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

26.8.16

Nuts and brassicas.

Yeah, I had to read it twice as well. Some headlines do that to you.

Pasta with walnuts and broccoli.

Something to do with flavour or texture or both. Nuts go with members of the brassica family and if you underscore that pairing with something warm and bland and homely, like traditional home-made pasta, and bind it with a compatible fat - cream or cheese or both - you have the makings of a great dish.

Hence the following:

Cook the pasta. Rigatoni is my fallback when discrete components appear in the sauce, but for this I used farfalle, usually incorrectly translated as bowties for the obvious reason, but when you know it means butterflies, you will never again look upon a pack of them in a shop as an item of men's clothing.

Meanwhile, cook a finely chopped onion and a clove of garlic in some olive oil in a shallow non-stick pan. Then add half a cup of white wine, the same amount of cream, and a shower of walnuts. Stir and reduce.

When the pasta is almost cooked, throw in enough broccoli florets to populate each serving dish with about half a dozen. When just tender, drain the lot. Place in serving bowls, pour over walnut cream sauce. Add crumbled blue cheese if desired.

*

Serve the old-fashioned way saying Grace before Meals, if anyone remembers that, and add a prayer for those poor souls trapped under crumbled fourteenth-century buildings in Italy.

19.8.16

The Flight, Part Two.

WAYNE, A JADED ADVERTISING AGENCY MD, IS ON A LONG DISTANCE FLIGHT WITH AGENCY ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE, TRENT, WHOSE OVER-EARNEST RAMBLINGS ABOUT THE UPCOMING BUSINESS PITCH ARE KEEPING WAYNE AWAKE DESPITE HAVING RELIEVED THE PLANE OF ITS SINGLE MALT WHISKY STOCKS. TRENT WANTS TO REVIEW THE PITCH (TO INTERNATIONAL EQUESTRIONAGE, A BETTING 'INTELLIGENCE' COMPANY) DESPITE IT BEING THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT.

SUDDENLY THE PLANE HITS TURBULENCE. TRENT HITS THE ROOF AND THEN BECOMES AS MAUDLIN AS A DRUNK IN A EUGENE O'NEILL PLAY.

TRENT: You need a holiday Wayne. Why don't you take this weekend off?

WAYNE: What's a weekend?

TRENT (DOESN'T GET SARCASM): It's the days in between Friday and Monday when other people relax, have long leisurely breakfasts, go and play golf, and play with their children.

WAYNE (DOWNING THE LATEST SCOTCH AND GETTING TEARY AND MOROSE):
Oh. I must have one soon then. I've got children, you know.

(PAUSE)

I wonder what their names are.

TRENT (ALSO DOESN'T GET RHETORICAL SADNESS): Rosie and Lachlan, Wayne.

WAYNE: What pretty names, Trent. I wonder who thought of them.

TRENT: Probably your wife, Wayne.

(PAUSE)

WAYNE: Probably.

(PAUSE)

I wonder what her name is.

TRENT: Now you're being ridiculous, Wayne.

WAYNE (RATIONAL AGAIN, HAVING APPEASED HIS SORROW): No I'm not. I can't remember my own fucking name half the time, why should I remember my wife's?

TRENT: Oh, because you married her?

And your childrens' names because they're your children. You know, what you thought were the most important things in your life.

Once.

(LONG PAUSE. WAYNE REACHES MECHANICALLY FOR HIS GLASS WHICH IS NOW EMPTY)

WAYNE: Trent, one minute you're the world's greatest up-and-coming advertising executive, and the next minute you sound like a freakin' new age personal relationship columnist.

You know, people who solve the problems of world-wide recession, massive unemployment, terrorism, splintering economies and El Nino by saying read more bunny books to your kids. Great.

TRENT: Sorry, Wayne.

WAYNE: That's all right.

WRETCHEDNESS HITS AGAIN. HE STARTS TO CRY.

TRENT: What's the matter now, Wayne?

WAYNE (SNIFFLING): Nothing.

I just remembered the bunny book I had as a kid.

TRENT (SHAKES HIS HEAD): Christ. Lost the plot.

WAYNE (ALMOST TO HIMSELF): I loved that book.

