SOUP, SOCKS AND A NEW BABY (ALMOST)

baby sam

Dear Amelia,
Only one more sleep until your baby brother enters this world, so as soon as I’ve finished writing this I’ll be packing my bag and hopping in the car for the four-hour drive to your house.
I’m very excited.
It’s not often I get to roam at will and the thought that there’s you and a new baby waiting at the other end is only adding to the general air of hysteria.
Your Grandpa and Ella won’t be able to make it until the weekend because someone has to stay behind and make a quid.
That someone isn’t Ella, who recently achieved a personal best for lying on your Uncle Paul’s couch with a pair of Explorer socks on her head (17 minutes in case you’re wondering).

ella sock2
While we were visiting your Uncle Paul on the weekend we went to the Queens for dinner and I was treated to yet another food smear.
Food smears are very trendy at the moment. They look like this.

I found this picture here.

I found this picture here.

I think food smears will be with us for quite some time. They must be saving restaurateurs a fortune.
The menu will generally say something along the lines of  “…served with a lightly spiced sweet potato mash” and you’re picturing this fluffy mound of deliciousness but what you actually get is half a teaspoon of the stuff swiped across the side of your plate.
Bring back food towers, I say. Or even better, Nanna serves, where the food is arranged in piles all around the plate.
Your Grandpa, who’s been a grumpy old shit lately due to major dental surgery, blames the food-smear trend on the never-ending parade of celebrity chefs and TV food shows.
We had to stop watching My Kitchen Rules because by the third episode he was threatening to put a brick through the TV.
In other news, I have finally painted all the woodwork in the passage, bathroom and bedrooms. It took me two weeks.

passage small
I’d like to be able to say it gave me immense personal satisfaction to see the end result, but it didn’t. By the end of it I’d almost lost the will to live.
Also, due to aforementioned dental surgery, we’ve been eating lots of soup.
I can’t say I’m a big fan of soup, and that didn’t change after eating it non-stop for what seemed like a decade but in reality was only a week.
The exception is this Pumpkin and Sweetcorn Soup from TV cook Delia Smith.
I can eat it until it comes out of my ears (which it almost did over the course of that seven days).
Delia’s original recipe includes a sprinkling of toasted sweetcorn over the top of the soup, which I never do because I can’t be bothered.
Also, as usual, her recipe is about five pages long because she seems to be under the impression all her readers are morons.
Here is a shortened and slightly altered version that is still extremely delicious.

One year ago on this blog: Getting Clucky

soup

PUMPKIN AND SWEETCORN SOUP (FROM A DELIA SMITH RECIPE)

Serves 6

2 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
700g butternut pumpkin
1 supermarket pack of corn cobs (3-4 half-cobs) or 2 whole corn cobs, husks removed
salt and pepper
750ml (3 cups) chicken or vegetable stock (Campbells or similar)
250ml (1 cup) milk

Melt the butter over low heat in a big heavy-bottomed pot.
Fry the onion gently for 8 minutes, without letting it colour too much.
While that’s happening, peel the pumpkin and cut it into 2cm cubes.
Take the kernels off the corn cobs by standing them on end and slicing down their length with a knife.
Tip the pumpkin and corn kernels into the pot and season with salt and pepper.
Put the lid on the pot and let the vegetables soften for 10 minutes over a low heat, stirring occasionally.
Raise the heat, pour in the stock and milk and bring to simmering point.
Lower the heat, partially cover the pot with a lid and simmer gently for 20 minutes or until the pumpkin feels soft when pierced with a knife.
Puree the mixture with a stick blender until smooth (or blitz it in a blender) and, if you haven’t just had dental surgery, serve with big hunks of bread or cheese on toast.


BLACK CATS, YO-YOS AND POACHED BUMTCHOONTH

This is Senor Hernandez, the Patron Saint of Dodgy Deals. Like all saints worth their salt, he glows in the dark. He was bought for me by your Mum many years ago and sits next to my computer, watching over me with his beady black eyes.

This is Senor Hernandez, the Patron Saint of Dodgy Deals. Like all saints worth their salt, he glows in the dark. He was bought for me by your Mum many years ago and sits next to my computer, watching over me with his beady black eyes.

Dear Amelia,
I once read in a Barbara Vine novel – can’t remember which one – that being superstitious means you’re lower class.
I suppose we should take it as read, then, that the Queen never passed one of her newborn children through a rind of cheese to ensure a long and prosperous life.
And it’s probably just as unlikely that Prince Charles hung all his elephant pictures facing the palace doorways, it being unlucky to hang them any other way.
In case you’re wondering, I haven’t done either of these things but I would have if I’d known about them because I’m very lower class.
I’ve knocked on wood so many times in the past 60 years my knuckles are coveted by Ikea for their realistic wood grain patterns.
What I don’t know about black cats, white butterflies, dead bees and seagulls that fly in threes could be engraved on a dog’s toenail, so long as that dog wasn’t howling in the house of a sick person, in which case I’d cack myself.
Your Grandpa isn’t superstitious at all.
Unlike me, who spends a lot of time counting the number of Xs on the palms of my hands, your Grandpa spends a lot of time watching the History Channel.
This is how he knows that Syria banned yo-yos in 1933.
Indeed, Syrian police confiscated all the yo-yos in the land because it was thought they were causing a drought.
Your Grandpa believes that if I had been in Syria in 1933 I would have been a yo-yo confiscator.
He’s probably right. But I would have been a happy yo-yo-confiscator because I would have been in the land of quinces, Syria being fairly prominent in the quince-growing arena.
Syria may have its faults, but enhancing its core competencies quince-wise isn’t one of them (I hope you’re impressed by that phrase – I like to think my time working with local government hasn’t been for nought).

quince
The quince is native to several stans – Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan – and also to Kashmir where it’s known as the bumtchoonth.
It’s said that the forbidden fruit Eve bit into in the Garden of Eden was not the apple but the quince.
Personally I can’t see it being true unless Eve had the teeth of a white pointer and/or access to good dental care.
This is because quinces are rock hard when raw.
I love quinces but rarely see them in the shops, so I planted four quince trees down the bottom of the garden a few years back.
Sometimes these trees bear fruit that could best be described as “wormy”, which doesn’t bother me because I just cut out all the manky bits and boil the shit out of what’s left.
I say “boil” but I should say “poach” – and poached quinces are something to behold, turning from hard, yellow chunks into toothsome rosy pieces that are fab with ice cream.

poached quinces
They freeze really well, so you can eat them year-round.
You can also turn them into quince paste, which I’ve never done because why bother when you have a friend called Lizzie who does it so well?
Here is a picture of Lizzie’s latest batch, delivered on Saturday night.

quince paste
Quince paste is delicious with cheddar cheese and is synonymous with Maggie Beer, a TV chef I can’t watch because her silly breathless voice and little-girl mannerisms make me want to slap her and shout, “How old are you for God’s sake?”
Maggie flogs it via Woolies and Coles for about $50 a kilo.
You can make your own quince paste a lot more cheaply using this very good recipe from the Australian Women’s Weekly.
The quince-poaching recipe I use is from David Lebovitz and you’ll find it here.
It’s dead easy so I hope you give it a go one day.
Before I go I’d just like to say I hope your Mum hasn’t let a ferret or a weasel jump over her pregnant stomach.
If she has, you need to tell her she can undo the bad luck by putting a spider in a walnut shell and wearing it on a string around her neck (this also wards off the plague so basically we’re killing two birds with one stone).


