Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Over and Out

2013 was a pretty good year. 

There were no exciting travel adventures - the furthest places we went were Bright and Echuca, and those were only quick weekend trips. We did manage a weekend in the city as well, and we got out to a few restaurants, some Yarra Valley breweries, plus I attended a few fun blogging events, so it's not like I sat at home all year like some sort of Nelly-no-friends.

There were no huge, life-changing events, either good or bad, so I guess that's a win? Life just chugged along pretty much as it normally does for me. Health was generally good - apart from a banged-up elbow, courtesy of the mountain bike, and my recent run-in with a garden nemesis.

We did celebrate our youngest child becoming an adult just last week, so I guess that heralds a new phase of our life. Although... he won't have his driver's licence for at least six months, as he took his sweet time getting his learner's permit and hasn't held it for long enough to sit the test yet. So I'm condemned to continue with taxi driver duties for a while longer. *sigh*

Anyway, overall it was a solid year in terms of training, rehabbing creaky body parts and getting on top of my life-long digestive woes. Work was OK - even pretty interesting a lot of the time - and it pays for some of life's little extras, so I can't grizzle about it too much.

Highlights of the year? Well, just stuff that I did, saw or enjoyed along the way.
Next year I have three major plans:

1. Blog more. This past year, blogging has taken a back seat as I've concentrated on training, increased my hours at work and attempted to focus a bit more on social and family time. I have heaps of things to say and am inspired by so many other bloggers, and I'm determined to write more, both in terms of volume and quality. We'll see how that goes.

2. Enjoy our Big Trip. This really is a capital letter kind of holiday because: Europe! Six weeks shall be spent soaking up the sights, culture, history, food (and wine) of France, Spain, England and Scotland, with an extra week(ish) in Singapore and KL.

3. Spend more time in the saddle. I'm already working on this - the road bike has made it down off the rack on the garage wall and I did a session on the trainer the other day so I could reacquaint myself with the gears before taking it out on the road this morning. I only rode around the quiet neighbourhood streets, with Bike Boy trailing me like a nursemaid. And I may have only had one shoe clipped in... but hey, I managed not to go SPLAT, which is a major achievement. Baby steps and all that. ;)

No S.M.A.R.T. goals amongst that lot - just a short list of a few things I enjoy that I want to do more of or do better. I think that's enough to be going on with.

Happy New Year to all of you - I hope 2014 brings you nothing but good things.


Sunday, December 29, 2013


I've collected a huge number of recipes on Pinterest that are low-FODMAP or could easily be adapted to suit, and have been dying to test them out. Alas, work and life have been seriously interfering with my baking plans...until now.  Hurrah for holidays!

The mulberry tree just keeps on giving and giving and despite giving away bags full of the juicy berries, our freezer is rapidly filling up. I think I've filled close to ten litres worth of containers and bags so far and the crop isn't finished yet. So when we were invited to dinner and I offered to bring dessert, this mulberry frangipane looked like just the ticket.

It turned out really well, and several people went back for seconds. I love to make food that I can eat without fear, but that other people greet with "YUM!" rather than a suspicious look and a "What's THAT?"  :)

I'm going to make it again with some modifications, because although it was nice, I thought the filling needed more almond flavour and less egginess to be a true frangipane.

I followed the recipe precisely (apart from substituting spelt flour) and ended up with way too much pastry, so I decided to turn the leftover portion into a berry galette, because I'd seen Nigella whip up an apple and blackberry version on TV just last week, and it looked simple and delicious.

Not so successful....

You know that saying "A face like a dropped pie"? I'm pretty sure this is what it means...

The thing is, like most shortcrust, this pastry is so buttery that it really needs refrigeration for half an hour or so before you attempt to work with it. Me? I'm impatient and decided to skip that part. D'oh! So my over-soft pastry fell to pieces, the berry juice leaked through all the gaps and my rustic pie turned out exceptionally rustic. It tasted fabulous though so I'm going to have a do-over and will blog the recipe once I get it just right.

I still have many, many more recipes to test. Today's experiment is going to be a dairy-free, egg-free chocolate mousse. I'm possibly a little bit TOO excited about that.

