Sunday, December 5, 2010

food as gifts

Every month or so I lunch with a bunch of authors in the city. They come from all around Melbourne, countryside included, and we've been doing it for years. When I was a newbie author, and just joined the group, there were five of us. Now there are sixteen.

The only time all sixteen of us come, however, is the end of year Xmas lunch, so it's always an event, with lots of talking as we catch up on everyone's news.  We have a Kris Kringle, too, and the rule is a gift costing about $10. We used to make it something edible and home made, but now it's expanded to include something writing related or edible —home made or bought.

I like to try out different things each year, and this year decided on beautifully decorated gingerbread cookies. (Have you spotted the flaw in my plan yet? No? Read on.) This is the kind of thing I had in mind.

I searched out a recipe that looked promising, mixed it up, chilled it, rolled it out and cut out dozens of beautiful little cookies in the shapes of different kinds of stars, hearts and also gingerbread people.  The house smelled magical as they were baking and they came out perfectly.

Next step, decorating them. The first problem came when I found that my old piping bag had disappeared. All the other pieces were there, not the bag. So I tried using a plastic bag and a piping nozzle. Splat. Giant icing blobs attack gingerbread man.

No problem, I thought. I'll make my own icing bag from cut out circles of baking paper. I've seen TV chefs use them all the time. So I cut out a circle of baking paper, formed it into a cone, filled it with the icing mixture and snipped off the tip.
Splat! Dribble! Blob! Squelch!

I tried half a dozen and decided there was no way I could give this as a gift. Yes, they'd taste lovely -- if you like gingerbread and some people don't -- but they looked terrible.

So... thinking cap back on. Some years back my local organic greengrocer used to sell cocoa dusted almonds that were simply delicious. The grocer moved away and the shop is now an art gallery, but maybe I could make the almonds myself. I prowled through various recipes on the internet and found spice dusted recipes, but no cocoa. But the principle would be the same, I thought, so I tried it.

Dead easy. Whip up an egg-white, and mix in spices, some sugar  and cocoa, then coat the nuts in the mix and roast them. Again the house was redolent with the scent of roasting nuts and spices — I decided on spiced cocoa nuts. I have to say,  they turned out beautifully. They were delicious -- not too spicy, and not too cocoa-ey (mainly because I'd only had a little cocoa left in the packet and couldn't be bothered driving to the 24 hour supermarket - it was getting pretty late.)

But then the more I looked at them, the more I thought it was a pretty average KK gift -- a jar of nuts. So I fell back on my last year's KK  and made mendiants. These are so simple, yet yummy. A blob of melted chocolate, and on it a collection of nuts and dried fruit. I used spiced cocoa almonds, macadamia nuts, pistachios, candied ginger and dried figs, and the chocolate was Lindt dark chocolate. This is the label I made to go with them - because traditional French confections with monkish connections are so much better than a blob of chocolate with nuts and dried fruit on it, aren't they?

Mendiants are traditional French confections composed of  chocolate disks studded with nuts and died fruits. Traditionally, the nuts and dried fruits used refer to the color of monastic robes — raisins for the Dominicans, hazelnut for the Augustins, dried fig for Franciscans and almond for Carmelites. Now a Christmas tradition,  recipes for this confection have embraced other combinations of toppings.

So that was my KK — a jar of spiced nuts and a box of mendiants.  I'd make both of them again, too, in fact I'm planning on making some more of the nuts a bit closer to Christmas. I've already given the first batch away.
And on my list for Xmas? A piping bag. And maybe some lessons in how to use it. :)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Quick, fun Halloween craft

We don't really do Halloween downunder. My first ever sight of a carved pumpkin Jack O'Lantern was in Scotland when we lived there for a year when I was a kid. I loved them, longed for one, even butchered a hapless pumpkin in my 8 year old fervour for one. A desperate failure, I suspect and I've never had one since.

The country where they really go all out for Halloween activities is the USA. And influenced by US TV,  the kids here are starting to pick it up. What's not to like about dressing up, scaring people and the legalized taking of sweets from strangers? The only problem is that when the local kids go trick-or-treating and knock on doors, they often get blank looks. Or a diatribe about it not being our tradition and watching too much American TV.

A couple of years ago I was heading off to the supermarket and I saw a small gang of kidlets down the end of my street dressed as ghosts and ghouls and pumpkins, clearly going trick-or-treating, and though I kind of agree with the "not-our-tradition" folks, it's a bit of fun for kids, and these kids had gone to a lot of trouble and looked really cute,  so I bought some chocolates and lollies for when they got to my house.

