ISSUES

I'm having a few issues, you might have noticed. Technical ones, Wordpress ones, me being inept with settings ones. Sorry if pictures are about 47 times too big for the page, or just not loading, or loading but you can barely see a corner of the page from your mobile / tablet. Hoping to be back, brighter, better, and actually reader-friendly in a week or so. In the meantime maybe make a cake (see last post), go for a walk, or just put your feet up and listen to your favourite Joni Mitchell record because that is Time Well Spent in my book... 

xx Meg 

MONDAY + TUESDAY

I started my week in the kitchen.

On Monday I thought the cold weather was all too much so came straight home from work and poached a few pears in vanilla, cinnamon, star anise and cloves. The house smelt like Christmas, so toasty and warm. I used Mark's recipe, but cut the (brown) sugar by half and added the other spices. My friend D and I have a Porridge Club at work (which is really just us making porridge first thing in the morning - and actually just I call it Porridge Club, he calls it breakfast). Anyway, these pears were so good I have officially declared myself Queen of Porridge Club.

On Tuesday I had friends over for dinner and made the most amazing molasses ginger cake. I'd saved it from the paper and pinned it to the fridge a few weeks ago just knowing it would be good (now online here). The golden syrup, the brown sugar, the cloves and ALL THE GINGER. I probably went a bit far with the ginger because I love it so much, but this cake was all the better for it. It was one of the best I've made (and I have made a lot of cakes). I'm already thinking about when I can make it again, and suspect it will be one of those cakes I make for the rest of my life.

And because you can't serve your friends just cake (or even just cake and wine), I also grilled some chicken and made a beautiful winter salad from Ostro. Another one I will be looking to make again, and soon - I loved the sweet beetroot, the walnuts, the lemony greens and hearty lentils. Just right for a rainy night in with a bottle of red.

That's a good Monday, a good Tuesday.

* Image, B Chaet

SUNDAY / 23

Still heavy with a head cold today. I'd meant to go away to the farm with friends for their mid-winter bonfire this weekend, but I felt the stress of too many things to do and a very sore throat, so decided to stay home. It's a hard one, when you know it will be a wonderful time, but as I said to my mother, 'you can't do all the things'. So I stayed home. In the end, I was too sick for work last week and felt foggy all weekend, a runny nose and the like. By SUNDAY I'd pulled myself together and roped my cousin Flynn into helping me move the old washer and sideboard I was getting rid of. We hired a van, he calmed my nerves while I drove it, we stopped at the bakery (of course), I took a picture through the dusty window (above) and, pleasantly, we managed to shift it all without any drama. We even had time for a cup of tea and the Saturday paper quiz with my grandmother in the afternoon sun. She's doing well, though she's had a rough time of it. Every day with her feels like a blessing, as does a gloriously bright winter afternoon after being sick in bed for days. It was a good one.

YEAR TWO.

YEAR ONE.

ON MY MIND / 12

So much to catch up on. It feels like an age since I've put my thoughts down here - the bits and pieces that are on my mind. The internet is one hell of a busy place, and you probably don't want to miss out on these bits of goodness... * Well if this doesn't make you happy, or restore your faith in awesome, then you're doing something wrong - the Skatergirls of Kabul are officially my favourite humans. Small, feisty, rough and ready for anything with those elbow and knee pads.

* Some of the nicest pictures I've seen in all my winters - a few days out of town with good friends, as captured by Rachel Kara. Isn't every damn shot stunning? And heart-warming? And making you want to buy new old boots and go for long walks in the cold, crisp afternoon? I love it.

* I'm always saying sorry, and while good manners are important to me, I really needed to read this. On that note, how are you with accepting compliments? A guy I was dating recently pointed out that I never let something he says rest - I always have a silly, self-deprecating something to say back, instead of a simple, gracious 'thank you'. Last week a friend said my hair looked lovely and long, which was sweet, except that I responded with 'oh, it probably needs a cut', even though I only had it cut a few weeks ago. So I'm working on that. My friend Marni is wonderful at giving compliments - she's always very warm and utterly genuine and enthusiastic, to me ('your eyebrows are really good at the moment') and to complete strangers while we're ordering laksa ('that skirt looks so amazing on you'). I love her for it, and I mean to do more of it.

