Curses: Pulled pork shoulder

I contend that the pig is the unluckiest creature on the planet. Cursed by skin that bursts into crispy deliciousness at the slightest provocation, plagued by a creamy layer of fat, tormented by a sweet and unctuous flesh that can take you on a textural journey from snack-like crispiness to molten liquidity. Serve pork prepared in 5 different ways on the same plate and you would marvel at its diversity. This highly intelligent and charming animal seems to be an evolutionary experiment in deliciousness.  More vegetarians (apocryphally) fall off the wagon for bacon than any other product.

If it wasn’t for the fact that I am a heathen unbeliever, pigs would offer the most compelling argument against both Judaism and Islam. In Bali a form of Hinduism is practiced that (mercifully) does not prohibit the killing and eating of animals. When in Bali, look for warung or food stores that promote guling (pig) as this is used to advertise this as a business run by local Balinese people, not by halal Indonesians from Java. It’s a way of saying “buy local”. At Ibu Oka in Ubud you will be driven to present an offering at one of the ubiquitous Balinese shrines in thanks to the Hindu pantheon for allowing these people to eat flesh. Ibu Oka offers two dishes: babi guling and babi guling with rice. It is best to wait until you see the man coming down the street bearing the whole roasted suckling pig on his shoulder.Fresh off the coals, smothered in spices, carved up in front of your eyes and delivered to your table in baskets. You will believe that a better meal is simply not possible. And if you don’t believe me, believe Anothony Bourdain. Continue reading

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The Art of War: Chicken and chili soup, Chinese style

My mind has long been at war with my body. Primarily the battle has been purely psychological, but three weeks ago after a long period of escalating tensions,  my body and I entered Def-con One. War broke out. For the first time in my life, I went on a diet motivated primarily by weight loss. There have been two primary foes in my mind’s battle for my body: Self-Esteem and Ego. Self-Esteem is a terrorist. It whispers hateful words when I look in the mirror and explodes bombs of self doubt during sex. It feeds on fear and uncertainty. It is hard to find and difficult to capture.Ego is a powerful bully. It takes control of my mind by drugging it with the things it wants. It tells me I’m too smart to buy into all this body-image bullshit. You’re a strong, educated, critical woman, it says, you know that you’re being manipulated by advertising to buy into an ideal that doesn’t exist. Have another pork spare-rib, it’ll make you happy. You want to be happy, don’t you?  Continue reading

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Nothing up my sleeve: Lentil Salad

Scenario 1: It’s Thursday night. The Child, who has previously been relaxing on the couch, sits bolt upright and says “Wait! Mum! There’s something I have to show you”. Much rummaging in the school bag follows until a note approximately the size of a matchbox and soggy with kiwi fruit stains is produced. It says something like this: “All parents of prep 1 & 2 parents please remember to bring a contribution to the Year 9 Camp Fundraiser Cake Stall on Friday.” Horror, followed by anger: “Another cake stall? I have approximately 3 jobs and a matching number of volunteer commitments and I was actually planning on spending an hour to myself this evening sitting in front of my computer with a glass of wine writing about food. You know, actually doing something for myself. You know what? They can get stuffed. I’m not sending anything. I’ll give them $10.00 instead”. Followed again by horror: “It’ll all be on. The competitive baking bonanza is about to occur. Plates of miraculous cakes will be produced by the good mothers, the mothers who miraculously know what’s going on at school well in advance. Mothers who are prepared. If I don’t send something the school is going to know I’m not a good mother”. And to be honest, between my failure to make The Child do his homework, or keep on top of the school uniform laundry, or provide a rubbish-free lunch box, I can’t afford to make matters any worse. Continue reading

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Farewell to the long, dark teatime of the soul: Galangal prawns

When I walk to work in the morning I pass a stand of big, old Oak Trees. Two weeks ago, before we went away, they were bare – a beautiful piece of fractal lacework against the gray winter sky. As I passed them last week on my first day back at work they were vibrant with new growth, lime green on a blue sky. The air was heavy with the smell of freesias and sunshine. The birds sounded different. Beyond any shadow of a doubt, spring had indeed sprung. I love winter. I love big, wild weather and dramatic skies and sleeping under the goose down listening to the rain on the roof. But nothing quite brings such a sense of exhilaration to the soul as the coming of spring. Continue reading

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Simple things: Wok smoked trout

Some experiences are truly magical. We have just returned from a week’s holiday – organised on a whim and nothing flashy at a little house in a place called Wandiligong. Wandiligong is nestled between Mt Buffalo and Mt Hotham, a long and narrow settlement that meanders down a beautiful valley. It has been declared a heritage landscape by the National Trust and has numerous utterly charming red brick public buildings and old miners cottages dating to the gold rush days. The property (Littleglen) is a basic three bedroom corrugated iron clad cottage set in acres of lovely chestnut groves and sheep paddocks with the Morses Creek running past the bottom gate. The house is solar powered and so has that wonderful sense of quiet that comes with minimal energy consumption and the ambient crackle of a wood heater.

We turned in early every night and woke each morning to the kind of hard frosts you simply never see near the coast. Frosts that blanketed the ground and evaporated off in massive drifts when the sun finally made it over the ranges. Clouds drifted through the valley every morning and for a week we experienced nothing but perfect Spring weather. We took the kids tobogganing at Mt Hotham, walked Mt Buffalo in the winter sunshine like we were the only people there and quaffed gin and tonics at the end of every day. We had dinner at the Mountain View Hotel / Wandi Pub – a lovely long, low wooden building with deep eaves and wooden tables out the front. The people were friendly, the collection of historical photos on the walls outstanding and the Chicken Parmas more than adequate.
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Seasonal difficulties: Honey roast pumpkin lasagna

My husband is studying writing (take a moment and have a look at his blog: I’m very happy about this because he is proving to be really quite good at it and is producing numerous highly readable fragments of fantastic stories that leave me wanting more,  like some kind of literary degustation menu. In addition, there are new ideas and books coming into the house, which is the best part of living with a student. So I was very interested when he informed me that Anthony Bourdain’s The Nasty Bits was on the current reading list. I’m a late comer to Anthony Bourdain and to be honest it took me a while to warm to him and see past the whole annoying New York shtick thing. The thaw started when I saw his insightful and genuinely moving No Reservations episode in Laos. Then came Tokyo, and somewhere between the Kendo and the fresh killed, pink cooked yakitori chicken porn I had melted completely. No surprises there. So now it’s official – I have a bit of a crush on Anthony B.

Which brings me to his Nasty Bits, which is now right up there with other favourite essay collections by viciously clever men such as David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again and Martin Amis’ The Moronic Inferno. Among numerous hilarious, angry and insightful essays there is one so far that really touched a nerve: “Are you a Crip or a Blood?”. Bourdain’s Crips and Bloods are actually drawn from yet another novel (excuse me while this post is sucked up into a sphincter of post-modernist referentialism), Timothy Taylor’s Stanley Park. Crips are insane, driven seekers of the culinary ‘other’ who will go to considerable lengths to obtain the newest, the best, the most exotic of ingredients. The Bloods are the purists, the locavores. I’m mostly a Blood – it’s just that I was born in the wrong country. Continue reading

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Why I support the Apollo Bay Farmers Market (and why you should, too)

School terms starts tomorrow and I really should be making sure there are clean clothes, food for lunch and all that jazz. Instead I’m sitting at my computer, inspired to write about my trip to the Apollo Bay Farmers’ Market. Our local Farmers’ Market is a baby, little more than a few months old. And like all babies, it’s utterly lovely. Today I returned with a kilo of beautiful organic limes from a woman who sings tenor with me in Choir, an armload of gorgeous proteas my neighbour had grown, a bottle of truly fresh and beautiful olive oil from Birregurra Estate Olives and a bouquet of Valencia Oranges (and a dinner invitation) from the lovely people who run the Aire Valley Restaurant. I have been drinking a herbal tea to ease my chest congestion from the apothecary that is Otway Herbs and buttery pieces of eye fillet from Otway Prime are coming up to temperature on the kitchen bench.
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Man, we’re tough: Steamed coriander fish cakes

We’re tough, you know. I drink my coffee black and my spirits neat. I have a degree in archaeology and I work for Landcare and I sometimes get to drive the big diesel dual-cab Mitsubishi Triton to Wickens to buy a rabbit and onion pie and an imported chinotto. Our ruggedness has a long pedigree,  surfacing initially in the wilds of St Kilda where you had to scale Junkie Mountain and fight through the thicket of b-list actors to obtain a flourless chocolate torte and a decent espresso. It was hard work with no guarantee of success – sometimes you would get to Harley Court to find that the last escargot had already been sold. Those were dark times. Morale suffered. Continue reading

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Eureka! Baked potato gnocchi.

Here’s the thing: I do not consider myself to an especially outstanding cook. I will happily claim ownership of an arguably above-average number of outstanding culinary moments but on a day to day basis my cooking is pretty average. And as such, one thing I particularly dislike is when a trained chef  (typically not very experienced, or more usually  actually just a kitchen hand) scorns your jar of supermarket mayonnaise or disrespects your packet of pre-made gnocchi. “Why would you buy that rubbish”, they scorn, “its just as easy to make it yourself”. My blood boils, my eyelids twitch and my lips tremble with the effort of keeping my mouth shut. My naturally default position of politeness and respect must be kept in check to prevent my snarly inner monologue from blurting out: You know what?  I’m not a chef. I have no formal skill or training. I am entirely self-taught and I’m here to tell you, brother,  that it is NOT just as easy to make it yourself at home. So take your apparently non-splitting / non-curdling egg mayonnaise and your perfectly pillowy potato dumplings and #*#@ off!!   Continue reading

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The “imperfect pearl”: Winter pear flan

tartApart from food, one of my great loves is art so I ask you to stay with me for a momentary digression. The Baroque dawned in Europe in the very final years of the sixteenth century and hung about for approximately 200 years. Baroque was a response to the cool classicism and intellectualism of the Late Renaissance and Mannerist arts.  Rubens and Caravaggio are two Baroque artists you quite possibly know. In researching this post, I came across Baroque perfectly described as “movement imported into mass”. If you’ve never studied art you might find this a silly and meaningless thing to say so you may want to have a look at Bernini’s Ecstasy of St Theresa which pretty much says it all, really, and says it far more eloquently than I ever could. Continue reading

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