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

30.9.05

Fourteen weeks.

He lies in between us in the morning.

He's been fed; and we have breakfast, being very careful with the tea.

He can grasp. The newspaper is appealing. It rustles, you see.

A small hand clasps and jerks.

I wasn't reading it anyway.

28.9.05

'Eat your orange/yellow/red vegetables.'

It used to just be 'eat your vegetables', now they want us to eat one of every colour. Something to do with phytochemicals in the pigment. Either that or the Sesame Street generation has grown up and is running the health bureaucracy.

That's OK. I don't care what colour my food is, as long as it tastes good.

Stuffed yellow capsicums.

Take two yellow capsicums (here's one pictured with his red friend thanks to the New South Wales Department of Agriculture) and slice their tops off.

Brown an onion in olive oil, add minced meat - pork and veal is good but I used beef this time - brown, add salt and pepper, a good slosh of tomato paste, a few pinches of zatar for a middle eastern touch and plenty of chopped parsley. Mint from the garden if you have it as well. Now add rice - probably one third in volume compared to the amount of meat - and enough water for absorption. Stir it through and cook on low as the rice absorbs the fluid.

Stuff the capsicums with the meat and rice mixture, place in an oven dish with a lid or cover with foil. Bake until capsicum is done, probably 30-40 minutes.

Perfect with a glass of wine. The red one, of course.

25.9.05

Migrant approved for re-entry into Australia.

The Federal Government has approved entry into Australia for Frenchman, M. Roquefort.

M. Roquefort, a native of south-western France, will be admitted into Australia - without having to spend time in a detention centre - following a decision by Canberra bureaucrats last week* (if 'decision', 'Canberra' and 'bureaucrats' can be used in one sentence, which I doubt).

M. Roquefort has been living in a limestone cave in his native France but is certain to be welcomed into dining rooms all over Australia. He was last in the country in 1994 before being declared an illegal immigrant by a previous administration.



*I love the way a news story about French cheese being allowed to be sold again in Australia appears highest on Google in an Arizona newspaper!

23.9.05

The new house.

We picked up the keys last week.

I had noticed there are no wire screens on the windows and no evidence of any having ever been there.

Inside, the window furnishings are 1950s cream venetian blinds, side drapes of gold satin and filmy lace between. All in good order, just a little dusty. I raised the venetians with some difficulty, they appeared not to have been lifted for a long time.

Behind them, the double-hung sash windows are original shellacked cedar, twelve throughout the house.

Many of the sashes were stuck. I wrestled them for most of the day. Just one failed to respond. The rest eventually squeaked along their vertical tracks.

Every counterweight cord was clean and in perfect condition. Regular use should grey the cords because of the oil or metal stain from pulleys.

Amazingly, these windows appear not to have been opened for decades.

22.9.05

Asparagus.

IT'S HERE!

And who needs a recipe. Just scald it for a few minutes in boiling water and eat warm, dipping the ends in mayonnaise or hollandaise. Don't worry about cutlery in the privacy of your own home. When you eat like this, asparagus IS the cutlery.

Or sprinkle it with vinaigrette or just lemon juice and cracked pepper.

Or wrap it in prosciutto ... roll it in pesto ... shake the tender ends into a salad with quartered boiled eggs, mustard, capers and maybe some anchovies.

It doesn't matter what you do, just pour a nice crisp white wine, sit outside and watch the sun going down later ... and later ... and later ... and bite into that delicious herby yet meaty, delicate yet robust asparagus flavour - a flavour that is hard to describe - and rejoice in the arrival of spring.

Did I mention I like asparagus?

20.9.05

It's all in my head.

The mind can remember up to seven separate items and then it struggles. I heard that theory somewhere, not sure where. I start to struggle around five. Sometimes four.

So I go to the supermarket with seven things to remember.

Yogurt. Timber polish for the 1930s Tasmanian Oak wardrobe, currently stored in the garage, that will resume storage duties at the new house. Shoe laces for a pair of running shoes that are still perfectly good but have gone through several pairs of laces. Clean up your act, shoelace manufacturers. A can of one of T.'s favourite comfort foods, Tom Piper Rice Cream. Milk. Bread. What else ... I'm right on memory capacity. Oh yes, something for dinner.

(Why write a shopping list when this is such a great way to preserve your mental faculties? I could always read the daily newspaper, but where's the intellectual stimulation in that?)

Where was I? In the spice aisles. Heh. We're feeling a little jaded so I'm looking for something tasty that won't take a heap of work. That Massaman curry paste looks nice. All I need are some chicken thigh fillets and a can of coconut milk.

