Real Girl Kitchens: Carla Gee

17 August 2017

I love finding out what people are having for dinner, so I thought I'd give the Real Girl Wardrobes series a twist, and spend some time asking women I admire about their favourite things to make and eat.

First up is my sister Carla. She's a writer, podcaster, illustrator and an amazing mum. She shares her thoughts on cooking for kids, what podcasts she listens to in the kitchen, and the recipe for an impressive no-bake birthday cake.

Can you share what you get up to in a normal week?

Things are rarely “normal” in my life! As a creative woman with a comedian husband and two crazy kids, anything can happen. I always feel like my life is weird and unpredictable -  and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I work two days per week, while my kids are in a lovely daycare centre just five minutes away from my house. At the moment, I earn money as an online writer, and I occasionally make videos and podcasts. I specialise in creating content about beauty, fashion and relationships. 

I work from home, which definitely has its pros and cons. The pros are that I can watch Netflix and eat cake whenever I want. The cons are that I can watch Netflix and eat cake whenever I want. That, and I am always tempted to do the most boring things, like laundry. Ugh! 

On the other five days when I’m not working, I’m a mum of two kids: my daughter is turning four soon, and my son is one. In the tiny amounts of spare time that I have, I hang out with my husband, Jeff. We like to talk about things we’re writing, or make podcasts together. We are also trying to watch Master of None, but it’s taking us forever to get through because our kids haven’t been sleeping much lately, and that cuts into our “couple time”.

I also love doing crochet, reading, baking, and doing anything beauty-related, like trying a new eyeliner look. At the moment, I’m obsessed with this Japanese reality TV show called Terrace House, which is like Big Brother but without the games and skanks. 

What’s your approach to cooking? Do you love it? Dread it? Plan it out a month in advance?

I have a love/hate relationship with cooking. I hate it because I feel like it’s a waste of time, and it’s stressful and messy. I still do it, though, because otherwise my kids would just eat supermarket lasagne and takeaway, and I want them to be healthier than I am. I’m just a big chocolate addict, and I’m trying to set a good example for them. 

But sometimes when I’m cooking, I can zone out and feel very present, and I guess that’s a good thing. I feel very proud when I can feed my kids a healthy-ish meal that they actually eat. And I’m a feminist and everything, but I do love to feed my husband a big meal and know that he loves it.

My whole family loves cooking, and they are so talented at it. So in that regard, I’m the black sheep of the family, because I don’t find cooking to be pleasurable, and I don’t think I’m very creative with food. I’m more than happy to eat what everyone else is making, though! 

I try to plan ahead with my meals, but kind of fail at that. I often realise with shock that it’s Monday, and I have nothing to feed my kids except for freezer food – fish fingers, nuggets and peas. So, I make lots of emergency trips to grocery stores with the kids in tow. They sit in the trolley and munch Tiny Teddies while I grab things off the shelves. 

I’m the main cook in our household. Jeff sometimes barbecues stuff, and he’s actually the one who does all the barbecuing when we have guests over. Cooking for large crowds makes me feel sick in the stomach.

Apart from that I prefer to do all the cooking. No offence to Jeff, but he’s kinds of a disaster in the kitchen. Years ago, we had a couple over for dinner, and Jeff made “sausage surprise”, which was chopped up sausages and lup cheong (Chinese sausage), all mixed together in rice, and served with salsa. I was so embarrassed!

You're sharing two favourite recipes today - how did you stumble across these dishes, and why are they favourites in your house? 

I think these two dishes are Aussie family favourites. I tend to find recipes randomly, like through Instagram or Facebook links. And I’ll only make something if the ingredients and recipe are simple. If I have to spend more than an hour in the kitchen, chopping things and sauteeing, I’ll feel like I’m wasting my life!

There are lots of yummy things that I can cook, like a roast chicken with veggies or a creamy pumpkin soup, but my kids will refuse to eat it. Last time I made creamy pumpkin soup (which took forever!), my daughter pretended she was choking while she drank it, and she sobbed at the same time because she perceived it to be yucky. 
I ended up having to give half the soup to my brother-in-law and his wife!

