With the end of the year less than 2 weeks away it’s time to start the yearly round-up posts. Today it’s my year in reading. As a side note, I’ve also published this post to my author page.

How many books did I read?

According to Goodreads, so far this year I’ve read 95 books – although there were others that didn’t make it to Goodreads. That’s a few less than last year – not that it matters.

Yes, that’s a lot of reading, but I read most afternoons for an hour after I log off from the day job – it’s the equivalent to the time I used to spend reading on the bus and helps me switch my brain out of corporate and into creative. I also read every night before I go to sleep. I read books instead of magazines at the hairdressers, at the beach, lying in or beside the pool. Plus this year I’ve had a couple of long-haul flights (during which I sleep precisely zero hours) and spent a reasonable amount of time in airports waiting for delayed flights to and from Sydney. It adds up.

And the ones that didn’t make it to Goodreads? Mostly genre romances that were devoured in an hour or so and are sweet but guilty pleasures – like vegemite and cheese on white bread with butter.

The longest book?

Ok, I’m not great with commitment, so the longest book I read was Erica James’ Love and Devotion at 536 pages. Again, according to Goodreads, my page count was greater than last year.

Any new series?

Absolutely. There was Debbie Johnson’s Comfort Café series, Jenny Colgan’s Mure Island series, E.V. Harte’s Tarot Detective series and Helen Pollard’s Little French Guesthouse series.

Additions to favourite series?

I was fortunate to get an advance copy for review purposes of Sulari Gentill’s latest Rowland Sinclair adventure, All The Tears in China. Thankfully there was also a new Rebus from Ian Rankin, In A House Of Lies and an addition to Anthony Horowitz’s Hawthorne tales with The Sentence Is Death.

Series I missed this year?

Nope. All good.

Thanks for the recommendation…

I rely on my book blogger friend Debbish for additions to my to-be-read pile, and she certainly didn’t let me down in 2018. A new bloggy friend – Sammy from The Annoyed Thyroid was also a reliable source of reading recommendations.

Any 5 star reads?

Yes – I was obviously feeling very generous this year as I handed out 5 stars to 17 reads. I’m not a great critic – if I’ve really enjoyed something it will get the marks from me. As for my favourites out of this list? That’s a tad tougher, but here is my top 10:

  1. The Land Before Avocado, Richard Glover
  2. Paris Is Always A Good Idea, Nicholas Barreau
  3. The Man I Think I Knew, Mike Gayle
  4. The Chilbury Ladies Choir, Jennifer Ryan
  5. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows
  6. Café By The Sea, Jenny Colgan
  7. The Wife Between Us, Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen
  8. A far Cry From Kensington, Muriel Spark
  9. Sunshine At The Comfort Food Café, Debbie Johnson
  10. Gardens Of Delight, Erica James

Close behind – and also with 5 stars – was Art of Friendship by Lisa Ireland and Three Gold Coins by fellow Sunshine Coastie Josephine Moon.

Any books adapted into a movie?

I tend not to read blockbusters – in much the same way that I tend not to watch anything nominated for an Oscar. I’m a bit of a reverse snob in this way. This means that often I don’t watch movie adaptations. This year, however, there was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – which I read before I watched the movie.

Genre-hopping?

I’m not normally a non-fiction reader, but, in addition to Richard Glover’s The Land Before Avocado, read some memoir this year – mostly foodie related, of course.

There was Nigel Slater’s Toast and Eating For England, and John Baxter’s A Paris Christmas and The Perfect Meal. Away from the foodie genre, I enjoyed Billy Connelly’s Billy, and Ailsa Piper’s Sinning Across Spain – Walking The Camino.

Craft books read?

No, not this year.

Any business books?

Nope.

What annoyed me this year?

I read way too many books this year where sub-plots were added late into a book for the sole reason of enabling the author to tie together loose ends. There were also too many books that told us in the last couple of chapters about the character’s growth without showing these traits throughout. Oh, look! She used to be like x, now she’s like y…that sort of thing. Show don’t tell.

This cost at least six books on my list from getting a 5-star rating.

What is concerning is that all were traditionally published yet they felt like they needed tightening editorially. Perhaps I only noticed because I’m aware that this is something I’m guilty of too – like typos in quickly cobbled together posts…whatevs..

2019?

I have some more non-fiction on my to-be-read pile and a couple of cookbooks that need to be actually read rather than flicked through. I’ve also added some food critics to my list – for research purposes and a couple of travel memoirs for dreaming purposes.

