Jackie French News January 2014

Our wonderful author, and Australia’s new Children’s Laureate, 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! Each month, we’ll be posting her updates here, but you can see past month’s blogs, other information and subscribe to recieve these updates as a monthly newsletter on her website www.jackiefrench.com.

Contents:

  • Introduction
  • Wombat News
  • Latest Books
  • 2013 Awards
  • 2014 Schedule
  • The January Garden
  • A Few Recipes:
    – Best Ever Christmas (fruit) Pudding
    – Boiled Ginger Pudding
    – Coffee, Date and Prune Pudding
    – Apple Pudding

Introduction

Two new wombats, both munching near their mums.
One new job – Australian Children’s Laureate 2014/2015.
Some mild terror, that I won’t do what’s needed — and even more — that I may do what isn’t needed.
(Not all my ideas are good ones. Though I do listen when friends tell me that they’re not.)
Mostly I feel joy. Joy so deep that it surprised me. Joy, that I have two years to give back to the children’s literature community that has given me so much for a quarter of a century … well, all my life really, since Mum read me my first book, which was probably a gift from Grandma and almost certainly Australian.
I’m possibly from the first generation of Australian writers who grew up with mostly Australian books, with the Children’s Book Council Award winner under the Christmas tree each year.
Any ideas on what needs to be done – or shouldn’t be touched with an extra long barge pole – gratefully received.


Wombat News

Phil the small, injured wombat, surviving many operations on his leg, is now a large stroppy wombat, except with humans, whom he still loves. We have been carefully keeping out of his way, so he might forget us. Luckily he and the others don’t come out till nearly midnight in this hot weather, by which time we are tucked up in bed. But it is very difficult to resist a sweet, grey wombat who butts your leg, hoping for a cuddle. And, yes, he did get a bouquet of carrots for Christmas. I woke up at 2 am to the sound of chewing.


Book News

 Refuge
A young man survives a freak wave and arrives in the Australia he had dreamt of. But his companions in the game on the beach come from many different times and have their own Australia. Together they learn to accept reality and each other.

Let the Land Speak: How the Land Created Our Nation
This 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 firestick 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
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.

In The Road to Gundagai, Blue Laurence 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.

Wombat Goes to School
The wombat is back! It’s 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.


2013 Awards

Pennies for Hitler has just won the NSW Premier’s History Award for Young People. (Dingo was 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.

Nanberry: Black Brother White and Baby Wombat’s Week have also been shortlisted for the Yabba (Young Australians’ Best Book Awards, voted by young people across Australia.)


2014 Schedule

I probably won’t be able to visit individual schools this year, only festivals or events where several schools are together. But if I can’t get to your school or preschool, video conferencing may be possible, but would need to be arranged through HarperCollins (contact Jacqui Barton – see below.) It is also possible to download videos of talks about various books or workshop ideas from the excellent HarperCollins’ Teachers’ Hub. Go to www.harpercollins.com.au and click on Teacher’s Hub (there are also excellent teacher’s notes for most of my books), or contact Jacqui Barton, Education Manager, Harper Collins, Jacqui.Barton@harpercollins.com.au

Invitations to speak should be sent to the Laureate Office, or check the Laureate web site for schedule updates. If I’m in your area then I’ll try to fit in any other invitations. office.acla@gmail.com | www.childrenslaureate.org.au

Monthly Laureate Chats Once a month through 2014 and 2015 I’ll chat to anyone who emails me. Check this newsletter and the Laureate web site (see above) for details. At this stage it is likely to be the first Friday of every month, beginning in February.

2014

Feb 28: Video talks. Contact Jacqui Barton at HarperCollins (see above).

March 1: Conference, State Library NSW

March 2: Public talk on Let the Land Speak Sydney Maritime Museum, NSW (more details to come)

March 23: Talks at the Wheeler Centre, Melbourne VIC

March 28-29: Storylines Festival, All Saints School, Perth WA (public sessions as well as school ones.

March 31: The first performance of Pete the Sheep: The Musical, by the wonderful Monkey Baa Theatre for Young People, Lend Lease Theatre, Darling Harbour, Sydney, NSW. For details go to http://monkeybaa.com.au/ Pete will tour Australia through 2014. Contact Monkey Baa for performance details.

May: MANTLE conference, Newcastle, NSW

May 11: Araluen, Open Garden day: contact Open Garden Scheme.

May 17-18: National Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) conference, ACT

May 19: CBCA visit to our property

May 21: National Story Time at the National Library, ACT

July 9-12: ALIA conference, Darwin, NT

August 8-10: The Bendigo Literary Festival, VIC

August 23-26: Sessions at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival, VIC

October 22: Launch Children’s Day, ACT

October 28-30: Conference, Southport, QLD

November 8-9: Araluen Open Garden Days. Contact the Open Garden Scheme

Nove 14-22: Regional WA


The January Garden:

By now you should be eating, not planting, weeding or feeding. Mulching perhaps and watering if it fails to fall from the sky.

