(My) Teriyaki Chicken

We’re young, maybe three, on an adventure in the backyard. The wooden shed at the back is always good to explore. We spot some cans on a shelf, out of our reach. We’re inquisitive, maybe just nosy; we want to find out what’s in those cans. I grab a stick, or maybe Twin Bro does, and we prod at the shelf inching the cans towards us. After a short time gravity takes over and the cans tip on their side; paint cascades down over us. Drenched in paint and crying in unison, we sprint back out into the yard.

Ma spends the afternoon there with us, hose in one hand, scrubbing brush in the other.

It’s the middle of the night and Twin Bro has spiders in the bed. He wakes us up, crying. I turn on the light and Big Bro checks under his sheets. The spiders are gone and we go back to sleep. It’s an hour later, and the spiders are back. Big Bro turns on the light and I check under his sheets. The spiders are gone. Took months for the bastards to finally leave him alone.

Out in the sunroom, windows on all sides, it’s the middle of summer and flies are everywhere. We’re four years old, maybe five. The crashing sound summons Ma, who discovers us swatting the flies against the windows. Using the buckle of a belt. Her timely intervention saves the windows, but three flies do not survive.

We’re eight years old, outside our fathers flat. It’s the school holidays. After three days we’ve watched four movies about American Indians, have broken the plastic firing submarine for the huge battleships game, worked an hour with dad at work and been paid $10 each, and had homemade fries for dinner each night. Dads asleep on the couch, snoring. Big Bro’s watching TV, and Twin Bro and I are bored. We go outside to explore.

Outside the flat are overgrown flowerbeds and broken concrete. An old, worn down wooden shed is at the back. Inside we discover a bulging milk carton on the dusty concrete. Our eyes triangulate between the milk carton, a nearby rock and each other. We nod quietly, bend down each side of the rock, lift it up together, and waddle over to the carton. We’re smiling now, as we heave the rock into the air, quickly take a step back and cover our ears, excited at the popping sound that’s sure to come.

It doesn’t pop. It squelches then bursts, instantly drenching us in slimy, cream-coloured, rancid old milk. The smell assaults us, we yell, we scream, we sprint up the stairs into the flat, straight for the bathroom. The shower is flung on; clothes and all we climb in, giggling, laughing, and giggling again. We woke up dad; he pokes his head round the door, starts shaking it. We just laugh and giggle some more, washing the milk off.

It’s Mothers Day, we’re ten years old, outside in the backyard playing soccer. Big Bro goes to kick off, and when his foot hits the ball, an earthquake hits our town. It’s massive. Ma’s on the porch; it’s wobbling in unison with the rumbling quake. She’s yelling for us to get inside. Twin Bro and I race into the kitchen, diving under the table. Ma’s bottle collection, lined along shelving across the living room walls, is crashing to the floor, a carpet of shattered glass. Big Bro is still outside, racing around the house, yelling and laughing, falling over and getting up, manic as he circles the house. Ma keeps yelling: “get inside!”

That night as we sleep, the aftershocks keep hitting, and I crawl into Twin Bro’s bed. We cling to each other as the rumblings continue, for that entire sleepless night.

It’s our last year of Primary school; we’re twelve years old. The 9 am bell is still 45 minutes away, and we’re out on the tennis courts, playing against each other. Within ten minutes it’s turned to doubles, us against our friends, and right up to that opening bell we’re still undefeated. During morning tea we sweep through 15 minutes of tennis, still victors on the court. Come lunchtime we blast through two teachers, intent on ending our reign. A body blow with a tennis ball retires one, the other claims a bad back and shuffles back to the teachers staff room. The class below us is playing on the next court; their top player is sent over. We dispatch him back quickly, bruised ego to go with his bruised body – we never let a gentle return lob go unpunished. By the time the bell goes at the end of lunch, we’re playing against each other again, the court to ourselves.

It’s the following year, we’ve moved towns and moved school. It’s the first class on our first day, and the teacher is angry. The class sense he’s cracking, they become louder, disobedient, disrespectful. The teacher tells them as much, and then, unbelievably, slams his books down on the floor and storms over to a nearby window. He opens it, crawls through, and disappears out of the classroom. This was not like school back home. I look at Twin Bro and we both look out the open window; it sure looked inviting that day.

We’re 18 years old now, on the first day we’re legally allowed to drink in a bar. We head down to the local pub, intent on a quiet beer and a game of pool. We order our beer and sip on it as we wait for a game. Two old timers are finishing up, and as one triumphantly pots the black, we insert our coin and begin to rack up. The two men, stunned for a moment, bluntly point out the blackboard. We slink back to the table after writing our names down on the board, embarrassed as the two laugh at our inexperience. They sense an opportunity, and when our turn comes up offer us a game of doubles, with a friendly wager to start: a jug of beer for the winners.

Perhaps at this point we could have told them, that from the age of seven, we’d had a pool table in the lounge room. We’d played daily, mammoth multi-set games, for the best part of the past eleven years. We didn’t though; we just smiled, shook hands and asked who broke. They told us the challenger always breaks, so we broke, for the first and last time that evening.

As their losses kept piling up, like the empty jugs of beer on our table, their manner went from rude to ungracious to downright hostility towards our winning form. The beer was not dulling our effectiveness, instead unleashing more daring and ambitious shots from us, each one corralling the other to do better. In a desperate act, the men switched tact, betting top shelf liquor on each game rather than beer. This now necessitated one eye being closed as the balls multiplied on the table, and I took it to a new level by simply closing them when shooting for the black. And sinking it. Twin Bro evolved it slightly by looking over at the two men as he sunk the black. We never missed. Or lost. All night …

… Until they took umbrage with our antics (mainly mine my brother informed me years later) and challenged us to a different game, involving us, the alley out the back, and their fists. The bartender thought it best for us to take our leave.

So we swayed down the footpath towards home, and on the side of the road spotted the chassis of a lawnmower in the back of a parked ute. Taking ownership of the mower, I jumped on the front and Twin Bro raced me down the smooth asphalt, my frantic yells of ‘faster! Faster!’ echoing through the suburban streets. They were abruptly silenced as quickly as Twin Bro abruptly stopped – in front of a bark covered garden. Physics took over and I was flung into a bush, bloodied knees and elbows all askew. Remorse swept over my brother, and after checking for vital signs helped me back onto the mower. He drove me all the way back home, screaming the siren call of an ambulance as he ran.

Ma woke us the next morning, our heads throbbing, dried blood on my sheets, and quietly inquired about the lawn mower sans engine parked neatly in the driveway.

We’re thirty years old and I’ve traveled six hours across state. It’s late in the evening and we’re out on the porch. We sip on a beer and talk about the past. Mostly we can’t speak, the tears are flowing down our cheeks, our stomachs are buckling, we can barely breath, we’re laughing so much. We talk about the future and our dreams together; we plan our battles and talk up our chances. It gets late, we’re both tired; it’s time to go to bed. I get up and hug my twin brother, say I love him. He hugs me back, says he loves me too.

Hey Mr Peko-Train, this one’s for you.

(My) Teriyaki Chicken

          

We peeled potatoes side by side together, when we were young; cooked a cup of hot chocolate in the microwave for ten minutes too. We’ve barbecued together, cooked a roast together, had a forgettable Thai meal with his girlfriend once. Cooking has always been a constant for us, even from a young age: when asked what he wanted to do when he grew up, my four year old twin brother replied “feed the skinny people in Africa” … (Big Bro wanted to be a lawyer – even then I guess he liked the idea of arguing with people …)

So when I was writing this post I tried thinking of a recipe my brother would like. Stumped, I reached out and sent a text: “what’s your favourite meal to eat bro?” “Enchiladas” he sent back.

Right … well as much as enchiladas have chicken in them, so does my Teriyaki Chicken, so this is the closest your going to get bro. Hope you enjoy it.

Ingredients:

  • Tamari or Low Salt Soy Sauce
  • Sesame Oil
  • Shao Shing (Chinese cooking wine)
  • Rice Wine Vinegar
  • Mirin Seasoning
  • Palm Sugar (I use the ‘pouring’ kind, easier to measure out)
  • Tamarind Pulp
  • Fresh Chilli or Chilli Paste (optional …)
  • Fresh Lime
  • Soba Noodles (not the drunk kind … drum fill please …)
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Fresh Coriander
  • Capsicum
  • Brown Onion
  • Celery
  • Carrot
  • Button Mushrooms
  • Baby Bok Choy
  • Chicken Breast (or thighs, de-boned and diced. I use two breasts for this recipe)

First … The Marinade:

This needs at least an hour to marinate (which is the most my patience has allowed) but would definitely benefit if left for longer.

(a small aside … I’ve made this recipe at least half a dozen times over the past month, and each and every time I’ve made an initial effort to record the quantities used … and then kinda forget half-way through. I’m a little slack in this regard, I’ll admit. So I’m guessing it would probably be best to be a little prudent, and use these quantities as a rough guideline; in my mind they are fairly approximate, and I’ve always believed that when it comes to marinades, more is definitely better. Hope that helps …)

First, grate a 1 by 3 cm cube of ginger, followed by around four to five cloves of garlic. Place this in a mixing bowl with the finely diced root of the coriander leaves (make sure you wash them thoroughly). Next, add around two cups of soy sauce, and around two teaspoons each of the rice wine vinegar, shao shing, mirin seasoning and sesame oil, a good squeeze of lime juice, with a tablespoon of the tamarind paste and double that for the palm sugar (which is why I use the pouring kind, it’s easier to measure). Either play Russian Roulette with a whole chilli, seeds in or seeds out, or use a teaspoon of chilli paste to add to the mix.

Mix this together well, and then submerge the chicken breasts, scoring each side of first around half a centimetre deep. Cover then refrigerate for at least an hour.

That is seriously the hardest part of this entire recipe.

Next … The Vegetables:

Take the capsicum, carrot, brown onion, celery, mushrooms and baby bok choy, and slice them up ready to be quickly stir-fried, making sure you have rinsed them all thoroughly first. I like to julienne all the vegetables apart from the mushrooms and bok choy: mushrooms aren’t all that easy to julienne, I just roughly chop these, and the bok choy (after rinsing!) I simply sliced length-wise. Place these aside.

Finally … Pulling it all together:

Take a large pot with a lid, or pan with a lid, place the chicken and marinade in (scrape the sides of the bowl …) cover with said lid, then leave to simmer for ten minutes or so (your chicken, your cooking time). After ten minutes, turn the breasts over, leave the lid off, and cook for a further five to ten minutes. Take off the heat, replace the lid, and leave to rest for at least ten minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, boil some water on the stove (in a pot, mind you, in a pot …) and cook the soba noodles for around four to five minutes. Rinse these thoroughly with cold water, then douse rather liberally with sesame oil, mix it in well, then set aside.

As the chicken is resting, fire up a pan to maximum heat (and in our household, open the windows and place a broom below the fire alarm, ready to bash it quiet when it inevitably goes off) and quickly stir-fry the all vegetables, except the bok choy. As it cooks, add a dash of the mirin seasoning, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. As the bok choy takes about half the time, if that, to cook than the rest of the vegetables, stir-fry this last, after removing the other vegetables.

It’s all plain sailing from here … Place the noodles in the bottom of a bowl, add some vegetables (there should be some juices at the bottom too, add these!) then the thinly sliced marinated chicken, and pour over oodles of the chicken marinade. Finish up with some roughly chopped coriander leaves and a few drops of sesame oil.

So again, not quite enchiladas, but fairly close. Kinda. Hope you enjoy it.

