Here in Western Australia it’s the season for blue swimmer crabs, which are called blue swimmer crabs because they’re blue and they swim.
When I was a kid these crabs were called blue mannas and I used to go with my Dad (your Great Granddad Keith) down to the estuary in Bunbury to catch them with wire scoop nets attached to long wooden poles.
The best time to catch them was at sunset because that’s when they were scuttling around on the floor of the estuary looking for things to eat.
You’d wade through the shallow water in a pair of old sandshoes, getting eaten alive by mosquitos and hoping the crabs wouldn’t mistake your ankles for whatever it was they liked for dinner.
They’re vicious little buggers and I still have a scar on my ankle to prove it.
I needed five stitches – I suspect you could hear my screams in the Middle East.
Not that it put me off.
I’m certainly no hero but I was always willing to risk limb, if not life, in order to get a feed of crabs.
I absolutely love them.
Later on, when I married your Grandpa, I used to go out crabbing on the ocean with my father-in-law, your Great Grandpa Roy, and his mates.
We’d stop the boat and throw drop nets over the side – far more civilised.
Later still, my Mum and Dad bought a caravan and a tinny and kept them at a caravan park at Yunderup, so crab-wise I was (for want of a better expression) like a pig in shit.
You’d get back to the caravan park with your catch and almost every van would have a campfire blazing out the front with a drum full of boiling seawater on top to cook the crabs in.
All the blokes would be standing around the fires having a yack and sipping Swan Lager from a can, even though it was 10 o’clock in the morning.
They were all called Vern or Len or Ted and they smoked Turf and Craven A and had bow legs.
Their wives had exotic names like Valmae and Merle and smoked Alpine while they sat around reading the Women’s Weekly and James A. Michener novels.
Speaking of crabs, when your Grandpa and I were at uni we knew a bloke who caught the sort you don’t find in an estuary.
This bloke got rid of them by sitting in an empty bath and spraying his private parts with Pea-Beu.
I’ve often wondered if he used the Pine Fresh or the Surface Spray.
I now buy my blue swimmer crabs from the Boatshed Markets down on the Albany foreshore.
Here are two I bought last weekend.
They go red when you cook them, as I expect I would too if I was dropped into boiling water.
These crabs were really big ones, so I cooked them for five minutes after the water had come back to the boil and then left them to cool in a colander.
They were perfect and, as always, well worth the effort of cleaning and peeling them.
Our favourite way of eating them is as crab cocktails (like prawn cocktails but without the prawns) and crab fettuccine, so I’ll give you the recipes for both.
One year ago on this blog: Bum Biscuits
shredded iceberg lettuce
fresh crab meat
For the cocktail sauce (makes about 1 cup):
1 cup whole egg mayonnaise (I like Paul Newman’s brand)
3 tbsp tomato sauce
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
a few drops of Tabasco sauce (or to taste)
1 tsp lemon juice
freshly ground salt and pepper to taste
Put the shredded lettuce in the bottom of individual serving bowls or glasses.
Pile the fresh crab meat on top.
Mix all the sauce ingredients together and stir well.
Drizzle the sauce over the crab meat.
This cocktail sauce will keep for up to a month in the fridge – just cover it with plastic wrap.
The recipe is easily halved, third-ed (sorry) or quartered, depending on how many crab cocktails you’re making.
The sauce is also delicious in a fish-cake burger – even better if you stir in a finely chopped spring onion before you dollop it on the bun.
The next recipe is a classic, taught to me back in the day by my friend and former colleague, cookery writer Margaret Johnson. I’ve been cooking this for years and, as you do, have changed it around a bit. I would still crawl over hot coals to eat it.
FETTUCCINE WITH CRAB, GARLIC AND PARSLEY
For each person you will need:
scant tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 fat clove garlic or 2 small ones, very finely chopped
chopped fresh chilli to taste
the meat from 2 small crabs or 1 big one
1 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
freshly ground salt and pepper
Cook the fettuccine in lots of boiling salted water until al dente.
Just before it’s ready, heat the olive oil in a big frying pan over a low-ish flame and cook the garlic and chilli for about 30 seconds (just until the smell of the cooking garlic hits your nostrils – no longer).
Tip the drained fettuccine into the frying pan, add the crab meat, chopped parsley and salt and pepper to taste and toss everything together with a pair of tongs.
Tip into a serving bowl and serve immediately.
Marg doesn’t bother cooking anything but the fettuccine.
She then tips it into a bowl and mixes all the other ingredients through.
Earlier this week I came across a hardback book among the many thousands that cram the shelves at Albany Drive-In Mart out on Albany Highway.
It was by someone called R. Moore and was titled Three Thousand Things Worth Knowing (Comprising valuable information, recipes and tables, for the mechanic, merchant, lawyer, doctor, farmer, and all classes of workers in every department of human effort).
It was a very interesting book, published by the Grand Union Tea Company in 1884.
I would’ve bought Three Thousand Things Worth Knowing if it hadn’t cost $25.
Not that I’m tight-fisted or anything, but because I knew it had probably been part of a deceased estate and would have been bought by the shop owner for about 25 cents (I have my limits when it comes to mark-ups – 10,000 per cent usually does it for me).
Anyway, the previous owner of the book had written something quite amazing inside the front cover, in pencil, in that formal, old-fashioned handwriting that always makes me think of your Great Great Nanna Ethel.
This is what he’d written:
Refer page 59.
How to cure Lockjaw.
It got me wondering how many people had to die an agonising death from what is now called tetanus before the publishing bloke at the Grand Union Tea Company said to the author, “Excuse me R. Moore, re page 59: I think you might need to re-work it a bit.”
This book also got me wondering why I don’t frequent Albany’s op shops and second-hand stores on a more regular basis, seeing as how you’re always guaranteed to find an absolute treasure.
Luckily, I was dragged around them all last week by your Uncle Paul, op-shop book browser extraordinaire, who is staying with us at the moment, having made the trip down after my 60th-birthday weekend.
It was fabulous, my 60th-birthday weekend – one of the best birthdays ever.
Three nights at the Hilton, and a wonderful birthday surprise organised by your Mum that involved being picked up in a stretch limo and taken to the beautiful Matilda Bay Restaurant on the river at Crawley.
The six of us (me, you, your Grandpa, your Mum and Dad and Uncle Paul) sipped champagne while the limo driver took us on an hour-long riverside tour before taking us to the restaurant.
Then we hoed into it again on the way back to the hotel, which was via Kings Park so we could enjoy the city lights.
Here are some (regrettably crappy) pictures I took with my mobile phone.
Your Grandpa gave me a lovely topaz ring and necklace for my birthday, topaz being the stone of true love, which not surprisingly made me cry like a baby (if you’re a good girl and stop climbing out of your new bed six times a night I’ll leave them to you in my will).
I even got a present from the Hilton.
One year ago on this blog: Salmon Puffs
250g penne pasta
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 rashers bacon, finely chopped
12 button mushrooms, sliced
1 big clove garlic, crushed
1 punnet (about 200g) cherry or grape tomatoes
1 cup white wine
big pinch of dried, crushed chilli
mixture of grated cheddar and grana padano cheese (as much as you think your hips and heart will tolerate)
This is pretty basic but delicious – plus, it’s not sloppy (which I hate).
Fill a big pasta pot with water, throw in some salt and put it on the stove to boil.
Add the penne to the boiling water and cook for a minute or so less than it says on the packet (about 13 minutes).
While that’s happening, heat the oil in a big frying that has a lid.
Tip in the onion, bacon and mushrooms and fry for about 5 mins over medium-high heat, stirring, until they’re soft.
Add the garlic and crushed chilli and fry, stirring, for another minute.
Stir in the tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes, pressing them down with the back of a wooden spoon so they split (a potato masher is also very effective).
Stir in the wine, lower the heat, cover and simmer gently until the penne is ready.
Preheat the oven to 190C.
Drain the penne and tip it into a big, shallow oven-proof dish.
Stir in the tomato sauce and as much grated cheese as you like.
Sprinkle more grated cheese on top and bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until golden.
Eat with a green salad.
You can see from the photo that at the grand old age of two years and four months you overcame your fear of tulle and net long enough to pull on this tutu and do a few Angelina Ballerina twirls.
Nanna found the tutu on the Internet. It’s actually a pair of bathers but God knows how you’re supposed to swim in it when you’ve got half a kilo of wet net trailing down your legs.
