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


The pier.

He broke out of the water and pushed towards the piling. His brother was already there. They rode up and down on the swell, must have been three or four feet, and wore wetsuits against the crusted mussels and other shells on the piling. They pulled themselves up the ladder and went off the edge of the pier again. Tom surfaced and called out he’d been to the bottom.

We were four hundred metres from the shore. The pier was a swarm of people, loose boards rattling under hundreds of feet. Flags were everywhere. People were wearing them. There was even one in the sky, trailing a biplane. The plane flew east and disappeared over Arthur’s Seat. The boys jumped into the water from the lower landing, swam under the pier boards, out again, up the ladder, into the water. A muffled rhythmic whump echoed from the shore. It was three in the afternoon.

They pulled off their flippers and we walked down the pier. Away from the water it was hot. The whump from the shore formed itself into a noise from a band playing on a temporary stage on the foreshore. We threw the flippers down and sat on the grass amidst the fleeting audience. A couple of old rockers who must have been teenagers when the song was a hit were jiving in front. The sax player blew the break from I’m Walkin’ and the smell of barbecue drifted across the crowd. More flags everywhere. The lazy hum of holiday traffic on Point Nepean Road. Flags on stalks in their windows. Flags on their mirrors.

Flags? The Age, a newspaper that was once great, had reportedthe day before Australia Day – some academic’s thesis that flags were racist.

Back on the pier now. Teenagers wearing flag bikinis; children wrapped in flag towels. Tom curved a line in the air and disappeared into the water. William followed. They surfaced. The whump with soaring sax came again. Something about a blue moon.

About that exact time on Australia Day, a mob of politicians and professional protestors were making childish ferals of themselves. Or is that feral children? It was like tantrum time at kindergarten, but without the cuteness.

About time governments and academics got the hell out of our lives.


Vegetables that squeak.

Favourite vegetable? Depends on the season. Right now, as summer sails serenely into the bloom of early middle age, I’m enjoying:

• eggplant brushed with garlic-infused olive oil on the outdoor grill at sunset;

• zucchini done the same way;

• warm salad of sweet potato, toasted macadamias and snipped coriander;

• silverbeet cooked with aromatic fenugreek (dried) with a touch of yogurt and chilli flakes swirled through;

• potato salad with spring onion and crisped prosciutto tossed over the top;

• asparagus not much more than merely blanched then rolled in cracked pepper and dipped in orange-flavoured mayonnaise - snap! crack! zing!; and

• Brussels sprouts tossed with butter, pine nuts and chopped chili peppers.

Not all at once, of course.

Another favourite vegetable is the one that looks like a cross between a duckling and a flying saucer: the yellow button squash.

Pasta with vine-ripened tomatoes and button squash

Trim and quarter six button squash. (Choose squash that are medium size and have no wrinkles. My completely non-professional approach to testing button squash freshness is that they should squeak when you handle them!)

Chop six medium very fresh vine-ripened tomatoes into twelfths. Chop an onion into fine rings. Peel and score a garlic clove.

Cook pasta. Try spaghetti rigati or alla chitarra but any long pasta will do. When pasta is almost done, drop in button squash segments. They’ll take a minute or two.

Meanwhile, cook onions, tomato segments and garlic in olive oil and a dash of white wine on very low heat in a covered pan. You want the tomatoes to practically melt, not cook; gradually giving up their juice while roughly holding their shape, eventually to collapse like little tents on top of the pasta when served. Only the very best flavoursome tomatoes should be used. If you have only the billiard ball quality ones, send out for pizza. Add more wine to pan if necessary.

When pasta and squash are ready, drain and carefully add to pan with tomatoes. Do not stir, but place large serving plate over the top, quickly invert and remove pan to reveal tomatoes resting on the pasta and squash. Top with finely chopped basil, cracked pepper and parmesan cheese. Serve outside in the late evening with a glass of chilled wine. Or beer. It's been very hot these past few nights.


Barbecue roasted rack of lamb with mint, garlic and yogurt sauce.

The advertising industry knows how to milk an idea and run with it until it is as dead as Burke and Wills’ last camel, as anyone who has switched on a television, radio computer recently might know. Sam Kekovich isn’t dead by a long shot, but for the eighth year in succession he barks his way in an obnoxious monotone through a sea of bad puns in the Australia Day lamb campaign. It’s done to death, like a barbecue chop that has fallen into the coals. Throw it to the dog.

But don’t let the campaign put you off. Buy a lamb rack and light the barbecue. These long warm nights won't last forever. Go outside and enjoy the aroma of barbecued lamb with a hint of mint and garlic drifting across the garden.

The mint is reaching for the sky in its captive cell in the back garden, so let’s use some. Pick a dozen sprigs of mint and use these to line a large square of foil. Place the lamb rack on the mint. Give it a generous squirt of vinegar, and a good shake of salt. Toss in a few unpeeled cloves of garlic. Now wrap the rack carefully in the foil, overlapping the edges.

Place it on the barbecue slightly offset to the hottest area and bone-side up. Place a large lid over it. Place some parboiled whole small potatoes under the lid, around the rack. Lift the lid after thirty minutes. Depending on size, barbecue heat, distance of grill from coals, number of drinks you’ve had, phase of the moon, time of day etc etc, the lamb should be rare and the potatoes should be done and redolent of garlic and mint.

Remove the foil from the lamb, and place it back on the grill to sear. This stage is optional. I like at rare and unseared. Remove and rest ten minutes, then carve into individual rib chops. Serve on a bed of more fresh mint with the potatoes on the side, and a sauce of minted yogurt (shred mint, fold through greek-style yogurt) to accompany. A green salad with asparagus. Cold white wine.


Eighties singer dangles from clothesline.

Now this is complicated, so let’s go back a step. I drive old cars, because old cars are better than new cars, and because driving a car manufactured twenty years ago is better for the environment than buying a new car - even a Prius - every other year, or every ten years for that matter. Those batteries are murder on the environment, and the electricity just shifts your emissions into someone else's air. Plus, electric cars kill people because they are silent. Last year I was nearly run over by a Prius driven by an inattentive vegetarian backing out of the organic fruit store car park at the top of Lygon Street where the old Liberty cinema used to be.

Old cars mean vintage technology: each of mine has something called “stereo with Dolby”, which is prehistoric sound reproduction equipment installed in the dash, where in today's cars you would find video screens, coffee cup holders, geographic positioning systems, internet interfaces, iPod docks, phone chargers, and maps that tell you where to go. Ridiculous. I don’t know how people concentrate. You don’t even get an ashtray now to steady your nerves. You can drink coffee, check emails, or download movies while you’re driving, but don’t smoke, it’s too dangerous. With that nanny-state logic, no wonder there’s a Prius.


There we were in our old Bluetooth-less car with "stereo Dolby sound" driving to the beach on a warm cloudless summer afternoon around the cliff top road that winds from Mornington to Dromana overlooking an impossibly beautiful sparkling Port Phillip Bay. And there was music. A few months ago I found five apparently unused early Elvis Presley albums on cassette, at 99 cents each, in an op shop. The boys like them. They’re on high rotation in the car. After a few plays, the boys learn the songs and sing them. One does Elvis, the other the Jordanaires. Then they swap.

Stand-out tracks: I Slipped, I Stumbled, I Fell from Separate Ways; Too Much Monkey Business from Flaming Star; Today, Tomorrow and Forever from C’mon Everybody; and, in quieter moments We Call on Him from You’ll Never Walk Alone and If We Never Meet Again from His Hand in Mine, the latter two tracks surely channeling angels.


That was the background. Now we move forward a few steps. While otherwise in perfect working condition, very old cassettes sometimes throw their pressure pad, due to aging adhesive. This happened. I went back to the op shop for a donor cassette, taking care to choose one that that no-one could possibly want. I picked a tape by one of those screeching, long-haired power ballad singers from the late 1980s; some guy called Bolton. I took it home and pulled it apart and took out the pressure pad and dropped it into the Presley cassette.

