Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Sister bonding time in Australia!

Per usual, it has been a crazy couple of weeks for us here.  My sister came to visit for 2 weeks and we have been just running around like crazy!  Meghan is our first family member to visit and as a result we got a little carried away with planning out the time (well, I did anyways).  I will give a quick recap of the time because we did travel a bit while she was here as well.

I have mastered getting overseas visitors adjusted to the time difference and over jetlag.  They don’t like me much the first day, but it works.  Pretty much after over a full day of traveling through airports and sitting on a plane, I make them stay up the whole day exploring parts of the city and then keep them up past 8pm.  Not fun for them.  But in the end it makes the rest of their trip better.

So on my sister’s first day, we hung out around Mosman, walked around Balmoral and went to dinner and a show at the opera house at night.  Yeah, I told you it was crazy.  The show was pretty epic… the Sydney Symphony was playing music from Pixar movies with movie clips to go along with the arrangements.  It was magical (my go to descriptor for anything exciting involving Disney).

We dragged her on a fun run.

Here she is with the hubby and his stache.

Then there was the Melbourne Cup.  It is hard to explain to Americans (or any non-Australian for that matter) what this day is like.  I feel the closest we have is the Kentucky Derby… but it would be as if the entire country shut down to watch it and then just eat and drink the rest of the day.  Last year, as I was still in my “negotiation phase” and not really enjoying/accepting life here.  I remember thinking at the time the whole idea of getting dressed up to watch a horse race (and paying a lot for tickets for lunch somewhere) was just crazy.  Fast forward one year and here I am all dressed up with my fascinator.  Life is crazy.

If you look closely, you can see our hair pieces.  I should have done a better job snapping pics of some of the really impressive ones other women were wearing... epic fail.

We also took a trip up to the Byron Bay area.  It was mine and the hubby’s first time there and we really enjoyed it.  Byron itself is kind of a mecca for backpackers and old school hippies.  My high school wanna-be hippy self approved.  However, we stayed just south in Lennox Head, which was a bit more low key and our speed now. 

Here are some highlights from the trip including surf lessons, bush walks and beach time.

Walking around Lennox Head...

On one of the bushwalks we did near Minyon Falls.  

Lennox Head

Pre-surf lesson.  Crazy surf instructor who kept talking to us about the curse of the bambino in a super heavy aussie accent.  Then we were surrounded by backpackers the whole time.  Quite the experience. Meghan and I both managed to stand up.  Mission accomplished. 

To close out my sister’s Aussie trip, we went to Hunter Valley for a girls night.  I had the bright idea to hire out bicycles for the day to get around the wineries.  It ended up working out okay, but I will say that there are quite a few decent sized hills in the area!  I think every other time I have been carted around by the hubby and really paid no attention to hills.  It was fun and definitely built up our appetite for some nice cheeses with our tastings and a lovely dinner at night.

The bicycle hire was through Grapemobile Bicycle Hire in Pokolbin.  They were great and I would highly suggest booking through them if you are planning a trip to Hunter and want to bike around (and not have to worry about someone driving!).  They also run Pokolbin Brothers Wines, so you can start the day with a tasting (they have wonderful Chardonnay)!  Here is the link to their website for anyone interested...

After making it to Peterson Champagne House.  It was a bit longer a ride than I thought.  
And up some of those hills.
Sorry Meghan.

Some small grapes on the vines.

View from the ride.

Sunset from the B&B.

It was strange and exciting having one of our family members finally come visit.  It is so different to have them in our element here versus us just going home to visit.  For me, it was nice to have her see what our lives are like here first hand instead of just listening to me talk about it.  I’m sure I will have more thoughts on this as I have time to process it all.  Until then, I am off to gather up some fixins for our belated Thanksgiving meal this weekend!

Sunday, 4 November 2012


I forgot to add this to my last post, but big news... the hubby is doing Movember.  What is that you ask?    A charity event (pretty popular here in Australia) where guys grow out mustaches throughout the month of November to raise money for men's health.

Anything to raise money for charities, particularly ones that don't typically get as much publicity such as men's health is a great thing.

However, I will be suffering through his mustache growing for the month.  I am a bit scared, being that we are only 5 days in and he has a pretty good shadow of a stache already!  The hubby knows I have never been a fan of facial hair on him and was nice enough to have a discussion with me before he decided to do it.  I told him as long as he worked really hard at fundraising, I was all for it.

That being said, it is gonna be ridiculous looking in about, oh I don't know, a day.
He (and myself!) would appreciate any help raising funds!  As with any charity, any little bit helps!

Here is the link to his fundraising page... I will add some pictures later.  Prepare yourselves.

The Hubby Does Movember

A bit overdue... Here is a pic of me with the hubby.  We were seeing Coldplay here in Sydney.  I'm still not happy with the stache.  Luckily, the fundraising is going well!

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Halloween Down Under

So Halloween is not a big deal many other places outside the US.  It is starting to get bigger here now, but they still need to send out neighborhood reminders about trick-or-treating and putting out special signs if you want kids to stop by.

Doesn't stop my love of Halloween and treats with it.  I mentioned before the hubby and I planned a housewarming/halloween get together for last weekend.  The initial plan was to barbeque... this was a fail as we didn't get our act together to get a grill in time (oh but don't worry, we bought it the next day).

This meant a bit less picture taking for me as I reverted to plan B of food ideas and made a bunch of small appetizers and finger foods to go along with baked treats.

As promised: Pumpkin Cookies!  I was originally planning on decorating them with maple icing to look like pumpkins, but time did not allow for such things.  

Pumpkin Spice Chocolate Chip Cookies
Recipe from Susie (not sure of original source, but I have changed some stuff...)

Yield: 3-4 dozen cookies


2 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice
(or if you are down under like me... ½ tsp ground cinnamon, ¼ tsp ground ginger, 1/8 tsp nutmeg, 1/8 tsp all spice)
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp sea salt
¾ cup butter softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 can (15 oz) 100% pumpkin (you can also use fresh made pumpkin puree... since canned pumpkin is a  bit hard to come by in Australia)
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups of mini dark chocolate chips


- Preheat oven to 375ºF (190º C)
- Combing all dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
- Beat butter and sugar with electric mixer until light and fluffy.
- Beat in the pumpkin, eggs and vanilla extract until smooth.
- Gradually add in the flour mixture at low speed.
- Stir in chocolate chips.
- Drop by rounded 1-2 tablespoons (I usually make them closer to 2 tablespoons with my cookie scoop!) spacing about 1 ½ inches in between cookies on the cookie sheet.

- Bake for 15-18 minutes until the edges are lightly brown.
- Cool on baking sheets 3-5 minutes before removing to cool on wire rack.

Mmm there they are on the left.  My favorite cookies ever :)  The candy corn ones on the right looked fun (and were many friends first taste of candy corn!) but really wasn't the best recipe, thus does not deserve a post!

One more yummy recipe from my baking extravaganza... I wanted something apple flavored (again going with the New England fall stuff despite the warming weather here...) and decided to do a combination of recipes to make some caramel apple cupcakes.  Umm yeah... they really are that awesome.

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

Cinnamon Spice CakeAdapted from Annie’s Eats
Yield: 24 cupcakes


1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
4 large eggs
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

- Preheat oven to 350°F (177ºC).
- Prepare muffin tins with cupcake liners or oil spray. 
- Heat milk and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until butter melts. Remove from heat to cool slightly.

- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

- Beat eggs and sugar with mixer until thick ribbons form, about 5-7 minutes. Add flour mixture and beat on low just until incorporated. Add milk mixture and vanilla, and beat until blended.
- Divide the batter evenly amongst prepared baking tins. 

- Bake for 16-18 minutes and cool in pans for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Apple Filling (my own recipe for applesauce slightly adapted for filling)

Yield: 2 cups
4-5 medium sized apples, peeled, cored, and finely diced (I used pink lady)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 Tbs warm water


- Mix apples with sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon in saucepan.

- Cook over low- medium heat for 10-15 minutes until liquid is absorbed but apples are still holding their shape. 

- Remove from heat and stir in cornstarch mixture.

- Cool until room temperature.

Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting (slightly adapted from my Mom's recipe)


2 sticks of butter softened
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 tsp vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons of milk or cream

- Beat Butter and scraped out vanilla bean with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy (about 3-6 minutes depending on mixer)

-  Add the powdered sugar and beat well until mixture is thick and paste like. 

- Add extract and 1 tablespoon of milk/cream. Beat well. 

