Killing it in Killcare

Crane at work, Killcare

My foreboding with regards to my dear friend, Kate’s, 50th birthday girls’ weekend in Killcare with a crowd of high-achieving, Amazonian yummy mummies – for which the irony of one YM’s trepidation at the thought of cooking for a ‘food critic’ was brought into sharp relief by my subsequent ignominious hoovering of sharp cheese and Branston pickle – came to nought, as usual.

The payoff for being lumbered with gloom as your default setting is the near-hysterical joy at having a pretty bloody good time, actually.

And we had a pretty bloody good time, actually, each in our own way. As I expected, some ran and ocean-swam the length and breadth of the Central Coast and frolicked n the ice-cold horizon pool (albeit briefly – even their Amazonianity baulking at that intemperate temperature); others read the paper by the fire; some languished in bed with post-karaoke migraine; others walked all the way down to Hardys Bay in the pissing rain and almost had a heart attack walking back up the hill trying to keep up with somebody fit.

After open-heart surgery, I cooked dinner.

We wore fancy dress (of sorts – my foreboding had kicked in again when I was packing, so I played it safe with a caftan and played it dangerous with hair product – not good for reading the paper by the fire). There were nylon wigs and plastic frocks – also not so good with open flames – and a gen-yoo-ine Diane von Furstenberg.

Not the person, obviously. Though I’m sure she’s perfectly genuine, too.

Anyhoo. We got trashed quite early. Fortunately, I had spent the whole of the previous day at home ‘prepping’, as they like to say on MasterChef before they cut themselves and get blood in their lamb’s tongue and chipotle panna cottas. To this end, I had channelled former MasterChef Magazine colleagues Dame Sophia Young of the Order of the Large Plastic Container, and Lord Dominic Smith, Keeper of the Glad Wrap, and their highly professional (if anally retentive) approach to preparing for a food shoot. I arrived (rather smugly, it must be said) in Killcare armed to the teeth with marinated and chopped-up stuff, knives, tea towels, platters and poultry shears, and enough packaging to do a Christo wrap on Bouddi National Park.

And while it took a little longer than usual to actually assemble the feast, what with the caftan and being trashed and all (oddly, no one offered to help with any residual chopping, content merely to peep between splayed fingers as I diced with ginger and death), it went pretty much to plan. We ate like kings – and shrieked like queens.

Definitely not in Kansas any more

It also resulted in the pomegranate molasses-fuelled invention of a potential trillion-dollar-turnover product perfectly targeted to cash in on Australia’s ageing population, requiring only comfy chairs. We’d named it, marketed it and come up with the spin-offs, all before my kitchen-buddy for the evening, Karn, stuck the sparklers in the birthday cake she’d made for dessert so casually, efficiently and swiftly that very afternoon – with an unfamiliar and very dodgy oven, and nary a plastic container in sight. Respect.

For now, this invention is under wraps – unlike Bouddi National Park, which remains blissfully unfettered by Alfoil. But the recipes aren’t, so, as promised, Kate, Susie, Linda, Shara, Karn, Amanda and Katie – here is the one that brought the house down. And thanks, Kate, for finally making it to the same decade as me – it really has felt like a bloody eternity.

Twice-cooked pork belly
without the pork

Belinda Jeffery’s honey and harissa-glazed eggplant

This is from an ABC delicious. cookbook, World Menus, and it has now become my default recipe for eggplant (with none of the foreboding). It has even convinced the silver fox that aubergine is not the devil’s work. (Indeed, he refers to it affectionately as ‘twice-cooked pork belly without the pork’ – an accolade that will resonate with the arterially challenged among us.) I don’t bother with the sun-dried tomato pesto (a concept I find a little disturbing, for some reason), as it’s just as delicious with plain old tomato paste; and I usually ramp up the harissa ratio, too. I also sling the spices, harissa, honey, tomato pesto/paste, lemon juice and salt in a bowl and stir ’em together before chucking the lot in with the sizzling garlic and ginger. And, as is my wont, I am fairly lax about quantities, relying instead on tasting as I go (the blisters are finally healing).

