In case you missed it…

This is a public service announcement for my Mum and Dad who have probably signed on here early on Thursday morning expecting to read my Thursday morning blog and are disappointed because there’s nothing more than this message…

My non-writing posts can now be found over at and anyways.  In fact, you’ll find this week’s post at this link…

Here’s a spoiler alert – it’s about dumplings…and other things that I’m loving right now…like street art, jacarandas and murals on busy city underpasses. Oh and butcher birds.

See you over there…

(Oh, and Mum & Dad? I’ll sign you up to the email…) xxx

Happy Ever After and Queenstown

I love Queenstown. Absolutely adore it. It’s why Happy Ever After is the 2nd of my books to feature it as a location – Wish You Were Here was the first.

Anyways, these are some of the locations in Queenstown and surrounds that I’ve used…so far…

Lake Wakatipu

Of course. Framed by The Remarkables Lake Wakatipu is so amazingly beautiful. In fact, it’s so beautiful that it takes me by surprise. Every time I see the lake and mountains it’s as if I’ve never seen them before.

The SS Earnslaw

The Sun rolls it’s way through, lighting different parts of the peaks- almost in time with the breath of the breeze. That in itself is an interesting concept in that the lake rises and falls by up to 20cm every half hour or so, yet it isn’t tidal. It’s as if the lake is breathing.

And that’s all part of the Maori legend of the lake.

Apparently, a local ogre named Matau (they had local ogres in those days) was burned to death for taking advantage of the daughter of an important chief.  The resultant fire melted the snow and ice of the surrounding mountains and it all ran into the deep hole where Matau fell- creating Lake Wakatipu. Yet the ogre was so strong that his pulse survives in the daily rise and fall.

I love stories like this.

Vudu Cafe & Larder

My absolute favourite place for brekky. They have another cafe now – Bespoke Kitchen, but the original is still the place to be in my humble opinion.

Down on the lake, I reinvented this place as Jess’s Beach Road Cafe in Wish You Were Here and it has a role in Happy Ever After as well.

Madame Woo

The absolute best street food Asian in Queenstown – and possibly the best I’ve had in NZ – and you know I love my Asian street food…#bigcall

The Road to Glenorchy

Check that view. Is that inspiring, or is that inspiring?


There’s a pub here, a general store and trading post, a photogenic wharf and it’s also the jumping off place for the Dart River adventures (absolutely recommended) and a few tramping tracks.

Just down the road is Paradise – the scene of many ads, movies and TV shows…plus a rather spicy love scene in Wish You Were Here


A charming gold-rush town at its absolute picturesque best in the autumn.

Cardrona Hotel

A great place for a Sunday session, the Cardrona is on the Crown Range Road between Queenstown and Wanaka – another road with spectacular scenery.


An old gold mining area now famous for amazing wines. I loved it for the fields of wild thyme and other wild flowers in late spring.

Old Cromwell

As opposed to Cromwell town which is the new Cromwell.

“Upon the completion of the Clyde Dam in 1992, the valley behind the dam was flooded to create Lake Dunstan. To preserve the town’s gold mining and pioneering past, dedicated volunteers painstakingly moved the buildings from Cromwell’s original town centre to higher ground.” (From the official tourism site…)

In case you missed it…

From next week all my personal, travel, wrap-up and linky posts will be over at And Anyways. I explained why here. I’d love to see you there.

This site will be devoted to books and writing – and the business of writing… I’m hoping that it’s the right way to be going…

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, DebbishWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.

Back to the Future

Settle back kids while I tell you a story…

Once upon a time – okay, it was last October – this little blogger sat down and looked at her 4 blogs:

Surely, I thought, I can make things easier for myself. The Sunny Coast and astro blogs have their own audiences that don’t tend to cross over to other sites, so I’d leave them be, but I could put all my other posts onto my author site ie this one. That way, I figured, I’d have all my audience in one place.

It made perfect sense – until it didn’t.

