Jackie French News January-February 2015

Our wonderful author, Australia’s Children’s Laureate, and now Senior Australian of the Year 2015 , 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 receive these updates as a monthly newsletter on her website www.jackiefrench.com.

Contents:

  • Introduction
  • Wombat News
  • New Books
  • Schedule for 2015
  • Garden News
  • Recipes:
    – Stuffed Eggs
    – Potato and Leek Soup
    – Carrot Soup
    – Roast Chicken with gravy
    – Five-Spice Treasure Chicken Wings
    – Oven Chips
    – Parsley Salad
    – Incredibly Simple but Extraordinarily Delicious Show-Off Berries with Meringue
    – Passionfruit Tiramisu
    – No-Bake Irrestistible Can’t Go Wrong Chocolate Ginger Slices

Introduction

I need a TARDIS. Just a small one. Even a time-share TARDIS would do. A way to get to three conferences and four schools in a day, and still have time to sleep. And at least one quiet family meal with Bryan. Managed that for the first time in two months tonight, though, admittedly, half an hour later I am tapping this.

It has been wonderful. Chaotic. Humbling, standing in the same room with so many extraordinary people, who give so much to so many with no thought of return. Overwhelming covers it most accurately, with so much happening that there hasn’t been time to absorb it all, much less process what has happened.

Sitting here in the valley it is as if it all happened to someone else, up there on a stage in the wind on Australia Day. I gave up counting after eighty-four interviews. And now …

Work. Getting things done. Most days are still filled with answering emails and there are seven boxes of conventional mail to answer – forgive me if you don’t get an answer till 2018, but it will come.

But this year, as Australian Children’s Laureate and 2015 Senior Australian of the Year, there is an even greater chance to get things done. To convince teachers, parents and the kids themselves that everyone can read and there is no ‘one size fits all’ that will work for everyone in exactly the same way. But if we fail even one kid we have failed, leaving kids shut out from modern social life and the extraordinary written heritage of humanity.

We all need stories. We have a right to stories. Stories tell us who we are, how we got here – and what we can do next. They give us the power to dream and the tools to achieve those dreams.

What do I plan for this year? Simply more. More regional tours to more tens of thousands of kids, convincing them that they do have choices, that, no, I can’t promise that it will be easy but that there are people who want to help and can help, and if they keep looking they’ll find them. Convincing teachers that no kid – even that brat who keeps sneering in the back corner – is hopeless. That there is no such thing as reading problems, but teaching challenges. That we can do it – because in twenty-five years of meeting ‘hopeless’ kids, I have never met one who actually is.

It’s a mindset change, mostly. Teaching programs like MultiLit exist, work and can be validated. There are programs now to enable teachers to upgrade their skills to specialise in literacy.

And, as well as that, there will be conferences and more articles (I have been averaging an article and a half a day since November both for Australia and overseas), tweets, blogs lobbying politicians, universities and government departments. And, if at all possible, doing some writing too – and by writing I mean the worlds I create, not the one we are all trying to make better.

But fiction helps with that too.
Stories matter.


Wombat News

Not much. It has rained most days – not a lot of rain, no floods. Just greenery that grows and grows, including the eighty-six ground covers we call ‘grass’ here, some of which actually are native grasses and all of which the wombats eat. They are fat. They are happy. Which for wombats mean they need spend only a couple of hours a night munching to be able to sleep for three days if it’s too cold or wet to be bothered heading out to graze. When humans have spare time we write books or symphonies, play chess, do crosswords, arrange flowers and try to change the world. When wombats have spare time they sleep. (I only envy them sometimes.)


New Books

To Love a Sunburnt Country
Unquestionably my best book, and the hardest to write, about Australia between 1941 and 1946, when to love your country meant to fight for it. But there are many ways to love a country and to fight for it. It is also about Nancy of the Overflow, who believes she can do anything, even at sixteen – except stop the entire Japanese Army. It is also about Michael, who loves her; Fred, conman and reluctant hero; and the land itself, which is perhaps the main character in every book I write, as well as in my life.

The Beach They Called Gallipoli (created with Bruce Whatley)
There have been many books written about the Gallipoli campaign. This book is about the beach, over a hundred years, the white sand the day before the big ships came, the devastation of both men and land that, gradually, healed.

