Let’s go spend a day in Mudgee!

You know, Mudgee. Inland a bit from Sydney. When I say a bit, I mean about 3 and a half hours – but you know, I’m learning that’s nothing in Australia.

Anyway, you’ll love it there. It’s got loads of cool old buildings…

The library is pretty awesome, too.

I mean, imagine that’s the place you regularly rent your books from!?

Even the Post Office looks quaint.

The architectural features are everywhere you look. If you love wrought iron, you’re in for a treat.

We can take a leisurely stroll past the church, maybe we’ll spot the local camera club out again.

Now, see, I reckon this looks just like the place in Stars Hollow where Rory worked in the Gilmore Girls reboot – don’t you think?

It’s even the office of the local paper, too!

Now if we get a bit tired by all that walking around, we can always stay over. 7 hours driving is a bit much for one day. We could stay at the Perry Street Hotel where you get jazzy bathrobes to lounge around in.

Then the next day we can go for brunch at Cafe 89. Gluten free pancakes, anyone…?

Mine had a slight ricotta landslide situation but that did nothing to affect the taste. They were totally delicious.

Just time for one last tool around town spotting pretty buildings (and blossom) before it’s time to hit the road again.

So… shall we go to Mudgee?

-Rachel

*#notsponsored, as ever

I think the title explains it all?

While I’ve not been showing up on this space much in the past few weeks, I’ve been putting in some serious time in my kitchen. This has made me very happy. So I thought I’d share some recipes with you that I’ve been particularly loving – as evidenced by my nice little archive of weekly menu plans I’ve got stuck to my fridge. I used to do everything in spreadsheet format but that got a bit boring, then we got a new printer and – to cut a long IT story short – it’s annoying; so I got this planner from Kmart instead. I love it! There’s something therapeutic about sitting down and writing out your meals for a week vs doing it in spreadsheet form, even though it’s much less efficient and much more messy.

Cheesy cauliflower pesto bites ¦¦ I am a big fan of things with hidden veg in because I am basically a giant toddler at times. The recipe turned out great, and although I wish I had a cool cloud cutter like Sam does, my boring circles will have to do. Thanks for this one Sam! I can see this coming in very handy for lunches, picnics, and accompaniments for meals when I get bored of the old pasta/rice rotation.

Neapolitan Baked Oatmeal ¦¦ I have no joke sent this recipe to three people in the past week. I love it! It’s my breakfast of choice at the moment – and has been for some time. I love it because it’s gluten free, vegan, and refined sugar free. It also tastes like none of those things. Basically Kristy is a genius and has managed to make something healthy taste like it’s not at all! I made big batches of this when strawberries were in season so my freezer is well stocked. When I can’t easily get strawberries I just go for the chocolate and vanilla layers. This also keeps me full for a decent length of time which is a rarity in a breakfast!

Chickpea and feta salad ¦¦ I am on a massive chickpea binge right now and I have no idea why. Aside from just roasting them in some spices, a recipe I have been using for a more interesting lunch is basically as follows: roast together some chickpeas and red peppers (sorry! capsicums) in olive oil. Add to some feta, a red chilli, some rocket leaves, cherry tomatoes, and some mint and coriander leaves. I think you can pretty much free range on the quantities depending on your preference. It makes for a delicious and filling lunch and I am a big fan. Because chickpeas.

Chicken crockpot meatballs ¦¦ Thanks to Kristin for this recipe which is the first ever meatball recipe I’ve tried that a) stays together and b) doesn’t involve a lot of onions that never cook properly and c) actually tastes good! Chicken mince is fairly new to me (why? I have no idea) but I am rapidly realising how genius it is. For what it’s worth, I sub the normal breadcrumbs for gluten free breadcrumbs and everything works just fine for me.

Quinoa enchilada casserole ¦¦ This is definitely a fellow blogger recommendation only I don’t remember who it was. If it was you, thank you! This is now my staple dish for: new families, the infirm, potlucks, dinner parties, or when I don’t have the imagination to think of anything else. It’s delicious, gluten free, vegetarian, and can be made dairy free and vegan by taking out the cheese. It’s a one size fits many requirements dish, also it takes very little time, also you can make ahead and/or freeze it. I love this.

