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.

Shake ’n’ bake

The sum of all hope – a late planting of cos lettuce and flat-leaf parsley

Nearly a whole month gone and not a post to speak of – shame on me. I put it down partly to that summer-weight waffle-weave blanket of gloom that descends once Christmas and New Year are over and you realise once again that if you’re not a kid, or you don’t have kids, there’s very little point to either, and they just get in the way of the summer holidays.

Second, the arrival to my living room of GirlsGeneration War and True Detective, plus nightly doses of QI, has rendered me in turn dazzled, devastated and dumbstruck in equal measure (the last due entirely to the near-incomprehensible accent of Matthew McConaughey and his hypnotic sibilance). The delivery of our new leather rocking chair and ottoman hasn’t exactly helped. Rock ’n’ loll.

But it’s not all soft leather seating and script-writing envy. The silver fox has completed another of his long-running household projects – The Wall. Not, I might add, a remix of Pink Floyd’s bloated opus, but a refix of our outside wall, once raddled and crumbling with damp. Which means that finally, after nigh on a year of neglect, our big, heavy planter pots have been returned to their rightful position and are now bristling with cos lettuce, spinach, rocket, parsley, basil, lemon thyme, oregano and rosemary. (I finally gave up on tomatoes when I discovered, after years of blaming possums, fruit bats, caterpillars and birds for the mysterious disappearance of my fruit, that Lucy the Labrador was partial to my cherry love apples – stop it! – after catching her red-pawed nibbling them straight off the vine.)

These lucky little seedlings have been treated to stinking-rich organic potting mix and a thick and fragrant matting of sugarcane mulch. Each morning and evening they’re cooed over and complimented and watered by yours truly, who believes fervently in the power of verbal persuasion when it comes to horticultural success. Yes, there may be many child-rearing professionals who are (finally!) beginning to refute the worth of constant positive affirmation for the optimum development of children into sane adults (although screaming at them like a banshee isn’t the answer, either, judging by psycho-mater next door), but it’s never hurt with plants as far as I can ascertain.

Simple White Bread from
a book I didn’t write, with tomatoes I didn’t grow

The growing of stuff always seems to have a knock-on effect on this helicopter gardener; namely, the making of stuff. So, over the long and lovely Australia Day weekend – which we spent in a resolutely un-Australian manner (that is, quietly, solitarily and soberly, with nary a lamb chop or prawn on the barbie, nor even a contract to dredge up an entire World Heritage-listed site or old-growth forest) – I dragged out Leanne Kitchen’s fantastic cooking tome, The Baker, from the top shelf in my larder and baked some bread. It was called Simple White Bread and it was good. I didn’t listen to Lorde on Triple J’s Top 100 while I was making it, however. For that I will no doubt burn forever in the fires of Hell, but it was worth it.

And now it’s the first weekend of February, and down at the Royal Botanic Gardens by the harbour, there’s been a weekend celebration of the tomato, called, oddly enough, the Tomato Festival, where all manner of red-tinted events have been taking place – from passata and chutney challenges to ‘best in show’ tomato growing competitions, judged by the Gough and Margaret Whitlam of gastronomy, Terry Durack and Jill Dupleix. Maybe next year – if I can gag the dog.

I wasn’t able to be there to enjoy it, unfortunately. I had other fish to fry. But not shark. I left that to Colin Barnett, whom I’ll doubtless soon be standing with at the gates of Hades.

A little bit country… redux

Country Style, December 2013

Oops! Well, that will serve me right for getting over-excited. I’ve just posted (and swiftly removed) a piece about my latest foray into the world of magazines, talking about the wrong restaurant. I think they call this hubris…

Suffice to say, what I really wanted to promote was the latest issue of Country Style, which goes on sale tomorrow, complete with a story I wrote about St Isidore, a fab restaurant on the NSW south coast in the edge of the buzzy little town of Milton. Chef Alex Delly and his partner, Jo Thomas, have created a garden paradise, where they grow most of their own produce and create gorgeous, modern-rustic food, and a warm, welcoming haven for lucky locals and an ever-increasing band of travellers. Apologies to them, and to you, for rushing into the previous post. I’ll just put it down to over-excitement.

Now for a Valium and a good night’s sleep…

Been there, loved that

Hooray! My South Coast locavore story, aided and abetted by the talented Josh Tyler, of Tyler’s Pantry in Mogo, is out today in the fabulous December/January issue of ABC delicious.

To celebrate, I’ve thrown together a few extra snaps for your delectation. Suffice to say – I bloody well love this stunning part of the world, so please don’t all go rushing there and spoiling it with your small bars and pig’s ear sliders. Just read about it, instead, okay?