I took it to bed every night. (SOBS) The bunny's name was Bobby and when he got lost in the forest I cried until he was saved by a badger called Stanley.

Now all I get to read is fucking inflight magazines full of ads for $200 business shirts and $10,000 watches and articles about carbon-neutral spa resorts in rainforests where you get to eat organic watercress. For breakfast.

TRENT: Yep. You definitely need a holiday Wayne.

WAYNE (SUDDENLY RALLIES, CALLS DOWN THE AISLE): Ah, hostess? Or stewardess or whatever your fuckin' job title is ... have we got time for another scotch before we crash?

May as well drink it.

It'll only go to waste.

TRENT IS FINALLY SILENCED.

WAYNE FALLS ASLEEP WITHOUT ANOTHER SCOTCH.

THE PLANE EVENTUALLY LANDS WITHOUT INCIDENT, TRENT WAKES WAYNE AND THEY CATCH A CAB TO THEIR HOTEL.

NEXT MORNING, TRENT'S LAPTOP MALFUNCTIONS DURING THE PRESENTATION, HE IS UNABLE TO PRESENT THE POWERPOINT SHOW, AND HAS TO REVERT TO USING HUMAN LANGUAGE SKILLS TO OUTLINE THE AGENCY'S CREATIVE PLANS.

EQUESTRIONAGE'S MD IS IMPRESSED, SAYING: 'I SACKED THE LAST AGENCY BECAUSE THEY SHOWED ME ONE TOO MANY POWERPOINT PRESENTATIONS. YOU'VE GOT THE ACCOUNT, GUYS!'

ON THE WAY OUT, WAYNE TELLS TRENT, 'I TOLD YOU SO.'

TRENT IS COMPLETELY SILENT FOR THE ENTIRE RETURN FLIGHT. THE PLANE LANDS IN MELBOURNE, AND AS THEY WALK THROUGH THE TERMINAL, TRENT THROWS HIS LAPTOP IN A DUMPSTER.

11.8.16

The Flight, Part One.

Rated R: adult themes, strong language, threats of violence, extreme sexism, etc. etc. In other words, a perfectly normal conversation between mature adults in the pre-'You Can't Say That!' era.

ON AN AEROPLANE SOMEWHERE. IT IS LATE AT NIGHT, POSSIBLY EVEN EARLY IN THE MORNING. THE BLACKNESS OUT THE WINDOW GIVES NO CLUE.

WAYNE AND TRENT - OF ADVERTISING AGENCY BLAKE, BROWNING, BURNS - ARE IN ADJOINING SEATS FLYING TO A FAR DISTANT LOCATION WHERE THEY ARE TO PRESENT A NEW BUSINESS PITCH TO A MAJOR CORPORATION WHICH PRODUCES HIGHLY SECRET SOFTWARE USED BY INTERNATIONAL GAMBLING INTELLIGENCE PROVIDERS FOR THE HORSERACING INDUSTRY.

WAYNE, 41, IS AGENCY MANAGING DIRECTOR AND HAS SEEN IT ALL. HE KNOWS THE TRICKS AND CAN PICK BULLSHIT AT A HUNDRED YARDS. HE HAS BEEN AROUND LONG ENOUGH TO KNOW THAT THE ENTIRE ADVERTISING INDUSTRY IS A GAME PEOPLE INDULGE THEMSELVES IN TO PREVENT BOREDOM. WAYNE IS SEMICOMATOSE AFTER SEVERAL EXTREMELY ENJOYABLE SINGLE MALTS.

TRENT, 28, IS A TRIGGER-HAPPY ACCOUNT MANAGER AT B, B, B AND IS ON THE WAY UP. HE IS VERY CLIENT-FRIENDLY, VERY AMBITIOUS, AND NOT ALL THAT CLEVER. TRENT IS WIDE AWAKE.

TRENT (TAPS WAYNE ON THE ARM): Wayne, what exactly do you really think about the presentation, in your heart of hearts? Do you think we can improve it? I think maybe there are some parts of it that could be even better. I want to get the 'wow!' factor into it. Do you think should we run through it again right now? (HE STARTS TO REACH INTO THE OVERHEAD LOCKER FOR HIS BRIEFCASE)

WAYNE (OPENS HIS EYES SLIGHTLY): Trent, do you realise what time it is? And what time zone we're in?

