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.
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.
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
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.
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.
The decluttering of home and computer is still grinding on here in Albany, interrupted only by a visit to you last weekend and the inevitable follow-up head cold (damn you, day care).
Luckily, not snot, nor sleet, nor driving rain could keep us from enjoying ourselves while your Mum and Dad went off to your Aunty Justine’s wedding last Saturday.
Give a Nanna and her granddaughter a whole house to themselves and before long they’ll have pretend zoos, pretend shops, pretend parks and pretend “work” coming out of their earholes.
(Not to mention “cake” made with 10 pieces of chalk, a baby wipe, seven sultanas and your mother’s potato masher.)
Anyway, when I got home – sad, lonely and bereft at no longer being with you but strangely relieved to regain a life that didn’t involve jumping or hopping – I found something on my computer that I’d totally forgotten about.
It was like striking gold.
Here’s the story.
Back in my Early Nigella Period, I’d often visit Nigella.com and look at the forum, which was called Your Page.
It was heaven on a stick – dominated by a bunch of Nigella groupies who thought of themselves as forum royalty because they’d been there from the very start, and who maintained such an amazing mix of full-on fawning, saccharine sweetness and cold-blooded bitchiness, it made your eyes water.
Nanna loved the goings on in the forum. It made her snort her cup of tea over the computer screen on more than one occasion.
Sadly, Nigella closed it down. But not before Nanna copied and pasted the following gem, which was only up for a short time before a moderator trashed it.
It was posted by someone called Hiya on September 4, 2007, the day after the first episode of Nigella Express aired in the UK on BBC TV.
This was the episode in which Nigella referred to squid as “squiddies” (I know – gag).
Here’s what Hiya wrote:
“(I) sent (this) to the BBC too. I don’t expect a response, who would after watching that unctuous, toe-curling, self-promoting (paid for by the TV licence) exhibition of pathetic pouting and mealy-mouthed rubbish.
“‘Squiddies’ for God’s sake. This was enough to reach for the flight bag if I had one at home, but the surrounding nauseous nonsense of the programme was insulting as well. I’m not skint but the sight of Lordette Lawson making beds that colour-coordinated with the wallpaper, well!!, busy mobile texting to cares who in the black cab having exited the mews home!!
“I hope we did not pay for the kitchen as well – in fact, don’t tell me, I’d rather not know. Lord and Lordette Lawson and the kids eating chicken and spuds and peas – how dare you give this airtime? In fact I want an explanation for this gibberish because as I write this after a day’s work, I’m getting fed up with the constant promotion of pointless drivel. Bet this won’t be on the forum with all the other gushing.”
Call me shallow but when it comes to memorable writing I reckon you can’t beat a good rant.
Not that it’s got anything to do with today’s recipe, which comes from Aussie TV chef Iain “Huey” Hewitson and is a real corker.
I’ve made Braised East-West Oxtail twice now, the latest being last night because the weather’s still cold enough down here to warrant winter food.
Don’t be tempted to leave out the grated orange rind – it gives the dish a beautiful flavour.
If, like me, you’re not much of an orange eater and you think it’s wasteful to use only the rind, follow these three handy tips:
1. Wrap the de-rinded orange tightly in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge while you spend three hours looking for a recipe that uses the juice of just one orange.
2. Forget the orange is in the fridge until three weeks later.
3. Throw it out.
You’ll notice that a box that once contained a bottle of Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut champagne is reclining nonchalantly behind the plate of oxtail and couscous in the photo accompanying the recipe.
That’s because we’d knocked off the contents earlier in the evening to celebrate winning a work contract that we’re very pleased about.
Your Grandpa had to ask himself at the bottle shop if we were pleased enough to buy a bottle of Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque, which we love, love, love and which looks like this.
BRAISED EAST-WEST (VIA ALBANY) OXTAIL
This is my version of a recipe by Iain Hewitson, who in turn was inspired by American-Chinese chef, Ken Hom. You’ll find Huey’s original recipe here.
1.5 kg oxtail pieces
oil for frying
1 medium onion, chopped
3 shallots, finely sliced
4 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tbsp Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
2 tbsp mirin seasoning (or mirin if you can get it)
2 tbsp light soy sauce
3 tbsp hoisin sauce
grated rind of 1 orange
750g fresh tomatoes, diced
1 cup water
1 beef stock cube, crumbled
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
If you don’t want to cook this on top of the stove, preheat the oven to 160C.
Trim the excess fat from the oxtail pieces.
Bring a big heavy-based pot of water to the boil, add the oxtail pieces and simmer them for 15 minutes (a lot of scum will rise to the surface – just ignore it).
Fish the oxtail pieces out with tongs, drain them well in a colander and clean the heavy-based pot you’ve just cooked them in.
Put the pot over medium-high heat with a thin layer of oil in the bottom and brown the oxtail pieces all over.
Remove them to a plate covered with kitchen paper so the fat can drain off.
Lower the heat under the pot and gently sauté the onions and shallots until they start to soften, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for another couple of minutes.
Add all the remaining ingredients, stirring well, and bring to the boil.
Add the oxtail to the pot (in one layer if possible) then turn the heat down to very low, cover the pot tightly and simmer for 3 to 3½ hours (or put it in the oven for the same amount of time).
