One of our longstanding household Xmas traditions has been to host a ‘waifs & orphans’ gathering on Boxing Day. Various people (not necessarily waifs or orphans) drop in throughout the day, starting mid-morning. Some stay just long enough for a slice of fruitcake and a cuppa, others stay on for lunch, and the late arrivals eat the leftovers. It’s a relaxed sort of day and usually includes random frivolity around the pool, games of boules and whatever else comes to mind. Much low-key fun.

This year, mostly because of my fractured knee, we decided to shift gears and introduce a pre-Xmas gathering instead. The idea was that this’d encourage me to have some (highly desirable) R&R on Boxing Day. In theory at least.

Plans were hatched and we invited a selection of family and might-as-well-be-family to join us for what we called our Inaugural Eggnog Night.

Now, the last time I tried eggnog was many decades ago when my housemate and I found a recipe in a cordon bleu Xmas book I’d been given. Having no idea what to expect, we made a batch… and both thought it was dreadful stuff! The raw egg taste, loosely concealed by the taste of student-affordable rum, was dire in the extreme.

So I guess this does beg the question: Why eggnog?

And the only answer I have is: Eh, why not? It’s the silly-season, after all 🙂

Besides which, every gathering needs a focus – and I’d just found an oddly intriguing recipe for a cooked eggnog. With years more kitchen experience under my belt than in those far-off student days – and better quality rum in stock – it sounded plausible. Since ex-housemate (now sister-in-law*), would be coming along we’d be able to compare notes.

For those who’ve never tried cooked eggnog, it’s essentially a rich egg custard made to a pouring consistency. The rum (or brandy, if you prefer) is added just before serving and there is no raw-egg taste at all. In fact, it’s both very tasty and deliciously rich and creamy – rather like a cream-based liqueur.

The test batch worked well, so I made a veritable vat-o’-nogg for the night. Both it – and the eggnog pie I made with some of it – proved very popular with all, including *SiL. Half the mix was left rum-free for those who’re not that way inclined and they enjoyed it too – which tells me it wasn’t just the better quality rum at work!

I’ll have to experiment with lactose-free milk and cream to see if I can make a batch that works for my lovelies who’re lactose intolerant – but that’s for next time. And yes, there will be a next time. Things are shaping up for Eggnog Night to be the new item on the calendar at Menagerie10 (our place).

If you’d like to make the eggnog and/or the pie, here are the recipes. Let me know how you go and whether you enjoyed them as much as the waifs-orphans-and-others did 🙂

The recipes

1. Cooked Eggnog (this quantity serves 2, but can be scaled up very successfully. I’ve based it on this recipe.)

NOTE: be patient when you make this. Just as with any cooked custard, rushing will do little other than ensure that the mix either curdles or scorches. Just keep the temperature low, stir continuously to ensure even heat distribution and think happy egg-boggy thoughts 🙂

You’ll need: 2 large eggs, 1/4 – 1/3 cup white sugar (depending on how sweet you want it), 2/3 cup full cream milk, 2/3 cup regular whipping cream (NOT thickened cream), ½ tsp vanilla bean paste, about ¼ tsp ground nutmeg. You’ll also need a heavy-based saucepan, whisk, metal spoon, 2 mixing bowls, a metal sieve, and a food/candy thermometer.

  • Break the eggs into the bowl; add the sugar and whisk well. Pour the milk into the saucepan and heat over a low heat to 160F – do NOT boil. Remove from the heat when it gets to 160F.
  • After a quick re-whisking of the egg/sugar mix, SLOWLY pour the hot milk into it. It’s really (really) important to do this slowly and to whisk the mix continuously while you’re doing it – otherwise you’ll end up with little lumps of cooked egg in the mix.
  • Pour the combined mix BACK into your saucepan and return it to the stovetop. Bring it back up to 160F, stirring continuously. This will ensure that your mix doesn’t stick to the edges, or scorch/burn on the bottom of the pan.
  • Bring the mix back up to 71C (160F), stirring continuously to avoid it sticking or burning. Your aim is for the mixture to thicken slightly, to the point where it will coat the back of your spoon. Be patient, as this takes a while, and keep the heat low/medium-low while you continue to move the whisk around the sides and bottom of the pant.
  • Once you’ve reached spoon-coating stage, stir the mix really well and remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
  • Pour the cream and vanilla into a clean mixing bowl and whisk until the cream thickens slightly (use an electric whisk if you have one – it’s much quicker!). Stir in the nutmeg.
  • Stir your still-hot egg mix, THEN slowly pour this into the cream-vanilla mix, whisking lightly to combine as you pour. Now pour the mix through a sieve to strain out any lumpy bits.
  • Refrigerate the eggnog, preferably overnight – or at least for several hours, until cold. Stir in 30- 50ml of rum per cup of eggnog just before serving , depending on preference.

