SAY CHEESE

Dear Amelia,
Here at party central we’ve been looking at interesting things to do with cauliflowers.
They are very cheap at the moment, it being almost winter, and Nanna feels compelled to make the most of them.
It’s strange this compulsion – new and a bit unsettling.
When Nanna was younger she really couldn’t give a rat’s what was in season, or even what was on special.
But then round about the time she bowed out of full-time work, she started going home with things she didn’t need.
Things like seven kilos of gravy beef, or ten bottles of Omo Sensitive, or 36 rolls of Sorbent.
Or four really big cauliflowers.
Laugh if you like, but since 2007 Nanna’s had very real problems walking past “Special Offer” signs.
Obviously this has got something to do with age.
You get older, you turn into your mother, you suddenly see a strange sort of sense in buying 27 jars of marmalade.
But when it comes to blame, we also have to look at the Lifestyle channel, to which Nanna is addicted – especially the food shows.
And seeing as Nanna is pushing 60, she tends to sit in front of them in a state of high anxiety, hyperventilating and thinking, “So many recipes, so little time.”
If you’re not into food shows – as Grandpa isn’t – watching lots of them is about as much fun as grating your face off.
But he puts up with them because he’s made Nanna sit through so many war programmes on the History Channel, she can now speak German.
That’s the way it is when you’ve been together for a long time.
One of you understands what Himmler is saying to Hitler in the snow at Berchtesgaden and the other knows his wife will never cut it in the food world if she doesn’t slice her limes vertically.
As for the cauliflowers, Nanna decided to start slowly and build up.
Past attempts at Mustard Pickles have been very successful.


But after the making of the Lilly Pilly Jam and the ensuing 12-hour recovery period, preserving wasn’t really the preferred option.
Nanna was knackered after the lilly pilly business and needs to keep her strength up for the Rose Hip Jelly she intends to make when her rose bushes bear fruit.
In the meantime, good old Cauliflower Cheese is an excellent option.
Make it with onions and mustard and you won’t know yourself. It’s really delicious.

CAULIFLOWER CHEESE

Serves 4 as a side dish

1 medium cauliflower (or half a big one)
1 small brown onion (or half a bigger one), chopped finely
30g butter
2 level tbsp plain flour
1½ – 2 cups milk
1 tsp Dijon mustard
grated cheddar cheese (your choice how much or how little)

Preheat oven to 200C.
Cut the cauliflower into small florets and cook in boiling salted water for about 5 minutes or until just tender.
Drain and tip into a shallow ovenproof dish.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a low-ish heat and cook the onion until it’s soft, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t brown.
Take the saucepan off the heat and stir in the flour.
Put it back on the heat and cook the flour/butter mixture for a couple of minutes, stirring.
Turn up the heat a little and tip in 1½ cups of milk, stirring like a mad thing (you can use a wooden spoon or a whisk).
Your sauce won’t go lumpy. For some reason, when you cook onion in the butter before you add the milk, you always end up with an un-lumpy sauce.
Cook the white sauce over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until it bubbles and thickens.
If it’s too thick, add more milk and cook for another minute or so (you don’t want it really runny but neither do you want it so thick you can suspend the pan over your head a la uncooked pavlova meringue).
When the sauce is thick but pourable, take it off the heat and stir in the mustard and a small handful of grated cheese.
Pour or spoon the sauce over the cauliflower, making sure all the florets are covered, then sprinkle grated cheese over the top.
Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes until it’s bubbling and golden brown on top.

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JELLY BABY

Dear Amelia,
Here’s how you make Lilly Pilly Jelly.
First you go to the kitchen shop over the road from work and ask for a jelly bag and the woman says, “Pardon?”
It turns out neither of you has a clue what a jelly bag is, but luckily she sells cheesecloth, $6.95, sealed in plastic, just the ticket.
Cheesecloth is a thin, white fabric you can see through.
Lots of people wore tops made out of cheesecloth in the 1970s.
They came into fashion shortly after women followed Germaine Greer’s lead and burned their bras, so it was a very good way to get to know nipples other than your own.
This is why – despite the appalling music, hair and clothes – men of a certain age would go back to the 70s in a heartbeat if given half a chance.
After you’ve bought your cheesecloth, you go straight into your garden and pick three kilos of lilly pillies off your bushes.
Well, in an ideal world you go straight into your garden and pick three kilos of lilly pillies.
If you live in an un-ideal world, you pick your lilly pillies the weekend before and leave them sitting on the bench in two colanders for a week.


