CHALK, DUSTBUSTING AND PRAWN FETTUCCINE

Sorry about the photo quality – Annie Leibovitz I ain’t

Dear Amelia,
I’ve been really busy with work lately, so it was lovely to see you last week and take some time out, even if my visit was only a fleeting one.
It never ceases to amaze me how many cuddles you can fit into 12 hours if you really put your mind to it.
Also, have you noticed this yin and yang thing we’ve got going?
Eg: I love drawing on your blackboard and you love rubbing it out. It’s a perfect balance.
The bit you actually like best is cleaning the blackboard duster by bashing it against the palm of your hand.
The dusting gene skipped a generation on my side of the family so it’s good to see it’s re-established itself in you – you’ll be able to save Nanna from suffocating under a pile of her own filth.
Here are a couple of other dusting options we could investigate further down the track if you’re interested.
I found them on this website when your Grandpa was watching Band of Brothers for the 400th time and I was forced to either kill myself or surf the Internet aimlessly.
The first option depends on your Mum and Dad providing you with a little brother or sister but in the meantime we can always borrow your cousin Ava.


I made some prawn pasta for dinner last night, which your Grandpa loved but I thought needed a bit more oomph.
It came about because I had some nice fat prawns in the freezer and then when I went down to Reeves to get some veggies they had really nice-looking baby spinach and punnets of cherry tomatoes on special for $1.99.
They also had this Australian-made pasta.
If you read the guff on the packet you’ll see that Australia is one of the few countries in the world – possibly the only one – that can grow ready-packaged fettuccine in its fields.
Who would’ve thought?


I must say it was very relaxing and celebrity-cheffy wandering around Reeves, squeezing produce and putting fresh, seasonal vegetables into my basket.
If I was a bloke and wasn’t as old as Methuselah, I think I could easily have been mistaken for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

PRAWN FETTUCCINE WITH SPINACH AND CHERRY TOMATOES

Serves 2

150g fettuccine or spaghetti
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 big pinches crushed, dried chillies
1 punnet cherry tomatoes
1 glass white wine
1 big pinch dried basil
salt and pepper
12 raw king prawns, shelled
3 handfuls of baby spinach
lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Put a big pan of water on the stove to boil and cook the fettuccine according to packet directions.
All up this should take 15-20 minutes.
While that’s happening, heat the oil in a big non-stick frying pan over medium heat and cook the garlic and chilli for 30 seconds.
Tip in the tomatoes, white wine and dried basil and stir until simmering, squashing the tomatoes down with the back of a wooden spoon.
Season to taste with salt and pepper and let it simmer gently for 5 minutes or so.
Add the prawns and when they start to turn pink, chuck in the spinach.
Cook, stirring, for a few more minutes until the spinach wilts and the prawns are cooked.
Drain the cooked fettuccine and tip it into the frying pan, tossing it around to coat with the sauce.
Serve with a bowl of Parmesan cheese to sprinkle over the top (OK, here’s a confession that should send me straight to culinary Hell – I actually prefer the taste of Grana Padano and that’s what I always use).
Next time I make this I think I’ll wilt the spinach in a separate pan and drain off any liquid before adding it to the sauce.
Or maybe I’ll forget about the spinach and use some fresh basil instead.

Edit: I made this again and added two finely chopped anchovies with the tomatoes. I also left out the spinach and when the prawns were cooked (but before I added the cooked fettuccine), I stirred in half a bunch of chopped fresh basil. It was really delicious – much better than the spinach version.

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JUNE CLEAVER AND CARROT RISONI – WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE?

