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


Where to hide your eggs.

Some spelling errors, typos, literals – call them what you like – mess with your mind. I once ordered 'parched eggs' in a cafe knowing full well what they were. The other day I saw a sign in a deli that said: 'mindless bacon, $15.99 a kilo'. M is nowhere near R on a keyboard so who knows how that one occurred?

I was buying bacon to make an old recipe that the children have come to adopt as one of their favourites. One out of three of the children on a moderate day - and two out of three one a finicky day - will not eat eggs; while the third – who does eat eggs – will only eat the yolk. Yet all three will slurp up spaghetti carbonara. Hide the eggs in something else!

(Perhaps we also should bring back the 1960s egg flip: to a litre of creamy milk in a blender, add two tablespoons of sugar, two eggs, and a dash of vanilla essence. Blend. Pour the delicious bubbling unctuous fluid into tall glasses and top with nutmeg. Retro flavour explosion! I want one now. They went out of favour because you were eating raw egg. Children drank raw eggs in the 1960s? Tweet that, Twitter generation!)

Spaghetti carbonara.

Cook spaghetti. (Other pasta can be used but half the enjoyment of this traditional dish is the way the long strands pick up the cheesy eggy oily coating. The flavour is enhanced by the addition of fresh chopped parsley from the garden and shards of barely-cooked garlic.)

While spaghetti is cooking, chop six pieces of short bacon (per half kilogram of pasta) into small squares or strips, and place these in a heavy pan with some olive oil and a chopped or scored clove of garlic. Tip in a little white wine and add a dash of black pepper. Cook bacon until just done. Do not allow garlic to burn, or add it later in the cooking process. Chopped onion can also be used as a variation.

Time the spaghetti and bacon cooking times to coincide. Practice makes perfect. Simply drain the spaghetti when done and tip into the just-cooked bacon. Then crack two eggs into the pan, add a quarter cup of grated parmesan or romano, and pull the spaghetti gently and lovingly around to gather up the egg and melting cheese as it goes.

Serve immediately the egg has set. Scatter chopped parsley and more cheese. Serve with a salad of halved vine tomatoes, pitted black kalamata olives and cubed feta cheese.

Red wine for the grown-ups.


The interview.

Two years. A thousand emails. Dozens of letters. Days hunched over a keyboard, putting together a book about a school. Editing submissions – some illegible, some unintelligible, some beautiful diamonds – from past students and teachers; tapping out every letter, removing endless capitalisation of Supposedly Important Words, putting paragraph breaks in pages of never-ending text. Going through a million arch folders in a crypt-like archive room watched in eerie silence by a mute ex-department store dummy standing inside a dusty glass display cabinet, dressed in a 1940s school uniform and topped with a straw sun hat to shade the dim half-light of a solitary naked bulb. The uniformed dummy is supposed to awaken warm nostalgia in visitors; but it manages only to look like a cadaver, or a mannequin in a police missing persons investigation. Shiver.

Distant laughter and the thump of ball games at a distance, and then a bell leading to a mid-afternoon silence broken by the rattly keyboard, one of those older ones with keys that travel further and squeak. Or maybe I just hit them too hard.

Then there were the telephone calls. Old students from decades past, ringing up and rambling, words and sentences in a torrent; the years falling over each other to get out. Put it in writing, please, I ask. They swear on their life to do so. They want to be in the book. I never hear from them again.


I conducted only one personal interview, with someone who was housebound - not surprisingly, since the lady was past 100.

I visited her late one morning in winter. She lives in a vast rambling Federation house on a corner block in a wide street in a leafy suburb. I parked in the side street, went through the gate and up to the huge return porch, pulled the bell in the massive front door. No reply. I rang again, could hear it inside, like a far away church bell.

I walked along the porch and around the return to another door. No bell. I knocked. No reply. I pulled out my phone and rang her number. She picked up immediately. "Come through the side gate and around the back," she barked, as if I should have known all along.

