It's been a lot of fun writing for you all and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I have - at least one of you keeps coming back. I've loved reading all the other blogs as well and am sure there will be plenty of great reading for everyone to sustain you over the holidays.
Have a happy and safe Christmas and New Year, cook up a storm and let everybody know what you did.
One cooking program I've been watching lately is MasterChef Goes Large. It's all about foodies like you and me that dream of working in their own restaurant. Six contestants are asked to cook a dish and are then judged by London restaurateur John Torode and fruit and veg expert Gregg Wallace. The six become three and are then set more tasks including cooking an actual service in a real restaurant.
This is the part of the show that fascinates me as good home cooks are put through the stresses and strains of cooking for paying customers. People who are perfectly competent in their own kitchen are suddenly under immense pressure and it soon sorts out who has the wherewithal to really make a go of it. Having worked in a large commercial kitchen, I know about the pressure to perform consistently well and how you can be left to sort out any difficulties that crop up as everyone strives to get meals to the customers.
The reality of a restaurant kitchen is a universe away from the home kitchen and it comes as a shock to some of the contestants who fancied themselves as a chef. At home, cooking allows your creative side to blossom; in cooking for just a few, any mistakes can be glossed over and matters of timing, crucial in a restaurant, have far less importance. In a restaurant, cooking is hard graft with many boring, mundane tasks, like the time I had to prepare a grape garnish that consisted of two and a half thousand bunches of grapes that had to contain just three grapes each.
Another part of the show that provides a reality check is when the contestants have to cook a signature dish of their own devising. This is when a lot of them are brought undone by the criticisms of the judges, though in fairness, what is said seems to be an honest though blunt assessment of the presented dishes. One mistake that many commit is to make their dishes too busy with lots of ingredients, some of which can never be best friends. Another error, in order to catch the judges attention is to produce the downright weird, which at home might see your friends proclaiming your brilliance, but under the harsh light of television might see the judges have some unkind words.
Ever wonder if you could make it as a chef? Check out this program.
MasterChef Goes Large, 8.00pm weeknights, Lifestyle FOOD
As I write, the total raised so far is a whopping US$41,000! We are just the best. It's not finished yet and I have shamelessly swiped something from Grab Your Fork to let you know the closing times for donations in our region. There is still time to get on so hurry up, don't stand back.
Menu for Hope raffle ticket sales end local time:
9am Saturday 23 December - CAMBODIA
9am Saturday 23 December - THAILAND
10am Saturday 23 December - HONG KONG
10am Saturday 23 December - MALAYSIA
10am Saturday 23 December - SINGAPORE
11am Saturday 23 December - JAPAN
11am Saturday 23 December - AUSTRALIA, Perth
11.30am Saturday 23 December - AUSTRALIA, Northern Territory
12.00pm Saturday 23 December - AUSTRALIA, Queensland
12.30pm Saturday 23 December - AUSTRALIA, South Australia
1pm Saturday 23 December - AUSTRALIA, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory
3pm Saturday 23 December - NEW ZEALAND
Do you know what that means?
There is a lot of value left in the remaining prizes, because lets face it, we would like to win something. By all means keep bidding for the above, it is for charity after all, but I'm betting there are a few canny punters amongst you looking for the best odds. Try these.
0 bids: AP08 - AP35 - AP37 - AP41
1 bid: AP13 - AP15 - AP24 - AP32 - AP38 - AP48
2 bids: AP22 - AP23 - AP27 - AP39 - AP45 - AP46
3 bids: AP07 - AP21
4 bids: AP16 - AP17 - AP19 - AP26 - AP28 - AP33 - AP44
5 bids: AP12 - AP29 - AP49
6 bids: AP11 - AP36 - AP40 - AP43 - AP47
7 bids: AP20 - AP42
8 bids: AP05 - AP14
9 bids: AP10
10 bids: AP31
Nick on over to the donation page and snag yourself a prize.
Menu for Hope is going incredibly well with almost $27,000 raised to date. You guys have been fantastic, giving so much to feed the world's hungry.
But we're not done yet.
The hard yards are still to come as the campaign is coming to an end this Friday and we don't want the momentum to slow down at this crucial stage.
