Country Women’s Association Biscuits and Slices Recipe Book

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The Country Women’s Association are probably best known in Australia for providing afternoon teas at shows, both in the country and for the city shows. Their members always exhibit their cooking at the shows and they usually win plenty of prizes too.

The CWA Biscuits and Slices recipe book is my favourite sort of cook book.

To begin with, there is a photo of every single recipe in the book, so you know what you are aiming forwhen you start cooking.

The next great thing is that the biscuits and slices photographed are presented simply and don’t look chocolate-box perfect, so you know you have a good chance of getting your efforts to turn out like the photo.

The third thing is, the recipes from the CWA are absolutely fool proof. Simple methods and simple instructions.

Lastly, you never have to chase around trying to find some ridiculously exotic ingredient or other to make one of the CWA recipes, in fact chances are that even if you’re not really a cook, you will still have all of the ingredients right there in your cupboards (possibly with weevils, but you can sift them out – joke).

The book contains old favourites like Rock Cakes, Yo-Yo Biscuits, Jam Slice and Afternoon Tea Fingers. There are recipes for Greek Shortbread and three different Apricot Slices. I’ve put markers on a few pages with the intention of giving these recipes a whirl sometime.

Happy Australia Day everyone.

 

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Lasseter’s Gold by Warren Brown

lasseter.pngLasseter’s Gold by Warren Brown is a comprehensive re-telling of the legendary search for a massive gold reef somewhere in Central Australia, by Harold Bell Lasseter and those who believed and invested in his story during the early 1930’s.

Long before Lasseter came along, there were rumours of gold fields in Central Australia, bigger and richer than anything ever found before, however, until Lasseter, no one ever actually provided any proof of the their actual existence, or found any actual gold.

Lasseter didn’t have any actual proof either, other than a handful of gold specimens and a good story, but somehow he convinced a group of investors headed by the Australian Worker’s Union that he had stumbled across a 15 kilometre gold reef, twice, years ago in the vicinity of the border between Western Australia and the Northern Territory. This area was (and still is) remote, unpopulated and enormous.

Despite the holes in Lasseter’s story, his backers put together a party which included a experienced bushmen, a prospector, an engineer and driver and a pilot to accompany Lasseter into the desert. They also provided supplies, trucks and a plane for the expedition.

The party arrived in Alice Springs, then headed out into the desert, however it wasn’t long until the expedition’s difficulties started to read like a comedy of errors. The trucks got bogged constantly, suffered flat tyres, and overheated, the radio didn’t work, and the plane crashed. The group ran out of water and constantly bickered and disagreed and Lasseter, who was contracted to tell the party where the reef was once they left Alice Springs, never provided this information. As the expedition continued it became obvious that Lasseter’s mental health was suspect. The rest of the party suspected that Lasseter had never actually been in the outback before and that the gold reef didn’t exist.

Eventually, the expedition leader ended the search, and left Lasseter, who he had called a charlatan, to continue his search accompanied only by a dingo-tracker the party had happened across. Lasseter supposedly died in the desert of malnutrition and exhaustion, after he and the dingo-tracker parted ways.

While Lasseter’s body was found later, no evidence of him having found gold or leaving any maps leading to the gold reef ever turned up.

Before reading Warren Brown’s book, all I knew of this story was that a man named Lasseter had supposedly found a gold reef in the desert, then lost it and spent the rest of his life trying to find it again.

The ins and outs of what actually happened were far more interesting though. Lasseter was able to interest investors in the search during the height of the Depression, which puts the whole story into context.

Lasseter’s Gold shows Lasseter to have been a bigamist and a liar, who was constantly trying to interest investors in his designs for bridges, or patents for inventions, or some fool thing or another. The author never actually says so, but Lasseter must have been a nutter. Other expedition members were also shown to be deceptive and very often, inept.

Regardless, there is an encyclopedia of information on Lasseter and the gold reef on the internet, known as ‘Lasseteria’. Every few years there is a story in the news about the reef having been found, or someone heading out to look for it again, although somehow there is never any actual facts or proof.

Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, I suspect Australians still believe (or hope) that Lasseter’s Reef is out there somewhere, waiting to be found. Lasseter’s Gold is well written and interesting. I enjoyed the book very much.

 

 

 

 

The Library Book

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The Library Book is an enjoyable collection of essays, short stories and memoirs by all different writers.

I love libraries. I am lucky enough to have five in my area, with a fantastic range of books, ebooks, dvds, newspapers and magazines, all available to me for free because I am lucky enough to live in an area where my local council prioritises spending money on this service.

The Library Book celebrates libraries, books, librarians and readers. Some of the writers tell stories about learning to read, their first visit to the library and things that happened in the library. Others imagine a future with no libraries, while others discuss the future of libraries at a time when physical books are available alongside electronic versions.

My favourite chapters were Stephen Fry’s ‘Have You Heard of Oscar Wilde?’ where the library stars as the place where he discovered a bigger world than the one he lived in and ‘The Five Minute Rule’ by Julie Myerson, who wrote her first book at thirteen, which drew heavily on Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.

There are some quite famous authors amongst this mix, including Lionel Shriver, Ann Cleeves, Zadie Smith and Val McDermid, with no dud stories at all amongst the chapters.

The best thing about these stories was being reminded of being read to by Mum as a small child. Over and over and over, Mum read the same treasured Little Golden Books to us. My favourite was, (and still is) The Happy Family. The pictures in The Happy Family are particularly gorgeous.

Once I started school I was able to borrow from the school library. I was a library monitor at lunch time, which was wonderful. I changed my books every day and spent the whole bus trip to and from school reading novels, (approximately two and a half hours each day).

We weren’t members of the nearest town library, (we lived slightly too far away), but the first time I visited with a school friend who lived in town, I had mixed feelings. There were LM Montgomery books on the shelves that I really wanted to read, but the library building was a dark and slightly scary place. Joining a library for the first time in a big city as an adult was an exciting day. Over twenty five years later I still over-fill my library bag, which is filled with books allowing me escape, possibilities and secrets to be learned.

The Library Book is an enjoyable and for me, a thought-provoking read. (By the way, I borrowed this book from my library).

 

Paris My Sweet by Amy Thomas

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Paris My Sweet is Amy Thomas’ story of living in Paris, where she was able to indulge her love of everything French. Dark chocolate, bonbons, Nutella Crepes, macarons, pain au chocolate, croissants, carrot salted-caramel cupcakes, baba au rhum, (personally, I think rum smells like the stuff that is used to wash hospital floors, but I would eat baba au rhum), madeleines, truffles, tarts, even le cookie au chocolat. I don’t speak French, but that sounds to me like chocolate biscuits.

Amy was working at an advertising agency in New York and writing a successful blog, Sweet Freak, when she was offered the opportunity to travel to Paris to work on the Louis Vuitton advertising account. Obviously, Amy jumped at the chance.

The stories of Amy’s food discoveries in Paris and in New York are wound around stories of her life in both cities. Even though Amy was delighted with the opportunity to live in Paris, she missed her friends and family desperately and had a hard time making friends with French people. Thankfully by the end of the book, Amy had a circle of friends in Paris, although they were mostly fellow ex-pats.

My only complaint about the book is that there were no pictures of the food, particularly of Pierre Hermes’ individuel cakes. I don’t believe Amy’s Sweet Freak blog is still active, however I’ve checked it out, and the pictures of her favourite cakes, pastries and other sweet treats are to die for. I swear, I put on three kilos reading Paris My Sweet.

I firmly believe Melbourne needs a similar book and I’m willing to do the research. Somebody has to do it and considering my fondness for cake, biscuits, pastries, cupcakes and other foods containing sugar, I believe I will be well suited to this task. I’m thinking of Melbourne Takes the Cake as a title… with a photo of me in the inside cover from ten years ago, when I was much thinner.

I don’t have any desire to travel to Paris after reading Paris My Sweet, but I wish someone would send some Parisian cake to me.

 

 

I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron

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I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron is a very funny book of the author’s reflections on life. Nora Ephron was best known for writing the screenplays including Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally and Julie and Julia.

The title chapter, I Remember Nothing, is hilarious. I expected this to be a chapter about denying knowing something to avoid being implicated in a criminal matter, but it is actually about genuinely forgetting stuff. The names of movies. Her sister’s face. Meeting Eleanor Roosevelt. Nora Ephron writes that she didn’t attend Woodstock, “but I might has well have been because I wouldn’t remember it anyway.” As someone who forgets stuff, I loved this chapter.

The story about a family legend is great too. All families have stories that have become legendary, but Nora Ephron’s family legend is about her mother kicking Lillian Ross, a famous writer out of a party held at their home. Nora doubted the truth of the story as her had mother became an alcoholic later in life and less believable, but Nora had the opportunity to meet Lillian Ross many years later and was able to verify the story.

