On the road again…part 2

For part 1, check out last weeks post.

Canberra to Eucumbene 169kms

After another sub-freezing start – gotta love Canberra in the winter – it was off to Eucumbene with a stop in Cooma for groceries, alcohol and the cheapest but worst sausage roll of the road trip. Normally Cooma sausage rolls are reliable, but this one was – horror of all horrors – microwaved. Sacrilege.

Although it was as cold as it usually is there was no snow this year. Substantial falls were forecast on the day we left. Such is life.

It was also drier than we’ve seen it with the dam all but empty.

Clancy of the Campfire

Don’t worry, we do have an indoor toilet too

In terms of the #clancyofthecampfire cooking challenge, there was plenty of amazing food – all prepared and cooked outside in either camp (Dutch) ovens or on the Oz Pig… or a combo of both.

We had bread and damper, and frankfurts two ways – cooked in the billy and wrapped in the damper and cooked on sticks in the fire.

Yes, folks, I give you the damper dog.

We had camp versions of coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon. Note to self – I must learn how to style and photograph brown food.

We had brownies and golden syrup dumplings (cooked in the billy can), and we also had French Savoury Cake. I’ve previously posted the recipe for that one here.

My personal fave for the weekend, though, was steamed dumplings with chilli soy sauce. Super yummy – and goes to prove that there is no limit to what you can cook in a camp oven.

Naturally, there were also jaffles – to use up all the leftovers.

In terms of weather, we had howling winds, driving rain, clear blue days and starry starry nights. Just the usual mixed bag really – and enough to give us a challenge in the outdoor cooking stakes.

Eucumbene to Cowra 363kms

It was raining when we left Eucumbene and we took the unsealed shortcut road across to the Snowy Mountains Highway, coming across black ice and other hazards.

ummm…move off the road… please?

The rain had turned to snow by the time we got to Adaminaby and was falling quite heavily as we began the climb up the mountain. As an aside, it’s compulsory for two-wheel drive cars to carry chains on this part of the road during the winter months (AWD and 4WD vehicles are exempt.

Even with 4WD engaged it wasn’t the easiest of drives – but the approach into Kiandra was very pretty.

Until the establishment of Cabramurra, Kiandra, an old gold-mining town, was the highest town in Australia. It’s also said to be the birthplace of Australian skiing. There you go.

Tumut

We pulled in at Tumut for a sausage roll (incidentally the second best of the trip) and a coffee. I’ve always liked this town – the rolling hills and the countryside around here are lovely (and a tad greener than most other places at the moment).

Aside from being the gateway to the Snowy River Scheme, Tumut was one of the towns short-listed to become what is now the Australian Capital Territory. Albury, Armidale, Dalgety, Tooma and Orange were some of the other towns on the list, but the House of Representatives favoured Tumut and the Senate favoured Bombala. It was after that stalemate that Canberra was chosen.

Young

Young, the cherry capital of Australia, was our lunch stop. Young also has the dubious claim to fame of being the scene of the Lambing Flats Riots during the gold rush and was the first town in Australia to install electricity into both streets and homes. Wilders Bakery also does a pretty good chicken and vegetable soup.

Cowra

Our overnight stay was at Cowra.

During WW2 Cowra was home to a massive prisoner of war camp. In 1944 over 500 Japanese POWs attempted a mass breakout. The casualties are buried in the Japanese War Cemetary here in town. A Japanese Garden – the largest in the southern hemisphere – was also built to reinforce the cultural links between Japan and Cowra.

I took a drive up to check out where the old POW camp was, but the light was fading too much for me to visit the gardens.

if you look closely you’ll see a roo I surprised

Where we stayed: Cowra Services Motel. After three nights in sleeping bags, the king-sized bed at the Cowra Services Motel felt like the height of luxury.

Where we ate: Cowra Services Club

Cowra to Armidale 584kms

Today we covered scenery and towns that I haven’t been through since we used to do the Merriwa to Tumbarumba run back in the mid-late 70s. Although interesting scenery, today’s drive was not one for great stops. Wellington – a really lovely town – was too close for a morning tea stop and anywhere else decent was too far away or by-passed.

After going past Gulgong (the town on the old ten dollar note) we ended up at a rest area and another billboard on the solar system drive.

Pluto at Birriwa, north of Gulgong

With the local trading post and somebody done somebody wrong songs on the radio we drove into Werris Creek for lunch where we found two points of interest – one being the town’s status as Australia’s first railway town, and the second being that Werris Creek was used as a location in Angelina Jolie’s film “Unbroken.”

Armidale

We finally made it into Armidale just after 4pm when the local temperature was just 2C with a wind chill factor bringing it below freezing.

This is possibly my favourite town in NSW. We stop here whenever we do the Sydney – Sunshine Coast run and it’s a place I especially enjoy in the winter. Being a university town it also has a great secondhand bookshop and I went a tad over the top on some travel memoirs.