Book-related resolutions?

This isn’t great news for the authors that I support, but my resolution this year is to go three months without buying any books at all. I have books on my bookshelf – both physical and virtual – that are crying out for attention and yet last year (and the year before and the year before that and…you get the idea) spent the equivalent of a very good holiday on books and music. I intend to work my way through some of these this year. And yes, I said all of this last year too! Anyways I’ll revisit my progress (and my willpower) at the end of March. Oh, exceptions to this rule are books bought at airports which everyone knows don’t count. It goes without saying that if you decide to take on this challenge it will be with the exception of buying my books.

What about you? Any favourites? Recommendations? 

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishWrite of the Middle, and, of course, me.

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Our frangipanis are out!

So I missed wrapping up last week. I spent last weekend and most of last week in Sydney – we had a 60th birthday party to attend and, given that we’re staying in Queensland for Christmas, some family pre-Christmas catch-ups to do. Plus it was about time that I showed my face in the office for a few days. As much as I have this whole remote working from home thing down pat, it is still good to connect – we say words like “connect” in the workplace – with my colleagues.

It was also a good opportunity to see some city Christmas cheer – which is quickly forgotten when fighting the crowds in Pitt Street and George Street at lunchtime.

Anyways, we’ve got a couple of weeks to catch up on, so without further ado, let’s wrap this thing up.

What inspired me…

If you follow me on Instagram you’d know that most mornings hubby and I walk the Mooloolaba beach path down to the end of the rock wall. Return it’s about 5kms and we reward ourselves with coffee on the beach afterwards.

There’s this woman that we see running the path at least 3 mornings a week. I remember when she started back in the winter. Back then we could hear her labouring and coughing before we saw her, but she’d be back the next day and then the next. You could tell that it didn’t come easily, that every part of her must have been hurting, but still, she’d show up day after day.

Now she runs more easily and she’s looking great. I stopped her the other day just so we could tell her so and so we could tell her and a huge grin spread across her face. She thanked us and kept running.

Now when she sees us she smiles and wishes us good morning – she’s come so far she can breathe, talk and run at the same time. Amazing. Seriously though, she’s super inspiring. It would have been so easy for her to give up yet she didn’t and she hasn’t.

What I learnt…

That the collective noun for a group of toads is a “knot”. What else? That the snowdrop used to be used to treat headaches and is now being used in dementia drugs. The wonder of nature…

What I’m pleased about…

That I’ve finished all my Christmas shopping for the year. I needed to have it finished so the pressies could go under Mum’s tree. Let’s just say that we pushed those Jetstar luggage allocations to the absolute limit.

What I’m watching…

Christmas cooking specials on Foxtel. I just love them.

Where we ate scones…

At Aimee Provence up in Buderim Village. Sometimes you just need tea out of a proper cup and a proper scone with proper jam and proper clotted cream served on a proper cake stand. Also sometimes you just need to treat yourself and hubby to all of the above. I was feeling completely trashed when I got back from Sydney and this was the perfect antidote. I was still tired, but much happier.

What I cooked…

Given that I’ve been away, not much. There were these Christmas crackles that I saw on The Annoyed Thyroid’s website. They went down a treat with the staff at Neighbour’s Aid and even made it into the newsletter that I write each week for the day job.

I also made these star-topped tiny mince tarts. The mincemeat is made mostly from cranberry with some orange, port, and a few other dried fruits, and the pastry has orange juice in it. I’m not a fan of mince tarts, but hubby is and he’s given these bite-sized pieces of Christmas the tick of approval. It’s based on a Nigella recipe that you can find here. Just how gorgeous do the cranberries look? And no, I couldn’t get fresh ones, but this is a Nigella recipe and it’s okay to use frozen. Really.

Where I lunched…

I caught up with a friend who was visiting from Sydney – which gave me an excuse (as if I needed one) to pay a visit to Rice Boi at Mooloolaba. This visit I tried a couple of dishes that were new to me. One, the eggplant, I’d heard lots about but as I’m not a humungous eggplant fan – and nor are my family – I’d never ordered. What a revelation! Crispy eggplant chips with black vinegar caramel, wasabi sesame and spring onion. Yum.

What I wrote…

Again, not much. I’ve been spending some time doing a couple of modules on an Advertising For Authors course. I’m hoping that it will help me navigate the minefield that is Amazon and Facebook advertising.

I did, however, have the blinding flash of a new bright idea, but am reminding myself that I have to finish the last 2 books in my chick lit series before I can indulge myself in anything new.

