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I wrote this before today’s walk and it felt timely to put it up right after yesterday’s post, as they’re related. Together, they’re a pretty complete wrap of where I’m currently at. Please don’t worry, it’s all good. ♥

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I’m in my fifties now, and I have to say, it’s a weird time of life.

It’s a bit like going through puberty again – only in reverse, I guess – my body shape is changing (not in a good way), I’m emotional (wept through a Disney movie recently) and my sleep is unsettled.

Somewhat ironically, in August last year, I noticed a significant spike in my anxiety levels. It was ironic because, as those of you who’ve been reading along for a while will know, 2016 was actually the easiest year we’ve had in a long time.

To try to combat the niggliness, I started walking (as mentioned in the previous post). It’s been glorious – I spend an hour outdoors each day, more often than not with Big Boy.

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At the start of this year, I noticed that the walks weren’t quite enough to take the edge off the creeping, hormone-driven anxiety. I decided to add daily meditation to my schedule as well.

Let me begin by saying that I’m pretty content with my life. For years, I’ve worked hard to be mindful – to really enjoy the moment, to be present, and to be grateful for how truly wondrous life is, both in general and in my particular circumstances. To that end, I’ve always viewed meditation as curative rather than preventative medicine. I’ve attempted it on an ad hoc basis during times of stress, and found it emotionally soothing.

Then I watched this TED talk by Headspace co-founder and former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe, and realised that I was going about it the wrong way. Andy sees meditation as daily exercise for the brain – one designed to bring order and strength to it in the same way that physical exercise does for the body…

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My Pete has been saying this for years, but I guess I wasn’t ready to take it in any earlier. He’s been meditating daily since he was 17 years old. And he has the most disciplined brain of anyone I know – it has quite literally protected him (and in countless ways, our whole family) through the many trials he’s faced over the years. So I have a lifetime of hard evidence that the process truly works.

I downloaded the Headspace App three weeks ago, and started the daily ten minute meditations…

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I’d love to tell you that I experienced a sudden and immediate sense of Kung Fu Panda inner peace…but I didn’t.

What I did notice though, was that after the first few days, I seemed to get some of my short-term memory back.

I stopped going back to the car to check if it was locked, because I could clearly remember locking it. I remembered that I’d put washing in the machine that needed to be hung up, rather than leaving it there for days. I remembered what I’d walked into the pantry to get instead of staring blankly at the shelves.

It turns out I don’t have OCD after all, but rather that my anxious brain had simply been laying down poor memories. I wasn’t paying enough attention to what I was doing at the time, and it wasn’t because I didn’t want to – I just couldn’t do it. My mind was always racing ahead – planning, imagining scenarios, and often catastrophising. The author Mark Twain once said “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” It’s so true, isn’t it?

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After the second week of daily ten minute sessions, I noticed that I seemed to have more time. Life stopped feeling as rushed. Last Saturday, I started at 6am and was still going at 10pm, having walked for two hours, baked six loaves of sourdough and a batch of brioche rolls, shopped for an hour, washed and dried a week’s worth of laundry, and gone out for dinner with Kevin and Carol. As we ended the evening with a game of 500, it occurred to me that I’d had a rich and fulfilling day, but at no point had it felt hectic. It was as if I had more energy.

My old friend Kevin understood exactly what I was talking about – he practises his own form of meditation by running mindfully for 20km at a time (no headphones, he tells me, because he needs to concentrate on every step).

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I’m now up to day 22 on the Headspace Foundation Series. I’ve paid for an annual subscription (there’s a January promo here if anyone is interested) and have worked up to 20 minutes of daily practice. I still have spikes of anxiety, but they seem to be fewer and easier to manage. I’ll write again about this a bit further down the track and let you know how I’m going.

If you’re interested in trying it out, download the Headspace app and give it a go for ten days. The initial sessions are free and you never have to pay if you don’t want to – you can just keep using those guided meditations. Having said that, I’m finding the paid content very useful!

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As you might recall, I started walking in the second half of last year.

My goal is to get at least 8,000 steps a day – as I mentioned in an earlier post, the recommended number is 10,000, but I’ve given myself 1,000 steps off for every five years over forty.

I’m happy to report that since the 14th August, I haven’t missed a single day! There were a few occasions when my count was a bit short, but overall I’m very happy with the results. To date, I’ve walked 905km and taken over 1.5 million steps. I track them using the Stepz app on my iPhone…

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Happily, Big Boy still comes with me most weekday mornings, but I’ve also discovered that I love walking on my own. We’ve now expanded our route from the Inner West Greenway to include the eastern side of the Iron Cove Bay Run. The latter is much more crowded, but the water views are stunning. Let me share a few photos with you…

These colourful dinghies are all locked in place and numbered…

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There is a lovely shady area called Giovanazzo Grove, where I found ten minutes to sit and meditate recently…

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When I opened my eyes, the rowers were gliding through the water…

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One cloudy morning, we discovered a secret beach…

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…and watched a white-faced heron being buffeted by the wind…

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Trying to beat the heat on a 40°C day, Big Boy and I headed out before dawn and were rewarded with this beautiful sunrise…

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Sometimes, we just sit on the headland and reflect on how incredibly fortunate we are to have all this beauty, for free, so close to home…

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The Bicycle Tree artwork sits near Blackmore Oval…

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As we walked past it, I noticed this rainbow lorikeet who was so busy feeding that he completely ignored my camera…

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The birds on the Greenway and Bay Run have been a joy to watch. This month, the cormorants have taken up residence, and we’ve seen Little Black, Pied and Little Pied  (photo below) species…

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Warwick the pelican attracted a lot of attention when he paddled along the canal recently. I love his reflection in the still waters…

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Finally, I couldn’t resist a photo of this perfectly formed web, glistening in the morning sun…

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Wishing you all happy days! ♥

It’s possible that we may have gotten a teensy bit carried away planting snake beans this year…

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The initial plants were showing signs of rust virus, so we didn’t weed any of the seedlings out, hoping that some of them would soldier on and survive.