Michael Cameron

 

 

Posted in Memories, Recipes | Tagged , , ,

Steak with Grilled Baby Leeks & Romesco Sauce

As the sun slowly set and the adults steadily sipped, we loaded our supplies and crept into position. From the slight hill just above the bonfire we had a strategic view over the paddock in all four directions. This was to be our command post; our mission control.

Big Bro was muttering to himself, shaking his head as he counted out our fireworks; skyrockets in a thatch bag, roman fountains in their aluminium foil packet, Po-hars (double happies) and Tom Thumbs securely packed into circular tin jars, previously employed as camera film containers. The muttering continued as he counted.

“Not enough,” he said, looking at Twin Bro and I. “There’s not enough.”

All three of us looked up as a small child leapt up the hill towards us, laughing excitedly. “Cooooool!” he said, eyeing our munitions. “You got Po-hars too?”

We weren’t looking at him though, but at what he held in his hands – two packets of Po-hars, ten apiece in each, wrapped in red wax paper, shining with potential.

Big Bro squared up, planted his left foot and stretched his right hand out, palm facing up. He frowned slightly.

“Gizzit.” His voice was quiet but with the unmistakable tone of implied violence. “Now.”

The smiling, the laughter, the excitement; it all drained from the child’s face. “B-b-but … But Dad said …”

“I don’t care about Dad; I want those Po-hars. So you can either give them to me, or get a punch in the face. Your choice”

The child’s bottom lip started quivering.

“Don’t cry,” Twin Bro said. “It just makes him angrier”.

“Better hurry up kid, before I reverse the first and keep on with the second.” Big Bro was looking around now, making sure no adults were looking our way. They weren’t. The kid was frowning now. I sighed.

“What he means,” I said. “Was that he’ll just take the Po-hars from you, and still punch you in the face. I’d stick with the first offer; it’s a good deal”.

The kid dropped the red packets and made to run off, but Twin Bro was too quick, he had him almost instantly by the collar. Big Bro moved in, inches from his face.

“You tell anyone? We’ll take the guy down off the bonfire, and chuck you up instead. Got it?”

The kid was looking frantically from the bonfire and back to Big Bro. “He doesn’t look too heavy” I pitched in. Twin Bro shook him a little before saying “Wouldn’t take much to heave him up”. He let go of the child as Big Bro stooped down and retrieved the Po-hars from the grass. He looked around again. No adult activity focused on us, as yet. He leaned in again towards the child, who seemed frozen in fear.

“Piss off”.

The kid ran.

Dusk turned to twilight, the adults continued drinking, and as the music and laughter drifted through the evening air, we turned our sights skyward and watched the first rockets explode into light. Two grown-ups had already fallen over; the laughter of another group had descended towards a lower plane of sobriety. As more rockets sped upwards into the night, and the children danced around the spinning fountains with sparklers in their hands, we knew our time was approaching. We packed up our tin cans, hitched our thatch bags over our shoulders, and slowly moved down the hill.

As agreed, we split up, knowing that the lighting of the bonfire was to be our sign to start. I moved quietly behind a group of teenagers, stealthily slurping stolen cans of beer. The cows had only been moved from the paddock a day earlier, and even though the day’s sunlight had hardened the surface of the cow pats, the smell still told you where they were. I had lost sight of Twin Bro and Big Bro, but I knew they were following the plan just as I was. I sunk a few Po-hars into the cow pat, and crept back a metre or two. The decision to wear black was paying off; the teenagers barely glanced in my direction, their shadows flickered across my face as they sipped and laughed.

The noise around the bonfire was getting louder, instinctively I reached into my pocket and pulled out my lighter. Peering through the teenagers  I glimpsed an adult, flaming stick in hand, lighting the hay around the bonfire. Almost immediately a loud crack went off; he dropped the stick and swiftly pivoted around.

“What the …?” He said to himself before, in a louder voice: “Cow shit? Goddam cow shit!?”. I could just make out Twin Bro sprinting through the fringes of the crowd, up and around towards mission control.

Without another second lost I lit the Po-hars, and in a moment of inspiration also lit an entire line of Tom Thumbs, throwing them in front of the teenagers as I raced past. The gunshot cracking sound of the Tom Thumbs had them instantly moving towards the booby-trapped cow pat. Within moments, after the muffled crack of the detonated pat, the teenagers loud exclamations joined that of the bonfire lighter: “Cow shit? Goddam cow shit!?”

Regrouping on the hill a minute later, Big Bro was shaking his head again. “The lighter jammed, I had to use matches! I couldn’t light it quick enough, because you - ” he pointed at Twin Bro, “started too early!”

Twin Bro shrugged. “An opportunity presented itself, I took it.” He shrugged again. I looked past them, down the hill towards the teenagers, darkened silhouettes against the bonfire. They were looking up at us, wiping cow shit off their legs, necking back more stolen cans of beer, pointing menacingly in our direction. Big Bro narrowed his eyes. “Do a count!” he hissed, loading a skyrocket into a PVC pipe he’d kept hidden in his bag. We opened our tins, counted our Tom Thumbs and our Po-hars, stabbed some skyrockets into the grass, then nodded back. “Enough” I said. The teenagers had begun slowly walking towards us.

“Right,” Big Bro said, as he raised the pipe onto his shoulders and lit a match. “Give them everything we got!” He paused, looked us solemnly in the face, one at a time. “And then …” He lit the fuse of the skyrocket, bent down on one knee, and closed his left eye: “Run like fuck towards Mum.”

“Remember, remember, the 5th of November: Gunpowder, treason and plot …” 

Steak with Grilled Baby Leeks & Romesco Sauce

Spaniards have their own bonfires too, just without the fireworks, explosives and anti-parliament sentiment of Guy Fawkes Night. And instead of burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes himself over the bonfire, they cook some food over the flames. So almost the same, I guess …

Once a year, in the town of Valls, in Tarragona (Cataluna) bonfires are lit from the branches of the local vineyards, steel racks laid over them, then Calçots wrapped in newspaper, are placed on the racks. Think of calçots as the green stems of onions, replanted in soil and allowed to grow again. The stems are constantly covered by soil as they grow, the flesh inside staying sweet and white. Meat is thrown on top of the massive barbecue as the calçots blacken, and once all cooked, the charcoal outside of the calçots are stripped off, dipped in a traditional Romesco sauce, then downed in one. The more lewd and salacious the comments made, as the head is thrown back, mouth opened and the Romesco drenched calçots downed in one, the better …

Ingredients: 

  • Good Quality Steak
  • Baby Leeks
  • Kitchen String
  • Baking Paper
  • Red Capsicums
  • Vine Ripened Tomatoes (or the best sweet, juicy ones you can find)
  • Garlic
  • Chilli
  • Whole Blanched Almonds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Fresh Thyme
  • Fresh Parsley
  • Good Quality Olive Oil
  • Red Wine Vinegar
  • Lemon

First … The Romesco Sauce:

This takes the longest time out of the whole recipe, so best to get it done now.

Start by turning the oven on to 180 degrees, set to fan bake.

In an oven tray, place two red peppers and five to six tomatoes along with five or so cloves of garlic, unpeeled. Place these in the oven on the top rack. Once you can smell the garlic emanating from the oven (probably ten minutes at most) take the garlic out, turn the peppers and tomatoes over, then continue roasting for a further 15 minutes or so. I would err on the side of caution and leave them in longer than shorter; the skins should be black and blistered. It is possible the tomatoes may have to come out sooner than the peppers.

Once the tomatoes and peppers are taken out, place them on a plate and cover with cling film for five to ten minutes. From here, peel off the blackened skin (not that easy really, the peppers and tomatoes are still hot!) cut in half and discard the seeds (not that easy either, they stick to everything) and try and save as much of the juice that leaks out as possible (um, yeah … not too easy as well; I just do the whole procedure over a bowl, then strain the juices out into the sauce later …). Roughly cut peppers, unpeeled garlic and tomatoes then place into a hand blitzer or mortar and pestle, and blitz or bash away. Place this into a mixing bowl.

While the peppers, garlic and tomatoes are roasting, in another oven tray place a good handful of almonds in, with about half the amount of hazelnuts. Roast these in the oven, turning once or twice, for five or so minutes. Pay close attention to them so they don’t get burnt or take on two much colour. You want a good medium roast. Blitz or bash the nuts then combine with the pepper mix.

For the past month or so my local supermarket has been fairly short on fresh chilli’s, which has led to an enforced substitution of chilli paste. After playing Russian Roulette with chilli’s for half my life, I’ve grown rather fond of using a teaspoon of chilli paste rather than fresh chilli. I feel it gives more control, and avoids blowing out your tastebuds with the occasional devil chilli … So either blitz or bash up fresh chilli, seeds in or out (you be your own judge of heat …) or use some chilli paste, starting with a little and adding more if required.

Mix this all together with the peppers, garlic, tomatoes and nuts, then add a splash of red wine vinegar, a squeeze of lemon juice, a small handful of roughly chopped fresh thyme and parsley, season with some salt and pepper, then taste … It should be sweet from the tomatoes and peppers, slightly tart from the vinegar and lemon juice, seasoned well, with a fresh vibrancy from the herbs. Readjust a little at a time as needed, till you get the taste you want.

Next … The Baby Leeks:

       

So in the confines of your own kitchen we shall try and replicate the Calçotada of Valls …

First, top and tail the baby leeks, then wash thoroughly in running water. Nothing is worse when eating this than finding gritty bits of dirt throughout the leeks. Wash ‘em up.

Get a pan nice and hot, add some olive oil, then sauté the leeks for three or so minutes, or until some colour develops. Take them off the stove, place on some kitchen paper, wrap them up and secure with some kitchen string, then place these in the oven for ten to fifteen minutes. It’s also possible to wrap them up in newspaper and throw them on the barbecue outside (though I haven’t tried it myself yet, no barbecue and all …). You could possibly blister up the capsicums and tomatoes on the grill at the same time.

Finally … The Steak:

Dear Reader, as I’ve said before, I have plenty of faith in your ability to cook a steak. Don’t let me down now. Medium rare though, if you would … And please, please rest your steak for at least half the time it takes to cook.

Other than that remember it would look pretty cool on the plate to simply cut the string and leave the baby leeks in the kitchen paper when serving, liberally drizzled with the Romesco sauce.

Don’t forget, however, to save up some choice double entendres as your guests down the baby leeks … It is traditional remember …

Michael Cameron

Posted in Memories, Recipes | Tagged , , , ,

White Chocolate, Raspberry & Basil Soufflé with Toasted Almonds

Number 8 Maine Street was as strategically placed a house as any kid could hope to grow up in. Walk left out the driveway to the end of the street, turn left again then walk for a brisk five minutes, and you’d find yourself on the grounds of Hillcrest Primary School. Walk right out the driveway to the end of the street, turning right again and walking for the same brisk five minutes, and you would find yourself diving into the pools of the Dannevirke Public Swimming Baths. In the opposite direction turning left was Dannevirke Domain, with the Lower Domain below that. The best direction to leave the house however, was to turn left out the driveway, up to the end of the street, turn right, and within a hundred paces you found yourself on sacred ground; inside the doors of Tinkerbell Dairy, home of the Gobstopper, Fizzy Lollies, and Goody Goody Gumdrops ice cream.

Even though the directions for getting to school were fairly simple; turn left out the driveway, left at the end of the street, down Swinburn Street to the end, and finally left into the school, I still vividly recall the day in my first year at school when I decided to take a shortcut home … and got lost. Rather than reverse the simple ‘left, left, left’ journey, I opted to instead walk straight ahead, missing the first turn, walked for another ten minutes, took a random right turn, walked another five more minutes, cried, walked back to my random right turn, cried, turned left, cried again, before finally one of my older brother’s friends walked out of his driveway and inquired as to where I was headed. I cried. Sensing something was amiss, he called up home, and within five minutes my older brother was biking up the driveway to the rescue; perhaps the last time for the next ten years he went out of his way to help me … As glad as I was to see my older brother, I still remember feeling a little miffed, through all the tears, that Mother had delegated her younger son’s rescue to the eldest; but I guess we had previous form for being late home from school …

Hot summer days and tar seal on the roads were the optimum ingredients needed for a spot of popping ‘tar bubbles'; a delightful pursuit we took up one afternoon after school on the way home. Returning late, Ma was beside herself with worry. Worry quickly turned to anger, then to what could loosely be described as a form of child abuse, as she spent the next hour and a half with a bottle of menthylated spirits and an old rag, scrubbing our feet raw to rid them of the tar. In a sad indictment of our stunted ability to weigh up actions and their consequences, it was not to be the last time she battled with our tar-covered feet. Sometimes, those bubbles were just too damn irresistible.

Summer at Hillcrest Primary always meant school trips to the Dannevirke Swimming Baths. If you had a nice teacher, in the afternoon you would take the short trip across the top field, down a small shingle path, then across the street to the pool. A not so nice teacher (I’m looking at you Mr Simpson …) would have you heading over in the morning, your bag weighed down for the rest of the day by your wet swimming gears. And if you misbehaved at any point before your scheduled trip to the pool? No swimming today, unfortunately (still looking at you Mr Simpson). It was the height of embarrassment to forget your togs (that’s right; not swimming trunks, not swim shorts, we called them togs …) as you were exiled to the stands, forced to watch on as your classmates practiced atomic bombs, staples, and superman dives into the pool. During those summer days Ma knew her single most important task of the morning was to ensure she left out on the kitchen bench three fifty cent pieces; the after-school entry fee for the pool. If we had spare change we would hire out a ‘flutter board’, a polystyrene swimming aid that we put to good use as a Frisbee, seeing how far we could fling it from the water. Losing the fifty cents or so it would cost for the flutter board was a price well paid for the pleasure of seeing it fly over the fence, down into the depths of the Lower Domain. When the frequent summer rains would pass over, and the announcement came over the loudspeakers to exit the pool for fear of lightening strikes (which never, ever, happened) we would stay in the water, loving the sense of heat the change in temperature would bring to the water. Afterwards, arriving home, we would devour bananas smothered in peanut butter, famished from our aquatic adventures. When I think of summer in Dannevirke, my thoughts immediately go to those Public Swimming Baths, and the hours we spent swimming there.

In front of the Baths were the local cricket nets, and beyond lay the fields of The Dannevirke Domain, home to my early incompetence with bat and ball. Every Saturday morning, dressed in white, I would venture out onto the pitch, swing my bat, and occasionally meet leather. When it was my turn to bowl, I would embark on a junior rendition of the infamous ‘Bodyline Series’, with the ball hurled at all parts of the batsman’s body, or any foolish close in fielders. Trudging home with abysmal figures recorded, I would smile at Ma and tell her how great a game I played. And do it all over again the following Saturday, year after year … Scattered around the Domain were the ageing grandstands, a small toddler’s swimming pool, some swings, a fountain, and what we called the ‘ark'; a kind of giant merry-go-round that swung up and down as well as around, old tires strapped to the bottom to aid in the ‘bounce’. It was a regular occurrence for a random child to fall to the (concrete) ground and get hammered beneath the tires with the motion of the ark, others laughing at the poor child’s attempts to escape the ark’s clutches. Those ‘other’s’ may or may not have been us three brothers … And we may or may not have swung the ark so hard that small children scattered over the sides, flying through the air …  There was never any conclusive proof fingering us as the culprits, and no witnesses ever came forward. Case unsolved I guess.

You could easily walk down to the Lower Domain by heading down Christian Street, but we usually chose the small dirt track leading down from the top of the Swimming Baths. And we never really walked, we were far more daring riding our BMX ‘Dirtbusters’. And it wasn’t really a small dirt track, more a cliff edge on a slight incline, old gnarled roots ready to snarl those who weren’t concentrating their full strength to defeating the forces of gravity. It would take a leisurely five minute walk to reach the Lower Domain from Christian Street; I’m proud to say we could do it in thirty seconds, down that devilish dirt track on our Dirtbuster’s. It could be done in ten seconds, but no spokes, wheels or skin arrived at the bottom unscathed. Down the Lower Domain, past the A-Frame camping huts, the stagnant lakes of water, the picnic tables and the rusty public barbecues, was the deer enclosure. For reasons I have yet to fathom, my brother and his friend, at the height of the breeding season, stags stomping and making their mark everywhere behind the two metre high fence, decided to climb over, I think to see what was on the other side. Never have I seen such a sudden look of comprehension dawn on someone’s face, when staring at an obviously angry stag not more than a metre away from them, my brother thought to himself ‘maybe not such a good idea’ … Within three bounds they were up, over, and onto the other side, unfortunately covered in the musky smell of marauding stags that covered the fence. That smell was so bad, we were forced to come up with a new adjective, and now, if we ever come close to encountering a similar smell we whisper to each other; ‘that guy smells like stageena!’

But it was those few hundred paces from home, that small shop on the corner, Tinkerbell Dairy, that was far and away our favourite landmark close to home. Those signs outside, the cabinets within, the stocks of sugar, and the wages of the staff; we must have financed some of that, so often were we in there sampling the goods. We were there through all the trends; fizzy sherbets, hard candies, soft sugars, all iterations of the gobstopper; small, large, and extra large. Chocolate covered toffee bars that came perilously close to cracking teeth apart; sour balls so explosive that for a second or two after they entered your mouth, you simply could not speak, head shaking uncontrollably with tears streaming down your cheeks from the shattering sourness. There were two metre long tapes of chewing gum which we shovelled into our mouths with careless abandon, hours later still chewing, jaws aching. Blood Bites and Zombie balls would create fountains of red or green in your mouth, and we would stumble across roads, the colours cascading down our chins, attempting to scare anyone driving by. They never stopped, apart from the one time we mixed the two together; small children sprouting brown goo from their mouths was obviously cause for concern.

From K-Bars to Crunchie Bars, we tried them all, and it was from Tinkerbell Dairy that our family’s life-long love affair with confectionery was born. For years no meal seemed complete without something sweet to eat afterwards, and dinner would have forever continued on like that I think, well into old age, had my teeth not finally given in. After months of pain, at the tender age of 25, I was in the dentist’s office having the final remains of one of my back teeth removed. It came as no surprise to me that a day later my twin brother was on the phone, telling me he too had to have the exact same tooth removed. Now, when people find out I have a twin brother and ask if we finish each other’s sentences, or know when the other is in pain, I simply reply no; our teeth just fall out at the same time.

I still adore anything sweet, but for the future health of my teeth I have had to dramatically cut down on sugar. I’m sure my older brother will be shaking his head when he reads that sentence; his idea of dramatic and my idea of essential are maybe a little different. It would perhaps be more precise to say that rather than have a bag of sweets beside me every night after dinner, I’ve downgraded to every second night, with the occasional bout of ice cream in between. It’s a start I think; I have years of addiction to wean myself off …

White Chocolate, Raspberry & Basil Soufflé with Toasted Almonds

White chocolate and raspberry are two flavours that meld together extremely well. Raspberry and basil complement each other perfectly. And toasted almonds? They’re exceptional with all manner of desserts. Don’t let the soufflé part daunt you, this is a fairly easy recipe to pull together. With the right amount of preparation this can easily be knocked together in around 15 minutes, and for the half hour it takes to cook you can regale your dinner companions with your own stories of the local corner shop …

Ingredients:

  • 200 grams Good Quality White Chocolate (the cooking kind)
  • 100 grams Unsalted Butter
  • 3 Egg Whites
  • 2 Egg Yolks
  • 30 grams Castor Sugar (superfine works best)
  • 25 grams Brown Sugar
  • 30 grams Almond Meal
  • 200 grams Raspberries (I use frozen …)
  • Blanched Almonds
  • Fresh Basil

This is enough to serve four people, in medium sized ramekins.

First … A Bit of Mise en Place:

Start by turning the oven on to 180 degrees.

If you’re using frozen berries, defrost them quickly in the microwave (besides softening ice cream, perhaps the only other thing I use the microwave for …). Next you need to spend a good couple of minutes passing the raspberries through a sieve. It’s the juicy pulp you want, not the pips.

With that done roughly chop around a quarter of a cup’s worth of fresh basil, and five to six whole almonds. Toast the chopped almond pieces in a pan for a minute or two, being sure not to burn them.

Next, get out the kitchen scales and separately measure out the brown sugar, castor sugar, butter and almond meal. Mix the egg yolk in with the brown sugar once you’re done.

Finally, grease your ramekins with some butter then lightly sprinkle some castor sugar inside, shaking out any excess.

Next … The White Chocolate:

Melt the white chocolate over a double-boiler (pot on the stove, water gently simmering in it, white chocolate in a glass bowl perched on top of the pot). Be extremely conscious of the heat; white chocolate is fairly unstable, and if the heat is too high the cocoa butter and milk solids will separate, and you’ll need to start again with a fresh batch of chocolate. While the chocolate is gently melting away, in a pan melt down the butter then stir in half the basil, infusing the flavour. When the chocolate has melted through remove from the heat, and stir in the basil butter. Mix in the rest of the basil, the raspberry juice, toasted almonds (reserving a few for later) and the almond meal, then the egg yolk and brown sugar mixture, stirring constantly. Set aside and move quickly onto the egg whites.

Next … The Egg Whites:

In a bowl use an electric beater (or for the uninitiated; a hand whisk …) and beat the egg whites until firm. Still beating, slowly add the castor sugar, and continue beating until stiff peaks are formed. Pay attention to when those stiff peaks are formed; if you beat the whites too far water is introduced to the mixture later on, resulting in half-set soufflé’s at the end.

Next … Putting It All Together:

Mix a small amount of the egg whites into the other mixture to lighten it up, then start gently folding (not stirring) in the rest of the egg whites with a spatula. This should only take a minute or two, be careful not to take too long folding, as you will start to loose the air trapped in the egg whites. Pour the mixture in evenly into the ramekins, place in an oven tray and pour some boiling water into the tray. This helps regulate the heat and cook the soufflés evenly. Place on the bottom tray of the oven, then cook for 25 to 30 minutes. Sprinkle some of the toasted almonds over the top and serve immediately. Be careful though, they’re still pretty damn hot …

From gobstoppers to soufflés, it’s been a sweet journey; and it all started those few hundred paces from 8 Maine Street. The Dannevirke Domain and Lower Domain are still there, but the Ark long gone. The Swimming Baths have been renamed the AMP Wai Splash Community Pool, and some of the magic seems gone now. Hillcrest Primary School closed a few years ago, amalgamating with the enemy; North School. However, it brought a smile to my face to see when searching Google Maps, that still there, some odd thirty years later, was Tinkerbell Dairy.

