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

31.10.05

Max.

The previous post was the shorthand of the move (I'm still not online in the new place - waiting ... waiting ... ) but here's the detail of what happened on the day of the move.

8am. I had the entire house packed up in cartons (including my reading glasses - and yes, I found them - in the glovebox of the car), ready for the removalist who was booked for nine. Fridge switched off, food in coldboxes, etc.

9.10am. I'm in the driveway looking up the street. Nothing but blue sky and gumtrees on the verges waving their shaggy arms. Getting anxious. People should be on time.

9.20am. I called the removalist. I knew immediately by the sound of the voice on the other end of the line that something had gone wrong. The girl said she'd check and get straight back to me. The girl didn't get back to me. Max got back to me. Max is the boss. Max said the truck had broken down. Max said maybe we wouldn't be moving today. I said maybe Max should hire another truck and get its ass into my driveway ASAP if not RFN. Max said don't be like that. I said I'm not like that, Max, but I can be on occasion and this is one of those occasions, Max. Get me a truck, Max.

10am. I'm working the phone, trying to find another removalist at short notice. No luck.

10.45am. The phone rings. I have a truck, said Max. One of the other jobs finished early, said Max. It will be there in fifteen minutes, said Max.

11.10am. The truck backs into the driveway. One driver and one assistant, not much older than fifteen. I had a chat to him later. He was the driver's younger brother.

*

Max didn't admit it, but there had been no breakdown, of course. They just forgot the booking. If you break down, the first thing you would do is call the customer. They didn't call. Max obviously realised how stupid it would sound if he just said, oh, we forgot. Because even if people are stupid, they don't want to sound stupid. People are like that.

*

So it all turned out fine in the end, just a couple of hours late.

*

A piece of advice. If anyone's moving house, when you ring up the removalist to get a quote, ask if there is anyone there called Max.

If there is, hang up.

27.10.05

I'm sure I put them somewhere ...

We're in.

There are boxes in every room, still waiting to be unpacked.

Has anyone seen my glasses?

24.10.05

Blue skies.

Moving day at last.

We have just eaten an early breakfast. Porridge with stewed fruit and yogurt. Toast. And lashings of tea, hot and sweet.

Just waiting for the van to come now.

The forecast is rain, but just now the sky is as blue as William's eyes, which are as blue as his mother's.

21.10.05

Kitchen comparison.

Only four nights left to cook in this kitchen, I thought idly to myself as I plunged the pasta - some nice linguine - into the rapidly boiling salted water.

While it has been a generally good kitchen, it was a little short on storage space and, being an early 70s design, suffered from the poorer materials and craftsmanship of the era. The veneers are prone to peeling and cracking, the cabinet door hinges tend to loosen and the doors bang noisily instead of shutting with a satisfying 'thunk'. Not shabby, just a little tired.

By contrast, the kitchen in the new house (new as in 'next' - it was built in 1948) has retained its totally original solid timber cupboards, benchwork and storage. It is exactly as it was when the house was built, except for the stove and oven which date back to probably the late 60s. But everything is spotless. It's like visiting your elderly aunt's place. The previous owners, an old couple, maintained it perfectly. While it offers about the same usable space as our present kitchen, its higher ceilings and better design make it seem airier, larger. Even the spotless enamel paintwork gleams in its typically early fifties buttercup and grey with cream accents.

*

I cooked the linguine, drained it, reserving a couple of tablespoonsful of the liquid, then returned the pasta to the heavy pan with the liquid and decorated it with sliced tomatoes, quartered semi-boiled eggs, boiled but still crisp green beans, slices of kasseri cheese and thin slices of onion. Parsley, salt, pepper. I put the lid on and let it all warm through and then served it just like that.

This was better than I thought it would be. I kind of made it up as I went along. I was only going to have tomatoes and cheese, but as usual I got carried away and added the other things. I suppose that makes it a kind of warm Pasta Nicoise. Without the tuna. And the olives. Although those would have been nice as well.

19.10.05

The cupboard and the broken tile.

What a pleasure it is to is clean up old furniture; seeing original finishes emerging through dust and grime.

The cupboard my father made decades ago was too large for our current house, so it has been in storage along with several other items.

I dragged it out into the sunshine, with difficulty. It's all solid timber, tongue-and-groove, dowelled and glued joints - no staple gun for Dad. It is more of a sideboard, I suppose, seven feet long, eighteen inches deep and four feet tall.

Adding to the weight, of course, is the mosaiced top T. added several years ago using broken up excess tiles from her ceramics work. It's magnificent, a kind of spreading rays of the sun effect with mainly yellow, blue and white tiles from her 'lemon tree' period.

(Broken tile warning: when the mosaic project was almost finished, broken tiles glued down, but edging and sealing not completed, I carelessly ran the back of my hand along the top edge of the cupboard. A fragment of tile at the edge, broken on the angle, projected an almost invisible shard of its clear top glaze, sharper than a knife, across which the main knuckle of my middle finger passed. There was almost no pain. The tendon was sliced through as cleanly as with a surgeon's knife.)

