You can see from the photo that at the grand old age of two years and four months you overcame your fear of tulle and net long enough to pull on this tutu and do a few Angelina Ballerina twirls.
Nanna found the tutu on the Internet. It’s actually a pair of bathers but God knows how you’re supposed to swim in it when you’ve got half a kilo of wet net trailing down your legs.
Here’s a picture of Angelina Ballerina.
Apart from the fact that she’s a mouse and you’re not, you can hardly tell the difference can you?
It was lovely to see you and your Mum and Dad on the weekend.
The tutu photo was taken just before we went out to dinner at the Venice Restaurant here in Albany.
As usual it was good food and great service, but as a bonus we also got to find out just how far a kiddie serve of spaghetti bolognese can go (all over your head, face, chest, stomach and knees in case you’re wondering).
We also managed to do some cooking at home, you and I – a really interesting cake made out of wet sand, a handful of blue metal and two orange-glitter birthday-cake candles bashed to pieces with a plastic bucket.
Your recent transition from cot to big girl’s bed has been interesting and continued to be so at Nanna and Grandpa’s house.
I won’t go into it except to say we managed to convince your Mum that auctioning you on Facebook isn’t a viable option.
The use of occy straps, however, is still under consideration.
I was hoping that when we were at the Venice I’d be able to have some chilli mussels for dinner, but sadly they were unavailable.
So I had to cook my own.
Your Grandpa went out to Emu Point to buy the mussels.
You get them from the same place you get Albany’s famous rock oysters – a big red-brick shed-type arrangement up the back of the boat pens.
Signage is not their forte so if you don’t know where to look you’re buggered.
Luckily, we do.
Here’s my recipe.
Serves 4 as an entrée, 2 as a main course
2 tbsp olive oil
1 brown onion, finely chopped
2 red chillies, seeds removed, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 x 400g tin diced tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup white wine
dried crushed chilli/chilli flakes to taste
½ cup chopped parsley
crusty bread to mop up the sauce
Heat the oil in a big cooking pot over medium-low heat (a pasta pot is perfect for this).
Add the onion and chopped fresh chilli and cook for 3 minutes then stir in the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes, until the onion is soft.
Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste and white wine and simmer gently for 10 minutes.
Taste the sauce and if it’s not hot enough for you, stir in some dried crushed chilli.
Fresh chillies vary in strength and I usually end up adding anywhere between a pinch and a teaspoon of the dried stuff.
Remember that the mussel juices will dilute the sauce quite a bit, so gauge your chilli quantities accordingly.
Cook the sauce for another 20 minutes until it’s very thick.
While the sauce is cooking, fill up the kitchen sink with water and tip in the mussels.
Give them a good wash (you may need to scrub them with a brush or scouring pad) and remove the beards by pulling them down sharply along the shell.
Drain the de-bearded mussels in a colander, fill up the cleaned-out sink with water again and tip the mussels back in.
Swirl them around a bit to remove any grit and drain again in the colander.
All the mussel shells should be tightly shut. Chuck out any that aren’t.
When the sauce is ready, tip the mussels into the pot, put the lid on and cook over high heat until the shells open (about 5 minutes), giving the pot a good shake occasionally.
Discard any mussels that aren’t open and put the rest into serving bowls.
Ladle over the sauce, sprinkle with parsley and serve with lots of crusty bread.
Here’s the big tip: one of the next big things on the food scene according to today’s Sunday Times Magazine is segue dining.
Basically, segue dining is all-day dining, as in your breakfast will segue into lunch, which may then segue into dinner etc.
Back in the day if lunch segued into dinner, it was called “Getting drunk and forgetting where you live” dining.
But then back in the day I thought segue was pronounced “seeg” (it’s SEG-way), précis was pronounced pressiss (it’s PRAY-see) and oregano – well, it was a word I avoided like the plague because whichever way I pronounced it there was always someone on hand to correct me (which is called patronisation – patt-ron-eyes-AY-shun).
The Sunday Times Magazine devoted 15 of its 32 pages today to a Hot 100 list “of the hottest people, events and trends set to rock 2013”.
Basically, they listed 100 things that are going to make early adopters cringe and encourage middle-class aspirants to listen to Biffy Clyro, who have been around for about 15 years now but who knew? (apart from several million people in the rest of the world)
It’s funny to think that by the time you’re 35 and old enough to read this blog, Biffy Clyro will probably have been relegated to the CD racks out the front of newsagents, and segue dining will be old hat.
Speaking of which (hats, I mean), here’s a picture of Anna Dello Russo, who’s the editor-at-large and creative consultant for Vogue Japan and is placed at number 62 on the STM Hot 100 list.
If I had known that all it took to be hot was some fake apples on my head and a dress that looks like a Cath Kidston doona cover, I would have tried it years ago.
Here is some more interesting information about Anna:
She is a passionate fashionista who wore Dolce & Gabbana to her wedding in 1996, and Balenciaga for her divorce six months later.
She keeps all of her clothes in a separate apartment that’s next door to the one she lives in.
Her boyfriend doesn’t live with her – there’s no space because of the clothes.
Here is some interesting information about me:
I love reading this shit.
Also, even though I’m embarrassed to admit it, I’m secretly pleased that Anna has saggy knees (this is because she’s 50 – it happens to the best of us).
Seeing as Anna is almost vegetarian but likes to eat fish, my recipe today is for something she might like to dip her ciabatta into when she invites a few “super chic party guests” (number 59 on the Hot 100 list) to a soiree at her Milan apartment.
In Italy it would be called Salsa Salmone but here in Australia it’s just called good old Salmon Dip.
Either way, it’s really delicious – much nicer than shop-bought and easy to make.
The recipe is by a food stylist called Janice Baker and is from the book Sheridan Rogers’ Food Year.
You’re supposed to cover the top of it with a thick layer of chopped walnuts and snipped chives.
Feel free to do so if the thought of chopped walnuts with tinned salmon doesn’t make you want to be sick.
Makes enough for 3 small-ish bowls (as in the picture) or 1 big one
250g Philadelphia Cream Cheese (I use the low-fat one)
210g tin of good red salmon, drained and boned
a good squeeze of lemon juice
salt and pepper
Mix the cream cheese and salmon together with a spoon or fork until well combined.
Squeeze in some lemon juice and add five drops of Tabasco sauce and salt and pepper to taste.
Mix it all together, taste it, then add more lemon juice and/or Tabasco sauce, according to how lemony and hot you like it.
Snip chives over the top and serve with crackers or pide, which is what Turkish people call Turkish bread.
In case you’re wondering, I believe pide is pronounced pee-da.
But don’t quote me. I’m the person who used to pronounce pot pourri pott POO-ree.
The day will come when you’ll say to yourself, “Why haven’t I got a proper thermometer?”
That day will probably be a day like today when the temperature in the shade reaches 40C and it starts raining live spiders on your deck.
If it ever comes to pass that it’s raining live spiders on your deck, you’ll want to know what sort of temperature the deck roof has to reach before 50 over-heated spiders drop from their hidey holes ALL AT THE SAME TIME and dangle in mid-air.
Well, I can tell you now that it’s about 48C (which is 118F, which is bloody hot no matter which way you measure it).
It totally freaked me out, I can tell you.
It was as if Google maps had stuffed up the coordinates and decided to treat southern WA to the 11th plague of Egypt.
Or as if the Mira Mar contingent of the Albany spider population had decided to reenact the airborne invasion of Normandy.
Nanna actually screamed.
Luckily your Grandpa thrives on danger, so he braved the 50 spiders that were dangling at eye level, crawled to the outdoor table and put the oven thermometer on top of it so we could record the temperature.
Then he got the Mortein and sprayed the crap out of everything.
It occurred to me later that if you’ve got to have native wildlife dropping from the roof of your deck, spiders are probably better than brown snakes.
Funnily enough, your Grandpa wasn’t comforted by this observation.
All afternoon he’s been shuddering and brushing imaginary arachnids off his shoulders.
This spider invasion wouldn’t have happened of course if I got off my bum more often and cleaned the deck roof with a long-handled broom.
I’ve never made any bones about my lack of interest in housework, but the raining spiders thing plus this news report I came across on CNN (Woman Loses Breast After Spider Bite – yes, honestly) has got me thinking I need to change.
Here’s a picture of how the deck roof looked when it was first erected.
Suffice to say it doesn’t look like that now (I’m too embarrassed to show you a picture).
Anyway, we were going to have a barbecue out there tonight, but while I’ve been writing this the weather has broken and it’s absolutely pissing down.
I was going to cook another recipe from that excellent cookbook, In the Mood for Entertaining, by Jo Pratt.
