Posts from — January 2013

Sweet Little Something 0

January 18, 2013

An end of week ritual – a wordless post, a personal photograph that captures a moment to be savoured, relished and preserved for looking back on. One photograph from Hannah, in the Southern Hemisphere and one from Ria, in the Northern Hemisphere. Feel free to post your questions, thoughts and comments. Have a great weekend!

From Hannah:

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From Ria:

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In: Uncategorized

Germ (of an idea) 1

January 16, 2013

Where do your ideas for stories come from? I know that’s kind of a rhetorical question, but, you know, humour me. Do you find yourself taking bits of other people’s and mashing them together? Do ideas spring from your head unannounced and raw? Do you get inspired by something that’s been written a thousand times before, but in a different way every time? Okay, that one is true for all stories…The point is, I find all of the above hit me at one time or another and I am still fascinated by how the muse comes to me. Have you seen this TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert about creativity? It’s amazing.

I found myself rolling the start of a novel over in my mind the other day and suddenly realised where it had come from. I basically pilfered it from a short story I’d taught in a class last year. It didn’t occur to me until that moment that I’d taken three-quarters of the plot and tweaked it to fit my purposes. Not that it matters–the story is in the creative commons, and this is what we writers do: we pilfer and snag and reinvent–but it amazed me that I had not even considered the plot in my mind as anything other than my own creation until then. So, yeah, I felt kind of less-than-original. But who cares–it’s a great plot and as I just finished saying, stories are about repackaging old sh*t. So that’s one place my stories come from.

This other germ, the one that’s been keeping me in the kitchen lately, is this book I’ve been meaning to tell you about. I mentioned it here, but let me fully introduce you.

Meet Good to the Grain, by Kim Boyce, my new baking bible.

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It’s all about baking with whole grains and whole grain flours. Which is not a new idea to me in itself, but using them in ways that enhance flavour, rather than creating a healthy version of something previously sinful, is. This is a little revelation. Just enough oat flour to lend a sweetness, enough buckwheat to give an earthy tone. So far we’ve loved the recipes. The waffles, above, were fantastic. We ate them so fast I forgot to get a photo.

And it might just lead me to experiment with my own combinations of flours, should I become so bold. Which is entirely possible–after all, I’m that bold with my writing.

XO

Ria

In: Uncategorized

Panettone and a Protagonist 2

January 14, 2013

Panettone

I’ve been doing a little research. My current work-in-progress features an Italian-American protagonist and I’ve needed to get inside her head. That has meant trying to understand her culture, her history, her family and….her food. You can already start to imagine what a burden this has been. I’ve been eating Italian food like cuh-raze-y, frequenting my local Italian deli (surely the best in all of Sydney) and hanging about Italian festivals.

Yes. I have loved every single minute of it.

But, as you know, really truly understanding another culture is tricky business. In all the travelling I’ve done I’ve found cultures to be multi-dimensional, complex and, often, contradictory. Different regions can give rise to very different cultural ‘personalities’ and just when you think you’ve got things pegged you encounter another exception. If all that wasn’t enough I elected not one but two foreign (to me) cultures for my main character in this work. [Or she / they elected me, but that’s a whole other story about how characters come into your life. Right?!]

This is not my first go at writing from a cultural perspective that is not my own. Grace, protagonist of The Colour of Tea is English. Perhaps one day I will finally attempt a manuscript written from the perspective of a nomadic, kiwi girl with a slightly unhealthy love for libraries and baking! For now, I have my work cut out for me – living in the head of an Italian-American and eating my deli out of bocconcini, baked ricotta, marinated olives and tiny tins of anchovies. I’ve accidentally stumbled into the best suburb of Sydney to live for my research – Five Dock – and have gotten accustomed to writing in cafes with the mellifluous sing-song sounds of Italian being spoken in the background, smells of espresso and a perfect, chewy, almond meal biscotti at my elbow. Life is tough.

At this time of year, in my neighbourhood, the most ubiquitous sight in the delis and supermarkets is a mountain of variously coloured panettone boxes on sale. Panettone is a sweet, dried-fruit-bejewelled bread, served at Christmas. The boxes are pretty and the price point is ridiculously low, the stores now trying to clear their stock and make room on their shelves.  I’d always wanted to try panettone but had never given it a go, so I was grateful that the Italian-American protagonist occupying my thoughts gave me the push I needed. Personal verdict? I like it. It’s a mix between a very light fruit cake and brioche. It’s lightly spiced, eggy, sweet but not overly sweet. Fluffy and light inside with a firmer outer crust and resembling a gigantic…muffin? Well, that was the panettone I bought. I am sure they vary greatly. All the more reason to keep sampling them…

Although I loved the panettone, I can’t say the rest of my family helped me dig into the huge serving. So I’ve been staring at my humungous panettone and feeling guilty. Like many of you, I am sure, I come from a long line of proud non-wasters. Food is a gift and a pleasure not to be thrown away lightly! I had to do something with all that glorious panettone, so I started in on research for recipes and finally ended up making up my own version of Panettone Bread and Butter Pudding.

