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

26.2.10

Peanuts.

I was talking to Clyde at the track last night. Clyde is retired and was complaining that he didn't have the time to be retired, because of children's activities. He feels a little cheated, like a horse that discovers the carrot is plastic after galloping five miles for it.

"One has piano Tuesday nights, tennis Wednesdays and something else on Fridays," he told me. I forget what the something else was; some kind of martial art thing in which they wear white clothes and throw their limbs about.

"Two has violin two days a week and basketball on weekends," he went on, "and three - the youngest at six - has swimming and little athletics. Little athletics at six! And the parents coach from the sidelines." Clyde, a veteran runner, was shocked at the idea of 'coaching' a six-year-old.

I said something about the workhouses in Britain in the nineteenth century. "Children don't have time to play in the mud any more, or collect snails," I said. "On the bright side, they'll be over all the activities by age ten," I said. "And you'll have your life back."

Clyde laughed in a way that did not make him sound amused. "My wife is talking about changing child two's basketball coach. The current one is not getting results."

"She's just looking after his best interests, Clyde," I reasoned. "So if he doesn't turn out to be Itzhak Perlman he can be Charles Barkley, and if child one isn't Horowitz he could be Pat Cash, and if child three can't be Thorpe he can be a famous runner. I just can't think of the name of one right now."

Clyde said that didn't sound like the kind of household he could possibly live it, and then he told me that sarcasm was the lowest form of wit. I said that I thought I was being ironic, and that confused both of us.

I don't know how the conversation got around to children's enforced exercise and recreation regimes, but perhaps it was when I mentioned the pitfalls of raising children, which is the expression we used years ago before someone changed it to 'parenting'. I had made a peanut butter sandwich - fresh white bread, thick butter and thick, smooth peanut butter - and I was putting it into Thomas' kindergarten bag for a snack when William almost shouted, "No peanut butter at kinder, Daddy!" Clyde had laughed and then told me about his stolen life.

All this while jogging around a track on a warm evening in the dying days of summer.

*

Now we were finished and it was a cool night and the moon was three quarters full and it cast a pale light over the track. Several people were still jogging around. Running - or at least fast walking which is all I can manage these days - is good for the appetite.

I went home and made a quick and easy dinner.

Squid in peanut sauce.

Take half a cup of coconut cream, a quarter cup of water, three tablespoons of crunchy peanut butter, half a teaspoon each of chili powder, ground cummin, ground coriander and curry powder. Combine all ingredients in a pot. Bring to a high simmer, add 750g squid cut into rings or strips, turn down heat, cover pot, simmer up to thirty minutes. Serve on basmati rice and offer extra chili sauce for those who like it hot.

23.2.10

"Sometimes you've got to take the hardest line ... "

The first one came to the door and knocked loudly and, when I opened it, he announced "I'm from the government," and without waiting for a reply, demanded "Where's your manhole?"

"No, you're not," I replied, "and none of your business."

These people have a verbal foot-in-the-door technique. "We are authorised to check your ceiling," he insisted.

"No, you're not," I replied, warming to the conversation. "But I'm authorised to throw you off the property."

The next one tried a similar technique. "The government has to put insulation in your ceiling," he informed me, "otherwise global warming will cause the earth to overheat." That bizarre non sequitur is verbatim. I am not making it up.

This second one had appeared at the door in about October last year when hysteria was at its highest point just prior to the Copenhagen bureaucratic jet-fest.

My friend Theo, gullible and nice man that he is, had assented to a ceiling inspection when approached by one of these 'tradesmen'.

"Sure," he had said. "There's the manhole," taking the man to the bathroom and pointing to the ceiling.

"Do you have a ladder I could borrow?" the man asked, straightfaced.

*

$2.45 billion of taxpayer money and 93 housefires later, the Environment Department admitted insulating ceilings was a dangerous job:
(Environment Department secretary Robyn Kruk) said the installation of insulation was inherently dangerous, and that even before the government's free insulation scheme, many house fires had been linked to poorly fitted insulation.
So why would you throw $2.45 billion dollars of 'free' taxpayer money at unqualified tradesmen to fit dangerous or sub-standard insulation to millions of houses? Well, you wouldn't of course. Only a bureaucrat would consider such folly.