It’s supposed to be a breakfast dish (it’s the sort that would be spot-on if you were hungover) but it’s just as good on the barbecue for dinner.
As it stands, what with the spiders, the torrential rain and the general state of my nerves at the moment, we’ll probably have bacon sandwiches.
SWEET POTATO HASH BROWNS WITH SAUSAGES AND SWEET CHILLI TOMATOES
From a recipe by Jo Pratt
Serves 2 (recipe doubles easily)
2-3 tbsp olive oil
4-6 sausages or 8-12 chipolatas
1 small sweet potato (about 160g)
1 lge egg
salt and pepper
200g of whole cherry tomatoes or mini Roma/plum tomatoes, cut in half
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
pinch of crushed chilli/dried chilli flakes
2 tbsp roughly chopped parsley
The original recipe calls for proper long sausages, each one cut on an angle into three or four pieces.
I did this and because they popped out of their skins a bit and curled up as they cooked, they looked like turds from one of your smaller breeds of dog.
So from now on I’m going to use chipolatas, which I prefer anyway.
Whatever you decide on, fry them on the barbecue or in a decent-sized non-stick frying pan in 1 tbsp of oil until they’re cooked and golden brown.
The recipe says this will take 5 minutes but I’ve yet to meet a sausage that cooks all the way through in less than 15, so bear that in mind.
Once the sausages are cooked, put them on a plate and keep them warm.
While they’re cooking, peel the sweet potato and grate it coarsely.
Put it in a bowl with the egg, season with salt and pepper and mix everything together thoroughly.
Divide this mixture into four and dollop it onto the barbecue or into the frying pan that the sausages were cooked in, adding more oil if necessary.
Flatten each dollop with your spatula to make four hash browns and cook them for 3-4 minutes per side until crisp and golden brown.
While that’s happening, heat 1 tbsp of oil in another frying pan and cook the tomatoes until they start to soften.
Add the caster sugar, balsamic vinegar and crushed chilli and stir everything together.
Cook over low heat for a few more minutes until the tomatoes are very soft.
To serve, put two hash browns onto each plate, top with the sausages then spoon the tomatoes over the top.
Sprinkle with the chopped parsley. This not only makes it look pretty, but also contains heaps of Vitamin C, which if you’re cooking this as a morning-after breakfast, apparently speeds up the metabolism of alcohol by your liver.
Serve with salad and some nice bread to mop up the tomato juices.
Welcome to 2013 and your very own bubblegum pink kitchen, which you were supposed to get for your birthday in September but it didn’t arrive in time.
When it did arrive in October – flat-packed in a cardboard box – it occurred to us for the first time that it would have to be built from scratch.
And that it would be like assembling your portable cot (aka thatstupidfuckingthing) but multiplied by a million.
This realisation was so traumatic, we decided not to think about it again until Christmas.
Long story short: If you had any doubts about your Grandpa’s devotion to you, this kiddy kitchen and its 147 individual screws should dispel them once and for all.
It took him four and a half hours to assemble the damn thing and he didn’t swear once – an incredible indicator of personal growth if you ask me.
Uncle Paul pitched in as well, letting you eat his T-shirt until you were able to cook something more substantial on your new stovetop.
Finally, here’s a picture of your Mum getting dinner ready while your Dad attends to the important business of opening a six-pack of beer.
You’ll notice your Mum is a slightly different shape.
That’s because of your baby brother, who is due to enter this world in May.
I KNOW! It’s so exciting.
We had a wonderful Christmas with you all but we were very glad to get back to the cool weather of Albany.
Perth had its longest December heatwave in 70 years while we were staying up there: 39.6C on Christmas Day, 40.5C the following Saturday, bloody awful in between.
When we were driving home on Boxing Day, the temperature as we passed through Williams was 39C. By the time we got to Albany it was 22C. Bliss.
On New Year’s Eve we partied like it was 1999, your Grandpa and I, 1999 being the year after 1998, which was the last time we actually went out to a NYE party.
Our tradition now is to stay at home, eat good food, drink French champagne, sing very badly and loudly, dance around the lounge room, then pass out at half past ten.
We had beautiful Albany oysters with the first bottle of Veuve, then a really delicious duck dish, then ice cream with home-made strawberry topping (I was supposed to make berry clafoutis but I was too buggered).
The duck recipe looks like major work but it’s actually very simple.
