Saturday, 1 October 2011

Lemon Meringue Pie Murder by Joanne Fluke

The Lemon Meringue Pie Murder, with its cheery cover, looked like a promising read. A light hearted whodunnit for the young at heart, but for me, it seemed to lack pace. Perhaps I am not so young at heart after all! Despite this, Joanne Fluke, the author of the Hannah Swensen Mysteries has a big following. 

To date, she has penned at least a dozen murder mysteries and a recipe book. Her series includes such engaging titles as, the Candy Cane Murder, the Key Lime Pie Murder, the Carrot Cake Murder and the Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder - to name a few.

The Lemon Meringue Pie Murder, which is set at Lake Eden in Minnesota, seems to be written to a formula (nothing wrong with that) but I was hoping for something a little bit funny and a little less contrived. After all, death by lemon meringue pie sounds so absurd it could be a fun read - couldn't it?

The famous main character, is Hannah Swensen - the 20-something co-owner of The Cookie Jar who spends most of her time reluctantly solving murder mysteries. 

This amateur sleuth has a 100 per cent success rate and always gets her man (or woman). So imagine my surprise, when we are introduced to her in Chapter One as a coffee drinking, overweight, cat owner, who cannot fit in to her slacks and decides to go on a diet?

I found this underlying theme to her character very distracting, but on reflection, her need for a diet is not surprising considering the huge amounts of sugar and butter in the recipes churned out by The Cookie Jar.

"Come in and have a cookie. I've got Peanut Butter Melts, Apricot Drops and Chocolate Chip Crunchies." p80  

(Recipes are supplied at the end of each chapter).

The next three chapters introduce us to the cast and Hannah's two love interests. Norman, her conservative boyfriend and the respectable town dentist; and Mike, the sexy, resourceful county detective who attempts to deter her from getting involved in police business.

It is not until Chapter Five, and many cups of coffee and dieting angst later, that the murder mystery unfolds with the discovery of the town's flirty, beautician Rhonda, who is found dead in Norman's new house. 

And with her, a trail of food clues left for Hannah to solve.

"Rhonda's last meal was a piece of your Lemon Meringue have to help investigate. It is your duty." p81

The Cookie Jar is used as a prop in this murder mystery (and I suspect this to be the case in other stories in the series). It is merely a vehicle to tell the story, set the scene and plot and provide the backdrop and connections to solve the murders. It has no other food symbolism, or sense of belonging or atmosphere since most of the crime-solving takes place outside The Cookie Jar.

The cookies however, showcase Hannah's creative side and give her an identity and purpose. She also likes to give the cookies away to show her generous spirit, or her manipulative side when she wants information from a suspect.

The continuing trials and tribulations of Hannah's self image and her dietary efforts seemed at odds with being the owner of The Cookie Jar. 

These trials and tribulations, hinted at the type of sub conscious food values that may be held by the author (and ourselves). Hannah's struggle with her weight and food choices in this murder mystery is just a microcosm of our affluent world and shows just how pervasive this food philosophy is in popular culture.

The inferences I got from this love/hate relationship with food was largely negative and I wondered at the subliminal message that was being passed on, in an entertaining way, to anxious teenage girls?

On one hand, Hannah is a smart, brave, and highly motivated investigator and her flip side is an anxious, self depreciating dieter who is not satisfied with her looks and thinks the reason she has not been proposed to is because of her perceived weight.

QUESTION: Why are we all trying to be what we think we should be (according to advertisements) rather than who we really are?

In the first chapter we are told,

"As much as the prospect sickened, she would have to limit her intake of food." p11 

QUESTION: Why is moderation and temperance presented negatively and gluttony of no consequence in this modern world? 

Ten pages later we read,

"Sighing, Hannah placed the cookie back on the plate. She had to (reluctantly) exercise will power." p21

QUESTION: Wouldn't we be all better off if we embraced or re-learned will power?

Further along, Hannah's love/hate attitude to food,

"Visions of endless streams of salads and low-cal dressings danced through Hannah's head."

QUESTION: Why are good food options (salads) seen as a punishment and not a reward?

This angst, revolving around food choice, threads its way through the entire book, chapter by chapter, right down to the last sentence of the book, which meant I couldn't help but question it in the light of my own food values.

