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!