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

31.3.05

Easter.

The road through Gippsland rose relentlessly out of Leongatha. Soon we crested the top of a hill and an amazing vista lay away to the right to be marvelled at, should you happen not to be driving.

I was driving but I snatched a glimpse or two in between not running off the road.

Corner Inlet is so far below, you look at it like a cat looks into a bowl of water. Beyond that, Wilson's Promontory stretched up and away again, a line on the horizon going up and down like a crazy graph.

We dropped into a valley and the vista disappeared. The road curved around a few more hills, nearing the coast. We turned left at Toora and rose again into the hinterland. Wilson's Promontory appeared again - in the rear mirror - and fell away as we completed a long, slow descent into a valley. We crunched along a long, dusty road and pulled up outside my sister's place just after lunchtime.

*

The converted cow milking shed was much the same as it was last Easter.

A new concrete floor, a skylight, a few more rugs, some more paintings.

Outdoors, paving here and there, bits of garden in between - herbs, vegetables. Corn over the back, growing high, nearly ready to pick. The beginnings of an orchard further down the hill - apple trees, an apricot, nectarine, some plums. The grapevine goes in soon. When they get time.

Lisa showed us around the garden. Tamzin followed. Tamzin is three. She has golden ringlets down to her shoulders.

Brian appeared, waving, out of the shed where he was trying to dismantle a hundred year old scarifier. It weighs a ton. There must be enough scrap metal in it to make a dozen cars.

*

Some time during the afternoon: 'Would you like an apple, Tamzin?'

'No. I'm fine!'

Later, 'Tamzin, have a glass of milk?'

'No. I'm fine!', shaking her golden curls. And smiling.

'I'm fine' is her latest expression.

*

We placed some chairs around a roaring fire for a dinner under the stars. The full moon sailed up the sky like a galleon made of Waterford crystal.

Sausages wrapped in herbs - vietnamese mint, sage, etc - from the garden, then wrapped in foil and barbecued on the grill over the fire. Spring lamb chops studded with garlic rosemary. Salads; a large dish of pasta with semi-dried tomatoes, anchovies and chili (one of the best pasta dishes I have ever tasted) and some fresh bread my brother brought in from the bakery in Foster, the next town.

Red wine, desserts. Coffee came out. Someone made it, don't know who. It was nice by the fire.

*

T. and I slept in a tent pitched on the warm grass on the hill. The moon moved across the sky. I woke for just a moment in the middle of the night in a bright monochrome world.

*

Saturday was the art show at Mt Best, a tiny hamlet perched in a forest close to the top of the mountain, with impossible views over the inlet and the promontory. From Lisa's place in the valley, we had to drive upwards for half an hour to get there, twisting and turning along a narrow dirt road.

The art show opened at one o'clock with a refreshingly short and to the point speech by a local councillor. There was wine and cheese. And teas and scones and sandwiches. We looked at the pictures and children tore around outside and climbed trees and came inside for drinks when they were thirsty. Lisa sold a picture.

*

After lunch - quite a big lunch - on Sunday, Easter Sunday, we left, calling out to Tamzin, 'Hey Tamzin, want to come home with us and live at our house?'

She shook her ringlets, smiling. 'No. I'm fine!'

30.3.05

That is not a word.

So I'm banning it.

'Artisanal.'

It looks wrong and it sounds wrong.

So I'm saying it is wrong.

But I don't know what the correct word would be. Maybe just 'artisan' itself. As in 'artisan cheese' or 'artisan pasta'.

(And what's going on with blogger date? My post from two days ago is under today's date. Maybe I accidentally forward-dated it. I don't know.)

Oh - that 10 billion ants!

They were in my kitchen last summer.

Where's my award?

25.3.05

Osso buco, out of season.

I've been doing this for years. It's a robust, homely recipe that is forgiving of change. I don't mean by putting pineapple in it. I mean by using different herbs, using more or less tomato, that kind of thing.

I usually do it in the depths of winter, but this year I couldn't wait.

I seasoned the veal shanks by shaking them together with a dessertspoon of continental flour and some salt and pepper in a plastic bag and then I browned them in some olive oil.

After removing them to a plate I added one very finely diced onion, one very finely diced carrot and one stick of very finely diced celery to the pan. (I do tire of very finely slicing things but it pays off in this recipe.) Sweat the vegetables for five minutes, giving the pan a good shake every now and then.

Then I added some of my home-grown tomatoes, very finely diced, together with the rest of the tomato puree from the jar in the fridge (lightly covered with olive oil so it wouldn't spoil). And four cloves of garlic - scored not sliced. That's just me. I like huge chunks of scored garlic in my food.

Now, a cup of white wine and a cup of stock. Splash them in and swirl the pan around. Herbs - whatever is to hand. I grabbed a handful of rocket from the garden along with a few last leaves of summer's basil - :( - and a sprig of rosemary, sliced them finely and threw them into the mix.

Now the veal shanks go back in and the stove is set to simmer away for an hour or two of a late and lazy autumn afternoon.

Cook up your accompaniments. Mashed potato. Polenta. Some sharp greens wilted in garlic and oil and pepper. Open a bottle of red.

Make gremolata - grated lemon peel, garlic and chopped parsley. The sour and bitter flavours accentuate the mellow richness of the dish perfectly. Whoever invented gremolata knew exactly what they were doing.

Enjoy your osso buco as the shadows lengthen and a waxing moon rises on another warm autumn night.

23.3.05

Three buckets of tomatoes.

That's all.

Better than no buckets of tomatoes. But not as good as ten or twenty or fifty buckets of tomatoes, like other years.

So we're enjoying them while they last.

A golden early autumn evening. Warm outside in the garden, still light at eight o'clock.

Fresh sliced tomatoes straight from the garden tossed through linguini with crumbled fresh ricotta, a splash of olive oil and a shower of cracked pepper.

Fresh bread and a glass of red as the sun goes down. Heaven.

20.3.05

They grow how high?

My neighbours, a retired couple, looked at me nervously over the fence. It’s OK, I don’t bite, I thought.

‘We, er, were wondering if you would mind cutting the tree,’ they said, indicating the tall pine tree on my property near the fence.

‘What, right down?’ I replied, somewhat unnecessarily. ‘It is a nice tree.’

‘Yes, it’s a little close to our house,’ they said.

I understood their nervousness in making their request, because they have three of exactly the same kind of tree in their back yard right up against my fence - giant green sentinels - forty or fifty feet tall. At their widest point, about six feet up, they slightly overhang the fence. On summer nights, the sun sinks behind them. Well, of course, it does every night. But on summer nights I sit outside and enjoy the sun going down behind the trees. In winter they provide a break from west winds. All year round they are home to families of possums.

So they want mine out and they think I’m going to say ‘What about YOURS up against MY fence?’ But I don’t because I enjoy their trees probably more than they do. And the trunk of my tree is just a few feet from their house, where the gas line enters. Theirs are not near any buildings.

But I’m going to do a little research before cutting it down. How much damage can a tree do? And how much bigger can it get? Don't answer that.

I did a little research. Pine trees. Cypress. Castlewellan Gold.

What is that? That is a Leyland Cypress. Cupressus Leylandii.

Which is a hybrid of ... two other types of cypress. Forest giants.

Cupressus Leylandii has no known maximum height. The first hybrid bred (do you breed trees?) has not yet finished growing and is currently ... 120 feet. And growing. (Apparently it grows higher in some parts of the world than others.)

One expert declared it completely unsuitable for residential areas, terming it the ‘bastard offspring' of its two parent trees.

Holy shit. Pass me the chainsaw.

Our suburb is full of these trees. It was built in the 1960s and Castlewellan Gold was clearly the tree of choice, fast-growing and hardy. Now they're all maturing. (Nurseries must have just made up a figure for the little labels - they used to print Maximum Height 40 feet. I visited a nursery - they're stilling selling them, but the label now reads Height After Ten Years 40 feet. They're clever, those nurserymen!)

