LIFE ISN’T ALWAYS SIMPLE

tangles

Dear Amelia,
I’m sorry I haven’t written much lately.
It’s because a lot has been going on, some good and some very bad.
The very bad is that your Uncle Paul was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes a few weeks back and it’s knocked everyone for six.
He wasn’t feeling well, so went to the doctor, who ordered some blood tests.
Next thing you know it’s 7.30 the following night and his doctor’s ringing him to say go to hospital immediately, you’re in danger of slipping into a diabetic coma.
So he did (go to RPH, I mean), and now he’s injecting himself with insulin four times a day.
No type of diabetes is good, but Type 1 is the pits.
It’s the less common kind – only about 15 per cent of diabetics have it and it’s not related to lifestyle like Type 2 can be.
No one knows what causes it, nothing can be done to prevent it or cure it, and if you don’t have regular insulin injections, you die.
To say your Grandpa and I have been worried out of our minds is an understatement.
Not surprisingly, your Uncle Paul hasn’t been feeling too flash either but he’s amazingly stoical and is getting on with the business of living with a condition that unlike many illnesses can at least be controlled.
For that we are extremely grateful because we love him very much.
To continue on the “keeping it under control” theme, I’m very pleased to announce that at two and a half you are in control of your bodily functions, with the exception of picking your nose and eating it, which we’ll have to train you to do in private if you’re not to grow up a social outcast.
But what the hell. You’re toilet trained!

This picture was taken shortly after you and your Mum returned from the restaurant's public conveniences. You are fearless when it comes to toilets.

This picture was taken shortly after you and your Mum returned from the restaurant’s public conveniences. You are now fearless when it comes to toilets.

This is such a milestone and it’s really good for your Mum that it’s been reached before the arrival of your baby brother in May.
It was a short and highly successful campaign waged by the day care ladies and your Mum and Dad and helped along greatly by a special toilet-seat insert that allows you to sit on a proper toilet without dropping bum-first into the bowl and ending up in the ocean out beyond Capel.
These inserts hadn’t been invented when your Mum and Uncle Paul were little and, believe me, they’re a godsend because every little kid loves the challenge presented by a big toilet.
You particularly love your after-dinner session and will sit there for ages, singing and chatting to yourself and seeing how much toilet paper you can unroll onto the floor before someone catches you.
It’s a joy to witness and makes me think that we’d probably all feel a lot more valued if our Mums and Dads and Nannas and Grandpas could come into the toilet and clap and cheer every time we perform a bowel movement.
I’ve got no idea how I’m going to segue into a recipe after this discussion.
In honour of your Uncle Paul’s pancreas and your own bowel movements, I should probably post something healthy.
Instead I’m going to give you a recipe for Scallop and Leek Tart that I made for your Grandpa and I on the night of Good Friday.
It’s from the book A Consuming Passion by Michelin-starred New Zealand chef Adam Newell.

Adam Newell
I love this book and I love Adam Newell.
The last time I wrote about a recipe of his he sent me a very nice email and I almost died of shock and amazement.
I’ll leave you his book in my will but I would suggest to everyone else that they buy it at Fishpond (a bargain at $25.95, hardback, free postage).
It goes without saying that my Scallop and Leek Tart was nothing like Adam Newell’s because I’m not a Michelin-starred chef, I didn’t make my own puff pastry, I didn’t have any saffron and I couldn’t find white balsamic vinegar for love or money.
That said, it was still bloody delicious.
Your Grandpa said it tasted like a scallop pizza only silkier and better and with puff pastry.
He means wells.

One year ago on this blog: Yorkshire Lasagne

scallop tart2

SCALLOP AND LEEK TART AFTER THE FASHION OF ADAM NEWELL

Serves 4

4 sheets frozen puff pastry, defrosted for 5 minutes
1 lge leek or 2 smaller ones, rinsed well and chopped small
4 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
24-32 scallops depending on size
1 egg, beaten
shaved Parmesan cheese
small salad leaves – mesclun or spinach and rocket mix

Vinaigrette
2 tomatoes
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (or pinch of saffron and 1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar)
1 tbsp small capers
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

To make the vinaigrette, put the tomatoes in a bowl and cover with boiling water.
Leave for a few minutes then peel, de-seed and chop the flesh into fine dice.
Brig the vinegar to the boil in a small saucepan, take it off the heat and stir in the balsamic vinegar and capers (and saffron, if using).
Let it cool then add the diced tomato, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Leave it to infuse while you get on with the tart.
To make the tart, preheat the oven to 200C.
Sweat the leeks in the olive oil in a frying pan (use a low heat) until they’re soft but not coloured. Season with salt and pepper, stir and cool.
Cut 15cm circles from each sheet of pastry and crimp the edges by pinching them with your fingers.
Put the pastry discs on a baking tray(s) and spread the leeks over the top, leaving a 1cm or so leek-free edge.
Put the whole scallops on top of the leeks in a single layer.
Bake for 10-15 minutes until the edges of the pastry discs are puffed and golden.
To serve, put some salad leaves and shaved parmesan on top of each tart, pile the rest of the leaves on the sides of the plates and drizzle the vinaigrette over the top and around the edge of the tarts.

This is what it should look like when done by a proper chef

This is what it should look like when done by a proper chef


GOOD KING WENCESLAS GOES CHRISTMAS SHOPPING

Dear Amelia,
The photos at the top of this blog are of the first two Christmas stamps ever released in Britain.
I’ve got both of them in my trusty Pelham Junior Stamp Album, which was given to me by my Nanna when I was 11.

My trusty Pelham Junior Stamp Album, looking a bit worn round the edges after 48 years.

