My mission this week was to avoid spending a fortune on groceries and try and use whatever was in the fridge with one or two additions. I saw some nice stewing steak in the supermarket (only $4 for a giant piece!) and came up with this improvised chili con carne recipe, inspired by our friends Steve and Shelly.
700g stewing steak
1 green pepper, roughly chopped
2 hot chili peppers, sliced
2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
2 carrots, trimmed and sliced
1 bunch of fresh coriander, leaves removed and stalks finely chopped
ground black pepper
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
2 x 400g tins of kidney beans
• Set oven to 200°c fan.
• Dust the steak all over with flour, cummin, coriander and black pepper. Brown it off. (I did this on the barbecue)
• In a big oven proof pot fry all the veg in some olive oil, including the chopped coriander stalks.
• When the veg is nice and soft, add 1 heaped tsp of all the spices except the cayenne, which only needs a pinch. Stir into the veg for a few minutes until you smell beautiful things happening in the pot.
• Add the drained kidney beans and stir for a minute or two, then add in the tins of tomatoes and a couple of tablespoons of vinegar.
• Place the steak in the pot and cover it with the chili. Put a lid on the pot and place it in the oven. • I cooked the chili for about three hours. Every hour I checked that it wasn’t drying out and added water if it needed it.
• When it’s done the meat should be falling apart. Add in the coriander leaves and serve with rice and yoghurt. Absolutely yummy!
“The Sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
― Jacques-Yves Cousteau
With trepidation we went back to the ocean today. The sea must be French and it must be a woman (La Mer indeed). It lulls you into a false sense of security with its inky blue depths, filled with complexity and beauty: deserts of bleak rippled sand, bathed in moonlight and phosphorescence; forests of rainbow coral, towering up to the surface; rolling fields of dense tangled seaweed; schools and pods and shoals and draughts and beds and flotillas and batteries and shivers and fleets of the most incredible swimming things you could imagine; treasure and sunken galleons and dead men’s chests. But with all this mystery and wonder she is unpredictable and merciless when she doesn’t want you.
I thought I had lost Shay to the sea last week. We thought we’d be alright to tackle a rip and cyclonic swell on our boards (I had a surf board and Shay had a wave ski) so we bravely ventured out. As we paddled out, electric blue jellyfish- dozens of them- floated gently beneath us. Their graceful traveling was deceiving. After a few vain attempts to surf we stopped to look at the world beneath us. My arms soon started to wear out swimming against the current so I tried to get back into shore. Shay came over to try and help on her wave ski and as she reached me we were both hit by a huge wave. It dumped and swirled and smashed me about for a small eternity and no sooner had I got to the surface, clutching onto the surf board with all my life, another wall of water collapsed on top of me. This continued as I made my way into the beach. As I got closer to shallower water I noticed something floating in on the surf- it was Shay’s battered wave ski. People on the beach started to gather around it and were obviously a bit concerned there was no-one sitting on it. When I finally made it on to dry land a life guard was standing next to the wave ski scanning the horizon. ‘It belongs to my wife’ I weakly called out. The foaming, heaving maelstrom was unnervingly free from any floating objects on its surface. For a very scary five minutes I really thought Shay was underneath the waves, then there she was, her paddle held over her head wading out of the surf. What a woman. As much as I love the sea I’m very glad I’m not married to her.
Meet the Peacock spider (Maratus volans) - a species of jumping spider native to eastern Australia. Only 5mm in length, it is only the males that have this bright colouring.
The males also have extensions on their abdomen that can be folded down. They use these to display their colours and markings to females, earning them their name of ‘peacock’. The male will first raise his abdomen, then raise his flaps forming a veritable field of colour. The male will then vibrate his raised legs and tail and dance from one side to another in an attempt to impress the female. [x]
I’ll translate, I speak peacock spider:
To keep the boredom at bay I’ve been cooking. After a reasonable, but failed attempt at making gluten-free banana pancakes (made with desiccated coconut and almond meal) I turned to good old reliable cajun cooking. The recipe I was following required ham hock, which for some reason I couldn’t find anywhere. So, through the mother of all inventions, I improvised and used smoked pork bones and pork belly instead. Here’s the recipe:
Soak 375g dried beans over night (I used mixed beans, but it’s supposed to be kidney beans… which, again, I couldn’t find!).
Pork belly- scored and rubbed all over with cayenne, oregano and cumin (this was actually a happy mistake as I thought I was using paprika instead of cayenne). I browned the meat off on the barbecue with hickory wood chips, giving it an extra smokey flavour.
Into a big pot add;
the soaked and rinsed beans
about 1 litre of water
1 onion roughly chopped
2 sticks of celery roughly chopped
1 whole bulb of garlic cut in half across its circumference
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne (the happy mistake happened here too, so I put a bit more cayenne in than I intended to!)
