Monday, 8 June 2015

3 Food 'Things' We Didn't Have in the 70s


If nothing else, Master Chef and My Kitchen Rules have equipped my children with the vocab to politely not finish the meals I cook. They might mention that I have ‘over-caramelised the protein’ as they tip the burnt remains of their sausage in the bin. What they really mean is “Better luck next time, champ. What’s for dessert?”

Back in the 70s, we thought things were getting fancy when mum used an ice cream scoop to serve the mashed potato in perfect domes on our ‘meat and three veg’ dinner. Little did we know that one day people would serve meals stacked in small towers or de-constructed, with artistic swooshes, smears, dots and crumbs all over the plate.

Well, when I say ‘plate’ I might be talking about a wooden board or a tile, or a jar, really, because my favourite celebrity chefs have almost rendered our traditional household crockery inventory obsolete.

 But I do love my cooking shows, and I try to embrace the wonderful advice on offer. This is how we serve breakfast in our house:

 Don’t try this at home – pouring the milk over the Weet Bix can be problematic.


When I was a girl, recipes came from a limited group of trusted sources like Margaret Fulton, the Commonsense Cookery Book, and a small but blossoming range of Australian Womens Weekly Cookbooks. And don’t forget the recipes passed on by family or friends.

 These days we can find amazing Youtube tutorials to make anything our greedy hearts desire, and an avalanche of spectacular recipes. This is a bit of a double-edged sword though.

I frequently use the internet to find new recipes. But I really wish there was some kind of quality control filter out there. When I search for, let’s say, a sponge cake recipe, I want to find the best sponge cake recipe in the world. And some stupid optimistic part of me ALWAYS thinks that if I type in BEST SPONGE CAKE RECIPE I will actually find the best one - the one that a cyber panel of at least 100 people has trialled and tested and voted the best in the whole world. But instead I get a whole heap of recipes from every Tom, Dick and Harry who have titled their recipe Best Sponge Cake recipe, or some totally crap sponge cake baker who happens to be a SEO genius.

 And there is also another level to this. Let’s say I post on facebook asking my friends if they have a tried and true sponge cake recipe, what do I get? Certainly not great-grandma’s 100 year old CWA award winning sponge cake. No - I get links to the same crap I googled myself!

See, that’s the problem. We have so many resources available to us, but because most of us are just walking around like numpties, bumping into everything, we’re only just scratching the surface.

So here’s what happens in the end … I add the name of some smartarse celebrity chef to my google search, someone who should know what they’re doing but will add about 20 different pinches and quarter teaspoons of completely unnecessary ingredients to the recipe so we think they are a complete genius.

Then I’ll add two hours to their suggested prep time and off I go! Not the best sponge cake ever, but at least I know it won’t be the worst.


When I was a girl, shops weren’t bursting at the seams on Boxing Day with Easter Eggs and Hot Cross Buns. In fact, even closer to Easter, they weren’t exactly filled to the brim with Easter goodies.

I remember one year my dad bought our Easter Eggs when he was away at a conference, because he had some free time and saw something a bit ‘different’ – the Humpty Dumpty Easter Egg, with Smarties inside.

Nowadays, of course, we are spoiled for choice, and inundated with volume. So spoiled and inundated, in fact, that the food media finds it necessary to counsel us on what to do with our leftover Easter eggs. That’s right, we need recipes for using excess Easter eggs.

First of all, do I really need to say it? Leftover Easter eggs are really just Easter eggs I haven’t eaten yet. I don’t need professional instructions on what to do with them. When the time is right I will eat them, probably sooner rather than later too, if you really need to know.

Secondly, if people have too many Easter eggs in their house to consume in the traditional manner, adding more fat and sugar to convert them into a different chocolate food with a much shorter use-by date and way more calories isn’t really solving a problem as far as I can see.

And thirdly, that’s some pretty bloody expensive cooking chocolate you’re using there, isn’t it?

I know I’m a cynical old cow but the proliferation of this kind if re-hashed stuff in the media ranks in the same league as Kardashian headlines for me.

 Or maybe I’m just jealous because other people have leftover Easter eggs.

Photo Credit: My own photo.

Friday, 29 May 2015

It Started With a School Excursion

My kids both went on a school excursion today. On the way to school I was thinking about one particular excursion from my own school days, but I kept it to myself.

When I was in Grade 5 we loaded up a bus with a few classes from my school to visit a beach about an hour away. 

Along the way we mysteriously detoured to a house belonging to a teacher from another class. As he ducked inside the house I assumed he must have forgotten his lunch or something, but instead he returned to the bus with a box full of tiny grey kittens.

Long story short I was one of several children who raised their hands to say I would love to have one of the kittens. Of course, the devil is always in the detail with this kind of thing. I could have sworn he said something like “Blah blah blah let me know tomorrow”. It turns out he actually said “Check with your parents and let me know tomorrow”. Just semantics really. Anyway, I gave him the nod the next day and ‘project kitten’ was good to go.

A couple of days later my kitten was delivered to school. Before school that day I had fashioned a multi-purpose kitty-carrier to house the kitten at school and carry him home on my bike at the end of the day. It was a small open cardboard crate, with newspaper over the top. Solid as a rock.

Parental status – still very much in the dark unfortunately.

Then a few problems arose during the kitten transfer at school.

Firstly, it’s fairly safe to say that my classroom teacher, Mr M, was not on board with ‘project kitten’. He didn’t like the fact that one of his esteemed colleagues saw fit to bring kittens to school and distribute them to students, and he definitely didn’t like the fact that I planned on keeping my kitten in a home-styled kitty-carrier in the corner of the classroom for the rest of the day.

Secondly - and this proved to be the deal breaker - my new kitten was not completely satisfied with his temporary lodgings. He howled the biggest howls he could manage with his tiny kitten-voice. With every howl Mr M would flinch, and glare towards the box. It seemed to go on for hours but really it was only a few short minutes before the kitten liberated himself.  There was only one way this could go.

Nope, there was no phone call to my parents to collect their oldest child (and new kitten), no paperwork documenting my departure from school. There was just a middle aged man with a red face and steam coming out of his ears screaming “GET OUT! AND TAKE THAT BLASTED CAT WITH YOU!”

Obviously Mr M was not a cat person.

I assumed he wasn’t in the mood to provide any craft supplies to repair my kitty-carrier, so I quickly jettisoned that and marched myself over to the bike racks. Somehow I managed to ride all the way home clutching a screeching, scratching kitten to my upper torso, steering my bike with the other hand.

The relief at the end of the journey lasted only briefly, as I entered another level of hell - explaining the whole thing to my mother, who was in bed recuperating after an appendectomy.

This was certainly turning into a fine old mess.

Mum assured me that she would be ‘speaking to somebody’ about this, to arrange the return of our little ball of fluff as soon as possible. And with that hanging over me I hopped on my bike and returned from the fire back to the frying pan at school.

As I shuffled back into class, nursing my finely lacerated arms, Mr M barely acknowledged my return, nor did he enquire about the welfare of my furry friend. As long as I was sans kitten, that’s all that mattered.

