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

30.9.08

Windfall fruit to soy burgers: the rich tapestry of the vegetarian diet.

Of course, I'm no vegetarian but many of my friends are.

It's a matter of degree. Some vegetarians gaze longingly into butcher shop windows after lunching on burgers made out of soybean; others eat only windfall fruit from disused orchards and sip the morning dew from wild buttercups. A vegetarian acquaintance of mine fries up panfuls of imitation bacon, although it is imitation only in that it comes in rashers; it certainly doesn't smell like bacon. Maybe that's the idea. Apparently the smell of bacon is what causes most vegetarians to fall off the wagon.

For Day Two of National Vegetarian Week, a salad that is on high rotation in our kitchen. It's a once-a-weeker, at least.

Warm vegetable salad with toasted pinenuts.


Boil a dozen halved small potatoes, washed well but unpeeled, until almost soft. Slice a dozen baby roma or similar tomatoes in two. Slice a red onion into rings. Grill the flesh of a large red capsicum until blackened, then cool, peel, cut into strips, place on a dish and coat in olive oil. Plunge a dozen green beans and the same number of asparagus into boiling water, leave for a few minutes and drain. Do the same with a dozen snow peas but drain after a minute. Cook a cup of green peas until done, drain, add two tablespoons of home-made pesto* to the pot and reheat until pesto becomes runny. Add a little water or oil if necessary. Toast some pinenuts.

Assemble salad: place potatoes and tomatoes on a large plate, add capsicum strips, asparagus, beans, onion rings and snow peas. Add a generous handful of marinated black olives and the pesto-drenched peas. Finish off with a sprinkling of toasted pinenuts. Add cubes of fetta cheese if desired.

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*I have a side garden full of parsley. You can only eat so much taboule, so I have converted several acres of the green herb into jars of home-made pesto. Each batch varies due to slightly differing ratios of ingredients, making life all the more interesting. My pesto makes its way into soups, is eaten on the end of hand-held just-blanched asparagus and carrot sticks, is spread on bread and rolls instead of butter with chicken and avocado or under grilled cheese, coats or stuffs (with fetta) chicken fillets and even ends up as a pasta sauce.

Ingredients
Armfuls of parsley
Additional mint, rocket and coriander
A truckload of nuts; variously pinenuts, walnuts and macadamias
A whole bulb of garlic
Parmigiano or other hard cheese
Olive oil

Method
Blend ingredients together and bottle with a layer of olive oil on top. Proportions can vary. I generally use too much garlic. Sufficient oil is required for the above recipe. Add more for a runnier consistency.

29.9.08

Bring out your vegetables.

It was a sunny spring morning and I was driving south on the Monash tollway - maximum speed 70 km/h - and I had the radio on in the car and they were talking about National Vegetarian Week.

I didn't know there was one, although there seems to be a 'week' for just about everything these days. Some very important things even get an entire year to themselves. For example, what do you think 2008 is the 'year of'? What would you think is occupying the consciousness of the world at this point in history?

Yes: potatoes.

Which means this year's National Vegetarian Week - occurring within the Year of the Potato like some kind of tuberous alignment of the planets - is sure to be a great success.

My contributions to this momentous week will include some old favourites. So let's commence with the first. I have diplomatically remove a previous option of prosciutto in the following recipe and added capers instead for a salty kick.

National Vegetarian Week, Day One: Tubetti con patate

(tubetti with potato)

An unusual but surprisingly robust and unctuous pasta dish.

1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 onion diced
1 celery stalk, sliced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
3 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 fresh or canned tomato, chopped
1 sprig fresh marjoram
Caperberries or capers
400g tubetti or any short tubular pasta
1 tbsp freshly grated parmigiano

Heat oil and butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add onion and cook for 10 minutes until it starts to soften. Add celery and carrot and cook for 10 minutes. Add potatoes, tomato and marjoram and cook until potatoes are tender. Keep stirring, adding spoonfuls of water when necessary to prevent the potatoes from sticking. The 'sauce' will become creamy as the potatoes cook and soften, but they should still retain their shape. Cook pasta in plenty of boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain, and place in a warm serving bowl. Top with potato sauce, mix gently, add capers and serve with cheese. Serves four.

24.9.08



Yes, this is why I like springtime.

23.9.08

Playing favourites.

Reader polls are as compelling a waste of time as you're likely to find.

This one in The Australian Magazine asked readers to nominate the best Australian song of the past twenty years. Crowded House took six positions in the top twenty. Maybe not so astounding, given their uncanny ability not just to write the kinds of songs that make you remember where you were when you first heard them, but to write a lot of them. Distant Sun takes me back to a ghostgum-lined country road, driving somewhere south of Heathcote in central Victoria late on a golden Sunday afternoon. A long time ago, but it comes back with the sound of a song.

Otherwise, Ed Kuepper's Black Ticket Day, something by the Go-Betweens and any number of Paul Kelly's songs could have gotten mentions. And for me, just about anything from silverchair's Diorama, on which Daniel Johns collaborated with Van Dyke Parks, beats last year's Straight Lines. But then I didn't contribute to the poll.

