Fantasy islands

Tropical island. White sands. Palm trees. Warm, aquamarine waters. Just the stuff of romantic fantasy—and the fictional setting for my new romance THE CASTAWAY BRIDE.

If only it were real…

Samsao Island in the Angthong National Marine Park

I had to keep pinching myself when, just days after THE CASTAWAY BRIDE was published on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords, I found myself on a beautiful tropical island—just like my fictional characters Matt Slade and Cristy Walters. And so much of what I experienced echoed scenes in my book.

Na Muang I Waterfall, what an idyllic place to swim

Beautiful beaches? Tick.

Swimming under a waterfall? Tick.

Exotic fruits to feast on? Tick.

Dragonfruit (right) is almost too pretty to eat

Thanks to Procter & Gamble and Ambi Pur air care, I was on the island of Koh Samui in Thailand on a media familiarization tour in the form of a “sensory journey”. (Gotta love my “day job” as a magazine editor!)

Early morning at beautiful The Scent Hotel, Bangrak Beach, Koh Samui.

There were, however, some major differences between fictional fantasy and media trip reality. No gorgeous, bare-chested hero like my fictional Matt Slade for one thing! (Though I was in great company with the most delightful group of journalists and media people.) And I got to stay in a beautiful hotel—unlike my heroine Cristy Walters, who has to bunk down in a ramshackle survival hut with scratchy sheets and no bathroom. (Sharing it with hot hunk Matt does somewhat take the edge off her discomfort!) Oh, and I didn’t have to get shipwrecked like Cristy and Matt to appreciate my scent-alicious sojourn. It was work, but work of the most enjoyable kind!

Bliss!

The trip was amazing—and over only too soon. But isn’t that the great thing about fiction? If I want to escape again to a romantic destination, I only have to flick through the pages of a book to transport myself anywhere in the world. And, as a writer, I get to create my own fantasy destinations with everything that appeals to me  all in one place!

My trip to Koh Samui, while bringing to life some of locations in THE CASTAWAY BRIDE, also fueled my imagination with scenarios for future stories. My lucky characters have lots of treats in store for them!

(If you get the chance to go to Koh Samui, I highly recommend The Scent Hotel. It was one of the loveliest small hotels I have ever stayed. I would SO love to go back one day with my husband!)

Portrait of a farm cat

Miss Cindy surveys her territory

Recently, a friend who is a professional photographer visited my farm and took these photos of our cat Cindy. Wow! I think I’m fairly handy with a camera, but no snap I’ve every taken of my cats has come out looking like this! Thank you so much to my wonderful friend.

Photograph me if you must!

Cindy is a big, strong tabby girl of about seven or eight years old. We don’t know exactly how old, as she was fully grown when she appeared on our veranda one dark and stormy night more than six years ago. She was wet, bedraggled and starving. We thought at first she might be feral, but her polite purring and nudging and respectful requests for food quickly put paid to that thought. The poor baby ate and ate and ate, and then drank and drank and drank. Finally replete, she moved on under a chair for the requisite feline bathing rituals.

In the morning she was still there. We put up posters, followed up “lost cat” notices, asked around. No-one in the valley knew her. General opinion was that someone had dumped her in the bush surrounding our farm. How anyone could do that to such a sweet-natured animal is beyond me. But some chipped teeth and a piece out of her ear told the vet that she’d had to fight a few battles before she found us.

An older photo of mine, Cindy resting by the creek which is quite a way from home!

At the time, we already had three cats but how could we turn Cindy away? She was respectful to the older cats, kept a distance from the dog, and wasn’t worried by the horses. She soon earned her keep keeping down the mice in the feed shed (and hence visits from snakes). My husband calls her the “dog cat” as she always wants to come for walks with us, even miles away from home onto neighboring properties. (Yes, that can become a nuisance when she eventually tires and has to be carried home!) She’d rather be outside than in, though can be enticed by a blazing log fire in winter.

I love the light around her whiskers.

Oh, and of course it didn’t take her long to lose her gratitude for any kind of cat food on offer and become as fussy about her food as our other pampered kitties! Cindy, we love you!

Thai cooking (and eating!) class

Kim, our delightful instructor

Last week, I went on a “scent journey” on the beautiful island of Koh Samui in Thailand. I was wearing my magazine editor’s hat as a guest of Procter & Gamble and Ambi Pur air care. Part of that journey was a four-hour cooking class at the Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts.

Ingredients for red curry paste

And what a “scent journey” that was! Fresh lemongrass, coriander, turmeric, basil, fresh peppercorns and other fresh, authentic Thai ingredients made for an exhilarating olfactory experience! Then when our carefully blended ingredients hit a hot wok—wow!

Ingredients for the sublime soup

As both a keen cook and an author who writes characters who cook, this lesson was illuminating in many ways. Not to mention a whole lot of fun!

Woks lined up and waiting for us

We learned to make Homemade Red Hot Curry Paste (Kruanh Gaeng Phad Phet); Stir-Fried Red Curry with Pork (Phad Phet Moo); Stir-Fried Mixed Seafood with Holy Basil & Garlic (Phad Khi Maou Talee); and Coconut Milk Soup with Fish & Turmeric (Tom Kati Kamin Pla). As I am not a fan of seafood, I replaced it with chicken in the recipes; tofu would have worked well too.

Forget clogs or covered boots, we cooked in bare feet!

A group of ten of us lined up around a long table with our recipes, chopping block, knife and array of ingredients in front of us. We were guided step-by-step by our delightful instructor, Kim. First we made the red curry paste, then prepared ingredients for the three recipes. Kim told us all about the use and health benefits of each of the key items. Then we trooped into the kitchen with a row of gas burners and woks to cook each dish. As Kim pointed out, the preparation is where we spent the time, the actual cooking took mere minutes. (Oh, and did I mention we did all this in our bare feet?)

The feast we cooked ourselves

And then there was the eating…

The best soup I've ever tasted!

Our three dishes were the best Thai food I’ve ever eaten! It was impossible to vote for a favorite dish—for me it was a tie between the red curry and the soup.

Fresh produce for Thai cooking

Fortunately for me, Thai food is incredibly popular where I live and the fresh ingredients to make these superb meals are readily available in both supermarkets and Asian markets.

Guess what my guests will be served at my next dinner party?

If you ever visit Koh Samui, I highly recommend a visit to this cooking school.

http://www.sitca.net/