Late last year I had an epiphany: summer was rapidly approaching and it was time to get some mulch down to protect the garden over the hotter months. So I logged in to Mulchnet and ordered 5 cubic meters. To ensure that it wouldn’t take too long for the mulch arrive, I opted to pay for it rather than be wait listed for a free load. (Been there, done that, and it seemed to take forever.)

The truck arrived the next day and deposited an epic pile of mulch on our verge. The timing was supreme… slap bang in the middle of one of the busiest times of our year. DaughterDearest was moving house, a friend was celebrating her wedding, work was chaotic… and then I set off on a trip to Tasmania. No sooner was I back than Christmas happened, followed by a patch of I-don’t-want-to-garden weather (hot!), then we got a puppy…

I’m sure you get the picture. The mulch pile on the verge slowly started to collapse in some areas and grass started to grow up and over it. I started to imagine it turning into a grassy knoll and to worry that one our homes-and-garden-neighbours might complain to the council, resulting in the wrath of the gods (or some other dramatic outcome). And the garden still needed mulching…

So I asked a few people if they’d mind helping out, bribing them with offers of lunch and super tasty cake. They accepted with surprisingly alacrity – which I attribute more to their kindness than to the food bribes, but who knows 🙂

As the scheduled day drew closer, the weather got worse. In the end we caved and rescheduled, not wanting to subject our garden gnomes to the howling gales and torrential rain. Most of them came to lunch anyway, since the cakes had to be eaten.

Yesterday was attempt number three, attempt number two having been skittled by  a combination of weather and dog dramas. This time the weather held, the dogs were (more or less) manageable,  and the garden gnomes were successful. After much digging, heaving and carrying, the mulch pile / grassy knoll is no more. Much happiness!
mulchpile transition
The gnomes then went on to remove epic quantities of grass from our verge garden, trim the rosemary bushes and plant out my sweet potato cuttings. They definitely earned their lunch, ALL the cake – and my heartfelt thanks.


I was going to make the Saturday #BlogJune posts about nothing in particular – or, more specifically, about everything in a random sort of way. Creating a series of mini collages using photos to represent what I’d been up to, what I was planning or where I’d been, sounded like it might be fun.

And then… the other night I had a bubble bath, the first this winter. The first this year, actually. I try to save water, so I keep to the 4 minute shower regime as far as possible. Sometimes though – when it’s really cold or the day has been particularly stressful (or both) – a bubble bath really hits the spot.

Settling down into the grapefruit and bergamot scented bubbles, I felt myself give one of those deep, heartfelt sighs. You know the sort? The ones that come from some place deep inside, releasing tension and allowing you to finally relax.

It’s not just the bubbles – or the fact that I can make them come back bfavourite bubble bath_croppedy simply turning on the spa pump, although both of these things are a factor. It’s the peace and quiet, settling down to read a book (carefully!), sipping some tea (or red wine, depending on the day), listening to the rain and enjoying some solitude (for about 45 minutes), once in a blue moon. Bliss.

Of course,  in this household, the sound of dog/s with separation anxiety  on the other side  of the bathroom door does tend to be a distraction. But I can tune them out – for a while – sometimes – for one of my favourite things. What are yours?

With the dogs keeping me trapped in one place for much of the past couple of weeks, I’ve taken to watching episodes of Master Chef.

Last week there was a bake-off between three of the contestants. The brief was to impress Nigella Lawson with a homestyle cake. They had 90 minutes to figure out what to make (ie. know the recipe well enough to just get stuck in), scoot to the pantry to claim their ingredients, get it all done and plate up something fabulous to present to the judges.

It was 90 minutes of cake madness. The stand-out winner (Matt Sinclair) chose to make one of my personal favourites: a carrot cake. He put a slightly different twist on it by baking the cake in two pans so that it would bake more quickly (very cunning) and sandwiching the layers together making up some carrot cake jam he whipped up.  He spread some lemony cream cheese icing in the middle as well, then used the rest of the icing to top the cake before sprinkling it with candied walnuts. It looked AMAZING. No, it looked delicious. Completely delicious – and I really (really!) wancarrot cake_may2016ted a slice.

So, over the weekend, whilst Himself was available to puppy-sit, I tried to replicate as much of Matt’s creation as I could remember. Fortunately I already have a carrot cake recipe that I’ve used successfully many times, so all I needed was a plausible recipe for carrot cake jam.

However, all the recipes I hunted down seemed to either leave out something I remembered Matt using… or include something not in my kitchen. So I improvised and came up with my own variation, which was good fun.

