A NEW YEAR, A NEW BABY AND A NICE BIT OF DUCK

Xmas 2012 kitchen small

Dear Amelia,
Welcome to 2013 and your very own bubblegum pink kitchen, which you were supposed to get for your birthday in September but it didn’t arrive in time.
When it did arrive in October – flat-packed in a cardboard box – it occurred to us for the first time that it would have to be built from scratch.
And that it would be like assembling your portable cot (aka thatstupidfuckingthing) but multiplied by a million.
This realisation was so traumatic, we decided not to think about it again until Christmas.
Long story short: If you had any doubts about your Grandpa’s devotion to you, this kiddy kitchen and its 147 individual screws should dispel them once and for all.
It took him four and a half hours to assemble the damn thing and he didn’t swear once – an incredible indicator of personal growth if you ask me.

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The fact that you kept jumping up and down and clapping your hands and shouting, “Wow! Look Nanna! Wow!” certainly helped things along.
So did the hugs when times got tough.

Ella the Wonderdog asserting ownership of your Grandpa via the time-honoured dog practice of putting a paw on his testicles

You’ll notice that Ella the Wonderdog is asserting ownership of your Grandpa via the time-honoured dog practice of putting a paw on his testicles

Uncle Paul pitched in as well, letting you eat his T-shirt until you were able to cook something more substantial on your new stovetop.

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Here are some pictures of the lovely Christmas table your Mum set.
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Finally, here’s a picture of your Mum getting dinner ready while your Dad attends to the important business of opening a six-pack of beer.
You’ll notice your Mum is a slightly different shape.
That’s because of your baby brother, who is due to enter this world in May.
I KNOW! It’s so exciting.

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We had a wonderful Christmas with you all but we were very glad to get back to the cool weather of Albany.
Perth had its longest December heatwave in 70 years while we were staying up there: 39.6C on Christmas Day, 40.5C the following Saturday, bloody awful in between.
When we were driving home on Boxing Day, the temperature as we passed through Williams was 39C. By the time we got to Albany it was 22C. Bliss.
On New Year’s Eve we partied like it was 1999, your Grandpa and I, 1999 being the year after 1998, which was the last time we actually went out to a NYE party.
Our tradition now is to stay at home, eat good food, drink French champagne, sing very badly and loudly, dance around the lounge room, then pass out at half past ten.
We had beautiful Albany oysters with the first bottle of Veuve, then a really delicious duck dish, then ice cream with home-made strawberry topping (I was supposed to make berry clafoutis but I was too buggered).
The duck recipe looks like major work but it’s actually very simple.
Just grind your spices and make your sauce beforehand.
The rest comes together really quickly.
You’ll find the original recipe for this dish here.
It requires you to perform surgery on two whole ducks (no thanks) and add cornflour to the sauce (no need).
It also adds cinnamon and salt to the spice rub but I forgot to put it in (no great loss – it was still delicious).
I served this with sauteed potatoes and a salad that included homegrown rocket, mizuna, parsley and chives.

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SPICED DUCK WITH GINGER GLAZE
From a recipe by JeanMarie Brownson, Chicago Tribune

Serves 4


4 duck breasts
Spice rub, see recipe below
Ginger glazing sauce, heated, see below

handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped 



Pat the duck breasts dry with paper towels.
Sprinkle the spice rub on a big dinner plate and coat the duck breasts lightly on each side.
Put the breasts on a rack set over a plate or baking dish (this will catch any drips of blood), cover and put in the fridge for 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
Make the Ginger Glazing Sauce before you cook the duck breasts. Reheat it when the duck breasts are in the oven.
Pre-heat oven to 200C. Heat a large ovenproof frying pan (see note) over low heat until hot.
Add breasts, skin side down, in a single layer.
Cook over low heat without turning until skin is crisp and brown, about 10 minutes.
Turn breasts over, put them in the oven and cook until medium rare, about 10 minutes.
To serve, slice the duck breasts, pour over some of the ginger sauce and sprinkle with parsley.
Serve the rest of the sauce separately.
Note: You don’t need to use an ovenproof frying pan. I used an ordinary non-stick frying pan and then transferred the duck breasts to a hot baking dish (I put the baking dish in the oven when it was pre-heating).
Even though I cooked this for two instead of four, I still made the full amount of sauce. Because we’re greedy pigs. And because the ginger marmalade was on special at Woolies.

SPICE RUB
1 heaped tbsp whole coriander seeds
1 star anise
1 tsp whole cloves

Grind everything in an electric spice mill/coffee grinder or mortar and pestle until you have a fine-ish powder.

GINGER GLAZING SAUCE
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 tbsp butter
½ cup dry white wine
1½ cups low-salt chicken stock
4 tbsp (1/3 cup) ginger marmalade
2 tsp balsamic vinegar (or more to taste)
freshly ground salt and pepper

Cook shallots in butter in a saucepan over medium heat until golden, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the wine and boil until it’s reduced to a glaze, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the stock and simmer until reduced by half, about 20 minutes.
Add the ginger marmalade, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste, and stir until the marmalade is incorporated and the sauce is hot.

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HO HO HO AND FIVE JARS OF JAM

Another gratuitous shot of our Christmas tree, taken last night. You'll notice Nanna's toenails could do with a trim.

Another gratuitous shot of our Christmas tree, taken last night. You’ll notice Nanna’s toenails could do with a trim.

Dear Amelia,
I made strawberry jam this morning from some of the bargain strawberries I mentioned in my last letter.
The whole process made me feel like a proper Nanna – the sort who smells of vanilla and wears face powder and big knickers and has a brooch pinned to her frock.
I’ll bring a jar of my strawberry jam when we come to see you at Christmas and we can stuff ourselves with it before everyone else wakes up.
It’s likely I won’t have time to write another blog post before then because it’s odds on I’ll either be busy with work and last-minute shopping or too full of booze and food to be of any real use.
Before I go I’d like to wish everyone who reads this blog a very happy and safe Christmas.
It’s been wonderful this past year to get emails from people from all over the world.
I know the Internet has its downsides but you lot certainly aren’t one of them.
May Santa bring you everything you wished for.

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STRAWBERRY JAM

This recipe is off the back of the JamSetta packet and can be used for any berry fruits

1.5kg strawberries
¼ cup water
4 tbsp lemon juice
1.5kg granulated sugar, warmed
50g packet JamSetta

Preheat the oven to 150C.
Put three saucers or small plates in the freezer for jam-testing later.
Wash drain and hull the strawberries and cut them into halves or quarters if they’re huge.
Put them in a really big pan (I used a pasta pan) with the water and lemon juice and cook gently, uncovered, until the strawberries are soft.
While that’s happening, look at the huge mountain of sugar you’re about to use, think about how it will desecrate the temple that is your body, then put the sugar in a big bowl and warm it in the oven for 6 minutes.
Wash five or six jam jars and their lids in hot soapy water, rinse thoroughly, drain well and put them on a baking sheet ready to put in the oven.
Don’t touch the inside of the jars and lids when you do this or you may die later.
Add the warmed sugar and JamSetta to the strawberries in the pan and heat gently until dissolved, stirring constantly.
Bring to the boil and boil vigorously for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Quite a bit of pink scum (frothy stuff) will rise to the top of the jam while it’s boiling. Remove it with a slotted spoon and dump it in a bowl.
While the jam is boiling, put your tray of jam jars and lids in the oven to complete the sterilisation process.
Test if the jam has reached setting point by putting a teaspoon of jam onto one of the cold plates and leaving it for 30 seconds.
It’s ready when you run your finger through it and the jam crinkles.
If this doesn’t happen keep boiling and testing until it does or until you think, ‘I really don’t give a shit anymore,’ which is what happened to me.
Remove the jam from the heat and let it stand for 10 minutes.
Ladle it into the hot jars with a ladle that was washed and rinsed along with the jam jars.
Fill the jars right to the top and put the lids on straight away.
You’ll probably have a little bit of jam left in the bottom of the pan that won’t fit into your jars.
Eat it all with a spoon.
Lie down and wish you hadn’t.

Look at all those yummy strawberries. It must be where the expression "jam-packed" comes from.

Look at all those yummy strawberries. It must be where the expression “jam-packed” comes from.