"Hannah's dietary resolve waivered dangerously when the waitress wheeled up the dessert cart." p89

QUESTION: Why do we feel guilty if we treat ourselves, and feel self-righteous or victimized if we don't?" 

Parallel to this dietary dilemmas is a murder mystery waiting to be solved. Was Rhonda murdered by the jet-setting pilot, a jilted lover, the two-timing school principal, a jealous wife, the tango dancing reverend or the county's helpful handyman duo?

By the end of the story, the killer is caught, Hannah's trousers are loose around the waist (yay) and the diet is broken.

"I'm skipping my salad and entre tonight. Just bring the dessert cart and park it right here." p326

Mystery Cookies 
Makes 10 dozen!!

"The new cookies smelled wonderful, a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg and a secret* ingredient." p216

1/2 cup melted butter
3 1/2 cups sugar 
2 eggs lightly beaten
1 can condensed tomato soup*
2 tspns cinnamon
2 tspns nutmeg
2 tspns baking powder
2 tspns salt
2 cups raisins
2 cups chopped walnuts
4 1/2 cups of flour

Combine all ingredients until well mixed. Then stir in raisins and nuts. Allow to sit for 10 minutes. Drop the dough by teaspoon onto several lined baking trays and bake at 350 degrees for ten minutes or until golden brown. 

Note: Halve the mixture for less cookies or make larger cookies or invite a crowd to your place. 

Leave 3-finger widths between cookies as they spread slightly. Transfer to wire rack to cool. The cookies will be soft and chewy in texture and you will either love them or hate them. In my household, the camp is divided.

If you don't like the idea of adding condensed tomato soup to your cookie mixture, try the poor man's blintzes recipe below.

Aunty Kitty's Cottage Cheese Pancakes

2 cups cottage cheese 
(in keeping with the storyline I used Weight Watchers brand)
4 eggs
1/2 tspn salt
1/2 cup flour

Mix all the ingredients together and allow to rest for one hour. Heat non stick griddle or fry pan and dollop pancake mix in to the pan. I found it easier to use an egg ring as the rings kept the shape and made flipping easier.

*The mix yields 12 pancakes using the egg rings (3 per person). 

Once cooked to light golden cover, plate up and serve with jam, fresh fruit or sour cream.

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

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Up and Coming Attraction! Amish Friendship Bread

The plan this week was to cook Amish Friendship Bread after having read the novel Friendship Bread by Darien Gee. As I live in Australia, I only know of the Amish through Hollywood or the occasional news report from the U.S. so I did not realize it would take ten days to make the special bread. Furthermore, I have never had a reason to make bread before so it could be interesting.

The first step. Make your starter ...

DO NOT USE METAL UTENSILS. Wooden spoon, glass/ceramic bowl and large plastic or glass container or jar or clip lock bag for the starter to grow and bubble.


7g sachet of dry yeast (I used Tandaco)
1/4 warm cup water (approx 110 degrees. Not too hot or you will kill the live yeast)
1 teaspoon sugar

Allow to stand. If the mix bubbles in 5 minutes you know your yeast is alive and kicking. 

Then stir in:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup warm milk

Set aside and do nothing for the first day.

Here's Darien's protocol (p8)if you want to join me in making the starter for yourself and three friends (hence the name friendship bread); or four loaves for yourself - as the case may be.

Day 1:  Make the starter and it let stand. If you are given the starter by a friend let it stand and do nothing the first day. Do not refrigerate.
Days 2-5:  Stir with wooden spoon if mix is in a container, or squish and mash the mix if in a clip lock bag
Day 6:  Add to your container or bag 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar and 1 cup warm milk and combine.
Days 7-9: Stir with wooden spoon or squish and mash if in bag
Day 10: Pour the mix in to non-metal bowl. Add 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 1/2 cups warm milk.

Measure out four separate cups of mixture and put into four separate containers or bags. Give the bag and the bread recipe to your friends and keep one for yourself to make your bread - Or make four different flavoured loaves.

Bread Recipe to follow in ten days. Darien not only supplies the bread recipe but many other delicious variations for using the starter - including brownies and pancakes. There are also many variations on the web.

