How to host the imperfect dinner party.

I only have one rule for how to host the imperfect dinner party.

Leave people wanting more. Actually, this is a rule for life; but when one is prone to exuberance it can be difficult to sustain.

In relation to dinner parties there are a few key ingredients that can make an evening culminate with such cadence one will be begging for more. It settles on the balance between restraint and generosity. As host of this party a little bit of pre planning can make all the difference. Let’s discover how to host the imperfect dinner party. Consider the table setting, the guest list and the type of ambience you would like at your party. Now that you know what you want; relinquish all of your previous conventions and consider the following guidelines.

The guest list. The idea you would invite lots of one type, because they would all have things in common; needs to dispensed of immediately. Because let’s face it, an entire table of accountants is never a good idea. It’s all about diversity. Consider the following.

You need lots of different personalities. They can be any mix you choose. Here are some suggestions. A political journalist; more than one and the night becomes a bore. No more than a couple of creatives; as they are too busy thinking and by the time they have something to say the moment has passed. A radio announcer, can be super funny, but they need to be separated from the political journalist. Perhaps a lawyer, good negotiators when it all gets a bit rowdy. A real estate agent. A real estate agent you say, excellent once things are going and everyone is selling their soul to the highest bidder. I do love the world and all the people in it. So, you get it, you can invite anyone. The idea is to invite all different types of people and you can dilute each other in the most delightful way over the course of an evening.

The food. Food is about labour and love. It is not about expensive kitchen appliances or science, well not at my place anyway. Food needs to be sensual and satisfying. Act like you have made an effort, even if you have not. People love to be spoilt. Themes are okay so long as you don’t take them too far. Plan for your skill level. You do not want to feel stressed during a dinner party. That may mean you need to buy food in. A dinner party should be about enjoyment, not obligation. Judge your food choices based on your guests.

So whilst a warm gooey Brie laced with honey that drips down your fingers may be perfect for your peers…who doesn’t love to lick the stickiness from the tips of one’s fingers. It may not be the best choice for that dinner with your bosses wife.

Be restrained when required. Do not feed your guests too much. You do not want them feeling full or sleepy, converse to that you definitely don’t want them to have to stop for pizza on the way home. Be generous but measured. As a guideline I serve a set entrée and main and then serve cheese as a third course shared plate. Those that are still hungry can be satiated here.

The fragrance of fresh figs on a cheese plate in autumn. Such a lush sweet forbidden fruit. Thoughts of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, it was a fig, not an apple. Think about it…the softness, the colour, the texture, the taste.

Alcohol. It is your responsibility as host to make sure your guests make it home safely so have a plan in place before the fun begins. There is this sweet spot with alcohol. You don’t want your guests to feel shabby tomorrow but you do want them to have a good time. As a host it is lovely to receive flowers, but never with an apology note the next day. Once again you need to find equilibrium between generosity and restraint. For me, it’s that space between the unconscious mind and the ideal, where everything is wonderful. It’s something different for everyone. By now it’s time to migrate to the lounge for some dessert and relaxation.

You only need one more ingredient, an excellent storyteller; as they can get everyone in the mood. Not the guess what happened when I went to donate blood the other day genre, more the I just visited Heide Museum of Modern Art and I found it quite distracting.

“Does everyone know what actually went on there. There was this insane love story between John and Sunday that involved incredible sexual freedom. Sunday and Sidney Nolan had this ferocious affair during the time he painted the Ned Kelly series right there at that house. And all the while under John’s nose, in fact; I think he would watch them. And then every day they would sit down to afternoon tea; like proper, civilised people. Can you imagine that?”

We can all imagine that. A hall pass every day of the week. We are way more contained than that. Never would I ever…and you my deftly host have just moved the bar so far towards the imperfect. Strap yourself in; because things are about to get crazy.

