Archive for April, 2009

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Quince prince

April 17, 2009

gardenamateurFenella’s food feature has led me in a roundabout way to her friend Jamie’s garden blog, Garden Amateur – well worth checking out right this minute for his beautiful quince photos and prep & cooking tips.

Sean and I picked some quinces in Bathurst on the weekend, in the garden of a friend, and the weekend will see S doing some quincy magic with them, I hope – specifically, an orange cake with quinces that Steph alerted us to, from Jared Ingersoll’s book, I think?

Will show you the results, if they happen …

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Under pressure

April 16, 2009
I'm told they don't look like this anymore ...

I'm told they don't look like this anymore ...

I read with great interest this article by Suzanne Gibbs on pressure cookers  in last week’s Good Living section of the Sydney Morning Herald, primarily because my friend Steph (aka the Empress of the Chick Pea) is always banging on about how she just whipped up this or that traditional nine-hour confit/chick peas/cassoulet in her trusty pressure cooker in a matter of seconds. Well, almost.

Anyway I have always been terrified of the things, even though our mum cooked half our childhood meals (the half of our diet that wasn’t cooked in the electric frypan) in a pressure cooker without incident. I can’t actually remember what she cooked in it now, but I can still recall exactly the sound of the little jiggling whatsit on the top and the slowly rising whistle of building steam … eeek!

But my fear of pressure cookers isn’t just about explosions – it’s possibly more the idea of having to adjust cooking times for every damn thing – I’m soooooo bad at numbers (ask anyone) I can barely double a recipe, let alone do whatever might be required to cook a chick pea in half a minute rather than two hours, or whatever it is.

The other thing is my reluctance to have yet another giant (and heavy?) appliance taking up kitchen cupboard space – but perhaps in my gleaming new kitchen-to-come there will be room for such a thing.

But I’ve only just embraced the diametrically opposed slow cooker last year – clearly I need convincing. But the experts don’t – Suzanne Gibbs even scoffs at the slow cooker revival, saying of her trusty pressure pot:

“To me, it works better than a crockpot because you don’t have to do it all before going to work and have it cooking all day,” she says.

Hmm. Anyone else have experience with the fancy, funky modern numbers that have replaced the terrifying old steel buckets with the tinkling toppers?

Empress, I await your argument …

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Voyage round Fenella’s kitchen

April 15, 2009

peter-jugs-bowl1A couple of years ago I read a wonderful feature in the Good Weekend about cooking – it seemed to capture everything I felt about the pleasures of cooking – aside from the actual eating, that is!

The article, Voyage Round my Kitchen was by one of that mag’s star writers, Fenella Souter, and she has very kindly given me permission to reproduce it here. It’s a witty, moving and beautifully written exploration of the pleasures and consolations of cooking, and as a piece of food writing it’s gloriously untainted by the stink of fashion or snobbery or celebrity – depressingly common in Australian food writing I reckon (the Empress’s regular SMH Three of a Kind column excepted, I hasten to add!). The article is in a PDF file here that takes a little while to download, but be patient, it’s worth it.

A little taste:

As anyone who likes to cook knows, the kitchen is full of therapeutic pleasures. The familiar swift and competent movements of hand and knife; the invigorating beauty of a group of plump aubergines or elegant artichokes or voluptuous yellow quinces; the reassuring smell of frying onions or the yearning fragrance of poached peaches; the zen-like calm that descends as the cook oversees some delicate operation, for nothing focuses the mind like watching a custard thicken or caramel brown; the feeling of accomplishment, indeed of love, when all is done and the meal is laid on the table for the pleasure of others, or oneself.

I realise I’m painting a rather rosy picture here – relieved of such kitchen staples as boredom and resentment, griping children, grated fingers and burnt potatoes – but you get the drift. While cooking is not principally a cure for misery, it can cheer you up wonderfully. The Joy of Sex was a bestseller, but so was The Joy of Cooking. Ideally, one experiences both, but we may have underestimated the second as a helpful tool in life and marriage, even if the first is lacking. It’s surprising the subject doesn’t come up more in marriage counselling.

There’s lots more – just read it. You’ll love it.

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Finally…

April 10, 2009

I know drugs aren’t strictly food, but it’s really time someone came up with a solution for this affliction so I will do anything I can to help promote it.

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Helen Garner’s glass of orange juice

April 9, 2009

orange-juiceThis week, happenings in the lives of others have reminded me about the beauty of a compassionate act in the face of an unbearable thing … a dying friendship, a ghastly stranger, a rejection, an illness, a death. Back on the first aid food track I guess, food being such a simple way of making an offering – peace, sorrow, love. After I wrote the first aid food post I recalled a glass of orange juice in Helen Garner’s The Spare Room, a book that is partly about wishing to find compassion in yourself when it is most needed, and finding it lacking.

In the book, following a desperate week of caring for her friend with cancer, Nicola, who is suffering horrendous pain and enduring a bogus and terribly painful alternative cancer ‘therapy’, Helen escapes to a small family birthday party at her daughter’s house next door, while Nicola sleeps in Helen’s spare room, exhausted from another day of brutal ‘treatment’.