I spent a very long afternoon wondering why my air-tight plan hadn’t gone as smoothly as I’d hoped. Things had certainly unravelled rather quickly, that’s for sure.

When I got home after school, bracing myself for trouble, I found the little grey kitten curled tightly in a ball beside mum on the bed.

He had been unofficially given the green light to join our family. And it looked like we had been given the green light too.

For the longest time he didn’t have a name, and I’m not sure if that made him nervous. Eventually he became known as Grey Man. He lived to a ripe old age too, despite possibly using up several of his nine lives on that initial bike ride home.

I didn’t share that story with my kids as they set off for their excursion today.

Just in case…

Friday, 22 May 2015


Our neighbours moved out a few weeks ago. We had one of those peaceful ‘ships-in-the-night’ relationships with them where we just waved and said hello, but didn’t know each other’s names or borrow cups of sugar from each other.

Apparently though, we also had the kind of relationship where they could shove their last awkwardly-sized pieces of rubbish in OUR wheelie bin just minutes before they pissed off to their new house.

Selfish pricks.

This wasn’t the first time they encroached on our bin space. I overlooked the other occasion because it was after a party, and some of their visitors, with skins full of alcohol, shoved about 25 pizza boxes in our recycling bin. I’m not the most confrontational person, so I elected not to point out that their pizza boxes might have squeezed into their own recycling bin if they hadn’t shoved a broken lawn chair in there already! See, I’m nice like that.

When I was a girl we had a metal Oscar-sized rubbish bin at home. Everything that wasn’t composted or re-used went into that garbage bin.

Incinerators were all the rage too, mainly at institutions with lots of paper. At school, our janitor seemed to spend quite a bit of time tending to the incinerator.  I imagine all that metho on the stencils would have helped keep things ablaze.

Like I said, we didn’t throw much out when I was a girl. My Nanna even used to wash the few plastic bags she owned and hang them on the line. Re-using things was ingrained in people, after generations of essential thrift.

Our food wasn’t often packaged, but when it was, like when we bought a Streets Heart ice cream on a car trip,  well we didn’t have a problem with throwing that useless sticky wrapper right out the car window … until the whole nation was told to ‘Do the Right Thing’ in the early 80s. Or else!

My intention with this post was really to just tell a few stories comparing the past and the present, like I often do. But I’m finding it hard to wrap things up without appearing to sermonise the issue.

Anyway, I’ll just leave you with another story.

During the most recent school holidays we visited a big new park in our area. We went on five different days around the same time – arriving at lunch time and leaving around 4 or 5. On each of those days there were really, really large extended family groups picnicking and barbecuing, but they were different groups each day.

I wasn’t exactly policing their activities, but I couldn’t help notice the varying attitudes they had to the rubbish they produced and how they disposed of it. One of the groups had an elaborate supply of re-usable picnicware which they took home with them when they left. A couple of groups had disposable picnicware which they bagged up and put in the bin.

And one group had disposable EVERYTHING, which they just threw all over the park. Everywhere. I’m not kidding. The park looked like a rubbish dump after they left. It was so bad that I felt like a guilty bystander, just letting it happen. The only things I did to defend against their filthy crusade were 1) a lengthy scowling side-eye at a woman who spat her chewing gum straight out on to the ground, and 2) I gathered up a few of their Styrofoam cups from the ground and handed them over saying something flimsy like “Oh, look, your rubbish is blowing away, here you go”, hoping they would take the hint and pick up the rest of their crap.

They didn’t.

I think that might just be the tip of the iceberg, don’t you?

Picture source: Pixabay. No attribution required.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Quenching Our Thirst From the Garden Hose

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A popular meme circulates on social media every so often, listing all of the things we ‘survived’ doing as kids in the olden days, because we were allegedly strong and resilient and the world was less litigious. There are different versions around, and sometimes different decades mentioned, depending where it is posted.

Generally, the meme goes along these lines … we rode bikes without helmets, stayed out until the street lights came on, our mothers consumed all of the things that are now frowned upon during pregnancy, we rode in cars without seat belts, etc. The list is way too long to quote here. The implication is that modern day kids (the alleged bubble-wrapped Generation Z) are too soft to do these kinds of things.

One of the items on this list of things we did in the good ole days is ‘we drank water from the garden hose’. Well, yes we did, but it’s not really something to hang your hat on, is it?

I’ll tell you something, unknown writer of that meme (since it’s such a big deal to you) my children have been known to drink out of the garden hose. Only the back yard though. See, the front yard tap fitting is in our kitchen drawer.

What? Well, just before we moved in here a few years ago there was a strange spate of tap-fitting burglaries in the area. They must be made from some kind of metal that can be sold on the black market or something. Everyone’s taps were stolen, and when they replaced them they were stolen again. I heard the total number of taps stolen was around 20,000. I’m not kidding. So our front yard tap fitting was in the kitchen drawer when we moved in. And it still is.

Anyway, I thought I’d just point that out, because the poor old ‘bubble-wrapped’ Gen Z gets a bit of a shellacking in the media for not climbing trees, skinning knees, or drinking out of garden hoses, when there’s a actually a big thieving bunch of Gen Y and Gen Xers stealing their bloody tap fittings!

And while we are on the subject of drinking out of garden hoses, I need to tell you something else. It is, in fact, fraught with peril.  

I was once a garden hose drinker, but my hose-drinking journey was cut short as a child.

One thirsty summer day I turned on the hose and a stupid brown toad came gushing out! Luckily I hadn’t put the hose to my mouth yet, but yeah … making the trip inside the house to the kitchen didn’t seem like such a bad idea at all after that. 

photo credit: Garden Hose via photopin (license)

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Pluto Pup: Yesterday's Hero

The Pluto Pup. Depending where you grew up, you might call this a Dagwood Dog or a Corn Dog.

Usually found at carnivals, fairs, fetes, it is a generously battered hot dog/frankfurt/sav on a stick.

It is also the kind of food that was way more delicious in the olden days.

I loved them then. And I hate them now. The Pluto Pup from days gone by is a different beast to what is sold now.

My encounters with the Pluto Pup were limited to ‘carnival’ type events – the school fete, the show, perhaps a rodeo or two.

Our primary school fete.

When I first started thinking about this, a funny picture popped up in my mind’s eye - a lone Pluto Pup van parked in the playground of my old primary school.

A few seconds later, a hayride steams past, and proceeds to go up and down, up and down.

There must have been more than that.

Ah, yes, there were snow cones. Rich cordial poured on to shaved ice. A must for this little fete-goer.

One year there was a flower arrangement competition. I do believe I won a green glass vase for first prize – probably more to do with the calibre of the flowers from our garden than my 10 year old floristry skills.

A Cake stall - laden with about 500 toffees sprinkled with hundreds and thousands.

A White Elephant stall. Not the most exciting stall in those days. People didn’t have that much excess to cull.

Fairy floss. Of course.

