I’m preparing to head off on holidays and have my head in a huge map of outback Australia which reminds me of this piece I wrote some time ago for the lovely Paula Roe’s blog, about my love of maps!
Welcome to Cooking The Books! This week’s guest is fabulous Regency romance author, Sasha Cottman. With both a professional and a writing career, this woman knows a thing or two about managing time. So it’s no surprise that she extends that skill to speedy meal prep. I have to confess I watch people who cook like this much as David Attenborough might observe a rare species, with total fascination. Sasha’s latest release, An Unsuitable Match, is the second novel in the award-winning Dukes of Strathmore series.
I love food and if given a nice quiet Sunday afternoon I will happily spend it in the kitchen.
My problem stems from the fact that I have a full time career, a family and somewhere in the middle of all that I am also a published author.
Which brings me to my style of cooking.
I am the Usain Bolt of the kitchen… the faster the better. My current personal best is 6 minutes from start of cooking to serving.
You know those bags of pre-cut vegetables in the supermarket and the 90 second rice? I am the person who unashamedly buys them!
Today’s recipe is one of my cooked in under 15 minutes specialities.
- Four Skinless chicken thigh fillets, sliced and chopped into small squares.
- Three good handfuls of washed baby spinach leaves.
- Some extra virgin olive oil.
- Angel hair pasta (it cooks in 2 minutes and I always have some in my pantry).
- 1 small jar of pesto.
- Grated parmesan cheese. (You can buy it in packets in the fridge section of your supermarket).
- Put water on to boil for the pasta.
- Cut up the chicken and lightly cook it in a frying pan with a little of the oil.
- When chicken is cooked, turn down the heat and add the baby spinach leaves. Once the leaves are wilted, take the pan off the heat.
- Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook for 2 mins. Drain pasta and serve into bowls.
- Put the chicken mix back on a medium heat on the stove top for 1 min and mix through 3-4 heaped teaspoons of the pesto sauce.
- After the chicken is warm again, serve over the top of the angel hair pasta.
- Top with a generous serve of the parmesan cheeseYou could add other vegetables to the mix if you so desired. I have added finely cut broccoli and even mushrooms. Remember the smaller the piece, the quicker it cooks.
I dream of the hours when you and I can finally be alone.
Softly sharing whispered words of love.
London, Mid-Summer , 1817
As the carriage slowly snaked its way up Park Lane, Clarice picked at a loose piece of thread on her gown. No matter how hard she pulled, it refused to come free.
She sighed, dreading that this was a sign of things to come. Tonight was going to be a trial, no matter what.
And I have no-one to blame but myself. You could have done it all in private, but no, you had to go and make a huge public scene. Well done, Clarice. Well done.
‘At this rate we shall have to get out and walk if we are to arrive at the dinner on time,’ Lord Langham grumbled.
Stirred from her thoughts, she looked across the carriage to her father. Everyone, it would appear, was headed to Strathmore House for the wedding celebrations of the Marquess and Marchioness of Brooke. It had taken them nearly an hour to get this far in the slow-crawling line of carriages.
‘We could turn the horses around and go home,’ she offered.
He shook his head. Reaching out, he took hold of her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.
‘We have to do this, my dear. We must show the rest of society that you are not crushed by the unfortunate event of your failed betrothal to the groom,’ he replied.
She mustered a hopeful smile for him. Her father was right, of course. If she stayed away from the wedding celebrations it would only confirm what the rest of the ton no doubt thought of her. She was Lord Langham’s poor little broken bird. An object of pity.
‘Yes, of course, Papa,’ she replied.
The truth was, she didn’t particularly mind what the rest of London thought of her. In fact, she rather preferred they didn’t think of her at all. Being unremarkable was at times a blessing.
She shifted in her seat and forced herself to sit upright. As she straightened her back, the tight garments under her gown shifted and eased. She took in a shallow breath. The discomfort meant little. For her father’s sake she would endure far worse.
Tonight she would stoically bear all the whispers and sly looks that came her way. This evening was for her father. London’s elite would know Henry Langham was a man capable of forgiveness. But Clarice knew there was a limit to her father’s magnanimity.
She knew she could never confess her terrible crime against him. To have him know that she had stolen from him the thing he had held most dear. Earl Langham might forgive others for their sins against him, but Clarice knew there could be no forgiveness for what she had done.
An Unsuitable Match is available at the following places.
You can follow Sasha and find out more about her and her books on her website:
Follow her on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/sashacottman
Born in England, but raised in Australia, Sasha has a love for both countries. Having her heart in two places has created a love for travel, which at last count was to over 55 countries. A travel guide is always on her pile of new books to read.
Sasha lives in Melbourne with her husband, teenage daughter and a cat who thinks sitting on the keyboard is being helpful. Her family have managed to find all but one of her secret chocolate hiding places.
When not writing, she is busy working full time as a Chartered Accountant. On the weekends Sasha loves walking on the beach while devising new ways to torture her characters.
Letter from a Rake:
Finalist 2014 Romantic Book of the Year. (Ruby).
Winner 2013 Book Junkies Choice Award for Historical Romance.
Finalist in the ARRA Awards Best Historical Romance and Best New Author.
I’ve wanted to write a story about the English aristocracy for ages but I’m just an ordinary Australian. In order to make my aristocratic family believable, I needed to capture the tone and cadence of their speech and the type of language they might use.
To help with this, I drew upon the work of three of my literary heroes: Nancy Mitford, Elizabeth David and Mary Wesley.
