Ok, it hasn’t been a great week in the day job so we’re going to skim clumsily past all of that and dwell only on the things that made me smile this week. I’m pretty sure that I can find 5 of them:

The Cruise ship

Watching a cruise ship sail into Mooloolaba Beach never gets old. I love how it brings so much revenue into the community and I love how the locals come out to watch it too.

It’s visits like this that earned Mooloolaba Beach the honour of the 4th best beach in Australia – according to Trip Advisor reviews. And yes, I know that trip advisor reviews are very much a numbers game but in my humble opinion our beach is pretty special and deserves the accolade.

The books…

This week I read 2 great books – How To Be Second Best and The Trials and Triumphs of Grace Atherton. Both were great, but Grace’s story was just lovely – even though I hate the title.

I’m also halfway through reading a cookbook – yes, reading a cookbook – that is so beautifully written that it brings tears to my eyes even though I’m yet to cook anything from it. Midnight Chicken – I love it so much I’ll probably actually write a review for it. Maybe.

The Hashtag…

I’m following a few hashtags these days but my pick for this week is #selfiesforintroverts – check it out.

The Countdown…

I’m on a countdown and this time next week we’ll be in New Zealand. I can’t wait.

The Day Out…

I’m back in Sydney for work but managed a trip into the city, lunch at the Opera Bar and a wander around the shops today.

Okay, that was my week – how was yours?

Not my office

Working from home. It’s the dream, right? You lie in bed until five minutes before you’re due to log into work and then spend your day in your pyjamas. Better yet, you spend the day in bed. That’s how it’s supposed to work, isn’t it? Yeah…nah…at least not if you want to consistently get things done.

I work completely from home – juggling around 4 days a week in my corporate day job (remote work back to Sydney), with my fiction writing, astro writing, and what I call blogging but what the marketers of the world refer to as “content creation”. It’s something that I’ve been doing full-time for the last 2 years – and at least a couple of days a week for a number of years before that.

My day job is a busy one and I set myself deadlines for my writing work around my corporate work. In order to get anything done, I have to be organised, but this sort of discipline is not something that comes naturally to me. It’s a boundary thing.

Anyways, here are my tips for working from home and getting stuff done.

Have a work routine

Just as if you had to get up, get dressed and commute to work, set a repeatable routine for yourself.

In Sydney, my alarm would go off at 5.30am so I could leave for the bus at 6.20am, to be in the city for coffee by 8 and at my desk and working before 8.30. These days, my alarm still goes off at that time, but I head down to the beach for a 5km walk and coffee afterwards.

I’m still at my desk and working by 8.30, but I’ve had some exercise and fresh air as well as #winning.

Get dressed

Yes, get out of your pjs. You don’t have to dress up and do the make-up thing, but getting dressed is you telling yourself that you mean business. It’s part of the ritual of going to work.

Go to work

I’m lucky in that I have a dedicated office slightly away from the rest of the house – up 5 stairs. When I go to work, that’s what I’m doing. If you don’t have your own space, dedicate an area to your work zone. It doesn’t need to be huge, but it does need to be where you work. It’s a symbolic thing.

Of course, going to work could mean picking up your laptop and escaping to the nearest coffee shop, park, beach, or whatever. I do that too – especially if I need to change my headspace from corporate to creative.

While on the subject, make sure your set-up is ergonomically friendly.

Plan your day

It’s very easy for things to go off the rails very quickly – I have plenty of days where as a result of things going to custard I end the day having achieved just two things:

  • a morning walk
  • to pour wine

Each Monday jot down what you want to accomplish for the week, and do the same for each day – a Big Plan and a Little Plan. Having this on your desk will help keep you on track when you ask the dog, ‘Okay, what’s next?’

Implement a reasonable internet use policy

Just as you have a reasonable internet use policy in the office, do the same when you’re working for yourself or at home. If it would be unacceptable to sit on Facebook or Instagram all day while you’re in the office, why is it ok to waste your working hours on it at home?

Naturally, the exceptions are if you’re on there for genuine research purposes, or for social media marketing/ content scheduling.

Take regular breaks

Although the temptation might be to work through, make sure you completely stop for a lunch break. If you’d normally have a sandwich and a walk during your lunch hour, do this at home too. Just stop – for at least 30 minutes.

Stock your pantry

If you don’t want your lunch hour spreading into a lunch 2 hours, have your pantry (or freezer) stocked with quick and easy lunch options.

