Back in town.
It has rained intermittently for two days; yesterday morning heavily enough to stop traffic on Bell Street as I ploughed west and onto the freeway. I circled Essendon Airport and pulled off at the next exit. By the time I pointed the car down the long, sloping, winding driveway to the school, the rain had passed.
Schools on the edge of holidays always have that same tired atmosphere. The year's work of pictures, drawings and posters stuck to classroom windows were already yellowing and curling and odd items of left-behind clothing hung on hooks or on the backs of chairs. The students had finished earlier in the week, and the few remaining teaching staff wandered here and there, tying up loose ends and looking forward to lunch. Then they were gone and I spent a lonely day in the staff room working on the book.
There's something kind of melancholy about an empty school. At least you don't get interrupted. I locked the place up at four o'clock. It echoed.
I got my griping about Christmas over early this year, so now let's be gracious about it all and patient with the traffic and ignore the noise and the rain and the heat and the flies and even try to enjoy festive season shopping.
Mid-morning I drifted along Sydney Road cherry-picking gift ideas. Found some nice dried kalamata string figs - probably one of the most ancient foods known to man - and several different types of Turkish halva, the sweet you have when you don't have a sweet tooth; some slightly soft, white torrone flecked with delicate almond and pistachio pieces and wrapped in simple clear cellophane with a gold label; some little rounds of panforte in boxes and the usual array of panettone - including miniature ones, boxed, at $2.99 in IGA. Mediterranean Wholesalers had the usual huge range of a thousand different types of pasta including fresh; canned delicacies; whole cheeses the size of semi-trailer wheels; enough preserved meats to feed an army of gastropods, and a vast array of liqueurs and wines. Then there's the bakery and the ceramic goods section and the coffee bar. You could shop for everyone on your list in here and then have lunch.
So that's what we did.
When the rain passes, which might not be soon, we'll eat outdoors again. Here's an idea. I've probably suggested this before; but this weblog is more than four years old and I have no index.
Meatballs with mint and Greek yogurt.
Place in a large bowl 600g lean minced steak, a cup and a half of finely chopped parsley, half a cup of finely chopped mint, a teaspoonful of oregano, two crushed and chopped cloves of garlic and a good dash each of salt and pepper.
Mix with wet hands and form into walnut-size balls.
Bake in a closed barbecue until done. Timing depends on heat, your barbecue size, the prevailing wind direction and whether you remember to check them in between downing your second glass of chardonnay and knocking up a quick salad of rocket, tomato, red onion, feta and balsamic vinegar. But allow 25 minutes.
Squeeze plenty of lemon juice over the meatballs and serve with Greek yogurt mixed with diced cucumber, chopped mint and sprinkled with dried oregano and paprika.
Too many? They won't go to waste, they're perfect cold next day.