Post Script Disclaimer : Adults may find themselves swimming in their underwear in the middle of the night, stealing street signs, or watching the sun come up. But they are nowhere near as bad as John and Sunday. And that is how to host the imperfect dinner party.

A guide to good manners. Should you be left wanton after reading this

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The Intimacy of Architecture

The enigmatic union between function, form and feeling. From my earliest childhood memories of home to my love affair with the single front cottage and all those moments in between and after. Buildings that are humble and those destined for history, each of them pulling me in. The intimacy of architecture.

We live in times when the criterion for truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive. We have moved so far along a spectrum of reasoning and rational that we have forgotten what it is to feel when we are in a space. The pleasure of giving in to a moment in time with the absence of understanding. The indefinable features arising from form and function that can imbue intimacy of architecture; the emotion. They are immaterial and impossible to measure. Yet never far away and easy to evoke in memorandum.

Reflecting on times past by Nicole Cullinan

The year was 1988. It was the year I reached my majority but not the year I left my childhood behind, that didn’t happen until much later.
A violin hung in place of a light, it was dark, the room enveloped. The carpet was itchy; but we lay there together; smoking and listening to Edith Piaf, drunk on life. The walls were close, the room was square, the coals were hot, and time stood still, my languorous gaze resting upon the intricate ceiling.
This single front Victorian house belonged to artists, the parents of my friend, although they didn’t live there. Only my musician friend Enrico resided permanently; along with a transient population of wanderers and well-wishers. I don’t know what ever became of Enrico. I remember the house and the record. The first album for their band. The End. I recall the band name because it was in that house I got to name their first album, ‘The beginning of The End’. I’ve often pondered the poetic lyricism of the meaning in that. There was an ever present melody in the air that was accompanied by the musty scent of age. A lingering reminder that many had lived there before.
The house was enchanting. I loved the separation of spaces, each of them defined by my level of altered consciousness. The room for slumber, the room for bathing, the room for eating and the room of imaginings. That was the room with the fire, the possibility for that which radiates. The patterns in the pressed metal ceiling, delicate and fragile, embedded in tin, robust and strong. It was the emphasis on form that was captured in my mind. The lack of function seemed irrelevant at the time; although years later when this house was the embodiment of my dream home I made sure we had an internal bathroom.

The intimacy of that space forever etched in my memory; unable to be removed by time. The special buildings, the ones on my ‘next time’ list. The icons you have to share with everyone; each of us jostling for our moment of observation. Noticing everything although not specifically looking for something.

The joy of finding a building that inspires feeling; losing myself in the moment, not sure if I have possessed it, or it has consumed me. I relish those times; cognisant they are fleeting. That space where you just want to stay for a while. The intimacy of architecture.

If you would like more architecture

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Empire Rone

A literary retelling of my visit to the art installation Empire by Rone exhibited at Burnham Beeches Mansion in the Sherbrooke Forest.

Nicole Cullinan

Seville oranges, marmalade and ocean liners. This was how she woke up, with thoughts of a promising day, a day to go on a journey. It was to be the day she would visit Burnham Beeches, a three story streamline modern mansion in the Sherbrooke Forest; designed by architect Harry Nottle and completed in 1933. He told the owner Alfred Nicholas that it should be reminiscent of being on a cruise. She imagined it would be just like that and pondered the words of Rone on her way to the forest. “Empire Rone is about offering audiences the chance to create their own story; to temporarily transport their minds to another place, another time.”

She entered the mansion through the thick red velvet curtain that was reminiscent of a magician’s cloak. She had come for Rone. A street artist who had painted a series of twelve hauntingly beautiful portraits, inspired by the muse Lily Sullivan; a local actress. His work exquisite, exploring the materiality of life through the lens of feminine vulnerability.

And so, she found herself there amid the decadence and dusty decay, wondering just who she was, the girl in the portrait. She never looks at us. She clasped her hands for assurance, tilted her chin up, stared at the stippled mouldy ceiling; and then all the way down to her feet, toes nestled amongst the autumn leaves.

