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.

 

and so it continues…

Sunday 22 July

Today I decided that, such was my inertia, it was the right time to embark on the recounting of a life mostly unremarkable. And perhaps that’s a good thing, as everyone else has written about their remarkable ones and I have nothing worthwhile to add.

Email from my mother this morning. Her weight’s gone up to 65 kilos. Quel horreur! She has ovarian cancer and has just completed her sixteenth week of chemo – and she’s worried about putting on weight. My primary concern is how bad I’d look if I lost my hair – and that I weigh the same as her. While she wears a wig when she goes out, my mother’s lightly tufted head is perfectly symmetrical without it – she calls herself “emu”. She has bone structure. I don’t. I will be very ugly indeed if I get cancer. This is my greatest fear, apart from being old and mad and found flashing in a public place… And heights.

Last night, the tall, silver-haired person who, in somebody else’s script, is my really excellent roommate, our dog and I went to our friends’ house to watch the rugby. We ate tandoori chicken with salad in rolls and watched the Reds get hammered by the Sharks, helped by a referee from Durban. This didn’t seem right somehow, and everyone swore a lot. Even I, who has little enough interest in the Super whatever-number-it-is-now competition or any other sport, could see the organiser’s folly. And the rolls weren’t much cop either.

Today I scraped enough coffee together to make a decent-enough soy flat white. I forgot to buy coffee beans yesterday (and interdental brushes). This was the sum of my Saturday shopping – teeth get a lot more attention after you hit 50. No wonder we don’t have sex – by the time we’ve scraped dinner out of every cavity, our really excellent roommate has fallen asleep on the sofa.

I don’t like milk in coffee anymore; I really do prefer soy in coffee – so sue me. I have high cholesterol and a strong sense of foreboding, which is alleviated slightly by the comforting notion instilled by my doctor that it’s the ‘good cholesterol’ that’s bumping up my total. I originally thought it was the soy milk, but it turns out my foreboding is hereditary.

I’m 56 years old, but because I didn’t have children, I have absolutely no concept of how old I appear to those younger than me. Pretty old I think. I work – and occasionally socialise – with women who could be my grown-up children – some of whom have children who could be my grandchildren. I used to be a fag hag, but now I’m a youth hag.

I listen to young people’s music – but only because my husband listens to Triple J and reads all the music reviews in the weekend papers (not on an iPad either; in the actual papers) and is one of only five people in Australia who still buy CDs. At a shop. He’s also one of the five or so people who buy a newspaper every day. At a shop. I like young people’s music – and am grateful for Stu’s diligence; I also like old people’s music (and am somewhat disturbed that so many young people do, too).

My lack of self-awareness is entirely another matter. A couple of days ago, a man of 20 something, whom I was working with on a photo shoot (no, this is not going to get interesting), laughed as I was apologising about being so slow putting his number into my iPhone (and neither is that), saying his parents were hopeless at technology, too. I’m ashamed to say I was shocked. His parents?

I made a slow-roast leg of lamb today. I bought it in Coles. My only redemption may come from the fact that it was organic and had a slightly more decent life than some, although I doubt it.

I did all my shopping in Coles yesterday with my mother. She likes shopping – she admits she’s shallow. I am too – but I don’t admit it. I don’t admit to being a foodie either, even though I work in food publishing and have done since most of my colleagues were at day care.

The lamb was in the oven for seven hours – on the ‘eco’ setting, for what it’s worth. It was lemony and herby and oily and therefore delicious, but hasn’t made me feel any less guilty about doing nothing all day. Or my husband more inclined to thank me for making him dinner. Apart from walking the dog, then slumping on a chair with my feet on the coffee table watching Ronin and a compellingly awful Nordic gore-fest starring Antonio Banderas as a devout muslim. Those seven or so hours will never be retrieved. And, despite the glowering presence of my mother’s terminal illness and my fruitless attempts at positivity in her company (and lapses into guilty irritation), I am no closer to living my own life as if every day were my last. So if I don’t get back to you, it was.

