FIFTY SHADES OF WTF

Dear Amelia,
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

Serves 4-6

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.

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BAD NANNA

Dear Amelia,
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

Serves 4

1 whole chicken
50g unsalted butter, softened
¾ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp paprika
¼ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp ground coriander
salt and pepper
olive oil
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.


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.


CURRIED GLUT

Dear Amelia,
Your stole your Mum’s mobile phone yesterday afternoon and rang my number quite by accident.
Then you said “hello”.
Actually, it was more like “hewoohhh” but it was good enough for me.
Your Mum told me it’s the first time you’ve said the word “hello”. EVER.
I suspect she says that to all the nannas but, whatever, I’m still sitting here thinking ‘be still my beating heart’.
I realise now that instead of talking to you for three minutes about what a beautiful, clever girl you are, I should have passed on some timely tips about vegetable gardening.
I’m not a hugely successful vegetable gardener but I’m pleased to say your Grandpa and I are actually self-sufficient at the moment if all we eat are tomatoes and eggplants.
Last summer we were self-sufficient in zucchinis.
I planted them because I had visions of stuffing the flowers with ricotta while I sang along to Dean Martin songs.
I never did and ended up instead with several thousand zucchinis the size of cruise missiles.
On the subject of gluts, this past spring we had roughly 7 million broad beans, which your Grandpa loves but I don’t because it takes forever to peel them and you end up being able to fart for Australia.
When we first came to Albany, before the garden was established, I used to buy all my veggies at the Saturday morning farmers’ market in town.
It’s expensive but the fruit and vegetables are fantastic and it’s THE place to go if you’re looking for lamb that’s had a university education.
These days I’m lucky enough to have a prolific vegetable grower living next door.
The picture at the top of this post is of the home-grown veggies our friend Richard passed over the fence last weekend.
It gets better: Richard’s wife, Lynda, is a farmer’s daughter and is kind enough to throw excess produce our way occasionally.
Lynda could really do with the help of Nigella, Rick and Elvis at the moment because the menopause is upon her and she spends a lot of her free time standing in front of the air conditioner in the crucifixion position.
But back to veggies: this year I planted mini Lebanese eggplants instead of the normal variety and they are quite bitter (maybe things are worse than usual in Beirut).
So I needed a recipe that was strong enough to mask any bitterness that was left after they’d been salted.
This is it and it’s really delicious. It’s adapted from a recipe by Dixie Elliott.

EGGPLANT AND POTATO CURRY

Serves 2 (or 4 as part of a curry meal)

1 brown onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp Madras curry paste (use Korma paste if you like a milder taste)
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
1 large eggplant (or the equivalent in mini skinny ones), cut into 2cm cubes
5 tomatoes, chopped
1 cup water
1 cup frozen peas
bunch coriander, chopped roughly

Heat oil over medium heat in a non-stick wok or big frying pan.
Add onion and cook for a few minutes, stirring, until it’s soft.
Add the garlic and curry paste and cook for a minute or two, stirring, until it’s aromatic.
Add the potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes and water, cover and bring to the boil.
Reduce heat to a simmer and check for seasoning – add salt if necessary.
Simmer for about 40 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
Chuck in the frozen peas five minutes before it’s finished cooking and let them cook through.
Just before you serve it up, stir in the coriander.
Serve with rice.