Sunday, November 15, 2009

School Daze

I went to my primary school fete today. Actually it has always been known as a 'Bazaar' as it's Princes Hill you know and we like to be fancy and do things differently of course...

I was hung over from karaoke last night (how does the craziness of karaoke happen? I went in determined not to drink much or sing but suddenly it was 2am and I was devastated that my duet of 'Summer Nights' had been cut short by a malfunctioning machine or possibly a punter with bleeding ears and an itchy finger) and felt decidedly old and tired walking into the school ground where I'd spent seven of my formative years.

Thankfully, this being Princes Hill and all, Tony from Carlton Espresso was making caffe lattes, there were organic sausages in white bread, mustard and tomato sauce (perhaps not organic *gasp*) and a cracking book stall. My friend Regan (lifelong, also of the same primary school) picked up a copy of The Sopranos cookbook for $10 - gold! Our childhood rivalry reared its comfortingly familiar head as I tried to persuade her to give it to me and then simply tried to steal it from her.

We wasted a heap of money trying to win a hamper of gourmet goodies on the spinning wheel, ate an excellent souvlaki (organic lamb, salad, tzatziki, flat bread, all dolled out by lovely Mums and Dads doing their bit) and had a can of European beer. The school choir sang, some girls did a dance to an inappropriately sexualised song and Regan and I reminisced about choreographing and performing a similarly innocent dance to a similarly inappropriately grown up 'Baby I Don't Care' by Transvision Vamp for the Grade Six concert in 1989. Ahhh, the memories. Then four floppy-haired boys, who to their immense credit had named themselves Elastic Band, did an excellent rendition of 'All Along the Watchtower' imbuing it with a gravely rock and roll vibe well beyond their years. And the bass player was wearing a little Ramones T-shirt - awww.

Sadly, I'd left my run for the cake stall a bit late and there was no lemon butter or chocolate crackles left. It was comforting to see the stalwarts remain the same though - scones, cupcakes, toffees, someone's mother's very healthy muesli slice that hasn't sold so well. There was a fabulous elderly - no, I shouldn't mince words - there was an incredibly OLD woman selling hundreds of jars of her home made produce at a cracking pace. She was frail and bent over almost in half but was turning an amazingly profitable trade and sending a fine supply of relish and pickles and marmalade into every local home. Bless.

As I walked back up Princes Hill to home and left the sounds of children hyped up on fairy floss, snow cones and dizzying rides behind me, I felt relieved that my primary school days are long behind me but glad I can visit once a year. And even drink beer there. But I'll have to make my own chocolate crackles.

4 cups rice bubbles

1 1/2 cups icing sugar

1 cup desiccated coconut

250g copha, chopped

3 tbsp cocoa

In a large bowl, mix the rice bubbles, icing sugar, cocoa & coconut.

Slowly melt the copha in a saucepan over a low heat.

Allow to cool slightly.

Add to rice bubbles mixture, stirring until well combined.

Spoon mixture into paper patty cases and refrigerate until firm.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Easy Being Green

Eat your greens! Actually, my Mum never said this because she's not bossy but I have my own bossy little voice in my head that tells me when I need to eat green vegetables. When I was small my parents invented a game specifically designed to get me to ingest broccoli (I was an only child and completely indulged - you got a problem with that?) and now I really like it. In fact, it might be my favourite green vegetable along with peas, lettuce and cucumber. And avocado if that counts.

So eating and enjoying my greens isn't a trial, just a matter of taking the time to buy really nice, fresh vegetables and making them into something yummy. At the moment this time has been lacking and I've had a few days when I got to the end and realised I ate bread, cake and fried potatoes and absolutely nothing green at all. Oops.

So with the hunting and gathering of fresh produce done yesterday and a blissfully unhurried day at home today, I made this soup and got enough greens into me tonight to feel delightfully virtuous and nurtured. I even have little single-serve containers of it in the freezer ready to take to work later in the week. I'm going to domestic goddess heaven.

