Our wonderful author Jackie French writes a blog post each month with news about her books, events, but also with recipes, gardening tips and updates on her own real life wombat visitors! From this month, we’ll be posting her updates here each month, but you can see past month’s blogs and other information on her website www.jackiefrench.com.au
- Baby Wombats!
- New Books
- Recent Awards
- Schedule for the Year to come
- The September Garden
- A Few Recipes: Which Chocolate Slice is Best?
- Classic Chocolate Coconut Slice
- Old-Fashioned Chocolate Caramel Slice
- White Chocolate and Lemon Slice
Two of them! One is Mothball’s grandson – Mothball is the heroine of Diary of a Wombat (that book is not fiction). Like his mother, Wild Whiskers, this baby was so big the pouch dragged on the ground for weeks before he decided to walk on four paws instead of having Mum lug him about. He is almost a third her size and as brown as Mothball.
I have only glimpsed the other baby – it was out for about an hour yesterday while Mum was dozing under the bedroom floor (I can see under the house from my study). Then Mum woke up, nudged Junior back in and they both vanished into their hole. From that glimpse it looks as if Grey’s baby is as grey as she is, which isn’t quite as grey as Phil, the ‘rescue’ wombat I wrote about last month. He is young but naturally pale grey.
Wombats’ colours vary as much as human’s skin and hair tones, from white to golden brown, black and various doormat hues in between, with black hairs mixed with greys and whites and browns and golds.
Meanwhile Mothball’s grandson is bouncing about the lawn, playing ‘I can go in and out’ in the vegetable garden fence or ‘Watch me walk down the tunnel’ in a holed up hunk of wire. Wild Whiskers, like mums the world over, gives the occasional admiring glance – just enough to keep the baby playing – while getting on with eating. With wombats, as with humans, ‘free time to grab a quick bite’ is essential for mums.
Refuge has just come out. It’s … different. But the reviews are wonderful and the emails from kids have begun. Usually it takes a year or so to get the first emails. And I am beginning to think just possibly it has worked.
Let the Land Speak: How the Land Created Our Nation will be out in October. It is a reinterpretation of Australian history, focusing on how the land itself, as much or more than social and political forces, shaped the major events that led to modern Australia.
Our history is mostly written by those who live, work and research in cities but the land itself has shaped our history far more powerfully and significantly than we realise. Let the Land Speak reinterprets the history we think we all know – from the impact of indigenous women who shaped their nations far more profoundly than fire-stick farming to Eureka and to the role of the great drought of the 1890s in bringing about Federation, the land has shaped our past. Let the Land Speak also provides insights into ways we can read the land, predict the future – and survive it.
The Road to Gundagai will be released in December. It’s the third in the Matilda Saga, following A Waltz for Matilda that began in 1892 and continuing with The Girl from Snowy River set in 1919. Each book can be read separately or as part of the series.
In The Road to Gundagai, Blue Lawrence has escaped the prison of her aunts’ mansion to join The Magnifico Family Circus, a travelling troupe that brings glamour and laughter to country towns gripped by the Great Depression. Blue hides her crippled legs and scars behind the sparkle of a mermaid’s costume; but she’s not the only member of the circus hiding a dark secret. The unquenchable Madame Zlosky creates as well as foresees futures. The bearded lady is a young man with laughing eyes. A headless skeleton dangles in the House of Horrors.
And somewhere a murderer is waiting… to strike again.
The Road to Gundagai is set in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression. Matilda is still running Drinkwater Station, but has put aside her own tragedy to help those suffering in tough economic times and Joey, from The Girl from Snowy River, uses his new medical skills to solve a mystery.
And the wombat is back! Wombat Goes to School will be released in October too. It is simple and hilarious and showcases Bruce Whatley at his wickedest. The scene outside the Principal’s office is priceless. We had enormous fun with it. And I suspect that kids will have even more.
Pennies for Hitler has just won the NSW Premier’s History Award for Young People. (Dingowas shortlisted for the same award.) Pennies also won the CBC Honour Book for Younger Readers earlier this year. A Day to Remember with Mark Wilson was shortlisted for Picture Book of the Year. Pennies was also shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Award as has Dingo. The Girl from Snowy River was made a CBC Notable Book in both the Younger and Older Reader categories.
Schedule for the Year to come
I’m afraid there’s not much else that can be fitted into this year, or for much of next year too. I’m so sorry – there are a couple of invitations to speak every day, as many as six and as much as I’d love to, I can’t do more than a small number of them, especially if it involves a day’s travel to get there – and we are at least two hours away from just about anywhere.
The schedule below doesn’t contain all this year’s bookings, or time spent in travelling to get there, or things like a dentist’s check-up nor weddings, so if there is nothing on a particular date it doesn’t mean I’m free.
Next year I have decided to wait until December before working out what I can accept for next year so I can look at the times and places and work out how to do it most efficiently. Many apologies if this leaves next year’s planning till too late for some invitations.
I’ll be a guest blogger at www.insideadog.com.au and www.readalert.blogs.slv.vic.gov.au The blogs entries will go up every three days. You can leave comments and I’ll answer them. The first one will probably be ‘Where do you get ideas, and 86 chocoloate frogs?’
9 October from 10.30-4.30:
Sessions with the wonderful Nina Rycroft on creating Dinosaurs Love Cheese. Civic library, Canberra. Children’s Day, Canberra. In the afternoon I’ll launch SPLELD ACT. Look up their web site for details.
Talks at the Lend Lease theatre, Darling Harbour, with the fabulous Monkey Baa Theatre for Young People. Contact them for bookings at www.monkeybaa.com.au
Opening paediatric conference, Canberra
November 2, 1.30 pm- 3.30pm:
Book readings and signing with other Canberra authors at Electric Shadows Bookshop, ACT.
Open Garden Workshops here. Contact the Open Garden, who organise it, for bookings. (But I think they are booked out)
Talk to the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) members, Canberra, Gorman House, 6 pm. Contact the ASA at for details.
Pete the Sheep: The Musical opens at the Lend Lease Theatre, Darling Harbour, with the magical Monkey Baa Theatre Company. They’ll then tour all Australia, so it’s pretty certain there’ll be performances near you, from Alice Springs to Toowoomba, Ipswich to Devonport, Darwin to Wangarratta, Hobart to Canberra, Bunbury to Perth, and about 50 other theatres. Might see you there
The September Garden:
Plant! And then plant some more. This year we have both a warm spring here, as well as enough water to get seedlings going and to establish some young trees. We’ve put in 54 new olive trees, some more avocadoes and, hopefully, a couple of seedling peaches, macadamias and tea camellias still to be transplanted. But mostly it’s veg planting time – all the carrots, beetroot, parsley and silver beet we plan to eat for the next twelve months; the first of the summer veg like corn, beans, cucumbers, melons and pumpkins; and more asparagus seeds and artichokes for new varieties; lettuce of course, sweet peas for serious scent (they should go into the soil in autumn in warmer climates, but here spring works best – unless we get an early blistering summer).
There are spreading petunias in the ornamental garden bed by the front gate, and apart from that the summer flowers will be perennials from gerberas to roses to liliums, and tens of others. Or hundreds: haven’t counted lately. But if the number of baby wombats is a guide – and wallaby joeys and roo joeys too – this summer should be good. Not stunningly spectacular – it will have too many heat waves for that, according to the wattle trees, which will brown things off, but there should be good rain-storms after them, not dry electrical storms. So get planting. Now!
Fruit the first year of planting:
Blueberries Brambleberries (most) Raspberries Strawberries from a large bush Limes from a well-grown tree Passionfruit (in warm areas) Pawpaw (in warm areas) Mountain pawpaw Banana passionfruit (two years in cooler areas) Tamarillo Babaco Pepino Melons Cape gooseberries Gooseberries (if the bush planted was well-grown) Rhubarb
Dwarf trees usually bear in the first year of planting. Many citrus, especially cumquats, are often sold at close-to-bearing size. Grafted fruit usually, but not always, bear before seedlings do. The better a tree is treated, the sooner it bears fruit.
What to plant:
Food plants: Choko, Lemon grass, Sweet potato, Passionfruit vines, Jerusalem artichokes, Paw paw, Cape gooseberry seeds.
Seeds and seedlings: Artichokes, Basil, Beans, Beetroot, Capsicum, Carrots, Celery, Celtuce, Chicory, Cucumbers ,Eggplant, Endive, Fennel, Tropical lettuce, Melons, Okra, Parsley, Peas, Peanuts, Pumpkin (not in humid areas), Radish, Rosellas, Sweet corn, Tomatoes, salad greens like mizuna and mitsuba.
Plants for beauty: Ageratum, Alyssum, Amaranthus, Carnations, Celosia, Coleus, Cosmos, Dichondra, Echinops, Erigeron, Gaillardia, Gazania, Gloxinia, Gourds, Hymenosporum, Impatiens, Nasturtiums, phlox, salvia.
Cold and Temperate:
Food Plants: Sweet potatoes, Choko, Strawberries.
Seeds and seedlings: Artichoke, Asparagus, Basil, Beans, Beetroot, Broccoli, Burdock Cabbage, Capsicum, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Celtuce, Chicory, Collards, Coriander, Corn, Salad Cress, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Endive, Fennel, Kale, Kohl, Rabi Leeks, Lettuce, Melons, Okra, Parsley, Peanuts, Pumpkin, Radish, Rosellas, Salsify, Scorzonera, Sweet Corn, Tomatoes, Turnips, Salad greens like mizuna and mitsuba, Zucchini.
Flower Garden: Achillea, Ageratum, Alstromeria, Alyssum, Amaranthus, Aster, Balsam, Bellis, Perennis, Bells of Ireland, Brachycome, Calendula, Candytuft, Canterbury Bells, Carnation, Celosia, Clarkia, Cleome, Coleus, Coreopsis, Columbines, Cosmos, Delphinium, Dichondra, Echinacea, Echinops, Erigeron, Euphorbia, Foxglove, Gaillardia, Gazania, Globe, Amaranth, Gloxinia, Godetia, Gypsophila, Helichrysum, Heliotrope, Hellebores, Honesty, Lavender, Marigolds, Nasturtium, Petunia, Phlox, Flanders Poppy, Portulaca, Rudbeckia, Salpiglossis, Salvia, Scabious, Snapdragons, Sweet William, Viola, Zinnia.
Fruit Evergreen fruit trees can still be planted now except where it’s getting too hot – though if necessary trees can be sheltered in hessian shelters for a few weeks. Don’t be tempted by leftover bare-rooted trees in nurseries even if they are cheap – they may not shoot or their new roots will break off when you plant them. Trees which are badly set back when young don’t recover for years.
What to harvest
This is both blossom time and fruit time. Sheer magic. Asparagus and early artichokes will be yielding now and broad beans, winter lettuces the broccoli bursting along and great handfuls of coriander. In warm areas lettuce, spinach, corn, salad and peas may be starting to yield if planted in August.
Fruit crops Avocado Banana passionfruit Loquat Lemon Lime Mandarin Navel orange Tangelo Early strawberries Very early raspberries (in warm areas) Rhubarb Tamarillos (ripening from last season).
How to Dig a Hole Dig your hole just before planting, about twice as big as the roots. Firm down the soil well after planting: if the tree rocks in the wind, small roots can be destroyed. Don’t dig in mulch or compost – put it on top for the worms and bacteria to pull down naturally. Water the tree in well. In dry areas, plant trees and bushes in a slight depression. Mulch around the tree when planted. Cover this with black plastic. Keep the plastic in place with rocks, and put down another layer of black plastic, sloping down towards the tree. At night, condensation between the two layers of plastic will run down and water the tree. In wet areas, try planting above-ground: place the tree roots spread out on the ground, stake the tree well, then cover the roots with a sloping pile of mulch and compost. Or better still; dig ditches to drain off excess water.