 

 


STRAWBERRIES, ALEC BALDWIN AND SATAY PORK

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Dear Amelia,
I was going to talk to you today about making strawberry jam but I haven’t made it yet so I can’t.
There are five kilos of strawberries in that box in the picture.
Your Great Uncle Gerard was down for a visit last week and asked us if we’d like him to go out to the local strawberry farm and buy them.
What possessed me to say “yes” is anybody’s guess. I must’ve been on drugs without knowing it.
The main reason is that they were only $10 (yes, $10 for 5 kilos) and who could go past a bargain like that, EVEN THOUGH I WASN’T PAYING FOR THEM?
Not your Nanna, that’s for sure (my Mum, aka your Great Grandma, reckons this is because once you’ve been hit with the Kmart stick, it’s a lifelong thing – cheap, cheap, cheap all the way).
These strawberries are seconds. If you look closely you’ll see that some of them have been pre-nibbled by lizards and bugs, others are covered in dirt, and a few (surprisingly few, actually) are turning into alien life forms.
It only took me about 12 hours to wash them, hull them and chop out the dodgy bits.
Then I had to go to Woolies and buy some JamSetta and the equivalent of Alec Baldwin’s body weight in sugar.
The idea is that I will chuck everything into a big saucepan, boil the shit out of it and end up with jars of jam that people will exclaim over at Christmas even though what they really want is a giant Toblerone.
Speaking of Christmas, here are some pictures of our fibre-optic tree, which I love with every fibre of my being.
Your Grandpa and I sit in front of its twinkly-ness every night, grateful that we no longer have to pretend we prefer the real thing and won’t still be vacuuming up pine needles on Australia Day.

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The following pictures are of my spice drawers, which I bought at Ikea years ago and painted with some red paving paint I found in the shed at our old house.
The names are written on the front with white coloured pencil, which is easy to wash off if you want to re-arrange your drawers (so to speak).
We love eating spicy food, your Grandpa and I, and this is a good way to store spices because it keeps them in the dark.

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“Where are you going with this, Nanna?” you are probably asking right now.
Well, I’m trying to segue into a recipe for Satay Pork, which is what we had for dinner last night.
This is one of our favourite meals – perfectly spiced and great to eat with fried rice.
It also freezes and reheats really well.
It’s from a book I got off eBay called Best-kept Secrets of the Women’s Institute: Home Cooking, by Jill Brand and Carrie O’Regan.
I don’t have a picture of the finished dish because it’s one of those brown jobbies that doesn’t photograph well.
Here’s a picture of the spices instead.

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SATAY PORK

Serves 4

700g pork fillet
1-2 tbsp oil for frying

For the marinade:
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp salt
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp olive oil

For the peanut sauce:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, crushed
¼ cup (60 ml) smooth peanut butter
½ – 1 tsp chilli powder (depending how hot you like it – I like ½ tsp)
1 tbsp light brown sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice

Mix together the marinade ingredients in a medium bowl.
Remove the silvery bits from the pork fillet and slice the meat across the grain into 1cm slices.
Put the pork into the bowl with the marinade and mix well.
Cover with Gladwrap and marinate in the fridge for at least 6 hours.
To make the sauce, heat the oil in a small saucepan over low-ish heat then gently cook the onion and garlic until soft and lightly coloured.
Add the peanut butter, chilli powder, brown sugar and lemon juice and cook for two minutes.
The sauce can be made ahead of time if you like. Keep it, covered, in the fridge.
To make the satay, heat a little oil in a non-stick frying pan or wok over high heat.
Fry the pork until cooked through (you’ll have to do this in two batches, removing the first batch to a bowl).
Return all pork to the wok, stir in the peanut sauce and heat through for a couple of minutes.
Serve with rice.


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.

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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.

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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?

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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.


GOOD KING WENCESLAS GOES CHRISTMAS SHOPPING

Dear Amelia,
The photos at the top of this blog are of the first two Christmas stamps ever released in Britain.
I’ve got both of them in my trusty Pelham Junior Stamp Album, which was given to me by my Nanna when I was 11.

My trusty Pelham Junior Stamp Album, looking a bit worn round the edges after 48 years.

One of the stamps (guess which one) depicts Good King Wenceslas and was drawn by a six-year-old called Tasveer Shemza.
It’s up there because I’ve had a few emails (OK, two) asking if I can re-print the Good King Wenceslas column I wrote back in 2008 for the West Weekend magazine.
I wrote this column after I’d been Christmas shopping at Myer in late November.
I’d been trapped on the escalator between two little kids (one covered in snot, the other playing with his willy), their Mum and Dad (who were carrying several hundred shopping bags) and three teenage boys (who were almost catatonic from looking up the bum of a girl in very short shorts who was further up the escalator).
When I got home I said to your Grandpa, “I bet good old King Wenceslas never had to go through this sort of thing.”
Then I thought, well maybe he did.
The column’s reprinted with the permission of The West Australian newspaper.
If you’d like to hear the original Christmas carol, click here.

