Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Farewell 2014, Welcome 2015

This morning I was laying in bed thinking about what I wanted to say on the last day of the year. I quickly realised that it was going to be an awfully long Facebook status update. Should I do three or four separate ones, plus upload photos, or one big status update. As those thoughts flitted around my head, a quiet little thought forced it's way in. You know you have a blog right? You can say as much as you want to say, upload photos and then say some more if you need. You think you remember how to do that?

So, I have a blog! And I can write a post! Although apparently I am very easily distracted by stupid facebook games and online conversations.

So, here we go.

2014 was a pretty good year for me.

I reconnected with some people from my past who helped me understand the things that happened back then from their perspective, which was actually a lot different from my perspective of things. I strengthened friendships with other people who have become really important to me now and I met some new people too!

Some of those events and people then helped me to get my head a little bit straighter, as did taking some active steps towards that which then helped me with......

The single most important thing I did this year is that I finally figured out what I need to do to lose weight!! I end the year weighing 38kgs (around 80lbs) less than I started. Maybe it's more, but that is how much I have lost from the heaviest weight I remember. And for the most part, it has been relatively easy, or at least it was until the last few weeks when some bad habits have started to creep back in again and I also eased off being so strong in resisting things like Lindt chocolate balls.

For me weight loss comes down to this. If you watch what you eat (make better food choices) and how much of it (portion control) and move more (exercise) then you lose weight. No shakes, or super, super restrictive diets or anything like that. I am also keeping a food diary which is very powerful in terms of being accountable and trying to find recipes that approximate things that we like to eat anyway.

I have been told that I need to get my eyes fixed though because I am not as good at seeing the effects as other people are. I have dropped lots of sizes, and so can see it in my clothes but I am not that great in seeing it in the mirror or in photos. For example, in the now photo below I don't see as big a difference as I would like to! So, the photo on the left was taken in February 2014 and the one on the right on Christmas day.

One of the consequences of feeling better about myself and having more energy is that I feel much lighter in my spirit.  That doesn't mean to say that I don't have days where I feel down but those days are much fewer and don't feel any where near as oppressive as they used to.

In terms of the other major issues in my life, money is still tight and will continue to be for a couple of more years more at least, but there does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel.  And no, no bloke yet but I did get picked up a few months ago at a car wash of all places. Unfortunately I had to say no to my first pick up in 20 years (a very funny story) but it happened!

It's not quite all good news. 2014 also seems to have been the year where I forgot how to read and how to blog. Goodreads proudly told me I had completed 62 books this year which doesn't sound that bad until you realise that I generally easily exceed 200 books in a year. And no reading means no blogging. I could have been blogging other stuff I guess but I am not sure where either blogging or reading fits into that. I want it too. I need it too. Just have to figure it all out.

Other highlights for this year included spending some time in Adelaide earlier this year. That trip gets easier and easier every time I make it. A few years ago I dreaded it but this time I was actually very excited about it and was almost reluctant to leave!!

The boy turned 16 which is impossible to believe. He made the training squad for the state volleyball team and now has made the rep squad for basketball in our area. My Friday nights for the next 12 month are pretty much taken up with basketball and that is before we start talking about training, about tournaments or anything else. He just got his learners permit a couple of days ago so now I have the trauma of teaching him to drive to look forward to.

I went to a couple of concerts this year and thoroughly enjoyed them both. I couldn't possibly missed seeing Keith Urban when he is in town and then I saw Queen with Adam Lambert which was an awesome show, although I could have done without the pre-show drama that I had with some of my friends. Oh well. All's well that ends well.

So what does 2015 hold in store?

I am hoping to continue losing weight and then to have 2015 be the year where I work out how to keep the weight off and not regain it! This is especially important seeing as I just recently cleaned all the really, really fat clothes out of my wardrobe so if I do regain it all then I will have to spend a lot more money on restocking the wardrobe.

Goodbye really fat clothes

After I had started the weight loss process I was confirmed as having diabetes. I have posted a bit before about this and it still seems to be under control. I am hoping to have it under control enough to go off medication, at least for the time being but I think I need to find a new doctor so that we can have that conversation. Last time I saw my current doctor he kept calling me dearie (which I hate) but most significantly when I asked him about coming off meds he basically said I would need to do something drastic like have lap band surgery. At that stage I had lost 25kgs so I was like how much more drastic does it need to be and he wouldn't believe me until I stood on his scales!

Another things I am hoping for 2015 is that I get to leave the country! I am hoping to either visit the US or New Zealand this year, but I need to get my passport first. I have no idea why, but in my mind I had always said that if my weight reached a certain point then I could give myself permission to go and get my passport. I am now past that point so in theory I just need to find the money and go and do it! The boy gets to go to New Zealand with school first though.

I do have a couple of trips within Australia too. I am planning to go to Canberra for the Australian Romance Readers Convention, to Sydney for the Historical Novel Society Australia conference, to Perth for either my grandmother's 95th birthday or for Christmas, to Adelaide in September and to Mildura for my godson's christening. Phew. No idea how I am going to pay for all of that but we will work it out I am sure.

I guess overall, if I was to summarise what I hope for next year, I want to consolidate the changes I have made in my life so that I can continue to be happier and healthier. Oh, and if a decent man wanted to come along for the ride too that would be awesome!

See, way too long for a Facebook status update!!