Soupe au Pistou (that's French for soup with pesto, merci very much)
from delicious Magazine, September

2 tablespoons olive oil
30g unsalted butter
1 leek, pale part only, thinly sliced
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1cm cubes
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I used salt-reduced)
400g can flageolet or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
200g green beans, trimmed and cut into 2cm lengths
2 zucchinis, cut into 1cm cubes
500g baby broad beans (I couldn't find these fresh so used frozen and they were fine)
1 cup peas (also frozen which even Stephanie said is okay)
I also added a big handful of snow peas, trimmed and sliced

Pistou (apparently this one hails from Provence but you could also use pesto if you like)
2 garlic gloves
1 cup basil leaves (nearly a whole bunch if you pack 'em in tight)
50g pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry frypan (don't burn them!)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup (25g) grated parmesan cheese

For the pistou, place the garlic, basil and pine nuts in a mortar or food processor and pound or process to a coarse paste. Stir in olive oil and parmesan or add and process until blended. Pistou will keep, covered, in the fridge for up to one week (it might discolour a little but it's fine, chillax).

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large saucepan and cook leek over medium heat until soft -about 5 minutes. Add potato and stock, bring to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, season with salt and pepper and simmer for another 8-10 minutes until vegetables are tender (but don't overcook - you don't want mushy greens).

Serve in bowls with a big dollop of pistou on the top. It melts into the soup and adds a beautiful garlic-y, basil-y flavour.

* * *

Okay, so now that I've got that little sermon outta the way, here are some pictures of the Very Hungry Caterpillar cake I made for my dear friend Matty's 3rd birthday. The shredded coconut is green! I put it in a snap lock bag with green food colouring and voila! The copious amount of butter, sugar and lollies that make up the rest of the cake were definitely not green (except the green smarties and jelly beans of course, der).

After we'd sung the song and blown out the candles, Matty spent a long time contemplating which bit of cake he wanted. I had made complimentary 'garden themed' cupcakes (marshmallow and smartie flowers with mint leaves for greenery; butterflies from freckles, a jelly bean and tiny little banana sweets; freckle snails with piped on smiles, etc) and Matty inspected them all to see which one had the most sugar per square millimetre. In the end he went for the caterpillar's head.

(The cake and icing recipes I used are from The Women's Weekly Kids' Party Cakes book which is brilliant and a must for every home. It also contains the flower and butterfly cupcake designs. The V.H. Caterpillar was of my own design and I used a friand pan to get the oval shaped cakes...)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Must remember to blog!!

I will. Soon. I promise!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Flipping Out

I recently read a review of a book I really wish I'd written - Pancake: A Global History would have been really bloody delicious to research.  I picture author Ken Albala travelling the world making Homer Simpson 'ah-wrow ah-wrow ah-wrow' noises as he chomped his way through the finest, most scrumptious flat-pieces-of-fried-carb heaven the pans of the globe had to offer.  Yum.

Pancakes are something to get out of bed for.  They are especially good late morning, while wearing pyjamas and slippers, reading the paper and with some winter sunlight trickling across the table like maple syrup on to a stack of pancakes trickled with maple syrup...  

Tomorrow's public holiday is the perfect excuse to flip out.   There's a great pancake recipe on the side of buttermilk containers which have good 'b' things in them like buttermilk (well, obviously) and blueberries.  And there is also this recipe which is so easy that you'll be chowing down Homer style within 20 minutes.  ah-wrow, ah-wrow, ah-wrow...

Nigella's American Breakfast Pancakes 
from my favourite How to be a Domestic Goddess. 

225g plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder (sounds like a lot but makes 'em so fluffy!)
pinch of salt
2 large eggs
30 g butter, melted and cooled
300ml milk
butter for frying

Put all ingredients in a food processor and blitz it baby!  Nigella says to leave the batter for 20 mins before frying but I was too hungry/greedy and didn't wait and they were still delicious.

Remember to cook pancake on one side until bubbles form and pop in the uncooked surface, then flip.  Don't be tempted to pump the heat too high though - the butter will get all burny and not nice.

Serve with lemon and sugar, or maple syrup or if you've got some blueberries (frozen ones are fine too) sprinkle them onto the uncooked side of the pancake straight after you pour it into the pan then cook and flip as usual.  Mmmmmm.  Make nice coffee and find that sunny spot...

Friday, April 17, 2009

Grumpy Old Lady.

I am officially old and grumpy. I went into the city today (or 'into town' as my mother says) and was so irritated by the crowds and the noise and the general kerfuffle...! And this is Melbourne - pop. 4 million (and most of them way out east) - not a seething, pulsating, hubbub of a place like Manhattan or New Delhi or Shanghai. But I got so righteous and annoyed!

