I once read in a Barbara Vine novel – can’t remember which one – that being superstitious means you’re lower class.
I suppose we should take it as read, then, that the Queen never passed one of her newborn children through a rind of cheese to ensure a long and prosperous life.
And it’s probably just as unlikely that Prince Charles hung all his elephant pictures facing the palace doorways, it being unlucky to hang them any other way.
In case you’re wondering, I haven’t done either of these things but I would have if I’d known about them because I’m very lower class.
I’ve knocked on wood so many times in the past 60 years my knuckles are coveted by Ikea for their realistic wood grain patterns.
What I don’t know about black cats, white butterflies, dead bees and seagulls that fly in threes could be engraved on a dog’s toenail, so long as that dog wasn’t howling in the house of a sick person, in which case I’d cack myself.
Your Grandpa isn’t superstitious at all.
Unlike me, who spends a lot of time counting the number of Xs on the palms of my hands, your Grandpa spends a lot of time watching the History Channel.
This is how he knows that Syria banned yo-yos in 1933.
Indeed, Syrian police confiscated all the yo-yos in the land because it was thought they were causing a drought.
Your Grandpa believes that if I had been in Syria in 1933 I would have been a yo-yo confiscator.
He’s probably right. But I would have been a happy yo-yo-confiscator because I would have been in the land of quinces, Syria being fairly prominent in the quince-growing arena.
Syria may have its faults, but enhancing its core competencies quince-wise isn’t one of them (I hope you’re impressed by that phrase – I like to think my time working with local government hasn’t been for nought).
The quince is native to several stans – Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan – and also to Kashmir where it’s known as the bumtchoonth.
It’s said that the forbidden fruit Eve bit into in the Garden of Eden was not the apple but the quince.
Personally I can’t see it being true unless Eve had the teeth of a white pointer and/or access to good dental care.
This is because quinces are rock hard when raw.
I love quinces but rarely see them in the shops, so I planted four quince trees down the bottom of the garden a few years back.
Sometimes these trees bear fruit that could best be described as “wormy”, which doesn’t bother me because I just cut out all the manky bits and boil the shit out of what’s left.
I say “boil” but I should say “poach” – and poached quinces are something to behold, turning from hard, yellow chunks into toothsome rosy pieces that are fab with ice cream.
They freeze really well, so you can eat them year-round.
You can also turn them into quince paste, which I’ve never done because why bother when you have a friend called Lizzie who does it so well?
Here is a picture of Lizzie’s latest batch, delivered on Saturday night.
Quince paste is delicious with cheddar cheese and is synonymous with Maggie Beer, a TV chef I can’t watch because her silly breathless voice and little-girl mannerisms make me want to slap her and shout, “How old are you for God’s sake?”
Maggie flogs it via Woolies and Coles for about $50 a kilo.
You can make your own quince paste a lot more cheaply using this very good recipe from the Australian Women’s Weekly.
The quince-poaching recipe I use is from David Lebovitz and you’ll find it here.
It’s dead easy so I hope you give it a go one day.
Before I go I’d just like to say I hope your Mum hasn’t let a ferret or a weasel jump over her pregnant stomach.
If she has, you need to tell her she can undo the bad luck by putting a spider in a walnut shell and wearing it on a string around her neck (this also wards off the plague so basically we’re killing two birds with one stone).
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.
Ella took a direct hit this morning from a pelican sitting on a lamp post.
Your Grandpa was walking her down at Emu Point and before he could say holy birdshit, it was all over red rover (or in this case, all over golden retriever).
This is what a woman would have done if she’d been there.
She would have grabbed the dog rug off the back seat of the car, soaked it in the sea, rubbed the crap (literally) out of the dog’s hindquarters, chucked the rug in a bin and come home.
This is what your Grandpa did: brought her home still covered in the stuff and cleaned her with a Chux Superwipe and some washing-up liquid.
So now we have a dog that smells of pelican shit with overtones of Palmolive Gentle Care.
And so does the house.
Unfortunately, we can’t put Ella outside for the day because she’s 500 years old and she’s always been an inside dog and she’d whine and pant and scratch at the back door until she went into cardiac arrest and died a sad lonely death thinking we didn’t love her anymore.
