Sometimes, when I drive past Holy trinity Church, I wind down the window and hover at the roundabout letting everyone past. The local bellringers (The Orange Pealers) are practising and I often wish I lived next door, just so I can hear their cheery clangs and imperfect timings. Last year I worked at the local paper (for a day and they never paid me), and wrote a story about the Orange Pealers. It made my day to see people with interests outside of television, a feeling akin to when the vulnerable are shown kindness. But that usually makes me cry so I’d probably rather see a fight. The Orange Pealers, official in their matching colourful polo t-shirts, had some pending bellringing visitors from St Paul’s in London and I could sense they were going to be star struck… which I imagine they would have been if I found out, not having lasted more than a day at the local paper.
I only stumbled across the feeling of ‘star-struckedness’ for the first time when I sat next to Luke Nguyen for lunch a year after I followed his food trail and stories around Vietnam. No, I lie, when I was seven I met Nigel Burley, a ballet dancer with the Australian Ballet, who kissed me on the cheek and I wanted to never wash my face again.
Anyway, I don’t appreciate bells when I hear them ringing anywhere else – I love imperfection and things that don’t quite match. I wish I could hear those out of time clanging, happy bells in the middle of the night as I sleep. It can be so quiet I hear my heart beating and mistake it for thudding footsteps down the wooden floor of the hallway. An idle mind is able to able to imagine these things, only realising it’s a heartbeat when it gets faster and faster and reality kicks in – as if a robber would start running down a hallway, making all that racket! And I suppose when you do have an idle mind, imagination kicks in by default to stop you from being dull. Or lonely – like Anne of Green Gables with her window friend Katie (as a kid I was convinced this was me and started carrying around my Jetset schoolbag like it was a ‘very old carpet bag’).
Once again, I’m off the point. I meant to start this post with a big fat apology for four weeks of food writer’s block. Evidently, cooking out of a cookbook every night can be rather fattening, time consuming and expensive. But with imperfection, imagination and Anne’s bosom friend as the themes for the week, I chose the Ottolenghi the Cookbook. This book was given to me last year by my lovely friend Tina (see her blog http://www.sydneyfoodieblog.com/), an instant ‘bosom friend’ who I worked with at Junior Masterchef, who I think would be a possum if she were an animal and who loves my ‘best worst stories’. Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi of Ottolenghi in Notting Hill like imperfection too – “unfussiness and simplicity in food preparation are, for us, the only way to maintain freshness of a dish…”. They hate dishes that you “just knew had been touched a lot in the preparation” and have a philosophy that diets, health, provenance, morals and food miles take all the fun out of food. “How boring and what a mistake!” they say. I think we’d be bosom friends if we met!
The dishes I cooked out of this book surprised me – I’m guilty of loading ingredients in recipes so they pack more of a punch, so was refreshed in my restraint and stuck to the recipes to find the flavours balanced to perfection without losing a single nuance of their original qualities. Yotam has a column in the Guardian where he’s published a bunch of vegetarian dishes. Seriously – you should try them http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/series/thenewvegetarian .
Ottolenghi the Cookbook
Roast chicken with saffron, hazelnuts and honey – Mum and dad came around for dinner, mid Mother of the Bride diet, and I made this dish. It was so delicious, mum (not being allowed nuts or sugar in this diet) basically licked the plate clean and left a single piece of chicken in the baking dish, robbed of all its sauce and nuts. I liken it to a savoury version of baklava, with star ingredients being the hazelnuts, cinnamon and rosewater.
Cinnamon and hazelnut meringues – I made these when I had a migraine and I ate half of one which magically acted like Panadol. They are made with brown sugar and are the size of oranges. My two year old niece loved them and polished off the lot when I left. The same night I baked some Cranberry and White Chocolate Biscuits which my sister, in all her skinny glory and fresh from a wedding, gobbled down at 3am. With the ensuing hangover, she managed to get her three year old daughter to deliver her the rest of the biscuits as she lay in bed for the day.
Unfortunately, that week, I didn’t get around to making the Sticky Chocolate Loaf (basically adult chocolate cake with prunes soaked in Armagnac) but I have promised my colleagues that I’ll make it soon. I’ve been talking about it for weeks though, as usual I’m talking a lot and under delivering.
This is a default dish in my house because it’s delicious and it’s super easy. Please forgive my handwriting…