I wish everyone a very happy and safe new year! And hopefully I will see some of you around blogland once I have figured out where blogging fits into my current life!

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Sunday Salon: So I read some books - not many, but some.'s fair to say that this is my worst year for reading, reviewing and blogging in nearly 10 years.

I am not really reading, certainly not reviewing and blogging is sporadic at best. Today, at least, I thought I would at least give a Sunday Salon post a go to share my May to October reads. It is a far cry from the months where I averaged 20 or so books in a month. In September, for example, I read just one book. I listened to another but actually reading - just the one. Unthinkable.

Here's what I have read or listened to over the last few months


Winning the Player by  Leesa Bow 3.5/5
True North: the story of Mary and Elizabeth Durack by Brenda Niall 3.5/5 (book club)
The Shadow Queen by Sandra Gulland 3.5/5
A Star for Mrs Blake by April Smith 4.5/5
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson 3.5/5 (audio book)


Eyrie by Tim Winton 3/5 (audio book)
The Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen 3.5/5
The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta 4.5/5 (audio book/reread)
Hope Ignites by Jaci Burton 4/5


Melting the Ice by Jaci Burton 4/5
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent 4/5 (audio book)
Sun-Kissed by Laura Florand 3.5/5
Sapphire Skies by Belinda Alexandra 3.5/5 (audio book)


The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion 4.5 (audio book/reread)
Rockstar Addiction Nalini Singh 3.5


Written in my Own Hearts Blood by Diana Gabaldon 4/5 (audio book)
Driving in Neutral by Sandra Antonelli 3.5


Evergreen Falls by Kimberley Freeman 4.5/5/
Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins 4.5/5

When I read Isla and the Happily Ever After I read it in a day which is almost a return to my old normal way of reading but it did make me realise a couple of things about the role of reading in my life before and has given me some food for thought about what it's role should be in my life now. I did start to compose a blog post about that in my head. Who knows. Sometimes in the next week I might even get around to starting to put some of those thoughts into a blog post that might be published.

Currently reading

House of Memories by Monica McInerney (or at least that is the book that I am carrying around with me.

Currently listening

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

Up Next

No idea!

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Butter Chicken

One of the things I have been trying really hard to do since I started on this weight loss journey is to try and find some recipes to use that somewhat approximate the food that we like to eat on a regular basis.

One of the better books I have found for this is a series called the Symply Too Good to be True series of cookbooks by Annette Sym. At the moment there are 7 books in the series and I think there are multiple recipes in each book that I might make in due course.

There are a number of things that I like about this series. One is that most of the recipes are relatively simple to make and not overly time consuming. I like that there are recipes for foods that you would eat quite regularly. For example, so far I have tried a low fat recipe for lasagne which the boy now prefers to the way that I used to make lasagne and healthy version of pizza. Another big hit in my house has been the low fat version of chicken parma. The boy either thought it was so good on Wednesday night he ate the equivalent of 2 and a half chicken breasts (I am not sure if he hadn't eaten all day and was therefore starving after basketball or if he is growing again or it was that good!!).

Another thing I like is that nearly every recipe has a comment from a dietitian as well a nutritional panel showing calories/kilojoules, sugar, sodium etc. The comments might vary from a factual comment to an opinion. For example, on the chicken parma, the dietitian said something along the lines of finally a parma that tastes just like you get from the pub. Now it was good, but to compare it to a pub parma is possibly taking things a bit far. Sometimes the comments are simply this may be low fat but there is very little nutritional value so maybe not if you are trying to lose weight or have diabetes. Of course that is usually on the baking and desserts section but there are some exceptions which I might end up trying eventually. For a lot of the recipes there are also the nutritional details for variations for the recipe. For example, in the recipe below the suggested variations include rump steak, pork steak or tofu.

The author has lost a lot of weight and kept it off over an extended period of time and in every book there are a couple of pages of testimonials which certainly help at times when the motivation is flagging a little bit. Annette Sym has created something of an empire with retreats, mentoring, website, videos and so much more!

There are a couple of things I don't necessarily like that much. Because there is an emphasis on simplicity and time savings there is a heavy reliance on items like crushed garlic and ginger in a jar, tomato soup and stock powder as examples. Whilst I don't have an objection to the ginger, I don't get the always using precrushed garlic - maybe I am a little bit of a cooking snob! There are also some odd food combinations at times but maybe these are every day foods for other people!

Tonight I am trying a new recipe from book 4 and that is Butter Chicken. If there is a particular curry that we eat on a regular basis then it would be Butter Chicken, a very mild curry. This may be a bit of an oxymoron though because whilst it is an approximation of butter chicken there isn't a single bit of butter in it at all! Luckily, there is chicken.

Having now had dinner, I think it is fair to say that this is another winner in this house. Whilst the sauce ends up being a bit gluggy (maybe I boiled it too long) it certainly tastes like a mild curry and because you are adding all your own spices there is no reason why you couldn't add a touch more chill or paprika or whichever. I did cook my onion, garlic and ginger before adding my chicken because that is how I always do it. I also mixed the cornflour with a small amount of the milk to make a paste and then added the rest of the milk. Other than that, I pretty much stuck to the recipe as it is written below and I served it with basmati rice and steamed broccoli.

