Saturday, March 31, 2012


I'm sitting in my lounge room.  A mug of steaming tea sits next to a hot cross bun with butter melting into it.  The room is filled with dappled golden light as the afternoon sun streams through the autumn leaves of the tree outside the window.  The house is clean and tidy, chores are done, even the ones like painting my toe nails.  Opera is playing softly in the background, along with the distant noises of S's computer game.  The room is warm and bright and comfortable.  My novel sits open on the arm of the couch.  Our only commitment is to attend an engagement party in a few hours.

This is what contentment feels like and it feels pretty darn wonderful.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tomato and Basil Meatballs

Food has an amazing way of causing reminiscences.  Just the smell can send you to a particular time or place.  The taste brings back a flood of memories.  I have so many of these, but one of the funniest is meatballs.  You see I can't even hear the word meatball without my brain kicking into singing the meatball song.  Do you remember the meatball song?  If not, check out this excellent version on YouTube.

Anyway, I must have sung the meatball song about a hundred times as I cooked up my version of spaghetti and meatballs.  It is a time consuming dish to make, but so worth it and give that it freezes really well you can easily double the portions.  Do take the time to refrigerate your meatballs after you have made them, they set much better and do brown them well, it adds a lovely depth of flavour to the final dish.

Do you have any special food/memory connections?

Tomato and Basil Meatballs
Makes 6ish serves

500g beef mince
4 tablespoons basil, finely sliced
1 onion, finely diced
1 egg

olive oil
1 onion diced
2 sticks of celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine 
2 cans diced tomatoes
splash red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons basil sliced
pepper to taste

To make the meatballs: mix together the mince, basil, onion, egg and enough breadcrumbs that the mix isn't sticky but holds together nicely.  Roll roughly two tablespoonfulls of the mixture into meatballs.  Put on a large plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.

To make the sauce: Heat a heavy saucepan till medium/hot (I like to use my Chasseur cast iron casserole).  Heat some olive oil and brown the meatballs in batches.  I find it works best by not putting too many meatballs in at once and then just shaking the pot periodically, once they are browned enough on a side they will roll around easily.  If you try to move them with tongs etc they tend to break.  Between batches make sure you remove any little bits of onion, meat etc that have fallen off the meatballs and you will probably have to add some more olive oil.

Once they are all browned, set them aside.  Add some more olive oil to the pan along with the onion, celery and carrots and cook till all are softened and lightly coloured.  Add the garlic and cook till fragrant.

Add the tomato paste and stir to coat all the vegies, then add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan to make sure all stuck bits are lifted.  Add the canned tomatoes, red wine vinegar, basil and pepper, stir to combine, then add in the meatballs and turn the heat down to a low simmer.  If the mix is looking too dry you can add some more red wine.

Simmer for at least 30 minutes (an hour is better) and serve on top of spaghetti, all covered with (parmesan) cheese.

This dish also freezes really well.

Monday, March 26, 2012


My sister was blessed with long golden hair that looks like she just stepped out of a Sunsilk commercial.  No matter how many times my parents told me my wild curly brown locks were just as gorgeous I couldn't help but notice the way hairdressers would linger, quite literally playing with her divine hair.  I'm not going to say that I wasn't a bit jealous (and in fact still am really) but it did mean that I got to spend hours and hours of my childhood playing with her hair.

My sister was generally my guinea pig but other friends who sat still long enough were soon curled, braided and pinned.  "You should be a hairdresser" was a common comment from parents as their daughters were returned with a new do.  However much like my love of cooking will never correlate into a desire to be a chef, my enjoyment about making hair pretty is never going to turn me into a hairdresser.

Years passed.  My own hair has been woven into a thousand different styles.  On special occasions I invariably ended up doing my sister's hair because no hairdresser ever allowed quite enough pins and hairspray to make her heavy thick hair stay in a fancy do.  Over time my friends discovered this and I've done people's hair for all sorts of reasons.  Just this last weekend I did a girlfriend's hair for a ball, but I've done hair for graduations, significant birthdays, photo shoots and most special of all, I've done hair for two brides - including my sister, that is her at the top of this post.