*

There is just the spot for this cupboard at the new house, under a west-facing window. It will look nice and remind me of Dad. Plus you can fit a lot of stuff into a seven-foot-long, mosaiced-top cupboard!

18.10.05

Another summer approaches, languidly.

At last!

An evening that was almost balmy and I'm out of the house before you can say Barbecue!

In the garden, the trees are alive with blossom - the apple is particularly beautiful - and birds are trilling everywhere, especially in the old pine that rises high out of next door's back yard. The setting sun casts its golden glow over everything, including my mood.

The coals in the barbecue are glowing, the table is set (check tablecloth, nice glasses) and a gin and tonic is sitting there saying come and get me with its lemon slice smile.

So I come and get the gin and tonic and I sit back and I sip it and I think to myself, what a wonderful way to spend summer evenings.

Then I remember we are moving to a new house next week. With not so nearly as beautiful a garden.

(Hmm. That's OK. It's a blank slate. And I have already started planting - a score of hedge plants, a camellia, a couple of roses and a few other things. And a vegetable garden down the side - tomatoes, zucchini, herbs.)

Where were we? Putting the chicken on the grill. I'm cooking it on the bone, and I've wrapped each piece in foil with a lot of lemon juice, garlic and a dash of olive oil so it stays moist and tender longer. When it's three-quarters done, I pick some sage, rosemary, parsley and oregano from the herb garden and, removing the foil from the chicken, I place each piece on a bed of herbs back on the grill for a lovely fragrant taste. And aroma!

Slices of zucchini and red and green capsicum have been grilling away as well. Some nice fresh bread and a green salad, and that's our first barbecue for summer.

Now the sun has almost gone, but a full moon is rising.

Dessert? We had called into Achillion earlier in the day for some galaktoboureko and baklava. I don't know what it is about Greek cakes, they just go with early summer so well, especially when you are eating outdoors. All that unctuous honey ... delicate filo pastry ... sensuous custard.

Chocolate cake just wouldn't be right, would it?

14.10.05

What to eat with a beer.

Not many more cold nights (I hope) so let's have an old-fashioned dinner of corned beef, the one that boils away for hours and steams up all the windows and smells as delicious as it tastes.

Into the pot goes the beef, covered with water, together with a cup of brown vinegar, four cloves, a teaspoon of brown sugar, an onion and a dash of nutmeg.

Corned beef must be accompanied by cabbage. Either boil it or bake it into a 'cake' with white sauce*. This last is particularly delicious. If you like cabbage. I do.

Serve with plain boiled potatoes (I like them so well boiled they are just about melting) and carrots. I prefer a very hot English mustard with corned beef. A nice mustard-flavoured white sauce is a good alternative.

What to drink with corned beef? Beer, beer or beer. Yes, even on a cold night. You cannot drink wine with corned beef. I don't know why, you just can't.

*

Doesn't get much more Australian than that - hot corned beef, a slice of white buttered bread and a cold VB.

(My dad would have had a cup of tea instead of the VB. He had a cup of tea to go with everything, breakfast, lunch and dinner. And then a cigarette.)

*Finely chop three cups of raw cabbage and fry it with a chopped onion in some butter so gently that it doesn't brown. Combine this with a cup of white or cheese sauce and turn into a casserole. Top with grated cheese and breadcrumbs and bake 20 minutes or until crumbs turn brown.

12.10.05

Old news.

Breakfast in bed is a small luxury. The tray, the teapot, cereal with nuts and fruit. William gurgling in the middle, kicking his little legs. And the newspaper.

Oh, yes the newspaper. I had poured the tea (two sugars for me, none for T.), then I peeled the plastic wrap off the newspaper. I stared at it dumbly for a few seconds. It was yesterday's. I don't usually even speak before two or three cups of tea, but I had quite a bit to say.

There is a history to this. Despite 'guaranteed' delivery by 6.30 a.m., the paper is delivered anywhere between 6.45 and 8.30. And sometimes not at all.

Now I can't decide whether getting yesterday's newspaper is worse than not getting one at all. I'm thinking it is.

10.10.05

Famous author almost goes blind; writes bestseller.

Despite almost going blind last year, Australian-born author Colleen McCullough has just published her latest book.

McCullough doesn't care for critics. 'I don't give a s---,' (about lukewarm reviews) she says in an interview in Weekend (not online).

She does know good writing, however: "When I'm listening to Beethoven, the note that follows the note before is the only note it could have been. When I get that feeling out of a book, when the word that follows the word before is the only word it could have been, that's awesome and you just want to get down and genuflect."

Her new book, On, Off, is also her first whodunit, drawing on her career as a neurophysiologist. (McCullough spent ten years at Yale Medical School after setting up the neurophysiology department at Sydney's North Shore Hospital.)

