Category Archives: books

Katherine Browne (the character), tomato stracciatella and ricotta gnocchi

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Well my reading year is off to a smashing start thanks to the truly delightful, “Brother of the More Famous Jack” written by Barbara Trapido (you can grab it here).  Also, I’ve ticked one off the reading challenge list….this one I chose almost solely on it’s cover (you can see it by clicking the link above), 1 down, 51 to go.

Katherine Browne is one of the best drawn female characters I’ve read in a very long time and spending time with her was a joy.  Katherine falls in love, loses love, loses herself, tries out different ways of being in the world, moves to Rome, falls in lust, loses everything and eventually she comes home to her kindred spirits by way of the Goldman family.  She falls in love again, this time it’s the real thing and she finds happiness.  It’s a coming of age story in a way – perhaps more of a coming in to herself story.  Jacob Goldman is Kath’s Professor and she is drawn in to his personal orbit where he and his wife Jane are a formidable duo. She is accepted as a member of their family almost instantly and it is clear these people are her tribe.  This family is so unlike her own…where beauty is appreciated, verbal sparring is the everyday and intelligence is respected above all else.  But there is kindness, respect and love here too. Roger Goldman, the oldest son, reminded me so of someone I used to know….and I winced with Katherine’s heartbreak and fawning as I saw echoes of my own past behaviour. The writing is light and clever and for me a highlight is the genuine friendship between Jane and Katherine. One borne of shared values, respect.  They are the type of friends who see each other for who they really are and don’t expect otherwise. A fun, beautiful, heartfelt book and one I wholeheartedly recommend.

Back when I hosted a Book Club at my house I tempted my pals over by cooking a meal for them too…always inspired by the book we read and so I thought I would do the same here.  And this book, like many I enjoy, talks food throughout but none more so than a tomato stracciatella which is referenced twice throughout the book.

The first time it’s made in the Goldman kitchen by John Millet when Katherine first visits them – an outtake from his life in Rome.  The second, by Michele, the fascist scoundrel lover who asks Katherine how stracciatella would be translated in English.

And this is a truly delicious soup!  At the outset let me say this is my kind of food – simple to cook, pretty quick, based on good ingredients and though it’s a soup, it tastes of summer to me. Can I also mention that this is a really cheap meal?  It would make a great cold soup too though I think it would be best without the semolina if you’re going to do that.  It would be almost gazpacho like.  I think it’s fancy enough to serve to friends for a light lunch and as a starter too.

I made the soup itself in the morning, knowing we were having a busy day and then made the egg mixture and added that to the reheated soup at dinner time.  It’s great midweek fare and I will actually freeze small portions of the soup and do a quarter of the egg mixture to it as we reheat it for an after work meal.  Sadly, my kiddos don’t like soup much so it’s a meal for the grown people only.

I based my soup on this recipe in the New York Times but of course I couldn’t leave well enough alone so did it with a Cat twist and served it up with some ricotta gnocchi which is one of my favourite things to eat.

 Tomato Stracciatella (via NY Times)

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  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 can tomatoes, + 1 grated tomato – if I had more fresh tomatoes I would have used those but I didn’t and the canned ones, if you buy the good ones, are super good I think
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 basil sprig
  • 1.5 litres vegetable or chicken stock – we had homemade chicken stock on hand so that’s what I used
  • a little grate of nutmeg
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup semolina
  • 4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
  • A good handful of fresh herbs – I used a combination of parsley, chives and basil freshly picked from the garden…chop them up pretty finely but don’t worry too much about it, truly

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large, solid bottom saucepan. Add minced/chopped (whatever you like to do in your preparation) garlic, cooking for around 30 seconds. Don’t let the garlic burn – keep the heat lower rather than higher. Add the tomatoes and basil sprig. Cook, stirring, until the tomatoes have cooked down – the original recipe said 10 minutes but mine was done much more quickly. Add the stock. Bring to a simmer, cover with lid and simmer 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  The soup is essentially done.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, semolina, Parmesan, herbs and a dash of nutmeg. Beat until frothy.

