Entries from October 2008 ↓

Found treasures

I’ve always loved finding little things that it seemed I wasn’t supposed to, particularly photographs. I’m not alone there, although I don’t know if anyone else obsessively reads other people’s shopping lists found in the bottom of their supermarket trolley.

My camping reading this time was Marion Halligan’s Eat My Words, an entertaining although somewhat relentless memoir of loving food and cooking which I bought in a local second hand shop. And looky what I found inside –

Do you know this man? I wonder whether the place it shows is in Goulburn (about an hour north of here) – it doesn’t look local, but of course it could have come from anywhere.

It’s not just photos and shopping lists I love. I’ve never been one to really value books as objects, but I know many do and that they probably don’t share my love of marginalia.

It’s hard not to fall in love with the physical presence of Gay Bilson’s Plenty, though. And wow, can that woman convey emotional intensity and deep intelligence. I bet she’s a Cancer. I find it bizarre that one of the judges who awarded the book The Age Book of the Year prize in 2005 (see link on title) said:

A generous, hospitable book that offered reading as a slow pleasure, Plenty connected food and the intellect without emotion or nostalgia, says [historian and judge Clare] Wright.

“It is a memoir, yet it is not self-referential,” she says. “It is about the intimate workings of her mind, not about her emotions. It was a very brave book in a lot of ways and I quite admired the way she was able to keep herself to herself.”

I wonder why it was so important that the book not be emotional? Perhaps Wright is one of those historians who thinks that the intellect should trump emotion but knows that in real life and real kitchens it’s usually the other way around, or that in a certain kind of person the two are so entwined that it’s pointless to try and tease them apart (and I bet Wright’s a Virgo).

I borrowed the book from the library, but of course will have to buy it now. I’m considering stealing the aptly decorated post it note I found inside the library’s copy for myself. It’s stuck over a section describing Bilson’s 1993 Symposium of Australian Gastronomy dinner, which has become famous for a never-served dish of blood sausage made from the hostess’ blood.

To make sense of the note, you need to either read the text in the image, or know that Bilson and her chef Janni Kyritsis made a forty metre long tripe tablecloth for the dinner – Halligan said on the First Tuesday Book Club that it was the most beautiful tablecloth she’d ever seen – and that Bilson’s daughter Sido emerged in bandages from a mound of fruit at the end of the dinner bearing menus for the diners:

Up country (depending on where you start)

Our camping trip was character building, as they so often are. Don’t get me wrong, it was fab and the kids were delirious with pleasure. It was just character building as well.

I did very much enjoy my camp kitchen. The most successful camping food I made was quesadillas with corn, canned black beans, red capsicum and cheese, with a bonus squeeze of lime juice and red chilli oil on top for the grown ups. The most successful camping meal, however, was the two dozen Tathra oysters and bottle of champy we ate lying about in the heat of the early afternoon on the second day. The oysters are nowhere near their best at this time of year, of course, but still deliciously creamy with that slightly metallic tang. They’re sold from a minuscule shop out the back of a house, but when the owners are not there, you leave your $9/dozen in the honesty box and help yourself from the fridge. Then you listen to your six year old demand oysters from the backseat all the way back to the camping ground.

We had another great meal on the way home, at the heritage listed Royal Hotel in Cooma. The kids had been cooped up in the car, so although the footpath tables looked lovely we asked if we could eat up on the balcony upstairs so we didn’t have to chase them too much. The barman laughed and said we were welcome, but they “hadn’t done anything with it”. I don’t know why you’d want to – a huge wooden floored balcony with cast iron railings and a view of the Rivers outlet store. Digging around afterwards I found that the hotel was built in 1858 and the verandas added in 1900. They are the only ones in Cooma to have survived the demolish and modernise frenzy of the 1950s.

The food was good country pub grub. The menu was soon to change for the warmer weather, but we were in time for a delicious lamb shank with good mash and hand cut fresh veggies, only slightly overcooked, and a proper country hamburger with crispy non-greasy chips. Sage insisted on nuggets’n'chips, and eventually found some use for the nuggets.

