I turned 30!

20170916_142111Eeeek, I can’t believe it’s been four months since I last posted! How did that happen? This year is absolutely flying by with so much going on and so much change, but all good stuff. Now that the days are getting cooler and things are calming down a bit, I’m hoping to catch up and get some of the very exciting stories of my summer up onto the blog. Starting with the big birthday milestone!

I tuned 30 in August and nearly a month in, I feel like I have definitely done a lot of celebrating. I feel seriously fortunate to have so many awesome people in my life, thank you to all those who made my big birthday so special!

If you can’t spend weeks celebrating your 30th when can you? Here is what I got up to…21414668_10155674625242118_687928567844152297_oMy actual birthday was a Tuesday and pretty much business as usual; I made porridge for breakfast, worked, went to the usual meetings and played netball in the evening. I squeezed some special moments in too though. I opened pressies in the morning and Skyped my family, then got spoiled with gifts from my colleagues and had a nice lunch at work. I met Ben and friends for a quick bite of pizza after work before heading off to my netball game, although a little too full. We didn’t win the game but I have to let it slide, my pizza belly didn’t help.

Ben and I usually use our birthdays to take each other out for a fancy dinner, but this year with a few fancy dinners on the horizon for us we decided to go low-key and have an Italian meal around the corner from us on the Wednesday. After hectic days at work for both of us we relaxed over a bottle of wine and discussed how we would slowly reduce our meat consumption in the coming months (I’ll write more about this soon).

On Thursday I did my birthday shout at work with another colleague who was celebrating a couple of days after me. I was obsessed with having an American Birthday Cake from Costco after discovering it a few months earlier. So we got this sugary beast to share. I enjoyed it a lot! I would love to be able to make a cake like that.

Thursday night was spent with friends at a Thai restaurant Champor-Champor. Ben surprised me with a beautiful salted caramel & chocolate cake too. Two cakes in one day? I was in heaven.. and a sugar coma.

We then headed off to Cornwall for a week and I was again surprised with a little camp celebration. We popped champagne (thanks to my workmates) out of the chilly bin and had a lamington ice cream cake by the camp fire. This was also a pretty special holiday as Ben and I got engaged! More on that to come in another post. 20170827_Cornwall_Camping_Day1_0131We also dined out on my birthday celebrations at Rick Stein’s Seafood Resturant with some complimentary after dinner treats. I wouldn’t let anyone dip their fingers in the chocolate sauce as how good is that lettering?

I booked this meal three months in advance as we’re all big fans of Rick Stein and I would highly recommend it. The seafood is, of course, on point – I had a monkfish ceviche to start and an Indonesian seafood curry which was so good I didn’t want it to end. The staff were really friendly too and well versed, everyone we spoke to wished me Happy Birthday.  All in all a really nice meal.

Just before the celebrations were over we slipped in a visit to the theatre as Ben got me tickets for my birthday. We saw Aladdin, the new West End musical, which was fantastic. The genie is amazing and it is so true to the Disney animation. I was singing “I can show you the world…” all the way home…20170908_220639

Finally, 3 weeks after my actual birthday we went out and celebrated with friends. I booked a rooftop bar called Skylight which looked relaxed and fun and had gorgeous views. Last September it had been super warm and summery and I had been banking on weather like that this year too, but you always fail when you try to predict the weather right? We were pretty cold up on the roof but Pimms kept us warm as did the many blankets we scrounged from around the bar. It was such a fun venue; they taught us how to play croquet too.

So, how does it feel to be 30? My only answer to this is “Great!”. Really, I’m excited about what my thirties has in store for me. I keep telling people that I think I suit getting older. I have always been an old soul, my age is just starting to catch up with me.  20170916_141943

The purple card at the start of this post was made by my talented friend Keryn, and this blue one comes from Ange & Paul – thanks guys.

