Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Any Woman's Blues

Oh boy. This dating thing is all fizzy lemonade while you're not that emotionally involved; when it's all: "let's go for coffee! Yeah, I like Peep Show too. Oh, you like dark chocolate? Yeah white chocolate shouldn't even be CALLED chocolate". Once you've made yourself vulnerable though - this is not a euphemism, by the way, I haven't so much as smooched one bloke - and put your heart out there on that line, the pain of a million remembered heartbreaks comes roaring back. The pain that brings all your insecurities out of hiding and returns you back to that angsty teenage girl wailing to Tori Amos in her bedroom all over again.

Yup, it's time to put on some sad songs and wallow like a hippo.

Best comment under an Elliot Smith video: "everytime i feel depressed, i listen to this song. then i feel more depressed; it's awesome"

(worth repeating. *Sigh*)

Friday, June 17, 2011

All Ages Pumpkin and Ginger Tea Bread

This lovely, soft, sunflower yellow bread/cake was devoured by everyone from little Nathan (aged 9 months) to my Dad (aged 59) with gusto and relish. I baked two in a row, it was so good!

175gm butter, melted
140gm honey
1 egg, beaten
250gm raw grated pumpkin/butternut squash
100gm light brown sugar
350gm self raising flour
1tbs ground ginger
2tbs demarara sugar

Pre-heat oven to 180°. Grease or line a loaf tin. Mix the butter, honey and egg, and stir in the grated pumpkin/squash. Then mix in sugar, flour and ginger.
Pour in the prepared tin and sprinkle the top with the demarara sugar. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until golden brown.

Serve thickly sliced (mine was so soft it fell apart when I tried to slice it!), buttered if you like. Gorgeous still warm from the oven, but still bloody good the next day - and believe me, it won't last beyond that!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Mr. Slater does it again - Late Night Chicken Stew

Nigel Slater is the creator of my all-time favourite food book, The Kitchen Diaries (it seems I'm not alone in my fandom). Part diary, part cookbook, with the most beautiful photography and production, Nigel's bible is my go-to book for elegant and unfussy meals.

150gm canellini beans (I used a tin)
1 large chicken, jointed (I just used 3 chicken marylands from my butcher)
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
garlic, 4 plump cloves
3 or 4 bay leaves
Dried Herbs du Provence (I used mixed herbs)
Orange rind, pared (I used lemon)
2x large leeks
1 massive Silverbeet leaf (or several smaller ones), sliced - my own addition
mash, to serve

Put the chicken joints in a glass dish. Pour over 50ml of olive oil, a couple of tablepoons of balsamic vinegar, then tuck in the peeled cloves and bay leaves. Scatter over the herbs and pared orange peel, and give it a good grinding of pepper and salt.

Leave in a cool place overnight (or for as long as you can).

Heat enough oil to cover the bottom of a pan, then fry the chicken pieces (shaking off the marinade to save) until golden brown on each side. Transfer the chicken to a clean plate, then fry the leeks in the same oil. Add the garlic, pour in the remaining marinade, the rest of the balsamic vinegar and add a litre of water. Bring to the boil, season generously, then return the chicken to the pan (Nigel transfers it to the oven in a casserole but I don't see the point of making more dishes so I just left it on the stove top). Leave on a low simmer for as long as possible (I think I had it on for over an hour), until the chicken meat is falling off the bone. Make sure the chicken is always covered in water. Add the beans and the silverbeet for the last 5 minutes or so.

Serve steaming hot over mashed potatoes.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Two-timing, double-dating hussy

Wow, this online dating thing really is an emotional roller-coaster. One minute you're top of the world, ma! with four dates lined up in one short week. Next minute you're All-by-myself-ing into your chocolate gelato after a date gone bad, wondering where it all went wrong.

Lordy! So, there are currently two* potential dudes (although after last Saturday, it may have been whittled down to just the one). I don't want to go into too much detail about these guys, in an attempt to protect their privacy - Melbourne is a small town, after all - but I will say that they are both lovely and decent, but also quite different in nature. Light and dark, you might say. One is a confirmed urbanite who reads the Guardian online and wears a suit to work, the other grows his own vegetables and wears hi-vis. I'm intrigued by both of them, and I am enjoying the process of getting to know them.

But oy, it's taking me from one emotional extreme to the other, sometimes in the same day.

Dating in your thirties? Completely different ball game to dating in your twenties (frisbee in the park vs. juggling sharks, let's say).

You have been through so much. Sometimes you wonder if you can survive one more heartbreak. You're alternately wary and hopeful. You can't help imagining what someone you just met would be like as a long-term partner, a husband, a father, based on whatever crumbs of information you have to hand. Something about them reminds you of an ex. You recognise certain traits which put up a red flag. And of course, they're sitting on the other side of the table, also having experienced heartbreak and battling on and trying to find the right girl, looking at you and wondering whether their future wife would eat her pizza quite so messily.

You get pickier as you get older, no doubt about it. You live, you learn. Isn't it ironic? And other Alanis Morisette lyrics.

On the other hand, it is exciting. A text message gives you flutters of excitement. A great date leaves you on a high for days. You spend hours detailing your experience to friends and family, and they give words of encouragement or caution. I am loving this about being back home: my family have taken an active interest in the nuances of my love-life. I have my brothers threatening to beat up anyone who treats me badly, my sister-in-laws picking favourites, and my mum giving me dating advice that she's learned from god-knows-where (certainly not reality). My Dad is mildly amused by the whole shebang, concerned for my safety but also wanting the same stability and happiness for me that he and my mum have enjoyed.

So, I'll keep putting myself out there. It's been interesting. Mostly enjoyable, all told. I haven't entertained one dark thought about quitting and becoming a bona-fide hermit. I am, amazingly, hopeful. Once more unto the breach, dear friends! I'll keep you informed.

* Yup, two. I did not expect to be dating two guys at once. It's uncomfortable, and I don't like doing it; and I'm hoping the situation will resolve itself soon. It's just that I wasn't sure I was going to hear back from the first guy; so I agreed to meet the second, and then eventually I did hear back from the first guy**, and by then it was too late to cancel the second guy, yada yada, here we are.

** Word of advice blokes: a woman likes to know where she stands. We love it when you text the next day. Love it.

Virtuous Veg-Crisper Minestrone

I'm not a huge fan of tomato-based soups, but the ingredients I had in the crisper spelled one word: minestrone. It's a great hearty, healthy soup for chilly Melbourne, which is currently experiencing it's fourth coldest Autumn on record (I could have sworn it was the first). I also felt the need for a healthy dinner after a weekend heavy on the burgers/dim-sims/Mint Slice.

Thanks to Sanjosh, my lovely next door neighbour, who kindly let me use his microwave to defrost my home-made chicken stock. It would have been a very late dinner without your help Sanj!

2 tbs olive oil
1 onion, chopped
100gm bacon (I trim the fat from mine but it would probably be more delicious if you leave it on)
2 large carrots, chopped
1/2 fennel bulb, chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1x tin of tomatoes
1 litre stock (I used chicken)
Silverbeet (full-grown spinach) - 1 massive leaf, chopped
1x tin of beans (I used a mixed selection, haricot would be fine)
Handful of fresh parsley, chopped

Heat the olive oil in a big pan, then add the onion and bacon and fry until it starts to soften. Tip in the carrots, fennel, potato and garlic, and cook for a bit.

Add the tomatoes, stock and any seasoning you like (salt, pepper, oregano, sage, thyme) then bring to the boil, stirring. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, stirring in the silverbeet for the last 10 minutes. Toss in the parsley and beans at the end.

Serve with sourdough toast, or a bit of parmesan stirred in.
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