Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Library Loot: February 26

Whilst I am still participating in Library Loot it won't be every week now that I am not one of the co-hosts. I am therefore changing the post title format a little bit. Rather than having the upcoming week's dates the post will be just dated with the actual date and the loot mentioned will be those items that I have borrowed since the last Library Loot post. For example, the loot listed below was actually borrowed over a coouple of weeks rather than just this week.

Clare is hosting Mr Linky this week so head over to her blog to share your loot post.

A mix of books and music in my loot this time around!

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen - I am not sure why I requested this one from the library catalogue seeing as I already have it on my ereader. I think maybe it is because I was just so excited to even see it on the catalogue in the first place. Oh wait, it could be because it was on order on the catalogue even before I was approved for the digital copy.

Matilda is Missing by Caroline Overington - I have read a couple of this author's books and this is the nex one I am going to be tackling from her back list.

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams - reloot. I am determined this is the time that I am going to read this book!

The Memory Tree by Tess Evans - I recently read The Book of Lost Threads by this author for my book club and really enjoyed it so requested this one straight away.

Swing Both Ways by Robbie Williams - Robbie is coming to Australia on tour!!!! I am really hoping to go and see him this time. I have been waiting for nearly 13 years to see him in concert (long story).

Random Access Memory by Daft Punk - My new dancy music fest continues unabated!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Sisters of Mercy by Caroline Overington

I was introduced to Caroline Overington's writing last year when I read No Place Like Home and was impressed by it. It has taken a while, but I have finally got around to reading another book by her, and I was once again impressed.

On it's surface, Sister of Mercy tells the story of two sisters who learn of each others existence late in their lives. Agnes was a war baby who was separated from her parents during the war years and was never reunited with them. She was sent to Australia as part of the Forgotten Australians but had returned to England, raised her family and generally lived a good life. For those who are not aware, the Forgotten Generation were hundreds of children who were removed from their families, including indigenous children and British children who were sent to Australia after WWII. For the most part, these British children were orphans being sent to a new life, but there are stories of kids who were not really orphans being taken from their families and never saw them again. There are also some terrible stories of the abuses these children were subjected to. Click on the link above for more information regarding these children.

Snow Delaney was a much younger child born to the same parents, but a world away from the life that Agnes lead. She didn't actually know anything about Agnes until her father's will was read and it was revealed that one of the conditions of the will was that Agnes was to have the option to receive half of the sizable estate. At the very least Agnes and Snow were to meet which brings us to the central premise of the book.

Agnes and Snow meet briefly and then the next day Agnes is due to get on the plane to go back to her family but the flight is delayed due to a severe red dust storm. When the plane finally arrives in London, Agnes is not on it and there is no trace of her in Sydney. Whilst at first there was some action from the authorities it doesn't take long before the story slips out of the public consciousness.

Once again Overington chooses to use a male narrator who is somewhat removed from the direct action. Jack Fawcett is a journalist who is sent to a police briefing about the missing woman, and after speaking to Agnes's daughter agrees to try to find out more. We get to hear Jack's thoughts as his investigation progresses and also his reaction to a series of letters from Snow which she starts to write in response to one of his articles which she thought was erroneous. We know early on in the book that Snow is in prison but it takes some time to find out why that is the case.

As she begins to tell Jack her story we find out about Snow's life as an only child (as far as she knew anyway) in an unhappy house in suburban Melbourne. We learn of the dysfunctional relationship with her mother, her relationship with boys as a young girl, about how it was that she became a nurse caring from the disabled, firstly in an archaic institution and then later providing respite care in the home she shares with her partner Mark.

What is interesting about Snow as a character is that she seems to lack any moral compass. She is remote and detached and can't seem to see what would obviously be a morally objectionable issue to any normal person. And yet, there is a fair degree to which you could easily believe that Snow is as much a victim of choices and circumstances as any of the people that she cares for. Has she been abandoned time and time again by the people who should have been placing controls on her behaviour, whether that be her parents or the department who have licensed her to care for these disabled kids. Is she a person who lacks some of the fundamental emotional tools like empathy and compassion, or is that making an excuse for her?