The next step was to make my carrot cake and improvise a lime cream cheese icing. After all, cooking is often about using what you’ve got to hand – and at present we have limes!

As soon as the whole thing was assembled, we hoed into it. Verdict from Himself: “Yum!!” Also: “More?

I think we can call it a success 🙂

Oh, and after all that, I found the recipe for Matt’s cake on the MasterChef site yesterday! Ah well, mine worked pretty darn well, so if you’d like my recipe-combo to try, please please let me know.

A friend of mine (in her mid twenties) recently confessed that when she left home a few years ago she had absolutely no idea how to cook. Growing up in the US, she’d thought that food ‘made from scratch’ involved packet / instant meals, rehydrated and heated. A meal made from individual fresh ingredients was virtually unheard of. ‘Geez, most of the fresh stuff – vegetables in particular – were a mystery to me the first time I saw them in a store.. I’ve learned pretty much everything I know since moving to Australia, especially in the last year.’

Although on one level I found this astounding – my own experience having been so very different – it also resonated with what I hear from other young (and not-so-young) people I meet. Namely that planning meals, shopping for ingredients, and then making even fairly basic food is not part of their worldview. They acknowledge the reality of the concept, but haven’t the skill set to engage with it on a practical level.

Processed foods, generally loaded with sugars and fats, are relatively inexpensive. Sadly, Australia is following the US trend and fast food outlets are becoming increasingly more accessible than stores selling fresh food. The result is that the combination of convenience, instant satisfaction (sugar high) and not having to plan makes them easy solution for many people.

And that’s what basic food preparation is about at its core. It’s not magic, it’s just planning – and experience.

I think it’s super important to provide our kids with the skills to feed themselves nutritious food made from scratch – and on a budget, since the trend in food prices is always on the rise. So here are some basic tips from when my kids were young:

  • I encouraged them to experiment in the kitchen. We started small, baking cookies together. It was fun – and everyone got to eat the results, which they found very satisfying.
  • From quite early on they started to help with basic food prep for dinner (grating carrots, cracking eggs into a bowl and whisking them, etc.). It entertained them and gave them the first stepping stones to managing in the kitchen independently.
  • Praise worked wonders. I found that it built keen kitchen-helpers and – in the long run – very capable cooks.
  • Show by example that making meals from fresh ingredients can be fun, easy and affordable.
  • Recipes need to be simple to start with – not too many ingredients or too many steps, otherwise it’s simply too daunting.
  • Create a recipe folder for each kid and each time they make something, print the recipe and add it to their file for future use. Boychilde recently told me that he still has his recipe file and continues to use it, 20+ years after we started it together. I’m pretty sure DaughterDearest does too  🙂

Having kids in the kitchen is messy and you could definitely do it more quickly and efficiently without their ‘help’ – at least to start with. But in due course they’ll start to pick up skills, knowledge and confidence. They’ll be able to start cooking meals occasionally and make decisions about grocery planning and what constitutes a balanced meal.

It’s skill building for their future – and it’s no small thing.

helping in the kitchen

For my first BlogJune post, I thought I’d write about our current dog-chaos. Last week we finally took MissMolly to be sterilised. It had to be done… she’s almost two, after all, and puppies are not part of the game plan. But we felt a keen – and disproportionate – sense of guilt nevertheless.

She left here her usual bouncy-crazy self  on Monday morning, happy to be off on an adventure. When we picked her up several hours later she was subdued, confused, unhappy and shaking. She was wearing a  cone of shame and her one eye keep drooping shut. All the guilt.

Keep her calm and quiet, the vet said. No jumping or excessive activity for 6 – 10 days, she said. Oh, and no licking of the wound – she needs to wear the cone of shame until her stitches come out… in 14 days.


Then the vet looked at MissM and grinned. Perhaps, in her case, a gentle walk around the block from day two might be a good idea to get rid of some of her energy, she added, but keep her as quiet as possible…

So how does one keep a hyper-active Doberman quiet, calm and not jumpy – particularly around a four month old puppy who just wants to play? The very concept pushes the bounds of belief to the limits. In Molly’s case, it’s like saying flip the on/off switch – and she’s very resistant to the ‘off’ position.

In the end we’ve spent several stressful days keeping her on lead at almost all times. This is our way of trying to limit her bursts of crazy-wildness to some extent and separate the two dogs when necessary. It’s more-or-less working – although it feels like mostly less at times and involves an awful lot of dog – 26kg of dog – trying to cuddle up in my lap. All day.

Only 5 days to go…