Cooking The Books – Jenn J McLeod

Chef with cookbookI’ve been looking forward to hosting Jenn J McLeod on my blog for ages. Apart from the obvious connection as writers, we share a love of small, quirky country towns and the Australian outback. Jenn’s the sort of gal who’d have fun anywhere and I’m pretty jealous of her youthful adventures on the open road. As you’ll see, some of those adventures have inspired scenes in House For All Seasons which is out now. Welcome, Jenn!

Food glorious food! Such a foodie was I that in 2006 I gave up corporate life, moved to a small country town and bought a cafe. (I’d drunk loads of coffee. How hard could making one be?) Hard – although not as hard as writing a book (and, BTW, my book is about to hit the bookshelves across the country in … synchronise watches … about 24 hours from now).Jenn J McLeod Creek_1_web

So, when Louise suggested I grab an apron and whip up a blog post about food in a book I love… well, forgive my indulgence, I’m sharing a little titbit from my debut novel – House for all Seasons. (Did I mention it’s unofficially out now?!)

The food excerpt I am sharing today was partly inspired by an experience I had as a 22 year old, travelling the country in an F100, when my girlfriend and I were ‘rescued’ by four Sth Aust. farmers (on their annual pilgrimage). We’d dropped our exhaust on the (then corrugated dirt) Stuart highway, not far from the ‘smack-bang, dead centre’ of Australia. We later ‘bumped into’ our ‘heros’ at Coober Pedy pub and they suggested it would be safer to camp out of town with them, rather than the insalubrious c’van park with the seedy caretaker.

We did! (No Wolf Creek back then, obviously.)

our-kangaroo-feastWhat an experience. In the middle of nowhere –100 clicks from Coober Pedy – they cooked us kangaroo tail soup, kangaroo steak, damper and baked vegies – all from a campfire. My love of a life in the country was born.

Now, some thirty years later, here’s my fictional version from House for all Seasons.

A knock at the door wiped the smile from her face. She hoped it was the old man, reneging on the dinner arrangement.

‘G’day.’ Eli didn’t attempt to open the screen door, remaining on the porch, an old esky in one hand, a blanket in the other. ‘Ready?’

‘Ready for what?’

‘Dinner. Come on.’

‘Come on where? I thought you were going to use the stove.’

‘That was your idea, not mine. Fish is meant for the fire. You’re Johnno Hamilton’s daughter. I thought you’d know that.’

She did, of course. Johnno used to say the same thing, once upon a time.

‘But I—’

‘Grab your coat and let’s get a move on. Gotta get the fire goin’ ’fore dark.’

He was already striding down the porch steps and towards the back of the house as Poppy unhooked a hoodie from the hallstand, tied the sleeves around her hips and followed, almost running to keep up, wondering where the frail limping old man was that she’d given a lift to earlier today. HFAS front cover working

‘What’s the dog’s name?’ Poppy managed to ask while catching her breath.


‘Odd thing to call a dog.’

‘Not really. Not when he’s a bloody pain in the arse you can’t get rid of.’

She might have giggled at the explanation, only it hardly seemed appropriate. She was starting to like Eli. Anyone who called a spade a spade was all right in her book. Poppy was a black-and-white girl. She detested grey and hated fence sitters even more, even though impartiality was a prerequisite in her business. Tolerating something wasn’t the same as liking it in her book of life.

‘So how far are we walking exactly?’ she asked after a few minutes, the isolation and the growing darkness tripping a little warning bell in her head. They’d left the open paddock area at the rear of the main house, followed the water’s edge, and were now blazing a trail into the bush. ‘Should I be leaving breadcrumbs?’

‘No need. We’re here. By the river. See?’

A campfire was ready for lighting and Eli wasted no time striking a match and burying it beneath several scrunched-up sheets of strategically placed newspaper pages.

‘Nice to see that particular news rag getting what it deserves,’ Poppy said, trying to make conversation.

‘Don’t read ’em much meself. Not interesting or truthful in my experience.’

She was about to say he sounded just like her father. Instead, she asked what she could do to help with dinner.

‘In there.’ He nodded at the esky. ‘There’s plates. Should be a lemon that needs cuttin’. Tomato and some rabbit food in there too. Thought I should, you comin’ from the city and all. You look the salady type.’

‘Oh, right. Thanks.’ Poppy wasn’t sure what to make of such a description. She sure as hell hadn’t had anything too salady of late and it had been a long time since anyone even cared about her diet, except Max, of course. Good old Max.

‘Okay, fish is on. Won’t be too long.’

