My week - The long way home

26 February 2015

Just a few links this week, I'm about to head to Sydney for the weekend and haven't packed a thing!

A new wedding video! Six months have gone by so quickly.

I'd love to make this 10-minute puffed pancake for a weekend breakfast or dessert emergency.

I've been listening to this amazing three-part radio documentary that takes you inside the drug courts of New South Wales. Totally great radio.

A drool-worthy guide to eating in New York written by a London food magazine writer.

My friend Sophie has prepared the most beautiful nursery for her baby boy.

This pic is from my trip to Green Cape lighthouse last weekend. We went home via the cutest general store and cafe in the tiny town of Candelo. They make their own Monte Carlo biscuits! It made me want to move there.

Hope you enjoy the last weekend of summer. I'm planning to see it out with a gelato from this much-recommended shop in Sydney's Five Dock. Apparently it's better than Messina!

What I buy for one-year-olds

25 February 2015

I've just come back from a first birthday party and thought I'd share a few tried-and-true gift ideas because buying for babies can be surprisingly tricky, especially if you don't have any of your own.

I really like these gorgeous ride-on animals, which my friend Kristy recommended (her son has the pig!). They're great as special presents. I bought the small wheely bee for my niece and teamed up with a friend to buy the cow for our nephew. They're surprisingly small and are made from wood and leather, which makes them lovely keepsakes too. Most importantly, they've been a hit!

For smaller presents, you could buy a board book about their favourite animal (I bought this one for my niece), an insulated lunch bag with their name on it (for all of their snacks) or anything bubble related like a bubble machine. If you choose the latter, just make sure you have the toy set up and ready to go so you're not fussing around with batteries and bubble liquid. I've totally made this mistake before :)

P.S Speaking of first birthdays, this is my favourite ever smash-cake story!

Lighthouse weekend

24 February 2015

I've just come back from an excellent weekend in Green Cape, where I stayed right by a lighthouse with friends. Living inland, it's always exciting to see the ocean and feel the salty sea breeze again.

My friend Vanessa organised the trip for a very special occasion - her baby's first birthday - and four friends joined her mum, husband and son to celebrate as family.

We ate pancakes on the verandah, went swimming in the bay, took turns playing with the baby and told ghost stories at night. I saw the biggest goanna of my life and took lots and lots of photos.

On Sunday afternoon when everyone went off to nap or read and the house fell quiet, I set about making my nephew's first-ever birthday cake. I was totally thrilled to be entrusted with this special task. Vanessa had chosen this flourless chocolate cake, which we ate later that night with strawberries, rich local cream and champagne.

My other contribution to the weekend was a batch of salted choc chip cookies, some homemade muesli bars and a big tub of coconut and cranberry granola. Amazingly, everything survived the flight and the humid 8 hour drive south that followed.

On our last night, I climbed to the top of the lighthouse with my friend Sean and the view was spectacular, if not a little daunting. The lighthouse hadn't looked so high from down below! 

I was so honoured to be part of this special family celebration and am already looking forward to my nephew's next birthday :)

My week - A favourite podcast returns

21 February 2015

Happy Chinese New Year! We shared a curry at home to celebrate but if I lived in the city, I would've loved to have had a yum cha picnic or a yum cha high tea.

Speaking of the Lunar New Year, my brother-in-law found these incredible photos of Beijing completely deserted after people left the city to spend the holiday in their family's village.

A couple of weeks ago I shared my favourite Australian podcasts and just this week, Catherine let me know that Leigh Sales and Annabel Crabb have uploaded a sixth episode of their show Chat 10 Looks 3. It's such a funny episode and I so hope this means they're back for good in 2015.

I heard about a proposal at a Fifty Shades of Grey screening this week (?!), which naturally reminded me of my most favourite movie trailer proposal. One guy made this proposal preview for his Muppet obsessed girlfriend.

I finished my first book of 2015 the other day (it ended with a recipe!) and am about to begin Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North. I would also like to read this cute looking graphic novel.

I really liked this post about how to archive your phone photos and make an end of year book. I'm guilty of keeping thousands of photos on my phone and photo books have always seemed daunting.

And finally, if you're thinking of doing some baking this weekend, you might like to check out Kate Berry's awesome Lunch Lady Vs The World series, where she picks a packet-mix cake or frozen snack and makes her own version from scratch. Inspiring stuff!

Today I'm heading to the coast for a mini-holiday with some friends to help celebrate a special little person's first birthday. I can't wait. Catch you next week.

