BLONDE MOMENTS

Dear Amelia,
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

CORIANDER SAUCE
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.

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FIFTY SHADES OF WTF

Dear Amelia,
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

Serves 4-6

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.


I HEART CURRY

Dear Amelia,
For the past couple of days I’ve spent every spare moment punching heart shapes out of the pages of Mills and Boons romance novels.
The idea is that we’ll scatter the hearts along the centre of the tables at your Mum and Dad’s wedding reception, thereby providing guests who may not know each other with handy conversation starters (“Christ! Have you read this crap?”).
In other news, your dress arrived from over East last week, so I hot-footed it down to the post office to pick it up.


This is not your flower girl’s dress.
This is what the French call your “avant le marriage” frock (no they don’t, I just made that up).
Nanna saw it on buyinvite.com.au and had to have it, so the pre-ceremony preparations with your Mum and the bridesmaids seemed as good an excuse as any to buy it.
On the day, you’ll be able to do exciting things like sit on the floor and spill stuff down it while everyone’s getting ready for the wedding.
As you get older you’ll notice that one of Nanna’s many talents is buying stuff that is essentially non-essential.
On the kitchen bench, for example, is a pistachio-green Kitchenaid mixer, which cost $625 and was my reward for giving up smoking six years ago.
I’ve used it roughly seven times.
I also have six plate/bowl thingies that are the size of car tyres.
They were THE thing to buy a few years back if you really wanted to look the business on the foodie front.
Unfortunately they’re too big to stand upright in the dishwasher so I don’t use them.
I’ve already mentioned the pasta machine elsewhere, but if you open the drawer above the one where the car tyres are stored, you’ll find a tonne of other useless crap that includes a lemon zester, an avocado slicer, a meat thermometer, a turkey baster, a bean stringer/slicer, a pasta server that your Grandpa uses to scratch his back and a purple plastic spoon in the shape of an aeroplane (guess who that’s for?).
Next I want one of these double egg poachers.


Your Grandpa is always whingeing about the quality of his eggs, plus the testicle-ness of this design always makes me smile.
Having said all that about non-essential stuff, I actually used the car tyres last night to serve a curry.
This wasn’t just any curry. It was curry that involved major faffing around but was totally worth it because it was fabulous.
I copied the recipe out of a magazine at Great Southern Radiology while I was waiting to have some bits x-rayed a couple of months ago.
I can’t remember which magazine it was but suspect it may have been Delicious.
You’re supposed to use cottage cheese but I didn’t have any so I used natural yoghurt instead.
I also halved the number of chillies and increased the cooking time by more than an hour.
Seriously good stuff – your Grandpa’s still raving about it.

LAMB SHANK ROGAN JOSH WITH BASMATI RICE

Serves 4

4 lamb shanks
2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2tsp ground turmeric
3 fresh bay leaves
1 tbsp fennel seeds
6 green cardamom pods
½ tsp ground ginger
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 small red chillies
100g natural yoghurt
½ a can (about 200g) tinned chopped tomatoes
coriander to garnish

Pre-heat oven to 170C.
Put the lamb shanks in a heavy, lidded casserole dish that will take them in one layer.
Mix the ginger, garlic, turmeric and bay leaves in a small bowl and rub this mixture into the shanks.
Wash your hands immediately or you’ll look like you have a 60-a-day cigarette habit.
Put the shanks to one side while you make the sauce.
Whack the cardamom pods with the flat of a knife to split them and expose the seeds inside.
Put the cardamom seeds in a mortar and pestle with the fennel seeds and grind to a coarse powder.
Tip the ground ginger on top.
Heat 2 tbsp oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-low heat.
Cook the onion, stirring, for 6 minutes or until softened.
Stir in all the spices from the mortar and pestle and cook for another 5 minutes.
Set aside to cool slightly then put the onion/spice mixture in a food processor or blender with the chillies (including seeds), yoghurt, tomatoes and remaining 2 tbsp oil.
Puree to a coarse paste (it will be the colour of cat sick at this stage but worry not – it doesn’t stay that way).
Grab the casserole dish containing the lamb shanks and tip in the paste and enough water to cover the meat  (about 350ml).
Stir it all around to combine.
Tear off a big sheet of baking paper, crumple it up and wet it under the tap.
Push the baking paper onto the meat/liquid to cover it closely, then cover this with a sheet of alfoil (this hold in moisture).
Cook in the oven for 2½ to three hours, stirring occasionally, until very tender.
Pour off all the oil/fat that’s gathered on top and serve sprinkled with chopped coriander.

BASMATI RICE
Wash one cup of basmati rice under running water then put it in a saucepan.
Cover with two cups of boiling water (from the kettle).
Stir in about a tbsp of olive oil, four cloves and a pinch of salt.
Cover the saucepan with a lid, bring the water back to the boil and cook for 8 minutes over a medium heat.
Remove the pan from the heat but leave the lid on and let the rice sit for 10 minutes.
It will be fluffy and delicious.