*

Oh, food. I'm forgetting my core constituency. Things get in the way. Food will return soon.

16.9.08

Money Market Turmoil and What it Means: A Sub-Primer.

1. Nobody knows what will happen.

2. Nobody knew two years ago, some just thought they did.

3. Nobody knew six months ago, some just thought they did.

4. Nobody knows today, some just think they do.

5. But they're no longer sure.

6. Nobody knows where money comes from.

7. Nobody knows where it goes.

8. Most importantly, nobody knows the murky places it visits along the way.

9. Because there are some places money is not supposed to go.

10. Because of this, a year ago fringe brokers were on the nose.

11. The banks loved it.

12. Because it made the banks look good.

13. And the brokers had to raise their rates.

14. Bad brokers! said the banks. Borrow from us instead!

15. But banks are not good and never were and never will be.

16. Also, banks are not clever.

17. Because they had fingers in exactly the same pies as the brokers.

18. Some they didn’t even know about.

19. But the banks soon found out.

20. And then they had to raise rates.

21. In the glare of publicity.

22. And banks hate publicity.

23. Except their own.

24. Which nobody buys (Determined to be different? Climb every mountain? You've got to be kidding. Bring back the elephant piggy-bank. At least you could use it.)

25. This week, squeaky-clean Members Equity bank advertised in a somewhat-desperate sounding full-page open letter in the national press that they had an S&P rating! So everything was fine!

26. They just didn’t say what it was.

27. Not that triple AAA means anything any more.

28. Plus, don't they realise that running full-page ads protesting their financial health makes people think exactly the opposite? Think psychology, bank marketers!

29. New sign seen in bank: Please Do Not Ask For Credit as Refusal May Offend.

30. They borrowed it from the corner store.

12.9.08

Back it up.

I read recently of someone whose notebook computer was stolen. The computer contained most of a book he was writing and he was beside himself with terror. No backup. No printed pages.

Nothing new, I suppose. I can imagine authors of old slaving away by candlelight, falling asleep at the quill and having the house burn down along with the manuscript.

Sometimes I imagine Blogger - if not the entire internet - disappearing into thin air because my book is a blog. There will be seven chapters and an introduction and half of each chapter is a blog post.

I printed out the first six posts - three chapters - delivered them to the commissioning publisher and breathed a little easier.

11.9.08

Quality publishing awarded.

From today's Australian:

Australia's winning publishers: PANPA (Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers' Association) Newspaper of the Year Awards.
Highly commeded: The Sunday Age, Sunday Canberra Times, The Sunday Mail.

No mention of any awards for sub-editors or proofreaders.

The Australian itself picked up the Online Newspaper of the Year (Metropolitan) award.
Has anyone tried getting around its online opinion pages?

7.9.08

Welcome to Spring.

The yellow sticker on the pack read "Sshhh! They're sleeping".

After mechanical debearding, Tasmanian Spring Bay mussels are shrink-wrapped into a kind of plastic oxygen chamber where they slumber blissfully for 'up to nine days', according to the pack.

Certainly, they were very quiet. I wondered whether they were not in an induced coma rather than merely sleeping. I placed them very carefully into the pot of boiling fluid. What if one were to wake up seconds before being boiled to death?

The fluid comprised a cup of white wine, a little olive oil, an onion, five chopped garlic cloves, and a chili - all finely chopped - and some ground pepper. The mussels were cooked in two minutes. Then a shower of chopped parsley and away you go. See how high you can stack up the shells in a side dish without letting them clatter to the table. It's an art.

*

The best part of this dish, besides the fat, briney, orange mussels, is mopping up the garlic-infused fluid with good bread. I used the last of the Dench sourdough.

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Mussels in white wine and garlic is my traditional welcome-to-Spring dish. I haven't decided if shrink-wrapped Tasmanian mussels are better than the local Portarlington or Shoreham ones. Any other opinions? The Tasmanian ones seemed more uniform in size and had fewer irregularities and marks on the shells than the local ones. They are ideal for those who don't want the work involved in debearding mussels but it has never bothered me.

*

My funniest mussel memory: our late Britanny, Goldie, eating leftover mussels and spitting out bits of shell.

5.9.08

'You put Vegemite on your artisan bread?' 'Yes. And it was great!'

It wasn't so much loaf as doorstop.

If you put it on the ground and kicked it you would break a toe. That's a nice change from the kind of supermarket bread that weighs nothing and collapses like a bag of cotton wool when you put something as light as a newspaper on top of it in the basket.

My doorstop was a loaf of Dench seeded sourdough. It would keep for a week if you could resist eating it. It's a little too dense for sandwiches of the delicate asparagus or vinegared cucumber or shaved ham kind, but it comes into its own topped robustly with home-made meatloaf, or smoked trout with capers and mayonnaise, or thick slices of mature cheddar and pickles.

Dench sourdough makes great toast. Cut it thickly and toast the slices lightly, top it with butter and Vegemite and eat it with strong tea. After a breakfast like that you'll feel like hunting lions.