A Year of Wonders

The image of a writer, struggling alone in a cold attic room somewhere, alone with their thoughts, is not always so far from the truth. The work of a blogger is, by the nature of the medium, a much more sociable engagement. While writing may still be a task best suited to periods of uninterrupted quiet, I never feel alone. When I write recipes for this blog, I write with a thousand people in the room, all peering over my shoulder expectantly.

This is my last post for 2010 and as is the way this time of year, I am in a reflective mood. More than most years I have reason to look back on the huge and dramatic turns of events this year, a year where the personal became public. A year that defined my life into two halves, marked simply as Before and After.

To this day I still don’t know what possessed me to google “How to start a blog”, one Wednesday afternoon in March. Perhaps I was bored, in which case a thousand other activities could have sufficed. Perhaps, like the scrapbooking materials in the corner of the bookcase, or the unfinished quilt in the linen cupboard, it was a project that took my fancy, soon to languish, un-used and uncompleted, another waste of effort.

The difference of course is that there was an immediate response to my efforts. With so much encouragement, I kept going, literally, one page, one recipe at a time. It was a measured and disciplined a-little-at-a-time approach to a project that had no real definition or end point. There was no destination in mind, no picture of what it would look like when it was done.

Having contributed to other blogs over the previous four years as an anonymous contributor with odd-sounding avatars, I am well used to the rollicking world of opinions, subjective comments and the downright argumentative nature of some people. I was nervous not about my writing or about my recipes, but about what people think of me. Silly, I know, but that’s how it was. Some people write about themselves for the adoration. I wanted desperately to keep my photo off the pages and not seem foolish. Then, about a month after I started the blog, a friend, a journalist, asked me for an interview. Somewhere in the middle of the  question and answer session our chat between girlfriends became serious and she said, presciently, ‘Sandra, you really will have to get used to having your photo taken.’

I didn’t know it at the time, but Josie would become the first in a long line of people who have not just encouraged me but they have gone out of their way to help me. Despite having my name on this blog, I don’t do it all on my own and, if you don’t mind, there are some people who really must be thanked for all their help. Rather than list them alphabetically, I’ll try to list them in order of appearance, because that alone tells a story.

First of all, to a core group of incredible friends who read my status report on a Facebook page one day and started a conversation about feeding their families. To the extraordinary and funny and delightful Merryl, a sincere thankyou for asking for that first recipe, for Braised Chicken and Rice, still one of the most popular recipes on the blog. Other friends should also be named and I suspect they will be horrified to see themselves in print, but here goes; To Alison, Josie, Rachel and Geoff, Janine, Louise, Vicki, Carol, Luci, Sandra Mc, Jacki D, Annie, Ruth, cousins Karen, Naomi and  Jan, nieces Ali, Gina and Jen, the other Sandra Mc and Lexa, sincerely thanks and hugs to all.

The group of women (and some men) on the Mamamia pages, whom I now collectively call the MM Lovelies, who read my whingeing remarks about the obstructiveness of Centrelink and cooking on a pathetically small budget, who said, ‘wow you should start a blog, this is such useful information,’ a big thank you. I did that google search because I had nothing better to do, idly wondering what it could be like to write a blog of my own. Now, I think I know and the answer is, “so much bigger than you could ever imagine”.

To Simone Heydon, from Handle PR and Andrew Barnett, IT guru and all round Good Bloke,  a sincere thank you for coming forward very early in the piece and helping me out with some very relevant and sensible ideas, for your accessibility and for treating me like the most sensible person in the world (when I ask my share of stupid questions), thank you. I know we will do it all over again next year.

For Yvette, great friend and the only writer I ever knew, for becoming my very first ‘fan’ on the Facebook page and who immediately commented, “And so it begins’. Yes it did. 1900 fans later, the page thrives and I love chatting there more than anywhere else. It feels like you are all in my kitchen. If only one of you would do the washing up once in a while…

To my beautiful friends John and Dave, who kindly lent me a beautiful camera worthy of the pictures I was attempting to take. My daughter takes a lot of the pictures, makes unkind remarks about my efforts  (too close, blurry, too far away, what IS that?) but nevertheless she has been a great photography teacher. Thank you all.

