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

27.11.09

Old photographs: # 2 in a series.



The white HG Holden, KXB-597, was my father's car in 1971. He taught me to drive in it, at an empty Flemington racecourse carpark on Sunday afternoons. The photograph above was taken in Donald, central Victoria. Where was he going? Who knows. Why did he stop there to take the picture?

26.11.09

The encyclopedia and the old painting.

I had to write a page for a regional tourist guide; one of those glossy full colour productions that are half an inch thick and that no-one reads. They print a million of them and they get thrown unread into the motel waste basket along with empty beer cans from the mini bar, the pay-TV guide and last night's Chinese takeaway containers.

The thing I had to write was a biography of nineteenth-century poet Adam Lindsay Gordon, who had lived in the region. Tourist authorities milk these things for all they are worth; especially history, especially famous people, who become a property, a drawcard. Potted biographies usually give no real idea of the human being. Dick Turpin slept here! Who the hell was Dick Turpin? Who cares! Buy the T-shirt! Or the mug!

So I wrote about Adam Lindsay Gordon, but it wrote itself. I had known nothing about him or his work. Gordon had arrived in Australia at the age of twenty, already an accomplished horseman; married a girl of seventeen; wrote vivid epic poetry; rode Cup winners; and endured tragedy. A horse kicked him in the face causing injuries that worsened his depression. His poetry was all but rejected in snob-town Melbourne, the residents of which thought they were above his rollicking verse just like they were above convict-town Sydney. Gordon's fortune disappeared. Then, the one light in his life was extinguished when his infant daughter died. Adam Lindsay Gordon got out of bed one morning in 1870, took a revolver out of a drawer, walked into the ti-tree at Brighton beach and shot himself.

I wrote it up and felt sad for the lost child and her father and sent the copy off and hoped that Adam Lindsay Gordon would have liked the change of emphasis from tourist fluff to human tragedy.

That was last week. On Monday William pulled out a 500-page volume - one of ten from one of my old encyclopedias from about 1956 - from its low shelf and opened it at random. He asked me to read the 'story' on the page that fell open. He liked the pictures: 1940s woodcut images of a silhouetted ship foundering on a reef with people trying to get to shore, and two horsemen galloping through the night on foam-flecked steeds to alert a nearby town's authorities to the unfolding tragedy at sea. It was a poem of several hundred lines, From the Wreck, by Adam Lindsay Gordon. Nice coincidence.

Wednesday. We are walking through the semi-darkness of a quiet State Library corridor – the fourth level exhibition space entitled Victorian Visions: Ned Kelly replica armour, old black and white photographs, a decaying wine barrel from a Sorrento shipwreck, a model of a Fitzroy to Preston cable tram. That kind of thing.

Farther along, there is a wall of nineteenth century paintings. William pointed to one, at random. I stepped forward, leant down to the tiny brass plaque. Thomas Hamilton Lyttleton's Adam Lindsay Gordon Riding at Dowling Forest, 1869.

25.11.09

Potato salad with Rolls-Royces.

Nice tomatoes are coming in. A nice tomato is to a tasteless tomato what a Rolls-Royce is to a Trabant. Probably more so. At least you can do something with a Trabant - there was one at the motor club show day at Flemington earlier this year. But bad tomatoes are completely useless. You can't even make sauce out of them.

Take a nice tomato and combine it with a good, waxy potato and you are looking at a great meal.

Warm potato and asparagus salad, Greek-style.

The Greek part is the feta that tops this salad. The rest I made up.

Peel, quarter (if small to medium - or the equivalent word for six or eight, up to 'decimate', if large or very large; a robust bite size is required) and boil a kilogram of potatoes.

Take 500g of ripe, red tomatoes and chop to the above rule. Cherries in half, monsters sliced and diced. Be sure to capture all the juice and seeds.

Chop half a red pepper into small tiles.

Chop a piece of feta the size of an audio cassette case (remember?) into half-inch or larger cubes.

Chop half an onion into smallish segments. Use the whole onion if you like a lot of onion. I like a lot of onion.

Inch the asparagus. Drop the inches into boiling water, rescue after two minutes when they are bright green but haven't started to shrink yet. Drain.

Drain potatoes and immediately top with just-drained asparagus and the tomatoes and onion. Add a dozen or more black olives.

Feta on top. Drizzle good olive oil. Squeeze lemon juice. Scatter dried oregano and fresh chopped parsley.

The hot vegetables warm the tomato juice and the onion and the olive oil and the lemon juice, creating an irresistible aroma.

Serve with buttered fresh crusty bread. In the back seat of the Rolls.

23.11.09

Participle extended.

A tabloid liftout entitled 'Dream Houses' in one of the weekend papers described a property by the sea as a 'luxury-ladened beach house'.

22.11.09

Cloud tide.

I stacked the coals in the grill over a firelighter, lit the firelighter with a match and walked back inside to skewer some chicken for kebabs for the barbecue.

*

Chicken kebabs
I skewered one cube of chicken breast, one segment of onion and one square inch of red capsicum in that order; repeating until four large skewers were loaded, and shunting the ingredients close together as possible on the skewers. I find they cook better that way and the chicken breast - prone to drying out if not cooked with care - stays moist. I set them aside on a platter and showered them with lemon juice and chopped garlic. Then I speed-dried a sprig each of thyme, oregano and mint fresh from the garden in a heavy pan, crushed the dried herbs over the skewers and finished them off with a heavy drizzle of olive oil.

*

The cooler day had been a relief after what – two weeks? - of unprecedented spring heat. Unprecedented only in a mere 150 years of weather bureau records, of course. The place has been inhabited for 40,000 years. I can’t speak for how the Wurundjeri spent the early spring of 20,894 BC, for example. I suppose they had the odd hot spell. 40,000 years is a long time. They came from Tasmania. Walked.

The sky had remained overcast most of the day but the air had stayed humid. Pockets of warmth buffeted every now and then.

Before lighting the barbecue, I glanced at the sky, checked the wind direction (a leisurely north-westerly), looked at the radar and decided the rain would hold off. It started five minutes later, when we sat down for dinner. So much for the radar. It came down finely at first, and then started drumming. We moved under cover.

It rained all night. There is an ominous tap-tap at thirty second intervals in the roof. I can't complain: Britain is having what meteorologists are calling once-in-a-thousand-years rainfall. The newspaper subeditors as usual are going one better and calling it 'biblical'.

*

Chicken kebabs, continued. Plus: spiced zucchini strips
I placed the skewers over the hot coals, covered them with the wok lid and left them for eight minutes. That was about two minutes too long. I turned them, poured over the remaining herby, garlicky olive oil and lemon juice mixture and left them for another four minutes - that was about right - and the coals reacted angrily, but very fragrantly, to the remaining marinade.

Meanwhile, I cut two zucchinis into quarter-inch strips, brushed them with olive oil and dusted them with fenugreek flakes and ground coriander. Resisting the temptation to eat them just like that, I placed them radially over the coals, around the kebabs, and grilled them for just a few minutes each side until they had lines on them, not bothering to crosshatch the lines. Only food stylists do that. I served them with sweet mango pickle and a salad of finely chopped tomato, onion and fresh coriander, alongside the chicken kebabs.

*

It rained all Sunday morning. Now the wind had turned around and the clouds were heading inland again, like a turning tide, on a light south-westerly and last night's chicken leftovers had become today's lunch: barbecued chicken on fresh white bread with shaved lettuce and a little mayonnaise. And coffee.

*

Afternoon. The rain is gone and the air is warm again. Through the kitchen window, the garden is limpid green, sci-fi movie-style, glowing with suffused sunlight reflected in the water droplets hanging on the tiny leaves of the lilly-pilly hedge at the back and the viburnum hedge at the side.

