Archive for June, 2009

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Rice is (gulp) nice?

June 9, 2009

stephricepuddingThe Empress  and her Three-of-a-Kind column today made me gag, I’m afraid.

I’m sure all of you will love it, but childhood memory makes me distinctly bilious at the mention of rice pudding.

If it weren’t for this (literally) gut-level aversion of mine, Steph’s column would be interesting for the cultural combo of what different folks do with rice pud, but sadly since the age of twelve I have not been able look, smell, hear of the stuff.

(That, and much worse, bread-and-butter pudding. Ugh, even typing that made my reverse-peristalsis-muscles twitch. Nobody in my whole family can go there, thanks to a visiting stand-in mother while our mum was in hospital for some procedure or other, probably either another baby or varicose vein surgery – no wonder she died young! – and this woman must have done something godawful with B&BP; none of us know what the problem was, but we all knew even then it was horrific and have never eaten it since).

Anyhoo for some reason – probably the combination of five whining children, hungry husband, no money and the sedative effect of seven stomachfuls of stodgy carbohydrate – our mum was a big fan of the rice pud. Too big a fan. But I ate every bowl, of course. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Even oysters get the blues

June 9, 2009

Poor blighters. Just like us, oysters suffer from stress, apparently.

“Oysters have a hormonal stress response remarkably similar to humans,” David Raftos, a researcher at Macquarie University, said.

Associate Professor Raftos and his team are studying which genes in Sydney rock oysters are affected by stress in a bid to understand why some oysters succumb to the mysterious QX disease, while others can fight it off.

If it’s not swine flu, it’s the mysterious QX disease. I think I know at least one person who has this malaise. It comes from working in corporate offices, and mainly affects the soul.

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Cheap thrills: a groovy little gadget

June 9, 2009

clipthing2clipthing1Have added this to my list of inexpensive essentials on the kitchen gadget front.

It’s a spoon-drip clip thing – no idea what it’s called, but I bought it from one of those middle-of-the-shopping-mall stalls the other day.

The clip grip works like a bulldog clip, and eradicates the need for spoon rest, saucer or whatever when you stop stirring. Works so long as the lid’s off the pot, anyway …. another silicone kitchen invention to love.

[Just be sure not to accidentally touch the boiling hot metal bit when you take the clip off – that shit is harsh, my man (sorry, too much of The Wire of late).]

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Best kitchen-warming gift in the world

June 7, 2009

Last night we christened our finished new kitchen with dinner for eight [plus four kids, who spent the evening rushing between playing Abba records on the turntable in the studio and bashing away on musical instruments in the spare room, which is still piled almost to the ceiling – literally – with crap, outdoor furniture, washing machine etc. Two of them spent several hours perched precariously atop piles of junk, sitting in a washing basket playing the xylophone and maraccas while Senor made very sure their parents didn’t see.

dicky garlic1dicky garlicAnyway – our friend Ricardo, the Lunging Latino, showed up with the most beautiful present. This is one of the first bulbs of his home-grown organic garlic, grown in a pot in Balmain. It’s too beautiful, almost, to use. But of course we will. I’m going to save one of the little cloves to try to grow some myself.

Thankyou Dicky! And while we’re on the topic, can someone tell me the best way to store garlic? In the fridge or out? Read the rest of this entry ?

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My lovely drawers pt 2

June 7, 2009

cutlerydrawer1

cutlerydrawer2cutlerydrawer3cutlerydrawer4spicedrawer

Okay, so I think we are all quite aware that this is facile consumerist middle-class nonsense, but bear with me – I’m going to be dwelling on FCMCN for just a little bit longer.

Having cooked in two circa 1940 kitchens for the past eight or nine years (i.e. no cupboards or drawers apart from a mouldy 1950s lean-to sink cabinet and a microscopic glass-fronted cupboard above it), I am outrageously jubilant about our fancy new kitchen, esp pantry and drawers.

Today I spent a glorious half-hour at Howards Storage World (come on, who doesn’t love it, even if every trip there ends up costing the equivalent of the GDP of a small Pacific nation) to sort out my drawers.

And here they are.

Sigh.

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Loved letters

June 3, 2009

sylviaHave just picked up, once again, the book of gorgeous letters between the writers Sylvia Townsend Warner and William Maxwell, The Element of Lavishness.  

It is one of my favourite, favourite books – forty years of correspondence between Warner, in England, and Maxwell, in the US, which began when Maxwell was fiction editor at The New Yorker, and they corresponded over her stories. But they soon became everlasting friends. 

As I’ve said here before, one of the things I love about letters as opposed to biographies is their discursive intimacy and their domesticity … which of course includes lots of fleeting references to food, often more enjoyable for the fact they are throwaway remarks, yet so well written.

Here’s Sylvia on ice cream:

We make a wonderful variety with blackcurrant jelly, it is a deep vicious mauve, the exact shade I used to see on highclass fallen women when I was young. I notice the recognising and awed start of recognition in any one of my generation to whom we offer our blackcurrant ice.