The Royal Hotel is on the corner of Sharp and Lambie Streets, a couple of blocks off the main drag. It was honest, solid food in a very pleasant environment. There’s a run of the mill little dining room downstairs, and shady tables outside. Nothing on the menu is over about $16, and our two meals, two large Reschs and food and drink for the kids came to $44. Lambie Street, the first settled street in town, has eleven heritage listed buildings and makes for a very pleasant post prandial stroll.

There is no Nobel Prize for Cookery

We’re off camping for a few days, but to honour the award of the Nobel Prize in Economics to Paul Krugman, here’s a link to his views on economics and English food. A taster:

The appreciation of good food is, quite literally, an acquired taste – but because your typical Englishman, circa, say, 1975, had never had a really good meal, he didn’t demand one. And because consumers didn’t demand good food, they didn’t get it. Even then there were surely some people who would have liked better, just not enough to provide a critical mass. And then things changed.

There’s some entertaining discussion of just why some economists think it’s a terrible article here.

Hat tip to Nabakov, soon to be sojourning in the States and no doubt getting up to quite a lot of mischief. I look forward to tales of his repasts and exploits.

Foraging

Aren’t they pretty? Owy ran in with them on the weekend, having found them growing in the neighbour’s yard after all the rain we’ve been having recently. He has been to a one day truffle growing course, so is a complete fungal expert. But I Doubted.

If you belong to that group of the countless thousands of the no longer young who have bought a ramshackle fixer-upper in an isolated and very beautiful French village, you can pop down to your local pharmacy where they will identify your foraged mushrooms for you. Probably with moustache-twirling and the whole bit, I imagine, but that may be merely the cumulative effect of my recent reading. I’m just about to finish Stephanie’s Seasons (scroll down to the out-of-print titles), which is a kind of a proto-food blog- it’s Stephanie Alexander’s culinary journal for 1992 which includes her month’s holiday in Provence. Also recently, I borrowed Mary Moody’s The Long Table from the library. I recommend The Long Table if, like me, you went to Uni with one of the author’s kids and will be charmed by the many entertaining pictures of her childhood. Otherwise I’d go for Stephanie.

Anyhow, who needs moustache-twirling French pharmacists when you’ve got the internet? (Although I suspect one would come in handy for the discreet supply of amphetamines which is, I’m convinced, the real reason French Women Don’t Get Fat.)

Just tapping in “identify edible mushroom Australia” took me to this very helpful (pdf) guide from the Western Australian Agriculture Department which provided exactly the excuse I wanted not to eat these beautiful looking mushies. I’m happy to eat wild mushrooms gathered by someone knowledgeable – last year for instance, the bloke who runs Li Shen exotic mushrooms very briefly had some foraged saffron milk caps at the Farmer’s market that were fan-bloody-tastic. But we’ve had death caps grow in our yard before and I don’t crave excitement like I used to. (Commenter dylwah, a dear old friend and exalted mushroom identification guru, may testify to my youthful enthusiams.)

I figured that what Owy had found was some Agaricus xanthodermus or “yellow stainers”, because the stem discoloured yellow a little when it was cut. Of course I’m not sure now whether they would have been fine, and after reading the magnificent UK site Wild Mushrooms Online maybe they were – I didn’t notice the distinctive off smell they talk about, but I was ignorant of the test of popping them in a bag to concentrate the aroma that is suggested there.

I have been doing some more prosaic foraging, though. My (as of today, and happy birthday darling!) 6 year old locked us out of the house yesterday, so I did some gardening while we waited for my sister to rescue us. We grow “wild” rocket, which tolerates our cold winters beautifully and has overtaken what was once lawn near the bed where it was first planted. Now that it’s established on it’s own, the hundreds of tiny self seeding plants in the veggie bed need to come out so they don’t crowd out the new things we’ve planted there. This is what they call “micro herbs” up the big end of town, and a couple of hundred of them makes a great salad.

Flowers are essentially tarts; prostitutes for the bees.

You should never underestimate the decorative potential of vegetables. Just ask Uncle Monty, from whom I’ve borrowed the post title.

School holidays have led to a bit of a pause in blogging, but hopefully back soon. In the meantime, those who are burningly curious about my eating habits can see what I’m cooking on the sidebar.


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