Thursday, April 30, 2020

Reading Reflections: April 2020

I am quite pleased with how much I read this month. I am also quite pleased that I managed to write a couple of reviews this month as well, and there are a couple of more that are written and scheduled in the next couple of weeks. 

I also my first 5/5 read for the year and a couple that were very close to reaching that zenith.

My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith 4/5
The Lost Love Song by Minnie Darke 5/5 (Australian Author)
Rosie's Travelling Tea Shop by Rebecca Raisin 4/5 (Australian Author)
Talk of the Town by Rachael Johns 4/5 (Australian Author)
Poison Study by Maria V Snyder 4.5/5 (reread)
Ambulance Girls Under Fire by Deborah Burrows 4/5 (Australian Author)
The Rise of Magicks by Nora Roberts 4/5 (audiobook)
Jilted by Rachael Johns 4/5 (Australian Author)

The reviews that I have coming soon are for Rosie's Travelling Tea Shop and Poison Study.

This month I have a couple of more library books left to read, I'm reading a non fiction book (unusual) and a review book (haven't had any of those for a while).

How was your April reading?

Monday, April 27, 2020

This week....

I'm reading...

Big news this week! I finished my audiobook of The Rise of Magicks by Nora Roberts this week! It has taken me nearly two months to get through it. I was listening to it whenever I walked from the train station to work, so with no commute and no walking it took a lot longer than it could have. I did try to listen again a couple of weeks ago while working but I don't think the time was right given that it was about a a post virus world where millions were killed before there is an almighty battle between good and evil.

I thought I would go for something light and fun, but I think I missed that when I chose for my next book to listen to though. I ended up deciding to listen to The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan. Irish crime is going to be light and fun right?

I have also just started The Postmistress by Alison Stuart, by which I mean I am just a couple of pages in. I want to read this one now as I have this author's newest book for review. I don't know 100% if the two books are linked but they are set in the same town so I figure there will be some crossover.

The ebook that I am reading at the moment is Jilted by Rachael Johns. I thought that I had read most of this author's books but I recently discovered that there are quite a few to read. I read Talk of the Town a couple of weeks ago but now I am going back to the very beginning!

The last book I will mention this week is a book called Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat by Jonathan Kaufmann. This is the next book for the Cook the Books online bookclub. It's not my normal kind of read at all, and it isn't the kind of food that I normally eat either so it will be very interesting to see how I go with this book!

I'm watching....

If I achieved one thing this week it is that I am now all up to date with Outlander. That means I now have to wait for each new episode and then I will be waiting impatiently throughout the next #droughtlander.

I think I am getting a bit of entertainment overload to be honest. I have been watching lots of things over the last couple of months, and there is still a lot of interesting things available, but I just can't be bothered to actually watch any of it. So where I have watched musicals, theatre performances, symphony performances in previous weekends this weekend .....nothing. And that's despite the fact that I know that there will be things that I have missed the opportunity to see by not watching them.

One thing I did watch was the Music from the Home Front Anzac Day concert which was a concert featuring Australian and Kiwi music artists coming together to thank both our service men and women and those who are working on the front lines against COVID19. There were lots of amazing performances and it was a really nice way to spend a Saturday night. What it did reiterate is that I am very out of touch with the new music coming out of this country.


Bob the Builder has been busy again this weekend. This year our plan is to renovate both of the bathrooms and the front yard. We thought though we would start with a smaller project which is the laundry and toilet so that we can then take the lessons that we learned this time when we do the bathrooms a bit later this year. This will therefore be a practice run in terms of the tiling process. There's a bit of painting to be done still so I will share a picture next week

I thought I would share one performance from the Music from the Home Front Anzac Day concert. I am not sure how well known this song is around the world but it certainly is a song that is well known here.

Posts from the last week

Review: Chocolate Cake for Breakfast by Danielle Hawkins
Weekend Cooking: April Bakes
Alphabet 2020: D is for Diggers

I've linked this post to It's Monday, what are you reading? as hosted by Book Date

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Chocolate Cake for Breakfast by Danielle Hawkins

When I was trying to come up with a D topic for my Alphabet post this week, one of the options that I was considering was D for Danielle Hawkins given that I have read two of her books (this one and When It All Went to Custard) over the last couple of months.  I ended up going with an Anzac Day tribute instead, but it can't hurt to still try and write a review can it? Since I started blogging again this year, reviews are possibly the hardest thing to get back in the habit of writing for me.

About 3 years ago Bree from All The Books I Can Read and I met up for a coffee and then we went on a bit of a drive around the local area. As is normal for all book lovers (right?) one of the stops was at a newly opened community library. During the course of that drive and library visit, she recommended this book to me, amongst others (which I know because I mentioned it on a Litsy post at the time). Three years later, I am happy to confirm that she was indeed correct. This was a great book as evidenced by the fact that I started it at 3am one night when I couldn't sleep and finished it at 1.30am the next night because I couldn't put it down, and therefore didn't sleep.

Helen McNeil is a vet in a small town in New Zealand. She's done the almost obligatory trip to live in the UK with her former partner, but now she is home, trying to reestablish her career. She came back to the small town she grew up in, to the people who know her best including her extended family nearby.

One night she reluctantly goes to a party. In the course of trying to get away from an annoying person she literally trips over the legs of a man. Helen is oblivious as to his identity so she is a bit shocked learn that he is Mark Tipene, world famous rugby player and All Blacks star. When Mark turns up at her workplace the next day to ask her on a date, Helen is a bit reluctant but agrees, warning him that the date might get interrupted because she is on call.

What follows is one of the more unusual scenes I've read where Helen gets called out and has to remove a dead calf from inside a cow. Danielle Hawkins is a vet when she is not writing, and both in this first date scene and a couple of other scenes in the book, she is not afraid to share the details of what it is she does.  I had NO idea that vets did that kind of thing in the services they provide. If assisting with that kind of procedure doesn't scare Mark off, then really not much will.

Despite Helen's demanding work schedule during a busy time of the year and Mark's hectic rugby and sponsorship appearances, they start a fledgling relationship. Helen is very conscious of the fact that she is not the typical WAG type that Mark has been associated with in the past and there were times when these insecurities started to get in the way. Then things change, and it is more her stubborness and independent streak that cause some issues. Of course, Mark has his own baggage too.

Don't be put off by the rugby part of this story. While there are mentions of Helen having to gain a sudden interest in the game and of matches being played, you won't be too lost if you don't know much about rugby. I know enough to watch a game and some basic understanding but don't ask me to explain anything.

I wanted to give a shout out to the secondary characters in this book. The town is populated by an interesting set of characters, from the grumpy farmers to Helen's workmates. I did love the friendships portrayed in this book including Helen's cousin, her best friend and Mark's team captain and his wife. I also loved Helen's relationship with her stepmother and much younger stepsisters who were adorable.

I have read many Aussie rural romances over the years,but these two books by Danielle Hawkins are the only ones I recall having read that are set in New Zealand. And they do feel different. There's not so much red dust for starters! I do find Hawkins a very easy to read author. There is something in her author voice that is very comforting. There's humour, emotion and depth. I am very much looking forward to reading her next book and working my way through her remaining backlist.

And a word about the title! A long time ago I shared a post about one memorable occasion when I had chocolate cake for breakfast. I am not going to suggest that is the ONLY time I've ever had chocolate cake for breakfast because yum!!! That wouldn't be true but it certainly was a noteworthy occasion!

Rating 4.5/5

Description from Goodreads

Helen McNeil is a vet in the small rural town of Broadview. While taking evasive action from a dull girl at a party one night she falls over - and fails to recognise - national sporting hero, Mark Tipene. For some mysterious reason Helen never really grasps, Mark finds this charming and appears the next day at the front counter of the vet clinic to ask her out.
A whirlwind romance follows and everything is going swimmingly until one little hiccup changes everything...
Chocolate Cake for Breakfast is the funny and heart-warming story of the pros and cons of dating a man whose shirtless picture adorns a wall in every second lunchroom in the country, of calving cows and crazy cat ladies, and of doing your best when life takes an unexpected turn.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Weekend Cooking: April Bakes

April feels like it has been long right? Even as I just looked at this post I was like has it really been this month that I made the first thing on this list. It feels like it could have been 2 months ago, instead just this month.

This was my first full month of working from home. We definitely took advantage of that when it comes to baking, which inevitably leads to eating but we won't talk about that too much!

Even with some shortages in the shops, we have pretty much been able to get a least one pack of butter and one pack of flour when we need it so we have been able to make everything that we wanted to.

In this month I tried some simple new recipes, revisited some old favourites and challenged myself a little. I think the challenging myself is the one where I need to do some more work. Now that there is no longer the monthly Bake it Box arriving, I need to find somewhere that gives challenging bakes, with good instruction that are achievable. Anyone have any ideas?  Maybe I need to start doing some bakes from the people I follow on Youtube, but I do think I possible need to find some more inspiration.

In other news, one of the major biscuit (cookie) companies in Australia has started releasing their recipes for their most famous biscuits. Maybe I might try some of them next month. I guess we will have to wait and see.

So here's what I did make in April (with links where I have them).

Puff Pastry Cream Squares - I shared the recipe for these a few weeks ago. They are easy and delicious. I can definitely see myself making these again

Chocolate Brownies - Bill Granger's chocolate brownies have been my go to recipe for a number of years now, and this was as good as ever! I do still need to get used to cooking this in my current oven.. In the old one I had to leave it in the over for around 50% longer than the recipe states. In my current oven, I do not!

No Knead Bread - We thought we would join in with all the cool kids and make bread this month. We have been doing this no knead bread for a couple of years now. It is super easy, delicious and makes the house smell amazing. The only thing with this version is that you have to decide yesterday that you want to eat it today. There is a 2 hour version that we have tried too, but this recipe isn't too taxing either.

Lemon Coconut No Bake slice -If I am in a coffee shop and in the mood, I will often pick up one of these slices. I had no idea that it was no bake though. Melt some ingredients and then mix and set. Super easy and tasty. I think I would use real lemon juice in the icing next time though. (recipe)

Easter Egg Rocky Road slice -  This was  my challenge myself recipe this month. Even then you just have to follow the instructions really. You start with a shortbread base, then make marshmallow and top with a melted chocolate, mini easter eggs and turkish delight. The recipe I have linked to includes nuts but I always leave these out because we have an allergy in this house, not that my son the manboy ever tries what I cook but still! Better to be safe than sorry.

