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Another Phone Call

October 27, 2011

Pork and Glass Noodle Spring Rolls

There’s been another phone call.  It would be so wonderful to be one of those families that don’t get phone calls of this nature but we’re not of that ilk.  I was just about to sit down to a lunch of spicy Thai noodles when the phone rang.  It was the principal of the local primary school.  My heart sank on hearing his voice because I knew he wasn’t phoning to find out if I had enjoyed my weekend.

Some children pass through school without their parents becoming known by all the staff who sit in larger offices but my children are of the kind where receiving phone calls or being asked to come in for a meeting is standard.  At Alfie’s school, we’re on first name terms now, he (principal) and I, and this is not out of the ordinary because I’m on first name terms with all the principals, vice-principals, counsellors and Year Coordinators that have had the pleasure of ‘educating’ my children.

The spring roll mixture

So I let him speak.

‘There’s been an incident involving your son…’

And a million possibilities flashed across my mind.

‘He’s not in any kind of trouble…’

Then why’s he ringing?

‘It’s just that during recess…’

And on and on he went.

Rolling the spring rolls

Alfie, my charming little six-year-old, is best not left unsupervised.  As the story goes, during recess he walked into the office block (apparently totally unnoticed by all ancillary staff – a great feat in itself), then he headed into the vacant principal’s office (still unnoticed) and hid under the principal’s desk.  When the bell rang for the end of recess the principal returned to his office and sat down on his swivel chair at his desk.  Right at that moment Alfie jumped up from under the desk and roared like a lion.  The headmaster received the fright of his life.   His startled reaction threw him backwards and that upturned his swivel chair and resulted in him being splattered across the carpet tiles.  He looked up to see Alfie standing there with a huge grin on his face like this was the best possible result for his planned assault.

No, the principal wasn’t the slightest bit amused and once he had picked himself up off the tiles and smoothed down his crumpled suit, he questioned the ancillary staff as to how this boy came to be in his office and did anyone know how long he had been there.

Alfie could have answered those questions.

And the problem the principal now faced is that he very much would like to discipline Alfie for giving him a shock of such magnitude it nearly caused his heart to cease to beat, but sadly, there just wasn’t a precedent for sneaking into the principal’s office, hiding under his desk and waiting to give him an aging experience.  So being completely confused as to what to do with him, he decided to call me.

Apart from suggesting he lock his office, what did he expect me to say?

I think I did ask after his well-being, ‘Not too bruised I hope?’  And I did soothe things over by saying his father and I would have a serious word to him about how hiding under the principal’s desk waiting to scare him half to death was probably a poor choice of activity.

On being somewhat ‘soothed’ the principal then let me know that Alfie would not be punished; mostly because they are unsure as to what disciplinary measures they should take.  He’s left them all confused!

My spicy Thai noodles are now cold.  But I have on hand the exact ingredients I need to cook Thai Spring Rolls so I’m making these instead.  Alfie loves these and they’ll be ready for when he returns from his busy day at school.

The recipe I have used is from the Spirit House cookbook.

Pork and Glass Noodle Spring Rolls

Makes 20 spring rolls

Degree of Difficulty:  2/5

Cost:  Very inexpensive

2 cloves garlic

1/2 tspn white peppercorns

1 tbspn chopped coriander root and stem

1 tbspn vegetable oil

1/2 red onion, finely diced

120g minced pork

1tbspn palm sugar

2 tbspns fish sauce

50g glass noodles, soaked and cut into 5cm pieces

100g bean sprouts

1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves

packet of spring roll wrappers

2 tbspns cornfour

2 tbspns water

vegetable oil for frying

1/2 cup sweet chilli sauce

In a mortar, pound garlic, peppercorns, coriander root and stem to a paste.  Heat 1 tbspn of oil in wok, add onion and stir-fry until softened.  Add paste and stir-fry briefly.  Add pork and stir-fry until cooked, about 5 minutes.  Add palm sugar, fish sauce and glass noodles, then remove from heat.  Allow to cool.  Stir in bean sprouts and coriander leaves.

Lay a spring roll wrapper on a board.  Place 1 tbspn of mixture in centre and roll packed as tightly as possible.  Seal the ends with a paste made from the cornflour and water.  Heat oil in wok until medium hot and fry spring rolls until golden, about 5 minutes.  Drain on paper towel.  Serve with sweet chilli sauce.

“Mum – I’m Putting the Band Together”

October 13, 2011

Poached Chicken Sandwiches

Last night I was lying on the couch in a drug-induced state courtesy of some prescribed medication following a medical procedure that is too stomach churning to talk about so I’m not going to mention it.  The drugs were working quite nicely but then Archie came into the room holding a ‘gut-string’ guitar.

‘I just love the sound of this gut-string, mum and hey, I’ve written a new song.  Do you want to hear it?’

But I didn’t really have a choice because Archie found a position in the room and started playing the gut string and singing his new song.  While he was singing he was tapping his foot and poking out of his boot was a wooden stick with bells on it that Santa had given Alfie a couple of Christmases ago.  As Archie tapped his foot the bells jingled and the gut-string played and with me having well exceeded the recommended dose, I was seeing and hearing a complete band.

That’s when Archie snapped me out of my near-coma by saying, ‘Mum, I’m putting the band together.’

What band?  There is no band.  There is only Archie who has a couple of guitars, a few harmonicas, a didgeridoo, one of Alfie’s toys and too much spare time.