The enigmatic beauty enveloping her. She gazed upon the botanical arrangement with detached melancholy, then dragged her hand over the earth leaving a smudge of grey on her fingers. It did not linger like earth of the wet rich forest just outside the door.

She hears the forest calling her, the melodic sounds of nature entering her consciousness, each note carefully selected, pulling her like a tide, taking her past this moment in time, to enter a new space. It has been tiring to inhabit this place. She doesn’t know if she wants to stay or leave. The loneliness of these large rooms invades her sense of self. What is she thinking as she stares beyond these walls. She hears voices of a time gone by. “You need a spell”…

She roams the Empire Rone spaces to find a place for a spell; an old fashioned word for a rest. There is a moment waiting for her. A cup of tea by the window, the soft light caressing her face then dipping just below her eyes. The smell of citrus in the air, thoughts of marmalade and toast.

As her visit unfolds her mind drifts to a happy place. She is transported to the 1930s house in Menzies Creek, the home of her Great Grandmother. Everything seemed so big as she was so little. She remembers her fat bosom, the softness, the love. Climbing onto her lap to rest her head on the pillow. Learning the story of Marmalade. It all began with the Spaniards, their ship wreck, the abandoned Seville orange cargo and the woman who made a divine citrus jam from what appeared to be great misfortune. She felt buoyed by the idea that good could come from apparent disaster. It dawned on her in that moment that this was the lesson her Great Grandmother had intended. That she had taken decades to learn this was not a fact she wished to contemplate. It was time to return to the present.

Menzies Creek 1981

With full lips slightly parted and the glimpse of two perfect teeth she invites her in for a dinner party. She contemplates whether to be satiated or sad. She regards the table with cautious optimism. She has always loved a well set table, the silverware, the champagne saucers, the oysters. Where will her memories take her?

The nostalgia of revisiting Carlton. Memories of a time when fish swam on tables and peasants collected truffles on the hillside in France. The theatre of that little room in Drummond Street with the world view. A meal she will never forget. A time when anything seemed possible. Where it all began. Her joy in finding the unique and special.

Vue De Monde 2002

Alas, her time was coming to a close at Empire Rone. Her hand drawn to her cheek in quiet contemplation, something one does when trying to conceal or think. She appears calm despite the rising water and the possibility of being engulphed. The bow is tilting, the air smells of sea sickness; yet something seems to comfort her in this maudlin situation. She is not panicked; yet unable to save herself, her fate resting in the hands of others. Each of us unable to live in isolation. Her journey comes to an end.

It is time to leave Empire Rone. It has not been an ordinary day, but rather an extraordinary memorialisation of a time gone by. The stoic irony of her impending removal hangs in the air. The ephemeral beauty revealed in the decay, imperfection so pleasing to the aesthetic senses. She looks back one last time, she can see the mansion grounded in the middle of the forest, like a ship that gets waylaid on its journey. Listing at equilibrium, confident she is going to be rescued.

r-o-n-e  Tyrone Wright (  Artist

Shannon Bennett @chefbennett23 ( Owner

Carly Spooner ( Interior Stylist

Wona Bae and Charlie Lawler ( Botanical Artist

Nick Batterham ( Music

Kat Snowden ( Scent

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Enduring Love


On enduring love. Thirty years ago today I met my love. I am in my forties. He calls me ‘Cosi’, although only occasionally now. It was a childhood name. Reserved for grandparents and parents and my love. It’s very affectionate. Everyone else calls me Nicole, this is the way I prefer it, I don’t like nicknames.

I don’t have strong memories of meeting him. I met many people that day. I recall he was shy and had beautiful eyes. At some point I became curious. And so there was the slow revelation of truths over the coming months. There was no internet at that time. Things were different. A stalker was someone who hid in a tree in your garden not a person at home hunting on their computer for pieces of information that would disqualify or promote someone’s worthiness. How different the genesis of love can be today.