The Lucky dip. Much better value in those days, and more special, because people’s houses weren’t already groaning with piles of plastic toys and assorted crap.

The Craft stall. Lots of knitted bits and pieces, crocheted toilet roll covers with dolls on top, tea cosies and the like. I remember one year my mum made a fish from a cake of soap, covered in Tulle netting tied at the back so it fanned out into a tail, and there were pearl-topped pins stuck in the soap to represent scales. I watched the craft stall like a hawk to see which customer was lucky enough to get their hands on that piece of crafty genius.

There was no jumping castle. No face painting (and no mile-long queue for face-painting). No $30 pre-purchased wrist bands for ride entry.

And no over-priced dodgy bulk-manufactured frozen crap masquerading as Pluto Pups!

With apologies to any modern-day Pluto Pup vendors who may be reading here, why do you need to use frozen, pre-prepared goods? If you are charging $5 each, would it kill you to buy some (unfrozen) frankfurts, poke a stick in them, make up some batter and fry them in oil that is less than three weeks old?

And if you have only one type of item on sale (and I’m just making an assumption here, based on the signage on the outside of your van) you could probably cook them a little closer to the time of purchase instead of leaving them to fester in a heating tray. It’s not like you have a 5-course banquet to prepare.

Just my 10 cents (or $5) worth …

photo credit: 1011 via photopin (license)

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Oranges at Nanna's House

As long as I can remember, my Nanna had an orange at breakfast.

I still cut my oranges the way Nanna did: she would cut both ends off with a serrated knife, then cut the orange into 8 crescents, and the crescents didn’t have annoying pointy ends.

Obviously Nanna left a far greater legacy than her orange cutting technique.

It’s not really about the orange.

I remember sitting in Nanna’s kitchen after staying the night at her house, any number of times.

I can see her sitting opposite me in that kitchen, daintily eating her breakfast. An orange, a slice of toast with Anchovette paste, and a little pot of tea.

And I remember her voice. It’s been 25 years since I saw her, but I can still hear her voice.

After breakfast she would probably say “Ah, that was just nice”, or she would say “That’ll keep the wolves away”.

There are lots more snippets from that house that I can see and hear in my mind. It doesn’t sound significant, I know, but I’m so glad I still have that.

photo credit: orange pyramid via photopin (license)

Napkin ... and a slice of cake

When the fun and games were over, there was still something to look forward to after a birthday party – the ceremonial departure with a piece of birthday cake wrapped in a paper napkin. And lollies too … mercilessly exposed to the elements in a little cardboard basket.  

Some things change, but some things stay the same.

As the mother of primary school children I can guarantee that children’s birthday parties still have the same appeal as they did when I was in primary school in the 70s. For the birthday girl or boy, and for the guests, a birthday party is still just as exciting as it ever was.

When I was a girl, most birthday parties were after school. I would race home, put on my ‘going out’ clothes, and walk or ride my bike to the party.

We ate fairy bread, butterfly cakes, cocktail frankfurts, party pies and sausage rolls, washed down with cordial. Not much of that has changed.

Presents were often duplicated – some common gifts were Avon bubble bath or talc, a block of Cadbury chocolate, or a $2 note. And here’s something that kind of annoys me these days: a lot of parties are at venues, and the presents are taken home unopened like a great pile of mystery loot. I guess it annoys me because my kids get so excited about wrapping the present, making a card and proudly handing it over, and then it just gets added to the stash.

But the stand-out difference between the parties I went to as a child and the parties I take my children to?

The games.

There must be somebody, one person, somewhere in the world who at some point started the whole thing about every child winning a prize! When I find that person, I will wrap them in 23 layers paper, and after each layer I will deliver a sharp painful blow to a different part of their body.

The whole ‘every child wins a prize’ thing is a logistical nightmare. Once upon a time the host could just turn their back when a parcel was being passed around and stop the music when they felt like it. Now, you have to sneakily make sure the music stops at just the right time, every time, while pretending not to look, AND remember who hasn’t unwrapped a prize layer yet.

At my daughter’s 6th birthday party I actually had a child approach me to complain about their prize. For real. My eyes rolled a full 360 degrees and then practically fell out of their sockets.

I don’t need to tell you that back in the day, there was one winner per game. And you took your prize – it might be a mintie, or if you were lucky it might be one of those little tin party clicker things – and you were happy with your prize. You didn’t try to negotiate a different prize. And if you didn’t win a prize, tough luck.

And then you said “Thanks for having me Mrs So-and-so”, you took your little basket of lollies, and your piece of birthday cake wrapped in a napkin, and you went home.

That wasn’t supposed to turn into a rant. Glad I got it off my chest though.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Media: Sesame Street Food

I remember the first day Sesame Street aired on Australian TV. I was five. Mum had flagged it for our viewing pleasure, and when we sat down on that first morning we were not disappointed. It was entertaining, amusing, and somewhat educational.

And in my little culturally homogenous world, the American content was tantalising.

Somehow ‘cookies’ and ‘cupcakes’ were much more fascinating than ‘biscuits’ and ‘patty cakes’. The ‘pickles’ they had with their ‘burgers’ were not the same as the ‘pickles’ we made with a bumper choko crop. And it took me a while to figure out that the ‘jelly’ on their ‘peanut butter and jelly sandwiches’ was not the same ‘jelly’ we ate with our ice cream.

One of my favourite segments on Sesame Street was a counting backwards and forwards segment, featuring the number of the day. At the end of the segment a clumsy baker would bring out a platter laden with baked goods, announce what they were in a grand proclamation, and then fall down the stairs. He baked some wonderful things, most of them sounding very exotic to me:
1 wedding cake
2 chocolate cream pies
3 birthday cakes
4 root beer floats
5 fancy fruit cakes
6 strawberry shortcakes
7 pumpkin pies
8 raspberry pudding desserts
9 coconut custard pies
10 chocolate layer cakes
And these lavish (to me) items ended up all over the baker and the floor after a spectacular roll down the stairs. You just can’t go wrong with that kind of humour for little kids. My brother and I called that part of the segment ‘Bung Smucky’. Lord knows why we came up with those exact words, but if you say them slowly and loudly they do encapsulate the baker’s grand announcement of his product before his dramatic fall down the stairs.

Times have certainly changed. There are so many other media platforms available to kids. My 8 and 9 year olds are great YouTube fans. Some of the stuff on there is crap, but some of it is really, really good.

My daughter, in particular, watches quite a lot of creative material, but the ones I often watch over her shoulder are instructional pieces involving the most amazing sweet-making and decorating.

Anyway a few weeks ago, Easter Monday I think, I awoke to the distinct sound of a project being undertaken in the kitchen. A project involving a YouTube instructional video about using spare easter eggs  to make a popular American snack called a ‘s’more’. Originating as a campfire snack, a ‘s’more’ consists of warm toasted marshmallows and a layer of chocolate placed between graham crackers.
The key word here is ‘graham’, a specific style of biscuit sold in America, a bit like a sweeter version of a shredded wheat biscuit, but really there is no equivalent here. Unfortunately my children only picked up on the word ‘cracker’ so they were using savoury rice crackers. And planning to put them in the microwave with chocolate and marshmallows.

It’s a good thing I got out of bed when I did. Wouldn’t want to waste those easter eggs. Or the savoury rice crackers for that matter. 

photo credit: cookie-monster via photopin (license)

Friday, 24 April 2015

Lollies in a White Paper Bag

There was a certain protocol involved in buying lollies at a corner shop. And if you didn’t see the shop-owner’s eyes roll back in their head at least once, you weren’t doing it properly.

It went a little bit like this:

“Ummm, I’ll have one of those, aaaaaaannndd one of those, no actually I’ll have one of those instead…..and one of those…” 

There is no way you could leave the decision up to the shop-owner. One time I did that, and ended up with a stack of stupid barley sugar sticks and fruit cocktails in my little white paper bag. Never again.

Our closest corner shops were about 5 or 6 blocks away, two of them in the same street. When I was really little we referred to one of them as ‘the Shirley shop’, then ‘the dopey shop’ and the other one was ‘the silver shop’. I’m not sure why. ‘The silver shop’ wasn’t silver. I think ‘the Shirley shop’ was owned by Shirley, who may then have sold it to some people we didn’t like as much as Shirley. That’s the only explanation I can think of.

At any rate, we didn’t buy that many lollies there when I was little. They were the shops we called into in the car, to get petrol or just pick something up. In high school sometimes we’d pop in there on the way to school on our bikes, but that’s about it.

My ‘10 cents worth of mixed lollies’ purchases, at least the ones I remember, were in Taree, when I stayed with my grandparents. They had a shop around the corner, and my grandmother would sometimes give me 5 cents or 10 cents, and let me walk around to the shop. We also bought lollies at the pool, standing up on a wooden platform in our wet swimming costumes, tapping on top of the glass lolly case to indicate our selections.

The decision-making process involved in the purchase of ‘mixed lollies’ was quite daunting. How do you choose between black cats, teeth, cobbers, clinkers, freckles, caramel buds, milk bottles, snakes, musk sticks, chicos, witchetty grubs, and jelly babies? And then there were larger items to factor in: you could opt for a Choo-Choo Bar, a Redskin, a Whizz Fizz, or a mini-pack of Juicy Fruit, but that meant foregoing some of the smaller items. Hmmmm. No wonder we drove those shopkeepers crazy.

There were also even larger purchases falling under a special category. Cough, cough. Remember Irish Moss, SOS Cough Drops, Throaties and Butter Menthol? Cough lollies my arse, the operative word being ‘lollies’!   

I’m always tempted when I see any kind of ‘Olde World Lolly Shop’. I don’t know why, but I keep hoping I’ll encounter one with a glass case containing loose lollies, and white paper bags ready to be filled to the brim with my favourites. But that never happens. Just jars of boiled lollies, and cellophane packages of over-priced no-name chocolates. I guess those days of mixed lollies are gone.

Do you have sweet sweet memories? (See what I did there?) What were your favourites?

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Kids' Books: Food in the 'Little House' Series

One day when Pa Ingalls was working his perfect-dad bum off in the blazing sun of the prairie, Laura took him a jug of ice-cold water, with a little surprise in it. Ginger. That’s right. Ma Ingalls had flavoured that water with a little scrap of ginger so Pa could slake his thirst with an edgy little treat.

I know what would happen if one of my kids took that ginger water out to their dad on a hot day, and it might begin with WTF! But Pa Ingalls was tickled pink with his ginger water treat, and his eyes were twinkling as he pressed on with the ploughing or stacking hay or whatever he was doing on that hot day on the prairie. I think about that every time I’m grating ginger. Weird, I know.  

Food features prominently in all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s work. The ‘Little House’ series was based on the lives of Laura Ingalls’ family in the late nineteenth century. Farmers in the American mid-West pioneer country, their relationship with Mother Nature was frequently at odds.

Although they were often hungry, Laura’s focus was rarely on the shortage of food. Rather, she celebrated the food they had. Laura made a couple of boiled potatoes sound like an absolute feast. And when a rare treat found its way into the house the whole family practically exploded with excitement.

Unlike the hale and hearty characters on the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ TV show, the real-life Ingalls family would have had good reason to doubt the wisdom of Pa’s ‘Go West, young man’ pioneer dream. ‘The Long Winter’ (the fifth book in the series) describes how close the family (and the whole town) came to complete starvation when eight months of relentless blizzards cut off all food sources except a dwindling supply of seed wheat. This is the only book in the series where the focus shifts to their lack of food, rather than celebrating what they had.

Prior to their Westward-ho adventures (and misadventures) the Ingalls family were quite cosily ensconced in the ‘big woods’ of Wisconsin. ‘Little House in the Big Woods’ has a completely different feel to the rest of the series. They weren’t rich, but they were secure. And they were surrounded by nearby family.

I was about seven or eight years old when I read ‘Little House in the Big Woods’, and I was sufficiently inspired by an event in the book to fix myself a bit of an Ingalls family sweet treat. In the book, the extended Ingalls clan had gathered together to tap Maple sap from their maple trees, and then process the sap to make maple sugar, syrup and a bit of candy. The womenfolk were busy boiling their maple syrup, while each child fetched a dish of clean snow from outside. The boiling syrup was trickled onto the snow to harden into candy.

This seemed like a pretty good idea to me. We didn’t have any maple trees, or any maple products, or any snow for that matter, but I figured I could freeze some honey to achieve the same result.

The scientific flaws in my plan did not escape my mother, and she put the brakes on the whole project before it even began.

Or so she thought.

I wasn’t really a sneaky child, but in this instance I was hell-bent on making that snow-candy. Since the honey experiment was off the table, I mixed up a thick paste of Milo and water at my earliest opportunity, blobbed it onto a Tupperware lid, and put it in the freezer.

Don’t bother trying this at home – it doesn’t work.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Jaffas at the Movies

Do you associate Jaffas with movies? I do, which is really funny because I don’t ever remember eating them at the movies.

There was an old tradition of rolling Jaffas down the aisle in movie theatres. I knew about it but I never actually did it myself, nor did I see it happen. Sometimes I wonder if it is one of those urban legends. Maybe it happened a few times and then everybody talked it up. And why was it Jaffas, not Kool Mints or Kool Fruits?  

The movie theatre in my hometown - the Saraton Theatre – was built in 1926. It is heritage listed, and one of the very few original country theatres still operating. During its long history, the Saraton has closed its doors for extended periods on several occasions for various reasons, including (but not limited to) fires, flood and extensive refurbishment. Perhaps the longest period of closure was when the doors closed in the mid 60s and re-opened at the end of 1982. That’s right – for the eighteen years I lived in Grafton that movie theatre was open for one year. Impeccable timing.

Fortunately we had a drive-in theatre.

When we were quite young, going to the drive-in meant wearing your pyjamas and falling asleep in the car.

