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


Spiced lamb with onions and raisins; and couscous with toasted almonds.

If you have the ingredients, this is easily achievable when camping if you’re good at juggling pots and pans over a slow fire. Not literally, of course; although that no doubt would entertain your fellow campers should the river rolling by cease to amuse. In any case, couscous is just instant pasta and the lamb is just a straightforward stew with a few exotic spices.

But the aroma! If you thought the last recipe was an outdoor drawcard, don’t cook this in a busy campsite. A kilogram of onions gently frying with cinnamon and raisins? Paddlesteamers would tie up.


Place one kilogram of cubed lamb, a big chopped onion and 1.75 litres of water into a large pot over hot embers. When it comes to the boil, throw in a teaspoon each of ginger and cinnamon, four cloves and a good shake each of salt and ground black pepper.

Too easy so far. Open a cold beer.

Keep the pot on a low simmer for half the afternoon; i.e., from lunchtime to afternoon tea, or from that to dinnertime. (Or ditto morning, if you're the enthusiastic type who likes to get cooking early.)

After a couple of lazy hours, add three or four saffron threads to the pot. Top up the water if your fire has been too hot. Let another hour drift by, along with the river.

During that time, chop about a kilogram of onions, or three or four large ones if you can’t be bothered measuring (and measuring is not crucial to this dish). Place them with a cup of water in a lidded pan over a cooler part of the fire, where they will bubble softly in the fluid until soft. Remove the lid after 30 minutes to let the remaining fluid evaporate, add a pinch of salt, 40 grams of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil; and cook until the onions start turning gold, like the sun over the red river gums. Now add two tablespoons of honey, a teaspoon of cinnamon and a cup of drained raisins. (Just soak them for half an hour prior.) Keep the onions over the fire until they start to caramelise.

Meanwhile gently fry a cup of blanched almonds in a little oil, drain them and chop half of them roughly. We're getting close to dinner. The sun is almost gone, but the heat remains.

Now cook the couscous. Stir 250 mls of warm salted  water into 250 g couscous in a lidded pan (use the one you used for the almonds), allow to swell a few minutes then add a tablespoon of oil and rub the couscous to break up lumps. Heat low for ten minutes, rub in some butter, stir. Add the chopped almonds to the couscous - and a dash of the lamb broth to moisten it.

Serving time. Place a hollowed mound of coucous in each bowl, put a serving of lamb into the hollow and cover it with the onion raisin mixture. Scatter the whole almonds over. Open another beer. Someone said this was a Moroccan dish. I wonder what makes it Moroccan? Probably not the river. Or the beer.  


Blogger speeding into a new sunrise.

Janis Gore of Gone South is now posting at Radar Love. I like the music references.


War of the roses.

'Big, sharp and dangerous' is how one gardening writer described rose bush Lorraine Lea's thorns. 'So don't plant one near driveways or pathways,' the writer continued.  I have one in the front garden but clear of the pathway. I did, however, almost sever a tendon when pushing the lawn mower under an arched Lorraine Lea branch, and a thorn cut through the top knuckle of my clenched fist like a shark's fin cutting the water. At least it was a clean cut.

Lorraine Lea is also a climber. A few years ago, after pulling out a too-rampant jasmine, I put one in the east sideway where, once it reached the top of the fence, it could ramble. About twelve feet away, I planted another rose: Albertine. Twelve feet wasn't enough. Albertine is winning the turf war, its unusually narrow stems overtaking Lorraine Lea, and its soft, smallish delicate pink buds now appearing to grow on Lorraine Lea stems. Lorraine's are a denser pink with a faint yellow tinge. Both are stunning. Spring mornings are a sight when the blind goes up.

Lorraine Lea was a hit when released in the 1920s. Survivors remain. In this suburb, I have seen several ancient examples. There is even a house with one of those brass names that reads Lorraine Lea. Its front garden has several old examples. One has a trunk a foot wide, an ugly leafless prehistoric monster with bark like an elephant's. Then it unexpectedly puts out a pink springtime flower somewhere in its grey mass, like the monster cradling a baby. Amazing to think of some long-gone gardener planting it in the early twentieth century, and their children playing around it, avoiding its big, sharp, dangerous thorns.


Cook your beer by the river.

So they turned Victoria Bitter back into a beer, reissued the earlier pack design and brought back the old advertising line, a hard-earned thirst needs a big cold beer. Good*.

I cooked up the following stew while camping along the Murray River recently. Browning the meat takes a little extra effort and an additional implement or two. Optionally you can throw the whole lot in together. When your pot starts steaming, the aroma will drift along the bank and you'll have visitors.

Beef with beer.

In a large pot over the camp fire, place one chopped onion, a dash of oil, 500g diced beef (dredged in seasoned flour and browned), a chopped carrot, two sticks of chopped celery, a bay leaf or two, a chopped leek, a sprig of thyme, two tablespoons of tomato puree or paste, a tablespoon of brown sugar, one can of Victoria Bitter and enough beef stock to cover.

Let it bubble away for a few hours.

Serve with potatoes wrapped in foil and buried in the coals for an hour or two - they'll come out charred on the outside and steaming inside. Break them open, dot them with butter and pour the stew over them in a deep dish.

Eat as the sun goes down and the cockatoos roost for the night.

Drink: more beer, please. You can get it talking, you can get it walking, you can get it pulling a plough.

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*While they're on the job, beer marketers would be well advised to junk the whole infantile beer advertising monoculture in which bunches of grown-up juveniles carry on like children to soundtracks by the kind of bands thet get played on 3MMM, like a cross between Jackass and Playschool. The last good beer ad on television was the Carlton Draught ad shot in the outback with an original Kevin Johnson score. Yes, it was a few years ago. CUB sponsored Thursday night's League Teams at the time.

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One night a long time ago, pre-children, we camped by the Murray River where it turns north-west, somewhere near Robinvale. It was a clear, warm night and I pitched the tent on the south bank. I made a fire and cooked a stew similar to the above, but using red wine instead of beer. Later, it grew dark and the most enormous full moon rose, as if from out of the water.  Never forgotten it. The call of the Murray is irresistible. I've no idea why people rush off overseas all the time.