My father-in-law, Pa Jack, fought at Gallipoli. The shadow of that war still hangs over the man I married. Pa Jack remained bitter all his life at Australia’s abandonment of the men who had given so much for their country. It has taken us a hundred years, Pa Jack. But at last, we have remembered.

Birrung: The Secret Friend (created with Mark Wilson)
The first in a trilogy. Barney Bean, a free child in a colony of convicts, has a secret: his friendship with a girl, a girl who is black and who has been adopted by the extraordinary Johnsons. Why have the Johnsons – and Richard Johnson’s incredible contributions to Australia – been not just ignored, but deliberately maligned? Who was the girl also called Booroong or Abaroo? Why did she stay so long in a colony of desperation and thieves? And how can secrets of the past help us understand today?


2015 Schedule

Normally here I’d put a list of where I’ll be when, but with a new role, as well as the Laureateship this year, which also comes with event expectations, most of this year is already booked and sometimes double booked.

There are a few events that are confirmed, but many others where we are still juggling dates and working out which event is the most essential. And each day there are at least half a dozen more requests to speak at functions across the country, all of which I’d love to do, but can’t.

Which means that, practically, there are very few days free for other events in 2015.

Hopefully by next month there’ll be an itinerary for the rest of the year, both on this website and the Laureate website.

But as a very basic guide for confirmed events so far (though there are many other events that haven’t been added yet):

2015

March: International Laureate Summit, Bologna, Italy; talks for Australia and the Australian Publisher’s Association, Bologna Book Fair, Italy

April: Primary History Teacher’s Conference, Sydney; talks at the Sydney Jewish Museum

May: Laureate tour of regional SA

June: Laureate tour of regional south west WA

July: Byron Bay Writers festival and school days

July/August: Laureate tour of WA, Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie

September: ASA conference, Sydney; SPELD conference, Brisbane

October: Laureate tour of Tasmania in conjunction with MONA

You can also 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, HarperCollins at the email address above.

You can also check the Laureate website, www.childrenslaureate.org.au, for schedule updates. If I’m in your area, then I’ll try to fit in any other invitations.


Garden News:

One day – possibly in 2016 – I will have time to plant and pick and mooch properly. Just now five hundred emails call me instead. I will give you some garden news when the tide of emails ebbs and I can reclaim a little of my own life again.


Recipes

Actually, I am still cooking, mostly because – despite what I write above – a little picking of fruit and veg each day, as well as tracking wombats, is deeply part of who I am. But I am making old favourites, not experimenting. I cook badly when I am distracted, so it’s best to keep to what I know. So forgive my giving out these recipes again.

Stuffed Eggs

I usually serve these if we need to sit for a long while drinking before we are going to eat, but they are also good for dinner by the TV, with a salad. You need hard-boiled eggs for this.

  • 12 eggs (if you have your own hens, these need to be at least a week old – very fresh eggs are hard to peel)
  • ½ jar or bottle of Praise mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon Keens curry powder (or any other curry powder or curry paste you like)
  • paprika, powdered

Put the eggs gently into the saucepan. Cover them with water. Turn on the heat and wait till they boil. Boil them for ten minutes then tip them and the water into the sink to drain.

When the eggs are cool, crack them against something hard and peel off the shells. They can now be left in the fridge for up to 24 hours until you want to do the next bit.

Cut the eggs in half long ways and scoop out the yellow yolks into a bowl. The whites will look ragged and uneven. Don’t worry – they’ll look okay when filled. Put the whites on a big plate, so they are only just touching.

I throw out about a third to a half of the egg yolks, but you can use them all if you like – it’ll just make the filling richer.

Add the mayonnaise and curry powder to the yolks. Mash with a fork till smooth. Taste. You may need to add another tablespoon of curry powder, or even two more. Curry powder loses its taste as it gets older, so you will always need to keep tasting till the mix tastes good.

Use a teaspoon to scoop the egg yolk and mayonnaise mix into the eggs. It should be a small mound up over each egg white.

Sprinkle a pinch of paprika, or scatter it from the jar, a little bit onto the top of every egg.
Decorate the edge of the plate with a sprig of parsley or coriander.

These stuffed eggs are okay for about six hours out of the fridge. Otherwise they’ll keep for 24 hours in the fridge.