The characters – and their story – have jumped fully formed into my brain so I’m making copious notes in the hope that I won’t forget about them between now and February. It’s a Christmas novel and the 2 dogs will be called Nigel and Nigella. I even have a title. Naturally, I have another book to write before I get to it, but hey…

What I blogged…

On this site, there was something about our Christmas tree, something about Christmas songs, something about Christmas cookbooks and something about a Christmas reading list.

And on Brookford, I’ve posted some new recipes:

Okay, that was my week and a bit…how was yours?

This post also appears on my author site, so if you think you’ve seen it before you probably have!

I’ll give you a rundown of my year in books next week, but for now, with Christmas just 10 days away, I’m reading only seasonal titles – just to get into the spirit of it all.

In fact, I’m so full of the spirit of the season that I’m planning my own Christmas novel. It will be full of food, love, and two dogs named Nigel and Nigella. As for the rest? Yeah, I haven’t got that far yet!

Anyways, without further ado here’s what’s in my kindle for Christmas…

A Gift From Comfort Food Cafe, Debbie Johnson – part of the fabulous Comfort Food Cafe series

Christmas At The Comfort Food Cafe, Debbie Johnson – ditto

A Paris Christmas, John Baxter – a book about one man’s search to plan and source the perfect French Christmas dinner

Christmas at Claridges, Karen Swan – which, disappointingly, isn’t really about either Christmas or Claridges.

The Christmas Secret, Karen Swan – which, much more pleasingly, is about both Christmas and a Scottish whisky distillery.

Mistletoe and Murder, Carola Dunn – part of the Daisy Dalrymple series

The Mother Of All Christmases, Milly Johnson – I thought this one would be a lot more predictable than it has turned out to be…thankfully. What I’ve loved is re-meeting a whole host of characters from her previous (stand-alone) novels.

The Christmas Wish, Tilly Tennant – on my to be read by Christmas or over the Christmas break pile

An Island Christmas, Jenny Colgan – on my to be read by Christmas or over the Christmas break pile

Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery, Jenny Colgan – on my to be read by Christmas or over the Christmas break pile

Ok, that’s my Christmas reading list – what’s on yours?

Although we live in South East Queensland, when I think of Christmas cooking and Christmas tables my mind turns to the northern hemisphere.

It stands to reason then, that the food I read about and the recipes I want to cook are also from that part of the world – although on Christmas Day itself we’ll be having a mix of traditional roasts and fabulous Queensland seafood.

As for my favourite Christmas cookbooks? These are the ones I turn to – plus a couple of new books that I’m suspecting will become favourites too.

Delia Smith’s Christmas

This book was first published in 1990, and I bought my copy not many years after that. To say that it’s a classic would be a massive understatement.

The Christmas cake that I make year after year comes from this book – as does the savoury pinwheels we have every Christmas morning and the little sausage rolls. I also particularly like the chapter on chutneys, preserves and pickles – although the piccalilli I made this year didn’t come from this book.

In a way, it’s like a Christmas handbook – full of Delia practicality and lists – that takes you from prep beginning in October all the way through to Boxing Day leftovers.

Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook

I’ve bookmarked a couple of new recipes to try over the next few weeks, but I turn to this book when I’m after ideas for veggies, sides, canapes and ideas of things to do with leftovers. Jamie can turn a parsnip or a sprout into an event.

This is a massive book full of Jamie’s trademark rustic styled food pics and plenty of variations on the base recipes. That’s probably the thing I love most about a Jamie book – the way he provides an idea plus gives you potential jumping off points to amp it up even more.

An absolute must for your Christmas bookshelf.

Nigella Christmas

The sub-title says it all – Food, Family, Friends, Festivities.

Given that Nigella has included a Christmas chapter in most of her books I have to admit that I assumed that this book would be simply an amalgamation of all of those recipes in one place. I assumed wrong. This book is huge and the recipes are all new.

Of course, given that Nigella generously shares so many recipes on her webpage you could just as easily grab many of these from there, but to do so would be to miss out on the experience of this book – and Nigella cookbooks are more than recipes.

From think-ahead Christmas preserves to casual suppers, seasonal baking, Christmas parties, the day itself and leftovers, Nigella has you beautifully and ever so gloriously covered.

Don’t, however, overlook the Christmassy chapters in her other books. If you do you’ll miss out on treats such as snow-flecked brownies (Feast), parmesan shortbreads (Nigellissima) and cider and 5 spice bundt cake (Simply Nigella).

