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Back in Birmingham …

So because life hasn’t been that interesting lately, I have come to a bit of a standstill on the blogging front – I am still eating, (things would have to be dire for that to stop), but winter is setting in and I am feeling the urge to hibernate. There is nothing like darkness and cold to just make you want to stay indoors. Just as well for semi-lockdown hey?

I would love to say that in the lockdown days I have finished a multitude of projects and that my house is immaculate – but the fact is that working from home has put a bit of a kibosh on that.

So, what to chat to you about? And then I remembered, I have promised to report back about the Balti experiment.

Firstly, I am pleased to say, that this milder style of curry developed in Birmingham in the 70s was a home cooking success. Secondly, I have to tell you that I think that if I make this again, I should actually take to planting out an onion garden. SO SO many onions (which are fortunately good for us!) followed by a reasonable number of tomatoes!

IMG_1400Of course, the thing about cooking food from other cultures is sourcing the correct ingredients – or at least something remotely similar. Onions are not an issue – I buy 1kg bags probably every four or five weeks, and most of the required herbs and spices were easy to source – or combine. But one certainly got me stuck though – Fenugreek, also known as Kasuri Methi.

I haven’t made my way to a real Asian smallgoods store yet, and maybe fenugreek will be found in one, but instead I went to Google, as we do so often now to find out what on earth to replace it with. I was figuring if it was leafy, then celery or parsley leaves might do the trick. And indeed, this was suggested, but what I was totally not expecting was … maple syrup?

Well … that was a surprise!

But it turns out there’s some chemical common to both that leads the taste to be similar. So … maple syrup it was, which gave my Balti a bit of a sweeter taste than I remember eating before, but nonetheless, the same flavour.

Food never ceases to amaze me!

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But the Balti itself? With an onion/tomato/spices sauce, (usually, although it can be vegetarian) diced meat is cooked in more onion and tomatoes and served up in its own cooking bowl, accompanied by a yoghurt dip and Naan. I might try my hand at making Naan at some stage – but I’d be hard pressed to compete with those served up at my ‘local’, the beautifully named ‘Punjab Paradise’ on Ladypool Road, where table Naan stretched in front of us to at least two feet long.

Friends and I tried making Balti once before and it was a long, fatty and complicated process of boiling and marinating and cooking … and it seemed to take literally all day. From memory, it didn’t really taste like the real deal, although the whole street could smell it.

But this time, armed with authentic Balti bowls courtesy of my sister, I was back in Birmingham in a flash, dragging my husband along with me. (Sorry Tony!) At which point, I should explain that a Balti bowl is a small pressed-steel mini-wok type of cooking pan. It is also the dish used to serve up the Balti – which is one dish per person. Cheer with me at the thought of less washing up!

I can heartily recommend the recipes on the Birmingham Balti Bowl website. I’ve only tried one so far, but it is absolutely the real deal. So, if you’re like me and you want to try a piece of cultural, authentic, nostalgic cooking, this is a go-to. Or just if you want to try something different. Because what is life, but an opportunity to try something new sometimes?

Happy trying!

“Life is a combination of magic and pasta.”

I couldn’t help but think today how multi-cultural we are in Australia – especially food-wise. I know I have yet to report about the Balti production, but I have been a bit side-tracked by other cooking.

Multi-cultural you say … are you sure? Well, if the aforementioned Balti (Anglo-Indian) on the meal plan for this week, beside Fettucine carbonara con pollo, fish and chips, burgers and yiros (although technically a kebab*) and crêpes this morning for breakfast, doesn’t scream it, then I don’t know what will convince you!

So, today’s post is actually about the fettucine. I’ve always had a hankering to make pasta. Dried is great – and very convenient – but since being put onto fresh egg lasagne sheets by a dear Italian friend, who was HORRIFIED to hear I used dry sheets, the lure of fresh pasta was definitely there. By the way, I can heartily recommend fresh lasagne sheets. You will never look back.

Now I’m sure after my last post, you were convinced I was turning into a Wild West mama, making all my preserves and jams for the winter. Hey … I thought that’s what I was sounding like … but this week brought out my inner Nonna. Neither of these have anything to do with my true heritage roots – otherwise I would be living on a diet consisting of mainly potatoes, with a variety of sausages thrown in. (My husband did remind me that last week we did have sausages … in a different meal we also had potatoes … so there you go …)

But the pasta idea was pushed along a bit further by coming across (accidentally) an el cheapo pasta machine in a kitchen appliances/knickknacks shop. It did not take me long to decide to take the plunge and purchase one. With its totally manual operation, it is compact and in addition to the flat roller (which is used for lasagne, ravioli and cannelloni) has two cutters – for spaghetti and fettucine.

