Take three reviews: Relativity, In the Quiet, Six Degrees

Relativity By Antonia Hayes Viking, $32.99. Twelve-year-old Ethan is obsessed with physics, quantum mechanics and black holes. He lives with his mother in Sydney and is becoming increasingly curious about his missing father. When his dad returns home, and the reason he left is revealed, there’s a reaction of sorts, and the family is brought together again. A compelling story of love and science, with characters who will touch you, frustrate you, and make you laugh. You’ll learn more about physics than you did at school, whether you like it or not, and you’ll learn a lot about family and love and forgiveness.
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In the Quiet By Eliza Henry-Jones Fourth Estate, $29.99. I often wonder what it would be like to step away from your family and to watch them from afar; to notice the details of everyday life and how they go about their day when you aren’t there. Cate does that here. The only trouble is, she’s dead, now keeping watch over her husband and her three young children, as they come to terms with their lives without her. This had the potential to go very bad, but Henry-Jones, in her debut novel, has structured a glorious book that will make you cry, guaranteed. But it’s also uplifting and tender. A surprise find.

Six Degrees By Honey Brown Ventura, $29.95. Can we rename this 50 Shades of the Australian Bush? Brown has written six subtly connected short stories that put sexual attraction in the spotlight, with chapters tantalisingly entitled Threesome, Two Women, Older, Younger, Two Men and First Time. Within that, Brown has managed to write engaging stories, with engaging characters who defy cliche. The female characters, in particular, are strong, sexual women and that makes a change in this genre. Brown takes the concept of rural romance to a new erotic level.

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Easy Weeknight Meals recipes for those what-to-cook blues

Serves 4-5 Italian beef ragu with parsley pasta
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Ragu:

2 tbsp olive oil 1 onion, finely diced 1 carrot, peeled and finely diced 2 stalks celery, diced 2  tsp finely chopped rosemary leaves 2 cloves garlic, chopped 600g beef chuck steak, cut into 4cm pieces 2  tbsp tomato paste 1 x 400g can crushed tomatoes 1½ cups beef stock 1-2  tbsp balsamic vinegar

Pasta:

500g fresh pasta (tagliatelle, pappardelle, spaghetti; or 320g-400g dried pasta)knob of butter ¾ cup finely chopped parsley

To serve:

1 head broccoli, cut into florets ½ cup shaved parmesan

Preheat oven to 160C, or you can use a slow cooker. Heat the olive oil in a large ovenproof pan, flameproof casserole dish or Dutch oven on medium heat. Cook onion, carrot, celery, rosemary and garlic for 3–5 minutes, until softened.

Add beef, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, stock and balsamic vinegar. Bring to a simmer, cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook in oven for about 2 hours or until meat is tender. Alternatively, if you are using a slow cooker, add everything to the slow cooker and cook on high for 4 hours, or on low for 8 hours.

When meat is almost cooked, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Cook pasta for 4-5 minutes or until al dente (just cooked). Scoop out ¼ cup of pasta cooking water before draining pasta. Tip pasta back into pot, along with reserved pasta water, and stir through butter and parsley.

Lightly steam or boil broccoli for a few minutes until bright green and tender. Season beef ragu to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

To serve, spoon some pasta and ragu into bowls and sprinkle shaved parmesan on top. Serve with steamed broccoli on the side. Mushroom, leek and butternut pot pies

Serves 4-5

Pot pies:

1 tbsp olive oil 1 large leek, trimmed and chopped 2 stalks celery, sliced 500g butternut, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes 2 cloves garlic, crushed 2 tbsp chopped thyme leaves 500g mushrooms (a mixture), quartered 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce ½  cup cream 1 sheet puff pastry 1 egg, beaten

Broccoli and beans:

200g green beans 1 head broccoli, cut into small florets balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle

Preheat oven to 200C. Heat olive oil in a large pan on medium heat. Cook leek, celery, butternut, garlic and thyme until butternut is soft and leek is beginning to caramelise, about 8 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook for a further 3–4 minutes, then stir in Worcestershire sauce and cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Tip into a large baking dish, or into 4–5 medium-sized ramekins (about 1½ cups capacity) for individual servings. Cut puff pastry to size to fit your baking dish or ramekins and place pastry on top of vegetables, allowing a little pastry to hang over the edges. Brush with beaten egg and prick a few holes in the top of the pastry with a fork or tip of a knife. Bake for 15–20 minutes or until pastry is puffed and golden.

Bring a medium pot of salted water to the boil. When pie(s) are cooked, add beans and broccoli to boiling water and cook for about 2 minutes until bright green and just tender. Drain and toss with a little balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

To serve: Cut pie into pieces or place each ramekin on a plate. Serve with green beans and broccoli on the side. Thyme-stuffed chicken, butternut and spinach with mushroom sauce

Serves 4-5

​Chicken:

4 boneless chicken breasts (skin on) 3 cloves garlic, minced 2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves 30g softened butter

Butternut and spinach:

800-900g butternut (skin on), cut in half lengthways and cut into 1 cm-thick slices 1½ tbsp maple syrup or runny honey 1 tbsp olive oil 4-5 cups baby spinach leaves or chopped spinach

Mushroom sauce:

¼  cup white wine 1 tbsp olive oil 1 onion, diced 250g button mushrooms, stalks removed and quartered 1 tbsp soy sauce ½  cup cream juice of ½  lemon

Preheat oven to 200C. Line an oven tray with baking paper.

Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Mix garlic, thyme and butter together. Divide flavoured butter into four and push under the skin of each chicken breast, distributing the butter evenly by squishing it around with your fingers.

Season chicken breasts with salt. Heat a drizzle of oil in a large pan on medium heat. Add chicken,  skin side down, and cook for 3 minutes or until skin is golden brown. Flip breasts over and transfer to a roasting dish (but don’t wash the pan).

Lay butternut pieces on prepared oven tray and drizzle over maple syrup or honey and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast chicken and butternut in oven for about 25 minutes or until chicken is cooked through (when the juices from the chicken run clear when pierced with a knife) and butternut is soft and slightly caramelised. Remove chicken from oven and leave to rest in roasting dish while you make the sauce.

Place the same pan you cooked the chicken in back on medium heat. Add wine to hot pan and use a wooden spoon to rub the bottom of the pan to release pan brownings into the liquid while the wine bubbles away. Add olive oil and cook onion until soft, 3–4 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook for a further 2–3 minutes. Add soy sauce, cream and lemon juice. Simmer sauce for 2–3 minutes until slightly thickened (it will thicken more as it cools).

Wash spinach and shake off excess water. Scatter spinach on top of butternut and return to oven until spinach has wilted, 2–3 minutes.

To serve: Divide butternut and spinach between plates, top with a chicken breast and spoon over sauce.

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Women’s Ashes 2015: CA wants to replicate England success in attracting crowds

Sydney Thunder recruit Alex Blackwell in the Thunder strip. Photo: Supplied
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Sydney Thunder recruit Alex Blackwell in the Thunder strip. Photo: Supplied

Sydney Thunder recruit Alex Blackwell in the Thunder strip. Photo: Supplied

England’s success at attracting healthy crowds to women’s Ashes matches, and bolstering the atmosphere of them by playing at small venues, is strengthening Australia’s aim to do the same next time they host the series.

Crowds in excess of 3000 attended the first two matches of the series, in Taunton and Bristol. Southern Stars veteran Alex Blackwell, who is nearing her 200-match milestone for Australia, said the former was the best crowd atmosphere she had played in front of, while England’s Georgia Elwiss said in Taunton it felt like they had been playing in front of a 20,000-strong crowd.

Expectations were high of a similar result in the third match of the series in Worcester, although adverse weather could thwart the match going ahead.

The last time Australia hosted the women’s Ashes, in 2013-14, the one-dayers were played in front of sparse crowds at the MCG and Blundstone Arena in Hobart, with the three Twenty20s played as part of double-headers before the men’s matches, at Blundstone Arena, the MCG and ANZ Stadium. The Test was played at the WACA Ground in Perth.

Cricket Australia executive general manager for team performance Pat Howard attended the second match at Bristol’s County Ground. He said while CA remained keen to host Twenty20s in conjunction with men’s matches, in the hope crowds will arrive early to watch the women play, he highlighted North Sydney, Hurstville and Canberra as the type of venues which could provide great atmosphere for one-day internationals, especially women’s Ashes matches. Melbourne’s Junction Oval is also likely to be refurbished in time to be in hosting contention for the 2017-18 women’s Ashes series.

“There are a few games coming up where we can do what’s happened here, which is a real compliment to the ECB on what we’ve seen in Taunton and Bristol,” Howard said.

While elite women’s cricket is more widely popular in England than it is in Australia – the Southern Stars’ success at major tournaments has bolstered the latter – Howard said it was “absolutely” possible to attract the kind of crowds England have been attracting in this series.

“For us to be able to get those is going to be a really positive part of how we grow the game,” he said.

Beyond women’s cricket, Howard said CA wanted to get better at hosting elite domestic matches outside of traditional venues, and instead at boutique or regional venues.

“We want to be able to take cricket to other places. The capitals get a lot of international cricket but we can take some domestic cricket – at the appropriate times – to regional places,” he said.

A rough template is likely to see states encouraged to host matches at Test venues before Christmas, the time generally the most crucial for Test selection, and experiment with new venues in the second half of the season. The upcoming season will feature NSW and Western Australia playing a Sheffield Shield match in New Zealand, effectively in lieu of a practice match for Australia before their Test series there.

“The other factor, from a high-performance side, is I want and CA wants the next [in line for international selection to get experience at Test venues]. If you’re going to play Sheffield Shield, and that’s your key to playing for Australia, you need to get used to playing at the MCG, you need to play on the SCG,” he said.

“There’s got to be a balance there, so both of those things [preparing players for Tests and growing the game] are achieved.”

The reporter is covering the women’s Ashes with the support of Cricket Australia

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Australian racing marvel Star Of Universe set for reluctant retirement

End of the line: Star Of Universe with Sophie Young in the saddle. Photo: Racing NSWAustralia’s oldest racehorse was foaled just as the Olympic Games rolled out of old Sydney town and will only this week run into a retirement best described as reluctant.
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At least that is if you ask the former mayor of Mudgee. He is the bloke, 71 years of age, who has been campaigning – in both the racing and protesting sense – for more than a decade with Star Of Universe, a marvel of Australian racing.

Keeping the hopes of a dispirited farmer up in the midst of a drought and providing bundles of joy to the family of said ex-councillor Percy Thompson and all of his five children, 22 grandchildren and a couple of great grandchildren to boot.

“They brought in a rule to try to stop [Don] Bradman, they brought in a rule to try to stop Walter Lindrum and now they’ve brought in a rule to stop Star Of Universe,” Thompson jokes of a recent saying told to him by a local broadcaster.

And sadly Star Of Universe, due to turn 15 years old on Saturday, the horses’ birthday, is going to be stopped by the rule book.

Owing to animal welfare concerns in a sport which has also been grappling with the recent cobalt scandal, powerbrokers have introduced a rule next season forcing the mandatory retirement of all racehorses after their 12-year-old season.

There are only a few still going around that fit the bill, but the Gulgong gelding is the most celebrated.

It meant Star Of Universe would run his last race some time last week, but that proved a challenge. He was balloted from Gilgandra last Saturday, then Warren on Monday was called off. It left only a couple of days and meetings where he could possibly run.

He was entered at Tamworth in a 2100-metre race on Friday but was made fourth emergency, Thompson’s back-up of a 1400m at Canberra on Friday shapes as his final appearance at the races, on the final day of the 2014-15 season and the final day he is eligible to compete.

Thompson has trained the horse for all bar his last five starts when Star Of Universe has been under the care of his son and former publican Brett because of a rule prohibiting country race club committee members holding a training licence.

Thompson is also the president of the Gulgong Turf Club – and he can’t find anyone else to do the job.

And he just wants to enjoy Star Of Universe, the horse he thought he would lose as a sick foal, one more time.

“We’ve got to try to give him a run somewhere and I can’t see why if they’re still competitive and sound enough to race [why they can’t keep going?],” said Thompson.

“[Brett’s] going to try him out as a lead horse and he’s a beautiful horse to ride, like a rocking horse. Otherwise we might bring him out here and I’ll look after him, but he likes being in the stable though.”

He has been passed fit to race by veterinarians before each of his starts, now totalling an incredible 195, in latter years. But it hasn’t been enough to allow him to race on.

Star Of Universe has won races all over the bush – from back-to-back Somerton cups at Gunnedah at odds greater than 40-1 each time and the Louth Cup, where most racegoers chopper in to the track – but has been out of the winners’ circle since April last year.

It doesn’t matter to his favourite horseman though, a former jockey and bull rider who once rode a 16-year-old horse to two wins at the one race meeting. Thompson has loved proving people wrong with his old mate who has won more than $160,000 after 21 career wins.

“I told mates of mine I reckoned he would win [last year’s Somerton Cup],” Thompson recalled. “One bloke told another fella and the reply was, ‘he won’t win, he’s nearly as old as Percy’. He left the pub to go to the service station and by the time he got there he was listening on the wireless and he won.”

The last laugh? That went to Star Of Universe’s wily old trainer. “I had $300 each-way on him too,” he said.

He might do it again for old time’s sake.

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Fatal bomb blast in Portland, NSW: Terrorism dismissed, ‘ill-will’ investigated

The scene of the fatal explosion in Portland, near Lithgow. Photo: Shannon Bellamy Authorities congregate in Portland after a bomb blast killed a man. Photo: Carmel Houlison, Lithgow Mercury
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Debris is collected after an explosion at Portland. Photo: Lithgow Mercury

A neighbourhood dispute is being investigated by police as a possible trigger behind the bomb blast that killed a greyhound trainer on Friday.

John Burrows, 58, was killed by an explosion after he opened the garage door of his rear shed in Portland, in Central Western NSW.

As the small rural town awoke yesterday to the shock realisation that a man-made explosive device may have been deliberately detonated in their own community, police told residents that there was no suggestion of any “broader connotations” such as terrorism, adding that investigators were treating it as a “local, isolated incident”.

NSW Police set up Strike Force Avail yesterday, comprising officers from the homicide and arson squads and Chifley Local Area Command, to investigate the “suspicious” death.

Chifley Local Area Command crime manager Detective Inspector Luke Rankin confirmed police were aware of a “history of ill will”.

He said: “Any sort of issues that the victim might have been experiencing, in the present or the past, are being explored as we continue our investigations.

“It’s a small community in which everybody knows one another. We’ve received a good flow of information from the community, which we are exploring.”

It was shortly before sunrise on Friday that residents in Portland reported a “very loud explosion”.

Moments later, joggers discovered a badly burnt and injured man lying on the roadway. Mr Burrows had opened his garage door in Wolgan Street, then was hurled off the premises into the adjacent Church Lane. Despite attempts by paramedics to save him, he died at the scene.

Inspector Rankin confirmed that while combing the scene, police discovered the remains of an “improvised explosive device”. The NSW Police Rescue and Bomb Disposal unit were dispatched to the scene; yesterday, a crime scene remained in place.

A nearby resident, June Lane, who went to school with Mr Burrows’ mother, said the blast had sounded like “thunder” but when she peered out of the window, she realised “there was no storm”.

She said she has known Mr Burrows, his wife, Shirley, and their adult children for decades.

“He was so friendly, he was such a lovely fellow, this is the last thing I’d ever think would happen to him,” she said.

[email protected]上海夜网m.au

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