Everything we talked about in 2016

23 December 2016

We're getting ready to head to Sydney - we haven't been back for Christmas in years. My family is having a lasagne lunch on Christmas Day and Tony's brother will be putting on an Ottolenghi-themed dinner the night before. We're also hoping to hit the beach, see Paterson and catch up with friends. Before I head off, I wanted to share some of my favourite posts from the year:

Things to make and eat:

Fun things to read, hear and watch:

Super fun style tips from Real Girl Wardrobes:

Important things aunts should know:

Cool women doing interesting things:

My life in 2016:

And an abbreviated version of weekend links:
I hope you have a wonderful Christmas break. Thank you for reading along this year. It's been a big year of change with a new job in a new city and I've loved returning to this space every week to share some of the funny, thought-provoking and delicious things I've discovered. I'll be back in 2017 - until then, travel safe and look out for one another. 

Three months in Mysore, India

21 December 2016

When we were kids, my cousin Melissa Chan and I were pen friends. Even though we lived in the same city, we exchanged letters until we were just about to finish high school. So when I saw her beautiful updates from India, where she's spent the last three months practicing yoga, I was curious to find out more. Today she shares why she made the move, along with everything she packed for her three months away:

Before we get started - where are you writing to us from today? 

I'm writing this from my new apartment! For the last two months, I've been renting a studio, which has been absolutely perfect for me but as my boyfriend is coming to visit me soon, I've moved to a one bedroom place for the month. It's huge compared to what I was used to, I honestly don't know what to do with all the space - such a luxury! 

You've been in Mysore for over two months - what were you doing before you left Australia and where did the idea to travel to India come from?

Before coming to Mysore, I was working in the Prime Minister’s Office. I have a background in strategy consulting so it was fun to apply my learnings to a completely new environment. Having the opportunity to also work on an election campaign and travel around Australia for two months was an intense but amazing experience. You learn so much and you form some great friendships. Contrary to what people might think about politics, I was surrounded by people who truly want to make a difference.  

At the same time, I’ve been doing Ashtanga yoga for the past three years. Since I’ve gone ‘deeper’ into the practice, there’s definitely been an urge to come to the source and see what it’s all about. In fact, I’ve been wanting to come to Mysore for at least two years now but just hadn’t quite bit the bullet. 

It wasn’t until after we wrapped up the election that I thought - you know, maybe this is the right time. It felt like a natural break point in my career and overall stage of life (pre-kids etc), so I thought I would just apply for kicks. Suddenly, I was accepted for three months. 

Before you left, we were messaging and you were feeling a little uncertain. Was there a moment when that feeling disappeared and you felt really sure about what you'd decided to do?

I think wanting to come to Mysore was never in really in question. I’ve had the urge for so long! The thing is I've always been a ‘planned next steps’ kind of girl, so not having a plan post-Mysore was really new for me. Sometimes, I still mildly freak out thinking about it. Learning to sit with this discomfort though, and processing it through practice and writing, has really helped. 

I really really love practising yoga here. You're in this steamy room, surrounded by all these super focused people - that kind of pulsating energy is so addictive. And of course, there is Sharath, our teacher, and just being in his presence is an amazing feeling. Feeling that and all the rest of it for the first time – I knew I had come to the right place…as corny as that sounds!  

This is a bit embarrassing but I knew about Mysore yoga but not Mysore the place - can you tell us a bit about it? 

Mysore is in the south west of India, about three hours drive from Bangalore. It's a beautiful city, relatively clean and known for its silk, sandalwood and of course, Ashtanga yoga!

When I first arrived, it was during Dasara, which is a Hindu festival that celebrates the victory of light over darkness, truth over evil and so on. During Dasara, the entire city is lit up – streets, buildings, and Mysore Palace. It actually caused a few power outages. I’ve never seen again quite so grand – it was simply stunning. 

Is there a typical day? So far I've seen everything from temple visits to special sweets days, cooking lessons and the markets on Instagram

The beauty of being in Mysore is that the only thing we have to do each day is practice. After that, the day – and our experience here – is pretty much whatever we want to make of it.  

In my first month, I feel like I was constantly doing something. During the week, I was studying Sanskrit and philosophy, as well as going to chanting classes. Once you throw in meals, the day gets eaten up pretty quickly! On the weekend, I would try to explore a little more.

One of my favourite excursions was going to Bylakuppe, which is the second largest Tibetan settlement outside of Dharamasala and home to about 4,000 monks. Seeing them all chant in one giant hall was a real goosebumps experience. 

At any given time, there can be a few hundred students studying at the Shala so you really need to be mindful of finding the balance between being social and having time to yourself. Over the last few weeks, I’ve kept a fairly low profile – the practice is pretty intense, despite only being a couple of hours a day and I got pretty sore! 

Lately, I’ve been taking rangoli classes, which is where you use coloured sand to draw mandalas outside your home, as a sign of good luck and hospitality. It’s my creative outlet! I’ve also been wanting to work on my own projects – writing, reading etc – so definitely been a bit more reclusive and really just enjoying the practice.   

 I have to ask about the food - what's new to you and what will you seek out or miss when you get home?

The food here is so amazing! I wish I could take all of it home. When I was in India last year, I had a lot of southern Indian food (ironically though up north), so a lot of it feels very familiar. 

Breakfast is probably the most different to anything we’re used to. There’s so much variety! I would have to say my favourites are idli (white steamed lentil cakes served with coconut chutney) and vada (a fried lentil doughnut / fritter type thing). Dosas are also very popular here, which are like a pancake made out of rice flour and often filled with potatoes. 

For lunch, I’ve been eating a lot of thalis, which is basically like the ultimate combo meal. You get a mix of curries, rice, breads, curd and depending on the restaurant, these can be served on banana leaves.  

This isn't the first time you've lived overseas - do you have any tips for setting up a home in a new place and combatting doubt? 

Yeah, I feel really lucky! I studied in Shanghai during my media degree and loved it so much, I did another exchange during my postgrad in Toronto.

I also lived in Cairo during my consulting days. At the time, my boyfriend happened to be working in Dubai, so I would commute back and forth. I ended up working at least one day a week in our Dubai office and then spending weekends there, or exploring the Middle East.   

I love travelling and experiencing new things. Each overseas trip has had a really different set up - from being a foreign student where you don't speak the language, to the intensity (and partying!) of MBA life, to making hotels your home as a consultant.  

What I've learnt from all these experiences, and now being in Mysore, is just being patient. Things take time to set up, things won’t always go your way, it might be hard to find your ‘tribe’ of people and so on…all of these things will come.  

In fact, the hardest thing I’ve always found is reintegrating back home. It’s such a microcosm of an experience – it can be difficult to express what it was like to others, or to translate any of it back home. I’m always so grateful for the experience though, but of course, I still call Australia home. 

Thank you Mel :) Melissa has been posting colourful updates of her days in India on Instagram and she's been writing about her trip on her blog The Open Letter

Melbourne holiday

19 December 2016

We spent the weekend in Melbourne, so I could see Jad Abumrad of Radiolab speak :) We also stayed in a new neighbourhood, visited the David Hockney exhibition and found a great new donut shop. Here's a look:

On Friday we caught the first flight out of Canberra and headed straight to Hardware Societe for breakfast. Next stop was the NGV to see the David Hockney show. It featured his early iPhone drawings - the ones with text were especially funny - and larger iPad studies of England and Yosemite National Park. There were oil paintings too.

This was the last course of my freedom lunch - freshly baked madeleines with lemon curd from Cumulus Inc. Fridays are normally deadline days for me, so it felt extra nice to be having a decadent lunch instead. My watch also stopped working, which made it feel like were were really on holidays :)

We stayed in Fitzroy for a change, in a bright Airbnb that happened to have lots of the same books we have at home and an insane indoor plant situation. There was an all-day diner down the road (one egg dish is served with tater tots!) and we bought the funniest $3 toy for my niece at Third Drawer Down.

On Saturday we went to see my friend Danie who was hosting a DIY gift wrapping station in a laneway, complete with custom designed stamps. It was so much fun! We stamped calico bags and ran into my friend Meiying. She pointed us in the direction of Short Stop donuts, which we LOVED.

Meiying also recommended Rustica Canteen and we enjoyed it so much we went twice - first for brisket and pulled pork sandwiches with excellent additions like smoked cheddar and pickles and a side of spicy potato salad. We went back the next day for salads.

Somehow we managed to pop into seven galleries over three days. My favourites were Gertrude Glasshouse for Australian contemporary art, Australian Galleries for the breadth of its collection and the Philippe Parreno: Thenabouts screening at ACMI, which was beautiful and strange. People sat in a dark room to watch the film and there were foil fish balloons floating around.

And here are a few new things that came home with me. A Monsieur Truffe chocolate bar, a hand-stamped bag, as well as a few new books from Metropolis Bookshop (my favourite) and Paperback. Next time I'd love to try Tipo 00 for a pasta dinner and take the train out to Geelong Gallery. But now, we're back home making tiny preparations for Christmas and I couldn't be happier.

Weekend links

15 December 2016

I'm sharing a few favourite links well before the weekend because we're up early tomorrow to catch a flight to Melbourne. I'm excited about seeing my friend Danie, eating the best donuts and checking out a few Christmas markets. It's already been such a fun week with Tony's birthday celebrations and Christmas drinks (and Secret Santa!) at work. And now I'm officially on holidays :) Hope you have a great weekend:

I love a good vegetarian bolognese (or any bolognese for that matter).

Books for everyone.

We've been having Thai beef bowls with lots of fresh veggies for dinner in this heat.

I'm going to make my own pannetonne (and I'm so excited!).

A Muslim reporter shares what it was like to cover the 2016 US election.

How good does this penne look?

An audio diary about a marriage that ends with an email.

