Friday, July 29, 2011


I'm a huge fan of cider.  I love the crisp sparkling taste and slightly embarrassingly, I love that I can order it in a pub and it looks like I'm drinking a beer.  I don't like beer but I always feel a bit naff drinking wine in a pub.  Oh dear, over 30 and I'm still trying to be a cool kid.

Anyway, moving on from embarrassing confessions, my favourite cider maker is Rekorderlig.  This Swedish company makes a brilliant apple cider but they also got me hooked on pear and best of all strawberry and lime cider.  Yes, you read that right, it is awesome but I would say for me it is a summer drink.

So imagine my happiness when whilst perusing KittyCate's All Cats Are Grey at Night blog I saw that they now have winter cider!  It is their beautiful apple cider infused with cinnamon and vanilla.  You can have it hot or cold, but I'm not a fan of warm cider so we had it cold and it is delicious.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A frosty start

When people around Australia tonight watch the weather they will no doubt shiver and thank their lucky stars that they don't live in Canberra when they see that last night the temperature dipped below -6 degrees.

What they won't realise is that those seriously cold morning are actually lovely.  I can imagine skepticism in your mind as you read that, but let me explain.

You can't get to a really cold, below -3 degree night unless it is crystal clear.  Any clouds hold in the heat.  So that means on a seriously cold morning you awake to clear blue skies and sun - lots of surprisingly warm sun.  However the air takes some time to warm up, so for the first few hours you have the glorious situation of bright sunshine on a frost coated landscape.  Dry grass at the side of the road becomes a fairy's crystal wand as the light highlights every fine strand of its feathery seed head coated in a layer of ice.  Wattle glows under a veil of frost.  The landscape glimmers and glistens.

Rugged up in appropriate winter wear (and what better excuse for a ladylike ensemble including gorgeous stockings, gloves, a coat and bright scarf) a frozen morning is a true delight.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dancing in the dark

On Tuesday nights S and I do a salsa class.  After class there is a social dance / practice session where they put on the music, turn down the lights and put on the coloured disco lights so that it feels a bit like being in a salsa club.  It is good fun, a great chance to practice what we have just learned and have a proper dance but being a mid-week night we generally leave about halfway through.

The dance studio is on the second floor and due to the body heat inside, the windows are always fogged up.  The street is dimly lit and not exactly salubrious, a commercial area filled with car yards and low rent buildings.

As S and I stand in the carpark saying goodbye (a long process really only limited by the fact that it is freezing at night at the moment) we often look back up to the studio.  With the fogged up windows, the flashing coloured lights inside highlight silhouettes of the dancers and it looks amazing.  A bit like an 80's video clip. In the grimy setting it all looks mysterious and glamorous and the dark shapes of the people coming in and out are all the more interesting.

I like to think about how an outsider would imagine the inside from that view.  I think they would imagine it to be far more glamorous and less sweaty than it actually is.  And you know, even though I know what it is like inside, that almost hypnotic view from outside makes it just a little more glamorous for me too.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

5 most important things my parents taught me

Another list as inspired by Kate Takes 5's weekly listography.  As you will know, my family is very important to me and of course at the centre are my parents.  It has been extremely hard narrowing down the multitude of things they have taught me to just 5, but I think these are pretty key.

(Mum I have to say, I really considered putting here teaching me to ride a bike because I think you deserve some serious kudos for running up and down the street holding me upright for so long, but I thought these were more significant).

How to cook
Food is big in our family.  We love experimenting, eating, talking about it.  In fact my father coined the now famous family phrase "if there isn't someone talking about, preparing or eating food in the room you know you are alone".  Our gatherings center on food and I have so many special memories that relate to it.

Mum primarily taught me to cook, although Dad has been instrumental along the way, just read about him teaching me to cook apple turnovers to understand.  I spent countless happy hours sitting at the kitchen bench helping, or chatting or watching.  As a result I'm fully equipped to keep myself nourished but more importantly I can feed others and I love the joy it brings when I produce something yummy.

