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Northwest North America

In June last year I went on a road trip through Northwest USA, into Canada and back down into the American Midwest, and it was one of my most favourite trips I’ve ever taken. America is such a vast, beautiful and rich country geographically – there’s so much to see and do and the landscape constantly changes meaning that every day is different from the last. Throughout the trip I kept thinking about that great Krakauer quote from Into The Wild, “the joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun”.

The trip started with a few days in Portland, Oregon which was just enough time for to absolutely fall in love with the city. I stayed in a beautiful Airbnb and ate as much vegan food as I could fit in my face – it was delightful!

Driving up the West Coast from Portland through upper Oregon and Washington state was absolutely incredible. The scenery was stunning and we stayed at so many peaceful and beautiful camping spots – I was seriously impressed with the quality of the state and national parks everywhere we went.

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After driving to the border (and going via Astoria, the town from Kindergarten Cop aka the best movie ever!!!) we crossed over to Vancouver Island, my first time in Canada. I love gardens, if you hadn’t already noticed, and The Butchart Gardens, a privately owned botanical haven on VI, might be the most stunning garden I’ve ever been to. There’s this one part, called the Sunken Garden, and when you walk around the corner you literally and uncontrollably gasp over how shockingly beautiful it is.

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Then on to Vancouver City which I really loved – it’s a beautiful, clean city and everyone was super friendly which I loved :)

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The Capilano Suspension Bridge Park was a particular highlight – it was such a thrill to be among the treetops.

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A selection of photos from the many beautiful road trip pit stops:

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Driving the Icefields Parkway..

You know how sometimes you see pictures of places on the internet from far away countries that are so perfect looking that you doubt they can be real? Peyto Lake was always like that for me. I figured all the photos I’d seen of it had been photoshopped because there was no way a place that that existed. Except that, oh..

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THIS IS A PLACE THAT ACTUALLY EXISTS.

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IN REAL LIFE.

Just stunning. I can’t put into words what it felt like to stand on a cliff to overlook this beautiful place, it was just special and humbling and made me feel so lucky. Speaking of incredible lakes…

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Moraine Lake! Another stunner. Every single place in Banff, Alberta is the picture of perfection. I honestly couldn’t comprehend how gorgeous and clean and dreamlike this part of the world is. I fell in love wholeheartedly and obsessively. Can’t wait to go back.

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Also I got photobombed by a chipmunk! Which is another reason that this Lake is basically the best place on Earth.

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Banff is known for its bears. Lots of people go looking for them but rarely see them. One day driving around Banff, we saw 6 bears. Six grizzly bears in one day. Eating berries on the side of the road. I couldn’t believe our luck. They are SO HUGE. And beautiful. And scary and just so awesome.

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I made friends with lots of other critters as well :)

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I  was really sad to leave Canada but more adventure awaited. Aka Yellowstone National Park and a shitload of bison!

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Wonderful Yellowstone. Colourful, geothermal, volcanic, animal laden, sometimes smelly (sulphuric) Yellowstone. It’s just so beautiful and different to anywhere I’d ever been before.

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This little rascal kept stealing all our paper kindling from the fire pit! Pretty damn cute.

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Best. Trip. Ever.

#glitter

I haven’t figured out what to call my new “business” – very loose term for my stained glass folly. I’d like to come up with a name so that I can sell my pieces more easily but of course I’m too picky and indecisive to just decide on something. So in lieu of a name, website, online store or a plan, here’s a few pictures of my recent #glitter. (I love working with glass so much, and I double triple quadruple love my eeny weeny home studio).

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Vegan starter kit

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I’m prefacing this post by saying I know that I have been so incredibly slack in updating my blog – so many things have been happening in life over the last year or so and I just haven’t begun to think about where I start posting about everything that life has had to offer. I will come back here and sort myself out eventually, I promise!

How adorable is the feature image above? The photo is of four baby goats that were recently taken in at Hart Acres Animal Haven – an incredible sanctuary for unwanted animals that I have spent the last year volunteering at and falling in love with. I need to write a whole other post about HAAH – it’s become one of the true lights of my life. Until then, please enjoy this gorgeous photo of our new kids – Darla, Spanky, Janey and Alfalfa.

