Archive for May, 2012


On your guest behaviour

May 23, 2012

The other night we had about a dozen people round for dinner. About half the guests knew one or two of the others, but mostly they were meeting for the first time, and it turned out to be one of those glorious evenings. Within minutes of everyone arriving, avid conversations had begun, even between strangers – and as the night moved on there was much laughing, boisterous disagreement, delighted and intense seizing upon common interests, entertaining stories, thoughtful discussion, the works.

Afterwards, S and I tried to work out what it was that had made the evening work so well. We can take credit for some judicious selection – a good mix of personality types and so on, and I think the fact that lots of people were meeting for the first time gave it an edge of animation that fades into comfortable but lower-energy ease when old friends eat together.

But mostly, I reckon, it was because everyone there knew how to be a great guest. We are blessed with socially dexterous friends who know how to be entertaining, how to give and take in conversation, how to raise riveting topics, and how to make new people feel welcome. When you have people like this at your table, hosting a dinner is a breeze. All you have to do is provide a space for it.

In Love & Hunger I wrote a chapter on how to be a host – because I have seen people get so stressed out about entertaining that they can’t enjoy it – in which I asked various friends for their views on what goes into making entertaining at your house work well. And early in that chapter I hinted that there were also responsibilities as a guest, but I never really got around to that topic.

Off the top of my head, when I think about being a guest at someone else’s house there are only a few obvious essentials:

  • show up on time or phone if we’re going to be late
  • don’t arrive empty-handed
  • make an effort to dress reasonably well
  • make an effort to be conversationally energetic
  • have a good time
  • don’t refuse any offered food and try new things
  • thank the cook!
  • make sure my part in any argument is good-natured – this has been difficult at times!
What do you think? As a guest, what is your role? Do you think about it, or just show up? Do you try to fill awkward silences and draw out shy people, or do you reckon they can fend for themselves? What about dealing with jerks? I have had to bite my tongue quite severely at times. A friend’s stepfather once said some appallingly racist things and I found myself very confused as to how to behave – should I have challenged him? It wasn’t my house, he was an old man, and so I erred on the side of politeness, smiled and bumblingly demurred, then changed the subject. But I hated myself for it. Or what about being seated between someone wonderfully interesting and a crashing bore on your other side – are you allowed to turn your back on the bore? Can you take the piss out of a pompous git, or are you obliged to nod and smile?

What else is your duty? I never offer to wash the dishes, do you? I never allow people to clean up in my house and so I don’t offer in theirs – but I do clear plates or help bring plates or people to the table. I do sometimes take flowers, but some people say that’s a bad idea. We always take wine, of course. Can you start a raging argument? I love a heated discussion – more in  observation than taking part – but at what point does it get out of hand, and whose responsibility is it to hose things down? And turning up on time is easy, but what about going home? What if you’re exhausted – are you allowed to nick off straight after dinner? And how do you know if you’re outstaying your welcome?

Would love your views on these things and more – and specially your disaster stories. What makes a great dinner guest? Are there people you will never have to your house again? Why? And what about the ones you always want to be there – what makes them so welcome? Come on, spill. 



Jiro Dreams of Sushi giveaway

May 21, 2012

Sydney readers! I have been sent two double passes to give away to this beautiful-looking film, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, showing at the Chauvel in Paddington.

The first two readers to email me at get the tickets! The following info comes from the film people – I haven’t seen it yet but will be racing to get to it as soon as possible.

JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI is a quiet yet enthralling documentary that chronicles the life of Jiro Ono, the most famous sushi chef in Tokyo.

For most of his 85 years, Jiro has been perfecting the art of making sushi.

He works from sunrise to well beyond sunset to taste every piece of fish; meticulously train his employees; and carefully mould and finesse the impeccable presentation of each sushi creation.

Although his restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro only seats ten diners, it is a phenomenon in Tokyo that has won the prestigious 3-Star Michelin review, making him the oldest Michelin chef alive.

JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI chronicles Jiro’s life as both an unparalleled success in the culinary world, and as a loving yet complicated father of two. Jiro’s incomparable work ethic is the driving force behind JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI, but the heart of this film is how that ambition has influenced his sons’ lives as well.

Eldest son Yoshikazu is the heir apparent to the sushi empire, but Jiro is not ready to retire or to relinquish any of his responsibilities. With a famous father guiding and critiquing every decision, Yoshikazu is unable to reach his fullest However, he is proud to learn from a true sushi master, thus revealing the inner struggle of how a dutiful son shows reverence to his father yet control over his own domain.

JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI explores the passion required to run and maintain a legendary sushi restaurant, and one son’s journey to eventually take his father’s place at the head of the culinary dynasty.


Walking on sunshine

May 8, 2012

Hello all … well, Love & Hunger has been out for a week today, and I’ve been a little taken aback at how frenetic that week has been. A few radio interviews, a newspaper extract here and there, a couple of reviews, few pieces on others’ people’s blogs – I’m pooped! And on Thursday I’m off to New Zealand for the Auckland Readers’ & Writers’ Festival – very excited as I’ve never been to NZ before – then straight back into the Sydney Writers’ Festival starting in Katoomba on Monday and Tuesday, then more events in Sydney at the end of the week. Plus a couple more interviews. And then more festivals and travelling to come …

When my darling writer friend Tegan (whose novels and stories are some of the finest you shall ever have the pleasure of reading) read Love & Hunger she said I should prepare myself for much communication, because of its conversational nature. She was right.

I have had emails from radio listeners, including one woman who took me to task for my offhand remarks about bad Australian food in the 1970s (“the food of the 1950s to the 1970s is in fact far superior to the food served up today”), and another very moving one from a woman coping with chemotherapy without the support of her friends. I’ve had a gorgeous podcast listener from south-west France email to invite me and my husband to come and enjoy the food of his region, and another lump-in-the-throat email from a young uni student who bought my book after reading The Age extract: “I feel your every word directed to me personally … perhaps you have given me what Elizabeth David gave you all those years ago.”

I have had the most beautiful messages from friends and family who have already read it, often sharing with me what they’ve cooked that day for someone else, or offering me a new recipe apropos of something that’s come from the book. I absolutely love this passing on of ideas and knowledge and experience – as in Tegan’s lovely comments here the other day. It means that for these people at least, the book has worked in the way I hoped it would – as a conversation, a lighter of flame, a nourishing presence. I can’t tell you how happy it’s all making me.

That long and busy week was topped off by seeing Senor playing trumpet at a gig for the first time in a long time for me. It made me so elated to see him play again, because he so talented, and he enjoys it so much. And that event gave  rise to yet another conversation and a new idea, about bringing people together through music, in a new little experiment we’ve got started.

More on that later – but in the meantime, the weather is sharp, and blue-skied, and cold. Which means it’s perfect for this sunshiny roasted pumpkin risotto. It is the business – comfort food with zing and vibrance, first made for me many moons ago by the Empress, and which has become one of my faves. It’s also excellent frugal food, but with absolutely no sense of poverty about it whatsoever.

Roast pumpkin risotto for 8

  • 1 big lump of pumpkin – I used about a quarter of a medium punk for this one, I suppose around 1kg or a bit more…
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • white wine or verjuice
  • 1.5 litres chicken / vegetable stock
  • butter
  • Parmesan
  1. Cut pumpkin into big chunks and roast in olive oil in the oven for up to an hour, until nicely browned and very soft and mashable
  2. You already know how to make risotto, but just in case: gently fry the onion & garlic in oil, pour in the rice and stir until the grains begin to stick to the pan, deglaze with a glass of white wine, then lower the heat and add the hot stock a cup or so at a time, stirring very frequently until the rice is just al dente, and adding boiling water if you run out of stock.
  3. Meanwhile, mash up the pumpkin and then when the rice is just tender, add it to the pan and stir in to get a beautiful orange risotto.
  4. Add a big lump of butter and stir, loosen the mix with more boiling water or stock until it’s nicely sloppy – I detest a stiff risotto – season and then add to a bowl with grated Parmesan and lots and lots and lots of pepper.



Lunch at our place

May 2, 2012

My beautiful nephew Henry Simmons made this book trailer for Love & Hunger – it pretty much represents the style of cooking and the emotional energy of  the book, and the way we like to eat round here. Casual, chaotic cacophony.

Thank you to Henry – and to the bookshops who are greeting Love & Hunger with such warmth and enthusiasm, like the wonderful Books for Cooks and Readings in Melbourne, and Collins Booksellers Cottesloe in Perth, the excellent Aussie online store Booktopia and my own beloved local indie, Better Read than Dead in Newtown, Sydney, who have made L&H their May book of the month.