M Cameron

Posted in Recipes | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Potato Gnocchi with Mushroom Consommé & Roasted Hazelnuts


Gnocchi hasn’t been my friend for quite some time now. I can’t recall what began this culinary schism, as I have always shown the humble potato the greatest of respect. I have never over-boiled potatoes, roasted them to charred blackness, nor steamed them to a muddy mash. I’ve steered well clear of powdered ‘mash’, have always seasoned them well with salt and pepper, and no potato has ever taken up long-term residence at the back of the cupboard, vainly sprouting roots in an attempt to propagate through the wooden interiors. I’ve shown nothing but love and respect for potatoes, but mastering gnocchi, those soft pillows of potato perfection, has always eluded me …

So this week I decided that something had to be done; I could no longer go on with this constant shunning. It was time for gnocchi and I to get together and talk this through like adults, try find some common ground, and get to the root of what the problems were. I was sure this was all a misunderstanding, actions misconstrued and best intentions misjudged. I was confident that with some civilised discourse a mature outcome could be achieved. I’ve always liked gnocchi, and I wanted gnocchi to like me.

It wasn’t easy and I learned some hard lessons; potato choices and flour ratios, baking versus boiling, there was a bewildering amount of information to learn at first. But each night with each failed batch of gnocchi, I came ever-closer to those soft pillows of potato perfection. I’m not there yet, but it would seem that gnocchi and I have moved on from enemies, past the close acquaintances stage and into that wonderful realm of best friends forever. Gnocchi, my new bff …

To start … The Basic Recipe:

Googling ‘gnocchi’ returns a little over 22 million results. By the time you get to the third or fourth page you should start to get an idea of how gnocchi is made:

  • Boil potatoes
  • Mash potatoes
  • Add flour
  • Knead
  • Roll
  • Cut up then mark with a fork
  • Boil in water until they float to the top
  • Serve with sauce

It all seems rather simple, but the majority of recipes don’t go into much detail on each element required to make perfect gnocchi. And that was one of the main problems gnocchi and I encountered … we simply didn’t know much about each other. So over a glass of wine, with some cool jazz playing in the background, we sat down and got to talking …

First … Potatoes matter:

You can’t just use any old type of potato for gnocchi; this was a very particular point brought up. By the third glass of wine it quickly became clear that water is the mortal enemy of gnocchi. Do not forget this. Waxy potatoes have a higher water content than floury ones, so straight away, if you’re using waxy potatoes for gnocchi, you’ve lost already. Floury potatoes are the only potatoes that should be used for gnocchi. Ideally, this recipe should be started at least two to three weeks in advance, with your floury potatoes nestling comfortably in a cool, dry place, aging away peacefully. Aged floury potatoes are the best kind to use for gnocchi.

Next … Cooking potatoes matter:

Leave the skins on when cooking the potatoes. If you’re boiling the potatoes with the skins off, you are exposing the flesh to infiltration by the mortal enemy, water. So leave the skins on. Which leads me to my next point: boiling potatoes.

It’s an easy way to cook the potatoes, same goes for steaming. The problem is, over-cooking the potatoes can also lead to possible water infiltration, especially if you’re prodding them to see if they’re cooked yet. I don’t like the risk; I find it far more beneficial to bake them in the oven.

Firstly, I line the bottom of an oven tray with a thick layer of rock salt, this will aid in drawing out any excess moisture. I have the oven around 180 degrees, and bake the potatoes (skin on of course) for around 45 minutes to an hour, turning them over halfway through. It is much safer to check if the potatoes are cooked through poking and prodding while baking them in the oven, as, funnily enough, there’s zero water involved.

If you do decide to boil the potatoes, make sure you place the potatoes in the water while it’s cold, then bring to the boil. Placing potatoes in boiling water will cause the skins to split (water!) or not cook the potatoes through evenly. Try and avoid the prodding part …

Next … The mashing:

It is important you do this step while the potatoes are still hot. Mashing hot potatoes helps reduce the water content even more through evaporation. But first you need to get rid of the skins. Have fun with that. I use gloves on both hands, with plasters over my thumbs, a tea towel in one hand, and a paring knife in the other. I’m not a professional chef; I still have nerve endings firing away at the tips of my fingers. And the potatoes are hot dammit …

To be clear, I don’t actually mash the potatoes; I use a potato ricer. If you want to make great gnocchi you should seriously consider purchasing a potato ricer. A ten minute job becomes a two minute job. No ricer? Pass the potatoes through a sieve (you should be used to it from this recipe, or this one …). I would not recommend using some kind of potato mashing instrument; you will break down the cell walls of the potatoes, creating a kind of glue that would perhaps be better suited to holding bricks together. Using a food processor? For gnocchi? Navigate away from this page please …

Next … The dough:

Some recipes will call for you to mix in the flour while the potatoes are still hot. To be perfectly honest, this never came up in my gnocchi conversations, I was too busy discussing ratios of flour. My instinct was to wait until they were cold so as not to scramble the egg. So once they’ve cooled down, you can get onto the kneading part.

The ratio of flour to potato, however, is extremely important. I found it incredibly frustrating to find so many recipes specifying two or three cups of flour; a cup is a measure of volume, you want a measure of mass. So ditch the measuring cups and spend a few bucks on an electronic scale, your gnocchi will appreciate it.

The basic ratio I use is 120 grams of flour to 500 grams of potato, with perhaps 50 grams extra used, depending on how the flour is acting with the potato. I use Italian “OO'” grade flour, but regular plain flour could be used as well. “OO” flour is finer than regular flour, and it seems to work better with pasta and gnocchi.

So, once I’ve allowed the riced potato to cool, I add one beaten egg, but you could leave this out. Egg provides extra strength for the gluten from the flour to bind with the potato, and adds a springy texture. I’ve never tried it without an egg, but hey, if you’re feeling adventurous, omit one egg … I then add a teaspoon of olive oil, about half the flour, a good amount of salt and pepper, mix it in for a few minutes, then place it onto the kitchen bench, add the rest of the flour, and continue kneading for five to ten minutes until a nice dough has formed. All up, this is a good basic recipe, but you can do better …

So, in addition to the beaten egg, olive oil, salt and pepper and olive oil, I add 100 grams of grated Parmesan, a good tablespoon of Dijon mustard, and about a teaspoon of ground nutmeg, to 500 grams of potato. The addition of grated Parmesan means less flour needs to be added, which only helps the finished flavour. And mustard has always been a good partner to Parmesan.

If you have kneaded in the flour and you are still left with a sticky, gluey mess, it is possible that you are either using the wrong potatoes, have mashed them when they had cooled down too much, or somehow got water into the potatoes if you steamed or boiled them. It is easy at this point to start adding extra flour to try and achieve a dough like consistency. Don’t. You’ll be tasting all that flour at the end, and it won’t taste good. Parmesan will help, but not salvage the situation. You could decide to simply stick with what you have and move along with the recipe, or start again. Just don’t keep adding flour. You can safely add an extra 100 grams of flour to 500 grams of potato, if need be, but the flavour will begin to suffer towards the end of those 100 grams, especially if you go over that amount.

Once you have your dough ready, clean down your bench thoroughly of any excess flour or dough that may have stuck to it. Then, with a light sprinkling of fresh flour on the bench, start breaking off chunks of the dough and begin rolling it out into a long rope, around 1.5cm in diameter. Repeat until all the dough is rolled out into these ropes. Add a little more flour to the surface of the ropes if they are sticking to the bench. Next, start cutting the ropes off into small 1 to 2cm lengths. Once you have them all cut up, grab a fork and push one side of the small pillows lightly onto the fork, using your thumb to place a small indentation in the back. This will help any sauce you make stick to the gnocchi, and speed up it’s cooking.

From here it’s all rather simple. Get a pot of salted water boiling, then cook the gnocchi in batches. Once they float to the top, they’re cooked. Scoop out with a slotted spoon or sieve and put aside with a little olive oil coating them to prevent sticking. If you are serving it with a sauce, use the gnocchi immediately. If you’re going to cook them later (like with my recipe coming up) have a large bowl of iced water nearby, and place the gnocchi into this once it’s cooked. The iced water will prevent further cooking, and help the gnocchi hold it’s shape.

And that’s it; gnocchi done. Hurrah! Now, moving on to my recipe …

Potato Gnocchi with Mushroom Consommé & Hazelnuts

Ingredients:

  • Floury Potatoes (Desiree’s are ideal; I use Red Rascal. I use around 1 kg to serve 3 to 4 people)
  • Italian Grade “OO” Flour (or plain flour)
  • Eggs
  • Olive Oil
  • Grated Parmesan (please don’t use pre-grated stuff, it’s horrible)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Nutmeg (ground or grate it in fresh yourself)
  • Mushrooms (portobello’s seem to work best for the consommé, swiss browns for the garnish. Button mushrooms don’t seem to carry as much flavour)
  • Fresh Thyme
  • Shallots (French shallots; like baby onions, but better. Not spring onions)
  • Garlic
  • Prosciutto or Jamón (bacon will work in a pinch, I like the flavour of Jamón)
  • Hazelnuts

First … The Gnocchi:

The first step of course is to prepare the gnocchi. Just follow the steps above, including the Parmesan, mustard and nutmeg. Be sure to use the ice-water bath after cooking the gnocchi in boiling water. Drain the gnocchi from the water, coat in some olive oil and then set aside.

Next … The Mushroom Consommé:

While you have your potatoes baking away in the oven, roughly chop the portobello mushrooms, a few swiss browns, one shallot and a clove of garlic. Place in a pot with three to four sprigs of thyme, cover with water, then set on the stove on a low heat to simmer. I use around 400 grams of mushrooms all up, with about 900mls to a litre of water. As we are trying to make a consommé at the end, it’s important not to boil the mushrooms, as boiling will cloud the broth. Just leave it at a simmer for a good hour, stirring occasionally.

After an hour of simmering the house should be filled with the wondrous aroma of fungi, with the water now a deep amber brown. The next step now is to clarify the mushroom broth with egg whites. Just remember, I do this more for presentation than anything else. You could easily strain the mushrooms out of the broth, leave it on the stove keeping warm, and serve it like that. It could also be argued that clarifying the broth with egg whites diminishes some of the flavour too. So it’s completely up to you if you follow the next step. For the brave, continue on …

Strain the broth, then leave it in the refrigerator to cool down for 20 minutes or so. If you add the egg whites into the broth while it’s hot, they will scramble, and then it’s back to the stove for another hour of simmering another mushroom broth. Like me, the first time I tried to clarify the broth …

Once the broth has cooled down, lightly (lightly!) beat one egg white, and add to that one finely diced mushroom and some crushed egg shells too. Lightly stir this into the broth and then set it on the stove, again at a low simmer. If you boil the broth here, it will not clarify, so keep a close eye on it, adjusting the heat if need be. After ten or so minutes, the egg whites, shells, and diced mushrooms will begin to form what is called a ‘raft’ on top of the broth. As this forms it will be bringing to the surface any solid particles within the broth, and after 45 minutes to an hour of simmering, beneath the raft you should have a crystal clear consommé.

The final part is to remove the raft. Using a slotted spoon, or Chinese copper wok strainer, gently remove as much of the raft as you can, trying not to disturb the consommé beneath. I’ve seen some chefs siphon it out, which is entertaining to watch when it goes wrong … Once you have removed most or all of the raft, strain the consommé into a container. You could use muslin cloth, a coffee filter, or even paper towels to aid in straining; it all depends on how discerning you are towards the clearness of your consommé. I just use a paper towel until it gets water-logged, then just pour the rest in. Works for me.

Transfer to a clean pot, and leave on the stove to reheat for later.

Next … The Garnish:

Roughly chop one shallot, a good handful of swiss brown mushrooms, one to two slices of Jamón or prosciutto (or bacon), a clove of garlic, and two to three teaspoons of chopped thyme. Sauté these together in a pan with a little olive oil for three to four minutes. Season with salt and pepper then remove from the pan and set aside. If you would like to keep this dish vegetarian, just leave out the Jamón or prosciutto.

