For the past couple of days I’ve spent every spare moment punching heart shapes out of the pages of Mills and Boons romance novels.
The idea is that we’ll scatter the hearts along the centre of the tables at your Mum and Dad’s wedding reception, thereby providing guests who may not know each other with handy conversation starters (“Christ! Have you read this crap?”).
In other news, your dress arrived from over East last week, so I hot-footed it down to the post office to pick it up.
This is not your flower girl’s dress.
This is what the French call your “avant le marriage” frock (no they don’t, I just made that up).
Nanna saw it on buyinvite.com.au and had to have it, so the pre-ceremony preparations with your Mum and the bridesmaids seemed as good an excuse as any to buy it.
On the day, you’ll be able to do exciting things like sit on the floor and spill stuff down it while everyone’s getting ready for the wedding.
As you get older you’ll notice that one of Nanna’s many talents is buying stuff that is essentially non-essential.
On the kitchen bench, for example, is a pistachio-green Kitchenaid mixer, which cost $625 and was my reward for giving up smoking six years ago.
I’ve used it roughly seven times.
I also have six plate/bowl thingies that are the size of car tyres.
They were THE thing to buy a few years back if you really wanted to look the business on the foodie front.
Unfortunately they’re too big to stand upright in the dishwasher so I don’t use them.
I’ve already mentioned the pasta machine elsewhere, but if you open the drawer above the one where the car tyres are stored, you’ll find a tonne of other useless crap that includes a lemon zester, an avocado slicer, a meat thermometer, a turkey baster, a bean stringer/slicer, a pasta server that your Grandpa uses to scratch his back and a purple plastic spoon in the shape of an aeroplane (guess who that’s for?).
Next I want one of these double egg poachers.
Your Grandpa is always whingeing about the quality of his eggs, plus the testicle-ness of this design always makes me smile.
Having said all that about non-essential stuff, I actually used the car tyres last night to serve a curry.
This wasn’t just any curry. It was curry that involved major faffing around but was totally worth it because it was fabulous.
I copied the recipe out of a magazine at Great Southern Radiology while I was waiting to have some bits x-rayed a couple of months ago.
I can’t remember which magazine it was but suspect it may have been Delicious.
You’re supposed to use cottage cheese but I didn’t have any so I used natural yoghurt instead.
I also halved the number of chillies and increased the cooking time by more than an hour.
Seriously good stuff – your Grandpa’s still raving about it.
LAMB SHANK ROGAN JOSH WITH BASMATI RICE
4 lamb shanks
2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2tsp ground turmeric
3 fresh bay leaves
1 tbsp fennel seeds
6 green cardamom pods
½ tsp ground ginger
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 small red chillies
100g natural yoghurt
½ a can (about 200g) tinned chopped tomatoes
coriander to garnish
Pre-heat oven to 170C.
Put the lamb shanks in a heavy, lidded casserole dish that will take them in one layer.
Mix the ginger, garlic, turmeric and bay leaves in a small bowl and rub this mixture into the shanks.
Wash your hands immediately or you’ll look like you have a 60-a-day cigarette habit.
Put the shanks to one side while you make the sauce.
Whack the cardamom pods with the flat of a knife to split them and expose the seeds inside.
Put the cardamom seeds in a mortar and pestle with the fennel seeds and grind to a coarse powder.
Tip the ground ginger on top.
Heat 2 tbsp oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-low heat.
Cook the onion, stirring, for 6 minutes or until softened.
Stir in all the spices from the mortar and pestle and cook for another 5 minutes.
Set aside to cool slightly then put the onion/spice mixture in a food processor or blender with the chillies (including seeds), yoghurt, tomatoes and remaining 2 tbsp oil.
Puree to a coarse paste (it will be the colour of cat sick at this stage but worry not – it doesn’t stay that way).
Grab the casserole dish containing the lamb shanks and tip in the paste and enough water to cover the meat (about 350ml).
Stir it all around to combine.
Tear off a big sheet of baking paper, crumple it up and wet it under the tap.
Push the baking paper onto the meat/liquid to cover it closely, then cover this with a sheet of alfoil (this hold in moisture).
Cook in the oven for 2½ to three hours, stirring occasionally, until very tender.
Pour off all the oil/fat that’s gathered on top and serve sprinkled with chopped coriander.
Wash one cup of basmati rice under running water then put it in a saucepan.
Cover with two cups of boiling water (from the kettle).
