PULITZER PIES: CHICKEN, BACON AND MUSHROOM PIE

Dear Amelia,
I know.
Another Chocolate Malteser Cake.
But in my defence:
1. You LOVED it.
2. It seemed fitting that your second birthday should be celebrated with the same cake I baked for your Great Grandma’s 80th.
3 (and more to the point). I paid $10 for the Horlicks malted milk powder that was listed in the recipe and, according to the stamp on the bottom of the Horlicks tin, I’ve only got until August 2013 to use up the absolute shitload that’s left.
Luckily for you, every cloud has a silver lining.
As in, whatever is left in the tin by the time your third birthday rolls around will have already gone to Horlicks Heaven.
So Nanna will be forced to make something different.
Something like this maybe (we’d have to change your name to Jayden but I think it would be worth it).

Picture source here

It was a lovely birthday weekend – lots of kisses, lots of cuddles and lots of games (my favourite being the running-in-circles one called “round and round and round and round and round and round and JUMP” – if only all of life was that simple).
And even though it says in “Advice After Abdominal Surgery” that you shouldn’t pick up anything heavier than a kettle of water, Nanna decided to live on the edge and managed to pick you up a dozen times without anything nasty exploding out of her belly button.
Speaking of which, after you’d gone to bed and we’d eaten our body weight in cake, your Mum, Dad, Grandpa and I settled down to watch TV and it was at this point that your Mum started to shout, “Ooh, ooh, ooh.”
At first we thought her vital signs were shutting down due to Malteser overload but it turned out she’d come across one of her favourite programmes and was very excited.


This programme is called Embarrassing Bodies and it is truly wonderful.
Three minutes in and I was like iron filings to a magnet.
I can’t believe I’ve never seen it before – in the OMG stakes it knocks Bethenny and the Real Housewives (except maybe for crazy-eyes Ramona) into a cocked hat.
Here’s what happens: a bunch of doctors get in a van and drive around England looking for people who have things wrong with them that are so embarrassing, they can’t discuss them with anybody else.
For example, there was this lady who wouldn’t take her clothes off in front of a bloke on account her unfortunate hoo hoo (as they say in the classics).
So she took all her clothes off IN FRONT OF THE TV CAMERA and sure enough her labia were practically grazing her knees and now every bloke in England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Australia and, for all I know, Ecuador and the Democratic Republic of Congo, knows about it.
When I say “every bloke” I actually mean every bloke except for your Dad, who suddenly became engrossed in his iPhone, and your Grandpa, who said, “I’m not watching this crap,” and went to bed.
Not that your mother and I noticed for a while because by then we were captivated by an anal skin tag on another lady’s bottom.
Anyway, long story short, I had to make it up to your Grandpa with one of his favourite pies.
This pie is based on a recipe by my friend Margaret Johnson (restaurant consultant, food writer for The West Australian newspaper and all-round good sort) and it’s pretty yummy.

CHICKEN, BACON AND MUSHROOM PIE

Serves 4

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, defrosted for 5-10 minutes
3-4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 500g), diced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 rashers bacon, cut into small pieces
12 button mushrooms, sliced
½ tsp dried thyme
½ cup white wine
small carton chicken stock OR 3 tsps Gravox gravy mix dissolved in a mug of boiling water (don’t tell anyone about the Gravox or all your cooking credibility will go down the gurgler)
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a big frying pan over med-high heat, brown the diced chicken, then remove it to a casserole dish or saucepan.
Cook the onion, bacon and mushrooms in the frying pan until the onion and mushrooms have softened.
Put with the chicken in the casserole.
Pour over the wine and enough stock to just cover.
Add the thyme, season with salt and pepper and partly cover with a lid.
Bring to a simmer on a medium heat.
Turn the heat to low and cook for about 45 minutes.
Let the mixture cool then pour into a pie dish.
Cover with puff pastry, brush with beaten egg and poke a couple of holes in the top to let the steam escape.
Bake in a preheated 200C oven until puffed and golden brown (about 30 minutes).

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY GORGEOUS GIRL

Dear Amelia,
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.

Here’s a picture of him using the vacuum cleaner hose as a weapon. The green thing in his hand is Ella’s squeaky beer bottle. You’ll notice I still haven’t painted the door jambs.

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

Serves 2

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.


PEASE PUDDING NOT

Dear Amelia,
It’s very cold and rainy in Albany today so we’ve got the fire going in the kitchen and some veggie soup cooking away on the stove top.
Last week when I wasn’t feeling well, we practically lived off Pea and Ham Soup because all it involves is chucking a big, fat ham hock into a big pot, tipping in a packet of yellow split peas, covering the lot with water and simmering it until the split peas dissolve.
Pea and Ham Soup always reminds me of the Pease Pudding my Nanna used to make when I was a kid.
She’d tip the split peas into a cloth, tie them up in a bundle and suspend them in the water that the ham hock was simmering in.
Once the split peas were mushy, she’d beat in an egg or two, put it all back in the cloth and simmer until it was so thick you could slice it with a knife.
Sounds disgusting, doesn’t it? And now I think about it, it was.
But I loved Pease Pudding when I was a kid and it was such a part of Yorkshire life it even had its own nursery rhyme.
We used to chant this rhyme when we played skippy out in the street.
It didn’t occur to me until I was older that it was basically an ode to salmonella.
Pease Pudding hot,
Pease Pudding cold,
Pease Pudding in the pot,
Nine days old.
Some like it hot,
Some like it cold,
Some like it in the pot,
Nine days old.


