Saturday, 19 May 2018

Cafe by the Sea by Jenny Colgan


My last story was set in Venice, this lovely story takes the reader to the fictional Scottish Island of Mure. Fiona McKenzie ran away from home after her mother's death in search of a new life in London. She works as a paralegal, commutes in the crowded tube daily and returns to her small bedsit.

Her life revolves around her bedsit, the Tube, Netflix, TV dinners and Tinder - which could not be further removed from the Scottish Legend of the Selkie, pale skinned creatures that leave the sea to guide the lost.

"If you're a man and you take the Selkie as a lover and you want to keep her, 
you hide her seal skin so that she can never go back to the sea gain."

Was Fiona's mother a selkie and does that explain Fiona's extraodinarily fair skin?

It had been whispered that her mother's fair skin had come from the sea where deep green hills meet  bright white sand at the very northern tip of the world - the fictional Island of Mure. It is here that her family farm is worked by her brothers and father; and where home and hearth provides them sustenance.

"The farmhouse was old and rambling...its dark pathways leading to rooms 
where here and there...the large kitchen was at the back of the house with 
views of the bay... heavy flagstones warmed by the large aga."

Fiona was asked to return to the Island of Mure by her boss who is representing a client who is contesting the positioning of a large windfarm.  It was thought, that being a local, she would have some influence on the council.

On her return, memories of her childhood bubble up, her oneness with her birth place and the finding of her mother's worn recipe book has her questioning her current trajectory.

"Memories crashing in from everywhere, all at once, like the huge rolling waves that attacked the shore, the crystal winds that swept down from the Arctic."

She is in love with her boss, the cold but handsome Joel, who doesn't notice her until her pale skin takes on a transluscency in the cold air of Mure.

Part fo Fiona's job discription is to revitalise the dying economy of Mure. Particularly since so many of its young people leave for the mainland. The wealthy client - Colton Rogers - is keen to give back to the community so Fiona is instructed to start a pop up restaurant - Cafe by the Sea - to get the locals onside.

"Pie after pie, great piles of aotcakes, jugs of churned cream, lobsters, herrings 
and cured salmon...whisky, gin and pots tea, scotch eggs and ploughman's lunches" 
are served up to the reader.

The Viking Festival of Samhain which celebrates the harvest and the change of seasons, the saving of a beached whale, getting lost in the rolling mist of the dark hills, being betrayed by her lover - Joel - are some of the challenges faced by Fiona.

By the end of this charming story, the Island of Mure has worked its magic. As Fiona McKenzie drifts off to sleep after an energetic day her late mother whispers to her in her dreams.

"She shines like the brightest moon, she dives for fish and steers lost sailors 
home; because we are Selkies and that is what we do."

Bannock Cakes

500gm self-raising flour
50gm cold butter
1 cup of buttermilk
1 egg
Enough yogurt to make the dough sticky.


Combine the the flour and butter until it looks like bread crumbs 
Combine the wet ingredients.
Place  the dough on a floured surface and roll out until about 1 inch or 2 cm thick. 
Cut in to any shape you like. 
Either in scone shape for individual servings or as a rounded 
cake that can be cut in to slices. 
The dough can be made savoury with the addition of a cup of 
cheddar cheese; or sweet with the addition of raisins or blueberries 
and 1/4 cup of caster sugar.

Bake at 320 degrees for 12 minutes or until golden brown. 


I have made this quick and easy bread several times and I have never been disappointed.

Friday, 11 May 2018

A Year at Hotel Gondola by Nicky Pellegrino

Fictional celebratory host and writer Kat Black has accepted an assignment from her publisher to live in Venice for a year and write a story about the ancient city from the point of view of a local.

"The air was scented with coffee and warm sugar" p22

Kat Black's story unfolds as she happily explores narrow alleyways and vast cobbled piazzas, tiny bacaros and the laden cabinets of pastericcerias.

"There were pastries swollen with cream, plump doughnuts dotted with sweet custard, dainty tarts, biscuits crisuted with nuts, slabs of tiramisu and torrone." p175

She falls in love with a divorced man called Massimo and makes many dear friends. Not only does she discover Venice's many secrets, she also discovers herself.