750g eggplant (roughly 2 medium/large)
110ml extra-virgin olive oil
3 small cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 heaped tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons harissa
¼ cup honey
3 teaspoons sun-dried tomato pesto
1½ tablespoons lemon juice, or more to taste
1½ teaspoons sea salt, or more to taste
Coriander or mint leaves, to serve

Preheat your oven to 220C (fan-forced 200C). Line a large oven tray with baking paper.

Halve each eggplant across, then slice each half into 6-8 wedges, depending on the size of your vegies. Add the wedges to a large bowl with 90ml olive oil and use your hands to mix them together to coat them thoroughly. Spread them over the prepared oven tray in a single layer. I like to arrange them skin-side down first, so as much of the cut surfaces are being blasted as poss.

Roast the eggplant for 30 minutes or until deep golden, turning halfway through cooking.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan over low heat. Add the garlic and ginger to the pan and stir for 30 seconds, or, as they say in all the best circles, until fragrant. Stir in the spices, harissa, honey, tomato pesto, lemon juice and salt and cook for a minute or so, then turn off the heat.

When the eggplant wedges are cooked, reheat the honey mixture over low heat. Using tongs, carefully transfer the wedges to the honey mixture in a single layer. Cook them gently, carefully turning them once or twice, for 8 minutes or so until they have become soaked with the glaze (just keep an eye on them, as the honey scorches easily).

When the wedges are ready, turn off the heat and taste – add a little more lemon juice or salt it necessary. Using tongs once again, carefully pile the wedges into a shallow bowl or dish. Scrape any remaining glaze over the top. Sprinkle with coriander or mint leaves and serve warm or at room temperature.

This serves four as a side, apparently, so if you’re wise, you’ll make twice the quantity and have it cold the next day.

Bring Out the Branston

If music be the food of love, I’ll have cheese and pickles, thanks.

Someone told me today that she was nervous about cooking for me at an imminent 50th-birthday girls’ weekend away because I’m a “food critic”.

Ha! Little did they know that only minutes after that brief email exchange, I would be standing at the kitchen bench bingeing on Branston pickle, Aldi Far-Too-Salty Sea Salt And Cracked Black Pepper Biscuits, Cracker Barrel Extra-Ancient Tasty Cheddar, and a long-forgotten scrap of brie – sans plate, sans napkin, sans taste, sans everything.

Well, maybe not sans taste.

And that shortly afterwards, I would be making a cup of strong, milky Rosie Lee, all the better to dunk what remains of a packet of Aldi’s Belmont Biscuit Co Dark Chocolate Palazzo Cookies.

Two, it turns out.

It’s week three of life sans the silver fox, who is back in Old Blighty for a month, steadfastly gaining weight and developing sclerosis of the liver under the watchful eyes of his family.

Back here, keeping the home fires burning in Royal Botania has meant a smug and healthy series of toothsome Big Chopped-up Salad Dinners, much like the ones I posted recipes for a few months back, when my cooking – and writing – mojo was in better shape than it is at the moment. Thank you Meat Free Week – always an inspiration.

Stupidly, rather than taking full advantage of my temporary singlehood and going out partying every night, I loaded myself up with so much work that most evenings have been spent hunched over a laptop at home after a day hunched over a desktop somewhere else. Ditto weekends.

Any spare time I’ve had has been spent doing back stretches on the floor to counter all the hunching, with the full dead weight of a sleeping chocolate Labrador crushed against my side. We’re both missing the silver fox.

Except when there’s something decent on the telly.

But tonight was different, my work was done. Lucy had been walked and had: a) not dug up the garden for the third consecutive working day; b) not succeeded in any self-harm by ingestion while on said walk. It was a good night – a night full of salady promise.

All I had to do was put the bins out: “Look over the road to see what the neighbours have put out,” quoth the silver fox as he bid me adieu. “That way you’ll know if it’s recycling week.” He was right.

His advice heeded, I returned to the kitchen, flushed with victory but overcome by a violent post-work, post-walk, post-bin low-sugar plunge, which only large volumes of crackers and the aforementioned cheese and pickle could cure, and which in turn ruled out eating, let alone cooking, anything else for a very long time.

Which is a pity, because today is Monetise This’s second birthday, and I’d have liked to have cooked it something nice.

