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Showing posts from July, 2005

Now I know what my mother-in-law was talking about.

The bext biscuits in existence are these , even though they are called cakes. My mother-in-law has been going on for years about oatcakes. The Scots have them with breakfast, lunch and dinner , she said. They are a staple in certain parts of Caledonia , she said. They are delicious , she said. She was right. It's just that the name - 'oatcakes' - makes them sound like bircher muesli or wholemeal scones or hunza pie or similar horrors (I actually quite like bircher muesli). But oatcakes are not like that at all! Try this recipe for the perfect Scottish supper for two anywhere in the world (it helps if it is winter): Go for a walk along the wild ocean coast, after an early dinner, when the sky is just a strip of fading gold beneath a massive black cloud merging into the darkening sky, like a blind drawn down to within an inch of the window in a lit room. Return with an appetite. Lay six oatcakes on a plate. Drape two with smoked atlantic salmon. Spread two with cr

The beach in winter.

William's first little holiday - three days at the beach. * Drove down mid-morning on a perfect winter's day, sun shining, no wind. Then, first things first: lunch at the Blairgowrie cafe where its sun-drenched north facing window overlooks the sparkling blue water of Port Phillip Bay. William managed to fend off the many admiring glances with the jerky wave of a little clenched fist and slept on as we ate - 'big' toasted sandwiches on Flinders bread : chicken, avocado, cheese and mayonnaise; coffee, of course; and then, How about some of that sticky date pudding I see over there in the cake display case? It is served in a wedge practically the size of a sailing boat, toffee sauce sloshing over the edge and onto the plate like a giant frozen wave. Creme fraiche. Strawberry. * In the evening, William kicked happily in his pram, refusing to go to sleep; while we enjoyed a rich beef stew with sweet potato and carrot (floured, seasoned beef sealed in oil; onions

Number Six.

William's first family 'party' was my brother's fortieth birthday lunch a week or so ago. He met all his cousins and aunts and uncles and nieces. Yes, nieces. My brother and his wife had cooked up a storm based around their magnificent obsession - the food of the subcontinent. There were curries of all kinds in wonderful combinations including a delicious okra and potato one. We crunched on pappadums. Everything was mild and chilli was available to add if required, along with yogurt, spicy chutneys, delicious pickles (lime, mango, lemon etc) and some crunchy salads. There a massive bowl of basmati rice, cooked with saffron and then flecked through with toasted coconut, coriander and all manner of exotic spices. * My brother's other obsession is Super 8 film-making, a skill he learnt from my father who chronicled our 1960s childhoods on little reels of flickering yellow celluloid. My brother started making science fiction films on Super 8 as an early teenager.

Chicken.

Sometimes you just feel like roast chicken. I used to do a roast chicken with basil and currant stuffing - delicious - but one night last week I just couldn't be bothered so I went out and picked one up from Red Rooster, having prepared sides (halved and then finely sliced potatoes done in the oven with chicken stock and milk - what is that called - hasselback? anna? dauphinoise? - not sure); corn (from a can , but still delicious) and a pot of Gravox (traditional, none of your modern 'flavoured' versions, thanks). Mmmm, roast chicken, roast potatoes, corn and gravy. And cold chicken leftovers for sandwiches next day. Doesn't get much better.

Mid-winter. Oxtail stew.

We are well past the winter solstice and, although I have noticed the evenings are light for just that little bit longer, it still feels like we are just getting into the depths of winter. * Not that winter is especially harsh in these parts. Right now, I'm on the 27th floor of a building on Bourke Street, gazing down over this beautiful Victorian city of the South, sparkling in the bright early afternoon sunshine like your grandmother's ornate diamond ring. To the north, the Great Dividing Range rolls lazily around Melbourne, a rim of hazy blue, shaking hands with the blue Dandenongs to the east. Swivel around to the south and there is Port Phillip Bay, azure today, and as flat as a fresh sheet of A4. * Early this morning, a rare winter northerly bit my face as I walked out in the early light, Goldie, the elderly Brittany, by my side. The northerly, tending slightly east, blows straight off the Australian Alps. It's a sharp, tingling, energising cold; not the the bone

What I cooked FAST last night.