I'll cut down mine, but should I tell my neighbours what I found out or let them do their own research? They might want to cut their three down as well overlooking my back yard. I don't want that, I don't really care how high they grow.

18.3.05

Uncles.

What were the uncles doing while all this cooking was going on? They were having a beer and singing a few songs.

Uncle Pat sang the most. Uncle Pat would have a few beers and then launch into his favourite songs. He had a high-pitched voice, almost a falsetto. Everyone loved hearing him because he was so amusing. He was - is - a very funny man. Everyone loves Uncle Pat.

Uncle Pat would be telling some joke and laughing and then he'd start singing Danny Boy and he'd get halfway through and then he'd start crying. And then everyone cried because you can't not cry when Uncle Pat is crying and singing Danny Boy.

I'll tell the story just for St Patrick's Day (my, how quickly another year has flown!)

*

One morning in the dark days of 1940, Pat's two older brothers, Daniel and Lawrence, walked out and enlisted. Daniel was barely old enough but Lawrence lied about his age. They were just boys.

Pat said goodbye. He must have been nine or ten, the youngest of five.

The first telegram - on a pre-printed Birthday Greetings letterhead - was dated 29 November 1940. It was addressed Att. Miss Frances Kennedy, Speciality Press, Little Collins Street, Melbourne:

Many happy returns. On way to Bonegilla. Love to all.
Danny.


Bonegilla was the departure point from Australia for overseas theatres of war. Danny was not yet out of Australia, but he wasn't too excited to forget his older sister's birthday.

Christmas came and went. Daniel found himself in Asia. (Lawrence never saw active service and ended up in New Caledonia where he picked up a smattering of French and took black and white photos. Mainly pre-war cars, bikes and buildings. Exactly what you'd expect a teenage boy to photograph. I still have many of the photographs. Lawrence was my father.)

1941 slipped by.

Another 'gram, date 2 January 1942, Christmas pre-printed letterhead, office of origin, 990 Malaya:

All my love. Keep smiling. Best wishes for Xmas and New Year.
Danny.


Then, less than a month later, another telegram. No festive letterhead:

I regret to inform you that Kennedy D M has been reported missing between 18 and 22 January. The Minister for the Army and the Military Board extend sincere sympathy.

Who knows what his mother would have thought? And who knows how she would have struggled to check her growing dread while hiding it from the youngest?

Another telegram, two days later, agonisingly devoid of any news:

From information received from overseas, we are now able to give you the following further details in regard to the above named. Missing believed wounded 18 or 22 January. Any further particulars will be promptly conveyed to you.
Lieut. Officer-in-Charge, Records.


Who knows how many times she cried at night, thinking about a lost boy in some jungle on the other side of the world, perhaps in pain, perhaps dead, perhaps captured? And who knows how much she would have dreaded the loss of her other son as well? While trying to be brave for young Patrick.

Shortly after this time, Pat's older sister joined the AWAS, the Australian Women's Army Service. She might have had a mad fleeting thought that maybe she would find him somewhere, bring him home.

They never found him and no-one ever knew what happened to him and the grief went on down the years and life went on as well.

*

And now, it's years later and it's a family party somewhere and Pat is singing. And then everyone is singing.

And, fleetingly, Danny Boy is in the room again.

17.3.05

Aunties.

When I was a kid, we used to visit our Aunties for birthdays and other occasions and there was always lots of food.

There was Casserole Auntie. The food she served at her parties was mainly casseroles. Huge steaming casseroles full of delicious stews and curries and lasagnes and macaroni bakes and savoury baked rice dishes and then, afterwards, more casseroles full of baked desserts like chocolate puddings and apple puddings and orange puddings and more delicious sweet things that rose dramatically in their dishes in the oven until they were just about overflowing with yumminess.

She must have had an oven the size of a barn.

