Let’s talk about love

Ok, I’ll admit it.

I don’t do Valentines Day.

There, I said it.

In fact, I happen to think it’s the least romantic day of the year. And I call myself a writer of happy endings!

And it’s not just because I’ve never received a card at Valentines – let alone anything else. Ever. Even before I decided I didn’t like the Hallmark sentimentality. I don’t think I’ve ever been that type of girl – the type of girl who is sent flowers or cards at Valentines – although when I was younger, I desperately wanted to be that type of girl. Cue sad violin music.

I remember clearly the Valentines Day before the man who would become my husband and I started dating. We were working together and he received flowers from a soon to be ex-girlfriend. He was mortified. I’m still not sure whether it was the surprise (he doesn’t like surprises), or the fact that she’d blown that much money, or that girls aren’t supposed to buy guys flowers. Whatever. He hated it and they split very soon after. I think they were probably already in the processes of splitting – hence the flowers.

By the time the next Valentines Day came about we’d been together for about 8 months. He asked whether I wanted to do anything, and copped the (first of many over the years) soapbox stance about how the food is worse on Valentines Day, the price of everything goes up, and how there’s no romance or spontaneity in being told that on this day you should show your partner that you love her/him.

To me, it’s like New Year’s Eve: when you’re told that you have to party and have a good time because it’s New Year’s Eve. I don’t like being told what to do, and when.

Now before you go and assume that I’m not romantic, that’s absolutely not the case. I absolutely believe in romance – I have to: I’m in the business of writing happy endings. Nor is it the case that hubby doesn’t do the occasional flower thing – usually though, it’s when I least expect it, and most need it. Like the time when I went in for some nasty girly surgery and he brought me two bunches of flowers: herbs for his wife, and daisies for his lover. Awwwww.

So when I say I don’t do Valentines Day, what I really mean is I don’t do all the card, flowers, expensive set menu brouhaha of it.

But, when you’ve been together for a while when domestic business, as usual, takes over, days like Valentines and anniversaries are little reminders that every so often your relationship needs to be put front and centre.

Sometimes in the whirl of work, bills, mortgages, homework, family stuff, you need a reminder about why you’re together. And Valentines is good for that.

To me, it’s about the sentiment, not the expenditure.

We won’t share cards. But we will share a joke – about the flowers he ordered from that florist in Canberra. It’s the same florist he’s ordered from each year for the last 28 years who never delivers. Somehow I think the delivery will go astray again this year.

Apple and Cinnamon Scrolls

 

I could almost call this little series of posts “What Kate Cooked,” but that’s a tad restrictive.

This recipe was made by Kate Spence, the protagonist in my current novel (working title) Happy Ever After. She baked a batch of these for an afternoon tea to celebrate the return of a friend who’d been travelling around Europe. More happens – of course, it does – but, you’d need to read the finished product for that.

Anyways, my husband, who loves his pastries – even though he shouldn’t be eating them…which means I shouldn’t be cooking them – gave this the seal of approval. They were perfect for a rainy Saturday afternoon tea.

Now, if you’re so inclined you can make your own rough puff pastry – after all, they do it all the time on Masterchef and make it look seriously easy. I’ve never tried and have no burning desire to do so. Life’s too short for complications like that – and my husband is usually too impatient for the end result.

So, assuming that you’re not going to be making your own fresh puff – rough or otherwise – here’s what you need:

  • 3 sheets frozen puff pastry
  • Cinnamon sugar made from mixing 2 tablespoons light brown sugar and 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon together. Of course, you could just use the pre-mixed cinnamon sugar, but I like doing it this way.
  • 50g melted butter
  • 2 green apples – peeled, cored, and cubed into a tiny dice
  • 1 cup flaked almonds – I used a big handful of slivered almonds because I had some left over from the Christmas cake, but pecans or walnuts would also work well. Your call.

What you do with it

Before you start, hold out a tablespoon of cinnamon sugar. I always forget to do this, but you need this for the top. It’s probably a good idea to pre-heat your oven at this point – to 200C.

Brush one sheet of puff with butter – be generous, this is all about buttery flaky goodness. Scatter with one-third of (what’s left of) the cinnamon sugar.

Lay the next sheet on top of the first and do it all again…and then again with the third sheet.

Scatter the apple pieces and then the almonds over the top of the sugared third sheet of pastry and then roll it up tightly like a swiss roll. Don’t worry about the bits of apple and almond that come out the sides – you can scatter them over the top at the end.

Brush the long open end with some water to seal the pastry, and brush the log with egg wash (1 egg yolk and 1 teaspoon milk).

Using a super sharp knife, carefully slice the log into slices about 2.5cm (an inch) thick and even more carefully transfer the slices to a baking tray that you’ve lined with baking paper.  You’ll be laying the spirals flat. Although it’s tempting to lay them against each other so they won’t open up, where they touch each other they won’t crisp up as well. You have been warned.

Brush the tops with more of the egg wash, and poke the leftover appley bits into the scrolls. Now pop the tray into the oven for about 40 minutes.

While they’re doing their thing in the oven, heat a few tablespoons of honey with a half teaspoon of vanilla extract in a small saucepan. Keep an eye on it though – you don’t want it to boil.

When the scrolls are crisply golden, brush them with the honey glaze and scatter over about a tablespoon of caster sugar. Pop them back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes – until the sugar is melted and it’s all quite golden and sticky.

