food memories

Meals in the Mail - an update

* UPDATE 16 JULY 2017: please note that the official date to send recipes for this project has ended. However, you are still welcome to take part. There are no guarantees that your recipe will make it into the book but the sooner you send it, the more likely it will happen. I will be too busy delivering my Your Beautiful Letter course to start the book at least until the end of August, so any letters that arrive before then will still be part of the project. * 


One month ago, I came up with a little idea to collect some recipes via the mail, and make them into a zine or mini-book. I thought maybe I'd get 10 or 20 recipes, and it would be something cute to post as gifts in future letters I'd send. 

What I received was so much more. So far, the stacks of mail you see in these pictures contain 50 recipes, and more arrive every day. Many of them are illustrated recipes, or lovingly decorated in some way, and most of the envelopes likewise have been beautifully and carefully made. There are recipes from all over the world: some new, some traditional, but all of them are connected to stories. Stories of new love, family celebrations, cooking lessons, and adventures in travel. 

I've decided that these recipes deserve so much more than simply to be photocopied and stapled together. I want to showcase the creativity and vibrant beauty of the mail, the recipes, and the stories that go with them. So I will turn them into a 'real' book, in colour, that will celebrate not only the food, but the letters as well. 

I'm sticking to the original plan of sending the book to everyone who participates, so I thought I'd let you know there's still time to join in if you want to be part of this lovely project. The original date to have your mail postmarked was 1 July, but I've decided to extend it for another two weeks, until 15 July, to see if we can collect a few more recipes in the mail. Imagine what a wonderful book it would be if we could get up to 100 recipes and letters!

If you have friends or family members who you think would enjoy this project, please feel free to invite them to take part. The more recipes and letters from as many corners of the world that we receive will help to make it such a beautiful legacy of food, friendship and tradition, don't you think? 

To join in, simply send a favourite recipe of yours to me in the mail, as well as a few lines about what makes it special to you, at: 

Naomi Bulger
"Meals in the Mail"
PO Box 469
Carlton North
Vic 3054
Australia

Don't forget to include your return address so I can send you a copy of the book! 

Yours sincerely, 
Naomi x

Guacamole season (and also a recipe)

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I have been trying to teach the children about seasons for fruit and vegetables. Late in autumn we had a "goodbye green grapes" party to enjoy the final bunch of the season, which was harder to explain than you might expect due to the plethora of gigantic, California-grown green-grapes that started appearing on grocery-store shelves soon thereafter. We made good use of mandarin season but recently had to say goodbye to them, too, and now we are all eagerly anticipating the arrival of stone-fruit season.

You get my drift.

And then last weekend (or thereabouts), guacamole season started. Big excitement!

Guacamole season goes hand-in-hand with daylight saving and Caprese-salad season and dry-white-wine season and also friends-over-at-dusk season. So even though I'm not famous for loving the warmer weather, I am nevertheless quite the fan of guacamole season.

Guacamole season starts with longer days and bare feet. Soggy bathers, sand inside the house, tasting sunscreen after kissing sweaty lips. Cicadas after dark, mosquitos too, and the hum of the fan in the bedroom. Guacamole is made to share and taste and leave and come back to, and then come back to again. Double-dipping is ok because we are all friends here, family probably or practically, and somehow the guacamole bowl is always empty before the corn chips run out. Some people pair guacamole season with margaritas in glasses with the rims crusted with sugar-salt and I totally get that, but I am too lazy to mix even the simplest of cocktails. White wine or prosecco, straight from the 'fridge and therefore too cold for the purists, suits me. Maybe some homemade lemonade, too.

Would you like to know my guacamole recipe?

A few words before you try this. I have been hunting for the perfect guacamole recipe for a long, long time, and this is the closest I've found to it. Each time I make it it is different, sometimes better than others. But in case you try it and then yell "Naomi, what?!?," here are some things that I look for in what I happen to think makes a good guacamole, and maybe you will agree or maybe you won't.