To Carol Duncan, self-described La Journalista from ABC1233 Newcastle, who contacted me for an interview and who said, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll be fine”, thank you. I was. It helped that it was you asking the questions. In fact, the ABC have been uniformly terrific, with interviews held from outback Queensland to Perth. I always loved my ABC, now I know why.

A special mention must go to Brad Storey from ABC92.5 Central Coast who casually said on my way out of the studio after an interview with Scott Levi, ‘So, do you have a literary agent? ‘. It marked the beginning of a series extraordinary events over the next life-changing week, starting with that interview and then, just two days later, watching, (with hands partially covering my face) the Today Tonight story go to air. The response was monumental but never more so than when the phone rang at nine the next morning. It was Julie Gibbs, head of Lantern Penguin. She expressed interest. I burst into tears.

So: A huge thank you to the team from Today Tonight. You could have done anything with the footage you had, but in the end it was, despite my scepticism, a balanced story. I was worried about what people would think of me and I shouldn’t have. The repercussions from that story are still being felt, like floating on a series of ripples in a pool. It carries me ever forward and for that I am in your debt.

To the astonishing team of people who together and individually guided me through that monumental week also have to be thanked. From my friend Shannon who sat me down over a coffee, recounting her own experiences with working for a self-made millionaire businessman and said, ‘if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s to think Big’, to the wonderful Mia Freedman, whom I emailed in a state of panic and who responded with both calming words and practical advice, to Darryl Winder from In Context Solutions who asked sensible business related questions at a time my brain was turning to mush – all were exactly the right people at the right time. They lead me to Tara Wynne from Curtis Brown literary agency, lovely lady, rock-solid ally and brilliant negotiator. Thank you all.

To the team at Penguin, Julie Gibbs, the most stylish lady on the planet, Ingrid Ohlsson and Rachel Carter, editor extraordinaire, a sincere thank you for the welcome you gave me. I sincerely believe I have won the equivalent of Writing Lotto. I can’t wait to see what 2011 brings but I know it will be huge and that’s largely because of you.

And  finally, my heartfelt thanks must go to the readers who provide daily feedback, who ask questions, point out my typos and errors and keep me on my toes. It’s not just the budgetary constraints I think of when I sit down to compose a recipe, I think about you all. The thousand people in the room with me. Will you like it. Is it easy to make? Is it practical when you’ve got such busy lives? Will you be able to buy the ingredients in your one-supermarket town?

If I have a composite picture of you, you are in your late 20s to early 30s with a young family, keen to try new things, not always confident of your own abilities in the kitchen, determined to do more with the hand you’ve been dealt. From time to time I imagine you live in Dubbo. Recipes have to pass the Dubbo test to get posted. Several recipes have gone through epic re-writing to meet the exacting standards a regional city with more expensive produce and limited shopping options might bring.

Somewhere out there, in internet-land there are people who have come forward, out of the ether and become so much more tangible. They’ve become firm friends, despite the fact I haven’t met all of them yet. They are Natalie, Mandi, Kris, Karyn, Danya, Leonie, the very gorgeous Denyse, Lana, Kerri, Annie R, Chris, Jen, Tressna, Bella, Michael and Deborah. Special thanks must go to the generous and brilliant Iain who has shared so much of his knowledge and expertise and who also knows his quail and to Kim, drifter, drover, bushie and wonderful cook. Thank you all for your guidance and support.

I know I’ve forgotten people, as I said, there really has been a cast of thousands, so I apologise if I have left people out. I know there will be one or two who will feel slighted – alright, perhaps four – so to them I say it’s best we get this end of year party started and resolve things over a drink.

And finally, because it’s my blog and I’m feeling sentimental, I will say that before he passed, one of my Dad’s final comments to  me was about this blog. Computer illiterate, I nonetheless tried to explain to him how I’d had 10,000 hits on the blog. It was one of his last lucid comments to me, but he looked at me, bright-eyed and proud and said, “Well Done.” I miss you every day Dad, but I feel you around me, shining a light, and for that boundless love, my cup runneth over.

I’ll be back on Monday 17th January 2011 and we will meet back in the kitchen bright and early. Until then, hug your loved ones, share your food with people you love and don’t sweat the small stuff.

