It Must Suck To Be A Vegetarian At Christmas

I never thought I’d say this, but for once I find myself in total agreement with my father’s view that political correctness has gone mad.

According to The Independent newspaper in the UK, a researcher has proposed that idioms such as “bringing home the bacon” and “flogging a dead horse” should be removed from the English language because the imagery they create is offensive and upsetting to vegans and vegetarians.

Veganism is on the increase, and at a time when some celebrate Veganuary and it’s just as easy to buy veggie burgers and sausages in supermarkets as the genuine dead animal, while I agree that an awareness of the sensitivities of others is important, where does it end?

The next step will be to stop insulting plant life as well, because surely, “as thin as a twig” has to be body shaming to the twig in the same way that the accusation of being “as red as a beetroot” is typically used as a derogatory observation.

It’s never easy to make a stand for your beliefs – particularly when it comes to food choices and intolerances – in the face of, (shall we say), old-fashioned principles. However, sometimes Karma has a funny way of evening the score. And one of those times took place during my recent holiday as my father reached into the fridge for a swig of orange juice one morning and grabbed at my carton of almond milk instead.

A smile may have crossed my lips as I watched him spit the offensive liquid over the kitchen floor after the barrage of insults inflicted on both NC and myself in relation to our dietary choices – hers vegetarian, and mine dairy-free.

For this is a man who prides himself on being a “war baby,” and hence, eats everything – a fact that was rammed down my throat as a child every time I refused to clear my plate of food – which was often because there is NOTHING (shudder) the man will not eat.

“Sell-by” and “best before” dates are ridiculed in his house. Indeed, the more moldy and unappealing a piece of food appears, the more gusto the man demonstrates in its consumption.

That was why I was careful to remind him about NC’s vegetarianism prior to our arrival – she only eats fish when she feels like it is pushed – a warning that was met by the usual muffled grumblings of disgust. And when I went on to inform him that I was currently dairy-free – for health reasons – I’m certain that his derogatory whoop of disgust traveled from the northern to the southern hemisphere with the speed of light.

If I’m honest, I knew that I was pushing my luck when I requested vegan cheese and almond milk – although anyone would think my request was that he smuggle a stash of heroin through Bali rather than be seen buying vegan cheese from Waitrose.

For, as I suspected, it is still not deemed fully socially acceptable in some circles of the UK to be vegetarian or lactose intolerant, which makes it tricky to eat out. Added to which, the British diet is influenced by the climate and is heavily laden with meat. But while the word tofu may still be met with some confusion, I did manage to find a decent coffee with rice-coconut milk as a substitute and we were also introduced to a fabulous veggo restaurant near Oxford Circus called Ethos. And trust me, there’s no danger of getting fat there either because they charge you by the weight of your plate.

I pity vegans, particularly at this time of the year.

A roast without meat, (or in Australia, shellfish and salads, but without the shellfish), is nothing to get excited about at Christmas lunch, and neither is Mum’s nut roast substitute that everyone knows is little more than reconstituted stuffing.

But, each to their own.

Poor NC remained admirably stoic as her Grandad ranted off a list of sustainable fish to her every mealtime while we stayed with him – a list he had learned by heart in an attempt to either understand or ridicule her beliefs – I’m not sure which. And as I watched him force-feed her prawns and mussels, he made me swear to consume every last morsel of vegan cheese from the fridge prior to my departure, just in case it contaminated the dead animals.

3 Reasons Not To Criticize Your Husband’s Cooking

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In my experience, men do not take criticism easily – whether it’s constructive or just plain mean – the latter being particularly relevant to the long marriage.

Which is why I have had to tread very carefully this week, while the old man had taken up the mantle of domestic slavery in our house, as I pull a six-day week of work. The deal in our house is that if I work outside of the home, he cooks – a domestic chore he despises. He is not Jamie Oliver, he has no confidence or intuition in the kitchen and when he gets in a panic, he has to be reminded constantly about what to do. I can tell that he is already buckling under the strain.

In hindsight, to criticize a man’s cooking is either a brave or incredibly stupid thing to do, for it ensures that:

1. It is unlikely to happen again.

2. The chances of finding a pubic hair in your food increase tenfold.

3. The next time he is in the kitchen, he won’t just use two-thirds of the saucepans, he will use EVERY frigging saucepan, every casserole dish, and utensil you own – even that fugly vintage Pyrex dish at the back of the cupboard that you inherited from his mother. 

However – disclaimer here – I should point out, that in spite of these risks, poking your nose in where it’s not wanted, may improve your chances of survival.

Last night, I came downstairs from my shower, starving, and in search of my dinner. As you can imagine, it was on the tip of my tongue to ask “what’s for dinner?” in that caveman grunt that most men have perfected, and yet I managed to control myself. Indeed, when I peered into the kitchen, I was heartened to see two beautiful salad accompaniments laid out on two plates on the bench top and my optimism grew. However, there was no sign of the salmon. 

So, with the diplomacy of Alan Jones, I pointed out to the old man the benefits to time management of cooking the protein whilst preparing the salads. My comment was met by an iciness more penetrative than any wind to blow through Westeros in all eight seasons of GOT, and the dog and I scuttled away from the kitchen pronto, to the sound of crashing pans in our ears.

I decided not to mention that lentils should be drained and rinsed before they go onto the salad, and ate what looked like frogspawn on my lettuce with gusto.

A Guest’s Place Is Not In The Kitchen

Entertaining is all well and good as long as your guests know their place…which is not in the kitchen.

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I’m not certain if the protocol (in terms of entertaining) has changed in the UK since we left thirteen years ago – a time in our life when our social life was constrained by the needs of young children, hence fulfilled by a monthly rotation of dinner parties with roughly the same people – but I quite liked the unwritten rules of ownership when it came to the distinction between guest and host. 

