Saturday, November 29, 2008

solo dining, simple thoughts and a request

While I am beavering away elsewhere (slaving over a hot Macbook when not at my day job) I have been keeping notes on how I am eating for these few weeks while I am home alone. Perhaps its because documenting it publicly will deter me from eating my style of “junk food” something involving tuna and/or noodles every, single night.

Am amazed I got through a whole week without making a Spanish omelette….though there is always tonight!

A week of meals for one for scratch

Food that can be put together quickly and involves a minimum of washing up

Vietnamese style rice noodle salad
Rice noodles, cucumber, spring onions, grated carrot, lots of herbs (Vietnamese mint, ordinary mint, coriander) with fish sauce/palm sugar/lemon or lime dressing plus a can of tuna.

If you are looking for a recipe, here’s a similar salad, made this time with smoked tofu.

Notes: warm night, shockingly tired at the end of the busiest week of the year – I haven’t made this salad with tuna for years. The balmy weather reminded me.

Stir fry
Tofu, carrots, zucchini, asparagus, ginger, garlic, rice noodles (again!) and a beaten egg ‘omelette’. Flavoured with fish sauce and roasted sesame oil.

Notes: I can’t count the number of stir fries I’ve made in this wok alone (I bought it in 1988 from memory) and every one of them is different, such as this one with seaweed or my favourite with prawns (made in someone else’s wok).

Potato and salmon salad
Potato, blanched asparagus, red onion, cornichons, sun dried tomatoes and capers plus a can of red salmon. Dressing 1/2 vinaigrette with mustard, lemon, garlic, olive oil and 1/2 Thomy mayo carefully combined.

Note: I couldn’t have more noodles – no no no.! The spuds were tasty and emotionally satisfying.

A quick an easy one with spices, vegetables, basmati rice and smoked trout.

Notes: I don’t usually make this for one but had picked up one of those skinned and boned smoked trout fillets from the supermarket.

More on kedgeree making here.

Pasta with Zucchini
Gluten-free pasta with red onion, garlic, ribbons of zucchini, cherry tomatoes, olives and preserved lemons.

Notes: YUM! I had an overpriced zucchini, tomato and lemon pasta at the local pub recently and it seemed a good use for the preserved lemons. I reckon my version, which wasn’t swimming in an excessive amount of olive oil, plus the addition of olives was much better. And of course, it was gluten free and dramatically cheaper than their measly serving for $19.99.

This meal featured fewer vegetables than I’d usually have but I’d eaten Sri Lankan curries for lunch – dhal and two other veggie curries, so amply met my quota.

Egg salad
Boiled eggs, parsley (used lavishly like a green vegetable), gherkins, sun dried tomatoes, red onion and mayo.

Notes: Vegetables, tofu and rice for lunch, so felt I’d had my "dinner". I’d not usually make egg salad as a stand alone meal but it made a simple supper (as the Brits would say)

Vegetarian red curry
Five vegetables plus tofu made with a freshly opened packet of mae ploy curry paste and coconut milk aka curry in a hurry.

Notes: A no-brainer dish this one. It uses up end of the week vegetables admirably and there’s always enough for at least two nights. Curry is about the only meal I can face having two days in a row. Night two I cooked up some of the wholemeal type grain and bean mix from the Asian grocery, interesting combo but it went fine with the curry.

Simple thoughts

No howlers please (well not this time). I was in melt down mode last night and it occurred to me that working every day without a break is not the makings of a simple life. Self-imposed deadlines can be unrealistic if a little downtime is not woven in. Having more than a week working without a break is not good for the creative juices.

Today I took myself on an artist’s date to the Sisters Market in Brunswick to look at some local craft. I can see I am going to be hopelessly out of fashion this season, not having a baby as an accessory (unless such things can be ecologically rented like the local flexicar service, for when you don’t want to own a vehicle but just want use of one by the hour every now and then). Then coffee with a friend and a wander down Gertrude Street soaking up more art.


Speaking of simple, in lieu of howlers I would like some help. If you’ve got a minute, could you tell me in comments (or email if you’d prefer) what would make your life more simple? I’m loving asking this question of total strangers. I’ve noticed women tend to ask for small things, like having someone do their ironing. No matter how big or small, what would make life easier and less complicated for you?


I’ll be back next time I’ve earned a break.

Princess Prissy Paws doing a spot of gardening

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Saturday, November 22, 2008


The last few weeks have felt like a marathon. In fact, its been the SE’s marathon but I’ve been swept along for the ride: the end of the academic year culminating in three years of artistic work, preparing for the exhibition, the arrival of family visiting for a week (lots of eating out, drinking, some politeness called for – but "be myself" too…note to SE: you know I’m not the kind to hold my tongue so that is a contradictory requests for a woman like me), then the show is pulled together and gloriously opened, the not-in laws leave and a couple of hours later the SE boarded a plane for New York.

For these thirty-something hours while he’s been in the sky (yes that’s the long way to the East Coast via London, don’t ask!) I have slept (twice in fact), spent a day in the office with clients, had the most threatening/passive-aggressive “discussion” with the property manager of said office (they did something wrong now they are telling me to re-sign a new version of my lease half way through the term which is significantly different from the original and if I don’t maybe I want to find a new place of business when it expires in 14 months). Mostly I have been gearing up to use these couple of weeks at home alone knocking a book proposal into shape. This is nothing (or very little) to do with food. Don’t worry; I haven’t got delusions that I am chef all of a sudden. Just something I need to pursue and its getting to a now or never situation, if I let this one slide the moment will pass.

I am lucky to have a few people in my corner who know about the book business and their advice til now has been gentle and supportive.

Until this.

You know in Harry Potter, where mail arrives via owl post and sometimes the epistle elicits a loud shouting voice to convey the writers displeasure? It’s called a howler.

Well, I got one this week which went something like this:


And ends with “GO AND WRITE. Now.”

So I am.

But blogging falls into the procrastination and distraction basket. I can only allow myself the time to relay the forays into solo cooking again when certain self-imposed deadlines are met.

I encourage you to rebuke me loudly in comments if you find a flurry of posts over the next three weeks. Please tell me off. Do not say anything complementary that may tempt me to pop out a quick recipe and take a few photos.

Just send me a ‘howler’ instead.



Sunday, November 16, 2008

egging on with pride

Can you chart the seasons through our blog posts? The excitement of spring brings a flurry of posts. Or at least a private love affair with asparagus and other long missed vegetables. Mangoes ring my bell at this time of year. But it doesn’t necessarily inspire me to write about them because I like to eat this kind of food simply – a piece of fruit eaten in its naked state, a fresh vegetable steamed or blanched.

Hardly exciting stuff to read.

Well it could be, if I got all food-porn about the experience. But time is short. I will say this only once and with a totally neutral expression. The SE’s family are visiting. Not-in-laws if you like. So it is a week of eating out more, or struggling to find a way to cook meals, which cover two ends of the omnivore spectrum.

Though it is time. Quiet moments to sit with the computer on my lap kind of time that is short. While the week before it was celebrations and other social occasions that robbed my blogging space.

So it is a quickie this morning and rather off topic.

I want to mention my dad.

Last weekend I called while he was cooking lunch and he’d got off the line quickly promising to get back to me soon. Half an hour later when the phone rang I asked what he had made. Poached eggs came the answer, followed by a ripple of pride, “I’ve never made them before”.

Now that in its self is not extraordinary.

But the man is 82 years old.

He’s a very reluctant cook. In his twenties he fed himself adequately as a bachelor in Wellington and London, in the chops and veg days of the 1950s. He had a few years in “the East” as well but I know he didn’t lift a finger domestically in that world, just started a life long love affair with curry.

Between the ages of 30 and 80 I doubt if he ever cooked a meal, other than adding water to packets of dehydrated food while tramping and one very memorable dish involving crispy fried potatoes on our once only family camping holiday. Yes, my father cooked one meal in my entire childhood. I remember it vividly, while mum made breakfast, lunch and dinner every day with little thanks.

In the last two years things have changed. Mum’s days in the kitchen (other than to create an Alzheimic kind of chaos) have ended. The man likes to eat. Frozen fish fingers and peas did for a while. But now he’s getting adventurous.

Poached eggs for lunch! Not scrambled or fried which is a much easier option for a novice cook but poached. Across the miles I’ve been beaming with pride. Even I rarely think to cook eggs that way. We can discuss the pros and cons of stirring the water to make an eddy before cracking the egg, whether to add a dash of vinegar first and the importance of draining the cooked product well before serving on toast.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here but it is opening a while new realm of potential dialogue between us here. The last two trips home despite repeated demonstrations he couldn’t master how to use the toasted sandwich maker. But now – poached eggs, the sky is the limit!

I know the things that I like to cook, despite their relative simplicity, are in a different world to his. I need to get my head back to basics, with ingredients that I don’t eat. He’s not going to become a cordon bleu chef but any ideas of what I can teach him, if he’s willing at Christmas?

…and I promise I will be more patient third time round with instructions on how to make toasted sandwiches.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

what the! search term of the day

From the UK a google search:

“making cakes for blondes”

Is the blonde making the cake or eating it?

Just how many blondes does it take to bake a cake?

Suggestions anyone?


Sunday, November 09, 2008

"instant meals" from scratch aka the joys of spring

Our table’s been on the move this week.

Solid yet light enough to move without much effort, this piece of reclaimed timber has been taking the few short steps from living/kitchen area to the deck outside a number of times this week.

