Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb

Do you have a food you loathe? Until quite recently my reply would have included rhubarb. Sharp, stringy, nasty tasting stuff (or that’s what I used to think!)

When I was a kid my grandmother tried to trick me into eating it set in red jelly (Jello). I wasn’t fooled.  Rhubarb stayed on my food-hate list for years and years. Then we bought our farm and inherited two magnificent rhubarb plants. For years visitors admired them; for years I replied, “I hate the stuff.” For years my husband said, “I like it.” But I still didn’t harvest it or cook with it. Poor husband! (Not that he isn’t a good cook himself, but only if he has a recipe to follow.)

This rhubarb plant dies down to nothing in the winter

Would you believe this rhubarb plant dies down to nothing in the winter?

Then a writer friend started to bring a rhubarb cake with her when she visited. It tasted so good! Maybe, just maybe I should try cooking my own rhubarb from my own rhubarb plants?

So I harvested—gingerly, as those big leaves are poisonous. And stewed some with sugar until it was way too mushy. Not just my husband, but also my daughter loved it. They pleaded for more. So I tried again. This time no water, just sugar and a piece of vanilla bean, and a not-so-long cooking time. Success!

Freshly picked from the garden

Freshly picked from the garden

It’s become the family’s second-favorite breakfast treat, served with yogurt. (The first favorite is the plums from our ancient tree, but they’re only around in January in the Down Under summer.) Rhubarb is a source of vitamins, anti-oxidants and dietary fibre so that’s all good.

One of these rhubarb plants flourishes all year round. The second one is gone at the first hint of frost, but emerges in spring as beautiful ruby-red sprouts pushing up from the ground and rapidly unfurling into the so-valued stalks and the huge  leaves. The experts say not to let the white flowers bloom as they take nourishment away from the stalks, but sometimes I let them bloom, and it doesn’t seem to diminish the quality of the stalks.

I know spring is here when the rhubarb plant starts to sprout

I know spring is here when the rhubarb plant starts to sprout

And me? Did I fall in love with my rhubarb? Not really. I like it, but I don’t love it like my family does. How I enjoy it is in muffins where the slight tartness of the rhubarb puts a pleasing edge to the sweetness of the muffin. I make my favorite muffin recipe, put half the muffin mixture in the muffin tin hole, add a teaspoon of the rhubarb-stewed-with-vanilla, cover with the rest of the mixture and top with more rhubarb and a teaspoon of brown sugar and a pinch of cinnamon. The streusel topping becomes all crunchy and the caramelized fruit juice drips down into the muffin. Now that’s the way I love to eat rhubarb!

Rhubarb streusel muffins just out of the oven

Rhubarb streusel muffins just out of the oven

And my writer friend who brings me the marvelous rhubarb cakes? Two springs past, I dug up some of the new-growth rhizome to take home with her. She now also has a flourishing rhubarb plant—and when she brings me cake, it’s made with “my” rhubarb, transplanted and thriving in her garden.

Kandy Shepherd writes fun, feel-good fiction. Her books include The Castaway Bride, Something About Joe, Love is a Four-Legged Word and Home Is Where the Bark Is—and while food plays a part in her stories, so far rhubarb has not made an appearance!

Paint the town purple

The jacarandas are in full, glorious bloom in my part of the world. These beautiful trees obviously love conditions Down Under—they originally hail from Brazil. Everywhere you look, the city landscape is punctuated by splashes of exquisite, purple-blue. It gives me such pleasure to admire them. I’m not alone—jacaranda walking tours and view-from-Sydney-harbor boat tours are booked out this time of year.

Jacaranda in bloom–a breathtaking sight

They say the reason there are so many jacarandas in Sydney is because last century, maternity hospitals gave mothers a jacaranda sapling to take home with their newborn babies. It’s probably an urban myth, but what a nice one!

So beautiful!

The other aspect of jacaranda-time is that it coincides with university exams—the blossom is not so welcome by students running out of time to study.

