Friday, 19 August 2022

Three recent dreams

The silent concert

In this dream, I am with three other people in an apartment I do not recognise. One person is my music friend L who lives on the Gold Coast, who has always been very encouraging. One person is my other music friend W that I played piano duets with often in Sydney, who is quite an eccentric character. The third person I do not recognise at all, a lady in her late 40s or early 50s perhaps. 

There is a piano in the centre of the room that we are in. We take turns going up to the piano and playing short pieces. I play a waltz by Chopin, someone else has a turn, then I play some light jazzy number that I don't recognise. The others play little snippets of Mozart or Beethoven. The atmosphere is relaxed and we are enjoying the music together. 

Then L suggests that I play a violin-piano duet with W. (In real life I haven't played the violin much in recent months, because I mostly play viola or piano now). W is really enthusiastic about the idea, and we get out a book of Beethoven violin sonatas, something that I am really familiar with due to my real life Beethoven project with a different friend, though I haven't studied any of the sonatas in detail. 

I open my instrument,  a violin that I do not recognise. Whose violin is this? I wonder to myself. 

We open the book and it falls to number 5, Spring, the most famous of the Beethoven violin sonatas. I tune to the piano briefly and W looks at me expectantly, waiting for the cue to start. 

When I start to play, I hear that the sound is all distorted. It is as if I am taken back to the beginning of my violin learning, more than ten years ago, when I could hardly pull a bow across the strings and make it sound even remotely reasonable. The sound is really scratchy and I feel very exposed. 

Suddenly I realise that there is no sound of the piano. I look over at where W is playing the piano. I can see his fingers moving, his body moving, but I cannot hear anything. I look over at the other two ladies and they are entranced by the music, bobbing their heads up and down in appreciation. 

What are they hearing? I ask myself. 

The sound that is emitted from my strings is worse and worse, barely distinguishable and totally out of tune. It's as if a cat was playing the violin. I start to panic, and I hope for a reprieve from a piano solo, but the piano is totally silent. I cannot hear anything at all. 

When we finish, the ladies clap and cheer enthusiastically. L says that we should perform somewhere. 

Perform? I ask incredulously. How can we perform like this? 

She scrolls through her phone to find an event that we could perform at. She stabs her finger at certain music festivals - What about this one? 

Then I wake up. 

The path to France

In this dream I am walking on the street when I bump into a friend that I met when I was travelling in el Salvador in 2016. She is with my friend from university that I have lost touch with for a long time. They both have extremely long hair, which is not like their usual hairstyles. I have no idea how they know each other in the dream but they seem to be very friendly with each other. 

When I bump into them, they are both re-doing their hair. Their tresses are so long and silky that I stop to admire their hair. (In real life, my hair has been undergoing a disastrous transformation during covid). They greet me enthusiastically and ask me if I am ready for the big trip. 

The big trip? I ask them in confusion. 

We are all going on the big trip together! They announce almost in chorus and giggle. 

I go back to my apartment in the dream, somewhere that I don't recognise. S is there, packing things. I guess we are all going together. 

We each have our backpacks and we go down to meet the two girls. When we get there, there is a big trail sign with the map of where we are going. They point to the campground where we are staying. 

No way, I'm not going there. S says. 

At that moment I realise that he has never said something so definitive to me in our real life. He usually beats about the bush and says a lot of other things before either having the truth extracted (because I am so impatient) or getting there through a series of complex oblique references. 

OK then, we won't go there. I reply. The other girls have disappeared at this point. 

We look at the map of the park together, and towards the eastern side of the park there is a trail that is marked with a dotted line, indicating a footpath only. 

It is then I realise that all the signs on the map are bilingual, in both English and French. But that last trail I see on the eastern side only has French. Then I realise that it is the path that takes us all the way to France.

This one? I ask S. But he does not reply and I wake up. 

The death of the child 

In this dream, I am in the ICU, one that I do not recognise. It's not one that I have worked in or visited. GF is there, one of my old colleagues in Sydney. 

He apologises to me profusely for handing over "a mess" to me. He explains the situation - it's a boy who has had a catastrophic brain injury and he is now brain dead. The parents do not want the life support to be discontinued, but they have accepted that today is the day it will be done. Of course he feels bad that he cannot carry it through, but I have taken over the clinical service today so it is my turn to look after all the patients in the ICU as per usual. I say a cursory "no worries, I'll take care of it" kind of thing and leave my colleague. 

I go into the room. The boy's parents are there, and one other woman who I soon understand to be the sister of the mother. The boy is lying inert in the bed, a boy of approximately 6 or 7. He is ventilated and has the usual ICU equipment on him. 

I start to say my usual spiel of "I'm sorry for the situation you are in... " and try to get an understanding of what they understand will happen next. The parents are silent but the aunt of the boy starts to cry. 