TRENT: No, Wayne, I always lose track of time when I'm flying.

WAYNE: You haven't flown enough then. Plus, we can improve the presentation by forgetting about it for half an hour while I get some sleep.

TRENT (IGNORES HIM): Do you think it's punchy enough? Don't forget International Equestrialage is going straight into another pitch afterwards. They need to have ours engraved on their memories. We need to go out with a real bang. Do you reckon it's big enough, exciting enough ...

WAYNE (EYES CLOSED AGAIN): Yeah.

TRENT: Are you sure, Wayne?

WAYNE (BEING VERY PATIENT, THE SINGLE MALTS ARE KICKING IN): Yeah.

TRENT: What about the graphics?

WAYNE (MAYBE GETTING A TOUCH IRRITABLE): What about the graphics, Trent?

TRENT: Can we make them work any harder? Let's just have another look while we've got time.

WAYNE (EYES FULLY OPEN NOW): I was already dreaming about graphics - very nice graphics - without wanting to actually look at yours for the thousandth time, Trent.

TRENT (STILL DOESN'T GET THE HINT): I really think it's a great opportunity for the agency, Wayne. Accounts like this don't fall out of the sky.

THE PLANE HITS TURBULENCE

WAYNE (JOLTED OUT OF NEAR SLUMBER): Jesus! I know they don't fall out of the sky, Trent. I ought to, I've been in the business for twenty years.

PAUSE - MORE TURBULENCE; 'FASTEN SEATBELT' SIGN COMES ON

But I think we're about to fall out of the fuckin' sky though Trent, so will you do me a favour and just shut up about the friggin' presentation for ten minutes while I try and get some rest before we either land or crash?

Either way I'll need my strength, either for climbing out of the burning wreckage, or else for coping with a three hour presentation consisting of some totally boring marketing executive delivering yet another mundane marketing plan, several media executives discussing television ratings in regional areas of outback Queensland and a hundred completely unintelligible flow charts on PowerPoint.

Come to think of it, I think I'd prefer the first option quite frankly. (CALLS TO AIR STEWARDESS WHO IS PASSING)

Hostess, would you ask the pilot to crash this plane immediately. But before you do that, bring me another single malt. Life's too short to drink blended whisky.

HOSTESS (HAS A SENSE OF HUMOUR, UNLIKE WAYNE RIGHT NOW): Certainly sir, another Macallan coming up. And don't call me hostess. I'm an air stewardess or a cabin attendant. The choice is yours. However, I don’t think the pilot will accede to your request to crash the plane. It's just had its annual service. (SHE MOVES TOWARDS THE GALLEY)

WAYNE (TURNS TO TRENT; MANAGES A GRIM CHUCKLE THAT SOUNDS MORE LIKE A HACKING COUGH): Did you hear that Trent? Did you hear that? With a sense of humour like that she should be in advertising, not spending her life handing out mind-numbing alcoholic substances at 30,000 feet to jaded executives!

TRENT (SUDDENLY SYMPATHETIC WITH WAYNE): You totally need a holiday Wayne. Why don't you take this weekend off?

WAYNE: What's a weekend?

TO BE CONTINUED

28.7.16

Out of time.

An agency I once worked with had plenty of money to spend on lunches. Well, they all did; but this one had more than most.

It had a lot of government business, and when bureaucrats throw money at advertising campaigns, they don't count it first. Counting money is for the private sector. Governments don't spend their own money; they spend yours, so why stint? They can always get their hands on more.

Anyway, the agency wanted to reward its clients for being loyal. The CEO decided to take its $5 million-plus clients to dinner, and give each an expensive Swiss watch. He'd written the presentation card himself, omitting to run it past the copywriter:

'We'd like to thank you for being a client by giving you this timeless watch.'

26.7.16

What do you do in your lunch break?

Here's what I do in mine.

(Note: the AdAge article is almost ten years old; I came across it again by accident when trawling through some old writings. The advertising agency blog is no longer online - I am adapting it into a book. And yes, I still have the same sandwich and three sugars in my coffee.)

6.7.16

Soup or pasta? Cold weather dilemma solved.

