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

28.6.05

The long journey.

He was due on Tuesday 21 June. We didn't know the sex. If a boy, he was always going to be William, after my late father. William arrived two days late, on Thursday June 23.

June 23 is my father's birthday.

*

We were having coffee in Brunetti's, the best cake shop in the universe, when labour set in. We drove home, a half hour drive, called the hospital. They said, come in at once. We drove back in. The hospital is not 200 metres from Brunetti's.

*

Contractions slowed. They sent us home in the evening. T. slept not a wink, noting contraction times. Back to hospital Wednesday morning. It was a long day's journey into night. Shifts of midwives and nurses came and went. At half past ten, I slipped out into the cold and walked around the corner: Lygon Street. The cafes north of Grattan were mostly closing, but on the south side some stay open into the small hours, some all night. I went into Notturno, an old favourite, for a bowl of gnocchi and a glass of red. And then a long macchiato - to counter the soporific effect of the pasta and wine.

*

I was back in the ward by eleven thirty.

Wednesday slipped into Thursday.

William arrived at eight minutes to four.

*

I was home by six a.m. to tell Goldie, our elderly Brittany, we hadn't left town. I slept two hours and was back at the hospital by nine.

T. was still awake. Imagine not sleeping at all for two entire nights and giving birth in the middle of it all.

She's a tired girl.

*

William has her rosebud mouth but his long head is definitely O'Brien.

He has eyebrows. They look like they are painted on.

His hair is light brown.

25.6.05

IT'S A BOY.

William was born Thursday morning after a marathon labour lasting ... a long time.

4094 grams.

Or 9 pounds and one ounce. I think.

All well.

More later.

Thank you, God ... and the Angels at RWH.

18.6.05

Dinner table conversations.

Or lack of.

Isn't that just perfect?

Thanks to Barry Dublin.

The kitchen's upside down. What's for dinner?

The refrigerator is in the dining room connected to power via an overhead extension cord.

The six-shelf cupboard we use as a larder has also been emptied and moved. Half its contents - cans, jars, bottles, packets - are piled high on the small round table; while the other half - cooking magazines and cookbooks in their hundreds - completely cover the large dining table. (Have you any idea how heavy several hundred books and magazines are? Nobody should need that many recipes. I think I'll throw them all out.)

The reason? We have just had the dining room floor polished and the kitchen floor retiled. It took a while. It's a project T. started on a whim - the week before Christmas - by tearing up the floor in the dining room. 'It's the week before Christmas,' I had said, 'and you have just ripped up the dining room floor and we have scores of people coming for Christmas!' 'So?' T. replied. 'We're eating outdoors.' You have to admire a woman who can start renovating the week before Christmas and not get stressed about it.

Now the job is complete. Yes, there were delays. It's amazing how fast six months goes when you have a job in progress. But the small dining room is glowing with a nice timber finish, not too glossy; while the kitchen is sparkling with a newly tiled floor.

Tomorrow I'll move the furniture and its contents back. In the week they've been displaced, I've been trying to run down stocks so that there would be less to move back.

*

So we got to last night. What's for dinner?

There's handful of walnuts, some fat black olives, an onion, some mushrooms, a chile pepper, a green capsicum and a can of diced tomatoes. Some frozen peas. Hmm, sounds like provencale sauce, something I usually cook for pasta.

I bought some nice white-fleshed fish from the market.

Fish Provencale.

Place the walnuts in a pan and warm them gently just until they start to release the aroma of their oil. A dash of olive oil, a chopped onion and a dozen pitted olives. Then the capsicum, sliced; the chile pepper and the mushrooms, sliced. Turn the heat way down low, give the pan a couple of shakes and replace the lid. Everything will sweat and release delicious aromas. Then add the can of diced tomatoes, a cup of frozen peas and maybe half a cup of water. Simmer.

In another pan, start to fry the fish very gently in a little oil. When it's about halfway done, pour the simmering sauce over it. Cook until fish is done. Serve with cous cous and silverbeet wilted in oil and garlic.

Eat in the loungeroom with dinner balanced on your knee because there's no room at the big table. Or the little one.

13.6.05

Dinner at mum's, a rather large cake and a trip to the airport.

Saturday afternoon, T. produced a magnificent hummingbird cake. Once it was iced with cream cheese, flecked with toasted coconut and topped with pecans, it was only about as big as the Sydney Opera House. The cake was our contribution for Saturday night, which was ...

Dinner at Family Central - my mother's house - for my youngest brother's birthday. (Thirty-seven? I still think of him as barely into his twenties, if not an actual teenager.) He and his partner recently announced they were expecting ... and they already know it is a girl. If this family baby boom continues we will all be needing larger houses.

It was a nice evening. Various brothers, sisters and nieces were in attendance. My sister-in-law had flown in from Alice Springs to stay overnight at Mum's before her Sunday morning flight to California for a conference in Santa Cruz. Tomorrow mum will fly to Alice Springs to mind junior while his mum is in the US. Her husband - my older brother - works odd hours at Alice Springs Hospital, which serves about a million square kilometres of central Australia.

The table groaned beneath the usual buffet items: casseroles - one a simple beef and vegetable, another a kind of chili and corn; a chicken lasagne; a couple of vegetarian casseroles, fragrant with curried and spiced beans and potatoes, etc; a platter of grilled vegetables - eggplant and the like and a simple but particularly delicious curried zucchini side made by sister-in-law #2. I think there was a rice dish as well. I didn't get around the whole table, the evening only lasted several hours, there just wasn't time.

My mother, of course, sat down for probably two entire minutes all night and spent the rest of the time trying to force people to eat more food. Meanwhile, baby Amali sat on various knees and gazed at proceedings with big blue eyes. Then, a bit of a cry and off for a feed and a sleep. Four months old.

The hummingbird cake was a hit, but there was stiff competition from a massive wine trifle and an apple crumble with pouring cream and vanilla ice-cream.

I drove my mother and sister-in-law to Tullamarine Airport at seven o'clock on a dark, cold Sunday morning. It was busier than Bourke Street during sale time. Where on earth are all these people going?

Hummingbird cake.

Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and line one large springform tin or two smaller tins.

Sift 2 cups self-raising flour, a half teaspoon of bi-carbonate of soda and a half teaspoon of ground cinnamon into a mixing bowl. Add a cup of brown sugar, half a cup of shredded coconut and half a cup of chopped pecans and stir to combine.

In another bowl, combine two lightly-beaten eggs, two large ripe bananas and three-quarters of a cup of oil. Fold this into the dry ingredients along with a tin of crushed pineapple, well-drained.

Pour or spoon batter into pan(s). Bake 45 minutes for the single pan or about 30 for the twin pans - check with a skewer.

For the cream cheese icing, beat 100g softened butter, 200g cream cheese, a teaspoon of vanilla essence and two cups icing sugar until smooth. Carefully slice cake into two sections (or use two pans which we didn't have), spread icing through middle, replace top and spread more icing over entire cake, decorate with toasted coconut and whole pecans.

9.6.05

Baked Tasmanian Atlantic Salmon and sweet potato.

OK, Tasmania is nowhere near the Atlantic, but if Pacific Oysters can be grown in Adelaide (on the Southern Ocean) and Sydney Rock Oysters in Albany, Western Australia, then who's going to have a problem with Atlantic Salmon from Tasmania? Not me. Especially when it's as good as it was this morning at the market.

Here's how T. cooked it: (She gave me the night off, I've been doing all the housework - man, that is EXHAUSTING.)

Marinade for the salmon: a dessertspoonful of seed mustard, the juice of a good-sized orange, a generous splash of tamari, a teaspoonful of honey and a couple of drops of sesame oil. Mix, pour over salmon fillets, into the fridge for half a day.

Peel and slice a sweet potato, place in a baking dish, cover with foil and bake fifteen minutes.

Remove from oven, add salmon to baking dish, pour marinade over fish and sweet potato. Cover and bake for fifteen minutes, removing foil cover after ten.

Served with mashed potatoes and spinach wilted with chopped garlic and olive oil.

The flavour of the salmon demands something different to the usual chardonnay ... maybe a Tahbilk Marsanne.

Or, even better, a few of these.

8.6.05

Snippets.

I've always wanted to write a Snippets column. Growing up in the sixties, I loved stealing Dad's Herald - the now-defunct Melbourne afternoon newspaper - and reading In Black and White by E. W. Tipping. Others wrote the column after Tipping was gone but he was the best.

*

Six-thirty Sunday morning. I was driving across the foothills of the Dandenongs towards Healesville. The hills rose away to left and right as I crested a rise and was suddenly gazing over the Yarra Valley, its early morning mist like a liquid gold sea, lit by the rising sun. A hot air balloon in the distance hung still in the air, like a light bulb in an empty room.

There is something special about Sunday mornings.

*

The 'mountain run' at Healesville was on a loop of 4.3 kilometres which we ran three times, crossing the dam wall each time. The scenery was beautiful if you cared to notice it. Running up the hills was hard, but down the other side was worse. I almost ended up in the scenery several times.

