6 years (and 4 days) ago, my eldest son went into the operating theatre, where the doctors were going to extract about a pint (imperial pint, not a fake South Australian pint) of bone-marrow. They do this with individual five millilitre syringes, one at a time. 120 of them. Anyway – let’s not dwell on that bit. This bone-marrow was for my other son who was 7 days into conditioning chemo as part of treatment for leukaemia.
It was terrible and difficult and shit, but also incredible. Because it worked, and I think we even had a pretty “easy” run compared to others. He’s here on the couch in the living room watching Survivor. Which is apt, now that I think about it.
Because he didn’t have any immune system until the bone-marrow took hold and started growing and producing cells, he was isolated in hospital. Triple doors. Positive pressure room. Two non-parent, non-medical, non-hospital-staff visitors. Total, for the whole time he was in there.
That whole time was tipped to be about 60-100 days.
And this is why I think we had an “easy” run. Because 34 days later he was out of the hospital and we were living in an apartment near the hospital while we finalised a few things before travelling back to Adelaide. Semi-isolation.
The hospital food was, by all reports, drab. So the first dinner out of hospital with “real” food had to be special, but still had to be home-cooked and fresh because of infection risks.
I was asked to make Massaman curry, and seeing that food disappear without any negotiating was incredibly special.
On that day Massaman became the most emotional and meaningful meal I can cook for my family, and I often have a quiet little moment with myself when I do.
Recipe has been requested. Here goes. If an ingredient doesn’t have a quantity listed, it calls for “some” of it where where “some” is what feels right.
1/4 cup peanuts 2 shallots (or half an onion) 5 cloves of garlic inch-cube of ginger (ish) 1-2 chillies lemongrass ground cumin ground coriander small amount of nutmeg cinnamon cloves (1 or 2) cardamom (black stuff, not with the pods) 2 tablespoons fish sauce 1 teaspoon shrimp paste Potatoes Peas (this is purely optional, but is how I cooked it on that night 6 years ago, so….that’s how it remains)
Put everything (except the potatoes, peas) in a blender with a bit of coconut milk and blend into a smooth paste.
Brown some meat, then add the paste and the remainder of the tin of coconut milk.
Cook until tender, adding water as required. Dice the potatoes and chuck them in and cook until it’s all done. Some more peanuts and the peas at the end.
I don’t own a lot of cookbooks compared to some. Some dozens, I guess. They’re tucked away, in a little Ikea cupboard and they rarely see the light of day. If I want a recipe these days, I tend to reach for my phone rather than casting my eyes over my cookbooks because it’s convenient and easy. And there are reviews. We love reviews, right? Confidence inspiring 5 star recipes only, please!
One of my neighbours, on a whim, bought me a copy of the First Nations Food Companion. It’s a really wonderful resource, full of inspiring and interesting looking recipes, and detailed information on how to source these rarer ingredients – be it by foraging, growing, or ordering online.
Tonight I had an idea, and that was to share the book with a friend. I grabbed the book off the shelf, hopped in the car, and headed over. I knew that flicking through the cookbook together would be lovely.
And it was really lovely. But something unexpected happened.
I didn’t expect all of the conversation triggers.
I’ve always said that if you want to talk to someone well, go for a walk with them. You don’t need to make eye contact, silences are natural because you’re walking and sometimes you just want to look where you’re going and focus on that, and there are things out there in the wide world that keep your mind ticking over and conversation flowing.
I need to add “or sit down with a recipe book” to my saying.
The conversation flowed and meandered effortlessly from food to childhood memories to fears, travel, loves, relationships, and more.
So, go on. Grab a cookbook, put on some music, and sit down with a friend and flick through the pages and see where you end up, what you end up learning, and what you end up sharing.
Half a peeled brown onion A 2.5 x 2.5 x 2.5 (ish!) cm cube of peeled ginger 2 cloves of garlic 2 tsp of sugar (probably optional) 2-3 tbsp of fish sauce and soy sauce 1 tbsp of chinese five-spice mix 1 birds eye chilli or similar Some oil, and a cup or so of water
I also put some Kecap Manis in, but that’s probably not right. Not that this is authentic anyway.
Marinate a kilo (or so) of chicken thighs for as long as you can. About an hour is enough, but longer will probably be better.
Cook on the open flame part of the BBQ until cooked (75°C is the safe temperature for chicken, apparently).
I remembered. Into the fridge every two turns. Unfortunately, because I followed the recipe (now edited) in my previous attempt, I screwed up the ratios and had to kinda wing it. I baked at 180°C, which seemed pretty good.
Things to research for next time(s):
Do I need a stronger flour? Weaker flour?
Stronger is easy – I just add some gluten flour into the dough. I will try that first.
Should the dough be less hydrated? More hydrated?
Should I try an even slightly cooler oven? Or hotter?
I failed. Again.
Which, I guess, is to be expected, because wienerbröd are notoriously difficult to do well. I also didn’t do the FIRST thing I said I was going to do differently the last time, which was to chill the dough between turns.
I do think, however, I have pretty good dough ratios. 1 egg, 200 100 ml milk, 240 g flour, 20 g sugar, 1 pinch of salt. 250g butter for rolling into the dough.
Don’t let me forget to chill the dough next time.
I really want to learn how to make a good Danish. Or even a great Danish. I’ve tried twice so far and while I’ve ended up with good looking and delicious tasting baked goods, they aren’t really Danishes. They’re bready and that delicious crackly crispyness. I plan on documenting my failures, and the changes I want to make, and hopefully the final success of a good (or great) Danish.
I, foolishly, didn’t write down the ratios I used for Attempt #1. But I think it’s safe to say that I didn’t use enough sugar in the dough. I think it was roughly 500g flour, 2 eggs, 200ml milk, 50ml of sugar, and ~400g butter. 225°C oven.
Attempt #2 was better in flavour, because of increased level of sugar in the dough, but I didn’t bake them for long enough, I think. They’re still doughy.
The lamination is still good, but because of the way that I shaped them, it doesn’t show up in the same way as in Attempt #1. This time I used:
480g flour, 2 eggs (didn’t weigh them), 200ml milk and ~400g butter. I told myself that I was going to do more turns with the dough this time than I did in Attempt #1, but because of something I saw on YouTube, I stopped at 6. 225°C oven, again, but I didn’t leave them in for long enough.
I think I’ve been rushing the dough making process, and not chilling the dough like I should.
So for Attempt #3, I will do the following:
Chill the dough for half an hour every two turns.
Record the ingredients more meticulously
Try 8 turns, because I don’t think my initial layering is perfect enough that 6 turns is enough