FOR PAULINE

Dear Amelia,
This is a picture of my sister, your Great Aunty Pauline.
She died yesterday morning from cancer.
It happened so suddenly – just two weeks from diagnosis to death – that we’re all still stunned.
I wanted to post a picture of her on here because she thought you were wonderful but also because unless you’re, say, Great Aunty Princess Di or Great Aunty Whitney Houston, you tend to get lost in the branches of the family tree.
Great Aunties are not usually the ones we remember, are they?
This picture was taken out on the deck when your Great Aunty Pauline came to stay with us for a holiday last year.
See all that red hair?
It hadn’t been cut for decades and was a pretty good indicator of her temper.
She could feud for Australia when she put her mind to it.
But she also had a big, loving heart and a fine intellect; an encyclopaedic knowledge of cricket and contemporary music; the sort of general knowledge that made you quake when she suggested a game of Trivial Pursuit; an abiding interest in what was happening in the world, not just on her own doorstep; and a talent for knitting, sewing and cooking that was legendary.
She was only 56 and at the moment I’m very angry at the universe that she died so young.
I’m going to miss her.

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CHANNELING ELVIS: YORKSHIRE LASAGNE

Dear Amelia,
Grandpa is eating leftover Yorkshire Lasagne as I write this.
It smells heavenly but I can’t eat any because I’m having a colonoscopy on Wednesday and today I have to eat what’s called a “low-residue diet”.
So far I’ve had five cups of black tea and a jar of Heinz Smooth Summer Fruits Gel, plucked fresh from the baby food aisle at Woolies this morning.
According to the label on the jar it’s suitable for “ALL ages over 6 months”, so this will be good practice for when my teeth fall out.
For dinner tonight, I’ll have strips of skinless chicken breast poached in Campbell’s Chicken Consomme with some pasta thrown in for good measure.
Yum.
(And I mean that sincerely – Campbell’s consommés are tops.)
Tomorrow I’ll move on to the serious bit, referred to around here as Hello Sorbent.
No food to be consumed AT ALL (there are lots of capital letters on the instruction sheet) and from 4pm I’ll drink a glassful of ColonLYTELY™ every 15 minutes until all three litres are consumed or until I fall off the toilet and drown in my own vomit, whichever comes first.
ColonLYTELY™ cleans out your insides and tastes vile – like seawater with half a lemon squeezed in.
The person who invented it wanted to call it ColonFUCKINGAWFUL but wasn’t allowed.
Wednesday at 6.30am I will venture into the non-luxurious surrounds of Albany Regional Hospital and shortly thereafter have the old telescope-up-the-bum procedure.
Après colonoscopy (that’s French for “no longer shitting”), I will be given a sandwich by a nurse and it will be one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever tasted in my life.
I know this because I’ve been après colonoscopy twice before.
Moving on: Your Uncle Paul came to stay on the weekend and it was lovely.
Yorkshire Lasagne is his favourite meal, so I cooked it on Saturday night.
I only cook it on special occasions because it takes forever to make, but believe me, it’s worth it.
It’s called Yorkshire Lasagne because I don’t think they cook it like this in Italy.
Whatever. It’s delicious. And rich enough to bring Elvis back from the dead.

YORKSHIRE LASAGNE

Serves 6-8

1 x 375g packet of instant lasagne
lots of grated cheddar cheese (as in, when you think you’ve got enough, you haven’t really)
lots of grated parmesan cheese

For the bolognese sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
450g lean minced beef
1 big clove of garlic, crushed
1 x 140g tub/tin of tomato paste
1 cup red or white wine (I use leftover Yellow Glen, such is my level of chic-ness)
water to cover
2 tomatoes, chopped up
½ tsp dried oregano
salt and freshly ground pepper

For the white sauce
60g butter
3 tbsp plain flour
3 cups low-fat milk (to make up for the rest of it)

To make the bolognese, fry the onion in the olive oil in a big saucepan over low-ish heat until the onion’s soft but not brown.
Increase the heat and chuck in the mince and garlic and cook, stirring with a fork, until the mince is brown and no longer lumpy.
Stir in the tomato paste and white wine.
Pour in enough water to cover (you want a runny sauce) and then stir in the tomatoes and oregano.
Season with salt and lots of pepper and simmer, partly covered with the saucepan lid, over low heat for 1-1½  hours.
Let it cool.
While it’s cooling, make the white sauce by bringing the milk to just below the boil in a small saucepan.
Have a balloon whisk handy and melt the butter over low-ish heat in another saucepan.
Off the heat, stir the flour into the butter with a wooden spoon, then increase the heat slightly and let this mixture (called a roux) cook for a couple of minutes.
Pour in the hot milk all at once and whisk like buggery with the metal whisk.
Doing it this way, you never get lumps in your white sauce.
Bring to the boil and let it simmer until slightly thickened.
Turn off the heat and stir in a handful of the grated cheese.
Preheat the oven to 180C.
To assemble the lasagne, put a ladleful of bolognese sauce and half a ladle of water in the bottom of the lasagne dish and mix them together.
Put a single layer of instant lasagne sheets on top.
Cover the lasagne sheets with some bolognese sauce, top this with a layer of white sauce, then sprinkle grated cheeses over the top.
Continue layering in this way until all the sauce is used up, finishing with a layer of bolognese on top.
Sprinkle cheeses on top of the bolognese and bake in the oven for about 40 minutes, or until tender when pierced in the middle with a knife.
Let the lasagne sit on the bench for five minutes before serving.