Now, this may well be the equivalent of making rice pudding from leftover rice from a Chinese dinner. I’m guessing that no Italian or Italian-American does this kind of thing! In fact, I could be horrifying someone out there that I’d even think of it and I am sure there is a much more traditional alternative to panettone leftovers. But perhaps that’s just the way with us writers of fiction – we have to accept a certain amount of deviation from “real-ness”. It’s a challenging journey to make – walking the line between creating a genuine voice and taking a chance to create a fictional character. Research can bog you down and become obsessive, in the search for a “true” voice, requiring, at some point, a leap of faith. It’s ironic that while I’ve been pondering this issue a lot lately, I’ve gone and made something just like the issue – a merging of something quintessentially Italian and Me. My tastes, my musings, my fiction.

I don’t know if I’m going to get my protagonist “right”. Probably not, hopefully not too far “wrong”. I’m sure it will take a lot of finessing through the editing process to get her closer to the mark. But for the record, the food version, my panettone bread and butter pudding was quite yummy, thank you. Or at least I thought so.

What’s your favourite part about “getting inside the head” of a protagonist?

Panettone bread and butter pudding

Panettone Bread and Butter Pudding:

Ingredients:

50g butter, 3/4 large panettone (2lbs, 908g size), 100ml milk, 300ml cream, 3 large eggs, 8 tsp sugar

Method:

Heat oven to 180 degrees celsius, butter slices of panettone

Grease a one litre pie dish with butter (I used my Staub dutch oven)

Cover dish base with panettone, buttered side up. Layer.

In a saucepan heat milk and cream but do not boil.

In a separate bowl beat eggs with 3/4 of sugar till light and airy and pale in colour

Pour warm milk mixture over eggs, continue beating until all milk mixture added.

Pour this mixture over the panettone slowly, push the liquid gently into the panettone. Sprinkle remaining sugar on the top.

Bake in a hot oven for approximately 30 minutes, until the surface is golden brown and the pudding risen and egg mixture set.

Serve hot with ice-cream, cream or whatever tickles your fancy!

In: Food, From Hannah, Writing

Sweet Little Something 0

January 11, 2013

An end of week ritual – a wordless post, a personal photograph that captures a moment to be savoured, relished and preserved for looking back on. One photograph from Hannah, in the Southern Hemisphere and one from Ria, in the Northern Hemisphere. Feel free to post your questions, thoughts and comments. Have a great weekend!

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From Ria:

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In: From Hannah, From Ria, Sweet Little Something

Always Eat Breakfast 2

January 9, 2013

Hello to you! I trust 2013 has treated you well so far. Thanks for adding to my looong list of recipes-to-make with that last post. Really, all I need right now is more reasons to eat.

So I’m going to give you another one. Your suggestion of resolutions got me thinking, and not just about how I can be a better human this year. It got me thinking about breakfast. It doesn’t take much, admittedly. But I started thinking about breakfast metaphorically–the start of the day, the hopeful beginning of something, just like January is to the rest of the year. Maybe the night before was a bender (or at least, in this house, a late night of cleaning-up-after-toddler and falling asleep halfway through a movie) and you want to do better with this new day you’ve been given. I often find breakfast sets the tone for my day. If I burn the pancakes, it doesn’t bode well.

So….

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If you want to start the morning-month of the year off right, have a slice of breakfast pizza. I found it through Smitten Kitchen, but it’s from here originally. It is breakfast + Pizza = heaven.

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And now that we’re fed and satisfied, on to the list of resolutions I may or may not stick to. Hmmm, that was a disclaimer, wasn’t it? Shame on me for using the word resolutions when there’s nothing resolute about them. I will resolve to to better next time. Maybe.

1. Write more. That’s easy–I have a novel to edit by March. What’s not so easy: writing from scratch. Need to do more of that too.

2. More creative thinking. Which is different from thinking more creatively, because I think I’m already a creative thinker. I just don’t do as much of it as I used to.

3. Eat more whole grains. Easy. Done. I got this for Christmas.

4. Study patience. DH and I recently had a conversation about the nature of patience. It’s more than waiting for something for a long time without getting antsy. It’s grace, it’s courage, it’s confidence–in yourself and others. And that stuff is hard.

5. Get. Out. Side. Too much house makes Ria crazy.

What about you?

XO

Ria

In: Food, From Ria, Writing