 

Middle-age dread

Finding inspiration – and aspiration – in the strangest places

It’s been a dry couple of months – sorry about that. It’s been hard to raise a laugh recently and, what with her flabby muse fleeing to Thailand for a nip and tuck, Monetise This has had to content herself with reruns of Episodes on UK TV and the guilty pleasure of Offspring on Channel Ten – the former a dampener on aspirations of wit; the latter, a delicious mind-numb of twitchy acting, perfect skin and high boots. So it was with gratitude that I pounced upon a column by a writer who regularly affords me the opportunity for some hard-earned middle-aged spite.

She has discovered, as do many writers having to come up with weekly stuff, that there’s no better way to break a writing drought than with a list, the fallback for many a columnist, including myself back in the day, when trawling the bottom of the barrel for subject matter.

So, armed with Nikki Gemmell’s tooth-rotting droplets of wisdom, I now know what’s been missing from my autumn years – other than Chanel tennis balls, obviously.

Her 50 edifying pointers on reaching that ‘glorious, grounded milestone’ in Saturday’s Weekend Australian Magazine have inspired me to add my own, as I head into the business end of my own inglorious, grinding millstone.

1. George Orwell famously observed that at 50, everyone has the face they deserve. Or can afford.

2. The only true failure is in doing nothing. The only true success is in concealing it.

3. Perseverance is the key. But not when dealing with computers; in which case, teenagers are the key.

4. Change is a gift. It moves us forward. Unless it’s in five-cent pieces.

5. Courage isn’t needed so much for the shattering blows in life but for the long, lonely cliffs we need to climb to then haul ourselves back into peace. Courage is writing a sentence that doesn’t make readers want to throw themselves off a cliff halfway through.

6. Failure humbles us – no bad thing. Or makes us bitter and resentful – far more likely.

7. We eventually learn to laugh at our failures, to recognise the lessons of them. But remember it’s still always easier to laugh at the failure of others.

8. Life’s a vast process of distilling – hopefully into those twin balms of simplicity and serenity. Or a single malt and a splash.

9. Overlive, don’t underlive. Especially if you have a good credit rating.

10. Recognise the courage in living differently. But don’t forget to brush your teeth.

11. Cultivate your mates for what’s in their hearts, not for how they look or what they do – or what they can do for you. And if that’s not possible, their livers are another good option.

12. Arrive on time; it’s respectful. But leave before they start cleaning up.

13. Be an appreciator. Or stay out of the housing market.

14. If you have one true friend, you can forgive all the rest. But will they forgive you?

15. Don’t be sloppy with friendships – or eventually friends will become sloppy with you. Always watch When Harry Met Sally in the privacy of your own home.

16. A gentleman, and a lady, always does the kind thing. At least once a week and maybe twice on Sundays.

17. To be truly free, you have to forget what other people think of you. And after 55, forgetting is what you’ll be best at.

18. Attention’s a gift. Just make sure you keep the receipt.

19. Beware the piracy of indifference. Only download from sites that care.

20. Never underestimate the tonic of praise. Never underestimate the gin of derision.

21. Appreciate the courage in kindness. Especially if it involves a Labrador and a small hand-held treat.

22. A light heart is a wonderful armoury for living. But heavy make-up is cheaper.

23. Accomplishment makes us happy. Unless it’s someone else’s.

24. Don’t suppress a kind thought. After 50, it will give you reflux.

25. Secrets sap us, stunt our growth. But not as much as cigarettes.

26. Grasp the relief in exposure, the dignity in risk. Unless you’re Rolf Harris.

27. It’s amazing how much support you can get when telling the truth. And how much more you can get when telling lies, eh, Tony…

28. Surrender requires just as much strength as resistance. But it tends to cost more.

29. Kids watch us – and do as we do. So how does that explain Clive Palmer?

30. The question to always ask: is this the right thing to do? The answer to always respond with: I don’t comment on operational matters.

31. Goodness brings happiness. Unless it’s quinoa.

32. Doing something for someone else helps not only them but ourselves; it buoys us. Especially if they leave a tip.

33. Calm’s impossible if you want to control other people, for their will is like an eel, slipping from your grasp. So buy a bigger trawler.

34. Crack open your life to love by giving it. And always remember that Vaseline is your friend.

35. It’s impossible to seduce someone who’s content. Unless you’re under 30.

36.  Sharing vulnerability makes us realise how alike we all are. Unless we have a good builder.

37. Strong people have the courage to show their vulnerability. Stronger people have the courage to take advantage of yours.