LIFE ISN’T ALWAYS SIMPLE

tangles

Dear Amelia,
I’m sorry I haven’t written much lately.
It’s because a lot has been going on, some good and some very bad.
The very bad is that your Uncle Paul was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes a few weeks back and it’s knocked everyone for six.
He wasn’t feeling well, so went to the doctor, who ordered some blood tests.
Next thing you know it’s 7.30 the following night and his doctor’s ringing him to say go to hospital immediately, you’re in danger of slipping into a diabetic coma.
So he did (go to RPH, I mean), and now he’s injecting himself with insulin four times a day.
No type of diabetes is good, but Type 1 is the pits.
It’s the less common kind – only about 15 per cent of diabetics have it and it’s not related to lifestyle like Type 2 can be.
No one knows what causes it, nothing can be done to prevent it or cure it, and if you don’t have regular insulin injections, you die.
To say your Grandpa and I have been worried out of our minds is an understatement.
Not surprisingly, your Uncle Paul hasn’t been feeling too flash either but he’s amazingly stoical and is getting on with the business of living with a condition that unlike many illnesses can at least be controlled.
For that we are extremely grateful because we love him very much.
To continue on the “keeping it under control” theme, I’m very pleased to announce that at two and a half you are in control of your bodily functions, with the exception of picking your nose and eating it, which we’ll have to train you to do in private if you’re not to grow up a social outcast.
But what the hell. You’re toilet trained!

This picture was taken shortly after you and your Mum returned from the restaurant's public conveniences. You are fearless when it comes to toilets.

This picture was taken shortly after you and your Mum returned from the restaurant’s public conveniences. You are now fearless when it comes to toilets.

This is such a milestone and it’s really good for your Mum that it’s been reached before the arrival of your baby brother in May.
It was a short and highly successful campaign waged by the day care ladies and your Mum and Dad and helped along greatly by a special toilet-seat insert that allows you to sit on a proper toilet without dropping bum-first into the bowl and ending up in the ocean out beyond Capel.
These inserts hadn’t been invented when your Mum and Uncle Paul were little and, believe me, they’re a godsend because every little kid loves the challenge presented by a big toilet.
You particularly love your after-dinner session and will sit there for ages, singing and chatting to yourself and seeing how much toilet paper you can unroll onto the floor before someone catches you.
It’s a joy to witness and makes me think that we’d probably all feel a lot more valued if our Mums and Dads and Nannas and Grandpas could come into the toilet and clap and cheer every time we perform a bowel movement.
I’ve got no idea how I’m going to segue into a recipe after this discussion.
In honour of your Uncle Paul’s pancreas and your own bowel movements, I should probably post something healthy.
Instead I’m going to give you a recipe for Scallop and Leek Tart that I made for your Grandpa and I on the night of Good Friday.
It’s from the book A Consuming Passion by Michelin-starred New Zealand chef Adam Newell.

Adam Newell
I love this book and I love Adam Newell.
The last time I wrote about a recipe of his he sent me a very nice email and I almost died of shock and amazement.
I’ll leave you his book in my will but I would suggest to everyone else that they buy it at Fishpond (a bargain at $25.95, hardback, free postage).
It goes without saying that my Scallop and Leek Tart was nothing like Adam Newell’s because I’m not a Michelin-starred chef, I didn’t make my own puff pastry, I didn’t have any saffron and I couldn’t find white balsamic vinegar for love or money.
That said, it was still bloody delicious.
Your Grandpa said it tasted like a scallop pizza only silkier and better and with puff pastry.
He means wells.

One year ago on this blog: Yorkshire Lasagne

scallop tart2

SCALLOP AND LEEK TART AFTER THE FASHION OF ADAM NEWELL

Serves 4

4 sheets frozen puff pastry, defrosted for 5 minutes
1 lge leek or 2 smaller ones, rinsed well and chopped small
4 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
24-32 scallops depending on size
1 egg, beaten
shaved Parmesan cheese
small salad leaves – mesclun or spinach and rocket mix

Vinaigrette
2 tomatoes
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (or pinch of saffron and 1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar)
1 tbsp small capers
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

To make the vinaigrette, put the tomatoes in a bowl and cover with boiling water.
Leave for a few minutes then peel, de-seed and chop the flesh into fine dice.
Brig the vinegar to the boil in a small saucepan, take it off the heat and stir in the balsamic vinegar and capers (and saffron, if using).
Let it cool then add the diced tomato, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Leave it to infuse while you get on with the tart.
To make the tart, preheat the oven to 200C.
Sweat the leeks in the olive oil in a frying pan (use a low heat) until they’re soft but not coloured. Season with salt and pepper, stir and cool.
Cut 15cm circles from each sheet of pastry and crimp the edges by pinching them with your fingers.
Put the pastry discs on a baking tray(s) and spread the leeks over the top, leaving a 1cm or so leek-free edge.
Put the whole scallops on top of the leeks in a single layer.
Bake for 10-15 minutes until the edges of the pastry discs are puffed and golden.
To serve, put some salad leaves and shaved parmesan on top of each tart, pile the rest of the leaves on the sides of the plates and drizzle the vinaigrette over the top and around the edge of the tarts.