Although it was certainly easier for me to post to just one site, something didn’t feel right. The love had gone. Regular blogging was feeling like one more chore and I was *this* close to giving it up.

I told myself it was frustration at how slowly my author business was growing – but that wasn’t what it was about. So, in true project manager mode, I went back to look at my original scope:

When I began this site in August 2016 it was:

  • to provide landing pages for my novels
  • to market my novels
  • to provide information about the process, business, mindset and craft of writing
  • to provide information and resources for other indies (or trad) authors.

When I  started And Anyways back in 2013, it was to provide a place where I could write about everything that my astrology readers had no interest in – ie anything that wasn’t specifically related to astrology. It was where I connected with other bloggers and had fun writing about anything that took my fancy.

It occurred to me that I have 2 audiences – actually 3 if you count the astro readers, and there are rather a lot of them – and 2 reasons for blogging:

  • Business and content marketing
  • For fun, creativity and connections

In hindsight, it was a mistake to combine the 2 – I’ve lost what both sites were intended to be about. I’ve diluted the professionalism and purpose of the author page and I no longer write about some of the other subjects that interest me or participate in some of the link-ups that I used to enjoy.

In participating in regular link-ups I’ve made fabulous connections – some which have crossed over into real life, and others that I hope will someday.

And that’s when it hit me – the problem wasn’t that I no longer wanted to blog, but that I didn’t feel free to blog the way that I wanted.

I put it out to the fabulous brains trust that is a couple of my Facebook groups who pretty much confirmed my thinking. So, here’s the deal:

Joanne Tracey – The Hungry Writer

This site will revert back to being all about books and writing. That’s it. I might write about craft or the business and mindset of being an author, but this is, for all intents and purposes, a business page and needs to look, feel and read like one and be true to its niche.

And Anyways – The Rambles of a Hungry Writer

I’ll be breathing new life into this baby. I’ve already given it a facelift – pop on over and have a look.

What can you expect to see? Pretty much the things and places that inspire me, whatever I’m loving now, and anything else that I feel like rambling on with.

Naturally, there’ll be travel – and probably some food inspired by that travel. There’ll also be the weekly and monthly catch-ups, the lovin’ life linky on a Thursday, and maybe even some wellness stuff as I get into training for a long distance hike I’m planning towards in 2020 – if I can ever get this flipping ankle right. Some days it might just be a photo or three.

Brookford Kitchen Diaries

Okay, this is a secret little corner of the web that I’ve been cultivating for a few months now.  It’s where I write about what I’m cooking, what’s inspiring me, what I’m procrastibaking and what I’m testing to use in my next novel.

I don’t write regularly or to any sort of schedule and I don’t intend to – it’s my kitchen diary. You are, of course, welcome to come across and check it out from time to time, although I will link to any new recipes in my weekly round-up.

I also have a companion Instagram account @brookfordkitchendiaries where I post my foodie photos these days.

If you’ve read Wish You Were Here, you’d know that my protagonist Maxine (Max) Henderson lived in a (fictional) village in The Cotswolds called Brookford.

Max worked in a nursery in Brookford – one of those ones that sell gifts as well as plants, with a little local produce on the side.  She took what was in season and wrote a monthly newsletter for the shop – what to plant, what to harvest, and what to do with it. It was a kitchen diary of sorts, detailing what she’d been baking or cooking from the ingredients available – seasonal home cooking at it’s absolute best.

Max now lives in Queenstown and is still baking, but through her, I’ve discovered a love for writing about food – so much that my new novel, Happy Ever After, also falls firmly into foodie lit territory. This time though, food and family are closely intertwined.

Anyways, when I was looking for a name for my kitchen diary, I had to channel Max.

What happens now?

Tomorrow’s post for the Lovin’Life linky will be the last of its kind on this site. Likewise, my week in review will be on And Anyways from next week.

If you’ve signed up to receive notifications of new posts from both this site and And Anyways you might notice some duplication of posts over the next few weeks as I transfer some travel posts – especially the France posts – across to there. If you think you’ve read it before, you probably have. It might look as though I’m being very productive, but I’m not – I’m just copying and pasting.

This should all be done and dusted by the beginning of December, so thanks for bearing with me in the meantime.

If you haven’t signed up to receive an email every time I post to And Anyways. You’ll find the “follow” option in the footer or in the sidebar of any post.

For everyone who has been along with me for the ride thus far, thank you. I hope that you come to visit at And Anyways.

And if you’re interested in writing, the business of writing, and bringing a novel into the world, feel free to hang about here from time to time.

As you were…

Châteaux of the Loire Valley – Chambord


Ok, so we’re up to Stage 5 of our Le Grand Tour of France…or should that be Étape cinq? Whatever it is, it’s also the Loire Valley – and the Loire Valley means châteaux.

The thing about the châteaux is that they are somehow too grand, too ostentatious, and too too much. If you’re not careful, château fatigue can sweep through you before you can say Chambourcin. They (“they” being experts in this type of thing) say you should do no more than two a day, and, if possible, make that two a day one of the biggies and one other. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself shuffling mindlessly with your eyes glazed over and muttering…

The other thing about the châteaux? Let’s just say that I now understood why France had a revolution – and we’ll leave it at that before my anti-elitist soapbox comes back out from it’s resting spot.



First up was the big daddy of them all – Chambord. Almost too big to fit into the camera frame, this chateau is more a statement of the splendour of the French monarchy than it is anything else.

Apparently, 25-year-old Frank the First spent just 8 weeks here in total.

Many of the rooms aren’t furnished – but then apparently they never were – at least not permanently anyway. the French court was constantly on the move and with them to the next place went all the furniture and fittings. The monarch’s entourage might number 10,000, with 20,000 horses. They didn’t just drop in – if you know what I mean.

The highlight, though, of this chateau is the double spiral staircase.

Apparently, it’s double helix design was designed by Leonard da Vinci – although that has never been confirmed. The two spirals ascend the three floors without ever meeting.

Next time… Clos Lucé, Amboise and Leonard Da Vinci

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.

Saint-Gengoux-le-National and the andouillette incident

With Lyon as our destination and the start of stage 4 of our Tour de France, we’d left Burgundy relatively late, planning to stop in Cluny for lunch. That was until we saw the sign “Cité Médiévale” – always a reason to turn off the highway and go and have a look.


According to Wikipedia, this place has had a bit of an identity crisis over the years. At the revolution, Saint-Gengoux-le-Royal took the name of Saint-Gengoux-le-National. It reverted to Saint-Gengoux-le-Royal is 1834, Saint-Gengoux-le-National in 1848, Saint-Gengoux-le-Royal in 1852 before finally settling on Saint-Gengoux-le-National in 1881.

This town is full of houses with history – and by history, I mean hundreds of years. The church was built in 1100 something by the Benedictines of Cluny but has been extensively renovated over the years – following semi-regular plunders, trade issues, and changes in architectural taste.

There are plenty of other properties from the 16th and 17th centuries as well. I loved looking through the fences to see the medieval gardens – many still growing the same plants as they would have grown back then.

When we arrive it’s just past midday and the whole town is deserted. The only activity is in the few coffee shops and restaurants in the village square.

After walking around we decided to stop for lunch too – in what ended up being the only truly bad meal with truly bad service that we had in our entire French experience.

There were a couple of lovely looking bistros in the square – the sorts of places that had wisteria hanging down the stone walls and yummy sounding fixed price lunch menus. As tempting as the menus were, we had dinner booked at Le Nord that night so didn’t want a full meal – just something cheap and light.

There was a place across the road that looked as though it could be okay – pretty ordinary from outside, but they’d made some effort with the decor and the menu was cheap.

F and I order a croque monsieur – sort of like a French toasted ham and cheese sandwich, but so much better. This one is served spread across a disposable plate – like the ones you use at barbeques – and slapped on the table with some plastic knives and forks. It’s the worst croque monsieur that we’ve had, but then, even an ordinary croque monsieur is pretty good. It’s one of those dependable things in life.

Hubby, however, wanted to eat here because they had andouillette on the menu for 7E. This sausage made of pigs large intestines is often referred to euphemistically as a tripe sausage – and my husband has been wanting to try one ever since he got talked out of one in a Paris bistro back in 1995. What can I say? He has a long memory.

Of course, I tried to talk him out of it. I told him that Gary Mehigan said in a podcast that the first time he tried one it was like he was eating a biology lesson. I told him that the food writer Terry Durack said you needed to be able to get past “the aggressive aroma of stale urine mixed with sweet spices and pork fat” in order to enjoy it. As an aside, Durack apparently does enjoy it – as do (inexplicably) so many others. There is, believe it or not, an Association Amicale des Amateurs d’Andouillette Authentique (AAAAA) that was formed in order to protect standards and to honour those establishments serving the true, original andouillette. True story.

After both F and I repeated all the reasons why he’d be an idiot to eat something that sounded so gross, hubby reminded us that he enjoys blood sausage, tripe and haggis and that this could not be much different to that. Besides, he said, at 7E if it was really awful he wouldn’t have ruined a nice dinner. Then he reminded us that he’s a Scotsman – although what that had to do with anything I didn’t know.

The andouillette turned up on yet another disposable plate with a handful of ordinary chips and an approximation of a salad. When he cut into it the smell permeated everything and all the bits that were previously inside the sausage were suddenly not – and that is the nicest way I can explain it. Gary Mehigan was right when he described it as a biology lesson.

Bravely he took a bite and wordlessly F and I each handed across half of our croque monsieur and ordered him a beer – which also came in a disposable cup. Even the chips tasted of the smell of the sausage. He said that neither the beer or the croque monsieur was able to get rid of the taste.

When we indicated to the waiter that we’d finished our meals, he grunted and nodded towards the garbage bin in the middle of the floor. We understood that we were to take our plates and our cups and our utensils and the remains of the foul sausage and dump the lot in the bin. The meal was memorable for all of the wrong reasons.

We saw andouillette on virtually every menu in every Bouchon over the next couple of days in Lyon. If they’re that popular, maybe I’m missing something. I must have just had a bad one, hubby decided. Perhaps I should try another one here or maybe there? F and I simply glared at him.

Have you tried andouillette? Are you a lover of all things offal?





101 things in 1001 days

Note: Further updates to this post can now be found at

A couple of weeks ago I read a post by The Annoyed Thyroid. It was an update on her 101 things in 1001 days challenge. It interested me, so I did some more research at Day Zero Project.

The challenge is to come up with 101 things that you want to achieve in the next 1001 days – that’s about 2.75 years. The theory is that for people like me with long-term dreams and a short-term focus, this sort of time period gives you a better chance of achieving the big stuff – it covers seasonal consideration and gives time for bookings, training etc, but also allows lots of smaller wins along the way to keep you going.

The deal isn’t so much to change the world as you know it – although who says that you can’t? – but rather to have somewhere and someway to keep track of all those little, middle and big things that you say you want to do someday.

It’s about ticking off achievable milestones along the way to bigger projects. The only criteria are that tasks must be really specific – measurable or clearly defined – realistic and represent some amount of effort on my part. My challenge starts today, August 27, 2018, and will end on May 24, 2021.

The hardest part of the challenge? Breaking things down to come up with 101 – and keeping it reasonably realistic. To do that I broke it down into categories. Although me being me, I’ve also thrown in some pie in the sky stuff too – I had to.

And for the positive living police, the weight loss thing is there for health reasons. My big aim is to do a 100km+ walk and at my current weight that’s way too much pressure and stress on my joints, heart and back. Ok?

Oh, and for Sam at The Annoyed Thyroid? There’s another one you can cross off your list.

Health and Fitness

1. Lose 5kgs. I’m guessing the 2kgs I lost and gained 3 times in 2018 doesn’t count. As at this morning, I’m 4 kgs into the first 5kgs.

2. Lose another 5kgs

3. Lose another 5kgs

4. Lose another 5 kgs

5. Take a tai-chi class

6. Take a yoga class

7. Take a pilates class

8. Walk the path from Pt Cartwright to Golden Beach. I’ve done 2 segments of this walk now: From Point Cartwright to Kawana, and from Currimundi to Moffat Beach.

9. Nail the Lara Drive stairs

10. Walk up the Ballinger Rd hill without stopping. I’m on my 2nd week of doing this twice a week in addition to my normal beach walk. I reckon it will take me 6 weeks before I can go up it in one go without stopping for photos to find a lung for a breather.

11. Walk up the Dixon Rd hill (there are a lot of hills in Buderim) without stopping.

12. Do the Noosa National Park Walk to Hells Gates and back via the inland track

13. Do the Noosa National Park Walk to Sunshine Beach

14. Walk up Emu Mountain

15. Walk up Mt Coolum

16. Average 10,000 steps a day for 30 days. Done – back in September. This is now updated to at least 30 minutes activity every day for 30 days.

17. Get into a meditation habit – 15 minutes a day for 30 days.


18. Have a photo shoot – outside, casual with decent hair and maybe even make-up – to get a decent bio pic and update my websites

19. Write the family history – on the Lyons side

20. Write the family history – on the Hamilton side

21. Update my will

22. Learn how to take decent food pictures. Not sure how to measure this, but I’ve absolutely improved.

23. Learn how to style brown food. As above.

24. Drive on the highway without having an anxiety thing

25. Go 30 days without spending money on books or music.

26. Get better at French – duolingo

27. Learn basic Italian – duolingo

28. Read 10 memoirs. According to my Goodreads list, so far I’ve read 6.

29. Read 5 craft, business or self-help books

30. Put our France photos into a digital photo book

31. Put our UK photos into a digital photo book

32. Put our Vietnam photos into a digital photo book. Done.

Blogs and Writing

33. Finish writing my France blogs.

34. Send out a monthly newsletter – every month

35. Publish Happy Ever After. Done.

36. Publish I Want You Back (Careful What You Wish For #1)

37. Finish the Tiff Book (Careful What You Wish For #2). Done. It’s been through structural editing so I’m in the middle of the rewrite.

