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.
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 how you make Lilly Pilly Jelly.
First you go to the kitchen shop over the road from work and ask for a jelly bag and the woman says, “Pardon?”
It turns out neither of you has a clue what a jelly bag is, but luckily she sells cheesecloth, $6.95, sealed in plastic, just the ticket.
Cheesecloth is a thin, white fabric you can see through.
Lots of people wore tops made out of cheesecloth in the 1970s.
They came into fashion shortly after women followed Germaine Greer’s lead and burned their bras, so it was a very good way to get to know nipples other than your own.
This is why – despite the appalling music, hair and clothes – men of a certain age would go back to the 70s in a heartbeat if given half a chance.
After you’ve bought your cheesecloth, you go straight into your garden and pick three kilos of lilly pillies off your bushes.
Well, in an ideal world you go straight into your garden and pick three kilos of lilly pillies.
If you live in an un-ideal world, you pick your lilly pillies the weekend before and leave them sitting on the bench in two colanders for a week.
On jelly-making day, you find that half of your lilly pillies are putrid and have to be thrown out.
So you give the remaining lilly pillies a good wash and put them in a big pot with a whole lemon and then you add enough water to only just cover the fruit.
Then you put the pot on a high flame and boil the shit out of them until the lilly pillies are soft and lose most of their colour and the water turns purple.
Then you line a colander with the cheesecloth, which has been folded over and over into a square.
Then you put the colander over your tallest pasta pot and pour in all your purple liquid and fruit (except for the lemon, which you chuck in the bin).
Then you gather up the edges of the cheesecloth and tie it at the top with string.
Then you ask Grandpa to give you a hand suspending the cheesecloth bundle over your tallest pasta pot so that every last drop of the lilly pilly liquid can drip through.
Then you and Grandpa spend the next half hour discussing how you will achieve this feat and just when you’re on the point of punching each other in the throat, Grandpa says, “For God’s sake just let me do it” and 30 seconds later the cheesecloth bundle is suspended over the pot.
Your cheesecloth bundle is supposed to be left suspended overnight but after four hours you think, ‘Bugger this for a joke’ and pour all your purple liquid into a measuring jug.
You do this because the next step in this lengthy process involves measuring sugar.
As in, you need one cup of sugar for each cup of liquid.
You also need to sterilise your jars, which involves washing jars and lids in hot soapy water, rinsing them, drying them with a clean tea towel, putting them upright on an oven tray and sticking them in a 150C oven for half an hour.
While this is happening, you make your Lilly Pilly Jelly by putting the purple liquid and sugar into a big saucepan and boiling the shit out of it again for about 15 minutes.
If you put it into a small-ish saucepan it boils over and goes all over the cooktop and it takes you eight minutes to clean everything up.
You know this because you time yourself.
After 15 minutes of boiling, you put a teaspoon of jelly onto a cold plate and wait 30 seconds to see if it wrinkles on the top.
It doesn’t, so you chuck in some JamSetta and proceed according to packet directions.
Then you pour your hot jelly into your hot jars and put the lids on.
Then you step back and look at your one and a half lousy jars of Lilly Pilly Jelly, which – taking into account the time, effort, petrol, mileage, cheesecloth, JamSetta, Panadol, possible psychiatric intervention etc involved – have cost about 15 bucks each.
Luckily it tastes really nice.