Your Grandpa’s birthday cake went off like a rocket last night.
It’s the lightest, stickiest, most delicious cake imaginable and because it contains the grated rind of half a lemon, you could say it’s practically a health food.
I was going to serve it with custard but by that point I’d knocked off the better part of a bottle of champagne, so I went with the easy ice cream option instead.
We’re off to another birthday dinner tonight, so when I’ve finished writing this I’m heading out into the driving rain to buy a card.
He’s a Freo supporter, the birthday person.
Hopefully I’ll be able to find a card that’s suitably antagonistic.

GOLDEN SYRUP CAKE (taken from Cakes: River Cottage Handbook by Pam Corbin)

Makes one 22cm x 10cm loaf

200g golden syrup
100g butter, cut into cubes
150g self-raising flour
½ tsp bicarb soda
¼ tsp salt
50g fresh white breadcrumbs
grated rind of ½ a lemon
1 lge egg
150g plain yoghurt
1 heaped tbsp golden syrup, extra
1 tbsp boiling water

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Grease a 22cm by 10cm loaf tin with butter and line with baking paper.
Melt the 200g golden syrup and butter in a saucepan over low heat, stirring to combine.
Set the pan aside to cool a little.
Seive the flour, bicarb soda and salt into a mixing bowl.
Add the breadcrumbs and lemon rind and mix well to combine.
Mix the egg and yoghurt in a separate bowl.
Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour in the egg and yoghurt, and the golden syrup/melted butter.
Mix with a wooden spoon or electric mixer until smooth and glossy.
Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 40 minutes, or until it’s cooked (a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake should come out clean).
Put the cooked cake on the benchtop and poke lots of holes in it with a skewer (a satay stick or piece of dried spaghetti works just as well as a skewer).
Mix the extra tablespoon of golden syrup with the tablespoon of boiling water and pour this mixture evenly over the cake.
Let the cake cool in the tin then turn it out on to a plate.


FURTHER TO OUR CONVERSATION OF THE 8TH

Dear Amelia,
Here’s what you said to me on the phone yesterday morning.
“Hi Nanna! I have two! Nigh-nighs! Up! I poos! Bye!”
I love the way you exclaim rather than just speak.
I also love the way the magical grandchild/grandparent bond is strengthened by a mutual interest in bowel movements.
Before you know it we’ll be talking about the weather.
It’s your Grandpa’s birthday today, and also the birthday of Ella the Wonder Dog.
Here are pictures taken last year of Grandpa and Ella lying on our old kitchen floor with its 1965 lino (we’ve got lovely shiny floorboards now).
Sometimes I worry that Grandpa and Ella might be the same age emotionally.


Here is a picture of what I bought Grandpa for his birthday. When he saw them he said, “Is it a record player?”


As I write this, he is hunched over his Apple Mac, doing work for a newspaper in Tokyo (pretty amazing when you consider he’s just up the passageway, here in little old Albany).
The birthday girl is lying next to my chair, farting incessantly.
Ella is 13 years old, which is about 80 in golden retriever years, and she has to take a tablet every day for her arthritis.
At night, she sleeps on the floor on my side of the bed, farting incessantly.
Sometimes I forget she’s there and stand on her head when I get up.
I feel terrible but she doesn’t seem to mind.
I’m making a River Cottage Golden Syrup Cake for Grandpa’s birthday.
It’s unbelievably delicious and one of his favourites.
I’ll stick these sparklers in the top.


I was going to get proper candle numerals instead of sparklers because I figured they could be re-used.
But then I realised the only way they could be re-used was like this.


The thought was so depressing I said, “Shit, how depressing,” out loud in the party favours aisle at Woolies and got a concerned look from the woman standing next to me.
We were supposed to be together this weekend, you and I, but your Mum got the flu and so did I, even though I had my very first flu injection this year.
Granted, my flu has only lasted a few days (I had it for SIX weeks last year) but it’s meant that I haven’t really felt like cooking.
Last night I drank lots of alcohol and didn’t eat any vegetables and I feel almost cured this morning.
Who knows? Maybe this is the way forward with flu treatments. Maybe I should patent it.
Your Grandpa and I watched the Blues get beaten by Geelong last night.
In the end your Grandpa was shouting at the TV so I got him to take a picture of his dinner to take his mind off Carlton’s final-quarter crapness.
These chicken wings are great for eating in front of the TV and seeing as they stick to your teeth they don’t spray everywhere when you’re screaming at your team.
They’re called Coby’s Spicy Wings and I found the recipe at this blog here. The only thing I’ve changed is the oven temperature.
They are the best chicken wings I’ve tasted, anywhere, ever.

COBY’S SPICY WINGS

Makes about 32 pieces

2kg free-range chicken wings (about 16 big wings)
1/3 cup hoisin sauce
2 tbsp peanut oil
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp grated ginger
2 heaped tsp Dijon mustard

Cut the tips from the wings and chuck them in the bin.
Cut the wings in half at the joint and put them in a big zip-lock plastic bag or a bowl.
Whisk together the remaining ingredients and pour this marinade over the wings, making sure all are well coated.
Marinate the wings in the fridge for one hour or up to 24.
Preheat oven to 200C.
Line a big baking tray with foil and then with baking paper.
Put the wings in the tray in a single layer and cook for about 25 mins, then turn them over and cook for another 20-25 mins or until brown and sticky.
This recipe works just as well when you halve the quantities.