So in order to help you decide which prize is worth a look, I've taken the $100 voucher from Prince Wine Store and spent it for you. That's right, you don't even need to think about what wines to buy because I've done it for you. What follows are three different choices, the hard part for you is to choose just one!
First up is a Party Pack containing a French Champers and a bottle of local bubbly, you could drink the Champagne yourself and share the sparkling, but I don't want to put any bad ideas in your heads....
Party Pack: 1 bottle Andre Clouet Rose and 1 bottle Chandon Vintage 2003.
Of course being the foodies we are, we do like to throw a dinner party or two and if you are like me, you like to make sure there is plenty of good wine to hand, so that when someone brings along the Grange, you can pop it straight into a locked cupboard and serve these wonderful wines with nary a pang of guilt....
Dinner Party Pack: 1 bottle Farr Rising Saignee 2004, 1 bottle Poggerino Chianti Classico 2004 and 1 bottle Cullen 'Cabernets' 2003
For this next pack, I decided to choose one bottle of something very special to which you would need to add $25. If you have never had Calvados in your life, I would recommend that you at least try it once. It is as fine as a good cognac but instead of being distilled from grapes it is made from apple cider which lends a wonderful perfume to the finished spirit. It is aged in barrels for a number of years, giving Calvados a certain charm and elegance like no other, you simply must try it. You could share of course...
Special Pack: 1 bottle Victor Gontier Domfrontais Calvados 1996 (add $25)
So there you are, easy peasy. Just go to Menu for Hope and bid. Code AP33
These are only ideas to help, you could of course choose everything yourself.
This weekend we've been run off our feet, okay part of it was pure pleasure for me when I went fishing overnight on a boat. I didn't catch much, but what was landed was premium quality - a 1.2 metre (4 ft) gummy shark and one large King George whiting. I bet there are a few of you that are thinking shark, yuk, but a gummy shark, so named because it has no teeth, is probably the most popular fish in Victoria, served as it is in every fish 'n' chip shop as flake, which is what the flesh does when cooked and as a bonus, there are absolutely no bones in it. My wife D also has a recipe for it where it is cooked with morel mushrooms, elevating it to the ranks of haute cuisine. Which is also the exact dish D's sister asked her to cook for Christmas Eve.
We fished just off Tooradin, which is at the top of Western Port and we could see the fireworks which were the culmination of Carols by Candlelight on the foreshore. Shortly after the fireworks apparently finished, what looked like a huge firework rocket arced across the starlit sky, towards where the fireworks were! Strange, but then we heard on the radio that a comet had just broken up over us, what a fantastic celestial show.
The next day there were two birthday parties for our daughter M to attend, so D and I took shifts. I've always felt some sympathy for those whose birthdays fall in late December as their special day tends, not unnaturally, to be swallowed up in the moment. One of my sons has this dilemma, with his birthday the day before New Year's Eve, but we have always tried to keep things separate, so he has his own special time.
That night when I put a tired M to bed, I was treated to a puppet show as M shyly retreated under her doona cover and pushed out Ariel from the Little Mermaid, who spoke her lines to be joined by Sebastian the crab, Flounder the fish and a certain purple seahorse who all spoke their lines in turn. I think it was the sweetest show I've ever seen and couldn't but help a little tear of happiness as my girl momentarily threw off her autism.
The next day saw us up at Silvan picking raspberries. It looks like the height of the season is here right now as all the berries were very ripe. We picked about three kilos which cost the princely sum of $27 - think of a punnet of raspberries that weighs a meagre 150 g and costs about $3, so ours were about half price. There is one standard preparation in our house and that is raspberries and cream....not any cream, but Chantilly cream, cream that is flavoured with icing sugar and vanilla extract then whipped to soft lusciousness. M liked it so much that she clean forgot to eat the raspberries!
When we finished picking it was lunch time so we headed into Olinda for some fish 'n' chips. We parked the car and headed past some shops on foot when I noticed a small, cottage like shop called metisse and on a sign it said amongst other things, kitchenware. Honey to the bee, baby. In we went and over on one side was the most wonderful looking copper cookware, not the plated stuff, but the genuine, French, pure copper pots and pans, for the most part tin lined. I picked up one frypan about the same size as my cast iron one at home and I swear it was about twice the weight and at $185 a lot cheaper than I would have thought. I had a long chat to Vicki Growse, the owner and she told me that all the Yarra Valley chefs are sourcing their copper from her.
We bought our lunch and then headed to the top of Mount Dandenong to picnic there and were somewhat surprised to find they are now charging $4 a family entrance fee. It is one of the top scenic sights of Victoria, with locals and tourists alike coming for the stunning views over Melbourne from our closest mountain. The gate fee was somewhat softened by the new landscaping works that have taken place and we had a very pleasant picnic in the English garden. It was a bit strange for us bayside people having a picnic in the open and no seagulls in attendance!
We drove back to Melbourne and rested for a bit before a final foray to Caulfield Park for some Christmas fireworks, the exclamation mark to a great weekend.
C'mon Christmas, I'm ready.
And now I've got a secret!
You too can have these wonderful women pimp your blog any way you like. That's right, if you've been longing to do something with your tired old site*, give it a completely new look, make a personal statement, whilst you sit back sipping a margarita, well, now here's your chance. That's right, a brand new personalized header and a complete blog makeover offered together.
What a brilliant prize Lobstersquad is offering in conjuction with Bluebird Blogs!
Think it would cost a fortune? Think again. All it might cost is a donation to the Menu for Hope for a chance at this wonderful prize. Can't code? No problem, Susie is the Contessa of Code, everything will work on your site, guaranteed....unless you mess with it of course. Can't draw? Why would you want to when Ximena has such a wonderful vision with her artist's eye that takes the mundane and elevates it to a vibrant and colourful look on the world. Even if you weren't sure what to do, you could contact me and I can walk you through the process. What could be better than that?!!!
I'll tell you what's better. It doesn't matter where you are in the world, so long as you have computer access, this prize comes to you. Absolutely free of any charges.
I'll tell you one more thing. Even if you missed out on the prize, the girls would only be too ready to help you create a more exciting blog, just look around this site to see what they have done together, all for a very reasonable price - much, much cheaper than having a web designer do one for you. For details of the blog makeover side of things, check out Bluebird Blogs. For info regarding the header, talk to Ximena.
So go on, bid now. Prize Code EU29
*Blogger & Wordpress only
Upon offering a bottle of cherry vodka as a prize in Menu for Hope, it occurred to me that there will be some disappointed folk out there, I know I would be if I missed out, because I know how good it is. But all is not lost for it is so easy to make and in the Southern hemisphere, the sour cherry (pie cherry) season will be here in one or two weeks.
Now sour cherries are not the easiest thing to buy as they don't seem to find their way into the shops. We get ours straight from an orchard that sells direct to the public and I do know that some pick your own orchards also grow sour cherries, so you need to look around to secure your supply.
The other thing that may be a little hard to find is the pure spirit which is 95% alcohol. We are lucky here in Melbourne as a major liquor retailer, Dan Murphy, stocks it and Acland Cellars in St Kilda also have it. It's not cheap, I bought some for the photo shoot for the pics in this post and it cost me $52 for 500 ml, but what you need to remember is the strength, a little of this stuff goes a very long way.
The rest of the ingredients are easy, sugar and vodka and that's it, there is nothing else apart from a large preserving jar to marinate the cherries in. Any large jar which can hold a kilo of sour cherries with a bit of extra space would do, but you need to make sure it seals well, not to stop any nasties getting in, rather to stop any precious juices getting out when you shake the jar or jars later on. Preserving jars are good for this job as they come with effective rubber seals.
1 kg (2.2 lb) sour (pie) cherries
1 500 ml (17 fl oz) bottle pure spirit (95% alcohol)*
3/4 kg (26 oz) sugar
350 ml (12 fl oz) vodka (40% alcohol)
Pull all the stems from the sour cherries and place in a preserving jar. Pour on the pure spirit, reserve the bottle, and seal the lid of the jar. Give a shake to make sure all the cherries have some alcohol on them, don't worry that all the cherries might not be under the spirit. Write the date on the jar and leave in a cool, dark spot for four to six weeks, shaking the jar once a week. This process gets colour into the spirit and also extracts flavour from the cherry pits (kernels), don't leave longer than six weeks as this cherry pit flavour becomes too strong.
