Josephine Moon shares her love of food and Italy

Author Q&A

Josephine Moon is the author of Three Gold Coins, The Tea Chest, The Beekeeper’s Secret and The Chocolate Promise.

Josephine Moon is an Australian author, based on acreage in Cooroy, Queensland. She has worked as a journalist, English teacher and editor, and has a Bachelor of Communication. Josephine has a passion for horses and, of course, her husband and son.

Tell us a little about your book. What inspired you to write it? What was your most joyous moment and your most difficult challenge?

Three Gold Coinsfollows Lara Foxleigh, a woman in her early thirties with a dangerous past and big secrets, who has fled her family home in Brisbane to escape to Italy. She finds herself in Rome, wondering what she is doing there, and quickly spies an elderly man who needs her help. Quite quickly, she finds herself living in a seventh century villa in Tuscany, working as the carer for this man.

But back home in Brisbane, the past she left behind is intent on tracking her down, and is frightening her family. While in Tuscany, she does experience the delicious highs of potential new love, new friends, amazing food and travel, but she willhave to face her dark past in order to save everything she loves.

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In 2016, I was struggling with a novel that I was working on, so I did what any sensible author would do and ran away to Italy! While in Rome, I spied an elderly man struggling in the cobblestone streets around the Trevi Fountain and there was something about him that captured my heart and imagination. I pulled out my phone and took some photos of him. About a week later, while in Tuscany on writing retreat, the memory of that man came back to me. I made the bold decision to throw away 50,000 words of the novel I’d been struggling with and instead embrace the story that had started to bubble away after I saw that man that first day in Rome.

The most joyous part of writing this novel was visiting a goat dairy and cheese factory in Tuscany as research. I got to cuddle baby goats and eat lots of cheese—two of my favourite things!

The greatest challenge of this novel was that, early on, the story told me where it wanted to go and I said, no. Literally, I spoke the word out loud. ‘No!’ That meant that in the first draft I built a whole heap of plot specifically to avoid writing what I didn’t want to write about. But after some early feedback, I realised my mistake and had to rewrite about fifty per cent of the book. I could have written two or even three novels by the time I finished slashing and burning and rewriting. It was by far my most challenging book to write to date and a tough lesson to learn.

Are you working on anything new? Tell us about it.

I’m working on my fifth contemporary fiction novel, which will be out in March 2019. It is set in Melbourne and follows the relationship of a woman who has had a heart transplant and her organ donor’s widow as they try to solve a mystery. Naturally I have a food theme for this one too, and this time around coffee gets to be the star of the show.

Does food and cooking feature much in your book?

There are a lot of food scenes in this book! A whole scene on ricotta making. Another whole scene on cheese making in Northern Italy. Two feast scenes at the end of the book. A pasta making scene. And a whole lot of antipasti eating along the way. Also, a creamy Tuscan chicken dish and a white bean soup.

Do you love cooking? What are your favourite family recipes?

I definitely feel like a ‘foodie’ in that I spend vast amounts of time reading about food, growing food, sourcing food, writing about food and salivating over photos of food, and we are highly focused on that ‘clean green’ movement of food that is so prevalent up here on the coast, but I probably love being around it and eating it more than I love cooking it.

My biggest foodie loves at home are simple — I make a wickedly good green smoothie every day and a healthy chocolate superfood smoothie for my son every day, and my slow cooker is working hard several times a week making bone broths and stews. It’s so hot up here for so much of the year that cooking just feels like a struggle, but I definitely get a boost along in winter when soups and baked goods rise in priority.

My sister is a fantastic cake and dessert maker. My mum makes the best potato salad I’ve ever had in my life. Potatoes, in general, are always a winner in our house, but this potato salad has definitely taken on a legendary quality, as have her scalloped potatoes (i.e. potato bake), actually. Maybe the potato thing is due to our Irish ancestry.

Potato salad seems so simple but having failed a few times I can attest that it isn’t! There’s a lot of skill in getting the potatoes cooked to just the right tenderness so they don’t fall apart when you mix them up, and Mum uses a half-and-half blend of coleslaw dressing and mayonnaise, which works beautifully. She has fresh parsley and spring onion in it and cooks the potatoes with a bay leaf. It’s a real art and any time she brings it to a gathering it is gone in minutes!

Tell us a story about yourself that revolves around food. For example, what was your favourite food as a child? What’s been your biggest cooking disaster/triumph? Who taught you to cook?

My mum definitely taught me all the basic cooking and kitchen skills and I have a few recipes of hers in my head that I fall back on when I’m stuck for inspiration. She made a fantastic Indian lamb curry out of leftover roast lamb and I still make that one too. It has little more in it than onion, garlic, Keen’s curry powder, diced apple and sultanas but is so, so good! She always gave me the job of getting every last scrap of meat off the bone with a little knife. I always loved lamb curry night.

She took her skills from the famous Margaret Fulton and she had (still has, I’m sure!) a hardback recipe book of hers from the seventies that we all pulled out regularly. That book was ‘the bible’ of food prep in our house. It had bright orange writing on the front and black-and-white photos inside and many food splatters on many pages. Margaret Fulton was exceptional at explaining process and technique in a very straightforward manner and I’ve no doubt she has taught many women how to cook.

That lamb curry of Mum’s is quite possibly a Margaret Fulton recipe too.

What is your favourite cookbook? Why?

Jamie’s Italy – It was virtually a reference book for Three Gold Coins.

What is your favourite word?

Percolating/percolation/percolate – I particularly love four-syllable words and I do use this word a lot when I am describing my thinking process, whether it’s about the book I’m writing on or when and where we should go on holiday… I’m percolating.

Or ruminating. I love that one too.

Favourite delicious treat or dessert?

Lemon meringue pie.

Death-bed meal?

Lamb roast with steamed greens and potato bake. Simple, comforting, delicious.