As the months passed I would recall my Grandmothers words ‘ Patience is a virtue. Possess it if you can. Found often in a woman and seldom in a man’. We lived in a narrative of binary beliefs with a total lack of awareness. Everything was uncomplicated. Slowly we migrated from friendship to love. There was never a moments doubt for me. I’ve always known what I want. Such burning desire.

First ten years and then twenty. I was engulphed by breathless adoration. Should all loves be so lucky to have twenty years like this. Life was easy and we knew it. We didn’t sweat the small stuff. We never have. The affection and devotion upon which I regarded my love was intoxicating to those around us. I fielded constant inquiry as to what the secret is. I thought I knew. With unrivalled arrogance I would tell others the secret is ‘not to let the sun go down on an argument’. The ability to forgive. A lesson I learnt from my loves Grandmother. She was married for more than fifty years to a man with a similar temperament and the same moniker as my love.

And so we slid confidently into our third decade. Me, my love and our four children. I can hear the children’s laughter, it fills my heart with joy. The days pass with a satisfying exhaustion that comes from giving everything. The bedtime stories. The silence of them sleeping. The time for us. The closed doors, the fire, the heat, the dry skin, the moistness. I remember everything, like it was yesterday. Time and space recorded in little dioramas for my thoughts to browse.

Do you remember my love? The beginning, we had nothing and everything. Materiality was meaningless. I was a well that could not be emptied. I was young.  I don’t want to be patient anymore. I feel a sense of urgency, like time is moving too fast. The world has changed. I have changed. There is only one thing I am certain of, the passion I have for you my love. Tomorrow we begin our fourth decade.

Touch me and you will know what it is to be loved… Just touch me, my love.

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It’s Bondi Baby


It’s Bondi baby. Sometimes having teenagers is fun. Nothing could be more true than a holiday in Bondi with them. There is something for everyone in Bondi. We stayed at the Adina apartments in Hall Street Bondi. Great accommodation for a family as we had two adjoining rooms and there is a pool.

A quick five-minute walk to the beach and surrounded by great bars, cafes and junk food. Yep that’s correct…I said junk food. You cannot help but notice how the culture in Bondi is polarised. There is a proliferation of junk food places along Campbell Parade directly opposite the beach. Here you will find back packers and gorgeous bronzed kids. The smell of hot chips and salty sea air is omnipresent.

Walking away from the beach into the side streets and laneways there are many great places to eat. Menus laden with organic produce, activated almonds, chia and edible flowers; one of my personal favourites. Who knew some flowers could taste spicy when they look so pretty; alas I digress. There are also some great little spots to have an aperitif. Aperol and Campari are on high rotation in summer. I love them both for their pretty colour but Campari is my favourite for its bitterness. Such a refreshing drink on a hot evening.

Days are easily whiled away at the beach. Our days began with a walk or run on the beach. The beach is well patrolled and packed. It’s a large beach with plenty of sand so there is room for everyone. There are little lockers and showers on the esplanade. The Bondi Rescue film crew were out and the kids loved seeing them as it’s Bondi baby! The weather was perfect and we could swim every day. It was a relaxed holiday. There is a beautiful Bondi to Bronte coastal walk of 3km. The walk is along the cliff tops and provides spectacular views of the coastline and beaches.

We ate in and out over the course of the week. Harris Farm Markets located a one minute walk from our accommodation was perfect for fresh food. They have a great selection of fruit, vegetables and some delicious deli products, including a selection of French cheeses. There is also an IGA and bottle shop Bondi Cellars in Hall Street. There is a seafood shop located further down the street towards Campbell Parade. The fresh food in Bondi is of good quality.

