The god of small things and other snacks

Monday 27 August
I’m beginning to realise now why people talk and write so bloody much about food. Minimum controversy, maximum flavour. You grow it, buy it, kill it, chop it and cook it. Occasionally in that order. You can have an opinion on it that won’t get you jailed or killed (unless you live in Sydney and eschew dude food). I mean, what I’d really like to blog about is the evangelical type my husband and were bailed up by at a restaurant launch in Nowra last Saturday.

Nowra – pearl of the near South Coast. But perhaps not, I hear you murmur, gentle blog follower, the most promising of environs for a restaurant opening; nor, indeed, the most promising of destinations in which to avoid a Christian Democrat.

But you’d be wrong – on the first count anyway. The restaurant, Wharf Rd, proved to be a riverbank paradise of blond wood, white paintwork and witty details, with an interesting enough modern menu (local produce: tick; home-cured charcuterie made from local produce: tick; Himalayan salt brick curing cabinet with local produce arranged à la Damien Hirst in front of a picture window in the private dining room: tick) at a reasonable price point. David, the chef, and his wife, Nicole, are young, entrepreneurial, clever, charming, handsome and talented, so I wasn’t in the best of moods to start with, despite the way my VW Golf TSi had held the bends at 100km/hr through Kiama. God, I love my overpriced European car.

After a couple of beers (the silver fox) and a pisco sour (moi), and several brief, cordial exchanges with people our own age but with more jewellery, my spirits lifted. The deliciously salty snacks were coming thick and fast – smoked local alpaca, who knew?

Not only that, but, with what I suspect was a canny nod towards nose-to-tail eating (something I’m more than happy for anyone else but me to do), there were even local-alpaca-skin throws draped over the white banquettes. Sitting on what you’ve just eaten. That witty detail could be one step too far.

And suddenly there he stood, his flushed face just inches from ours, only lower – silver fox and I are both taller than average – Paul, the relentlessly outgoing mayor of Shoalhaven. Paul, who, he told us at biblical-proportion length, had been given a sign by God to move from preaching to politics. Paul, whom God had also blessed with a dry, warm, firm, outgoing handshake and six children. And yes, I truly believe that these two things were related.

We bit our irreligious tongues (neither locally produced nor cured, unfortunately) and waited for divine intervention. None arrived of course – probably because neither of us believe in it – certainly not before the speeches started. So we left instead. Apparently Paul is heading to the Upper House to be with Fred Nile and his heavenly host of assorted Christian Dems and Shooters and Fishers Party cronies, leaving Nowra’s mayoral duties open to all manner of godless political opportunism. I favour a certain Joanna Gash. But not for the reason you may immediately think.

Tuesday 28 August
Writing in bed on a laptop is a new experience to me, and one I can see becoming a regular and pleasing pastime, despite the pain in my neck from a poorly positioned pillow. Watching TV hasn’t proved that fruitful a source of inspiration recently, certainly not in the way that long hours of Olympic™ dressage did. Trying to follow the conversation on a show such as The Newsroom as I write just gives me a headache, despite its occasional funny moments. Those people talk so damn fast – I can hardly make out what they’re saying. Save me – I’m sounding more and more like my mother/grandmother/aunt/the lady who mutters to herself on the escalator at Westfield. I don’t understand the words to songs anymore either. But fortuitously, I am a rather fine whistler. So I just whistle along to everything. Even to Frank Ocean. Kill. Me. Now.

Wednesday 29 August
So… tapas – a collection of snacky stuff that you eat while you’re drinking. Great idea and, in a perfect world – say, San Sebastian – they make perfect sense. On a corner of Oxford Street in Darlinghurst, not so much, no matter how charming the shaggy-haired, bristle-chinned ex-derivative-trader-owner. A five-centimetre square of over-seasoned potato omelette served on a piece of slate does not a tortilla make. Certainly not when shared among three hungry women after a hard day at the coalface drilling down, moving forward and working smart. Give it up now, boys, put the chef out of his misery and go back to stripping businesses’ assets instead of customers’ wallets. No amount of smouldering eye contact will lure us back.

Snow eggs and sports shoes

Sunday 19 August

The MasterChef All Stars finale is on and I have had strict instructions from my colleagues to ‘STAY OFF FACEBOOK – remember how you destroyed the lives of half a continent last time’. So I am. I will not reveal the winner to anyone beyond these four walls and, as my silver fox of a husband is guaranteed to be asleep before the BIG REVEAL, it will remain mine and the dog’s secret until dawn’s blue light.

Damn that MasterChef pause and all it portends. I’ve done that pre-burning-MasterChef-logo pause (it took three takes) and it is no mean feat, my friends. Those judges aren’t just a pretty face and highly developed palate.  Yes, I, too, have had ‘my day in the sunshine’, as ABC Grandstand’s own Sporty Spice, David Morrow, put it recently about some Olympian or other. In fact, so effective was I in my sunshine-drenched rendition of celebrity-guest-judge-magazine-editor-bitch-from-hell, apparently, that I ‘made Absolutely Fabulous look like reality TV’, according to one of the reader comments on the Sydney Morning Herald recap the following day. That’ll do me. Something to tell my imaginary grandchildren one day.

Peter Gilmore and his snow egg have arrived. But this time it’s different. Jackfruit is the hero of the dish. A masterstroke of pure, evil genius – but nothing that all-round good guy Callum can’t cope with. Or Chris for that matter. See? I didn’t give anything away.

