SALAD, 60TH AND THE YEAR OF THE SNAKE

ashlee's wedding

Dear Amelia,
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.
Screen shot 2013-02-11 at 8.39.32 PM
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.

Hotel Exterior
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

WATERMELON AND FETA SALAD

Serves 4-6

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.

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HAPPY EVER AFTER

Dear Amelia,
It’s really strange to think that when you grow up you won’t remember your Mum and Dad’s wedding, even though you were there.
It’s because of a thing called childhood amnesia, which means that most of us don’t remember anything from before the age of three.
Whatever.
Take it from me, it was the best wedding EVER: happy and beautiful, emotional and exciting, and lots and lots of fun (especially the dancing later on and Andrew’s hilarious MC-ing and the speeches your Grandpa and Uncle Paul made – they brought the house down).
You and your Mum looked absolutely gorgeous and your Dad was handsome with a capital H.
Forest Hill Winery was like something out of a fairy tale – all rolling mists and candlelight and log fires, plus beautiful food and wine.


The only sad note was that you caught the flu two days before and were very sick.
On the upside it meant Nanna had an excuse to pull you into bed with her two nights in a row.
And I must say that all things considered, you were an absolute trooper on the night itself.
During the wedding weekend, you, your Grandpa, your Uncle Paul and I stayed at a very interesting eco cottage in Denmark.
I say interesting because it had a composting toilet, which we knew about, but for some reason we weren’t told it was a five-hour trek from the house.
OK, it was a five-minute trek, but seriously scary at night when the rain was coming down in slabs and your mind naturally drifted to things like killer kangaroos and axe murderers lurking in the forest out the back.
Nanna doesn’t usually condone peeing in the shower but it was either that or borrow one of your nappies.
One of the upsides of this eco heaven was this view of Wilson Inlet from the lounge room.


And this as well – about 20 kangaroos gathered each day, which you loved, even though the two big ones in the middle were always knocking hell out of each other.


When we got back to Albany, we did all sorts of stuff, you and I. And it was wonderful.
We stood out on the deck and waved at the herons and pelicans that fly down the valley to Lake Seppings every night.
Then we went into the garden and looked for the moon.


We bounced like kangaroos, played chasey up the passage and shouted at Ella when she kept stealing your ugg boots.
We fed the ducks at Eyre Park.
We proved that an almost-two-year-old can walk along every single window sill inside the house without killing herself so long as her Nanna is there to catch her (God knows how I got myself into that one but, once started, there was no going back. I aged at least 10 years).
We sang Knick-Knack Paddy-Whack approximately 1,013 times.
We put on concerts for Ra-Ra, Puppy, Teddy and the Babies and made sure they ate balanced, nutritious meals.


We watched Giggle and Hoot in the morning.


And we watched Teletubbies at night (or maybe it was the other way round).


We changed Ra-Ra’s nappy approximately 1,013 times (“Nanna! Oh no! More poos!”).
I must say that if I’d known when we bought him at K-Mart that Ra-Ra was such a prolific shitter, I probably would’ve passed him by, but hindsight is a fine thing, isn’t it?


It was the longest time you’ve ever stayed on your own with Nanna and Grandpa and it was absolutely the best.
When your Mum and Dad took you home there was really only one word I could use to describe how I felt.
Knackered.


MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH…

Dear Amelia,
I’ve been asked what you were doing when your mother and I were gallivanting at the hens’ night on Saturday.
You were at home, of course, with your Dad.
You played and you skipped and you sang and you chatted.
Then you kindly helped Dad set up a poker game for him and his mates before you retired for the night.
Nanna can already see that your superior multi-tasking abilities are going to take you far in life.
Keep it up.


LAMBS, HENS AND HAPPINESS

Dear Amelia,
As you grow older you’ll discover there are some things that are just meant to go together.
Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding is one.
Hens’ nights and hangovers is another.
Nanna went to your Mum’s hens’ night last night.
Now I’m back in Albany sitting in front of my computer, wondering if Panadol would work more quickly if I pulled apart the capsules and rubbed the powder into my eyeballs.
Two of many lasting memories:
1. Being photographed with a cardboard penis stuck to my forehead.
2. Standing in a circle with the bride-to-be and the five bridesmaids singing Powderfinger’s “My Happiness”.
We were loud enough to raise the dead.
“…YOU’RE OVER THERE WHEN I NEED YOU HEE-EERE…”
“My Happiness” is a special song for me and your Mum because it came out just before your Mum did her big overseas trip.
She was away for ages and I missed her like crazy.
I managed to get all the way through it without sobbing, which is no mean feat when you’re tired and emotional.
It turned out that by the end of the night I was tired and emotional to the tune of one-and-three-quarter bottles of champagne, which isn’t a record, but it’s close.
You’ll be pleased to know that your Aunty Justine was eventually found safe and sound this morning, and that as far as I know, your mother didn’t vomit on her new shoes.
Luckily I didn’t have to drive home today because I was in no condition to cope with the steady procession of dickwits who think tailgating at 110kmh on Albany Highway is a good idea.
Here’s a tip from Nanna: avoid anyone who owns an iridescent lime green car.
Iridescent lime green car = bogan with death wish.