Just watched: The Wind Rises

19 February 2015

I am a big Studio Ghibli fan and a few weeks ago I watched director Hayao Miyazaki's final feature film The Wind Rises and loved it. 

It's a beautiful, surprising and heart-wrenching movie that I cannot recommend enough. The film didn't make it to the cinema in Wagga Wagga and I spent a few Sydney trips trying to catch it. Interestingly, I'm yet to find any Studio Ghibli films to rent on iTunes, which has been a good excuse to build my DVD collection.

The Wind Rises tells the story of Jiro, a young boy who dreams of building aeroplanes who grows up to be a gifted but somewhat reclusive aeronautical engineer. In between the two world wars, Jiro is entrusted to work on a special project and builds a plane that is ultimately used in World War Two.

If you're worried about watching a movie about planes, don't worry, it's a love story too. And while it's more of a historical drama and one of the least fantastical of Miyazaki's films, it is still manages to be totally magical, funny and moving. Its depiction of earthquakes is particularly amazing.

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness makes excellent companion viewing, it's a documentary that follows Hayao Miyazaki as he works on The Wind Rises and contemplates retirement. The way he works is pretty fascinating (he doesn't plan the story out first but lets it unfold as he storyboards and writes the film) and if you're tempted to watch this before The Wind Rises, just know that it is packed with spoilers!

If you haven't watched a Studio Ghibli movie before I can recommend starting with My Neighbour Totoro, Ponyo and Spirited Away in Japanese with English subtitles :)

P.S - It would be fun to make your own choc-tops for a home movie night.

Three rainy day pastas

15 February 2015

We ate pasta on Valentine's Day,  a big bowl of lamb bolognese with spaghetti each to be specific and it was great. Most years, my birthday meal is a pasta too. If you share my love of pasta, I reckon you'll like these three recipes, they're easy to make and delicious.

1. Donna Hay's slow-cooked beef ragu

I have a soft spot for tomatoey pastas and this is one of my favourites. It's birthday-dinner worthy. My friend Angie introduced me to this recipe while I was staying with her late last year and I've made it so many times since! It's a really good one to cook for new parents because it's rich, comforting and easy to transport. Also you're actively cooking for about 15 minutes and the oven does the rest.

I use beef cheeks (which are often called ox cheeks) for this dish. You don't need to worry about trimming the fat from the meat because you can pull it off easily after it comes out of the oven.

2. Joy the Baker's one-pot french onion pasta

If I'm cooking for vegetarians, I make this dish using a vegetable-based chicken stock (if that makes sense) like the Massel brand. I made this pasta just last week and it's so yummy, and kind of genius how it all cooks in one pot. This is a great one for a simple dinner party, where you can have it on the stove, make a few sides and not fuss too much in the kitchen.

3. Smitten Kitchen's tomato sauce with butter and onion

My sister sent this recipe to me years ago, and we've been making it ever since. I'm a big fan of Smitten Kitchen recipes and this one is a reliable last-minute dinner, with simple ingredients that you probably already have at home. The butter is an excellent addition.

P.S - My most favourite places to go out for pasta are Italian & Sons in Canberra, A Tavola and Fratelli Fresh in Sydney (or Buon Ricordo if it's a special occasion) and Mates Gully Organics in Wagga Wagga. 

My week - Chinese New Year countdown

13 February 2015

Next Thursday will be Chinese New Year's eve and now that I'm married I'll be giving out red packets filled with lucky money instead of receiving them. I'm super excited and have bought a few little gifts too, this cookbook for my youngest brother who is a budding burger chef and a sweet dress for my niece. They went in the post this week.

In less cheery news, I had two wisdom teeth out this week and have been eating soft food ever since. Thank goodness for whipped coconut cream, speculoos cookie butter and hazelnut gelato. As soon as I'm better, I'm making rocky road.

I have a sudden interest in toast now that I'm temporarily unable to eat it and this lady is a toast queen. Anyone who puts Kit Kat on toast is a winner in my books. She packs amazing lunches too.

At my work we're heading towards end-of-year reviews and Tony pointed out this interesting Life Matter's segment on pay and gender as food for thought.

And just in case you hadn't noticed, it's Valentine's Day tomorrow. I'll be listening to Finetooth Radio's latest anti-Valentine's Day mix (last year's is excellent too) and would love to make these delicious looking bittersweet chocolate and malt milkshakes. I might make these multigrain choc chip cookies too, for balance ;)

Have a happy weekend.

Wedding: Relationship advice from our family and friends

10 February 2015

My friend Vanessa organised a really thoughtful wedding surprise  - a pop quiz for every guest to fill out before lunch. There were five questions all up but the last one was my favourite - 'My best tip for a happy, loving relationship ...'