It's very expensive but I'm obsessed with this body cream that I tried at a hotel in Wagga. (Hi Tony!)

Everyone's talk about OJ Simpson: Made in America. I'm going to check it out next week.

And now that it's the end of the year, I'm listening to a lot more music and can recommend my brother's highlights of 2016 mix.

Mini lemon birthday cake

13 December 2016

It's Tony's birthday today so I made a cake that combines two of his favourite desserts - cheesecake and lemon meringue pie. This time last year, we were staying in a bed and breakfast in Wagga Wagga for his PhD graduation so he ended up with a Streets Viennetta!

I used a recipe from Small Victories - one of my favourite cookbooks from 2016 - for the cake. It's a lemon olive oil cake that comes together really quickly, making it perfect for weeknight baking. Then I made a small batch of cream cheese icing to finish it off.

The pineapple candle makes it look extra festive :) My friend Kristy sent them all the way from Perth. We're about to head out to eightysix for dinner (I'm ordering for the fried chicken!) and then I have one more surprise up my sleeve - a nightcap at Molly, a speakeasy that specialises in whisky. I love birthdays!

Small presents that punch above their weight

12 December 2016

When I started my new job, just over a year ago, I was pretty scared. I'd been in my last position for five years - enough time to really settle in and feel confident about most things. While I was still with the same organisation, I was moving to a new city and a bigger office where I would be working on a pilot project.

Work remained daunting for months but now that I'm days away from going on holidays (yipeee!) I can truly appreciate how much I've learnt from the people around me. Which naturally brings me to my favourite chocolate chip cookies :) I'd been wracking my brain for ways to say thank you to the people who have helped me most (some daily!) before I settled on something simple and homemade. Here are a few other ideas for small gifts that may not cost must but can say heaps:

A handwritten card

I visited Tony in the studio the other day and he was excited to show me a card that had been left for him by another artist who works in the same complex. She wrote to congratulate him on his recent exhibition and share what she enjoyed most about his show.

Sometimes I struggle to write cards - the blank space can freak me out - but Tony has given me some great advice in the past. He says to take a moment to think about what you really want to say and simply write that. If your'e writing a thank you note, I thought these tips that came via Jo were great.

A personalised CD

My first car had a cassette player, so I became a very dedicated mix tape maker and the lucky recipient of many personalised tapes too (one of my girlfriends even made me a Christmas tape!). When I was in uni I used to burn CDs for friends, especially when they needed cheering up.

The other day my friend Irini texted to say that she had been listening to one in the car with her husband, who recognised the song I walked down the aisle to (!). So for Christmas this year, I'm making her an updated one. I'm still in the planning stages but it's super fun.

P.S My final story for the year went up today, and it's one I'm especially proud of. It's here if you're keen to check it out :)

Weekend links

09 December 2016

Hello! I've just filed my final story for the year so I'm feeling relieved and elated too :) I'll share it next week. We were going to head to Sydney for my brother's 30th birthday but we're waiting on a part for our car so we have an unexpected weekend at home. I might bake a Christmas cake and I'll definitely be making a few thank-you cookies to give out next week. Hope it's going to be sunny where you are. Here are a few things I enjoyed this week:

I saw this film clip two nights in a row and love it.

Taking a lunch break with wine.

Enjoying the Flow magazine app via My Open Kitchen.

A clutter free Christmas (with all of the cheer).

Should I make my own vanilla essence??

The quickest chicken dinner (we ate it with this broccoli quinoa bake!).

I'm keen to make this jewelled salad via Jodi.

My almost-the-holidays soundtrack - old Lupe and Kanye.

And finally, I've been listening to Garance Dore's podcast Pardon My French after reading about it on Catherine's blog. The episode she recommends is great. The Kerry Diamond episode is next on my list.

Catch you next week!

2016 Christmas Wish List

07 December 2016

Are you ever get tempted to buy yourself a little present while you're out Christmas shopping? The thought occurred to me today :) I've seen so many nice things lately - big and small - here are a few of them just in case you're still shopping for a friend or sister. First up, a cheery face bag ($12) to help reduce our plastic bag use and encourage trips to the library.

I've been curious about beeswax wraps all year. This starter-pack ($35) is practical and cute and could be used for storing cheeses, packed lunches and snacks.

Last summer I accidentally bought sunscreen that made me smell like a swamp. This one ($40) is SPF 50 and smells great, which means I wouldn't hesitate to reapply.

It's ben an incredible year for cookbook releases, I've reserved Grown and Gathered ($45) at the library but would happily give it a permanent place on my bookshelf. Dorie's Cookies too.

Our local pool has recently re-opened for summer and funny light-weight towel ($39.95) would fit easily in my bicycle basket. A pool or yoga pass would make a great gift too.

I have a thing for grey handbags and this crossbody bag ($149.95) fits just the essentials.

And finally I've always admired Milly Dent's creations and think this marbled cup ($44) will be an end of year treat :)