It’s only Life, in all it’s glory and wonder.

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34 thoughts on “A Year of Wonders”

  1. Oh, I’m all teary. That is so lovely about your dad. Well done, indeed. It may sound odd coming from someone who looks up to you like I do, but I’m so proud of you. Out of a big pile of drama, you have created something truly marvellous, for which I often give thanks and to which I always turn first. You give me reassurance when I am shaky about my abilities and help me be brave enough to try new things. I am glad to have helped in any small way — you are most sincerely welcome. Merry merry Christmas, Sandra. Love PG xx

  2. Thank you Sandra for all your awsome recipes, you’re the first place I look when hunting something in paticular and it’s always on there, keep up the great work!!

  3. Merry Christmas Sandra, hope you and your family have a lovely time.

    Thank you for your inspiration this year, I will be using some of your Christmas ideas on Saturday and looking forward to next year’s recipes.

    Susan

  4. A year of wonders indeed! I know at least three people who are giving Christmas presents (myself included) based on your buscuits in a jar post and I’ve cooked several of the reciepes here (most of which are easy to upsize to accommodate extra people – above and beyond ‘another cup of water in the soup!).

    With two kids and two on the way, you can be sure I’ll be back here looking for excellent family reciepes (I hate to be a stereotype, but there you go).

    Merry Christmas, Sandra, and have a great new year!

  5. Happy Christmas Sandra! Thanks for all the delicious recipes this year, and I look forward to more next year. Have a wonderful break. And well done. : )

  6. How wrong can you be! I am 70, live alone and love to cook. I adapt your recipes for one or maybe two( eat one and freeze one) I start the day with your recipes and quite often end the day with one of your recipes as well. I am so glad you will be coming back I don’t know what I would do without my daily dose of “Sandra”. You must have a wonderful Christmas, have a little break but keep those brain juices working even when laying beside the pool with a drink in one hand and a canape in the other. Thank you for all your good work of our behalf, Love always from Maree

  7. Great post! I’m 38, and feed a family of 6. Working for a not for profit organisation, on a budget, your recipes appeal to me. Thanks Sandra and looking forward to 2011

  8. What an amazing journey. I am so glad that in the early days I saw a FB friend “Like” your page and I then followed suit.

    You have done a fantastic job and so deserve all your successes.

  9. Just sat at the computer after 1. giving the christmas pudding its last drink before the big reveal 2. Making the Cheats Fruit Cake and 3. Serving up Beef Panang for lunch to the family plus one (there are always extras during the school holidays). Like many who read and post on your blog I have enjoyed and been enriched by the experience, your recipes have been fabulous, your stories are a delight, most importantly you have given support to others to give things a go in the kitchen – life skills, common sense and passion are a powerful combination. Sandra, Merry Christmas, take plenty of rest as 2011 will be huge for you.

    P.S To everyone who posts or dips into this blog keep safe and enjoy! Tan, I hope your christmas is filled with joy. Karyn

  10. Thanks for such great recipes and a wonderful blog, it has become an integral part of my everyday life, one that i look forward to as soon as i log on computer. I almost have the xmas foods under control thanks to you which is quite a feat as i’m the most disorganised person at anytime but a train wreck at xmas! Have a wonderful xmas break.
    cheers

    Sharon

  11. Merry Christmas, Sandra. I am pleased to hear about the ‘Dubbo test’ – one of my favourite things about your recipes are the fact that they use straightforward ingredients that I can by in my local supermarket, and appeal to my children, while still giving me inspiration to cook beyond my usual repertoire.

  12. Congratulations on all that you have achieved.
    I have loved your blog so much (but have hardly commented. Sorry)
    Must go as I have to attend to my lamb and spinach pides in the oven.
    Andi :-)

  13. I’m not normally one to get all sappy, but…it is Christmas, after all. I think what you have achieved this year is nothing short of extraordinary. I love your recipes and the way you write about them. Above all, I admire the sheer wisdom in your comments. You are a true inspiration.