‘Mum, I’ve been thinking.  I’ve decided I’m not going to Uni next year.  I’m going to get some mates and a car and we’ll travel around Australia and get work gigging in pubs.  Wouldn’t that be awesome’.

Drugs are a good thing.  They mellow out ‘horrified’ and leave you instead feeling stunned.  ‘What do you mean, Archie?’

‘Mum, you’ve got to do these things when you’re young.’

But you don’t have to do these things.  You don’t have to do them at all.  You can be normal and go to Uni and do some study and work weekends in the menswear section of a department store selling ties, socks and jocks like the rest of us did.  We didn’t think of going around Australia in a beat-up car as an alternative to a tertiary eduction.

And we certainly didn’t think of shocking our mothers with major lifestyle changes so soon after returning home from horrendous medical procedures.  We at least waited until the next morning.

So Archie’s downstairs writing more music for ‘the band’ and I’m upstairs filling out his application to numerous colleges.  As my mother said to me, ‘You’ll thank me when you’re older’.

It’s nearly Melbourne Cup Day and as I’m having a group of girls over for lunch that day, I’m practising making chicken sandwiches.  I made these tonight and there were so many fights over them in the kitchen that there are none left for the lunchboxes tomorrow.  I had no idea a decent chicken sandwich would be so popular.  They key is to poach your own chicken which is very easy to do.

The Key Players

Poached Chicken Sandwiches

Degree of Difficulty:  2/5

Makes:  5 Sandwiches (10 slices of bread)

Cost:  Inexpensive compared to dining in a cafe

2 free-range chicken breasts

1 bay leaf

1 small white onion

5 black peppercorns

1/2 cup finely chopped celery

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots, green tips included

1/3 cup pinenuts toasted in a frying pan

2 tbspns finely chopped chives

1/2 cup whole egg mayonnaise

10 slices good quality white or wholemeal bread

Place the chicken in a medium saucepan with the onion, bay leaf and peppercorns.  Pour in enough water to cover, then bring to the boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 5 minutes.  Set aside and leave to cool with the lid on.  Once the chicken is cooled, slice it into fine pieces.  Place the chicken in a bowl with the celery, chives, shallots, pine nuts and mayonnaise and mix until well combined.  Season well with salt and pepper.  Spread 5 slices of bread with the chicken filling, top with remaining bread, then cut each sandwich into 3 fingers.

The ‘F’ Word

October 9, 2011

My friend Lisa has just been on the phone to me distraught to the max because she’d just finished a telephone conversation with her doctor’s receptionist and that receptionist ‘used the ‘f’ word’.  All she’d wanted was a quick phone call making a simple appointment with her obstetrician (lovely man, aren’t they all?  What a special breed) for her first check-up with her third pregnancy and when she made the call she was on a hormone high but by the end of the unexpected interrogation, she felt she had not one hormone left in her body.

A very charming chap whisked Lisa off her feet when she was barely out of her teens.  He was almost twice her age and had his own construction business.  They had two children born last century.  When her husband was in his 50’s he decided he’d like to do a marathon and why not run his first one in New York.  He employed a personal trainer, a dietician and a physiotherapist to work with him but just before he was due to board a plane for New York he collapsed on a treadmill at a gym and died of a heart attack.

Preparing to roast the vegetables

A few years later Lisa married an orthodontist 13 years her junior.  They decided they’d like to have one child and are now both very excited about the new pregnancy.  The relative ease with which Lisa became pregnant made her feel very youthful.  Then came the phone call with her doctor’s receptionist.

Receptionist            So, is this good news or bad news?

Lisa            Oh no, it’s good news.  We’re both very excited about it.

Receptionist            Well you can’t expect this pregnancy to be the same as the others…age will be playing a big factor now.   I mean, you’re 40 aren’t you?

Lisa            Oh no, I’m 39.

Receptionist            Well, that’s 40.

Lisa            No, it was conceived when I was 38 and it will be born before my 40th birthday.

Slow Roasted Grass Fed Shoulder of Lamb

Lisa was very worked up.  ‘I so desperately want Hugh to be my doctor that I just put up with her calling me the ‘f’ word and so all I said was, ‘so you’re right then’.  So she’s just extinguished my 30’s and put me in the 40 plus category.

‘It’s okay, Lisa’.  There are those of us who would love to be called the ‘f’ word all over again’ I said in almost a jealous tone.

Lisa wasn’t listening.  ‘I don’t know what it is about doctor’s receptionists.  They’re all the same.  Their job description is to file, type and answer the phones.  It’s not for them to be making comments or asking questions.  Isn’t that the doctor’s job?’

A slightly larger roasting dish probably would have been an idea

So Lisa went on and on but that was okay because that’s every pregnant woman’s right.  And I was cooking a slow-roasted shoulder of lamb that was already in the oven so there was really nothing more I needed to do except a listening ear for a friend sensing age is creeping up on her.

Slow Roasted Shoulder of Lamb with Roast Vegetables

I have a friend in the country who breeds lambs just for their own use.  Being born and bred in the country she is tarred with the brush of hospitality and generosity.  Whenever we are going to catch up she asks, ‘Would you like a lamb?’ (butchered of course – sorry if you’re squeamish).   So last week I was given a grass fed lamb courtesy of my lovely friend but…when I went through the contents I found I’d been given four shoulders and no legs so this was either a very odd looking lamb or there’d been a mix-up with the body parts.  Never mind – the weather in Sydney is still quite cool so a slow-cooked roast makes an excellent meal and shoulders are the best for slow roasting.

This recipe is from Gourmet Traveller Magazine

Slow Roasted Shoulder of Lamb with Roast Vegetables

Serves 4

Degree of Difficulty:  2/5

Cost:  Lamb is expensive but the shoulder is one of the most inexpensive lamb cuts.

1.5 kg lamb shoulder

1 glass red wine

500 ml chicken stock

1 punnet mini-truss tomatoes (I used large cherry tomatoes halved)

Roast vegetables

1  head garlic, halved

2  red onions, quartered

4  potatoes, peeled and quartered

4  zucchini, chopped

1  eggplant, roughly chopped

Some fresh thyme sprigs

2  lemons, juice only

Season lamb shoulder with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a large pan over high heat and cook lamb for 5 minutes, turning once, until browned. Transfer to a large roasting tin.  Meanwhile, deglaze pan with red wine and stock then pour over lamb in roasting tin. Cook in a preheated oven at 220C for 20 minutes then reduce heat to 160C and cook for 3-4 hours until tender, basting occasionally and adding the truss tomatoes during the last 30 minutes of cooking.

For roast vegetables, combine ingredients in a bowl with remaining olive oil and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Place in another roasting tin and pour 1 cup water over.  Roast in the oven for the last 2 hours while lamb shoulder is cooking. Serve lamb with truss tomatoes and roast vegetables on platters or plates.

Never, Ever, Not Even if You’re Desperate

September 29, 2011

In March Archie was unemployed.  As he was about to head overseas I thought he should leave with funds in his

You Wacky Wabbit

bank account.  I vaguely remembered a friend telling me (years ago) what a wonderful time she had working at a Polling Booth for the State Election.  She said it was, ‘heaps of fun’.  As a State Election was on the approach I went on-line and discovered, sure enough, there were job vacancies – and they weren’t being picky – Archie and I could both work at a Polling Booth.  I signed us both up for what I imagined was going to be pleasant and rewarding, but above all, financially gratifying.

At 8am the floodgates opened and the room quickly filled.  I don’t know if you’ve seen a copy of the electoral roll but the print is so tiny I should have been told to bring a magnifying glass.  The fact that only two of the overhead lights were operational wasn’t helpful.

I had thought I would be pretty good at spelling people’s surnames but I hadn’t counted on there being such a huge migrant population in that part of Sydney.  I haven’t yet mastered Mandarin or touched on Cantonese so the Xhing’s and the Zhous had me completely muddled.  If it wasn’t the Xhing’s or the Zhous it was the Mc’s and the Mac’s.  Where do you find these under ‘M’?  What is the rule?

By the time I was offered a five-minute break I knew I was being underpaid.  Why did my friend lie to me?  There was nothing fun

Trimming Licorice in 32 Degree Heat

about this.  If I wasn’t marking off names in virtual darkness I was told to stand at the doors with a long wooden stick in my hands and use it to push the votes down in the boxes.  (I actually did enjoy wielding that big stick and found plenty more uses for it).

I was so relieved when 6pm arrived and the opportunity to shove the outgoing Labor Party into further oblivion closed.  I put my bag over my shoulder and headed for the door.

‘Where do you think you’re going?’ asked the supervisor.

‘Well that’s it, isn’t it?’ I said all confused.

‘That’s just half of it’, he chuckled, ‘now we have to count all the votes’.

And I looked behind me and all those boxes with the votes jammed into them by my big stick were being upturned onto the collapsible tables.  The room was a sea of paper.  I’d been duped.  I’d read the fine print in the position advertised; there was nothing about this.  ‘What time do you think we’ll be finished?’ I asked.

And he just couldn’t get the grin off his face, ‘When the last vote’s been counted’.

I won’t bore you with the details but all those bits of paper had to be unravelled from their screwed up positions and then laid out on tables and then divided into political groups and then counted and then counted and then counted again.  And there wasn’t even a dinner break.

I walked out at 11pm.  I’d missed the last bus and had to hail a cab costing about 20% of my day’s earnings.  I thought the tiny stipend I was being paid was from 6.45am until 6pm but as it turns out, I worked for 16 hours in virtual darkness with my legs parted on either side of rusty metal chair legs, with bad breath exuding from my right and lazy girls to my left and the only relief was the opportunity to push votes to the bottom of boxes with a long wooden stick to be followed up with hours of unwrapping scrunched up voting papers.  All that for nothing more than $300.

My 17 year old Arabella and her Wacky Wabbit

And as I was leaving, that veteran of this kind of activity with the bad breath said to me, ‘You know there’s a Census coming up, you can put your name down to hand out Census Forms.  That’s my next opportunity.’

I believe; one man’s opportunity is another man’s misery.

Like I said, ‘Never, ever, not even if you’re desperate.’

Arabella turned 17 last week.   She celebrated by inviting 25 pretty young things to a sit-down dinner in our backyard.   They all arrived in dresses the length of T-shirts, heels so high they had to stoop to get through doorways and backpacks containing nothing more sinister than cranberry juice?  Proving she’s still young at heart, Arabella chose this cake from The Australian Women’s Weekly ‘Kids’ Brithday Cakes’ cookbook.  A cookbook I’m all too familiar with.  When making this recipe, it says to make three quantities of Fluffy Frosting but I had so much left over you probably only need to make double quantity.  Sorry the photos are so ordinary, they are just happy snaps but Arabella was so happy with the result, she wanted me to share the images.

‘Don’t Make a Scene’

September 22, 2011

When Arabella announced she had a new ‘true-love’ it raised more than my eyebrows.

‘What true-love?’ I asked.

‘His name’s Nick, mum.’

‘Never heard of him.  Have I met him?’

‘No and you’re not going to either’.

Here we go.   ‘Why won’t I be meeting him?’

‘Because he’s busy.’

‘Doing homework?’

‘Mum, he’s left school.  He’s 20.  He works for his uncle doing security.’

Sounds like a bouncer.  I’m picturing a thug.  ‘Where does he live?’

‘Newport.  He shares a flat with his cousin.’

‘Well when you’re next going to see him, get him to pop in here when he picks you up.’

‘I can’t.’

‘Why not?’

‘He doesn’t drive.  Doesn’t have a license.’

A 20-year-old male without a license.  Probably just one reason for that – the law won’t allow him one.  ‘Well tell him he’s not allowed to see you until we’ve met him’.

‘That’s why I wasn’t even going to tell you that I have a new true-love because that’s exactly how I expected you to react and I knew you’d just be unreasonable.  Don’t you trust me?’

Just pouring myself a large tumbler of wine.  ‘Arabella, I’m sure he’s lovely but you’re 16 and it’s not appropriate that you go out with someone we’ve never even met.  If you don’t think I’m on the money, go ask your child psychologist what he thinks.

‘Well if I invited him over for dinner would you cook something nice?’

‘Well it won’t be poison’.

‘Can he come Friday night?’

‘Fine.  But can he get here by six because we don’t want a late night because your father has an early start in the morning’.

And so Arabella went off to her room and behind a closed door she made a call to true-love-Nick.  Meanwhile I phoned Carl to let him know there was an unlicensed 20-year-old thug coming for dinner with eyes on our daughter.

Arabella emerged from her room looking very pleased.  ‘He says he’ll come but mum can you cook steak with béarnaise sauce because that’s what he really likes.’

And what would be wrong with mince on toast?  And that’s exactly what Carl said but I told him that I was going to whip up the meal as requested so Arabella could see how supportive and non-judgemental we were being.

Friday night was unseasonably warm so I decided we’d eat at the outdoor table on the terrace.  There were candles on the table and ironed napery, a full moon was emerging from the horizon and Carl had even jumped into the moment by chilling down some of his favourite beers.

I was whipping up the béarnaise sauce when Carl came into the kitchen and said, ‘It’s 6.15.  Where is he?  Has she heard from him?’  I said, ‘Carl, don’t make a scene.  I’ll go and ask her.’  ‘Ah Arabella, do you know what’s keeping him?’

‘He said he’s just on the bus.’


‘I don’t know, somewhere between here and Newport’.

‘Well what’s his ETA?’

‘Don’t know.’

‘Let’s start with a pre-dinner drink.’

Later…’Arabella, it’s nearly seven o’clock.  Carl’s going to put the steaks on the bar-be-que and hopefully Nick will arrive before they’re cooked.’

‘Mum, I just spoke to him.  He thinks he’ll be another hour.’

‘Another hour?  You said he was on the bus nearly an hour ago.’

‘I know’, she screamed.  ‘He’ll be here when he gets here’.

And Carl was about to tell her that when you’re invited to someone’s home for a 6 o’clock dinner, that’s the time you turn up but I muttered, ‘Don’t make a scene’.

So Carl and I ate our dinner out on the terrace by the light of the full moon.  Nick never appeared and Arabella was off her oats.  When she emerged from her room with her face all streaky with mascara, Carl was going to give Arabella a serve on the economic realities of eye fillet steak but instead, helped himself to another one.

That’s when Arabella told us that Nick, (under the pressure of having to ‘meet the parents’) had said it was too difficult having a true-love who was still in school.

The relationship was done and dusted.  I tried to hide my excitement.  Arabella was a mess.  That’s when I shared with her something a friend had posted on facebook:

‘We need to teach our daughters to distinguish between:

A man who flatters her, and a man who compliments her.

A man who spends money on her, and a man who invests in her.

A man who views her as property, and a man who views her properly.

A man who lusts after her, and a man who loves her.

A man who believes he is God’s gift to women, and a man who remembers a woman was God’s gift to man.’

And Arabella sobbed.

This week I’m not sharing the meal I prepared for the ex-true-love-bouncer.  I have previously cooked béarnaise sauce and the recipe is listed under my ‘Sauces’ category.

Instead I have prepared ‘Fresh Fruit with Sweet Cream Cheese’.  This recipe is again from the cookbook RMS Titanic – Dinner is Served.  The dessert was served to first class passengers on April 14, 1912, just a few hours before tragedy would strike.  I imagine this dish would have been considered an indulgence and very extravagant given the variety of fresh fruit presented.

Degree of Difficulty:  2/5

Cost:  Inexpensive when using fruits in season

Serves:  4

Fresh Fruit with Sweet Cream Cheese

400g soft cream cheese

3 tbspns icing sugar

4 kiwi fruit, peeled and sliced

12 strawberries, hulled and sliced

12 grapes, halved (I used blueberries instead of grapes)

1 banana, peeled and sliced on a slant

Place the cream cheese and the icing sugar in a food processor and blend until smooth.  Set aside in the fridge until needed.

Prepare the fruit and place a presentation ring on a serving plate.

Alternate the fruit and cheese in layers, finishing with the cheese and a crown of any decorative fruit of your choice.

Strawberry coulis drizzled over the fruit would finish the dish off perfectly. 

