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

30.11.04

More Peregrine Falcons found.

The ones in Melbourne were found dead - they had received massive publicity over many years, nesting in a Collins Street building - and it is believed they were killed following the poisoning of pigeons.

Prior to that, the council had employed an expert pigeon person from the UK who had recommended not poisoning the pigeons. Well, that money was wasted. The pigeons were poisoned and the Peregrine Falcons died.

I've always recommended poisoning councillors.

I still do.

But they don't die. Like pigeons. Or Peregrine Falcons.

Some more have cropped up in Ballarat.

There are not many left.

26.11.04

Barry Road? Or the fridge?

Sometimes you can't be bothered going to any great lengths to cook. Like when you come in late, you're tired and there's little to inspire you in the fridge.

And when you can't even be bothered going out again to Barry Road (yes, Barry Road!) where the strip shopping centre has 1. an excellent chinese takeaway, 2. the best fish and chip shop 'Barry Rd Fish & Chips', 3. a chicken shop 'Chickens on Barry Rd', 4. an old-fashioned hamburger shop 'Barry Rd Burgers' (see the pattern emerging?), 5. a turkish takeaway, 6. two pizza shops 'Panic Pizza' and another, 7. a Lebanese cake shop (the honey custard rolls 'Znood-al-sit' are to die for) and 8. two more bakeries.

The fridge won. I'll save Barry Road for another night. Many other nights.

I had a pack of frozen La Triestina spinach and ricotta ravioli. I opened a can of tomato puree, flung it in a pot with a dash of salt and pepper, another of brown sugar and a bay leaf and some basil.

Salted water on the boil, ravioli into the water, water down to a simmer, drain them when they float to the surface, onto a plate, a slosh of the sauce, and a good shake of parmesan. It was good.

But I would have liked crumbed whiting, crisp fries, a squeeze of lemon and some tartare.

From Barry Road.

25.11.04

Beach. Barbecue.

Blairgowrie beach was deserted.

The tide was out and the white sandbars were baking. A container ship was sliding down the bay. The water was a flat as a tack. Where was everyone? Blairgowrie is a sleepy village. There's a large retired population. They come out in their hundreds, morning and evening, walking their dogs. But at two o'clock on a broiling afternoon, they obviously have the sense to stay indoors!

I had taken the dogs to the beach for a couple of days.

We are fostering Clyde, an enormous blue-fawn three-year-old greyhound. It is his first foster home and he did all the usual things like try to walk through windows and be completely unable to walk up steps, especially timber steps without riser panels. I had to lift him the first time - 39.5 kgs - but he soon learned. At first he tried to leap all six steps - successfully, and both up and down - but then he twigged that he could actually place his paws on those in between.

As well as getting the dogs used to navigating a human household, they also need to be socialised. So they get to go out for coffee. That's a win-win.

So off to the Blairgowrie cafe we went. It's ideal for socialising dogs. Several outdoor tables were occupied, all with dogs, a couple with several. Add my two (Goldie came along as well, of course) and Frank the Fat Stray dog who was in residence as usual, and there were more dogs than people.

Clyde is so large his head actually rested on the table, right there next to the sugar dispenser (one of the many great things about the Blairgowrie cafe, apart from being dog-friendly - which itself means you are associating with a nicer class of people - is that they still have sugar in a real jar on every table, not those paper sachet things of which I need to use about six just to get a decent degree of sweetness in my coffee. I hate it when they give you two of those things and you have to ask for more.)

So there we were, Goldie flopped under the table, Clyde's head - with a silly grin on it - by the sugar and me stirring my coffee. A lady happened along, spied Clyde, asked me about him and told me her sister is adopting a greyhound (name of Diva) and will pick her up from the the Greyhound Adoption Program stall at the Rosebud Pet and Pony Expo on Sunday.