This is what it should look like when done by a proper chef

This is what it should look like when done by a proper chef


CRABS, COCKTAILS AND CARAVANS

blue swimmer crab

Dear Amelia,
Here in Western Australia it’s the season for blue swimmer crabs, which are called blue swimmer crabs because they’re blue and they swim.
When I was a kid these crabs were called blue mannas and I used to go with my Dad (your Great Granddad Keith) down to the estuary in Bunbury to catch them with wire scoop nets attached to long wooden poles.
The best time to catch them was at sunset because that’s when they were scuttling around on the floor of the estuary looking for things to eat.
You’d wade through the shallow water in a pair of old sandshoes, getting eaten alive by mosquitos and hoping the crabs wouldn’t mistake your ankles for whatever it was they liked for dinner.
They’re vicious little buggers and I still have a scar on my ankle to prove it.
I needed five stitches – I suspect you could hear my screams in the Middle East.
Not that it put me off.
I’m certainly no hero but I was always willing to risk limb, if not life, in order to get a feed of crabs.
I absolutely love them.
Later on, when I married your Grandpa, I used to go out crabbing on the ocean with my father-in-law, your Great Grandpa Roy, and his mates.
We’d stop the boat and throw drop nets over the side – far more civilised.
Later still, my Mum and Dad bought a caravan and a tinny and kept them at a caravan park at Yunderup, so crab-wise I was (for want of a better expression) like a pig in shit.

This is a tinny that looks nothing like the one your Great Grandad had. His was much more beaten up.

This is a tinny that looks nothing like the one your Great Grandad had. His was much more beaten up.

You’d get back to the caravan park with your catch and almost every van would have a campfire blazing out the front with a drum full of boiling seawater on top to cook the crabs in.
All the blokes would be standing around the fires having a yack and sipping Swan Lager from a can, even though it was 10 o’clock in the morning.
They were all called Vern or Len or Ted and they smoked Turf and Craven A and had bow legs.
Their wives had exotic names like Valmae and Merle and smoked Alpine while they sat around reading the Women’s Weekly and James A. Michener novels.
Speaking of crabs, when your Grandpa and I were at uni we knew a bloke who caught the sort you don’t find in an estuary.
This bloke got rid of them by sitting in an empty bath and spraying his private parts with Pea-Beu.
I’ve often wondered if he used the Pine Fresh or the Surface Spray.
I now buy my blue swimmer crabs from the Boatshed Markets down on the Albany foreshore.
Here are two I bought last weekend.
They go red when you cook them, as I expect I would too if I was dropped into boiling water.

cooked crabs

These crabs were really big ones, so I cooked them for five minutes after the water had come back to the boil and then left them to cool in a colander.
They were perfect and, as always, well worth the effort of cleaning and peeling them.
Our favourite way of eating them is as crab cocktails (like prawn cocktails but without the prawns) and crab fettuccine, so I’ll give you the recipes for both.

One year ago on this blog: Bum Biscuits

CRAB COCKTAIL

shredded iceberg lettuce
fresh crab meat
For the cocktail sauce (makes about 1 cup):
1 cup whole egg mayonnaise (I like Paul Newman’s brand)
3 tbsp tomato sauce
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
a few drops of Tabasco sauce (or to taste)
1 tsp lemon juice
freshly ground salt and pepper to taste

Put the shredded lettuce in the bottom of individual serving bowls or glasses.
Pile the fresh crab meat on top.
Mix all the sauce ingredients together and stir well.
Drizzle the sauce over the crab meat.
This cocktail sauce will keep for up to a month in the fridge – just cover it with plastic wrap.
The recipe is easily halved, third-ed (sorry) or quartered, depending on how many crab cocktails you’re making.
The sauce is also delicious in a fish-cake burger – even better if you stir in a finely chopped spring onion before you dollop it on the bun.