19.11.09

Vespa or Honda? Astarra or VicSuper? Alessi orange juicer or me? I can't decide.

A buzzing noise, like a loud mosquito coming up the street, got closer and then stopped outside my house. The postman reached across the pelargonium hedge to the letterbox and then buzzed away again on his Australia Post Honda motor scooter. (A friend of mine has a Honda scooter; he loves it. He told me it runs on nothing and you don’t look like you’re pretending to be someone when you park it outside a Lygon Street cafĂ©. You look like a postman going out for coffee instead, I said back to him. Better that than looking like a poseur, he said, and anyway, Vespas break down. We joke like this all the time. It doesn’t mean anything.)

I fished the mail out of the letterbox and reminded myself to prune the pelargonium.

The first envelope had the name Astarra on the front. The letter inside had a headline that read: Significant Event Notice. That means kiss goodbye to your superannuation in a language spawned by bureaucrat-enforced transparency laws. The rest of the letter was about as transparent as the mud at the bottom of the Yarra river. It was full of acronyms including ASIC and APRA, neither of which acronyms you want popping up in your mail, especially mail about your financial affairs. It’s my own fault. That super fund seems to have changed its name every other year. It was obviously being hawked around the financial traps like fish in a market at the end of a stinking hot day. I should have rolled it into my VicSuper account years ago. (That doorslam you just heard was Mr Hindsight leaving the room.)

The next envelope was large and square and glossy and had our names and address printed in gold script and was impossible to tear open because it was made of such high quality paper it was practically fabric. When I got it open with the help of a large pair of scissors, an invitation to a second cousin’s wedding and some business cards fell out. The invitation informed me – as well as inviting me to attend the wedding - that the couple was pleased to provide ‘options’ for gift-giving, the business cards for gift registries being two of these. How thoughtful.

The invitation went on to add, in gold-embossed script that oozed sincerity (or insincerity, I couldn’t decide which): of course, your attendance is the greatest gift of all. (Translation: you are nicer than a toaster.)

Really? If that is the case, do we go with the online gift registry or just gift-wrap ourselves and tear the paper off as we sit down to the five-course dinner?

I can't decide; and Tracy is a Libran.

18.11.09

Sentence not working.

"Cynthia opened the oven door and poured more hot gravy over the roast before lambasting Roger following an argument about a mint sauce recipe. Did it contain sugar, or not? They ran a successful real estate empire of eighty offices between them, but could never agree about the smallest things."

17.11.09

The eggplant and the helicopter.

Sunday evening. Almost dark. No breeze. Warm. Embers still glowing in the grill.

The helicopter had started earlier. It made low arcs in the sky stabbing the ground with a searchlight that swung around like a drunk wielding a light saber. Its engine made a nice clean treble chop, chop, chop on the approach and a rumbling bass whirr on the ebb. Sometimes this makes the glasses rattle in the cupboard, but only when I’ve placed them too close together. When this happens, I simply move them slightly apart, and then only the house shakes and I can't do anything about that.

Something about helicopters and Sunday nights in this town. Maybe the pilots earn double rates on Sundays. Maybe the city goes nuts. I don’t know. It went away after a while.

I like Sunday nights. I like the peace and the solitude and the warm spring air and the distant sounds of traffic and the trams trundling along a Sydney Road canyoned by crumbling Victorian verandahs over darkened fabric shops and smoky kebab houses.

Sometimes I hear the trams ringing their bells madly and I imagine another passenger climbing down on to Sydney Road and almost being run down by an insane motorist gunning his car past the tram. I’ve personally almost been knocked down dozens of times. Why don’t they do something about this? They need miniature red-lit boom gates in their tails - they'd only need to be three feet in length - that come down and physically prevent cars passing: and not leave passengers' lives to a driver's good nature. Surely that’s not too hard. Trucks and buses used to have boom-arm trafficators with little silhouette cable-operated plastic hands on the end. So surely trams could be similarly fitted. I must speak to the Minister for Transport. Is there one?

