balcony garden Both the hanging boxes of daisies have grown a lot in the last week. Click on the photo to see it without the blog roll on top of it. All photos copyright Sandra Carpenter.


balcony garden Basil, chives, lettuce, mint.


Last weekend, we bought all sorts of flowers, tomatoes, lettuce, basil, cucumber, chili pepper, capsicum, mint, chives, strawberries and planted them in containers on our balcony. This weekend, we bought an IKEA table and chairs for the space. Then Robert spent hours assembling all the pieces from the flat packs. Now we are waiting for it to stop raining so that we can move all of it outside.

Maybe it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s been such a “right” thing to do. We lived in limbo for so long, moving from one temporary apartment to another. Over and over again. Somehow, incongruously, we spent four years moving from one second-hand rental to the next. We lived in way too many temporary places. (You can read about one of the move stories here.)

It wore us down in every way possible: emotionally, financially and more. We knew that we needed to buy a place.  But it got to the point where even looking for an apartment to buy became a chore. After we finally bought and moved into our own place in October, it took awhile for us to settle down. Looking back, I think we just needed time to recover. So we moved stuff in, but didn’t do any decorating for the most part. I mean, things were arranged, but we only hung a picture or two on hooks that were already there. We didn’t add our own touches. Until now.

That’s why planting made me so darn happy. Dare I say it? It felt like we are putting down roots. At last.


rain delay As we wait for a break in the rain, the newly built balcony chairs are scattered around the apartment.


balcony garden Cherry tomatoes and peppers.


balcony garden Tomatoes and cucumbers.


Sydney Harbor Bridge The Circular Quay view of Sydney Harbor Bridge never gets old to me. (Click on the photo to see it without the blog type on top of it.) All photos copyright Sandra Carpenter. 


Sydney Sydney ferry meets Opera House.


Sydney Potts Point: Llankelly Place.


After a holiday, it’s easy to say I wish I had more time–More time with family, relaxing, sightseeing, shopping, enjoying peace and quiet, hanging out in nature (check all that apply). While it just wasn’t long enough, and I definitely wish we had a bit more time, this trip to Australia did have a good balance.

We spent time with Robert’s family and friends, in the country, the capital territory, Sydney, and the Great Barrier Reef.  We  ate amazing food and drank good wine. We hiked, we swam, had BBQs, chatted, laughed and hung out. It was really nice.

But of course, it wouldn’t be a holiday for me without having some sort of stupid thing happen. This time, it  was the jelly fish encounter. We were snorkeling on our final day on the reef when we got caught in a gigantic school of jelly fish in shades of pinks, purples , blues and greens and in all sorts of pretty, mushroomy shapes. Lovely to look at yes, but the beasts kept stinging me. It felt like someone was poking me with a needle over and over again. So while annoying after a while, it was really no big deal. Until later, that is.

That night, I started noticing all these tiny bites on my arms and legs that gradually grew larger and more “welty” by the next day. It looked like I had the chicken pox. The bites itched like hell. And since I had so many bites–around 100–I also felt kind of ill. Adding insult to injury, the misery came on with a fury during our long flight home to Stockholm.

I was not happy. But at least I wasn’t bitten by the deadly box jellyfish. And after a few days, I was feeling better. Now there are just two rather ugly marks left on my arm. I guess I could call them a trip souvenir?


jelly fish After four days, most of the jelly fish bites were looking better. (That’s a side view of my ankle!)


Australia Countryside: Tubbul, New South Wales.


Australia Eucalyptus trees in country New South Wales.



New South Wales Country road block.


Australia Uncle Peter’s freshly plowed field. Tubbul, New South Wales.


Ms G's The ocean trout tostada with green papaya, guacamole and red nahm jim at Ms G’s. Crazy good.


Ms G's This mini bánh mì starter at Ms G’s was also so very, very good.


Ms G's The ‘Buddha’s delight’ salad at Ms G’s.


There’s a definite pattern as to what I love to eat in Australia: Asian food. Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, and that Asian fusion combination that’s done so well in this part of the world. I am up for it all.

On this trip, we tried some new places in Sydney and went back to some old favorites as well.  James took us for a fabulous night on the town (see his link for the full list of options he gave us to choose from) and we started the evening at Uncle Mings, a dimly lit and cozy basement bar located beneath a men’s clothing store.  We all had some excellent cocktails. Mine was called the Ahn Do and it was a combination of gin, shiso umeshu (Japanese basil and plum wine), coriander and lemon.

Moving on, our next stop was Mojo Record Bar, just a few doors down from Uncle Mings. There’s a record store upstairs and in the rocking basement bar, there are records on the ceiling, concert posters on the walls and as might be expected, good music playing on the sound system.

Figuring that we should eat, we moved on to James’ Surry Hills neighborhood for dinner at Long Grain. I had stir-fried beef with black beans, snow peas and ginger. Robert was happy with his green jungle curry and James liked his duck Maryland.  The nightcap across the street at Hotel Hollywood was a perfect way to cram in some more conversation at the end of a fun evening playing catch up.

