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


Walking through history in Tigerland.

Obscure quiz question: what’s so special about the following football score?

Carlton 18.6.114
Richmond 10.9.69

Answer at the end of this post. (If you’ve already picked it, you are a football tragic with an eye for detail, or a Richmond fan who never forgets.)


Richmond was Struggletown for most of the twentieth century, a hazy suburb of worker's cottages jammed in amongst factories that made glue and paint and matches. The Bryant and May matchworks and the Rosella cannery employed thousands. When there was a northerly, the smoke from the factories drifted across the river and got in the eyes of South Yarra residents.


Every year I spend four weeks – sometimes more – in Richmond, one of the world's great inner suburbs. It's work; but I like to pretend it's a holiday. I enjoy walking the narrow streets at lunchtimes, gazing at the mostly renovated worker's cottages amongst the jumble of factories, warehouses and buildings of no clear description that cascade down the hill from Bridge Road, all the way to the Yarra River. There is still plenty of industry in Richmond, but the big factories are gone, turned over to office space. I first worked here in the early 1980s, when a pioneering agency abandoned St Kilda Road. In Richmond it was alone in a sea of manufacturing and working class pubs. Balmain Street's Cherry Tree Hotel was a dark heap in the shadow of the railway overpass, with sodden towels and ashtrays on the front bar, a revolving Victoria Bitter neon sign on the roof and a clientele that wove home clutching two bottles in a brown paper bag. But despite the decay, in 1983 Richmond was still a proud suburb. It was a reigning grand finalist, if not reigning premier. The old Tigers were still up and about, stalking the gloomy streets and licking their lips in search of their next conquest. It never came.


The Hafey Years: Reliving the Golden Era of Tigerland tells Richmond Football Club’s story up to that time. Richmond was as ruthless on the field as off it. I knew all this anyway: I was at Windy Hill in May 1974 when the most notorious riot in football history occurred.


Yesterday I walked past the old red-brick cannery in Balmain Street on the way back to Richmond station. The painted Rosella sign is still there, but screwed into the red bricks are three large metal letters, JWT. Around the corner, down Green Street, another old factory complex – now entitled a 'business park' – is home to DDB. CHE is there as well. Why were they always three letters? Because advertising agencies were traditionally set up by a copywriter, a designer and someone who knew something about money.


Across the road from J. Walter Thompson, the Cherry Tree has heaters out the front warming a paved outdoor area surrounded by a plantation that screens the road. Opening panorama windows reveal sleek furniture inside. The Cherry Tree has a wine list and a website and the menu lists pumpkin risotto with sage and feta. The whole thing looks like the in-house dining room for the agencies and PR houses and fashion designers and art galleries tucked away in the tiny streets and lanes below the elevated railway line.


Coincidentally, one of the characters in The Hafey Years made the news while I was reading the book. Ex-captain Neville Crowe was pulled from the Yarra River half-drowned after falling into it while riding his bicycle. The book tells how, in 1969, Crowe was knocked out by an opponent during play, found unconscious after collapsing in the shower after the game, and taken to hospital. He is now 75 and suffers Alzheimer’s disease. Yet he was riding a bicycle along the Yarra like a 30 year old fitness fanatic! The Tigers of old are still stalking.
In any weather you will see us with a grin
Risking head and shin ...
For we're from Tigerland
We never weaken 'til the final siren's gone
Like the Tiger of old
We're strong and we're bold
For we're from Tigerland.

That score? Amazingly, it is not full-time, but the half-time score during the 1972 grand final, the greatest shoot-out in grand final history. I still have some audio of that game that I taped straight off 3KZ on a cassette recorder. The commentator, Ian Major, sounds as exhausted on the crackly tape as the players.


The Hafey Years: Reliving a Golden Era at Tigerland by Elliot Cartledge
Western Media 2011

Shorthand review: Most books about sporting clubs are fan-only. Cartledge’s book is a must-read for anyone who is interested in Australian football or social history. As if to prove the point, the book’s introduction was written by Carlton fan and veteran commentator, Tim Lane. And I’m Essendon - and still fuming about May 1974.


Sweet potato gnocchi topped with grilled cheese.

Sweet potato has been cheap lately. I like it cubed and cooked and turned into a warm salad with torn spinach and segments of vine-ripened tomato and toasted pine nuts, all dressed with a mixture of vinegar, lemon juice, horseradish and a touch of mayonnaise. A large bowl of that makes a meal in itself, if you add a couple of freshly poached eggs and some lightly-toasted batons of Turkish bread.

But here’s how I cooked it recently:

Sweet potato gnocchi.

Peel and chop one Beauregard sweet potato. Boil it until soft. Mash it or press it through a ricer, and place it in a mound on a bread board or marble work bench. Let it cool for ten minutes. Open a bottle of shiraz and pour a glass.

Now make a crater in the top of the mound. Crack one egg and the yolk of another into the crater.

Using your hands, gradually work in up to half a cup of flour, a scant tablespoonful of polenta and a finely diced clove of garlic. Press and knead the mixture lightly, adding more flour until it holds together.

Form the mixture into cylinders the diameter of one of those old D-size batteries that had a picture of an electrified cat jumping through the closed loop of a figure 9. Pour another glass of shiraz, trying not to get flour everywhere, and wonder where all the old batteries went.

An average sweet potato should give you two to three 12-inch cylinders. Slice the cylinders into half inch-thick discs, and drop the discs into salted, oiled boiling water. Watch. Within seconds they should shoot to the surface before settling back into the churning water like fresh flotsam off a sinking ship.

