Big wheel turnin’ – Cooking Adventure #2

Following on from our Swedish-inspired success, our second culinary adventure happened a week later. We took on the challenge of glazed pork fillet, Cajun-style pepper rice and BBQ sauce. It’s about here that I realised that our wok is the best thing ever and I basically use it for everything…what, you want a large casserole pan? Pffft. Whatever.

Cajun-style rice
Everything in this recipe is fairly simple, except that the rice called for okra. Do you think I could find it anywhere? So I turned, as ever, to the internet who advised me that, although the taste and texture of okra is very unique, green beans made a decent substitute. Sold.

I really enjoy creating these mixes of rice – the brown rice, with veggies, lemon and paprika is very homely and hits all the right spots. And the BBQ sauce for the pork is delicious. The recipe calls for one big pork fillet, but we had three small pieces so didn’t bother slicing it up. We also ignored the recommendation to serve the meal with pickled veg, opting for a fresh garden salad instead.

All very lovely! It scored 4 Grumpy Dads out of 5.

Glazed pork

Lifestyle configuration

Even though living in WA can be endlessly frustrating sometimes, the easy-going lifestyle is also one of the best parts. It’s so chilled out…could not be more chilled if it tried, really. I usually only reflect on this when I’m taking my dog for walk. We live on a tributary of the Swan River, with a nice strip of bushland nearby, and when the sun is setting, and the place is deserted, it’s so calm and peaceful. Imagine birds chirping, frogs croaking and the air thick with eucalyptus. It’s pretty great.

Still, I wouldn’t enjoy any of it nearly as much if it wasn’t for my puppy. She’s my favourite.

Music: Plans – Bloc Party

Hurdy Gurdy Gurdy – Cooking Adventure #1

Our very first foray into Jamie Oliver cooking happened a fair few weeks ago in the form of Swedish meatballs, with celeriac and spinach rice. I chose this as a starting point cause it seemed like a safe, plain option that wouldn’t scare off the father right off the bat. Mum was also on board from the get-go – despite initial skepticism about the spinach element (as mentioned before, she is much like I was when it comes to vegetables but she’s always willing to try things.)

While most of the ingredients were already in our pantry, we had a bit of a problem. We couldn’t find cranberry jam anywhere – probably because we were being painfully obtuse; we found it a week later at Coles without any drama. Our blindness meant our first attempt went ahead cranberry free, but mum picked up a nice pot of the stuff at IKEA for future needs. There was also nary a celeriac to be found at our local market, Woolies or Coles. In the end, I just went with plain old celery as a substitute. Not particularly exciting, but it did the trick just fine.

I was pleased with the effort. The rice was a winner and while the meatballs were tasty, it definitely lacked the jam – we tried apricot as a sub but it just didn’t really pop with the other flavours – so it’ll be nice to try this again sometime for the full effect. Of course it didn’t take 15 minutes but, with mum and I both pitching in, we got it done under 40. That’s a totally acceptable cooking time in my opinion!

Overall, it got 3.5 Grumpy Dads out of 5.

Swedish Meatballs & Spinach Rice

P.S: This series for me is more about the experience rather than the instruction, so I won’t actually be posting recipes. Sorry if that’s what you’re after. I also take a bit of a moral issue with it. Soz. If the recipes are up at the Jamie Oliver site, I’ll link to them. Otherwise I can only recommend you get the book. It’s well worth it.

Adventures in cooking

Before I start, there’s one thing you need to understand about me. I don’t enjoy cooking. In fact, I don’t even really enjoy eating (excluding cake, of course). If it wasn’t a basic necessity for staying alive, I’d happily not eat. Food is really not something that appeals to me.

Until I went travelling, I was a pretty picky eater. I didn’t really want to eat anything green, or vegetable like. I just was not at all interested in trying anything new, or anything I didn’t like before. I wasn’t demanding in my dislikes, I just wanted to be left alone to eat what I wanted to eat. End of. But my horizons broadened pretty rapidly while overseas, a) because I like trying things that are part of new cultures, and b) because you can’t really afford to be fussy when you’re on a strict budget. I also happily accepted friendly offers to feed me (mostly from Abbi) and so I’d eat whatever I was given. My mother raised me with manners after all, though I often don’t act like it!

Bearing all that in mind, it’s with little exaggeration that I say Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals is kinda changing my life. It actually makes me want to cook. And I’m not finding it a total bore? A miracle!
Planning our menu while watching Masterchef. Why not.

Foodspiration hour in action.

