A weekend in Wollombi

IMG_6578Escaping the drudgery of the daily grind is always front of mind for me. I excel at, and thrive on, planning holidays, getaways, escapes, trips away, short breaks, days out and anything that involves seeing a new place and experiencing new things. It is sort of like a full-time hobby.

Thankfully Mr B is also something of a pro in such matters, so when he recently whisked me away to the utterly charming town of Wollombi in the Lower Hunter Valley region – a major wine region two hours north of Sydney – to celebrate my birthday, I was squealing like a little piggy in delight.

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Mr B and I have been to the Hunter Valley A LOT. We like wine, cheese, the countryside and all the indulgences that go with a weekend of gastronomical delights. What’s not to like? But as with most popular destinations, it can get a bit crowded at the weekends, with bus loads of people rocking up to wineries, overpriced food at mediocre establishments and general busyness that can prove irritating when all you want is a snifter of shiraz.

So this time, he took me to the delightful town of Wollombi, which is slightly off the beaten track, has a smattering of delicious wineries, luxurious accommodation options and less people than the main “hub” of the valley and is also pretty pleasing on the eye. To say I was in my element is an understatement.

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We stayed in Athol Cottage on the amazingly luxurious Blair Athol Estate, which is set on 800 acres of farmland and has kangaroos, wombats, wallabies, cows, horses and an abundance of other wildlife roaming freely. It was quintessentially Australian. And romantic.

Athol Cottage is an old cedar slab barn that has been lovingly restored to create a gorgeous getaway with a modern rustic vibe. It has a hot tub, all the mod cons you need, a hot tub, a log fire, a hot tub, a glorious deck, a hot tub and an amazing outlook onto the hills and valley. Did I mention that it also has a hot tub?

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As it was my birthday, we were greeted on arrival with a cheese platter, a special birthday chocolate fondue and a bottle of champagne, which was immediately opened and devoured, before spending the rest of the afternoon wondering the estate, feeding the horses and cows, drinking more bubbles and growing nice and wrinkly in the hot tub. It was divine. We didn’t want to leave.

Thankfully we didn’t have to as Mr B had the foresight to organise an abundance of food hampers to be delivered to the door of the cottage, so all we had to do was prepare, cook and eat. For me, this was perfection as it meant we could stay in the cottage (hot tub) and not have to get in the car and go in search of a pub or restaurant to fill our already full tummies. They even cut the onion and grated the cheese for the pizza toppings and chopped all the ingredients for the salad – what luxury! – so it really did require minimal preparation.

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Admittedly, we did venture out on Sunday after an amazing cooked breakfast of local produce, to visit a few of our favourite wineries and pick up some supplies to take back to Sydney, but we didn’t feel obligated to try anywhere new. We wanted to spend time in the amazing surroundings we had escaped to and savour every single moment. The weekend was all about Athol Cottage and spending quality time together – and of course, my birthday. We drank a lot of wine, ate a lot of cheese, ate a lot of everything else and played a lot of Trivial Pursuit. It was a truly magnificent birthday. Parting was such sweet sorrow.

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Glamping at Paperbark Camp

IMG_6430My husband and I are big fans of camping. Even before I met him I was a lover of the great outdoors, there is something really liberating about building a home for the weekend, settling down with a glass of wine by the camp fire and playing endless games of Trivial Pursuit under the beautiful night sky.

As I have gotten older, my camping experiences have evolved to be less about festival party experiences and more about a cheap getaway from the hustle and bustle of the nine-to-five. I wouldn’t say we rough it, we eat fillet steak and greek salad, drink Malbec and have cheeseboards. We just do it outside, away from technology and the comfort of our home.

Recently I upped the ante and booked a weekend away for Mr B’s birthday to the luxurious Paperbark Camp in Jervis Bay, a gorgeous eco-luxury “glampsite” in Woollamia, about three hours south of Sydney. Having spent time in Africa, I knew Mr B would love the safari style tents, but I was a little concerned that the place wouldn’t live up to the hype and we would return to Sydney disappointed.