And then we’d have to explain to the vet, who LOVES golden retrievers and has two of his own, why we had a dead one that stank of pelican shit (and believe me, it STINKS).
So to mask the smell I baked an apple cake, not something I do very often at 9 o’clock on a Saturday morning.
Luckily, I also have a spray bottle of Nilodor and it’s warm enough today to have all the windows open.
On the downside, the little kid over the road is performing her usual Saturday morning routine of running round the house, whining and shrieking and shouting, “No! I don’t want to!” in that piercing way that makes you wish you had a gun.
Her cries are drifting through the open window as I type.
If she were mine, I’d dig a hole and bury her.
I found the recipe for this apple cake at Best Recipes here and I reckon you’d be hard pushed to find a cake that’s easier to make.
We had some friends over for dinner last weekend and I made an apple and mulberry crumble for dessert.
Two peeled and quartered Granny Smiths were left over so I put them in a plastic bag in the fridge.
They were a bit brown round the edges but otherwise fine, so that’s what went into this cake.
If you look at the original recipe, it doesn’t specify cake-tin size.
I used a 20cm round tin and lined the base with greased baking paper.
I also used only half a cup of sultanas, because that’s all I had, and didn’t add the mixed spice because I don’t have any.
The cake was still delicious, very moist and tender, although next time I’d use less sugar.
We’ve just had a slice for morning tea while holding our noses.
EASY APPLE CAKE
Makes one 20cm cake
2 apples, peeled and chopped, or grated (I chopped them in a mini processor)
1 cup sugar
1 cup sultanas
1½ cups self-raising flour
125g butter, melted
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp mixed spice
Preheat oven to 180C.
Mix all ingredients together with a wooden spoon.
Bake for about 40 mins, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Spread with butter while hot and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar (I didn’t do this either – it was sweet and buttery enough without it).
Here are some suggestions left by people on the Best Recipes site:
Use craisins instead of sultanas.
If you don’t have enough apple, add some blueberries or frozen raspberries.
You can cook it in a square tin or a loaf tin.
Use less sugar (½ cup) and/or substitute brown sugar.
Leave out mixed spice and add a pinch each of cinnamon and nutmeg.
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.”)
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
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.
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?
By the time you’re 35 and reading this blog, you’ll be judging Barack Obama via the history books.
But here’s some news from the here and now: Barack won a second term as President of the United States today and, along with millions of others, your Grandpa and I are very, very happy.
Apart from anything else, Barack’s win was a perfect opportunity to deface one of Nanna’s oven mitts.
I’ve been doing stupid Mitt Romney voices with it ever since he nominated for the presidency so it seemed only fitting that tonight I should go berserk with a black Texta and draw on a face.
The stains on Mitt are from the mulberries I picked off your Uncle Paul’s tree a few weeks back.
I turned some of them into a mulberry clafoutis that was delicious to eat but looked like crap photographically speaking.
So today, in the interests of pictorial splendour, I have a recipe for one of our favourite desserts, which is so silky and delicious you’ll want to bless yourself after each mouthful.
It’s great to serve up when you have anyone round for dinner who you want to impress. This is because it tastes like it’s taken longer to make than you’d get for manslaughter, but it’s actually one of those prepare-ahead dishes that’s dead easy.
I found the recipe in The West Australian newspaper’s Fresh lift-out ages ago under the name Lemon Crème but it’s all over the Internet under the name Lemon Posset.
Make it in the morning to serve that evening.
LEMON CREAM WITH STRAWBERRIES
Serves 6 (half quantities easily serve 4, just put more fruit on top)
600ml whipping cream
two-thirds of a cup caster sugar
zest and juice of 2 juicy lemons, separated
Pour the cream into a big saucepan, add the sugar and lemon zest and bring slowly to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Let the cream mixture boil for three minutes (it will creep up the sides of the saucepan, which is why you need to use a big one).
Remove the pan from the heat and pour the cream mixture through a metal sieve into a bowl or jug.
Stir in the lemon juice (it will start to thicken straight away).
Pour this mixture into six serving glasses and leave on the bench top to cool and set, then cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge until ready to serve. It will be firm but still soft and creamy.
Before serving, pile sliced strawberries, blueberries or raspberries on top.
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).
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: