Book Review – MYTHMAKER by Marianne de Pierres

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mythmakerBack in 2014 when I read and reviewed Marianne de Pierres’ latest novel, the genre-mashing-spaghetti-western-science-fiction-and-the-rest: ‘Peacemaker’, I asked for more. More of everything. More street politics, more insight into the large cast of fascinating side-characters, more of the government conspiracies. Peacemaker was just so much fun, so fast and entertaining, but it felt like the tip of the iceberg. The world de Pierres had created was so vast, Peacemaker just didn’t feel like it was long enough. I didn’t want it to end. But now, we have ‘Mythmaker’. And, as readers, we get the more I was after. And then some.

Set just a few weeks after the action-packed finale of Peacemaker, Mythmaker picks up with de Pierres’ trademark way of throwing the reader right into the scene, and protagonist Virgin Jackson right into trouble. There’s no mucking around with slow introductions here. Check the blurb:

Virgin’s in a tight spot. A murder rap hangs over her head and isn’t likely to go away unless she agrees to work for an organisation called GJIC (the Global Joint Intelligence Commission).
Being blackmailed is one thing, discovering that her mother is both alive and the President of GJIC is quite another. Then there’s the escalation of Mythos sightings and the bounty on her head.
Oddly, Hamish is the only one she can rely on. Life is complicated.

The complications don’t stop there, either. Something is up with Virgin’s BFF, the fabulous Caro (the outcome of which is handled with extreme respect by Virgin), we see more of her softer, more compassionate side – along with her fearlessness and uncompromising passion to protect who and what she loves. Virgin hasn’t lost her penchant for walking into trouble though, and there were a number of scenes where I wanted to scream at her: ‘NO, NO, NO DON’T GO IN THERE!’

While caring for Birrimum Park – the last remaining natural habitat – as Park Ranger in a futuristic world is still Virgin’s true passion, she spends more time away from it (by necessity) in order to save it this time around. We see more mythology combined with the hi-tech gadgetry, weapons and conflict. We also get more of the fabulous cast of supporting characters; some return from Peacemaker, plus a couple of newbies to spice things up and allow us to get to know a different side to Virgin. Her brilliant cowboy/secret agent partner, Nate SixKiller is back, as is the mysterious Hamish (who gets even more mysterious), and we learn there’s even more to the ex-lover, formally known as Heart, than we already did.

I can easily say that while I very much enjoyed Peacemaker, I adored Mythmaker. It’s like nothing else I’ve read before. The mashing of genres, the world, the action of the city and the solace of the park, the suspense and the detective work. Marianne de Pierres makes this type of story-telling an art-form, but best of all, she does it with characters and relationships you can’t help but fall in love with.

And still…I want even more. Book 3, please!

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Cook Book Review: Bake, Sizzle, and Simple

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Bake, Sizzle and Simple are three new bite-sized cookbooks from Valli Little and the team behind Australian food magazine, delicious.

I have Sizzle and Simplefrom the collection, and can guarantee I’ll also be checking out Bake in the near future. While these cookbooks might be small, they each contain sixty recipes – all of them simple and achievable even for those who aren’t so awesome in the kitchen. The layout is clear, with one recipe and the corresponding colour photo across each double page spread. The gorgeous photos alone are enough to get you cooking.

sizzle simpleSizzle concentrates on food that, well, sizzles! Hot flame cooking. BBQ and grill. This one is definitely for the carnivores, though it does have a small number of vegetarian recipes. Dishes are drawn from cuisines all over the world, and while a couple are more decadent main meals, most are easy brunches or mid-week meals. There’s Eye Fillet Steak with Raspberry Sauce, Salmon Skewers with Fennel and Orange Salad, Tuna Wasabi Burgers, Strawberry and Brie Sandwiches and Fried Eggs with Bacon Jam. Yes, you read that right. Bacon Jam. With ingredients like bourbon and brewed espresso. Oh, my… I think I’ll be checking that one out first…

Simple is just as the title portrays. Simple, fast recipes that rely on pantry staples such as pasta, rice or couscous and match them with fresh ingredients. See? Simple. There’s twists on the old standards like Spaghetti and Mussels, Homestyle Meatloaf and Singapore Noodles. Then there’s the Macadamia Crumbed Chicken Strips with salsa, Prawn, Chilli and Pesto Pizza and the Lamb and Haloumi Sausage Rolls. Like Sizzle, Simple also has a small number of vegetarian dishes.

Bake, Sizzle and Simple join Spice, Indulge and Slow in this series of mini-books. You’ll find loads of inspiration between the pages, and their small size makes them easy to store in an easy-to-access kitchen cupboard or shelf.

Sizzle and Simple

by Valli Little and the delicious team

Sizzle ISBN – 978-0-7333-3363-7

Simple ISBN – 978-0-7333-3364-4

ABC Books

My USA Foodie Adventure #5

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NEW YORK & HAWAII

Well, we’ve been back home in Australia for a couple of weeks now, and it’s taken me that long to find my blogging feet again. All up, we spent four weeks in America, stayed in seven cities, caught ten flights (including the teeny-tiny plane to the Grand Canyon), too many buses, cabs and shuttles to count. It was, without doubt, the most incredible trip of a lifetime. Our kids are now pretty seasoned travellers, and already asking where the next holiday will be to!

