Well read-head: Julie and Poh inspire a cookbook trip
Julie and Poh know what to do with century eggs, tempered chocolate and rabbit hindquarters, but even they might struggle with these ingredients: 1 x 425g tin of crushed pineapple, 1 cup of coconut and 1 x 250g container of sour cream.
Do you know what it makes? Here’s a hint: ‘Mix together and leave for a couple of hours. Serve on lettuce leaves.’
If you answered ‘Pineapple Salad’, then perhaps your childhood, like mine, included neighbourhood pool parties at which the adults downed shandies and Coolabah cask wine while nibbling on devils-on-horseback (prunes wrapped in bacon).
It was a golden age of party cuisine, where the only thing to rival a cube of kraft cheese on a jatz cracker was a green cocktail onion on a toothpick.
With the nation still basking in the afterglow of Masterchef, I spent part of the weekend flicking through my own cookbook collection, which is where I found the Pineapple Salad recipe. Hidden among the Donna Hays and the Bill Grangers was a little green-covered gem I’d not seen for years. It was the St Paul’s School Mothers’ Auxiliary Favourite Recipes and Handy Hints.
To save us all a lot of time, allow me to summarise what I learned by flicking through its pages - also through bitter childhood experience:
- Any dish that begins with the word ‘Tasty’ (such as ‘Tasty Silverbeet Strudel’) is guaranteed to be the exact opposite.
- In any meal bearing the word ‘Surprise’ (a la ‘Mexican Surprise’), the only surprise will be recognising any of the ingredients, either visually or by taste.
- The use of the words ‘curried’, ‘devilled’ or ‘savoury’ in a recipe title is guaranteed to involve leftover sausages, tinned fish or sour cream and on particularly unfortunate occasions, all three.
- If the name of a meal ends with the words ‘In a Hurry’ (for example ‘Turkey Curry in a Hurry’) bear in mind the maxim: Act in Haste, Repent at Leisure.
- The use of the word ‘impossible’ in recipes (such as ‘Impossible Quiche’ and ‘Impossible Pie’) is inconclusive. It can mean either ‘impossible to stuff up’ or ‘impossible to digest’.
- If you cook sweets that include the word ‘health’ in the title (such as ‘Health Cake’ or ‘Health Muffins’), you will not have a happy relationship with your children.
In the St Paul’s compendium, each recipe includes the name of the mother who provided it, as well as the names of her children and the sporting house to which they belonged. I wonder if the project sparked a little friendly competition? One imagines the doyens of the mothers’ auxiliary, sweating over their stovetops, plotting to devise a dish that would show all the other ladies sadly lacking.
Yet a certain Mrs I. Bochenski stoically resisted any such vanity. Her recipe, ‘Quick Pasta and Broccoli’, reads, in totality: ‘When cooking any pasta, add the flowerets of fresh broccoli at the same time. Drain, add a little butter, top with grated cheddar cheese. Serve with anything.’ Perhaps with something a touch more flavoursome – like a square of carpet.
In all seriousness, as much as I’m looking forward to reading Julie and Poh’s cookbooks, it’s hard to imagine anything more comforting or homey than Mothers’ Auxiliary recipes. The first thing I did when I found the book was flick to the Biscuits, Slices and Scones section, closely followed by the Sweets pages. I was richly rewarded with memories of all sorts of treats I loved as a kid and the way they’d be laid out at school fetes on styrofoam trays covered with cling wrap: White Christmas, Apricot Balls, Jam Drops, Cornflake Biscuits, Coconut Ice, Chocolate Fudge, Toffee, Rum Balls. It doesn’t get better than that.
You’ll be relieved to know my reading did extend beyond cookbooks this fortnight. Here’s the latest batch of items that I think are worth reading, watching or listening to.
1. The Washington Post reports on the viral phenomenon that is Jill & Kevin’s incredibly joyous wedding march. At the time of writing, almost ten million people had viewed it on you tube. How can this not brighten your day? The story includes a link to the video if you’ve not already seen it.
2. Jonathan Pieslak, an American researcher, has written a book about the role of music in the military, looking at the way it’s used in recruitment, combat, interrogations and morale. He has some interesting insights into what soldiers in Iraq put on their ipods to get in the mood for patrol. The New Yorker magazine, among others, recently wrote up the research. The book itself is called Sound Targets.
3. Two days before Dawn Porter’s seventh birthday, her thirty six year old mum died of breast cancer. In a beautiful article for The Times, Dawn talks about her memories of her mother and how she dealt with the loss.
4. Cake wrecks is a blog covering ‘when professional cakes go horribly, hilariously wrong’. Some of cakes are iced with ludicrous spelling mistakes, others simply look bad and some just make you laugh, like this recent beauty.
5. Nicola Keegan recently wrote her first novel after years of composing lousy poetry. On The Daily Beast she tells how it happened.
6. If Nicola’s experience makes you think you too can to be a writer, take a look at Jonathan Crossfield’s blog. I think it’s a good reality check about what’s involved:
7. The US Vice President Joseph Biden is confident the Obama administration will still close Guantanamo Bay by January, as it has previously promised. I’ve followed that issue for more than eight years, including writing a book about it, and I’ll be sceptical until I see it. Newsweek reveals various deadlines are already slipping.
8. While we’re on Obama, the conspiracy theorists are on his case.
9. Of the various articles on the moon landing anniversary, this one by photographer Mike Bowers was my favourite. He asks why photography seems to have been a bit of an afterthought on certain space missions.
10. Why are so many people obsessed with Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston? And do you like how I wrote that as if I’m not? (But for the record: Team Jolie). This article is a touch trashy, but it’s a cut above the usual pulp on Brangelina, including the insight that ‘you can’t help but notice that, next to Jen, Brad looked like the protector, whereas next to Angelina, he looks like her escort – the guy she has chosen to be with until further notice.
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