Only one week to go until I can get back to pulling trucks up Mt Clarence using my teeth and a length of rope.
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
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.
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.
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.
10 chicken pieces (bone in, skin on, preferably thighs, drumsticks and wings)
juice of 1 lemon
60ml olive oil
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.
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).
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
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).
Just lately when we’re staying with your Mum and Dad, and Nanna rushes in to your bedroom in the morning to get you out of your cot, you sometimes get all pouty and stick your head under the quilt and say, “No!”
At first I thought it was because you were just being a little shit but then I realised it might be because when I get out of bed I look like this.
I took this picture at 8 o’clock yesterday morning after frightening myself when I looked in the bathroom mirror.
I’m not sure why it happens, this hair thing.
Your Grandpa says it’s a gift.
Personally I think it’s because of “product”, which looks like this.
Back in the day, when Nanna was younger, bottles of stuff like this were called “hair care”.
They changed the name to “product” so they could start charging gullible people like me $35 a pop.
Things were a lot simpler on the hair front when Nanna was young.
A drop of Silvikrin shampoo or Sunsilk Lemon (for Greasy Hair), and you were set for at least a week.
If you wanted to be blonde you just sprayed something called Sun Up on your head and stood out in the sun until you passed out and/or your hair was bleached to the desired shade of lightness.
OK, fluorescent yellowness.
This is a pretty scary photo isn’t it?
It’s because it was taken in 1973 (look at that pampas grass and the umbrella tree and the pink hibiscus – so 70s).
That’s your Great Aunty Pauline on the left looking gorgeous with her natural red hair.
The scruffy, long-haired bloke in the middle is your Grandpa and the girl with her nose in the air and bright yellow Sun Up hair is me.
I remember the day that photo was taken. I was dying to go to the loo and just seconds before had been shouting, “For God’s sake, get on with it!” (some things never change, do they?).
One thing that’s changed, though, is Nanna’s gall bladder.
It’s now home to a gallstone the size of a minor planet plus “a host of smaller ones” (sort of like a host of golden daffodils only round and brown).
My doctor told me that lots of people get gallstones, especially if they fit into the category called The Four Fs, which stand for female, fair, 40 and fat.
My doctor is a warm, witty and wonderful man but I must admit that when he came out with that one I nearly summoned up a fifth F and told him to fuck off.
Instead I advised him that I wasn’t fat when I was 40 and that even though I’m moving more towards the lard-arse end of the weight scale than the skinny-girl end, people had yet to start pointing and laughing at me in the street.
Luckily he had good things to tell me about my bowels and we were able to move on.
Anyway, I had my pre-admission appointment at the hospital this morning because in a few weeks my gall bladder and its various stones are being removed.
I’ve decided that the weekend before this happens I’m going to go out to a restaurant with your Grandpa and some friends for a Goodbye Gall Bladder dinner.
It will be nice not to have to cook but, if I had to, I would make these Gingered Chicken Cakes with Coriander Sauce.
If you Google the name of this recipe you’ll find it’s on caterer’s menus all over the world – probably because it’s so easy and impressive and delicious.
It’s from one of my favourite cookbooks – Diva Cooking: Unashamedly Glamorous Party Food by Victoria Blashford-Snell (yes, really) and Jennifer Joyce.
Unfortunately the book’s out of print but if you ever see it on eBay, grab it – it’s a little treasure.
I use 500g chicken breast mince instead of mincing 2 chicken breasts as directed in the recipe.
I also use bought mayonnaise instead of making my own (surprise, surprise). You’ll notice that these chicken cakes are the same colour as my hair when I was 20. How embarrassing is that?
GINGERED CHICKEN CAKES WITH CORIANDER SAUCE
Makes 20 small canapés or 10-12 bigger patties
500g chicken breast mince
45ml (2 tbsp plus 1 tsp) Thai fish sauce
2.5cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
3 spring onions, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp dried chilli flakes/crushed dried chilli
oil (not olive) for frying
mixed salad leaves
2 tbsp mayonnaise
¼ cup fresh coriander, finely chopped
juice and finely grated zest of 1 lime
Make the coriander sauce by mixing together all the ingredients.
Cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge until needed.
For the chicken cakes, put the chicken mince into a big mixing bowl.
Put all the remaining ingredients except for the oil and salad leaves into a mini food processor or blender and process until pureed.
Pour the pureed mixture on top of the chicken mince and mix everything together until well combined.
Form the mixture into patties – small ones for canapés, bigger ones for an entrée or main course.
Coat the bottom of a large frying pan with oil and cook them over medium-high heat for 3 to 5 minutes each side, until cooked through.
Drain the chicken cakes on kitchen paper and serve them on a bed of salad leaves with a bowl of sauce in the middle.
To eat, drizzle some sauce over the chicken cakes and salad.
Look what Nanna got you for your second birthday next month.
As I write, it’s winging its way to Albany from the USA, courtesy of Fishpond, which had it reduced from $245 to $101 WITH FREE POSTAGE!
You love helping to cook even though you’re such a little thing. You’ll be beside yourself when you see it.
I just hope that when you’re 35 and you’re reading this blog post, you’ll look up into the ether (which, unfortunately, is where Nanna will be unless she lives to be 92) and say, “Well, Nan, that kiddy kitchen is what put me on the road to my multi-million-dollar cookbook and cooking show deal, not to mention my boutique vineyard with rich husband and unbearably chic bistro attached.”
This celebrity chef obsession may not last another 33 years.
Who knows? Maybe by the time you’ve grown up, people won’t want to be foodies any more.
Maybe squash players will have made a comeback. Or people will want to be graphic designers again. Or disco dancers.
To be honest, whatever you want to do is fine by me.
But just in case foodies are here to stay, here are a few tips on how to be a ridgy-didge, card-carrying one.
First up, you mustn’t ever buy things, you must source them, and whatever you source must be called “produce”.
Quality is paramount, so everything should be be free-range, organic, seasonal and locally produced and preferably from a farmers’ market, farm-gate food stall, market gardener, orchardist, local fisherperson, enthusiastic smallholder or anywhere else you spot wall-to-wall wankers carrying string bags.
That means no garlic from Argentina and no frozen peas, even if you’ve just worked nine hours straight and are absolutely buggered.
Learn how to pronounce bruschetta. Make risotto. Shave a truffle.
Find out what sous vide means and who Cheong Liew is (clue: not an Asian toilet).
Remember: Nothing says “foodie” like a fridge full of dead dicky birds that are really difficult to source.
I’m talking about guinea fowl, partridge, snipe or even the occasional pink-eared duck.
Here is a picture of the pink-eared duck, which, according to Field and Game Australia Inc, is available for recreational hunting in Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term dicky bird, click here.
The richly layered lyrics of this song bring back many happy childhood memories for Nanna.
I hope you enjoy them too.
Speaking of dead dicky birds, Nanna cooked the thighs of two of them the other night.
They weren’t free-range, unfortunately, because I haven’t been able to source free-range chicken thighs with skin on and bones in down here in the town that time forgot.
The recipe is Nigella Lawson’s take on a classic dish called Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic.
It uses chicken pieces instead of a whole chook and because the garlic is roasted in its skin, it’s sweet and creamy and not at all overpowering.
It’s a really lovely dish.
Grandpa and I ate it by candlelight then fell asleep in front of a recorded episode of Boardwalk Empire.
Who said romance is dead?
CHICKEN WITH 20 CLOVES OF GARLIC
You’ll find Nigella’s recipe for 4 people here, or in her book, Kitchen, on page 328.
For two people I halved the amount of chicken and garlic but kept the same amount of vermouth for the sauce.
First you preheat the oven to 180C and find a casserole dish that takes 4 skin-on, bones-in chicken thighs in one layer.
It needs to have a lid and be suitable for use on top of the stove as well as in the oven.
Next, finely slice three spring onions, strip the leaves from two sprigs of thyme and separate 20 cloves from a couple of bulbs of garlic (but don’t peel them).
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil over high heat in the casserole dish and cook the chicken thighs on the skin side only until they’re brown.