Clock off

Again, because you’re at home, it’s way too easy to just keep working. Set a knock-off time and stick to it. Of course, the exceptions are deadlines and those amazing days when the words are flowing easily – but for all other times, close the laptop at the end of your designated working day.

I set my log-off time at 5pm (Sydney time) each day and at that time I sign out of the day job workspace and resist the temptation to take calls after that time – there are plenty of people who think that because you work from home you are permanently on call. Yeah…nah.

Switch Off

If you were commuting, you’d usually have a period of time between the end of the workday and the beginning of home time. Do the same here. When there are no physical boundaries between you and work you need to set some. Whether it’s taking the dog for a walk, relaxing with a book, pouring a glass of wine – whatever. Make a ritual of something that symbolises that your work day is done and switch off.

Set boundaries

By far, the hardest part of working from home is persuading others that you’re working from home.

My husband is retired, and other than when he does his volunteer work is home most days. At first, he had a few issues with the concept of home being a workplace. ‘But I never know if you’re working,’ he’d say.

‘If it’s Monday to Friday and I’m in the office, it’s safe to assume that I’m working,’ I’d reply.

‘But I don’t know whether you’re work working, or working on your stuff working,’ he’d say, the inference being that if I was work working ie back to Sydney being paid directly for what I do work, he wouldn’t interrupt me. Hmmmm.

The same goes for when people are visiting – our home is my workplace so I can’t just stop and entertain or take the day off to go sightseeing.

Maintain relationships

This is a tough one. I show my face in the office back in Sydney every couple of months. This is necessary for me to maintain relationships with my colleagues. It can also get a little lonely from time to time when I have just Adventure Spaniel for company – even though she agrees with everything I say; something my colleagues certainly do not!

Do you work from home? What do you love about it and what do you find challenging? Any tips and tricks?

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 Middle, and, of course, me.

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

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Okay, I’m in one of those moods today. To be honest, I think I’ve been leading into being in one of “those” moods for the past three weeks and the day has arrived where I’ve decided to indulge my bad mood for a few hours – I don’t really have the focus required to keep it going for much longer than that. Anyways it really is just the day job that’s causing me more than the usual amount of overwhelm at present and given that there’s very little I’m prepared to do about that at present, I need instead to change my attitude. Besides, I’m taking a week off in 2 weeks time, so really, when you think about it, I have absolutely nothing to complain about.

In any case, that’s all rather boring so let’s unpack the week instead.

What I worried about…

Sarah has been in Queenstown, NZ for the week with a friend. Although she’s travelled plenty with us, this was her first solo overseas holiday so naturally, I worried about her. She is, however, back safe and sound having had a fabulous time.

While she was over there she did, however, do this.

It’s a Canyon Swing and in the pic above she’s the one who’s hair is flying up in the air. In the pic to the right is the two of them being catapulted across the canyon. Yeah, nah…not for me.

Cyclone Watch…

Cyclone Oma has been lurking off the South Queensland coast for most of the week. At first, it was just stoking up some pretty interesting looking waves. By Wednesday, however, they (being the weather gurus) were forecasting it to cross the Queensland coast somewhere between here on the Sunshine Coast and a couple of hours up the road on the Fraser Coast.

It would bring with it, they said, huge dumps of rain, lots of wind, and plenty of damaging surf.

Oma, however, didn’t do what it was supposed to do and turned around again. So, cyclone watch cancelled, but still some massive surf and the biggest tides I’ve seen on the coast.

My Instagram feed has been full of wave photos (#soznotsoz) but the 3 pics below are my faves. I took these on Friday morning and got smashed by this wave. Fully soaked from head to toe. It was pretty funny but like the true professional I am, I kept on clicking the shutter.

What I want to join…

The wibbly wobbly wonky cottage club brought to you by @photosofbritain. They meet every week and visit tumbling down cottages (like the one below), eat piles of scones and take long naps. Apart from the naps, it sounds like my kind of club.

What I grew…

Ginger.

For the past 6-8 months, I’ve been popping the little green bits on the nobbly part of ginger root into whatever pot or patch of soil I can find. Yesterday I harvested my first ginger. It had taken up most of the pot it was in so I halved it and put the rest back into the soil for a little bit longer.

Here on the Sunshine Coast we’re spoilt and can buy ginger cheaply all year round from the farmer’s markets – usually harvested just the day before. I use it in so much that I cook and also chop it up with lemon to have in hot water while I work during the day. I have something special in mind for this – a Vietnamese chicken and ginger stir-fry.