When Stress is Good for You The level of flavonoids – antioxidants found in fruits, nuts and vegetables that help prevent diseases and slow down aging – depends on how much stress the plant has endured, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Natural farming methods, with greater insect and disease attack, appear to force plants to release greater amounts of flavonoids and other beneficial compounds. One flavonoid varied from 31 to 114 milligrams in 100 gram samples of the same variety of sweet red cherry.
A Few Recipes
It is chocolate slice time. Each year I cook choc slices for our Open Garden workshops – it’s good to have an excuse to cook lots. But there can be only one chocolate slice. The question is, which one?
Bryan will have the final choice as he gets to eat the leftovers. And the ‘tasters’ beforehand. And he doesn’t like coconut, so this year it will probably be chocolate caramel or white chocolate and lemon. Unless he decides to forgo the chocolate slices this year, and I’ll go back to the old, coconut favourite (well, everyone’s favourite but Bryan.)
Classic Chocolate Coconut Slice
- 150g butter, melted with 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp vanilla paste
- ¾ cup coconut, desiccated
- ½ cup plain flour
- 1/3 cup self-raising flour
- ¼ cup cocoa powder
- 2 cups icing mixture
- ¼ cup of cocoa powder
- 4 tbsp water
- 2 tbsp coconut, desiccated
Mix egg into butter and sugar, then carefully stir in the other ingredients. Spread into a tray lined with baking paper. Place in a cold oven; turn onto 200ºC and bake for 20 minutes. Check it is firm, not squidgy, but don’t let it brown on top. If this slice is over-baked it can be hard enough to use as the building blocks for a 20 metre block of flats. Remove from the oven and cool.
For the icing:
Mix all ingredients except the coconut. Spread onto the slice. Dust top with coconut. Cut into squares when set. Store in a sealed container for up to two weeks.
Note: I sometimes make this with dairy-free margarine and gluten-free flour for our Open Garden workshops, as it will then tick both vegan and gluten-free needs. The coconut and moist icing means that it stays moist even with gluten-free flour, which can give a dry result (as long as you don’t over-bake it).
Old-Fashioned Chocolate Caramel Slice
For the base:
- 1 cup plain flour
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup coconut, desiccated
- 125 g butter, melted
For the caramel:
- 375 g can sweetened condensed milk
- 2 tablespoons golden syrup
- 60g butter
For the topping:
- 4 tbsp butter
- 2 cups icing mixture
- ¼ cup of cocoa powder
- 4 tbsp water
- 2 tbsp coconut, desiccated
- 125 g cooking chocolate, chopped
Mix base and spread into tray lined with baking paper. Bake at 200 ºC for 15 minutes. Take out and cool. Now place the caramel ingredients in a saucepan. Stir vigorously while on low heat for ten minutes. Pour over the base. Bake the slice again at 200 ºC for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool. Melt the chocolate with the butter in the microwave, or in a bowl over a simmering pot of water (safer!). Don’t over-cook the chocolate or it will turn grainy – it needs to be soft but it will still keep its shape till you stir it. Spread over the caramel layer. Leave till set. Cut into squares. Store in a sealed container for up to 2 weeks.
White Chocolate and Lemon Slice
- 125 g butter
- 200 g white chocolate, chopped
- ¾ cup golden syrup
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- 2 cups plain flour
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
- 2 cups icing sugar
- 3 tbsp lemon or lime juice
Melt butter and white chocolate together in the microwave or in a bowl over a simmering pot of water. (Don’t over-cook the chocolate or it will turn grainy – it needs to be soft but it will still keep its shape till you stir it.) Remove from the heat, mix in the sugar and syrup, zest and juice. Beat well – it should all come together. Now mix in eggs, then the flour. Spread on a tray lined with baking paper. Bake at 200 ºC for about 25 minutes or until just firm. Cool
For the icing:
Mix and spread.
For more information from Jackie, please go to her website: www.jackiefrench.com