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Thursday, June 16, 2016

{food} milkbar memories

review by Lyndel Miller

Born in the 60's or 70's and a little nostalgic? Then you are going to love Sydney chef and renowned cookbook author Jane Lawson's newest incarnation 'Milk Bar Memories'. It's 'bang'in! as we used to say. Cool Beans!

When I discovered this months theme was 'Lost and Found', I was excited. It couldn't be better timing to introduce you to newly published Milk Bar Memories. It's a culinary trip down memory lane. I love it, as I'm a hopeless sentimentalist. Sort of comes with the territory, as a hardcore foodie.

I resonate greatly with this book. Like author Jane, I grew up in Manly on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, back in the 1970's. Literally, my Dad was a lifeguard.

Such fond memories. Sun kissed days, the smell of salt, frangipanis, Reef coconut oil, dips in crisp ocean water pools, collecting shells on Shelley Beach (now called Cabbage Tree Bay- whose idea was that!) to skipping off to our beloved local Milk Bar for either a deliciously frothy and welcomed sickly sweet milkshake or bag mixed lollies (the ones with musk sticks included of course !).

Remember them?! Milk Bars. Conjures up feelings of joy and excitement for me.

Photographers Brett Stevens and Maree Homer
Styling by Mart Page and Louise Bickle

Jane awakens our memories of what treats we used to love to eat growing up. Ones discovered at our local Milk Bar, usually within walking distance of home that we would happily frequent with coins in our pockets and sweet anticipation. Giddy with excitement !

This collection of recipes will made you smile widely and reminisce of times past.

Apart from sweets of the day you'll find good old fashioned sausage rolls (no comparison on today's take), battered savs, pineapple and banana fritters! 

Ok, it's not clean living but I take the 80/ 20 percent philosophy. 80 percent wholesome food / 20 percent - lets eat what we damn like. Life's short, right !?

It's beautifully photographed, designed and styled..

Jane explores the suburban milk bar story also. Brought to us by Greek immigrants as far back at 1930s.

If you don't recall them they were small stores usually found on corner streets. They would sell ice creams, sweets, chocolates, soft drinks ('fizzy drinks' back then), newspapers, and occasionally fast food. Oh, and milkshakes of course!! A festival of flavours.

Destined to become Australian institutions. A social venue now sadly replaced by fast food chains and supermarket malls. Only a few remaining nationwide often serving as convenience stores.

A perfect cookbook to share with loved ones, giving them a little insight to what it was like as a child of the seventies. Retro in style but contemporary in approach. It's pretty damn cool! a must have! and it's super fun ...

p.s. I hear also the marshmallows melt in your mouth! But I'll be making the custard tarts next. And the milkshakes rock! 

Photographers Brett Stevens and Maree Homer
Styling by Mart Page and Louise Bickle

I chat with Jane about her newest title, bound to become a fave in Aussie homes.

In past interviews you express your love of cooking stemmed from memories with your mother and grandmother. What are your fondest food memories with these special women in your life?
You know my mum is not the world's best cook. It's not that she can't cook - she just isn't that interested - probably because I pushed her out of the kitchen at a very young age! But I do remember her attending some French and Chinese cooking classes back in the late 70's early 80's and I was always fascinated to see what she brought home with her - as I sampled new tastes and textures I wondered what exotic countries in which they developed (that possibly kicked off the travel bug in me too!). I guess it really was my grandmother who initially taught me some much appreciated and well utilised food skills - she used to make cakes for an old bake shop in Sydney (her father once owned a fish shop too) and would teach me the odd icing technique like how to get a smooth finish or how to pipe little rosettes. It was her I’d visit after school for a cuppa - I’d pick up a neenish tart and a vanilla slice on the way and we’d enjoy them together in her sunny kitchen, chatting and laughing. My nan was always smiling.

This book resonates deeply with myself having also grown up on the Manly Beach/ Northern Beaches of Sydney, around the same time. I love it ! I personally had a love affair for such treats as Musk sticks, and cobbers. From memory I think I used to pay a whopping 2 cents for five lollies. I'd look forward to visits to my local Milk bar. A favourite ritual. Why do you think preserving these memories are so important ?
We are so busy moving forward these days, time skips ahead so very quickly and precious moments seem to be swept away before we’ve really had time to process and enjoy them. Taking a breather to stop and consider your childhood and a quieter, more simple time - when going to the milk bar was the highlight of your week - is unexpectedly pleasurable . Talking to people about the foods we ate at that time, what the local milk bar looked like, what it sold, the characters behind the counter, how much things cost and who would steal what from your lolly bag provides a little snapshot of our history and one that is quite possibly enviable for it’s uncomplicated bliss - looking retrospectively. Since the book released a few weeks ago I’ve been so touched by the childhood stories that have been shared with me - everyone has a milk bar memory of some kind - as a child it was the pivotal moment in our little lives when we perhaps walked to the shops without an adult for the first time, we could select our own ‘food’ and quite possibly made our very first financial transaction ! Of course many people talk with great fondness about sharing a bonding milk bar adventure with a family member too.

Photographers Brett Stevens and Maree Homer
Styling by Mart Page and Louise Bickle

What's your favourite recipe in the book and why?
Oh, that’s like asking me which is my favourite child. In fact it is an entire book of favourites! I spent a lot of time perfecting every recipe in the book - I made sure each food tasted every bit as delicious as my, perhaps idealistic, memory of them.

You have had an undoubtedly stellar career in publishing realm, having worked as a food editor for several years and cookbook publisher on some awe inspiring titles. Some of my favourites. In addition, you have published 10 (yes, 10 folks!) titles. Publishing a book roughly every year. What drives you? Can we expect another to follow next year?
Ha! I’m probably just crackers. Honestly it is a love job - I thoroughly enjoy the process of creating the concept, researching , writing, testing recipes, shaping up the manuscript, sometimes taking photos, working with designers and other clever people to bring it together visually and then seeing it come to life. However it is a lot of hard work and it can be tough these days financially in a flooded market!

There is however another book coming out later this year (yep 2 books in one year - seriously MAD) but it’s not a cookbook!

I read you were a chef in Sydney ? and worked for Japan Airlines. Tell us a little about your career from the beginning to present date. Especially, your culinary background.
How long do you have? My first job was working part time at a gourmet fish and chip shop when I was 14 or 15 and not long after that started catering for friend’s b’day parties occasionally on the side. I’d been cooking and experimenting with food since I was 8 so it made sense to earn a few dollars working with food but I didn’t take it too seriously at that stage and went on to try other things -including a 2 year stint at Japan airlines in their inbound travel subsidiary. After living in Japan for a short while when I was 20 I returned to Australia and decided that I quite liked the idea of making food my career and did an advanced certificate in business catering which lead me to cater for a law firm for 7 or 8 years where I was able to create to my heart’s content as they had rather sophisticated palates and were always up for something new! There was a really healthy budget so I got to explore some amazing quality ingredients and the foods of many cultures - with someone else’s money! I’d never wanted to work in a restaurant as I’d heard all sorts of horror stories about how women are treated so this in-house scenario was perfect for me. At 29 - a degenerative disc disorder which had first raised its head at age16 decided to shake it’s finger at me - which meant that long hours in a kitchen on my feet, carrying heavy pots and pans etc. was no longer an option so I worked temporarily at a well-known Sydney hospitality staffing agency (plus doing occasional catering gigs) while I thought about what I was going to do long-term.

How did your position come about as a food editor ?
While I was considering my options as per above a friend who worked as the managing editor at Murdoch Books suggested I apply for a food editor job they had going. At the time I’d never even heard of such a thing! But I went for it and…well the rest is history! I worked hard and moved up through the ranks over a period of about 12 years or so to become the Food Publisher. 

Photographers Brett Stevens and Maree Homer
Styling by Mart Page and Louise Bickle

Did working in this realm tickle your imagination? Was it a natural progression to exercise your innate talents to produce works of your own?
At first I never considered writing my own books - I mean back then we were predominantly producing Family Circle Cookbooks and our only authors were Donna Hay and Bill Granger! But as our list grew along with opportunity for new authors I threw my hat in the ring. I had very little confidence in myself in the early days but I’d had so much experience helping make other people’s books successful I though - why not give it a shot?

Is it an easy process for you now to write a cookbook? Where did your love for cookbooks and print media stem from?
Every book is different and I do like to challenge myself so while it is probably a lot easier for me to achieve than most people starting out writing cookbooks - it is still a tonne of hard work and pressure to do something really special and different! I’m a perfectionist so I don’t tend to make things as easy on myself as I possibly could! My love of cookbooks came hand in hand with my love of cooking, a hunger for knowledge and a passion for sharing!

What would you say to any budding cookbook authors out there? Do you think you have to have something extra special to get noticed these days in a saturated market?
Getting a title across the line these days is much harder than it used to be and, sadly, you are competing with every person who ever walked onto the set of a reality food tv show (whether they are talented or not) - so yes, you need to do something that either is very timely or hasn’t been seen before - and it needs to be authentic. Very carefully consider what you want to write about and why - and make a highly detailed plan about how you see that panning out before you entertain submitting a book proposal to a publisher - you may only get one chance. Even if you have a brilliant idea - if there is no market for it - there is no book.