Where we stayed: Armidale Pines Motel. This was probably the best motel of the trip. Good sized, comfy rooms and no road noise at all. Plus we were just a block and a half away from our favourite pub…

Where we ate: The White Bull. This place has a great fit-out, a good vibe, and does an amazing steak. We eat here whenever we’re in town.

Armidale to Sunshine Coast 589kms

Very little to be said about today’s drive other than we both just wanted to get home.

It was too early to stop at Tenterfield for one of the best pies on the highway at Federation Pies, so our morning tea stop was at The Church at Thulimbah, just north of Stanhope. I had a go at recreating their orange and almond cake over the weekend.

Other than that? A forgettable lunch stop at Gatton and home by mid-afternoon.

In total, we travelled just over 3600 kms and visited some fabulous (and some not so fabulous) towns. We saw first-hand the impact of the drought, and also saw other areas which, although still drought-affected, were faring slightly better.

We had a ball staying in motels and eating at local pubs and clubs – and found something interesting and endearing in each of them. As for our next road trip? I’m thinking Sunshine Coast to Port Douglas (1700kms) and maybe back via Longreach (another 2400kms)…Maybe next winter…

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


A Day In The Life Of A Writer…

I was lucky enough to be featured in my friend Jodi Gibson’s A Day In The Life Of A Writer series.

The day I chose was a few weeks ago, but is pretty typical of a normal working day – except for the Abba singing part…I don’t sing to Abba every day.

Anyways, duck over and have a look. You’ll find the link here. While you’re at it, check out more days and more writers at this link.

How to make orange and almond cake

There’s a cafe slash giftshop slash whatever about 5kms north of Stanthorpe on the highway. Vincenzo’s I think it’s called… well, something like that. Although Warwick is the next reasonable sized town and isn’t too far away, we’ve never liked to stop there – mainly because the choice is Maccas or Maccas. After Warwick, you’ve really only got Aratula – at the foot of Cunningham’s Gap – before you hit Ipswich and the nightmare run through Brisbane and onto the Bruce Highway.

Anyways, we stopped at Vincenzo’s as we always do only to find that it’s closed and the landlord has put one of those lockout signs on the door. That’s when we noticed the converted church next door. Although the sign said it was a winery – the wine industry is a happening thing in the granite belt – there was also a coffee shop inside. And, wonder of all wonders, hubby declared the coffee to be good (I had black tea).

They also served an amazing orange and almond cake – one of those cakes that tastes like it’s had syrup drizzled all through it, but hasn’t really. I sent the owner a message on Instagram to see if I could have the recipe but received no reply so you’ll need to make do with my version – which is pretty good if I do say so myself. It’s also super easy. While the oranges are doing their thing, you can be doing yours. After that, it’s really just a bit of whizzing in the food processor and a little light whisking. No trouble at all.

What you need

  • 2 large oranges or 3 smaller ones – you need about 375g worth of pulp
  • 1 cinnamon stick and a couple of cloves (optional)
  • 6 eggs
  • 225g sugar
  • 250g almond meal/ ground almonds
  • 1 heaped teaspoon baking powder

What you do with it

  • Pop the oranges, the cloves and the cinnamon stick (if you’re using it) in a saucepan and fill with cold water. I pop a plate over the top to keep the oranges submerged. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 hours or until soft. You might need to top the water up from time to time.
  • Drain the oranges and allow to cool. Cut in half and remove any pips then blitz them in a processor – skins and all.
  • Preheat the oven to 190C and grease and line a springform pan – if you need measurements, the tin should be about 21cm.
  • Beat the eggs and then add the sugar and mix well. Leave for a couple of minutes to let the sugar dissolve into the eggy mix. Add the almonds and baking powder and stir through. Finally, add the oranges.
  • Pour the mix into your prepared tin and pop it into the oven for about an hour – but check it after 45 minutes. You might need to place some alfoil over the top if it’s browning too quickly. It’s cooked when a skewer comes out clean.
  • Let it cool in the tin before turning out.

I poshed it up a bit by lining the base of the tin with thinly sliced orange slices before I poured in the batter, and served it with a crumb that I made from toasted almond praline that I blitzed in the nutribullet. Yes, I’ve been watching too much Masterchef, and no, it didn’t really add much to the dish.

I also made an orange sauce using half a cup of orange juice, 2 teaspoons sugar and 1 cinnamon stick that I reduced down a tad, before whisking in 30g of butter. With some vanilla ice cream on the side it was declared a keeper.

 

On the road again…

So, we’ve been on a road trip. From the Sunshine Coast to Eucumbene – and back again.

In total, we’ve covered over 3600kms and played about the same number of songs – okay, that last stat is an exaggeration, but regional radio stations tend to have limited range. We’ve also seen at least that many kangaroos – and that is no exaggeration.