2. Eggnog Pie

This is based on this recipe and is rather like a traditional South African milk tart, but is firmer, less milky and has a delicious ginger crust that makes it even more tasty. It’s also super easy.

The piecrust: 1½ cups ginger biscuit cookie crumbs (the Ikea ginger biscuits work well, but any will do), 1 Tblsp brown sugar, ½ tsp ground ginger, 100g melted butter

  • Combine all ingredients in a medium sized bowl, then press the mix into the bottom and sides of a pie plate.
  • Bake at 350F / 180C for 10 minutes, then cool completely.

The filling: 1 standard vanilla instant pudding (about 100g), 1½ cups eggnog (you can use the bought stuff, but why not just make some?), 2 cups regular whipping cream.

  • Whip the cream until it’s thick and fluffy, but not too stiff.
  • In another bowl, combine the instant pudding mix and eggnog.
  • Fold the whipped cream into the pudding/eggnog mix and combine well.
  • Spoon this mixture into the (cooled) piecrust.
  • Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.


Does spring seedlings 2016the weather affect you from day to day? I’d guess that, at the very least, your clothing choice depends on the weather to some extent – and perhaps your choice of transport and activities does as well.

I’m certainly more inclined to get stuck into the garden, walk or use public transport in dry weather – and most enthusiastic about it in spring, once the rain’s gone and before the heat starts to bite.

Weather does seem to act as a happiness barometer for most of us. No matter how satisfied we are initially with the changing seasons, we soon start grumping about the temperature (too hot, too cold, too variable), the humidity, the rain (or lack thereof), the wind, etc. It’s an endless source of meaningless background social noise.

Nevertheless, I find that people are generally chirpier on warm, sunny days than on cold, drizzly ones. Perhaps we’re more inclined interact positively with our surroundings and with other folk on pleasantly sunny days, than when it’s very cold (or hot). If this is so, does the weather also affect our levels of altruism?

In November last year I started planning our epic family Xmas gathering. It takes a fair bit of resource management and people wrangling, so I tend to start early to avoid the last minute panic-factor. Then I came across an article on something called the reverse advent calendar. It made me stop and think: about resources, about good fortune, about family – and about the staggering number of people who have so much less.

I discovered that 1 in 200 people in Australia are homeless and that over two million people are dependent on food donations in order to survive. Considering how relatively affluent Australia is, that rocked me rigid.

Donating one food item per day for the advent period (the four weeks leading up to Xmas) sounded like a great idea. It was something simple, tangible and practical that my family could get behind. So I set up a mini food collection programme and, just before Xmas, DaughterDearest and I delivered our combined advent donations to Foodbank.

We all felt a little glow of achievement, of having done something – however small – for people less fortunate than ourselves. It was a good way to start our Xmas celebrations.

But of course people are hungry and homeless all year round, not just at Xmas. So it seemed like a logical next step to set up a quarterly food drive and invite others to join in. A number of people got involved and we’ve made two deliveries of food donations to Foodbank so far this year.

These deliveries are partly what prompted my question, because I delivered 55kg of food on 31 March (a bright sunny day) and 25kg on 30 June (a cold rainy day).

This does seem indicate that people may be more inclined to be generous in good weather. Perhaps it makes us feel cheerful and encourages a more outward focus? Or could it be that, as a community initiative, the food drive really only worked as a one-of?

Either way, we’ve been gradually filling up some boxes and I’ll be heading back out to Foodbank again at on 30 September to deliver our next quarterly contribution. It doesn’t really matter how much food I take along. Every single item will be appreciated by someone, somewhere.

July-September Foodbank collection

If you’d like to get involved in our food drive – even if all you can donate is a single can of beans – let me know. Join our Facebook group to keep track of what’s happening, if you like.

