The Fault in Our Stars

By John Green

(or, reading outside your comfort zone)

Mandy Wrangles_2_tnHere at Escape Club, each year we write up a wrap of our top five reads. It’s normally something I really enjoy; going back through my bookshelves and lists of reviews, sorting which of the dozens of books read will make my own list. Unfortunately, 2014 was a bit of a dud reading year for me. You know when you just can’t seem to find that book that grabs you? Or you read the first hundred or so pages of one novel, only to be distracted by something else (ooh, shiny!) and not end up completing either of them? Well yeah, that was me this year, with only a couple of exceptions.

And one BIG exception.

Green_The Fault In Our StarsI spent a lot of hours on aeroplanes this year when we travelled to the United States from Melbourne. I watched a LOT of movies on those planes – all from my usual genre of choice, which captures my book taste too. Malificent. Godzilla. The latest X Men and Planet of the Apes movies. Movies about time-travelling detectives and a heap of superheroes. Get the picture? I’m a speculative fiction gal, through and through. I don’t like watching or reading about real life, I already live that. I want fantasy and horror, science fiction and action on my entertainment menu.

And then, on the final leg of our trip home from Hawaii, I clicked the button to watch the film adaptation of John Green’s uber-selling novel, ‘The Fault in Our Stars’. I saved it ’til last because a/ not my thing, b/ it would bore me into sleep and quicken the ten hour flight, and c/ not my thing again. I was wrong. I sobbed and laughed out loud and sobbed again. It was mortifyingly embarrassing. I had to cover my face, wiping away the black-mascara tears with Qantas napkins, not able to speak to my family or the aircraft crew. And still, I couldn’t turn it off. As we disembarked at Sydney for our connecting flight to Melbourne, my sister-in-law, Kerrie (who was seated a couple of rows back from me) said: “Omg, can you tell I’ve been crying? I just watched that movie, that Fault in Our Stars”. Yep, her too.

So of course, I had to read the book. Just to you know, see which was better. I needed to know how the author, John Green, had created such beautiful characters in Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters – two teenage cancer patients – to be so witty, so clever and yet never whiny or precocious. I wanted to know if the movie was a fluke or if the book could evoke that sort of emotion from me as well. Of course, like everyone in the Western World, I’d seen The Fault in Our Stars on display in every bookshop and department store for months beforehand. I refused to buy it. Too commercial for my tastes. Too mainstream. Too soppy. Too real-life.

I’ve never, ever been so wrong. And I’m very happy to admit it.

I loved the novel version, knocking it over in two sittings and keeping me up until 2am to finish. The only reason I put it down at any time was to reach for another tissue. I forced my Mum and BFF to read it NOW with the threat of not speaking to them until they had (they did. And loved it too) Of course, I knew what happens, there were no surprises or twists for me – the movie keeps pretty close to the book – but still, Hazel and Gus’s story of love and commitment through all that is thrown at them kept me entranced. And the writing – oh, the writing! John Green the most incredible way of playing with words and tugging at your heartstrings. While the story is told from terminally-ill Hazel’s point of view, we’re not left wondering what might be going on inside the delicious mind of her beloved Gus either. These two characters could easily become boring Mary-Janes (too perfect) but they are so full of faults and imperfections, and in Hazel’s own words: Cancer Perks to be anything of the sort. Against all my preconceived ideas, they completely won me over.

If you’re one of the few people out there yet to read The Fault in Our Stars, or see the movie, sorry, but I won’t be handing out spoilers here. You MUST read it. Or at the very least, SEE it. The film adaption, while of course not quite being as amazing as the book, captures Hazel and Gus so well. Starring Divergent’s Shailene Woodley as Hazel Grace and the kinda quirky Ansel Elgort as Augustus Waters, amongst a slew of well-known actors, John Green’s characters really are brought to life.

So the moral of my story? Well, besides the fact that you must run out right now and jump straight into this very real, very funny and painful world, don’t be scared to read outside your preferred genre. You might surprise yourself, like I did. Go on, be adventurous. If you normally read science fiction, give a bit of crime fiction a go. Fantasy lover? Try some hard core space opera. Horror more your style? Who says you won’t enjoy a little high fantasy. You just never know.


Mandy Wrangles_2_tnWhen Gourmet Hot Dogs arrived in my letterbox, the first thing I had to do was wrangle it from my teenage son. Hot dogs are a firm Saturday lunchtime favourite in our house, and within minutes my teen was suggesting (read: nagging) all sorts of amazing toppings and homemade buns to up the ante of our usual cheese and tomato sauce on soft white bread.


gourmet hot dogsGourmet Hot Dogs
is an impressive book (trust me, this is the first time my teen has shown the vaguest interest in any sort of cookbook), every double page spread includes a stunning photograph paired with a recipe and suggestions for gourmet toppings. And we’re not just talking about your average frankfurt here. Recipes include a range of different sausages, buns, and a whole section on the perfect side for your dog, including sauces and quick, simple relish and chutneys.