In the meantime, I wanted to post this list as a useful resource for those looking to transition into a vegan lifestyle. I often get asked for links, blogs and recipes for vegan newbies so I put something together to send to people when asked – and realised that others would most likely find it helpful too.

Being vegan isn’t just a dietary choice and this list has an obvious omission of tools that focus on veganising other parts of ones life, but one step at a time I say. Transitioning into a vegan lifestyle can be overwhelming. There is a plethora of blogs and websites and books and forums and Facebook groups and videos and whatever else out there about veganism – it can be fricking exhausting! (And that’s coming from a non-newbie). This is a distilled list of what I consider to be some of the best and most useful information out there during those first weeks and months. Hopefully it can help you to cut through some of the noise and just get down to the basics while you’re starting out.

There’s no such thing as the perfect vegan – and no one should ever make you feel guilty for making mistakes. I’ve been vegan for years and yet still slip up too – just last night I accidentally ate hummus that had milk in it (sidenote: who the eff puts milk in hummus!? I didn’t even think to check). Shit happens. Don’t feel bad or disheartened. Your best effort is all anyone can ask for and every day that you make conscious and deliberate choices to lessen your impact on other living beings is another day you should be proud of.

A few of these resources are specific to Australia and Sydney but otherwise the rest should be useful to everyone anywhere :) Please drop a comment below if you have any suggested additions or requests – I will continue adding to this post as needed.

Jen x


Transitioning to a vegan lifestyle:

Easy vegan recipes:

Favourite vegan food blogs:

Other stuff:

Latest stained glass creations

A few months ago I posted about my newest love for stained glass, a craft that is as satisfying as it is painstaking. After finishing the first semester of the course I was absolutely obsessed and went back for another semester. Here are some photos of my recent creations.

(Side note: I am still absolutely obsessed with continuing to expand my skills with this beautiful art form and am currently working on setting up a little space where I will be able to work from home. Exciting!)

The first thing I made this semester was an antique style scallop mirror. I wanted to try something art deco inspired and a mirror seemed like the right choice. I designed the mirror pattern myself. It’s a little bit hard to tell in the photos but the scalloped edging has two different types of textured clear glass and the detailing is made from opaque black glass. I gave this to my mum for Christmas as she collects art deco mirrors. She absolutely loved it :)

(The beautiful crochet blanket in the mirror reflection was something that mum made for me a few years ago – very fitting!)

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The second project I worked on for this semester was another planter (of course) – another geometric planter similar to my last project, but something a bit simpler. I love how this one turned out. It was surprisingly tricky given that there is a glass platform in the middle holding the whole thing up, but was still super fun!

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My budget patio makeover secret

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It’s been around 18 months now since I delved into the property market and moved into my first apartment. During that time I’ve focused on making my little haven into a home that I love spending my time in. I love coming home here every day and being greeted by happy little furry faces surrounded by the colours of my things and the comfort of knowing this little space is all mine.

After my initial overzealous enthusiasm for all the decorating and renovating I wanted to do and do immediately the very second I moved in, I’ve finally gotten my apartment to a place that I’m really happy with and a place that reflects my tastes and things that I love – with the exception of my outdoor patio.

My apartment is a small and cosy 2 bedroom 63 square metres (perfect for me + my furbabies) but it’s crowning glory is the backyard – and at 148sqm, my outside space is significantly bigger than the inside. I love having so much space outside – I bought this place so that the dog and cat would have room to play but as it turns out with my vegetable gardens, work shed and big grassy area, it’s been the perfect place for me to play too.

As well as a big yard I also have an undercover patio that is bigger than my loungeroom so it’s always been important to me to make it into another comfortable space that will expand my living area (essentially double it!). Over the last year or so I’ve invested time into making it a neat and tidy space but no matter what I did it was just lacking. My main issue was the paving. I don’t really have many photos of what the whole area looked like before, but this will give you an idea:

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The photo on the left was taken before I owned a lawn mower… I had to get one just so I wouldn’t lose Vinnie to an urban jungle!

