THE PRESIDENT'S LUNCH is out now!

Back in October 2011, I began working on a story about a woman whose life had been dealt a cruel blow during the Great Depression, but who would be handed the most unexpected of reprieves. It has been a long road to publishing, but today the book of which I am so incredibly proud has finally become a reality.


Today THE PRESIDENT'S LUNCH hits the shelves in Australia and New Zealand and is available digitally around the rest of the world.

A work of historical fiction, it is exactly the type of book that I like to read, and I hope you feel the same.

Here is a clipping of its first review, from the Adelaide Advertiser:


Enjoy! And don't forget to come back to this site, or to my Facebook page HERE, to share your thoughts.


Are you a talented multitasker?

I consider myself to be fairly gifted in the arena of multi-tasking. I can prepare dinner and put it on the stove, sort a load of washing and get two children showered all the while listening keenly to my son describe the difference between the playing styles of soccer greats Messi and Neymar.

But I pale in comparison to Eleanor Roosevelt who raised multi-tasking to a new and sublime level. As I researched my upcoming novel The President’s Lunch I discovered the First Lady’s devotion to knitting. During meetings with heads of state, while sailing, even while listening to delegates speak at the United Nations, Mrs Roosevelt failed to drop a stitch. She was rarely without her needles and yarn, even in public. For more on Eleanor’s knitting obsession CLICK HERE.

At their home in Hyde Park, NY, Franklin holds Eleanor's knitting, and Eleanor holds Franklin's drink, for an amusing image from early in their relationship. Franklin D Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum
Mrs Roosevelt’s skills impressed me. But more recently I took my hat off to a young man I spied on the mountain trail behind my home.

Rough and rocky, potholed and precarious, the fire trail traversing through Canberra Nature Park is where I go running at least three mornings a week. By the end of the run I’m totally exhausted and I credit my fatigue partly to the concentration involved in remaining upright. On three occasions I have, quite spectacularly, taken a tumble. Even walking on the track requires my complete attention.

This is why when I saw a twenty-something man walking his dog on the trail while reading a hardcover novel I was thoroughly awestruck. What’s more, I can’t be positively sure but I believe the weighty tome he was absorbed in was a first edition copy of Ayn Rand’s, The Fountainhead. I have heard Rand’s book criticised as ‘pedestrian’ before, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what the critic had in mind!

Although a talented multi-tasker, when I read a novel I require complete silence and no distractions. I cannot read in a car, on a plane, on a toilet and certainly not whilst walking on a perilous mountain trail.

What is the strangest place you’ve ever read a book?

History's most fashionable decades?

My mother, a Depression-era baby, spent a great deal of her adolescence at the ‘pictures’. By feeding me a well-rounded diet of Hollywood movies from the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, she passed on her love of film.

As a girl I imagined myself as Debbie Reynolds in Singin’ in the Rain, leaping over lounges with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. I mouthed the words Katherine Hepburn uttered as Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story and I attempted to tame my wayward curls, by using hot rollers and bobby pins, into something resembling Carole Lombard’s sleek and silky do.

What most captured my imagination was the glamour of the female leads, which had much to do with the clothes they wore. I adore fashion from that era. It was elegant and feminine, but not fussy.

One of the most interesting discoveries I made during the process of researching and writing The President’s Lunch was the existence of an American fashion designer named Elizabeth Hawes. As an outspoken advocate of ready-to-wear, Hawes was the first in the industry to criticise the dominance of haute couture in American fashion. For further insight into this style maverick click here.


Her designs (see images above and below) were chic and affordable and I used them as my inspiration for Iris’s wardrobe in The President’s Lunch.


Do you have a favourite fashion era?

You can't judge a book...

Have you ever been proud, surprised and impressed all at once?

Earlier this week I received my first copy of The President’s Lunch (in store Aug 1). I know the exact thoughts and processes that have gone into the development of this cover. But although I had seen proofs of the cover before, it was not until I had the book in my hands that I realised the full extent of its brilliance.


It is sexy and evocative and indicative of the era. As a cover, it’s superb!

I experienced a similar feeling when I first glimpsed the cover of the German version of Perfect North. Not only did the German publishers change the title to Unter dem Nordlicht (Under the Northern Lights), which is beautiful, they also completely bowled me over with the cover design. It perfectly evokes the mood and themes of the novel. I love it. I am extremely lucky. Thank you, Dumont Buchverlag!


More literal in concept, the Australian cover of Perfect North is also exquisite. The image of a young lady staring wistfully at a balloon in the sky communicates a powerful visual clue as to the contents of the book.


I adore all three covers. Which is your favourite?

Cooking without counting the cost

When Eleanor Roosevelt became First Lady of the United States in the winter of 1933 the Great Depression was at its height. A true believer in the government leading by example, Eleanor introduced economy cooking into the White House. Mrs Roosevelt even worked with the Home Economics department at Cornell University to devise a menu (main course and dessert) that came in at just seven cents per diner! Mrs Roosevelt hired her frugal friend, Henrietta Nesbitt, as housekeeper to spearhead the economy drive.

Henrietta Nesbitt in 1939
I have decided to celebrate Mrs Nesbitt, who inspired my novel The President’s Lunch and who plays a small but vital role within that book. To do this I will serve her recipes to my family for the month leading up to the release of the novel. As I have pointed out in a past post, Mrs Nesbitt’s meals were famously terrible. But they were also incredibly cheap, and I’ve been keen to discover whether any of them were any good.

I began with something that felt fairly safe (serving my husband and sons sweetbread and mushroom patties first up might just be taking this celebration a little too far). Here is the recipe:

Henrietta Nesbitt’s Macaroni and Cheese 
(The Presidential Cookbook, by Henrietta Nesbitt Doubleday & Company, 1951)

½ pound sharp cheese, cut in small pieces
1 9-ounce package macaroni, broken in pieces
2 cups thick white sauce (see below)
½ teaspoon salt

Gently stir the cheese into the sauce. After it has melted, pour the sauce over the macaroni which has been boiled and placed in a casserole dish and stir lightly but well. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons grated cheese and 2 tablespoons cracker crumbs over top and bake in 350 degree oven 40 minutes. Serves 6.

Thick White Sauce
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk or other liquid
¼ teaspoon salt

Prepare in a double boiler. Melt butter, add flour; blend well; gradually add liquid and salt. Beat constantly until thick. Cook another 10 minutes.

Cost
Pasta – 50c
Milk – 25c
Butter – 40c
Flour – 40c
Cheese – $2
Crackers - I used Jatz  - 10c

TOTAL COST : $3.65 for six people, or 61c per person!

Before cooking...

THE VERDICT: The dish was consumed with gusto. Everybody loved the substitution of cracker crumbs (I used Jatz) for regular bread crumbs - they added saltiness and texture to what would otherwise be a fairly insipid and bland dish. My husband asked for seconds. My fussy-eating eight-year-old licked his plate clean for the first time in living memory. And my eat-anything two-year-old put two of his favourite words together to say, ‘Nice cheese!’.

After cooking!