Our road trip “guidelines” (if you can call them that) are easy:

  • we stop every 2 hours – the whole stop, revive, survive thing… more often if there’s somewhere interesting.
  • where possible we stop in a town with a nice park and somewhere to walk around
  • We always start the day with a full thermos of hot water and tea and coffee making supplies – coffee in regional towns is often a disappointment
  • Where possible we pack sandwiches for lunch and carry supplies for breakfast

If you’ve been following along on Instagram, you would have seen my daily photos, but here’s how it went.

Sunshine Coast – Narrabri 655kms

After an early start, we took the hinterland route via Beerwah, Kilcoy, and Esk, stopping at Toowoomba for a lookout and morning tea.

The area around Toowoomba is rich agricultural country – the Darling Downs. It’s also largely a floodplain, albeit one that’s currently drought affected. We pulled in at Milmerran for a sausage roll – one of our aims for this trip was to decide on the best…this was not it – but it was far from the worst (spoiler alert – that was at Cooma).

Milmerran is mostly known for its annual camp oven festival and damper throwing contest. We didn’t see evidence of either of these events. At present Milmerran is also the centre of a protest against the proposed route of a new inland rail track across the floodplains. We certainly saw evidence of that.

Another couple of hundred kilometres down the road was Goondiwindi – our scheduled lunch break.

For the useless book of knowledge: Goondiwindi is mostly famous for a champion racehorse in the late 60’s – 70s – Gunsynd, the Goondiwindi grey – who actually never set hoof in the town. The syndicate which owned him, however, was from Goondiwindi and not only was a song written about Gunsynd, there’s a statue in town (and plenty of motels and other businesses) dedicated to him.

For even more trivia, Goondiwindi comes from the aboriginal words goondi indicating droppings or dung and windi indicating duck, Of course, there’s probably more to it than that, but we’ll leave it there.

The 200 odd kms from Goondiwindi to Narrabri (via Moree) is heartbreakingly dry. There’s also evidence of cotton everywhere– in the roadside plants, the paddocks, and the processing gins.

We reached Narrabri mid-afternoon – just as the football was finishing. In case you’re interested, Narrabri beat Inverell. A lovely town, Narrabri was given the honour of being Australia’s Sportiest Town by Channel 9 – on account of the number of sportspeople who have come from the town. Another one for the useless book of knowledge. Don’t say you don’t learn anything from this blog.

Where we stayed: Midtown Motel Narrabri

Where we ate: Narrabri RSL…as an aside, they do a mean schnitty….

Narrabri RSL

Narrabri to Cootamundra 582kms

The first hour of today’s drive – to Coonabarabran – is dead boring. Miles and miles of not a lot. It’s also seriously dry. For those of us in the city or in areas unaffected by the drought, it’s an eye-opener. There’s not much stock around, and very little feed in the paddocks for those with stock.

Coonabarabran is home to Australia’s largest telescope and observatory – or “optical astronomical research facility”. It’s also the centre of the world’s largest virtual solar system drive. There are 5 drives with the planets spaced out (get it?) to scale along each route. We stopped at Neptune in Gilgandra for morning tea.

at Gilgandra

Next stop was The Dish just north of Parkes – or the CSIRO Parkes Observatory to give it its full name. I vaguely remember coming here back in the 70s. These days it has an impressive – and interesting – visitor’s centre and an over-priced café, but it’s still in the middle of a sheep paddock.

If you’ve seen the movie, The Dish, you’d know that this observatory was instrumental in beaming pictures to the world of the moon landing back in 1969. And yes, those pictures were coming to the world from a dish in the middle of a sheep paddock. Well worth the stop.

Parkes, our lunch stop, is also famous for its annual Elvis festival in February. Add that to your calendar.

The country from here is beautiful – rolling hills, a little more feed in the paddocks,  and cute as a button lambs. It’s dry, but it’s a huge difference from what we saw just a few hundred kilometres up the road.

Between Forbes and Grenfell we left the highway and found an alternate route in order to dirty up the RAV a tad.

Overnight is at Cootamundra where the temperature got well below freezing.

Oh, before I forget, Cootamundra is famous for being the birthplace of Sir Donald Bradman. It also has a wattle festival – held when the wattle is out…which I suppose is now-ish.

Where we stayed: Heritage Motel (next to the Country Club)

Where we ate: Cootamundra Services Club – the cutlets were amazingly good.

Cootamundra to Tumbarumba 155kms

After a frosty start – a cold minus 4C – we set off for Tumbarumba.

Where do I start to tell you about Tumba? Firstly, it’s where my family is from. There have been members of the Lyons family in this town since (at least) the 1880’s – not that many years after the town was established. My grandmother’s family (the Doughtys) was also here from (at least) the 1880s. Our family history is tied into the history of the town.

Both my grandparents were born here, lived here and died here. My father and his seven siblings were born here, as were a good number of my cousins. I still have family here and consider this town to be where my roots are. Yet I haven’t been down to visit for way too long.

Looking up at Sugar Pine Walk

First stop was out of town at the Sugar Pine Walk in the Bago State Forest at Laurel Hill. If you hashtag #sugarpinewalk in Instagram, you’ll see how popular this spot is for weddings and photo shoots.

Next up we stopped in at the historical society for a look-see. My grandmother’s parents have their portraits hanging there. I also found photos of one of my aunts, my father, and another uncle in the annual calendar. What really interested me was the story of the Southern Cloud – a plane that went missing for 30 years and was found in the bush outside Tumba.

Before spending the afternoon catching up with family, we had lunch at The Nest. This is new since I was last in town and is doing amazing things with local produce. They hold regular markets and food events. There’s even a cinema here. Things have certainly changed since when I saw Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo at the Memorial Hall!

I had my favourite meal of the entire road trip here – pasta with chestnuts, cauliflower, garlic, chorizo and olive oil. Simple and perfect with a glass of local wine.

Tumbarumba is famous for cool climate wines, blueberries, the Tumbarumba Rodeo (on New Years Day every year), Tumba Fest (in February), for having an entire rugby league team comprising entirely of the members of one family – the Goldspinks. There’s been a song written about Tumba (ironically by a Kiwi but covered by Hoodoo Guru), and it’s even mentioned in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake…no, I have no idea why either, nor have I read it. Mostly though, it’s important because it’s where my family comes from.

Before I forget, the winning sausage roll for the trip came from Tumbarumba Bakery.

Where we stayed: The Club Motel

Where we ate: The Elms at Tumbarumba Motel

Tumbarumba to Canberra 290kms

It always feels so comfortable being back in Canberra – yes, even in the middle of winter. We’d scheduled two nights to allow us to catch up with hubby’s family and some friends – although we did, as we always do, ran out of time and didn’t get to see everyone.

In between, we found some time to spend an hour or so at the art gallery. It was the perfect way to clear the head after a heap of running around and visiting – as great as it was to run around and visit.

Where we stayed:  Mercure Canberra. This was a bit of a trip down memory lane as I last stayed there the night before our wedding – and had all the before church type of photos taken in the lovely gardens there. Of course, back then it was Olim’s Hotel at Ainslie.

Where we ate: The stand-out was Walt & Burley on the Kingston Foreshore. Since when did that get so interesting?

Next time…Eucumbene and part 2

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


Sentence a Day – July

July started in Melbourne and ended up somewhere very different. In between were work and writing and all the usual stuff of life. Some sun, some rain, some cold, some warm…no time to be bored. Anyways, here’s the month that was – in one (or more) sentences a day.

1. In Melbourne but heading home today. In other news, due to some over-eating of the truffle and dairy kind (not together) my tummy is complaining.

2. Thai Boat Noodle soup for lunch – it was medicinal.

3. Dolphins at play this morning – just splashes in the distance with the light catching their shiny backs. I don’t want to jinx it, but I think the rain has stopped.

4. Swedish Death Cleaning – Dostadning – is a thing…so, apparently, is work.

Random fact: Swedish Death Cleaning is about gradually getting rid of your stuff. The idea is to minimise the amount of clutter that you leave behind for others to deal with some day. According to the idea of dostadning (try saying that ten times in a row) your treasures will be a burden to someone else someday.

5. Beat the rain with a walk – some really cool cloud action to start a busy work day.

6. Friday and usually my day off the day job. Today, however, instead of writing words as I go through the usual monthly de-greying regime, I’m still doing corporate stuff. Don’t ask.

7. Inspired by Masterchef this week I’m doing Rick Stein’s butter chicken for dinner.  As an aside, beetroot powder is a thing – and it’s a fabulous colour.

8. My brother and his family arrive this afternoon. Decision bowl lunch was at Uptown Gastro Pub in Maroochydore – food was good, but service slow.

9. Blue skies, fish and chips on the beach with the Lyons Den for lunch, and slow cooked 5 spice lamb for dinner. Other than that? Work…of course.

10. Walk to Alex, work, and the Lyons Den leave on stage 2 of their holiday.

11. Road trip itinerary nailed. In other news, it was flipping freezing – yes, even in Queensland.

Random whine: When trying to book a double room in one country town that will remain unnamed, I hover over the fine print to see that the 2nd person in the room will cost an extra $20 a night. Yes folks, the 2nd person. The one sharing the same bed. Not a 3rd person who would need extra bedding, that would be fair enough, but the 2nd person. Essentially that makes it $20 for the 2nd towel. Now I’ve seen everything. As an aside, I booked the other motel in town. Rant over.

12. Rainy start to the day – not that it mattered, I was stuck inside working.

13. Ms T off to Yandina for house-sitting, and some words written in the best office in the world.

14. Markets early on a cold morning, an afternoon walk on the beach, tried the new gelateria at Mooloolaba Wharf, and a Bastille Day menu. And pelicans at the boat ramp…I love pelicans.

15. Corbins was drawn out of the decision bowl but closed today, so La Canteena and beers in a bucket for lunch instead. Five coronas for $25, we couldn’t say no.