I Was Nearly Killed

September 16, 2011

It was Carl who suggested I needed the ‘Ocean Swim’ experience.  ‘You’ll love it’ he enthused and then he registered me for the

Mango Chutney

Blackmores Bilgola Ocean Swim.

About 400 swimmers had registered for the 1.5km race and I thought that was a manageable number.  But on the day extras arrived by the busload swelling the numbers to over 700.  I wondered how they would organise the race and hoped they would stagger the start and just let a few swimmers go at a time but they didn’t.

I was herded into the 35-49 category and when our category was asked to line up for the start of the race, it seemed there were about three hundred of us.  I was standing shoulder to shoulder with big hairy blokes all jostling for positions in the sand.  And they all seemed to know each other and were yelling out about the last race they swam and the size of the swell and the direction of the wind and who ended up with a nosebleed etc.  It was scary times.

I stood there developing rapid onset nausea and it crossed my mind that perhaps it wasn’t too late to pull out.  But Carl was at the finish line with Alfie (teenagers were in bed – didn’t come to watch me) and they were waving enthusiastically with a look on their faces like perhaps I even had a chance of winning the event.

Off went the starter’s gun and immediately the mob of 35-49 year olds stampeded to the water with elbows horizontal to gauge into the nearest competitor.  It was like the doors opening at the Myer Boxing Day sales you either go with the mob or the mob mows you down.

The water was muddy-coloured from the seaweed that had arrived with the morning’s tide.  And the seaweed was thick, itchy, smelly and EVERYWHERE.  And the swell that didn’t seem so big from the shore was tossing me about and throwing me off course.  You had to constantly lift your head to make sure you were heading in the right direction.

I swam out to the first buoy.  As I approached, a huge rude man just swam right on top of me.  He could have gone around me or avoided me altogether but he just didn’t care.  To him, it was acceptable that in an ocean swim you take down as many competitors as possible.  He doesn’t see himself as a swimmer, he’s a gladiator.  His body was on top of my head and I couldn’t move my arms.  He kept on swimming over me and as he moved on he landed a final kick to my forehead that came up in an instant lump and left me dazed.  This was not a fun swim; this was like being in a riot.

I swam on and finally went around the last buoy and headed for the shore.  Being a novice, it didn’t occur to me that you should look behind you for the waves as you approach the beach.  Without warning I was dumped by a huge wave along with five or six others and once the wave had finally finished throwing us around I found myself on the bottom of the seabed, lying face down in the sand with four people standing on top of me.  I couldn’t move.  I had no air in my lungs.  That was when I thought I was going to be the first person killed in the Blackmores Bilgola Ocean Swim.  But they got off me and I managed to surface before being pronounced dead.

I made it to the shore and we were required to run to the finish line.  Carl and Alfie were still there and Carl said, ‘You didn’t do very well, most of your group’s already finished’.  I could have slapped him but I was hunched over vomiting up seawater.

If you have a bucket list, there’s no need to add, ‘Ocean Swim’.

But in case I have inspired you, the next Blackmores Bilgola Ocean Swim is on Sunday, December 12.

You won’t see me there.

And thank you Readers for your feedback regarding recipes that were served on RMS Titanic.  For those as equally interested as myself, here is another recipe…Mango Chutney.  I found this to be a fairly sweet chutney.  More sweet than to my liking.  I would only lightly pack the brown sugar to help reduce the sweetness.  But served on a water cracker with a sharp mature cheddar cheese, it is delicious.

Mango Chutney

Degree of Difficulty:  1/5

Cost:  Very inexpensive when mangoes are in season

Makes:  Fills at least 3 medium sized jars

2 large ripe mangoes peeled and finely diced

2 cooking apples (I used Granny Smiths) peeled and chopped

125gms seedless raisins

2 onions peeled and chopped (I used brown onions)

1 tspn ground ginger

350gms brown sugar (lightly packed)

2 gloves of crushed garlie

1/2 tspn salt

Place all of the ingredients into a heavy based saucepan.  Bring to the boil uncovered then simmer for 45 minutes stirring occasionally.  Leave the chutney to cool then transfer to clean, sterilised  jars.  Once opened, store in the fridge and use within three weeks.

Archie and Irene

September 8, 2011

Archie’s back!  And not without the usual and almost expected dramas.  His flights were all cancelled due to Hurricane Irene.

Duck Liver Pate

Archie phoned us from London in a great state, shouting down the receiver that he only had about a minute’s life left on his phone and there’d be no resurrection because he’d lost the charger.  He was on the phone to the airline and they couldn’t get him on a flight for another week unless of course we coughed for one of those seats where Archie would be addressed as ‘sir’, the seat would morph into a downy bed and Archie could stroll the wide aisles in a pair of complimentary pyjamas.

‘Mum, they need your credit card, my phone’s about to die, can I board the plane or not?’

I was at a dinner party.  I’d been enjoying myself up until then.

‘Mum, it’s the last seat left.  She needs to know if we’re taking it.’

I’d been thinking how nice it was for him to phone me.  Hadn’t heard from him in over a week.  ‘Enjoy your flight.  Phone me when you get to New York’.

But he didn’t.

But he did bring me back a very special cookbook.  While stranded in London, Archie went to  Titanic – The Artefact Exhibition.  There he bought me the book, ‘RMS Titanic – Dinner is Served.  Menus from the great liner revisited and updated by Yvonne Hume, great niece of Titanic’s first violinist John Law Hume.

