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

25.4.05

The hush is deafening.

Comment This is either down or completely out.

I'll give it a few days and then maybe change the comments host.

Meanwhile, my email address in is the sidebar.

24.4.05

Dinner at Morgan's.

I don't really enjoy going out on Saturday nights.

It's not the going out or the Saturday night parts that I don't enjoy, it's just that every idiot in town is out as well and the traffic is bedlam.

It was the athletics club annual dinner, held at Morgans at 401, right in the centre of the city.

The plan was to drive as far into the city as possible and then jump on a tram for the rest of the way. Easy.

Once we reached Royal Parade it didn't seem so busy, so we drove into Elizabeth St and then, after a hook turn at Collins, found an on-street park DIRECTLY OUTSIDE Morgans. And the meter is free on Saturdays. Amazing.

Pre-dinner drinks in the gallery.

I've been to these dinners before, of course. There are always speeches. Sometimes several. Sometimes they are crashingly boring. Especially when delivered by sports bureaucrats from some government organisation with an impossible name such as the Department of Sport, Recreation and Leisure (Community Participation and Facilitation Strategy Implementation Unit - Western Region).

Why don't they just get a stand-up comedian? When you run all year, why would you want to hear a speech about sport for two hours in between entree and main course on the main social event of the year? Speaking of main course - ah, here it comes at last.

Main course: tenderloin of chicken, bone in, with mashed pumpkin and a veloute of vegetables and a reduction/jus/wine/herb-infused pool of gravy/brown liquid/whatever.

It was OK. But the mashed pumpkin? We just had pumpkin soup. What's dessert going to be? Pumpkin pie?

Then the President came up to the microphone and announced some 'rather bad news'. The night's guest speaker had failed to appear and there would be no speech.

Faces around the room brightened noticeably for just a fleeting moment before politely frowning their disappointment at being deprived of the pleasure of sitting for the next hour or so listening to some windbag talking about strategy implementation, thinking outside the envelope, shifting the square and achieving outcomes.

Soon dessert was served.

Dessert: Lemon tart with berries and a red jus covering half the plate like a king tide.

And ice-cream served silver-service style. The waitpeople came around serving ice-cream balls to go with the lemon tart.

'One ball or two, Sir?' the waitperson demanded, tongs at the ready.

I am totally serious. This actually happened. If anyone is thinking of getting into the restaurant or catering game, DO NOT EVER DO THIS. IT DOESN'T WORK. IT IS JUST WRONG. PEOPLE DO NOT WANT BALLS OF ICE-CREASM SERVED SILVER SERVICE STYLE.

Phew.

Then the annual prizes were handed out. In place of a guest speaker, the oldest person in the room, a club athlete from the 1940s, was invited to present the trophies.

This beautiful old man strode painfully but purposefully to the podium, leaning heavily on his walking stick. He patiently handed out the trophies while the President read out all the various achievements, and while the athletes posed for photos.

Then, afterwards, the old champion took to the microphone and said 'Congratulations to all of you. I, myself, joined the club after the war,' adding (by way of clarification) 'the second world war.' The dear old man thought we may otherwise have believed he was in the Great War. He went on: 'I remember my days at the Melbourne University Athletics Club with great fondness and I hope you all will feel the same in the future. Well done!'

And with that he hobbled off the stage.

I have never heard such thunderous applause.

22.4.05

'Shut up or you're off to the pet shop.'

What a household:

Simon, about 30, has a turn of phrase to make polite visitors blanch. "He's upset a few people here," Mrs Gordon says.

The young are so coarse these days.

... the eldest of the flock, Winston, 99, likes a cup of tea.

I'm sure she needs it with Simon walking around cursing all day.

21.4.05

Cold weather fare.

Brr.

The days are still warm but the nights are cold. Winter is coming, and with it, stews and soups.