As we hit high school, the idea of multiple fully-grown people watching a movie from the back seat of the car with your parents’ heads in front of you was not terribly appealing to either generation, so we made other arrangements. Usually one lucky parent would drive a few giggling girls, who then took off like scalded cats, leaving the parent in the car. See, notice I’m saying parent singular here, because at this stage I’m pretty sure the dads all opted to stay home.

There was a seating area in front of the refreshments kiosk. Our parents probably wondered what we got up to in those seats, but had they spent any time with the ‘Drive-In Man’, sovereign of that domain, they wouldn’t have worried one iota. Not too much untoward went on under his watch, except for maybe standing up and busting a few Village People moves during ‘Can’t Stop the Music’.  

Sometimes we would take folding chairs and find a spot far enough away from the cars and people to enable us to have a chat and a few laughs without disturbing anyone. I remember one night sitting out in mid-winter temperatures with my friend V. We laughed ourselves stupid that night, shivering, teeth chattering while we watched ‘The Blue Lagoon’, but we stayed out in the cold for the whole movie. And we would have eaten a choc-top out in those wintery elements too.

But not Jaffas

Did you roll Jaffas down the aisle at the movies? Was it really a thing?

Jaffas pic source: Andynahman

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Ice Cream at Wooli

The older woman looked up sternly as the young girl and boy approached the counter of her general store. Filled with the importance of their task they were slightly daunted by her brusque demeanour, but went about their business bravely.

A copy of the local newspaper had been put aside for their family, so they politely requested it. “And…”

The woman bristled behind her glass countertop. The ‘and’ was sure to involve dropping to her haunches to fill a small paper bag with lollies chosen excruciatingly slowly one at a time, if not standing with an ice cream scoop poised mid-air while they decided which flavour they would like in their cone.

“… two single tutti-frutti ice creams please.”

With business transacted a lot more swiftly than the woman had anticipated (apart from the apparent tedium of filling two cones with ice cream) the children stepped back out into the late afternoon sun, clutching their purchases.

Gingerly they picked their way along Main Street, past the familiar beach cottages and the tiny school. Past the caravan park – filled to the brim with school holiday tenants. Past the black telephone with its bewildering A and B buttons.

To the girl and boy the journey home from the little general store always seemed longer. The landmark water tower near their beach house never seemed to get much closer until they were almost home.

When the yawning, rickety entrance finally welcomed them they were ushered through a dark canopy of trees leading to the back of the long beach cottage.

Squashed frangipani blossoms squelched under their feet near an old wooden out-house. The shower room and laundry were down the back too. Even in daylight that huge laundry - with its old washing copper and so many dark, damp nooks and crannies - was not a place they chose to linger, so the girl and boy gathered speed on the sloping, sandy path.

Soon Mum would start cooking fish and chips. Fresh fish they had caught in the river or off the rocky wall that afternoon. Bream, whiting, flathead. Or maybe some snapper their father had caught at sea that morning. There would never be any fish and chips as good as those.

There would undoubtedly be better ice creams, though. In other places. Much better. 

But only the general store tutti-frutti cones would hold the memories of those January days.  

Monday, 13 April 2015

Hunting and Gathering in the Neighbourhood

In my childhood neighbourhood there was a pecan nut tree. When the mood took us we jumped on our bikes, took a spin to the tree and threw some pecan nuts in a container. We couldn’t eat them at the tree because the shells were too hard. We took them home, sat under the house and cracked them with a hammer.

This was probably not the best way to go about things. It was pretty tedious and we were lucky if we ever got a piece of nut without shell fragments embedded in it, or dirt from the cement. I often think about that when I’m handing over a king’s ransom at the shops for pecan nuts. If I could have my time over again with that tree I’d do a much better job, that’s for sure. 

We lived on the edge of town, so there were lots of paddocks nearby. When it rained, mushrooms popped up everywhere, ripe for the picking. I hated mushrooms. I don’t mind them so much now, as long as they are not the main event, or the hero of the dish, so to speak.

Anyway, the grown-ups liked mushrooms, so we picked them.  In particular, one of my teachers absolutely loved mushrooms. He must have talked about it a fair bit because apparently I took it upon myself to use the idea for a composition I wrote at school in Grade 4. I found this the other day in a box of old photos, and it was odd to think I wrote it at the same age my daughter is now.

I'm so glad I still have this composition, even though it's a strange story. It takes me right back to that classroom in 1975 with the most demanding but entertaining and engaging teacher you could ever encounter. He was larger than life. He was my favourite teacher. And he was the MC at my 21st birthday many years later. 

photo credit: Mushroom Season via photopin (license)

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Gastronomy, Molecular - Heston Blumenthal

When Heston first appeared on my radar a few years ago I was quite enthralled. His work was like nothing I had ever seen before. It was quirky and fascinating. But then he kept popping up everywhere and I started wishing he would go back to his chemistry lab and stop sprouting his hocus-pocus about gels and foams and making tiny balls out of every stupid single ingredient.

I think the absolute turning point for me came when a Masterchef contestant, (a fan of Heston’s - aren’t they all?) decided, in the midst of a challenge, to make a foam out of mozzarella. Because that’s the edgy thing to do in the middle of a nationally televised cooking competition, throw some cheese into a bloody whipping syphon! And then, when that didn’t seem to work, he attacked it with a blow torch. Nope, that didn’t work either. OK now I can’t totally blame that kind of misadventure totally on Heston’s influence, because that particular contestant also boasted that he had once eaten the still-beating heart of a slain cobra, so his menu inclinations were probably never anywhere close to mainstream.

Nevertheless, I do wish Heston would keep the hell away from Masterchef. Every year after we go through ‘Heston Week’ on Masterchef it takes quite a while for the contestants to settle down. For weeks, they keep throwing things into liquid nitrogen or putting their ingredients through seventeen different processes to achieve ‘perfection’, which apparently means tasting like the complete opposite of the original ingredient.

Heston perplexes me. I guess it’s because he has made a lot of money popularising something in which not many people can afford to participate. And I also find it fascinating that his whole shtick is based on a multisensory experience, yet most of his fans only get to experience it with their eyes. For me his brand of cooking definitely has shades of ‘The Emporer’s New Clothes’. I’d be more likely to classify it as art or theatre, rather than cooking.

Fortunately for Heston, there are clearly many people who don’t share my opinion of his work. This year Melbourne’s Crown Casino is playing host to Heston’s The Fat Duck restaurant for six months. 90,000 people entered a ballot for the 14,000 seats available at The Fat Duck Melbourne between February and August. The successful 14,000 diners are handing over $525 per person (as well as $200-$1,150 per person should they choose to avail themselves of the perfectly matched wines) for a seventeen-course, four and a half hour, multisensory experience of a lifetime. Scalpers were asking up to $1000 for just a ticket, not counting the food and drink price.

In the broader context, Heston is making his fans happy – those who are wealthy enough to sample his ‘cooking’, and those who are happy to watch him on television. He is providing employment, entertainment, and using local produce for his projects. And at the end of the day, I guess he’s not selling drugs or breaking anyone’s bones to make his fortune – that’s always a plus.