In those days, the onus on guests was to bring flowers, booze, and interesting conversation, and the responsibility of the host was to provide everything else. Admittedly, if you weren’t Donna Hay, that premise did add some pressure, but what kept you going as you marinated the Coq Au Vin in your tears, devilled your eggs, and began your relationship with Valium, was the knowledge that all your hard work would be recompensed by four of five reciprocal dinner invitations, where you could be the one stuck to your seat, getting lairy, and talking about stuff that only comes out of your mouth after a bottle of fortified wine.

Indeed, the only time you relaxed the rules was towards the end of the evening, when Mrs. Perfect came into the kitchen and offered to clear up, releasing you from your servitude to pop out to the back garden for a furtive joint.

Social etiquette is a little different in Australia. For a start, people offer to bring food with them. And when I say “food”,  I don’t mean that moldy piece of Cheddar that’s sat in the fridge since Christmas with a few Aldi olives. They bring plates of the type of gourmet food that wouldn’t look out of place on a Heston Blumenthal menu.

And while that generosity lifts the burden of the host to provide all three courses and canapes, it also adds more pressure to the quality of the food that you are serving.

The other differences are – and this may have something to do with the open-plan style of the homes here – there is more of a hands-on vibe, where guests mill around the kitchen offering assistance and trying to get involved, which makes it much harder to conceal what I like to call my natural cooking disasters.

And then there’s that new breed of men that like to cook and make your mother’s tried and tested home cooking recipes appear amateurish. Personally-speaking, there’s nothing more intimidating to me than a man who knows his way around a sous-vide and who brings his latest cooking appliance with him to knock up the appetizers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that men are starting to take on their share of domesticity, but I’d prefer to see more of them voluntarily clean the toilets beforehand than show off their version of the “Snow Egg.”

And all this camaraderie in the kitchen means that you have to clean it properly, ahead of the event, because people will be in your kitchen. That caked potato on the roof of the microwave (since the time it exploded) and all those tiny scraps of food that inhabit the cutlery drawer (because your dishwasher is still going after twenty years), have to go. You even have to wipe down the door fronts – not exactly what you bargained for when you had that crazy idea of a relaxing lunch.

Cooking For A Family Of Dietary Heathens

Anyone who is responsible for cooking the evening meal knows what a mindfuck it is. It takes a lot of preparation – you have to remember to defrost, to check you have all the ingredients and that there will be enough food to go around, and if you have kids like mine, one of the fuckers will tell you at the last minute that they are going out.

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Worse, if you’re a pushover like me you end up cooking an assortment of customized variations of the same meal to keep everyone happy. Add to that the issue of staying abreast of current dietary recommendations – which seem to change as quickly as Facebook privacy regulations – and it can make the responsibility an exhausting process.

I like to think I cook healthily and creatively but there are some food trends that not even I can contemplate. Take the green smoothie. As Generation Xer, hence brought up on bacon and eggs for breakfast, I am afraid that green sludge is that step too far for me. I maintain the cynicism of my toddler years when it comes to anything green, which is that it is not to be trusted.

Last weekend, I went on a girls weekend to celebrate my sister’s fortieth birthday, for which we hired a lovely apartment for two nights. As we planned to eat out in the evenings and self-cater for breakfast and lunch, our first stop on the weekend’s agenda was to the local supermarket for a communal shop for necessities.

In hindsight, four mums on a food shop had the potential to end the weekend prematurely. As each of us manages our own homes and have, understandably, our own ideas when it comes to food, our interpretation of what constitutes ‘healthy’ was surprisingly different. My sister and the other two mums are still in the young children zone of parenting and as such are used to checking the ingredients and small print on all packaging with a fine toothcomb, hence we spent half an hour in the green juice section. While each of them Googled which was the grossest healthiest juice, I waited patiently and prayed that the one with the odd kiwi or apple thrown in for good measure would be enough to  pass their rigorous checks. Eventually, as it was my sister’s birthday, we let her choose the pond green juice, which contained something called Spirulina and smelled of poo.

If you believe everything you read, Spirulina is a blue-green alga and a super-food with loads of inspiring for health benefits, particularly for more senior folks like me because it can help lower our cholesterol,  prevent cancer, increase weight loss and reduce blood pressure without even trying. Which means, I suppose, that if my health anxiety gets a say, I will end up eating something that tastes like shit for the rest of my life.

Because, when it comes to the taste of this superfood – look online, where there are more articles about how to make it taste good than articles about its value to our body’s microbiome – it really does taste of shit. I imagine that it might be edible in a Vindaloo or Jungle Curry, but the general recommendation is that the best way to take it is in powder form – I suggest, up your nose.

Anyway, the following morning, I put on a brave face as I peered into our communal fridge in spite of the hangover from hell, silently cursing whoever ate the last piece of cheese and secretly praying that KFC had dropped a food parcel or something vaguely unhealthy to quell nausea and an unsettled stomach from the foot long Kransky sausage with all the trimmings that we devoured like animals the evening before, when our dietary concerns were compromised by alcohol.

Surprisingly, Spirulina did not meet my need-for-immediate-comfort brief, nor had it quenched the thirsts of my housemates if the line of green around the sink was anything to go by.

Healthy eating is not as straightforward as it looks when you cohabit with other people and I know this because I live with a couple of die-hard, meat-and-two-veg men. I am continually having to compromise my idealism when it comes to nutrition, and although I had thought that I had changed the three-year-old mentality of the old man when it comes to food, the other day he asked me when I was going to cook something nice after I had presented him with a plate of fresh, pan-fried Barramundi and roasted sweet potatoes in a Balsamic glaze.

I realize that the fight about how much red meat we have in our diets, or indeed what we eat, is an embarrassing first world problem to have, yet I fear it is a battle I am losing at home. Although dieticians have proved again and again that red meat is the devil’s food, I know that my son and husband would die happily (and quickly) if I rotated spag bol, Chilli Con Carne, and Shepherd’s pie through the week, and as a natural carnivore, my own willpower disappears as soon as those red juices begin to call to me from the pan. It appears that I can only keep my cavewoman/canine impulses that see me drooling in the face of a rare steak in check, as long as I don’t have to cook it or watch someone eat it in front of me.

 

So, do I?

Give in, and continue to clog their arteries slowly for a quiet life?

Endure the looks of disappointment and criticism leveled at me that forced me to add secret ingredients of Spirulina and dog food to the Chilli last Thursday?

Or, tell them to fuck off?

Versatile Muesli Cookies

Very occasionally, I like to remind myself (and everyone who reads this blog), that I am not perfect and that we can’t all be good at everything. It has been a while since I posted one of my epic cooking fails, but this one is a real gem that provided me with the invaluable life lesson that more free time does not a good cook maketh. 

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After Superglue

 

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Before Superglue

You see, now that I’m working from home full-time and the kids are older – although sadly, not any less demanding – sometimes I get this longing to be a ‘fifties meets modern woman’, who can earn a decent crust at the same time as knocking up a batch of something yummy during her coffee break. I must reiterate that this window of opportunity has only come about since the kids grew up and I can callously refuse to enable their Millennial bleats for help. Which means that aside from my 24hr nagging service (which is reinforced by my ‘when are you leaving home’ ringtone), basically I ignore them. Oh, and the cleaning.

 

Anyway, three factors brought on this strange desire to make my own muesli cookies last week:

 

  1. I am always hungry – a common complaint among those of us who work from home and find themselves within 24hr snacking distance from the kitchen. So when I discovered the recipe online, and the cookies looked kind of healthy, (because oats and fruit…) and I ignored the glaring fact that they are meals between meals with calories you don’t need, it seemed like a good idea.
  2. I got sick of paying $5 for them in cafes.
  3. They looked quick and easy, which meant I could slip them in between Facebook sessions.

 

I trust the TASTE online recipes implicitly, nevertheless, once a cheater always a cheater so as soon as I printed the recipe from the Internet I looked for shortcuts. I’m sure you can imagine my hilarity when I discovered that one of the four ingredients listed was ‘homemade muesli’, a requirement that catapulted me to Coles as fast as a two-for-one sale on Tena pads in search of the muesli-fail that looked as close to something I’d knocked up myself. And I found it, by paying a week’s rent for a European version – for which I’ve no doubt some poor migrant scaled the mountains of Switzerland for and was paid the minimum wage.

 

Another minor cheat was that I really couldn’t be arsed to weigh the butter (because then I’d have to wash up the scales) and at this stage in my Masterchef career, I think I know what 100g looks like. In hindsight, it was an interesting decision after flourless cake-gate last week, when somehow I forgot to add the butter completely – one of only four ingredients. Anyway, my generosity with the butter on this occasion was probably what contributed to the versatility of my cookies’, because as soon as they emerged from the oven I sensed they were special and came with a range of extra functions, meaning they could be used as a muesli breakfast cereal, drizzled over salad, used as a sweet version of dukkha (because be honest, no-one really likes the savoury version), drunk as a smoothie or added to houseplants as fertiliser.

 

That’s right, with the consistency of course sand, I needed a trowel to move them from the baking tray to my cake stand, so I can only assume that the egg and flour must have been having an RDO.

 

Perhaps I should have listened more closely to the sage advice of George Colombaris’ to one of the new guinea pigs on Masterchef this week, when he warned her not to go too far off piste in her cooking as she cried into her ice cream soup.

 

So weigh the fucking butter.

 

I’ve given you the recipe below and I’m one hundred percent confident that in the right hands, it will work.

 

Versatile Muesli Cookies 

Calories: Who The Fuck Cares

Ingredients:

3 Cups Supermarket Toasted Muesli (or 3 cups homemade if you’re ‘one of those‘)

100g Butter, melted and cooled

1 Egg lightly beaten

1/2 Cup Plain Flour

1/3 cup honey

Superglue (if necessary)

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 170 degrees

WEIGH butter, then whisk with honey and egg.

Combine muesli and flour together then add butter mixture. Leave to sit for 15 minutes. Roll spoonfuls of mixture into balls and place on lined baking trays.

Bake for ten minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before moving (very important)

 

(Warning: When all the ingredients are combined, the mixture does feel really gross in your hands – kind of like when you find something soft and sticky down the back of the sofa. But the more you compact and flatten these fuckers, the more likely you are to get something hat resembles a cookie.)

 

 

Vintage Cooking: Could Devilled Eggs Really Be Making A Come Back?

Friends came around to dinner this weekend. Since we moved to the apartment we entertain less and to be honest I was feeling out of practice when it comes to cooking for the masses from our matchbox of kitchen. IMG_2840

 

When I researched what to cook on the Internet – keywords being “easy” and “quick” – I noticed a distinct return to the sort of food we used to dish up in the eighties, and it made me feel strangely melancholic because it was towards the end of that decade that I first began hosting dinner parties; around the time I first considered myself a grown up, I suppose. Needless to say, I’ve regressed since then. In those days we didn’t worry about carbs and calories and felt no shame about chucking a vat of Lasagna, Coq au Vin or Moussaka on the middle of the table.

 

I got away with a posh Mac and Cheese once, although I did gentrify it with some bacon, leeks and a sprinkling of paprika.

 

Reinventing Coq au Vin this weekend crossed my mind, but the old man poo-pooed it, so instead I opted for a new recipe, some slow-cooked lamb shanks, which turned out to be another cooking disaster to add to my extensive list. After three hours of cooking we needed a hammer and chisel to get the meat off the bone.