I can't tell you how honoured and terrified I've felt each time I've done wedding hair.  You just know that whatever you do will be immortalised in approximately a million photos and that the bride has a picture in her mind's eye of just how she wants to look on the day.  But it is also so amazing getting to be there as the bridal party gets ready and when it all works knowing that I was responsible for helping make the day what the bride wanted.

That said, if it ever comes to me walking down the aisle, I will be heading to the hairdresser!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Chicken Pesto Pasta

I think everyone has a pesto pasta recipe, this is my take on it.  I love this recipe because it is delicious but also because it is so quick to make - literally in the time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta you will have made a very yummy sauce.  The key is to chop the chicken and zucchini quite finely so it cooks quickly.

The recipe uses bought pesto.  You can make your own, but this is my quick, go to recipe out of ingredients that I nearly always have in the pantry and fridge.

Do you have a super quick, super tasty recipe?

Pesto Chicken Pasta
(serves 2)

Half a jar pre-made pesto
Thickened Cream
1 chicken breast
2 zucchini
vegetable oil
a handful of rocket (or baby spinach)

Heat your frying pan over a medium-high heat.  Put your pasta water on to boil.

Chop up your chicken breast, toss in a little vege oil, throw in the fry pan.  Chop up the zucchini (I like to make little batons).  When the chicken is half cooked, throw in the zucchini.

Meantime your water should have boiled, so add salt and your pasta.

Keep an eye on your chicken and zucchini stirring occasionally.  When the pasta has about 2-3 minutes to go, the chicken and zucchini should be cooked.  Turn the pan down, add the pesto and enough cream to make a nice sauce that coats everything.  Taste and add some cracked black pepper if you like.

Drain the cooked pasta, put it back in the saucepan, add the rocket and stir through the sauce.  Serve and enjoy!

Friday, March 23, 2012


Autumn is definitely in the air.  My morning walk now starts in the dark and requires tracksuit pants and a warm top.  We have had our first few fogs.  The city is taking on a golden hue.  And I've got my boots out.

It is well known that I love shoes in general, but I do particularly love boots.  They keep my feet warm and dry while looking super stylish.  As someone who suffers from super cold feet, any shoe that can look work or special occasion appropriate whilst hiding hiking socks is fantastic in my book. 

This year my summer shoes did not get well worn.  My toes did not spend much time peeping as it was just too cool and wet.  However it was warm enough that my boots have spent the last few months hiding under the bed. I always love the change of season for the fact that it makes my wardrobe seem new again.  When it occurred to me that today would be boot appropriate all sorts of outfits leapt to mind.

And so I headed out, all booted up and my feet are blissfully warm and happy. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Walking on the wild side

Last year I had NO idea what to get S for his birthday.  You know what it is like you want to get something thoughtful and meaningful that they will really like and they are being less than helpful when it comes to identifying said present.  Then inspiration struck, rather than get him a thing, I would get him an experience - the experience of patting a real live fully grown cheetah!

The National Zoo and Aquarium describe themselves as "A Touching Experience" and back this up by having a whole range of activities that you can do which involve touching their wild animals.  The "Meet a Cheetah" is one of these, where you go into the cheetah enclosure (with a couple of keepers) and actually get to pat one of the female cheetahs.  It sounded perfect so I got S a double pass - I did say he could take anyone but luckily he took me!

Our passes gave us all day access to the zoo, so we headed there early for a wander.  It is a privately owned zoo, so is relatively small, but it still houses quite a range of animals, including lions, tigers, giraffes, zebras, bears, various monkeys, meercats and more.  It was quite a warm day so many of the animals were hiding in the shade (we never did spot the snow leopards) but you do get to see them quite close up which is fantastic.

Then finally it was time to meet our cheetah.  We were met by the zoo staff, taken through the locked gates, into the enclosure and straight up to a 10 year old female. Like any sensible cheetah on a hot day, she was sitting under a tree (which kept getting caught in my hair).  The keeper told us how to get down beside her and the next thing we knew we were crouching beside her giving her pats.

Cheetah's aren't technically a big cat because they can purr and she sure was purring!  She clearly likes all the attention and pats she gets from her visitors, and must have liked me because I even got licks.  If you have ever been licked by a cat you know the roughness of their tongue.  Times this by about 10 for a cheetah, it is a little like being licked by wet sandpaper.

We had about 15 minutes with the cheetah and keepers (there was another cheetah in the enclosure but we only patted the one) during which we talked about cheetah's, the zoo and Canberra in general.

One of the staff members kindly took heaps of photos for us so we can remember the amazing experience of patting what really is pretty much a wild animal.  I would definitely recommend this experience or one of the other encounters to anyone with some time to spare in Canberra.  It is expensive, but as a privately run zoo, you know that they need every dollar to cover the costs of looking after these gorgeous animals.  Oh and S agreed, it was a great birthday present!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Autumn arriving

Every season of the year is wonderful in its own special way, but if I'm pressed I will always say that autumn is my favourite.

Summer often leaks into March in Canberra, but given we never really had a summer this year, only two weeks in and the first signs of autumn are already showing.

The days are still warm enough for short sleeves and bare legs, but the sun has lost its burning intensity and the nights are cool.

The roses are still flowering, but in that overblown, end of the season kind of way.

And while the city is still very green (in fact with all this rain far greener than it usually is at this time of year) the leaves are starting to turn.

It really is for me the season where Canberra looks its best.  All the planning for the tree lined streets has paid off as roads become glorious shows of colour. 

And it is just starting.  So be prepared for many pictures of pretty leaves and me waxing lyrical about the loveliness of an autumn day when the sky is so blue it is difficult to stay inside (really difficult to stay in the office).

What is your favourite season?  And does your city look its best at one particular time of the year?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Feeling Poorly

I would love to write that the blog break of the last week was due to some fantastically exciting activity, possibly something glamorous, involving cocktails and gowns and dancing.  But the sad reality is that no, it was due to work and then a bad cold, which I generously shared with S.

Colds really do make you feel miserable.  While hardly a life and death illness, they leave you with just enough energy that you can't lie in bed all day, but enough symptoms to make you feel miserable while doing anything.

Still even when your nose is running, your head is aching, your chest wheezing, there are some things that do make you feel better.  Over the last few days I have taken great comfort in: 

Chicken Soup - yup, an oldie but a goodie.  A lovely steaming bowl of homemade chicken soup is the best cold medicine in the world.

Tea - in all its forms.  I can always tell when I'm sick because lemon, ginger, garlic (lgg) tea sweetened only with a tiny bit of honey actually tastes good.  My beloved and I spent much of the weekend making each other tea (although he refuses my lgg tea).

Slippers, track suit pants and curling on the couch under a doona with a pillow - ok, so slippers and trackies are good any time but is it just me or does a pillow from your bed on the couch = sick rest time to everyone else? Only when I'm sick does it leave the bedroom to allow me to convelece in comfort in front of ... 

Daytime television - when your brain needs something to look at but not think about, enter the strange world of daytime television.  I must say the rather large proportion of ads for funeral insurance was worrying when I was feeling particularly bad.

Cuddles - they just make you feel better.

And the thing that really keeps you going - knowing that you will feel better eventually!  And I do.  Today I'm feeling vastly better and it is so nice.  I'm still not 100%, but I actually think I might go for a walk after work - exercise I remember you!

I hope you all had a lovely and illness free weekend - particularly those of you who like me had a long weekend.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Growing Up

In the last year, my two dear friends who live in the UK both had little girls.  It was so strange to be on the other side of the world as they went through this massive life experience.  There was no seeing their belly grow, feeling the baby kick, visiting in hospital, bringing around freezer meals like there has been for my local friends.  Photos and emails were wonderful, but they just aren't the same as being there.

On Sunday I got to meet Bess (and learn how to get my car out of a mud bog) and then in a piece of amazing timing yesterday I got to meet Adelaide.  It is funny how the world works, that two friends from the other side of the globe would end up here in the same week.

I have been friends with Bess and Adelaide's mothers for so long that the minute we meet up we settle right back into that easy friendship.  Catching up on all the big life events so quickly turns into every day gossip.  But at the same time, this huge change in their lives, encapsulated by the presence of a very small person, has happened.