Finally … The Assembly:

Gently start reheating your consommé, seasoning it with some salt and pepper, and turn your pan onto a medium heat. Start sautéing your gnocchi in batches in the pan. Be careful not to have the heat too high, or else they will burn on the bottom of the pan. You will also know fairly quickly if you have either added to much flour or cooked them too long in boiling water; they will begin to disintegrate in the pan. This happened to you? You may want to go back to step one, or head off to the supermarket for some pre-made gnocchi. Sorry bout that …

Once you have a nice golden colour to most of your gnocchi, return the garnish to the pan, gently mix it in, then place into your serving bowls. Add a small handful of roughly chopped hazelnuts to each bowl; the hazelnuts definitely benefit from being roasted slightly in the oven beforehand. Pour the consommé over the top, adjust for final seasoning, then shave over some Parmesan and pour over a small dollop of olive oil. I also add some fresh peas and purple carrots to complete the dish, but it will certainly work fine on it’s own.

Now, with a bit of luck, you should have a crystal clear consommé, tasty garnish, and small pillows of potato perfection. And, if you’re like me, you’ll find you have a new friend: potato gnocchi. We get on just fine now.

M Cameron

Posted in Recipes | Tagged , , , ,

The Cameron Clan Sunday Pizza – A Short History

 

March 1989 – The Cameron Clan Sunday Pizza is Born:

In an effort to perhaps ease the work required in feeding three young, hungry and ever-growing boys, Mother invents The Cameron Clan Sunday Pizza. The Recipe is simple at first, involving those ingredients considered sacrosanct to most young children under the age of ten: tomato sauce, tinned spaghetti, tinned pineapple chunks, luncheon meat, and cheese. Preparation is fairly basic: the tomato sauce is smothered over three frozen pizza bases, one cut in half to aid in the placement of the pizzas on the oven tray (invariably one side would squeeze up on the side of the oven; this extra crunchy piece was long considered a delicacy, and hard-fought for over the dinner table). Spaghetti was roughly chopped in the tin using a dinner knife, then evenly spread over the tomato sauce. The round slices of luncheon meat were cut into segments then placed on the pizza, with the pineapple chunks, (after draining the juice and drinking as a pre-dinner apéritif) following the same pattern. Finally, a 1 kg block of cheese was grated, then spread on top of the pizza. The pizza was placed in a hot oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cheese had properly formed a ‘crust’.

The Three Boys thoroughly enjoyed both the preparation and eating of the pizza, but perhaps the greatest joy of The Cameron Clan Sunday Pizza was the intrinsic value it held on the School Swap-Lunch Market. At the opening bell of the Monday Market frequent scenes of mass trading involving the left over pizza were the norm, providing the boys with almost unparalleled options at the Market. There were often rumours of inside trading occurring Fridays; promises made for first pick options on the pizza come Monday, but as nothing substantial was ever proved, The Three Boys control of the Monday Market remained firmly in their grasp. It was a reign that was to last mostly unchallenged for five long years. 

February 1990 – The Great Bacon Massacre:

In a much-anticipated move on the School Swap-Lunch Market, a significant change was made to The Recipe for The Cameron Clan Sunday Pizza. Luncheon meat was out, bacon was in. It was a bold move, one which almost ended in total disaster.

It was well-known by The Three Boys of Mother’s almost insatiable appetite for pork crackling; it was not anticipated however that this would cross over to bacon. This problem was at first avoided by using the bacon in the same manner as the luncheon meat; sliced raw, then placed on the pizza to be cooked in the oven. Citing difficulty with picking up the ‘essence’ of the bacon flavour itself, it was unanimously decided that the bacon should be cooked off first in a pan before being added to the pizza. In hindsight it is perhaps easy to say that Mother’s vocal approval of this technique should have been some kind of warning to The Three Boys. However a late start to the pizza preparation resulting in added hunger clouded their judgement, and this, coupled with their own trust in Mother, resulted in perhaps the blackest day of The Cameron Clan Sunday Pizza.

The usual preparation began; pizza bases were taken out of the freezer, the oven was turned on, and the cheese was grated. The bacon was diced up, rinds removed, then placed in a hot pan. However, in what was later described as a rather underhand move, Mother declared only she could cook the bacon, before noting that MacGyver was about to begin. Having seen the previews all week (ants invade; MacGyver must use only his Swiss army knife and common sense to save the day) The Three Boys eagerly trooped off to the lounge room. Upon their return ten minutes later, the bacon had been massacred. 

The pan was still smoking; little bits of bacon stuck to the bottom. Mother’s hand and face were greasy and wet. She protested her innocence, mouth muffled still by crispy bacon bits yet to be swallowed. Apart from what was left in the pan, no bacon remained. 

Left with no choice, The Three Boys continued on with the pizza, but at an Extraordinary General Meeting that night it was agreed that an amendment needed to be made to the Pizza Preparation Protocol: from now on, at all times, one of The Three Boys was to be in attendance while the cooking of the bacon was undertaken. In May ’91, July ’92, and April ’93, serious attempts were made by Mother to breach the protocol, and in February 1994, a substantial amount of crispy bacon bits were consumed by Mother before The Three Boys could step in and salvage what was left.

During Monday Market trading the following day after The Bacon Massacre, The Three Boys were greeted on the concrete with cries of outrage, with serious accusations being made of misleading the Market. However, riding the storm of disapproval over the week, The Three Boys made a triumphant return to the Monday Market the following week; their pizza now replete with perfectly cooked crispy bacon, resulting in bumper trades throughout the lunch period.

November 1990 – A Period of Refinement:

Over the following few months and into the new year, a slow program of gradual refinement was introduced to The Recipe. Colby cheese was replaced with Tasty cheese, resulting in a more stringy and tactile texture. Shoulder bacon was replaced with rashers of bacon, and a new technique was trialed where the bacon was cut into finer pieces with the pan placed on a higher temperature. This resulted in crispy pieces of bacon that added a new dimension of flavour to the pizza. In an effort to reduce the amount of ‘slippage’, whereby the top layer of the pizza would slide off from the initial bite, tomato paste became the first layer of the pizza followed by the tomato sauce. While it was not a complete success, incidents of ‘slippage’ diminished significantly.

These changes were greeted positively on the School Swap-Lunch Market, and The Cameron Clan Sunday Pizza continued to trade successfully. 

May 1991 – Mother Uses Her Veto:

This period will perhaps best be remembered for the controversial inclusion of Frozen Peas to The Recipe. Upon realising Mother’s intention to include Frozen Peas in The Recipe, an immediate vote resulted in a 3 – 1 decision to exclude their use. In a return decision that shocked The Three Boys, Mother used her powerful ‘I-pay-the-bills-feed-you-cloth-you-provide-shelter-to-you-and-carried-you-in-my-womb-for-nine-goddam-months’ Veto, and for the following few weeks frozen peas were included in The Recipe. The School Swap-Lunch Market viewed the change indifferently, with The Cameron Clan Sunday Pizza continuing to trade well. Still, The Three Boys were rather indignant at such a blatant move to include greens in their diet.

August 1991 – Over-Extension:

In a bold move to maximize trade value, availability of the Cameron Clan Sunday Pizza was halved on Mondays, moving the other half to the Wednesday Market. It was a disastrous move. 

Artificially deflating the supply of pizza on the Monday Market did not result in the expected rise in demand. This was perhaps due to the introduction of new products to the market, namely ‘Uncle Toby’s Roll Ups’, a powerful competitor to the Sunday Pizza. It’s easy to say that a lack of market research could be blamed for the dominant role the ‘Roll Up’ was to play in later trading that year, but then again, no one could have seen then that a plastic looking, sugar-filled, red strip of dried fruit would be a serious contender on the School Swap-Lunch Market; it was a genuine disruptive force. 

However, lack of market research can certainly be blamed for the dismal performance of The Sunday Pizza on the Wednesday Market, seeing as it was in direct competition with Bought Lunch Day. No one, absolutely no one, wanted to swap their meat pie, hot chips, or raspberry bun for anything, not even The Sunday Pizza.

It was easy for The Three Boys to see they had over-extended themselves; the next week they ceased trading on The Wednesday Market, and concentrated with full force on keeping their pizza as the best trade on the playground in The Monday Market. Within two months they had gained ascendancy over the ‘Roll Up’, and through the next year trade for The Sunday Pizza thrived. 

September 1992: Outsourcing The Sunday Pizza:

In a still inexplicable move, in September 1992 production of The Sunday Pizza was outsourced by Mother to a friend she knew at work. Trade on the Monday Market went into free-fall.

The base was soggy, the tomato paste insipid, with the inclusion of acidic tomato slices on top proving to be the exclamation point to an altogether uninspiring pizza. Futile attempts were made to improve the flavour; pineapple pieces added, extra cheese layered on top; their desperation perhaps best illustrated by the re-introduction of Frozen Peas. The Market had spoken though; outsourced Sunday Pizza was bad, like, really bad.

It was a dark moment in the proud history of The Cameron Clan Sunday Pizza when two slices of pizza were traded for a Chesdale Cheese segment and a box of Sunrise Raisins, made all the worse for the fact they already possessed these items in their lunch boxes. The Cameron Clan Sunday Pizza was going down in flames.

This could have been the end for The Sunday Pizza, and it would have been too, had it not been for a strange twist of fate that saw the outsourced pizza producers pack up production and move towns. Within a week, normal production resumed, but The Three Boys reputation had taken a severe hit, and it would take some time to recover. 

December 1994 – The Final Bell:

In December 1994, The Cameron Clan Sunday Pizza ceased production. Mother had taken a good look around her, and tired of the cold, concerned for The Three Boys future options in a small town, and generally just needing to get out, she used her final Veto Power and made the decision to move towns.  The decision was not well received at first, but later reflection has proven it to be a wise course of action by Mother. 

No records have been kept detailing the last trades of The Cameron Clan Sunday Pizza on The School Swap-Lunch Market for those final months of 1994; anecdotal evidence suggests the ‘Roll Up’ may have been severely denting the trade power of the pizza, alongside a slight decrease in production. Remember however, that five years is an eternity on The School Swap-Lunch Market, with new products entering on an almost daily basis; it is testament to the taste of The Sunday Pizza that it was able to reign so successfully over those five years, and if you were to ask The Three Boys, they would tell you that success was well deserved. 

The Cameron Clan Household was certainly a strange beast. The combination of three stubborn young boys pushing the boundaries, and an over-worked, stressed Mother, often resulted in scenes of disharmony, arguments, and occasionally outright war, sometimes even involving a leather strap. The Sunday Pizza provided a welcome relief, and an opportunity for the four members of the household to join in a common cause; dinner on Sunday. As the years passed on in a new city with new influences, girls, sport, girls, after school engagements and girls all combined to squeeze out any spare time that may have been used to re-start production of The Sunday Pizza. Now, years later, Christmas time seems the last reserve for the four to enjoy petty arguments and squabbling over a shared cooked meal. But if you were to ask Mother and The Three Young Boys, they will easily tell you that The Cameron Clan Sunday Pizza lives on in their own hearts and minds; crispy bacon bits, gooey cheese, pineapple chunks and all. Just no frozen peas.

M Cameron

Posted in History, Recipes | Tagged ,

Pistachio Stuffed Chicken Breast with Cauliflower Puree & Crispy Jamón Crumble

Bringing up three young boys on her own, our mother occasionally needed a break. Somewhere in between our throwing-rocks-at-cars stage and being kicked out of Sunday School, Doug, Ma’s tattooed, Indian motorcycle owning friend, showed up one morning with his house truck. She needed a break.

