Our Easter feast includes a “Stuff-Off”

Our Sunday stuff-off – from left, Jon’s, Vanessa’s and my own entries.

Food culture has invaded our Easter celebrations with all the birds roasted for our Sunday feast being filled with stuffings in our family’s stuff-off.  The table is set with the best china, Josephine has picked flowers for the table setting,  the potatoes are crispy and the three birds, the duck, the turkey and the chicken,  have all been carved. Their stuffings have been removed and carefully placed in three white bowls sitting on alfoil sheets which bear the initials of each entry.  Now I can divulge that son-in-law Jon’s was based on Marron in the true French winter tradition, daughter-in-law Vanessa’s was an onion, prunes and walnut mix and mine was the simplest stuffing from the great chef Escoffier’s cookbook – 2000 recipes for the French housewife.  Mine filled the turkey’s cavity and dare I boast was moist and flavoursome, being made of breadcrumbs, onions, bcon rashers and eight sage leaves. I added a tinge of lemon by rubbing the carcase with half a lemon. Everyone voted and after much argy bargy about loyalties, Vanessa won most votes and I am proud to say my grand-son Angus voted with me for mine.  A collective decision voted that mine was second and John’s a heavier stuffing was a bit drier. It was all so much fun and involved the whole family in a study of taste and texture.  All the birds tasted delicious, the duck being devoured within five minutes on the table.

” Your stuffing is better than the last one of apricots and macadamias,” Vanessa tells me.  “It was too sweet, but this time the apple brings some sweetness and moistness, too.”  And she adds:”What amazes me is how different they all taste and the variety of ingredients we used.”

This is not to say that we did not neglect to observe the religious significance of Easter Sunday as Christ’s Resurrection Day, the true meaning of Easter. So, we had a prayer and Grace for our meal laid out before us. Tyson raised his glass to wish each other a Happy Easter.

Josephine creates a floral centrepiece

Bon appetite!” I say to begin the feast and everyone knows that it carries an unspoken remembrance of husband Olivier who would always say the important “Bon Appetite”.

The Power of Words

American thinker Joseph Campbell once said “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”

They are comforting words for a new widow, and a quotation which I intend to recite morning and evening.

There have been other really bad patches in my life which are now mere memories, but following a road accident which was absolutely debilitating for two years I would recite the following verse until I had a delicate operation on my middle ear to restore my balance.

“Let Us Then Be Up and Doing,

With a heart for any fate,

Still achieving, still pursuing,

Learn to labour, Learn to Wait.”

I think these words were written by William Wordsworth.

Words carry immense power and this little verse was powerful therapy for me to learn patience while doctors worked out how to repair the “mild head injuries” I had sustained in a rear end collision.


Right Royal Beautiful Boatload

Queen Mary I at Outer Harbour, Adelaide

We have one life to live and it’s the experience of each moment that matters.  Curiosity; serendipity; Whatever words you wish to use; its that desire to find excitement and joy in every day which makes life a lovely adventure.    Today, for instance.  We are in the right place at the right time driving along the Semaphore foreshore planning to have coffee at the exotic Palais when  there in the distance I spy a huge ocean liner.  A ship this size in Adelaide is not an every day occurrence, or even  every month. So plans are disrupted and we drive to Outer Harbour to find the largest liner in the world – the Queen Mary II – berthed at the wharf. People are jammed into the timber lookouts jutting out over the channel and perched on the rocks below. “She leaves in 15 minutes,” someone says.   Here is a magnificent spectacle. The calm sea is azure blue under a cloudless sky,  a few leisurecraft bob up and down in the sea,  a police launch stands by, all adding to the atmosphere around this huge luxurious floating city.  Smoke begins to pour from the bright red funnel and a yellow tug boat takes off towards the breakwater. Within a few minutes, the huge ship carefully eases itself away from the wharf.    The decks of this magnificent leisure ship are lined with its thousands of passengers waving to the spectators and we all wave back joyfully.  The police launch moves off and the ship gives three almighty hoots. Children scream and cry out.  “The ship is saying ‘goodbye’ to us,” says one mother.  Everyone with a camera is happily snapping photographs of the majestic liner.   All too soon we are staring at its bow as it heads out to the gulf.

