Julie and Julia and Nigel and Pammy Faye

meryl

Oh the joys of going to the cinema – especially when driven by our loyalty to PDP! We thought we were attending a foodlover’s premier of a promising-looking film about cooking and cookbooks. The good reviews of the filmic biography of Julia Child, starring Meryl Streep, sucked us in.

What we ended up experiencing was a special foodies night for a sweetly entertaining flick that was indeed about Mrs Child, the author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but also – its contemporary theme – about food blogging! Co-starring the very perky Amy Adams: Julie and Julia, the film by Nora Ephron pressed more buttons than we had anticipated…

Apparently the Dendy assumes foodies are easily stimulated. It wasn’t a premiere, so what did we get for our extra ten bucks?

cocktails

There were “free” tiny tipple cocktails (Bernini’d champagne) and on each seat a show bag of three samples including ten sea salted half macadamias, a teaspoon of lime and white pepper gianduja chocolate, half a teaspoon of vanilla salt, some Canberra Centre propaganda, and then three quarters of an hour of slightly naff food and cocktail demos. Naff though it was, it did feature Emmanuel the slowest “cocktail barista” ever to grace the stage, plus a non-committal but cliché-ridden master-sommelier-in-training. Nevertheless they did treat us to a very yummy soup-son the size of a twenty cent piece made from the vanilla salt cured salmon on a bed of mascapone cheese with horseradish. Soup-son? All the sophisticated French words were anglicized or malapropped by the Executive Chef, Neil Abrahams (vinegar-ette, acicity) throughout the event.

opening

The film starts with a lot of 1940s car sex. We were transfixed by the art director’s perfect reconstruction of late 1940s Paris, as the bored but larger-than-life (and seemingly always inebriated) Julia Child squeezed her way through narrow streets in a monstrous Buick Woody Wagon, and through classic French street markets with her engaging and endlessly diplomatic husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci). Then we were fast-forwarded to a flat in Queens in 2002, to meet an equally bored 29-year-old Julie Powell, a frustrated would-be novelist stuck in a dead-end job taking sympathy calls post 9/11. While she’s much sharper than her yuppy friends, she doesn’t know what to do with her itchy mind.

The one thing they both love is food. Julie remembers her mother’s first Julia Child boeuf bourguignon, while Julia overcomes the barriers of gender and gaucherie to become a Cordon Bleu chef. The French, she discovers, “eat French food everyday: Heaven!” As we follow Julia passionately demystifying French recipes, we watch Julie discovering her own foodie passions via a self-imposed blog challenge (“I could write a blog. I have thoughts!”). She sets out to blog her way through every recipe in Julia’s book in a year, 536 recipes in 365 days. Time and space are nicely compressed as Julie becomes Julia. Almost.

Between postings in Paris and Marseilles, then somewhere in Germany, and then somewhere in Norway, and ultimately back “home” in the USA, there were lots of “yum” food pix and sequences. Julia discovered a correspondence between “hot cock” and cannelloni, while Julia (stuck in Queens) discovered that the poached egg was “like melted cheese”. Hmmm. Both husbands survived the “you can’t have too much butter” mantra.

But it was cute. Julie found the courage to boil live lobsters; discovered she had fans who actually read her daily purge; finally mastered the art of deboning a chook; saved her marriage from her own obsessive egotism; got an interview in the NYT and subsequently got flooded with publishing offers. All of this inspired by the spirit of Julia. Apart from a slightly sooky offering-in-homage of a half-pound of butter in a Julia Childs memorial in the Smithsonian at the end of the film, this is a delightful tale of food and love and blogging. A combination made in heaven.

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Pamela Faye says: Beet this

Glorious beet, the queen of the garden: vibrant, voluptuous, earthy and packed full of more goodness per gram than any other vegetable. If beets had beds they would insist on a four-poster with velvet curtains because the humble root just doesn’t get lusher than this. Even the six rather pathetic looking specimens I picked up from an almost empty tray in the back corner of the local Woolies proved capable of filling the pot with an explosion of colour and flavour.

A gathering of disparate friends in a small suburban kitchen on a cold winter’s night (a thick frost had formed on the cars outside even before we had finished mains) was the perfect occasion to bust out a bit of beet action in the form of a borsch. What I love about this particular recipe is the degree to which each guest can nuance the taste and texture of their bowl to suit their mood. Feeling like a little tart? Add a bit more sour cream. Need to carbo-load for the ten minute walk to the shops in the morning? Add some potatoes. Your razor-sharp wit getting in the way of small talk with the cutie sitting next to you? Add a little dill. Served with a cheese board of cheddar, stinky blue, organic figs, dried apricots and roasted almonds, and a choice of fluffy white or fruit loaf, this went down a treat.

Two cattle dogs wrestling under the table and oodles of red wine added considerably to the pleasure of the borsch and the general chaotic atmosphere of the evening. The conceptual-artist-turned-art-blogger hypnotised my puppy, and then called the independent-activist-documentary-filmmaker on her paranoia about all things ‘nano’. At the other end of the table myself and another anthropologist grooved to some Italian lounge jazz, while an expert in Taiwanese art tried to get her head around the difficulties of building houses in remote Aboriginal communities being explained by a bureaucrat in a position to know. The only time the ruckus died down was when the historian of Jewish Lithuanian execution sites shocked us all with a detailed account of how to identify mass graves using ground penetrating radar.

If it sounds like I’m bragging about how interesting my dining pals were it is because I am. They are all ace individuals whose munificent friendship, along with the borsch and the wine, helped to take the chill off my winter blues for at least another day.

souper

Luscious Borsch

Ingredients

6 beetroots
Veggie stock to taste
1 large onion
2 sticks of celery
Lemon or vinegar
Dill
Parsley
4 boiled eggs, chopped into chunks
4 boiled potatoes, chopped in to chunks
Sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Method

Trim and boil the beetroots for half an hour or so, until tender. Cool, skin and dice into small cubes. Brown finely chopped onions with celery, add beetroot and stock and bring to the boil. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for twenty minutes. Add finely chopped dill and juice of one lemon, or a tablespoon or so of vinegar, and simmer for another ten or until done. Puree, and if too thick add a little water.

Serve hot. Provide sides of chopped boiled potato, sour cream, more dill, chopped parsley, and chopped boiled eggs (or anything else you think might go well – pickles? chives?) and add these to your bowl with generous whimsy reflecting the mood of the moment.

Pamela’s End Notes on Food and Direction

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Read the full series

As I type this a gentle rain is falling on an empty vegetable patch in my backyard in Canberra. There is little evidence of the tomatoes and chillies laden with fruit that I left behind three months ago. The plants are gone and the soil has been turned over and the garden is now littered with the newly-chewed bones of a desert dog called Sailor, my sole companion during the four day drive home from the Lands.

The journey south was broken up by a week in Melbourne spent re-civilising my wardrobe and my palate. I dodged swine flu but not the inevitable hangover that accompanied a night of fine dining with the man you may know as Nabakov. Should any of you ever have the pleasure, take note: he doesn’t do sardines or tofu, or any combination of the two, and likes his Scotch neat and in large quantities. I would have written a review of the evening but due to my own excessive consumption of wine and whiskey, details have been lost and I am left with only fragments and vague impressions. I do recall the barramundi was excellent and the cognac expensive, and that I laughed rather a lot and probably too loudly in between smoking all of Nabs’ cigarettes.

When I first got back to Canberra I took a few days to unpack, catch up with friends and try to get my head around the fact that I now have to write a very large thesis. It wasn’t until yesterday when I baked a batch of muffins that I finally began to relax. Baking, I have come to realise, makes me feel at home. For what it’s worth, here are some other reflections related to my original motivation for this blog. Over the past few months I have been constantly struck by the great efforts that people go to in order to eat well when they are living in difficult circumstances. Good food is celebrated and treated with respect. In this generalisation I include not only the many non-Aboriginal staff I met who delight in devising elaborate menus from basic items, hoard special ingredients and pay outrageous amounts of money for fresh green vegetables, but also the many Aboriginal men and women, some of whom are greatly advanced in years, who continue to make the effort to walk great distances across country in pursuit of the foods that they love: tirnka goannas, yams, kangaroo, bush onions etc. Sure, we are all guilty of the occasional chicken wing-ding from the local roadhouse, but that’s just what you eat when getting the food you really want is just too hard or too expensive.

My other observation is that it is the most temporary of places with the most transitory clientele that suffer the most from lack of care about food: the roadhouse restaurants along the 800km stretch of the Stuart Highway between Port Augusta and Alice Springs; the cafes at Yulara resort servicing the many thousands of tourists visiting Uluru every year; and the make-do meals I prepared for myself when spending a night camped on the side of the road.