 

Fortunately they were good friends and The Princess has been in bone-heaven ever since and completely forgotten about when I forgot her sixth birthday.

 

One of the recipes I spotted on the Internet that appears to be making a comeback is “Devilled Eggs”, which made me realize just how far we’ve come with food over the past thirty years.

 

IMG_2842There are obviously a lot of eighties recipes that seriously prompt the bile to rush straight to the back of my throat – “Stuffed Marrow Rings”, anyone? – but I still can’t part with this Hamlyn cookbook from that period. I dip into it for old family favourites like Refrigerator Cake – which the kids always insist on for their birthdays – and bread and butter pudding. Most of the recipes are far more conducive to the cooler UK climate rather than the one we live in now – even though we persist with turkey and gravy on Christmas Day, because I believe in maintaining your culture even if it does mean filling your belly with hot, crispy roast potatoes in a sweltering thirty-five degree heat.

 

I’m no food snob – if anything I’m more against the newfound need for small portions and perfectionism in the kitchen that we’re continually indoctrinated with, and I remain a staunch fan of the simplicity of the egg – particularly now that scientists have undone the Fatwa for eating them, which means that after my twenty-year purge I’m able to make up for lost time on scramblies and omlettes – but as with stuffed tomatoes and stuffed peppers, stuffed eggs do reek slightly of grandma’s bedroom.

 

Perhaps current food trends like ‘deconstruction’, smashed food, foams and smears etc will go out of fashion in the same way stuffed tomatoes and eggs did and then we’ll start heralding back to the recipes of bygone years and make it a trend to go vintage. To be fair, there’s a soft place in my heart for the stuffed tomato, because it was the first recipe with more than two ingredients that I learned to cook in my home economics class in school.

 

These days, I pimp my Bread and Butter Pudding with raspberries and white chocolate to bring it up to millennium standards, although in truth it’s because the kids gag on sultanas. I shall be cooking Shepherds Pie at my next dinner party.

The Idiot’s Guide To Homemade Muesli

Who’d have thought that one day I would be smug enough to make my own Muesli? And brave enough to brag about it? But in these days of health madness, it’s not just Pete Evans who can be radical in the kitchen; you can be too. You might even get a modicum of respect for your domestic prowess when you pour this amount of wholesomeness into the kids bowls each morning. 

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Process the nuts unless you know someone who can do the Heimlich Manoeuvre

Not if your kids are anything like mine, admittedly. There was a united ‘eugghhh’, followed by a collective sigh as they watched me throw my Muesli all together and then begged the old man to buy the boxed Sanitarium version from Aldi instead.

 

But at least you’ll know you tried.

 

I find breakfast very uninspiring typically, mainly because I’m not a morning person and frankly the last thing I want to do (other than sex) is eat at 7am, unless it’s a hot “all you can eat” English breakfast buffet in Scotland; secondly, I can’t actually coordinate my limbs before my coffee, which makes breakfast complicated.

 

I’ve stuck faithfully to porridge with some sliced banana since winter set in here in Sydney a month or so ago, for comfort really, but it’s getting a bit monotonous now and I can’t seem to prevent those fears creeping in about what we don’t know about microwaves….

 

Then, when we were on our mini break recently in the Hunter, what should I find in the kitchen cupboard but Alpen sachets; the type that we used to get in English B and Bs, and I got all excited and melancholy.

 

Because Muesli always did have a certain class about it, didn’t it? It recaptures Switzerland perfectly and all the really good stuff about it like its freshness and chocolate and Roger Federer and snow-capped mountains, and chocolate, and Heidi… and definitely not skiing, because we all secretly hate skiing.IMG_2626

 

Just me?

 

Anyway, according to www.mindbodygreen.com, the benefits of Muesli are:

 

  • Muesli typically has less sugar and calories than most breakfast cereals on supermarket shelves.
  • It is high in fiber and whole grains, which regulate the digestive system, are filling and can aid in weight control.
  • Muesli is a potent source of antioxidants.
  • The addition of nuts provides a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids (especially walnuts).
  • Milk or dairy alternatives that usually accompany muesli is a source of dairy and protein.

 

And if that isn’t enough, it probably helps you poo daily which can be a concern at our age, because all that healthy stuff does that. The moment I tore open my first sachet it reminded me how partial I am to the odd bowl of Muesli, especially when I’m in a healthy phase because I need to get back in my swimming costume soon.

 

The only problem with Muesli is that it can be a bit harsh on the budget, having to be carried down mountains by goats herded by Heidi and Peter, and the old man does have a newly revised and very tight food shopping budget.

 

So I did some research and realised quickly that a) muesli does not require a degree in cooking or really any cooking techniques whatsoever, and b) it uses up all those dredges of nuts, raisons and seeds that have floated around in your kitchen cupboards for decades sending out mating calls to moths since that time you made protein balls in 1902.

 

So here’s my recipe… stolen from generations of online Swiss Museli-Makers and then adapted to suit what I had in the cupboard:

 

Ingredients:

 

1 cup Almonds or walnuts

4 cups of rolled oats

1 cup coconut flakes

3 tbsp of Chia

1 tsp of cinnamon

2 cups of dried fruit (I used dried cranberries and dates)

1 cup of bran

1 cup of sunflower seeds

1 cup of pumpkin seeds

½ tsp salt

 

NB. Process the nuts unless you know someone who can do the Heimlich Manoeuvre, then mix it all together and feel the smugness wash over you. Add milk, or yoghurt if you’re a little bit fancy.

Why I’ll Never Be A Good Cook

e2e2de800ad56d879c5de0e59c3b423aI always won the ‘progress’ prize at school – never the ‘outrageously gifted’ or abundance of academic and sports prizes that the beautiful head girl with the double-barrelled name won – the girl that all of us boarders had a secret crush on, because she was not only gifted, but surprisingly nice.

