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

29.4.06

'Have a strawberry!'

We took my mother out for dinner for her birthday. She protested but to no avail. She doesn't like ceremony when it comes to herself. We were a group of twelve in for an early dinner, early because two babies were in the party.

Mum doesn't 'get' restaurants. We sat down at the table and Mum pulls out a package from her bag and it's a plastic container of fresh strawberries and she starts handing around the container of strawberries, saying Have a strawberry, they're nice, Gerard sent them with a bunch of flowers from Interflora. Gerard is my brother in Alice Springs.

Ah, Mum? We are in a restaurant. See that man over there by the bar? If you ask him nicely, he will bring you some food. YOU DON'T HAVE TO BRING YOUR OWN!

Yeah, yeah, she says. She knows all about that, she says. Have a strawberry, she says. They won't mind. Of course they didn't mind. It's professional complainers they mind, not eccentric, smiling septuagenarians handing out strawberries as if they owned the place.

Mum ordered the vegetable risotto which was perfectly cooked and pink with a tinge of tomato sauce and dotted with colourful vegetables, a whisper of parmigiano shavings and fairy dust sprinkling of pepper. Of course, it was way too big. Mum eats like a bird, so she's pressing half the serving on everyone else. Come on, you can eat some, she says, those shanks won't fill you.

Won't fill you? The veal shanks were huge. They looked like they came off an elephant. Two lay on a wedge of mash about a foot high. The mash was creamy and swirled with an infusion of the gravy so you didn't know where the gravy ended and the mash started. I love it like that. The shanks were perfect. The meat fell away from the bone so you didn't have to wrestle and gnaw. You can do that at home but not out. The meat had the taste and aroma of the ingredients in which it was cooked; tomato, red pepper, garlic, rosemary, pepper, lemon, a touch of something else, maybe olive tapenade. It is quintessentially good cooking when one thing tastes of many other things. It's a kind of primeval pleasure, like cavemen cooking a woolly mammoth over sprigs of aromatic branches to make them forget that they were eating woolly mammoth. That's why people become vegetarian, because the primeval sleight-of-hand taste thing doesn't work for them and they still know they're eating the leg off a cow.

Meanwhile, the pizza chef was hauling massive pizzas out of the wood-fired oven on the big paddle thing and deftly flipping them onto plates. They were brought steaming to the table, thick-crusted and topped with fetta and anchovies and hot salami and roasted red pepper and fresh herbs and ricotta and smoked bacon and smoked salmon and roasted garlic and jalapenos. Not all at once. T. had a calzone, a huge folded over and enclosed thing that looked like a giant cornish pastie and she didn't leave me any like she usually does so it must have been good.

It was noisy and Amali stayed awake, jiggling on everyone's knee in turn but William fell asleep in his pram and didn't wake up even when we sang Happy Birthday. You walk down the hallway at home and a floorboard creaks and he's awake in a second yet he'll sleep through 93 decibels of restaurant noise.

Then we were finished and no sooner had the waiters cleared away the plates, Mum reaches down and drags another package out of somewhere. It was a large box of chocolates and she starts passing the chocolates around. Come on, have a chocolate! she says. She doesn't get restaurants. With asterisks around the 'get'.

The waiter still didn't mind. So I gave him an extra large tip.

Mum enjoyed her birthday. Of course, she prefers to entertain at home because she can force food on you as soon as you walk in the door. Now she's figured out how to do it in restaurants as well.

27.4.06

Breaking the Four Minute Meal.

When teenagers are hungry, they need to eat NOW. When my older children were living at home I used to see how fast I could get a meal on the table from scratch. (Well, semi-scratch. This recipe uses packet gnocchi.) When I got it down to a fine art, I finally broke the Four Minute Meal.

Here's how it happened. Stopwatch at the ready, and Go!

Fill the kettle and put it on. Elapsed time, ten seconds.

While the kettle comes to the boil - it takes two minutes for a full kettle - take two rashers of bacon, two eggs, a block of parmesan and some parsley from the fridge and the cheese grater from the cupboard below the sink. Elapsed time, forty-five seconds.

Take a packet of gnocchi - not as good as home-made, but teenagers don't eat, they inhale, so it doesn't matter - from the cupboard and open. Elapsed time, fifty-five seconds.

Slice the bacon into small pieces and throw them into a pan with a splash of olive oil. Light the stove. One minute twenty.

Chop the parsley and set aside. One minute thirty. Grind some parmesan. One minute forty-five.

Grab a plate and some cutlery out of the cupboard, or if you're a time-and-motion expert, off the drainer where they have been since last night (why put them away? you want to make work for yourself?) and set them on the table. One minute fifty-five.

Give the bacon pan a good shake. Click! There goes the kettle. Two minutes.

Pour the boiling water into another pot on the stove over a high heat to keep the water boiling and tip the contents of the pack of gnocchi into the pot - carefully. Don't splash the water. If you burn yourself you're disqualified.

Now we have down time. You can't do anything at all until the gnocchi float to the top. So enjoy the next minute all to yourself. Rip open the mail. Let the dog in. Maybe take your coat off. (Parents of teenagers never take their coats off when they get home - they just walk straight in the front door and go to the kitchen and start cooking while the teenagers go to their rooms and fling clothes around everywhere.)

Did you enjoy your minute? Good. Now drain the gnocchi and toss into the bacon pan and stir around. If your pan holds heat well you can turn off the stove now. Three minutes twenty. Crack the eggs in and stir around again. Add the parmesan and cheese and stir around again. It should be all gooey and unctuous.

Plate the dish. Click! Gnocchi Carbonara hits the table, stopping the watch a whisker under four minutes. World record. The Four Minute Meal. Take that, Roger Bannister!

Of course, being teenagers, they'll want more, so you'll need to do it all over again.

25.4.06

Mr Blake goes visiting.

Belinda, my neighbour, had asked me if Mr Blake would care to visit. Perhaps he would like to make the acqaintance of her household, she said, which currently numbered fourteen: ten cats, two dogs, herself and her human friend. That would be good, I said. Mr Blake needs 'socialisation' as part of his fostering program.

Belinda used to be a chef but gave her career up to work with animals. (A funny line is sticking out there like a neon light.) Anyway, Belinda now works at an animal shelter and brings her work home. They were there when we visited.

Our little street is on a gentle hill and we're at the top. We strolled down the hill and in at Belinda's gate. Creak. Up the path towards three steps leading to the front door. On the middle step was what vaguely resembled a cat but could more correctly be described as a pugnacious face in the middle of an otherwise featureless ragged dirty grey furball. We came near and the eyes swivelled but the furball stayed planted to the step. Mr Blake looked interested but not as interested as if the furball had shown actual identifying features; maybe ears, maybe limbs, maybe a tail. Then all of a sudden the furball was gone from the step without appearing to have taken any effort, like a leaf flying off in the wind.

We knocked on the door and were greeted by Belinda and two boundy dogs. Several cats hung behind her like shy children. One of the dogs, a small whippet, rushed out and leapt joyfully at Mr Blake as if he were a long lost uncle.

Come in, said Belinda. We came in. The lounge was all polished timber and 'fifties furniture and gilt mirrors and coffee tables and ashtrays. At one end of the room was a dining table and on the dining table sat the largest cat I've ever seen. Not fat, just large. It had a face as pugnacious as the furball on the front step but it had long black and white hair that made it seem even bigger. The cat was sitting on the table purring like a refrigerator but then it saw Mr Blake and Mr Blake saw the cat and it stopped purring and stood up. Mr Blake stared at the cat for the entire time we were there. Its eyes never deviated from the cat on the dining table and the cat never moved an inch.

This was good. Sometimes they start drooling and salivating and sometimes they get all hyper and start dancing around and sometimes they just bark their heads off. Mr Blake just stood there. It was even better because while the face-off was happening, Joey, the small whippet, who looked like a baby kangaroo, hence the name, was still leaping about Mr Blake and licking him all over but mostly around the face and all but climbing on his back for joy.

Meanwhile Belinda and her human friend were admiring Mr Blake, who is tall and handsome and has a shining jet black coat with a white chest and white toes. After being used to a small whippet, a large greyhound this size looks like a horse has walked into your house. Although in that house I wouldn't have been surprised had a horse poked its face around the kitchen door.

Later we said our goodbyes and thank yous and come agains and Mr Blake came home and had a nice sleep on his bed, the one that used to be Goldie's and Billy's before that.

24.4.06

Cyclone gods still targetting bananas.

This time it's banana prawns.

Jokes aside, or not aside, I find it bemusing that the most recently posted story on the cyclone (the above link is 14 minutes old) reports on the threat to banana prawn fishing rather than the fact that Darwin could be wiped off the map as it was by Cyclone Tracy in 1974.

23.4.06

Ducks, Old Iron and Soup for a Cold Day.

Huge elms tower over a path that slopes down to the lake, which is fringed by well-kept lawns as far as the eye can see. It's a nice spot. People have picnics here in the vast shade of the old trees and watch the ducks. The ducks live at the base of the cliffs on the far side of the lake and in the island in the middle of it.

We went down to feed the ducks, not that they need it. Everyone feeds them. It's just something you have to do with children. For us, it's just a fifteen minute walk. William laughs and flaps his arms as the ducks wing in from all directions, preparing to land with outstretched feet and then hit the water with a creaming wake coming to a curving stop like miniature Catalina seaplanes.

When we got to the lake, there was an exhibition of public art on the lawn. Some of the pieces were okay and some were hideous. One of the pieces contained more rusty scrap iron than Simsmetal in Footscray. All it needed to look like a genuine scrap metal yard and not a sculpture was a junkyard dog to guard it. Three feet above the ground, it had pointy horizontal shards of iron that could take an eye out and there it was, inviting climbers, not ten feet from the children's swings.

There are really only three schools of thought about art. The first is All Art is Good, Just Because. The second is There is Good Art and Bad Art but I'm Not Sure Which is Which; and the third school is I Know What I Like and That's Complete Crap.

I've just made up a fourth: if it's capable of taking out your children's eyes and some idiot bureaucrat has stuck it in a public park right next to the playground, it's not art.

We went home and made a pot of steaming potato and leek soup, just because it was another cold day.

Potato and Leek Soup.

Chop a couple of leeks finely. Wash them to get out any grit. Fry them in some butter for a few minutes. Fry a couple of rashers of bacon cut into quarter inch squares. Toss the cooked bacon in with the leeks along with three or four peeled and cubed potatoes - half inch cubes - and enough chicken stock to cover. Salt and pepper. Herbs? Whatever you like. Parsley usually, but I had some dill left over so in that went.

Cook until potatoes are well done but not breaking up. You can puree but I like it chunky. Discrete pieces.

In the bowls, nice big Denby of England ones, I decorated the soup with way too much grated cheddar cheese on top. On a cold day, it's sublime. I might just have another bowl. With more cheese.

19.4.06

Finding chocolate.

The Easter egg hunt went on for quite some time.

The girls found the eggs quickly, but that wasn't the end of it. They wanted to hide them again and get everyone else to have a go at finding them. So they did and everyone else found them again. Several times. The Easter egg count dwindled throughout the afternoon, either from being eaten or lost. There are probably dozens of tiny Easter eggs still out there, in the jasmine, halfway up the lemon tree, fallen down behind the rose bush.

Shanra is four and gets the game only up to a point. She hid her eggs in the open and when you went to look down the other end of the garden, maybe under the trees or behind the pot plants, she cried 'Not that way! Over HERE!' And there they were, all nicely laid out on the grass. She still laughed when you found them, as if she had been particularly clever in placing them in that exact spot.

Of course, Canisha had wanted the egg hunt to take place earlier but there's a time and a place for everything and the egg hunt is Definitely a Thing to Do After Lunch. Admittedly, Easter Sunday lunch can be rather a tedious couple of hours for a child anxious to combine two favourite activities, Running Around in the Garden and Eating a Lot of Chocolate. So when lunch was called - the usual buffet affair with casseroles and platters and dishes and tureens and plates and glassware and drinks taking up an alarming amount of real estate across two rooms - Canisha helped rally everyone to the meal, handing out plates theatrically, and ordering everyone to help themselves and Be Quick or You'll Miss Out. Then, a brief hour later, she prompted, loudly: 'Who'd like dessert?', like a seasoned host, just when it looked as though the pace of the afternoon might be slackening slightly and pleasantly; and as if no-one would be even slightly interested in taking a small break in between the main course and what followed.

So we gave in. We hid the eggs, sent the children outside with baskets to find them and our dessert and coffee was punctuated by the shrieks of the egg finders. I wonder if they found the one I deposited behind the cactus.

16.4.06

If this is Good Friday, dinner must be smoked cod.

By the time Good Friday comes, winter is drawing in. The day seems never hot or cold, but often overcast. Maybe it's been like this for just the past few years.

I went out of the house about seven in the morning and the sky was pale yellow with fingers of rising sun through low clouds like overdramatic painted skies of the stations of the cross. Two thousand years of history, or at the very least, tradition, weigh heavily in the cold morning. I like the peace and quiet of Good Friday. And the dramatic skies.

It stayed cloudy. Mid-afternoon, there was a downpour that lasted an hour, then the rain stopped and it got cold and stayed cold and I turned on the old gas heater that purrs and flickers beneath the mantlepiece in the loungeroom.

Soon it was dinnertime. Good Friday dinner is always the same. We're such stick-in-the-muds.

Smoked cod with white sauce.

Smoked cod, that inexpensive and underrated fish, is delicious when done this way: simmer it in enough milk to barely cover it. Add to the milk a few peppercorns, a bay leaf and a chopped onion. As it simmers, the aroma fills the house. It is distinctive and delicious.

Simmer for about twenty minutes, then remove the fish to plates and whisk sufficient plain flour through the milk to thicken it. Add chopped parsley and you have a delicious white sauce. Drown the fish in the sauce and served with mashed potatoes and peas.

We ate the lot so unfortunately there was no cod left over to make kedgeree. But that's another story.

15.4.06

Feeding Mr Blake.

Mr Blake is visiting us for a few weeks.

Mr Blake is a retired gentleman of breeding and good manners and has a quiet, pleasant disposition. He is tall, elegant and slim and has a long face. Mr Blake is a greyhound.

(Huey was our last foster greyhound. He is coincidentally one of the April greyhounds on the Greyhound Adoption Program's 2006 calendar. If you happen to have this calendar, there here he is up on your kitchen wall being fed an ice-cream by me. Huey's the one with the long nose.)

Mr Blake weighs 36 kilograms and our task is to get him up to 38. I'll get some nice fatty pet grade chicken mince and cook it with carrot, celery, a little garlic and rice or pasta, supplementing that with supermarket house brand sardines which are cheap and nutritious (the oil restores their coat), chicken frames from the market and bread thickly smeared with butter and peanut butter. Not to forget cheese. Greyhounds love cheese.

Mr Blake is hasn't barked yet, not even when I took him for a walk and he saw a couple of stray cats in the driveway. He did try to leap at them rather vigorously, however.

14.4.06

How not to eat lasagne.

When I was a child I used to eat lasagne from the top down. Each layer would be a delicious new discovery. It was like dismantling a building. I did the same with vanilla slices and those cakes with coffee icing and cream and custard in the middle. Dreadful manners, I know.

There's something about layered food that is particularly appetising, whether it's a giant multi-layered sandwich, a hamburger a foot high with everything in it or a huge stack of pancakes.

Last night's lasagne was layer heaven. I didn't make it, T. made it. She's the lasagne queen.

First, a layer of cooked pumpkin mashed with ricotta. (Roast the pumpkin first for an even better flavour.)

Then a layer of cooked lasagne sheets followed by a layer of diced tomatoes combined with leek sauteed with a little garlic.

More pumpkin mixture, more pasta sheets and more tomato and leek. Keep building it up and on top of the final layer of tomato, some steamed silverbeet or spinach.

Then the last layer of pasta and on top of that, some cheese sauce. Make a paste of flour in melted butter, gradually add milk and then cheese and a dash of salt and pepper - almost any cheese will do. Bake half an hour depending on size.

*

Lasagne is William's favourite dish. He wolfs it down. He has eaten lasagne at Brunetti's and Ti Amo - little spoonfuls from Mum or Dad's plate - but his favourite lasagne is home-cooked by his Mum. At nine months, his food no longer needs to be pureed but just mashed or finely chopped.

13.4.06

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11.4.06

Chicken Soup in Windy City.

