Wednesday, July 28, 2010

And now for some pedantry. There are some things that just drive me barmy when people write them, and that I edit out ferociously when I encounter them as an editor. Here are a few that strike me at the moment.

Pedal vs peddle: 'Pedalling' is about riding a bike or making a bike-riding-type movement with your legs. 'Peddling' is about selling something: either an object or (more usual these days) an idea.

Palate vs palette: A 'palate' is your tasting apparatus. A 'palette' is an artist's board or tray for mixing paint, or a display of colours or tonal variations.

Linchpin: No, it is not a 'lynchpin'.

Principal vs principle: 'Principle' is a rule or important fact. It is never used as an adjective. 'Principal' is the person in charge of or in a prominent role in an organisation (eg a school principal; a principal dancer), or an adjective meaning the most important.

Sneak peek: It's a terrible enough phrase by itself, but it's made infinitely worse when people spell it "sneak peak".

Uncharted territory: If the territory is 'uncharted', it means it is unknown because it doesn't appear on maps (charts). However, some people insist the territory is 'unchartered', which presumably means you cannot hire a bus, boat or plane to take you there.

Disinterested vs uninterested: 'Disinterested' means you are impartial or aloof. 'Uninterested' means you are not interested.

Aisle vs isle: Biscuits are found in the biscuit aisle of the supermarket. Sometimes, when I feel hungry, I wish there were a biscuit isle, full of tea-drinking castaways. But there isn't.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Going to the library. When I was a youngster we didn't have the internet. If you wanted to be cool you had to learn how from your already cool older brother or sister. If you were the eldest in your family you had to read international magazines several months out of date, or undergo the hazing ritual of interacting with the hostile punks who staffed the intimidating alternative fashion and record stores. Dangerfield? LOOKSHOORY.

And stalking was much harder back then! Paedophiles had to spot our grade six aerobics team in the local paper and then look our home phone numbers up in the phone book and then if they had guessed the right number and someone was home, the paedophiles could breathe loudly down the phone at them.

And instead of Google-stalking the guy I had a crush on, I would also look him up in the White Pages and then ride my bike repeatedly past his house. I don't know what I would have done if he had emerged. Ride away, I suppose.

And as for learning about things – well, I had to go to the library. The actual library, with books in! The Box Hill library, that beige concrete bunker, with a naff sundial on the front whose existentially disconcerting motto, "Our days are as a shadow", seemed to apply as much to the librarians themselves as the sundial.

Chinese dragons also hung out at the library.

I guess I was marked as a nerd quite early in life by the fact that going to the library was always a major treat and weekend/holiday outing. I got my first library card aged around four and was a regular patron until the time I moved out of home, aged 20.

The Box Hill library was probably quite crappy and limited but I thought it was amazing. It was my primary source of information on all topics. When I visited, my MO was to go straight to the catalogue and look up authors and topics I was interested in at the time. I was a completist when it came to serial novels and would methodically work my way through every one the library owned. Then I would just wander the stacks looking for interesting-looking books.

During my infatuation with dinosaurs c1983, I read every single book the library owned on that topic. I also read all its Doctor Who novelisations and even the Who fanzines that I'm kind of amazed the library owned. I borrowed videos and CDs. I even borrowed the library's copies of Cosmopolitan and Cleo.

I was just thinking the other day about how happy I used to feel about the ritual I indulged in when I visited the library by myself. I would catch the train to Box Hill station and then walk through the mall and down Bank Place, along the railway line. This would be my first glimpse of the library: its car park and the tall, narrow windows that always reminded me of arrow slits in a fortress.

Once I'd loaded up with books, I would walk back down Bank Place and into Box Hill Central, where I would purchase a chicken schnitzel burger from some terrible place in the food court and ensconce myself there while I eagerly began to read the most hotly anticipated of my new loans.

Later, when a fast-food restaurant opened in the servo on Whitehorse Road opposite the mall, I would get food from there instead and sit to read and eat on a bench in one of the islands in the middle of the main road. It annoys me that I can't remember which fast-food place it was. I could swear it was McDonald's but perhaps it was KFC, given my love of fried chicken.

And I were 'appy!

When I finished my MA and lost my Melbourne University library privileges I joined the City Library (which at that time was associated with the Carlton Library) and got right back into the joy of library patronage. But all that was spoiled when I forgot to return two books for so long that the library listed them as 'lost' and I would have had to pay for them anyway. They were academic books and you know how expensive those are. So I still have the books to this day and I have never been able to borrow from the City Library again.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pie July: let's party! On Tuesday night I went to the issue launch of literary journal Kill Your Darlings, in which I have an article. The event was held at the Bella Union bar at Trades Hall, and as people familiar with this venue may recall, there is a pie warmer there… with little Boscastle party pies!