Here’s a picture of Angelina Ballerina.
Apart from the fact that she’s a mouse and you’re not, you can hardly tell the difference can you?
It was lovely to see you and your Mum and Dad on the weekend.
The tutu photo was taken just before we went out to dinner at the Venice Restaurant here in Albany.
As usual it was good food and great service, but as a bonus we also got to find out just how far a kiddie serve of spaghetti bolognese can go (all over your head, face, chest, stomach and knees in case you’re wondering).
We also managed to do some cooking at home, you and I – a really interesting cake made out of wet sand, a handful of blue metal and two orange-glitter birthday-cake candles bashed to pieces with a plastic bucket.
Your recent transition from cot to big girl’s bed has been interesting and continued to be so at Nanna and Grandpa’s house.
I won’t go into it except to say we managed to convince your Mum that auctioning you on Facebook isn’t a viable option.
The use of occy straps, however, is still under consideration.
I was hoping that when we were at the Venice I’d be able to have some chilli mussels for dinner, but sadly they were unavailable.
So I had to cook my own.
Your Grandpa went out to Emu Point to buy the mussels.
You get them from the same place you get Albany’s famous rock oysters – a big red-brick shed-type arrangement up the back of the boat pens.
Signage is not their forte so if you don’t know where to look you’re buggered.
Luckily, we do.
Here’s my recipe.
Serves 4 as an entrée, 2 as a main course
2 tbsp olive oil
1 brown onion, finely chopped
2 red chillies, seeds removed, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 x 400g tin diced tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup white wine
dried crushed chilli/chilli flakes to taste
½ cup chopped parsley
crusty bread to mop up the sauce
Heat the oil in a big cooking pot over medium-low heat (a pasta pot is perfect for this).
Add the onion and chopped fresh chilli and cook for 3 minutes then stir in the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes, until the onion is soft.
Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste and white wine and simmer gently for 10 minutes.
Taste the sauce and if it’s not hot enough for you, stir in some dried crushed chilli.
Fresh chillies vary in strength and I usually end up adding anywhere between a pinch and a teaspoon of the dried stuff.
Remember that the mussel juices will dilute the sauce quite a bit, so gauge your chilli quantities accordingly.
Cook the sauce for another 20 minutes until it’s very thick.
While the sauce is cooking, fill up the kitchen sink with water and tip in the mussels.
Give them a good wash (you may need to scrub them with a brush or scouring pad) and remove the beards by pulling them down sharply along the shell.
Drain the de-bearded mussels in a colander, fill up the cleaned-out sink with water again and tip the mussels back in.
Swirl them around a bit to remove any grit and drain again in the colander.
All the mussel shells should be tightly shut. Chuck out any that aren’t.
When the sauce is ready, tip the mussels into the pot, put the lid on and cook over high heat until the shells open (about 5 minutes), giving the pot a good shake occasionally.
Discard any mussels that aren’t open and put the rest into serving bowls.
Ladle over the sauce, sprinkle with parsley and serve with lots of crusty bread.
I’ve been really busy with work lately, so it was lovely to see you last week and take some time out, even if my visit was only a fleeting one.
It never ceases to amaze me how many cuddles you can fit into 12 hours if you really put your mind to it.
Also, have you noticed this yin and yang thing we’ve got going?
Eg: I love drawing on your blackboard and you love rubbing it out. It’s a perfect balance.
The bit you actually like best is cleaning the blackboard duster by bashing it against the palm of your hand.
The dusting gene skipped a generation on my side of the family so it’s good to see it’s re-established itself in you – you’ll be able to save Nanna from suffocating under a pile of her own filth.
Here are a couple of other dusting options we could investigate further down the track if you’re interested.
I found them on this website when your Grandpa was watching Band of Brothers for the 400th time and I was forced to either kill myself or surf the Internet aimlessly.
The first option depends on your Mum and Dad providing you with a little brother or sister but in the meantime we can always borrow your cousin Ava.
I made some prawn pasta for dinner last night, which your Grandpa loved but I thought needed a bit more oomph.
It came about because I had some nice fat prawns in the freezer and then when I went down to Reeves to get some veggies they had really nice-looking baby spinach and punnets of cherry tomatoes on special for $1.99.
They also had this Australian-made pasta.
If you read the guff on the packet you’ll see that Australia is one of the few countries in the world – possibly the only one – that can grow ready-packaged fettuccine in its fields.
Who would’ve thought?
I must say it was very relaxing and celebrity-cheffy wandering around Reeves, squeezing produce and putting fresh, seasonal vegetables into my basket.
If I was a bloke and wasn’t as old as Methuselah, I think I could easily have been mistaken for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
PRAWN FETTUCCINE WITH SPINACH AND CHERRY TOMATOES
150g fettuccine or spaghetti
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 big pinches crushed, dried chillies
1 punnet cherry tomatoes
1 glass white wine
1 big pinch dried basil
salt and pepper
12 raw king prawns, shelled
3 handfuls of baby spinach
lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Put a big pan of water on the stove to boil and cook the fettuccine according to packet directions.
All up this should take 15-20 minutes.
While that’s happening, heat the oil in a big non-stick frying pan over medium heat and cook the garlic and chilli for 30 seconds.
Tip in the tomatoes, white wine and dried basil and stir until simmering, squashing the tomatoes down with the back of a wooden spoon.
Season to taste with salt and pepper and let it simmer gently for 5 minutes or so.
Add the prawns and when they start to turn pink, chuck in the spinach.
Cook, stirring, for a few more minutes until the spinach wilts and the prawns are cooked.
Drain the cooked fettuccine and tip it into the frying pan, tossing it around to coat with the sauce.
Serve with a bowl of Parmesan cheese to sprinkle over the top (OK, here’s a confession that should send me straight to culinary Hell – I actually prefer the taste of Grana Padano and that’s what I always use).
Next time I make this I think I’ll wilt the spinach in a separate pan and drain off any liquid before adding it to the sauce.
Or maybe I’ll forget about the spinach and use some fresh basil instead.
Edit: I made this again and added two finely chopped anchovies with the tomatoes. I also left out the spinach and when the prawns were cooked (but before I added the cooked fettuccine), I stirred in half a bunch of chopped fresh basil. It was really delicious – much better than the spinach version.
When your Grandpa and I were first married back in the deep, dark 70s, we were deeply darkly broke. As a result we were very much into what is now called “vintage” but back then was called “second hand” and “cheap” and, more often than not, “crap ”.
This is why we ended up with a hand-painted yellow fridge with a freezer the size of a shoebox and a pull-down chrome handle that nearly took your arm off if you weren’t of alert disposition.
You were supposed to defrost this freezer box once a week by turning the power off at the mains and letting the melted ice drip into a tray.
But seeing as I’d failed to graduate from the June Cleaver School of Housewifery, I defrosted it every six months using bowls of boiling water and a really big knife – because by that stage the freezer box was so frosted up it was the size of a small igloo.
The trick was to hack off the ice in lumps without piercing the pipes, because the coolant was in the pipes and the coolant contained chlorofluorocarbons and if the chlorofluorocarbons had escaped they would have taken out the entire upper atmosphere, not to mention Nanna.
Reading this you probably think that life was very exciting back in the 70s.
Well, you’re right.
Remind me to tell you one day about ironing your hair.
I hadn’t thought about that yellow fridge in decades but then the other night I made Carrot Risoni and it was the exact same colour.
It also looked suspiciously like that great 70s staple, Rice-a-Riso, the favourite dinner-in-a-box of discerning newlyweds who had $2.70 left in the bank and four days to go until pay day.
It got your Grandpa and me thinking about all sorts of 70s things – things that are probably best consigned to the mists of time but I’m going to tell you anyway.
Things like curried sausages, cassata and Camp Pie.
Polony and Ricecream.
Tab, Kola Beer and Passiona.
Sugar Smacks, Frosties and Monbulk jam in a big tin.
Smoked oysters on top of Arnotts Counter Biscuits.
Ben Ean moselle.
Choo Choo Bars.
Luckily, the Carrot Risoni (or orzo as it’s called outside of Australia) doesn’t taste anything like Rice-a-Riso.
It is seriously delicious – very light, very comforting – and my new favourite dish.
Risoni/orzo is rice-shaped pasta and it’s great for someone like me, who’s yet to meet a risotto she actually likes.
This recipe is from Monte Mathews’ food blog, Chewing the Fat, which you’ll find here.
