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Our Small Man has turned twenty-one.

It’s a big deal.

As those of you who have been following along for the past decade will appreciate, it hasn’t been an easy road for him. He’s had stage 4 cancer, which in turn led to learning and social difficulties, anaphylaxis-inducing allergies, and a variety of other health issues. At one point, we weren’t sure he’d make it to twenty-one months, let alone twenty-one years. I’ve written a bit about this in the past, so I won’t rehash it all here, but you’re welcome to read these posts if you’re interested: Small Man; Giving Thanks.

When we asked our son how he would like to celebrate, he replied very much in character by asking for a “modest” party. So we invited only those who knew him well and loved him nearly as much as we do. We tidied up the back deck and spent a day cooking in the kitchen.

We made pork and fennel sausage rolls from scratch, starting with kilos of homemade rough puff pastry (following this great YouTube tutorial from River Cottage)…

Despite my best efforts, the birthday cake was seriously ugly.

I started with two of our chocolate slab cakes and then attempted to join them together with icing

Thankfully, Small Man didn’t care how it looked…

…and our friends were all happy with how it tasted – most came back for seconds…

As always, the chicken liver parfait was very popular. I used free range livers from Harris Farm Markets in Leichhardt and a heavy-handed pour of XO brandy…

We deep-fried a mountain of Malaysian prawn crackers.

Monkey Girl and I discovered that they were sublime spread with the parfait…

Maude’s gojuchang and caramel popcorn was inspired by Lorraine’s Peking Duck popcorn recipe. It was a huge hit…

There were platters of antipasti, loaves of freshly baked sourdough, giant slabs of pizza, and many, many bottles of French champagne. We all had a wonderful time…

Small Man, we love you and we couldn’t be prouder of the young adult you’ve grown up to be. Thank you for being such an important part of our lives, and for allowing us to be part of yours! ♥

Remember my earlier eel adventures? Don’t panic, I’m not putting the twitching video back up.

When my friend and Italian chef Carla Tomasi heard I was frying fresh eel, she sent me her recipe for anguilla in carpione – a pickled eel dish traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve. It’s delicious and very easy to make, once you get past the squeamishness of handling pulsing slabs of flesh.

Cut the eel fillets into pieces, then dust them in seasoned flour. Keep them as cold as possible and work quickly to avoid the twitching! Fry the pieces gently in a combination of butter and oil until cooked through…

In the meantime, bring to boil ¾ cup oil and ¼ cup red wine vinegar, with a bashed clove of garlic, a pinch of fennel seeds, half a sliced onion, two bay leaves and a piece of chilli (dried or fresh). Drain the eel pieces and place them in a bowl, then pour the mixture over…

It will keep well in the fridge for at least a week – make sure the eel is submerged in the liquid, topping up with more oil/vinegar if needed…

The skin becomes quite rubbery when cold, so I trim it off before eating (it’s fine when first cooked). The tender pickled eel is tangy and delicious, and particularly good on buttered sourdough toast…

Thank you, lovely Carla, for sharing such an interesting dish with me! ♥

A random assortment of bits and pieces from the past few weeks!

As I was putting this post together, I kept laughing at how absurdly funny life can be. After all, when was the last time you saw a raspberrying fish? This one was a super fresh orange perch at the Viet Hoa Fishmarket (Moo, if you’re reading this, can you please explain exactly what the “tongue” is? Thanks) …

. . . . .

My take on morning yoga stretches. I’m sure you’ve all heard of “Salute to the Sun”?

Well, I’ve named this pose “Moon the Sea”. Sometimes I wait until the rowers are going past…

. . . . .

I’ve added a couple of ammonite fossils to my collection.

The suture pattern in this one is so intricate that it messes with my mind a bit. How on earth does nature create patterns like this in stone? Both fossils below are cleoniceras ammonites from Madagascar and they’re 113 million years old…

The second fossil has been polished to display its nacre (the lining of the shell, similar to the inside of an abalone or pearl shell). It’s known as a fire ammonite, because under the right lighting, it glows an iridescent red…

. . . . .

After searching all the coffee shops in our area, I finally ordered myself a tiny Keep Cup directly from the company. It’s the cutest wee thing and the perfect size for my decaf piccolos. As an added advantage, it fits into my bag or pocket when I’m out walking…

Best of all, they’re designed and made in Australia…

. . . . .

Big Boy is now working three days a week in a client’s office and was trying to sort out lunch options – he’d eaten about as many bacon and egg rolls as he could stomach. I made him a quick couscous salad from ingredients we had in the fridge…

…then wrapped it up in a furoshiki (of course). My darling boy was ever so grateful, particularly for the opportunity to go to work looking like (his words) “a Japanese schoolgirl”…

. . . . .

I sent this photo to Cynthia, and told her that that the wall-flours sit demurely in my kitchen, but they’ll dance if they’re asked. She loves both a good pun and a bad Regency romance…

My baby sister replied with…

“What do you call a theoretical chemist?”

“A hypothecary!”

It must be genetic, because these days, we find each other hilarious, even though nobody else seems to. Our families are mostly appalled.

. . . . .

Finally, I’ve decided that this is the only ice cream I’m ever eating from now on.

Ok, that’s unlikely to stick, but it’s definitely the ice cream I want to be eating from now on. Cow and Moon in Enmore won the Gelato World Tour title in Italy in 2014 on the strength of it. It’s a Mandorla Affogato gelato, made with caramelised Italian almonds, single origin coffee and Madagascan vanilla, and it’s ridiculously good…

. . . . .

Have a fabulous weekend, folks! ♥

PS. Blogging is about to slow down a bit, as life is about to get very busy, in a most excellent way. It’s been wonderful catching up with you all this month! x

Yesterday, I walked from one end of Sydney to the other.

I started with lunch at Spice Alley with Big Boy and then walked all the way down George Street to buy a hat at The Rocks. I think it’s pretty cute…

As I walked down the main street of our busy city, I was struck by the number of homeless men and women asking for money. Most were sitting, staring at the ground – a couple were bent over on their knees, holding a cup above their heads. I felt sad and guilty, because like everyone else passing by, I’ll often pretend not to see them. It’s too confronting and discomforting.

We’ve all heard the warnings…

“They’re just using the money to buy drugs or alcohol”

“You’re perpetuating the problem if you give them money”

“It’s a racket, don’t fall for it…”

But yesterday, the little voice in my head was saying…

“You’re walking down to buy a hat you don’t really need, and stopping for a $4 coffee on the way..”

So I pulled all the loose change out of my purse and stuffed it into my coat pocket. As I passed each person, I dropped a few coins into his or her bowl. Without fail, he or she looked up, smiled and said “thank you”. I smiled back, and said “good luck to you”. Serendipitously, I had exactly the right number of coins to take me all the way down to Circular Quay.

I don’t have enough money to fix anyone else’s life, nor the emotional strength to shoulder their burdens. I think that’s where the guilt comes from – we see pain and suffering which we can’t fix, and then we feel bad because our lives are comfortable and easy by comparison. So we turn a blind eye, or explain it away, or worst of all, discredit the person suffering to try and make our more fortunate situations seem less unfair. All because we feel unable to make a meaningful difference.

Yesterday, I realised there was something I could do.

If you’re sleeping rough in a major city, my loose change will make very little difference to your financial situation. But what it will do is give me an opportunity to look you in the eye, and to wish you well. It will give me a reason to exchange a smile and a few words, and to interact with you as a fellow human being rather than walking past you, trying to pretend you don’t exist.

I rode the train home yesterday, in my new hat, remembering the faces of those I’d met that afternoon. I hope today is an easier day for all of them.

My darling husband is very annoyed at me for calling his creation “Baked Bean Pasta”.

He thinks it’s misleading, but I disagree – I think it’s a dish that has to start with baked beans, because regular tinned ones wouldn’t be soft enough. Anyway, the point is, it’s a genius recipe. It doesn’t taste like baked beans and it’s a luscious and frugal alternative to a meat sauce.

Many of Pete’s creations are one-offs that disappear into the ether – this one was too good to lose, so I typed it on to my phone as we ate. Here’s the annotated version of what I wrote:

1. Fry two grated carrots and one chopped onion in oil (Pete used lard). Put a pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta.

2. Add a few slices of finely chopped pancetta (we had that in the fridge, but bacon would work as well) and fry everything well for about ten minutes. Season to taste.

3. Rinse the contents of a 420g can of baked beans well to remove all the sauce, then add it to the pan with a tin of Italian tomatoes. Add a splash of white wine and half a tin of water.

4. Cook for a further 10 – 15 minutes, mashing the beans into a paste as you go. Add a little garlic oil and chilli oil (we have these on the bench, but you could add a little garlic with the pancetta and a pinch of chilli flakes instead).

5. Just before adding the pasta to the boiling water, add green vegetables to the sauce – we used topped and tailed beans and sliced zucchinis. Add a little water to the sauce to loosen if necessary. Continue to simmer gently.

6. Once the pasta is cooked and drained, combine everything together and serve with a drizzle of garlic oil and a little grated pecorino cheese. Enjoy!

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