Later we ran on the beach, Clyde all gangly, his silly wide grin directed at the seagulls or the sky or just because he loved running along a big wide beach with company; Goldie coming up to maybe his knees but managing to keep up. Not bad for a twelve-year-old Brittany.

*

I drove back to Melbourne early evening.

Couldn't resist firing up the barbecue on such a beautiful night. Chicken had been marinating in a bunch of ingredients including soy, Thai-style chilli sauce, a drop of fish sauce, plenty of chopped ginger and garlic. A squeeze of lemon. Whatever came to hand, really.

The broccoli is shooting up like ... broccoli in spring ... so I made a kind of asian salad to go with the chicken - steamed broccoli (the long, thin type with a few inches of stem) and green beans on a bed of iceberg lettuce with a shower of toasted sesame seeds and a dressing of a few drops of sesame oil and soy. Easy and simple.

A nice glass of chilled white wine.

The birds were twittering away in the conifers and swooping through the dying sunshine. Goldie and Clyde were asleep on the grass. Clyde was still wearing a silly wide grin.

22.11.04

Surprise, surprise!

You have to be careful with surprise parties.

I went to one once where the couple had had an argument. We could hear them outside the front door shouting loudly at each other. We were inside, in the darkness, champagne and glasses at the ready. The key turned loudly and jerkily in the lock and I clearly remember the bright idea of throwing a surprise party for them dying inside me like a lit candle stub being dropped into cold water. When the door opened, the lights went on and they both had that kind of look where the smile seems to go on forever but takes a wild assymetric downward turn where it should curve happily back up. And stays that way for several long and excruciating seconds. But sometimes in life, it's too late to turn back now. So the champagne popped, the crackers cracked, the music blasted and we all got drunk. What else could we do? Sit around quietly and engage in small talk?

But my sister's surprise party wasn't like that at all. (In fact, I'm not even sure why I mentioned the above incident. Maybe I needed to get it out of my system. I've never discussed it before. The couple divorced soon after. I felt guilty. I planned the surprise and I'm sure it was a contributing factor, tipping them over the edge.)

So Saturday night we were crammed into my sister's house. Soon she arrived home, walked in the door with my bro'-in-law and we screamed Happy Fiftieth Birthday. She looked genuinely surprised but I'm sure she had an inkling. The street was full of cars (some hadn't parked so discreetly) and the smoke from the barbecue on the balcony overlooking the valley must have been sending signals across several suburbs. And how good did it smell! My sister's children had everything ready (no idea where they hid it all to keep it from their mother, it just all materialised in an hour or two).

Nephew was grilling away to his heart's content out on the balcony - sausages, chicken kebabs, marinated fish fillets, lamb kebabs, prawns. The three nieces had produced mammoth platters - tomato, basil and bocconcini stacks; a chunky potato salad (the version which has quartered hard-boiled eggs and spring onions); breads, dips, crackers; a casserole full of baked tomatoes stuffed with rice; a pasta salad and a green salad prettily dotted with fetta cubes. Several others had brought along more casseroles, while we provided a curry of broadbeans, mustard greens and silverbeet (out of the garden).

Oldest niece is six months pregnant - at an earlier family occasion at which she announced her surprise pregnancy, she had also mentioned that her partner had been a little shocked, perhaps not all that keen; to which I had replied, laughing: 'That's all right, he'll come round, they always do!' Next time I'll just shut the hell up. They broke up soon after. She'll raise the baby alone. On the plus side, she is looking radiant, seems happy and it appears they had been heading for a split anyway.

Happy families. There's always some drama going on.

Back to the party, and I'm on my second stuffed tomato and third chicken kebab sitting outside on the balcony. It must have been about eight o'clock, eight thirty. The sun was going down and there was now quite a breeze coming through. Slowly, one by one, everyone moved inside. Soon it was just me and my son and my other brother-in-law, the cowshed/mud brick home one. 'Are you cold?' he said, sipping his red wine. 'Nah, I'm fine, it's just a breeze. What about you?' 'Warm as toast!' At that point of the conversation my son retired to the warmth behind the picture window glass and it was down to Brian and me. I love the way, just out of nothing and nowhere, we turn life into little games. 'You must be cold,' taunted Brian. He lives in South Gippsland, where the wind blows off the Antartic ice shelf. 'I'm all right,' I insisted, snapping a tail off another succulent barbecued prawn and scoffing it after dipping it in thousand island dressing. 'Then why are your fingers turning white?' he came back.

