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As always, I’m terrible at taking photos of my dinner parties. This time I spent most of the day cooking and cleaning, with just enough time left over to slap on a bit of makeup before the first guest arrived (the rest were late, but that gave me a chance to pause with a glass of wine).

For minimum effort and maximum effect winter comfort food, The Boy and I whipped up a roast dinner with herbed lamb slow-roasting on the barbecue and a French style chicken and veggies roasting in the oven. Pro tip: don’t opt for a French style roast chicken if you’re after minimum effort, because it requires frequent basting with the stock simmering below. It does however give quite a magnificent result, and paved the way for a pretty incredible gravy.

As I get older I find that super sweet and artificially coloured cakes hold less sway for me; give me a cake decorated with fruit, nuts or flowers over icing any day. For dessert I made a simple buttery cake topped with almond flakes and pears and raisins stewed in brandy and spices. We served it with a dulce de lece swirl ice-cream, and ended the night with whiskey.

I always find myself half wishing that I’d taken more photos, but also feeling that playing photographer would take away from the experience itself. Half my little group was missing, off gallivanting around the world, but these moments with friends are still precious. I’m looking forward to us all being together again for next year’s winter feast!

You know those idealistic (and perhaps a little unrealistic) sets of goals that you make, then put aside for future-you to deal with at some indeterminate time in the future? Well, that’s me with my 30 Before 30 list. Thanks, past-Chisa.

When I made the list initially at 27, it felt like three years was all the time in the world. I then promptly forgot about it, so as you can imagine I hadn’t ticked many items off by 28, and still have most of it to go now at 29. With less than a year to go, I think that a firmer approach is in order – a goal really needs a plan and a timeline to focus on. And as with my last update, some goals seem less important now and have been switched for more relevant ones. This is going to be a long post, so here we go!

1. Do the Perth City to Surf 12km run ✓

Previously: in under 80 minutes

The original goal was to just do the run at all, which I have done for the past three years. Due to injury my time didn’t go down last year, but I’m calling this one complete anyway.

2. Join a Pilates or yoga class.

Previously: Jog 5km in under 30 minutes

With my back problems, jogging has become a lower priority and increasing back and core strength a much higher one. My few months doing semi-private Pilates sessions with a physiotherapist really helped, though it’s a bit too expensive for me to do long-term. I’ve started looking into group mat classes closer to home, and plan to start in the next few weeks.

3. Do a hike or decent trail walk. ✓

Have now hiked in WA, Europe and Tasmania!

4. Be able to touch my toes ✓

I sort of need to stretch a little first, but I’m going to call this one done!

5. Be able to do 50 30 proper pushups.

Lowering the amount a little, because 50 is a lot! I’m planning to get back into the 100 pushups challenge in Spring.

6. Learn (at least) basic conversational Mandarin

Planning to find some podcasts so I can learn whilst walking! Will do this in September, once I’ve finished my letterpress short course.

7. Own a property ✓

I love our house!

8. Visit each state in Australia ✓

Now that I’ve been to Tasmania this is technically done, as Northern Territory is a territory and not a state. Cheating? Perhaps. I could probably squeeze in a quick trip to Darwin in the next year, but NT looks like it’s worth much more time than a stopover. It’s certainly on the must-travel list, but probably not before my 30th, and I’m fine with that.

9. Explore more of Western Australia

I think a road trip up north (maybe further than Jurien Bay this time) will tick this one off! Some friends keep inviting us to go camping with them, which will be nice when the weather gets a bit warmer. Hoping to tick this one off this Spring, so we can see the wildflowers.

10. Go to Europe ✓

I’d love to see more, but our trip in 2012-13 was pretty epic.

11. Go to South America Africa.

We’re heading over for a friend’s wedding at the end of the year, and squeezing in a safari and a coastal road trip as well!

12. Master the art of travelling with carry-on luggage only ✓

I’m not sure I’ll ever travel with checked luggage again.

13. Take a painting class.

I’m thinking a Skillshare class might be a good introduction! Maybe watercolour or acrylic.

14. Grow an edible plant from seed to maturity ✓

The basil that I planted in autumn last year has defied the odds and grown into a decent sized plant, and (without any encouragement from me) produced some baby basil plants in the neighbouring chilli pot. I think that having grown from seed it’s a much hardier plant than the basil seedlings I’ve bought and then killed previously, and now it’s quite big I’m hoping for a good crop in spring. Everything else I’ve tried to grow has died, but this basil is my one victory!

15. Learn how to make beautifully fitting pants and jackets

I think I’ll focus on this one this summer.

16. Set up some kind of modest passive income

I’m thinking stock illustration or icon sets would serve the double purpose of practicing my illustration skills and (hopefully) being something someone would buy. Even better if it’s some kind of weekly project that could gain some social media attention? I’m going to think about it this week.

17. Learn how to make cheese ✓

Who would have thought that ricotta is so ridiculously easy to make? The instant reaction also makes you feel like a wizard. Yay science!

18. Learn about canning, especially tomatoes

This summer I am totally doing a tomato sauce day, and no I don’t care that I’m not Italian. Hopefully I’ll be able to rope in all my friends.

19. Care for a smaller creature

As much as I would love a cat or a dog, I’m very allergic to the former and not home enough to properly look after the latter. They may not be as exciting, but I’m thinking of getting some fish after we return from the South Africa trip. But not just a regular fish tank – I want an aquaponics system! My parents have a large one in which they grow fish for eating in the lower level and a very prolific vegetable garden on the top. Not having to clean a fish tank or fertilise the plants sounds like a win to me. At this point I’m undecided about how big I want to go with it – a small goldfish tank inside, or a larger system in the courtyard?

20. Donate blood (and continue doing so)

Did you know you can book an appointment online? I’ve been putting it off, but have just made an appointment to give blood this week.

21. Learn some basic woodworking skills

Pencilling this one in for Autumn next year; I’m on the lookout for simple projects until then.

22. Knit or crochet something big (and not a scarf) ✓

I finally finished those gloves from ages ago, and they’ve really come in handy this winter on those cold mornings. I’m not sure I have the patience to make something larger than that!

23. Do a big group trip with my group of friends

On the cards for June next year!

24. Get something letterpressed.

Even better – I’m starting a letterpress short course in a couple of weeks, so I’ll be able to make my own letterpress plates!

25. Design and print our wedding album

I’m setting a deadline of our third wedding anniversary (oops), in October this year. Better get started!

26. Open an online store

Previously: Learn some basic car maintenance skills

I’m working on getting my lettering and calligraphy skills up to scratch so I can start creating products, just for fun. My aim is to get a few things up by November this year to get in before Christmas.

27. Do a first aid course.

Going to look into this for early next year.

28. Move towards an ethically and sustainably sourced (and still fabulous) wardrobe ✓

I think this will always be a work in progress, but I feel like I’m moving in the right direction. I’ve cut the number of items I have right back and done a bit of research into ethical brands and fabrics for future purchases – more on this soon.

29. Spend some time volunteering

I’m planning to volunteer at CoderDojo, but need to think of a topic or project to speak about!

30. Plan an awesome 30th birthday party

I’m thinking Harry Potter themed at this stage. There will be a golden snitch cake, butter beer and popping candy. Yes.

Currently: 11 out of 30 – 19 to go!

The closer I get to 30, the more arbitrary it seems to focus on it as a turning point. Being in my thirties won’t stop me from travelling, or learning, or making crazy lists of goals. In fact I’d say I’ll be doing even more of these things than I have in my twenties. Do you have a list of things to do before you reach some arbitrary age? I’d be curious to see it!

 

Some people like to celebrate milestones and achievements at work with jewellery; I do it with a fountain pen.

I’ve never had a fountain pen before, and apparently this one – a Lamy Joy calligraphy pen – is a good one to start with. Here you can see how messy my real handwriting is, even when I’m trying to be neat! It’s taking some getting used to and I don’t love the blue ink that came with it (I feel it’s a bit light and flat compared to the blue I use for dip pen calligraphy practice), but I’m taking every opportunity to write with it. You can see the beginnings of an update to my 30 Before 30 list above and some planning for a dinner party I had over the weekend below (although I ended up too lazy to make the heated drinks). By the way, I would not recommend using a fountain pen on Moleskine notebooks – it bleeds and seeps through the back!

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I realised the other day (or more like blurted it out to one of my bosses over drinks) that I haven’t been a full-time employee anywhere for much longer than a year. The longest I’ve spent in any one job was the four years I spent freelancing. People like to roll their eyes and make some kind of comment about Gen Y being rolling stones, but I don’t really see anything virtuous in spending most of your waking hours somewhere that isn’t right for you, unless that really is the only way to pay the bills. This fountain pen was to celebrate passing my probation period of three months, although that was a few months ago now. I’m a lot more ‘settled’ in general these days, and have found a nice balance between design and web work during the day, art and writing in the evenings. Maybe it’s time to gather some moss.

P.S. I am doing stunningly badly at early mornings this week, and have swung further in the opposite direction by napping even longer after my alarm has gone off. Oh well, tomorrow is a new day right?

The day of my 29th birthday was cold and stormy, which doesn’t really sound like the best weather for lunch in the Swan Valley. But with a log fire and a lot of food and wine at Chesters Restaurant, it didn’t feel like such a bad deal.

