May 3, 2016
I don’t like public speaking. I know lots of people feel the same way, that my fears are as common as mud, but it still frustrates me. I think the problem is that I cannot quite understand it. I like to talk. Really like to talk. I like people and I enjoy socializing. I was even on a debating team at high-school. Not only that but I coached a junior debating team. That, my friends, is an entirely new depth of nerd. That’s deep, dark nerd. So… why do I feel ill when I have to make a speech?
Last week I launched my third book, A French Wedding, at Sydney’s Better Read Than Dead bookstore. It was lovely. Family were there – Matt and the girls, in-laws, cousins, nieces and nephews. Four of my gorgeous-est friends flew over from Melbourne for it. Pan Macmillan crew – Matilda Imlah, Clare Keighery and Hayley Nash – all turned up to give their support. Sixty fat kouign amann, the sticky breton pastry that features in the book, stuffed with soft, creamy custard, languished on platters. The room was filled with chatter, good will and love. Still felt ill.
April 27, 2016
This is the story of what happens when plan-ahead-mum brain meets memory-gap-mum brain. Actually, it’s not really a story so much as a punchline: What do you get when you find the bag of last summer’s cherries in the freezer while rooting around for something to defrost for dinner? You get these.
Yes, you should have been writing when you baked them, and yes, it was probably bad planning to make them when there was no one else in the house to help you eat them, but dammit, there they are. And they are divine.
Cherry Vanilla Scones
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Very Blueberry Scones
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour (I use pastry flour)
3 tablespoons panela or light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small bits
1 cup frozen (or fresh) pitted cherries, chopped roughly
2/3 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or one vanilla bean, scraped)
1 large egg, beaten, for glazing
2 tablespoons panela (or, my favourite: vanilla sugar) for finishing
Heat oven to 400°F (205°C). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking powder and salt. Pour the vanilla and milk into a measuring jug. Add cold butter to flour mixture and work with a pastry blender until the biggest pieces are the size of small peas. Stir in cherries, then milk, mixing only until large clumps form. Use your hands to carefully knead the mixture into one mass inside the bowl. The more you knead, the wetter the dough will get and therefore tougher the scones will be. Gently does it!
Transfer dough to a well-floured counter and pat into a roughly 1-inch tall disc. Cut into 8 wedges with a sharp knife. (Don’t worry if you slice cherries in the process.) Before separating the wedges, brush the tops with egg, then sprinkle with sugar. Transfer wedges to the prepared baking sheet, spacing them apart.
Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, until scones are golden brown on top. Serve warm or room temp on the first day.
April 20, 2016
At the end of this month my third book will be out in the world. There is its cover, looking delicious, with my name in huge font. How does it feel? Exciting. Nerve-wracking. A relief. Strange, even the third time around. It’s difficult to explain the feeling of having a book on shelves, of having my work “out there”. It’s such a long journey to reach the point of publication. A relatively isolated journey, just me and my laptop for the most part, but soon it’s available for all. My work in your hands. Possibly even in your bedroom. Imagine.
There is a thrill in seeing my name in print, though it’s probably not quite what you’d imagine. I say that because it’s not what I had imagined. The most excited I get about it is when I receive my author copies delivered to my door a few weeks before the book is released in stores. That is the best moment for me. I can be alone (Or with disinterested children. Probably covered in baked beans. Or toothpaste. Or both.). I get to smell the fresh pages and run my fingertips over the smooth surface of the cover. The kernel of a creative idea I had, that embryo of a story, so long ago, is suddenly tangible. It has heft in my hands; it exists; it even looks pretty. Because I have nothing to do with cover design I’m always excited to see what the book looks like in the flesh, as it were, and to hold it away and then close again and turn it around and flip it over and sniff at it again. You can see why I need to do this in privacy rather than at a bookstore.
After that intimate moment I really enjoy seeing my books in stores but I don’t get touchy – feely – sniffy excited. My husband is always looking for my books, holding them aloft with a big grin, noisily rearranging displays to ensure mine are at the forefront (apologies bookstore employees and owners). He finds it baffling that I am not absolutely beside myself when I see them and perhaps it’s partly the New Zealander in me, terrified of being the tall poppy, or perhaps it relates to why I write in the first place. The fact is I never wrote in order to get published. Many of you know my story so I won’t go into it too much here (but I have written about it here if you’re interested) other than to say I wrote my first novel as a personal project. I devoted myself to the process of writing 1,000 words a day, rather than the outcome of getting it published. I was surprised as anyone (everyone?!) else that someone wanted to do exactly that. That 1,000 words a day project became The Colour of Tea, my first book.
Don’t get me wrong – I am very happy to be published. I like talking about my work, I even like interviews. I really like those curly questions asking things like “What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?”. I’ve loved the launches and really loved the people the publication part of writing has brought into my life – great publicists, bookstore owners, bloggers, event organizers and journalists. They all work very hard, as does everyone in the industry, and are passionate, dedicated and kind. I particularly like talking to and getting emails from readers. The conversations about characters that once only lived in my head and now walk around in someone else’s. It feels like remembering a lost friend. I’m always stunned and moved when someone reaches out to get in contact with me after reading one of my books. But I still don’t write in order to have my name printed on a cover.
Matt and I have just had a long, tiring weekend. It featured nothing too out of the ordinary. The current ordinary, I should say, of getting a baby to nap, entertaining a four and six year old, stealing scraps of sleep and making sure everyone is fed and still in one piece. The baby is relatively new so we’re still adjusting to life with her as part of the tribe and there are many things we cannot do right now. Sleep uninterrupted being one of them but also – days out, nights out, being away from the baby longer than an hour, drinking more than a tiny bit of wine, regular exercise, trips further than 30 minutes away, anything that requires me to wear makeup or a dress or carry a small purse. When there were just two kids my husband and I seemed to manage some personal downtime, sometimes, but with three we are both completely occupied all of the time. At least for now. So there is a lot to miss. But when I turned to him tonight and said “You know what I miss?” he seemed to know before it came out of my mouth. I miss writing.
It’s funny that I didn’t start to write until my late twenties because now I cannot go very long without it. I would trade the wine and journeys longer than 30 minutes and the dress-wearing and maybe even the nights out for it. I’d be sad to lose all of those things, it would be a shitty trade, but I’d do it if I had to because I know, quite acutely, what fills up my soul. What I cannot work out is how I managed to survive without it before. It does, however, explain a lot about the strange lurking discontent I remember from my youth, the inexplicable kind of homesickness, regardless of whether I was home or not. That puzzle-piece of not-quite-right-ness. My life is much better with writing in it.
I don’t write to have my name on a cover. Certainly not because I think my writing is outstandingly good. I write because I must write. Because when I am not writing I am a bit sad and grumpy. Okay, sometimes a lot grumpy. And sad enough to be described as “sulky” and “morose”. Writing nourishes me. It makes me feel alive and purposeful. It lifts me out of anxious thoughts, it makes me lose track of time. It is always evolving, always progressing. It helps me notice the beauty of the world, the details, the intricacies of human beings. Writing is very hard work. Harder work than any other work I have done before. But it is the work that makes me feel the most like myself. Or, like Matt said, when I told him tonight that I miss it, “I know, babe. It’s your therapy.” He’s right. I hate to think of the version of myself unleashed upon the world without it, frankly.
Publishing my work means several things. Firstly, that I get to engage with people who want my work to be at its best; publishers and editors, more specifically. It took me a while to understand everyone’s individual roles, I am still figuring it all out to be honest, but what was clear from the start was that everyone I encountered on the path to publication was wanting the best. This aspect is very exciting. I particularly love working with editors. They are phenomenal people who work very hard for little praise. They are smart and observant. They are absolutely committed to words, stories and books. They are incredibly thorough and sometimes tough, but always with kind intentions. Editors have helped me grow, pushed and encouraged me and taught me so much I wouldn’t have otherwise learned.
And then, when the book is finally out there, it means you can buy it. Buy it, gift it, read it or recommend it to a friend. Review it on Goodreads or mention it on Facebook. Even photograph it next to a cup of coffee for Instagram! [Please do that, I love seeing your coffee cups ;-)] It used to seem very crass to promote my work for sale. I used to shirk away from it. But the fact is, while I would still write without the benefits of publication, publication does have benefits. For starters, it helps me pay for childcare so I can do the work I love so much; that is pretty critical. It brings me into contact with editors and publishers who force me to learn and grow. It introduces me to all those brilliant people who own and work in bookstores, bless their sox, and others who devote themselves to promoting books and the people that write them. It brings readers into my life – yes! – and their reviews, feedback I simply could not get without my work being “out there” instead of “in here” (I am gesturing to my head, where my brains supposedly reside). Publication is part of the process. A vital and important part, that helps support the other parts.
I am very grateful that my work is published and thrilled that this third book is about to hit bookstores. It does not escape my noticing that I am very, very lucky to be published and I do not take it for granted. It is not the reason I write but it brings sweet rewards that I am extremely thankful for.
