Barley Soup for David

I should be sharing the joys of my week in tropical Darwin, but it’s cold and raining and I’ve just had a great chat with my brother regarding soup. His household in the cold Blue Mountains have feasted on a batch of homemade minestrone for some days. He suddenly realised that soup had been a missing ingredient in his past life.

No, I don’t believe Mothers should be the only providers of nurture, but his ex did have “domestic goddess” aspirations, unfortunately they did not extend to comfort food. So when I told David I’d just made barley soup he requested the recipe. My barley soup tastes somewhat like my mother’s, except that being a lazy baby boomer if I make a pot of barley soup, that’s dinner. Not for my Mum who regularly provided three course dinners, midweek, and yes, she went out to work. Here she is with her grandchildren and one great grandchild – she’s looking pretty good from 90 years of homemade soup, as are her descendants.

So, some years ago, driven by nostalgia I figured this would work – and it does, though I doubt Mum used lamb shanks, though they were so cheap back in the day, damn our new found cosmopolitanism! Back then my father couldn’t give away the massive tuna he caught. But those were the days, when men were men and squid was bait.

Now be warned I have no accurate measurements for this soup– only estimates and you will add or subtract whatever you do or don’t like, beef bones can be used instead of lamb, but for me the soup should be thick with cabbage. I blame it on my Eastern European ancestry but recognise that not everyone likes cabbage.

Barley Soup

In a large pot sauté:

Olive oil as needed (not that my Mum would have used olive oil)

A few bay leaves

2 lamb shanks

1 large chopped onion

2 cloves chopped garlic

*½ large diced capsicum

*2 celery sticks finely sliced

then add

2T ground coriander

2t ground paprika

Then add ¾ cup of barley that has been soaking at least 2 hours

Cover with water or stock of your choice and ½ cup of wine.

Add 2 diced carrots

*2 diced potatoes

Bring to the boil reduce to simmer and cook for approx. 2 hours till barley is tender and lamb is falling from the bone.

At this point I season with salt and pepper.

Finally I add half a coarsely chopped cabbage, I like big hunks and just submerge it in the soup till cooked through, I like to keep the crunch.

You may remove the lamb from the bone if you like or provide a shank in bowl, obviously more shanks can be used.


*these are optional and to taste, any vegetable can be used really but I try and avoid cauliflower when using cabbage, because sometimes you can have too much roughage!

Peranakan Fair – Be there!

Peranakan Fair

The Peranakan (or Baba Nonya ) community produce the best cuisine I’ve tasted. Really. I’m no expert so do go to their facebook page for the drum on this facinating culture and cuisine.

I do know that Peranakan refers to the fusion of Chinese and other cultures. The Chinese being the consummate traders and travellers have developed various cultural offshoots as the settled and intermarried in new lands. It’s a similar story to the intensely varied regional  cuisine of the Jewish Diaspora.

I am most familiar with the Malaysian/Chinese fusion.

The Perth Peranakan community is holding an all day fair on Sunday 24th Novemeber where you can find out more about this culture and purchase  food, clothes and artefacts as well as sharing the experience.

I’m familiar with dishes like Penang Laksa ( more sour and redolent of tamarind than the Singaporean version we are familiar with); and Nonya chicken curry – fragrant, hot and rich with thick coconut milk.

I’ve been lucky enough to attend a couple of their functions thanks to my colleague at Murdoch Uni and fellow foodie Christina Tan.

The first was a lunch. Here are my colleagues Erika Wright and Kai-Ti Kao  and my daughter Zenna suitably blissed out on the fragrant spiciness of this divine homemade food.

Several women provided their special dishes – as in 200 serves each. We were treated to about 8 main courses. Just imagine the best family meal ever and shared with a couple of hundred strangers. Love was in the air!

One dish I’d not tried before was fish that had been baked into an eggy/fishy loaf. Wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea but satisfied my desire for something completely different. It just reminded me of gefilte fish – a festive Jewish dish not widely appreciated.. a bit like vegemite!

Then we attended an afternoon tea which was informal but also great. Held at a now defunct café in the Langford shopping centre, we were happy to be the only non-Nonyas there as our new Nonya pals took us under their wing, carefully explaining and providing critique of all the dishes.

We began by fighting over the Singapore style noodles till we realised we were meant to eat a whole plate each.

But along with this, curry puffs (delicious, not oily, in fact great flakey pastry) and some fine spring rolls. Then the sweets, gorgeous jellies bright  green with pandan leaf and rich coconut flavour.

