HAPPY AUSTRALIA DAY

Sheep looking happy in Goomalling

Sheep looking happy in Goomalling. It’s obviously not Australia Day.

Dear Amelia,
Much as you wouldn’t want to be a turkey at Christmas, you definitely wouldn’t want to be a lamb on Australia Day.
Woolies was packed to the rafters with dead ones this week, or various bits and pieces of them, including full legs at $10 off.
I don’t know when this “tradition” of eating lamb on our national day started but I suspect it wasn’t very long ago (in fact I think it’s only been a “tradition” since 2005 when the Meat and Livestock marketing people teamed up with Aussie loudmouth Sam Kekovich and bombarded us with lamb ads).
I asked your Grandpa what he wanted for our Australia Day dinner tonight and he said Peking Duck, and while I don’t usually reward him for being a smart-arse, that’s what we’re having.
He kindly found me an “easy” recipe in Gok Cooks Chinese, a really terrific book from the lovely Gok Wan of TV’s How to Look Good Naked fame.

gok wan
I say “really terrific book” but I haven’t actually cooked anything from it yet.
What I HAVE done is read it from cover to cover, so at least it’s a start.
For the Peking Duck, Gok says to buy a pack of duck pancakes at the supermarket.
Hahahahahahaha.
So I’m going to have to make my own using a recipe off the Internet (only three ingredients but a difficult-sounding rolling technique – alcohol may have to be applied to mouth).
Seeing as Peking Duck isn’t very Australian, I thought I should also make the effort to bake some pumpkin scones.
The recipe is from the 1970 edition of the Australian Women’s Weekly Cookbook, which was given to me as a wedding present in 1974 by a lady called Ali Mealey, who was a neighbour of your Great Grandma and Grandpa in Bunbury.
The Mealeys were a big boisterous family of carnival people (they set up their amusement stalls at country shows all over the State) and Ali had a heart of pure gold.
This book has been so well used, the dust jacket actually disintegrated and then the entire hard cover dropped off.
It’s THE go-to book if you want to make Strawberry Hazlenut Gateau, which I have done on many occasions over the years but not lately because it contains obscene amounts of whipped cream.
It’s made up of layers of hazelnut meringue sandwiched together with melted chocolate, whipped cream and sliced strawberries, then covered with more whipped cream and strawberries.
Here’s a pic of it from my AWW Cookbook.

strawberry hazlenut gateau
But back to the scones…
Before you start, you need to know two of the Australian Women’s Weekly set-in-stone scone rules from 1970:
1. Cut sharply and evenly with your scone cutter. Don’t twist it.
2. Never cut a cooked scone with a knife – always break it open with your fingers.
I’ve got no idea why you have to do this, or what will happen to you if you don’t.
That’s because I’ve never been one to tempt fate.
Even as a kid I wouldn’t wear blue and green without a colour in between.
I didn’t step on a crack until I was 23.

 

One year ago on this blog: Echidna Pavlova

 

pumpkin scone

PUMPKIN SCONES

Makes about 12

30g softened butter
¼ cup caster sugar
1 cup cooked, mashed pumpkin (about 340g)
1 egg
2½ cups self-raising flour
pinch salt
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ – ½ cup milk, depending on dryness of pumpkin

Preheat oven to 230C.
Beat butter and sugar together.
Add pumpkin and mix well.
Fold in sifted dry ingredients alternately with ¼ cup milk.
If necessary, add remaining milk to make a soft but not sticky dough.
Turn mixture on to a floured surface and knead lightly.
Pat out to 2cm thickness and cut out scones with a floured 5cm cutter.
Place the scones in a greased 28x18cm lamington/slice tin and glaze the tops with a little milk.
Bake scones for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool the scones uncovered on a wire rack if you like firm, crisp tops.
Wrap them in a tea towel as soon as they come out of the oven if you prefer them soft.

pumpkin scones

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CHANNELING ELVIS: RUDOLPH CUPCAKES

The B-52s, who weren't at the Albany Christmas pageant.