Just grind your spices and make your sauce beforehand.
The rest comes together really quickly.
You’ll find the original recipe for this dish here.
It requires you to perform surgery on two whole ducks (no thanks) and add cornflour to the sauce (no need).
It also adds cinnamon and salt to the spice rub but I forgot to put it in (no great loss – it was still delicious).
I served this with sauteed potatoes and a salad that included homegrown rocket, mizuna, parsley and chives.
SPICED DUCK WITH GINGER GLAZE
From a recipe by JeanMarie Brownson, Chicago Tribune
4 duck breasts
Spice rub, see recipe below
Ginger glazing sauce, heated, see below
handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
Pat the duck breasts dry with paper towels.
Sprinkle the spice rub on a big dinner plate and coat the duck breasts lightly on each side.
Put the breasts on a rack set over a plate or baking dish (this will catch any drips of blood), cover and put in the fridge for 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
Make the Ginger Glazing Sauce before you cook the duck breasts. Reheat it when the duck breasts are in the oven.
Pre-heat oven to 200C. Heat a large ovenproof frying pan (see note) over low heat until hot.
Add breasts, skin side down, in a single layer.
Cook over low heat without turning until skin is crisp and brown, about 10 minutes.
Turn breasts over, put them in the oven and cook until medium rare, about 10 minutes.
To serve, slice the duck breasts, pour over some of the ginger sauce and sprinkle with parsley.
Serve the rest of the sauce separately.
Note: You don’t need to use an ovenproof frying pan. I used an ordinary non-stick frying pan and then transferred the duck breasts to a hot baking dish (I put the baking dish in the oven when it was pre-heating).
Even though I cooked this for two instead of four, I still made the full amount of sauce. Because we’re greedy pigs. And because the ginger marmalade was on special at Woolies.
1 heaped tbsp whole coriander seeds
1 star anise
1 tsp whole cloves
Grind everything in an electric spice mill/coffee grinder or mortar and pestle until you have a fine-ish powder.
GINGER GLAZING SAUCE
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 tbsp butter
½ cup dry white wine
1½ cups low-salt chicken stock
4 tbsp (1/3 cup) ginger marmalade
2 tsp balsamic vinegar (or more to taste)
freshly ground salt and pepper
Cook shallots in butter in a saucepan over medium heat until golden, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the wine and boil until it’s reduced to a glaze, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the stock and simmer until reduced by half, about 20 minutes.
Add the ginger marmalade, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste, and stir until the marmalade is incorporated and the sauce is hot.
I made strawberry jam this morning from some of the bargain strawberries I mentioned in my last letter.
The whole process made me feel like a proper Nanna – the sort who smells of vanilla and wears face powder and big knickers and has a brooch pinned to her frock.
I’ll bring a jar of my strawberry jam when we come to see you at Christmas and we can stuff ourselves with it before everyone else wakes up.
It’s likely I won’t have time to write another blog post before then because it’s odds on I’ll either be busy with work and last-minute shopping or too full of booze and food to be of any real use.
Before I go I’d like to wish everyone who reads this blog a very happy and safe Christmas.
It’s been wonderful this past year to get emails from people from all over the world.
I know the Internet has its downsides but you lot certainly aren’t one of them.
May Santa bring you everything you wished for.
This recipe is off the back of the JamSetta packet and can be used for any berry fruits
¼ cup water
4 tbsp lemon juice
1.5kg granulated sugar, warmed
50g packet JamSetta
Preheat the oven to 150C.
Put three saucers or small plates in the freezer for jam-testing later.
Wash drain and hull the strawberries and cut them into halves or quarters if they’re huge.
Put them in a really big pan (I used a pasta pan) with the water and lemon juice and cook gently, uncovered, until the strawberries are soft.
While that’s happening, look at the huge mountain of sugar you’re about to use, think about how it will desecrate the temple that is your body, then put the sugar in a big bowl and warm it in the oven for 6 minutes.
Wash five or six jam jars and their lids in hot soapy water, rinse thoroughly, drain well and put them on a baking sheet ready to put in the oven.
Don’t touch the inside of the jars and lids when you do this or you may die later.
Add the warmed sugar and JamSetta to the strawberries in the pan and heat gently until dissolved, stirring constantly.
Bring to the boil and boil vigorously for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Quite a bit of pink scum (frothy stuff) will rise to the top of the jam while it’s boiling. Remove it with a slotted spoon and dump it in a bowl.
