My inspiration for The Christmas Swap

Out now!

Cover of The Christmas Swap
A beach in the lower half with a couple sitting next to two bathing boxes
A snowy mountainside view in the top half, a couple walking into a ski lodge

I am super excited about this book, as it celebrates one of my favourite times of the year, Christmas. I decided in June last year that I wanted to write a Christmas book, and as I do for all my books, I turned to my own travel experiences for inspiration.

You see, I am an ‘Aus-Meri-Pom’ as my grandma Joan used to call me. I have an English father, and American mother and I was born in Australia. I have lived in all three countries and consider the UK and the US my second homes, especially as I have so many loved ones in both countries.

With so many Christmases to choose from – some snowy, some wintry and cosy (but no snow), many hot, I considered how to pack more than one Christmas into one book.

That’s when I got the idea to have three childhood friends swap Christmases. This way, I could dive into what makes each one special, seeing each Christmas through fresh eyes.

The UK

My sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and great aunt all live in the UK, and we’ve had a couple of (lovely) Christmases with them in recent years (in 2014 and 2108). I LOVE how beautifully and traditionally Christmas is celebrated in the UK. Yes, we had chocolate oranges in our stockings; yes, we had plum pudding and brandy sauce; yes, we went to Christmas Fairs and Winter Wonderland, and sipped mulled wine and hot chocolate; yes, we watched the Queen’s speech; and yes, we even had a(n early) traditional Christmas lunch in a 500 year year old pub! All the yeses to this kind of Christmas.

I’ve also had many Christmases in the US, but one that has stuck with me all these years is the Christmas I visited a dear friend and his (lovely extended family at their mountain cabin in Colorado, then met up with my partner, Ben, for a ski trip to Breckenridge and New Year’s in Denver.

It is a stunning part of the world, and Breckenridge is one of those towns that looks like a filmset of a Christmas movie. These pics are from our drive into town.

And this was the “cabin” we stayed in for Christmas:

Large log cabin nestled in the snow surrounded by fir trees

There were 13 of us for Christmas – and we all had beds, with some to spare! Me in Colorado, all rugged up. Look at those mountains and that sky!

Most of my 51 Christmases, however, have been in Australia. It’s hot, sometimes swelteringly so, and we celebrate traditions that are as much about the family gathering together in summertime as they are about the holiday.

I always make a pav(lova).

We have a fake, but festive, tree (thanks to Ben for the gorgeous pic on the left).

There are salads, fruit platters, champagne (lots of bubbly), Christmas carols (even the snowy ones), some sort of roast, cheese platters, maybe a baked salmon, or some prawns or crayfish on the barbie, and I’ll always bake my fave Chrissie bikkies, Russian Tea Cakes (recipe for you).

We go to the beach, play boules after lunch, call our loved ones far and wide, play games out on the veranda, like Trivial Pursuit and Cards Against Humanity, while we sip crisp, white Aussie wine – you, know, Christmassy, family stuff – Aussie style.

With my dad and step-mum at Light’s Beach, Denmark, Western Australia

I absolutely LOVE Christmas, and if you do too, I hope you will love The Christmas Swap (buy links included). It’s out now!

Catching up with Author Katie Ginger

It is a pleasure to welcome the wonderful author, Katie Ginger, who is here to talk about her latest book Summer Strawberries at Swallowtail Bay and all things writing.

Tell us what inspired you to write Summer Strawberries at Swallowtail Bay?

I really love writing books set in the summer and had originally pitched this to my editor as being set at a music festival. We have a chat about what fitted better with the genre and decided that a food festival would be better and much more on trend. As a result, Swallowtail Bay’s strawberry festival was born with a main character who wanted to turn it into a food festival. Though the setting changed a little, the characters all remained as I’d envisaged them with Hetty being strong and feisty and John being grouchy in his crumbling country home!

When did you start writing seriously?

I took redundancy from my job in 2014, and decided to do something completely different from working as a manager in the museums sector. I signed up for a distance learning novel writing course as I’d always loved writing but had never felt confident about it, and it all went from there! I decided to really try and get a book deal after my cousin passed away from cancer and was lucky enough to be offered a two-book deal with HQ Digital in January 2018. It’s kind of just snowballed from there!

What do you love most about being an author?

Everything! Can I say everything?! But I really do love everything about it. I love thinking and plotting stories, figuring out who my characters are and what they do and what their emotional scars are. I love the excitement of the first draft and discovering the story and then editing. Editing is, I think the hardest thing but a necessary evil! Weirdly, the stage I love most is copy editing. I am so in awe of copy editors who know all the technical rules about dangling participles and all that stuff. That’s when a manuscript really gets shined up, I think!