We couldn’t eat it all,  we took away.

The Peranakan fair which will be selling lots of these foods. You can buy tickets in advance – $5 tasters and I guarantee value and flavour you won’t find anywhere else in Perth. This is how I see it. When offered food we can sometimes take it or leave it, but when I’m offered something “my mother made”, anyone’s mother,  the only answer is yes. The fair will be overflowing with food that someone’s mother cooked – just say yes!

Down South

You know you are a foodista when your 18 year old leans across the table and solicitously tells you:

“ Don’t worry Mum, one day we’ll eat the degustation menu at the Fat Duck”. My heart swells with pride. My child was never fodder for Masterchef Kids; she cannot make a soufflé and I’m not sure she has ever eaten one. But when asked whether she’d like a few days of feasting in Margaret River with Mum, to my shock she leapt at the chance.

So here are the highlights of our week in Margaret River – no weigh-ins permitted.

Margaret River is glorious in summer, and pretty damn fine in winter, think log fires, fine wine. We stayed at Margaret’s Beach Resort at Gnarabup (The “G” is silent, as they say!)‎

I’m not sure what constitutes a resort, Ketut serving cocktails? Not here though the cocktails on offer did keep the 18 year-old happy. Certainly MBR was fine (no breakfast service) but too cold for the spa and pool anyway.

But the view!

What can beat watching the sun set into the ocean? No need to speak of sunrise, I am not a morning person.

Day one saw us visit the cheekily named Knee Deep winery with restaurant for their degustation menu.‎

My 18 year old’s first ever “dego”. Did I say I was a foodista? Surely I should have introduced her to the joys of “sand” and foams by the age of five. Surely by 10 she should have mastered confit? We left ourselves entirely in the chef’s hands – not something this particular control freak is known for. So we kicked off with a sous-vide egg with shaved truffle.

I haven’t made up my mind about sous-vide though I’d best hurry as this cooking technique is probably reaching its use-by date that, is if we consider food as fashion. And don’t we?

Next we were served Bunny two ways.

(Why does that sound so rude?) I greedily chomped a mouthful of the rolled loin only to find I’d also eaten the bunny’s liver. Shameful me, not an offal fan, moment of drama till I swallowed it, knowing an offal enthusiast would be purring. By this time a waitress had appeared, registered shock and whipped our plates away. How did she know I don’t much care for offal? She didn’t. Apparently the rolled loin still had its plastic round it so we were then represented with this dish I wasn’t so keen on. But things happen and I feel mean mentioning it.

So mortified were they we got a complementary course – 3 fat scallops with Jerusalem artichoke and truffle.

Followed by a perfectly cooked serving of Barramundi and a pea puree.

This was elegant, simple presentation of fine produce, seriously good, possibly my favourite course. Of course by now we were less than peckish.

But when the warm imported brie arrived with gorgeous bread I was left to battle alone. I struggled and would have it found it easier to consume with crackers – a second negative thought – why am I eating French cheese in dairy country? Margaret River is known for its use of locally sourced produce.

A palate cleansing sorbet is delightful and then dessert – described as a panna cotta it is more dense than I would have expected and for me, too large a serving after such a meal. My young companion disagreed and wolfed hers, but then she didn’t eat the brie did she?

Day 2 thankfully we have no lunch booking. So buoyed with a serious breakfast in town, Zenna has now eaten her first Croque Monsieur (toasted ham and gruyere or béchamel sandwich), – it won’t be her last, then we head for the aptly named Gabriel chocolate. And really this is chocolate to make an archangel sin.‎

Their chocolate is made from single sourced beans, fair trade produce. I am still working my way through my selection. Zenna is hoarding her last hot chocolate mixer.

Just heat the milk and melt the chocolate, yup, that’s hot choc! Rocky Road to die for and the chocolate brownies we devoured for super? I’m grateful Gabriel is so far from my home, though their chocolate can be bought at The Boatshed

The Venison Shop is a carnivore’s oasis as you can see from their board:‎

I like to think of myself as a conscientious omnivore – seeing deer wandering through fields is reassuring. We returned home with some “low fat” venison snags. Low fat they were – this was guilt free sausage eating, note the virtuous beans please.

We had saved ourselves for the next day’s lunch at Cullen’s Winery. This wasn’t my first visit; this is my favourite venue in Margaret River.‎

What’s not to love? Organic, biodynamic wine producers who promote sustainable farming and viticulture. Cullen wines have been certified organic since 1998 and then they introduced biodynamic practices in 2004. Cullens have done a great deal to defuse the idea of biodynamic growing being a hippy practice.

I’d enjoyed the scallops at Knee Deep but these two fat scallops presented 2 ways provided the standout dish for the week followed by a perfect slab of barramundi with a burnt butter sauce and hefty spuds and snow peas from their garden. Zenna had the special – beef pie with a massive, fragrant, crunchy (also from their) garden salad I was happy to polish off.

I’d seen their garden on a food tour year’s ago and asked if we could wonder through after lunch. The waitress told us we couldn’t just wander through, tours may be booked by arrangement, however the waitress told us she would see if someone could take us. Really? Yes, really. Cellarman and food enthusiast William appeared and took us through the garden. This was fabulous. We saw the lot and had the organic/biodynamic process explained to us, from worm wee through to fresh salad on the plate.

What about the wine I hear you shrieking. Sadly dear reader – I’m a far better eater than drinker. However I did enjoy a glass of 2013 Rosé of Wilyabrup, the perfect complement to my meal.

Our final big lunch was at Flutes and sadly this was a very rainy day so this most if idyllic of settings was a little grey. We also made the mistake of having the set menu – though at $50 per head for 3 courses why wouldn’t you?‎

My entrée of venison spring rolls was indeed divine as was the dessert selection. The mains (a chicken ragout with couscous and a pork fillet) were unexceptional. I’d return here though and give the a la carte menu a workout.

We’d stayed on so we could check out the Saturday Farmer’s Market. Cambray cheeses sell an amazing line up of hand made sheep’s milk cheeses, so good I found myself again wondering about Knee-Deep’s use of imports.

Sensational bread from the Margaret River Bread shop, a Cambray cheese and a decent bottle of wine, that’s a lunch.

We had other adventures in MR and so will you – Olio Bello, The Good Olive – great selection of oils to taste and apricot jam like the old days, Blue Ginger Fine Foods,

Bon appetite!

Civility: A thing of the past?

A recent trip to Singapore and Malaysia brought me face to face with the sharp contrast between fast and slow cultures. Okay, no-one is going to call Singapore slow. It is a city on the move, often derided as an oversized shopping mall in which all traces of tradition have been bulldozed to make way for more shops.

What struck me most strongly in both countries is their (sigh) intense civility.

We know Singapore is a deeply regimented society and that much of what takes place there is mandated. So it’s no surprise folks actually wait until you have stepped from the train, rather than crushing you as you disembark.

We spent two days in relentlessly multicultural Melakka, during which time we witnessed an amazing late night gathering in the neighbouring kampong, which I assume had only been preserved because of its touristic value. There was music, sound and colour.

Exploring the kampong a couple of days later I was engaged in conversation by a friendly local. I got the old “where do you come from” routine. This of course doesn’t happen much here in Oz. I’m told that we Aussies are friendly when approached but we do not approach strangers in this manner, in fact even when we see travellers clearly in distress we tend to ignore them.

So I asked this Malay gentleman what the hubbub the other night had been about.

“Ah” he said, “ my hero was here to meet us” with hand over heart as he pointed to the large poster of ex-PM Mahathir. I thought it best not to remind him of Mr Mahathir’s lowly opinion of Aussie’s in general and Paul Keating in particular.

He asked me why we hadn’t come down to the kampong to see for ourselves, telling me: “we had so much local food you would have been welcome to join us”. I thanked him anyway and wandered off contemplating his words. Did he have any idea how far removed from our cultural practices his question was? Imagine if I told him about the overseas student who said, regarding her three years in Australia: “ I’ve really loved being here, I’m, just sorry never to have been inside an Australian home”.

We Australians are sick of having our culture criticised and very sick of the claim that we have none. I’m reminded of a wonderful woman called Joy Burn. Joy was raised in Cunderdin in WA’s wheat belt and was a stalwart of the CWA. Privileged to interview her, I arrived at her home to be greeted by the smell of fresh baked Anzac biscuits.

Joy Burn was old-school, an Australian of the Depression and War years, who invited neighbours round and offered a cuppa, even to “new Australians” like my family. That Aussie hospitality still exists but sometimes we need to be reminded to open our doors wider.


Dr Felicity Newman is a member of the Centre for Everyday life at Murdoch University