'I'm happy when I'm surrounded by family and friends, and some good tucker!'
In her third cookbook, Gather, Australia's original MasterChef, Julie Goodwin turns her attention to cooking up a feast for all kinds of get-togethers with family and friends. Included in the book, which is subtitled 'delicious recipes, beautiful gatherings', are fresh and simple recipes for picnics, family and pot luck dinners, dinner parties, street parties, cocktail parties, high tea events, and cake stalls. There are old family favourites, such as nachos and buffalo wings, mustard pickles, devilled egg sandwiches, and surf and turf; together with fresh and lively dishes like green peppercorn pâté, chilli salt prawns, and ginger pannacotta. A few basics have also been included: pasta dough, vinaigrette, mayonnaise, flatbread, and shortcrust pastry (sweet as well as savoury).
Julie and I had a conversation recently about her new book, her love of a gathering, and her work with community and charity organisations.
Julie, firstly it was great to meet you at Floriade in Canberra and it was a very good cause, cooking with The Yellow Van. Congratulations on your latest book, 'Gather'. It's a lovely collection of recipes and overall a beautifully presented book.
Thank you very much, Liz; I’m really thrilled with it.
I share your thoughts on the importance of 'community' and how it affects one's wellbeing. Tell me a little about the community and charity groups you are involved with.
The main community group I am involved with is called Family Group and I’ve written about it in the book. It’s a church-based group but not ‘religious’ as such. We have a social get together once a month, nothing fancy. Through the group we all get to know each other and we’re there to support each other. For instance, I was about to have my first baby when the Parish group started, and my son has just turned 18. All the kids in the group have literally grown up together and they’re more like cousins, than friends. So, they don’t necessarily hang out with each other at school, but they are there together at the schools they go to. My husband, Mick, and I coordinate it in our Parish. I love it. I grew up in one myself and it just means there are people around all the time. I was recently off my feet for a few weeks and I had people pop in visit several times a week and it’s really beautiful to feel supported that way.
In terms of the charity groups that I’m involved in, there’s a few. I’ve always been involved with St Vincent de Paul [a.k.a. Vinnies]. That’s where Mick and I met when we were 18 years old, and I have had an association with them for many years. Then the McGrath Foundation is one that I think is very important. Most of us have touched by somebody we love having breast cancer and I think if they can have the support of a dedicated breast care nurse it’s very helpful. Another is the 40K Foundation, which is a group of university students that started a charity a few years ago and now they are rolling out educational programs for the poorest of poor across India. I think what they are doing is amazing. Then there’s Oxfam. I work with Oxfam and my sister is the State coordinator with Oxfam. I work on their Grow campaign, which is all about food security and food justice for people all over the world. They run an amazing number of campaigns, but the Grow campaign is the one I believe in. And the other charity that Mick and I are involved in is ChildFund. We’ve been sponsoring children for 13 or 14 years now, and when they were looking for an ambassador my name came up and then they realised that I was already on their books. We went to Uganda this year and met one of our sponsor children and that was just such a life-changing experience.
That’s wonderful, Julie. It’s so good to be able to give back that way!
I believe in my heart that the whole MasterChef thing happened to give me leverage in charity work. Previously, I could do stuff for charity. I could donate what I could donate in dollars or time, but now I use my time and can get other people to donate their dollars or their time too and it’s a lot more powerful than it used to be. I honestly think that that’s why the MasterChef thing happened in my life.
[We agree that in life things happen for a reason].
From reading the book, I can see you love a party or get-together (I love a good street party too, I used to organise one in my cul de sac too). Please tell me for my readers, what's your favourite kind of gathering... casual or formal/family dinner or cocktail party?
Gathering around the family table for dinner is a joy that you can experience as many days of the week as you can. It’s becoming rarer for us because one of my boys works three nights a week, so we’re in that sad period where we can’t get together every night on a daily basis. But in terms of a casual gathering, I just love it when people just ‘rock on over’ and I’ll cook up what we love.
[We discuss how entertaining has changed and how much better casual dining is than the massive dinner parties of the 1970s and 80s, when the organiser had to spend a week or more cooking ahead].
I really love planning those special events and I get a lot of pleasure from organising them and thinking about it and what we’re going to do for the menu, but to me it’s a lot of work and if it’s the only way you ever celebrate then you’re not inclined to do it very often. The more casual it is, the easier it is, the more inclined you are to do it. Right in front of me on my desk here is the invitation to the street party. It’s simple, no fuss. Come on this date to this address. We have it in our front yard, I don’t even have to tidy the house, and you bring your own drinks and a chair and a plate of food, and that’s it. I don’t have to do anything.
You’ve shared some lovely snippets of memories in the book, such as your nan’s Neenish tarts. Do you have a particularly fond memory of a favourite gathering that you might like to share; is there anything that particularly sticks with you?
My family was very, very social. Mum was always having people over, so my memories are kind of a conglomeration [she laughed], but I can tell you that I have photos of all these tables laden with food and on every single table there’s a strawberry shortcake, there’s a Sherry log, there were cream horns. Mum had this wonderful repertoire that, to me, speaks of childhood memories of people coming to the house for a celebration. With the cream horns, for example, my nephew just had his 18th birthday and he was upset because my mum and dad were arriving home from holiday only the day before his party. He said to me ‘I can’t believe nanna won’t have time to make the cream horns, will she?’. So I said, ‘Oh darling, I’ll make them for you.’ So here you have an 18 year old who feels that sense of tradition in a recipe, I thought that was pretty special.
Do you have any tips or hints for my readers on stress free entertaining... shortcuts with preparation etc?
Absolutely. Get everyone involved, get everyone to bring something. Everyone loves being involved. And also choose things that don’t have to be done at the last minute. The exception is obviously a barbecue, where you throw the meat on last thing. You don’t want to have people over and spend the whole night in the kitchen. If there are a lot of guests, make sure you spread your heating and cooking methods throughout your kitchen. You don’t want to have fourteen trays that need to go through the oven, for example. So serve some things that can go into the oven, some things that are served cold, and as much as possible to be pre-done.
I laughed when I read in the Cake Stall chapter that you like old-fashioned toffees (I have fond memories of those, with hundreds and thousands sprinkled on top)... how long since you made them?
Oh my goodness, I don’t think I’ve made those toffees for years and years. The Food Police would be all over you if you chose to bring those to a school fete these days.
[Don’t they make them any more, I asked].
No, because I think some children’s teeth fell out so I don’t think they thought it was a good idea [she laughed].
Finally, what's on the menu at your place for Christmas dinner, Julie?
Oh Liz, our Christmas is like a weeklong celebration [she laughed]. We have a cocktail party with our friends the week before, where I serve an assortment of canapés. Christmas Eve we have the full hot dinner with all the trimmings, the English traditional way. And then Christmas Day and Boxing Day we have the ham, seafood and salads, the cold Aussie Christmas. We get a bit of everything!
Julie, in closing, is there anything you’d like to add?
Just to say that the purpose behind this book is that preparing food for a gathering doesn’t have to be difficult. Just shoot out an email invitation, and just celebrate. Celebrate life, celebrate friends and just enjoy. And happy Christmas too!
Gather by Julie Goodwin, $49.95, Ebury Press. With sincere thanks to Julie and the publicity team at Ebury Press for giving me the opportunity for a conversation and to showcase this title in time for Christmas and New Year get togethers! Do add it to your bookshelf, dear readers.
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