The candy taste test

One of the things that the kids requested was lollies from America. There is a great deal of similarity between what is on the candy shelves in a store in New York and what you find on the supermarket shelves here in Australia, so the challenge was to find things that the kids wouldn’t otherwise be used to.

Here is an assessment of the candy. Sadly the photo does not have all the candy tested, as by that stage, some had been woofed up by the family.

I picked these up at random from Liberty Island, with Mr BG asking “why?” I had heard of them and was keen to have the kids try them.Have you ever tasted the plastic that encases electrical wire? No? Well don’t bother, because Twizzlers is it. It was tasteless and hard and altogether yuck. My hopes that it would be similar to licorice were sorely dashed.

To be filed under the never again category.

Hershey’s chocolate-I know that it’s available here quite readily, but we don’t eat it much and I wanted to get it straight front the source, so to speak. We picked a series of Hershey’s miniatures, which included Milk, Dark chocolate, Mr Goodbar, which was chocolate and peanuts and Crispy.

It is strange how chocolate can differ in taste and texture from one country to the next. Even an international brand such as Cadbury tastes different in Australia, the US and the UK. (The UK has the best Cadbury’s) Hershey chocolate isn’t as sweet as the chocolate I am used to The kids aren’t great fans of nuts so I tasted the Mr Goodbar which was quite good.

The Milk chocolate was ok, and I found the Dark chocolate quite enjoyable. I think it’s a case that I am used to milk chocolate being quite sweeter than dark.

We also taste tested Butterfingers- like a peanut crisp encased in milk chocolate- Miss BG wolfed it down and loved it.

M&Ms were also purchased, as Master BG did request these. You could get them in all shapes sizes and flavours, but we didn’t have the room, and I didn’t want to explain to Customs why our luggage smelt like a candy store.

Reeses peanut-milk chocolate bar with a peanut butter centre. I had to fight Mr BG off to get a taste. It has a savoury sweetness that really appealed to him. It’s like the whole salted caramel phenomenon which I don’t really get. But these bars had a creaminess to them, probably supplied by the peanut butter, that was quite appealing.

Are there lollies/candy/sweets that you like or prefer to those you normally find at home when you go overseas?

5 lessons I learned today

Today I learned

  1. How to fight off food cravings thanks to the Wall Street Journal. Chocolate was one of the more popular food to crave, as was salty snacks, pizza and ice cream. My favourite craving is usually for fresh bread…mmm, carbs…
  2. That my local Member of Parliament was one of 42 who voted for Marriage Equality. Sadly she was outnumbered by the 98 who voted against the Bill.
  3. That there is no shame in leaving a book unfinished, because you find it a bit dull and somewhat self-serving. Life is too short to finish books you don’t like, drink bad wine or eat that crappy Easter chocolate.
  4. That a person who reads in bed is a librocubicularist. Thank you to Mr. S  for sharing that.
  5. The phrase “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” is an apt way to describe current happenings at work.




Bruges is not just about beer and chocolate…

…but it is hard not to avoid the devotion that everyone has to the brew. One waiter nodded with approval when I asked for a Chimay,which was one of his favourite beers. His favourite was a Westvleteren, which was so exclusive it was only served in one cafe in Belgium and to buy more to take away, you have the phone the brewery and make a reservation and supply your car licence plate number. Individual customers are limited to the number of bottles and return customers have to wait two months before placing another order. The wait would somewhat whet you appetite.

Luckily there are lots of other things you can eat and drink in Bruges. We tried the chocolate, a couple of times…
There were moules and fries to try, which were scrumptious, and the waffles, which admittedly did vary from cafe to cafe.

To work off all the food, beer and chocolate, we did a bit of a workout…

We found a park with a playground, which got a serious workout from the kids. It was a great place to relax in the sun, when it finally decided to come out!

We climbed the 366 steps up the Belfry to see the bells and the fantastic view from the top.

We took a horse drawn carriage around, which is something which would best be done at the start of a stay but even better on a sunny day. Actually this was more of a workout for the horse, who takes a five minute break halfway through the tour.