On jelly-making day, you find that half of your lilly pillies are putrid and have to be thrown out.
So you give the remaining lilly pillies a good wash and put them in a big pot with a whole lemon and then you add enough water to only just cover the fruit.
Then you put the pot on a high flame and boil the shit out of them until the lilly pillies are soft and lose most of their colour and the water turns purple.
Then you line a colander with the cheesecloth, which has been folded over and over into a square.
Then you put the colander over your tallest pasta pot and pour in all your purple liquid and fruit (except for the lemon, which you chuck in the bin).
Then you gather up the edges of the cheesecloth and tie it at the top with string.
Then you ask Grandpa to give you a hand suspending the cheesecloth bundle over your tallest pasta pot so that every last drop of the lilly pilly liquid can drip through.
Then you and Grandpa spend the next half hour discussing how you will achieve this feat and just when you’re on the point of punching each other in the throat, Grandpa says, “For God’s sake just let me do it” and 30 seconds later the cheesecloth bundle is suspended over the pot.


Your cheesecloth bundle is supposed to be left suspended overnight but after four hours you think, ‘Bugger this for a joke’ and pour all your purple liquid into a measuring jug.
You do this because the next step in this lengthy process involves measuring sugar.
As in, you need one cup of sugar for each cup of liquid.
You also need to sterilise your jars, which involves washing jars and lids in hot soapy water, rinsing them, drying them with a clean tea towel, putting them upright on an oven tray and sticking them in a 150C oven for half an hour.
While this is happening, you make your Lilly Pilly Jelly by putting the purple liquid and sugar into a big saucepan and boiling the shit out of it again for about 15 minutes.
If you put it into a small-ish saucepan it boils over and goes all over the cooktop and it takes you eight minutes to clean everything up.
You know this because you time yourself.
After 15 minutes of boiling, you put a teaspoon of jelly onto a cold plate and wait 30 seconds to see if it wrinkles on the top.
It doesn’t, so you chuck in some JamSetta and proceed according to packet directions.
Then you pour your hot jelly into your hot jars and put the lids on.
Then you step back and look at your one and a half lousy jars of Lilly Pilly Jelly, which – taking into account the time, effort, petrol, mileage, cheesecloth, JamSetta, Panadol, possible psychiatric intervention etc involved – have cost about 15 bucks each.
Luckily it tastes really nice.


LET’S SCARE GRANDPA

Dear Amelia,
This picture arrived in my inbox yesterday from my mate Martha Stewart.
The accompanying text said, “This Mother’s Day, pamper Mom with a handmade eye mask that includes a message from you.”
I think my message would be, “Wake up, Grandpa! Nanna wants to scare the crap out of you,” but maybe that’s just me.
Here are some more craft suggestions from Martha in case you can’t make it down to the deli today to buy Mom a bunch of flowers.
You will find all of them (and more) at marthastewart.com.
A balloon bouquet.


A bias-binding cake-stand skirt and chandelier (yes, honestly)


Tissue-paper floral pompoms that might fall on those tealights and burn the house down if you drink too much and go to bed without blowing out the candles.


Next is a picture of something your Mum made me at school for Mother’s Day when she was a little girl (it’s Nanna, your Mum and your Uncle Paul made out of honky nuts).


And here is a picture of something your Uncle Paul made me at school for Mother’s Day when he was a little boy.