There were teenagers mooching about holding hands and getting in my way (bloody school holidays) and an insufferable 'new age' busker on Bourke St playing some amplified home-made thingee-me-bob which sounded like a cat being strangled only more creepy and depressing and tourists stopping dead in the middle of a moving line of human traffic and exclaiming 'is this Collins St?' when in the middle of Chinatown. ('Yeah, it's the Chinese bit of the Paris-end of Collins street Mister' I felt like snapping in my moody, 'I'm a local get out of my way' cross voice.)

Grumble, grumble, grumble. So, yeah, I'm old. And grouchy and not very helpful. So I came home and had a cup of tea and a 'Nutty Crunch' - the delightfully simple and traditional oat-based slice my mother has been baking for as long as I can remember. (I just realised that they don't actually have any nuts in them so the name's a furphy but let's not get bogged down in semantics - that might just get me grumbling again.) This is a recipe that is an oldie but a goodie.... and much sweeter than me today.

Nutty Crunches a la` Jenny L for ever and ever

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup dessicated coconut
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup plain flour
250g butter, melted

and if you're feeling a bit racy: a large handful of currants or sultanas or even dried apricots, chopped, oh la la.

Mix dry ingredients (and dried fruit if using) in a mixing bowl. Pour in melted butter and combine well. Press into a greased, flat slice or lamington tin. Bake at 200C for about 25 minutes or until golden.

Enjoy with a cup of tea and a nice sit down.

P.S. If you're getting sick of the same song playing when you look at this blog, check out the little button on the left side of the 'window' on the tape graphic up there to the right.... you can jump through to other tracks! Voila!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

technology and the human interface

OMG!  I managed to put music on my blog!  Very exciting for me because HTML code usually makes me feel queasy with its 'insider knowledge' and its squiggly, non-English look.  I get intimidated by it.  (Janeane Garofalo dedicated a chunk of her stand-up routine on Friday night to her "compu-tard" status; she has given up all communication technology bar telephones and feels happier for it.  It was lovely to see her carrying around a scruffy notebook covered in stickers and doodles. But more on her soon - my love and fangirldom demand their own post!)

I am about to set out for my first face-to-face counselling session with me in the 'professional' chair so hopefully my success with technology wrangling is repeated in the human-to-human context. No facebooking, no tweeting, no rich text (but maybe some rich sub-text?), no emoticons or space to disengage and redraft... Dr Melfi, please be with me! 

And IOU a recipe....

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Shagging and Cooking

I've just had the weirdest realisation: Russell Brand and Nigella Lawson look uncannily alike. He's very funny and has been awarded 'Shagger of The Year' three times in a row. She's sexy as hell AND a brilliant cook... They may actually be higher beings of some sort. Just a thought for your Sunday evening contemplation.

However, in the spirit of keeping this blog more useful than simply the outpouring of my random brain activity, here is one of my very favourite Goddess Nigella recipes for you. I am going to make this for friends who are coming to dinner tomorrow night. Served with a crisp small-leaf salad, some wine and perhaps something chocolatey for dessert, it will make the perfect Monday evening easy meal. Oh Nigella, I do adore you.

Courgette (Nigella-posh for zucchini) & Chick Pea Filo Pie
from the modern classic How to be a Domestic Goddess

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 small onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
3 plump courgettes/zucchinis
125g basmati rice
500ml vegetable stock
2 x 425g can chick peas, drained
100g melted butter
200g filo pastry sheets

22cm springform tin

Preheat oven to 200C.

Gently fry the cumin seeds and onion in the olive oil until the onion's soft. Add the turmeric and coriander. Dice the courgettes (unpeeled), add them to the onion mixture, and cook on a fairly high heat to prevent them becoming watery. When they are soft but still holding their shape, add the rice and stir well, letting the rice become well coated in oil. Add the stock 100ml at a time, stirring while you do so. When all the liquid has been absorbed the rice should be cooked, so take it off the heat, stir in the chick peas and check the seasoning.