The chapter about Nora and her two sisters preparing to inherit from their Uncle Hal, My Life as an Heiress, had me in stitches and reminded me of a similar story about a bloke I knew who won Tattslotto back when you didn’t find out how much you had won until the Monday after the draw. He checked his numbers Saturday night, realised he had won and promptly rang up his boss to tell him what he really thought of him and where he could shove his job. Monday came, and this bloke learned there had been a record number of winners and he had only won $16,000. He rang his boss up again to ask for his job back, but was told to get lost. The lesson from both stories is don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

Addicted to L-U-V is a story about the author’s addiction to an online Scrabble game called Scrabble Blitz. This story could have been written for me. I once forgot to pick up my daughter from school because I was playing Sega. I’ve given Sega up now, but I also have problems with Tetris, to the point where I get what is called The Tetris Effect, where I see the blocks dropping in front of my eyes for days after I play. Don’t even get me started on Candy Crush.

The last chapters are lists, titled What I Won’t Miss and What I Will Miss. The author says she won’t miss technology and emails and the sound of the vacuum cleaner and bills, amongst other things. The list of things she says she will miss include her kids, walking in the park, reading, butter and Pride and Prejudice. I Googled Nora Ephron after reading this book and learned that this chapter was a hint that she was dying of cancer at the time of writing this book. She has since died. All of the things she listed as things she would miss were simple pleasures which are often taken for granted.

I enjoyed this book very much and it made me happy to think that I was already familiar with Nora Ephron’s films.

 

Beat Till Stiff by Peta Mathias

beatBeat Till Stiff, A Woman’s Recipe for Living by Peta Mathias, is a book of funny and wise life lessons in the form of essays.

Before reading Beat Till Stiff, I hadn’t heard of the author (okay, I admit it, the title made me laugh and that is why I selected this book). Peta Mathias is a New Zealander, who has a food and travel show on television, Taste New Zealand. After reading ‘Why Redheads Have More Fun,’ I googled the author and she has the most beautiful red hair and delicate colouring. I instantly resolved to go to a hairdresser to dye my greying, dull brown hair a glamorous red, but my resolve died out before I actually made an appointment. I’m still thinking about it, but the author says it is impossible to be “dull and dowdy’ with red hair. Very, very tempting.

A Letter to my Much Younger Self is pure hindsight – summed up as enjoy the good times, don’t fret over stupid stuff and give philandering boyfriends the flick and never give them a second thought.

Eat, Sing, Love is a joyful essay about the early days of the author’s romance with a French man in France, eating truffles and walnut oil and going ‘strawberry picking,’ which is the French version of parking in lover’s lane, apparently. The author sings jazz with her lover’s band and it all sounds so wonderful that it reminds me of similar happy times in my own life (parking on Apex Hill, looking out at the lights of our town – but it is so long ago I can’t remember what we ate – probably fish and chips).

The essay called Channelling Edith is fascinating. I’ve never had any interest at all in jazz or cabaret music, but after reading the chapter on Edith Piaf and her influence on the author’s life and work and singing, I’ve googled Piaf and listened to her music. Her life was tragic and her voice beautiful.

How To Buy Hope is about getting older, summed up as; maintaining your appearance as you age costs a bomb. Your health, mental and physical, will probably suffer as you get older too. On the plus side, (hopefully) you’ll realise what is important and what is not.

I enjoyed Beat Till Stiff. Peta Mathias is funny and straight talking and tells good stories. She also gives good advice. For me the best advice she gave is; if you’re grown up, it is time to stop blaming your mother.

 

 

French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano

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Blogging about baking has been playing havoc with my weight.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. To be completely honest (and to be fair to blogging), I’ve been eating too much of my baking and so I have put on weight. Blogging is just a good excuse to bake a lot.

I read French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano when it first came out, years and years ago. (I was comparatively thin then). I’ve also read the 5-2 diet books, the South Beach diet books, the Cabbage Soup diet books and many other diet books. The problem is, reading diet books doesn’t lead to weight loss. I exercise a lot and am quite fit, but exercise doesn’t lead to weight loss either, although exercise does make you feel good.

Sadly, the only thing that leads to weight loss is eating less, and I just don’t want to eat less. I want to eat more. Especially baked things with sweetened condensed milk in them.

However, I enjoyed reading French Women Don’t Get Fat the first time around and re-read it for a bit of inspiration. I’ve even made a recipe from it, leek soup, which you are supposed to eat for two days straight. One day was bad enough, and don’t even ask how my stomach felt on the second day.