Then there was Tray Auntie. Tray Auntie only served food on trays. She was always hauling out another tray from somewhere. There were platters of sandwiches filled with all sorts of things from asparagus to curried egg to chicken and mayo to avocado and bacon to cheese and lettuce to ham and pickles to roast beef and chutney to tuna and onion to turkey and cranberry. Trays piled high with home made sausage rolls. More trays with home made party pies, tiny individual meat pies accompanied with tomato sauce. If you've never caught the aroma of home made party pies and sausage rolls baking, you haven't lived. We could smell them from outside the house when we arrived. Then trays of cakes. She made things like pink and white coconut slice, chocolate peanut squares, fudges, butterfly cakes with the cream, little pink iced cakes in patty pans with 100s and 1000s on top, pink and chocolate lamingtons, toffees, those honey cornflake cakes and chocolate crackles. All lined up in neat rows on trays. She was most famous for her rum balls, little chocolatey fudgy balls rolled in coconut and redolent with the flavour of the islands.

Then there was Gourmet Auntie. She served the latest things which in those days were probably seafood cocktail, garlic prawns, salmon mousse, beef stroganoff, chicken with apricots, lamb with mango, savoury meat loaf ringed with slices of tomato and pineapple with a glaze, rissoles with sour cream and chives, roasts with the little paper chef's hat things on the upturned legs and salads containing twisted orange slices, sliced radishes and green onions with the ends flared. And carrot sticks with thousand island dressing to dip.

They were all wonderful but I think I preferred Tray Auntie because as kids we didn't have to sit down to eat. We could all charge inside the house - brothers and sisters and cousins and the dog en masse, rowdy kids that we were - stock up on party pies and sandwiches (some for the dog) and charge outside again.

I loved visiting my cousins.

I wonder why.

15.3.05

A night in town.

We checked into the hotel around midday.

First, lunch at a favourite Asian cafe - Wing Loong - where the congee is superb. The waiter brought out a tiny dish of chile and dried anchovies. The chile was off the scale and the fish flavour was intense. (It reminded me of the little packets of dried squid that my older brother used to bring home when we were kids - one of his schoolfriend's family ran a Chinese restaurant in the city - I loved that dried squid.)

We finished our congee and drank several more little cups of jasmine tea. Well, the waiter kept filling up the pot.

Then, shopping. The meter's on - I'm good for an hour or two. Fortunately T. is the same and we tire of it about the same time, look at each other and say 'let's get outta here'.

We wandered through the arcades and into the department stores. Mid-afternoon, sat at the window bar of the Myer Food Hall overlooking Little Bourke Street with coffee, watching Melbourne walk by. Then we drooled over the chocolate display. The cheese counter. The smallgoods section. The bakery. The cakes - so many cakes. You get the idea. When I was working in town I used to come in here and buy a couple of bread rolls and a slice or two of cheese or ham or whatever for lunch.

Later, we rode a bus up to the top of Lygon Street so we could walk back to our hotel past the scores of Italian cafes. Where to go for dinner? Too many choices. Little Italy. Chinatown. The Greek precinct on Lonsdale Street.

Six in the evening and it was still 30 degrees. A gin and tonic in our room and then we headed out. Can't make a decision, we'll just eat where we end up. In the end, we walked all the way to Rathdowne Street where Paris Go has been there forever. It used to be called Bullfrog in the seventies when it was a raffish French bistro with dark nooks and corners, bare candles on timber tables, a man playing French tunes on a violin in the corner, old black and white prints of Paris on the walls and - best of all - the full-on pre-'nouvelle cuisine' French menu. I used to go there as a student. You would stink of garlic for days afterwards. The escargots used to come in little individual earthenware pots filled with butter and garlic; the steak roquefort was topped with the genuine item - half an inch thick - before its importation was banned into Australia; and dessert was a magnificent creation called Coupe Mont Blanc, some kind of chestnut puree topped with cream.

Today's Paris Go is brighter and leaner, the tables and chairs are a little more 'severe' but otherwise it's much the same. We ate simply - T's steak-frites was perfectly cooked (which for her is well-done) with perfect fries and a crisp green salad. My filet bearnaise was superb. I like it rare: 'blue, thanks waiter, just walk the cow through the kitchen then cut a piece off' . T. had started with lobster bisque and I had the snails, minus the lttle earthenware pots. Still plenty of garlic butter, however. Bread accompanied, delicious French style baguette slices, so good for mopping up garlic butter! Glass of red as recommended by the waiter. He's the expert, I'm not. It was nice, whatever it was.

Dessert - T. had the lemon tart and it was exactly that - tart yet sweet, with a generous yellow blob of double cream and nothing else. No jus, no half a strawberry or dusting of sugar or artistic squiggle of chocolate or mint leaf. T. apparently enjoyed it. She was making noises. Oohs and aahs. I wouldn't know - she scoffed it without offering me a taste. 'Is that what ten years has done to us? Huh?' I teased. 'You are so not having any of my cheese platter!'

We had coffee and I had cognac and then we walked all the way back to our hotel past the cafes and restaurants lining Lygon Street. It was still hot and it seemed all of Melbourne was out eating, drinking, talking, walking.

11.3.05

Anniversary.

Where did ten years go?

March 11 1995, a sweltering Saturday, 38 degrees.

We were married in the Brunswick Town Hall, newly restored to its Victorian grandeur.

The ceremony was in the atrium - here - where champagne was served afterwards. Then we moved into the hall proper (I'm sure you realise these are not actual wedding pics, just googled images of the location!), where the caterer had created a cosy atmosphere with potted palms, a low bandstand in one corner, a dancefloor in front of that and round tables adorned with crisp white linen. The main meal was served formally (canapes had accompanied champagne in the atrium).

The bride was beautiful and the bride's father gave a speech few could understand and then he sang some mad Scottish song and danced a little jig that brought the house down and then the band played and everyone danced.

Dessert was a 'buffet' selection with waiter service, kind of a big mobile display on ice from which guests could choose and have it served to them. People like to move around at weddings and by the time dessert comes out everyone is on another table so it was a nice way to do it.

Then there was coffee and those little chocolate 'four' things and whisky and wedding cake.

Honeymooned at Port Douglas. We've been back since - in 1998 - and it would be nice to visit again. But not right now. It's about to be flattened by a cyclone.

7.3.05

Trail food: meat loaf sandwiches; chocolate crackles.

I was on the summit of Mt Donna Buang, about eighty kilometres from Melbourne, at six-fifteen on a very dark, very foggy and very cold Sunday morning. I must be mad. I had driven ninety minutes through blackness and nocturnal animals.

I sat there in my car in the dark car park. Then the headlights of two more cars appeared. In the cars were two more of our running group. We left two cars there and drove in the third car to the Millgrove school, where we dropped off a cache of food and continued to Mt Evelyn, where four more were waiting in the early morning fog.

From Mt Evelyn (which is a far outer suburb, not an actual mountain), we departed on foot back towards Mt Donna Buang, a half-walking, half-running trek of some 45 kilometres concluding with a brutal six kilometre and extremely steep uphill climb - straight up the back of the mountain. We were of necessity travelling light, hence the food drop at Millgrove, half way.

Much of the journey was along the Warburton rail trail, a flat twenty-plus kilometre section along what was once - obviously - the rail line to Warburton. The station platforms along the way are still there and sign-posted. We ran past them, right along where the rails used to be, puffing like steam trains.

We made Millgrove by eleven-thirty. Lunch! For me, meat loaf sandwiches. (On a previous trek I had taken nuts and dried vegetables - delicious - but they were too salty and dehydrating.) The others had various items, cold risotto, bread rolls, energy bars and gels, candy, biscuits.

After lunch, the terrain was undulating for a while. Then we hit the hill.

The track up the back of the mountain is entered from Martyr Road (ha!). There is a signpost over the entrance - a dark forbidding hole in a massive hedgerow of tree ferns and other rainforest-like foliage, like something out of Lord of the Rings - reading 'Mt Donna Buang summit track. 12k return journey. Allow 7 hours.'

