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

29.6.07

Mid-winter break.

We were going to go this way. Thought we'd like to see Bairnsdale, Sale, Mallacoota, Eden.

We headed north instead and are currently somewhere in southern New South Wales. It's raining here too. Just not as much.

Back in a few days.

26.6.07

A dish with flavour that packs a punch: for winter.

I went out - to walk to the shops - at 2.30 in the afternoon and it was like early evening. Black clouds hung low and dripped like wet blankets pinned to a clothesline.

I walked up the hill from the front gate and around the corner into a street of mainly 1930s and '40s timber cottages with neat front gardens. It was so dark you could see lights on in their front living rooms, through the sash windows and lace curtains and holland blinds. They looked warm. You could imagine old ladies in there sitting by the gas fire and knitting socks.

The market was busy. People shop to keep warm. I bought some eggplants to bake and a few other necessities. It rained on the way home. I took off my coat at the front door and hung the umbrella on its hook and took off my shoes and went to the kitchen.

Stuffed eggplant with olives, anchovies and capers.

What's the best thing to stuff an eggplant with? Another eggplant, according to a book I pulled off the bookshelf, at random, about cooking in Naples. Eggplant enlivened with other ingredients, of course.

I tried it. It was good. Why Naples? I don't know. It was in the book. It could have been about Wellington or Toronto or Nairobi or Aberdeen, but it wasn't, it was about Naples. And eggplants.

Take three large eggplants. We will use the pulp of all three to stuff the shells of two.

Cut two eggplants in half lengthwise and remove the pulp, leaving a half-inch shell. Chop the pulp. Peel and chop the third eggplant. Place the pulp of the first two and the third chopped eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with salt, along with the insides of the shells. Rinse all after 30 minutes. Squeeze pulp to remove excess water.

Heat a quarter cup of olive oil in a large pan and add the eggplant pulp. Stir until it begins to brown - 15 minutes - and then stir in two large cloves of garlic, a can of drained diced tomatoes, half a cup of black pitted olives, a dozen or so anchovy fillets, a quarter cup of capers and a teaspoon of dried oregano. Salt to taste? I shouldn't think so, it's already loaded with salt; but then, I'm not from Naples. Pepper to taste. I'll be heavier handed here. Continue cooking for five minutes, stirring.

Now fill the shells with the mixture and place them in an oiled baking dish so that they are snug. Take some fairly coarse fresh breadcrumbs and muddle it with some more olive oil. Press this bread-and-oil mixture over the shells. Now bake - hot oven, about three quarters of an hour.

Let cool slightly before serving with polenta, ribbons of home-made egg pasta, a basic risotto with cheese and butter and saffron, or mashed potatoes. The eggplant is so powerfully flavoursome that if you put anything else more than bland on the same plate, they would fight, like two boxers in an illegal match in a back street of Naples.

25.6.07

Two.



Two short years. Seven hundred long nights. As many early mornings. A million tears. Two million smiles. The odd tantrum. A vocabulary that grows by the day. One grown-up sister. One grown-up brother. One baby brother. More cooking than ever before. Lots of washing. A shrinking house. Two hundred books, some worn out, some with pages torn out, two or three of which are read every day. Fifty soft toys (which is about forty-nine too many) strewn along cupboard tops. Steps that sounds like elephants in the morning. A voice that shrieks like a demon, laughs like a kookaburra and coos like a dove. A smile to melt a heart of ice.

And sixteen teeth. Happy birthday William.

22.6.07

A recipe for the solstice.

While I never tire of grills, barbecue and salads in summer, winter’s endless parade of soups and stews does start to pall after a while. The aromas and textures of winter food are seductive round about late autumn; but deep in winter, after sitting down to yet another bowl of something brown and hot, I start yearning for the snap and zing of tastes that are fresher and more associated with light and the outdoors.

So for winter solstice – and to celebrate the turning of the days that will now start to grow longer, heading towards another golden summer - here’s a recipe that involves one of my favourite summer ingredients - feta. I go through tons of the stuff in summer - mostly combined in the world’s best salad, with fresh tomatoes, kalamata olives, sliced onion, sliced Lebanese cucumber, crushed dried oregano and almost-green olive oil.

