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

31.8.10

The new office.

It was an office in a tall anonymous building at the end of town in which people walk about with name tags hanging around their necks, just so they don't forget. They even wear them on the train. To and from. I wonder where they hang them when they get home. Maybe they leave them on. Percy Grainger, Level 65, Collins Street, Melbourne. Over red striped flannelette pyjamas and brown checked Grosby slippers.

I love the adventure of working in a new office. Not new, but new to me. Sometimes I get called in just for a day, sometimes a week, sometimes two or more, depending on what they want done. The adventure of a new office is whether the computers work, if the people are nice, and what's in the kitchen.

The people were nice. It's a funny thing. The first thing they tell you when you arrive is the way to the kitchen. 'Grab yourself a coffee,' they say. 'Kitchen's that way.' And they wave an arm about wildly.

I'd fortified myself with tea before I left home, so I didn't need coffee that early. So I sat where I was put, in front of one of those stretched computer screens that were never designed for readers. You get up a page of online text and it wraps across the screen and you just about need to have your head on a conveyor belt to read a line of type. Heads weren't designed to read like that.

I messed about with a few documents and by half past twelve it was lunchtime and the office was deserted. Offices have cultures. The culture here was everyone goes out for lunch to one of those giant food malls where people crane their necks over the glassed-in food counters to see what's on offer, trying not get their lanyard caught on someone else, or drag it through the curried chicken.

I walked out and got some hand rolls and 'free' miso soup from a noodle shop and walked back to the office and ate in silence. After that I went to the kitchen, which was past the reception desk (taller than the receptionist) and the lift well and down a common corridor. Which meant I would have to carry my coffee all the way back and try not to drip it on the marble in front of the lift well or the white carpet in front of the receptionist.

I got the milk out of the fridge and noticed that someone had written a name on it in large felt-pen letters. Look out, a common kitchen. Everything belongs to someone and it isn't you. I also noticed the date on the milk. August 15. I opened it and sniffed it. Then I put it back in the fridge. It was none of my business. One inch tall black felt pen letters on the bottle means they get ownership, including throwing it out after it's turned to quark or whatever it is milk turns into when it's not milk any more.

There was another container of milk with no felt pen name scrawled on it and two days to go before it expired so I used some of that. It was fat free, but you can't have everything. The sugar was in a tall plastic jar on the top shelf of a cupboard. The coffee was in a black plastic canister underneath the sink. The hot water came out of an ancient four-gallon stainless steel Birko that was turned up to full power but still wasn't boiling. I found a mug in a dark corner and rinsed it out a few times with the water from the Birko and made the coffee and went back to my desk and drank it. It was nice. It contained caffeine and that's all that matters. I'm not complaining.

30.8.10

Ode to a Daughter.

Recorded 40 years before the event, and would have been useful 30 years ago when Alexandra's (and W.'s and T.'s) much older sister was born. But no internet then, of course.

Nice strings and harmonies. Not sure about about the 'bought her' and 'daughter' rhyming, however. A little clunky.

Glen Shorrock went on to form Little River Band; Brian Cadd previously mentioned here.

24.8.10

Storm.

I dusted some flathead tails in flour and a little salt and pepper and threw them into the pan. I had to hurry. The boys were hungry. It was early evening, about six o'clock, still patchy light in the western sky now, but overcast with the threat of heavy rain. The pan was hot and lightly greased with a mixture of peanut oil and ghee. I shook it once or twice as the fish sizzled and the flame caught the oil and the ghee and flared up over the stove. The boys screamed with excitement, thinking I was about to burn the house down, and the fish finished with a nice barbecued flavour. Rounds of potato were frying in the other pan and turning golden brown. Just how they like them.

*

I had taken them to the pool earlier, the indoor heated one. Tom has almost learned to swim and William at last can place his head under water. It's a start. Tom flies off the edge into the water with a running jump and surfaces in the middle of the pool. No fear. You have to watch him. William wades about more carefully. Two hours of that and they have the appetite of lions.

*

Tracy had had an afternoon sleep extending into evening, along with the infant, thanks to their broken hours. I wake at three every morning and there's a soft light on and a baby making the noises they make when they feed. And then the noises they make after. Then I fall asleep again and leave them to it and wake at six and they're at it again.

*

Tracy came out and took over the fish and chip dispensary and I went out for a walk. It was nearly dark now but you could make out dense black cloud reflecting the city lights. It was cold and but not raining. Then I turned a corner and walked into a sudden very heavy hailstorm. It hurt. Under the floodlights of the supermarket carpark I was crossing the hail looked like a million diagonal silver darts. It lasted five minutes. Just long enough to soak me. I walked on. I like walking in the rain. Back in at eight. Leftover flathead tails for dinner. But still delicious. Squirt of lemon. Shake of salt. Salad of rocket, avocado, tomato, onion, chick peas, crumbled blue cheese, and olive oil. White wine, not too cold. Rain on the roof. Emperor Concerto on the radio. I've heard it a million times but it still chills your spine.

20.8.10

Salad, in this weather?

The weather’s been bleak. I took the boys up to see the waterfall at Coburg lake. This is a regular trip in very rainy weather, but the view of the waterfall had been spoiled by the installation of one of those exercise stations, a kind of grown-up playground in which people climb on to machines that look like medieval torture racks and make their arms go around in circles while their legs pump up and down, or look like a chicken while their legs do fast scissors. Don’t people go for a walk any more?

The waterfall crashed and the boys watched the water flooding over the Merri Creek bike path, and superimposed in front of the scene two exercisers were swinging around madly. Then they tired of it and walked away, slowly, as if exhausted. The waterfall continued to crash and roar and we got to see it properly for a while, and then more fast-scissors and chicken people came along and spoiled the scene again.

That night it rained and the wind blew and it seemed like winter was only just setting in. It will be gone within weeks. It’s been dramatic and refreshing and at last, there has been rain. Proper rain.

I made a salad for dinner, but it went with a nice joint of roasted meat and roasted potatoes and a roasted whole head of garlic.

Beetroot and horseradish salad.

Peel and grate a beet. Do the same with an onion. (Onions are hard to grate. They go to water. Any suggestions? Next time I’ll just chop it finely.) Mix the two in a bowl with a dressing of olive oil, red wine vinegar and lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Fold a tablespoon of horseradish through a cup of sour cream or Greek yogurt and top each serving of salad with it.

The horseradish cream is also good on the potatoes - or the meat, especially the well-done outer crust where the flavours are concentrated.

19.8.10

Cold gold.




Last Sunday morning, ten minutes to seven.

17.8.10

I boiled half a medium sweet potato and a carrot ...

Yes, a recipe. It's about time. This one goes back a few weeks when I was ill enough to be eating soup, but not too ill to want a little heat and taste and colour in my food.

Sweet potato and carrot soup.

While the sweet potato (orange type) and the carrot were cooking in one pot, I sweated a large chopped onion in some peanut oil in a frying pan, adding a scored clove of garlic after a few minutes. When they were done, I reserved a little cooked onion and processed the rest with the sweet potato and carrot, adding a cup of the cooking liquid (or use stock) along with a chopped raw medium-hot chilli pepper* and two cardomom pods. Adjust stock as required.

I tipped the puree into a pot and reheated the soup, adding half a cup of full-cream milk and salt and pepper. To serve, I added a spoonful of the fried onions and some thick (e.g., Greek-style) yogurt. I took it in bed with a book and the early afternoon sun streaming in the window. I could get used to this.

*The long red standard supermarket one, which is sometimes described as a cayenne pepper and is supposed to have a heat index of 5-7 out of 10. This pepper appears to have several other names and the name 'cayenne' is applied to other types of pepper, so confusion reigns. Therefore, a description remains the best way to identify it: it was 20cm long, thin, red, and had the curvature of a woman's waist.

ERRATA
Omitted stock now added.

12.8.10

Why is this baby smiling?



My mother-in-law says they cannot smile yet. It looks like a smile. She is a week old in the picture.

Retrospective: William, in his second day; and Thomas at three days.

10.8.10

Scene Two.

FATHER is now standing over the crib. MOTHER is reading; the elephants have retired for the night. Silence reigns. FATHER gazes at the infant. He turns momentarily back to MOTHER.

FATHER: Sure is a big one. You must have a champion hammer-thrower in your family tree.

MOTHER: Not that I know of. Maybe a caber-tosser. But I thought it was you.

FATHER: Not us. We were distance athletes. Thin as rakes. Except for my grandfather. He used to laugh at us when we'd be madly lacing up our shoes to go out for a run, and tell us he'd never jogged a step in his life. He died a week short of 99.

MOTHER: That was the breathing he saved along the way. Actually, my grandmother's responsible. She was tiny, the size of a sparrow. One of my aunts was 10 pounds at birth. That was in Scotland in the 1930s. And born at home. Turned out to be an average sized adult, but she just got off to a good start.

FATHER: All that porridge and clootie dumpling during pregnancy I suppose.

MOTHER: And the black pudding, bannocks-and-cheese, stovies, crowdies and arbroath smokies.

FATHER: Why don't we eat like that?

MOTHER (NODS AT THE CRIB): She might have been 15 pounds then.

THE SOUND OF SMALL FEET IS HEARD OFF. A CHILD ENTERS THE SCENE AND STOPS.

THOMAS: I'm hungry.

FATHER: I was just thinking the same thing.

4.8.10

The curtain rises.

And the stage is in darkness for a second or two, until a soft spotlight falls on a small item of furniture at stage left. It is a crib. In the crib is a newborn infant. The infant is a girl. She is asleep.

A soft click is heard. The light over the crib fades low and another spotlight falls stage right on two easy chairs on either side of a round table on which rests a lamp. MOTHER, reading a $9.95 Penguin reissued copy of Brideshead Revisited, and FATHER, reading a newspaper, sit in the chairs. The remains of afternoon tea rest on the table alongside the lamp.

The scene remains thus for several seconds until broken by noises off. The noises sound like the approach of stampeding elephants. A door crashes, unseen. A boy, pursued by a smaller boy, gallops onto the stage. The latter boy follows. His arm is outstretched, and his finger and thumb are cocked, as if to shoot.

They slide to a stop, glance at MOTHER and FATHER, and remain in position for several seconds. FATHER's newspaper rustles. The boys turn back to each other again.

SMALLER BOY: Bang!

*

Alexandra was born on Monday, and came home today. Her weight was 10lb 3oz, if you can discuss a lady's weight. All well. "Monday's child is fair of face ..."