In the morning I like what can be called “builder’s tea”, hot, dark, tannic, softened by a little milk, no sugar. By late morning and into the afternoon, tea moves into a lighter mode with Lapsang, a “well-bred” Darjeeling or perhaps a spice-tinged Mariage Frères.
Rosa and I are sitting down for a chat, setting the world to rights. I select a Mariage Frères, with a hint of orange and cinnamon. It is tasteless. I check the tin – use-by date 2008! Wow! How embarrassing.
Marie Kondo, the Japanese tidying guru (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and also on Netflix) is totally mad and at the same time, very sane and inspiring. It’s time to de-clutter the kitchen larder.
Attacking one shelf at a time (both fridge and cupboards) I find neglected things that were once intended to inspire innovation and greatness. I have to face reality. Old sesame seeds (why did I ever need a kilo?) must be rancid and so I ditch them but some whacky things still "spark joy". I arrange them all in a basket and place them, visible, on the kitchen bench. I'll drag them into something, kicking and screaming if I have to. They will be used, somehow, day by day, until they're gone.
An interesting challenge will be the organic beetroot powder - brighten up a risotto perhaps with it, using red wine, fine shreds of red cabbage and some crisp bacon.
Whackiest of all - see at left. There's cuttlefish ink (from Aldi of all places) to blacken some hand-made pasta. I'll top that with a bottarga beurre. (Dried smoke mullet roe that also needs to get a move on, grated and blended into butter.)
The Grilling Papers I found a couple of years ago on a food conference in Chicago. They are very beautiful sheets of cedar, like those wrapped around a fine Cuban cigar. A rolled parcel of fish or vegetables is tied with a cute chive, and grilled or baked. The flavour imparted is not as dramatic as the presentation. (It might be more tasty saving the sheets from your cigars, if you do that sort of thing.) But I have five packets so they will be used this month.
As for the vanilla-infused seaweed flakes, what was I thinking?
After the cleanse, I am invigorated. A hand cream is described as "nourishing" , a facial mask as "invigorating" and now I see a face wash (sorry, cleanser) that will "de-clutter" the toxins of my skin. Ah Marie, what crimes are committed in thy name?
Arabia stoneware teapot designed by Ulla Procope (she of the heavy, heavy, rustic plates) early 1960s.
Cup and saucer, Royal Tuscan Cascade, bone china 1970s.
Mariage Frères tea, Esprit de Noël.
...the whole sitting in front of a collection of glass stacking containers by Wilhelm Wagenfeld (Bauhaus from 1938). (Pre-Tupperware!)
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Getting the year off to a good start and I'm ready to clear out some books. The Friends of the Library annual book sale may benefit. I certainly will. (If you're in Adelaide, you're in luck.) Shelf space and fewer books in piles on the floor will make finding easier.
No point being sentimental about favourite novels. When they were favourites, I wanted to share them. I lent them and of course never saw them again, saving me having to de-clutter them. (Should have kept a record book.)
Cookbooks can be an issue but I find I go back and back to the same ones. (It's the classics but also still Jamie, still Ottolenghi, still Rick Stein.) If you can get one recipe from a cookbook, it's a keeper IMO. So I find I'm discarding some of the more superficially beautiful. I give an example, a sample of the books I pass on...
The above page is from a glorious coffee-table book AKA as a cook-book. Alinea, is a Chicago restaurant headed by wonder-boy Grant Achatz. It's a massive labour of love, beautifully bound, with glorious photographs - and it weighs a ton. It's the work of an inspired (and quite mad) chef - a perfectionist. I never got around to trying anything. I've shortened the recipe below but you'll get the drift.
PB & J - recipe
After the books and the filing cabinet will come the thirty five year old lipsticks, the 1950s plastic ear-rings, the wardrobe. I'm ready to pass on the vintage little black dresses - I will never be that thin again and I won't ever sing like Edith Piaf. I just don't have the eye brows.
"Non, je ne regrette rien."
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"After" photo to the "before" of the home page. Breakfast with friends at home, the debris of the table when they leave, signs of happiness.
"Only connect." E. F. Forster Howard's End.
