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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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img_4043It’s Valentine’s Day! CELEBRATE LOVE. DO IT. NOW. PLAN IT. PAY FOR IT. It’s very important to celebrate love. Otherwise who know what might happen.

In the past I have been very bad at giving Valentine’s Day gifts to H, which is a great shame because he is far more romantic than I am and deserves better.

Once a couple of years ago, he was cranky because he found an old globe in the recycling. He had given me the globe some years earlier, as a Valentine’s Day present. The arm that makes the globe stand up was broken, and no, I’m not a totally heartless wench, I didn’t just chuck it straight in the bin. I let the kids kick it around the garden for a bit first, because we couldn’t find the soccer ball. Well excuse me for being a problem solver.

When I realised how hurt he was, I went out to the bin and peeled off the maps that featured places we have travelled together, and I glued them together into an apologetic découpage heart. He keeps that on his desk, for never was there a finer example of passive aggression and love and recycling, and the way those three things are woven together in life. (more…)

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lcSchool’s back today. Both kids went off pretty cheerfully, with only a bit of misery from May Blossom whose school hat went AWOL at the last. I am expecting a visit from the Millinery Truancy Officer any minute. I truly have no idea what’s happened to the hat. I put it away in the cupboard with her school bag at the end of last term, and lo and behold, six weeks later it is not there. But that is just a stumble at the first hurdle.

May Blossom’s in Year One now, which was easy to tell at drop-off this morning because seventy-five percent of the class had a hand in their mouth playing with their new wobbly teeth.   (more…)

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je-2In a shocking turn of events, I have not written any more of my novel since last week. My idea now seems very slight and unimportant in light of world events. Instead, we have moved back into our house after the renovation, and I have spent most of my time dealing with an existential crisis that has taken root in the rich compost of all the stuff in our house.

I need to cull our belongings. This is a truth universally known. But I am also a sentimentalist at heart. I know how you’re meant to get rid of things: ask do I wear them/use them/need them? Could someone else benefit from them? One or two yeses and out they go. Well, that’s all fine in theory. But in reality? There are more questions than that.

Here are but two of the quandaries I have been wrestling with. Multiply this by a few hundred and you have an idea of why I am not achieving a lot.  (more…)

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Me, making a to-d0 list. Sketch by H. 

  1. Attend My 20th High School Reunion

This weekend I’m going my 20th high school reunion, an event that simultaneously makes me very excited and want to fake a bad case of gastro.

I’m curious about what the women I went to school with for six years have done with their lives, although a lot of it I already know because of the massive spoiler factory that is Facebook. For many people, the only revelations left will be what everyone looks like without several filters and when viewed front on, and not from an artfully high selfie angle. Speaking for myself, I’d recommend people come to the reunion in extremely high heels, or perhaps stilts, and with one of two extra pairs of contact lenses in, so I will look as svelte and dewy of chops as I look on the Internet. Related to the school reunion is the second item on my to-do list: (more…)

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I’m doing that thing I always do when I come back from new and wonderful, and I try to transport the lifestyle. When H and I went to Borneo by steamer sometime back in the 1800s, we came home and bought an entire pantry’s worth of ingredients to make complicated sambals and rending pastes, not to mention buying five limes for what would have bought us 100 kilograms of them in Kota Kinabalu.

I’m doing the Scandinavian equivalent. I’m eating rye bread and smoked fish, putting dill on everything, and being genuinely baffled at why everyone is so loud and rude and demanding. Why can’t my children be more Finnish, and refuse to make eye contact or talk to me? Why can’t they be more like the Swedes, and dress effortlessly stylishly and get about on bikes like it’s normal? Why can’t they be more Danish and tidy the fuck up occasionally? (more…)

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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.

(more…)

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