Chicken baked with feta and oregano.

On a biting cold day with the wind from the south and the sun a faint disc behind swirling cloud, I visited the Greek deli and picked up a large piece of feta. They always have in stock a couple of Greek brands (along with the Danish, Bulgarian and local varieties); and today they had a new one in two 'flavours' the deli lady described as ‘sweet’ and ‘hot’, which I suppose is the same as how the Italians describe some of their cheeses as ‘dolce’ and ‘piccante’. I chose the ‘hot’ one.

Here's the recipe. It's easy and delicious.

Combine 250 grams of feta, two teaspoons of dried oregano, a tablespoon of butter, a teaspoon of lemon zest, some chopped parsley and a quarter cup of lemon juice. Add salt to taste, and black pepper. Bear in mind most brands of feta are already salty.

Take a couple of bone-in chicken breasts with skin on, draw away the skin from flesh without detaching it and cram cheese mixture beneath skin. Spread remaining mixture on top.

Place chicken breasts in a baking pan and bake in a moderate oven 30 minutes, then raise heat to high and finish for 15 minutes longer. The breasts should be slightly golden on top. Sprinkle more parsley over top to serve.

Serve with Greek salad. If more feta is too much for you (impossible for me) simply make a salad of tomatoes, onion and olives. Or serve with finely sliced potatoes baked in a some chicken stock and a little milk.

Here's to longer days!

:: raises glass of red ::

21.6.07

Shot Dutch chef still serious.

The fallout from Monday's city shootings continues. While the gunman surrendered following hours of 'delicate' negotiations between his lawyer and police - designed to assure he would 'not be harmed' - one of the men he shot, a Dutch backpacking chef, remains gravely ill in hospital:

Mr De Waard, 24, was just days from returning to his Dutch home town of Middelburg after a 12-month surfing safari in Australia. Mr De Waard is in an induced coma at the Royal Melbourne Hospital where his condition is listed as serious but stable. ... It has been a tragic end to the trip of a lifetime for the fun-loving chef. ... He had worked as a cook and waiter as he travelled the country chasing waves and was in Melbourne only a few days before the shooting.

Immediately after the shooting, Mr De Waard was given assistance by yet another good samaritan:

Ms McGowan said she felt helpless as she held Mr De Waard, but wanted to do all she could to help the severely wounded man. "I didn't want him to die and if he did I didn't want him dying alone," she said. "I was holding his hand and had him in my arms. I told him my name and I said 'What's your name?' and I was giving him cuddles. He said his chest was sore and I saw all the blood coming out so I put my jacket there to stop the blood. I just told him to look into my eyes to keep him focused because I think he was about to pass out." Ms McGowan said Mr De Waard asked her to stay with him until paramedics arrived. "I said 'Do you want me to stay with you' and he said 'Yes'," she said.

Prayers, please. Meanwhile, letter-writing Melburnians are sick and tired of King Street detritus trashing the city (no link available):

The King Street nightclub scene is a cesspool of drugs, drunkenness and violence. Unless something is done to clean it up, similar violence will happen again.
- Elizabeth Hare, Clayton.


Melbourne’s nightspots are notorious troublespots. Close them down.
- Constance E. Little, Eagle Point.


Hear, hear. The Age’s John Silvester further illuminates links between the nightclubs and crime:

Hudson was also a suspect in NSW for assault and 40 fraud-related offences. Police believe the simmering feud between the Hells Angels and the Finks relates to control of the growing market for drugs on the Gold Coast nightclub strip. Hudson was recruited by the Angels because of his links to local nightspots. He has strong connections with bikie chapters in Queensland, Sydney and Melbourne, and is closely associated with a group of bikies involved in attempts to pervert the course of justice and intimidate witnesses.

We already know that he should have been off the streets. But these guys aren't just hanging out in the nightspots. They're buying them:

Police say bikies and their known associates have invested in hotels and nightclubs, and have run strippers and illegal prostitutes around Australia.They claim a group of bikies has tried to buy a legal brothel using friends with no criminal records to establish a Trojan-horse front. Outlaw motorcycle gangs in Australia have a history of killing innocent bystanders who stumble into their wars.

