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.

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.


Y is for…

I’ve taken on the challenge of an A-Z during April – one post each day on a chosen theme. My theme? Books and writing, of course…

Y is for Yoga

I’ve been saying I’m going back to yoga for the whole time that we’ve lived here – and no, I still haven’t done anything about it.

The thing is, I need to. For these reasons:

  • I sit on my bum pretty much all day every day. This isn’t good for the spine and mine is already more than a tad on the dodgy side. Yoga helps with flexibility and pain management.
  • Writers live in their heads and yoga is grounding.
  • I’m a bit of a stress bunny – ok, that’s probably an understatement – and yoga calms the mind.
  • Yoga helps with neck and shoulder stiffness from sitting at a laptop all day. It can also help with repetitive strain.
  • Yoga clears the mind and can help with creativity.
  • Yoga can help you go within.
  • Yoga is a practice – just like writing
  • Nigella does it – so that’s good enough for me…

The Bucket List Update…

Ok, so it’s my birthday on Monday.

I joke that last year (my 50th) was spent on a Jetstar flight back to Sydney. I’d had a flying visit to Queensland to see my family (who had already moved up) and had to fly back to Sydney to continue to pack the house up and be in the office the following day.

Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t a bad day, it just wasn’t the day that I’d planned. I don’t do parties, but I’d been planning my 50th party for years. I ended up giving it to one of my characters for her 60th instead – the theme was denim and the music was retro pop. You’ll read about it in I Want You Back – when I finally release that.

Despite being away from my family there were some lovely bright spots in the day – a breakfast with my family before I went to the airport, a surprise afternoon tea with my parents and sisters when I finally got home (there was trackwork on the airport line which meant I had to bus it), and dinner and lots of bubbly with my neighbour.

This year we were supposed to be in Sydney over the weekend for a friend’s 50th, but some other stuff has got in the way. So we have some other lovely last minute things planned, and if they happen they do, and if they don’t, I’m sure there will be something else lovely. The members birthday gift at the Surf Club is a vienetta log, so there’s nothing but old-school good from that!

Anyways, because it’s my birthday I’m doing an update on my bucket list – always a good thing to do on one’s birthday.  I get to cross things off that I’ve already done and have added a couple of new things to the list. If you’re interested, you’ll find my last update here.

Since my last update four items have been completed:

  • Speak at a writing conference
  • Go whale watching
  • Have pho in Vietnam
  • Cruise through Halong Bay

My list as it stands today is below*. The fine print is that I continue to reserve the right to add things as I see fit – I happen to think it’s karmicly (yes, that’s a made-up word) dangerous to have just a handful of things on a list. The fine fine print is that this doesn’t include all the places I want to go to – just the things I want to do…there’s a whole other list for travel!

      1. Make a proper living from writing (yes, there’s a $$ amount attached to this). I’m not sure if this is a bucket list item or a goal. Perhaps it’s both.
      2. See the cherry blossoms in Japan
      3. Ride a camel on the beach at Broome at sunset
      4. Swim with whale sharks somewhere
      5. Swim with sea turtles somewhere
      6. Snorkel in the Barrier Reef
      7. Attend an AFL Grand Final at the MCG. It would be a bonus if St Kilda or Richmond were playing. I’d consider the Anzac Day match a tick.
      8. Learn to cook a steak…to order… and get it right (hubby says there’s no need for me to learn how to do this because he does it so perfectly for me…)
      9. See the northern (or southern) aurora…lights, that is…and photograph them.
      10. Stay on a deserted (ok, not deserted- just not heavily populated but still with all the trimmings) island in the South Pacific.
      11. Get to my goal weight – and have a photo shoot to mark the occasion. Something tasteful and fun – on the beach.
      12. Learn another language and speak it in that country
      13. Spend three months living like a local in another country – I’ve always dreamed of Tuscany
      14. See a bluebell forest – like the one I wrote about in Wish You Were Here.
      15. Set a story around whisky in the Scottish Highlands or Shetland…
      16. Walk a very long way from pub to pub in either The Cotswolds or Cornwall
      17. A road trip through France in the Spring
      18. Do a cooking class in France
      19. Find one of those earnest writers style cafes in Paris to be earnest and literary in.
      20. Write some of my family history – or at least one of the stories.
      21. Take a cruise through the Baltic
      22. Take a canal cruise through Burgundy or Bordeaux
      23. Walk the Cotswold Way…or The Ridgeway…I haven’t decided
      24. Attend a writing retreat in Europe


*There are a couple of others that aren’t for public view…and no, I’m not telling!

