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This was the year…

…I climbed a mountain. A mountain 4095.2m above sea level, to be exact. In mid-November Mr B, myself and a small band of fellow crazy people hikers tackled Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia’s highest mountain (not the tallest in South East Asia as many are led to believe; a range of mountains in Myanmar hold that honour). I’d done lots of practice on Penang Hill, so I started the hike well prepared mentally. Reaching that summit just after sunrise was magical, and the sense of accomplishment was worth every ache of soreness.

I also completed the world’s largest Via Ferrata at Kinabalu, climbing and navigating a vertical drop from 3776m. Let’s just say I wasn’t as mentally prepared for that part of the adventure. I was fine until I went over the edge of the cliff and saw the sheer couple of hundred metre drop below. Cue the panic. I think of myself as fairly good with heights but doing that climb scared the crap out of me. There were plenty of tears shed, obscenities uttered and quite a few “I can’t do this anymore” moments…but we completed the trail. The guide said I wasn’t the worst person ever to do the trail, but I think I came pretty close. And I think Mr B was pretty close to filing for a divorce (I think I really pushed that “for better or worse” part of the marital vows to the limit on that mountain.) In short, I’m glad I did the Via Ferrata, but I will never do it again. I’d tackle the summit again though…

…I became an Advanced Open Water Diver. Mr B and I visited Koh Tao in mid-December to get our qualifications. For Mr B, all he had to do was move from Open Water Diver to AOW. I on the other hand had to get the Open Water qualifications before we could even start on the AOW. My last scuba diving experience in the Perhentians in Malaysia wasn’t the best of experiences, so I went into my Open Water training with plenty of nerves. This time around there were still a few tears and moments of panic, but mostly it was just lots of fun, thanks to Mr B and my awesome instructor, Fabio (seriously, that’s his name!) Swimming amongst the fishes, exploring shipwrecks and “finding Nemo” is the most amazing experience. I hope we can do lots more diving in 2011.

…We did shedloads of travel. There was the big trip around Morocco, Spain, France (well, Paris), England and Scotland; girls trips to Bali and the East Malaysian state of Sarawak; a visit to Hong Kong to watch Mr B play cricket; a few trips to Thailand; a few visits to KL and of course the Kota Kinabalu visit in the east at Sabah. Sabah, Bali, Hong Kong and Thailand (Koh Samui and Koh Tao) were all within the last six weeks or so, hence why this blog has been a little quiet…

So, so blessed to have this rare opportunity to travel so much and I’m loving every minute I can cram into an itinerary. I plan to continue this pattern in 2012 – if I can get away with it.

…I didn’t cook a Christmas dinner. We went out with friends for a buffet lunch at one of Penang’s nicest hotels, the G. I bought cupcakes and gingerbread along to the poolside supper, which was the extent of my holiday baking this year. As much as I loved the all-you-can-eat smoked salmon and prawns (and the roast buffet, and the chocolate fountain…) I sure did miss my Boxing Day leftovers sandwich and snatching mouthfuls of Buche de Noel out of the fridge.

…I did lots of exploring in Penang. I love to drive into Georgetown, attempt to park my car (it can take a while to find a park) and then explore the streets on foot. Happy to say I’ve crossed a few things off the “to do” list I made up, and have quite a few more things to add. That’s a whole other post though.

… I swapped volunteer secretary work for volunteer editorial work, and am so happy with the change. This new role suits me to a tee, much more than the former did. I really need to share some of the pieces I’ve written on here; I don’t see any harm in doing so.

…I celebrated four years of marriage with Mr B. I’m hoping that adorable man will allow me to celebrate at least 40 more years with him 😉

…I had my parents and two of my brothers visit us in Penang. It was very cool to see my folks enjoy Penang as much as I do, but especially my two brothers. With both of them being autistic and intellectually handicapped, I was doing my share of “big sister” worrying before they arrived about how they would cope with the different climate, customs, food, etc. But both of them did brilliantly and enjoyed their visit. One of them, who isn’t known for his huge appetite, even developed an affinity for the local food and would specifically ask for us to go for makan. Awesome.

…Enjoyed a lot more time with friends. Being an introvert, it takes me a while to build up friendships with people but this year, new people have arrived who are now good friends, and friendships started last year have strengthened. I’m so thankful for that. I’ve done a lot more socialising this year, and am definitely happier for it. I hope to savour those friendships more in 2012, as well as build some new ones.

