Monday, November 23, 2009

obsession and the "C" word

According to Stephen Fry the only people obsessed about food are anorexics and the morbidly obese. Unless I’m suffering from some blinding degree of body dysmorphia I’m pretty sure I suffer from neither of those conditions.

But the other day a good friend did mention my preoccupation in a kindly way, as in “you’re obsessed with food, I’m obsessed with food but there are some people who aren’t”. I’m guessing she wasn’t meaning it in the Fry sense.

The trigger for this remark was the surprise news that my family will be flying over from New Zealand to have Christmas with me. This has never happened before and is unlikely to happen again. I feel a mix of excitement and trepidation. It’s a small family but one with diverse emotional and culinary needs, so I’m bundling my anxiety and desire to please into meeting the latter category. What to feed them?

I’m focusing on a casual feast for the day itself but as Melbourne’s restaurants can be fickle and tend to be shut in that week between Christmas and New Year, I need to stock the larder and gather some thoughts for standby meals to tempt the different palates. We range from traditionalists to modern, fussy eaters.

I have been writing lists, further evidence of my food obsession, making plans more than a month in advance for possible meals. My shopping list will include iceberg lettuce, the only salad green my father will grudgingly eat. There will be a truckload of eggs, potatoes, garlic and onion. At odd moments of the day I remember things like the only fruits my father is not indifferent to are pineapple and strawberries, and that we all love corn fritters and dark chocolate (though perhaps not together).

As for the feast itself (I’m having difficulty calling it Christmas – my sister is a Buddhist, I’m more atheist than theist, my mother has always been indifferent and my father just wants a hot meal) it’s about creating a memorable day. There will be no turkey roasting for a start. Apart from that being a crazy notion at the best of times in this climate, there are only 4 of us, only 1.5 of them eat meat and the cook and her assistant are non-meat eaters. Fortunately we all like prawns and fish.

A few plans are forming. The rich, dairy-free family favourite chocolate mousse will be a feature. Thinking of other classics my mother made has lead to a desire to create a modern take on a prawn cocktail. Growing up in the 60’s/70’s this was the standard “special meal” starter. Decent prawns are hard enough to come across in NZ now, let alone then, so it starred canned shrimps. Who were we to know the difference? I recall a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce, shrimps and a tangy “mayonnaise” (in fact a salad dressing made from condensed milk and mixed with tomato sauce). What else was in a classic 70’s prawn cocktail and how would you concoct a modern version? I’ll be keeping the lettuce and using the best prawns I can find (of course they will triple in price for that week in December), there will be real mayonnaise with tomato sauce (or Gordon Ramsay’s marie rose sauce) in fact his whole recipe looks good. Does it require anything else? The trick is it needs to have enough familiar elements to cater for the traditional eaters but be fresh, luscious and utterly “blog-worthy”.

Rarely do I borrow other images but in case you never had prawn cocktail love growing up, I adore the look of this version from BBC GoodFood

Obsessed about food? Yes. Food is a way we share our love. But it’s good to know that I’m not alone in it.

The final Christmas menu.
The prawn cocktail recipe.

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Anonymous injera said...

The prawn cocktail looks magnificent - a retro classic perfect for a non-traditional Christmas.

Our family was all set to break with tradition with a Christmas brunch this year. I was getting excited about smoked fish, light canapes, fruity goodness, but it turns out that "brunch" in this case just means "early lunch" and we're expected to divvy up the usual food prep.

Next year...

3:47 pm  
Blogger Zoe said...

The prawn cocktail needs nothing more than you've described, but the iceberg should be shredded superfine. I should know, it's been the first course at every Christmas meal I've ever eaten with my family ;)

Although a few slices of avocado and oysters have also made an appearance on occasion, I think the classic is best.

8:40 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Pleased to announce I've found some delightfully tacky glasses to serve them in from the op shop. They were on sale too! Nothing as classy as the BBC photo but more authentic.

Zoe - loved your mass production shrimp cocktails. Thanks for the shredding tip. Two of us will be getting avocado but will leave it off the oldies. I didn't taste an avocado til 1980. We had no idea what to do with it when we found it either :)

Injera - love smoked fish. Am thinking of making my super-easy smoked eel dip (eel, mayo, lemon juice and spring onions). Good luck for next year. My wish for 2010 is to not celebrate the day at all. Personally I think xmas should be like leap year - once every 4 years is about right for such a celebration.

4:24 pm  
Blogger Johanna said...

good luck with your plans - prawn cocktail does sound very retro - I tend to obsess about food for guests - it is my way of nurturing (and apologising for the mess in my house)

9:49 pm  

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