Hanami

Last week, I returned from my first ever guiding trip to Japan - I had a wonderful week immersing a couple from Israel in the culture of my old hometown, Kyoto. If you're planning a trip to the old capital, Takayama or Tokyo during hanami or 'cherry blossom viewing' season, the little guide I put together for them might help.

Shio Kusaka

Shio Kusaka studied ceramics in part because she had always loved watching her grandmother conduct tea ceremonies - domestic rituals that allow for slight imperfections. 'I like the tension that comes with failing,' she says. Featured in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, Shio is best known for painting wobbly grids on her pots, as well as pots whose bellies or handles feature dinosaurs (her daugher was once obsessed with them). View at Gagosian Gallery Hong Kong until 28 Feb.

2015

We celebrated New Year's at Toberua, an island in Fiji that after over 30 visits feels like home. Fireworks, a feast of lovo, and island song - there's no better way to farewell the old and lure the new. This year, I'll learn to drive, begin offering bespoke itineraries and guided tours of Kyoto and surrounds, and keep refining - my routine, work processes, wardrobe and more! Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy 2015.

Christmas

Every year since 2003, I've created my own Christmas cards to send all over the world (my favourite Francoise Hardy song). The most labour intensive was definitely the year I stitched 'be merry' in green onto pink gingham! This year, I married my love of all things nautical with my favourite festival - don't you think this old sailor looks a little like Saint Nicholas?

Koinobori

Koinobori directly translates as 'carp-shaped wind sock,' ha! The carp streamers are traditionally flown to celebrate Tango no Sekku, a holiday now known as Children's Day, on 5 May - the last day of Golden Week. The idea is to bless sons so they will grow up healthy and strong, and enjoy a good future. I don't have a son, or daughter for that matter, but I'd like to think these gorgeous stuctures blowing in the wind might bring good luck to anyone who glimpses them.

Screen

My Dad and I visited Mid-Century Modern: Australian Furniture Design together at the National Gallery of Victoria when it opened and he was particularly taken with a screen by Steven Kalmer. A month ago, he called me up and asked if I might visit the exhibition again and take down the screen's measurements. I said, 'Dad, that's not really allowed, but I'll find a caption for you which includes it's dimensions.' At 8am this morning, he called me and told me to put the kettle on and open the door. Of course, there he was with his interpretation of the screen on his back. I can't believe my Dad, who's not exactly well, somehow got it in his head to spend so many hours handcrafting this piece for our new apt. Love you, Poppy George! We will treasure this incredible piece forever.

Breakfast Bowl

In Winter, I crave a wholesome, savoury breakfast. Inspired by a recent meal at paleo cafe Thrive, I've been experimenting with breakfast bowls - and this Bon Appetit breakfast porridge with soft egg and beanshoots recipe is perfect.

You will need: 2 medium shallots (peeled and halved through root), a small piece of ginger (peeled and crushed), half a cup of brown rice (rinsed), half a cupy of red quinoa (rinsed), quarter of a cup of soy, some leafy pea shoots, 4 large eggs, 2 tsp of sesame oil, 2 radishes (thinly sliced) and some unsalted peanuts, coriander and spring onions (chopped) to serve.

Bring shallots, ginger, rice, quinoa and eight cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan, then simmer and stir often until mixture is thick like porridge and the rice is very soft (it's best to do this part ahead of time so you're not waiting hours for breakfast each morning!) Discard shallots and ginger, then stir through soy, salt and pepper. Add pea shoots and cook until they're wilted and tender. At the same time, bring a large saucepan of water to a boil, then carefully add eggs. Boil for six minutes, then transfer eggs to a bowl of ice water. Cool, then peel. Serve porridge drizzled with oil and topped with soft-boiled eggs, radishes, peanuts, coriander and spring onions.

Sea Salt Candle

Working from home in the new apt, I made two lunch hour discoveries today: Cafe Batavia, an authentic Indonesian cafe in the streets behind St Kilda Road; and Scout House, an extraordinarily well edited homewares store on Fitzroy Street. At the former, I enjoyed a delicious beef rendang, and at the latter I purchased a Sea Salt Candle for my desk. Made in the US from 100% GMO-free soy wax, it smells like heaven!

Bushido

Featuring treasures unseen since entering the NGV Collection between 1880 and 1920, Bushido: Way of the Samurai is on at NGV International now. Visit before 4 November for a glimpse into the world of the warriors who ruled Japan for 800 years - I love this ceremonial helmet, imagine someone thundering into battle wearing it!

Penang Guide

We visited Malaysia - Ash's Dad's birthplace - for a New Year's break. Penang is perhaps the most delicious destination I've travelled to, and we'll definitely return. Some tips for you below.

To Eat

Hameediyah
164A, Lebuh Campbell, Georgetown, +604 262 1076
In operation since 1907, Hameediyah is considered the home of Penang's best mamak cuisine. Order the nasi biriyani, chicken kapitan, beef rendang and mutrabak.

Joo Hooi Cafe
475 Jalan Penang, Georgetown
A favourite among locals and tourists, this coffee shop serves classic Chinese hawker delicacies such as lor bak, char kway teow, teochew cendol and assam laksa.

Kafe Khoon Hiang
358 Jalan Dato Keramat, Georgetown
Kafe Khoon Hiang's trademark dish - ah leng char kway teow - is regarded the best in Penang.