* I was going to talk about Thomas Keller's chicken recipe, which I'll be roasting up next week sometime I think, but best you just go over and read what Molly thinks about it. Molly's food / life writing at Orangette is the literary version of listening to Joe Pug for me. It makes me Very Happy. It inspires me, it heartens me and warms me and reminds me that all the things I love and care about most are all that is important (being family, friends, cooking and eating, and being a good and kind person). I remembered, reading her post, about how I sat at a table next to Thomas Keller when I was in the Napa Valley a few years ago. Jordy and I had eaten at French Laundry the night before, full to the brim of the most spectacular food and wine and so spoilt that we slept late, had a bubble bath and went to the Bouchon bakery for a late lunch of pastry and there he was, Thomas Keller, sitting in the autumn sun in his chef's whites and smiling. TK!

* I have a secret habit of watching and loving film trailers. It's kind of silly I suppose, but I like nothing more than settling down with a cup of tea and finding all the things I want to watch (even though I rarely get to the cinema). These three looked wonderful - each warm and sweet and intelligent and a little bit quirky (one, two, three).

{picture all the way from my day at Le Pompidou a few weeks ago}

BABETOWN

I've been in Sydney nearly nine years now, and I still feel like I'm settling into it; finding new places, new things to marvel at, new friends. One of the nicest things about writing here on Sugar Mountain is making connections. A comment from a reader makes me over-the-moon happy. It is always wonderful when someone responds to your writing, when something resonates or they just want to say 'thanks' or 'hey'. Writing in a medium like this often feels distant and anonymous, so it's a real dream when like-minded folks find you and you find them.

In the last six months this writing has lead me to two very talented, inspiring and damn fine ladies whose work I have loved for some time. A comment here and there on Elize's beautiful photographs or Ngaio's amazing illustrations and before you know it you're going for dinner, going for walks, going to gigs and having ciders on the couch together. You're friends. It's pretty wonderful.

I found this post from Stevie really compelling; it made me think about how fulfilling and important these kinds of female friendships are to me. An email from my friend who is moonlighting as a curator in NYC at the moment, who I am so proud of, who I can be so real with. Text messages with my cousin that are just so sharp and completely hilarious, nightly talks with my sister who gives me strength and support just by being her. Friends that I work with and go for pho dates with, who know me inside and out, know my daily habits and probably all my worries. Long overdue and rambling emails from friends in Adelaide, friends in London. Morning cups of tea and kitchen talks with my housemate that are so easy and aligned we are, increasingly, pretty much the same person.

It's a blessing, really, to have so many babes in my life.

* Pictures from Olive and Oak.

SUNDAY / 22

 Certainly the first time I've written the words 'yacht racing' in relation to my day. But yesterday, that was my day. A friend / colleague bought a yacht last year and asked if I'd like to join her for a few races this season. Without any idea of what it might involve, I went ahead and said I'd love to. It was a lot to take in, and mighty hard work, but so amazing. I'm kind of obsessed with how the skipper was reading the wind and the harbour, charting direction in degrees as we tacked between pins. It was daunting trying to move quickly with the sail (I was on the winch), but once I got a feel for it, I found it pretty exhilarating. It was a warm day, and fairly still, so nothing too serious for a beginner like me. YEAR TWO.

YEAR ONE. 