Stir in about a tbsp of olive oil, four cloves and a pinch of salt.
Cover the saucepan with a lid, bring the water back to the boil and cook for 8 minutes over a medium heat.
Remove the pan from the heat but leave the lid on and let the rice sit for 10 minutes.
It will be fluffy and delicious.
Well, I’m back home in Albany and I must say it was wonderful to see you last week.
Unfortunately it looks like the Flu Fairy has decided that, for Nanna at least, this year is going to be a FIFO sort of flu season: one week on, one week off, one week on, one week off etc etc.
So much for alcohol being the cure for winter ills – I’m sitting here with another sore throat and a raging head cold.
But luckily I had a week of exuberant good health and during that week I managed to get all sorts of things done wedding-wise.
Yes, it’s only three weeks until your Mum and Dad walk down the aisle (or rather the carpet) at the winery.
And in keeping with Nanna’s motto (“What do we want? Procrastination! When do we want it? Tomorrow!”), I didn’t buy my mother-of-the-bride outfit until Friday.
On a scale of 1 (Utter Perfection) to 10 (Total Nightmare), this shopping trip to buy a frock was approximately a 15 (I’d Rather Have My Face Sawn Off).
Don’t get me wrong.
I’m extremely grateful I get to go on this mother-of-the-bride journey before I reach the age where my bum slips down the back of my legs and I’m able to draw a map of Tierra Del Fuego by joining up the liver spots on my hands with a biro.
But I swear if I’d had to look at one more piece of draped fabric or lace overlay or anything at all that was (God help us) asymmetrical, I would have ripped out my retinas with a coat hanger.
Luckily, your Mum came with me.
She’s like a machine when she shops and left no piece of Myer, David Jones and roughly 320 boutiques unturned in the five hours I was whingeing my way around Perth CBD.
She was a rock, your Mother. Her blood should be bottled.
If it hadn’t been for her and the unflagging sales assistant at David Jones I never would have discovered St Anthea of Crawford, who came to my rescue with this.
This is only the top half. I couldn’t find a pic of the skirt on St A’s website but, trust me, it’s fab (I tried photographing mine but because it’s black it just looked like a black hole).
Your Grandpa crossed himself when I told him how much it all cost but when I explained that it was actually only $8 more than 2 kilos of Szechuan peppercorns (you’ll find the price here), he felt a lot better.
Speaking of food, your Uncle Paul shouted us dinner at the Mille Café in Inglewood.
He’s a gem, your Uncle Paul. His blood should be bottled.
Grandpa and I had the slow-roasted Linley Valley pork belly with slow-braised onions and pork jus.
It was so much like the one I cook, I suspect they used the same recipe.
It’s based on a recipe from this book by British chef, Gary Rhodes, and it’s delicious.
You’ll find it on page 64.
What happens is that you cook the pork for ages and over that time, the crackling gets really puffy and crisp and the meat is pull-apart tender.
I didn’t take a picture the last time I cooked it, so instead here’s a picture of you flying down a really big slide, really, really fast.
You are fearless.
See Nanna standing at the bottom? She’s shitting herself.
SLOW-ROASTED PORK BELLY WITH ONIONS
1kg piece of pork belly
2 lge brown onions
1 tbsp vegetable oil
white wine (whatever you’ve got in the fridge – I use leftover Yellowglen because I’m such a classy chick)
about half a small carton of Campbell’s chicken stock
Preheat the oven to 160C.
If the butcher hasn’t scored the pork rind already, score it into diamonds with a really sharp knife (a Stanley knife is good – you’ll find one in your shed).
Peel the onions and slice them into four cross-wise. Put them in a roasting tin that will take them in a single layer (they need to fit in the tin snugly).
Put the piece of pork belly on top of the onions, rub the oil into the skin and grind a good amount of sea salt over the top.
Pour enough wine carefully around the edges to come just to the top of the onions. Don’t pour any over the pork rind or it will be buggered.
Cook for about three hours, topping up the wine halfway through if necessary so it doesn’t burn.
When it’s cooked, put the pork and onions on a plate and keep warm.
Skim all the fat off the juices in the roasting tin (there will be enough to kill an ox), stir the chicken stock into the juices and simmer, stirring, until it’s reduced and thickened.
Serve the sauce in a gravy boat with the sliced pork, the crispy crackling, the onions and lots of veggies.
PS: In case you’re wondering, here’s a picture of Tierra Del Fuego.
Further to my Mother’s Day letter, here’s the latest picture of Blue Ivy’s feet.