I was only gone half an hour, and it was still light when I got home, but my door got nary a knock.
So there I was with a small pile of the sort of stuff I try not to buy or bring into the house. What to do with it all? Oh, the dilemma!

Anyway, since I enjoy crafts, and in my neck of the woods we're in for a long, wet weekend, I thought I'd share a few easy, kid-friendly halloween crafts. They're all in paper, so cheap, fun and easy is the theme.

 If you have any littlies who want masks, there are some good, simple ones here.

You might want to make a lovely Halloween decoration — collect a bunch of interesting twigs, spray paint them black and hang the paper decorations below from them. Easy, gorgeous and cheap.

The decorations below are printable and downloadable free from the craft ideas site. There are lots more good ideas on this site.

Here's a downloadable paper origami cat that comes in black or marmalade — just print it off, cut fold and glue — dead easy. (pun intended, heh heh) I've made these and I really like them. Tammy Yee, the designer, has other animals that are print and cut out, too, including bats, and some really beautiful owls.

The hanging paper pumpkins below are both elegant and amazingly easy. All you need is orange and green paper, scissors and glue or a stapler and some cotton to hang them. They're a variation on some Christmas deco designs I've made before, and it's all about strips of paper that are different lengths.
A different, just as easy and elegant design is here.

So whether you celebrate Halloween or not, enjoy the evening and don't scare the kids too much. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Farewell Eva Ibbotson

Eva Ibbotson— one of my favorite writers in all the world — died on Wednesday and I'm feeling very sad. 

Many people know and love her children's books — Which Witch, The Secret of Platform 13, The Journey to the River Sea and many more, but I first came to Eva Ibbotson through her adult romances. They were well out of print when I discovered them, but I hunted them down on the internet until I had a full collection. I didn't care that I'd paid quite a bit of money for battered old library editions; the contents were gold.

However last year they were reissued— as YA books for some odd reason — and it was great because the books found a whole new audience, and also because I was able to press her books on friends without risking their non-return.  I did a Word Wench interview with Eva last year, when she was 84.

She left behind her a brilliant legacy — these are books that will live on, as Georgette Heyer's books have lived on, but one of  her stories that might not live on is a small piece she wrote in support of public libraries, and it's one of my favorites. 
It starts:

I was eight years old when I came to Britain as a refugee - and was not particularly grateful. Mostly this was because after years and years of being a sheep coming to the manger, or a grazing cow, I had at last landed the part of the Virgin Mary in the nativity play at my convent school in Vienna.
And then ... Hitler.      read the rest here.

You can listen to a podcast interview with Eva here.

Eva said once in an interview  that she thought of her books as a present for readers.
They are indeed a gift she has left to the world.
Vale Eva Ibbotson.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Delicate Art of Critique

I'm blogging on RomanceAustralia about the critiquing process — what to talk about when you're past the beginner stage. Any suggestions?

The hardest part of the critique process comes after the beginner level is past. Often people are at a loss when they read someone’s work, especially if problems are few and far between. What if there are no typos, no grammar mistakes, no head hopping, no obvious problems? Where do you go then?

I think one of the most important things is to respond to a piece, not correct it.  
Read the rest of the post here.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Where my ideas come from...

I'm celebrating the release of my book THE ACCIDENTAL WEDDING and blogging on WordWenches today about what is probably the most common question an author gets asked - Where do you get your ideas?

When an author first gets published, people who don't know her — and sometimes people who do — assume that if the events and characters from her books don't come from history books, they must come from her life.

I can't speak for other authors, but for me, this is far from the truth. Not one character I've ever written has ever existed outside my imagination. And my life hasn't been nearly as exciting or adventurous as that lived by most of my heroines. And, alas, the heroes that walk my pages are not hanging around my house. Even the occasional dog that appears in a book wasn't one of my dogs. Really, I often just dream up scenes and stories and I have no idea where that comes from — I only know it's not from history books and it's not from my life. 
What I do often take from life, however, are the small details that "furnish" the book, the things, for instance that evoke a scene and a mood. The scent of herbs drying or bread baking, of new cut grass, or of damp dog. The fragrance of a wood fire, the crackle and hiss of burning wood, the settling of coals and the dancing of shadows on the walls when the only light is firelight.  
Read the rest of the post here...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dorothea Brande and me

Today I'm a guest on Joanna Bourne's wonderful blog, where I'm talking about my version of Dorothea Brande.

Dorothea Brande was a writer and writing teacher in New York in the 1930's. She wrote a book called Becoming a Writer which is now a classic and is still in print. It was the forerunner to books like Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way" and others.
But Dorothea isn't the slightest bit new-agey.  Her book is small and slender, her advice practical and quite pithy.  The writing style is spare, elegant, and a little old-fashioned in places. Dorothea is as romantic about the writing process as a dog trainer is about training dogs — with good reason; she's on about training your muse to perform on command. But she also acknowledges there is magic involved — and that you can teach it to come to you. And it’s true.
I can't do justice to her whole philosophy here, but this is my own nutshell version of Dorothea, which I've used on and off for more than ten years.
(read the rest of the post here )

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Paper beads

One of the ways in which I unwind of an evening, after walking my dog,  is to watch TV, but I seem to be like my mother in that I can't just watch TV without doing something. What I do varies according to my interest or needs at the time. I go through cycles.

A while back I had a spurt of making paper beads, and as usual, inflicted some of the results on my long-suffering friends. Paper beads are very easy to make and the results can be surprisingly attractive. The first ones I made were from a free local magazine and I cut the triangles in random widths. They turned out rather well, so I strung them into a necklace and made a pair of earrings as well.
I had an old calendar picture whose colors I liked, so I decided to turn it into beads, too. It had wide white borders, so rather than cutting them off or having white beads, I drew stripes and squiggles on the borders with a permanent black marker. This is the result, the paper beads teamed with copper-colored freshwater pearls. (BTW, the safety pin you might have noticed is attaching the two tiny earrings to the necklace so they don't get lost— it's not part of the design. ;)

My next inspiration was to turn a couple of friend's book covers into beads. I printed the covers out on glossy photo card. This book cover became the necklace and earrings below it. I chose pinks and greys because they're colors my friend often wears.
I wanted to inflict--er, make another lot of beads with another friend's RITA finalling cover and she said, how about a bracelet? So since she wears red really well, I experimented with a few variations on the bracelet design.

And at the conference a few weeks ago I gave to the HeartsTalk people some paper bead necklaces and earrings made from pages of HeartsTalk, the Romance Writers of Australia monthly magazine, which is printed in black and white.

I've made rather a lot of beads now and am moving back to other pursuits. (Friends in various parts of the world heave audible sighs of relief.) Here's a handful of my beads that a friend of mine took a photo of.

If you're interested in making paper beads yourself, there's an on-line tutorial here. It's fun, cheap and the beads can be pretty. I'll probably do another batch as Christmas approaches and make strings of them for the Christmas tree.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

At the Craft Market

I've just got back from the St. Kilda craft market. I'd been a bit upset about the loss of my favourite brooch, my silver brolgas brooch — I'd last worn it two weeks ago in Sydney at the Romance Writers of Australia national conference, and when I'd taken my jacket to be drycleaned, the brooch wasn't on it. I phoned everywhere I'd been in Sydney, but no luck, and since I'd bought it some years ago at the St. Kilda craft market, I thought I'd see if I could get another one.

I was almost ready to leave when I went to put on my earrings, and lo! there was the brooch, in the bowl with my earrings. I must have removed it on auto-pilot when I got home and not recalled it at all.

Still, the morning was brilliantly sunny so I decided to head down to the market anyway.  My time at the beach in Sydney had spoiled me and I wanted to see the sea again — I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky — she says, channelling Dad, who used to quote poems at the drop of a hat — that one's Sea Fever by John Masefield, one of his faves.

Despite the bright sun and brilliant blue sky, it was chilly -- 10 C -- and I got there early enough for most stalls to be just setting up so I wandered off and bought a coffee at the The Europa Cafe — St. Kilda is renowned for great cake and coffee shops in the European tradition— where I resisted the delicious fragrance of fresh-baked cakes and chocolate and stuck to one small coffee.

I took it to the beach and basked in the sun with the sound of waves on one side and seagulls and rainbow lorikeets in the palm trees above me.  Seagulls are noisy, pushy brats, but I love lorikeets. They cluster in my flowering gum tree every morning chirruping and squawking happily, and each summer they descend on my plum tree and steal my plums, but I don't mind. There's something magical about them, and I'm not sure whether it's the drought or the bushfires or simply a result of more people planting native trees and bushes in the city, but I've been seeing a lot more lorikeets and other native birds lately.

Anyway, back to the market. It's a mix of crafts, some junky and not to my taste, others beautiful. Prices range from a few dollars to thousands — I saw one gorgeous silver bracelet for $1200 and a beautiful pair of gold sea-urchin earrings for more than $1000.  I  shopped at the cheaper end of the scale. I bought a couple of lovely pewter brooches and a pair of earrings, and despite my intention of not buying anything for the house — I'm planning to renovate and am supposed to be getting rid of stuff, not acquiring it — I was also tempted to buy this gorgeous glass dish.  I congratulate myself on not buying one of the hand-turned wooden bowls — I have a weakness for beautiful wooden bowls and spoons.

I do love markets, especially craft markets that sell lovely things. Do you?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

At Coogee

I'm just back from the Romance Writers of Australia conference in Sydney. This year it was at Coogee Beach, a location I'm very fond of. My writing group have been on retreat there for the last two years, and we've come to love it. I blogged about our retreat last March on WordWenches, so if you want to read more, go here. Mind you, it's not hard to love Coogee — a gorgeous beach, lovely accommodation and dozens of good restaurants and eating places.

The hotel is just over the road from the beach, and I had a balcony room, high up, so this was my view.

Even though it was winter, it was so warm I slept every night with my big glass sliding door wide open, and I fell asleep to the sound of pounding surf, and woke to this.

The  second day the surf was spectacular, with waves crashing on the rocks and spurting upward. I had only a cheap pocket camera with me and couldn't catch the splashes, but even so, some of the photos give you an idea of what it was like.

 I'd started brainstorming with my friend, Barbara Hannay, but the warm, fresh, blowy weather lured us out and we walked up to the bluff, almost to Clovelly. Barbara has a slideshow on her blog.

This is the view looking back toward the hotel. The hotel is the big white building in the top right-hand corner of the picture.

One of the nicest things happened on our last night at Coogee. Up until that point, we'd eaten virtually all meals at the conference, or at a place chosen by our publisher (thank you Harlequin Australia) but on the last night we organized whoever was left to go to our favorite Italian restaurant, La Spiaggia, for dinner. 

We love it for two reasons — firstly, the food is excellent and it's a really friendly place. Secondly, the first time we went there, two years ago when we were doing our first Coogee writing retreat, Jess, our waitress, turned out to be a writer, too, and we bonded. The second time we went back, there she was again, and we talked about agents and things like that, so we were hoping she'd be there again, and we could catch up on how things were going for her. 

This time when we went in, we were a bit disappointed to see she wasn't there, but the food was fabulous and we had a lovely meal anyway. Then the barman came over and asked if I was Anne Gracie. Bemused, I admitted I was, and he said Jess would like to buy us a drink. She still worked there, but not on Sunday nights, and the guys had phoned her to let her know we were there. Even better news, she'd sold the book she'd talked to us about in March! Isn't that wonderful? We were all so thrilled. It was the final fabulous touch to a great meal and a lovely weekend. 

Thank you Jess! My first taste of Sambuca, and it won't be my last. And I can't wait to buy the book. We'll be back to Coogee and La Spiaggia, and next time we'll be buying the drinks.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Mysterious Affair of the Mouldy Cake

 I'm borrowing another friend's email again here (with permission--and the names changed.) Writers are often born story tellers and my friend is no exception —this story is too good not to be shared.  The images I've used are from the web.

Just had a small marital win. My husband is a car-neat-freak. He changes to a new car every 20,000 kms, courtesy of his work, so it always smells new. He washes it once a week, vacuums, checks for scratches, wipes away fingerprints, you name it.

Me, I work on the assumption that if I remove the spiderwebs my ancient car may not stay together. The dog and kids and I go to the beach - often. We collect sand. And stuff. To say my husband and I are polar opposites in the car department is an understatement. But our differences mean whenever I drive his car he checks it and sighs - loudly - and fetches vacuum.

He's been away overseas for two weeks. My sister was here at the weekend, she's also a neat freak so I drove her round in my husband's car.

So his first day home, he went out and checked it all over - deeply suspicious. Then in he came, looking appalled, carrying a cake container he'd found under the front seat. Full of... horror of horrors.... mouldy cake!!!!