One of the things that made an impact on me was the discussion about the fate of disabled people who were part of the deinstitutionalisation of care back in the 80s. Part of the reason is that in my current job I work for an organisation that is strongly involved in the care of disadvantaged people. There is a program that was set up especially in response to the conditions that were prevalent in the institution that Snow worked in. I had a brief discussion with the lady who started that program after reading the book and she talked about going into the institution and being completely and utterly horrified by the conditions in which these people were being kept. She had worked in similar institutions in another country for many years but she was shocked to see the dehumanisation of these people in the particular institution which is named in the book.

It was interesting how Overington contrasted those horrors with the care in the community model that was put in place at the time as a better model and shows that without the proper checks and balances being in place it was still possible for these people to be treated as much less than human. At the moment, there are major reforms happening in the care sector. It's probably an important lesson to keep in mind as all these changes occur to ensure that there are appropriate controls in place.

This isn't a book with a nice neat ending. Overington leaves the reader with enough information so that you can decide what you believe may have happened to Agnes on that fateful day without spelling it out directly.

Once again Caroline Overington takes the reader on a journey through complex moral issues without losing track of the fact that the reader needs a compelling story to frame those moral questions. I have already borrowed another novel by this author from the library.

Rating 4/5


Two sisters - one now missing, the other behind bars...

Snow Delaney was born a generation and a world away from her sister, Agnes.

Until recently, neither even knew of the other's existence. They came together only for the reading of their father's will - when Snow discovered, to her horror, that she was not the sole beneficiary of his large estate.

Now Snow is in prison and Agnes is missing, disappeared in the eerie red dust that blanketed Sydney from dawn on September 23, 2009.

With no other family left, Snow turns to crime journalist Jack Fawcett, protesting her innocence in a series of defiant letters from prison. Has she been unfairly judged? Or will Jack's own research reveal a story even more shocking than the one Snow wants to tell?

With Sisters of Mercy Caroline Overington once again proves she is one of the most exciting new novelists of recent years.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Scones

Over the last couple of Weekend Cooking posts I have been talking about recipes that intimidate me. Today, I am posting a version of a recipe that used to intimidate me just a little until I actually tried to make them. The recipe that I made last year was a different version to this one, but it was just as easy to do, and hopefully one day, when I try this version, it will be as tasty.

So why did the idea of making scones intimidate me? I think it is because when you have a really good scone, there is nothing better especially with some jam and cream, but when they are dry and crumbly even jam and cream can't save them.

I think it is interesting to see how the brain works. Last week I mentioned that I was going to post a scone recipe and I think my subconscious has been thinking about this ever since. This morning I met up with the Victorian branch of the Sharon Kay Penman Fan Club and I knew even before I got to the meeting that I was going to be having the Devonshire tea. Didn't even have to look at the menu really! Fortunately, the scones that I was served were delicious. Fluffy and light on the inside with a little bit of crunch on the outside. Delicious!

I should mention the morning tea that a couple of the other people had. At the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) at the moment they have the Melbourne Now Art Tea. The idea is that you get a biscuit that is decorated like a painting frame and you can make your own art on using various treats and sauces as your materials and it is all edible. In addition you get a couple of sandwiches, a scone and a class of sparking wine. One of the two people who were having this in our group made a sun out of the bits of marshmallow and macaron which represents Sunne In Splendour, one of Sharon Kay Penman's books. Lots of fun, even just as an observer!

Art tea - in the background you can see the sauces and treats that
 you use to make your masterpiece

Anyway, back to the scones!

This recipe for scones comes from Merle Parrish's latest cookbook Merle's Country Show Cooking and Other Favourites which I reviewed last week.

Before the recipe though, I have a very important question. It is, of course, the age old pronunciation question!

Are your scones like stones or are your scones all gone?


3 cups self-raising flour
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp cream
1–1/4 cups milk, plus extra to brush
Jam and cream to serve

Preheat oven to hot (220°C) and lightly grease a baking tray.

Sift the flours, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Use a butter knife to mix in the cream and enough milk to make a soft dough.

Gather the dough together and turn out onto a lightly floured bench. Knead gently and briefly until smooth. Don’t overwork the dough or you will have tough scones.

