Soup to share

I make no claims on the recipe for this wonderful, hearty soup inspired by the Italian ribollita.

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But I’ve been cooking it a lot in this chilly winter weather (well, chilly by Australian standards!) People keep asking me for the recipe so I thought I’d share it here.

It comes from a cookbook by Aussie chef Bill Granger, Bill’s Basics. I have an extensive cookbook collection but this is one of my favorites. Every recipe I’ve made from it has turned out splendidly and they are much in demand from my family. With my background as an editor in food magazines, I can be critical of recipes—I can only praise this collection!

Here it is—a tasty, warming soup.

BAKED BORLOTTI BEAN AND PANCETTA SOUP

Ingredients

  • 375 g (2 cups) dried borlotti beans
  • 2 red onions, diced
  • 100g pancetta, chopped, or a ham hock
  • 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 4 celery sticks, diced
  • ½ teaspoons dried chilli flakes plus ½ tsp extra
  • 2 teaspoons chopped rosemary
  • 1 litre (4 cups) chicken or vegetable stock
  • 200g ciabatta bread, crust removed, roughly torn
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 bunch cavolo nero, shredded
  • Method

Put the borlotti beans in a large bow, cover with cold water and leave to soak for 8 hours or overnight. Rinse the beans under cold running water, then drain well.

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Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Put the beans in a large ovenproof casserole dish with the onion, pancetta or ham hock, garlic, celery, chilli flakes, rosemary, stock and 1 litre (4 cups) water. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Put the lid on the dish and bake in the oven for 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender, adding a little more water if necessary.

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When the soup is nearly ready, put the ciabatta on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with the extra chilli flakes and some sea salt. Bake for 10–15 minutes until golden brown.

If you used the ham hock, lift it out now, shred the meat and return to the soup with the cavolo nero. Put the lid back on and leave for a couple of minutes until the cavolo nero is bright green.

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Ladle into bowls and top with the toasted ciabatta croutons.

Serves six

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Bill’s Basics by Bill Granger, HarperCollins Publishers

I’ve cooked this recipe several times. I’ve found with Bill Granger’s recipes from Bill’s Basics that if you follow the recipe exactly it turns out perfectly.

One time I didn’t have pancetta so used speck. Cavolo nero or tuscan cabbage isn’t always available where I shop – I’ve used kale instead and it tasted just as good.

I serve this soup with shaved parmesan cheese on top.

It’s so worth making the croutons, they taste fantastic and their crispness is a great contrast in texture. I’ve made them with sourdough bread when I haven’t had ciabatta.

I’ve successfully frozen this soup.

NOTE Australian standard measuring cups are used in this recipe. An Australian standard measuring cup is 250ml, an American one is 240ml so there isn’t much difference in a recipe like this.

One Australian metric tablespoon holds 20mls; a tablespoon in the US, the UK and New Zealand holds 15mls.

100 grams is approximately 4 oz

180˚C oven heat is approximately 360˚F

(For an excellent resource in converting baking measures and ingredients from other countries, visit Joy of Baking.)

KANDY SHEPHERD writes fun, feel-good fiction.

Her newest release from Harlequin Romance is The Bridesmaid’s Baby Bump.

 The billionaire bachelor’s baby! 

When party planner Eliza Dunne meets billionaire Jake Marlowe at a wedding, she decides to finally give in to the sparks that have always fizzed between them! 

The connection is so intense that Jake can’t resist Eliza—but with the divorce only just final after his unhappy marriage, he’s not ready for anything serious. But when Eliza tells him her shocking news—she’s pregnant with his baby!—he has one certainty: he wants to be at the center of his new family, as a husband and father…

Visit Kandy at her website

www.kandyshepherd.com

Dancing with the author stars at the Romance Writers of America national convention 2015

TO TRAVEL TO NEW YORK CITY  for a writer’s conference is awesome.

That it was a conference of more than two thousand romance writers and industry professionals made it a further shade of awesome.

That I attended the Romance Writers of America national convention in July 2015 as a multi-published author with Harlequin, the biggest publisher of romance in the world, shot the awesomeness right off the top of the scale.