One of the stamps (guess which one) depicts Good King Wenceslas and was drawn by a six-year-old called Tasveer Shemza.
It’s up there because I’ve had a few emails (OK, two) asking if I can re-print the Good King Wenceslas column I wrote back in 2008 for the West Weekend magazine.
I wrote this column after I’d been Christmas shopping at Myer in late November.
I’d been trapped on the escalator between two little kids (one covered in snot, the other playing with his willy), their Mum and Dad (who were carrying several hundred shopping bags) and three teenage boys (who were almost catatonic from looking up the bum of a girl in very short shorts who was further up the escalator).
When I got home I said to your Grandpa, “I bet good old King Wenceslas never had to go through this sort of thing.”
Then I thought, well maybe he did.
The column’s reprinted with the permission of The West Australian newspaper.
If you’d like to hear the original Christmas carol, click here.

Good King Wenceslas Goes Christmas Shopping

Good King Wenceslas went out, buying gifts for Stephen.
Five clicks past the roundabout, through the traffic weavin’.
Brightly shone the moon that night, on a trail bike dealer,
When a salesman came in sight, pushing a two whee-ee-ler.

Hither, salesman, stand by me, wrap that bike up quick smart.
On my way I soon must be, there’s a sale at K-mart.
Ten per cent off DVDs, half-price socks and sandals,
Random specials on CDs, books and scented ca-an-dles.

Through the mall the King set out, wrestling with his trolley.
Mums and Dads were all about, none of them looked jolly.
Perry Como filled the air, singing songs of snowmen.
Hyped-up kids were everywhere, never a good o-o-men.

First a turkey, plump and good, went in Wence’s trolley,
Followed by a Christmas pud, and some plastic holly.
Wrapping paper, Toblerone, gift tags shaped like Santa,
Serviettes in neutral tones, Pringles, nuts and Fa-an-ta.

Bring me Bundy, bring me wine, bring Bacardi Breezer.
Bring me lager from the Rhine, put it all on Visa.
Bring Jim Beam for Uncle Stan, that should stop him whingeing.
Plus lite beer for young Leanne, we don’t want her bi-inge-ing.
 
Good King Wenceslas went home, absolutely knackered.
In his castle’s stately dome, he was Christmas crackered.
So, folks, don’t yourselves delude, make sure you remember.
Next time you buy gifts and food, do it in Sep-te-em-ber.

I like to think that when Good King Wenceslas finally got home, Good Queen Wenceslas was waiting with a nice glass of whiskey and some shortbread biscuits in the shape of Christmas trees.
I make these every year in all sorts of Christmassy shapes and everyone loves them.
It’s the same recipe I used for the Bum Biscuits I blogged about back in March.
Click here and you’ll find it.

 

 


PULITZER PIES: CHICKEN, BACON AND MUSHROOM PIE

Dear Amelia,
I know.
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).

Picture source here

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

Serves 4

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).


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.


PULITZER PIES: SALMON PUFFS

Dear Amelia,
Seeing as you’re only 17 months old, you won’t be aware that Ella the Wonderdog has an inverted vulva.
You also won’t know what a vulva is and I have no intention of explaining it here except to say that when a dog’s vulva is inverted it sometimes involves ointment (or Vulvalene, as one of your Mum’s exes once put it).
We’re going through an ointment stage at the moment and for the first time EVER, I’m not the one pulling on the rubber gloves twice a day.
Yes. Your Grandpa is applying ointment to the dog’s bum.
As rarities go, this is on a par with unicorn sightings.
Sometimes I have to lie down just so I can grasp the enormity of it all.
Anyway, here’s another picture of Ella looking at some Salmon Puffs.
It was taken ages ago when we lived in North Perth.

I’ve been making Salmon Puffs since your Mum and Uncle Paul were little kids.
They love them and so does your Grandpa.
I love them too but they give me crippling heartburn, so I had to take a break until a nice Swiss drug baron invented Somac and changed my life.
I also make these pies with chopped-up leftover chicken and – for me at least – they are heartburn free.
The original Salmon Puff recipe was copied from a magazine (I can’t remember which one) about 25 years ago.
It contained two tablespoons of canned green peppercorns. So 1980s.
Feel free to add them back in if you like living on the edge.

SALMON PUFFS

Makes 6 pies

30g butter
1 small brown onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp flour
¾ cup milk
¼ cup salmon liquid from the can
a few grinds of black pepper
415g can John West red salmon
3 sheets frozen puff pastry
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 200C.
Melt the butter over low heat, add the onion and cook until it’s soft but not coloured.
Stir in the flour and let it cook for a couple of minutes.
Stir in the milk and salmon liquid, grind in some pepper and cook, stirring, until it boils and thickens.
Leave until cold then fold in the drained, flaked salmon and mash it in well with a fork.
Defrost the puff pastry sheets for 5 minutes then cut each into quarters so you have 12 equal squares.
If you want, flute the top of six of the squares with a blunt knife, making sure you don’t cut all the way through the pastry. Poke a hole in the middle.


Divide the salmon mixture evenly between the six remaining squares, brush the edges with beaten egg, top with the fluted squares and press down well to seal.
Place a Chinese bowl (about 12cm diameter) over the top of each pie and cut around it.


Put the pies on a baking tray lined with baking paper and brush the tops with beaten egg.
Bake for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown.
You can put all sorts of fillings in these pies, so long as they’re not sloppy.
Because there’s only your Grandpa and me and we’re leg and thigh people, the chicken breast is always left over when I roast a chook.
So I make this same white sauce, using one cup of milk and leaving out the salmon liquid.
Then I take the skin off the breast, chop the meat into small cubes and stir it through the white sauce with some seeded mustard and chopped parsley or with just a bit of chopped thyme.
It’s very nice indeed.