Lamb Shank soup was a winter staple when I was growing up. On the way home from school I could smell this amazing aroma from like half-way up the street. On entering the kitchen and heading straight for food, as you do, there would be a massive two-handled pot on the stove, bubbling away and filled to the brim with carrots, parsnip, onion, barley and parsley, with the succulent meat falling off the bone. 'No you CAN'T have some yet. It's not ready. I've just put the barley in. Here, eat this half loaf of bread instead! And some cheese! Or the rest of last night's rice pudding!'

(In those days, you would never find lamb shank in a restaurant, it was considered a quaint, homely dish that you wouldn't go 'out' to eat.)

I like this version of lamb shank stew.

Lamb shanks with red wine and rosemary.

Brown four shanks in oil after dusting them with salt and pepper. Remove shanks and add two chopped carrots, a large chopped onion and a couple of scored garlic cloves to the pan. Saute, then add two cups of red wine, two cups of stock, a can of diced tomatoes with their juice and a dessertspoon of chopped rosemary. Return shanks to pot and simmer for a couple of hours if you can wait that long.

Serve with polenta or garlic mashed potatoes.

(Shanks are all the rage in restaurants now. The poor man's 'cheap' cut is now gourmet fare. But do they really have to serve the shank sticking bolt upright out of the mash like a tree trunk on a small island?)

17.4.05

Dumplings.

Preston Market is possibly the best market in Melbourne. It is currently marketing (no pun intended) itself as the market at which locals, not tourists, shop. Clever strategy - the perfect way to attract non-locals and tourists is to pretend that only locals shop there.

If that makes sense.

It's great for breakfast on a Saturday morning. If you like pizza. No kidding, the breakfast of choice at Preston Market is pizza, although last time I went there early on a Saturday morning I had a burek, straight out of the oven and bursting with melting cheese and spinach. And a coffee. You can't beat sitting in the open plaza in the early early morning sun, weekend newspaper spread out, watching busy shoppers stocking up for weekend barbecues and family feasts.

Across the road from the market, there's a Chinese cafe that specialises in dumplings. It's a homely kind of place with condiments and chili on all the tables and a TV set in the corner tuned to Hainan TV. You can sit there at lunchtime on a Saturday, eat enough dumplings to sink a ship and watch TV direct from China. Chinese commercials have a gay, colourful, graphic 1960's retro feel about them. Quite refreshing after the attitude-laden and downright offensive rubbish that passes for most television advertising.

Where was I?

Oh yeah, dumplings. We thought we should try them at home.

I bought a pack of Jiao Zi - boiled dumpling - wrappers for $1.50 at one of the Asian food stores. There's about a hundred in a pack, so we're going to be eating plenty of dumplings, delicious little pouches of yumminess swimming in soup.

Chop up a generous handful of prawns and mix them with some well-chopped spring onions, a little chopped ginger and coriander, a splash of fish sauce, another splash of tamari, a small spoonful of corn flour and some rice wine, just a sprinkle. Mix it into a reasonably firm consistency, spoon an amount into the middle of each dumpling wrapper, fold each in half and press the edges together to seal them into semi-circles.

I made a kind of soup with stock and some more coriander, ginger and garlic, dropped the dumplings in and they puffed up beautifully. Fresh bean shoots and chinese basil on the side - toss the bean shoots and shards of the basil over your soup for a sensational crunch, texture and flavour sensation. Add some chile for heat ... maybe a little extra tamari ...

I think we made up and ate about 25 or 30. That means we've got up to seventy dumpling wrappers left to fill - with minced chicken and corn, minced pork, bean curd, vietnamese mint and crushed peanuts ... dumpling options are endless!

14.4.05

What I burnt last night.

Everyone burns things occasionally, but if you really want to do the job right, burn some lentil soup.

Man, those lentils turned black and set as hard as a rock. I think I just invented a new element. Lentillae Solidae Pottus Carbonus.

It was a good soup. When it was soup, before it became a tectonic plate.

Sweet potato, two odd-shaped carrots from the garden, a sprinkling of cummin. And the lentils - red lentils.

Smooth, deep orange, creamy and with just a warm glow of spice. Delicious. With a swirl of greek yogurt and a scattering of black pepper on top. And some turkish bread on the side.

I did think I had turned off the stove. But I didn't. I left it on. Low, but on.

An hour or two later, the smell of molten lava hit my nostrils.

It wasn't molten anymore. Back in the '60s, my father used to mix his own cement, sand and screenings to make concrete. He would have been proud.

Now what do I do with the pot? I might try vinegar and bi-carb soda.

Or I might just throw it out the back door and go buy another one.

13.4.05

Bushfires, carrot seeds, ants, cravings, grammar, trees ...

For a blog entitled What I Cooked Last Night, I sure haven't been writing much about last night's dinner lately.

So: here's what I cooked last night.

Spaghetti Marinara.

You can buy 'Marinara Mix' at supermarkets and even at the fresh food markets. At some places it's good and at others it's dreadful.

Usually I prefer to make up my own.

I bought a nice thick piece of swordfish, some fat prawns, some calamari and some scallops.

Set the pasta to boil in salted, oiled water. Slice the swordfish into cubes, peel the prawns, slice the calamari into rings.

Cook an onion in some olive oil, score two cloves of garlic and throw them in (don't burn). Then add half a glass of dry white wine and a grind or three of black pepper. Then add some chopped very ripe tomatoes or a can of diced ones. When it's simmering away nicely add the seafood - fish and calamari first, then prawns, then scallops.

By the time you check and drain the spaghetti, the sauce should be ready, it doesn't take long for the fish to cook through, maybe five minutes depending on your pan, the heat and the size of the pieces. Don't overcook. The swordfish cubes will be particularly succulent and delicious.

Top with chopped parsley and a mere squeeze of lemon. And more pepper.

(I don't always use swordfish. Swordfish makes it a particularly rich dish - any other fish is fine.)

A nice big buttery Chardonnay to accompany.

Sometimes I vary my marinara recipe - by adding some juicy black olives and a chopped chile; using less tomato and a dash of cream; or by using different seafood.

And that's what I cooked last night.

*

Now, did I mention that my monster Cypress has been taken down? Now I'm wondering what to put in along the fence. I'm thinking Plumbago hedge ...

12.4.05

Wilson's Promontory.

I'm glad I visited my sister the other week - I got to see Wilson's Promontory before the State Government burned it down after bungling a 'controlled' burn-off of 200 hectares that has so far razed 7000 hectares and spreading.

The spin coming out of Spring Street is something to behold. It will result in 'glorious displays of wildflowers' in spring. 'No animals have been burned.'

Yeah, sure - we're from the Government and we're here to help you.

We're from the Government and we're here to burn the place down, more like it.

11.4.05

Romeo's.

There are two kinds of restaurants in Melbourne - ones that are so edgy you think you're going to cut yourself on the furniture and others that haven't changed since cocky was an egg (old farm expression my grandfather used to use).

Romeo's is in the latter category, all dark timber walls and furniture, waitpeople wearing black and white and smiling, menu ignoring a generation of food trends. We visited again the other day after a long hiatus, maybe ten years.

Toorak Village was basking in sunshine, early on a golden autumn afternoon. (It has been unusually warm for two glorious weeks in Melbourne; as if to make up for the rainy, unpredictable summer.) We walked past the fashion shops, the galleries, the Post Office and the book shop and took a window seat at Romeo's.

T. ordered the spinach lasagne while I chose the Caesar salad. The lasagne is a house specialty - pasta, tomato, spinach and bechamel in perfect balance. Just as I remember it. Romeo's version of Caesar rises about ten inches off the plate. I kept finding more egg, bacon, anchovies and croutons hidden in a jungle of cos, generously oiled with mayo.

Afterwards, we had coffee (decaf. for T.) as the Number 8 tram trundled up towards Glenferrie Road.

'Everything OK?' asked Nick behind the bar as I paid the bill.

'Perfect. Just the same as ten years ago,' I replied.

'Nothing changes here except my hairstyle,' he smiled, pointing to his receding hairline.

We emerged into the sunshine and strolled along Toorak Road. The Number 8 was clanging across Grange Road on its return trip to the city.

6.4.05

Carrots.

In the garden shed, I have an old tin of seed packets. I 'inherited' the tin from a house we lived in some years ago. The previous owner - Mr Treadwell, a keen gardener - had left it along with a glasshouse full of orchids and a shed full of tools.

We used the seed tin for our own seed packs, just placing them on top of the old packs.

I finally went through the tin the other day.

The label on one pack, right at the bottom of the tin, reads Carrot - Manchester Progress. Tasty and Tender. Deep Rich Colour. Yates Reliable Seeds on the front and, on the back, Price 12 cents. Good For Sowing Season 1969.

I guess I probably shouldn't bother sowing them.

(I presume Manchester Progess was a proprietary variety of Manchester Table.)

4.4.05

Mashed potatoes? Rosella tomato soup?

T. came in one afternoon quite some time ago now (I was at home) and said to me, 'I would like some mashed potatoes right now.'

'That's fine, honey!' I replied. 'Easy! We'll just peel some spuds, set them to boil - and after a while, we'll beat them up with some salt and pepper, maybe a little milk, maybe some olive oil, and you'll have your mashed potatoes! Then we can go out for a run ... or walk the dog!'

'No, you don't understand. I need mashed potatoes RIGHT NOW.'

A few days later, she came in with a similar bizarre request.

'I want a bowl of tomato soup. With a slice of cheese on top. And some toast on the side. And the tomato soup has to be Rosella tomato soup. And I want it RIGHT NOW!'

*

I suspected. And I was right. And many readers will already have guessed.

*

We're due late June. God willing, and all going well, Andrew and Erin will have another half-sibling. Along with Matthew.

Canisha, Shanra and Aria will have ... let me think ... an Aunt or Uncle? That cannot be right. But it is. I think.

Gerard, Anne, Lisa, Martin and Joseph will have another nephew or niece.

My mother will have her eleventh grand-child. (While already having six great-grand-children.)

And Natasha, Gerarden, Shawana, Nyen, Alinta and Kiara will have another cousin. And Amali will have ... this is getting harder ... a second cousin? A grand uncle or aunt?

I don't know.

All I know is there's a baby on the way.

Thank you, Patron Saint of Having Babies Later in Life.

If there is one.

2.4.05

Breakfast on Brunswick.

The white plate was the size of an average steering wheel and the pancakes rose about five inches above its surface. But you couldn't see them at all. They were covered in blueberries. Completely.

The blueberries cascaded down the sides of the pancakes. Way up there on top was a huge dollop of maple butter, slowly melting into the sweet blue-black syrup.

Maple butter is one of the best things you will ever taste. Especially at nine-thirty on a sunny Saturday morning with nothing else to do for the rest of the day except enjoy the unseasonal warmth, maybe lay in the backyard on the banana lounge and read a book. Or not. 30 degrees yesterday and 32 today. We are having the summer we didn't have in December, January and February in April. If that makes sense.

*

So we went down to Brunswick Street, sat outside Nova Cafe and had breakfast in the sun. Goldie sat under the table, emerging every time another dog walked past. There were plenty. A Kelpie, a pair of Maltese Terriers, a Staffordshire.

First a coffee. The waiter brought out a large bottle of chilled water and two chilled glasses - on the house. That's quality.

Then the pancakes.

Passing by, people's eyes almost popped out of their heads when they saw the size of the pancakes.

Others were having the Nova Big Breakfast, an enormous plateful of everything you could think of including eggs any way you want, hash browns, tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, a lamb cutlet and a chorizo sausage. Did I mention the slice of sourdough bread you could use as a doorstop?

*

I used to go out for breakfast all the time in more hedonistic days. Couple of lattes, maybe a croissant filled with ham and cheese, maybe a toasted sandwich, read of the paper. Beautiful. Usually University Cafe or Ti Amo in Lygon Street, sometimes the Food Store in Rathdowne Street, sometimes Pellegrinis in town.

Then we moved further away and the breakfasting out days were fewer.

Saved a lot of money though!