Wednesday 10 December 2014

A-travelling we will go -- The 13 Desserts of Christmas in Provence - a finger-lickin' post. Photos! Recipes!

Hi all!
This will probably be my last post till after Christmas, so it's long. You might like to read it in installments, hahaha.

"A traveller without knowledge is a bird without wings," so said Sa'di, Gulistan (1258). 

Do you, like me, research your trips before boarding the plane to your next destination, or do you prefer to wing it? Research brings up the most delicious prospects such as the one I'm sharing with you today.

To me, the 'South of France' is a magical phrase. I tend to hit the South of France in winter where it provides a great getaway from the much colder climate of Paris.

The twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower in Paris at Christmas time.
At the Arc de Triomphe roundabout.

A view from Castle Hill in Nice in the South of France, showing the terracotta rooftops and some of the waterfront buildings along the Promenade des Anglais.

Christmas lights in Monaco

Nice, Monaco and Provence are wonderful places to thaw out as the Mediterranean keeps them warmer than the north. Nice and Monaco are crowded and busy, albeit awfully cute, but in Provence you can find vast areas that are wild and empty, quite like Australia. There's peace and silence, there's colourful markets, there's room to breathe and the air is clean as you travel the back roads. I'm sorry I haven't seen the lavender fields in July, but I've seen the ordered rows in December which is a fabulous time to be in Provence because of one tradition which really appeals to me...

It's a Provençal tradition where for Christmas Eve dinner, you eat thirteen desserts! Can you believe that? I love dessert and the idea of eating thirteen desserts for a Christmas lunch is enough to make me want to move to France, well, just another reason...
Like many traditions, the 13 desserts of Provence tradition starts as a recreation of a religious scene of the Last Supper with Jesus Christ and the twelve apostles with each course representing each attendee.

The major meal takes place on Christmas Eve. The table is ceremoniously laid with three white tablecloths one on the top of the other, garnished with three candles and three saucers of the wheat of Saint Barbara, representing the Holy Trinity.

The first part of the meal which is eaten before Midnight Mass, consists of seven very plain dishes served buffet style, symbolising the seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary. An extra place is set for a beggar who might come to the door.    
Any self respecting restaurant in Provence will happily serve the traditional thirteen desserts, but the French like to do things their way. The idea is to begin by sipping a Pastis aperitif from the South of France, a deceptively aniseedy drink that looks like a lemon drink but is pure rich aniseed. I think it's an acquired taste. I'd prefer a Kir Royale (champagne and creme de cassis).
Often the restaurant will start off with a mixed Provençal antipasto plate to share, but vegetarians beware. The  triangular slices of country style pork terrine are made from the pork shoulder and back fat with some liver and duck liver and Armagnac. It is hand chopped in order to get the pieces of pork fat in larger pieces. There is also an absolutely divine duck liver pate, one of my favourite things, which is flavoured with Grand Marnier, pork and Armagnac. This is made by pan frying it and it has an incredibly gorgeous texture-light but buttery and easily spread. 

Mixed Provençal antipasto
Dessert is eagerly anticipated but you have to wait --first you need a glass of rose from St Tropez to go with the traditional bouillabaisse which is paired with a sauce rouille and croutons. Did you know that the origins of bouillabaisse go back as far as 6000BC where it originated at the sea port of Marseilles? 
The best fish was sold at the markets and any leftovers or cheaper fish were made into Bouillabaisse so it had rather humble beginnings.
The 13 Desserts of a provencal Christmas Eve supper
Finally...time for the 13 desserts 
In the centre of the restaurant, plates of sweets are brought out and thank heavens they are petits fours sized desserts. When choosing the desserts for this tradition, I'm told there are four key components:
Step 1 - Something from Africa to represent the Three Wise Men (dates)
Step 2 - A nougat-usually a dark and a white nougat to signify evil versus good 
Step 3 - A sweet brioche which signifies breaking bread with others.
A provencal brioche des rois


Step 4 - Mendiants, which feature four nuts and dried fruit representing the monastic orders of the Dominicans, Augustinians, Franciscans and Carmelites, orders that have taken a vow of poverty. The nuts and fruit represent the colour of monastic robes. Traditionally they have raisins for the Dominicans, hazelnut for the Augustinians, fig for Franciscans and almonds for Carmelites.
Citrus is also featured in the 13 dessert menu as citrus is a popular item in Provence. Flowers like lavender and violet are also featured and it often comes in the form of a lavender panna cotta and a violet and lavender chocolate. Herbs such as fennel and tarragon are also used. Calissons are an item that are new to me and these come from Aix de Provence. These little diamond shaped morsels are made up of ground almonds, candied melon and a glaze of icing sugar and originate in the 15th century of Provence.
The desserts are accompanied by spiced mulled wine (vin cuit). 
Apparently families who skip the rigors of the Gros Souper still include the 13 desserts in their Christmas celebrations. Ready-made presentation baskets of the desserts are available to buy.

