Last orders

The final day of Meat Free Week, so here’s the recipe for the meal I started the week with – that cheeky spinach and feta pie with the lustrous curls – as I promised, and for which I’m sure the two of you who follow this blog have been gagging all week.

A gun, a knife and spanakopita
– all you need for a Sunday night

Some kind of spanakopita

Serves 2 greedy omnivores, with soggy but delicious leftovers for Monday’s packed lunch

Olive oil, for slathering and cooking (you could use melted butter, but that’s a matter for you and your cardiologist)

2 large cloves of garlic, very kindly chopped

1 bunch of silverbeet, rinsed, drained well, then leaves roughly shredded, larger stalks discarded, smaller ones not-so-kindly chopped

About a half of a 200g slab of Dodoni feta or other, creamy, salty Greek deliciousness (you could use grated haloumi, or a mixture of the two, depending on whether you like food that squeaks)

2 – 3 eggs, according to that discussion you had with the cardiologist

A handful each of chopped dill, mint and flat-leaf parsley

2 teaspoons fennel or cumin seeds, toasted and crushed to smithereens – your choice

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

6 sheets filo pastry

Heat the oven to about 200C and slather a light coating of olive oil over a 20cm square baking pan.

Cook the garlic for about 1 minute until it’s soft and delicately scenting the kitchen because you’ve forgotten to put the extractor fan on.

Add the chopped silverbeet stalks and cook for another minute, then add the leaves and cook for a couple more until it’s all started to wilt a bit. Cover with a lid and set aside for another couple of minutes to get a bit soggier, then take off the lid and leave to cool while you’re getting the rest of the filling and pastry sorted.

Pour a stiff drink – this next part is worth at least one glass of ouzo, but not retsina – never retsina.

In a large bowl, crumble in your feta, crack in your eggs and throw in your herbs, spice and zest, then stir it all until it looks, well, inedible, actually. But don’t despair; instead, season it well with salt and pepper. Once the silverbeet is no more than blood temperature (you could come over all 1950s hausfrau and use your elbow to test it, if you’re in a Mad Men frame of mind), add it to the feta mixture, making sure you’ve drained any cooking juice and chucked it away (or over the long-suffering aloe vera plant on the window sill) and mix it well. Even more unattractive? Fear not, all is not lost – just set it aside and avert your gaze.

Drape 1 filo sheet into the pan, slather with olive oil, then top with another one. Do the same with more olive oil, then top with a third filo sheet.

Tip the silverbeet mixture into the centre of the filo base and spread it out nicely, then scrunch up the edges of the filo to form a sovereign border.

Next is the fun part – again, with thanks to genius food personage, Claire Brookman, of Super Food Ideas, for this trick – lay the last three sheets of filo on top of each other, then roll the stack up like a big, fat Brixton spliff. Then, with a sharp knife (as if you’d have anything else!), cut the filo roll into thick rounds.

More fun than the hairdresser’s

Once you’ve done that, tease each roll out like a Pantene commercial and arrange the cascading curls over the top of the filling, until it’s completely and prettily covered. Then gently brush more olive oil all over the top and sovereign border so the pastry gets all golden and crunchy in the oven.

Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the pastry is all G and C and the filling is nice and hot.

Serve it in large slabs, with a simple tomato salad tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and a large pelican bib to catch the crumbs.

For final donations to the good people of Voiceless and their work for animal welfare, head to my link on the Meat Free Week site and give generously. From me and all the vegetables who’ve not suffered unduly in the making of my dinners, we salute you.

Vegetables we have loved

Meat Free Week: a long dame’s journey into knight

Entitled rocket fit for a king

A brief post this evening, underlings, as there is much to be done still in the kingdom of Royal Botania before dusk’s murky shadows turn to inky night.

The household has been all of a flutter as we prepare ourselves to make haste to Parliament House to receive official recognition for our services to dog-ownership, skirting-board-cleaning and the growing of immaculate salad leaves.

While my liege, Lord Fox of the Silver Sideboards, anxiously watches a pre-recorded football match between the two Manchesters, United and City, in mortal fear for the fate of his beloved Chelsea, I am busying myself with the preparation of this evening’s repast. It will be a simple and not entirely meat-free affair: for he who must be obeyed, a nest of spaghetti, hand-extruded by vestal virgins and crowned lovingly by defrosted, reheated bolognese sauce; for me, his humble servant, and the soon-to-be Dame Sally, Holder of the Volkswagen Keys, a homemade mushroom ragout folded tenderly through same.

And to celebrate our good sense at living in The Fortuitous Country, we will cap off our feast by tossing together a right royal rocket salad with balsamic and olive oil, drinking deeply of a bold Australian red and throwing another asylum seeker on the fire.

Until next time – and may the farce be with you.

Meat Free Week: day one

Sunday night inspiration
– better than watching the news

So, last Sunday evening was spent in a flurry of recipe thumbing – heaven knows why, because it’s more than likely that, as usual, I’ll make things up as I go along. But the spirit was willing, and, even if I don’t follow all the recipes I’ve marked with little stickers, it kept me off the streets.

The first day has passed innocuously enough, despite the near-miss I had while preparing tonight’s dinner – Neil Perry’s Pasta with Simple Zucchini Sauce.

Anchovies – they’re seasoning for heaven’s sake; barely fish at all.

Happily, I managed to avert a crisis that could have been even more humiliating than the now-infamous Meat Free Week Tinned Tuna Incident of 2013, and make a Simple Zucchini Pasta Even Simpler. Winner.

All you need is some short pasta (call it vertically challenged, if you will), three large zucchinis, grated, a generous pinch of dried chilli flakes, three plumptious garlic cloves, olive oil and salt and black pepper. Squeeze the living daylights out of the grated zucchini to get rid of any excess moisture. At this point, if I were a health-juice kind of gal (which I’m not), I’d drink that green, foamy liquid and do a few dozen salutes to the sun (which I didn’t). Instead, I watered my aloe vera with it, musing as I did as to whether I was committing some sort of twisted vegetable cannibalism.

While you’re cooking the pasta in a large saucepan of boiling salted water, fry up (not ‘off’ – you’re not a bloody chef) the garlic and chilli in a couple of generous tablespoonfuls of olive oil for a 2 minutes, then throw in the zucchini and toss it all around for a couple more. Add the drained pasta and season well. Toss through a bit more olive oil and serve with liberal amounts (that’s small ‘l’ liberal, mind) of grated parmesan.

I reckon it would also be nice with some finely grated lemon zest tossed through it, but don’t tell Neil Perry I said so.

Finally – big thanks to Kerry W, Andrew M, Amanda K and ‘Someone’, for your very generous donations to my Meat Free Week campaign. If anyone reading this would like to do the same, just click on this link. Until next time.

Away with all flesh

Not a meat in sight

Once again, the time is almost nigh for Monetise This and her alter ego, Sally Feldman, to lay her omnivority on the line and launch into her second annual Meat Free Week (beginning next Monday, 24 March).

In this endeavour, I’m joining a host of far more able ambassadors, donation-gatherers, vegetarians, vegans, simpatico died-in-the-wool meat-eaters, environmental evangelistas, sustainability sisters and brothers, animal activists (the human kind, obviously; there aren’t any rabbits or beagles able to don balaclavas and harness the power of social media as yet, but, hey, I’m sure science’s finest are working on it) and the colon-concerned. Our aim – to boldly raise funds for, and awareness of, the unconscionable cruelty of factory farming, the short-sighted idiocy of unsustainable cultivation practices and the adverse health effects of excessive meat consumption (I’m talking to you, paleo nutbags).

Hello, Voiceless, Australian Conservation Foundation and Bowel Cancer Australia!

This week of meatlessness will be no laughing matter – especially now I have to commute on the infamous 310 bus to and from Surry Hills to earn a crust. Chopping up lots of stuff is far more irksome when you’re bus-lagged and buggered than chucking something hard to digest on the barbie or in a slow-cooker. It will, however, be a lot easier than my maiden week of meatlessness last year, which started badly due to my misapprehension as to the meat-free viability of tinned tuna. The shame. This year, no majestic creature of the deep – however unrecognisable once canned – will sully these lips. Promise.

In fact, since last year’s efforts (in which I managed to scrape together almost no sponsorship, thereby rendering myself not only chastened but broke) our household’s consumption of animal protein has pretty much halved. Not only Meat Free Mondays, my friends, but Wednesdays, Thursdays and more! This was due to our decision to cut down drastically for the betterment of our four-legged/wing-ed friends and as well as our own self-serving health concerns. My decision, actually – the silver fox goes along with it because it’s a choice of less meat or homelessness.

As some of my more patient blogthren will know, the salad, in all its wondrous configurations, is my most treasured food group, second only to cake, which I am far less equipped to construct without requiring therapy. I have photographed (shakily) and written recipes (snarkily) for some of these elsewhere on this site, and will doubtless plagiarise myself (and others, whom I promise to give due credit) to hell and back in the coming week.

Next week’s daily Instagram and Facebook updates will be illustrated predominantly by nude glamour shots of vegetables and fruits such as the one above, with the occasional legume and complex carbohydrate thrown in for extra raunch.

Rather than weary you with poorly rendered facsimiles of what those classy purveyors of food porn at The Food Dept do so much better, I’ve set myself the task of describing my travails instead. Unless something I cook happens to end up looking particularly edible.

All this, dear readers and prospective sponsors, in the cause of kindness, mindfulness and cleanliness (of the planetary kind) – plus, hopefully, money from you. My aim is to raise a pitiful $250 towards my chosen animal charity, Voiceless, and I’ll be damned grateful if you’d be kind enough to cough up some of your small change so that I don’t end up broke and chastened again this year.

To sponsor me (or anyone else taking part), follow the links at www.meatfreeweek.org.au where you’ll find me, hidden somewhere among luminaries such as Valli Little, of delicious., Simon Bryant, of Tasting Australia, and Maggie Beer, of pretty much everything else.

Spanakopita with a fringe on top

For now, though, here’s something I made earlier, for which I’ll rustle up a recipe and post next week. Kudos for the scrunchy, curly filo pastry lid goes to the indomitable food team of Kim Coverdale and Claire Brookman at Super Food Ideas, where I’m learning just what steeliness of character it takes to come up with a squillion recipes a month to feed a family in under 30 minutes and still be able to walk with a modicum of dignity in towering black patent court shoes. Respect.

Until Monday then – start fossicking down the back of the couch for a few coins – and may the fork be with you.

For the love of dog

The Four Ages of Lucy

Today Lucy is 10. That’s about a millennium in hamster years.

We will be spending the morning in Rushcutters Bay park with Grandma – a walk, a dip in the seaweedy corner with a stick or two (Lucy that, is; not Mrs F) and then a coffee and something small and delicious (for us that is; not Lucy – that would be a step too far) at the café by the tennis courts.

‘Grandma’.

To Lucy’s credit and my embarrassment, she now recognises this anthropomorphically challenged term, displaying the requisite Labrador-y joyous anticipation whenever it is uttered.

Full-body wag.

We met on a Sunday afternoon nearly 10 years ago. The silver fox was working on a refit at the snooty Scanlan & Theodore boutique de fasseeon in Paddington and kept coming home talking about the hot manager there. Turns out that the manager was only the half of it (sadly, only in his dreams). It was her dog – noble of head, green-eyed and velvet-brown, sitting serenely beside her in the shop – that he really wanted.

When the fox and I met – when he was more brown than silver, and I more brown than blonde – we were both newly minted puppy owners. Our respective friends had recognised a gap in our then-separate lives and taken pity on us. Neither of us was getting any, so we got a dog instead.

Mine was Annie, an intense, bordering-on-psychotic blue heeler who, from an early age, could amuse herself for hours by throwing her own ball from the top of the stairs of my shared terrace house in order to retrieve it.

Hours.

His was a shiny, coal-black, streetwise mutt called Judy, who spent the first six months of her life living in the back of his maroon VF Valiant, chewing through the back seat. There’s still never been a better $20 spent at Paddy’s Markets.

Annie was named for Annie Hall. I was going through a Woody Allen revival period, so sue me.

Judy is the Liverpudlian slang for ‘girl’. The silver fox has always been way cooler than me.

The four of us moved in together and lived in relative harmony for about 15 years, despite Annie’s fruitless attempts to cattle-dog Judy into bovine submission.

But then we were just two again – our first-generation family gone within a year of each other, ashes scattered solemnly and tearfully into the ocean at Little Bay.

Our official mourning lasted for three months after Judy died, cradled in my arms on the floor of the vet’s, just like Annie had a year before her. Such an aching loss, holding that soft, empty weight.

Those three months were a sad time of dog-lessness, of solitary walks and un-thrown sticks. Being a dog owner changes you in so many subtle and complex ways. I can no longer walk past a stick without appraising it for its throwability, for example.

But I digress. During those dark days, unknown to me, the quick brown fox had been, in his quaint, one-digit way, surfing the dogosphere to find a puppy of the same suave cut as that Scanlan & Theodore model.

So, on that fateful Sunday 10 years ago, we took a leisurely, middle-aged country drive to visit a place he’d been stalking online, which happened to have a couple of chocolate Labrador puppies available. Just to look, mind.

Lucy – noble of head, green-eyed and velvet-brown – felling us with a single blow the moment she curled up on the silver fox’s lap to sleep as we drove carefully back to Sydney. New parents bringing the baby home in a Doris Day movie.

And so has developed a deeply rewarding and loving relationship, weighted slightly in Lucy’s favour, despite every effort on her part to self-harm by ingesting dangerous substances. Indeed, we’ve managed to keep her in better condition than we’ve ever been in, or are ever likely to be if we make it to 70. That’s 490 in dog years.

Happy birthday, Lucy.

‘Lucy, after Warhol’, with thanks to Dan Peterson