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

30.11.05

The trouble with coriander ...

... is that it grows like wildfire and then turns to seed, unless I'm doing something wrong.

So I pulled out the plants, picked off the remaining green leaves and cut them up finely - it yielded about a cupful.

Then I placed them a bowl with 125g of butter and a finely chopped chili, beat it all up, rolled it up in foil and threw it into the fridge to harden.

Ever tried baked, halved sweet potatoes with pucks of coriander butter sitting on top and melting over the sides? Delicious.

29.11.05

"Port, anyone?" "No, but I will have some of that nice liqueur muscat."

Europe wants its names back.

Fair enough, they can have all their names back but they'll have to pay for what's in the bottle.

24.11.05

Herbal remedies. And a comfort pasta dish.

We gained title to the new house several weeks before the actual move, so we had been coming down and fixing the garden so it would be in order by the time we moved in.

There were two of those old laundry troughs in the backyard near the fence. They catch the full afternoon sun and they were full of old soil and weeds. I removed the old soil, put in new, added some compost and transplanted some herbs from the old backyard. Some of these herb plants are very well-travelled and have followed us all around over the years. The oregano, for example, came originally from the beach house. You just rip it out and stick it in the ground somewhere else.

I think I overplanted. It's a riot. Oregano is prolific, of course; the sage has taken off and there's more coriander and parsley than we can use. The spinach is almost ready and there's a whole sideway garden of it.

*

The other night, I made an old standby dish, the kind of thing you cook when you don't want to think about it - pasta with tuna, cheese and peas.

Cooked the pasta - linguine - opened a can of tuna, grated some parmesan. Went to the freezer to get some peas (which I throw into the pasta pot just before the pasta's ready). No peas. Hmmm. I know, a can of corn.

Drained the pasta, back into the pot with the tuna, the cheese and the drained corn. And a bunch of chopped herbs, coriander and parsley.

It was quite nice. We sat outside, must have been about 8.30, 9, still warm. William asleep in his bed, Goldie snoozing in her kennel, herbs rioting silently in their trough.

22.11.05

Picnic with greyhounds.

Let's get the food out of the way first: a cold chicken salad.

On a bed of rocket sat slices of chicken breast that had been poached in white wine and garlic. Over the chicken were slices of ripe avocado, leaves of basil, generous shavings of parmesan, a sprinkling of toasted pinenuts and a light dressing. Kind of an unconstructed pesto. Accompanying that were halved hardboiled eggs topped with mayonnaise, fresh buttered bread rolls with whole seeds, coffee from a thermos, fruit cake from the store and the Sunday newspaper.

*

We sat on a check blanket in the shade of, but not directly under, an ancient and sprawling gum tree at the top of a large, gently sloping paddock. About a hundred greyhounds were milling about and in an adjacent fenced-off paddock, some 'hounds were off-leash, flying around like mad things, remembering their racing days and trying to decide whether or not they still enjoyed it.

It was the annual greyhound adoption program Christmas picnic.

One man had five greyhounds of different heights on leashes. They stood there with their heads resting on each other. It was the cutest. The man fosters them and then can't give them back. Can't blame him. He's got six bedrooms and no kids, he told me. They get a bedroom each.

Goldie, the aging Brittany, had a great time. She's almost blind but enjoyed 'catching up' with her old friends.

They had all the usual events; the dressed-up greyhounds, the waggiest tale, the best wannabe greyhound (Goldie paraded a greyhound racing coat, but a Pomeranian won) and the raffle: Blue ticket A35! roared the announcer. I glanced down at my ticket and seconds later I found myself holding a bottle of very nice Mornington Peninsula pinot noir.

Then they launched the 2006 adopted greyhound calendar. I made it! April 2006! I'm just a lowly kitchen hand but you can call me Mr April! It's a photo that T. took of me with Huey, one of our foster greyhounds. In the photo, I'm feeding him an ice-cream in a cone.

There just had to be food in it.

17.11.05

Why ...

... can I walk most of the way from the kitchen back to my office without spilling my coffee, but it always spills within four paces of my desk?

15.11.05

My sister-in-law, the smuggler. And a recipe I can't spell.