Luckily, your Grandpa came with me to Perth and he did all the driving.
From what little I saw of the countryside on the way back, it was very lush and pretty from the recent rains.
Not much roadkill (two kangaroos and two foxes) and lots of little lambs gambolling in paddocks.
I nodded off wondering where sheep sleep and if the little lambs get cold at night (and why I care, considering I have no qualms about eating them).
I was woken just out of Mt Barker by your Grandpa shouting “IT’S TENACITY FOR GOD’S SAKE!” at the radio.
One of the footy commentators for the Geelong/Port Adelaide game had said “tenaciousness” and nearly caused him to hit a tree.
I’m not going to give you a recipe today because I’m feeling too delicate to keep typing.
Once the Panadol kicks in, I’ll be cooking a nice comforting roast for dinner.
I just hope it’s not related to anything I spotted gambolling in a paddock this morning.


PS: If you’d like to listen to “My Happiness”, check out YouTube here.


I HEART CURRY

Dear Amelia,
For the past couple of days I’ve spent every spare moment punching heart shapes out of the pages of Mills and Boons romance novels.
The idea is that we’ll scatter the hearts along the centre of the tables at your Mum and Dad’s wedding reception, thereby providing guests who may not know each other with handy conversation starters (“Christ! Have you read this crap?”).
In other news, your dress arrived from over East last week, so I hot-footed it down to the post office to pick it up.


This is not your flower girl’s dress.
This is what the French call your “avant le marriage” frock (no they don’t, I just made that up).
Nanna saw it on buyinvite.com.au and had to have it, so the pre-ceremony preparations with your Mum and the bridesmaids seemed as good an excuse as any to buy it.
On the day, you’ll be able to do exciting things like sit on the floor and spill stuff down it while everyone’s getting ready for the wedding.
As you get older you’ll notice that one of Nanna’s many talents is buying stuff that is essentially non-essential.
On the kitchen bench, for example, is a pistachio-green Kitchenaid mixer, which cost $625 and was my reward for giving up smoking six years ago.
I’ve used it roughly seven times.
I also have six plate/bowl thingies that are the size of car tyres.
They were THE thing to buy a few years back if you really wanted to look the business on the foodie front.
Unfortunately they’re too big to stand upright in the dishwasher so I don’t use them.
I’ve already mentioned the pasta machine elsewhere, but if you open the drawer above the one where the car tyres are stored, you’ll find a tonne of other useless crap that includes a lemon zester, an avocado slicer, a meat thermometer, a turkey baster, a bean stringer/slicer, a pasta server that your Grandpa uses to scratch his back and a purple plastic spoon in the shape of an aeroplane (guess who that’s for?).
Next I want one of these double egg poachers.


Your Grandpa is always whingeing about the quality of his eggs, plus the testicle-ness of this design always makes me smile.
Having said all that about non-essential stuff, I actually used the car tyres last night to serve a curry.
This wasn’t just any curry. It was curry that involved major faffing around but was totally worth it because it was fabulous.
I copied the recipe out of a magazine at Great Southern Radiology while I was waiting to have some bits x-rayed a couple of months ago.
I can’t remember which magazine it was but suspect it may have been Delicious.
You’re supposed to use cottage cheese but I didn’t have any so I used natural yoghurt instead.
I also halved the number of chillies and increased the cooking time by more than an hour.
Seriously good stuff – your Grandpa’s still raving about it.

LAMB SHANK ROGAN JOSH WITH BASMATI RICE

Serves 4

4 lamb shanks
2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2tsp ground turmeric
3 fresh bay leaves
1 tbsp fennel seeds
6 green cardamom pods
½ tsp ground ginger
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 small red chillies
100g natural yoghurt
½ a can (about 200g) tinned chopped tomatoes
coriander to garnish

Pre-heat oven to 170C.
Put the lamb shanks in a heavy, lidded casserole dish that will take them in one layer.
Mix the ginger, garlic, turmeric and bay leaves in a small bowl and rub this mixture into the shanks.
Wash your hands immediately or you’ll look like you have a 60-a-day cigarette habit.
Put the shanks to one side while you make the sauce.
Whack the cardamom pods with the flat of a knife to split them and expose the seeds inside.
Put the cardamom seeds in a mortar and pestle with the fennel seeds and grind to a coarse powder.
Tip the ground ginger on top.
Heat 2 tbsp oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-low heat.
Cook the onion, stirring, for 6 minutes or until softened.
Stir in all the spices from the mortar and pestle and cook for another 5 minutes.
Set aside to cool slightly then put the onion/spice mixture in a food processor or blender with the chillies (including seeds), yoghurt, tomatoes and remaining 2 tbsp oil.
Puree to a coarse paste (it will be the colour of cat sick at this stage but worry not – it doesn’t stay that way).
Grab the casserole dish containing the lamb shanks and tip in the paste and enough water to cover the meat  (about 350ml).
Stir it all around to combine.
Tear off a big sheet of baking paper, crumple it up and wet it under the tap.
Push the baking paper onto the meat/liquid to cover it closely, then cover this with a sheet of alfoil (this hold in moisture).
Cook in the oven for 2½ to three hours, stirring occasionally, until very tender.
Pour off all the oil/fat that’s gathered on top and serve sprinkled with chopped coriander.

BASMATI RICE
Wash one cup of basmati rice under running water then put it in a saucepan.
Cover with two cups of boiling water (from the kettle).
Stir in about a tbsp of olive oil, four cloves and a pinch of salt.
Cover the saucepan with a lid, bring the water back to the boil and cook for 8 minutes over a medium heat.
Remove the pan from the heat but leave the lid on and let the rice sit for 10 minutes.
It will be fluffy and delicious.


WEDDING BELLES

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


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


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

SLOW-ROASTED PORK BELLY WITH ONIONS

Serves 4

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

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