Use a rolling pin to roll out to about 1.5cm thick. Cut out rounds with a 5cm round cutter and place slightly apart on the tray. Brush tops lightly with milk, and bake for 12–15 minutes, until risen and lightly browned.

Serve warm or at room temperature, with jam and cream.

Makes 15

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.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Book of Lost Threads by Tess Evans

When a young woman named Moss tracks down a man called Michael Finbar Clancy in a small Australian country town called Opportunity, she can have no idea that she will set off a chain of events which will have lasting impact on both of them, their friends, and the town.

Moss had an unusual conception and a difficult childhood. Miranda Sinclair, known as Moss, is the now grown daughter of a lesbian couple. She grew up as the loved child of two very different women. Amy was the fun, natural mother who didn't worry about mess and structure. Linsey was the more rigid woman who tried to make a perfect baby by selecting the most suitable candidate as the sperm donor (which is where Michael came into the picture) and whose high expectations left Moss feeling inadequate and insecure. She was also the object of bullying during her school years as kids realised that she did come from an unusual family. When she finds out the circumstances of her birth, she is further alienated from one of her mothers, which leads her to go looking for the father she has never known.

The man who used to be known as Michael Finbar Clancy has lives in the tiny town of Opportunity for many years, having escaped there after being traumatised following a car accident. Finn, as he now prefers to be called, was a respected mathematician but now he lives a quiet life where he has just enough money, just enough work and just enough friends to keep him almost content. He certainly has no room in his life for strangers who turn up on his doorstep in the middle of a rainstorm, let alone for the girl who was the product of a business transaction so many years before.

Finn's main friends are an elderly lady named Lily Pargeter who was widowed in World War II and then lost her baby not long after and has never recovered. To keep herself busy she knits tea cosies which she sends off to the quartermaster at the United Nations in New York. Her nephew, Sandy, is probably the closest thing Finn has to a friend of his own age, but being friends with Sandy is not easy. He grew up as the son of one of the founding families, his father was a war hero, a local sporting hero, and an abusive husband. Sandy is socially awkward and something of a laughing stock but when his grand plan to build a Big Galah to help bring tourists to Opportunity he becomes more the subject of derision

Each of the characters need to come to terms with their pasts, in order to allow for a better futures, but they all have quite an emotional journey. The book deals with some big issues: death, identity, guilt, loss but it also is charming and fun.

To be honest, I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed this author's debut novel. Whilst it has been out for a few years now, I don't recall hearing that much about it. The only reason why I read it now is that it is our bookclub book this month. Even then, we were supposed to be reading a different book but this one was given as a replacement at the last minute. It may just be that this was the perfect time for me to read this book, but it worked for me big time. There were times where I wasn't exactly sure where the various plot lines were going to go, especially as we learned the back story of each of the characters and then to see how all those various threads would be bought together for the ending.

I have already requested the author's next book from the library, and I can't wait to read it. If it is a enjoyable as this one was I will be one happy reader!

Rating 4.5/5

Tender, funny and memorable, Book of Lost Threads is a story about love and loss, parents and children, hope, faith and the value of simple kindness.

Moss has run away from Melbourne to Opportunity on the trail of a man she knows only by name. But her arrival sets in train events that disturb the long-held secrets of three of the town' s inhabitants: Finn, a brilliant mathematician, who has become a recluse; Lily Pargetter, eighty-three-year-old knitter of tea cosies; and Sandy, the town buffoon, who dreams of a Great Galah.

It is only as Moss, Finn, Lily and Sandy develop unlikely friendships that they find a way to lay their sorrows to rest and knit together the threads that will restore them to life.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Merle's Country Show Baking and Other Favourites by Merle Parrish

A couple of years ago I reviewed Merle Parrish's first cookbook. I  had originally borrowed it from the library but I liked it so much that I ended up buying it. Now if only I could find it, but it is here somewhere.

Firstly, here is a little bit of history about Merle Parrish. She first entered a country cooking show at 7 years of age and has competed for more than 70 years winning many prizes for her baking. She is also now a judge. Whilst I am sure she was known within her circles, she came to prominence when she appeared as a guest on Masterchef a couple of years ago.

