HAPPY AUSTRALIA DAY

Sheep looking happy in Goomalling

Sheep looking happy in Goomalling. It’s obviously not Australia Day.

Dear Amelia,
Much as you wouldn’t want to be a turkey at Christmas, you definitely wouldn’t want to be a lamb on Australia Day.
Woolies was packed to the rafters with dead ones this week, or various bits and pieces of them, including full legs at $10 off.
I don’t know when this “tradition” of eating lamb on our national day started but I suspect it wasn’t very long ago (in fact I think it’s only been a “tradition” since 2005 when the Meat and Livestock marketing people teamed up with Aussie loudmouth Sam Kekovich and bombarded us with lamb ads).
I asked your Grandpa what he wanted for our Australia Day dinner tonight and he said Peking Duck, and while I don’t usually reward him for being a smart-arse, that’s what we’re having.
He kindly found me an “easy” recipe in Gok Cooks Chinese, a really terrific book from the lovely Gok Wan of TV’s How to Look Good Naked fame.

gok wan
I say “really terrific book” but I haven’t actually cooked anything from it yet.
What I HAVE done is read it from cover to cover, so at least it’s a start.
For the Peking Duck, Gok says to buy a pack of duck pancakes at the supermarket.
Hahahahahahaha.
So I’m going to have to make my own using a recipe off the Internet (only three ingredients but a difficult-sounding rolling technique – alcohol may have to be applied to mouth).
Seeing as Peking Duck isn’t very Australian, I thought I should also make the effort to bake some pumpkin scones.
The recipe is from the 1970 edition of the Australian Women’s Weekly Cookbook, which was given to me as a wedding present in 1974 by a lady called Ali Mealey, who was a neighbour of your Great Grandma and Grandpa in Bunbury.
The Mealeys were a big boisterous family of carnival people (they set up their amusement stalls at country shows all over the State) and Ali had a heart of pure gold.
This book has been so well used, the dust jacket actually disintegrated and then the entire hard cover dropped off.
It’s THE go-to book if you want to make Strawberry Hazlenut Gateau, which I have done on many occasions over the years but not lately because it contains obscene amounts of whipped cream.
It’s made up of layers of hazelnut meringue sandwiched together with melted chocolate, whipped cream and sliced strawberries, then covered with more whipped cream and strawberries.
Here’s a pic of it from my AWW Cookbook.

strawberry hazlenut gateau
But back to the scones…
Before you start, you need to know two of the Australian Women’s Weekly set-in-stone scone rules from 1970:
1. Cut sharply and evenly with your scone cutter. Don’t twist it.
2. Never cut a cooked scone with a knife – always break it open with your fingers.
I’ve got no idea why you have to do this, or what will happen to you if you don’t.
That’s because I’ve never been one to tempt fate.
Even as a kid I wouldn’t wear blue and green without a colour in between.
I didn’t step on a crack until I was 23.

 

One year ago on this blog: Echidna Pavlova

 

pumpkin scone

PUMPKIN SCONES

Makes about 12

30g softened butter
¼ cup caster sugar
1 cup cooked, mashed pumpkin (about 340g)
1 egg
2½ cups self-raising flour
pinch salt
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ – ½ cup milk, depending on dryness of pumpkin

Preheat oven to 230C.
Beat butter and sugar together.
Add pumpkin and mix well.
Fold in sifted dry ingredients alternately with ¼ cup milk.
If necessary, add remaining milk to make a soft but not sticky dough.
Turn mixture on to a floured surface and knead lightly.
Pat out to 2cm thickness and cut out scones with a floured 5cm cutter.
Place the scones in a greased 28x18cm lamington/slice tin and glaze the tops with a little milk.
Bake scones for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool the scones uncovered on a wire rack if you like firm, crisp tops.
Wrap them in a tea towel as soon as they come out of the oven if you prefer them soft.

