i need that little nibble more

We are sitting on the malodorous settee listening to CW Stoneking (pwning present, Squeeze!) and playing on our laptops. I have just finished all the cashews. I have also eaten the last gingerbread tree biscuit. The Squeeze has eaten the last mince tart. Neither of us can bare another piece of turkey, though we are thinking about having meat cake* and tomato soup for dinner.
The Squeeze has been making his way through some chocolate hearts (the 2nd mother apparently has a standing order with her chocalatier). I thought I might fancy a nibble of milky chocolate.
“Can I have a lick of that chocolate?”
I look up to see him carefully transporting it from his mouth to the wrapper. It is largely intact and has only a thin layer of kiss. I decide I need that little nibble more than we need to adhere to The Rules.
*aka stuffing that has not been stuffed into anything.

excessive sensuality

Last night I did some fancy cooking.
It’s been a while since I really cooked – you know, the sort of cooking where you use every single pot and pan, the blender, the food processor and at least sixty zillion ingredients. Sure, I cook regularly, and have people over for meals, but I’m talking serious cooking. And for me, serious cooking means Indian cooking.
When I first moved to Melbourne I lived in a 4 person vegetarian share house. I took to it with a will, and relished our proximity to the Vic Markets. But it didn’t take long for me to get into dancing hardcore, and then I discovered that not everyone in Melbourne likes to eat. I was incredibly disappointed by swing dancers’ dining habits. And still am. There’s far too much bullshit pizza and ordinary pasta. No Indian. No Very little Asian (meaning any Asian cuisine) and far too many over-priced variations on meat and three veg.
The hours that I kept, as a hardcore dancer, meant that there wasn’t time to cook fancy food, and there wasn’t really much point when I wasn’t home long enough or often enough to enjoy it. I did enjoy the household – which had shifted from vegetarian to vegan, heavy on the co-op. I liked going to the co-op at UniMelb to pick up grains or to make my own peanut butter. I liked the Vic Markets very much, and eating sixty zillion types of veggie slop a week. But my inner epicure missed the challenge of serious cooking.
Seeing as how I’m now living the patriarchy’s dream – the little housewife* staying home to keep house while her man goes off to hunt down the bacon** – I’ve started getting serious about my domestic duties. I’ve started cleaning again (and now I’m thinking of PavCat and her post which sticks in my mind – I should print it out and stick it up on the wall), so our house is nice and I don’t have to wear thongs inside. I’ve been buying groceries regularly so we don’t get scurvy. I’ve been doing laundry regularly as well. And I’ve decided I needed to step it up, culinary-wise.
I am more than a little ob-con. I like order, I like strucure, I like tidying and sorting and putting things in containers. When we moved into this house The Squeeze was worried he’d come home one day to find his underwear in jars, lined up with the flour and sugar and lentils in their brand new Arc homes. If I’m working on something acka, it doesn’t matter if the house is blown up and there’s nothing to eat, so long as the words are all lining up nicely and carefully divided into chapters. But now that the whole writing thing isn’t working so well…
I’ve decided that I need to get into the hardcore cooking.
Last time I was into hardcore cooking, the rest of my domestic life wasn’t going so great. My seven year relationship was crumbling, my Masters was being squeeezed out of me, very slowly, and my family was kind of exploding. But fuck, I was eating like a princess. Home made pasta. Six course Indian feasts. Chutneys. Baked goods out the wazoo. Etcetera, etcetera.
Now I realise all that was seven years ago – it’s not long til I’ve been living in Melbourne for ten years. Ten years! I’d never made a definite plan for how long I’d live here, nor where I’d go next. Right now, I’d really like to go somewhere new, do something new. But that’s not really an option. Melbourne is great – I love it. But it’s getting kind of … old.
But, look, I’m off track, and wandering on with the introspection in a way that’s making my male readers uncomfortable…. holy crap, can you believe I actually wrote that?!?! GEEEZus. I really am slipping.
So anyway, back to me and what I want to cook.
Now I have this time on my hands, I’m thinking about getting jiggy with the food. Last night I was home alone for the third or fourth time this week (it’s been a busy week for The Squeeze, what with APPA and work meetings and interviews and things), and decided that I wasn’t going to cook stupid pasta again for my dinner, nor would I buy some dumb takeaway. I was going to use some of the neat veggies I’d just bought and get some curry action happening.
I have a few favourite Indian recipe books. Madhur Jaffrey, of course. A couple of others. And this great job. This is Camellia Panjabi’s 50 Great Curries of India (though mine’s cover looks more like this). It’s one of those lovely books with lots of useful desriptions and histories and tips. The recipes, though, are freakin’ hardcore. No canned coconut milk here – only fresh, grated coconut (which is kind of hard to get in Brunswick). Six zillion spices per dish. Whole Spices, though – no ground action. You roast them, then you grind them up. And spices and ingredients I’ve never, ever heard of. We’re talking a level above black cardamon here, at least.
So last night (at about 7pm, I should add), I decide that I’d like to whip up a veggie curry. At first I was kind of clumsy. I couldn’t figure out how to fit all the jars of spice on the counter. Then I realised all those spices were kind of old and neglected. Then I found my two cans of coconut milk had gone off (I subbed in a bit of dessicated coconut and some canned coconut milk for the fresh coconut – you have to fry the grated coconut a bit and the flavour is incredible. But adding too much dessicated coconut to a curry gives you a big pot of all-bran – chewy, kind of flavourless, frustrating). Things weren’t looking too great, so I swapped recipes. And then it was like my fingers and some unconscious part of my brain suddenly remembered what to do. I was the queen of frying whole spices, grating ginger, chopping cauliflower.
