Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamp-post how it feels about dogs.
– Christopher Hampton
I turned 34 this week, and I’m wondering if it’s too early to go through a mid-life crisis. I woke up as usual, crawled to the shower and got ready for work as usual, dropped my husband (still getting used to that) off at his work as usual and drove off to mine. Little did I suspect that an angst-storm of massive proportions was rumbling in the distance.
We don’t tend to make a huge thing out of birthdays, so this was no big deal, but nonetheless this birthday has assumed a significance completely out of proportion to the occasion. Surely I should be doing the “Dear God, what am I doing with my life?” freak-out at 40? Apparently not. I know that I’m pathological about not being late but this is bloody ridiculous!!
Here I am, working for a non-profit organisation involving books and a particular university – a position I was thrilled to land last December despite the dismal pay – and doing all sorts of amazing things like getting married and looking for a house to buy. The problems in my life were relatively small and stable up to this point.
So, why did I suddenly turn 34, decide that I hated my jobs (I have two part-time roles which have been munged together to make one full-time role), shriek in despair at my lack of lifetime achievement (I have a Bachelor of Nothing Employable and am debt free), and proceed to run around like the proverbial headless chicken?
When did the things I’ve been avoiding quite successfuly (like the last three years of tax returns and thankyou notes for wedding gifts) suddenly transmogrify into big horrible monsters that keep me up at nights?
Which, of course, just adds to the flavour. Nothing like a few choice crises with a side-helping of sleep-deprivation. Add a few pinches of desperation and depression and let the whole sulk in the corner for a time before cooking over a possible house move.
100 grams of double-zero flour (aka durum flour, aka Doppio Zero) to 1 medium-large egg (70 grams).
Nuff said. Add a little more flour if it’s too sticky. Add a little moisture (or oil) if it seems too dry. Process or knead until it forms a smooth dough. Let it rest wrapped up in plastic wrap for at least 30 minutes. Do NOT miss this step – it DOES make a difference.
Nice additions include saffron ground up and steeped in a tablespoon of boiling water or truffle oil if you can lay hands on it. My favourite combo thus far involved truffle oil and powdered porcini mushrooms. The dough was an earthy wonder and was turned into tagliatelle.
But I digress.
Once you have achieved said mass of dough, flour it and run it through your pasta machine on the widest setting until it’s a fairly uniform strip. Fold it into three and run it through again. Repeat this laminating until you’ve finished drinking either a large glass of wine or a very tall gin and tonic. Then run it through the machine on the smaller and smaller settings – dividing into manageable lengths as you go. Having someone to assist will only help if they know what you’re trying to do and don’t get in the way. Personally, I’d rather work by myself.
Get the dough into sheets, strips etc and either wrap it into “nests” or hang and dry. Or use it fresh. Make sure that if you hang it to dry, you do so over a lightly floured tea-towel. Broom or mop-handles are excellent, wooden coat-hangers are a close second. Wire coat-hangers will cause trouble and oven and griller door handles can be awkward.
Wash your bunch of rhubarb and cut into thumb-sized chunks. Place into stainless-steel or enamel pan and about a cup of water, a used vanilla bean and several enthusiastic spoonfuls of sugar. You could use a fresh vanilla bean if you like, but I tend to reserve them for custards and the like and always save the pods for boiling recipies such as this.
Simmer with a lid on until the rhubarb has turned into a soft mush. If there’s too much liquid, simmer with the lid off for 5 or so minutes more. Taste and add sugar if necessary. Remove vanilla pod. Mash or puree to your desired consistency. Or not.
Serve either hot or cold with unsweeted dollop cream (King Island is my top choice), marscapone, custard or ice-cream. Alternatively, turn it into a crumble.
The vanilla bean just adds a little bit of sweet perfume that the rhubarb generally lacks. It’s such an old-fashioned and easy recipie but it always gets rave reviews.
I started by reading her blog, which I liked. So I bought the book, which I liked, but not as much.
Firstly, I’d like to start by pointing out how much I am in awe of the fact that this woman began her cooking project (“The Project” is how she refers to it) in the first place. The fact that she blogged about it so well is something I really, really love. The fact that she then landed a book deal and emancipated herself from what sounded like a completely soul-sucking job has me standing on the seat and screaming from the sidelines in support.
It’s just…well, I don’t know. The writing in the blog was, to my mind, a little fresher. Just that little more focused and a little sharper. The book is warm, funny and touching – I can sympathise with Ms Powell over SO many things, but it doesn’t sound the same as the blog, and perhaps this is where I have my little problem. The voice in the blog and the one in the book are similar but different. I smell an editor, and the pressure to pad out a couple of to-the-point paragraphs into a chapter.
However, if ever I find myself in the same position – mea culpa – I’m sure I would do the same. Read the blog – just not on an empty stomach. Buy the book – and ditto.
PS Julia Child couldn’t cook rice to save her life. I don’t care how the French are supposed to do it, the only good way of getting cooked, fluffy rice is by the absorption method. Don’t argue with me about this – I was taught by a Chinese lady who ran her own restaurant.
Put the rice into a normal saucepan, wash it if required to get rid of the extra starch (and possible rubber thong componants – but that’s another story) and pour in enough water to cover said rice by either a scant inch or a very generous centimetre. Bring to the boil, turn down to the lowest setting and slam on the lid. Leave with the lid on for 10 minutes and then nibble a few grains to check that all is indeed well. Fluff with a fork and serve. You don’t need a rice-cooker unless you’re an Asian family of 6.
I’m on the gin & tonic diet. So far I’ve managed to lose two whole days.
I usually make a big vat of this for family get-togethers – it’s quick and easy to put together, it’s very tasty, and it just looks fabulous. In a large pan, saute a large onion, finely-sliced carrots and pumpkin in a lick of oil until the carrots soften and the pumpkin starts to get a little colour. Throw in some good-quality curry. Pastes are excellent and you can experiment with whatever you like. I like a good quality Thai paste that’s pretty spicy, but when I made this for my wedding I used Patak’s Mild Curry and put in a lot of garlic and lemon-grass paste for the fragrance as most of my extended family are complete chilli-wusses.
Let the paste sweat through the pumpkin etc and add green beans, capsicum, and finely sliced chilli to taste. Add a large slurp of nam pla (fish sauce). My god, this stuff stinks but the flavour is fantastic! Stir in a tin of coconut milk (the lite stuff is fine if you’re counting calories. At a pinch you can even use the light evaporated milk and some coconut essence) and let the whole thing simmer until the pumpkin is starting to fall to bits and the beans are tender. Mash the pumpkin roughly so that it adds to and thickens the sauce.
Add your seafood of choice. I use a mix of king-prawns, firm while fish fillets like hoki, some squid tubes that have been “flowered” (ie: scored finely with a knife along one axis multiple times and then the same again at 90° so that they roll up and look pretty) and – if you feel like it – a pile of crab claws or meat.
Throw in a handful of fresh bean sprouts. Finely dice several shallots and stir carefully through. Once you’ve added the seafood, you can’t do much more mixing as the fish fillits will fall to pieces, so add your finishing touches and leave it alone. Thicken the sauce if required and serve with steamed jasmine rice.
You can vary the vegetables, seafood and seasoning in this dish as you please. I don’t tend to give exactly quantities for these type of meals as I almost never make this exactly the same way twice in a row. Don’t be tied down to exact measurements for this style of dish – anything will work, within reason, so experiement.