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!

Update on Ancient Albert

I sometimes wonder what a nearly 21-year-old cat dreams about.

Ancient Albert dreaming

My darling Albert looked so content and happy when I took this snap of him on the sofa. In a deep sleep, his head was tucked on his paw, ears and paws occasionally twitching. Memories of long ago mouse hunts? Meals? Who knows? His waking time revolves around wailing for food, nibbling at food, turning his nose up at food that he deems unsatisfactory, sometimes needing to be fed by hand (and I mean literally from the palm of our hands) and snuggling with his humans at any opportunity. Always a sociable cat, he totters down the hallway to greet visitors, still wanting to know what’s going on, still wanting them to make a fuss of him. So maybe he’s dreaming about food and parties!

It isn’t just us who looks after him. Our younger cat Tabitha–well, relatively young at age 12!–looks after him too, grooming him and letting him eat first. So sweet to see them together.

Tabitha (behind him) keeps him company

As the weather cools Down Under, Albert needs to keep his frail bones warm and loves nothing better than baking under the wood combustion heater. It gets hot under there and he eventually comes out for fresh air and a drink. He’s done it for years–so do the others–and it doesn’t seem to harm him though the vet is horrified to hear it.

Can you sport a cat under the old wood combustions stove at our farm?

There he is, baking his bones!

And when the fire dies down at night, he finds his favorite spot of all, snuggled under the covers with us. (My husband, who never had a cat in his life until he met me is unfailingly loving and patient with Albert. I never write a hero who doesn’t love animals–no wonder when my own real-life hero is so wonderful with them!)

Love that cat!

PS. People often ask me where I got the feather-embroidered pillow in the top photo. I got it online at Lands End, sadly they don’t have it any more.

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

Writing (and shopping) retreat

My friend, author Cathleen Ross, and I had the farmhouse to ourselves for the weekend—peace and quiet to write, write, write. We wrote, we read, and we… I was going to confess we ate the chocolate Easter eggs we bought for our families but maybe I might deny that.

To take a break, we went shopping at some of the not-too-far-away shops and a market that has several floors of antiques, bric-a-bric and gadgets. We had a fire at the farmhouse last year and nearly everything was destroyed by flame or smoke.  What an excuse to scoop up a few replacement bargains!

First up was this gorgeous jug. Who could leave it sitting there with its $5-reduced-from-$20 label? It would have been downright mean to reject it.

And then there was this pre-loved silver-plated spaghetti server. At $7, I felt it would add a touch of luxury to the simple pasta meals we share around the farmhouse table. (Must beg Cathleen to make me some of the awesome spaghetti sauce she learned to make from her Italian father-in-law. It’s truly deserving of a silver server!)

I don’t know what these beautiful candle sticks are made from, some kind of enamel possibly, but I fell in love with them and was happy to pay $16 for the pair. Practical as well as pretty—we often lose power when storms rage through our valley and it’s reassuring to have candles to hand when it suddenly goes dark.

Sweeping the floor is never much fun, but I rather think I’ll enjoy it more with this cheerful $6 dustpan and broom. Those extended handles should make the chore not so backbreaking.

And then there was this print on canvas, my most expensive buy of the day for $18. I love botanical prints and while this certainly isn’t the real deal, that didn’t stop me from taking it home!

We spent a while hunting through shelves and shelves of secondhand paperbacks and Cathleen found a wonderful selection of favorite out-of-print romances.

Then we went home and wrote again. And I came up with some creative explanations for my husband for just why we needed a silver spaghetti server!

Go gadgets!

Some people go crazy for shoes. I’m a sucker for kitchen gadgets. Each year, I treat myself to a new one—something quite different to the ones I already have. I allow myself plenty of time to traipse around a kitchenware store, browsing and marveling at all the gadgets I never knew I needed until I chanced upon them.

It juliennes vegetables

My latest acquisition is this gadget for julienning vegetables. Just slide down the carrot and you have fine, even slices.

Aren't those carrots beautiful?

Here is my julienner in action. I’m entranced with it! My husband not so much. He thought it was a vegetable peeler and scraped his fingers trying to peel potatoes with it. Maybe I should have told him about it. Maybe I didn’t want to hear him asking me did I really need it!