Our fictional character, Kat Black is a food writer and presenter who indulges her passion in the markets of Venice searching for the freshest seafood and vegetables to cook and share food with her

A year at Hotel Gondola forces Kat to reflect on her past life and is told some harsh truths by her lover's ex-wife. Having lived her life as a traveller, always eager for the next adventure, Kat is dismayed to find she has turned into a middle-aged woman with limited prospects, limited savings and no deep friendships or a place to come home to.

Her lover employs her in the bar of the family-run  Hotel Gondola where she mixes cocktails for tourists and shares her lover with fellow co -worker - his frosty ex-wife.

"Gin, countreau, lemon juice and a spoonful of marmalade- it was the cocktail of the week."

The story is also a sounding board for the frustration of young Venetians grappling with the critical mass of the tourist industry and their battlecry Respect Venice.

Kat shows the impact tourism is having on the ancient city and the rising voice of young Venetians who are agitating for the reclaimation of their precious heritage and a more peacful lifstyle. But even this is a double-edged sword as Venice and its small business rely on the tourist dollar to survive.

The story is alternates between two viewpoints - Kat Black as the main character and Kat Black the person who is struggling with many home truths about herself.

Does she commit to her lover by the end of the year or is she drawn to her next adventure?

Venetian Rice and Peas (100gm pancetta if non-vegetarian)


3/4 cup of Arboro rice                                  
500ml chicken stock
2T olive oil                                                     
1 chopped onion
800gms peas                                                   
100gms grated parmesan


Fry onions, garlic and pancetta (optional) until soft. Add the Arboro rice and stir to combine oil and flavours. Add stock, one laddle at a time, and keep stiring until the stock is absorbed before adding more. (Takes around 20 minutes). Add peas and cook until barely tender. The finished dish should be moist and creamy. Add pamesan and serve.

Cocktail of the week 

Marmalade and Gin 

    This delicious cocktail has been chosen by Harry and Meghan for their wedding in May 2018.

45 mls gin of choice
I T orange marmalade
30mls Earl Grey tea - chilled
Dash of orange bitters and orange for garnish. Combine. Shake. Pour over ice. Enjoy. 

Reviewed by Ann Etcell-Ly. The Book Cafe. May 2018. Photographs are the copyright of  the author.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

The Moonlight Dreamers by Siobhan Curham

After a long hiatus I am now catching up with all the posts I had meant to publish in the recent past. I hope you enjoy my latest offering about the story of four young English girls who are challenged by the trials, frustrations and longings typical of the teenage years.

Amber, Maali, Sky and Rose feel like misfits until they become friends when Amber, inspired by the writings of Oscar Wilde and responding to the bright pull of a full moon, she starts The Moonlight Dreamers Club.

"On the night it all began, a full moon hung over Brick Lane, casting everything in a pearly glow"

Amber is the only daughter of Gerald and Daniel. She is teased at school for having two gay fathers, wonders who her birth mother is, and suffers the ultimate humiliation - and every girl's worst nightmare - a public menstruation accident while playing sport.

Amber works in a vintage clothes shop and decides to hand out her calling card to girls she hopes are just like her.

Maali is an Indian Hindu, who loves photography, prays to Lakshmi for guidance about a crush on a boy called Ash. Her mother runs an Indian sweet shop that specialises in the popular dessert - burfi.

On the way to buy groceries from Brick Lane for her mother, she stopped to look at the moon. She had never seen one so big.

"The moonlight was causing the mirror-tiled minaret (on the mosque) 
to glisten like a magician's wand."

Sky loves writing poetry and has challenged herself to join a poetry reading competition. She lives with her hippy Irish dad on a houseboat and is grieving the death of her mother. She is cocooned by her father until he meets a love interest that threatens to take his attention away from her.

After performing her first poetry reading in secret at Convent Garden she stops to buy something to eat on her way home.

"She took another bite of her pizza and looked up at the sky, a huge silvery moon 
shone down on the square like a spotlight."

