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

30.5.06

Sun.

It seems to have been cold and wet for months now, although winter doesn’t officially start until June 1.

We had a nice respite from the bleakness at the weekend, down the coast. I woke up at six on a freezing, drippy Saturday morning and walked a kilometer to the shop to get the newspaper. It hadn’t arrived. I often have trouble getting the newspaper early in the morning. We once went camping near Finley in southern New South Wales and the local shop had the Melbourne papers by five every morning yet I can’t get the blasted things in an inner suburb an hour later. I read yesterday’s instead, grumpily.

After breakfast with yesterday’s paper, we drove around the bay and by the time we reached the pointy end of the peninsula, morning shards of cloud had slowly contracted away to the north east revealing a perfect azure sky.

At lunchtime we pushed the stroller up and down a few hilly Moonah-lined streets and wound our way down to the Blairgowrie café. Here, a table outside is like a front row seat to the bay and we sat there watching it sparkling in the sunshine. I inhaled a couple of coffees and a toasted sandwich: chicken, avocado and tasty cheese. Cheese and salad on sourdough for T. The sandwich was only about a foot high and the slab of carrot cake we shared afterwards was about the size of one of the sailing boats out on the bay trying to sail but not really getting anywhere because there was no wind. Meanwhile, William, sitting in a highchair, studiously picked up little pieces of cheese with his forefinger and thumb and ate them with the intense expression of a research scientist discovering a new element.

Later in the afternoon we sat on the sand feeling the warmth of the sun and William tried to crawl into the water, remembering summer and his very first crawl on the sand. Too cold, we told him. Your little fingers and toes will turn blue! He ignored us and made his little hand into a fist, except for the index finger, which he pointed at a seagull sitting on a pylon. He points at everything now.

Dinner was another old favourite:

Pasta with tuna and peas.

Try this with pasta shells. It’s one of the easiest dishes you can make. No wonder it’s an old favourite around here.

Boil the pasta until done. A couple of minutes prior, throw in a cup of frozen peas. Drain. Toss in a can of your favourite tuna. Tuna in brine is OK but tuna in oil provides a more unctuous dish. Now add the cheese and don’t hold back. Plenty of mozzarella and some grated parmesan but any cheese will do.

Pasta shells are ideal for this. The cheese melts and holds the tuna and the peas in little clumps and they gather in the shells and it’s like eating little soft boats of silken, melting cheese, tuna and peas. Yum.

Don’t forget to sprinkle with chopped parsley and grate some pepper over. And don’t forget a nice, big, peachy, buttery chardonnay. Not too cold.

26.5.06

Random lasagne.

We had a nice lasagne, nothing unique or special or different or noteworthy; just layer upon layer of cheesy, tomatoey, meaty, bechamel cheese-saucey and pasta-y sublimeness, all topped with a crust that was just turning golden-brown and was still bubbling when it was brought to the table.

It really is a great shame to cut into such a perfect work of art as a fresh home-made lasagne, in the tray, fresh out of the oven. But you have to eat, so art be damned.

The lasagne sighed a little curlicue of steam as it yielded its flavours to the knife ....

No, wait, that was WAY too verbose. I'm starting to sound like an Age restaurant reviewer. It's lasagne. Eat it and shut up.

Now to the point of all this. What happened was that there were some lasagne sheets left over. But not any meat sauce or cheese sauce or tomatoes. This happens to a lot of people. I know, because I often have conversations with people about lasagne and everyone seems to end up with leftover lasagne sheets and what do you do with them when there's no sauce left? Eat them? On their own? Well, you could. But if you think outside the square (actually, my lasagne dish is oblong. Or rectangular. If there's a difference. Is there a difference?) you can use other, random, ingredients to make a lasagne with your leftover lasagne sheets.

The first step, which I ignored the other day, is that when you put your leftover lasagne sheets back in the fridge, lightly oil them and lay them flat on a plate. I shoved them back into the fridge still in the drainer and they were all folded over each other and stuck together and half of them fell apart. Get to the recipe already.

The recipe.

I must admit, I made it up as I went along. And it was freeform, not in a lasagne pan. Just pile up the components on anything that can go in the oven.

First, a smudge of oil and a spoonful of tomato paste on the base of the baking dish. Because there was no sauce. Then a layer of lasagne. Then a layer of cold chorizo sausage sliced longways very finely. Then lasagne. Then grilled red pepper. Then lasagne. Then a layer of cold hard-boiled egg that had been mashed with a little butter (there was quite a lot of this left over from making sandwiches for lunch). Some chopped parsley for a bit of green crunch on top of the egg and some grated mozzarella over that. Another lasagne sheet and now we’ve run out of options so just a little more cheese on the top and into the oven.

