Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight!

Here on my side of the dateline Christmas Day is drawing to a starry end.
There were roast potatoes eaten, carols sung, too many scorched almonds to count were ingested and paper and bows litter the floor beneath my Christmas tree.
Every year though, the most important gifts of this day are not those that I unwrap on the morning of the 25th of December. The greatest presents are those that I entrust to the corners of my heart and the dusty files of my memory, saving them up for every moment in the years to come when I feel a little low, or when I need reminding of what the real reason is for the madness of everyday life.
On a lonely day I reach into the chambers of my heart and draw out a slightly bent house shaped package. As I peel off the brown paper, I see my house and inside my family are waving. I know that when I get home there will be a hug to warm me again, and a strong shoulder to lay my head upon to take away the weariness of the day.
There are days when I need to take a gift out of my memory, just a little something to make me smile, and I dust off a furry, wiggling parcel and unwrap the memory of Molly sitting on my uncle's lap bathing his face with kisses while we all laughed at her intensity.
I am a lucky woman, not only at this time of year, but through all my days. I stockpile the gifts of the time that I am fortunate enough to share with those I love, and I am never without the gift of someone's presence.

To all my friends and family who are ending their Christmas Day as I am, and all my friends and family (including my blogging family) who are just starting their December 25th; I am making a wish for you all.
May this day, and the year that follows be full of gifts everyday; may there be warm arms and wagging tails to greet you, may you find something to love everyday, take time to find peace in your life and hope in your heart, keep a smile close and handy and share it with everyone you meet and may the joy of the season follow you the whole year long.
Merry Christmas everyone, stay safe, and lots of love from my heart and home to yours,

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Very Special Birthday

The 16th of December marks a very special occasion for our family every year - my Dad's birthday!
This past Friday Dad celebrated another fantastic year on this earth with a trip to Melbourne with Mum to attend another family friend's birthday party.
Dad and Mum - just a couple of years ago...
I wanted to take an opportunity to wish my Dad a happy (somewhat belated) birthday right here on the blog.
Dad, you have given so much to Jess and myself, we are truly lucky to have you as our father, our friend, and our live-in mechanic/handyman/washing maid.
See, maturity, it runs in the family...
Even though I am no longer a little girl, I still count myself as Daddy's little girl. You have taught me so much in my life so far, and I know there are many lessons for me to learn still. You are the reason I can make shortbread off by heart, the best bear-hug giver I have ever met, the biggest kid at Christmas time, a great partner in crime when it comes to teasing Mum (lovingly as always) and the genetics responsible for making me unable to say no to 'just one more chocolate'.

Here's to many more years of Sunday afternoons scones, watching car racing on TV, landscaping projects, Christmas light competitions, pancake breakfasts and laughing at Mr. Bean.
I love you Dada. Happy birthday.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Lighting of a Fire

'Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.'
William Butler Yeats

On Monday of this week we celebrated yet another wonderful occasion, my little sister graduated from her university degree!
Doesn't she look super smart in her cap and gown? Born to wear it I say.
After four years of hard work, late nights, and more cups of tea than I can count, Jess achieved her Bachelor of Urban Development in Urban and Regional Planning. For the rest of us that means that she is a town planner, working to make our cities better in the future and consulting with communities to understand what it is they need most from their towns.
I am insanely proud of her.
Congratulations Jess. After all of your hard work you truly deserve to be recognised for all that you have achieved so far. You inspire me every single day.
Jess's group of graduates, and two of their proud teachers.
In our family, education is one of the most important gifts you can give yourself and the world. I am not talking about just university degrees or academic accolades; we value life education, the thirst for learning about the world that comes from really living every second of our lives, the skills that we learn from those who walk the road before us; in fostering the natural curiosity that lies within us all.
There is no end to what we can learn, no limit or bounds to the human mind. Education, learning, wisdom, all of these are the keys to so many doors. There is no lock strong enough to keep out an open mind.