Looks like this summer's ideal beach read.

Mmm, summer. Bring it on. Barbecues. Heat. Cold beer. And a good book or two.

9.10.05

Fettucine with chicken, cream, mushrooms and spring vegetables.

It doesn't have a name except what it is. And that's what it is. And it's delicious.

Simple and easy, too. I sliced some chicken thigh (you can use breast) and poached it, along with a scored clove of garlic, in a little olive oil and a dash of white wine, using a pan with a close-fitting lid. I sprinkled some finely sliced button mushrooms over the chicken. They softened and gave off their juice, keeping the chicken moist.

Meanwhile, I cooked some fettuccine. Towards the end of the cooking time, I added first some green beans chopped into two inch lengths; then some broccoli florets; and last, some snow peas before immediately draining the pot.

I had also added a couple of tablespoonsful of cream to the chicken and mushrooms, and reduced it slightly. Then I simply tossed the lot over the pasta and vegetables. A little parmigiano and some chopped parsley to finish it off.

Glass of red.

7.10.05

The old wardrobe shop.

An old man, probably 85, sat in the corner of the shop, a second-hand goods shop, set up for a charity. It was his day to be on duty.

The shop was jammed with old furniture, bric-a-brac, wardrobes.

The old man gets up from his chair behind the old desk. He slurs and wheezes - obviously had a stroke some time in the past. 'Can I help you?'

Yes, sir, you can help me.

I bought a wardrobe.

The old man had all the keys for all the wardrobes on a string. He fumbled with them, couldn't get the right key to fit the wardrobe. 'People pinch 'em,' he slurred and wheezed. 'All the time.' He's like, eighty-five.

'Let me help you,' I said. I unlocked the wardrobe. It had shelves on one side, a hanger on the other. Perfect.

Here is this frail octogenarian, humour in his watery blue eyes, watching his autumn years - maybe months - roll away in the cause of charity. While mean-spirited low-lifes steal keys out of charity shop wardrobe doors from under the noses of the elderly.

*

Another old guy came into the shop, the afternoon guy. They filled out the delivery form together.

6.10.05

William invents the wheel.

Well, he rolled over, it amounts to the same thing.

Once on Monday. He couldn't get back again. Stuck on his stomach.

Tuesday he rolled back again. Technique improving.

Today, three consecutive rolls in one direction. If I don't keep an eye on him, he'll be in the next room.

I wonder if primitive man thought of the wheel when watching his babies roll around on the floor of the cave on those nice soft bearskins.

5.10.05

Garden party. Finger food. White linen.

Perhaps one springtime day in ten is still, sunny and warm - all at once, and all day - in Melbourne. That was Sunday.

So one last garden party before we move to the new house. Just a casual kind of finger food affair, partly because we were nostalgic for the party food of our childhood - and there were children coming - and partly because a good deal of the crockery is packed away in boxes for the move. Yes, I know you still need plates for finger food, but you know what I mean.

Didn't stint on the linen, however. The crisp white linen tablecloths, probably forty years old, starch up beautifully and look magnificent spread on tables on the lawn under the canopy of the trees. (Until they are splattered with tomato sauce, splodges of food, spilled drinks etc, but that's at the end of the party. At the start they look great!)

*

Oh, the food. Let me see - there were sandwich platters: tuna, onion, cheese and parsley; curried egg with finely chopped celery; tomato, red onion, capsicum and rocket with mayonnaise; plain cucumber; plain cheese. After all these years, cocktail frankfurts with dipping tomato sauce are still a hit. Haven't had these for years but they all disappeared pretty quickly. Next up were miniature meat pies, which we still call party pies, and home-made sausage rolls. I must admit that pastry aroma coming out of the kitchen smelled good.

*

Most of the time, William slept in his pram, its white netting keeping the bees away, under the apple tree. There is something serene and peaceful about babies sleeping in their pram on the lawn on a beautiful spring day.

Except when they wake and cry. Then all hell breaks loose and you have to pick them up.

*

There were chocolate crackles and that kind of thing, ice-creams in cones for the children and, later, I brought out the huge cake I had made in honour of the birthday girl, T. - a significant birthday if it can be described that way. The cake was chocolate with a filling of strawberry jam and cream and iced all over with chocolate butter icing and dusted all over with chocolate and icing sugar. We sang Happy Birthday to T. and to nieces Kim, 10, and Caitlin, 13; both significant birthdays as well.

Sausage rolls.

Mix sausage meat and minced beef in a 70/30 ratio, and combine this with a grated carrot, a minced onion, a splodge of tomato sauce, a lesser splodge of sweet chilli sauce and a good shake of white pepper. Form it into a sausage about an inch thick, roll it in puff pastry sheets, slice into two inch sections, brush with beaten egg and bake half an hour or so in a good hot oven until nicely brown. Serve immediately with tomato sauce.