38. Publish the Tiff book

39. Finish the Alice book (Careful What You Wish For #3) In draft.

40. Publish the Alice book

41. Release the Careful What You Wish For series as a box set

42. Publish ebook of recipes used in Wish You Were Here and Happy Ever After and use as a lead magnet for the newsletter

43. Set up kitchen diaries blog – Brookford Kitchen Diaries. Done.

44. Set up Clancy’s Campfire website. Done.

45. Publish Clancy of the Campfire

46. Write The Lilac Queen

47. Write the first book in the Alice Delaney mysteries

48. Write the first book in the Rambling Rose series

49. Mad About The Mac – the definitive mac cheese cookbook

50. Astro site – a monthly newsletter – every month.January done.

51. Astro – Jupiter ebook

52. Astro – Saturn ebook

53. Astro – beginners course

54. Astro – diary and planner

55. Astro – Moon ebook

56. Replace my day job income with income from writing etc


57. Sleep in a tent. Done. Ok, it was a posh tent, but a tent it was.

58. Do a road trip to Cairns

59. Do a road trip to Adelaide

60. Stay at the Eastern & Oriental in Penang

61. Walk up Queenstown Hill

62. Walk the lighthouse track in Byron Bay

63. Walk up Mount Warning in Byron Bay

64. Swim with sea-turtles

65. Snorkel in the Barrier Reef

66. Ride a horse along the beach at Noosa

67. Take a Noosa Everglades cruise

68. Fly business class

69. Eat at one of the world’s top 100 restaurants

70. Have Christmas in the UK

71. Wear a proper dressed up dress and heels for Christmas in the UK

72. Attend a Christmas midnight mass in a village church in the UK

73. Do a long distance walk in the UK – eg The Cotswolds Way, The Ridgeway, Hadrian’s Wall

74. See bluebells in a bluebell wood

75. Take a cruise to the Baltics for hubby’s 60th

76. Visit St Petersburg (as above)

Foodie Stuff

77. Grow ginger

78. Grow garlic

79. Make dumplings

80. Make potato gnocchi that doesn’t bounce

81. Make focaccia. Done.

82. Cook steak to medium rare (hubby usually does this)

83. Make an omelette (he does this too)

84. Perfect the poached egg (he usually does this too). Done – thanks to Nigella.

85. Make decent scrambled eggs (and this – but I’m great at boiled and fried eggs)

86. Make a piccalilli. Done.

87. Make cannoli

88. Try 10 new meat-free dishes

89. Try 10 new soup recipes

90. Try 5 new ice creams or frozen desserts. So far I’ve made strawberry ice cream and a blender strawberry sorbet.

91. Make mayonnaise by hand

92. Make hollandaise by hand

93. Make bearnaise sauce by hand

94. Make honeycomb

95. Make marmalade

96. Make lemon curd. Done.

97. Make light as air cupcakes

98. Make a Victoria sponge

99. Make a Tarte Tatin

100. Cook my way through Nigella’s “How To Eat”. How to Cook “How To Eat”


101. Inspire someone else to write down 101 things to do in 1001 days.

Boiled eggs and sardines…

In the opening scene of the most recent (and I think best) version of Murder on the Orient Express, a servant boy is seen running around town to fetch some fresh eggs. The eggs are boiled and presented beautifully in front of Kenneth Branagh’s  Poirot who then takes out a ruler, measures them and sends them away. Although (we assume) they are cooked perfectly, Poirot requires them to be perfectly matching. he has a thing about that. Off runs the boy again for some more eggs.

I have no such hang-ups – as you can see from the pic above. the eggs were the same size so I suspect one egg cup is wider than the other. Whatever.

I can’t remember the last time that I had boiled eggs and soldiers – it was probably the last time I was sick. Yet I craved them all last week – presumably because I wasn’t well. It was nothing serious – just a head cold followed by a couple of days of asthma as head colds tend to go with me. Let’s just say that the shareholders of Kleenex would have been happy with me.

It was, however, the first head cold I’d had in at least 18 months, maybe 2 years, and my first sick day since 2011. Come to think of it, maybe it was more serious than a cold – it might have even been man flu.

As well as the boiled eggs, I also had sardines on white toast for brekky one morning – another dish from my childhood that I have a hankering for only when I’m sick. Naturally, I didn’t have the boiled eggs at the same time as the sardines – that would just be too gross.

I’m fussy about each as well. The eggs have to be soft-boiled but with the whites set. The toast has to be plain white bread with proper butter, and the sardines have to be John West and squashed quite thinly on the toast.

As far as cravings go, the sardines are, I grant you, an unusual one – and something I didn’t even crave when I was pregnant. It did, however, get me thinking about comfort food.

When I’m feeling tingly in the throat or my energy is a tad low a bowl of pho or Thai Boat Noodle soup is usually enough to lift me back up. I always have home-made chicken stock in the freezer and a bag of dumplings, so it’s also easy to knock together a chicken dumpling soup.

My ultimate comfort food of choice is, however, Hainanese chicken rice – it’s sometimes also called white-cooked chicken. It’s essentially poached chicken that’s sliced and served cold with a bowl of the stock, some chilli sauce, kecap manis (sweet, sticky soy), minced ginger and shallots, cucumber and rice that’s also been cooked in the stock.  I haven’t found a good one here on the coast so we make our own. It’s simple, full of flavour, and seriously comforting.

Hainan Chicken Rice – not my pic – mine is never styled this nicely

It’s probably no wonder that I put on weight when I’m sick!

Anyone else out there craves certain foods when they’re a tad low? I’d love to know…your secret is safe here…

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.

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…