Friday, December 30, 2011

Wine and Dessert

Ahhh, the bliss of being on holiday - properly on holiday, away from home so chores can't call, normal activities don't fit in and days can be dedicated to doing not much more than eating, sleeping and reading a good book.

I'm spending time with S's family in Adelaide and I've discovered that while my family is known for our over catering, S's family has taken that to heart in regards to dessert.  I don't think there has been a night with less than 4 on offer and if you eat less than 2 people think there is something wrong.  At this point we have eaten two whole trifles, two cakes, a series of mango puddings, a pavlova, a Christmas pudding, roasted strawberries and a whole host of chocolates and other "snack" desserts.  It may come as no shock to you that I'm using any opportunity possible to get out for a walk.

But yesterday we took a break from the endless desserts and drove up to the Barossa Valley for a day of wine tasting.  We visited 6 wineries (I think) and Maggie Beer's farm as well as having a delicious pub lunch.

I love winery tours.  The chance to try so many great wines is never something to turn down, but there is just something lovely about wineries.

 Stepping out of the hot South Australian sun into the cool of a tasting room.  Being surrounded by giant oak wine barrels.  Hearing about the wines from passionate wine makers.  Oh and did I mention tasting the wine?

Luckily we had a chauffeur for the day.  S's Dad was kind enough to drive us around, choosing the smaller more boutique wineries for us to visit.  We drove past the giants - Penfolds, Jacob's Creek, etc - but it is the little labels that is the joy to discover on such a day.  It was in the tiny wineries where we tasted some delicious gems - it is only limited carry on space that prevented me buying many bottles.

It was great fun to visit Maggie Beer's farm shop and see where "The Cook and The Chef" was filmed.  But it was by far the busiest place of the visit and we really only lingered long enough to buy some of her icecream to eat (well it was hot and as you can tell it had been several hours since we had eaten a dessert).

Finally, the heat and the alcohol combined to create a car full of sleepy passengers, so we headed back into town where we were once again confronted by the desserts on offer.  As you can tell, I'm having a fantastic break.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Eve

My family is of German and Austrian descent and as a result our Christmas follows those traditions.  The key one is that our big celebration is held on Christmas Eve, not Christmas day and like anything to do with my family, it is centered around food.  Around a feast to be precise.

The photos never do the spread justice.  So to give you an idea of just how crazy it is, here is a list of what the 6 of us ate:
  • Potato Salad
  • Spinach Salad
  • Pumpkin and Eggplant Salad
  • Roasted Capsicum Salad
  • Tomato and Boconcini Salad
  • Cucumber Salad
  • Coleslaw
  • Asparagus
  • Seafood - prawns, oysters, smoked salmon
  • BBQ chicken
  • Ham
  • Cabanossi
  • Procutto with melon
  • Eggs - plain hard boiled and deviled
  • Homemade Pate
  • Cheese - brie and chedder
  • Two types of bread

That is right, 6 of us ate that - and a pav for dessert!  There were plenty of leftovers which Mum and Dad happily took possession of and will feed them for a week.

Everything was washed down by an excellent bottles of champagne, white wine and red wine.  As a result things did get a bit silly at some points, my sister modelling the new fashion for Christmas hats is an excellent example.

As per tradition after the main meal we went for a walk.  When my sister and I were small the walk was to look for Santa.  We would hunt up and down the street, checking the sky for a red light that would be the telltale sign of Rudolph's nose, until eventually we would see the curtains of our house open and the candles lit, the sign that Santa had somehow snuck past us to deliver our presents.  These days the walk serves the important purpose of allowing us to digest the vast quantities of food we have just eaten before we get stuck into dessert.

It was a gorgeous night.  After the feast of food there was a crazy number of presents.  My sister's little dogs were even in the swing of things with their tinsel collar accessories.

And of course seeing that we do all of this on Christmas Eve that leaves Christmas day for my sister and I to head to our partner's families to partake of the English traditions.  We really do get the best of both worlds.

I hope your Christmas was as special as mine.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone. I hope you all have a day filled with joy, laughter, special treats and time with your loved ones. S and I have been wonderfully spoilt by my family at our lavish Christmas Eve (full post to follow) and are now in transit to Adelaide to celebrate with S's family. I'm certainly feeling the love today.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Time Out

It has been a busy and stressful few weeks, so S and I used a few free days before the Christmas festivities begin to escape the hubub and head to the most relaxing place on earth, which (in my humble opinion) is the NSW south coast. 