So, whatever I make has to be very kid-friendly, but also somewhat nutritious. I remembered that when I was little, one of my favourite meals was my mum’s honey and soy chicken wings. And, lo and behold, both my kids love to eat wings and mini drumsticks. I think it’s the novelty of having a tiny, individual piece of chicken to eat that they can grab in their little hands. 

A post shared by Jeffrey Charles (@jeffreycharlescomedy) on

I’ve experimented with lots of different recipes, but this one is my favourite because it has a special type of soy in it, called kecap manis. Don’t freak out – you can just buy it from your local supermarket! It’s a sweet, Indonesian soy, and it tastes like home to me, because my Dad would always make omelettes and squeeze kecap manis on top.

The kecap manis coats the chicken wings really well, and has a more interesting flavour compared to regular soy. Because the kecap manis is already sweet, I tend to put less honey in my marinade. I’ve tried to add other stuff to the marinade, like lime or ginger, but I tend not to bother any more because the soy and honey just eclipses everything else. 

I love how easy this recipe is – you just need to coat the chicken wings in the marinade, bung it in the oven, then you’re done!

I found out about Chocolate Ripple cake from Instagram. I follow @zerofuckscooking, which is run by Yumi Stynes, the Aussie television and radio host. 
I’ve followed Yumi’s personal Instagram for ages, and she was always posting photos of the meals she’d make for her family. They looked so hearty, scrumptious and easy. So, when she started Zero Fucks Cooking, I was so excited to see what she’d do. One day, she put up photos of her Chocolate Ripple cake on Instagram, and it looked amazing. Apparently, it’s an Aussie dish from the 70s, but I’d never heard of it before.

All you need to do is sandwich Chocolate Ripple biscuits (you know, the boring chocolate ones you avoid from the Arnotts variety packs?) together with cream and jam, and build a giant log. Then you slather it in more cream (I always have double the quantity), and top it with strawberries and flaked chocolate.

After a few hours, the chocolate biscuits soften up and become sponge-like in consistency.
To be honest, making a Chocolate Ripple cake is time-consuming. It takes the same amount of time as a regular, baked cake. The reason I make it, though, is because it looks spectacular when you cut into it. It’s all stripey and decadent. 
Whenever I make it, people audibly gasp and think that I am a genius chef. Which I am not. But I do love to show off, which is where this cake comes in! And almost everyone loves the combination of chocolate, cream and strawberries.

I made this cake for my son’s first birthday party, and we took so many photos of him with the cake all over his face! It was so cute. My daughter didn’t want to eat it, because she doesn’t like cream. She had an ice cream, instead! 

A post shared by Carla Gee (@bycarlagee) on

Do you do anything fun while you’re cooking?

If I’m by myself, I listen to podcasts while I’m cooking. My favourite podcasts at the moment are Writing Class Radio, Ear Hustle and Anna Faris is Unqualified. When my own podcast, The Prude and the Pornstar, was released last year, I would listen to it while I was cooking, to make sure everything sounded okay. I didn’t produce or edit it, so I’d never know what would make the final cut.

But usually, when I’m cooking, it’s for a family dinner. My kids will sit and watch TV and I’ll be cooking in the kitchen. I’ll dash into the living room every now and then to make sure they are not destroying each other and/or the house, and then run back to the kitchen to make sure things aren’t burning! I need to have my ears podcast-free, or I’ll miss the cries of, “Mummyyyyyy, he took my toy!”

Do you have any go-to cookbooks or recipe sites?

I swear by the Australian Women’s Weekly cookbooks, especially for baking. Their recipes are triple-tested! If I want something very tasty, filling and nutritious, I’ll try a Jamie Oliver recipe. My favourite recipe site is Smitten Kitchen. Deb always has recipes that are very achievable and scrumptious. I also tend to Google a lot of Nigella Lawson recipes, for the same reason.

Thanks Carla! My sister introduced me to Smitten Kitchen in 2010, when she shared a tomato, butter and onion pasta recipe. You can find my sister in lots of different places. She writes for Mamamia and She co-hosts The Prude and the Pornstar podcast (as the prude!) and you can find her on Facebook and Instagram too.

And just in case you were wondering... even though Carla and I look very alike, we're not twins. Carla's my older sister but we love pretending we're identical twins and sometimes mistake each other's photos for ourselves :)

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