June with the Beaver and a rather fetching hair-do

Dear Amelia,
When your Grandpa and I were first married back in the deep, dark 70s, we were deeply darkly broke. As a result we were very much into what is now called “vintage” but back then was called “second hand” and “cheap” and, more often than not, “crap ”.
This is why we ended up with a hand-painted yellow fridge with a freezer the size of a shoebox and a pull-down chrome handle that nearly took your arm off if you weren’t of alert disposition.
You were supposed to defrost this freezer box once a week by turning the power off at the mains and letting the melted ice drip into a tray.
But seeing as I’d failed to graduate from the June Cleaver School of Housewifery, I defrosted it every six months using bowls of boiling water and a really big knife – because by that stage the freezer box was so frosted up it was the size of a small igloo.
The trick was to hack off the ice in lumps without piercing the pipes, because the coolant was in the pipes and the coolant contained chlorofluorocarbons and if the chlorofluorocarbons had escaped they would have taken out the entire upper atmosphere, not to mention Nanna.
Reading this you probably think that life was very exciting back in the 70s.
Well, you’re right.
Remind me to tell you one day about ironing your hair.
I hadn’t thought about that yellow fridge in decades but then the other night I made Carrot Risoni and it was the exact same colour.
It also looked suspiciously like that great 70s staple, Rice-a-Riso, the favourite dinner-in-a-box of discerning newlyweds who had $2.70 left in the bank and four days to go until pay day.
It got your Grandpa and me thinking about all sorts of 70s things – things that are probably best consigned to the mists of time but I’m going to tell you anyway.
Things like curried sausages, cassata and Camp Pie.
Polony and Ricecream.
Tab, Kola Beer and Passiona.
Sugar Smacks, Frosties and Monbulk jam in a big tin.
Smoked oysters on top of Arnotts Counter Biscuits.
Ben Ean moselle.
Choo Choo Bars.
Luckily, the Carrot Risoni (or orzo as it’s called outside of Australia) doesn’t taste anything like Rice-a-Riso.
It is seriously delicious – very light, very comforting – and my new favourite dish.
Risoni/orzo is rice-shaped pasta and it’s great for someone like me, who’s yet to meet a risotto she actually likes.
This recipe is from Monte Mathews’ food blog, Chewing the Fat, which you’ll find here.

CARROT RISONI

Serves 4

170g peeled carrots
30g butter
1 cup risoni (rice-shaped pasta; about 225g)
1½ cups water
1¼ cups low-salt chicken stock
1 large garlic clove, minced
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp chopped spring onions
1 tsp minced fresh rosemary

Place carrots in a food processor and pulse until they’re finely chopped.
Melt butter in a heavy medium-sized saucepan over medium heat.
Add risoni and carrots and sauté until risoni is golden, about 5 minutes.
Add the water, stock and garlic and cook, uncovered, over medium heat until all the liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes.
Stir in Parmesan cheese, spring onions, and rosemary.
Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve sprinkled with a little extra minced rosemary if you like.
By the way, I secretly love June Cleaver (aka Barbara Billingsley).
God knows why she didn’t achieve icon status like Audrey Hepburn – she was certainly a better actor (OK, Paddington Bear was a better actor than Audrey Hepburn, but you get my drift).
More importantly, June knew the value of a nice shirt-waist dress, a good home-cooked meal and a fridge the size of the Parthenon.
Here are some pictures in her memory.


IN THE MOOD FOR ASPARAGUS

Donkeys eating what looks like a lump of wood but could possibly be a human leg.

Dear Amelia,
Here’s something interesting: a cockroach can live for nine days without its head before it starves to death.
I know this because I cleaned out my computer the other day and among all the folders with titles like “Invoices” and “CV” and “Superannuation”, I found a Word document titled “Weird Shit”.
There was a time, back when I was writing two newspaper columns and doing five breakfast-radio shows a week, that I used to collect weird shit, because basically with that sort of workload you needed all the help you could get.
Here’s some of the other stuff I’d written down:
Humans, on average, swallow eight spiders in their lifetime (this happens at night when they’re asleep).
A hundred people choke to death on ballpoint pens every year.
Donkeys kill more people annually than plane crashes.
If you’re over 50 you’re likely to have spent five years of your life standing in queues.
I spent what felt like five years in the checkout queue at Woolies yesterday but that was my own fault because I went there at half past two in the afternoon when all the mums were shopping for food before they picked their kids up from school.
Back when your Mum and Uncle Paul were little kids and broccoli was the official vegetable of Hell, Nanna often did the supermarket run at half past two in the afternoon and it brought back many happy memories watching these women fill their trolleys with vegetables that wouldn’t get eaten.
One vegetable that always gets eaten in our house these days is asparagus and seeing as it was on special I bought some.
This is how I cooked it and very nice it was too.
The recipe is from a really good book called In The Mood For Entertaining by English cook, Jo Pratt.


