Weekend Cooking: The Umbrian Supper Club by Marlena de Blasi


I’ve decided to make the Weekend Cooking meme, hosted by Beth Fish Reads  a regular monthly post at Book’d Out. Cooking is something I enjoy and I have been making more of an effort again lately, so I am looking forward to participating.


Title: The Umbrian Supper Club

Author: Marlena de Blasi

Published: Allen & Unwin March 2015

Status: Read from March 20 to 21, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

“A good supper…restores to us the small delights that the day ransacks. Through crisis and catastrophe, and rare moments of uninterrupted joy, it’s the round, clean and imperishable wisdom that sustains them: cook well, eat well and talk well with people who are significant to your life.”

Every Thursday night for decades a small group of Umbrian women, occasionally accompanied by the their husbands or lovers, have met in an old stone house belonging to Miranda to share their supper. Under sheaves of dried olive branches, seated on plank benches, they have laughed, cried, cooked and eaten together.

Befriended by Miranda, Marlena De Blasi, an American chef, journalist and food critic who has made her home in rural Orvieto, was invited to join the women, taking a place at the table every Thursday, delighting in both the food, and the stories each woman has to tell.

In The Umbrian Supper Club, Marlena shares what she learned of the lives of the four women members – Miranda, Ninuccia, Paolina and Gilda, as she joined with each in preparing Thursday night suppers over a period of four years.

The women’s stories are moving and fascinating, aged between 52 and 80 something, they have lived full lives. They have variously been wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and lovers, they have endured heartache, loss, poverty and celebrated love, friends, and food. They speak, as the gather, prepare and cook their supper of childhood, family, aging, sexuality, of the evil eye, the Mafia, religion, of life and death.

“‘I wish life could end all even, like a supper when there’s that last little roasted potato with a single needle of rosemary clinging to its crust and the end of a sausage, charred to a crunch, a heel of bread, the last long pull of wine. Even. Everything in harmony. I have always preferred that last bit of my supper to the first, the beginning being fraught with hunger, the last with serenity. As life should be. Every supper can be a whole life'”

Full of mouthwatering descriptions of food preparation and feasting, The Umbrian Supper Club will delight any foodie. Crusty bread freshly baked in a woodfire oven is dipped in oil pressed by a donkey driven mill, pasta is simmered in litres of local red wine, thyme leaves are stripped from their branches to flavour scored duck breasts.
Several full recipes of traditional Umbrian dishes, such as Zucca Arrostita and La Crostata di Pere e Pecorino adapted for the modern cook, are included, but plenty of cooking advice is informally dispensed through the pages.

“In a basket on the worktable there are perhaps a dozen heads of garlic, the purple colour of the cloves bright beneath papery skins. Slapping head after head with the flat of the cleaver, she scrapes the smashed, unpeeled cloves into a five-litre jug of new oil in which she’s earlier stuffed leaves of wild sage, wild fennel flowers, rosemary,a fistful of crushed, very hot chillies. She is building one of her famous potions. Violence, she calls it. She uses it to gloss vegetables before tumbling them into the roasting pan, to massage into loins of pork and the breasts and thighs of her own fat chickens, to drizzle over burning hot charcoaled beef and veal.”

The Umbrian Supper Club is a delightful true story of family, friendship and food.

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Seasoned Traveller 2015

Review: The Undertaker’s Daughter by Kate Mayfield


Title: The Undertaker’s Daughter

Author: Kate Mayfield

Published: Gallery Books Jan 2015

Status: Read from January 12 to 15, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

The Undertaker’s Daughter is a memoir by Kate Mayfield whose family owned and operated a funeral home in Jubilee, a small town on the border of Kentucky and Tennessee, from the 1960’s to the late 1970’s.

Kate and her family, her parents Lily and Frank and siblings Thomas, Evelyn and Jemma, lived above the business, housed on the ground floor of their home. As a young child Kate had the run of the place, though she was required to tiptoe around their quarters when a body was in residence. In the first few chapters, she shares her charming curiosity about the deceased that passed through the home, uncomplicated by a fear of death and social disapproval.

As Kate grows up, the memoir’s focus shifts to the town and her family, though the undertaking business remains relevant. She details the small town politics the family had to contend with, the often eccentric townspeople, and touches on the issues of segregation and desegregation, through her friendship with the family’s housekeeper, Belle, and her own clandestine relationships with two African American boys as a teen. With regards to her family, Kate reveals her sister’s mental illness but is especially focused on her relationship with her father, a complicated man she worshiped as a child, but who lost some of his lustre when Kate eventually learned of the secrets he kept as a serial adulterer and secret drinker.

Well written, The Undertaker’s Daughter is a charming and poignant memoir exploring one woman’s experience of life and death in a small southern town.

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Review: Behind the Gates of Gomorrah by Stephen Seager


Title: Behind the Gates of Gomorrah: Life inside of one of America’s largest hospitals for the criminally insane.

Author: Stephen Seager

Published: Allen & Unwin January 2015

Status: Read from January 07 to 08, 2015 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Behind the Gates of Gomorrah is a fascinating insider’s view of life inside the Napa State Psychiatric Hospital in California by physician/psychiatrist, Dr Stephen Seager.

Napa State is a low to moderate security facility, housing around 1300 men and women committed to the hospital by both civil and forensic (court mandated) referral. The patients suffer from a range of serious mental health problems including mood, personality and anxiety disorders, a proportion of whom have been declared criminally insane.

Dr Seager spent a year working in ‘Unit C’ amongst some of the state’s most frightening men convicted of serious crimes including multiple murders and violent rapes of both women and children. This is the eye opening account of his time at the facility, the people he met and the lessons he learned.

“You can’t be a hospital and a prison at he same time.”

Treated like hospital patients instead of prison inmates, these violent criminals have frightening freedoms. The ‘Patients Right’s Charter’ means they cannot be compelled to take medication to treat their illness, they are free to roam the ward, and there are no guards on the unit despite the fact that serious assaults between patients occur on a regular basis. On his first day Seager witnessed a patient almost beat another man to death with a chair and received 10 stitches to his head when he tried to intervene. The offender, a high functioning sociopath with a tattoo reading HELL across his forehead, was never charged with either assault.

“I realized that the sickness of Gomorrah was violence but the symptom was denial.”

I have nothing but admiration for the staff who work in Unit C. Despite the high level of stress and very real risks to their safety – staff have been brutally injured, and even killed by patients- Seager portrays them as being committed to the care and well being of their charges. I share Seager’s contempt for the administration and bureaucracy that fails to protect them, I don’t understand how they can ignore the realities of dealing with violent offenders, essentially fostering an environment of “…overwhelming impotence”.

“And then nothing. Nothing ever changes.”

Seager wrote Behind the Gates of Gomorrah not only to expose the flaws of the facility, and the other 200 like it, but also as a plea for something to be done. His suggestions for dealing with forensic patients are sensible and practical – implementing mandated treatment, creating a housing environment that maintains safety and order, providing a law enforcement security presence on every ward/unit and encouraging staff to assert their right to safe working conditions. Something has to change.

Written with compassion, humour and purpose, Behind the Gates of Gomorrah is a compelling read of mental illness, monsters and madness.

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Review: We Should Hang Out Some Time by Josh Sundquist


Title: We Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrasingly a True Story

Author: Josh Sundquist

Published: Little Brown Books December 2014

Status: Read from December 18 to 19, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

I was looking for something light and charming to read when I requested We Should Hang Out Some Time by Josh Sundquist, and that was exactly what I got.

I was only vaguely familiar with Sundquist’s name. A former paralympian skier, having lost his leg to cancer as a child, he founded the world’s largest online community for amputees (www.lessthanfour.org), is a popular YouTuber and is a sought after motivational speaker. This is his second published book, the first Just Don’t Fall: How I Grew Up, Conquered Illness, and Made It Down the Mountain a memoir of his childhood, illness and sporting career.

We Should Hang Out Some Time focuses on the romantic misadventures of Josh’s youth as he tries to find out why, at the ripe old age of 25, he has ever only had one girlfriend, when in the eighth grade, for just twenty three hours. For each of his named romantic failures he provides background to their relationship, offers a hypothesis about what went wrong, and then tracks down the hapless woman to get her side of the story.

The whole idea of this book could be viewed as a little creepy, but really it’s very sweet. Josh was a geek, smart but socially backward having been home schooled by strict, religious parents until his freshman year. He had no clue about girls, romance or relationships but desperately wanted to understand. It’s not all about the girls either, Josh shares some of it what it was like growing up as an amputee and the practical challenges it presented in social situations.

Cute, upbeat and funny, I imagine We Should Hang Out Some Time could be comforting to an awkward adolescent boy who finds the whole boy/girl thing a bit of a mystery, and the good news for them is, Josh finally found his girl, to whom he recently proposed (and she said yes!).

*Please note: I choose not to rate memoirs/autobiographies


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Weekend Cooking: Once a Month Cooking by Jody Allen



I’ve decided to make the Weekend Cooking meme, hosted by Beth Fish Reads  a regular monthly post at Book’d Out. Cooking is something I enjoy and I have been making more of an effort again lately, so I am looking forward to sharing some of my culinary adventures.


Title: Once A Month Cooking

Author: Jody Allen

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin Au June 2014

My Thoughts:

The basic principle behind Once A Month Cooking is that you cook all your main dishes for a month in one day, freeze them, and then have an assortment of home made meals ready when you need them. The benefits of the plan outweigh the initial work involved in that it not only do you have more precious time during the busy week previously taken up by shopping for, preparing and cooking meals daily,  but you can also save money when you purchase and cook in bulk.

Allen begins by offering advice on planning, shopping, cooking and freezing for Once a Month Cooking. Planning is an important step in the process and one that can involve the family in choosing what meals will be served during the month and take into account their schedules for the weeks ahead. Plan for a variety of meals but not so many that you end up cooking 30 different dishes, batch up favourite recipes that the family would be happy to eat once a week. Keep in mind what utensils and cookware you will need for the dishes you choose,  and make sure you have plenty of storage items such as good quality ziplock bags in a variety of sizes, baking paper, plastic wrap, foil and foil/plastic containers plus a permanent or freezer marker. Make a comprehensive shopping list, be specific about amounts of food needed, and watch the budget. Source local when you can and look for bulk deals on ingredients. For the day of cooking, Allen suggests choosing a time when you won’t be distracted by young children or other commitments. Have your recipes accessible and start with prep eg dice onions, brown meat, blanch vegetables, boil eggs etc in amounts that work for all your recipes not just one.  Assemble recipes that use a similar cooking method so you can have, for example, 3 different casseroles in the oven at once or so you can easily monitor foods cooking on the stove top. Clean as you go so you don’t run out of dishes and utensils. Allow foods to cool before placing in the freezer, ensure the meal is labelled with a name, the date it was frozen, a use by date and the dish size. You can also add instructions for reheating. Don’t forget to make a master list of the meals  you are adding to your freezer for easy reference.

There are over 150 freezer friendly recipes in Once a Month Cooking, ideal for a busy family, and not just for dinner.  Allen includes recipes for breakfast meals, like Banana Bread, Bran Muffins and Pancakes, soups such as Bacon and Potato Soup and Thai Pumpkin Soup, snacks like Pizza Scrolls, and Frozen Banana Pops, and deserts, cakes, slices and biscuits like After-dinner Mint Ice-cream Slice, Teacup Baked Cheesecakes, Lemon Lunchbox Squares and Sticky Date Caramel Slab. There are also recipes suitable for vegetarians and those with food intolerances or allergies, like Lentil and Pumpkin Lasagne and Gluten-free White Chocolate Cake. The recipes for the main meals use a variety of meats and include recipes for Coconut Curry Sausage CasseroleBeef Chow Mein and  Chicken Filo Parcels.  The recipes are largely unfussy, using common ingredients simply prepared, but could easily be tweaked to suit individual tastes. Though many are familiar to me, I found the details about freezing and thawing the meals very useful.

The presentation of the cookbook is a little disappointing, while the spiral bind is useful, the cardboard cover is fairly flimsy and I would have preferred a sturdier cover. There are no images accompanying the recipes, though a few pages of photo’s are included in the opening chapter. The recipes are well set out with a list of ingredients (metric measurements), and have clear instructions for prepping, cooking, freezing and thawing each meal, but they lack serving size suggestions, or advice for doubling up or ‘batching’ the recipes,  and and an overall indicator of prep/cooking time.

I’ve been pre-planning weekly meals for a few years now, our busy family of six is on a tight budget and I really have to carefully manage both our time and expenditure.  I’d love to be able to shop, prepare and plan a month ahead but unfortunately it’s not possible financially, and I don’t have a freezer big enough, however the same principles of Once a Month Cooking can be applied to a weekly or fortnightly (bi-weekly) schedule. Last weekend I cooked up a double batch of the Chicken Casserole with Cheesy Damper Top (I doubled the recipe so we ate one that night and I froze the other) plus a double batch of Bolognese Sauce (with my own tweaks) , and garlic bread. This weekend has been very busy so I’m making a double batch of Mexican Minced (ground) Beef (for Nachos and Burritos) and Honey Chicken Stir Fry tomorrow. I’m also planning on making some of the snack and slice recipes such as the Clinker Slice, Milo Balls and Fruit Salad Cake through the week to freeze in advance of my son’s birthday party in two weeks time – I never would have thought of it previously.


Chicken Casserole with Cheesy Damper Top

Chicken Casserole with Cheesy Damper Top

Once A Month Cooking is a good resource not only for someone interested in adopting the practice, but also for busy and budget conscious families who are simply looking for easy and tasty recipes that can be prepped ahead. I know I will be using it a lot!

Once A Month Cooking is available to purchase from

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Review: Between Us curated by Marieke Hardy & Michaela McGuire


Title: Between Us { Women of Letters}

Author: Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire

Published: Viking: Penguin Au November 2014

Read an Extract

Status: Read from November 22 to 23, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

To the Women (and men) of Letters,

Having enjoyed your second and third publications, Sincerely and Yours Truly, arising from the literary stage show conceived by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire, I was delighted for the opportunity to read this fifth curated collected, titled Between Us.

As with your previous books, I am pleased to see correspondence from such an eclectic group of female and male contributors, 55 altogether, including radio personality Chrissie Swan, news anchor Tracey Spicer, authors Hannah Kent and Peter Goldsworthy, comedian Steady Eddy, political cartoonist Andrew Marlton, and actor Jeremy Lindsay Taylor. There were a few names I didn’t recognise, and though helpfully you provide a brief bio of each at the back of the book, I would still prefer the information included at the end of each letter.

What I particularly like about the Letter’s collection is the way in which they make me think about how I would respond to the topics. What would I tell my eighty year old self? What is the thing I dream of? What is the thing I’d like to avoid, and which person would I credit with teaching me what I need to know? I especially enjoyed the paired letters, written ‘to my other half’.

I enjoy the way in which the tone of the letters veer from the poignant and contemplative to the whimsical and droll. It ensures the collection holds my interest and makes for a comfortable read through, though it would also be easy for a reader to dip in and out of at will.

Just between us, I have enjoyed the time I spent with this celebration of the lost art of letter writing and its collection of ‘wit and wisdom’.

Thank you, women (and men) of letters for sharing with me.

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Click covers for reviews of


About: The Penguin Leunig: 40th Anniverserary Edition by Michael Leunig



Title: The Penguin Leunig: 40th Anniversary Edition

Author: Michael Leunig

Published: Penguin Au November 2014


“The 40th anniversary edition of the first collection of cartoons by Michael Leunig. Originally published in 1974, The Penguin Leunig was the very first collection of cartoons from the inimitable Leunig. Since then he has published 25 books and been declared a Living Treasure by the National Trust of Australia. The pieces in this classic compilation are as relevant now as when they first appeared, with Leunig turning his unique eye on life in all its complexities, ironies, absurdities and pathos. This hardback anniversary edition is a beautiful offering of the hilarious and the sublime.”


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Review: A Modern Marriage by Christy and Mark Kidd

Title: A Modern Marriage: A memoir

Author: Christy and Mark Kidd

Published: Gallery Books November 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from November 21 to 22, 2014 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Recently a friend, after a few drinks, confessed she and her husband were experimenting with ‘swinging’. I have to admit I was pretty shocked but as she shared some of what she and her husband had learned about the lifestyle, I was intrigued, not only with the logistics of it, but why and how they made the decision. I didn’t want to ask too many questions though – lest they mistake my intellectual curiosity as an angling for an invitation to join them – so when I discovered A Modern Marriage I felt compelled to pick it up.

Written by Christy and Mark Kidd, A Modern Marriage is a memoir of their experiences as a couple who have embraced the swinging lifestyle. They stumbled upon the scene at a New Years Party in New York and were both titillated and curious about what they witnessed. After a lot of discussion, some googling, and the laying down of ground rules, they decided to take the plunge. Christy and Mark experienced several false starts with seedy clubs and unreliable partnerships before finally getting in the swing of things.

I think Christy and Mark are quite honest in their telling. They share a little of their backgrounds, both Texas born and raised by mother’s who had multiple partners during their childhood (Christy’s mother was married 5 times, Mark’s mother 4 times). They met, through their work as accountants, when they were both seriously involved with other partners but couldn’t resist one another, and by the time they decided to explore swinging had been married for five years. Though Christy and Mark are clearly advocates for the lifestyle they don’t entirely gloss over its possible pitfalls, exploring issues such as jealousy, attachment and even the dangers of addiction. They place great emphasis on the need for a strong marriage, honest communication and sensible rules, to partake in the lifestyle without damaging the relationship.

A Modern Marriage is sometimes explicit but not really in a pornographic way. The tone is conversational, and encounters are related largely in a matter of fact manner with the focus more on what the couple was thinking rather than feeling.

I know the lifestyle is not right for me, for so many reasons, but A Modern Marriage satisfied my curiosity about why some couples make the choice. I’m not convinced it will work out for my friend but it seems it is possible, Mark and Christy have now been married for 14 years and are still swinging.
*Please note I choose not to rate memoirs

A Modern Marriage is available to purchase from

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Weekend Cooking: Mug Cakes by Mima Sinclair


I’ve decided to make the Weekend Cooking meme, hosted by Beth Fish Reads  a regular monthly post at Book’d Out. Cooking is something I enjoy and I have been making more of an effort again lately, so I am looking forward to sharing some of my culinary adventures.