What I cooked…

My healthy recipe of the week was Bang Bang Chicken. It comes from Adam Liaw’s Asian After Work, but you can also find the recipe here.

You could express-style it up a bit by substituting the ground toasted sesame seeds for a couple of spoonfuls of tahini, but after the day that I’d had on Tuesday (and Monday, Wednesday and Thursday), I needed something to smash and sesame seeds were the best – and most appropriate – option.

We served it with some fresh rice noodles, cucumber and spring onions. My photo was terrible, so this is what it looks like in the book.

From the Nigella files, I also made a Bakewell Tart and real custard – but you’ll need to wait a few weeks until I blog it for that. Again, the pics are dreadful. I blame the lighting.

What I read…

Anthony Horowitz’s House Of Silk. This was my first ever Sherlock Holmes and I picked it up only because Horowitz had written it. I did, however, enjoy it immensely.

What I wrote…

Real life novel words. I’m supposed to be working 3.5/4 days a week in the day job, but for the first time in I can’t remember how long I actually took Friday off. Sure, there were work phone calls, but I took myself down to the Surf Club, watched the waves roll in and wrote some words.

I also finally booked myself and Christmas at Curlew Cottage into my editor’s diary so now I have a deadline that I’ve committed to.

What I’m looking forward to…

A mini road trip through New Zealand’s north island in 2 weeks time. We need to be in Martinborough (the wine region just outside Wellington) for a birthday party so are making a proper break of it. We’re flying into Auckland and making our way down from there – it’s fair to say that Auckland isn’t my favourite place in NZ…sorry. Anyways, it’s been about 10 years since I last had a look around the Bay of Plenty, Rotorua and Taupo so it should be good and the party will undoubtedly be fun. Speaking of which, I need to organise a costume that will fit into our luggage allowance!

Okay, that was my week…how was yours?

 

The two basil bushes I planted in the Spring have been very generous to us over the summer. Basil has been torn into Asian-style herby salads, topped simple home-made pizzas, been sandwiched between mozzarella cheese and thick slices of tomato for a Caprese salad and chopped into pasta sauces. I’ve also made batches of pesto and frozen it in single-serve portions for the “cooler” weather when the basil isn’t in such a giving mood. It’s perfect to toss through pasta for a quick lunch or to stir into tomato or vegetable soup to add some interest.

My favourite thing to make with pesto, though, is the pesto rice salad in Delia Smith’s Summer Collection that I’ve been making for family barbecues since (I’m going to say this really quickly) the late-90s. What do you do though when you want the taste of pesto but one of your dinner guests is allergic to nuts and pesto is therefore off-limits? You substitute the pesto for Nigella’s Basil Oil of course.

All you need for this is a large bunch of basil (leaves roughly picked or torn off) and about 8-10 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. You blanch the basil quickly by pouring boiling water over the leaves and letting them sit for about 30 seconds. Immediately plunge them into icy water. This way you’ll keep that fabulous green. Squeeze out as much of the moisture as you can and pop them in a small processor with the olive oil – I used the Nutri-bullet. Grate in a clove of garlic and whizz it until you have a thick-ish green puree. That’s it.

To turn it into a pesto, simply reduce the olive oil by a couple of tablespoons and add 1 tablespoon of pine nuts and about 25g grated pecorino romano, parmesan or something similar before blitzing.

This oil is also great drizzled over a Caprese Salad or brushed over zucchini/ courgette slices before barbecuing, but I used most of it in the rice salad. Speaking of which, here is the recipe. Naturally, you can also make this salad with traditional pesto – simply omit the grated cheese and use pesto in place of herb oil.

What you need…

  • 1 quantity basil oil
  • 25g grated pecorino romano, Parmigiano Reggiano or parmesan
  • 450ml boiling chicken or vegetable stock – if you don’t have any stock, water is fine
  • Arborio rice measured to the 220ml mark in a measuring jug
  • 2 spring onions, chopped
  • Extra cheese shaved with a vegetable peeler for the top
  • Some fresh basil leaves to serve

What you do with it…

  • Measure out the rice into a measuring jug and add about 1/4 of the basil oil to it. Stir until all the grains are coated with the oil.
  • Tip the herby rice into a wide, shallow saucepan or frying pan with a lid and pour the stock over it.
  • Turn on the heat, add a teaspoon of salt and stir well.
  • When it comes to the boil put the lid on, turn the heat down to as low as it goes and let it cook for 20 minutes.
  • As soon as it’s ready, tip it into a serving bowl with most of the remaining basil oil. Stir it through – adding more if necessary – and then add the grated cheese and chopped spring onions, again stirring well.
  • Serve with the shaved cheese and fresh basil leaves.