Butter chicken

800g skinless chicken breasts
cooking spray
1 medium onion, diced
1 tspn crushed garlic in a jar (I'll be using 1-2 cloves garlic)
1 tspn crushed ginger in a jar
1 tspn cinnamon
1 tspn turmeric
1 tspn ground coriander
2 tspns paprika
1/2 tspn ground cumin
1/8 tspn chilli powder
2 tspn chicken stock powder
4 tbspn no added salt tomato paste
1 tbspn cornflour
1 x 375 ml can evaporated light milk

Cut chicken into bite sized pieces. Coat a large non-stick frypan with cooking spray, saute chicken, onion, garlic and ginger until chicken pieces are nearly cooked.

Add all the spices and stock powder. Combine with chicken for 1 minute.  Add tomato paste and fold through chicken.. Blend cornflour with milk then add to pan, stir continuously mixing well until boiled.

Serves 6

And down the bottom where people might not notice I will just put an update of where I am at. This week I passed a milestone which is 30kg (66lbs) lost from the heaviest weight I remember (which might not be the heaviest weight I was). I will try and get a full length photo to put up soon. It is getting harder to keep the motivation going in some ways but I am hoping that this is just a matter of pushing through to keep going. Still a long way to go but that is a pretty decent start.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Greek-style lamb and eggplant bake

I mentioned last week that I am now on the lookout for some new recipes that I can cook that will meet my requirement for healthy foods and my son's requirements for tasting good. I have borrowed a number of books from the library and tried a couple of new recipes so far. In both cases I thought that the food was quite good. Unfortunately, the boy wasn't quite as keen but I am not sure if that is just that it takes him a little while to get used to new foods or if he really, really didn't like it. I guess that at some point I will need to try making it again, if for no other reason that this is one that can be frozen and so will be good to have there for those times when I am struggling with needing to cook something as opposed to going to buy something or resorting to less healthy choices.

I have several other recipe books to hopefully identify some other options for good meals, particularly weekday meals, to try over the next little while.

This recipe comes from CSIRO and Baker IDI Diabetes Recipe Book

Serves 4
Prep time 20 minutes
Cooking time 1 hour

1 tablespoon olive oil
500g lean minced lamb
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 eggplant* cut into 1cm cubes
2 zucchini* diced
600g tinned chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus extra to serve
1 tablespoon tomato paste (puree)
400g reduced-fat Greek-style yoghurt
1 egg
80g cooked basmati rice (from 80g uncooked)

*also known as aubergine and courgettes

Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over medium heat and cook the mince in two batches, stirring until browned and baking up any lumps with the back of a wooden spoon Set the cooked mince aside, discarding any liquid in the pan.

Heat the remaining oil and cook the onion for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, eggplant, zucchini and 400g of the tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes. Return the mince to the pan with the oregano, parsley , tomato paste and remaining tomatoes. Bring to the boil, then move the lid so it is half-covering the pan, allowing some of the liquid to evaporate. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. If there is still quite a lot of liquid, remove the lid and simmer for a further 5-10 minutes or until reduced.

Preheat the oven to 180C

Beat the yoghurt to loosen then beat in the egg and season well with freshly ground black pepper.

Add the rice to the mince and vegetables and stir to combine. Transfer to a 2 litre capacity baking dish. Spoon the yoghurt sauce evenly over the top and bake for 20 minutes. Leave to stand for 5 minutes then scatter over some extra parsley.

In the book it suggests serving with steamed green vegies for a compete meal, and that if you wanted this can be prepared the day before but should be heated for an additional 10 minutes to ensure that it is heated all the way through.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Blueberry Muffins with Crispy Topping

Forgive me blogging gods. It has been nearly a month since my last post. It's not like I don't have stuff to post about, but the sitting down and writing part of the equation is what is missing.

This year has been an interesting year for me so far. I have taken some steps towards making some long overdue changes in just about every area of my life. In a lot of ways these changes are happening because it is time, or rather because it is way past time. In one crucial way, it is a change that has been kind of forced upon me.

I have been overweight from the time I was 16 or 17 years old. I started putting on weight at that time and I pretty much never stopped. Over the years I have made half-hearted attempts to lose weight. Some have been relatively successful, or at least they were until I stopped doing what I was doing and put it all back on again. I am an emotional eater with a terrible relationship with food. Time to change that.

Earlier this year I noticed that my clothes seemed to be a bit looser and so I decided that instead of losing momentum I would actually try to lose weight. And so far, so good. I have lost quite a bit and, for whatever reason, it seems to be coming off quite easily at the moment. And it is a change that I have to make because, after suspecting for some time, I finally went to the doctor and heard him say the words. I have type 2 diabetes. Now that isn't precisely a surprise, and I am not treating it as the end of the world as such, but I can't pretend it isn't there anymore or unhear the words.

One of the things I was concerned about was what am I going to cook. I have a growing teenage boy in my house so I still need to be able to cook food that both of us can eat. First stop was the cookbook section of the library where I picked up a number of different cookbooks with varying levels of success. The first couple seemed to feature quite complicated and non family friendly type meals that I just couldn't imaging cooking, but after looking at quite a few I think I have found some recipes that will be worth trying.

I also borrowed a couple of issues of Diabetic Living magazine and I have to say I was so impressed with the range of recipes and information in the magazine! I found a ton of recipes that look really tasty, are really healthy, and most importantly look like something I can cook.  I have already subscribed to the magazine and hope to find lots more delicious sounding recipes in future issues including some sweet treats, but only in moderation of course. I particularly like that each recipe is clearly marked with details on lots of nutritional info including carbs, energy and so much more.