Good King Wenceslas Goes Christmas Shopping

Good King Wenceslas went out, buying gifts for Stephen.
Five clicks past the roundabout, through the traffic weavin’.
Brightly shone the moon that night, on a trail bike dealer,
When a salesman came in sight, pushing a two whee-ee-ler.

Hither, salesman, stand by me, wrap that bike up quick smart.
On my way I soon must be, there’s a sale at K-mart.
Ten per cent off DVDs, half-price socks and sandals,
Random specials on CDs, books and scented ca-an-dles.

Through the mall the King set out, wrestling with his trolley.
Mums and Dads were all about, none of them looked jolly.
Perry Como filled the air, singing songs of snowmen.
Hyped-up kids were everywhere, never a good o-o-men.

First a turkey, plump and good, went in Wence’s trolley,
Followed by a Christmas pud, and some plastic holly.
Wrapping paper, Toblerone, gift tags shaped like Santa,
Serviettes in neutral tones, Pringles, nuts and Fa-an-ta.

Bring me Bundy, bring me wine, bring Bacardi Breezer.
Bring me lager from the Rhine, put it all on Visa.
Bring Jim Beam for Uncle Stan, that should stop him whingeing.
Plus lite beer for young Leanne, we don’t want her bi-inge-ing.
 
Good King Wenceslas went home, absolutely knackered.
In his castle’s stately dome, he was Christmas crackered.
So, folks, don’t yourselves delude, make sure you remember.
Next time you buy gifts and food, do it in Sep-te-em-ber.

I like to think that when Good King Wenceslas finally got home, Good Queen Wenceslas was waiting with a nice glass of whiskey and some shortbread biscuits in the shape of Christmas trees.
I make these every year in all sorts of Christmassy shapes and everyone loves them.
It’s the same recipe I used for the Bum Biscuits I blogged about back in March.
Click here and you’ll find it.

 

 


CHANNELING MOSES: STRAWBERRY SANTA HATS

Dear Amelia,
You know that Christmas is just around the corner when the Innovations catalogue arrives in your mailbox.
I love the Innovations catalogue.
So much crap, so little time, so many alternatives.
If you don’t want to fork out $12.95 for Frosty the Snowman with his compelling serial-killer eyes…


…you can always buy the Nativity Music Box with its twinkling fibre optic lights.
(Seeing as we’re going biblical, here’s a confession: I’d gladly pay an extra 50 bucks if, instead of playing Silent Night, Mary was shouting, “For God’s sake can someone turn off those lights. You’ll wake the baby.”)


A bush that glows in the dark. C’mon kids, let’s channel Moses.


Another confession: even though your Mum and Uncle Paul are in their 30s, I still buy them advent calendars.


I also get them for you and your Dad now, but when I went into Woolies to buy some today, all they had was this.
Which is a travesty if you ask me. Bring back robins and holly and snow and other Australian-type stuff I say.


Thank God we can celebrate Christmas with meaningful things like Strawberry Santa Hats.
You won’t remember this because you were only 15 months old at the time, but last Boxing Day you and I got up before anyone else was awake and ate five Strawberry Santa Hats each for breakfast.
This was no biggie for an old girl like me but for a one-year-old it was pretty bloody impressive.

STRAWBERRY SANTA HATS

Makes 24

24 strawberries
12 white mini marshmallows
¼ cup desiccated coconut, frozen (this helps the chocolate to set)
100g white chocolate
1 tsp oil

Cut the leaves (the stem end) from the strawberries with a sharp knife, leaving a nice flat base.
Set aside.
Cut the mini marshmallows in half and set aside.
Put the coconut into a small bowl.
Break the white chocolate into pieces and put it into a small microwave-safe bowl.
Microwave at 50 per cent for 1 minute, stir with a spoon, microwave at 50 per cent for another minute then stir again.
Stir in the oil and combine thoroughly.
Line a tray with baking paper.
Dip the bases of the strawberries into the melted white chocolate, then into the coconut.
Put the strawberries onto the tray as you go.
Dollop a tiny bit of melted white chocolate onto the tip of each strawberry with a teaspoon and press the cut marshmallows into the chocolate.
Store in the fridge until ready to serve.
These keep well overnight. They’d probably keep longer but they were eaten so quickly we didn’t find out.
To get you into the Christmas spirit, here are some pictures of you taken last Christmas wearing the Christmas tree outfit your Mum and I found at Big W.
I know. What can I say other than we meant well?