Only one more sleep until your baby brother enters this world, so as soon as I’ve finished writing this I’ll be packing my bag and hopping in the car for the four-hour drive to your house.
I’m very excited.
It’s not often I get to roam at will and the thought that there’s you and a new baby waiting at the other end is only adding to the general air of hysteria.
Your Grandpa and Ella won’t be able to make it until the weekend because someone has to stay behind and make a quid.
That someone isn’t Ella, who recently achieved a personal best for lying on your Uncle Paul’s couch with a pair of Explorer socks on her head (17 minutes in case you’re wondering).
I think food smears will be with us for quite some time. They must be saving restaurateurs a fortune.
The menu will generally say something along the lines of “…served with a lightly spiced sweet potato mash” and you’re picturing this fluffy mound of deliciousness but what you actually get is half a teaspoon of the stuff swiped across the side of your plate.
Bring back food towers, I say. Or even better, Nanna serves, where the food is arranged in piles all around the plate.
Your Grandpa, who’s been a grumpy old shit lately due to major dental surgery, blames the food-smear trend on the never-ending parade of celebrity chefs and TV food shows.
We had to stop watching My Kitchen Rules because by the third episode he was threatening to put a brick through the TV.
In other news, I have finally painted all the woodwork in the passage, bathroom and bedrooms. It took me two weeks.
I’d like to be able to say it gave me immense personal satisfaction to see the end result, but it didn’t. By the end of it I’d almost lost the will to live.
Also, due to aforementioned dental surgery, we’ve been eating lots of soup.
I can’t say I’m a big fan of soup, and that didn’t change after eating it non-stop for what seemed like a decade but in reality was only a week.
The exception is this Pumpkin and Sweetcorn Soup from TV cook Delia Smith.
I can eat it until it comes out of my ears (which it almost did over the course of that seven days).
Delia’s original recipe includes a sprinkling of toasted sweetcorn over the top of the soup, which I never do because I can’t be bothered.
Also, as usual, her recipe is about five pages long because she seems to be under the impression all her readers are morons.
Here is a shortened and slightly altered version that is still extremely delicious.
One year ago on this blog: Getting Clucky
PUMPKIN AND SWEETCORN SOUP (FROM A DELIA SMITH RECIPE)
2 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
700g butternut pumpkin
1 supermarket pack of corn cobs (3-4 half-cobs) or 2 whole corn cobs, husks removed
salt and pepper
750ml (3 cups) chicken or vegetable stock (Campbells or similar)
250ml (1 cup) milk
Melt the butter over low heat in a big heavy-bottomed pot.
Fry the onion gently for 8 minutes, without letting it colour too much.
While that’s happening, peel the pumpkin and cut it into 2cm cubes.
Take the kernels off the corn cobs by standing them on end and slicing down their length with a knife.
Tip the pumpkin and corn kernels into the pot and season with salt and pepper.
Put the lid on the pot and let the vegetables soften for 10 minutes over a low heat, stirring occasionally.
Raise the heat, pour in the stock and milk and bring to simmering point.
Lower the heat, partially cover the pot with a lid and simmer gently for 20 minutes or until the pumpkin feels soft when pierced with a knife.
Puree the mixture with a stick blender until smooth (or blitz it in a blender) and, if you haven’t just had dental surgery, serve with big hunks of bread or cheese on toast.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When your Grandpa and I were first married back in the deep, dark 70s, we were deeply darkly broke. As a result we were very much into what is now called “vintage” but back then was called “second hand” and “cheap” and, more often than not, “crap ”.
This is why we ended up with a hand-painted yellow fridge with a freezer the size of a shoebox and a pull-down chrome handle that nearly took your arm off if you weren’t of alert disposition.
You were supposed to defrost this freezer box once a week by turning the power off at the mains and letting the melted ice drip into a tray.
But seeing as I’d failed to graduate from the June Cleaver School of Housewifery, I defrosted it every six months using bowls of boiling water and a really big knife – because by that stage the freezer box was so frosted up it was the size of a small igloo.