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Our last stop in mainland USA was New York – a very long way from sunny California! Two of my foodie ambitions was to check out a fair-dinkum NYC hot dog, and of course the pizza. Believe me, we had plenty if both! There are, of course, hot dog stands on every corner, but this one struck me as typical New York City; about a block from the Twin Towers Memorial site, on our way to walk along the Hudson River and wave to the Statue of Liberty. I got to have my New York Hot Dog, served with the lot. It was delish! (Until I grubbed ketchup all the way down the front of me…)

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On our walk back to our hotel, we stopped into a pretty grubby-looking cafe on the edge of a construction zone for our kids to use the restroom. Being the polite kind of people we are, we decided to stay for hot chips and a milkshake. It was only once we were seated that we noticed the temporary wooden sign spray painted with the words ‘Medi Centre’, and the photographs and hand-written RIP messages pinned to the walls showing the horror and chaos of September 11, when that very cafe we were sitting in was turned into an emergency medical facility. A very emotional experience for all of us.

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On a lighter note – PIZZA! My all time favourite food! We ate A LOT of it in New York. A lot. A few doors down from our hotel was a take-away pizza shop selling slices for 99 cents each, or $10 for a whole ‘pie’. Now I’m not talking average sized slices, either. These were the massive-one-slice-will-fill-you kind. We could easily feed our whole family of five for $10, with leftovers for the fridge. Win! We went back more than once.

On our way home to Australia, we stopped over in Hawaii for three nights. Bliss, bliss and more bliss! What a contrast to the crazy-busy city of New York. We stayed at the simply amazing Hilton on Waikiki Beach, and it was there that I finally got what I’d been craving for weeks – fruit. Check out my seasonal breakfast platter, served with a gluten-free ‘bread’ (more like a sweet cupcake, but hey, I wasn’t complaining!) Banana, melon, star fruit, berries, pineapple and dragon fruit. I ordered the same thing every morning, with a side of bacon. Because protein. And really, no one does bacon like Americans. Or pizza, or hot dogs, or cheeseburgers, or waffles, pancakes, clam chowder or super-sized buffets…yeah, you get the picture.

Thanks, USA. We had a blast!

My USA foodie adventure #4

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San Francisco is famous for many things. The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Gay Pride, the Painted Ladies, Lombard street – the twistiest street in the world…the list goes on and on. And then – there’s the clam chowder.

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One of my foodie ambitions was to try the famous San Franciscian chowder in a sourdough bread bowl while we were in town, and I wasn’t disappointed. Different versions are available from every second street vendor, but we got lucky on our very first purchase.

We stayed right on Fisherman’s Wharf, almost directly across the road from the world-renowned Boudin’s Sourdough Bakery – also the oldest bakery in the city. After a long day bus-touring around town, my beloved popped out to grab takeaway for the kids, and returned with this to our hotel: The original clam chowder in a bowl. You can see below how excited I was:

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It was so omg delicious that we returned the next day for more, this time eating in at the downstairs cafe-style outdoor dining room. By the way, chowder goes to down really well with beer….

And finally, on our last night in San Francisco, we returned again to Boudin’s with our entire party of 16. This time we ate upstairs, which is more of a fine-dining experience. While I skipped the chowder this time around (for lobster), my 10yr old ordered it from the kid’s menu. Check out the turtle bread that it was served in!

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So clam chowder achievement was unlocked. And it lived up to all expectations!

My USA foodie adventure #3

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With a lack of wifi in some of our hotels, I haven’t quite been able to keep the pace with our most excellent adventure. As I write this, we’re about to head into our last full day in San Francisco, having already done Anaheim (Disneyland), Carlsbad near San Diego (Legoland), Hollywood and Las Vegas. Tomorrow we’re jumping on an early plane for the wilds of the one and only Big Apple – New York.

While we’ve enjoyed numerous fine dining experiences (more on that later), it’s also been great to check out the street food in various locations. My 2nd favourite so far was at Venice Beach, about an hour’s bus trip from Hollywood central.

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My two older sons are mad keen skaters, so getting to the Venice skate park was a big must for this trip. I have to admit, even for me it was pretty awesome to be on the home turf of the legendary Z-Boys – surfers turned skaters, who, back in the 70′s, changed the sport of skateboarding to the high-flying extreme sport we know today. Venice Beach has this kind of magical vibe about it – street stalls, artists, rubbish, homeless folks (not so magical), musicians, and dancers, palm readers and loads of hand-made wares. But best of all was the food.

While there are lots of cafes and restaurants, we were in a bit of a hurry to get the boys to into the Venice Bowl, so we stopped at ‘Big Daddy and sons’ for pizza and burgers, where we were greeted by lovely Liz out the front, who was a great help with the questions we had for the menu (that might have had something to do with her fascination for my youngest son, who has been a HUGE hit in America.

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Something to do with the blonde hair and glasses and a bit of an attitude, I think!) Big Daddy’s is basically a few holes in the wall – you order and pay at one, walk around the corner to another window and wait for your name to be called. Pizza is sold by the slice – at $2.99 we were expecting small pieces, so oldest son ordered three – but no, these things are the size of an entire small pizza back in Australia! Check out the pic below of Mr 6 taking on his slice of Margarita!  The pizza and burgers were all fab – not oily at all, and the accompanying fries were crisp and delish. And cheap. Cheap. Did I mention cheap? All five of us ate for around $40.

Not so cheap was the street food at the theme parks. Yeah, we expected that. And most of it tasted pretty much as you’d expect too. We did four days at Disneyland / California Adventure Park, a day at Legoland  and another at Universal Studios. While I stuck mostly to the trusty pizza slice and occasional hot dog, Lovely Husband discovered these: Smoked Turkey Legs. Hmmm. Not quite my thing, and at about $10 each, they aren’t the cheapest snack, but Simon loved them – especially with a beer in the scorching California sun.

Next up – San Fran chowder. Oh, my….

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My USA foodie adventure #2

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On our last night at Disneyland, we all (as in, all 16 of us) headed out to dinner at Napa Rose. Napa Rose is a (very) fine dining experience, located within The Disney Grand Californian Hotel, where we stayed.

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Both the food and service were exquisite. Five big fat stars from me. After a couple of days of fast or mass-produced food, it was so good to sit down to fresh produce prepared with plenty of care. While I might be handing out big fat stars, that’s the last thing the meal made you feel. Sure, we left feeling full and satisfied, but it was a nice change to eat two courses (plus bread) without feeling bloated and greasy.

For starters, I – along with a few others on our table – chose the Pan Roasted Diver Scallops on a Sauce of Lobster and accented with Vanilla. Seriously, *I die*. This has to be one of the most amazing dishes I’ve ever eaten. So delicate, so delicious. The balance of textures and flavours was just divine.

For main course I had the Smiling Tiger Salad with Fried Lobster, Spicy Beef, Asian Greens and a Coconut-Lime Vinaigrette. Oh. My. Now, I’m not much of a drinker these days, especially when it comes to wine, but I did share a bottle or two of Moscato with my sisters-in-law, Tamzine and Kerrie. The sweet wine was a great balance to the spice of the Smiling Tiger Beef.

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What a way to say good-bye to Disneyland! While Napa Rose might not be the cheapest dining option, it really was a special evening. The staff were efficient and full of personality, and treated the children of our group with just as much care as the adults

None of us could fault The Grand Californian Hotel either (except maybe to say that it is MASSIVE and the hallways are reeeeally long and it’s easy to get lost. But err, maybe that was just me…) If you’re ever fortunate enough to get the opportunity to stay there – DO. With exclusive park access to both Disneyland and California Adventure Park, and also to Downtown Disney – there’s not a location more convenient. And, no other location has Napa Rose.

 

My USA foodie adventure #1

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Hello! We arrived safe and sound at LAX very early on Saturday morning after leaving Melbourne, Australia early Saturday morning. Isn’t time travel awesome? We flew with Qantas, and though the food was typically airline standard, it could have been worse. Like when, 6 hours into a fifteen hour flight, my ten year old became awfully air-sick. All over my lap. Yep.

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Day One passed by in a blur of exhaustion, but we did manage to get into Disneyland for a few hours. We stayed at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, and just…WOW. So highly recommended, in every way. Seriously, just wow. We’re travelling with the extended Wrangles family – my parents in law, their three sons (one of whom is my husband), three daughters in law and eight grandchildren, so just getting a table together in a restaurant is a bit of a mission.

For lunch on that first day, we ate at The Jazz Kitchen in Downtown Disney, which was just outside our hotel. I had the Green Goddess Salad with shrimp – which tasted a whole lot better than it looked – and Simon (significant other) had the Cheesesteak Po-Boy. Both, apparently, dishes typical of New Orleans. Honestly, we were both so tired and hungry we would have eaten anything, but it was a very tasty welcome to American food.

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Day Two was a BIG day at Disneyland, which meant hot dogs and sugary soft drinks all day. California is in the midst of a record breaking heat wave (Aussies, I’m talking 38 – 40 c each day. And dry), so again, I was happy to go with a salad for dinner.

We all ate at the La Brea Bakery in Downtown Disney (so convenient!) I had a Wedge Salad, which was delivered as a full quarter of iceberg lettuce with bacon, beetroot, chicken breast and a blue cheese dressing. Holy Moly, it was amazing! My sister in law, Tam, had a BLT with a side of yam chips – again, delicious.

After dinner, we headed back into Disneyland itself for more exploring and the fireworks over the Disney castle – one of my highlights so far. Just beautiful, and very sentimental for this big sook!

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