170g peeled carrots
1 cup risoni (rice-shaped pasta; about 225g)
1½ cups water
1¼ cups low-salt chicken stock
1 large garlic clove, minced
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp chopped spring onions
1 tsp minced fresh rosemary
Place carrots in a food processor and pulse until they’re finely chopped.
Melt butter in a heavy medium-sized saucepan over medium heat.
Add risoni and carrots and sauté until risoni is golden, about 5 minutes.
Add the water, stock and garlic and cook, uncovered, over medium heat until all the liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes.
Stir in Parmesan cheese, spring onions, and rosemary.
Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve sprinkled with a little extra minced rosemary if you like.
By the way, I secretly love June Cleaver (aka Barbara Billingsley).
God knows why she didn’t achieve icon status like Audrey Hepburn – she was certainly a better actor (OK, Paddington Bear was a better actor than Audrey Hepburn, but you get my drift).
More importantly, June knew the value of a nice shirt-waist dress, a good home-cooked meal and a fridge the size of the Parthenon.
Here are some pictures in her memory.
Your Mum tells me you’re terrified of tulle.
She discovered this when she and your Aunty Kaitlyn had to sit on your chest to get you into this pink tulle skirt.
It comes as no surprise to Nanna, this tulle phobia. I suspect it’s genetic.
When I was a little girl in the 1950s I was terrified of net petticoats, which were designed to make your skirts stick out and were the absolute pits to wear.
Here’s a picture of Nanna wearing a net petticoat under her dress when she was four years old.
It was taken in Yorkshire in 1957 when I was a flower girl at the wedding of my Aunty Cathy and Uncle John.
It’s clear from the look on my face that I want to punch someone in the throat.
Later on at the wedding reception, I got into trouble for chewing the thumb out of one of my white voile gloves.
White voile gloves on a four-year-old.
What were they thinking of for God’s sake?
Unfortunately, abusing children via the vagaries of fashion is a centuries-old tradition that continues to this day. Check out Kingston Rossdale if you don’t believe me.
Unlike Kingston, Nanna was an anxious child and lived in absolute fear of being forced to wear a tartan skirt with a big safety pin in the front.
You are actually a very lucky girl because if, like Nanna, you had been a baby in the 1950s you would’ve looked like this.
There’s no picture of what your Grandpa would’ve looked like because, basically, he would’ve taken one look at Nanna and run away.
I found these old knitting patterns last week when I was doing some spring cleaning.
Then, because Nanna thrives on danger, she rewarded her de-cluttered, post-op self by hopping into the car a week earlier than she was supposed to and driving to the shops.
The upshot was a big bundle of asparagus, which your Grandpa and I ate two nights in a row because it was so delicious and joys-of-spring-like.
Here is one of the ways I used it.
The recipe is years old – I got it from the chef at the Red Herring restaurant in Fremantle when I was editor of The West Australian’s weekly food lift-out.
It’s great as a meal on its own if you want something light, or served with steak, schnitzel or fish if you want something more filling.
The Roma tomatoes in Woolies were crap (and $9.98 a kilo for crying out loud) so I used big vine-ripened tomatoes and quartered them.
They don’t look as pretty as Romas but that’s the price you pay for eating things out of season.
BABY SPINACH AND PANCETTA SALAD
12 slices pancetta
6 Roma tomatoes, halved
cracked black pepper
200g baby spinach leaves
200g fresh asparagus
½ cup parmesan cheese shavings
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
¼ cup basil leaves, shredded
2 tsp brown sugar
Preheat oven to 180C.
Place the pancetta and tomatoes, cut side up, on a baking dish and sprinkle with olive oil and pepper.
Bake for 25 minutes or until the pancetta is crisp and the tomatoes are soft but still hold their shape.
Put the asparagus into a saucepan of boiling water and cook for 30 seconds. Allow them to cool.
Arrange the spinach leaves and asparagus on serving plates or a large platter.
Top with pancetta, tomatoes and parmesan cheese.
To make the dressing, combine all ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake until sugar is dissolved.
Pour over the salad.
Note: I like to crumble the pancetta over the salad because it’s so crispy it breaks up anyway.
I also leave the basil leaves whole and mix them with the spinach leaves rather than including them in the dressing.