…I gained some of the weight I lost last year. Yeah, I’ve spent quite a few hours berating myself for that. Yeah, I know how it happened – I wasn’t as much of a gym junkie (for various reasons), I did a lot of foodie indulgences on my travels and a few sad moments in the year meant I ate a lot of feelings. But next year I’ll be living spitting distance from the gym and I plan to cycle to the wet markets for my fresh produce. Let’s see how that goes. I don’t want to be focused on a weight measurement or a dress size, I just want to feel strong and healthy. And right now, I don’t feel like that.

…I saw some of my hopes and dreams disappear, and I’ve experienced plenty of sadness because of that. I guess you could say I’ve had to climb a few mountains metaphorically, as well as the physical mountain in Kinabalu. I’ve had to adjust my approach to these particular mountains, and imagine a different summit to the one I initially expected. But life is, as John Lennon famously said, what happens when you’re busy making other plans, and I can’t wait for 2012 and the promise it holds. It’ll be my final year in Penang, and I want to enjoy every moment of it, however I can.

Apologies for the long and photoless post; trying to work out how this new photo uploader on WordPress works. Some days I feel tech savvy, others I feel like a Luddite…

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On this day…

On this day 34 years ago, a brown-haired, hazel-eyed boy arrived in the world at a hospital in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. As his parents marvelled at this solid little mass of baby, trying to come up with a name for him (apparently, it took a name-by-name reading of a baby book to pick one), they could only imagine the sort of man he would grow to be.

A man with an inquisitive mind and an amazing ability to absorb general knowledge in his mind like a sponge.

A man built with a capacity for impressive physical strength.

A man who feels most at home hanging off the side of a mountain, scuba diving in the ocean, doing anything which involves exploring the great outdoors.

A man who would choose to serve his country as his career, to move around Australia and beyond, and travel to places most would dare not to go.

A man with a deep passion for travel, who has visited as many countries as candles on his birthday cake.

A man with a wicked sense of humour (more often than not displayed on a T-shirt).

A man who, above all else, possesses a heart as big as his biceps (and trust me, they’re pretty impressive).

A man known as a loving son, awesome uncle, diligent worker and loyal friend.

A man who married a woman who can’t believe how lucky she is to have this brown-haired, hazel-eyed man in her life (and obviously isn’t afraid to share her amazement.)

Happy Birthday, Mr B. You’re worth celebrating every day – but especially this one.

PS. Forgive me for big-noting myself here, but I was so impressed that I managed to surprise Mr B with a cake at his workplace today (it took a bit of work to pull off this feat as well!) Apparently the cake was pretty amazing – perhaps I’ll need to re-create it for the blog?  

 

 

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I read a huge variety of blogs, and one of my favourites is Stephanie Howell. I was initially lured there by her scrapbooking style but now, I continually return for her stories. The way she shares her stories about herself, her soldier husband and her four little girls is amazing; such a unique writing voice. I also love how honest and genuine she is, as reflected by her blog your heart challenge. It’s a simple challenge: just share your heart -authentically. It’s a post which has been on repeat in my brain for a few days and I figure, why not? I’m procrastinating from a few other tasks, so lets take some time out to muse…

1. Yesterday I went out and had lunch in a restaurant on my own. I felt like a sushi and wasabi fix, so I went out to one of my favourite spots and asked for a table for one. It was nice to sit there, read a magazine and also do some diary planning for the upcoming weeks. I do solo outings often; I go shopping, eat out, explore Penang and see movies alone. I’ve even travelled alone before.  I’m quite comfortable with doing this, but yesterday I started thinking how this behaviour may appear to other people. Does dining solo make me look pathetic? Sad? A little weird? Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy hanging out regularly with friends, but I’m also comfortable with my own company. This behaviour seems to baffle a lot of people, and I have been criticized for my quiet, introverted ways in the past. Most of the time I couldn’t give a rip what others think but occasionally…these sorts of thoughts creep in.

2. We’re reaching the end of year two of our posting. One year to go and we head back to Oz… and already, I am freaking out. I don’t want to leave. I love living here in Penang, and the life we enjoy here. I’m freaking out about trying to find a job when I get back; my portfolio for the last two years is virtually non-existant, and in journalism a published body of work is vital for getting a decent job. I haven’t had much luck on the freelancing front and I have no idea what I should do.

3. I had plans to write a book while I was here on this posting. I haven’t done so. I discovered I really can’t write fiction anymore after almost a decade of journalism study and work, and since then… I haven’t done so out of fear. I’d love to write a book about my time living in Malaysia but to be honest… would it be boring? I don’t know many locals, I mostly socialise with ex-pats, and most of that socialising seems to revolve around exercise and trying out as many restaurants as possible. I’m just not sure what angle to take on such a book. While I do believe there is a book (or two) within me, fear and a perfectionist streak is stopping me from taking such a project on. And it’s making me feel like such a failure.

4. I have so many ideas for recipes to bake and share swirling around in my head. But I’m not making them…because I’m really conscious I need to lose some weight and am scared to put the temptation in my way. I’ve had a few rough patches this year, and I’ve used food as a coping mechanism. And it’s definitely showing on my body. I’m doing a pretty good job on the exercise front, but it’s the diet I need to really crack down on…and gosh, that’s hard. I wrestle with the food issue every single day. They say nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, but it’s been so long since I was slim, I honestly can’t say if that’s true. And cheese sure is good…How can a person slim down but still savour the things they enjoy? And why is “everything in moderation” so darn vague?

5. I don’t think anyone reads this blog other than my mum, and a few of my friends. That can be very discouraging sometimes. I’ve also had a few people make fun of me about the things I post, which I can’t help but take to heart. I know you should just blog for yourself but sometimes I wonder why I am. And my blog is really ugly, quite frankly. I’m hoping to fix it and I have a friend who will help but I wonder…is it worth it when I’m possibly one of five people looking at it? I love blogging, I love reading other blogs, and I do enjoy posting. There’s a lot of effort which goes into writing and putting up photos though and I sometimes wonder if it’s worth the trouble.

So that’s five things. It’s all honest, and authentic. I’m mindful of what I say as I’m part of a small community where anything you say can spread like wildfire, and make you a source of gossip and ridicule. But this is me, blogging my heart…as best as I can do right now. Please don’t judge me for it.

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The week that was…

This week, I…

…did a lot of exercise outdoors, including a hike up to Moon Gate 5 on Penang Hill. It’s been a while since I’ve done this, for various reasons, and boy it felt good to hit the hiking trail again. Having good company along for the hike is always a bonus, and I’m sure I’ll be doing this trail a couple of times each week for at least the next month. I’m hiking Kota Kinabalu in mid-November and I have not done anywhere near enough prep work; better get working on that. I’ve also been doing workouts on the resistance equipment at Youth Park, interspersed with quick jogs around the track. It’s a nice change from the gym, being out in the morning sunshine (though I had my share of indoor time with my PT session).

…had such a great time making cards at my card making workshop. The cards for the troops are now all packaged and ready to be sent.

…enjoyed cooking up a storm for the workshop, and found myself wishing I had more opportunities to bake. There’s so many recipes I want to try, I’d be baking a cake or a batch of cookies each day. Perhaps I need to host a morning tea, or just randomly surprise people by dropping off cupcakes at their door…

…went and tried out the new Kopi Cine (or Kopi C/China House as its now known) with a friend. The verdict? This place is going to be amazing; it already is and they’re still finishing off the finer details. A cafe space, fine dining room, reading room, art gallery…they also had an impressive arrangement of baked goods which reminded me of CWA afternoon teas, and a list of ice cream flavours which made my mind boggle. The food was divine and the sour cream and brown sugar ice cream I tried was pretty darn seductive (I want to make it at home!) I didn’t take any photos as I was too busy chatting and scoffing down food, but trust me, I’ll be going back soon.

…did take a photo on my “Kopi Cine day out”…of washing on the line. My friend may have thought I was nuts, but I loved the colourful batik prints, the lush plants and how both contrasted with the peeling wall. I had visions in my head of playing around with the picture in Photoshop, and this is one of my experiments so far:

…signed up for Pinterest. I’ve been resisting this phenomenon, telling myself I don’t need any more social network time sucks in my life… but then a friend sent me an invite, and I succumbed to the allure. And yes, I was definitely a pin-a-holic for the first few days. It’s addicting, but at least it’s allowed me to tidy up my folder of bookmarked websites into organised and pretty inspiration boards. I’m planning to institute a “Make A Pin Monday” so that I’m doing something with this inspiration at least once a week. We’ll see how that goes…on Monday. And if you want to jump on the Pin bandwagon, just leave me a message and I’ll send an invite. It’s only fair to spread the addiction love…

… Came to the realisation I have all the ingredients for Cosmopolitans in my kitchen. Except the martini glasses, which are back in Australia in storage. It’s just not the same, drinking a Cosmo from a tumbler, is it?

Next week, I…

…hope to complete at least three hikes up Penang Hill, as well as my regular gym workouts.

…want to go take photos down in Little India in the lead-up to Deepavali.

…try and attempt to do one “Make a Pin Monday”.

…really would like to do dim sum again. And visit Kopi C again. Is that too much eating out for one week? (Don’t answer that, Mr Personal Trainer…)

Happy Saturday people!

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So it’s been a while since I’ve posted random stories about my life in Penang, travel pictures which make you curse under your breath at me in jealousy, or pictures of food which I’ve tried to pretty up with cute fabric backgrounds. But in the intervening months since we’ve spoken, blogging has been at the back of my mind. I’ve written many a blog post in my mind…it just hasn’t translated into typed text. I wish my brain had a print function sometimes…

(Actually, forget the brain print function. Some of the content in my mind would make you a) blush; b) cry; c) laugh at me; d) purchase a straitjacket and pop it in the post for me with the note “I think you need this”…)

But if I was able to print blog posts from my mind, here’s a snippet some of the content you would have seen in the last few months…

 

Greetings from the Rainforest Music Festival, Kuching! Orangutans, sightseeing and plunge pools by day; eclectic world music, bottles of wine and dancing in the dust by night. Six women crammed into a small rainforest cabin…best girls getaway yet!

 

Can’t believe I’m in Morocco! A long time dream come true…loving the food, the architecture, the handicrafts. Not loving the  shopkeepers who try to drag me by the arm into their stands…or the men who give us the wrong directions on purpose so they can “save us”,  for a price. Send help…and a shipping container. I want to take all the market things home with me!

Oh Chefchaouen, Morocco. You’ve stolen a bit of my heart, you beautiful blue-walled city. Thank you for being a welcome reprieve from the crazy of Marrakech and Fes. I hope we’re reunited again one day…

Hola, Espagne!  My dear Spain, I loved you immediately for having fixed prices and shop keepers who left me alone when I was browsing in a shop. Then you just had to seduce me further with sunny skies, balmy nights, cheap wine amd amazing tapas. You stimulated my mind with stunning architecture and your fascinating, vibrant history. You have daily siestas and consider 10pm “just right” for dinner time – and I love you all the more for it. Send me back with a Babel fish in my ear to understand the Spanish…

 

Paris. Versailles. Macarons. Laduree. Someone please send me bigger pants…

Summer in Scotland…fleeting moments of sun; mostly cool, grey and drizzly. I’m definitely not complaining… this cold weather gal has died and gone to heaven. Driving around this country makes you want to stop every five minutes and take a photo of the breathtaking scenery and spectacular castles. Mr B managed to plan a whiskey distillery stop at every town we visit, and has eaten his body weight in haggis. Send Berocca…and Metamucil…

 

London calling! Can’t believe I’m in this amazing city for a second time in my life…saw the changing of the guard at Buckers (albeit squished into a fence with thousands of other tourists), attempted the British Museum in one day, pretended I was rich enough to shop at Harrods, and crammed in as many West End shows as physically possible. Oh, and I cleared the shelves of the Lush store in Covent Garden. We’re going to need yet another new suitcase…

 

Since getting back to Penang I’ve been developing a few new habits… like a dim sum habit. Loving the company and discovering tasty new places to eat in this fabulous city, but will my body love me back? Perhaps I need to develop a two hours at the gym per day habit while I’m at it…

Mr B’s friends have come to stay…as well as turning me into more of a glutton than normal (so much eating!), they also kindly invited me on a day trip to Hat Yai, over the Thai border. The shopping wasn’t as good as anticipated but hey…I got off that island for a day. That’s a fair accomplishment. The idea I can cross into a different country in one day is still so novel to me…it can take me just one day to cross one state in Australia!

That’s merely just a taster of my recent adventures; I’m hoping to post up some more detailed stories about my travels in the coming weeks (if my selection of recently acquired TV series doesn’t distract me first…) Until then, let’s resume to normal brain transmission….

 

   

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Yesterday I celebrated the fourth anniversary of my 25th birthday (I’ll let you do the math…)

Anyway, I saw this as an excellent opportunity to try out an extravagant recipe for my birthday cake. Yes, I know – making my own birthday cake is weird. Why don’t I just go and buy one, or force Mr B into the kitchen to make one for me?

Well, if baking my own birthday cake is wrong, I don’t ever want to be right. Being a baking freak, cake making is my idea of bliss. I rarely get an opportunity to make a kick-ass cake, since it’s just Mr B and I in the house. And since Mr B doesn’t really have a sweet tooth, I’d end up consuming the whole cake myself…

So, what did I end up making for myself?

 

The outside looks like a tall (and rather messily iced) Leaning Tower of Pisa Cake, but on the inside…

Holy Colour Riot!

 

This, my friends is a six-tier Rainbow Layer Cake. I have seen these pop up on a few baking blogs in the last six months, and I mentally filed the idea away for a special occasion. And what could be more special than celebrating my *cough* last year in my 20s?

The cake itself is a vanilla buttermilk cake, the batter dyed in an array of lurid colours. Each cake is sandwiched together with super-decadent cream cheese icing. The end result may shut your pancreas down, but it sure is good.

To make this cake I followed the instructions posted on Tasty Kitchen for the cake, making a few changes. I should also add I spent an insane amount of time drooling over the (what I believe to be) original cake at Whisk Kid. Whisk Kid’s cake is impeccable, and I wish I’d had the patience (and egg whites) to tackle the Lemony Swiss Meringue Buttercream she used. Oh well, next time…

My cake, by comparison, is rather…homespun. Granted, this was the first time I’ve made a cake taller than three tiers, but I’m a harsh personal critic, so allow me to obsess 🙂 In hindsight I could have used my cake level cutter, but the cakes appeared level to me. Upon cutting the monstrosity, I realised the layers weren’t exactly level. Oh well. Should I attempt this again, I’ll definitely be levelling the cakes. And using Lemony Swiss Meringue Buttercream…

The Tasty Kitchen version called for using packet cake mix, which isn’t my thing, so I made a double batch of Nigella’s Buttermilk Birthday Cake from How to Be a Domestic Goddess. It was perfect – a delicious, tender cake which also holds its shape nicely. I used the icing recipe from the Tasty Kitchen version and just about had a heart attack. There was an ungodly amount of cream cheese in there, and the volume of the icing was as much as the cake batter. I thought I would have plenty of leftovers…I was scraping the bowl at the end to get every last smear out. You want to have a distinct contrast of colourful cake and white icing between each layer, so you’ve got to use a lot of “sugary spack filler” to achieve that look.

 

Above is the piece of cake I cut for myself on my birthday, which filled one of my serving platters…told you this baby was huge. The combination of tender vanilla cake and tangy-sweet icing was divine, although there really is way too much icing. I’ll admit to leaving (quite) a bit of icing on the plate. If I made the cream cheese icing again, I’d add some lemon zest and juice. There’s just something about citrus paired with cream cheese icing; the lemon takes the icing from creamily cloying to edible crack, if I do say so myself…

I had a lot of fun making this cake; I would definitely attempt it again, armed with the knowledge I’ve acquired from the experience. Oh, and if you’re local to me and want to try a slice, send me a message, and we’ll see what we can arrange. There’s only so much cake Mr B and I can eat ourselves…and Mr B doesn’t really have a sweet tooth…

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Return from the funk

 

For a while I’ve been stuck in a bit of a funk. The fact I haven’t posted anything here on this blog since Easter is probably evidence of that. There’s been quite a few things going on in my life in recent months, a lot of which I don’t really want or need to share here…

All I’ll say is I’ve been worn down by some circumstances of life; I’ve let little molehills of annoyance turn into massive mountains of frustration. I’m a melancholic person by nature, my tendancy is to focus on the half of the glass that’s empty and worry my brains out about why this is so.

I also haven’t been dealing with the worry and frustration in the healthiest of ways; instead of venting my emotions through exercise and writing, I’ve been gobbling my feelings down my throat. Ah, the double edged sword of comfort eating…it tastes great in the moment, but the aftertaste is always bittersweet.

But I’m hopefully starting to experience a breakthrough from the funk, thanks to two recent events. The first was a chance to catch up with friends in KL for a few days at the end of May. Seeing these friends from “home”  was so nourishing to my soul, words won’t do me justice. It was so lovely to hang out, talk, share meals together and shop until we dropped. Those people know who they are; thank you for your friendship.

The second event which helped break the funk? A holiday to Thailand with Mr B. We spent five days in Koh Samui, with no agenda whatsoever for our time there. We slept in late, sat on the beach sipping cocktails, enjoyed daily Thai massages, swam in Samui’s warm, clear waters and stuffed ourselves with excellent Thai food (and a few well-prepared Western meals too.) We did some planning for our upcoming Europe trip, but that was the most mentally strenuous thing we did. Having so much relaxed, unlimited time with Mr B was a rare treat and I’m so thankful we had the opportunity to get away. It was also lovely to visit Thailand in a fit state of health unlike my first time!

So I’m determined to get back into the swing of things, and hopefully you’ll see lots more blogging activity soon. Believe me, I’ve composed many a blog post in my head, but it hasn’t translated to the screen. It’s about time I gave those ideas life on my blog. I have a backlog of Penang stories and delicious recipes to share, so I’m not short of material.

Thanks for those who have continued to visit me during my absence; all I can say is watch this space…

Photo taken at Chaweng Beach, Koh Samui, Thailand in May 2011

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