Unusually for an ICU, there is a desk with a large mirror in front of it, a mirror which perfectly reflects the situation. I see the boy in the bed and me in blue scrubs next to the bed, with the aunt standing next to me. The parents are at the foot of the bed and cannot be seen in the mirror. 

I become aware of a chair in front of the desk. Draped over the back of the chair is a beautiful dress, a cream coloured silk dress with a delicate floral pattern with pinks and greens. I wonder what the dress is doing inside the room and what it means. 

(Image borrowed from Google, not from the dream!)  

After a moment of taking in the desk, chair, dress and mirror. I start to examine the boy. 

I introduce myself and then ask "Can you show me your thumb?" My standard opening neurological examination question.
I'm not expecting him to move at all since my colleague had said he was brain dead, but I am convinced that he did move his thumb upward slightly.
Shocked, I ask him "Can you show me two fingers?" My usual follow up question.
He shows me two fingers, more definitively this time. 

I feel the weight of the silence in the room. I feel the eyes of his parents and aunt boring into me as I struggle to think of what to do next. 

"What's 1 + 1?" I ask the boy. 

He holds up two fingers again with his left hand. 

I hear a sob erupt from the mother, she buries her face in the shoulder of the father. 
I look back at the boy and I struggle to think of what is happening - how can a brain dead child suddenly be responding in this way? 

Suddenly, two nurses come into the room, pushing a stainless steel procedure trolley, the type we usually use to insert vascular lines in ICU. On it are a selection of surgical instruments, laid out neatly on a sterile drape. 

"Hurry up, doctor." The nurse closest to me says. "They are waiting over there."

"Waiting for what?" I ask. 

She doesn't reply and she starts to undo the tapes around the boy's mouth to take the breathing tube out. 

"Hang on a minute here." I move to stop her, putting my hand over hers. "This boy is not brain dead."

"It doesn't matter." She says and wrenches her hands free from mine. "They need his kidneys over there."

"But he's not dead." I say, my voice echoing around the room.

At that moment the aunt lets out a piercing scream and I wake up. 

Tuesday, 2 August 2022

In my kitchen: August 2022

And just like that, our first six weeks in Canada have flown by! 

A friend remarked the other day just how big the life change has been - new country, new apartment, new job, new specialty, new hospital, new moving-in with a partner.. even new flour can be challenging! Even with the ups and downs, it truly has been the most wonderful time and I could only hope to capture some of it in this post.

Unfortunately our balcony only gets afternoon sun and my attempts to grow lettuce and radish have been thwarted, nevertheless we started this cute little herb garden.

I don't think I'd even had sage before trying this "traditional" Italian combination of cannellini beans, zucchini, garlic and sage with a healthy slug of olive oil. 

We have been eating lots of the Asian foods that I missed while in Europe. I bought a tub of gochujang and made a spicy soup with vegetables and tofu, served over sweet potato noodles. 

I'm totally obsessed with these thick hand-cut noodles, here I had them with some radish and my friend's fish-head curry without the fish-head (a bit too much for me!) 

I'm very pleased to report that Barney is now doing very well in Toronto and seems to have adapted to the local conditions.  What a resilient boy he is!

My friend brought us a bag of traditional Montreal bagels when she was visiting family there. Here is the quintessential Canadian breakfast for me, a few Ontario strawberries, a Montreal bagel and a slice of Uncle Tetsu's cheesecake. I know Tetsu's is everywhere now, but I will always associate it with Canada where I tried it first.

A lemongrass tofu banh mi from my favourite banh mi shop in Chinatown

For my birthday I had a zoom party with my dad in China, he invited some family and friends over in Shanghai and we had a slice of cake for breakfast here. It looks exactly like the cake emoji on your smartphone! The candles are on beautiful Huon pine coasters I bought from Tasmania. 

In the evening, S organised a wonderful surprise birthday party for me. He even got the concierge in on the action - he called from the lobby saying there was a parcel delivery and when I went downstairs my friends jumped out from behind a pole! My birthday present was playing the Dvorak piano quintet, what an extraordinary treat with musical friends. We only have 4 chairs so the upper strings had to stand and the audience had to sit on the bed, what a memorable experience! And these were my birthday desserts - a light-as-air lemon cake and a gluten-free trifle with cherries and blueberries. 

And now that we have made dumplings in our new place - these were with a filling of napa cabbage, tofu and red capsicums flavoured with sesame oil and ginger - we have truly moved in and christened our place our own. 

Finally, the curveball... 