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on edits for the Christmas novel: the final book in the Swallowtail Bay series! I’ll be kind of sad to say goodbye to that little town! Then I’ll be working on some ideas for romantic comedies for next year (very excited about those!). I’m also venturing into a bit of historical cozy mystery writing under the pen name K E Coburn. It’s pretty full on, but I love it!

What do you hope readers will take away from Summer Strawberries at Swallowtail Bay?

I really just want to give readers a little bit of respite from this crazy world we’re in right now. I hope I manage to make them laugh and smile and enjoy being somewhere else, away from the day-to-day worries. If I can do that, then I’ve hit the jackpot!

More about Summer Strawberries at Swallowtail Bay

Grab your strawberries and cream and get ready to return to the beautiful Swallowtail Bay!

Summer is in full swing and the locals are getting excited for the launch of the Swallowtail Bay strawberry food festival. But will all run smoothly when festival organiser Hetty’s heart is torn between lord of the manor John Thornhill and successful bakery owner Ben?

Buy Summer Strawberries at Swallowtail Bay

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Amazon AU | Amazon CA 

More about Katie Ginger

Katie lives in the South East of England, by the sea, and she really wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Summer Strawberries at Swallowtail Bay is her fifth novel. The first, Spring Tides at Swallowtail Bay is available now. Her debut novel The Little Theatre on the Seafront was shortlisted for the Katie Fforde Debut Novel of the Year award, and her stand- alone Christmas novel Snowflakes at Mistletoe Cottage was a US Amazon bestseller.

When she’s not writing, Katie spends her time drinking gin, or with her husband, trying to keep alive their two children, Ellie and Sam. And there’s also their adorable King Charles Spaniel, Wotsit (yes, he is named after the crisps!).

Follow Katie

www.keginger.com | Facebook|Twitter | Instagram

 

Turkey Burgers + Fresh Salsa + Sweet Potato Fries

The following recipes have been created in our kitchen, with a little trial and error.  We think we have gotten a perfect combination, and I wanted to share these with you.

These are ‘bunless’ burgers, and are so tasty, you won’t miss the bun (or the extra 200 calories).

We eat turkey because Ben doesn’t eat red meat, but you could make these with beef.  If you prefer beef, and like it medium or rare, omit the final step of cooking the patties.

Chipotle is a smoked chili, and readily available in the U.S.  You can, however,  substitute any chili you like – fresh, from a jar, powdered, flaked – whatever your taste is.

Cilantro = Coriander

TURKEY BURGERS

1 package of turkey mince (500g or 1lb)
3/4c polenta (corn meal)
1 egg + 1 egg white
Chipotle chili (powder or canned) to taste
Salt (smoked salt if you have it)
Fresh cliantro
4 green onions chopped
Sprinkle of Cummin
2-3 T tomato paste
1 clove garlic

Make a handful of mixture into a 1/2 inch patty.

Heat a frying pan to med-high, add 1T oil (Vegetable oil is best).  Cook patties until brown on both sides.

Add 1/4c to 1/3c of chicken broth (liquid stock), turn heat down to medium and cover – cook another few minutes to ensure the patties are cooked through.  The broth steams the meat through and keeps it tender.

Makes 4 large patties.  Patties can be frozen in individual ziplock/freezer bags.

FRESH SALSA

De-seeded and peeled cucumber
Ripe tomatoes
Avocado
1/4 red onion
Fresh cilantro
Splashes of white balsamic + olive oil
Lots of lime juice
Salt and pepper
Chili flakes

Dice everything finely, mix together and refrigerate about 3 hours ahead of time.  Season to your taste.

CARAMELIZED ONION

Red onion, sliced finely (1 per 2 people)
Olive oil
1 tsp butter
Splash of white balsamic

Cook on medium until onions are caramelized, stirring regularly.

Assemble burgers on salad greens.  Top with a spicy BBQ sauce, onions and fresh salsa.  Serve with Sweet potato fries.

SWEET POTATO FRIES

Scrub skins, cut into 1/4 inch rounds, lay on a plate and microwave until nearly cooked through (a few minutes – test with a fork).

Place on a foiled tray, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with favorite spice combo (Chili-based spices/Cumin is a good accompaniment) and salt and pepper.  Turn over and repeat.

Grill (under broiler) on HIGH until brown (about 4-5 minutes), and turn over to grill other side.

This is a really healthy and delicious meal.

