Earlier this week I came across a hardback book among the many thousands that cram the shelves at Albany Drive-In Mart out on Albany Highway.
It was by someone called R. Moore and was titled Three Thousand Things Worth Knowing (Comprising valuable information, recipes and tables, for the mechanic, merchant, lawyer, doctor, farmer, and all classes of workers in every department of human effort).
It was a very interesting book, published by the Grand Union Tea Company in 1884.
I would’ve bought Three Thousand Things Worth Knowing if it hadn’t cost $25.
Not that I’m tight-fisted or anything, but because I knew it had probably been part of a deceased estate and would have been bought by the shop owner for about 25 cents (I have my limits when it comes to mark-ups – 10,000 per cent usually does it for me).
Anyway, the previous owner of the book had written something quite amazing inside the front cover, in pencil, in that formal, old-fashioned handwriting that always makes me think of your Great Great Nanna Ethel.
This is what he’d written:
Refer page 59.
How to cure Lockjaw.
It got me wondering how many people had to die an agonising death from what is now called tetanus before the publishing bloke at the Grand Union Tea Company said to the author, “Excuse me R. Moore, re page 59: I think you might need to re-work it a bit.”
This book also got me wondering why I don’t frequent Albany’s op shops and second-hand stores on a more regular basis, seeing as how you’re always guaranteed to find an absolute treasure.
Luckily, I was dragged around them all last week by your Uncle Paul, op-shop book browser extraordinaire, who is staying with us at the moment, having made the trip down after my 60th-birthday weekend.
It was fabulous, my 60th-birthday weekend – one of the best birthdays ever.
Three nights at the Hilton, and a wonderful birthday surprise organised by your Mum that involved being picked up in a stretch limo and taken to the beautiful Matilda Bay Restaurant on the river at Crawley.
The six of us (me, you, your Grandpa, your Mum and Dad and Uncle Paul) sipped champagne while the limo driver took us on an hour-long riverside tour before taking us to the restaurant.
Then we hoed into it again on the way back to the hotel, which was via Kings Park so we could enjoy the city lights.
Here are some (regrettably crappy) pictures I took with my mobile phone.
Your Grandpa gave me a lovely topaz ring and necklace for my birthday, topaz being the stone of true love, which not surprisingly made me cry like a baby (if you’re a good girl and stop climbing out of your new bed six times a night I’ll leave them to you in my will).
I even got a present from the Hilton.
One year ago on this blog: Salmon Puffs
250g penne pasta
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 rashers bacon, finely chopped
12 button mushrooms, sliced
1 big clove garlic, crushed
1 punnet (about 200g) cherry or grape tomatoes
1 cup white wine
big pinch of dried, crushed chilli
mixture of grated cheddar and grana padano cheese (as much as you think your hips and heart will tolerate)
This is pretty basic but delicious – plus, it’s not sloppy (which I hate).
Fill a big pasta pot with water, throw in some salt and put it on the stove to boil.
Add the penne to the boiling water and cook for a minute or so less than it says on the packet (about 13 minutes).
While that’s happening, heat the oil in a big frying that has a lid.
Tip in the onion, bacon and mushrooms and fry for about 5 mins over medium-high heat, stirring, until they’re soft.
Add the garlic and crushed chilli and fry, stirring, for another minute.
Stir in the tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes, pressing them down with the back of a wooden spoon so they split (a potato masher is also very effective).
Stir in the wine, lower the heat, cover and simmer gently until the penne is ready.
Preheat the oven to 190C.
Drain the penne and tip it into a big, shallow oven-proof dish.
Stir in the tomato sauce and as much grated cheese as you like.
Sprinkle more grated cheese on top and bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until golden.
Eat with a green salad.
Seeing as I cooked Peking Duck for Australia Day, it sort of makes sense that I made something Greek to mark the start of the Chinese New Year yesterday (it was a lovely watermelon and feta salad that I’ll tell you about in a minute).
It was a big week this week, particularly for Stephen and Ashlee whose wedding we went to on Saturday out at Emu Point.
Beautiful setting, beautiful ceremony, big party afterwards, with enough food to feed an army.
Ashlee is the fourth and youngest daughter of our friends Richard and Lynda, and the third to get married.
Three down, one to go, as practically everyone at the wedding pointed out.
Lynda and Richard are doing remarkably well, considering.
They are occasionally incapable of speech – sometimes even of movement – but otherwise they are fine and no longer slip into a catatonic state when the words “wedding speech” and “bank balance” are mentioned.
This is a big week for me too, not only because I was born in the Chinese Year of the Water Snake, which has come around again this year, but also because it’s my 60th birthday on Friday.
I’ve noticed just lately that a big thing in the “lifestyle” blogging world – particularly among so-called mummy bloggers – is to come up with a weekly “gratefulness” list.
This is basically what it says it is: a round-up of things for which the blogger is grateful, most of them deep and meaningful, many of them nauseating.
On a personal level, one thing I would be really grateful for is if these bloggers would stop using the word “gratefulness” (which grates on me the way “healthful” does) and use gratitude instead.
That aside, during these last few weeks of being 59, I’ve been trying to be grateful for all sorts of things that show me up for what I am, which is basically an almost-senior.
I’m trying very hard to be grateful that my arse is slowly slipping down the back of my legs, mainly because I know that when it stops it will mean I am dead.
I’m trying to be grateful that my soon-to-be-delivered Seniors Card will get me $100 off a stone monument if I choose to be buried in the Kalgoorlie cemetery, but only two bucks off a bottle of wine if I buy it at one of the six wineries listed in the Seniors Discount Directory.
I’m also trying to be grateful that the veins in the backs of my hands are starting to stand out like little blue ropes.
People who are born in the Year of the Water Snake are supposed to carry something blue with them at all times during 2013 so that they can ward off evil spirits.
I can only hope that veins count.
On a more serious note, my Dad and sister both died at 56 so I should say that I’m extremely grateful I’ve got this far and have been blessed with a terrific life filled with some lovely people.
I’m also extremely grateful that at the end of the week your Grandpa and I will be spending three nights at the Hilton in Perth.
We will be able to celebrate our socks off as my 60th year slips away and I embrace the 61st with as much enthusiasm as a hangover allows.
We will be seeing you there, of course.
I know you’re only two and a half years old and therefore too young to retain memories.
But I live in hope that when you grow up you’ll have happy little flashbacks to my 60th birthday celebrations every time someone uses the words “Nanna” and “Bollinger” in the same sentence.
One year ago on this blog: Spiced Roast Chicken with Couscous
WATERMELON AND FETA SALAD
half a watermelon
feta cheese – a 200g packet should do
1 red onion, cut in half then sliced very finely
juice of 2 limes
a handful each of chopped fresh parsley and chopped fresh mint
a handful of pitted black olives (optional)
You’ll find versions of this salad all over the Internet but I like this one by Nigella.
It’s an amazing and very refreshing combination of tastes – perfect for the latest heatwave that WA is experiencing at the moment, except of course for Albany, which had a maximum in the mid-20s today while Perth was sweltering at 40C.
First you put the sliced red onion in a small bowl and pour over the lime juice.
While it’s marinating, cut the watermelon into chunks and put them in a salad bowl.
Sprinkle over the cubed or crumbled feta, the chopped parsley and mint, the black olives if you’re using them, and then the sliced onion and lime juice.
Stir it around gently to combine.
Serve with barbecued meat.
As you can see from the photo, I was on my knees by the time I finished cooking the Peking Duck last Saturday night.
We didn’t get to eat it until 9.17pm, which was unfortunate because my synapses stopped firing round about 8.04.
By then the kitchen and I looked like the Wreck of the Hesperus.
You may remember that the recipe I decided to use was from Gok Cooks Chinese by everyone’s favourite fashionista Gok Wan, of How To Look Good Naked fame.
As a result of what we now call The Night of the Long Ducks I actually emailed Gok’s people and asked if his next TV series could be titled How To Look Good Fully Clothed with Half a Star Anise and Three Cucumber Sticks In Your Bra.
No, I haven’t heard back from them and, yes, it was a long and messy process this road to Peking Duck-ness – almost Nanna’s kryptonite.
Not that Gok’s roast duck and plum sauce recipes were the culprits. They were both reasonably simple and extremely delicious.
But I almost lost the will to live during the Chinese pancake-making thing. It took FOREVER.
If your Grandpa hadn’t woken up and waved another bottle of wine under my nose I reckon I would’ve been a goner.