There’s a twist on the old Chilli Dog – a veal sausage paired with kidney beans, piquillos peppers and melted cheddar served with a milk bun; the Musclor Dog, made with a cervelat sausage (Reynaud gives handy suggestions for substitutes if your local butcher doesn’t have much of a gourmet range), mustard, pear (!) and brie cheese; the Capri comes with a chipolata, caperberries, cucumber and tomato pesto, while the Patate has a merguez sausage, potato, pine nuts and curry sauce.

Sound strange? Trust me – looks delish enough that this will be the first one I try.

Stéphane Reynaud is a renowned chef, and owner of restaurant Bill 9 Trois, just outside Paris. Gourmet Hot Dogs is his eighth cookbook. The others include: Pork & Sons, Terrine, Ripailles, Rotis, 365 Good Reasons to Sit Down to Eat, Pies and Tarts and Book of Tripe. If you’re looking for a cookbook that will interest the whole family, I don’t think you can go past Gourmet Hot Dogs.

*The fries! I forgot to mention the fries. And the House Potato Crisps. Oh my!


Gourmet Hot Dogs — How To Dress Your Dog With Style By Stéphane Reynaud 

‘Gourmet Hot Dogs: How to dress your dog with style is the piece de resistance of dude food, casual snacks and the family dinner table. Featuring 60 easy, tasty hot dog recipes, prepared with passion in charming French style, Gourmet Hot Dogs elevates sausages in buns from hastily devoured snacks to truly memorable food experiences through imaginative topping combinations.’

Murdoch Books
Published: August 2014
Page: 144 Pages
ISBN: 9781743363133
Price: AUD $29.99




Argentinian Street Food‘Argentinian Street Food’ might be a super-cute cookbook with its simple cover and cut-out design, but don’t be fooled – it works damn hard for all that cuteness. A little on the quirky side, filled with simple step-by-step illustrations and gorgeous photographs, it’s the sort of book that will have you pouring over the recipes just for the fun of it. And then, pretty much demanding you cook from it. It’s that irresistible.

 But what I love most about Argentinian Street Food is the subject matter. Yeah, yeah, of course – FOOD – but my favourite kind of food. We’re not talking sit-down to eight courses that take three days to prepare here, Street Food is exactly what it should be: simple to prepare. Simple to hold. Simple to eat, pastries. The kind of food where you’re more concerned about the awesome conversation you’re having with the people you’re sharing that food with than which of the eight knives and forks you’re supposed to use first. In other words, this is social food. It’s fun and it’s tasty. And then there’s ice cream. Well, helados, which is kind of like Argentina’s version of gelato, but… different.

The authors, Enrique Zononi and Gaston Stivelmaher are Argentinian chefs who live and work in Paris, serving up their specialty pastries and ice cream in three different restaurants, as well as a mobile food cart that wanders through the streets of Paris. Called ‘Carrito’, the van is a tribute to the Buenos Aires of the 1950’s, serving empanadas and helados. The book starts out with the basics – how to make the two different styles of dough required for making stuffed empanadas (baked and fried).

argentinianThen, with step-by-step instructions even a first-timer can understand, it moves on to how to fill and fold the dough ‘parcels’, and, most importantly, how to ‘hem’ them to get not just a great-looking result, but a empanada that won’t leak. And then, the recipes move on to the actual fillings. For me, the first one I’m going to try cooking is definitely the Blue Cheese and Celery (with pecan nuts and mozzarella too!) though my husband is keen on checking out the Duck Confit and Foie Gras version. But it’s not just extravagant, out-there fillings included here – good old ham and cheese gets a look-in too.

Zanoni and Stivelmaher have also included a handful of ‘Pica Pica’ dishes, which are basically ‘little dishes’ – a bit of something on the side. My favourite here is the marinated beetroot with fresh goat’s cheese and chopped pistachios. Omgosh!

Finally, we get back to the helados and dulces – or confectionary. I’m passionate about making my own ice cream, and the stand-out recipe for me here is the Raspberry-Malbec sorbet. I can’t wait to try it out with some home-grown raspberries. And oh, while we’re at it, I think the Preserved Cumquats recipe just saved me the drama of marmalade this year…


Argentinian Street Food is available from April 1st, 2014.


Published by Murdoch Books

160 pages, hardcover

ISBN – 9781743362945

RRP – $29.95

Mandy Wrangles_2_tnMandy Wrangles says: The countdown is on! Only one and a bit (or a little more if you count tonight) shopping days until Christmas. If you’re anything like me – there’s that one person still on the list that you have no idea what to get them. You know who I mean. Not the one who already has everything – no, I’m talking about the one who is just too cool to buy for. The Foodie who already has All Of The Cookbooks. The Hipster with too many satchel bags. The Rockabilly Chick with a wardrobe filled to overflowing with vintage frocks and scarlet lipsticks. Well, have I got the solution for you.


recipes for a good time

Recipes For A Good Time by Elvis Abrahanowicz and Ben Milgate is the coolest, sexiest cookbook I’ve ever held in my hands (and I’m not talking sexy in the Nigella double-entendre-raised-eyebrow kind of way). I’m talking hot vintage cars, cool tattoos, rockabilly hairstyles, vintage style photographs and absolutely, utterly to die for food. From the under-stated hardcover to the texture of the paper, this is not your everyday cookbook. It’s more coffee table delight with a practical, easy to follow internal instruction guide. With diagrams!

The authors are a pair of besties who also happen to own a couple of Sydney restaurants. In their introduction, they note that the idea for their first restaurant, ‘Bodega’ came from the two of them being sick of working in fine-dining restaurants. They opened the type of eatery they’d like to go to: somewhere with great quality food and a fun environment. They wanted Bodega to be a place that played good music, where you could sit at the bar and watch the chefs at work. These days, their award-winning restaurants include the original Bodega as well as Porteño and Gardel’s Bar. You can certainly get a feel for the restaurants from the stunning photographs contained here.

recipes for a good time_elvis and ben - chefs

The contents in Recipes For A Good Time cover topics such as ‘The Perfect Picnic’ to ‘Cooking With Fire’ to ‘Pickles & Sauces’ (which will be my personal go-to around March when my tomatoes and chillies and ripe).

Their signature dish of Fish Fingers might sound basic, but as the boys note, they don’t call them fish fingers because they’re fingers of fish – it’s because ‘you’ve gotta use your mitts’. What I love most about this particular recipe is that they’ve added four pages of variations – one with a double spread of photographs, and another double spread of illustrated, coordinating diagrams. Win! While the original recipe uses cuttlefish and sashimi kingfish, they suggest using ingredients such as mud crab, sea urchin, prawns and even…wait for it…grilled spam. Kind of makes things accessible to every level of cook, huh?

I don’t think you can go past Recipes For A Good Time as that last minute Christmas gift, and not just for the Rockabilly Chicks or the Hipster crowd or your favourite Foodie. It’s a book that will be treasured and loved for many years to come by anyone lucky enough to receive it…if you can bear to give it away and not keep it for yourself that is. I couldn’t!

Photo Credit: Anson Smart


Recipes For A Good Time by Elvis Abrahanowicz and Ben Milgate

Published by Murdoch Books (Allen &Unwin)

Hardcover, 290 pages.

ISBN – 978-1743364376



Mandy Wrangles_2_tnMandy Wrangles reviews and tests Anna Gare’s new cookbook.




praline_1You probably already know Anna Gare as judge of Australian Junior Masterchef, and also as the host of Great Australian Bake-Off. She’s also the author of two cookbooks – in 2011 she released Homemade and the brand new Eat in – the best food is made at home. I have to agree with her on the title!

I love Anna’s theory that “…cooking, like love, does not have to be rocket science. It is a way of thinking, tasting and feeling that allows you to draw pleasure out of what could otherwise be ordinary. It turns a chore into a little party, or, sometimes, a big one…”

Eat in is a simple cookbook to navigate. Beautiful colour photographs accompany each recipe, which are listed under the headings: good morning!, lovely lunches, feeding family & friends, salads, what’s for dinner mum? and sweet things.

Included is a handy conversion chart – something I wish every cookbook had (I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted trying to convert American recipes to Australian measurements).

Recipes vary from the more exotic-sounding, such as the Quail with pistachio, orange and sage butter and Whole poached trout with celeriac rémoulade to one of my Nanna’s old favourites – Butterfly cupcakes. All the recipes are written in an easy to follow manner; there’s nothing too difficult or out of reach for the everyday home-cook.

praline_2I decided to give Anna’s Tealight chocolate mousse with pistachio praline a go as my test recipe. Now, you’ll need to read the book to get the actual recipe… but I can tell you as the first time I’ve ever made praline – it was a success.

Praline is one of those things I’ve always been a bit wary of in the kitchen; too much can go wrong (think burned toffee, burned skin, a big old messy pot to scrub…) but this was simple, everything I needed was already in my pantry and fridge, I escaped without burning anything, and the clean up was immediate with hot water. Too easy!

I didn’t have any tealight glasses handy to serve, so instead used my favourite glass tumblers that are reserved especially for desserts. And the verdict from my family? More please…





 ‘Anna Gare – Eat In – The Best Food is Made at Home’

207 pages

Text by Anna Gare

Photography by Ian Wallace

Published by Murdoch Books 2013

ISBN – 978-1742663890



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