*

Barbecued eggplant, Lebanese-style.

Take two large eggplants.

Lay them on their sides, like grounded zeppelins, and slice them into rounds almost to their bases but not quite. You don’t need to peel them.

Make a paste of four tablespoons of olive oil, six minced garlic cloves, two teaspoons each of paprika, cumin, fresh (or dried) chopped lemon thyme, a teaspoon of cayenne and half a teaspoon of chopped fresh mint. These measures are flexible. Vary them according to the size of your eggplants and your personal taste.

Brush or pour the paste on the cut surfaces of the eggplants - like putting garlic butter in a cut loaf - then wrap them each separately and tightly in two layers of foil. (Cut off the stalk ends so they don’t pierce the foil.)

Place on the grill over the coals. Lid the grill. I have an open grill and I use an old wok lid as my barbecue lid. It gives plenty of depth and works beautifully. Rotate the eggplants through ninety degrees four times – about every ten minutes of so, depending on the heat. The eggplants should collapse slightly. You’ll know when they’re done, and so will the whole neighbourhood.

Open out on a serving platter. Serve direct from the foil, or arrange slices and serve with yogurt or leben, and wedges of lemon.

And chilled beer. It was a hot night.

16.11.09

Potato and leek, Italian-style.

Home-made gnocchi with leek and tomato sauce.

Cut a leek through the middle twice at right angles and then slice it to produce quartered rounds.

Sweat this in a heavy pan with some oil, a chopped onion, a stick of chopped celery and a scored garlic clove. Five minutes or so, just to soften.

Now add half a large jar of passata, or a can of diced tomatoes, stir it through the leek mixture and cook it gently for twenty minutes. Add a spoonful of water now and then if necessary.

Meanwhile, make a big potful of gnocchi. The more I make home-made gnocchi, the worse supermarket versions taste, especially the shrink-wrapped ones. Years ago I used to buy these all the time, but nowadays I can boil and rice potatoes, add some flour and an egg (or no egg), roll it together, chop it into inches and throw the inches into a pot of boiling water faster than any supermarket trip, automated checkout or no automated checkout. (Here's one using sweet potato.)

Pour the cooked leek sauce over the soft pillows of potato gnocchi and add a handful of your choice of grated cheese. Serve immediately or place under the grill to create a little crunchy cheesy brownness on top if you wish.

12.11.09

Jambalaya (On the Bayou)

It was one of those trivia quiz nights, where you form teams of seven or eight and sit at round tables while an MC fires questions from a microphone on the stage, and you try to be the first to hit the buzzer. The rest of the time you eat Bega Bar-B-Cubes and kabana on toothpicks from platters in the middle of the table and drink warm sauvignon blanc from disposable tumblers. I'm not sure why. It must be in The Rules of Trivia Nights.

We’d done politics and geography and climate change and celebrity nonsense and now we were up to music. Our table was doing well, but I hadn’t answered a single question.

For the music questions, the MC played a fragment of a tune and you had to name the band. The last fragment had been that six-steps-up-and-over-the-stile piano piece from She’s a Rainbow. Someone guessed Rolling Stones after the first note. Easy.

The MC hit the play button again. This time the tune fragment was mid-song. The voice of John Fogerty boomed out of the speakers: son of a gun gonna have big fun on the bayou. Hands all around the room hit buzzers simultaneously and the MC pointed to a contestant at random who immediately answered Creedence Clearwater Revival. Easy.

But wrong. Amidst the sea of perplexed faces were several indignant ones, certain the MC was mistaken. That was my cue.

I managed to excavate the correct answer from the vast sea of mostly dormant trivia that lies floating in my brain and blocks useful information such as my email password, my telephone number and, occasionally, the names of my children.

Bzzzzt! The MC swung around. 'The Blue Ridge Rangers,' I intoned, with all the seriousness of the late Jack Hamilton announcing a Brownlow winner, or a freak mathematician reciting pi from memory.

And that answer got our group over the line. Prizes that year were, as usual, donations from an odd assortment of local businesses and included a Collected Works of Shakespeare with a faux leather cover, a voucher for two nights’ accommodation at Melbourne University’s Mount Buller Lodge, six bottles of Galway Cabernet Shiraz and four running-socks-running-cap-and-drink-bottle packs. We split the proceedings and I came away with the Collected Works of Shakespeare. I must read it one day.

*

I remembered the song, of course. I was in fifth form or year eleven or whatever they’re calling it these days; in 1973 it was called Leaving. Jambalaya (On the Bayou) was a hit that year, reaching number 7 in March. (That chart position is not from my personal vast sea of trivia but from Thomas J. Guest’s indispensable volume Melbourne Top 40 Research, Maloney Publishing, 1991.)

*

This whole thing came to mind when I heard John Fogerty had released a new Blue Ridge Rangers album, this time with collaborators including Bruce Springsteen and Don Henley. Fogerty's band Creedence Clearwater Revival had previously been huge with my contemporaries many of whom, like me, had older siblings who were stuck in the decade-old Beatles and Rolling Stones era. The Creedence sound was different. Cosmo’s Factory was our soundtrack to 1971, a kind of precursor to my older children's Nevermind or Definitely Maybe a generation later.

*

Oh, Jambalaya: derived from paella, the ‘jam’ possibly referring to jamon. A kind of contraction of jamon-paella?

Chicken and smoked ham jambalaya.

Cook a kilogram of cubed chicken pieces with 500g cubed smoked ham in oil in a heavy-based pan until chicken is browned.

Add one chopped onion, half a chopped green capsicum, one chopped celery stick and two minced garlic cloves. Cook stirring until golden.

Make a spice of one tablespoon each garlic powder and onion powder; two teaspoons each white pepper, cracked black pepper and dried thyme; one and a half teaspoons cayenne pepper; and half a teaspoon dried oregano. Add two teaspoons of this mixture to the pan. Tightly lid the rest and store.

Add one tin diced tomatoes with juice to the pan. Add two and a half cups of long grain rice and three cups of chicken stock. (Stock: bones from chicken above, one chopped carrot, one small chopped onion, six peppercorns, two sprigs parsley, one sprig fresh thyme, four cups water. Boil, cool and strain.)

Bring to boil, then transfer mixture to baking dish. Bake until rice is slightly crisp on top.

(This is a standardised version transcribed from an unattributed Australian cookbook many years old, so I'm not sure how 'genuine' it is. I'd welcome other versions.)

11.11.09

Soapbox derby: judges call for a photo.

'The blog is a soapbox, not a story.'
They cut down forests to print sweeping statements like that. So declared Ben McIntyre of The Times (reprinted in The Weekend Australian November 8-9, courtesy of Rupert Murdoch who seems to own every newspaper in the world). Ben had opened the paragraph in which the above sentence appears with the following statement:

'Storytelling is the bedrock of civilisation.'
Fine. Storytelling is the bedrock of civilisation. Who am I to argue? But you just know that a paragraph commencing like that is going to meander along like the Thames through Henley, just not as picturesquely; and so it did before arriving suddenly, jerkily, at the gratuitous dig at blogs. And why does he say ‘The’ blog anyway? To paraphrase Philip Marlowe, I thought there were several. Million.

He uses 'The' because the definite article in the collective noun sense allows him to make the charge without being specific about anyone's blog. Or about every - single - one. You may as well say 'The' newspaper is fit only for tonight's fish and chips. It depends on the content. In both - collective - cases.

Paid writers have been sniping at weblogs for years. It's understandable and sometimes what they say is true. There's trash everywhere you look. Take a look at a magazine stand, for example.

