GOOD KING WENCESLAS GOES CHRISTMAS SHOPPING

Dear Amelia,
The photos at the top of this blog are of the first two Christmas stamps ever released in Britain.
I’ve got both of them in my trusty Pelham Junior Stamp Album, which was given to me by my Nanna when I was 11.

My trusty Pelham Junior Stamp Album, looking a bit worn round the edges after 48 years.

One of the stamps (guess which one) depicts Good King Wenceslas and was drawn by a six-year-old called Tasveer Shemza.
It’s up there because I’ve had a few emails (OK, two) asking if I can re-print the Good King Wenceslas column I wrote back in 2008 for the West Weekend magazine.
I wrote this column after I’d been Christmas shopping at Myer in late November.
I’d been trapped on the escalator between two little kids (one covered in snot, the other playing with his willy), their Mum and Dad (who were carrying several hundred shopping bags) and three teenage boys (who were almost catatonic from looking up the bum of a girl in very short shorts who was further up the escalator).
When I got home I said to your Grandpa, “I bet good old King Wenceslas never had to go through this sort of thing.”
Then I thought, well maybe he did.
The column’s reprinted with the permission of The West Australian newspaper.
If you’d like to hear the original Christmas carol, click here.

Good King Wenceslas Goes Christmas Shopping

Good King Wenceslas went out, buying gifts for Stephen.
Five clicks past the roundabout, through the traffic weavin’.
Brightly shone the moon that night, on a trail bike dealer,
When a salesman came in sight, pushing a two whee-ee-ler.

Hither, salesman, stand by me, wrap that bike up quick smart.
On my way I soon must be, there’s a sale at K-mart.
Ten per cent off DVDs, half-price socks and sandals,
Random specials on CDs, books and scented ca-an-dles.

Through the mall the King set out, wrestling with his trolley.
Mums and Dads were all about, none of them looked jolly.
Perry Como filled the air, singing songs of snowmen.
Hyped-up kids were everywhere, never a good o-o-men.

First a turkey, plump and good, went in Wence’s trolley,
Followed by a Christmas pud, and some plastic holly.
Wrapping paper, Toblerone, gift tags shaped like Santa,
Serviettes in neutral tones, Pringles, nuts and Fa-an-ta.

Bring me Bundy, bring me wine, bring Bacardi Breezer.
Bring me lager from the Rhine, put it all on Visa.
Bring Jim Beam for Uncle Stan, that should stop him whingeing.
Plus lite beer for young Leanne, we don’t want her bi-inge-ing.
 
Good King Wenceslas went home, absolutely knackered.
In his castle’s stately dome, he was Christmas crackered.
So, folks, don’t yourselves delude, make sure you remember.
Next time you buy gifts and food, do it in Sep-te-em-ber.

I like to think that when Good King Wenceslas finally got home, Good Queen Wenceslas was waiting with a nice glass of whiskey and some shortbread biscuits in the shape of Christmas trees.
I make these every year in all sorts of Christmassy shapes and everyone loves them.
It’s the same recipe I used for the Bum Biscuits I blogged about back in March.
Click here and you’ll find it.

 

 

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EMU POINT REVISITED

Dear Amelia,
Someone has just emailed me and asked where Emu Point is.
So here are some details (pay attention, there will be a quiz later).
Emu Point is a few kilometres north-east of the Albany town centre and about a 10-minute drive from where your Grandpa and I live.
I had some very happy holidays there as a kid, staying at the Rose Gardens Caravan Park with my Mum and Dad and sister.
I’ve never seen any emus at Emu Point, only pelicans and fishermen and lots of locals and tourists who use the beach.
It’s very pretty and also the place where you can buy Albany Rock Oysters from a bloke called Ray Kilpatrick (no kidding) for $14 a dozen.
We’ve got a dozen sitting in the fridge right now, freshly shucked, bought this morning, ready for dinner tonight.
Here are some beautiful photos of Emu Point taken by your Grandpa.

All photos by Leith Phillips. Isn’t this one a corker?


A PELICAN, A DOG AND AN APPLE CAKE

 

Your Grandpa took this photo. I bet he’ll never take one from this angle again.

Dear Amelia,
Ella took a direct hit this morning from a pelican sitting on a lamp post.
Your Grandpa was walking her down at Emu Point and before he could say holy birdshit, it was all over red rover (or in this case, all over golden retriever).
This is what a woman would have done if she’d been there.
She would have grabbed the dog rug off the back seat of the car, soaked it in the sea, rubbed the crap (literally) out of the dog’s hindquarters, chucked the rug in a bin and come home.
This is what your Grandpa did: brought her home still covered in the stuff and cleaned her with a Chux Superwipe and some washing-up liquid.
So now we have a dog that smells of pelican shit with overtones of Palmolive Gentle Care.
And so does the house.