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 – February

St Collins Lane, Melbourne

Ok, I make no bones about the fact that February is my least favourite month of the year. There’s an astrological reason for that – it’s to do with the fact that February is the month before my birthday so you have that whole finishing the cycle wanting to rest and retreat thing, but we won’t go there. It’s also got something to do with the fact that it’s the most humid time of the year… it also usually coincides with a couple of big freelance jobs that I juggle my day job and my novel writing with.

Every year I vow not to over-commit – yet this February was no different. The fact that I haven’t blogged properly for a couple of weeks should tell you that – last week’s blog was written in advance in anticipation of the messy times ahead. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been busy, but it hasn’t been all bad – there’s been some play too. And, on the plus plus side, this time last year my family was in Queensland and I was packing up the house to move as well as doing the juggle above.

Anyways, enough of the whining, let’s close February off.

1.Rain (as an aside, it rained so much this month – more than 3 times the normal monthly average with almost twice the monthly average in one day – 21 Feb.)

2. Rain – heavier than yesterday, but managed 3000 words on the novel and astro blogs written and scheduled for most of February.

3. Rain. Again. Finished astro blogs for February, wrote horoscopes for March, cooked a seafood risotto and a cheesecake for dinner and procrastibaked apple and cinnamon scrolls.

4. Not quite as much rain. Brisbane for some shopping and lunch at Fat Noodle at Treasury.

5. Unravelled all of next week’s Adelaide travel. On the plus side, I’m not travelling next week.

6.  Walk. Work. Nothing more to say here.

7. Sarah to Sydney, coffee with a friend from my childhood in Bombala, and a catch-up at a seriously cool tea-house with another dear friend.

8. Long long day in the office.

9. Worked on the novel this morning at the Surf Club this morning, lunch with Grant at Saltwater, and published The Little Book of the Moon for my astro newsletter subscribers. Tick, tick and tick.

10. Sarah home today. Brain is exhausted so spent the afternoon watching period movies. Sense and Sensibility and Emma.

11.  A swim, lunch at the Post Office in Maroochydore, another swim, and spent the rest of the afternoon going through accommodation options for France.

12. Monday. Walk and work. That’s all.

13. Take yesterday and repeat.

14. Valentine’s Day – words, work, gremolata prawns and gnocchi.

15. Counted to ten a lot today.

16. Haircut, grey be gone and lunch with the delightful Min from Write of the Middle. So much sheet lightning tonight that the night sky was almost permanently lit.

View from lunch. We were having such a good chat we forgot the selfie.

17. Welcome to Sydney where the airport trains are closed for trackwork…on a weekend. Seriously? Who plans this stuff?

18. Dumplings and catch-ups – the perfect combination.

19. Lots of hellos – it’s actually good to be in the actual office…pity about the bus ride to get here.

20. Reimagined escalators – these York Street escalators were heritage listed, so the developers popped them on the ceiling as art. Love it.

21. Surprise catch-up with Mel Kettle, a copy of her new book, The Social Association, and drinkies after work.

22. More drinkies after work – this time with the Unisys tribe at Concord. Fab to catch-up.

23. Melbourne – and my feet are full of blisters…the two are not related. Dinner at Chez Olivier with mon amour. (See how I threw in some French?) As an aside, I will blog it separately…

24. Brekky at Cumulus, dimmies at South Melbourne, dumplings at Hutong, shopping at Debenhams, cocktails at QT and dinner at Tonka. A day well spent.

25. Heading home, but first an egg sundae at The Grainstore.

26. Back to work and my pooch beside me snoring – life as it should be.

27. Final pieces of the French accommodation puzzle fall into place. And work…of course….

28. Longest teleconference in history to finish off the month. Bring on March.

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.

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…