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

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

A collection of covers

My first book with Harlequin is published today—The Summer They Never Forgot is available in print and e-book from wherever Harlequin series books are sold. It’s a deeply emotional, heart-warming story of rekindled love.

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Sometime last century I submitted my first romance to Harlequin Mills & Boon in London. Needless to say it was promptly rejected but later efforts had encouraging replies. I got sidetracked into other writing ventures but never gave up the dream to be published by Harlequin. So I was thrilled when the manuscript for The Summer They Never Forgot was accepted. And can I say that working with the editors at the London office is an absolute pleasure! Well worth the long wait…

My kitty Ivy seems to be urging me to unpack the books and give her the box!

My kitty Ivy seems to be urging me to unpack the books and give her the box!

Waiting to see what cover the publisher gives your book can be a tense moment for an author. How did the cover designer interpret my characters? Did they get my setting right? How does the title look on the page?

I’m pleased to report the Harlequin designers got everything right! The water setting, the dock where some pivotal scenes are played out, the carefree summer atmosphere. Most important, the heroine and hero, Sandy and Ben, fit my mental image of them. “He’s hot!” was my daughter’s reaction to Ben—you can’t get much better than that.

Oh, and I’m a big sucker for pink on covers and I love the pink on the Harlequin Romance covers.

The Mills & Boon hardcover and e-book cover in the UK

The Mills & Boon hardcover and e-book cover in the UK

As this is my first book for Harlequin, I didn’t realize there would be several other covers for the book.

The Mills & Boon e-book cover in Australia

The Mills & Boon Sweet e-book cover in Australia

And I like them too!

Then there are paperback covers for two-in-one editions.

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The Australian mass market paperback Mills & Boon Sweet with Sophie Pemberton’s Heiress on the Run

The UK mass market paperback Mills & Boon Cherish with Liz Talley's His Forever Girl

The UK mass market paperback Mills & Boon Cherish with Liz Talley’s His Forever Girl

I believe if foreign editions are sold, they might have different covers again. I look forward to that!

Here’s the cover blurb for The Summer They Never Forgot:

“It started with a summer kiss…

Sandy Adams is on her way to an interview, but when she sees a signpost for Dolphin Bay she decides to take a detour down memory lane….

Ben Morgan has had his share of heartache. But when a ghost from his youth catches his eye memories of their last summer together come flooding back.

Everything has changed in the past twelve years, and still they’re right back where they started, facing a second chance they deserve…together.”

Kandy Shepherd writes fun, feel-good fiction.

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Watch out for her The Summer They Never Forgot, her first release from Harlequin Romance in February 2014 in North America, the UK and Australia.

Her contemporary women’s fiction e-book, Reinventing Rose, is available now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords, and other e-book retailers.

Kandy’s romances include the Amazon bestseller The Castaway Bride, Something About Joe, and the award-winners Love is a Four-Legged Word and Home Is Where the Bark Is.

Visit Kandy at her website

www.kandyshepherd.com

Chocolate on tap

IMG_2620What is it about writers and chocolate? With a name like Kandy, I was predestined to have a sweet tooth, and chocolate is my favorite sweet treat by far. But I don’t have to look far among my author colleagues to find an abundance of writerly chocoholics.

Is there a link between creativity and chocolate consumption? It’s said eating chocolate releases endorphins—feel good hormones—in the brain, so that might help kick along the creative process. Chocolate is also said to affect serotonin levels in the brain, which could help relieve stress (deadlines?) and depression (writer’s block and deadlines?)

Who knows? I’m not really looking for an explanation—more likely an excuse for the scatterings of chocolate wrappers around my desk!

I loved the strawberry and pistachio the best from this delectable array

Lindt chocolatiers’ taste experiments – I loved the strawberry and pistachio the best from this delectable array

Being a self-confessed chocoholic, I didn’t hesitate to accept an invitation to the “chocolate carpet” launch of the Lindt Chocolate Café concept at the site of the original Martin Place site in the heart of the city of Sydney, Australia.

Okay, so the carpet was actually red, not chocolate, but the second my “plus one” daughter and I got inside we were surrounded by chocolate, chocolate, chocolate!

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Lindt Master Chocolatiers at the Maître Station

I’ve visited the Lindt Café before (what self-respecting Sydney chocoholic hasn’t!) but  now it looks quite different. The most prominent new feature is the Maître Station where you can watch the Lindt Master Chocolatiers at work creating their delectable creations. The scent of so much chocolate so close is intoxicating!

The Mocha Macchiato were a hit

The Mocha Macchiato were a hit

There’s also the Chocolate Tap, an outsized metal tap from which Lindt Chocolate copiously flows. I nearly swooned! On the launch night, the baristas made use of the chocolate tap to create potent chocolate shots, as well as Mocha Macchiato comprising dark chocolate, milk and espresso coffee topped with a chocolate shard.