Some people hate the mess the fallen flowers make–I say relax and enjoy the fleeting beauty (but be careful as they’re slippery when wet)

Jacaranda blue just happens to be my very favorite color in a favorites range dominated by the blue-indigo-violet end of the color spectrum. Most of the clothes I wear are in shades of navy, blue, lavender, purple and aqua. I long ago gave up experimenting with the red-orange-yellow end of the spectrum—pinks and oranges are just not me. I appreciate their beauty—they’re just not shades I want to surround myself with.

What a narrow band of colors I choose my clothes from…

Truth is, I just don’t feel comfortable outside my color comfort zone. And I know I’m not alone. Many people seem to express a strong preference for one set of colors over another. One of my friends laughs when she sees the blue-dominant hues of the clothes hanging in my closet—her collection of clothes is basically red, white and black. She wouldn’t be caught dead in my beloved purple.

I admired these hydrangeas in a neighbor’s garden

I’m the same in the garden—I adore agapanthus, hydrangea, wisteria, lilac, pansies and blue and purple irises—though pink is a favorite too. Yes, my garden is dominated by flowers in pinks and purples and all shades in-between, highlighted with splashes of white, orange and yellow. The exception? The deep glory of scarlet and crimson roses, judiciously placed.

Louisiana iris in a pot on my balcony

Why do we have such strong preferences for particular colors? According to Psychology Today: “Color preferences are deeply rooted emotional responses that seem to lack any rational basis, yet the powerful influence of color rules our choices in everything from the food we eat and the clothes we wear to the cars we buy.”

The theory goes that if we experience pleasure linked to a particular color—possibly a happy childhood picnic under a jacaranda tree, who knows?—we’ll gravitate toward a similar color in the future. Perhaps in my case, my preference is because “my” colors suit my hair and eye coloring—and my mother, being a stylish person, dressed me in those colors.

Clematis in a favorite part of my spring garden

Regardless of the colors I like for myself, I’m good at helping others choose the shades that best flatter them—usually nothing like what I wear. (I had lots of practice organizing makeovers in my days as a magazine fashion editor).

Even the horses get dressed in purple at my place

I love dressing the characters in my novels—it’s kind of like the fun I used to have dressing my dolls when I was a kid. Part of choosing my characters’ clothes is making sure the colors suit both their hair, eyes and skin tone but also their personalities. One of my favorite heroines to dress, Serena in Home Is Where the Bark Is, starts the book hiding out in shapeless, colorless clothes and Birkenstocks, she ends it in sassy, sexy black and sky high stilettos with a slash of scarlet lipstick.

I’m giving the last word on color to this recent visitor to my garden—an Australian lorikeet feasting on the nectar of flowers of a flame tree (also in bloom at this time). What a color clash! Yet nature makes it work so beautifully.

Australian rainbow lorikeet feasting on the flowers of an Illawarra flame tree that overhangs my garden

Reference

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-new-brain/201104/why-we-prefer-certain-colors

Kandy Shepherd writes fun, feel-good fiction. Her books include The Castaway Bride,  Something About Joe, Love is a Four-Legged Word and Home Is Where the Bark Is—and you can enjoy reading them no matter what colors you like!

Wet, wet, way too wet!

It’s been a long, cold, wet winter in my part of Down Under.

This past weekend it actually snowed. The (supposedly spring) weather in October is notoriously erratic but that’s ridiculous!

Banjo (left) and Star tell me that wet means hungry, too.

It isn’t only me who suffers in the cold weather, my animals don’t seem too happy either.  I have quite the menagerie of pets who are all complaining about the conditions.

Toby looks the picture of wet misery!

Outdoors, the four horses are rugged throughout winter—except for our rescue quarter-horse Star who point blank refuses to wear a rug. He grows himself a thick shaggy coat instead. I think this sounds eminently sensible and wonder why my daughter, the horse fanatic in the family, insists on rugging the others. The reason? Horses competing in shows need to be beautifully groomed with sleek, fine coats—to the point some horses are shaved. No winter-shaggy fur please.