Excited was an understatement: a house truck and Doug? We could barely contain ourselves. Not knowing where we were heading, the mystery and intrigue only increased when Doug whispered in a stern and serious voice that we were taking the back-roads, “and if any police pull me over, my names Graham, okay?”. We solemnly set our sights on the road, alert to any possible police cars.

Feeling a little sick a short while into the trip, Doug thought it best if I lay down in the back of the truck. It was a horrifying; on my own in the back for a good hour or two, pots, pans, spoons, the whole damn truck swaying left and right, creaking and roaring at the same time, as we passed through the back country towards our final camping site. I’d never been in the back of a house truck while it was moving; it was an altogether disconcerting experience. I certainly didn’t feel any better when they finally heeded my feverish banging on the walls and stopped to let me in the front. “Wondered what that noise was”, Doug said to me. I didn’t reply; I wasn’t quite sure how to voice my fears that the house truck was actually alive; I slept rather uneasily that night …

We were there for just under a week, eating porridge with honey for breakfast, swinging off ropes onto hay bales in the barn, and speeding around orchards on the back of a ute (which ended rather abruptly for me when I grabbed hold of an apple on a tree while still driving at speed, and unwisely decided not to let go). I can’t remember how young we were, or where we camped; all that really remains in my mind is the pure magic of camping with Doug and his house truck. And maybe the relieved look on Ma’s face as we jumped in at the start …

Camp Riverbend is etched in my memory better, if only for the fact we were older, and the disastrous start to the week we had there. Nothing beats the excitement of three young boys, un-chaperoned, on a train, for five hours. Which is my only defense for losing our pocket money for my twin and I, a shameful act resulting in my own tears in front of the Camp Leader as he told us both that we would have to rely on our older brother for charity; he still had his pocket money. Which was probably why I was crying, Big Bro didn’t like to share. Things went from bad to worse in the opening two hours when my twin brother, driving the only go-cart in the camp, sped into a tree (left! Go left!), damaging the chassis beyond repair for the week. An hour after that my older brother was being extricated from his third fight for the day with what he called ‘bible-bashing geeks’. The true extent of the horror of Camp Riverbend, and what our mother had perhaps wisely chosen to exclude from telling us during her effusive praise for our up-coming adventure, came in the last hour before bed-time on that first day. Tired, exhausted, just wanting to sleep, we were instead shepherded into a small hall, and for the next hour and a half taught the power of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We’d been kicked out of Sunday School; this seemed to be our punishment. I knew it had to be some kind of punishment when the opening chords of Richard Berryman’s ‘Louie, Louie’ rang out from the tiny stereo in the corner, and we all started singing “Pharaoh, Pharaoh, ooh baby, let my people go …”

A few more school holidays passed at home; I think then we were going through our petty-theft-from-the-local-corner-store stage, mixed with casual vandalism at the local bmx track. Feeling particularly run-down and sick Ma saw our local doctor, and was told perhaps she needed another break. With much resentment and grumbling, thinking it would be far more fun at home, we were sent off to spend a week on a local farm with the charming Dutch couple, Inika and John.

I can still remember the horror we all felt upon learning that the only television station with reception out there had no cartoons, and screened only in black and white. The first morning we were there we were literally woken at the break of dawn, the rooster crowing directly outside our window. We were aghast at the idea of milk fresh from the cow. Let alone the fact Inika would not allow us sugar on our cornflakes. It all seemed like a different world.

That’s what I remember about the start of our holiday on the farm; resentment mixed in with confusion; our familiar routine had been turned upside down. Within a day though, maybe two, our adventure there was in full flight.

A great pine forest lay beyond the house, perfect for exploring. It’s hard to forget the dead cow we found in the river running through the forest, or how we threw rocks at it’s distended belly until it exploded all over us. I swear that smell lingered on our skin for days. I can’t forget either how freaked out we were by a wandering cow walking up to us and licking our hands. Big Bro had spent a bit of time on a farm before, he had seen cows close up. I hadn’t, let alone been licked by one.  On the other side of the farm was a small dam, perfect for floating on in an old inflated inner tire. There was a massive vegetable garden out the front of the house, two pigeons named Bluey (he was blue …) and Mechanic (he loved getting into the car’s engine) patrolling the skies above, doing a pathetic job of scaring away the crows. Beside the garden was the chicken run, with the hens’ eggs forming part of Inika’s vanilla ice cream, still to this day the best I have ever tasted. During the middle of the week we were taken to the neighbours for dinner, a few kilometres away, and got to see their dog singing as one of them played the harmonica. We sat there politely but were not fooled; that dog wasn’t singing, it was howling.

It truly was a new adventure every day, and returning home after the week we had there I remember the strange feeling of loss, knowing tomorrow we would be back at school rather than roaming around the pine forest or swimming in the dam. With that in mind we needed no encouragement the following year to return for another week, this time the experience seeming richer with the familiarity of what we were in for.

That first night, eating roast chicken with vegetables from the garden, I asked if the rooster would still be waking us at dawn. Laughing, Inika replied that probably wouldn’t be a problem. “What do you think you’re eating?” she said. It was strange, trying to process that information, the stark reality of where chicken actually comes from staring back at me on my fork. But it made sense. Inika and John grew their own vegetables and raised their own hens for eggs and food. I can’t remember but I’m sure they had pigs too. They milked their own cows, made their own cheese, their own ice cream; woollen rugs from their sheep carpeted the floor. They had a whole kingdom in their backyard. They were happy, satisfied, and truly self-sustaining. Most of all though, they were generous with their love and understanding for three wayward young boys, who had given their mother just a bit too much of a hard time. She needed the break.

Pistachio Stuffed Chicken Breast with Cauliflower Puree & Crispy Jamón Crumble

I’ll always remember the taste of that chicken, and the bounty on Inika and Johns’ farm. It was when I was cooking this dish that I was again reminded of them. I found out on their farm, and I still believe now, that fresh, organic, free-range chicken tastes best. Spend a bit more cash and buy a good bird. You’re guaranteeing a good sleep-in for someone the next day …

Ingredients:

  • Organic, free-range Chicken Breast
  • Roasted Pistachio Nuts
  • Lemon
  • Fresh Thyme
  • Garlic
  • Cauliflower
  • Jamón (more on this shortly …)
  • Milk
  • Unsalted butter (Jamón plus Pistachios equal lots of salt; make sure your butter has none)
  • Smoked Paprika
  • Good Quality Olive Oil

First … The Chicken:

Get the filling sorted first. Shell the pistachios; my general rule is for every two I crack open, I eat four … For two breasts you’ll need just under a cup of pistachios. Roughly chop these up then place in a bowl. Add the zest of half a lemon, two cloves of grated garlic, and a good handful of thyme leaves. Add a little pepper, just a dash of salt, and a good dollop of olive oil. Mix all this together then set aside. Next, lay some cling film on your bench and place the chicken breast on top. Cover the chicken with another piece of cling film then start flattening it down with a rolling pin, or a mallet; I have neither, I ended up using a pot … You don’t want to bash it too thin, just enough so you can easily roll it up later.

Remove the top layer of cling film and spread the pistachio mixture evenly over the chicken. Now the fun part, rolling the damn thing …

Use the bottom layer of cling film as a guide, slowly rolling the breast up, and once finished, screw both ends in to create a nice sausage shape. Gently unroll the chicken from the cling film, keeping it’s ‘sausage’ form intact, then using kitchen string securely tie the chicken up in five or so places along the ‘sausage’. You could easily call it a day here; I like to roll it up and screw in the edges once again, before placing the chicken in the fridge and moving on to the cauliflower puree.

Next … The Cauliflower Puree:

(Please clean your hands. Salmonella and campylobacter are just plain nasty)

Take one head of cauliflower and cut into small florets. Place these into a medium saucepan with a small knob of butter, and gently sauté for three to four minutes. Add milk to cover, bring to the boil, and then simmer for around ten minutes, or until the cauliflower is soft.

Next step you have two choices:

Choice A) Blend the cauliflower in a food processor until smooth. If you choose this step, make sure you blend the cauliflower while it’s still hot. If you let it cool down too much before blending you’ll get lumps in the puree, and these won’t be coming out. Choice A is definitely the faster option for those time conscious cooks out there.

Choice B) I have heaps of time. I go to work, come home, and cook. That seems to be my life at the moment. So instead of blending in a food processor, I pass the cauliflower through a sieve, just like the sweet potato mash. It definitely takes longer, but I’m a big believer in the texture and consistency you achieve through this method. Plus I have loads of time to stand there for an hour, spoon in one hand, sieve in the other …

Once you have the desired consistency, season well with salt and pepper, and add about half a teaspoon of smoked paprika. Mix this in well and then place into a pot, to be heated up later.

Next … The Crispy Jamón Crumble:

Jamón is Spanish cured ham, but saying it like that really doesn’t do it justice at all. It’d be better to say something like: “Jamón is Spanish cured ham, handed down directly from God, and beats all other types of ham, including (but not limited to) prosciutto, pancetta, Bayonne ham, or champagne ham”. Jamón Ibérico is the best, being made from the black footed Iberian pig, which is fed an almost exclusive diet of acorns. Nutty, rich, with fat that just dissolves in your mouth, Jamón Ibérico is quite possibly the King of All Cured Hams. But we’re making crumble here, so I just use Jamón Serrano, ‘mountain ham’. Not quite as rich, or nutty, or fatty, but beautiful all the same. Save on money and use bacon if you want; I won’t be angry. Just disappointed.

As lovely as that fat is, you want to get rid of some of it first. So fire up the oven to around 180 deg Celsius, and grill the Jamón (or bacon …) until it’s a little crispy; if you have the oven on fan bake, this should only take two to three minutes on the top shelf. Now take some paper towels and pat dry the Jamón. By now it should be nice and brittle so finely dice it up. If you have a nice crispy consistency, yay for you; you’ve made Crispy Jamón Crumble. If it’s still a little chewy, place on some baking paper in an oven tray, and pop it back in the oven for a few more minutes.

Warning! Pay close attention to your Jamón; Burnt Jamón Crumble sounds as bad as it tastes.

Finally … Cooking and Assembly:

Season the chicken on all sides then sear in a hot pan with a little olive oil, until you achieve a nice golden colour. Place in the oven at 180 degrees for around 10 to 15 minutes, or until cooked. I’ll let you judge that. Let it rest, covered, out of the oven for around 10 or so minutes.

While the chicken is resting, gently re-heat the cauliflower puree. I served this up with some wilted greens and really cool looking purple carrots; the chicken could easily be served on its own with just the puree and crumble, I like a little bit of veg with it though.

Slice up the chicken (cut the string off first, it’s easy to forget, at least for me) smear the puree on the plate (or write your name with it) and then sprinkle the crumble over the chicken. Season with a little salt and some pepper, a dollop of olive oil, and you’re done.

Bringing up three boys on her own was not easy for our mother. Those holidays provided an all to brief break for her from the imposing storm of bills, cooking, cleaning and caring for us three boys. This dish requires a bit of effort, but I find when I’m tying up the chicken, making the cauliflower puree, or cooking off the Jamón, I get my own brief break from the world. It’s just me, my knife, some chicken and a stove, on the road again or down on the farm. Everything else fades away; I just have a plan to cook some chicken.