Let's say you wanted to take a trip down memory lane one evening with a few old childhood friends. What would you make for the ultimate nostalgic night in? What would you plan to eat, make ? What would be playing on the stereo ?
Naturally I’d crack open my copy of Milk Bar memories… and probably start with some finger food like prawn cutlets or calamari rings with home made tartare sauce and lemon wedges, there would also be some kind of cocktail made with the old school fruit syrups or cordials from the book topped up with champers. We’d then dive into Burgers with the lot and potato scallops or double crunch hot chips (with homemade chicken salt!) . There may be a pre-dessert by way of a booze laden mini milkshake before we’d head to the make your own sundae counter where all the homemade ice creams and toppings from the book would be lovingly laid out alongside diced marshmallows, broken honeycomb and peanut brittle or Vienna almonds for crunch. Of course I’d send everyone home with a paper bag filled with homemade lollies from the lolly counter! But not before there was dancing to the splendid tunes of the various artists on my old Bacon and Eggs Album circa 1979 (which I still have somewhere) - including my all time favourite from the 70’s - Abba! and the classic Knock on Wood by Amy Stewart! We’d mix in a bit of Stevie Wonder, Blondie, The Emotions, Earth, Wind and Fire, the Jackson 5, The Knack, Sly and the family Stone, Chaka Khan, the Bee Gees, Donna Summer and Aretha Franklin. For old times sake there may be a bit of blue light disco inspired acca dacca, (ACDC) The Radiators, and Sunny Boys taking us nicely into the 80’s! Look I could go on and on ...

Lastly, what tickles your imagination?
Anything and everything.

And now, we are excited to share one of the delicious recipes from 'Milk Bar Memories'...

Photographers Brett Stevens and Maree Homer
Styling by Mart Page and Louise Bickle

Musk sticks

These musk sticks taste like the ones we had as kids. A little crisp on the outside, and tender in the centre, these are the ‘goldilocks’ of the musk-stick world — the aroma, flavour and texture are just right. I must warn you they are rather more-ish, and all my guinea pigs agreed ‘they taste like musk sticks, only better’. You can double the batch if you have a big kid’s party on. Or even a big-kids’ party.

Makes about 32 sticks

mild-flavoured cooking oil spray
4 small gelatine sheets (6 g/¹⁄₈ oz in total), each about 7 cm x 11.5 cm (2¾ inches x 4¼ inches)
1 tablespoon liquid glucose
½ teaspoon good-quality musk essence
a few drops of pure vanilla extract
2 drops of red food colouring (optional)
250 g (9 oz/2 cups) icing sugar mixture, sifted

Spray two baking trays with cooking oil spray. Line the trays with baking paper. (Oiling the trays first will help the baking paper sheets adhere, so they don’t slip around when you’re trying to pipe the musk mixture onto them.)

Soak the gelatine sheets in cold water for 5 minutes, or until soft and pliable. Drain and squeeze out the excess water.

Put the gelatine in a saucepan with the glucose and 60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) cold water. Stir over high heat until the gelatine sheets have melted. Remove from the heat and tip into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.

When the mixture is cool, add the musk essence, vanilla and food colouring, if using. Add 125 g (4½ oz/1 cup) of the icing sugar and beat at low speed until well combined. Increase the speed to high and whisk for1 minute, or until smooth and evenly coloured.

Turn your machine off and add the remaining icing sugar. Mix in slowly, then increase the speed to high for about 3 minutes, to ensure it
is all well incorporated, and a little like a thick, raw meringue mixture.

Put the mixture into a piping (icing) bag fitted with a 1 cm (½ inch) star-shaped nozzle and pipe 10 cm (4 inch) lengths onto the baking trays. (If your mixture is too firm to pipe, simply tip it back into the electric mixer bowl and add extra cold water, just 1 teaspoon at a time, until you have a pliable consistency. Just be careful not to add too much — a little water goes a long way in this recipe.)

Leave in a cool, dry place to set overnight. The musk sticks should be crisp and dry all the way through. They will keep in an airtight container for several months, but will soften over time, as sugar is a fickle medium and its natural moisture content depends on the weather.

You can purchase Milk Bar Memories by Jane Lawson ( Murdoch Books) RRP $39.99 at all good bookstores or online.

Lyndel Miller is a commercial and editorial food, stills and lifestyle stylist and published cookbook author. Lyndel is in the biz of creating appetites and telling stories and our new food editor.

Have some food news that may tickle our imagination? Lyndel would love to hear from you. Email admin@lyndelmiller.com

You can find her at www.lyndelmiller.com

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