Spring means – picnics, friends, a reawakened social life, impromptu gatherings, dinners, drinks and lunches. I’m not into horses and frocks but in this town the spring racing carnival heralds a time of change, as we go out into the light and mingle.

It also means its time to rethink the fridge contents and pantry stores in terms of casual nibbles and meals that can be thrown together at a moments notice.

Neighbours dropped in for an informal celebration yesterday. Most of the wine that had been chilling in the fridge was still there (imagine that!) – crisp whites and summery rosés. With the first bottle down and mid afternoon approaching, a late lunch was on the agenda. But what? I wanted to throw some food on the table but not spend time thinking about it or missing the conversation, toiling in the kitchen while others chatted outside.

Fortunately I think best on my feet. First some fresh raw nuts decanted into bowls. A couple of perfectly ripe avocadoes mashed with lemon, garlic and some wickedly hot, kick-arse chilli sauce. A three minute dip on a platter with rice crackers.

The remains of a generous baked vegetable dish from last night already warming in the oven and the water boiling for pasta on the stove. There is another bottle of wine opened and nibbles being gratefully consumed. The sun shines and there is time to have a few sips and chat before retuning to the kitchen.

A no-brainer tuna pasta salad, handy (gluten-free) carbs to soak up the wine, spiked with olives, herbs and vegetables for flavour and healthy goodness, all bought together with a garlic and mustard vinaigrette. Fifteen minutes from start to finish, the dish is put together. The table moved and set. Our friends blink and say – "how did that happen?"

If I’d taken more time the cos lettuce in the crisper would have been augmented with more vegetables and tossed in a simple salad. But why show off, when the dip, bake and pasta would suffice? I wanted to whip up some no fuss food to fill our bellies, not produce a mulit-course banquet and create a fuss.

This time of year highlights this household's total lack of keeping instant food on hand. Almost everything we eat is cooked from scratch. We don’t each cheese and rarely buy premade dips these days. If I’d had no avocado, there is reliably chickpeas and tahini in the cupboard that in minutes becomes hummus when thrown in the blender with lemon and garlic.

We never have chips but almost always rice crackers and nuts. Often olives or mini-gherkins (cornichons if you prefer) lurking in the fridge.

Canned beans can become salads, when rinsed well and thrown together with onion, parsley and lashings of lemon and garlic. (Yes there is a theme here – I am bereft with the bowl is empty of citrus and alliums).

But I’m curious, what other foods from scratch can the dairy and meat-free home keep on hand for spontaneous feeding of the masses?


But in the meantime, like they say on TV “’s one I prepared earlier”.

A variation on yesterday’s salad.

Pasta salad with tuna

1 packet of pasta spirals (we prefer gluten-free)
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced (or spring onions)
tomatoes, preferably cherry, if not larger ones cut into small wedges
Kalamata olives, squished with the back of a knife to remove stone, halved
something green – blanched asparagus or beans, cucumber or a large handful of continental parsley
1-2 medium cans of good quality tuna (I like the ones packed in oil that comes in yellow tins)

olive oil
lemon juice
1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Boil a large pot of water and cook pasta as directed on packet. When cooked, rinse well in cold water.

Prepare your vegetables.

Mix your dressing, to taste.

Combine before eating.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

beyond the fridge door - round up

"Our fridge contained only allergy serum, Coke and Maraschino cherries."
Catherine Gildiner, "Too Close to the Falls"

I was hooked when I heard Gildiner interviewed on radio, the minute she recounted the contents of her childhood refrigerator. As soon as I could I bought her memoir, wanting to know more about a child growing up in such a home in the 1950's where every meal was eaten in a diner and the oven was only used to dry wet mittens.

It seems I am not the only one who is curious to see what lies on the shelves of people’s fridges. While the door may be a modern equivalent of the Rorschach (Ink Blot) test, what lies behind chilling quietly, could arguably tell us more. Well at least about what a person likes to eat.

Brazen used the photo opportunity to remind her to clean a few things out of the fridge past their use-by date. Check out the notes on her Flickr pics.

Mediterranean Kiwi, over at Organically Cooked (who incidentally comes from my home town but now lives on my favourite Greek island) supplied two shots that she'd prepared earlier - fridge contents in winter and summer.

Wendy at A Wee Bit of Cooking from snowy Scotland, sent a Flickr link packed with notes complaining that her fridge didn't look up to scratch due to having been away all week. For a supposedly bare fridge it is still packed with goodness!

The home of Progressive Dinner Party aka Zoe's place in Canberra, has furnished a wonderful Flickr set. The organization of her fridge made my virgo heart flutter with joy!

All the way from Oshawa, Canada Sarah of What Smells So Good?, has thrown open the doors of not only her fridge and freezer but also her pantry as well. There is a complete rundown of contents on her site.