Don’t try to store the leftovers, though, if they have been out of the fridge for more than two hours. After 24 hours in the fridge throw them out – but I’ve never had to, as they have all vanished. Stuffed Egg Sandwich
Mash stuffed eggs and serve on bread, or between two pieces of bread, or rolled up with lots of crisp iceberg lettuce in a pita wrap.

Stuffed Eggs on Toast
Mash with a fork. Pile up on hot buttered toast.

Stuffed Egg in Lettuce Cups
Take ‘cups’ of iceberg lettuce, several thickness deep – you need lots of crunch. Fill with mashed stuffed egg.

Stuffed Egg on Asparagus
Snap asparagus in the middle – throw away the tough end. Take off rubber bands. Cover with water in a saucepan. Boil five minutes. Pour off water at once. Serve hot or cold with a big blob of mashed stuffed eggs.

Stuffed Egg Salad
Allow six stuffed egg halves and two cups of salad per person, more if they are very hungry.

  • stuffed eggs, mashed a bit
  • Iceberg lettuce, chopped
  • cucumber, finely sliced (leave the skin on if it’s a long Lebanese cucumber with thin skin)
  • finely sliced radish (optional)
  • finely sliced and deseeded capsicum (optional)
  • one chopped and deseeded chilli (optional)
  • chopped parsley (optional)
  • chives, chopped (optional)

Mound all the salad stuff onto a big plate. Pour the chopped egg mix on top, like snow on a mountain. Let everyone serve themselves from the platter.

Potato and Leek Soup

Again, creamy without cream. Also fast.

Bung in a pot:

  • 4 potatoes, peeled and sliced
  • 3 leeks, tough green bits chopped off and tough outer layers removed (If you have a blender, don’t chop. If you don’t, chop as finely as you can)
  • 1 large container of chicken stock
  • 2 peeled and chopped carrots (optional)

Boil ten minutes. Mash or blend.

This can be served hot or cold; each bowl can be sprinkled with finely chopped parsley can also add a splodge of cream in the centre of each bowl just before serving.

Carrot soup

  • 4 large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large potato (or two small) peeled and chopped
  • 1 large carton chicken stock

Boil for ten minutes. Blend. If you don’t have a blender, chop the onion finely; otherwise, big chunks are fine.

You can sprinkle the top with summer savoury (a great herb, but you need to grow your own) or chopped coriander.

Variation: add 1 tablespoon curry paste. I prefer it this way, though I usually make my own curry mix. Coriander is especially good as a garnish with the curry version.

Variation: add a splodge of cream in the middle of every bowl before serving. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Variation: toss in small squares of buttered toast just before serving.

Roast Chicken with veg and gravy

  • 1 fresh chicken or thawed if frozen
  • 2 onions, peeled
  • 1 bulb garlic, unpeeled
  • 1 spud per person, peeled or not
  • 1 hunk pumpkin per person, seeds removed, peeled
  • 1 parsnip per person, peeled
  • ½ sweet potato per person, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon cornflour
  • 1 large carton chicken stock

Put the onions and garlic inside the chicken. Put the chicken in a roasting pan. Arrange the veg around it. Put the roasting pan in the oven at 200ºC.

Cook for an hour. Wiggle the leg with tongs. If the chook is browned and the leg feels like you can pull it away from the body, it’s done. If not, cook longer.

When cooked take pan out of the oven. Pour off any fat – not into the sink or you’ll block it. I pour onto stale bread to give to the chooks. Otherwise pour into an old mug, let solidify and throw away.

Mix 1 tablespoon cornflour with 1 large carton chicken stock. Put the tray on the top of the stove, pour in the stock, stir a bit so the flour doesn’t sink to the bottom. As it boils, stir up the bits from the bottom. When the gravy is thickish and transparent – you’ll see what I mean – serve out the veg and cut up the chook. Pour the gravy over it and the veg. Or just pile it all onto a giant platter and let everyone help themselves.

Five-Spice Treasure Chicken Wings

  • 2 kilos chicken wings (or legs)
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • ½ cup honey
  • ½ tablespoon five-spice powder
  • 1 tablespoon cornflour in 4 tablespoons water

Place wings in a baking dish. Pour over the water and soy sauce. Dribble over the honey.
Sprinkle on the five-spice powder.

Put in the oven at 220ºC. Bake till brown (about half an hour). Turn them over. Bake for about 20 minutes till brown on the other side.

Mix cornflour into the extra water in a cup till it’s smooth. Pour over the chicken and stir till it’s mixed into the sauce (this will thicken it). Bake another ten minutes. Turn the wings over in the sauce a few times so they are well covered.

Eat hot or cold.

Oven Chips

Peel spuds. Cut into slices one way, then cut those slices into chips.

Spread one tablespoon of oil into a baking tray or spray with olive oil.

Turn the oven onto its highest setting.

Place the spuds on the tray. Roll them over in the oil or spray them well with olive oil.

Bake till golden brown in the oven. This will take 10-25 minutes depending on how hot your oven can get, how thickly you have cut your potatoes and what sort of spud they are.

Check after ten minutes and then every five minutes.

If you cook two trays at once, wait till the top tray is brown then change places with the bottom tray, as things don’t brown as well on the bottom of the oven. Beware: hot chips and fat are easily spilt.

Sprinkle with salt before serving. I use ‘rock salt’ – it is a chunky salt that tastes even more salty. I often blend the salt with spices, but you can buy spiced salts too. Native spice salt is one of the best, and so is Siam salt.

Optional: Sprinkle on ground chilli before you cook, or 1 teaspoon rosemary or thyme leaves, or place 6 cloves of garlic, unpeeled, around the chip tray to add a good garlic flavour.

Parsley Salad

Over the past six years or so, during the drought years, our veg garden was reduced to the great survivors – plants that may wilt and look a bit dusty in the heat of the day (don’t we all?), but perk up at night without even a swim in the creek and a nice cold cup of crushed lemon in their hands. Tomatoes, beans, spuds, chilli – they all put out more roots up their stems if you mulch them right up to their leaves, and the more roots they have the more moisture they can forage. Add some nice plants that have evolved in deserts of barren baking islands – zucchini, watermelon, pumpkin, apple cucumber … and you’ve got a pretty good menu for dinner.

As for greens – red-stemmed Italian chicory, unkillable Warrigal spinach, an Australian native that needs cooking in two changes of water as it’s high in oxalic acid, red-stemmed silver beet … but most of all, lots and LOTS of Italian parsley.

Curled parsley might look nice as a garnish for a pair of lamb chops, but it’s all prickly in the mouth unless you chop it French-chef style (finely). But you only need to grab a bunch of Italian parsley in one hand, scissors in the other and gently snip it into a bowl, and you’ve got the basis for a totally superb salad. And then … well, there are dozens of variations. I’d add something for texture, something for colour and a damn good dressing. Ring the changes according to what’s on hand and what you feel like.

Dressing

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (or macadamia oil)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice, or white wine vinegar or raspberry vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon salt or grainy mustard (optional)
  • ½ tablespoon chopped oregano OR 1 tablespoon chopped blue cheese
  • 1 clove chopped peeled garlic

For texture:

  • slices or chunks of creamy avocado
  • whole macadamias, or walnuts, or sliced almonds
  • chunks of cucumber
  • very finely chopped fresh dates (surprisingly delicious in a salad, especially with cucumber)
  • lightly cooked asparagus, beans (especially long thin snake beans) or broccoli or brocollini

For colour:

  • sliced capsicum
  • finely chopped chilli if you like it hot
  • big chunks of baked salmon or tuna (stunning)
  • hard-boiled eggs (especially tiny bantam eggs)
  • sliced or, better still, chunks of tomato or whole red cherry tomatoes or tiny yellow pear-shaped ones, halved
  • a little very, very finely grated raw beetroot
  • a few, a very few raisins
  • chunks of white fetta cheese, or whole tiny bocconcini or blue vein cheese or crumbled ricotta
  • hunks of cooked chicken breast or cold lamb
  • chunks of baked or boiled new potatoes, or kipfler potatoes or one of the new red or blue fleshed spuds, or yellow fleshed Tasmanian pink eyes.
  • cooked chick peas or red kidney beans or mixed cooked beans

Serve in one very large bowl and let everybody help themselves. It takes about ten minutes to mix. You shouldn’t need anything else and it’s so healthy you can pig out with giant helpings. And if you think growing your dinner takes too much time, time yourself when you’re next at the supermarket. Where would you rather be – picking parsley in the dusk with the scent of ripe tomatoes in your nostrils or standing in the checkout with nothing but a stand of celebrity magazines and chocolate bars to look at?