Your Grandpa actually had to have a 30-minute ziz during this latest culinary adventure.
Not because of the lengthy preparation process (although that didn’t help), but because he’d got out of bed before dawn to drive up Mt Melville and take photos of the sun rising over Albany, then he’d run around taking pics of the Australia Day citizenship ceremony at the council offices.
Unsurprisingly, by 7.34pm he was buggered.
His sunrise photos, though, are stunning. Here are three of them.
Next up is a picture of what your thumbs look like after they’ve prised open 16 very hot, thin Chinese pancakes to make 32 even thinner ones (the words “painful” and “shit, shit, shit” more or less cover this last stage of what is basically a 357-step process).
I’ve decided that my next challenge on the culinary front will be to make a chocolate cake using nothing but three cherry tomatoes and a potato masher.
I suspect it might be easier.
That said, in a minute I’ll give you the instructions for Poppa Wan’s Easy Peking Duck.
In the meantime here’s some BREAKING NEWS (well, not technically “breaking” because I’ve already done it once):
If you live in regional WA you can listen to me chat about a recipe on ABC Radio’s WA Regional Drive show with Barry Nicholls.
I started last week and I’ll be on every Thursday at 5.45pm in a segment called What’s For Tea?
Barry, the Regional Drive show’s presenter, is a father of four kids under the age of 8.
Thursday is his night for cooking dinner apparently.
Edit: Oops, I’m actually on once a month. I’ll let you know when my next segment is.
One year ago on this blog: Curried Glut
POPPA WAN’S EASY PEKING DUCK WITH PLUM SAUCE AND CHINESE PANCAKES
From Gok Cooks Chinese by Gok Wan
Buy yourself a 2kg duck from the supermarket and pat it dry with paper towels.
Leave the neck attached.
Sprinkle the inside of the cavity ALL AROUND with 3 teaspoons of five-spice powder. This is not easy. Swearing is just about compulsory.
Into the cavity, stuff 2 star anise, 1 peeled onion cut into 8 wedges, 2 spring onions and 4 peeled cloves of garlic that you’ve bashed with the flat side of your knife, and a 5cm piece of ginger that’s been peeled and sliced.
It’s a tight fit but you’ll manage to get it all in with a bit of pushing and shoving.
Close the cavity as tightly as possible by pulling the skin together and threading a bamboo skewer through it to secure it.
Grab another skewer and prick the duck all over. Make sure you do this lots and lots of times – more than you think you should probably do – so the fat runs out and bastes the duck.
Grind some salt over the skin and put the duck on a rack in a deep roasting tin.
Roast it in a 180C oven for 1 hour then increase the temperature to 220C and cook until the duck is done (the recipe says 25 minutes but mine took another hour, during which time I lowered the temp again – it still tasted good).
Let the duck rest on the bench top for 15 minutes while you self-flagellate with a wire whisk because, like a moron, you decided to make your own Chinese pancakes from scratch.
The plum sauce
This is fab.
Grab a medium saucepan and into it put 4 stoned and roughly chopped plums, 1 tablespoon water, ½ teaspoon of five-spice powder, half a de-seeded and chopped fresh red chilli, 1 tablespoon each of honey, light soy sauce and Chinese rice wine, 1 crushed clove of garlic, 2 rounded teaspoons brown sugar, ½ teaspoon ground white pepper and half a star anise (you’ll find a broken one down the bottom of the packet).
Bring to the boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 40 minutes, until the plums are very soft (you can add more water if it looks like it might boil dry but I didn’t need any).
Blend with a stick blender until smooth. Adjust to taste with more soy sauce and honey if needed (we liked it just the way it was).
The Chinese pancakes
If you’re a masochist who wants to make your own, you’ll find the recipe I used here.
If I ever make Gok’s Peking Duck again (Look! There goes a flying pig!), I’ll serve the duck and plum sauce with Chinese broccoli or something.
How to eat it
Cut up the duck meat and put it on serving plate. Put the plum sauce in a bowl.
Thinly slice some spring onions and cut a cucumber into matchsticks. Put these on another serving plate.
To eat, spread some plum sauce on a pancake, top it with some spring onion, some cucumber sticks and some duck, roll it up and put it in your mouth.
Be prepared for some of it to fall into your bra.