The only exception is for autumn seedlings, which do need to be put in now. I’m planting red cabbage, broccoli, red mignonette and buttercrunch, lettuce, rocket, corn, salad (neither are good when the weather is hot) plus more beans and zucchini to crop when the early planted ones are getting tatty. Anne put in more tomatoes last week, for the same reason. All going well they’ll give us tomatoes into early winter when the early planted ones are less vigorous and so prone to fusarium wilt and other diseases that you may think are cold damage, but are really just tomato general weariness.

How to grow …

Grow your own wallpaper

Wallpaper used to be popular mostly because it made rough walls smooth and the smoother your walls are, the less likely they are to accumulate dust and cobwebs.

The simplest wallpaper was old newspaper – you can still find it around here glued onto wattle and daub (mud and small branch) walls, and fascinating. You can read all the gossip of the 1920s and ‘30s. Most newspaper ‘wallpaper’ though was painted over.

Fabric can also be used as wallpaper – silk ‘papered’ walls are very, very fashionable – and expensive and they’ve been fashionable and expensive for a few thousand years. Linen is also used as ‘wallpaper’.

If I had enough paperbarks (melaleucas) I think I’d have at least one room papered with its bark. Tear it off and paste it on, all shaggy and lovely. This does, of course, defeat the original purpose of wallpaper, but paperbark is waterproof – great for a dampish wall, assuming it stays glued on and would also make good insulation. And it would be almost like living in the heart of a paperbark tree.

Vine leaves

Pick unsprayed grape vine leaves. Avoid beetle and bees. Dip in boiling water. Turn off the heat. Fish out with tongs. They are now soft enough to roll around stuffing. They can be frozen or kept in brine, but are best used fresh in the 8 months of the year you have vine leaves.

Grow Your own Cuppa

The classic ‘tea bush’ is Camellia sinensis. It is a dense, shiny-leaved camellia with fragrant, single white or pale-pink flowers. It is a lovely shrub to grow even if you don’t want to harvest tea. The Indian tea bush is also a camellia, Camellia assamica, and has similar requirements. Tea is grown commercially in tropical monsoon areas. The bush can grow to an enormous size in the wild – up to 30 metres – but frequent harvesting keeps it trimmed to about 2 metres.

Tea bushes can be grown in any place in Australia which receives no more than light frosts and has a good supply of water. Any sheltered spot will do. The ideal temperature for good tea growth is between 20 and 30°C, but tea will tolerate more extreme conditions: we had a frost of -5°C this year, and the bushes were burnt a bit – that’s all.

Choose a slightly acidic, well-drained soil with plenty of humus, or build up poor soil with mulch and compost. Tea bushes can be grown from seed or cuttings, usually the latter. The bushes are slow to grow in their early years – and may stagnate for about a year after planting – but then grow rapidly, especially in warm conditions. Start pruning the bushes after about three years to keep them in manageable size, and keep them well fed. In subtropical areas you should be able to harvest tea from a three-year-old plant, though in colder areas it might be wise to wait anywhere up to five or even ten years, until the bush seems robust enough to stand regular trimming. We grow ours in full sun, but they seem happier in dappled shade.

Harvesting tea

To harvest the tea, cut off the young leaves and dry them or use them fresh. In commercial production only the two top leaves and a bud are taken from every twig. Leaves are harvested every 9 days in winter to 21 days in summer, depending on the growth of the trees.

Different teas are made by treating the leaves in different ways. Black tea is made by piling the green leaves on the damp ground or on mats and letting them ferment before they are dried. Green tea, which is reputed to have health benefits, is dried as soon as it is picked, and Oolong tea is semi-fermented. Most tea drunk in Australia is black tea. If you can’t develop a taste for green tea you will have to experiment with fermentation. Common supermarket tea can be ‘fragranced’ by adding small quantities of herbs or blossom. Try adding some fresh or dried tea jasmine (not common jasmine) flowers for jasmine tea. Fresh or dried blossom is a delightful addition to a pot of tea, as is a twist of dried, but not crystallised, orange rind. You can also extract a fragrant ‘tea’ oil from the tea seeds for use as a massage lotion or in cooking: pulverise the seeds in a blender, strain through some cheesecloth, and keep in a sealed bottle.

What to plant

Vegetables:
Winter crops like: Broccoli, Brussels, sprout, Cabbage, Cauliflowers, Collards & Peas

In warm areas you can still plant: Small cucumbers, Melons & Bush pumpkins

Plant more:
Artichokes, Kale, Asparagus, Kohl, Basil, Leeks, Beans, 1Lettuce (may not germinate over 26C), Beetroot, Melons, Burdock, Okra, Cabbage, Parsley, Capsicum, Pumpkin, Carrots, Rabi, Choko, Radish, Celery, Salsify, Celtuce, Salad Greens like mizuna and mitsuba, Chicory, Scorzonera, Corn, Silver beet, Cress, Strawberries, Cucumbers, Sweet Potatoes, Eggplant, Sweet corn, Endive, Tomatoes, Fennel, Turnips, Herbs, Zucchini

January Pests

Remember that fruit fly are attracted to ripe fruit and mostly breed on the ground. Pick all fruit just before it gets ripe, and never leave windfalls more than a day. Watch out for fruit fly breeding in compost heaps. See The Natural Control of Garden Pests (Jackie French, Aird Books) for details of organic fruit-fly control. Use fruit fly nets, they work for other pests too. Control 28-spot ladybirds on potatoes, tomatoes, and pepinoes with glue spray or repel with reflective mulch. Use sticky yellow traps or bowls of water with yellow food colour, or glue spray for whitefly.


A few recipes

Puddings: Not just for Christmas!

This year’s was the best Christmas pudding. Ever. This is partly because I’ve discovered that freshly ground cinnamon quills are nothing like pre-ground, probably stale and dusty cinnamon. What do they do to that stuff? It’s dark and pungent, rather than pale brown and sweet, and irresistible.

It was also because I forgot to buy breadcrumbs, so had to whizz up fresh and good wholemeal bread. The result was moist and light and gave the pudding a texture like no other I’ve ever eaten, much less made.

So I’ve just made another three, because Bryan refuses to relinquish them just because Christmas is over. If you think you hate Christmas pudding, try this one. But I’ve adapted the recipe for other puddings, all light, all moist, all superb.

Best Ever Christmas Pudding

You’ll need:

  • 250 gm butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 2 cups rum
  • 2 cups whisky
  • 3 cups sultanas
  • 3 cups currants
  • 1 cup crystallised cherries
  • 2 heaped tbsp freshly ground cinnamon
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 scant cup plain flour
  • 5 cups very fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs. Do not use stale bread and remember to remove the crusts

 Method:

24 hours before you make the pudding, Soak the fruit in the rum and whisky.
Once the fruit is plump and soft and has absorbed just about all the liquid (do not omit this) cream butter and sugar well; add the eggs, one by one, not adding the next till the previous one is well beaten in.
Gently stir in spices, lemon juice, then flour and crumbs then fruit.
Place into plastic lunch boxes, leaving a space at the top. Stick down well with duct tape. Place into a baking bag and tie the top with string. Bring a big pot of water to the boil. It is very important that the water be boiling to achieve a light pudding.
Drop in the pudding – or puddings if you wish to make small ones. Boil for 3 hours, adding more water as necessary.
Remove. Store in the fridge for up to three months till needed then reboil for 2 hours. This will caramelise the pudding further and add flavour.
Eat hot or cold. Ice cream is essential, and real custard made from fresh eggs and whole Jersey milk is delicious.
Boiled Ginger Pudding

You’ll need:

  • 250 gm butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cup crystallised ginger, chopped (optional)
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 4 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 heaped tbsp freshly ground cinnamon
  • 1 scant cup plain flour
  • 5 cups very fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs. Do not use stale bread and remove the crusts.

 Method:

Cream butter and sugar well; add the eggs, one by one, not adding the next till the previous one is well beaten in.
Gently stir in spices, golden syrup, then flour and crumbs.
Place into plastic lunch boxes, leaving a space at the top. Stick down well with duct tape. Place into a baking bag and tie the top with string.
Bring a big pot of water to the boil. It is very important that the water be boiling to achieve a light pudding.
Drop in the pudding – or puddings if you wish to make small ones. Boil for 2 hours. Serve with cream, ice cream, and to be totally indulgent, caramel sauce.
It’s Good kept in the fridge for up to four days.

Coffee, Date and Prune Pudding

You’ll need:

  • 250 gm butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 1 cup chopped prunes
  • 2 cups good strong coffee
  • 1 heaped tbsp freshly ground cinnamon
  • 1 scant cup plain flour
  • 5 cups very fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs. Do not use stale bread and remove the crusts.

 Method:

Soak the dates and prunes overnight in the coffee. Do not omit this step. A touch of rum or whisky can replace some of the coffee.
Cream butter and sugar well; add the eggs, one by one, not adding the next till the previous one is well beaten in.
Gently stir in spice, flour and crumbs then fruit.
Place into plastic lunch boxes, leaving a space at the top. Stick down well with duct tape. Place into a baking bag and tie the top with string. It is very important that the water be boiling to achieve a light pudding.
Drop in the pudding – or puddings if you wish to make small ones. Boil for 2 hours.

Apple Pudding

You’ll need:

  • 250 gm butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 3 cups chopped apple, rolled in lemon juice so it doesn’t brown
  • 1 heaped tbsp freshly ground cinnamon
  • 1 scant cup plain flour
  • 5 cups very fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs. Do not use stale bread and remove the crusts.

Method:

Cream butter and sugar well; add the eggs, one by one, not adding the next till the previous one is well beaten in.
Gently stir in spice, flour and crumbs then fruit.
Place into plastic lunch boxes, leaving a space at the top. Stick down well with duct tape. Place into a baking bag and tie the top with string.
Bring a big pot of water to the boil – NB it must be boiling for a light pudding. Drop in the pudding – or puddings if you wish to make small ones. Boil for 2 hours. This pudding needs to be eaten within three days of making.


For more information from Jackie, please go to her website: www.jackiefrench.com

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