Unfortunately, we can’t put Ella outside for the day because she’s 500 years old and she’s always been an inside dog and she’d whine and pant and scratch at the back door until she went into cardiac arrest and died a sad lonely death thinking we didn’t love her anymore.
And then we’d have to explain to the vet, who LOVES golden retrievers and has two of his own, why we had a dead one that stank of pelican shit (and believe me, it STINKS).
So to mask the smell I baked an apple cake, not something I do very often at 9 o’clock on a Saturday morning.
Luckily, I also have a spray bottle of Nilodor and it’s warm enough today to have all the windows open.
On the downside, the little kid over the road is performing her usual Saturday morning routine of running round the house, whining and shrieking and shouting, “No! I don’t want to!” in that piercing way that makes you wish you had a gun.
Her cries are drifting through the open window as I type.
If she were mine, I’d dig a hole and bury her.
I found the recipe for this apple cake at Best Recipes here and I reckon you’d be hard pushed to find a cake that’s easier to make.
We had some friends over for dinner last weekend and I made an apple and mulberry crumble for dessert.
Two peeled and quartered Granny Smiths were left over so I put them in a plastic bag in the fridge.
They were a bit brown round the edges but otherwise fine, so that’s what went into this cake.
If you look at the original recipe, it doesn’t specify cake-tin size.
I used a 20cm round tin and lined the base with greased baking paper.
I also used only half a cup of sultanas, because that’s all I had, and didn’t add the mixed spice because I don’t have any.
The cake was still delicious, very moist and tender, although next time I’d use less sugar.
We’ve just had a slice for morning tea while holding our noses.

EASY APPLE CAKE

Makes one 20cm cake

2 apples, peeled and chopped, or grated (I chopped them in a mini processor)
1 cup sugar
1 cup sultanas
1½ cups self-raising flour
125g butter, melted
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp mixed spice

Preheat oven to 180C.
Mix all ingredients together with a wooden spoon.
Bake for about 40 mins, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Spread with butter while hot and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar (I didn’t do this either – it was sweet and buttery enough without it).

Note
Here are some suggestions left by people on the Best Recipes site:
Use craisins instead of sultanas.
If you don’t have enough apple, add some blueberries or frozen raspberries.
You can cook it in a square tin or a loaf tin.
Use less sugar (½ cup) and/or substitute brown sugar.
Leave out mixed spice and add a pinch each of cinnamon and nutmeg.


CHANNELING MOSES: STRAWBERRY SANTA HATS

Dear Amelia,
You know that Christmas is just around the corner when the Innovations catalogue arrives in your mailbox.
I love the Innovations catalogue.
So much crap, so little time, so many alternatives.
If you don’t want to fork out $12.95 for Frosty the Snowman with his compelling serial-killer eyes…


…you can always buy the Nativity Music Box with its twinkling fibre optic lights.
(Seeing as we’re going biblical, here’s a confession: I’d gladly pay an extra 50 bucks if, instead of playing Silent Night, Mary was shouting, “For God’s sake can someone turn off those lights. You’ll wake the baby.”)


A bush that glows in the dark. C’mon kids, let’s channel Moses.


Another confession: even though your Mum and Uncle Paul are in their 30s, I still buy them advent calendars.


I also get them for you and your Dad now, but when I went into Woolies to buy some today, all they had was this.
Which is a travesty if you ask me. Bring back robins and holly and snow and other Australian-type stuff I say.


Thank God we can celebrate Christmas with meaningful things like Strawberry Santa Hats.
You won’t remember this because you were only 15 months old at the time, but last Boxing Day you and I got up before anyone else was awake and ate five Strawberry Santa Hats each for breakfast.
This was no biggie for an old girl like me but for a one-year-old it was pretty bloody impressive.

