Friday, April 29, 2011

Most disastrous Cake Friday ever

Miss 6 has found her life purpose. She is going to go to a school with ponies, then spend the rest of her life looking for castles and find a prince to marry.  Miss 5 just wants to jump out of aeroplanes.

Now I know that I have never ever claimed to be anything but awful at baking cakes.  However this Friday I have utterly utterly outdone myself.  I wasn't actually going to mention the cake at all today, instead I was going to whitter on about my retro Royal wedding feast, but this cake disaster overtook even my coronation prawn volovants.

It all started out well, until I was so foolish as to tweet that I had the whole cake thing under control and it was looking like that rare event... A Mummy Win.

Then I took the cake out of the oven and turned it out onto the cooling rack.  It became immediately obvious that the inside of the cake was still LIQUID.  Mainly because the LIQUID part was leaking across the benchtop and into the pots and pans cupboard.

So, thinking quickly, I flipped the cakes back into their pans and shoved them back in the oven.

I ended up with this
Twice baked sponge
 Which turned into this when I turned it out again...
 So I kind-of squished it back together
No one will notice
 And covered it in icing sugar.
The Royal Wedding Feast
We had a bit of a family party to celebrate The Wedding.  So nice to be glued to the TV and see magical, enchanting joy.  I loved every minute, and even the screamies made it through the ceremony.  How amazing was the choir.  Bliss :)

I went for a retro UK street party menu which included coronation prawn volovants, sausage rolls, egg, cucumber and smoked salmon sandwiches, champagne and of course the caramelised twice baked sponge.

And yes, I ended up with a scorching case of indigestion.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Life not going to plan (as usual)

Things that have not exactly gone to plan of late...
  1. The bank account - how can it empty itself so fast?? HOW?? I boggle.
  2. Easter holidays - well that was a three week screamathon I never want to repeat.  I mean seriously. By the end of the Christmas nightmare holidays. It thought I had this whole parenting business down pat. Then along comes Easter which I stupidly looked forward to, and it all went tits up and turned into a shitfight.   Now we're back at school and we're all good (well today anyway).  My confidence in my parenting abilities is now at an all time high (NOT).
  3. Best blogs 2011 - in the people's choice award it is Bloggers v Megan Gale.  Oh how I admire the few brave souls who have continued to press their cause.  Never give up hope guys. Well, unless you are me, who went meh and ate some more chocolate.  Vote for meeeee.
  4. Space - no, not the final frontier - as long time readers will know, I am an introvert, an introvert who requires several hours alone every day to remain sane.  I have not had ANY alone time since the end of January, not one single minute, in recent days this has caused me to squirt as much dairy whip as physically possible onto mini meringues and then eat them
  5. Weighed in at weightwatchers - have gained 2kgs in three weeks.  Impressive.
  6. Writing: Reduced 75,000 word nearly-there manuscript down to a 44,000 word long-way-to-go manuscript - yes, yes, it will be better for it, but it made me want to stab myself in the eye with a compass at the time
  7. My marriage - apparently I've been somewhat grumpy of late.  Its a good thing love conquers all, and as Marylin Munroe once said... "But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best." For some reason that quote makes my husband howl with laughter, in a slightly creepy way.
But its not all bad.  Tomorrow is The Wedding.  Oh yes.  THE Wedding.  Its going to be a Royal Wedding (Let Them Eat) Cake Friday (expect cucumber sandwiches and gushing).

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Saturday

In a few hours a food and chocolate eggstravaganza is going to unleash itself at Chez Nicholas.  I'm so looking forward to it. :)

The children are beside themselves with excitement about the Easter Bunny.  There was no Easter Bunny when I was a child (sob, I was so depriiiiived, wail).  We just got a shitload of chocolate from mumndad, with no bunnies mentioned.

Well, unless you count that my dad's name is actually Bunny, so technically there was an Easter Bunny, but not a pretend bunny that we thought was real... oh never mind.  Is late. Am tired.