  14. Well done, indeed, Sandra :) What a great year for you!
    I’m off to the kitchen to make yet another batch of cranberry and pistachio shortbread biscuits…talk about a hit! Everyone I know is getting a little bag of them for Christmas!
    Really looking forward to following you in 2011,
    Jen (from Armidale… and thanks for doing the “Dubbo Test” for people like me!)

  15. I love reading your recipes and of the incredible journey you are on. Your words fill me with warmth and calories. Have a wonderful Christmas.

  16. Merry Christmas Sandra. I have had a wonderful time trying your recipes………many are now firm favourites.

    Karyn, thank you………and may I wish you the same………….joy, love and lots of laughter.

    Merry Christmas everyone………..be safe and have fun………..xx

  17. Well done, and thank you, Sandra. Your recipes have helped enormously in dealing with the never-ending “what-shall-we-have-for-dinner-tonight?” problem with achievable and flavoursome meals. I look forward to a delicious 2011 with you!

  18. Thank you so much for what you have done for me, I hope i never loose you. My wishes for you and your family are a very merry Christmas and a happy new year
    Thank you so much
    Elaine

  19. Merry Christmas Sandra. Not a day goes by without me reading your blog. You are truly inspirational, and I wish you all the best in the new year.

  20. Wishing you a wonderful Christmas Sandra, I’ve been reading your blog from the night you where on Today Tonight. Well done!

    God Bless

  21. Merry Christmas Sandra, thank you for all your delicious recipes, and personally responding to questions and comments I have left. I look forward to your recipes, and have told friends about you and your budget friendly meals, and I wish you peace and happiness and lots of success with your book……
    Feeding 18 at our house for Christmas this year is a little (ok, more than that, a lot!!!) daunting, but I have your lovely menu plans and your Countdown to Christmas recipes (yes, I have made quite a few of them!!!) that have been WONDERFUL and helped me to plan with ease!!!!
    With our family of 7, on one income, we are on a fairly tight budget, it is fantastic to try new recipes that I am confident in, so a BIG thank you again!!! Look forward to more cooking in 2011, Jodi. xo

  22. Merry Christmas Sandra. Thank you for all the recipes and inspiration this year, not just in the kitchen. Look forward to more in 2011,

  23. Wonderful annual report, there Sandra.
    Congratulations on your achievement of excellence.
    Your dad, as always, would be a very proud papa..
    Enjoy some peace and quiet…tweets at times appreciated.
    Thanks to for your friendship.
    Love, Denyse

  24. I feel honoured to “know” you. Not just because your site has become my go-to place for recipes and inspiration, but for your humour, your wisdom and your style.

    I sobbed throughout this entry xxxxx

  25. oh I’m crying about your Dad too! Well done, love your blog, made 2 of your salads as the only salads on Christmas day (potato salad and the sweet potato, cucumber and feta one) and they were both a hit!

    love your blog and recipes so keep up the good work:)

    Corrie;)

  26. Congratulations Sandra, It certainly has been a big year for you. Your hard work obviously pays off, as your recipies are easy to follow and your insights and advice are always on the money.
    Since I picked up your facebook page about half way through the year I have been cooking one or two of your meals a week. I realise that I am one of the lucky ones that has not really been on struggle street, but having grown up in a big family, you will need to economise at some point in your life so you might as well do it all the time.
    I will continue to follow both the blog and facebook site, and sing your praises to anyone who will listen. You have been a big inspiration to many people.
    All the best in the new year

    Stuart :-)

  27. Just wanted to confirm that you are on track to meet the “Dubbo test”…not that I live in Dubbo, but I live in regional NSW and I am yet to meet an ingredient in your recipes that I cannot get where I live. Thanks for your blog, and hope to read and cook more from it in the New Year.

  28. Bit late to say Merry Christmas however wanted to say that I have made many of your recipes since your blog got underway – I’m a MM reader but don’t always comment… Good luck to you in the year ahead!

  29. A very, very Happy New Year to you, your family, friends and followers, Sandra. I’ve only just discovered your wonderful blog, but wanted to wish you a healthy and happy 2011.

    A book deal with Penguin and the amazing Julie Gibbs eh? Bring it on! Can’t wait to see it!

  30. Thank you Sandra. It’s been a real pleasure! Best of luck in 2011. I’m sure you’ll be a household name all over Australia before the year is out. x

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