She did as instructed, while Eli took a small shovel to the river’s edge and started scraping the surface.

Eww, please, not witchetty grubs!

To her surprise and amusement, Eli returned juggling four small foil parcels from one hand to the other without missing a beat.

‘Where did you learn to juggle?’

‘Best way I know not to burn your hands on hot potatoes.’

‘That’s clever.’

‘Yeah, well, not so clever with live grenades.’ He grinned and then went back to the in-ground fire for a cast iron pot.


‘Happened in Vietnam. You know there’s always one crazy clown who thinks some dumb-arse trick will give his mates a bit of a laugh. Until … boom! No more laughin’, if you know what I mean.’

‘Oh!’ she said, watching him unwrap and drop two steaming potatoes on each plate.

‘Here we go.’ Gnarly fingers upturned the pot, tipping a round of baked bread onto the rug. ‘Ahh now, some things are worth dyin’ for. Fresh beer damper from a camp oven is one of ’em.’

The smell of fresh-baked bread and hot beer both confused and tantalised her tastebuds.

Dinner was ready.

Now how about that Beer Damper? You will need…


A shovel

A hole in the ground

Hot coals

A camp oven


Flour, salt, can of warm beer


Plonk flour, salt and a can of beer in a bowl and mix into a dough.

Whack the moulded dough into a camp oven.

Chuck the camp oven in the hole (preheated with hot, hot coals, of course).

Cook for however long.

Uncover coals, dig up, crack open, eat!

Want to know how the night ends, and what Poppy discovers?

HFAS front cover workingHouse for all Seasons (Simon & Schuster, Aus)

Tells the story of four estranged school friends called under a bequest to return to the country town of their youth. Only spending a season each in the century-old Dandelion House will Sara, Poppy, Amber and Caitlin uncover the a secret the town’s kept for twenty years that will bind them to each other and to the house forever.

Come home to the country with Jenn:

Facebook Author page: /JennJMcLeod.Books


I’ve been blogging here…

Hi there,

I’ve been so busy finishing my latest book that I haven’t had time to write a lot for the blog lately.

But I’ve really enjoyed blogging elsewhere and these two have been so much fun to write.

I’m a city girl through and through but I love to go ‘out back’. On Cathryn Hein’s Friday Feasts blog I talked about cooking in the bush with recipes that may or may not include an echidna (a small Australian marsupial :-))Boiling Kettle

1765 Strip MapAnd today I blogged at Paula Roe’s Fan Girl Friday about a map obsession that has taken me from Winnie-The-Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood to Google Earth via Stuart and Georgian England.

I hope you can drop by at either. It would be lovely to see you!


Cooking The Books – Juliet Madison

Chef with cookbookToday we welcome author, Juliet Madison whose debut release has an intriguing premise. What happens when you wake up to find you’ve missed the last 25 years? I love books that play with time and when it’s done with humour it’s right up my alley. Juliet is offering commenters an opportunity to win a $50 Amazon voucher (details below). But first, let’s have some fun!

Thanks Louise for having me on your blog today to talk about the food in my debut novel, FAST FORWARD, a romantic comedy about a model who wakes on her twenty-fifth birthday to find she’s now a fifty-year-old housewife married to the nerd she used to tease in high school.Juliet_Madison300dpi

Fast Forward is mostly set twenty five years into the future, so when I was writing it I had to think realistically about what food might be available. It’s not too far from now, so it’s likely that most things would be the same, but I made sure to add a few interesting twists in the food department!

When my character, Kelli Crawford (Kelli McSnelly in the future, thanks to an unfortunate surname by marriage), wakes up in the future, she gets treated to a birthday breakfast of smoked salmon, eggs, grilled tomato, and warm buttery toast. Big deal, you might think, but… there is something different about the eggs in the future. They are yolkless. Yep, those delicious orangey-coloured centres that make the eggs delicious are gone. Not from all eggs, just some, so that those ultra health-conscious types can get their protein without all the extra fat and cholesterol. Not only that, but they can be cooked in an instant thanks to the Kitchen Assistant machine which is a staple household appliance in the future. Simply pop the egg in a chute, and voila – out pops a boiled egg a moment later. No mess, no fuss. Kelli’s son complains about this ancient machine though, he thinks they should upgrade to the new version which also peels the egg shell for you.

Here’s a snippet of the ‘yolkless egg scene’…

FASTFORWARD-JulietMadison I dug the spoon in a second time and then paused, my eyebrows drawing together.

“There’s no yolk in my egg,” I remarked.


“So? Eggs have yolks. Why doesn’t this one?”