Several meals were eaten at Bill Granger’s Bills of Bondi. The coffee at Bills is reliable; a compliment that lacks generosity due to my being a Melbournian. To be fair it is the best coffee in Bondi. We had a delicious brunch at Bills including the classic delectable Ricotta Hotcakes; unbeatable. Dinner is great here and a chance for Bill to break away from his very famous well deserved brunch reputation. The menu is refined and beachy, including many delicious seafood dishes. The kids loved going to China Diner as they are mad for dumplings. The space for China Diner is funky and relaxed with a modern area at the front for cocktails and quick eats or the more Shanghai inspired dining room toward the back.

Our favourite family night out in Bondi is Icebergs. Icebergs has become somewhat of an institution. It is located on Notts Avenue set above the old Bondi Baths, a historical landmark and location for many fashion shoots. We have been to Icebergs once a year for a few years running and I feel like you can take the city’s temperature when you are at Icebergs. This year was no exception. We walked in to see a beautiful group of people standing at the bar. The women were wearing floral Zimmerman dresses with flat strappy sandals. The men were tanned and wore linen. It was a rather pleasant sight. There was a bohemian vibe and that’s the thing I like about Icebergs. I know if I go next week or next year that it will be different. The glorious permanent timepiece of a pool remains but the people change. They will have wandered off elsewhere.

Bondi is a place to go and daydream. A good spot to reset and plan the year ahead. You can go fresh and organic to start your New Year resolutions or have one more alcoholic junk fuelled week before work begins again. You will see youths backpacking, entrepreneurs working with laptops in cafes and plenty of healthy bodies enjoying the summer sun. When I am in Bondi I am struck by relevance as Bondi is a happy place. It is a good way to start the year.

For travel information follow this link

Iceberg’s, an iconic spot worth a visit

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Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat

Gwinganna… I Love you. Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat is nestled into the Gold Coast Hinterlands. A wellness destination for both the body and mind. I attended a four night program. Whilst there I felt immersed in the experience that is Gwinganna. A few months on and when I think of Gwinganna I feel nourished. So, what makes Gwinganna amazing.

Before attending Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat I read several reviews; many of them focused on contraband and the rules. This is understandable as our days are consumed by the need for technology and the unfortunate crutch of coffee and alcohol. I too wondered about how I would manage without coffee and technology. But my journey to Gwinganna was not about how I would manage to do without. It was about new experiences and friendship.

I didn’t know what to expect as I had never been to a Health Retreat before. I imagined I may be surrounded by women who are extremely slim and fit and this made me a little nervous as I am a normal weight and of average fitness. I travelled with a friend and upon arrival was relieved to note that there were women of all shapes and sizes. The women ranged in age from 25-83 years; this made the group interesting. Most course participants did not wear make-up and this was quite liberating. An idea I appreciated at 5.30 in the morning when we were woken up. It would only take a few minutes to be dressed and outside for Qi Gong. This took place on a hillside overlooking the ocean. Being woken up at Gwinganna is a joy, no loud alarms; just a little singsong at my door “Good Morning Nicole”. If only I could wake up like this every day.

The food at Gwinganna lifestyle retreat is organic; it is also gluten and dairy free. Most importantly the food is delicious with every meal a gourmet affair. The meals were presented beautifully, lots of vegetables, delicious curries, steak, fish and yummy sweet snacks during the day. The tahini balls are on regular rotation at home now; thanks to the Gwinganna cook book.

Days at Gwinganna were filled with activities. You choose how active or quiet you would like your stay to be. You choose what time you want to rise in the morning. The activities are designed to represent both Yin and Yang. In Chinese philosophy Yin and Yang describe how two opposite forces are complimentary and interdependent in the natural world. We were encouraged to listen to our bodies and what they needed. When I did this I naturally fell into a rhythm of doing both Yin and Yang activities. I enjoyed the challenging bush walk before breakfast and then relished the long Yoga class mid-morning.

The afternoons were for Dreamtime. This was a good time to use the two wet edge pools, have a steam or treatment. The spa is beautiful and welcoming. My favourite treatment was the Lomi Lomi. The staff at the Day Spa were very generous; no clock watching here. They just give you what you need. Wow. The people…where to begin. You could remove any one person from Gwinganna and it would still be the same as they are all so giving, kind and free of judgement. I felt indulged and rejuvenated.