When the cherries have finished marinating in the spirit, pour the spirit back into the bottle and set aside. Add the sugar to the sour cherries, reseal the jar and give a good shake. Every day you need to vigourously shake the jar to redistribute the sugar and help it dissolve. What the sugar is doing is drawing all the juice out of the sour cherries and as more juice is drawn out, more sugar dissolves. You will need to shake the jar every day for about a month until there is absolutely no undissolved sugar left and the sour cherries are completely shriveled up.
Pour this sweet juice into a large bowl or pot, add the reserved pure spirit and the vodka then stir well to mix thoroughly. We like to filter the cherry vodka at this stage by placing some cotton wool in a funnel and slowly pouring the cherry vodka through, though it isn't strictly necessary as it is with other types of fruit. Pour this cherry vodka into bottles and leave for at least a week for the flavours to mingle, it's better after a month. It also improves with keeping....that is if you can keep your hands off it.
*You might be only able to find 85% pure spirit, you can still make it with this.
And of course you can still win a bottle in Menu for Hope, posted to anywhere in the world! Go on, bid now - prize code AP12.
photo courtesy of Ed Charles
Well, we are just shy of $12,000 as I write this, which is pleasing to see, but there is still more to do to reach last years total of $17,000. To help make it easier for you, I'm just reminding you to check back on ALL the donation pages as new prizes have been added. And a big thank you to those who have bid on the voucher from Prince Wine Store, that's the spirit....or wine.
US West Coast: Becks and Posh
US East Coast: The Amateur Gourmet
US (the rest): Kalyn's Kitchen
Canada: Cardamom Addict
Europe and UK: Davidlebovitz.com
Asia Pacific/Australia/New Zealand: Grab Your Fork
And last but not least, our special wine blog host: Vinography
Just a quick update on the state of donations I have gathered for the Menu for Hope. Last glance, there was a massive $9,365 in the kitty. From my list, the degustation dinner at Interlude with matching wines (code AP18) was flying away with thirteen tickets registered to it.
In second spot is my homemade cherry vodka, with two tickets and one enquiry against it (code AP12).
But what is really shocking me is that no-one has bid for the $100 voucher from Prince Wine Store (code AP33). At the top of my blog, in the header, I invite everyone to share in some great food and wine. So who is bringing the wine I ask? I would happily bid for it myself because I know what fantastic wines they stock, but that wouldn't look to good if I won it, would it?
Christmas and the New Year is almost here and that means lots of wines to be drunk. What could be more perfect than to be able to shop for your Xmas cheer with a free wine voucher, at a shop that stocks the best? You could even use the voucher as the basis of a wine spree, putting some of your own money to it and buying something really special. That's what I'd do. Or you could get three or four very decent bottles of something. For only the cost of your donation, which you can do right here http://www.firstgiving.com/menuforhopeIII
C'mon, support the donors.
It was not that she didn't have a recipe to follow, for I had faxed her a very good, detailed one from the Roux brothers excellent Patisserie book. But for all the time I have lived on this planet, I have not made croissants simply because the urge wasn't there. But P did have the urge and as a foodie I understood completely, empathetically.
As I drove over, the sun appeared as the orange, glowing end of a lit cigarette, through a haze of tarry, acrid smoke that a giant set of lungs had expelled, turning what should have been blue skies a dull grey. The smell of burning Australian bush was pervasive, a smell that can never be forgotten, containing as it does not only the scent of burnt eucalyptus, but a sense of fear and dread for what is to come. The smoke that had been blown down by the hot, northerly wind was so dense that fire alarms were going off in the city.
Not a good day for pastry making.
I heard Rick Stein say once that life was too short to make puff pastry and I suppose it is, if you have access to a quality product, but where I am no such quality exists. Sure, if I'm making homemade sausage rolls for a party, the supermarket puff is what I use, but for something special like a Beef Wellington, it has to be homemade. Really, it's not all that hard to do, but there is a lot of waiting for the butter to reharden in the fridge so it doesn't break through the layers of pastry. And croissants are simply puff pastry with the addition of yeast.
We set to, rolling out the yeast dough into that four ear shape, so that we could place the butter in the centre and fold each 'ear' back over the butter to fully enclose it, then embarked on rolling and turning and resting (chilling) that builds up the buttery layers giving that characteristic flakiness. It went well for a couple of turns too. Then the heat factor kicked in and butter started leaking through the pastry. More flour and extended resting helped a bit, but P ran out of time and went off to her singing lesson, leaving me to it.