Check back over the next week or two for some recipes that will tantalise your tastebuds - and hopefully not look like they were dropped on the floor.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

My favourite day of the year - and other drivel


Boxing Day: No relatives bickering, no cooking, no cleaning up, no schedule. Cricket on the TV, new books, CDs and DVDs to enjoy, afternoon naps, maybe a bike ride or a walk.

Christmas is fun, but exhausting. I didn't take many photos yesterday, because I was busy EATING ALL THE FOOD and chatting to family, so these are all I have:

Mum always gets the job of organising the entrée because: PRAWNS
Best thing EVER: Vietnamese green mango salad. I'll share the recipe next week.
Death by Chocolate - always a hit. Even with the FODMAPs-intolerant & wheat-avoiding relatives.

And in other news, my nasty allergic reaction is finally improving. It may not look like it, but this is WAY better than it was a few days ago:

That's the worst patch, near my wrist - still quite swollen, very itchy and a bit blistered. The rest still looks ugly, but has flattened out and the best part is: the blisters haven't ruptured. Usually they burst and weep and crust and it's all pretty disgusting. And then there's residual scarring which takes months to fade... The use of an oil-based cortisone cream, which keeps the skin moist, plus firm bandaging has helped reduce that significantly. And on Monday night when I reported back to the doctor and he was unhappy with the progress, he prescribed me a short course of oral prednisolone. That seems to be speeding up the healing nicely.

All pretty drastic treatment for a skin rash, but this is no ordinary rash. At least the raging histamines had settled down by the beginning of this week, which thankfully saw a return of emotional stability in time for Christmas. I doubt my family would have appreciated the presence of Itchy McGrouchy at the festivities. ;o)


I'm now on holidays until the 20th of January; Bike Boy heads back to work right after New Year, but at least we get a week off together. So we're planning on doing a whole lot of reading, cycling, cricket-watching and other low-stress stuff, with maybe a cinema, restaurant or winery outing thrown in. Summer holidays are my favourite!

I hope you all had a happy, relaxed (and non-itchy) Christmas.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Itching you a very scratchy Christmas

I just spent ages writing a post, uploading images and so on and lost the entire thing. I'm extremely short on patience today, so here's the abridged version:

Allergies. They suck.

Mozzie bites? To you they may be a minor annoyance. For me, they swell up to welts the size of a 20 cent coin and make my life miserable.  It's more like some ferocious animal has attacked me. A bit like Perkins....

Plants are my nemesis. Grass pollen gives me hay fever, contact with some grasses causes hives and this motherf*cker should be eradicated from the planet:

Grevillea "Robyn Gordon" may look pretty, but it's a poisonous bastard.
Allergic contact dematitis, a fun affliction. Imagine a red, raw, raised rash that itches like nothing you've ever experienced before. It then develops hundreds of tiny blisters, which eventually burst, so you have a very attractive red, weeping, scabby arm/leg/face/whatever. All of this, just from brushing against the plant - which people insist on positioning where they overhang front fences. I spend a lot of my time veering onto nature strips when I'm out walking...

For almost thirty years I've avoided this horrible plant with its bright red flowers. But unbeknownst to me, the nursery industry has been busy breeding new cultivars from the same parent stock. So there I was, innocently walking down my sister's front path, with no idea that that pretty pink and white flowering shrub was related to G. Robyn Gordon. In fact, I didn't even SEE it, because why would I be looking out for something unknown?


It actually looks much, much worse than this. It's tricky to take arm selfies...

I'm a bit angry. This reaction to G. Robyn Gordon has been well-known since the mid-80s. And yet...the industry continues to produce new plants with exactly the same parentage. No regulation, no requirement to provide warnings on labels. Nice one, fellas.

Anyway, it's been a week already, so that means it will clear up in maybe three weeks or so. Shame it's not long-sleeve weather.

Between the itching that's interrupting my sleep and the histamines running riot in my body making me cranky and depressed, I'm struggling to summon up any Christmas spirit at all. If you're looking for me, I'll be the one over in the corner, covered in calamine lotion and drowning my sorrows. Kind of like a big, red-and-white Grinch.