 

No, mine was always the prize for trying hard.

 

And deep down it was galling, not because I needed to win first prize to buff up my self-esteem because I’ve always been quite easy on myself, found it easy to convince myself that trying my best is what’s important, but deep down I knew that my dad’s chest would have inflated with pride to know that he had a ‘winner’ for a daughter.

 

It might also have given him with some justification for the fees.

 

I’ve grown up a bit since then and realised that you can’t be great at something just by wishing for it, or trying hard; that talent and ability actually count for quite a bit in the real world.

 

And that is the sad realisation I’ve been forced to come to recently with cooking.

 

You see, I’ve got this shelf of lovely, glossy recipe books that tempt me on a daily basis to do a ‘Gwyneth’ and knock up something perfect that everyone will hate me for; that trick me into believing that I can make something wonderful if I go all Disney and simply believe…

 

In fact, so keen am I to impress the family with my culinary skills, I’ve even managed to adapt to the Borrower-size limitations of the tiniest kitchen that isn’t part of a caravan – yet still nothing goes right.

 

Because you wouldn’t believe the things that can go wrong in my kitchen.

 

I mean, how hard can it be to follow a recipe? I hear myself shout at Masterchef almost every evening. It’s not like I’m trying to make Anna’s Mess or a Croquembouche with all seventy-four fucking instructions and a limited amount of time to knock them up in. I stick to simple, Nigella/Jamie home-style, throw-it-all-together cooking. Yet even that evades me.

 

I’ve never shaken off the reputation I got ten years ago when I made some new, exciting dish, threw the leftovers in the bin, and found a dead fox by the side of it the following morning.

 

After much deliberation I’ve decided that here’s where it all goes horribly pear-shaped:

 

The essential ingredient that I always forget and have to go without or replace with something nothing like it. It’s one of the fundamental reasons for my cooking ‘fails’, and one I’ve found can alter the outcome of a recipe quite dramatically, especially because my first rule of cooking is that a recipe should never have more than six ingredients in the first place. I always have the wrong flour, the wrong sugar, or in the heat of the moment I used the ‘close as’ approach eg. when I substitute a lime for a lemon, syrup for honey…

 

I never have the right equipment. Take the banana and peanut butter muffins I made last week, when I couldn’t be arsed to mash up the banana, then realised that I probably should and used a soup blender to crush them, filing down the inside of the plastic mixing bowl at the same time, so Kurt ended up with a shard of plastic in his mouth.

 

I always think I can improvise. I added potato to a curry last night, which was some kind of mutant potato that had the die-hard properties of a cockroach and refused to soften even after a desperate blasting in the microwave.

 

Timing – I’m a bit of a ‘wing it’ person, forget to put on the timer and still convince myself that five minutes here or there won’t make a difference. It does.

 

Instructions – Who knew that every instruction was important? I miss out certain instructions in the recipe’s method when I think they’re unnecessary, not time-efficient or I’ve already lost interest.

 

I’m a bit sketchy on my cooking techniques and believe that ‘stirring’ is fundamentally ‘stirring’.

 

I get distracted, because I pride myself on being a great multi-tasker – which I am – in any other location than the kitchen and in any other situation than cooking.

 

 

14 Ways To Achieve Fuck All On A Rainy Day

You might have gathered from the news that it’s been raining kangaroos and funnel web spiders here in Australia over the past few days. rain-360803_1280

 

There’s this giant myth around the rest of the world that it’s sunny all year around here, and if you live in states of the country fortunate to have crocs and deadly jellyfish as opposed to Zara and WIFI, that’s probably true. Fortunately for us Sydneysiders, we get seasons, because living in God’s country, we need to be reminded about the harshness of life, to keep our feet firmly planted on the sand.

 

Mind you, they’re only mild seasonal changes – just enough of a dip in temperature to teach us the difference between bitch hot and a bit chilly.

 

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Obviously I photographed the bra that I ONLY wear to watch Poldark and Chris Hemsworth movies.

Australia probably lost a bit of credibility in the weather stakes last weekend, and if our political stability hasn’t already put them off, I imagine that thousands of Brits are cancelling their visas at this very moment while the climate change doomsday mob rub their hands with glee, such was the Armageddon we experienced at the hands of nature.

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The turtleneck jumper – one of the best fashion inventions EVER!

 

And while there are tons of great suggestions on the Internet about what to do on rainy days in Sydney, unfortunately most of them involve actually leaving the house, like this one:

 

50 Things To Do On A Rainy Day In Sydney

 

IMG_2261And we were strictly told by our government NOT to go anywhere unless there was an emergency, such as running out of wine, so faced with two whole days at home, with hatches well and truly battened, rugged up, and thanking God that our parents forked out vast sums of their hard-earned money on swimming lessons, (just in case), I made up my own ‘To Do’ list.

 

If your glass is half-full, you’ll know that the good news about days like these is that they give you time to reflect, to catch up on house stuff or even spend some quality time with the kids. Then there’s my preferred option, of doing fuck all.

 

Here are my top tips for making the most of a rainy day:

 

  1. Remove your bra and make up and on no account wash your hair
  2. Ignore your husband until his Neanderthal exterior cracks with anxiety
  3. Wear those fugly turtle necks and holey leggings that you normally reserve for the anonymity of the slopes
  4. Wear your oldest, biggest, most comfortable undies because there’s no chance you’ll end up in the ER
  5. Cook up naughty foodstuffs that you’d never normally allow your body to partake of… because it is a temple. It’s raining. It might even be the end of the world. I made these butter and banana muffins, which didn’t quite meet health and safety regulations when both kids found a tiny slither of plastic in theirs. SO entitled!
  6. Simultaneously laugh at the jokes and rub your thighs at the sight of Ryan Reynold’s gloriously firm buttocks in Deadpool – there to remind you just how much you hate Blake Lively – then confuse your hormones and mix up the whole gamut of emotions by watching a weepy period drama – explain first to your teenage son that it isn’t a film about menstruation
  7. Paint your toenails, even though it’s winter and you did them three months ago
  8. Take the fridge leftovers out of the mouth of the dog and play an cooking invention challenge by knocking up the most amazing chicken soup to remind everyone how perfect you are and how you can rise to any challenge
  9. Say ‘no’ to your adult son when he implores you to play Monopoly with him and watch him crumble as you remind him you have no parental obligation to do that shit any more
  10. Prank call Optus and Telstra for all those times they’ve called you at 6pm at witching hour, when you’re only just managing to hold your shit together
  11. Delight in the therapy of a chin/mole plucking session
  12. Hide the Foxtel remote to ensure hubby does his 10,000 steps
  13. Do a family towel wash and lay them wet on the floors of your teenagers’ bedrooms
  14. Adele karaoke, anyone?

Any better suggestions?

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Chicken soup made with a touch of smugness

The Idiot’s Guide To Baking Macaroons

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I know you’re impressed!

Frankly, I can’t imagine anything worse than a cooking class but I suspected that if my sister and I didn’t organise something to keep us busy for at least part of the day we met in London, we would spend eight hours in a pub somewhere getting shit-faced.

 

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

 

You’d be amazed at how difficult it is to find a mid-week cooking class in London that isn’t fully booked up, but eventually we found one at L’Atelier Des Chefs that suited our budget, and was also conveniently situated spitting distance to several great London pubs for our recovery afterwards.

 

The theme of our class was Sweet Treats – Petits Fours, which are delicate little cakes you eat after dinner and frankly not really my thing, but they appealed to my sister – that most hated of the female species who posts images on Instagram of perfect children’s birthday cakes she’s knocked up after a twelve hour day at work and putting three kids to bed – and her superior knowledge of cooking techniques. 

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Looking psychotically happy because I knew what ‘blending’ was.

 

Our mission was to make the following petits-fours in two hours, and did I mention that we were paying for the privilege of being kitchen hands?

 

Macaroons with Salted Butter Caramel

Mini Pistachio Financiers

Raspberry Ripple Marshmallow

Chocolate And Griottine Cherry Teardrops

Chocolate Truffles

 

So armed with my own in-depth knowledge of culinary terms, such as ‘blending’, ‘mixing’ and ‘spooning’ (or is that something else?), that I’ve picked up from Masterchef, I went into the class, fully prepared to fake it to make it.

 

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Apparently this is not ‘tempering’ chocolate. Who knew?

The only problem was that our chef Chris wasn’t playing ball, spotted me quickly for the faker than I am and decided he was having none of my half-hearted, ‘I’m the client’ bullshit. And living up to the stereotype of grumpy-ass chef, the New Zealand version of Gordon Ramsay in fact, I soon realised that he actually expected us to a) work quite hard and b) have some real cooking experience under our belts.

 

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Completely oblivious to the stares of hatred from the rest of my group as I volunteered to do everything

I thought he’d be impressed when I asked if slathering a piece of acetate with chocolate was ‘tempering’, but when the rest of the smug class sniggered with embarrassment and my own sister put some physical distance between us, it quickly became evident that I’d given my amateur status away. 

 

And yes, I probably was the only one in the kitchen who didn’t know how to switch on a food processor, use a piping bag, recognise gelatin or how to separate an egg. But it also became apparent very early on that my sister and I were the only ones who had an evolved sense of humor, too.

 

Yet we still managed to have a lot of fun, and to learn some cooking know-how that I’ve no doubt I’ll never use again.

 

Even I picked up some of the super-cheffing skills on display, which may distract me from Matt’s suits and increasing girth the next time I watch Masterchef.

 

I learned that chefs are human too, and if you prod them enough that steely outer casing will eventually crack; I learned that you have to snip the end off a disposable piping bag or nothing comes out and that when Chef asks for a volunteer, you don’t always need to be the one to step in, especially if you want to make new friends; I learned that removing cold chocolate from acetate is not for the impatient or heavy-handed and that it is not ethical to swap your broken cake with someone else’s in the fridge when no-one is looking.

 

And in regard to our recipes, I learned that there are so many complex secrets to making a decent macaroon that it’s much easier to buy them; that ‘financiers’ are pretty gross and that the teardrop looks super-impressive even when made by someone as clueless as me, but it needs to be refrigerated or it becomes slop in a cake box; and that raspberry ripple is created by the technique of half-blending.

 

I also had an out-of-body experience when I accidentally sucked at the nozzle of my icing bag that was full of salted butter caramel at the time.

 

Finally, I learned that using the images of your sister’s macaroons makes for far more stimulating food porn than my uneven equivalents. Feast your eyes on these beauties.

 

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Worst Christmas Cookie Recipe and How To Succeed At Not Being Perfect

I decided to dedicate my last post before Christmas to reminding you that it’s seriously okay not to be perfect; especially at this time of the year. And that I am quite happy to be your role model of imperfection. 

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Nailed them!

If I reflect back on the past year, there have been no really outstanding personal achievements to brag about on Facebook. I haven’t got pregnant or forged a new and exciting career, and my kids haven’t shone at the top of their school or field. Furthermore, I’ve gained weight, I’m drinking more, I still refuse to take exercise seriously or touch a Kale smoothie and a lot of the time I am not very happy.

 

But I am alive, and my dearest and dearest are healthy.

 

I still don’t get why we women continue to torment ourselves with trying to be perfect all the time; and I am the worst offender. Only the other day the strangest urge came over me to show NC and Kurt that I can be a real ‘mom’ by baking for them, and as usual the experience left me feeling about as useful as a snow plough in Sydney over Christmas.

