This is the first in a series of occasional posts devoted to brief stories about what Maggie and I cooked at home during the preceding week, including tidbits of associated events and activities.
Waistline alert: you’ll find a lot of protein and other rich ingredients featured in our weekly diet. It’s partly because I rarely bother to devote words to the simple sides of vegetables, grains or salads that we consume, unless they are features in their own right. Besides, we do eat modest portions of the dishes we cook. And the cheque is in the mail …
My week began with eight hours of solo-grandparenting. My daughter-in-law, Sara doesn’t usually work on a Monday, but she needed to spend the day at a workshop with her winery’s distributor, so we arranged for her to bring Iris to our home on her way into the city from Healesville. As Maggie works from Monday to Wednesday, that left me solely responsible for the care of my 16-months old granddaughter. (For a mad moment, I had thought of adding the 7-months old grand-dog to the mix, but I came to my senses after not-sleeping-very-well on it!)
Iris is a happy child, so my task was not too daunting. She is also a busy and highly interactive child. We spent the morning exploring our home and back garden, playing with a variety of toys and household effects, a stroller-based journey around the neighbourhood, a little bit of reading, and a short walk out in our quiet street.
Here is photo of Iris teaching her Pop how to delete software from his Macbook. (Maggie took this when she popped home from work to spend a short time with Iris.)
Iris is also a hungry and willing eater. For morning tea, she ate a toasted, de-crusted piece of sourdough, spread with avocado; half a ripe banana; and four strawberries. At lunchtime, we both had some vegetable-flavoured pasta spirals tossed with homemade bolognese sauce and some lovely fresh ricotta. Iris washed this down with a further five strawberries. Later she had a snack of cauliflower souffle, more of the banana and, for the road, some more of the ricotta. Make that a VERY willing eater.
Our afternoon went happily, beginning with a long nap for Iris after a few minutes of half-hearted protest. If I’d been smart, I would have gone horizontal too. Noted for next time, as I ‘hit the wall’ soon after Sara came by to take Iris home. Fortunately, our dinner of braised chicken topped with dumplings had been assembled on Sunday afternoon; all we had to do was put it in the oven until it was heated through and the dumplings were cooked. (We also gave Sara a dish of this to take home, heat up and share with Julian.)
Tuesday brought a mild, late-autumn day, so we were able to enjoy a meal of char-grilled scotch fillet and some simple salads. The beef was incredibly flavoursome – thank you Ashburton Meats.
I had another big task on my agenda for Wednesday – taking my father into the centre of Melbourne for he and I to lodge the formal paperwork required for us to be empowered to implement the will of my late mother. This loomed as a mental and logistical challenge, including the fact that, these days, Dad needs to be taken to appointments in a wheelchair. Happily, it all went smoothly but I was glad that the evening meal would comprise what was leftover from Monday. (As Julian commented, it was very tasty but ‘gluttonous’, so we had modest portions and made it stretch.)
On Thursday morning, I spent two hours at Strathdon Aged Care with the fortnightly cooking group that I support. I was on my feet and busy the whole time, so I returned home badly in need of nourishment and a grandpa nap. No such luck – Dad needed to be collected from a luncheon at Melbourne University (a cousin drove him there). Maggie did the driving, and I relaxed, enough to look forward to preparing a dinner of veal meatballs, using a recipe of ours that was inspired by one of our travel experiences. It was delicious and there was enough leftover to provide a working-day lunch for Maggie and, combined with some pasta, a weekend lunch for me.
We had invited our friends and neighbours, Janet and Gary, to have dinner with us on Friday evening; we share a meal with them several times a year, either at one of our homes or at a nearby vegetarian Indian restaurant. As well as the pleasures of the food and company, there was some business to be done: introducing their small dog to our home – she will be spending a fortnight here when they go overseas – and making arrangements for us to live in their home while our WC is refurbished from top to, ahem, bottom.
By our ambitious standards, the menu was straightforward (oh dear, my brain was still recovering from the day with Iris): an entree of stuffed mushrooms, followed by our favourite duck dish and some baby (Dutch) carrots and finishing with a platter of cheese and fruit. Maggie had bought the two cheeses at Stocked – a piece of the amazing La Luna and, on recommendation, a flavoursome hard cheese from Tasmania – and we accompanied them with grapes, strawberries and quince paste. Yum!
Saturday, the second-last day of autumn, brought a fresh north-westerly wind that was scheduled to give way to a wintry blast by mid-Sunday. Happily, the wind eased later in the day and we were able to use the Weber to cook a small piece of pork belly and a parcel of carrot and beetroot. (I am embarrassed to admit that we have yet to take photos of these two items, despite the fact that we cook them at least once a month.)
The pork is marinated knee-deep in a slurry of star anise, Chinese five-spice, garlic, dark brown sugar, grated ginger and white pepper, all mashed by mortar and pestle and then combined with soy sauce and rice wine. The parcel is made with foil lined with baking paper. We add chunks of peeled carrot and beetroot, a splash of white wine, a glug of olive oil, seasoning and sprigs of thyme; then we seal the parcel and bake it for about 40 minutes. Steamed bok choy completed this feed of sweet and tender pork.
In European traditions, apple and pork are often partnered in a meal; much of our cooking is influenced by such traditions. So, we made some tarte tatin to have for dessert on Saturday evening. The recipe that we have now adopted for this classic of French cooking is traditional with respect to the apple filling, but we have replaced a semi-sweet shortcrust pastry with a thin layer of batter that comes out of the oven as a delicate layer of biscuit. Here is how it looked on the plate:
The forecasters were close to the mark for Sunday’s weather. Showers arrived during the afternoon, soon followed by a wind-shift that brought cold air from the Southern Ocean. As I draft this post, it is noon on Monday, the ‘apparent’ (wind-chilled) outside temperature is about seven degrees Celsius and there are 20mm in the gauge from overnight rain. Last night’s meal of roast beef was very timely and there was enough for a repeat dose of anti-freeze tonight. The season for roasting and braising has arrived!