Times Square was packed  with visitors - even at midnight

Times Square was packed with visitors – even at midnight

The conference was held at the Marriott Marquise hotel—right on Times Square. RWA delegates prefer to stay in the same hotel as the conference is held.

New York in the summer - what a great place to be!

New York in the summer – what a great place to be!

I was fortunate enough to find a wonderful roommate, blogger Kim Lowe from the popular book blog, SOS Aloha. We barely knew each other but ended the conference firm friends. I also caught I up with writer friends from all over the world.

With my fellow Harlequin Romance authors: (from left) Christy McCallum, me, Jessica Gilmore and Scarlet Wilson. They'd come from the UK.

With my fellow Harlequin Romance authors: (from left) Christy McKellen, me, Jessica Gilmore and Scarlet Wilson. They’d come from the UK.

The convention comprises a myriad talks and workshops aimed at the beginner romance writer to best-selling authors wanting to keep on top of their professional game. The conference is also a good opportunity for authors to meet with their editors and literary agents—many of whom are in New York.

Signing my June release, FROM PARADISE TO...PREGNANT! at the literacy signing.

Signing my June release, FROM PARADISE TO…PREGNANT! at the literacy signing.

Unpublished writers get a chance to pitch their stories in one-to-one sessions with editors and agents—which can be nerve-wracking but ultimately rewarding. You see people practising their “pitches” all over the hotel.

All the authors signing free books at the Harlequin signing

All the authors signing free books at the Harlequin signing

One of the highlights of the conference is the massive book-signing that is open for free to the romance reading public. Publishers donate books for sale and the proceeds are donated to charities promoting literacy in the host state. This year the signing raised more than $US48,000 for literacy. A fabulous result—after all, it’s in our interest as authors to have a literate population!

From my side of the desk at the Harlequin author signing - with my August release HIRED BY THE BROODING BILLIONAIRE

From my side of the desk at the Harlequin author signing – with my August release HIRED BY THE BROODING BILLIONAIRE

Hundreds of authors, ranging from best-selling mega-stars to newbies with their first book, are assigned space on tables set up in rows in a vast room and sat in alphabetical order. Keen romance fans by the thousand start lining up early in the day for a chance to meet their favorite authors and buy a signed book. The noise level is extraordinary!

Welcome to the ball at the Waldorf Astoria Photo © Harlequin Books

Welcome to the ball at the Waldorf Astoria
Photo © Harlequin Books

Other book-signings are held throughout the conference by the major publishers—the difference being that the books at these signings are free. The signings are open only for fee-paying delegates to the conference and are very well attended. We’re all readers before we’re writers. And free books. Needless to say a stash of new books made its way home with me.

Delicious chocolate desserts at the Harlequin party Photo © Harlequin Books

Delicious chocolate desserts at the Harlequin party
Photo © Harlequin Books

A standout of the conference is the parties the big publishers host for their authors, usually on the Friday night. The granddaddy of the parties is the one put on by Harlequin. And what a party! Writers joke they want to get published by Harlequin just to get invited.

Fabulous book shaped lamps at the Harlequin party - I would love one!

Fabulous book shaped lamps at the Harlequin party – I would love one!

Friday night can be a tad dismal for unpublished authors at the conference unless you take matters into your own hands. At one RWA conference years ago a group of us who knew each other online and were meeting face-to-face held our own “pity party”. We enjoyed ourselves immensely—and in later years were able to catch up with each other at our various publishers’ parties. Because we all got published—in part because of what we’d learned from attending these conferences.

Dancing the night away - in thoughtfully provided socks!

Dancing the night away – in thoughtfully provided socks! Photo © Harlequin Books

Much coveted were this year’s invitations to Harlequin’s Black and White Ball held at The Starlight Roof at the famous Waldorf Astoria hotel on Park Avenue.

Many of us writers spend most of our time wearing yoga pants and sitting at our computers. This was glamour indeed—one author told me going to the party was not only the highlight of the conference, but also one of the highlights of her life. Guests took the theme to heart by wearing gorgeous outfits in black and white.