We could have gone for a ride on a bike- the fltaness of Bruges and its general lack of cars make it a cyclist’s dream. Of course you score extra points if you run down a tourist, which at times is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel ;).

Another sunny day activity was a canal boat ride, which was best done in the morning to avoid queues. It was a lovely way to see the city, seeing as it is sometimes called the ‘Venice of the North’.

If you were unlucky enough to do it on a rainy day it could end up like this…

A couple of days were indeed rainy, which did dampen our spirits somewhat, if not our jeans. We spent one of these days at the Groenenwinge museum, which was noted for its collection of paintings from the Flemish Primitives. The more modern paintings however were the ones which drew the kids’ attention

The artworks were not just in the museums. I saw the Bruges Madonna by Michelangelo at the Church of Our Lady, which was undergoing renovation. I must say it had a profound impact upon me. The church wasn’t too crowded, so I was able to simply stand and look and reflect how amazing Michelangelo was and how lucky I was to have seen his artistry in person.


I also went to see the Church of the Holy Blood, which contains a vial of Christ’s blood, recovered during the Crusades. The experience was somewhat different, in that you had to join the queue, pay money and spend a minute with the vial. My minute of reflection was spent largely thinking of the person who brought it back, how many Saracens he would have killed and the millions of people who have seen it since it arrived at the church. I think it somewhat exposed my scepticism of holy relics, my general lack of faith in religion, and those who claim to speak on behalf of God. I think my reading of Wolf Hall may have influenced me in this way.

And so we left Bruges to the thousands of tourists, on another rainy day, back on the Eurostar to London, for our last couple of days of our holiday. We were determined to make the most of our last days and see as much as possible before we flew back to Australia. Who knows what we would see?

Chocolate Pear Pudding

There are some people who love Nigella, but I am a tad ambivalent- I usually find her recipes are quite rich and very decadent. But she was there when I needed her.

I had six very ripe pears in the fruit bowl, which I wanted to turn into dessert. I usually poach them, but they would have turned to mush. I thought of making them into a tea cake and started looking at my collection of recipe books for inspiration. That was when I turned to Nigella’s Express (a Christmas present from my foodie brother Andrew) and saw a recipe for…

Chocolate Pear Pudding!

The recipe called for tinned pears, but I just peeled and halved my ripe ones and arranged them in the dish. The pudding part was  simple, throwing the flour, baking poweder, butter, sugar, eggs, cocoa and vanilla essence into a bowl and mixing the bejesus out of it. It was bunged in the oven for 30 minutes and this was the result.

It was devoured by all and sundry with cream, though Mr BG thought a chocolate sauce would have been good. I refrained from hitting him over the head.

The verdict- it was very rich and I was grateful for the lightness of the pear to cut through the rich pudding base. It could have done with a tarter or stronger fruit, possibly raspberries, though it would be quite an expensive and even richer dish.

I have some Granny Smiths in the fruit bowl, which need eating…apple crumble next time!

And in other news I’m on Instagram- thanks to the fact that Android users can now access the app :). You can find me at bookgrrl99!

Minding my Ps and Qs…


I’m Irish- I’m used to potatoes, but never have I seen so many potatoes eaten in such a variety of ways.

It was not uncommon for potatoes to be served in different ways at the same meal- boiled, roast, done in a garlic sauce, potato waffles, and of course the ubiquitous chip.

You will find chips with curries, with Chinese dishes, as well as eaten for breakfast as potato bread as part of the Ulster Fry.

You can buy potato bread(or potato farls)  in the supermarket, but my experience has always been the homemade variety. Here is a recipe from Allrecipes

Potato Bread

  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and halved
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1/4 cup plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter


  1. In a pot, cover potatoes with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Simmer on medium-high heat until the center of the potatoes are tender when pricked with a fork, about 20 minutes. Turn off heat. Drain, return potatoes to pot and allow to completely dry out over remaining heat. Mash with a potato masher until smooth.
  2. Place warm mashed potato in medium bowl. Stir in flour, salt and melted butter. Mix lightly until dough forms.
  3. On a well floured surface, knead the dough lightly. The dough will be sticky. Use a floured rolling pin to flatten into a 22cm circle about  5 mm thick.
  4. Sprinkle a little flour into the base of the skillet and cook the farls for 3 minutes on each side or until evenly browned. Season with a little salt and serve straight away.