“You always prefer to have the yolkless eggs, Mum,” Ryan said.

Yolkless eggs? If I wasn’t so confused and distraught at my predicament I’d jump for joy at the brilliance of it. “Oh, um, of course. I just thought with it being my birthday and all … ”

“Oh, you wanted a treat. I should have thought, sorry,” Ryan said.

There’s nothing fancy about coffee in the future, but due to an increased prevalence of addiction among people, it is now easier than ever to get a fix. Most car models come complete with an inbuilt coffee machine. This delivers the warm liquid to your taste buds through a straw that protrudes from the dashboard, perfect for keeping the driver awake on those long trips.

 My eyes darted all around the car. Holographic GPS map just under the windscreen, a small steering wheel that resembled an Xbox controller and a—what was that? I tugged on what looked like a straw and a smaller straw shot through the middle.

“Oh yeah, good idea. I’d love some coffee,” Ryan said, sipping on the straw on the driver’s side. “Not that I need any more stimulation, but who cares!”

 After a hearty breakfast and an endless supply of coffee, Kelli is still hungry. She can’t believe how she went from being a twenty-five-year-old model who only needed to graze throughout the day, to a middle-aged mother with indigestion and an appetite to rival a teenage boy. Her daughter has the same problem, but she has an excuse – she’s ‘eating for two’, here’s a snippet from their morning tea together…

 “What would you like?” I asked.

“Hot chocolate and a slice of chocolate mud cake. With chocolate ice cream on the side. And chocolate sprinkles.”

Okay, the resemblance ends there. No way would I eat that amount of chocolate in one month let alone one day. Although at the mention of the word chocolate, my stomach grumbled and my previously dry mouth salivated. Chocolate cake would be nice, just this once. It was my birthday and this technically wasn’t my real body. Besides, it’s beyond help anyway, might as well indulge.

And what birthday wouldn’t be complete without a Birthday Lunch? Kelli is treated to a meal at fancy cafe (and her stomach’s still grumbling!)…

 I assessed the menu options and resisted the urge to express shock at the prices. Not to mention some of the strange food combinations. By the looks of it, genetic modification really did take off, despite all the protests. Turken, cranberry and camembert melt on broccolato rosti. What the heck was that? Turken … aha! Turkey Chicken. Broccolato …  ah, so someone had found a way to genetically combine a potato with broccoli, huh? Ingenious for all the vegetable haters/potato lovers out there.

“What will it be, madam?” the waiter asked me as he approached.

Madam, or in other words … old woman. I was used to being called Miss and Love and Sweetie.

“I’ll have the turken, thanks.” I swallowed a giggle.

With all the genetic modification going on these days, it makes you wonder if some day there will be much left in its natural state. It’s kind of freaky thinking of two different foods becoming one, but it’s fun to consider it when you’re writing about the future 🙂

At Kelli’s fiftieth party, there’s not a lot mentioned in the food department, mostly because Kelli is too busy dealing with a potentially life-threatening underwear issue, strangers wishing her happy birthday, and downing as much alcohol as she can get her hands on. Champagne is still popular, but served in what look like test tubes, and green-tinged lime mineral water seems to be the non-alcoholic beverage of choice. Chocolate also makes an appearance (naturally). Guests are treated to chocolate truffles with irresistible names:  Chocolate Dream, Chocolate Passion, Chocolate Scandal, Chocolate Secret, and Chocolate Love.

Okay, now my stomach is grumbling. 😉

Which of the above chocolate truffles would you like to eat if you had the choice? Or which two foods would you would like to see combined in the future? Leave a comment for a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card or a $25 Amazon gift card. Comment on other blogs during Juliet’s February blog tour for more entries into the draw! Winners drawn 1st March.

You can also win a bonus $25 gift card by purchasing Fast Forward and emailing your receipt to fastforwardbook (at) gmail (dot) com – replace (at) with @ and (dot) with .


Aspiring supermodel, Kelli Crawford seems destined to marry her hotshot boyfriend, but on her twenty-fifth birthday she wakes in the future as a fifty-year-old suburban housewife married to the now middle-aged high school nerd.

Trapped in the opposite life of the one she wanted, Kelli is forced to re-evaluate her life and discover what is really important to her. Will she overcome the hilarious and heartbreaking challenges presented to her and get back to the body of her younger self? Or will she be stuck in the nightmare of hot flushes, demanding children, raunchy advances from her husband and hideous support underwear forever?


Escape Publishing, Amazon, Amazon UK, iTunes/iBookstore, Kobo.