Much of the prep can be done ahead of time, and the cooking only takes 10 minutes for the patties and fries.  Therefore,  this is a terrific meal to make when friends come over, because you won’t have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.

Enjoy!

Brownies

Okay, so here’s a departure from my usual missive.

Brownies.

I have a fail safe, delicious recipe that was passed down to me from my grandmother. I still have her handwritten version, which stays in my recipe file because I have it committed to memory. But I treasure it, because my maternal grandmother was amazing in the kitchen. And many of my memories of her and my grandfather are centered around food.

My grandparents on my mother’s side left Australia to return to the United States when I was 6. I was devastated. Although my grandfather could silence me with the lift of one eyebrow, and my grandmother had a shout that could chop wood, I adored them both, and reveled in my role as the oldest grandchild (in Australia).

The day they flew out I was inconsolable. My parents had even promised we would go to the pancake restaurant near the airport afterwards, as a treat. I cried through my pancakes, even though they were usually my favorite, and well into the afternoon. My Mama and Papa were gone.

The next time I saw them I was a much older and wiser seven and a half (the ‘half’ matters when you’re seven). My parents, my sister and I went to the U.S. for Christmas in Pennsylvania, and then a road trip down the east coast, through the south, all the way to new Mexico. It would take us several weeks, and we would travel in my grandparent’s motor home.

My grandmother would step into the tiny kitchen every dinnertime and make a delicious dinner for 6 on two hot plates, with a mini fridge and a micro oven. Even at the tender age of seven and a half, I knew that this was impressive.

Best of all were the pies. PIES! In that tiny oven. She made that perfect, flaky pastry from scratch, a feat I have never attempted even though I am on the eve of my 40th birthday. (It is on my list.) Cherry was – and still is – my favorite, but I have only had one pie in my life that was as good as hers (in California last year at a tiny diner in the middle of nowhere).

Lunch times were simpler affairs. Sandwiches, chips and pickles. As she taught me how to do that fancy playing card shuffle and play gin rummy, I munched on salami and mustard sandwiches, Fritos and massive dill pickles. I felt so ‘American’, and I was her little mate again.

Through the years I ate at her table, although not as much as I wish I had. Some of my favorite recipes – and some of my favorite dishes cooked by my mother and my aunties – are hers. My mother and I still hope to one day get her recipes out there – Mama’s recipes.

I have been baking her brownies for nearly 30 years, having tried other recipes and never being as satisfied with results. Last weekend I broke out the brownie pan for the first time since my move to the U.S. I bought all the ingredients, noticing how much finer the sugar is here, and calling my mother in Vegas to ask the difference between bleached and unbleached flour. Hershey’s cocoa powder replaced the Cadbury’s I have used for the past 20 years in Australia.

On top of the different ingredients, I was contending with a new oven. Anyone who bakes will tell you that an oven can be ‘fast’, ‘slow’, or even cook unevenly. I had yet to learn my new oven, hence why I opted for the fail safe brownie recipe.

I made them, baked them, and pulled them out of the oven ahead of the allotted time – just in case. I had a frown on my face as Ben walked over, commenting on how good they smelled. “They’re burnt,” I said, immediately thinking of what else I could take to our friends’ house later that night. “Really? They seem okay,” he offered, helpfully. The frown stayed, as I noted the dark color, and stuck a skewer in the middle. The skewer came out wet, meaning that they weren’t done yet. Hmmm. Burnt on the outside, uncooked inside.

I turned down the oven and stuck them back in for a few minutes. I would wait and see. Hershey’s cocoa is much darker than Cadbury’s – maybe that was it. I took them out, allowed them to cool, and cut off a corner. Delicious. I took a bite to Ben, who agreed that they were good. And they were – just different. The cocoa, the sugar, and whatever else is different about American ingredients had made a completely different brownie to what I was expecting.

In fact, because this recipe was created by my grandmother – and she was American – I think the ones I made on the weekend were closer to hers than any I made in Australia. When I served them to a group of experts (Americans) later that night, they were well received.

So, off the back of all that, I think I will keep Mama’s brownies as my signature baked treat. Oh, and I can still shuffle cards really well, but can’t remember a thing about gin rummy.

Here’s the recipe:

1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup margarine, 1/3 cup butter
Melt these together on a low heat. Remove pan from heat. Add the following:
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
Mix well. In a separate bowl, mix together the following:
1 1/2 cups plain unbleached flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and mix well with a wooden spoon. When combined, pour into a greased brownie tin and bake on 350F for about 30 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan before cutting and serving.

Enjoy!!