We entered the black hole in the hedgerow and it was even more like Tolkien - a dripping, slimy track through what could have been Mirkwood. We emerged at the top in a little under two hours. There were patches of snow here and there.

We opened the cars and hauled out the end-of-run goodies. The chocolate crackles disappeared in minutes. When I was a kid, we called them rice bubble cakes. They were a birthday party treat.

Meatloaf, simple and easy:
Place 500g sausage meat in a baking dish (it can be boiled initially to reduce fat if required). Around it, place half a grated carrot, half a grated onion and a cup of rice. Sprinkle a pack of chicken noodle soup over it and pour in two cups of boiling water. Bake for an hour. Watch the fluid level. The rice should come out gluey and yummy. (An old recipe of my mother's from the fifties.)

Chocolate crackles.
Combine 250g icing sugar, 25g cocoa and 100g Rice Bubbles in a mixing bowl. Melt 250g Copha, add to mixing bowl and combine well. Spoon into paper patty pans and refrigerate until set.

Academics have all the answers as usual.

There was a double page spread in the Herald Sun (not online) about the growing incidence of child obesity.

75% of the article stated the obvious: children are eating more junk and exercising less. The rest drew the wrong conclusions.

One 'expert' offered strategies including keeping raw vegetable sticks in the fridge for afternoon snacks.

You gotta be kidding. Like I came home from school and ate celery sticks to stave off my adolescent hunger.

The academics, bureaucrats and food-nazis are in denial. Reducing childhood obesity goes way beyond middle-class adult obsessions with low-fat foods. The 'expert' went on to suggest parents 'talk' to their children about healthy food choices. What, have a discussion with your kids - while you're driving somewhere in the car, or maybe sitting around in the loungeroom - about kilojoule content and how chips are laden with fat? No, that just plays further into the food obsession culture and teaches children to regard food as some kind of minefield. I ask you to believe that a break-out panel accompanying the story actually lists the kilojoule content of a stick of celery.

Academics regularly suggest junk food ads are to blame. Clever academics - that theory blends two of their pet obsessions: the evil of capitalism and their prescription for ever-growing nanny state regulation of individuals, who are incapable - in their view - of responsibility for their own actions. What garbage. Turn off the television. Or just say no.

Blame goes everywhere except where it should - right to the feet of the parents. Why are children watching TV for hours on end anyway? Why are they sent to school too early in the morning to have breakfast, making them hyper-hungry later in the day and prone to eating only what is around instead of nourishing home-cooked food? Why are they in after-school care instead of going home to a robust afternoon snack, maybe a thick slice or two of buttered bread and some cheese, maybe a slice of pie - certainly not raw vegetables?

I haven't heard academics suggest the obvious - that maybe a parent in the house: cooking their children's breakfast in the morning, making their lunch to take to school and being there to create a haven to which children will enjoy returning; anticipating, every day, the aromas of robust, traditional home-cooking - not always 'low-fat' but always brimming with nourishment and comfort - may go just a small part of the way to solving the problem.

4.3.05

Where the HELL is my cake?

I love this anecdote from the Food Whore.

I do this all the time. Usually it's just smaller things, sunglasses, phone, maybe a pair of muddy running shoes after a race. Whatever.

But once I drove through the small town where I lived with a carboard box with a cake in it on the roof. I was driving a Volvo wagon so it didn't fall off (slow off the mark, you see) and people were staring and waving. Small town hospitality, I thought. I waved back with a big smile on my face as I drove down the main street. Aren't they all so friendly?

Then there was the time I went to the service station to vacuum my car at one of those giant vacuum stations with the big long stretchy hose.

I finished the job and replaced the hose. I drove out of the service station and home, about a kilometre. A couple of people standing by the bus stop waved. I'm just about thinking I must be famous with all the attention I get, just cruisin' down the street, and then I get home and do the big three-point U-turn and park outside my house.

Oh-oh.