- Slowly add more milk 1 tablespoon at a time to get proper consistency.  Frost cooled cupcakes as desired.

Putting it all together....

- After cupcakes have cooled, use a paring knife to cut a small cone opening out of the top.

- Press down slightly to make a larger hole in the center.  

- Fill with approx 1 tablespoon of apple filling and replace top.

- Frost with the vanilla buttercream.

- Drizzle caramel to top (I was lazy and used store-bought)

And there you have it.... super yummy... although this picture does not really do them justice!

Random pic from the week... with the warming weather, we can now enjoy coffee and other more exciting drinks on our patio.  Good times!

I'm off, but will have some fun posts from Sydney activities soon.  My sister just arrived from the states 2 days ago and we have been running around like crazy!  Show at the opera house, sightseeing, fun run... she is going to need a vacation from this vacation!

Enjoy the weekend!

Monday, 22 October 2012

Outback Adventure Time! (otherwise known as trip to Uluru)

So we finally made it to the "outback" after living in Sydney for close to 15 months!  We planned this trip when we first got back from traveling back to the states in June and realized how quick our time here was going by.  We left on Friday morning and came back to Sydney Monday evening.  I think it was the perfect amount of time to spend in the Uluru area.  Although a lot of people do a mini-road trip from Alice Springs, which would mean more time is needed.  

Really the only consensus we had from people was that the trip would be expensive.  The set up just makes it that way... it is in the middle of nowhere and there is one "town" that has all the different levels of resorts.  However, they are all owned and run by the same company, keeping costs pretty high for everything.  I will say I did not have as much "sticker shock" as I thought I would.  I guess because Sydney prices are so high, I really was not phased by the cost of food in the Uluru area.  Anyways, we knew it was going to be a costly trip, but it was completely worth it! 

We spent most of the time exploring the national park areas- we did I think all the walks that could be done.  We also spent some down time at the hotel just relaxing and reading.  You can fly direct from Sydney to Uluru, which is what we did due to limited time.  The airport is what you would expect on a small island- one tiny landing strip and a very tiny terminal.  It is nice how quick you can get in and out of airports of this size though.  Then a 10 minute (if that) drive to the hotel and you are all set!

The first day we landed and were at the hotel by a little after noon. We went to pick up food supplies for the next few days (you know important stuff like peanut butter, nutella and bread).  After check in we drove over to Kata Tjuta (formerly called the Olgas). 

Quick little observation/commentary here.  So for those of you not in Australia and don't know a whole lot about the history here, there has been and in many ways still seems to be a lot of tension between Aboriginal people and other Australians.  This particular area is not Aboriginal land again.  However, this is all relatively recent when the land was "handed back" to them in 1985.  When white settlers first came they had renamed Uluru to Ayers Rock and Kata Tjuta to the Olgas.  Many people still refer to them by these names and have still not transitioned to calling them by their traditional names.  There is part of your history lesson for the day!

Okay, so we went over to Kata Tjuta and did a short walk called the Walpa Gorge Walk.  My pictures don't really do any of this justice, so you will just have to take my word that the land here is special.  I have never seen any landscape that looked anything like this anywhere.  It really was amazing. 

The Gorge.

I added this more as a reminder to myself when I look back... but any time you stopped to take photos or just look around, you were attacked by flies.  Not the type that will bite you, but super aggressive ones that just will not leave you alone!  I  stopped for the hubby to take my picture and they swarmed. 

This photo was from the hotel the next day as we were heading out.  These are early days here as it does get hot.  Even though it is just spring time now, temperatures were over 100 each day.  They suggest being done with any bush walks by mid-day.  Some of the longer walks, like the Valley of the Winds that we were doing this day will even close at 11am when the temperatures are too high.

Here we are on our way!  This was the first lookout point on the Valley of the Winds and where it closes later in the morning on hot days.

Random bird.

 Here was the second lookout point of the walk.  This isn't a really challenging walk by any means, but there are a couple tricky parts where you are just walking up steep parts of rock.  This was at the top of one of those slightly tricky parts of the walk.  Worth the effort.

The hubby- ready for a day of hiking in the heat.

Oh.  Hi kangaroos.

Sunset at Uluru.  There were bushfires all around while we were there and it made the sky look really hazy.  

The second full day we spent at Uluru.  We started with the Mala Walk where if you go early in the morning, there is a free guided tour by one of the park rangers.  It was great to have a bit more of a discussion about the importance of the land and history (besides what we had read about at the cultural center).

One comment about pictures of Uluru... because it is a sacred site, there are many parts of the rock that you are not allowed to photograph.  None of these pictures are from those areas.

The hubby contemplating life.

Another soap box commentary by yours truly.  The picture above shows the climb up Uluru.  This has been open for years and due to many reasons remains open today.  It is incredibly disrespectful to the Aboriginal land owners for this climb to be done.  This land is considered sacred and it is just in bad taste to climb it.  We discussed it during the morning tour and because of pollution from people making the climb up the rock, all the watering holes in the area are now contaminated with ecoli and many of the animals that had lived here are now gone.  The government is planning on closing the walk I believe she said in 2015, but they are trying to get this expedited.  Part of this is by proving less than 20% of visitors to the park actually climb.  By not climbing, you are in fact helping to get this closed sooner.  Okay off the soap box now :)

Sunset at Uluru- better than yesterday.

Our last night we did stargazing, which was incredible.  It ended up being a private tour because they initially thought it would be too hazy from the smoke.  It was hard to see along the horizon, but otherwise beautiful clear sky.  I am not skilled enough to have good night pics with the camera yet :(  I'm working on it.

The following morning we woke super early to drive out and watch sunrise.  Really pretty spectacular with all the smoky haze.

 Yay!  Outback adventure accomplished.  This will be a busy week for me.  Prep for our late housewarming/halloween party (which means if I am not too rushed while baking, several recipes) and then my sister is visiting the following week! So much fun stuff going on I can hardly contain myself!  

Hope everyone has a great week and check back soon for some more updates on life and fun halloween recipes.

Jervis Bay weekend and other Sydney adventures

A bit behind as usual...

I have had this entry all set to post for a couple weeks and just did not get around to it!

Here is the quick recap on Jervis Bay... Monday was Labour Day here in Australia.  This meant road tripping it down to Jervis Bay with some friends for the long weekend.  It was a great time relaxing and enjoying some time outdoors with friends.  

The hubby and I had never been to the Jervis Bay area and we were very excited.  It is only a few hours south of Sydney, but is one of those places that just feels worlds away.  

Here is a speedy view of the weekend via pictures!

We left after everyone finished work on Friday night and wanted to get on the road.  So we stopped about half-way there to get some food and look what we found.  Thats right.  The Outback in Australia.  And yes to answer your questions, we got the blooming onion and they have free refills.  Awesome.

This is the beach next to Hyams Beach (can't remember the name) these supposedly have the whitest sand in the world.  We all debated how they can actually establish this fact and did not come to any real conclusions.  There is a high amount of quartz in the sand that makes it so white.  It was in fact a very white sand, but I couldn't tell the difference between that and other "white sand" beaches I have been to on islands and such.  Still very beautiful though.

Another beach picture while I was wandering around.

 We all did a nice long bush walk through the national park area on the first day.  These are a couple pictures I took along the way...

My obsession with all sorts of signs continues...

Oh, hey dolphins... no big deal just swimming along near the beach.

Another shot of the dolphins passing by...

Flower on the beach

 We got a bit Australia'd here... we drove over to see a lighthouse thinking we would see a nice old lighthouse perched on a cliff.  Nope we got ruins of a creepy lighthouse with some old stories of a cursed family who used to live there.  Yeah, scary.

Pre-kayaking in the bay.  I didn't take my camera with me.  But we did see some more dolphins while we were kayaking... until a site seeing boat scared them away from us. 

 Last stop before heading home was a place called Sanctuary Point.  It was more of a nature reserve type area than a beach.  I really liked it... kinda felt like I was in the White Mountains of NH or something.  Just very peaceful...

Sunset as the weekend came to an end...

A few other random things from this quick getaway to this past weekend we spent in Uluru (that's coming up in the next  post!)...

MasterChef Live- Took a cooking class on Ricotta Hotcakes and Pears.  Super Yummy.

  These are from Maroon 5... Not very good pictures of my trying to zoom from my iphone... alas.  This was my second time seeing them live and it was awesome.  I think the hubby is a fan now.

Here is our friendly neighborhood bat.  He has moved into the wires across the street.  I like him.  I think he scares the possums and loud birds away :)