Friday, December 13, 2013


I may have forgotten to mention that I had another birthday last week. When you're silly enough to give birth to one of your children on your special day, it kind of takes a back seat. Well, that's not quite true: Bike Boy and my mini-men always make sure that a fuss is made, bless them. But this year, because it was The Middle Child's twenty-first birthday, my turning fifty-three was just not that big a deal.

Birthday flowers
As well, I had to work on the day - a circumstance which frankly made me more than a bit grumpy. I have not worked on my birthday in thirty-three years, but this year I'm short on leave days, since I've booked up a whopping eight weeks next June-July for our European adventure and have three weeks off after Christmas as well. All in a good cause, but still...

Anyhoo, I got through the day and Bike Boy and I spontaneously decided to go out for dinner to a local Indian restaurant, even though we had a "proper" celebration planned on Friday night with friends. It turned out to be a good day. :)

....and more birthday flowers
For some reason, this year I've noticed a lot more griping from people about being a year older. Friends, folks at work, social media posts, everywhere - so many people are depressed about being 53, or 47, or whatever age they may be turning. Me? I don't recall ever being anxious, upset or sad about another birthday. Partly because I love birthdays (big kid), but also because it's not like you wake up on the day suddenly feeling creakier, crippled, or in any way less able than when you went to sleep the night before.

Mainly, though, I'm always grateful to be seeing another year out. I've lost a couple of dear friends along life's rocky road and I'm pretty sure that both would be ecstatic if they could only celebrate another year with their loved ones.

...and yet MORE birthday flowers!
So I celebrate. I celebrate being fitter and healthier than I was ten years ago. I celebrate being able to walk, run or cycle my way around the beautiful neighbourhood I live in. I celebrate having spent twenty-eight years married to my partner in crime. I celebrate having three sons, all of whom are turning out to be wonderful young men. I celebrate extended family who are always there for me. I celebrate good friends, abundant food, a comfortable lifestyle, fine wine and decadent chocolate. (Yes, even the little things should be celebrated.)

Indian birthday feast - looks terrible, tastes amazing.

If you're a habitual birthday griper, look at it this way: You're going to get older and bitching and moaning never makes anything better. So how about on your next birthday, you decide to change your attitude? I promise you'll be a lot happier.

My favourite part of the world - right here :)
Life is way too short to waste time being miserable about stuff you can't change.

And: I'm grateful for gorgeous shoes at bargain prices

How about you? Do you greet your birthday with enthusiasm, or hide under the covers and hope it won't find you?


Saturday, December 07, 2013

Time flies

So, this happened last week:

Yep, son #2 turned twenty-one. I'm good with that. I'm also good with the fact that my baby has finished high school and will be turning eighteen in three weeks' time. That's him on the right there with the sleazy-looking moustache. Thank goodness Movember is over and it's now gone.

But it hit me the other day that #1 son is now only four years away from his THIRTIETH birthday. WTF? I'm so not ready to have children in their thirties...


Friday, November 29, 2013

Ups and downs

I've been handling my modified diet reasonably well since I started this whole FODMAPs thing back in July, but last night tears were shed. I had one of those moments when you just get to the end of your rope and suddenly the floodgates open.

It was a combination of a moderately bad flare-up of symptoms (the worst part of which was constant, grinding pain over several days) and a mental melt-down over the theme of "I'm so sick of this, I just want to eat whatever I like!" Ack.

I resorted to my old friends paracetamol and codeine and took myself off to the couch with a blanket and my wheat pack to indulge in a big old pity party. Bike Boy, not being able to do anything else to help, thoughtfully brought me a glass of red wine. I called on my Facebook friends to cheer me up and they obliged in spades, with funny cat pictures, silly jokes and videos. There's nothing like a good laugh to get you out of a funk.

This morning I'm feeling a lot better and I think I may know where I went wrong... Coconut and cabbage contain moderate amounts of polyols, and are considered safe to eat - in small serves. I've had FOUR largish serves of cabbage this week in my Vietnamese green mango salads, and there's both desiccated coconut and coconut flour in my mulberry slice, which I've eaten every day. I haven't gone over the recommended amount in any single serve - well, maybe the cabbage - but because FODMAPs have a compounding effect, I've probably overdosed majorly on sorbitol, which would explain why I've felt so shite. Oops.