However according to my mum, the best way to cook them is on a dry skillet to brown them, THEN leave them overnight, before frying them in the morning.

If you’re using leftover mashed potatoes, just add a little bit of flour, if you have added butter to the mashed potatoes when making them. Rather than cutting them into quarters, we used to get a glass and cut them into rounds.

Quality Street

It’s the whole chocolate thing I explained earlier- it just tastes better. I bought back some duty-free for my sister and some for us. Ours  have yet to be opened as I know the minute they are, they’ll be gone in a flash. Mum also bought some for sis, and was quite put out that she already had some. Meanwhile little sis is not complaining with her truckload of chocolates…

C is for…


Little boys and castles seem to go together, just as big boys and castles and Bookgrrl and op shops (or Bookgrrl and lipstick)  go together. So in Ireland, the family visited a couple near to where we were staying.

Enniskillen Castle is in the centre of town. It was originally the stronghold of the Maguire clan (to which my granny Kitty insists we are related) before it was ousted from their cold dead hands by the British in the 17th century.

It eventually became a military garrison and barracks for the Inniskillings regiment to which Captain Oates from the ill-fated Scott Antarctic expedition was a part. Today it’s part regimental museum and more interestingly, a county museum which detailed the history of country life. While it looked like a castle from the outside there was extensive remodelling and not much of the original castle remained.

Carrickfergus Castle is just outside of Belfast. It’s really well preserved and has a lot of detail about parts of the castle and its history. The day we were there we lucked out twice- we got in for free and it was sunny!!

My son was throroughly stoked about the castle and loved all the stairs and climbing on the battlements. There were a few tourists, but none of the crowds you would get at Edinburgh Castle so there was space to move. We adjourned across the road for fish and chips for lunch. It was a great day!

Club Orange Biscuits

I remember eating my first Club Orange when I was 6 and visiting Ireland for the first time. They are always something I have when I go back, and when I do, they bring back the excitement of that first holiday and trying something new.

I managed to bring back a couple of packets ( they come in packs of 8). I have yet to break into them- I’ll keep them for a special occasion. I know I can get them in specialist shops which stock British groceries, but where’s the fun of buying them here when you can go on a long plane trip and get them yourself?

Children, travelling with (actually this could be a book, rather than just a blog post!)

It was the first time the kids had been on a plane. As we were flying late at night, I had made the assumption they would both be tired and we would be carrying them onto the plane.

Err, not exactly.

They were tired, but wired with excitement, which led to over-tired, cranky children. We had them seated beside each other with the two adults on either end. This led to even more cranky behaviour. Miss BG hated the seat belt and kept taking it off, and would stand on the seat conversing with the little boy seated behind us.

The cabin crew were not particularly interested in assisting either. In short, the 14 hour leg from Melbourne to Abu Dhabi were the longest in my life. Miss BG was asleep for two hours and couldn’t get comfortable and as such was constantly squirming. Master BG kept on getting woken up by his sister’s antics and I was hating every single second of being a parent. I was saved by a lovely lady sitting behind me who offered to have Emily for 10 minutes.

The seating configuration was changed with Miss BG seated between myself and husband, with Master BG on the aisle. After being incredibly cranky and hyper at the airport, Miss BG promptly fell asleep for 4 hours. I got to see a movie and show my son how to play some of the games on the screen, and take him to the toilet about 6 times.

Mum and Dad who had flown earlier in the day (via another airline and business class) met us with my brothers at the airport. How was the flight? we were asked. Hellish and let us never speak of it again, answered Mr BG. And we haven’t, until now 🙂

Subsequent flights between London and Belfast and the return leg were much better. We flew back at 9am London time, with the children rested. They also slept most of the long leg between Abu Dhabi and Melbourne, with Miss BG sleeping 10 hours non-stop. Two of the cabin crew befriended Master BG and commented on his nce manners and his dog. A nearby passenger commented on the nice behaviour of the kids which made my day!

