Thought I’d offer something a bit different for the weekend: two of my husband David’s short wildlife videos taken on bushwalks in our region. These are very recent and show two faces of wildlife spring here: a young spotted-tail quoll venturing out, and a carpet snake(or diamond python)coming out into the sunshine after hibernation. Both videos are pretty amazing, and shot just with a small digital camera with a very good optical zoom.
Quolls, which are mainland Australia’s largest native carnivorous marsupials, aren’t rare exactly but they are not common either and around here they are mainly found in the gorge country where there are plenty of places to hide. People rarely see them as they are mainly nocturnal, but clearly this youngster doesn’t know quoll protocol yet 🙂 Isn’t it just gorgeous!
Meanwhile, carpet snakes, as they are commonly known, are found both east and west of the Great Divide–and in this case, on the Great Divide, as this impressive specimen was in the gorge country too. They are non-poisonous snakes but can still inflict a nasty bite–it’s recommended to get a tetanus shot if you get bitten. Despite how close up it looks, David kept a respectful distance away, but the snake wasn’t bothered by him at all anyway.
Last night, to round off a week of celebrations around A Hundred Words for Butterfly, and to keep up the Basque theme, I made the dish known as ‘merlu koskera’, which is a beloved fish and vegetable soup/stew popular up and down the Basque coast, on both sides of the border, from Biarritz to San Sebastian and beyond. If ttoro, the delicious fish and seafood soup from the Basque coast, which I featured in an earlier post, is flamboyant in its rich redness, merlu koskera is themed around green and white, the other colours of the Basque flag. Traditionally, it’s a spring dish that features ‘merlu’, a type of cod, with seafood, asparagus, peas and boiled eggs as other ingredients, cooked in a delicious sauce of fish stock and white wine, and flavoured with parsley, garlic and piment d’Espelette. But as with most Basque dishes, it’s a flexible thing that can be interpreted according to what you have on hand, and that’s what I did. Here in Australia we can’t get merlu, so I substituted Pacific cod(bought frozen from the supermarket) and as our peas are not yet ready, it being a bit too early in spring for that, I substituted spinach for them. The asparagus though is ready so a bunch of them, fresh-picked from the garden, went into the dish, along with boiled eggs and prawns. (Mussels and clams are also popular additions in the Basque country). And of course piment d’Espelette (for which as I’ve indicated before, you can at a pinch substitute hot non-smoked paprika). My version of the dish was also less on the soupy side, more on the stewy side instead! If you want more soupy, add more fish stock than what I’ve indicated here.
So here’s my version of merlu koskera:
Ingredients (for 2 people): bunch of asparagus, steamed; handful of ‘English’ spinach, lightly steamed; 2 small/medium fillets cod; 6 prawns (or any other seafood you want); 2-3 boiled eggs; chopped parsley; 3 cloves garlic, sliced; half a cup of fish stock; splash white wine; pinch piment d’Espelette; salt to taste.
Lightly flour the cod fillets, and fry till the coating is getting golden. Add the parsley and garlic, lightly fry(do not let it burn). Add the fish stock and white wine and simmer for about 5 mins. Meanwhile, quickly cook the prawns in a little olive oil, set aside. Add the cooked spinach to the fish mix, stir(without disturbing the fish, add prawns and asparagus, heat through, quickly. Take pan off heat, arrange everything, including the halved boiled eggs, in a large dish or bowl, with the spinach down the bottom, the cod on top and everything else arranged around it. Sprinkle with the piment d’Espelette and serve with bread and boiled potatoes if you want. And that’s it!
Note: If you want to do the whole traditional thing, the peas(pre-cooked) go in at the same time as the spinach did in my version.
A Hundred Words for Butterfly now has its own page on the Spineless Wonders site, where you can see all info about the book and where to buy it.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the book is available at audiobook retailers across the world but one of them, Authors Direct, which is linked on the SW page, offers a greater share of profits to authors, without any subscription fee to listeners, so if you’d like to check that out, have a look here. And Authors Direct is very easy to use, too; you just download their app, put in the name of the book you want to buy, and away you go!
We had the best time last night at the launch of A Hundred Words for Butterfly! Part of the launch included readings by the fabulous writers who were finalists and winners in the #100words4butterfly writing comp, and their stories, as well as some of my Basque-themed recipes, appear in this gorgeous digital magazine put together by the wonderful Hannah Oakshott from Spineless Wonders Short Australian Stories. Yummy food and amazing microlit–a perfect combination–check it all out below!
Congratulations to all the finalists and winners, and thank you so much to all the wonderful Spineless Wonders team, it was an absolutely awesome launch and I am still on a high!
Today, at 6pm Australian Eastern Standard Time, we are launching A Hundred Words for Butterfly online, with interviews, reading, cocktails and pintxos, games and more! It’s going to be such fun! If you’d like to attend, you can simply join via the Spineless Wonders Facebook page, or register here to get the link. (It’s all free). It’s going to be such fun!
And as a lovely lead-in to tonight’s festivities, there’s another fabulous review of the book, this time on Google Play. It’s by writer Claudia R. Barnett. Here’s a short extract:
Like a flavoursome, aromatic Basque soup, this immersive tale leaves you wanting more. In part, this is due to the dialogue. It sounds authentic – as though you were eavesdropping on a friend’s conversation. And it is brought to life by Sarah Kennedy’s exquisite narration. But the real charm of Masson’s story are her engaging, relatable characters.
You can read the whole review here. And watch the lovely trailer for the book here.
And now, I’m off to start putting together ingredients for the pintxos I’ll be making for tonight, to have with a couple of those celebratory cocktails!
Over on Writer Unboxed, I’ve had a post published which is about the wonderful experience I’ve been having, working on the marketing of A Hundred Words for Butterfly with the wonderful Spineless Wonders team. It’s been one of the best book marketing/publicity experiences ever, and in this post I wanted to pay tribute to the team and their inventiveness, imagination, passion and sheer hard work, as well as describe in detail what we did.
Here’s a short extract:
In Australia, Spineless Wonders are known and highly respected for their innovative and dynamic approach to publishing, and their marketing strategy for all their books and events has always been focused on imaginative community engagement. And as we worked on our plan for the marketing of A Hundred Words for Butterfly, that engagement became more important than ever, because a large number of Australians, including but not only in our two biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, were (and still are) in lockdown due to an outbreak of the Delta strain of Covid19. (All of us working on it were in that boat). So it was even more crucial to come up with great ideas for activities that would offer people something fun, exciting and creative to do even when they were stuck in lockdown. After much discussion, we decided on three main themes/prongs for these.
On this Wednesday, September 15, at 6pm Australian Eastern Standard Time, we are going to be launching A Hundred Words for Butterfly with a fabulous online event, including interviews (of me and the narrator Sarah Kennedy), readings by the finalists of the #100words4butterfly comp, a virtual cocktail and pintxo party, games, and more!
You can join the event via the event page on Spineless Wonders Facebook or if you are not on Facebook, register via the booking link here (it’s free, but registering will mean you get all info, the link and a calendar reminder of the event).
Delighted to say that the first review of A Hundred Words for Butterfly has just appeared, on the Kobo website, which is one of the retailers where you can buy the book. It’s an absolutely lovely review by the fantastic artist Lorena Carrington. Here’s a short extract:
Sophie Masson’s A Hundred Words for Butterfly is a wonderful listen. The relationship and tension between twins Helen and Alex felt very real, and the gently unfurling relationship between Helen and Tony was refreshing and so lovely. And of course the wonderful descriptions of the towns and countryside – and food! – made me feel an intense longing for the Basque Country...
I am delighted to present to you the beautiful, atmospheric trailer made by Whiptail Productions for A Hundred Words for Butterfly. It features extracts from Sarah Kennedy’s lovely narration, to give you a taste for the feel of the audiobook. Enjoy!
Here are the perfect snacks to have with Abby’s gorgeous cocktails: pintxos!
Pinxtos (pronounced ‘pinchohs’) are the Basque version of tapas. They are very popular in the Basque country(and beyond!). San Sebastian, just across the Spanish border, is renowned for its pinxtos bars but there are lots of popular pinxtos bars in the French Basque country too, especially on the coast, in my mother’s family’s stamping ground of Biarritz, Bayonne, Anglet, St Jean de Luz and so on. And people make them at home for parties, family gatherings etc. They are pretty hearty and a plate of assorted ones can constitute a real meal! Pinxtos differ from tapas in that they are always served on bread( very often slices of baguette), with a toothpick holding down the topping(actually ‘pintxo ‘ literally means ‘spiked’). The toppings will often feature Basque staples such as tomatoes, ham, eggs, capsicums, fish, seafood, cheese, etc, but can be as simple or complicated as you like, and there’s no one right way to do it: it’s totally up to you what you do! Just the bread and the toothpick are the basics:-) Piment d’Espelette of course can add that authentic touch!
With most, brushing the bread with a bit of olive oil first is a good idea.
Here’s some ideas for simple Basque-inspired toppings to get you started:
Roasted capiscum with marinated squid/octopus;
Semi-dried tomatoes with soft goat’s cheese and a dab of cherry jam on top (the combination of cheese and cherries is very popular in the Basque country)
Black olive tapenade with Serrano-style ham or salami
Green olive tapenade with half a boiled egg and a sprinkle of piment d’Espelette or paprika
Grilled or barbecued prawns on cooked spinach
Marinated sardines or anchovies with caramelised onion
Mix of roasted vegs(eg capsicum, tomato, eggplant–or your choice) with roasted garlic