The kids are so excited that getting them to sleep has been a long and tedious process (we have run out of phenergen).  At one point hubs threatened them...
"If you don't stay in bed then I'm going to wait for the Easter Bunny and we'll be having rabbit pie for lunch tomorrow."

They didn't get it.


Friday, April 22, 2011

95th Birthday (Let Them Eat) Cake Friday

Wednesday was Granddad's 95th Birthday. We celebrated with a sponge cake with strawberry jam and fresh whipped cream filling, and icing sugar sprinkled on top.

Can you spot my obvious mistake?
Hint: The numbers
No, well, I didn't notice either until some smug person pointed it out.  (I am dyslexic MOTHER, laughing at me DOES NOT HELP).
So Grandad came home from the rehab hospital on Monday.  I won't go into the ins and outs of it all, but this is what he desperately wanted, though we are not sure that this situation will continue for long.

Grandad amused himself by chasing the screaming hordes around the lounge room on his mobile chair.

Then the screaming hordes got hold of walking sticks and attempted a coup, which was swiftly thwarted by the evil Mummy&Daddy Overlords.  We went home soon after.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Great Tomato Caper

Took the kids to Woy Woy for fishnchips yesterday, its a beautiful trip on the train from here, through Brisbane Water and past all the oyster farms.  Highlight of the day was when we found the children lurking on the farside of the playground we had lunch near, begging for food from complete strangers.  Sigh.  I relayed this tale to my mother when we got home, and she immediately launched into the story of how, at around Miss 5s age, she used to go door to door in her neighborhood, asking for biscuits for 'her sick mother.' 

Hubs is thrilled we have evidence its from My side of the family.

So, Tomatoes.

In the front garden I've got self-seeded plants coming up all over the place.  Which I love.
Heaps of coriander seedlings coming up amongst the strawberries
Slightly nibbled basil - please excuse the blood and bone everywhere
Amongst these self-seeders we've had loads of tomato seedlings.  I was going to pull them out, but then I was reading in Diggers that the best time for planting tomatoes in a sub-tropical climate is March - June.
Because we hover in between sub-tropical and temperate here, I usually get my tomato seeds going around the end of July. 
But, in a moment of dizzying realisation, I wondered WHAT IF I planted out the self-seeded tomatoes, and had a go at getting them through the winter - if they survive, we might get more tomatoes early on, especially if we lose them all to mid-summer wilt like we did last year.
I was so thrilled by this idea I woke hubs up to tell him.
He was not quite as impressed.
So, to start with, I've moved the self-seeders from the front garden and put them temporarily in one of the raised vege beds (to see who survives, and to give me time to clear the current occupants out of the Tomato beds).
A few of my self-seeded tomatoes - this was the only shot I could get with no weeds in it :)
Who knows what will happen next???
Its exciting times here at Chez Nicholas, exciting times indeed.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday Writing: Building a public profile when you are unpublished

Building a public profile when you are not yet published is a very very wise career move.
Here is the thing; even as an unpublished writer, the very instant you tweet, blog, comment in a forum or on a loop, join a writers group or enter a competition, then you have started to build a public profile.

Yep, that's right, you have already started on your marketing/self-promoting journey.

You might think that because you are unpublished then you don't need social networking- surely your time would be better spent writing the damn book??  Yes, it would, but um, actually how about writing the book AND building the foundation of your future marketing plan, getting your name in front of agents, editors and well known authors, AND having a laugh and connecting with people?

My writing journey, from never-written-a-word to signing my first book contract took nine months.  Great! You think at first glance.

But it wasn't, because I had not had the chance to build my network or public profile.  I had not been part of the industry, heard other peoples stories, got myself some damn fine writing buddies, learned from others mistakes, supported and encouraged fellow writers in their journey, judged other peoples writings (in comps - gah, you learn so MUCH), asked the dumb questions (and be patiently given the right answer), read a call story and dreamed it could be me, read five call stories in a day and wondered why the hell it wasn't my turn yet, or gave up altogether and got guilted, bribed and blackmailed into sitting down and writing just another 100 words, which turned into 200, then 2000, then 95,000.

And not having the time or knowledge to do that, in hindsight, put me at a HUGE disadvantage when it came to getting my name out there and selling my book. There was me and my book, alone and unknown in cyberspace or in the 'real life' writing industry.  It can be very chilly out there.

I have worked hard in the last five years on building myself that network - and hell, I'm not the worlds foremost social networker, not by a long shot (am possibly the crappest twitterer ever), but now I have my support base and value them so incredibly highly.  To be honest, if I published my first novel now, the marketing side would be a whole different scenario.

So, even as an unpublished writer, don't think that starting to market yourself and your work is pointless.  Quite the contrary.  Get onto it now.  If you are not published for another ten years, then you will have a huge support network who are just gagging to give you a boost along.  Every facebook update, comment, every connection can have some future value and you can get busy on your career right now.

On the Downside - Bad Press.
 I have sat in seminars about writing and the web, and when my earnest lecturer gets to the bit about 'being polite in cyberspace,' or the bit where they say that 'one politically incorrect tweet could turn me into the writing equivalent of the Titantic' - I'd roll my eyes and think this is so oooooooooooobvious. Yawn.

But, the other day I read somewhere that in 60% of cases, sarcasm in an email is mis-understood.  I am a sarcastic person (it goes with my dry sense of humour) and I admit that I have pretty much eradicated sarcasm from my online existence.  It was too easy to sound blatantly offensive when I was trying for humour.

Then there was the author who ripped into a reviewer who commented about the proliferation of typos in her self published manuscript.  What was she thinking, he has his right to his opinon, we all thought.  But then I think of That reviewer who Extremely Unfairly gave one of my books a less than glowing review, when it was obvious that they hadn't read past the third chapter.  Oh how I wanted to fire off an email telling them what I thought. How DARE they. AND they didn't even pay for the book. 
But I said nothing and fumed in silence, because I realised it would be an incredibly stupid thing to do.  But for a while there, it was a close run thing.

In another incident, there was a brouhaha about an editor wanting to change a story in an anthology from a homosexual plotline, to heterosexual - because the target audience of the book would be more receptive to a girl and a boy.  Things went awry, people got offended and the argument spilled out onto the internet. 

It happens frequently, and it happens to the nicest people.

So, as you look at building your public profile, its also worthwhile looking at what exactly you want that public profile to look like. How do you want to be perceived online? Have a plan of attack, so that if you have to deal with a troll on your blog or an awful review or just simply being offended (or offending), you react to it in a calm and calculated manner.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Run-in with T-Rex.

Took the kids to the Australian museum yesterday.
This is not a REAL T-Rex - I would not be smiling like that if it was
Also I am not the only HILARIOUS person in this marriage - PHEW
I made some new friends.
She wasn't very chatty, maybe she didn't like me? People confuse me sometimes
 And was only marginally freaked out by all the dead stuffed things around the place.
Miss 5: "Mummy are they dead?"
All these photos are courtesy of Miss 6.  How awesome is she??
Except this photo, OBVIOUSLY
Was an excellent day :)

On an entirely different note, Romance Australia has posted the first of its updates about the donations going to flood affected libraries in Queensland.  Link Here.  Its a wonderful story.

Did you vote for me yet??
People's Choice Award
I'm on the first page

Sunday, April 17, 2011

(Let Them Eat) Cake Friday - Simnel Cake

Simnel cake - a traditional UK cake made around Easter/Mothering Sunday (their Mothering Sunday, not the Aussie one).

Simnel cake is also an anagram of...
Seamen Licks
Leaks Mince
A Neck Slime
Silk Menace, and
Manic Leeks
I know this because I have hurt my back, can barely move and am VERY BORED.