The answer is both, if you serve the following for dinner. It satisfies both soup- and pasta-lovers.

Tortellini soup.

First, make some vegetable stock (or use your preferred stock). In a large pot containing about 1500ml of water, bring to the boil a large chopped carrot, a large chopped onion, a stick of chopped celery, a chopped leek, some parsley sprigs, a peeled and scored garlic clove, a bay leaf, a little dried rosemary, a teaspoon of cracked pepper and half a teaspoon of salt. Once on the boil, turn down and simmer for an hour.

Strain the stock, return to pot and add half a kilogram of ricotta tortellini, a cupful of finely shredded silver beet, a cup of peas and a tablespoon of preferably home-made pesto (basil, walnuts, parmesan, garlic, olive oil).

Simmer another twenty minutes. Serve with shards of parmesan cheese broken from the block.

20.6.16

A Streetcar Named Acquire.

St Kilda Road was once home to Melbourne's advertising industry. Some of the agency dinosaurs, such as McCanns, remain there, like fossils in a rock.

As well as being Melbourne's most beautiful boulevard, St Kilda Road also boasts the slowest trams, monstrous metal boxes that clatter slowly down the middle of the road powered by steel rods reaching up to overhead electric wires. I've often wondered why tramloads of passengers don't get electrocuted every time it rains.

In the early 1990s, I was working for one of the dinosaur agencies. One day the agency had a visitor, a US agency boss from New York by the name of Stanley. Stanley was on the acquisition trail. He wanted to buy the agency. If only he knew. But that's another story.

Stanley had been scheduled to visit three agencies in one morning, and he arrived at my agency at nine a.m., when our MD led him on a tour of the place. A few account executives were in their offices, beavering away at their core function of sending fawning emails to clients, but the creative department was largely deserted, since creative drift into work close to 10 o'clock on a conscientious day. "They're on a two-day conference in the country," the MD lied.

He and the visitor then went into the boardroom and shut the door. After a while, June the tea lady crashed the door open again with her tea trolley and probably frightened the daylights out of the visitor. He'd have to get used to it.

When they emerged an hour later, Stanley looked at his watch, said he was running late and asked the MD to call him a cab. The MD replied that the last thing you do in St Kilda Road when you are running late is to call a cab, because you will still be waiting an hour later. You're better off going down to the street, and flagging one down. If a taxi isn't going by, you can just jump on a tram. "Oh, you mean those cool streetcars?" Stanley said. Yes, those cool, slow streetcars.

Now it just so happened that I had an appointment that mid-morning at the doctor's (Dr. Headhunter, as it happened) and we took the same elevator down to the ground. Stanley, in a hurry, racewalked off down St Kilda Road glancing over his shoulder for a cab and I kept a respectable distance behind him. No taxi came along, but a tram was lumbering into view. Stanley crossed to the tram safety zone, the tram pulled up, and Stanley got on through the middle door. I followed him and got in the back door. Stanley sat up the front and leant forward impatiently. The tram lurched away. Then it stopped again, having just missed the lights. I hate it when they do that. I'd rather they just sat there for the next round of lights. But they don't. They give a little lurch and get your hopes up, and then they dash them again, and you sit there for another three minutes. Stanley sat on the edge of his seat and checked his watch and stewed.

The tram performed the same stop-start routine for the next three sets of lights; and we were still nowhere near Coventry Street. It had taken fifteen minutes to get from High Street to the old police building that isn't there any more. Stanley was sweating.

The tram moved through the Domain Road terminus and made a false start for the fourth time. Stanley jumped up and strode to the driver. The tram was an old Z-class model with access to the driver through a mesh window.

"Can you drive this thing any faster, driver?" he shouted, but it wasn't a question. It was a demand.

"Yes, I can!" said the driver. "I can drive it at seventy-five kilometres an hour."

Pause.

"But I'm not going to." He had a sense of humour.

Stanley blew his stack. "I'm about to spend several million dollars buying half the businesses in St Kilda Road, driver," he yelled through the mesh, "and I'm late for an appointment to do exactly that. And you're telling me you're going to crawl this tram at two miles an hour for the next eight blocks. Well, I'm telling you, you won't have a job when I own St Kilda Road because I'll tell my employees not to take any goddamned tram to work. What do you think of that?"

The tram crawled forward into an intersection while the driver thought about what he thought about that. Then it stopped again, because a BMW 7-series was late in turning right into Toorak Road, and it blocked the tram. The driver clanged the bell and we sat there.

"What do I think of that?" replied the driver. "This." He pointed to a button. He pushed the button and the front door opened. "Get out."

Stanley's face was so red it was blue. "You drive this tram NOW, driver. And fast!"

"Get out."

He screamed. "Drive the tram, driver. You can't tell me to get out. I'm a paying customer!"

"I can do what I like on my tram, buddy. And right now I'm going to sit here until you get out."

The driver sat. He gazed out the window. The light turned green. The tram sat.

Stanley said some words he hadn't uttered since his agency lost an airline account back in the eighties.

The driver ignored him and continued gazing out the window.

The agency boss glared, hesitated, then jumped up and stepped out the front door. At the same time, I slipped out the rear door. My headhunter's office was just up the road and I would walk the rest of the way. I watched Stanley pull a piece of paper out of his pocket, check the street number on a building, half-run a little way up the street, and disappear inside 320 St Kilda Road. I went on to my headhunter's appointment, but ultimately I didn't take the job on offer, as it was to work on a retail account, and only hacks worked on retail. I did, however, use the offer as a bargaining chip to raise my salary with my then-employer. That's how the industry worked then. Every man was his own union.

*

Later that month, our agency MD made an announcement. The acquisition had not gone ahead.

"The American agency whose CEO Mr Stanley Durstin visited last month has decided to buy several other agencies instead, including Agency X," he said. Agency X was at 320 St Kilda Road.

I was disappointed. I had wanted to see what happened when Stanley tried to enforce the tram ban.

16.6.16

What to do with a sweet potato.

Boil a peeled and chopped sweet potato until soft. Mash it, and place it in a mound on a bread board to cool.

Make a crater in the top of the mound and crack an egg into it.

Work in half a cup of flour, a tablespoon of polenta and a finely diced clove of garlic. Press and knead the mixture lightly, adding more flour if necessary until it holds together.

Roll the mixture into cylinders, and slice the cylinders into half inch-thick discs. Place these on a floured board until ready to cook.

Drop the discs into salted, oiled boiling water. Once they rise to the top let them bubble about for thirty seconds then quickly lift out with a slotted spoon. Drain thoroughly before placing them into serving bowls.

Serve with Napoli sauce, or home made pesto and shaved parmesan.

24.5.16

Kitchen Hand turns whistle blower.

"You can't umpire this sport and not make errors," Hayden Kennedy says. "It's an impossibility. You've just got to limit the damage."
Well, we'll see on Friday. I'll be throwing the ball up for the grade sixers in their interschool match. Until now I've been running the boundary and you see plenty of infringements the central umpire doesn't, because he's usually behind the pack of twenty 10-year-olds jumping on each other.

It might be easier in the middle. I ran kilometres on the boundary on Sunday morning because the northerly sweeping down Greenvale oval No. 4 kept blowing the ball into the paddock behind. Spectator attempts to boot the ball back to the middle usually got blown straight back again.

Clean bump and pick-up

Bounce

Drop punt

(Pictures are from a previous game at Keilor Park second oval complete with tractor ruts.)

23.5.16

The world's largest professional network, now for sale on the dark web.

Soon, the world will run out of passwords. Don't say I didn't warn you four years ago.

20.5.16

Duelling country singers.

Tim Blair beat me to George Hamilton IV by a few hours, but I beat him to Jimmy Elledge. By three years.

13.5.16

Raining chilis.

People keep throwing bird's eye chilis at me.

When we stayed a couple of nights at the Kingswood Motel in Tocumwal a month or so ago, the owner pointed out her herb garden near the pool and barbecue area and invited me to sample the chilis. That night I did. It was a hot evening and we ate outside as the sun went down. I grilled steaks and made a potato salad. I flattened the chilis on the grill to char them and then smeared them over the grilled steaks. Then I ate a couple whole. I saw stars.

Then, back home, a neighbour gave me a whole bag of bird's eyes from her front garden. That was a few weeks ago. I've got through about half.

The reason, of course, is that the chili plants are very popular right now as an ornamental planting in pots and garden beds. And they are prolific. You can't eat enough of the chilis to keep up. You have to give them away, like grapefruit.

The trick with chili is to combine it with other flavours. You can't hide the heat, but you can tone it down.

Salsa Mexicana.

I don't know how genuine this is and I don't care. It is good and that's all that counts.

Slice a dozen chilis and remove seeds. Combine in a bowl with four diced very ripe tomatoes, one diced white onion, the juice of a lime into which you have stirred half a teaspoon of salt, and a cup of chopped coriander. Throw in a couple of chopped mint leaves if you have them.

Serve over anything. Last night I split some just-baked potatoes, packed them with sour cream, and showered the salsa over the top. Never eaten better.

11.5.16

"Unexpected" egg event.

From today's paper:
SHOPPERS baulking at the cost of beef are scrambling for eggs and stretching supplies. Customers have been confronted with depleted egg sections at some supermarkets. A notice advised eggs were in short supply "due to unexpected events in the industry".

"People searching for cheaper alternative proteins are recognising the value of eggs," Egg Farmers Aus­tralia spokesman John Coward said. "A kilo of eggs is as low as $4. A kilo of popular steak is $20-$35. They can replace a beef dinner with a frittata."
When it comes to "unexpected egg events", a frittata sounds a bit of a letdown compared to, for example, a 400g porterhouse, chargrilled to perfection, still pink in the middle and drowning in pepper sauce. The following is a much more robust alternative to the ubiquitous - and somewhat pretentious - frittata, if steak is off and eggs are on.

Egg and bacon pie.

Grease a glass or enamel pie dish and line it with a sheet of shortcrust pastry. Crack in about four eggs, depending on dish size. Scatter some chopped parsley and white pepper over the eggs.

Meanwhile, lightly fry six rashers of bacon in a pan, then lay the bacon over the eggs. Add another two or three eggs, then top the pie-dish with a disc of puff pastry, trim and seal the edge. Slash the top once and decorate with the pastry trimmings. Brush with egg white or milk. Bake at 180C for about 35 minutes at which point it will be golden brown.

Serve hot with mashed potato and peas. Add a fancy relish if you must but this pie, already tasty enough, shoots into the flavour stratosphere when served with old-fashioned tomato sauce.

27.4.16

Sack the knife.

I was chopping some carrots using a vegetable knife with a short non-serrated blade. The carrots were quite hard. I slid the knife across and into the third carrot. The blade of the knife snapped suddenly at the point where it is imbedded in the handle. It rebounded against the force of my hand, flicked up and around like a soccer player doing a scissor kick, and stabbed me in the forefinger before flopping onto the table.

I threw the handle and the blade into the bin, after examining the break. The imbedded section was far too thin. It was the last cheap knife I will buy. Lesson: sack your cheap cutting knives before they crack up under the pressure and do you an injury.

*

I had been about to make a recipe I always drag out in autumn, an old favourite I learned from my mother before she gave up on all the old standbys.

Oxtail stew with garlic mash.

Using a quality knife, meaning a knife made just about anywhere except China, chop six celery stalks, two onions and two carrots. Score two cloves of garlic. Chop a small bunch of parsley to make at least half a densely-packed cupful. Chop four slices of prosciutto into tiny squares.

Place a kilogram of oxtail segments into a supermarket plastic bag with half a cup of flour and a teaspoon each of salt and ground white pepper. Close bag and shake to thoroughly coat oxtail in seasoned flour.

Heat some oil in a heavy pan and brown oxtail lightly. Then turn down heat and add chopped vegetables, parsley and prosciutto. Stir for five minutes or so.

Now add a tablespoonful of tomato paste, a 690g jar of tomato puree (or a couple of cans), a cup of red wine, a bay leaf, a sprig of rosemary and a mint leaf if you have any of the latter handy. Cover with water and bring to boil.

Simmer two hours on as low a heat as your stovetop will allow. Alternatively place the lot in a casserole and bake in a very slow oven.

Serve on mashed potato laced with garlic and parmesan cheese and showered with more parsley. Or polenta treated the same way.