They all survived.

And then they all flowered with these beautiful, orchid-like purple blooms…

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For a couple of weeks, we joyously harvested this many snake beans every day. I’m not complaining, because they’re my all-time most favourite vegetable in the whole world…

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I blanched and froze packets of them in the freezer – enough for ten future family dinners…

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…and we’ve been adding them to every single meal. Here’s my favourite way to prepare them – stir-fried in oyster sauce and garlic…

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Finally, this gorgeous sunflower is growing in amongst the beans – self-sown from fallen chook feed!

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What do you do with leftover fresh ricotta? Turn it into ricotta cake, of course!

I spent ages trying to perfect this recipe – here’s the original post from 2009 and our gluten free version, plus a ricotta slice I messed about with. I’m not sure why I found it all so hard – these days I just wing it and it seems to work every time.

Here’s a brief rundown on my most recent bake (quantities are loose)…

Mix one large well-drained 500ml tub of fresh ricotta with a big spoonful of Greek yoghurt (we used homemade) or sour cream, 150g sifted icing sugar and the grated rind of a small lemon.

Stir in two egg yolks. Beat two whites until firm, then fold into the batter.

Pour into a tin or pie dish lined with sweet shortcrust pastry (our recipe is here, but it’s quite sticky and fiddly – you have been warned!). Bake in a preheated 150C fan oven for about 50 minutes, rotating once (carefully). Leave to cool in the oven with the door ajar. Chill, then serve…

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With the little piece of excess pastry, I made a baby berry pie for Small Man. He loved it…

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And remember our roast lamb shoulders?

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The following day, I turned the leftovers into that Aussie staple, shepherd’s pie…

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I blitzed the meat in the food processor, then mixed it with cooked onion (chopped and fried until translucent), grated carrot, a splash of Worcestershire sauce, half a cup of tomato passata, salt, pepper and a couple of tablespoons of water. This was then spooned into a greased pie dish.

Three large potatoes were peeled and mashed with butter, salt and pepper (no liquid), then spread out over the meat and roughed with a fork. A little melted butter was brushed on top and the pie was baked for about 50 mins in a preheated 175C fan oven. From memory, I turned the heat up a bit at the end to brown the topping.

It was delicious with chipotle barbeque sauce!

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A foodie tip: buy soft cheeses like Brie or Camembert or Fromage D’Affinois whenever they’re on special (the riper the better), wrap them carefully, and stash in the freezer.

They will defrost overnight in the fridge to perfect, non-soggy ooziness for your next dinner party cheese platter. They’re also brilliant on pizzas – D’Affinois makes a particularly decadent topping.

I bought this 1kg wheel of Mon Père from Costco for just $20, cut it into eight wedges and (very carefully) vacuum sealed each piece to prevent freezer burn. I’ve also had great success with just wrapping the cheese tightly in cling film.

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Here it is after having been frozen for a week, then defrosted overnight in the fridge…

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While I was at Costco, I also spotted pots of Jean Perrin Fromage des Clarines on special for $4.97. These are normally $20 each (and often more for the ones in ceramic bowls) but a friend told me that the importer had brought in too many for Christmas. With an expiry date of 13th January, they were massively marked down for a quick sale…

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Knowing that I could freeze them, I bought four tubs! I stashed three in the freezer and baked one, following Tania’s recipe here

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It was ridiculously moreish…

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And while we’re on the topic…a cheese plate is an integral part of our dinner parties.  If you need help assembling one, have a look at Sally’s comprehensive guide on putting one together.

Without fail though, I’m always left with a box of cheesy bits and pieces the following day. I turned leftovers into a cheese pâté recently and it was such a hit that I thought I’d best document it here so that I can find the recipe again next time. It’s basically a riff on the Fromage Fort recipe I posted years ago…

  • 300g assorted leftover cheeses – I had a wedge of Cranberry Wensleydale, some 18-month Comte and a small piece of White Pearl Brie (which incidentally had been in the freezer for months, but had defrosted perfectly). It’s worth tasting the cheeses together first to make sure they don’t clash too much.
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • glug of good white wine
  • splash of Kirsch
  • black pepper
  • walnuts, coarsely chopped

Set up the food processor with the grater blade and grate the hard cheeses into the bowl. Now switch to the chopping blade and add the soft cheeses, peeled and smashed garlic, pepper, wine and Kirsch. Blitz to form a smooth(ish) paste.

Scrape into a bowl and smooth out the top. Cover the surface with chopped walnuts, pressing in gently to stick them on (not shown in photo below, because I got the idea after it was taken).

Serve with crackers or sourdough focaccia.

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As I mentioned above, the nuts were a last minute addition, but they made a huge difference to both taste and appearance, and are well worth the extra effort. The addition of the booze seems to help preserve the cheese. I’ve made versions of this with everything from blue to soft, but it might not work with fresh cheeses such as ricotta or mozzarella (because they go off quite quickly).

The pâté should improve with a couple of days’ rest, but I took this to dinner at Kevin and Carol’s place and it was demolished before the night was out!

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