How to Throw a Tuscan Feast This Easter

Last Easter weekend, we decided to treat ourselves to a night we’d always remember: a Tuscan-inspired feast, right in the Sunshine Coast hinterland in Queensland. Everything came together to create an evening in which it felt as if a huge magic bubble of wonder and love had descended on our house and infused us all with a lifetime of memories.

The heart of a Tuscan-inspired feast is, of course, family and friends. The joy comes from sharing your home, your beautiful produce and cooking, and most of all your love. So invite as many people as you think your time, energy and budget can handle.

As far as the menu goes, Tuscan-inspired food is rustic ‘peasant’ food. The produce should be so fresh and bursting with flavour that it speaks for itself, rather than having to be fussed over and ‘dressed up’.

From my experience travelling to Tuscany, and my research for my novel, Three Gold Coins, I’ve learned that Italians by nature are incredibly regionally focused and fiercely proud of the food their local area produces. As they should be! What better way to honour a community’s history and culture and look after our planet at the same time?

For our feast, we chose cheese from our local cheesemaker and fresh fruit and vegetables direct from our local farmers. The result was scrumptious!

Here are my top ten tips for throwing a Tuscan-inspired feast.

  1. Keep your menu under control. Although Italians are known for their dining experiences to go on for five (or more!) courses, three great course (antipasto, secondi, and dolce) should do it. Trust me, you’ll still be fit to bursting.
  2. Try to set up your long table outdoors and under trees, if you have great weather. Otherwise, you could do was we did and bring the outdoors in with potted citrus and olive trees and plenty of terracotta pots filled with herbs.
  3. Buy as much of your produce locally as you can—it will have loads more flavour and freshness. Save your food miles for special items, such as prosciutto, which might have actually come all the way from Italy.
  4. Style your space with simple yet elegant finishings, such as wood, branches, leaves and candles, and don’t be afraid to use the food itself as table settings. Fresh honeycomb was a huge hit for us, a gorgeous feature and talking point and it was all gone by the end of the feast.
  5. Consider a separate eating table for the really young children and indulge them with their own special activities and treats. Hire a nanny if you can.
  6. Be flexible with your menu. We decided on tiramisu (naturally) for our dolce (dessert) option, but in the end only four of twenty-three people actually wanted that, instead choosing a far more English option of strawberries and cream!
  7. Flowers and cuttings will make any space feel more welcoming and can give an instant Tuscan feel. Think about the colours of Tuscany—blues, olives, greens, purples, maybe a splash of red. Depending on what’s in season, look for lavender, rosemary, geraniums, olive leaves, roses or perhaps even sunflowers for a big statement. Bunches of herbs of sage, thyme or oregano can look beautiful too.
  8. The right music will add another powerful layer of atmosphere to your feast. Unless you’re lucky enough to have musicians and singers in your family who are happy to serenade you, the easiest thing to do is to create a playlist with your favourite music provider and let it run on random repeat throughout your event.
  9. Remember the red wine, your camera and fairy lights (you can never have enough). Forget checking your phone, clothes with belts or tight waists.
  10. After all is said and done, the biggest thing you can offer to bring this feast to fruition is your love, joy, tenderness, generosity and sense of fun. That’s what will make it a night to remember.

The Day My Ovarian Cyst Burst Mid Flight

36698“Attention passengers, if there is a medical doctor onboard, could you please make yourself known to one of our cabin crew.”

It took me a while to work out that this voice I could hear was calling for help, for me.

Not long after takeoff from the Sunshine Coast, bound for Sydney and a visit to Booktopia  to sign stock of Three Gold Coins (something I was very excited about), a sudden, sharp, terrible pain contracted in my lower right abdominal region. It was breathtaking, literally. I tried to get up and walk, I tried visiting the loo, I tried waiting it out. But it kept getting worse, I started feeling horribly sick, and when the world started going black around the edges and I went hot all over, I knew I was going to pass out. I told a member of the crew that I was feeling really sick and that was the last thing I remember before I evidently lost consciousness.

I have fainted many times. Severe illness or severe pain can do that to me. But this one was different. When I started to ‘come to’ I was on the floor of the plane, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t open my eyes, and the first thing I was aware of was a loud, rushing sound, like being trapped in a cyclonic wind tunnel. Then I heard voices, from a long way away, and ones I didn’t recognise. I had no idea where I was. To be honest, I truly thought at that moment that I had died or was about to die. As a bit more consciousness came back, I must have moved because suddenly a female voice was beside me, talking to me, and picking up my limp hand in hers. Someone put something flappable on my face.

‘You’re on Jetstar,’ she said. ‘You collapsed. You’re on the floor. We’re giving you oxygen.’

Then I started to gulp air rhythmically, almost like a dog panting. I couldn’t control it and still couldn’t open my eyes. I heard them call for assistance from the passengers and make another call to get an ambulance to meet us in Sydney. Still, my body wouldn’t work. I have no idea how long I lay there like that.

‘She’s hyperventilating,’ I heard the woman say. ‘Her pulse is really fast.’

Then the nausea hit me. I half sobbed, half groaned and rolled onto my side and started vomiting. They brought me bags. They tied up my hair. They assured me I didn’t have to move or do anything. They were unfailingly kind.

It took a long time for me to sit up, though I could only stare at a fixed spot on the floor, all my concentration taken in trying to stop the world from spinning, stop the nausea, stop vomiting.

Eventually, they helped me up and I staggered to an empty row–one they’d cleared for me. The young woman–Jetstar crew–sat beside me, offering me sick bags and paper towels, sips of water and an ice pack as somewhere along the line I’d gotten really hot and flushed. She was so lovely. I’ve no idea what her name was but I remember being impressed that she could sit so close to me while I retched over and over and still be so kind. The pain was still there but had subsided considerably. Now I just felt weak, shaky and horribly, horribly sick.

The ambulance met us on the tarmac in Sydney and took me to Prince of Wales hospital in Randwick. I was there for many hours feeling a little better with each passing hour. The emergency department was heaving with people and super busy doctors and nurses.  But everyone was so kind. I had a lovely doctor–Omid–who was caring, focused, quick to jump in and find a vein himself when success was looking doubtful, and very thorough.

The two main concerns were for a burst appendix or a twisted ovary. An ultrasound confirmed a burst ovarian cyst.

I had no idea I had an ovarian cyst. This event was traumatic enough in itself but for me an equally unsettling aspect is really that I had a nearly three centimetre cyst (apparently small on the scale of cysts, which can grow up to the size of an orange, while ovaries themselves are around the size of an almond) but had no idea. How easily could that have been a tumour? To be honest, I don’t really give my ovaries too much thought. They are quiet and out of the way, after all. Yet my mother lost an ovary in her mid-thirties to an ovarian cyst. I know women with polycystic ovaries. And I know two that had tumours removed from their ovaries.

If sharing this experience does anything, I hope it gives you pause to consider your ovaries. Do you know the signs of ovarian cysts or ovarian cancer? Do you take them seriously? I say I had no idea that I had the cyst, and yet in truth, I do ignore pains. Having a few rheumatological conditions already, I have a high pain threshold and a great ability to ignore pain and dismiss it as just an everyday companion of my life. But we really can’t afford to be so flippant, can we? Obviously, it’s not practical to run to the doctor for every small twinge or passing headache. But maybe we just need to include a bit more mindfulness about our bodies, actively making time to ‘tune in’ and ‘check in’ when we feel something before hastily dismissing it. Stay up to date with information about signs and symptoms to look for. Check in with your doctor.

Also, I do want to say a huge thank you to the Jetstar crew and to the entire planeload of passengers who were disrupted by my event, and at least one person I know of who had been waiting for her meal and didn’t get it at all. That night in hospital, while waiting for results, I suddenly wondered if people had Tweeted about it and complained but I did a search and no one had, and in this day when people seem so keen to take to Twitter to gripe about everything, I do appreciate that.

I’m also very sorry to say that I obviously didn’t make it to Booktopia to sign stock, so if you were hanging out for a signed copy from there, I am very sorry.

Finally, a couple of people have said to me that there might have been a connection between the cabin pressure and the event and having googled that I certainly came across quite a few women who’ve had this happen on a flight. So if you know you have ovarian cysts, I would urge you to discuss that with your doctor too.

Events for Three Gold Coins

img_0112We are on the countdown to Three Gold Coins hitting the shelves and confirmed events are beginning to roll in. This is the fun part of writing a book… leaving my seclusion and getting out to meet you, my fabulous readers! You are the reason I write!

So far, I have events on the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane and the Gold Coast, with one still brewing for Sydney and some others in the pipeline. You can check them out on my Contact Me/Events page but do make sure to keep checking back for updates as they happen. I’d love to see you out there on the road!

Three Gold Coins, Book Launch Invitation

You’re invited to the official launch of Three Gold Coins.

This is going to be fun!

Antipasti, bubbles, books, Caroline Hutchinson, the wonderful Nat and Lu from The River Read, actual Story Dogs dogs, and me, signing books! I’d love to see you there. X

Three Gold Coins Invite

Now Sponsoring “Story Dogs”, Sunshine Coast

Photo Ella and Charlie new

I am very proud to announce that I am now an official sponsor of a Story Dogs team here on the Sunshine Coast, sponsoring Ella and Charlie (pictured). Story Dogs is a registered charity that supports literacy programs in schools by sending in a volunteer human-canine partnership to help students on their paths to becoming confident, enthusiastic readers.

I first came across the concept several years ago via an American website and then looked for a similar program in Australia. I looked into volunteering with my Golden Retriever Daisy, but quickly realised Daisy was too much of a clown and I didn’t think we’d pass the behaviour test! Now, with my son starting Prep this year, I came across the program again and was truly excited to discover that I could add my name to the list of enthusiastic sponsors who help to keep this program running around the nation.

story-dog-logo-dc3e63ba

While the sponsorship money is pooled across the country to ensure that no child misses out, the beautiful faces of my personal sponsorship are Ella and Charlie, who volunteer at St Thomas Moore primary school here on the Sunshine Coast, and I have committed to sponsoring a Story Dogs team each year that my son is in primary school.

As a former English teacher and now author, I know that reading is the keystone skill to a life of opportunity. 

You don’t have to be an official sponsor to help out too. You can donate or volunteer your time. Just visit the Story Dogs website at www.storydogs.org.au.

Writing workshop: Bring a Friend for Free!

Because this workshop is going to be so much fun, I want you to bring a friend for free!

You can pay full price and gift the extra ticket, or share the cost, it’s up to you.

Book now to serve your place and join me for a fun day of sensory delights, chocolate tasting and crafting gourmet words.

Suitable for fiction and non-fiction writers.

Book now!