Anyway, sandstone pavers. Dirty, sandy, crumbly yucky sandstone pavers. They were filthy ALL the time. No matter how much I cleaned them, being made of sand meant they were so porous and would soak up every stain, drop of water or food or whatever else and it just meant that no matter how I decorated outside it was never a very inviting space that I wanted to spend my time relaxing in.

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The yard when I first moved in.

I toyed with the idea of ripping them up or putting decking over the top of them but going down any path like that would have meant a buttload of money no matter which way I looked at it. Then a friend of mine suggested that perhaps I could paint or seal the pavers and that’s when a lightbulb went off – I hadn’t even considered painting them! And so that’s exactly what I did and couldn’t be more happy with the results!

Paving paint is one of the more expensive types of paint but at less than $200 to cover my patio space of 20sqm, it was absolutely well worth the investment and it has totally transformed my patio into a beautiful new-looking space that I’m now utterly in love with. I’ve been eating all my meals outside and reading my book outside and finding whatever excuse I can to spend time outside. In fact I am currently typing this while sitting in my new patio at this very moment :)

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Before painting, the first thing I did was give the pavers a thorough cleaning with a high pressure cleaner and then let them dry overnight before sweeping away any dirt or residue.

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The painting was really hard work. Because the pavers were so porous they really soaked up the paint and took a lot of hard slog to get them looking good – 8 hours or so in total for two coats. I was very sore by the end of the day! And woke up the morning after with blisters on my hands from gripping the paint roller for so long. But the end result was worth the sweat and aching knees for sure.

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The paint I used was Berger Aquatread Satin and the colour is ‘Ironstone’.

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The only other expense I had was for a couple of new concrete pots I got to spruce up some of the cacti and succulents that I had already been collecting.

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So that’s my outdoor renovation secret – paint! I never would of thought that just a simple coat of paint on the floor could have totally transformed a space like this – I didn’t replace the furniture or paint the walls or make a significant structural change. A day’s worth of work and a big tin of paint was exactly what was needed to make this living area my new favourite part of my home.

The one last thing I am planning on doing is to build a privacy screen for open side of the patio to create a bit more intimacy and stop the neighbours from being able to see straight in. Maybe once I’ve done that you’ll even end up finding me sleeping outside too! :)

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Vegan summer fruits trifle

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What a year 2015 has been! I’m totally slack at updating my blog and there are a million projects/trips/photo adventures/things I need to post about but for now this is just a quick post as I’ve been getting so many requests for the recipe of the dessert I made for my family Christmas this year.

For the last few Christmases since being vegan I have prepared a lot of food for the family gatherings – vegan food that everyone can eat. However this year, because I have the most amazing family ever, my mum and cousins made all this beautiful food for the whole family that was mostly all vegan. It was all so delicious – the best tasting food is the food that someone else made for you, am I right!? :)

Anyhoo, still I couldn’t let a whole Christmas go by without making something delicious! I haven’t had trifle in many, many years – I’d never even seen anyone else I know make a vegan trifle before. I wanted it to be summery and berrylicious but without being too sweet or sickly.

This trifle was a hit with the whole family. People in my fam who don’t usually eat much dessert were coming back for seconds. Yep, seconds! The whole thing was absolutely demolished. I’m sure this will get added to the list of meals I get repeat requests for. And it couldn’t have been more simple to make – it’s basically just about preparing a few different layers and stacking them on top of each other. No need for “special” ingredients – everything I needed I got from my local supermarket.

Ingredients

Note: The quantities I’ve put were what I used but it will be totally dependent on the size of your trifle.