The next to fall under the spell of the full moon is Rose. She is the daughter of a world famous model who is hounded by the paparrazzi. This causes a stressful mother/daughter relationship. On top of this her mother has now entered a relationship with an Irish hippy with a dull daughter and worst of all- they are moving in!

Rose's mother wants her to follow in her footsteps but Rose wants to be a patissier. After yet another argument with her mother, Rose runs away to be alone.

"Rose collapsed on the wet grass. Her entire life sucked! What was she going to do? 
She opened her eyes and gasped. A full moon was suspended in the sky. 
Please, please let something good happen, she begged."

All the girls answer Amber's call to be a moonlight dreamer and through their friendship and support they each overcome their anxieties and fulfil their dreams.

Burfi Recipe

250g dessicated coconut
395g sweetened condensed milk
10 cardamom pods (powdered)
Crushed pistaccios and extra coconut to roll the balls in.


Heat the condensed milk in a pan. Add the coconut and spices and 2T rosewater if desired. 
Stir constantly until the mixture dries out and comes away from the sides of the pan. 
Allow to cool and form in to bite-sized balls. Roll in coconut or pistaccios if desired. 
Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

This book review and food photographs are the copyright of Ann Etcell-Ly

Friday, 6 May 2016

The Secret Recipe of Second Chances by J.D. Barrett

This debut novel met The Book Cafe's criteria as it had all the ingredients necessary to show the role of food in our culture, our families and our communities. How sharing food can bind us or repel us in our daily lives.

The storyline is tightly written and fast-paced, set in the environs of Sydney in the late '70's and early '80's and for many Sydney- siders it will be a trip down memory lane.

As a nursing student at St Vincent's Hospital, Darlinghurst back in the day, Kings Cross and Woolloomooloo were my stamping grounds. Even the iconic Harry's Cafe de Wheels rates a mention! The novel captured this era so well that I was instantly transported back to the many myths and legends of notoriety for which the area was well-known.

The 1970's witnessed the rise of sophisticated dining, food connoisseurs and laid the groundwork for today's food snobbery, bloggers and well-informed home cooks. An article called "Still Living (and eatingin the 70's written by Jill Dupleaux for the SMH in February 2011, sums up the era perfectly.

"Stick a candle in the chianti bottles, open the 
Mateus Rose, stock up on tinned pineapple. 
There's a bit of the 70's thing going on in the 
food world at the moment, and if you are not careful, 
even the vol-u-vent will be a dish on the cocktail circuit."

The story begins with acrimonious marital separation of Leith and Lucy, both high profile modern day chefs with a successful 3 Hat restaurant called Circa. Lucy, who is forced to start again finds a derelict end-terrace restaurant in Woollooomooloo called Fortune which was once owned by the popular, celebrity chef (and man slut) Frankie who met an untimely end. 

Lucy takes the risk to revive this restaurant and discovers amongst the 30 years of dust and grime, the famous chef's Little Red Book of recipes.

Authentic recipes of the era, true classics - which she as a modern chef promptly deconstructs with the good-looking and charismatic ghost chef Frankie looking on. 

The list of classic recipes includes French Onion Soup, Lobster Gazpacho, Twice-baked Gruyere Souffle, Coq au Vin, Cherry Cobbler, Salad Nicoise, Duck a l'Orange, Devils on Horseback and Peach Crostada. Even Harry's chilli dog gets a mention! 

The restaurant is a roaring success and Lucy falls in love with her muse. Frankie's only request of Lucy is that she finds his killer so that he can pass on.

The novel seamlessly inter-twines the past and present with the help of Frankie's past acquaintances who return to help with the vibrant rebirth of the Lucy's pop up restaurant. These colourful characters move the story forward, the murder mystery is solved and Frankie passes on.  

There is a satisfying yet fanciful twist to the love story between Lucy and Frankie when they reconnect in the future. The desire to meet up with a loved one after they pass is a strong human urge and one that gives the twist at the end a believable edge.

The meaning and role of food is exemplified throughout the story - from the break up meal between Leith and Lucy (baked snapper stuffed with kaffir lime, ginger and lemongrass) to the final meal (herbed omelette) shared by Frankie and Lucy. 

Frankie left a deep emotional impression on Lucy. She keeps him 'alive' with the publication of his recipe book (which she tweaks) and she travels the world retracing his gourmet footsteps to places where his food memories were strongest. 

One day, in search of the perfect peach for Frankie's Peach Crostada recipe she makes her way to the morning markets at St Paul De Vence - one of Frankie's favourite fruit markets. It is here that she finds the perfect peach, which she hands to a stranger, and at this point her new life's journey begins.

The author is currently working on her second novel and I hope it will be a sequel with many more recipes.

French Onion Soup (serves 4)


120 gs butter (I also added 2 tablespoons olive oil)
6 medium brown onions peeled and sliced
100 ml red wine ( I also added a splash of sherry)
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
4 sprigs thyme
4 bay leaves
150ml beef stock (I also added 250ml)
1 baguette
100g grated gruyere cheese
50 gm parmesan
Season to taste


Heat butter in large heavy based pot. Gently swear onions 
until soft and caramelised. Add wine, thyme and bay leaves. 
Bring to boil add stock and simmer 30 min. Cut baguette 
into slices and toast. Ladle soup in to bowls and sprinkle 
with gruyere cheese and grill until golden.

Cherry Cobbler


4 cups cherries (I used frozen)
2 tablespoons cornflour
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoom lemon juice
1 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
85g cold butter
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest


Heat oven 170 degrees

Place pitted cherries, cornflour, sugar, lemon juice in a baking dish. If using fresh cherries bake until soft and bubbling. Remove from heat.

For the topping

Combine 2 tablespoon sugar, flour, baking powder, butter 
and salt to look like breadcrumbs.Sprinkle over 
the cherries and bake in oven 45 minutes until golden.
Serve with vanilla bean ice cream.

Unfortunately, my oven stopped working and I was unable to grill the gruyere 
cheese for the baguette or bake the cobbler until golden - but both tasted delicious nonetheless.

Monday, 2 March 2015

The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, age 81 by J.B. Morrison

This is my first blog since my husband died unexpectedly in 2014. I haven't done much reading or cooking these past few months, then I came across the quote below.

"The three grand essentials to happiness in this life are: something to do, something to love and something to hope for." Joseph Addison 1672 -1719.

This is an amusing story. Its witty and unexpected twists gives the reader a glimpse in to what it is like to be 81 years young. The central character, Frank, shows us what the future holds for all of us as we age and what it feels like to be bored, patronised, slow in body and lonely in spirit. 

The story begins with Englishman Frank Derrick being run over by a milk truck on his 81st birthday. The unfortuante accident sends him to hospital with a broken arm and foot. When he returns home in plaster he finds his only daughter, who lives in America, has arranged home care in her absence. 

For the next 12 weeks we enter in to the world of an aged pensioner and what it is like to be penniless and powerless; without friends, to survive one's spouse and have grown up children who have no time to spare. It is also the reverse story of what Frank's thinks about the world and the mischief he gets up to make it work for him.

"I'm 81, come and have a go, you think you're hard enough! p1

At first Frank rebels against the home care organised by his daughter. He sulks, he sabotages, he refuses to wash, shave, tidy his flat or flush the toilet in protest until pretty Kelly Christian arrives and changes his life. Kelly the "pensioner whisperer" made him a cup of tea and tidied his flat. 

"Kelly made Frank feel like getting out of bed in the morning. She was like a replacement hip. 
His half an aspirin a day, his grab rail and large-buttoned phone." p20

Until Kelly's arrival, Bill the cat was Frank's only friend. Bill gave Frank a routine, something to love and something to do.

"Bill's expression was exactly the same whether 
he was waiting for his dinner or filling his litter tray." p21

On Kelly's second visit Frank was ready, he combed his hair and waited for her return. She put on the kettle and cleaned ot the fridge.

"Some of the food in your fridge is way past its use by date," she called. 
To which he replies "if it stays there long enough the date will come around again." p29

Food plays a small part in Frank's life as he has no one to share it with since his wife's passing. 

"Kelly brought the cup of tea and put it next to Frank... and she took 
half a pack of cream biscuits out of her bag and put them next to the tea." p10

After she had cleaned his flat, checked his health and had her time sheet signed she left. Frank noticed something had changed. Kelly had left something behind, and it wasn't the cream biscuits or his pills. It was something else. Kelly had begun to work her magic and Frank was to be transformed - lifted out of his rut and in to the rest of his life.

Frank lives in a housing estate in Fullwind-on-Sea and apart from Bill, his only friend is Smelly John, a much younger man in a wheel chair who suffers from MS whom he visits from time to time. The only other outings Frank has are to the local charity shop to buy knick knacks and to the supermarket to buy cat food and cans of spaghetti.

Every day is the same for Frank. He tells the time by how many planes fly overhead and he remembers which day it is by marking it off his calendar.

On Kelly's fourth visit she entered Frank's living room carrying ice-cream cornettos because there is "no age limit on eating ice creams," she said.

"By my age we should be sucking mints," Frank said, "and wearing cardigans and sipping cups of tea." But Kelly thought otherwise and told him him so.

As Kelly's final visit drew near Frank tries to raise the funds to pay for more home care through various hilarious means and fails. Kelly remains firm and professional. The future belongs to her but in the here and now she has revived Frank's spirits.

The author describes many funny scenes where age is a liability. In one scene Frank is struggling to cover his plaster cast in plastic wrap so he could wash. He is all wrapped up when he realises he needs to cut the tape  - and he's left his teeth on the bedside table!

In another scene, a matronly woman visits Frank in place of Kelly. Frank tells himself that if that woman tries to give him a bath he would jump out of the window. Then he wonders if he would get up enough speed to break the glass?

The symbolism of food as a means of companionship and sharing screams loudly due to its absence in Frank's life.

Spaghetti, cat food, cups of tea and food past its use by date hint at the lonely and frugal life of an aged pensioner, the lack of funds to budget for good produce, the lack of ability to prepare and cook it, and the limited communal opportunities to share in it.

Kelly shares her time with Frank and connects with him through the simple social pleasures of cups of tea, cream biscuits, sandwiches and ice cream. There is one heart warming scene where Frank and Kelly spend an afternoon together relaxed and cheerful, watching Frank's collection of DVD's and eating lemon meringue pie which Kelly had brought with her.

"Kelly's eleventh visit was perferct. She arrived 10 minutes early with a lemon 
meringue pie. She sat next to him on the couch and together they ate the pie and watched 'Singing in the Rain'". p228

Indulgent Lemon Meringue Pie

Step 1:  

Make the crust first so it can chill in the fridge for 30 minutes while you make the curd.

I 1/2 cups of plain flour
2 tablespoons icing sugar
125 g cold diced butter
2 1/2 tablespoons iced water

Rub together until it forms bread crumbs, add iced water and form in to a ball. Don't over work it. Put some baking paper on bench and roll pastry out on to form a disc to cover your pie plate. Use the paper to flip pastry on to pie plate. (I bought a good pie plate from Coles cost $10 and is nice and deep) Trim pastry sides. Chill in fridge. Then bake blind 180 degrees for about 45 minutes or until lightly golden. Cool.

Step 2: 


1 cup of strained, freshly squeezed lemon juice. 
(about 4-5 medium lemons)
1/2 cup of water 
1 cup of caster sugar
1/3 cup cornflour 
4 eggs separated

Combine in a saucepan over heat until thickened. Cool slightly.
Then add 60 gms butter and 4 lightly beaten egg yolks. Set aside.

Step 3: 


Beat 4 egg whites until fluffy. Slowly add in 1 cup of caster sugar
and beat until sugar is dissolved and stiff peaks form.

Step 4: 


Step 5:  


190 degrees for 5 minutes or until peaks are lightly golden.
Allow to cool so the curd can set.

Step 6


with your friends and family

©2011 My Novel Idea by Ann Etcell-Ly/All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Reach of Rome

The Reach of Rome by Alberto Angela is a scholarly, yet accessible story of the Roman Empire and its legacies. The author weaves his story around real people (cemeteries), real buildings (archeological digs) and real social customs (documentation and artifacts). He takes us on a journey through the Empire as we follow the course of a coin, hand-over-hand, in the year 115 CE Rome under the industrious ruler, Emperor Trajan.

The story is described as "cinematic".  It moves back and forwards in time, allowing readers to imagine themselves in the same spot. This literary time machine is a must for the serious traveller who enjoys walking in the footsteps of the past, to see a glimpse of the future, which is ours today.

Alberto introduces us to exotic places, smells, customs, dangers, banquets and legionaires on the march. He takes us in to battle, the arms of prostitutes and gambling dens; has us ride with charioteers, partake in religious sacrifice, medical treatments and business dealings; and the way of life of the rich and poor.

The coin, we will follow is first struck in the Roman Mint by slaves. It is decorated on one side by the head of the ruling Emperor and on the other side a picture (such as a new bridge) advertises to the people across the breadth of the Empire of his achievements. It is an early and effective form of propoganda.

"The Roman Mint is a real inferno in the vicinity 
of the Colosseum." p13

The coins are then transported by military couriers in saddlebags on the backs of horses and are quickly and efficiently dispersed to forts, governor's seats, provincial capitals, economic centres and miltiary posts. Today, these same routes are commandeered by armies of tourists - Rome, London, Paris, Trier (Moselle vinyeards), Beyond the Rhine, Milan, Reggio Emilio, Rimini, The Tiber, Circus Maximus, Ostia, Spain, Provence, Baia, The Medoterranean, Africa, Egypt, India, Mesopotamia, Ephesus, Capadoccia and back to The Eternal City.

The story begins in Rome with a young woman scurrying, dressed anonymously in robes, along the streets to the den of a witch whom she will pay to put a hex on her husband. This social custom was well-documented by Professor Marina Piranomonte when the Sacred Fountain of Anna Perenna, in the Parioli neighbourhood of present day Rome was unearthed when an underground garage was being built. Many of the offerings, like this young woman's, were thrown in to this fountain.

"Digs uncovered objects connected to magic, rituals and hexes." p8

Anna Perenna had an erotic cult following;

"Banquet tables were set along the Via famina where they sing, dance, get drunk and have sex." p8

And so the newly-minted coin (called a sisterce) begins its round trip over The Alps,  across the English Channel landing in Dover and on to the outermost edge of the Empire near Hadrian's Wall. But the squadron of horseman do not see Hadrian's Wall because it has not been built. These men serve Emperor Trajan and it will only be when he dies and is replaced by Hadrian 40 years hence that work on the wall will commence to keep the hostile Scots at bay and protect the legionaires from attack.

It is the second century after the birth of Christ and London is still a village. There is no Big Ben, Buckingham Palace or Westminster Abbey - just countryside. But there is a bridge spanning the Thames in the same place that London Bridge stands today. The Roman's gave birth to London and built the bridge at its narrowest point and deepest dock for trade.

Many of the the foundations of our modern society were laid down by the Romans and the author points to the uncanny use of some prominant places that have been used over and over again by successive generations of mankind.

Rome also gave birth to Paris, on The Seine and the Ille la Cite. The person who now has our coin in his pocket stands on the site of Notre Dame which won't be built for 1000 more years. But he does see the Temple of Jupiter that first stood on this site, which will be replaced by a christian basilica, and a Romanesque church until tourists finally throng around present day Notre Dame.

The Romans left many legacies, inventions, building and artworks but its most enduring is the 80,000 kilometres of sturdy, well-engineered roads that connected millions of people. These roads were marked at intervals by pillars that told the traveller the distance. The zero point of the Empire can still be seen near the Statue of Augustus outside the Roman Forum.

These roads were travelled on foot, hitch-hiked and used by wagons pulled by mules. Horses were expensive and used only for war, hunting, chariot racing, couriers and the postal service. Many of these horses were sourced from Capadoccia in Turkey, which when translated means 'land of the beautiful horse'.

Taverns dotted the highways and provided light snacks such as ricotta cheese on foccacia, wine, prostitutes, animal feed and shelter. Food and superstition dominated the lives of Romans as life was fragile. Food was symbolic in celebratory banquets, thanksgiving ceremonies and religious rituals. Licentiousness and debauchery gave relief from the uncertainty and harshness of everyday life.

"There is nothing better than a honey-filled foccacia dipped in milk to start the day." p282

And what was on the banquet menu?

"Wild boar, roasted doormouse dressed in honey and sesame seeds, snails, flamingo, peacocks, eel and sea bream." p308

Wine cups unearthed at the vineyards in Moselle depict scenes of banquets and toasts. Engravings such as "To your Health" are still common in our time and epitaphs found on cemeteries share the same humour and laments.

"Battles, wine and Venus ruin our bodies. But baths, wine and Venus are what life is made of."

Life was short and health was unpredictable. Death came early from war, childbirth, disease, accident, murder, overwork, slavery, shipwreck and superstition. Despite this fragilty how did Rome endure for so long?

Firstly, it offered incentives to soldiers and slaves. Solders who fought and lived were granted citizenship and land, slaves were granted freedom, coinage encouraged financial opportunities to those loyal to the empire.

"Roman coins have been found as far away as the Mekong Delta in Vietnam and the northern tundra of Afghanistan." p19

Roman emperors also exploited "bread and circuses" by providing free grain to those who needed it and entertainment at the Circus Maximus. The Circus Maximus held over 200,000 people (the Colosseum only held 80,000) and operated continuosly for 1200 years. Around it sprang shops that sold cushions and parasols, cheese and pickled fish. Our coin now passes in to the hands of the gambling dens where a bet is placed on a favourite charioteer. Customers can be seen gathering early for a day at the races. They bite in to grilled sausages or a foccacia bun. They are served with a hot beverage of wine, diluted with water and scaldingly hot.

Coffee comes to mind but it is 117CE and the author tells us that coffee beans are still growing wild on the hills of Ethiopea. It will be another 1000 years before the streets are filled with the familiar aroma of Italian expresso.

The greatness and glory of Rome also had a dark side. Millions of exotic animals, many lost to extinction were captured and slaughtered for entertainment. The superstitious nature of the Romans also included the cruel daily sacrifice of bullocks, sheep and birds. The distribution of wine called "nectar of the gods" drugged an entire Empire. Rome also denuded vast tracts of land for their building programs, crop growing and mining for gold. Its engineers not only diverted river systems but were able to bring down entire mountains without explosives.

But back to our coin. It has made the round trip back to Rome  After a year-long journey around the Empire the coin's journey ends - for now. 

It is the custom of the Romans to place a coin (sisterce) in the mouth of a deceased person to pay their way in the afterlife and this is what happens to our coin. However, the light will shine on our coin once again when the body of the man it rests with is unearthed by future archeologists. 

But all you need to know for now, is that the hex at the start of the story worked!

And now for some historical recipes inspired by the book Around The Roman Table. Food and Feasting in Ancient Rome by Patrick Faas.

Ovis Hapalis (Latin for boiled egg) 
served with Julius Caesar's favourite sauce

200 gram of pine nuts 
(soaked in water for 1 hour and drained)
2 teaspoons pepper
4 tablespoons honey
4 tablespoons of anchovies
2-3 teaspoons of white wine vinegar. 
(I used red Cabernet Vinegar)

Blend and serve. Really yummy!

Columella Salad

100 gram fresh mint
50gm fresh coriander
50gm fresh Italian parsley
1 small leek finely sliced
Sprigs of lemon thyme
Crumbled salty cheese ie fetta
I also added cubed cucumber
A sprinkle of vinegar 
(I used cabernet red wine vinegar)
Splash of olive oil
Salt to taste.

Chop. Combine. Enjoy.

            ©2011 My Novel Idea by Ann Etcell-Ly/All Rights Reserved

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The unauthorised history of Australia

Girt  by snarky David Hunt has re-written Australian history from Megafauna to Macquarie in masterly antithesis sort of way.