Looks like it's back to a super-low FODMAPs regime again for a week or two to let things settle down.

There'll be no feeling sorry for myself today; I'm far too busy. I've shopped for party food this morning for tomorrow night's big do and will be cooking and cleaning like a madwoman for the rest of the day. I'm making sure that there's food that I can eat at this party. I'll avoid the bought party pies, spring rolls, meatballs etc and whip up a couple of tasty treats that won't give me a belly-ache. I'm thinking this and this. And of course there'll be a flourless orange cake and Death by Chocolate, as well as a fruit platter for dessert.

Meanwhile, I'm taking a moment to feel grateful for the many good things in my life. Like the breathtaking sights five minutes from my front door...

Last Wednesday's sunrise

Yes? Can I help you?

Amazing light - and critters

Spotting a wedgetail eagle in flight always gives me a thrill. 

I'd love to head out for a walk right now with camera in hand, but I have floors to mop and cakes to bake. Better get moving!  :)


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Here we go round the mulberry bush...

Things have been a bit frantic here at Chez Kek. December is a pretty full-on month for us, by virtue of the fact that our family has THREE birthdays to celebrate. That makes for some crazy times, fitting birthday shenanigans in between Christmas shopping, Christmas parties and Christmas preparations.

This year the craziness has gone up a couple of notches because it's The Middle Child's 21st birthday, quickly followed by The Baby's 18th. I know: terrible planning, right?  So we have two parties to organise and host, two weeks apart. That necessitates getting our outdoor entertaining area ship-shape, but the weather has not been at all cooperative. Luckily though, the last two weekends we've had a respite from driving rain and gale-force winds, so Bike Boy and I worked like mad to get through our long, long to-do list. Clean pavers, prune and weed garden, oil outdoor furniture, spruce up the bar, spread mulch and on and on and on....

We're almost there, and this weekend with rain constantly falling AGAIN, I've concentrated on the neglected inside of the house. Ugh. Not my favourite thing. Anyhoo, it's done now and I'm about ready to fall into bed. At 5:30pm.

I did make time today for a couple of culinary experiments though. This mulberry and coconut slice is fabulous. If you don't have a supply of mulberries, you can make it with blackberries, blueberries or pretty much any berry you like. I'm sure it would work with apricots, apples or other fruit too - although you'd probably have to stew them first. Just make it, I promise you'll love it.

There's nothing like home-grown produce to make a recipe extra-special
The recipe is over here.

I've also made a lactose-free cheesecake today, which I have very high hopes of. If it's a success, I'll share that recipe too, as soon as I get a minute.

Back to the housework for me!


Friday, November 22, 2013

We may have a winner!

I may have a solution to this morning's cheese-less cheesecake question...

Labne. Not with garlic and oil and other savoury stuff added, OBVIOUSLY. I mean just the strained yoghurt, which has a lovely firm consistency. I reckon mixed with whipped coconut cream it would make a brilliant cheesecake filling. I could add mango, passionfruit, berries....or even make coconut milk caramel.

If I can make the time, I'll give it a go over the weekend.

Labne served with extra virgin olive oil - not exactly what I have in mind. Image source

Thanks to everyone who gave me suggestions. I have a few of those filed away for future experiments too. :)


Little help?

Image source

Dear Internet,

I have a deep love of cheesecake. It's not something I eat often, but it's one of my all-time favourite desserts. Lemon cheesecake, berry cheesecake, choc-mint cheesecake...any kind is fine with me.

Here's the thing though - lactose intolerance means that I can't eat ANY of the cheeses used in cheesecake. Ricotta, cottage, cream cheese, mascarpone and quark are all out. Initially I wasn't particularly concerned by that - I knew there were heaps of alternative recipes around; after all, I see them all the time on Pinterest and on healthy foodie blogs. But it turns out that all the dairy-free, raw or Paleo recipes use cashews (and usually dates too), which are O.U.T. for me. Avocado is another favourite ingredient for creamy texture, but I can't have more than a very small amount of that either.

No cheese, no cashews, no avocado, no dates...no sour cream either. What's left? I thought Greek yoghurt and/or coconut milk seemed likely candidates, possibly with some gelatine added. But do you think I can find a single recipe that doesn't also have dairy or cashews in it? Nuh-uh. I've tried low-FODMAPs recipe books and websites, but they all seem to ignore the fact that lactose is a FODMAP. I've lost count of the number of recipes I've found that are marked "low FODMAPs" but include cream cheese or whipped cream as main ingredients. Aargh!

So I'm hoping one of my readers might have come across a suitable recipe. Anyone got something? And please don't suggest soy products. Just don't.

Yours in hope,


Friday, November 15, 2013

Where does the fat go?

When you lose weight, your fat cells empty out and shrink....but have you ever stopped to wonder where the fat goes? I mean, how does it get out of your body? It turns into energy, right? Wrong.

Pay attention: With the aid of some dry ice, a pool noodle and a balloon, Ruben Meerman explains all - and makes nerdy science stuff downright fascinating.

This video tickled my inner geek's fancy so hard, I just had to share it.

Man, I love Ted Talks.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Fighting Off the Glucose Demons - Ways to Deal with Diabetes


My Grandma was an amazing woman. She lived through two world wars, lost her eldest child when he was six, raised three more kids and was widowed quite young. Not surprisingly, she was a tough old bird. She was a talented musician too, playing banjo, mandolin and piano and she made a living as a milliner. She could fashion beautiful hats in a flash out of a few scraps of nothing much. She also had Type 1 diabetes and in an era when there were no computerised gadgets for measuring blood glucose and no automatic insulin delivery devices, she managed her disease via daily self-administered injections, strict adherence to dietary rules and a stoic attitude.

One should always have one's banjo handy, right?

Consequently, I have a soft spot for charities and events that support research and raising awareness of diabetes, and with today being World Diabetes Day, it seemed appropriate to highlight the disease. So I'm pleased to feature the following guest post on dealing with diabetes by the folks at Accu-Check:

As we get older, it’s natural enough that our bodies lose some of their resilience and elasticity. The late night parties and all-nighters might be fine when you’re 20, but by the time you hit middle-age your body will give you hell for a night-out on the town and it is more important than ever to work out and keep your body fit and healthy.

In particular, it’s important to keep strong against the threat of disease – especially the blood-sugar disorder commonly known as diabetes. Here, we share some tips and strategies that can help in the prevention of diabetes, and talk about to manage diabetes if you do have it.

Diabetes Prevention

It’s important for all of you out there to know the difference between the main two types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 Diabetes is a form of the disease that is passed down to you genetically, and unfortunately even if you live a healthy lifestyle it’s still possible to inherit it. Type 1 sufferers need to come up with strategies to deal with their condition so that it has a minimal impact on their lives – something we’ll talk about a bit later.

For Type 2 sufferers, the disease can develop as a result of factors like obesity, physical inactivity, alcohol consumption and smoking. Of course, if you can prevent yourself from developing a disease then you should take every possible step to make sure you never get it! So, in general terms, it’s recommended that all non-diabetics take up a fitness regime; only 30 minutes a day should be ample to keep your body active and diabetes free. On top of this, quitting smoking and limiting the amount of alcohol you consume are a must, and if you’re carrying extra weight then shed kilos with a healthy diet and the exercise we talked about.

Doing just these things is enough to ward off diabetes and ensure that your blood-sugar levels remain healthy and normal.

Diabetes Management

As mentioned earlier, Type 1 sufferers sadly have little say in whether they end up with diabetes. However, just because you do suffer from its effects, doesn’t mean you have to allow diabetes to rule your life. For both Type 1 and Type 2 sufferers, there are steps that can be taken to reduce and break down the effects of the disease so you can live a full, enjoyable life.

A key part of managing diabetes for both Type 1 and Type 2 sufferers is to monitor the amount and type of food eaten. If you suffer from diabetes then you should avoid junk energy drinks and other sources of nourishment that are high in sugar but little else. It’s also important you generally eat foods that are healthy and nourishing, as this will help you maintain a healthy weight level that in turn reduces your blood sugar levels.

Exercise is another important part of diabetes management, just as it is for preventing diabetes in the first place. By exercising for 30-minute periods three to four times a week, you will not only lose excess weight but will also lower your blood-sugar levels, reduce your risk of stroke or heart attack and will feel more energized in general.