Its a fruit cake, with a marzipan lid - am not a fan of marzipan unless its homemade, then its loooovley.
Simnel Cake - with artistic marzipan decorations
 The decorations are supposed to represent 11 apostles and Jesus - Judas gets left off, because he does not deserve to be rolled out of a ball of marzipan, stuck under the grill briefly to brown and then eaten.
Jesus is the one in the middle, and these are happy apostles
 I was a bit dubious about this one, but its actually very nice - if a bit on the Very Solid side.
It took some effort to cut this slice
The kids only like sultanas, "If they are on their own MUMMY, not In CAKE. NOT IN CAAAAAKE."


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Best Aussie Blogs Nominee :)

Vote for me, and your other favourite blogs, HERE.
I'm on the first page

Thanks all :)

Oh and I got my twitter button working, FINALLY (ahem, blush, blush)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Home brewing and children; its never too early to start

Being school holiday I presently have the screamies underfoot every minute of every day - such unfettered joy (no really).  They love to help in the kitchen, and now that they're 5 and 6 they are becoming useful, rather than making an ungodly mess and distracting me so I forget crucial ingredients.  Miss 6, who is a steady and calm child, is brilliant at weighing and measuring and loves to help with the bread and making yoghurt.

Miss 5 is better in the stirring and pouring departments, so when I finished off the ginger beer earlier in the week she was an excellent help.

Ginger Beer
After a week of being fed and nurtured the ginger beer plant is ready to go and the bottles are sterilised.  Information about the plant recipe here.

We strained the mixture (well, I poured it off the settled sediment), add the juice of 2 lemons and reserve the sediment.  Its now ready to use. 

The sediment should be divided in two (you can give half to a friend, or to the chooks).  Add half a pint of water, 2tsp sugar and 2tsp ginger and proceed with the feeding and nurturing as before (details in this post).

For the next stage you need...
2oz sugar
Cold boiled water
Ginger beer plant liquid

Add the sugar to the liquid and make up to 1 gallon (4 litres) with water, stirring until the sugar has dissolved completely.
Pour into strong, dark coloured beer bottles.
So much pouring
And then cap the bottles - the recipe recommends using pop-off plastic caps, but as I don't have any, we are capping the bottles with your usual gold metal lid, but keeping them in the shed, so if they explode no harm will be done.
Her completely favouritest part
And that's it.  Leave the ginger beer for 7 - 10 days and then have a taste test.  We've got stuff that is over a year old and is wonderfully drinkable.


This is a Down To Earth on my mind post: DOWN TO EARTH: On my mind ...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Autumn Planting: Bed 3 Onions/Alliums

Wretched chicken got out yesterday and wreaked havoc amongst my seedlings. Not. Happy. Jan.

Well, at least it wasn't all four of them. sigh.

Bed 3 is my alliums bed; 2sqm onions, 1sqm spring onions, few random shallots, 1sqm garlic and 1sqm leeks.

Lovely garlic just coming up; yes raised beds are falling to bits
 I got the garlic I planted here from the organic produce stall at Hornsby farmers market.  Not sure what sort it is, but I wasn't too fussed.  Given last years garlic disaster I didn't want to spend a heap on garlic from Diggers or somewhere.

Some red spring onions are in there somewhere - also some basil, eggplant and capsicum from this being the tomato bed last year.  They'll come out in the next few weeks.
1sqm spring onions + other stuff
 Here is my poor poor onion patch - big hole in the middle courtesy of damn chook.  Have a few onion seedlings hanging about, so shall replant, sigh.
Chook damaged onion patch - note lame chook defences
So really the alliums bed is pretty much done - just watering and TLC from now own (and laser heat seeking missile chook defence system).  I've got to put in a square meter of leek seeds, which are going in a bit late for around here, but leeks usually do okay regardless. 


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tuesday Writing: Submitting a Manuscript

Despite spending the last entire week avoiding actually writing anything at all - hey, its school holidays, I have varmints underfoot - my primary form of occupation is being a writer.  What you see on the blog is often my daily 'pages', where I get to do some fun, easy writing, with no thought for character or plot or following a story arc.  I love my blog, have I mentioned that lately??