Bring the soup to a boil, and slowly drizzle in a thin stream of the egg mixture, stirring constantly.  This slow pour is actually what gives it a lovely swirly cloud situation. Then reduce heat and simmer five minutes.

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I do my gnocchi mostly by feel rather than recipe now as it’s not at all tricky so please go with the instructions rather than the quantities of the flour lovely people.

  • 250 grams ricotta cheese (please don’t by the stuff from the supermarket labelled smooth – it’s just not right!)
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
  • just under a cup of plain flour
  • a dash of salt

Drain the ricotta in a sieve until most of the liquid has dripped out. Meanwhile, put a large pot of water on to boil. By the time it’s boiling your gnocchi will be ready.

Gently mix ricotta, salt and parmesan in a large bowl and add only as much flour as you need to bring the dough together. The best way to do this is to do it by hand – it should be sticky but not so much it sticks to your hands.  Try not to overmix it as that makes the gnocchi tough.

Invert on to a lightly floured board and make sausage like shapes out of the dough – around the 2cm diameter is best. Then cut them in around 2cm intervals.

Drop the gnocchi carefully in the boiling water – this is tricky cos you have to be gentle and don’t want to splash yourself with boiling water!  The gnocchi cook in a few minutes maximum but when they’re ready they float to the top which is indeed very kind of them. Fish them out with a slotted spoon, I prefer to put them in to a colander to drain the last of the water off.

You can cook them in advance and rewarm them or even pan-fry them to give a nice crunch to the outside of it and they do freeze well.  Tor freeze, lay them flat and put baking paper between the layers to make sure they don’t stick together.

The 2015 Reading Challenge

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I love books.  They’ve been a constant companion.  We have four bookcases at home – one solely for cookbooks (and I’ve got some hidden in a cupboard too!), one full of my books, one for the boy’s books and one with a mix of texts, my books and Mr’s books.  The poor fellow hardly gets any space. Books (and maybe shoes) are my ultimate consumer weakness.  Though I do love the library too there’s nothing quite like the smell of a new book.  The pile of books pictured above is my to be read pile as at last week.

I came across this reading challenge late last year and am going to try my best to complete it though at 52 books I know it’ll be tough. I will include children’s books too so it may be achievable! 🙂  I’ll be sharing what I read here. Fun times ahead.  If you read anything awesome please do let me know?

Why I read

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I’ve read some beautiful posts about why people write. And like many, I write because I feel the words and need to get them out in order to make sense of my inner workings.

For me, it’s the words. The sound of them as they appear, typewriter like, in my mind. And that process is just as powerful for me as a reader.

Words are thoughts. And thoughts help me make sense of things. They help me learn. Grow. Change.

Mum tells me I taught myself to read when I was around 3 so in my living memory I have never been without a book in my journey. I have no frame of reference for life without books by my side. They have been my friend and teacher always.

We were talking at dinner the other night about how every room in our home has books in it. Mr 5, rather seriously said, “We are really very lucky.” And we are.

I read as I see my thoughts reflected back. Thoughts I had no words around before those very words appeared before me.

I just read this quote from one of my favourite books, Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami:

The storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in and walk right through it, step by step.

I read to still my mind, enter another world. It’s not always a comfortable place.

I read an article a few weeks ago that said reader of fiction as a group are more empathic. (As an aside, the article makes the distinction that it’s literary fiction that does that and though I tend towards the literary I can’t help that that’s a bit of a snobbish distinction). I have no doubt that seeing the world through the eyes of characters whose lives are far removed from my own experience have made me a better person.

I read because it’s part of me.

The first beautiful thing

I’ve just begun reading this book.

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I am a big fan of some of Richard Flanagan’s books, particularly, “Death of a River Guide” which I heard him read passages from at an Adelaide Writer’s Week many years ago. I was captivated by hearing his voice read his words aloud in a way that few writers I’ve heard have been able to do.

I’m intrigued already by Dorrigo Evans. He is asked why he loves words so and responds:

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Words were the first beautiful thing I knew too.