As an aside, I have Nigella’s How To Eaton my Christmas list. I’ve been reading Nigella since she used to write for British Vogue and yet somehow I’ve never bought myself this book – or seen it in second-hand shops. That situation needs to be rectified.

Fortnum and Mason – Christmas and other Feasts, by Tom Parker Bowles

Okay, this is one of two newbies to my shelf and I have to admit that I haven’t yet made anything from it. It’s an accidental iBooks purchase that found its way into my digital trolley when I wasn’t looking – okay when I was drooling over the Christmas windows in F&M’s Instagram feed.

To a large extent, this is a tad how the other half lives, but that’s true to their brand. To read this is to be immersed in an almost dream-like fantasy of the perfect English Christmas. It’s an England of grouse, goose and game; of potted stilton, Bramley apples and clementines. It’s also an England of sage toad in the hole with pigs in blankets and onion gravy or marmalade and almond tart.

Perhaps it’s because we’re planning Christmas in The Cotswolds next year or perhaps I’m in the early stages of imagining a Christmas novel, but the illustrations and the words really set my imagination flying. Come the new year I’ll be scouring Booktopia to see if I can get a hard copy of this one – purely for research, of course.

The Christmas Chronicles, by Nigel Slater

This is a book of words, stories, and notes. And that’s what I love about a Nigel Slater kitchen diary – which is, essentially, what this is – I get so tied up in the reading that the cooking comes secondary. Of course, it doesn’t have to, but this is the kind of book where you’re in the middle of something else and think “why don’t I make that ricotta and filo cheesecakey thing? The one where the pastry shatters everywhere?”…or something like that.

It hasn’t been out for long and I could only get a digital copy to read on my laptop, but it’s one that I’ll be putting an order in for the hardback version of – again, it’s for research purposes. In fact, I think the dogs in my Christmas novel might just be named Nigel and Nigella. Too much?

A Paris Christmas, by John Baxter

This isn’t a cookbook as such, but it is a book about Christmas food.

I bought this one in the second-hand section of Shakespeare & Co in Paris. After browsing in the shop we’d sat outside in the sun and had a coffee and watch the crowds across in Notre Dame. It was when I was coming out of the poky little toilet afterwards that I saw it and, at 5 euros, snapped it up immediately. I think I read somewhere that John Baxter – an Australian who married a Parisian – lives somewhere around the Left Bank not far from Shakespeare & Co…although that’s by the by.

Essentially this book follows the author as he plans and sources the ultimate Christmas feast for his extremely fussy French family. Along the way he tells a story of tradition, produce, with a few non-recipes woven into the words. Just beautiful.

The books I’d like to see under my tree on Christmas Day…

The cookbooks on my Santa list this year are:

  • Cellar Bar, Guy Grossi
  • How to Eat A Peach, Diana Henry
  • Simple, Ottolenghi
  • How To Eat, Nigella
  • Time, Gill Meller
  • First, Catch, Thom Eagle
  • Completely Perfect, Felicity Cloake

 

What about you? Do you have a favourite Christmas cookbook? 

This post first appeared on my foodie blog – Brookford Kitchen Diaries…

Mr T is Scottish. He was born in a place called Falkirk – it’s near Stirling – but he can’t even fake an “auch aye” these days. Nor does he like whisky. I know – it’s tough to imagine such a thing. Thankfully I’m happy to contribute to the profits of Scotland’s distilleries on his behalf. The sacrifices I’m prepared to make for that man…

There are, however, some things from his heritage that remain constant – one of these is potato or tattie scones. To refer to these as “scones” is, however, a misnomer. They don’t look anything like what you’d have at tea with jam and cream. For a start, they’re flat. They’re a little like a pikelet or a blini but rather than the batter being dropped into the pan, the dough is rolled flat – like a flatbread – and cut into “bannocks” (round plate-sized circles) and then “farls” (triangle-like segments). The farls are then cooked on a griddle – or “girdle” – or a pan.

Traditionally these would have been made with leftover potato. In her book Recipes from Scotland (1947), F. Marian McNeill explains: “In cottage homes, these scones are usually made just after the midday meal when the left-over potatoes are still warm.” It’s actually important that the potato is still warm but not too hot – hot potatoes can absorb too much flour. Warm potatoes give you a light and floppy scone. Yesterday’s cold leftover potato, however, results in an entirely different texture to the end result – something more like the ones that you buy in the supermarkets in England and Scotland. Still good, but different. The type of potato you use is important too – the more floury the better. A waxy potato can result in a gluey, sticky dough. Here in Australia varieties to look for are King Edward, Sebago, Coliban, Golden Delight and Desiree.

