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.
Welcome to 2013 and your very own bubblegum pink kitchen, which you were supposed to get for your birthday in September but it didn’t arrive in time.
When it did arrive in October – flat-packed in a cardboard box – it occurred to us for the first time that it would have to be built from scratch.
And that it would be like assembling your portable cot (aka thatstupidfuckingthing) but multiplied by a million.
This realisation was so traumatic, we decided not to think about it again until Christmas.
Long story short: If you had any doubts about your Grandpa’s devotion to you, this kiddy kitchen and its 147 individual screws should dispel them once and for all.
It took him four and a half hours to assemble the damn thing and he didn’t swear once – an incredible indicator of personal growth if you ask me.
Uncle Paul pitched in as well, letting you eat his T-shirt until you were able to cook something more substantial on your new stovetop.
Finally, here’s a picture of your Mum getting dinner ready while your Dad attends to the important business of opening a six-pack of beer.
You’ll notice your Mum is a slightly different shape.
That’s because of your baby brother, who is due to enter this world in May.
I KNOW! It’s so exciting.
We had a wonderful Christmas with you all but we were very glad to get back to the cool weather of Albany.
Perth had its longest December heatwave in 70 years while we were staying up there: 39.6C on Christmas Day, 40.5C the following Saturday, bloody awful in between.
When we were driving home on Boxing Day, the temperature as we passed through Williams was 39C. By the time we got to Albany it was 22C. Bliss.
On New Year’s Eve we partied like it was 1999, your Grandpa and I, 1999 being the year after 1998, which was the last time we actually went out to a NYE party.
Our tradition now is to stay at home, eat good food, drink French champagne, sing very badly and loudly, dance around the lounge room, then pass out at half past ten.
We had beautiful Albany oysters with the first bottle of Veuve, then a really delicious duck dish, then ice cream with home-made strawberry topping (I was supposed to make berry clafoutis but I was too buggered).
The duck recipe looks like major work but it’s actually very simple.
Just grind your spices and make your sauce beforehand.
The rest comes together really quickly.
You’ll find the original recipe for this dish here.
It requires you to perform surgery on two whole ducks (no thanks) and add cornflour to the sauce (no need).
It also adds cinnamon and salt to the spice rub but I forgot to put it in (no great loss – it was still delicious).
I served this with sauteed potatoes and a salad that included homegrown rocket, mizuna, parsley and chives.
SPICED DUCK WITH GINGER GLAZE
From a recipe by JeanMarie Brownson, Chicago Tribune
4 duck breasts
Spice rub, see recipe below
Ginger glazing sauce, heated, see below
handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
Pat the duck breasts dry with paper towels.
Sprinkle the spice rub on a big dinner plate and coat the duck breasts lightly on each side.
Put the breasts on a rack set over a plate or baking dish (this will catch any drips of blood), cover and put in the fridge for 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
Make the Ginger Glazing Sauce before you cook the duck breasts. Reheat it when the duck breasts are in the oven.
Pre-heat oven to 200C. Heat a large ovenproof frying pan (see note) over low heat until hot.
Add breasts, skin side down, in a single layer.
Cook over low heat without turning until skin is crisp and brown, about 10 minutes.
Turn breasts over, put them in the oven and cook until medium rare, about 10 minutes.
To serve, slice the duck breasts, pour over some of the ginger sauce and sprinkle with parsley.
Serve the rest of the sauce separately.
Note: You don’t need to use an ovenproof frying pan. I used an ordinary non-stick frying pan and then transferred the duck breasts to a hot baking dish (I put the baking dish in the oven when it was pre-heating).
Even though I cooked this for two instead of four, I still made the full amount of sauce. Because we’re greedy pigs. And because the ginger marmalade was on special at Woolies.
1 heaped tbsp whole coriander seeds
1 star anise
1 tsp whole cloves
Grind everything in an electric spice mill/coffee grinder or mortar and pestle until you have a fine-ish powder.
GINGER GLAZING SAUCE
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 tbsp butter
½ cup dry white wine
1½ cups low-salt chicken stock
4 tbsp (1/3 cup) ginger marmalade
2 tsp balsamic vinegar (or more to taste)
freshly ground salt and pepper
Cook shallots in butter in a saucepan over medium heat until golden, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the wine and boil until it’s reduced to a glaze, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the stock and simmer until reduced by half, about 20 minutes.
Add the ginger marmalade, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste, and stir until the marmalade is incorporated and the sauce is hot.
Sometimes real life – as in, work – gets in the way of blogging, which is a bugger because I’d be quite happy to sit here all day, every day, writing nonsense and posting recipes.
Work has gone ballistic in the last couple of weeks, which is why I haven’t had the time to sit here and write things like, “I was stunned by the woody freshness of the avocado” or, “This method of cooking steak was taught to me by my French friend Nathalie” or, “With a little care, a simple snack can make a delectable mini-feast”.
Luckily for me, all this stuff has already been written by Carina Cooper, who is the author of the Notting Hill Cookbook.
Since buying this cookbook I’ve been asking myself do I dislike Carina because she’s a wanker?
Or do I like dislike her because she’s thin, blonde, good-looking, lives in one of the most desirable suburbs on Earth, has directed documentaries for the BBC and appears to be filthy rich?
The answer is yes to all of the above.
To add insult to injury, Carina has an “inspiring husband” called Franc and four daughters called Ithaka, Flynn, Sidonie and Zazou.
Here is more of what Carina has written in her Notting Hill Cookbook.
“From the age of about four my children cooked their own supper on a Sunday evening. Oeuf en cocotte was Flynn’s favourite.”
And, in the introduction to a recipe for Prawns Margarita: “We were sitting on a beach in Mexico with our friends Goffredo and Alix.”
As someone who would only be able to write, “From the age of 10, my children were able to microwave their own baked beans,” and “We were sitting on a beach in Safety Bay with Ron and Maureen,” I’ll make no bones about the fact that I dislike Carina with every fibre of my being.
So the question is, why did I buy her cookbook?
Well, because it was $2, hardback, hardly a mark on it, at the Salvos Community Store in Chester Pass Rd.
Your Uncle Paul is on leave at the moment and came down for a visit, and because we’re both book fiends we did the usual trawling of the op shops.
Here’s the big tip: Notting Hill may have fabulous bars, flower shops, cafes, restaurants, delis, bakeries, fishmongers, butchers and markets, but Albany has the best-value second-hand shops in the Universe.
The Salvos! My God, you haven’t lived until you’ve trawled through their bookshelves.
And unlike the Red Cross shop, which has gone all upmarket retro and is selling books for upwards of $4 (the cheek!), the Salvos are sticking to two bucks a pop, no matter what the original price.
Here’s what I bought for $8 on Friday.
You’ll see that the book by Masterchef Australia judges Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris was originally $49.95.
And it was one of two that was on the shelf (the other one is probably still there, so if you live in Albany you should stop reading this right now and get on your bike).
I was going to give you a Carina Cooper recipe because, despite the pretensions and gag factor of the book, some of the recipes don’t look half bad.
But I haven’t cooked anything from the book yet so I’m going instead with something from The Best, the TV series that was on Foxtel ages ago.
There are some great recipes in the book that accompanied the series, so grab it if you see it in an op shop near you. It’ll be the best $2 you’ve ever spent.
I made this Oriental Noodle Salad because I’d bought some sesame seeds for a prawn recipe that failed miserably and needed to use them up.
It’s very different, light and healthy and good to eat on a hot day.
ORIENTAL NOODLE SALAD (recipe by Silvana Franco)
100g rice vermicelli noodles
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
½ tsp salt
½ tsp caster sugar
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 Lebanese cucumber
1 red chilli, finely chopped
100g smoked salmon, torn into shreds
handful fresh coriander leaves
1 tbsp sesame seeds
Soak the noodles for about five minutes in boiling water to cover.
While they’re soaking, grab a big bowl and mix together the vinegar, salt and sugar.
Add the sliced red onion and mix to combine.
Peel the cucumber, halve it lengthways, scoop out the seeds with a spoon and chuck them out.
Slice the cumber thinly and put it in the bowl with the chopped chilli, smoked salmon and coriander, stirring to combine.
Drain the noodles in a colander and run them under cold water until cool.
Put them in the bowl and toss everything together.
Toast the sesame seeds in a small non-stick frying pan and sprinkle them over the top of the salad before serving.
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.
Just lately when we’re staying with your Mum and Dad, and Nanna rushes in to your bedroom in the morning to get you out of your cot, you sometimes get all pouty and stick your head under the quilt and say, “No!”
At first I thought it was because you were just being a little shit but then I realised it might be because when I get out of bed I look like this.
I took this picture at 8 o’clock yesterday morning after frightening myself when I looked in the bathroom mirror.
I’m not sure why it happens, this hair thing.
Your Grandpa says it’s a gift.
Personally I think it’s because of “product”, which looks like this.
Back in the day, when Nanna was younger, bottles of stuff like this were called “hair care”.
They changed the name to “product” so they could start charging gullible people like me $35 a pop.
Things were a lot simpler on the hair front when Nanna was young.
A drop of Silvikrin shampoo or Sunsilk Lemon (for Greasy Hair), and you were set for at least a week.
If you wanted to be blonde you just sprayed something called Sun Up on your head and stood out in the sun until you passed out and/or your hair was bleached to the desired shade of lightness.
OK, fluorescent yellowness.
This is a pretty scary photo isn’t it?
It’s because it was taken in 1973 (look at that pampas grass and the umbrella tree and the pink hibiscus – so 70s).
That’s your Great Aunty Pauline on the left looking gorgeous with her natural red hair.
The scruffy, long-haired bloke in the middle is your Grandpa and the girl with her nose in the air and bright yellow Sun Up hair is me.
I remember the day that photo was taken. I was dying to go to the loo and just seconds before had been shouting, “For God’s sake, get on with it!” (some things never change, do they?).
One thing that’s changed, though, is Nanna’s gall bladder.
It’s now home to a gallstone the size of a minor planet plus “a host of smaller ones” (sort of like a host of golden daffodils only round and brown).
My doctor told me that lots of people get gallstones, especially if they fit into the category called The Four Fs, which stand for female, fair, 40 and fat.
My doctor is a warm, witty and wonderful man but I must admit that when he came out with that one I nearly summoned up a fifth F and told him to fuck off.
Instead I advised him that I wasn’t fat when I was 40 and that even though I’m moving more towards the lard-arse end of the weight scale than the skinny-girl end, people had yet to start pointing and laughing at me in the street.
Luckily he had good things to tell me about my bowels and we were able to move on.
Anyway, I had my pre-admission appointment at the hospital this morning because in a few weeks my gall bladder and its various stones are being removed.
I’ve decided that the weekend before this happens I’m going to go out to a restaurant with your Grandpa and some friends for a Goodbye Gall Bladder dinner.
It will be nice not to have to cook but, if I had to, I would make these Gingered Chicken Cakes with Coriander Sauce.
If you Google the name of this recipe you’ll find it’s on caterer’s menus all over the world – probably because it’s so easy and impressive and delicious.
It’s from one of my favourite cookbooks – Diva Cooking: Unashamedly Glamorous Party Food by Victoria Blashford-Snell (yes, really) and Jennifer Joyce.
Unfortunately the book’s out of print but if you ever see it on eBay, grab it – it’s a little treasure.
I use 500g chicken breast mince instead of mincing 2 chicken breasts as directed in the recipe.
I also use bought mayonnaise instead of making my own (surprise, surprise). You’ll notice that these chicken cakes are the same colour as my hair when I was 20. How embarrassing is that?
GINGERED CHICKEN CAKES WITH CORIANDER SAUCE
Makes 20 small canapés or 10-12 bigger patties
500g chicken breast mince
45ml (2 tbsp plus 1 tsp) Thai fish sauce
2.5cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
3 spring onions, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp dried chilli flakes/crushed dried chilli
oil (not olive) for frying
mixed salad leaves
2 tbsp mayonnaise
¼ cup fresh coriander, finely chopped
juice and finely grated zest of 1 lime
Make the coriander sauce by mixing together all the ingredients.
Cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge until needed.
For the chicken cakes, put the chicken mince into a big mixing bowl.
Put all the remaining ingredients except for the oil and salad leaves into a mini food processor or blender and process until pureed.
Pour the pureed mixture on top of the chicken mince and mix everything together until well combined.
Form the mixture into patties – small ones for canapés, bigger ones for an entrée or main course.
Coat the bottom of a large frying pan with oil and cook them over medium-high heat for 3 to 5 minutes each side, until cooked through.
Drain the chicken cakes on kitchen paper and serve them on a bed of salad leaves with a bowl of sauce in the middle.
To eat, drizzle some sauce over the chicken cakes and salad.
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.
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.