Staying at Gwinganna lifestyle retreat gives you the opportunity to try new things. It was so enjoyable to be introduced to Qi Gong and to try different types of Yoga. Having the time to learn about organic food and gardening was a pleasure. The programs at Gwinganna are quite structured with fantastic exercise options, seminars and relaxation activities but this is not what makes Gwinganna unique. It is not the simply divine organic food, the luxurious accommodation or the eco-tourism awards.

It is the secrets. It is the quiet times whilst taking a walk in the bush when an exquisite little feather settles on your sleeve that you are reminded Gwinganna is more than self. It is a chance to rebalance and focus on oneself but it is also a time for reflection and appreciation. A time to be thankful. Gwinganna is a magical place. Thank you.

In the spirit of transparency I wish to inform you my stay was sponsored.

If you would like to learn more about Gwinganna here is the link

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Why Coffee Is Good For You…


My work day begins with a coffee. The bitterness combined with the ability to focus. Perfection. Coffee forms the basis of many social outings for people everywhere. It’s hard for me to believe that coffee is bad when it makes me feel so good. Let’s discover why coffee is good for you.

There have been thousands of studies undertaken on coffee. Initial mid-twentieth century studies gave coffee a bad rap. The first studies found a correlation between coffee drinking and poor health of participants. To understand these studies fully we need to know the difference between a correlation and a causal relationship. A correlation is when researchers identify a link between coffee drinking and poor health, it is not proof that coffee is the reason participants have poor health. A study that proves that coffee causes poor health establishes a factual reason for the results and is known as a causal relationship. Both types of research outcomes are valuable as a correlation establishes a need for further study and causal relationships provide more definitive research results. Returning to the initial study; it was revealed that a high number of coffee drinkers smoked, consumed high amounts of alcohol and were sedentary. Further studies that separated out smokers and non-smokers found causal links. The explanation for the coffee drinker’s poor health was smoking. But the dye had been cast and coffee had been labelled as bad. Since those initial studies thousands of studies have been conducted and here is what they say.

Coffee can…

  • Provide some protection against liver disease including liver cancer
  • Improve cognitive function
  • Decrease risk of depression
  • Decrease the risk of suicide
  • Boost physical performance
  • May help in weight loss with the breakdown of fat cells
  • Help focus and stay alert
  • Helps prevent gallstones
  • Reduce the risk of premature death
  • Reduce the risk of prostate cancer
  • Reduce the risk of endometrial cancer
  • Reduce the risk of melanoma skin cancer
  • Reduce the risk of stroke
  • Lower risk against degenerative brain diseases including Parkinsons, Alzeimers, and Multiple Sclerosis.
  • Reduce risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Many of the studies establish a causal relationship between coffee and good health outcomes. Next time you read coffee is bad; query how many people were in the study group, the length of the study, and whether the outcome of the study showed a correlation or a causal relationship.

Coffee is not for everyone and some people report feeling jittery or excitable. Others report caffeine affects their sleep. This is because coffee is a stimulant.  Some stimulants can be addictive and dangerous although caffeine is usually considered a safe stimulant. It is an ingredient in many over the counter drugs that treat drowsiness. It is suggested that caffeine is avoided for four to six hours prior to bedtime if you are experiencing insomnia.

Studies from all over the world have shown that coffee is the single biggest source of antioxidants in the diet. Antioxidants are known to fight oxidative damage that can cause cancer. In June 2016, The World Health Organisation stated that there is an overwhelming amount of research that coffee can promote health and inhibit cancer.

My current coffee spot is Dukes in Flinders Lane Melbourne. Amazing coffee and I love the floor. You will know what I mean when you see it… What is your favourite coffee shop?

My favourite


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