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.


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.


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.


PULITZER PIES: CHICKEN, BACON AND MUSHROOM PIE

Dear Amelia,
I know.
Another Chocolate Malteser Cake.
But in my defence:
1. You LOVED it.
2. It seemed fitting that your second birthday should be celebrated with the same cake I baked for your Great Grandma’s 80th.
3 (and more to the point). I paid $10 for the Horlicks malted milk powder that was listed in the recipe and, according to the stamp on the bottom of the Horlicks tin, I’ve only got until August 2013 to use up the absolute shitload that’s left.
Luckily for you, every cloud has a silver lining.
As in, whatever is left in the tin by the time your third birthday rolls around will have already gone to Horlicks Heaven.
So Nanna will be forced to make something different.
Something like this maybe (we’d have to change your name to Jayden but I think it would be worth it).

Picture source here

It was a lovely birthday weekend – lots of kisses, lots of cuddles and lots of games (my favourite being the running-in-circles one called “round and round and round and round and round and round and JUMP” – if only all of life was that simple).
And even though it says in “Advice After Abdominal Surgery” that you shouldn’t pick up anything heavier than a kettle of water, Nanna decided to live on the edge and managed to pick you up a dozen times without anything nasty exploding out of her belly button.
Speaking of which, after you’d gone to bed and we’d eaten our body weight in cake, your Mum, Dad, Grandpa and I settled down to watch TV and it was at this point that your Mum started to shout, “Ooh, ooh, ooh.”
At first we thought her vital signs were shutting down due to Malteser overload but it turned out she’d come across one of her favourite programmes and was very excited.


This programme is called Embarrassing Bodies and it is truly wonderful.
Three minutes in and I was like iron filings to a magnet.
I can’t believe I’ve never seen it before – in the OMG stakes it knocks Bethenny and the Real Housewives (except maybe for crazy-eyes Ramona) into a cocked hat.
Here’s what happens: a bunch of doctors get in a van and drive around England looking for people who have things wrong with them that are so embarrassing, they can’t discuss them with anybody else.
For example, there was this lady who wouldn’t take her clothes off in front of a bloke on account her unfortunate hoo hoo (as they say in the classics).
So she took all her clothes off IN FRONT OF THE TV CAMERA and sure enough her labia were practically grazing her knees and now every bloke in England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Australia and, for all I know, Ecuador and the Democratic Republic of Congo, knows about it.
When I say “every bloke” I actually mean every bloke except for your Dad, who suddenly became engrossed in his iPhone, and your Grandpa, who said, “I’m not watching this crap,” and went to bed.
Not that your mother and I noticed for a while because by then we were captivated by an anal skin tag on another lady’s bottom.
Anyway, long story short, I had to make it up to your Grandpa with one of his favourite pies.
This pie is based on a recipe by my friend Margaret Johnson (restaurant consultant, food writer for The West Australian newspaper and all-round good sort) and it’s pretty yummy.

CHICKEN, BACON AND MUSHROOM PIE

Serves 4

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, defrosted for 5-10 minutes
3-4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 500g), diced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 rashers bacon, cut into small pieces
12 button mushrooms, sliced
½ tsp dried thyme
½ cup white wine
small carton chicken stock OR 3 tsps Gravox gravy mix dissolved in a mug of boiling water (don’t tell anyone about the Gravox or all your cooking credibility will go down the gurgler)
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a big frying pan over med-high heat, brown the diced chicken, then remove it to a casserole dish or saucepan.
Cook the onion, bacon and mushrooms in the frying pan until the onion and mushrooms have softened.
Put with the chicken in the casserole.
Pour over the wine and enough stock to just cover.
Add the thyme, season with salt and pepper and partly cover with a lid.
Bring to a simmer on a medium heat.
Turn the heat to low and cook for about 45 minutes.
Let the mixture cool then pour into a pie dish.
Cover with puff pastry, brush with beaten egg and poke a couple of holes in the top to let the steam escape.
Bake in a preheated 200C oven until puffed and golden brown (about 30 minutes).