The responses were generous, insightful and too good not to share.  Here are a few highlights:

'Join in each other's adventures.' - Vanessa

'Kindness is everything. And take it in turns picking which movie to watch next.' - Tim

'Best advice I ever received - never argue about money because you'll never have enough.' - Jacqui

'Forgiveness to match commitment, sharing because you care, hard work but it never feels hard, never take your love for granted. It is a gift to share.' - Moyra

'Do plenty of things together but also know when to give each other some space.' - Sabine (who designed and made our wedding rings!)

'Buy a doggie :) It is wonderful seeing the person you love take responsibility of a little pup.' - Irini


'Remember that you actually love each other's quirks, even when they drive you nuts.' - Nicky

'Care and attention. Learn about life and love together.' - Mark

'Talk about everything. People's flaws are the most personal thing about them and lovely because of it.' - Max (he's 19!)

'Keep growing together and be involved in each other's lives.' - Simon

'Be open. Don't expect your partner to read your mind.' - Marina

'Take time for yourself, be honest when it's useful and take the time to pause and remember why you love each other at the hardest times.' - Liz

'Lots of holidays together.' - Sam

Our friend Luke decided to quote the late Joan Rivers with this gem, 'If you can laugh at it, you can deal with it.' And so many friends championed not letting the sun set on an argument.

Big thanks to Vanessa for organising such an awesome surprise and gift, to Christina for stealthily designing the quizzes (with a custom coat of arms!) and to our friends and family for taking part.

Photos by Wattle + Lace.

How to find more time to read

08 February 2015

My friend Amy read a whopping 64 books last year (and 14 in the holidays just past!) in between working full-time and raising three kids. Here are her tips for fitting more reading into everyday life:

1. Always carry a book with you and fill any waiting time with reading

'Not just the obvious waiting-at-the-doctors,' she says, 'But waiting for your coffee, for your lunch in the microwave, for a lift. Read while the pasta water boils, while you're stirring your risotto, while your husband watches American Pickers and American Restoration - insert the boring shows that are watched in your household!'

I'd love to read more articles in my spare time and have started using the 'Save for later' feature on Facebook and the Pocket app so that I have a bunch of digital options ready too. Borrow Box has also been a bit of a game-changer for me, I'm currently reading a library e-book on iPad and my phone, which is always the book I read while I'm waiting for my coffee or standing in a queue.

2. Have several books on the go that way you'll always have one to suit your mood

I love the idea of picking up a book based on your mood, even if I've always been a one-book-at-a-time reader. To me, it also means I have fewer excuses. Currently I'm reading Far from the tree by Andrew Solomon (dense, non-fiction), Delicious! by Ruth Reichl (fun and easy to read) and Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami (short stories that I can finish in one sitting).

Here's a tip from me, I've started taking my lunch break later in the afternoon, so I can sit in a quiet cafe and read for awhile. If I was more organised, I'd love to do this before work.

Finally, Amy recommends asking yourself whether you'd rather be reading in those moments when you're on Facebook or Instagram, or looking for something to watch on TV.

Thanks Amy! And now a confession, all of the books I've snapped sitting on my shelf are ones I own but am yet to read or finish.

My week - Sprinkles on the carpet

06 February 2015

This week I made donuts and then found a blog about donuts - yay!

I also started listening to the StartUp podcast and I'm hooked. Thanks for the prompt Vanessa! The show follows Alex Blumberg, a former producer from Planet Money and This American Life as he tries to set up his own podcasting network. It features a very cringeworthy pitch in its first episode.

Has anyone else been following Human of New York's series on Mott Hall Bridges Academy on Instagram? It just keeps getting better. It started with Vidal, a student who named his high school principal as the most influential person in his life. It's led to a photographic series about the disadvantaged Brooklyn high school, a massive fundraiser and this week Vidal met President Barack Obama!

I joined Joy the Baker's #bakingbootcamp after my sourdough starter died and made wholewheat honey and oat bread this week. It smelt and tasted like an Easter bun and was ready in no time.

Finally, thanks to everyone who stopped by this week. It's been so exciting, not to mention nerve-wracking, sharing this blog with you.

Have a good weekend!

New favourite magazine

04 February 2015

My sister-in-law has a knack for finding exciting new magazines and for my birthday last year she gave me a subscription to Cherry Bombe. 

My first issue arrived in the mail last week and I loved it immediately, from the contributor profiles at the front of the magazine (where everyone answered 'What was your favourite school lunch?') to the generous section of cookbook reviews that are clearly written by people who love to make their own food.