 

There is an underlying fear in my head that my kids’ memories of their childhood will be of this last-minute, anti-mum, who always bought the shop-bought cake to functions and winged everything.

 

‘How hard can it really be to make a few Christmas cookies’, I remember thinking?

 

IMG_0337I didn’t over-stretch myself. I did my research and asked the Google gods to send me down the simplest cookie recipe – yet still assumed that I could modify it a little, if needs be.

 

After all, Jamie does that all the time.

 

But I hit the first roadblock immediately, when in my haste to get a photo of my perfect Christmas cookies up on Instagram, I selected a shortbread recipe instead of a cookie recipe, but didn’t realize my error until my dough was not ‘firm to the touch’, but closer to the consistency of butter icing.

 

It was wet, sticky, about as malleable as a jellyfish and impossible to peel off the work top, let alone shape into a star.

 

You can do this!’ I buoyed myself as the sweat dripped down from my forehead into the yellow goo stuck to my hands and an image of how fabulous Nigella always looks in the kitchen began to torment me.

 

And there were the inevitable ‘FUCKS!” of frustration at my hopelessness when it comes to baking, and I might have even sobbed a little and been forced to resort to some Rescue Remedy (a.k.a wine) for medicinal purposes, to calm me down.IMG_0339

 

But at least the Princess appreciated them.

 

Be kind to each other at this time of the year and remember that no-one is perfect and Christmas is not everyone’s idea of fun. Even as I write this post, the jelly is yet to set on my trifle, I can’t even squeeze into my Christmas dress and my son hasn’t spoken to me for 48 hours. 

 

Star Christmas Shortbread Cookies

250g butter, chopped

½ cup caster sugar

1 1/2cups plain flour

¾ cups rice flour

White icing

 

Combine together all ingredients.

Say ‘FUCK’ liberally.

PANIC when the consistency of your dough feels like wallpaper glue and you can’t even roll it out, then add loads more flour until you can cut those bastard cookies (you wished you’d never started in the first place) into something resembling a star shape with your cookie cutter.

Completely ignore the ridiculous timing suggested by the recipe and cook the fuckers for as long as they need for you to be able to prise them off the tray.

Smear with enough white icing to disguise their fugliness.

 

Merry Christmas and thank you for putting up with me for another year. xxx

 

 

Superwomen, And How I Wish I Was A Woman Who Can

Superwoman (Kristin Wells)
Superwoman (Kristin Wells) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not a woman who can, but I know they exist. They’re not those ‘nauseating’ women who pride themselves on being seen to be perfect and stand outside the school gates at 8.30am looking polished; they are the women that drop everything to muck in and help out in a crisis.

They are the friends you know you can always rely on.

I don’t wish to sound defeatist, because there are a lot of things I CAN do very well – I’m actually quite practical around the house and good at fixing household stuff. I can change light bulbs, know where the fuse board is, I can hang pictures and eat a whole box of Jaffa cakes without vomming – but I don’t have the natural confidence or intuition of a woman in the kitchen.

(I can’t fix technology, either. Obviously.)

On Saturday we hosted a Spanish-themed luncheon for the old man’s new wine club, which sounds way more pretentious than it is, and is actually more akin to a women’s book club, where everyone discusses the book for all of five minutes and then gets onto the serious business of drinking, bitching about husbands, kids and housework.

We are new members of the wine club and eager to impress offered to host this meeting to get our feet well and truly under the table… because we love drinking wine. We thought that if we offered to host, it might put us in favour with the long-term members, who are much younger, trendier and far more interesting than the two of us.

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In my wisdom I decided that Spanish tapas would be an easy, stress-free choice for the menu. That was, until I found out on Friday afternoon that I would have to work on Saturday morning, which is when my carefully laid plans and sang-froid decided to fall apart.

You see, although I’m generally calm in a crisis – a bit worryingly calm, if you know what I mean – when twelve drunken, hungry faces are staring up at you from the dining table, even the coolest cucumber in the world can be shredded.

In hindsight, I should have made a casserole. Casseroles are perfect for catering for large numbers and I’m quite good at them. But no, I decided to do the one cuisine where everything has to be cooked in the last five minutes prior to serving.

I arrived home at 1pm and our guests were due to arrive at 2pm. Inevitably, the old man had not completed EVERYTHING on the MUST DO list I had left him that morning and was wandering up, dripping from his relaxing swim in the pool as my melt-down began to detonate in the kitchen.

Yet somehow I got through the next two hours, the canapés and a bottle of wine; the useful strategy of ‘denial’ helping when it came to any thoughts about the impending main course.

Eventually, of course, I had to go into my wardrobe-sized kitchen and produce something. Anything. I took a moment at the doorway, and stood there inwardly cursing myself for letting that last glass of wine slip so eagerly down my neck, feeling shell shocked at how much cooking chaos one person can create on one square metre of bench top when heating up a couple of boxes of Coles ready-made canapés. What would the judges on Masterchef say, I thought to myself, as I digested the fact that nothing was ready and it was already 4.30pm.

But luckily, I had a woman who can. A Superwoman.

‘What can I do?’ she gushed confidently, as she strode into the wardrobe and rescued the dripping, uncooked prawns out of my sweaty palms. ‘Ooooh, garlic prawns? My favourite. I make these all the time.’

I would have given that woman anything at that moment by way of thanks; even my husband if she’d wanted him. I offered.

And so she proceeded to take over my kitchen, as well as my luncheon. She had Kurt on the lamb kebabs before he had the chance to run away, while I stirred the meatballs to a pulp and peeled off all the potatoes that were stuck to the baking foil. Meanwhile, she knocked up the most perfectly seasoned garlic prawns I’ve ever tasted while tossing two salads, cutting bread, frying churros for dessert later and organising the men, who couldn’t even seat themselves without direction.