So I decided to bring the party with a beef and Guinness pie!

It was definitely tasty, with a flavoursome, reddish-tinged gravy that was a bit more gelatinous than I was expecting… perhaps because of lingering in the pie warmer. But on the downside, it was gone in several bites.

We also played bingo at the launch. Thrillingly, I won in the second round, and my prize was an assortment of books. When I won, I cried, "That's a bingo!" but nobody found this amusing except me.

Pie July continues apace. I'm finding that by baking my own pies and eating them gradually for lunch every day, it is quite a manageable commitment. I finished the last of the spanakopita today though, so tomorrow it will be time for apple and raspberry pie!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pie July: Spanakopita that! I know that I ended my last post by saying I couldn't be bothered with spanakopita, but truth be told it was the tedium of assembling paper-thin leaves of filo pastry that I was really dreading. I managed to get around that by forgetting about the filo and making it with puff pastry instead. It's just as good!

I used this recipe as a jumping-off point, but I probably got all the proportions wrong. Here's how I made mah pie.


600g (1 small bunch) silverbeet
1 brown onion, chopped roughly
3 spring onions, trimmed and chopped finely
400g fetta – recipe calls for Greek but I used Danish
dill in a tube (or a bunch of real dill, chopped)
garlic in a jar
pesto in a jar
1 handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
rind of 1 lemon, juice of 1/2 lemon
4 eggs, lightly whisked in a cup
2 sheets puff pastry
olive oil

Put your pastry sheets out to defrost and pre-heat your oven to 180°C. Wash silverbeet and don't worry too much about drying it. Chop roughly. Put on the stove in a large dry pan and sprinkle with more water. You're basically steaming it. (I had to do this in batches because, man, it was a lot of silverbeet. When it starts to wilt, decant it into a large bowl.

Now add some olive oil to the pan and fry up your onion and two generous spoons of jar garlic. When they're soft, add to the bowl. Add the chopped spring onions and the lemon rind and juice. Now add a generous squeeze from your dill tube. I went a bit crazy and decided to add some basil pesto too, plus some parsley from my garden.

Add your whisked eggs to the bowl, and crumble the fetta in too. I was all, "Shit, 400g is a lot of fetta!" but it was okay. Mix everything well together.

Get a square or rectangular cake tin or lasagne tray and grease well with oil. Line with one pastry sheet and brush well with oil. Tip filling on top, then top with second pastry sheet. Lightly score pie top in a criss-cross pattern. Brush with more oil. Put in oven until pastry looks golden.

As you can see I used a square cake tin, which meant that I ended up with quite tall spanakopita slices, with lots of filling. If you prefer a flatter, pastrier spanakopita you might want to use a shallower dish and spread the filling thinner.

Even though my quantities of spinach to fetta ratio were pretty much even (as opposed to the recipe which called for heaps more spinach), it still tasted pretty good, and not nearly as salty as I had been expecting, considering the amount of cheese.

The lemon gives it a zingy, astringent quality which I found a little offputting in the fresh pie. But once it had sat in the fridge and I ate it for lunch yesterday, I found the citrus quite tangy and delicious. Also, the refrigeration means the pie's structural integrity remains, as opposed to when it was freshly cooked and pretty much fell apart.

In other Pie July news, my mother was horrified to learn of this initiative. She thinks I will get fat(ter) and that it will have deleterious, Morgan Spurlock-style effects on my nutrition. She was not even comforted by the fact that this pie is full of healthful greens.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Pie July. As regular readers of this blog will know, I feel it's very important to follow through on stupid throwaway lines. I am also consterned by the alcohol abstinence charity event Dry July.

I find Dry July's politics of public virtue quite arbitrary and puzzling. It isn't raising funds for alcohol-related health or social causes, so why promote alcohol abstinence? Why not ask participants to spend a month without dairy products, or using their cars, or watching TV? Indeed, why can't individual participants nominate something they usually love and vow to give it up for a month, Lent-style?

My reaction, spurred by a throwaway Facebook status update, is just as arbitrary: Pie July. I have vowed to eat a pie, or other food resting on, topped with or encased in pastry, every day in July, to raise awareness of the awesomeness of pies. It's been tough so far, but I feel happy because my sacrifice is all for a good cause (pies).

I actually didn't begin Pie July until three days into the month, last Saturday. My first pie was this Portuguese tart from the Innocent Bystander bakery in Healesville. The custard was nice, but I found the pastry too thick and flaky – I would have preferred a thinner shell. The accompanying coffee was also very disappointing.

