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

26.1.05

Happy Australia Day.

Yesterday, Melbourne was a cauldron. The official top was 36 degrees, but a thermometer at Melbourne Park registered 47 in the shade. They halted the Australian Open quarter finals and drew the roof over Rod Laver arena.

It was far too hot to eat any earlier than eight-thirty; sat outside, beneath the apple tree, with the sun burning angrily away on the horizon before dropping out of sight, turning the trees to liquid gold as it did so.

The dogs lay exhausted on the lawn. We ate a cool salad of lettuce, tomatoes, onions and a simple vinaigrette followed by an easy pasta dish of spirals folded through with cannellini beans and a rich pesto with extra basil leaves on top.

*

We sweltered overnight, the temperature fell no lower than 25.6. Today's top is an expected 36. Despite this, the CFA has not imposed a total fire ban, so the traditional barbie will go ahead.

Lamb fillets, kebabs, sausages. Steaks, chicken fillets marinated in soy, ginger, garlic, lemon. Calamari, prawns, barramundi. Grilled zucchini and eggplant. Grilled onions. Salads of many kinds. Cold beer, maybe some cold white wine from the Yarra Valley.

Happy Australia Day. Wherever you are in the world.

23.1.05

Three minutes.

My brother is a super-8 film maker, as well as being a musician. He has been shooting super-8 movies since he was fifteen, when he made sci-fi super-8 movies using sets he constructed from blackened polystyrene foam stuck to large pieces of three-ply timber and painted backdrops with stars, planets and moons.

I made super-8 movies as well, from 1976 through to 1989.

In 1990, my house was burgled, my Canon super-8 camera was stolen and I never made another movie.

I also never again watched my collection of super-8s because my projector was stolen as well. The reels just sat there in a box as I moved through four addresses in seven years.

This past Christmas, my super-8 musician brother gave me the best Christmas gift I have ever received. It was in a large unwieldy box wrapped with Christmas paper and string. He warned me not to drop it.

I unwrapped it carefully. It was a super-8 projector, of course. In perfect condition. Where had he found it? Some flea market somewhere or it could have been e-Bay for that matter.

*

Late on Christmas Day, after Scotch, shortbread, walks, naps, plum pudding, conversation about anything and everything, we couldn't resist. My brother set the projector up for me and focussed it on the white wall in the third bedroom while I searched out my box of dusty super-8 movies.

The clickety-clack sound came back to me immediately. That's what, sixteen years?

First I ran a three-minute (they're all three minutes) film of my children at the zoo. 1982.

Andrew, 5, dancing around and laughing, soundlessly. Erin, 1, in the blue-and-chrome pram, a huge newly-toothed smile. No sound. Some shots of the monkeys' enclosure with Andrew's back in the foreground. Then he turns his head and pulls a face like a monkey. Then a few seconds of a long-haired, student-like, brown-T-shirted man (me) pushing a blue and chrome pram towards the zoo exit, smiling into the dying sunshine at the woman behind the camera.

Then the screen turns yellow and the clickety-clack ends.

Then more movies, just the same. The children, toddlers. On the beach, through the park. In the gardens. At home, in the backyard. Blowing out candles. All smiles and innocence and total joy and ignorance of pain.

Before the storms of separation and divorce arrived like monsters from a medieval world; foreign, alien, horrible. Before the smiles turned to tears on faces too young.

*

We watched some more. Most fascinated, of course, were my son's daughters. Canisha, 8; Shanra, 3. (Aria, 11 months, is too young to watch super-8 movies.) They recognised their father, my son, most times; and mistook him on other occasions for themselves. Long hair in the seventies and eighties made young boys look like girls.

I still haven't watched all the movies. I have hundreds, all three minutes long. I have to savour them.


22.1.05

Running a food business? Maybe you'd prefer a career in law.

Sydney Road from Brunswick through to Coburg has maybe a hundred or so restaurants and cafes, Turkish, Lebanese and others.

Alasya Restaurant is the most popular. Many others serve only locals but people flock from all over Melbourne to go to Alasya. It has two branches. It also runs a bakery supplying other restaurants and cafes.

Alasya is at the centre of a food poisoning scare.

The outbreak reportedly occurred between January 9 and 18.

The food poisoning story broke on Tuesday at which time several people had reported ill.

Mr Bekir, the owner of Alasya, which has been trading since 1978, said: "We were devastated, absolutely devastated, all of us. It was disbelief. If it's definitively linked (to the restaurant). All we can do is absolutely, absolutely apologise. This has never, ever happened to us, and you don't want something that happens once to hurt you forever. We've been here so long and served hundreds of thousands of customers."

By Friday, the number of people contacting the health department to report illness had rocketed to four hundred. Some are genuinely ill. There is no argument about that and everyone wishes them a fast recovery. Some are in hospital, 'rushed' there as the newspaper reports.

Some may have remembered they were ill after reading newspaper reports.

The sudden rise in reported illnesses followed Thursday's newspaper report that lawyers Slater and Gordon were talking class action.

The aroma of baking Turkish bread and barbecued kofta wafting over Brunswick has always been irresistible.

Maybe not as irresistible as the smell of money.

17.1.05

Vale Charlie Bell.

He was a great guy and a great businessman.

Aceh.

They lost two thirds of their medical staff, or so say reports, making foreign intervention such as this vital. And Australian expertise such as this is the best in the world. Yet, some sections of the Indo government want foreign forces out soon.

Who to believe.

I don't know. I don't even know what to think about foreign governments who have cavalier attitudes to human suffering while western nations pick up the pieces - nations which are sometimes criticised in turn, often by their own constituents.

Funny world.

No. Stupid world. And yeah, I do know what to think. I'm thinking it right now.

16.1.05

Two more hot days.

Wednesday.

We ate an early camp breakfast (poached eggs, canned spaghetti, bread rolls, tea) in the relative cool of six a.m. The sun was just an ominous red glow on the horizon.

Around seven, just after the sun's first rays hit the tops of the trees, the cockatoos and galahs started their racket. They perched in their hundreds on top of the concrete water tower, dropped off in graceful dives, flew around in ragged circles.

By eight we'd packed up the tent and moved on.

Mid-morning found us at Tocumwal, on the New South Wales side of the Murray river. People retire here to fish, boat and do nothing.

Just out of town lies what was once a World War Two airfield. Purpose-built in 1943 as a USAAF base during the height of the Japanese assault on the Pacific, it was at the time the largest airfield in the Southern Hemisphere. Three of seven hangars remain - massive concrete, timber and iron constructions - a fourth burned down a couple of years ago after a farmer filled it with hay which ignited.

Displays in the museum section of the airfield include a wealth of historic photographs and printed materials but unfortunately no actual Liberator bombers. After the war when manufacturing materials were in short supply, smelters were brought onto the runways and the 'planes were turned into aluminium ingots. In the 'fifties, you were probably driving around in a recycled Liberator.

39 degrees by early afternoon.

For lunch, we ate sandwiches made with fresh bread, cold meat, lettuce and tomatoes purchased from the small supermarket. During the afternoon, we paddled in the Murray river, shaded by the massive river gums that line the edge of the river.

Later, we retired to possibly the quietest country pub I have ever visited, tucked away in a back street of Tocumwal (which would be one back from the main street), for a VCB. One or two customers, farmers, finished their beers in silence and went off with a genial wave in our general direction.

Thursday.

Left Tocumwal around nine. The atmosphere was already a furnace.

Crossed back into Victoria and wound through Goulburn Valley orchard and wine country. Stopped for lunch (pre-made salad sandwiches in the ice-cooler) at a tiny town whose name escapes me, parking in the only shade we could find, a bunch of peppercorn trees outside the school, empty for the holidays. The town itself seemed vacant but was probably just sleeping in the intense heat. Sunblinds down over windows closed like eyes.

An hour or two down the road, Nagambie was baking in the afternoon sun, but look at the lake! tempting and cool. We headed for a camping ground we had stayed at eight years ago - but it had been permanently closed late last year. Fortunately, around the other side of the lake we found a cabin - right by the water. And air-conditioned!

We checked in at a small, run-down office in which a ginger cat was dozing on the desk, then dumped our gear in our cabin and went straight down the short hill to the lake's edge. People lay under shade trees, teenagers swam. We melted onto the grass with a book and the newspaper.

The 38-degree afternoon unravelled, shedding hot golden shards of light higher and higher in the trees; gums, straggly pines.

A head bobbed out across the water. Followed by another. One human, one canine. A Labrabor? They disappeared into the horizon. The other side of the lake is several hundred metres at least. After a while, the heads were visible again. They moved slowly closer and eventually reached the shore. They had been swimming for at least an hour; the dog - a shaggy, wet Golden Retriever and an old man. What a life.

The sun was almost gone when we went back to our cabin for a late dinner of cold fried chicken on lettuce, quartered tomatoes, wedges of cheese, celery, bread rolls.

The air-conditioner hummed, coughed, stopped and started through the night. Next morning, there was a mewling at the door. It was the ginger cat. I gave it a piece of left-over chicken and a saucer of milk.