I opened the side gate and went along a path through a garden that looked like the front cover of a 1954 Home Beautiful. I went in the back door and through a linoed verandah where a refrigerator was humming, and on into a sunroom. She was propped up on enough cushions to stock Ikea, in a lounge chair about the size of a small car. She looked comfortable. There was a carefully wrapped cut lunch on a tray near her left hand, and the telephone near her right. She had a book on her lap and a stack of them on a coffee table. She was all set for the day. She was large and had the skin of an elephant and all her own teeth, which you could see when she laughed, and she had a permanently loud voice, so she could hear what she said.

"Sit down," she commanded, pointing to a chair directly opposite hers. "I can’t talk if you’re standing up." I sat down. "You don’t have to interview me," she went on. "I had my daughter write it all down." Probably the same daughter who had made the cut lunch. She threw an envelope at me accurately, like a courier in a hurry, and told me to open it up and read it on the spot to "see if it was suitable for publication." Like I was going to censor her memoirs.

When I left, I closed and locked the back door and walked back through the 1950s garden and locked the side gate on my way out into the street. She would have been three years old at the outbreak of the First World War, a walking, talking toddler in full voice. Time plays tricks. Just not sure what the trick was.


A Tale of Two Picnics.

I borrowed a hardback copy of Picnic at Hanging Rock from Essendon library in the middle of winter in 1972. Then officially the Moonee Valley Regional Library Service, the library is known today as the Sam Merrifield library, making it sound like a collection of resources for Tolkien enthusiasts.

At the time, Picnic at Hanging Rock was an obscure novelette by Joan Lindsay, who wrote no other fiction, even prefacing her 1967 book with a note suggesting it was based on real events. For a book of little note, its atmosphere was compelling. It was creepy. It verged on horror. Bad things happened. A sense of evil was knotted into the beauty of every interior and exterior scene. The sad mansion in the country, built on gold money, and abandoned. The garden under blazing sunshine. The brooding mountain.

Appleyard College was already, in the year nineteen hundred, an architectural anachronism in the Australian bush – a hopeless misfit in time and place. The clumsy two-storey mansion was one of those elaborate mansions that sprang up all over Australia like exotic fungi following the finding of gold. Why this particular stretch of flat sparsely wooded country, a few miles out of the village of Macedon crouching at the foot of the mount, had been selected as a suitable building site, nobody will ever know. The insignificant creek that meandered in a series of shallow pools down the slope at the rear of the ten acre property offered little inducement as a setting for an Italianate mansion; nor the occasional glimpse, through a screen of stringy-barked eucalyptus, of the misty summit of Mount Macedon rising up to the east on the opposite side of the road. ... The original owner, whose name is long ago forgotten, had only lived in it for a year or two before the huge ugly house was standing empty and up for sale.
Did the original owner die? Who knows? It is not said. The book is wrought from decay and death and half-remembered incidents and things out of place and out of order. Especially time.
... The hideous Victorian furnishings were as good as new, with marble mantelpieces from Italy and thick piled carpets from Axminster. The oil lamps on the cedar staircase were held aloft by classical statues, there was a grand piano in the long drawing room, and even a square tower, reached by a narrow circular staircase ...
I read the book in a few days, and returned it. Shortly after, I was invited to a picnic – coincidentally to be held at Hanging Rock – with a group of fifteen or twenty, a youth group from the parish, during the school holidays, on Thursday 24 August 1972.

Seeing the Rock was like walking into the book. It loomed straight up out of deep shadow and from an inviting entrance point down below in the shadow, you could climb easily and somewhat misleadingly, until you reached an altitude where there were myriad pathways and confusing access points between columns and pinnacles left over from a magma outpouring 6.5 million years ago. It was made to get lost in. If you climbed across an outcrop, you could look down at the ground – now very far away – and at people who looked like ants, not just because of their size, but because they had to walk single file up into the dark narrow entrance.

