A bun is not just a bun…

I love food. In fact, it’s my favourite pastime. Pizza, pasta, cheese, cakes, biscuits, seafood, roasts (preferably with Yorkshire pud), seafood; Indian, Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, French, Spanish… You name it, I’ll eat it.

But ‘celebration’ food is the kind I love best.  Whether you’re celebrating for personal, religious, cultural or family reasons, those are the times you’re feasting with people you love, building traditions.

For example, my birthday is the only day of the year I stand a chance of getting my I-am-so-over-the-kitchen mother to make me a winter lemon cake. This cake – a delight of airy white sponge, lemon curd and cream – is so delicious, my siblings and I have been known to erupt into spontaneous physical dispute whilst comparing slice sizes.

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My very own gingerbread – I bake only twice a year, Christmas and Anzac Day

In the lead up to Christmas, my Australian half begins salivating at the thought of a visit to the Sydney Fish Market, while my Italian half begs for a roast leg of pork. And of course there’s gingerbread, plum pudding, fruit mince tarts, and so on. Yum, yum, yum.

Halloween is generally not celebrated here in Australia, but does that stop me from going on a search for candy corn? No, it does not! And if I can find a packet of black cat lollies while I’m on the hunt, all the better.

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The hot cross bun tradition

Being Australian doesn’t stop me from thinking about pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. Nor did it stop me fasting during Ramadan alongside my Muslim colleagues when I was living in the Middle East, when my favourite Iftar treat was qatayef – delicious light pancakes filled with sweet cheese, dates, nuts or coconut.

I’m thinking about celebration food at the moment because Easter is approaching – and my food of choice for Easter is the hot cross bun. Every year from March 1 until Easter Sunday I am a woman on a mission, scouring bakeries to find the very best of them – and those suckers sell out fast, so I have to be on my toes during this odyssey.

Now, there are plenty of arguments for what constitutes a good hot cross bun. Your plain, humble bun, studded only with sultanas/raisins/currants? Should they include a smattering of mixed peel as well? What about chocolate chips? Last year, I even found a sticky date and caramel version. Now, I’ve always been a bit of a purist – plain and simple please, hold the fancy extras – but have recently been seduced by the addition of dried apricots, and it’s got me thinking about whether I would be equally susceptible to cranberries and cherries.

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A close-up of this year’s favourite bun, with dried apricots – yum!

I’ve decided there is only one thing that’s a definite no-no: eating buns with sultanas year-round in some kind of faux hot cross bun binge. For one thing, any aficionado knows they’re nothing without the cross on the top. And for another… Well, what would be the fun in that?

It’s a bit like ANZAC biscuits, which, yes, you can buy and eat all year… But for me, there’s nothing quite like digging out my trusty old Commonsense Cookery Book on the day itself – ANZAC Day, April 25 – then donning my baking apron and getting stuck into it from scratch.

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My ancient Commonsense Cookery Book ANZAC biscuit recipe

For those who don’t know, ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps – which gives me a perfect opportunity, as an Aussie, to give a shout out to New Zealander and fellow Harlequin medical and Kiss author Louisa George, who was last week announced as a finalist in the Romance Writers of America 2015 RITA awards!

I have two new titles out this month – The Millionaire’s Proposition (Harlequin Presents) and Wanting Mr Wrong (Random Romance) – but since I’m talking about food, I’ve decided to take this opportunity to instead show off the cover of one of my earlier romantic comedies, Here Comes the Bridesmaid, because its heroine, Sunshine Smart, is a self-confessed carnivore and sugar addict.

I’d love to hear what your favourite food occasion is. Meanwhile, I’m going to go and pop a hot cross bun in the oven.

Happy Easter everyone!

Cover US Can she make organising her friend’s wedding any harder?

1. Sunshine Smart has only got two months until the big day!
2. She has to include the grouchy, surly Best Man, Leo Quartermaine – a top chef and her complete opposite!
3. Said Best Man is extremely handsome & sexy – and knows it!
4. He has no interest in décor, flowers, clothes or shoes…but has an uninformed opinion on all four!
5. And just a few days in, she’s already slept with him…Rookie mistake…

Please feel free to check out my website, or connect with me on Facebook and Twitter!

Writing in the buff . . .

No, not me. I am sitting here fully dressed and have a photo to prove it. However, I read an article in one of the daily papers the other day about an up and coming young writer who prefers to write while completely naked. He finds that the absence of clothes clears his mind so that he can focus wholly on his characters.