Not only have I long been beguiled by their words, and in the case of Elizabeth David, her recipes, but by their rebellious reputations.
Each of these amazing women was born into a life of privilege that could have sailed seamlessly and silently to a dignified conclusion without creating a ripple. They each made conventional marriages to the “right” sort of men yet quickly moved beyond them, choosing a harder path. They lived life on their own terms instead of following the dictates of their class.
As rebellious women went, Nancy was by no means the wildest of the infamous Mitfords. That one aristocratic family should produce as daughters a communist, two fascists (of different flavours) and a duchess says a lot about their family dynamic. I imagine family get-togethers would have been extraordinary! Yet, despite the enduring legend which has grown up around them, it is Nancy’s sparkling comedies set within an aristocratic family loosely based upon her own that shine. The Pursuit of Love, Love in a Cold Climate and Don’t Tell Alfred are required reading for the devoted anglophile as well as the author trying to find the voice of that class.
Elizabeth David travelled widely and wrote a series of classic cookbooks and collections of published articles. Authoritative and imperious, her writing paints a vivid picture of a privileged life. With David, it’s all about ‘tone’. Her rigorously elegant prose is measured but evocative.
At 70, Wesley published her first novel and went on to publish ten more. I would love to have known this incredibly free-spirited woman (there’s a reason her biography is called Wild Mary). Her novels are full of black humour and poke and prod at the underlying seamy side of many upper-class families. In honour of Mary, I’ve included a little bit of seamy in Red Dirt Duchess.
Mitford’s and Wesley’s novels, and David’s writing, have allowed me glimpses into the lives of the upper-classes, a world I could otherwise only imagine from behind the velvet rope in a stately home tour. Here’s an interaction between my hero, Jon, his mother, Diana, and the heroine, Charlie. Barker is the butler and Vera is an elderly lady staying with the family. They have had a very trying day 🙂
Barker started to pour the tea as Jon ambled hopefully towards the drinks table. A cluster of almost empty decanters, more show than substance, sat on a silver tray.
‘What do you do in Australia, Charlie?’ Diana asked.
So the day was about to grind to its inexorable conclusion. Jon picked up a decanter and tipped it a little to the side, trying to work out what was inside. Quite frankly anything would do. He poured a generous amount into a glass and turned back to face the room.
‘I run a pub.’
Barker dropped a cup on its saucer with a clatter and murmured an apology. A small silence ensued.
Jon sighed. ‘A public house, mother. A drinking establishment. There is one in the village.’
‘I know what a pub is, Jon,’ Diana snapped. She turned to Charlie, her lips pursed, her back rigid with disapproval. ‘I see. You’re a barmaid.’
Jon sucked in a deep breath and turned just in time to see the level stare that Charlie gave his mother. He didn’t trust the slight smile on her lips. He hadn’t seen that since Bindundilly.
‘Oh, I’m so much more than that.’
Was that a small, suggestive wink she’d given his mother? Jon closed his eyes and said a prayer, although he wasn’t sure for whom. All he knew was that there was a tension that had been strained to breaking point today. It was about to snap.
‘I clean the toilets and make the beds as well.’ Charlie gave Diana a cheesy smile, letting her vowels broaden a little.
‘Really,’ Diana said faintly.
‘Charlie owns the Bindundilly Hotel, mother. She’s a businesswoman.’
Diana accepted tea from Barker, picked up the spoon and stirred it quietly, three times clockwise, just as she always did before placing the spoon back on the saucer. ‘And is business good in this Bindundilly place?’
Charlie stirred her own tea a little less quietly, then looked at the spoon as she removed it from the cup.
She placed it neatly on the saucer. ‘Very good, thank you. Mind you, I’m the only business in town so it’s hard to assess just how good that is.’
His mother seemed to have run out of conversation. Possibly she was angrily fantasising about castrating Jon, although that would be rather counter-productive in the circumstances.
Charlie paused and cocked her head to one side, thinking. ‘Come to think of it, there is no town. There’s just the pub and nothing but desert in every direction for four hundred kilometres.’
‘Indeed.’ His mother was staring at Charlie, her eyes wide with horror, perhaps trying to imagine such a life.
‘But as long as the truckies keep stopping, I’ll be right,’ Charlie finished cheerfully, as though she’d just completed a complicated balance sheet and realised everything would be fine for the next year.
‘Truckies,’ Diana echoed, her gaze locking on Jon. He took a deep swallow from his glass. He didn’t know what of, but it sure felt good.
Vera woke with a light snort. ‘Truckie? What’s a truckie?’
Jon squeezed his eyes shut. This was priceless; in some ways the best fun he’d had in years.
‘Never mind, dear,’ said Diana.
‘It’s a lorry driver, Vera.’ Jon said. ‘You know, massive great lorries driven by men with strong, hairy muscled arms. Some women find it quite —’
‘That’s enough!’ Diana cut in. She really looked quite pale, no doubt imagining the countless lorry drivers that had passed through Bindundilly but hopefully not through Charlie.
She turned to Jon with a regretful smile that didn’t fool him. ‘Vera’s terribly tired, darling, and I’m afraid there’s not much for dinner this evening. I expect we’ll just boil some eggs or something.’
He could take a hint. He drained his glass and set it back on the tray. ‘That’s all right. I’ll take Charlie down to the Three Crowns.’
His mother rose to her feet and gave him a pointed look. ‘Excellent. I should think she’ll feel right at home.’