There's the hose, caught in between the tow-ball and the fender, strung out thirty feet behind the red Volvo wagon like a giant reverse elephant's trunk or something. (They have a quick-release mechanism so that idiots like me don't drag the entire vacuum machine out of the ground when they get the hose caught up. That's why I didn't feel any jolt.)

It was even funnier driving back to the servo. The hose was too big to put in the car so I just drove right back there with it slithering along behind. The people at the bus stop waved again. God knows what they were thinking. I waved back with a big smile.

I drove into the servo, got out of the car, unhitched the stretchy hose from the tow-bar, dragged it to the vacuum machine and reconnected it. Beautiful.

The servo guy was looking out from behind the glass window in his little cashier's office. I swear his expression did not alter. Not a muscle in his face moved. He just ... stared.

I waved cheerily and drove off. Happy to brighten your day, I thought to myself.

I vacuum the car at home these days.

2.3.05

Twelve things to do with homemade pesto.

When you have made too much.

1. Smear it on toasted sourdough and top with poached eggs for a late breakfast.

2. Make bruschetta for an appetiser before dinner - toast some slices of a baguette loaf and smear with pesto, top with diced tomatoes mixed with finely diced onion, basil strips and balsamic vinegar. Include a slice of bocconcini or some ricotta for a variation.

3. Stuff a chicken fillet with pesto and some gorgonzola then wrap it tightly in prosciutto, sear in oil then poach in white wine.

4. Halve some cold hard-boiled eggs and top them with pesto and caviar as a picnic item.

5. Barbecue some swordfish steaks quickly and top with pesto just before serving.

6. Cook some linguine, slice an avocado, toss it all together with pesto and top with shaved parmesan. Amazing taste sensation.

7. Take a large hunk of your favourite cheese and top it with a smear - or more - of pesto. Wash it down with your favourite wine. That's all. Is there a better indulgence in existence? Didn't think so.

8. Combine a little with mayonnaise to dress fresh asparagus.

9. Make slits in a leg of lamb and stuff them with pesto before baking.

10. Add it to your salad dressing.

11. Running out of ideas now. It was a lot of pesto. Put it into smaller jars and give them to your friends.

12. Stand at the fridge and eat it out of the jar.

1.3.05

Summer's last day.

The last day (summer here ends February 28) was hot. Unlike many of the days of this summer past which has seen record rain, record low temperatures and a dismal tomato crop.

I took Canisha and Shanra to the local pool. Their mum - my son's partner - had a doctor's appointment - routine - she had a bout of cancer as a teenager. All OK.

34 degrees. The girls splashed and shrieked in the toddlers' pool. The elephant (it used to be grey when I was a kid, someone has since painted it pink - why?) squirted water through its trunk and they splashed in and out of the cool gushing water.

*

Later, we picked through the garden. Shanra is three and wants to do everything everyone else is doing. As you would at three, with all those brain cells growing and developing. She is hard-wired to learn just now.

The basil had gone wild, but few tomatoes. We picked the basil. She carried it. Two fat dimpled hands full of basil bunches.

What to do with it? Pesto. Shanra sat on the wide bench and I said to her, 'Can you take the paper off these?', showing her how with the first garlic clove. She sat studiously, peeling two garlic cloves, the ends of which I had removed for easy peeling.

I chopped the basil while T. roasted some pinenuts and then we made pesto. Canisha stood with her hand on the button. We placed the shredded basil into the blender with some mortar-and-pestle ground nuts, poured in a good measure of oil and some parmesan cheese and said, 'OK - BLEND!'. Canisha hit the button and it was a blur of bright green.

The aroma is amazing. We poured it into a big glass jar and covered it with a layer of olive oil.

*

It was still hot in the evening. The girls played with some books and pencils, coloured pencils. Canisha is fascinated with ghosts and vampires right now and wrote a story about a vampire searching out blood and major body organs. She wrote: 'The vampire went out searching for brians.'

Look out anyone called Brian. Canisha's vampire is after you.