Now apart from the fact that he lives in California and I live in the north west of England where the climate definitely isn’t conducive to running around in the buff, it would have the opposite effect on me. I would be so worried in case someone called or the window cleaners turned up that I would never be able to write a word! But it got me thinking about our daily rituals, about what makes us feel ready to start the day or face some new obstacle. One very famous actor always claimed that he couldn’t face an opening night if he wasn’t wearing his lucky underpants. He just knew that it would be a disaster if he didn’t have them on.

Whilst I don’t have lucky pants, I do have a ritual that helps me start each day and gets me settled so I can enjoy my work. I have to shower, dress and put on my lipstick. And as for my earrings – well, I definitely can’t write without popping them into my ears. Only when all that is done and everywhere is clean and tidy can I sit down and begin. I am certainly not someone who can write wearing my pyjamas. And I couldn’t manage to write lying in bed, but that’s just me, my quirks, and I expect a lot of you have a very different routine.

So how do you begin your day? Fully dressed or stark naked? Maybe it’s somewhere in between. Do tell. I promise to keep your secrets!

Jennifer.

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Got Your Groove On?

To be fair – they weren’t openly snickering. The counter staff at the coffee shop where I’d parked myself and my laptop were – ermmm – openly interested in watching me type. Which seemed a bit peculiar….until…..I figured out I was making faces to accompany everything my hero and heroine were going through. And kind of swaying a bit. Occasionally hunching my shoulders and letting a slow breath pass between my lips at the thought of the hero taking his —— EEEEK! Thank goodness it wasn’t a lusty, beneath the sheets fest of …. or was it? Did I pant? (Not that heroine would pant – as if!) I can’t remember. All I recall was sheepishly folding my laptop in two, tucking it into my tote and hightailing it to the next coffee shop along the way where I did the exact same thing. Turns out – when I’ve got my writing groove on – it infects all of me. Head to toe writing mojo dancing through me like a whirlwind – or was that just the third cup of coffee having its wicked way with me?

While it would be very nice to think I look like deeply romantic, a curl of hair brushing against my softly flushed cheek as I emotionally transfer my deepest (and finest) writing efforts onto the page – I probably looked like someone trying to write a schizophrenic Dear John letter. Or a zany job application (too hopeful that my quirky outlook would get me the post).

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Whatever they thought – it didn’t matter – because at   that cafe, on that day, with that particularly fine flat white (and croissant that we will pretend I didn’t eat because I’m on diet 412)…produced thousands of words. It was an ideas factory and I was loving it. I had my groove on.

What kind of places do you write well in? At home I almost need it library quiet. I can work in coffee shops – but not all…depends upon the music, how many people have head colds in the vicinity, how good the snacks are (I’ve obviously cracked that diet thing). I haven’t tried the library yet but thought I’d give it a whirl. I’m now just a wee bit addicted to having Brief Encounters with my laptop at the Waterstones flagship store in London on my infrequent trips up there. I love the idea of leaning against a tree and scrivening away – but am not entirely sure the rural idyll would work for me and my laptop…then again…who knows? Anyone tried it? Typing in the nook of a treetop? Floating in a boat?

C’mon…I told you mine….where do you get your groove on?

Beautiful Bath Just In Time For Spring

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A few months ago I shared with you the upheaval in my home. Things are some better now. At least I have a beautiful new bathroom with an amazing shower. My bedroom is livable again. I have a new window in there. One you can see out of. I am slowly working my way through the house a room at a time fixing and cleaning what has been long over due for attention. I have moved pictures around. Taken a chair out here put another in there. And gotten rid of a lot of stuff. It is amazing what you collect over years of living that you don’t need or use.bath3

Are you doing any Spring cleaning?

What to blog about

On Friday I said to my husband that I had to blog on Monday and had absolutely no idea what to say. He commented, ‘Don’t worry the family are coming, something’s sure to happen that you can use.” Very prophetic. We are currently looking after chooks, a dog and other animals for neighbours as well. great, feeding chooks is a fun thing to do with our grandson.

On the first day, before everyone had arrived, I fed the chooks one particularly stroppy ram bunted me hard in the backside. No problem, I thought. A hard smack on its nose and it moved away. Next day, accompanied with two year old grandson, daughter and a friend we went collecting eggs. As I moved from one shed to the next I was attacked by the ram. He bunted me at a run, sent me flying. Sprawled on the ground, I was yelling to get my grandson out of there while the ram got in two more hits . As he lined up for the fourth my daughter and friend threw buckets at him while I scrambled to my feet. My grandson might’ve learned a new word at that moment, though all he said was Granny had a boo boo on her arm from the sheep.