But bloggers and users of other social media also buy newspapers and find it galling to hear reporters continually taking the moral high ground when it comes to 'storytelling' or writings of 'record'.

Somewhat ironically, that very same edition of The Weekend Australian had trumpeted, on another page, changes designed to ‘enhance’ its 'look'. Suddenly, it wasn't all about the story:

'The first thing readers will notice is the new masthead and colour palette throughout the newspaper. ... You will see more white space and less clutter on the pages. ... You will see a greater focus on "visual journalism" to ensure the quality of the words readers have come to trust is reflected in the quality of the design.'
Next week, we improve Shakespeare by changing the typeface.

9.11.09

Oranges and lemons ...*

30 degrees at 7 p.m. and not much wind. Let's eat out. And let’s see how the boys are at outdoors dining this year. Seems not so long ago at least one of them was asleep in a pram at this hour. Time goes by so quickly, not slowly.

I like to commence the barbecue season with my personal King of Fishes - Tasmanian Atlantic Salmon. The cost of this fish stops it being an everyday choice, but it is cheaper at the market and is occasionally marked down in the supermarkets. And there it was at $19.95 a kilogram instead of its usual $30-$36.

I wrapped two fat fillets in foil together with two chopped spring onions, the juice of half an orange and a squirt of good quality soy sauce. That's it. The fillets were an inch at their thickest ridge and cooked in ten minutes over the coals. Never overcook this fish. I opened the foil and out burst an aroma of Chinatown and orange groves.

As if that wasn't cruel enough to the neighbours, my onion and garlic kebabs were even more fragrant: on a skewer, alternate sections of onion and garlic cloves and then brush with Thai red curry paste. Place these on a slightly cooler area of the grill or coals so that the onion almost caramelizes and the garlic - you can leave its skin on - bakes. You can vary the Thai paste to whatever you have in the fridge. Keep it vaguely East to suit the fish. I wasn't about to use Branston pickle, although come to think of it ...

One of the reasons I like dining outside is to watch the sky show put on by the clouds. Dinner beneath a ceiling of burnished cumulostratus in the shape of an elephant drifting southwestwards on a next-to-nothing breeze and slowly turning into an open-topped sportscar as it disappears over the horizon - which here is a line of fifteen-foot lilypillies - beats TV dinners any time.

Something of an accidental citrus theme continued through the salad: baked pumpkin pieces tossed through spinach, fresh from the garden, showered with toasted pine nuts and dressed with lime juice and olive oil.

Of course, we had started with citrus as well: a large half moon of lemon twisted back on the peel to release its oil and drowned in a long glass of one-third Gordon’s and two-thirds tonic. Drink a couple of these and you'll see your children's behaviour improve before your very eyes.

Actually they were very good: sat and ate their meals, perfectly behaved, before rounding out the night with locomotive laps of the table on their tricycles in the growing darkness. Then to bed.

By then, the cumulostratus sportscar had left the scene, leaving just a little wispy deep orange cirrostratus higher up in the sky. It didn't look like anything. Then the sky faded to black. The show was over.


*Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book, c. 1744.

6.11.09

Old photographs: #1 in a series.


I have a collection of old photographs, many taken by my father. I may as well put them here.

The above picture, taken by my father during an Inverloch holiday in the summer of 1969-70, shows my younger sister feeding the baby of the family. Behind them partially obscured on a deck chair is the second youngest. My sister was six that summer, so that makes the boys almost two, and four and a half.

This is one of my mother’s favourite photographs: she recalls that the youngest was recovering from illness at the time. In the picture he looks tired but appears to be eating willingly. Today, my sister’s own youngest child is not much older than the brother she was feeding in the photograph forty years ago. Her serene expression and caring nature haven’t changed.