16. Another cracker of a day, hubby to Bribie Island to farewell Uncle T as he heads back to England. I, on the other hand, didn’t leave my desk.

Random thought of the day: Never in the history of calming down has someone calmed down by being told to calm down. Just saying.

17. Cold start for our walk, blue skies, stuck at my desk for the rest of the day.

18. I was a guest judge at the Brisbane Office bake-off comp – a tough job, but someone had to do it. The three winning entries are below.

19. Blue skies and work…that’s all. Fires up around Peregian painted the sky tonight.

20. Sunshine Coast Velothon this morning so roads closed and unable to get to the beach for our walk. Instead, we walked a different route – from Currimundi to Shelly Beach…8kms return.

21. Saturday morning beach walk and a cruise ship moored just off Mooloolaba Beach – Mooloolaba certainly dressed in her fancy pants for the occasion. Back down at lunchtime for prawns in the park. In other news, the white chocolate cheesecake I made was pretty fantabulous. You’ll find the recipe here.

22. Mad Mex Cantina drawn out of the Decision Bowl for Sunday lunch – Ms 20 is ecstatic, me not so.

23. A blue sky start to Monday. Walk, work, and a rainforest walk at lunchtime – complete with a catbird that sounds like a baby crying.

Random fact: the pink and yellow flowers are lantana – which is a noxious weed…it’s also pretty.

24. Take yesterday and repeat – without the rainforest and the catbird.

25. In between work we started putting together pantry pack for Eucumbene.  Yes, we really are taking paella rice, saffron and chipotle peppers in adobo sauce on a “camping” trip. The culinary competition is real folks.

26. There was a dolphin playing metres away from us this morning. A pink sky and dolphins – the day can’t get off to a better start than that.

27. Even though it’s Friday and my day off, I worked.

28. Got up early to watch the Mars and Moon show in the sky – it’s not every day you have a total eclipse under skies that clear. As for the rest of the day? Packing and cleaning – I can’t stand going away with a dirty house or any dirty clothes in the laundry.

29. Off on our road trip. Tonight’s scheduled stop is Narrabri in North Western NSW – and 666 kms away. The verdict? Narrabri is a lovely town – a very comfortable stop – but I can’t get over just how dry the country is…it’s heartbreaking.

somewhere between Moree and Narrabri

30. A lot of nothing for much of this morning’s drive. With a huge observatory at Coonabarabran, they’re a tad space-obsessed along this stretch of the Newell Highway.

at Gilgandra

We called in at The Dish just outside of Parkes. The last time I was here I think was back in about 1976 or 77. It hasn’t changed that much – but the visitor’s centre is very impressive.

Tonight’s stop is Cootamundra – 582km from Narrabri.

31. Tumbarumba. Even though I’ve never lived here if anyone ever asks me where my roots are it’s in this town – despite having been born in Sydney. It’s where my father was born and where his parents were born, lived their lives and died. The history of this town and the history of my family are so closely intertwined. Anyways, I’ll tell you more about that later.

Sugar Pine walk – about 20kms out of Tumba

What I watched:

  • Secret City (Netflix) – OMG this had me hooked.
  • Nanette (Netflix) – because everyone else was watching it.
  • Jack Irish (ABC)
  • Doc Martin (ABC) – I’m very late to the Doc Martin party
  • Masterchef…of course

I started watching the latest series of Poldark and am ashamed to say that I’m a tad over it. Not that I’m over Aidan Turner or the random shots of him emerging from the sea…no sirree…but I’m getting a tad tired of the story. Don’t throw anything.

What I listened to:

Other than my usuals, new podcasts for this month:

The Washing Up – a rundown of reality food programs with a heavy leaning to Masterchef at the moment. Don’t listen if you haven’t watched the episodes.

Wrong Skin – a podcast put out by Fairfax. Man, this is confronting and interesting. It’s an investigation into an unsolved death and a missing person in the outback, with themes of traditional law and relationships banned under those laws.

What I read:

I read 9 books over the month. My favourite reads were:

The Marmalade Files, by Chris Uhlman – political satire at its best and the basis of Secret City.

April in Paris 1921, by Tessa Lunney

The Hidden Cottage, Erica James

The Comfort Cafe series (I devoured them all – pun intended – over the month) by Debbie Johnson.

I’m on a road-trip at the moment and am blissfully wi-fi and cell-phone reception free – yes, those places do exist. I’ll respond to any comments when I’m back online.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


The Cover Story

Happy Ever After has sailed through the structural editing process and is now waiting to be copyedited – which means I need to think about all the other tasks that need to be completed in order to get it onto the virtual bookshelves in October. Highest on that list is the cover.

Like I did with Wish You Were Here, I’ll be going to all digital platforms and print on demand with this one – so we’ll need a back cover, and a spine, as well as a front cover that will look great as a thumbnail.

While ideally, I’d like Happy Ever After to have a similar look on the virtual shelf to my other books, there are a couple of key differences between this book and my others –  my protagonist is 50 and has grown up children. Plus the storyline is definitely more mature.  The style is different and the cover needs to reflect that.