Kashmir Restaurant
Oriental Hotel, 105 Jalan Penang, Georgetown, +604 263 7411
Kashmir is much-loved for its tandoori chicken and naan. The service is effusive, but it's worth it.

Ocean Green
Paramount Hotel, 48F, Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, Georgetownm +604 227 4530
The beachfront Ocean Green is one of Penang's oldest seafood restaurants and is famous for its chilli crab and salt and pepper mantis prawns. Hot tip: Don't wear white!

Perut Rumah Nyonya Cuisine
17 Jalan Kelawei, Georgetown, +604 227 9917
Housed in an old bungalow, Perut Rumah is your go-to for nyonya cuisine. Order the stir-fried eggplant in sambal, pai-tee of crispy fried shells stuffed with sautéed shredded vegetables and roti babi.

Tek Sen
18 & 20, Lebuh Carnarvon, Georgetown, +6012 981 5117
Ash's favourite, Tek Sen serves Chinese cuisine in a charming shop house setting. Their signature sticky sweet double-cooked pork is a Penang must.

Yeng Keng Cafe & Bar
362 Lebuh Chulia, Georgetown, +604 262 2177
Yeng Keng is a favourite for Hainanese cuisine, and is headed up by one of the oldest working chefs on the island. Their courtyard is a nice spot for a post-amble drink.

To Do

Chowrasta Bazaar
Jalan Chowrasta, Georgetown
This market has been in operation since the late 1800s, and continues to serve locals daily from early until late. We bought nutmeg oil, sandalwood soap, fluoro plastic hair combs, dried spices and fruit ices. A mecca for fresh food ogling.

Clan Jetties
Pengkalan Weld, Georgetown
Founded in the 19th century, the Clan Jetties are Chinese villages built on stilts along wooden piers. There are eight different clans that still reside here, with each individual jetty named for their surname. Spend a morning walking around the jetties - jutting out into the ocean, they are strange yet beautiful settlements.

Hainan Temple
Lebuh Muntri, Georgetown, +604 634 0285
The Hainan Temple is home to the patron saint of seafarers, the goddess Mar Chor, and has recently been restored. A lovely alternative to the large and touristy Kek Lok Si Temple.

Little India
Travel by tuk-tuk to Little India at twilight (we went on the way to Kebaya, more below) and take in the stalls of floral offerings, incense, saris and sandals.

Nazlina Spice Station
71 Lorong Stewart, Georgetown, +6012 453 8167
We joined the effervescent Nazlina for a day of market shopping at the Campbell Street Market (once a Muslim cemetery known as the 'Corpse Jungle') where we witnessed coconuts being ground for milk and chickens slaughtered for curry, then cooking (we learnt how to make assam laksa and chicken korma). Be sure to purchase her recipe cards upon leaving her row house school.

Lorong Kulit Flea Market
Lorong Kulit, Georgetown
Penang's sole flea market, Lorong Kulit sells a bit of everything and is particularly good for eclectic items and antiques. We bought traditional 'good morning' emblazoned teatowels, palm fibre scrubbies and children's toys. Open Saturday and Sunday, 8am-2pm.

To Stay

Clove Hall
Jalan Clove Hall, Georgetown, +604 229 4818
We loved the pared back Peranakan atmosphere of Clove Hall, a restored colonial mansion originally part of a plantation. Perfectly situated a 15-minute walk from town, with the sea, hawker markets and restaurants nearby, Clove Hall has just six suites and is run by the most gorgeous couple. What I wouldn't give for one of their omelettes for breakfast, or lychee juices by the pool, right now!

Seven Terraces
Seven Terraces, Stewart Lane, Georgetown, +604 264 2333
Restored by the same award-winning duo as Clove Hall, Seven Terraces is a conversion of a grand row of Anglo-Chinese terraces into a luxe boutique hotel in the centre of town. Our degustation dinner for Ash's birthday at the in-house restaurant, Kebaya, was one of my all-time best.

Kyo Ocean Grove

Today I discovered Kyo, a rather wonderful retailer of authentic Japanese furniture, homewares and curios based in Ocean Grove, Victoria. I couldn't go past the antique life buoy below, as well as this tea set. We'll place the former on our bedroom bureau, and the latter in the bookcase my Dad's made for our living room, appropriating the bowls for salads and caddy for rice. Visit Kyo's eBay store here

Renewal

My apologies for the radio silence of late. I've been a bit buried in a time of renewal: I've become a permalancer! Ash and I bought an apartment! It's funny how change rushes at you when the time is right. Here's a lamp I'm dreaming of for the apt by Philippe Malouin.

Sakura

If there were no cherry blossoms in the world,
My mind would be peaceful (Fujiwara Norihara)

My feeds have been choc-a-bloc with cherry pics this year - making me feel all natsukashii or 'nostalgia-filled.' I love the late Kazumasa Ogawa's flower collotypes - his sakura are, of course, my favourite.

Kale Noodle Bowl

The world has gone cuckoo for kale, yup. A House in the Hills' Kale Noodle Bowl with Avocado Miso Dressing is bound for our bento boxes next week - all you need is a small bunch of kale, a parcel of buckwheat soba, a ripe avocado, a clove of garlic, 3 tbsp of white miso, 1 tbsp of olive oil, half a lime and sesame seeds. Boil the soba, slice the kale into ribbons, blend the rest of the ingredients into a dressing, then serve with sesame seeds and a wedge of lime. Delicious and nutritious.