Tag Archives: Peter Pan

FRIDAY FEAST with Jessica Owers

It’s Friiiiiiday, which means the latest instalment of Us Heins Weren’t Meant To Play Golf Weekly. I played well. Again. So well I dropped a stroke off my handicap. There is obviously something wrong with the universe…

But there is nothing at all wrong with this week’s Friday Feast guest!Author Jessica Owers

I can’t tell you how chuffed I am to host award-winning writer and renowned freelance racing journalist Jessica Owers on Friday Feast again. Jessica’s description of the delights of a simple cheeseburger on her last visit was truly wonderful, and I can tell you she won’t fail to charm this time around either. Her post fills me with gushy joyness, and more than a little bit of hunger.

Jessica’s 2011 release, Peter Pan: The Forgotten Story Of Phar Lap’s Successor, was a huge success, reviewed across the world and winning the 2012 Bill Whittaker Award for Best Racing Book in Australia. Now, Jessica has channelled her formidable talents into new story, and what a cracker it is.

Before Black Caviar, So You Think or Takeover Target, there was…

 

SHANNON

 

Shannon by Jessica Owers book coverThe Extraordinary Life Of Australia’s First International Racehorse

Wartime Sydney, a small and weedy racehorse was kicking his way through the top tier of Australian racing. He was Shannon, one of the fastest horses the nation had ever seen. Between 1943 and 1947, Shannon broke record after record with his garrulous jockey Darby Munro. When they sensationally lost the Epsom Handicap by six inches, they forever were stamped by the race they should have won.

Sold in August 1947 for the then highest price ever paid at auction for an Australian thoroughbred, Shannon ended up in America. Through headline-snatching pedigree flaws, acclimatization and countless hardships, he blitzed across the ritzy, glitzy racetracks of 1948 California. Smashing track records, world records and records set by Seabiscuit, the Australian bolted into world fame with speed and courage that defied all odds.

Long before Black Caviar, So You Think and Takeover Target, Shannon was Australia’s first international racehorse. Starring Hall of Fame trainers and jockeys, Hollywood lawyers and legends Bernborough and Citation, this is his tremendous story.

 

Another rousing horse tale from a master biographer and storyteller, and just in time for the Melbourne Cup Carnival too! Plus think what a fantastic Christmas present this would be for the horse or sporting mad person in your life. Signed copies are available for order from Jessica’s website, or you can buy from good book stores like Booktopia, Angus & Robertson, Boomerang Books, QBD The Bookshop, Abbey’s Bookshop, Bookworld and many others. For the ebook, try Kobo, Amazon (for your Kindle), Google Play, eBooks.com, BigW eBooks, iTunes or JB Hi-Fi.

Christmas stocking filled? Most excellent. Now enjoy!

 

Experience The Passion

 

I am two things. I am an author, and I am the wife of an Italian restaurateur. The writing life is pretty well documented I’d say… long, lolling hours in isolation, the solitude and dull buzz of the computer. But the restaurant life? Well, this edition of Friday Feast has invited me to open the kitchen door to our place, to put you behind the scenes of an industry you think you know pretty well. Welcome to La Spiaggia in Sydney’s Coogee Beach.

The interior of La Spaggia

The first rule of an Italian restaurant is the Passion. Watch my husband closely at 7.30 on a Friday or Saturday night and you’ll see the Passion heavily disguised as foul temper. There’ll be those moments when the ‘cazzos’ and the ‘porcos’ will pour out of his mouth like liquid honey, when he charges from the bar to the kitchen like the devil himself, the hands a-flap over calamari that was late to table eight, or the pizza that went out four minutes before the vongole. The Passion is a popular attraction with our regulars who know the spirited, tantrum-like atmosphere of senior management is all part of the package. After all, who doesn’t love a ranting Italian?

Making pizza at La SpaggiaMy husband has had his place for nearly 20 years, and I’ve lived and breathed it with him for a nearly a decade. In that space of time, I’ve learned more about human behavior than the average Joe. On a weekly basis, I deal with the rude, the ignorant and uneducated, the impatient and selfish and those that have watched Masterchef (don’t ask). It’s amazing what people will say to a waiter, as if somehow that person that takes your order, serves your food, isn’t quite worthy. Of course, a good floor team has a good laugh at the end of the night, spilling their nightmare customers over a glass of wine or Peroni. Our waiters are a tight bunch, and good friends.

Over the years, we’ve watched Sydney dining ebb and flow with the latest food trends. For a while back it was Thai, then it was churrasco, then it was the GFC. But we noticed that Italian food, simple Italian recipes cooked by Italians in an eatery owned and run by Italians, never went out of fashion. We hand-make all our pastas, our woodfire oven is in full view of the street, and we serve goat, maiale (piglet) and such things according to simple, southern Italian customs. Which brings me to the second rule of an Italian restaurant: simplicity.

