2020 Valle Laguna Book Club-January Reads

Book 1 for 2020

I love a good book. Reading has always been one of my favorite pastimes and I know that many of our guests love nothing more than settling in with a good book. We keep the bookshelves in the villas well stocked. Guest will often leave books behind and I’ll add mine once I’ve finished them.  

I get through a lot of books over a 12-month period. Those that followed my blog way back (before I stopped writing it!) will remember I often did book reviews and recommendations.  

So with that in mind I’m starting a 2020 Valle Laguna Book Club. I’ll let you know what I’m reading for the coming month and give you a brief overview of books I’ve read.

So first up for January 2020 is “Talking to Strangers” by Malcom Gladwell. 

First thing I’ll say is that it’s not light summer reading!

The book looks at society and how as humans we are programmed to judge, analyze and form perceptions of people based on certain signals. This can be everything from how someone looks, acts or responds to a certain situations, or simply their race and religion. These assumptions are so ingrained in us, but often we get it SO WRONG. 

 Gladwell uses many example to highlight this including UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s prediction that having met Adolf Hitler a number of times, and having obtained a signed agreement, he was adamant that there would not be another world war. Gladwell then goes on the give examples based around Bernie Madoff, Sandra Bland, Larry Nassar and Amanda Knox. These cases are all American (but made headlines around the world.) but I have to say that the name Lindy Chamberlain came to my mind as I was reading theses cases. All of these people were judged rightly or wrongly by how they acted rather than the hard evidence. 

So, would I recommend this book? Yes but only to those with a keen interest in human behavior.  I’d give it 3/5 Stars

The February book is something completely different. 

I’ll be reading “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Ownens

February 2020 Valle Laguna Book Club

Has anyone else read either of these books? Let me know if you have or if you want to join me in reading  “Where The Crawdads Sing” in February, I’d love to compare notes.

January 2020- Fire Fatigue

It rained overnight and it’s been cool and overcast all day. This change in weather has caused me to feel a little bit emotional. It’s a good kind of emotional. I’ve coined a new phrase that I’m calling “Fire Fatigue”. On the 30th November I posted the picture below on my Facebook page with a caption saying something about betting emotional at the sight of the trucks lined up and ready to defend our beautiful Wollombi Valley. Little did I know that over the next few weeks my emotions would be under siege just like our valley! 

Fast forward to today and I’m feeling immensely grateful. I have enormous appreciation for the RFS in the work they did during the fires, and in the weeks leading up to the fires. I’m humbled by the support that our community has shown towards each other, and thankful that no lives were lost, and that so many properties were saved.

Mentally I had prepared myself for ember attack, raging fire, strong winds and intense heat.  Thankfully nothing like that came close to us. Instead all the reports were that the fire was moving slowly and that it was just creeping along the ground. Heavy smoke filled the valley and we spent most of our time inside watching and waiting. .

Ready to fight spot fires.
Burnt leaves fell around us but they were cold so not any threat
Heavy smoke kept us inside most of the time.

The “Fire Fatigue” that I mentioned was fed by images like the one below. I can’t tell you how many times I checked my phone every day…hundreds wouldn’t be exaggerating. The Fires Near Me App and media reports made me feel even more stressed, because it was like living in a strange parallel universe, the information didn’t actually reflect what was happening “on the ground” at the farm. 

Thankfully the weather Gods were on our side. The wind came from the south and pushed the fire to the north, and away from us. I was relieved, but it was little consolation as the fire was now heading towards someone else. Not really the win we had hoped for.

Lemon Rush

Not sure about everyone else, but I’m ready for the warmer weather to start. I’ve just about cooked everything in my winter repertoire and my taste buds are ready for a change! Is it just me or do we all seem to stick with the tried an tested recipes? I think it’s a time/effort scenario. In winter if I can cook it in bulk and freeze leftovers I’m happy, or just throw everything in the pan and let it cook by itself. I’ll sometimes try a new variation-but mostly it’s the same dish just re-worked. Lamb shanks got a re-work this year. Traditionally I’ve gone the Italian route with a tomato base sauce, but this year I was into the Moroccan spices. You can find my recipe in list above or in a previous post here. The addition of dried apricots, prunes and chickpeas made for a nice change in many of the Moroccan dishes I tried, but the one I really loved was the preserved lemons. The sharp fresh flavour of the lemons was just so good. Sharp & fresh aren’t usually words you associate with winter cooking. Anyway we have an abundance of lemons this year so I thought I’d give it a go and preserve some of our lemons.
This is a recipe based on the one in Stephanie Alexander’s book “The Cooks Companion”

Preserved Lemons & Lemon Curd
Preserved Lemons
250g Coarse Kitchen Salt
10 Lemons, washed and cut into quarters
1 Bay Leaf
2-3 Cloves
extra lemon juice
Place a spoon full of salt into a sterilised jar (approx.1 litre capacity)
In a separate dish mix the lemons and salt. Stephanie suggested massaging the skin…I think this would have been easier before I’d cut the lemons.
Place the lemon quarters into the jar along with the bay leaf and cloves. Press down on the lemons as you go to release as much juice as possible. I found that squeezing each piece as I put it into the jar helped released more juice. Place any leftover salt into the jar along with the extra lemon juice. The idea is that the lemons are covered by the juice. I found that I was a little short on the juice so I topped it up with some boiling water. I also added 2 extra teaspoons of salt so that the brine remained salty enough.
In every recipe that I’ve read they always mention that if the lemons are not covered by the brine they can develop a white mould on them. Apparently its harmless-it just looks yuck!You can probably see from the picture of mine that because the jar wasn’t packed tight with lemons so when I added the extra water they floated to the top. I’m not sure if this is going to effect the end result-we’ll just have to wait and see. I did get a tip from my friend Natalie from at Moore Farm Fresh Produce. She sliced her lemons so they sat flat in the jar. This allowed her to stack them up to the top of the jar. Clever! I think I’ll try this next time.

Winter Update for the Villa

As I’ve said before, winter is my favourite time in the Hunter Valley.  A few days spent relaxing in front of the fire with a good book can do amazing things for the soul. The villa is totally prepared for  winter. The wood is stacked up ready for the fire, winter weight doonas and soft blankets are now on the bed’s and we’ve re stocked the book shelf with new books and magazines.

If you feel like a weekend away in the beautiful Hunter Valley drop me an e-mail. Weekends fill up fast, but don’t forget about the mid-week option. Rates are lower and availability is easier.