Finally, going hand in hand with your management strategies it’s also important that you monitor your blood-sugar levels regularly, and base your intake of insulin and other medicines around your findings. Using a device like a blood glucose monitor can help you keep track of your blood-sugar levels, especially in relation to your diet, your exercise patterns and different parts of the day in general.

Remember that all of us can do something either to ward off or manage diabetes, and it’s worth doing so you can live a full and rewarding life! If you’re not sure about diabetes and how it might affect you, it’s best to consult your doctor or physician for more information.

This is a guest post from Accu-chek. Accu-chek’s BloodGlucose Monitors and Blood Glucose Meters help diabetes sufferers monitor their blood sugar in the comfort of their own home.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

You are what you eat

A few weeks back I was in a bad mood, with cranky pants firmly in place on Monday and Tuesday - and for no real reason that I could pinpoint. I'd had a good weekend; it was Bike Boy's birthday and we'd been out for dinner on Saturday, then had a relaxing day Sunday, finishing up with a roast dinner with the whole family - amazingly - present. That hardly ever happens these days.

I'd made good progress with a furniture revamp project I'm working on, finished reading The Catcher in the Rye (shamefully, I'd never read it before), baked a sensational flourless chocolate cake in honour of the birthday boy, supervised The Baby's driving practice, caught up on some Boardwalk Empire and enjoyed the sunny weather. Nothing to be crabby about there.

And yet I woke up on the Monday morning feeling down in the dumps. Yes, Monday means back to work, but apart from the tedious drive to get there, things were going just fine on the work front.

Later in the week, it dawned on me - food was the answer. No, I don't mean that I wanted to eat a massive pile of cake or chocolate to make me feel better. I mean that food was responsible for my low mood. More specifically, the wheat that I was deliberately eating that week as part of my FODMAPs testing process.

Two serves of bread - one on Saturday and one on Monday - provoked the expected gut symptoms, but I hadn't really made the connection between food and feeling sad, anxious, irritable and kind of foggy. My concentration was off and I was praying that nobody would ask me to do anything involving complex analysis, because my brain seemed to be struggling with basic tasks.

I'm sure that part of it was due to feeling physically unwell. Who can concentrate when your gut is churning, your waistband is getting tighter throughout the day and it feels like you're being stabbed with knitting needles? But it's more than that. Even when I got home and changed out of my restrictive skirt into my comfy old pyjamas and there was a respite from the pain, I still couldn't concentrate. I read and re-read the same page of my book three or four times one night before giving up entirely because it just would not make sense.                                                                

The brain-gut connection is a funny old thing. There are plenty of scientific papers on the subject of how our brain influences our gut - but not as many on how it also works in reverse. Which makes sense: if this article is correct, the neurotransmitter serotonin is made in our gut and conditions like IBS can increase or decrease its production. And of course, serotonin has an enormous impact on mood.

But serotonin is just one of the many chemicals that our bodies produce - imagine the multiple processes going on inside us and then think about the thousands of nutrients, additives and so on in all the different foods, drinks and medications that we tip into our bodies every day that might be affecting production of one or more hormones, enzymes or other substances. So...eat too much of the wrong things, or not enough of the right ones, and you might be causing your own grumpy moods, mild depression and/or other problems. Conversely, eat plenty of the right foods, and you could be in a permanently happy, positive, productive mood.

Whoa. Mind. Blown.

It makes you really think on a whole new level about what you're putting in your mouth, doesn't it?


Friday, November 01, 2013

Three things I'm loving right now

1. Getting my green thumb on

We had a great veggie garden at our old place and we've really missed being able to pop out to the back yard to pick a fresh tomato or cucumber or a handful of snow peas for dinner. When we built this place, we did want slightly more back yard than we ended up with, but finding a block big enough for our house, in the right location, that had the right aspect to allow the northern sun into our living areas was tricky. So we compromised on size *sigh* with the result that we don't really have a lot of outdoor space. We do have a fabulous entertaining area, but everything else - including rainwater tank, clothes line, garden shed, bin storage - had to be designed to squeeze into narrow spots.

So when I designed the garden layout, I had to work around space, sunlight and shade constraints but still wanted some productive plants. I got a bit clever with espalier and pleaching and managed to cram in a lemon, a lime, a Kaffir lime (for the leaves), a mulberry and four fejioas, plus my old potted cumquat, but couldn't see anywhere to grow veggies. Two big planters jammed full of herbs plonked next to the barbeque were as close I got.

A few weeks ago the Spring veggie seedlings began appearing in the nurseries and supermarkets and I eyed them off wistfully. Then I remembered that my Mum has quite a productive little garden going on in her mini back yard, with tomatoes, lettuce, herbs and rhubarb growing in pots. I impulsively bought a heap of punnets of seedlings, a few larger sized pots and some bags of potting mix and voila! Instant vegetable garden.

Baby Cos lettuce - and a bonus tomato

Our replanted herb containers - with an artichoke that I couldn't fit anywhere else.
The feral sage on the right has been relocated since this photo was taken.

Mixed loose-leaf lettuce and a couple of cucumbers. The old strawberry pot
has been called into service as a home for our lovely mint.

Cherry tomato with basil - note the Vietnamese mint loving the wet weather. And who needs
to buy stakes? We grow our own... that bamboo is proving very useful.
We've ended up with:
Cherry tomatoes
Cos lettuce
Loose leaf lettuce
Cucumbers (unfortunately, something ate these. I'm off to find replacements today)
Birds-eye chilli

I also added assorted new herbs - our rosemary and sage plants had begun to develop Triffid-like tendencies, grasping at our legs as we navigated the side pathway, so they've been moved to a sunny spot in the front yard. That allowed me to add garlic chives, thyme and continental parsley to our existing collection of chives, Greek oregano, common mint, Vietnamese mint and curly parsley. Basil has just been tucked in amongst the tomatoes and other potted veg.

Now all I have to do is keep up the water throughout our summer. So far, that's not been a problem, as we've had more rain than I can remember in a long while...

2. Parlez-vous français?

I've had plans to learn French for years now. Our upcoming trip next year was just the poke I needed to finally do something about that. Bike Boy came across this beaut program called Duolingo - there's an app for phone and tablet as well - and we're loving it. So he's happily learning Spanish, while I learn French.

I've never seen a language course quite like this. They've made it like a game - you accrue points, get bonus "lives" and can compete against your Facebook or Twitter friends, plus post your milestones to social media. It's fun and has made learning so much easier than just reading a dull textbook or listening to CDs.

My competitive side has reared its head again; I cannot STAND to flunk a module and will do it over and over and over until I pass. ;) I'm on a 17-day streak (which means I haven't missed a day of lessons or practice) and am up to Level 9. Those two years of French at high school all those years ago apparently did stick... Conjugating verbs is my nemesis though. Ugh. I've bought myself a French-English dictionary with verb tables to give me a hand - there is a vocabulary section with conjunction tables in Duolingo, but it's kind of tricky to access on a mobile device, so I'm going old-skool with an actual book made of paper.

The main European languages are available to choose from - English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese - and here's the best bit: IT'S FREE.

3. Ice cream for the digestively-challenged

I've discovered the hard way that lactase tablets don't work for me. The theory is that lactose-intolerant folks should be able to take a tablet when they eat dairy products and Bob's your uncle. Nuh-uh. I've tried one, then two and then three tablets with a small serve of ice cream, only to suffer badly the next day - and for several more days afterwards. :(

I've used my ice cream maker and made coconut-milk based frozen desserts, which is OK now and then, but honestly? It takes too long and is too much trouble most of the time. AND the result goes rock-hard and icy in the freezer if you make more than a single serve - not really all that appetising. So I was pretty happy to discover this at my local Coles:

My kids turned their noses up at it at first. Where's the REAL ice cream? But after grudgingly trying it, they realised that it TASTES EXACTLY THE SAME AS NORMAL ICE CREAM. Well, duh. Actually, I should have let them think it was vile, nasty stuff. That way, there'd always be some left for me...

I'm still bummed that I can't have a Magnum now and then. And it looks like my favourite Maggie Beer treats are off the menu. *cries* But at least I have an option when I want a scoop of ice cream with my Death by Chocolate or whatever.