Don't you hate it when you don't read a recipe properly?
Because I have made puff pastry before, I sort of missed the part where you need to rest the rolled up croissants for two hours prior to baking so that they double in size. So when I had finished the rolling and turning, rolled the pastry to the correct thinness, cut the triangle shape, carefully rolled each one up and gave them a distinctive crescent shape, I realized that I wouldn't be able to hang around and taste my first ever batch of croissants. Bloody hell!
So I have to tell you what my kids told me. They were damn good. The three of them said they were just like from the shop, only the shape was a little wonky.
I can live with that.
Well, the big day is finally here.
This is the day when you you can choose to make a difference to someone's life, to put food in their mouth. For a food blogger that should be a natural thing, feeding people is what we like to do, but in the world most of us inhabit, feeding someone means giving food to be enjoyed and I don't think that any of us would know what it felt like to be starving and then from out of the blue someone gives you food so that you can at least stay alive for another day.
That is what this project means.
For every $10 donation you make will keep not just one person alive but several, a family perhaps. This is your chance to make a difference in the world and even though you can't actually see what your money has done, I can tell you that you will have saved people somewhere.
Think of it as CPR for the belly.
This isn't some Rachael Ray $40 a day to feed just one person, your ten dollars will feed a lot of people. Hell, buy a few tickets and you can feed a whole village, because your dollars can go further than you think. Buy those tickets because you are privileged to live in countries where poverty and attendant hunger are not well known. Buy these tickets because you can. Buy a few because you can. Choose to make a difference.
Okay, now you can see who has been choosing to help and I have been fortunate to be working with a couple of very generous people who are giving you every reason to donate your hard earned for a chance at some great prizes.
First up are Robin Wickens, the chef, and Gavin van Staden, the restaurant manager, from Melbourne's Interlude restaurant who have donated the brilliant prize of a degustation dinner for two with matching wines to the value of $400.
Interlude is a rising star in the restaurant world, where cutting edge dining is the order of the day. Simply amazing dishes that you have never tried before have been created by Robin to surprise and delight you. Winner of 'Best Young Chef' in The Age's 2005 Good Food Guide, Robin has worked in some of the great restaurant kitchens including Pied a Terre, Bibendum and The Glasshouse before arriving in Melbourne in 2000, where he immediately set to work to create some of the finest food this city has seen. His hard work has paid off with also being awarded two chef's hats in the same guide. This is simply a dining experience not to be missed, based as it is on classical French techniques with special twists.
Prize code AP18 - Interlude, 211 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy VIC 3065, Tel: (03) 9415 7300. Please note:- This prize cannot be taken Saturday evening.
Next up are my old friends Prince Wine Store, who are no strangers to you either as they have occasionaly featured on this blog due to the outstanding Saturday wine tastings they put on. But it is not just the wine tastings that make this my preferred wine shop, it's the breadth and scope of their entire range that has made me a regular customer. If I were to be marooned on a desert island and had one choice of wine shop, Prince Wine Store would be the one I would choose. In fact, I would voluntarily go to a desert island if I knew they would supply all the wine!
Whether you are looking for an up and coming winemaker or a great range of imported wine, even that special bottle or wine education, all at reasonable prices, this is the store for you. Thank-you Michael McNamara for your terrific prize of a voucher to the value of $100 worth of your fantastic wines.
Prize code AP33 - Prince Wine Store, 177 Bank Street, South Melbourne and 2 Acland street, St Kilda
Now it's my turn. I'm sure that all of you have read that I make fruit based liqueurs, but so far have seen no evidence of it at all on my blog. Well, I'm willing to make the evidence available to you, wherever you are in the world, so long as you have a reliable postal service. What is on offer is a 500ml bottle of cherry vodka, made to an authentic Polish recipe. This liqueur is made from sour cherries, sugar and distilled spirits. It has the flavour of sun kissed cherries along with a deep cherry kernel essence derived from prolonged contact with the pure spirit (95%). This amazing liqueur is about 30% alcohol and is absolutely heavenly drunk straight or poured over ice cream. It costs about $50 dollars a bottle to produce and I know the prize winner will not be able to thank me enough!
Prize code AP12 Cherry Vodka, courtesy of At My Table
Here's what you should do next...
Check out the Asia/Pacific donation page at http://grabyourfork.blogspot.com/2006/12/menu-for-hope.html
Go to the donation page at http://www.firstgiving.com/menuforhopeIII
Make a donation. Each US$10 will grant you one raffle ticket towards a prize of your choice. Please use the unique prize code to specify which prize or prizes you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form. Do tell us how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code eg. a donation of US$50 could be 2 tickets for AP01 and 3 for AP02.
For US donors, if your company matches your charity donation, please remember to check the box and fill in the information so we may claim the corporate match.
Please check the box to allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.
Check Chez Pim on January 15, 2007 when we announce the results of the raffle. Prize drawing will be done electronically. Our friend, the code wizard Derrick at Obsession with Food, is responsible for the wicked application that will do the job.
I know that you want to win a prize, but after all this is for charity, so tell your friends about it, try and get everyone you know to buy at least one ticket. If you work in an office, get your workmates on board.
Support all the businesses that have donated such great prizes. Go and shop there and be sure to tell them that you noticed that they donated to such a worthy cause.
Apart from that I have no idea as to why they picked me, but it's a bit of a buzz to be noticed. Hop on over and check out the site, there are lots of categories to browse. And of course you can read my latest post on damper.
Go on, have a look.
The concept is to find Australia's best barbequer and reward them with $25,000 and their own television show. Not too shabby, but it leads the Great BBQ Challenge into an area that is somewhat conflicted, for not only is it cooking skills on display but the contestants personality and on screen persona count for much as well, perhaps more than is good for the show.
What that means is that perhaps Australia's best barbequer may not in fact win the series, but the person who can talk and present well would seem to have the better chance. So it would probably be fairer to say that the best barbeque presenter will win the day, not the best tong wielder. This was highlighted in the auditions when all the contestants were given to cook was just a supermarket sausage and egg.
It is still early days, but the show needs to pick up the pace and find a way to inject some excitement an urgency into the format. The host, Jabba, comes courtesy of FM radio and a long stint as a VJ on Channel [V], a television music channel. I'm sure he knows plenty about the music scene, but there were times that he looked a little lost with his lack of cooking skills; asking intelligent questions about the cooking process is beyond him and it showed, especially when Ben O'Donoghue, a talented chef and cooking show presenter (Surfing the Menu, The Best) and one of the show's judges, talked in some depth about the contestants dishes.
Another judge, the livewire Julia Zemiro, who is an accomplished actress, comedienne and host of Rockwiz, did manage to put some energy into proceedings and also has some background in food through her parents owning a restaurant. Her main job is to judge the mysterious 'X-factor' of the contestants, which pretty much gives her a free reign to do as she pleases which is the perfect fit for her as she has the ability to engage and be funny at the same time.
The last judge is Mark Adamson, who has twenty years in the television industry as a cameraman, producer and director and is focused on the contestants' performance and showmanship. I'm not sure if has spent as much time in front of the camera as he has behind it and looked a little unsure at times, perhaps he will improve as the series goes on, but he will have to watch his use of the word quintessential - he managed to describe both male contestants as quintessential Aussie blokes, as if it were some badge of honour, or perhaps it's a clue to the sex of the eventual winner.
What the contestants are required to do is cook their signature dish, followed by some ingredients provided by the show, which in the episode I watched was the classic Aussie surf 'n' turf - steak and prawns. The contestants showed more flair with their choice of signature dishes, one was turkey burgers and another was a Moroccan inspired lamb dish. The judges then pick a winner from the three contestants who go through to the semi-finals and then the lucky few go on to a grand-final on Australia Day. There is also a wild card system whereby each judge can nominate a losing contestant to go through as well.
The Great BBQ Challenge is a fantastic concept, unique to Australia, that is let down in a couple of key areas. They need to find a way to inject more tension and excitement and Jabba needs a crash course in cookery. Each episode at an hour long means every weakness is brutally exposed. At one point Ben took control and the show came alive and the beautiful Julia also kept it all moving. I'm sure that things will improve, but perhaps next time less emphasis on personality and showmanship and greater concentration on the cooking could help things.
Great BBQ Challenge, Lifestyle FOOD, Saturdays 7.30pm.
