Friday, November 30, 2007


As summer creeps upon us and the silly season warms up, our predictable routines tend to go out the window from the first week in November to well into the New Year. In a city with distinct seasons (even if the song is true and we can have all 4 of them in one day) the Spring Racing Carnival ends the winter hibernation and shouts at one and all to wake up and get out into the world once more. Even for those of us who couldn’t give a toss about horse racing, we are plunged into a three month helter skelter ride of food, wine, friends and family.

This month has seen me use up a small forest in wasted carbon – flying across the ditch and to Queensland. Visitors have appeared out of nowhere and long lost friends have reconnected across the ether. There is a gravitational pull on any free, sunny afternoon to head the two short blocks to my local hotel to grab a table on the pavement and sip a chilled glass of sauv blanc or rose. Maybe stay awhile and eat as well. Neighbours out walking their dog or placating their children stop for a drink. It is a very sociable spot.

There have been half a dozen exhibition openings and other gallery visits for the ones we’ve missed. How many times have I said it will be an alcohol free night only to not resist a free glass while viewing art? A midweek lecture with a bevy of friends to listen to Germaine Greer required a snack and drink before as well as a later supper and deconstruction after. With both a landmark birthday for a friend who flew in from out of town and a landslide election on the same weekend, one month in I must admit to feeling a little shabby.

Yesterday's market trip was atonement. It was to be a day of healing food, until I had to assist the Not Boyfriend feed his hangover with a burger (me tofu, him beef) and heavenly chips at Grill’d. At least the evening meal got us back on track – a simple stock made from flathead bones, then flavoured with chilli, ginger and fish sauce. Fish, a little rice noodles, spring onions, shitake mushrooms, bok choy, baby carrots – a delicious, yet virtuous soup.

The fruit bowl has overflowed, there are cherries, white peaches, mangoes, gooseberries, kiwi, bananas, citrus for juices. Green things leap out every time the fridge is opened. The cornucopia of summer has arrived.

I was going to list my meals of the past week but I struggle to recall. There was a last minute BBQ with friends on a work night (after the weekly shopping had been done) so I knocked up some hummus and grabbed a block of smoked tofu to slice and grill on the flames to eat with the many salads. There was at least one delicious seafood spagghetini at the pub and smokey noodles with salmon and greens at Chocolate Buddha. At home there was a bean and tuna salad one night and the NB’s kitchen sink bake on another. There has been more glasses of wine than can be justified, with the late call that the PM lost his seat Maxine was toasted for many nights.

So for those in the north welcoming the snow - transmission Down Under will be intermittent, like sunburn. The next week has a catch up with someone not seen for over a decade and another with an old school friend. There is an unofficial BBQ day run by my favourite radio station. There will be more bike rides in the dark of night, cycling home in high spirits.

And I promise to not leave it too long between posts.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Menu for Hope 4 is coming

Remember the drill? Check out Chez Pim to refresh your memory or just sit back and wait for it all to unfold next month. It's one heck of a food blogging cake sale!

more on mulberries

So I’m asked, when a generous donation of mulberries fell on my lap, what did I do:

I could have made mulberry:
Upside down cake
Jam (not enough unfortunately)
Scattered them fresh on muesli
Mixed them into a fruit salad
Warmed them through in a bit sugar syrup and had them on (dairy-free) vanilla ‘ice cream’


Instead I just ate them :)

But if more are to come my way, I’m thinking warm upside down cake for sure!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

round and round the mulberry bush

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

sandwich press snapper

What should a food blogger do - is it better to post naked recipes or wait and only publish the ones accompanied by appropriate food porn shots? Sure a photo makes the post look so much prettier but if I am cooking for others I feel a little geeky to say “Now don’t touch the food – I’ve got to photograph it from different angles but first I have to find a suitable backdrop?” Really, I have enough quirks in my personality and eating preferences as it is!

My flying visit to the Coast of Gold, fortunately just north of the Schoolies running wild in Surfers Paradise, was delightful. There was lots of catching up with people I love, swimming in a pleasant pool as well as deep and meaningful hours of conversation in the spa. While great weather and relaxed waterside walks were on the agenda, stunning food was not. This chunk of the coast may not be representative, after all I wasn’t staying at Palazzo Versace but what is it with the whole “Italian/French/Fusion” thing everywhere? We had dinner at the oddest place – Italian in name and inclination with a huge dollop of 70’s retro French. A choice of pastas or classics like lobster thermidor, duck a l’orange or perhaps some crepe Suzettes for dessert. Perhaps when all the old ducks flew north to retire early in the sunshine, in the early ‘80s, it dictated the direction the restaurants would take. Maybe the aging population with it’s fear of osteoporosis explains why every time I ordered something innocuous and vegetable based it was slathered in cheese, without any menu warning.

By the second night I figured it would be safer to cook. There was a seafood shop (and butchery – for all your flesh needs) a short stroll away, so fish seemed the obvious choice. We were a group of picky eaters – not just my no meat or dairy thing but one who lived only on restaurant food and another who could not eat seeds, skin or anything remotely fibrous due to a serious health condition.

In the end with roast potatoes and garlic on the side, some baby carrots finely sliced and steamed within an inch of their lives and a rocket salad for those who could handle it, I grilled the snapper and made a simple salsa to dress it.

Now ‘grill’ may not be the most accurate term. I was rather taken by the lovely new Teflon coated sandwich press that required a mere wipe of a paper towel to clean. Feeling adventurous, though a little unnerved at the prospect of ruining $40 of fish – I simply placed the fillets 2 at a time between the heated plates and let it do its stuff. The result was a lovely caramelised outside without drying out the flesh.

The salsa was an act of love. My aunt adores cucumber and tomato but with severely arthritic hands it is almost impossible for her to skin and deseed which is necessary to keep her innards pain-free. I spent a good while peeling the tomatoes, scooping out the seeds and search for any stray ones that might have escaped before finely dicing. So too the cucumber. To give it some flavour I oh-so finely chopped some kalamata olives and garlic and added a dash or 2 of good quality olive oil and a grind of black pepper.

Fortunately it worked and everyone was happy

Perhaps I am maligning the Gold Coast but I’ve always found it a very odd place to visit – an artificial environment with looming high-rise apartments and shopping malls cluttering a once picturesque coastline. But then again, theme parks scare me silly.

Almost as much as wall-to-wall fusion restaurants playing muzak.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Mid-flight musings

I can’t eat an airplane meal without thinking of Betty. In no way am I impugning her culinary skills. She was an excellent cook; with such attention to detail it caught my breath at times. No, in her prime, Betty was a trolley dolly. She’d be turning 80 around now, so we are talking the golden era of elite flying – when service really was with a smile.

An old family friend, I met her when I did my OE*. She and her South African husband had a constant stream of visitors in their inner London house and I was one of many colonial waifs and strays she took in, in the most gracious way. There was always a comfortable bed and a seat at their table. Though already a ‘vegetarian’ (misnamed as I have always eaten seafood) it was prior to the discovery of the life changing dairy allergy. Peter, her husband, introduced me to Stilton for which I am ever grateful. He also initiated me in the wonders of dry Spanish sherry taken before a meal, though I never reserved some in the glass to slosh in the soup, as was his want. I did, briefly adopt his habit of grinding black pepper on strawberries, a combination a fine chocolate manufacturer has perfected.

Betty and Peter had a house in the country. A quaint costal town who’s claim to fame in a lighthouse in the middle of the main street. It plays a bit part in a Peter Greenaway flick. The journey from London to their North Eastern bolthole was well worn. Being a hostess for travellers from way back, this is where Betty really shone. A couple of hours into the journey, after a decent breakfast and a civilized departure time, Peter pulled the car (something suitably large and British) into a picturesque lay-by. A little mystified as to the isolated spot and the announcement of lunch, the boot was popped and Betty whisked out 3 individual trays. Just like the meals on a quality airline, these nifty pieces of moulded plastic nestled a perfect array of containers. Mine held a vegetarian wonder which she must have slaved very early in the morning (possibly a spinach roulade, which was certainly one of the memorable dishes she ccoked for me), a salad, a crispy bread roll and some kind of delicious sweet treat. I’d never seen such domestic perfection, nor experienced airplane food that has surpassed it (though that only reflects the class I fly). Not to be outdone, Peter played his role; turning to me in the back he enquiring “white or red?” and preceded to proffer a half bottle in either colour, lunch with this couple could not be complete without an appropriate drop.

I look at the diminishing size of the meal on QF631 (an hour late from Brisbane), it’s after 4pm, which means that cattle class get offered a complementary 187 ml plastic bottle of wine (some better than average Victorian wineries for a change). I think of Betty and Peter, their Rover and the best meal on the move I have ever been offered. I remember how amazed I was that she’d been able to replicate the airline trays that she had dispensed countless time in the sky and I tip my plastic tumbler (oh for a real glass) of Pinot Grigio to their memory. How she would shudder to see the casualness of the crew, their pony tails with their late in the day hair escaping, not scraped within an inch of it’s life into a neat bun. What she would make of the serving of food and beverages in plastic bereft of proper cutlery? And the food, oh Betty, the food!

image source

* (For non antipodeans) Overseas Experience – the nickname for the pilgrimage many Aussies and Kiwis make to travel around Europe.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

off to the glitz and glammour

To the Coast of Gold I go. Just for the weekend.

Can you make me a salad for when I get back?


Friday, November 09, 2007

a great stir fry

I'm back on the horse, as they say, in the kitchen at least! Number one fall back food for me is a stiry fry. It lends itself to a variety of vegetables, proteins and flavours. This means it is versatile and can adapt to whatever is in the fridge and cupboards. It also has the bonus of being a great workout for your arm muscles.

