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Monday, 7 May 2007

culinary notes from a homecoming queen: part one

I was back home in April for what turned out to be a politician's tour -- dozens of new babies to hug and kiss. (I always knew Melbourne water was good but hell's bells, there's been some heavy breeding in three years.) All that cooing and gurgling meant no time for blogging... till now. Here's the first installment in a collection of food-related notes from my trip.

1. Food ain't no cure for jetlag. So much for the earnest, airplane cooking featured in my last, pre-flight post. Despite my well-considered menu, adam and I both suffered the lag after 20+ hours airborne (though we did get to see a lot of films). Given the grim state of the lacto-vego inflight food (I can't imagine how woeful a vegan menu might be), I'd still advise anyone travelling long distances to pack a lunch box.

2. My favourite kitchen.

It was an odd experience returning to my hometown as a temporary visitor with no actual home to go to (generous hospitality aside). Which is why I am so grateful for Sandy Point. This is the most consistent family house I've known. The fact that it's there (I insisted on a fleeting visit with adam and my mum just to be sure) makes me smile even now, writing from my flat in London. It always feels like home and I reckon the fifty or so relatives I share it with would probably agree.

My grandparents built the house some 40+ years ago as a holiday retreat for themselves and their seven kids. Constructed of fibro sheeting, concrete and timber, it is electricity free with no generators. Everything runs on gas. The most modern development since my last visit is the fact you no longer need to manually pump your water supply for the day from one tank to the other.

The Sandy Point kitchen always has the same crockery, kettles and cutlery, it's where my grandad first taught me how to load a pot of tea and where countless dinners have been roasted while watching a storm roll in off the prom or Bass Strait. Plenty of stories of love, drama and drunkenness have been hatched in that kitchen... and I'm only one of dozens of kids, cousins, aunts, uncles and family friends of the original Sandy Point clan who all have our own version of how those stories go. If that kitchen could talk, oi vey. (And not only because of the heavy duty entertaining over the years; the bench was made out of my nan's discarded examination table from when she was a GP.)

3. The humble potato cake.

Why haven't chippies here cottoned on to this starchy gem? The Australian potato cake simply consists of one mother of a slice of potato dipped in batter and deep fried. While it sounds simple enough to reproduce at home, be warned: our mate Desi, who once worked in a fish'n'chip joint, reckons amateurs would be hard pressed to get just the right batter consistency and oil situation. Then there's the matter of having your tater cake wrapped in the right chip paper after being sloshed with no-brand salt and vinegar, before taking it outside to some sandy perch to devour while greedy seagulls angrily squawk all around you.

4. The best family cooking.

My main home away from home in April was in leafy Elwood with Ben, Mish and Rubes. Lots of beach walks, family time, the patter of little footsies up and down the hall and some super tasty treats courtesy of Mish's kitchen. That lady can cook! One delicacy included a garnish for a wild mushroom risotto that could just as easily fly as a side dish or entree. I'm going to try and recreate this soon so I can be specific with the details. But here are the general steps for the impatient.

Carefully stuff some courgette flowers with ricotta (2 or 3 per plate) then pinch and twist the tops to ensure the stuffing stays in. Individually fry them by dipping them in a tempura batter (the trick, apparently, is to use ice-cold water) and dropping them into hot oil until light golden (Mish used olive but a good quality vegetable oil would do.) Retrieve the courgettes with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towel then lay them on top of the risotto (they need to be done just before serving so the batter stays crisp.) Salt Yard in Soho does some equally mouth watering fried courgette flowers, stuffing them with Monte Enebro cheese and drizzling them with honey.

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