On the whole the weather has been grey, but today is glorious. But it doesn't really matter what the weather is like down here.  Somehow within minutes of arriving and smelling that fresh salty air, cares and worries disappear, muscles unwind and a deep relaxation sets in.

We have walked on the beach, eaten ice-creams by the sea wall, had lazy meals and generally done little.  And as a result, I feel great.  Energised and ready for a busy Christmas which will include a trip to Adelaide to be with S's family.  It has been the perfect break.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The World Record for Christmas Lights

If someone asked you to guess what country held the record for most Christmas lights on a house, most people would probably think of America.  They would be wrong.  The record is held by Australia; in fact, by a house in Canberra.

The house in question is located in Forest.  Those who know Canberra will realise how incongruous this is.  Forest is one of the poshest, most elite suburbs in the city.  The kind of suburb where manicured hedges hide genteel houses.  It is a suburb of quiet tree lined streets, the sort of place where the only traffic is local.

However in the middle of this quiet oasis of the wealthy, one couple has created a mammoth Christmas lights display that attracts hundreds of people a night.  Cars line the surrounding roads, there was actually a mini traffic jam on their street.  Not only that but the 331,038 lights are coordinated to the music that is played, creating a noisy, brightly flashing display that is brilliant to see but must be a nightmare to live next to.

S and I made an impromptu visit on our way home from another event.  We didn't actually know the address but once in the suburb we were easily able to follow the continual stream of traffic and once we were close the overwhelming display made it clear which house we were visiting.

It is hard to describe.  There is a 25m tunnel made of closely woven strands of LED lights.  A huge tree is wrapped in them, the house is adorned.  It is overwhelming really and the photos do not do it justice.

We arrived at about 9.30 and parked a couple of streets away.  The actual street was in gridlock and there were people thronging in all direction.  The display takes donations which are given to SIDS and Kids and I think they would make hundreds of dollars each night.

I can't say I would want to be their neighbours, but I have to say, it is an awesome display and I admire the work to achieve it.  The display is clearly a labour of love but it is one that brings a huge number of people a lot of joy.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Summer Picnic

This part of December is a busy time, so a moment of stillness is very welcome.  Kicking off my shoes in the cool grass, lazing under a tree on a picnic blanket with S was the perfect way to spend an afternoon.

After weeks of wet, unseasonably cool weather, today was perfect.  Mid-20s, a gentle breeze, just the day you want for a picnic BBQ, which is exactly what we had been invited to.  The gathering was to celebrate a birthday and wet weather plans had been made, but the summer gods smiled and we spread our picnic blankets under shady trees and fired up the BBQ.

After stuffing ourselves with egg and bacon rolls and sausage sandwiches, S and I lazed back on the rug.  There was gentle conversation, warm fresh air and full bellies.  I don't know if contentment is quite a strong enough word to sum it all up.

While children ran about, dogs watched for the remains of BBQ and people laughed, I looked up at the canopy of green above us and reflected on just how lucky I am to have these gorgeous moments in my life.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dance, dance, dance

Kari yesterday asked me what style of dance I do and I realised that while I have mentioned how much I love dance I haven't really talked much about what kind of dance I do.

When I was a little girl I did ballet classes, followed by jazz ballet for a time.  But I was always too tall, too gawky and the enthusiasm I had was never really encouraged by the teachers who knew with my physical size I was never going to be a professional dancer.   I think it is so sad that they wouldn't encourage such enthusiasm.  Sure I was never going to be a ballerina, but if someone loves something you should always encourage them.

So from the age of about 8 or 9 I didn't dance.  In high school there were dance opportunities in things like Rock Eisteddfod, but I had built up a whole host of myths in my head about dance (see below) that meant I never gave it a go.

In 2003 (I think) I went to a Christmas party where the hostess prompted a conversation by saying to someone he should tell us about his dancing.  He told us about Ceroc (modern jive) and in doing so blew all the myths that I had built up in my head out of the water.  At that point in my life the majority of my friends had moved away, I was unfit, had a minimal social life and I needed a new direction.  The next February I dragged two of my girlfriends along to a class and fell in love.  I came home that first night and sat on my Mum's bed beaming.  My words to her were "I think I could be good at this".