All of which should have police command seriously concerned. So let's hear what the Police Commissioner of Victoria had to say less than 24 hours after the shootings:

"I think this is not about violence in King Street. I think to suggest that this is related to the nightclub industry as a whole is not right. This is a matter that appears to be a domestic incident in a sense," Ms Nixon said.

To say that the Police Commissioner is in denial would be generous. And what is ‘in a sense’ supposed to mean apart from providing a murky distraction from the obvious truth that nightclubs are a nasty, brutish stain on the city? A thug kills a father of three and serious wounds a Dutch backpacking 24 year old chef and it's a domestic?

Anyone reading the Police Commissioner's comments - ill-advised at best, absurdly irresponsible at worst - could be forgiven if a number of words of nine letters or more and starting with the letter ‘c’ come to mind.

'Credibility’ would not be one of them.

19.6.07

Monday morning.

It was just an ordinary June Monday morning, cold and misty over the city.

I got on the tram at Flemington Road, but instead of turning into William, the tram sailed down Elizabeth. William Street was closed, the driver announced. A man was lying dead on the road, shot by a nutcase with a gun.

I got off the tram at Lonsdale, walked up the hill and along the Hardware Lane café precinct. The morning coffee peak was easing and the aroma of toast still hung in the air and the waiters were standing around with their napkins over their arms and the occasional cigarette. Helicopters buzzed overhead, but they always do that. No-one takes any notice. Then up Bourke and into my William Street office. It was quieter than usual for a Monday morning. No-one was going to break into a spontaneous powerpoint presentation.

I didn’t know the dead man, but he was a long-time friend of one of my Melbourne University running friends. They had known each other for years. They were both lawyers. They both played football for University Blacks.

There’s nothing like a tragedy to concentrate your thinking; and then you think, yeah, well that was obvious. We should have seen that coming. Then you think, well: what do we do about it now? And the answer is usually nothing because other things get in the way.

The shooter had been at an all-night bar. An all-night bar? What a good idea. All-night bars are there for people who wake up in the night, decide they have to have a martini right now and have to have someone make it for them and have to drink it in the company of like-minded people and have to drink it in the city. No, wait: that was just some fantasy suggested by the spin-happy legislators who deregulated the liquor industry under the guise of promoting a sophisticated Melbourne night scene.

You want sophistication? You won’t get it in an all-night bar. You’ll get drug dealers and drunkenness. You’ll get bad behaviour and petty crime. You’ll get smashed car windows in the back streets and vandalised shopfronts in the front ones. You’ll get noise and disturbance and the kind of behaviour people move to the other side of the city to get away from. That’s not sophistication. That’s trash.

So the shooter from the all-night bar has dragged a woman out of a taxi by the hair and she is screaming and it is 8.20 a.m. and a man goes to her aid and is shot dead.

This just to hand: the shooter was also wanted over an incident described by The Age's excellent John Silvester thus:

Hudson was believed to be driving a Mercedes-Benz that police tried to pull over about a week ago near the intersection of Somerton Road and the Hume Freeway, Campbellfield, about 3am. Police say someone fired shots indiscriminately from the window, forcing police to back off.

Can someone explain to me how someone can fire a gun indiscriminately near police and get away? And what does 'back off' mean? Let him get away?

He got away. There is soft law in this city.

And now, a week later, a man lay on a cold hard road on a cold hard Monday morning waiting for the coroner and the photographer and the ambulance, and after a while he was taken to a morgue where he lay on a cold hard slab on a cold hard Monday morning and that was the end of his life. He probably had a nice weekend.

The Age reports:

Mr Keilar, 43, leaves behind a wife, Alice, and three daughters — Claire, 8, Phoebe, 6, and Lucy, 4. He lived in Hawthorn East.

Claire. Phoebe. Lucy. What beautiful names.

15.6.07

Little walking horses.

I noticed this story about a Kelloggs' plan to improve its cereals (following pressure from parents, who clearly have not been made aware that purchasing Kellogg's products is not compulsory).

When I was growing up, we were a porridge family; but a box of cereal would occasionally appear in the cupboard (my favourites - Sugar Frosties and Coco Pops).

