yarra valley after the fires

>I had reason to travel to Healesville and Yarra Glen this week, ten days after the worst bushfires in Australian history hit.

Read more here.

We all want to help, so what should we do? Go there. Have a coffee. Go for lunch. Taste some wine. Buy something. Tell your friends.

We love our Victorian wines and our country towns. Now is the time to support them.

If we all promise to make at least one trip to a bushfire-affected town sometime between now and Anzac Day, spend some time and spend some money, maybe some of the local businesses will survive and life will be better for all of us.

Make your plan. It’s not a stay-or-go plan. It’s a Go Plan.

vegetable meme

Another Outspoken Female from “Confessions of a Food Nazi” tagged me for this meme.

1. Is there a vegetable you hated as a child, but came to love as you got older?

Tomatoes, believe it or not. I couldn’t manage to eat even one slice of the very first pizza I ever ordered because I could not stomach the tomato base on it. I still can’t eat raw tomato (unless marinated in oil and garlic like a bruschetta) but I simply could not live without cooked ones in all their forms.

2. Most underrated vegetable?

Cabbage. My childhood was spent eating overcooked cabbage boiled for hours in bacon or ham water (the traditional Irish way of cooking it) and it was years before I discovered it as the versatile, delicious vegetable it is – cooked or raw.

3. Name one favourite summer vegetable dish.

Tuna Nicoise. Done the cheater’s way with tinned tuna (don’t ask me why, I just prefer it that way). With lots of black olives and new potatoes and green beans and proper cos lettuce (none of your new-fangled rocket or mesclin).

4. And one for winter?

My vegetable curry.

5. What vegetables are in your fridge and freezer right now?

None in fridge. We have been away for the weekend. Baby sweetcorn and garden peas in the freezer. Pathetic.

6. Is there a vegetable you really like but don’t make much yourself?

Pumpkin. It seems to be Australia’s national vegetable but we just don’t eat much of it in Ireland/England. I learned to make a good pumpkin soup when I was here years ago on a serious budget, but haven’t touched one since in my own kitchen. Maybe this winter will be a new beginning.

gourmet city

We have a date tonight with Lee and her boyfriend. Easy – two serious food-lovers in a city full to bursting with amazing places to eat.

So why did it take us over two days to finalise the venue?

Melbourne is a foodies’ paradise. Both Lee and I started obsessively looking for places in the central business district we’d like to visit. We traded possible lists, avoiding seafood (they ate last night) or Italian (my WeightWatchers meeting is tomorrow). We couldn’t come to a landing.

After the first day, we both started making phone calls to get tables at some places we fancied. Lee called Melbourne Supper Club: full. Then she tried Movida: also full. What’s going on in Melbourne on a Tuesday evening?

By mid-afternoon today we were four hours from meeting up, and miles from agreeing where. We were browsing Miettas and the Age Epicure sites for inspiration. It was a bit like being brought to the best shoe shop in the world with no notice, and told to pick one pair of shoes: impossible without serious soul-searching.

In the end I called it. I booked a table for four at Arintji, Jacques Reymond’s place at Federation Square. Lee phoned expressing relief that somebody had decided on something.

Kid in a candy store…

fill up on bread

My mother was raised in a fairly poor family in a small town in County Dublin, but there was always enough to eat. Vegetables grew in the back garden, there was lots of floury potatoes, fish on Fridays and maybe some Hafner’s sausages as a treat on Saturdays.

In our family food and love are interchangeable. As a result most of what we eat, and who serves it, is laden with symbolism.

The rituals of Christmas included the formal post-mortem of the turkey/ham/Christmas cake/Christmas pudding of other family members: my mother and our Auntie Molly being the two main culprits:

“Maggie, your ham is much nicer than mine. Mine is very salty.”
“No, Molly, mine is very dry. Yours is better. And your cake is beautiful.”
“Yes but the pudding didn’t come out very well.”
“Ah, Molly, your pudding is gorgeous. Give us another bit.”

Christmas dinners were rushed to make sure we had enough time to sit down again at six o’clock for tea. It wasn’t much different the rest of the year, and even when the food being served was more modest than Christmas dinner, there was always the exhortion to “fill up on bread”. For the families of post-war children, it was always important to “eat loads”.

My mother has served the same dishes for dinner since she got married. Now, 52 years later, I can tell you which she will have for dinner this week:

left-over roast meat from Sunday with a salad

Egg and chips (she used to serve us mince, beans and chips but we didn’t notice for years that she didn’t eat the meat herself)

Beef stew, except for Lent and summertime when fried fish, mashed potatoes and white sauce is served

Pork chops, gravy, boiled potatoes and turnip

Fish and chips and peas

A mixed grill

Traditional roast dinner – chicken, beef, pork or lamb
Corned beef or boiled bacon, cabbage and boiled potatoes

Over the years, and miles from home now, food still conjures up many emotions and associations.

My mother lists reading restaurant menus as one of her more serious hobbies, and it is always a big highlight to have as many family members around the table for dinner – difficult when we are spread across two continents.

This blog is an attempt to pull together all the recipes from my lifetime, food served to me with love by family, friends and strangers.

Many have a story attached and some speak for themselves.