A few years later, after much dancing and hard work I was asked to come on staff.  I've moved from a demonstrator, to a junior instructor, to a senior instructor.  It would be fantastic to go back in time and tell those snobby ballet instructors that these days I'm a dance teacher!

My interest in dance has grown and grown.  Over the years I've tried out a multitude of styles.  As well as teaching Ceroc, I do lessons in and dance argentine tango, salsa and rumba on a regular basis.  I know the basics of zouk lambada, waltz and cha cha.  I even did a fantastic term of burlesque dancing that was probably the hardest class I've ever done with one of the most inspirational teachers ever.

Dance has quite literally changed my life.  I'm fitter and healthier than ever.  I have the most remarkably wonderful, quirky, brilliant and supportive group of friends.  I've developed body confidence and much better posture.  It has given me a hobby that I love and that brings me joy every time I do it.  And, most importantly, it was through dance that I met S.

So as I said earlier, I had built up a list of myths about dance in my head that prevented me trying it out for years.  So that no one else has them, here is my list of Myths of Dance.

Myth 1 : You have to go with a partner - I have no idea where I formed this impression but I can categorically say it is not true and the vast majority of people do not come to dance classes with a partner.  If anything coming with a partner can hamper you because if you only dance with them, you don't learn from all the other people, so if you do come with someone, make sure you still dance with as many different people as you can.

Myth 2 : Dance classes are really expensive - the average classes I've seen cost somewhere between $15 - $20.  Ok, this isn't cheap, but it also isn't a huge cost, most of us can find $15 or $20 a week for an activity.  These days I do private classes which are $60, now that is getting expensive but they let me learn all the styles I want to and I learn at a much faster pace than in group classes because I've been dancing for so long.  For me I find that valuable, but I had my first private class 7 years after I started learning, so if you are starting out group classes are all you need.

Myth 3 : You have to be really coordinated and graceful - ha!  If that was true there is no way I would be dancing.  I was someone who can fall over her own feet.  It took time to get my balance etc but these days I do cut a reasonably graceful figure on the dance floor.  And I still fall over my own feet.

Myth 4 : Dance isn't real exercise - I always love it when they have athletes on "Dancing with the Stars" and they say how fit they have got.  A few years ago the ceroc teachers did an exercise where they wore pedometers in class and they managed to do the entire day's recommended steps in a single dance class.  It is hard work, I've never been as fit as I am now, and the only difference in my life is dance.

Myth 5 : Only cool people know how to dance - yup, I was convinced you had to be in the in crowd to know how to dance.  Learning to dance is cool, but we all have to learn.  I've seen people from 18-80 in classes.  Those who dress fashionably, those who really, really don't.  And then comes the day when you decide it is more comfortable to wear socks under your dance shoes because what you are wearing, how your hair is done etc doesn't matter - you are just there to dance.  That said personal hygiene is really, really important!

Is there any activity that you have put off only to later discover you love?  And do you have any questions about dance, feel free to ask away.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Busy times

Sorry about the break between posts but it 'tis the season to be busy, busy, busy!  Work is full on in the lead up to leave (yay!), there is the all important gift purchasing and other shopping needs plus my social life is as full as can be as everyone fits in their Christmas activities.  Sleep has become a precious commodity.

This weekend just gone had end of year parties for two of the dance schools I attend.  They were great fun, loads of dancing, not to mention having the chance to catch up with people who we haven't seen for quite some time.  S and I probably spent more time chatting than dancing, but it was just perfect for this time of year.

The party on Saturday was at 8pm and while it included finger food, some friends of mine and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to try the new Dumpling House at the ANU.  We were somewhat overdressed for the occasion, but the food was just delicious.  Given that we were about to go dancing, we limited ourselves to just a few baskets of dumplings, although having seen the extensive menu I'm keen to go back and try more.

We ended up eating the Shanghai fried beef dumplings, the fried pork dumplings, steamed prawn dumplings and steamed vegetarian dumplings.  The boys were a bit taken aback at ordering the vegetarian ones, but I think they ended up being everyone's favourite!  They were generous serves and while I'm sure we could have stuffed ourselves more, we were all happy with that selection and at $11 a person, it was good value too.  Dinner also came with complimentary tea.