Worse, the department itself had advice that warned of dangers:

The advice, which cost taxpayers $29,000, warned of serious risks including house fires and fraud.
And ceiling tradesmen who don't own ladders. But did the department pass on $29,000 worth of warning to the Minister, Midnight Oil rock singer Peter Garrett, or leave it in some dusty filing cabinet? They left it in some dusty filing cabinet, of course.
"I don't think there's anything untoward about the minister not having seen the risk assessment," (Robyn Kruk) said.

22.2.10

What does wine taste like?

"Peach. Melon. A touch of vanilla. Citrus, of course. There's always citrus. But what citrus? A medium body and a complex palate and a long finish. Goes nicely with fish or chicken or pasta. Drink in moderation. Dispose of the bottle thoughtfully."

Why is it always peaches and melons? To me, chardonnay never tasted like a peach. Nor did the last peach I ate taste like chardonnay.

The best chardonnay I ever drank tasted like a book. Or I should say, it tasted like a book smelled. It had the aroma of faint print on the fine paper of a new book fresh from the printer's.

Throughout childhood, the first thing I did in a new school year was to open up my new books - fresh from Campion or Hall's - and smell the pages. These smells were indefinable, but wonderful. A Form Three social studies book had creamy matte paper printed with red chapter headings and 75% black type and line drawings and exuded a rich, creamy aroma; something like slowly-evaporating vanilla essence into which three drops of Chanel No. 5 had been infused. Other books had completely different, but equally alluring aromas. Some hardbacks had a tobacco smokiness combined with a creamy parchment richness. My annual summer Puffin paperbacks - they were my staple Christmas gift throughout the 1960s - were set in Juliana and had cross-hatched illustrations and, when brand new, smelled of satin or velvet ribbons in a girl's hair, or the colour gold. Some coffee table books with full-page colour gravure photographs produced an aromatic cocktail of purple and vermilion and magenta.

It is these remembered aromas that came to mind when drinking very good chardonnay.

Forget the peaches, wine writers. If I want peaches I'll drink a bellini. A bellini always tastes like peaches.

18.2.10

Boarders.

Sunday lunch at mother’s house. “Just a sandwich, Mum,” I had called down the telephone, but she continues to replicate the customary hot Sunday lunch – then called dinner – of the 1950s. Not quite the full roast mutton and the overboiled vegetables and the chocolate pudding with whipped cream, but even on a forty degree day you’ll be offered something hot and a lot of it. These days it’s usually a series of casseroles, unrelated in both design and contents, and always enough to feed an army. Just when you think the table is full, she hauls another scorching baking dish out of the lower depths of the blazing oven. She announces each dish in an increasingly eccentric manner, as if we had no idea what a tuna casserole looked like. “This is lasagne,” she announces, “with meat in it!” Mother sounds like a lepidopterist describing a newly discovered exotic butterfly to an audience of amateurs.

We sat down. Sure enough: “This is a corn and zucchini slice I made yesterday for the boys,” she declared, drawing back the foil to reveal a rewarmed oven dish minus a small square of slice in one corner. “It was a disaster!” she added, not revealing whether the disaster related to the actual food, or that they wouldn’t eat it. ‘The boys’ were my nephew, who attends a prominent boarding school in a regional city, and some of his friends who turn up in varying numbers at random at weekends, using my mother’s house as a pied √† terre for their weekend activities. My nephew lives, when not at school, in Alice Springs which is not a practicable weekend destination. His parents sent him to boarding school in desperation and for the close supervision that appears to exist no longer.

“Aren’t they monitored?” I asked. Apparently not. The escape routine is a complicated series of telephone calls between boy, parent and parent of friends who all must consent to an agreed plan that changes the minute they leave the school gate. Apparently school staff are not involved in the negotiations that are U.N.-like in both length and success rate.

