The fury of fire dampens New Year mood

Happy New Year to everyone. That said, I can’t remember a more sombre start to a new decade than the communal mood of sadness over the devastating bushfires across Australia. Our historic Adelaide Hills villages and its wonderful wine region have suffered enormous loss of property, hectares of vineyards, almost 100 houses, and equipment and so much livestock. Although we are saddened with the one death in the wide path of the Cudlee Creek fire, we are grateful that the human toll wasn’t much worse.
But the furious fires on Kangaroo Island, where I holidayed regularly for 8 years,  destroyed half the island’s pristine landscape including Flinders Chase Visitor Centre and the prestigious Southern Ocean Lodge.  Two renowned South Australians lost their lives.

No-one can predict the after-effects of the devastation of wildlife – so unique to the island – where 40 per cent of the land mass is National Park. The future of tourism is unclear.  The farming community has lost its livestock, the livelihood of the island’s farmers. its equipment and a lifetime of investment.

Interstate the story of devastation seems to be never-ending.  We are shocked and saddened by the losses and despair of so many of our fellow Australians – more than 1000 homes lost and goodness knows the toll of fences, outbuildings and regional businesses – and 20 deaths to date.

However, this morning, it rained to bring new hope that this will be the end of the fires at least in South Australia.

Yet, in January 2020, we step into a new decade, and I hope for many things.  Naturally, I wish my own good health and contentment will continue and the continuing health and happiness of my big family.

One only has to watch the SBS news to witness our distressed world,  and as our new year rolls on, I hope for peace in the Middle East (seems a fading dream) and an easing of so many tensions created by world leaders across the globe. All we powerless people can do is hope they will make wise decisions and consider the precarious condition of our planet.
At home, in Adelaide, I wish all my family, friends and Facebook mates a year of health, happiness, fun family time and leisurely activities.

Two decades wring change

Merry Christmas to you all.

And a Happy New Year in a few weeks when we herald 2020.  How time flies, and how it sweeps in profound change, whether we like it or not.

It is hard to look so far back to the beginning of the decade, let alone the turn of the 21st century, because we tend to forget life’s blessings.

I met and married my lovely Frenchman, Olivier, who had springboarded my metamorphosis into once more becoming a wife on January 12, 2008 after 20 years as a divorced single mother. He inspired my first book From France With Love – our love story of when he took me to France in 2004.  It was published by Penguin in 2007 and so I became an author.  Such a great quiver to my bow, along with my long career as a journalist and columnist.  FFWL was a wonderful success, being reprinted three times and finally selling out.  When he died on May 12, 2012,  I struggled with a vortex of grief. Eventually, I returned to France with my woman friend, Jane, and recovered that joie de vivre over those six weeks.   My experiences of the crippling effects of grief led me to write Farewell My French Love, my bitter/sweet memoir, published by Harlequin in 2017.  As we approach the end of 2019, I am proud to say there are only 12 copies left.

I retired in 2009, and Olivier and I travelled to Prague for the launch of my book From France With Love, which created rich memories, because it was published in my ancestoral Wendish language, although I didn’t know it then.

Since the loss of Olivier,  my family life has been enriched immeasurably over this decade. My daughter, Serena and her family of husband, Jon and three children, returned from five years living in the UK and moved to Queensland. My son Tyson and his wife Vanessa, had their first child, a delightful baby girl named Scarlett and two years later, their son, Zachary was born.

I now had five grand-children, who have been such a joy and, to me,  they really are the sweet fruit of ageing. My three adult children all live in Melbourne, and I travel there regularly to enjoy family life.

In 2019, I have turned my attention to searching for my women forebears from Eastern Europe.  I have found my two forgotten 3X and 2X maternal grandmothers, who emigrated from Silesia in the mid 19th century, and their lives were such a mix of joy and sadness.  I found their emigration applications in 1848 and 1855 and it seemed natural to begin writing a third manuscript, fictionalising their lives, which, if published, will be a historical drama.

So, as well as organising my trip to Sweden to attend the Lyceums’ International Congress in Stockholm,  and St Petersburg, Moscow, this year, I organised to travel to Poland to search the  three ancestoral villages in Silesia.   The journey had its moments because I travelled alone and hired a driver and a translator, which was an amazing experience.