Armchair Foodie's creator Megan rose to my strange challenge admirably and opened a lovely dialogue between Hood River, Oregon and Melbourne, Australia. Good to see there are fellow bloggers with bottles of vodka chilling in their freezer.

Melbourne friend Doc Witch who waxes lyrical at Dark Side of The Broom, described the inside of her fridge as Hellmouth but really its just crammed full with delicious gluten-free food (not to mention all those naturopathic goodies nestled in the door).

Single White Female, Catherine from Perth, intrigued me by keeping her vegemite in the fridge. Her soy milk stash is also impressive! Pop over and see her beautifully labeled photos.

Lucy at Nourish Me has just moved into her new Melbourne pad and managed to take the time to put up a fully noted flickr stream documenting what lies beyond her fridge door.

Almost forgot to add my own entry. The SE's love of pickles dominating this pic. Just your average dairy-averse, market-loving Melbourne fridge!

Thanks to all those who participated (or did so in spirit) in this spontaneous little event. I enjoyed your pictures immensely. Special thanks to the newcomers to this blog for getting involved.

It has been suggested this should be a regular thing...stay tuned. You never know what will inspire me on another quiet weekend further down the track.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

WHB #156 - mint

I wake to a bright Sunday morning. The early light streams into the lounge room and I find myself up at a ridiculously early hour (one that begins with 7) slavishly writing my morning pages, surrounded by three contented cats and the sound of birds singing. These spring days are golden. The weather is still unpredictable – with sunshine, thunder, lightening and hail all in the same week, or even day. But this time of year flecked with green is special, before summer gets you by the throat and the land becomes parched.

The garden is in flux. Today is the day we intend to rip out the last remnants of our winter vegetable bed (silverbeet will be on the menu tonight) and rebuild the soil to plant a few tomatoes and maybe strawberries after then next bout of hoped for rain. Most of my herbs are in pots these days, easier to keep the thirsty plants alive with the clean kitchen wastewater. The happiest with this frequent dampening routine is mint. With every watering it flourishes.

I love to drink fresh mint tea but don’t cook with it often. I relish mixing it into Asian salads, with coriander, Vietnamese mint and fish sauce. But with such an abundance of the herb I don’t use it nearly enough.

Morning writing finished, my rumbling tummy brings me back to the present, I know I need food, an appropriate first meal to honour the day. The fruit bowl represents the juxtaposition of seasons, winter apples and oranges meeting tropical mangoes and bananas. I dreamt last night of bananas growing in Wellington, not as they should do but on a vine instead. Not sure weather to blame fears of global warming or all the muffins I have been eating for that one. Regardless I take it as a sign that this herb, commonly regarded as a fruit, will feature in breakfast today.

To greet the new day I make a fruit salad featuring mint, toasted coconut and cashews. The mint gives it a taste of summer.

Trans-seasonal fruit salad
(Serves 2)

1 mango, diced
1 –2 bananas, sliced
1 pink lady apple, peeled, cored and diced
1 orange, skin removed sliced or in segments
1 handful of cashew nuts
1 handful of shredded coconut
fresh mint
lime juice

Prepare your fruit, feel free to vary the ingredients with what you have available, though the mango and banana work best with coconut.

Place a heavy bottomed pan on high heat and carefully toast the cashews, shaking the pan frequently til brown (you may notice that I hurried mine a little too much), remove the nuts and add the coconut. If the pan is still hot just swirl the shreds around off the heat and you will see them toast before your eyes, so be vigilant. Remove from the pan to ensure they don’t continue cooking.

Mix the fruit, coconut and cashews together in a bowl. Shred some fresh mint and add a squeeze of lime. Stir gently.

Eat immediately.

The mint family is a large clan with many variations. Medicinally Mentha piperita is favoured for its cooling, carminative properties. A steaming hot cup of peppermint tea can help clear the sinuses and settle a troubled stomach or racing mind. It is the perfect way to finish a fatty or spicy meal.

I also love mint in it’s many incarnations in laksa, green mango salad, prawn and noodle stir fries and as a refreshing summer drink muddled with lime juice, sugar and soda water.

This post celebrates Weekend Herb Blogging’s third birthday and is hosted by it’s founder Kalyn at Kalyn’s Kitchen - congratulations, what an amazing gift this weekly feature has been.

From next week Haalo, a fellow Melbournite, will be taking the reigns to care for this much loved event. Thanks again Kalyn for creating and nurturing Weekend Herb Blogging for these three years.

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Fridge reminder

This is your last chance to share the photos of the inside of your fridge in this spontaneous event. If you are interested in baring your refrigerator contents with the rest of the world please post a link in comments by midnight Sunday Melbourne time (that's around midday Sunday for those in the Northern Hemisphere) and I will post the round up on Monday.

Am loving what you are showing me so far.

Go on grab the camera and do an un-styled, snap of your fridge...right now!

Beyond the fridge door is a food blogging event.


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