I worry she’ll be the only child in the history of the world to grow up afraid of the light.
It’s very cold and rainy in Albany today so we’ve got the fire going in the kitchen and some veggie soup cooking away on the stove top.
Last week when I wasn’t feeling well, we practically lived off Pea and Ham Soup because all it involves is chucking a big, fat ham hock into a big pot, tipping in a packet of yellow split peas, covering the lot with water and simmering it until the split peas dissolve.
Pea and Ham Soup always reminds me of the Pease Pudding my Nanna used to make when I was a kid.
She’d tip the split peas into a cloth, tie them up in a bundle and suspend them in the water that the ham hock was simmering in.
Once the split peas were mushy, she’d beat in an egg or two, put it all back in the cloth and simmer until it was so thick you could slice it with a knife.
Sounds disgusting, doesn’t it? And now I think about it, it was.
But I loved Pease Pudding when I was a kid and it was such a part of Yorkshire life it even had its own nursery rhyme.
We used to chant this rhyme when we played skippy out in the street.
It didn’t occur to me until I was older that it was basically an ode to salmonella.
Pease Pudding hot,
Pease Pudding cold,
Pease Pudding in the pot,
Nine days old.
Some like it hot,
Some like it cold,
Some like it in the pot,
Nine days old.
Your Grandpa’s birthday cake went off like a rocket last night.
It’s the lightest, stickiest, most delicious cake imaginable and because it contains the grated rind of half a lemon, you could say it’s practically a health food.
I was going to serve it with custard but by that point I’d knocked off the better part of a bottle of champagne, so I went with the easy ice cream option instead.
We’re off to another birthday dinner tonight, so when I’ve finished writing this I’m heading out into the driving rain to buy a card.
He’s a Freo supporter, the birthday person.
Hopefully I’ll be able to find a card that’s suitably antagonistic.
GOLDEN SYRUP CAKE (taken from Cakes: River Cottage Handbook by Pam Corbin)
Makes one 22cm x 10cm loaf
200g golden syrup
100g butter, cut into cubes
150g self-raising flour
½ tsp bicarb soda
¼ tsp salt
50g fresh white breadcrumbs
grated rind of ½ a lemon
1 lge egg
150g plain yoghurt
1 heaped tbsp golden syrup, extra
1 tbsp boiling water
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Grease a 22cm by 10cm loaf tin with butter and line with baking paper.
Melt the 200g golden syrup and butter in a saucepan over low heat, stirring to combine.
Set the pan aside to cool a little.
Seive the flour, bicarb soda and salt into a mixing bowl.
Add the breadcrumbs and lemon rind and mix well to combine.
Mix the egg and yoghurt in a separate bowl.
Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour in the egg and yoghurt, and the golden syrup/melted butter.
Mix with a wooden spoon or electric mixer until smooth and glossy.
Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 40 minutes, or until it’s cooked (a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake should come out clean).
Put the cooked cake on the benchtop and poke lots of holes in it with a skewer (a satay stick or piece of dried spaghetti works just as well as a skewer).
Mix the extra tablespoon of golden syrup with the tablespoon of boiling water and pour this mixture evenly over the cake.
Let the cake cool in the tin then turn it out on to a plate.
Here’s what you said to me on the phone yesterday morning.
“Hi Nanna! I have two! Nigh-nighs! Up! I poos! Bye!”
I love the way you exclaim rather than just speak.
I also love the way the magical grandchild/grandparent bond is strengthened by a mutual interest in bowel movements.
Before you know it we’ll be talking about the weather.
It’s your Grandpa’s birthday today, and also the birthday of Ella the Wonder Dog.
Here are pictures taken last year of Grandpa and Ella lying on our old kitchen floor with its 1965 lino (we’ve got lovely shiny floorboards now).
Sometimes I worry that Grandpa and Ella might be the same age emotionally.
As I write this, he is hunched over his Apple Mac, doing work for a newspaper in Tokyo (pretty amazing when you consider he’s just up the passageway, here in little old Albany).
The birthday girl is lying next to my chair, farting incessantly.
Ella is 13 years old, which is about 80 in golden retriever years, and she has to take a tablet every day for her arthritis.
At night, she sleeps on the floor on my side of the bed, farting incessantly.
Sometimes I forget she’s there and stand on her head when I get up.
I feel terrible but she doesn’t seem to mind.
I’m making a River Cottage Golden Syrup Cake for Grandpa’s birthday.