FURTHER TO OUR CONVERSATION OF THE 8TH

Dear Amelia,
Here’s what you said to me on the phone yesterday morning.
“Hi Nanna! I have two! Nigh-nighs! Up! I poos! Bye!”
I love the way you exclaim rather than just speak.
I also love the way the magical grandchild/grandparent bond is strengthened by a mutual interest in bowel movements.
Before you know it we’ll be talking about the weather.
It’s your Grandpa’s birthday today, and also the birthday of Ella the Wonder Dog.
Here are pictures taken last year of Grandpa and Ella lying on our old kitchen floor with its 1965 lino (we’ve got lovely shiny floorboards now).
Sometimes I worry that Grandpa and Ella might be the same age emotionally.


Here is a picture of what I bought Grandpa for his birthday. When he saw them he said, “Is it a record player?”


As I write this, he is hunched over his Apple Mac, doing work for a newspaper in Tokyo (pretty amazing when you consider he’s just up the passageway, here in little old Albany).
The birthday girl is lying next to my chair, farting incessantly.
Ella is 13 years old, which is about 80 in golden retriever years, and she has to take a tablet every day for her arthritis.
At night, she sleeps on the floor on my side of the bed, farting incessantly.
Sometimes I forget she’s there and stand on her head when I get up.
I feel terrible but she doesn’t seem to mind.
I’m making a River Cottage Golden Syrup Cake for Grandpa’s birthday.
It’s unbelievably delicious and one of his favourites.
I’ll stick these sparklers in the top.


I was going to get proper candle numerals instead of sparklers because I figured they could be re-used.
But then I realised the only way they could be re-used was like this.


The thought was so depressing I said, “Shit, how depressing,” out loud in the party favours aisle at Woolies and got a concerned look from the woman standing next to me.
We were supposed to be together this weekend, you and I, but your Mum got the flu and so did I, even though I had my very first flu injection this year.
Granted, my flu has only lasted a few days (I had it for SIX weeks last year) but it’s meant that I haven’t really felt like cooking.
Last night I drank lots of alcohol and didn’t eat any vegetables and I feel almost cured this morning.
Who knows? Maybe this is the way forward with flu treatments. Maybe I should patent it.
Your Grandpa and I watched the Blues get beaten by Geelong last night.
In the end your Grandpa was shouting at the TV so I got him to take a picture of his dinner to take his mind off Carlton’s final-quarter crapness.
These chicken wings are great for eating in front of the TV and seeing as they stick to your teeth they don’t spray everywhere when you’re screaming at your team.
They’re called Coby’s Spicy Wings and I found the recipe at this blog here. The only thing I’ve changed is the oven temperature.
They are the best chicken wings I’ve tasted, anywhere, ever.

COBY’S SPICY WINGS

Makes about 32 pieces

2kg free-range chicken wings (about 16 big wings)
1/3 cup hoisin sauce
2 tbsp peanut oil
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp grated ginger
2 heaped tsp Dijon mustard

Cut the tips from the wings and chuck them in the bin.
Cut the wings in half at the joint and put them in a big zip-lock plastic bag or a bowl.
Whisk together the remaining ingredients and pour this marinade over the wings, making sure all are well coated.
Marinate the wings in the fridge for one hour or up to 24.
Preheat oven to 200C.
Line a big baking tray with foil and then with baking paper.
Put the wings in the tray in a single layer and cook for about 25 mins, then turn them over and cook for another 20-25 mins or until brown and sticky.
This recipe works just as well when you halve the quantities.


GARLIC WITH GUNS

Dear Amelia,
Long story short: Nanna was once told by an Italian drug dealer that you should never fry your chopped garlic for longer than 30 seconds.
Just fry it until it’s fragrant, he said. No longer.
And because he had a gun in his bag, Nanna was inclined to believe him.
That was in Manjimup in 1974, when the local pub was like something out of The Wild Bunch and you never knew who you’d meet over a middy (but guess what – it was never William Holden).
For some reason  – possibly because I was terrified – I’ve never forgotten Mr I.D.D.’s garlic-frying rule and to this day I whip the frying pan off the heat the second the smell hits my nostrils.
Then I discovered a dish called Orecchiette with Broccoli, Anchovies and Chilli and realised that sometimes rules are made to be broken.
This dish is apparently a very old, traditional one and there are dozens of different recipes for it on the Internet.
Your Grandpa and I love it so much, I cook it every couple of weeks.
You need to use proper orecchiette, not the San Remo stuff.
Orecchiette means “little ears” in Italian and looks like this.

Proper orecchiette is very easy to get hold of.
Believe me: if you can buy it at Woolies in Albany you’ll be able to get it in Tashkent.
If you hate broccoli, you’ll still love this dish.
If you hate anchovies, you’ll still love this dish.
Trust me. I’m your Nanna.