'OK, Brian,' I said. 'You win.' I went inside. He followed, laughing.

It was toasty warm as desserts and coffee came out. All the usual things, there was a pavlova with strawberries and blueberries, mum's trifle, an apple and rhubarb crumble, ice-cream and the highlight, a chocolate iced mudcake with more thick chocolate shavings on top. That was the birthday cake.

Canisha, eight tomorrow, had a large bowl of ice-cream with the chocolate shavings on top. And then a second.






20.11.04

Picnic, anyone?

We're going on a picnic tomorrow, it's the Greyhound Adoption Program's annual Christmas picnic. All the greyhound foster-carers and people who have adopted them are invited. And their dogs of course.

We're hoping for a nice day, but against the odds given the completely unpredictable weather in the last few weeks. Hot one minute, windy the next, rainstorms the next.

Provisions:

The wicker picnic basket.
The tartan picnic blanket (every time I lay it down the dogs jump onto it first and spread themselves out. They have no manners at all).
Ciabatta rolls - havarti cheese and lettuce; curried egg; tuna and onion with mayonaisse.
A leek frittata.
Some fruitcake.
Coffee.
Raincoats. Umbrellas. Suncream.

The frittata:

Lightly beat four eggs with salt and pepper, cook thinly sliced leeks - about two cupsful - in olive oil until soft, about five minutes, pour egg mixture over, cook until set, on a low heat. Carefully turn onto a plate, chill.

18.11.04

If you want your cockatiel returned ...

... teach it to sing.

When it went missing last week (original story not online), it was reported that the bird sang a particular tune, but did not mention what tune. Smart move, reporter - plenty of people wanted to claim it.

Anyone for a round of La Cucacaracha?

I love the way this bird mimics the telephone when its owner is in the garden, ignoring it.


15.11.04

Sweet, sweet paprika ...

I love the gentle heat that paprika imparts. Along with its warm colour, paprika can lift a meal to another plane.

Goulash.

There are hundreds of goulash recipes, some have tomato; some have potatoes; some have carrot and celery. Just don't leave out the meat or the paprika.

So you can make goulash how you want (I stand to be corrected by Hungarian readers).

Here's how I made it on Saturday afternoon, as Melbourne was whipped with rain squalls yet again:

Brown onions in butter, dredge cubed veal in flour then brown with the onions, toss in a tablespoon or two of sweet paprika and a little salt and pepper then add a can of tomato puree. Cover with water. Simmer for an hour or two then mix through half a cup of cream and serve with some buttered pasta such as tagliatelle or papardelle; or with mashed potatoes. I used the pasta.

*

Largely unrelated facts:

Budapest in Hungary once had the largest tramway system in the world. Today, Melbourne's tramway is the world's third or fourth largest depending on who you ask, and the largest outside Europe.

A tram in Budapest.

A tram in Melbourne. This is where I catch the tram to the city. It trundles through Royal Park behind the zoo, emerges onto Flemington Road near the hospitals precinct (RMH, Children's, Women's, Dental), past the Queen Victoria Market (where I bought the veal for the above recipe) and ends up at Flinders Street Railway Station.

13.11.04

11.11.04

Lest We Forget.

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

At that precise moment, a shaft of sunlight strikes and then passes over the word Love on a tablet - the Stone of Remembrance - bearing the words Greater Love Hath No Man, on the central floor of the Shrine of Remembrance, marking Armistice Day.

