Thursday, January 25, 2018

In the land of Bulas!

We were very blessed and fortunate to be able to take an overseas holiday at the conclusion of a full school and work year. To re-group as a family and reward ourselves for staying on course with a few wobbles thrown in.

Our first destination was to the pacific island of Fiji. Only 3.5 hours flight from Brisbane. We were on Fiji time from the moment we stepped on board the plane.

It is the ideal location for us because we ceased to be busy, routine was thrown out of the window and we thrived on Fiji time (in all sense of the word).

We rejuvenated at the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton on Sonasali Island. To get there from Nadi International Airport is super easy. 

30 minutes by private car and a 1 min boat ride from mainland. 

We arrived at a secluded tropical paradise and stayed in a beach bure (Fijian word for wood-and-straw hut). The unobstructed views, swaying coconut trees, friendly smiles and waves lapping onto the shore serenaded our bodies and mind to just ... relax and breathe deeply.

Our days were spent in the pool, by the pool, at the pool bar, on the sun get the point. In the evenings, we would head to the restaurant for dinner, hit our pillows by 9pm, awakened leisurely at 9am, be one of the last families to show up at the extensive breakfast buffet before plunging in to the pools for the day.

There was something for everyone. We were 1000% present with each other and nothing else mattered. Just us.

Charlotte and Daniel went to Kids' Club for a few hours and met other children, learnt to catch sand crabs, made a kite using recycled materials, etc. The husband went to the gym and I read...check out my reading spot below:

Suffice to say, we were very content and grateful.

After three full days on beautiful and relaxing Sonasali Island, we departed for our next destination. To my surprise, I found myself slightly teary when we departed because the Fijian people we had encountered were absolutely beautiful and that deliberate pause was exactly what my soul desperately needed.

Vinaka vaka levu Fiji and your people.  We will return.

Questions to ask kids after school

It is true that time flies even faster when they start school. Just like that, they are in Year 2 and will be turning 7 years of age in a few months. They are definitely taller, certainly more knowing and are generally nice kids.

When I pick them up in the afternoons, it is often a challenge getting any information out of them regarding their day and their usual response is "we did so much and cannot remember" so I turned the tables on them.

On Tuesday, I asked them to find out (through observation) what makes their teacher smile / laugh. Their observations informs me that she has a terrific sense of humour!

Yesterday evening, they told me that one of their classmates has special needs so an opportunity presented itself. Their task is to introduce themselves and give him a high 5. "What if he does not high 5 back?" asked Charlotte. "Well, just tell him - have a nice day" was my response. Charlotte and Daniel beamed.

What about you? What do you ask your children after school?

Friday, October 13, 2017

Recipe: Vermicelli Rainbow Salad

The climate in southeast Queensland lends itself to cold refreshing salads almost all year round. We love salads that are full of colour, crunch and bursting with flavour. 

This week, I was a very grateful recipient of fresh produce that were loving tended by a dear friend and the ideal way to treat them is showcasing their glory without any fuss. Once again, the fresh ingredients listed can be whatever you desire. The element you cannot differ from is of course, THE DRESSING.

Its simplicity and visual appeal coupled with a few key pantry staples saw the birth of this creation which was devoured by my family repeatedly. Oh how my heart sang that evening!

Vermicelli Rainbow Salad
Serves 4 - 6

1 x 250g packet of mung bean vermicelli / glass noodles
1 medium size lettuce
1 medium size capsicum
1 medium size carrrot
1 medium size cucumber
3 tomatoes

3 tsps sesame oil

3 garlic cloves, cut into small bits
90ml extra virgin olive oil
6tbsps soy sauce
3tbsps honey

  1. Cook the mung bean vermicelli / glass noodles in a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Put the cooked vermicelli in a colander, run cold running water over it. and ensure that it is drained well. Place the drained vermicelli onto the servicing platter or bowl, drizzle with sesame oil and tossed with fingers.
  2. Prepare the dressing. Place a very small pot over medium heat on the stove, add the oil and garlic. Wait till the garlic is almost medium brown in colour, add honey - swirl the pot to mix it followed by soy sauce - swirl it. Cook the dressing on low heat for 5 minutes. Turn it off and set it aside to cool
  3. Put the vegetables on top of the vermicelli noodles and toss with fingers to mix them all in. Pour dressing over the mixture and toss with fingers again.
  4. Enjoy the salad on its own or as a side with a main meal.

Recipe: Chicken Soup with Meatballs

By the time mid-week comes around, our refrigerator is almost depleted of its supplies so I rummage - work out what is still available and create a meal from it. 