*

The house at Inverloch was a rambling Edwardian seaside farmhouse on a few acres at the top of a hill overlooking Anderson Inlet. Its bedrooms were cavernous and smelled like empty cedar wardrobes and the lounge room had dusty holiday-house curtains, an ancient bookcase stocked with old orange and white Penguins, and unmatching sink-into chairs in which to read them on endless summer afternoons. The kitchen, typically of early Australian farmhouses, could have fed fifty. Its fly-wire screen door banged onto a verandah that ran around the north, east and west walls, making the house cool and shady in summer. A windbreak of pine trees lined the drive; and at the back, a steep track had been cut through the bushy acres all the way down the hill to the beach. Across the track, the almost horizontal limb of a white gum stretched, low down. My mother used to sit the younger children on the branch and, rocking it gently, sing ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross, to see a fine lady upon a white horse, rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, she will have music wherever she goes*.

*

I drove my first car to Inverloch years later to see the old holiday house and rekindle memories. It had been abandoned and vandalised, a jagged-glass wreck. Brutal sunshine pierced broken roof tiles and ribcage roof rafters, making furnaces of its once-cool plastered rooms. Later the house was demolished completely, and today scores of look-alike units spill down the hill where once my mother rocked her laughing children on the branch of a white gum tree overlooking the sea.

*Gammer Gurton’s Garland, 1784

4.11.09

Living on the bread line.

Oddly coincidental fact of the day. Or coincidentally odd fact of the day. Or just plain odd:

My last six addresses have been situated on exactly the same longitude.

From residence one I went north, north again, then far north; then a long way south, almost back to the middle north; and then a little further south again. But all within a second or two of longitude. All by sheer coincidence, of course. For example, the house we are in today is two doors away from one of our previous houses: we now live on our neighbours' right, where once we lived on their left. Perhaps we helped them feel as they’d had a move as well. I’m feeling quite dizzy just writing this paragraph, so let’s have a new one.

This whole conversation line (!) came about when I was cooking silver beet. Tracy and I were discussing the most redolent neighbourhood we had lived in; redolent in the aromatic not the malodorous sense; we’ve never lived near an abattoir or a rubbish tip or a Subway store, for example.

In the early eighties I lived in a terrace fifty metres from Lygon Street. I’d open a window first thing in the morning and the smell of toast and bacon and eggs would float in along with birdsong and the morning sun. Mid-morning you’d catch a hint of garlic and onion - the brewing lunchtime sauces of a hundred restaurants - and later in the day the pizza ovens would crank up and it was baking tomatoes and dough and anchovies on the air until midnight.

Later, I went north to Brunswick where on hot summer evenings the aromatic smoke from countless grills blanketed the suburb. This was accompanied by the fragrance of flat bread baking in giant ovens, enhanced by sesame and zatar and tram bells.

And then a little farther north again, not far past Moreland Road, perhaps a kilometre or two, where Indian spices - hand-ground and warmed gently from sleep - wake and send their perfume up into the atmosphere like urgent airborne appetisers on the early evening breeze, together with hot fenugreek-flavoured roti. You can’t smell Indian cooking – in its early stages when the spices are warming and the cooking process is just beginning - and not want to eat curry. It’s impossible.

So the curry wins. This is the most fragrant suburb in Melbourne.

Oh, I almost forgot. The silver beet:

Aromatic spices with chickpeas and silver beet.


Place two tablespoons of macadamia oil in a heavy-based pan and gently cook a chopped onion, three scored cloves of garlic, a teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and sweet paprika, and two teaspoons each of ground coriander and cumin seeds, until the onion is soft. You don't have to cook the onion first, just toss the whole lot in together.

Add two drained 425g tins of chickpeas, a tin of diced tomatoes, two tablespoons of tomato paste, a quarter cup of chopped dried apricots (I use the dark Turkish organic ones, not the bright orange ones) and cook through for a minute or two, stirring.

Now add a cup of water and about 500g of chopped silver beet minus stalks. Cook five minutes.

Stir through a small handful each of chopped fresh coriander and chopped fresh mint. Serve with thick yogurt and toasted segments of Lebanese bread.