December 31, 2011


I am quite a good cook.  I don't say that in a conceited way, because it wasn't that long ago that I didn't know how to do much more than boil an egg, but over the last 15 or so years, I've learned to cook reasonably well, and I know what goes with what in order to make a meal that most of the time, tastes good.  I think it's an intuition thing, and I realise now that it's just inexperience that has let me down in the past, and now that I cook all the time, it's mostly good.  Except, that is, for Indian food.

And that's a bit odd because my mother and her mum, my nonni are great cooks.  I know most people say that about their mothers but I have my husband to vouch for my mother's obsession with making things just right and knowing how to turn a simple main ingredient into something so delectable.  She hasn't ever followed a recipe (except for the odd cake, and even then she thinks she knows better) and if I ask her how to make something I know she does well, her response is usually 'well, you just throw everything into the pot'.  She's not trying to be difficult, it's just how she cooks.  And she cooks the most sublime Indian food that I find myself daydreaming about.  Thing is, while I've learned most of what I know about western food from watching cookery shows and reading books, I never spent any time in the kitchen watching my mum - she always insisted school work was more important, and I suppose it was pretty important and has stood me in very good stead but it's not that useful when there's an aubergine and an onion in the fridge and I can't remember how to make them taste the way she does by just 'throwing it all into a pot'.

When mum came to stay just after Max was born last year, she cooked almost every day.  Wait no, she cooked almost every meal, and I was determined, even though I was exhausted from the new baby fug, to learn how to cook Indian food, at least a couple of dishes, so that I could expand our repertoire and satisfy our cravings for home-cooked Indian food.  I watched her cook and wrote down exactly what she was doing in order to elaborate on her rather loose instructions.  I think she thought I was a bit crazy, who needs to write this stuff down?  Everybody knows what to do!  I wish I'd done it sooner as we've been able to enjoy some fantastic food since she was here, almost as good as she'd produce herself.

This dish is one I decided to try without having really observed the master in action, just rang her one day and accepted her instructions were never going to be that helpful, but broadly worked out what to do in order to come up with a version that I think is arguably better than hers.  I mean I wouldn't say that to her outright.  Well, ok, I probably would.  But only because I'd be so proud to feed it to her.  It's bhajia, or pakoras, or bhajis as they are known in balti houses... except in balti houses they are over-battered, soggy oniony balls of grease, so to give them the same name would be wrong.

Anyway, I'm sharing the recipe as it goes in my head.  Unlike it's restaurant counterpart, it's wholesome, full of vegetables, totally kid friendly (in our house, anyway) and snacktastically moreish.  It's also crispy, a feature I often look for in food.  I have no qualms with serving it with ketchup, although the kids prefer it with plain yoghurt (also good).  Try it.  It seems a hassle to do all that deep frying, but I love that my children eat it happily, and that Will always says 'this is great' when I cook it.  But as I said, I'm quite a good cook so that happens all the time.  Hah!

Bhajia (these quantities make a lot, and as it's best fresh, it may be best to halve these quantities unless you are feeding lots of very hungry people.)

3-4 medium potatoes, thinly sliced
1/2-1 whole cauliflower, depending on how big and how gassy this makes you, cut into small florets
250g (or a big bag) of spinach, shredded
a tablespoon or so of minced ginger (I add a little more as I love it)
about 3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
a green chilli, minced (as much as you want - I often use none because the kids don't like it)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 heaped tsp ground cumin
a couple or three good handfuls of chickpea (gram) flour
a couple or three tablespoons of natural yoghurt
lemon juice - from maybe 1-2 lemons
1 tsp of baking powder
sunflower oil

Put everything into a big bowl (I don't have one big enough so I use the biggest saucepan I have), and mix together with your hands.  Add more chickpea flour if needed to bind everything together, but I think less is more as you want to eat crunchy vegetables, not soggy batter.  You may need a splash or two of water as the yoghurt and lemon juice might not be enough to moisten the chickpea flour into a batter.  You don't want the batter too loose, it needs to be thick enough to keep the vegetables together but then you also don't need much of it.

Heat a large pan of sunflower oil.  Drop spoonfuls of the batter into the oil (I do this, like my mum, with my hands so you can make sure you get a good mix of all the vegetables in each piece but it's hazardous) and fry until golden brown.  Serve hot, with ketchup, or natural yoghurt, or a minty chutney.  Ring your mum and tell her how great she is.

December 30, 2011

christmas food

Christmas food.  It's arguably the thing I look forward to most of all.  Will's family has tended to do the roast turkey thing but it's not the same for me without stuffing, sprouts, bread sauce and cranberries.

This year though, we didn't roast a turkey.  It was just me, the boys and Kate, so we glazed a ham (essential - Jamie's jerked), cooked a beautiful piece of ocean trout (tahini dressing), breaded and roasted some pumpkin (a la Ottolenghi) and prepared a nice, fresh green bean and tomato salad.  Finished with a fresh cherry pavlova (my first).  No fancy seafood but no traditional spread either.

It was spectacular, but even after eight holiday seasons here, I miss the real tree, the freezing cold, the traditional roast, the bottles of red wine, the Queen's speech and pudding with brandy custard.  Still, it was all so delicious, the kids joined in, we had home made crackers and party hats and a couple of tantrums.  It wouldn't be the same without.

And in other news, Kate left yesterday for the next phase of her enviable world tour.  After almost four weeks of experiencing life as it is for us, things are almost back to normal.  The space that was Max's room is now an empty spare room, but apart from that, we're picking up where we left off.  Having Kate here was pretty awesome, like having a live-in best friend/nanny/home-help.  Incredible how quickly the four weeks went by and in the middle there it did get tricky, juggling work, life and our guest... but on balance it was ace.  (That's a word she'd use.)  And now that I have time to reflect a little, having Kate here has now forced me to think about how we do things, and how we might be able to do things better.  But that's a story for another day.

So the holidays are almost over.  There has been no turkey and I ache for the company of my parents and proper roast potatoes.  Maybe next year, we'll have Christmas at home.

a walk around the houses

Yesterday, we went for a long walk with the boys and pups around the houses where we live.  Here's what we saw.

December 15, 2011


Much as I would have liked to have done so, I didn't make advent calendars this year.  I saved up the toilet roll inners that I thought I would need and asked my friends to do the same when it became apparent I wouldn't have enough but they are sitting where I left them a fortnight ago, untouched.  It's not that I didn't want to, it's more that of the hundred things I wanted to do this year, it wasn't top of my list to make something that Ollie would barely understand let alone show the patience for (no, you can't open another one), so I decided to let it go, and do it next year, when he and Max will be a little older and I will definitely be more organised.  Hah!

But we have done a cracker of a job on the tree, which we decorated with our visitor Kate, who is more that just a visitor, she is somewhat of a sister to me, and therefore auntie to the boys, and I do love that they call her Auntie Kate.  I love that.

Not only does the tree look splendid, but so do the 800 or so fairy lights that are adorning our back garden in preparation for this weekend's birthday celebrations, during which we will mark my sweet husband's 32nd birthday with friends.  I have everything crossed for good weather, because we are due a hot sunny birthday after the last two were so very rainy and very grey.  Is it really a year since the floods?

And apart from that, there are holidays to come.  This season is such a wonderful time.  Despite the obvious chaos, it's one time of year I feel still and peaceful, the time of year I think about everyone I know, the time of year I decorate the tree and love the way it looks and makes the house feel so warm and centred.  It's that time of year that I miss England, the snow, the frost, the rain, the dark winter days.  Crazy I know, but it's what I grew up with and it will always feel like home.  But actually this year, for the first year, I'm actually hoping for sun, for seafood and for the beach.  It could be the influence of having Kate here, knowing we need to make this, her first southern hemisphere holiday a memorable one, or it could be that this time next year, I want to be back home and there's a pressure to make the most of this summer... or maybe it's just that I'm finally turning Aussie.

(Not a chance.)
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