M Cameron

Posted in Recipes | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Why I Love Coffee

Somewhere in East Africa: 600 – 800 B.C (ish)

A shepherd is seen in the distance, attempting to herd his goats towards a small mud hut. Some goats are jumping up and down, while others are racing around in circles. After much yelling, shoving and pushing, he manages to get the goats into a small enclosure near the hut. As he turns back towards the hut, one goat bounds over the fence, runs for a few yards, then stops and begins to hop in circles. Using his shepherd’s hook, he pushes the goat back into the enclosure. Exhausted, he sits down outside the hut, breathing heavily. Another man walks out from the hut.

“Kaldi! Took your time didn’t you? I was getting a bit worried for a while there …” His voice trails off as he looks over at the goats, who are still jumping around and running in circles. “Hmm.” He looks down at Kaldi. “Bit strange isn’t it? Those goats, I mean.” He leaves that hanging in the air.

“Oh. My. God!” Kaldi lets out, shaking his head. “You have no idea Keddi. Those goats,” he looks over his shoulder as one goat back flips onto another one, then begins circling. “They’ve gone crazy! I mean, one minute, they’re lounging around some bushes, chewing on the leaves. Then they start eating the cherries, and they just went nuts! That was hours ago! And look at them, they’re still crazy.” He shakes his head, still taking in deep breaths.

Keddi frowns before saying “The cherries you say? How many did they eat?”

Still shaking his head Kaldi replies, “I have no idea. That bush, it was like, red with these cherries at the start. Now? Its just a few leaves and broken twigs.”

Keddi’s nodding now, “Yeah okay, and they like, ate all the cherries?”

“Well,” Kaldi looks left and right for a second, before saying “Not all of them, no. I managed to grab a few. One of those buggers charged at me for it! Almost took my eye out!”

“Hmm, right.” Keddi’s looking at the goats now, one of which is on its side on the ground, using its back feet to circle around. “I’m with you on the whole crazy thing …” He trails off again, narrowing his eyes at the goats. “But I gotta say Kaldi, they do look a little … happy too, don’t you think?”

Kaldi’s standing now, looking over at the goats as well. In his hand he’s holding a few of the red cherries. “Yeah. I guess so. Maybe a little, well, energetic for my liking, but still …” He looks down at the cherries. Looking up, Keddi meets his gaze.

“What do you reckon?” Keddi says, looking down now at the cherries.

“What? About these?” Kaldi holds up the cherries.

“Yeah, them.” Keddi says. “Reckon we should give them a go?”

Kaldi looks over at the goats again; still circling, still jumping, still looking crazy. He looks back at Keddi.

“Why not?”

Somewhere in North Africa: Around 1100 B.C

Through the narrow streets of a dusty town, the light dimming as dusk descends, a thin, emaciated man, his hands and lips dyed a deep shade of red, walks up to a door of a small, tidy looking house. Beside the door are two rugs, rolled up and leaning against the wall. Next to the rugs are a number of chests and crates, various household items inside. The man looks inside one of the chests and pulls out a purple robe. Screwing it up in his hand and looking visibly angry now, he slams his fist against the door twice before opening it and entering the house.

“Omar!” A woman exclaims, standing bolt upright from a small table, across from which a man is sitting, busily counting out coins.

“Oh …” The man says. “Well this is all a bit awkward now.” He looks down at his coins, then across at the woman. “Aisha, you told me Omar wouldn’t be back.” He stops then looks over at Omar. “I can’t help but notice though, that over there is Omar, and well … he’s back.” Looking back at Omar he says; “Greetings Omar, you look … well.”

“Ammar,” Omar says nodding, lip curling up. He looks over at Aisha, eyebrows raised.

“Omar!” She says again, still stiff, eyes widened in shock.

“Yes Aisha, that’s Omar over there, think we’ve established that. Perhaps a hello might be in order; it’s not every day your husband returns from exile”. Ammar starts counting the coins back into a bag, shaking his head slightly.

“Yes, yes, right …” Aisha says, slowly composing herself. “Omar, hello! I’m so sorry, its just, well, I wasn’t expecting you back so soon.”

Ammar interrupts: “Soon? He was exiled! He’s not supposed to be back! So those rugs out there; they’re supposed to be mine now!” He lowers his head, still counting and muttering under his breath.

“So sorry to disappoint you Ammar.” Omar shakes his head at Aisha. “My purple robe? Really? You know it’s my favourite. You were going to sell it? And my rugs? To him?” He gestures in Ammar’s direction.

“You were exiled!” Aisha says. “To the caves of Mocha! Ammar’s right; you’re not supposed to be back!”

“Well,” Omar says, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a bright red cherry. He pops it into his mouth and begins chewing. His voice takes on a slightly haughty tone. “Found a few things out in the caves. The Sheik seemed pretty happy with what I discovered.” He looks around the room for a second before walking over to a chair and sitting himself down. “Asked me back he did. He’s talking about making me a saint actually …” He looks out the window, putting a slightly bored look on.

Aisha resumes her shocked look. “A saint!? What on earth did you find out there?”

“Oh,” Omar says. “Just a little cherry.”

Ammar frowns. “A cherry? What’s so great about a cherry?”

Omar leaps up suddenly. Aisha and Ammar jump back. “Everything!” Omar says. “For three days and nights I was out there. No food, no water, just these cherries.” He picks another one out from his pocket and begins chewing on it. “And these cherries, they kept me alive! They sustained me, kept me awake, alert. They saved my life!” His eyes were wild now, hand gestures everywhere. “Seeing I was still alive, the locals round the caves, they started bringing in their sick. I made a drink from the cherries, gave it to them, and they were cured!” He sat back down as suddenly as he stood. “And you know, word got back to the sheik, he thought it was pretty cool, so he invited me back, told me I’d be a saint.” He shrugged his shoulders then leaned back in the chair, hands behind his head, chewing on another cherry.

“Right,” Ammar says. “But those rugs … You think you still want them?”

The Arabian Port of Jeddah, outside Mecca: 1500 A.D or so

A large rotund man is yelling orders at a group of slaves, next to a ship moored in a bustling port. Sacks, barrels and chests are being loaded onto the ship. A man approaches him, walking rather awkwardly and carrying two sacks over each shoulder.

“Brother Budan!” The large man says, moving forward to hug him. Brother Budan stops suddenly, hand out. A bag drops to the ground, some beans spilling out.

“Please,” Brother Budan says hurriedly. “Please, Abdul; I think I have some bug maybe, no hugs today sorry.” He leans down with some difficulty, trying to push the beans back into the bag.

Abdul pulls up, concern on his face. “My friend! That is no good! No good at all. You sit down, I pick the beans for you.” Brother Budan just stands there, sweat breaking out on his brow as Abdul leans down and starts placing the beans back into the sack. He looks closely at one he has picked up. He frowns slightly.

“My friend, these are the live beans you know, they cannot leave the port like this. You know, yes?

Brother Budan starts nodding. “Yes, yes, of course. That’s why I’m early, you need to boil them or something right? That’s it, they’re the only beans I have …”

“Oh yes”, Abdul says. “These live beans, they could grow anywhere out there” He gestures out to the sea. “And if they grow out there, in those other lands, who would buy from us, yes?” Abdul looks over at the other sack on Brother Budan’s shoulder. “You have more beans there?”

Brother Budan nods furiously, “Oh yes, just these two bags, that’s right. No other beans here, at all. None. Just these.” He laughs, a little nervously, more sweat sprouting from his forehead. He shifts his robe a little, another nervous laugh coming out as he looks around him.

Abdul is looking a little more closely now at Brother Budan, eyes narrowing. Brother Budan shifts his feet uncomfortably, trying not to look him in the eye. Abdul suddenly bursts out laughing.

“Oh, you pilgrims, you so funny” He slaps him on the shoulder and Brother Budan’s hands immediately go to his stomach. “I mean, for a second there,” Abdul says, “you almost looked like one of those smugglers we get here, you know?” Brother Budan’s face has gone a pasty shade of white. Shaking his head and still laughing, Abdul walks over to a large barrel and begins pouring the beans in. He yells at a passing slave for some boiling water. Brother Budan’s hands have not left his stomach.

“It’s funny,” Abdul says returning. “Just one seed, two seeds, seven seeds! That’s all it would take, and then, poof!” Abdul spreads his hands. “All this, how you say … Monopoly. It’s gone, yes?” He shakes his head, looking out to the horizon.

“I don’t have seven seeds.” Brother Budan suddenly says in a shaky voice.

“Huh?” Abdul looks back at him.

“Nothing!” Brother Budan replies, his voice rising slightly. Abdul looks at him again with the narrowed eyes. Then he shrugs.

“You pilgrims, you funny, yes?”

Vatican City, Rome: 1600 A.D

Somewhere in the middle of the Vatican, in a large, brightly lit room. Pope Clement VIII sits in a chair, trying not to look bored, as a small group of clerics stand before him yelling among themselves. Eventually he raises his hand and the group immediately is silenced.

“I’m still a little confused at what you’re all arguing about. It’s like I’m down at the lake, with the geese, and I throw some bread on the ground, and all these geese, they just hurtle down onto the bread. And they’re flapping their wings and there’s feathers everywhere, and the noise! That’s what you sound like. Just no feathers, or wings.” He stops for a moment then looks around the room. “You sound like geese.”

The group collectively look down at their feet, before one of them steps forward, clearing his throat. “Well, your Excellency … It’s about coffee.”

“The Devil’s drink!” One from the back yells out heatedly. A few of the others nod their agreement and murmur a low “hear, hear”. The first man looks back, scowling slightly, before looking back to the pope. A few minutes pass before the Pope sighs.

“Sometimes I really think you give me more credit than I deserve. I mean, sure, direct line to God and all that, but look-” He stands up and looks towards the ceiling. “Hey! God! The Pope here. Hey, look, I was just hoping you could tell me what coffee is. If you could thanks. That’d be great. Cheers!” He continues looking up for a minute or two, and then cocks his hand up to his ear, leaning to the side. Another minute passes. The Pope shakes his head then shrugs. “No luck this time I’m afraid.” He says. “I’m just gonna throw this one out to you lot.” He looks out expectantly. Another minute passes.

Shaking his head, the Pope suddenly claps his hand. “Gionardo! Coffee! What. Is. It?”

“The Devils’ drink!” another one yells from the back. Gionardo, makes a ‘cool-it’ sign with his hands at him, before saying to the Pope. “Well, we believe coffee, this new-fangled drink from the East, is the Devil’s drink itself!” His voice rises towards the end, hand outstretched and pointed to punctuate his statement. The Pope sinks his head into his hands, shaking it again. After a moment he looks up.

“Okay, okay then.” He rubs his eyes. “Let’s see. Coffee-” The group collectively nod their heads, “is a drink, from the East, that you believe belongs to the Devil?” The group nod, vigorously now. “Right,” The Pope says, “now we’re getting somewhere. Now, can someone tell me why this drink belongs to the Devil?”

“It’s black!” yells out one. “Like the Devil!” yells another.

The Pope sighs. “Yes, and so are blackberries. But I’m pretty sure blackberries don’t belong to the Devil.”

“Arabs drink it!” Yells one from the middle. “Devil-worshiping Arabs!” yells out another. “And it’s black!’ From the back again.

The Pope starts massaging his forehead. “Just because Arabs drink this coffee stuff, you know, I’m pretty sure that doesn’t make it the Devil’s drink. Don’t they drink water as well?” Gionardo looks back at the assembly. “I got this,” he says quietly. “Relax, I got this.” He looks back at the Pope.

“Well, you see, coffee came from the Devil-worshiping Arab land, while water; well, that came from God.” Smiling slightly, he looks back at the group, giving them a thumbs up; two at the back high-five each other.