What I did enjoy about this book was the glamour. Mireille Guiliano really seems to have her act together.

To prove my point, she is:

  • French.
  • thin.
  • a good cook who regularly eats out, including dessert.
  • President and CEO of Cliquot Inc and drinks as much champagne as she likes. (I don’t drink, so could care less about champagne, but is does sound like a very glamorous gig).

The recipes are set amongst the author’s stories of growing up in France, then gaining weight after an extended trip to the USA, and losing the unwanted weight and maintaining a healthy weight (using Leek Soup).

The author explains how on her return to France, on the advice of her doctor,  she recorded everything she ate for three months before making changes to her diet. The changes were simple. A ‘re-casting’ which involves a short term fast, followed by a more sensible eating plan with occasional treats, (in other words, so you have something to live for).

The author is a promoter of eating well and enjoying what you eat. For example, if you are going to eat chocolate (and you know you will), then buy good quality chocolate and enjoy it. Don’t splurge on cheap, nasty chocolate. Likewise, meals. Eat good, wholesome food in season. There is nothing ground-breaking in the author’s advice, but she gives it charmingly.

The book contains some very good tips to ensure that you eat sensibly and stay hydrated, which are important for maintaining healthy weight. The tip I would benefit most from though is to eat a little bit of dessert, then stop and have someone take my plate away. Not going to happen.

The Cook’s Tale by Nancy Jackman

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The Cook’s Tale, Life below stairs as it really was, by Nancy Jackman, is the real story of a woman who was born in an English village in 1907. Nancy grew up to be a kitchen maid and then a cook.

Nancy was an only child who was obviously very deeply loved, who grew up knowing that the day would come when she would have to go out to work in order to contribute to her family’s income. When Nancy was twelve that day came, and she went to work for a neighbouring farmer. Eventually the farmer began to take an inappropriate interest in her.

Nancy left the farmer’s employ, and went to work in a household where the cook took her under her wing, and taught her to keep a recipe book of her own. Eventually the cook the sack in an attempt by their employers to save money and Nancy took the cook’s place.

Nancy left this family after a run in with the lady of the house and went to work for another family, where she worked for many years. Nancy worked for the same family throughout WW2, cooking food which had been obtained by her employers through the black market. While in this household Nancy made friends with Dolly, the kitchen maid and they worked together for many years. During this time Nancy also had her first and only romance with a police officer named Charlie, who died during the war.

Nancy’s story of lead being deposited in the toilet bowls after the upstairs members of the household ate game birds was interesting and so were her stories of foods considered prestigious, which she thought revolting. Nancy didn’t describe herself as an adventurer by any means.

Nancy eventually left the household to escape the clutches of a conman, who she had previously given money too. Nancy comes across as quite naïve in many ways. She explains quite a few times that she was not a pretty woman and that she never had the opportunity for romance until she was in her thirties, when she met Charlie. The times were certainly changing, but Nancy was limited by her education and experiences from being able to see more of the world, however her life long dream was to own a home of her own and she achieved this. It was hard to understand why Nancy didn’t go to the police for assistance, but instead she moved to London, without telling anyone where she was going.

When Nancy moved to London, for the first time in her life she chose to board in a separate household to that of the family she was working for. Nancy’s landlady was elderly and a recluse, who unexpectedly died and left Nancy her home very soon after Nancy moved in.

Nancy continued to work as a cook, despite her windfall. Later Dolly turned up on Nancy’s doorstep and they lived together until Dolly’s death.

I found this book a little dull, but as I read it on holidays that didn’t worry me much. I would have liked to have read some of Nancy’s recipes though, as most books can be livened up with a recipe or two.  Nancy’s stories are from a time which has gone forever. The book certainly gave me food for thought though, in that I recognise how lucky women are now to have the opportunities we have.

Eat Well, Save More by Cath Armstrong

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Eat Well, Save More by Cath Armstrong has some great tips for saving money and good recipes.

When I was young and very poor, I had an envelope system for my budget. Every week, I put $20 into envelopes marked electricity, car rego, insurance and so on. If I recall, I budgeted $70 per week for groceries (meat, vegies, dry goods, cleaning stuff, chocolate) but only used to shop every eight days, so that every once in a while I had a windfall of $70 fall into my lap. It was a great system.