On the back of that appearance, she got a book deal for the first book and now she is back with second cookbook at 81 years of age!. This time the book features many classic cakes that are entered in to the cooking competitions at the shows. but also some of her favourites. As you read through the book all of the recipes which are show recipes are clearly marked so in theory you could keep on practicing and start entering yourself if you really wanted to!

The great thing about this book is that there are many simple yet delicious looking recipes that nearly anyone can do, including some of those intimidating recipes I mentioned last week like sponge cakes, a pavlova roll, and lots of recipes where she gives instructions on how to make your own pastry.

The book itself is broken into a number of different sections:

Baking hints,
Cakes, Bread,
Scones and Muffins,
Pies and Tarts,
Biscuits and Slices,
Jams, Marmalades and Jellies,
Savoury Preserves

At the beginning of each section there are various tips on the basic techniques that will be required in the chapter. Some of the recipes that caught my attention included Apple and Rhubarb Pie, Lemon Curd, Apple Crumble Cake, Capsicum and Chilli relish and Sponge Cake. You would definitely be able to work through some of the classic recipes until you had the techniques down!

One thing that did amuse me about this cookbook is in the introduction to each chapters there was more than once when she said something like I am not that keen on this particular recipe but my husband/kids loved it so I have included it here. Not sure I can name many cookbooks where you would see that kind of thing said.

If I knew where the first book was I would go and have a look to see how much repetition there is in terms of recipes, because I do have a feeling there is some. If I had to pick between the two, I would say that the first book was a keeper, but this one certainly has merit too.

When deciding which recipe to share for this post it seemed like it would be a bit odd to go past the recipe which bears her name so here is Merle's Slice. For my own purposes I am going to be sharing the scones recipe next week (or at least that is the plan right now).

Merle's Slice


1 cup self-raising flour
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 cup brown sugar
pinch of salt
125g butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla essence


1 cup icing sugar
40g softened butter
cup lemon juice
desiccated coconut, to sprinkle

Preheat the oven to moderate (180C). Grease a 26cm x 16cm (base measurement) slice tin and line with baking paper, hanging over the two long sides.

Combine the flour, coconut, brown sugar and salt in a mixing bowl, and make a well in the centre. Add the butter and vanilla and mix until evenly combined.

Press into the prepared tin, smoothing the surface with the back of a spoon. Bake for 20–25 minutes, until golden brown. Set aside to cool completely.

To make the icing, sift the icing sugar into a bowl and add the butter and lemon juice. Use a wooden spoon to beat until smooth. Spread over the slice and sprinkle lightly with coconut. Leave for about 20 minutes, to set.

Lift out of the tin, and cut into fingers to serve.

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.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Bookish Quotes: A bookish romance

Today's quote comes from Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett. It isn't so much my normal quote about the love of books or libraries but rather about people/dwarfs/trolls who love books. It also seems appropriate for Library Lover's Day which is today.

The quote comes from pages 244 and 245. Enjoy!

The rain poured down on the Sto Lat terminus, water gushing off the roof as people scurried to get out of the downpour, seeking a respite from the deluge. The little coffee shop of Marjorie Painsworth was dry and as an extra attraction on this dreadful night she had warm buns on sale. It was a beacon of solace for the young troll lady, who stirred her cup of molten sulphur uncertainly while waiting. She watched people coming in and out, and was surprised when a dwarf gentleman indicated the chair next to her and said, "Excuse me, is this place taken?"

Crackle had never had much to do with dwarfs, of course, but since the whole Koom Valley business had been sorted out, it was surely in order for her to talk to a dwarf, especially since this one was very well dressed and, well, looked human; an Ankh-Morpork dwarf as they called them. So she smiled and said, "By all means do take a seat, sir. Isn't the  weather inclement for this time of year?"

The dwarf bowed, sat down and said, "Forgive my intrusion, but I am so happy to hear you use a word like "inclement". The very word itself paints a picture, don't you think? A grey one, but nevertheless....Oh, where are my manners? Please let me introduce myself:  Dopey Docson at your service, madam, and  may I say you speak extremely good dwarfish?"