“I think I’m getting a headache.” The Pope says. He takes a deep breath, makes the sign of the cross, then continues; “So, you want me to ban this coffee drink, because it’s black like the Devil, and comes from the East, where all the Arabs worship the Devil. Am I on the right track?” The group lets out a collective hurrah. The Pope just stares back blankly at them for a moment. “Right, I need to try this drink.”

The group look at the Pope, aghast. “But your Excellency!” Gionardo says. “It is the drink of the Devil!”

The Pope shakes his head. “Listen; I’m not banning something I haven’t tried myself. Go get me some coffee. Now.”

Much muttering and grumbling goes on among the group until eventually one is dispatched to hunt down some coffee. After ten minutes or so he returns with a steaming cup in his hand, outstretched from his body as far as he can. He passes it quickly to Gionardo, who solemnly hands it to the Pope. The room goes quiet. The Pope takes a sip.

His eyes widen. “Oh my, that’s good! Like, that is really, really good.”

At the back, one of the group let’s out a whimper. Another gets onto his knees and begins praying.

“No need to pray,” the Pope says, licking his lips. “Direct line to God, and He’s saying: coffee; it’s good to go!”

French Guiana: 1727 A.D

It’s nighttime. Two men are standing outside the wall of a garden. Over the wall a large palace can be seen. One man is dressed in black, the other in black pants with a green top. One is holding a bag, the other a length of rope.

“I’m just saying Paulo, you could have worn a black top too, that’s all. I’m just not sure what was so hard about that, you know? Francisco said wear black.” He shrugged. “so I don’t know why you didn’t wear black.”

Paulo’s frowning. “Pedro, these pants, they’re black.” He shrugs back at Pedro.

All black. Francisco said wear all black. That top; it’s green.” Paulo shakes his head, pointing at Pedro’s top.

“My wife,” Pedro says. “She thinks I look good in green.” He looks up at the garden wall. “We’re just going to, like, climb over right? I brought a rope, maybe we could use that?”

Paulo is still pointing at Pedro’s green top. “She thinks you look good in green? What in God’s name does that matter?” His voice is rising now. Pedro motions to him to lower his voice. Paulo continues in a strained whisper: “It doesn’t matter, that’s what! We’re here to steal a coffee shrub, not make your wife happy!”

“I don’t know” Pedro says. “I’m not sure if the green top makes her happy; she just said I look good in it. So, yeah, I’m not sure on that one.” He looks up at the wall again. “I think we should use the rope. Would seem a shame to drag it all this way and not use it …” He starts unraveling the rope. Paulo is clutching his head. “You know,” Pedro says. “This whole stealing coffee business is getting a bit old don’t you think?”

“When it comes to you Pedro, I seriously don’t know what to think. I do think we could probably climb over rather than use the rope, though, the wall’s barely taller than myself.” Paulo moves over to the wall and starts jumping, each time falling short of grabbing the top edge.

“Well,” Pedro goes on, ignoring Paulo. “First there was that Dutch guy a few years back. Him and a bunch of his Dutch spy mates go into Yemen and scarp off with a coffee cutting. I mean, they made it look all professional and stuff, but they were just a bunch of amateurs really.” Pedro swung the rope a few times, trying to gauge the distance. “Still, they came away with what they wanted and boom! The Dutch have control of the coffee industry outside the Ottoman Empire. Have to say, it was kinda smart.”

“I’m not following you Pedro. Because the Dutch stole some plants, and we’re going to steal some plants, you’re saying this ‘whole business’ is getting old?” Paulo jumps again, missing the top.

Pedro swings his rope again. “Well there was that French guy afterwards, Naval officer if I recall. Steals a cutting right under King Louis’ nose, in Paris. And get this,’ Pedro chuckles. “It was from a cutting the Dutch had given the King, from that first one they’d stolen. Unreal, right?”

Paulo is still jumping, and missing, the top of the wall. He stops for a moment and looks over at Pedro. “Okay, and I guess you’re going to say next how ironic it is that here we are, in this Godforsaken French colony, about to steal a cutting from a stolen cutting from a stolen cutting? Is that right?”

Pedro frowns slightly. “No, not really. I was actually going to say if the misso knew I was out here stealing a cutting the Dutch had originally stolen, she’d have a right old fit, she would, green top or no. She hates the Dutch, or anything to do with them. It’s all that orange I think.” He measures out some more rope. “In saying that, have to agree with you there Paulo; there’s certainly some irony there.” He throws the rope again, this time it catches. He leans back, seeing if it will support his weight. “So how much money did Francisco say he’d give us for this cutting? Thinking of taking the old girl away for the weekend or something. Not sure just yet. Maybe just a night out in town. Who knows?”

Paulo finally catches hold of the top of the wall. His feet scramble for a moment or two, before falling down in a heap. He picks himself up and starts brushing off dirt from his back. “First,” he says. “We need to get the cutting. Let’s concentrate on that, okay?”

Both there heads turn suddenly as they hear a hissing sound behind them. Out of the darkness a handsomely dressed man walks towards them, holding a bouquet of flowers.

“Francisco!” Pedro exclaims. “You joining us, friend?”

Francisco laughs lightly. “No need Pedro, no need.” Looking Pedro up and down quickly he says, “Nice top, that colour suits you.” He holds up the bouquet. “Anyways, I found an easier way.” He laughs again. Paulo looks closely at the bouquet. He pulls out a branch with small red and green cherries attached. “Where’d you get this from? I thought we were getting that” He looks upset.

“The Governor’s wife, she took quite a liking to me.” Again, he laughs. “Oh, she’s a sweet girl, that one.”

“So,” Paulo says, his bottom lip out slightly. “She stole that for you, did she?”

“No, no, no, Paulo. She gave it to me.”

“That’s just brilliant!” Pedro says, before falling silent for a moment. “Um, so … We still getting paid?”

Boston, Massachusetts: December 17th 1773

In a small office a British officer is sitting at a table. Across from him sits another man. He does not look happy.

“Right old chap,” The officer says. “Not quite sure what all the fuss is about. It’s a small tax really. Not too large. It’ll help pay for some new roads maybe, or paving on the main street. Surely we can both agree to this?”

The man just shakes his head. “No taxation without representation.”

“Yes, I’ve heard all that. But this tax, like I said, it’s a small one, and well, there’s also the small matter of your ship not being able to leave port until it’s paid. Seems a bit rough, to be sure, but what can one do? King and Country and all that.” He begins slowly tapping his fingers on the table, while the man sits there stoically, silently. “I do hope you see the slight predicament I’m in. It’s kind of out of my hands unfortunately. Parliament and all that, they’ve passed the laws, we’ve just got to follow them. It’s how a civilised country runs, I guess.” He stops. “I think a nice pot of tea’s in order, don’t you?” The man continues to stare back silently.

The officer leans out of his chair and yells out the open door “Excuse me! Yes, hello, could we perhaps get a pot of tea in here, thanks?” He looks back at the man. “Just the one cup I think.”

Shortly a man in uniform rushes in, takes his cap off and salutes. The officer waves him at slightly. “Yes, yes, just a pot of tea thanks. One cup please.” He looks over his shoulder out the window. “Think it might rain” he says. “Bit of cloud about.” He looks back and sees the man in uniform has not moved. He’s staring into space, clutching his cap.

“Ah, yes. Cup of tea, thanks. That’ll be all.” The officer looks back at the man sitting down, smiling politely. “Won’t be long, I’m sure.” He looks back at the man in uniform, who still hasn’t moved. “Um,” he pauses. “Cup of tea?”

“Right, sir”. He salutes, but stays standing still, but is now playing around with his cap. “About that tea, sir …”

“Yes …” the officer says, looking a little confused.

“Well …” The uniformed man is starting to sweat a little now. “There isn’t any”.

“Oh,” The officer smiles now. “Not to worry old chap. There’s a whole shipment in the port.” He pulls out a waist clock. “Shouldn’t take too long I’d think, if you got going now.”

The man in uniform starts shifting his weight from foot to foot. “Terribly sorry sir, but that’s gone.”

“Gone?” The officer is looking a little shocked now. “How is it gone? The ship can’t go anywhere, they haven’t paid their taxes yet.” He looks over at the man sitting down. “You haven’t paid your taxes yet, have you?” The man stares back blankly. The officer shuffles some papers in front of him, looking intently at them. “It’s not recorded here, if you have.” He looks back up at the man in uniform. “My turn to be sorry here, good man. I don’t believe I understand you right. How is the tea gone, exactly?”

“Well,” the man says. “A bunch of locals kind of threw it off the ship into the sea.”

“Oh,” the officer says. “All of it?”

“Yes, it seems that way I’m afraid, sir”.

The officer stands up. “That’s just … just, well … That’s ridiculous. Why would they do that?”

“Well, sir,” The man says. “We think it may have been a dress-up party gone wrong, perhaps.”

“Right,” the officer says. “How is that?”

“Some of the locals, sir, they were dressed up as Indians. So we thought maybe they were having a dress-up party on the ship, and maybe needed some extra room or something, so they accidentally threw the tea chests overboard.”

“Okay,” says the officer. “Fancy dress-up party though? Hardly the season for it.”

“Yes,” says the man. “So we thought it was either that, or instead of paying for the tax on the tea, they just threw it overboard.”

“Well I can’t understand that at all,” says the officer. “Without tea, what on earth are they going to drink?”

The man sitting down suddenly slams his fist on the table. “We’re Americans” he says, standing up. “We drink coffee.” And walks out the door.

Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia: Modern Day

It is high up on the mountains. Two farmers are busy picking coffee cherries from the bushes. Their buckets are brimming with red cherries.

“I don’t get it,” one says to the other. “They want us to only pick the red cherries, right?”

“Yes, Bogale, only the red cherries.”

Bogale looks puzzled. “What about the green ones, Abebe? We just leave them there?”

Abebe sighs. “No, Bogale, we’ll pick them later. For now, just pick the red cherries. We get paid more, if we pick the red cherries. Okay? Can we just get on with it? My backs killing me, and I just want to get this done, go home, and have a bath. Alright?”

“Okay, okay” Bogale says. They continue picking red cherries for a few more minutes, before Bogale starts laughing quietly, shaking his head.

Abele stops, and looks over. “What? What is it this time?”

“Oh, nothing.” Bogale says. “It’s just funny, picking these red cherries.”

“How is it funny? They pay us more for them. That’s funny?”

“Well,” Bogale begins. “Just think, all those centuries ago. Right here! A shepherd sees his goats going crazy after eating these cherries, so he eats some himself. That, just on it’s own, is funny. Eating goat food.” Bogale laughs again. “And then, coffee goes out into the world, first here, then North Africa, Egypt, the old Ottaman Empire. It’s smuggled out, coffee conquers Europe. People steal coffee plants left, right and centre. Coffee houses are set up, revolutions begin in them, whole historical movements begin with it, it becomes a part of our lives. Inventions are based on it: instant coffee, decaf coffee, espresso machines, coffee filters. And now, you get these Westerners, their whole ‘half-strength caramel extra froth latte’ thing going on. Whole countries; their economies are based on beans. Health alerts; coffee’s bad for you, coffee’s good for you. It just seems mad, you know?” Bogale puts his basket down and stretches his back. “All that, it started here, probably on these very hills, from some shepherd eating goat food. And now, now they say: don’t pick the green cherries. Only pick the red cherries.” He shrugs. “I don’t know, it just makes me laugh. These Westerners, they’re funny”.

“Me?” Abebe says. “I just pick the red cherries.”

M Cameron

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