The exciting thing about these boxes was that, nestling deep down amongst all that sugary, chocolately goodness, lurked ... a trinket. The relative rarity of cereal boxes in our cupboard meant these trinkets were even more special. So for me, the best thing Kellogg's could do to improve its cereals would be to bring back the trinkets! Of course, they would need to have genuine period design, detail and packaging.

Below are my top six cereal trinkets. Am I forgetting any?

6. Dogs. Plastic black cocker spaniels, brown pointers, white collies, red boxers and others. Very cute.

5. Critters. I forget what they were called, but they had eyes on the ends of stem arms, giant mouths and alien bodies in lurid colours.

4. Fish. Fascinating in a weird way. Similar to the plastic dogs, but with plastic plinths so you could display them. The lime green shark was my favourite.

3. Not strictly a trinket: face masks cut from the whole reverse side of the cereal box, to which you could cut out the eyes, attach elastic to the sides and walk around pretending you were Tiger Tim, etc.

2. Trains: plastic engines, carriages and trucks in a range of non-railway approved colours. Like all trinkets, they were manufactured cheaply. If you played with them the wheels wore down. All mine ended up with no wheels.

1. Little walking horses with movable legs that you assembled from a flat-packed plastic press-out kit packaged in cellophane. Once assembled, you attached a cotton string to a hole in its nose and a counterweight to the other end of the string, and the horse ambled across the table rocking from side to side. The high-point of trinket manufacture, never bettered.

Come on Kellogg's. How about it? Get busy with the trinkets.

14.6.07

The Age reviews a restaurant.

Matt Preston's opening paragraph:

We live in an era of house extensions and supersizing where there seems to be constant pressures to increase our footprint on the world for reasons of status, or sometimes pure greed.

Pressures from whom, ungrammatical Matt? Status and pure greed are voluntary motivations. And Matt, if you're worried about the dreaded footprint, why eat in a restaurant: have you seen the size of their stoves?

Restaurants are no different. Too often we hear how a top chef is looking for a bigger site so he can pack in more slavering fans and take their money.

'Take their money'? For shame. Restaurants should be free. Ban the bill! And exactly which top chef or chefs are 'too often' heard looking for 'a bigger site'? Matt doesn't tell us: but he should, were he to make any sense. Matt's rapacious restaurateur theory lurches from sentence to bad sentence like an out-of-control dessert trolley:

The potential financial benefits to them are obvious.

Financial benefits are a requisite for any restaurant to exist. Otherwise, you don't get to eat there. Nevertheless, hundreds of restaurants go spectacularly bust every year because the restaurant customer is fickle. Matt is proof.

It's unclear, however, what's in it for us, the consumer. It might make a table easier to get and there's a definite excitement about entering the grandeur of a big new place, but I'd debate whether the food is always better in a bigger place.

'Us, the consumer ... entering the grandeur' sounds intriguing if you're into mangling the language. But forget grandeur: Matt wants fewer customers around, so he can have the chef to himself:

If anything, the increased numbers can lead to compromises and remove you further from a major reason for going out - to taste the cooking of the actual chef whose name is on the door.

So what does Matt want from a restaurant? A smaller carbon footprint, free meals, restaurants who never develop their business and - pretentiously - that only the actual head chef should cook his food.

Maybe he should eat at mother's.

I gave up at that point. Do newspapers have actual editors any more?

13.6.07

That's not cold, this is cold.

I was sleeping fitfully, uncomfortably, in and out of dreams. A pulsating ache was clattering away inside my head. I couldn't just feel it, I could hear it. It sounded like a Volkswagen on a cold morning.

It wasn't a Volkswagen. It was a red Fordson tractor and it came over a hill in a paddock and it was pulling a scarifier and no-one was driving it, so it must have been a ghost tractor. Then it drove out of the paddock through a gate and it pulled the scarifier onto a smooth concrete road and down the road; and the tines of the scarifier made a noise like a million nails being drawn down a blackboard and my head almost exploded, but the tractor exploded first and the landscape was on fire and then I woke up and the only thing that was on fire was my throat, but the rest of me was ice.

*

After a long mild autumn, the harshness of winter comes as something of a shock, like wading out into a shallow bay and then stepping off the continental shelf into the abyss. The cold has only just arrived in the last couple of weeks, accompanied by an icy southerly wind that starts somewhere in the vicinity of Antarctica and picks up confidence, and more ice, as it crosses Macquarie Island.

