Max has recently taken to calling himself “The Fixer” – “I am The Fixer and I fix things” has become a catchphrase. From where I’m standing I think “The Destructor” or “The Breaker” might have been a better fit but Fixer it is. From a young age he was always quite fascinated in how things work, studying and manipulating all manner of household objects, he was a cheap date in that regard.
He is now the very proud owner of his first toolkit, I’m not talking about the plastic ones that fall to pieces, I’m talking bona fide weapons of mass destruction. I’ll take the hammer, some wood and nails out with us and he’ll do some fixing. I have the thankless task of holding the wood in place, ten fingers is just greedy surely?
I on the other hand was no fixer, don’t get me wrong I can fix a gin and tonic with my eyes closed but hardware stores weren’t really my domain. What if fixing turns out to be his ‘thing’? I want to be a Fixer too and fix things together. With the help of my neighbour, a man who was at his happiest in his shed smacking the shit out of things with his hammer, I learnt to get handy. My crowning glory was the customised Billy Cart that I can assure you was a one off around these parts and certainly got some looks.
I’ve actually got quite fond of making things and now dream of a shed to call my own complete with a beer fridge and a dart board. It’s nice to make something and see your child use and enjoy it. I recently dabbled with making some concrete stools and was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. I suspect they’re not to everyone’s taste but I think they make for splendid his’n’hers bedside tables.
I’m actually looking at getting a studio and have organised a stall at one of the many hip Melbourne markets to see if I can sell a few at $60 a pop. I was racking my brains to come up with a name for them recently and was quite sold on Solid Stools until I thought about its other meaning and decided it was unsuitable.
I was hoping you might be able help me with a catchy little name that doesn’t involve the word stool. In return I’ll make a stool just for you. There are two up for grabs so the two names I like best can have one each. The annoying thing is that they weigh a ton, so unfortunately you’d need to be based in Melbourne or happy to drop in at some point in the next few months. If you do suggest a name in the comments and would like to enter the giveaway please just make a note in brackets that you’re based or can get to Melbourne. Entries close at 12:00 20th March 2014.
March 13, 2014 | 32 Comments
The difference between good food and great food is often in the details. I’ve always loved good food and taught myself to cook through books, magazines and taking notes (literally) during cooking shows. I cook every single night, from scratch and thoroughly enjoy it.
Cooking is perhaps the one extravagance in my life (that and this blog actually), I don’t really spend much money on other things but I can usually justify splurging on some nice cheese, a new cook book or dinner at a fancy pants new eatery. When I cook I try to follow a few simple rules to take a bog standard home cooked dinner and make it a bit more special. Here are 10 Ways to Make Food Taste Better
Season– I season everything I cook and even things I don’t cook like salads. Some people will find this obvious and others will find it excessive, salt brings out the best flavours. Add as much salt as you can without it tasting too salty. The difference in taste is huge and the single biggest difference between good and great food.
Balance – I don’t want to eat meals that are dominated by one thing, I want to have a bit on the side. Most meals I make will have a fish, meat or vegetable ‘star’, some carb (couscous, rice, bulgur wheat, etc) and some salad or vegetables.
Use Fresh Herbs – They aren’t particularly cheap but they’re easy to grow and a bunch of basil, coriander, mint or parsley will completely transform your salad, soup, curry, pasta or whatever else might be on the menu, there isn’t too much that wouldn’t benefit from a hit of herb. You can also chop them up and freeze them in an ice cube tray.
Indulge Yourself – Most meals will have at least one star attraction; some fresh fish, some delicate mushrooms or some crumbly cheese. Splash out on that one special ingredient and it’ll lift the whole dish.
Dress It Up – Everything benefits from a little dressing. Even if my salad is a handful of spinach leaves, squeezing some lemon juice and glugging olive oil over it will make it a lot more palatable. Dressings don’t have to be complicated; olive oil, citrus juice, melted butter, soy sauce, sesame oil and pan juices will all add moisture and flavour.
Get the Heat Right – Know what heat works for ingredients/recipes. If I’m cooking meat for example I’ll generally sear it in a really hot pan to keep the juices in and then I can adjust it to cook it properly. Fish is more delicate so I’d generally cook it over a lower heat unless I’m trying to crisp the skin or sear the outside of a piece of tuna. If a pasta sauce lacks flavour I’ll cook it slower for longer.
Room Temperature – If you’re going to cook a whole chicken you don’t want to take it straight from the fridge because it will take longer to cook, take it out the fridge and get it prepped with seasoning, marinade or stuffing.
