Archive for April, 2009


Holus bolus – whole orange cake

April 26, 2009

orangecakeThe dimpled things in life are often the best.

Why does the idea of making a cake using a whole orange – peel, pith, flesh & all – appeal to me so deeply? Apart from the taste and texture of the purely gorgeous orange and quince cake we’ve made twice in the last couple of weeks, from Jared Ingersoll’s Danks Street Depot Sharing Plates book, there’s just something I absolutely love about chucking a whole piece of otherwise fiddly fruit into a cake. 

There are lots of different variations on this cake, which seems to have originated with the classic Claudia Roden Middle Eastern Orange Cake. Some (like hers & Jared’s, which I will now refer to as ours) use almond meal instead of flour (and are thus perfect for gluten-intolerant folk)  but otherwise whole-orange-cake devotees appear to divide into two camps – old boilers and cold callers. Read the rest of this entry ?


A song to the tong

April 24, 2009

tongsOne of the great pleasures of all this visiting and house-sitting we’ve been doing while our place is renovated is having the chance to play in so many different kitchens.

I have developed quite a list of new gadgets to stuff into my capacious drawers (ooh!) when I eventually get them. 

And a few new sets of tongs will be on the list. I love tongs, and cannot fathom how anyone lives without them.

Over Easter I visited my sister and was aghast to find not a single pair of tongs – not even a crappy old supermarket pair – in her kitchen. As I whined and ransacked every drawer in the place, berating her for her tongage shortage, she looked on, nonplussed, and asked what was wrong with a fork.

A fork. How could she possibly substitute a fork for tongs, I gasped. And she said, with rather too much relish for my liking, ‘Well I probably don’t fry things quite as often as you do.’  

An outrageous slur, of course. There’s roasting, too. And sauteing, and flash-frying, and … hmm. But Senor has also pointed out there’s the whole serving aspect. And barbecuing. And fishing pasta out for testing whether it’s cooked. And – surely other uses!??   Read the rest of this entry ?


Save Australian books

April 23, 2009

Seven Things I Hate About the Productivity Commission inquiry

I’m making a rare but important departure from the delicious world of food here – although the proposal detailed below will certainly reduce the food on my table once writers’  incomes are decimated!

Am hopping mad about Australia’s Productivity Commission inquiry into book prices in Australia – specifically, its recommending changes to a couple of laws called ‘territorial rights’ and ‘parallel importation restrictions’. Boring on the face of it, but quite terrifying in actuality. It means basically handing over our hitherto protected book market (same as those of the UK, US and Canada) to international publishers, who pay Australian authors much less than Australian publishers do.

What the PC report means to a writer like me:

1. Literary fiction, my game in the book world, is a very difficult avenue to make money from as a writer. It’s very difficult to be published at all in Australia as a literary fiction writer. The Productivity Commission itself has openly admitted that the Australian book industry will contract as a result of its proposal. This means publishers will shed jobs and publish fewer books. Literary fiction is already a tiny portion of a publisher’s output – if it shrinks even further, I have no confidence that my books will continue to be published here at all. Read the rest of this entry ?


Floral tribute

April 23, 2009
zuch-flowers5Had a few people round last night, which gave me an excuse yesterday to come over all Stepford and cook three courses for dinner – which my friends will tell you is virtually unheard of.

Senor is usually dessertmeister, but I replicated his orange and quince cake (more on that later) from the weekend, and the main was Neil Perry’s cinnamon-scented lamb, which is the new Syrian chicken as far as I’m concerned (foolproof and everyone loves it).

But my major Proper Little Housewife moment came in stuffing zucchini flowers as a starter.

Have never done it before, but having now discovered just how easy it is, I plan to get stuffed much more often. Read the rest of this entry ?


Meals as emblems

April 22, 2009

waitingroomTwice in two weeks I have heard public readings from Gabrielle Carey’s new memoir, Waiting Room, about her mother Joan. Once was at the launch, and today was at Caroline Jones’ talk about her own new memoir about her dad, Through a Glass Darkly: A Journey Of Love And Grief With My Father.

Both memoirs are about an adult ‘child’ dealing with the illness of a strong-minded, forceful parent, and the unexpected grief that results. And both readings from Waiting Room – one from Gabrielle herself, the other from Jones apropos of her own strange adventures in grief and bereavement – were about food.

I was struck by these choices – the same passage, about  the kitchen, and I realised that some of the strongest writing in Waiting Room plays out in domestic duties, and in the inheritance of those routines of the kitchen, seemingly so commonplace, yet so resonant with symbolism. Read the rest of this entry ?


Truth in labelling

April 21, 2009
stock1Made some more soup yesterday, and with nowhere handy to buy chook bones I bought some chicken stock.

Happened to be veg shopping in the fancy organic shop in Crows Nest, as was in the area and unable to find an ordinary grocer. And of course they only had this rather expensive “premium” brand of stock. 

stockbrand2As I poured it into the pot, thinking this stuff had better be good, recalling how many arms and legs it cost, I caught sight of the brand name on the packet. So refreshing to have a bit of straight talking on a label, don’t you agree?


How to chop an onion?

April 20, 2009
What I want: beautiful,tiny, uniform dice...
What I want: beautiful,tiny, uniform dice…

Okay, here’s an embrrassing public confession. I don’t know how to chop an onion.

I mean, I know how to bludgeon an onion into enough smithereens to get away with it once it’s in the food.

But what I want is to be able to chop an onion into small, fine, perfectly uniform dice, in the way that Philippe Mouchel (I think?) demonstrated on last week’s SBS Food Safari. Such calm, rhythmic slicing and dicing, resulting in a pristine little pile of pinky white crystalline onion bits. Sigh.

Watching a trained chef chop an onion is a joy – but how do they do it?  TV chefs either do it at the speed of light while chatting about their organic garden, or it’s so boring to them that they completely skip over the actual mechanics of it. Read the rest of this entry ?


Fat for the love of food

April 18, 2009

From the Jeffrey Masson end of the extreme to the other, today’s Australian mag reprints this Observer article by food mag editor Lucy Cavendish (by the way do Australian weekend newspapers actually commission local writers to write anything anymore?) about having to lose weight. So far, so boring – but she is refreshingly frank about her eating “problem”, and her suspicion of thin people: Read the rest of this entry ?


Raising the steaks

April 18, 2009

steakWas discussing with a similarly red-blooded friend yesterday how we could each happily go vegetarian if it weren’t for the love of a bloody good steak. Or a good bloody steak, more to the point.

Even so, it behoves us to continue to consider the ecological and moral impact of eating meat, I think.

So I read this Salon article with interest, an interview with Jeffrey Masson, the author of “The Face on Your Plate: The Truth About Food“.

He’s rather more emphatic than the omnivore-friendly Michael Pollan, and certainly more in-your-face than David Foster Wallace (whose essay on the lobster I love precisely because of the way he canvasses his own uncertainty about these matters).

Rather, Masson takes the Peter Singer approach of total veganism as the only moral way to live.  I’ve only read this one interview with Masson, and already find his voice deeply irritating (elsewhere I see that he is the kind of person who says things like “When I was teaching Sanskrit at the University of Toronoto in the 1970s …”of course he was teaching Sanskrit…)

But sad to say, I can’t find much fault with his logic. It seems pretty basic – and like Foster Wallace, he’s convincing about carnivores’ denial being the only thing that allows us to keep chowing down on cow:

… so many more people now want to eat organic and local and fresh, and that’s all to the good. However, I notice, and what I find wonderful is in these organic farmers markets sprouting up all over the country, you rarely see animals.

I think part of the reason for that is people don’t want to see it. It’s not like a market in France where you can go and choose a chicken, and they kill it for you right there. We do not like to be reminded of where our meat comes from.

Later, he elaborates on this denial:

What is the difference between a pig and a dog in terms of cognitive abilities, ability to be clean and affectionate? Pigs would sleep at the foot of your bed if you allowed them. They’re very clean. They love to be stroked. They’re affectionate. The difference between a pig and a dog in terms of their emotion, not at all. In terms of their willingness to accept us as a kind of co-species, also nothing. In fact, they’re closer to us in a way than cats. You can call the pig, and the pig will come.

The only difference is that we have decided, in our great wisdom, that we are going to eat them, and we’re not going to treat them as pets. We’re not going to name them. They’re going to grow on farms. They’re a commodity for us. They’re not a living, sentient being. We don’t see them, we don’t look into the eye of a pig and see another being there.

Where do you think that this denial comes from?

I think that every society has always had a certain amount of guilt when it comes to killing an animal. Look at indigenous Americans. They used to do ceremonies. They took it very seriously. It was not something that they engaged in lightly. And I think that the explanation for that is not a religious explanation. It’s because they felt bad about killing them.

Anybody with any kind of feelings, with any kinds of sentiment, goes out and if they have to kill an animal, they feel bad about it.

For most of us, the experience of eating meat is pretty sanitized. We don’t have to kill the animal, and as you say we don’t have to call it what it is when we eat it.

We change the name. We call it “hamburger.” What kind or resonance does the word “hamburger” have for you? None. They don’t say: “Give me the cow.” They don’t say: “Pass the pig.” They say: “Give me bacon.” “Veal,” even.

This last bit reminds me of a friend’s shamefaced guilt a few years ago in allowing her small daughter to go on believing that ham “comes from” pigs in the way that eggs come from chickens, or milk from cows. Not that Mr Masson lets us get away with thinking milk or eggs are okay, either, damn it all.  

Oh lord. What’s there to say, if you don’t want to join the ranks of hippie-hating Shooters Party types but still want to eat steak? Think I’ll go running back to Michael Pollan …


Pharmacy in a bowl – lentil soup

April 17, 2009


So, I have had a vile cold all week. And for three days I ate this, noon and night. And now I’m better. Only thing is, I think it needs a little zing at the end – some pistou, maybe? a round or two of grilled chorizo? Any other suggestions for good soup bling? (Hamish, where are you …)


Olive oil
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 small red chillies, finely chopped
1 brown onion, finely chopped
1 stick celery, finely chopped
1 leek, finely chopped
¼ white cabbage, finely chopped
1 red capsicum, roughly chopped
3 carrots, roughly chopped
3 litres chicken stock
1 head broccoli, roughly chopped
1 can tomatoes in juice
1 cup French-style (‘blue’) lentils
Salt & pepper
Parmesan cheese, grated

1. Fry the garlic, onion, chilli, celery, leek, cabbage, capsicum and carrots in batches until well browned.
2. Put the chicken stock in a big pot on the stove and bring to the boil, tossing in all the sautéed ingredients.
3. Add broccoli and tomatoes, and simmer till all vegetables are tender.
4. Retaining stock, remove vegetables with a slotted spoon and puree in a food processor or blender until smooth (or roughly blended, depending on how rustic you like your texture).
5. Return pureed vegetables to stock and add lentils. Simmer for about 15 – 20 minutes or until lentils are tender (more if you want them falling apart). Season well with salt and pepper.
6. Serve with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

Or other bling…