Please note: It is said that no one knows the origins of this recipe so credit cannot be attributed to a single person. But a big thank you to all the great and generous cooks out there! 

In the meantime, while waiting for your starter to mature, buy yourself a bread loaf pan.

By the way, I am happy to try any one's family favourite - all recipes, tips and tricks are gratefully accepted.
©2011 My Novel Idea Ann Etcell-Ly/All Rights Reserved

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry

The Kitchen Daughter is the debut novel of Jael McHenry, a columnist and home cook who lives in  New York. Her novel is a clever and subtle story that leads you by the nose like the tendrils of fragrant cooking smells, to explore the story's characters and their connections to loved ones, memories and their place in the world.

The story unfolds with the untimely death of two loving and protective parents and how the changed circumstances impact on their two adult daughters - Ginny and Amanda. 

The story is told through the eyes of Ginny, an attractive 20-something daughter who has Asperger's Syndrome - which is part of the spectrum of autism.

The author rises to the challenge to capture the "voice" of Ginny and the social awkwardness, the difficulty to read social cues, the inability to feel empathy, as well how she responds in the literal sense only - which is typical of those with Asperger's.

I suspect this is why the prose is fashioned to be short and abrupt. Perhaps the aim is to capture the expression and mindset, or the type of mindset and thought processes we are told are  typical of Asperger's. As we engage with Ginny we also gain insight in to ourselves and how we react in turn to what we consider to be normal.

Ginny describes herself as having a "personality" which is a warm way for the author to explain her main character to us.

The next challenge the author faced was creating situations and settings to show Ginny interacting with other characters within the story to exemplify how things can be construed and misconstrued by not only those with Asperger's, but also by those who interact with them.

Ginny is called the Kitchen Daughter, as true to form, she has focused on a particular interest and skill set (in this case cooking) which is typical of Asperger's. The cutting and dicing highlights her repetitive behaviours. Ginny is also depicted withdrawing from stressful situations in unusual ways.

But this is not a story about Asperger's. 

It is the story about a young woman, who through her interest in cooking, discovers her power to conjure up ghosts with the aroma of food. The ghosts she speaks to are no ordinary ghosts. They are the owners of handwritten recipes. The  first to appear to Ginny is Nonna, her grandmother, enticed by her redolent Ribollita recipe. 

It is her warning: "Don't let Amanda..." that drives the story and prods Ginny to discover family secrets, piecing together scraps of information devulged by ghosts awakened by Bread Soup, Georgia Peach, Midnight City Brownies, Biscuits and Gravy, home made play-doh, Aji de Gallina, boiled eggs and spicy hot chocolate.

Don't let Amanda..." What ? 

1. Not sell the family home ?
2. Not put a name on Ginny and thereby label her?  
3. Fail to provide early intervention for her daughter Shannon, whom Ginny fears is just like her?

Several threads connect and interconnect, their fragrances intermingle and tantalize and keep the reader guessing.

The role of food in this novel is multi-layered.

It is shown as a gift:

"This time we drop off the dishes without going inside. Our food pays the visit on our behalf." p185

As an observance:

"We are here because it is the day of the funeral. The family, they do not cook this day. We serve them instead. It is called seudat havra'h. Meal of consolation." p149

As an identity:

"The word normal is inclusive. Maybe I can live in the world, and be who I want to be after all." p196

As a comfort:

"I feel better if I cook. Something that will completely absorb me, push everything else out of my mind". p244 

Midnight City Brownies

125g butter
1/2 cup cocoa
1 Tblspn expresso coffee
3 eggs
1 cup raw sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp coarse salt


Preheat oven 350 degrees. Melt butter and stir in cocoa and expreso powder. Let cool. In a larger bowl, beat eggs until pale yellow. Add butter mixture. Stir in vanilla and flour until combined. Pour in to a brownie pan lined with lightly oiled foil. Sprinkle salt on top. Bake 30-35 minutes or until skewer comes out clean.

And with chocolate ganache (because I wanted to).

FYI: No reported ghostly sightings accompanied this recipe.

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

Monday, 12 September 2011

Losing It in France by Sally Asher

Losing It in France by Sally Asher is this week's unplanned choice. 

On Sunday morning, in the glittery, spring sunshine I did one of my favourite things. I went to a Book Fair. Before me lay Aladdin's Cave - boxes of books under, over and around trestle tables that stretched off in to the distance within the vast warehouse. 

Unfortunately, the books were not arranged by genre or grouped by category or author which forced book hunters to peer in to every box. Which of course is not a problem for the avid reader. But why is it that so many readers are married to non readers who stand by, like hour glasses, counting down to what they believe is adequate book hunting time for their partners? 

The undercurrent of nervous frenzy felt by harried partners on an unsaid schedule was palpable. Even so, amidst the group was a mother and daughter happily rummaging through the childrens' book boxes, serious gents looking for academic tomes (possibly disguised as westerns) and a father with a young son who whined "...but you told mum we were going to Bunnings."

I have to admit I was one of those harried partners who wondered how long her husband's patience would last. My husband is not a recreational reader because he argues he does "enough report reading in his job as it is".

We don't share many hobbies either, although he did a very good job of carrying the heavy box of books I was slowly collecting, and he also likes to eat what I cook. 

Which makes the choice of book for this week's blog even more amazing as it is one of his choosing. 

Actually I think the book chose him as he wasn't actively looking at anything in particular. The pale blue hardcover (without dust its jacket) with the modest title, so easily over looked by one and all  (but in hindsight looks so very French) wriggled itself in to his hand. 

On the drive home I wondered what it was about the title that took his fancy. 

Was it the destination "France"? Was it the words "Losing it" significant as he was getting tired of holding the box of books? Or maybe it was something else. 

Perhaps he was thinking about gay Pareee, city of love, and losing "IT" was actually about losing you know what? 

When I first saw the title I actually thought of losing one's baggage or wallet, or mind which says a lot about my romantic streak!

Anyway, the book turned out to be a winner. I read it from cover to cover that night and enjoyed the memoir about an overweight, young Australian woman who lived in France with her French lover and his family for three years.

During this time she learned not only to speak French but think French. She also learned the secrets of French food philosophy, etiquette and the need to never diet again. 

After Sally had lost weight, gained self esteem and parted company with her lover she returned to Australia.  She arrived home reborn, refreshed and enthusiastic about all things healthy and delicious. 

She married an Olympic athlete, set up house in Victoria and published her book in 2011.

"I remember Josianne gasping in horror as I heaped confiture a la fraise (strawberry jam) on to my baguette in the morning and piled white sugars in my coffee." p65.

At first I thought the author was too repetitive in her insistence that dieting was not necessary, planning was everything and we get fat not because of what we eat but how we think. 

Food is this book is seen as a celebration of the appetite NOT a plug to fill our emotional voids.  

"Remember, you must feed your body, your heart and soul, not starve them." p209 

Her repetitiveness throughout the book eventually won me over. She does make her point and the repetition soon became a mantra that would serve us all. 

"The French take shopping for food very seriously. It is probably as important and sacred as eating the (you choose) must look alive." p98

Ask yourself does your fast food choice look alive? Do you think your junk food choice looks as though it has ever lived?

She also reminded me of many old favourites, that I now plan to re-visit, guilt free - French Onion soup, Salad nicoise and Chocolate mousse to name a few.

Cherry clafoutis

125g plain flour
2 eggs
75g caster sugar
icing sugar for dusting
250 ml milk 
1 x 425g black pitted cherries

Preheat oven 180C. Place flour and eggs in a bowl and beat together until smooth. Add caster sugar and milk. Mix well. Butter a baking dish and arrange cherries over the bottom of the dish. Cover evenly with batter and bake for 20 minutes until lightly golden. Dust with icing sugar. Serves 6. 

Note: I doubled the amount as I have four hungry sons. I also used frozen raspberries instead of cherries.


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

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Meet me at the Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan

Meet me at the Cupcake Cafe - is Jenny Coglan's eleventh book and is dedicated to "anyone who has licked a spoon". This dedication alerts the reader to the author's gentle humour and sharp observation of human nature.


The Cupcake Cafe, decorated in fairy lights and candy stripes, is situated at 4 Pear Tree Court, Stoke Newington, in the cobblestone streets of old London which gives it a "Mary Poppins" feel.

"The evening was wonderfully warm and the soft lighting of The Cupcake Cafe blended with the fairy lights of the tree ...and some candles... put a magical glow on the whole of Pear Tree Court"

Three young women - Issy, Pearl and Caroline - each different in their own way, work together at the cafe, and sort through the problems many of us face in real life. The Cafe serves as the characters' sanctuary and the readers' fantasy.

Issy (Izabel), the owner of The Cupcake Cafe is recovering from a broken romance with her narcissistic boss who made her redundant from her office job. Jobless and jilted she uses her sizeable payout to fund the cafe and capitalize on her cooking skills taught to her by her much loved grandpa.

Pearl, who works as Issy's assistant at the Cafe, is trying to make ends meet as a single mother. Pearl and her son have been abandoned by a partner who cannot commit. Caroline is the new recruit recently divorced from her cheating husband.

Food in this book is used as a reminder, a manipulator, comfort food and a tribute. Chapter One starts with the recipe for Drop Scones and depicts a strong childhood memory of a loving grandfather (and baker) from whom Issy learned her cooking skills. 

In Chapter Four, jobless Issy comforts herself  with "Not Going To Work" Nutella Cookies. Ingredients include one pair of pyjamas!

In Chapter Six, Lemon "getting what you want" Cake is used by Issy to sweeten her landlord and secure the lease to the cafe.

By Chapter 19 Issy bakes her grandfather's favourite cake - the aromatic Simnel Cake - as a tribute to his life.

This is a pleasing story, light and buttery, that reads smoothly with no loose ends. However, the smattering of swear words are distracting to me as they clash with the sugar plum image of the story. Swearing is part of real life you say? Agreed. But the novel is escapist isn't it? 

Having said that, each character resolves their problems to a satisfactory conclusion. Moreover, the author boldly declares she has tested every recipe and guarantees their success. 
Author's Disclaimer

"Your cake will look like an ugly disaster. When people see your lemon cake they will feel sorry for you...and take a piece...then they will taste it...their eyes will pop open with delight. And then they will do anything you want." p88

Lemon "getting what you want" Cake    
4oz S.R flour (1 cup) 
1 tspn baking powder
4oz butter (I use 1 tablespoon only and it works)
4oz caster sugar (1 cup + 2 tablespoons)
2 large eggs
grated zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon

2oz icing sugar (1/2 cup)
2 tspns water
1 tspn lemon juice


Preheat oven 375F. Grease loaf tin. Sift flour and baking powder. Add remaining ingredients. Beat well. Pour in to tin and bake for 20 minutes. Cake should look yellow and under done (not brown) and be just cooked through. Pour icing over warm cake to infuse. And then decide on what you want!


I have made this cake three times over the weekend  for my family and they still want more. This cake would be great at a picnic with a flask of tea. I had planned on drenching the cake in Lemoncello and creme fraiche or yogurt or whipped cream and berries for dessert but as you can see... they only left the crumbs...AGAIN.

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

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted by Bridget Asher

How does one go about picking a foodie novel?

It is not an exact genre like horror, fantasy or romance nor does it have its own shelf in a bookstore. If you ask a salesperson for a suggestion, you will get a blank look in return and a hand pointing you to the recipe section. Trawling through online bookstores gives pretty much the same result. I don't want recipe books! I want novels that feature food as an expression of a deeper story line. 

The first thing to catch the eye is the book's cover which usually features an artistic picture of produce, table settings or cooking utensils; or it will have a food word in the title, or mention a foodie destination such as France or Italy or perhaps a location such as a cafe or bakery. You can also read the blurb on the dust jacket and the first paragraph to test out the author's style - but, be warned - there is no real measure of whether the story will rise or flop.

"The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted" by Bridget Asher met this criteria - an enticing  location,  a romantic stone house and a blurb that told of "a journey from grief to happiness with the the help of magic and delicious pistou soup." Unfortunately, this book promised a lot and delivered very little.

The entire book waffled on in every mundane detail. It was like talking to someone who never gets to the point. But that is just me. There are many people who enjoy the gossipy details of a Woman's Weekly read. If you are one of these people, then the book is for you. For me, it was like wading through sticky dough as every minute detail of the main character's every day life, and all she came in contact with, was sliced and diced.

Are we there yet?

I kept asking myself when will this story start?  At page 128 she finally gets to Paris "without being prepared and without time to brace." 

It took her all of Part One and she still wasn't prepared??

And even then she told us about her 'to do' lists, passports and hotel bookings, reservations, internal clocks, airports and taxis, and then the sightseeing, the posing in front of statues, how they got robbed, how it started to rain. Even the car breaks down in this endless list of ingredients that delivers a half baked idea. 

Can we get to the food please?
Are we at the centuries old stone house yet?
Where is the magic?
And the dusty box of old recipes you promised?

I never got  up the appetite to reach the end of the book, although it does come highly recommended as an "enchanting tale", a "sumptuous exploration" that "brims with wisdom and laughter". 

Do we really need to be told when the character got her first period or how she thought her father's swimming trunks were too short? Do we really need to read about all the generations that came before her husband's untimely death in a car accident? 

Food has no real role in this book or storyline, other than as sparse decoration - a sprinkling here or there. The main character tells us she is a baker but she didn't bake a thing.

Pistou Soup

In provencal language "pistou" means pounded and refers to the herbs used in this dish. Think pesto!

50g butter
3 leeks thinly sliced
2 carrots diced
2 stalks celery chopped
10 cups chicken stock
Black and white peppercorns
Fresh thyme and parsley for garnish
12 green beans
3 potatoes
2 medium zucchinis diced
2 tomatoes chopped
4 tablespoons pesto
1 can cannelloni beans
1 cup small macaroni


Fry leeks in butter until soft. Add leeks to chicken stock together with the vegetables. Half way through cooking add 2 tablespoons  pesto. Add macaroni and when soft heat through the canneloni beans. Add the remaining pesto. Season. Add fresh herbs. Serve with croutons or in my case, bruschetta topped with grilled cheese.

 "I could see the pale golden chicken resting in its deep sauce of tomatoes, garlic and peppers. I could smell the wine, the garlic and the fennel." p241

Provencal Crockpot Chicken

12 pieces of skinned chicken (I used 2 chickens cut in to pieces)
2 large capsicum seeded and cut in to wide strips
2 large onions thinly sliced
1 cup black olives
1 large can of diced tomatoes
1 cup white wine
1 large fennel sliced
Fresh  peel of 1 orange (optional)
2 teaspoons herbs "provencal"

Note: Provencal herbs include thyme, majoram, oregano, basil, savory, lavender. In supermarkets you will find all sorts of spices - Italian, Moroccan etc but no French. The Italian mix comes the closest or, make your own or, settle for Bouquet Garni or a bayleaf.

It is a Crockpot! so put all the ingredients in at once, close the lid, pour yourself a glass of wine and sit in the sun. Takes 4-6 hours

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

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Tamil Tigress by Niromi de Soyza

The big I understand it

Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) is a small island in the Indian Ocean off the cost of India which has been inhabitated by the Sinhalese and Tamils since 2BCE.  It became a British Colony 1802-1948 and  became well known for its exports of tea, coffee, cinnamon and  rubber. The major religions include Hindu, Muslim, Buddhism and Christianity.

In 1948 Sri Lanka gained its independence and the Sinhalese quickly took control to redress the imbalance caused by the British who had favoured the Tamil's work ethic and educational ambitions. Sinhalese were given employment and university placement which angered the Tamils who said it should be based on merit. Ethnic clashes became common in the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's and culminated in the bloody genocide and human rights abuses, watched by the world in 2009, when at the hands of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces, the Sinhalese and Indian Governments the Tigers were annihilated.

The quest for justice and freedom is not new to the human condition. In Sri Lanka it was the children and young adults who took up guns and put their bodies on the line for Tamil Eelam - the quest for an independent Tamil State. For children to think they could challenge the unitary government of Sri Lanka and India (which is the seventh largest country and tenth largest economy in the world) was both heroic and foolish and  in retrospect very under-informed??