Words and the Mona Lisa, which my Mum had cut a small print out of and had placed in our bathroom. I thought, for years, that it was a painting of her as she does have a striking resemblance to my Mum.

For me words, and art, have always spoken to my soul. Captured things I’ve not been able to express or put feelings and thoughts I didn’t know I had together.

What was the first beautiful thing you ever knew?

Words are magical

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I’m a reader. I lost my way for a few years but I’ve got my mojo back. I’ve read a lot over the last few months and am reading the book pictured above now. It’s quirky, soulful, funny and full of life. It’s one of those books I feel happy to be part of. I am especially glad because this is what I just read:

“Do you believe in God, Arthur?” I said, eating the last piece of sponge.
“Do I believe in an old man in the clouds with a white beard judging us mortals with a moral code from one to ten? Good Lord no, my sweet Elly, I do not! I would have been cast out from this life years ago with my tatty history. Do I believe in a mystery; the unexplained phenomenon that is life itself? The greater something that illuminates inconsequence in our lives; that gives us something to strive for as well as the humility to brush ourselves down and start all over again? Then yes, I do. It is the source of art, of beauty, of love, and proffers the ultimate goodness to mankind. That to me is God. That to me is life. That is what I believe in.”

Yes. So much yes. That has put in words things I have never been able to myself. Good writers can put words around feelings you didn’t even know you had. Words are magical.

The Dream

Every work day I walk past my favourite book store. I peer in the window and smile. They’ve a beautiful window display at the moment. The best I’ve ever seen there.

Books have been my lifelong passion. They’ve been my solace, my friend and my escape many, many, many times. I was the girl sitting on the bench with my nose stuck in a book as my mum shopped.

Some months back I had a vision of what I wanted to do long term. I like what I do for paid work now. It’s perfect for the time in my life I’m in. Long term though I want to be amongst books. I want to have my own book store specialising in children’s literature. I have visions of a reading room, author visits, shelves filled to the brim with wonderful words and illustrations. Combining this love with my experience as an Event Manager I want to have a room for children to have parties in too. Lovely, book themed parties which are simple and fun with healthy food and the odd treat. A cafe too! With change facilities and one where mama’s with noisy toddlers feel at home ! I can “see” the store full of wood and hear it full of chat and the hum of books being read aloud to giggling children. I can smell it with coffee and vanilla tea cake.

I even dream about it once a week at least. I am putting this out in the universe because if you dream it and ask for it and work hard for it it can happen right? So universe, this is my dream ok?

Do you have a long term dream?

Sunshine and rain

I’ve listened to the positive thinking activists with interest. Those people who believed in The Secret. Like that episode of S&TC when Charlotte & Carrie go to the self-help workshop and Charlotte asks a question. The host then says she mustn’t be getting “out there” and Carrie says, “oh believe me, she’s out there”.

I’ve come to believe that maturity is understanding that the world is full to the brim of grey areas and learning to navigate our own truth in amongst all that grey.

I have never known whether I’m an optimist or a pessimist. I’ve tried to catch myself out in the way I describe a glass half filled or not…but it seems that I describe them as alternately full or empty. Probably based around what kind of day/week/month I’m having.

I think it’s most likely because I’m what is mostly called, a realist. I see things of course through my own paradigm but I’m neither overly optimistic nor pessimistic. I navigate my way through the world mainly by combination of overthinking and heart – so, by my gut instincts really.

I recently saw an interview with Oliver Burkeman, columnist, author and provocative thinker. He is such a fascinating fellow! He spoke about his book, “The Antidote: Happiness for People who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking” which I’ve since read.  There’s some seriously thought provoking stuff in this book.  It’s an exploration in to the ways self help industry and the constant focus on positivity aren’t actually helping achieve happiness in people’s lives and that they are actually doing the opposite of what is intended.  Instead, he focuses on how we should embrace negativity, embarrassment and accept that we are flawed.

It all makes perfect sense to me….balance in all ways…..grey areas abound….we must experience the full rollercoaster of life….perspective is important….as is being present…..the yin and the yang.  The full spectrum…the sunshine and the rain.