BLACK CATS, YO-YOS AND POACHED BUMTCHOONTH

This is Senor Hernandez, the Patron Saint of Dodgy Deals. Like all saints worth their salt, he glows in the dark. He was bought for me by your Mum many years ago and sits next to my computer, watching over me with his beady black eyes.

This is Senor Hernandez, the Patron Saint of Dodgy Deals. Like all saints worth their salt, he glows in the dark. He was bought for me by your Mum many years ago and sits next to my computer, watching over me with his beady black eyes.

Dear Amelia,
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).

quince
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.

poached quinces
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
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).


SALAD, 60TH AND THE YEAR OF THE SNAKE

ashlee's wedding

Dear Amelia,
Seeing as I cooked Peking Duck for Australia Day, it sort of makes sense that I made something Greek to mark the start of the Chinese New Year yesterday (it was a lovely watermelon and feta salad that I’ll tell you about in a minute).
It was a big week this week, particularly for Stephen and Ashlee whose wedding we went to on Saturday out at Emu Point.
Beautiful setting, beautiful ceremony, big party afterwards, with enough food to feed an army.
Ashlee is the fourth and youngest daughter of our friends Richard and Lynda, and the third to get married.
Three down, one to go, as practically everyone at the wedding pointed out.
Lynda and Richard are doing remarkably well, considering.
They are occasionally incapable of speech – sometimes even of movement – but otherwise they are fine and no longer slip into a catatonic state when the words “wedding speech” and “bank balance” are mentioned.
This is a big week for me too, not only because I was born in the Chinese Year of the Water Snake, which has come around again this year, but also because it’s my 60th birthday on Friday.
I’ve noticed just lately that a big thing in the “lifestyle” blogging world – particularly among so-called mummy bloggers – is to come up with a weekly “gratefulness” list.
This is basically what it says it is: a round-up of things for which the blogger is grateful, most of them deep and meaningful, many of them nauseating.
On a personal level, one thing I would be really grateful for is if these bloggers would stop using the word “gratefulness” (which grates on me the way “healthful” does) and use gratitude instead.
That aside, during these last few weeks of being 59, I’ve been trying to be grateful for all sorts of things that show me up for what I am, which is basically an almost-senior.
I’m trying very hard to be grateful that my arse is slowly slipping down the back of my legs, mainly because I know that when it stops it will mean I am dead.
I’m trying to be grateful that my soon-to-be-delivered Seniors Card will get me $100 off a stone monument if I choose to be buried in the Kalgoorlie cemetery, but only two bucks off a bottle of wine if I buy it at one of the six wineries listed in the Seniors Discount Directory.
Screen shot 2013-02-11 at 8.39.32 PM
I’m also trying to be grateful that the veins in the backs of my hands are starting to stand out like little blue ropes.
People who are born in the Year of the Water Snake are supposed to carry something blue with them at all times during 2013 so that they can ward off evil spirits.
I can only hope that veins count.
On a more serious note, my Dad and sister both died at 56 so I should say that I’m extremely grateful I’ve got this far and have been blessed with a terrific life filled with some lovely people.
I’m also extremely grateful that at the end of the week your Grandpa and I will be spending three nights at the Hilton in Perth.

Hotel Exterior
We will be able to celebrate our socks off as my 60th year slips away and I embrace the 61st with as much enthusiasm as a hangover allows.
We will be seeing you there, of course.
I know you’re only two and a half years old and therefore too young to retain memories.
But I live in hope that when you grow up you’ll have happy little flashbacks to my 60th birthday celebrations every time someone uses the words “Nanna” and “Bollinger” in the same sentence.

One year ago on this blog: Spiced Roast Chicken with Couscous

watermelon and feta salad

WATERMELON AND FETA SALAD

Serves 4-6

half a watermelon
feta cheese – a 200g packet should do
1 red onion, cut in half then sliced very finely
juice of 2 limes
a handful each of chopped fresh parsley and chopped fresh mint
a handful of pitted black olives (optional)

You’ll find versions of this salad all over the Internet but I like this one by Nigella.
It’s an amazing and very refreshing combination of tastes – perfect for the latest heatwave that WA is experiencing at the moment, except of course for Albany, which had a maximum in the mid-20s today while Perth was sweltering at 40C.
First you put the sliced red onion in a small bowl and pour over the lime juice.
While it’s marinating, cut the watermelon into chunks and put them in a salad bowl.
Sprinkle over the cubed or crumbled feta, the chopped parsley and mint, the black olives if you’re using them, and then the sliced onion and lime juice.
Stir it around gently to combine.
Serve with barbecued meat.


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.


A PELICAN, A DOG AND AN APPLE CAKE

 

Your Grandpa took this photo. I bet he’ll never take one from this angle again.

Dear Amelia,
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).

Note
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.


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?


NOT HAPPY, MITT

Mitt Romney

Dear Amelia,
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.

Getting the mulberries ready for freezing. They’re big suckers.

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.