There’ll be lots of phone calls and chatting today because no one who works full time wants to drive an 832km round trip to say Happy Mother’s Day in person (we’re a sentimental bunch).
After all the chatting I’ll be knackered but I’ll soldier on and make something out of the quinces that I picked off the trees I planted three years ago.
According to Australia’s Homemade Jam and Preserves Book, which is sitting next to me as I type, the ancient Greeks used quinces as an antidote for hangovers, poisons, upsets and fevers.
Who would’ve thought?
My quinces have been ripening in a box for weeks and are covered in scabby bits but they smell beautiful and should be fine for quince paste or jam or something.


If I’m feeling particularly Martha-ish, I might also pick the lillypilly berries that are growing on the hedge at the bottom of the garden and make some lillypilly jam.
As if.
But here’s a recipe anyway.
PS: There’s only one more week left of this latest full-time-work stint at the ABC, thank Christ.
No more getting out of bed at 5.30am.
Plus, Grandpa and I will be able to come and visit everyone. Yay!

LILLY PILLY JAM

500g lillypillies
2 granny smith apples
juice of 1 lemon
300ml water
600g caster sugar

Wash the lilly pillies well. Peel and core the apples, then chop into small pieces.
Put lilly pillies, apples, lemon juice, water and sugar in a small saucepan and slowly bring to the boil over a medium heat.
Reduce heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes.
Add more lemon juice if the mixture does not appear to set.
Use a potato masher to break the skin and seed from the fruit.
Strain mixture to remove skin and seeds.
Return pan to heat and, when reduced, use a stick blender to combine.
Set aside to cool, then refrigerate.
To store, pour into hot, sterilised jars and seal when cold.
This recipe is from Better Homes and Garden magazine.
If I make it and it doesn’t set, I’ll use some JamSetta, which you can buy at supermarkets.


GETTING CLUCKY

Dear Amelia,
I was lying in bed this morning thinking about Beyonce’s pelvic floor.
It’s Mother’s Day tomorrow and I was thinking that if I had never been a mother, I would never have ended up with you.
Then it occurred to me that if I had never been a mother I also wouldn’t wet myself when I sneeze.
Then I wondered if Beyonce is doing her pelvic floor exercises on a regular basis.
Let’s hope so or she’ll end up like me.
It’s Beyonce’s first Mother’s Day this year.
I wonder if she’ll get a cup of tea in bed.
If she does, it won’t be made by her daughter, Blue Ivy, because Blue Ivy is only four months old.
Plus, Blue Ivy is too busy getting her feet photographed.
She has the most photographed feet in the world.


I often wonder what celebrities do on days like Mother’s Day.
Take the Real Housewives of Orange County for example, whose real hair colour can only be discerned by looking at their pubes.

Do they put on a big communal barbecue down at the park so their kids don’t have to go through the trauma of trying to tell them apart?
Or do they think, “Mmmm, I wouldn’t say no to Nigella’s One-Pan Sage and Onion Chicken and Sausage for dinner.”
Which is what I would think, so here’s the recipe.

ONE-PAN SAGE-AND-ONION CHICKEN AND SAUSAGE

Serves 4-6

1 lemon
1 lge onion, cut into eighths
one-third of a cup of olive oil
2 tsp English mustard
1 tbsp dried sage
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
freshly ground black pepper
1 whole chicken cut into 8 pieces (save the backs for stock or chuck them out)
or
8 chicken pieces (must have bone in and skin on)
8 chipolata sausages

Cut the lemon in half, squeeze out the juice, then cut each half into quarters.
Put the lemon juice and the 8 pieces of rind into a big zip-lock freezer bag with the onion, olive oil, mustard, dried sage, Worcestershire sauce and a few grinds of black pepper.
Squelch everything around in the bag until it’s well mixed.
Add the chicken pieces and squelch it around a bit more.
Seal the bag and put it in the fridge to marinate (overnight is best but four hours is enough).
Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
Put the chicken in a big roasting pan, skin-side up, and tip the remaining contents of the bag evenly over the top.
Roast for 30 mins then add the chipolata sausages, tucking them around the chicken pieces.
Cook for another 45 minutes, turning the chipolatas over after 20 minutes so they brown evenly.
Serve on a big platter (chuck out the roasted lemon rinds if you want but they actually taste really nice).
This recipe is cooked at a lower temperature and has less oil and sage than the original recipe, which you’ll find at nigella.com or in her book, Feast.
I also use chicken pieces (thighs and/or drumsticks and/or wings) because I find the chicken breasts from the whole chook get too dry.
Thighs are the best, as Beyonce would no doubt agree.