So then I visited  A and E where I was x-rayed for broken ribs and a broken arm. When I told the doctor not to laugh at why I was there he very seriously told me, ‘No way. Rams are notorious for breaking people’s bones.’ Thanks a lot, I thought. I grew up on a sheep farm, used to piggy back the rams, took them to calf club day at school, and today I can only think the best place for them is in the roasting pan.

The good news is – no broken bones, only seriously bruised ones. And I have first hand  experience of an A and E department to use in a book sometime. Will I be asking my husband for ideas to blog again? No way. But he did a great babysitting job while we were at the hospital.

Has anyone else had a run in with an animal?

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Hanging Out With Readers!

IMG_0810-1This weekend was the Australian Romance Readers Convention in the national capital, Canberra! Canberra was warm and sunny…not that I left the hotel but you know, it was nice to know the weather was glorious ;-)

Although, teeny-tiny compared with Amercia’s RT convention, ARRA is a lovely warm and intimate gathering. It was a terrific weekend and a good opportunity to mix and meet with romance readers! Most of them were women but there were a few blokes about and the one thing they all have in common is a voracious appetite for reading romance. The weekened kicked off on Friday night with drinks, a full conference day on Saturday including a fabulous books signing and a splendid awards dinner that had a 1920’s theme followed by another day of sessions on the Sunday. Books were launched (Rachael Johns’ Road To Hope and the ARRA book Tribal Law, sensational food was eaten and the quirky QT Hotel in Canberra was awash with the love of romance fiction :-)

I took part in a panel and the book signing. The rest of the time I popped to some sessions and caught up with some fellow authors I only get to see once a year or two including medical romance authors Avril Tremayne, Fiona McArthur and Amy Andrews. The best way to describe the fun is a photo stream so here goes!

Me chatting with Mr. President! (The QT hotel in Canberra has a political theme)

Me chatting with Mr. President! (The QT hotel in Canberra has a political theme)

The book signing. I just LOVE my banner and my cool Big Sky Country shopping bags!

The book signing. I just LOVE my banner and my cool Big Sky Country shopping bags!

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The wonderful regency authors in their garb.

Me as a flapper at the awards dinner

Me as a flapper at the awards dinner

Silly fun in the photo booth :-)

Silly fun in the photo booth :-)

Book swag!

Book swag!

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Canberra airport art

So now I am home, the high heels are back in the cupboard and real life is calling. How was your weekend and have you ever attended a romance readers event?

Writer’s Block

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Flowers – waiting to be smelled!

I’ve always wondered what it might be like to suffer from Writer’s Block.  I’ve heard about it, seen characters in TV shows staring at blank screens, or glaring balefully at half-finished manuscripts, but it’s never happened to me.  There have been times when I haven’t had time to write, and times when I’ve written myself into zombie-like exhaustion.  But up till now I’ve found that just sitting down and writing something – anything – will get the words flowing again.

So today’s been a bit of a revelation to me.  After a week spent working through some ideas for my next book, and finding that there were plenty to spare that I wanted to note down as well, I sat down this morning to write a blog post.  And…  Nothing.

I didn’t panic.  Because I know what to do here, right?  There are a few simple remedies, guaranteed to get me back on track.

  1. Go for a walk to the park/the shops/the post office.  Who knew that the post office was such a useful place, even when you’ve no requirement for a stamp?  Normally, just joining the queue is enough to get my brain back into gear and bursting with ideas.
  2. Comfort Food.  As far as I’m concerned, tomato soup and cheese and cucumber sandwiches can cure pretty much anything.
  3. Take a long bath.  Getting too wet to jot anything down is generally a good way to ensure that something worth taking a note of floats into my head.

Or I could try Agatha Christie’s remedy.  She is quoted as saying that ‘The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes’, and after all that comfort food I’ve just eaten, there are dishes to do.  (A few chocolate wrappers to hide, as well, but we won’t mention them…)

But today, despite all my exhortations to myself that there’s no such thing as writers’ block, and doing all the things that are guaranteed to fill the space between my ears with something other than fresh air, nothing seems to work.  I’m beginning to realise that I haven’t taken any time off at all recently, and it’s time to spend a couple of days just smelling the flowers, and letting the well re-fill itself.

So here’s the question I want to ask.  We all need ideas and solutions, whatever line of work we’re in, and we all have days when those ideas elude us.  What’s your favourite remedy for when the ideas don’t seem to come?

[And, of course, there’s one thing I haven’t tried yet.  The ‘Publish’ button, in the corner of the screen :)  Because as soon as I send a manuscript off, or click ‘Publish’, it’s pretty much a given thing that I’ll get an idea about something I really should have written and didn’t.  So here goes…]