It’s ready when the meat pulls easily away from the bone.
Serve with couscous, rice or mashed potatoes.
It’s International Top Spinning Day on Wednesday.
I mention this because I have a spinning top I bought at a shop called Chapels on Whatley last time we were up in Perth.
The string that spins my spinning top was pre-wound but seeing as you were kind enough to unwind it last time you visited (you were like greased lightning – Nanna didn’t stand a chance), I had to go on YouTube to find out how to fix it up.
Luckily, you can Google all sorts of things these days and it’s amazing what you find.
In this case it was a helpful American man with tattooed legs.
What this man doesn’t know about spinning tops you could engrave on a gnat’s toenail, which is probably why 40,220 people have watched his spinning-top tutorial.
Not that it did me much good. I got the hang of the string-winding procedure but was hopeless with the actual throwing and spinning bit.
Thank God I know how to change a light bulb because at least I was able to take part in Change A Light Day, which was today, as was You Matter To Me Day.
Later this month we can look forward to World Porridge Day, Be Bald and Be Free Day, and Chucky The Notorious Killer Doll Day.
All up, there are more than 150 specially named “Days” during October, most of them in the US.
I asked your Grandpa what he would choose if he could name his own Day and he said International Who Gives A Shit Day.
He’s out of sorts because he forgot that it was Global James Bond Day on Friday.
But seeing as he thought that on Global James Bond Day you were allowed to shoot people rather than just unfriend them on Facebook, it’s probably a good thing his memory isn’t what it used to be.
It’s obvious that every special-interest group and its dog is hopping on this “Day” bandwagon, so seeing as I’m a special-interest group (I’m especially interested in me) I’ve decided that from now on, today will be called International Make Your Own Herb and Spice Mix Day.
When it came to choosing a name for today it was either that or International Do the Washing, Change the Sheets and Sweep the Floor Day, because basically they were the only other things I did.
I was inspired to make my own herb and spice mixes by these two people.
1. Mignon, my friend and your Great Aunty, who (obviously!) I know.
2. Kiran from Kiran’s Cooking Club, who I don’t know but who has a beautiful-looking blog that you’ll find here.
Mignon is an excellent cook and the only person I know who can say, “I’m passionate about food,” without sounding like a wanker.
She’s started an online store selling natural (as in no nasty added bits) freeze-dried and powdered fruits and other really good things.
It’s called Tastebom and you’ll find it at www.tastebom.com.
Here’s a picture of some of the Tastebom products Mignon gave me to experiment with when she came down to Albany from Perth last week.
I started with the Tasmanian dried lavender you see to the right of the photo and made my own Herbes de Provence mix, Herbes de Provence being unavailable down here in the town that time forgot.
Then I used the Herbes de Provence to make Nigella’s St Tropez Chicken.
Spurred on by herby success and the fact that Kiran is Indian and has his own food company, I then made garam masala using this recipe on his blog.
I want to make a Chicken and Spinach Curry, and authentic garam masala is an essential ingredient.
I’ll post the curry recipe another day but in the meantime here’s a picture of the garam masala mix and the ingredients that go into its making.
Unsurprisingly, after all the mixing, cooking and futile top-spinning, Nanna was a bit buggered.
But as luck would have it, tomorrow has just been declared If You’re Called Michele You’re Allowed To Do Nothing Day.
HERBES DE PROVENCE
Makes 3½ tbsps (using 20ml tbsps)
If you look on the Internet you’ll find a million recipes for this. Ideally it should include dried savory but I couldn’t find any so I substituted dried sage and dried basil.
1 tbsp dried thyme
1 tbsp dried savory (or 2 tsp dried sage and 2 tsp dried basil)
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried lavender
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp fennel seeds
Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
NIGELLA LAWSON’S ST TROPEZ CHICKEN
This is a seriously delicious dish.
The original recipe calls for a large chicken jointed into 10 pieces but there’s no way you can cook a chicken breast for almost 2½ hours without it being as dry as sticks. Believe me, I’ve tried.
In order to succeed, you’d need breasts that were resistant to nuclear attack and carved from Dolly Parton’s bigger-breasted sister.
10 chicken pieces (bone in, skin on, preferably thighs, drumsticks and wings)
juice of 1 lemon
60ml olive oil
60ml white wine
2 cloves garlic, bruised
1 tbsp Herbes de Provence (but mixed herbs would do)
Put the chicken pieces into a big shallow dish or large zip-lock plastic bag.
Put the lemon juice, oil, honey and wine into a bowl and whisk until the honey is dissolved.
Pour the lemon mixture over the chicken and mix in the garlic and herbs.
Marinate in the fridge, covered, for up to two days (the longer the better).
Preheat the oven to 170C.
Pour the chicken and marinade into a roasting dish, making sure the chicken pieces are skin-side up.
Cover with foil and cook for 1½ to 2 hours (Nigella says 2 but I reckon this is too long).
Remove the foil, turn the heat up to 220C and cook for another 15 minutes or until the chicken is bronzed and St Tropez-ish.
Remove the chicken to a warm plate, skim the excess fat from the roasting pan, pour in half a cup of wine or water and deglaze the pan juices over a medium heat.
Pour this sauce over the chicken to serve.
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).
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: