SPIDERS, SAUSAGES AND BROWN SNAKES

Still life of flowers, outdoor table and oven thermometer: sometimes you have to improvise

Still life of flowers, outdoor table and oven thermometer

Dear Amelia,
The day will come when you’ll say to yourself, “Why haven’t I got a proper thermometer?”
That day will probably be a day like today when the temperature in the shade reaches 40C and it starts raining live spiders on your deck.
If it ever comes to pass that it’s raining live spiders on your deck, you’ll want to know what sort of temperature the deck roof has to reach before 50 over-heated spiders drop from their hidey holes ALL AT THE SAME TIME and dangle in mid-air.
Well, I can tell you now that it’s about 48C (which is 118F, which is bloody hot no matter which way you measure it).
It totally freaked me out, I can tell you.
It was as if Google maps had stuffed up the coordinates and decided to treat southern WA to the 11th plague of Egypt.
Or as if the Mira Mar contingent of the Albany spider population had decided to reenact the airborne invasion of Normandy.
Nanna actually screamed.
Luckily your Grandpa thrives on danger, so he braved the 50 spiders that were dangling at eye level, crawled to the outdoor table and put the oven thermometer on top of it so we could record the temperature.
Then he got the Mortein and sprayed the crap out of everything.
It occurred to me later that if you’ve got to have native wildlife dropping from the roof of your deck, spiders are probably better than brown snakes.
Funnily enough, your Grandpa wasn’t comforted by this observation.
All afternoon he’s been shuddering and brushing imaginary arachnids off his shoulders.

An Albany brown snake - click here to see the video

An Albany brown snake – click here to see the video. I hope this guy’s wife lost control of her bowels all over his Jesus-booted feet. What a moron.

This spider invasion wouldn’t have happened of course if I got off my bum more often and cleaned the deck roof with a long-handled broom.
I’ve never made any bones about my lack of interest in housework, but the raining spiders thing plus this news report I came across on CNN (Woman Loses Breast After Spider Bite – yes, honestly) has got me thinking I need to change.
Here’s a picture of how the deck roof looked when it was first erected.

clean roof
Suffice to say it doesn’t look like that now (I’m too embarrassed to show you a picture).
Anyway, we were going to have a barbecue out there tonight, but while I’ve been writing this the weather has broken and it’s absolutely pissing down.
I was going to cook another recipe from that excellent cookbook, In the Mood for Entertaining, by Jo Pratt.

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It’s supposed to be a breakfast dish (it’s the sort that would be spot-on if you were hungover) but it’s just as good on the barbecue for dinner.
As it stands, what with the spiders, the torrential rain and the general state of my nerves at the moment, we’ll probably have bacon sandwiches.

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SWEET POTATO HASH BROWNS WITH SAUSAGES AND SWEET CHILLI TOMATOES
From a recipe by Jo Pratt

Serves 2 (recipe doubles easily)

2-3 tbsp olive oil
4-6 sausages or 8-12 chipolatas
1 small sweet potato (about 160g)
1 lge egg
salt and pepper
200g of whole cherry tomatoes or mini Roma/plum tomatoes, cut in half
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
pinch of crushed chilli/dried chilli flakes
2 tbsp roughly chopped parsley

The original recipe calls for proper long sausages, each one cut on an angle into three or four pieces.
I did this and because they popped out of their skins a bit and curled up as they cooked, they looked like turds from one of your smaller breeds of dog.
So from now on I’m going to use chipolatas, which I prefer anyway.
Whatever you decide on, fry them on the barbecue or in a decent-sized non-stick frying pan in 1 tbsp of oil until they’re cooked and golden brown.
The recipe says this will take 5 minutes but I’ve yet to meet a sausage that cooks all the way through in less than 15, so bear that in mind.
Once the sausages are cooked, put them on a plate and keep them warm.
While they’re cooking, peel the sweet potato and grate it coarsely.
Put it in a bowl with the egg, season with salt and pepper and mix everything together thoroughly.
Divide this mixture into four and dollop it onto the barbecue or into the frying pan that the sausages were cooked in, adding more oil if necessary.
Flatten each dollop with your spatula to make four hash browns and cook them for 3-4 minutes per side until crisp and golden brown.
While that’s happening, heat 1 tbsp of oil in another frying pan and cook the tomatoes until they start to soften.
Add the caster sugar, balsamic vinegar and crushed chilli and stir everything together.
Cook over low heat for a few more minutes until the tomatoes are very soft.
To serve, put two hash browns onto each plate, top with the sausages then spoon the tomatoes over the top.
Sprinkle with the chopped parsley. This not only makes it look pretty, but also contains heaps of Vitamin C, which if you’re cooking this as a morning-after breakfast, apparently speeds up the metabolism of alcohol by your liver.
Serve with salad and some nice bread to mop up the tomato juices.

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STRAWBERRIES, ALEC BALDWIN AND SATAY PORK

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Dear Amelia,
I was going to talk to you today about making strawberry jam but I haven’t made it yet so I can’t.
There are five kilos of strawberries in that box in the picture.
Your Great Uncle Gerard was down for a visit last week and asked us if we’d like him to go out to the local strawberry farm and buy them.
What possessed me to say “yes” is anybody’s guess. I must’ve been on drugs without knowing it.
The main reason is that they were only $10 (yes, $10 for 5 kilos) and who could go past a bargain like that, EVEN THOUGH I WASN’T PAYING FOR THEM?
Not your Nanna, that’s for sure (my Mum, aka your Great Grandma, reckons this is because once you’ve been hit with the Kmart stick, it’s a lifelong thing – cheap, cheap, cheap all the way).
These strawberries are seconds. If you look closely you’ll see that some of them have been pre-nibbled by lizards and bugs, others are covered in dirt, and a few (surprisingly few, actually) are turning into alien life forms.
It only took me about 12 hours to wash them, hull them and chop out the dodgy bits.
Then I had to go to Woolies and buy some JamSetta and the equivalent of Alec Baldwin’s body weight in sugar.
The idea is that I will chuck everything into a big saucepan, boil the shit out of it and end up with jars of jam that people will exclaim over at Christmas even though what they really want is a giant Toblerone.
Speaking of Christmas, here are some pictures of our fibre-optic tree, which I love with every fibre of my being.
Your Grandpa and I sit in front of its twinkly-ness every night, grateful that we no longer have to pretend we prefer the real thing and won’t still be vacuuming up pine needles on Australia Day.

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The following pictures are of my spice drawers, which I bought at Ikea years ago and painted with some red paving paint I found in the shed at our old house.
The names are written on the front with white coloured pencil, which is easy to wash off if you want to re-arrange your drawers (so to speak).
We love eating spicy food, your Grandpa and I, and this is a good way to store spices because it keeps them in the dark.

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“Where are you going with this, Nanna?” you are probably asking right now.
Well, I’m trying to segue into a recipe for Satay Pork, which is what we had for dinner last night.
This is one of our favourite meals – perfectly spiced and great to eat with fried rice.
It also freezes and reheats really well.
It’s from a book I got off eBay called Best-kept Secrets of the Women’s Institute: Home Cooking, by Jill Brand and Carrie O’Regan.
I don’t have a picture of the finished dish because it’s one of those brown jobbies that doesn’t photograph well.
Here’s a picture of the spices instead.

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SATAY PORK

Serves 4

700g pork fillet
1-2 tbsp oil for frying

For the marinade:
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp salt
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp olive oil

For the peanut sauce:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, crushed
¼ cup (60 ml) smooth peanut butter
½ – 1 tsp chilli powder (depending how hot you like it – I like ½ tsp)
1 tbsp light brown sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice

Mix together the marinade ingredients in a medium bowl.
Remove the silvery bits from the pork fillet and slice the meat across the grain into 1cm slices.
Put the pork into the bowl with the marinade and mix well.
Cover with Gladwrap and marinate in the fridge for at least 6 hours.
To make the sauce, heat the oil in a small saucepan over low-ish heat then gently cook the onion and garlic until soft and lightly coloured.
Add the peanut butter, chilli powder, brown sugar and lemon juice and cook for two minutes.
The sauce can be made ahead of time if you like. Keep it, covered, in the fridge.
To make the satay, heat a little oil in a non-stick frying pan or wok over high heat.
Fry the pork until cooked through (you’ll have to do this in two batches, removing the first batch to a bowl).
Return all pork to the wok, stir in the peanut sauce and heat through for a couple of minutes.
Serve with rice.


WEDDING BELLES

Dear Amelia,
Well, I’m back home in Albany and I must say it was wonderful to see you last week.
Unfortunately it looks like the Flu Fairy has decided that, for Nanna at least, this year is going to be a FIFO sort of flu season: one week on, one week off, one week on, one week off etc etc.
So much for alcohol being the cure for winter ills – I’m sitting here with another sore throat and a raging head cold.
But luckily I had a week of exuberant good health and during that week I managed to get all sorts of things done wedding-wise.
Yes, it’s only three weeks until your Mum and Dad walk down the aisle (or rather the carpet) at the winery.
And in keeping with Nanna’s motto (“What do we want? Procrastination! When do we want it? Tomorrow!”), I didn’t buy my mother-of-the-bride outfit until Friday.
On a scale of 1 (Utter Perfection) to 10 (Total Nightmare), this shopping trip to buy a frock was approximately a 15 (I’d Rather Have My Face Sawn Off).
Don’t get me wrong.
I’m extremely grateful I get to go on this mother-of-the-bride journey before I reach the age where my bum slips down the back of my legs and I’m able to draw a map of Tierra Del Fuego by joining up the liver spots on my hands with a biro.
But I swear if I’d had to look at one more piece of draped fabric or lace overlay or anything at all that was (God help us) asymmetrical, I would have ripped out my retinas with a coat hanger.
Luckily, your Mum came with me.
She’s like a machine when she shops and left no piece of Myer, David Jones and roughly 320 boutiques unturned in the five hours I was whingeing my way around Perth CBD.
She was a rock, your Mother. Her blood should be bottled.
If it hadn’t been for her and the unflagging sales assistant at David Jones I never would have discovered St Anthea of Crawford, who came to my rescue with this.


This is only the top half. I couldn’t find a pic of the skirt on St A’s website but, trust me, it’s fab (I tried photographing mine but because it’s black it just looked like a black hole).
Your Grandpa crossed himself when I told him how much it all cost but when I explained that it was actually only $8 more than 2 kilos of Szechuan peppercorns (you’ll find the price here), he felt a lot better.
Speaking of food, your Uncle Paul shouted us dinner at the Mille Café in Inglewood.
He’s a gem, your Uncle Paul. His blood should be bottled.
Grandpa and I had the slow-roasted Linley Valley pork belly with slow-braised onions and pork jus.
It was so much like the one I cook, I suspect they used the same recipe.
It’s based on a recipe from this book by British chef, Gary Rhodes, and it’s delicious.
You’ll find it on page 64.


What happens is that you cook the pork for ages and over that time, the crackling gets really puffy and crisp and the meat is pull-apart tender.
I didn’t take a picture the last time I cooked it, so instead here’s a picture of you flying down a really big slide, really, really fast.
You are fearless.
See Nanna standing at the bottom? She’s shitting herself.

SLOW-ROASTED PORK BELLY WITH ONIONS

Serves 4

1kg piece of pork belly
2 lge brown onions
1 tbsp vegetable oil
sea salt
white wine (whatever you’ve got in the fridge – I use leftover Yellowglen because I’m such a classy chick)
about half a small carton of Campbell’s chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 160C.
If the butcher hasn’t scored the pork rind already, score it into diamonds with a really sharp knife (a Stanley knife is good – you’ll find one in your shed).
Peel the onions and slice them into four cross-wise. Put them in a roasting tin that will take them in a single layer (they need to fit in the tin snugly).
Put the piece of pork belly on top of the onions, rub the oil into the skin and grind a good amount of sea salt over the top.
Pour enough wine carefully around the edges to come just to the top of the onions. Don’t pour any over the pork rind or it will be buggered.
Cook for about three hours, topping up the wine halfway through if necessary so it doesn’t burn.
When it’s cooked, put the pork and onions on a plate and keep warm.
Skim all the fat off the juices in the roasting tin (there will be enough to kill an ox), stir the chicken stock into the juices and simmer, stirring, until it’s reduced and thickened.
Serve the sauce in a gravy boat with the sliced pork, the crispy crackling, the onions and lots of veggies.
PS: In case you’re wondering, here’s a picture of Tierra Del Fuego.


MARMALADE, MARTHA AND ME

Dear Amelia,
It’s twenty past eight on a quiet Albany night and I’ve just finished talking to your Mum on the phone.
When she rang I was passed out in front of Location, Location, Location and, no, I hadn’t had a drink.
Basically I’d slipped into a coma while watching a couple in their 20s try to decide which house they’d like to spend their $1.25 million on.
They were really irritating plus I’d had a full-on day at work and I was knackered.
The pace was absolutely furious today plus five times I’d answered the phone with, “ABC Radio, Michele speaking” and five different people on the other end of the line had said, “This is the number for Fletcher’s Abattoir.”
And I’d said, “No it isn’t” and they’d said, “Yes it is”.
By the fifth call I was crossing myself and wondering if I’d moved into a parallel universe.
Your Grandpa is in Perth at the moment hoping the periodontist he’s seeing tomorrow can save his back tooth for a reasonable amount of money (ha!).
According to Google, the average periodontist salary in San Antonio, Texas (I couldn’t find one for Perth) is $77,000pa, which isn’t exactly mega-bucks, is it? Maybe that’s why they have to charge so much – so they can put the occasional vat of caviar on the table.
Anyway, because your Grandpa is in Perth staying with your Uncle Paul, I had two pieces of toast and marmalade for dinner.
Here is a picture of it in case marmalade is extinct by the time you grow up.

Your Grandpa and Uncle Paul had dinner tonight at the Queens and they ate slow-roasted belly of pork, the bastards.
I know this because before they ordered off the menu, they rang to ask me what tat soi is.
Here is a picture of tat soi for future reference, and also one of the Queens, which is in Highgate, and may also be extinct by the time you grow up.

Luckily, while I’ve been writing this, I’ve received an email from Martha Stewart telling me how to make gilded bookends out of two house bricks, so my night is salvaged.

If you’d like to try this yourself, you’ll find the instructions here.
Once I’ve finished gilding my bricks, I’ll go to bed and pass out again.
I’ll be seeing you again in four sleep’s time. Needless to say, I am very excited.


NANNA PICKED A PECK OF PRICY PEPPER

Dear Amelia,
The last time we were together we were dancing around your Mum and Dad’s kitchen to Skip To My Lou and I must say you’re a pretty spectacular dancer considering you only started to walk three months ago.
I know it’s hard to imagine at the moment, but one day you’ll be coordinated enough to handle a wok full of boiling oil.
When that day arrives, I hope you’ll try this recipe for Chinese-spiced Salt and Pepper Pork, which is my version of a recipe by WA chef Sophie Zalokar.
The original recipe had two tablespoons of sea salt plus half a teaspoon of table salt, and it was so salty we couldn’t eat it (to be honest, it was disturbingly like that stuff you have to drink to clear out your bowels before a colonoscopy).
The next time I cooked the pork I drastically reduced the amount of salt and added some chilli powder.
It was delicious and not blindingly hot but this could have been because my Szechuan peppercorns expired in 2008.
I still used them because fortunately I remembered the words of the late, great Erma Bombeck, who said, “Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I’m taking with me when I go.”
Despite Erma’s wise words, I chucked the expired peppercorns in the bin the next day and went out to hunt for some more.
None of the four supermarkets had them, of course, because that would have been too easy.
And when I eventually found some (two hours later in a deli), I discovered that while you can buy 5 kilos of Szechuan peppercorns for 50 cents at the Chinese supermarkets in Perth, they’re about five hundred bucks per tablespoon down here.
So I handed over my life savings and took them home and realised I’d forgotten to buy the limes.
So I smiled a little smile and said, “Silly me.”
No I didn’t. I said, “Shit, shit, shit.”
Then I went all the way back to the shops.
I did this because the limes make this dish taste sensational.
Don’t ever leave them out.
PS: I exaggerated slightly about the cost of Szechuan peppercorns here in Albany. They’re $4.95 for 15g, which equates to $330 per kilo.
Yes, THREE HUNDRED AND THIRTY DOLLARS PER KILO.

CHINESE-SPICED SALT AND PEPPER PORK

Serves 4

2 pork fillets
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
½ tsp chilli powder
1½ cups peanut or vegetable oil
½ cup cornflour
half a dozen grinds of black pepper
2 limes, quartered
a bag of supermarket salad greens or equivalent home-grown

Cover a platter with salad greens and put to one side.
Remove the silvery sinew from the pork and slice the meat thinly across the fillet.
Put the cornflour in a small bowl, add half a dozen grinds of black pepper and mix thoroughly. Wear an apron because the cornflour goes everywhere (as in down your legs and over the dog).
Put the sea salt and the Szechuan peppercorns into a wok and dry-roast them over medium heat until they’re fragrant – about 5 minutes.
Let them cool then grind them finely in a mortar and pestle or electric spice grinder.
Mix in the five-spice powder and chilli and put to one side.
Crumple up some kitchen paper and put it on top of a dinner plate.
Put your wok on a high heat, add the oil and heat until it’s very hot. It will start to shimmer on top when it’s ready.
Coat the pork fillet slices lightly in the cornflour and cook them in the oil for a couple of minutes each side (you’ll need to do this in two or three batches so the oil stays hot).
When the pork slices are a pale gold colour, fish them out with tongs or a slotted spoon and put them on the crumpled kitchen paper to drain.
If you’re worried they’ll go cold, stick them in a really low oven.
When all the pork is cooked, tip the slices into a big bowl, shake over the five-spice mixture and mix everything together quickly.
Tip it all on to your salad greens and get everyone to squeeze over some lime juice before they eat it, straight off the platter, just with a fork.