Let them bob about for a few seconds, then lift them out with a slotted spoon. Drain them thoroughly before placing them directly into serving bowls.

Top the sweet potato gnocchi with some crumbled fresh ricotta, snipped parsley, a basic Napoli sauce (chopped onions, garlic, white wine, tomato puree, basil, oregano, salt, pepper), plenty of cracked black pepper and a liberal amount of grated parmesan, or any other cheese.

Place serving bowls under the grill for a few seconds to melt the cheese and give it a faint crunch.

Have another shiraz. There's plenty left.


Life uncorked.

It's been a big week. I minded a two-year-old for two days, launched a book, had lunch with my mother, took a five-year-old for blood tests (all clear), wrote a million stupid words for clients, read a primary school Principal's weekly bulletin in which he lambasted parents of children making their First Communion for noisily using iPhones and other devices in the church during the ceremony, pulled out a now-shaded climbing rose and planted lawn in its place, made two days' worth of gravy beef and mushroom casserole, and read Squadron Airborne by Elleston Trevor.

I'm going home to a big marbled steak, cooked rare on a red-hot cast iron pan, with a slew of fragrant garlic butter on top; and served with whipped potatoes and silver beet from the garden cooked with garlic and cracked pepper and pureed with a touch of cream. I would also pull the cork out of a bottle of Mt Alexander shiraz, but these days they come with a screwcap.


Comment, allez-vous.

Not only has word verification outlived its usefulness; it is also now counterproductive, having become completely unreadable, thereby preventing humans - let alone robots - from posting comments.

So I've switched it off.

In any case, the verification function is a relic from the days when weblogs were cutting edge social media and targetted by spammers. Now we're as old hat as sending birthday cards and thank-you notes through the mail.

Presumably robots are no longer interested, and are trying to ingratiate themselves with the Twitter crowd.

We'll see. Meantime, commenting is easy again.


Pasta and gingham.

Last time I was at Florentino’s Cellar Bar, which was on a cold, wet Friday night years ago (the review is somewhere in this weblog), I had a robust dish of pasta tossed through with black pudding and pine nuts. It was very good. But you have to like black pudding.

(The Cellar Bar is a cafe-society style dining room where there is no artifice, Italian cafe traditions endure, the food is robust, and old-fashioned gingham lives on.)

I’ve replicated that dish, with variations, many times since. Here's its latest incarnation.

Rigatoni with black pudding, broad beans and roasted tomatoes.

Drizzle some olive oil and shake some cracked pepper and salt over two dozen cherry tomatoes - or other miniature variety - and roast them until they collapse.

Slice black pudding into rounds about the size of a ten cent piece (use smooth black pudding rather than the Scottish type which is flecked with oats) and fry on both sides until slightly crisp.

Pod and peel a bowlful of broad beans. Fry half a finely chopped leek in olive oil until soft; add some butter, a scored clove of garlic, the beans and a sage leaf. Stir to coat the beans. Cook gently until the beans are warm and soft.

Drain the pasta and fold through the leek and bean mixture, then add the roasted tomatoes and top with the crisp black pudding. Don’t tell your guests what black pudding is made from and they will rave about it.

Serve it on gingham.


I was going to post some of the children's art, however illustrator and retired RAAF Squadron Leader Hugh Dolan has beaten me to it. Here's William's illustration of a First World War dogfight; and here's Thomas' picture of a Sopwith Camel.


World turns; sun comes into back yard.

The sun crept across the pale painted wall of the shed in the back garden at 7am for the first time since autumn. It couldn’t reach the wall that early during winter, being lower in the sky. Now we get an extra burst of reflected light in the south-facing kitchen.

The warmth is welcome. Even the creatures think so. Last night I saw the season’s first huntsman, crawling along the side fence. It’s less than a fortnight ago that I passed, while walking home through Yarra Park on a bitterly cold Melbourne night, someone walking one of those snow dogs that has those piercing pale blue irises. Nothing unusual about that? The dog was wearing a coat.

Spring warmth comes in on the arms of a vicious spring wind. Everything is covered in blossom. It would have been nice to see it sit on the trees a bit longer. Seems to have lasted only days.

And the work begins. I pulled out ten metres of rocket and wondered whether we’ll ever plant it again. Put it in pesto; make salad; that’s it. Then it runs to seed. Mustard greens are better and so is silver beet. Both hold their foliage well, don’t quickly run to seed, and are reasonably snail-resistant. They are also handy ingredients in a range of dishes that work well in stews, and with spices. Silver beet disappears into pasta sauces, mustard greens make delicious curry with paneer and tumeric, and most greens pair well with pastry and cheese.

Mustard greens and ricotta parcels.

Chop an onion finely and cook it gently in olive oil in a heavy deep pan. Add a scored clove of garlic and fill the pan with washed, roughly chopped mustard greens and silver beet with the water that clings to them.

Cook gently until they wilt. Stir to coat in the oil. Cook for a few more minutes, let cool slightly and squeeze out excess fluid. Now fold in a tub of fresh ricotta and an egg. Add salt and pepper and a few flecks of dried chili. Cook until the egg is just set.

Lay out a sheet - or sheets if using filo - of pastry, place mixture in middle, fold up corners to make a bundle. Brush oil over pastry, shake sesame seeds over and bake in an oiled dish or on a tray twenty minutes to half an hour.

Hot or cold, they're delicious.