14.1.05

Two hot days.

Monday.

From my northern suburb, it doesn't take long to drive out of town. Left out of my crescent onto a short avenue, then right up a long wide street until you hit the highway. Turn left and Australia is yours.

An hour saw us dropping Goldie at the Seymour kennel. Another two and the Murray River was in sight. On the way, stopped at a couple of small towns for cold drinks and lunch. At one stop, I saw a hastily-chalked sign outside the only store in town. The sign read: BIG YABBIES BEHIND SHOP. I decided it was an advertisement rather than a warning but I didn't buy any as the ice-cooler was already full.

The camping ground was in a small town just north of the Murray River, on a lake and protected from wind by a ring of magnificent ancient pine trees. Mature garden beds followed pathways and bordered sweeping lawns. Ducks wandered around. I pitched the tent five metres from the edge of the lake.

We stayed there two days. Two weeks would have been better.

We didn't eat until around eight, when the shadows were lengthening. It was still 35 degrees. I had packed two frozen curries, leftover from Christmas, and all we had to do was to heat the curries - a chicken and a beef - and boil some rice. Rice first onto the little single burner camp stove, then off to swell while the curries heated. Curry tastes great served on rice in the open air next to a lake with ducks.

Tuesday.

By day we chased the shadows around the lawns, swam, read, watched the birds and ducks, walked up and down the main street of the town, had a very cold beer in the air-conditioned front bar of the local pub, walked around the lake in the relative cool of early morning and late evening.

It hit 41 degrees at about three in the afternoon.

Mid-evening. Sun golden, molten in the west.

Too hot for pasta? Never. Fettucine cooked on the stove, then simply folded through with a can of tuna, a couple of chopped tomatoes and some cheese.

And some very cold beer from the pub.

See? It wasn't about the river, or the lake, or the birds, or any of that. It was about proximity to Very Cold Beer.


10.1.05

Heading north.

Unstable weather over Melbourne has brought rain and cool conditions for the best part of a week. We're heading north, towards the mighty Murray, looking for a nice camping ground and some fierce sunshine.

Tomorrow's forecast: 38 degrees.

Mmm. Camp food!

5.1.05

The eyes of a temptress.

Enchanting. Sultry. Mesmerising. She moves with the grace of a feline and has the curves to match.

She's a rare beauty. And she's here.

4.1.05

Short-cuts. And Barbies.

After a Christmas and New Year of intensive food preparation (the preparation was intensive? what about the eating? that was exhausting) it is a sheer joy to throw all your fussy ideas about home preparation into the trash and live out of a jar and a packet for a while.

So we did. And it was good.

Monday looked nice enough to have an evening barbecue. High twenties, not a breath of wind, maybe just a light zephyr climbing over the back fence and sighing at the apricot tree.

Possum damage aside - and I'm ignoring them, pretending they don't exist - the garden is still looking pretty good after its pre-Christmas haircut and shave. Well, no trees have blown down or anything.

So I trundled out the cast-iron grill. It weighs a ton, has brakes on the wheels, is prehistoric and cooks the best barbecue in the world. It lives in the garage all winter long, collects dust and never complains. It is low tech and high output. If today's grill of choice is a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti then mine is this. It is my favourite toy.

I threw a tablecloth and put a bottle in the fridge. T. and I got ourselves into the vegetable patch and we hauled out some last broccoli stalks and yet another cabbage. I'm just about sick of the brassicas, they've overstayed their welcome this year. Time to uproot them and send them packing like in-laws.

Then, fun with packets and jars. I tossed half a dozen chicken pieces in a plastic bag with the contents of a sachet of Tandaco Coating Mix for Southern Fried Chicken , while some sliced beef made friends with a jar of Yeo's Barbecue Satay Sauce (label warning: 'Contains Peanuts'). Both went back in the fridge while we made a broccoli and pumpkin salad, a potato salad and a simple coleslaw.

Then I thought: if there is no wind, why is the sky clouding over?

Later, my son and his wife and their three girls arrived and we walked around the garden trying to establish if and when the rain would start. A big spot hit me on the forehead. We carried the table and chairs into the big garage which doubles as an undercover outdoor dining area in times like this when you can't rely on the weather bureau.

The girls had brought their Barbie dolls and the Barbie dolls were having a play argument. One Barbie doll pulled another Barbie doll's hair. That Barbie retaliated, kicking the first one and a third Barbie doll joined the fray, on whose side I'm not sure. But it was a helluva fight. No wonder they have issues, they all have the same name.