To the present.  As we approach 2020, life continues at Belair, where my memorial is beautiful.  Most days, I can be found reading, researching or  writing my third manuscript. The whole journey into ancestry is one of enormous growth and I have met some very interesting “relatives”,  (third cousins).  I have discovered that three arms of my family established Blumberg (now Birdwood).  Of course, I hope for a third book and will put my heart into it, but to get three out of three manuscripts published would need a miracle given the state of Australia’s publishing industry. But, hey, the journey into my ancestors’ past, has been such an adventure.

Lastly, I enjoy the richness of my dear friends, who have travelled this journey of life with me, and our happy times together would also fill a book.


Entertaining friends – a creative act of love

L’art de la table, February 2018

For the past 16 years, I have kept a Hostess Book which capture the many dinner parties and celebrations held in my various homes, both as a divorcee, a married  woman and, finally, as a widow.

When I was married to my lovely Frenchman,  Olivier, dinner parties were grand occasions and the order of les rapas (the meals) was strictly French. As he once said, “entertaining in the French manner is not easy because I have the whole  food culture to uphold“.

Since his death, almost six years ago, I have held few dinner parties and my entertainment became the other French lifestyle – holding aperitifs – where friends were invited over at around 5-6pm for drinks and hors d’oeuvres.

However, after an 18 month hiatus, this week I have  dusted off my myriad French cookbooks, chosen recipes, shopped for ingredients, then donned my apron once more  and cooked   la nourriture. 

That’s a great start to French entertainment. But, almost as important as le gout (taste) of the food, is the setting or l’art de la table.  This is the truly pleasurable, creative side of receiving guests for a meal. My floral arrangement is my own creation, using agapanthus and other  flowers.

Villeroy & Boch porcelain dinner set is the piece de resistance of my dining experience.

My piece de resistance isn’t French, though. It’s the German Villeroy & Boch porcelain inner set entitled “Country garden”.  When I found matching napkins in the V & B retail outlet at Burnside Shopping Centre in South Australia, I was ecstatic. What a good reason to invite a few friends around for inner, I thought.

Finally, last night, my five guests (after sparking French white wine in the garden) sat down to eat at my dressed dining table. Everyone made a contribution – women providing a vegetable dish and dessert, the men bringing bottles of wine and soft drink.

As a widow, I have swapped from using French recipes all the time to a mix of cuisines.  My home-made dip, the Middle-Eastern Baba Ganoush, was as simple to prepare as a cereal breakfast.

Cut an eggplant in half, bake in the oven, peel and squeeze out moisture; place pulp in vitamiser and add tahini paste, salt and pepper and dash of lemon juice.

I laugh as I recall how Olivier would never let me cook steak because he liked it “blue”. He would love to add “Blue means red blood on the plate”.  Ugggh.

But, he did convert me to medium rare steak, which is how I cooked the rib eye steak, a few minutes on either side until it was pink and blood moist inside. Two guests wanted medium-well-done, so this required a long 10 minutes of cooking. (I don’t know how they eat it now, which shows how my taste has evolved.) Two onions, sliced and cooked until soft beforehand were added to the red wine gravy, based on the marinade which I used on the meat overnight.

Accompaniments were fried zucchini and celery, while a large dish of potato gratin – my sister’s contribution – was finished off in the oven.  Accompaniments included   cabernet jelly – and Dijon mustard, of course.

To accompany such a magnificent meal (I say so and so do my guests) we consumed two labels from Coonawarra – Brand’s Laira Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 and its Dry Red, 2013 and  Bent Wind, 2015  from Coonawarra.  These were all delicious, rich fruity wines.

Dessert came courtesy of one of the winners of My Kitchen Rules, posted on its website. White chocolate cheesecake with berry coulos and ice cream.  My friend made her own shortcrust pastry and it was a delightful third course.

However, with so much love spent creating the eye-popping dessert, I swapped the cheese platter to last – forbidden by my husband, who insisted cheese came after the main course and was served with green salad.

Cheese platters these days reflect a modest income, although I always choose D’Affinoir, the creamy French camemr=bert as well as a Dutch edam and a bitey Australian cheddar.



French Medieval masterpiece a must to see

Medieval masterpieces – the panel reflecting sight – of The Lady and the Unicorn.

The rarest of French Medieval masterpieces – the six-panel tapestries known as The Lady and the Unicorn – will be on show at the Art Gallery of NSW until June 24, 2018.

On loan from the Musee de Cluny also known as the Musee National de Moyen Age in Paris, the 500-year-old French national treasure  is the  world’s greatest surviving Medieval artwork.

Woven in wool and silk at the end of the fifteenth century, La Dame (the lady) is assumed to be a beautiful Medieval virgin because, in the  panels, she flanked by the mythical unicorn on her left and a lion on her right.  Mythology only aligns Unicorns with purity and virgins.  In the artwork, the lady is richly clad in Medieval costumes and each panel is an allegory of the five senses – sight (shown here), hearing, taste, touch and smell. Each panel features a lush background of exotic animals and fruit-laden trees and flowers in what is believed to reflect the idyllic pleasures of earthly life.

The larger main panel, where the lady stands before an ornate tent, carries the words “A mon  seul desir” suggesting a theme of love and desire.  But  the origin and meaning of the large scale artworks have been lost in time. One theory is that they were commissioned by a powerful French nobleman  who wanted to make his desires known to his loved one – a common theme of the courtly culture of the times.

They have been created in the style of the mille-fleurs (thousand flowers) and were lost for about 300 years before being rediscovered in 1841 in the Boussac castle in Central France. In 1844, the popular 19th century French novelist George Sand saw them and immediately recognised their immense value and they were correctly dated at the end of the 15th century.  Sand  brought them to public attention in her novel Jeanne.

Meanwhile, in contemporary times, several of the tapestries can be seen hanging on the walls of Gryffindor in the Harry Potter series of films.


Tickets to the exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW are available on line for $18.00 per person, $16.00 concession with special family rates.


Late-summer garden brings joy and pride

My gardener Steve works in my Belair garden.

It’s best to be honest about my garden which spreads around my newish home in Belair. Probably, it’s about 600 square metres in size and gives me immense joy.

However, I must quote words from Charles Barr published in a little anthology Up The Garden Path by Laura Stoddart where he is quoted as saying:  “The best way to get real enjoyment out of the garden is to put on a wide straw hat, hold a little trowel in one hand and a cool drink in the other, and tell the man where to dig.”

It sounds like me in my garden. Certainly, I am not a digger. But I do potter in my garden alongside my gardener, named Steve, who has nurtured and maintained my garden for five years since my husband Olivier, passed away.  As I wrote in my memoir Farewell My French Love, Olivier was  the green-fingers gardener, but his garden was largely destroyed when we bulldozed the old 1950’s cream brick house to make way for the new retirement home. Unfortunately, Oli only lived for eight months in the new house – just enough time to organise workmen to complete the landscape designer’s “bones”of our garden – pathways, retaining walls, steps and driveway.  He was still with me when she planted small shrubs of varying foliage and habits and one gleditsia tree, according to her plan.  The rest was left as a blank canvas.

But, I was not the gardener.  My own life was draped in grief  at the time and yet, somehow I needed to find inspiration to inject colour into the patches of bare earth surrounding the new home.  Olivier’s memorial garden began the day I received his death certificate in the mail. There was a mail-order rose catalogue, too. Despite the waves of sadness sweeping over me, I opened the catalogue and chose a dozen roses by their names to reflect our life together.  “Wedding Day”, “French Lace’, Tour Eiffel” and “Amazing Grace” were a few.

A friend, who loved irises, gave me a few bags filled with irises ready for replanting and someone else offered a bare-rooted rose.

Then two of my green-fingered friends arrived with baskets of cuttings of herbs and seaside daisies and myriad other clippings I had never heard of.  We three women spent a long afternoon poking greenery into the soil.  The upper garden was a tough stretch of earth, but sea daisies and lavender were hardy enough to take root.

Five years later, I have a late summer garden which fills me with pride and as I snapped its various corners, I felt waves of joy at my accomplishment.

Yes, the garden has been a costly budget item, particularly the water bill, but there’s no doubt it creates a peaceful environment for a retired lifestyle.  It is a very big job for Steve who works every three weeks here clipping the hedges, planting, transplanting, weeding, watering and training  plants up trellises and cutting back rampant variegated ivy.

My garden is now six years old and it’s time to share my green masterpiece. I snapped Steve this morning hard at work in my upper garden and although  the photograph is fuzzy, it captures his role over the years.

Late summer southern garden

Pines, wisteria, pond and statue create peace.

Time to Talk about my memory on Community TV