You’re most welcome to pop past our place to drop your contribution off, just ping me to let me know. Stay for a cuppa if you have time 🙂

food appeal poster

My daughter and I have grown up together. I had her fairly young and learned about being mum at pretty much the same rate she learned about being her. It seems to have all worked out okay: I’m still her mum and she’s definitely 100% her 🙂


Daughter-dearest left home after finishing her first uni degree, heading off to work overseas for a year, then travelling around South America and Europe for several months before heading back to home base. Having flexed her wings and found that they provided more than adequate lift, it wasn’t long before she moved into a share house with some friends.

At the time many of my friends asked whether our nest felt empty, whether I felt sad or even lonely with her gone again so soon. In short, the answer was a simple – but firm – no. I was both pleased and proud when she moved out of the family home to set up independently. I guess it’s a bit silly, but I had one of those ‘Yes!’ moments, a moment when I did a happy dance and thought, ‘Wow, she grew up – we made it – how good is that?!’

It was enormous fun to help her in small (and unobtrusive) ways: with the move, by buying some bits & pieces for her kitchen and by dropping off a banana loaf (or whatever baking I felt in the mood for) every now and then. Share houses being generally notoriously random in the pantry department, both she and her two housemates always received these deliveries with enthusiasm and rather raptor-like self-interest 😛

She moved house once or twice after that first share house – including going to the UK for a while, then to Melbourne – before settling back in Perth and putting down some more permanent roots with a partner. For the past few years they’ve been developing a small acreage about an hour out of the city, digging swales, planting trees, improving the soil, camping out occasionally and, finally, building a house.

This last element has been a stressful journey for them, with many building and bank complications along the way. For a variety of reasons they ended up moving in with us for a few months whilst the house was being completed. This meant that our house of two plus dog(1) & chickens(2), became a house of four plus dog(1), kittens(3), chickens(6) & quail(3) for most of 2015. Quite the little menagerie, really.

This weekend the move to their new house finally happened. They’d already spent a week or so unpacking all their furniture from storage and on Friday they hired a truck to move the many (many!) pot plants and assorted paraphernalia from our house to theirs. After a good night’s sleep (here) and some final packing, they loaded up the kittens (now almost full grown) and headed for home.

It was a great feeling to wave them goodbye, knowing that the next stage of their dream can finally start to take shape. There’ll be days of unpacking and settling in, followed by days of planting and building. But there’ll also be many evenings of simply sitting on their verandah and kicking back – just enjoying being at home in their own home at last.

As a mum, I couldn’t ask for more. But I must admit to a little lurch of my heart when daughter-dearest brought her adorable kittens in one by one to say goodbye to me. Our cat free, guest-free, quail and chicken-free life will seem just that little bit more ordinary and pale for a while. I’ll miss them – all of them… (well, perhaps not the very noisy chickens) … but I look forward to some ‘grandpets’ from SunChaser Ocicats in the not too distant future – and to joining them on their verandah from time to time to share some of that serenity.


The kittehs in their temp daytime run at our place

I’m one of those people who work best in a moderately orderly environment. With visitors coming to stay for a few months and a new puppy about to arrive, ‘orderly’ is starting to fall into the same headspace as ‘challenge’. The puppy arrives at the end of this week, the guests at the end of the month – along with their four chickens, five quail and two kittens. Luckily no partridge – and I already have the pear tree.

Our place has rather aptly been renamed Menagerie10 and will really be living up to that name over the next few months. To accommodate the various changes to our lifestyle, three rooms need to be compressed into one  and the contents of those rooms put away somewhere, baby-gates (repurposed as puppy-gates) have to go up to protect some areas from sharp little teeth and a cat run needs to be built. Since that’s clearly not a big enough challenge, we also decided to replace the water repellent, smelly back lawn with an all new buffalo variant. The existing lawn gets to be replanted out on the verge, after digging up the mostly-dead wild grass out there as well. The final item on the agenda is to lay down the conduit for a below ground power cable up to my art shed.

Clearly this little lot could only ever be achieved by chunking it into manageable mini-tasks, then working through those until the whole lot’s done … so phase one has been to accept that there is no room for scope creep, to actively set aside any bright new ideas that pop up and to focus on the core objectives.

