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The pesto would have been better tossed with small snails than with the gnocchi I made.

I know I have a tendency to toot my own horn on this blog, and today is not going to be any different. You need to know that I can make the worst gnocchi in the world.

Yesterday at the end of a weekend in the country with three generations of our families, my friend Ellie and I spent four hours pottering in the kitchen. I was making gnocchi and she was making pesto. People wandered in and out, admiring our handiwork and commenting approvingly on what domestic goddesses we are, whipping up rustic Italian food from scratch while our children played happily outside.

It was all a ruse. Well, it was half a ruse: the pesto was beautiful. The gnocchi were very, very horrible.

On the page, where lies are born, gnocchi are straightforward: you cook some potatoes, peel them, mash them, mix in an egg yolk and some flour, roll the dough into long sausages and then cut them into pillow shapes, which you then roll across the tines of a fork to make a little grooves for your sauce to adhere to. So simple, so italiano. You cook them in boiling salted water for about a minute, or until they float to the surface. Then you skim them out and into a waiting warm dish where you coat them in oil or butter or pesto and serve them to your family to rapturous applause.

The recipes always warn you that the thing you must not do is mix in too much flour to the mashed potato, because then you will not have lovely little light pillows of deliciousness, but leaden, doughy lumps.

Every time I try to make gnocchi – and it is a ten-year cycle of forgetting how bad it was the last time and deciding to throw myself down that particular culinary insinkerator again – I take that warning too seriously and don’t add enough flour. At least that’s what I think the problem is. Who the fuck knows.

The dough always looks fine and I cut it up and make the pieces gnocchi-shaped, but when I cook them they come out with no resistance whatsoever. They melt in your mouth, which gnocchi aren’t meant to do. They melt in your mouth in the way that a dissolvable aspirin tablet does. It’s like eating dirty paste.

Yesterday I spent four hours making gnocchi. When it came time to feed the kids, I boiled up a few and I could tell when I fished them out of the pot, like little soft bloated whales, that they were going to be awful.

Have you ever left a zucchini or a cucumber too long in the fridge and when you try to pick it up your hand just goes straight through like it is a ghost? The gnocchi were like that. Disgusting potatoey ectoplasm.

Garnet wolfed them down, liberally doused with pesto. May Blossom tried to pick one up with a fork, but it might has well have been soup. She asked if she could have some pasta instead.

Normally I am very much of the school of making others pay for my mistakes, and under most circumstances I would have said she had to at least try them. But even I could see that would just have been mean. She had pasta.

Ellie had gone back to Sydney by then, with her parents and children, a bag of frozen gnocchi, a pot of pesto, and that excellent feeling you get when you come home after a weekend away and know something better than toast awaits you for dinner.

I burst that bubble with a text message, warning her ‘BIN THE GNOCCHI. COOK PASTA. REPEAT: COOK PASTA’.

So we all had pasta. I was breezy and good-humoured about it last night, because there were still some houseguests here whom I didn’t know very well. If there is a worse impression to make on people than them thinking you are a terrible cook, it’s them thinking you’re a petulant sulk about it. So, smiling, I served them all pasta with pesto and they said encouraging things about not throwing out the gnocchi but using them in a soup, perhaps, or to mend cracks in the walls. I think I agreed and said ‘Waste not, want not!’ in a slightly hysterical voice a few too many times. Then I ate four bowls of ice-cream.

This morning the gnocchi is still in the freezer, haunting me.

I’ve spent the day in self-flagellation for the gnocchi and the ice-cream. I went to the greengrocer and bought so many vegetables that they will not fit in the fridge and in a few days I will have ectoplasm zucchinis on my hands. Maybe I’ll make them into a sauce for the gnocchi.

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Sample bookshelf from my parents’ attic: Just one of the many collections of books that tells you probably more than you need to know about my family.

Our renovation is about to begin. We have packed everything from one half of our house and jammed it into the other half. The builders are going to knock out few of our walls, fiddle around with the layout a bit, and put in a new kitchen. The house is very overdue for some care and maintenance, but knowing the renovation was approaching we’ve treated it like a teacher treats their class in the last weeks of the academic year. Gradually everything has fallen apart, and we’ve stopped caring and worked around it. It’s been the domestic equivalent of the teacher putting on a video of ‘Behind The News’ every day for two weeks and reading a book while the class flicks spit balls around and braids each other’s hair.

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IngredientsWhat follows is less a recipe and more a warning. Today I made some cookies for the kids out of really healthy ingredients. They loved them, and also all hell broke loose.

I made the cookies using an amalgamation of recipes on the internet, which I found by googling ‘cacao almond cookies’. They all contained the following ingredients, in seemingly arbitrary quantities: (more…)

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It’s Thanksgiving! The day we eat turkey and gravy and stuffing and pie until we pass out; the day we move all the the furniture in my parents’ house a bit to the left; the day my mother spends running up and down the back lane simultaneously cooking two turkeys in two ovens — one in her house and one in her neighbour’s house, six doors up.

Actually, this year the game of Move The Tables From The Verandah To The Garden And Back Again Thrice As The Weather Changes was knocked on the head, with the decision taken early to just have the damn meal inside and not try to use the courtyard at all. It’s going to be cool and rainy tonight, so all the living room furniture has been moved into the garage and we will dine in dryness and warmth. Hurrah! But it’s a bit sad that all the guests won’t need to sneak, one by one, into Mum and Dad’s room to raid Dad’s jumper shelf , another traditional aspect of our Thanksgiving. (more…)

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Hello there. I’m back. Where have I been, you ask? Have I a very good reason for not writing on this here blog for almost two weeks? Was I building a house out of mud bricks, and were my hands too dirty to type? Did I accept a fabulous new job as the head of a multimedia company that requires me to wear a short skirt and a long jacket and dial O for an outside line? (more…)

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Better a terrible photo than none at all, that’s what I always say. I couldn’t put my spoon down long enough to take a photo with two hands. That’s all you need to know about this meal.

I know, it’s a big call declaring a Lunch of The Week on Monday, but I’m feeling quietly confident that this will be the one to beat. It’s not a good-looking lunch, but it has hidden depths of deliciousness and you will find yourself a bit in love with it. It is the Stephen Fry of lunch.

This morning May Blossom and I donned aprons and scrubbed out the inside of the oven, which was, to paraphrase Neil from The Young Ones after he sticks his head in their oven to gas himself, dirtier than ovens at the bottom of swamps. It was a thoroughly dispiriting job, and one not made any easier by my insistence on using only bicarbonate of soda and vinegar (and child labour). With every scrub my brain screamed ‘Go buy a can of Mr Muscle, hippie!’, like Rik would have if they had ever actually gotten round to cleaning the oven on the show. (more…)

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We live in a house with a very small fridge. There’s only one place a fridge can fit in the kitchen, and there’s only one fridge available that fits into that place. And it’s not a big enough fridge.

It has, as you might expect, a very small freezer section. We like to keep it very full of food stacked so precariously that it is dangerous to open the door. Since January, a good 30 per cent of our freezer space has been taken up with a large tub of blackberries, which we picked nowhere near my parents’ property which absolutely does not have any blackberry bushes growing on it anywhere, Mr Council Noxious Weed Inspector Detector.

Since the berries were so hard won, I have been waiting for something worthwhile to cook with them to come along. I don’t know what amazing recipe I thought I was going to stumble across, or what worthy occasion I thought might arise (my receiving a Damehood for Services to Not Pulling My Weight Around The House?), but eventually I just pulled them out one evening when Mum and Dad came round for dinner and cooked them. (more…)

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