Greek quinoa bowl ¦¦ This recipe isn’t exactly ground breaking but it’s genius in its simplicity. This recipe is quite a new find for me, but I can already see it becoming a staple. I’m weird and picky so I don’t even do the dressing, just a mixture of lemon and lime juice, then I’ll add in whatever else I’ve got lying around. Like…

Roast chicken from Costco ¦¦ Alright, we’re straying into non-recipe territory here. However, I have recently made the groundbreaking discovery that Costco sell whole rotisserie chickens for $5.98. That and one of their giant tubs of mixed salad for $9.99 (or the Greek quinoa bowl above) and we’re set for a good 5 days worth of meals. Other things I’ve loved buying in bulk from Costco: quinoa (as you can probably tell), chia seeds, feta, Callebaut chocolate chips, meat in general. Things I have been disappointed by at Costco have included their sushi trays (not really like actual sushi and actually quite strange), a top that fell apart when I washed it, and a slab of Diet Coke that turned out to be cheaper at Coles (when on promo, anyway).

Any recipes you’re loving recently? Do you shop at Costco? Can you recommend anything for me to buy? This totally isn’t sponsored by the way, just in case you were wondering. I just want to maximise my membership.

Happy Meal Planning Monday!

-Rachel

People have stopped asking me how I’m settling in.

I’m taking that as a good sign; 5 months in, oh you must be set. But I’m not. I’m making great strides, sure. It’s definitely still a work in progress, as you shall soon see.

The Good

Moar visitors ¦¦ Hot on the heels of my sister departing came S’s (and now my) good friend from university days. She was with us for 2 weeks and it was great to keep the visitor train rolling. The great thing about having visitors is it’s a great excuse to take them to all the touristy sights, go out for nice meals, and generally behave as if you’re on holiday yourself (even if you have to work). Trips included outings to the Blue Mountains, and the Northern beaches. They’re classic trips for a reason!

I also just found out that my Mum’s cousin will be in town next week. Hooray! She won’t be staying with us but we’re planning to meet up as we speak. Can’t wait!

I got a haircut ¦¦ Ok, big news there Rachel…!? But seriously, this is pretty major for me. I was seriously overdue for a haircut for a very long time because I was too scared to go and try a new hairdresser. I’m not sure what I was putting it off for, it’s not as if I could have lasted until I’m back in the UK again (probably a year away at the very earliest!). So I thought well if I’m gambling I may as well gamble all the way and bought myself a groupon. I’m really pleased with the result! Here’s a little before, with me enjoying a nice brochetta:

And after, enjoying one of the Three Sisters up close:

NB Pablo!

In other Life Admin news I also found and registered at a doctors, which I’d also been putting off. The GP I saw was absolutely lovely so I’m pleased with how that’s turned out. The dentist I crossed off a couple of months ago due to a random gum issue but the sticker shock of that one put me off returning after the recommended 6 months. My teeth are pretty decent… I’ll pass thanks.

This may all sound trivial but to me it’s a sign of Settling In. For me, when I have my essential services set up, it really begins to feel like I live somewhere. Anyone else have this? Expats and/or frequent movers, how do you find your new services in your new town? Do you try and get a personal recommendation or swing with a groupon from time to time??

The weather is warming up ¦¦ Things are getting pretty toasty here in Sydney and I’m so happy about it. It’s just very pleasant at the moment, with nice warm days but cool evenings and generally a good breeze so things don’t get too intense. When things begin to get a lot hotter I may be saying something else, but I’m trying to enjoy the weather as much as I can while it’s so perfect.

The change in weather does present some issues in terms of workwear, though. I own zero hot weather work clothes – I have never worked anywhere hot before, and with air conditioning I’m always freezing in offices. But if I need to get a train/bus/etc to wherever I’m working, I’ll need to not have given myself heatstroke by the time I get there. I’m guessing that, as ever, layers will be key but I haven’t quite got it down yet. Any suggestions very welcome.

The Bad

I have no idea what to do at the beach ¦¦ So I alluded to this in a previous Ugly, just in case you subscribe to that. Someone once told me they can always tell a Brit from an Australian by how they view the beach: as something nice to look at, or a place you go to do stuff. I’ll give you three guesses which is which.

So as a wholly unprepared Brit, I had no clue what to do with myself on our recent trip to the beach. I mean, we don’t even have any beach towels yet. It was too cold to swim, but too hot in the sun, I had to cram myself in a tiny patch of shade right at the back of the beach, I blinded others with my white white skin, my drink went warm, I had no appropriate snack, and turns out that sand is not actually all that soft to sit on after a while. If I’m honest it was a bit of a failed attempt by two absolute novices.