What do these activities have in common?
Every year the cultural organization of the United Nations gathers to consider additions to their list of Intangible Cultural Practices. In 2010, France’s multi-course gastronomic meal, with its rites and its presentation, fulfilled the conditions for featuring on the list. They wrote...
“The gastronomic meal of the French is a customary social practice for celebrating important moments in the lives of individuals and groups, such as births, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, achievements and reunions. It is a festive meal bringing people together to enjoy the art of good eating and drinking. The gastronomic meal emphasises togetherness, the pleasure of taste, and the balance between human beings and the products of nature.
Importance is given to the purchase of good, preferably local products whose flavours go well together; the pairing of food with wine; the setting of a beautiful table; and specific actions during consumption, such as smelling and tasting items at the table.
The gastronomic meal should respect a fixed structure, commencing with an apéritif (drinks before the meal) and ending with liqueurs, containing in between at least four successive courses, namely a starter, fish and/or meat with vegetables, cheese and dessert. Individuals, called gastronomes, who possess deep knowledge of the tradition and preserve its memory, watch over the living practice of the rites, thus contributing to their oral and/or written transmission, in particular to younger generations.
The gastronomic meal draws circles of family and friends closer together and, more generally, strengthens social ties.” (Gastronomic meal of the French)
In 2016, the national dish of Tajikstan, (Oshi Palava) was added to the list. This communal dish of rice, vegetables and usually meat was hailed for bringing families together, securing friendships and solving arguments, it may even have helped end civil war!
So what are you waiting for? Get out that diary, email, text or (old school) use the telephone and invite someone over.
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Beautiful tomato, heavy, plump and red, soft to the touch, slightly blemished due to a spate of rainy days. The season so far has been sparse, despite the borrowed bees in their Hilton-like structure in the garden. From this large healthy plant, we'll probably only get five tomatoes. Whatever, sliced, a touch of salt, covered in olive oil and ripped basil, this tomato makes a delicate entrée for two.
Would we be prepared to pay for good tomatoes, soft-skinned, picked from the vine only when ripe?
It's become a cliché to complain about the modern tomato. Is it our fault?
I've looked into this. Vine-ripened tomatoes are NOT ripened on the vine. Sorry to crush your delusions. They should more rightly be called "cluster tomatoes" because they are a variety that grows that way. And don't they look lovely in the greengrocer's with their little green stems? You pay more, harvesting is trickier but there is no improvement in flavour. Furthermore, all bought tomatoes are bred for tough skins , which makes them easier to transport. (See doctoring tomatoes in post 28/12/2017.)
How much more would we be prepared to pay?
I have been playing with eggplant (aubergines), a vegetable with which I have a strained relationship. I love every dish I'm offered but rarely cook it myself, so here goes.
I’ve now done a Japanese-style eggplant in miso, a Madhur Jaffrey recipe with eggplant, apple and chilli, the Turkish eggplant dish that made the Imam faint it was so delicious, melanzane parmigiana and this good-looking moussaka.
The moussaka needed the minced lamb to be cooked with tomato, onion and cinnamon, the eggplant to be salted, drained and fried in olive oil, the béchamel to be prepared with milk and eggs, the cheese to be grated – all simple enough steps. Nonetheless I found I needed to spread the preparation of all the “bits” over a couple of days. The outcome was worth it but I was reminded of an observation made by friend, fellow chef and observer of gastronomy.
“Traditional cooking assumes there is someone who will spend all day making something. This is not as dire as it sounds because the ‘men folk’ know that it takes all day, they taste the nutmeg, they know they can only have zucchini flowers in certain seasons and they know that maybe that day the sheets have not been taken to the river to be washed. Only if you have an appreciative audience will traditional cooking survive." Rosa Matto
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We receive an invitation to morning tea in the new year, ostensibly to help clear some left-overs, in particular the Christmas cake. Seven of us sit around a table set with Shelley teacups, plates and a glass of domestic bubbles. Bliss.
Laura has been making this recipe for years. It was possibly the best I’ve ever had – texture, colour, flavour. Following modern trends, it was not covered in marzipan or snow-like icing, which I miss.
