I opened the freezer door the other day and out fell a rock solid banana. You see, I love bananas, but when I buy them I never seem to get through them them all before they turn soft and brown. There really is just a small window of palatability when it comes to bananas. After some advice from a friend I started throwing them in the freezer once they passed the point of no return. This way they can be thawed and used in banana bread and cakes. Plus the freezing process makes them all gooey and easy to mash; perfect for baking. So when this banana fell at my feet I realised it was a sign. A sign that I had way to many frozen bananas and it was time to get some drunk.
Boozy Banana Bread
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
1 cup all-purpose wholemeal flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
125gm unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pan
1 cup raw sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (about 3) mashed ripe bananas
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons spiced rum
1 cup cacao nibs or chopped dark chocolate
1 banana, extra cacao and teaspoon of rum for top of loaf
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Butter and flour a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan, tapping out any excess flour.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, and salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (3 to 5 minutes). Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating for 1 minute between each. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the bananas, lemon juice, and spiced rum and beat until well incorporated. The mixture may look curdled, but don’t panic, the flour will take care of this.
Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture all at once. Beat until just incorporated.
Add the cacao and stir by hand with a spatula or wooden spoon until incorporated. Spoon the mixture into the prepared loaf pan.
Slice a just ripe banana lengthways and press lightly, cut-side up, into the top of the mixture and brush with a small amount of rum. Sprinkle with extra cacao for effect.
Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a skewer inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Let the loaf cool in the pan for 15 to 20 minutes before inverting it onto a wire rack and letting it cool. Serve warm with slathered in butter or as is.
Cacao nibs are cocoa beans that have been roasted, separated from their husks and broken into smaller pieces. They add a great crunch and chocolaty flavour and also have great nutritional benefits.
Cacao nibs contain a substance called theobromine, a central nervous system stimulant that has a similar, though less powerful, stimulating effect as caffeine. It may give you a healthy energy boost if you’re feeling low during the day. It also contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid required for the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Enhanced serotonin levels can quell anxiety and enhance mood. Eating cacao also helps to release endorphins, giving a natural high. So even though this banana bread wont get you drunk, it will make you feel pretty damn good.
Before you say it, let me; it’s been too long. Waaay too long. I disappeared without warning or explanation. I just stopped posting. In conversations over the last 18 months I was often asked a question I started to hate hearing, ‘When are you going to put something new on your blog?’ It’s not that I didn’t want to. It’s just the longer I left it; the harder it got to come back to. I was waiting for a time when things slowed down and I could keep posting regularly, not just once every now and then. I was also a little anxious that everyone had given up and there would be no one left to read anything. But, after long and thoughtful deliberation, and drafting and redrafting, I have returned with a new outlook and even a new look blog.
What have I been doing while I’ve been away? Working, studying, moving house, renovating and everyday things like buying groceries, catching trains and wasting time looking at Facebook and Pinterest. I’m not making excuses but you should know I haven’t just been lying on a couch somewhere, wasting my time on daytime television. There has been many a project that has kept me occupied; but for all the things that have happened over those months, many of which have been amazing and exciting mind you, something was missing. It turns out, it was me. I got lost working and making a home that I forgot I have a creativity inside me that wasn’t being fed. I was turning into a tired and grumpy manager and girlfriend who wasn’t very fun to be around.
So, I quit my job. Well technically I stepped down from the crazy busy world of academic management of staff and students and decided to go back to what got me the job in the first place: teaching. Making this decision leaves me more time than I have had in a long time. So of course I have decided to fill these ‘idle’ days with things I love. I’m still doing my masters *insert yawn* but I’ve decided to supplement this with a photography course as well, and of course, get back to blogging.
What helped me to make this life changing decision was a weekend away with some very talented and lovely people. One day, while wasting time on yet another social media site, I saw a post that stirred something in me. There was to be a food photography master class in the picturesque Daylesford, and I was going to go! I secured my spot, counted down the days, charged up my camera and packed a bag. The next four days would change my life.
I arrived at the Morgantis homestead and quickly realised that there was no phone reception. I quietly dealt with that and stepped inside to be greeted by the talented Master Chef that is Billy Law. Once I settled in I became acquainted with the rest of the gang. Ewen Bell, the amazingly talented photographer; the equally hilarious Michelle, of Iron Chef Shellie; the baking extraordinaire Sally Boyle, of Simmer and Boyle; and Maureen Ow, Singapore’s own Miss Tam Chiak. I started to think I was a little out of my league.
We spent the weekend learning the art of great food photography along with lots of eating, cooking, drinking and laughs. Our mornings consisted of waking to the smells of a full cooked breakfast accompanied by some photo taking. We spent the days in the garden of the homestead, at a local pig farm and at Daylesford’s many markets and vintage stores acquiring props for our shoots. Dinners were spent out in some of the best restaurants Daylesford has to offer and, once we’d had our social media fix (being back in phone reception), we’d make the most of the local wine and food.
I realised while I was away that this was something I should be doing. I was unsettled for weeks after until over a bottle of red one night my partner asked the question I had been too afraid to ask myself.. ‘Why don’t you just quit?’ What?! What a ridiculous concept this seemed to me; however, he had noticed some other points he wanted to share. ‘You hate the position you’re in now. You don’t like managing. You could still teach and do other things you love and be much happier than you are now’. He was right. I was miserable. I could just teach, which is the only thing I liked about my job at that point anyway. That would certainly give me more time for other, more creative things.
It was another few weeks and many conversations between us before I had enough courage to write a letter of resignation and give it to my boss. Six weeks later (Never give six weeks notice. It’s way too long!) I found myself without a fulltime job and bedridden with flu. This was clearly my body’s way of saying ‘At last! I can have a rest.’
So now that I’m on the mend, I can finally say: ‘I’m back!’
Thanks for waiting
Christmas is one of my favourite times of year, and why shouldn’t it be? Work is over for another year, there is food, friends and family everywhere; plus here the sun is out and I get to add a little colour to my office-pale skin.
This last semester was a trying one, but it’s now I can reflect at how much I actually achieved this year and feel a little accomplished. With all the students I had this semester, I felt buried under marking for most of my time at work, but outside of that, I did some pretty cool things too. I contributed to the writing of a book that will be published early next year; I completed some post-graduate studies (and took on further more) with quite reasonable grades; I moved into my own lovely little house by the bay and started a vegetable garden which I have been reaping the benefits of ever since; and apart from work pressure, this has been a pretty happy and satisfying year. Though there are many other things I am yet to achieve (and things I got to do this year which have to remain a surprise for a month or two yet), I feel this year has brought me closer to contentment than any year prior. It’s a good feeling to finish on.
Going back to my vegetable garden, I have to honour my promise to a few requests on Facebook and share one more recipe before the silly season takes over completely.
When I moved into my little house there were already a few gifts in the garden that I was able to collect over the past few months, one of those being some beautiful beets. As you know, I often make things for my students for their last class. I figure we have been discussing food all semester we may as well eat some. For one quite special morning class this year I decided to use up some of my beetroot and make them a beet and chocolate cake.
75g cocoa powder
180g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
200g caster sugar
250g cooked beetroot (or raw grated)
3 large eggs
200mL rice bran oil (you could also use, coconut or avocado oil)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Icing sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Boil beetroot (skin on) until just tender. Run under cold water and the skin should just rub off in your hands. Use gloves if you don’t want to satin your hands. Puree the beetroot in a food processor.
Add the eggs, one at a time, then add the vanilla and oil and blend until smooth.
Sift the cocoa powder, flour and baking powder into a bowl and add the sugar.
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the beetroot mixture. Lightly mix.