Brush the insides of the springform tin with some of the melted butter. Line the bottom and sides of the tin with 3/4 of the filo sheets, lightly buttering each piece as you layer. Leave a little filo overlapping the sides, and keep 3-4 layers for the top. Carefully put in your slightly cooled filling, and then fold in the overlaps. Butter the last layers of filo and scrunch on top of the pie as covering. Put in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the filo is golden and the middle hot. Check this by inserting a slim, sharp-bladed knife (or skewer). If, when you remove it, it feels hot when you press it against your wrist, the pie's ready. Serves 6 - 8.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Actual Men vs. Gingerbread Men

I'm waiting for something. I don't want blog about it but it means a lot to me. And the waiting is making my heart race and my toes tense. I should go and distract myself with something fun and comforting. Makes me think of being a kid and making gingerbread with my Mum. We made a gingerbread house for Christmas once, and we had cutters in the shape of (among other things) a giraffe, an elephant, a star, a four-leaf clover and, of course, a heart... *sigh*

We also had one that looked like Alfred Hitchcock (I thought so, anyway) and, of course, the regulation Boy shape and Girl shape. I remember being miffed that the Girl shape was defined by her skirt and I insisted that, actually, the one wearing trousers could be a boy OR a girl. I didn't quite get to conceptualising boys in skirts but I guess that's something even the most avant-garde of fashion designers can't seem to make into a workable trend. I could start a boys-wearing-skirts-revolution with my gingerbread baking and decorating! And then eat them all up! *evil laugh*

Okay, I distracted myself.

Gingerbread (in any anti-heteronormative shape you desire)
from The Rose Bakery cookbook (that lovely bright green one from Paris).

125g unsalted butter, softened
90g brown sugar
3 tablespoons molasses
1 egg, beaten
370g plain flour, sifted
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground mixed spice

Beat the butter with the sugar and molasses until light and well mixed.

Add the egg, then fold in the flour and the other dry ingredients. sifted together. The mixture should come together easily. If it is too wet, add a little more flour; if it is too dry, add one more egg.

Put the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes to chill.
(I think I should do this also.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius. Line a tray with baking paper. Roll out dough on a floured surface until about 5mm thick. Cut into desired shapes and place on prepared tray.

This is where I add decorations like currents for eyes, buttons etc; glace cherries for mouths and garish jewellery; hundreds-and-thousands for decorative, non-gender specific clothing etc.

Bake 10 - 15minutes until slightly firm and then cool on tray. Then you can add piped icing if you wish...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lovely dinner.

Today it is nine years since my father died.  Year after year I find that the simple fact of the repeated date has the disconcerting effect of snapping me back in time.  The intervening years seem to compress and fade and I am back in the day, the moment, the shock, the grief.

I guess we are programmed by date from a very early age - birthdays, Christmas, Friday the 13th.  I heard a terrible story recently of someone who found out at 16 that his parents had got the date wrong all these years and he had been celebrating his birthday a day late.  It makes a mockery of the whole thing if you do all the rituals on the wrong day, doesn't it? 

Today was sad but it was also a chance to stop and remember without shying away from the pain and some dear friends remembered too and made an effort to tell us they were thinking of us.  That helps.  It's nice not having to explain why today, particularly, I feel sad.  Such anniversaries are public license for emotion and faltering a little as you 'get on' with the stuff of life that fills all the other days.  

And my Mum and I made a small but rich celebration of it.  Linguine marinara for me, 'coin' pasta (large, round discs, homemade) with a rich, red sauce for her, rucola and parmesan salad in the middle and some sharp, clean pinot grigio.  Then coffee and a shared pistachio tart with pear poached in rose`.  It went perfectly with the 'remember when?' and  'remember how?' and the love for a very good man.  It was sad, but lovely.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Feeling miserable but this image helps.

Is there anything a good shoe fetish can't do? 

Comfort needed ASAP

It's been an awful five days in Victoria.  The direct effects of the worst natural disaster in Australian history are mostly unfathomable for this urbanite sitting comfortably in Melbourne, but the proximity of death and destruction has made for many tears, much hand-wringing and a sombre mood.  

I am always struck by how action - having something TO DO - is what one craves in a crisis and, unable to do anything of any actual benefit to the victims last Sunday as the shocking news broke, I did something weirdly comforting albeit ridiculously trite.  I made pancakes for my mother and me.  I flipped and we ate, I flipped again and we ate more and we watched one horror story after another.  The death toll rose and the fires still burned.  Doughy, buttery, warming and covered in sugary maple syrup it seemed both crass and obvious.  We cried and ate and wondered what else to do. 