I’ve taken on the challenge to cook my way through Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat. You can find other episodes here.

 

Ok, I was going to do another Nigella Diaries update today – tell you all about basil oil and pesto rice salad, but my daughter, Sarah, is in Queenstown at the moment having a fabulous time and I’m just a wee bit jelly…but only a wee bit because I’m thrilled she’s having a fabulous time. Mostly I’m missing her.

Because she’s in Queenstown and I’m missing her and wishing more than a little bit that I was there too (and yes, I realise that it’s not all about me) I’m cheating a tad with today’s post and sharing some Queenstown favourites. For those of you who have seen these in previous posts I offer no apology.

Sarah and I have visited Queenstown a few times together, in fact, it was in Queenstown that we took our very first helicopter ride. That’s us in the pic below – back in ummmm 2011 I think. Or maybe 2012? It’s hard to believe that she’s nearly 21! I’ve also been a number of times without her – in every season other than the middle of winter (note to self – I really must book a trip in winter some time). Queenstown is, with all apologies to Wellington, my favourite place in New Zealand. I love it so much I’ve already set 2 novels here and have more in the planning stage.

Anyways, Queenstown in photos. Regular readers might have seen these before, but you know what? I say “so what” to that…

Lake Wakatipu

Of course. Framed by The Remarkables – the mountain range that runs due north, 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.

Not only does the colour seem to change every second, but 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 of the water.

I love stories like this. There’s also one that I could tell you about the eels in the lake and Tonga…but we don’t really have time for that.

The Road to Glenorchy

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

Glenorchy

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. They also hold a horse race each on teh first Saturday in January each year that anyone can enter – and wear a cowboy hat.

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

Arrowtown

A charming gold-rush town at its absolute picturesque best in the autumn…also featuring in Happy Ever After.

What else?

So much. I could talk about wineries – Otago pinot needs to be tasted to be believed; food – of course, I could tell you about the food; activities – Queenstown really is the capital of jumping off things that work perfectly well. Aside from the helicopter, over the years I’ve jet-boated in Queenstown, zip-lined in Queenstown and hiked in Queenstown. You’ll never get me bungy jumping there though! Sarah did, however, do the canyon swing today – involving a 3-second freefall into a canyon before being swung across it. Yeah…and nah.

What about you? Are you a Queenstown fan? What about bungy – yeah or nah?

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.

Inlinkz Link Party
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The week in pictures

Okay, I’m ridiculously late in getting this out, but then it’s been a ridiculously busy week in the day job. Anyways, without further ado, here’s the week that was…

Who I met in real life…

One of the highlights in this manic week was a completely unplanned catch-up and drink with The Annoyed Thyroid. That’s us in the pics above. We didn’t have nearly enough time to talk about everything we had to talk about. Next time there will be dumplings as well.

We went to this little bar in York Street called Stitch. You enter through a faux dressmaker’s shop and head down a staircase into the bar – which feels as though it’s in the belly of a ship. All very cool.

Being back in Sydney…

I make no bones about the fact that I find it exhausting to be back in Sydney. This is partly because it always coincides with a particularly hectic time in the day job and partly because I’m doing the daily bus commute and partly because I also try to catch up with friends after work – and going out on a school night is something I don’t normally tend to do.

I do, however, stay with my parents and it’s good to have some one-on-one time with them – plus their dog always loves to see me; even if the photo below doesn’t show the extent of his enthusiasm.

Where I Valentined…

Although I’m absolutely a romantic and believer in happy endings – after all, I write enough of them – I’m not at all into Valentine’s Day so wasn’t too hung up about spending it away from hubby. I do, in fact, think that with all the commercialism that surrounds it Valentine’s Day is probably the least romantic day of the year.

Having said that, when you’ve been together for a while and (heaven forbid) might be taking things just a wee bit for granted, days like Valentines and anniversaries are little reminders that every so often your relationship needs to be put front and centre. Valentine’s is good for that I suppose – the sentiment, not the expenditure.

Anyways, I spent the evening with my friend at a bar in Barangaroo – Wild Sage – catching up on girly gossip and eating yummy food. The rose petals on the table might have been wasted on us but we both agreed it was the best Valentine’s Day ever.

What I blogged…

To be honest I wrote very little last week that wasn’t to do with the day job. I did, however, pop something up for the Nigella Diaries on Chocolate Self-saucing puddings. If you missed it you’ll find the link here.

Random dumplings…

As if I hadn’t eaten out enough last week, I was completely knackered on Friday when I got home so we took the easy option and went out for Chinese for dinner. Yes, dumplings were involved.

What I attended…

Books By The Beach – the Romance Edition – at Mooloolaba on Saturday.

Unfortunately, because I was away during the week, we had friends due for dinner on Saturday night and Ms T was due to head out for a week in NZ at 4am Sunday morning, I could only get to one workshop – but it was a good one on branding and general marketing.

I came away with plenty of ideas – one of which was to keep my brand consistent across each of my websites/ blogs – hence the change at the top of this website. I’ve also changed my foodie Instagram account to one specifically for my author business. It will be pretty much books and baking – given that there’s plenty of baking happening in my books. What I’m writing, reading and baking. You’ll find it at @joannetraceyauthor. Of course my usual daily beachy walky inspo and whatever will be unchanged at @jotracey.

What I read…

Given that I had a couple of flights and daily commutes I read four books from the “to be read” pile in my kindle last week:

  • These Girls and The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkanen – both really enjoyable
  • The Christmas Wish, by Tilly Tennant – I’ve added Christmas in Lapland to my bucket list
  • Any Way You Want Me, by Lucy Diamond which I didn’t enjoy at all – even though I normally enjoy Lucy Diamond. I suspect that it was because I found it a tad uncomfortable at times, but given that this was her debut and written a while ago, it could also be because the writing was a little more try-hard than I’m used to with her. Maybe.

What I cooked…

A basil oil from How To Eat that I used to make what would have been a pesto rice salad for Saturday night – except I knew that one of our guests is allergic to nuts so pine nuts were out and basil oil was in. Anyways, I’ll blog it for The Nigella Diaries on Thursday.

Also from the Nigella files, I made this no-fuss, no-cook lemon curd cheesecake that you seriously need in your life. It took about 30 minutes to prepare (and that included time for the base to rest in the fridge) and then you let it chill for 4 hours and toss some fruit on the top. Aside from the fruit, this uses just 4 ingredients: digestive biscuits, butter, lemon curd and cream cheese. Express entertaining at it’s finest. The recipe is here.

Okay, that was my week – how was yours?

 

 

 

 

In the introduction to this recipe – which she calls Sticky Chocolate Pudding – Nigella tells us that her family refers to this as Lemon Surprise; the surprise being that there is no lemon.

Seriously though, Nigella’s Sticky Chocolate Pudding is essentially a self-saucing pudding. And, on account of the fact that it uses both cocoa and dark chocolate buttons in the sponge and about 120g of cocoa in the sauce – a very rich one at that. In fact, as tasty as it was – and it was extremely luxurious – a little bit of this goes a very long way indeed.

The verdict was, in fact, that while it was nice, my family prefers the self-saucing pudding that I’ve been making since I was a teenager and is so foolproof that I’ve even cooked it in a camp or Dutch oven over a campfire. It’s even quick enough to whip up as a midweek after dinner treat.

Nigella, your lemon surprise is pretty fabulous – and I’ll be keeping it for those occasions where deep deep solace is required – but for everyday comfort, I’ll be sticking with my tried and true classic – the recipe of which is below. You’re welcome.

What you need for the cake…

  • 1 cup self-raising flour
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 80g melted butter
  • ½ cup milk
  • I teaspoon vanilla
  • 1egg, lightly beaten

What you need for the sauce

  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 2 cups boiling water

What you do with it

  • Preheat the oven to 180C
  • Butter the dish that you’re using – a 20cm round souffle dish would work, but I actually use a shallow pyrex style dish too… or a 2-quart Dutch oven when in the great outdoors.
  • Sift flour and cocoa into a large bowl, stir in the sugar
  • Combine the egg, milk, vanilla and cooled butter in a jug and slowly add to the dry ingredients, mixing until well combined and smooth. Spoon into the prepared dish.
  • To make the sauce, sprinkle the combined sugar and cocoa over the pudding
  • Carefully pour over the boiling water and place into the oven for about 30 minutes – until crusty on the outside and soft and squidgy on the inside.
  • Serve with cream, ice cream, custard or a combination of all of the above.

I’ve taken on the challenge to cook my way through Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat. You can find more episodes here.

 

This week in photos

I’m writing this at the Sunshine Coast Airport as I wait for my flight to Sydney.