Midway through, I realised that I’d made this recipe before and not really liked it (I should have removed the cinamon stick rather than blending it in – it’s too strong), so I decided to whip up a quick chickpea curry. Do you know how long it’s been since I made chickpea curry?! That’s how far I’ve fallen. It took me about 10 seconds and I even remembered the recipe, after at least five years! But then I needed some greens. There was cauliflower, sweet potato and carrots in the curry, I’d found some frozen peas in the freezer (ask The Squeeze about those) and I had a big stack of spinach. So, while the rice was cooking (brown rice, because we’d run out of Basmati (!!) and I felt like it), I threw some chopped garlic and mustard seeds into some olive oil, then some chopped spinach into that. And I cooked it just right – still bright green and full of watery goodness, but not underdone – and it was perfect!
And then I sat down to a plate full of lovely goodness and at least three episodes of Gilmore Girls (did you know that Sam from Supernatural was Rory’s boyfriend? Or that Peter Petrelli from Heroes was her other boyfriend?!).
The smells! The aromas! How could I have gone so long without this?! I haven’t cooked Indian from complete scratch in years – there’s nothing at all like it. Nothing so sensual, so pleasing. And when you’re in there, making that spice paste, about an hour in and with at least an hour to go before you even put the rice on, you think this is complete indulgence. No freaking housewife would take this much time and effort! Cooking like this is pure indulgence. It is luxury. It is taking a whole lot of time to do something that could take half an hour. It’s taking cheap ingredients (all those vegetables) and making something truly special. And I didn’t even get into naan (of which I am a master) or sweets!
But really, this sort of cooking is cooking for pleasure. When it’s not the cooking you were raised with, or the sort of cooking you’re expected to do, it’s extravagance. Profligance even. And it makes me think about the way cooking means different things in different moments. It’s the luxury of time – to cook, to hunt down ingredients, to research recipes and particular food items and utensils. It’s also a marker of affluence and social opportunity. And when you get into things like Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson, it’s about ideas of luxury and being wealthy enough to afford Oliver’s cuts of meat in London, or Nigella’s kitchen accessories. Or – perhaps more importantly for women – being able to simply indulge, indulge, indulge. Without consequence. No calory counting. No expanding girth. No increasing weight. No guilt. It’s the complete and selfish absorption in a utterly sensual and unnecessary activity. This isn’t subsistence cooking, it’s intensive gastronomy. It is about waste. There’s time alone, cloistered in a lovely clean kitchen with just the right tools and raw materials. There are the physical sensations – the softness of fresh dough, the sting of cut chilli, the earthiness of ground spices. The intellectual and creative stimulation – considering how it will taste, making decisions about which ingredient to omit or increase and knowing how this will effect the end product. And the pleasure of expectation – imagining how it will taste, how it will look, how it will smell when it is done and displayed on just the right plate.
It all sounds very artyfarty, wanky, ridiculous. And that’s because it is, and that is what sells television like Nigella’s stupidly ill-focused and unsteadily filmed program and creates cults for cooks and chefs. There’s certainly an element of power and control – at least for me. When I’m cooking, I’m the boss. If there are mistakes, they’re my mistakes. If there are successes, they’re my successes. And there are always new and uncharted territories to explore. Or more excitingly, reams and reams of charts to be ferreted out of bookshelves, stalked in book shops and television guides and on the internet.
So I’m off to the shops in a minute. The Indian grocer is next door to the fresh pasta guy on Lygon Street, just up from a middle eastern nut shop. And then I have to get to the greengrocer on Sydney Road before I finish off at the Halal butcher for some goat. Or perhaps some lamb mince – Madhur has a nice recipe for boiled eggs wrapped in mince and then cooked in curry. Something The Squeeze would like.
Or perhaps, even better, I’ll just get a bunch of things I know I’ll like and make them for myself.
*I should point out here that ‘housewife’ is meant to refer to that imaginary beast who happily spends her entire existence thinking only of others, cooking, cleaning, entertaining, buying white goods, fetching, carrying for children and husband. Career? Are you kidding?! She doesn’t write books (or blogs) or draw pictures or sew anything other than clothes for her children or herself. She doesn’t teach or talk about anything more interesting than which brand of soap she should buy. She aspires to nothing more than domestic harmony and pleasing other people.
This housewife is not the same person as the woman who chooses to be the primary caregiver in her family yet doesn’t switch off her brain. This housewife is the person whose entire being is validated and justified by her service to her family, and she would never, ever consider dropping it all for a quick trip across to Richmond to chase down Japanese quilting fabrics, or that mythical Jazz shop in St Kilda or to take photos of installation art in the CBD.
**There is more than a little bitterness here. All that tertiary education and no corrections, and for what? A clean fucking house? Nice. Glad I put that effort in. Sure, being a housewife is fine, but not for me. In fact, for me, it’s like the world is saying “hey, you know how you’re really clever and can really write and research and stuff? It means nothing. Everything you are – it is worth less than your ability to wield a broom.