You’ll notice that the cover design for each of these is similar. The font is the same and water features on each – as do legs. The protagonists are all in their late 20s or early 30s and looking to make that first big commitment.

Wish You Were Here is a little different.  When the story starts my protagonist, Maxine (Max) Henderson, is married.

When we did the cover for this we really wanted to show a sense of place – the fictional village of Brookford in the Cotswolds. I think we absolutely did that. We also wanted something that wasn’t as light and breezy as the Melbourne girls series – Max’s story is a deeper than that. With Max I’m also straying into what is known as “food-lit”.

Out now

Happy Ever After also falls into the food-lit genre. It’s set mostly in suburban Sydney with a key location in Kate and Neil’s story being the Royal Botanic Gardens – specifically the Moreton Bay Fig that sits high and proud above the Opera House. That’s it below.

The light in my photo is too bright and harsh, but I did, however, find the pic below on deposit photos. It’s not my tree, but it is the gardens. If only I could find a great upper image it could almost be perfect.

deposit photos

What about a face?

When I look at the top-selling contemporary romance books on Amazon, virtually all have a picture of either the gorgeous guy, the thoughtful heroine, or the happy couple – all stock photos.

I get that this immediately tells the reader that there are romantic elements within, but it throws me off because very often the image on the front cover is nothing like the person between the covers. It’s just a random twenty-something woman.

Just as I haven’t wanted a random twenty or thirty-something face on my cover, nor do I want a random fifty-something. The reasons are the same – none look like Kate.

I contemplated finding an image of someone sitting thoughtfully looking out at…what? Their life? Their loves? Out to sea? Nope, that didn’t work for me either. It’s been done and done and done. And Kate never ever gazes out to sea. It’s not her thing. She’s more likely to be found baking or with her head in a book. And yes, I’ve looked for those images too.

What else is out there?

I got scientific about it and researched best selling women’s fiction on Amazon and their “also boughts” ie what people who bought these books also bought.

As opposed to contemporary romance, contemporary fiction tends not to have the stock image of a person on the cover. If there is a person it’s often in profile, from the back or illustrated. I like these examples by Sheila O’Flanagan.

The exceptions are historical stories – such as these below – where the image provides a real sense of the time, place and style.

Another popular format is the single image and clean font. This is especially effective for those books that are a bit twisty. Good examples are these ones by Liane Moriarty…

and these ones by Jane Fallon… As an aside, Jane Fallon has nailed her look.

The mix of cursive and print works well in these ones by Jane Green.

The English market tends to lean towards illustrations – think Marian Keyes,  Cathy Kelly, Jo Jo Moyes.

As for the authors I’d identify with most? I hate that question, but would probably say Erica James, Elizabeth Noble, Jill Mansell and Debbie Johnson. Maybe even Cathy Kelly. These are the ones I’m most likely to run out and buy to read too.

Like the examples above, their covers always seem to be more frivolous than the story is. Below are the covers from their most recent books.

So where does all of this leave me? No flipping idea. I won’t be going the way of the illustration. Perhaps a cross between what Jane Fallon and Jane Green are doing? Perhaps something like Sheila O’Flanagan? I love “Letters To Iris”, so maybe something like the vintage image I’ve used as the lead pic to this post? I’m writing in a different style, so maybe I show that in my cover?

Or do I persevere and try and find an image to match a location shot to fit in with my other books?

Any suggestions will be appreciated.

Clancy of the Campfire…

We’re about to head out on a road trip. Our destination is a locality called Eucumbene – in the south of NSW near the Snowy Mountains. It’s about a 40-minute drive from Cooma and the same from Jindabyne and in the winter that means it’s cold.

We’re meeting my brother and his family down there. When we lived in Sydney it was something that we did annually, but from South East Queensland it’s more of an expedition. We’ve decided to turn that expedition into an adventure and see some of New South Wales that neither of us has seen in years. On the way down we’ll be stopping in:

  • Narrabri
  • Cootamundra
  • Tumbarumba – to visit some of my father’s family
  • Canberra – to catch up with hubby’s mother and some friends

On the way back? We haven’t quite decided yet. Parkes, Forbes, Cowra, Dubbo are definitely on the list in some way.

We’ll be in Eucumbene for a long weekend, staying in what used to be worker’s cabins from the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme. We sleep in sleeping bags so, in a way, it feels like camping – or at least glamping – so that’s what we call it.  My brother, however, is made of tougher stuff and sleeps outside in his swag.

the swag

Although we have a kitchen inside, we cook outside. There’s a bathroom inside as well as an outside dunny with no door and a view to the bush and any passing kangaroo. We have a television for DVDs – there’s no TV reception -and aside from one point just outside the kitchen window, there’s no mobile reception.