The first thing that I made from the May/June issue of the magazine was this recipe for Blueberry Muffins with Crispy Topping. One of the big things around breakfast for me was speed. In the past if I didn't have breakfast at home I might grab a muffin from the petrol station or cheese and crackers. Now, I am either having yoghurt and berries, porridge or certain cereals and not missing breakfast. I suspect that I will be trying a few more muffin recipes going forward because it is so convenient to grab a muffin from the freezer. Yes, one of the other changes I am making is trying to be more organised.

Blueberry Muffins with Crispy Topping

Prep time 15 mins
Cooking time 25 mins

Cooking spray
160g (1 cup) self-raising flour
80g (1/2 cup) wholemeal self-raising flour
80g (1/2 cup, lightly packed) brown sugar or 1/2 cup granulated sugar substitute
2 x 50g eggs, lightly whisked
50g light margarine, melted, cooled
160 ml (2/3 cup) skim milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
125g punnet blueberries
Tea, to serve.


80g (2 cups) Special K cereal
1 1/2 Tbsp honey
1 egg white (from 50g egg), lightly whisked
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat over to 170C(fan-forced). Spray six 185 ml (3/4 cup) muffin-tin holes with oil. Line bases with baking paper

To make topping put cereal in a medium bowl. Crush slightly using your hands. Add honey, egg white and cinnamon and stir until well combined. Set aside.

Put flours and sugar in a large bowl and stir to combine. Whisk eggs, margarine, milk and vanilla in a medium bowl. Add wet mixture to dry mixture. Using a wooden spoon, stir until just combined. Stir in berries.

Spoon batter into muffin holes. Spoon topping evenly over batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Set aside in tin for 5 minutes. Run a flat-bladed knife around each muffin to loosen. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly. Dust with icing sugar and serve warm or at room temperature with tea.

* To freeze individually warp any leftover muffins in plastic wrap. Put in a resealable freezer bag and expel any air. Label, date and freeze for up to 3 months

As an aside, I was completely thrilled that I managed to separate the egg first go. I am have never even tried to do that before and it worked first time. Go me!!

I haven't quite decided how open I want to be here about this journey I am on. Because another of the changes I am making is around trying to get my head right and I am actively taking steps to do that I am a bit emotionally fragile at the moment. I am also a bit scared that if I start "bragging" about how well I am doing that I might shoot myself in the foot. It's all a bit of on emotional rollercoaster right now. Maybe I should just post photos along the way and be done with it. Thoughts?

What you can expect is that a lot more of the recipes that I post will be diabetic friendly, lots of healthier recipes. Some will be easy, some will be obvious and others will be less so as I try to find the food that is going to be part of my future.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Chocolate Brownies

Do you have a recipe that you know as soon as you try it will always be your go to recipe. The one that everyone loves? And that you are asked for the recipe for all the time? For me, this is one of those recipes, along with the Lemon Syrup Cakes recipe I have posted previously. A couple of months ago I made a batch of these to take to work and my son was very disappointed that he didn't get to have more than a couple so then I had to make more!

Last year, I posted a couple of brownie recipes, one of which was a Triple Choc Brownie. That recipe was a perfectly serviceable recipe, and I made it several times and each time it was well received. One day I thought I would try this recipe instead, and I basically have never even thought about going back to the other recipe. It is just that good.

Part of what I like about this recipe is that it is very moist but it has a really crusty top which is just delicious although to get that effect I need to cook it for much longer than the 40 minutes mentione but I think that is because of my oven more than anything. I should also mention that I have never actually made the chocolate sauce that is recommended to go with these brownies. I also don't use the dark chocolate buttons. The first time I made this I didn't have any of those so I used milk chocolate melts that I had broken up into pieces and because it was so good I have just made it the same way ever since.

Chocolate Brownies

345g (1 1/2 cups) caster (superfine) sugar
85g (2/3 cup) cocoa powder
60g (1/2 cup) plain (all-purpose) flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 eggs, beaten
200g (7 oz) unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp vanilla extract
200g (7 oz) dark chocolate button

Preheat the oven to 160°C (315F/Gas 2-3). Stir the sugar, cocoa powder, flour and baking powder together in a bowl. Add the eggs, melted butter and vanilla and mix until combined. Mix in the chocolate buttons. Pour into a lined 22cm (9 inch) square tin and bake for 40-45mins

Allow the brownie block to slightly cool then cut into eight pieces. Place on serving plates with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Dust with extra cocoa powder if you like, then serve with the chocolate sauce.  Serves 8

Warm Chocolate Sauce

125g (4 1/2 oz) dark chocolate
185ml (3/4 cup) cream

Place chocolate and cream in a heatproof bowl and place the bowl over a saucepan of just simmering water. Whisk occasionally until a thick sauce forms. Cool sightly before serving. 

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Weekend Cooking: The Hundred-Foot Journey

I was lucky enough this week to have tickets to two preview events. The first was to watch the first episode of the Outlander series (squeeeee) but it is the second that I wanted to talk about in my Weekend Cooking post today. 

A couple of years or so ago I remember reading something about the book The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard Morais. As a result, I went out and bought the book and it has sat, unread, on my shelves ever since. When I heard that there was a movie coming out I had every intention of reading the book, but given my current lack of reading it just didn't happen. I therefore broke my own rule and decided to watch the movie before reading the book.

With a lead actress with the standing of Helen Mirren, a gorgeous setting in the south of France, a fun story exploring and contrasting the differences between Indian and French traditions and lots of beautiful food, this movie is a treat for the senses. It is a gentle story, and there is little in it that will offend people. At times it is a little ponderous, maybe a deliberate choice from the production team which includes such big names as Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey and Lasse Hallstrom.

The story starts in India where the Kadam family runs a successful restaurant until they lose everything. The family is determined to make a new start and head to Europe where fate lands them in a small French village. Whilst most of the family wants to move on it seems that their life is instead going to now take the form of running an Indian restaurant in a run down building that happens to be opposite a Michelin star restaurant which is run by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren).

Madame Mallory's restaurant is her life, and she has devoted herself to the pursuit of an illusive second Michelin star. Everything is perfect and precise, with traditions treasured at all costs. She is appalled that there is to be an Indian restaurant a hundred feet away, especially once she sees the fake temple facade and hears the loud music that emanates. So begins a battle of wills between Madame Mallory and Papa Kadam that doesn't seem to have any hope of a ceasefire until a particular incident thaws the relationship. Click on the link to see an example of the very early banter between the two combatants.

Whilst this aspect of the story is key to framing the story, it is really young chef Hassan's story that is the heart. He learned to cook at his mother's knee and is passionate about food, not only the Indian food that the restaurant specialises in, but also French food of his new home. Despite earlier rejection, Hassan persists in trying to persuade Madame Mallory to let him come and cook in her kitchens, bringing his knowledge of Indian traditions and flavours and combining them with the traditional French cuisine, surprising everyone especially Madame Mallory.

One of the other major scenes in the movie is when Hassan is allowed to cook for Madame Mallory who insists that she can tell if a chef is any good or not by just taking a single bit of an omelette. I have to say I would love to taste something that is so good that you can change someone's life! Here is the recipe for Omelette aux fine herbes.

There are also a number of other recipe cards around the intenet including Chicken Tikka and Sauce Tomate.

Throw in a little romance, some humour, delicious looking food from both Indian and French food traditions, mix well and you end up with a gentle film that will entice most viewers who enjoy foodie films.


Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Chilli Con Carne

I don't know about you but I some times, or maybe I should make that often, have a problem when I decide I am going to make a new recipe. I write out the shopping list, adding all the ingredients that I need, go to the shops and purchase said ingredients and then come home and start cooking.

And that is the point that I realise, oh, I actually forgot to buy one ingredient or another, or that the ingredient that I thought I already had in the cupboard is really not there at all! So the decision then becomes do I stop cooking and go back to the shops or do I make adjustments. I must say that I am not normally someone who varies a recipe very much.

And so it was when I recently decided that I was going to attempt to make Chilli Con Carne from scratch for the first time ever.  A few years ago now, I posted about how there is a particular brand of chilli con carne sauce that I used to use in the UK that is very difficult to get hold of here. Since returning to Australia nearly 15 years ago I have tried a few other recipe bases but still have never managed to find one that I like anywhere near as much.  And so, when I saw this recipe come up on I decided it was time to try doing it without a recipe base from a jar or packet!

The first ingredient that I thought in the cupboard but actually didn't was beef stock so I ended up just adding more wine and the next one was the chilli powder. Instead of powder I threw in some smoked paprika and some chilli flakes. I may actually have been a little heavy handed with the chilli! The boy wasn't so keen but I quite liked it, which is lucky seeing as I was eating this for a week.

The actual recipe was advertised as cooking for a crowd so this recipe actually feeds 8-10 people, especially if you make the associated corn bread and herbed rice that I have linked to at the bottom of the recipe. I didn't make those. I just served made half the recipe and served it with plain rice. Oh, and I used bacon because my supermarket didn't have pancetta.

I do think I will make this again though, after making sure that I have everything I need!!

Chilli for a Crowd

Image from Photography by Ben Dearnley
1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil
2kg beef chuck steak, trimmed, cut into 2cm cubes
2 onions, chopped
150g piece of pancetta, rind removed, chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1/3 cup (4 tablespoons) tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons chilli powder
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 cup (250ml) red wine
700ml tomato passata* (sieved tomatoes)
2 teaspoons brown sugar
3 cups (750ml) beef stock
2 x 420g cans red kidney beans, rinsed, drained
Flat-leaf parsley leaves, to garnish

Herbed rice and cornbread to serve

Preheat the oven to 170°C.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large flameproof casserole over high heat. Cook the beef, in batches, until browned all over, then set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan. Add the onion, pancetta and garlic and cook, stirring, for 4-5 minutes until onion is starting to brown. Add the cumin, tomato paste, chilli powder and dried oregano, and stir for a further minute. Add the wine, passata, sugar and stock, then season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Return the beef to the pan and bring to the boil, then cover and cook in the oven for 3 hours until meat is tender and sauce has thickened.

Just before serving, stir in the red kidney beans and return to the stove to warm through over low heat. Garnish with parsley and serve as part of a buffet with the herbed rice and cornbread.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Ratatouille Lasagne

Leftovers! I love them. Love the fact that you don't have to worry about dinner for another night, or that you have lunch for the next few days. What I don't have is any imagination about doing anything different with those leftovers. Even when you read a foodie magazine and they say that you can make this with the leftovers it never really catches my attention because a lot of the time that still feels a lot like cooking a whole other meal rather than just shoving a plate in the microwave. The other day though I saw a recipe for Ratatouille Lasagne and realised that had I found a recipe to try that means I am making a deliberate decision to make something with a plan to do something with the leftovers.

I have posted before about ratatouille and cous cous being one of my favourite meals.  I don't find it possible to make just a small amount of ratatouille. There is always a ton of leftovers and so I usually end up eating it for lunch and/or dinner for several days afterwards and then, after having eaten it for days on end, I don't actually need to eat it again for a couple of months.

Rather than posting both the ratatouille recipe and the lasagne recipe here I will just link to the ratatouille recipe on the Taste website. In terms of the ratatouille recipe itself, I thought it was good served up with lamb steaks and cous cous but my "chuck whatever you have in a pot" version is probably a little tastier. However, when I cooked it up into the lasagne, I did think that this version worked well. It is relatively easy to do and quite tasty. I expect I will make this recipe again next time I make my own version, especially seeing as it was also a winner with the teenage boy in the house.

Ratatouille Lasagne 

60g butter
50g (1/3 cup) plain flour
1L (4 cups) milk
70g (1 cup) finely grated parmesan
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 x 250g pkt dried lasagne sheets
1/2 quantity of Ratatouille (recipe link above)
250g mozzarella, sliced
Mixed salad leaves, to serve

1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until foaming. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes or until the mixture bubbles and begins to come away from the side of the pan. Remove from heat.

2. Gradually add half the milk, whisking constantly with a balloon whisk until smooth. Gradually add the remaining milk, whisking until smooth and combined.

3. Place over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for 5 minutes or until sauce thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Remove from heat. Stir in parmesan. Season with salt, nutmeg and cayenne pepper.

4. Preheat oven to 180°C. Spread one-third of the sauce over the base of a 3L (12-cup) capacity rectangular baking dish. Top with half the lasagne sheets. Top with half the ratatouille. Continue layering with remaining sauce, lasagne sheets and ratatouille. Top with the mozzarella.

5. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden. Set aside for 10 minutes to stand. Serve with mixed salad leaves.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sunday Salon: April (non) Reading and (non) Blogging Reflections

Ah, April. What happened?

Welcome to my worst reading month in probably more than 10 years and worst blogging month since I started blogging nearly 9 years ago. And you know what? Whilst I do wish I had read more because now I feel like I am behind, I also don't really regret not reading much at the time. I know that sounds contradictory but while I wasn't reading I was having a good month doing other stuff. And as far as blogging goes, well, we will see what happens with that. In the last two days I have managed to write more blog posts than I did for all of last month! No idea if I can maintain this or not!

I spent April reconnecting with old friends, and I went back to Adelaide on holidays. Whilst I was away I basically didn't check emails, write any posts, read or anything. Now, the reading part is not unusual. When I talk to people about going on holidays they always assume that I will read more than usual but that is very rarely the case. I generally don't read anything when I am on holidays and that is true whether I am away or just hanging around home.

Going back to Adelaide used to be something of a stressful time for me but these days it is a much more pleasant experience. This time my mum was away and my son went to stay with his dad and so basically I was able to do whatever I liked for the duration. This means that I was able to spend time with friends, some of whom I hadn't seen since before I moved overseas 20 years ago, some of whom I see most times I go to Adelaide. I went out to breakfast, for dinner, for coffee, to the beach, drove the new road  (which excited my friends no end) and more.

Now when you look at the list of books I read it does look as though there are a number of books here, but that is kind of misleading because four of those are audiobooks and one is a cookbook. Yes, that does mean that I only actually read one book for the whole month. One!!

Here's my monthly summary

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith 4.5/5 (audiobook)
A Feast of Ice and Fire by Chelsea Monroe-Cassels and Sariann Lehrer 4/5
Blood Safari by Deon Meyer 4/5 (audiobook)
Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer 4/5 (audiobook)
Sylvester by Georgette Heyer 4/5 (audiobook/reread)
Bellagrand by Paullina Simons 3.5

In terms of challenges, there obviously was not a lot of progress although A Feast of Ice and Fire counted for the Once Upon a Time Challenge and Bellagrand counted for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

Currently Reading

A Star for Mrs Blake by April Smith and listening to Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Up Next

I am Livia by Phyllis Smith

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Chef

A few days ago I went to see Jon Favreau's new movie Chef. If there is just one thing you need to know before seeing this film, it is this.....

Don't watch this movie if you are hungry!! Eat before you go to see it because the food in it looks delicious. Even the toasted cheese sandwiches look A-MAZ-ING!

Now that we have that out of the way, what is the movie about?

Chef Carl Casper (played by Jon Favreau) is about to have one of the most important nights in his career as a chef. His restaurant is about to be reviewed by the most influential food critic/blogger in the city. Carl has big plans to serve up the food that he is passionate about until the restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman) insists that he needs to cook the tried, tested and somewhat tired menu that has been the restaurant staple for many years.

After a very bad review, Casper asks his son to teach him about Twitter and he somewhat naively and inexpertly reacts to the review, eventually trending on Twitter (you can view a short clip of Casper learning some of the intricacies of Twitter here).  This leads to him goading the food critic to come to the restaurant to eat the food that he wanted to cook in the first place. Once again the restaurant owner steps in and suddenly Casper finds himself without a job.

In order to spend some quality time with his son, Casper flies to Miami with his gorgeous ex-wife (Sofia Vergara). Miami is the place where his food journey began and for Casper it is a chance to start afresh, in this case with a food truck.  It is really once we get to this part of the movie that it picked up for me as the initial set up of the story took quite some time.

In some ways it seemed to me that this movie tried to do too many things. Whilst it is undoubtedly a foodie movie - an ode to Cuban food and to a certain extent music - it was also a father-son road trip movie giving us glimpses of places like Miami and New Orleans along the way, a commentary on the power of social media to make or break something or someone (the book lovers amongst us might recognise some of the chef/critic relationship in some of the author/critic/blogger dramas that breakout fairly regularly) and for good measure throw in a small tasting of misplaced romance.  Comedy wise there were times when this was kind of charming but other times when it played a little too obviously for laughs.

I have mentioned a few of the people who have roles in the movie but there are also a couple of other big names. Scarlet Johansson plays a maitre-d/love interest and Robert Downey Jr also plays a small role.

Whilst I quite enjoyed the movie despite the slow start and the fact that the father-son dynamic took too long to resolve, the reviews were mixed. My friend's review of the movie was "shite, shite, shite". We do have mixed success in going to the movies. This year we have been three times. The first time we saw The Book Thief which we both quite liked, then we went to see Monument Men with her husband. She hated it, I didn't mind it and her husband loved it. We did joke that maybe I should just go to the movies with her hubby from now on but that might be a bit odd!

I gave it 3.5 frying pans!


Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

The Shadow Queen by Sandra Gulland

Forgive me, fellow bloggers, for I have fallen off the blogging platform. It has been a month since my last post and more than a month since the last time I wrote a review of a novel. Now, I am sitting here on a Friday night when I am already tired, trying to start a review and it seems that my brain is a bit rusty! Let's see if we can get this thing going again.

When Claudette des Oeillets first meets the young girl Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, who will in future be known as Athenais de Montespan, it is a chance encounter. After all Claudette is from a poor travelling theatre family, trying their best to get by in 17th century France and Athenais is the girl who in due course will become 'The Shadow Queen', mistress to Louis XIV of France.

Claudette is forced to grow up quickly, taking responsibility for her mother who barely seems to be able to hold it together unless she is on stage performing where she is exceptional, and also for her brother Gaston who is disabled. Whilst her mother is onstage performing plays by the most notable playwrights of the day, Claudette does anything and everything that she can to bring in a few extra sous to help make ends meet from cleaning and sewing to the occasional small onstage part. Claudette's story provides the viewer with ringside seats in the volatile world of French theatre, a world peopled by playwrights like Racine, Corneille and Moliere, the actors and actresses as well as all the fans from all walks of life.

I found much of the theatre aspect of the book very interesting, mainly because I don't remember reading a lot about the complex political and religious implications of theatre at this point of time. I was surprised by how badly any one associated with the theatre were treated by the church of the time - not allowed to enter the church or have communion and therefore if they died without renouncing the theatre unable to be buried in holy ground. And yes, despite these efforts to ostracise the performers and their families, there were still many actors and actresses who attracted many fanatics (from where we get some of our modern concepts of fandom), even from among the aristocracy. It is an interesting dichotomy.

Claudette's life changes immeasurably when she moves from the theatre world to the court of Louis XIV after she is appointed as the personal attendant and confidante to Athenais de Montespan, wife to a nobleman, mother of his children who live with him in another country but more importantly mistress to the king, and mother of his children. Athenais is desperate to protect her place as the king's main squeeze, resorting to charms and potions to keep his attention from wandering too far away and Claudette is a key player in helping her with this objective. This  ends up with Claudette being caught up in the Affair of the Poisons which rocked the royal court of the day.

I think that the publishers and marketers missed the mark with this book in a way. Firstly, in relation to the title, I must confess I am not 100% sure of the logic behind giving a book a title that actually doesn't relate to the main character. Sure, Athenais is the shadow queen but the reality is that the book is not about Athenais. It is about Claudette. Yes, for a large portion of the book Athenais is pretty much Claudette's main focus but as a title it didn't work that well for me.

The same could be said of the synopsis. Yes, all the things that are mentioned in the synopsis did happen but I was a little disappointed by how little depth there was when it came to some of those events. For example, in the synopsis it talks about the "increasingly uneasy relationship between two strong-willed women whose actions could shape the future of France". Whilst there was a confrontation I don't think I got the increasingly uneasy vibe let alone anything more. And if you google Claudette's name you will find that she was (in)famous for one thing and yet that was mainly inferred rather than explored and how that all came about felt a bit odd to be honest!

It is a bit disappointing to feel this way about this book, especially seeing as I did find many things in it interesting. I was a big fan of the Josephine B trilogy, and I liked Mistress of the Sun (just not quite as much) and as such I got excited when I learned that the author had a new book out. I think that will probably be still true for her next book but I do wonder how high I should set my expectations. Of course, maybe my reaction is tempered by the fact that in addition to not doing any blogging I haven't been reading much at all. Maybe this is just as much about me as it was about the book.

Rating 3.5/5

About the Tour

Tour Schedule:
Sandra Gulland's website.
Sandra Gulland on Facebook
Sandra Gulland on Twitter.
Sandra Gulland on Goodreads

About the Book

From the author of the beloved Josephine B. Trilogy, comes a spellbinding novel inspired by the true story of a young woman who rises from poverty to become confidante to the most powerful, provocative and dangerous woman in the 17th century French court: the mistress of the charismatic Sun King.

1660, Paris

Claudette’s life is like an ever-revolving stage set. From an impoverished childhood wandering the French countryside with her family’s acting troupe, Claudette finally witnesses her mother's astonishing rise to stardom in Parisian theaters. Working with playwrights Corneille, Molière and Racine, Claudette’s life is culturally rich, but like all in the theatrical world at the time, she's socially scorned.

A series of chance encounters gradually pull Claudette into the alluring orbit of Athénaïs de Montespan, mistress to Louis XIV and reigning "Shadow Queen." Needing someone to safeguard her secrets, Athénaïs offers to hire Claudette as her personal attendant.

Enticed by the promise of riches and respectability, Claudette leaves the world of the theater only to find that court is very much like a stage, with outward shows of loyalty masking more devious intentions. This parallel is not lost on Athénaïs, who fears political enemies are plotting her ruin as young courtesans angle to take the coveted spot in the king's bed.

Indeed, Claudette's "reputable" new position is marked by spying, illicit trysts and titanic power struggles. As Athénaïs, becomes ever more desperate to hold onto the King's favor, innocent love charms move into the realm of deadly Black Magic, and Claudette is forced to consider a move that will put her own life—and the family she loves so dearly—at risk.

Set against the gilded opulence of a newly-constructed Versailles and the War of Theaters, THE SHADOW QUEEN is a seductive, gripping novel about the lure of wealth, the illusion of power, and the increasingly uneasy relationship between two strong-willed women whose actions could shape the future of France.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Library Loot: 9 April

I swear that this is not just one visit to the library because, quite frankly, I would have needed two carry bags to carry all my loot out!

Here's my loot for this week:

A Star for Mrs Blake by April Smith - I have seen some good things about this book, and now I am going to be participating in a blog tour for it.

The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty - I read the first book in this series a while ago and was a bit underwhelmed by it until the very end when I was very definitely hooked into wanting to know what happens next.

Murder of Crows:  a novel of The Others by Anne Bishop - I thought that I was done with urban fantasy when I read the first book in this series by Anne Bishop and loved it last year!

Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson - I definitely have a WWI theme going on with my reading at the moment, and this is the next one.

Marco's Temptation by Fiona McArthur - The next book in the Sydney Harbour Hospital series.

A Feast for Crows by George R R Martin - I am actually half way through this but was never going to finish it in time so I ended up returning it and borrowing it again within a couple of minutes.

Jasmine Nights by Julia Gregson - I really liked Julia Gregson's other books but never actually got around to reading this one.

Blood Safari by Deon Meyer - Bree is a big fan of this author so when I was looking for a new audiobook and I saw this one I thought I would give it a go.

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Clare Wright - This is one of the books that has been longlisted for the Stella Prize this year.

Regeneration by Pat Barker - Early prep for a readalong that we might be hosting over at Historical Tapestry later in the year (not that we have announced it yet)

The Luminaries: a novel by Eleanor Catton -  I went and heard this author speak in February and thought the book sounded interesting. I am not sure that I am going to get through it before it is time to renew it though.

Library Loot is hosted by Clare from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief. Clare has the Mr Linky this week so head there to share your loot links.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Sunday Salon: March Reading Reflections

March was a pretty good month reading wise! My highlight was definite In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl, my first 5/5 read for the year. I was also very pleased with the number of books that I read for challenges this month, specifically the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Here's what I read during March:

The Debt of Tamar by Nicole Dweck 4/5
Floodtide by Judy Nunn 2/5 (audiobook)
Hate is Such a Strong Word by Sarah Ayoub 4.5/5
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley 4.5/5
A Bitter Taste by Annie Hauxwell 4/5
Dear Stranger by Alise K Ackers 4/5
Satisfaction by Sarah Mayberry 4/5
Sydney Harbour Hospital: Bella's Wishlist by Emily Forbes 2.5/5
The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon by Alexander McCall Smith 4/5
The Collector of Dying Breaths by M J Rose 4/5
In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl 5/5
1914: The year the world ended by Paul Ham 4/5 (audiobook)
Hope Flames by Jaci Burton 3.5/5
Just One Year by Gayle Forman 4/5
The Sandman Vol 2: The Doll House by Neil Gaiman 4/5
Play by Kylie Scott 3/5
Lick by Kylie Scott 4.5/5 (reread)

Challenge Update

Australian Women Writers - Floodtide, Hate is Such a Strong Word,  A Bitter Taste, Dear Stranger, Satisfaction, Bella's Wishlist, In Falling Snow, Play and Lick

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge - The Debt of Tamar, In Falling Snow,

Once Upon a Time - The Sandman Vol 2: The Doll House

Reading now

Bellagrand by Paullina Simons, A Feast for Crows by George R R Martin, The Golden Apple by Michelle Diener and listening to Blood Safari by Deon Meyer

Up Next Jack of Fables: Jack of Hearts by Bill Willingham