Pasta is apparently easy – and my experience so far has been two-one, win-fails. The fail was definitely over-confidence on my part. Having had success with my first batch, I thought I was the pasta queen. Instead I was presiding over wet mixture that was not going anywhere useful. Lesson learnt!

Armed with flour, eggs and a little salt, the pasta machine beckoned. 140g of fine flour (also known as “00” flour, or surprise, surprise, “pasta flour”), an egg and two yolks, with a little salt. That is all you need to reach pasta heaven. (I find this does four very generous servings of about 50g each. In actual fact, it’s more like 5 servings.)

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I use a fork to mix my egg into the flour. There doesn’t seem to be enough egg to go around, but do NOT fall into the temptation of thinking it needs water to help it along. Just tip the mixed-up bits with what feels like leftover flour onto a clean surface and start to knead.

Like bread, the kneading process is the thing that gets the gluten in the flour doing its IMG_1387thing, so get your hands floured up and make the most of the next 10 minutes or so. And when is it ready? Like falling in love, you’ll just know.

Seriously though, the texture does change, and like bread, has to take a big breather before you roll it out.

If you don’t have a pasta maker, you could do as I saw demonstrated on a live video stream from Michael Bublé & Luisana Lopilato recently, where Michael rolled out his dough onto the bench and then attempted to cut it into thin slices. This works too … if you flour the bench first … a small detail his wife neglected to tell him.

So, fresh pasta. It doesn’t have a long shelf life and it does taste different to dried. Is it cheaper? Not on average, but for 200g of dried fettucine I would pay about $1.05 and for fresh, about $1.40. Is it healthier? I think most of that depends on what you eat with it. Of course, a creamy sauce isn’t going to be as healthy as a tomato based one. Most writers suggest that more substantial and heavier sauces work better with dried, just because it is a hardier beast and can cope with the weight. Plus it is convenient. Fresh pasta does require a bit of preparation in advance.

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But for show-off points, for all its simplicity, fresh does win. And so, when I’m feeling in the mood, fresh it shall be 😊

 

Today’s title is from Federico Fellini – an Italian film director who presided over many films, including La Dolce Vita. I think he makes a fair point!

* for those curious, a kebab is Turkish or Lebanese and uses a flatbread; yiros is Greek and uses a pita bread. There is a difference in the spices used for the marinade. As the one I make is a Greek marinade but with a flatbread, who knows what I should really call it …

A step back in time

I’m having a bit of a retrospective time of it at the moment. My high school is embarking on 75th anniversary celebrations at the end of the month, bringing with it an influx of old school photos onto my Facebook feed. Many of these are from before my time, although many names are familiar, partly because they are relatives of my school friends. However, the older photos have lists of names which sound like the local street directory, which I find amusing.

I didn’t study history until my last year of school, and even then, it was rather dry and ho-hum. I developed a taste for it when I was able to visit places where things actually happened. As part of that process, an interest in the history of my birthplace also developed.

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Whyalla is a relatively new place – by the standards of Europe it is virtually a baby – but it means that the links to its beginnings are still there. We visited Tony’s aunt and uncle a little while ago, which was lovely. During the conversation, out came the 100 year anniversary book from their primary school. On the first page is a faded photo of the very first students of the tiny Hummock Hill School, dated around 1905. Aunty Dawn pointed to one of the little girls in their white smocks. “There’s my mum.” Not much further along in the book is Uncle Bernie playing his fife. If my sums are right, he would have been one of the early students at my high school, which somehow makes the gap quite small. I have a feeling he was just as cheeky a little boy as he is an old man. I only wish I had met him earlier.

Built on the shoulders of industry, Whyalla is a dry and dusty place, covered in iron ore and pellet plant dust. The result is that the older buildings have a *slightly* pink tinge to them and the hot north winds have a kind of abrasive effect. The ‘Big Australian’, BHP, was keen to make the most of the recently discovered iron ore deposits in the Middleback Ranges in the early 1900s. It made economic sense to house the miners and the harbour workers nearby and so gradually a town grew on the coast.

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I think I might write more about that in another post later on, but for now, we’ll move on rapidly through a few decades.

By the late 1930s, it was decided a high school building was necessary. More children were staying in school for longer – the compulsory leaving age had been made higher – and BHP needed engineers and apprentices for its pig-iron and shipbuilding enterprises, so the education had to match. There certainly wasn’t enough room for them at the existing primary schools.

As with most major projects in Whyalla, the majority of funding for the initial building was contributed by BHP. With its first long-term Headmaster, Mr Hartley Searle, at the helm, it steadily grew. I have not had personal contact with Mr Searle, but I had reason to feel not-so-kindly in his direction as I worked my way through five years of his Maths textbooks with their imaginary and real concepts.