Connect with Juliet online:

Website, Blog, Facebook, Twitter.

Cooking The Books – Valerie Parv

Chef with cookbookToday I’m thrilled to welcome romance writing royalty to Cooking The Books. Valerie Parv is a much loved author and I have to tell you, I spent quite a few years desperately trying to become one of her famous minions. She’s a generous teacher and mentor, an engaging speaker but first and foremost she’s a fabulous writer.

Welcome, Valerie!

Valerie PARV 2012 head shot

“When I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness
and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.”

~ M.F.K. Fisher, from The Art of Eating

When Julia Child praises your book, you know you’re on to something, and Ms Child had only good things to say about M K Fisher’s approach to food, shown in the above quote. I think Mary Frances Fisher is right about the relationship between food and love, possibly hitting on the reason why so many romance novels have a focus on some aspect of eating.

In my novels, the hero never asks the heroine what’s for dinner. Instead, he arrives with a picnic basket of wonderful goodies and carries her off to a romantic setting. Or hires a restaurant exclusively for the two of them.

In my Harlequin Superromance, With a Little Help, the heroine is a master chef and the hero is a doctor with no time for cooking. I loved researching the recipes, especially when she caters for his milestone birthday. The book isn’t about the food but it resonates with the passion growing between them.

Birthright-coverMy latest book, Birthright, is a romantic suspense with a generous helping of what Erica Hayes calls aliens and evil astronauts. When I was asked to contribute to this blog, I didn’t think Birthright had much to do with food, but it turns out to play a surprising role.

The heroine, ex-police officer and now deputy governor, Shana Akers, is a feminist who cooks to relieve stress. When we first see her cross swords with sexy-as-sin genius, Adam Desai,  she offers him coffee and home-made friands, despite it being 3am.

In another scene when Adam reluctantly starts to trust the aliens, Elaine and Garrett, he takes them to a secret restaurant, the gesture a symbol of the change taking place between them. Here’s part of the scene:

“We’re unlikely to have an audience here,” Garrett said as they were admitted in response to Adam’s knock. Inside, he found only four tables, all presently unoccupied, spaced well apart in the cool, shadowy room. There were no menus. Adam was obviously well known to the owner, who greeted him with a hug and Gallic kiss on both cheeks, then bustled away to a kitchen visible through a doorway at the back. Adam ushered them to seats at a set table. A wine carafe and four glasses sat in the middle, and he poured them each a glass then raised his in salute. “To a lucky escape this morning.”

Garrett lifted his glass and Elaine did the same. “To luck.”

The wine was mellow and delicious. The food when it arrived was even better. A whole tropical fish in fragrant herbed butter was the centerpiece, surrounded by dishes of local vegetables and fresh baguettes. The owner left them to serve themselves, and the thick walls of the cottage absorbed their conversation.

“Forgive me for saying so, but this is quite a turnaround from wanting to have us thrown off the base this morning,” Elaine said, helping herself to a portion of fish.

Adam did the same before breaking off a chunk of bread and spreading it with butter. “I feel responsible for almost getting you killed.”

Garrett passed him the vegetables. “You seem sure you were the target.”

“Three times in three days increases the odds, wouldn’t you say?”

Garrett gestured to the food in front of them. “You were too concerned about being overheard for this lunch to be merely a peace offering.”

Though this restaurant is on my island kingdom of Carramer where Birthright is set, I’ve eaten at its twin in Plymouth, UK. The food was English rather than French, but the place was also tiny with no signage or menu. See, even going out to dinner, a writer is researching 🙂

Lack of food also makes a point about the struggle my characters face. Here’s a sample:

“We forgot one thing,” Elaine said when it seemed Adam had forgotten her existence altogether.

He gave her a distracted look. “The RCS and OMS propulsion systems monitors? I’m getting to them.”

“I have no idea what they are. I was referring to food.”

“Oh, that. Rosie said there’s something in the blue bag she left.”

Stepping carefully over the tangle of cables and stripped wires, Elaine located the bag and delved in. “More wraps and soft drinks loaded with chemical coloring,” she groaned. “Don’t you people eat real food?”

With his legs protruding from beneath a console, he said, “Sometimes we forget to eat at all.” He walked himself out from under and groaned as he uncoiled to a standing position. “I’ll be lucky if I can move tomorrow, far less orchestrate a shuttle launch single-handedly.”

So whether the food is gourmet or pot luck, I’m also writing about “love and the hunger for it”, and best of all, the satisfaction of it.

Thanks, Valerie, for being my guest today. Valerie’s details are below along with the Amazon link to her book.

On Twitter @valerieparv

Blogging at

Valerie Parv is one of Australia’s most successful writers with more than 29 million books sold in 26 languages. She is the only Australian author honored with a Pioneer of Romance award from RT Book Reviews, New York. With a lifelong interest in space exploration, she counts meeting Neil Armstrong as a personal high point. So it’s no wonder she’s taking romance to the stars and beyond In Birthright, her most ambitious novel yet. She loves connecting with readers via her website, blog, @ValerieParv on Twitter and on Facebook.

About Birthright
Former police officer turned deputy governor, Shana Akers, is used to handling high-stakes situations. But after learning that a space shuttle mission about to be launched from her island home may have a shocking secret agenda, she must turn for answers to the man who has challenged her mind and emotions for years.

Scientific genius and space center director, Adam Desai, is a truly self-made man. Found adrift at sea as a baby, he knows nothing about his origins until two VIPs attending the launch force him to confront the truth about his past, changing everything Adam has ever believed about himself.

Faced with a danger that threatens the entire world, can Adam and Shana find the strength to trust not only each other, but the mysterious VIPs whose unusual abilities defy logical thinking? Especially when it becomes clear that they’ll need all of their combined resources to reclaim humanity’s BIRTHRIGHT.

Published by Corvallis Press USA 2012.

Birthright a near-future romantic suspense available now on Amazon Reviewed:


Cooking The Books – Helen Lacey

Chef with cookbookThis week we feature the very best kind of cooking. Food that not only tastes good but carries with it history, memory and identity.

I’m thrilled to welcome Helen Lacey to ‘Cooking The Books’. Helen writes wonderful stories for Harlequin Special Edition. With to-die-for heroes, feisty heroines and conflicts that will have you turning pages long into the night, Helen knows a thing or two about how to mix love and emotion. And isn’t that the most dreamily romantic cover you’ve ever seen?

Helen has a giveaway for one lucky commenter and the details are at the end of the post. But first, here’s Helen.

I love to cook and especially love cooking for other people. When I’m starting a new book and working out what my characters are like, one of the things I decide is whether or not they know their way around a kitchen.Helen

In His-And-Hers Family, the heroine, Fiona Walsh is a competent cook and likes to make cakes and brownies. Since this is a twist on a reunion story – because Fiona is reunited with the daughter she gave away fifteen years earlier – it was fun for them to have some mother/daughter moments in the kitchen. Enter the hero – her daughter’s adoptive uncle and now guardian – and I discovered they were often coming together as a family over food.

AustCoverHisAndHersI also like playing around with recipes and cooking meals that lend themselves to my Welsh heritage. My mother is a great cook, as was my grandmother and as a child I can remember watching my mother bake pies every Sunday. The way she makes pastry still amazes me – no recipe, no measuring cups ….. just a dash of this and little more of that. She also makes Bake stones or Welsh Cakes as they are sometimes called (picau ar y mae) in the Welsh language. This name came from the fact they were traditionally cooked on a bakestone or griddle on an open fire or cooker. Welsh cakes are made from flour, sultanas, raisins, and/or currants, and may also include such spices as cinnamon and nutmeg. They are roughly circular, a couple of inches (4–6 cm) in diameter and about half an inch (1–1.5 cm) thick. And they taste awesome.

Welsh Bake stones recipe

1 cup of currants (I prefer to use these and my mother insists they are better than sultanas)

2 cups self-raising flour

230 grams butter

1 cup caster sugar

1 egg whisked and add a little milk


1. Mix together the sugar and sifted flour

2. Add butter to the flour/sugar mix and gently rub together (keep hands cool)

3. Gradually add the egg/milk, mixing by hand until you have a dough that is firm enough to roll out (You might not need the whole egg mixture and use a light touch when doing this))

4. Roll out to about 12mm (or 1/2 inch) thick before cutting out (my mother always uses a fluted cutter)

5. Cook on a warm bakestone (Or you can use a thick non stick frying pan) until golden brown on the outside and cooked through in the middle

6. Then dust with a little sugar

7. Lastly . . . eat! I defy you to stop at just one.

His-And-Hers Family2If you have a recipe that’s a ‘tradition’ in your family I’d love to hear about it. I have a copy of His-And-Hers Family to give away to one commenter.

Lou – Helen, thanks for that wonderful recipe and sneak peek into His-And-Hers-Family. I reckon these would be dead easy to make just about anywhere (including my much loved camping trips).

Comments will be open until 9.00 am Tuesday 12th AEDST. 

Helen on the web:

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