The trick to making a great stir fry is a hot wok (this usually means on a big, strong gas burner), doing all your food preparation in advance, lots of arm action with the wok shovel and on a domestic burner, it is best to limit the dish to just 1-2 people otherwise the wok gets over loaded and everything steams rather than fries.

Here’s one I put together last night that was particularly delicious and nutritious, inspired by a tray of fresh, mixed Chinese mushrooms (oyster, enoki, shitake and a very large thick brown capped one) I found at the market.

1 onion – finely sliced
a generous knob of ginger, peeled and grated
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
a handful (beware it triples in size, so a little goes a long way) arame (seaweed) – soaked in boiling water for 30 minutes
1 large carrot, julienned
a generous amount of Asian mushrooms, including fresh shitake, sliced or quartered
1 bunch pak choy, bok choy or other Chinese greens, wash well and separate leaves
1 packet smoked tofu, cubed (organic, natural wood smoke)

vegetable oil for cooking (I use raw sesame oil)

roasted sesame oil, to flavour
tamari, to flavour

With all your vegetables cut to size, fire up the wok and add your vegetable oil. Start with cooking the onion, stirring frequently, til translucent. Add ginger and garlic and the drained arame. Reserve the water. Keep stirring. Throw in the carrot and toss for a few minutes. Add a splash of the arame water just a teaspoon or 2 at a time, if the wok is drying out and you don’t want to use more oil. Lastly add the mushrooms, smoked tofu and greens, with a dash of toasted sesame oil. If you are living with salt sensitive individuals, leave the tamari (or soy sauce) on the side to flavour individually.

Serve with rice or noodles. To up the nutrient value I made brown rice, which complemented the tastes and texture of the stir fry.

(Sorry no picture, it did look pretty but we were really hungry!)

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

bully beef and biscuits

It appears I am not the first in the family to have a fascination with food. My paternal Grandfather bet me to it, as a soldier in WWI. His diary of his time in the army records memorable meals as well as is distain for the bully beef and biscuits, the standard rations at the Front.

His journal shows he spent more time ill or convalescing, than as a Runner in France. From joining up in early 1916, to the end of the war – outside training, he spent barely 6 months at the Front. His career in the New Zealand Rifle Brigade saw the majority of his time in hospital or classified unfit for active duties. But perhaps the food had something to do with it? A few weeks into his journey to England on the troop ship, he was the 75th on board to get the measles. This is the first time food really enters the picture. He wrote:

Meals good while in H(ospital). Breakfast – porridge, fish and bread and jam, tea. Beef tea in morning or lemon drink. Dinner – soup, fish, tripe and onions, custard or sago, bread and honey. Barley water in afternoon. Tea jelly and bread and jam Cocoa and biscuits for supper

Fortunately he managed to avoid getting meningitis that was also doing the rounds on the ship, or the scarlet fever that caused his hut at Sling Camp to be quarantined. After a few weeks of training in trench warfare, the boys in the 4th Reserves were ready to ship out. Perhaps it was the recent measles but his heart and/or eyes failed the medical and he was bitterly disappointed to see his mates ship off across the Channel without him. Despite two attempts to send him home, which he hotly protested, they finally gave in and sent him into active duty many months after the others that he had arrived with. But not before Christmas day at camp:

Breakfast fish, (unreadable) and bacon, fried onions and mashed potatoes. Dinner Turkey, Goose, cauliflower, potatoes and peas and stuffing, plum pudding and brandy sauce, nuts, fruit, oranges, apples, bananas. Tea roast pork, fruit salad and Devonshire cream, chocolate and bulls eyes, mince pies. Supper ham, cheese, biscuits.

Not quite a blogger but you got the feeling that young Bill liked his food. By Boxing Day he’d come down with a cold and forwent his final few days of leave to stay in bed with a fever of 100 F. Perhaps it was all the food – as they say “If you feed a cold, you will starve a fever”.

While in and out of the front lines he endured the coldest day in France since 1895, “black frost completely frozen bread etc. All time a bully beef and biscuit now”. Parcels from home relieved the monotony of the tinned meat. The odd cake and shortbread that travelled 2 months from home to the Front, went down a treat.

In his diary the only mention of not eating came less than a month after Christmas, with the line “dysentery…very bad could not eat.” The diary goes quiet for weeks after that, til he was cheered up with a dose of mumps that got him sent to the ‘St Omer Mumps Hospital’. “During time in hospital had good time and food good”. The 2 weeks or so away from the shelling, rats and bully beef did wonders for his spirit. A month later, back at Messines he was hit in the foot by shrapnel which had him evacuated back to England where he convalesced in hospital til after the Armistice, 17 months later.

Bill managed to live to see his 70th birthday. He was a keen gardener and grew many of his own vegetables. Shortly into his 8th decade a bus fatally knocked him down, on his way home from a day at the races. I can bet his last meal wasn’t bully beef and biscuits.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

popping out for a bit

Am off to the land of the chocolate fish for a few days to cook yet another casserole for my parents. It's a pity that such a simple act requires a passport, time change and days off work.

All for a pot of stew!
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