The temperature in Melbourne doesn't tell the story. I used to go running with a bunch of friends and one of them was Canadian and she told me once that while Canada's winters were crisp, and its temperatures lower, nothing matched Melbourne for sheer bone-numbing chilliness when the wind lashed and whipped from the south and flung rain and hail in your face. Run along Beaconsfield Parade at 5.30 one June or July morning and you'll know what she meant.

*

To add to winter misery, everyone comes down with colds. We've succumbed. There's no cure for the common cold. Only interesting food and drinks to make it more bearable while you are recovering. Chicken soup. Chilli. Hot lemon juice. Did I mention drinks? Add a jigger of brandy. Or scotch. I heard red wine has antihistamines, whatever they are. It'll all help. Make it a large one. Cure yourself from the inside.

Then there's sage. Google sage and you'll find that it cures everything, which makes you wonder why so many people go to doctors.

Pork, leek and sage loaf. Easy, because you are too ill to cook complex recipes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine a kilogram of pork mince, half a kilo of sausage meat, three rashers of finely chopped bacon, a finely chopped or minced onion and two finely chopped cloves of garlic. Add a couple of dozen - optional - cracked white peppercorns. Salt.

Now add a cup of fresh breadcrumbs, a finely chopped medium leek and a teaspoonful of dried or fresh sage. Mix well.

In a jug or small mixing bowl, mix an egg through a cupful of tomato juice and then stir it through the meat mixture.

Grease a large or a couple of small loaf tins, and bake at a moderate 180 for ninety minutes. Check after 75 minutes, or 50 minutes if using two tins.

Line tins and top loaf with fresh sage leaves if you have any.

Eat hot for dinner tonight with mash of any kind. Eat cold for lunch tomorrow in sandwiches with shredded lettuce. (And particularly good when reheated and eaten in a bread roll with lashings of apple sauce.)

12.6.07

Long weekend.

I kidnapped my mother. It was the only way.

I told her to call off all engagements and cancel other arrangements. She protested. They always do. But I was insistent.

Mum is not far off being an octogenarian, entertains ceaselessly, runs around like an Olympic marathoner, subscribes to causes, plasters heavily underlined op-ed articles all over her refrigerator, has strong opinions on just about everything, has a wide range of very eclectic friends, wears only op-shop clothes and has a million cookbooks going back to 1950; yet tears out recipes from Epicure and puts them in a bulldog clip in a dog-eared wad about two inches thick on the kitchen wall too near the stove.

The problem is two-fold. First, her wide range of eclectic friends have been so well treated by her hospitality over the years that they continue to avail themselves of the pleasure. Second, my mother is wearing out. Arthritis and a spinal problem, while not exactly slowing her pace (she will die tearing around after someone, probably a grandchild if she doesn't die in a housefire caused by the Epicure recipes igniting) are limiting her ability to carry, lift and perform the many functions a multi-tasking almost-octogenarian mega-entertainer needs to perform.

What do you do? I feel like having her phone diverted in order to screen her calls and tell people it's time they stopped inviting themselves over for dinner.

So in desperation, the plan to kidnap her. I dragged her off to the coast for the long weekend. She enjoyed it, of course; but she's her own worst enemy: she tried to wash dishes, clean, fold washing etc, and to stop her we practically had to tie her down.

We managed to get her out to the Blairgowrie cafe each day and force-feed her on foccacias and giant scones with jam and cream and slices of cake the size of the ships that go past and gourmet burgers and breakfasts of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs and avocado and baked beans and spinach and mushrooms, all on slices of toast the size of surfboards.

Then we took her back to the beach house and force-fed her on home made dinners. She eats like a bird. It was difficult but we managed.

She went home happy.

The phone was ringing.

*

Roast pumpkin and chicken risotto with blue cheese.

I made this on Saturday night.

Chop your pumpkin into one inch cubes and roll around in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper to coat. Roast twenty minutes. Meanwhile, heat some chicken stock to a simmer. In another pan, poach a couple of cubed chicken thighs in some more stock.

In between fending off your mother who is trying to help instead of relaxing, gently saute a finely chopped onion and two scored garlic cloves for five minutes and then add the rice - arborio, carnaroli, whatever. Stir through to coat the rice in oil. Add more if necessary.

Now add the stock a little at a time and stir through. Add half a cup of white wine progressively as well. Everyone knows how to do this, so I'm not going into any more detail except to add that good quality cookware is as essential as technique when cooking risotto. It will stick within seconds in a poor quality pot; while a good, heavy-based pot gives you more flexibility in timing and you can even give the rice a good stir, turn it down as low as possible, lid the pot and walk away and it will turn out just fine.

Towards the end, stir through the roasted pumpkin, the chicken, half a cup of grated parmesan and some parsley. Top with blue cheese. Pour a red wine. Make your mother drink it.

*

We made one concession to allowing her to to 'help'. She read about a thousand books to William and Thomas. Everything from Margaret Wise Brown to Beatrix Potter to Richard Scarry to the Rev. W. Awdry.

8.6.07

Coffee break.

The sunlight filtered down and hit the pavement beneath the verandahed Victorian buildings along Collins Street. The sun was warm when I walked in it, but when I was in the shadow of buildings I had to draw my coat a little tighter around me.

The plane trees had started to lose their leaves at last; and the leaves gathered themselves in little piles of crumpled gold, making you want to pick them up and make wintry window displays for the shops selling Italian shoes and expensive tea and scarves and post-modern silver jewellery and ornaments, like a stretching cat with big jade eyes and an erect tail.

Enough of the old buildings are gone to make it a shame; but enough of them remain to make this still the most beautiful street in the most beautiful city in the world, the jewel of the south, shining in the sun.

Columns and spires and curves and gadrooning and a million other forgotten architectural details wore the thin early afternoon light and I walked down the Collins Street hill past the Scots Church and past the old Georges' store and past Kay Craddock’s antiquarian bookstore and past the Athanaeum lending library ('second hand book sale now on') and across the road and around the corner into the city square which was once a stark quadrangle of stone and concrete and cold windswept steps, before it underwent a twenty million dollar award-winning renovation into a stark quadrangle of stone and concrete and cold windswept steps. Then I arrived at Brunetti’s.

In the glass, a mountain of cream sat on two inches of expressed coffee that was black in the middle and red-tan at the edges and hot. I blitzed the mountain of cream with sugar, white and deadly. Then I slipped a teaspoon into the glass and down the edge and hauled up a load of coffee-flavoured cream. I know some people don’t take sugar with their coffee, but if they want to miss out on the extra dimension of that sweet crunch of sugar against the fat and cold of the cream and the tang and warmth of the coffee, it’s their business.

I don’t know why people drink coffee all day.

You only need one.

But it has to be perfect.

7.6.07

Wednesday night supper.

Leek and beans on polenta.

Cook some polenta. You can use instant polenta but the long-cooked version is creamier and better.

(When cooking polenta, I kind of half-lid the pot because for some reason, my polenta always bubbles explosively and the stove gets covered in droplets of the stuff. I'm probably doing something wrong.)

While the polenta is cooking away, gently fry three strips of good bacon, sliced into tiny squares, in a pan in some olive oil until not quite crisp.

Now add a large, finely sliced leek (or a couple of smaller ones) and half a cup of white wine to the bacon. Lid pan and cook on very low for ten minutes. Stir.

Now add a drained can of butter beans and some chopped parsley, stir through leeks and heat through.

Serve piled up on polenta in shallow bowls.

Good with an Alsace riesling.

P.S: Check Gary Moore's tasting notes in the link above to find out why he loves the wine but hates the bottle.

6.6.07

BruMoCoFo fights back against Big Food.

Recommending imports was pointless when they were so rarely to be found.

Now it is different. BruMoCoFo - as the Sydney Road food precinct is now known (for Brunswick/Moreland/Coburg Food precinct) - now has more spice shops, delis, continental and subcontinental groceries and other interesting food and ingredient outlets than actual mainstream supermarkets.

Which means that that abomination called Chicken Tonight sold in the Safeway/Coles duopoly/cartel/oligopoly now finds itself outnumbered in the district by jars that hold contents slightly closer in nature to actual food than inoffensive coloured glue.