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My high school was unique for its time. By the time I attended this school, with its younger buildings climbing up the hill, it was the way most state schools are now – co-ed with a broad range of subjects available. But in the 1940s this was not the norm. Many of the state schools were still boys or girls only schools and there were limited choices. In ‘High’ schools, there was a choice of the General course (to go on to further study) or the Commercial (to be some sort of secretary). The ‘Technical’ high schools were for preparing students for trades.

Whyalla Technical High School combined both types of education. (The ‘Technical’ was dropped in 1971.) It also had the bonus of housing the trade school for apprentices and a flourishing night school for the community.

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I know the school was still used for community education even up until the early 1980s, as my mother attended music theory classes held by one of the music teachers one night a week. As a child, I went with her sometimes. My most distinct memory of this, apart from the lines of desks in a small room, is getting into trouble for leaving a book behind. The ballet school I attended also used the school hall for its annual recital until it moved more permanently into the TAFE College.

As I sit here writing, pictures and memories flash through my mind …

Kids running from all directions towards a narrow gate to catch the bus home.
The smell of pancake in the hall dressing rooms.
The herded feeling of the canteen queue (in, ironically, a converted dairy building).
The Principal wandering across the lawn to his house at lunchtime.
Learning dance routines for school musicals.
Blue, white and grey bodies, everywhere you look, making their way to different rooms for the next class.DSCN4826
Ducking at school assemblies while squawking seagulls fly overhead.

The coolness inside the main building – a relief from the heat outside.
Seeing the Queen racing past the school, running slightly late for an official engagement.
And what felt like rites of passage … as I look down at my pencil tin, made so long ago in metalwork class, along with at least 140 others that year alone.

The thought that this school could be closed down in the next few years makes me sad. Sad at a loss of history and sad that my hometown has diminished so much that there aren’t enough students to justify keeping it open … or maybe it’s progress. I don’t know …New Picture (6)

So, this is part of the reason this anniversary weekend is personally important.

And then another thought passes through my mind … a song from a couple of years before I started high school.

And another memory flashes by of sitting in the front foyer by the Principal’s office, with the honour boards above my head looking slightly precarious, while I anxiously wait to go to a piano exam and watch teenagers clattering down the library stairs …

Kids out driving Saturday afternoon just pass me by
And I’m just savouring familiar sights
We share some history, this town and I
….
Number one is to find some friends to say, “You’re doing well.”
After all this time you boys look just the same
Number two is the happy hour at one of two hotels
Settle in to play, “Do you remember so and so?”
Number three is, never say her name.

 

Happy 75th anniversary Whyalla High School!

 

Acknowledgements:
Flame Trees lyrics © O/B/O Apra Amcos
Songwriters: Steve Prestwich / Don Walker (Cold Chisel)

Feature Photo: Whyalla Technical High School 1945 from foto supplies – Albury Camera House (Flickr) used by permission.

Other photos … various photography classes …

 

My first reverie

A philosophical collection of thoughts

Our modern world and our reliance on the internet fascinates me. The irony of musing on this topic via an internet blog has not escaped me – be assured of that!

I went travelling in my younger years – without a mobile phone or an email address. Can you imagine such a thing! Mind you, this was before September 11 or the Euro was a live currency …

The concept of a smart phone was very much in the future, and as for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram etc … unheard of words in the late 90s. After all, the World Wide Web had only been in our world for less than a decade at this point.

My family and friends were reliant on postcards until at least a month into my journey, and it took another for me to make it to a country where phone calls weren’t prohibitively expensive. In my early 20s, I wasn’t concerned too much about how worried my parents may have been. They were nothing but supportive about me heading off. Yes, travelling alone, although meeting up with people along the way. This is when I know I now live in a different world.

 

That was then; this is now …

Our different world, where children learn on tablets and seem to know more about computers than their parents; where Google is a commonly used verb (not just a search engine name). Funny how one word catches on and others don’t, isn’t it. We don’t ‘Bing’ it or ‘DuckDuckGo’ it, (that second one is a real thing by the way), but just as in the UK, they hoover their homes, in the US they blow their noses with Kleenex and we Aussies wrap food (less frequently now) with Glad Wrap … but I digress …

Like many things in our world, there are advantages and disadvantages. But still, whether we like it or not, email and the internet are constant features of our lives now. We interact via text, Messenger and tweets, and I feel that, all too rapidly, we are losing the art of ‘old-fashioned’ ways of making contact.

So as I end these musings, I find myself longing to go out to my letterbox and see if I have got mail, have a good, long, phone-free catch-up with a friend, or just find myself a black spot where I can sit down under a tree and read a good book.

 

 

Photo: Mt Lofty Botanic Gardens. © Rosemary Rogers 16 April 2017