  1. It has to be smooth. None of this lumpy, chunky stuff
  2. I'm a bit of a guacamole-purist so this recipe is very simple. No onion or tomato or cheese for me. This ain't a meal, folks, it's a tasty snack
  3. No Doritos or other cheesy, processed corn-chips are permitted within a 100 metre radius of guacamole at my house. Get yoself some stock-standard "proper" corn-chips, cheese-free

Naomi's guacamole recipe

Treat this recipe with a fair bit of flexibility. For example I like a decent kick to my guac so I'm generous (ish) with the cayenne pepper and chilli flakes. I also like a lot of lime zing to my guacamole, so I add a lot more lime than others tend to do. Add the lime-juice one lime at a time, to get the taste you like. If like me you love a lot 'o lime, but you find the guac is getting too sloppy, start adding zest instead.

Ok let's go...

Ingredients 4 avocados 2 cloves garlic, minced juice of 1 - 4 limes, to taste 1/2 teaspoon sea-salt 1/2 - 1 teaspoon ground cumin 1/2 - 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper 1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander (cilantro for my American friends)

Method Scoop all the avocado into a blender, add in the minced garlic, and mix until it's nice and smooth with no big lumps. Now add the juice of one lime, and about half the amounts of the dried spices and fresh coriander, blend to mix them, then taste. Start adding bits and pieces of the rest, plus more lime juice, until you're happy with the flavour.

Serve it with corn chips (the real deal, nothing cheesy), and enjoy!

ps. If you're feeding other people, make the guacamole just before they arrive as the avocado will start to oxidise and turn brown after a little while and you want it to look good as well as taste good!

Food nostalgia: Mum’s devilled eggs & 80s salad

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Talk about food nostalgia! Devilled eggs are one of those dishes that take me RIGHT BACK to my childhood, with the first bite. Do you have a dish that does that for you?

Devilled eggs were a classic that my Mum would pull out whenever guests came over. We had devilled eggs with almost every barbecue (and we had a lot of barbecues). They were right up there on her “tried and true” list, with prawn cocktails.

It was 30 degrees outside when I made these devilled eggs, so I paired them with a simple salad for dinner. I call it “80s salad” because I swear we ate a salad like this at least once a week for the entire decade of the 80s. It was the least sophisticated, least pretentious salad you can imagine. The percentage of ancient grains, buffalo mozzarella or kale was exactly zilch. This salad had iceberg lettuce, friends. Remember iceberg lettuce? And whatever other veggies we happened to have to hand which, in my childhood, meant staples from the veggie patch: tomatoes, cucumber, celery. I added fresh pineapple to my salad, because I found some in the back of the ‘fridge and it was still good.

Mum’s devilled eggs recipe

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6 hard boiled eggs 2 tablespoons of chutney (or in this case, 2 tablespoons of Jayne’s homemade tomato relish, which did the job admirably well) 1 tablespoon mayonnaise 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce Salt and pepper, to season

Peel the hard-boiled eggs*, then cut them in half, lengthwise. Put the yolks in a bowl with all the other ingredients, then mush and mix them all together.

Spoon the mixture into the empty halves of the egg whites.

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In Mum’s recipe, it says to garnish the eggs with slices of cucumbers, and I am a rule-follower (most of the time), so that’s what I did.

Wash it all down with chilled, cheap plonk. This bottle cost me $10, because I am all class.

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* Is it just me, or does anybody else think hard boiled eggs are a LOT more difficult to peel these days? The egg shell comes away in tiny little shards that cut your fingers, and half the time manages to take away giant chunks of egg-white with it.

That didn’t used to happen when I was a kid. Are they feeding something different to the hens? Or did they feed something different to the hens back when we were kids? Every time I make hard-boiled eggs for the kids, these days, I wonder at how difficult they are to peel.

Naomi Bulger, bringing you the hard-hitting news of the nation.

ps. Want more food nostalgia? This is how the Great Custard Controversy panned out.

