Ally Blake Romance Author - Blog

Latest news from Australian romance author Ally Blake, writer of fun, fresh flirty romance novels.

Friday, 11 November 2005

twenty-four hour hope

Walking around New Orleans whilst on my honeymoon five years ago, I continuously saw people carrying Cafe du Monde bags. A good little tourist I knew we had to find this Cafe of which they spoke, at least to see what was so interesting that every visitor had to go away with a memento. What was in the bags? What did a cafe of all things have to offer that made people need to take a little piece of it home?

Well the short answer is this: beignet.

Need I go on? Okay, I must...

Cafe du Monde sells beignet. Beignet (pronounced ben-yay) are rectangular donuts, lathered in as much icing sugar as they can carry. Oh and they sell chicory blend coffee as well. But nothing else. Not trendy salads, or cajun croc pie or turtle soup that many other establishments offer cashd up tourists hungry for food and local culture. Nothing.

I promise you, there is no earthly reason why they should sell anything else. These beignets are yummy delicious heaven. They are deep fried, messy as all get out, and sweet as sweet. Even my favourite online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, has Cafe du Monde mentioned under the meaning of beignet. The floor is concrete and there are no walls closing you in, and that is so that the lashings of icing sugar that fall from the beignet onto your lap and then onto the floor can be hosed away during quiet times. But the quiet times don't come often, because Cafe du Monde is open twenty four hours.

Well it was, until Hurricane Katrina threatened to close down New Orleans for good.

The shop closed at midnight on August 27th 2005 due to the city's mandatory evacuation. But now, unbelievably, Cafe du Monde is open for business once more. A bare six weeks after the devastation, she is resolutely cooking up her magnificent, addictive, once you try them you have to go back night and day donuts which are so popular those of us who have tried them have to go home with souvenir mugs, t-shirts, and even little dry packets of beignet ingredients so we can try to make them ourselves at home.

And that was the short answer!

The long answer is that Cafe du Monde offers you a glimpse into the unique experience that is New Orleans.

That little bag is a take home reminder of policeman on horseback chatting happily away to tourists layered in heavy beads drinking dark beer from plastic cups on Bourbon Street. Buildings that look innocuous during steamy hot days, which come alive as screaming jazz bars once the sun goes down. The French Market - long thin rows of market stalls, shaded but still completely unable to keep out the intense bayou heat. A reminder of a city steeped in idiosyncratic jazz, southern mystery, spiritual history, and a totally exotic and sinister attraction curling through her shady streets.

And I for one can't wait to return, walking the length of the French Quarter, giving up the comfort of my elegant air-conditioned hotel, sweat dripping down my back as I forge my way through the intense humidity, past hordes of new tourists carrying their little Cafe du Monde bags with remembrance of a mirage at the end of it all.

Sugar coated, deep-fried, cajun heaven, with an iced coffee chaser, in a haven of twenty-four hour hope as a grand old city rebuilds itself around me.

Wednesday, 9 November 2005

TV or not TV, that is the question

I am proud to say I love my television!

I love movies and I love to read, but I don't see the need to shout that from the rooftops and everyone would happily admit they love fil-ums and literachoor. TV has always been the poor little sister. A form of entertainment we afficonados mumble about in corners at parties so that other cooler people won't know how important our Buffy re-runs are to us. The Spike or Angel question alone can keep we TVites busy for a night all on its own! And Spike is of course the right answer.

So what are you watching now? What is the one show that if you miss it you will simply not be able to join the crowds at the water cooler the next day? Anything “must see” I should add to my already over-packed TV watching schedule of Idol, House, Grey's Anatomy, Frasier (only two weeks to go down under - whimper whimper... but having Arrested Development to take up the slack makes that easier to bear). Considering I would be happy to watch my West Wing DVDs until the end of time, I don’t know why I care. But care I do.

I was in the shower the other morning, and the shower is where all my good thining is done, and I realised that Australian Idol will be over in only a couple of weeks. But the thing that made me even sadder was that it would be a good six months until the next season starts all over again.

So help me please. I feel a gap forming in my weekly viewing schedule. Any ideas would be most appreciated.

save the ugg!

I am a great lover of the good old Aussie icon - the ugg boot. It had recently come to my attention that an American company Decker Holdings registered the name Ugh-Boot and are now attempting to stop Australian manufacturers and American importers from using the name. But this name has been a generic term for sheepskin boots in Australia since World War I!

So let's band together to help bring the term back to the public domain, so that the same family companies which have been producing the fantastic sheepskin boots for over eighty years can go on doing so at a reasonable retail price and under the generic name of Ugg! Click on the below website for more info...

Saturday, 5 November 2005

putting a spring in your step

Melbourne's Spring Racing Carnival is always a huge deal in Australia. As we are a nation that counts Phar Lap - a gangly, underdog, blighted horse who died seventy odd years ago - as a national icon, the biggest month in the horse racing calendar always creates a buzz.

Down here in the heart of Spring Racing country, we feel the races coming from a mile away. The same way you can tell Christmas is on the horizon when shopping centre Muzak changes, or when you catch tinsel out of the corner of your eye for the first time in months, when Spring Racing is nearing, one's shopping experience alters dramatically.

Gone are windows filled with winter woollies and jeans as they make way for glamorous dresses and feathery hats. We head out to the shops preparing to spend a hundred dollars on an outfit one day, and the next hundreds of dollars are spilled from our ready credit cards. For women who year round are most happy in jeans and t-shirts, frou-frou becomes the order of the day.

Spring Racing means fake tan, bright lipstick, and champagne for breakfast lunch and dinner. Spring Racing means a flutter bet on a long shot or a favourite, or heck, why not both? Spring Racing means you can wear the most beautiful dress you have ever seen, a hat bigger than your head laden with feathers that touch the sky and ridiculously expensive high heels that you know won't last past that one day at the races as they fight against mushy turf, spilt beer, and stomping hooves of man and horse alike.

But this year for Spring Racing, there was a very particular buzz in the air. The Melbourne Cup, the biggest race in the yearly calendar, the "race that stops a nation" for three minutes on the first Tuesday in November, wasn't just about the hats and celebrity cleavage. This year, a glorious mare by the name of Makybe Diva had the chance to do what no other horse in history had done - she had the chance to win her third Melbourne Cup in a row. Not even our Phar Lap, so beloved he now resides stuffed and on show in our state Museum, had done such a feat.

The day dawned, hot and sunny. And in Melbourne at this time of year such weather is notoriously hit and miss. Would the ground be too hard and dry for the Diva who prefers the wet? Would her owner and trainer let the great mare race? She was the talk of the town, the front of the newspaper for a good week leading up to the big race. And every Australian tall enough to hold a dollar coin to a bookie's window put a bet on her that day. Her odds were so low it was hardly worth it, but that wasn't why we bet.

She sat back for the majority of the race, behind the leaders and against the fence. Her glittering red white and blue colours the only ones any of us watched through the whole race. Would she be stuck against the rails? Or was her experienced jockey exactly where he wanted her to be? They rounded the straight, the thudding hooves creating a primal soundtrack to the excited musings of the race caller. And then she came. Strong, fast, the wind at her heels and fate guiding her home. Every Australian shed a tear of pure joy for the elegant lady winner.

Makybe Diva, a legend, retired
after that race. Which leaves us with a wide open field for next year. So who will be the new favourite? The new darling? And more importantly what will we wear?