Second pie off the rank, last Sunday lunch, was the spanakopita from my favourite café, North Cafeteria. I like the way they make it with very thin and buttery pastry, as opposed to a lot of spanakopitas which have a lot of dry filo layers to chew through before you get to the filling. I also like the salad that comes with it, although there is just no dignified way to eat rocket.

And that night, I made my own pie! It was chicken, bacon and leek, and because I only decided to shop for the ingredients at about 7:30pm, plus I am a Shit Cook™, it took me so long that by the time I was done it was 11pm and too late to eat it. So I ate it gradually all through last week, and was heartily sick of it by the end.

Here's the recipe I used, and here's roughly how I made it.


3 chicken thigh fillets, trimmed of fat and cut into bite-size chunks
2 rashers short-cut bacon, diced
3 sheets frozen pastry (I used shortcrust because it was in the freezer, but you could also use puff)
the good bit of 1 leek, finely chopped
1 generous teaspoon lazy-man garlic
1 generous tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup of liquid: roughly thirds of vegetable stock, cooking sherry and pouring cream (I use light evaporated milk as a cream substitute, in order to feel better about my fat intake)
1/3 cup grated tasty cheese
dried tarragon
powdered nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Put your pastry sheets to defrost on the bench. Heat some olive oil in a pan. Saute chicken pieces in batches and set aside in the pie dish. Add bacon, leek and garlic to pan (the bacon fat should grease it back up again) and cook until softened. Add to the pie dish with the chicken and mix together.

Melt butter in the pan. Add the flour and mix into a paste as if you're making a white sauce, which in effect you are. Cook until frothy, but don't let it brown. Add your liquid mixture, stirring all the time, and bring to boil then back down to a simmer.

While it's simmering, stir in your tarragon and nutmeg (I used a generous shake of each shaky container), and pepper. I was dubious about the nutmeg but it makes it smell amazing. Ultimately the bacon, cheese and stock will make the pie filling pretty salty so you probably shouldn't add more salt.

Add the contents of your pie dish to the pan, along with the cheese, and stir well to melt the cheese and coat everything in the sauce. Turn the heat off and leave pan to cool. Preheat your oven to 200°C or 180°C for a fan-forced oven.

Grease your pie dish – it might already be greasy from its previous contents – and do not forget the top edges. I used a round glass dish that I fortuitously found in the cupboard, but I forgot to grease the edges, which meant I had a helluva time cutting up the cooked pie as the pastry had stuck to the edges.

Line the dish with pastry. Put the filling on top, then top with the remaining pastry. I had to cut off the freezer-burnt edges of my pastry, so I needed three sheets for it to work, but you might be able to get away with two depending on the size of your dish. Mine didn't look very pretty in the end, as I couldn't smooth the top seams without puncturing the lid.

Trim off the excess pastry and seal the two pie layers with a fork. This also creates that pleasingly authentic crimped crust. Cut a steam hole in the centre. Put your pie in the oven until it looks cooked.

This is what it looked like the next day after sitting in the fridge all night and then being microwaved. I have no idea if the filling would have been saucier if I'd eaten it fresh.

I have bought the ingredients to make three more Pie July pies: egg and bacon, silverbeet spanakopita, and apple and raspberry. Tonight I was planning to make the spanakopita but I just can't be bothered.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Me eat you long time. It's probably a good thing I've never worked in advertising – or, depending on your perspective, a terrible thing – as I'm about to pitch you my amazing concept for Whiskas Oh So Fishy and Oh So Meaty…

Here they are. It is a mystery to me why Whiskas would give its cat food this absurd, fey name and never make any mention of it whatsoever in its advertising. It's always just "Whiskas". With that stupid purple cat.

By contrast, I just cannot open a can or sachet of the stuff without poncing about the kitchen saying, "Oh! So fishy! Oh! oh! Me so fishy! Oh! So fishy! Me eat you long time!"

I realise there's an ontological problem with both being the food and wanting to eat the food, but I am pretty much just shoehorning the concept into this song (it's the uncensored version, in case you are reading this at work):

I just find the idea of a Whiskas ad campaign based on 'Me So Horny' incredibly hilarious. You could get some cats and put them in huge gold chains and earrings, etc, and CGI them so they booty-danced. Or maybe the owners would do the dancing while the cats just ate the Whiskas.

There could even be a UGC element where people could create music videos starring their own cats doing the song, and then upload them to the Whiskas website. Ahahaha they could manipulate their cats' front paws in humorous ways!

"I'm a freak in heat/A cat who likes treaties/My appetite's for Whiskas/Cos me so meaty…"

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