The great custard controversy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Don't say I never bring you the important issues. While we were chatting the other night, Mr B started to tell me about the custard his Nan used to make. To hear him tell it, "Nan's custard" was rich, creamy and perfect. She would whip it up for dessert after a Sunday roast, and make it at Christmas to pour over pudding. Mr B's Nan was one of those truly hospitable women that you mostly only read about in old books. She'd be up at 4am on Christmas Day to roast the turkey, preparing a veritable banquet for the family.

I've got to be honest, I've never really thought of custard as a dish in itself. It seems more of... I don't know... a condiment. But he was so passionate about Nan's custard and how good it was and all those memories, that I asked him to get the recipe so I could try to create his happy culinary experience. Here's how the conversation went next.

Mr B: I don't think she had a recipe. She just mixed it up on the stove.

Me: Would she have given your Mum the recipe?

Mr B (ignoring my question and looking all misty-eyed): It was delicious, and fluorescent yellow.

Me (growing suspicious): And she definitely made it from scratch? What ingredients did she use?

Mr B (with a withering look): What all custard is made from. Custard powder!

And just like that, the Great Custard Challenge was born.

To the best of my knowledge, there are three types of custard: the type you buy ready-made and refrigerated, the type you make up with custard powder, and the type you mix up with eggs and milk. I decided I would make all three, then challenge Mr B to a blind tasting to see which one lived up to his memory.

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It took me two goes to make the powder version, because I tackled it first and while I think I got the consistency the way Mr B described it (quite thick), by the time I had subsequently cooked up the 'real deal' version, the powder version had become congealed and gluggy, and I had to throw it out and start again. We will be eating custard in our house for a long time because Mr B bought a two kilogram jug of the refrigerated stuff because it was only a dollar more than the small carton. Sometimes he forgets it's just us and two very small children, and shops like he's back in his childhood home with three adults, five children, and umpteen aunties, uncles, cousins and neighbours visiting at any given time.

If you've never made custard from scratch (actual scratch, rather than with powder), it's incredibly easy. Here's my recipe, a bit of an amalgam of a few I found on the Internet. These are small quantities, and it makes about a cup and a half. I'm going to try it without the sugar next time and see if the kids still like it for a healthy snack.

Ingredients: 


1 egg 1.5 tablespoons cornflour 1.5 cups milk 1 teaspoon vanilla extract* 1.5 tablespoons sugar

*We only had vanilla essence in the house for this experiment because I bought it by accident, and it still tasted ok, but I definitely think extract or the scrapings of an actual vanilla pod would be the better way to go

Method:

1. In a small saucepan with the heat off, whisk the egg, cornflour and a couple of tablespoons of the milk together 2. When you have created a smooth paste with no lumps, turn the heat on low, and gradually add the rest of the milk, stirring continually 3. As soon as the custard becomes thick and creamy (which will happen the second you start to think "this is taking too long it won't work"), remove the saucepan from the heat 4. Stir in the sugar and vanilla

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACan you guess which is which by looking at these? L-R = the powdered stuff, the refrigerated stuff, the homemade stuff

The outcome of this challenge? Much to my surprise, Mr B chose my homemade custard in his blind tasting! I can't claim that it was up to Nan's Magic Custard Powder dessert standard because a) I never got to taste it and b) possibly I just didn't do the powder justice. But it was nice to get the stamp of approval on my very own creation. The best part was that the Custard Challenge led to a longer conversation about Mr B's Nan and their Christmases in Bendigo and about the kind of woman she was. Which was quite lovely, and exactly what food memories are all about, I think.

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This is part of a new regular series exploring food memories from our childhoods. The good, the bad and the bizarre. I explain the whole thing in this post if you're interested. Do you want to join in? Recreate or reinvent some of your best or worst food memories and use the hashtag #naomilovesfoodmemories so I can promote what you're doing. Or ask me to have a go at one of your food memories and I'll see what I can do!