Tuesday, February 22

We Rule the Old Skool

And so the country adventures continue! Last week I attended my first CWA meeting and I tell you, it won’t be my last. We spoke of slices and jams, of knitting and sewing, of gardening and grandchildren, of sandwiches and savoury scones. We giggled about drug busts, saggy breasts and silly husbands and promised to “put away all pretence and meet each other face to face without self-pity or prejudice, to never be hasty in judgement and to always be generous”. Take note crafty-hipster-indie-peoples (CHIPS), these ladies have been doing it forever!

Problem is, one is going to balloon. It’s near impossible to turn down Jean’s Lemon Slice or June’s Date Scones or Jane’s Strawberry Sponge. Having never made a slice in my life, I was somewhat alarmed when asked which variety I’d be bringing to the next meeting. But now I have the answer - Slicus Passiflora Edulis.

Passiflora edulis is a vine species of passion flower that is native to Paraguay, Brazil and northeastern Argentina. Common names include Passion Fruit (UK and US) and Passionfruit (Australia and New Zealand). The passionfruit has had a religious association as reflected by the name "passion" given to it by Catholic missionaries who thought that certain parts of the fruit bore some religious connections. For example, the three stigmas reflect the three nails in Jesus's hands and feet and the ten petals and sepals resemble the Apostles (excluding Judas and Peter). Indeed.

To make I preheated the oven to 180 and greased and lined a slab pan. Then I combined one cup of self-raising flour, one cup of dessicated coconut, half a cup of caster sugar and 100g of melted butter until they formed a dough (of sorts). I pressed this mixture into the pan with the back of a big metal spoon and popped it in the oven for about 12 minutes, until just golden. Meanwhile, I whisked together a can of condensed milk (leaving ample behind to savour and lick like a woman possessed), half a cup of lemon juice and the pulp of three passionfruit. Once the base had cooled down a little I spread the sweet, seedy mixture on top and returned to the oven (temperature now at 150), for about 15 minutes. The topping sets almost like a cheesecake and can be cut into squares when cool. Mr R thought it had a very rural flavour which must have been a good thing because he polished off four pieces in one sitting. One can only hope the ladies like it!
And here it is...

Monday, February 14

Still No Luck on the Job Front. If Only I Had a Brother-in-Law in Publishing.

So as I was saying, The Girls came to visit a couple of weekends ago and boy were they in for a treat! Following the obligatory G&T’s we tucked into some fresh asparagus that I’d roasted for a very short time with only a smidge of olive oil, pepper and sea-salt for company. I served it topped with toasted flaked almonds, basil straight from the garden and a lemony wee aioli in which to dip the spears. Britney Spears.
Asparagus on an Odd Angle
After quite some time and quite some champagne, I managed to produce a main course. Which consisted of cardamom flatbread, a lentil, parsley & tomato salad, panfried haloumi with preserved lemon and Harissa Eggplant with Coriander Yoghurt Sauce. I’m rather proud to report that I sort of made that up (mostly due to the fact that I couldn’t find any smoked paprika in this godforsakenhellhole).

An Immodest Aubergine

The eggplant, aubergine, melongene, brinjal, or guinea squash (Solanum melongena) is a plant of the family Solanaceae (also known as the nightshades) and genus Solanum. The fruit is botanically classified as a berry, and contains numerous small, soft seeds, which are edible, but are bitter because they contain nicotinoid alkaloids, unsurprising as it is a close relative of tobacco. (I never knew! But it does go some way to explaining why eggplant is my very favourite vegetable/berry).

To prepare the dish I cut two large eggplants in half lengthways then cut each half into thick wedges. Having scored each wedge in a criss-cross fashion I rubbed them all over with a marinade made from about two generous tablespoons of harissa paste, 60 mls of olive oil and two cloves of garlic. Easy as that, and into the fridge they went for the night allowing the flavours to develop and the lazy cook to snooze. (Make sure you leave them in a crockery or ceramic dish rather than a metallic one otherwise they’ll taste all tinny). At cooking time the theory was to dry fry them over a medium-hot griddle for about 15 minutes until smokey and melty, charred and caramelly. In practice they took about three times as long and I ended up finishing them off in the oven because there is nothing worse than an uncooked aubergine. I then piled a sticky sauce of greek yoghurt, lemon juice, mint and coriander on top and finished it off with a smattering of pomegranate seeds for colour, texture and the sheer joy of popping the balls between one’s teeth.
The Finished Feast
We finished off the evening with Karen Martini’s wickedly rich Chocolate Cherry Brownie Mousse Cake and a repeat screening of the best film ever made. Here’s a little something from the soundtrack…

Wednesday, February 2

A Lazy Filler

It is 39 degrees and we have just been chased out of Best and Less by a plague of baby locusts. Then to my astonishment I heard my own voice bellowing ‘G’day!’ to a man resplendent in khaki who was bailing straw on the back of a truck. Add to this my horror, sheer horror when last weekend’s hipster city guests (HCG’s) turned up asking for soy milk (“yes one moment whilst I go out and milk the soy cow”) and I think one can safely say I’ve gone all country! It’s hardly surprising really given my chameleon-like ability to adapt to new landscapes – it only took me three weeks to acquire a Scottish accent back in ’92 when My Life Changed Forever.

More about last weekend later as the photographic documentation comes to hand, but in the meantime Dear Reader, might I recommend this pesto recipe?  It is one of the few I have come across which has I think, a lovely balance of flavours and quite a substantial consistency . Previously I’ve ended up with too much oil or not enough cheese or god forbid, I’ve gone a pine nut too far.

It’s taken from The Silver Spoon for Children which recommends whipping up your own linguine to serve it with, but I found opening a pack of Ikea’s reindeer pasta rather faster. It also advocates the use of a mortar and pestle which whilst undoubtedly giving a more rustic result, wasn’t within my wilting capabilities. So into a food processor I popped the following – 40g grated parmesan cheese, a clove of garlic, a pinch of salt, about 40g pine nuts, about 30 basil leaves (basil is originally native to Iran, India and other tropical regions of Asia, having been cultivated there for more than 5,000 years) and four tablespoons of olive oil. I also snuck in some black pepper. Master R who proclaims only to tolerate factory pesto, said it was “okay”.  Oh it's so worth it, just to see their little faces light up!