Clear soups are a firm favourite. It is devoured heartily, everyone leaves the dinning table with a full tummy and a firm smile of satisfaction plastered on their faces. That fills my heart with gladness.

So if you have "leftover" fresh produce that are hardy in the refrigerator, consider making a soup (if your weather is conducive) instead of a salad or stir fry. 

The fresh produce listed in the ingredients below are merely what were left in my crisper. Create your own flavour combination with what you have got especially when you know they will impart amazing flavours.

Chicken Soup with Meatballs
Serves 4 - 6

2.5L of chicken stock*
2 medium sized carrots
2 medium sized potatoes
2 handfuls of raw peanuts
1 medium size broccoli
1 corn on the cob
1/2 punnet of cherry tomatoes
1/2 handful of goji berries

500g pork mince
2tbsps oyster sauce
2tbsps soy sauce
1tsp sesame oil
1 egg, beaten
White Pepper

  1. In a deep pot over high heat, add the chicken stock while you prepare all the ingredients. Add the prepared ingredients into the stock with the exception of the meatballs, broccoli and cherry tomatoes.
  2. While the soup is getting up to temperature, prepare your meatballs. In a deep bowl, mix all the ingredients and shape each ball with your hands. Set aside.
  3. When the soup starts boiling, turn the heat down to medium and add the meatballs. Turn the heat down to low and let the gentle heat of the soup caress all the elements. Walk away and have a glass of wine at this stage.
  4.  During the cooking process, you will notice foam / scum rising to the surface of the soup. Skim it off to create a clean and clear broth.
  5. In each serving bowl, add raw broccoli florets and cherry tomatoes. Then pour the hot soup and all the beautiful vegetables & meatballs over them (broccoli florets and cherry tomatoes). Have it on its own or with Jasmine rice / noodles / pasta.

* Chicken stock
If you are a purist and prefers making your stock from scratch - I applaud you.
If you have a favourite pre-prepared chicken broth from the store - use it.

I had none of the above so I used the next best thing which always guarantees me maximum flavour - Lee Kum Kee Chicken Bouillon Powder. You can purchase this at most Asian grocery store. If you are using this in your soup, add 3 spoonfuls (using the plastic spoon) in its container) with 2.5L of water. It is the bomb and my family wasn't thirsty after drinking this soup.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Recipe: 3 Ingredient Asian Glazed Salmon

From the fridge to the stove and transferred onto a plate with a fresh salad in 15 minutes flat. This is one of our favourite weekly family meals that is big on taste and even bigger on ease.

3 Ingredient Asian Glazed Salmon
Serves 4

4 x 125g Atlantic Salmon (skin on)
4 tbsp Ketchup Manis
2 tbsps Honey

  1. Place a non-stick pan over high heat for 1 minute
  2. Add Salmon (skin side down) to the pan and turn the heat down to medium
  3. Brown each side for 2 minutes
  4. Add Ketchup Manis and Honey to the pan and coat each piece of Salmon. Turn the heat down to low. Let the glaze do its magic for 5 minutes.
  5. Serve it up!

Easy Raw Spring Salad
This simple and delicious salad was put together while the Salmon was being glazed in the pan.

Basically, put together a salad of your favourite vegetables and in our case, it is:

1 medium sized broccoli, broken up in bite sized pieces
1 medium sized carrot, cut up into bite sized pieces
1 tin of chickpeas
1 punnet of cherry tomatoes

1 tbsp egg mayonnaise
4 tbsps apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp honey

  1. Put all the prepared vegetables and chickpeas in a large bowl.
  2. Combine the dressing in a small bowl.
  3. Pour dressing into the large bowl of salad.
  4. Serve it up with your Salmon or any other protein that you desire.

Bon Appetit!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Our First Family Road Trip: Newcastle

Newcastle is a harbour city in the Australian state of New South Wales. Its plentiful beaches are linked by the Bathers Way, a coastal walk stretching between Nobbys Beach and Merewether Beach. The walk provides access to Bogey Hole, a convict-built ocean bath from the colonial period. Also on the path is the 1880s Fort Scratchley, a historic site and a viewpoint for spotting migrating whales. The drive from Sydney takes just over 2 hours.

We decided to stay a few days because there are family connections to this place and with my mother in law house-sitting for family friends, it was a great opportunity for all of us to reminisce the past, for the children to check out the different places their daddy lived as a young child and to have a mini holiday together. 

Memorial Walk
The Newcastle Memorial Walk was constructed to commemorate the centenary of the ANZAC landing in Gallipoli in 1915 and the commencement of steel making in Newcastle. This spectacular coastal walk boasts 360 degree views of the city and coast, draws a connection with to Newcastle's Bathers Way. This is a magnificent memorial to the men and women of the Hunter who served their community and country.

Fort Scratchley 
The large and elaborate state of the fort built at Newcastle during the 1880s reflected the importance of the region's resources and the apprehension felt for their safety.
Sixty years later, Scratchley's massive guns went into action against an attack by a Japanese submarine during World War II, earning it distinction as the only fort on the Australian coast to have fired against enemy attack.
These guns now have pride of place on the Historic Site. The military vacated the site in 1972, but the fortifications remain as a concrete record of the evolution of late 19th and early 20th century coastal defence strategy, until changes in modern warfare technology brought the fort's defensive role to an end.

Today, the Fort's Historical Society preserves the military heritage, providing exhibitions and guided tours of the site and its amazing tunnels.
The Lock Up
This was an interesting experience for us because none of us have ever been to a lock up (hopefully, we never will). We assumed that like Fort Scratchley, we would walk around - explore - learn more about what the prisoners did, etc.
The Lock-Up was built to support the Newcastle Police Station which was housed in the adjacent Court House (now the site of the former 1902 Post Office) and was used from 1861 until its closure in 1982.
In 2007, the Lock-Up was unveiled as the The Lock-Up Cultural Centre. This included the gallery space, museum, and residency program. Since this date, the Lock-Up has had an attendance of over 50,000 people!

Newcastle Museum
The Newcastle Museum was such a fun experience for all of us. In fact, if you unfamiliar with Newcastle, make this your first stop because it will give you a good understanding of the this harbour city and its people - resilient, hardworking, creative and entrepreneurial spirits! Their permanent exhibitions include Super Nova, Fire and Earth, a Newcastle Story and Link Gallery.

Stockton by Ferry 
If you have 3 hours to spare, check out this quaint suburb - Stockton otherwise known as Tin City is only 5 mins from Newcastle by ferry. It offers sweeping views of Stockton Bright to Port Stephens. Stockton is a peninsula, with thHunter River at the south and south-west and the Pacific Ocean at the east. On the eastern side are sand dunes and surfing beaches, with numerous shipwrecks at its north, while on the western side there are marshes, where many migratory birds can be spotted. There are numerous spots at Stockton suitable for recreational fishing. Take a stroll, bring a picnic, sit on a park benches and take in the serenity and stunning coastline.
Newcastle will always have a special place in all our hearts largely due to family history and existing connections. We are grateful that the children and I got to learn more about this beautiful city.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Our First Family Road Trip: Blue Mountains

This was the longest day trip of this holiday. 12 hours to be exact and it included the 4 hour round trip from Sydney to the Blue mountains and back.

The Blue Mountains is a rugged region west of Sydney. Known for dramatic scenery, it encompasses steep cliffs, eucalyptus forests, waterfalls and villages dotted with guesthouses, galleries and gardens. Katoomba, a major town in the area, borders Blue Mountains National Park and its bushwalking trails.

Our first stop was to visit the iconic Three Sisters and Charlotte asked where the three brothers were - fair point, child. We have no idea and cannot give you an answer for that!

It was an incredibly cold and windy day up there. We had our ski jackets on for good reason. After that, we drove to Scenic World to purchase our unlimited rides on the railway, skyway, cable car and walkway.

From here, we took the first skyway (cable car) to Katoomba Falls.

Thank goodness we had the foresight to wear shoes for walking on different terrains and conditions. 

We navigated through bushes, muddy grounds, wet rocks, holding onto each other and tree branches to get this spot.

It was a mini accomplishment with these two young travellers. They amazed us each day with their sense of adventure, curiosity and zest for life.

It is such a honor watching the surroundings and experiences through their young eyes.

It was such a thrill to ride a 52 degree incline riding the steepest railway in the world! Carrying 84 passengers, the train departs every ten minutes. Disembark at the bottom station to access the Scenic Walkway and stroll through 2.4 kilometers of Jurassic rain forest.

There are a few walking treks to choose from. We chose the 50 minute walk which was just beautiful. The air was cool and the serenity around us was very calming. Be warned - you need to be at least moderately fit to undertake this because there are steep part of the walk which requires the full stretch of your leg muscles.

As we drove away from Katoomba, we noticed signs for Wentworth Falls and decided to check it out not knowing how long it would take. By this stage, we were all rather exhausted from all the walking so we went to the look out for the falls and were greeted by this magnificence.

Although we did not make it down those stairs and trekked to the falls, we were satisfied and happy knowing that we had such an amazing full day surrounded by nature.