A quick bake so it doesn't dry out. It turned out great. Experiment, experiment! Use what you have and see if it works.

23.5.06

A trip to the market. And Fish Balchao.

It had just gone two o’clock on Saturday afternoon and rain was threatening in an overcast slate grey sky but threatening was all it did. There was no wind but leaves were falling off autumn-yellow street trees – planes – and they fluttered to the ground in slow motion. I love autumn. Everything is in slow motion.

I drove the car in slow motion down Elizabeth Street, looking for a parking spot and found one near where the old blue and yellow Go Go Goodyear neon sign used to be, years ago. We angle-parked in front of a car dealership over which hung half a dozen sad flaccid flags advertising a run-out sale. Inside the otherwise deserted showroom, three black-suited salesmen were sitting around selling no cars but probably talking about last night’s football game.

T. and I got out of the car and we got William out of the car and we walked down to the Victoria Market, past camping shops and cheap printers and the Independent Order of Foresters building and a land sales office. We didn’t bother with the stroller. They’re too hard to negotiate in a crowded market. I carried William in my arms. I’m over six feet tall and he likes to ride right up there with me, high in a crowd where he can see everything. He had his blue beret on and a checked coat to keep him warm. He’s nearly eleven months old but he looked like a little laughing-eyed, red-cheeked Irishman. A leprechaun.

There was nothing slow motion about the fish hall. Around about this time on a Saturday, the stallholders start auctioning off trays of fish. "$10 for the whole tray!" Some have already sold out and are hosing down their stalls, splashing anyone who comes too close. The noise is deafening. We picked up a kilogram of rockling for $15.

Rockling Balchao

Process or grind into a paste: 10 peeled garlic cloves, 3” peeled and grated ginger, 15 whole dried red chillies, 4" of cinnamon, 15 cardomom pods, 15 cloves, 1 teaspoon each of whole black peppercorns and cumin seeds and half a cup of malt vinegar.

Cook: a cup of chopped onions in oil until browned. Then add a cup of chopped tomatoes and cook, stirring well, until softened. Add the paste above and saute until the oil separates from the paste. It will show a light sheen. Add a kilogram of rockling cut into one inch cubes or slices along with some crushed curry leaves, fresh if you can get them; otherwise dried, and cook, covered until just done. Fifteen minutes should do it. Towards the end of cooking time, add two teaspoons of brown sugar and stir well. Add salt to taste and serve with steamed rice.

This dish is intensely aromatic and flavoursome; both sweet and sour and very, very hot. The measures shown will provide enough for four. Adapted from a recipe I first tried last Christmas that I found at deccanheffalump's The Cook's Cottage.

22.5.06

Sandwich wars: Australia vs. United States.

First there was the vexed beetroot on hamburgers question.

Now, over at Tim Blair's blog, it's sandwiches.

How low can relations between the two nations go?

We do have a secret vegemite arsenal. Just in case.

20.5.06

Name the blogger.

'He was interested in everything ... (with a) robust appreciation of life, its canvas ... crowded with detail ... there was nothing too trivial to be passed over.'

'Trivia' - ring any bells?

'His wife, his friends ... his habits, his ideas, his emotions; the domestic routine of his household; his books, his pictures, his music ... the food he ate ...'

Especially the food he ate.

This latter was ' ... a treasure house of information ... what he bought and what he paid for it. He told us when the food was good, when it was bad and when it was beyond endurance. ... He had the habit of switching from events grave and gay to the food consumed when he contemplated them.'

And why wouldn't you? The food is always more interesting than the event. Occasionally he is too busy to write:

'Infinity of business to do, which makes my head full ...'

Not good for a blogger to go without posting. He had, however, an eye for fine detail. His first entry:

'Dined at home in the Garrett, where my wife dressed the remains of a turkey and in the doing of it she burned her hand.'

He was no blogger. He was Mr Samuel Pepys, diarist. That entry was written on January 1, 1660.

*

Quoted extracts from And so to Dine subtitled A brief account of the food and drink of Mr Pepys based on his diary. by S. A. E. Strom, George Allen and Unwin, 1955.

18.5.06

If music ...

Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins is in town.

Comedian Richard Stubbs just interviewed her on ABC Radio, although 'interview' is probably ambitious; he basically reduced her to helpless laughter. That was music to behold as well. Not to mention the soft Welsh accent. In between the lilt and the laughter she recounted how she cracked the chandelier in a theatre during a rendition of O Holy Night - probably that last super-high note in the second line of the chorus. That song cracks me up as well.

The sun sure is shining today.

No wait, this is a food blog. Damn.

17.5.06

Cauliflower soup: what to have on top?

Here's an easy soup for winter.

Saute an onion in oil, then add an entire cauliflower, chopped. Give it a good stir around, then turn the heat way down low and let it sweat for five minutes. Now add a chopped clove of garlic and after a minute or two, four cubed potatoes. Cover the lot with chicken or vegetable stock and add a bay leaf, salt and pepper.

Simmer until everything is nice and tender, then puree half and return it to the pot. Stir some milk through and reheat, without boiling, before serving.

How to garnish? Well you don't have to, but this is how we had our cauliflower soup:

William had his with a little plain yogurt on top.

T. likes cheese so she piled her bowl up with some grated Colby and chopped parsley.

I like a bit of heat so I threw a good tablespoonful of Fern's hot lime pickle into mine. That stuff is fantastic, it has whole sections of pickled lime and the heat is intense so it worked beautifully with the bland, nutty taste of the soup.

We also warmed up a couple of frozen flakey rotis out of the freezer – just because they were there - and had those with our soup. Yum.

16.5.06

Not raining, dripping.

Sunday was one of those days that can't make up its mind whether to rain or not. So it just dripped instead. It was like someone wringing out a giant dishrag over the city.

Drip, drip, drip. We drove to the flower stall. The flower guy was trying to keep the rain off about a million bunches of chrysanthemums. I bought a bunch, making his job one-millionth easier.

Then we drove to Mum's. It took a while. Every car in Melbourne was on the road but we made it on time. You can tell you're getting close to Mum's because you can smell the cooking aromas from a distance, probably a suburb or two. Mum doesn't undercook. Yes, I know you're supposed to take mum out for Mother's Day but we dragged her out for her birthday a couple of weeks ago and even then she brought food. She insisted on staying put for Mother's Day. Everyone brought something so Mum didn't have to cook, but what's she going to do all Saturday? Read a book?

Family Tree cousin was already there when we arrived. Family Tree cousin's job in life is to delve into history and her photo albums and packets of old letters accompany her everywhere. The albums are full of sepia photos of people posing too stiffly - men with long droopy moustaches, overdressed women, children with squinting faces and the occasional scrappy dog, sometimes standing out the front of timber houses that look like they're about to fall down and sometimes sitting on a horse, not all at once. Then there are black and white wedding photos from every decade of the twentieth century, all posed outside actual churches except for the ones taken after 1970, which are posed anywhere but churches - on beaches or gardens or in cobbled laneways with large vintage cars in the background. The post-1970 wedding photos are in full colour, as if to provide evidence that the males in the wedding parties are actually wearing lilac or pale green or chocolate brown crushed velvet suits with massive ruffles on their shirts, clown-sized bowties and flared trousers almost covering shoes that look like bricks.

Lunch was the usual feast. You've heard it all before. After lunch, Family Tree cousin opened up the albums again and started reading out some letters. Some of us fell asleep. Some went home or off to in-laws.

We left around four with a promise to Family Tree cousin to dig out those photos of Dad in Noumea during the war and send them to her.

It was still dripping outside.

13.5.06

Pasta with swordfish and roasted red pepper. And some thoughts on aging rockers.

What's your favourite fish? Mine is the last one I ate.

The last one I ate was swordfish - 'pesce spada' at the market - and it was quickly seared on a very hot heavy pan and served with potatoes mashed with olive oil and zucchini and onions simmered with butter and a shake of nutmeg.

But there was a piece of pesce spada left over - rather a large piece - and here's what I did with it:

- I sliced the fish into three quarter inch cubes and marinated it in lemon juice while I prepared everything else.

- I roasted some red pepper, peeled it and cut it into strips.

- I cooked some tomato fettucine.

- I quickly cooked the fish in a heavy pan and added it to the drained pasta along with the roasted red pepper.

- Then I tossed some capers over the pasta and decorated the dish with celery leaves and a shower of cracked black pepper.

It looked as good as it tasted, with the white fish standing out on the pink-red pasta background with roasted red pepper and caper accents. It's not everything, but eye appeal does improve a dish.