You’re supposed to blanch the asparagus in boiling water for a couple of minutes before you roast it but I couldn’t be bothered.
If you do boil it, make sure you pat it dry with kitchen paper before you put it in the oven.

ASPARAGUS WITH CRISPY PARMESAN AND ANCHOVY CRUMBS

Serves 2

2 anchovies, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
25g white breadcrumbs
20g butter, melted
black pepper
1 bunch of asparagus
1 tsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 200C.
Mix together the anchovies, garlic, parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, butter and a couple of grinds of black pepper.
Spread the crumbs in a small roasting pan and bake for 5 minutes or until the crumbs are just starting to crisp up.
Remove the crumbs from the roasting pan to a plate.
Put the asparagus spears in the roasting pan, pour over 1 tsp olive oil and roll the spears around in it to coat.
Sprinkle the crumbs over the top and roast for about another 10 minutes until the crumbs are golden.
This is really nice served with a piece of steak.


MAN-CATCHING CURRY

Seema Bhadoria putting her abs to good use

Dear Amelia,
Only one week to go until I can get back to pulling trucks up Mt Clarence using my teeth and a length of rope.
Thank God.
This post-abdominal-surgery “be careful or you’ll get a hernia” business is pretty boring and leads to the sort of navel gazing Nanna hates.
I’ve never been what you’d call “in tune” with my body and if you ask me, I’m too old to start now.
But these past few weeks I’ve been acutely aware of something I try not to pay much mind to, namely the ageing process and how much it sucks.
For the first couple of weeks after the operation I couldn’t wear a bra because the bottom of it pressed on one of the incisions.
We went out to dinner with some friends during this time and the “girls” had to remain unfettered.
They spent most of the evening resting on top of the table and I can’t begin to tell you how depressing it was.
There was a time when I could’ve taken your eye out with them.
Now, I’d be lucky if they grazed your kneecaps.
Plus, sometimes I snore.
I said to your Grandpa this morning, “What if all this ageing stuff makes you fall out of love?”
And he said, “Nah. Someone else would snap you up anyway. All you’d have to do is make that curry.”
So here’s the recipe for Nanna’s Man-Catching Curry, which is not its real name but is what it will probably be called round here from now on.
Should Johnny Depp send you a postcard from Albany in the near future, you’ll know it works.
The recipe is from the book 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer and is called Moghalai-style Chicken with Spinach, Almonds and Raisins.
I found it on a blog called Amy’s Recipe Box, which you’ll find here and which is an absolute treasure trove (it has almost four year’s worth of recipes).
I changed the curry around a bit – used chicken thighs instead of breasts because we prefer them, and used sultanas instead of golden raisins because that’s what I had in the pantry.
I also used baby spinach leaves and Kiran’s garam masala that I made on the weekend, but pre-packaged would be fine.
You’ll find the original curry recipe here but trust me, this one is sensational.
I halved the quantities and there was still enough left over for lunch next day.

MOGHALAI-STYLE CHICKEN WITH SPINACH, ALMONDS AND SULTANAS

Serves 6

¼ cup (60ml) vegetable oil
1 lge brown onion, finely chopped
½ cup sultanas
½ cup slivered almonds
900g boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2.5cm pieces
1 tbsp garam masala
2 tsp sea salt flakes
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp ground turmeric
225g spinach leaves, washed and finely chopped

Heat oil over medium heat in a large frying pan or wok that has a lid.
Add onion, sultanas and almonds and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion softens and turns dark brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.


Stir in the chicken and cook until it sears and turns light brown, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the garam masala, salt, cayenne pepper and turmeric and cook for 1 minute, stirring.
Stir in spinach and ½ cup water.
Bring to the boil then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally until the chicken is cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.

Homemade garam masala


HERBS, SPICES AND SPINNING TOPS

Dear Amelia,
It’s International Top Spinning Day on Wednesday.
I mention this because I have a spinning top I bought at a shop called Chapels on Whatley last time we were up in Perth.
The string that spins my spinning top was pre-wound but seeing as you were kind enough to unwind it last time you visited (you were like greased lightning – Nanna didn’t stand a chance), I had to go on YouTube to find out how to fix it up.
Luckily, you can Google all sorts of things these days and it’s amazing what you find.
In this case it was a helpful American man with tattooed legs.


What this man doesn’t know about spinning tops you could engrave on a gnat’s toenail, which is probably why 40,220 people have watched his spinning-top tutorial.
Not that it did me much good. I got the hang of the string-winding procedure but was hopeless with the actual throwing and spinning bit.
Thank God I know how to change a light bulb because at least I was able to take part in Change A Light Day, which was today, as was You Matter To Me Day.
Later this month we can look forward to World Porridge Day, Be Bald and Be Free Day, and Chucky The Notorious Killer Doll Day.
All up, there are more than 150 specially named “Days” during October, most of them in the US.
I asked your Grandpa what he would choose if he could name his own Day and he said International Who Gives A Shit Day.
He’s out of sorts because he forgot that it was Global James Bond Day on Friday.
But seeing as he thought that on Global James Bond Day you were allowed to shoot people rather than just unfriend them on Facebook, it’s probably a good thing his memory isn’t what it used to be.
It’s obvious that every special-interest group and its dog is hopping on this “Day” bandwagon, so seeing as I’m a special-interest group (I’m especially interested in me) I’ve decided that from now on, today will be called International Make Your Own Herb and Spice Mix Day.
When it came to choosing a name for today it was either that or International Do the Washing, Change the Sheets and Sweep the Floor Day, because basically they were the only other things I did.
I was inspired to make my own herb and spice mixes by these two people.
1. Mignon, my friend and your Great Aunty, who (obviously!) I know.
2. Kiran from Kiran’s Cooking Club, who I don’t know but who has a beautiful-looking blog that you’ll find here.
Mignon is an excellent cook and the only person I know who can say, “I’m passionate about food,” without sounding like a wanker.
She’s started an online store selling natural (as in no nasty added bits) freeze-dried and powdered fruits and other really good things.
It’s called Tastebom and you’ll find it at www.tastebom.com.
Here’s a picture of some of the Tastebom products Mignon gave me to experiment with when she came down to Albany from Perth last week.


I started with the Tasmanian dried lavender you see to the right of the photo and made my own Herbes de Provence mix, Herbes de Provence being unavailable down here in the town that time forgot.
Then I used the Herbes de Provence to make Nigella’s St Tropez Chicken.
Spurred on by herby success and the fact that Kiran is Indian and has his own food company, I then made garam masala using this recipe on his blog.
I want to make a Chicken and Spinach Curry, and authentic garam masala is an essential ingredient.
I’ll post the curry recipe another day but in the meantime here’s a picture of the garam masala mix and the ingredients that go into its making.

The smell in the kitchen when you make this is fabulous

Unsurprisingly, after all the mixing, cooking and futile top-spinning, Nanna was a bit buggered.
But as luck would have it, tomorrow has just been declared If You’re Called Michele You’re Allowed To Do Nothing Day.

HERBES DE PROVENCE

Makes 3½ tbsps (using 20ml tbsps)

If you look on the Internet you’ll find a million recipes for this. Ideally it should include dried savory but I couldn’t find any so I substituted dried sage and dried basil.

1 tbsp dried thyme
1 tbsp dried savory (or 2 tsp dried sage and 2 tsp dried basil)
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried lavender
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp fennel seeds

Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

NIGELLA LAWSON’S ST TROPEZ CHICKEN

This is a seriously delicious dish.
The original recipe calls for a large chicken jointed into 10 pieces but there’s no way you can cook a chicken breast for almost 2½ hours without it being as dry as sticks. Believe me, I’ve tried.
In order to succeed, you’d need breasts that were resistant to nuclear attack and carved from Dolly Parton’s bigger-breasted sister.

Serves 6

10 chicken pieces (bone in, skin on, preferably thighs, drumsticks and wings)
juice of 1 lemon
60ml olive oil
60ml honey
60ml white wine
2 cloves garlic, bruised
1 tbsp Herbes de Provence (but mixed herbs would do)

Put the chicken pieces into a big shallow dish or large zip-lock plastic bag.
Put the lemon juice, oil, honey and wine into a bowl and whisk until the honey is dissolved.
Pour the lemon mixture over the chicken and mix in the garlic and herbs.
Marinate in the fridge, covered, for up to two days (the longer the better).
Preheat the oven to 170C.
Pour the chicken and marinade into a roasting dish, making sure the chicken pieces are skin-side up.
Cover with foil and cook for 1½ to 2 hours (Nigella says 2 but I reckon this is too long).
Remove the foil, turn the heat up to 220C and cook for another 15 minutes or until the chicken is bronzed and St Tropez-ish.
Remove the chicken to a warm plate, skim the excess fat from the roasting pan, pour in half a cup of wine or water and deglaze the pan juices over a medium heat.
Pour this sauce over the chicken to serve.


