Kirsty Presents: High-Tea Princesses

This time last week I was in the throes of preparing to cater for my niece’s 7th birthday party. Last week, right about now, in fact, I was studying the shelves at Woolworth’s Indooroopilly, hesitating between the standard packet of Dollar Sprinkles and the fairy-themed one. At that point I hadn’t fully decided on how I was going to manage to decorate the requested princess cake. I knew I was going to attempt to fashion a semblance of a princess atop a coconut cake using icing and my cheap cake decoration piping set, but as to the details of the glitter and sparkles, well, I was making those up in the supermarket.

I had offered to host my niece’s birthday party a month ago, after my family had celebrated my sister’s birthday at a garden centre cafe. While the garden centre’s cafe was perfectly fine, as we discussed Hannah’s forthcoming birthday, most of us still had memories of the over-priced outing that was my mother’s birthday a few months earlier: $45 for an average high-tea amongst some very pretty decor. The decor, while lovely, certainly wasn’t worth $15 dollars more than the usual price of a high-tea in these parts.

I’m not certain why my family has this high-tea obsession. Something to do with coming from England and wanting to play at being the Ladies we’re not, I suppose. Or perhaps it’s an excuse to eat way too many cakes, the sandwiches merely being a face-saving preliminary. Yes, the latter is more likely. Anyway, it seems the older members of this family have had a corrupting influence on the youngest member, since Hannah now associates all birthday celebrations with fancy, miniature cakes, delicate sandwiches and champagne-flutes of sparkling apple juice. When I volunteered to host her family party–her mother’s side of her family, anyway–Hannah put her own twist on the occasion and requested tiaras and sparkles. And since I’m a total push-over when it comes to my niece, I was determined to throw the best princess-themed party I could.

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Kirsty Presents: Short and Sweet

Unlike Zoe, I don’t know if I can attribute my lack of participation in blogging lately to my daily use of Twitter. I was a fairly early user of the short message medium that has recently taken the mainstream media by storm, and for at least two of those years I managed to continue to blog with enthusiasm.

I think the source of my exhaustion arises rather from the fact that for much of the university teaching year thus far I’ve been reading and marking 50 blogs per week, all written by students enrolled in subjects to do with new media.  If Twitter is to bear any responsibility for my failure to blog in any substantial way either here, at Sarsaparilla Lite, or at my own blog, then it’s because one of the other pieces of assessment that I’ve spent the semester  drowning in has been the Twitter workshops I’ve co-ordinated in lieu of the usual face-to-face tutorials. All of these pieces of assessment have rendered me barely capable of reading, never mind making a comment on those blogs by people who like to write and engage in discussions for the sake of it.

Anyway, you’re not really interested in my work-a-day woes are you?  It’s all about food here at  the Progressive Dinner Party. And no doubt you’ll be pleased to know that it’s because of food that I bothered to mention Twitter at all in this context.  It’s due to Twitter that I came to know of my most recent food obsession, when one of the people I follow declared that she was going to make 5 minute ice-cream for which she posted a link.

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Kirsty Says ‘You can have it Thai!’

What an odd dining experience friends and I had last night. We went to My Thai in the Brisbane suburb of Auchenflower. Just looking at their website, they’re clearly a well-established restaurant and J suggested it because she’d been there before for work dinners and could recommend the food.

Well, the food was excellent–that which they deigned to serve us anyway.

J and I arrived earlier than our dining companions, and after negotiating a move of table from just outside the kitchen to the front of the restaurant, we ordered an entree of Goog Tod, deep-fried prawns with special sauce. They were really just so fresh and crisp. Wonderful.

While waiting for the others, J and I had studied the menu and made a selection of two of the three dishes that four of us would share. J’s choice was My Thai Duck Curry, while I indulged my ongoing obsession with pork mince and chose Laab Mu, spicy pork with mint leaves. The others arrived and we added Tofu with Cashew Nuts to our order.

Again, the mains were fresh and delicious. My favourite was the Laab Mu which was juicy, spicy and refreshing, but the whole pineapple, grape, shitake mushroom and duck curry combination worked so well, I found myself snaffling the last meaty bits of pineapple coated in the sauce.

The trouble arose when we attempted to order dessert and were refused. Have you ever heard of such a thing?!