At that moment, the entire city comes to a halt, to remember the 19,000 Victorians - of 62,000 Australians - who fell in the Great War: the war to end all wars. Huh.

*

We were in town to visit the Queen Victoria market - Thursday is its busiest day. The seafood stalls were staggering, loaded with magnificent fish of all kinds. We bought some fresh Tasmanian Atlantic Salmon (yes, I know Tasmania is nowhere near the Atlantic) and some oysters; then walked through the fruit and vegetable section and picked up some mangoes fresh from Queensland. The variety was astounding, red papaw, melons of all kinds, chinese greens of every type, bunches of fresh herbs most people have never heard of let alone tried and stall after stall of fresh produce piled high.

The highlight is the deli section - every country on earth is represented here. Cheeses of all kinds (except Roquefort!), from everywhere, hundreds of different sausages and smallgoods, breads of every type, preserves, wines, dried fish, you name it. Of course, all this food makes you hungry so when you arrive at the take-away food section it's impossible to resist.

*

Soon the market loudspeaker announced that there would be one minute's silence at precisely 11am and would everyone kindly respect the moment. Amazingly, the crowd complied. Hagglers and spruikers suddenly found themselves shouting into an abyss and were quick to quiet themselves. A spine-tingling silence spread. Well, it certainly tingled my spine.

Then, into the silence came the roar of four RAAF aircraft flying in formation over the city, down to the Shrine, to commemorate the moment. The shaft of sunlight? Didn't happen. It's been overcast all day and now it's raining.

*

The crowd returned to normal. Where were we? The takeaway stall.

Turkish spinach and cheese burek - hot, fresh and totally delicious, $2.50.

Life goes on.


10.11.04

A childhood favorite, otherwise known as comfort food.

Comfort food is the best food of all. Easy, unpretentious and most importantly, redolent of years gone by, a taste of the past.

For me, it was baked meatloaf, among other things.

For T. it is sometimes this:

Mince and tatties.

Heat some oil in a pan and saute a large chopped onion until brown. Add a pound of beef mince and cook until well browned. Add two medium carrots, sliced thinly, and a tablespoon of toasted oatmeal. Pour in enough water to just cover. Crumble in one or two beef stock cubes, season with salt and pepper, cover the pan and simmer for about twenty minutes. Then, thicken with three teaspoons of gravy powder or corn starch mixed with a little cold water.

That's the mince. Now the tatties. They're easy:

Boil your peeled potatoes. Then mash 'em.

Serve the mince and the potatoes side by side. (Note: do not serve the mince over the potatoes. Why? 'Because you just don't,' says T.)

T.'s father cooked this for her and her sister and three brothers in the seventies and probably the sixties. He'd arrive home from his job as a shiftworker at the pipe works and start cooking up a storm until their mother arrived home from her day job.

T. tells me another favourite of her father's was deep-fried spam and chips.

I'm sure it was delicious.

8.11.04

Beach weekend.

We were looking forward to hosting my brother-in-law, his wife, their two children (15 and 12) and their two dogs (miniature fox terriers) at the beach and we had been planning lazing on the sand, unpacking picnics with all manner of delicious goodies, watching the dogs tear around in the sunshine and the children frolicking in the sparkling blue waters of Port Philip Bay before returning to the beach house for maybe a barbecue and some cold beer and ...

It rained all weekend. Well, most of the weekend.

It's not a large beach house. But then, six people and four dogs is a tight fit in any household. The dogs, however, were exceptionally well behaved (as were the children). Blueboy, the foster greyhound, slunk off to the bedroom - two foxies were way too boisterous for him; Goldie spread herself out in the guest foxies' wicker bed; and they in turn settled on her mat after jumping up on the couch.

After lunch (salad sandwiches, prosciutto, home-made cold lamb meatballs with mint and yogurt, cheese, biscuits and coffee), the rain stopped so we walked to the beach with the dogs. The sun even peeped out for a while. Black clouds were gathering by the time we got back to the house.