Don’t Overcook – There is a point when food is cooked to perfection (lamb pink, fish just flaking, vegetables with a little bite, pasta al dente), the more you cook it after that the more you are ruining the flavour and the texture of the dish.
Know Your Flavours – Build up a database of what works with what – pork and apple, lemon and parsley, goats cheese and honey, basil and tomato, soy sauce and honey, chilli and coriander, etc.
Make it Pretty – I don’t mean fannying around stacking things and smearing stuff, think about the colours. Think about a plain piece of white fish and then add some green coriander, some chopped red chilli, some yellow ginger and suddenly not only have you improved the flavour but suddenly the dish also looks more appetising.
This list certainly isn’t exhaustive but they all work and the more of them I apply when cooking the better the food tastes. What’s your top tip to make food taste better?
March 12, 2014 | 17 Comments
Greeting male friends has never been more complicated; there are so many options. Some favour an old fashioned handshake. Some prefer the loud slapping sound of a sort of a hybrid high five/hand clap. Some start with a handshake and then twist into a grasp and climax with a fist bump – these are my least favourite. For the truly adventurous you can even hug, albeit qualified with some severe back thumping that make sit not all that pleasant.
The fellow sat next to me at the cafe this morning simply remarked “you’re so gay” as his friend approached sporting what was clearly a controversial choice of pink t-shirt. It’s become a throwaway line that’s used without much thought, doesn’t deliver as much shock value as perhaps it should and is often dressed up as a bit of harmless banter.
It’s also a classic playground taunt and having taught in schools recently I can confirm it’s a taunt that is alive and well and very much the go to insult for youngsters that are looking to inflict maximum injury or just get a cheap laugh. Some individuals, like my friend from the cafe, even choose to take it with them into their adult lives; this is gay, that’s gay, it was gay, the gayest thing I’ve ever seen or heard.
It’s amazing how efficiently and effectively these notions of gender and sexuality are passed on to children. Whilst Max is already showing a sensitive side that will serve him in good stead, he has managed to devise a theory that Mummy likes pink (she actually hates it with a passion) and Daddy likes blue (guilty as charged although baby blue is my favourite). I’ll then take one of his favourite toy cars, he had 28 favourite toy cars at last count, and paint it pink – if he does acquire any of those notions along the way they probably won’t come from me.
It is a ‘charge’ that I’ve had put to me once or twice along the way. Sorry to break with tradition but I always saw it as quite a compliment, I wore it like a badge of honour. Even at school I was always secretly pleased if someone said it. I liked that I wasn’t instantly recognised as being a ‘bloke’ in the traditional closed book, chest beating, wolf whistling sense that is somehow regarded as the norm.
Okay so I’m familiar with a tub of moisturiser, I enjoy an episode of Sex and the City, I can do wonderful things with a frying pan and I tell my son I love him every day but I can also bend a soccer ball like Beckham, trade blows in a boxing ring, I’m more than happy to get on the beers with ‘the boys’ and it just so happens I’m attracted to women not men.
You’re so gay – I think a more accurate phrase might often be “you’re not the same as me” and sometimes that can be quite a relief.
March 11, 2014 | 7 Comments
Could someone fix it so all weekends are long weekends, they’re just better aren’t they? We just spent three nights beside the seaside at a friends beach house (friends with beach houses are amongst the best friends to have). It was one of those fantasy weekends made up of all the best bits of life; breakfasts were long and leisurely, newspapers were read properly (not just looking at the pictures), beaches were walked from start to finish, rock pools were inspected, phones were ignored, wineries were lightened of their load, friends turned up unannounced, G&T’s were made, Twister was played and films were watched from underneath a blanket; I would go as far as to say it felt relaxing, the relaxing I knew PTP (prior to parenting).
A first chance to explore our new surroundings, all explorers need a big stick.
My kind of house; had to show enormous restraint not to take full advantage, I did sniff the whisky but that’s okay
You can’t visit a winery Called Ten Minutes By Tractor and not take it for a spin
Entering a maze that at one point I wasn’t entirely certain we’d get out of
Normal rules go out of the window on holiday
Grocery shopping, country style.
Pretty sure I used to do the same thing; waves are there to be run from when you’re a child
I fell in love with this little veranda, listening to the waves and drinking G&T’s through a stained glass hue
Whale watching might get all of the plaudits but for those of you on a budget you could do worse than afternoon of tadpole spotting.
I hope you all had a lovely long weekend too.