About 25 minutes from Perth, Chesters Restaurant was originally a fruit drying shed and then a stable for a riding academy. This made me worry it would be cold and drafty, but it was actually quite cosy and appropriately casual and rustic. Their own wine label, Heaford Glen, is served alongside an unusual fusion of cuisines. We were advised to arrive a bit early to make sure we ordered before a large group booked in for the same time as us, and thankfully this didn’t seem to impede the service for us.

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For entrée The Boy ordered the oysters with gratinated Mexican salsa ($21), a combination I haven’t seen before. Although the kick of chilli was nice on the cold day, the salsa and cheese seemed to hide taste of the oysters themselves. I couldn’t help comparing them to the oysters we had in Tasmania, which were cooked far more simply (or not at all) to let the oysters really shine, although I suppose that’s a bit unfair considering those were freshly caught nearby.

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My entrée, a lamb fillet with chickpea and sweet potato cake, baba ghanoush ($19) was probably my favourite dish of the meal. The lamb was perfectly tender, but my favourite part was those chickpea and sweet potato discs – I’ve made a mental note to have a go at making them for vegetarian friends or meatless meals at home.

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The Boy’s main, a lamb rump with aubergine pickle, heirloom carrots, fried ricotta ($36) was nice but largely forgettable – even with his excellent food memory, which seems to stretch back years for some meals, we were scratching our heads trying to remember anything to say about this dish. The lamb was a bit sinewy and almost comically difficult to cut in parts.

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My main was a free range chicken ballontine with serrano jamon, green wheat freekah, mapled pumpkin, tarragon cream ($32.50) which looked very impressive – if a bit odd – coming to me on a gigantic slate platter. Here’s another view to show that height:

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The chicken was beautifully moist and tender, and each element on the plate was well executed when tasted individually. But together, I felt that the dish – like the plating – was odd and somewhat confusing to me. Between the shredded pumpkin, dollops of fig paste and currants in the freekeh there was a lot of sweetness, and to me it felt quite disconnected to the chicken ballontine. I didn’t still enjoyed eating it, but to me it just didn’t feel completely cohesive or well thought-out.

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We shared a dessert, an apple strudel with rosewater creme anglais and yoghurt sorbet. Again, the individual elements were well executed – especially that yoghurt sorbet, which was nice and tangy – but together they didn’t really seem to make sense.

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It could just be me, but I felt that Chesters has a bit of a personality crisis. There’s clearly a lot of skill and creativity going on in the kitchen, with inventive combinations of flavours and some modern plating, but for me most of them fell a bit short of the mark. The menu skips around from classic French to Mexican to Chinese, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing but feels like a lot of competing styles and flavours to balance with any cohesiveness. It’s a pity because all the right ingredients for a great casual valley restaurant are there – I just wish that menu was a little more refined. A tidy Entertainment Book discount, the excellent service, the fireplace and the clear effort that went into the food certainly softened the blow, but I’m not sure this is one I’ll be returning to.

Chesters Restaurant on Urbanspoon

I usually declutter, prune and reorganise my wardrobe every few months to keep it all in good order. You know how it is when everything is perfectly in it’s place and you do your best to keep it that way for a while… then after a few lazy days things get a little messy, and before you know it you’re just stuffing clothes in where they’ll fit? I reached that point again a couple of weeks ago.

Eventually I got sick of it, as I always do, pulled out everything and put it back one piece at a time, considering the necessity of each one. Several bags of items ended up not making the cut and going into the charity bin. Goodbye ill-fitting jeans, poorly thought out purchases, and that dress from several years ago that doesn’t fit me anymore and I wouldn’t wear anyway. Goodbye too-high heels, and those shoes that look pretty but pinch my toes. Even though I’ve drastically reduced the amount of new things I buy over the past few years, it’s amazing how many things managed to creep in.

Now that it’s back in order and considerably slimmer, looking in my wardrobe makes me feel happy and clear instead of stressed and confused. Things, even if they are nicely organised, have a mental weight to them. Getting rid of them feels like an enormous weight lifted.

Each time I do this it gets a little better, a little easier. I have less things to get rid of, and an easier time getting rid of things that gave me pause the last time. Whilst it still isn’t perfect (I’ve resigned to the fact that it will be an evolving thing), I think I have my wardrobe down to a point where I don’t need to add anything, only replace things as they wear out. It doesn’t look at all like your typical minimalist or capsule wardrobe – there’s a ton of colour and prints, and not a ‘crisp white shirt’ in sight – but it works for me and my lifestyle. Following on from what I wrote about being a maker, my plan from here is to replace things as they wear out with things that I’ve made, bought secondhand or bought from ethical and ideally local sources.

I know a lot has been said on this topic in the blogging world, but it’s such a personal journey that I think another perspective is always a good thing! Look forward to more posts in this series coming up.

Further reading: