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


The empty house.

It was a hot summer morning and the gumtrees in the middle distance had that tick-ticking noise. I was sitting on a chair at a table outside the quietest café in inner Melbourne overlooking a golf course that stretched away up an incline bisected by a tramline. I sat and watched golfers in ragged groups making their way up the green and out of sight. Trams rolled by slowly as if reluctant to disturb the golfers. The coffee was OK, but I wouldn't go out of my way for it. The silence was enough.

The café was on the eastern end of a large square aged-care hospital building. After an hour I wandered around the corner and back into the sliding glass doors on the south side. She had just finished her occupational therapy lesson and was waddling down a long corridor towards the light accompanied by a therapist who looked like a sumo wrestler. Over the reception and waiting area hung a television broadcasting the Third Test, with subtitles misspelling Shane Warne's jokes. We walked slowly out into the sunshine and up a pathway, past a 1940s chapel building and out into Park Street. I drove her home.


I was between Parkville and Carlton all summer long. People complain about parking at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, but I know about a bank of free two-hour spots that are always empty within 300 metres of the front door. I used it a lot over summer. (Clue: behind the Old Melbourne Motor Inn or whatever the graffitied run-down mess is called these days.) Waiting at RMH is easy. There's always plenty to do. I had coffee in the canteen (it is still a canteen despite the baristas and wraps), read the paper, checked back to the ward, and then went out and moved the car to a fresh spot. Still no-one there; yet cars were driving around in circles trying to get a spot directly outside the hospital.

She had had three spells over summer; two falls and a fainting episode. She had stayed in for up to two weeks at a time; this time she was a day patient, to be scanned in one of those tank things. She was finished after a couple of hours and had to lie there for another half hour while the nurse gave her sweet tea to revive her. When she was ready, I brought the car back to the five-minute drop-off outside the front door, brought her down and drove her home.


While she was in hospital I kept an eye on the slanting old house I grew up in, and kept the wildly overgrown garden alive. I stood there in silence in the mid-morning sun watering pots; ancient orchids, geraniums, a rose, a cactus; and in one pot, a spiky grass thing that had not been the original inhabitant but had blown in, killed the first occupant and taken over.

Decades flashed backwards in a vortex. The house straightened up; the garden shrank back to a pleasing ordered geometric pattern, a hideous jungle of ivy sunk into the ground uncovering a garage which rebuilt itself; and a mid-blue Holden Belmont rose out of the ground. It was 1967. I was watering potplants. But they were not my mother's; they were potplants in a trellised outbuilding in the house next door. The owner was Mrs Snaith, and she was away on a summer holiday, probably at her daughter-in-law's beach house. She was very old, and she paid me to keep her pots alive and there were hundreds of them. I climbed the fence each day and walked into the kind of quiet I would never forget. Just the drip of the pots on their terraced shelves, and the hiss of the hose.

My own house had seemed a suburb away even though it was just over the fence. I could just hear the muffled throng of summer-holidaying children. I had wondered why I got the job.


Stir-fried chicken and vegetables.

I remember when chicken was a luxury. Nine dollars for breast fillets means it's now one of the few proteins that fits a family budget. Their appetites are growing.

Cut two chicken fillets into slices. (Not too small, they will shrink slightly in the wok as they give off fluid.)

Marinate them in soy, ginger, garlic and a little sesame oil mixed into peanut oil. Overnight is good otherwise a few hours.

Slice red capsicum, spring onions, a white onion, button mushrooms, carrot, broccoli, green beans and cabbage. Blanch green beans and broccoli.

Heat wok. Put in chicken first to sear in a little oil, then add the vegetables. Forget about all that spectacular orchestration of vegetables flying around over three-foot high flames; this is not a cooking show. I have an ordinary stove, so I simply toss the chicken and vegetables around for a couple of minutes to touch the hot wok and then put the lid on and they kind of steam through to finish off. Speed is the key.

When the chicken and vegetables are nearly done, add a mixture of a teaspoon of cornflour mixed through half a cup of water and a dash of soy and stir through to give the whole thing a nice sheen. Or add some oyster sauce. Serve on rice.

Optional: add sliced chilies and sesame seeds.


Whiling away a lazy afternoon.

Let's say, for example, that you were quiet at work - as in nothing to do that particular morning, or afternoon, or even better, both - and that you had a computer in front of you; and thirdly, that you had a passing interest in sport.

Were those metaphorical planets to align - and there have been occasions when they have for me - then this webpage could keep you occupied for, I don't know, hours, morning, an entire day?

Note: the Coburg City Oval scoreboard is no longer. An electronic one was installed at the end of last football season (the main scoreboard was not used for cricket) and so the rolling numbers will never be seen again at Coburg.


Coburg Cricket Club Invitational XI vs Vanuatu XI T20.

You don't have to leave the suburb to see an international sporting event. Coburg plays the self-described 'coolest cricket team on Earth' next Thursday, February 16 at 5.30 p.m. on the equally-cool Coburg City Oval, the ground which most people you ask don't know is there.

The boys will be there after an early under-12s training session. Loyalties could be tested.


Paris: nice at this time of year.

Taxpayers coughed up nearly $200,000 to send 22 bureaucrats from Canberra to Paris for a three-day conference to discuss savings measures.
Time to drain the billabong.


Spaghetti with zucchini and chicken meatballs.

Yes. Zucchini in meatballs! But chicken mince is the main actor here.

Combine 750 grams of chicken mince with half a cup of breadcrumbs, an egg, two tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese, a couple of finely chopped cloves of garlic, half a very finely diced zucchini, half a cup of milk, a handful of chopped parsley, and salt and ground black pepper to taste.

You are aiming for a consistency that sticks together but isn't too dry, with the milk balancing the added dry ingredients. Form the mixture into egg-shaped meatballs.

Have your tomato sauce ready in a large pan - a couple of cans of pureed diced tomatoes or a jar of passata cooked with some onions browned in oil and herbs of your choice: I tore a few sprigs of parsley, a leaf or two of mint and some chives out of the garden and chopped them finely and threw them in.

Drop your meatballs into the pan and simmer low until meatballs are cooked. Twenty minutes will do it; probably less. Add torn strips of basil if you have them.

Cook spaghetti, pour meatballs ands sauce over and add parmesan.


History of Keilor St Bernard's Athletic Club: now out.

In 1965 we took our running very seriously. Tubby Atkinson, Beau
Kearney and Tex Tyrrell would compete in the sprints or middle
distance at Melbourne University oval and acquit themselves well
before waiting for their next commitment late on the program, the
4x100 yards or 4x220 yards relay. Not being ones to miss an opportunity,
the three would jog over to Naughton's hotel in Royal Parade for three
quick pots in the meantime before returning to run the relays with a
responsible Steve Vosti.

New track for '68.

St Bernard's has been transferred from the Beaurepaire track at Melbourne University to the Poplar Road track in Royal Park. Although we were not altogether happy with this switch we will have to bear with it for the time being. The change was necessitated by the formation of new clubs, expansion of old clubs and the plan to marshal clubs into geographic regions.

Available from Keilor St Bernard's Athletic Club.


Curried sweet potato and carrot soup.

Boil a peeled sweet potato and two carrots until soft.

Meanwhile, saute two large chopped onions in some peanut oil in a frying pan, adding a scored clove of garlic after a few minutes.

When the onions are golden brown and soft, reserve a few tablespoons of the cooked onion. Process the rest with the sweet potato and carrot together with a cup of the cooking liquid, or stock, along with a raw hot chilli pepper and two cardomom pods. Adjust stock as required.

Before serving, reheat, adding half a cup of full-cream milk and salt and pepper. Top with remaining fried onions and yogurt.



Pumpkin Goes to Town, Chapter 7.

Cut six slices of prosciutto into small squares the size of a Christmas stamp, and fry them in a large non-stick lidded pan for half a minute in some oil.

Chop a kilogram of pumpkin into one-inch cubes, and two onions finely. Add these to the pan. Sauté on the lowest heat, lifting the lid to stir every now and then with a wooden spoon, until the pumpkin starts to soften.

Chop a bunch of spinach and add to the pan along with a drained can of corn. Stir again, then place the lid back on the pan. Continue to cook very gently. Add salt and pepper.

Serve as a main with torn basil and Greek-style yogurt, or as a warm salad with tahini, toasted pine nuts and a squeeze of lemon.

Eat before midnight when it will turn back into plain boiled pumpkin.


G'day, mussels*.

Mussels in garlic and white wine.

This just about cooks itself, so you don't need to miss a ball of the cricket.

Take a kilogram of Portarlington mussels.

Chop an onion and four or five garlic cloves finely. Warm these through in some olive oil in a large pot.

Before the garlic starts to change colour, add a cup of white wine. Bring almost to the boil and quickly add the mussels. Grind some black pepper over the pot, and add a finely chopped chili or two. Then scatter some chopped parsley and a few chopped spring onions. Salt to taste.

The mussels will clatter around in the pan as they open in the boiling fluid. I give them about two minutes.

Place mussels in large bowls, pouring cooking liquid over the mussels, ensuring you scoop up the garlic and chili that tends to settle at the bottom of the pot.

Serve outdoors on a hot evening, with the sun sailing away to the west and day-night cricket on the big screen. Cold beer or white wine.

Serve with thick Turkish bread or the like to mop up the salty, garlicky juices.

(This is not good manners, but I build towers from the empty mussel shells in a spare bowl as I eat the mussels. My record was a cross between a minaret and the Sydney Opera House that topped eighteen inches. I should have photographed it, but one of the children knocked it down before I could get the camera.)

*A word-play on 'muscles', an Australian slang honorific used in place of 'mate' or 'champ'. Another alternative, now sadly slipping out of usage, is 'sport'.


Timorous CEOs skewered.

Australia's Mark Steyn is Terry McCrann:
Their (energy engineering pioneers) efforts and inventions enabled the use, directly or indirectly, of hydrocarbon-based energy so fundamental to ending the Hobbesian "nasty, brutish" and short-lived experience of literally everyone who had ever lived, well into the 20th century; and still, many of the 7 billion alive today who do not have good access to hydrocarbon-based energy. ... even if one doesn't care for the two billion or so in that category — let them breathe deadly burnt dung particles or literally pedal for power, as pompous pampered Western greenies vicariously propose — a CEO of a company like BHPB should take at least some pride in its contribution to the long and difficult march of civilisation.


Steamed salmon and asian greens: singing a song of summer.

But first, the recipe.

Poached salmon and greens.

You don't need to mess around with Tasmanian Atlantic salmon too much. Fish doesn't get much better than salmon and it is economic, holding its density and shape while staying tender; where basa, for example, seems to melt away to nothing.

I placed four salmon fillets in a bowl with a few shakes of soy, a teaspoon of powdered ginger and a chopped garlic clove and put it in the fridge for a few hours.

I poached the fish gently in a non-stick pan with a lid, adding a little water. Meanwhile, I wok-tossed two bunches of choy sum, a dozen chopped spring onions and a handful of trimmed snowpeas in some peanut oil and a few drops of sesame oil until they were sweating lurid green and still snapping; not to the wilt stage.

Then I cooked some fresh udon noodles, drained them, added them to the wok, and folded them through with a dash of oyster sauce.

Noodles and greens on serving plates; fish fillets on top.


Kitchen Hand's Top Ten Best Summer Songs Ever Recorded.

1. Summer in the City - The Lovin' Spoonful. Complete with jackhammer and a band member's Volkswagen in the mix.
2. Summertime- the Zombies. Pick your own version of the Gershwin lullaby.
3. Summer Wind - Frank Sinatra. The master.
4. Summertime Blues - Eddie Cochrane. What it feels like to work on a summer day.
5. A Summer Song - Chad and Jeremy. Sixties psychedelic folk with perfect harmonies.
6. Summer Rain - Johnny Rivers. Hopes and dreams, before they come crashing down.
7. Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer - Nat King Cole. The 1950s expressed, by the other King.
8. Summer Wine - Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood. Drunk on summer.
9. In the Summertime - Mungo Jerry. Best jug band ever.
10. School's Out (For Summer) - Alice Cooper. Shock rocker who wrote touching ballads, which this wasn't.

Kitchen Hand's Top Ten Worst Summer Songs Ever Recorded.

10. Summer Rain - Belinda Carlisle. Annoying enough to be satirised on Top Gear.
9. Summer Holiday - Cliff Richard. Also savaged by British comedians, on The Young Ones.
8. Boys of Summer - Don Henley. Get over it. She's gone. There's plenty more fish in the sea.
7. Summer Love - Sherbert. Horrible repetitive bogan rubbish played too loud in HQ panel vans in 1975.
6. Summer Breeze - Seals & Crofts. Overplayed; so no-one remembers their superior 'I Will Never Pass this Way Again'.
5. Summer Nights – John Travolta & Olivia Newton John. Just destroy the master.
4. Come Said the Boy - Mondo Rock. They didn't dare put 'summer' in the title because it was a rip off of Bobby Golsboro's lyrical and suggestive 'Summer (The First Time)' complete with sand and seventeen.
3. The Other Side of Summer - Elvis Costello. Elvis's glass is half empty, as usual.
2. Summer of '69 - Bryan Adams. Too much detail, thanks Bryan.

and the worst ever:

1.. Summerlove Sensation - Bay City Rollers. God knows what they were doing in the studio between takes.