The winds fought and for a week the South wind won and the city shivered. Then the North wind found new strength and chased the South wind and its partners in crime, the clouds, back to King Island or the Southern Ocean or Antarctica or wherever they came from. On its way, the North wind picked the heat up off the vast inland plains and blew it all the way to the city and the city basked in golden sunshine once again.

But in the meantime we all got colds.

So we made chicken soup.

Of course, everyone has a chicken soup recipe and everyone swears theirs is the best in the world so I won't say this is better than any other chicken soup recipe, it's just how I made mine this time. Next time I might make it differently.

Chicken Soup.

1. Cook four chicken pieces on the bone in about two litres of water with a clove of garlic, a scored rib of celery, a chopped carrot and a chopped onion until chicken is done.

2. Remove and discard vegetables; remove chicken from bones and set aside; put bones back into soup and simmer for twenty minutes.

3. Remove bones, strain soup and put back in pot with chopped chicken, a finely chopped onion, a diced carrot, some finely chopped celery and salt and pepper. Simmer.

4. Just before vegetables are done, add soup noodles, cook until done and serve garnished with chopped parsley.

We had some mashed potato left over and we added this to some of the soup for a creamy thickened version. Delicious.

I also stole some of the soup after Step 3 and used it as stock to make chicken risotto. Easy.

And now the sun is triumphant again and the forecast top temperature is 25 celsius and I'm thinking barbecue ... grills ... salads ... eating outdoors ...

I'd better get onto it quickly. The South wind is planning its next move.

9.4.06

The Food Blog Survey.

I'm starting to enjoy these little inter-blog conversations. I must be a procrastinator at heart. It sure beats peeling spuds. I found this one at Queen of the Kitchen, whose current post is a fantastic recipe for gluten-free Swedish meatballs, complete with great photos to salivate over.

List three recipes you have recently bookmarked from food blogs to try:

1. I cooked this last Christmas: Goan Prawn Balchao, from deccanheffalump at Cook's Cottage, Pune, Maharashtra, India.

2. I love a good meat loaf, and I've noted this one from Janis Gore at Gone South.

3. Baked cod with cheese and mushrooms, from Amuse Bouche. Cod is my favourite fish at Easter time and this sounds divine, pardon the pun.

Do you know of another food blog in your vicinity:

This one hails from St Kilda, one of my favourite Melbourne suburbs. Many years ago, I used to holiday in St Kilda for two weeks in the depths of winter, virtually living in the magnificent Palais and National theatres during the annual International Melbourne Film Festival, dashing out to Acland Street - one hundred metres from the dooors of both theatres - in between movies to eat. For two weeks you could eat lunch in a different cafe or cakeshop every day and dinner in a different restaurant every night without repeating any. Imagine living there. You'd never stay home.

A food blog located far from you:
Is Calgary, Canada, far enough away? This is Sara's food blog and her recipes are indexed here.

A foodblog, or several, you have discovered recently and where you found it:

The last new one I saw is The Feast Crusade. I found it ... now where did I find it? A comment on a post on a linked blog. I think. The internet is a forest and you have to bookmark everything. A bit like Hansel and Gretel dropping gingerbread so they knew where they'd been and could get back again. If I've got my fairy tales right. Or was it stones and not gingerbread?

What's the best thing about food blogging?

Visiting a food blog is like looking forward to having high tea at your aunt's house on Sunday and wondering what she's going to serve. And the comments are the conversations around the table.

What's the worst thing?

We used to be obsessed about the food. Now we're obsessed about the blog.

Any people or bloggers you want to tag with this meme?

Any or all of my readers are welcome to take the baton and run with it. As I said, it beats peeling potatoes.

7.4.06

Losing it.

I lost two mobile phones in two weeks.

I left the first one in the car overnight. The car was parked on the street and it was unlocked. The phone was on the dashboard where it could be seen. The next morning it was gone. It could have been worse. I left my wallet in the side pocket of the car door and it was still there in the morning. Hell, they could have taken the whole car but nobody steals Volvo station wagons. You have to give them away.

I reported the theft at the police station, only because an item in the local paper had said police were appealing for all crimes to be reported, no matter how petty.

- Was there any damage to the car when they broke in?

- There was no damage, officer. I left the car unlocked.

He looked at me.

- You left the car unlocked. With your phone on the dashboard. In view. Overnight.

He had a sad kind of half smile and his eyes seemed to glaze over as he filled out the incident report in duplicate, as if he didn't want to be a policeman any more. I didn't tell him I also usually leave the keys in the ignition because I was afraid he might break down in tears and that would just smudge the sheet.

The second phone I left in a soup noodle cafe in High Street. (The soup was great - a giant bowl of noodles and fish and bean shoots and chili and chinese basil and more noodles and more bean shoots and more chili, all swimming around in what couldn't have been more than a couple of gallons of delicious soup. The tea is free and you walk out so full of fluid you can hear yourself sloshing down the street. Having left your phone on the table, if you're me.)

That was the phones. Now I've got another new one and I haven't lost it yet. Then, early last week, I withdrew $450 in cash from a teller machine to pay for the new back fence, walked away with my card and the receipt, drove halfway home, remembered I hadn't removed the cash, did a highly dangerous sudden U-turn, sped back to the teller machine, walked into the bank and there was a man handing the cash over the counter. I nearly kissed him.

5.4.06

It's raining, so here's the best lamb stew for wet weather.

We came out of the shopping centre with bags of fresh vegetables from the greengrocer (yes, some shopping centres still have greengrocers) and sheets of rain were billowing across the car park, aided by a gusty wind that looked like it was just getting into its stride.

T. dashed to the car and opened it, I followed carrying William, hunching over him to keep him dry. Success. He didn't feel a drop. T. and I were soaked.

The traffic was as heavy as the rain and we splashed home with the heater blasting warm air onto the misty windscreen and someone burbling nonsense on the car radio. I killed the radio and turned off the main road, made a couple of right turns and pointed the car into the driveway in our little dead end street of just nine houses. For me, arriving home in the rain always carries a pleasure that is almost instinctive.

Inside. Wet clothes off, heater on, vegetables unpacked.

Was it really just a couple of weeks ago that we were on the beach trying to get cool, and William made his first long crawl, late in the hot afternoon sun, across the sand to the gentle shallows? Splash, splash.

Lamb shank stew with barley.

(I adapted this recipe from one of the food magazines - can't remember which one - probably eight or nine years ago and I make it several times every winter.)

Brown four lamb shanks in oil after dusting them with salt and pepper. Remove to a dish. Into the browning pan, stir two potatoes cut into half inch cubes, four carrots chopped into half inch discs, a turnip cut into half inch pieces, two quartered medium onions, a bay leaf and a tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme until everything is coated in the oil.

Now put the shanks back in the pot and add about six cups of chicken stock. This is about the time I realise I've started with a pot that's too small and have to hunt through the cupboards looking for the really big one and can't find it and realise it's in the fridge with yesterday's baked rice or last week's cauliflower soup or maybe it's in the laundry full of vegetable peelings for the compost bin or green tomatoes waiting to be pickled for that matter. Then I shout a bit and blame everyone else for losing the pot and then I settle down again and continue cooking. Because you have to eat. I hate losing things in the kitchen.

OK. I've cleaned up the big pot and it's on the stove and we've tipped the stew into it and now we're waiting for it to boil.

While we're waiting for it to boil, we make the barley. Add half a cup of pearl barley to four cups of boiling chicken stock and let it burble away for a little over half an hour, until soft. Easy.

The stew has boiled so we've reduced the heat to an enthusiastic simmer, but not too enthusiastic, and we've stirred it occasionally to let it know who's boss. The we add four more potatoes, quartered this time. The smaller pieces will help thicken the stew while the larger ones should end up just cooked and largely intact. Let's say twenty minutes to half an hour.

Yes, I know, it's a long recipe. We've probably been going over an hour now, not counting searching the place for pots. But it's going to be worth the effort.

And we're almost done, anyway. Simply add the cooked barley mixture to the stew, combine, maybe let it thicken a little more and maybe not.

Place a lamb shank on each plate, spoon stew over and top with lots of chopped spring onions and salt and pepper.

It's cold. So I'll have a glass of red. And afterwards I'll sit in the big comfortable chair in the loungeroom and listen to the rain make its music on the roof of the little white house in the little dead end street with just nine houses.

4.4.06

Alphabet soup, continued: L-Z.

It took a while, but here's the second half of the music I like to cook to.

L. La's, The. One day I woke up and it wasn't the eighties any more. It was the nineties and suddenly there were no more tuneless new wave angst-ridden songs, no more square suits and weird makeup, no more drum machines and no more synths. Instead, there were lovely melodies and sweet harmonies and sunshine and butterflies and happy, jangly guitar music was heard across the land and everybody was happy again.

M. Matt Monro. My favourite crooner. Listen - or even just read the lyrics to - For Mama and if you don't cry you're not alive.

N. Neil Young. His acoustic work is nice but when he gets together with Crazy Horse it's more like a shipbuilding yard at full capacity than actual music. Crank it up. You wouldn't want the neighbours to miss out, would you?

O. Only Now by Ride, obscure but brilliant British band of the mid-nineties. From Carnival of Light, probably my most-played CD.

P. Pretenders, The. Back on the Chain Gang takes me back to 1982 when my two older children were five and two and we drove along the Great Ocean Road to the beach at Lorne and on the way home they slept, tousle-haired and sandy-toed, and this song was on the radio every ten minutes and I never tired of it and I still haven't. 'I found a picture of you/oh oh oh oh/those were the happiest days of my life'

Q. Blank again. Can only think of Queen. I couldn't stand them. Still the most overplayed band on '70s/'80s radio, except for maybe that short bald drummer, what was his band's name? No, don't remind me.

R. Ramones, The. Nice and loud, but don't chop potatoes to this, you'll lose fingers.

S. Sergei Rachmaninoff. We Praise Thee from his setting of The Liturgy of St John Chrysostom sounds like you've died and gone to heaven.

T. The Red Hot Chili Peppers. What do this band, Pearl Jam and R.E.M. have in common for me? I like a few of their songs and the rest of their work drives me nuts. That's what.

U. Underground Lovers. Melbourne band of the mid-nineties with the kind of lush, hypnotic and haunting sound that is often absurdly labelled 'alternative'. Also, they named one of their albums after my railway station. How cool is that?

V. Van Morrison. Of course. What did you expect, Vivaldi?

W. Williams, John. Melbourne-born classical guitarist. Relax to this.

Y. Yehudi Menuhin, who said: "The violinist seems to live and move in the empty spaces between notes ... ".

Z. Zombies, The. Put this on and suddenly it's a hazy afternoon in the spring of 1967.

2.4.06

Salmon in citrus sauce with a warm vegetable salad on the side.

Saturday at the market. The salmon looks great.

Salmon in citrus sauce.

This is so easy - I just pan-fried the salmon with some butter and the juice of an orange.

To get extra orange flavour, I inverted the orange halves, once squeezed, to expel oil from the skin, and lay them over the salmon while it cooked. The fish takes in some of the fragrant orange oil.

While the fish was cooking, I squeezed some lemon juice over it as well. I didn't turn the fish, I just put the lid on and let it poach. It only took five minutes. Then I put the salmon on the plates, added a little more butter to the juices in the pan, quickly reduced it and poured it over the fish. Add some dill to the sauce if you have it. I didn't, I forgot to buy some and couldn't be bothered going out again. It was delicious enough anyway.

The salad.

Bed of lettuce. Onion rings. Tomato quarters. Walnuts. Thinly sliced apple. Shreds of finely sliced silverbeet. White beans. Olives. Parsley. Over all these, I added a cubed sweet potato and discs of sliced cooked carrot. The sweet potato and carrot were just-cooked and still warm, so you get a delicious aroma when you pour the dressing over: olive oil, lemon, vinegar, salt and pepper.

(This sounds like it has too many ingredients, but it works. It's like a Waldorf with the rest of the fridge thrown in. I derived it from the house salad at the original Baker's in Brunswick Street. They used an amazing dressing based on avocado which was creamy and delicious. I always asked for the recipe but they would never disclose it. I guess I could just throw some ripe avocado into my dressing and it would be something like the original.)

We ate the salmon and warm vegetable salad with a fresh sourdough roll on the side. And a glass of rich, buttery chardonnay that's big enough to stand up to the fish.

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There was one piece of salmon left over. That will do for William's lunch tomorrow: some flaked salmon mixed up well with mashed potato, a little olive oil and some full cream milk. This is how we are cooking these days, with William in mind.