So what’s your opinion about Heston Blumenthal and his work? And please feel free to disagree with my fairly one-sided assault. Is it all hipsterish food knobbery? Or is Heston an enterprising talent who has created a new sub-genre or sub-industry and added extra value to the food industry and the food media world? Or maybe a bit of both?

Heston Blumenthal image attribution: Brian Minkoff- London Pixels (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Frozen Meat ... and a thief in our midst.

*Warning: This post contains at least two things we did in the olden days and survived, but wouldn’t do now*

We had the biggest freezer you would ever wish to see - so big that it was housed downstairs in the laundry. It often contained half a cow and a whole coop full of chickens, as well as ice cream and other staples. 

When the half-cows arrived our family would gather at the dining room table to organise the various cuts of meat into plastic bags, suck the air out of the bags, seal them and label them with a big texta before placing them in the freezer.

In mild weather our frozen meat for dinner was thawed out on the back verandah - commonly done in the olden days without our meat playing host to an impressive colony of bacteria like it might today.

One day, the unthinkable happened. Our frozen steak was stolen from its thawing perch!

We were shocked and bewildered. The crime rate in our friendly neighbourhood had just rocketed above its usual zero. Who could it be? We knew all of our neighbours, so they were ruled out immediately. Was it a transient thief, or a professional burglar?

I slept uneasily that night, envisaging a shadowy figure with a mask and a gun, lurking around our house, perhaps searching for the mother-load of frozen meat in the laundry.

The next day we left a frozen chook in the usual thawing place, hoping our thief would not return. But he did return…and this time he didn’t succeed.

It turns out the frozen chook was a lot harder for our thief to fit in his mouth, and as he tried to take hold of it, the rock-hard chook rolled down the back stairs making enough noise to alert Mrs C, our babysitter.

The thief was a big black dog!

After that incident we stopped thawing our meat outdoors. The black dog, however, became a frequent scapegoat when other items went missing. Apparently he had quite a sweet tooth, and was quite partial to the chocolate flavoured portion of the Neapolitan ice cream.

He was never apprehended, and remained at large for many years. 

photo credit: Angus Steaks - Riverstone Winery via photopin (license)

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Eggs on Sunday Night

Like most people, I’ve eaten a few eggs in my time, so you’d be wondering how eggs could generate any specific memory. I guess this particular memory is based on a period of time when eggs featured prominently on the menu at our place for dinner (not breakfast, which, in my opinion, is where they belong) on a certain day of the week.

Sunday was golf day for my parents. They played golf in the afternoon and stayed out  for dinner, so our baby sitter, Mrs C, looked after us. Sunday night dinner was boiled eggs. Occasionally chicken noodle soup, but usually boiled eggs. With toast.

Every week we had to break out the lanterns and pitchforks to campaign for two eggs each instead of one. Every single week. But apart from that, the eggs were not the main event of that day. They were just there.

Most of the day was business as usual – playing with our neighbourhood friends. Sometimes my brother and I played a game of Monopoly with Mrs C (she always used the ‘iron’ token because she did so much ironing, quite the character Mrs C). But late in the afternoon, don’t worry about the eggs, the real feast was on TV.

I should point out here that this was the 70s and we lived in a country town with only the ABC and one regional network available to us, so there were slim pickings available on TV. And there was no way to record anything. When your favourite programs were on TV you made sure not to miss them.

Our Sunday afternoon pre-dinner TV sessions were bursting at the seams with these classics:

The Banana Splits
The Arabian Nights
Danger Island “Uh-oh Chongo!”
The Three Musketeers

And my favourites:

The Cattanooga Cats “oh no it’s Chessie the autograph hound”

It’s the Wolf – “It’s the woolluf, it’s the woolluf”. That’s who it is alright Lambsy. It’s not a stranger, it’s Mildew Wolf!

Motormouse and Autocat – Boy howdy, chi-cory, the hapless Autocat always ended up with Motormouse’s tyreprint on his face.

Around the World in 79 days – an around the world race between Phineus Fogg and the nasty Crumden, in the quest for £1 million.

Those Sunday afternoons were the best. 

photo credit: The Big Egg Hunt via photopin (license)
photo credit: Hanna Barbera Hollywood Star via photopin (license)

Monday, 6 April 2015

Darrell Lea Flashback

This is a strange post. I can tell you that before I've even written it.

Did you ever have one of those weird moments when you smelled  something and it took you hurtling back to some place in the past? Well this one is like that, but it’s a double whammy.

A couple of weeks ago I was shopping. I must have been surrounded by Easter eggs or something because as I walked along I got this great whiff of confectionery and it smelt exactly like a Darrell Lea shop. OK, there was no Darrell Lea product around but I just got this really distinct sense of being inside a Darrell Lea shop.

But it doesn’t end there. Oh no. Barely two seconds later I was  flooded with memories of the week I stayed in a caravan in Woolgoolga with my Nanna (Dad’s mother) when I was 11 years old. All that from a whiff of chocolate.

So strictly speaking I’m not talking about Darrell Lea today. I’m talking about that week in Woolgoolga and trying to figure out why it all came flooding back after all these years.  

The Woolgoolga trip. I was in Grade 6, and had taken a week off school to join Nanna on her holiday. It rained most of the week so, apart from a few walks, we mainly hung out in the caravan like girlfriends, drinking tea, eating a few Scotch Finger Biscuits, reading and crocheting. But even though we spent a fair bit of time lolling around the caravan that week, it was quite well organised lolling, because Nanna was a great fan of routines.

During that week, Nanna and I took ourselves on an excursion to Coffs Harbour to do some shopping.  I decided to buy some gifts to take home for my family. Between us, Nanna and I selected for my father a Mills and Boon novel. It was called ‘Peppertree Bay’ or something like that. Oh, for the love of God, what were we thinking? My dad would sooner poke his own eyes out than read a Mills and Boon novel.

I’m getting very close to a breakthrough here. Whilst I don’t remember specifically what we bought for Mum or my brother, I know we bought a gift for one or both of them (or perhaps another inappropriate gift for Dad) at… you guessed it… Darrell Lea!

You see, we didn’t have a Darrell Lea shop in Grafton, so when venturing out of town it was not uncommon to seek out a jar of those tiny pillow-shaped boiled sweets, or some that special soft licorice, or a bit of Rocklea Road as a special treat for yourself or someone else. Actually Coconut Ice is coming to mind – maybe I bought that for Mum, or maybe I’m just fancying myself as a bit of a psychic now.

Anyway, the mystery is solved, and I wrapped myself up in that flashback of Woolgoolga for as long as it lasted. Have you ever had a strange flashback generated by a specific smell?

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Canteen/Tuckshop Food Then and Now

As a parent of primary school children I need to report that in the decades between when I was at primary school in the 70s, and now, one thing hasn’t changed at all - canteen food is still the holy grail.