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Kirsty Presents: Oz Mex

Cross-posted from Galaxy at Zoe’s request (the comments about Melbourne only make sense in the context of this incompleted series of posts)

While I was in Melbourne I went to a bookshop I had only previously read about: Books for Cooks. Ever since I first read about this shop on Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, I have known that I could while away an entire day there, perhaps a week if I had nothing else to do. I didn’t spend quite that long there, but I did fulfill the other expectations I had for my behaviour: I ran from bookshelf to bookshelf, picking up one book, followed by another, and another, before finally having to sit down, wipe the drool from my chin, and have a deep think about the merits of the books I wanted relative to my budget.

I’ll talk about the whole heady experience in more depth when I finally get around to completing the promised Melbourne posts, but for now let me tell you what I’m cooking for dinner tonight. Seasoned Chopped Beef (Picadillo) is a recipe from one of the books I bought at Books for Cooks, The New Complete Book of Mexican Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz. It’s the filling for Minced Beef Tacos (Taco de Picadillo) I’ll be eating.

Ortiz instructs you to use half of the following recipe for Picadillo:

Brown 900g of minced lean beef in a large frying pan. I used that other red meat, kangaroo, because I can’t really bring myself to buy beef at the supermarket anymore. I’ll eat beef when I’m out, but between what I have access to and what I can afford, kangaroo is a more ethical, environmental, and cost-effective choice for me. Add 2 finely chopped onions and 1 clove of garlic, also chopped. When these are cooked add the following: 2 green cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped; 450g tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped–I made half the recipe and just added a drained tin of tomatoes here; 3 tinned or fresh jalapeno chillies, seeded and chopped–again I went for the tinned; 1/2 cup of seedless raisins; 12 pimiento-stuffed olives, halved–I only had jalapeno stuffed olives, but I figured they weren’t out of place in this recipe; 1/4 tsp each of ground cinnamon and cloves–I just threw in a whole clove that I accidentally crunched on later; and finally, salt and pepper to taste.


Simmer over a low heat for 20mins. When this is done you can sprinkle it with 1/4 cup of slivered almonds that you’ve fried in a bit of oil–I missed this touch since I didn’t have any slivered almonds and didn’t feel like the trouble of blanching, chopping and frying regular almonds. I’d bother if someone other than me was eating this.

So that’s the filling for the tacos.

The Tacos de Picadillo are just a matter of assembly. I used some small, soft tortillas and filled them with the Picadillo, added some Salsa Verde Mexicana Picante, and some shredded ice-berg lettuce that came in this week’s organic fruit and vege box. Ortiz recommends guacamole as well, but as I didn’t have any avocado, I substituted with some Greek yoghurt–I didn’t have any sour cream either.


I should mention that while the recipe book has recipes for both tortillas and the salsa verde I went for the pre-made and tinned varieties. I don’t think I’ll be too hard on myself for not making tortillas from scratch. As for the salsa verde, it’s a case of lack of availability of the key ingredient, tomatillo, the green tomatoes that seem to be used extensively in Mexican cooking. The closest I could find to this ingredient in my, admittedly, rather short search was an enormous tin of them, as big as those Golden Circle juice tins. On that shopping expedition, I went for the much smaller tin of ready made salsa. It seems to be quite simple, consisting of the tomatilloes, serrano chillies, onions, and coriander, to comprise a rather refreshing sauce.

Overall, I found this to be a really tasty meal. I hope I haven’t come across as too flaky in my lack of purity about all the substitutions. I used to be really up tight about such things, but ever since the woman at the Indian Grocers advised me that ‘you cook with what you have’, I’ve felt a whole lot freer about making substitutions. Maybe what’s worrying me is that I used tinned things instead of fresh, but again, needs must.

When I first flicked through the book in Books for Cooks, I thought that the ingredients would be a bit more accessible than they’ve proved to be so far. Much of my decision to get the book was based upon the use of pineapple and banana and other sub-tropical ingredients readily available in South East Queensland. I was intrigued by the use of fruit throughout–and perhaps it’s no surprise that I’ve since learnt that the used of fruit derives from the Spanish influence on Mexican cuisine via the Moorish influence on Spanish cuisine. Here I like to think that my use of kangaroo adds an Australian influence to Mexican cuisine.

Another reason I bought the book was because there’s a fellow post-graduate at uni who is Mexican, and on the subject of Mexican food in Brisbane, Australia even, she is dismissive. ‘Tex-Mex’ she sniffs when people ask her about Mexican food in restaurants. Her response has long piqued my curiosity because it made me aware that of course all I know of Mexican food is Tex-Mex, exemplified by the ‘Mexican’ section in the supermarket that consists entirely of Old El Paso products.

I guess at the moment I’m sort of stuck between wanting to know more about Mexican food and being faced with the trouble of getting the ingredients. I don’t think I’m ready to give up just yet, because clearly there’s a whole lot more to know–about all the varieties of chilli alone. First, I’ll be a bit more concerted in my efforts to find suppliers in Brisbane.

Kirsty presents: Food Art

Sometimes I find art made out of food quite distressing. When I see those strange, misshapen sculptures that are entered into competitions at agricultural fairs around the country I mourn the waste.  I think this reaction has much to do with the fact that said sculptures are usually half decomposed by the third day of the show, at which point I think of the poor sod who has to scrape the fetid, liquefying remains of vegetable carcasses from the cabinets in which they’re displayed.

Such thoughts were far from my mind when I opened an email from a friend that directed me to the website of the UK Telegraph and an article that show-cased the work of photographer Carl Warner.

Image by Carl Warner via Telegraph.co.uk

Image by Carl Warner via Telegraph.co.uk

Warner composes foodscapes and photographs them quite beautifully, as the image composed of purple cabbage above attests.  In the article there is some mention of the ill effects of hot lights on food, and, despite claims to the contrary, I’m not entirely convinced there’s much left over that’s edible after the obvious manipulations of supergluing and pinning. Still, since I can’t either see or smell any signs of decomposition in the images featured in the article, well, that leaves me to concentrate on the artistry of the sculpture and photography itself, which, you must admit, is quite spectacular.

Kirsty Presents: Spamalicious

I have long been fascinated with the sponsored links in the spam folder of my gmail account. I wonder about the day that the online equivalent of junk mail was christened spam.  What was Hormel Foods’ reaction?  After all, the irritation caused by an avalanche of unsolicited email offering snake oil remedies for s*xual satisfaction and instant riches is hardly a response any profit-minded company would want associated with their product.  Surely?

The nomination must, however, have been a double-edged sword, especially with the introduction of spam filters and folders which opened the way for a dedicated advertising opportunity via email accounts, many of whose owners might visit them several times in one day. Every now and again, I check the spam folder of my gmail account, just to assure myself that no genuine emails have been caught by its filter, and not once have I seen any product other than SPAM® recipes advertised above the list of unread messages.

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Kirsty Presents: Home Cooked Photography

A friend of some friends has the curious habit of taking a photograph of every meal he eats.  Whether he is at home or dining out, no matter the occasion, he takes out his camera and makes a record of that which he is about to eat.

Bunya Nuts

Our mutual friends discuss this individual’s practice as part of a continuum of OCD behaviour on his part, but I can’t recall their deliberations ever extending to reveal what he does with the photos he produces.

On my own, I have contemplated his apparently obsessive desire to take photos of his meals. 

Okra

First of all I wonder about the logistics of taking the photos. What kind of camera does he have? Or does he use a mobile phone?  When he’s in public  or dining at a friend’s is he concerned that he might be breaching social etiquette by producing his camera at an inopportune moment? At home, does he have to contend with irritated loved ones who just want to start eating before the meal goes cold?

Zucchini

Perhaps the meal doesn’t have a chance to go cold.  That possibility would suggest he cared about the quality of the photo he was producing due either to another dimension of his already compulsive behaviour or the knowledge that the photos would be seen by others, who might bring some understanding of ‘quality’ to their judgement of them.

As someone who occasionally blogs about my own meal experiences and who likes to accompany any rumination on culinary feats (either shopping, cooking or eating) with pictorial evidence, I’ll admit that I’m slightly intrigued by the proposition of taking a photo of every meal I eat.  As a study in the everyday it appeals to me. What kind of picture would emerge over time? What narratives would be wrought?

Sesame Toffee

Here, I’m reminded of the Paul Auster/Wayne Wang film, Smoke, where a tobacconist, Augie, takes a photo of the corner outside of his shop at the same time everyday.  He places them in an album and looks through them from time to time, observing the shifts of people and seasons just outside his door.

Eggplant

Doing a similar project with meals would, in an affluent country such as Australia, lend occasion for more variation in the photographs taken than those in the Auster/Wang film.  And, since the advent of blogging, the impulse to post the photographs online would be overwhelming; it’s the stuff of those 365 Blogs whose authors seek to self-impose discipline and post everyday for a year.

Garlic

Imagine the stories, not of culinary or photographic expertise, but of meals prepared and eaten: shared and alone, on holidays, remembered from childhood, exotic and plain, old favourites and new discoveries, experiments and failures, for comfort, health, and taste, and, indeed, for very much more.