While the jam is boiling, put your tray of jam jars and lids in the oven to complete the sterilisation process.
Test if the jam has reached setting point by putting a teaspoon of jam onto one of the cold plates and leaving it for 30 seconds.
It’s ready when you run your finger through it and the jam crinkles.
If this doesn’t happen keep boiling and testing until it does or until you think, ‘I really don’t give a shit anymore,’ which is what happened to me.
Remove the jam from the heat and let it stand for 10 minutes.
Ladle it into the hot jars with a ladle that was washed and rinsed along with the jam jars.
Fill the jars right to the top and put the lids on straight away.
You’ll probably have a little bit of jam left in the bottom of the pan that won’t fit into your jars.
Eat it all with a spoon.
Lie down and wish you hadn’t.
I was going to talk to you today about making strawberry jam but I haven’t made it yet so I can’t.
There are five kilos of strawberries in that box in the picture.
Your Great Uncle Gerard was down for a visit last week and asked us if we’d like him to go out to the local strawberry farm and buy them.
What possessed me to say “yes” is anybody’s guess. I must’ve been on drugs without knowing it.
The main reason is that they were only $10 (yes, $10 for 5 kilos) and who could go past a bargain like that, EVEN THOUGH I WASN’T PAYING FOR THEM?
Not your Nanna, that’s for sure (my Mum, aka your Great Grandma, reckons this is because once you’ve been hit with the Kmart stick, it’s a lifelong thing – cheap, cheap, cheap all the way).
These strawberries are seconds. If you look closely you’ll see that some of them have been pre-nibbled by lizards and bugs, others are covered in dirt, and a few (surprisingly few, actually) are turning into alien life forms.
It only took me about 12 hours to wash them, hull them and chop out the dodgy bits.
Then I had to go to Woolies and buy some JamSetta and the equivalent of Alec Baldwin’s body weight in sugar.
The idea is that I will chuck everything into a big saucepan, boil the shit out of it and end up with jars of jam that people will exclaim over at Christmas even though what they really want is a giant Toblerone.
Speaking of Christmas, here are some pictures of our fibre-optic tree, which I love with every fibre of my being.
Your Grandpa and I sit in front of its twinkly-ness every night, grateful that we no longer have to pretend we prefer the real thing and won’t still be vacuuming up pine needles on Australia Day.
The following pictures are of my spice drawers, which I bought at Ikea years ago and painted with some red paving paint I found in the shed at our old house.
The names are written on the front with white coloured pencil, which is easy to wash off if you want to re-arrange your drawers (so to speak).
We love eating spicy food, your Grandpa and I, and this is a good way to store spices because it keeps them in the dark.
“Where are you going with this, Nanna?” you are probably asking right now.
Well, I’m trying to segue into a recipe for Satay Pork, which is what we had for dinner last night.
This is one of our favourite meals – perfectly spiced and great to eat with fried rice.
It also freezes and reheats really well.
It’s from a book I got off eBay called Best-kept Secrets of the Women’s Institute: Home Cooking, by Jill Brand and Carrie O’Regan.
I don’t have a picture of the finished dish because it’s one of those brown jobbies that doesn’t photograph well.
Here’s a picture of the spices instead.
700g pork fillet
1-2 tbsp oil for frying
For the marinade:
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp salt
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
For the peanut sauce:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, crushed
¼ cup (60 ml) smooth peanut butter
½ – 1 tsp chilli powder (depending how hot you like it – I like ½ tsp)
1 tbsp light brown sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
Mix together the marinade ingredients in a medium bowl.
Remove the silvery bits from the pork fillet and slice the meat across the grain into 1cm slices.
Put the pork into the bowl with the marinade and mix well.
Cover with Gladwrap and marinate in the fridge for at least 6 hours.
To make the sauce, heat the oil in a small saucepan over low-ish heat then gently cook the onion and garlic until soft and lightly coloured.
Add the peanut butter, chilli powder, brown sugar and lemon juice and cook for two minutes.
The sauce can be made ahead of time if you like. Keep it, covered, in the fridge.
To make the satay, heat a little oil in a non-stick frying pan or wok over high heat.
Fry the pork until cooked through (you’ll have to do this in two batches, removing the first batch to a bowl).
Return all pork to the wok, stir in the peanut sauce and heat through for a couple of minutes.
Serve with rice.