*

While I was cooking, a Rod Stewart song came on the radio. Having given up being a rocker, he's now crooning love songs and it was all tinkling pianos and studio orchestras with Rod sounding like an overfed alley cat and I thought: what if the Rolling Stones had gone the same way?

Mick Jagger singing Unforgettable doesn't really bear thinking about.

11.5.06

Who needs a barometer?

The weather has been appalling lately but you don't have to stick your head outside to know what the weather's doing in Melbourne; all you need to do is check out the local food blogs and see what people are cooking.

A few examples posted since the start of May: a warming full-flavoured chicken and chorizo stew; a dead easy tomato and red lentil soup; an autumn braise full of colour and taste; a robust Moroccan tagine (albeit cooked in a saucepan) and for the tots, a magnificent daube of oxtail.

All those cooking aromas drifting in the evening air over Melbourne, while their recipes drift around the blogosphere, makes our weather - the incessant drippy rain, the freezing southerly, the puddles - almost bearable.

Almost.

Speaking of winter food, if you're sitting down to a nice hot steaming meat pie in golden shortcrust pastry with some potato mash and peas on the side, watch out for exploding sauce bottles.

Mr Blake departs.

The last time I saw Mr Blake, he was standing at the side gate with an empty peanut butter jar in his mouth.

He had been the perfect visitor. He was well-mannered and had a vigorous appetite. It is always pleasing when guests appreciate hospitality. Mr Blake is intelligent and learned very quickly that for him, eating was no longer a competition with others. Mr Blake enjoyed chicken stew, lasagne, peanut butter sandwiches, cheese, the occasional bone, leftover sausages and didn't leave a scrap on his plate. (The plastic peanut butter jar, when empty, provides hours of amusement. They lie in the sun and lick out all the remaining peanut butter.)

By the end of three weeks I had ticked all the boxes. I could take Mr Blake’s bowl away while he was eating and he wouldn’t snap or growl. Tick. He would wait for the command before taking food very gently from my hand. Tick. He would not try to enter a doorway ahead of me. Tick.

I don’t believe in teaching dogs tricks but these are basic socialization skills that will increase his chances of living happily in a domestic situation after four years of being a chaser and kennels-dweller. Mr Blake was one of the best and was happy to laze around on his own bed for hours on end in the little back room. No fretting. No barking. (He barked when a cat appeared on the fence and he barked at the dog next door through the fence. Warning barking and happy barking but no fret barking.) Of course, he did have lots of walks. They look forward to walks. Who wouldn’t? But greyhounds are, somewhat ironically, couch potatoes.

So, on Thursday, the lady from the Greyhound Adoption Program came and picked him up and off he went in his little caravan, made especially for transporting tall, thin gentlemen like Mr Blake.

You can visit Mr Blake here. Perhaps you might like to foster him for three weeks, or even adopt him for the term of his natural life.

UPDATE 13/5/06
Blake has been adopted. But there are plenty of other adorable available 'hounds on the link above.

10.5.06

Tea, anyone?

Saturday evening at the beach house. Our first weekend here for some time. We’ve been busy in the city.

Polar-fleeced and scarved, we’d walked on the beach under heavy brooding clouds in the afternoon and it had seemed just a couple of weeks since William had paddled naked in the warm shallows on a sweltering afternoon during the last heatwave of summer.

Now it was six o’clock and already dark on a cold May evening. I boiled the electric kettle to pour into a pan to place in William’s room in order to humidify the air – he has a cold. I poured out the water and placed the pan carefully on the floor, out of reach. Hmmm. Now what’s that smell? There was a kind of strongish smell like … dried porcini mushrooms rehydrating in water. I went back to the kitchen. Dinner was cooking, but there were no mushrooms of any description.

I had a thought. I picked up the kettle and drained it. I lifted the lid, looked inside. I peered under the element. Yes, something was there, caught. It wasn’t a porcini mushroom. I shook the kettle and the thing fell into the sink. The thing was a cockroach. A boiled cockroach.

Now, I had to start thinking back. I didn’t know how long the 'roach been in the kettle but I had to find out if anyone had … you know - had a cup of tea. I went into the bathroom where T. was enjoying a leisurely pre-dinner hot bath with the papers and a drink. There is no greater pleasure than a leisurely hot bath on a cold night. Except when you drop the papers into the water. That spoils it.

- Um, honey, have you boiled the kettle at all today?
- Yes, why?
- Um. Well, there could be an issue.


T. hates cockroaches and I had to be careful. She might faint, vomit, leap out of the bath and run out of the house naked …

- I just gave William his bottle. What was up with the kettle?
- Hmm. Well, the water may have been slightly contaminated …
- With what?
she practically screamed.
- Oh nothing chemical. It’s completely organic.
- WHAT??????


I had to get to the point.

- A cockroach.

She didn’t scream or leap out of the bath or even drop the weekend supplement into the water. She thought carefully. She thought very carefully.

- No, wait. I didn’t use water out of the kettle. I packed bottles of boiled water at home this morning and I only used the kettle to heat the bottles.
- Phew. And you didn’t make a cup of tea?
- No. I almost did but I changed my mind.


I’m glad she changed her mind. Cockroach tea is a disgusting idea. Even if it does smell like porcini mushrooms.

7.5.06

Another complete waste of time.

Procrastination is an art. Some people are idle; some merely bored; others become frustrated with 'down' time. They don't know what to do. Or rather, they don't know what not to do.

Procrastinators, on the other hand, know exactly what not to do. Procrastinators love doing interesting but useless things such as reading P. G. Wodehouse instead of mowing the lawn. Even better, taking their chair outside and reading P. G. Wodehouse ON the lawn that they are supposed to be mowing. That's pro-active procrastination. That's the art of it.

So when I found yet another one of those internet survey questionnaire things that they call memes over at Canadian Sara's blog, I dropped everything and settled back for some serious time-wasting. This meme is even more insufferably self-indulgent than the others. It should be called a me-me.

(Reader: consider yourself tagged, enjoy a bit of procrastination and talk about yourself shamelessly. It's OK, you can't be interrupted - that's the beauty of blogging.)

THE 'ME' MEME.

I AM: Australian of largely British stock and a bit else besides.

I WANT: First, a cappuccino and two toasted ham and cheese sandwiches. Then immense riches. Priorities!

I WISH: Money would roll in the door without me having to go out and fetch it.

I HATE: Dishonesty. Insincerity. Burned food.

I MISS: My phone. Again. Where did I leave it?

I HEAR: The whippet next door yapping at the fence, the muffled whirr, swish and chug of the washing machine in the laundry and the wind ruffling the poplars out in the street. The dog I don't mind, the wind is beautiful, the washing machine I might go and turn off.

I WONDER: Why travel and food writers write in the present tense.

I REGRET: Je ne regrette rien. Except maybe learning French for six years. Where did it get me? Nowhere. So I can order in French at restaurants?

I AM NOT: Patient when waiting for someone. I wish people would hurry up and not keep me waiting. Doctors do that, I don't need anyone else to do it.

I DANCE: William on my knee.

I SING: Songs that annoy me. They get stuck in my head and drive me nuts and I have to sing them out. Is that weird?

I CRY: Abandoned or maltreated children. Certain music. Cutting onions.

I AM NOT ALWAYS: In the kitchen.

I MAKE WITH MY HANDS: Practically nothing apart from dinner. I am not hand-y. I am write-y.

I WRITE: Stuff that doesn't earn me any money. Can someone please publish my blog? Thanks.

I CONFUSE: Mortar with pestle. Yes, I know someone told me the difference once and gave me a song to remember it by but it didn't work.

I NEED: Ten days in the Red Centre to see the sun rise and flood the barren landscape with gold and then set twelve hours later; vermilion fire yielding to burnt orange to black leaving a million stars chandeliered over the earth like haggard diamonds.

I SHOULD: Shut up and install the bathroom heater. It's only been sitting there three weeks.

I START: Lots of things.

I FINISH:

5.5.06

Something for any time of day.

Egg and leek pie.

Or leek frittata. Sometimes there are too many ingredients in things we make but this just the eggs and the leek and highlights their respective charms perfectly. And, of course, it's easier when there are fewer ingredients.

Slice a large leek very finely and wash carefully to remove any grit. Sweat the leeks in some butter or oil or a combination of both. Leeks sweating in butter is one of any kitchen's very best aromas. It practically brings people running.

Using a fork, lightly beat three or four eggs with a little milk. Add some grated parmesan if you wish, it's not essential. Salt and pepper are essential.

When the leeks are soft and the aroma has filled the house, fold them through the egg mixture and pour into the container in which you will cook the frittata. I use a covered non-stick pan and do it on the stove-top. Others bake it. Whatever. It will be delicious either way.

Egg and leek pie is one of those very special dishes that can be eaten at any time of day. Try it hot for a late breakfast, cold for lunch, sliced for an afternoon tea party with asparagus sandwiches and Earl Grey tea, warm for dinner with garlic mashed potato and minted peas or even a very late supper, sliced cold into tiny squares and served with an old favourite of mine: caviar on crustless toast and well-chilled champagne. Heaven.

3.5.06

Meltdown: cheesemakers face off.

Artisan cheesemakers want more freedom to make raw-milk cheeses but the main industry body opposes deregulation. It's a long article but worth the read, if only for the hilarious quotes.

Chef Guillaume Brahimi was reported to have said he "would not use Australian cheese to trap a rat". Ouch.

Stung, the Australian Specialist Cheesemakers' Association hit back. President David Brown opposes deregulation along with the importation of raw milk cheeses, asserting without any trace of tongue-in-cheek that the French method of manufacturing Roquefort is unhygienic because it is "matured in caves". Stop the press!

Small-scale cheesemaker Ann-Marie Monda defends the artisans: "Our dairy more than meets the criteria for handling raw-milk cheese and we have control over our herd ... people really want good quality cheese. They want texture and the flavours that nature brings: the weather, the wind and the goats."

What? Cheese comes from goats? Someone tell David Brown.

1.5.06

Steamy windows.

It was the kind of place where you can order by pointing to the photographs on the wall or by pointing to the numbers on the menu. The photographs show steaming bowls of broth with noodles or dumplings; steamed white fish fillets on huge plates of rice; delicate spring rolls on crisp lettuce beds; roast duck with rice; grilled eel, pork ribs, prawns in chilli and garlic, fried stuffed tofu. Some of the photos are fading but you can still see what they are.

It was also the kind of place where the tables and chairs are functional but comfortable, there are jars of chilli, vinegar and soy sauce on each table and, on a cold day, the windows get all steamed up.

It was a cold day and the clouds hung low and black which meant it would be raining soon. We pushed open the door and went inside out of the weather and sat on the functional but comfortable chairs. An old man in a corner was reading a newspaper over a plate of steamed chicken on rice and, over near the window, a family group. The grandmother was feeding soup to a child while its parents ate their noodles hungrily, as if they'd been too busy to eat for a week.

We ordered by the numbers and just looked at the photos on the wall for appetite appeal. Coming out of the kitchen were all the usual theatrical noises off - the chop-chop-chop of cleaver on block and the explosive sizzling of fluids hitting hot woks, a soundtrack to the garlic-laden bursts of aroma that surfed out of the kitchen and hit your nose like an unexpected left hook.

After a while our lunch came out. There was a huge bowl in which floated so many fat dumplings that they looked like boats in a crowded harbour after a storm. The dumplings rode on a sea of steaming broth and they were glistening and translucent. Below sea level there were enough noodles to reach from here to Ballarat if you laid them end to end, which would be difficult, because they are slippery. The dumplings were stuffed with spinach and prawn and they were delicious.

Then there was a large plate of Chinese broccoli, the full stalk with crunchy stem and wilted leaf, quickly steamed and coated in oyster sauce, fragrant and delicious, a perfection of simple brilliance.

Last, to contrast the heat of the soup and the simplicity of the broccoli, there was a cold salad of very finely shredded meat infused with delicate but complex eastern flavours and just a flush of chilli. This dish was listed under the appetiser heading but the serving was almost as large as some main courses I've eaten. I would love to do this at home and serve it to unsuspecting guests because they would love it and they would ask me what the meat was and I would say: Tripe and then they would scream.

Because you wouldn't know it was tripe. It was just a delicious melange of tasty strands and flavours. (I've eaten tripe in Vietnamese pho in which it was difficult to distinguish between the fine strands of the white meat and the actual noodles. So I say to tripe avoiders: Eat your Tripe. You may not even notice it and then you might become a Tripe Convert.)

We finished our meals and watched the windows steaming up and then we drank the place out of tea and I paid the bill: $16.10. (That is not a printing error, or whatever the equivalent error is in blogwriting. By contrast, I paid more than $150 for a meal at Mask of China a couple of weeks ago, the difference being at Mask of China there's about 85 waiters to every customer. They just about eat your meal for you. That's not a criticism, it's just different, and it suits people who like being fawned on, mainly power-laughing executives trying to impress other executives.)

But here, there's only one waiting person and she brings out the tea and talks to the customers and admires their babies and then clears away the plates as well. Come to think of it, I didn't actually see her when the noises off were happening so she might even have been the chef as well.

Outside, the rain was coming down in sheets and it was already as dark as it usually is about six o'clock at this time of year but it was only half past two in the afternoon.

Shanghai City, High Street, Preston. Near the market.