The trick was to hack off the ice in lumps without piercing the pipes, because the coolant was in the pipes and the coolant contained chlorofluorocarbons and if the chlorofluorocarbons had escaped they would have taken out the entire upper atmosphere, not to mention Nanna.
Reading this you probably think that life was very exciting back in the 70s.
Well, you’re right.
Remind me to tell you one day about ironing your hair.
I hadn’t thought about that yellow fridge in decades but then the other night I made Carrot Risoni and it was the exact same colour.
It also looked suspiciously like that great 70s staple, Rice-a-Riso, the favourite dinner-in-a-box of discerning newlyweds who had $2.70 left in the bank and four days to go until pay day.
It got your Grandpa and me thinking about all sorts of 70s things – things that are probably best consigned to the mists of time but I’m going to tell you anyway.
Things like curried sausages, cassata and Camp Pie.
Polony and Ricecream.
Tab, Kola Beer and Passiona.
Sugar Smacks, Frosties and Monbulk jam in a big tin.
Smoked oysters on top of Arnotts Counter Biscuits.
Ben Ean moselle.
Choo Choo Bars.
Luckily, the Carrot Risoni (or orzo as it’s called outside of Australia) doesn’t taste anything like Rice-a-Riso.
It is seriously delicious – very light, very comforting – and my new favourite dish.
Risoni/orzo is rice-shaped pasta and it’s great for someone like me, who’s yet to meet a risotto she actually likes.
This recipe is from Monte Mathews’ food blog, Chewing the Fat, which you’ll find here.
170g peeled carrots
1 cup risoni (rice-shaped pasta; about 225g)
1½ cups water
1¼ cups low-salt chicken stock
1 large garlic clove, minced
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp chopped spring onions
1 tsp minced fresh rosemary
Place carrots in a food processor and pulse until they’re finely chopped.
Melt butter in a heavy medium-sized saucepan over medium heat.
Add risoni and carrots and sauté until risoni is golden, about 5 minutes.
Add the water, stock and garlic and cook, uncovered, over medium heat until all the liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes.
Stir in Parmesan cheese, spring onions, and rosemary.
Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve sprinkled with a little extra minced rosemary if you like.
By the way, I secretly love June Cleaver (aka Barbara Billingsley).
God knows why she didn’t achieve icon status like Audrey Hepburn – she was certainly a better actor (OK, Paddington Bear was a better actor than Audrey Hepburn, but you get my drift).
More importantly, June knew the value of a nice shirt-waist dress, a good home-cooked meal and a fridge the size of the Parthenon.
Here are some pictures in her memory.
Here’s something interesting: a cockroach can live for nine days without its head before it starves to death.
I know this because I cleaned out my computer the other day and among all the folders with titles like “Invoices” and “CV” and “Superannuation”, I found a Word document titled “Weird Shit”.
There was a time, back when I was writing two newspaper columns and doing five breakfast-radio shows a week, that I used to collect weird shit, because basically with that sort of workload you needed all the help you could get.
Here’s some of the other stuff I’d written down:
Humans, on average, swallow eight spiders in their lifetime (this happens at night when they’re asleep).
A hundred people choke to death on ballpoint pens every year.
Donkeys kill more people annually than plane crashes.
If you’re over 50 you’re likely to have spent five years of your life standing in queues.
I spent what felt like five years in the checkout queue at Woolies yesterday but that was my own fault because I went there at half past two in the afternoon when all the mums were shopping for food before they picked their kids up from school.
Back when your Mum and Uncle Paul were little kids and broccoli was the official vegetable of Hell, Nanna often did the supermarket run at half past two in the afternoon and it brought back many happy memories watching these women fill their trolleys with vegetables that wouldn’t get eaten.
One vegetable that always gets eaten in our house these days is asparagus and seeing as it was on special I bought some.
This is how I cooked it and very nice it was too.
The recipe is from a really good book called In The Mood For Entertaining by English cook, Jo Pratt.
You’re supposed to blanch the asparagus in boiling water for a couple of minutes before you roast it but I couldn’t be bothered.
If you do boil it, make sure you pat it dry with kitchen paper before you put it in the oven.
