Tag Archive | Cooking

Reading This Week – Love & Hunger – Thoughts on the Gift Of Food – Charlotte Wood

Every month I take part in the Book Club on ABC Mid North Coast, which means I have books selected for me to read. It’s like a literary lottery, you never know what you are going to get. You often find yourself reading books you wouldn’t normally choose for yourself.

This month we discussed Love and Hunger by Charlotte Wood. Given I’m not much of a foodie it probably isn’t one I would have ventured into without encouragement.

At first I was a little confused by the work, it combines essays on food,  recipes and tips for cooking. (Did you know you could freeze nuts? This could change my life, do you know how many packets of expensive nuts I have thrown out having only used a quarter of the packet?) I wasn’t sure whether I was reading a memoir or a cookbook. Flicking to the back jacket I read that along with being a celebrated author of fiction, (Animal People, The Children, The Submerged Cathedral) Charlotte is also a blogger, writing about her passion for food at How To Shuck An Oyster and I realised the book was reading to me like a blog. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way, it was just moving between topics (all food related) in the way a blog morphs and merges with consistent themes appearing and disappearing. I began to enjoy the book more when I stopped trying to classify it in a traditional format and imagined it as a blog on the page.

The essays which resonated with me the most were Charlotte’s recollections of growing up in the 70’s and 80’s – devils on horseback anyone? The linking of food to the ebb and flow of life was also an emotive theme. A chapter on supplying meals to friends undergoing chemotherapy and the food at wakes reminded me of how food was once a means for showing care and love to friends and neighbours. Charlotte writes movingly of Jim, the bloke next door, who prepared a Christmas lunch with all the trimmings for her family while they were visiting her ill Father in hospital. Or the chest freezer delivered to their home full of casseroles, soups, pies and desserts all of which were restocked each week by the country town community during her Dad’s final illness.

I wondered if we still use food in this way? Funerals of my childhood were held at people’s homes, everyone came bearing a plate of food. Recent departures have usually been followed by a gathering at a club or function room, catering provided. In our busy lives have we lost the ability to give practical support to those around us with home-made food?

The link of food determining a particular time and place in our memory is one which this book had me thinking about. Particular food is forever linked in my mind with certain jobs and places – the cheesy ham pasta made by the little Italian lady at the food court under the AMP Centre where I was studying for my “Advanced Secretarial Diploma” – the country kid in the big city devouring this
Grandma’s comfort food, my introduction to Yum Cha in Sussex Street all grown up in my first radio job but “don’t give me any of the yucky stuff”, the paella from a café at Blues Point Road, the chicken pie from yet another café, this time in Port Macquarie (perhaps another comfort food for a woman returning to the work force after a ten-year hiatus).

Charlotte’s  essays are though provoking –  a distaste for offal signifying a fear of death – our inability to recognise hunger for we never allow our bodies to experience it juxtaposes with people dying on the other side of the world from lack of food.

A love of food is evident in every word of Love & Hunger and Charlotte encourages the reader to simplify and enjoy the art of cooking and the pleasure of sharing it with friends. Suzie, one of my fellow book clubbers, described the book as “warm and engaging”. Emma, the younger of the book clubbers spoke of how her Mum’s cooking has improved recently – as someone smack, bang in the middle of the endless “what’s for dinner” cycle I can imagine when children  are grown it might be easier to take the time to savour the experience of creating a meal. In the meantime, perhaps I can take some lessons from Charlotte’s philosophy and try to occasionally make a little more effort at the evening table – there’s a four-hour spaghetti bolognese that has me intrigued – I might give that a go on Sunday.

I Make S’Mores

The internet is a wealth of information. I’m sure if you search hard enough you could find the cure for cancer or the solution to third world hunger within its trillions upon trillions of pages of facts, figures and general whinging.

In the six months I have spent trawling the internet in my quest for blogging glory I have learnt one thing, how to make s’mores. ‘Cause I’m the kinda person who picks up on the important stuff.

Just a couple of weeks ago I didn’t know this sticky, sweet concoction existed. But today I do. Thanks to Chrystina Noel, a twenty-something blogger in Pennsylvania who for some bizarre reason finds my stories of parenting and disaster amusing (I’m probably setting her up for a life as a childless spinster too traumatised from my tales of birth and chaos to ever procreate herself).

In one blog post I mentioned Princess Child and I had bought lamingtons. Chrystina googled lamingtons and left a comment that she wasn’t sure about them at all. Later she Instagramed a photo of s’mores she had made – I gave the insightful comment that given she thought lamingtons were weird what the hell was this strange looking mixture – to satisfy me Chrystina posted a blog about mass producing s’mores.

So yesterday I made s’mores. It wasn’t pretty people.

Apparently it’s an old campfire treat, Graham crackers, Hershey chocolate bar and marshmallows. You roast the marshmallows and then squish them all together – I can see how out in the cold of the wilds this would be fun.

