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

30.1.04

Sweet potato and corn.

I guess you'd have to call this a salad, as in potato salad, but it doesn't look like salad. But it is delicious.

Peel and cube a sweet potato, boil it until tender but not falling apart. Boil an ear or two of sweet corn (in season, plentiful and cheap right now), strip the corn and toss it together with the boiled sweet potato. Add your favourite dressing and toss chopped parsley and toasted pine nuts over it in generous amounts.

Good with grilled steaks.

29.1.04

Fish and chips.

No, I didn't cook it. Someone else did. Well, all right, I made the salad.

Back home after camping, what's the first thing that occurs to you to eat after a week of juggling pots on a single-burner camp stove? Yes! Your favourite take-out!

We have this seafood place close by that does calamari and fish packs to die for and they charge next to nothing for it. A pack of ten calamari rings, superbly battered and deep-fried perfectly crisp and golden - with enough chips for two - is $4.25, while the extremely generous fish fillets are the same price complete with a heap of chips, tartare sauce and a couple of lemon wedges. Sometimes they even throw an extra piece of fish.

So that's $8.50 and there's way more than enough for two. Can't do better than that. I knocked up a quick salad of lettuce, tomatoes, onion rings and olives in a vinegar dressing to go with it.

Tender calamari, fresh battered whiting, chips and a couple of cold Cascades and you're in heaven.

27.1.04

Eating out - literally.

Friday 16 January

Food always tastes better outdoors, so we took off on a hot morning for a camping trip, aiming for the East Gippland coast.

First stop was for lunch in a park in one of the towns off the main highway to Gippsland. Sat in the shade of a huge tree with tuna, olives, cheese, turkish bread, fruitcake and coffee. Afternoon tea saw us having cold beers in a shady beer garden at a hotel in Sale, commercial centre of East Gippsland.

Nearing coastal Loch Sport around 5pm, ominous grey clouds gathered. Another twenty minutes and it was raining heavily and thunder was cracking. So back inland, frantically twiddling the radio in search of a forecast. Sure enough, the weather improved and in 30 minutes we were pitching our tent in glorious sunshine in a camping ground back in Sale.

We found a fish shop minutes before closing time and the woman sold us a massive piece of Ling. In a pan on the single-burner camp stove, I sizzled some onions, curry, coriander and pepper in butter, cubed the fish and tossed it in together with some tomatoes. It cooked in minutes, magnificent. We ate it on couscous which is ideal for camping as it cooks pretty much instantly in a billy or pot. Simple but superb. Oh, plus a bottle of cold white wine as the stars came out. More, please.

Saturday 17 January

We turned further inland as the unpredictable coastal weather looked like moving in. Lunch in Bruthen - bread and cheese with Greek salad. Plus hot chips and cappuccino from the general store. Then via Omeo to Mt Hotham, winding up in Myrtleford for the night, pitching the tent next to a river in a quiet spot facing the setting sun.

Dinner: gnocchi, another ideal camping commodity - with pesto. Sardines on the side. Bottle of local Myrtleford red from a nearby bottle shop. Nice. Sleep.

Sunday 18 January

Taking one of the most picturesque routes in Victoria via Stanley, we found ourselves in busy, brash, touristy Beechworth. Coffee and a muffin at one of those manic coffee shops where they give you a buzzer to alert you when it's ready - let's hope that doesn't catch on.

Lunch by the lake - red salmon, cheese and spring onion on fresh white bread from one of the bakery cafe places.

Then on to another camping ground, this one equipped with a swimming pool - luxury! There was also a huge aviary with several cockatoos and a sign saying The Cockatoos Bite - Do Not Insert Fingers, while a peacock strutted around freely on the open lawn. More luxury - a coin barbecue.

So lamb chops and rump steaks in 30-minute marinades of rosemary and garlic for the lamb and garlic and pepper for the steaks. Plus thin-sliced potatoes, onions and zucchini strips. Cold beers to start and red wine with dinner. I think. The peacock was still walking up and down when I zipped up the tent.

Friday 23 January

Back home for a few days, then the weather picked up again, so a snap decision to head off again. Arrived at a town in Gippsland around six after leaving town mid-afternoon.

I had brought along fresh coriander, basil, mint and parsley from the garden and had some fresh squid and Dory in the cooler. I brewed up some stock the easy way - a Star stock cube, threw in the squid and dory with some onions, added a heavy-handed amount of curry powder, the herbs and some chopped spring onions, and let it boil away until the aroma became too much to resist, oh, about three minutes.

We had this with rice noodles which are ready in about two minutes and some bean sprouts over the top to add extra crunch.

Saturday 24 January

Through South Gippsland. Stunning countryside with sudden views of Wilson's Promontory through the winding hills. Stopped at Toora and walked around the town hoping to bump into Lisa but no sign - silly me didn't have her address. Or phone number.

Port Albert was today's lunch-stop for tomatoes, eggs and ham all poached together on the camp stove with cheese melted on top with fresh bread rolls from the store. This was followed up by afternoon tea of coffee and yummy cream cakes at a bakery in Yarram.

Then into the Tarra Valley to stay overnight at a camping ground nestled by a river with a magnificent waterfall. Dinner: I cheated the beginning by warming up some canned pumpkin and red pepper soup. Then, I steamed three large fat zucchini (the pale variety) with a big sliced onion, a knob of butter a generous dash of paprika and half a glass of white wine. Sounds simple but it's always great. On the side, cold sausage and a platter of cheeses including a creamy blue, all accompanied by red wine. Basic food but magnificent under the stars on a warm night.

The camp was quiet all night, all we could hear was the river trickling over the waterfall. When I clambered out of the tent some time during the night, the stars were like daylight.





6.1.04

Afternoon tea for a bygone age.

The requiem mass was at ten o'clock on an extremely hot day at the old red brick church where Poppy was married so many years ago. An organist pedalled away churning out all the old favourites.

The sun bore down relentlessly at the cemetery and then afterwards, everyone gathered for lunch or afternoon tea, I forget what time it was - cold chicken sandwiches, egg and lettuce sandwiches, ham sandwiches, cold roast beef and mustard sandwiches, platters of cold meat and cheese, small cakes, biscuits, scones, gallons of hot tea and cold beer. Old friends and infrequently encountered relatives exchanged news and swore they would keep in closer touch.

A Christmas farewell.

At age 98, a month before his 99th year, Poppy went to heaven. A tower of strength and a tower of wisdom and wit, the patriarch of the family, the godfather.

Always with the funny quip, always with the kind word, always the enquiry after your own, right up until the end. That's the markof a true gentleman, a rarity in a a world in which everyone else talks about themselves.

Three days before Christmas, and a day after attending two Christmas parties and being showered with gifts by all the other seniors, especially the ladies.

So Christmas was subdued but a time for memories, all good. None bad.

And for the first time in many years, no special passenger accompanied me on my car trip to the family Christmas lunch. Just five Christmases ago it was two special passengers, this year none.

So no chicken, no curry, no salad, no ham, no plum pudding, no cake, no shortbread, no wine, no coffee. No after dinner witticism about being 'hors de combat'.

And no ride home after dinner.

Farewell Poppy. You went to God accompanied by a thousand million beautiful Christmas hymns sung by the world's children.