In the last few years I have purposefully backed away from publishing.  I've still been writing, but the demands of publishing novels and having small children were too much.  I just didn't have the mental energy to do a good job at either.  However, now that the kids are at school,  I've been focussing on getting my stories out there once more.

Why is publishing so demanding?  Because these days to be an author also means you have to be a dedicated self-marketer.  And that can take as much time and energy as writing, if not more.  There is a great post here about the changes for authors in the new digital publishing age.

Lately I've had a few un-published authors ask me about submitting manuscripts and 'how to get published.'  This is what I've been telling them...

First up, I've got really good news.  With the explosion in self-publishing and websites like, it means that you have options.  If your book is too off-centre for nervous traditional publishers, then you always have the option of self-publishing it and finding your audience yourself.  So, your manuscript is never going to end up forgotten on a hard drive somewhere -  you can upload it to e-book sellers like Amazon under your own steam and charge a price that you decide (even give it away free if you want).

Both my published books are with Samhain Publishing, which publishes in both digital and print. I would happily be published with them again.  It is well worth reading their submission guidelines Samhain is one of the foremost e-pubs out there and a great place to start.

Another good digital publisher is Carina is the e-pubbing arm of Harlequin and is interested in a wide variety of genres (romance, horror, fantasy, sci fi etc), Carina are good, but they are e-pub only, and so you wont see your book in print - however, with the huge explosion in the e-reader market, its a viable option.

But I want to see my book in print?  Firstly, with POD (print on demand) technology moving as fast as it is, then its highly likely that eventually a reader will be able to order any electronic book in print version - so it might be worth e-pubbing and then waiting to see what develops.  Second, e-books are forever, print books are in shops for a few months, or up to a year.  After four years I am still getting monthly royalties from the e-versions of my two books - the print royalties dried up yonks ago.

There are a lot of other e-pubs out there on the internet, but be careful and do your research, Samhain and Carina are as good as they get, but a few have turned out to be breathtakingly dodgy.  As always, if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

If you are looking at submitting to a New York publisher, ie the huge, household name type publishers, you will probably need an agent, though now and then they do open for unsolicited submissions.  Information about their submission processes are on their websites, and often you can email your query letter rather than posting - in fact it is becoming more and more rare for publishers to want paper submissions.

A good place to look for agents in the US is, just google 'literary agents' to find those in the UK.  There are a handful of Aussie agents, but the Aussie publishing industry is wary of genre fiction at the moment, especially from the unpubbed.   A good place to ask questions of an Aussie agent is

On a more personal note, remember that the publishing industry is tough and rejection is doled out on a daily basis.  You just have to keep submitting, or take a break if it all gets too much and jump back in when you are ready.  Rejection is not personal, your book just wasn't right for them.  I know its not easy, and I know that it takes huge strength and tenacity to keep going, but it will be worth it.  The sting will pass, and the disappointment of it is not worth stopping altogether.

Good luck, ask if you have questions, am happy to answer anything I can.  If you need to rage and vent, email me; - don't vent on a blog (but more on that next Tuesday, when I'll write about the realities of having a public profile, even when you are unpubbed)

Happy writing :)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Bubble, bubble...

Parsley Wine

Part One here.

The parsley wine is presently bubbling away in its demi-john.  The whole house smells faintly of alcohol and herbs - which is rather nice - and thus far all seems to be going according to plan.
Parsley wine fermenting in demi-john - day 2
 I did taste it, after we'd stirred in 2.5lbs of sugar. I reckoned it'd be pretty hard for that to taste awful - and I was right - sweet and herby with an underlying dry white wineyness about it.

So, the recipe...

Parsley liquid strained over sultanas
1lb parsley leaves (no stalks)
2 lemons
1lb sultanas (hot washed and chopped)
1 gallon water
Cold boiled water for topping up
Wine yeast and nutrient (I used champagne yeast)
2.5lb sugar
Campden tablet

Sprinkle yeast granules and nutrient into cup of boiled tepid water, cover and leave for an hour.
Strip parsley leaves from stalks; take care not to include any stalks.
Wash well, chop and put into large pan.
Thinly peel lemons, avoiding white pith and place rind in pan with parsley.
Add gallon of water and heat until boiling, then simmer for 10 minutes.
Place sultanas in fermentation bin and strain over parsley liquid.
Discard parsley and lemon rind.
Top up to 1 gallon with cold, boiled water and leave to cool.
When cool add lemon juice and activated yeast/nutrient.
Cover loosely and leave for 5 days to ferment.
Parsley liquid after 5 days fermenting (sultanas floating on top)
 Strain mixture, pressing sultanas to extract as much liquid as possible, then discard
Add sugar to liquid, stirring until dissolved then pour into demi-john and fit airlock.
Fermenting in demi-john
Leave to ferment at temperature about 18C/64F.
When fermentation finished, siphon clearing wine into clean demi-john, adding 1 crushed campden tablet.
Bung tight and store for 3 months in cool place.
Siphon into sterilised bottles, seal tightly and store.



Sunday, April 10, 2011

Autumn Colour in the Garden: or Things that are actually alive...

Gave the strawberries in the front garden a drink of seaweed tea about three weeks ago, and now we have a few very late season fruit.  The flavour isn't anything like the pre-christmas lot, but its strawberry-ish enough to be lovely.
I love these Fairy Tale eggplants.  I thought this one had died in our Disaster Of Late January - when everything got cooked by a week of 40+ temps, westerly gales and UV levels that were off the scale - but its bounced back.
Fairy Tale Eggplant
Shall be including this one in dinner :)
Capsicum; Zodiac Capricorn
And that's a sweetcorn seedling coming up next to it on the left - not grass, I think...


Saturday, April 09, 2011

(Let Them Eat) Cake Friday - brought to you by hubs

This Friday's Cake Friday offering is brought to you by my husband.  His first sponge, awwww.
No teasing
It tasted delicious, with lime curd filling - its called curd because its supposed to be full of curdled egg bits, right? right?
It did taste delicious
See, I even have proof that he cooked it...
Why yes, he is wearing scarlet underpants
Yesterday was the first day of the school holidays.  SIGH.  Very tired, very shouty children. By about 9am I had resigned from parenthood, only to be informed THERE IS NO WAY OUT and WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER.

HA.  Mowing the lawn for two hours with headphones and ear protectors on, is not being in anything together. Just sayin.

We were out of bread, so I ended up having one of those wholesomely domestic days where you cook everything from scratch, and then collapse in a heap clutching a hot water bottle to your lower back and whining a lot about your sciatica.

Morning tea was pikelets.
Ready to flip
Taa daa
Still going
Then lunch was bread rolls (or boulders - we could've used those babies for ships ballast)
The Devil's Marbles
And pumpkin soup - rather successful.
Orangy goodness
Afternoon tea was the pancake cake (see above)
Then scrambled eggs for dinner, with yoghurt (store bought - yes I AM ONLY HUMAN) for dessert.

Knackered. Gah.  Maccers tomorrow, or at least a chinese take-away - just to redress the balance. :)

Friday, April 08, 2011

Making Soap

We're nearly out of soap, so I've been having a soap binge in the kitchen.

First batch: Beeswax Soap
14oz water
5oz lye
6oz beeswax
4oz coconut oil
10oz rice bran oil
20oz olive oil

Worked very nicely.

Second Batch: A mishmash batch
This batch has not worked so well.  I'm not completely surprised as I was using up a lot of oils that I had hanging around.  I did use a soap calculator to make sure my lye proportions were right, so I'm confident that was not the problem, but as you can see from the few areas of oil on the top and the slightly white crust on the bottom, the soap has not saponified properly.

Still, all is not lost!
I shall grate this up, melt it down, add some goats milk, avocado oil and some dill essential oil (or similar, not sure what I've got in my collection), and make a really lovely moisturising soap.


This is an On My Mind post, from Rhonda's blog over at Down To Earth.