Jess and Rachel, who reads this blog. Hi Rachel!
Growing up Jess and I were surrounded by books. Our parents talked to us about the news, about ideas that were larger than just our lives, about dreams and hopes and the history of our own family. 
Mum and Dad lit a fire, nurtured the two young curious minds that had been entrusted to them.
There were no rules about what girls 'should' learn. Jess can wield a drop saw to help Dad renovate the house just as well as she can frost a cupcake. I can hammer a nail as surely as I can sew a button on a shirt.
We learnt from a young age that hunger is good. 
Hunger that leads to devouring books late into the night, filling pages with stories and poetry.
Hunger that fills your soul with a yearning to observe, to create, to question, to listen, to seek minds greater than your own, to never close the door on an opportunity to learn more about the world and it's people and their ideas.

Two more curious minds. Or just curious people really.
Our parents showed us that you never know who has something to teach you. Your greatest teachers in life may not have an education degree, or work in a classroom, or have even finished school. They will not have succeeded in every venture they have tried. They might be years older than you, from a generation so removed from yours that it would be easy to dismiss them as old fashioned or out of touch. Your teachers might be younger than you; wisdom from the mouths of babes.
Trent and Jess.
The most important thing is that we keep an open mind.
Learn every single day. Discoveries will not always be grand or life-changing or even immediately recognisable.
Just remember to stay curious. Nurture the minds around you, young, old and in between.
Read, watch, listen, write, be in the world every day.
All those around you have walked different roads. They all have something to teach us.
If only we take time to learn.
Take time to light the fire and keep it burning.

'I am still learning.'

Sunday, December 11, 2011

My Christmas List

Whenever I manage to sit down and start a day with one of these:
One caffe americano, thank you very much!
I know that whatever comes will be worth it.
Today Jess, Trent and I headed out to brave the crowds and finish off our Christmas shopping. Along the way we came across this pretty face:
Jess with Trent's little sister Maddie
It was great to stop for a moment and talk to Maddie while she was on her lunch break.
After our short rest we headed back out into the crowds; Jess was determined to get through as much as we could so that we could spend the rest of the holiday weekends baking!
Soon I was the only person left on Jess's Christmas list, poor little sister I am the hardest person to buy for.
For me, the things I value most from people are not available in the stores even at this time of year when it seems you can buy anything if you have saved your pennies for long enough.
I know it sounds trite, but the greatest gift to me is time.
Don't send me jewels, or clothes, or expensive cosmetics that I don't know how to use.
What I really want are your Saturday mornings at the markets where we can sip coffee and talk about slow things as we wake to our weekend, I long for our Sunday walks on the beach watching the waves roll in as dawn breaks, I crave Friday night sing-a-longs to our old favourites as we make dinner in bare feet, and those cups of tea on rainy afternoons where we talk about the shiny secret places in our souls.
The moments our hearts and souls touch are the most valuable presents to me. I collect them in a place deep inside, they are my anchor in stormy times, the mirror that reflects how beautiful this life can be, they are my investment in my past, and a hope for the future.
These are the Christmas gifts I wish for.
What is on your Christmas list this year? What do you wish for that can't be wrapped with pretty red bows?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Silver Bells, Silver Bells, It's Christmas Time in the City

One of my fondest memories of Christmas time is going to visit the city to see the tree, and the lights and all the store windows that had been decorated for the season.

Every year Mum and Dad would pack Jessica and I into the car and we would drive into the city, usually after dinner. Our special treat was always a Hungry Jacks (Burger King for my US friends) soft serve ice cream cone.  After all the gorgeous hand churned, locally produced, organic and artisan ice cream I have eaten, one bite of one of these can still take me back to those nights with my family. In fact, whenever I am in the city at Christmas time there is some kind of special magic. somehow I shrink back down to a little girl in a red and white dress, white sandals strapped to my feet and ribbon in my hair.
Trent and Jess
The cobblestones of the pedestrian mall still feel the same beneath the soles of my shoes as I wander up to Myer to see what the window dressers have chosen to display this year, what story they have decided will be animated with puppets, which music will be quietly piping its way into the crowds gathered around the glass. As our ice creams melted a little we would grip Mum and Dad's hands tightly and make our way over to King George Square to see the Christmas tree. Seemingly miles high from an 8 year old's view point it gleamed with huge baubles, and white strings of light, and always perched on top was a beautiful Christmas star.
Papa Bear and Mama Bear
This year, I wanted to recapture the magic. I set a date with my family to have dinner and wander in the city like we did all those years ago. Of course, this year we were five rather than four because Trent is part of our big crazy circus too!
Not little girls anymore
Although the windows were not as good as they once were, the tree was still beautiful and the night was just as magical as I remember. After a wonderful dinner at Vapiano we marvelled at the tree, checked out some of the stores (and did some Christmas shopping for the little Chickpea) and had some quality people watching time. 
Gluten free gnocchi pomodoro with parmigiano - delicious!
 Although we didn't get to have our soft serve ice cream cones, Mum and I shared our favourite (lemon sorbet) while we browsed a book store. 
Now I am sitting at home beside my own beautiful tree, an indulgence I allow myself every night leading up to Christmas when everyone else has gone to bed.