the Great Barbeque Effort of 2006

I had considered blogging each of the photos from the cooking efforts last week, but decided flickr was the appropriate tool for this job.

I suggest beginning with this photo in flickr, then following the ‘more’ arrows to the right.
Duh me for uploading in the wrong order.
NB: for recipes consult the Gastropod Wednesday entry.
NB2: Thai sent me an email with the following:

This cookbook that has all the recipes that I made on Wed:
How to Grill: The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques (Paperback)
by Steven Raichlen
Via Amazon’s search-inside-the-book feature, I believe you can just
search for “asparagus rafts”, “corn on the cob”, and “portobello
mushrooms” to see the recipes in the book without needing to buy it:

Sneaky googlers.
NB3: I believe Thai is mistaken.

gastropod wednesday

We are organising a barbeque for our houseguests and selves (and a few others) tomorrow night.
Here’s the menu:

  • Fish and Herb Salad
  • Orange and Spinach Salad
  • Kumara Salad
  • ‘Mexican’ Potato Salad

and assorted meats, including these possibles:

  • chicken-on-sticks (thigh meat marinated in coriander, garlic, lemon, etc)
  • chicken wings (in soy, ginger, etc)
  • quail (possibly a la Maggie)
  • Nino and Joe’s sausages
  • possibly ribs

As you can see from my lack of decisiveness on the meat front, the salads are the main focus.
Here are the recipes I’ll use:

Fish and Herb Salad
300g smoked cod
3 tbsp lime juice
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1 cup cooked and cooled jasmin rice
1/2 cup chopped fresh Vietnamese mint
3 tbsp chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves
8 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded

1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander root
2cm piece fresh ginger, finely grated
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped lemon grass (white part only)
3 tbsp chopped fresh Thai basil
1 avocado, chopped
1/3 cup lime juice
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp soft brown sugar
1/2 cup peanut oil

1. place the cod in a large frying pan and cover with water. Add the lime juice and simmer for 15minutes, or until the fish flakes when tested with a fork. Drain and set aside to cool slightly before breaking into bite-sized pieces.
2. Brown the coconut. The recipe reccommends doing this in the oven, but I dry-fry it. Discard if it burns.
3. Place the fish, coconut, rice, Vietnamese mint, mint, coriander and kaffir lime leaves in a large bowl and mix to combine.
4. To make dressing: place the coriander root, ginger, chilli, lemon grass and basil in a food processor and process until combined. Add the avocado, lime juice, fish sauce, sugar and peanut oil and process until creamy. I find that just smooshing it in a bowl is enough. Or you could use a barmix.
5. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to combine. Serve immediately.

This salad is AMAZING. But it doesn’t keep, so eat it all on the day – it’s very ordinary cold.
(this recipe is from this useful book).

Kumara Salad
1kg cubed orange sweet potato (kumara)
2 tbsp olive oil, plus 2 tsp
1/2 tsp yellow asafetida poweder
3/4 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp seeded, finely chopped green chilli
2 tbsp fresh lime or lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup finely shredded coconut
2 tbsp roasted peanuts, powdered
1 tbsp sesame seeds, preferably unhulled, dry-roasted and powdered
2 tbsp fresh coriander leavs for garnish.

1. Boil sweet potato until tender but not overcooked. Remove, drain and keep warm.
2. Pour 2 tsp olive oil in a wok or large pan over moderate heat. When hot, add the yellow asafetida powder, stir briefly, then remove the pan from teh heat. Allow the oil to cool a little, then add the garam masala, cayenne and chilli. Mix well, then add the lime juice, salt and the rest of the olive oil. Fold in the potato and stir gently to coat with the spices. Add the coconut, peanut powder and toasted sesame seed powder and stir gently to combine.
3. Allow the sald to cool and the flavours to mingle, then serve with a garnish of fresh coriander leaves.
I don’t bother powdering the peanuts and seeds, I just smash them a lot with the mortar and pestle.
This is a tasty salad that I make when we do Indian feast. It’s especially nice as a sweeter accompaniment (ditching the chili) with hot curries.

(This recipe came from this great veggie cookbook which you can pick up all over the place – I got mine in Community Aid Abroad. I don’t think they sell it at the ABC/SBS shop any more).

Mexican Orange Salad
6 oranges peeled and all white pith removed, sliced crosswise
2 red onions, sliced
90g/3oz toasted almonds, chopped
2 medium fresh chillis, chopped
1/2 bunch fresh coriander
4tbsp fresh mint leaves
1/4 bunch/125g/4oz English spinach, leaves shredded

Place oranges, onions, almonds, chillies, coriander leaves and mint in a bowl, toss to combine and stand for 30 minutes. Line a serving platter with spinach then pile salad on top.
This salad is really nice and fresh. I find it’s a good idea to keep the juice which spills when you slice the oranges. I can’t remember if I add a basic vinegrette (sp?), but I doubt it. I usually ditch the chilli if I’m doing the following potato salad as well.

(This recipe is from this book which I picked up somewhere cheaply. It has some really neat recipes in it, including some fairly detailed descriptions of bean dish preparation. It doesn’t, though, have a recipe for tortillas and other breads from scratch :( We are fond of Mexican type foods in our house)

Potatoes in Chilli Vinegar
2 kg baby new potatoes, halved
2 red onions, sliced
3 jalapeno chillis, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2-3 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp capers, drained
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves
4 fresh or dried bay leaves
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water

1. Boil potatoes until tender. Drain and put in a serving bowl.
2. To make dressing, place onions, jalapeno and red chillis, garlic, sugar, capers, thyme, oregano, bay leaves, vinegar and water in a bowl and mix to combine. Pour dressing over warm potatoes, toss to combine and stand at room temperature for 2 hours before serving.
This potato salad rocks. We are a bit over creamy spud salads (though I do make a good one with kalamata olives and ham and a mayo/yoghurt dressing), and this one is really nice – really fresh and sassy. I have found, though, that timid guests who don’t eat chilli very often find it a bit scary – it’s pretty bitey for noobs. It’s important to let the warm potatoes sit in the dressing for a while at room temperature – they suck up the flavours.

(same souce as above).

I’ll see if we can get some preparation photos as we go along, but it’ll depend on whether or not The Squeeze is around and interested. You can see some of the dishes we cooked last year for the Bandidos party here.

Gastropodry: bunny and Jay

Right now I have a bunny (on) the oven… oh, look, I’m sorry. That was far too desperate.
To restart: I’ve finally succumbed to the temptation and am cooking my first rabbit. It’s the perfect opportunity: The Squeeze (who loathes meat on the bone, and finds the thought of eating bunnies distressing) is out, it’s Friday night so I can stop worrying about all the things I have to do – until tomorrow, and my new Jay McShann album arrived today. Gotta love that Kansas City action.
I’ll report back later on the bunny.