38. The bad times dissolve, always. The good times are swallowed furtively with a margarita, mostly.

39. Beware that reducing little word, “dependent”, for it means letting ourselves be controlled by another. Be even more wary of those reducing little words, “Lite & Easy”, for it means letting ourselves be controlled by packaging.

40. Thoughtful action is always better than impulsive behaviour. But impulsive behaviour has more of a ring to it.

41.  A life lived in fear is not fully lived. Nor is a life lived commuting on the M5.

42. With sex, honesty’s the most shocking thing of all. And it doesn’t leave those unsightly stains.

43. Live with gratitude; it’s twinned with goodness. Better still, live in Griffith, NSW; it’s twinned with Treviso.

44. Listen to your inner voice – it’s always seeking happiness and peace for you. Unless it’s quoting chunks of Monty Python; then you must seek it out and destroy it.

45. Live with joy. There’s so much wonder and beauty in this world – seek it. Start at Homeworld in Kellyville; tell Joy I sent you.

46. When life is crushing, seek the solace of the land. And if the land isn’t in, go to the pub.

47. A life driven by love is preferable to a life driven by greed or ambition. As long as it’s driven in an Aston Martin.

48. There’s not a person alive who doesn’t want to be told they’re loved. And not a dead person who could hear you if you told them.

49. At the end of our lives the question should be not what we’ve done, but how well we’ve loved. And how much we spent, factoring in the cost of prophylactics.

50. Stop. Take a deep breath. Think of three things to be thankful for, let the gratitude flow through you and… smile. Because you’re now free to throw out all those nauseating aphoristic little self-help books displayed by the cash register in bookshops that you’ve been given every Christmas since the dawn of time, and that dog-eared pile of Yours magazines, and go get a life.

 

 

 

 

 

Boojay, boojay!

Allons enfants de la Patrie!

Unlike most of you spineless ‘social justice’ bleeding-heart whingers, I am feeling much restored by the Budget. The Sydney Morning Herald’s letters pages, of course, have been offering succour and a splendid sense of solidarity, as the silver fox and I partake of our first lethal cocktails of the evening after a day at our respective unentitled coalfaces. Indeed, my relationship with my liege grows ever stronger, as we lean in together, spectacles brushing, poring over those letters and opinion pages, searching for meaning. And oh how we talk, long into the night – until the start of QI sometimes – about honesty, about morality, about freedom, about justice, about opportunity. Ah yes, comrades, plotting the overthrow of a government while tightening one’s belt is a heady mix, and cheaper than a $200 relationship counselling voucher.

When not breathing deep of the scent of revolution that hangs seductively in the air and, occasionally, on the bus, I am busying myself with the making of some pretty excellent food, even if I do say so myself (which is the whole point of a vaguely food-smeared blog such as this, obviously). I find I cook better when I’ve come over all Vanessa Redgrave in Julia. And how could I not, when our current political grist is so damn millable.

Inspiration has come from many quarters of the culinary, if not fiscal, kind. The Budget is the antithesis of inspirational, whatever that word is. I’ll leave it at ‘f**ked’ – much like that odious car rental ad – and move right along.

To wit, to coq au vin, inspired by a top young fellow by the name of Warren Mendes, assistant food editor at ABC delicious. magazine, who’d been messing about in the test kitchen and come up with a cracking, speed-freak version.

It took me back to the good old days of MasterChef Magazine, when George Calombaris looked more like Mumble in Happy Feet than Crush from Finding Nemo, and Matt Preston looked like Dame Widow Twankey in man drag (and still does, which is why I’ve always liked him, by the way – he reminds me of childhood pantomime outings at Golders Green Hippodrome in North London). So, pumped with adrenalin and moral outrage, I thought I’d do it the hard way, The. MasterChef. Way.

Always read the recipe all the way through before starting, unless voting isn’t compulsory.