The tram freed itself from the Sydney Road scrum and jerked to a stop at Park Street. I was in a seat towards the back, idly gazing out the window, thinking about nothing in particular.

Some people got on the tram. Oh, look - it's my sister-in-law, H. She saw me at the same time and made her way down the aisle.

H. is English and beautiful and has a kind of old-fashioned manner about her that is charming.

She sat down next to me and we chatted as the tram sailed regally down Royal Parade under the massive elm tree canopy. She told me she was flying to Tasmania this weekend for her father's birthday, for which she was going to cook up a feast.

Then she pulled a small package out of her bag and showed me the contents. Curry leaves. Not dried curry leaves, fresh ones. She had been to the Indian deli in Sydney Road that sells groceries from the sub-continent and they have a local source for fresh herbs not available elsewhere.

H. leaned across to me, held out the curry leaves, gave me a sample sniff and then whispered conspiratorially, 'I have to get these to Tasmania!' Then she sat back and waited for my reaction.

'I know what you mean,' I replied slowly, 'the beagles at the airport.'

'Yes,' she said, one step ahead of me, 'but I could put them in the post!'

'Aha! Clever,' I murmured. And then, 'Do they have beagles at the post office?'

'Not sure,' she replied, 'but it's worth a try!'

Nothing will get in the way of a woman determined to get her ingredients to the kitchen, even across the boundary of a State that has a quarantine on fresh fruit and vegetables. But does the quarantine apply to curry leaves?

H. had already done some investigation. She told me she had called the Tasmanian government tourist office and they hummed and hawed and didn't know whether fresh herbs were among the items not allowed into the island State. Well, it is a government tourist office. You wouldn't expect them to know anything.

*

The sight of beagles sniffing out fruit smugglers is quaintly amusing in a world of aircraft guards, airport metal detectors and other anti-terrorist measures. I was at Launceston airport a couple of years ago and while waiting for a flight, I watched the beagles doing their work. They sniff all the passengers and their luggage and occasionally catch someone with a bag of apples or maybe an orange or a banana in their carry-on luggage. Often, the 'smuggler' is not aware of the quarantine laws or may simply have forgotten about the apple in their bag. But they still look as guilty as your average terrorist when the dog finds their illegal stash!

*

Dhal with fresh curry leaves.

Often spelt 'dahl' but I'm going with the 'h' before the 'a' because 'dahl' looks like a pet name for a close friend.

Wash a cup of yellow or red lentils, then fry them gently with a chopped onion, a sliced green chili and a quarter teaspoon of turmeric. Add 750ml of water and cook until tender and mushy. Remove from heat and mash well, adding more water if necessary. Return to stove.

In another pan, crackle half a teaspoon of mustard seeds in oil, then add a sprig of fresh curry leaves and two chopped red chilies, frying until curry leaves are discolored. Add this and salt to dhal and simmer for another five minutes.

Eat as a side dish with curry or simply with some naan and yogurt.

11.11.05

The UTTS Principle.

It was late. Without measuring anything, I scattered a bunch of spices over some pieces of chicken on the bone; garam masala, coriander, cumin, chili - all that kind of thing - threw the pieces in a baking dish, crushed up a few curry leaves, threw them in as well, squished a lemon over the lot, slammed the lid on the dish and flung it in the oven.

It was one of those nights when you throw things around like an ace card dealer on speed rather than doing things daintily like Delia Smith. Because sometimes you don't have time to be dainty.

I was going to bake the chicken pieces and cool them for tomorrow. To eat with - I don't know - lettuce, yogurt, chutney, mango pickle, the coriander that's growing like wildfire in the garden, whatever.

- Don't forget to turn off the oven, T. said, yawning and retiring.

- I won't, I said, yawning and staying up. The book was good.

*

It's not that I forgot to turn the oven off, it's just that I didn't remember until 4.30 a.m.

I sat bolt upright in bed thinking did I or didn't I. Not even waiting to put on a dressing gown, I went to check and yes - still on. Funny thing was, I couldn't smell anything burning.

Opening the oven, I drew out the dish, holding it with a folded teatowel (the old one with cats on it and holes in it - it's a favourite, can't throw it out).