Comfort food is important.  I heard on the radio that cake was going down a treat at the hastily convened meeting places for victims, emergency aid workers and assembled media.  I want to bake madly for them all but I know at the moment I'd be more trouble than help if I turned up in a danger zone with a back seat full of sponge cake.  I think I'll do some serious cooking and foisting food on those around me over the weekend though.  I think Nigella will help.

Toast, porridge, risotto, spaghetti bolognese, apple crumble, crumpets, piklets, rice pudding, cupcakes...  what are the foods that bring you comfort?

Monday, January 19, 2009

If life gives you lemons...

It's really hot and I have a cold - WTF?  I need Vitamin C and I need refreshing.  We have a heap of lemons and some mint in the garden.... 

Lemonade from Feel Good Food by Mim Beim & Gul McCarty

4 cups water
juice of 4 lemons
2 tablespoons of honey (raw/cold pressed if you've got it)
handful mint leaves

Pour water and lemon juice into a jug and stir well.  Add honey and stir until dissolved.  Add more water or more honey to taste.

Add mint leaves and refrigerate for 2 hours or until thoroughly chilled.  Drink with ice!

The book also suggests I need to eat chicken soup, lots of garlic and ginger, chilli, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, parsley, basil, onions, miso, oranges, thyme, cloves, cinnamon, more raw honey, nasturtiums (!) and 3 litres of fluid daily (water, tea or soup)!!

I'll get back to you.

Friday, January 2, 2009

all I want for Christmas is...

It's totally churlish to start writing a Xmas wish list on January 2nd but....  I want Santa to bring me an ice-cream maker come Dec 2009!  I have been inspired by this recipe but the hardcore whisking required dulls my enthusiasm somewhat.  Perhaps someone out there who owns a magic ice-cream making device could try it and let me know how it goes?  Even post some to me in an esky marked 'urgent'?!

It's an English recipe and I love how it specifies English over French lavender - historical cultural divisions run deep!

Lavender & Honey Ice-Cream 

2 teaspoons lavender petals (English not French)

4 tablespoons honey (acacia if you have it….but not essential)

2-4 tablespoons icing sugar (use 2 to start off with and then add to taste - I tend to use more like 2 1/2)

Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 pint double cream

1/4 pint greek yoghurt


Marinate the lavender petals with the honey, icing sugar and lemon juice for an hour or so.
Lightly whip the cream and mix in the honey/lavender mixture.
Fold in the yoghurt.

Freeze - either in an ice-cream machine (if you have one - if you do, you don’t really need to whip the cream, just mix it with the yoghurt/lavender/honey mixture and put it in the machine until done), or if you don’t have a machine, put into a wide-ish shallow plastic container in the freezer and check every 45 minutes or so to see if ice particles are developing and give a good beat with a whisk to disperse them. You should ideally do this about 3 or 4 times.

Take out of the freezer about 15-25 minutes before serving to allow to thaw a little (this mix sets very hard).

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Nearly a month without a post!  I feel like a bad blogger - a blog is for life, not just till the novelty wears off etc etc... 

Now it's New Year'
s Day and I'm a little headachy, very lazy and in my PJs before it's even dark outside.  Seems appropriate to post a recipe for the Easiest Cake Ever which I served at my little NYE VIP BBQ last night.  Well, perhaps there are easier cakes to make, but I bet they aren't as good as this; the ratio of ease (of method) to please (that which you bring to your appreciative cake-eating audience) on this one is very satisfying.  And see how I coined a little rhyming thing there? I work best in pyjamas.

Claudia Roden's Orange and Almond Cake - one of my very favourites.

2 oranges
5 eggs, beaten
250g castor sugar
250g ground almonds
1 teaspoon baking power (use gluten-free and the whole cake is celiac-friendly)

Put the oranges, whole, into a saucepan and fill with enough water to cover them.  Boil gently for two hours (keep an eye on the water level and top up if necessary).  Heat oven to 200C and butter and flour (if going gluten-free use appropriate flour or some extra almond meal) a large, spring-form cake tin.

Remove oranges from water and let them cool before putting them into a blender or food processor, or turning them into pulp with a stick blender in a large bowl.

Add sugar, almond meal, baking powder and eggs to oranges, combine well and pour into prepared tin.  Bake for about an hour or until skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out (mostly) clean - the joy of this cake is it is very moist but the outside goes a nice deep brown and is slightly crisp.

Easy pleasey!  Thanks Claudia!