It really was fun!

It really was fun!

They say a writer’s conference comprises a group of introverts desperately pretending to be extroverts. They did a very good job of it at the Harlequin party.

Formalities were kept to a minimum and then the dance floor was thrown open. Harlequin imports the same DJ from San Francisco every year and he knows exactly the music a bunch of writers and publishing staff of a range of ages wants. Everyone danced, danced, danced without inhibition. I got a blister on my toe, which needn’t have happened as Harlequin provides a pair of thick socks to each guest so they can slip off their shoes to dance.

Everyone danced

Everyone danced

Famous authors and high-ranking editors and publishers joined in dancing alongside first-timers. (Yes, Nora Roberts was dancing right next to me!) One author told me the dancing reminded her of long-ago sorority parties. Most of the authors are women and there was a wonderful spirit of camaraderie. In such glamorous surroundings, with an open bar and endless chocolate desserts on offer, it really was the perfect party.

I started off the conference feeling a bit grumpy, overly jet-lagged and wondering if I should have come. Was it worth it for a trip of just six days? My flight from Sydney, Australia was delayed by six hours and missed the connection in Los Angeles to New York. Instead of arriving at 5pm, I arrived at 1am the next morning. Then I lost my iPhone (thankfully someone handed it in.) To top it off, I realised I had packed two left shoes of two pairs of completely different black sandals!

I packed a complete useless "pair" of shoes. What a waste of luggage space!

I packed a complete useless “pair” of shoes. What a waste of luggage space!

Those early qualms soon dissolved in the sheer awesomeness of attending a conference of this size and professionalism. I even managed to see a little of New York on the Sunday after the conference ended (I’ve been there before and done the sights). And to my utter joy, discovered the shops were open until 9pm that Sunday because of the sales. The New York sales where everything was massively reduced. (Some new shoes with both a right and a left were purchased!)

Next year’s conference is in San Diego, California, a place I’ve long wanted to visit. Will I go? I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the kind of bargain airfare that got me to New York comes up later in the year.

Because back in my yoga pants, writing, writing, writing to finish a novel to meet a deadline, I’m fired with inspiration and the satisfaction that I’m doing absolutely what I want to do. The conference works to make me feel connected to the bigger publishing world beyond my desk and screen.

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Kandy’s latest release from Harlequin Romance is Hired by the Brooding Billionaire released on August 1, 2015.

“Beauty and the reclusive billionaire…

When billionaire Declan Grant decides his estate’s enormous garden needs taming, he hires idealistic horticulturalist Shelley Fairhill to take on the challenge. Since losing his wife, Declan has adjusted to a life of self-imposed isolation—he wants Shelley to tackle the weeds, then leave.

But as Shelley gradually restores order and unexpected beauty to his garden, her caring nature also begins to thaw the ice encasing Declan’s heart. Can he let Shelley’s light in and finally let his second chance at love blossom?”

http://www.kandyshepherd.com

Blissful Bali

There are few places more romantic than the beautiful Indonesian island of Bali. No wonder it was where I chose to celebrate our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary last year. Just me and my husband in our own private villa at a gorgeous hotel in Seminyak, on the west coast. A week of utter bliss!

A private pool just for two

A private pool just for two – so romantic!

It was one of those vacations that I couldn’t fault. The weather was perfect, the resort* divine and the Balinese people as charming and hospitable as we remembered from our first visit to the tropical island fourteen years previously.

Lush tropical growth everywhere

Lush tropical growth everywhere

No wonder I chose Bali as the setting for my fourth book for Harlequin Romance, From Paradise to…Pregnant!— released in print and e-book on June 02 in North America, the UK and Australia and New Zealand. How could I resist such a perfect place for a romance?

Sunset on the beach at Seminyak is spectacular

Sunset on the  beach at Seminyak is spectacular

My heroine Zoe and hero Mitch knew each other at high school—he the jock, she the nerd—but their friendship didn’t end well. When an earth tremor hits Bali, they meet again as they’re both staying at the same hotel. (Yes,  I was inspired by the area where we stayed. No, we didn’t experience an earth tremor when we were in Bali!)

