It’s now properly hot in Sydney. Do you need an elegant cooling salad to put on your table? Do you need something that is gluten free/ vegetarian/ but will also pair beautifully with a glazed ham, pork fillet, griddled bread or spatchcocked spiced chickens? Do you need something that will use up the half a honeydew melon that you bought on a lark? If so, I think I can help. Skip straight to the recipe at the bottom. If you have time for prattle and context, read on.
We’re talking about honeydew melons this week because I’m now carrying something the size of one around my middle. My lovely daughter-to-be is stretching and scraping at places she’s not-so-welcome. She is heavy and causing me to say ‘Oof’ more than I would normally utter in common parlance. On hot days, she is broiling. She’s doing all sorts of things to my emotional compass too.
I’d forgotten that at 32 weeks with Will I went a little bonkers too. That was until I silently wept all through the hospital tour/orientation on Saturday and I dug back into the blog archive to double check. Yup, there it is. In script. Me going nutty at 32 weeks. It’s a thing. I’m not quite sure what caused the waterworks on Saturday. The hospital we’re booked into is plush. It’s eye-wateringly-expensive in fact. Yet I care far less about the ‘Platinum Package’ they offer and much more about how close they are to a level 5 Neonatal Intensive Care unit, just in case (that’s the primary reason we chose to go private). Yet it is not so convenient. The drive there on Saturday took much longer, in erratic faltering traffic than I anticipated. We also had a crotchety toddler in tow, with his face painted like a tiger, frozen in mid-scowl. By the time we arrived we only just made the tour. I was breathless and harried and couldn’t stop thinking of what that trip was going to be like in full blown labour. And then they told us there had been an emergency so we couldn’t see the rooms we’d be giving birth in. But they could certainly show us the PLATINUM SUITES. And would we like to upgrade to the PLATINUM SUITES? Can they tell us more about the gift basket that comes in the PLATINUM SUITES? Meanwhile I’m thinking – I don’t care about free coffee vouchers and ‘complimentary’ champagne. Can someone, please just tell me where I go when I’m in labour ? Can someone please tell me where my husband can wait with our toddler until someone comes to collect him? Can someone please show me the smiling face of a midwife who may be around to help steer us through this final stage? No? Please, tell me more about the PLATINUM SUITES – which you can request- but can’t be guaranteed. And then it dawned on me. Not that this is where I’ll be giving birth. In all honesty, when labour starts I could be in the middle of a highway for all I’ll know what’s going on. I’ll retreat to a slate grey cave in my head and see you all on the other side. But that I’m really going to have to go into that cave again. And that, that can be a little overwhelming to an overtired, harried, mass of hormones and bones.
And hence – the weeping. These other poor women who were on the tour with us flushed with anticipation at the miracle of soon welcoming their first borns just kept looking at me aghast. ‘Why is she crying? Is it really going to be that bad?’.
No. It won’t. I’m just a hot mess. But this too shall pass.
Hence easy, cooling salads like these are high on rotation. I’ve called this a carpaccio, but really, that’s a stop-gap title for anything that’s thinly sliced and layered on a plate. A true carpaccio is beef, perhaps veal or fish. Beetroot at a stretch- at least its vermilion hues mimic the vibrant colours of the raw meat. Yet this version is just as artful on a plate and hence I’ve saddled it with the same name as those created in honour of the Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio.
Along the way I’ve gleaned some tips and tricks when it comes to using fruit in savoury-leaning salads. Chief among them is the importance of balance. You need enough salty and tangy elements to tame the natural sweetness of the fruits. Here I’ve leaned on the briney character of capers, some sea salt flakes and the brassiness of good quality extra virgin olive oil. Labna- made from strained and salted Greek yoghurt contributes a further lift, while mint and pistachios make it all a little more romantic.
This is the sort of dish that you could serve as part of a banquet lunch, with a glazed ham and a potato salad (warm climate Christmas anyone?). It’s also lovely as a stand alone platter, perhaps with some charred bread, or chickpea flour foccacia on the side. And if spirits are flagging, a small glass of wine on the side is also very good for morale (so I’ve heard).