Max is turning forty. All he wants for his birthday is for his six oldest friends to come to France to eat, dance, drink and laugh for one weekend. And to finally declare his secret, undying love for his best friend, Helen.
Juliette gave up her dream of owning an acclaimed Parisian restaurant to return to her tiny coastal village and nurse her aging parents. But she finds her home much changed, even the boulangerie where she first learned to love baking has fallen upon hard times. Now, as she tries to find her way to a new future, Max’s birthday weekend may just provide the new beginning Juliette is wishing for… but at whose cost?
A French Wedding is a novel filled with love, lies, fights, friendship and feasts, which reads like a love triangle between The Big Chill, Chocolat and Les Petits Mouchoirs (“Little White Lies”).
A French Wedding, published by Pan Macmillan, is available for purchase from May 1, 2016.
April 13, 2016
I’ve talked before about fermented things and bread and how the intersection of these things is surely heaven, but now I feel the need to share a recipe I’ve been working on for the past few weeks as I’ve gotten back into the routine of making sourdough bread.
Sourdough is delicious and storied and so many other adjectives, but I’ve always felt a little sad for the discarded starter culture that accumulates in its container every week, like the left-behind sibling, while the bright, shiny other sibling goes off the make things of themselves—namely, bread. The internet does a good job of offering ways to make use of sourdough discard, but the idea of muffins (which, I must be honest, have not always gone well for me) seemed like a good way to go. If for no other reason than to test my mettle in the muffin baking category.
And the results, based on this recipe and its variations, were amazing. These babies have huge lift and a nice crumb (though not as fine and cakey as a standard muffin, be warned—they’re made with bread dough, after all). They feel substantial in that way sourdough things do, which is to say, they are nutritious like no standard bread. Also, as I note below, this recipe is huge, so you can decide if you want to feed your neighbourhood or freeze a bag of muffins for later, both of which I have done.
Sourdough Morning Glory Muffins
Adapted from Restoration Acres sourdough muffins
Makes around 24, depending on size of muffins
For the Sourdough Ferment
2 cups active sourdough starter (aka, sourdough discard)
1 cup lukewarm water
1½ cups whole wheat flour (I recommend a pastry, or fine-ground, version)
1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl, making sure everything is well combined. The dough will be very stiff. Cover with a tea towel and leave on the counter overnight.
For the Muffins
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
⅓ cup honey
⅓ cup brown sugar (or raw sugar)
½ cup melted butter (you can use oil instead, but butter gives the best flavor)
⅓ cup orange juice
Zest of 2 oranges
½ cup coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
2 cups grated carrots
1⅓ cups raisins, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
1 grated apple (optional)
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp each ginger and cinnamon
1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)
In the morning, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Set up a stand mixer with its paddle attachment. Grease two twelve-muffin tins.* Whisk together the baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. In a medium-sized bowl, combine all the other ingredients except for the sourdough ferment. Now add the ferment to the empty bowl of the stand mixer, sprinkle over the baking powder mixture, and mix on low for a few moments. Then carefully add the liquid ingredients, a bit at a time, taking care that the mixture doesn’t slosh out of the bowl as the paddle goes around. Once things look partly combined, turn the mixer up to medium speed to thoroughly combine the ingredients, but for no longer than about 10 seconds. If you’re adding nuts, add them now and mix on low. Fill greased muffin tins. Bake for 20 minutes or until the muffin springs back when lightly touched.
Let cool in the tins for one minute, then turn out (they come out really easily) onto a cooling rack.
*A note on the muffin tins and quantity: this recipe makes a tonne of muffins because it uses up a lot of discarded sourdough starter (a great thing!), and I recommend not halving the recipe—these muffins freeze and reheat very well. If you like bigger muffins with significant ‘tops’, you might not need to use all of the two tins. I have also used a six-muffin tin and reused it immediately after taking out the cooked muffins and it’s all been fine—it just means more time in the kitchen. Also and very important: don’t use paper muffin wrappers for these—they will stick to the paper. Grease is all you need.
April 6, 2016
Ah, the blurry newborn days. For all the lack of showering, lack of sleep, lack of hair-brushing, drastic darkening of under eye circles (please see above!), stumbling out of the house for school drop off wearing a nursing bra partially unhitched and a shirt with spit up all down the front there is one marvellous benefit : the reading. It turns out the key to squeezing more reading into my life was simply doing it in a dimly lit room at 1 am! (And 3am. And 4.16am. And so on.) So here, in no particular order, are my favourite books from this round of baby-feeding:
Benediction by Kent Haruf