March 10, 2014 | 10 Comments
Have you ever made gnocchi? When they’re good they’re the ultimate comfort food, all fluffy and soft like a good pillow. I made them once before, it was all going swimmingly until I dropped the little suckers in the water and they all turned to mush. If at first you don’t succeed (and if there’s nothing good on telly) try, try, try again. This time I did my research and made sure everything was just as Nonna used to make them.
It’s also a great meal to make with littlies with lots of squashing, squishing, rolling and slicing. One thing I’m realising is that Max is much more likely to eat his dinner if he’s played a part in making it or just the mess that accompanies it. Carrying on the tradition of cooking with him at least once a week we made Gnocchi together last weekend and do you know what, they turned out just fine. It’s not a quick fix, it’s a leisurely afternoon recipe with a bit of music and a glass of wine.
1kg starchy potatoes (Coliban, King Edward, Desiree)
350g plain flour
½ tsp fine salt
Pinch of nutmeg
2 small eggs, beaten
Preheat the oven to 190C and wash the potatoes. Bake the potatoes until completely cooked through. Once they’ve cooled a bit peel off the skin.
Add 250g of flour to a mixing bowl along with ½ tsp fine salt and a pinch of nutmeg. Using a masher and some hand squelching (or ideally a potato ricer) get the mash as lump free as possible, make a well in the centre and add the eggs. Mix together stopping as soon as it comes together into a soft dough (add more flour if necessary).
On a floured surface flatten the dough into a square about 1.5cm thick and divide into 1.5cm-wide strips and roll into sausage shapes.
Lay the ‘sausages’ side by side, and cut them into 1cm-wide segments. Bring a large pan of salt water to the boil, turn down to a simmer and tip in the gnocchi. Stir, then wait for them to rise to the surface and remove.
I served mine with a burnt butter sage and walnut sauce – whack a big chunk of butter (a quarter pack) in a saucepan and cook it until it begins turning brown, be very careful not to burn it. Then add the sage leaves, some crumbled walnuts and a squeeze of lemon and pour over the gnocchi once the sage leaves are crisp. Max opted for baked beans with his. Both worked in their own way.
March 8, 2014 | 4 Comments
When I started this blogging caper I distinctly remember telling Anna I’d be happy to have 100 Facebook likes because to me that meant that someone might read what I was writing, one out of a hundred surely isn’t too much to ask for? I’m delirious to have hit the big 2000, it feels big to me anyhow. I love to write and I’m completely honoured to grab a moment of your hectic lives from time to time. I jokingly promised liker number 2000 a poem in their honour and being a man of my word I’ve (mis)spent my morning trying to find things that rhyme with Alice and Richards because Alice Richards a lovely lady I’ve never actually met ticked that big box for me last night.
This may be the most creepy introduction you’ve ever experienced Alice but here’s a poem just for you called “I’ve Been Waiting For You Alice”
I’ve been waiting for you Alice,
Urgh that sounds totes creepy – I mean you no malice.
I’ve been waiting for you Alice like a lion for its prey,
Or a crafter for the latest copy of Monthly Crochet
I’ve been waiting for you Alice like a prisoner for release,
Or a parent for the “why, why, why” questioning to cease.
I’ve been waiting for you Alice like ‘pregnants’ wait for life,
Or a husband for ‘affection’ from his headache suffering wife.
I’ve been waiting for you Alice like a comet in the sky,
Or a drunken footy fan for a microwave to heat their pie.
I’ve been waiting for you Alice like day waits for night,
Or a chain smoker searching their pockets for a light.
I‘ve been waiting for you Alice like a drought waits for rain,
Or a masochist waits for someone to inflict some pain.
If I could I’d paint you 2000 pictures,
But they’d all be shit so have a poem Alice Richards.
You’ll always be Ms two zero, zero, zero,
Stick around Alice, I’m a Good Fella like Robert De Niro
March 7, 2014 | 6 Comments
The premise is simple; using 1 key ingredient/style of cooking, we put our best dish forward in a blog post and you vote for your favourite.
1. The first rule of Bite Club is that recipes must come in under $20 and feed 4.
2. The second rule of Bite Club is that all recipes must be prepped and cooked in under 1 hour.
3. The third rule of Bite Club is that all recipes must be family friendly; simple, healthy(ish) and delicious.
The ingredient that received the most votes this month was that good old family staple, mince. I’m sure we’ve all had some bland, unappetising, over cooked run ins with mince but when it’s livened up and shown some love it’s delicious. After going through all the dishes that I suspect Max would have looked at with all the enthusiasm of someone who has just trod in dog pooh, I chose something that hopefully ticks the 3 Bite Club Rules.
Lamb Kofte with Fattoush Salad, Griddled Sweet Potato and Tzatziki
Kofte isn’t something I cook every week but when I do cook it I wonder why not; it’s quick, cheap and tasty. It worked perfectly with this simple salad, charred sweet potato and a yoghurt dip and every mouthful delivered a big whack of flavour. Some elements have been simplified or toned down, midweek family meals aren’t always perfect but they can be quick, tasty, healthy and affordable.
Prep and Cooking Time – 45mins
Cost – $19
Serves – 4
Lamb Kofte (serve with tortilla wraps)
1/2 bunch finely chopped parsley
500g lamb mince
50g crushed pistachios
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
1½ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp grated nutmeg
1½ tsp black pepper
1½ tsp salt
1/2 cucumber grated
200g natural yoghurt
1/4 bunch finely chopped parsley
Juice of half a lemon
3 tomatoes chopped
1/2 cucumber chopped
1 tortilla wrap
1/4 bunch parsley leaves
Griddled Sweet Potato
1 Large Sweet Potato
Preheat an oven to 190. Tip the yoghurt into a bowl, squeeze the juice out of the grated cucumber and add to the bowl with the parsley, lemon juice and salt. Start with the Kofte – grate the onions and squeeze out the liquid using your hands. Put in a large bowl with the parsley, lamb, 1/2 the pistachios, spices, salt and mix thoroughly. Mould them evenly around some skewers and bake on an oven tray.
Slice (1cm thick) lengths of sweet potato and boil them until they start to soften, drain and cool under cold water. Check the Koftes and turn once they look cooked on top. Season the sweet potatoes and mix with just enough olive to coat. Add them to a searingly hot griddle pan and turn after 2 minutes or when they look nicely charred.
Take the Koftes out of the oven once cooked and cover in foil. Put the tortilla wrap in the oven for the salad. Add the tomato, cucumber and parsley to a salad bowl and when the wrap is crisp break it over the top, dress with olive oil a squeeze of lemon juice and season.
Plate up the kofte on top of a tortilla wrap, dollop with tzatziki (I like things spicy so I added chillis and sweet chilli sauce which worked a treat) and sprinkle over the remaining pistachios. Serve with the salad, a wedge of lemon and the sweet potato.
Overall it seemed to go down well – Anna has made enquiries as to whether Koftes might become a weekly go to. Max was sold a sausage and chips lie which worked for him, although he did suggest at one point it was a “pooh sausage”, which is a difficult charge to deny – Koftes wouldn’t win any prizes for their good looks. And I got to live out my TV cooking contestant fantasy, I honestly felt like Matt Preston might walk in at any moment and start poking my Kofte.
Over to you now, the judges. Pop over and have a peak at what Beth made and vote for the dish that you would be most likely to sit down and enjoy with your family. We’ll be back next month for Round 2 of Bite Club.
March 5, 2014 | 28 Comments
I love buying books. I love how leisurely book shopping is, the pace of life slows down as soon as you enter a book shop. I love nodding at the hipster staff behind the counter, as if to say “I’m one of you”. I love the act of investing in something that is just for me, something that will be my companion for a few weeks (I like to take my time).
I love looking at the ‘staff picks’ in the hope that one day someone might put 50 Shades of Grey as their pick. I love that my local book shop adheres to the ruling that books must be served in a brown paper bag, them’s the rules. I love bumping into someone I know whilst parading my brown paper package, it makes me feel more intellectual than I actually am.
I love the smell of a crisp book and will fan my face with the flicked pages several times for a full aroma. I love discovering the author’s style and tone in those early pages. I love placing the book neatly on my bedside table in anticipation of an early night with my new bestie
Then my love slowly and predictably starts to unravel. What if it’s shit? What if I don’t share the same taste as the member of staff, who was hiding behind his beard, who recommended the book? I’m on page one and have already had to look up a word in the dictionary, surely not a good sign? What if I’m missing an episode of QI with my favourite panel (David Mitchell, Bill Bailey and Rob Brydon)? How will I fair with 600 pages of teeny tiny font, I find some of Max’s picture books fairly epic in length?
Not all experiences pan out this way, some books grab me and insist I read them hard and fast. The lucky few are usually books that have been recommended by a credible source. I loved the juiciness of The Slap, the tension of Jesper Jones and the exotic nature of the White Tiger. I’m not great at going too far back in time, I like a bit of realism to my fiction and I struggle with slow burners.
And so I turn to you, trusted, beautiful, cultured readers; what have you read recently that was un-putdownable? Which authors bring ‘it’ every time?
March 4, 2014 | 17 Comments