The rain didn't really get started and we moved the table back out into the overcast warmth of the mid-summer evening. The satay beef skewers were the star of the evening. Thanks Mr Yeo. The chicken was good as well. Nice with coleslaw.

The girls, having eaten, were now making chalk drawings on the ground while we sat at the table and had another drink. Barbies lay exhausted around the garden, missing various accessories and hair all over the place, like scarecrows.

Later Canisha asked me to look for a lost Barbie tiara. We didn't find it. I suspect that somewhere in a tall conifer, very close by, there's a possum being admired by his family.

1.1.05

Australia on a plate.

Alright, for a weblog supposedly about food, the headline is misleading.

Australia is a flat country on a large tectonic plate. The plate stops, at one end, near Sumatra. That is where the crunch came last week, causing the undersea earthquake and the resulting waves.

Another edge of the plate is somewhere between Tasmania and New Zealand.

On Christmas Eve, a little-reported 'quake occurred. It was said to have been the world's largest 'quake in four years. There were no casualties, no damage.

But it sounds as if the entire plate moved. There was a double blowout. Were the two connected? Did one set off the other? Or were they both the reaction to another movement? If that is the case, should scientists place all points along a plate's perimeter on high alert following a major occurrence?

I don't know. This is just idle speculation. I'm no scientist. I'm just recounting my thoughts as I sat on Blairgowrie beach on a 37 degree afternoon, a sombre New Year's Eve. Idle speculation is useless.

*

The waves twinkled on Port Philip Bay like diamonds on a hundred fingers. The sun bore down brutally as if it had been doing so for weeks.

It hadn't. Just two days earlier I had been lying on the beach, reading a book, enjoying a little mild sunshine. Then a southerly had sprung up and produced some clouds from nowhere and spread them around. So I went back to the house, put Goldie's leash on and took her for a walk along the back beach instead. (The peninsula is three kilometres wide at this point - from bay beach on Port Philip to crumble-cliffed back beach facing treacherous Bass Strait.) We were picking our way along the cliffs when the clouds turned black. Within minutes, the skies were throwing hail into my face. Thirty minutes after sunbaking - a hailstorm.

But that was then. A couple of days later, it was suddenly New Year's Eve - a sombre one - and the temperature was 35 degrees C. The scent of ti-tree weighed heavily on the hot, dry air. On the beach, children splashed in the shallows, quietly, their parents watching them and thinking about other places. People were standing way out in the shallows like fat ibises. Out beyond this, maybe four or five hundred metres, jetskis buzzed up and down, busily, pointlessly. They didn't have to, they just did. Left to right, right to left. Like mosquitoes looking for flesh.

I sat on the sand. It was too hot to read my book, so I did the crossword in the newspaper instead. Work that one out. I can't. Maybe it's the shorter attention span. Three letter word meaning limb. Four letter word meaning celtic tongue. A seven-letter planet. Thailand's former name.

I looked up. I watched a jetski buzz from left to right. There were three people on it, sitting bolt upright, holding onto the one in front, looking uncomfortable - as if they were on the back, as they might have been fifty years ago - of a tired old donkey at a beach carnival. Five cents a ride. Hee-haw.

*

It stayed hot and the house stayed hot, so - later - we came back to the beach and had dinner on the sand, spreading a rug and setting up the beach chairs. Goldie, of course, thought the rug was for her and sat in the middle of it, raising a slew of sand. I unpacked the basket and a german short-haired pointer bounced over to greet Goldie. Friend of yours? More sand. No matter. The owners rushed up, all apologies and stern words to the GSP. We didn't care. Take more than a couple of bouncing dogs to upset the applecart at this particular point in time. We held our plates on our knees, served ourselves straight from the basket. Simple food for new year's eve: a green salad; boiled potatoes with red salmon, cheese and onions; boiled eggs on beds of peppered spinach; corn with salt and vinegar. Cold white wine. Then vanilla ice cream with chunks of fresh mango folded through.

Three or four ships slipped noiselessly down the bay, just a smudge of diesel showing they were under any power at all. There goes the Spirit of Tasmania. It was getting dark but still the air held an intensity of heat you could almost grasp in your hands. We finished eating, walked up the beach a little way. Families, couples, children were swimming, eating, walking.

We packed up slowly, folded the chairs. Teen lovers walked by, voicing their dreams to each other, bare feet stirring the shallows.

Home by ten. Fell asleep. Not really a new year for fireworks. Maybe a quiet prayer instead. Especially for the children. Those who drowned, and those whose families were drowned and are now alone.

I woke at a steamy two in the morning. It's 2005. Life goes on. HNY.