4 sprigs of thyme
2 fresh bay leaves
smoked pork bones (about 4 or 5 pieces)
2 400g tin of diced tomatoes
and the seared pork belly
Give everything a good mix and bring to the boil. After about five or ten minutes of it bubbling away fiercely, turn the heat right down and put the lid on. Leave to simmer for a couple of hours. I ended up putting my pot in the oven at 120°c and leaving it for another hour. When you think the beans are soft enough and you can pull the pork apart easily, take the belly out and remove the crackling fat (I attempted to crisp this up later on the barbecue to mixed results. Lovely smokey spicy flavour, but it was hard to get the fat to really crackle and not burn). Remove the bones and any twiggy bits of herbs. Take out some of the beans (about a third) and mash them up with vinegar (I used balsamic) and sea salt to taste. Mix these back in with the pulled pork. The halved garlic bulb can be taken out and either squeezed into the whole mix or individually onto peoples’ plates. I served it with lemon rice. Very tasty, smokey comfort food from the home of jazz and creole cooking.
It’s amazing who you bump into at nursing homes. While visiting Zarief today we were chatting to a lovely lady called Narelle. Large turquoise glasses frame her lined eyes, setting off the shocking pink lipstick she wears on her lips and teeth. Married twice, a doctor and a pilot. Always loved American men- engaged to one before he was shot down during the war. Lived in the states with another Australian girl. This is where she befriended John F Kennedy. In fact he told her and her friend they were his new girlfriends. Anyway, Narelle decides she’d like to go to Alaska. So she and her friend travel up there and capture a polar bear. How did she do that you may ask? Well the bears just followed them around and they took them back with them. Well when J.F.K heard about this he thought it was marvelous and built an enclosure for the polar bears. In the same neighbourhood, Narelle and her friend were hobnobbing with Frank Sinatra (Ava Gardner was the only woman he loved apparently) and Donald Trump (who didn’t like Aussie girls but had an open house policy and a nice wig). Grace Kelly was lovely and, oh, that Marilyn Munroe! Anyway, wasn’t it dreadful what that horrible Lee Harvey Oswald did. J.F.K gave Narelle a little token to remember him by: a key ring from Dallas with the yellow rose of Texas symbol engraved on it. She carries it around with her in a little wash bag. Conspiracy theories anyone?
Adventures in convalescence
Well it certainly has been an action packed few weeks since I last wrote anything. I’ve been as close to Antarctica as I’m ever likely to be. The wilds of the Tasman Sea have been plunged into. I’ve eaten the best oysters I’ve ever tasted while looking at one of the most beautiful white beaches I’ve ever seen. MONA in Hobart is certainly the most engaging post-modern experience I’ve had. Radiohead rudely woke us up while having a late night drinking session outside our room in Sydney. We managed to lift three Jacques Cousteau books from the same hotel as revenge! Steamy days were countered with dry martinis. We ate the best Italian lunch I’ve ever had at Jamie’s on Pitt Street. Australia was seen through fresh eyes again. Mum and Dad really enjoyed it all and it was great for Shay and I to take a break from the busy life we’ve been living lately. Our little shack has finally got a roof over the deck. I don’t mean to boast, but I did it all myself! We also managed to find stools for the kitchen at last. We’re really happy with them and very glad we didn’t go with the Tolix ones as every second cafe seems to have them now. The latest addition to our list of projects is the K.C’s TARDIS. I had a dream when we were in Tasmania (almost a premonition!) about starting a mobile food business. It was so real and exciting, that when I woke up I couldn’t get it out of my head. I told everyone about it and Dad seemed to think it was a great idea. When we told a couple in our hall (pictured with mum and dad) about it all, they mentioned they had an old food trailer they wanted to get rid of and were willing to give it to Shay and I for free! Very exciting. Needs a bit of work obviously, which is frustrating as I can’t do much for the next few weeks, but in the mean time I’m writing recipes with Shay and doing research about markets and food licenses etc. As I just got out of surgery yesterday it’ll be a few days before I feel up to much, but I’m not in a huge amount of pain and I’m very happy to be moving on from the stupid hernia. Life is a happy song, as the Muppets sing.
Hello Ben, I can't reply to your message directly but thanks so much for your kind words. Confused geography is right! I'm looking forward to meeting you and Shayna in the near future. Josh tells me your parents are visiting this month. Enjoy and have a great trip!
Thanks Stephanie. We’re ‘spewing’ (as they say down under) that we won’t be around to meet you in December. I’m sure you’re a little nervous about it. It will be fine though. Everyone is excited that Josh has met such a lovely girl. I know him very well, and I haven’t seen him this happy in a long time. And that’s what it all boils down to really: making each other happy. If you can do that, then it won’t matter where you are, who’s around you or what you’re doing for work. Those things are important, but if you have someone who makes you happy, well everything else is easier to deal with.
I could pontificate for hours on the subject! I’ll stop boring you now. Have a wonderful time in Ireland. We’ll meet you soon I hope.
Love from Ben and Shay.