The B-52s, who weren’t at the Albany Christmas pageant.

Dear Amelia,
Here in the town that time forgot we’ve been partying like it was 1989 except without Roxette and the B-52s.
Last Saturday night we went to the annual Christmas pageant and it was brilliant – 6,000 people lining the main street, 27 floats, lots of stuff happening, including my friend Kerry nearly having her eye taken out by a lollipop that was thrown into the crowd by a passing elf.
Nanna was standing next to a bogan gentleman who was holding the ugliest baby she’s seen in a long time.
It made her realise how lucky she is to have the model of beauty and perfection that is you.
Your Grandpa was the official photographer for the night so we didn’t see much of him.
Here’s a (very bad) picture of him that I took with my phone.
He’s photographing two of the girls from the winning float who were wearing amazing costumes made from dozens of balloons.

leith2_22012
Here are some more (very bad) pictures taken with my phone.

Three-for-one offer: the three wise men.

Three-for-one offer: the three wise men.

santa22012

kids2_22012

filipino2_2012

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is just a couple of weeks away.
I’ve been looking through all my Christmas cookbooks wondering how I can channel Elvis this year but nothing’s really jumped out and smacked me in the face yet.
Speaking of Elvis, this is one of my favourite pictures in Brenda Arlene Butler’s cookbook “Are You Hungry Tonight?”.
It’s alongside the recipe for his famous Fried Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich. You’ll notice that the girl is wearing a banana costume. Spooky or what?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
In Christmases past I’ve always managed to come up with something suitably kitsch and tacky on the food front.
One year it was an incredibly complicated Nigella recipe that came about because I thought, “Should I find a cure for cancer or should I make Nigella’s Christmas Puddini  Bonbons?”

White chocolate slippage: the curse of the Christmas Puddini Bonbon.

White chocolate slippage: the curse of the Christmas Puddini Bonbon.

It’s interesting to note that the Women’s Weekly came up with the idea for these bonbons first and simply called them Little Chocolate Christmas Puddings.
You’ll find the Women’s Weekly recipe here and Nigella’s recipe here.
Be warned: the cutting-up of the glace cherries for the “holly” decoration takes FOREVER.
Another warning: for us, Nigella’s version turned out to be the gift that kept on giving. They were so rich we all ended up with diarrhoea.
What I will probably do this year is re-visit the Rudolph Cupcakes that I made for the first Christmas we had in Albany in 2007.
I got the recipe from The West Australian’s food lift-out. I think it was by Tracey Cotterell.

Stylist's note: I was a bit pissed when I took this photo, hence the blurriness, used serviettes and bowl of peanuts.

Stylist’s note: I was a bit pissed when I took this photo, hence the blurriness, used serviettes and bowl of peanuts.

RUDOLPH CUPCAKES

Makes 12

Bake 12 chocolate cupcakes in a 12-hole muffin tin, using your favourite recipe or a packet mix.
Let them cool completely before decorating.

ICING
150g unsalted butter
120g sifted icing sugar
30g good-quality cocoa powder

Beat all ingredients together for 6-8 minutes until light and fluffy.
Spread the icing over the tops of the cupcakes.

TO DECORATE
150g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
24 white chocolate buttons
12 red glace cherries

I won’t lie – this isn’t a walk in the park.
You’ll end up with melted chocolate from arsehole to breakfast, but the end result is worth it because even really miserable people smile when they see these cupcakes and everyone tells you what a clever person you are.
First, line two baking trays with non-stick baking paper, then snip one of the corners off a clean and sturdy plastic bag to make a piping bag.
You only want a very small hole in the piping bag, so snip carefully.
Melt the dark chocolate in the microwave or in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water.
Pour the melted chocolate into the piping bag until it’s half full.
Refill the bag as needed but don’t fill more than halfway or it will squirt out backwards up your arm (this is how I found out that you really can’t lick your elbows).
Pipe 24 three-pronged antler shapes onto the baking paper.
Like mine, yours may look more like stubby little trees than antlers, but after the 10th one you’ll stop caring.
Put the trays in the fridge so the chocolate antlers set.
You’ll really want to have a beer and a lie down after this but you can’t because your melted chocolate will go hard.
What you have to do next is grab a wooden satay stick or toothpick and dip it in the melted chocolate so you can put dark chocolate dots in the middle of the white chocolate buttons.
These are the eyes and they have to go in the fridge to set too.
To assemble the 12 Rudolphs, put the glace cherries just off-centre on each cupcake then stick on the eyes and antlers.
Store the cakes in the fridge until they’re eaten, which will happen in two minutes flat.

love shack
PS: there are two things in life your Mum really hates – the B-52s song Love Shack and the word “moist”. Your Uncle Paul torments her with both of them regularly. One day I will explain.


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.


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).


LIFE ON MARS

Dear Amelia,
Here at party central I’ve been watching the bruises on my stomach turn yellow and prodding the stitched-up bits to see how much they still hurt.
The answer is, “Not much,” which is great seeing as I had the gall-bladder operation late in the afternoon when most hard-working people need a sugar fix to keep them going.
My worry is that the pain will come back and when I’m taken to hospital and ripped open again they’ll find a Mars Bar wrapper in there.
The surgeon will say, “So that’s where it went,” and get his insurance cover increased before I regain consciousness.
Speaking of guts, have a look at this takeaway menu.
I found it on this blog written by a British woman whose husband was transferred to Shanghai.
Nothing says enviable lifestyle like a bowl of frog’s fallopian tubes, does it?


Seeing as it didn’t involve lifting anything heavier than a kettle of water and seeing as I’m bored shitless, I googled “frog’s fallopian tubes” today and found this picture of them.


They’re apparently a very popular dessert in China – the Chinese version of Nigella’s Flourless Chocolate Brownies by the sound of it.


I made Nigella’s Flourless Chocolate Brownies yesterday because we went to Richard and Lynda’s place last night to have dinner and watch the footy and I offered to take dessert.
Lynda has coeliac disease, which means she can’t eat gluten, so this dessert is perfect for her.
It’s so perfect that despite having several trillion cookbooks, I never make anything else when Lynda and dessert are involved.
One of these days she’s going to hit me over the head with the baking tin.
Nigella’s Flourless Chocolate Brownies are extremely easy to make: all you do is melt butter and chocolate in a saucepan, chuck in some sugar, eggs and nuts and mix everything together.
Bung it in the oven and 30 minutes later you have 16 very delicious brownies.
You’ll find the recipe in Nige’s book, Nigella Express, or on her website (click here).
These brownies are quite gooey in the middle, or squidgy-bellied as she calls them (I know – gag).
If you like them firmer, put them in the fridge for a few hours before you eat them.
They’re so rich it’s hard to eat more than one.
That said, your Grandpa ate three last night.
He said it was to help him get over the disappointment of West Coast losing the game.

 


SO??

Dear Amelia,
Your Mum just told me that the ladies at day care found a sultana up each of your nostrils this week.
You seem to be on a bit of a roll, don’t you? From sequins to dried fruit in less than 48 hours.
Here’s a tip: Sultanas are actually better in scones.
As luck would have it, I made some last week so I’ll give you a recipe in a minute.
I can see where you’re coming from though.
Nanna still can’t walk past a bag of marbles without wanting to put them in her mouth.
I can still hear my Mum (your Great Grandma) shouting, “Michele! Have you got marbles in your mouth?” and me saying, “Blb,” which is what the word “No” sounds like with a mouth full of marbles.
If it’s any consolation, our family seems to have a history of this sort of thing.
A story that’s now passed into family folklore is of your Great Grandma’s cousin who went to bed and put a bead in his ear.
When the doctor asked him why he’d put a bead in his ear he said it was because he didn’t have any pockets in his pyjamas.
Maybe the solution to your own little problem is to wear clothes with pockets in them for a while.
I’ll ring your Mum tonight and suggest it.
In the meantime, here’s that scone recipe, which I got off the back of the Sunbeam Sultanas box and which is also featured on their website here.
I eat Sunbeam Sultanas like there’s no tomorrow and have done for years.
I don’t think you can beat them for quality, plus they use fruit grown here in Australia, which is as rare as unicorn sightings these days.
Actually, it’s just occurred to me that if you must stick sultanas up your nose, you should try to make sure they’re Sunbeam.
At least you’d be supporting local industry.

SULTANA SCONES

Makes about 8

½ cup Sunbeam Sultanas
2 cups self-raising flour
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp butter or margarine
½ – ¾ cup milk

Preheat oven to 200C.
Place flour and sugar in a bowl.
Rub in the butter or margarine with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Stir in sultanas.
Pour ½ cup milk into the mixture and mix to a soft dough with the back of a knife, adding remaining milk if necessary.
Knead dough on a floured surface until it’s smooth, adding flour as necessary.
Pat out the dough to a thickness of 2cm and cut out scones with a 5-6cm cutter.
Arrange the scones close together on a lined baking tray and brush the tops lightly with milk.
Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until golden on top.
They’re cooked if they sound hollow when you tap them with your fingertip.
Serve warm, with butter.


CHANNELING ELVIS: ORANGE HAWAII

Dear Amelia,
It’s only two more sleeps until G Day and I won’t lie to you, I’m feeling nervous.
But that’s hardly surprising seeing as I’ll be lying on a table, half-naked and unconscious, and there’ll be a man standing over me with a knife.
On the upside, when I return home from hospital on Thursday I’ll be minus a body part that’s a bit like Krakatoa before the eruption.


Granted, if Nanna’s gall bladder ever does explode it’s unlikely to kill 36,417 people (unless maybe she’s standing in Albany Plaza at the time), but it just might kill her, so it’s best if it’s taken out.
This past week I’ve spent time cleaning the house in a more thorough than usual manner in case I cark it on the operating table (no one likes a dirty dead person).
I’ve also been cooking things that make me smile, including the Orange Hawaii pictured up the top there, although you can hardly call it cooking.
The idea for Orange Hawaii isn’t mine but the name is (I thought the original name of D.I.Y. Paradise was pretty good but not quite Elvis enough for me).
All you need is one mandarin – your favourite fruit – two sliced bananas and a kiwi fruit cut in half lengthwise, then each half cut into eight slices.
Arrange artfully on a plate as per the photo, then eat.
Or do this.


Who knew there were so many interesting things you could do with kiwi fruit? Not me, that’s for sure.
Your Great Grandma’s 80th birthday dinner went extremely well last Sunday.
Here she is blowing out the candles, with her brother, your Great Uncle Bill, looking on and waiting to get his choppers into that Chocolate Malteser Cake.


Yes, I know I said in an earlier post that this was a bland cake.
Well, Nigella, I eat my words. I must have done something to stuff it up the first time I baked it.
This time it was fab. Everyone loved it.
I urge you to bake it as soon as you’re old enough to operate an oven without endangering yourself.
It was a very jolly party, your Great Grandma’s 80th.
Lots of reminiscing and laughter, and an unexpected bonus in that if there’s ANYTHING AT ALL you need to know about macular degeneration, shadows on the brain, prostate glands, arthritis, dicky knees, hip replacements, seniors’ discounts or retirement villages, you can now ask me.
The night after your Great Grandma’s bash, Grandpa and I had dinner with your Uncle Paul at one of our favourite spots, the Queens Tavern.
Here’s a picture of your Uncle Paul looking handsome while eating Chicken Wellington.


I don’t have any photos of the Goodbye Gall Bladder dinner that our friends Trevor and Fiona put on but it was a corker; I haven’t laughed so much in ages.
Two more things that have made me smile this week:


And this, emailed to me by Liz in Bali, snapped yesterday by Liz’s friend Rachel in a supermarket in Coogee.


Another funny thing: My biggest gallstone is apparently 2.5cm in diameter.
Your Grandpa says if I bring it home with me from hospital it will have to come separately by taxi.