I’m in town for the week for work and whilst I’m dreading the daily commute into the office it’s always good to see my family and catch up with friends and colleagues. Although it might sound weird – me coming from South East Queensland and all – but I also dread those ridiculously hot suburban Sydney days. We might have dreadlock inducing humidity, but our temps rarely get above 33C #firstworldissues

Anyways, enough about the weather, let’s wrap this week up…

What I wrote…

Normally a short walk or change of scene at the end of the day job day is sufficient to switch my brain out of corporate mentality and into the world of the characters that I’m writing about, but not this week. It’s been so incredibly and constantly busy that at the end of each day my brain had room for nothing else – not even the simplest of decisions. I’d spoken to so many people during the day that it was that dialogue I heard and not the voices of my characters. The “pages” in my new book remained blank.

I still haven’t contacted my editor to slot myself into her diary – and must do so this week. Once I have that date set in stone I won’t be able to use the excuse of a hard days work in the day job – the words will have to get written. I intend getting at least 1500 words a day done each night I’m in Sydney…although I am booked to catch up with friends on 3 of the 5 nights already. What can I say? It’s all so social…lol.

What I blogged…

Who I met…

I managed to escape the office on Wednesday and catch up with some other fabulous bloggers for lunch in Brisbane. Here we all are:

From left to right is Sue from Sizzling Towards Sixty & Beyond, Leanne from Cresting The Hill, Deb from Debbish, me and Min from Write Of The Middle.

While I’ve met Sue, Deb and Min in the past, Leanne had travelled all the way over from Perth just for this lunch…okay, maybe not just for this lunch… Although we all met online – through each other’s blogs and social media – catching up with these ladies really was like talking to friends I’ve known for years.

It might have been a manky day outside but the conversation was sparkling in the Riverbar- and the prawn cocktail rolls were yummy.

What I read…

With over 3 hours to spend on the train into Brisbane the other day, I devoured Jill Mansell’s latest Maybe This Time. It was my 2nd 5-star read of the year.

I also finished Prue Leith’s Food of Love. While I love Prue in Great British Bake-off and previously in Great British Menu and could hear her voice loud and clear, I didn’t enjoy Food of Love as much as I thought that I would.

What I cooked…

Nothing healthy at all this week – I simply didn’t have the bandwidth. I’d had such a shocking day on Tuesday though that once I logged off I declared that I needed to chop something and concentrate on a different process to bring my heart rate back down and get my brain out of work mode. Given that it was Chinese New Year I made some prawn toasts to have before the stir-fry hubby was doing for dinner.

There’s something so comforting about the golden crunch of a good prawn toast – and these were good. I sort of used this recipe and they turned out beautifully (the photo does them no credit at all). To make dinner even more like a Chinese takeaway we also had cut up segments of orange and fortune cookies to finish off with.

We had friends for dinner last night and kept it simple with a lasagne and green salad plus a pudding from How To Eat – which I’ll tell you about in the next instalment of About Roast Chicken – The Nigella Kitchen Diaries.

Finally, I had a go at making honeycomb – although I do prefer the Cornish (or Kiwi) name for it: hokey pokey. Apparently, the Geordie version is known as “cinder toffee” and in some parts of the U.S., it’s called “seafoam” or sponge candy.

Whatever you call it, it’s relatively easy and a tad theatrical to make. Golden syrup, caster sugar and bicarb soda become a gorgeously yellow foam before setting into something you can smash into the shards we’re familiar with. I dunked some in melted chocolate, left some whole and grown more into a powder that I sprinkled over the pudding last night. Ms T has it in mind to mix these through her ice cream while I’m away.

Anyways, if you’re interested, the recipe is here.

How was your week? Highlights?

Yorkshire Puddings

When we were in Britain during winter a few years ago the one thing we tried to do each week – with mixed success – was to find a pub for Sunday lunch.

The most memorable of these was at a pub called The Rock Inn in Devon, on the edge of the Dartmoor National Park. It was a windy, rainy, miserable December day and we’d been aiming for a hotel in a town called Bovey Tracey – of course, the Tracey’s would want to have a look at Bovey Tracey. Unfortunately, the place we had in mind had been taken over by a 1-year-old’s birthday party. Instead, we drove on to a village where Dartmoor ponies were grazing on the side of the road and the mist was rising up from the moor. It was just perfect – as was the Sunday lunch.