It first started with just watching the show. Australia loves Jamie Oliver, one of his programs is on at least once a day. Then I saw the book on sale and, knowing that Abbi always found it useful, I thought what the hell. Let’s just buy the damn thing. Now Mum and I have started a routine of making the meals together and, you know what, it’s actually a lot of fun. I think the main appeal comes from it being quick and relatively pain free. The recipes are so easy to follow, with nothing presented in indecipherable chef speak, and it’s quick, so I don’t feel like I’m slaving away in front of the stove and wasting my whole day. Like I said, I’m not a natural foodie, so these things are all right up my alley and basically hooked me in within seconds.

The thing is, I am trying very hard to be healthy. My parents have had a couple of health issues in the last few years and we have to be careful managing dad’s diet in particular. So to have the option to cook with fresh ingredients, relatively low in fat and sugar, while actually having fun…well, that’s invaluable to me (and mum really, we share the same attitude to food.) Dad has the polar opposite approach to food – he bloody loves it, but he’s very particular and…safe. So it’s quite an interesting experience for us to make these meals and present him with food that often goes outside his flavour comfort zone. Honestly though, I think everyone is enjoying it. The best part is that because the meals always tend to serve 4, there’s enough for all of us plus dad’s lunch/dinner for work. Makes life so much easier!

So, anyway, because it’s not something I am a natural at, I thought I might blog about our little culinary undertakings. Report back on the successes or dismal failures. Let’s just see how it goes.

Music: Beach baby – Bon Iver

Where the city meets the sea

A couple of weeks ago, I scraped together enough frequent flyer points to head up to Sydney. My mum was over there for work already so I sat up camp in her hotel room and proceeded to see ALL the people.

Sydney is without a doubt one of my favourite places. I love the harbour, the city, the vibe of the place. Sadly, it doesn’t really feel like home anymore…but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the chance to walk the old familiar streets. Particularly, I enjoyed getting to spend quality time with all my awesome friends, most of whom I hadn’t seen in over a year (!) (!!)

First order of business was to hop a ferry over to Manly. I was feeling very nostalgic for a classic ferry ride…and I proceeded to get horribly sunburnt in the process *grumbles about boats being stupid* There was a lovely lunch in a pub with a big balcony overlooking the promenade and a jug of Pimms – because it’s summer, so there.

Pimms o'clock

Pimms o’clock

I then accompanied Em to a hidden basement whisky bar. Now, this was a long time coming for us. We had first tried to visit when I originally attempted to move back to Sydney at the end of ’12, but the line was hopelessly too long and we’d set up shop in Grandma’s Bar instead. This time we were not to be deterred. Good thing too because The Baxter Inn is basically the best thing to happen to me so far this year. It’s a wonderful bar in the proper old speakeasy style with dark wood, a jaw-dropping selection of whisky, talented bartenders and an apt soundtrack of swing, jazz and blues. I love the place. You don’t understand. If I still lived in Sydney, I’d be there every week. Their self-invented Japanese Highball cocktail is a thing of beauty, and their Old Fashioneds are delicious orange-y perfection. So. Good. We were there three nights out of my six in town, sitting at the bar, chatting to all the barmen and being generally charming (see also: annoying). If you’re in Sydney, you must go, and you must ask them to recommend you something because they are really good at it. Except for the guy who greeted us on our first night there and recommended we have tequila. At 4.30pm on a Tuesday? Settle down, petal.
I got to spend some quality time with Em and Roze, including watching an Avenue Q-esque play based on the Golden Girls. Followed by dinner, wine, and attempted cutlery theft. We also had a lovely brunch one morning that included playing a game called Trouble that I had been blissfully unaware of up until this point. Turns out it’s basically ludo? Anyway, I digress. Em and I followed this with Mardi Gras parade shenanigans (complete with glow sticks) via the aforementioned glorious Baxter Inn and the new Papa Gedes bar that’s done in fantastic New Orleans style. The small bars trend that’s taken hold in Sydney has made the city so much cooler. It’s wonderful.
There is an endless supply of cool glasses at Papa Geddes.

There is an endless supply of cool glasses here.

I spent most of my days hanging around in the city, writing in the MCA café (excellent coffee + roof terrace with views of the bridge/opera house = winner) and meeting up with people as they had time in their schedules. So basically meeting Em for lunch and chilling with Kat when she got her uni timetable wrong. In the process of doing the latter, I got to potter around UTS for a bit and it was weirdly comforting returning to the old alma mater. I spent so much time there, after all. Happily, I also got to attend a get together of my old writing group and later hang out with some of the girls. It made me feel incredibly lucky to have met these people through sheer chance and have them in my life….even if I hardly ever get to actually see them.

MCA writing times.

MCA writing times.

Before I knew it, the week was over and it was time to come home. I saw some family friends, had one final lovely breakfast at La Perouse and then high-tailed it out of a very rainy Sydney. I’d spent so much time running from one end of town to the other, I was absolutely knackered but still really glad I’d managed to find the time to visit. And as it was just before I started working again, it ended up being the perfect little holiday.

Rainy goodbyes.Heading out to sea somewhere near Adelaide.

Music: Tennis courts – Lorde

Shake it out

It’s International Women’s Day and I’ve just finished a week-long re-watch of all the Harry Potter films. Naturally this calls for a roundup of favourite female characters from the franchise. Well, five of them anyway.

Hermione Granger

We could all have been killed – or worse, expelled!

Obviously. She’s so fabulously uncompromising in who she is and what she believes in. Even if it puts her at odds with others, she’ll never give up on things she’s passionate about. Especially not just because it isn’t cool. And even though this can make her seem really uptight and contrary at times, once you get to know her you see that it doesn’t consume her. She has a good heart. She will break the rules if it means helping her friends, and she definitely has no problem breaking the rules if the rules are just plain wrong. I admire her for her convictions and her strength and her excellent effort in keeping those two idiot boys alive.

Luna Lovegood

I enjoyed the meetings, too. It was like having friends.

Like Hermione, she never compromises her beliefs but she’s somehow softer, more malleable. She is warm-hearted and open-minded. I think her boundless good spirit is really admirable, considering how mean people are to her. She is kind of the embodiment of turning the other cheek. And even though everyone thinks she’s a bit nuts because of all her superstitious/weird ideas, she’s clearly very clever. It’s her free-spirited conviction in thinking anything’s possible that helps Harry find the diadem. A quality she shares with her dad whose own faith in the improbable is what helps put Harry onto the Deathly Hallows. I think she’s the best of people. If everyone in the world could be a little more like Luna, we’d be happier.

Minerva McGonagall

Why is it, when something happens, it is always you three?

I just love McGonagall so much. She’s kind of terrifying and severe but she also has such a sharp wit and genuinely cares about her students, and the school. Her passion for the Gryffindor Quidditch team seems so at odds with her presentation but is perfectly in keeping with her obvious love of Hogwarts. She’s just a powerful witch as well, and I think she’s really aware of that and enjoys it. Like at the Battle of Hogwarts when she animates the statues to defend the school and giddily exclaims “I’ve always wanted to use that spell!” She’s so cool. She’s the teacher I think everyone wished they had.

Molly Weasley

Beds empty! No note! Car gone–could have crashed–out of my mind with worry–did you care?

It would be so easy to dismiss Molly as just a housewife or just a mother. But that implies that those things are somehow not valuable and not important. Au contraire! Molly is the heart and soul of the Weasley clan. Her welcoming nature meant that she basically adopted Harry (and Hermione) into her family too. There is nothing she won’t do for her loved ones and her occasional hysteria at their misbehaviours is just proof of that. She worries constantly because she loves them. She is the one that keeps them all strong. But don’t let her kind heart fool you, she’s totally bad-ass too. Just ask Bellatrix.

Narcissa Malfoy

If you attack my son again, I shall ensure that it is the last thing you ever do.

This is a bit of an odd choice but, on this last re-watch, I’ve really come to appreciate the nuance of the Malfoys. I think it’s pretty obvious that Lucius was a very traditional patriarch. I think he ran the household and made the decisions, and I think he’s quite emotionally distant as well – just going off his interactions with Draco in the books. Even though he’s very quick to kick up a stink whenever Draco comes running (My father will hear about this!), I don’t think he does it for Draco, as much as for the Malfoy name. Narcissa, on the other hand, loves her son. She’s devoted to him. Maybe he was all she had to pour her energy into while Lucius lorded about the place. She makes my list for her actions in The Deathly Hallows where she lies about Harry’s death. She only does this after she knows her son’s alive. She really does not give a single damn about good or evil, and this is the moment she packs it all in. She’s not a good person, but there is nothing she will not do for Draco. And I think that’s admirable. Plus in the film it’s only when she calls out to him that he crosses over to the dark side again to join his family. By this point Lucius has lost all his power in the family, Draco has no faith in him and Narcissa is obviously quite fed up with this nonsense. It’s such a satisfying scene in the film when she takes Draco’s hand and walks away. 110% done with your family-ruining antics, Voldemort.