Another tip? If you’re cooking your potatoes from scratch, let them sit in the pan for a little while after they’re cooked and drained to steam so they’re as dry as it’s possible for them to be before you start working with them.

So, how do you eat them? I can only imagine how much a treat these must have been on a cold Scottish afternoon – spread with butter and jam and eaten with a cup of strong tea by a fireplace…preferably a fireplace that had a dog lying in front of it. We eat them like that – minus the cold Scottish afternoon and the fireplace, of course.

In Scotland they’re commonly served as an essential part of a proper cooked brekky – they fold beautifully to mop up runny egg and bacon fat.  Yes, that came out loud. Unfortunately, they tend not to last long enough for cooked breakfasts in our house – despite our best intentions. They are, however, part of our Christmas tradition – and making them is hubby’s Christmas Eve ritual. We have them with smoked salmon, sour cream and a little dill or red onion for breakfast while we’re unwrapping presents – accompanied by champagne, of course. img_5819 Oh, and for those of you who’ve read Wish You Were Here, I lent Max the recipe – she prepares some of these in Chapter 2. With apologies to gluten-free readers, here’s how it’s done.

What you need…

This makes enough for our family of 3 to gobble relatively quickly. Feel free to double the recipe as you see fit. You need just 3 ingredients:

  • About 250g of well-mashed potato – hubby puts them through a potato ricer, but this isn’t essential.
  • 1 tablespoon butter, about 25g I suppose
  • about ½ cup of plain flour

…oh, and some salt and pepper…

What you do with it…

While the spuds are slightly cooled (really hot potatoes will absorb too much flour and give you a doughy result), stir in the butter, and the seasoning. img_5791 Work in as much flour as the potato will take to become a pliable dough. I do this with my hands, but hubby doesn’t like getting his dirty… It’s best to start with half the flour and then add a little more until you get the right consistency. Too little flour and they won’t roll, and too much and you’ll get a raw, floury taste rather than a light potatoey taste. img_5793 Divide the dough into smaller balls and roll each out thinly. If you want to, use a plate to cut into a round bannock. As you can see from the pic below, we tend to take a more free-form approach. Cut into farls and prick the surface with a fork.   Heat a heavy-based frying pan, brush the surface with a little oil – although traditionally you wouldn’t have needed any fat on the girdle. Is it just me or does that sound very wrong? They should take about 3-4 minutes on each side – or until golden. Once cooked, cool in a clean tea-towel…

or eat immediately with lots of butter…

I had a different post to this scheduled for today – a recipe for potato scones; a Christmas tradition in our house. Instead, I’ve decided to spread a little Christmas cheer and talk about Christmas carols.

I’ll be honest: with very few exceptions, I never used to like them. I wanted to, but other than a soft spot for Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” – the vinyl of choice when we were growing up – they all seemed a tad…ummm…. stuffy. Although every time I hear “Frosty The Snowman” I think of one of my sisters who only knew the line “Frosty the snowman had to hurry on his way” and would play it over and over and flipping over.

These days I’m partial to a good Christmas song and have a playlist ready to go for the 1st Sunday in December all the way through until after Christmas lunch. I even have a secret – okay, not so secret now – wish to hear a choir in a church somewhere snowy and cold sing the traditional ones. One day.

Anyways, here’s my top 5 – in no particular order…

1. Do They Know It’s Christmas?

The original Band Aid version, of course.

This came out at a time when I was discovering my political leanings. I remember hearing about the food surpluses in the West and the starvation in Africa and was appalled. It was only many years later that I really began to understand the complexities of the situation.

I can still pick the voices of each artist.

2. Wham’s Last Christmas

Daggy but true. The original and the best.

I also like most of the cover versions – even Taylor Swift’s – which isn’t that great and Cascada’s – which is.

3. All I Want For Christmas is….

This is the only song by Mariah Carey that I can listen to without wincing.

I love the version in Love Actually, which is, actually, one of my favourite movies. I even like…and promise you won’t tell anyone…Justin Bieber’s duet of this with Mariah. Sad but true.

I can’t help but do a boob shimmy when the bells jingle in the start and always – even when I’m out – am tempted to try and hit that high note. My daughter tells me I fail to reach it. (Actually, what she really says is quite rude and unrepeatable – and unfair.)

