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


Campfire risotto with cream of chicken and mushrooms.

This is the kind of thing that is ridiculed by the purists and loved by everyone else.

I walked half a mile to the dusty Foodworks supermarket in the small country town that the river winds through - or should I say the town built around several bends in the river - and bought a tin of cream of chicken soup, a packet of grated parmesan cheese and some fresh button mushrooms. From its wine shop annex, I bought a bottle of Deakin Estate chardonnay.

Then back to the river. I set some water to boil over the flame and, in a pan on a cooler part of the fire, I warmed some arborio rice in olive oil. When  the water bubbled I carefully and gradually poured some into the rice, interspersing it with white wine. I opened the tin of cream of chicken soup and folded the contents through the simmering rice, once again gradually. Its aroma was so good I was tempted to eat some of the salty, chickeny ooze straight out of the can. (I actually did this as a child - canned soup concentrate is delicious!) Then I swirled some white wine into the empty tin to wash out the remaining soup and tipped it into the rice, which was expanding slowly. Then the button mushrooms, chopped in four slices each, and a good amount of parmesan and some black pepper. After twenty minutes of stirring while staring at the cockatoos coming home to roost in the early evening sun-burnished river red gums it was nearly done and the chickeny, mushroomy aroma went steaming lazily across the river. It was about half past six.


Later, the low sun made the river a broad gold ribbon. Silhouetted downstream was an odd-looking vehicle parked with one headlamp over the water. It looked like a 1950s bus on a truck chassis. I strolled around the arc of the riverbank to investigate. A couple, obviously retired, sat on two folding chairs behind a small campfire over which a kettle was murmuring. We got talking. The man, a retired mechanic, had fitted out a Leyland bus body and fixed it to a truck undercarriage with a four wheel drive set-up; a kind of customised hotel on wheels that you could drive up a mountain or across a river and that you never had to check out of, or pay a desk clerk to insult you. The lobby was wherever you parked it and this one had a river in it. The couple were (or 'was' depending on which pedant you ask) on their way around Australia, and taking their time. They had been watching the children playing farther up the river earlier in the afternoon. After we finished talking about converted buses, the man made some complimentary remark about the children, staring into the distance as if wistfully, and then he said suddenly, "Cherish them." Who knows whether he had had his own children and they drifted away or died or got married and went abroad; or whether he was just being sentimental after a few cold beers by the river on a golden summer evening. I didn't ask. I just said, yes. Yes, I do.


Melbourne Girl said...

Lovely...all of it.

leaf (the indolent cook) said...

Beautifully written. And there is just so much charm in cooking risotto over a campfire...

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