Still, I refuse to be beaten by a bit of sand. I took notes of what others were doing around me and S and I are busy devising a future beach plan. We will need beach towels and a sun shade as a minimum, I think. I’m also considering an esky (non-Aussie speakers that’s a cool or ice box) and maybe a beach chairWatch this space.

The online vs offline balance ¦¦ I haven’t posted here for over 2 weeks. We’ve had visitors, work has been busy, etc etc. I’m normally a proponent of do what you have to do, online is not your first priority, never complain never explain. Nobody cares. But this blog has proved such a great medium for meeting new people, I don’t want to just let it slide completely. Also, I enjoy doing it. So I think I just need to plan a bit better, and get into a routine that works. Also ask for guest posters if I’m going to have visitors coming – not the rubbish “hello dear we love your blog” guest posters but actual real people whose writing I enjoy, like my sister’s. So, watch this space while I get myself together but I should be around a bit more now.

Enjoying offline life in the Blue Mountains

Impermanence ¦¦ I have a bad back. In the UK, I had a special desk chair (that was the bane of everyone who ever tried to help me move house in the last 12 years) that was just right for my gammy spine and helped keep me in vague order. We didn’t bother shipping the chair over here because, as you may have gathered, it’s a bit of a beast and it would have cost a fortune. However…. my back is not enjoying the cheapy dining chair I’m currently using at my desk. And I don’t want to buy a special chair because we might only be here for another year, and the ROI on that just doesn’t stack up. But if we do end up staying, then it will be worth it. Of course we won’t know that for a good while yet, so it’s hard to make a decision. In the mean time I’ll just keep stalking Gumtree and hoping someone nearby wants to offload a decent desk chair.

The point of all this isn’t a lesson in second hand furniture sourcing, but a point about decision making. It’s hard to make decisions in life, big or small, when you don’t know where you’re going to be in a year. I always knew that. But knowing something and living it is quite different.

The Ugly

Gotcha – no Ugly last month, so you’ll get a double bill this month. Aren’t you lucky?! In case you’re new around here, I’m sharing The Ugly side of things via email so I can be more honest on things that I’d rather not splash up here for all to see.

So if you want to know The Ugly, just put your email address in the box and I’ll add you to the list. You’ll get mail from me a few days after you see this post, just to give everyone a chance to sign up who wants to.

So I need to know. What is your essential beach gear? And what do you do at the beach?

-Rachel

Linking up with Kristen and Gretch for What’s New With You and with Van, Marcella, Lauren and Isabel for Wanderful Wednesday. 

You know how I don’t do guest posts on this blog? Well, when I say that I just mean I don’t do those ones from someone who addresses me as ‘dear’, clearly has never read this (or any?) blog, and can neither spell nor grammar their way out of a paper bag. I will, of course, always make space on this humble blog for actual real life friends and relations of mine, whose writing I always enjoy reading myself. I figure you’ll enjoy it just as much as me.

So would you please welcome my big sister Diana to the blog?

Diana recently embarked upon a group tour holiday in New Zealand all by herself, and she had some thoughts on the whole situation. Here they are, unfiltered, unglossied, not optimised for SEO. Just the way I like it.

Working title: Group tour holidays for the uninitiated and frankly terrified

I believe it was Eleanor Roosevelt who opined ‘Do something everyday that scares you’. Kind reader, I need to confess that recently I readily signed up to two weeks of fear, parting with my own stashed-away cash to stretch my comfort zone to its highly itchy and scratchy limits. Yes, that’s right, I went on a two-week organised group tour to North Island, New Zealand, for 18-39 year olds.

Let me contextualise if I may. I’m a group tour novice, having recently got up to all sorts of scrapes and jolly japes as a solo holidayer (you can read all about my exploits here). I’m also at the upper end of the age limit for this particular group ‘adventure’. I can just about still remember my uni graduation day (in the recesses of my mind I recall I had to get up very early. E.g. well before midday).

Club 18-30 in a minibus? ¦¦ The worries in my head went something like this. Would the tour be some sort of club 18-30s holiday, somehow awkwardly crammed into a minibus? What if I don’t fit in? Conversely, what if I do fit in, forget all my finely honed scruples and embarrass myself, spinster aunt-stylee, in front of a group of youngsters, born when tinterweb was already a thing?

Hopes and fears. And fears ¦¦ …What if I get seasick on the boat ride on the Bay of Islands, somehow manage to drown myself sea-kayaking or surfing in Raglan, get lost or abducted by a stranger on the Tongariro national park hike (or arggh, run out of emergency snacking pumpkin seeds?)