ORECCHIETTE WITH BROCCOLI, ANCHOVIES AND CHILLI

Serves 3 (or 2 for dinner and enough left over for 2 small lunches – it reheats well the next day in the microwave)

300g orecchiette
1 lge head of broccoli
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
6-8 anchovy fillets, chopped roughly
a splash of olive oil
40g butter
2 big pinches of crushed, dried chilli
one-third of a cup of grated parmesan cheese

Put a big pot of salted water over high heat and bring to the boil.
Add the orecchiette and cook according to packet directions (the Pirro brand you see in the picture takes 18 minutes).
As soon as you’ve put the water on to boil, cut the broccoli into small-ish florets, reserving as much stalk as possible.
Put the florets in a saucepan of water, bring them to the boil, cook for 3 minutes, drain them, then run them under cold water to stop them cooking.
Put to one side.
Cut the broccoli stalks into chunks then put them in a food processor and process until finely chopped.
Heat the oil and half the butter in a big frypan over low heat and cook the chopped-up broccoli stalks, garlic, anchovies and dried chilli for 10 minutes, covered, stirring every now and then.
When the orecchiette is cooked, put a ladle of pasta water in the frypan, tip in the drained pasta, the broccoli florets, the remaining butter and half the parmesan cheese and stir until it’s all hot and combined.
Serve it with the remaining parmesan cheese sprinkled over the top.


DONNA HAY, SUPERSTAR

Dear Amelia,
I recently saw a restaurant menu that listed a dish called Prawns Two Ways.
In our house that would mean putting them in your mouth with your right hand AND your left, which we usually do anyway because we love prawns your Grandpa and I.
But it made me think that I should give you two of my favourite prawn recipes.
They’re my favourites because they both involve enough butter to harden every single artery in your body by bedtime, which is why they taste so good.
The first is a recipe for Garlic and Tarragon Prawns that I came across in a Donna Hay magazine I was reading at the hairdressers.
I didn’t feel comfortable tearing it out because I knew I’d probably get caught, so I had to hunt around town for my own copy.
It was in the 10th Anniversary edition, which unfortunately was sold out, but on the up side I now know exactly how many newsagents there are in our little corner of the Great Southern.
I eventually found the mag for free, would you believe, as part of a Donna Hay app for the iPad.
It was obviously in my stars that this recipe and I should be together so I cooked it for all of us for Christmas lunch while you were sitting in your high chair pushing bits of banana in your ear.
The prawns were so totally amazing that despite the fact I think Donna Hay looks disturbingly like Neil Perry (could they be the same person, do you think?), I wrote this grovelling little song for her.
You have to sing it to the tune of Hosanna, one of the hit songs from that old musical, Jesus Christ Superstar.
If you want to check out the original on YouTube, you’ll find it here.

Donna Hay Superstar
Ho Donna
Hey Donna
Donna Donna ho
Donna Hay
Donna ho
Don-naaaa
Hey DH, DH
Can I use crème fraiche?
Donna ho
Donna Hay
Superstar
I was telling a friend in Perth that I was cooking the prawns again on the weekend and she said, “You’re turning the OVEN on? TOMORROW? Are you INSANE?”
Seeing as the summer temperatures here in the deep south are always somewhere between marvellous and exceptional, I’d forgotten it’s so hot in Perth at the moment you could fry an egg on Eric Ripper’s head.
So I reckon if you’re suffering through a heatwave you could always cook the prawns in the garlic butter in a frypan instead of baking them (OK, you’d still have to turn on the oven to roast the garlic but it’s a small price to pay for such deliciousness).
By the way, I grow my own tarragon because that’s what Nannas do.
Feel free to substitute the dried variety, I’m sure it would be fine.

GARLIC AND TARRAGON PRAWNS

Serves 4

1 head garlic, unpeeled
1 tbsp olive oil
60g butter, softened
4 or 5 sprigs of French tarragon, chopped
1 tsp Spencer’s crushed chilli/dried chilli flakes
salt and pepper to taste
24 raw king prawns, peeled, with tails intact
lemon wedges to serve

Preheat the oven to 180C.
If you’ve forgotten to take the butter out of the fridge, microwave it for 10-15 seconds to make it soft.
Place the garlic on a baking tray, drizzle with the oil and roast it in the oven for 20-30 minutes, until soft when squeezed.
While the garlic is roasting, butterfly the prawns by cutting down their backs (but not all the way through) and removing those stringy bits that are their intestinal tracts.
Spread the prawns out flat and put them in a single layer in a big shallow roasting pan (see pic at end of recipe).
When the garlic is cooked, increase the oven temperature to 220C.
Slice the top from the garlic bulb and squeeze the roasted garlic from each clove into a bowl.
Add the butter, tarragon, chilli, salt and pepper and mash everything together with a fork.
Top each butterflied prawn with some of the garlic butter and roast for about 8 minutes until cooked through.
Serve with lemon wedges.