The first difficulty was I don’t know what Graham crackers are, Chrystina had a hard time explaining, no they weren’t really salty or sweet. But she isn’t a woman to be beaten and in a meeting with her boss’s boss (an Australian) she quizzed him on what the Australian equivalent of Graham crackers were. I love the image of this girl discarding the meeting agenda to go on a mission for a middle aged mother on the other side of the world she has never met. Her superior’s superior may not have been as entertained as me but never mind. They came up with Anise biscuits (I don’t know what they are either).

I interrogated an American friend at dinner, and he too couldn’t explain Graham crackers. We suggested a variety of aussie bikkies and he replied “no” to every one. So the table decided Chrystina had misheard the Aussie accent and it was really meant to be Nice biscuits. Never mind she graduated with a degree in architectural engineering and now travels the States as a construction consultant helping large corporations when their construction projects go over budget or over schedule. No indeed, a table of soccer mums come to the conclusion she couldn’t deal with the Aussie twang and had misheard the name of the biscuits.

Second problem, the chocolate, I may be able to get Hershey bars somewhere in Port Macquarie but obviously I lacked a bit of commitment to the project because I wouldn’t go any further than the local supermarket which is walking distance to my house. So I improvised again with a block of Aussie chocolate.

Then came the marshmallows. Again, probably shouldn’t have gone for the homebrand on special variety. Rather than the petite little pillows Chrystina used mine were, well more like giant nipples.

I than grilled them (Chrystina said she put them under the “broiler” which I’m assuming was the grill – if these yanks could just talk English it would be so much easier).

I may possibly have taken my eye of the ball slightly and left them in just a second too long. My nipples deflated somewhat, became kinda like well gooey.

So the result.  Nice biscuits aren’t a substitute Graham crackers and Chrystina probably did mean Anise biscuits – they made it a VERY sweet treat. My chocolate was a bit too thick. My marshmallows were super sized and nipple like with a tendency to spread. The verdict from the family – Hippie Child – we are not American you know, I don’t think I like them (she ate three), Princess Child – this is different – she even ate them cold later in the afternoon. Mr Shambles – don’t think this is in the Heart Smart diet but I’ll take another (think he got through four or five). I enjoyed one with my coffee very much.

I know what you are all thinking – it’s a wonder this woman doesn’t have a food blog. Aren’t you?

Thank you Chrystina for introducing us to the delights of s’mores.

Sunday

Sigh, this is why I couldn’t enter the Lifestyle category in the Sydney Writer’s Centre Best Australian Blogs Competition. I try to do a nice photo of my Sunday lunch and manage to capture daughter’s PJ’s hanging on the clothesline in the background.

Before I started blogging I used to be jealous of the beautiful blogs with the lovely houses and picture perfect kids, now I realise it’s just the angle you shoot from, my house is a complete disaster but aside from the sneaky PJ’s you can’t see any of the mess and mayhem in this photo.

Our Sunday was the typical never-ending quest to complete projects on our owner built house. Mr Shambles is desperately trying to finish tiling the fireplace so we can install a wood-fire in time for winter, we can’t have a repeat of last year’s electricity bills. Like Pa Ingalls trying to finish the Little House on the Prairie before the snow arrives, Mr Shambles is engaged in a flurry of cutting, gluing, cementing, sticking up, grouting while we watch on, growing more impatient with each cold snap.

I spent the morning trying to clean the oven. I managed to almost asphyxiate myself with a toxic mass of chemicals, but it’s still taking some serious scrubbing. Really must do the job more frequently before it coagulates into a seered-on commemoration of every meal we have consumed in the last, well I’m not going to say how long,  ’cause that would just be really spelling out my poor housekeeping skills.

Oh to have a finished house, and a house-cleaner coming once a week, so weekends could be a no pressure, relax and enjoy life experience.

Eventually I decided we needed lunch and wine.

I tried to recreate Mr Shambles world-famous chicken sandwiches. They used to be a big hit when he made them for my scrapbooking workshops and my new friends in Port Macquarie enjoyed them at the last “bring a plate” night.

Mr Shambles World Famous Chicken Sandwiches

BBQ Chicken

Mayonnaise

Shallots

Grated Tasty Cheese

Lemon Juice

Pepper & Salt

Mix all ingredients and apply to bread. (I added some wholegrain mustard but Mr Shambles doesn’t usually do that). Also they look better as finger sandwiches but I had the batard bread I wanted to use up so I went with open.

How was your Sunday?

5 Favorite Recipes for Entertaining

I’ve never really done link-ups or memes before (watch me gettin’ with the lingo) but liked the look of this one and let’s be honest it’s 10.13pm and I need something to blog about.

Over atMoments That Define Life there is is the Listable Life a weekly meme which gives a choice of “lists” to create.

There’s a certain irony to this post. Given that my efforts at entertaining have often been the stuff of disaster reflected on with horror for years afterwards.

Check out this Facebook conversation with my friend Petrina (who gets the award for the longest-serving flatmate I ever had, a woman of incredible patience) after she read  Happy Birthday Hippie Child.

Petrina:  So the cooking at your place is still fraught with danger then? I still have a giggle when I recall your hand made fetticini dinner. Trying so hard to impress your new boyfriend/ Couldn’t see the walls for smoke – But still tried to save it. The serving spoon sticking upright in the cement like pasta. Boyfriend’s comment? Wot a winna! Everyone knew it was the start of something beautiful. Happy Valentine’s. xx

Janine: Yes Janice still refers to that dinner too – nothing like making an impression.

Petrina: 🙂

Janine: Thinking last night you might have got two disasters mixed up. The smoke was the chicken and almonds night the fettucini just went to Glag glue didn’t it? Or did I generate smoke as well?

Petrina: Memory is a funny thing… I like to tell it with plenty of character. You’re probably right and love that you’ve owned up to another disaster without any help whatsoever… Good onya Jeannie.

Janine:Just here to entertain. When are you coming to Port so I can cook for you again?

Petrina: Ummm : )

And yet here I am sharing with an audience my five favourite recipes for entertaining. Petrina will be amused.  Look and learn people.

I have discovered a love for my oven when entertaining – bung it in – enjoy a wine – just don’t forget to set the timer.

Given that, my all time favourite is Fish Provencal   from Real Living Magazine.

Another dish I like to share  is Summer Orchecchiette also from Real Living Magazine. Simple as.

Then I turn to my love affair with Gwyneth Paltrow that I’ve told you about before – and her book Notes from My Kitchen Table, I’m particularly fond of the Vegetable Paella.

Are you getting the sense I like big plates of food that everyone serves for themselves? Presentation less of a worry then.

I am also very partial to Gwyneth’s brussel sprouts (don’t laugh she actually makes them taste good) as a side dish.

Then an old faithful dish beloved by the children is the aforementioned chicken and almonds dish – yes the very first meal I cooked for the boyfriend which involved fire, a smoke filled ambience and a tendency toward charcoal flavour. However, when you don’t burn the oil it works out quite nicely. BTW he went on to marry me – and still complains I can’t cook – it’s not like he wasn’t warned!

The dish goes something like this – throw some white wine in a pan, sprinkle in a chicken stock cube, boil until slightly reduced, add in some cream and a dash of wholegrain mustard, boil again until it thickens up a little. Meanwhile crumb chicken breasts and fry in a little oil. Serve chicken with sauce and some flaked almonds sprinkled on top. To really tempt your taste buds here’s a really bad photo of the dish, with sauce a bit too runny and no almonds because I didn’t have any that night.

It was my staple entertaining dish in the late 80’s and early 90’s – and I’m still serving it – can you tell I’m a creature of habit? Or perhaps my reportoire is limited so now I’ve got the hang of it (sort of)  I don’t like to deviate from the tried and true.

What do you like to cook when guests come over?

Christmas Come and Gone

Well it’s over for another year. Christmas come and gone in a mad whirl of shopping, cleaning, cooking, entertaining.

It was hosted for the first time this year at Shambles Manor. We did successfully clear up enough room for people to be able to physically enter the house, OK it was never going to pass any sort of white glove test and the rumour that I was still cleaning out the fridge when the first guest arrived may be true. Nonetheless the day went off well with everyone enjoying themselves.

The children enjoyed their gifts, although I’m still struggling to convince Princess Child the maxi dress is in fashion (she likes short, very short – I’m going to need to be medicated for her teenage years).

There was prawns and oysters and smoked salmon, chicken, turkey and ham. An array of salads. With Pavlova and Trifle to end.

Afterwards there were games – Pictionary, Celebrity Head and Trivial Pursuit.  It’s been a long time since we have purchased a board game, I think the Trivial Pursuit may be an original edition. Vintage even. Our first challenge was the fact the die were missing, luckily Cousin Brett found an app on his I-phone that meant you shook the phone and two little die rolled up with assorted numbers. Gotta love technology. Given the age of our edition it was slightly difficult for the children as most questions related to events circa 1970/1980. It was decided that next year everyone is throwing in to get us a new version.

We managed to get the group shot with a lot less drama than usual.

However, trying to get a nice family shot for “the blog” proved a little more challenging.

But in the end this one will be going on the “About Me” page for 2012.

There were leftovers for tea before everyone headed off into the night.

I hope you all had an enjoyable day as well.

Cooking With Gwyneth

Gwyneth Paltrow Notes From My Kitchen Table

Just a disclaimer to start, cooking is not my strong point.  Dinner party guests at my house have been forced to flee to the local Mexican takeaway when the fettucine bore a strong  resemblance, and taste, to Glag Glue. I once tried to feed six people with one potato (in my defence it was a big potato). And the first time my then boyfriend (now husband) arrived at my flat for dinner he was greeted by smoke billowing from the front door, “it’s OK, the flames are out” I confidently assured him.  Even in later years my cooking did little to improve, “remember when Mum caught the nachos on fire?” is an oft told tale by my children.

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