I don't think I even noticed being taught manners, it was just a part of life, but as I've grown older, boy have I noticed how many people don't know the common courtesies or how to behave in a particular situation and even more I've noticed how uncomfortable it makes people.  Over the years I've had various friends quietly quiz me about how to deal with the array of cutlery, or how they should respond to a social situation.  They have always been extremely embarrassed to be asking, but if no one has taught you, how are you supposed to know what to do?

As well as all the usual table manners, saying please and thankyou as a matter of course and the like, Mum also taught us to be thank you note writers.  The thank you note seems to be a dying art, but I love it and after all, it is another excuse to buy nice stationery!

Money is to be enjoyed not hoarded
We were never a rich family.  We were definitely comfortable, with a lovely home, private school education and plenty of treats, but compared to a lot of the girls at my school, Mum and Dad didn't have the same kind of disposable income.

But what they did have they spent well and they taught me that living a comfortable, enjoyable life is much better than dying with a large bank account.  I've learnt how to budget, but also how to spend.  How to make priorities and that a life full of experience is better than a bank account full of money.  Looking at that gorgeous painting on the wall certainly gives me a lot more joy than looking at a balance on a screen and living in Canberra, having a well heated home is much better than shivering all the way to the bank.

I won't be leaving a fortune behind when I go, but I will have lived a life where I enjoyed what I earned!

Don't have an entire meal of champagne and fairy bread
This was just one of many truisims my parents taught me particularly during my teenage years.  Most of these lessons follow the same pattern, a story along the lines of - don't do X, because when I did it such and such happened.

Some of them are brilliantly funny stories but I think the thing that made these lessons so powerful was that they were real.  It wasn't my parents trying to stop me having fun, they were letting me know real consequences.  My parents have never pretended to be saints with no lives, rather they have let us into the complexity of their experiences so that we could learn from them and in doing so, they helped us make our own decisions with a real understanding of the consequences. 

Oh and yes Mum really did wipe herself out on champagne and fairy bread at my Aunt's birthday party and her description of multicoloured vomit is both disgusting and memorable. 

That they will love me no matter what
Growing up surrounded by truly unconditional love is an amazing thing.  The confidence and security it gives you I think is pretty much unparallelled.  There was never a question about how much my sister and I were loved and even more than that, I always knew there was nothing so bad that I couldn't tell my parents and that they wouldn't still love me.

So thanks Mum and Dad, you have given me the strength and skills to cope with whatever life throws at me and more importantly thanks for always being there when life is doing its best to test that!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Are macaroons the new cupcake?

Today's blog is a bit of a philosophical  (or should that be a food-osophical) treatise inspired by a visit to my favourite bakery, The Flute and noticing that while they have a very large array of macaroons available along with their usual range, they do not do cupcakes.  Well they do little cakes, but nothing I would describe as a cupcake.

I'm going to start by putting all my cards on the table - I'm a cupcake lover.  Long before they became fashionable, I favoured them over a large cake.  I love the individual portions, that everyone gets their share of the icing, that you can hold it by its paper case and it doesn't require a plate or a fork.  In short, I'm a fan.

And I'm not alone.  Somewhere in the last decade cupcakes became trendy.  Cupcake shops opened, books were published, people took decorating them to an art form.  It was all rather fantastic for someone like me who adores their cup portioned cake.

However, in the last year or two they seem to have been knocked off their perch by the new fad on the block - macaroons.  I will be the first to admit that there is something hugely visually appealing about macaroons.  Their bright colours, interesting flavour combinations, neat shape.  It does engage the eye while the apparently infinite number of flavours capture the imagination.

And there is definitely an art to baking them.  I haven't tried yet but I've read many a detailed description of the process and I can understand why budding masterchefs would be keen to demonstrate their skills through the production of this most fashionable of confections.