Shop ones here have air pumped into them, and are like ectoplasmic cream, and very nasty. 

And decades later, in response to the news that she’d been elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters:

I am really extremely pleased and set-up and cockahoop, and was on the brink of telling the butcher about it, since he happened to be the first foot to my honours; but he was busy tieing up a round of beef for Mrs Lamasys.

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My lovely drawers

June 3, 2009

This morning there are five men in my house, and I’m thrilled. Because shortly I will be allowed to start stuffing my capacious new drawers with all manner of goodies.

But I am starting to grow quite overcome with the sudden luxury of all this space, and wonder if any of you have Views on what should go where, in a kitchen? It seems as luxurious a decision as how to arrange books in a new bookshelf – a deeply pleasurable task, I always find. But given that alphabetical order probably won’t work here, I seek your advice! Read the rest of this entry ?

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Fishy business

June 3, 2009

steph1The Empress Clifford-Smith turns her attention to small and salty fish in her column this week – and oh my, how good does that little sardine number from the Burlington look?

You will find Steph’s Good Living column here.

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Zest for life

June 2, 2009

lemon zestFurther to our earlier discussion of simple but essential kitchen gadgets, I hereby withdraw my remarks to Hughesy about the humble zester being interchangeable with a grater.

For I now am in love with a six-dollar zester – it takes up no space, and is perfectly designed to take exactly the right depth of citrus peel for flavour and texture.

I realise now that a grater either takes too much or (in the case of our super-fine Microplane), too little, with the latter result being a sort of vaguely citrusy fairy floss instead of the sharp, fresh zing required. And digging too deeply, of course, means icky bitter pith. 

And as for lemons, oranges and limes, and why these zesty friends must be included in  life’s truly essential ingredients – well, you all know. ‘Sundry items too numerous to mention’, as the old clearance sale adverts in the Cooma-Monaro Express used to say. We’re talking sharpening up and /or sweetening everything from lamb shanks to roast chook to fruit salad to curries to chocolate cake.

Maggie Beer puts citrus peel in everything – from this incredibly delicious Moroccan poached ocean trout (have cooked several times, it’s from my treasured copy of  Maggie’s Table that chefbro Hamish gave me for Christmas – personally signed and everything, following their cooking gig together in Shangers) to the completely different but equally luscious  Haloumi & Citrus Lentils (ditto).

Skye Gyngell is another lemon freak, and her wonderful book A Year in My Kitchen is one of my favourites.  Here’s what she says about lemon zest:

The zesting of a lemon could never be described as a recipe, but this is an ingredient I use so often that it warrants a mention …  

Lemon zest works beautifully when tossed into a simple salad whose leaves include basil, mint, chervil and rocket. The addition of grated Parmesan, lemon juice and good olive oil is all that is needed, in my mind, to creat a perfect green salad. 

The tangy zest also cleans up the flavour of many desserts that would otherwise seem a fraction too sweet. Similarly, it works well to counteract the potentially cloying flavour of pickled fruits. In essence, lemon zest is a simple, quick way to add freshness to your cooking. There is no real secret, just be sure that to use the finest holes on your grater and only use the yellow part of the skin. The white pith tends to taste very bitter. Grate your zest as close as possible to the time that you are going to use it, as it will dry out fairly quickly if left out uncovered, or indeed even covered in the fridge overnight. 

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A party piece

June 1, 2009

In honour of the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in some time – Gatz, the amazing reading / performance of The Great Gatsby, which I saw at the Sydney Opera House last night – I thought I’d revisit that beloved book here.

Gatz photo by Chris BeirensThe show is hard to describe, but anything that keeps one riveted for seven hours, with only two 15-minute and one 1-hour break, is a feat of wonder. It’s a stunning reading of the entire book by one spectacularly talented chap, Scott Shepherd as Nick Carraway, along with a supporting cast of 12 including the elusively beautiful Jim Fletcher as Gatsby (pictured). And it’s also got another wordless story running along beneath it, of the futile melancholy of office life – but that is another story. The originality and wit of the direction makes this an inventive, gloriously playful, surprising and – when it should be – desperately sad production.

There will be many who can describe Gatz better than I, so check out the reviews, like this one here. All I can say is a huge thank you to my friend Bec for taking me. It was a wonder. And one of the best things was its reminding me how beautiful is the writing in The Great Gatsby, so here is some for you. Surely no party since this was written has ever lived up to one of Gatsby’s wondrous soirees.  

There was music from my neighbour’s house through the summer nights. In the blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft, or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his two motor-boats slit the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam. On weekends his Rolls Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past midnight, while his station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug to meet all trains. And on Mondays eight servants, including an extra gardener, toiled all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammers and garden shears, repairing the ravages of the night before.

Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York – every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. There was a machine in the kitchen which could extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an hour if a little button was pressed two hundred times by a butler’s thumb.

At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough coloured lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby’s enormous garden. On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d’oevre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold. In the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of his female guests were too young to know one from another.

And when we came out, the sails of the Opera House were all lit up like a strange blue underwater garden. Seemed so apt, somehow, and made our night.