LIndt Australia Master Chocolatier, Thomas Schnetzler, tempting me with the best macarons I've ever tasted

Lindt Australia Master Chocolatier, Thomas Schnetzler, tempting me with the best macarons I’ve ever tasted

Highlights of the evening? Meeting Lindt Australia’s charming Swiss-born Master Chocolatier, Thomas Schnetzler; taste-testing experimental new chocolates; and eating the best-ever macarons, which Lindt calls délice. I also watched, amazed, as a fellow guest emptied out some of the abundant displays of Lindor Balls to fill a bucket to take home. Who could blame him!

We took home lots of treats

We took home lots of treats

We went home with a goodie bag which kept the Lindt experience going for several days afterwards. I didn’t need to be persuaded  to “Surrender to Indulgence”!

Oh, and my beautiful university student daughter had her photo taken for a foodie blog and the Sunday newspaper social pages—she was beyond thrilled!

Visit the Lindt Chocolate Café, 53 Martin Place, Sydney, NSW, 2000. (What a great place for a writers’ meeting!)

KandyShepherd_ReinventingRose800Kandy Shepherd writes fun, feel-good fiction. Her new release is the contemporary women’s fiction (aka chicklit!) Reinventing Rose, where the main character indulges in chocolate at the merest hint of feeling down!

Kandy’s romances include The Castaway Bride, Something About JoeLove is a Four-Legged Word and Home Is Where the Bark Is.

Reinventing Rose—my new story

KandyShepherd_ReinventingRose800I don’t know when “chicklit” became a no-no word. “Contemporary women’s fiction” is now the description of choice for contemporary, sometimes humorous novels about a young (or not-so-young) woman’s journey to that may or may not include romance but usually includes friendship, family and career.

I’m putting my hand up to say I love reading chicklit, however you label it. And I like writing it, too!

My new release Reinventing Rose falls under the chicklit banner. When 28-year-old Californian schoolteacher Rose Butler flies to Sydney, Australia, to meet an internet lover, the reunion doesn’t go quite to plan. Rose finds herself alone in a foreign country, too embarrassed to tell the folks back home what happened. Rose decides to stay and reinvent herself with a total “me makeover.”

Three new female roommates turn out to be the perfect people to aid and abet her—one is a beauty editor on a womens magazine with access to all sorts of image-changing freebies. But Rose discovers real change doesn’t come from new hair and makeup. As she throws herself headlong into her new life, she gets tripped up by a painful family secret and unresolved problems from her past. She’s forced to question her beliefs about love and loyalty, old mistakes and new choices, and the bonds of both family and friendship.

3 QUICK QUESTIONS

Q. You’re published in romance—why write womens fiction/chicklit?

A. I love writing romance where the focus is on two people falling in love against the odds. But I also like writing about the other aspects of my characters’ lives—family, friends, career challenges—and womens fiction gives me that opportunity. I enjoyed creating the secondary characters of Sasha, Carla and Kelly in Reinventing Rose. Female friendship is so important in my life—and I give Rose three amazing new friends. Of course Rose meets men, the sexy, bad-boy photographer Elliot and the handsome doctor Luke. Which of those gorgeous guys will she end up with?

Q. Doesn’t chicklit concentrate on shoes and shopping?

A. There’s a fun pair of shoes in Reinventing Rose but wearing them leads Rose somewhere she really shouldn’t have gone! Chicklit also deals with deeper issues and as Rose’s story unfurls she experiences them, too—eating disorders, divorce, miscarriage are all touched on. The tone is sassy but the subject matter is sometimes serious.

Q. What inspired you to write Reinventing Rose?

A. When I was working as an editor in womens magazines, I particularly enjoyed working on reader makeovers—coordinating with hairdressers, makeup artists, fashion stylists and photographers to transform everyday women into their look-best selves. I had the idea for a chick-lit type story about a young woman who decides a makeover will solve all her problems. Of course it doesn’t, and Rose has quite a journey before she realizes that. I had such fun taking Rose into the studio for her makeover—a location so familiar to me.

P.S.  There aren’t any dogs in Reinventing Rose—there was a gorgeous Border Collie in an earlier version but the chapter he appeared in was slashed in the editing process. There are two cats, though, a tuxedo kitty named Socks who stays off-stage but very much in the heroine Rose’s thoughts, and a beautiful brown Burmese named Nina who is modeled on one of my own cats (sadly departed.)

Reinventing Rose is available as a e-book (print coming soon) from AmazonBarnes & NobleKoboSmashwords and other on line e-retailers.

Kandy head shot_2Kandy Shepherd writes fun, feel-good fiction. Her new release is the contemporary women’s fiction (aka chicklit!) Reinventing RoseHer romances include The Castaway Bride, Something About JoeLove is a Four-Legged Word and Home Is Where the Bark Is.