During the day we take drives up the mountain to find snow for the kids to play in, rivers for the 4 wheel drives to do their thing in, and country to explore. We take walks with the kids to look for kangaroos, practice our whip cracking skills, pop popcorn and toast marshmallows on the fire.

the popcorn maker

Mostly though, it’s about the campfire and the cooking. Other than breakfast, everything needs to be cooked outside – even when it’s snowing. One year it was sheeting down, and we still managed to turn out excellent meals but didn’t need to walk back and forth to the fridge for our beers.

Each year we look forward to this weekend possibly more than any other thing we do. Here are some of the reasons why:

It’s an excuse to wear a real flannelette shirt…

The flanny I’m talking about is the outdoor flanny. Even if there’s no snow, it’s cold enough for beanies and gloves and lumberjackets and flannelette.

It’s a reason to visit a boating, camping and fishing type of store… 

We wander the aisles and fantasise about loading up an old landrover and heading out into the middle of nowhere with all of our super camping accessories. Of course, we rarely buy anything and would probably never do the real roughing it thing – I like a flushing toilet and a comfy bed too much – but it’s fun to dream.

Last time I picked up this enamel mug that I now drink my wine out of. I’m all class.

You get to use a jaffle iron…

Sure, you can have your electric sandwich makers, but I’m talking a real, heavy, takes ages to cook (and even longer for the contents to cool) jaffle iron. A good jaffle should:

  • be comprised of leftovers or pantry staples
  • should be able to be eaten in one hand, leaving the other free for a beer
  • need no faffing about with garnishes and pretty bits on the plate.
spag bol jaffle

This year I’m doing a variation on the jaffle with a Kiwi classic – the cheese roll. Watch this space.

Cooking in a camp oven is a challenge…

The theory is that anything you can cook in a normal oven, you can cook in one of these cast iron babies – in theory. That’s it in the pic below. The reality is different. We’ve had some roaring successes and some serious failures. I still recall the night our slow cooked beef (containing 2 bottles of very drinkable red wine) boiled dry in 20 minutes. Now we know it has something to do with the boiling qualities of alcohol, but back then? No idea – and with Jindy and Cooma so far away dinner that night was cheese and bikkies for us and 2 minute noodles for the kids.

The thing with a camp oven is that it doesn’t go on the fire as such – the temperature is controlled by it’s proximity to the fire and the coals above and below it. Yes, it’s technical. As a result, the boys spend a lot of time digging the pit for the camp oven, and much more time tending the fire.

Each year we have a culinary challenge that the bulk of our weekend is centred around. One year it was curries, another year it was the lunchtime pizza challenge and the jaffle challenge. This time around each family must plan and produce a 3-course meal prepared and cooked entirely outside. Thankfully none of us is competitive…much!

So far we’ve already produced one cookbook – Clancy of the Campfire: The Spirit of the Snowies– and anything from this year will go into a part 2. Who knows, one day we could be on the shelves in camping stores…

It’s so quiet out there…

The bush has its own noise, but it’s a different noise. It’s also more effective for the removal of stress than anything else I know – except perhaps the ocean.

There’s the wind through the trees, the rustle of leaves, the sound of a roo bounding around through the scrub, a cow somewhere nearby. The birds sound different too. Out there the magpies warble and the kookaburras really laugh. There’s the occasional flash of colour as the red or blue breast of a wren darts between branches. Even the snow that falls so softly, has all sorts of cracks and creaks associated with the melt.

if you look closely you can see a couple of roos…

As for the stars… don’t even get me started on how beautiful the stars are at night.

Do you camp? Or glamp? Any favourite jaffle or camp oven recipes you’d like to share?

This post has been adapted from one that appeared previously on my old website – and anyways…

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


Printemps…Spring in France

Ok, I was going to write something dreadfully interesting about Cluny or Lyon, but the thing is, I was on the 6.05am train into Brisbane this morning, had a gruelling day in the office – including being a guest judge for the office bake-off (oh the pressure) – and didn’t get home until…well, you don’t need to know the details.

Suffice to say that my brain isn’t working at the moment, so I’m taking the easy way out and sharing some French spring flowers with you. What’s not to love about that?

Blossoms

and…just because I can’t help myself…

Irises

and for something a little different…

Tulips and other bulbs

Most of these pics were taken in Lille – at the beginning of our trip.

and some token daffys…

Chateau Flowers

Wisteria

Full disclosure – I have enough pictures of wisteria and lilacs to fill multiple posts…here are just a few.

Lilacs

We had to stop for photos every time I saw it.

Just because

Yes, I happened upon some bluebells too… If you’ve read Wish You Were Here you’ll know about my fascination with bluebells.

Market Flowers

and finally…

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


Dijon

Last week I told you about the cooking class that we did in Dijon with Alex Miles. If you missed it, you’ll find the link here.

I ran out of time to talk about Dijon itself. To begin, it’s about more than mustard – although mustard is, of course, part of the Dijon story…as is wine.

History

The history of this part of France is mind-blowing. We’re talking all the way back to Julius Caesar, the Gauls and years ending in BC.