STRAWBERRY SANTA HATS

Makes 24

24 strawberries
12 white mini marshmallows
¼ cup desiccated coconut, frozen (this helps the chocolate to set)
100g white chocolate
1 tsp oil

Cut the leaves (the stem end) from the strawberries with a sharp knife, leaving a nice flat base.
Set aside.
Cut the mini marshmallows in half and set aside.
Put the coconut into a small bowl.
Break the white chocolate into pieces and put it into a small microwave-safe bowl.
Microwave at 50 per cent for 1 minute, stir with a spoon, microwave at 50 per cent for another minute then stir again.
Stir in the oil and combine thoroughly.
Line a tray with baking paper.
Dip the bases of the strawberries into the melted white chocolate, then into the coconut.
Put the strawberries onto the tray as you go.
Dollop a tiny bit of melted white chocolate onto the tip of each strawberry with a teaspoon and press the cut marshmallows into the chocolate.
Store in the fridge until ready to serve.
These keep well overnight. They’d probably keep longer but they were eaten so quickly we didn’t find out.
To get you into the Christmas spirit, here are some pictures of you taken last Christmas wearing the Christmas tree outfit your Mum and I found at Big W.
I know. What can I say other than we meant well?


HENRY VIII, BEER AND THAI CRAB CAKES

Dear Amelia,
Here at party central there’s been quite a bit of Henry VIII “nastalgia” going on.
That’s because, while Foxtel can’t spell, it HAS been good enough to re-run the entire four seasons of The Tudors and it’s the absolute, hands-down best.
We missed it the first time it aired and now can’t wait for the repeats on Thursday nights. We’re like addicts waiting for a hit.
I’m especially hanging out for the next episode because I’m hoping it’s the one where Katherine Howard (the Queen) and Thomas Culpepper (Henry VIII’s manservant) get their heads chopped off.
I don’t often wish painful deaths on people because, as the owner of a cervix that has twice stretched to I’m-dying capacity (hi Paul, hi Kate), I’m well aware that when you mix extreme fear with extreme pain it’s not very nice.
But these two are so irritating I’d jump inside the telly and swing the axe myself if the opportunity presented itself.
Here’s a picture of the two of them getting ready to cuckold the King (as in, do the deed).


I know.
Are they insane? They’re cheating on a man who eats swans and beheads people at the drop of a hat.
Someone should have slapped them at this point and told them to pull their heads in, not to mention other bits.
I’m surprised they even had the energy for all this sex considering what they were shovelling down their throats on a daily basis.
Basically, truckloads of food.
I know this because I found a fascinating website called Historic Royal Palaces and it’s got all sorts of information on the kitchens Henry VIII built at Hampton Court Palace in 1529.
They were designed to feed the 600 or so members of his court twice a day and consisted of 55 (yes, 55) rooms.
Here’s how much Henry’s courtiers chewed their way through each year: 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer, 1,870 pigs, 1,240 oxen, 760 calves and 53 wild boar.
These animals were then washed down with 600,000 gallons of beer (that’s 2,728,000 litres, or 95,719 middies), so I should imagine there was more than a bit of the old “pull my finger” thing going on around the palace and adjoining gardens.
I’ll now show you what a middy of beer looks like in case it’s extinct by the time you grow up.
You can see from the picture that when taken on a State-by-State basis, the beer situation in Australia is quite confusing.
Hopefully it will be sorted out by the time you grow up.


After visiting the Hampton Court Palace page, I was tempted to tackle an authentic Tudor dish but realised in the nick of time that spit-roasted boar just might be Nanna’s kryptonite.
I was nearly sucked in, however, by this recipe for something called Buknade:
Take veel, keed, or hen, and boyle hem in faire water or ells in good fress brot, and smyte hem in peces, and pike hem clene; And drawe the same brot thorg a streynor, And cast there-to parcelly, Isoppe, Sauge, Maces and clowes, And lete boyle til the fless be ynog; and then set hit fro the fire, and aley hit vp with rawe yolkes of eyren, and caste thereto poder ginger, and vergeous, & a litel saffron and salte, and ceson hit vppe and serue it fort.
I mean, given half the chance, who wouldn’t want to lete boyle til the fless be ynog?
In the end I decided to forego Tudor and go with Thai instead.
This recipe is for Thai Crab Cakes, which are more like fritters than cakes but are delicious all the same.
I’ve been making them for years and have yet to meet a person who doesn’t love them.
They’re from a book called The Night Before by Australian caterer-to-the-stars Victoria Lewis.
It’s now out of print but if you can find a copy online, grab it.
Victoria says of these Thai Crab Cakes, “Of all my recipes, this is probably the most sought after.”
Try them and you’ll know why.

THAI CRAB CAKES WITH SWEET CHILLI SAUCE

Makes 30-40
(I’ve never actually counted because they get eaten too quickly)

1 bunch coriander
90g self-raising flour
225ml milk
1 egg
250g seafood extender (from the freezer section of supermarkets – also called seafood salad mix, seafood highlighter and crab flakes)
1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp ground cumin
125ml vegetable oil
extra sweet chilli sauce for dipping

Chop half the bunch of coriander and put it in a food processor.
Add the flour, milk, egg, seafood extender, 1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce, fish sauce and cumin and process until you have a smooth batter.
You’ll need to cook these in batches, so heat half the oil over a medium to high heat in a big frying pan.
Place teaspoons of the batter a reasonable distance apart in the frying pan.
When the crab cakes are lightly golden underneath (the top of them will have little bubbles), turn them and cook on the other side.
You’re looking at 2-3 minutes per side.
When they’re cooked, remove the crab cakes to a big plate covered with kitchen paper.
Add the reserved oil to the frying pan as it’s needed.
You can serve these immediately on top of a platter covered with lettuce leaves.
Scatter over the remaining coriander and serve with lime wedges and a bowl of sweet chilli sauce for dipping.
You can also keep them in the fridge for up to 48 hours, or freeze them for up to 1 month.
To reheat, preheat the oven to 200C.
Place the crab cakes on a baking tray and reheat for 5 minutes (longer if frozen).


NOT HAPPY, MITT

Mitt Romney

Dear Amelia,
By the time you’re 35 and reading this blog, you’ll be judging Barack Obama via the history books.
But here’s some news from the here and now: Barack won a second term as President of the United States today and, along with millions of others, your Grandpa and I are very, very happy.
Apart from anything else, Barack’s win was a perfect opportunity to deface one of Nanna’s oven mitts.
I’ve been doing stupid Mitt Romney voices with it ever since he nominated for the presidency so it seemed only fitting that tonight I should go berserk with a black Texta and draw on a face.
The stains on Mitt are from the mulberries I picked off your Uncle Paul’s tree a few weeks back.

Getting the mulberries ready for freezing. They’re big suckers.

I turned some of them into a mulberry clafoutis that was delicious to eat but looked like crap photographically speaking.
So today, in the interests of pictorial splendour, I have a recipe for one of our favourite desserts, which is so silky and delicious you’ll want to bless yourself after each mouthful.
It’s great to serve up when you have anyone round for dinner who you want to impress. This is because it tastes like it’s taken longer to make than you’d get for manslaughter, but it’s actually one of those prepare-ahead dishes that’s dead easy.
I found the recipe in The West Australian newspaper’s Fresh lift-out ages ago under the name Lemon Crème but it’s all over the Internet under the name Lemon Posset.
Make it in the morning to serve that evening.

LEMON CREAM WITH STRAWBERRIES

Serves 6 (half quantities easily serve 4, just put more fruit on top)

600ml whipping cream
two-thirds of a cup caster sugar
zest and juice of 2 juicy lemons, separated

Pour the cream into a big saucepan, add the sugar and lemon zest and bring slowly to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Let the cream mixture boil for three minutes (it will creep up the sides of the saucepan, which is why you need to use a big one).
Remove the pan from the heat and pour the cream mixture through a metal sieve into a bowl or jug.
Stir in the lemon juice (it will start to thicken straight away).
Pour this mixture into six serving glasses and leave on the bench top to cool and set, then cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge until ready to serve. It will be firm but still soft and creamy.
Before serving, pile sliced strawberries, blueberries or raspberries on top.


OXTAIL, SQUIDDIES AND A BIT OF A RANT

 