Pour into a greased and lined 23 cm cake tin.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the top is firm when pressed with a finger and a skewer comes out clean from the middle. If it starts to get too dark on top you can cover it with tin foil until it has finished cooking.
Cool on a wire rack and dust with icing sugar to serve.
This is a beautifully light moist cake with a slight twist in the traditional chocolate version.
As I finish up for the year and blow my nose from my annual Christmas hayfever (which has afflicted me all year mind you but has now decided to really kick into gear), I’d like to wish you all a very safe and happy festive season and hope that 2013 brings you all lots of love, laughter, and good food!
I can’t believe it’s been over two months since my last post. I have clearly taken on way too much this semester. The good thing is though.. it’s coming to an end. I have finished teaching for another year and all I have to do now is get down to marking the student’s final reports and exams. Yes. More marking. I feel like I haven’t stopped since August and I guess I haven’t. There is always something.
One thing I did manage to do last month though was cook a big feast for my gorgeous mother’s birthday. I won’t mention her age because not only is it irrelevant, but she will also never look it.
I decided to gather recipes from a few of my favourite places including Bill Granger, Jamie Oliver and a couple of my favourite blogs. I ended up with this menu*:
Chapatis with hummus – Yoghurt and spinach salad – Carrot salad – Whole roasted tandoori cauliflower with mint chutney – Indian meatball and rice pilaf – Rhubarb and pear meringue tarts with lemon thyme
The chapatis, carrot salad and tarts were adapted from Jamie’s new 30 Minute Meals cookbook. I was skeptical about this book at first but after watching the first series I’m hooked. The meatballs, rice and spinach salad were from Bill Granger’s Feed Me Now cookbook, which is great when you need menu ideas. I’ve done the meatballs from this numerous times and they’re always a big hit.
The thing that generated the most oohs and aahs from the guests was the tandoori cauliflower though. I saw this on the lovely Sarah Britton’s blog. She always has the most amazing recipes, photos and videos. I was inspired by the wow factor of her cauliflower and decided to give it a shot.
But before I could get to the cauliflower, I had to make the spice mix. Sarah’s spice mix had the following dried spices:
2 tsp. (4 grams) chili (or you could use cayenne)
1 Tbsp. (5 grams) cardamom seeds (or pods)
4 Tbsp. (20 grams) cumin seeds
2 Tbsp. (11 grams) coriander seeds
½ whole nutmeg, grated
2 tsp. (5 grams) whole cloves
2-3 (5 grams) cinnamon sticks/quills
2 Tbsp. (15 grams) ground turmeric
2 Tbsp. (15 grams) paprika
Place all ingredients except for the turmeric and paprika in a spice mill, mortar and pestle or coffee grinder. I used a mortar and pestle in batches to begin with but it was quite hard work so I ended up putting it all in my little food processor. This worked well but don’t do it if you don’t want your processor stained! Grind until powdered. Mix in turmeric and paprika and transfer to a glass jar. Keep away from light and heat. Sarah says it should keep for up to six months.
On the morning of the dinner I trimmed the leaves off a head of cauliflower and prepared my marinade:
4 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp. minced of grated fresh ginger
1 Tbsp. tandoori spice mix
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp. sea salt
½ cup (120 ml) thick yogurt
In a mortar and pestle (or food processor) smash garlic and ginger into a paste. Add the tandoori spice, lemon and salt and mix until uniform. Fold in the yogurt.
Place the whole of cauliflower -washed and trimmed – in a large bowl and spread the marinade all over, including the bottom. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum 1 hour – maximum 12. As I said, I did it in the morning ready for that evening.
When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to 200°C. Place cauliflower in the middle of a lined baking sheet or roasting tray and roast until tender (45-60 minutes depending on the size of the cauliflower). A skewer should be easily inserted into the centre if it has been in long enough. Garnish with coriander leaves and even some sliced red chilli, lots of lemon juice and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately with mint chutney.