Afterwards, the usual post-race morning tea with the usual contributions from everyone. Except for 19-year-old Tom, who uncharacteristically brought along a bag of fruit - oranges, apples, bananas. Turns out his parents are overseas for a couple of weeks and had left fruit for Tom and his sister. They don't eat fruit. Tom was off-loading it.

*

Sunday night: roast lamb. Baked with a sprig of rosemary from the garden and garlic cloves. With roast pumpkin, roast potatoes, roast onions. And cabbage, par-boiled and then sauteed with finely chopped bacon and butter. And a kind of mint gravy - mint from the garden, chopped and simmered with some vinegar, a little sugar and boiling water, added to the pan juices from the roast.

Glass of red. Sleep.

*

Malcolm is one of my running friends. His wife was due at the same time as T., but has just had the baby, three weeks early. They are returning to Scotland after a year of guest lecturing and were having trouble with the red tape associated with getting a visa for the babe. You'd be tearing your hair out.

*

T. thinks it's a boy. We have a boy's name picked but not one for a girl. A few weeks ago, T. was coming out of the osteopath's when a woman, another patient, approached her, looked at her bulge and said, 'I can tell that your baby is a boy. I've not been wrong in over 200 guesses! And it's not about the shape, it's just that I can tell.' Well, she would say that, wouldn't she? We will see.

*

21 degrees today and yesterday. And a drying north wind. We're in the depths of winter, but today was like an early spring day. Drought is choking the country. Rain is forecast for tomorrow.

Late today, the forecast changed to 'light' rain.

5.6.05

Outback New South Wales.

That's where T's very best friend, Mary, lives.

For Mary, shopping for basics, like milk, bread and the 'papers, is half an hour away. Real shopping, i.e., fresh fruit and vegetables, groceries etc, is two hours' drive, which is also how far she has to go for a decent coffee.

Her parents-in-law live next door, which in outback NSW is just down the road.

Let's think about that for a minute. Imagine having your mother-in-law two hours closer to you than a good coffee.

No, I can't think about that.

Mary has three children, the oldest and youngest of which were born in the big shopping-and-coffee town; while the middle child was born prematurely in Sydney after complications which resulted in the sad loss of its twin.

Mary visits Melbourne every few months or so for whirlwind visits with family and friends; however she doesn't usually stay with her family as her mother is 'trouble'!

While she was in town the other week, we had lunch in Rathdowne Street, at the Rathdowne Food Store where we all used to meet years ago. Mary had brought down her youngest, Emily, with her, who is ten months of smiling gurgling happiness (until she tired of playing with coffee spoons and started crying).

Mary was overjoyed when T. told her she was pregnant and has been a great long-distance friend and source of advice for her. She also very kindly shipped down a load of baby clothes and equipment including a car capsule.

It's an odd thing. T. always thought she wanted to live in the country while Mary is essentially a city girl.

T. and Mary were student 'housemates' when they moved in next door to me in Brunswick in 1992. That's how I met T. We were neighbours. When the baby is born, Mary is the first person I will call.

2.6.05

Things you get around to ...

It's funny how you earnestly discuss your plans for years and then, one day, things just ... happen.

No, I'm not talking about having babies, I'm talking about buying a muffin tin.

We kept saying to each other, Oh, we must get a muffin tin, in that vague manner which is partner code for Instead of going out to coffee shops all the time and paying five dollars for a muffin, we probably should bake our own muffins. But not yet!

Then, about ten weeks ago, there it was in the supermarket, a beautiful non-stick muffin tin with spaces for six extra-large muffins.

Since then, T. has baked probably several thousand muffins which may be a slight exaggeration. (I do a lot of the cooking, but T. bakes. Being of Scottish descent, baking is her sixth sense. You should see the kitchen cupboards. There's about seven different kinds of flour in there yet every time I go to the shops, T. asks Can you get some more flour?)

She's done everything from choc-chip to plain sugar-dusted to pumpkin to cheese. You can put anything in muffins. Within reason. And they freeze well.

Banana and Pecan (or Walnut) Muffins.

Mash three ripe bananas. Add two eggs, one and one quarter cups milk and three-quarters of a cup of oil.

In another bowl, mix two cups of self-raising flour, one cup of plain flour, one teaspoon of baking powder, a cup of brown sugar, a teaspoon of cinnamon and a cup of chopped pecans. Or walnuts.

Introduce the wet ingredients to the dry. T.'s tip is to just fold them through without heavy beating - for a lighter texture.

Have your oven pre-heated to 180 celsius and twenty-five minutes later the heavenly smell of fresh-baked muffins will greet your nose. So put the kettle on and we'll have a coffee break.

I think we just sent several local cafes to the wall.