A few years later, they made the novel into a movie. It changed the Rock, which became a tourist attraction instead of a little known picnic spot. It also changed the book, later editions of which were covered with soft-focus stills from the film of impossibly corseted, hatted, white-laced actresses confronting the Australian bush, like Jane Austen meets Wake in Fright. But it wasn't a costume drama, and it wasn't a horror story. It was a 1960s interpretation of the pretentious sobriety of the late Victorian era. Some of its best parts are the descriptions of the mansion by night, when the girl pupils are missing, feared lost, feared dead; and you feel the emptiness like a dead weight. There is no-one in the mansion except the Headmistress. Who drinks.


Book reviews reviewed.

Booktopia, the online bookstore, has a page on its website headed: "WHAT OUR CUSTOMER'S ARE SAYING". OK, that’s just carping. It could have been worse, like We Sell Book’s, greengrocer-style.

Further down that page, Booktopia asks:
Booktopia or Amazon? Taking on the 800 pound gorilla. Well somebody had to do it! Our goal is to be a legitimate alternative to Amazon.
Booktopia’s David is not just taking on Goliath’s might. It is also taking on Goliath’s book reviews. Let’s take two examples. Of Raymond Chandler’s Playback, Booktopia summarises:
Marlowe is hired by an influential lawyer he's never herd of to tail a gorgeous redhead, but decides he prefers to help out the redhead. She's been acquitted of her alcoholic husband's murder, but her father-in-law prefers not to take the court's word for it.
" Chandler wrote like a slumming angel and invested the sun-blinded streets of Los Angeles with a romantic presence: " -- Ross Macdonald
Amazon’s summary:
Marlowe is hired by an influential lawyer he's never herd of to tail a gorgeous redhead, but decides he prefers to help out the redhead. She's been acquitted of her alcoholic husband's murder, but her father-in-law prefers not to take the court's word for it.
"Chandler wrote like a slumming angel and invested the sun-blinded streets of Los Angeles with a romantic presence:" -- Ross Macdonald
Two reviews, one spelling error, one misplaced colon. Booktopia’s quotation has also developed a possibly unwitting space between quotation marks and quotation, probably during formatting.

Example two is The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Amazon:
In this definitive collection of Ernest Hemingway's short stories, readers will delight in the author's most beloved classics such as "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," "Hills Like White Elephants," and "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," and will discover seven new tales published for the first time in this collection. For Hemingway fans The Complete Short Stories is an invaluable treasury.
In this definitive collection of Ernest Hemingway's short stories, readers will delight in the author's most beloved classics such as ""The Snows of Kilimanjaro," "Hills Like White Elephants,"" and ""A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,"" and will discover seven new tales published for the first time in this collection. For Hemingway fans "The Complete Short Stories" is an invaluable treasury.
Booktopia mirrors Amazon’s all capital headline and has developed some superfluous quote marks. Back to Booktopia’s webpage:
Our goal is to be a legitimate alternative to Amazon. ... Once people start ordering from Amazon they often realise the shipping costs are quite expensive. Here at Booktopia, we ship as many books as you want for $6.50. This is very economical.
As is plagiarising Amazon’s editorial reviews.


How to roast a potato.

We don't roast all that much, certainly not as much as our parents did. Sometimes can't seem to get it just right. The vegetables, I mean.

I recall my mother's baked potatoes having crisp golden brown outer shells around steaming flesh with the texture of butter. Your knife fell through them after piercing the crust. They were so tasty you didn’t need gravy. She also roasted pumpkin and it always partially caramelised to a sweet unctuous black-crusted deep orange block that you could bulldoze through the gravy on the end of your fork, leaving clean white porcelain underneath like a snowploughed road. Everything had a faint minty tang lurking about the taste perimeter, like mountains on a summer breeze. That came from the mint that grew like a bushfire in the backyard. A few leaves chopped in a jug of boiling water with a glug of brown vinegar and a little sugar.

Someone mentioned on radio yesterday – it might have been Adrian Richardson of La Luna restaurant – that the best way to roast was to use an aluminium roasting pan. I didn’t think anyone recommended aluminium any more.

Then I thought. It took a while. Then it came back. My mother’s roasting pan. Aluminium! I must have tried to forget it, because I probably had to wash it several thousand times during my childhood. Child labour! I washed, my brother dried, my sisters put away. Or the other ways around. The kitchen sink faced the back yard; and while working, we’d stare at the tricycles on their sides on the concrete, and the birdcage near the bungalow with zebra finches in it, and the flattened football in a corner, and the peach tree with a tree house further down the yard, and the clothesline beyond that with seven pairs of pyjamas on it. Do children still get made to wash up? Or do they just slink off to their rooms with their ipod?

The roasting pan was aluminium. It had roasted a million roasts, most of them mutton; the occasional beef; chicken hardly ever. It was beaten up. This made it harder to wash, because of all the corrugations. It was large and deep and had voluptuously rounded corners that were blackened at the edges and in the recesses of the dents, and if you turned it upside down it looked like the burnt-out fender of a Peugeot 403 that had crashed during the Redex Round Australia trial.

Apparently aluminium conducts ambient or indirect heat better. Supposedly it cranks the drippings in the pan up to about a thousand degrees; the super-hot fat penetrates the outer shell of the potato, fusing it and trapping the moisture inside. And for thirty years I’ve been using enamelled steel!

Might have to sneak over to mother’s house and open the pan cupboard, and search for the old pan that looks like a 1950s rally car fender. I’ll have to be careful. There are several hundred pots and pans in there, all sitting in and on top of each other precariously. Move one, and the kitchen could turn into a wrecker’s yard.


Voices from the deep.

And now – just as at this time last year (scroll down) – we can’t walk on the grass again, because of the consistent rain, now the highest for fourteen or fifteen years.

But now there’s something else. Now, the lawn is talking. You can hear it at night if you creep outside in the cold air and lower your head to the ground. A thousand faint trickling noises. It’s not in one spot; it comes from the whole lawn. Trickling busily, like water in an underground stream. It’s not water sinking into the lawn, because it might not have rained for a day or two.

That second last sentence might be the answer. This house sits on the banks of a tributary to the Merri Creek, on a north-sloping block that also falls away to the east. It seems we might also be over the top of an old sub-tributary, flowing south-north.

Evidence? The lawn on this block never died during the drought. Green as ... well, green as grass throughout the entire drought, as if it were tapping a subterranean water source. People used to pass by and peer at the lawn’s seemingly unnatural greenness and suspect, sometimes verbally, that I was clandestinely watering it. Or even openly watering it. That was in the days when the government made it a crime to open your hose pipe, while it squandered billions on an ill-fated desalination plant, declaring it would never rain again.

But I wasn’t, and it did. Now, the ground water level is rising. Trickle, trickle, trickle; late at night. It sounds like crickets gargling. No, the house isn’t going to sink. That happens where water pools. When it’s moving, your house rides it, taking on a pontoon effect. We’re an island in the stream!


Song of the month: an Elvis Presley song that nobody knows.

(For yesterday's 35th anniversary.)

Has anyone ever heard 'I Met Her Today' played on radio? I haven't.

This Roberston/Blair song was recorded by Elvis Presley in 1961, first released in 1965, and released again on the 1973 Separate Ways album.

It reveals Presley's astounding vocal range, and perfect diction, delivery and control. Where is the centre of gravity? On these anniversaries you hear all the King of Rock and Roll cliches, and you hear the vocal mannerisms satirised; but beneath it all is the sheer unlaboured fluidity of Presley's voice - an infinite range that, when paired with a song that reminds you of the potential for human emotion to take you infinitely high or low, suggests some other power. It's nothing new. People have always described some voices as angelic. Meaning not just sweet, but opening a window on another world.

This insignificant song talks about the joy that comes inexplicably out of despair. Like that window that suddenly opens. You don't know why. You just stare at the light, and wonder why it is shining on you.

Just when the last bit of pride in me was gone
Someone heard me pray
And sent me an angel
I met her today

Help the environment. Put in another oven.

"It's in with double ovens and out with dated laminate ... ," began the article about the Herald Sun Home Show in yesterday's paper (not online). " ... it's more a case of two ovens are better than one when it comes to cooking dinner and dessert at the same time."

The item went on to talk about 'whiz-bang' coffee machines and water coolers. Go ahead. Plug them in! Then:

"There is also a big push towards more energy-efficient homes in a bid to cut power bills and help the environment ... ."

Maybe they carbon neutralise their dinner parties by leaving the lights off, or not having any background music. Or requesting the guests to walk home.


Retail therapy.

What’s your favourite kind of store? Fashion, shoes, homewares? Books, antiques, op-shops? Hobbies, crafts, textiles? Food?

Is everything covered in that lot? No. My favourite shop is ... Officeworks. I don’t know who has the Officeworks account, but they should bring back the old McEwens jingle, McEwens means a million things. (Do advertising jingles revert to the public domain when a company goes out of business; or after 50 years, like music?)

It’s not just that Officeworks has a million things, it’s that they are interesting. Hardware stores have hammers, nails and planks of wood. These are all important items, but they are just not as fascinating as stationery. Bunnings customers are always in a hurry, and frowning. It is impossible to frown when you fondle a Parker fountain pen, and you can’t fondle anything in a hurry.

Remember those Oxford mathematical instrument sets in old-fashioned tins? They still exist on Officeworks shelves. For a ridiculous (in the good sense) $6.50, you can also buy a retro design German-made Staedtler tin of 12 pencils. It is possibly the last product still manufactured in Germany. Even some Mercedes-Benz models are no longer made in Germany.

When you’re finished with the pens and pencils, there are small electronic devices, paper, cameras, picture frames, paint (art, not house) brushes, and coffee. Coffee! Not just any coffee. Officeworks’ coffee range includes Nescafe, Robert Timms, Vittoria and Moccona for ordinary people like me, but if you like to wear your social conscience on your sleeve you can buy Jasper premium Arabica fair trade certified organic 100% carbon neutral coffee. Three causes in every cup. Just make sure you go outside and plant a tree while the kettle boils or you’ll spoil the whole effect. On the other hand, those Nescafe 43 blend drinkers are pillaging the earth.

Now here’s a trick if you have an Officeworks nearby. Recently I ran out of milk. Couldn’t face a trip to the supermarket. So I went to Officeworks, walked to the catering section, picked up some UHT milk and was out in two minutes. UHT is fine at a pinch. There is also sugar, tea, wipes, snacks, confectionery, biscuits, and many other after hours essentials.

On Tuesday night the work printer broke down, and the IT guy had gone for the day. They’re never around when you need them. I got off the train on the way home. It was about 7.30, and it was pouring. I got drenched. I melted into Officeworks, poked a USB stick at the desk attendant (I’d kept it in an inner pocket to keep it dry, like gunpowder), and asked him to print me documents A, B and C. When he was finished, I asked him to sell me a plastic sleeve to keep the documents dry on the rest of the walk home. He pulled one from under the desk. "You can have it for nothing," he said. "Have a good night." Is that service? And the documents were 50 cents. That’s cheaper than investing in printers and ink. I’ve thrown out my deskjet, fax and printer and stacks of copy paper and reduced my home office floorspace by half. Officeworks is my new home office. Plus, I need the space. The children need room to throw pencils around.


This is the Staedtler pencil tin, containing 12 HB pencils.


Disclaimer: I do not work for Officeworks, nor on the Officeworks advertising account. I just like pens.


Drawing a long bow.

What brought this on was not so much a dredge through the playground of childhood memory, so much as the reality flying past me.

The children have a large plastic box filled with pencils, probably two hundred or so. The pencils are of all colours and lengths and conditions and brands. The collection has been augmented by several sets given as gifts to them over the last few years, but the collection's backbone is the remains of a 72-pack Tracy once owned. I suppose she still does, in trust.

The youngest child often gets the pencils out by the simple expedient of upending the box on the floor. This way you get to see them in their scattered glory, and pick one that catches your eye without having to riffle through dozens. This is brutally simple childhood logic. Someone wrote a book about it once. They lose this logic over the years.

While William and Thomas are quite good artists, Thomas has found another purpose for the pencils. Alexandra has an extensive collection of hair bands, and one coloured hair band fits snugly around the length of a full-sized pencil, with a little stretch room. Binding each end with masking tape, Thomas turned one Derwent Orange Chrome pencil into a serviceable bow. It works like this. I sit with newspaper and tea in the kitchen in rare silence. Then a clatter as a Derwent Prussian Blue hits the refrigerator door, knocking a fridge magnet off and releasing a school circular which somehow swishes across the room and floats under my feet, annoyingly. Then a volley of missiles; a blunt-nosed Imperial Purple, followed by a Vandyke Brown and a Pink Madder Lake. They fall harmlessly to the ground, and then a Lemon Cadmium hits the newspaper.

They draw with them as well. I'll post a picture of one of their drawings one day, and then this blog will really be down there with the mundanities of life. Perhaps I should go back to recipes.


Down in the last shower.

For about the last ten years, radio ads have endlessly urged people to buy rainwater tanks "because of the lack of rain".

Now there's an ad on air that says, without any sense of irony:

"With all the rain, now is a great time to buy a water tank!"


Primary school poetry.

It wasn't in a book. One of the girls in Grade Three, Suzanna Arrowsmith, performed Vespers by A. A. Milne in front of the class, but I thought it was over the top. Sanctimonious little critic I was. Suzanne wanted to be an actress. She had the looks.

The poetry was in a box; the names of the colours, each numbered, in a box of Derwent pencils. The 24-pencil set was a coloured landscape that spoke of dark valleys and lake-laced plains of vivid greens, and seas that swirled grey and blue.

Emerald Green was the land of our forefathers; Raw Umber was the earth beneath; Blue Grey was the sky above and Rose Pink was the blush in Colleen’s cheeks. Ivory Black (just one of Derwent's blacks) was the frozen road or your father’s drink; Madder Carmine was a red flash somewhere between those two notorious actresses, Scarlet and Crimson Lake.

Juniper Green was the colour of a sage leaf that flavoured mother’s stew. Jade Green, French Grey and Naples Yellow were the overseas holidays you had in the 1950s.

Venetian Red was a red-tinged shade of brown; Chinese White was always the longest pencil in the box, until I was given an exercise book made of black art paper. My favourite name was Ultramarine, a stormy sea of backlit deep blue. I travelled the world and had a thousand adventures with one box of Derwent coloured pencils.

My sister had the 72-pencil fold-out box set. She became a poet.


Alchemy and the winter casserole: oyster blade with red wine, mushrooms and tarragon.

Oyster blade is overlooked. It is already cheap but is often marked down because nobody buys it. Don't people make stews any more? (And why does the spell check underline squiggle thing want me to join 'any' and 'more' as one word? They are not.)

Here's one recipe that can turn a cheap cut of meat into something special:

In a heavy pan – I use a heavy cast iron skillet that retains heat – cook a large chopped onion in olive oil. Remove when done and in the same pan, brown the meat, cut into large cubes, in more olive oil. Give it a few shakes of black pepper and one or two of salt. Then sprinkle the meat, while turning, with flour so that the meat is coated. Place meat and onions in a casserole.

Cut two medium carrots into rounds. Trim a dozen button mushrooms. Chop a stick of celery into half-inch diagonals. Put these vegetables into the heavy pan, cover it and let them sweat in the pan's retained heat for a few minutes over a very low flame so that they start to take in the flavours of the onion and beef. The mushrooms will start to give off fluid, so don't worry about the vegetables burning.

Then remove vegetables to casserole, place pan back onto flame, and tip in half a bottle of good red wine. Deglaze the pan and pour the red wine gravy into the casserole. Add a tablespoon of tomato paste, two scored garlic cloves, a shake of tarragon, a bay leaf, more pepper, and enough water to barely cover vegetables and meat. Stock not required.

Cover the casserole. Mine is an old square white 1990s Pyrex one with a purple floral emblem on two of its four sides. It used to have a clear glass lid, but that broke years ago when I accidentally let it slide into cold water after removing it, white-hot, from the oven. Broke? It shattered. Don't ever try that at home unless you’re studying the thermal properties of glass. (Speaking of glass breakages, Thomas was kicking one of those dimpled rubber balls around at Alexandra's tea party the other day when he curved it, soccer-style, off the shed wall, under the pergola and onto the mosaic-tiled table, where it hit a Duralex glass, which bounced off the tiled table, shattered, and settled in a thousand shards on the ground. The next five minutes saw a flurry of brooms and brush-and-pan sets wielded by anxious uncles.)

So, without a lid, I use foil to cover the old casserole, which works fine, and you can pierce it if you want some steam to escape depending on what you are cooking.

Cook the casserole on lower than usual heat, for a longer than usual time. Figures are relative, but all things being equal, I cooked it for four hours on 150 degrees. But my oven is hot. Longer, gentler cooking assists in breaking down the connective tissue in oyster blade, so that the meat alchemises into an unctuous, super-flavoursome pillow of flesh that melts in your mouth. Why would you pay $100 a kilo for Wagyu and make hamburgers out of it when you can achieve carnivore-nirvana for under $10 a kilogram? Ridiculous.

Since it is so unctuous, this stew is served to best advantage with creamy mashed potato. I whip my potato with milk and a little olive oil to the point where it develops a fine sheen, like the snow on Mt Feathertop in the early spring sunshine. Then I place the beef and vegetables over a pile of the mash, and let the gravy drizzle down the sides like an early thaw.

On the side, silver beet cooked with olive oil, garlic and a touch of cream. And the rest of the red wine.

The dish would work just as well with polenta, with the leftovers morphing - with no further work required beyond reheating - into a rich ragu over home-made gnocchi. Alchemy!


Song of the month: 'How She Could Sing The Wildwood Flower'.

I heard this song on the freeway in the car, and everyone knows that the best place to hear a song is on a freeway in a car. It's nothing to do with the freeway or the car; but rather because you are captive and have nothing to think about except the distant horizon and the killer lilt in her voice. Talk about fall.

It was one of those interview programns on ABC; Mairi Nicolson talking to Christine Brewer, and they were playing her favourites. I had the children in the car, and they fell silent as the song that sounds like it was written hundreds of years ago floated out of the speakers. OK, it helped that I turned up the volume. The song was sung by a voice that sounded like five angels.

She was his sunshine
She was his moon and morning star

It's the kind of song that makes you turn the radio off at the end, so you don't lose it from your mind. We had arrived anyway. That open zoo near Werribee where they drive you around in a safari bus to look at rhinos and oryx and zebras and giraffes. Tracy had decided not to accompany us. I wonder why?


'How She Could Sing The Wildwood Flower'
by Emmylou Harris
From album All I Intended to Be


And this one is for Alexandra, for whom we held a tea party yesterday. The weather gods rent an approaching large black cloud in two, and poured one part down on Essendon and the other somewhere east of Lygon Street: and nothing on our garden but a few spots of light rain, like those five angels crying.

And yes: she is my sunshine and moon and morning star. She seems to be awake at most of those hours.


What? Broccoli soup?

Yes. For lunch on a cold day at the tail end of a wet July when you want something warm but light, tasty but easy, ... oh, (note to self) shut up and get on with the recipe.

OK. Boil three large stalks of broccoli - last few inches of stem removed - with one finely chopped onion, a grated carrot, a scored clove of garlic, a six-inch stick of celery scored across its backbone, a scattering of dried coriander leaves, a pinch of chili powder, a few cumin seeds, and a dash of salt and pepper. (You can saute the onion first, but as a lunch recipe, I just throw everything in together. It's also lower in fat that way, if you're interested in that kind of thing.)

When broccoli is done, get your propeller and puree the whole thing. The carrot will 'disappear'. Back on the flame, add half a cup of full cream milk, fold through, and serve with a spoonful of yogurt or sour cream and some chopped flat-leaf parsley. And grilled cheese on toast on the side. And a steaming mug of tea. And the newspaper. Join the revolution! Keep print alive!

The sun is out today. And tomorrow the young one turns two.