pumpkin scones

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BY THE TIME WE GOT TO WOODY WE WERE HALF A MILLION STRONG

Dear Amelia,
It’s the middle of the night and I’ve just got an email from my mate Martha Stewart telling me how to remember what colour my walls are.
“Never forget with this sneaky tip,” she writes.
“Write the paint name on a piece of tape and stick it inside a light-switch cover.”
You too could get an Organising Tip of the Day emailed to you by Martha.
All you have to do is have no life and visit her website and sign up.
Martha is tireless when it comes to her millions of fans, of which Nanna is one.
I was channelling Martha today because it’s your Great Grandma’s 80th birthday dinner on Sunday – a low-key affair, which is probably a good thing because Nanna is doing the food.
My day would have been a lot better if I’d got an Organising Tip of the Day from Martha saying, “Never forget to put the sugar in your mother’s 80th birthday cake or it will look like diarrhoea and you’ll have to make it all over again.”
But I didn’t and I did – as in, didn’t get the email, so had to make another cake.
On top of that, Carlton lost to the Gold Coast Suns.
Yes, the Gold Coast Suns. Shit, shit, shit. The shame.
Other things I have done this week: Went to Woodanilling with your Grandpa, who had to interview someone for a Science Network story.
I’ve never been to Woodanilling before and very pretty it is too.
If a bit on the small side.
There are approximately six things to photograph in Woodanilling.
I photographed five of them because it was pouring down and I got soaked and had to scurry back to the car before I could snap the Woodanilling Tavern which was gorgeous but doesn’t open until 4pm so there went my lunch plans down the toilet.
Here are the five things I snapped.


The post office.


The CWA hall.


The general store, which is now derelict (there were once FIVE general stores).


This lovely old church.


We went to Woodanilling (which is known as Woody to the locals) via Cranbrook, Tambellup, Broomehill and Katanning.
It took forever but was worth it because I hadn’t been through this part of the Great Southern for 30-odd years and had forgotten how lovely it was.
Speaking of lovely, here is a picture of your Grandpa doing star jumps in front of the Broomehill pub.


On the way to Woodanilling in the car, a bit of Crosby, Stills and Nash channelling started happening and I was singing, “By the time we got to Woody,” on a continuous loop in my head. It nearly drove me nuts.
We were gone for hours and hours and Ella wasn’t very impressed but at least she didn’t crap on the rug, which was a bonus seeing as how she’s 253 years old in dog years and no longer has any anal glands.
Nanna cooked a rack of lamb for dinner, which was delicious, and then was able to watch Bethenny Ever After because your Grandpa was buggered from all the driving and fell asleep in the chair.
Bethenny Ever After is a reality show that follows the life of Bethenny Frankel and her long-suffering husband, Jason, and her staff who help her run her business empire.


Bethenny is pretty, quick-witted, funny and a squillionaire. She’s also self-centred, whiny, self-indulgent, shallow and addicted to the limelight.
She’s appalling. Nanna loves her.
Unfortunately, your Grandpa doesn’t.
Nothing could redeem Bethenny in your Grandpa’s eyes, except for maybe ripping her tongue out with a pair of pliers.
He stomps his way down the passage shouting, “How can you watch this crap?”
Then he goes and sits in his little office, his TV tuned to the History Channel, and watches people die in German concentration camps.
What your Grandpa really does like is a juicy rack of lamb with a crumb crust.
Here’s the recipe.

PS: Want to know how many words of three letters or more you can make from the word Woodanilling? 105. At least that’s how many I got. Don’t you love long car journeys?

RACK OF LAMB WITH A CRUMB CRUST

Serves 2

1 rack of lamb (6-8 cutlets), frenched, with fat removed
olive oil
1 tsp mustard
1 slice bread
½ small clove garlic, crushed
½ tbsp finely chopped parsley

Put the slice of bread in a mini food processor or blender and process until you have crumbs.
Mix the crumbs with the garlic and parsley and a little olive oil to bind.
Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 200C.
Drizzle a little olive oil over the rack of lamb, put it in a baking dish and cook it for 20 minutes.
Spread the mustard over the top of the meat then press on the crumb crust.
Drizzle over a little more olive oil and cook for another 10 minutes, by which time the crumb crust should be golden-brown.
This makes pink, juicy lamb.
If you like it well done, cook for 25-30 minutes when you first put it in the oven.


CLEANING UP MY ACT

Dear Amelia,
Here’s a really good northern English word: hacky.
It means filthy or dirty or sometimes just plain old filthy-dirty and it more or less describes the state of Nanna’s house for the past month.
We’ve both been very sick, your Grandpa and I, first with this awful flu that’s been doing the rounds (the one we caught from you over the wedding weekend), then with gastro (me) and a foot infection (Grandpa, who we suspect was bitten by a spider).
All I’ve done for the past month is sleep, whinge, write the occasional blog post, whinge, read, whinge, watch TV, whinge, tell Grandpa to stop whinging and FOR GOD’S SAKE CAN YOU LIMP MORE QUIETLY IT’S GIVING ME A HEADACHE.
The good news is that by Friday I was better, so yesterday I channelled my inner Mrs Sparkle.

I tackled this hacky house of ours with a vacuum cleaner, mop, duster and an array of chemicals that only someone born in the 1950s could truly appreciate.
Which is a good thing because you never know when Barack Obama might pop round.
Your house could look like a Gossip Girl set for 11 months of the year, then that one month you’re feeling like crap and haven’t lifted a finger, the doorbell rings and there he is standing at your front door with Michelle by his side and 10 secret service agents crawling through your rose bushes.
Laugh if you like but this is exactly what happened to Sarah Jessica Parker a few weeks back.


Luckily SJP didn’t have the flu and she had Vogue editor Anna Wintour to help her deal with the dog hair on the couches.
But it still can’t have been easy having Barack and Michelle Obama plus 48 other intimate friends wandering through your home and wondering if that pubic hair by the toilet was fresh and presidential or had been there for the past three weeks.
I say “48 other intimate friends” but what I actually mean is 48 people who have paid $40,000 each to be in your house for the evening and meet the President of the United States of America.
I read all about it on the Internet during one of the brief periods when I wasn’t unconscious or delirious with illness.
Sarah Jessica Parker held a fundraiser for Barack Obama at her brownstone (which is a very desirable house) in the West Village (which is in Noo Yawk).
According to the nastier New York tabloids, Anna Wintour made SJP move out some of her furniture because SJP’s taste runs to shabby chic and Anna thought it was more the former than the latter.
Here are some pictures that were taken before the big event.
This is Anna Wintour.


Here’s some furniture being removed from SJP’s house.


And here are the secret service people being secretive in SJP’s front garden.


I’ve no idea what sort of food was served at the event but if it had been me I would have given them Nigella’s Indian-rubbed Lamb Chops with Butternut, Rocket and Pine Nut Salad.


This is the first thing I wanted to cook when I felt better because it’s not only delicious and light, it is also a perfect combination of flavours.
It’s from Nigella’s book, Kitchen, and I can’t give you the recipe verbatim because of copyright reasons.
But here’s the gist of it.
The lamb chops are dead easy.
Just grab a large plate and mix together 1 teaspoon each of ground cumin, ground coriander and ground ginger, one-eighth of a teaspoon each of ground cloves and ground cinnamon, half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper and 3 teaspoons of sea salt flakes.
This amount of spice mix is enough for 12 lamb loin chops so I just made up half quantities.
Press each side of the lamb chops into the spice mix on the plate and cook them over medium heat in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan.
Three to four minutes per side should be enough.
You’ll find the recipe for the Butternut, Rocket and Pine Nut Salad here but this is basically what I do for two people.
Preheat the oven to 200C.
Take half a butternut pumpkin, peel and de-seed it, then cut it into slices the thickness of your thumb.
Cut each of these slices into 4 then tip the cubes into a bowl in which you’ve whisked together 1 tablespoon of olive oil and half a teaspoon each of sea salt flakes, ground turmeric and ground ginger.
Coat the butternut cubes in the spice mix then tip them into a baking tray lined with baking paper (but don’t clean out the bowl).
Roast the butternut in the oven for 30-40 minutes.
While that’s happening, toast 3 tablespoons of pine nuts in a small non-stick frying pan over medium-low heat.
This should only take a couple of minutes. Keep an eye on them because they burn really easily. Leave the pine nuts to cool.
Put 2 tablespoons of sultanas in the same bowl you used for the pumpkin, cover with 30ml of just-boiled water from the kettle and leave to cool.
Once cool, whisk in 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
Put 50g rocket or other salad leaves on big plate or in a bowl.
Scatter the roasted butternut on top, sprinkle over the toasted pine nuts then spoon over the sultana dressing, making sure the sultanas are distributed evenly.
Serve toot sweet, as they say in Noo Yawk.
Note: Nige’s recipe calls for sherry vinegar and golden sultanas but I didn’t have them so I used balsamic vinegar and ordinary sultanas instead (my inner perfectionist’s voice was telling me to pick out sultanas that were the most golden in colour but as usual I ignored it).
I also doubled the amount of vinegar.


LAMBS, HENS AND HAPPINESS

Dear Amelia,
As you grow older you’ll discover there are some things that are just meant to go together.
Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding is one.
Hens’ nights and hangovers is another.
Nanna went to your Mum’s hens’ night last night.
Now I’m back in Albany sitting in front of my computer, wondering if Panadol would work more quickly if I pulled apart the capsules and rubbed the powder into my eyeballs.
Two of many lasting memories:
1. Being photographed with a cardboard penis stuck to my forehead.
2. Standing in a circle with the bride-to-be and the five bridesmaids singing Powderfinger’s “My Happiness”.
We were loud enough to raise the dead.
“…YOU’RE OVER THERE WHEN I NEED YOU HEE-EERE…”
“My Happiness” is a special song for me and your Mum because it came out just before your Mum did her big overseas trip.
She was away for ages and I missed her like crazy.
I managed to get all the way through it without sobbing, which is no mean feat when you’re tired and emotional.
It turned out that by the end of the night I was tired and emotional to the tune of one-and-three-quarter bottles of champagne, which isn’t a record, but it’s close.
You’ll be pleased to know that your Aunty Justine was eventually found safe and sound this morning, and that as far as I know, your mother didn’t vomit on her new shoes.
Luckily I didn’t have to drive home today because I was in no condition to cope with the steady procession of dickwits who think tailgating at 110kmh on Albany Highway is a good idea.
Here’s a tip from Nanna: avoid anyone who owns an iridescent lime green car.
Iridescent lime green car = bogan with death wish.

Luckily, your Grandpa came with me to Perth and he did all the driving.
From what little I saw of the countryside on the way back, it was very lush and pretty from the recent rains.
Not much roadkill (two kangaroos and two foxes) and lots of little lambs gambolling in paddocks.
I nodded off wondering where sheep sleep and if the little lambs get cold at night (and why I care, considering I have no qualms about eating them).
I was woken just out of Mt Barker by your Grandpa shouting “IT’S TENACITY FOR GOD’S SAKE!” at the radio.
One of the footy commentators for the Geelong/Port Adelaide game had said “tenaciousness” and nearly caused him to hit a tree.
I’m not going to give you a recipe today because I’m feeling too delicate to keep typing.
Once the Panadol kicks in, I’ll be cooking a nice comforting roast for dinner.
I just hope it’s not related to anything I spotted gambolling in a paddock this morning.


PS: If you’d like to listen to “My Happiness”, check out YouTube here.


I HEART CURRY

Dear Amelia,
For the past couple of days I’ve spent every spare moment punching heart shapes out of the pages of Mills and Boons romance novels.
The idea is that we’ll scatter the hearts along the centre of the tables at your Mum and Dad’s wedding reception, thereby providing guests who may not know each other with handy conversation starters (“Christ! Have you read this crap?”).
In other news, your dress arrived from over East last week, so I hot-footed it down to the post office to pick it up.