I lifted the lid and quickly replaced it before the mushroom cloud had time to grow bigger.

I just took the whole thing outside and placed it a long way from the back door. (Luckily the back door didn't slam shut. A naked man stuck in his back yard at four thirty in the morning holding a redhot baking tray containing a kilogram of carbon with a cat themed teatowel would be wrong on so many levels.)

*

Conclusion 1: this oven seals really well and is well flued. I've burnt plenty of things in the past but I always smell them before they are carbon. Obviously ovens have different seal qualities.

Conclusion 2: Use The Timer, Stupid. Ironically, I just made a comment the other day over at Janis Gore's blog about looking at the clock on the wall instead of using a timer. My excuse is that, at the old house, the timer was electronic - LED - and wasn't functioning. The timer on this oven is manual, the old twist-dial tick-tick type. I'll start using it. It has a nice old-fashioned 'come and get it' ring, no nasty buzz.

*

Later: Here, Goldie, want some burnt chicken?

She walked away.

10.11.05

Lemon butter sandwiches.

A post by The Food Whore about pomegranates brought back memories of my own school days.

(Or if you were cynical, you might just say she gave me a story idea. OK. She gave me a story idea.)

As everyone knows, apart from breakfast and dinner, lunch is the most important meal of the day and at school, lunchtime meant I got to stop doing something boring and uninteresting - schoolwork - and do something fun and interesting instead - eat.

Sometimes we ate at our desks - one year our teacher read a whole chapter of a novel aloud to us every lunchtime and I sat and ate and listened, drifting off into a kind of otherworld combining food and fiction, creating an association between eating and writing which has stayed with me to this day. If that makes sense.

We had sandwiches nearly every day and as I was one of seven children, that means my mother made approximately eighteen billion sandwiches between 1959 and 1986. That's a lot of brown paper bags.

We had vegemite sandwiches, sardine sandwiches, tomato sandwiches, Peck's paste sandwiches (anchovy or salmon), cheese sandwiches, peanut butter sandwiches, baked bean sandwiches (they're better than you think), beetroot sandwiches (ditto), strasburg sandwiches, kabana sandwiches and banana sandwiches.

Then one day someone gave my mother a huge load of lemons and she made about fifty jars of homemade lemon butter and for the next six weeks we had homemade lemon butter sandwiches and I never got bored with them for the whole six weeks because it was delicious.

There was, however, the occasional deviation from sandwiches.

There was a fish shop on the corner, just metres from the school, and on Fridays the school allowed the children to order fish and chips from the fish shop. In the morning, all the orders were delivered to the fish shop and at lunch time we went to the shop and collected boxes and boxes of orders, all individually wrapped in newspaper, marked with the right names and steaming with the aromas of salted and vinegared fish, chips, potato cakes and scallops. I can smell it to this day. Beautiful.

What wouldn't you give to be back in Grade Five, around about midday, waiting for your teacher to start reading a new chapter from an exciting novel while opening up your fish and chips? Or your homemade lemon butter sandwiches?

*

Thanks for the story idea, Food Whore. And since I'm channelling other people's work today, here's a wonderful lemon butter story, picture and recipe from fellow Melbourne blogger Niki.

8.11.05

Saturday.

The weather was, at last, sensational. So we had a weekend at the beach. William had his first 'swim'.

*

It was a hot day and as the sun blazed its way through the afternoon I thought, mmm, mussels in white wine and garlic and maybe a touch of chile because there is no better meal to look forward to on a hot Saturday night especially when there is a fishmonger right down there on the main street with a chalkboard out the front with the hastily scrawled words fresh mussels.

The big pot went onto the stove just as the sun was dancing with the ti-tree, casting liquid gold mixed with long spindly shadows into the big west-facing kitchen window. Into the pot went three or four finely chopped garlic cloves, a cup or so of dry white wine and half a dozen chopped spring onions. Touch of chile if you like. I liked. I cleaned the mussels and tossed them into the wine as it came to the boil. I shook them around. I heard them opening. Crack, crack, crack.

I scooped them into large glass bowls and poured the fragrant liquor over them, being careful to scoop up plenty of the garlic and onion. Then I threw some chopped fresh parsley over them.