There is something in the glow of the lights that sends time away, shifts me into that special place where I can reflect on all that I have learnt over the past year, all that has changed and grown inside since those lights last shone into the night.

I think that is a tale for another night though. Tonight I am going to sleep with the same peace as my 8 year old self, the same excitement for the magic of Christmas, and the grown up knowledge that the real magic is the wonder of family, the miracle of friends, and the myriad blessings in my life every day of the year.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas Appetizer: Bite-size Pastry Scrolls

As a self-confessed desserts junkie I sometimes struggle when it comes to thinking up appetizers that can be prepared quickly. On Sunday I was down to the wire with time and I realised that I didn't have quite the right amount of savoury to balance out our sweet buffet. As we all know, necessity is the mother of invention and so with some extra ready-rolled pastry in my freezer for inspiration, and an hour until guests started arriving, the bite-size pastry scrolls were born!
What follows is not really a recipe per say but rather a guide as to how I put them together. I did not think at the time to take progress photos so these will have to follow in a future post.

Pumpkin Feta Pastry Scrolls

1 medium butternut pumpkin (squash)
50 grams feta
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 (24cm x 24cm) sheet ready rolled puff pastry


  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and line a baking tray. Slice a 1 inch thick round off the end of the pumpkin and store the rest covered in refrigerator for future use.
  2. Peel this round and thinly slice it into strips. Cook in a microwave safe container for about 2 minutes or until tender. Separate strips and lay on paper towels to cool and drain.
  3. Lay sheet of ready rolled puff pastry on a piece of baking paper and crumble feta evenly across the surface. Sprinkle with dried oregano.
  4. Lay strips of pumpkin across the pastry.
  5. Starting with the side closest to you begin to roll the pastry up like you would a map without incorporating the baking paper in the roll.
  6. Once you have a pastry cylinder, wrap it in the baking paper and place in the freezer for about ten minutes, this will make it much easier to slice.
  7. Using a serrated edge knife cut the scroll into 1.5cm widths. Use a delicate touch to avoid bending the rounds too much out of shape.
  8. Place on the lined baking tray and bake for 15 minutes or until pastry is puffed and golden.
  9. These are great served warm or at room temperature.

And now for version two!

Capsicum and Spinach Pastry Scrolls

1 sheet (24cm x 24cm) ready rolled puff pastry
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 red capsicum
Handful of baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup grated cheese


  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius and line a baking sheet with paper.
  2. Thinly slice red capsicum into strips.
  3. Lay the pastry sheet onto some baking paper and spread with the tomato paste. Sprinkle with the dried oregano and then the baby spinach leaves.
  4. Layer capsicum strips across spinach and sprinkle with grated cheese.
  5. Starting with the side closest to you begin to roll the pastry up like you would a map without incorporating the baking paper in the roll.
  6. Once you have a pastry cylinder, wrap it in the baking paper and place in the freezer for about ten minutes, this will make it much easier to slice.
  7. Using a serrated edge knife cut the scroll into 1.5cm widths. Use a delicate touch to avoid bending the rounds too much out of shape.
  8. Place on the lined baking tray and bake for 15 minutes or until pastry is puffed and golden.
  9. These are great served warm or at room temperature.

I hope these recipes come in handy for any holiday season celebrations that you may be hosting this year. I am very excited today because we are finally putting up our Christmas tree.
Of all the holiday activities this one signals the real beginning of the season for me. We have the perfect evening, gloomy and raining, and I think I will bake some ginger biscuits to fuel us through the sorting of the lights and baubles, the garlands and the trinkets. Christmas has begun!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Healthy Level of Insanity

Today's post is sponsored by my Mum. 
She was cleaning up after our big celebration on the weekend and putting all of her things back in place and found a little bit of emailed humour. Since 'tis the season to be jolly, we thought we would share.

15 Ways to Maintain a Healthy Level of Insanity
  1. At lunchtime, sit in your parked car with sunglasses on and point a hair dryer at passing cars. See if they slow down.
  2. Page yourself over the intercom. Don't disguise your voice.
  3. Every time someone asks you to do something, ask if they want fries with that.
  4. Put your garbage can on your desk and label it "in".
  5. Put decaf in the coffee maker for three weeks. Once everyone has gotten over their caffeine addictions, switch to espresso.
  6. Finish all your sentences with "In accordance with the prophecy".
  7. As often as possible, skip rather than walk.
  8. Order a diet water whenever you go out to eat, with a serious face.
  9. Specify that your drive through order is "To Go"
  10. Sing along at the opera.
  11. Put mosquito netting around your work area and play tropical sounds all day.
  12. Five days in advance, tell your friends that you can't attend their party because you're not in the mood.
  13. When the money comes out at the ATM, scream 'I won! I won!'.
  14. When leaving the zoo, start running towards the car park, yelling "run for your lives, they're loose!"
  15. Tell your children over dinner, "Due to the economy, we are going to have to let one of you go."
And if all else fails, just take a look at this one.

Sometimes, I don't think they have any idea how they got me.
Poor things.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Most Important Ingredient

Please forgive my week long silence. Do not take it as a prelude to total abandonment.
You see, preparation for great celebration has been the goal of the past seven days.
Over this past week I have been involved in the use of 3 kilograms of butter, 6 kilograms of sugar, countless packets of flour, numerous bars of chocolate, hen houses full of eggs, bricks of cream cheese and fields of little tiny flowers made of sugar paste.
Thanks to a little magic, a tireless dishwasher and consistent oven, Martha Stewart's sagely wisdom, and free refrigerator space in the kitchens of kindly neighbours all these ingredients came together to form a heavenly morning tea for my little sister's bridal shower!

We had chosen a 'Kitchen Tea' theme and as her Maid of Honour, I was more than excited to take the lead in organising the baked goods for the day.
Mum was chief decorator, and she did such a beautiful job of looping bunting up over bookshelves, hanging paper lanterns, arranging all the tablecloths, napkins and assorted things that always slip my mind.
Casey (also a bridesmaid) brought over delicious salted caramel macarons and raspberry macarons and Sam (Jess's best friend and the third member of our bridesmaid trio) flew up especially from her new home in Victoria, especially for the day!
Over thirty of our closest female family and friends showed up to shower our beautiful bride to be with kitchen related gifts, play games (including the toilet paper wedding dress game - I definitely recommend this one!), share countless pots of tea and laughter, and indulge in a little (well, maybe more than a little) bite or two of a yummy treat.

In my family celebrations of this sort call for generous amounts of food.
Thus we confront guests with scenes such as this.

Plates of mini quiches, potato and capsicum frittata, a cheeseboard, fresh fruit and bite size pastry scrolls.
Perfect for Christmas appetizers, recipe to come.
Of course, the most important part of any gathering in our cottage requires copious sweets!

Chocolate cake (which you might remember from this post), a gluten free orange and yoghurt cake, cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, Jessica's baked vanilla cheesecake, Mum's famous scones and a gluten free variation made up the sugar containing quota of food.

The most important ingredient in any gathering though, is always love.
Friends who are like family and travel long ways just to be here for special occasions.

Family whom we love enough to know that we are also friends.

Sunday marked another celebration on the way to my little sister becoming a wife and starting a whole new stage of her life. I am so glad that we could take the time to gather with our female friends and give her the most important ingredient in starting her new life; love.
Love is always the most important ingredient.
May your cupboards never be bare.