Crackle looked around. People were still coming in out of the rain and leaving as the trains came and went. Sto Lat as, after all, a hub of the railway and almost all traffic passed through there. She had one ear cocked for the porter announcing her own train, but she managed to say, "Your grasp of troll is likewise also remarkable, if I may say so. May I ask where your travels have taken you?"

The dwarf smiled again and said,"I'm a librarian in Klatch, but I've recently buried my father in Copperhead."

And Crackle stifled a laugh and said, "Do excuse me, I'm very sorry to hear about your father, but that's amazing! I'm also a librarian, in the service of Diamond King of Trolls!"

"Ah, the Diamond Library! Alas not available to us at the moment, even under the famous Accord. I'd give anything just to see it."

And the two librarians ordered more drinks and talked about books while whistles blew and train after train left the station. Crackle told Dopey that her husband didn't like books and considered that mumbling should be good enough for trolls like it was in the old days, and the dwarf told her about his wife who even after the Koom Valley Accord still thought of trolls as a kind of animal, and they talked and talked and talked about the meaning of words and, indeed, the love of words. Marjorie recognised the syndrome and kept the hot coffee and sulphur flowing, with the occasional warm rock cake.

Of course, it wasn't her business, she thought, it wasn't up to her how other people led their lives and she definitely didn't eavesdrop, well, not much, but she couldn't help hearing the dwarf say, "I've been offered a post as librarian at Brazeneck University and they've already  told me I can bring my own assistant."

And Marjorie was not surprised to find two empty cups and an empty table when she next looked: this sort of thing was bound to happen with the railway. It expanded horizons, inside and out, people went looking to find themselves and what they found was somebody else.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Jack of Fables: Vol 1: The (Nearly) Great Escape by Bill Willingham

After working my way through the first 12 or so volumes of the Fables series, it was time to start reading the Jack of Fables series before it crosses over to the main series again, and I have to say the thought of doing so underwhelmed me. I am always a completist though, so if it is best to read series in a particular order then I will definitely try to.

Part of the reason that I was underwhelmed is that I didn't really like Jack all that much when he made brief appearances in the main Fables series, so the thought of having six graphic novels to read where he is the main character wasn't all that appealing.

And I was right to be a little concerned because, compared to many of the other Fables collections that I have read, this wasn't my favourite. Having said that, in the end, I didn't dislike it as much as I could have!

When we met Jack in the main Fables series he was living the highlife in Hollywood where he was involved in the movie industry. Having been ostracised by the Fables community for revealing secrets, he is kicked out of Hollywood with a suitcase filled with cash (a mere fraction of his financial worth) and the clothes on his back. He doesn't get very far though as he is abducted off the streets and taken to the Golden Boughs retirement home. Mr Revise is the head of the home and his mission is to keep renegade fables imprisoned until such time as no one believes in them anymore when they can then disappear without a trace.

Jack being the arrogant womaniser that he is, it doesn't take long before he has hooked up with a woman, but that arrogance and self belief also means that he is not one to accept that it is his fate to be hidden away in this pseudo-prison so it isn't long before he is trying to gather together a group of characters to help plan an escape. This brings Jack into conflict with the man in charge of Golden Boughs, Mr Revise and his assistants.

Part of the fun of this series is seeing what other Fables characters have been put out to "retirement" at Golden Boughs. Some are obvious, others are surprising and some are characters that I have no recognition of at all.

In the end, I will continue with the series (completist, remember) but I will do so knowing that I am really looking forward to returning to the main story rather than really looking forward to this spinoff.

Rating 3.5/5


Think you know the greatest Fable of them all?

You don't know Jack!

After earning a fortune in Hollywood by cashing in on his own legent, Little Jack Horner - a.k.a. Jack the Giant Killer - is now the most famous Fable alive. Sure, he's been stripped of his wealth, and banished from Fabletown forever as a result, but Jack has always been a wanderer at heart, and the open road is like a home to him. So it's a real shame when he's plucked off the pavement and unceremoniously tossed into a gulag filled with other renegade Fables.

Within the walls of the Golden Boughs Retirement Home, however, Jack finds allies as well as enemies - and once he learns the ultimate goals of his jailer, Mr Revise, breaking out becomes more than just a point of pride. Of course, over all the centuries that Revise has run his prison, no one has ever escaped from it. But hey, he's the Jack of the Tales! How hard could it be?

Other contributors to this collection Matthew Sturges, Tony Akins, Andrew Pepoy

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Library Loot: 12 February to 18 February

I got a bit of a shock today when I logged into my library account and saw how few books I have out. Once upon a time I really struggled to keep the number of loans away from our maximum number of books out but right now am way under half. And to be honest, I am okay with that because there are times that juggling the reading schedule to meet the due dates does become a little difficult when you have nearly 60 books out at a time.

Here's what I got from the library this week:

The Lost Book of Threads by Tess Evans - this is our first book club book for the year.

Relish: My life in the kitchen by Lucy Knisley - I read Lucy Knisley's first graphic novel earlier this year. I didn't love it, but I am looking forward to seeing if I like this one a bit better.

Through the Evil Days by Julia Spencer Fleming - the latest book in the Reverend Clare Fergusson/Russ van Alstyne series. I love this series. It is one of the few contemporary mystery series that I am really hooked on!

True by Avicii - My dancey trend in music continues. This week it is Avicii. My favourite song off the album is Addicted to You.

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, February 09, 2014

Sunday Salon: January Reading Reflections

January was a very quiet reading month for me. There's not really any particular reason fro this. I was at home by myelf for a couple of weeks so I could have read to my heart's content, but I took the opportunity to watch some movies etc while I didn't have to fight for the remote control. I also had a week off of work. Most people assume that if I have a week off work I will do nothing but read but  it often isn't true. During my week off thi year, not only did I not finish a single book but I didn't manage any blog posts either! Shocking!

Here's what I did read in January:

Thornwood House by Anna Romer 4.5/5
What Katie Ate by Katie Quinn Davies 4/5
Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta 4/5 (audiobook)
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert 4.5/5
Breath by Tim Winton 3/5 (audiobook)
Dark Witch by Nora Roberts 3/5

It is pleasing that so much of my reading was by Aussie authors with the first 3 books all counted for the Australian Women Writer's Challenge.

Both Thornwood House and The Signature of All Things count for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

February is already looking like it is going to be a more prolific reading month!

Currently Reading

The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand, The Sandman vol 1: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman and Floodtide by Judy Nunn (audiobook

Up Next

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J K Rowling)

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Balsamic Pavlova with Strawberry Cream and two kind of related questions

We are getting towards the end of a very hot Aussie summer but it would seem as though the heat is not going away any time soon. I have watched the start of the Sochi Olympics not only with the hope of enjoying the sport and the spectacle but also with the idea that maybe looking at other people playing around in the snow will trick my brain into feeling a bit cooler! So far it isn't really working!

Summer means barbecues and socialising, long days and going to beach and there has been plenty of that this summer.A couple of weeks ago I went to a friend's house for a barbecue. They have just moved into a gorgeous house that is literally five minutes from the beach - living the dream really. I was a tiny bit jealous. One of the treats that they had for dessert was a pavlova which is a quintessential Aussie dessert (okay, it is another one that we fight with New Zealand about, but for the purposes of this post we will go with Aussie!). There was one bought pavlova but the other was a home made one.

For those who don't know what a pavlova is, it is a meringue style dessert which is baked in a low oven so you end up with a crispy shell but a soft and fluffy interior. It is usually covered in whipped cream and fruit for serving. It is basically a lot of sugar so some times it can be too much, but if you get the right mix of sugar and texture and topping...mmmm yum! It's a fine line between delicious and sickly sweet.

Before I went to the barbecue, I watched a segment on TV where they made a pavlova where they said a couple of things that surprised me. One was that it was okay to put your egg whites and caster sugar into the benchtop mixer bowl and walk away for 10 minutes, by which time you should have the right consistency of mixture. The second was that because it is cooked in such a low oven for a fairly low time is that you can cook it directly onto the china serving platter, and that you can have a free form shape if you want! It doesn't have to be a perfect circle!

Now, I have to confess that I have never made a pavlova before. It is on my list of things that I would like to make one day, but it is fair to say that it is something which actually intimidates me a little. First there is getting all those egg whites, which I am not convinced I would be able to do without wasting numerous eggs. And then there is the question of what to do with all those egg yolks, and getting the shell crisp on the outside but still fluffy on the inside. Oh, the pressure.

There are a number of other things that I would like to try one day that I either just haven't gotten around to yet or I am a bit intimidated by. So here is my first question to you all. Are there recipes that you have thought about trying to make but you just haven't or those recipes that you are intimidated by. For me, other examples of recipes that I would like to try one day but I am a bit daunted by include classic sponge cakes and baked cheesecakes. I love cheesecake and make a good no bake cheesecake, but a baked one? Not sure I am brave enough to try.

One of the things about watching the tip about the mixer prompted me to suddenly NEED... not want, need.... to go and start researching benchtop mixers. It is a bit absurd really as I don't have hundreds of dollars sitting around to buy kitchen equipment and I don't really have the benchtop space to have it just sitting there not being used on a regular basis but it doesn't really matter, especially after my handheld mixer started making terrible noises last weekend too. I think I am going to be either saving up to buy one or put one on layby so that hopefully by the end of the year I will have one. But the big question is what to buy. I have been looking at some of the cheaper models that are probably more affordable but the user reviews on those are pretty dire. There is a mid range model by Breville which looks like it might be alright and then there are the big names of the household market - Kenwood Mixmaster and Kitchenaid. So my question is, with apologies to those who already saw me ask this question on Facebook at the time, do you have a benchtop mixer? Which brand is it? Do you use it regularly? Or like me, do you really want one or is it just another gadget to take up space in the kitchen?

Seeing as I have talked so much of pavlova in this post it would be remiss of me not include a recipe. This is a posh version which comes from Kate Brack's book, The Sweet Life, which I have posted recipes from before and is a book that I refer to quite regularly for baking!

Balsamic Pavlova with Strawberry Cream

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour
+ cooling in the oven

Makes: 10–12 slices pavlova



6 egg whites
pinch of salt
330g (1½ cups) caster sugar
80ml (1/3 cup) balsamic vinegar
1 tbs cornflour
55g (1/3 cup) icing sugar, sifted

Strawberry cream

2 punnets strawberries
1 tbs icing sugar, sifted
250ml (1 cup) pouring cream

1. Preheat the oven to 150°C. Use a pencil to draw a 20cm round onto a sheet of baking paper (trace around a plate). Grease a baking tray, and place the paper onto it, pencil-side down.

2. To make the meringue, place the egg whites, salt and a couple of spoonfuls of the sugar into the bowl. Begin whisking the egg white at medium speed until it begins to foam. Increase the speed to high and whisk for 1–2 minutes, until it turns white and forms soft, smooth peaks when you dip a finger in. With the mixer running on medium speed, gradually add the remaining sugar a spoonful at a time until it’s all incorporated.

3. Scrape down the sides of the bowl then increase the speed to high again for 5 minutes, or until the meringue looks glossy, holds its shape when you lift the beaters and is without any gritty sugar feel.

4. Reduce the speed to low. Add the balsamic vinegar and mix well, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Sift the cornflour and icing sugar over the mixture and whisk again until incorporated.

5. Using a spatula, pile the mixture onto the baking tray inside the drawn circle. Keep it tall initially, then spread it evenly to the edges, creating a cake shape.

6. Place into the oven. Immediately reduce the oven temperature to 140°C and bake for 1 hour. Turn the oven off but leave the pavlova in there until it has cooled to room temperature. Don’t worry too much if it cracks as it will be smothered in strawberry cream!

7. Meanwhile, to make the strawberry cream, hull 1 punnet of the strawberries and cut them into 1cm pieces. Place into a bowl, sprinkle over the icing sugar and stir to coat. Set aside for 15 minutes.

8. Whip the cream and vanilla to soft peaks. Stir through the chopped strawberries and up to 1 teaspoon of any liquid from them.

9. Quarter the remaining strawberries. Spread the strawberry cream on top of the pavlova and scatter with the quartered strawberries.

Note: Using pure icing sugar keeps this recipe gluten-free.

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