Meanwhile, the boys scampered off with the little reels out of the Bolton cassette, and started throwing them around the backyard like streamers; and some of the filmy brown tape got caught up in the clothesline, ribbons of horrible 1980s music spinning and glinting in the sun, never to be heard again.


Thursday, 16 December 1971

There comes a stage in every journey when you just want to get there and to hell with the scenery.

The salt shower was the turning point. I had slept the night in the top bunk feeling grimy in the intense heat, and all I wanted was to plunge into the Indian Ocean at the end of the road. OK, that’s salt water too. But different.

My cousin and I had been patient. We’d crawled a thousand miles in a westerly direction and it was progress. But then, at Norseman, we ran smack into the world’s biggest detour. Perth is directly west, but to get there you have to drive 150 miles north to Kalgoorlie or 200 miles south to Esperance. How do you decide? Toss a coin? It’s desert whatever way you choose. I wondered how many motorists had felt inclined to just crash the road barrier and plough straight through the dust.

At 8 a.m. the car sat at the intersection with its right indicator ticking patiently while several northbound road trains thundered past. Then we turned and followed them.

Now it was a mind game, if game is the right word. golden miles before me/black tracks of my shoes behind me It didn’t feel like a game. It felt like a dream. It felt like we were marking time. I was breathing air with no oxygen. The landscape was still straggly trees and red dust from horizon to horizon and the sky a blue dome and the heat all around, and I fell in and out of sleep and the music kept running through my semi-comatose mind. a season goes so quickly/you don’t know where you are

Consciousness returned. Two small semi-spoked wheels turned in front of my eyes. I walked away like a movie star The wheels froze. The music stopped. My cousin pushed a button and pulled out the cassette and dropped another one in. He’d recorded several before the trip, to keep him sane.

The music insinuated itself into my half-awake, half-asleep dream; just as at school the droning of my teacher would often become the distant soundtrack to so many nodding afternoons. Now I dreamt I was at school and my teacher was murmuring about mathematics, or having to bring two dollars for tomorrow’s excursion, or how no-one pays attention to him any more, or what next week’s history essay would be about. till Stoneman's cavalry came and tore up the tracks again Then I snapped awake and I was back in the car in the desert, and the pain of inertia suddenly disappeared; and that’s how I came to finally understand the idea of freedom, despite being a prisoner stuck in the scorching back seat of a 1967 Valiant that was taking forever to arrive at its destination.

Late in the day a scattering of prehistoric rusted machinery grew out of the distance and cut the boiling horizon to ribbons; the shafts and wheels of Kalgoorlie’s nineteenth century goldfields. They died here for gold until the water came. Before the water came, there was only the insane lust for gold, and death by thirst, and typhoid, and madness. I should complain about a saltwater shower. 

see the curtain hanging in the window/in the evening on a friday night


Why people don't write letters.

I needed a stamp to post a letter. I fought my way to the post office through the pigeons that plague Victoria Mall, and managed to enter without hitting one or one hitting me. They are everywhere. They sit on the wires and the shopfronts like fat brown and grey sentinels and scrabble about on the ground and swoop onto the tables and chairs outside the cafes and get under your feet. All the shops in the mall have signs reading 'Do Not Feed the Pigeons' but people feed them anyway.

The queue in the post office was long and full of people not buying stamps, and it snaked its way around merchandise including boxes marked 'large telescope', alarm clocks in football team colours, childrens DVDs, a table of Christmas decorations marked '50% off', and a display of flatpacked birdbaths.


Oenglish: the language of labels.

The label on the wine bottle said the wine inside was 'affable'. It was a Victorian shiraz, 2008. I have forgotten the maker, who might be an affable chap. But I suspect he meant either quaffable or approachable, or a meaning in between those words.

Happy new year.