Sentence a Day – August

August was a month that began with us still on our road-trip through NSW (you can find part 1 here and Part 2 here) and ended with business as usual. In between was a head-cold that I’m still not entirely over – a touch of asthma is still lurking around, but not enough to stop me from my morning walks.

Aside from the road trip and Eucumbene, the highlight for this month was a single ingredient dinner at Jimmy’s. This month the ingredient was pumpkin and it was featured very yummily in each of the four courses we were served. We’ve already booked in for next month!

The weather is currently gorgeous – blue skies and mild late winter days. The sun is up by 6 am and the morning shivers don’t last long. It’s a beautiful time of the year.

Hubby looking for whales

Anyways, without further ado, let’s wrap this month up.

1.Canberra. Caught up with my mother-in-law, pho in Dickson, and dinner with friends at Walt & Burley in Kingston – when did Kingston get so happening?

Pho

2. Canberra – coffee with Leanne from Deep Fried Fruit, catch-up with a friend, dosa for lunch at Dosa House in Garema Place, and a wander around the Art Gallery.

3. An icy start for our drive to Eucumbene. Day 1 around the campfire and the Clancys are already on fire – metaphorically rather than literally. Culinary hit of the day was the steamed dumplings.

4. The wind howled all night – as the wind down here can do. Into Jindabyne for a wander and a tasting at Wild Brumby Distillery before an afternoon of prep and cooking around the campfire. Golden syrup dumplings cooked in the billycan went down a treat.

5. While the other Clancys went looking for snow I had some serenity time outside in the cold reading my book. Jaffles with the lot on the menu – ie leftover time.

6. Began the drive home – as far as Cowra today via a snowy Kiandra, and stops in Tumut and Young.

7. Big 600km drive to Armidale via Wellington and a forgettable lunch stop at Werris Creek. A visit to Boo Books in Armidale and dinner at our fave – The White Bull.

8. Home the long way via Gatton, Esk, Kilcoy. Dog and daughter seemed pleased we’re home – although the dog was a tad more obviously pleased to see us.

9. Nice to wake up in our own bed. Back to work and a huge load of washing – all of which smelt of the campfire.

10. A sort of sleep-in before the monthly visit to the hairdressers. I also got a notification that my little astro blog is in the top 50 astrology blogs worldwide and no. 2 Australian Astrology blog. I think that’s probably a good thing. It’s also a reminder that I need to invest more time and effort into it.

11. Markets this morning. Oh, and I made an orange and almond cake.

12. Yum cha at the Plaza for a friend’s birthday.

13. It was Monday and it was blue – does that make it a Blue Monday? (That’s one for the New Order fans – and shows my age.)

14. Drinking heaps of hot water with lemon and ginger to try and ward off an impending head cold. In other news, there’s a butcher bird singing gloriously on next door’s aerial.

15. The head cold has a hold – first one in a couple of winters, but I fear it’s so bad it could be man flu. I prescribe myself whisky and chicken dumpling soup.

chicken dumpling soup

16. Feel like total crap and took my first sick day since about 2011. In other news, adding substantially to Kleenex’s revenue.

17. The head cold has turned to asthma and breathing and talking at the same time is a challenge I’m not quite up to.

18. Feeling a tad better today so made strawberry jam – as you do.

19. Decision Bowl lunch at Junk (Maroochydore) today, beach roads closed due to Sunshine Coast marathon, ordered Vietnam photo books, and Rake is back on telly.

20. Sunrise is getting so early – I think we might have seen the last one for this year.

Random trivia: Did you know that each colour of Bassett’s Jelly Babies – there are 3 million of them sold in the UK every week – has a name? And they all start with B. Don’t say you don’t learn anything from this blog.

21. Happy 50th to my sister. Wishing you all the best Tommy…

22. Recipe and foodie website launched – a new place for all things foodie. Welcome to the Brookford Kitchen Diaries.

a random shot of yoghurt and strawberries

23. Clarity around the new project that I’m not yet ready to talk about…watch this space. Roads and parking already closed around the beach in readiness for the Ironman 70.3 this weekend.

24. Friday = work on my novel day. Some words written – many more deleted.

25. Markets and a walk down to have a look at Flinders Fair. Gotta love the fete days at these posh schools – they absolutely have their priorities right with the largest space given over to the bar.

26. Astro get-together, lunch at Nguyen Bros, and rain – we need it but.

27. Roads and parking still closed around the beach after yesterday’s Ironman. All this disruption for one race that lasts half a day. Oh, and dolphins. Mondays are always better with dolphins.

28. Single ingredient dinner at Jimmy’s tonight. The ingredient? Pumpkin.

29. Cracker of a day which apart from my morning walk was spent mostly inside at my desk.

30. Dolphin sightings again this morning on the walk, work and a homemade tom yum soup for dinner.

31. Lunchtime sausage sandwich on Alex Hill. A lovely way to end the month.

What I’m reading:

I read six books this month, but the highlights were two memoirs by British food writer, Nigel Slater: Toast and Eating For England

What I’m Watching:

  • Jack Irish (ABC) Series is now ended, but I think still available on iview
  • Shakespeare & Hathaway (ABC) Series is now ended, but I think still available on iview
  • Rake (ABC) Yay, Cleaver’s back!
  • 800 Words (Channel 7)
  • Detectorists (ABC) Earlier series is on Netflix
  • The Split (ABC)
  • The Chefs Line (SBS) (Catch up on SBS on-demand)
  • All Aussie Adventures (It’s time to hit the road) (Channel 10)

Lyon – The Foodie Walking Tour

 

Our apartment is on the street so we’re woken by the noise and bustle of a city waking up. It feels almost Italian rather than French – although the accents tell us otherwise.

In fact, the whole area feels Italian – the restaurants, the architecture, the colours, the sounds. I suppose that it makes sense seeing as though the heritage of this city is a Roman one, and the architecture and food culture comes largely from the Italian workers in the silk trade.

Food Walking Tour

Lyon is regarded as the gastronomic capital of France – and for good reason. There are over 4000 restaurants in this city – and it’s the 4th most Michelin rated city in Europe. It’s the bouchons, though, that we were most interested in. These were originally places where silk merchants stopped to have a meal, clean their horses and maybe stay the night. The term Bouchon was used then to describe the twisted straw brushes used to clean the horses. It’s also the term for a cork or a traffic jam. Don’t say you don’t learn anything from this blog.

Most of these Bouchons were run by women – Mere Lyonnaises (the Mothers of Lyon) who left their positions as cooks in middle-class households to start their own businesses.

To learn more about it, we took a foodie walking tour through Vieux, or old, Lyon.

Our first stop was for fromage, ie cheese. The extremely passionate owner had organised his cheese by region, source (ie cow, goat, sheep) and whether raw or pasteurised.

We tried a number of cheeses and heard about where each came from and who made it.

Next up was charcuterie. By now we’re feeling glad that we didn’t have breakfast.

We tried chaud saucisson en brochette, an assortment of salamis whose names I didn’t write down, andouilette (tripe sausage) mixed with creme fraiche and spread onto bread and not at all like the biology lesson it was when hubby tried it the day before in Saint-Gengoux-Le-National. Having said that, I still didn’t like it. Apparently, the Lyonnaise use veal “bits” rather than pork “bits” so it’s not as stinky…whatevs. The red wine took the taste away nicely.

As we walked off some of what we’d eaten we ventured in and out of traboules.

I told you about these before we left for France. They are, in essence, a series of shortcuts through houses and courtyards and private passageways that the silk workers used to get their precious cargo between the river and the city and vice versa.

 

Silk weaving was painstaking work with some fabrics taking months to weave at between 5-20 cm a day – depending on the design. It’s no wonder they wanted to make sure it didn’t get wet once they had finished it!

The workers and their families lived where they worked – often in just a couple of cramped rooms.

Interestingly, the pitchers that they use for wine in the bouchons take just 450mls  when they look like they’d hold more. They have a misleading false bottom. As the silk workers were often paid in wine, these false-bottomed pitchers actually represented a pay cut. These pitchers were the cause of some of the strikes and unrest in the late 19th century.

In a Bouchon we sampled cervelles de canuts, or silk workers brains – although it’s not really brains, just a very yummy fromage blanc based cheese dip that I’ll tell you more about another time. We also had jambon perseille – ham in aspic with parsley – and oeufs meurette – eggs in a red wine sauce. We accompanied this with another Lyonnaise classic, a communard – red wine with cassis, framboise and fraise liqueur.

Next up was an ice cream tasting. Pauline, our guide, asked us to try and guess the flavours. The first was easy – passionfruit – although the Canadian couple also on the tour had never tried passionfruit before. The things we take for granted. The second flavour we sampled was a date with orange blossom water.

Our final tasting (phew) was a praline tart that I’m sure was the inspiration for the decor in the apartment we were staying in. It was pinker than anything edible has the right to be – and just as sweet as you’d imagine.

Speaking of pink, if there was a colour that defines Lyon, it’s pink. It sounds lovely, but the colour originally came from the oxblood that they used to paint the bricks with. It doesn’t sound quite as romantic now, does it? In many cases the colour has faded away, but in our building and others the pale pink remains.

If you want more info about this Food Tour, here’s the link. We did the 4 hour Vieux Lyon at 70E per head.

Where we ate

Le Nord, by Paul Bocuse

I was so looking forward to this and although the food was good, the service was disappointing. The waiter delivering our food didn’t know who had ordered what and it was the first restaurant we’d been in at night where we weren’t offered an amuse bouche. It was all less than we’d been expecting from a Bocuse restaurant. Perhaps it was a tourist thing, although it was something we hadn’t encountered elsewhere.

I had chaud saucisson – essentially sausage within a brioche; a Lyonnaise classic- and Bresse Chicken in a tarragon sauce. Bresse Chicken had been on my list to try and it didn’t disappoint. It was like no other chicken I’d had before – a dark, firm meat, almost gamey in flavour.

The streets at night are full of people out eating. It’s vibrant, noisy and a really great vibe.

The second night we were so footsore that we ate in a Bouchon downstairs. We each had a bowl of onion soup and shared a serve of cervelles de canuts with steamed potatoes and salad, and a charcuterie plate, with plenty of red wine. It was simple food cooked well – and we loved it.

Where we stayed

le XVI de la Rose, 16 Rue du Boeuf

Our apartment was in the Rose Tower and had it all – a steep spiral staircase to reach it, super stylish fittings, the fluffiest of fluffy rugs, and recessed lighting in the toilet – because that’s what you really need in a toilet. It was, on the whole, drop dead gorgeous.

Sharing the ground floor was a UNESCO listed courtyard, art gallery and one of the oldest silk works in Lyon. In the sought after Saint-Jean part of the old town, we had our choice of museums and bouchons just outside the front door.

The reference to rose in the apartment’s title wasn’t just the name of the building – it was also in the interior. This apartment was pink – from the mural on the wall to the figures in the foosball game to the toilet paper. Yes, the toilet paper matched the rest of the apartment. There was even a tree in the bathroom. I didn’t attempt to hang a towel on it.

There was nothing in this apartment that wasn’t styled to within an inch of its life – except perhaps for us. Although my toenails did match the rug – as did my kir royale.

Like most apartments in this part of town, there was no parking in or around the premises so we had to park in the parking station down the road and wheel our bags over the cobbles and then carry them up the stairs. It’s seriously no wonder that everyone in this town is in amazing shape.

Looking up the staircase. Pic from the apartment’s booking.com page

Next time – Lyon Part 2: The Basilica and Roman Ruins

*My friend Jan has also penned some reasons to visit Lyon. You can find her post 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.


101 things in 1001 days

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.

Ok, here goes:

Personal, Health and Fitness

1.Lose 5kgs

2. Lose another 5kgs

3. Lose another 5kgs

4. Lose another 5 kgs

5. Have a photo shoot – outside, casual with decent hair

6. Get a decent bio pic and update my websites

7. Take a tai-chi class

8. Take a yoga class

9. Take a pilates class

10. Walk the path from Pt Cartwright to Golden Beach

11. Nail the Lara Drive stairs

12. Walk up the Ballinger Rd hill

13. Walk up the Dixon Rd hill

14. Walk up the Cogill Rd hill (there are a lot of hills in Buderim)

15. Walk up Emu Mountain

16. Walk up Mt Coolum

17. Average 10,000 steps a day for 30 days

18. Get into a meditation habit

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

23. Learn how to style brown food

24. Drive on the highway without having an anxiety thing

25. Go 30 days without spending money on books or music – not even if it’s a bookbub special.

26. Get better at French – duolingo

27. Learn basic Italian – duolingo

28. Read 10 memoirs

29. Read 5 craft or business 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

Blog and Writing

33. Finish writing my France blogs

34. Send out a monthly newsletter – every month

35. Publish Happy Ever After

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

37. Finish the Tiff Book (Careful What You Wish For #2)

38. Publish the Tiff book

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

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 Max’s kitchen diaries blog – Brookford Kitchen Diaries

44. Set up Clancy of the Campfire website

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

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

Travel

57. Sleep in a tent

58. Do a road trip to Cairns

59. Do a road trip to Adelaide

60. Stay at the Eastern & Oriental in Penang

61. Have tiffin at Raffles

62. Walk up Queenstown Hill

63. Walk the lighthouse track in Byron Bay

64. Walk up Mount Warning in Byron Bay

65. Swim with sea-turtles

66. Snorkel in the Barrier Reef

67. Ride a horse along the beach at Noosa

68. Take a Noosa Everglades cruise

69. Fly business class

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

71. Have Christmas in the UK

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

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

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

75. See bluebells in a bluebell wood

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

77. Visit St Petersburg (as above)

Foodie Stuff

78. Make rice noodles

79. Make dumplings

80. Perfect pasta

81. Make potato gnocchi that doesn’t bounce

82. Make focaccia

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

84. Make an omelette (he does this too)

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

86. Make a piccalilli

87. Preserve something for later

88. Make cannoli

89. Try 10 new meat-free dishes

90. Try 10 new soup recipes

91. Try 5 new ice creams or frozen desserts

92. Make more ice-cream

93. Make honeycomb

94. Be meat-free for 30 days

95. Make a proper tiramisu

96. Make marmalade

97. Make lemon curd

98. Make light as air cupcakes

99. Make a Victoria sponge

100. Make a Tarte Tatin

Other

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.


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”. It is, however, still very much a love story.

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.

Aussie authors I identify with are Rachael Johns, Lisa Ireland, Josephine Moon, Helene Young and Jenn McLeod.

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.