Robert and I spent another fantastic evening at Ms G’s. You can see a few of the dishes with the post here. We’ve been to this Potts Point restaurant before (read about it here) and loved it. So we could not resist going back. Our night there did not disappoint.

We checked out Spice Temple on yet another dinner date in Sydney. Funnily enough, this was yet another basement stop! We shared an interesting combination of flavors, including the roast pork belly you see below. While our meal was overall still quite good, I have to say that I preferred the other two restaurants more. That said, we did truly have a good time. Can I just say again how much I love Sydney….


Sydney The Guangxi style crisp roast pork belly with coriander, peanuts, red onion and sesame seeds at Spice Temple.


Sydney One of the many dining room areas at Ms G’s.


Sydney The basement bar at Uncle Ming’s.


Sydney Stir-fried beef at Long Grain. More tasty stuff.




Heron Island Shipwrecked birds.


Heron Island Bringing out the kayaks.


I’ve been back from Australia for a few weeks now and caught up in the busy-ness of working, seeing friends, exercising, cooking, shopping and all the other everyday life things. It’s all been good. But I’ve missed writing here. So I thought I would start with the Barrier Reef and share some of my favorite photos of the seabirds, butterflies, the beach and the reef itself. For such a small island, Heron is packed with wildlife of all sorts.

As for the tiny turtle hatchling, I was reading on the beach when he came by. (Heron is a nesting site for loggerhead and green turtles.) As I took his photo, I started seeing dozens of others, all scrambling to leave the nest, cross the beach and the rocks to get to the water and swim. This was no small feat given their size (roughly 7 cm) and the distance they had to cover and then finally the beach rocks themselves. They would climb up a “rock wall” and fall over onto their backs, scramble upright and go over another wall only to fall again. All the while, seagulls were swooping and squawking, trying to have lunch. (As it’s  an eco island, you can’t help the turtles.) The whole process was thrilling. And since there were so many turtles, only two were scooped up by seagulls. Somehow, it felt like a victory that so many could survive.



Heron Island Starfish at low tide.


Heron Island Coral at low tide.


Heron Island A brown booby. Yes, that’s really the name of this bird.


Heron Island Blue tiger butterflies.


Heron Island A turtle hatchling makes his way across the beach rock.


Heron Island Pisonia tree.


Heron Island Just another day in paradise.


Heron Island Arriving by seaplane.


Heron Island A seagull sunset.


Heron Island Hamming it up at low tide on the reef rock.


One of my favorite places in the world is Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef. I’m lucky that I’ve been there several times and am happy to say that I just got back from another visit.

There aren’t so many places in the world where can unplug completely. Heron is one of them. There are no TVs in the rooms, no cell phone reception. Although you can purchase wifi time, it never works. Instead, you just relax, spend time on the beach, snorkel, swim.

It was just what I needed. Maybe you’ve noticed that it’s been a quiet month on the blog. I was ill just before we left for Australia, down with a high fever that left me exhausted for the long flight to the other side of the world. I spent the first week trying to recover while we were busy visiting Robert’s family and some friends, then working and finally in the last week, really relaxing with time on the island.

Heron is only about 800 metres (2,600 feet) long and 300 metres (980 feet) at its widest.  You can walk around it  in about 20 minutes. But it never feels small. There were many mornings where I walked completely around the island without seeing anyone. And only once did I run into someone else while walking through the forest. Perfect, huh?


Heron Island Relaxing by the pool with a view of the Coral Sea.


Barrels, Burgers & Beer The original burger is served on toast with fries and a dip sauce in a box. And surprise, you can get a carryout burger!


For many, many years, it was hard to find a good hamburger in this town. With very little exception, they were tasteless frozen patties with thousand island dressing on top. Bleh. But then Flippin’ Burgers came along a few years ago and Stockholmers would wait in long lines to get what everyone claimed was the best burger in town, “just like the ones in the US.” I tried one. It was only OK in my book. And the service was downright grumpy.

But being that Stockholm is a trendy town, the burger craze has caught on with a vengeance and now there is Prime Burger Company, Phil’s Burger, Lily’s Burger and KÄK Burger, among others, and more are opening all the time. And they are all pretty good, serving up a classic burger, fries and even milkshakes at a lot of the restaurants.

So I guess it’s fair to say you can get a good burger now in Stockholm. The latest to open on March 6 is Barrels, Burgers & Beer in Gamla Stan. My friend Zanne and I stumbled upon it last Sunday afternoon. We agree that it also serves up a tasty burger and fries. We both tried the original burger which is a plain cheeseburger on toast. Yum. Beers and other drinks come in frosty mugs and the service was superb. It’s definitely worth checking out.


Barrels, Burgers & Beer The bar.


Barrels, Burgers & Beer You have to love a frosty mug.


Bring on the light

March 17, 2015

in Stockholm


Loopen Toasting the sun.


Stockholm Beach-side.


Stockholm is moving rapidly from all dark to all light. During March and April, the amount of light in a day changes at a dizzily fast pace and we have roughly 12 hours of daylight right now. Spring is in the air. Crocus are popping up, people are out, a handful of boats are starting to appear in the marina and the city is waking up from its winter slumber.

The brightly shining sun keeps fooling me into thinking that it’s warmer than what it is when I go out. So I wear a lighter jacket and leave my hat and scarf behind. But I quickly regret my decision as the temperatures remain more wintery with highs around 7 degrees C and I end up chilled.

But it’s OK. Because I’ve survived another winter way too close for comfort to the Arctic Circle.


Stockholm Crocus popping through.


Stockholm Goodbye winter. Hello Spring.



seaplane Our seaplane arrival on Orpheus Island. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.


Last week, Robert and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary. We went out for dinner and spent a little time reminiscing about our wedding, which was held in the Australian National Botanic Gardens in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). I’ve written before about the exotic-to-me kangaroos, wallabies and lizards that hung around during the ceremony.

But last night I was thinking about our honeymoon. We stayed on Orpheus, an island on the Great Barrier Reef, and had one of those idyllic holidays filled with sunshine, snorkeling and amazing food. Orpheus is known for being a bit of a foodie destination and it did not disappoint in that regard. Every day, we would pick up our prepared-to-order picnic lunch basket after breakfast and head out to explore the island. The basket would be filled with Moreton Bay bugs and king prawns, fresh bread and cheese, as well as fresh tropical lychee, mango and dragon fruit. We were spoiled. In honor of our honeymoon, the staff also set up a special table for two on the beach and served us a private dinner there.

On those hot tropical mornings, the breakfast bar with a stunning variety of tropical fruit was also amazing. And I always had to have at least a little of the Bircher Muesli. From my first discovery of bircher muesli on my very first trip to Australia, I’ve always loved it. And when I asked the chef one day what the recipe was for it, I found it under my door that evening. Now I make it and am transported back to warm weather, even in gray, wintery Stockholm.


Great Barrier Reef The Orpheus Island chef’s recipe for Bircher Muesli.


The Bircher Muesli recipe from the Orpheus Island resort is as follows:

Swiss muesli and dry fruit with the following:

Half a cup of orange juice

Half a cup of yoghurt

2 teaspoons of honey

2 tablespoons of milk

Make sure that the muesli is covered. Soak overnight.


Note from me: You can make up a batch and leave it in the refrigerator for several days of easy breakfasts. I have also added in walnuts and dried fruits to the recipe for extra deliciousness.



Moderna Maman by Louise Bourgeois is on display at Stockholm’s Moderna Museum.


Louise Bourgeois The spider eggs were pretty cool, too.


On Sunday, we joined the masses at the Moderna Museet (Modern Museum) to see the Louise Bourgeeois I have been to hell and back show. The lines were long to get into the exhibit, so we were definitely happy that membership has its privileges and that we bypassed them.

This was one of the better exhibits that I’ve seen in a while at the museum. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the spider sculpture Maman by Bourgeois outside the front entrance is enormous and irresistible. It was fun to just watch people interacting with the giant arachnid, especially since it was a beautifully sunny blue sky day.

Inside, the exhibit space is divided into a spider web of nine interconnecting rooms, with breaks in the walls allowing you to peak into the next space. The setup itself is interesting.

Here are two quotes from Bourgeois that I liked:

“What modern art means is that you have to keep finding new ways to express yourself, to express the problems, that there are no settled ways, no fixed approach. This is a painful situation, and modern art is about this painful situation of having no absolutely definite way of expressing yourself.”

“I came from a family of repairers. The spider is a repairer. If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and repairs it.”

The show is at the Moderna Museet until May 17. Check it out if you have the chance and let me know what you think.

Moderna Museet The exhibit space was divided up in a spiral of rooms.


Moderna Museet Admiring the art.



Stockholm food hall A seafood lasagna at Melanders Fisk.


Stockholm market halls The menu from Fiskeläget, where we enjoyed a glass of wine.


Late Saturday afternoon, we went to Hötorgshallen, a food hall in the center of Stockholm. We had a gift certificate from one of the fish vendors at the market and decided that we wanted crab legs for dinner. But first, we had a glass of wine at one of the counters.


Stockholm markets From our counter perch, it was easy to see what everyone was buying to take home for dinner.


Stockholm This tiny dining spot is tucked under the elevators at the market hall.


One of the things that I really enjoy about Stockholm’s food halls, including Hötorgshallen, Östermalms Saluhall and Söderhallarna, is how easy it is to not only shop, but also eat while you are there. Counters with bar stools are woven around many of the stalls so you can literally sit right with the vendors and enjoy a glass and a toast skagen while you place your order, for fish, for instance.  There are also a variety of mini cafes around the halls as well where you can sit at a table and eat.

I love the counter seating, in particular though. Almost always, the vendors will chat with you, give tips on what is the best thing to buy from them, how to cook it and even offer up samples of things to taste. It’s very friendly. Or, as Robert is fond of saying: it’s all very civilized.

Another good thing about Hötorgshallen is that it has all the good Swedish food you would expect, but it also has food stalls featuring Mexican, Italian, Finnish and English  goodies too. While it’s not nearly as old world and charming looking as the Östermalm hall, it does have a good vibe.


Stockholm breakfast A little caviar for breakfast. Thanks to a gift certificate, we splurged on the tiny tin of ARS Italica Calvisius.