I was still in bed when he brought it in, and it was like all his deep dark suspicions about who I am were finally confirmed. His whole body was vibrating with accusation...

But it had me bemused. Contrary to popular belief, I don't actually stow mouldy cake under car seats - the dog and I eat any cake down to the last crumb. I looked at it from all sides - definitely mould - definitely a lot. I recognised the container. I took a deep breath and opened it to investigate.

It was the chocolate cherry yule log I'd made for my husband to take to his staff morning tea last Christmas. He'd asked me specially to make it.  It took me ages and I was really proud of it. He'd obviously put it under the front seat and forgotten it, and it was only because he was suspecting - horrors of horrors - sand!!! that he'd finally checked under there.

Shoulda seen his face. 
I reckon I could go on a holiday to Hawaii on the strength of this.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Marion Lennox & seals

My friend, Marion Lennox, who writes fabulous romances, occasionally sends emails that are just too good  for an audience of one or two, and since she doesn't blog, I decided to hijack an occasional email. So with her permission, I'm going to share her latest, about her weekend, with photos.
Gorgeous gorgeous day, lovely enough to entice me out to Port Philip Bay where the seals are enjoying their new Chinaman's Hat. FYI the old Chinaman's Hat was a bell buoy the seals loved.

 It eventually fell to bits and everyone including seals were so sad they built them another one - the seals then ignored it until it started to rot. Now it pongs and it's wonderful.

We went out in the boat, it being one of those amazing  milliseconds of time when nothing's fallen out, over, in, it's not on the hard getting its bottom scraped, nothing desperately needs sanding, the tender's motor's working, the tender's not leaking, we can find the life jackets, someone remembers the thermos, hundred dollar bills have stopped for one moment being used to paper the deck, the weather's fabulous, we're all free, no one's seasick, and even the seals are doing their thing. This may never happen again in this lifetime but for yesterday we're truly grateful.

I loved this pic of a seal family, with two females looking on as the big bull seal snores in the sun, and the cheeky youngster climbs all over him.

A curious seal swam up to investigate...

  ...took one look at the strange creatures in the boat and flipped away back to the seal colony.

Thanks, Marion, for sharing such a lovely event.
Marion's books nearly always have animals in them, whether they're dogs, cows, frogs or twin baby alpacas. I wonder if we'll ever get seals...

Anyone here have experience of yachties? I was just a kid when my brother-in-law built his first small boat ( a mirror) in my dad's garage. It started something and over the years my sister and her family had some wonderful experiences with their various yachts  - mostly built by my brother-in-law. I still remember the letter she wrote to me while they were sailing the Whitsunday Passage. Just fabulous.

Friday, April 23, 2010

ANZAC biscuits

ANZAC biscuits (ie cookies) are an Aussie tradition. They're also the most common biscuits I bake -- not that I bake biscuits all that often, but when I do, these are the quickest and easiest and I nearly always have the ingredients to hand. They're also delicious.

ANZAC stands for Australia New Zealand Army Corps and these biscuits were invented during World War One by the wives and mothers of soldiers away fighting on the other side of the world. The 25th April iAnzac Day, a public holiday in Australia that  commemorates the role of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in the dreadful Gallipoli Campaign of 1915.  During this long and bloody campaign a spirit formed among the soldiers, a tradition of mateship forged under fire and in impossible conditions. It's still part of how Australians see themselves today.  (That's my grandfather on the far right, by the way, standing holding the rope. He wasn't at Gallipoli -- he fought in Flanders, also horrible.)
If you want to learn more about ANZAC day, visit the Australian War Memorial Site. I'm really only talking about biscuits here.

Australians are pretty big on sweets and cakes and biscuits. An old cookery book of my mother's, about 250 pages long, devotes the first 50 pages to soup, meat, and vegetable dishes, the next 50 to puddings and desserts, the next 50 to cakes, and 20 to sweet biscuits. And then there's jams and jellies, and confectionery.

I suppose it was partly about country cooking and hospitality -- with no refrigeration, sugar is a natural preservative, and heaven forbid visitors arrive and you have nothing to offer them with their cup of tea. My grandmother, an excellent country cook, would never be caught short, and invariably had two or three sweet treats to offer visitors - usually some kind of cake,  plus scones, and biscuits. And country men devoured them and burned off the sugar in hard physical work.