I wish I had the supreme confidence and likability of the woman who can walk into a kitchen, assess the damage and panic and command control without sounding like a c..t, to give the hostess the time to sober up pull herself together.

‘Gross Soup’ And The Male Meat And Two Veg Mentality

I’ve recently become a Humble Tart Kitchen Blogger, a food representative for a fantabulous food website. I might have bent the truth slightly about my cooking know-how, but obviously they recognised my skills as a … tart. Here’s my first post for them:

Possibly THE MOST SOUL-DESTROYING comment any mother can hear after hours of labour and justified resentment in a hot kitchen, and after dishing up a homemade feast of chicken and vegetable soup is:

Is that dinner?” *sigh* from the males in the family.

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Which is why the image above is so ridiculously unrepresentative of mealtimes in our house. Where are the sullen, sulking faces? Why is no-one carefully trying to conceal anything vaguely healthy under a mound of something else?

Admittedly, the soup was what my kids commonly refer to as ‘Gross Soup’, (and what I secretly think of as ‘leftover’ soup), but in my defence, it was fashionably ‘clean’, tasty, full of goodness and surprisingly filling.

And I had made it with love, and from scratch. Sort of.

The problem is, the boys in my house don’t count certain meals as ‘proper food’.

Such foods include:

Soup

Vegetarian food

Fish (unless it’s battered, deep-fried and fully exorcised)

Omlette

Sushi

How do we rid the male population of their ‘meat and two veg’ mentality when it comes to food?

We live in Sydney, a wonderfully cosmopolitan city where the fusion between Australian and Asian cuisine is a marvel to the taste buds. There is Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese and Malaysian food on offer in our hood, yet my son gags at the mention of a prawn Tempura or the sight of rare meat.

The meat my boys choose to eat has to be so over-worked, over-cooked and seasoned beyond it’s life that it metamorphoses into little more than an unappetising lump of leather on the plate. I have shed tears of grief over fillet steaks that have been fried to half their size.

The old man’s ongoing dad joke in a restaurant is, ‘I think I’ll go for the burger this time,’ because that’s what he orders EVERY FUCKING TIME we eat out. The man is an intelligent, fitness fanatic (excuse the oxymoron), who spends much of his free time in the gym, yet he has somehow managed to avoid reading any recent articles on the subject of diet and healthy eating.

It took me five years to get Fajitas over the line. Curries are still a work in progress.

So…want to pay your family back for being ungrateful little shits, here’s my alternative menu for Gross Soup:

Scoop out all crawling, out-of-date vegetables lurking at the bottom of the fridge drawer and chop haphazardly. Finger nails optional.

Sip wine.

Rescue any leftover chicken before the dog or migrant teens (who now seem to be living with you) get to it.

Sip wine.

Make your own bone stock…jokes…buy a packet of ready-made stock and cook veggies in it.

Sip wine.

Add liberal amounts of garlic, oregano, salt and pepper and chilli flakes –anything that will disguise the wholesome taste of healthiness.

Sip wine.

Add shredded chicken.

Sip wine.

Dish up and wait for the inevitable cacophony of groans.

Finish bottle.

One Small Step For Mum And It’s A Wrap

I’m a complete stalker when it comes to food porn, and new, quick and easy recipes.
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If I had the right guinea pigs in my household, who did what they were told, I fervently believe I could have been a great cook, but unfortunately the kids didn’t inherit my ‘foodie’ gene and instead inherited the old man’s taste buds for ‘bland’.

Whenever a photo of a some divine new recipe for a flourless chocolate cake, say, pops up on my FB page, it makes my day even better than a picture of a shirtless Chris Hemsworth. I waste more time drooling over food images than working.

But alas, I’ve given up on trying new recipes with my lot. There’s enough pain and disappointment at dinner time and I have to tread very carefully when I attempt to pass anything new or ‘foreign’ through the family’s tight food quality regulations.

Every mother knows what it’s like when one member of the family likes spicy food and the other hiccoughs at the sight of it; when one loves carbs, and the refuses outrightly to touch them, and when one decides to go vegetarian that day and the others will only eat meat and two veg.

Which means, usually, we end up eating four different versions of the same protein – about as far from the idea of the perfect family sit down meal as can be.

If I have salmon and salad, the boys have salmon pasta and NC will stir-fry it up in some spicy sauce. If I make meatballs, I have them on salad, the boys douse them in a heavy tomato sauce with pasta and NC will huff and puff about me never cooking what she likes and then make something different entirely.

However, recently I’ve discovered a new trick. It’s rather like when the kids were little and we used to mash up veggies and disguise them in mashed potato or Bolognese sauce.

One Small Cooking Step For Mum And It's A Wrap
Found on pinterest.com

At least two or three times a week, I’ve taken to turning every meal I make into a taco, tortilla or quesadilla.

Now, it might be the novelty, or it might be that every small and trendy bar in Sydney is serving wraps at the moment, or simply just because it’s more kinaesthetically fun to make-your-own food, but if I offer anything in a wrap alongside a tempting selection of cut up veggies/salad, cheese and dips, cheese and the healthy filling of my choice, dinner disappears without a hitch.

Dare I say it – this culinary advancement has almost made family meals enjoyable again.

Here are just a few ideas of what I’ve put in my wraps so far, but let’s face it, the world’s your oyster:

Sliced rare Sirloin steak and roasted veg

Chilli beef with kidney beans

Lamb with mint, Tsatsiki and grated carrot

Salmon with a yoghurty/dill dressing or a mango and coriander salsa

And yes, natural and organic paleo preachers, I do know that white carbs are the devil’s food which is why one day I will endeavour to try and switch to wholemeal or even making my own wraps, (cough – never gonna happen!), but this is one small cooking step for mum in my household.