Monday, May 30, 2011

writing in the margins: vandalism or interactivity?

I come from a family that has a certain reverence for the written word. My father begins his day worshipping the newspaper. It’s now delivered at 5 am and I swear the early drop off is the cause of his insomnia. He can’t bear to think of all that paper and ink sitting out on the drive in the cold.

Books are even more holy. In our house you’ll find no dog-eared pages and never, ever has a book taken to be read in the toilet!

But contrary to the unwritten lores of my family, in recent years my father has begun defacing books. I can only imagine the inner struggle that must go on between the Virgoan twin desires of neatness and utter righteousness. One day I noticed one of the many tombs on his beloved national park had been sullied with his unmistakable handwriting. He’d taken a pen and annotated every single mistake the author made, neatly in the margin.

Coming across a defaced book in the house was a revelation. I didn’t know you were allowed to write in the margins. It was as if the world had tilted slightly. My father had become so incensed with the authors inaccuracies, that correcting them was the only option. He did not, as far as I know, actually send the notes back to the publisher. Instead the book just continues to sit innocently amongst others on the subject.

Though last month that changed. During my trip home my father handed me two foolscap pages of corrections for a different book. This one was written about the town he grew up in. Instead of sullying the edition he’d decided to send them directly to body that had commissioned the work. Each mistake was noted by quotation, page number and the correction supplied, often with references from his archive – including old copies of his high school’s own journal. From the 1940s. Page numbers included.

So this morning, lying in bed (an indescribably wonton act on a Monday morning while the rest of the world toils), I glanced at a new “healthy” cookbook I’d picked up from the local library. I was surprised to read that the author was Australian and alumni of my own profession, as I’d never heard of her.

I was only a couple of pages in and a photo showed seedling of “coz” lettuce. Not a good start. The following page spruiked the wonders of agave syrup. I checked the publishing date, 2010. No excuses because by then this highly promoted wonder food had since been relegated to the “almost as bad as high fructose corn syrup” department by most of the authors peers. And spriulina? Surely that’s not still doing the rounds in the 21st century?

Like father, like daughter - I was already itching to pick up men pen and write a few references in the margin. But it’s the fourth recipe that did me in. It’s one for rhubarb and guess what doesn’t feature in the ingredients list? Aha, rhubarb. With 4/5 of the book yet to explore, should I just take a chill pill and take it back unsullied to the library.

So here’s the deal. Do I throw the baby out with the bath water? There are some good recipes and health information amongst the inaccuracies. Should they go through to the keeper? It’s one thing to annotate in the margin if your own cookbooks. Because as far as recipes are concerned, the notes of your own experiences, the temperature and timing of your own oven, varying the amounts for your own palate – to me adds to the value of a cookbook.

Illegible teenage scrawl in my Moosewood cookbook. Indeed the sour cream cheesecake is pretty damn good subbed with tofu. Must make it again soon.

But should you deface a library book? In pen? In pencil? Is this bringing the interactivity of new media to an old format? Or is it just vandalism.

I’m leaning towards sticky notes. What do you reckon?

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, May 29, 2011

report from the trenches

With a spate of chilly, grey and wet weather I’ve given up and succumbed to hibernation. The garden is barely noticed, dull light deters photography and my cooking has been almost as inspiring as the weather.

But eat? Yes thanks, starch, starch and more starch. Hijacked by a primitive brain that anticipates a winter famine.

Potatoes: roasted, fried or jacket. Forkfuls of fluffy, warm goodness.
Rice noodles: with stir fried vegetables and crispy strips of tempeh, almost candied with kecap manis.
Delicious vegan burgers and hand cut chips.

Oh yes!

Between showers, it's too cold and wet to garden with any real gusto. The cos lettuce is growing very nicely, the odd bug dropping by for a snack but there are plenty of leaves left for me to consume. The cavolo nero has been visited by the sneaky little cabbage butterflies and is requiring some manual grub squashing. Fortunately they’re not interested in the rainbow chard and it’s slowly doing its thing but waiting for a little more warmth before it will take off. Strawberries are surviving, even with the odd flower and fruit, though this cold snap will surely put the end to that unseasonal folly.

The seed project has had mixed success. The spring onions are hanging in there but the coriander has grown so slowly that I’ve bought some seedlings in frustration. Parsley has been the only no show, so that’s also been purchased.

Newly added are a row each of heirloom carrots and parsnips, as well as garlic (that’s already sprouting), sorrel and garlic chives.

How’s your patch looking?

Rather dull photos, it’s soooooo grey here in Melbourne at the moment.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Monday, May 23, 2011


The past month has been about:

Stir fries…tofu, tempeh or egg as protein plus finely sliced, julienned or half mooned vegetables. Rice noodles always a favourite. Tamari, kecap manis and fish sauce on rotation as flavouring.

Soups…easy red lentil served with fish sauce, chilli and a squeeze of lime juice.

Fish fillets cooked the way I was taught at primary school…fresh gurnard in a foil parcel with slices of lemon, salt, pepper and nothing else. Cooked at 175c for 11 minutes. I’d forgotten how good it tastes.

Autumn fruits…feijoas, tamarillos and persimmons.

Out…not often but well intimate dinner at The Commoner (the most amazing mushroom coated version of a scotch egg, not on the menu but offered as a vegetarian option)…two vegan burgers to choose from at the Tramways plus the best hand cut chips.

Purchased…a beautiful, large ceramic bowl from a local potter. Big enough to fit a swag of fruit.

Nothing fancy. Just keeping calm and carrying on.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, May 14, 2011

television chefs: the real deal

While dissing the current crop of reality TV cooking programs, I mentioned in passing a kiwi classic. Now for you viewing pleasure I give you a taste of Graham Kerr. Yes, it's a bit meaty but keep in mind this episode was shot in 1966. No, I didn't watch it first time round.

It's worth watching both episodes. The whole show is entirely ad libbed, with Graham answering questions from a "live" studio audience. I almost cried with homesickness listening to the accents of the good Wellington housewives.

He really was a charming devil, who tried his best to bring haute cuisine to the culinary desert.

Please enjoy - The Graham Kerr Show.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, May 12, 2011

vegging in after popping out

I've been across the Tasman for a while. My mother was moved recently to a nursing home after a fall. Do you know how difficult it is, in a small city, to get care for someone with dementia who is not mobile? The good news is she's walking again, shuffling and sometimes falling but hopefully that means she can stay where she is. Anyway, long story short, I've not been cooking much of late. So excuse this little cheat, a post I've made elsewhere on the net, tweaked a little for you reading pleasure.


For many years my favourite part of waking up on a Monday was listening to Flip Shelton talk about food on RRR. I miss her vibrant recipes and triathalon updates. I loved her first cookbook Green (now sadly out of print) and have been waiting eagerly for her next publication.

Veg In: Simple Vegetarian Dishes from Around the World is a nifty book of easy to prepare “takeaways” made cheaply and healthily at home. She promises the recipes will save you money, calories and even time. From Greek dolmades to Japanese tempura, Flip sets out simple ways to recreate your favourite vegetarian dishes, as well as innovative baked potato and pizza toppings.

Veg In is a simple but effective cookbook. The recipes are uncomplicated, perfect for novices and under confident cooks. The recipes aren’t rocket science and won’t take all day to prepare. Being written by a Melburnian is an added bonus as all the ingredients are easy to source locally.

This cookbook is ideal for someone who’d like to extend their vegetarian repertoire, omnivores wanting to diversify their diet (or choosing to practice Meatless Mondays) and those newly “converted” to vegetarianism. The majority of dishes are vegan-friendly and many are also gluten-free.

My only criticism of the book is that it has no index, so you can't hunt by recipe or ingredient. I found this rather frustrating and hope if the book gets a second print run that this problem will be remedied. Veg In is probably not for the gourmet cook, for those more accomplished in the kitchen wanting to expand their vegetarian range my pick would be Feel Good Food

Veg In: Simple Vegetarian Dishes from Around the World by Flip Shelton (Wakefield Press, RRP $29.95)

See Lucy's review of Veg In and one of Flip's recipes.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, May 02, 2011

tuning out

This post was originally published in May 2009. I've just polished it off and filed it under:

Why I'm not watching MasterChef

I’ve been more than lukewarm about the latest hyped reality television show – MasterChef. I love food, like cooking but I’ve known enough chefs to get an inkling of just how tough being an actual chef really is. Hospitality has nightmare working hours, inhospitable conditions and should carry a health warning for both body and soul. Boudain’s , Kitchen Confidential wasn’t a piece of fiction. Yet despite this brave soul’s brave all to follow their passion, get paid ridiculously low wages and sign up for apprenticeships to become chefs. Good on them.