The corn slice was fine: grated zucchini and corn baked with egg and onion and cream and baked well. I love those two-day-old crunchy edges. The other thing was a beef casserole with potato and carrot and there was a green salad and a bowl of boiled eggs, radishes, olives and cubed cheese, just to prevent anyone dying of starvation in between the main course and dessert, which was an apricot upside-down pudding. Then the kettle went on. The kettle always goes on. Someone once bought my mother an electric urn. It’s in a cupboard somewhere.

17.2.10

On a downtown train.

Saturday sporting pursuits were out of the way early in the afternoon and that left the rest of the day free for idle recreation, such as reading the newspaper on a chair under a tree in the back garden. But how did idle recreation square with two small boys bursting with energy that came from having devoured large bowls of spaghetti and meatballs for lunch followed by an energising nap?

It didn’t, was the short answer, and there was no long answer. So I took them to the city by train. Boys love trains. And I could read the newspaper while they looked out the window.

We blinked out of the darkness of Flinders Street station mid-afternoon, into hot sunshine, and against a tide of humanity surging up the steps. The city is busy all the time now, and the tide stretched along Swanston Street. We dodged down Collins Street and into an arcade and rode an escalator to a basement bookstore that has a toy corner. The boys played with small trains on a wooden track while I read the dust jackets of several books and half a chapter of another and tried to remember a recipe for lentil soup with lemon juice from a Middle Eastern cook book by Tess Mallos. It’s almost impossible to cast to memory a recipe with more than seven ingredients.

Then up the escalator and into Little Collins, through David Jones, across the mall and into Little Bourke Street where Chinese New Year’s Eve celebrations had commenced, noisily. The boys were hungry again. We bought rice and waded through Chinatown’s red lanterns and clamour. A lady from one of the dozens of Chinese cafes along the strip was offering trinkets to passers-by. She gave the boys two tiny candies in red and gold foil, each with a Chinese character and a picture of a dragon. "Happy Chinese New Year," she smiled.

We sat on the lawn in front of the State Library and ate the rice and then went into the library and up to the fourth floor to see the boys’ current favourite exhibit, Ned Kelly's suit of armour. The fourth floor is a circular balustrade half-way up the library’s dome. We crept in dead silence around the gloomy arc and then the suit of armour appeared out of the darkness and it was creepy like the remains of a medieval knight. William and Thomas shrieked with both delight and horror and their shrieking smashed the library’s hush and echoed down the dome to the green-lamped reading floor way below. We left then. But crossing the reading floor, we saw no books being read. Library patrons had their noses in notebook computers and their ears blocked with iPod earpieces. They wouldn’t have heard a thing. There could have been a murder up there.

We caught the train home in fading light. It was still hot. Rain fell during the night.

15.2.10

Something else to do with young Tom Hudson's poireaux.

So that was Islands in the Stream, about which an anecdote:

I was standing by the counter at the bookstore and the attendant said Can I help you by raising one eyebrow at me and not speaking.

So I saved some words as well and said "Islands in the Stream?" with a questioning upward inflection at the end. He disappeared for a little while and came back and held out a CD with a lopsided smile. "Track four."

"Ah yes," I said, "I liked Kenny Rogers but I did find Dolly Parton's ..."

Now he was raising his other eyebrow.

"I found Dolly Parton’s voice a little unexpected," I went on, "Kind of like Neil Sedaka's voice coming out of Pavarotti."

That left him flat-footed. So I bored on. "Actually, it wasn’t the CD I was looking for. It was the book. You can’t get it anywhere. Hemingway. Dymock’s didn’t have a single Hemingway title on the shelves. They had about a million Gordon Ramsay cookbooks and a whole wall of titles like Get Rich By Making More Money and The Junk Food Diet but no Hemingway."

He was scrolling down his computer screen and after a pause, looked up and said "It’s an import. We have to ship it in from Harper Collins. We can have a copy in about three weeks. Maybe."

No wonder there’s an Amazon.

*

Pasta with leek and avocado.

This my pasta with leeks recipe. I developed it years ago. It contains other ingredients but the leek is the backbone of the dish.

Chop a leek lengthwise twice, and then across the grain to get quartered rings. Chop a red capsicum into small batons and add the leek and capsicum to a pan with a scored clove of garlic, a dash of white wine, a little olive oil, and lots of pepper. (Or you can roast the capsicum to blacken its skin and peel it in the usual way and add it later. All in the pan is just easier.) Simmer fifteen minutes. Check fluid level. I like a fragrant, less greasy sauce, hence the white wine; many recipes of this type will be heavier on the oil and the vegetables will be on their way to caramelising.

Meanwhile, cook your pasta. I used nests – ‘nidi’ – which are just rolled up and dried fettuccine, I suppose. It's what was in the cupboard. They worked well with this sauce.

When the leek and capsicum are cooked and the wine has almost evaporated, add a sliced avocado, a dessertspoon of home made pesto and half a cup of cream, and simmer a few more minutes.

Drain the pasta. Remove the vegetables from the pan with a slotted spoon and place over pasta on serving plates.

Now stir the cream and wine over high heat to reduce – this takes seconds – and pour over vegetables and pasta. Flutter shaved parmesan cheese over the lot. I also add pine nuts as they add a nice nutty dimension to the dish.

12.2.10

Fictional food quiz: first in a series.

These series of mine have a pattern of not running very long. Let’s see with this one. Recognise the extract?
‘Papa, tell us some more about when you and Tommy’s mother were poor. How poor did you ever get?’
‘They were pretty poor,’ Roger said. ‘I can remember when your father used to make up all young Tom’s bottles in the morning and go to the market to buy the best and the cheapest vegetables. I’d meet him coming back from the market when I was going out for breakfast.’
‘I was the finest judge of poireaux in the sixth arrondissement,’ Thomas Hudson told the boys.
‘What’s poireaux?’
‘Leeks.’
‘It looks like long, green, quite big onions,’ young Tom said. ‘Only it’s not bright shiny like onions. It’s dull shiny. The leaves are green and the ends are white. You boil it and eat it cold with olive oil and vinegar mixed with salt and pepper. You eat the whole thing, top and all. It’s delicious. I believe I’ve eaten as much of it as maybe anybody in the world.’
I believe you’re wrong, young Tom Hudson. (And I don't know how to indent paragraphs within a block quote.)

10.2.10

The barramundi.

High Street runs north forever. If you keep going it eventually joins the Hume Highway so you could end up in Sydney if you kept driving, or Brisbane for that matter, but I stopped in Preston where cheap cafes, two-dollar junk shops and hot bread stores glare at each other across the busy narrow road. A taxi was trying to nose out from the kerb, so I waved it on and pulled in behind it and parked. We got out into the hot dusty street, walked twenty metres, pushed open a glass door and entered a dim, cool, quiet place. It was just on midday, a late-summer Tuesday.

We sat right next to the fish tanks. We always sit next to the fish tanks. It amuses the children and sometimes I think it amuses the fish.

In one tank, two barramundi were making lazy right-angle turns around each other, and in the other several lobsters were piled up like a train wreck in a corner, but they were just having a group hug, antennae waving about like gladioli in the front row of a Dame Edna Everage performance. The lobsters took no notice of the tranquil warehou with a vacant stare that hung above them like an aimless blimp. Two fishnets sat on top of the tanks waiting for the next order.

A waiter had a flask and cups on the table almost before we had finished sitting down. It takes a minute or two with children. I poured tea. We ordered, but not fish. Not today.

I usually eat the same thing when we eat out. It’s not that I’m not adventurous, but there’s a particular kind of satisfaction to be gained in enjoying something you’ve come to know and like. Most places, I don’t even read the menu.

This time, I ordered from the display case near the front door, opposite the miniature Buddhist temple made of plastic and stuck with burnt-out jasmine incense sticks. The display case had a return that cornered the front chop-chop chef’s work area and fronted onto the street, so that passers-by could see what they were missing out on. Over the chef’s head in the front window hung roasted ducks the colour of red varnish. Every now and then the chef took one down from its S-peg, wielded his chopper and sent a plateful of peking duck off the kitchen to be finished.