*

It's getting late so while T. holds a conversation with W., prior to the latter's bedtime, which is stabilising very nicely, although daytime sleep patterns are still wildly askew, I quickly made the curry.

Chop an onion, brown it a little, add the Massaman paste (deliciously spicy, not too hot, just the thing to pick up that tired palate), stir it round, rip the top off the coconut milk, go to pour it in the pan, notice it has 'bits' in it, arrest the arm at the top of the upswing position a hundredth of a second before the Tom Piper Rice Cream goes into the curry.

I don't know, it might have been OK, a little sweet, but T. would not have enjoyed a can of coconut milk for supper.

*

The rest of the recipe, nothing to it: cook the coconut milk into the Massaman paste then add sliced chicken thigh pieces. Meanwhile boil some cubed potatoes until three quarters done and add them to the sauce. Cook until done. Serve. Jasmine rice and maybe a salad of red capsicum, cucumber and yogurt on the side. Cold beer on the other.

(Genuine Asian pastes are available at Asian groceries and some larger supermarkets and are a great alternative if you don't have all the spices necessary for the various regional curries and other dishes. And, of course, they are far better than most of those horrendous jars of cook-in sauces. I mean, Stir-Fry Tonight, WHAT IS THAT?! Not that I'm a food snob or anything.

16.9.05

Friday, I'm tired, but this will make a nice dinner to end the week.

Sweat button mushrooms in a pot, add a sliced avocado over the top to warm while the mushrooms cook.

Cook rigatoni according to pasta instructions. Add quartered brussels sprouts a few minutes before cooking time ends, sliced zucchini a little later and snow peas right at the end when you switch off the heat source.

Meanwhile, add pesto to the mushrooms and avocado to warm through.

There's not a lot of work involved so far. Well, not really.

Now. Drain the pasta, sprouts and snow peas. (The snow peas were just added a minute or so ago, right? They're still green, not grey.)

Throw the pasta mixture back in the pot and add the mushroom and avocado and pesto mixture. Fold through.

Serve after having dusted very generously with grated parmesan.

Vegetarian friends will congratulate you on this dish because it is sublime. Non-vegetarians will, as well.

12.9.05

Bread.

Everyone has a favourite bread.

I've had many favourites over the years, ever since my family's bread was delivered in the early '60s by Mr Goodwin, the baker's man, driving a Morris van up the street, and before that, a horse and cart. I barely remember the horse, but apparently it used to eat the foliage on the tree at the front gate while Mr Goodwin was patiently waiting for mum to make her selection from the basket - pipe loaf, unsliced high tin, brown or white sandwich loaf or dinner rolls with poppy seeds, all fresh from the bakery.

Then I grew up and someone opened a French bakery somewhere and we discovered French bread, chewy but light, with an amazing depth of flavour. To this day, I believe soft, runny cheeses taste best on a hunk of genuine fresh baguette.

After that, I went through a rye bread stage, smearing it with creamy butter and dipping it in chicken broth.

Parathas, naan, chapatis, those toasted Greek bread rings with nutty sesame they sell in the deli, bagels, pumpernickel, damper on a stick, crumpets, I've tried them all.

Now I can't make up my mind which is my favourite bread. On Sunday, I bought a pack of Lebanese pita from A1 bakery, one of the best middle eastern bakeries in the Sydney Road food strip, although they're all pretty good. A1's version is particularly light and has a delicious chewiness. Children adore this bread, especially when you roll it up with cheese or mortadella. Even butter and vegemite. Even nothing at all. It's that good.

Chicken with lemon and garlic in pita bread:

Slice some chicken thigh fillets into one inch pieces and place in a very generous marinade of lemon juice, garlic and olive oil. Don't hold back on the lemon juice or the garlic. Leave overnight.

Barbecue or grill the chicken over high heat. You can skewer them but it's not necessary. Cook quickly to almost char on the outside while retaining moistness inside. I use a very heavy iron pan which I heat first and then drop the chicken pieces on, along with most of the marinade which evaporates, allowing the chicken to remain moist.

Drop a round of pita bread over the cooking chicken for about ten seconds. In that time it will soften further and take up some of the barbecue flavours. Any longer and it will start to dry out.

Now quickly assemble - a generous scrape of hommous or babaganoosh on the bread, add the chicken, add slices of tomato and onion, some parsley or tabouleh, chili or garlic sauce (or both), a dollop of yogurt, a further squirt of lemon juice, salt, pepper. Roll up carefully, slice, place halves side by side on plate.

Delicious.

So today, that's my favourite bread. But tomorrow, who knows?

10.9.05

The pantry.