I didn't take a picture of the crab cocktails because we were starving. Here's a home-made prawn cocktail instead.

I didn’t take a picture of the crab cocktails because we were starving. Here’s a home-made prawn cocktail instead.

The next recipe is a classic, taught to me back in the day by my friend and former colleague, cookery writer Margaret Johnson. I’ve been cooking this for years and, as you do, have changed it around a bit. I would still crawl over hot coals to eat it.

 

FETTUCCINE WITH CRAB, GARLIC AND PARSLEY

For each person you will need:
100-150g fettuccine
scant tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 fat clove garlic or 2 small ones, very finely chopped
chopped fresh chilli to taste
the meat from 2 small crabs or 1 big one
1 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
freshly ground salt and pepper

Cook the fettuccine in lots of boiling salted water until al dente.
Just before it’s ready, heat the olive oil in a big frying pan over a low-ish flame and cook the garlic and chilli for about 30 seconds (just until the smell of the cooking garlic hits your nostrils – no longer).
Tip the drained fettuccine into the frying pan, add the crab meat, chopped parsley and salt and pepper to taste and toss everything together with a pair of tongs.
Tip into a serving bowl and serve immediately.
Marg doesn’t bother cooking anything but the fettuccine.
She then tips it into a bowl and mixes all the other ingredients through.


LOCKJAW, LIMOUSINES AND A NICE BIT OF PASTA

Girl with a Bread Roll: 2013 version of Girl with a Pearl Earring

Girl with a Bread Roll and Coloured Band-Aids: 2013 version of Girl with a Pearl Earring

Dear Amelia,
Earlier this week I came across a hardback book among the many thousands that cram the shelves at Albany Drive-In Mart out on Albany Highway.
It was by someone called R. Moore and was titled Three Thousand Things Worth Knowing (Comprising valuable information, recipes and tables, for the mechanic, merchant, lawyer, doctor, farmer, and all classes of workers in every department of human effort).
It was a very interesting book, published by the Grand Union Tea Company in 1884.

Great Union Tea Company
I would’ve bought Three Thousand Things Worth Knowing if it hadn’t cost $25.
Not that I’m tight-fisted or anything, but because I knew it had probably been part of a deceased estate and would have been bought by the shop owner for about 25 cents (I have my limits when it comes to mark-ups – 10,000 per cent usually does it for me).
Anyway, the previous owner of the book had written something quite amazing inside the front cover, in pencil, in that formal, old-fashioned handwriting that always makes  me think of your Great Great Nanna Ethel.
This is what he’d written:
Refer page 59.
How to cure Lockjaw.
Use turpentine.
It got me wondering how many people had to die an agonising death from what is now called tetanus before the publishing bloke at the Grand Union Tea Company said to the author, “Excuse me R. Moore, re page 59: I think you might need to re-work it a bit.”

A person suffering from lockjaw, painted by Sir Charles Bell. Bring out the turpentine.

Bring out the turps: a person suffering from lockjaw (aka tetanus), painted by Sir Charles Bell. Pic courtesy of Wikipedia, which is why it’s minuscule.

This book also got me wondering why I don’t frequent Albany’s op shops and second-hand stores on a more regular basis, seeing as how you’re always guaranteed to find an absolute treasure.
Luckily, I was dragged around them all last week by your Uncle Paul, op-shop book browser extraordinaire, who is staying with us at the moment, having made the trip down after my 60th-birthday weekend.
It was fabulous, my 60th-birthday weekend – one of the best birthdays ever.
Three nights at the Hilton, and a wonderful birthday surprise organised by your Mum that involved being picked up in a stretch limo and taken to the beautiful Matilda Bay Restaurant on the river at Crawley.
The six of us (me, you, your Grandpa, your Mum and Dad and Uncle Paul) sipped champagne while the limo driver took us on an hour-long riverside tour before taking us to the restaurant.
Then we hoed into it again on the way back to the hotel, which was via Kings Park so we could enjoy the city lights.
Here are some (regrettably crappy) pictures I took with my mobile phone.

Girl with Bread Roll on Head. This was taken at Matilda Bay - see all the rich people's boats in the background.

Girl with Bread Roll on Head. This was taken at Matilda Bay – see all the rich people’s boats in the background.

 

Your Mum

Your Mum

 

Your Dad

Your Dad

 

Your Uncle Paul

Your Uncle Paul

 

Your Grandpa

Your Grandpa

In the limo on the way home - you loved those disco lights

In the limo on the way home – you loved those disco lights. Note the feral eyes.

Your Grandpa gave me a lovely topaz ring and necklace for my birthday, topaz being the stone of true love, which not surprisingly made me cry like a baby (if you’re a good girl and stop climbing out of your new bed six times a night I’ll leave them to you in my will).
I even got a present from the Hilton.

60th10 blog
Then, of course, it was back to reality and a deflated bank balance, which is why this week’s recipe is for Pasta Bake.

One year ago on this blog: Salmon Puffs

pasta bake

PASTA BAKE

Serves 3-4

250g penne pasta
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 rashers bacon, finely chopped
12 button mushrooms, sliced
1 big clove garlic, crushed
1 punnet (about 200g) cherry or grape tomatoes
1 cup white wine
big pinch of dried, crushed chilli
mixture of grated cheddar and grana padano cheese (as much as you think your hips and heart will tolerate)

This is pretty basic but delicious – plus, it’s not sloppy (which I hate).
Fill a big pasta pot with water, throw in some salt and put it on the stove to boil.
Add the penne to the boiling water and cook for a minute or so less than it says on the packet (about 13 minutes).
While that’s happening, heat the oil in a big frying that has a lid.
Tip in the onion, bacon and mushrooms and fry for about 5 mins over medium-high heat, stirring, until they’re soft.
Add the garlic and crushed chilli and fry, stirring, for another minute.
Stir in the tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes, pressing them down with the back of a wooden spoon so they split (a potato masher is also very effective).
Stir in the wine, lower the heat, cover and simmer gently until the penne is ready.
Preheat the oven to 190C.
Drain the penne and tip it into a big, shallow oven-proof dish.
Stir in the tomato sauce and as much grated cheese as you like.
Sprinkle more grated cheese on top and bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until golden.
Eat with a green salad.


SALAD, 60TH AND THE YEAR OF THE SNAKE

ashlee's wedding

Dear Amelia,
Seeing as I cooked Peking Duck for Australia Day, it sort of makes sense that I made something Greek to mark the start of the Chinese New Year yesterday (it was a lovely watermelon and feta salad that I’ll tell you about in a minute).
It was a big week this week, particularly for Stephen and Ashlee whose wedding we went to on Saturday out at Emu Point.
Beautiful setting, beautiful ceremony, big party afterwards, with enough food to feed an army.
Ashlee is the fourth and youngest daughter of our friends Richard and Lynda, and the third to get married.
Three down, one to go, as practically everyone at the wedding pointed out.
Lynda and Richard are doing remarkably well, considering.
They are occasionally incapable of speech – sometimes even of movement – but otherwise they are fine and no longer slip into a catatonic state when the words “wedding speech” and “bank balance” are mentioned.
This is a big week for me too, not only because I was born in the Chinese Year of the Water Snake, which has come around again this year, but also because it’s my 60th birthday on Friday.
I’ve noticed just lately that a big thing in the “lifestyle” blogging world – particularly among so-called mummy bloggers – is to come up with a weekly “gratefulness” list.
This is basically what it says it is: a round-up of things for which the blogger is grateful, most of them deep and meaningful, many of them nauseating.
On a personal level, one thing I would be really grateful for is if these bloggers would stop using the word “gratefulness” (which grates on me the way “healthful” does) and use gratitude instead.
That aside, during these last few weeks of being 59, I’ve been trying to be grateful for all sorts of things that show me up for what I am, which is basically an almost-senior.
I’m trying very hard to be grateful that my arse is slowly slipping down the back of my legs, mainly because I know that when it stops it will mean I am dead.
I’m trying to be grateful that my soon-to-be-delivered Seniors Card will get me $100 off a stone monument if I choose to be buried in the Kalgoorlie cemetery, but only two bucks off a bottle of wine if I buy it at one of the six wineries listed in the Seniors Discount Directory.
Screen shot 2013-02-11 at 8.39.32 PM
I’m also trying to be grateful that the veins in the backs of my hands are starting to stand out like little blue ropes.
People who are born in the Year of the Water Snake are supposed to carry something blue with them at all times during 2013 so that they can ward off evil spirits.
I can only hope that veins count.
On a more serious note, my Dad and sister both died at 56 so I should say that I’m extremely grateful I’ve got this far and have been blessed with a terrific life filled with some lovely people.
I’m also extremely grateful that at the end of the week your Grandpa and I will be spending three nights at the Hilton in Perth.

Hotel Exterior
We will be able to celebrate our socks off as my 60th year slips away and I embrace the 61st with as much enthusiasm as a hangover allows.
We will be seeing you there, of course.
I know you’re only two and a half years old and therefore too young to retain memories.
But I live in hope that when you grow up you’ll have happy little flashbacks to my 60th birthday celebrations every time someone uses the words “Nanna” and “Bollinger” in the same sentence.

One year ago on this blog: Spiced Roast Chicken with Couscous

watermelon and feta salad

WATERMELON AND FETA SALAD

Serves 4-6

half a watermelon
feta cheese – a 200g packet should do
1 red onion, cut in half then sliced very finely
juice of 2 limes
a handful each of chopped fresh parsley and chopped fresh mint
a handful of pitted black olives (optional)

You’ll find versions of this salad all over the Internet but I like this one by Nigella.
It’s an amazing and very refreshing combination of tastes – perfect for the latest heatwave that WA is experiencing at the moment, except of course for Albany, which had a maximum in the mid-20s today while Perth was sweltering at 40C.
First you put the sliced red onion in a small bowl and pour over the lime juice.
While it’s marinating, cut the watermelon into chunks and put them in a salad bowl.
Sprinkle over the cubed or crumbled feta, the chopped parsley and mint, the black olives if you’re using them, and then the sliced onion and lime juice.
Stir it around gently to combine.
Serve with barbecued meat.


HOW NOT TO LOOK GOOD IN THE KITCHEN

PekingDuck_Michele1

Dear Amelia,
As you can see from the photo, I was on my knees by the time I finished cooking the Peking Duck last Saturday night.
We didn’t get to eat it until 9.17pm, which was unfortunate because my synapses stopped firing round about 8.04.
By then the kitchen and I looked like the Wreck of the Hesperus.
You may remember that the recipe I decided to use was from Gok Cooks Chinese by everyone’s favourite fashionista Gok Wan, of How To Look Good Naked fame.
As a result of what we now call The Night of the Long Ducks I actually emailed Gok’s people and asked if his next TV series could be titled How To Look Good Fully Clothed with Half a Star Anise and Three Cucumber Sticks In Your Bra.
No, I haven’t heard back from them and, yes, it was a long and messy process this road to Peking Duck-ness – almost Nanna’s kryptonite.
Not that Gok’s roast duck and plum sauce recipes were the culprits. They were both reasonably simple and extremely delicious.
But I almost lost the will to live during the Chinese pancake-making thing. It took FOREVER.
If your Grandpa hadn’t woken up and waved another bottle of wine under my nose I reckon I would’ve been a goner.
Your Grandpa actually had to have a 30-minute ziz during this latest culinary adventure.
Not because of the lengthy preparation process (although that didn’t help), but because he’d got out of bed before dawn to drive up Mt Melville and take photos of the sun rising over Albany, then he’d run around taking pics of the Australia Day citizenship ceremony at the council offices.
Unsurprisingly, by 7.34pm he was buggered.
His sunrise photos, though, are stunning. Here are three of them.

Photo by Leith Phillips

Photo by Leith Phillips

Photo by Leith Phillips

Photo by Leith Phillips

Photo by Leith Phillips

Photo by Leith Phillips

Next up is a picture of what your thumbs look like after they’ve prised open 16 very hot, thin Chinese pancakes to make 32 even thinner ones (the words “painful” and “shit, shit, shit” more or less cover this last stage of what is basically a 357-step process).

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I’ve decided that my next challenge on the culinary front will be to make a chocolate cake using nothing but three cherry tomatoes and a potato masher.
I suspect it might be easier.
That said, in a minute I’ll give you the instructions for Poppa Wan’s Easy Peking Duck.
In the meantime here’s some BREAKING NEWS (well, not technically “breaking” because I’ve already done it once):
If you live in regional WA you can listen to me chat about a recipe on ABC Radio’s WA Regional Drive show with Barry Nicholls.
I started last week and I’ll be on every Thursday at 5.45pm in a segment called What’s For Tea?
Barry, the Regional Drive show’s presenter, is a father of four kids under the age of 8.
Thursday is his night for cooking dinner apparently.
Edit: Oops, I’m actually on once a month. I’ll let you know when my next segment is.

One year ago on this blog: Curried Glut

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POPPA WAN’S EASY PEKING DUCK WITH PLUM SAUCE AND CHINESE PANCAKES

From Gok Cooks Chinese by Gok Wan

Serves 4

The duck
Buy yourself a 2kg duck from the supermarket and pat it dry with paper towels.
Leave the neck attached.
Sprinkle the inside of the cavity ALL AROUND with 3 teaspoons of five-spice powder. This is not easy. Swearing is just about compulsory.
Into the cavity, stuff  2 star anise, 1 peeled onion cut into 8 wedges, 2 spring onions and 4 peeled cloves of garlic that you’ve bashed with the flat side of your knife, and a 5cm piece of ginger that’s been peeled and sliced.
It’s a tight fit but you’ll manage to get it all in with a bit of pushing and shoving.
Close the cavity as tightly as possible by pulling the skin together and threading a bamboo skewer through it to secure it.
Grab another skewer and prick the duck all over. Make sure you do this lots and lots of times – more than you think you should probably do – so the fat runs out and bastes the duck.
Grind some salt over the skin and put the duck on a rack in a deep roasting tin.
Roast it in a 180C oven for 1 hour then increase the temperature to 220C and cook until the duck is done (the recipe says 25 minutes but mine took another hour, during which time I lowered the temp again – it still tasted good).
Let the duck rest on the bench top for 15 minutes while you self-flagellate with a wire whisk because, like a moron, you decided to make your own Chinese pancakes from scratch.

The plum sauce
This is fab.
Grab a medium saucepan and into it put 4 stoned and roughly chopped plums, 1 tablespoon water, ½ teaspoon of five-spice powder, half a de-seeded and chopped fresh red chilli, 1 tablespoon each of honey, light soy sauce and Chinese rice wine, 1 crushed clove of garlic, 2 rounded teaspoons brown sugar, ½ teaspoon ground white pepper and half a star anise (you’ll find a broken one down the bottom of the packet).
Bring to the boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 40 minutes, until the plums are very soft (you can add more water if it looks like it might boil dry but I didn’t need any).
Blend with a stick blender until smooth. Adjust to taste with more soy sauce and honey if needed (we liked it just the way it was).

Keeping the pancakes moist until I'm ready to cook them. The kitchen scissors are there in case I want to end it all by gouging my eyes out.

Keeping the pancakes moist until I’m ready to cook them. I don’t know why the kitchen scissors are there. Probably in case I want to end it all by gouging my eyes out.

Cooking the bastards. They puff up and then you have to separate them with your bare hands.

Cooking the bastards one by one. They puff up and then you have to separate them into two. With your bare hands. While they’re still hot.

Keeping them warm in a steamer. An hour of my life I'll never get back.

Keeping them warm in a steamer. An hour of my life I’ll never get back.

The Chinese pancakes
Buy them.
If you’re a masochist who wants to make your own, you’ll find the recipe I used here.
If I ever make Gok’s Peking Duck again (Look! There goes a flying pig!), I’ll serve the duck and plum sauce with Chinese broccoli or something.

How to eat it
Cut up the duck meat and put it on serving plate. Put the plum sauce in a bowl.
Thinly slice some spring onions and cut a cucumber into matchsticks. Put these on another serving plate.
To eat, spread some plum sauce on a pancake, top it with some spring onion, some cucumber sticks and some duck, roll it up and put it in your mouth.
Be prepared for some of it to fall into your bra.


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