Incredibly Simple but Extraordinarily Delicious Show-Off Berries with Meringue
(serves 4)

  • 1 carton cream
  • 4 tbsp caster sugar
  • 4 tbsp Cointreau
  • 1 packet meringues
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen berries (If fresh strawberries, chop them)

It takes three minutes to make this and you need to serve it within half an hour.
Whip cream, sugar and Cointreau till thick. Crumble meringues and stir into cream. Place berries at the bottom of wine glasses or glass dishes. Top with the cream mixture. Serve.

After half an hour the meringues may melt. If keeping for half an hour, store in the fridge, covered, so nothing drops on them.

If you want to make this ahead of time, put the fruit in the glasses, whip the cream but don’t add meringue. Keep covered for up to a day. Assemble at the last minute and serve.

If you are serving to anyone who can’t have alcohol, use the juice of a lemon instead.

Passionfruit tiramisu

The problem with tiramisu is that
a. it’s so full of coffee that you can’t sleep after eating it;
b. it’s so delicious that you do eat it anyway; and
c. it looks totally gloriously tempting but kids can’t eat it either because of the alcohol and coffee.

So here is a family-friendly tiramisu, extremely good, incredibly simple to make – in fact great for kids to make too.

  • 1 packet sponge finger biscuits
  • 1 cup canned passionfruit juice, minus the seeds
  • 1 carton mascarpone cheese
  • a punnet raspberries or frozen raspberries or sliced strawberries
  • ½ cup grated chocolate, preferably dark bitter stuff
  • 3 tablespoons Cointreau to mix with the mascarpone if you really want an adults-only version (optional)

Take a glass dish. Layer in half the biscuits. Pour over the juice, spread half the mascarpone, scatter on the fruit. Now layer the rest of the biscuits, spread the rest of the cheese, and scatter on the chocolate. Leave for about two hours for the juices to soak into the biscuits. Serve in slices.

This is okay the next day if you keep it covered in the fridge, but best made a few hours before serving.

P.S. And yes, of course, you can make your own sponge fingers, and use freshly picked fruit. But if you use fresh passionfruit, you may need to add a little sugar, in which case don’t bother removing the seeds – just use half as much juice again. King Island cream can be used instead of mascarpone.

No-Bake Irrestistible Can’t Go Wrong Chocolate Ginger Slices

These are so irresistible I haven’t made them for five years. They make stunning presents and last for weeks, but wrap them up with lots of ribbon or the scent may tempt you to scoff the lot.

I ate something like them about thirty-five years ago and experimented till I came up with these, which are much better than the original and very simple to make. I was living in a shed with no oven at the time, and needed a goodie that didn’t require baking.

Warning: these are seriously edible and not at all good for you – except that sometimes a small nibble of pleasure is very good indeed.

  • 1 packet biscuits, about 250g (any plain biscuit will do, but they give different results – Milk Arrowroots or Nice are good)
  • 125 gm butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 heaped tablespoon cocoa
  • 1 heaped tablespoon powdered ginger
  • 1 or 2 cups sultanas
  • 1 cup crystallised cherries (optional)
    1 egg
  • 1 or 2 cups walnuts or macadamias or sliced almonds
    Icing
  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa
  • 1 tablespoon powdered ginger
  • water

Break biscuits into crumbs – fingers work best – in a large bowl.

Put butter, sugar, cocoa, ginger, sultanas and cherries into a saucepan. Melt butter on low heat, stirring all the time. This will take about three minutes. When all is mixed add the egg, stirring well for about a minute. It should all be like a gluggy caramel.

Scrape caramel into the biscuits and mix well with a large spoon. Press mixture into a greased tray and leave to get quite cold.

Now make the icing: mix icing ingredients with a little water – it’s best to add a very little at a time as it’s easy to make it watery.

Spread icing over the slice. Now AT ONCE scatter on and press in the nuts. The whole of the top should be studded with nuts, pressed down firmly into the icing. Leave to set.

Cut into small squares. Store in a sealed container for up to a month.


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

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