This recipe’s owner is Dominic Smith, another top young fellow, who was the assistant food editor of that briefly lived, even more briefly mourned food magazine. His coq au vin is a corker, too, even though my finished beeeeeautiful dish didn’t quite have the glossy, coppery loveliness of the shot you’ll see when you click on the link or rummage feverishly through your back copies for (it’s in August 2010). My fault, entirely, of course, because wrath got the better of me and, as so often happens on a Saturday arvo, I was too busy spitting political vitriol with my beloved to concentrate on the recipe, thus missing out vital elements – the caramelised eschalots, for one. But, like all good recipes, it was forgiving enough to shoulder the burden of a few omissions. Unlike Greg Hunt.

And, due to my small-‘L’-liberal use of a feisty Barossa red rather than the required pinot noir, the result was deeply and audaciously winey.

Much like I’ve been all week.

 

A knife less ordinary

Never look a gift-knife in the mouth

Someone sent me a knife by courier a couple of weeks ago. A very beautiful, very sharp, wooden-handled knife called the Messermeister Oliva Elité (note that this is no ordinary knife – not content to be merely Elite, no sirree; it’s an Elité). It is a very good knife. It comes in a sleek wooden box with a little brass latch.

It was sent to me, I’m assuming, because I’ve been writing the Quick Bites food news page for The Australian Women’s Weekly for the past year or so, and I get sent a lot of stuff to try. Of course, it could be a hate crime, but there’s nothing in the accompanying press release that would lead me to believe that. And I reckon a hate crime wouldn’t involve a sleek wooden box, either, latch or no latch, unless it was big enough for me, of course.

This knife has scored a fine line between pleasure and pain.

First – purrrrrrr – someone had kindly sent me an expensive kitchen knife to try. And verily, it was good. It slid through those tomatoes like a sharp knife through a tomato. She sent it to me because I might write about it for my next AWW page. Except – ouch – I’ve given up that particular day job, which means this Elité-st of knives has now been wasted on someone with little influence in the mass-media-sphere. Not that I’m sure how many people have actually read my AWW page, but I’m guessing it may have been slightly more than those who read this one.

And I feel a bit bad about that because I like this Messermeister, and it would have looked very handsome as a high-resolution image on my magazine page. And I could have written a punny headline like ‘Knife Work!’ to go with the copy. But not bad enough about it to send it back – I’ve never had any aspirations to be the NSW premier, anyway. So thank you. It’s fab. I hope whoever takes over my AWW gig will also receive one and do it media justice.

Using this paragon of knifeliness threw my kitchen-drawerful of bluntness into, um, sharp relief. So I did something about it, or at least Vicky Loomans, motorcyling Messerherrin of the mean streets of Botany, did. I am now happily (and harmfully) armed with an entire squadron of Messer at the peak of their shärfe.

Life is good when you have your own personal knife sharpener – especially one as cool as she is. She even does the serrated ones, tiny scallop by tiny scallop. I like that kind of dedication. I will definitely be entrusting my Messermeister to her care.

Vicky and I met while walking our respective dogs at Sir Joseph Banks Park. Sheer repetition does that to people. In the end, we wear each other down with our cheery hellos. Her dog, Ace, is a lean, spare little Staffy cross, full of smiley, bouncy good humour – unless you’re a rabbit. Mine, as you all well know, is none of these things, except for the smiley, bouncy good humour thing. Rabbits laugh at Lucy behind her back.

Vicky is one of a handful of regular pounders of our local mean streets and parks. There are Debbie and Basil – Debbie, a nurse, warm of heart and lover of a chat with the girls over a sav blanc, who specialises in breast cancer care; Basil, a taciturn, preoccupied Schnauzer, who leaves the talking to her. Theresa and Skye – Theresa, a maudlin, late-middle-aged Croatian, all Eeyore-like gloom; Skye, her once-handsome German Shepherd, now sagging-hipped and bouffant-haired, a wistful victim of over-grooming and an unwavering (unrequited) passion for Lucy. And dear old Gerry and Max – Gerry being a chipper, chatty, Cockney fellow who likes to talk to me about my choice in cars; Max, his unfailingly amiable fat black kelpie, whom Gerry gets clipped regularly by someone with either a disturbing disregard for consistency or blunt clippers, thus rendering poor Max rather patchy, though so far blessedly un-scarred. I might recommend that Gerry seek out the services of Ms Loomans for the relief of all concerned.

As for anyone else in need of a damn good sharpening, here’s Vicky’s email address. Because you’re worth it. vjloomans@gmail.com

 

 

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