4. It Doesn’t Often Snow At Christmas, The Pet Shop Boys

Given that I love pretty much everything PSB have ever done it stands to reason I’d adore this too. And I do. If you haven’t heard it, youtube it stat.

5. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home), Michael Buble

Choosing a favourite from the Bubble-man’s list is difficult, but this one is just so hopeful.

The best of the rest?

Happy Christmas (War is Over), John Lennon; A Wonderful Christmastime, Paul McCartney; Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Kate Ceberano and David Campbell; White Christmas, Michael Buble or Bing Crosby; and It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas, another one by the Bubble. Who am I kidding? His entire Christmas album is an absolute classic. A new fave is She & Him’s Christmas albums (volume 1 and 2). If you haven’t come across these guys before they have a real retro 60s need a martini to go with that sort of sound – and do a fabulous version of The Christmas Song, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, and I’ll Be Home For Christmas.

What about you? Are you a fan of the carol? If so, what’s your fave?

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishWrite of the Middle, and, of course, me.

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I remember the first Christmas tree Mr T and I had.

It was for the Christmas of 1989. We’d been together for about 6 months and he’d moved in – or rather, stopped going home. We decorated an indoor “happy” plant with tinsel and put pressies around the pot. It was special.

When we moved into our own house just before Christmas the following year, we invested $20 in a 2nd hand tree and started collecting decorations. The Christmas I was pregnant with Ms T we started the tradition of buying a new ornament each year – I still remember buying this gorgeous glass ball from DJs in the city. The following year she chose her first ornament – pointing to this gold bear from her pram.

Over the years she’s chosen the cupcake Santa, the Surfing Santa, the parachuting Santa and a variety of bells and baubles. Her favourite is still the Ted Baker very glam ball we bought in Melbourne in 2014.

There are the ornaments that remind us of people and places. The pandas I brought home from Hong Kong when I was there doing a relocation for work (2008), the pottery bird from the handmade markets in Perth when I was there doing another relocation for work (2009), and the pohutukawa my friend brought over from NZ. Whenever I hang that – and another I’ve bought since – I think of her and my “adopted” country.

In 2015 we brought 2 back from London: a suitcase with a map that was a reminder of the major project Miss T had done for the HSC that year and a cocker spaniel that we splashed out on in Liberty. It’s a posh cocker spaniel and looks nothing like Kali, Adventure Spaniel, but a spaniel it is. This year we brought back a rolling pin and gingerbread recipe from the Christmas shop in Brugge.

In 2017 we went for a dolphin and sea turtle to remind us that we’d moved to Queensland. The theme was continued this year with a jellyfish and seahorse. We also threw financial caution to the wind this year and blew nearly $20 on the Villeroy & Boch angel in the top pic. The tinsel and the beads have all come from discount stores. At Christmas more definitely is more.

The year Kali, Adventure Spaniel, was still quite puppyish, we hung bells on the bottom row so we’d know when she’d gone under the tree to steal presents. She never chewed anything, just carried them away – one by one – to stockpile them in her favourite hiding spot.

We upgraded the original $20 fake tree some years ago with another fake tree, and decorating it on the first Sunday in December has become one of the traditions we’ve created for our little family. We pop the cork on a bottle of bubbly, prepare platters of nibbly bits (that we serve on ceramic trays that Miss T has painted over the years), and load the Christmas music playlist onto the phone – making sure that there are at least four copies of each of my favourite songs, and absolutely none of the ones I dislike the most…naturally I have a list.

Then we put the tree up. Hubby and Ms T usually have at least one argument about how she doesn’t read his mind and know exactly what ornament he wants her to pass next. Ms T usually has at least one comment about how I’ll never manage to hit the high notes on Mariah’s version of All I Want For Christmas and how I don’t need to do the boob wobble every time I hear the jingly bit at the start. We’ll argue about which power cord is the one that shorts the rest of the house and how hubby thought we were going to label it as such last year. After the tree has been put up Ms T and I take our music and glasses of Baileys on ice into the TV room and sit on the floor and wrap presents.

I love looking at the Instagram pictures of beautifully coordinated trees and admit to a sort of envy – but I don’t really have the focus required to remain envious for long. Besides, our tree and its chaotic mix of mismatching themes and colours – with a memory in every single last bauble – suits us perfectly.

What about you? Are you more mix or more match when it comes to Christmas trees?

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishWrite of the Middle, and, of course, me.