Sharing? Scaring? ¦¦ And the ultimate concern which I’m happy to reveal to you, my blog friends. The accommodation was shared dorms throughout. In life I try very hard to have my own room to sleep in *at all times*. What if I make those funny noises in the depths of my slumber again?

C(+) for effort ¦¦ Well, look. I can claim a 5/10 success with the integration with a far younger group of people challenge this trip presented. Apparently appearance-wise I can pass off as younger in years than I really am. High five!

Editors note: further proof of (both of us) looking far younger than our years – in this photo we look about 8 and 13 but were in fact more like 13 and 18. I wish I were exaggerating.

However, my lack of knowledge of contemporary popular music caused my cover to be blown quite spectacularly halfway through the trip. Is that Dubstars* playing on the in-minibus stereo, perchance – or Nicki Minaj?

There were the obligatory drinking games at certain strategic moments during the trip. I tried my hardest to remain aloof throughout, no doubt doing the opposite of endearing the fun-loving contingent which (who?) made up a high proportion of our motley tour crew.

Seasickness was averted by a combination of ginger tablets and a reality check – the boat was an enormous hulk of a thing, with a concrete bottom, and thus practically immobile.

Paddle your own kayak ¦¦ A special nervousness was reserved for kayaking. With memories of enforced capsizing in a canoe in the swimming pool of my childhood firmly rooted in my mind, I approached the kayak for the night-time kayaking session with Extreme Caution. But guess what: once safely in (it may or may not have taken two instructors to help me – who’s to say?), I saw the Milky Way, a glitter of stars of distant constellations. The water dripped like silver jewels with every stroke of the oar, due to something called phosphorescence.

Who needs oxygen? ¦¦ Surfboards and this blog’s author do not make a natural pairing. I’m tall and spindly and reckon I have a really off-centre centre of gravity. Plus, putting on an already damp wet suit plus optional extra wet T shirt in order to attempt to surf? Call me high maintenance, but that just sounds like way too much hassle to me.

So I’ve zipped myself into my wet suit after much pulling up, and pulling up (and once more for luck). Rather like the oxygen mask on the A380, I then felt inclined to help my tour group friends, who were also struggling to do up the long zip at the back of their rubbery onesies.

Marshmallow calories and Loggers Leap ¦¦ In the sea with the surfboard, I just about managed the periodic ‘getting submerged in the sea whilst clinging to board with one arm’ manoeuvre. Which of course comes under the category of messing about.

I despaired, though simply thrashing about in the sea was most invigorating and undoubtedly burned a few marshmallow calories. But then, the magic happened. With 10 minutes of my surfing lesson left, the teacher focussed her attention on me.

Remember the four steps to standing up on the surfboard and keep your eyes fixed on the horizon. It worked. I stood up, oh so briefly on the board, and the adrenaline rush I got? Just like going on the Loggers Leap ride at Thorpe Park (much less queuing involved, happily).

Advanced negotiation: crash course ¦¦ There’s nothing like sharing bunk beds in a dorm-style room to fast-track friendships with complete strangers. Opportunities for negotiation are rife – who will take the top bunk (why do they make the ladder so narrow – answers on a postcard…)? And who is going to use the ensuite tiny bathroom first, ahead of the 6am start the following day (easy default answer: nobody – hence we all had the unspoken agreement that we’d just smell somewhat for most of the tour). What time do you set your alarm for, knowing you’ll wake 3 other people in the process?

As for whether I made those unusual noises. Who is to say what happened in the depths of the night? That’s a secret that remains between my new roomies and me.

Scratch that itch ¦¦ And if you dared to wonder, I’m still using the Superdrug bite and sting relief cream vicariously. Someone please tell me. When will this itching and scratching end? And how?

Rachel has kindly granted me this slice of virtual reality space to ramble on about my travelling exploits. With the proviso that I need to explore beyond the confines of the Home Counties, I may be granted a blogging encore. Amigos, grasp that nettle forthwith. And stay tuned to Hapless Adventures FM.

Have you been on a group holiday, managed to secure the bottom bunk and the back seat of the tour minibus on more than one occasion? Whatever your tale, please spill the beans below…

– Anon, now outed as Diana

*Editors note: I have never heard of this person/group/?? which means I must be terribly unhip and I am now reevaluating my life in the light of my obvious nana-status.

As I continue to find blue food colouring in the most unlikely of places, I realise another month has passed and it’s time to recap what has happened in my little expat life this month. And explain the food colouring thing.