Such as Laziza Tandoori paste. It is sharper and hotter and more intense, with more discernible spice notes than other brands. The label recommends marinating your meat in the paste with yogurt and then adding ghee prior to cooking. The ghee really ramps up the flavour. It's fantastic. I tried it with large sections of barramundi marinated overnight and then baked, and then another time with chicken; and in each case I served it with jasmine rice, fenugreek roti and a little salad of tomato, onion, cucumber and coriander.

Laziza products can be found at Desi Needs in Waterford Street and many other shops in the BruMoCoFo precinct. Who comes up with these names?

5.6.07

Traffic lights, Hansel and Gretel, ripe cheese and use-by dates.

Of course, it is nice driving to that countryside of green rolling hills, but when you return late on a Sunday afternoon, you have to go through Pakenham which is five kilometres of car lots and plant hire yards and fast food outlets and furniture barns, punctuated by twenty sets of traffic lights timed to stop you every four hundred metres. That’s nuts. The ‘government’ is spending $242 million to build a bypass around Pakenham. Why not just take out all the traffic lights?

Those green hills (thank you, Jane Osmond) are hiding more and more of the kinds of small batch cheese makers that are often called ‘artisanal’ food producers, but I just call them artisans because I don’t agree that artisanal should even be a word. There are signs scattered through the district pointing to the existence of a gourmet food trail through the rolling hills and lush forests; which sounds like Hansel and Gretel following bits of ripe blue cheese and grissini sticks and the corks from bottles of Bass Philip chardonnay to a gingerbread house made by D. Chirico in a clearing, with plenty of parking out the front for Range Rovers.

Cheese is big around here. There’s a cheese maker over every hill and there are plenty of hills. Tarago River Cheeses (whose cheeses are a lot better than its website) points out to cheese neophytes that, despite today’s disposable age culture, the government-regulated use-by sticker on your piece of soft cheese does not necessarily mean that you toss it in the trash on that day:

"When sold, the cheeses in our cellar will keep well past their Use By date, usually becoming stronger after this age. ... We normally consider our cheeses will be at their peak at or around the Use By date displayed on the packaging."

Well said. In fact, the cheeses might even continue to improve. So much for government regulations. Yes, I know government regulation has a role in food safety, but so do noses and common sense.

Speaking of use-by dates on cheese, my local supermarket stocks a wide range of soft cheeses and marks them down heavily a few days before the expiry date. You can pick up an $8.99 Roaring Forties Blue for $4.50 or an $8 Stormy Washed Rind for $4 and enjoy the perfect meal of a well-ripened soft cheese on your favourite bread, with a bottle of red decanting in a jug within easy reach. Heaven. Somehow it tastes even better if you only paid half price.

4.6.07

Visiting.

There’s something about the rolling hills of Gippsland that plays around with your sense of distance.

We were eating lunch at a round table in a little house perched on the side of a hill, and the round table was by an enormous picture window that looked out over another green hill just across the valley. That hill looked almost vertical, and the black-and-white cows that grazed on it looked like fuzzy felt animals stuck on a board, as if you could just reach out and pick them up and move them closer to the line of pine trees that stretched across the top of the hill like a giant eyebrow.

*

You get here from Melbourne by driving east along a flat freeway for an hour or so, and then you take a turnoff and you wind through the forest along a road that is still treacherously wet from overnight dew - or actual rain - and you have to take care not to drive too fast, because the trees are enormous and close to the road. And after another forty minutes you arrive at this small town in the hills.

It was a quiet Sunday, the first in winter. Even though it was sunny, the air was crisp and clean and as cold as falling snow. Tracy's mother had made lunch for us. This is her new home. She moved here last year. Her house has impossible views out all the windows and inside it is warm and comfortable and there are scores of framed photographs of children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews and some special ones of her husband, Tracy's late father. Some of the photos go back to the old days, taken in Scotland half a century ago.

Now she golfs a little, bowls. She has friends in town.

