Making the Christmas Cake

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Every year in October I get out the family Christmas Cake recipe and make a list of what I need to buy. I soak the dried fruit in brandy until the first week of December when I make the cake.

We invert the jar regularly and slowly most of the brandy is absorbed.

I make two cakes as we are all keen Christmas Cake eaters and I love serving it to visitors during the festive season. I use half the soaked fruit in each cake. The other ingredients are  eggs, milk, butter, raw sugar, ground cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, ground ginger, essence of almond, pure vanilla, some salt and some bi carb soda. Add sieved plain flour and then some of the brandy strained off the dried fruit and mix.

Blanched almonds for the decoration. Pour hot water over the almonds and minutes later the skins will peel off.

Cherries for decorating the top, too. I wash the syrup off so they don’t sink to the bottom of the batter.

Everyone stirs the cake and makes a wish.

The cakes ready for baking. They take about three and a half hours to cook in a slow oven.

Christmas Cakes. I’ll drizzle the remaining brandy over them for the next two weeks. They smell very, very good.

Today is Lost and Found Day. The idea is to encourage you to return anything you’ve found or to make an extra effort to find something you have lost. Did you know Napoleon Bonaparte opened the first Lost and Found Office, in Paris?

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Moving to the Country

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We spent Sunday in the country where my brother and sister in law have bought a property. Beverley was one of the early areas to be settled by Europeans in Western Australia and is 140 km east  of Perth. It took less than two hours to drive there. I’ve been imaging a couple of donkeys in the paddock behind the house, my brother thinks a unicorn would be better.

There’s an impressive range of goods and services, sporting opportunities, medical and aged care and a District High School available in Beverley.

The local airfield is home to the Beverley Soaring Society, the second biggest gliding club in Australia. Really interesting to watch and looks like great fun.

Delicious marinated beef salad for lunch. My sister in law has a great chook ( chicken) run and has already planned the vegetable garden. There’s a very old fig tree, an apple tree and grape vines. They have a big concrete rainwater tank to water the garden. Lucky!

Great street art in the main street of Beverley which is in the area known as the Wheatbelt, so surrounded by wheat and sheep farms.

The Kookaburra, an iconic Australian bird with a laugh-like call is related to kingfishers. Looks so good on the side of this building.

A red brick building in the main street of Beverley with an ubiquitous jacaranda tree. Country towns exhibit a wide range of building styles, including colonial, Art Deco and modern. Many of the older buildings, such as banks, post offices, town halls and churches are restored and maintained.

These towns also feature wide main streets, old buildings, strip shopping and many sporting opportunities.

Buildings in York, a nearby town.

Magnolia season. This is a Magnolia Grandifloria, a large very attractive tree which blooms from early November. It has a lemon scent and smells very nice. We took six with us to Beverley so they can plant an avenue of magnolias along the drive.

Also jacaranda season, so clouds of purple blooms with matching carpets of fallen petals underneath. These trees are very common and very pretty.

Today is Systems Engineer Day. They make an enormous contribution to the world every day, working on numerous complex projects such as spaceship design, computer chip development, robotics, software integration and even bridge design.

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So Singapore

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A fish fillet arranged on a sliced, roasted potato. Pretty, delicious. Like so many modern Asian cities, it is very easy to eat well in Singapore, from Hawker stalls to five star restaurants. This one had a view over Marina Bay, now the financial centre of Singapore. In the 19th century it was where the British and Chinese settlers established their businesses.

Singapore is a thriving, bustling city. If you’ve already done the night zoo, the bird park, breakfast with the animals, Gardens by the Bay and Sentosa, there’s many gardens to visit, art galleries  and museums, historical buildings and breathtaking new ones, plus masses of shopping opportunities and, of course, eating! We like the bum boat trip from Clarke Quay because you really can see how things have evolved in older areas.

The buildings go up, up, up.

Restored shop houses.

It’s hot and humid in Singapore. Cooling down treats.

Loved the parquetry in our hotel  and the room full of balloons. It was my birthday!

My husband ate his own weight in satay sticks at Lau Pa Sat Festival Pavilion across the road from our hotel.

Corridor, old Supreme Court, now the National Gallery.

This is the new National Gallery of Singapore, opened in 2015. It houses the largest collection of South East Asian art, consisting of over 8 000 artworks. The building is fabulous. There is a modern, central section amalgamating the original Supreme Court and the Town Hall. Clever, interesting and eye catching, the gallery offers guided tours of the building, featuring the history, the public selection of the  French architect who designed the connection of the two buildings and many other points of interest. Allow two hours plus time to look at each gallery.

From the roof terrace of the gallery showing the very old, St Andrew’s Cathedral, and the new towers of Singapore.

Abalone, prawn and fish balls on spicy noodles, served with a bowl of clear soup.

A Paris moment in Singapore: coffee and passionfruit macaroons.

I was scared stiff by the prices here, too.

Some interesting furniture in our hotel. Quite funny watching people sit on  the settee. Mainly appealed to children.

Amazing carpaccio of Hokkaido Sea Scallops, tarama (fish roe), chive oil and grated yuzu ( a tart citrus).

This tiramisu had banana bread, creme de cacao, mascarpone and cocoa nibs, plus fresh raspberries on top.

Hotel flowers. Very beautiful.

These babushka dolls in our hotel room represent the major ethnic groups in Singapore. Purple represents Indian, 9.1%, the green represent Malay, 13.3% and red represents Chinese, 74.2%.

Street art explaining Singapore’s history.

To the roof top bar for grapefruit martinis, well, because we’d never had them before!

I had dim sum for breakfast every day and this night, dim sum for dinner, too. Freshly made and steamed, it is irresistible! Food hall cuisine.

Tomorrow is World Petroleum Day. Petroleum is not just used in our cars, but is also the key ingredient in plastics, detergents, rubber, fertilizers, pesticides, paint, photographic processes, make-up, candles and many medicines. The supply of petroleum is finite, so Petroleum Day gives us the opportunity to consider alternatives.

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In The Southern Hemisphere …..Spring Means Open Gardens

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Open Gardens allow entrance to some of the finest private gardens and occurs only once or twice a year. The entrance fee is usually directed to the owner’s preferred charity. Each is a wonderful opportunity to see gardens that are often behind houses  you’d never get to visit. Generally the owners have spent months getting their garden ready for inspection. Often they are in the garden when it is open to the public and can identify plants and ideal growing conditions and talk about the evolution of their garden. The city garden above was calm and green and peaceful. Beautiful.

The rest of the gardens featured were on the Ferguson Valley Open Garden Trail through Boyanup, Lowden and the Ferguson Valley. We were blessed with lovely weather, good pub food and interesting gardens.

The gardens are in rural areas and were various sizes but all bigger than a suburban block in the city. Several fronted lakes or river beds . They were all great to visit.

The gardens varied in age, with one evolving over the past ten years and others being much older and added onto at various times.

The older gardens grew mostly European plants, some were a blend of both European and native Australian plants, like this bottle brush flower.

Roses grow so well in this region. Not photographed but all the gardens had vegetable gardens, mostly in raised beds. There is very good soil in this locale and the gardens are green and lush.

Some of these gardens were on a grand scale, some were gardens which had just grown to fill the available space.  Scent and colour everywhere. Most of the gardens had plants for sale, many had Devonshire teas. (Coffee and tea, scones with jam and cream) All enjoy gorgeous vistas across rural countryside.

There’s a mix of native West Australian plants and traditional imported garden plants.

Beautiful banksia, related to proteas.

It was really interesting to see what other people had planted, especially in shaded or windy areas and to see how they made the most of available water supplies.

Today is Sesame Street Day, established in 2009 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the program. Sesame Street was devised to promote literacy in the USA and has been declared amazingly successful.


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The Kitchen Renovation

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Eleven years ago when we built our house we chose vinyl wrap doors. They were sturdy and clean in appearance for about five or six years when occasionally the edge of the wrap started to flick up. One drawer top edge actually tore. One cupboard door was discoloured. We had a problem.

We contacted the builder who gave us the original cabinet maker’s contact information and replacement cabinet doors and drawer fronts were measured up and installed, including soft close hinges. Character Cabinets have done a marvellous job. The workmen were tidy and thorough and very pleasant.

We re-used the carcasses as the layout worked well. Three adults can work in the kitchen at one time.

At the same time our range hood exhaust fan developed a dreadful noise when it was turned off. Trying to reduce waste and landfill, we had the motor replaced. A new one would have cost about the same!

The laundry cupboard doors and drawer fronts were also replaced. Again, we kept the same design as the space dictated where units were placed to best use the room. Soft close hinges and we reused the drawer pulls.

Really like these soft grey porcelain knobs so we reused them, too. They are comfortable to grip and pull and wipe clean. They are a traditional design which suits the profile on the the drawers and cupboards.

The en suite has new drawer fronts and cupboard doors plus soft close hinges. Again, no change in the layout as it was dictated by the size of the room. I deliberately didn’t “style” the photos so it’s easy to focus on the cabinetry.

Our experience replacing the cupboards and drawers was so easy due to the quality of Character Cabinets who are in Armadale, Western Australia. The replacements totally seal the doors and drawer fronts so they can’t lift or chip. They look just like the old ones, which was our goal. We avoided a massive job!

Today is Sandwich Day, which is pretty easy to celebrate! The word itself is attributed to John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. A keen card player, he didn’t want to stop playing to eat and apparently directed his cook to put his meat between two pieces of bread. It was a great success and the sandwich was born. Well, that’s one theory. Eat up!

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What I Pack To Go Overseas

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I’ve written in a journal every day for years. I glue in photos, ticket, maps, draw pictures and generally keep records. Each evening I like to sit and reflect on the events of the day. I blogged about covering the journal, marbling the inside lining papers and making the elastic hold-alls for pens and papers.


I can’t see outdoors during daylight without sunglasses, can’t read without reading glasses and have found so many uses for ziplock bags! I use then for packing wet swimsuits, controlling chargers, securely carrying shampoo and conditioner bottles in my toilet bag and they’re good for day packs of nuts and crackers. I’ve seen really glamorous jewelry rolls but put my necklaces in ziplock bags, too.


Big and warm, this pashmina has been used to keep the three of us snug on ferries, as an extra blanket, a curtain to reduce glare, a knee rug on flights but mostly as a scarf.

I need magnifying glasses for reading and twice these have broken, once early in a flight and another time, at our destination. I read a lot when we’re away, especially on long flights. I was able to buy replacement fold-up glasses at Changi Airport and the other pair were replaced at an optometrist, but only after lots of difficulties so now I carry these fold-up glasses in their hard carry case as emergency back up supplies.


I have a pencil case mostly for journal entries. It has

  • pens
  • pencils and an eraser (useful for crosswords)
  • highlighter pen (great for marking routes on maps)
  • scissors ( just make sure your scissors are in your luggage, not carry on bags)
  • mini glue stick


Great for freshening hands when we’re out and about, for all those WCs without paper towels, for cleaning up spills on clothing and general clean ups. I refill a collection of small bottles from a one litre bottle before we travel as they are easier to carry in my handbag.

I also buy small spray bottles of my perfume to reduce baggage weight.


My normally dry skin totally dehydrates on flights, especially long ones from Australia. I liberally apply lip balm, lots of moisturiser plus I drink plenty of water en route and then use a moisturising mask when we arrive.

Other basics include a small SEWING KIT in a plastic box and nylon SHOPPING BAGS that which are tiny when folded into the cover and huge when you pull then out. Many shops don’t provide plastic carry bags for shopping.

Today is World Teachers Day which is celebrated in more than 100 countries world wide. The day was declared by UNESCO in 1994 to recognise the role played by teachers in society. Internationally, World Teachers Day is celebrated 5th of October but this falls during school holidays in Australia, so we celebrate on the last Friday of October each year. If you can read this, thank a teacher.

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Beautiful Bangkok

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Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, was a small trading post 200 years ago but now covers a vast area. So many things to see and do with shrines, palaces, lush parks and gardens, shops and restaurants and everything else you’d expect in a vibrant Asian city which welcomes more visitors every year than any other capital in the world.

View of the Chao Phraya River from our balcony. The moored ferry, bottom right of photo, takes people from the hotel to Saphan Pier, linking with the Thaskin Bangkok MRT, the Sky Train. Lovely way to avoid the traffic.

Barge being pulled by four tugs, plus a stabilizing tug at the rear, taking sand to building sites along the river.

Time for lunch, so up to the 36th floor of our hotel for yum cha. Very good food, very good service and amazing and distracting views.

More yum cha. These treats are unusual as we’ve never had sweet buns like this before. They are crystal cream buns and cream buns.

The cool hotel garden. The path goes down to the river where we catch the ferry to Saphan Pier for the train or nearby shopping.

Entrance to Jim Thompson House and Museum. Jim Thompson, born in 1906, was an American architect who joined the US Army and was in Europe and later Asia, where he was sent to Bangkok as a military officer. He admired the local architecture and bought and transported six traditional Thai houses, most of them more than two centuries old, to Bangkok, where he amalgamated them into one house where he lived. He began filling them with local antiques and artifacts.

He revived and developed the old cottage industry of silk weaving. He achieved world wide recognition for silk woven in Thailand. He designed the fabrics and the pieces to be made from it.

In 1967 he went walking alone in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia and disappeared. No-one knows what happened to him. His house and collection are now overseen by a Thai Foundation. It was an interesting place to visit and see what he achieved.

The garden at the Jim Thompson House and Museum. It was very hot so we sat to cool down for a while before heading back into the traffic.

Dinner Choices.

We have been to Bangkok twice in the past three years and prefer using the river to get around. Traffic is congested and can be slow. A good way to see everyday Bangkok is to take a local water taxi and head up some of the canals.

We like to sit and watch the mesmerising views on the busy river. There is a lot to do in Bangkok and we are planning a return journey.

Today is Information Overload Day. Information overload can have a negative impact on our happiness and productivity. Try turning everything off for half a day and feel how relaxing it is to control your own time, or maybe, you’ll suffer from dreadful FOMO! ( Fear Of Missing Out) New research suggests engaging in any screens, even e-readers, an hour before going to bed interferes with sleep.

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Hello Hanoi !

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Hanoi is one of the most ancient capitals in the world. It is known for it’s architecture; some of it very old, contrasting with the very new. South Eastern Asian, Chinese and French influences are all evident. In the Old Quarter, narrow streets are named after the trades that traditionally flourished there, for example, silk street, gold street and embroidery street. There’s also lots of little temples and cafes if the crowds or heat get overwhelming. This is a vibrant and rather chaotic part of town!

Entrance foyer flowers, very beautiful but no scent.

We visited Hanoi last year and enjoyed it so much we returned. A contrast of the traditional and the contemporary, there’s always something to do, see and, especially, eat!

I get itchy ears, too! National Gallery of Fine Arts.

Womens’ Museum. The fabrics were grown, woven, dyed and sewn by hand.

Womens’ Museum. Wedding attire, 1970’s.


Wedding attire, October 2017.

Old buildings in shopping area.

Hot Pot lunch.

Hoan Kiem Lake, always busy with people exercising, walking, chatting with friends and snacking.

Mid Autumn Moon Festival (Tet Trung Thu ) street parade so lots of beautifully decorated moon cakes on sale everywhere.

Hanoi Opera House.

Interesting array of electrical wiring.

Reflexology followed by a pedicure. Such lovely ladies!

Wet Green Papaya Salad, shaken then dropped onto the bowl. Delicious.

Slow Cooked Duck Breast, potatoes and beans.

Breakfast. Really good coffee, too.

Began with foyer flowers, so ending with flowers in the restaurant at our hotel. So pretty.

Today is World Maths Day. Founded in 2007, the intention was to get students away from standard maths lessons and take part in games, aiming to raise standards of numeracy.


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Surprising Georgetown

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We have just been to Georgetown, the capital city of the Malaysian State of Penang, named after King George III. It was once an important Straits of Malacca trading hub and is now popular for the British colonial buildings, Chinese shophouses, temples and great food.

Tiles in the entrance foyer Museum Hotel Georgetown.

We stayed at the beautifully restored Museum Hotel featuring antique furniture, a quiet but good location and the most wonderful, charming staff. So helpful, so pleasant.

Enfilade, front veranda of the Museum Hotel.

Little India, ornate temple.

Wonderful street art.

Beautiful tiles in the temple.

Reclining Buddha Temple ( Wat Chayamangkalaram) built in 1845.

Temple offerings

Visited the Botanical Gardens. Cool and calm area and a great waterfall. Lots of palms and monkeys. A nice rest from the hustle and bustle of this busy city.

To the renovated Eastern and Oriental Hotel and into Sarkie’s for lunch beginning with a double espresso after a morning touring the town. We hired a driver and told him the things we really wanted to see and asked for his ideas on other things we should see. Four really interesting hours. A busy city with diverse architecture and a multicultural society.

Hello lunch. A beautiful restoration of a grand old hotel, the Eastern and Oriental is on the waterfront. Lovely building, lovely lunch.

Many of the old buildings have tiled walkways. Some are original, some are restored.

Parking is at a premium.

Street food dim sum dinner. Variety and flavour. Yum cha and fish balls plus dipping sauces.

Crispy duck. Delicious.

Floral arrangement in the lift landing on our floor.

Some shophouses have been restored, some are falling apart. Acknowledging its cultural and historic heritage, the city was listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2008. Here contrasted against the streets of shop houses are the new, glass and steel towers.

Today is World Porridge Day, celebrating the history and health benefits of this flavoursome breakfast food which originated in Scotland. So start your day with this economical and warming breakfast favourite.

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Emma Bridgewater

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When we lived in China we’d go to Hong Kong frequently on business and I’d go shopping for things we couldn’t buy in Guangzhou, like icing sugar. ( this was 20 years ago! ) I’d always buy a haul of English decorator magazines, too, and discovered Emma Bridgewater china. My favourite design is Toast and Marmalade in black. I collect earthenware, tinware and some textiles.

Black Toast is cream earthenware with bold black typeface printing. These are pieces intended for everyday use and enjoyment. The mugs are generously sized, the bowls are big and wide, the butter dish is meant for a decent sized block of butter.

Emma Bridgewater and her husband Matthew Rice began their pottery in 1985 at a time when other potteries in Stoke-on-Trent were beginning to close. Most of the products continue to be manufactured there.

Last year we took a cottage in the Cotswolds and one day, in heavy rain, we drove to Stoke-on- Trent to visit the pottery. Thank goodness for GPS. Gorgeous displays of all the designs ( Black Toast is just one of them ),  welcoming, well informed staff in the manufacturing, catering and retail areas and a lovely garden out the back with chooks! (Australian for chickens) A wonderful morning….and two unplanned carrier bags of hand luggage to haul back to Perth, via Singapore.

Today is World Heart Day, intended to raise awareness about heart disease and stroke prevention. Apparently, heart disease and strokes are the world’s leading causes of death, killing 17.1 million people every year. The intention is to educate people about good heart health habits and to encourage people to make lifestyle changes that are good for their hearts. Love your heart today!

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