*

This is sensual summer eating at its best: oysters as an appetiser, as natural as the sea and wearing nothing but a squirt of lemon juice. Then the mussels, plump and orange, with fresh, crusty bread to soak up the delicious briny juices and the garlic. Did I mention very cold beer? Well, I should have.

*

Nine o'clock. The sun was almost gone. In a bowl in the middle of the table, the empty mussel shells were stacked up, carefully, like a game of pick-up sticks.

4.11.05

Once upon a time ...

... many years ago, maybe twelve, I knew what it felt like to be a bird in a nest perched high in the tallest tree on earth.

It wasn't a nest. It was Chris Talihmanidis' Beacon Point restaurant, above Apollo Bay, and it was November in 1993, and I remember that because it was our very first weekend away.

To reach the restaurant, you drive from Apollo Bay directly up the coastal escarpment that rises dramatically behind the town like some fossilised glacier. Well, not directly upwards, there are hairpin bends. I love hairpin bends on the way to dinner. They make the first gin and tonic taste so much better.

Parking at Chris's is a no-brainer as long as you don't forget to apply the handbrake. You could drive right off the scenery. (And after dinner, how easy it would be to slip the auto into drive instead of reverse. Hello, Apollo Bay.)

Anyway it's November 1993 and there we are, Miss T. and me, at Chris's Beacon Point restaurant and the menus are thrust in front of us but we're not really studying them because who studies a menu when you're away for your first weekend with your new love? and the view out the window is like you're in an eagle's nest? and the whole weekend stretches out before you like an unwritten book ...

I suppose it's odd that I can remember what we ate.

A Greek salad, of course (you're going to order any other kind from a guy called Talihmanidis?); a kind of rustic gourmet pizza with goat's cheese, salmon, roasted peppers, olives and maybe something else (capers?); and a sublime piece of fish grilled quickly with lemon and drizzled with a little green olive oil and specked with cracked pepper. Fries as light as cotton on the side.

Later there was dessert and later still the sun completed its journey down the floor-to-ceiling glass wall and sank red into the Southern Ocean. I thought I heard it hiss but it was only the coffee machine in the kitchen.

2.11.05

Summer blast hits town; Makybe Diva wins third successive Melbourne Cup; reporters run out of superlatives.

The scribes were calling Makybe Diva immortal after last Saturday week's Cox Plate, so no doubt they were trawling through their dictionaries after the mare won her record-breaking third successive Melbourne Cup in furnace-like conditions yesterday. Where do you go after immortal?

*

My sister is in town staying at Mum's, so we thought we would get together and have a picnic somewhere cool and shady. We packed sandwiches and the picnic blanket, went off to the gardens and found a nice spot on a heavily shaded lawn sloping down to the lake - bliss on a hot day. All the usual picnic fare, but with an emphasis on salads (potato and chick pea; avocado, tomato, lettuce, onion) and sandwiches (chilled egg and celery, tuna and cheese) - too hot for pastry and cakey things. There were, however, fresh banana muffins and Mum, of course, brought along a flask of hot tea. She would drink hot tea in the Sahara Desert. 'It's cooling', you see.

Around three o'clock, there was a sudden hush. Groups of people stopped what they were doing, if anything, and huddled around radios. A racecaller's reedy voice could be heard from several points and for three minutes there was no other sound except for the cries of playing children who have yet to learn about the race that stops a nation.

*

The Cup I remember most was when I was about eleven or twelve. Dad was a photographer and we were on the course, inside the rail. The earth shook as the horses thundered by for the first time and then two minutes later, I watched, amazed, as a lone horse entered into view. I asked Dad what had happened to the rest of the field. It was 1968 - the year Rain Lover won by what seemed to me like the length of the straight.

*

It was still hot in the evening, so we sat outside for a while, William on my knee and a cold beer on the table. Hey William, what's that noise? Just over the side fence we could hear a voice. Next door's parrots - or one of the two at least - had stopped its screeching and squawking and was talking very softly and carefully, as if practising to itself. 'Hel-lo, Cock-yyyy ... hel-lo! ... hel-looooo!' After a while, it gave up and screeched some more.