We had a great catch up over dinner which was much needed as we haven't had much of a chance to see each other recently - as evidenced by the fact that they bought me a birthday present (my birthday was 2 months ago).  Lauren has a business doing high quality artificial flower wedding bouquets.  Her work is gorgeous and she made me this stunning posy which was just perfect for an antique green and gold vase that has been sitting in the cupboard, just waiting for something to be put in it.  That is right, all the flowers in these photos are artificial.

If you are looking for someone to do your flowers for a wedding, or you are just after a special and permanent flower arrangement for home or the office, check her out at her work is beautiful.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Opening Doors

Have you been opening your advent calendar doors?  I'm firmly of the belief that one is never too old for such Christmas traditions, which is probably helped by the fact that I have an extremely cute advent calendar.  It was a present from Mum a few years ago, my sister has one too and we love them.

Each day I open a door and get a new little decoration to hang on the tree.  When I pack it up in January I always put them away in a random order so that I surprise myself with what comes out on each day.

The house is feeling very festive.  Every night I put the lights on the tree and sit in semi-darkness admiring it.  Gosh I love a Christmas tree.

But the rest of the house is decorated too.  From the wreath on the front door, to the little ornaments on shelves and coffee tables.

I love blue and gold, so even in my red themed home I have a special place for a crystal bowl of blue and gold baubles in the middle of my dining table.  Isn't the runner great?  I got it for $3 from the Reject Shop this year.

Do you decorate the whole of your house, and where do you set the line between tasteful decorations and OMG the house vomited tinsel?

Friday, December 2, 2011


Kari over at Bite-Sized Thoughts has tagged me in the Food Bloggers Unplugged concept started by Susan.

There are 10 questions to let you know a little bit more about me.  It is meant to be a food blogger quiz, hence the foodie nature and while I may not identify as a food blogger, I do love food so they are quite appropriate questions really.  So here goes:

1. What, or who inspired you to start a blog?

I started a travel blog in 2009 when I was heading off around South America to keep my family and friends (but mainly my Mum who is a worrier) in the loop of what we were doing.  I really enjoyed the experience, it was a long time since I'd done much non-work related writing, but when I got back I didn't think of turning into an every day blog.

Then one day I had one of those great days where I was in a super awesome mood for no reason at all. As I drove home that night there was a story on the radio about depressive thought cycles and it occurred to me, if you can have a depressive thought cycle, can you have a happy thought cycle?  Was there a way that I could focus on positive things and continue this great mood.  So I decided to start a blog where I would post happy things every day.  I did the every day post thing for a year and proved that you can do it, even on really bad days there is some positive to be found.  I don't post every day now but I love that I pay attention to happy stuff because it occurs to me that I can blog about it.  I think it has made me happier and it has definitely made me pay more attention to the good stuff that can go unnoticed.

2. Who is your foodie inspiration?

This one is all about context.  In the world view, I think Jamie Oliver is completely inspirational about how he believes everyone should be able to cook and eat well.  Also about how much he believes in food and family, very much my thoughts too.  I also love Maggie Beer and how cooking for her is about creating great flavours to give people enjoyment.  Cooking to feed people and make them happy is what I enjoy.

In real life my inspiration would be Mum and S.  Mum taught me to cook (more on that in a minute) and I think I cook my best when we are working together.  S comes up with the amazing combos and ideas that I then try to turn into a meal.  He makes me think outside the box and best of all will try my weird and wonderful experiments quite happily.

3. Your greasiest, batter-splattered food/drink book is?

My recipe folder.  Full of copied out recipes from other people or the internet, or cut outs from magazines etc.  It is pulled out and used more than anything else. (and you can even see that it is slightly starting to fall apart.

4.Tell us all about the best thing you have ever eaten in another country, where was it, what was it?

Such a tricky one because I love food and travel and so have eaten some amazing things in amazing places.  I'm going to say guinea pig in Peru, because it was an all round great day/night.  We had just returned from our trek to Machu Picchu.  I was still on a high from the achievement of seeing a place I had been longing to visit since I was a little kid, but had also had a proper night's sleep in a real bed, a hot shower and a lazy day wandering Cuzco, a city I love.  We decided that we wanted to try guinea pig, but we also wanted something fancy after our days of camping.  So we headed to a posh restaurant, drank pisco sours (national cocktail of Peru) and ate massive, delicious guinea pig with roast potatoes.  It is slightly gamey, I would probably compare the flavour to quail although it was much more meaty.  They had marinated it in garlic and rosemary and it was so flavourful and juicy that we ended up with grease covered hands to the wrists.  Adding to the experience was sitting in the fancy restaurant, with starched white napkins, in our backpacking clothes while eating our meal with our hands (as is customary).  It was a great night.

I should add that photo is just one person's serve, we each had the same!  Luckily we were hungry after all that hiking.  And by that stage of the night we were on to pisco-politans - a cosmopolitan made with pisco.

5. Another food blogger's table you'd like to eat at is?
I am so inspired by all the food bloggers I read, really if you love food enough to discuss it, photograph it and blog it then I would totally love to eat at your table.

6. What is the one kitchen gadget you would ask Santa for this year (money no object of course)?

Easy one - a thermomix!  At first I thought they sounded too good to be true and as a fan of slow cooking from scratch I doubted the quality that would result.  But with chef after fussy chef reporting the wonder that is a thermomix, I think I would love one.

7. Who taught you how to cook?

Mum.  From the time I was tiny I would sit at the kitchen bench and "help".  I learned as much by doing as by watching.  We were always given sharp knives and proper food so learned how to be careful as well as how to construct a recipe.  Mum and I also talk food all the time, working out what flavours go together and how we can make new dishes.  I love cooking with and for Mum.

However, Dad deserves an honourable mention for teaching me how to make apple turnovers which became a Saturday night ritual for most of my teenage and early 20's years.  Dad was also the instigator of other such delights as ridiculously indulgent french toast (which I will do a post on over Christmas) and the full breakfast fry up.

8. I'm coming to you for dinner, what's your signature dish?
My fail safe recipe is a Donna Hay recipe where you top a thick slice of eggplant with basil, slices of tomato and a chicken breast then sprinkle with mozzarella.  It gets baked for 20 minutes, works perfectly every time and requires no effort or unsociable cooking activity.  But I like to experiment and create a menu that reflects the season and those eating while also letting me socialise and not be tied to the kitchen all night.  So dinner would probably be an antipasto entree, a nice main with several sides for choice and a decadent dessert.

Somehow along the way though I've become known as the jelly shot queen.  I'm not entirely sure I'm comfortable with my culinary legacy being in alcoholic jelly, but oh well, at least it is memorable.

9. What is your guilty food pleasure?

Oh, so many.  Hot chips with vinegar.  Melted dark chocolate.  Cheese.  Red wine and chocolate.  Coke.  Cake for breakfast (I should be specific here, only the family secret recipe chocolate cake or guglhupf). And of course there is my desk drawer of chocolate.  Hmmm, I did mention chocolate didn't I?

10. Reveal something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn?
I am not perpetually happy!  I'm a bit of a stress head at times, am usually way over-committed and trying to figure out how to fit everything into my life.  This blog is really my "Little Book of Calm" (Black Books reference for anyone who knows it).

Now I have to tag 5 other bloggers.  This is tricky.  It is a foodie questionnaire, but I'm tagging some non-foodie bloggers, hope you guys enjoy!

Hannah @ Wayfaring Chocolate

Leaf @ The Indolent Cook

Shellie @ Iron Chef Shellie

Heidi @ Applies Under My Bed

Z @ Lovely Jublies

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Summer Love

I don't have a favourite season.  There are things I love about each one, and things I don't.  But on the first day of summer I'm thinking of all the things I love about the hot part of the year.  There are so many, from the coolness of the early morning when the sky is the hard blue that tells you it is going to be a scorcher, to sipping cocktails in the long warm twilight of a summer evening.  Here are a few thoughts:

Summer Fruit - peaches, nectarines, cherries, berries, mangoes that are so ripe and full of flavour that the juice runs down your arms in sticky trails while you eat them.

Long days - daylight for hours and hours.  From the cool of the early morning, through the scorching midday when you retreat to the air conditioning, only to venture out in the long lingering warmth of summer evenings.

Ice creams - eaten fast so that they don't melt, cooling after a long walk.

Bare legs and arms - lily white from winter hibernation, they are released.  Fresh air on bare limbs and bright painted toenails in open toed sandels.

Summer Storms - excitement of thunder and lightening followed by the refreshing cool, clean post rain air.

Picnics - under shady trees in gorgeous gardens, by the lake, or at the beach.  Lazing on a picnic blanket eating delicious morsels while reclining in luxuriant relaxation.

And so much more ...

What do you love about summer?