This is not your flower girl’s dress.
This is what the French call your “avant le marriage” frock (no they don’t, I just made that up).
Nanna saw it on buyinvite.com.au and had to have it, so the pre-ceremony preparations with your Mum and the bridesmaids seemed as good an excuse as any to buy it.
On the day, you’ll be able to do exciting things like sit on the floor and spill stuff down it while everyone’s getting ready for the wedding.
As you get older you’ll notice that one of Nanna’s many talents is buying stuff that is essentially non-essential.
On the kitchen bench, for example, is a pistachio-green Kitchenaid mixer, which cost $625 and was my reward for giving up smoking six years ago.
I’ve used it roughly seven times.
I also have six plate/bowl thingies that are the size of car tyres.
They were THE thing to buy a few years back if you really wanted to look the business on the foodie front.
Unfortunately they’re too big to stand upright in the dishwasher so I don’t use them.
I’ve already mentioned the pasta machine elsewhere, but if you open the drawer above the one where the car tyres are stored, you’ll find a tonne of other useless crap that includes a lemon zester, an avocado slicer, a meat thermometer, a turkey baster, a bean stringer/slicer, a pasta server that your Grandpa uses to scratch his back and a purple plastic spoon in the shape of an aeroplane (guess who that’s for?).
Next I want one of these double egg poachers.


Your Grandpa is always whingeing about the quality of his eggs, plus the testicle-ness of this design always makes me smile.
Having said all that about non-essential stuff, I actually used the car tyres last night to serve a curry.
This wasn’t just any curry. It was curry that involved major faffing around but was totally worth it because it was fabulous.
I copied the recipe out of a magazine at Great Southern Radiology while I was waiting to have some bits x-rayed a couple of months ago.
I can’t remember which magazine it was but suspect it may have been Delicious.
You’re supposed to use cottage cheese but I didn’t have any so I used natural yoghurt instead.
I also halved the number of chillies and increased the cooking time by more than an hour.
Seriously good stuff – your Grandpa’s still raving about it.

LAMB SHANK ROGAN JOSH WITH BASMATI RICE

Serves 4

4 lamb shanks
2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2tsp ground turmeric
3 fresh bay leaves
1 tbsp fennel seeds
6 green cardamom pods
½ tsp ground ginger
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 small red chillies
100g natural yoghurt
½ a can (about 200g) tinned chopped tomatoes
coriander to garnish

Pre-heat oven to 170C.
Put the lamb shanks in a heavy, lidded casserole dish that will take them in one layer.
Mix the ginger, garlic, turmeric and bay leaves in a small bowl and rub this mixture into the shanks.
Wash your hands immediately or you’ll look like you have a 60-a-day cigarette habit.
Put the shanks to one side while you make the sauce.
Whack the cardamom pods with the flat of a knife to split them and expose the seeds inside.
Put the cardamom seeds in a mortar and pestle with the fennel seeds and grind to a coarse powder.
Tip the ground ginger on top.
Heat 2 tbsp oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-low heat.
Cook the onion, stirring, for 6 minutes or until softened.
Stir in all the spices from the mortar and pestle and cook for another 5 minutes.
Set aside to cool slightly then put the onion/spice mixture in a food processor or blender with the chillies (including seeds), yoghurt, tomatoes and remaining 2 tbsp oil.
Puree to a coarse paste (it will be the colour of cat sick at this stage but worry not – it doesn’t stay that way).
Grab the casserole dish containing the lamb shanks and tip in the paste and enough water to cover the meat  (about 350ml).
Stir it all around to combine.
Tear off a big sheet of baking paper, crumple it up and wet it under the tap.
Push the baking paper onto the meat/liquid to cover it closely, then cover this with a sheet of alfoil (this hold in moisture).
Cook in the oven for 2½ to three hours, stirring occasionally, until very tender.
Pour off all the oil/fat that’s gathered on top and serve sprinkled with chopped coriander.

BASMATI RICE
Wash one cup of basmati rice under running water then put it in a saucepan.
Cover with two cups of boiling water (from the kettle).
Stir in about a tbsp of olive oil, four cloves and a pinch of salt.
Cover the saucepan with a lid, bring the water back to the boil and cook for 8 minutes over a medium heat.
Remove the pan from the heat but leave the lid on and let the rice sit for 10 minutes.
It will be fluffy and delicious.