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.
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?
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?”
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.
Bake 12 chocolate cupcakes in a 12-hole muffin tin, using your favourite recipe or a packet mix.
Let them cool completely before decorating.
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.
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.
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.
The good news is that I’m not on the drug that killed River Phoenix.
The other news is that I’m on the drug that killed Heath Ledger.
Well, one of the drugs.
And I’m not taking it anymore because I was so freaked out when I read about it on the Internet, I flushed what was left down the toilet.
But things could be worse.
I woke up this morning feeling 100 times better than I did when I got home from hospital on Thursday morning.
Thanks to our not-so-marvellous modern medical system, Nanna hobbled through her front door exactly 16 hours after she was wheeled out of the operating theatre, one hand clutching a prescription for heavy-duty painkillers, the other holding thirteen (yes, THIRTEEN) A4 pages of instructions on how she should care for herself after abdominal surgery.
Here’s something that’s funny in a very non-ha-ha way: Albany Hospital now has signs next to the beds telling people they have to check out by 10am, just like in a hotel.
Who would’ve thought? Not me, that’s for sure.
But what’s important is that the operation was a success, just more difficult and longer than usual because my gall bladder was stuck to something.
I can’t remember what it was stuck to because I was still off my face when the surgeon did his rounds.
I’m good now though – hardly any pain at all, I just have to be careful what I do.
For the next six weeks I’m not allowed to lift anything heavier than a full kettle of water and I can’t drive for four.
I can’t begin to tell you how boring it is.
What I CAN tell you is that I was always a big fan of Heath Ledger.
Back in the mists of time, when I was editor of The West Australian’s colour magazine and Heath had just made it big in Hollywood, we managed to get an interview with him for the mag, him being a Perth boy and all.
I nearly wet myself when it was confirmed.
(I actually did wet myself when I got an interview with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. Then my bowels almost liquefied when he agreed to autograph the magazine cover for me. I hadn’t realised up until then what a celebrity whore I was.)
The picture of Heath at the top of this blog post was on the magazine cover too.
It was taken by photographer Frances Andrijich and she kindly gave me a print, which I had framed.
It now hangs in Nanna’s kitchen.
Here’s a close-up.
I had to phone the hospital on Friday to find out when I should take the dressings off the four incisions in my stomach, this point not being covered in the 13 pages of instructions.
The first two people I spoke to said, “Didn’t the nurse tell you?”
What was I supposed to say?
“Well, yes, she did tell me. I’m just ringing up to give you the shits.”?
The nurses were wonderful by the way.
And your Grandpa has been an absolute star. His blood should be bottled.
I made this Banana Tart for him before I went into hospital and will make it again as soon as I’m up to it.
It’s very simple and very delicious.
This is from the June 1991 edition of Gourmet mag, via Epicurious.com. You’ll find the original recipe here.
1 ready-rolled sheet Pampas puff pastry
1 big banana, cut diagonally into half-centimeter slices
2 tsp sugar
2 big pinches cinnamon
10g butter, cut into small bits
1 heaped tbsp marmalade to glaze OR Orange Caramel Sauce
Preheat oven to 200C.
Let the pastry defrost on the bench for 5 minutes then cut out a round using a 19cm-diameter side-plate as a template.
Put the pastry round on a baking sheet lined with baking paper.
Arrange the banana slices on the pastry in circles, overlapping them slightly.
Mix the sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle it over the bananas.
Dot the bananas evenly with butter and bake for 25-30 minutes.
Glaze the bananas by melting the marmalade in small saucepan, straining it through a sieve and brushing it on the tart.
Serve as is or don’t bother with the glaze and serve with Orange Caramel Sauce and vanilla ice cream.
ORANGE CARAMEL SAUCE
Makes about ¾ cup
35g soft brown sugar
juice of ½ a lemon
juice of 1 orange
1 tsp cornflour
2 tsp water
1-2 tbsp Grand Marnier or Cointreau (optional)
Mix the cornflour and water together. Set aside.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low-ish heat, add the brown sugar and stir until it’s dissolved.
Pour in the lemon and orange juice and bring to the boil.
Stir in the cornflour mixture and continue stirring until the mixture boils and thickens.
Turn off the heat and stir in the Grand Marnier or Cointreau.
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:
Grandpa is eating leftover Yorkshire Lasagne as I write this.
It smells heavenly but I can’t eat any because I’m having a colonoscopy on Wednesday and today I have to eat what’s called a “low-residue diet”.
So far I’ve had five cups of black tea and a jar of Heinz Smooth Summer Fruits Gel, plucked fresh from the baby food aisle at Woolies this morning.
According to the label on the jar it’s suitable for “ALL ages over 6 months”, so this will be good practice for when my teeth fall out.
For dinner tonight, I’ll have strips of skinless chicken breast poached in Campbell’s Chicken Consomme with some pasta thrown in for good measure.
(And I mean that sincerely – Campbell’s consommés are tops.)
Tomorrow I’ll move on to the serious bit, referred to around here as Hello Sorbent.
No food to be consumed AT ALL (there are lots of capital letters on the instruction sheet) and from 4pm I’ll drink a glassful of ColonLYTELY™ every 15 minutes until all three litres are consumed or until I fall off the toilet and drown in my own vomit, whichever comes first.
ColonLYTELY™ cleans out your insides and tastes vile – like seawater with half a lemon squeezed in.
The person who invented it wanted to call it ColonFUCKINGAWFUL but wasn’t allowed.
Wednesday at 6.30am I will venture into the non-luxurious surrounds of Albany Regional Hospital and shortly thereafter have the old telescope-up-the-bum procedure.
Après colonoscopy (that’s French for “no longer shitting”), I will be given a sandwich by a nurse and it will be one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever tasted in my life.
I know this because I’ve been après colonoscopy twice before.
Moving on: Your Uncle Paul came to stay on the weekend and it was lovely.
Yorkshire Lasagne is his favourite meal, so I cooked it on Saturday night.
I only cook it on special occasions because it takes forever to make, but believe me, it’s worth it.
It’s called Yorkshire Lasagne because I don’t think they cook it like this in Italy.
Whatever. It’s delicious. And rich enough to bring Elvis back from the dead.
1 x 375g packet of instant lasagne
lots of grated cheddar cheese (as in, when you think you’ve got enough, you haven’t really)
lots of grated parmesan cheese
For the bolognese sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
450g lean minced beef
1 big clove of garlic, crushed
1 x 140g tub/tin of tomato paste
1 cup red or white wine (I use leftover Yellow Glen, such is my level of chic-ness)
water to cover
2 tomatoes, chopped up
½ tsp dried oregano
salt and freshly ground pepper
For the white sauce
3 tbsp plain flour
3 cups low-fat milk (to make up for the rest of it)
To make the bolognese, fry the onion in the olive oil in a big saucepan over low-ish heat until the onion’s soft but not brown.
Increase the heat and chuck in the mince and garlic and cook, stirring with a fork, until the mince is brown and no longer lumpy.
Stir in the tomato paste and white wine.
Pour in enough water to cover (you want a runny sauce) and then stir in the tomatoes and oregano.
Season with salt and lots of pepper and simmer, partly covered with the saucepan lid, over low heat for 1-1½ hours.
Let it cool.
While it’s cooling, make the white sauce by bringing the milk to just below the boil in a small saucepan.
Have a balloon whisk handy and melt the butter over low-ish heat in another saucepan.
Off the heat, stir the flour into the butter with a wooden spoon, then increase the heat slightly and let this mixture (called a roux) cook for a couple of minutes.
Pour in the hot milk all at once and whisk like buggery with the metal whisk.
Doing it this way, you never get lumps in your white sauce.
Bring to the boil and let it simmer until slightly thickened.
Turn off the heat and stir in a handful of the grated cheese.
Preheat the oven to 180C.
To assemble the lasagne, put a ladleful of bolognese sauce and half a ladle of water in the bottom of the lasagne dish and mix them together.
Put a single layer of instant lasagne sheets on top.
Cover the lasagne sheets with some bolognese sauce, top this with a layer of white sauce, then sprinkle grated cheeses over the top.
Continue layering in this way until all the sauce is used up, finishing with a layer of bolognese on top.
Sprinkle cheeses on top of the bolognese and bake in the oven for about 40 minutes, or until tender when pierced in the middle with a knife.
Let the lasagne sit on the bench for five minutes before serving.
Down here in the land of purple utes and visible bum cracks, Australia Day celebrations are taken very seriously.
You’re buggered unless you have at least two Australian flags attached to your car roof, four cartons of Crownies in the boot and a Staffie whose upper body is hanging out the car window.
If you don’t own a Staffie and can’t borrow one from a mate, you could probably avoid being called a poofter by having Cold Chisel’s Khe Sanh blasting out of your car radio while you lay some rubber in the Middleton Beach car park.
Or, if you’re looking for something slightly more sophisticated, you could stay home and make an Echidna Pavlova.
I think every boy and girl should have an Australia Day recipe up his or her sleeve and this Echidna Pav is perfect.
It comes from the book Sheridan Rogers’ Food Year, which is very good but now out of print.
You can visit Sheridan Rogers’ website here.
The pav is supposed to serve 6, but the way I make it, it feeds 35.
This is because it’s so sweet, you can’t eat more than a couple of mouthfuls.
That said, it’s perfect for those Australia Day barbecues where everyone is as smashed as rats and is likely to throw up anyway.
Sheridan Rogers’ version probably isn’t as sweet as mine because she uses fruit (nectarines, apricots or peaches) cut into 5mm batons for the echidna spines.
I used After Dinner Mints – the ones shaped like sticks – because it was easier.
Sheridan doesn’t put eyes on the echidna’s face either but I had some dried cranberries in the pantry and thought what the hell.
Currants or sultanas would be just as good.
Blue M&M’s, I think, would be really special because you could tell people they were a metaphor for our iconic, wide, blue Australian sky.
Very patriotic and less hassle than borrowing a Staffie.
Serves 35 drunk people
4 egg whites
200g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tbsp cornflour
400ml thickened cream
box of After Dinner Mint sticks
2 eyes of your choice
Preheat the oven to 120C and line a baking tray with baking paper.
Whisk the egg whites with half the sugar until they’re stiff and shiny.
Fold in the rest of the sugar along with the vanilla essence, vinegar and cornflour.
Put dots of this meringue mixture under each of the four corners of the baking paper to “glue” it to the baking tray.
This is so it doesn’t slide around when you’re fashioning the echidna’s body.
Spoon the meringue mixture on to the baking paper in an oval shape, stretching it out at one end to make the pointy echidna face (see picture after the recipe).
Bake it for one hour, then turn the oven off, but leave the pav in the oven for another 30 minutes.
Remove it from the oven and let it cool completely.
Whip the cream until it is quite stiff. If you don’t, the “spines” will slide off the echidna’s bum.
Put the echidna on a platter, cover it with whipped cream and stick the After Dinner Mint “spines” in the body section.
Place the eyes of your choice on its creepy little face.