Soldiers at war lived on army rations --  basic, boring, usually stale , and often weevilly. They used to joke about the flat  "ships biscuits" that cracked teeth -- "army tiles" some called them. So women back home racked their brains to find something to send their boys that would last the 2 month journey and still be tasty.
(The picture above is of my grandparents taken on leave during WW1. Romantic, eh?)

What emerged was a biscuit (cookie) made of ingredients that most women would find in their pantries : oatmeal, flour, sugar, coconut , butter and golden syrup. No eggs, because they would go bad on the long journey. Oatmeal was a staple -- porridge was a staple breakfast food. Coconut is a commonly used ingredient here, no doubt because it's grown here. And golden syrup is a by-product of sugar production -- a kind of light molasses -- a golden brown colour, lighter than treacle, which is almost black -- and we have a large sugar industry, so like people in the southern states of America, we use it in our cooking. 

These biscuits, placed in an airtight container (often old tea tins like the one on the right) lasted the two month trip easily and were still delicious to eat. I don't imagine they lasted long after the tins were opened -- they'd be shared around -- a little taste of home to boys and young men fighting in a foreign land.
At first they were simply called 'soldier's biscuits' but as people back home became used to hearing reports about "the ANZAC boys' they were soon called ANZAC biscuits.

So here's the recipe. It's very user friendly and adaptable. I'm also giving you my lazy girls method, where you mix the whole thing in a saucepan. Less washing up ;)

1 cup rolled oats (I've used all sorts, even microwavable oatmeal) 

1 cup plain flour
3/4 cup desiccated coconut  (dried coconut)
1 cup sugar  (white, raw or brown)
125g (4oz) butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup (see note above)
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 tablespoon boiling water

1) Preheat oven to 150C (300F)
2) Melt butter and golden syrup together in a large saucepan. Remove saucepan from heat.
3) Mix soda with boiling water and add to melted butter and syrup. It will foam up a little. 
4) Mix oats, flour, sugar and coconut into the wet mix.
5) Place walnut-sized lumps of mixture (about 1 tabsp) on greased tray (allow room for spreading).
6) Bake in a slow oven (150 C or 300 F) for 20 minutes. They will look golden and toasty
7) Loosen while warm (they come out very soft) and cool on trays.

The number it makes will depend on the quality of the ingredients used, which will affect how much they spread in the baking. If you overbake them and you find them too hard and crispy, crumble them up and use them as topping for icecream. They will soften with age, too. 

If you make them, write and let me know what you thought.

Friday, April 2, 2010


It's Easter. In the northern hemisphere, Easter means spring; here it's autumn. Not that my plum tree knows it. Confused by the hailstorms and the unexpected rain and after clinging to life through thirteen years of drought, the poor thing has reverted to its northern hemisphere instincts and is trying desperately to put out new leaves and blossoms, when the rest of the non-indigenous plants in my garden are just beginning to turn gold and crimson.

I love autumn leaves. In Australia, only the exotic species have autumn colour, most of the native plants  remain grey-green throughout the year, and only the new growth on the gum trees is crimson. I remember a glorious autumn in Scotland the year we lived there when I was 8, and I ran about catching coloured leaves as they fell -- I'd read in a story that to catch a leaf meant a day of good luck, so I wanted 365 leaves to give to my mother. I got them, too. I expect it gave Mum one day of good luck at least -- a child fully occupied the entire day and exhausted at the end of it.
One day I'll be in eastern North America to experience the full glory of deciduous Fall. But it won't be this year.

For me, Easter means barbecues in the bush, in particular the north east of Victoria, where we lived before we started moving every couple of years. The foothills of the Snowy Mountains.  I wrote about it here once. No barbecues this year, alas. I'm working through the Easter break. Everything is very quiet - most of my neighbours have gone away because it's the last break before winter.

And I'm not buying chocolate eggs -- I'm buying bulbs instead. Lilies, hoop petticoats, tulips, more freesias -- can you ever have too many freesias? I have them drifting across the front garden, naturalized in the grass and spread by seed. The fragrance is divine -- one of my favorites, and I've decided to have more in the back garden and hope they fill the lawn one day.

Buying bulbs on line is not quite as much fun as driving up to the bulb farms in the Dandenong Mountains, an hour's drive from here, but still, such a pleasure to plant papery brown things or small waxy lumps and a few months later a tentative gorgeous spike or two of green and then... flowers.

Have a fabulous Easter.