One of the rare moments you weren’t jumping or hopping

Dear Amelia,
The decluttering of home and computer is still grinding on here in Albany, interrupted only by a visit to you last weekend and the inevitable follow-up head cold (damn you, day care).
Luckily, not snot, nor sleet, nor driving rain could keep us from enjoying ourselves while your Mum and Dad went off to your Aunty Justine’s wedding last Saturday.
Give a Nanna and her granddaughter a whole house to themselves and before long they’ll have pretend zoos, pretend shops, pretend parks and pretend “work” coming out of their earholes.
(Not to mention “cake” made with 10 pieces of chalk, a baby wipe, seven sultanas and your mother’s potato masher.)
Anyway, when I got home – sad, lonely and bereft at no longer being with you but strangely relieved to regain a life that didn’t involve jumping or hopping – I found something on my computer that I’d totally forgotten about.
It was like striking gold.
Here’s the story.
Back in my Early Nigella Period, I’d often visit Nigella.com and look at the forum, which was called Your Page.
It was heaven on a stick – dominated by a bunch of Nigella groupies who thought of themselves as forum royalty because they’d been there from the very start, and who maintained such an amazing mix of full-on fawning, saccharine sweetness and cold-blooded bitchiness, it made your eyes water.
Nanna loved the goings on in the forum. It made her snort her cup of tea over the computer screen on more than one occasion.
Sadly, Nigella closed it down. But not before Nanna copied and pasted the following gem, which was only up for a short time before a moderator trashed it.
It was posted by someone called Hiya on September 4, 2007, the day after the first episode of Nigella Express aired in the UK on BBC TV.
This was the episode in which Nigella referred to squid as “squiddies” (I know – gag).
Here’s what Hiya wrote:
“(I) sent (this) to the BBC too. 
I don’t expect a response, who would after watching that unctuous, toe-curling, self-promoting (paid for by the TV licence) exhibition of pathetic pouting and mealy-mouthed rubbish.
“‘Squiddies’ for God’s sake. This was enough to reach for the flight bag if I had one at home, but the surrounding nauseous nonsense of the programme was insulting as well. I’m not skint but the sight of Lordette Lawson making beds that colour-coordinated with the wallpaper, well!!, busy mobile texting to cares who in the black cab having exited the mews home!!
“I hope we did not pay for the kitchen as well – in fact, don’t tell me, I’d rather not know.
 Lord and Lordette Lawson and the kids eating chicken and spuds and peas – how dare you give this airtime?
 In fact I want an explanation for this gibberish because as I write this after a day’s work, I’m getting fed up with the constant promotion of pointless drivel. 
Bet this won’t be on the forum with all the other gushing.”
Call me shallow but when it comes to memorable writing I reckon you can’t beat a good rant.
Not that it’s got anything to do with today’s recipe, which comes from Aussie TV chef Iain “Huey” Hewitson and is a real corker.


I’ve made Braised East-West Oxtail twice now, the latest being last night because the weather’s still cold enough down here to warrant winter food.
Don’t be tempted to leave out the grated orange rind – it gives the dish a beautiful flavour.
If, like me, you’re not much of an orange eater and you think it’s wasteful to use only the rind, follow these three handy tips:
1. Wrap the de-rinded orange tightly in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge while you spend three hours looking for a recipe that uses the juice of just one orange.
2. Forget the orange is in the fridge until three weeks later.
3. Throw it out.
You’ll notice that a box that once contained a bottle of Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut champagne is reclining nonchalantly behind the plate of oxtail and couscous in the photo accompanying the recipe.
That’s because we’d knocked off the contents earlier in the evening to celebrate winning a work contract that we’re very pleased about.
Your Grandpa had to ask himself at the bottle shop if we were pleased enough to buy a bottle of Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque, which we love, love, love and which looks like this.


Unfortunately the Belle Epoque costs $220 per hand-painted bottle, so there’s your answer.
Your Grandpa decided to wait and buy a crate of it when we win the $100 million Lotto draw on Tuesday night.

BRAISED EAST-WEST (VIA ALBANY) OXTAIL

This is my version of a recipe by Iain Hewitson, who in turn was inspired by American-Chinese chef, Ken Hom. You’ll find Huey’s original recipe here.

Serves 4

1.5 kg oxtail pieces
oil for frying
1 medium onion, chopped
3 shallots, finely sliced
4 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tbsp Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
2 tbsp mirin seasoning (or mirin if you can get it)
2 tbsp light soy sauce
3 tbsp hoisin sauce
grated rind of 1 orange
750g fresh tomatoes, diced
1 cup water
1 beef stock cube, crumbled
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

If you don’t want to cook this on top of the stove, preheat the oven to 160C.
Trim the excess fat from the oxtail pieces.
Bring a big heavy-based pot of water to the boil, add the oxtail pieces and simmer them for 15 minutes (a lot of scum will rise to the surface – just ignore it).
Fish the oxtail pieces out with tongs, drain them well in a colander and clean the heavy-based pot you’ve just cooked them in.
Put the pot over medium-high heat with a thin layer of oil in the bottom and brown the oxtail pieces all over.
Remove them to a plate covered with kitchen paper so the fat can drain off.
Lower the heat under the pot and gently sauté the onions and shallots until they start to soften, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for another couple of minutes.
Add all the remaining ingredients, stirring well, and bring to the boil.
Add the oxtail to the pot (in one layer if possible) then turn the heat down to very low, cover the pot tightly and simmer for 3 to 3½ hours (or put it in the oven for the same amount of time).
It’s ready when the meat pulls easily away from the bone.
Serve with couscous, rice or mashed potatoes.