Niromi was one such child, who at 17, joined the first female unit of Tamil Tigers. She took up a gun to achieve altruistic goals only to find herself questioning the methods, lawlessness and the human sacrifice expected of the Tigers' leadership and their individual agendas - the tit for tat reprisals, the in-fighting, torture and murder. 

From 1983-2009 civil war and unrest against the government was waged in a sophisticated, well funded, well resourced and brutal war by the LTTE Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam taking on the Sri Lankan Armed forces of 230,000 active soldiers.

 "April 1987 saw some of the worst violence in the country. Scores of Tamils were murdered by Sri Lankan armed forces...and in revenge the Tigers massacred Sinhalese civilians..." p64

Niromi's Story of Survival

She was an educated, privileged, middle class student who by 1987 had become both wiser and even more disallusioned having seen her comrades fall around her in the line of duty, clutching their wounds and calling their mothers' names as they died.

Child soldiers quickly lost their innocence and frequently turned on each other in true Lord of the Flies fashion.

While her younger sister pinned posters of pop stars to her bedroom wall, Niromi  found herself starving, shoeless, menstruating, covered in lice and dermatitis, running through the jungle with her unit dodging soldier's bullets. All the while clutching AK-47 and M16's, T56 and ATKMs, RPG's and G3's supplied by a global network (many of whom denounced the terrorist group) and paid for by overseas Tamils.

Niromi questioned why she survived and the haunting faces of her friends - now a lifetime away - did not. As I read  her  shocking memoirs I believe she survived for two reasons. The first reason is due to her ability to overcome her learned cultural submissiveness and her combatant loyalty to question the right and wrongs within her ranks. The second reason is that it was her destiny to tell their stories - and so she was allowed to resign in 1987. Others were not so lucky.

Today Niromi is a survivor, a lawyer and a mother living in Australia. Each night she can safely tuck her children in to bed knowing that in this democratic land, minorities are self determining, with equal rights and responsibilities, protected by parliamentary laws.

"We devoured our first real meal in four days, then stretched out on the dirt and went to sleep." p261 

Tamil Samosas. Makes 16

3 large potatoes boiled, drained and mashed
1 cup cooked green peas
1 diced red onion
1 tspn Garam Masala
I tspn ground coriander
1 tspn ground chilli powder or fresh chillies to taste
1 tspn each garlic and ginger
500gm minced meat (lamb, beef or chicken) Optional.


Fry the onion until soft, add spices, garlic and ginger and continue to fry until fragrant. Add mince and brown. Combine peas and potato. The mix should be dry so that it doesn't make the pastry soggy. Season.

Traditional Pastry
1 3/4 cups plain flour
1/4 teaspoon oil


Combine ingredients. Roll in to a dough and form in to rounds (like pasties) to be filled 
with mixture and deep fried.


Use Spring roll pastry sheets, fill and roll into triangles and deep fry until golden. 
Or do as I did and use 4 sheets of puff pastry cut in to quarters and baked 160 degrees
 for 20 minutes until golden. I know, I know  - not traditional 
but very convenient and just as tasty.

Tamils from Jafna in the north of Sri Lanka, who fought for Eelam (homeland) 
are not to be confused with Indian Tamils or Tamil Moors.
"Stop all this fighting, children! We can't cope any longer!" wept an old woman. A large group joined the chorus. "Please give up this futile war," they pleaded. Over the next few days, the Indian soldiers ravaged the village, setting fire to many properties, raping many women and killing many men. p202    

Red Lentil Curry

2 cups of red lentils washed and drained
4 cups thin coconut milk
1 large onion chopped
2 tablespoons ground/pounded dried fish (I used Ikan bilis)
1 tspn tumeric
2 tspn ground cummin
1 tspn cinnamon
Chillies to taste (I used 1 tspn cayenne pepper) and garnished with chillies.
2 tablesponns tomato paste
50g butter or ghee


In one pot boil the THIN coconut milk with the lentils until soft.
In another pot/pan fry the onions, dried fish, chillies and spices in butter until fragrant and onions are soft. Combine the mix with the softened lentils. Add tomato paste and 1 cup of THICK coconut cream and simmer until it resembles the consistency of porridge. Serve with rice or naan.

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