CRISP WHITE SHEETS

 Oh golly, I'm such a sucker for a nice hotel. And not just the plush ones, but the well-designed, detailed, thoughtful and interesting ones. Staying at hotels makes me happy, always has.  When we were young my parents would spend school holidays on the road between Sydney (where we're from), and Adelaide (where we lived). It was an 18 hour drive - sometimes we'd do it in one go in the old van, and sometimes we'd stop halfway. Our preferences at that time were for hotels with a pool (for tiring us out after a day in the car) and bunk beds. We once stayed in a cabin that had triple bunks which was so amazing and revolutionary that my sister and I barely slept and my little brother forgot to pack his Lego the next morning and it had to be posted home to us. My favourite part was always the breakfast card that came with a TINY pencil and I would sit there for ages deciding whether to tick the 'cornflakes' or 'ricebubbles' box, saying things like 'I wonder if the apple juice is good'. In the morning we'd all stare transfixed at the small door in the wall where they slid the breakfast tray through, the toast in a little paper bag and the plastic samples of honey an absolute prize to be treasured and carried home in case you might, sometime, somewhere, need just a tablespoon of honey.

On this last trip I was able to stay with friends a bit, and found some very good AIR BNBs (CPH and Paris). Other towns I was only there a night or two, or landed late and wanted something easy to just walk in to (the emails and key handover coordination can be tedious if you're not staying long). Not to mention there's something I love about the anonymity and ease of hotels, the way time feels in-between and of course, the crisp white sheets. My stays are as follows (clockwise from top left):

* SP34 in Copenhagen - this gem was close to the station and an absolute dream after a day of trains and buses in the UK, and a late flight to Denmark. I managed to marvel at the lobby, have dinner and a wine in the bar, then crawl into my little bed. It was super central and from here I got a good feel for the town before heading out to Lasse's. 

* The Michel Berger in Berlin was perfect - very relaxed, fun and super comfy. Hurrah for interesting details, beautiful big courtyards and a damn fine selection of cocktails. 

* HTL Kungsgatan was a nice little find in Stockholm. It was on the city side of things, close to the station which was useful, but not a very interesting area. It ended up being cheaper than the AIR BNBs I found in Sodermalm though (a more dynamic part of town), and it was pretty sweet to have all the niceties of a good hotel, especially the Swedidh breakfast with berry jams. 

* The ACE in London (pictured) for my first few nights was brilliant. But I had a last night in London before I flew home as well, and booked The Hoxton at Holborn on the recommendation of my boss. She has very good taste and, as expected, I loved it. So much so I forgot to take a picture, but I'll tell you it was my favourite of the lot - wonderful space, just-right details (cute paperbag of breakfast at your door in the morning - granola, yoghurt, juice and fruit so you can get straight out into your day) amazing location (Holborn is between Covent Garden and Bloomsbury, if you don't mind) and just all the good parts of a big hotel with the charm of a small one.  

SUNDAY / 21

 Home again. I landed yesterday, and after a shower and a cup of tea was down to the Art Gallery of NSW for a morning lecture on Regency England that I'd booked months ago and forgot about, home for a brief nap and then a two hour yoga intensive with the amazing Kell. It was a wonderful, if long day.  So Sunday I took it slow. A sleep-in, lots of Lady Grey, five loads of washing and the last of the unpacking. Somehow I bought towels. In Europe. I don't know who does that, and quite why I carried them about, but the blue was a limited edition Nathalie Du Pasquier that I couldn't resist from HAY in Copenhagen, and the two mustard Orla Kielys were a last minute addition in London, after the dress I bought then exchanged for a slightly different style was discounted and I ended up with a credit note. The towels seemed easier than a teapot, so here I am with towels. I'm good for towels. 

I spent the afternoon making an apple, pork and sage cassoulet (good slow winter cooking) and catching up on yesterday's paper. 

YEAR TWO. 

YEAR ONE. 

SUNDAY / 20

A slow morning at the markets buying flowers for Cecile, two long cafe cremes with Lauren, and then a steak frites lunch at the local bar before I got the train back to Paris. In France you can drink rosè on the train, and the light rain made nice patterns on the window as we wound our way north.YEAR TWO.