I’m really trying to think of the last thing I cooked…
oh yeah, right. Corned beef. I’d only had this a few times, in central Queensland, where a sandwhich with ‘corned beef’ in it at a country pub or cafe has nothing to do with cans, but more to do with hours in a pot of simmering water. It’s a country thing, I guess. Anyhoo, I came to corned beef as an adult, and decided I liked it. Not every week or even every month, but every now. And as Sylvie said, it’s a good way to feed hungry farm hands when you live in a beef-farming area.
I’ve made it a few times, because The Squeeze likes it, and I try to source one made by a local butcher (because they’re better, and our local butchers rock), and I use the Stephanie Alexander eggy saucey thing (look, I can’t remember what it’s called, ok? I just know it involves boiled egg yolks, capers, taragon, parsley, chives, virgin olive oil, is wonderful with cold meats and basically rocks). This time I used a supermarket one, neither The Squeeze or nor I was impressed (which is difficult to achieve, seeing as how I love to eat and The Squeeze loves corned beef more than anything) and we didn’t even bother with sandwiches the next day (which is, of course, the point of it all).
Other than that, I had dinner at Singapore Chom Chom last night with The Squeeze and Woobs, which was good (cheap, tasty ‘Sinagaporean’ food – which is like saying ‘Australian’ food – kind of general. In this case, it’s a combination of Indonesian, Singaporean, ‘Chinese’ and Indian dishes. About perfect for my tastes. And with many noodles). I had prawn noodle soup, Woobs had BBQ pork noodles, Squeeze had that silken tofu/pork mince dish with rice and beans and an extra fried egg. At $7 a dish you can’t really go wrong, can you? We try not to spend more than $10 each on dinner on these pre-dancing meals, so we seem to spend a lot of time in Asian greasy spoons (or should that be greasy chopsticks?). Which pleases me. Though I have to say I’ve had enough of dodgy Japanese. Woob’s obsession with Japanese food and The Squeeze’s endorsement of said obsession has left me in Minority Seat, but still…
We tend to compromise on Malaysian as The Squeeze loves laksa, I like Nasi Lemak (even if it is breakfast food) and Woobs eats whatever. Though eating Malaysian or Singaporean is like meat and three veg for a skip, as Woobs’ family is from Singapore.
We need a compromise cuisine. Or a sponsor, so we can go to decent Japanese.
Food this week, otherwise: take away Wednesday. Something stir-fried Tuesday. Beef Monday. A chicken salad at Nandos on Sunday, nothing, but a hamburger at 1am on Saturday for me, and …something on Friday that I’ve forgotten.
Oh, the shame. It’s been a bad week, really – business plus for us here in the ‘wick. I promise to do better next week.

simple pleasures

The best part of looking at site stats today was finding my site was a hit for a search for “how nanna would make pumpkin soup”.
That pleases me.
I wish I had more to offer in the gastropod way of things. But I don’t. Buggered if I can remember what I’ve eaten this week. I’ve been so busy with the thesis, and I DJed three nights straight over the weekend (Thu, Fri, Sat), including my first after party. Which I was happy with, though I guess it’s hard to stuff up a 45 minute set, isn’t it?
My DJing issues are continuing with a search for a media player to which I can drag songs from itunes (using itunes as my library), but which also produces useful play lists. I mostly want to be able to preview songs on headphones before I play them, and for this you need two media players as macs can’t understand why you’d want to have two versions of one application open at any one time. Sometimes this rocks, but sometimes it sucks. This is one of those times. I think I’ll settle for a combination of DJ1800 (about $AU70) for previewing (no sensible playlist option), the usb headphones (plugged into the imic I need to buy from Brian, or into the usb directly) for listening to the DJ1800 songs, and itunes for actually playing to the sound system, searching, creating playlists, etc.
But if you’re looking for gastropod action, I have a little tub of nice bocconcini in our fridge atm, and some nice hydro tomatos on the window sill (I was in bed when the potato man came this week – 8am is TOO early!) and some sweet rocket in the garden. Make of that what you will. I choose to make nice salad.
I am also going nuts with mandarins and apples at the moment. It’s that time of year. We have a bowl full on the coffee table, and I push segments down The Squeeze’s neck every evening while we watch Buffy and Angel. Soon he will have strange Buffy-citrus dreams.
Meanwhile, I had a dream where I was stabbed by a platypus with its poison spur. It was also a dream about the house I lived in in Brisbane, and also about houses generally. I know that if I’m having house dreams, it’s anxiety season. And of course, the source of this anxiety would be the thesis. And the fact that my supervisor goes away 2 weeks from now, for 3 weeks. Arriving back one week before I’d planned to submit. Yes. Isn’t that nice?