There's even a profile of an Australian girl who has an Instagram feed dedicated to her cute baked creations :)

Cherry Bombe is a bi-annual magazine that's dedicated to women in food and includes everyone from chefs who've won reality TV competitions to well-known magazine editors. It's tone is curious, clever and funny and as a printed magazine, it's wonderfully hefty, matte and beautifully laid out.

The magazine podcasts too! Radio Cherry Bombe is part of the very cool Heritage Radio Network, a food-focussed radio station based in Brooklyn, New York that broadcasts out the back of a pizza restaurant called Roberta's. So far I've listened to Ruth Reichl, The Modern Vegetarian (so very entertaining whilst tackling some important industry issues) and The Home Cook Hero: Sara Moulton, who shares Julia Child's secret to smiling (it's a good one!).

Five awesome Australian podcasts

02 February 2015

I'm always on the look out for new podcasts and while I started out listening to a lot of American shows, now I find myself turning to some great local offerings week after week. Here are a few of my favourites.

1. The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry

Lee Tran Lam writes an excellent Sydney food blog that highlights new cafes, restaurants and bars in the city. Her recommendations are so reliable and totally influence where I eat when I'm in Sydney. Tony and I actually got engaged at an Italian restaurant I picked from her blog!

I was stoked when she launched a podcast, where she talks to industry insiders about their paths into the food industry (which are often really unconventional) and where they like to eat in Sydney. Beyond the food, these interviews are fascinating profiles of creative people and are pretty motivating as a result.

I've especially loved hearing from Nick Smith (Rising Sun Workshop)Hetty McKinnon (Arthur Street Kitchen)Andrew Bowden (Hartsyard) and Ambrose Chaing (Momofuku).

2. Finetooth Radio

My brother Derrick started podcasting from his lounge room two years ago and now has a weekly show on a community radio station in Sydney. Growing up, I used to wander into Derrick's room to hear his latest musical discoveries, which I would later claim as my own. Now I find most of my music through his show and love the cool beats and random disco tracks. One of the best things about Finetooth is that it's not a one-listen podcast. The music's also super energising and eclectic.

Here are a handful of episodes that I keep replaying - NYE (especially for the '90s section in the middle), Nuggets 2014 (because many of these songs became my favourites too and featured in wedding playlists he made for us) and RnB classics.

3. Conversations with Richard Fidler

One of the perks of working in a radio station is that the radio is on all day and piped through the building. This means I hear snippets of Conversations with Richard Fidler as it goes to air. Often I'll catch a compelling minute or two of an episode and know I'll want to revisit it in full.

Richard Fidler interviews a mind-boggling variety of people and spends an entire hour with them. His interview style is so genuine and friendly and the episodes are often about someone's life as a whole and the moments and people who have shaped them.

Recently, I've really enjoyed his interviews with Loren O'KeeffeAnnabel CrabbGeraldine DoogueHelen GarnerBernadette Black and Pat McGorry.

4. Chats 10 Looks 3

Late last year Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales started a podcast and I instantly became a mega-fan. I may have tweeted and emailed them to say so. I love the behind-the-scenes details they share about their high-profile TV jobs and just enjoy hearing two clever women talk about everything from books to Twitter to what they'd baked that week.

There are five very funny episodes of their podcast so far and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they'll keep recording in 2015. This is one you might have to ration, though each episode is packed with enough recommendations to keep you busy for awhile yet.

5. 20 Questions on AWAYE!

In 2014, the Belvoir St Theatre in Sydney's Surry Hills staged 20 Questions, a production that featured a surprise Indigenous performer each show and became 'a cabaret and talk-show rolled into one', hosted by director Wesley Enoch.

Despite its name there were actually over 300 questions put to each mystery guest, who performed inbetween sets of increasingly personal questions. On stage it was electric, deeply revealing and in a way, like a funeral for person who was still alive. According to Enoch, you can't help but answer the questions in your head as they're asked, which I definitely found to be true.

RN's AWAYE! recorded 20 Questions over its theatre run and broadcast a performance every few weeks in 2014. They're excellent episodes that take you as close as possible to the live performance, which is great because having attended one, I left wishing I could've seen many more.

You can lucky-dip your way through this series or listen to my favourite guests, who have been Leah Purcell, Trevor Jamieson, Wilma Reading and Wesley Enoch. 

Thanks to Will Reichelt for the pic of Lee Tran Lam and Kelvin Saik for his photo of Derrick Gee.

If you have any podcast recommendations of your own, I'm all ears :)