SO??

Dear Amelia,
Your Mum just told me that the ladies at day care found a sultana up each of your nostrils this week.
You seem to be on a bit of a roll, don’t you? From sequins to dried fruit in less than 48 hours.
Here’s a tip: Sultanas are actually better in scones.
As luck would have it, I made some last week so I’ll give you a recipe in a minute.
I can see where you’re coming from though.
Nanna still can’t walk past a bag of marbles without wanting to put them in her mouth.
I can still hear my Mum (your Great Grandma) shouting, “Michele! Have you got marbles in your mouth?” and me saying, “Blb,” which is what the word “No” sounds like with a mouth full of marbles.
If it’s any consolation, our family seems to have a history of this sort of thing.
A story that’s now passed into family folklore is of your Great Grandma’s cousin who went to bed and put a bead in his ear.
When the doctor asked him why he’d put a bead in his ear he said it was because he didn’t have any pockets in his pyjamas.
Maybe the solution to your own little problem is to wear clothes with pockets in them for a while.
I’ll ring your Mum tonight and suggest it.
In the meantime, here’s that scone recipe, which I got off the back of the Sunbeam Sultanas box and which is also featured on their website here.
I eat Sunbeam Sultanas like there’s no tomorrow and have done for years.
I don’t think you can beat them for quality, plus they use fruit grown here in Australia, which is as rare as unicorn sightings these days.
Actually, it’s just occurred to me that if you must stick sultanas up your nose, you should try to make sure they’re Sunbeam.
At least you’d be supporting local industry.

SULTANA SCONES

Makes about 8

½ cup Sunbeam Sultanas
2 cups self-raising flour
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp butter or margarine
½ – ¾ cup milk

Preheat oven to 200C.
Place flour and sugar in a bowl.
Rub in the butter or margarine with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Stir in sultanas.
Pour ½ cup milk into the mixture and mix to a soft dough with the back of a knife, adding remaining milk if necessary.
Knead dough on a floured surface until it’s smooth, adding flour as necessary.
Pat out the dough to a thickness of 2cm and cut out scones with a 5-6cm cutter.
Arrange the scones close together on a lined baking tray and brush the tops lightly with milk.
Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until golden on top.
They’re cooked if they sound hollow when you tap them with your fingertip.
Serve warm, with butter.

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CHANNELING ELVIS: LIKE, FOR REAL

Dear Amelia,
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.

BANANA TART

This is from the June 1991 edition of Gourmet mag, via Epicurious.com. You’ll find the original recipe here.

Serves 2

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

50g butter
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.


CHANNELING ELVIS: ORANGE HAWAII

Dear Amelia,
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:


And this, emailed to me by Liz in Bali, snapped yesterday by Liz’s friend Rachel in a supermarket in Coogee.


Another funny thing: My biggest gallstone is apparently 2.5cm in diameter.
Your Grandpa says if I bring it home with me from hospital it will have to come separately by taxi.


JELLY BABY

Dear Amelia,
Here’s how you make Lilly Pilly Jelly.
First you go to the kitchen shop over the road from work and ask for a jelly bag and the woman says, “Pardon?”
It turns out neither of you has a clue what a jelly bag is, but luckily she sells cheesecloth, $6.95, sealed in plastic, just the ticket.
Cheesecloth is a thin, white fabric you can see through.
Lots of people wore tops made out of cheesecloth in the 1970s.
They came into fashion shortly after women followed Germaine Greer’s lead and burned their bras, so it was a very good way to get to know nipples other than your own.
This is why – despite the appalling music, hair and clothes – men of a certain age would go back to the 70s in a heartbeat if given half a chance.
After you’ve bought your cheesecloth, you go straight into your garden and pick three kilos of lilly pillies off your bushes.
Well, in an ideal world you go straight into your garden and pick three kilos of lilly pillies.
If you live in an un-ideal world, you pick your lilly pillies the weekend before and leave them sitting on the bench in two colanders for a week.