For the mint chutney (which by the way went great on cold roast chicken sandwiches the next day):
2 cups loosely packed mint leaves
1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
1 shallot, minced
½ red chili, minced
juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup yogurt (I used coconut cream which gave it an amazing depth and nuttiness)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
a couple pinches salt
1 tsp. honey
Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until it is a chunky pesto-type of sauce. Season to taste. This can then be served up as a garnish on the cauliflower, or whatever takes your fancy. It does pack a punch so if you don’t feel up to it you can leave the chilli out.
I was so happy with the way everything turned out. And so was Mum cx
*If anyone is interested in any of the other recipes be sure to let me know and I will add them.
As I mentioned in my last post, I recently moved into a new house. I had been so excited to have my own space again, with room for a garden, my sewing and writing and other various projects. But the first few weeks here, as exciting as the possibilities were, I was starting to think I’d made a terrible mistake. As a child, and I hate to admit but also as a teenager and an adult, I’ve had a fear of someone coming into my house, my room, with the intention to bring me harm. I was fearful as a child, always fretting at the slightest noise, imagining a kidnapper climbing through my window and taking off with me in the night. It sounds crazy when I put it down on paper, but it was unfortunately what I felt as soon as the lights went out. I no longer have a fear of being kidnapped, but I’m yet to grow out of my habit of laying awake, listening to the noises and imagining the worst possible scenario. So my first few weeks on ground level, with windows that could be looked in, doors that could be opened and a rather large backyard that could easily house a multitude of shady characters, I struggled to relax.
But as time is wearing on I’m learning the noises of the house, the creaks and groans and the comings and goings of the neighbours. I know the latch on the power box near my window makes a weird scraping noise and the gate clangs when it’s windy. And I know my cat bangs against the window when he wants to come in! I still get nervous, but I’m also starting to get excited again.
So his weekend I had some ladies over for afternoon tea. I got out my antique cake plates and forks and my silver tea pot and hosted my first afternoon tea in my new place. It was lovely. As were the burnt butter and honey madelines I made (recipe to follow)
But I also got out into my garden and discovered some treasures. There are herbs like rosemary and parsley; veggies such as silverbeet and cabbage; and other goodies like broad beans and sweet peas. But the thing I was most thrilled by were the potatoes. In what I thought was just a bag of soil, I discovered some gorgeous purple gems that were baby potatoes.
Considering I had Sunday lunch with Mr M’s family, I didn’t need a big protein dinner; so I decided to forage in my own backyard. I settled on potatoes, silver-beet and zucchinis (which to be honest I got the latter from the supermarket but the rest were from the garden).
I have to say, I have never tasted potatoes quite like that before. I can’t wait to dig further down into that bag and see if there are anymore surprises buried deep in soil.
My humble little blog is one year old. Which makes me feel even worse that I’ve been neglecting it of late. It’s a little conceited of me to apologise for this as I’m pretty sure none of you have been sitting there with baited breath, waiting for my next post, but I do feel a little bad that I’ve been so slack.
I did mention earlier that I would be rather busy with more study, moving house and the start of the latest school semester, but honestly it’s likely my new found obsession with Pinterest is more to blame than anything else. This confession makes me cringe but it is a more honest reflection of how I have been spending my spare time.
Though as it’s been a year, it has made me reflect on just what I’ve achieved since starting this little project.
My initial motivation for it, apart from combining my love of food and writing, was that I needed a writing portfolio in order to be accepted into the Food Writing Graduate Certificate course at Adelaide University. I was accepted, and I have since matriculated. In fact my suitably embossed and overall expensive piece of paper should be arriving in the mail within the next month. Even though my initial reason was the course, I decided to keep up the blogging because I found myself really enjoying it. Plus it keeps my brain (and stomach) happy.
I also visited family in the States this past year and realised just how much I love and miss them every day. They were amazingly fun when it came to food and drink, going out of their way to ensure I tried all the things Minnesota had to offer. I also met some beautiful people – some of which have made their own contributions to this project – who I have kept in contact with and vow to visit again. It’s amazing how social media and the like make us feel like we’re not so far away.
I also owe the last year to rekindling an old flame. I met my ‘man friend’ (let’s finally call im Mr M) in a crowded bar many years ago. I still remember experiencing the clichéd ‘eye-lock’ across the room. For whatever reason, it fell apart and we went our separate ways; keeping minimally in touch. But once again, thanks to social media, we are back in each other’s lives and things are looking up. We’re also about to celebrate our own one year milestone. Time changes people in different ways and sometimes that’s all it takes to realise what you may have been missing.
I’ve also started more study; undertaking a Professional Editing and Proofreading course. I figure if I want to take this writing caper any further I need some nuts and bolts to hold it together. Along with working on my writing skills, I’m still working with the amazingly talented people at The Locavore Edition. We are almost ready to start the writing process for their next publication, The Field Guide to NSW Produce. Stay tuned! (The Victorian Guide is already available on the website)
And to round out my year, I moved into a house. Just me and my cat (but not in a crazy way). I felt it was time for some space for me to get out into a garden and back into my writing, photography and sewing; all hard things to do in a shared apartment on the 19th floor; though that type of living was an unbelievable experience.
So as I blow out the candle on my favourite salted caramel cupcake, I have but one wish: that you continue to enjoy reading this blog as much as I enjoy writing it, and that I will be blowing out two candles in twelve months’ time. cx
Once upon a time there was a prince who wanted to marry a princess; but she would have to be a real princess. Of course she would. Back then there was no such thing as a prenuptial agreement. But this aside, he travelled all over the world to find one, but nowhere could he get what he wanted. Sound familiar? There were princesses enough, but it was difficult to find out whether they were real ones. There was always something about them that was not as it should be. Of course there was. So he came home again and was sad, for he would have liked very much to have a real princess. One evening a terrible storm came on … Suddenly a knocking was heard at the city gate, and the old king went to open it. It was a princess … But, good gracious! What a sight the rain and the wind had made her look. At this point it was hard to tell by looking at her if she truly was a princess, but for some reason the old Queen thought that by placing a pea under twenty mattresses and twenty eider-down beds they would be able to tell. On this the princess had to lie all night. In the morning she was asked how she had slept. “Oh, very badly!” said she. “I have scarcely closed my eyes all night. Heaven only knows what was in the bed, but I was lying on something hard, so that I am black and blue all over my body. It’s horrible!” Apparently this was how they worked out she was a real princess – all sexual innuendo aside – because nobody but a real princess could be as sensitive as that.
When I was a child, I thought I might like to be a princess, and often acted like one I am sure; especially when it came to vegetables. As a foodie I find it astonishing the lengths I went to, to avoid consuming my veggies. I was often left sitting at the table, my plate of now cold limp vegetables in front of me, refusing to give in but not allowed to leave the table until I was done either.
Every now and then, on special occasions (my mother asked me to add this part to save her reputation as a good parent), we would eat in front of the television. Mum and Dad on the couch with their stable-tables and me on the floor between them at the coffee table. It was during these dinners I had the best advantage when it came to avoiding my vegetables, my peas especially. I would make sure no one was looking, take a handful and roll them behind me, right under the couch. It was genius. That was until Mum was doing a thorough cleaning one day and moved the couch to get under it. The peas made the loudest clanging noise as they shot up the vacuum hose and into the bag. It took her a moment to figure out what made the noise but needless to say, we ate at the table from that point on..
The fairy-tale is obviously not mine and I cannot take credit for it, that goes to Hans Christian Andersen, but I do want to clear up one point: my Mum was an excellent parent, and still is cx
It’s Tuesday today which in my world roughly translates to ‘Market day’. This doesn’t apply to every Tuesday, but tonight I’m cooking dinner for two of my most lovely friends and need some quality ingredients. Now I know I’ve mentioned these before, but I really didn’t give them the attention they deserve. And so I found myself once again, elbowing my way into the crowd at the borek stand of the Vic Market; waiting patiently for the promised ‘one minute’ for the ever popular spicy lamb borek to be expertly transferred from the oven in the rear to the girls at the counter. Within less than a minute, these doughy parcels of lamb, onion chili and parsley are gone and the wait starts again. Today I got lucky though and managed to grab myself a steaming hot borek on the first round. Getting it back to the office is always fraught with juggling the supplies for dinner and the skin-scorching borek wrapped in just a paper bag, but I managed it.
Now this isn’t the healthiest of lunches, but at $2.50 a pop, it can certainly be considered one of the cheapest! And if you do try them for yourself, just a word of advice: Don’t be afraid to use your elbows, and always have the right change.
A little while ago I came across a recipe for a cake that had my name written all over it. It was a gin & tonic cake from Jessica at How Sweet It Is. I filed it away for a rainy day, excited to test it out. Well, this weekend it poured! It has been one of the wettest weekends in Melbourne for a while, so much so that my man friend’s roof started to leak; right above the toilet. Not so much fun on a cold night I can tell you. But on the upside, his lime tree in the backyard is brimming with limes. Lime and rain? What a good weekend for gin and tonic cake (and maybe some sneaky gin and tonics for the cook too).
I also have a new camera I wanted to test out. The colours in the garden were just gorgeous. Lots of cumquats were ready to be picked too though their big spikes were a little menacing. I also had a little watcher in the form of the recently rescued ginger cat Gooch. He’s still not sure about me yet so he kept a close eye.
3 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup butter, softened
1 & 1/2 cups raw sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 & 1/2 teaspoons grated lime zest
1/4 cup gin
1/4 cup milk (or you can use tonic water)
Juice of 1 lime
1 & 1/2 cups icing sugar
*2-4 tablespoons gin
Juice of 1 lime
Mix icing sugar and lime juice together until mostly combined
Add 2 tablespoons of gin and increase until a glaze forms (a more liquid version of icing)
Pour over cake while still warm and put aside to cool
*If more liquid is needed you can use gin or tonic water
2 1/2 cups icing sugar
*2-3 table spoons of gin
1 drop vanilla essence
Mix ingredients together until a thick (but spreadable) icing forms
Once cake has completely cooled, spread over cake
*Once again, if more liquid is needed you can use more gin or tonic water
Combine flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl and set aside.
In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter on medium speed until creamy. Add sugar and beat on medium-high until fluffy, scraping down the sides if needed. Add an egg, one at a time, beating until fully incorporated until adding the next one. Add vanilla and lime zest and combine.
On low speed, add half the dry ingredients. Add gin, milk and lime juice, mixing until combined.
Add the remaining dry ingredients and beat until just combined (I mixed until very combined and soft which made for a much denser cake but oh so smooth so experiment with what you like best).
Pour into a greased round cake tin and bake for 40 minutes (Due to my distractedly lengthly mixing, I had to bake this for just over an hour so make sure you keep checking it) or until golden and the centre springs back when lightly touched.
Carefully remove onto a cooling rack above an oven tray (to catch the drips!) and poke with a skewer or toothpick all over. Pour gin glaze all over and leave to cool completely.
Once the cake has cooled completely you can ice it with the gin icing. If you want to garnish it with limes, do this just before serving as the juice will dissolve the icing a little.
I thought since I included Gooch in this post I had better add the little princess of the house too. Meet Pichinina. She has been sitting with me while I write this post. She’s such a pretty little lady.
The house I spent my teens in had a big courtyard surrounded on three sides by large windows that looked into the living areas. It was full of lush greenery including the impressive stag and elk horns, to which I was always instructed to feed my spent banana peels. Come nighttime, the greenery came alive; moths and bugs hovered around the glow of the outdoor lights, dancing beneath the beams and hanging plants. Bumping against the windows, the smallest would crawl through the fly wire only to be found scattered on the kitchen island come morning, misled by their ambition. It was when the lights went out and the bugs began this migration toward the glow of the indoors that things really came to life. Little tree frogs would start to climb the windows, feeding on the ample insects at their disposal, their feet suctioned to the glass until they leaped toward their meals, expanding their bellies before hopping back beneath the rocks to croak late into the night.
It was these little creatures that inspired my best friend and me to name our little cooking experiment Frog Diner. Looking back, it wasn’t the most creative name, but to us it was necessary for our latest game of “restaurant”. We would set up the large wooden pedestal with one of Dad’s old daybooks next to the entrance to our dining room and request that my parents take themselves off to get dressed up. On their return, they were prompted to give their name as we scanned the empty page of the daybook for their booking. We would seat them, offer them a drink, and sometimes a menu with very limited choice, and then leave them to their own devices while we took over the kitchen.
My parents weren’t huge meat eaters, and therefore, a meal with meat playing a starring role was rare in our house. I would often land on our neighbour’s doorstep, complaining that my hippy parents never gave me meat, and didn’t care if I ended up anemic. She would often feel sorry for me and invite me in for dinner. This meant the meals I generally cooked were heavily meat based; spaghetti bolognese, sausages, chops or steak.
I don’t really remember where I learnt to cook these things. I guess I watched Mum and Dad, often sitting at the island bench complaining about an upcoming teen party they were never going to let me attend no matter how hard I bargained. There was always lots of chopping and grating. A dash of this and a pinch of that from what seemed like an endless supply of dried herbs and spices from the walk-in pantry. The space it occupied was just large enough for my Dad to pull a stool into and sit on, unseen, while I celebrated my first teenage party with boys. He discovered it was the perfect vantage point for him to keep an eye on us from the reflection in the oven. Looking back, I hope he realizes this was one of those times he may have overstepped the father mark. He was uncovered when I walked in to refill the popcorn. I was mortified and banished him to the lounge where my mother could keep an eye on his over-protectiveness.
Those spices in that pantry were what shaped our ‘restaurant’s’ dishes. I had no idea what I was doing but I pinched and dashed (and often flat-out shook) those little bottles all over the pieces of steak I would inevitably overcook and toughen, before serving it up next to mashed potatoes, broccoli and carrots steamed in mum’s folding steamer. I remember it had one little flap missing, ensuring the smaller pieces would escape and boil in the water below.
The sausages and chops were always done in the vertical grill, designed long before George Forman decided to “knock out the fat”. We would cook them until they started to form crispy edges, the fat dripping into the tray at the bottom. The sausage skins would stretch and bubble; becoming taut, crisp and ready to burst under the slightest amount of pressure from a hungry bite, spilling the scalding escaped juices down an unsuspecting chin.
Dessert was usually an unimaginative bowl of ice-cream with strawberry or caramel topping, and if they were lucky, some slightly bruised fruit from the bottom of the crisper. My parents really were good sports. We would have them sitting in that dining room for almost an hour before they were able to eat. Every now and then I remember Dad requesting they move to the lounge while the ‘chef’ was still cooking but I always refused. I felt it would ruin the mood.
When dinner finally arrived, it was always met with the appropriate amount of oohs and ahs. They would both praise the flavours of the meat as they worked their jaws, chewing the toughened steak, smiling just the right amount so we didn’t suspect they were overdoing it. The vegies would disintegrate beneath their forks, often floating in some sort of powdery ‘just add boiling water’ sauce. But the praises continued until we excused ourselves to clean up, satisfied we were going to be the next big thing in food.
Since the days of the Frog Diner I’ve learnt how to cook a decent steak, how to make a béarnaise sauce from scratch, and how to host a respectable (or unrespectable, depending on the guest list) dinner party. What I did learn, though, is how good it felt to make something for the people that I love. And also, how grateful I was that mum and dad were smart enough to install a dishwasher.