Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cafe` Life....

On my Tray of Bliss today is la Cafe` Glace`.

That's an iced coffee to the rest of us.

I'm going to close my eyes, ignore the Christmas Chaos outside my own four walls, and pretend I'm in the cafe' in this photo.

I don't recall exactly where it was, but it was close to the Eiffel Tower, and was the only one willing to serve us before lunch *roll of eyes at Parisian time*.

We enjoyed a Cafe` au Lait, the little Diva explored the Ladies Lav, as she is wont to do wherever we go (this one had a leadlight lampshade, red walls and newspaper articles pasted in lieu of wallpaper), and continued on our way. This was one of the quieter cafe`s we enjoyed. Most Parisian cafe`s, designed as they are for being 'seen', face busy streets, exuding fumes from motorised and human passers by. So, this little one was a bit of a find.

Close by were a spectacular florist...oh my...what the French can do with a few blooms...*sigh*, a convenience store, and a bit of sad one at that, a jeweller, an artist supplies store, a Thai restaurant (no, seriously..and a good one!), and of course, the Eiffel Tower!

The wonderful thing about Paris, is that you feel you've been there before. I had been living and breathing Parisian life since about the age of 9, when I first saw Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire in that movie, Funny Face. I loved her dresses, the dancing, the sights of Pareeeee....all too much for an impressionable Aussie girl. 

So, by the time I actually saw Paris, I felt I knew her intimately. My baptismal stroll down (up?) the Champs Elysees at night, was like something I'd done many times before. The Eiffel Tower, glowing and shimmering like the biggest Christmas Tree in the world, was shining just for me. The waiters nodded and bobbed at my abyssmal torture of their seductive language, and made me feel at home.

Now, if I'm having a bad day, I sit still, close my eyes, and I am whisked back to this cafe`. Florist next door, Boulangerie across the way, and the Eiffel Tower right THERE.

What's on your Tray of Bliss today?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas at the Beach...a grand Aussie tradition...

On my Tray of Bliss today, is the ghost of Christmas Past.

For many years during my childhood, Christmas holidays were spent at the beach. We'd stay at Burleigh Heads, or Mermaid Beach on Queenslands' Gold Coast. There'd be a big house, with lots of beds, and louvred windows to allow the evening breeze to cool us as we ate chicken in aspic and green jelly with whipped cream for dinner.

There'd be the obligatory screaming and chaos when we'd discover a large Huntsman spider in the living room...always a possiblility...and with an Arachnaphobic mother, loving the hairy legged things was an impossible dream...I still shudder when I see them. They are harmless, but have legs that stretch to the size of a mans outstretched hand, so look pretty darned scary.

We'd be up at the crack of dawn, and racing down the hill to Burleigh Beach. At that time of the morning, most of the holidaymakers would still be snoring, and we'd have the beach to ourselves. We loved it the best when it was as still as glass, with a gentle undulating wave that made us bob up and down, rather than smashing us into the shore. We'd swim until we got hungry, and then trudge back up the hill, with a little less enthusiasm, having worn our silly selves out in the aquamarine surf, to have lunch.

Mum would have boiled some eggs, shredded some lettuce and carved a freshly cooked hunk of corned beef, and we'd wolf it all down with fresh white bread, and glasses of Golden Circle Fruit Cup cordial. Then we'd doze until about 3pm.

Then it'd be off down to the beach again, maybe for a walk to the icecream shop for a choice of chocolate chip or raspberry ripple, and a swing in the park.

We'd be exhausted by 8pm, and I guess that was Mums' plan. That was the only time she got to have a break. She'd watch TV or read until late, and we'd do it all again the next day.

This would go on for three whole blissful weeks. Friends would come, stay for a few days, and there was always enough to feed just one more mouth. Damp bathing suits and beach towels were resurrected from underneath beds, where they'd been kicked in the rush for the shower, for those who arrived unprepared.

We never had much money, and to this day, I am full of admiration for my Mother, who would scrimp and save to pay for these holidays. How she did it, I do not know. I think there was some method whereby she would pay extra rent all year, to free up the budget at Christmas...she was a smart cookie.

We were easily pleased as kids too. A banana or chocolate Paddle Pop (ice block) was bliss, as was a Metro Pop...the latter, little traffic light looking lollipops that came in a packet of 20 for not much money. Even a packet of Lifesavers, had us scrabbling to choose which colour we liked the best. We'd only get one or two each out of a packet. But that was okay too.

We'd run up and down the beach at sunset, writing messages to each other in the sand, and making patterns with the shells that the tide washed up.

Looking back, it was a simple holiday, but we loved it.

My Mothers face smiles up at me from our old KodaChrome holiday snaps. We all look tanned and healthy in our neon swimsuits. It was a relaxed and happy time. I can only hope that my own children have such treasured memories.

Todays photo, is sadly, NOT of me and my siblings at Burleigh Beach in 1969. I have to confess some Techophobia, and ask your sympathy for not knowing how to scan and upload my old family photos. This is a photo of a pretty beach, surrounded by imposing white cliffs, on the Arachon Coast in Western France. It  shows another little family, enjoying their own beach holiday. So clearly beach holidays are not just an Aussie tradition, but a grand Family Tradition worldwide. We are only fortunate, in that we get one of the best celebrations of the year, seaside.

What's on your Tray of Bliss today?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reflections of me...

This is a pretty shot of a dead calm lake in Europe. I couldn't resist capturing the mirrored reflection of the sky and clouds in the lakes' surface.

On my Tray of Bliss today is a reminder to take time to reflect on who I am this Christmas.

My husband and children keep asking me 'What do you want for Christmas'.

I keep saying 'I want you around the table'...and they don't believe me.

But, I am honestly pressed to think of anything else. Oh, sorry, there's that little Alfa Romeo, and the second home in the French countryside, but maybe that's in my 'next' life.

I looked in the mirror this morning, and I saw both my Mother and my Father. Mum, mostly around the eyes and mouth, Dad in the shape of my face and the curl of my hair. Not the exact replica seen in Nature as evidenced by my photography. But a hint of my parents in the turn of my smile and the crinkle of my eyes.

But, is that who I am...a mere reflection, a sort of watered down image of Mum and Dad?

Not reflection throws questions at me, more so as I approach the end of another year of my life, than at any other time.

I am an artist, yet I do not look like one...I look like everyones' Mum. I am a singer, but I don't sound like one..I sound like a yowelling dog. I am a writer, yet unpublished, apart from this blog. I am a Mother, Wife, Sister, Friend. Some days I am good at all of these things and some days I fail dismally at each and every one.

Sometimes I am so happy I could explode, and some days my shame and remorse for both real, and imagined wrongdoings in my past, makes me cringe.

Then I look at my faces of my sons and their wives, my daughter , my grandson, and my husband. They look back at me with warmth and affection, no matter my foibles. They love me permanently, freely, and unconditionally. I do the same for them.

That is the true reflection of me.

What's on your Tray of Bliss today?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

First Impressions....

Do you ever think about first impressions?

I remember my clever Mum saying to me often...'You only get one chance to make a good first impression'. So true.

Pictured is the entrance to a chateau we once stayed in.

Like many of it's era, it's seen better days by modern Aussie standards. In fact, most of us would turn our nose up at this place if it were in our own neighbourhood. It's not shiny and new, and it doesn't have a double lock up garage...

But upon closer inspection, it has an inviting way about it. The lawns are neatly clipped, the red door is open and drawing us in. The gardens around the entrance are well kept and carefully colour co-ordinated despite their haphazard, casual look. The windows are clean, and the front steps are swept of debris.

Inside it was warm and cozy, although the floor had an interesting slope. The bathtub was deep enough for a good soak, but not so deep that you had to bend into unnatural contortions to climb in and out of it. The paintwork was far from perfect, being that some of the structure was nearly 400 years old. 

But, on the kitchen bench, there was a  bowl of fresh, ripe figs, branches still wet with sap from the tree at the rear of the house. There were fragrant roses displayed in a heirloom vase on the dining table. A thoughtful selection of local produce in the kitchen saved us heading out for a meal on our first night.

And my point is this....

An inviting home, has nothing to do with 'new' or 'perfect'. It has a lot to do with loved, cleaned, and well tended, with attention to detail.

This Christmas, why not make sure your home is inviting. Make it a habit to have some festive fragrant oil in an oil burner, or some orange peel and cloves simmering on the stove. Tidy and clean till everything glows, but don't take the 'comfort' out of your home to impress the guests. Add your own little touches to the decorations. Make huge crepe paper roses to hang from the ceiling, chandelier style, instead of tinsel. Make little lanterns out of newspaper or old sheet music to hang on the tree or from your doorways. Instructions for these things are easily found by Googling.

Make sure your front entry is inviting. Sweep the path, cut some pretty greenery or display a few flowering plants at the front door, and stitch some giant jingle bells to a strip of velvet ribbon for the guests to ring as they enter.

Okay, inviting home taken care of...

So what's your families' first impression of YOU going to be on Christmas Day. Are YOU going to be Loved, Cleaned and Well Tended? Will your own appearance reflect attention to detail? Ashamedly, I've greeted guests at my front door on Christmas Day, still in my PJ's at 11am, because I've been flat out keeping everyone else happy. Not a pretty sight at my age, I can tell you!

Everyone thinks of the children at Christmas. They get special Santa or Rudolph PJ's and a pretty dress or smart shirt to wear. Here in Australia, it's all we can do at that time of the year to get out of our swimmers! For Mum, the Christmas Sales can yield a pretty summer dress and a festive hair clip for under $20 if you're budget conscious. A tub of lip balm can glisten lips, tidy eyebrows, and act as an instant manicure rubbed into the cuticles if that's all you have time for. But do make the effort.... for deserve it.

My memories of my Mum on Christmas Day was that she always wore a dress with a festive print, a smile on her face, a pretty scent, and her favourite lipstick. I'm doing the same.

RIP Mum...we miss you.

Christmas is all over my tray of bliss today...what's on yours?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Happy Flowers...

The message on my Tray of Bliss today is from my husband.

"Don't worry, Be happy", with a big smiley face drawn next to it.

Now, don't get me wrong, I AM happy. But yesterday, despite my best efforts, I spent the day chasing my tail.

A tally of my home made gifts showed I was 7 gifts short for my many and varied relatives (if you read my profile, you'll see that this almost numbers a cast of thousands!). This shortfall was created because of my generous nature, inherited from my European mother. At this time of the year, everyone from the postman delivering my online purchases, to the man reading the water meter, gets a little gourmet gift. These random acts of kindness left me a little surprised when I started wrapping and beribbonning, and realised that my stockpile had been seriously depleted. So a good portion of the afternoon was spent making a special edition of my Spicy Tomato Relish, 7 loaves of Choc Ginger Buttermilk Fruit Cake, and some Raw Chocolate Truffles...and don't worry...although I have no intention of turning this blog into a recipe reference, I will, on this occasion post recipes, because I know that these are tried and true last minute gourmet gifts.

Gift Nirvana was achieved, but not without some huffing and puffing on my part because I had planned to finish a few other Christmas related tasks today, as this is the last 'free' day I have prior to Santas' Arrival.

So, seeing my frowns, and noting my huffing and puffing, my dearest one saw fit to leave me a little note of encouragement upon leaving this morning.

He is right. Like a babe eager to enter the world, as the first Christmas baby was, the day will arrive whether I am ready or not. So roll on Christmas Day and if the gift tally is one or two short, well, so be it!

My photograph today is of a Sunflower, taken in South Western France. These are literally the size of dinner plates and dwarfed my daughter in photographs. The were row upon row of Sunflowers on some farms, and they were a sight to behold. Sunflowers are such happy blooms. They lift their pretty faces to the sun, worshipping it wholeheartedly.

Let's all approach our Christmas Celebrations with the same wholehearted enthusiasm, but let's not leech the joy from it by exhausting ourselves either.

Gifts or not, ready or not, Christmas will come. It will be over swiftly. Enjoy and embrace the ones you love, revell in the moment, and savour the memories you are creating.

What's on your Tray of Bliss today?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

How to get 26 hours in a day....

On my Tray of Bliss today is my to-do list.

It's as long as my arm.

I seriously need 26 hours in a day...not now, but every day. I know I'm not alone..."I'm so busy" and "I don't have time" are a common catchcry amongst my friends.