OF ASPARAGUS AND TARTAN TREWS

Dear Amelia,
Your Mum tells me you’re terrified of tulle.
She discovered this when she and your Aunty Kaitlyn had to sit on your chest to get you into this pink tulle skirt.
It comes as no surprise to Nanna, this tulle phobia. I suspect it’s genetic.
When I was a little girl in the 1950s I was terrified of net petticoats, which were designed to make your skirts stick out and were the absolute pits to wear.


Here’s a picture of Nanna wearing a net petticoat under her dress when she was four years old.
It was taken in Yorkshire in 1957 when I was a flower girl at the wedding of my Aunty Cathy and Uncle John.
It’s clear from the look on my face that I want to punch someone in the throat.


Later on at the wedding reception, I got into trouble for chewing the thumb out of one of my white voile gloves.
White voile gloves on a four-year-old.
What were they thinking of for God’s sake?
Unfortunately, abusing children via the vagaries of fashion is a centuries-old tradition that continues to this day. Check out Kingston Rossdale if you don’t believe me.

Gwen Stefani’s son, Kingston Rossdale.

Unlike Kingston, Nanna was an anxious child and lived in absolute fear of being forced to wear a tartan skirt with a big safety pin in the front.


Or worse: tartan trews.

I couldn’t find any pictures of little girls from the 1950s wearing tartan trews, presumably because they all died of embarrassment before the age of 10 (except for this lady, who I suspect is either blind or doesn’t own a full-length mirror).

You are actually a very lucky girl because if, like Nanna, you had been a baby in the 1950s you would’ve looked like this.


Then later on, if your Mum was a prolific knitter like my Mum was, you would have had enough hand-knitted cardigans to cover the Lake District when they were laid end to end.


Your Mum would’ve looked like this.


Your Dad would’ve looked like this.


And Nanna would’ve looked like this.


There’s no picture of what your Grandpa would’ve looked like because, basically, he would’ve taken one look at Nanna and run away.
I found these old knitting patterns last week when I was doing some spring cleaning.
Then, because Nanna thrives on danger, she rewarded her de-cluttered, post-op self by hopping into the car a week earlier than she was supposed to and driving to the shops.
The upshot was a big bundle of asparagus, which your Grandpa and I ate two nights in a row because it was so delicious and joys-of-spring-like.
Here is one of the ways I used it.
The recipe is years old – I got it from the chef at the Red Herring restaurant in Fremantle when I was editor of The West Australian’s weekly food lift-out.
It’s great as a meal on its own if you want something light, or served with steak, schnitzel or fish if you want something more filling.
The Roma tomatoes in Woolies were crap (and $9.98 a kilo for crying out loud) so I used big vine-ripened tomatoes and quartered them.
They don’t look as pretty as Romas but that’s the price you pay for eating things out of season.

BABY SPINACH AND PANCETTA SALAD

Serves 4-6

12 slices pancetta
6 Roma tomatoes, halved
olive oil
cracked black pepper
200g baby spinach leaves
200g fresh asparagus
½ cup parmesan cheese shavings
Dressing
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
¼ cup basil leaves, shredded
2 tsp brown sugar

Preheat oven to 180C.
Place the pancetta and tomatoes, cut side up, on a baking dish and sprinkle with olive oil and pepper.
Bake for 25 minutes or until the pancetta is crisp and the tomatoes are soft but still hold their shape.
Put the asparagus into a saucepan of boiling water and cook for 30 seconds. Allow them to cool.
Arrange the spinach leaves and asparagus on serving plates or a large platter.
Top with pancetta, tomatoes and parmesan cheese.
To make the dressing, combine all ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake until sugar is dissolved.
Pour over the salad.
Note: I like to crumble the pancetta over the salad because it’s so crispy it breaks up anyway.
I also leave the basil leaves whole and mix them with the spinach leaves rather than including them in the dressing.