But wait! The spectacle is also the crowd now dispersing because here at Outer Harbour the colourful,  multi-national face of who we are today as Australians is also on show.     We have been nudging shoulders with hundreds of people, many of whom bear the genetic characteristics of other faraway countries.  People from Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa, India and the swarthy features of Mediterranean countries are all distinguishable.  Such an event serves to remind us that we Anglos, too, are a nation of boat people and while we did not arrive aboard the luxurious Queen Mary II, my forebears – both Germanic, Wendish and British – all arrived in boats to make Australia their new home. It springs to mind, too, that my late husband Olivier arrived in Sydney on board the PS Marconi with his French-born family 40 years ago next month.  Then there were  countless boatloads of Europeans on migrant ships post World War II and in the 1950’s there were many “10-pound Poms”  many of whom had new houses waiting for them at Para Hills when their boats berthed right here.  Everyone has a story of how they or their forebears arrived on our shores disembarking from boats. It makes such a colourful history as the Migration Museum on Kintore Avenue has so aptly captured.



Lush landscape in memorable journey

An iconic windmill in barren landscape near Tailem Bend

Mad March heralds Autumn and farewells the most extraordinary summer in my memory.  It seemed at one stage the whole of New South Wales was burning in an ominous scattering of more than 100 bushfires. They followed Tasmania’s devastating bushfires and later in summer, some of  Victoria’s national parks also burned.

Here in South Australia we were spared, but we sweltered, recording the hottest day of all the capital cities at 46 degrees one day in January.   It puts into context the news story “Blistering summers will go on’’ in The Advertiser this week whereby the Federal Government-funded Commission released “The Angry Summer’’ report warning we must brace ourselves for more, harsher hot spells and of increasing flood risks.

Which brings me to my holiday in so-called sunny Queensland in January to be housebound with the grand-children for almost a week of torrential rain and to witness daily the tragedy of the devastating flooding of that  State.

Yet, summer, for me, started in an idyllic sunny mood –  a peaceful train journey on The Overland from Adelaide to Melbourne, which revealed an amazingly diverse landscape if one only opens one’s eyes to the contrasts of our countryside.

Take the Adelaide Hills, where rich, black, fertile soil lies fallow, but furrowed ready for seeding.  Further along the railway track, the farm land is filled with ripe vegetables with workers wearing Chinese-style hats busily picking the crop for market.  A luscious sight for local foodies.  On the other side of the track, it’s a delight to regard hectares of vineyards climbing way over the hills and sweeping down to the fence line, lush and green and sprawling in their fertility.

Ploughed earth in Adelaide Hills

However, South Australia is the driest state in the driest continent in the world, but even this barrenness has its beauty when seen through the train window where I am relaxed and soaking up each changing scene. The other side of Monarto is low, rounded, bare hills, a brave tree or two,  a windmill planted in this stark landscape and cows gathered around water.

History is also hidden from the road which links our hills towns and from the train I spy a unique pioneering scene.  An olive grove thrives close to the ruins of a settler’s cottage with a second roofless dwelling well on its way to destruction by time.

Soon, I am admiring the River Murray as we cross over on the old railway bridge and from my bird’s eye view I spy a huge paddle steamer and plenty of houseboats with Murray Bridge behind. My maternal grandmothers lived a little way up river at Caloote and stories of the Murray life are imbued in my memory.

One of the easy ways of discovering foreign lands is to take the train, and the fast TGV is a favourite in France.  However, how often do we take the train purely to soak up the scenes of our own unique broadacre wheat fields, where hectare after hectare of the stubbled land bears witness to a golden crop of grain. Do we snap madly at the meandering tracks of the huge reaping machines in our own South East country?.  Yet this farm land was once poor quality, but here is evidence of how it has become beautifully fertile by the addition of valuable trace elements to grow crops.  Aha! And there is the evidence:  A long  truck laden with harvested grain stands next to a wheat stack near Bordertown while its cargo of wealth from the fertile land pours into silos.

Into Victoria and the journey takes us past Mallee scrubland and through its regional towns of Horsham, Nhill and Ballarat where the railway station is a grand public building.

Onward to the stunning Grampians, which present themselves as a hazy purple hue on the horizon before taking dramatic shape for many kilometres of the journey on the right hand side of my comfortable carriage.

Surprisingly,  the recently refurbished Overland runs into the port of Geelong, where large ships give us a snippet of wharfies’ working lives.

Lush vineyards in Adelaide Hills

As we roll slowly into Spencer Street Station, it occurs to me that my leasurely ride in a Red Carriage of the Overland has traversed 828 kilometres covering a beautiful slice of Southern Australia – and I am thankful that at the end of summer, wildfires did not ruin South Australia’s unique terrain.

See Great Southern Rail Duration: Daylight Service in both directionsv Distance: 828 kilometres (513 miles)
Frequency: Three times per week in both directionsFor more information see www.greatsouthernrail.com.au.



Authors share stories at Writers’ Week

Writers Week in Adelaide was once more a smorgasbord of talented writers and I indulged in the unique atmosphere and being inspired by some of the world’s best authors. It now unfolds annually in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, a glorious treed space behind Government House – and the whole magnificent event is free.

Celebrated UK biographer Anne de Courcy spoke at the Booklovers’ Breakfast at Government House on an idyllic Sunday about her book The Fishing Fleet: Husband Hunting in the Raj, a fascinating account of the young women sent out from England to India to find a husband.  It was quite a trade of mainly English girls from the 1600s to 1890s to overcome a surplus of women, who sailed with the instruction “find yourself a husband’’.

“It was terribly important in Victorian times for women who had very very few opportunities for careers that they were expected to get married and have children,’’ said Anne.

“As late as the 1930s Australian girls were also fishing girls who travelled from Adelaide to India to seek out a husband in the Raj.”

Another British writer, wearing centuries of upper class breeding, was an extraordinary writer Edward St Aubyn, the author of a five-book series triggered by an horrific event in his young life.

When  I took my place under the blue shadecloth attractively strung between huge shady trees, I knew nothing about him, but the blurb which stated that his series (written over 20 years) chronicled the life of fictional Patrick Melrose, scion to a wealthy English family. What unfolded in conversation with Michael Cathcart, was the fact that Edward’s stories, although fictional, were triggered by the real life horrific fact that his father raped him as a young teenager.  The series began with Never Mind and at Writers Week, he spoke of his last book, to bring it all to a close – At Last – his fifth.

UK author Edward St Aubyn shares his own childhood experiences.

In between entwined in Patrick’s story is the harrowing tale of Edward’s own heroin addiction, his recovery and closure  fictionalised in the three middle books.

On Tuesday, I was up with the kookaburras to see my dear friend and renowned journalist, Samela Harris chair the session with Australian biographer Brenda Niall, whose biography True North: The Story of Mary and Elizabeth Durack, is the latest in some renowned biographies.

It was fascinating – sitting in the glorious Pioneer Women’s Garden – to hear an unknown story of two Australian women. Niall had access to many letters and Durack family papers to create intimate portraits of Perth in the 1920s, the Kimberley and the two sisters’ lives as artist and mothers.

Brenda, an older woman, is best known for her work on the Boyd family of artists and writers, including the biography Martin Boyd.

Of course, in our foodie culture, Writers Week would not be complete without a foodie writer..and I hung on every word of Steven Poole, a UK writer  whose book You Aren’t What You Eat scotched our food society, slated food fads, took the Mickey out of food celebrities and decried what he called “too much gastroporn’’.

“Jamie Oliver calls just about every ingredient “this is sexy’,”, says Steven.”

“We have fantasised tothe point where it is more porn than eroticism.” (More on Steven Poole in my Foods blog.)




Family and a Frolic in City’s Mad March


Scarlett under grandma’s care

Time slips by quietly and suddenly it is 10 months since husband Olivier died.  Some friends say “time enough’’ for grief and beseech me to “move on”.  And I wonder what do those words mean?  Am I to forget my great love? Yet I can’t erase him from my mind and I don’t want to. I am doing the sensible thing. Living each day as a blessing and still accepting all the invitations I receive.


Tonight’s gruesome episode of Midsommer Murders concluded with Barnaby saying “Grief is universal, but we must each express it in our own way.’’


Right now I am pouring my grieving into our garden, Olivier’s memorial garden and I do love to talk to him about the progress of our plants and the new ones. These include the roses, irises, flax plants, cannas and astromaelias which have been dotted throughout the “bald spots’’.


The garden is evolving in  a surprising manner, unlike anything we envisaged because plants now have been donated by kind friends who have dug up a proliferation of plantings for me. Everything goes in – even the humble seaside daisy. The most coddled plants, though are my tomatoes, scattered throughout the plantings – and one has borne 29 fruit!  Olivier must be smiling in his spiritual life at my metamorphosis.


This morning I began clipping the French lavender border plants. Soon, the agapanthas which line our long driveway will be dug up and divided for a long line along the eastern boundary.  The roses Amazing Grace and French Lace have flowered prolifically and here are some photographs of them.

My vase of rises – Amazing Grace and French Lace


Meanwhile, on the plains Adelaide dances in Mad March with the whole city filled with tourists for the Adelaide Festival of Arts, Adelaide Fringe and my own glorious gem of a cultural event – Writers Week.  This unique literary indulgence began with the Booklovers Breakfast in the grounds of Government House, hosted by the Independent Arts Foundation, and then we women walked down the hill to Writers Week for the first of three days of listening, buying books, questioning, discussing authors and being inspired.  I sat under the canopies, strung between tall green trees in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden to hear writers talk about their books. Read about it in my “culture’’ blog.

Crowds at Writers Week hear UK author Edward St Aubyn


The city has donned its party skirt for a non-stop frolic of fun, art, theatre and literature in Mad March.  What a spin we Adelaideans are in having to decide what to attend, where to spend one’s precious time.  Every nook and cranny, café or unused warehouse has been turned into a Fringe venue.  And whether we attended or not, the exciting Clipsal 500 with all that Vroom Vroom noise and jets zooming low over the suburbs,  adds the extra dimension that those thousands of high octane petrol heads bring to the city’s electric atmosphere.  One big reason for the sell-out 90,000 crowd this year was that Kiss performed after the big race.  And tomorrow there is a holiday for us to attend the Adelaide Cup.


And after all that delicious culture, Friday was a fabulous first for me – a joyful, but slightly unsettling event when I cared for grand-daughter Scarlett for the first time for four hours alone in my own home. Bliss!


Of course, beforehand I took her to my favourite shopping centre in her pusher and glowed as interested passers by stopped and ooed and aahed at her.


One old man pushing a trolley stopped me and told a story:  “My father was a toy-maker and when I was a young teenager, I would repair dolls,’’ he said.


“Japanese dolls were fashionable back in those years and they were beautiful celluloid dolls. I think that little baby looks just like one of them. She is beautiful!’’ A very special moment of sharing with a stranger.


Later, as I propped  her up on the child’s blanket I bought for zilch from a garage sale, scattered her toys around her and urged her to clap her hands (her latest development) I thought I would burst with joy.


Olivier would think I am doing quite well and I share every happy moment with him.