I have a special bond with celebratory fruit cakes. On coming to England to marry my father, Maman took herself off to cookery classes. She was a top cook, from a family of good cooks, but she felt her repertoire lacked three dishes – Yorkshire pudding, Christmas cake and Christmas pudding. (I think there were some soused herrings in there somewhere, too.)
She rightly thought the French Bûche de Noël lacked gravitas and substance. She was so right.
How can anyone not like Christmas cake? (I mean of course a well-made one, not pale and doughy.) It has tradition, staying power, colour and wholesome dried fruit. And I’ll say it, anyone who does not like marzipan loses my respect.
When doing weddings at the restaurant I couldn’t understand why the fruitcake was passed over for the dreaded chocolate mud cake. (Urrrgh!)
As Pauline Hansen would say, “Please explain”. Please tell me why the fruit cake has lost favour.
Rescue the fruit cake? Comment below.
As Rick Stein helps a Sicilian nonna to “peel” artichokes (Mediterranean Adventures) he alerts us to a passage from Kingsley Amis’ 1969 novel The Green Man (a sardonic and witty writer with a nasty streak, writing about a rather nasty man running a small hotel). One critic called it “Fawlty Towers with sex and ghosts". Here, landlord Maurice sits down to lunch with his wife Joyce and friends.
“Joyce had put up a cold collation: artichoke with a vinaigrette, a ham, a tongue the chef had pressed himself, a game pie from the same hand, salads and a cheese board with radishes and spring onions. I missed out the artichoke, a dish I have always tended to despise on biological grounds. I used to say that a man with a weight problem should eat nothing else, since after each meal he would be left with fewer calories in him than he had burnt up in the toil of disentangling from the bloody things what shreds of nourishment they contained. I would speculate that a really small man, one compelled by his size to eat with a frequency distantly comparable to that of the shrew or the mole, would soon die of starvation and/ or exhaustion if locked up in a warehouse full of artichokes, and sooner still if compelled besides to go through the rigmarole of dunking each leaf in vinaigrette. But I did not go into any of this now, partly because Joyce, who liked every edible thing and artichokes particularly, always came back with the accusation that I hated food.”
(Incidentally he does hate food as he hates life, everything and everyone he comes across. Joyce, his wife gets her own back, leaves him and runs off with his mistress.)
How are you going with your artichokes? Comment below.
I celebrate the 25 December as the beginning of the final days of the year - something I'm quite sentimental about. I don't mock the idea of New Year's resolutions. It's a time to give it a go, to be warm with each other, to forgive one's foolishness, to plan and to make an effort. For the first time ever, we celebrated à deux. Modern life sends friends and relatives both across the globe and across the continent. We must accept it. And it was very, very simple, special and quite lovely.
We set the table for two with a tablecloth embroidered by my mother. It's what French girls did in Algeria waiting for fiancés to claim them after the war.
We had a modest petit-bourgeois sauternes, in possibly the world's most beautiful glass. (Joseph Hoffman, late 19th C., still available at Lobmeyr in Vienna.)
Adam Wynn, retired winemaker and Honorary Japanese Consul relates that Philippe de Rothschild liked his sauternes so chilled that splinters of ice would tinkle against the glass. I've stuck to this although I think Phillipe might have drunk Chateau d'Yquem.
This accompanied our mousseline de canard with sour-dough toast and pickled cherries ( from January this year).
We moved to Champagne, Pol Roger 2008, a birthday present from October this year to RTV from his friend and "medical adviser" Dick W. Bliss to allow oneself to drink Champagne with a meal, not just before. Note to self - do this more often. (And drink less but better.) I love drinking in these possibly "incorrect" glasses, (bought in Hobart). It's festive to have the bubbles tickle your face. In keeping with the simplicity theme, we had garlic prawns (very 1970s but quick to prepare) with a little basmati and a tiny salad of our baby cos.
To finish, a classic plum pudding, hot, with chilled custard. I'm not ashamed to say this was a pudding from Aldi and you couldn't have wished for better. I flamed it with over-proof dark rum. As you can see, I pour the custard around but RTV, the rugged individualist, pours his over, obliterating the pudding. He knows I dislike this but it's "party time" and to mimic Alan Bennett, "I didn't say anything".
But at this stage of the evening, things deteriorate a little and the laptop appears on the table. We reminisce, we draw out old dance numbers on Youtube, we rewatch some favourite comedy stand-ups. We drink water. Ah, well...
(Cutlery - Portugal - Cutipol-Goa - approx. 2008)
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New home page to start off the new year of 2019. Wishing you sincerely a good try at contentment and fulfilment, some gatherings of friends away from phones and laptops and time to play with some of the great dishes and food combinations you've dreamed of.
This is a table set at home for a breakfast of friends. (We usually gather at different spots around town.) The simplest thing was to do the full English, accompanied by a glass of bubbles. This Wedgwood service (1910) offers me breakfast cups, teacups and coffee cups. So sensible.
More of the breakfast later.
There has been some serious fallout from my Panettone disaster. Reactions have been swift and direct. Misunderstanding could be blamed on my poor writing and communication skills. I'll be more clear.
I love Panettone but as with tins of "British" curry powder, jars of sweet soy-based mayonnaise, bottles of "lite" vinigerette (sic), tinned carrots, Kraft cheddar cheese slices, easy-squeeze plastic lemons of juice and bright green cocktail onions, I prefer the real thing.
Silly me, I thought I'd make one. When I said this was the worst thing I'd ever made, a friend suggested it was simply that I didn't like panettone, that I had misunderstood that it was a type of a bread. No. I had tried and failed. This was awful because it was NOT a Panettone.
This December I counted a minimum of 500 boxes of Panettone, displayed in pyramids, at any one time at my local supermarket. Every day the stacks were replenished. Imagine the number throughout this small city, in every supermarket, gourmet shop, Italian greengrocer, imagine the number in each city of the world. It's a bit like the diaspora of Persian Rug Closing Down Sales.
I copied their ingredients. On average they were made of...
Wheat flour, sugar, vegetable fats (palm oil) sultanas, eggs, natural yeast, candied orange peel, wheat glucose-fructose syrup, citric acid, sulphur di-oxide, emulsifying agents: mono & diglycerides of edible fatty acids, salt, skimmed milk powder, flavours (unspecified). They ranged in price, the lowest for a 900gram loaf was $6.49.
Yes, there are good quality ones. The priciest was $47.00 and why shouldn't they charge that for something that has been made with care and good ingredients? Interestingly, these were not as tall (less pumped up) and with ingredients we could recognise.
Yes I decided to make one and learnt it was harder than I imagined - a great lesson in humility.
Another friend said it must have been OK because she knew I couldn't make anything bad. A darling and sweet thing to say, thank you, but I assure you, even I make (and have made) mistakes.
Another friend said it looked yummy, Fool, you have many disappointments to look forward to.
Still another found the worst thing was the garnish of holly. And here I was thinking I was being sarcastically funny decorating it with black leaves - a doomed loaf.
But solid information came from Frank. A master baker, Frank is the man. I re-post his notes which will open up some of the hidden traps of working with flour and yeast. (And I turned the loaf into a re-constructed Tiramisu, with the addition of coffee, over-proof dark rum and mascarpone cream.
Frank writes, "Any yeast dough that has a high fat content and high sugar content needs to have a pre-batter stage. In a mixer, have some of the flour and a pinch of the sugar with all of the yeast and all of the liquid at blood temperature. Make this like a loose pancake batter and then cover with the rest of the flour, sugar, butter, salt and flavourings. When the batter rises up and causes the flour to crack open you know it’s ok to start mixing. Fruit goes in last after the dough is well developed. Don’t over-do the amount of alcohol you might be tempted to douse the fruit in either. High alcohol content can hinder the yeasts performance too. As for salt, it plays a very important part in any yeast product, in flavour and yeast management (stops the yeast from behaving like a teenage boy in love making). It also helps crust colour. I hope this helps Cath. Good on you for giving it a go though. Hope you try again with better results."
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You know you want to.