ASPARAGUS WITH CRISPY PARMESAN AND ANCHOVY CRUMBS
2 anchovies, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
25g white breadcrumbs
20g butter, melted
1 bunch of asparagus
1 tsp olive oil
Preheat oven to 200C.
Mix together the anchovies, garlic, parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, butter and a couple of grinds of black pepper.
Spread the crumbs in a small roasting pan and bake for 5 minutes or until the crumbs are just starting to crisp up.
Remove the crumbs from the roasting pan to a plate.
Put the asparagus spears in the roasting pan, pour over 1 tsp olive oil and roll the spears around in it to coat.
Sprinkle the crumbs over the top and roast for about another 10 minutes until the crumbs are golden.
This is really nice served with a piece of steak.
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.
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.
Here at party central we’ve been looking at interesting things to do with cauliflowers.
They are very cheap at the moment, it being almost winter, and Nanna feels compelled to make the most of them.
It’s strange this compulsion – new and a bit unsettling.
When Nanna was younger she really couldn’t give a rat’s what was in season, or even what was on special.
But then round about the time she bowed out of full-time work, she started going home with things she didn’t need.
Things like seven kilos of gravy beef, or ten bottles of Omo Sensitive, or 36 rolls of Sorbent.
Or four really big cauliflowers.
Laugh if you like, but since 2007 Nanna’s had very real problems walking past “Special Offer” signs.
Obviously this has got something to do with age.
You get older, you turn into your mother, you suddenly see a strange sort of sense in buying 27 jars of marmalade.
But when it comes to blame, we also have to look at the Lifestyle channel, to which Nanna is addicted – especially the food shows.
And seeing as Nanna is pushing 60, she tends to sit in front of them in a state of high anxiety, hyperventilating and thinking, “So many recipes, so little time.”
If you’re not into food shows – as Grandpa isn’t – watching lots of them is about as much fun as grating your face off.
But he puts up with them because he’s made Nanna sit through so many war programmes on the History Channel, she can now speak German.
That’s the way it is when you’ve been together for a long time.
One of you understands what Himmler is saying to Hitler in the snow at Berchtesgaden and the other knows his wife will never cut it in the food world if she doesn’t slice her limes vertically.
As for the cauliflowers, Nanna decided to start slowly and build up.
Past attempts at Mustard Pickles have been very successful.
But after the making of the Lilly Pilly Jam and the ensuing 12-hour recovery period, preserving wasn’t really the preferred option.
Nanna was knackered after the lilly pilly business and needs to keep her strength up for the Rose Hip Jelly she intends to make when her rose bushes bear fruit.
In the meantime, good old Cauliflower Cheese is an excellent option.
Make it with onions and mustard and you won’t know yourself. It’s really delicious.
Serves 4 as a side dish
1 medium cauliflower (or half a big one)
1 small brown onion (or half a bigger one), chopped finely
2 level tbsp plain flour
1½ – 2 cups milk
1 tsp Dijon mustard
grated cheddar cheese (your choice how much or how little)
Preheat oven to 200C.
Cut the cauliflower into small florets and cook in boiling salted water for about 5 minutes or until just tender.
Drain and tip into a shallow ovenproof dish.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a low-ish heat and cook the onion until it’s soft, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t brown.
Take the saucepan off the heat and stir in the flour.
Put it back on the heat and cook the flour/butter mixture for a couple of minutes, stirring.
Turn up the heat a little and tip in 1½ cups of milk, stirring like a mad thing (you can use a wooden spoon or a whisk).
Your sauce won’t go lumpy. For some reason, when you cook onion in the butter before you add the milk, you always end up with an un-lumpy sauce.
Cook the white sauce over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until it bubbles and thickens.
If it’s too thick, add more milk and cook for another minute or so (you don’t want it really runny but neither do you want it so thick you can suspend the pan over your head a la uncooked pavlova meringue).
When the sauce is thick but pourable, take it off the heat and stir in the mustard and a small handful of grated cheese.
Pour or spoon the sauce over the cauliflower, making sure all the florets are covered, then sprinkle grated cheese over the top.
Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes until it’s bubbling and golden brown on top.