Very sweet but delicious and fun to make! (recipe)

Choc Banana Bread - This is my other go to Bill Granger recipe, and was the second ever post I shared for Weekend Cooking. I had a bit of an issue turning it out of the pan this time, but it still tasted as good as ever!

I went to take a photo of the quarter of this today, but the container has disappeared into the manboy's room and presumably been eaten!

Have you been baking up a storm this month?

I am sharing this post with In My Kitchen

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, April 24, 2020

Alphabet 2020: D is for Diggers

Tomorrow is Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand, a day when we celebrate the sacrifices made by our soldiers during conflicts. The reason why it we celebrate on this day, is because on April 25, 1915, our soldiers arrived at Gallipoli, the first time that we had fought not as British soldiers, but as Australians. The word Anzac stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps, and this is a day that we share proudly with our New Zealand comrades.

Over the years I have shared a number of different posts about Anzac Day

2015 - Gunfire Breakfast
2013 - Quote from Daughter of Mars by Tom Keneally
2012 - Joint post with Maree from Just Add Books
2011 - Acknowledging indigenous diggers/I was only Nineteen
2010 - Anzac Biscuits
2010 - My grandparent's story/reading war stories
2009 - Two up.
2008 - The Last Post

In the Gunfire Breakfast post I talked about going to the dawn service which is a huge part of the Anzac Day tradition for many people. I am more likely to spend the day watching documentaries and being emotionally moved by televised live services from around the country and from places like Anzac Cove (Gallipolli) than go out in the predawn to go to a dawn service but I do every now and again.

This year though, Anzac Day is going to be different for everyone due to the current social distancing requirements. There will be no dawn service where 400-500,000 people gather in the early hours of the morning to wait for the dawn remembrance service. There will be no parade through the city, no smaller services in the suburbs and local towns, no reunions for those ex serviceman who gather together after the formalities, no Anzac Day football match attended by close enough to 100000 people.

Instead, we are being invited to head out into our driveways at dawn on Saturday and to livestream a service. Yes, it still means getting up early, but it's not a 4am start like it could be if you are trying to head into the city, and the bonus is that you could then go back to bed for a while after the service is over. Our intention is to participate in this years commemoration, and then we are going to share a Zoom breakfast together with friends.

During the period between Christmas and New Year we went to Perth to visit family and we took the opportunity to head down to the very south of Western Australia to a town called Albany. Albany plays an important role in the Anzac story because for many of the young men who answered the call to arms, this was the last place they ever saw in Australia. Albany is where the convoy of ships all gathered together before sailing towards their fate.

A few years ago there was a museum called National Anzac Centre built on a hill overlooking the body of water where the ships were anchored. It's a beautiful location and the building perfectly frames the views. The whole museum was really well done and a very interesting experience. As you enter the museum you are given a card which has a name on. Throughout the museum there are interactive points where you place  your card and it tells you what your person experienced as part of their war. My card featured probably one of the most famous Australian generals, so I knew part of his story, and that he survived. Throughout the exhibition there are the usual things that you expect such as uniforms and weapons, there are the stories, but there are also art pieces and quiet spaces where you can contemplate what you have seen, the past, the present and future.

If you ever find yourself in Albany, which is a beautiful part of the world anyway, the National Anzac Centre is a fabulous place to spend the day. In addition to the museum there are are lookouts, walks, historical forts that you can explore as part of the bigger complex.

I guess I should explain how this is a D post in the alphabet. Since the latter part of WWI the word digger has been associated with Aussie soldiers and is still in use today. It really has come to symbolise the values of mateship, courage and endurance that are so prized within our armed services, and in the perceived national psyche.

So, in this year where we we will be commemorating Anzac Day in a very different way, this post is my way of remembering our diggers who have served our country, sacrificing so much, and for many of them, making the ultimate sacrifice.

Lest we forget.

Monday, April 20, 2020

This week...

I'm reading...

After finished reading both the books I mentioned last week, I was faced with what is one of the tougher decisions ..... what to read next? I could read on the library books I have here so that they are all read by the time that the library reopens, or I could read one of the many, many, many books I already have downloaded on my Kindle or just pick one of the unread books off my bookshelf.

In the end, I didn't do any of those things. I ended up downloading a completely new book. Earlier this year I read When It All Went to Custard by Danielle Hawkins and really enjoyed it so I downloaded Chocolate Cake for Breakfast. We won't talk about the fact that I started reading it at 4am because I couldn't sleep. I had read a quarter of by the time I went to sleep. I then finished the book by 1.30am the next night which is probably a fair sign of how much I enjoyed it, which was lucky given that it was a book that Bree from All the Books You Can Read recommended to me about 3 years ago.

The other book I started this week was Ambulance Girls Under Fire by Deborah Burrows which features ambulance girls working in London during the blitz in World War II. I read the first book in the trilogy a couple of years ago and it has taken me that long to get back to it. This is one of the library books.

After finishing Chocolate Cake, I was again left pondering what to read. Bree and I have long been recommending books to each other. Many years ago I recommended Poison Study by Maria Snyder to her. I should clarify, it was actually many, many, many years ago. We even went to an author event together back in 2011 where we both bought several of this authors books.  A couple of weeks ago, Bree finally read Poison Study, and then proceeded to read the rest of the books in the series in quick succession (all 9 of them). After chatting to her, it was probably inevitable that I would go back and reread the book! Poison Study was a 5/5 read for me back in 2006, and I have already been sucked back into the book very quickly.

But all is fair in love and war, and in book recommendations, because when I was speaking to her about Chocolate Cake it turns out that she felt the need to reread that book!

I'm watching....

I mentioned last week that the new series of Masterchef had started but that there were new judges, so it was going to be the beginning of a new era. It's fair to say that we are in! The first week they had Gordon Ramsay as a guest judge and it was a great start to the season and I can't see any reason why we won't keep watching.

At the opposite end of the skills spectrum are the contestants that sign up for Nailed It which is what we binge watched on Friday night! The show can be a bit over the top at times, and most of the time I think that there is no way even the most talented chef could complete the challenges that are set but it is entertaining to watch the contestants try!

Another baking show that we started watching again this week is Bake Off: The Professionals. This is part of The Great British Bake Off franchise. Instead of amateur bakers, this show features teams of professional pastry chefs making amazing looking miniature pastries and then a huge showstopper. It is beautiful food produced in a high pressure environment. We do love watching the judges, Benoit Blin and Cherish Finden. They are professional baking judges and they make us laugh quite regularly, especially Cherish!

My #isoviewing adventures continued over the weekend. On Friday night we watched The Phantom of the Opera which was fabulous. I did decide that there were some advantages to getting to watch these shows at home. If we were watching in a theatre there is no way that we would be able to singalong!

What I am finding is that there isn't enough time to watch everything that is available online. I haven't watched any of the Shakespeare productions, didn't watch Jane Eyre, or so many other things!


How are we all going with our social distancing? I think I am in week 5 or 6 now of working from home, and this has been the hardest week so far. I am not sure why this is the case, maybe because we know that it is going to still be another 3 weeks before life starts to get to be heading towards the new normal, whatever that is going to look like.

One thing that we did do for the first time this week was a jigsaw puzzle. Not too long ago our Prime Minister told the country that jigsaws counted as essential items for shopping which was a bit puzzling (no pun intended). I have ordered a new one online which hasn't arrived yet, but then Robert (my husband) mentioned that he thought that he had a couple when we moved in. A quick search of the shed produced a couple. We possibly should have started with one where there was a picture of the puzzle on the box to at least refer to!

We enjoyed doing the puzzle together, but it will be a couple of weeks before we do another one. Robert found it a bit distracting to have it sitting there incomplete on the kitchen table. Every time he walked past he had to put a few pieces in which isn't ideal when you are working from home!

There was also a moment last week when he was at the kitchen table doing the puzzle and I was watching Masterchef. Next thing he is saying I thought we were doing this puzzle together? And my response was I thought we watched Masterchef together!?!

Posts from the last week

Weekend Cooking: The patisserie shop
Alphabet 2020: C is for Chocolate
The first glimpse of la tour Eiffel

I've linked this post to It's Monday, what are you reading? as hosted by Book Date

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Weekend Cooking: The patisserie shop

If everything had gone as planned we would have been in Kuwait now, having left the bright lights of Paris behind us. I did not expect to find many quotes in books about Kuwait and therefore I bring you another about France. Hopefully when we do finally get to go to Paris, whenever that is, we will find a patisserie that we can be blown away by.

The quote comes from The Little Bookshop on the Seine by Rebecca Raisin which I read earlier this year. There are so many quotable passages in this book, including one I shared last week. I enjoyed the way that she wrote especially about food and books - two particular subjects close to my heart.  I did see that she has a new book coming out later this year which is again about books and France. I am so there for that.

On the corner was a patisseries,the cakes like works of art, so carefully constructed, that taking a bite out of the exotic creations would make me feel almost guilty.
Almost. But not quite.
I stepped closer to the window, the maroon awning concertinaing above, protecting me from the elements as I gazed at the perfection inside. Fruity tarts with sugary glazes were colorful under the lights. Chocolate opera cakes cut into rectangles proudly showed off their thin ganache and sponge layers. Mille Feuille slices with crisp puff pastry and creamy custard centres practically begged to be tasted. There were chocolate eclairs and creme brulees with caramel tops that I knew would make the most delicious sound as I cracked into the toffee shard. Shell shaped Madeleines and flaky pain au chocolat spoke to me in such a way, I had to go into the warmth of the patisserie and somehow select just one of the treats on offer. I loved rolling their luscious names on my tongue.
Inside, in a display fridge, there were quiches with buttery brown crusts and baguettes as long as my arms, stuffed with a variety of filling. How did French people stay so slim? It was like being transported to foodie paradise, and any reservations about saving saving money went out the window, as my mouth watered in anticipation. So what if I went home the size of a blimp?  I laughed, picturing myself ballooning out,and returning home with chubby cheeks, thick legs, and a hankering for crusty baguettes and rich cheeses that I couldn't break. From the boulangeries, to patiserries, and fromageries, my waist line was getting the most epic of work outs, emphasis on the out.

And a few paragraphs later

"Bonjour," I replied, smiling at the thoughts that it was mere minutes until those  delicacies sitting in the display were transported into my belly.
With pad in hand, she asked in French, "What can I get you today?"
"I'll start with a slice of the roasted heirloom tomato quiche, and then I'll have tartelette au citron, and a slice of Charlotte a la Framboise." The plum red berries were too tempting to resist. She scratched hastily on the order pad. I managed once again to speak fluently, and I wanted to fist pump.God it felt good to pretend I was one of them.
"Oh, and a cafe au lait, please." I gazed longingly once more at the cabinet, and caught the waitress giving me a squinty stare.
"Is someone joining you?" she asked, indicating the empty chair opposite me.
"Umm,'s just me today."
"Just you?" her voice was incredulous.
"Yes, just me." I said with false bravado. "I'm eating my feelings," I said with a shrug."
"Ah," she nodded.  "Boy trouble?"
"Boy trouble," I agreed.
She gave me a sad smile. "Men, merde!"
I twisted my face into a grimace to match hers." Oui! Men, who needs them."

I had already scheduled these Weekend Cooking posts weeks ago in anticipation of being away, so I just went ahead and posted them anyway!

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, April 17, 2020

Alphabet 2020: C is for Chocolate

Have you had enough chocolate yet? Is there even such a thing?

We spent 3 hours on Sunday morning watching a slow TV special which was focused on the Cadbury chocolate production factory here in Australia, and it was fascinating. Over the course of 3 hours, we followed the journey of the various ingredients from field/pasture to the easter eggs and chocolate rabbits we find on our shelves ready for Easter.

The journey starts in the sugar cane fields of Northern Queensland, where the sugar cane is harvested and goes through the sugar milling processed. Then it head to the dairy farms of Tasmania for the milk, and then through a variety of steps until it gets to the chocolate factory.

It was a very interesting way to spend a few hours on a Sunday morning when we are all staying at home anyway and I learnt a couple of things I didn't know about my own city!

What I thought I would talk about today though, is a far less mechanised version of chocolate making, which is a day that we spent on a chocolate tour in Honduras when we were on our Caribbean cruise in May last year.

This was a memorable day for many reasons, not least because it was the day when we officially got engaged. We had talked about getting married prior to going on holiday, and plans were already in motion for our November wedding.  By talked about I mean the location was booked, the dress was on order and flights booked. What we hadn't done yet was bought any rings. I had been looking but hadn't found the right one yet. We didn't find out until we got on the cruise that the Caribbean is a good place to buy gemstones!

We made our way straight to the jewellery store when we got off the ship and after a few missteps, found the perfect ring at the right price. It was exactly what I was looking for as I wanted a different from the average band style with diamonds, as I didn't want both an engagement and wedding ring. My original plan was to only wear this as a wedding ring, but in the end I did wear it as an engagement ring and now it is both. It was only as we were paying for it that my now husband said  "I haven't actually asked you yet!"

So this is pretty close to the view from the place where he did ask the question. No getting down on one knee here, given that we were probably about 15 metres above the ground on a chair lift. Of course I said yes, and then we had a drink to celebrate. It was a very busy morning. We had achieved all that by 9.15am!

Did someone say yes to a celebratory margarita! Why yes, they did!

But onto the chocolate excursion where we were driven about half an hour away from the port to a small botanical gardens where our chocolate experience was being held. Whilst there we got to see the process from pod, to drying, to grinding, to powder and lastly made our own pieces of chocolate.

Here is the then fiance (!!) holding a chocolate pod. Inside each pod are many beans which are about about 10mm long.

These are removed from the pod and dried naturally.

From there the shells are removed from the beans which are put through a grinder several times. A handy tip was the better you are at removing the shell the less gritty your final product is.

Or you can grind by hand if you so desire (which he did)

Until you end up with a paste

Which then has cocoa butter and sugar added to to make chocolate and is heated

Before being poured into moulds to set.

And our verdict on our very hand made chocolate - it was much darker and more bitter than the chocolate that you buy in the shops here, and a lot grittier, but it was a fun experience to have had on such a momentous day for us.

We finished the day by going back to pick up the now resized ring, a well deserved quick swim and then back to the ship for the rest of the cruise! 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The first glimpse of La Tour Eiffel

Not too long ago I shared a Bookish Quote from this book and now I am sharing a Paris quote because if our trip hadn't been cancelled we would have spent the day in Paris somewhere today.

This is how I feel every time I go to Sydney and see the first glimpse of Sydney Harbor from the train window, and it is exactly how I expected to feel as I arrived in Paris if we had of been able go on our planned trip. Or how I will feel when we do get to go to Paris, whenever that might be!

Between buildings, I saw snatches of it. The metal gleamed under the sunlight like the fingers of God were pointing to it, showing me the way. It was so much bigger than I'd  expected,its middle higher than the tallest buildings, as it stretched for the clouds. The Eiffel Tower, the heart and soul of Paris. a young woman standing near me inclined her head closer to the window: like Sophie, she was coiffed to perfection, her barely there make-up expertly applied. I felt unkempt in comparison and nervously ran a hand through my hair.
"First time in Paris?"
"Oui." I said, darting a glance back at the Eiffel Tower. It was magnificent. the way it stood proudly in the center of the city. I couldn't wait to see it up close. It would dwarf me - what an architectural marvel.
She gripped onto the handrail above, as we shimmied along with the rocking of the train. "Go to the Sacre Coeur for a  good view of the whole city, and then you 'll see how truly magnifique La Tour Eiffel is. Lots of steps to get there, but worth it." Her voice was almost musical, sensual. I didn't think I'd ever tire of the way French people spoke, whether it was in their native tongue or heavily accented English.
"Merci," I said, giving her a shy smile, knowing my accent must have sounded brash compared to hers. "There's so much to see and do. I can't wait." I fell back in to English, feeling less inhibited with my own language. Though I'd promised myself to try and speak as much French as possible, when it came time to speak, I was embarrassed; I sounded clunky and disjointed compared to the lovely lilt surrounding me. The words that feel from commuters' lips were almost poetic.
"Find the real Paris," she said, fluttering her hand towards the window. "Away from the tourist spots. Look for the forgotten avenues. They're full of hidden gems." And with that she spun on her heel, leaving me with only the citrusy scent of her perfume.

Monday, April 13, 2020

This week....

I'm reading...

I'm reading a couple of books that are surprising to me in different ways. Both are by Australian authors, but that's not really surprising.

The first one I am reading is Talk of the Town by Rachael Johns. I have been a Rachael Johns fan for  long time now. Even when I wasn't really reading I would still read her books when they came out. She has a new book coming out shortly which is called Something to Talk About. At one point I saw mentioned that it was a sequel Talk of the Town and I was thinking that's nice. It was only when something else was said and I went....wait. Have I even read Talk of the Town? And it turned out that I hadn't. And that it isn't the only Rachael Johns book that I haven't read, although I could have sworn that I had read them all. So that's surprising.

The other book I am reading is Rosie's Travelling Tea Shop by Rebecca Raisin. I read a different Rebecca Raisin book earlier this year, and actually have a couple of quotes from that book coming up this week. She also has a new book coming out shortly called Aria's Travelling Book Shop which is partially set in France, so I am intending to read that because...well books and France.... but I thought I should read Rosie first as that it the book where we first meet Aria. Nothing surprising so far right? The surprise was that I had no idea that Rebecca Raisin was an Australian author until I read a recent review at Claire's Reads and Reviews and she mentioned it. Colour me surprised!!

And in not so surprising news I haven't made any progress on my audiobook this week.

I'm watching...

This week we watched the final of The Great British Bake Off. This is one of my favourite things to watch eat year. It's so much fun, so positive and so much delicious looking food! The only problem is that the season seems to go so quickly. It was only in early February that I was celebrating it's return.

My favourite in this year's group was Henry. He didn't win, but he was just so ....adorable. Probably isn't the most appropriate word but I loved watching him and was sad when he left the series.

Speaking of sad, I was sad to hear that Sandi is no longer going to be a co-host. Jury is out for me on her replacement, Matt Lucas. Having said that, when it was announced a few years ago that the previous hosts were no longer going to be hosting I was sure about Noel and Sandi, so I will as always give them Noel and Matt a go.

The other show with new hosts starting this week is Masterchef Australia. The new hosts have big shoes to fill as Masterchef enters a new era.  After all, it can't have been anywhere near as bad as the few episodes that we watched from the last season of MKR.

I do think that the producers of Masterchef have made some smart decisions given these changes. This year's contestants have all previously competed so the public already knows them, and the first week begins with guest judge Gordon Ramsay who is always popular.

We also watched the slow TV special on SBS this week which followed the journey from sugar and milk to easter eggs and bunnies, through all the different steps. More about that on Friday though.

My isolation viewing has continued unabated. This week we have watched Tim Minchin in Jesus Christ Superstar, another concert from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the Ten Tenors concert, and Andrea Bocelli from Milan which were all so good.

We have also been watching the Crooner Sessions from Gary Barlow. In each one song episode he gets another artist to sing a song with him. So far the artists have varied from Ronan Keating to Brian May, Sir Cliff Richard to a young drummer,  Jason Donovan, Beverley Knight and so many more. They are so much fun!


Like so many others I guess we are getting the hang of this social isolation thing, which is lucky as our state premier has just announced that it will continue until May 11 at least.

The new office set up that we did last weekend is much better, which makes working from home easier.

We had dinner with a friend the other night. I know I should write virtual dinner but it's tricky because we actually ate real dinner, she was just on the other end of the computer, and then we had drinks on Saturday night. We have plans to catch up with some other people too, so yes, getting the hang of social isolation..

How are you all doing? Are you getting the hang of social isolation? Reading or watching anything interesting?

Posts from the last week

Review: The Lost Love Song by Minnie Darke

I've linked this post to It's Monday, what are you reading? as hosted by Book Date

And to finish I thought I would share the Crooner session featuring Gary Barlow and Sir Cliff Richard. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Lost Love Song by Minnie Darke

I don't know about you all but I am finding a lot of solace in music during this time of self isolation. If we can see silver linings to this COVID19 clouds, one is that we are lucky that this pandemic has happened at a time where it is possible to connect with all sorts of artists who are sharing their talents freely with the world through social media.

Just today while I have been writing this post, I have been watching Gary Barlow's Crooner sessions where he teams up with other artists to sing and then Richard Marx's Beachin' sessions which is just him and his guitar singing various songs. The Crooner sessions, in particular, are loads of fun and they just make me feel better while I sing along.

There are also so many ways to see things we just would not have otherwise seen. For example, this weekend I am planning to watch Andre Bocelli sing from Milan, the Ten Tenors concert,  watch Tim Minchin perform in Jesus Christ Superstart and that's just for starters. I'm going to run out of time to watch everything.

This book is built around the idea that music can bring us comfort, and strongly connects with our memories to remind us of feelings and emotions, taking us back to the places, times and people we associate that particular piece of music with. I know that I have certain songs and artists that instantly remind me of someone when I hear them, as I am sure others do to.

The story starts with Arie and his partner, Diana, who is a classical concert pianist. They have been together for seven years, and for Arie, he believes it is time to take the next step. Whilst Diana loves Arie, she hasn't quite come to this point herself. Just before she leaves for a performance on the other side of the world she writes a piece of music for Arie in which she expresses her love for him and her hopes for their future together. It is a piece that she will never fully finish.

Along the way, the notebook where she wrote the music is inadvertently left behind and so begins the journey of the song, touching the lives of the people that it comes into contact with, and evolving with each story that it plays a part in, until eventually it finds its way back to Australia and to Arie.

One of the people that hears the music and is touched by it is Evie Greenlees. Evie has been living in the UK for 6 years, working lowly paid jobs and in a series of unsatisfactory relationships whilst trying to be a poet. Eventually she knows that it is time to go home, but where is home when you don't feel a particular attachment to anywhere or even to anyone.

In between the main story, there are a series of interludes which explores different types of love. There is a single father trying to deal with his talented musician daughter Beatrix. They play the song together. Beatrix then plays the song with her Canadian boyfriend and then he plays it with...well, you get the idea. These interludes add to the overall story, rather than detracting from it and the author uses them to great effect to bring the whole book to a very satisfying ending.

Minnie Dark has the marvellous ability to infuse her words with beauty and depth while still keeping them feeling light. There are some dark themes here but it was actually the perfect book to be reading right now as there was also humour and emotion. There were several passages that I found myself rereading just for the sheer pleasure of it. When I closed the book for the final time it was with a deep sigh and the only word I could think of was delightful

I hadn't read Minnie Darke before. I will now be keeping an eye out for her first novel, Star-Crossed which has a lot of good reviews too, and to see what she comes out with.. This book was one of the last books I borrowed from the library before it closed. Star-Crossed may well be one of the first I pick up when it reopens.

To get just a small taste of the book take a look at the Bookish Quote I recently shared.

If you are looking for a book that will hit all the right emotional spots with humour and grace, have a look at this book. It is ..... delightful.

The Lost Love Song was my first 5/5 read this year. A couple of others have come close, but this one is the first to achieve that grade.

Goodreads description
This is the story of a love song . . . And like any good love song, it has two parts.
In Australia, Arie Johnson waits impatiently for classical pianist Diana Clare to return from a world tour, hopeful that after seven years together she'll finally agree to marry him.
On her travels, Diana composes a song for Arie. It's the perfect way to express her love, knowing they'll spend their lives together . . . Won't they?
Then late one night, her love song is overheard, and begins its own journey across the world.
In Scotland, Evie Greenlees is drifting. It's been years since she left Australia with a backpack, a one-way ticket and a dream of becoming a poet. Now she spends her days making coffee and her nights serving beer. And she's not even sure whether the guy she lives with is really her boyfriend or just a flatmate.
Then one day she hears an exquisite love song. One that will connect her to a man with a broken heart . . .

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Weekend Cooking: Bread as religion

We were supposed to be in France this weekend, not in Champagne, but in Normandy. I was hoping to find some amazing boulangerie or patisserie on our travels but alas we can't even go and find a patisserie here, let alone there.

When I read The Vineyards of Champagne earlier this year there were a few scenes that made me want to be in France,  eating bread, right now. This was one of them

The next day Rosalyn helped Emma into the front passenger's seat and climbed in the back with Emma's crutches.

At the butcher a few towns over, Emma and Blondine argued over which basket to buy and which pate was : the pate de campagne or the truffled  mousse. At the fruit stand, Emma  and Blondine argued over whether to buy apples  or pears, clementines or Valencia oranges, or dried fruits like plums, apricots, and dates.

And that was nothing compared to the long, drawn-out discussion at the counter of the boulangerie. Blondine insisted on bread that was pas trop cuit, not too cooked, which engendered yet another heated discussion with Emma, who was staunchly of the opinion that a well-browned baguette was best. Soon the baker emerged from the rear of the store to weigh in on the proper degree of doneness of a perfect baguette, and several other customers waiting their turn to order chimed in.

Rosalyn stayed out of it, relishing the opportunity to examine the baked goods on display. The boulangerie wasn't a patisserie - a shop that specialized in pastries and desserts - but nonetheless sold delectable looking choux, or cream puffs, as well as eclairs, madeleines, macarons, meringues  and tartes aux fruits, which were miniature open-faced fruit and custard tarts..How in the world did the French stay so skinny?

The boulangerie smelled like heaven, and Rosalyn hoped the scent would linger on her clothing the way the cigarette smoke had after the Epiphany party.

The disputants in the Great Baguette Debate at last called a truce - neither side had convinced the other, though all agreed the proprietor of the boulangerie had the best bread in all of Champagne - and  to appease Emma, Blondine bought several baguettes in varying  degrees of doneness, as well as an assortment of other breads to bring home with them.

Back in the car and once again en route to visit Madame Bolze, Blondine ripped off the heel of a baguette and handed it to Rosalyn.

"It's called le quignon, the bit you eat on the way home," she explained.

"There's a name for that?" asked Rosalyn, and took a bite  of the delicious fresh baguette.

"You don't even want to know how many words the French have to describe all types of bread, bread creation, and bread consumption," said Emma, letting her head fall back on the headrest and breathing out a weary sigh. "I'm telling you, it's a religion."
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, April 10, 2020

Alphabet 2020: B is for Bunny....Easter Bunny

I don't know about you, but it is almost a surprise to find that is Easter this weekend. It most definitely does not feel like it at all. We went to do our essential shopping last weekend and we saw all the shelves full of Easter chocolates and I couldn't help but wonder about sales because in theory people won't be going to the shops as much, and you can't get together with your family to exchange eggs and eat together.

Having said that though, earlier this week a couple of my team members were talking about how they had already eaten their kid's Easter eggs while they were working from home and so they are going to have to go and buy more!

I can't see that we are going to buy too many Easter eggs. As long as I get at least one Lindt gold rabbit (which I did) I will be happy. But don't feel too bad for us. We are not going to be going without.

The Easter bunny has some things in common with Santa, but other things are different. I mean, after all, the bunny travels all over the country delivering the eggs in the same way Santa does his presents, but as far as I know there's no real requirement for good behaviour. After all, you don't often hear parents admonishing their children that they better be good or else they won't get their Easter eggs, and there's certainly no song about this.

There was a threat to egg delivery this year, as there are a couple of states in Australia that have taken the unprecedented step of closing their state borders due to the COVID19. There is a very strict list of reasons why you are allowed to cross the border and delivering eggs isn't on that list. That does make one wonder how on earth the Easter Bunny was going to make all the deliveries this year.

Fortunately, in  amongst all the important policy making decisions, the Prime Minister has given a special exemption so all is well.

A couple of years ago we tried making hot cross bun but I think that this year we are going to make something a bit more chocolately! Although, I am now thinking that maybe I should try the hot cross buns again or maybe cinnamon scrolls.

My intention for this weekend is to make this Easter Egg Rocky Road slice! A while ago I made a peppermint slice with similar concepts which was delicious so I am looking forward to this one. I am not quite sure who we are going to share the slice with though!

Finally, I thought I would finish with my favourite Easter cartoon. I first saw this years ago, and it still makes me laugh!

By the way....I hope you read the title of this post in your best James Bond voice because that's how I wrote it!

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Bookish Quotes - Kondoing books.. and other things.

I am currently reading The Lost Love Song by Minnie Darke and I am really enjoying it.  I really like the tone even though there is some subdued subject matter in one thread of the story.  And I love the idea of a lost song that has the power to draw people together.

For a bookish quote this week I thought I would share a few little sections where one of the main characters is taking stock of her possessions after returning from a long time overseas. The reason for the little sections is that this section goes for several pages, and I more wanted to give the idea of the passage rather than the whole passage. I am sharing it sparked joy for me.

"Do you spark joy?" she silently asked the Husqvarna.
"I do," the trusty old sewing machine confirmed, reminding Evie of dresses past. It would be nice to make herself some new clothes, whenever, wherever she settled. Evie moved the heavy case to the side of the room she intended for the keep pile.
Next, she identified which of the cardboard cartons contained the china dinner service that had been handed down to her mother, from her own mother. When Evie's mother had died, Jacinta - the eldest of Evie's half-sisters - hadn't wanted the china, and neither had Stella. Evie had been only eight years old at the time, and Stella had decided to pack the boxes away in case Evie grew into the kind of young woman who would on day want a Royal Worcester dinner service.

A couple of paragraphs and then...
"Do you spark joy?" she asked the boxes full of china.
"Actually, no," was the answer from the dinner plates and the side plates, the soup plates and the bowls, the teacups and the saucers and the matching salt-and-pepper shakers. " We give you guilt and a storage problem."

And then a bit later
She sighed, summoned another modicum of strength, and approached a series of cardboard cartons clearly marked BOOKS. Inside, she knew  there would be novels and poetry, plays and non-fiction, old books, new books, books, books, books....
"Do you - "
"Don't you dare even ask," the cartons replied, and Evie moved them all to the "to keep" pile.

Evie then finds a box filled with old diaries
By the time Evie came to the last page of the last diary - I am casting off into the world, I wonder what I will find there - the light coming in through the shutters had the golden tone of late evening. She felt drained. Diaries, after all, had a habit of sifting out the average parts of life and leaving only the extremes, but sixteen years' worth of highs and lows was a lot to absorb in a single sitting. She loaded the diaries back into the archive box and replaced the lid.
"Do you spark joy?" she asked the box.
"What a dumb question," the box replied. "I hold the archive of your heart, Evie Greenlees - its joys and its sorrows."

And finally
Since arriving in Tavistock Row, she'd been contemplating the prospect of the banana lounges in the brick-paved courtyard in the front garden, and now seemed like the time to try them. On her way out the door, she picked up her guitar case.
"Do you spark joy?" she asked it.
"Cheeky cow," the guitar said. "You know I do."
"Just checking."