Later in the afternoon, we thought a swim before dinner would be a good idea, but, oddly, the girls disagreed. My bro'-in-law, his son and I drove back to the beach and plunged into the bay. How was the water? The water was icy. We lasted fifteen minutes. My fingers were white when we came out. Brother-in-law has more insulation.

Warmed up with a scotch before dinner, which was was T.'s signature home-made gnocchi, light as a feather, with a robust and homely bolognese sauce generously showered with parmesan cheese. Can't think of a better dish on a cold, rainy evening. There was a massive salad and a side of fava beans cooked in garlic, olive oil, lemon and cracked black pepper. Crusty bread. Red wine. Afterwards, a lemon yogurt cake with pouring lemon syrup and ice-cream swirled with pistachios and rosewater. Coffee.

Sunday morning: rain, rain, rain. Breakfast - porridge to start; then bacon, eggs and fried black pudding on toast with lashings of hot tea.

Late morning, the skies appeared to clear so we hazarded a walk to the Blairgowrie cafe for coffee, hot chocolate (with marshmallow), muffins for those who hadn't eaten sufficient bacon or black pudding and milkshakes for the children. We sat outside with one of those outdoor gas cylinder things keeping us warm. The dogs (who came with us, naturally) made the acquaintance of Frank the fat dog, who clearly dines at the Blairgowrie cafe rain, hail or shine. He was partaking of a morsel from a kind patron's Blairgowrie Big Breakfast (bacon, eggs, house-made sausage, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, sourdough rye).

Later, we were strolling down the street looking at the shops when a woman said, 'Oh, what a cute dog!', looking at Otis the miniature foxie. 'A miniature pinscher!'

'A mini foxie, actually,' my brother-in-law replied.

'Oh, no, he's a definitely a miniature pinscher, dear,' insisted the woman, smiling. 'And I should know, I'm a breeder.'

They had a chat about the origins of the breed and its relatives. Apparently, it had a touch of Italian Greyhound in it.

Imagine going out as one breed and coming home as another. Hope the poor dog doesn't develop an identity crisis.

4.11.04

Calves liver and onions. Or for those who prefer animal parts not be included in the title of their dinner, fegato alla veneziana.

Apparently fegato originally meant figs, don't know what figs have to do with calves liver and onion, maybe someone can enlighten me. Or maybe I should have studied Latin beyond Year 8. I was such a lazy student. I hated everything about school except lunchtime. Ah, the aroma emanating from the pie-warmer in the canteen!

That's five different angles in the first paragraph. I really should be more disciplined in my writing.

Now, where were we? I've been doing calves liver with onions every now and then for years and I can't remember where I found the recipe. So I googled it and couldn't find one exactly the same (which is kind of good in a way).

Cook two or three finely chopped onions in half butter, half olive oil until well coated and on the point of becoming translucent, then add half a cup of white wine and three quarters of a cup of lemon juice. Plus a good dash of nutmeg and a shake of salt and pepper. Set on a low heat and let the onions cook away for about an hour. They'll be on the point of caramelising.

While that's happening, make up a batch of polenta and set it going. Cut up a bunch of spinach, cook it, salt it, pepper it and swirl it with cream.

Now, press a little cracked black pepper and sea salt into your thinly-sliced liver and pan-fry it quickly in butter and olive oil. A few minutes either side is adequate depending on thickness.

Serve on (or under, or beside - meal geometry is not one of my priorities in life) the 'lemonised' onions with polenta and the creamy, dreamy spinach. Scalloped potatoes cooked simply in milk and cream also go well with this.

Sometimes I have some liver left over - I make a pasta dish by frying small strips of the liver and serving it with toasted pine-nuts and chiles and spaghetti. Grated parmesan on top.

3.11.04

The Cup's over, I lost, it's raining and I want pasta.

Horseracing. Sport of kings. And losers. Lucky I've never been a gambler since reading Frank Hardy's The Four-Legged Lottery at age 12. What an eye-opener that was.