These days, I'm looking for shortcuts. Which is good. It's a perfect fit with my inner laziness. Here's a good shortcut I invented the other night, unless someone else invented it before me. Creamy lentils. Take a can of lentils and boil them in their juice. Drain, add two tablespoons of baba ghannouge, a dash of olive oil and a squirt of lemon juice and fold through to a creamy consistency. That's it. I served it with chicken breast fillets cooked with garlic and a sprinkling of sumac. Nice. And a simple tomato, lettuce and onion salad on the side. * I used Chtaura baba ghannouge - it's available in many of the delis and groceries along Sydney Road. It has a nice, smoky flavour and a genuine home-cooked texture, unlike some commercial baba ghannouges (babas ghannouge?) that look like this and possibly taste like it as well, although I can't be sure, I've never tasted the latter.

Forty.

I can't believe my brother is turning forty. I used to read to him when he was four. I must have been eleven or twelve. The book I read most to him, probably a couple of hundred times, was A Fish Out of Water - he used to get very excited as Otto the fish grew bigger and bigger. Four! Now he's rising forty. He loves cooking and makes technically perfect dishes including his speciality, curries. So I bought him one of these , I guess you can't have too many casseroles, especially Denby. The lunch party is on Sunday. It will be William's first family outing.

Look! A food survey! (Sorry - a meme.)

I love surveys and questionnaires, I can't resist them. Sara has invited me to answer the following questions. Apparently this is known as being 'tagged' with a 'meme'. So here are my answers. Hope this not too self-indulgent. What is your first memory of cooking on your own? Four years old. My older brother and sisters are at school and I have to amuse myself. At the end of the garden, behind the garage, is a circular concrete drainage outlet - a 'gully trap' - with a raised lip and a grille at the bottom. This is my stove. I fill it with timber offcuts from my father's workshop, take a battered pot from mum's kitchen, fill the pot with water, add some fallen camellia flowers and 'cook' them on my makeshift stove. Who had the most influence on your cooking? Mother - she turned out millions of perfect home-cooked dishes over fifty years (still does) and critiqued every one of them. "It's a bit burned!" (about perfec

The kitchen drawer.

Babies change your life. For example, you need a lot more room. For baby stuff. And these days, there is a lot more baby stuff around than say, 25 years ago (when my daughter was born). Product development managers in babycare companies specialising in paper products such as wipes for both ends, liners for one end and many other products of various descriptions have excelled themselves in the last quarter century and forests covering at least the equivalent of several medium-sized countries have no doubt paid the price. So I had to clean out one of the kitchen drawers to make room. Here's what was in it: 2 large rolls adhesive tape. 1 large roll masking tape. 1 Tala icing syringe - tin - with fittings, made in England circa 1950. In original box. May fetch a good price on eBay. 2 Wiltshire Bar-B-Mates (barbecue all-in-one tools with angles and blades that go every which way and make you look like Edward Scissorhands so naturally I never use them). 1 Wiltshire Bar-B-Tongs. 1 Wil

Where did that week go?

I don't know. I do know that William has made himself quite at home and is feeding and sleeping at regular intervals. He even sleeps for significant portions of the night. * Lots of homely food this week. Soups, stews, nothing too spicy. There's plenty of time for that. An old favourite, an easy mid-winter warmer: Potato and Leek Soup. Slice two leeks. Sweat them in a little olive oil in a big pot while you peel and chop five potatoes into cubes. Then add them to the leeks, add a Star chicken stock cube and add water to just below the tops of the potatoes. Cook until vegetables are tender. Puree. Add a cup of full cream milk. Reheat gently. Serve with a good sprinkling of grated mild cheese - I use Kraft cheddar - this is not dinner party food, it's comfort food. So pile it on. * The first song I sang to William was Wee Willie Winkie, of course. He blinked as if to say, What on earth is THAT all about? T. prefers Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. She is cooing it

Home.

On a golden winter afternoon, to a snug, warm house. All was quiet as we carried baby William inside. Then the noise started. No, not the baby - the telephone. The baby was as quiet as a mouse. I manned the phone while T. settled Wee Willie into his new surroundings. Hope he likes them, we're not re-decorating again. Above: William at 36 hours of age, taken by eight-year-old Canisha, who is clearly a budding photojournalist.