However I ask, can macaroons really replace cupcakes?  For me, a macaroon is something that is served on fine china with a delicate cup of tea.  They are a treat, a delictible delight.

A cupcake can also be served on fine china, they can hold their place at a high tea, they have been wedding cakes.  But a cupcake is also a kids party staple.  You can decorate them to look like an animal.  They can be hearty and filling, or delicate and light.  In short, cupcakes tick all the boxes.

So while macaroons may continue to be a sought after object of desire, I believe that cupcakes will remain popular long after we have moved on to the new fad, possibly the perfect alfajores or neenish tart.   Or maybe I just like cupcakes more.  Macaroon lovers, feel free to try to change my mind.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Most people hate going to the dentist.  When I announced in the office that I would be late in due to a dental appointment there were commiserations all round.  But you know, the thing is, I quite enjoy going to the dentist.

I put this down to three things:

1. I love that dentist clean feeling.  It doesn't matter how well I clean my teeth, they never feel quite as great as they do when I leave the dental surgery.

2. Dentists love my teeth.  Yup, seriously, they rave about them.  Invariably the dentist and dental hygienist will have a little conversation about if only everyone's teeth were like mine.  It is an ego boost every time I go.

3. I've never had a filling, or any painful procedure, so for me, the dental surgery is all about being praised and then having fantastically clean teeth.

I am lucky that I do seem to have struck some genetic gold and got a nice solid set of teeth, but most of this comes down to having a mother who was determined to teach us good dental habits.  She had us at the dentist for a clean every 6 months when we were kids.  She supervised our brushing, made us rinse our mouths with that pink stuff that sticks to plaque, ensured we had good and then electric toothbrushes.

She established excellent habits, but I think the best thing she and Dad ever did was to point out how my cousins didn't have any fillings.  My cousins are older than us and as a kid I definitely looked up to them.  They were these amazing, cool and glamorous teenagers who would appear at family functions, smiling with their (according to my parents) perfect teeth.  I can really clearly remember being determined that my teeth would be as perfect as Donal, Lachlan and Rachel's and I tell you what, gosh do I appreciate that now.  More and more is being discovered on how poor dental hygine can affect your health in general.

So I encourage everyone to look after their teeth.  Go to the dentist, even if it is expensive and apparently scary.  You will appreciate it later on.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Rock your Frock

As long term readers of this blog will know, last year I raised money for ovarian cancer research by wearing dresses all October for Frocktober.

Ovarian cancer statistics are scary.  It is one of the most common cancers affecting women - in Australia a woman dies of ovarian cancer every 10 hours and most women discover they have it too late to do anything about it.  This was all brought home to me last year when my Aunty Sue died of it about four months after she was diagnosed.

Frocktober was an awesome experience.  I received the most amazing support, not just financially (I ended up raising over $2,000!!!) but emotionally and in dresses.  I think I spent about half the month wearing my friends clothes!  It really was instrumental in helping me grieve and deal with Sue's death in a positive way.  And of course it made me want to do it again.

However I didn't want to hit all the same people up for sponsorship for doing the same thing, so I decided to do something a bit different.  Yes, I will still wear frocks every day in October (after all I love wearing dresses) but I'm also going to hold an event that combines my love of dresses, dancing and fundraising.  That event will be "Rock your Frock" a frocktober dance party!

I've been planning Rock your Frock for awhile now, but today the first tangible piece of the planning - my advertising postcards - arrived.

I've done loads of event planning in my time, in fact that was my profession for awhile.  Event planning can seem very intangible at times.  So much work and organisation is happening for a distant time and place.  But every now and then something tangible arrives, like today's postcards and it is a massive lift.  It gives you a boost, a kick start to keep going with the organisation.

So expect a few dress/dance themed posts as I get ready for what I hope will be a fantastic event which really contributes to the fight against ovarian cancer.  Oh and if you are in Canberra, mark the 15th of October in your diary and get ready to Rock your Frock!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Wheat Pack Warmth

It is the depths of winter and a deep cold winter it is proving to be.  Today didn't start out as icy as many days have recently but it was soon beset with cold wind and stingy frigid rain.  It quickly became the sort of day which makes me long for open fires, mulled wine, snuggles - but being a Monday that wasn't going to happen.

Mondays are always a bit of a shock to the system, after a lazy weekend of sleeping in, getting up, ready and at work before 9am is always somewhat of a challenge.  However the last month or so of Mondays has been particularly harsh as the heating in our office has partially died.  This means that because the building chills right down over the weekend, it takes till approximately 2pm till it is warm enough to emerge from coats and scarves.  Of course with the very cold weather at the moment heating repairers are in such demand that we still have another 2 weeks to wait until it will be fixed.

In reality this means that we still spend the majority of our week working in comfort, but I've had to come up with some ways to survive those cold Monday mornings. I've ditched wearing skirts or dresses on Mondays, in fact if I know there are no client meetings, I wear jeans and jumpers - not to mention thick hiking socks under my boots.  Hot drinks are a must, along with something nice and warm for lunch.

But today I've come up with the best solution so far - a wheat pack.  Who would have thought a corduroy pillow stuffed with wheat could be just what I needed?  If you are not familiar with them, they are exactly as I've described and you heat them up in the microwave.  They hold their heat really well, so it is like a hot water bottle without the risk of spilling hot water.

I brought my old faithful wheat pack in this morning, heated it up, and it sat on my lap while the office's partial heating struggled to warm the place up.  For the first time in weeks I wasn't shivering at my desk and I could get stuck straight into work.  In two weeks all this will no doubt be a distant, cold memory, but for now, my wheat pack is my favourite colleague.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Duck, Duck, Duck ... Goose (well beef actually)

The plan for lunch today was yum cha at a Chinese restaurant in one of the local clubs.  I don't know what has happened to Canberra clubs, but there are currently good Chinese resturants in the Italian, German, and Greek clubs.  I would have thought that their own cultures offered enough food variety, but it is Chinese food culture that seems to be thriving.

Yum Cha on a Friday at the Italian Club has been a long tradition, however when we arrived today, we discovered that it is a discontinued tradition!  As we were already there, we decided to eat Chinese anyway and started reading the menu.  Someone quickly voted for a duck dish and we all enthusiastically agreed.  So enthusiastically that someone else suggested two duck dishes.  After some discussion we decided that maybe two wasn't enough, so we ended up ordering three duck dishes between 5 people.

We started with that most marvelous of dishes, duck pancakes.  I have to say, this dish is very high on my list of favourite foods.  While not the best I've ever had, they were extremely tasty, and I could probably just have had a meal of those and been quite satisfied.  The wait staff also helpfully left us with the carcass so once the pancakes had been devoured we could pick delicious crispy bits off the bones.

For main, we had crispy duck in plum sauce and shredded duck with bean shoots and chilli.

The crispy duck had a deliciously crispy coating around very meaty, boneless chunks of duck.  The sauce was generous and nicely plummy.

The shredded duck was almost a salad with lots of bean shoots along with mushroom, shallots, plenty of fresh chilli and other tasty ingredients.  I really enjoyed this one.

While there were a few other duck items on the menu that we could have tried, we did decide to stretch ourselves somewhat and our final dish was chilli beef.  It was tasty, but by then I was in the duck zone and it couldn't quite compete.  I think the waitress was a little surprised at our order, but I have to say, I loved my duck lunch.

Monday, July 11, 2011

DIY Pizza

I'm going to blame the freezing weather for the fact that I completely forgot to take any photos yesterday, but S and I went to a fantastic birthday party.

Pretty much everyone likes pizza.  Even better is gourmet woodfired pizza.  So how did my friends top that?  With gourmet woodfired pizza that we assembled ourselves and cooked in a woodfired oven on a trailer in the front yard!

Yes some very clever people in Canberra came up with the excellent idea of putting a woodfired pizza oven on a trailer that you can hire for parties.  It arrived, set up involved lighting the fire and then we got stuck in.  Our fab hosts had provided an amazing array of delicious items from which to create our toppings.

For the carnivores there was chorizo, steak, prosciutto, duck, chicken, ham and salami.  Cheese selection included shredded pizza mix, fetta, bocconcini (which had an unfortunate habit of rolling off the pizzas while they were cooking) and brie.  There were marinated veggies, pumpkin, beetroot, semi dried tomatoes, rocket, potato, mushrooms, olives, pine nuts, capsicum, shallots, herbs and a whole host of other things I've forgotten.

People got very creative and came up with some truly delectable creations.

The only issue was that it was FREEZING yesterday.  Strong winds occasionally threatened to blow the toppings off the pizzas before they made it into the oven, we had a few dashes to catch plates or topping containers before the wind took them and during the cooking process we tended to huddle around the back of the oven keeping warm.

But in spite of the less than comfortable cooking conditions, we had a fantastic time and my long held desire to have a pizza oven in my backyard (and a backyard big enough to fit a pizza oven) is well and truly reignited!

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Today I woke up and thought, gosh I feel like eating pikelets.  This was a rather strange thing to think as I don't think I've had pikelets in years, and I've never made them.  But the thought was there and S agreed that they would make a perfect lunch option.

Not having a recipe, we basically made mini pancakes but they turned out delicious.  Golden brown and fluffy, I was in charge of the cooking, S was in charge with the toppings.  I love how creative he is.  We had the traditional pikelets topped with butter and jam, but we also had jam and cream, caramel and cream, chocolate topping, lemon sugar and on one notable pikelet S tried cinnamon and chilli (not good).

They were a real flashback to childhood and a delicious, if rather nutritionally deficient lunch.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Temptation - I can't resist

I'm very bad at saving money.  I fall foul of temptation regularly, the extra treat in the shopping basket, that dress online I spotted at lunch, the new shoes I desperately "need".  I'm not a complete spendthrift, I do manage to live within my means - I just don't manage to save a whole lot extra. 

I used to be an excellent saver, it is how I've achieved a load of things in my life, but at some point I just got out of the habit.  The thing is, I love to travel and that takes money, so I'm hardening up against temptation, re-learning those good habits and doing my best to be thrifty and save.

To help me, I've resurrected something I used to do when I was at uni and had to watch every dollar, I'm keeping a spending journal.  Boy oh boy do you think about what you are spending when you have to write it down.  That sneaky afternoon snack doesn't seem so sneaky when I know it is going in my spreadsheet.  It is slightly mortifying to see how the dollars add up so easily.  I'm sure it will be good for me, I've already found the strength to resist a few temptations.

However, being sensible and saving doesn't mean that I'm going to live an austere life.  I'm working hard to find some happy medium of decent savings AND a full and comfortable life.  So today I'm adding a new line to the spreadsheet as I go get pampered at the hairdresser.

I LOVE having my hair done.  Honestly, it is one of my favourite things, to just sit back and be pampered.  I always come out of the salon with a little extra spring in my step.  As I have long hair, I can usually manage to leave a fair bit of time between the visits which means that it isn't too hard on my wallet and is something I look forward to, a real treat.

My salon is rather lovely.  It is equipped with massage chairs, there is always a wide variety of magazines, I get my cup of tea and the staff are just gorgeous.

This is money well spent and a line in my savings journal that won't make me cringe!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Breaking the Ice

Winter is really getting stuck in this week.  Maximum temperatures in single figures, icy rain and gale force winds.  It is the kind of weather that makes you grateful for open fires, red wine, snuggly doonas and hot bowls of soup.

The other thing it makes me extremely grateful for is my collection of thermals.  A few years ago I was heading on holiday to South America during winter and knowing I would be facing some extremely cold temperatures, I thought I had better invest in some thermals.  I had visions of ugly, itchy, stripey garments, the kind of thing you would be mortified to have anyone know you own.  However somewhere along the way, thermals underwent a transformation and became gorgeous clothing items.

I favour Icebreaker.  A New Zealand brand, they have taken the softest, warmest merino wool and have transformed it into garments that are not only warm, they are beautiful on your skin and look great too!  They don't come cheap, I hang out for sales and even then I'm counting the cost but then along comes a day like today and I realise that they were worth every cent.

I woke this morning to the house pretty much rattling in the wind and opened the curtains to a spray of icy rain against the window.  At that point I seriously considered just turning around and getting straight back into bed.  But instead, I pulled out a pale lilac thermal top to layer under my blue and purple striped shirt.  I added a jacket, a coat and scarf but once out of the wind, found that my thermal was so effective at keeping me warm I didn't need the coat or scarf!

I think that Winter is a beautiful time of year, but I do enjoy it more when I'm feeling warm and comfortable so I think my thermals and I will be inseparable for the next couple of months!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

French Onion Soup

There are some meals you can whip up in 30 minutes after work, there are others that require many hours of long slow cooking - the kind of meal that is just right for a cold Sunday in the middle of winter.  French Onion soup is one of those.  For a really great full taste, it requires hours of long slow cooking to really bring out the caramel flavours of the onions and develop that deep brown colour.

My recipe is pretty simple.  I slice (using a mandolin slicer - yes Dad, with the hand guard) a pot full of onion.  And I mean full, right to the brim of the pot.  I add a bit of butter and leave them cooking over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, for hours until the onions are about a quarter the volume and a deep golden brown.  The key is to make sure you regularly scrape the bottom so it doesn't stick and burn.

2-3 hours later, it will smell fantastic and be a beautiful colour. Add a couple of tablespoons of plain flour and cook it off.  Throw in a few sprigs of thyme, ground pepper, beef stock and some water.

Simmer for an hour or so then - and this is key - serve topped with cheese croutons.  Perfect delicious winter comfort food for a Sunday afternoon.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Feeding the family

I remember being quite young and reading a list of things to do to prove you were grown up (it was most likely a Dolly quiz or something similar).  On it was picking up the bill for a meal at a restaurant with your parents.  That same summer I spent much of my holidays paving an area in the backyard to prevent the dogs from digging it up, for which my parents paid me.  Shortly after I'd finished we all went out to lunch and I picked up the bill, paying for it from my paving earnings.  I have to say, I did feel awfully grown up while at the same time being amazed at just how quickly my hard earned cash could disappear!

That episode was a very long time ago, but for some reason that notion of the significance of providing a meal for my parents has stuck with me.  These days when we go out, everyone pays their own way so the Dolly quiz doesn't really apply.  However, despite having done it numerous times, whenever I cook for my parents I still have a little feeling of pride, of being grown up.  It is quite ridiculous really given my age, but somehow nothing makes me feel more like my parents child than serving them food.  Food is such a special element in our family that I always want it to be perfect, but I also like to try something a little different from the usual family favourites.

Thursday night is family dinner night when we all converge on the family home and Mum cooks up a feast.  However, with my sister away and my parents having a busy day yesterday, I offered to do the cooking for a change.

I made a delicious beef and chorizo ragout with crispy potato stacks from this month's Australian Good Taste magazine.  It really was yum and I followed it with chocolate lava cakes.  They could possibly have done with two more minutes in the oven so that they preserved their shape better when I turned them out, but they obviously tasted good as they disappeared in record time.

It was lovely to give Mum a break from the cooking, we are going to make it a regular thing.  So now once a month that little girl in me will be looking for the perfect meal to show my family just how much they mean to me.