Occasionally I idly wonder how long one could live on the food we stockpile in the pantry. Or larder. (What's the difference between a pantry and a larder?) And why do we keep so much food? It's not as if we live several hours from the nearest supermarket, as does T.'s best friend M. - who lives somewhere in outback New South Wales and has to drive two hours for a cup of coffee not made by herself. There's a store not a hundred metres from our front door.

Moving house provides an ideal opportunity to run down stocks. I've already thrown out dozens of empty glass jars - why do we keep empty glass jars? - and other hoards. An entire drawer of plastic bags. A box of string, twine and that plastic fishnet stuff that onions come in - all useful for tying up tomato plants. All out. We can collect again at the new place. Or not.

And the food: dried beans and peas. One of every colour. They look pretty on the shelf. Yellow split peas. Green ones. Red lentils. Brown lentils. Brown rice. White rice. Arborio rice. Brown organic arborio rice. Sushi rice. A big bag of A-1 Basmati rice, imported by Ravi Imports from Manzoor & Company, Lahore, Pakistan. Best by 10-2005. Best get cooking curry!

Cans by the score: tomatoes - Italian - I recently stocked up at 49 cents a can in Sydney Road - you can't beat that. Tuna: in springwater, in olive oil, in brine. With chili, with lemongrass, with tomato salsa, with vinaigrette, with pepper. Once, tuna came in only one flavour - tuna. Now there are hundreds. We've got the complete set. There's probably even tuna with chocolate. I didn't read all the labels.

More beans - chick peas, red beans, white beans, four bean mix, baked beans. Corn. Beetroot. Sliced peaches. Halved apricots. Quartered pears (yum, I love canned pears - I used to make a dessert with pears, red wine and vanilla ice-cream, haven't done it for years). Soups: cream of chicken, cream of asparagus, cream of mushroom.

Then there's the freezer. I suppose we should make inroads on that before moving. God knows what's in there.

8.9.05

6am.

The paper hit the drive. The dog doesn't even fetch a slipper let alone a newspaper so I opened the front door, greeted the day and picked up the newspaper.

Every year there's a morning like this. Something in the air. It smelled like summer. The noise was different, a kind of early morning hum, not like winter's cold, wet silence. And there was a welcome warmth.

*

The kettle has boiled and tea is brewing in the blue and white teapot, Duchess 'Genevieve' bone china, made in England. Milk jug and sugar bowl, Carrigaline traditional blue ring design, made in Ireland. Cups and saucers, Bristile vitrified china, made in Australia.

Front page of the newspaper - the fifth cricket test between England and Australia is lead story. A slow news day is kind of a relief in these times, isn't it?

*

I turned the page, poured milk into the cups, picked up the teapot and poured the tea ... into the milk jug.

*

I do like mornings.

6.9.05

The magnolia tree. Etc.

Ten in the morning, sunny and calm.

William lay in his pram, parked beneath the flowering magnolia. He gazed up at the fat pink buds, thinking who knows what. (Probably not that the possums had eaten maybe half of them.)

*

Then off to lunch with W's older sister. We visited the same cafe to which I used to take my two older children most Saturday mornings when they were growing up. Milkshakes and ravioli - yes! - for them, coffee and toasted sandwiches for me. It was always the same. The place hasn't changed in years. It's tucked away in a little arcade off a main shopping street. The coffee was always great. Still is.

*

We spent a few days at the beach last week. No damage from the storms, but a tree went through an old man's roof in Dromana.

You'd think I was obsessed with gum trees. Must be through reading the tragic Seven Little Australians as a child.

Incidentally, that book should be compulsory reading for today's children. Something of an antidote to the kinds of books that sometimes pass for children's literature today. Looks like publishers are trying to capture the attention deficit disorder market with plot, language and design as lurid and vapid as most television shows. Cynical? Maybe.

*

The For Sale sign went up outside our house today. We went shopping for carpet for our new house.

3.9.05

And another thing.

OK, the weather settled down but I'm still angry about this case.

The weather reports and wind warnings were unequivocal.

'Do not go near trees.'

They went near trees. They camped under trees. The girl died.

The college spin started. 'We followed guidelines.' No, you let the girl camp under trees on a night in which severe warnings had been issued.

'We were in a designated camping ground, not "wild bush".' Gumtrees in camping grounds know not to drop their branches?

I'm not the litigious type but I hope the family sues their sorry asses.

Because if you can sue a company for the cigarettes you smoked, for the building materials you built a shed with; if you can sue a municipality because the geese at a public park pecked you and you tripped and hurt yourself (all true cases) then by heavens! someone who allows a child in their care to camp under a gumtree in the wildest weather in the face of clear warnings of winds should be ... no, I've changed my mind. Forget litigation. I believe there is a case for criminal negligence.

More food later. I'm not in the mood right now.