 

 

 

Salmon Fishcakes

With apologies to my Scottish husband, I’ve long held a belief that the Scots invented whisky to make haggis more palatable – or to make you forget that you’d eaten it. Yes, I know there are plenty of people out there who like haggis – my husband is one of them – but I am not. Regardless of the reason behind it, the Scots do whisky well – in fact, I consider myself just a wee bit of an expert on the subject. The Scots also do salmon – and that’s what this post is about.

Salmon Fishcakes

These are, I think, the best salmon cakes ever. Dead easy to make and seriously good to eat. We had them with some steamed curly kale and a vegetable stock based butter sauce, but they were equally as good the next night (or lunchtime) with a leafy green salad and a dollop of aioli (as above). You could also, if you wanted, posh them up with a creamy noilly prat sauce. You’d definitely need the kale then to cut through the richness.

Anyways, you need equal quantities of salmon fillet and mashed potato. I used 450g of each. The mashed spud is just done the usual way with a little bit of butter and milk. As for the salmon, we’ll be roasting this, so preheat the oven to 230C and grease a roasting tin that’s big enough to hold the salmon fillets. Oh, before I forget, don’t forget to pin-bone the salmon – we’ve all seen that Masterchef episode where a bone has sent someone home. Don’t bother to skin it – it’s easier to do this after it’s been cooked.

Dot about 25g butter over the salmon, drizzle over 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, some salt and pepper and 1 long red chilli that you’ve de-seeded and diced finely. Bake the fish for between 5-8 minutes – you want it to be a little under-cooked in the centre. Once it’s out of the oven, let it stand for 5 minutes and then flake it.

Put the mashed potato into a bowl and stir through 4 tablespoons of finely chopped spring onions (just the white part – I used the green leaves to flavour a chicken stock for the best ever cock-a-leekie soup…but that’s another post entirely), and 3 tablespoons of chopped flatleaf parsley.

Add the fish and mix it through.

Dust your hands with flour and shape the mixture into patties. If you keep them about palm size, you should get 8. I like them a tad smaller than that.

Pop them onto a tray lined with greaseproof paper and freeze for an hour or so – until they are solid enough to handle.

To finish the fishcakes, do what you’d usually do to crumb something – set out some flour in a shallow bowl, a couple of eggs whisked in another, and some panko breadcrumbs in another. Dip in the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs. If you want, you can freeze them at this stage. To cook afterwards, you’d need to bake them in a low oven (150C) for about 45mins.

If, however, you’re cooking now, simply fry them in sunflower oil (or whatever you have – just not olive oil) for 4-5 minutes until they’re nicely golden.

Serve with green veg or salad.

Happy Ever After – the Week 6 Update

I almost wasn’t going to post this week – I’ve barely written a thing since last Friday and it was embarrassing to tell you that. But the whole deal of this series is to show the whole of the writing process – warts and all – and this week I’ve fallen off the wagon.

I’ve hit a wall. It’s a high wall. And although I can see through it to the end of my story – so it must be a wall made of toughened glass – I seem to be stuck at the moment. I can’t really tell you exactly why without giving too much of the story away, but my characters didn’t want to play along with where I originally intended them to go and now I’m concerned that in allowing that to happen I’ve lost some of the tension and conflict that I thought that I needed.

On the other hand, I’ve introduced a different sort of tension and done more to make my readers care about what happens to my protagonist. Hence my wall. I can see where I want to go, but I’m not sure how to get there without losing any of that sympathy that I’ve built up. That’s code for I’m not sure how to get them there without my heroine coming across like a prize bitch.

I tried to explain to my husband the problem I have with the plot but he couldn’t work out who the characters were and when there was going to be an explosion or a car chase. Suffice to say that he’s not interested in character-driven stories and his eyes glazed over very quickly. He supports what I do, but has never – and probably will never – read a word of what I’ve written.

Anyways, into this wall has come a million ways to procrastinate. Top of that list is new series of The Crown. I’ve inhaled the first five episodes. I’ve also started writing wrap-up posts for both this site and the astrology site. In addition, I accepted a freelance job to write some daily horoscopes for the next few months. The first deadline for that gig is Monday.

So in other words, I haven’t stopped writing, and today I think I’ve actually found the solution…now I just need to write it in.

Of course, it means that there’ll be more to do in the rewrite once I finish the first draft, but in order to do a rewrite, there must be a first draft to re-write. So, I’d better get back to it…after I watch one more episode of The Crown

Happy Endings Begin Here…

Heart drawing on dry sand

Well, hello there…

I’m Joanne Tracey, but you can call me Jo.

Some of you might already know me- all my writing posts used to be over at and anyways…with my travel posts and my foodie posts and my walking and rambling and tramping posts. The thing is, that site had become a bit of a catch-all and was seriously disjointed.

So I’ve moved- just the posts that have anything to do with books, writing, and indie publishing. If that’s what you’re here for, welcome aboard- it’s lovely to see you…virtually speaking.

Of course, there’s still plenty of related writing content over at and anyways, so feel free to disappear from time to time. Also, don’t be surprised if you see some of it turn up here as well- some of it already has!

Other than that, feel free to make yourself at home here. The kettle’s on and I’ll open up the special biscuits…