It is caustic, satirical and mocking of the "royalty" who first surveyed, plundered and settled our "wide brown land" just over two hundred years ago. Even if you are offended by his "take" on the country's history he won't mind as he is very capable of having a good old belly-laugh on his own. In fact he has done just that by writing another volume.

The book is dedicated "For those who come acrosss the seas" and I surmise this is not only a nod to the people he lampoons in Girt, and to all of us who have a bit of "fookin eejits" in us, but it also meant for future Australians. Although one wonders what these new Australians will think of the "history" they have inherited?

David Hunt begins at the beginning. The first two chapters set the tone for the book with his explanation of Foreigners and Aborigines. With that out of the way he says he can now start with the real stuff, 

"jolly convicts, villainous governors, rum, squatting with sheep, rum, gold diggers, token women, rum, geographically-challenged explorers, plucky Irish outlaws and rum".p49

But I am getting ahead of myself. First, Hunt tells us about the advantages of being "girt by sea" and how this "phenomenal girtage" kept Australia incognito for tens of millenia. It was this "girtuosity" that allowed Aborigines their nomadic way of life for 60,000 years where "not much happened besides some finger painting" and who are the original, "un-original non-inhabitants" who did not exist until Mabo and the High Court of Australia said they did in 1992.

"Black people had been hiding in our backyard for 
60,000 without paying rent." p31

While Captain Cook is credited with discovering our "Great South Land" first, which by the way, was proposed by Aristotle; the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch East India spice traders, French, Chinese, Indonesians had all dipped their big toes in to Australia's blue waters and lost many sailors to the scourge of scurvy and disease. They decided, like Abel Tasman who discovered Tasmania, not to embark due to the "lack of facilities."

Due to Australia's isolation Hunt refers to us as "giant petri dish ...that was able to grow a unique culture".

"In time, a new and distinct people emerged from Britain's colonial kitchen...a people who bathed regularly." p3

While previous explorers had dismissed Australia for its isolation, Britain embraced it. It needed a place to stash its upsurge in undesirables due to the Industrial Revolution and America's petty refusal to pay tax on tea or take any more convict imports. 

"Britain fervently hoped that the tyranny of distance and the despotism of lots of water would prevent its undesirables from walking back to London." p2

The mad romp through recent history now turns to Captain Cook who "drove the boat" for his plant buddy Joseph Banks. We have Arthur Philip who believed in the sharing of scarce resources when he discovered that Australia was not the "land of milk and honey" and Banks, who had recommended it was a "lying bastard."

Unfortunately, Arthur Philip's socialist policy was quickly undermined by the entrepeneurial Macarthur.

"An early investor in the (rum) corps racketeering, but his real money came from privatising NSW." p144

Rum was both the drink of choice and the currency of the fledgling colony. It even built the colony's first hospital which is now the NSW Parliament in Macquarie St, Sydney.

"The convicts gratefully received their wages by the bottle and bundy on as soon as they bundied off." p153

This riotous behaviour continued until 1794 when England, weary from war with Napoleon, turned its attention back to the colonies and a crackdown on licentiousness, profiteering, hypocrisy and rivalry amongst its governors and citizens and the rest, as they say is... er, history.

No scurvy Orange Cake

2 medium oranges
2 cups self raising flour 
(or 2 cups of almond meal and 1 teaspoon of 
baking powder if you prefer)
1 teaspoon organic vanilla essence
4 eggs beaten
1/2 cup of sugar 
(or one cup of sultanas for sweetness)


Boil two whole oranges for 45 minutes. Remove the oranges from the pot and allow to cool. Once cool blend whole oranges to a pulp. To the orange pulp add 2 cups of self-raising flour, half a cup of sugar and 4 beaten eggs. Pour in to a prepared loaf pan and bake at 180 degrees for 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Alternatively, replace the flour with the almond meal and a teaspoon of baking powde; and the sugar with sultanas. I have done it both ways and it always turns out. Tastes great with a spread of butter (or not) and a shot of spiced rum (or not) and a cuppa.

             ©2011 My Novel Idea by Ann Etcell-Ly/All Rights Reserved
                    GIRT by David Hunt 2013 ISBN 9781863956116