Celebrity chefs/cooks are not a new phenomena. Graham Kerr, The Galloping Gourmet, first started broadcasting in 1959 and no one can forget Julia Childs. Both were more television personalities who cooked rather than classically apprenticed, restaurant chefs. Kerr’s parents owned hotels (as did Jamie Oliver’s) and his first job was in management rather than the kitchen. Childs took herself off to Le Cordon Bleu to study and started teaching cooking classes. So perhaps considering the lineage of television “chefs”, it is not so crazy to turn a home cook into an overnight media sensation, with a little training in technique and a lot of PR.

Celebrity chefs are an extension of the “food porn” industry, complete with glossy cookbooks, Nigella pouts and Oliver wannabes bashing herbs into submission. Food is sexy, so by extension are those linked to it. Even oversized, cravat wearing food critics. Reality television is the home of the overnight sensation, so our current obsession with food and watching Ms Average getting all teary on telly is an obvious hit. However when it comes to those who actually go into the industry the old fashioned way, the reality is most chefs don’t even get a guest spot on Ready, Steady, Cook, no matter how well they cook.

Masterchef will not turn these home cooks into chefs. There’s not enough graft or training to do that. I doubt if any in the top 20 (or more than a handful of the 7,000 hopefuls who auditioned for the show) would be prepared to swap a future in the law, their current established career or at the age of 40-something actually choose to step onto the bottom rung of the commercial kitchen hierarchy. What attracts people to the gig is fame and fortune, book signings and the odd gig demonstrating a dish. Will any end up in a restaurant kitchen and if they do could they stick it out? I find it very doubtful.*

My food nazi moment for the week was the episode that was actually of interest to anyone who has a passion for cooking, rather than the soapy storyline the series is trying to spin. This week featured an actual masterclass, a down to earth "here is how you make restaurant food" demonstration. Four simple dishes - some lamb (a great basic intro for carnivores), mash, eggy bread (fantastic loved that one) and a simple though creamy chocolate mousse. For me this was the standout of the whole series. In fact, can we cut the hype, jettison the star making, drop the amateur dramatics and just have Gary and George do some simple cooking demos? No cravat wearing critics need apply.

But the genius of adding lemon zest to French toast aside, the health abiding person in me loved the reality-check moment when Gary made mash (or pomme puree, if you prefer). Just watching the skinny, food loving female contestants faces when he threw in the stick of butter was fantastic. Yes this is what restaurant food is all about. Bourdain didn’t just dish the dirty of the secret life of kitchen staff but he drove home the message to readers that the amount of butter in traditional chef-cuisine is literally heart stopping and don’t forget – never order the fish on a Monday!

But back to the heart stopping pomme puree. The spud cooking technique was brilliant – whole jacked potatoes cooked at 160c for 2 hours, baked on a bed of sea salt to draw out the moisture. But wait here comes the butter. The demo showed Gary throwing in 100gms per spud, with an extra dollop for luck plus some whole milk for good measure.

In nutrition terms that worked out to over 720 calories/3000 kilojoules of 80% fat butter, in each modest serve of mash – over a third of your daily food requirements in the side dish alone. Nowhere on this site have you seen the dreaded word “kilojoule” before. It is a cold hard technical term, not sexy and definitely not part of the vernacular of food porn. But “reality” television in its truest sense has driven me to it.

So, the take home message. If you have any respect for your health – skip the mash. Go for a steamed potato, even by comparison a scant handful of chips doesn’t look so bad.

But most of all, stick to being a cook, just use a modest splash of fat in your mash at home. Even if this won’t bring the dreamed of book deal you hanker for, you might live long enough to achieve a whole lot more.

* 2011 update: A couple of seasons into the Masterchef phenomena we are yet to see any contestant in the final cut to hack a traditional apprenticeship. Two notables from the first season have by-passed the basics and on gone straight to opening a restaurant, though don’t seem to handle criticism well. Injera has an update on what some of the MC alumni are doing now.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Newer Posts Older Posts

Awarded by Kitchenetta
Obligatory copyright bit: (c)2004-2010 Another Outspoken Female. All rights reserved. No content on this website including, but not limited to, text and photography may be reproduced without prior explicit written consent from the copyright holder.

Powered by Blogger

Subscribe with Bloglines
Australian Food Bloggers Ring
list >> random >> join
Site Ring from Bravenet