The frangipani tree in Zoe's hotel courtyard is significent

The frangipani tree in Zoe’s hotel courtyard is significent

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And the sweetly scented frangipani flowers…

As they comfort each other after the shock of the earthquake, a private villa with its own pool became the perfect place for Zoe and Mitch to make amends for the past and become aware of their intense attraction to each other.

Afternoon tea - Balinese style. Beware the fiery green chili hiding in that pastry!

Afternoon tea – Balinese style. Beware the fiery green chili hiding in that pastry!

We loved the food in Bali, so of course I had to have the newly reunited couple share a meal. I wish I could recreate some of the delicious dishes we had there. I’ve looked up recipes online but they don’t taste the same. Next time I go to Bali, I’ll do a cooking course!

Fresh pineapple juice by the pool - perfect!

Fresh pineapple juice by the pool – perfect!

Of course, as is the way of romance novels, a lot happens between Zoe and Mitch’s reunion and the end of the book where they have a happy-ever-after ending. They leave Bali behind them as they travel home to different ends of the world — but the memories stay with them.

The memories have stayed with me too —  I can’t wait to go back to Bali.

From Paradise to…Pregnant!  has two covers, one for the North American market with the same image used for the Australian cover, and one for the UK. I think both reflect the feel of falling in love in a tropical paradise. The first one could be in that very pool in the villa in Bali and the second one on the beach.

 

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North American cover

 

UK cover

UK cover

 

From Paradise to…Pregnant! is available where Harlequin books are sold and at onlinebook retailers.

 

*We stayed at The Elysian in Seminyak and can highly recommend it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Setting the summer scene

ONE THING I REALLY LOVE ABOUT BEING AN AUTHOR  is creating settings for my books. The most fun are settings that spring from my imagination but are heavily influenced by real life places I have visited.

The beautiful south coast New South Wales, Australia, is the setting for The Summer They Never Forgot

The beautiful south coast New South Wales, Australia, is the setting for The Summer They Never Forgot

For my fictional small coastal town of Dolphin Bay, the setting of my February 2014release, The Summer They Never Forgot, I was influenced by the beautiful south coast of New South Wales, Australia, about four hours south of Sydney.

I wish I was there right now in that beautiful, cool water!

I wish I was there right now in that beautiful, cool water!

I have spent many happy vacations there and plundered memories of quaint towns, pristine beaches and unspoiled bushland to create Dolphin Bay. It was here I first saw the enchanting sight of dolphins frolicking in the surf. My Top Pick review at RT Book Reviews  says the setting “is described so beautifully, readers will almost feel the sand between their toes”.

The town of Penguin has penguins everywhere, my fictional Dolphin Bay has dolphins

The town of Penguin has penguins everywhere, my fictional Dolphin Bay has dolphins

The people of my fictional Dolphin Bay celebrate the dolphins that come to frolic in their waters in images and representations of dolphins all over town, from dolphin decals to dolphin trash cans.

I visited Penguin last year when the penguins were dressed for Christmas!

I visited Penguin last year when the penguins were dressed for Christmas!

Here, I was influenced by the delightful small, beachside town of Penguin in the southern Australian island state of Tasmania. There are penguins everywhere in Penguin! I personally love dolphins so did for Dolphin Bay what the good folk of Penguin do for their town.

I loved the dolphin outdoor shower at the Blue Dolphin Inn

I loved the dolphin outdoor shower at the Blue Dolphin Inn

When eighteen months ago I stayed at the wonderful Blue Dolphin Inn in Cambria, California, and saw how cleverly they used dolphins in their décor, I knew I was on the right track.

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More beautiful dolphins at the Blue Dolphin Inn

Of course in The Summer They Never Forgot the dolphins aren’t what have stayed in my heroine Sandy Adam’s memories of Dolphin Bay—her thoughts center around handsome surfer Ben Morgan the first love she’d never been able to forget. When Sandy and Ben are reunited after twelve years will they get a second chance at a forever love?

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The Summer They Never Forgot, was released inFebruary 2014 in the US, the UK and Australia.

Kandy Shepherd writes fun, feel-good fiction.

Visit Kandy at her website

www.kandyshepherd.com

Thanks to Tania Mayrhofer for the surf photos.

(This blog  was first published in an edited form at Tote Bags ‘n’ Blogs in January 2014)

Soundtrack to summer

THE RELENTLESS CHORUS of cicadas has been the soundtrack to summer in my part of Down Under: so blaringly loud at times we’ve had to shout at each other to be heard over it.

Apparently, breeding conditions were perfect back in 2007 and we’ve been graced with record numbers of cicadas this year. An early, hot summer has also helped.

To me, it’s a happy sound, reminiscent of the long, hot summer days of childhood. One distinct memory of my Sydney suburban childhood is of walking to church for Christmas midnight mass with the cicadas singing as loudly at night as they did during the day. In our fanciful minds, we thought they were rejoicing along with us.

We seem to have had a lot of Black Prince cicadas at our place this summer

We seem to have had a lot of Black Prince cicadas at our place this summer

My brothers used to climb trees to catch cicadas  and keep them in boxes—with strict parental instructions to release them back to the trees at the end of the day (which they did).

The different varieties were prized and even traded: green grocer, cherry nose, floury baker, black prince, yellow Monday, double drummer. The collecting of cicadas seemed more a boy thing than a girl thing, though we were all both fascinated and squeamish when those poor captive creatures proceeded to do what all the frantic singing was about and mated.

According to the wonderfully titled article in The Sydney Morning Herald, Suicide song: cicada sex racket risks death for chance at love: “Cicadas are the suicidal lovers of the insect world, risking death for several weeks of singing and sex.”

Only male cicadas sing and they do so to attract a mate—the louder and more vigorously he sings, the more he advertises himself as a worthy, virile mate for a female. The downside of this blatant self-promotion is he also attracts predators such as birds and wasps that like to snack on cicadas.

Eucalypt trees like this are full of cicadas singing so loudly their song is deafening

Eucalypt trees like this are full of cicadas singing so loudly their song is deafening

This season, apparently, there are so many cicadas around that their predators are sick of them. The birds are weary of cicada on the menu—leaving those males free to sing and attract females and start the cycle all over again. (Seems to me, the birds then head for my fruit trees for dessert.)

After she’s chosen a mate, the female cicada lays her eggs in the bark of a tree. When the nymphs hatch they drop to the ground where they burrow deep and stay there for a number of years.  They emerge and shed their skins, leaving a dry, brown endoskeleton.

There are cicada "shells" like this all over our place, attached to fences, walls and trees

There are cicada “shells” like this all over our place, attached to fences, walls and trees

Another enduring childhood memory is of watching in awe as a cicada emerged from its humble brown skin as a magnificent greengrocer, its gauzy, emerald-veined wings crumpled at first and then drying in the sun before it flew away.

This year I’ve enjoyed the letters pages of our daily newspapers as excited readers report sightings of their various favorites. I suspect they, too, were enjoying the same nostalgic blast from childhoods when the long Aussie summer school holidays were spent roaming suburban streets and bush-land without parental supervision. The soundtrack to this freedom? The relentless sound of cicadas.

There’s one thing that puzzles me about that sound. I’m no entomologist, and wonder at the way these insects communicate. One moment the volume of their song is full blast then, at the seeming snap of some cicalian finger, they’re silent. All at once. Thousands of them.  How does that happen?

I’ll be sad when the season ends and the sound of cicadas fades into the memory of another summer. I just hope enough of them have successfully mated, so I have another bumper cicada summer to look forward to in seven or so years time.

Kandy Shepherd writes fun, feel-good fiction.

18343300The Summer They Never Forgot, her first release from Harlequin Romance is all about celebrating summer, first love and second chances.

Visit Kandy at her website

www.kandyshepherd.com