Slightly more recently than that – between the 11th and 15th century – Dijon was the capital of the duchy of Burgundy. There was a particularly golden age during the 14th and 15th centuries when the Duchy challenged the power of France itself. These years were full of stories of assassinations, treachery, back-hand dealings, illegitimate children and power-broking. It’s the stuff that entire mini-series could be written and produced around. Just imagine – sumptuous costumes and tapestries, tales of treachery, treason and lust.

But, I digress. There were four Dukes of Burgundy in these golden years: Phillipe-le-Hardi (Philip the Bold), Jean-sans-Peur (John the Fearless), Phillipe-le-Bon (Philip the Good) and Charles-le-Téméraire (Charles the Bold who later became known as Charles the Reckless). At this point, I’m wondering what I would be known as. I’m thinking a play on my maiden name. Joanne-le-Lion au Coeur.

Each of the Dukes married extremely well and their courts were sumptuous indeed – full of the best in tapestries, music, sculpture, gastronomy and fine arts. At least, that was until Charles the Bold managed, unbelievably, to milk dry Burgundy’s extremely wealthy coffers…but that’s another (long) story.

In any case, it’s this history that makes Dijon so interesting now. The wonderful medieval and renaissance buildings are a direct result of the golden years of the duchy as the finest painters, sculptors and architects were brought to Dijon.

The pics

This is a fabulous city for walking around – and not just for the architecture.

Don’t forget to check out the details.

We had eaten way too much to sample any of the excellent food Dijon has to offer…maybe next time.

Sadly we spent only a few hours wandering this city – we could have spent days.

We visited Dijon as part of a longer stay in the Burgundy region. If you want the details of where we stayed, check out this post.

 

 

 

 

Soupe a l’oignon…a cheat’s version

Soupe a l’oignon in Paris

Of course, I’m still a tad obsessed about all things French at the moment. I’m slowly working my way through blogging our travels back in April and May and I’m playing around with story ideas in my head.

Another thing that I’m doing is attempting to recreate some of the tastes that we experienced in France. That goes with the story ideas…naturally.

I expected the food to be good, but I also expected to be overwhelmed with way too much cream, butter and rich sauces that sat heavily on my tummy. What I didn’t expect – and probably should have – was the simplicity and seasonality we found and enjoyed.

F, the friend that we stayed with at Lille and road-tripped with for a couple of weeks, cooked a lovely meal on our first night in France that was quintessentially French – without a heavy sauce in sight. It was roast beef studded with garlic and herbs, painted with mustard and served with a roast potato and pea salad. For sweets, she doused some new season strawberries in crème de cassis and drizzled over some cream. Parfait et très français.

It was this menu that I wanted to play with for our Bastille Day dinner. Herby roast beef with potatoes roasted whole with garlic, rosemary and salt, and green beans with shallots and a simple mustard vinaigrette.

What I really wanted to start the meal with was onion soup or soupe a l’oignon – even though it can be almost a meal in itself. The last time I made it though, it was so deep and rich we couldn’t eat anything else afterwards. Plus the house reeked of onions. Having said that, it was a beer, onion and cheese soup – is there any wonder it was heavy?

Onion soup made the traditional way, though, is both a taste sensation and a labour of love.

Aussie author John Baxter attempted the traditional method of soupe a l’oignon when writing about it for his fabulous “The Perfect Meal: In Search of the Lost Tastes of France.” The beef stock itself took almost a day to cook, reduce and strain. Then the meticulously finely sliced onions were slowly caramelised – this part took another 40 minutes or so – before cognac was added and boiled off. A roux – butter and flour – then formed the base of the soup itself to which the jellied consommé from the previous day’s efforts was added. Cheese croutes completed the dish. After almost 2 days of labour, he got la soupe.

This recipe is much easier than that – it’s also the no tears version. You get the caramelised sweetness from the roasted onions without the (sometimes therapeutic) stirring, and the depth of taste without the heaviness of beer or beef stock.

Just take 4 onions, peel them and slice them in half from root to tip. Pop into a roasting tray with salt and pepper and dots of butter – about 40g – and put in an oven heated to 200C. Cook them until they’re dark and toasty on the outside and soft and tender on the inside. I turned them twice and cooked them for a total of 45 minutes.

Once they’re cool enough to handle, cut the onions into wedges and put in a saucepan with 1 cup of white wine. Let the wine bubble down to almost nothing and then pour in 1.5 litres of vegetable or chicken stock and allow it all to simmer happily for about 20 minutes.

Onion soup is usually served with cheese croutes – thinly sliced and toasted slices of baguette with gruyere or emmental or some other melting cheese floated on top of the soup. You’re supposed to toast the bread, top it with cheese, pop it on top of the soup and put it all under the griller until it’s bubbling and rustic, but I don’t know how my bowls will go under the griller, so I melt the cheese on the toast and put it in when it’s all done.

As for a photo? Sorry, I’m yet to master making beige soup look anywhere close to good.