I also made up a meal planner. The idea was, I’d have something worked out for every dinner for six weeks (sometimes it was something simple like eggs on toast or tinned tomato soup) and then I would just repeat as required. The plan was, there would be a good nutritional balance and I would be able to take advantage of specials in the supermarket by stockpiling.

It was a long time ago now, but it worked. I forget why I stopped.

Cath Armstrong has done all of the hard work for her readers, by making templates of grocery tracking spread sheets (the idea is that you fill in the prices of the products you buy so that you know when they are due to come on special again), suggesting low cost menus and things to do with leftovers.

There is also the idea of eating out of the pantry for a week and getting rid of all of the bits and pieces that have been ignored for too long. I could probably eat out of my pantry for several months. I do stockpile groceries on special to save money, but I also worry about the shops being shut (like on Christmas Day) and my family and I starving while we wait for them to re-open (on Boxing Day).

The recipes in Eat Well, Save More are very good too, all ordinary food that you don’t need to make a special trip to the shops for. I’ve copied down the author’s recipe to make Swedish Meatballs, a Vegie Quiche using leftovers and a few other bits and pieces.

I’ve also copied down the author’s recipes for vanilla extract, sweetened condensed milk and brown sugar. With the amount of biscuits, cakes and puddings I bake, these could save me a fortune.

My only problem with the book is the suggested serving sizes, which would not fill up He Who Eats All of Our Leftovers, who is a mountain of a man and needs more on his plate than skinny, little blokes. The author does state very firmly somewhere that you must stick to the serving sizes otherwise the budget will be blown and there will be nothing left to make leftovers with, but the reality in my household is, that won’t be happening. The family would mutiny.

I’m going to make the Mexican Haystack thing from the book for tea tonight, as I have everything in the pantry. I’ll have to go the shops tomorrow to replenish though, otherwise I’ll be traumatised looking at the gaps in the pantry. I’ll also have a look at the Cheapskates Club website, for more money saving tips from Cath Armstrong. I believe she has a recipe for her own washing powder, which costs around $10 for a year’s worth. That is a huge saving.

This book is well worth a look. The recipes are good and the money saving tips are even better.

The World According to Joan by Joan Collins

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Wow, is Joan Collins the most glamorous woman alive or does someone else own that title? For what it’s worth, I think she is. The role of Alexis Carrington in Dynasty probably sealed the deal.

The World According to Joan is, as the title suggests, the author’s opinions on a number of topics, from glamour, to men, aging, children, values and manners. She is so famous that her surname does not appear on the cover of this book.

Joan Collins is an entertaining writer, although there isn’t anything particularly ground breaking in this book. The insights into being famous, beautiful and successful weren’t as surprising as I had expected. There was a lot of name dropping of famous people, but since they are probably the people she actually knows, this wasn’t all that surprising either. None of the stories about famous people were either so unknown or so scurrilous that they would make a gossip page in a magazine these days either.

The chapter on travel was interesting, as the author had been able to travel Concorde, which to my generation sounds like a glamorous and fast way to get from here to there. There is a romance to the name Concorde too, which I don’t feel when I hear the word ‘Dreamliner,’ although ‘private jet,’ (as mentioned by Joan Collins), has more of a ring to it.

Not surprisingly, Joan gives her readers good fashion, or rather style advice, in a series of dos and don’ts. For example, she suggests investing in Spandex to smooth the bumps, advises that polo necks for those with bigger busts in any other colour than black will make you look like a sausage and recommends white jeans for St Tropez or wearing on a yacht (I’ll bear that in mind next time I go within Cooee of either).

I did appreciate the author’s beauty advice though, which can be summed up as KEEP YOUR FACE OUT OF THE SUN. (I can not stress this enough, having had sun spots removed from my own nose after spending my teenage years trying to get my pink, freckled face to tan). Her other tip is to wear wigs. I don’t have any wigs, but it sounds like good advice. No more bad hair days.

The advice about men was good too. If you’ve made a mistake in the man (or men) you have married, cut your losses. Move on. Joan’s advice regarding messing around with married men should be heeded also. Don’t do it. And if you are stupid enough to make this mistake, since the married man Joan Collins was messing around with did not leave his wife for her, what makes you think your married man will leave his wife for you? And if he does, would you really want him anyway? (Okay, that last sentence was my opinion, not Joan’s, but I couldn’t resist).

Joan Collins shows her age in a number of ways in this book, not by being dated, but because of her common sense. I enjoyed The World According to Joan, but after watching an interview with her on television when she visited Australia a few years ago, think she appears even more interesting in person.