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Gifting Christmas Brownies

It can come as no surprise that I love baking. It is without a doubt my number one hobby. But as much as a love it, it does come with its downfalls; what is made has to be eaten and it usually doesn’t last. I know what you’re thinking – that doesn’t sound like a downfall at all..? But when people are on diets around you and you know you should be eating healthy yourself it can be very hard to justify baking so much.

So I always try to make the most of special occasions, whether that’s making Banoffee Cake for Thanks Giving, Chocolate Nut Bars as a house warming gift or a three tiered Baby Shower Cake! The best kind of baking is baking to share.

Last weekend we had our annual Christmas dinner gathering with what Ben and I dub the ‘Aussie Crew’. An affectionate name for the first group of friends we made when moving to London nearly five years ago. They’re mainly Aussies but of course there is us and some locals too. Every year we celebrate with a boozy pub dinner before people start flying out for summer Christmases (there is always someone in a big group of expats).

This year I took the chance to make everyone little parcels of brownies. I made the tags from Christmas themed images I have collected over the years. I struggle to throw anything remotely reusable away, so it’s always good to be able to make use of the little bits I’ve kept.20161126_friends_christmas_lunch_0040The brownie recipe I used was, of course, Edmond’s. There are two recipes for brownies in the Edmonds Cookbook; Chocolate Brownie which uses cooking chocolate and Coconut Chocolate Brownies which uses cocoa. As I didn’t have enough cooking chocolate I decided to make the coconut ones and sprinkle chocolate chips on top. The universe had other ideas though and I burned my first batch to a crisp, so I still don’t know what the Chocolate Coconut Brownies taste like. As I had used the last of my coconut, I remade the recipe without it and luckily, they still turned out well.

^^^ I asked Ben to try and capture the icing sugar dusting as I thought it would make a nice photo. I should have thought more about the background though.. oops!

Here is the recipe:

Coconut Chocolate Brownies

Ingredients

125g of butter

1/4 cup cocoa

1 cup icing sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

1/2 cup coconut

1/2 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Method

Melt butter in a medium sized saucepan. Add cocoa. Stir over a low heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and coconut. Sift flour and baking powder. Stir into mixture. Pour into a greased and lined shallow 20 cm tin. Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 30 – 35 minutes. Leave in tin for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Cut into bars and dust with icing sugar.

Note – It definitely did not need 30 minutes in my oven. We are slowly learning that our new oven is on the hot side though and especially on a fan bake option that is going to be a lot hotter than the oven that this recipe was written for. I would check after 15 minutes to avoid disaster – an overcooked brownie is the worst!

Oh and here is us in our festive hats and jumpers…

I can highly recommend these Racing Santa Christmas Crackers from Sainsbury’s too.

^^^ It all got quite competitive

I hope you all enjoyed your brownies guys. See you in the New Year!

6. Host friends for a grown up dinner party

20161119_195309Winner, winner, chicken (curry) dinner!

It has taken me a while to tick this item off my 27 List, after setting the goal in 2014, but last month I finally took the opportunity to make it happen. I chose a date, put out a Facebook invite to my netball mates and luckily some were free.

I cook dinner for friends quite often, and have done so many times in between 2014 and now but for this to feature on my goal list I decided it had to be planned, at a table and at least two courses.

I made three courses in the end, one main and two desserts! Desserts is always the easy part for me and as it was around Thanks Giving time I made two American desserts, Banoffee Pie which is possible my second favourite dessert (Pavlova is always first) and homemade peanut butter cups. I didn’t manage to take a pic of these, but they were so sweet and delicious.

I’m most proud of the curry I made for dinner though. It’s a recipe from Rick Stein’s India Cookbook. My friend bought this for me for Christmas one year when we were planning an epic trip to India* and it is one of my most used cookbooks. This is saying something because as you know, my baking books get a fair bit of use.

I made butter chicken with rice, naan and coriander, there was supposed to be beans too, but I forgot them. It got a thumbs up all round and filled us so completely we struggled to get a buzz on to go out dancing afterwards.

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20161119_210425Of course though, enough gin and prosecco will get you there eventually. We danced all night at Monarch in Camden. Saturday nights is ‘Songs from the movies’ themed so we were in our cheesy element.

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20161120_012110^^^ dancing to the Frozen anthem.. Let it go… Let it go…………………… !

Was a great night, thanks for joining me girls xx

*Note: We never went to India, it’s still on the travel wishlist… maybe one day.

Home: It is the people. It is the people.

He aha te mea nui o te ao
What is the most important thing in the world?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people
Maori proverb

You know when you learn a new word or phrase, and then all of a sudden it turns up everywhere?

Hutt River, Lower Hutt, New ZealandI recently came across this beautiful Maori proverb and since then, of course I have seen it everywhere since. It has already featured in this month’s #travellinkup. Pop over to Two Feet One World for another Kiwi’s take on home.

I have made a home in three countries so far and many different houses with different people and for me, what makes a place home is the connections I make and the little pieces I pick up along the way.

When I was preparing to leave New Zealand for the first time to live in Japan, I remember reading advice on how to combat homesickness. It said pack little things to remind you of home and make your new space feel familiar. Things like photos, special trinkets and even a pillow case. I took my second hand copy of Bridget Jones’s Diary and lots of pictures to put up on my wall. I got homesick a lot in my first year away in Japan and those things did help. Bridget never fails to make me laugh, all I have to do is read: 9st 1, alcohol units 2, cigarettes 0, calories 998 (excellent, v.g., perfect saint-style person) or the like I can’t help but crack a smile.

Fushimi Inari Temple- Kyoto JapanBut what helped more in that first year in a foreign country, was crossing the hall for dinners of miso fish and tofu with my fellow kiwi teacher, learning koto (a traditional Japanese harp instrument) and chatting over cake with a local housewife and spending weekends touring the prefecture I lived in with fellow foreign teachers. We would all congregate in a town for the night, cause general mayhem and party too hard, then crash for the night at the local teacher’s apartment. I knew I had to live in Japan first, I had to make my home where I was, by finding my people there.

I’ve made a lot of awesome memories throughout my travels, but what will always stick with me are those things that you never think to photograph. The normal daily life connections you make that make you feel at home. I remember the weekend nights watching The Voice and eating pimped out desserts in our Tottenham flat. My flatmate and I would buy ice cream and then add extra awesomeness to it like biscuits and cake. So good!

In my first flat in Wadestown, Wellington we would come together for Turbo Jam workouts in our only just large enough for four people lounge. In Lower Hutt it was Easter eggs + Greys Anatomy viewing with my sisters when I went home for Sunday dinner. Hangover curing breakfasts of fried herby potatoes, eggs and whatever else was available all over Yamagata prefecture, Japan. Most recently in Tufnell Park we’re walking down the road every Monday night to watch Game of Thrones and have freshly popped popcorn. Oh and having drunken sing-alongs to 90’s classics with our new flatmates. Long may they continue…

Home travel quoteThe little traditions are always changing, but the connections last.

My Facebook feed gives me political commentary from Northern Ireland, pregnancy updates from Canada and random life musings from Japan. I have a friend who blogs about crafting in Borneo and gorgeous architecture pictures pop up from a friend in Sydney. I get a once a year behind the scenes look at the Sydney Pride Parade which is always fabulous – I’m coming to watch in the flesh one year!  I wake up to picks of the ever growing animal menagerie in Upper Hutt and the award winning huskie and her lovely parents in Auckland pop up every once in a while. I catch up on #RICH living in Scotland and a Perth to Sydney cycle by someone who had barely ridden a bike before. A new baby in Toronto and girls nights in Melbourne. Sunsets from snowy mountains in Canazei, Italy and tourist-ing in Wellington.

20160325_Easter_In_Dover_Day2_0001I love these brief insights into everyone’s lives. Thank you to Facebook, Skype and good old snail mail for keeping the connections alive.