This year I did something I usually never do—made a repeat purchase. This nifty quiche tin was last year’s impulse purchase and I used it so often I began to fear what I would do without it.

The perforated base is the secret

The holes in the base make for wonderfully well-cooked pastry in savory or sweet tarts. When I saw one sitting on a 30 percent off table, I pounced on it. Now that I have two residing in my kitchen, I rest easier.

My favorite cheese and caramelized onion tart with thyme from the garden

Okay, so I might have left this particular cheese and caramelized onion tart in the oven a tad too long and the pastry shrank—but my lunch guests (some writer friends) did not complain. We enjoyed talking about our latest works-in-progress—and of course I showed off my tin with the holes in the base and graciously accepted all compliments.

I bought these Mickey Mouse baking measures at Disney World in Orlando some years back at the Romance Writers of America annual convention—the one that got relocated to Florida when Nashville was flooded.

Childish? Heck no!

 

They’re almost too cute to use! But use them I do, as they are American-sized measures, very useful for when I want to cook from American recipes. (The Australian standard measures are slightly different.)

The apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree, as look what my darling teenage daughter brought home for me last week. For no reason. She just saw them and knew I’d love them. Of course I love them even more because of her thoughtfulness!

A gift from my sweetheart of a daughter

My love for kitchen gadgets is a fickle one. Sometimes the love affair is over all too soon. The favored ones live in the top drawer. Below is a drawer full of discarded toys that didn’t fulfill their potential in one disappointing way or another. Sorry, gadgets, but it’s not you, it’s me!

Oh, and by the way, I go crazy for shoes too…

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!)

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/

The Castaway Bride

I love the cover!

Deep breath. Toe in the water. Dive in!

I’ve joined the indie e-book publisher community. THE CASTAWAY BRIDE went live on Amazon and Smashwords on the weekend, and will soon be up at Barnes & Noble and other e-book retailers.

It’s kinda scary to put a story out there by yourself, when you’ve only worked with a publisher before. But I have faith in my story; got it professionally edited; a beautiful cover designed by the amazing Hot Damn Designs; learned how to format; and uploaded.

I was inspired by all the buzz surrounding indie publishing at the Romance Writers of America national convention in New York City. And, as I have worked as a magazine editor for most of my working life, I wasn’t daunted by the process.

Within hours of the book being on Amazon, I got my first review—five-star and very positive: “A fun story with spicy scenes make this a great beach read.”

What more could I ask? Thank you, lovely reviewer!

One of the first question people ask me is: “Is there a dog in THE CASTAWAY BRIDE?” (My books LOVE IS A FOUR-LEGGED WORD and HOME IS WHERE THE BARK IS, published by Berkley Sensation, have lots of dogs in them.)

Yes and no. Burnt out and betrayed by people he trusted, my hero Matt Slade is taking time out on his yacht. He’d love to have his beloved black Labrador Jake sailing with him, but Jake gets seasick and so can’t be on board. Matt has to Skype his dog to keep in touch. So Jake is part of the story but never actually appears on the pages.

Needless to say my heroine Cristy Walters finds this endearing in such a hot, handsome hunk. I couldn’t love a man who didn’t love animals, and I don’t expect my heroines to either!

But the focus of THE CASTAWAY BRIDE is purely on two people, both emotionally wounded in their own way, finding passion and true love on a beautiful tropical island. With white sands and turquoise waters; waterfalls and palm trees. Sigh! No wonder I liked writing this romance so much—it’s a happy, sensual fantasy. A love story. I so enjoyed giving Matt and Cristy their happy-ever-after!

 THE CASTAWAY BRIDE

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005J01FKU

 

 

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/83486

 

A lap or a laptop?

Not a lot of writing gets done when my feline companions realize a comfy lap is available...

Sometimes I tire of writing at the desktop computer. I thought a laptop might be the answer so I could write in different locations for both a change of scenery and different seating position. Two of my cats, Albert and Tabitha, thought otherwise. Why on earth would I want to have access to that keyboard when I could be stroking and petting them? “Lap” is a way more appealing concept to them than “laptop…”

Oh well, thinking time is important too!