Suddenly the girls I knew have become mothers and not seeing that pregnancy transition has made it all the more amazing.  They are still those same girls who I've laughed and cried with, got waaaay too drunk and danced the night away with in the past.  But they are also women with husbands and children and that mother's instinct that means they have developed that Mum radar that has them one step ahead of the rest of us when it comes to children.

Growing up is a strange thing.  It creeps upon you gradually.  You find yourself with responsibilities, with skills, with experiences and wonder how it all happened.  Our lives change and grow and develop and yet it is rare that we notice it happening.  Every now and then I do something like unlock the front door and think "wow, I bought this" or do some maths and realise I've been out of school for longer than I was in it.  Seeing my friends with their new baby girls in the last few days is another of those wow moments, we really are growing up.

I love reflecting on how we have grown and changed.  The amazing things we have done (if you ask me having a baby is pretty damn amazing), the lives we have built.  But most of all, I love that despite it all, we are still the same friends we have always been - just with a few extra accessories.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Friends, celebration and mud

Let me paint a word picture for you (because amidst the mud and rain I forgot to take photos).

Yesterday was an exciting day, I got to see a friend who lives in the UK and who I haven't seen for 2 years, meet her baby girl and get my car towed out of a giant mud bog!

I don't remember rain like this since I was a little kid.  Weeks of showers followed by a solid week of serious rain (we had March's average rainfall on the first of March before 9am) means that Canberra and surrounds are past wet.  The rivers are flooding, roads are cut everywhere and where they are still open they are pot holed and sodden.  And the ground is wet, really, really wet.

Yesterday S and I ventured out into the sodden landscape to a welcome party for gorgeous little Bess and so that S could meet Floss.  The party was held on Floss's sister's property, which is a stunning new house set high on a hill about 20 minutes outside of Canberra.  The dirt track up the hill was running rivers, but we made it and I pulled in to park next to a line of cars.  As I stopped S remarked, "I hope we can get out of here".  "Of course we can" I said, putting the car in reverse and proceeding to spin the wheels.  As a novice bog-ee I then made matters worse by trying to go forwards again and trying to reverse again.  It was no use, by then we were axle deep.  Doh.

We jumped out of the car (jump being the word to get away from the mud) and headed into the party.  It so was lovely seeing my old friend again, she looks fantastic and Bess is just as sweet as sweet can be.  We enjoyed the company, the lovely (if rainy) views, heaps of great food including the sweetest tiny cupcakes with fondant butterflies on top - yes I know, I really should have taken some photos.  But there was that niggling picture of my lopsided car in the mud in the back of my mind.

Luckily however we were among farming folk who were prepared for such city slickers.  We discovered how to affix the tow point to my car, it was hooked up to a giant ute and I sat in the drivers seat, ready to steer and prepared to feel the straining and have mud flying.  As it turned out, the mud gave up its prize easily.  After what felt like the lightest of tugs, my car simply slid out and in no time and all I was on solid ground.

The car was seriously muddy, but the pouring rain and water covered highways had it clean by the time we got back to town.

All in all, it was a great afternoon.  I loved having the chance to see my friend and with a little extra excitement on the side, it was certainly a memorable afternoon.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Learning not to share

Just about the first thing you learn in pre-school is how to share nicely.  I constantly hear all my friends with small children saying things like "share your toys" or "what lovely sharing you are doing" etc.

However as you grow older you realise there are times when it is just fine not to share.  Like when you have managed to get your hands on the last piece of our famous secret recipe family birthday cake.  This cake is so legendary that even my sleep in loving boyfriend will get up early to have a piece (we eat it for breakfast on birthdays - I know, my family is awesome).  As a result it is very rare that any of it makes it to the second day.  That a piece survived three days is almost unimaginable.

I did honestly consider sharing this with S when Mum informed me it was up for grabs.  But I caved to the deliciousness and just ate it myself.  And it was awesome, I don't regret it at all.

The recipe is a family secret.  The claim to fame is that it is in fact the original sachertorte recipe.  I don't know about that, but I do know that it is one of those things that we keep precious, so in the spirit of this post, I won't be sharing the recipe!