Home Books Recipe Stash Cooking Tips Blog About Julie Appearances Newsletter Connections

Archive for April, 2010

Tasting Australia

Friday, April 30th, 2010

They let me loose amongst the barrels at Seppelts Winery in the Barossa Valley. Look at the barrels! We tried a 100 year-old port which is to be released tomorrow for around $1000 Australian a bottle! My favourite was the 25 year-old DP90 Rare Tawny – nutty and dry, like spicy walnuts and coffee, toffee and leather. Gorgeous!

Also, we cooked lunch with South Australia’s legend Maggie Beer. What an experience. Lobster, olives baked in reduced red wine, her famous roast chickens, baked pumpkin with verjuice, and to finish a stunning quince pastry tart with vanilla and elderflower ice cream. The sun shone. The day was brilliant. The Barossa is amazing!

Life of a peach

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

My breadboard

I knew there was something wrong with it as soon as I saw it. It looked pale and wan, like a bleached piece of driftwood which had spent its recent life washed by a relentless mountain of sea. Its layers of life had been stripped away leaving it unappealingly characterless. My breadboard. My lovely, much-loved and lovingly looked after breadboard. A breadboard we had rescued from under the old house we lived in 28 years ago in St Mary’s Bay. There it lay, a slab of nondescript wood in a cobwebby dusty pile of rubble. It was filthy and much unloved, I would have thought. I took it inside, scrubbed it to billy-oh, sprayed it with vinegar, washed it again, then dried it in the sun and rubbed it with mineral oil, and then restored to splendor, it started its new life, with the Biuso family. Sometime after we moved out of the house, the owners (we were renting the house) called to ask whether we had inadvertently taken a breadboard with us when we left. I replied no, we’d taken nothing from the kitchen and I didn’t ever recall there being a breadboard in the house. Later, it occurred to me that they could mean the piece of wood I’d found under the house, but technically, I didn’t lie, it was just a misunderstanding. I couldn’t give it up, couldn’t and wouldn’t. We were in love with it, the cute shape, the smoothness. It was the perfect breadboard – not too heavy, but not flimsy either, and it quickly obtained the battle scars of life from gentle and sometimes vigorous choppings, sawings and hackings. Stains from melting butter had seeped in and darkened part of the wood, and mashed bits of avocado, drizzles of maple syrup, spots of oil… a 28 year-old patina which told the story of our life, of hurried breakfasts, school lunches and rustic stacks of bruschetta. The breadboard had seen it all, fights, kid scraps, midnight snacks. It had been transported to picnics and used as a mini table. It’s underside had held fruit cakes, been graced by lady fingers, serviced school camps and proffered up elegant bread based snacks. It had worked its arse off in other words.

Some people are ridiculously protective of their breadboards, allowing only bread and toast atop them. We’re a little more relaxed, although we draw the line at garlic and chili sauce (I hate that heady whiff of garlic that steams up to the nose from hot toast as it lifts up the remnants of last night’s chopped garlic). But we always wash the board by hand. We scrub it. We never put it in the dishwasher.

I’d been to Portland, Oregon for less than 5 days and I returned to find the kitchen a tad messier than I had left it though there was nothing really to complain about (the kids had cooked for themselves). Eyes darting, taking in everything, you know how it is once you come back to reclaim your throne…and then I spied it.

What, eyebrows rising slowly, I asked daughter, happened to the breadboard??? Oh, she said sheepishly, he (he, being the French boyfriend, owner of enlarged sweater) put it in the dishwasher. Steely eyes meet soft apologetic ones. Oh, I said, eyebrows now risen higher than any botox could ever achieve. I grabbed the board, caressed its battle scars, smoothed its protruding hairy little fibery bits, then, without further ado, I removed a loaf of sour dough bread from its brown paper bag, put it on the breadboard and called out, ‘Who wants lunch?’.

Life of a peach

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Does size matter?

Oh help! This has got nothing to do with my usual rants or raves, nor anything to do with the life of a peach, or a life without peaches for that matter. It’s to do with my daughter’s French boyfriend and my son. Daughter and boyfriend went away for three days. They hired a campervan – this is a van equipped with sleeping and cooking facilities, like a mobile home. The hire company where they got the van upgraded them to a super deluxe campervan for no apparent reason (young love does have an affect on people!), and off they went up north visiting New Zealand’s beautiful coastline and beaches. I thought I’d have some quiet time, but the husband was in residence and the son hung around a lot of the weekend. Oh well. Next weekend, perhaps. The young couple returned none the worse for wear, having eaten in cafes and vineyards, and one night, they cooked potatoes in the embers of a fire. Scrumptious she told me, simple but scrumptious. Just like Norman makes but better because we did onions, too, she said. Norman’s recipe for these spuds is in my book Sizzle Sensational Barbecue Food, should you feel the need to read about it (how nice to be able to give my book a genuine plug). There was lots of activity when they arrived, with things flung hither and yon, but the campervan was thoroughly cleaned and returned to the hire company on time. Daughter and French boyfriend returned home, ate like they hadn’t seen food for a week, showered using a week’s worth of water then, all pink and scrubbed and feeling the chill of the autumn air, rugged up in the same clothes they had wrapped themselves in when they were cooking the potatoes in the embers. Oh dear. They smelled of smoke. Off they came, replaced by fresh-smelling clothes. I offered to wash the French boyfriend’s sweater, a beautiful looking creamy-beige thing, with buttons, and therein started my panic.

I have an, um, penchant, shall we say, for turning full-size woollen things into miniature replicas of themselves. Yes, I mean that horrible word shrinkage! I don’t want to type it too big because it frightens me. However, I washed the sweater with great care in cold water and I was very relieved that when I lay it out to dry draped over a towel it still resembled the sweater I had been handed by the French boyfriend. Good. Then I got on to the rest of the washing, I wouldn’t say feeling smug, but feeling very much more la bonne maman.

Though there is one other little problem area I have in the washing department, and that is to do with colour. Mmm. Things start out white and emerge out of the machine in shades of grey, mauve, pale saffron even slimey green. I don’t know how it happens. I sort things into piles, putting like with like. I wash the clothes in cold water. I take them out of the machine as soon as the machine starts it stupid incessant repetitious beeping. And I dry them outside in the fresh air. But I still get caught out.

Today I turned my sons expensive black and white patterned shirt with turn-down buttoned collar and lovely pressed cuffs a sort of murky blue. If you didn’t know that it used to be white and gray, you’d probably find it quite acceptable. But he knows. A white teatowel is now tie-dyed and has been retired to the barbecue as a cleaning rag. Daughter’s tangerine pants are now a yucky greeny-brown like minced up fermented grass clippings, but strangely the white stripe down the side has remained white. Labels, too, remain white. My son has a new blue singlet to wear. My daughter a pale blue scarf (actually, I think this is an improvement – at least I will try and sell it to her that way), but the worse thing is my son’s stripey pink shirt. It is now a vile shade of pale mauve with pukey burgundy coloured stripes.

Everything is now hidden, either dried and bundled up out of sight, or soaking in buckets waiting for a never-to-arrive miracle. The French boyfriend’s sweater is smelling sweet and fresh – that glorious smell of air-dried wool – but now I’ve folded it up it somehow seems a little LARGER than it was this morning.

Life of a peach

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

The French boyfriend has arrived. Oh, did you wonder why I have been quiet?

French boyfriends take up time. Not just for 18 year-old daughters, but for the whole household. I meant to tell you that he was coming. Because it was quite an event. Out to the airport we went to collect him late on a Sunday evening. There was no chance of a chat and a glass of wine when we got home, it was just too late. Too many yawns. And they needed to be alone. I just made myself scarce. I always wondered how in movies and books people did that. Now I know what it means. It means you disappear behind a door and you don’t emerge until it is safe, and sunny, and late morning, and people are ready to make polite little bits of chit-chat over coffee. Being scarce. I’ve spent a lot of time doing that over the past two weeks.

* * * * * * * * * * *

He’s charming, of course. Absolutely charming. He stayed for two weeks and ate everything I put in front of him. I was cooking barley a lot. I couldn’t help it. It’s just that I was doing recipes using barley for a magazine. Six of them. And they needed to be tested lots of times. We had four meals of barley, on the trot. Barley this and barley that. Our bowels were certainly getting a workout, though I’m not sure it is an appropriate thing to discuss so I’m going to pretend I didn’t say that. But the young, you know, they don’t even notice things like this, they just roar along, burning it off, wake, and take on the day and all it brings. But once your bones start creaking and you ache in iddy biddy bits of your body you didn’t even know you had, it’s probably just as well you are banished behind doors at such times.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

I will have to tell you about barley some time though because it’s a superfood, and one that is often ignored. But just not right now. I think I’m over it for the present time. Barley-ed out.

I’m going to lead a barley-free life for a month. THEN I’ll tell you all about its virtues.