Monday 23 July

I was out walking the dog at ten past six this morning. I love that stillness as dawn breaks and swear every time I happen upon it that I’ll do it every day. I’m like a goldfish – seeing things afresh every five seconds (or in the case of my early rising, every couple of weeks or so). We’ve decided the dog doesn’t actually get excited about going for a walk – it’s just another opportunity to forage for food. Not food as we know it. Cat poo. She’s a Labrador.

My friend and partner in word crimes, Danielle, and I went out to lunch today with a PR whom I like (and am weirdly fascinated by). This is rare – liking a PR, I mean; not my being weirdly fascinated by people. I get a bit obsessive about people I like. But not axe-murderer obsessive. Not yet. Danielle’s very funny and the best divider-up of food I know. We were at a brasserie called Brass that serves classic French food and classic Italian food, but thankfully not mixed together. I wish I’d not been working – I’d have had a whole cheese soufflé to myself. But my arteries are thanking me now.

Danielle has a daughter so charming I want to eat her. She’s 18 months old. Someone in a café once thought she was my grandchild. I was shocked, but not as much as my mother, who was there with us.

There’s already a theme developing here and it’s only the second bloody day of this journal.

Tuesday 24 July

Today I discovered a talent that I’d not realised I had. I type much faster and more accurately if I look away from my computer screen and keyboard. Matt Preston was dictating his copy to me. This is not as unusual as you might think. He also works in food publishing.

This means that I can type with my eyes closed, or better still, watch telly while I write. Which is what I do most nights. Watch telly. ‘Never Mind the Buzzcocks’ is on. I’ve no idea who anyone is on the panel, except for Katherine Tate. I thought “Am I bovvered?” was pretty funny the first time round.

Wednesday 25 July

I’m waiting for the finale of MasterChef to start. There’s a lamb ragù sitting on the stove – leftovers from the very roast lamb we had on my literary-career-ground-breaking Sunday. Ra-bloody-gù. What it actually comprises is a whole lot of chopped-up, already-cooked lamb chucked in with some fried onions and garlic, a large slop of red wine and a jar of Barilla Arrabbiata sauce. So, twice-cooked lamb, then. The wine’s a secret present from my boss – pinot noir from Central Otago. Tops! I’ll be drinking a glass of it while I watch the telly and my husband sulks because he detests MasterChef. Sigh… I am not a foodie. Not really. MasterChef is just what I do.

It’s a secret present, because she only bought them for a couple of us in the office. We are the chosen people. Nice.

Today my mum and I saw a whale (or possibly whales) just off the coast at south Bondi. As usual I didn’t have a telephoto lens handy. But we saw the spout and the traces of a back, my pain- and drug-raddled mother and me, after a toasted sandwich overlooking Icebergs pool. Massive swells and foaming waves sprayed our sunglasses with salt. We woz rapt, as she would write if she were texting me.

As I was cutting up the at-that-stage-only-once-cooked lamb, Stu commented on our Labrador’s relentless pursuit of the inedible, as she stared at my fingers flicking gobs of white fat into the bin, drooling gently. “They are the perfect species for farming foie gras without animal suffering – they’d love being force-fed. In fact they wouldn’t even consider it force-feeding,” he said. I think he may have finally hit on that money-spinner he’s been looking for. Huzzah! We start puppy farming on the morrow.

Thursday 26 July

Andy won. Now perhaps everyone can just get on with their lives. Although perhaps not now I’ve ruined those of the squillions of MasterChef fans watching in South Australia and WA by posting congratulations to him on our official Facebook page too soon. Once again, I see my life flashing before my eyes. This may be the end of my current career. But I have a feeling I won’t be snapped up for a role on any social-media-sodding-platform any time soon.

Friday 27 July

I’m going to try my hand at smoking this weekend. Not smoking myself per se (though I might taste quite nice with some roasted beetroot and a rocket salad). Smoking something – salmon maybe, or lamb. My other smoking days are over, inhaling and everything. Wish Joan as Policewoman had been around when I was 18 or 25 or 32 or 40. Still, inhaling to the Isley Brothers, Marvin Gaye, The Beatles and Steely Dan (may I burst into flames for my sins) wasn’t so bad. Now I just bake the occasional (mental) health bar. This way I get the nuts and seeds that my Facebook ad panel insists my rapidly ageing body needs, and can smile about it half an hour later…

I digress. I’ve brought this electric smoker home from the office to try out, to see if an unremarkable foodie such as moi could work it out and get a result. I am already panicking about it. I will probably lose sleep over it. I lose sleep over pretty much everything. The instruction manual has already pissed me off. There’s a sentence using ‘it’s’ instead of ‘its’. How can I trust it?

Ah, Joan, you sweet thing, you, crooning through the subwoofer. I know these technical terms – subwoofer and such like – because my husband knows these things… He’s technically astounding – technically in the sense of adept at matters technological rather than him perhaps being not, technically, that astounding.

Uncanny – I have a new laptop that seems to know my eyesight is failing. For no reason I can fathom, my font has suddenly become 60 points. Stu would know why.

Red is on. Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren – how good does it get on a Friday night? Successful old people wielding guns. Especially after reheated Tuesday night’s damn ragù with penne (thrice-cooked lamb – can you do that?). I did cut up some mixed tomatoes (Coles calls them ‘heirloom’) and toss them with some balsamic and olive oil and salt and pepper as a little side salad. Quite nice, actually.

Friday nights… When I first met my husband, I was a (very) mature student and used to clean a bunch of his friends’ house on Friday afternoons. Then everyone would arrive home from work, invite a bunch of other friends around and we’d wreck “all that good work”. To Soul II Soul, mostly. The late eighties – good times.

Actually, the early eighties were pretty good times, too.

Probably my worst decade was the seventies. But even that was okay.

Saturday 28 July

The fashion page in The Sydney Morning Herald’s ‘Good Weekend’ section features an Adidas by Stella McCartney skipping rope ($50). I can now die happy.

Tuesday 31 July

My, how time flies when you’ve a head full of snot.  I’ve spent the past two days drinking my body weight in fluids and it not making the blindest bit of difference. Neither did the paracetamol. And neither will a gazillion milligrams of vitamin C – they will just give you wind, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Beer is the answer to all ills, according to my husband, but it’s also the question, so it doesn’t count.

So – smoking. The machine worked amazingly efficiently: it turned a nice fillet of salmon into something that tasted like a fireman’s uniform after a bad summer in Sydney’s Royal National Park; raw almonds into Marlboro almonds; and tomatoes into something so revolting even the dog wouldn’t touch them. The smoker is simple to use, cleans up a treat and packs away into a box only slightly larger than our spare room. Perfect. I shall take it back to work for others to try. I shall not take up smoking again. That’s another thing off my bucket list.

One good thing about being sick is that you have no choice but to slump, slack-jawed, tissues shoved up your nose, watching TV during the day. Great – the London Olympics™ is on at the moment. When you’re sick, you watch anything. That’s the only time I watch cricket. I need to have the flu at the very least. Or a massive hangover (and as I don’t drink enough, flu it is, then). So I watched two days’ worth of dressage. Those horses are bloody gorgeous. They’re my favourite animal (humans included). But what really hooked me in was Lucinda Green’s commentary. I spent a fair wack of my younger years around horsey people in the UK and, I freely admit that the most of my fun I owe it to Horse & Hound – sorry, an old slogan got caught in my throat – her posh, horsey chortling soothed me like no throat lozenge could. I want to own a horse before I die. And an elephant. I also watched Water for Elephants yesterday.

In fact, before I die I’d rather like to own an animal sanctuary, but that would mean living in the country and Australian countryside scares the living daylights out of me. So much venom – and that’s just the rednecks. I might have to move to New Zealand. Wetas are harmless. Although the accent not so much. Dartmoor it is then. Perhaps Lucinda would take me in.