TAIL END

Dear Amelia,
It occurred to me today that even though I’m 710 months old, I’m not really smart enough to work a smartphone.
I often press send instead of delete so that people get text messages like “How about we p” or “Yes! He cra”.
A lot of this is because I sometimes can’t find my glasses and basically I need to wear them for anything with letters smaller than the Hollywood sign.
(Here’s a picture of the Hollywood sign in case it’s extinct when you grow up.)


You, on the other hand, are a smartphone kinda gal.
At just 19 months old, you managed to send a text message to a Channel 7 news reporter without even looking at the phone.
The fact that he didn’t know what the hell you were on about is neither here nor there.
It’s definitely an achievement worth noting, even though it embarrassed your mother.
Luckily, Nanna is far better at drawing than you are, otherwise her self-esteem would be in the toilet.


Speaking of toilets, mine is very clean at the moment because we had friends over for dinner last night.
Your Grandpa tells people that I only have friends over for dinner so I’m forced to clean the house.
This is very true.
Housework has never been my forte.
My talents definitely lie elsewhere, as did those of the late Nancy Mitford, a member of a very eccentric, upper-crust English family and one of my favourite authors.
She once wrote: “I think housework is far more tiring and frightening than hunting is – no comparison – and yet after hunting we had eggs for tea and were made to rest for hours, but after housework people expect one to go on just as if nothing special had happened.”
Nancy was so useless at matters domestic, she didn’t even know how to thread a needle.
Her maid used to thread several of them before she went on holiday in case a button dropped off one of Nancy’s frocks and Nancy was forced to re-attach it herself.
All I can say is, I wish I had a maid.
But I haven’t and so yesterday I cleaned the house and cooked enough Oxtail Stew to feed Albany and its immediate surrounds.
Don’t be put off by the fact that you are eating the tail of a cow.
Oxtail Stew is one of the most delicious things on Earth and even if you never cook anything else in your life, you must cook this.
It doesn’t photograph well because it’s just sort of glossy and brown.
So, instead, I’ve posted a picture of the way the kitchen bench looked when I cooked it (yes, Nanna is a messy cook). Also, in case you’re wondering, those tomatoes are in a bowl of water because they’re frozen, home-grown ones.


One more thing: My local Woolies doesn’t call it oxtail any more – the label on the pack says beef tail.
As far as I can tell there’s no reason for this change other than to give me the shits.

OXTAIL STEW

Serves 4 (I made double this amount for 6 people)

1.5kg oxtail
1 heaped tbsp plain flour seasoned with salt and pepper
olive oil
2 carrots
2 sticks celery
1 lge onion
1 clove garlic, crushed
400g tin diced tomatoes or equivalent fresh (fresh are nicer)
1 cup (250ml) red wine
375ml carton Campbell’s reduced-salt chicken or beef stock
2 stalks fresh thyme or ½ tsp dried
1 bay leaf

Preheat oven to 170C.
Chop the onion. Cut the carrots and celery into medium dice. Heat some olive oil in a big frying pan and sauté the veges over medium heat until the onion is soft (about 5 minutes).
Add the garlic and sauté for a minute more.
Tip this mixture into a big casserole dish, preferably cast iron.
Trim the oxtail of excess fat and dust with seasoned flour.
Heat more olive oil in the frying pan and cook the oxtail over medium-high heat, removing them to the casserole dish once they’re browned all over.
Reduce the heat a little, pour the red wine and stock into the frying pan and then stir in the peeled, diced tomatoes.
Bring to a fast simmer then pour this mixture over the oxtail, stirring to combine.
Push the thyme stalks and bay leaf into the stew, then cover the casserole dish and cook in the oven for 3½ hours, or until the oxtail is very tender.
Remove the thyme stalks and bay leaf, skim off any excess fat and serve with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable.