reference to frivolous appeasement methods adopted by the Ancient Roman senate to distract the population from serious civic concerns. 

Artfully combining healthy, organic produce, an edgy location and eclectic décor to create a positive distraction from all concerns – civic or otherwise - Bread & Circus manages to tick all of the boxes for implied success in the discerning Inner West. A welcoming sunny space made friendlier with a cheeky music selection, a healthy menu of fresh produce that regularly changes, and creative presentation of dishes, the three month old eatery is buzzing on a Sunday afternoon.
We order the sustainable steamed barramundi sandwich box – a biodegradable box full of “fresh bright quirky organic sandwich fillings w/ freshly cut slices of sourdough & salady side things” - and a mix of unusual but delicious salads. The “sandwich” is a smorgasbord of DIY ingredients, elevating the humble concept of two slices of bread and filling to the next level. Each bite oozes health, professionally and thoughtfully executed while maintaining its rustic originality.

Easily exceeding standard expectations, the X-factor of Bread & Circus is the warmth behind the smiles, the genuine hospitality that only comes from owners passionate about their creation. With Amanda’s dad gathering plates, her boyfriend manning the counter and her mum checking on customers, Bread & Circus is a friendly oasis nestled among the industrial streets of Alexandria.

A Master of Philosophy and hailing from Lebanon, Bechara pops by again to see how we’re getting on. Already a familiar face, he regales us with tales rich with history, stokes debates over culture, and glows with pride as he speaks of his daughter’s venture. This chance encounter with John - a common feature of travelling but rare in the comfortable routine of life at home - is one of those moments where life seems to pause, a reminder that colour, depth and philosophy are ever present behind everyday interactions if one takes a moment to notice. 

From the giant bags of chickpeas lining the floor to the carefully selected tea menu (“brewed by a tea neurotic”), Bread & Circus inspires one to revert to the mindset of the traveller, unravel stories and join the generation of dreamers - at least for an afternoon. 

"When you realise how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky"
Bread & Circus on Urbanspoon

Hong Kong; A Quintessentially night on the town

To the uninitiated, Hong Kong is an overwhelming jumble of twisty streets, narrow buildings and teeming market stalls. Businessmen, expats and local traders mingle among a confusing collection of skyscrapers, quirky local stores and premium global brands. 

With a philosophy that insists that life is too short to waste time on second best, Quintessentially Hong Kong addresses the mystery by offering us a window into the enviable lifestyle of Hong Kong’s privileged. An eclectic city that can be tailored to all tastes, our fabulously foxy Quintessentially host – the aptly named Fiona Foxon - artfully guides us through the rabbit warren of streets to discover hidden laneway treasures, private members clubs and hedonistically playful party places. 
Quintessentially's Fiona Foxon & Avey Cortes
Peach & Rose Daquiri at Soiree
Our first stop is a cocktail at Soiree, a stylishly shabby-chic bar frequented by the genetically blessed and sartorially winning. Soiree’s signature cocktail, the Peach and Rose daiquiri, manages to present itself as a dessert, a work of art and a floral tribute in one. With a generous chocolate rim, the smoothie texture of the peach is enhanced by the subtle scent of rose emanating from the rich concoction. Comfortable on the intimate leather lounges, it is tough to wrench ourselves away until we discover our exclusive dinner destination. 

Rachel Jacques at Cipriani
Cipriani Hong Kong is a private members dining club which opened in 2003, a branch of the internationally renowned empire of restaurants around the world. Opened by David Tang and Giuseppe Cipriani, the Hong Kong location prides itself on serving high quality, traditional Italian food to illustrious guests. Counting the likes of Bill Clinton among their regular guests, the impeccable service, flowing wine and warm flavours gave us a taste of the international standards of premium Hong Kong living.

Gauging our predilection for cocktails and dancing, Fiona suggests a post-dinner visit to the Kee Club, a venue that claims to “embrace people from all walks of life – from business professionals to social butterflies”. The Quintessentially name is our passport to the VIP tables, where the gentlemen opt for espresso martinis while the ladies go for lychee. The décor and service scream luxury, while the Friday night crowd is amped for a party. A mesmerising display of unsubtle wealth and glamour, Kee is currently the “hands down - place to be” on Hong Kong island according to our guides. 
Cocktails at Kee
Whether one falls into the camp of “business professional or social butterfly”, no visit to Hong Kong is complete without a foray into Lan Kwai Fong (LKF), the hub of the island’s late night party scene. Awash with activity and beats at 2am, many an expat escapade has taken place on the colourful, narrow street. Our last Quintessentially stop is at a bouncing club named Fly - complete with shots of coffee patrone, cheesy 80s music revving up the dance floor, and a rowdy crowd spilling onto the street. 

Between hidden wine bars, private clubs and popular discos, our Quintessentially Hong Kong night gives us a window into the fast-paced lifestyle that characterises the city. Often touted as the New York of Asia, the bewildering variety of places to discover with limited time reminds us that life is, indeed, too short for second best.

Quintessentially is global Private Members' Club with 24/7 Concierge Services and exclusive member benefits.  Lifeafterfive* was a guest of Quintessentially Hong Kong.