Here are a few other things that are going on
Watching: The Night Manager. We’re only half way into this six part series with Tom Hiddleston/Hiddleswift, Hugh Laurie and the luminescent Australian Elizabeth Debicki, but I’m on the edge of my seat every night willing Will into bed so I can collapse and watch another one. It’s the perfect meld of spy intrigue and glorious locations, jetting from Cairo to Zermatt, to Monaco and Majorca. And Hiddleston isn’t too hard on the eyes either.
Eating: Mangoes. More and more mangoes. There’s something of a glut of mangoes in Australia at the moment with Darwin Kensington Prides available for a song. They’ve been finding their way into smoothies and fruit salads and made a glorious topping for oat flour pancakes with raspberries, yoghurt and pistachios on Sunday morning. Nb, for anyone faffing about with the best way to get into a mango, a few years ago I wrote this about a sneaky kitchen hack using a large spoon that allows you to cleave the cheeks out in one piece.
Listening: One of my favourite Sydney food podcasts is ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry’ by food writer Lee Tran Lam. The recent episode with Mike Bennie, wine writer, raconteur and one of the smart fellows at the helm of Sydney’s natural wine festival ‘Rootstock‘ is a cracker, covering everything from what it’s like to be responsible for curating the drinks menu at Sydney’s edition of Noma, to choosing wine for the cellar of the now Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. Listen and download here.
Ogling: These Sydney beach shots by Gabriel Scanu are all sorts of wonderful. How I’d love one for the dining room wall.
Loving: Small potatoes, I know, but discovering The Wiggles’ tooth brushing app has changed my evenings (oh the glamour of raising a toddler). No longer is there a grappling battle and extended debate with an over tired wriggling mass over the importance of oral hygiene to cap off each evening. Now it’s just two minutes of a slightly inane ditty, plus the novelty of ‘choosing a sticker’ – which is really just a coloured picture which reveals itself. Thank you Wiggles. See here.
Reading: It was written a while ago, but this piece on Medium on ‘Paternity Leave is Not a Vacation’ has provided some good food for thought in this house as we start to piece together how things are going to work when this pregnancy comes to pumpkin time. This quote was one of my favourites. “I suppose context is needed, because to many a paternity leave is a vacation — because patriarchy.” Compared to the two days that The Hungry One was able to take off post Will being born, any extra days are a bonus. But by golly, I don’t think they’re going to be a vacation by any means. Medium is also a great app/place to go to for longer form pieces when I’m casting about for something to sink my teeth into.
Honeydew Melon Carpaccio with Courgette, Labna and Pistachios
Serves 2 – or 4 with some protein on the side (try spatchcocked chicken, glazed ham, pork loin or a platter of charcuterie if you’re not knocked up).
1/2 honeydew melon
1 courgette/zucchini, shaved into ribbons using a vegetable peeler
3 tbsp labna (strained Greek yoghurt)
2 tbsp pistachios
2 tsp capers
2 tbsp good quality olive oil
15 mint leaves, cut into slivers
Salt to taste
Here’s how we roll
1) Take out the seeds of the melon using a spoon. Place the melon cut side down on a chopping board. Using a sharp knife cut off the skin.
2) Cut the melon into slices as thin as you can manage. Arrange artfully on a platter. Scatter the melon slices with the shaved courgette and dab with the labna. Scatter over the capers, pistachios and mint slivers. Drizzle with the olive oil and season lightly with salt flakes.
Previously in Poppyseed to Pumpkin
Each week mad websites and baby books will tell you how big your baby now is in comparison to a seed, fruit or vegetable. It starts as a poppy seed and goes from there. To make this process a little more palatable, join me as I bake my way through. Here’s the journey so far. (Nb, you can also see the poppy seed to pumpkin process in the app, or ebook from my first pregnancy with Will, or read about it on the blog here.)