Title: Mug Cakes

Author: Mima Sinclair

Published: Kyle Books: Simon & Schuster Au November 2014

My Thoughts:

It takes just a handful of ingredients and a few minutes in a microwave to make one of the 40 cakes in Mima Sinclair’s Mug Cakes. These single serve treats are ideal for a quick sugar fix or delicious dessert.

Mug Cakes is presented in a small format hardcover book with full colour photographs accompanying most recipes. The ingredients and method for each recipe are well set out, with additional tips highlighted. Both of my daughters (18 and 10 years old) easily followed the instructions to make their own mug cakes without any supervision.

Sinclair begins Mug Cakes with some useful tips about choosing ingredients, how to check a mug is appropriate for use, and some essential advice on how best to prep, cook and enjoy the recipes. One tip we can pass on is to heed Sinclair’s advice about the size of the eggs. We only had extra large eggs to prepare one of the recipes (Sinclair recommends medium sized eggs only) and there was a distinctly ‘eggy’ taste to it.

The cookbook is divided into four sections: Classics, Occasions, Happy Hour and Treats and Puds. You need little else other than a spoon, mug and microwave and ingredients you likely already have in your pantry or refrigerator. From Carrot Cake to a Chocolate Brownie, Black Forest to Mojito, Rocky Road to Lemon Curd Cheesecake, the recipes are varied and most take less than five minutes to prepare and bake.
Included also are recipes for a Gluten-Free and Egg-Free cake which can be tweaked with flavour and topping to suit.

My daughters enjoyed the Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cake (the recipe can be found HERE), the Triple Chocolate Cake and the Red Velvet Cake. I liked the Apple & Cinnamon Cake with caramel sauce. My best friend tried both the Mocha and Baileys on the Rocks recipes and was delighted with the results.

Offering quick, easy and delicious recipes Mug Cakes is a treat of a book. I know it will be used often in my household and I think it would also make a wonderful gift, accompanied by a mug cake of course!


Vanilla with choc chips & Mocha

Mug Cakes is available to purchase from

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Review: Seven Letters From Paris by Samantha Vérant


Title: Seven Letters From Paris

Author: Samantha Vérant

Published: Random House November 2014

Status: Read from November 04 to 05, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

In 1989, Samantha Platt, a nineteen year old American arts student, was traveling through Europe with her best friend, Tracey, when, on their second to last day in Paris they met two handsome young Frenchman, Jean-Luc and Patrick. Though their time together was brief, Samantha and Jean-Luc both admitted to feeling a strong connection, and though Samantha chose to continue their planned journey leaving Jean-Luc behind, she did so with no small amount of regret.

Twenty odd years later, Samantha has been made redundant and her marriage is disintegrating when Tracey reminds her of their summer in Paris and the seven letters full of romance and longing she received from Jean-Luc after her return home. Wondering ‘what if?’, Samantha gathers her courage and decides to contact Jean-Luc, awkward emails soon became more intimate, leading to long phone calls which eventually results in Samantha accepting Jean-Luc’s invitation to visit him in Paris. It is a chance Samantha feels she has to take…

Seven Letters From Paris is the true tale of an extraordinary second chance love story. Twenty years after their day long romance in Paris, Samantha and Jean-Luc are reunited, and less than 12 months later are husband and wife.

Samantha’s story may have a fairytale ending, but it is a life and love hard won. She has dealt with an absentee father, a difficult divorce and bankruptcy to then moving to France with only rudimentary language skills, and becoming not only a wife, but also a full time stepmother of two young children.

Written in a friendly, almost conversational tone, Seven Letters From Paris is an easy read. Romantics will swoon over the seven letters Jean-Luc sent Samantha in 1989, francophiles will enjoy reading about Samantha’s new life in France.

As my own love story is entirely prosaic – he was 20 and a co-worker of a friend, I was just 16 and still in high school when we got together, we married when I was 22 and next week we will celebrate 19 years of marriage – I appreciated the romance of Samantha and Jean-Luc’s relationship and their almost too-good-to-be-true reunion.

My French is very rusty but:
Je vous souhaite de nombreuses années de bonheur
(I wish you both many years of happiness)

Learn more about Seven Letters From Paris in Samantha Verant’s guest post published on Book’d Out earlier today

Seven Letters from Paris is available to purchase from

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*Please note: I choose not to rate memoirs*

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