The other thing, I will reveal to you tomorrow, but to whet your appetite, I've been invited to write somewhere else, no, not a newspaper, but on a fairly new network and my first article will be published tomorrow.
It's been a busy week.
The words are taken from Michael Franks 1975 album, Art of Tea, which is on vinyl in my record collection. I guess that all makes me kinda old.
Whenever I explore the land of Yin,
I always take one on the chin.
And now this lioness has almost made me tame.
I can't pronounce her name but eggplant is her game.
The lady sticks to me like white on rice.
She never cooks the same thing twice.
Maybe it's the mushrooms, maybe the tomatoes.
I can't reveal her name but eggplant is her game.
When my baby cooks her eggplant, she don't read no book.
She's got a Giaconda kind of dirty look.
And my baby cooks her eggplant
About nineteen different ways,
But sometimes I just have it raw with mayonnaise.
Maybe it's the way she grates her cheese,
Or just the freckles on her knees.
Maybe it's the scallions, maybe she's Italian.
I can't reveal her name but eggplant is her game.
Happy Anniversary D, I love you baby.
Leading up to the real start of their season are punnets of raspberries going for an enormous price. I suppose if you are desperate for a taste you could fork out, but invariably these early fruit are never properly ripe, so we wait. The week before we bought our first punnets for a reasonable price and hungrily devoured them. They were so good.
So last Saturday at the market, when I saw a table full of them at three dollars a punnet, I pounced. Looking around for some more fruit, I saw the biggest, juiciest cherries and the sign at the back of them said ten dollars. Yes please, I'm having those, so I asked for a kilo. As the women serving me scooped up the cherries into a bag she revealed something on the sign I didn't want to see. They were ten dollars a half kilo!
There was some internal dialogue.
"They look so good."
"Come on, $20 a kilo!"
"The cherry season is so short."
"Don't pay too much."
"I bet they're sweet and juicy, just look at the size of them."
"Look around, there are cheaper for sure."
"I want them."
"You'll be sorry."
And that was it, they were coming home with me.
When I told my wife D, she had a sort of a shocked look on her face. D never pays too much for anything. But still cherries are cherries and she happily got stuck right in, she even asked me if I would like some too.....when there were about six cherries left.
Just to add insult to injury, yesterday D bought some more, just as big and juicy as the ones I had bought.
"Guess how much I paid."
"I don't know, tell me."
"Ten dollars a kilo."
I know she did that on purpose.
Yesterday was one of those days where the weather threatened early, only to reveal its bluff later. On a cloudless day we went with some friends to Alma Park in East St Kilda. Actually we went to Alma Park East, which is bisected from Alma Park West by the Sandringham rail line, where the trains trundle through a cutting. The two parks have a completely different character from each other with the west side having flowing, wide open spaces, much loved and used by dog owners and those seeking fitness, with a wandering path the entire length that takes you through some lovely gardens that screen you from the rest of the park.
The east side, our destination, is more about the family, with its electric barbecues and tables, bench seats casually strewn about, magnificent mature elm and pine trees shading most of the area which also contains a small creek leading into a mini wetland. At the Alma Road end is a most magnificent Moreton Bay Fig tree to which some far sighted soul, before everyone became worried about safety concerns, built a bridge right into its lower branches with platforms connecting all the lower limbs, encased by wire mesh so no-one can fall out. There is a small playground with rubberised surfaces surrounding a small castle with the most wonderful carvings and the other end of the park is capped by a sports oval.
We decided to have a picnic there and to that end I bought a couple of barbecued chickens from a shop in Carlisle Street that goes to the trouble of using real charcoal, which gives an incomparable flavour to the spit-roasted meat. How Coles can get away with describing their spit-roasted chickens as barbecued is absolutely beyond me, the closest their birds get to charcoal is when the delivery truck drives past the real barbecue chicken shop. I suppose I should own up here and say that the chickens from either shop are not what I would call happy chickens, but on this day when I didn't want to cook, all I wanted was a happy me.
Then it was of to the greengrocer for some mixed salad leaves to which I always add a good handful, ahem, I mean tongful, of rocket (aragula). My wife D had made a beautiful butter cake featuring fresh raspberries and along with a few snacks for the kids, that was our picnic. Oops, nearly forgot the homemade mayo with garlic. I mean I really did forget and asked D if she wanted some, which in our house is merely a rhetorical question. All of us were in the kitchen at this stage as I whipped up a batch and C, the wife of my mate G, didn't quite believe I made it while I was talking to them and then asked how to do it.