My kids get a lunch order from the canteen on the last day of term only. Really I’m just making sure the canteen owner doesn’t run out of silver. I’m very kind like that. Someone needs to put the silver coins back into the economy. And it takes a lot of silver coins to pay for a lunch order these days!

Apart from the one lunch order per term my kids are allowed to use their pocket money for snacks at the canteen, if they want to. I’m not crazy about it, but it’s their choice, and besides, I don’t really pay them much anyway, compared to canteen prices.

What is it about canteen/tuckshop food that is so appealing decade after decade?  I think it’s a combination of
a) access to food/drink you don’t have every day and
b) a child’s first experience of independent financial activity.

To back up my theory I recently surveyed a group of two children, and came up with some interesting results.

Apparently it is all about visiting the pointy end of the food pyramid. When asked what is so appealing about buying food from the canteen, one respondent said “It’s so we can have junk food.” The second respondent appeared to confirm this, saying “Well Mum, they have apples there, but nobody buys them.”

Further questioned about the concept of being able to take the responsibility of buying something independently without a parent present, my respondents shrugged their shoulders. “Well, maybe it’s good to buy it yourself because nobody can tell you to buy an apple instead of chips.” The second respondent nodded “Yeah”.

Maybe they are right. If I asked you what comes to mind first when you think of canteen food from your own school days, what would it be? For me, there is no doubt:

The pie.

I have never ever tasted a pie as good as our school pies in primary school. Every winter there was nothing more intoxicating than the smell of those pies from the canteen. And for the lucky recipients at lunchtime, they lived up to their promise. I was allowed to have one pie very winter, and it was such an event. Twenty two cents would be wrapped in a scrap of paper with the order scribbled on it, and at lunch time that pie would arrive in a crisp white and green paper bag. Ambrosia.

The other item I coveted from the canteen was a coffee bun. It was a finger bun with pink icing, and lashings of butter. They were 12 cents. I don’t know why they were called coffee buns at our canteen, and I’ve never hear them referred to as anything but finger buns since then, but they were so good.

I also remember what my teachers ordered for themselves every day. Mrs P always ate a chocolate Paddle Pop after lunch. She carefully removed the wrapper and laid it flat on her palm to catch the drips. I tried that myself but it was fairly tedious. And Mrs M would buy a five cent packet of peanuts every day and eat them on playground duty. Round and round the playground she would stalk, barking reprimands at misbehaving students, all the while pecking at that bag of peanuts. Probably not something that would happen today, I’d wager.

Do you have fond memories of canteen/tuckshop food? What was your favourite?

And one more thing. Can anyone explain why I can remember the exact prices of canteen items from primary school when I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast this morning?

photo credit: My Happy Pie Technique via photopin (license)

Friday, 3 April 2015

Blancmange: Nancy's Desserts

I’m fairly sure every spoonful of blancmange I’ve ever eaten was in Taree, the NSW town where we visited my maternal grandparents during school holidays. Nowhere else.

The picture above is a fancy rabbit-moulded blancmange. I’m not sure why, but throughout history, blancmanges were often in rabbit form, maybe because in the middle ages the earliest blancmanges were actually savoury, not sweet. Anyway, I don’t recall any of the rabbit mould nonsense at my grandmother’s house. Her desserts were set in a bowl and scooped straight out of there.  

We called my grandmother Nancy. Actually that was her real name. I started the whole calling her by her Christian name thing, apparently, when I was a toddler, and it stuck. She was never grandma or nanna to us.

Anyway, Nancy was born in the middle of World War One, so she lived through those lean times in Australia’s history when people did the best they could with what they had. She often served up the kind of meals that we didn’t have at home. Most of it was really tasty, hearty, old-fashioned food, but every now and then she’d throw in a few zingers like steak and kidney pie that I struggled with.

Fortunately for us, Nancy also had an entire artillery of thrifty desserts. Apart from blancmange, she made flummery, lemon sago, and tapioca pudding. Google has the details if you've never heard of these. The flummery was my favourite. And you could always count on some rhubarb finding its way up from the garden too. These were Nancy foods. I can’t imagine them existing in anyone else’s house. They were hers.

Here is a picture of my grandparents in 1939 (before I met them) strolling along George Street in Sydney. They look like they’ve just been spotted by the paparazzi, don’t they?

And here they are again, a few decades down the track.

Nancy was the type of grandmother who, when you were leaving the house, would always ask “Have you got a cardigan? And a handkerchief?” She would even ask the grown-ups, supposedly as a joke, but I think she really wanted to know. She worried about things like that.

The biscuit tin was always full of her home-made biscuits (not that we were allowed to have too many). If visitors appeared on the horizon she would rustle up a tea cake or something equally simple but delicious. They had so many friends, they really did. Climbing in the windows.

Nancy remembered the important people in my little childish life, not just teachers or whatever - she remembered my friends, and she talked about them like they were important to her too. That's what Nancy was like.

So that’s B for Blancmange. And flummery. And all of the other Nancy foods.

Blancemange photo credit: 16th February 2014 via photopin (license)

Thursday, 2 April 2015

After Dinner Mints: Mum's Dinner Parties in the 70s

An after dinner mint. Specifically a Red Tulip after dinner mint. You’re looking at the length of this blog post and wondering how the hell can anyone have that much to say about an after dinner mint, aren’t you?  OK, well it’s not so much about the after dinner mint – it’s about the memories I associate with it.

In the 70s my parents held dinner parties, mainly for their fellow teachers or golf friends. My brother and I were allowed to mingle briefly with the guests, nibbling on smoked oysters and cheese, before we were packed off to bed, safe in the knowledge that mum had already stashed away a couple of after dinner mints for us to eat the next day. Never under-estimate the allure of such a treat back in the days when treats were not easy to come by. It was a little bit of magic.

The other wonderful thing about those dinner parties was the way everything looked. It was so perfect. The good crockery, the good cutlery, and fresh flowers from the garden. Candlelight danced on silverware, crystal or glassware, which had been polished to within an inch of its life. If ever a 70s dinner party mood could be created in an elevated brick and fibro home on the outskirts of a country town my mother could do it.

The guests enjoyed on-trend dishes like gazpacho, vol au vents, prawn cocktail, creamy stroganoff and pavlova. The ladies sipped on a Brandy Crusta, Starwine or Sparkling Rhinegold while the men drank beer. And then of course they ate their allocation of after dinner mints with coffee.

As dawn broke the next morning my brother and I were fast out of the blocks to claim our after dinner mints. Amidst the debris of the previous night's magic, the simple thrill of liberating those wafer-thin mint-filled chocolates from their dark brown paper pockets is one of those innocent childhood memories I have never forgotten. 

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

My Kitchen Rules – Application for Next Season

I love My Kitchen Rules. I love the cooking. I love the drama. I love the competition. I love it when contestants create something so sensational that they even shock themselves, and I love the suspense of wondering which teams will be jettisoned too soon back to the real life they have sacrificed to take part in the show.