I moved out of home in 2001 and haven't had a piano since. The piano I played when I was a child is still at my dad's place. When S and I moved into our new place, we thought about renting a piano. In the end we just decided to buy this, a cheap and cheerful Yamaha electric piano. Of course it's not a forever piano but the finger-touch is surprisingly good and it serves us just fine for our purposes. We have been playing through the book of Mozart violin sonatas, choosing a different one to play everyday before dinner. It's a wonderful way to mark the end of our busy days and to relax into the evening. Everyday we are reminded of how fortunate we are to finally be here together in person, and also how fortunate we are to have this extraordinary connection through music. 

I'm sending this to Sherry of Sherry's Pickings who hosts the monthly IMK series - thanks Sherry!  

Saturday, 2 July 2022

In My Kitchen: July 2022

Oh my goodness, what a month June was! I started the month in Australia, then went to France, a quick trip to Italy to visit S' family before we made the big move to Toronto. And here are our kitchen adventures in all four countries! 


This was one of my many farewell dinners. It was a bit of a hodgepodge dinner with the very last Australian loaf of sourdough, a "whatever was in the fridge" cake, one friend made a spinach & ricotta pie, and another friend made this Indonesian feast - yellow rice, choko with tempeh, spicy chicken and beef rendang.  

One of my friends came from Brisbane for my last weekend in Australia and my other friend came up from Sydney. We had to pull absolutely everything out of my garden - a lot of kale, bok choy, spring onions and coriander. 

With all these lovely greens we made this vegetarian feast. It was particularly fun to make traditional Chinese shallot pancakes which were pretty tricky with an oil paste, and there was a crazy amount of spring onions on them. The dish on the bottom left is thousand year eggs with tofu, one of my favourite simple dishes. 

Here is Barney getting ready to go on his international adventure.. I packed him up in a little plastic container, the master version is in that glass jar, still in my kitchen back home. 


I did take approximately a thousand photos of my food on the flight, which was really quite delicious (Singapore/Lufthansa), but I've left them out since it's not technically ín my kitchen.. 

One of S' friends came to visit us the first weekend. He's German and we last saw him in Melbourne. He brought baguettes along with some of this delicious fresh chevre from our local Fromagerie Quatrehomme. It is an incredibly light, flavoursome, slightly stinky goat cheese. 


Sometimes the simplest lunch is the best, here we had bruschetta with tomato and fresh basil, melon and prosciutto. It was so hot in Italy that we could barely move. except to venture to the gelateria of course... 

How giant are these basil leaves? So bright and glossy. 

It was actually a public holiday - St Anthony's day in Padova - and most of the shops were closed, but we still managed to buy some fresh pasta from a store specialising in Puglia treats and some fresh pesto from the deli. This is hands down the best pasta I have ever eaten in my whole life. 

Squid ink and truffle pastes I brought back from Italy.. 

Back in France... 

Oh baguettes, so ubiquitous in France and so hard to find everywhere else in the world... 

This was the most extraordinary raspberry tart. The cream was light as a cloud and the soft biscuit layering the cream & raspberries just perfect. 

The first weekend I met S in 2019, we bought some artichokes from the local market near where he used to live at Place Monge. For a long time I used to call him Monsieur Artichaut. This artichoke I got from the local Carrefour and it was just the most spectacular juicy fleshy artichoke. How I miss the fresh produce in France already!

We went to Angelina on our last weekend in Paris. It's a bit cliche-y for sure, but we really enjoyed the extravagant tearoom in which we had these mont blancs. They were a tribute to my grandma, because they were her favourite treats. 

Finally, Canada...   

We arrived in Toronto in the middle of the heatwave. We also didn't know we moved into the LGBTQI neighbourhood and Pride was in full swing the first weekend we were in Canada! Toronto is an incredible, vibrant city in which we both have lots of memories. We have really enjoyed catching up with friends and are so much looking forward to our life here!

This was our very first lunch in Toronto - some Ontario asparagus, and a simple 4 bean salad with some radishes and cherry tomatoes. It was so fresh on a hot day.  

OK, I confess, I may have gone a little nuts on the Chinese vegetables after I realised I could do a big order from TnT (the big Chinese supermarket in Toronto). Next thing I knew our fridge was stuffed with Chinese vegetables. Here we have a special vegetable (it's a cross between lettuce & celery & asparagus), lotus root, bean sprouts chives and tofu. This was our first dinner in our place. 

And of course I brought Barney back to life in our Toronto apartment. He's a bit wonky because I dropped him while trying to navigate the oven door, but he was excellent inside! 
The curveball 

Finally, I'd like to share with you what happens when you ask a mathematician to cut a cucumber. S cut the cucumber into 4 segments, each segment into 4 slices and then the whole lot into 4 quarters. Perhaps this is why I love the man - he is meticulous exactly the opposite of how I am extremely messy.  

I'm sending this to Sherry of Sherry's Pickings who hosts the monthly IMK series. Thanks Sherry!

Wednesday, 1 June 2022

In My Kitchen: June 2022

Wow where has May gone? It is just one week now until I fly to Paris, I will be there for two weeks before the big move to Toronto. It hasn't been a busy month in my kitchen since I've been furiously eating what is in my fridge / freezer / cupboard. However, I have been steadily visiting my bucket list places in Australia.. check out my adventures in Tasmania, Blue mountains and Newcastle

Let's take a look... 

I made these longevity peaches for my grandma's 100th birthday. In Chinese traditional culture, cakes are not commonly eaten since ovens are not popular there. The longevity peaches are often offered to seniors to signify longlife as it was part of a legend - these peaches are available in heaven and eaten to sustain longevity. 

Here I tried writing the Chinese character for longlife onto one of the peaches, but it started to run! I ended up piping it onto a piece of baking paper instead to lie flat in front of the peach display. The colour is made from pink food colouring brushed using a sieve onto the buns, which are a plain steamed bun dough. The leaves are mixed with green food colouring. I'd never made them before but I'm glad I went to the effort of making them - it was a wonderful celebration and she passed away just 22 days after her 100th birthday. 

I love swirly things - here I mixed a plain milk sourdough dough with a matcha dough, and swirled it with a red bean mixture. 

A couple of really handsome loaves from a weekly bake 

These were traditional pfitz-auf moulds that my music friend had brought over decades ago from South African (they are of German background). The batter is so simple- just flour, milk and eggs - but it really popped straight out! 

The last of my dad's chokoes were shared around - some of them were a very healthy size!

The curveball this month... 

I started doing jigsaws during covid - they are such a great diversion and I love the feeling of slotting pieces into place. This one was a birthday present I received last year, it was so colourful and bright that I felt like I couldn't get started on it until I was in the right mood. I'm glad I finished it in May just before the big move! 

I'm sending this to Sherry who hosts the monthly In My Kitchen series - see you all next month from Canada! 

The Australian Bucket List (3) - Newcastle region

The last four years of living in Newcastle have really been some of the best years of my life. Living close to my work has tremendously improved my quality of life - I don't have the same daily commute and parking stresses like when I lived in Sydney. The proximity to the coast and to other beautiful nature spots has been life changing. When I lived in Sydney, I would be less than 10km from the nearest beach, but in between navigating public transport or the troubles of finding parking, I would rarely go to the beach. The last few years, I've been lucky enough to live close enough that I am there most weeks, and in summer often many times a week. 

Here are some of my favourite spots in the Newcastle region. 


Let's start with the best and most stunning view in all of Newcastle - the Strzelecki lookout on top of the hill overlooking Bar/Merewether beach. On a clear day in winter, one can usually spot whales passing by here. 

Bar beach - Can you believe this was my local beach for the last 4 years? 

Blackbutt reserve is one of the first places I visited when I moved to Newcastle. It's literally across the road from the hospital where I work - there are some really nice walking trails in the reserve weaving amongst the tall gums. 

Dudley beach is also one of my favourites - it's quieter than the "main" beaches and there is a long beach to walk along. 

The view from the top of the cliffs in Dudley is pretty amazing - one can see all the way across Dudley to Merewether to Newcastle beach. 

I will miss these little lantana flowers found all over the Australian bush. 

Majestic gum trees in the Awakabal nature reserve, along the walk from Dudley to Redhead

Redhead lagoon, a peaceful spot to sit and read

I love Caves beach - on the surface it looks like an ordinary beach but at the southern end is a set of ocean caves that one can access only at low tide. Unfortunately it's been "discovered" by the Internet/Youtubers or whatever, and it seems more and more popular. 

From the caves 

Myall National Park 

There are some pretty amazing sand dune systems near Newcastle. I think the one near Stockton going up to Anna Bay / Port Stephens is very famous and lots of people visit the 32km stretch sand dune which is supposed to be the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere. Here I was visiting the dunes at Dark Point, a totally deserted spot in the Myall NP. 

You could completely get lost in these dunes

What a glorious day it was to be amongst the amazing fine sand. I didn't see a single soul. 

The waters of Myall NP are really amazing - there is something very gentle about the lake system, that is different to the sea that is very nearby. I love how the waves lap at the shore, creating an unique tinkering sound. 

Amazing melaleuca - paperbark gum trees along the lake system 

There are also patches of rainforest in Myall NP - such a strange landscape with these giant gum trees scattered amongst rainforest. 

Last but not least, my favourite beach in the region is actually Jimmy's / Bennett's. In the Hawks Nest area, there is an amazing ocean beach (Bennett's) which has the nicest finest sand and goes on forever, and is usually very quiet. Around the corner there is a sheltered beach (Jimmy's) where the swimming is just the best in summer. I made a little pilgrimage to Jimmy's, one of my favourite places in the universe.