  • Vanilla sponge cake, cut into squares (I made my own using this easy peasy cake recipe from Veggieful)
  • 4 cups custard – Foster Clarks custard powder is 100% vegan, I used almond milk to make it up and I also stirred through about a tablespoon of icing sugar per two cups once heated just to sweeten it up a little bit and remove the nutty taste from the milk
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar (this is for the custard, as per directions on box)
  • 4 cups vegan jelly, cubed – you can get vegetarian jelly crystals from most health food/organic shops or otherwise Aeroplane Jelly ready to eat cups are vegan – any flavour will work, I used strawberry
  • 5 cups mixed berries – I used strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries
  • 4 tablespoons passionfruit pulp
  • 4 tins of coconut milk – make sure it’s milk not coconut cream and full-fat not light/low-fat
  • 1/2 cup of icing sugar
  • 1 peach (or whatever you want to decorate the top with)

Tips

  • My main tip is to make your vegan sponge cake a couple of days before you actually want to serve up the trifle. Not only does it save on time on the day of but also it’s better to use a slightly stale sponge so that it doesn’t fall apart so much when covered in custard.
  • Ensure you refrigerate your coconut milk at least overnight before you want to prepare your trifle. When you’re ready to make your coconut cream, open the tins to find a white creamy layer has risen to the top of the can and the watery stuff is at the bottom – scrape the cream from the top of your tins and add to a bowl with the 1/2 cup of icing sugar. Whip with electric mixer – it’ll seem like it’s not doing anything for aaaaaggggees (and ages and ages) but eventually after 5 minutes or so the cream will start to whip and come up nice and fluffy

Layers

These are the exact layers I did for my trifle, starting from the bottom to the top. Each layer I spread out to evenly cover the layer below it across the trifle bowl:

  • 1/2 of the sponge cake
  • 2 cups custard
  • 2 cups chopped jelly
  • 2 cups mixed berries
  • 2 tablespoons passionfruit pulp
  • 1/2 sponge cake
  • 2 cups custard
  • 2 cups chopped jelly
  • 2 cups mixed berries
  • 2 tablespoons passionfruit pulp
  • 2 cups coconut cream
  • Decorated top with 1 cup berries and peach slices

And that’s it! Refrigerate until ready to serve. Best to make it no more than a few hours before you’re ready to serve.

Enjoy! And a very happy new year to you all <3

My foray into stained glass

I’ve always loved stained glass. Growing up my mum used to make beautiful glass works, teaching classes in our garage for people interested in making lamps, windows, ornaments, you name it. Even though mum hasn’t made anything for a number of years now, her house (and my grandparents’ house) is still filled with beautiful antique style lamps, window panels and decorations that she made all by hand. There’s one particularly spectacular floor lamp that I’ve got my eye on… (hint hint).

I’ve wanted to try my hand at stained glass for years but given all the equipment and tools you need it always seemed too much of a hassle. Mum had always said that if I took a class and enjoyed myself she would give me all of her glass stuff that she’s got in storage. By pure coincidence my lovely friend Kate started doing a course just 5 minutes up the road from my house and she loved it so much she went back for another semester and I decided to join her. A decision that I’m so happy I made!

I have just finished my first 8 week course with the lovely and patient Leonie Le Cornu – she is so freakin’ talented and her gorgeous little studio, a renovated historic stable attached as a wing to her cute federation style cottage home,  is so warm and inviting. Every window sparkles with her crafts and walking into the studio is like stepping into a rainbow – so full of colour and shiny-ness. It’s such an inspirational little space.

As you know I love terrariums and planters so I skipped over making the introductory suncatchers and jumped straight into making a 3D pyramid planter:

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My final project for the term was a bit of a brain child of mine – I just love geometric and pyramidal terrariums but I’ve always wanted one with a bit of colour and pattern and it surprised me that more like this weren’t in the market already. I came up with the design myself – this was probably the hardest part! I had lots of intricate designs in my head of flowers and leaves wrapping around each side but realistically I needed to find a pattern that was simple and keep in mind what it would look like when planted. The colours and glass couldn’t be too heavy and I still wanted enough clear glass to be able to see whatever I decided to plant in it as well. After a number of iterations I finalised my design and began painstakingly cutting and grinding 4 identical sets of glass.

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I’m so happy with how the final product turned out – I’m honestly really proud of it. It’s light and simple and so pretty against the light. I picked soft colours that work really well and I’m now entirely in love with stained glass – so much so that I signed up for another class :)

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I love a sunburnt country

I recently spent two weeks travelling through the Northern Territory and I had such an amazing time. I had been to Darwin before once for a work conference but it was in the middle of summer – hot, humid, muggy, uncomfortable, hot, sweaty, balmy and did I mention hot? Otherwise known as notaverygoodtime. But this time the weather in Darwin, and the rest of the Territory, was entirely perfect. Warm, dry, sunny, cloudless days. Exactly the way you want to spend your holiday when you know it is freezing and rainy back home.

I was so blown away by how beautiful the NT is. Truly. I guess I was just expecting red dust and a whole lotta nothin’. There definitely was an abundance of red, but there was also so much greenery. Litchfield National Park was truly spectacular. There were so many incredible waterholes and cascading waterfalls, beautiful creeks and swimming holes that we often had all to ourselves. We went on some beautiful hikes and bushwalks and I was really impressed with how clean all the campsites and picnic areas are. They are well maintained and most were really quite comfortable for campsites in the middle of nowhere.

No matter how many pictures you see of Uluru, nothing could prepare you for it’s magnificence. It’s such a truly spectacular sight. So, so much more than a giant rock. When you get up close to it you see that this spiritual place has so many intricate and beautiful details, so much colour and life and history. There is luscious greenery surrounding the base, as well as caves and waterholes that once were the shelter and sustenance of many Indigenous tribes. I can see why they call it the heart of Australia.

The West Macdonnell Ranges were also a highlight. I expected so much of the NT just to be flat desert but the Ranges made sure to prove me wrong. Gorge after gorge after gigantic fire red valley after crater after gorge after mountain. There are a lot of really impressive hikes you can do in this area and I wholeheartedly recommend them. Standley Chasm, Ormison Gorge and Palm Valley were absolute standouts. Hiking the Kings Canyon rim at sunrise was also really special.

I ended this trip on such a high. The night skies in the desert are unlike any I have never seen before. I could look up and literally trace the shapes and swirls of the Milky Way with my hand, the stars and planets were just so bright. I love a good sunset too and the Territory sure did not disappoint in that respect – it delivered in fact some of the best sunsets I have ever seen in my life. After this little getaway to our red centre the love I have for the colourful and bountiful island that I live expanded beyond where I had ever thought it could – stretched the whole way across our biggest desert plain.

[All photos taken with Canon 7D or iPhone 6.]

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The Hexagon

While we were researching our trip to New Zealand we came across a company called Canopy Camping, an Air BnB style agency that promotes eco “glamping” experiences. There are sites all over the North and South Islands ranging from fancy tents to cave dwellings to vintage caravans. There were so many awesome spots to choose from! We only had the opportunity to visit one of the sites so after a bit of research we landed on The Hexagon, in the northern end of the West Coast.

Boy oh boy did we pick well. The Hexagon is an off the grid eco cabin with solar power for basic essentials, an outdoor kitchen (the most fun kitchen I have ever cooked in, ever!) and bathroom and outdoor fire bath. The cabin has stunning ocean views and is nestled in a lush green haven on the private property of an old hippy commune from the 70s, now under the care of local artist, handyman and all-round legend, Jed. Surrounded by feijoa trees and cheeky weka birds, the two nights we spent here were completely and utterly peaceful. The cabin itself and all of its perks are made from recycled and local materials, everything from the beautiful timber benches to the vintage copper showerhead and the second-hand rope net sealing off the front balcony. There’s no wifi, no phone reception, no television. It is the perfect escape from the noise and ever present connectedness of our seemingly disconnected modern lives. I spent almost two whole days reading by the outdoor fire and sipping tea and it was entirely perfect.

The outdoor bath was something else, too. It took a bit of time to get the fire underneath the rustic tub just right but once we did it burned into the night. Laying in the beautifully hot water filled with homemade lavender bath salts overlooking the ocean was one of the most relaxing moments of my life to date.

Many thanks to Jed for being such an enthusiastic and friendly host. We were in the first handful of guests who have had the pleasure of visiting the Hexagon and I feel very lucky to have been so. All of Jed’s hard work, care and DIY ingenuity made this the most perfectly charming and comfortable stay I think I’ve ever had anywhere. Can’t wait to visit again some time soon and see what other crafty and environmentally friendly creations he comes up with that make this place somewhere you just don’t ever want to leave.

“I build a lighted home and therein dwell.”

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