It’s unbelievably delicious and one of his favourites.
I’ll stick these sparklers in the top.
The thought was so depressing I said, “Shit, how depressing,” out loud in the party favours aisle at Woolies and got a concerned look from the woman standing next to me.
We were supposed to be together this weekend, you and I, but your Mum got the flu and so did I, even though I had my very first flu injection this year.
Granted, my flu has only lasted a few days (I had it for SIX weeks last year) but it’s meant that I haven’t really felt like cooking.
Last night I drank lots of alcohol and didn’t eat any vegetables and I feel almost cured this morning.
Who knows? Maybe this is the way forward with flu treatments. Maybe I should patent it.
Your Grandpa and I watched the Blues get beaten by Geelong last night.
In the end your Grandpa was shouting at the TV so I got him to take a picture of his dinner to take his mind off Carlton’s final-quarter crapness.
These chicken wings are great for eating in front of the TV and seeing as they stick to your teeth they don’t spray everywhere when you’re screaming at your team.
They’re called Coby’s Spicy Wings and I found the recipe at this blog here. The only thing I’ve changed is the oven temperature.
They are the best chicken wings I’ve tasted, anywhere, ever.
COBY’S SPICY WINGS
Makes about 32 pieces
2kg free-range chicken wings (about 16 big wings)
1/3 cup hoisin sauce
2 tbsp peanut oil
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp grated ginger
2 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
Cut the tips from the wings and chuck them in the bin.
Cut the wings in half at the joint and put them in a big zip-lock plastic bag or a bowl.
Whisk together the remaining ingredients and pour this marinade over the wings, making sure all are well coated.
Marinate the wings in the fridge for one hour or up to 24.
Preheat oven to 200C.
Line a big baking tray with foil and then with baking paper.
Put the wings in the tray in a single layer and cook for about 25 mins, then turn them over and cook for another 20-25 mins or until brown and sticky.
This recipe works just as well when you halve the quantities.
In case you’re wondering, this isn’t a picture of me.
But if you look closely at the lady’s sleeve, you’ll spot my name.
This is because I’m writing a column for Sheila magazine, which comes out every two months and (blatant plug) is available at newsagents and Woolworths supermarkets.
Sheila magazine is not only beautiful to look at but also has recipes for pies.
But more of that later.
Seeing as you’re only 20 months old, you won’t be aware that the world’s most famous Nanna is celebrating her Diamond Jubilee this weekend.
It’s 60 years since Queen Elizabeth’s Dad died and she had to step in and take over running the country.
Well, not running the country exactly. The British government does that because the Queen heads up a constitutional monarchy, not an absolute one.
She does all sorts of other things but she doesn’t actually have much power.
In order to have real power she would have had to be a Queen in the olden days.
For example, if I had been an olden-days Queen on Friday night when I was watching Richmond beat St Kilda, I wouldn’t have had to sit there screaming, “Christ Almighty, make him stop,” when St Kilda coach Scott Watters castrated the English language at half time.
At the precise moment he said, “It’s all about maximising our opportunities and moving forward,” I would’ve been able to turn to my husband – your Grandpa, King Leith – and say, “Have him taken away and beaten to death with a dictionary.”
I suspect there are days Queen Elizabeth would dearly love to kill people – how she avoided it with Sarah Ferguson is anybody’s guess – but unfortunately for ma’am, the monarchy isn’t what it used to be.
This picture shows what Queen Elizabeth looked like when she was little like you.
I’ve always thought she looks best in yellow, but according to Vogue magazine she favours blue.
Vogue looked at all the outfits she’d worn over a year and compiled a frock chart, which was reprinted in the Daily Mail, which is where I found it.
Being a bit of a Liz lover and an admirer of anyone who can put up with 12 Prime Ministers in one lifetime, I’m going to cook a very English dinner tonight and toast Her Maj’s remarkably long reign.
We’re starting with Potted Smoked Trout, followed by Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding, followed by Bread and Butter Pudding.
Then we’ll sit down and bounce ping pong balls off each other’s stomachs while we watch Her Maj and Co sail down the Thames on ABC1.
On the subject of great English dishes, there’s a very good recipe for Beef Wellington in the latest edition of Sheila magazine, which (blatant plug) is available at newsagents and Woolworths supermarkets.
It’s been a beautiful day in Albany today so I’ll finish up with the view from our deck.
Those funnels behind Mt Adelaide belong to a ship waiting to get into port.