As an aside, Bovey Tracey takes its name both from the River Bovey and the de Tracey family who were the lords of the manor. One of the silver-spooned offspring – not that I think they had silver spoons in the 12th century – William de Tracy was implicated in the murder of Thomas A’Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. According to one of my husband’s cousins who has done a lot of family research there’s apparently a curse on the male sons of the family as a result – that they will always feel the wind in their face. Although William did attempt to do a sort of penance by rebuilding a church in Canterbury, I’m not sure how that affected the curse. Oh, and the curse story was backed up by this guy I met one time working in a tour shop in Queenstown, New Zealand. Once we’d got over the fact that we had the same surname with the same spelling he said, ‘Hey did you know there’s a curse on our family?’ It’s a small world.

Enough of curses and back to the subject of Sunday lunch – the concept of which is not one that sits well in an Australian summer. Hours in the kitchen with the oven on at war with the air-conditioning is, quite frankly, ludicrous – and a waste of electricity. Sunday lunch for Saturday night dinner, however, is a different story entirely.

As Nigella writes in How To Eat, “Traditional Sunday lunch does, of course, mean beef.”

At this point, she brings up the issue of BSE and advises checking in with your guests to make sure that they’re okay with eating beef. She also mentions how, at the time of writing, it was still illegal to sell beef on the bone. How To Eat was published in 1998 – the same year that the BSE inquiries in Britain were taking place.  Whilst I certainly recall the crisis, we were untouched by it in Australia and I did need to head to google to remind myself of the story.

Anyways, Nigella’s Sunday lunch consists of:

  • The Roast Beef
  • The Gravy
  • The Roast Potatoes
  • The Yorkshire Pudding

Being unapologetically bossy, Nigella, bless her, also gives us a run-sheet for the perfect traditional roast beef Sunday lunch that I followed (much to my husband’s amusement – I’m not normally one who allows myself to be organised) for Saturday evening timings. Nigella likes her beef a lot rarer than we do – just a moo away from blue – whereas we’re more of a medium-rare family. With the help of her handy table (see below) I adjusted the cooking time accordingly and the beef cooked exactly as we like it.

In fact, as hilarious as my family found it, following Nigella’s list the whole process of putting a roast dinner with all the trimmings on the table was remarkably stress-free – although the wine I consumed while I was preparing it also helped.

First up was the gravy. Usually, I’m in the can’t-be-faffed-might-as-well-use-gravox camp but for the purposes of this exercise, I made proper caramelised onion gravy – Nigella’s way – and am glad I did. The little bit of effort – and it was a very little bit of effort – was rewarded with a rich beefy gravy, sweetened by the slow-cooked onions and a dash of Madeira.

While I was in gravy making mode I took the beef out of the fridge, rubbed some mustard over the outside and brought it up to room temperature before putting it in the oven. I also prepared the horseradish cream to serve with the beef by stirring some horseradish (from a jar – not only is obtaining fresh horseradish at this time of the year impossible, but Nigella says it’s fine from a jar) into a couple of spoonfuls of creme fraiche.

Then it was time for potatoes. The key to perfect roast potatoes is to par-boil them for about 5 minutes, then drain them and shake them about a bit to roughen up the edges and then tip them into a baking tray containing very fat (have this heating up while you’re par-boiling your spuds).

Before I move on to the Yorkshire Puddings, a word on vegetables. Rather than roasting root vegetables, we like something with more colour and usually opt for broccoli or beans and carrot.

The last piece of Nigella’s Sunday Lunch is the Yorkshire Pudding. She makes hers in an enamel dish rather than, as she puts it “those depressing, canteen-style individual portions”. I, however, like it in individual portions and use a muffin tin.

The recipe itself is a simple one:

What you need
  • 300 ml milk (full fat)
  • 4 eggs
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • a 12 hole muffin tin

This recipe makes 12 individual yorkies or one large one. I usually halve the recipe when there’s just the 3 of us.

What you do with it

When the beef is cooked and taken out to rest turn the oven up to 220C, put a splash of oil into each of the compartments of the muffin tin and pop it into the oven to heat up for about 10 minutes. In a jug beat the milk and eggs together with the salt and let it stand for 15 minutes before whisking in the flour. When the oil is hot carefully remove the tin from the oven and pour the batter evenly into the compartments. Put the filled tin back into the oven and cook for 12-15 minutes – or until risen and beautifully golden.

I’ve taken on the challenge to cook my way through Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat. You can find other episodes here.

 

Regular readers will know how much I love Melbourne – it is without a doubt my favourite Australian city. I love it so much that I’ve already set a couple of novels here – with more to come.

Regular readers will also know that weekends in Melbourne are a tradition for my daughter and me. We’ve been doing girls weekends down here since…well, for a lot of years. I’m just grateful that at nearly 21 she still wants to spend the weekend with me. I’m refusing to listen to the cynics who say that it’s because I’m paying…

Anyways, here how we spent our 48 hours. I warn you, there is plenty of food. There was, however a lot of walking and a little light shopping in between – but I didn’t photograph that…

Where we stayed…

The Swanston Hotel Grand Mercure…

I’m an Accor member so save my 2 nights for the cost of 1 offers for these weekends with my daughter. This hotel is in a great location – smack in the middle of everything. If you’re the world’s worst sleeper like I am (and can hear a frog fart in a car on the highway from miles away) ask for a room away from Swanston Street. The view won’t be as good but you won’t be disturbed by the buskers and the rooftop bars.

They’re in the process of turning the hotel (transforming seems to be the word that’s used) into a Pullman and we were lucky enough to get one of the new rooms. Supremely comfortable and more than a tad stylish.

Dumplings…

Of course. It’s one of the things we miss most about living in a city – decent dumplings. It’s, therefore, one of the first things we go for when we are back in a city. We ate dumplings at New Shanghai in the Emporium for a late lunch on Friday…

and more dumplings at our favourite purveyor of these little morsels of yum at Hutong in Market Lane on Sunday before heading for the airport.

Pastabilities…

The second craving we always satisfy when in Melbourne is pasta – and we go for that at Guy Grossi’s Cellar Bar at the top of Bourke Street. Great pasta, Italian waiters, Aperol spritz…what’s not to like?

Greek style…

Dinner on Saturday night was with friends at Gazi – at the Flinders St end of Exhibition Street. We’ve eaten here before and have loved it, but this time around? I’m screwing my nose up because it was all a tad meh. While the taramasalata, saganaki and grilled chicken were as good as ever, the tuna was under-cooked and over-cooked, the chips were floppy and the Nutella doughnuts boring. And yes, I know how that makes me sound. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt by saying that it was because it was stinking hot outside and noisy inside and we had a late booking. I do, however, still love the upturned flowerpots on the ceiling.

Surprising gardens…

This sustainability garden is in containers around the town hall and is fabulous. It had herbs, tomatoes, corn, sunflowers, aubergines, beans and so much more. In the middle of the city.

Hidden Bars…

Okay, Melbourne’s laneways are no secret – nor is it a secret that they have some great bars in those laneways. Some of these bars, however, are a secret…or at least well enough hidden so that we can pretend that they’re supposed to be a secret – which is sort of the same thing.

First up was Arlechin. This bar is part of the Grossi Florentini stable and is located in what used to be their wine cellar in the dingey lane behind the restaurant.

We walked past the black door a few times before we saw someone coming out. It was only then that we noticed the tiny logo on the door. Once inside it was obvious that this was a secret that was already known to plenty of other people. The cocktails are inventive, the bar menu is what you’d expect from the house of Grossi, and when we came out there was another group lurking in the alley looking confused. ‘Is there a bar in here?’

Oh, and in case you were wondering, my cocktail is a pretty cool take on an Aperol spritz – but not as you know it.

Saturday night’s hidden bar was another we walked past a few times before realising that the door that looked as though it was a kitchen back door was actually a front door to Eau de Vie. In Malthouse Lane (off Flinders Land or Exhibition Street), this place is a real “speakeasy” – straight out of 1920s prohibition America. We were led to a darkened booth and handed a menu of cocktails that defied description.

Overwhelmed with the choice I opted for a Smokey Rob Roy – a mix of Talisker and Highland whisky, rum, vermouth and orange bitters, it was served under a cloud of wood smoke and smelt like my jacket does after a weekend around the fire at Eucumbene.

The best part? The whisky den hidden behind a fake bookcase. Used mostly for functions, it’s also a storage facility for members of the club with whisky they need to keep under lock and key and stored at the right temperature conditions. My whisky never lasts that long!

The State Library of Victoria

If you’ve never been inside this beautiful building and the even more beautiful reading room on level 3, next time you’re in Melbourne you absolutely must.

High Tea at Sofie’s Lounge, Sofitel

Well worth skipping both breakfast and lunch for, we indulged ourselves with this on Saturday afternoon. A mix of both sweet and savoury – and with champagne on the side – it truly was an indulgence – although to be honest, I would have been just as happy with the scones and cucumber or egg sandwiches.

Street Art

A trip to Melbourne with me wouldn’t be the same without some street art…so here you go.

Okay…and some more…

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 Middle, and, of course, me.

Inlinkz Link Party
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