Everyone’s heard the speculation that the band ‘played until the end’ and wondered whether they played the bandleader’s favourite

Boarding Pass

hymn, ‘Nearer My God to Thee’.  Yvonne Hume says, ‘My personal view is that if they had stopped an hour or more, as has been suggested, before Titanic slipped beneath the surface, there would have been time to put their lifejackets on.  The fact that none of the musicians whose bodies were recovered were wearing lifejackets suggests that they played until it was impossible to carry on because of the angle of the deck.’  After the sinking only three of the musicians’ bodies were recovered; John Hume, bandleader Wallace Hartley and bass viola player, Fred ClarkeJohn Hume was 22 years old.

As you enter the exhibition you are presented with a boarding pass.  On the reverse side are the details of a passenger and you assume that persons identity as you wander through the exhibition.  At the end of the exhibition you look for your passenger’s name on the Memorial Wall to have their fate revealed.

Archie was Mr William H Harbeck, 44 years of age from Paris, France.  He was accompanied on the voyage by Henriette Yrois.  He was a second-class passenger in an unknown cabin.  He was traveling to the Hotel Cadillac in New York.  He was returning from Paris where he had studied with a master filmmaker.  William had been hired by White Star Line to film Titanic’s maiden voyage.  His next project in North America was a film of Alaska and the Yukon Territory.  William traveled with Henriette Yrois, a

young model he had met in Paris.  Fascinated by Miss Yrois, William followed her everywhere during the voyage, even watching her as she played solitaire.

William Harbeck’s life was lost along with 1,500 other souls.  Miss Yrois was one of the 706 who survived.

Yvone Hume’s cookbook contains all the recipes that were served on that fateful ship from steerage to first class.  This recipe is ‘Duck Liver Pate with Toast Points’.  It was served as an entrée to first class passengers on 14th April, 1912.  You could have enjoyed this pate with a glass of champagne from a selection that included Cliquot 1900, Pommeroy Naturel 1900, Moet & Chandon 1898, Heidsieck 1898, Mumm’s Extra Dry 1900, Perrier Jouet extra Dry 1898 or a Ruinart Vin Brut.

And so Reader…do let me know if you would like me to share more recipes from RMS Titanic.

Duck Liver Pate with Toast Points

Degree of difficulty:  1/5

Cost:  quite an inexpensive entree

Serves 4 (I was serving as pass-around-food so put the pate into 2 larger ramekins instead of 4 smaller ramekins for individual serves)

225g duck livers *

1000g milk

100g melted butter

25ml double cream

1/2 tbspn brandy

1/2 tbspn chopped rosemary

8 slices of bread, crusts removed

De-vein and trim the livers then place into a bowl with the milk.  Soak overnight if possible.  This stops the liver from tasting bitter. **

Heat 40g of the butter in a saucepan, add the drained livers and cook gently for 3-4 minutes.  The livers should be cooked on the outside but a little pink on the inside.

When the livers are cooked, place them into a processor and process until smooth.

Add the brandy and rosemary to the saucepan then heat gently, scraping up the residue of the livers.

Add the heated brandy and rosemary to the liver in the processor, together with another 40g of the melted butter, cream and seasoning.  Process until smooth.

Place the pate into individual ramekins, pour the remaining melted butter over the top of the pate to seal, cover and place in the fridge to chill.

Slice the bread to make two very thin slices.  To do this place your hand, palm down, onto the bread and with a sharp knife gently and carefully ease the knife through.  Cut the slices into triangles, place on a baking tray, sprinkle with olive oil and salt then bake in a hot oven 200°C until golden and curled up at the edges.

*    I was unable to buy duck livers so substituted chicken livers

**  I omitted this step as you don’t need to soak chicken livers overnight in milk

Faultless and Blameless

September 2, 2011

Arabella’s going through a lovely stage.  ‘Take me to a psychologist’, she screamed, ‘I’ve got issues’.  She didn’t need to add, ‘I’ve got


issues’ because they were glaringly obvious.  So having just made the final payment to the orthodontist for her million dollar (almost) smile, we are now giving equally sized payments to a man who is supposedly one of Sydney’s leading child psychologists.

Truthfully speaking, I couldn’t wait to get there.  I was looking forward to airing all of my grievances and expected to be able to reach for a box of tissues, have a gentle hand placed on my shoulder with an utter of a comforting ‘there, there’ and then an encouraging ‘well done’ on how I’d managed to hold it all together while bringing a very difficult daughter through her teenage years.

Ahhhh, wrong!

Arabella went in first while I had to stay outside the closed door and sit in a chair facing a TV that was deliberately left on at full volume so I couldn’t have a chance of eavesdropping.  She emerged an hour later looking all smug and I couldn’t wait for my turn to tell him how it really is and receive the tonne of sympathy I was eagerly expecting.

So I sat in his office and started to tell him about all the horror days I’d endured and how strong willed she is and how trying and the toll her behaviour is having on the family etc but before I’d even warmed up he cut in with a few sweeping observations and assessments.

‘You talk in statements’, he stated.

Statements?  Is that a problem?  I had no idea what he was talking about but didn’t want to appear unwise so just nodded like I found him to be very astute.

‘And you roll your eyes a lot’, he continued.

And I noticed there was no box of tissues.  And that he was too far away to place a comforting hand on my shoulder.  And with his gruff and gravelly voice I was not going to hear a gentle, ‘there there’.

‘And you have been very inconsistent with your parenting.  Your husband is too harsh and you’re too weak so it’s no wonder she’s behaving the way she is.  The boundaries for her are totally confused.’

It was not going well.  And on top of hurling insults he was expecting me to pay him.