We arrived at eleven. While the little house looks out over a valley, the town itself is even higher; and before lunch, while Tracy and her mother fussed over Thomas and fussed around in the kitchen and made pots of tea, I pushed William in his pram up an impossibly steep hill about a kilometre to the main street to buy some bread. Despite the cold, I had raised a sweat by the time I reached the bakery. Then back down the hill. Lunch was thick vegetable soup, that old-fashioned home-made variety that only mothers can make; and fresh bread and a range of cheeses and some home-made sausage rolls with home-made pickles and afterwards there was home-made fruit cake and shortbread. I keep saying home-made because so many things come out of a package or a box these days. William ate a whole bowl of Grandma's soup. She was pleased. Sometimes toddlers won't eat a thing. You can never tell.

Later in the afternoon the shadows deepened and we had some more shortbread and watched the cows get in a line and wander off somewhere. To be milked, I supposed.

*

Grandma waved at the gate. The sun was just sliding down behind the hill beyond the house and it put flecks of gold into her white hair. We turned the car south and then west.

1.6.07

Turn off that kettle you silly woman; you've just killed another polar bear.

It was late morning, close to lunchtime. I wasn’t doing anything except flicking through the paper to make the time go faster, because I was hungry, and I could smell the aroma of something delicious floating up and in my window from the laneway below, where there are cafes.

Towards the back of the paper there was a ‘special advertising feature’. I knew straight away it was a ‘special advertising feature’ because it had the words ‘special advertising feature’ on top of both pages. It was the kind of thing in which the paper suckers some sponsors for cash and then writes lame advertorial next to the paid ads and buries the whole thing after Public Notices and before Sport where no-one will read it. It’s how you make money in publishing.

Anyway, the ‘special advertising feature’ was titled Saving our Environment and there was a picture of a mother polar bear and her cub standing around on some ice and directly below the picture was the caption: Bad news: melting ice in the Arctic affects us all. (‘Us’? Polar bears read the Herald Sun? I knew the Herald Sun was getting inflated readership figures from somewhere but I didn't realise it was the Arctic Circle.)

The lame copy accompanying the picture of the bad news-affected bears read, in part:

'In recognition of the devastating effects global warming is having on the Arctic, Melting Ice – a Hot Topic is the slogan for World Environment Day. But how can keeping warm in winter affect the planet?'

Which is about as non as sequitur can get. The lame copy went on to list ways in which people in, I don’t know, North Balwyn, are devastating the Arctic and killing polar bears, including:

'BOILING THE KETTLE: A standard kettle uses 0.11kWh of electricity each time it is used, which will generate 0.11kgCO2e.'

See? That cup of tea you made for Aunt Ethel just killed another bear. But wait a minute. What about that picture? I’ve seen it before.

Click,click, click: a little research. Ah, here we are. Far from being a recent picture of a mother polar bear and cub on receding ice caused by the devastating effects of global warming, it is actually a 2004 photograph for which the original caption read: Mother polar bear and cub on interesting ice sculpture carved by waves.

Tim Blair revealed the full story back in March, but the faux-devastation shot is still being used.

Following its photographic duplicity - if not outright lie – the ‘special advertising feature’ then went on to explain how you can have your cake and eat it too:

‘ ... carbon credits are a way individuals and organisations can decrease or eliminate their impact on the environment. Founded in 2000, Carbon Planet is a global company that conducts carbon emissions audits and sells certified carbon credits to those wishing to eliminate their carbon dioxide emissions.'

For a price. But 'eliminate'? Impossible. You cannot eliminate carbon emissions once they have been emitted. So how do they get away with saying this? This is how:

'Trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it as carbon. By buying one carbon credit, for about $23, you ensure that one tonne of CO2 you have emitted is removed and stored in trees where it can no longer contribute to global warming.’

This is simplistic twaddle, the snake oil of the age. The concept of burying your energy emissions inside a tree is akin to shutting your eyes, putting your hands over your ears and shouting ‘la-la-la’.

If trees assist, then obviously they should be planted. But paying someone to pretend you have impeccable green credentials is hypocritical, ineffective, costly and stupid.

There’s only one way to cut carbon emissions and that is to cut carbon emissions.

*

I threw the paper in the bin, caught the elevator down to the street and had lunch in a cafe. Fettucine with vongole in a light, creamy, garlicky sauce. It was steaming hot. Someone out in the kitchen had cooked it. Murderer.