Miss Molly models her new coat

Miss Molly the dog also gets to wear a cold to protect her arthritic old bones. Try getting a coat on a cat? I’ve never had any luck!

Cindy scornfully surveys her wet surroundings

Miss Cindy is more outdoor than indoor cat, and only comes inside in the coldest of weather to enjoy a cozy wood fire. She has a snug little fleece-lined cat kennel to sleep in otherwise.

Ancient Albert and Miss Molly share prime position in front of the fire

And as for my beloved 21-year-old cat Ancient Albert, he gets as close as possible to the heat source without setting his fur on fire. Tabby—also known as Tubby—likes to stay inside too in cold weather, preferably on a nice, warm lap or under the bed covers.

The tail belongs to kitty Tabitha, snuggled right under the bedcovers

Humans do their part, chopping wood for the fire to keep the animals happy.

We burn a lot of wood to keep those indoor pets warm and happy

I realize as I shiver away that I have never written a story set in anything but warm weather. Whether my stories are set in spring, summer or fall, it’s always a pleasant temperature. Cool enough, perhaps, for a heroine to shrug on a hero’s chivalrously offered leather jacket on a spring evening, (Something About Joe) but most of my characters wear nothing warmer than a T-shirt. In The Castaway Bride, my hero and heroine don’t wear clothes much at all. If you were cast away on a blissfully perfect tropical island alone with a hot hunk, would you?

A book set in a wonderful snowy location (trapped in a cozy, snowed-in mountain cabin with a hot hunk maybe) might be in my writing future, who knows? But not right now.

They say to write about what you know, but there’s also writing about what you wish for. The scenarios I’ve chosen up ’til now force me to admit blue skies and a kindly sun feature strongly in my fantasies. Yes, the three stories I’m working on right now are all set in summer!

Roll on spring! (A proper spring, without snow, please.)

All change

My last day as editor of Coles Magazine.

It was with mixed feelings that I spent my last day on Friday as editor of the Coles Magazine, the magazine produced by ACP Custom Media for Coles, one of the two major supermarket players in Australia. What started out as a once-a-year freelance job eight years ago, grew as the magazine became first seasonal with five issues a year, and then monthly. With a circulation in the millions, it is the largest circulating food magazine in Australia and is highly regarded.

I worked with amazing people at both ACP Custom Media, a division of the largest magazine publishing company in Australia, and at Coles. I was incredibly proud of the beautiful magazine we put out for readers all over the country who eagerly awaited its arrival in store. And boy did I love working with the food!

But I wasn’t getting enough writing done. And I still have a lot of stories I want to tell and share with my readers. So the magazine goes on with a wonderful new editor and I get back to that world in my head, peopled with characters wanting their voices to be heard.

“Kandy Shepherd swapped a fast-paced career as a magazine editor for a life writing fun, feel-good fiction”. That’s true again now!

A taste of chocolate

What fun to be invited to a chocolate tasting!

The lovely people from the  Australian office of Swiss chocolate maker Lindt  invited me (wearing my magazine editor’s hat) to a tasting of some scintillating new dark chocolate flavors in Lindt’s Excellence range sold in Australia.

Chocolate tasting

In a room at the beautiful Art Gallery of New South Wales, a tasting plate with a square of each new flavor was set up in front of each of the media guests. Before we were allowed to taste them, Lindt’s Master Chocolatier, Thomas Schetzler, explained to us we needed to use all our senses to fully experience the chocolate.

We examined the smooth, glossy look of the chocolate; felt its soft smoothness; inhaled the rich aroma; listened to the snap as we broke a piece; and then finally savored the different flavors. We tried 70% Cocoa, Strawberry Intense, Coconut Intense, Passionfruit Intense, and A Touch of Sea Salt. It was difficult to nominate a favorite–the strawberry was the sweetest, the coconut amazing, the passionfruit an enticing blend of sweet and sharp, and the sea salt truly a pleasant taste surprise.