A barramundi watched open-mouthed and motionless as the waiter placed on our table an oval platter of Chinese broccoli, shiny with oyster sauce, along with a plate of cantonese beef and vegetables on rice, a bowl of szechuan chicken’s feet, two steaming bowls of rice, a small dish of chilli flakes in oil, two sets of chopsticks, and two forks.

The barramundi shut his mouth and moved off again, having seen it all before.

The chicken's feet were tasty and gelatinous, and its szechuan chilli was a slow burn rather than a bushfire. Perfect. And cheap: the waiter had explained apologetically that the price of the dish was one dollar more when eaten at the table than you pay for take-away. That made it $5.50, demonstrating the efficiency of eating the whole animal, rather than just eating the breast and the leg and throwing away the rest. They call it nose-to-tail or beak-to-claw, but it just makes sense. But you have to like chicken’s feet. That’s the sticking point. Most people don’t. They don’t even like the name. They don’t like the idea of eating something with the word ‘feet’ in its title. They’ll gladly take a warm mousseline of something stuffed with a cave-cured something else with shards of sorrel-infused pickled walnut, deep-fried julienne of mugwort and a frisson of hollandaise made from the eggs of free range Cape Barren Geese and set upon a buckwheat raviolo rolled out of organic emmer flour and stuffed with an unthreatened yet completely rare and expensive fish species. But chicken’s feet? No! Shudder!

The place is huge. The waiters must walk miles every shift. There are two entrances: the one at the front off High Street, and another via a passageway through to the market at the back. There are twenty large round tables, each capable of seating up to twelve people, and smaller ones around the walls. The smaller ones are where the regulars sit. A shriveled Chinese lady who must have been pushing ninety sat at one, leaning over a bowl that was bigger than her head. There was one of those four-wheeled pensioner shopping trolleys next to her table and it was fully loaded and she was obviously refuelling. From out of the almost clear soup in her bowl she hauled out a procession of delicacies including items from the animal and vegetable groups. At a larger table was a group of real estate agents – no, not the ones seen in Coburg last week – and they were slurping up soup and noodles in between talking on telephones and one of them spilt a drop of soup on his perfect yellow tie and looked at it with a hurt expression as if about to cry.

William and Thomas ate their rice and some beef from Tracy’s plate and declined my chickens’ feet – not that I would really have given them any due to the small bones – and then they ate some Chinese broccoli which is their favourite vegetable and mine, especially in fine oyster sauce and a drop of sesame oil and a sprinkling of sesame seeds.

The old Chinese lady had finished her soup and left the restaurant, pushing her heavily-laden shopping trolley into High Street without any trouble at all. We drained the tea flask. It was a hot day and you have to keep up your fluids. I had a fine bead of sweat from the warm burn of the chilli.

There was only one barramundi in the fish tank now, and it looked lonely, but fish always look lonely. As we got up from the table, a waiter came out of the kitchen bearing a large platter that sizzled with ginger and garlic and fish sauce aromas and there was a large, glistening, scaly mound in the middle. He took it to the real estate agents’ table.

We paid the bill and I pulled open the heavy glass door. Outside in High Street it was still hot and dusty, and a north wind was blowing, probably all the way from Sydney.

*

C-Culture seafood and barbecue Chinese restaurant
437 High St, Preston

7.2.10

Yogurt bar or cheeseburger?

Take the cheeseburger.

I knew this health thing was over-rated.

5.2.10

Six dry gum leaves.

Nobody on the road, nobody on the beach ...

Except me and two boys and a book that I was not reading. Late in the afternoon, almost evening. It was overcast and humid and a northerly had crossed the water and brought with it a deep rumble from a ship working up the bay into Melbourne. The rumble sounded like an old refrigerator heard from another room.

It is the week after the annual exodus from the peninsula, and it is quiet again and slow, and no-one is parking his car on the no-standing sign painted on the road where the ramp allows pedestrians to cross without tripping, and the council cleaners have removed the whiskey and cola cans from the beaches.

The boys were throwing tennis balls into the water and retrieving them, over and over. Thomas Brian has a good throwing arm; William John is more athletic. I watched them and, beyond them, the ship as it slid across the horizon. The ship was bright red below deck and white above, and it had a bright red funnel. It looked like a toy. Its muffled rumble faded and died. We packed up the balls and returned to the house.

*

With all the heat and the ample rain, the basil has taken off and needs to be pinched back, so I take half the plant off and try to think of something to do with it and the something usually ends up being a pesto of some kind (and in my world there are many kinds) and I never measure the ingredients. Sometimes it is heavy on the nuts - whether pine or walnut or macadamia or some other nut - and you get an earthy flavour, and other times there's a lot of green and oil and you can drizzle it over grilled steaks and chicken and even fish; other times again there is so much garlic you can still taste it the next day. This time it was a cup (by pressed volume) of basil, half that again of parsley and a cup of spinach leaves, baby; along with half a cup each of pine nuts (superior Lebanese ones are back in stock at the nut shop after a year or so of only Chinese ones being available), grated parmesan and olive oil. Salt and pepper as well. Ten seconds in the blender and you're in Genoa. Or is it Turin? No, that's cars.

*

It stayed humid into the evening and then the northerly got up and the clouds opened and there was a downpour which was a beautiful thing because I was sitting out on the deck above the ti-tree and it was relaxing, unwinding time and there was a book on the white tablecloth beside me and a drink next to the book. Then, an irregular dripping noise, like someone tipping a bucket, broke the rain's rhythmic hiss and the dripping became a torrent and then the roof gutter overflowed and poured its contents over the deck inches from my feet. I considered just moving inside but I don't give in easily. So I resisted the urge to toss the drink, and the book, into the shrubbery out of sheer pique - because that would have been pointless and self-defeating and stupid - and trudged through the house and out the back door and into the rain, fetched the ladder from the end of the garden, got wet, brought the ladder around the front, unfolded it in the rain, propped it up against the house holding my breath because it was just outside William's room, climbed it gingerly for the same reason, placed a hand into the gutter and fiddled about for the downpipe opening. There was a sudden urgent movement and the gush just about sucked my arm down the pipe and I pulled it out and with it came about six gum leaves. Six dry gum leaves can dam a hundred litres of water?

I was back with the book and the drink in five minutes. Three of those were spent drying myself.

*

Dinner was an old favourite. I like old favourites.

Fettucine with chicken breast and pesto.

Cook your pasta. While it's cooking, poach a chicken breast in a lidded pan in olive oil, a dash of white wine and a scored clove of garlic. Lift lid and turn fillet halfway through. When done, slice chicken into one-inch cubes. Keep warm in pan.

Meanwhile, grill a red capsicum until skin comes away. Peel and slice into sections. Cook florets of broccoli, fresh peas and snow peas - I just throw them in with the pasta.

Drain pasta and vegetables, place on serving plates and add capsicum strips and chicken. Don't forget the garlic clove. Place a tablespoon of fresh home-made pesto on top and scatter parmesan. Crusty bread for the sauce. Glass of very cold sauvignon blanc. You need the acid to cut through the pesto.

3.2.10

Death of a novelist.

It wasn’t J.D. Salinger’s fault they made The Catcher in the Rye required reading for forty years. He only wrote it. No wonder he refused interviews. They conscripted his novel into a sub-culture.

I had to read it one year in the early 1970s. I didn't like it; but I didn't particularly like anything that year. Alongside Salinger's novel, the jokesters on the curriculum committee at the Education Department had prescribed Albert Camus' nihilistic The Outsider, alarmist jargoneer Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock and a volume of poetry to slash your wrists by, entitled Voices. If you could call it poetry. It was like reading sharp knives. They threw in Eugene O’Neill’s A Long Day’s Journey Into Night for a little light relief; and then they whacked us like a punchdrunk boxer with The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, a book so tedious I became one just to escape reading it.

There are always buzzwords and the buzzword that year was alienation. Storylines had characters going off in search of themselves and the plot twist was usually that they didn't succeed. You couldn't see that coming. Fortunately, excelling in the subject was easy. All you had to do was include 'alienation' in one of its noun, adjective or verb forms in every paragraph of your essay, like a bureaucrat putting 'diversity’ and 'outcomes' in every second sentence, and you got a distinction.

J. D. Salinger died a week or so ago. I haven’t read his book since that final year of school. Perhaps I should reread it. I’ll bracket it with a Hemingway and a Chandler to give it a fair chance. I wonder what the theme in literature is these days?

1.2.10

Cool change.

In the midnight silence, the soft flutter of a million calendar pages turning could almost be heard, like the rapidly-beating wings of an otherwise-silent lethal nocturnal bird swooping on some small brown rodent; or else the sound effect used over that clichéd sequence in black-and-white sci-fi movies in which freshly-printed newspapers flap off the presses to reveal a shocking headline such as Martians Invade.

Sorry. Just practising for the Bulwer-Lytton awards. I could have just said: Suddenly, it was February.

And so quiet. The summer holiday is over, Tracy is back at work two days a week, and today William returned to kindergarten. There were tears: Thomas wanted to stay at the kindergarten. Three-year-old kindergarten is tomorrow. Today is for four-year-olds.

And here we were in the echoing house, just Thomas and me and a thousand things to do. But which first? Deadhead the second flush of summer roses. Empty the compost bin. Flatten out seventeen cardboard boxes to be recycled. Wash last night’s dishes and the breakfast ones on top of them. Hang out the washing (clothes dryer? are you kidding?). Evade the eye in the corner, where two large jobs of writing wait in the hard drive; evil ghosts in the machine that haunt my days and my nights. Deadlines approach! That explains my fascination with the passage of days at the top of this story. What kind of worker has no deadline? What about the man in the whiskey ads who has to sample the whiskey after it drips slowly through the maple charcoal? Does he have a deadline? I'll bet he doesn't. No wonder he never looks stressed.

It was ten o'clock and I couldn’t decide what not to do, so the hell with it. We went out for coffee in Sydney Road and the papers instead, and watched the old Greek and Italian men making hand gestures outside the library, and busy young mothers pushing three-wheel prams while talking on cell phones, and black-suited real estate agents with red ties sitting around too-small outdoor tables drinking coffee and figuring out how much of $1.2 million is 2 per cent and smiling at the answer because they were $12,000 closer to a new black BMW. I had my usual strong latte and Tom had an escargot, one of those French pastries with sultanas and custard rolled up inside them. Then we went and picked up William from kindergarten. That was today.

*

Yesterday, it was an old-fashioned storm they way they used to be. It rolled in late on an unsuspecting summer afternoon that was hot and still and it cracked directly overhead and the air was electric, and the thunder turned later to hissing rain. I went for a long walk about six o’clock along murmuring Merri Creek and there were just a few runners and dogs and no-one else, but when it rains is one of the best times to walk along the trail. The sky was still thunder-grey until a hole opened up in the clouds, over west, and the world turned luminous like a medieval religious painting, with visible rays of gold. Then the rain came again and I leaned into it and walked around the lake and home. The house was still hot.

*

Warm salad with sesame and wasabi.

I made a late dinner when the evening was cooler and the rain had eased and the boys had retired for the night. I steamed two bunches of broccolini (the long, thin stems with smaller florets), two dozen fresh green beans, and two bunches of asparagus. Then I lighly fried a bunch of spring onions (sliced on the diagonal in two-inch sections) in a little peanut oil flavoured with a drop of sesame oil, and threw in a tablespoon of sesame seeds at the end. I drained the steamed vegetables, set them on iceberg lettuce leaves spread on a platter and tipped the fried spring onion and sesame seed mixture over the top. Serve with steamed rice and a small dish of tamari with a dash of wasabi, for dipping. Cold beer, anyone?