We made our way to the park and ensconced ourselves on some bench seats under a huge old pine tree, with a view not only of the playground but of a cricket match that some locals had got together to hold. We feasted on the still warm chicken and fresh salad, and as is the way with kids, they buzzed in and out picking off whatever caught their fancy. The cricket match on the oval was not the only one going on, there were two very casual family matches in progress as well. I know my American readers are probably rolling their eyes at the thought of cricket, which beyond the bat and ball is for the most part incomprehensible to people who drive on the wrong (right) side of the road. But I have to say that I have never understood your game where you can get to walk for NOT hitting the ball, though I do feel a certain camaraderie with your hot dog tradition.
We sat, we talked about nothing and everything, the kids darted all about, we watched the cricket, the kids decided to amuse themselves and the cricketers waiting for their turn to bat near the boundary, by blowing bubbles over them, they laughed and we laughed too. On the other side of the oval a church bell chimed in recognition of a new marriage. I wonder if the newlyweds knew what fun and good cheer awaited them on the other side of the oval?
In the spiritual home of this grape, Burgundy in France, they produce wines of immense power and presence that have a peacocks tail, that is the flavours fan out in your mouth, exploding on every taste bud, but because it is generally cooler, there is always a good acid spine that gives great length. Chardonnay from Burgundy is always, at the top level, majestic.
If you go further north to the Champagne region, again chardonnay takes on a whole other personality, producing a wine that is stripped right down for fruit and with spine tingling acidity to which the vignerons add bubbles to make a wine like no other. That a wine can be so austere yet be the epitomy of generosity is the result of an amazing alchemy.
Between these two classic wine appellations is another region that is producing a unique expression of chardonnay and that place is Chablis. Here the fruit again takes on a different character. Being about halfway between Burgundy and Champagne means it has key characteristics of both regions, but there is one thing that distinguishes this area and makes its wines totally unique, and that is its geology.
Cool climate vineyards need exceptional conditions to succeed. Chablis lies 160 kilometres north of Beaune and is therefore nearer to Champagne than the rest of Burgundy. Geology is its secret: the outcrop of the rim of a great submerged basin of limestone. The far rim, across the English Channel in Dorset, gives its name, Kimmeridge, to this unique pudding of pre- historic oyster shells. Oysters and chablis, it seems, have been related since creation.
HUGH JOHNSON, World Atlas of Wine
What this bed of limestone appears to confer on Chablis wines is an intense minerality, coupled with the cooler climate, produces wines of singular apparent austerity, which on closer examination have a certain richness and flintiness that is straining to be unleashed. Wines from here are a marvelous expression of chardonnay and a bottle of Grand Cru wine can easily live for twenty years, gaining complexity and releasing more of the uniqueness of the chardonnay grape.
This weekend there is a free tasting of Chablis from the 2004 vintage which is considered to be a classic vintage for this region. It's at the Prince Wine Store and features wines from Raveneau, William Fevre, Denis Pommier, Billaud Simon and Defaix. Just to make it that little bit more enticing, there are also wines from the 2004 Burgundy vintage, featuring producers such as Gerard Raphet, Maurice Ecard, Nicolas Potel, and newcomer Thierry Beaumont.
Prince Wine Store, 177 Bank Street, South Melbourne, 12.00 till 2.00 p.m., Saturday, 2nd December
It wasn't hard to decide what to do with it either....new season garlic + fresh basil = pesto.
I got to, stripping the leaves and placed them in the vitamizer with a couple of cloves of garlic, gave it a good glug of olive oil and blitzed it to a puree. Hearing the action, M came into the kitchen.
"Can I help?"
"Sure, you can put in the pine nuts."
M took the measuring spoon and counted out three spoons, into the jug they went for a quick blitz. I don't know how anyone else feels about pine nuts, but I find them totally addictive and always buy more than I need. M popped one in her mouth.
"Mmmmm, these are good, I'm going to share them with mummy."
With that, she turned on her heel and walked back to the loungeroom, pine nuts in tow.
Geez, good help is hard to find.