I've developed a new strategy to help me squeeze 26 hours out of my 24 hour day. It's really quite revolutionary....are you it is...


Now, I realise that at this point, some will think I've lost the plot. Going to bed an hour earlier, loses you an hour, right?

Not so.

If I stay up late, watching the 'Nasty Box', as we call the TV, I crawl into bed at around 10:30, don't fall asleep till 11:30, and drag myself out of bed at 7:00am if I'm lucky. I approach the day in a distinctly lacklustre fashion, and don't get nearly enough done for my liking.

However, if I avoid watching TV (at my age, I've seen it all before anyway and can almost always predict what happens next..), wind down with a good book, and wander off to bed by about 9:30, I'm asleep by 9:35, I wake at 5:00, bright eyed and bushy-tailed, and I've effectively gained 2 hours in my day.

Now, I'm not saying this would work for everyone, but if you're struggling with just not having the time to do the things you'd like, at least try this. Pick up the remote control, and turn the TV OFF. Yes, I know, the first few times will be hard, and you'll have an overwhelming compulsion to immediately turn the thing back on. You'll be looking for something to fill the void.

But it takes about 30 days to form a new habit. So persist for one month, and see how you feel, and how much more you can achieve.

Dig out the board games, plant a veggie patch, write your own novel, start making gifts for NEXT Christmas, re-visit a favourite book, go for a walk. talk to your partner and kids, play word games or Chinese Whispers. Write down 10 things you love about each other. It's soppy, I know, but can also be hilarious if you let it be.

Go, do it now...the kids are probably planted in front of the darn thing as you read this. But first, make a list of what you can all do WITHOUT the TV the Boy Scouts say..."Be Prepared".

Good too, will be a different person with 26 hours in your day.

Keep me posted on how it goes!

Oh, and as a bonus, the world looks so much prettier, more peaceful and inviting when you're up early. This photo is of London, taken from the Dockside precinct, in the early hours of an October morning. You'd never guess the chaos further up the!

What's on your Tray of Bliss today?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Christmas Mocktail...

On my Tray of Bliss today is a reminder...

"Thou Shalt Not Overindulge..."

I have my strategy in place for limiting my spending and my the drinking!

This Christmas, I am serving Mocktails. Maximum indulgence, minimum headache!

Here are my two favourites for Christmas.

Christmas in Australia is punctuated by bouts of extreme heat and humidity and cooling afternoon thunderstorms.

The heady scent of stone fruits mixes with more traditional Christmas aromas such as Ginger and Cloves. It's a stunning combination.

My Christmas Mocktails both use a product available here in Australia called Bundaberg Ginger Beer. Bundaberg is a small town in Central Coastal Queensland. The Ginger Beer brewed there is second to none, and has many mythical properties, including curing morning sickness and hangovers of mammoth proportions, and stimulating the appetite!

If you do not have access to a good brewed Ginger Beer, then you can find many easy recipes for a Simple Syrup infused with Ginger on-line. This, mixed with soda, is a fair substitute.

Christmas Mocktail No. 1
Stormy Afternoon Cooler

Tint some caster sugar orange, by mixing a drop each of yellow and red food colouring into it with a skewer. You can do this in advance and keep it in an airtight jar.

Separate an egg, and tip the white into a saucer, saving the yolk for another purpose (our doggy actually eats ours most of the time...a nice Christmas treat for him.)

Take a balloon glass, and dip it into the eggwhite, then into the tinted sugar, to rim the glass.

Mix equal parts Apricot Nectar and Ginger Beer in the glass. If using Gingered Simple Syrup, it's best to make it up to your desired strength like a cordial and use as instructed. Working carefully and slowly to maintain separation, pour a small amount of single cream on top of the drink to create a 'cream float'.

Garnish with a pineapple wedge and some crystallised ginger on a skewer. Serve with a bendable straw for sipping. The cream can be stirred through or left as a yummy finale, as desired.

Christmas Mocktail No. 2
Ginger Lime Stunner

Rim the glass with sugar as described in recipe one.

Pour Lime Juice Cordial in the base of the glass...around 2ozs or 60mls.

Top with Ginger Beer or Syrup and Soda, stir well.

Add a small scoop of Vanilla Bean icecream, and garnish with cherries, fresh on their stalk.


What's on your Tray of Bliss today?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Bigger Picture...

Okay, quickly, what is this a picture of?

Some of you might say....a bridge, a tower, a wheel. It's hard to tell because the point of view of the person taking this shot is so close to the structure.

This can happen in life too. Sometimes we are so close to a situation, or dilemna, that we can't work a thing out any more.

Further to my post of yesterday, urging you all to focus on the simple things this Christmas, I now say to you...remember the big picture.

Dont' laugh...those two ideas actually fit hand in glove...the simple things and the bigger picture.

It's not whether the tree is perfect, the turkey glossy and brown or the plum pudding moist. Those are all the minutae of life. I can't recall most of the meals I've had on Christmas Day. They are just a blur. But I do remember with whom I shared them.

My belief is that Christmas is about showing your loved ones that you care, that you value them above all else...yes even the Turkey....that they are important to you, not just at Christmas, but every day of the year.

My memories of Christmases past are haphazard in terms of gifts given and received. But I have many cherished memories of reading the bonbon jokes aloud, playing Charades and singing Carols.

Instead of filling your families stockings with throwaways from the discount store, why not write a memory on a slip of paper and turn it into a bookmark, by laminating it and punching a little hole in the top through which to thread a ribbon.

Or write them a note with 'ten things I love about you' as the heading?

Why not copy an old photo of one of your own Christmases past, and make a game of seeing how many things the rest of the family remember about that day.

It might be a real eye opener for everyone, to find what those memories are.

I bet it's not about the gifts.

On my Tray of Bliss today is my menu for Christmas Day....

Chilled chicken breast with Festive Dukkah
Bar Room Slaw
Raw Chocolate Truffles
Smiles and Laughter

Of all of them, the last is the most important to me. I would serve jam on toast (on a suitably beautiful tray with linen serviettes!) if that's what put the smiles and laughter into our Christmas.

And by the way...the's the London Eye taken from one of the Pods on a chilly October evening...I bet someone guessed~

What's on your Tray of Bliss today?

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Peaceful village of Talmont.....

The sleepy windswept coastal village of Talmont in South Western France, knows how to seduce.

Not for them, the grand buildings and ornate lamps of the big cities.

Just simple white and ecru buildings, accented with the blue of the ocean, and the green of the native flora.

A visit here is a salve for the soul of the weary traveller. Perched on the sea, in South Western France, it's a little off the beaten track, but well worth a visit.

There are markets here on the weekends, but as a weekday visitor, we were privileged to wander the tiny streets, unencumbered by crowds.

We loved the single geranium, the French lavender, the climbing rose, used with restraint to embellish the humble homes here. The residents of Talmont work with their harsh oceanfront conditions and display a commendable minimalism in their external presentation of their pretty cottages.

An odd treat, was a visit to the tiny cemetery that occupies the prime oceanfront view in the village.

Nestled inside rock walls, in front of their sweet chapel, who could resist wandering and absorbing the loving care with which these tiny memorials are maintained. 

 Can you imagine a prettier spot to be laid to rest?

 Each memorial features numerous loving tributes carved from stone, or fashioned from ceramic with messages of commemoration and affection...

This one says ....

"Songbird, if you fly over the falls, sing your sweetest song"...

A truly moving and memorable stop for us. 

Perhaps when my time comes, I too, could be laid to rest in pretty Talmont...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas High Tea...

I love a good High Tea.

This week I've had the pleasure of hosting a Christmas High Tea for 14 lovely young ladies, friends of my young daughter.

They're a gorgeous crowd of girls, and quite sophisticated for 10 and 11 year olds.

So when planning a Christmas gathering for them, it was High Tea or nothing.

Our menu included ribbon sandwiches with egg and lettuce and herbed chicken breast, miniature caramel tarts, sponge cake with passionfruit icing or strawberries and cream, and these pretty little lemon meringue nests. Really just a little hollow meringue, filled with home made lemon curd and topped with a sliver of strawberries.

More recently, my sons girlfriend rustled up cookies and cream cheesecakes, lemon meringue tarts, macadamia nut slice and butterfly cakes for a special birthday.

I love a good High Tea....

What's on your Tray of Bliss today?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Now THAT'S a Chandelier!

I love love love chandeliers. Don't you?

Isn't this one exquisite?

I took this photo, having just enjoyed the most perfect afternoon tea on holidays in France. This is a magnificent, hand blown milk glass chandelier at the Regent Grand Hotel in Bordeaux.

To me, it says drama, luxury, beauty, mystery. It brings to mind pictures of impeccably dressed ladies in enormous hats, walking tall dogs on long leashes. The silk curtains and brass tiebacks, seem to be there for no other reason but to frame the chandelier. Certainly the tiny room it was in, served no other useful purpose. How very French!

In my dreams, I live in a home grand enough to accomodate a chandelier just like this one.

Maybe one day....

Friday, December 3, 2010

Homemade Christmas Bliss....

On my Tray of Bliss today is the Limoncello I've made for family and friends as gifts this year.

Limoncello is seductive when served chilled from the freezer and is simply lemon peel (no pith...that's the white stuff) steeped in vodka for a couple of weeks, strained and mixed with a sugar syrup, and left to brew to a luscious smooth liqueur over several weeks or months.

The labels are something I just whipped up using some clipart, and I have decoupaged white tissue paper over them to give an artisanal appearance.

My family look forward to my home made gifts each year, and just between you and me, I reckon this one's a real winner!

Recipe for the Limoncello Sensazionale`....


1 litre is fine
12 organic or home grown lemons (spray free)

For the sugar syrup used later:

4 cups sugar
6 cups water


Large open mouthed jar with airtight lid. A spaghetti storage jar with a swing top lid is ideal.

Sharp vegetable peeler

Saucepan for making sugar syrup


Peel the yellow peel from the lemons, being careful not to get any of the white pith as it will make the limoncello bitter. Pile these into the jar, and add the vodka. Leave in a cool, dark place for 14 days, giving the mix a swirl every couple of days. The liquid will gradually turn yellow and the peel will fade.

After 14 days, strain the mixture through a clean, damp Chux or some muslin, into a large bowl or jug.

Make the sugar syrup by bringing the 6 cups of water to a simmer and adding the 4 cups of sugar. Stir until dissolved and allow to cool.

Add the cooled sugar syrup to the lemon vodka, and mix well.

Rebottle as desired. You can put in a little extra vodka at this point if you like. This will increase your yield, but I would only do it to top up bottles, not to dilute it or you will lose the flavour.

You can then make a super cute label using a fancy font and clip art.

I glued mine to the bottles with Decoupage Glue. I then pasted a torn piece of white tissue wrap over it to give it that hand made look.

My bottles were sourced through eBay, but many of the discount stores and home brew suppliers have suitable containers.

The longer you leave the Limoncello, the smoother it becomes. I have a 5 litre flagon of it on the go now. A bit of an outlay up front, but it's for my sons' wedding next year, along with a few gifts in between.

This recipe works equally well with limes, blood oranges or valencias.

What's on your Tray of Bliss today?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A picnic basket....dreaming of Bordeaux...

At this busy time of year, it's so important to connect with our loved ones.

 It's all too easy to get so caught up in preparations for Christmas gatherings, that we forget to just 'be'. 

So today, my daughter and I are taking a picnic to a local park.

Our park is not as picturesque as this one, so I thought I'd share this photo from my holiday shots.

This photo was taken in Bordeaux in France on a cold, drizzly day, after we'd driven several hours to visit our friends who live there.

The rain stopped just long enough to capture this pretty scene...just like something out of a Hans Christian Andersen story.

Our local park is not as green or lush, but we love it all the same. And our little doggie loves to chase the ducks there too!

What's on your Tray of Bliss today?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Old Fashioned Roses....

Aren't these rose gorgeous?

They grew in the gardens of the chateau in the South West of France, in which we stayed for ten blissful days.

I swanned around in floaty dresses with my hair festooned with spray roses, and enjoyed playing Madame of the region.

I dreamed of composing stunning wedding bouquets for the Madamoiselles of the area...
 ...and now compose gift tags instead, using pretty images like this one... do you life the French Life?