I often wish I could have all the awesome people in my life here with me in the UK but as the quote says, this is the price I pay for making connections as I have travelled. I’m glad we had the chance to make each other feel at home, wherever we were/are.

 

 

 

 

2. Watch the entire series of Sex and the City

_MG_0028I went one better, not only have I watched the entire series these past two months, I have also watched both movies and read all the behind the scenes trivia on IMDB. Apparently Sarah Jessica Parker, who plays Carrie, and Kim Cattrall, who plays Samantha, despised each other right from the first series. Who would have known?? I thought Carrie and Samantha were besties! Mind = blown.

I got quite attached to the ladies over the 94 episodes. Over 50 hours of TV, that I watched pretty much every evening I was home and some mornings, and well, well into the wee hours of the night often. I binge watched hard, and I loved every moment.

Sex and the City originally aired from 1998 – 2004, so I could have watched this as I grew up like most of me peers did. I would have been 17 when it finished and 21 when the first movie come out. I wonder what I would have made of it as my younger self, I’m sure I would have been so taken in by the glamorous lifestyles of the characters. But for what ever reason, most likely there was something Dad wanted to watch on another channel, I never saw it.

_MG_0034Yes, its super cheesy and so far removed from real life. It’s painfully 90’s in the beginning, too. There is an early episode where the girls all having lunch, as they often do, when Samantha brings up dildos. The other three are intrigued about this, which was endearingly quaint for me watching this nearly 20 years after it first aired. Brazilians, Botox and boob jobs are also covered off by Samantha as the series progresses, met with varying degrees of surprise by the other three, but would not raise an eyebrow with the viewers of today.

I found it sweet (Charlotte’s earnest hunt for The One), annoying (How many times will Carrie let Big hurt her?), unexpectedly topical (Miranda trying to prove herself in the ‘boys club’ law firm – she would totally be a feminist if written today), and hilarious (Samantha, always Samantha, the sushi dinner, the humpy dog, the condom incident in Abu Dhabi). I was chatting with a friend about Sex and the City the other day and she asked, ” So, which character are you most like?” and I came to the conclusion, as cliché as it sounds, that we’re all a little bit like all of them. Which is probably why I found the show unexpectedly relateable, considering my life comes no where near the glamour and drama that they experience evereyday.

The characters may be relatable, but their world is certainly not. Along the same lines as Desperate Housewives and Gossip Girl, Sex and the City portrays a life that could only exist on TV. Endless lunches and bar openings, ball gowns and pick up lines. It makes New York seem like an adult equivalent of Disney World, Big even takes Carrie through Central Park on a horse and carriage at one point. It’s an escape into a fantast world, and a fantasy wardrobe. Watching this series has sparked so many great conversations with friends and workmates. Whenever I am asked “What have you been up to lately?” I respond with something like “Watching Sex and the City! I’m addicted! I’m up to the part when……..” and we go from there. Usually ending up with ” OMG! I want all Carrie’s clothes… sigh… If only….”.

Finally though, and I am surprised to say, I’m going to get deep here. The part that really resonated with me was their friendships and in the end, ability to stay true to themselves. After the final credits rolled I was so moved I messaged my two best friends in New Zealand and set up a Skype date – thanks for being there ladies, miss you always.

The series ends, as it always does, with Carrie saying something ‘profound’. I say profound very loosely here as Carrie’s profound is usually something very flip like “Are we all just playing games?” or “Denial: Friend or Foe?” or my personal favourite “Are men just women with balls?” But with this statement she’s on to something.

“The most exciting challenging and significant relationship of all, is the one you have with yourself” – Carrie’s parting words in the final episode.

So, that was my surprisingly long review. I hope it inspires you to watch again, or like me, give it a go for the first time. Putting this on the list was an easy win for me, I knew I wanted to watch it, I knew it would be easy viewing and I knew I had a lot of free nights ahead of me to binge watch. I did not realise though how much I would gain through watching this show. What did you think of Carrie? Are you a fan of Sex and the City? Team Big or Team Aiden?

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I’m Team Aiden….