 

The Good

Becoming godparents ¦¦ This is a big one for me and S! This month our niece was dedicated and we were asked to be godparents. I’m so honoured to be chosen and it was a lovely ceremony. My niece is somewhat of a miracle baby, and although the story is not mine to share I can tell you it was really powerful to hear it told in front of others. My sister was so brave and did a great job of explaining the work that God has done in her life and her family. Amazing!

It was also great to have three sisters and a cousin together. So of course we posed for a photo opportunity (in height order).

I took inspiration from Sam and have taken my cake-related godmother duties seriously so far by making this ombre creation:

I’m quite proud of it actually. I got the floral topper from a very friendly florist in Waringah Mall who didn’t look at me like a crazy person when I asked for one, so I think I have found a new favourite florist. Or maybe floral cake toppers are a totally normal thing. I have no idea, I’m usually a tray of brownies and we’re done kinda gal.

I also made some cake pops, which were an absolute nightmare and 100% NOT worth the effort. I highly dis-recommend. Although they were fun to cheers with, that I’ll admit.

The ombre cake was kind of a breeze in comparison and looks much more impressive! Maybe that’s just the size?

The result is that I’ve been asked to make a cake for church in a couple of weeks for their 121st birthday celebrations. It’s only going to be up on stage and cut ceremonially as part of the proceedings so, you know, no big deal or anything. Anyone got any cake inspiration for me?!

Visiting Melbourne ¦¦ I spent most of August in Melbourne, which would have been a great chance to explore more of the city except for the fact I spent a large amount of it at work. Then after work it was too cold/rainy/dark to want to venture out, and most stuff was closed anyway. That’s my excuse for marathons of The Block anyway and I’m sticking to it. So, all that to say, it was really nice to have my sister come with me for my last week in Melbourne. We were able to hang out after work, and it was so nice to even just have someone to eat dinner with.

One night we went to the Skydeck to see the sunset which was pretty cool.

Most of my photos turned out terribly and the sunset was somewhat of a damp squib but nonetheless I loved it.

It was a little steep (ha ha) at $20 but what can I say, I love tall buildings.

Extending my network ¦¦ When you know nobody in a new country, you take any introduction you can. That sounds rude but bear with me – I went for dinner last week with some friends of my Mum who I last saw when I was, oooh, 16? At that time they lived in Switzerland but have since moved to live in Melbourne. So my sister and I took the opportunity to meet up with them and it was so.much.fun. They’re lovely people and it was great to get to know them (again) and hear about their experiences living in Australia. If I’m back in Melbourne again I’ll definitely try and meet up with them again – they’ve even offered us a place to stay which is so kind.

Taking a road trip ¦¦ I think we can all agree that taking a road trip = instant native status. I know Jessi does. S and I took a road trip this last weekend to celebrate our anniversary and it was brilliant.

I might do a post about it soon because I think there’s probably a bit much to cram in this update, but if you saw my Instastories you’ll know the gist of it anyway. The highlight was definitely visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo, where we saw lots of happy animals in huge enclosures, and thankfully very few idiots. All in all a win!

I do know that lots of people enjoyed seeing the meerkats having a play. I know they’ve become a bit of a symbol of ridicule recently, but they’re still just so cute.

The Bad

Not really being at home much ¦¦ The downside of spending most of the month in Melbourne was being away from home just as I’d started to get to know people. It felt like I’d met some really nice people and then just… disappeared.

Also I really like my flat and it’s just at the stage now where we have everything as we want it (if that even makes sense), so it was annoying to be away from it so much and have to cook all my meals using one utensil, etc. First world problem… I know.

A difficult anniversary ¦¦ We had a difficult anniversary this last weekend and whilst I was glad to be with two of my sisters and extended family on the day, I was sad to be away from my Mum and my other sister. I did speak to them around the time and they seemed to be doing as ok as one can under the circumstances, but it was still not a nice feeling to be away from them.

The Ugly

You know the drill by now. I’m sharing The Ugly side of things via email so I can be more honest on things that I’d rather not splash up here for all to see.

So if you want to know The Ugly, just put your email address in the box and I’ll add you to the list. You’ll get mail from me a few days after you see this post, just to give everyone a chance to sign up who wants to.

If you need me between now and next weekend I’ll be on Pinterest scrolling through endless unnecessarily elaborate cakes, sobbing gently. Send heeeelp.

-Rachel

Linking up with Kristen and Gretch for What’s New With You