Chocolate tasted

I looked around the room and, like at a wine-tasting, everyone just tasted the chocolate without devouring each piece. Much as I would have liked to behave like a greedy pig and eat it all, I refrained–just murmured my appreciation in a quiet way I hoped sounded professional. (Lucky I went home with a goody bag containing each flavor!)

Lindt Master Chocolatier, Thomas Schetzler, explains the chocolate-making process

I’m a total chocoholic with my tastes running with the majority in favoring milk chocolate. However more people are becoming switched on to the joys of dark chocolate. I left the evening’s tasting a convert!

Years ago, when I was first taken to a Lindt chocolate shop in Berne, Switzerland, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Lindt wasn’t as easy to get in other countries then and my luggage went home weighted down with big bars. Now it’s much easier to indulge if you live outside of Europe.

The characters in my novels also like chocolate. In The Castaway Bridethe hero and heroine are shipwrecked on a tropical island with their only food supply a panic bag packed with chocolate. No wonder they have so much fun!

Of cabbages and cookbooks

The other day I was given a magnificent, whole red cabbage. After I admired its beauty for a few days, I had to decide what to do with it.

Red cabbage--beautiful inside and out.

Although I love red cabbage raw in a salad or steamed, I decided there was no choice but to make my never-fail red cabbage side dish. It’s from one of my cherished vintage (sounds so much better than old!) cookbooks Irish Countryhouse Cooking by Rosie Tinne, first published by Gill and Macmillan Ltd in 1974.

One of my favorite vintage cookbooks

The book comprises recipes from grand Irish country houses and country house hotels of the time and the list of contributors have titles like Countess, Viscountess, Lady, and The Hon. Each recipe has the name of the house at the top and the signature of the contributor below.

My favorite and utterly delicious recipe for Red Cabbage comes from a page in the book headed The Glebe, Leixlip, County Kildare. A Google search doesn’t show a match, so I don’t know if the house still exists. But the recipe lives on. Here, I share it with you (I’ve put metric equivalents in italics).

My very favorite red cabbage recipe

RED CABBAGE

1 small red cabbage (about 2 lb) (about 1kg)

1 large onion—sliced

2oz butter (about 60g)

1 oz flour (about 30g)

2 apples—peeled, cored and cut in chunks

3 tablespoons white or wine vinegar

2 teaspoons brown sugar

3-4 cloves

3-4 bay leaves

salt to taste

Wash and shred cabbage. Heat butter in fairly large saucepan and lightly fry onion. Add flour and cook for a minute or two, but do not brown. Add ½ pint (about 300ml) water, apples, vinegar, sugar, cloves, bay leaves, salt to taste and the cabbage. Simmer, stirring at intervals, until cabbage is tender (about 1½ hours to 2 hours). There should be no liquid to throw away.

I serve this cabbage dish with pork, but it could easily go with steak or even duck. I keep it in a sealed container in the fridge and eat it by the spoonful!

When I Googled Irish Countryside Cooking, there seem to be copies available at various vintage book stores, as well as Amazon.

I lived in Ireland as a child and, though I don’t remember very much, love reading books set in Ireland–and reading my Irish cookbooks.

Let me know if you like the recipe!

 

Photo of cut red cabbage

© Akarelias | http://www.stockfreeimages.com

Chickie centerfolds

My hens have made their modeling debut!

My little flock of Isa Browns feature in the beautiful new cookbook Belinda Jeffery’s Collected Recipes, published by Penguin Group (Australia) under the Lantern imprint. Here they are across a double page spread. Very photogenic, don’t you agree?

My chickens star on pages 162-163 of Belinda Jeffery's Collected Recipes, photographed by Rodney Weidland

So how did my chickens get their feathers into a cookbook? They were photographed by my friend Rodney Weidland who did all the magnificent photography in this cookbook. You know the term “food porn”? It could have been invented for this recipe photography!

A fabulous cookbook for family meals and entertaining--I love it.

Belinda Jeffery is well known in Australia for her cookbooks, magazine work and TV appearances. Her recipes are sublime—utterly delicious but easy to make. I’m pleased my chickens make an appearance in this wonderful cookbook!

We inherited the original Isa Browns when we bought our farm. Totally ignorant of poultry keeping, we’ve muddled along and learned as we go. Somehow we’ve managed to keep them healthy and happy. They have a nice life in their roomy hen house (known as the Hen Hilton in our valley) and the freedom of a large fenced grassy area. This freedom can come at a cost—one brown girl got taken by a hawk this past weekend. I heard her distressed squawking and ran outside to see her in the clutches of an enormous bird. It flew off with her in its claws but my screaming at it caused it to drop her. Scary stuff. At the time of writing she is okay, though suffering from shock, we hope she will survive.

Some of the girls--photographed by me

Our chickens are more pets than livestock. We keep them just for eggs and when they finally drop off the perch (sometimes literally!) they get buried with ceremonial honors in the garden.

We treasure their beautiful (and delicious) eggs

Lucky my pampered hens don’t know that their photo is used to introduce a section of chicken recipes in the cookbook…

My hot, hunky new hero!

 

My new contemporary romance e-book Something About Joe is now live on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and other e-retailers for the special price of $0.99.

Something About Joe is a reissue of my first published novel (then called Mitchell’s Nanny, published by a small independent publisher.

Even years after the novel was published, readers let me know how much they loved that story of a stressed out single mom who falls in love with her toddler’s new nanny—a hot hunk on a Harley who roars into her heart. When a copy went for a surprising sum at a charity auction at a romance reader’s convention, I began to wonder if Joe and Allison’s story might reach a wider, new audience.

First thing I did when I decided to indie publish it as an e-book, was to change the title from Mitchell’s Nanny (an author often doesn’t have a choice of their book title) to Something About Joe. The second was to commission a lovely cover from the mega-talented designer Kim Killion at at Hot Damn Designs. The third was to update some of the details in the book to make it sit happily in 2012.

Something About Joe is already getting some wonderful feedback from readers—and five-star reviews!

Reviewer and blogger Katrina Whittaker says: “I’d give Something About Joe more than 5 stars if I could. It’s a delightful and heartfelt romance between two unlikely people who complement each other to perfection.”

“Joe is every woman’s fantasy man!” says another reader.

My hero Joe Martin is hot, smart, great with kids and an amazing lover. No wonder heroine Allison Bradley has such trouble fighting her attraction to him. These two really have quite a lot to work through before they get their guaranteed romance novel “happy ever after” ending!

Here’s where to find Something About Joe. If you read it and enjoy it, please let me know!

AMAZON

http://www.amazon.com/Something-About-Joe-ebook/dp/B0076WJSSK

BARNES & NOBLE

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/something-about-joe-kandy-shepherd/1109155752

SMASHWORDS

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/130749

Blog brag

Dusting my study (a rare occurrence!) I couldn’t help admiring my trophies.

In the middle is my award for Favourite Contemporary Romance awarded by the Australian Romance Readers Association for Love is a Four-Legged Word. I was amazed and delighted to win—the winner announcement was one of the most thrilling moments of my life. The award on the right is for the same category in last year’s awards for Home Is Where the Bark Is.  I really couldn’t believe that I’d won two years in a row. The winning of these awards is all the sweeter for the fact that my Berkley Sensation novels are not readily available in Australia.

Perhaps even more thrilling is that the Awards are on again tonight and I am a finalist in the Favourite Contemporary Romance category for my indie-published  e-book The Castaway Bride. This book is an Amazon bestseller and was recommended by The Wall Street Journal to its readers. But to final in a competition voted by readers is beyond amazing.

On the left is an award won for my “day job” in publishing. The award for Customer Magazine of the Year is from ACP, the biggest magazine publisher in Australia for the Coles Magazine—a food magazine that is free in Coles supermarkets (Australia). It has a circulation in the millions and is highly successful. The award is to the wonderful editorial team but, as the editor of the magazine, I got to collect it. It has to go back to the office but it’s been fun having it on my shelf.

Best of luck to all the finalists in tonight’s ARRA awards—I’ll be there cheering you on.

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!)