 

Stuff I like: Happy International Left-handers’ Day

Spring in August: the sky is falling

Just a quickie. I wanted to send a belated message of good wishes and solidarity to all my fellow lefties. No, not you…

A startling fact was brought to my attention this morning by my young, winsome and temporary colleagues at ABC delicious. magazine. Today is International Left-handers’ Day (and, indeed, has been thus since 1992, as far as I recall from my fleeting check on Google just now).

I can’t believe I’ve missed it for all these years. Granted, this may be because I’m not, technically, a thoroughbred ‘cack ‘ander, as our family has always so charmingly coined it. I do certain things with my left hand; others with my right. Writing, drawing, cleaning, soup-and-wooden-spooning, unscrewing: left. Cutting, chopping, slicing, stirring, scissoring, tennising, knife-and-forking: right. But I’m not technically ambidextrous, either, as these (dubious) skills cannot be alternated ‘twixt those two extremities. Ambi Pur then.

That news this morning was slightly less well received, and only briefly retained in my increasingly sieve-like memory, because I’d awoken with something of a start at 5.30am to the familiar doleful, relentless calls of our miserable bastard of a local koel (local koel – try saying that after a couple of glasses of pinot and a ‘Rural Juror’ episode of 30 Rock).

Too soon. Too soon… Koels, jasmine blossom, purple lilly pilly berries. I’ve only just mastered winter braises, already. We’re all doomed.

 

Stuff I like – April

Brooklyn Boy Bagels

As a postscript to the festival of Rosalind yesterday, this brief little missive pays homage to another beloved family institution, the Sunday bagel. We were a secular Jewish family, with only the occasional foray to synagogue for high days and holidays – chiefly to show off in our new dresses with matching hair ribbons and black patent shoes (me and my sister, that is; my parents weren’t the ribbon-wearing kind, at least, not that I was aware of).

We ate ham, bacon and pork sausages (though, oddly, never roast pork – perhaps that was just too close to the, um, bone) with as much relish as we did salt beef (corned beef), latkes and new green or sweet-and-sour cucumbers. On Sundays, uncles and aunts and cousins would often arrive for afternoon tea, so Dad would head out in the morning to the decidedly non-kosher seafood stand somewhere along the Hendon Way (a north London suburb whose only claim to fame is as home to the Metropolitan Police training college) to pick up buckets of prawns and scampi. Or perhaps smoked salmon and cream cheese, chopped liver, egg and onion, and schmaltz herring from the Stanmore deli (a suburb whose only claim to fame is that it’s at the end of the London Underground’s Jubilee Line).

And there were always bagels. Plain white, dense, chewy bagels with patent-leather crusts, which we pronounced ‘buy-gels’ – a remnant, presumably, from London’s East End cockney pronunciation. I’d never heard them pronounced ‘bay-gels’ until I moved to Australia. And certainly, the running ‘Dad joke’ that my friend Manda’s dad, Martin Block, had with his daughters as they left for school each morning: “Bye girls!”, with which they’d respond with a chorus of: “Platzels!”, certainly wouldn’t have provoked such regular hilarity had the East End lingua franca not held sway.

Anyway – at long last, I’ve found a reason to get out of bed early on a Sunday morning and go buy some bagels of my own. While the Wellington cake shop in Bondi Road has always made a fair fist of them, Michael Shafran, the Brooklyn boy of Brooklyn Boy Bagels, has nailed ’em good and proper. Chewy, shiny and probably far healthier than the ones Dad used to buy back in the day. There are even ones with caraway seeds on them, a little outré for purists, perhaps, but nicely reminiscent of the proper rye bread that our mountains of hot salt beef used to be slapped between by the (usually surly) geezers at the salt beef bar in Edgware (a suburb whose only claim to fame is that it’s at the end of the Northern Line).

So, to all my friends in the old country on the Jubilee and Northern Lines, it’s finally safe to come over and visit. All I need to track down now is some decent salt beef…

It must be love…

We’re both very excited to appear in the latest issue of the snazzily revamped Gardening Australia magazine. Editor of the pets pages, Jenny Baldwin, who has always seemed somewhat bemused by my tragic devotion to this great boofhead of a chocolate labrador, recklessly asked me to write the first of a series of columns on people and their pets, titled ‘It Must Be Love’.

It’s a brief but heartfelt little homage to our relationship and our common passion for food, gardening and getting caught in the rain (although Lucy doesn’t like pina coladas so much). The magazine’s on sale now, and we’re both very proud – although we’re never going to live it down at the dog park…