How wrong was I? It was truly glorious in every way. We stayed in one of the deluxe safari tents, which had THE MOST COMFORTABLE bed I have ever slept in and the most amazing bath tub overlooking the natural surroundings. I spent a good two hours with a book and a glass of bubbles (or two) in that tub – it was heaven.

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And if decadent plush surroundings were not enough to satisfy my pursuit of weekend escape luxury, the food in the onsite Gunyah restaurant was amazing too. Our booking included the Taste of Jervis food package which included breakfast and a three course dinner daily. I am usually a little sceptical about “food packages” and generally like to do my own thing, but once again, I was proven wrong – the food was sublime. Confit duck and Hiramasa Kingfish ceviche were a couple of the delicious morsels we wolfed down with a glass of red and my taste buds went into overdrive when I devoured the lemon posset, eucalyptus ice cream and compressed apple dessert – truly scrumptious.

And if a deliciously filling three course dinner wasn’t enough, a lovely touch also offered by Paperbark Camp is that you can order a picnic to take with you when you leave to explore the surrounding area for the day. On the Saturday, we drove to nearby Greenfield Beach, did a mini trek through the national park and returned to eat and drink a fantastic homemade lunch sitting on the beach, which meant we could enjoy our surroundings and not have to cut our beach time short to go in search of a place to eat. And believe me when I say this was not your average picnic, think gourmet chicken sandwiches, frittata, cookies, nuts and friands rather than soggy sandwiches wrapped in tin foil. It was a really nice touch.

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Back at the camp, we enjoyed drinks on the deck before heading to the Gunyah again for another amazing meal and a fantastic bottle of red and then retiring to our tent for a game of Scrabble and a nightcap. We woke on the Sunday completely relaxed but sad to leave as the whole experience was how a weekend should be – quality time together with excellent food and drink in beautiful surroundings. So we begrudgingly packed our bags and headed back to Sydney, but not before being farewelled by a family of kangaroos and the cutest little joey ever. It was simply perfect.

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Darling December: A Picture a Day

If I had to pick my favourite moments of time in December, I would struggle immensely. For me, December was how life should be: filled with adventure, precious time with family and friends and feelings of such happiness you feel thankful to be alive.

Only having to work for three days in December was an amazing way to round off the year and flying out of Sydney for a month in the UK, with a family mini-break to Vienna, was the best Christmas gift a girl could ask for. It was without doubt, the best month of the year.

Unlike the other months in 2014 when I reflected on the highlights, it is impossible for me to pinpoint my favourite moments in December because December itself was a highlight. It was the ray of light in a year of change and transition. It was a month of gratitude.

December was a fitting end to a year of learning about myself and about life. It was the perfect close to a year of understanding that things do get better when at first they suck; it was the grand finale to a year that made me understand that life is too short to think but not do.

December was about adventure and discovery, it was about family and friends, it was about good wine, great food and fantastic company. It was about London, it was about England and it was about love.

I cannot pick one special moment, or five special moments in my December to write about, because there were no special moments. It was all special. It confirmed to me that no matter how far you roam, or in what direction life takes you, home is where the heart is, and mine is in England.

This was my December.

London bound

London bound

Arundel Castle

Arundel Castle

Hearty English grub

Hearty English grub

Oh! Vienna!

Oh! Vienna!

Scrumptious goulash

Scrumptious goulash

An evening of culture

An evening of culture

Family fun

Family fun

London at its very best

London at its very best

Fun times with Daddy

Fun times with Daddy

Celebratory November: A Picture a Day

The month of November is a month of celebration in Sydney. The days are longer, the weather is heating up and the countdown to Christmas is well and truly underway.

This November was no different, except that it was my last full month of work for 2014 and signalled the start of the four-week countdown to my first visit back to the UK for two years.

To say I was excited was an understatement. I don’t care what anyone says, it doesn’t matter how long you live here, Christmas just ain’t Christmas without cold weather, mulled wine, woolly jumpers and a roaring fire. Most importantly, it will never be a proper Christmas without my wonderfully mad family and our special Christmas rituals.

Typically in Sydney, the Christmas countdown usually begins with the Melbourne Cup, which occurs on the first Tuesday in November. This horseracing event “that stops a nation” is a big deal in Australia and this year I treated myself to a new frock and fascinator for a day of celebration with my new work colleagues at the GPO.

A suited and booted Mr B joined us later and we entered an Instagram competition to win a $100 dining voucher by posting a selfie of our dressed up selves on the GPO page. Amazingly we won, which was a fantastic way of covering the cost of said new frock as well as make up for the lack of success in the actual race itself. 

My obsession with Instagram also paid off when Not the Daily Grind was featured in GoodHealth magazine. I was so chuffed to see my photo and blog mentioned in print that I proceeded to re-post the original image alongside the image featured in the magazine. I think I have a serious problem.

November also marked four fabulous years with my darling Mr B, which we celebrated with an evening of fine dining at the amazing Argentinian restaurant Porteno. Not only is the food in this place absolutely delicious, the ambiance, setting and atmosphere are incredibly unique and the wine and cocktails are to die for, as are the brussels sprouts. Yes, you read that correctly. Brussels Sprouts. 

As a lover (read: weirdo) of brussels sprouts anyway, I can honestly say that these do not actually taste like the usual “boiled to death” grandma style sprouts. So if you are ever in Sydney, give them a try. They truly are a revelation.

Before heading back to the cold European winter, our final weekend saw Mr B and I go on a spectacular scenic tour of Sydney harbour on a seaplane. I am not much of a sea baby, nor am I a massive lover of planes, so I was a tad on edge, but Mr B was in his element.

However, as soon as we were airborne, I absolutely loved it. Seeing Sydney from above reminded me of how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful city, and despite my initial anxiety, our whistle stop tour of the skies was over way before I was ready for it to end. 

This was my November.

London Calling

London Calling

Cup Day Winners

Cup Day Winners

Four years and counting

Four years and counting

Fame for Not the Daily Grind

Fame for Not the Daily Grind

Sydney from the skies

Sydney from the skies

Outstanding October: A Picture a Day

The month of October was one of exploration and travel. Looking back, I think it was one of my favourite months of the year.

The first weekend in October marks the Labor Day public holiday in New South Wales and as annual leave is often limited, Mr B and I decided to make the most of the long weekend by heading off to South Australia for three days of indulgence in the Barossa Valley.

The Barossa Valley is simply breathtaking. I cannot tell you enough how stunning this part of the world actually is. Rolling hills, quaint villages and some of the world’s finest shiraz can be found only a short drive from the city of Adelaide.

I got my first real wine tasting experience in 2009 when I left the UK to travel around South America, where I ended up cycling through the vineyards of Mendoza in Argentina. Since then, I have been lucky enough to visit a few more.

One of the great things about living in Australia is going on a classic road trip through the local wine regions. There is just something so fabulously exhilarating about driving through spectacular countryside, stopping for lunch at quaint little cellar doors and stocking up on fine wines, cheeses and ports for an evening of pure indulgence. Especially in an age when carbs, sugar, dairy, wheat and everything edible is supposedly bad for you.

So Mr B and I made the most of it by hiring a car, hitting up the cellar doors and having a damn good time in one of the most picturesque places on earth. We saw fields of lavender and deadly brown snakes, we ate cheese, bread AND chocolate and drank plenty of red wine. We didn’t want to leave.

Back in Sydney, the rest of the month saw further adventures. There was a girls’ camping trip to Putty Beach on the Central Coast; nights out with friends on the harbour and my ‘appearance’ in Katie Quinn Davies’ second cookbook, What Katie Ate at the Weekend, which I wrote about back in April. Okay, so you can only see the top of my head and my right cheek, but it is a claim to fame I am taking, especially as it topped off an utterly fabulous month.

This was my October.

The best lunch EVER

The best lunch EVER

A drink with a view

A drink with a view

Breathtaking scenery

Breathtaking scenery

Fields of lavender

Fields of lavender

Fame at last

Fame at last

Subdued September: A Picture a Day

September marked the first day of spring in Sydney, a month I truly love. The mornings are crisp and fresh, the sky is blue and the days seem to last just that little bit longer. It is a time when everyone starts to emerge from their self-imposed winter cocoons in search of some vitamin d.

This September was a month of reflection for me. It was all about happy memories; plans to create new ones and treasured moments with the people I love. Some sad news about a dear friend of mine meant I took a few weeks off social media in early September, and therefore, my cherished moments were few and far between.

But the beauty of my picture a day challenge meant that after some time out, I could once again embrace the reason I started to post a daily picture in the first place. This helped me to remain positive and search for those moments of beauty in every day life, those moments of true happiness, those slivers of contentedness, where if time stood still, I could happily stay there forever.

Moments like walking along the beach on a strangely warm spring day; the feeling of excitement and anticipation at seeing Mr B’s face when he returned from a five-day work excursion to the Australian bush; and the simple pleasure of a glass of wine, a good read and great conversation.

In the past, I have been guilty of letting life’s shitty moments weigh me down, sometimes, even life’s run-of-the-mill mundane moments. But if September taught me anything, it is that life is too short to dwell on what could have been; it is too short to harbour grudges and it is too short to waste time on being unhappy.

Life is precious. It is for loving and it is for living. Fill it with people you love; live it doing the things you love and look back only ever to laugh and smile. No regrets.

This was my September.

Remembering the good times

Remembering the good times

Quiet time

Quiet time

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Spring has sprung

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I see people

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Back with my boy

All about August: A Picture a Day

August has always been my favourite month of the year. Firstly, because it is the month of my birthday, (and who doesn’t love birthdays?) but also because as a child growing up in London, it always meant school holidays, exciting adventures and long glorious summers spent with my family in Ireland. Even as an adult it meant long summer days spent drinking with friends in beer gardens, something that London excels at. There is no place like London in the summer.

Living in Sydney means my birthday is now in winter, which despite what everyone back in the UK thinks, can actually get quite cold. But this actually makes it more exciting. Every year, I usually take the opportunity to escape Sydney’s winter and head to the sun, but this year, I embraced it.

Mr B planned a gorgeous surprise weekend away in the Kangaroo Valley – a breathtaking part of NSW that reminds me of home. We stayed at Broger’s End, a fabulous eco-eclectic luxury establishment, complete with chickens, log fires and wombats. It was truly fabulous, the perfect antidote to a rather hectic start to the year, where we talked, played games, drank fine wine and ate far too much cheese – a common theme for the rest of the month.

August also ushered in a job change, Australian citizenship and lots of down time with friends. In Sydney, everyone hibernates in the winter – it is the perfect time to make the most of being inside and catching up with friends. For some reason, summer flies by in a haze of barbecues, parties and outdoor activities, and while I enjoy those to the max, I cherish the bright, crisp winter months. It must be the Irish in me.

This was my August.

Broger's End

Birthday luxury



Afternoon tea

Afternoon tea

Hunter Valley

A vineyard with a view

Horsey

A friendly neigh-bour

Stormy Coogee

Stormy Coogee

Fearless July: A Picture a Day

July saw my life take a significant shift in direction, which is probably why it has taken me so long to complete this blog entry. Admittedly, three months is pretty slack, but it has been a roller coaster few months and I have only just had time to stop and catch my breath.

For me, July was a month of discoveries and new beginnings. I decided to leave my old job after a very long period of uncertainty and subsequent buyout of the business. It was a very easy decision to make and one that forced my hand after feeling undervalued for far too long.

It was a big decision, but I knew it was the right one. For the first time in three years I felt confident of my own achievements and truly believed the world was my oyster. Then, before I had time to panic about the direction in which my life was heading, I was headhunted for a job that I love and have been doing for almost two months now.

It’s funny how things turn out. The timing of that phone call could not have been more perfect. After years of feeling disillusioned, lost and completely and utterly exhausted by my ‘career’, I finally feel rejuvenated and have rediscovered my passion for writing, editing and all things creative.

While leaving my old job was the most significant change in my life in July, and probably the most significant of the year, the month itself was a great period of reflection and discovery for me.

I had time off in between jobs to ‘sort things out’ and while I had grand plans to ‘get stuff done’, I didn’t even make a dent in my to-do list. Instead, I enjoyed it for what it was – time to breathe.

It is so rare in today’s hectic world that you find yourself with time to simply just enjoy all the day has to offer. Rising early, going for a run, walking by the beach, cooking, reading good books, the sound of birds, catching up with friends and spending quality time doing what you love with the people you love the most.

Sydney can be utterly exhausting, and the weight of that exhaustion has overwhelmed me these past three years, but July signalled the start of a new chapter for me. I feel happier, more confident and more positive about all aspects of my life, and for that I am extremely grateful.

This was my July.

Cabbage roses

Beautiful cabbage roses

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Gorgeous Samantha Wills earrings

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A reminder of home in Sydney

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The ocean pool in my front yard

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The new local hotspot – Coogee Pavilion

Remembering Vicky

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Yesterday I discovered the very sad news that a friend of mine had passed away following a very short battle with cancer. I am devastated. I can’t sleep and I keep checking my messages just to double check that she hasn’t replied. She hasn’t. But still I check. 

I had known Vicky for about 13 years. We met at work in London, became friends, lived together for a couple of years and spent quite a lot of time in the pub. Of course there were ups and downs, there always are, but the one thing I remember is the fun and laughter we shared. 

Over time, life got in the way and we drifted apart. I lived in Sydney, she lived in London and the only real glimpse we had into each other’s lives was through Facebook. But last year that changed. 

Having quit a job she didn’t like and embarking on an extended holiday to figure out what she wanted to do, Vicky and I found ourselves back together in Australia. We both admitted to being anxious about meeting up after so many years apart, but it was just like old times. 

We talked about her plans, her aspirations, how she had decided to spend a year in Melbourne doing a Masters and drank five years’ worth of Prosecco in one night. It was just like old times. 

Sadly, we won’t get the chance to recreate that night, but I can relive the old ones. I am eternally grateful that she came back into my life and that we got to pick up where we left off all those years ago. Her lust for life was inspiring; she went after what she wanted and wasn’t scared to embrace change. 

I will miss her dearly. 

 

Cosy June: A Picture a Day

June marked the start of winter here in Sydney, and that means wholesome food, creature comforts and the overwhelming urge to hibernate. That, my friends, pretty much sums up my entire month.

When I tell people back home in the UK that it gets cold in Australia, they simply do not understand. Or rather, they simply don’t believe it. To them, Australia is all about the sunshine and beaches seen in Home & Away, the fact that there is a winter here at all seems unfathomable.

Admittedly, winter in Sydney is never as cold as London in the depths of January, but the colder months do bring an unfamiliar chill to the bones that make me yearn for nourishing soups, roast dinners and log fires. Admittedly, I don’t have a log fire, just a rather rubbish electric heater that makes me faint and curse when the bill arrives in the springtime, but that’s another story.

I was also a bit under the weather in June, you know the way – scratchy throat, itchy eyes, the imminent threat of a full blown cold – but it simply didn’t materialise. This meant that I was more than happy to stay inside, embrace my Nigella-esque skills and cook to my heart’s content, which is why food is a key theme in this month’s blog.

On the one night I did venture out, it was with relish. Some dear friends, Mr B and myself all hit a Mexican restaurant in Crows Nest on Sydney’s North Shore for a night full of laughter,  Coronas and super sized burritos. The food was great – top notch Mexican cuisine in this city is hard to find – and of course, it tasted a whole lot better sporting a giant sombrero. That makes it really authentic…right?

Here is June.

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Mayhem in little Mexico

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My first attempt at pumpkin bread

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Beautiful sunflowers from my gorgeous man

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Blustery Sydney

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Baked Eggs – Turkish Style