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The week – in a photo (or 2) a day

It’s another hot one here today – summer has definitely arrived. We began the week in Canberra celebrating the life of one taken too soon and ended it with celebrations of an entirely different sort. It was, to be sure, a topsy-turvy sort of week. So, without further ado, let’s wrap it up…

What I’m loving…

Colour. It’s all around at the moment.

There was the colour in the street and pavement art in Canberra at the beginning of the week

the colour in our long-awaited frangipani (even if I am too short to get a decent photo)

and the colour in the flame trees and poinciana.

What I’m grateful for…

Ducted air-conditioning and a pool.

What I wrote…

Nothing – that is nothing more in my novel. I just couldn’t. As a result, I didn’t get to my 50,000 words this November. I did, however, get in the low 40ks so all is absolutely not lost.

What I read…

With a couple of flights and a good amount of waiting time, I got through a few books. The final one – Paris Is Always A Good Idea – I demolished in the pool yesterday and today. I would have read it quicker if I didn’t have places to go and people to see.

What I celebrated…

Yesterday was a big day for celebrations. We had an 80th birthday lunch down at Mooloolaba Wharf and the Christmas party for the charity that my daughter works for and my husband volunteers for – Neighbour’s Aid.

Each year they do a Christmas party to celebrate and thank the volunteers – and there are a few hundred of them.

The Neighbour’s Aid philosophy is to change the lives of children – one at a time. They’ve established schools, medical facilities and run employment programs for women and children in India, Milawi, Kenya, and Israel, with the idea behind each project to try and break the cycle of poverty.

What I cooked…

My Christmas cake – a couple of weeks late, but at least it was done. The recipe I use is Delia Smith’s – or Saint Delia as we refer to her in our house. It’s from my favourite Christmas cookbook, but you can also find the recipe online here.

I also made some savoury pinwheels from this book. They’re little palmiers with pancetta and cheese and we have them twice a year – on the first Sunday in December when we put the Christmas tree up, and on Christmas morning for breakfast. Another part of that tradition is potato scones – but I’ll tell you about them another time.

Speaking of which…

The Christmas tree was put up today…but more on that on Thursday…

Okay, so November was a mix of emotions – some high, some low. It was also the usual mix of work and play, so without further ado, let’s wrap it up…

November in photos…

My photo a day…plus some… for each of the weeks in November.

What I was proud of…

Getting Happy Ever After out into the world. Thanks to everyone who has bought it so far. If you did buy it and did enjoy it, it would help me a lot if you popped a quick review on Amazon – you don’t need to write anything, just the stars would be fine. If you haven’t got a copy yet, this link will take you to your Amazon store and both ebook and print options.

What I wrote…

Not 50,000 words as I’d originally planned. My nanowrimo began at Sydney Airport while I was waiting for a flight home and has ended with just over 42,000 words in my new novel It’s In The Stars. It’s Alice Delaney’s story and the final instalment in my chick-lit series. We first met Alice by a pool in Ubud in Baby, It’s You and this book pretty much kicks off at that point.

blank screen = new book

Where I travelled…

Hubby and I had a weekend in Brisbane doing a lot of walking, some Christmas shopping and much eating of dumplings.

We also had an unscheduled trip to Canberra to attend a funeral. As sad as the occasion was, it allowed us to catch up with old friends and to pay a pre-Christmas visit to my mother-in-law.

What I read…

In no particular order…

My read of the month was definitely The Land Before Avocado

What I listened to…

I’m a bit behind on podcasts at the moment, but Richard Fidler’s “Armistice Day” series on the ABC was absolutely fabulous. So incredibly well-researched and told in the way that only Fidler can.

What I watched…

Mamma Mia 2 and Guernsey Potato Peel Society on DVD.

I also began watching Bodyguard on Netflix, and have been doing some procrastiwatching of old episodes of Lewis.

What’s confused me…

Trying to work out how to make advertising work on Amazon in order to sell more books so I can afford to keep writing. I’m getting a handle on things like keywords and cost per click and impressions, but can’t seem to crack the click-throughs so obviously need to work on my tag-lines and ad copy. See, even the attempted explanation of why I’m confused is confusing!

Some bloggy changes…

I went back to the future and separated my blogs again.

All travel and lifestyle related posts are now all here and writing and books are at Joannetracey.com. I still have some work to do on the author site in order to make it into a showcase for my books, but we’re getting there.

I’ve also been gradually transferring across my France blogs and they have a new home here.

What’s cute…

All the baby scrub turkeys scratching away in the undergrowth. So ugly they’re cute I actually have an admiration at the survival of these chicks who hatch out and have to fend for themselves right from the start.

