Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


Eco Macaroons.

Nothing beats putting 'eco-' in front of your product name to generate utterly cynical marketing credibility. The average consumer is presumed to believe that the manufacture and distribution of a product without the eco- prefix has left a trail of environmental disaster in its wake.

But add those three magic letters and the marketer conjures a kind of damage reversal; and an enviro-pixie waves a wand of green fairy dust every time you buy it. Eco batteries. Eco downlights. Eco bananas, with machine-dipped red wax tips. Yesterday I saw a product in the bathroom department called Eco-Ply. Enough said. Every time you flush, a forest grows somewhere.

But eco- is not new. It pre-existed the green religion. I came across it in an old cookbook.

Eco Macaroons.

Half cup sugar.
¾ cup dessicated cocoanut (sic).
¾ cup rolled oats.
Small piece butter.

Mix well with beaten egg, and drop in teaspoonful on baking sheet. Bake in slow oven 20 minutes.

From The Leader Spare Corner Book, Leader Publishing, Melbourne, 1930. ('Spare Corner' was a weekly column in The Leader newspaper and the book was an annual collection of recipes published in book form. The year of publication suggests the eco prefix stood for economy.)


Getting to the moon in six easy steps.

Who needs NASA?

Illustration by William, 2010.


PowerPoint: a series of slides full of 'faulty logic'.

At last. Someone has verbally, if not literally, destroyed PowerPoint.

I've been railing against PowerPoint for years. Some of my choicer PowerPoint quotes:
Thick, steaming garlic bread and red wine. It makes the perfect late supper, unless you have an early meeting next morning. However, if you are being summoned to a powerpoint presentation, go ahead and eat all the garlic you like. Anyone putting on a powerpoint presentation in the morning deserves to be blown away in a garlic gale.

I was at my second office reading a forty page powerpoint printout about some marketing genius's idea of what 'sets a company apart'. It was full of words like 'innovate' and 'respond' and 'focus on the customer' but it was devoid of any common sense at all.

Yes, it's Bulwer-Lytton time again; the competition that asks you to write the opening sentence of the worst-ever novel. Shouldn't be hard: just read the average corporate mission statement or the introduction to a bureaucrat's PowerPoint presentation.

Send me a million and I'll throw in a powerpoint presentation complete with pictures of ripe fruit and people scratching their heads in supermarkets and pointing at apples and lots of text and big figures all in different font types and sizes, just like your bureaucrats would do.

It was quieter than usual for a Monday morning. No-one was going to break into a spontaneous powerpoint presentation.

At any other time and in any other place that would mean armed protection. But not on Planet WorkSafe, where everything is solved by regulations in triplicate and endless PowerPoint presentations.

... nothing of any value ever happens in meetings except sandwiches, usually the chicken and avocado or turkey and cranberry variety. They help you try to forget the powerpoint presentation but somehow you never can. You follow each and every word painstakingly, like watching grass grow. And you listen to the presenter reading each and every word that you can see perfectly well right up there on the screen.

I drove to the supermarket at half past six. It was dark and raining and the carpark was full of puddles reflecting neon lights. The supermarket was packed with jaded city workers hunting for their dinner after a day of exhausting powerpoint presentations.
Final word to The Guardian's Andrew Smith, from the article at top:
Perhaps even worse, in the context of the 21st century, is a charge levelled by the French writer Franck Frommer in his book How PowerPoint Makes You Stupid. Because PP can only present propositions and arguments as equations, he says, they appear to have no owner; no one need feel responsible for them. In the post-banking-crisis world, we know both how seductive this is – and how dangerous.


The old guesthouse.

Somehow we ended up in Cootamundra. I never plan, I just drive and arrive somewhere towards the end of the day. You often discover places you never knew.

I had known Cootamundra, of course, having been based there years ago when I was working for a research firm. I had to visit farms around the district and interview farmers. It was slow work. It is a very hospitable area and some days I ate several morning teas and two lunches.

This time we drove in before five and I stopped outside the tourist information office. It was about to close. What have you got, I asked the lady. What have you got, she countered. A wife and three children, I replied. Try the Elm and Wren, she said. They'll like it. Here, we'll get them on the phone. They’re very accommodating in the country. Wouldn't happen in the city. They'd throw a brochure at you.

Half an hour later. The Elm and Wren was a 1940s red brick two-storey commercial building. They were usually built as banks, with enormous double timber doors, neat sash upstairs windows and a squared-off design. This one had been built as a nurses' residential unit for the Cootamundra hospital. The south-west wing faced the street with a new double glass door in the centre and a walk-up pathway beneath a narrow verandah. Another wing stretched north behind, making the building an L-shape. The square severity was alleviated at the end of each wing by a series of panoramic curved glass windows, a last flicker of art deco amidst 1940s austerity.

The place had become the Elm and Wren guesthouse after laying empty and unused for some years. Having been built to house working nurses, the rooms were small and functional. It took three rooms to house us; adults in one, children in the other two. We were the only guests. If you're going to stay in a guesthouse, this is the way to do it. Book the place to yourself. It was enormous. The bathrooms were at one end of the wing; the dining room a two-minute hungry stroll down the other end; bedrooms scattered in between. A fully-stocked self-serve kitchen was adjacent to the dining room. I made myself at home. The children pretended they were in a haunted house full of empty rooms and secrets and went off to find ghosts.

Dinner was at a table large enough for twelve at one end of the dining room. It was like one of those old 1940s movies where the butler wheels the meal in on a trolley and the guests tinkle glasses and speak in low tones about serious subjects, like a murder in the vicarage. But there were no low tones here.

I was the butler. I served a simple meal of pasta in a kind of tomato-based tuna sauce flecked with chopped black olives and an optional touch of chilli for the adults, scattered with flaked parmesan cheese and basil from the herb garden I had found earlier when walking around the grounds before dinner. Green salad accompanied.

Some hours later, the children had vanished, never to be seen again until morning. We had moved to one of the enormous leather sofas on the other side of the fireplace. A couple of occasional tables were scattered with old magazines; not artfully like something out of a designer's office, but realistically as if several people had been reading them and had just left them there.

The clock chimed eleven. The fridge in the kitchen stopped humming and the silence was suddenly eerie. A lava lamp contorted soundlessly and ironically on the sideboard. Then, a noise upstairs. The house ghost? A dead nurse, murdered in the 1950s by a jealous boyfriend? Noises in unfamiliar houses always intrigue.

The Elm and Wren
37 Hurley Street
New South Wales

Kitchen Hand rating: Five Stars


Sophie's dinner: #1 in a series of vignettes from the advertising industry, where Kitchen Hand has worked for many years.



MUMMY (TOORAK DAME, ALL JEWELLERY AND TANNED SKIN): Darling! Was it fun? Where did you go? Torquay? Blairgowrie? Brighton Beach?


MUMMY (WITH AN AUDIBLE INTAKE OF BREATH): You mean ... you actually went to Frankston? Or you just had a wayside stop on your way to Red Hill or Shoreham or Merricks?

SOPHIE (ANOTHER TINY SIP OF GRIGIO, PULLS A SLIGHT FACE, IT'S VERY ACID): No, Mummy. We stopped at Frankston and had a meeting there and walked around and got to know the demographic. And this wine tastes like cat's piss, Mummy.

MUMMY (VISIBLY SHOCKED, EITHER AT SOPHIE'S ADMISSION OR HER DESCRIPTION OF THE WINE; OR POSSIBLY BOTH): Sophie! I have told you before, never get out of the car in Frankston! And your language! Really. And Sophie, Frankston does not have a demographic. It has drug dealers and criminals. Why did you have to go there? I thought going into advertising meant you would never have to go further south than St Kilda junction.

SOPHIE: Oh, no, Mummy! We even went to Kilsyth once. A horsy client lived there. Made bridles and saddles. It was quite interesting. Everyone walking around the streets was wearing a check shirt.

MUMMY: Yes, Sophie, but what kind of client would be based in Frankston? I assume it was a client?

SOPHIE (BRIGHTLY): Crime Converters, Mummy! The chain store pawnbroker.


SOPHIE (SCREAMING): James! James! Come quickly! Mummy fainted!


JAMES (LOOKING WORRIED): The last time Lady Avon took a turn like this was when your older brother Garth told her he was marrying a girl from West Sunshine.

SOPHIE: Hmmm, yes. That would have been a shock to Mummy, poor dear.


SOPHIE: I'm sorry, Mummy. I'll never go to Frankston again. The Crime Converters people are coming up to St Kilda Road next time.

MUMMY: Well, that's one thing.

SOPHIE: Yes. They're bringing some customers with them so we can workshop some creative ideas.

MUMMY (AFTER A PAUSE): Are you sure neuroscience wouldn't have been a better career than advertising, Sophie? You were always so good at playing doctors and nurses with your dolls.


He should have given it to Richie Benaud or Alan Border.

Instead, he stupidly gave it to Prince Philip.

Janet Albrechtsen:
Abbott's knighting of Prince Philip wasn't a big deal - but it was one heck of a weird decision at a time when Abbott was hardly riding high. Once you do something that weird, it sticks.

'Helga Rolfe' should be out the door too. That was too weird as well, a marathon-running, bike-riding Rhodes scholar being shepherded around, like a child by a kindergarten teacher.


Finding answers to those nagging questions made easy.

When was Kraft cheese (the one that lasted indefinitely) invented?

In what decade were the Wizz Fizz, the Choc Wedge and Nescafe launched onto an unsuspecting Australian market?

Remember Copha? (It's still around.) When was its name trademarked?

When was Australian beer first available in cans? And when did CUB re-release Victorian Bitter in its original packaging artwork?

Is Camp Pie Australian? (Or would you want it to be?)

When did the iconic 1960s soft drink Passiona enter the market?

What was Courage Draught, what was its logo character, and why did it fail?

When were Tim Tams invented?

Finding answers to these fascinating questions could absorb a lot of time. Fortunately, Jan O'Connell has done the research and placed the results into an Australian food timeline. Visit it here.


Walk to the shops, says 'community wellbeing expert'.

Monday's Moreland Leader reports:
Coles is looking to increase parking spaces at its Coburg North Village after a flood of visitors in its first month overwhelmed existing facilities. Coles spokeswoman Martine Alpins said customer numbers exceeded expectations. "We plan to increase the number of parking spaces in the coming weeks to ensure customers continue to have a great shopping experience ... "
And are able actually to take their shopping home. Unfortunately, some bureaucrats believe that shops would sell more goods if customers did not drive to the shops. How would they get their purchases home? Teleportation?
Sydney Road traders would experience an increase in ... spending in their stores if on-street parking was removed, a community wellbeing expert says. Dr Hannah Badland, a McCaughey VicHealth Centre senior research fellow, said research had shown limiting car parking resulted in people staying longer in shopping strips and making more purchases.
A chasm the size of the Grand Canyon runs between logic and that argument as it relates to the needs of everyday shoppers; but Dr Badland cannot see it, and sails blithely on with her contention:
"More purchases are made ... by pedestrians and they tend to linger longer in the area and enjoy the cafes and restaurants."
No supporting evidence, of course. Presumably while you're sitting around in a café like Ernest Hemingway's Jake Barnes in La Rotonde, your weekly trolley load of shopping attaches itself to a homing donkey.

On the Letters page, Louise of Brunswick perforates Badland's balloon of bureaucratic lunacy in one crisp sentence:
" ... I usually park on Sydney Road ... because I am either buying too much to carry any distance easily, or I am shopping briefly on my way home from elsewhere."


The best aircraft name ever.

767, A320, 747-400, A380 are just numbers. If you want an aircraft with a proper name you can't go past this. Unfortunately only two were built so you won't be able to sample the inflight menu any time soon.


Great instrumental breaks in history. #1: one of Alan Parson's projects.

A sultry late-summer night in 1977, close to midnight.

I dozed in my chair by the open window waiting for the cool change; book cast to one side. The radio in the corner was low, as if playing to itself.

Then the beginnings of a welcome breeze stole in the window. A song came on the radio. 1977 had been the era of disco, and lyrics that could be well described as having been typed, not written. But this was different.

On a morning from a Bogart movie
In a country where they turn back time
You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre
Contemplating a crime

I sat up, listened.