One final recipe to share from my travels. During my last week in Lands I finally managed to secure the meal I had so greatly desired and long pursued without success. In their humble Warburton home, made cosy with a mix of boho Melbourne decor and wild desert paintings, the lovely Kate and Ben served me a fabulous feast of roast of camel. Our humped friend had been secured by the local camel hunter and did not disappoint: tasty without being overwhelmingly strong, firm but tender, no stringy bits and very little fat. Meat doesn’t get much better than this. With half a million feral camels wandering around Central Australia, I have to wonder why we aren’t eating more of it. Let’s get more humps on tables, I say.

Mr Fox’s Roast Camel

Embed numerous garlic cloves deep in the flesh of a large fillet of camel, preferably obtained from the back strap under the hump. Baste with red curry paste and top with bacon and other stuff as takes your fancy. Cook for a couple of hours in a slow oven – the longer it is cooked the more tender it will be. Serve with sides of baked polenta, rocket salad fresh from the garden and a spicy green tea. Yum.

Pamela Does Damper

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Installments one , two, three, four, five and six.

There are few things in this world as simple or as satisfying as the humble damper. There are many master damper makers out here in the desert, and I’ve recently had the opportunity to sample some fresh off the fire. Oh, the guilty pleasure of indulging in a bit of damper with butter and homemade jam for breakfast, lunch and dinner – all on the same day! I submitted willingly even though I could feel my soft bits getting softer with every bite.

This particular bush trip was part of a week of celebrations, workshops and cultural activities that is the “Blackstone Festival”, put on by Papulankutja Artists. Check out their blog at http://papulankutja.blogspot.com/. They make beautiful paintings at Blackstone, well worth a look if you are in the market for something sublime that is also ethically produced.

The first of our dampers from this particular bush trip was made by a great chick from Margaret River named Jodie. She put a lot of love into that damper but it was unmistakably the product of a white girl still learning, shaped rather like a very large Hershey’s chocolate drop. Nevertheless it was delicious, and we ate it with gusto and lashings of butter and slightly fermented fig jam (the pot I bought in Waikerie some weeks ago).

The second of our dampers was produced by an older lady who learned how to make it almost fifty years ago, at a time when there was a bounty on the heads of dingos and flour was the major commodity sought after by people from this area in exchange for “dog skins”. Here’s her recipe, and some photos of the process. Continue reading

Pamela’s eating Creamed Corn and Charcoaled Lizards

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Instalments one , two, three and four.

I’m in lovely Warakurna community at the moment, located at the base of the Rawlinson Ranges in Western Australia. The remote Giles weather station, located just up the road, was built in 1956 and was the first permanent colonial occupation of the area for hundreds of kilometres in any direction. Many older people living at Warakurna now were children at the time, their families living independent existences centred around the myriad of rock holes and hunting grounds scattered throughout the ranges.

By virtue of its tenure as a piece of Western Australian Aboriginal reserve excised by the Commonwealth government fifty years ago, the weather station is the only place in the entire Ngaanyatjarra Lands where alcohol can legally be consumed, and officially only by the station’s six employees. Have I considered dropping into the weather station to say hi and flashing my big blue eyes in the hope of a cold one? Not for a moment. My research permit is far too valuable. Luckily for us, Coopers make a convincing birell (brewed without alcohol) that tastes great straight out of the freezer. While barbecuing steaks over our fire pit on Saturday night, for a brief moment I almost forgot it wasn’t the real thing.

With some time on my hands over Easter, some of the ladies organised to go out hunting for tirnka (little goannas). Armed with crowbars as digging sticks and billy cans as shovels, 8 women and 2 dogs packed into a troopie and made our way to tirnka country.

country

Tirnka country

We wandered through the bush for a couple of hours, stopping to dig at holes where there was evidence of recent action. It was a very successful hunt in the end, with eleven (!) tirnka bagged. We made a fire, sat down with a cup of tea and proceeded to cook up the catch. The preparation process involves removing gut then burning off the skin in the open flame for a couple of minutes. The lizards are then buried in coals and left to cook for about twenty minutes. The cooked flesh is delicious – pale white, smooth and tasty –hints of chicken (!) and fish and just a little bit smoky. No salt required. We got back to town on dusk, the ladies subsequently missing the Easter Sunday prayer meeting and making me three hours late for a sausage sizzle being hosted by the neighbours. Not good manners, but at the end of the day I think we were all where we really wanted to be.

tirnka 

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Pamela Faye has reached the (unb)eaten track – Tjukurla Community

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Instalments one , two and three.

It’s been a long and arduous couple of weeks of eating, but have finally found my way into the Ngaanyatjarra lands and some civilised eating options. I arrived in the tiny community of Tjukurla from the tourist resort of Yulara at Uluru a couple of days ago, and have been eating fabulously, if somewhat humbly, since.

My enthusiasm for food has been somewhat diminished over the past fortnight by a persistent stomach bug that left me feeling exhausted with nausea but thankfully with few other symptoms. Not that I was missing out on much. With the exception of some excellent home cooked meals with friends in Alice Springs, eating since leaving Adelaide has been a rather mundane affair. Under siege from a meat craving, I ordered lamb shanks and mash at the dubious Glendambo Road House, our overnight stop between Adelaide and Alice. These shanks were enormous – quite literally an example of the proverbial mutton dressed up as her younger sister. But they were rather tasty and quite possibly the only redeeming feature of a place that otherwise makes no apologies for the appalling state of their accommodation. The bunk-house we were offered looks so bad that my travelling companion and I opted for sleeping rough on a tarp next to the ute rather than risk bed bugs. A sprinkling of rain initially left us doubting this decision, but then a cold, strong wind blew the clouds away and we slept contentedly under the magnificence of the Milky Way.

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Ginormous Glendambo Shanks

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Pamela has made it to Adelaide

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Instalments one and two.

Day 6: Glenelg, Adelaide

I’m currently holed up in a motel in the Adelaide beach-side suburb of Glenelg. Kind of like Perth’s Fremantle without the hippies, or perhaps Melbourne’s St Kilda minus the cool. Sleeping 300m from an ocean beach is my idea of heaven, but turned into hell yesterday when the stench of 500 rotting carp dead in a nearby waterway wafted over the area. A cool breezy change is helping clear the air, and not a moment too soon.

I’ve spent the past couple of days in at the State Library of South Australia and the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia looking through albums of photographs from early exploration parties through central Australia. Exhausting work (no, really, it is!) and I’m already over it. It could, however, be much worse – the guy next to me in the library reading room appeared to be attempting to reconstruct a cricket test match from 1937.

Eating these past few days has been non-remarkable, partly because of fiscal restraint on my part, partly because of lack of inspiration. Restaurants abound in Glenelg, but most are over-priced Australian-fusion fare. But this morning’s breakfast at a café in Henley Beach was fantastic: creamy scrambled eggs with a side of warm smoked salmon tossed in baby rocket and served with perfectly browned toast and great coffee. I sat and ate as I watched a group of teenagers haul themselves out of a rough sea at the end of a 2km ocean swim. I had driven north to Henley this morning hoping to attach myself to an informal training swim held by the local Aussie Masters club, but took one look at the churning sea and thought better of it. I think I’ve a way to go before I’ll be swimming the 20km Freo to Rottnest.

During my meanderings through the archives I came across the following entry in an account of a government expedition into Ngaanyatjarra country in 1903. It was written by a young Herbert Basedow, whose life’s work was recently celebrated in an exhibition at the National Library of Australia. This one goes out to all my fellow photographers, who know as well as I do what a pain in the arse we can be:

“After I had spent some time with the natives and taken several photos, an old man gave me to understand that my presence was no longer required. In fact, he actually turned me round to face our camp and gave me a slight shove towards it.”

For those of you who have no idea where Ngaanyatjarra country is, here is a link to a map of the area that familiars call “the Lands”.

Given my pre-occupation with the library this week, the only photo I have for this post is of a gem I picked up in amongst shelves crammed crocheted footy earrings, decorated jewellery boxes and jars of tomato chutney in a little craft shop in Waikerie. The name of the shop, “The Cobweb”, doesn’t exactly in still a sense of confidence in the freshness of their products, but this jar of fig jam was clearly made with love. A lot of love. I’m looking forward to sharing it with Edwina, who will be hosting me during my stay at Warakurna community. Being a good country girl from Hay, she is herself a great enthusiast of the stuff. Thank you, lady number 53A from Waikerie, we will enjoy it.

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