New to us foodie places…

We had a big foodie month at a few places that were new to us. Normally we eat out twice a week – Friday nights (usually at our local club) and Sunday lunch. The deal is to keep the cost of the main meal below $20-$25. This month because we were away so much the frequency went up…it’s no wonder that I struggle to lose weight!

Aside from a few relatively boring and over-priced hotel meals here are the highlights:

Juan Fifty – a Mexican at Alexandra Headland. I wrote a bit about it for the Sunny Coast blog.

Dutch croquettes for breakfast at the Riverside Markets in Brisbane…

Dumplings at Tang Dynasty in Mooloolaba and New Shanghai in Brisbane

A pot of tea at Sweethearts at Eudlo…also on the Sunny Coast blog

Breakfast at Eumundi Markets…

Green food at Homegrown in Palmwoods…again, it’s also on the Sunny Coast blog

Noodles at Dickson Asian Noodle House in Canberra

The meal that we enjoyed possibly the most though, was last night’s barbecue of steak and salad on the beach. With the summer holidays nearly here, it won’t be long before it’s too crowded holidaymakers.

What I cooked…

Quite a bit as it turns out…

We had friends over for lunch or dinner a few times during the month, giving me an excuse to try out some new salads – like the beetroot salad in the pic below – do crispy crackling pork belly and bake both a chocolate pavlova and a lemon curd pav. I even made my own lemon curd. Unfortunately, the lemon curd pav got eaten before I could get a decent photo. I haven’t posted the recipe for this one yet.

We also experimented with some new noodle salads and Asian style soups. My favourites for the month were this spicy duck broth, the lunchtime noodles that were ready in 10 minutes, and these little apple cucumbers that I ate as snacks.

I also made piccalilli for Christmas. I must remember to put a jar in my suitcase to take down for Mum next weekend…

That was my November…how was yours?

There are flowers everywhere for those who want to see them…

We’ve been in Canberra earlier this week for our friend’s funeral – I spoke about that in my wrap-up of last week.

My husband has known R since about 1973. She was about 4 years old when hubby (who was then 12) and his family moved in across the road. Hubby’s best mate is her big brother. It became one of those connections where the kids grow up together and virtually adopted each other. Hubby is part of the family.

When hubby and I began dating back in 1989, it was R (then 20) and her elder siblings who I needed to get the seal of approval from. Luckily I passed the intense scrutiny and we’ve all been friends ever since.

So yes, this has been a tough and deeply sad time – as these things are. There’s no point pretending otherwise – we honour her with our grief.

The thing is though, Robbie was an artist – using both paints and textiles. She loved colour and she loved nature. When she was married she had the ceremony in the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery. It was therefore fitting that when we said farewell to her, it would also be in a garden with a view of the mountains, the sound of birds and the tinkling of water from the fountain in the background. It was as beautiful and as respectful a goodbye as was possible at a time of such sadness – and truly celebrated her life and all she had achieved in her art, her advocacy, and her family.

Her husband said something like how today a little bit of fabulousness has gone from the world so we all need to be a little bit more fabulous and look for the fabulous to make up for it.

That’s why I’ve used the quote above. It’s attributed to the French artist Henry Matisse who at the time had undergone surgery that had left him frequently bedridden. Rather than complaining about his lot he instead experimented with new techniques and colours to produce something completely new and fresh.

Il y a des fleurs partout pour qui veut bien les voir / There are flowers everywhere for those who want to see them.

It feels very fitting. It was also a reminder to look for the colour, light and joy in the everyday. Although our trip to my husband’s hometown wasn’t a happy one this time, there were still things to love in a city that we both still enjoy visiting.

1.Catch-ups with friends and family. We moved away from Canberra back in 1992, yet it’s incredible and gratifying how some relationships can be picked up in an instant – despite an absence of many years.

2. Blue days and cool mornings. Summer has well and truly arrived in South-East Queensland, yet the overnight temperatures in Canberra were still single figures and very refreshing – with none of the humidity we already have. We stayed at Olims Mercure Canberra – where I spent the night before our wedding nearly 25 years ago.

3. The street art in Civic. This one laneway had a superhero theme and the colour was quite spectacular.

4. This painted sidewalk in Petrie Plaza.

5. Dickson Asian Noodle House. Dickson has so many great Asian restaurants – when we were living in Sydney and visiting for the weekend, this was always our Sunday lunch stop on the way out of town. Thankfully nothing has changed.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishWrite of the Middle, and, of course, me.

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