On jelly-making day, you find that half of your lilly pillies are putrid and have to be thrown out.
So you give the remaining lilly pillies a good wash and put them in a big pot with a whole lemon and then you add enough water to only just cover the fruit.
Then you put the pot on a high flame and boil the shit out of them until the lilly pillies are soft and lose most of their colour and the water turns purple.
Then you line a colander with the cheesecloth, which has been folded over and over into a square.
Then you put the colander over your tallest pasta pot and pour in all your purple liquid and fruit (except for the lemon, which you chuck in the bin).
Then you gather up the edges of the cheesecloth and tie it at the top with string.
Then you ask Grandpa to give you a hand suspending the cheesecloth bundle over your tallest pasta pot so that every last drop of the lilly pilly liquid can drip through.
Then you and Grandpa spend the next half hour discussing how you will achieve this feat and just when you’re on the point of punching each other in the throat, Grandpa says, “For God’s sake just let me do it” and 30 seconds later the cheesecloth bundle is suspended over the pot.


Your cheesecloth bundle is supposed to be left suspended overnight but after four hours you think, ‘Bugger this for a joke’ and pour all your purple liquid into a measuring jug.
You do this because the next step in this lengthy process involves measuring sugar.
As in, you need one cup of sugar for each cup of liquid.
You also need to sterilise your jars, which involves washing jars and lids in hot soapy water, rinsing them, drying them with a clean tea towel, putting them upright on an oven tray and sticking them in a 150C oven for half an hour.
While this is happening, you make your Lilly Pilly Jelly by putting the purple liquid and sugar into a big saucepan and boiling the shit out of it again for about 15 minutes.
If you put it into a small-ish saucepan it boils over and goes all over the cooktop and it takes you eight minutes to clean everything up.
You know this because you time yourself.
After 15 minutes of boiling, you put a teaspoon of jelly onto a cold plate and wait 30 seconds to see if it wrinkles on the top.
It doesn’t, so you chuck in some JamSetta and proceed according to packet directions.
Then you pour your hot jelly into your hot jars and put the lids on.
Then you step back and look at your one and a half lousy jars of Lilly Pilly Jelly, which – taking into account the time, effort, petrol, mileage, cheesecloth, JamSetta, Panadol, possible psychiatric intervention etc involved – have cost about 15 bucks each.
Luckily it tastes really nice.


LET’S SCARE GRANDPA

Dear Amelia,
This picture arrived in my inbox yesterday from my mate Martha Stewart.
The accompanying text said, “This Mother’s Day, pamper Mom with a handmade eye mask that includes a message from you.”
I think my message would be, “Wake up, Grandpa! Nanna wants to scare the crap out of you,” but maybe that’s just me.
Here are some more craft suggestions from Martha in case you can’t make it down to the deli today to buy Mom a bunch of flowers.
You will find all of them (and more) at marthastewart.com.
A balloon bouquet.


A bias-binding cake-stand skirt and chandelier (yes, honestly)


Tissue-paper floral pompoms that might fall on those tealights and burn the house down if you drink too much and go to bed without blowing out the candles.


Next is a picture of something your Mum made me at school for Mother’s Day when she was a little girl (it’s Nanna, your Mum and your Uncle Paul made out of honky nuts).


And here is a picture of something your Uncle Paul made me at school for Mother’s Day when he was a little boy.


There’ll be lots of phone calls and chatting today because no one who works full time wants to drive an 832km round trip to say Happy Mother’s Day in person (we’re a sentimental bunch).
After all the chatting I’ll be knackered but I’ll soldier on and make something out of the quinces that I picked off the trees I planted three years ago.
According to Australia’s Homemade Jam and Preserves Book, which is sitting next to me as I type, the ancient Greeks used quinces as an antidote for hangovers, poisons, upsets and fevers.
Who would’ve thought?
My quinces have been ripening in a box for weeks and are covered in scabby bits but they smell beautiful and should be fine for quince paste or jam or something.


If I’m feeling particularly Martha-ish, I might also pick the lillypilly berries that are growing on the hedge at the bottom of the garden and make some lillypilly jam.
As if.
But here’s a recipe anyway.
PS: There’s only one more week left of this latest full-time-work stint at the ABC, thank Christ.
No more getting out of bed at 5.30am.
Plus, Grandpa and I will be able to come and visit everyone. Yay!

LILLY PILLY JAM

500g lillypillies
2 granny smith apples
juice of 1 lemon
300ml water
600g caster sugar

Wash the lilly pillies well. Peel and core the apples, then chop into small pieces.
Put lilly pillies, apples, lemon juice, water and sugar in a small saucepan and slowly bring to the boil over a medium heat.
Reduce heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes.
Add more lemon juice if the mixture does not appear to set.
Use a potato masher to break the skin and seed from the fruit.
Strain mixture to remove skin and seeds.
Return pan to heat and, when reduced, use a stick blender to combine.
Set aside to cool, then refrigerate.
To store, pour into hot, sterilised jars and seal when cold.
This recipe is from Better Homes and Garden magazine.
If I make it and it doesn’t set, I’ll use some JamSetta, which you can buy at supermarkets.


FLAT CHAT

Dear Amelia,
I’ve been making this banana cake for years now and, yes, it’s always looked like this.
It goes without saying that it’s not one of those cakes you could put in front of the Master Chef judges.
As in, it’s not one of those cakes that prompts people to say, “Wow, she’s really taken this to the next level.
It’s always looked vaguely like one of those foam rubber overlays you could buy back in the day if your mattress was lumpy and you couldn’t afford to get a new one.
But it tastes really good and it’s quick and simple to make.
It also uses up one the banes of Nanna’s life: The Almost Putrid Banana.
I hate to think of the number of almost putrid bananas that have been mashed into this cake batter over 39 years, but I think it’s safe to say that Queensland’s on-going buoyant economy is partly down to me.
The recipe is from the first cookbook I ever bought: 500 Recipes for Families by Marguerite Patten.
It cost me 29 cents at Boans department store in Perth in 1973.


I was 20 years old at the time and possibly the world’s worst cook, so I’m not exaggerating when I say that 500 Recipes for Families literally saved my bacon (see page 9: Cooking Fried Bacon, and page 12: To Make Good Toast. Nanna didn’t have a toaster back then and had to cook toast under the grill).
Here is a picture of the book’s cover, which as you can see has taken quite a battering over the years (see page 19: Fried Fish).


And here is a picture of the Banana Cake recipe, complete with four decades’ worth of dodgy-looking food stains.


Just in case you’re wondering, Nanna is perfectly capable of making cakes that elicit gasps of delight and wonderment.
Take for example this Chocolate Malteser Cake by Nigella Lawson, the recipe for which can be found by googling Chocolate Malteser Cake by Nigella Lawson (unless you have her book, Feast, in which case you’ll find it on page 283).


To be honest, I didn’t think Nigella’s  cake was that flash in the taste department.
The icing is out of this world but that’s only because you have to spend half a week’s wages on a 400g jar of Horlicks, of which you’ll use exactly four tablespoons.
Marguerite Patten’s Banana Cake is actually far tastier, so here, without further ado, is the recipe.

MARGUERITE PATTEN’S BANANA CAKE

Makes 1 flattish 20cm cake

1 large, very soft banana (the almost-putrid black-skinned kind you find up the back of the crisper drawer)
90g caster sugar
90g soft, room-temperature butter  
1 large egg
a big squeeze of lemon juice
125g self-raising flour

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Grease and flour a 20cm round cake tin.
Mash the banana with a fork.
Using a hand mixer, cream the banana, sugar and butter well.
Add the lemon juice, then beat in the egg.
Fold in the sieved flour.
Put the batter into the cake tin and bake for 30-35 minutes.
Let it cool for five minutes before turning out.
If you like you can ice the cake when it’s cold, using this quintessentially Marguerite Patten icing recipe: mix six tablespoons of icing sugar with 10 drops of lemon juice (that’s the equivalent of a good squirt).