But far more important is this weekend’s other breaking news. It seems that I’ve been wearing the wrong walking shoes. Or at least hadn’t realised that the shoes I have been wearing were simply not up to the job. ASICS has released its Gel-Cardio Zip – ‘a walking shoe designed to help you forget your feet, love mornings, solve work issues, stay healthy, plan holidays, chat with your dog, and much more besides’. I had no idea this was possible. The only one of these I’ve ever managed is chatting with my dog – sometimes even when she’s walking with me. Not only that, but it also seems that you can’t do any of these things if you’re a runner, as ‘ASICS specialist walking shoes are designed different to [sic] our running shoes’. Someone in the copywriting department didn’t wear their Gel-Cardio Zips before they coughed up that particular sentence, did they…

An optimistic baker

I’ve been working in food publishing for more than 15 years, but I still don’t own two 20cm baking pans. I have one, and a slightly larger one. Yet despite this failing, I will, very occasionally, throw myself with abandon into the act of cake-making. Before I start, I am positively tipsy with anticipation – of the warm waft of spices and sugar filling the house, the seductive alchemy of raising agents, and the heady steam that fogs my glasses as I open the oven door too soon – always too soon.

So last Sunday I cranked up FBI on the radio and baked a cake – not, I hasten to add, merely as an excuse to regale you, step-by-floury-step, with the joys and perils of my culinary journey, aided by a series of very-close-up digital photographs. I baked it for a colleague’s birthday. A colleague’s birthday whose other colleagues are skilled culinary professionals who make cakes very frequently and very well. For one with such a highly developed capacity for projecting catastrophe onto any situation, my tendency to launch blithely off the edge of another precipice remains resolutely intact.

And, despite having read so many, many, many recipes over the course of my working life, surprisingly few have stuck (other than to the section underneath the kitchen bench you can’t reach without renovating). Thus, I do not have a signature cake that I can rustle up from memory; no cloud-light, family-heirloom sponge to fall back on when friends drop round in that unexpected way they so often do in women’s magazines. I don’t even have a signature scone. I just have a signature – and if I could actually use this damn WordPress technology, I would scan it in and add it to the end of my posts in an ironic Luddite flourish.

The cake turned out extremely well considering its handicaps – the wrong size pan, for one, and my still-tentative relationship with our one-year-old oven and its myriad settings. It took me the better part of the day, excluding cleaning the kitchen and myself afterwards. It was a Jamie Oliver coffee and walnut cake – a pukka balance of sugar, butter, coffee and walnut, plus a satisfactorily high ratio of filling. As usual, I licked the bowl, which is the only reason, as far as I’m concerned, for making a cake in the first place. I couldn’t get to sleep – so the balance was definitely weighted in the coffee’s favour.

At this point, if I were a genuine, passionate food blogger, I’d upload a photo of the cake, but that’s another technical conundrum I’m still grappling with. Be assured, though, that were all my geeky planets to miraculously align and I could find the key to unlock the mysteries of the WordPress universe, the image I would upload would be larger than life and poorly lit. Just as it should be.

Playing with my widgets, and other double entendres

I’ve been fiddling with my blog for days – still parked on the sofa in front of those frothing horses until the bitter bloody end of the dressage, watching young, toothy Charlotte Something win gold for GBR to a soundtrack of Live and Let Die, Land of Hope and Glory and Jerusalem (never let it be said that parochialism doesn’t win points on the board, even in a country that’s not Australia). One thing you can deduce from watching a competition like this is that people who do dressage probably can’t dance, and if they do, they’d do it with the white man’s overbite (thank you Billy Crystal) to ELO. Or maybe it would be the white man’s overbit. Oh never mind.

Anyway – I’m having trouble with my widgets. (Fiddling with my blog? Trouble with my widgets? I’ve turned into Benny Hill.) I’ve lost a sizeable chunk of my life this week faffing around on the Dashboard . The only writing I’ve managed is a censoring of my own work.

Yes, in order to stay on message with Plan B, I have tempered my language un petit peu to ensure I don’t alienate any multinational corporations when I approach them with a Monetise This sponsorship package. (Ha! And you thought I’d learned nothing from my years dangling on the lower rungs of the publishing ladder, didn’t you.)

It also means I don’t have to tick the ‘R’ box in my Dashboard settings. Someone might take this as a porn site. Hmm… Fifty Shades of Oy Vey. Smack me with the salt beef, Shlomo.

This week has not been one of particular joy. Suffice to say, it has comprised a woman who should go to bed at a decent hour or learn how to use her laptop properly, her crumbling mother and the ignominies of illness. Well, at least we can still laugh about it. Actually, we do laugh quite a lot – but not about it so much.

So, moving right along to the good bits. The first, a literary dinner with a briefly-lost-but-now-happily-refound friend at Christine Manfield’s restaurant, Universal, where a favourite author of mine, Charlotte Wood, did a bit of reading, and Christine and Alex Herbert did a bit of cooking. All extremely well. Although I was happy to pass on the chocolate hedgehog – even if it was accompanied by the wonderful story that Charlotte read from her book, Love and Hunger, which wove said choc slice into its denoument (not literally wove, obviously; literarily).

Charlotte brings out the worst in me. Writer envy, interesting-holiday envy, colourful-country-upbringing envy and blog envy. Her widgets seem in perfect order.

The other good bit this week? Our dog has spectacularly healthy ear canals, according to Simon the vet. This is quite unusual in a Labrador. Who knew? But it may be enough to qualify me as a doggy day-care practitioner, should Plan B not come to fruition.