As you can see from the photo, I was on my knees by the time I finished cooking the Peking Duck last Saturday night.
We didn’t get to eat it until 9.17pm, which was unfortunate because my synapses stopped firing round about 8.04.
By then the kitchen and I looked like the Wreck of the Hesperus.
You may remember that the recipe I decided to use was from Gok Cooks Chinese by everyone’s favourite fashionista Gok Wan, of How To Look Good Naked fame.
As a result of what we now call The Night of the Long Ducks I actually emailed Gok’s people and asked if his next TV series could be titled How To Look Good Fully Clothed with Half a Star Anise and Three Cucumber Sticks In Your Bra.
No, I haven’t heard back from them and, yes, it was a long and messy process this road to Peking Duck-ness – almost Nanna’s kryptonite.
Not that Gok’s roast duck and plum sauce recipes were the culprits. They were both reasonably simple and extremely delicious.
But I almost lost the will to live during the Chinese pancake-making thing. It took FOREVER.
If your Grandpa hadn’t woken up and waved another bottle of wine under my nose I reckon I would’ve been a goner.
Your Grandpa actually had to have a 30-minute ziz during this latest culinary adventure.
Not because of the lengthy preparation process (although that didn’t help), but because he’d got out of bed before dawn to drive up Mt Melville and take photos of the sun rising over Albany, then he’d run around taking pics of the Australia Day citizenship ceremony at the council offices.
Unsurprisingly, by 7.34pm he was buggered.
His sunrise photos, though, are stunning. Here are three of them.
Next up is a picture of what your thumbs look like after they’ve prised open 16 very hot, thin Chinese pancakes to make 32 even thinner ones (the words “painful” and “shit, shit, shit” more or less cover this last stage of what is basically a 357-step process).
I’ve decided that my next challenge on the culinary front will be to make a chocolate cake using nothing but three cherry tomatoes and a potato masher.
I suspect it might be easier.
That said, in a minute I’ll give you the instructions for Poppa Wan’s Easy Peking Duck.
In the meantime here’s some BREAKING NEWS (well, not technically “breaking” because I’ve already done it once):
If you live in regional WA you can listen to me chat about a recipe on ABC Radio’s WA Regional Drive show with Barry Nicholls.
I started last week and I’ll be on every Thursday at 5.45pm in a segment called What’s For Tea?
Barry, the Regional Drive show’s presenter, is a father of four kids under the age of 8.
Thursday is his night for cooking dinner apparently.
Edit: Oops, I’m actually on once a month. I’ll let you know when my next segment is.
One year ago on this blog: Curried Glut
POPPA WAN’S EASY PEKING DUCK WITH PLUM SAUCE AND CHINESE PANCAKES
From Gok Cooks Chinese by Gok Wan
Buy yourself a 2kg duck from the supermarket and pat it dry with paper towels.
Leave the neck attached.
Sprinkle the inside of the cavity ALL AROUND with 3 teaspoons of five-spice powder. This is not easy. Swearing is just about compulsory.
Into the cavity, stuff 2 star anise, 1 peeled onion cut into 8 wedges, 2 spring onions and 4 peeled cloves of garlic that you’ve bashed with the flat side of your knife, and a 5cm piece of ginger that’s been peeled and sliced.
It’s a tight fit but you’ll manage to get it all in with a bit of pushing and shoving.
Close the cavity as tightly as possible by pulling the skin together and threading a bamboo skewer through it to secure it.
Grab another skewer and prick the duck all over. Make sure you do this lots and lots of times – more than you think you should probably do – so the fat runs out and bastes the duck.
Grind some salt over the skin and put the duck on a rack in a deep roasting tin.
Roast it in a 180C oven for 1 hour then increase the temperature to 220C and cook until the duck is done (the recipe says 25 minutes but mine took another hour, during which time I lowered the temp again – it still tasted good).
Let the duck rest on the bench top for 15 minutes while you self-flagellate with a wire whisk because, like a moron, you decided to make your own Chinese pancakes from scratch.
The plum sauce
This is fab.
Grab a medium saucepan and into it put 4 stoned and roughly chopped plums, 1 tablespoon water, ½ teaspoon of five-spice powder, half a de-seeded and chopped fresh red chilli, 1 tablespoon each of honey, light soy sauce and Chinese rice wine, 1 crushed clove of garlic, 2 rounded teaspoons brown sugar, ½ teaspoon ground white pepper and half a star anise (you’ll find a broken one down the bottom of the packet).
Bring to the boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 40 minutes, until the plums are very soft (you can add more water if it looks like it might boil dry but I didn’t need any).
Blend with a stick blender until smooth. Adjust to taste with more soy sauce and honey if needed (we liked it just the way it was).
The Chinese pancakes
If you’re a masochist who wants to make your own, you’ll find the recipe I used here.
If I ever make Gok’s Peking Duck again (Look! There goes a flying pig!), I’ll serve the duck and plum sauce with Chinese broccoli or something.
How to eat it
Cut up the duck meat and put it on serving plate. Put the plum sauce in a bowl.
Thinly slice some spring onions and cut a cucumber into matchsticks. Put these on another serving plate.
To eat, spread some plum sauce on a pancake, top it with some spring onion, some cucumber sticks and some duck, roll it up and put it in your mouth.
Be prepared for some of it to fall into your bra.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
Only one week to go until I can get back to pulling trucks up Mt Clarence using my teeth and a length of rope.
This post-abdominal-surgery “be careful or you’ll get a hernia” business is pretty boring and leads to the sort of navel gazing Nanna hates.
I’ve never been what you’d call “in tune” with my body and if you ask me, I’m too old to start now.
But these past few weeks I’ve been acutely aware of something I try not to pay much mind to, namely the ageing process and how much it sucks.
For the first couple of weeks after the operation I couldn’t wear a bra because the bottom of it pressed on one of the incisions.
We went out to dinner with some friends during this time and the “girls” had to remain unfettered.
They spent most of the evening resting on top of the table and I can’t begin to tell you how depressing it was.
There was a time when I could’ve taken your eye out with them.
Now, I’d be lucky if they grazed your kneecaps.
Plus, sometimes I snore.
I said to your Grandpa this morning, “What if all this ageing stuff makes you fall out of love?”
And he said, “Nah. Someone else would snap you up anyway. All you’d have to do is make that curry.”
So here’s the recipe for Nanna’s Man-Catching Curry, which is not its real name but is what it will probably be called round here from now on.
Should Johnny Depp send you a postcard from Albany in the near future, you’ll know it works.
The recipe is from the book 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer and is called Moghalai-style Chicken with Spinach, Almonds and Raisins.
I found it on a blog called Amy’s Recipe Box, which you’ll find here and which is an absolute treasure trove (it has almost four year’s worth of recipes).
I changed the curry around a bit – used chicken thighs instead of breasts because we prefer them, and used sultanas instead of golden raisins because that’s what I had in the pantry.
I also used baby spinach leaves and Kiran’s garam masala that I made on the weekend, but pre-packaged would be fine.
You’ll find the original curry recipe here but trust me, this one is sensational.
I halved the quantities and there was still enough left over for lunch next day.
MOGHALAI-STYLE CHICKEN WITH SPINACH, ALMONDS AND SULTANAS
¼ cup (60ml) vegetable oil
1 lge brown onion, finely chopped
½ cup sultanas
½ cup slivered almonds
900g boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2.5cm pieces
1 tbsp garam masala
2 tsp sea salt flakes
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp ground turmeric
225g spinach leaves, washed and finely chopped
Heat oil over medium heat in a large frying pan or wok that has a lid.
Add onion, sultanas and almonds and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion softens and turns dark brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Stir in the chicken and cook until it sears and turns light brown, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the garam masala, salt, cayenne pepper and turmeric and cook for 1 minute, stirring.
Stir in spinach and ½ cup water.
Bring to the boil then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally until the chicken is cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.
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.
It’s your second birthday today and, as I write, your Grandpa is cleaning the bathroom.
This is because I’m not allowed to do any housework for another couple of weeks.
It’s the seventh time your Grandpa has cleaned the bathroom in 38 years.
It’s put him in a really vile mood.
In a minute I’m going to pour bleach in his mouth and sit on his head because even though I’ve shut the two doors that are between him and me, I can still hear him carrying on like a pork chop.
I was going to give you a comprehensive history of what’s happened in the world in the two years since you’ve been here, but because of the bathroom scenario (I’ve had to show him how to open the packet of Windex wipes THREE times), I’m going to run with a brief overview.
First up, it’s strange to think that on the day you entered the world, 33 miners in Chile were wondering if they’d ever see it again.
They were into their 27th day of being trapped 700 metres underground and it was going to be another 42 days before they were rescued.
In later awfulness, a tsunami off the coast of Sumatra killed hundreds of people and North Korea started to play serious silly buggers.
Queensland suffered its worst floods in history and Perth had its longest ever heatwave – more than 30C for 26 days in a row.
Mary McKillop was made Australia’s first saint and Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse went to join her in the great beyond after over-indulging for the last time.
Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip all dropped in to see us in 2011 and, just last week, Prince William and a large chunk of the rest of the world got their knickers in a twist because Wills’ wife was photographed topless.
(Princess Kate was in Brisbane a couple of days ago and was on the TV news. When your Grandpa saw her he shouted, “Show us your tits.” In the olden days your Grandpa would’ve had his head chopped off and put on a spike. He thinks the Royal Family is on a par with the Real Housewives of New York City.)
The most important part of the history of the world, of course, is the two years you’ve spent in it.
So here’s a brief history of you in pictures.
Your Mum and Dad are taking you to Perth Zoo for your birthday today and then tomorrow you’re all coming down to Albany to spend the weekend with Nanna and Grandpa.
We’re going out for dinner tonight, your Grandpa and I, but if we were staying home and watching the footy I think I’d cook Spicy Steak Kebabs because they’re really good footy food.
I have to go now because your Grandpa wants me to show him how much water to put in the bucket (I’m not making that up). Happy birthday, sweetheart.
SPICY STEAK KEBABS
2 pieces of steak, cut into 2.5cm cubes
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp paprika
½ – 1 tsp chilli powder (depending on how spicy you like it)
1½ tsp sea salt flakes
½ tsp ground cumin
Mix all the sugar and spices in a small bowl.
Make sure they’re well combined.
Spoon half the spice mix onto a plate and roll the cubes of steak in it until they’re well coated.
Thread the steak onto satay sticks and sprinkle the remaining spice mix over the top.
Put in the fridge to marinate for an hour.
Pour a little bit of oil into a non-stick frying pan and cook the kebabs over high heat for a couple of minutes each side, or until done to your liking.
The brown sugar makes a hell of a mess of your frying pan if you let them cook for too long.
If you like your meat well done it would be better to cook the kebabs under the grill.
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.
As I write this, someone, somewhere in the world, is buying a copy of the erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey.
It’s very famous at the moment, this book, because it’s sold 31 million copies in about five minutes.
That means there are 31 million people out there who know a lot more about bondage and discipline and S&M than they did before they ventured on to Amazon.com.
Nanna’s not one of them but, truth be told, she’s tempted.
The trouble is, I’ve heard the book is so badly written, I’m not sure I’m willing to fork out the ten bucks required to bring it home.
So I’ve more or less decided to wait until I can get a copy from Albany Public Library.
I just worry that by the time I do, all the pages will be stuck together.
Laugh if you like but I worry with good reason.
There was a story last week in our local newspaper, the Albany Advertiser, that since sales of Fifty Shades of Grey have gone gangbusters, so have the sales of sex toys at the local sex shop.
You know, sometimes I sit out on the deck at night, sipping a glass of Yellowglen and watching all the lights come on in the houses on the hill opposite.
I often wonder what sort of lives the people in those houses lead – what sort of things they get up to.
Well, now I know.
While I’m knocking back the fizz they’re pulling out their whips and strapping on giant dildos.
Who would’ve thought? Not me, that’s for sure.
The next time I see a cluster of people around the triple-A battery stand at Woolies, I’ll start wondering big time.
Are they buying them so they can listen to something uplifting on the ABC on their portable radios or are they planning a session with their shiny new vibrators?
And if it’s the latter, where are they hiding them from the kids?
We used to keep ours up the back of your Grandpa’s sock drawer.
I say “used to” because it got lost during the move to Albany four and a half years ago.
For months after the move I was worried sick it had ended up in one of the cardboard boxes we’d given to the Salvos, wedged down the bottom between the Rena Ware casserole dish and the Reader’s Digest Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual.
Then your Grandpa said it had probably ended up in landfill somewhere, and I must admit I felt much better knowing that it was underpinning one of Perth’s outer suburbs rather than causing a coronary in a soldier of Christ.
Speaking of Rena Ware, how stupid was I to give it away considering that it was totally vintage and therefore totally desirable in a totally non-sexual way?
Well, basically it was because it wasn’t big enough or deep enough to cook anything in, especially this Malaysian Chicken Curry, which is one of my favourites.
And seeing as it’s spicy, it sort of fits in with today’s little chat, doesn’t it?
MALAYSIAN CHICKEN CURRY
1 brown onion
2 garlic cloves
3cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and quartered
1 small chilli, halved (with or without seeds – your choice)
1 tomato, quartered
2 tbsp Madras curry paste (I use Patak’s)
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp salt
8 fat chicken drumsticks
400ml can coconut cream (I use the “lite” version)
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into eighths
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Cut the onion into quarters and put it in a food processor with the garlic, ginger, chilli, tomato, curry paste and 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil.
Whiz it all around until everything is reduced to a thick paste.
Mix the turmeric and salt on a dinner plate and roll the chicken drumsticks in the mixture to coat.
Heat the remaining oil in a big frypan over medium heat and cook the drumsticks for about 3 minutes each side, until golden brown.
Put them in an ovenproof dish that’s big enough to hold them in a single layer.
Reduce the heat under the frypan and add the onion paste from the processor.
Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes or until it’s aromatic.
Stir in the coconut cream and bring it to the boil.
Pour this mixture immediately over the chicken, then tuck the potato pieces in between the drumsticks, pushing them under the sauce.
Cover the dish with a lid or foil and cook in the oven for one hour, turning the drumsticks over after 30 minutes.
Serve with rice.
Here’s a thing you’ll never do if Nanna’s got anything to do with it.
You’ll never spell “divine” like this: DEVINE.
There’s a design blogger who’s written the word devine at least 12 times in every one of her posts since she started blogging in 2009.
It drives me insane and I finally cracked last night and told her via her comments section that devine is where de grapes grow.
I mean, if you must overuse a word, you should at least learn how to spell it properly.
Surprisingly, my comment hasn’t been published.
But that could be because I also pointed out that “definately” is definitely not right and that people get bored WITH things, not bored OF them.
I made the mistake of mentioning my actions to Grandpa and he’s now threatening to put a star chart on the fridge to monitor my behaviour.
Apparently, I’ll get one gold star every time I’m nice to a cretin, two gold stars when I say “sugar” instead of “shit”, and three gold stars when I put the toilet seat back in the “up” position (he believes equality should cut both ways).
To be honest, Grandpa has been pushing his luck lately.
When I came home from work for lunch today, he said, “Here’s a treat!”
Yes! My lunch was on your special baby plate that doesn’t contain Bisphenol A!
If you ask me, Grandpa is very lucky it’s not lodged in his prostate gland.
I was writing about words because there’s a word you said on the weekend that had me jumping in the air and shouting, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
You said, “Nanny!” as you hurtled into my outstretched arms (at the very same moment I thought I also heard violins and a choir of angels singing “Hallelujah” but that could’ve been my imagination).
The next picture is what your Mum and Dad and Grandpa and I had for dinner after you were fast asleep in what your Grandpa calls “that stupid fucking thing” but is actually your very-difficult-to-assemble portable cot.
I can’t remember where I got the recipe for the chicken (I suspect it may have been from the Baltimore Sun online) but the couscous was invented by me, your loving Nanna.
SPICED ROAST CHICKEN WITH COUSCOUS
1 whole chicken
50g unsalted butter, softened
¾ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp paprika
¼ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp ground coriander
salt and pepper
1 cup instant couscous
1 sweet potato
a few handfuls of green beans
small bunch of parsley, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 180C.
Mix the cumin, paprika, turmeric and coriander into the butter.
Carefully slip your fingers under the skin of the chicken breast and loosen the skin away from the flesh all the way down to the legs.
Using a teaspoon, stuff the butter mixture under the skin, pushing it evenly all over the chook as far as it will go.
Be careful not to tear the skin.
Rub a little olive oil into the skin and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Put the chicken in a roasting tin and roast for about an hour and a half, or until the juices run clear, basting two or three times.
Half an hour before the chicken’s done, peel and cut the sweet potato into small cubes and add them to the roasting tin.
Ten minutes before the chicken is done, add the sliced green beans to the roasting tin and turn all the veggies to coat them in the juices.
Put the couscous in a big bowl, pour over one and a half cups of boiling water and let it stand for ten minutes. Fluff it up with a fork.
Carve the chook and put it on a serving platter.
Add the roast veggies to the couscous, pour over some of the pan juices and mix everything together.
Put the couscous on the platter, sprinkled with chopped parsley.
Serve with green salad leaves.
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
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.