Thursday, August 30, 2012

Not what I meant to write

Last Thursday I thought this was going to be an exceptionally cheerful post with highlights of the food bloggers' conference, held last Friday and Saturday at the new Cordon Bleu school in Wellington. I had been looking forward to it for ages, so when I woke up on Friday with a really nasty cold I just gulped down the cold pills and soldiered on, determined to enjoy myself. Which wasn't hard, because it was splendid from start to finish.
          However, I will have to be excused this week, because I got a phone call today to tell me that my birth mother died very peacefully this morning (see Elsewoman). Soon I'll be heading off for the funeral. In past times she would have relished hearing all about it and seeing my photos. So I will tell you my stories about it next week instead, imagining I'm telling her too. But just not right now.
           What I will tell you briefly, though, is what I was able to tell my mostly sister and one or two brother bloggers at the dinner on Friday night. The food memoir I've been writing for three years is going to be published early next year by Awa Press as their first "e-riginal" - an original e-book. Here's what I said on Friday, with a first tiny taste of the book itself. It's a little memorial for my birth mother too - she loved eating and cooking, and one of our greatest pleasures was eating out together.

"I love reading food memoirs, and I’ve loved writing this one. I’ve set out to conjure up a lifetime of experiences related to food. So it covers a lot of ground. It moves from the everyday fare of suburban Mount Eden in the 1950s to the pitfalls and pleasures of learning to cook as a 19 year old bride who had never lifted a pan in my life; on to discovering the exotic dishes of Albania in the 1970s, and at last getting to grips with French food in all its glory.
But of course, food never stands alone. From the beginning, it’s tied up with our deepest feelings and desires. So for me, writing about food has also meant writing about finding a long-lost mother, losing a son, sharing the kitchen and table with a beloved husband - and finally, over the last eighteen months, learning for the first time how to cook and eat alone.
I want be in touch with you all again in the next few months about my book...But for now, to go with this great dinner, here’s a tiny advance taste.       

Auckland, 1958. At first it was the French words for food that I loved, even when I had to invent my own explanation of what they meant. Our French textbook En Route said that at 10 o’clock every morning, French school children ate pain au chocolat. Bread with chocolate.
           I’d never had any French bread, but I knew what it looked like from the pictures. I imagined a thin dark-haired girl like Lesley Caron in Gigi, opening a paper bag and taking out a piece of baguette and a few squares of dark chocolate. (Somehow I always thought of it as dark like Cadbury’s Energy, not pale brown like Dairy Milk).
              But I wasn’t sure what happened next – did she eat these things one at a time, in alternating bites, or did she put the chocolate into the bread and eat it like a chocolate sandwich?
                It took me seventeen years to find out. On my first morning in Paris, I ate my first warm, flaky, buttery, melting pain au chocolat, and knew that this was what those schoolgirls in En Route had been eating all along."

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Treats to come

My son Jonathan has been visiting over the last two weeks, so posting here has been dislodged by quite a lot more shopping, cooking and eating than usual. It's been interesting seeing what he fancies eating. He's been working and living in China for some years now, so when he comes home it's the basics he craves - bread, butter, New Zealand fruit and veges. And his favourite dinner - we had it, with variations, several times - is fish, potatoes and salad. Here's what I cooked for his last night here.  The yellow evening light has given this photo a strange retro look. 

The salmon was done with a variation of a recipe I found in the paper a while ago. Mix a tablespoon of salt and a tablespoon of sugar in a shallow dish. Coat the salmon in it at least half an hour, and up to 1 hour, before you want to cook it. (Best to take off the skin first, but if you're rushed, don't bother.) Then wash off the salt and sugar and dry the salmon. Grill it (I used the fan grill, which works brilliantly) at 220C for around 10 minutes - but it depends on the size and thickness of the pieces. To see if it's done, stick a knife into the middle of the thickest part, hold it there for 10 seconds, then pull it out and hold it against your lip. If it's warm, the salmon is done.
         The salad was celery, red pepper and cucumber, with a  lemony dressing, and the potatoes were those lovely red-skinned yellow ones whose correct name is, I think, Laura. All that's needed is to cut them in half lengthwise, put a bit of oil in a baking tray and on top of them, sprinkle them with salt and bake them for about 3/4 of an hour at 180C. Jonathan was very happy.
        Tomorrow I'm off to the food bloggers' conference, at the new Cordon Bleu school in Wellington, so next week there'll be a lot to write about - and I'll also have some very exciting news about my own writing. (Thanks to the lovely organisers, I get to announce this at the conference, so I'm not going to spill the beans here just yet.) Thank you, too, to my sister bloggers who've put such nice comments up on earlier posts this week - I'm looking forward to meeting you all.  

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Long lunch

We began, of course, with antipasto. Ali combined some baby bocconcini with roasted red peppers, olives, cherry tomatoes, basil and a piquant dressing with capers.

Then we had the ravioli - the ricotta and spinach ones with tomato sauce, and the pumpkin ones with butter and sage sauce.

Last came my contribution, the tiramisu. I made it by combining Claudia Roden's recipe with the one used by my lovely deli man, Tony Gamboni. This gives six generous servings.


Base layer
12 sponge fingers
2 tablespoons rum
50 ml strong black coffee
(You can use more rum and more coffee - it depends on how soggy and alcoholic you want your sponge fingers to be. Tony doesn't put any rum in his, but I like the flavour.) 
Mix rum with coffee. Lay sponge fingers flat in one large shallow dish or individual dishes (2 fingers each). Sprinkle them with the liquid and set aside. 

Top layer
2 medium eggs, separated
2 tablespoons caster sugar
2 tablespoons marsala
250g carton of mascarpone
100ml cream
75-100g dark bitter chocolate (Whittaker's Dark Ghana 72% is good)

Put half a small saucepan-full of water on to boil. Beat egg yolks with the sugar and marsala in a metal bowl or another small saucepan that will fit over the water. Stand the bowl or saucepan over the gently boiling water and continue beating until the mixture becomes pale and thick. 

Set this aside and beat the egg whites until soft but not dry. Fold the yolk mixture into the mascarpone, then fold in the egg whites. Whip the cream till it forms soft peaks and fold it in too. Spoon this mixture over the sponge fingers.
        Pulverise the chocolate to fine dust in a food processor or blender (watch it - I did it for too long and it turned back into a lumpy mass). Sprinkle chocolate over the creamy mascarpone. Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. Take out of the fridge and leave in a cool place an hour before serving (otherwise it will be too cold to taste properly). Ecco!