Now readers, I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet, but I think I’d make a great MKR contestant, so I’m going to have a tilt at next season’s title. I’m not sure who I might have as my partner, but it probably should be someone I don’t plan on seeing again after the show. Maybe I’ll advertise in the Classifieds.

Having watched nearly every episode of My Kitchen Rules since the first season, I know what they are looking for. Most importantly, I can deliver those ‘this has never happened before’ moments the show needs.

I’ve put together a bit of a resumé, outlining what I can offer the show next season:

Let’s start with the grocery shopping before each instant restaurant or challenge. Obviously the important thing here is to take so long buying ingredients that cooking time is seriously compromised. I usually work with half a shopping list, then go back and forth across the shop and around the perimeter several times as I remember each of the other items. For key ingredients I like to wait until I’m home, then change the entire menu because I’ve forgotten the lamb for the lamb roast. OK so far?

Every year the instant restaurant rounds start with the boring reveals of Manu-crushes. Manu seems like a nice guy, but come on – the drooling, the eyelash-batting and flirting while Manu politely fends them off … ho freaking hum. It’s time to move things up a notch. I’m putting my hand up for a Benny Hill type of chase scene around the dining table with the appropriate soundtrack.

Oh, I almost forgot - I can cook. And I’ve made this one particular meal hundreds of times, so I can pretty much be guaranteed to balls it up on national TV. As far as desserts go, I’m happy to swing either way. I can pimp myself as the great dessert queen and then undercook the pastry, or I can complain every time I make a dessert, muttering something like “desserts aren’t really my forté … they really should have cancelled desserts this year”. Your call, really – either way I get to make a dick of myself so I’m up for that. I don’t need to ‘smash it out of the park’ every time, but I would like to say ‘smash it out of the park’ at fairly regular intervals if that’s OK.

I am happy to fill my menu with techniques I have never done before, using appliances I have never seen. I would prefer to Sous-vide my protein, especially if there is an easier method that would be more appropriate. It’s a knobbish technique that allows me to completely focus on maintaining the correct temperature for at least an hour while my partner does every other component of the meal. I always thrive on the suspense of not knowing if something is cooked to perfection, over-done, or completely raw, until it is time to plate up.

Strong accents always seem to appeal to viewers and other contestants, so I’ll work something up in that regard. This year we’ve seen the thickly layered French and Irish accents of Manu and Colin become thicker than ever in the face of some stiff competition from Robert’s languid Texan drawl. Just for a point of difference, I’ll be working on a bit of classic Australian Alf Stewart vernacular, peppered with lines like “stone the flamin’ crows, Pete, you want to see ME on a plate? Sounds like some of that Paleo mumbo jumbo if you ask me”, “those flamin’ yahoos haven’t got enough crunch in their dessert” or “strewth, me flamin’ palate’s confused by that flamin’ truffle oil”.

It always strikes me as miraculous when even the most frazzled contestants somehow manage to get their meal onto plates in the last 60 seconds? I’m sure the MKR viewers are secretly waiting for the countdown clock to wind down and there is nothing on the plates. Nothing. Not a thing.  Well, I’m fairly confident that I can make that happen. I can give MKR viewers that moment they’ve been waiting for.

There are several techniques I employ at home to make people wait that little bit longer to enjoy their food. I have been known to walk around the kitchen for ages like a complete numpty, looking for my oven mitt when it’s already on my hand. And I frequently send my husband to work with no cutlery for his salad. These are just a few of the special touches I can offer. Guaranteed to annoy the hell out of viewers and drive the ratings through the roof.  And if Pete and Manu look hungry and disappointed, just watch their faces light up when the pizza delivery guy arrives. See, I’m pretty tricky like that!

So that’s my application sorted. How do you like my chances, babe?

photo credit: Today's Special... Nothing via photopin (license)

Monday, 23 March 2015

Theme Reveal Blogging From A to Z April (2015) Challenge

Strap yourselves in readers, and please join me for a wild ride on the Blogging From A to Z April (2015) Challenge. 

The A to Z Challenge involves posting every day in April except Sundays, making a total of 26 blog posts, starting with A and ending with, well, you know how that goes. 

I have chosen to write around the theme of Food and Drink Memories. I’m not talking about descriptions of candle-lit dinners or gourmet delights. No. I’m talking about the way certain foods and drinks spark memories of people, places, or certain periods of my life. And you know there will be plenty from 'the olden days'.

 Now that I’ve finally come up with a theme I’m really excited about this challenge. I hope I’ll give you some entertaining reading, and I am also hoping to make some new friends along the way.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Have a Nice Day!

“Have a nice day!”

I don’t recall when customer service staff in Australia started saying this, probably about 20 years ago, but I remember it really bothered some people at the time. It was seen as too American.

I can’t say I cared one way or the other, and to be honest, I wish we’d just stuck with “have a nice day” because the crap we have to put up with now is much more annoying.

I’m all for a bit of chit-chat at the checkout - I find it quite soothing while I’m handing over an arm and a leg - but I’m not up for the scripted ‘filler’ type of conversations.

At 9.30 in the morning at the supermarket checkout, “How has your day been so far?” leaves me a little blank. “Yeah, great thanks. I had cereal and some coffee. Actually two cups. Stayed in the bathroom a bit too long, and then I couldn’t find my favourite bra, so I only had time to put vegemite on the kids’ lunch rolls instead of chicken and mayo like I’d planned to. Walked the kids to school, saw some rabbits on the way, walked home, got in the car, found a parking spot, filled my trolley with much more than I’d intended, and now, well, here I am!”

It just pisses me off when they come up with those brainless scripted questions. Half the time I get someone friendly who just picks up on something I say in passing and we have a general chat about that. And that’s always good. But the other half give me a blank look, and serve me up something annoying like “So what do you have planned for the rest of the day?” I really don’t know what they expect from me, because I’m pretty sure if I ran through my plans for the rest of the day I would leave them in some kind of semi-comatose condition. So I just say something like “Nothing exciting” or “Just the usual” and leave the premises feeling like a giant boring loser on her way back to Loserville.

I’m reminded of the days many years ago when I regularly visited the hairdresser at night, because I worked quite long hours. After a gruelling 2-3 hour session of foils and cutting, I was handed over to the apprentice to dry my hair. At this point it would be close to 9pm, but every time without fail she would say “So where are you going tonight with your new hair?” She always seemed disappointed when I sheepishly confessed that I was just going home. To this very day I still can’t figure out where she expected me to be going after 9pm on a Thursday night.

And then there are the up-selling questions, particularly at the petrol station. “Would you like a chocolate bar and bottle of coke with that petrol?” Nope, I just paid a king’s ransom for the petrol, so I don’t need a $3 chocolate bar that I could buy in the supermarket for $1. But thanks for the offer.

Bring back “Have a Nice Day”. It might not always be sincere, but at least I can just smile and wave. 

Or better still, given that I’ve just emptied the contents of my wallet to pay for your products, if you can't manage to come up with something interesting, just say "hi" and "thank you" and leave it at that.

photo credit: Have a nice day via photopin (license)