I won't be in Provence this Christmas. I'll be up at the beach house on the Sunshine Coast, where our tradition is to get together and eat seafood and lots of nibblies and desserts on the deck...and drink a bit of champagne and beer. This year I will be cooking many French-inspired desserts such as Tarte au Citron and Creme Brulee.

Today I made a batch of Bliss Balls and I'll share the recipe with you. Great for snacking on and quite healthy. 

(Don't get hassled by portion sizes--any size will do)
  • A large handful of activated almonds (or ordinary almonds)
  • A small handful of dates
  • A few dried figs (optional--I love figs)
  • A dessertspoon of raw cacoa dried chocolate (I use the proper stuff from the health food store). You can substitute ordinary cocoa.
  • About 3 large tablespoons of nut spread/butter (hazelnut, macadamia, whatever). If you're a fan of peanut butter (I'm not) you could use that.
In a blender or any kind of whizzer, zoom the almonds till they're nice and crushed.
Add all other ingredients except the nut spread. Zoom till nicely chopped. Then add nut spread and zoom till the mixture can be pressed together and holds a ball shape. (You can add a little juice or water if you can't get to that sticky stage. Or olive oil if you're from Italy, hahahaha).
Sprinkle some coconut on a board. Wet your hands and shape mixture into balls and roll in the coconut (or you can roll them in cacoa).
Refrigerate. Pop one in your mouth whenever you feel like a sweet treat. Amaze balls!!
  • I hope you enjoyed reading a little about Christmas traditions in Provence and here in Oz. 
  • What are your traditions for the holiday season?
Getting ready for Christmas at the beach house!
For those who've followed my melanoma journey, I now have had four removed! Ugh! Ouch! 

And thanks to those who've participated in WEP challenges this year. Hopefully we will find a way to resume in the New Year. 

Wednesday 3 December 2014

IWSG post - A First Page Checklist - would an editor or agent turn the page?

CLICK BADGE for more entries...
Hi all!

Welcome to another month of IWSG posts. Thanks to Alex J Cavanaugh and his assistants for running this helpful meme.

Those amongst us who have written unpublished novels, whether we've submitted them or not, might, like me, feel very insecure about sending the ms off to a publisher. I found this checklist on the blog: Flogging the Quill, where published author and writers' helper Ray Rhamey offers all sorts of tips for unpublished writers, including a free public chapter critique.

I liked Ray's very comprehensive checklist to keep the editor/agent compelled to read on. It had me combing my first page for these elements...

A First-page Checklist

Do you have all these elements on your first page?
  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist does something.
  • There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
  • It happens in the NOW of the story.
  • Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?

  • What about you? Would you add anything to the checklist?
  • Do you disagree with Rhamey on any point?

Thanks for taking time out for your holiday preparations and coming by. I hope you'll visit more blogs today.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

What are you writing?

Hello everyone!

Brisbane survived the G20. Life is returning to normal. There was no terrorism, just a few low-key protests.  

November is NaNoWriMo month for many of us. I don't expect to finish 50,000 words this year, but I'm using the time to get a new story underway. If you're not doing NaNo, you are probably writing up your own little storm, editing your latest masterpiece...or thinking about Christmas while you plan your latest blog tour. 

Here’s your chance to share and discuss with each other what you are writing about. questions to you are --

What Are YOU Writing?
  • What are you working on right now? - a novel? Your best article ever? A poem? A memoir? A photo essay?
  • Maybe you’ve just finished something you’re really proud of? Or you just can’t tell whether it should get a Pulitzer or be thrown into the trash?
  • Whet our appetite with a few lines or the opening paragraph of your future bestseller or give us a link to your best article. (Give us some context for your excerpt).
  • State what aspect you’re working on. For example, you might say, “Here’s a link to my NYT future bestseller, 'Whatever,' a story about 'Whatever'. I’m currently working on eliminating superfluous words.” 

A word on critiquing:

* When commenting, first list everything you really like about the excerpt.
* Only then offer careful suggestions.
* Treat each other with respect, friendliness, caring, and honesty.
* Remember that we are all still learning.

  • Go on, share your lines with us.
  • Comment using the Reply button on those brave enough to share with us.
  • Have fun! Play nice!

I've still been making time to read. My favourite read of the week is Bitter Chocolate by Lesley Lokko. Wow! What a mix of settings and characters and fantastic storylines - it took me to Haiti, Ghana, London and the US.

If you're doing NaNo, all my best wishes for you to finish!

And...f you had me on your blogroll, please copy whatever URL you see above and replace the old URL. Thanks!!!!!!!!!!!!! Apparently now Google adds your country to the end of my URL. I never noticed that until now. 

Tuesday 11 November 2014

The G20 arrives Down Under to my sleepy little city of Brisbane.

Hello there!

The things you do to procrastinate when you're taking part in the NaNo challenge. I've been meaning to change my blog URL to something more sensible like my name and it just couldn't wait. So now I've botched up everything until the FeedBurner redirection kicks in. 

If you are sweet enough to have me on your blogroll, please change the old URL to the new one. I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but I don't want to miss your visits (I know, I should have thought of that before I started messing around).

Denise Covey - My Writing Blog

OLD blog URL:
NEW URL for same blog :

I lost my whole blogroll when I made the change. Too silly of me! So if you don't see your name on my blogroll, I am in the business of reinstating you. Give me a nudge if you wish.


My city Brisbane is just a big country town of two million+ people. So why all the big guns are coming Down Under for their G20 meeting is beyond most of us. It's rather unsettling having images like this on the front covers of our local newspapers. We've already noticed a few changes to our laid-back lifestyle and on Monday we go into G20 lockdown. 

I live in the Red Zone, only a few hundred metres from the Exhibition Centre where the meetings are taking place. All sorts of restrictions are in place. Roads are closed. Barricades are up. Getting into the Inner City will be a pain.

Seeing the face can only be covered for religious reasons, protesters are dressing in black burqas as they demonstrate against capitalism seeing that 80% of the world's economy is represented at the G20. So they will be using their smart phones, iPads etc, all products of capitalism to record events.

Lawyers are going to be everywhere on the lookout for any unfair treatment of protesters. Not sure what good that will do as police and military have been granted special powers during the summit.

Of course egos will be through the roof. As you may/may not know our, um, rather silly Prime Minister Tony Abbot didn't want Putin here as he believes he's behind the shooting down of the MH17 Malaysian Airlines plane (I agree with Abbot on this one point and so do most Australians). 

Of course, more powerful politicians than Abbot have said Mr Putin must come and Abbot must desist in his threats to 'shirt-front' Putin, whatever that means. 

So dear, sweet little Brisbane has had to import police from all over Australia and even New Zealand for the event as there's not usually that much criminal activity taking place. Police numbers will be complemented by the Army. They will be needed as we're told that if we drive into the Inner City (which I have to do Sunday night) our car will be searched by 6 police or military and if we have any of the banned items on the 'restricted' list, we will be in big trouble. So I'd better leave the eggs and cans of food at home.

So, this week will be different for me and a lot of other citizens. I will be teaching from home as the State Library is closed as it's practically next door to the power centre. But there are some positives--lots of shows and light displays. Must get out and take some pictures, maybe for next post. The city is always lovely at night. Now it's even lovelier.

  • What's on your agenda this week? Any excitement your way?
  • How's NaNo going if you're in? I'm limping along.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

IWSG post - The Ten Best Sentences in fiction according to the American Scholar.

Hi there!

Welcome to another month and another round of IWSG posts. As we dive into NaNo or dive into our writing for the month, I thought I'd post some inspiring sentences.

Click to see more IWSG posts
I like to read A LOT and I like to consider the way some of the greats write in the hope that some of the magic will rub off on my writing. Here are some of the ten best sentences in fiction according to this article I came across online. 

I think these sentences are pretty awesome, but also demonstrate how times/tastes change. No doubt some of you won't like these examples. Flick through and let me know which one you like best...or perhaps post your favourite sentence from your current WIP or a much-loved book.

Here we go....

Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
—F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

10 best: Paris - James JoyceI go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.
—James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

This private estate was far enough away from the explosion so that its bamboos, pines, laurel, and maples were still alive, and the green place invited refugees—partly because they believed that if the Americans came back, they would bomb only buildings; partly because the foliage seemed a center of coolness and life, and the estate’s exquisitely precise rock gardens, with their quiet pools and arching bridges, were very Japanese, normal, secure; and also partly (according to some who were there) because of an irresistible, atavistic urge to hide under leaves.
—John Hersey, Hiroshima

It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.
—Toni Morrison, Sula

For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?
—Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

It was the United States of America in the cold late spring of 1967, and the market was steady and the G.N.P. high and a great many articulate people seemed to have a sense of high social purpose and it might have been a spring of brave hopes and national promise, but it was not, and more and more people had the uneasy apprehension that it was not.
—Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Image result for image of ernest hemingwayAnger was washed away in the river along with any obligation.
—Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

There are many pleasant fictions of the law in constant operation, but there is not one so pleasant or practically humorous as that which supposes every man to be of equal value in its impartial eye, and the benefits of all laws to be equally attainable by all men, without the smallest reference to the furniture of their pockets.
—Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby

In many ways he was like America itself, big and strong, full of good intentions, a roll of fat jiggling at his belly, slow of foot but always plodding along, always there when you needed him, a believer in the virtues of simplicity and directness and hard labor.
—Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

There is nothing more atrociously cruel than an adored child.
—Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

And a bonus:
Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there.
—Truman Capote, In Cold Blood


  • Do you have a favourite sentence from the above list?
  • What is your favourite sentence in your WIP or another book?

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Love Sucks! My Halloween Ghost Story...takes place in a little bar in Montmarte, Paris...

Hi everyone!

If you're looking for Joy Campbell's blog tour post, it's one down!!!!!

It's time for those Halloween creepy stories. Here's one of my stories I posted three years ago for RomanticFridayWriters. I've had a fresh look at it, revamped it, lol, and post for your reading pleasure. I really love these guys!

When you’ve lived on this earth for 400+ years you crave excitement. I was done with sleeping all day in a dark room with the velvet drapes drawn, hiding from the sun, waking up to microwaved blood. 

What’s a vamp to do all century?

Haunt the streets? 

That gets so old after awhile.

I slammed the hotel door and sashayed along Montmarte’s glitter strip, my current Parisian suburb of interest. Tourists gawking, homeless hawking, blackboard artist chalking. "ETERNITY". Cool. Same old, same old. Then right next door to Moulin Rouge, I saw it: ‘A VENDRE’. 

My synapses zapped. My planets aligned. A contract to sign.

I’d accumulated a tidy sum over the centuries, you know. Compound interest compounds, so before you could say ‘More blood and make it quick,’ the business belonged to moi.

The little bar was perfect -- vamp chic – blood-red carpet, black walls, red bar counter, black furniture. Suited my little black er, heart. The pictures clinched the deal – horror-movie posters proclaimed murder and mayhem on every wall. 

Now I no longer have to prowl the mean streets at night. I got me a hidey-hole. 

‘Ya not going to run this place all by yaself, are ya?’

I turned from admiring my Dracula poster which was a bit like looking in the mirror, black cloak and super handsome face, but like, wow! Look what's just promenaded down my little 15th Century wonky stairs! Flowing black tresses, lush curves poured into a little black dress, black fishnet stockings. Oh so tastee.

‘You offering to help, er, miss?’

“Ya, moi, who else d’ya see? I thought those black glasses were just for show.’

‘You know bar work? You look, like twelve. Show me some ID.’ 

I was only kidding but she whipped out the plastic.

‘Looks can be deceiving. You look, like, nineteen.’ 

She winked at me, cheeky minx.

I flipped the ID back to her. Fake as, who cared? 

I want this girl-child.

‘What d’ya think? I been working bars for many a year. Know some tricks.’

‘It’s not that kind of bar. It’ll be a clean operation.’

‘What’s that?’

‘Drink, tapas, music…’

‘Boring as. But I can be boring if ya want.’

 ‘What’s your name?’ I clasped her black-gloved hand. ‘I’m Drack Kulah.’



‘Well I’m Ruby Black, but go by -’

‘Snow White?’

‘Right on Drak. Hilaarrious. So, whatcha think?’

‘You’re hired. No funny business or you’ll be out on your pretty butt.’

‘My butt’s pretty?’ She twirled, black lacy dress flowing like waves, revealing a tantalizing glimpse of shapely snow-white leg and a flash of lacy black knickers. Pity about those ugly Doc Marten’s.

‘You want stilettos, you got stilettos,’ she smirked, ‘but that’s not all I got.’ She sidled up and grabbed me around the neck. Her gloved fingers stroked my black curls.

Who needs to go hunting? She was mine, right here, right now. A gift.

I took her in my steely arms, aiming for the jugular, then…wow! She's got no throbbing pulse! 

That was that then. Of course I knew the minute she walked in...

At least one female in the bar's out of temptation’s way.

Bring on the next one...

Click on the names in my sidebar for more Ghost Stories...or go to Write...Edit...Publish.

Thanks for reading!

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