The rain kept gently falling. Mitch brought me a glass of sparkling shiraz. Soon the dinner was on the table. All was orderly and festive. There were sixty-four candles. The effort to blow them out made my head spin.

Every half hour I ran home to check on Nicola. The first few times she was asleep. Then i found her sitting on the edge of her bed in the dark, eyes closed, spine bowed, hands folded in her lap. Her loneliness pierced me.

‘What can I bring you, old girl?’

‘In all the world,’ she said in a slurred voice, ‘I most would love a glass of orange juice.’

I squeezed the last two fruits we had, and brought her the foaming glass. She drank it sip by sip.

‘That,’ she whispered, ‘was the freshest, most delicious orange juice I’ve ever drunk in my life.’

I tucked her back into bed, and she subsided with a sigh.

When at ten o’clock I came home for good, I stood outside her door for a long time and listened to her slow, snoring breaths. One day soon they would stop.

Anyone who’s cared for a seriously ill person, I reckon, will recognise stuff in this book whether they like it or not. But hopefully you recognise not just the unexpected discovery of great ugliness in oneself  (that’s the real, uncomfortable truth of the novel for me), but some of these small moments of beauty, and love.

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My writing room

April 6, 2009

Angela Meyer at the Literaryminded blog, one of Crikey’s regulars, has started a ‘writers’ rooms’ series emulating The Guardian’s. I confess to being a huge stickybeak for these things.  My own writing room is on Literaryminded today, followed by a couple of comments about messiness. Ah well… I like to think of those great photos of Francis Bacon’s studio, to make me feel better.

I am rather desperately trying to think of a link between this and food – basically there is none. But you can probably tell from this picture what my kitchen work space sometimes looks like …. I promise it’s not that bad … always ..

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First aid food

April 2, 2009

chicken-soupWhen I think back to the days after my husband’s father died a few years ago, two things stand out in my memory among the many kindnesses bestowed upon us.

One was my friend Anna showing up ever so briefly on the doorstep with a (fantastic) seafood curry and her two girls proffering a homemade card to tell Sean they loved him and were sorry; and the other was opening the door, about to embark on another funeral-related errand, to find a Tupperware container of the most delicious homemade chocolate-chip biscuits. They had been made by the girlfriend of a bloke Sean worked with a year or so previously. We lived on those biscuits for days, and on the kindness that sent them for much, much longer.

Another time, one of the few occasions I’ve been really sick, with borderline pneumonia, my friend Jane showed up with a tiffin, one of those beautiful tall layered stainless steel stacks of tins with a handle that locks them all into  a little tower. Each layer contained some morsel of goodness – soup, a little casserole of some kind. I could barely move, and had no appetite at all for any of it, until the last layer revealed a twist of greaseproof paper with a tiny handful of perfectly dry roasted unsalted cashew nuts. Few things before or since have been as nourishing to the body and soul.

And on the other side of the coin, I confess that when I hear of a calamity befalling someone I love, my first thought is: Cook something. Mostly it’s because one feels so useless – when your beloved friend is in hospital, or bereaved, or having some other kind of horrible time that you can’t do anything about, cooking a freezable meal and leaving it on the doorstep can make you feel like some kind of loving, but not demanding, presence. Even if the person has no appetite and ends up throwing your food in the bin, the gesture has been made. But often they love it. Or if they can’t eat, their beloveds who are looking after them can. And if what you make is freezable, they can toss it in there and forget about it until they do have the desire to look at food again, but not the energy to cook.

The best form of delivery is unnanounced, unobtrusive – pretty much, hopefully, invisible. The recipient should not have to talk to you or even know you’ve been there. Texting the person about the package’s presence on their doorstop is acceptable after the fact (leave it in a chiller bag if you’re worried about perishability). This can be difficult for people in security apartments! In which case I would arrange by non-verbal means to drop it off, and make sure to hand it over and leave – kisses optional, but you can’t let them make you cups of tea or go to any other effort for you – it defeats the purpose. Oh, and use disposable takeway containers that don’t have to be given back.

Anyhoo – here are my Top Five Foods to Cook for Someone in a Crisis.

1. Syrian chicken (the Karen Martini dish that is my heroic mainstay for anytime, anywhere, that everyone loves) with accompanying box of couscous and very basic instructions.

2. Osso bucco or lamb shanks, with a separate container of creamy mashed potato – comfort food to the max.

3. Risotto – mushroom, radicchio, whatever (I leave out the parmesan to add at the end, but supply it separately, already grated, with a note).

4. Pasta sauces – any kind, but the ol’ puttanesca (anchovies, olives, capers, all our salty friends) is hard to beat. Make sure you leave pasta too, and Parmesan.

5. Soup – tomato & lentil, minestrone, or chicken & vegetable. A good chicken soup really, really does make people feel loved. Strange but true.

Hmm, lots more to add here now I think about it. My sister Bernie’s fabulous easy chicken pie with green peppercorns, for one thing. And another beauty, a Neil Perry lamb, pea and mint pie. And chicken cacciatore. And lots more …. looks like I may need to continue this list another time. And I bet you have some things to add, don’t you?