YEAR ONE.

SOUTH

A few days in the South of France is good for what ails you, you know. When planning my trip I had a few days to spare between Pairs and London, and reached out to an old friend from Adelaide who is a winemaker and has been living in France for the last four years. She and her hubby have a place just outside a town called Cahors, in the south west, in a small village by the river. They're renovating a charming old farmhouse and sleeping in an old shed while they're at it, brave souls. So I was set to stay with their neighbour, an elderly woman called Cecile who had no English, but a lovely spare room with a cast iron bed off an old stone courtyard with wooden shutters. Finding myself in Paris, a city I know well enough and a language I can get by in was a real dream after feeling so useless in Germany, Sweden and Denmark. I know my pronouns, my conjugations, a pretty hefty vocabulary and while I sometimes get my tenses a little off, I'd say I'm fairly proficient. Or it serves me well when ordering wine, buying train tickets and such, maybe not political discourse but it's a holiday so who's to mind.

Boarding the train in Paris the carriage wasn't so much stuffy as hot. Unbearably so. The lights and the air conditioning were off and it felt like the whole thing had been baking under the arches of Gare de l'Austerlitz all afternoon. The day had been warm, but I didn't think too hot. It was hot now in the train, like an Adelaide afternoon in late January. In the carriage people squinted to see seat numbers in the dim light, and the grey-blue upholstery felt scratchy and dense under my jeans. My feet, in their dirty white Converse felt like they were on fire, heavy and swollen. It felt like all the heat of my body was welling there, radiating through the lino floor and would, at any moment, melt away.

I remembered then that it was Friday, my days being off with all the coming and going, and 6 PM. I was getting the weekend train out of Paris in early summer, it all made sense. And so within twenty minutes of leaving Paris we were almost all asleep. The heat, the day, the evening sun, neatly dressed Frenchmen on their commute half-snoring.

It was about five hours to Cahors, and as the evening went on, the carriage slowly emptied with each stop, and I found myself with a few seats alone, somewhere past Limoges but before Brive la Galliard. The temperature had cooled as we headed south, and it had started to rain in parts. As we came through small towns and hills I could see the rosy clouds and sunset stretching out, and soft mist clinging to the trees. It got darker still and instead of the pink, it was just the last of the light, grey and dimming. I had to squint to catch glimpses of fences or barns, as the light from the carriage became too strong in the reflection of the window, till it was just dark, a mirror with occasional track signals and street lights in the distance.

It was just after 11 PM when we pulled into Cahors  and I got out onto the empty platform, dark and still warm from a long day, worried I had the wrong stop and hoping to see my friend. But Lauren has a kind of glowing smile, and before I knew it I found her and we were laughing in the car driving back to hers, drinking delicious champagne around her old table and telling stories about our old boss while crying / laughing. There's something amazing about arriving somewhere at dark and waking up to see the glory of where you landed, taking it in as a kind of gift in the morning light. I couldn't believe the old stonework, everywhere, and the immensity of the work they'd been doing to their place. We ate apricots from their neighbours garden while I explored the rubble of their one-day spare bedroom, then drove into town for the weekly market in the village square. Under the shade of the cathedral we bought goats cheese and walnut pastries, and lots of cherries. Lauren said it had rained on Wednesday, so they might not be as sweet as last week. I just loved that she knew it rained and she knew the cherries were grown nearby and she knew how they'd taste. We bought provisions for the day and drove through towns and villages, along the river, exploring and eventually picnicking with some organic local malbec, fois gras, a baguette, brie, more goat's cheese, heirloom tomatoes and the cherries in the shade. Oh, and a pear and custard pastry that I of course had to get too.

The rest of the weekend was much the same, a nap in the shade of one of the old stone bridges listening to older couples argue over their petanq game, a mad storm rolling in from the lookout above the town, glasses of rose at the bar and a long dinner and pots of herbal tea.

It was some kind of heaven.