Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


Sixty-one Christmases, and a warm salad.

2012 marks the sixtieth anniversary of the first Christmas celebrated in my mother's house. She and my father moved into the just-built house during 1952, after spending the first eighteen months of their marriage living in her mother and father's house in Ascot Vale; the second half of that period with a baby. West Essendon was a new suburb then, with nothing farther west except thistle and the Maribyrnong river valley.

Over the years Christmas lunch attendance grew as six babies followed the first, receded as grown-up children pulled up roots and ventured overseas, and then grew again when they returned and settled down and had their own families. We all thought the annual Christmas event would eventually become a moveable feast, but it hung on grimly in Deakin Street, staunchly defending moves to extricate it to new surrounds, failing only one year during the innovative '80s when some brave pioneer thought a Christmas picnic at Brimbank Park might be a good idea. Not a good idea was having to transport the food and drinks and glasses and crockery and cutlery and condiments and crackers and gifts and having to sit on blankets on the ground and pack it all up again suddenly when it rained, or the temperature hit 40 celsius (I can't remember which, but it might have been both given this city's changeable weather). That contingency made everyone remember, oh yes! that's what roofs are for! The next year Christmas, lunch was safely back under a Deakin Street roof. It has never moved again. These days everyone brings something and we always seem to manage a good variety of dishes even though we never talk about it beforehand. To date we have not witnessed 20 turkeys or 20 chicken curry casseroles or 20 baked hams with blackberries and balsamic vinegar on the Christmas table. Must be telepathy.

Warm salad: sweet potato with spiced chick peas and pine nuts.

Peel two large sweet potatoes, cut the flesh into centimetre cubes, and cook until just tender.

Warm and drain two tins of chickpeas, or cook your own.

Gently toast a cup of pine nuts.

Finely dice half an onion.

Cook enough couscous to fill a cup when fluffed up.

Combine the sweet potato and the chickpeas. Mix together half a teaspoon each of cumin (seeds or powder - I use seeds), cinnamon and pepper and one teaspoon each of powdered ginger and salt and mix it through the fluffed couscous. Now add the spiced couscous to the sweet potato and chickpea mixture. Place in a large flattish salad bowl and dress with the juice of a lemon and a little white vinegar. A heavier dressing is not necessary especially when the salad is served with Christmas fare. To finish, shower the salad with toasted pine nuts, a tablespoon of diced onion and some chopped coriander. Turn up the spice volume as desired.

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