Remove them to a bowl, lower the heat a little and fry the spring onions and thyme leaves for a couple of minutes.
Chuck in 10 garlic cloves, put the chicken thighs on top (skin-side up), then top these with the other 10 garlic cloves and two whole sprigs of thyme.
Pour 30ml of vermouth or white wine into the pan (I used vermouth) and any chicken juices from the bowl.
Season with salt and pepper, cover with a lid and cook in the oven for 1½ hours.
I served this with mash and some Torbay asparagus that your Grandpa sourced at the local farmers’ market.
It was the first of the season. Wonderful stuff.
As I write this, someone, somewhere in the world, is buying a copy of the erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey.
It’s very famous at the moment, this book, because it’s sold 31 million copies in about five minutes.
That means there are 31 million people out there who know a lot more about bondage and discipline and S&M than they did before they ventured on to Amazon.com.
Nanna’s not one of them but, truth be told, she’s tempted.
The trouble is, I’ve heard the book is so badly written, I’m not sure I’m willing to fork out the ten bucks required to bring it home.
So I’ve more or less decided to wait until I can get a copy from Albany Public Library.
I just worry that by the time I do, all the pages will be stuck together.
Laugh if you like but I worry with good reason.
There was a story last week in our local newspaper, the Albany Advertiser, that since sales of Fifty Shades of Grey have gone gangbusters, so have the sales of sex toys at the local sex shop.
You know, sometimes I sit out on the deck at night, sipping a glass of Yellowglen and watching all the lights come on in the houses on the hill opposite.
I often wonder what sort of lives the people in those houses lead – what sort of things they get up to.
Well, now I know.
While I’m knocking back the fizz they’re pulling out their whips and strapping on giant dildos.
Who would’ve thought? Not me, that’s for sure.
The next time I see a cluster of people around the triple-A battery stand at Woolies, I’ll start wondering big time.
Are they buying them so they can listen to something uplifting on the ABC on their portable radios or are they planning a session with their shiny new vibrators?
And if it’s the latter, where are they hiding them from the kids?
We used to keep ours up the back of your Grandpa’s sock drawer.
I say “used to” because it got lost during the move to Albany four and a half years ago.
For months after the move I was worried sick it had ended up in one of the cardboard boxes we’d given to the Salvos, wedged down the bottom between the Rena Ware casserole dish and the Reader’s Digest Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual.
Then your Grandpa said it had probably ended up in landfill somewhere, and I must admit I felt much better knowing that it was underpinning one of Perth’s outer suburbs rather than causing a coronary in a soldier of Christ.
Speaking of Rena Ware, how stupid was I to give it away considering that it was totally vintage and therefore totally desirable in a totally non-sexual way?
Well, basically it was because it wasn’t big enough or deep enough to cook anything in, especially this Malaysian Chicken Curry, which is one of my favourites.
And seeing as it’s spicy, it sort of fits in with today’s little chat, doesn’t it?
MALAYSIAN CHICKEN CURRY
1 brown onion
2 garlic cloves
3cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and quartered
1 small chilli, halved (with or without seeds – your choice)
1 tomato, quartered
2 tbsp Madras curry paste (I use Patak’s)
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp salt
8 fat chicken drumsticks
400ml can coconut cream (I use the “lite” version)
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into eighths
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Cut the onion into quarters and put it in a food processor with the garlic, ginger, chilli, tomato, curry paste and 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil.
Whiz it all around until everything is reduced to a thick paste.
Mix the turmeric and salt on a dinner plate and roll the chicken drumsticks in the mixture to coat.
Heat the remaining oil in a big frypan over medium heat and cook the drumsticks for about 3 minutes each side, until golden brown.
Put them in an ovenproof dish that’s big enough to hold them in a single layer.
Reduce the heat under the frypan and add the onion paste from the processor.
Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes or until it’s aromatic.
Stir in the coconut cream and bring it to the boil.
Pour this mixture immediately over the chicken, then tuck the potato pieces in between the drumsticks, pushing them under the sauce.
Cover the dish with a lid or foil and cook in the oven for one hour, turning the drumsticks over after 30 minutes.
Serve with rice.