Trying to change the subject I said, ‘Well I’m pleased she’s about to turn 17.  I’ve heard when teenage girls turn 17 they come good’.

‘Well not necessarily’, he replied with a tone like he was correcting an ignorant fool.

When I was growing up parents were assumed faultless and blameless; children were the problem.  Now I’ve grown up and am a parent myself, children are faultless and blameless and parents are the problem.

We left there with Arabella driving me home.  She couldn’t get the grin off her face.  ‘I like him mum, he’s really nice.  He said I can come and see him whenever I like so I’ve made an appointment for next week.’

I rolled my eyes and stated, ‘Whatever makes you happy’.

And now for a snack:


Serves 6

Cost:  Affordable right now as avocados are in season

Degree of Difficulty:  1/5

Flesh of 3 avocados

Juice of 2 limes

3 vine-ripened tomatoes, seeds removed, chopped

1 small red onion finely chopped

1 green chilli, seeds removed, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

A small handful of chopped coriander

Place avocados in a bowl with the lime juice and mash to desired consistency.  Gently fold in remaining ingredients.

Make as close to serving time as possible.

Serve with organic corn chips.

The Gap Year Crosses the Atlantic

August 18, 2011

Americans have no appreciation for the beautiful tones of a didgeridoo.  In the heat of a New York summer Archie went out into the

Eggs Benedict

streets with his quality instrument and demonstrated his skills of circular breathing combined with a full menagerie of animal sound effects.  He blasted into that didge until his lips blew up like a puffer fish and he nearly collapsed from a lack of oxygen and a build up of CO2.  For all his efforts he managed hundreds of curious stares but just 30 cents into the kitty the next stage of his gap year.

Perhaps it was his appearance the New Yorkers didn’t like.  Having recently seen him on skype, I can understand that.  An old school mate, Felix, had earlier made plans to visit Archie in New York.  On the day he announced to Archie that his flights were booked, the two of them came up with an idea that they thought was humorous.  They wouldn’t shave between then and the day Felix arrived.  The one with the longest beard would be deemed the winner, (there was no prize – that was irrelevant).  I didn’t question the plan as I knew there wouldn’t be a sensible answer.

Crispy bacon on top of baby English spinach

So Felix arrived and settled into Archie’s Brooklyn accommodation and there were many laughs between them about the new looks they were sporting.  But there was no suggestion that the game had now been played out and perhaps it was time to move on and reach for a razor.  The game is just continuing on with no finality.

‘Since I’ve had this beard, mum, I haven’t been asked for ID once’, said an exuberant Archie.  And he certainly put that to the test.  On their last night in New York Archie packed up all his possessions (and borrowed possessions including cooking instruments, crockery, utensils, bedding, towels etc) and the two of them got onto the subway and took the train to his auntie’s apartment in the West Village.

Sally said they arrived looking like packhorses and she has no idea how they managed all that gear between them.  Both of them were as scruffy as each other – not a hair cut between them since leaving school and now scraggy facial hair to complete the look.

Sally and Mike are quite relaxed so didn’t let it bother them.  They took them out to Kingswood for a farewell dinner.   With the facial hair making Archie look every bit the legal drinking age, he confidently shouted a round of drinks.

After dinner Sally and Mike took them to Maria’s Crisis Bar.  Archie said it’s the best bar he’s ever been to and there’s been a few.  So good was it there, that they didn’t even make it to their other farewell party in Brooklyn.  They just stayed in that bar with their new-found mates – show singers and theatre people, and belted out songs from musical theatre.  Archie apparently sang many from Oklahoma.  That’s when Sally and Mike got up and left.

Archie and Felix pulled an all-nighter and stumbled into Sally’s apartment sometime in the mid-morning.  Looking worse for wear

Poached eggs on top of the muffins

she sat them down and made them Eggs Benedict for brunch.  It’s the best breakfast to have after a big night – ever. Archie and Felix said their goodbyes, then went to JFK and boarded a Virgin Atlantic flight for Heathrow.  With good fortune ever present, the gappies are now residing in Chelsea.

Eggs Benedict

Serves 4

Cost:  an expensive version of ‘bacon and eggs’

Degree of Difficulty:  5/5 – because of the timing of all the elements – lots of multi-tasking involved


1/2 cup tarragon vinegar

3 shallots finely chopped

10 black peppercorns

1 bay leaf

4 organic egg yolks

250gms melted and cooled butter

Spooning over Bernaise Sauce

4 English Muffins, split in half, toasted then buttered

Baby English Spinach leaves

8 rindless bacon rashers

1 tbspn white vinegar

8 organic eggs

1 bunch of chives finely chopped

Cracked black pepper to serve

To make the Bernaise Sauce:

In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring to boil the tarragon vinegar, shallots, peppercorns and bay leaf.  Simmer uncovered until reduced by half.  Strain and set reserved liquid aside.

Place egg yolks in a double boiler over barely simmering water and whisk to combine.  Add 2 tbspns reserved liquid and stir until combined.  While constantly whisking, add butter in a slow stream until sauce is thickened and combined.  If sauce splits, place 2 tbspns boiling water in a bowl and gradually whisk in split sauce.  It will recover!


Cook bacon in a frying pan over medium heat – we like it crispy.  Drain on paper towel.

Meanwhile…Poach Eggs:

Bring a frying pan of water to a slow simmer.  Add 1 tbspn white vinegar.  Bring water to a swirl by stirring with a wooden spoon.  When slowly simmering, add eggs.  Cook for 2 minutes then remove with a slotted spoon.  Drain as much water from eggs as possible.

To Assemble:

Eggs Benedict!

Place 2 muffin halves on each of the 4 heated plates.  Top with baby English spinach leaves.  Place bacon on top of leaves.  Carefully place poached eggs on top of bacon.  Spoon Bernaise Sauce on top of eggs.  Sprinkle chives on top.  Grind pepper on top of dish.

The Gathering

August 4, 2011

Archie’s making an impression over in New York.  He has his own accommodation but it’s ‘student-digs’ so fortunately for him he

Chicken Parmigiana

has an auntie with an apartment in the West Village.

His Auntie has a toddler and is therefore inexperienced when it comes to teenagers so is naive and foolishly trusting.  She let it slip that she was heading Up State for a few days for 4th of July celebrations.

Ever so quickly Archie lept to tell her how special it would be for him to enjoy the 4th of July fireworks from her rooftop garden and that he would be able to ‘help her’ as could ‘look after’ the apartment while she was away.  ‘I could keep an eye on the place for you’ were his words.  Teenagers are good like that.  ‘And do you think I could have a gathering?’ he continued.

Aunties with experience only with toddlers do not understand ‘the gathering’.

For the uninitiated a gathering is code for loud music, excessive alcohol and five times as many guests as you promised.

His auntie isn’t too naive.  She did say that roof top parties were banned in her building but he could have ‘a few’ mates over for ‘one or two’ drinks and she did ask what he was doing about the catering.  Alarm bells should have gone off when he replied that it was all under control because everyone was bringing different kinds of shots.  Confused she said, ‘no, I meant what are you doing about food?’ and ever so confidently Archie replied that one person was bringing corn chips.  She handed him the keys and said he would have to be out by Monday night as she was arriving back first thing Tuesday morning to let the cleaner in.

‘Not a problem’ replied Archie.

Somehow Archie managed to get about 15 newly acquired mates loaded with shots past the doorman.  The fireworks were spectacular but nobody can remember them.

First thing Tuesday morning the auntie with toddler and cleaner in tow put the key into the door and stepped into the apartment.  She’d never seen anything like it.  Pizza boxes (all empty) scattered around the normally pristine home, kitchen benches groaning under the weight of ’empties’, a freezer filled with exploded bottles of alcohol and Archie asleep in her bed with all his dirty washing strewn from one end of the room to the other.

She had to physically shake him to wake him from what can only be described as one of those teenage comas.  Totally dazed he gradually came to and asked, ‘why are you back a day early?’  But his auntie said, ‘remember I told you three times I would be back first thing Tuesday morning?’  And as if things weren’t bad enough, Archie asked, ‘Is it Tuesday?’  She said, ‘I need you to get out of bed and pack your things as I’ve got work to do and the baby needs a sleep.’  Archie managed to pull himself from the bed while his auntie took an armful of empties to the recycling bin.

She thought she had given Archie adequate instructions and a loud enough signal to ‘move on’ but she came back into the apartment and there he was on her couch strumming his guitar.

Later that night she was on the skype to me.  I gave her my condolences but told her sadly, this is not an isolated incident.  ‘What you came home to is what many mothers of teenagers face for about five years.  Apparently it’s to do with the frontal lobe.  It doesn’t fully develop until they are 22 and so prior to that day of relief they have impaired decision making’.

Only four years to go.

I did get on the skype to Archie and I did fully intend to berate him for his abuse of the West Village apartment it’s just that he got in first by telling me how he’s changed his mind about going to Uni in 2012 and instead wants to save up for a motorbike and ride around Australia.  ‘Wouldn’t that be great Mum’, he stated.  So my attention was diverted elsewhere.  He also let me know that on the day of his return to Australia he won’t be needing a family dinner because he’s off to the pub ‘with the boys for a chicken parmigana’.

So exploding bottles of booze oozing from my sister’s freezer paled into insignificance as I realised with horror that I haven’t been missed.

Archie…if you stay home for dinner I’ll cook you and the boys Chicken Parmigiana.

Chicken Parmigiana

Serves 4

Degree of Difficulty:  3/5

Cost:  Depends how many ‘boys’ turn up for dinner

1 tbspn extra virgin olive oil + 1/4 cup for frying

1 small onion finely chopped

2 cloves of crushed garlic

400gm tin of tomatoes (I used tinned cherry tomatoes)

1 tbspn brown sugar

small handful of torn basil leaves

4 free-range chicken breasts

plain flour

2 lightly beaten eggs

1 tbspn milk

1 cup breadcrumbs

60gms butter

1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

For the sauce:

Heat a saucepan over medium heat, add 1 tbspn olive oil.  Add onion and cook gently until softened.  Add garlic and stir for 1 more minute.  Add tomates, brown sugar and basil.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

For the Chicken:

Heat oven to 200°C

Gently pound chicken breasts between two sheets of glad wrap until an even thickness.  Coat lightly in plain flour and shake off excess.  Combine beaten egg and milk and dip breasts into egg wash then coat in breadcrumbs.

Heat frying pan over medium heat.  Add olive oil and butter.  Add chicken breasts and cook for 3 minutes on each side.  You may need to cook in batches.  Remove chicken when cooked and drain on paper towels.

Place on an oven tray lined with baking paper.  Top with tomato sauce.  Combine cheeses and spread over the top of the chicken.  Place in the oven for 15 minutes or until cheese is completely melted.

Serve with mashed potato and salad.

Home cooking is better than pub food!