After all the barbecuing and picnicing over the last few days, something a little blander is called for. Not that this is boring: it's simple but really packs a flavour punch.

Cook your spaghetti.

Cook the silverbeet until it is well wilted. Drain, add salt and pepper.

Fold silverbeet through cooked and drained spaghetti. Toss your sliced chile peppers (which should ideally have been marinating in olive oil for 24 hours) over the top and then crown it with paper-thin slices of parmesan.

A glass of red and a thick slice of buttered vienna.

Heaven. Even if your horse came last.

2.11.04

Today's Melbourne Cup: predicting the weather is harder than picking a horse.

Despite predictions of heavy rain overnight (there was none) and showers this morning with possible thunderstorms during the afternoon, Cup Day has dawned warm and sunny.

So how can you pick a winner with all that uncertainty?

It's difficult. But here's mine:

1. Vinnie Roe.
2. Elvstroem.
3. Pacific Dancer.

We're going to pack a picnic - egg and lettuce rolls, cheese and gherkin relish rolls, some nice buttercake and a flask of tea - and find somewhere nice to spread a blanket in the sun, under a tree ... and hope the rain holds off.

UPDATE
Vinnie Roe's connections were to announce at 8am this morning whether the horse would run - and it would only run if there is a heavy track. They have just now confirmed Vinnie Roe is a starter, yet the weather bureau has just advised the rain should hold off until after the race. Clearly, there's plenty of bluff being called.


UPDATE 2

The heavens broke open two hours before the race. Makybe Diva held off Vinnie Roe to win, carrying a record-breaking weight and becoming the first mare to win the Cup twice.

PS: Double post today! See below.

1.11.04

The weather held.

The ominous mid-afternoon clouds drifted away as our barbecue guests drifted in around six.

Two brothers and partners; two sisters, one with daughter; other with second husband and three children from first marriage; son and partner with their three girls; mother.

We sat outside at tables covered with white linen and watched the sun sink between the massive conifers. The children sat on a tartan rug spread on the lawn under the fruit trees.

The calamari was a hit (marinated in garlic and lemon, tossed with continental flour and dried oregano and fried very, very quickly in very hot oil) as were the lamb kebabs (marinated in garlic, oil and lemon juice, skewered with alternate onion, red and green bell pepper sections), bratwursts and fresh turkish and lebanese breads with eggplant, spinach and chickpea dips. Forgot the olives, they were behind something in the fridge and forgot to dress the mustard greens ('Hmm, they're a little bitter,' someone said). To add to the mix, sister brought along spring lamb chops - we threw a sprig of rosemary on the grill for those; niece contributed another salad and mother turned up with an apple crumble and her version of trifle. The men brought beer and wine, and my brother's partner presented a large jar of her signature home-made tomato chutney. Tangy and delicious on bratwurst sausages. She modestly suggested I could give it away as a Christmas gift if I didn't want to use it. - Are you kidding, I replied, whipping off the lid.

Afterwards, my son's youngest daughter, baby Aria, sat on my knee and ate, slowly and carefully, a whole small sausage, spitting out the skin. She is nine months old next week! Underweight for most of this time, she is now going ahead in leaps and bounds.

One of my brothers was taking photos as he always does. He has documented every family occasion for about the last twenty or so years, maybe longer; started with a Super 8 film camera, moved to stills and now uses a digital.

Later, inside, when we were having dessert and coffee, baby Aria sat on my younger niece's knee and ate most of four orange quarters in the same slow, methodical but very intent manner. She thoroughly enjoyed herself. The other girls, 7, 3 and 3, contented themselves with the basket of soft toys and box of books that had been their dad's and uncle's.

The adults had more tea and coffee and another tiny sip of Sambuca Lucano. My older niece surreptitiously passed out tiny invitation slips to her mother's upcoming 50th birthday surprise party. Ha! That will be fun.