So now I know what to do next time, and yes there will be a next time, just as long as I don’t kill my kids in the meantime…

Fade to grey

Yesterday was a grey day.

Grey days can mean grey moods, but I made a concerted effort to remain as sunny as possible with the following remedies…

  • Reading the Princess Bride, a loaner from @sallysetsforth. It’s very similar to the movie, which is one of my all-time favourites.
  • An  espresso at Mr Tulk, followed by brisk walk to work. A heart-starter and fresh air can definitely lift any mood!
  • The Lucksmiths on my iPod, which are always light enough to banish any grey thoughts away 🙂
  • Window shopping and finding the perfect coat at Anna Thomas– a beautiful green, which would go with everything black in my wardrobe, which is pretty much everything. Only problem is cost…
  • Checking out HaikugirlOz’s tattoos on Twitter, which is quite inspiring to librarians aspiring to ink (ie me- but still in two minds)
  • Another walk in the fresh air at lunchtime via Morris and Sons and picked up some lovely red yarn
  • A Haigh’s chocolate frog from my boss and dark Lindt chocolate from my mate SR- ahh chocolate the ultimate mood-lifter…

Mother’s little helper

I’m turning into my mother.

I picked up a packet of loose-leaf tea by mistake at the supermarket a couple of weeks ago, and rather than go through the rigamarole of exchanging, I have started having a pot of tea every couple of days.

Mum and Dad would start their day with a pot of tea with their breakfast. It’s a ritual they had within their families in Ireland. When I would stay with my aunt when over there, there was always a pot of tea at breakfast time, to accompany the Ulster fry of bacon, eggs, and an assortment of fried breads.

I’m not there yet, but I’m warming to the idea- of the tea, not the daily Ulster fry (I like my arteries unclogged!). I love the ritual of warming the pot, and letting the tea draw, while I get out a tea cup and saucer. Rather than gulping it down on the run, it’s nice to sit down and savour the delicate flavours; in fact it’s a great time to savour the early morning stillness and the promise of the day.

My mum also wakes up early for a cigarette, something which I have never done. My addictive personality leans more toward chocolate and endless games of computer solitaire 🙂

One thing she has passed on to me is a love of lipstick. Mum has always maintained a woman is not quite fully dressed without lipstick, and will not leave the house without it carefully applied. In every handbag I use regularly, I have a lipstick, just in case. They’re all pretty much the same shade, a deep red.

I find it very hard not to buy a lipstick when Avon comes calling, and I am always on the search for the perfect shade. An elusive quest, and one which I intend on pursuing for many years to come. It’s up there with the quests for the perfect hot chocolate, the perfect Gin and Tonic, and the perfect bra (the balance between comfort, fit and looking incredibly hot).

These are a few of my favourite things…

When under stress, my first reaction is to look for something sweet, preferably chocolate or the carbs (chocolate cake fits the bill nicely!).

With work, exams, assignments, gym, kids, husband and friends,  the cravings are very hard to resist…I have had to ask Mr BG to take the Halloween lollies to work, and am currently gulping water to keep myself from heading to the nearest cafe. Regardless of if I’m at work or at home I am never too far away from a cafe (curse working in the CBD! Curse living in inner Ballarat!)

And so in order to satiate my sweet cravings, I would like to share my favourite sweet recipes

Tara’s Chocolate Fudge

I made this as my Easter gift for family friends and workmates- everyone loved it, especially me 🙂 Important – give away as much fudge as you can because it is seriously yummy! You will want to eat it all- resistance is futile 🙂

500g chocolate (dark, milk or white)
1 can condensed milk
75 gm butter
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

20cm slice tray – greased or lined with baking paper

  1. Put chocolate, condensed milk and butter in a microwave safe bowl, and melt in microwave (approx, 2 mins, then stir, then 2 more minutes then stir)
  2. Make sure there are no lumps left in mixture
  3. Add vanilla essence
  4. Pour into slice tin
  5. Put into fridge for at least 2-3 hours to set
  6. Lick out bowl (you can try putting your whole face in the bowl to make sure you get every last piece)
  7. Take out of fridge, tip fudge out onto a chopping board
  8. Cut into small pieces (I know your eyes will be bigger than your stomach but really, the pieces should be no bigger than a 50 cent piece – trust me, you will thank me later)

My Rum Balls

My mum makes christmas cake, my sister makes mince pies and I make rum balls. They’re a nice gift for my in-laws and the lovely Ms S likes them too!