The wood fired oven at La Spaggia

The Italians use the minimal amount of ingredients. Tomatoes are king, in casseroles, pasta and on pizza and bruschetta. Fresh tomato sauce, a dash of olive oil, some rosemary or basil and homemade pasta… simple but beautiful.  Their breads are unfussy (gluten free, what?), their pasta sauces irreplaceable (pesto, aglio olio), and they live by food rules – parmigiano does not go over seafood, and ketchup is the product of the devil. Of course, sometimes simplicity has its down side. Those nights when my husband tucks into a piglet’s face, straight out of the oven with nothing but crusty bread and a glass of Argiano to wash it down, are not such fun for me.

Gnocchi with pesto

The restaurant business is unique, tiring on the ego and an ill-perceived industry. Those that haven’t worked in it often think it is the bottom rung of adult life, the lifeline of the uneducated or backpacking. That hasn’t been my experience. I see Italians sweep in and show us how food service is done, and done with pride. Italians know how to cook, how to eat, and their energy for it is infectious. It excuses (most of the time) the Passion that can make the working night so, er, eventful.

As a writer, customers have taught me much about human behavior. Send any author into an apron and they’ll come away a week later with rich ideas for characters. Restaurant work is one of the few perfect ‘day jobs’ for authors, a flexible working life with odd hours, sociable shifts and free food and drink. And it beats the daily squash of office life. But this is Friday Feast, not Dr Phil, so true to the spirit of this wonderful blog I will leave you with a few little lessons that I have learned from my Italians. Buon appetito!

  1. Keep it simple. On pizzas, less is more, and that applies to the base. Stuffed crust? You must be joking.
  2. Good product. Italians source out the best ingredients at all times: the freshest vegetables, the world’s best olive oils, the crispiest bread.
  3. Hand-make if at all possible. Nothing is too much of a chore in the kitchen.
  4. Spare the seasoning. A little bit of olive oil, some rosemary garnish. Don’t kill it with flavour.
  5. Latte, cappuccino… not with dinner, not even after dinner.
  6. Chicken in pasta, on pizza… go across the road.
  7. Celebrate everything with food, drink and family.

 

Thank you so much, Jessica, for that wonderful behind-the-scenes look at La Spaggia. This restaurant is now on my must-visit list! And your lessons are truly worth remembering. I was, in my silly younger days, one of those mastercheffy wanky-food wannabes, but living in Europe completely cured me of that. The best meals were always the simplest, using the finest, freshest ingredients.

Now, my well-fed Feasters, do you have a restaurant story? What aspect of human behaviour – good or bad – have you witnessed in a restaurant? I had an experience in a posh-ish restaurant in France where I accidentally ordered rare veal kidneys that leaked half-raw juice all over my plate and stank like… er… guts. I couldn’t bring myself to eat anything on it. Nor, at that point, did I possess enough French language to explain that I simply hadn’t understood what I’d ordered. The waiter, when he came to clear the table, put on an awesome show of Gallic offense, complete with an angry nose-in-the-air strut back to the kitchen that was like something out of a comedy sketch or cartoon. I would have laughed except I was sliding under the table in embarrassment. Funny, we never went back to that restaurant…

So, come on, share your restaurant romp. We bet you’ve had some beauties!

If you’d like to learn more about Jessica and her award-winning books, please visit her website. You can also connect via Twitter and Linkedin.

 

 

FRIDAY FEAST with Jessica Owers

It’s Spring Racing Carnival time and Friday Feast is frocking up! Well, not quite, but things are starting to smell sweetly horsey around here. Rightly so, too! Rotten cats keep taking over the blogosphere and it’s about time that our noble and magnificent equine friends kicked back.

Not that I’m biased or anything…

I am absolutely delighted to welcome our very first non-fiction author to Friday Feast. Not just any old non-fiction author, mind you. That simply wouldn’t do. Friday Feasts only feature the best Australian authors and today is no exception.

Jessica Owers is an award-winning freelance racing journalist who has worked for such illustrious publications as Breeding and Racing and RM Williams OUTBACK magazine. Among many other achievements, her writing has also appeared in Inside Breeding, The Thoroughbred, Turf Monthly, OUTBACK and Racing Life.

In 2011, her book Peter Pan: The Forgotten Story of Phar Lap’s Successor was released to great acclaim, going on to win the Bill Whittaker Award for Best Racing Book in Australia 2012.

Take a look and you’ll see why. This is a story we should know!

 

Peter Pan: The Forgotten Story of Phar Lap’s Successor

 

In 1932, they said there would never be another Phar Lap. Yet within months there came a racehorse so wildly brilliant that he was instantly compared to the dead champion. He was Peter Pan. Within months of Phar Lap’s death, Peter Pan had won the Melbourne Cup and then two years later, won it again – the first horse in 72 years to take home a second. The newspapers of the day called him a ‘superhorse’ and declared ‘another Phar Lap takes the stage.’ But over the long years, Australia forgot their new champion. Peter Pan: The Forgotten Story of Phar Lap’s Successor is the tale of the horse that came next – the brilliant, speedy Peter Pan. Casting off the shadow of Phar Lap, this tells the story of triumph during the Great Depression and the coming of a champion when Australia least expected one. It is time to restore the standing of our other great racing hero.

 

Oh, I do love a good horse story and I’m sure you will too, especially one so expertly written. Peter Pan is available now with just a short click over to Booktopia, Bookworld or Book Depository, or for the ebook, try Kobo, Google Play or Amazon Kindle.

Now giddy-up, Feasters, because here’s Jessica!

 

At this colourful time of year when it’s all about Spring Carnival, I’m thrilled to guest blog on Cathryn’s ever-popular Friday Feast. The events detailed below occurred during a recent research trip to the U.S. for my second book, the biography of Shannon, a 1940s Sydney idol and one of racing’s most captivating and least-understood Hall of Fame racehorses. His book is due out spring next year.

Every so often, you just want one

 

It was very hot, and lazy early afternoon. I was on highway I-87 in upstate New York, rolling my rented wheels towards Saratoga Springs. It was the kind of day that makes you want to drive with your hand out the window, feel the brisk whip of wind through the car. I’d had a radio interview from my hotel room that morning, and it had gone overtime. Within minutes of hitting the road to the Spa (Saratoga Springs is affectionately called ‘the Spa’), I was starving.

Highway food is never the best, is it? It’s usually a select choice of greasy or greasier, fat or fattier. On that day, I skipped past iHop, Chucky Cheese and Wendy’s, none of which took my fancy. There’ll be something better, I kept saying, then miles of blacktop slipped under the car. My stomach began to eat its own lining.

Eventually, a state of famish will make you eat anything, so when an exit pointed to McDonald’s, I eased the rental off the highway and went in search of the golden arches. I knew that it was a fast fix, that in this heat McDonald’s food would leave me feeling disembowelled. But, food was food. I was just too hungry to care.

The first thing I’ll tell you about this McDonald’s was that it was spotless. It was the prettiest renewal of this franchise I had ever seen… neatly mowed lawns, a picnic area to gobble your takeaway. At the drive-in window there was an apple tree, stooped and splendid with fruit. The place was so unlike any McDonald’s I’d ever been to that it made me forget entirely the acrid food I was about to purchase.

I bought a single cheeseburger, that’s all. I didn’t upsize or meal deal. I didn’t need anything to wash it down. All I required was a little bit of fuel that would turn my vitals over until Saratoga, and so I took my little cheeseburger, wrapped in a small paper bag like something from 1977, and I parked in the picnic lot. I climbed out into the stale August afternoon, hair-dryer hot, and I tucked in.

Now, every once in a while life takes you by surprise. This was one such day. My little cheeseburger was delicious. It had been put together so well it looked like its brothers up on the ordering board (well, almost). The gherkins, perfect green frisbees, were tucked between the bun and the beef, each (there were three) sliced and diced perfectly. Whoever put them in there put them in carefully. There was nothing mushy about the burger, it was the perfect harmony of lightly melted plastic cheese and ketchup in spot-on quantities. It was the kind of cheeseburger to call home about, the kind to write a blog about.

When Cathryn asked me to guest on the Friday Feast, I just knew my little cheeseburger had to be the star of the show. My fiancé (an Italian restaurateur) will be mortified. Though my cheeseburger cannot compete with the impressive efforts of past guests, creators of gnocchi and chocolate surprise, exotic recipes from colonial Africa even, there’s something cool about it, something basic, don’t you think? The McDonald’s cheeseburger is the thing we’ve all had. It’s usually terrible, slapped up and messy and rundown with guilt, but when you get a good one, oh its good.

So, at this point in the blog I’m supposed to outlay the recipe of the divine wonder you’ve just read about. However, because the McDonald’s cheeseburger is neither a recipe nor divine, I’ll have to skip that part. Instead, I’ll tell you why my highway cheeseburger, though it fell down in nutritional talent, stood up in other ways that only a writer could isolate: it represented a brief stop on a long and fabulous holiday, a stop on the open road one hot, oily afternoon when I had few woes and only the itchy pursuit of the bending highway. It represented the brief, good things in life, the little things, and certainly reminded me that the best things in any moment of any day can come (almost) free… $1.06 is pretty good going, don’t you think?

Shocked and repulsed that a lowly cheeseburger has made it onto the fabulous honour roll that is the Friday Feast? Or, delighted that something so basic can be so good every once in a while? To win a signed copy of Peter Pan: The Forgotten Story of Phar Lap’s Successor, reply with your version of when something so bad has been so surprisingly good. The best answer will get a copy of Peter Pan spirited to them right in time for Melbourne Cup day.

 

Oh, I so, so adore this story! It’s amazing how much pleasure you can derive from simple things. Fish and chips on the beach. A luke-warm pie at the footy (supporting the Sydney Swans, of course). Not exactly health food, but hitting the spot perfectly.

So come on, Feasters, show our first non-fiction author a good time and regale Jessica with your tales of bad-good things. There’s an amazing prize up for grabs!

Giveaway closes midnight Tuesday, 25th September 2012 AEST. Australian addresses only, sorry.

If you would like to learn a little more about Australia’s strongest female voice in racing writing, visit Jessica at her website, check in on the blog or follow her on Twitter.