She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running
Like a watercolor in the rain
Don't bother asking for explanations
She'll just tell you that she came
In the year of the cat

Then the break, led out by cellos and crying violins dripping teardrop-shaped notes, parrying together for a few bars, like lovers parting. Then a searing slide guitar note splits them like a hot knife through butter and rises to a crescendo of pain and defeat. A synthesiser offers sympathy before a sax takes over, mournful again, sweetly nostalgic, a little the wiser, but sad nevertheless. Sad like only a sax can sound.

By the blue tiled walls near the market stalls
There's a hidden door she leads you to
These days, she says, I feel my life
Just like a river running through

The sax dies away like love's last and the vocal takes over before the sax returns.

But the drum-beat strains of the night remain
In the rhythm of the new-born day
You know sometime you're bound to leave her
But for now you're going to stay
In the year of the cat

'Year of the Cat' - by Al Stewart, produced by Alan Parsons


Brevity is the soul of wit, and horse-racing.

Twelve-time Melbourne Cup winner Bart Cummings was once asked to what he owed his success.

'Horses,' he replied.


Farewell to a captain.

William and Thomas run out with Coburg captain Nick Carnell in his last home ground game at Coburg City Oval, Saturday 22 August. (His last VFL game will be at Eureka Stadium this Saturday.)

More pictures at Coburg FC, Round 19.


Crowdfunding parent-teacher night.

The government has released a taxpayer-funded app to assist time-poor-parents in dealing with their children's schooling.

Common sense would once have said that an app is the last thing any time-poor parent needed. But common sense has no place in a bureaucrat's vision for insinuating themselves into people's lives, funded by you:
Education minister Christopher Pyne said it was designed to help working parents understand how they can engage with their children's education in the small bursts of time they have.
'Help' such as:
... the questions parents should ask at parent-teacher nights.


Mrs Fleming hires a gardener.

It was just before nine o'clock on a winter Saturday morning in 1971. I was a teenager. I stood before an enormous old house, a late Victorian in central Essendon, near the station. It had verandahs all round and a soaring roofline, and it was set back from the street behind a front garden lined with mature shrubs.

I pushed open the gate, walked up the tiled pathway, took three steps up to the verandah and pressed the bell-push set into the stained glass panel beside the front door. A muffled chime echoed somewhere inside, as if far away. Time passed. Eventually the door opened, seemingly by itself.

The woman who stood there was ancient and massive, like the house. She had requested someone to do some weekend odd jobs in her garden, and I had been nominated; but I cannot remember how it came about. It is one those circumstances lost in the mists of time. It was my first job.

I announced myself. The old woman led me down a gloomy hallway, through an enormous kitchen that still had a wood stove, and out a doorway into the back garden. It was slightly overgrown, but still quite neat, with Victorian-era stone pathways, shrubberies, a central lawn and trellised vegetable garden at the back, accessed by a gate that felt like it hadn't been opened in any recent time. She showed me the garden tools in the cobwebbed shed. They were covered in dust, as if untouched for years. There was no evidence of any human activity anywhere; and, for some reason, it seemed miraculous that the woman was still there, alive. She would have been well into her nineties. Her children must have left and her husband passed on decades earlier.

Suddenly, I was alone in the silent winter sunshine. The woman had disappeared back into the house. I weeded pathways and turned over rock hard soil in the flower beds that no longer had any flowers. A couple of hours passed and I was in the vegetable garden, weeding in profound silence, when the gate squeaked behind me. The woman appeared, with a plate. Morning tea: biscuits and a piece of fruit cake. They were old and stale, and I felt a rush of pity. She must have had them in an old tin or barrel for months, ready for visitors who never came. So I got them. I worked for three hours, nine to midday, and she paid me at the end, extracting coins with leathery hands from an old purse.

Every Saturday through that winter of 1971 she appeared at the same time with the plate of morning tea, and I made the same pretence of eating as she vanished back into the house, and I continued making progress with the weeds. But then the job ended. Apparently she died.

It was definitely 1971. My diary records it. But decades later, the house came up for sale. I attended the auction and inspected the record of title. There had been several owners since I had worked there, but the title registered the original sale as 20 October 1970, the property passing from the executors of the estate of a ninety-year-old widow by the name of Mrs Fleming to a young family, with a settlement of 12 months. The house had lain empty for a year.