GARLIC WITH GUNS

Dear Amelia,
Long story short: Nanna was once told by an Italian drug dealer that you should never fry your chopped garlic for longer than 30 seconds.
Just fry it until it’s fragrant, he said. No longer.
And because he had a gun in his bag, Nanna was inclined to believe him.
That was in Manjimup in 1974, when the local pub was like something out of The Wild Bunch and you never knew who you’d meet over a middy (but guess what – it was never William Holden).
For some reason  – possibly because I was terrified – I’ve never forgotten Mr I.D.D.’s garlic-frying rule and to this day I whip the frying pan off the heat the second the smell hits my nostrils.
Then I discovered a dish called Orecchiette with Broccoli, Anchovies and Chilli and realised that sometimes rules are made to be broken.
This dish is apparently a very old, traditional one and there are dozens of different recipes for it on the Internet.
Your Grandpa and I love it so much, I cook it every couple of weeks.
You need to use proper orecchiette, not the San Remo stuff.
Orecchiette means “little ears” in Italian and looks like this.

Proper orecchiette is very easy to get hold of.
Believe me: if you can buy it at Woolies in Albany you’ll be able to get it in Tashkent.
If you hate broccoli, you’ll still love this dish.
If you hate anchovies, you’ll still love this dish.
Trust me. I’m your Nanna.

ORECCHIETTE WITH BROCCOLI, ANCHOVIES AND CHILLI

Serves 3 (or 2 for dinner and enough left over for 2 small lunches – it reheats well the next day in the microwave)

300g orecchiette
1 lge head of broccoli
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
6-8 anchovy fillets, chopped roughly
a splash of olive oil
40g butter
2 big pinches of crushed, dried chilli
one-third of a cup of grated parmesan cheese

Put a big pot of salted water over high heat and bring to the boil.
Add the orecchiette and cook according to packet directions (the Pirro brand you see in the picture takes 18 minutes).
As soon as you’ve put the water on to boil, cut the broccoli into small-ish florets, reserving as much stalk as possible.
Put the florets in a saucepan of water, bring them to the boil, cook for 3 minutes, drain them, then run them under cold water to stop them cooking.
Put to one side.
Cut the broccoli stalks into chunks then put them in a food processor and process until finely chopped.
Heat the oil and half the butter in a big frypan over low heat and cook the chopped-up broccoli stalks, garlic, anchovies and dried chilli for 10 minutes, covered, stirring every now and then.
When the orecchiette is cooked, put a ladle of pasta water in the frypan, tip in the drained pasta, the broccoli florets, the remaining butter and half the parmesan cheese and stir until it’s all hot and combined.
Serve it with the remaining parmesan cheese sprinkled over the top.


CHANNELING ELVIS: BUMTASTIC

Dear Amelia,
This is an old and very easy recipe for shortbread-style biscuits that was written on the back of an envelope by one of the mothers at your Mum’s playgroup back in 1984.
It was then copied into an exercise book by me.
This exercise book has “Recipes” written on the front cover and is falling apart at the seams.
It’s covered in 30-year-old food stains, most of which are the colour of wee, and is unlikely to be treasured by you, or anyone else for that matter, in years to come.
When you come across it in the back of Nanna’s cupboard after Nanna has gone to the big kitchen in the sky, you’ll probably want to remove it with a pair of kitchen tongs and drop it in the bin.
An Etsy vintage moment it isn’t.
But the biscuits are delicious.
In the pantry I have a big jar filled with different cookie cutters and can attest that this past Christmas you loved the biscuits shaped like angels, stars and snowmen.
I’m sure that very soon you’ll feel the same way about bums.
You’ll see in the photo that sometimes Nanna’s bums are a bit lumpy.
But that’s just art imitating life, so don’t worry if it happens to you too.
Using the writing icing is the hardest part of this recipe.
Nanna never got past a C+ in Art, and when you look at the photo you can see why.
I remember Mr Rayment, bastard that he was, telling me that my sunset looked like a haemorrhage.
I was only 10 and didn’t even know what a haemorrhage was.
I should imagine that Mr Rayment is dead by now.
We can only hope.

BUM BISCUITS

Makes 20-30 depending on the size of your cookie cutter

50g caster sugar
100g butter
150g plain flour
heart-shaped cookie cutter
box of Writing Icing (from supermarkets)

Preheat the oven to 170C and line a baking sheet with baking paper.
Cream together the butter and sugar with a hand mixer. You can use a wooden spoon but it takes forever.
When it’s light and creamy, gradually mix in the flour, then knead it into a smooth ball with your hands.
Roll the dough out thinly on a benchtop dusted with flour.
Cut out heart shapes then slice off the pointy ends so they look like bums.
Keep gathering up the leftover dough and rolling it out so you can get as many biscuits as possible.
Put them on the baking tray and bake for about 10 minutes, or until they are a pale golden colour.
Once they’re cool, draw on some undies with the writing icing.
If you’re making ordinary, un-iced biscuits, sprinkle them with sugar as soon as they come out of the oven.


TOOL TIME

 

Dear Amelia,
This has got nothing to do with food.
I just thought I should show you what a badly worded government press release looks like in case they’re extinct when you grow up.
What can I say except that I hope you’re never asked to embed a tool in your workplace?
Much love,
Nanna
PS: “Badly worded” and “government press release” are actually synonymous. I’ll explain it to you when you’re seven.