Phase two has been to implement replacing the lawn with new turf. After a weekend of back-breaking digging, we recruited the help of strong backs (friends, family), acquired extra spades and hired a backhoe – then spent yet another weekend in the garden. Getting the back lawn up and moved was a fairly straightforward job, even if it was a long, hard slog, and it was done by mid afternoon of day one.

Phase three has taken longer and cost more, both in terms of dollars and sweat. The trench for the power cable was a fairly epic digging job and finding that a section of concrete had to be attacked with an angle grinder and chisels was just one not-so-small small hiccough along the way. By close of business yesterday the pipes were laid in readiness for the electrician and the trench was filled. At this point it was clear that there will need to be some late night gardening activity under spotlights this week in order to get the back lawn down by puppy-day (Friday). Replanting the verge was re-evaluated and has gone into the too-hard-for-now basket.
garden blitz_8&9nov14
Phase four, the three-into-one room compression, is ongoing. After flailing ineffectually at the task or a week or so, it became clear that the only strategic way forward was to take a step sideways. So I started by emptying the two rooms of everything that needed to come out, leaving one room furnished with guest beds and the other with a bookcase, table and two chairs. This effectively created guest sleeping and chill-out accommodation, so that part of the to-do list can be ticked off.

Unfortunately , this also left my study fair bursting with a combination of office equipment, books, toys, xmas decorations, craft equipment, old university notes and kitchen appliances that somehow don’t fit in the kitchen. Even though it was all stacked in neat piles, the increase in chaos in my workspace definitely pushed my limits. So it was back to decluttering basics for me: do a little every day, starting with one pile and working towards having everything either put away, boxed for storage, given away or binned. It’s the good old four box method and works pretty well for me since it forces choices: keep / unsure / re-home / chuck. The ‘unsure’ pile gets revisited for a second round of selection at the end of the process, by which stage the whole ‘do I really need or want this’ mindset is fully engaged and the decisions are easier to make.

Although it took a while, I could feel calm returning with every decision made, even if some of the harder ones stalled me out for a while. Keeping my goal of an uncluttered workspace in sight, I’ve made two trips to the Op Shop to donate some of the more useful gear and a lot more trips out to the bin with bags of junk so far. After unearthing the label-machine, all the boxes and drawers got shiny new labels as I put things away. My theory is that this will make it much easier – and less frustrating – to finding the left-hand widget (or whatever) that I know I had somewhere.

It’s been pretty satisfying to do a little every day, working around a slightly anxious dog and see the goalposts getting closer. Next step: getting that lawn down. We shall make it so 🙂

There might be any number of reasons that our garden wall looks the way it does. For example, the bore water may have been eroding the bricks and mortar over the years. But my guess is that the mortar used to build it (back in the mists of time) may simply have been substandard. Apparently brick mortar joints last somewhere around 30 to 40 years before they start to show wear… unless low quality mortar was used or if the joints are continually exposed to bad weather. I’m not sure how long our wall has been up, but this is Perth – and we don’t really get extreme weather here – certainly not on a continuous basis.

When large sections of the wall started to fall down – and after a goodly amount of research and consultation of the bank balance – we got someone in to give us a quote on turning a falling down wall back into a real wall. This was, the gentleman assured us, completely doable. He’d repaired worse and was confident that he could help us.  The one small caveat being that he  would need some dry weather (in June!) and half a metre of clearance on each side of the wall in order to wield his magical rendering machine. We would then be the proud owners of a tough-as-nails mock limestone wall that would stand the test of time – particularly if we didn’t let the bore water wash across it every week!

And so began a long weekend of garden rampage, ably and fulsomely assisted by friends and family. It’s always a bit of surprise to find that people will happily pitch in for no more reward than a sincere thank you and a great afternoon tea. And I’m here to tell you that we all worked for that afternoon tea, every calorie of it! We picked at least 15kg of cumquats, moved several trees (for replanting later), demolished and removed a postbox,  pruned trees and shrubs, put the mulcher to work on the debris, relocated the chickens, and emptied the garden shed so that it could be moved. There was a work list and we got through everytign on it, but it could never have been achieved without the willing arms, backs and attitudes of all the ‘garden gnomes.’ (Thanks again, guys).garden rampage_the next day1

We’re looking forward to a break in the weather so that this falling-down-monstrosity can be turned into something a great deal prettier – and the replanting can commence in earnest. The great thing about gardens is that they do grow back, eventually…

garden rampage reason1_jun14