1 packet plain biscuits (usually Marie)
3 tblspns cocoa powder, sifted to remove lumps
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2-3 tblspns rum (Bacardi or Bundaberg rum works well)
1 cup extra coconut (for rolling finished balls in)

  1. Finely crush biscuits in a food processor).
  2. Add cocoa power, coconut, sweetened condensed milk and rum to crushed biscuits and combine.
  3. Take large teaspoons of mixture and roll into balls using your hands, then roll balls in extra coconut to coat.
  4. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet or shallow plastic container and put in fridge.

Makes approx 30-40 balls (depending on size of balls).

Marla’s Egg free, Milk Free Chocolate Cake

Good for those who have allergies to dairy and egg and is vegan-friendly. Lovely warm with cream and raspberries too.

1 cup of Plain flour

1 cup white sugar
½ cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup canola oil (or vegetable oil)
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup water

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C
  2. Prepare an 8-inch square cake pan by spraying with non-stick spray (I also use baking paper)
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  4. Add all liquid ingredients and combine with whisk until just blended
  5. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes
  6. Cover with frosting or icing (as preferred)
  7. To make a layer cake you need to double the recipe and bake in two pans.

Donna Hay Cupcakes

Made these for Miss BG’s birthday and a batch with the kids. Because you add all the ingredients at the same time and mix, it’s great to do with the kids. The smaller size is good for children too!

125g butter softened
3 eggs
11/2 plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2/3 c caster sugar
1/4 c milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 180 degrees (350 F). Place butter, eggs flour, baking powder, sugar, milk and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat for 4 minutes or until smooth and a pale creamy colour.

Line 12 1/2 cup capacity patty tins with deep paper patty cases. Spoon in the mixture to 3/4 full. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until cooked.
If you have the smaller patty tins, the mixture can make about 24.

Streets of your town

This article which has famous Melburnians describe favourite walks around their city/past had me pondering my favourite walks/places of significance.I am not Melburnian by birth- I lived there for 8 years before my move to Ballarat.  It’s a place where I studied, fell in love, married and became independent- I ‘grew up’ during my years in Melbourne.

I would happily walk up and down Collins Street, it has one of my favourite lunch eateries and two chocolate shops in the same block (have yet to try the Lindt shop, but will save that for later), and I feel so alive walking down it in any season any time of the year. It’s also around the corner from work at one end and Southern Cross at the other- I have been catching trains to Geelong and Ballarat from Spencer Street for 20 years now :).

My walk would include Swanston Street. It’s not particularly glamorous, and full of tacky souvenir shops, but I would start at the end- the University of Melbourne, where I did my B.A. It was miles from my small girls’ only Catholic secondary school, and I am so glad I went there. Favourite two places there was the South Lawn and the Baillieu Library (guess I was a library nerd in waiting…).

It’s a good walk down Swanston to my next stop, the State Library of Victoria. As a child I remember going there to see the museum exhibits with my family. As a uni student, it was the sight which greeted me as I emerged from Museum Station to catch a tram, or walk, up to uni. I worked there for two years and enjoyed nearly every minute of it. My favourite memory is leaving work later and seeing the library lit up, and feeling a sense of awe that I actually worked there.

If I felt a bit peckish, I would have some dumplings from the Dumpling House a little bit further down, or, if I wanted to make an occasion of it, go to Cookie. Both favourite lunch spots for friends!

To walk off lunch I would venture a little bit further and end up at the National Gallery of Victoria (International). One of the beauties of doing an Arts degree was the periods between lectures. The NGV fed my soul, and I still love the water wall!