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

27.4.12

Scroll down for the recipe.

I don't know if these recipes are repeated. I don't have an index or a contents page or labels or tabs or a like button or a follow-me-on-twitter thing with a bird-with-outstretched-wings logo, as if twitter lets you break free of the multitudes and soar alone in a soundless, soaring space where you hear nothing but your own wings beating the air ...

Didn't someone make a record about that once?*

Now the bird imagery is used to drag millions of humans down into a kind of subterranean worldwide typing pool where they issue forth messages not much longer than the grunting of cavemen, and some of their grunts make the front pages of newspapers. Nuts.

But then I got dragged into it, because I had to write some tweets for clients. They couldn’t even do their own grunting! So I set up an account - "Instantly connect! Follow your friends and your favourite celebrities!" - to see how it worked. Apparently it’s not about character count (140) but message byte length, i.e., some words such as cafĂ© add extra bytes. I suppose it’s not that hard. Shakespeare had to stick to 14 lines per sonnet; or at least whoever it was wrote them for him.

OK. Now let’s figure this out and discover what kind of tar pit we’ve gotten ourselves into. There are currently, according to sources, between 290 million and 340 million tweets worldwide per day. Let’s be conservative and take the lower figure: 290 million tweets at 140 characters each. That’s 301,890,000,000 characters.

At an average character strike of four per second (again, conservative – many people type much slower) that amounts to an aggregate 75,472,500,000 seconds spent tweeting every day.

Now it gets scary. Those seconds equate to roughly 2300 years. Mankind is spending a combined 2300 years daily on Twitter. No wonder people are glued to their devices.

*

Spaghetti with anchovies and fetta

Cook spaghetti in salted water.

Extract twelve anchovies from jar and partially drain them on absorbent paper. Slice two very ripe tomatoes into segments retaining all juice and seeds. Crumble a piece of very good fetta into pieces. Chop a spring of parsley very finely. Chop a clove of garlic very finely and combine with the parsley. When spaghetti is ready, drain and add tomato, garlic and parsley mixture, crumbled fetta and anchovies.

*

*On the wings of an eagle I find myself lifted through the sky
Lifted up above the world to see
Can you see me
Can you see me

As the birds migrate and the wind is raised
I'll see the eagle soaring
Although I'm just a pawn in nature's game like you
Wah hoo wah hoo, wah hoo ...


One of my favourite songs ever, thanks to a lush orchestral backing with wah wah guitar notes that set your heart a-twitter ...

26.4.12

The truck.

At 10 o’clock the truck arrived to pick up the desk. The driver got down. He was small and old and grey. He wore a cap that was too big and it made him look like an old ferret.

He introduced himself as Pat, opened the back door of the truck, pressed a button underneath, and the motorised tray whirred to the ground. Then he leapt up onto the back of the truck and came out with a trolley. “It’s heavy,” I said, referring to the desk. “Not a problem!” he grinned. He still had some teeth.

Later, after getting the desk aboard, he said he’d been driving trucks up and down highway 31 for sixty years. Sixty years? Now he just did it for fun, driving his truck to Melbourne once a week from Pyalong to do volunteer pick-ups and deliveries for the op shop. He told me he had just turned eighty.

An eighty-year-old who drives halfway across the state and juggles wardrobes and Danish director’s desks for fun?

23.4.12

The new template doesn't allow paragraphs until you select 'press enter for line breaks'.

The default setting is set to 'use
tag'.

I've changed it on mine. I couldn't break Saturday's post into two paragraphs.

21.4.12

Back of the bottle: Since 1698. Finest Scots (sic) whisky. Cutty Sark picture embossed in the glass. Front of the bottle: Follow us on Twitter.

18.4.12

The old desk.

It's about the size of the Titanic. You don't so much sit at it as pilot it. It was built in the 1930s by Danish craftsmen from some Scandinavian tree or other, that was clearly sacrificed specifically for the purpose. There wouldn't have been much left of it. The warm grain of the desk glows chocolate russet coffee according to the light, especially when you give it a loving polish with Marveer. The whole thing is rounded like an early barge. The drawers to either side of your chair are enclosed behind curved lockable timber doors that are attached to the desk by full-length brass hinges. The lock inlays are also of brass, and the keys are the old-style substantial ones in stainless steel, meaning you won't lose them. Two more lockable doors in the front, to either side of the foot well, hide cavernous stowage. With the desk against a wall, these cupboards act as concealed storage, making them ideal for storing your life savings or your rare whisky. Make sure you won’t have to access either of these quickly, as the whole thing has the weight of two elephants. It might be easier getting your money out of a failed Spanish bank. If you prefer to have your desk freestanding and facing the door, private eye-style, your client sits about half a suburb away.

I always wanted a desk like that, and one day I got one. But then we ran out of room. So the desk has to go.

But no-one wants desks any more. Even 1930s art deco ones built for Danish bank managers with enough room for the secreta ...

... enough room for his cigar boxes and diecast collection of early Scandinavian motor cars.

*

I know this because I tried to sell it. And no-one bought it, at any price. So I’m disposing of it another way. I’m going to burn it in the back yard.

Just kidding. I’m donating it to the op shop, where its very appearance in the front window is guaranteed to sell it. If they can get it into the front window. They’re picking the desk up on Thursday. I’ve already found a replacement. It takes up half the space, and has no concealed cupboards; but the top has a nice antique patina that comes up beautifully with a sweep of Marveer under a clean cloth.

You can’t have everything.

11.4.12

Three days.

Well, actually, no. I don't recall it ever being that hot on Good Friday. What I do recall is the silence, something even more apparent in recent times when the city never takes a day of rest. I drove to Essendon for an early lunch at the house of a thousand tins, and while the roads were not completely empty, they seemed to be missing that kind of pressing traffic that is always on a mission, tearing off to a supermarket or some other kind of store. On crossing the valley, I usually run into a long, impatient and unyielding northwards line of traffic bound for DFO at Essendon airport. But on Friday everything was closed. I understand why they legislated for seven day trading all those years ago. But a silent suburb beats a herd of black BMWs racing to be first in the single lane entrance to the shopping mall any day. Now it’s once a year instead of one and a half days a week. Enjoy it.

Shortly after three in the sultry, silent afternoon. No breeze blew through the open arched doors. Old ladies fanned themselves with their laminated song sheets. Careful, ladies; those hard plastic corners could put your eye out. Then the cantor sang. I looked up. The old cantor had been there for years; had a sonorous but slightly mournful voice. He must have retired. The new one was about twenty and she had a sweet powerful soprano that rose up to the vault and echoed around the dark timber and came back down again. Then the choir sang their part of the chant. Hymns to the silence. William asked me how old the music was. Five hundred years, I whispered. Maybe six hundred. I'm not sure. That puts a few things into perspective.

When we came out there had been a cool change and the sky was yellow cloud underlit by the late afternoon sun and we walked home. I often wonder what Easter would be like in places where it occurs in its proper season of spring, instead of here where the last dying blasts of summer warmth only remind you of the cold ahead.

Saturday brought back the familiar comforting normalcy of life without introspection. Julie, a regular, came out of the crowd in the mall and hauled out three large chocolate rabbits for the children. The jazz players did their usual Saturday morning numbers; clarinet, banjo and trombone. The coffee was sweet and bitter and satisfying. Nothing else happened. I cleaned the car, mowed the lawn, took the children to the flying fox park, read the weekend papers and noted a major typo on the front cover of The Weekend Australian Magazine. It asked if Tony Abbott would 'waiver'. I suppose it no longer matters. Or does it?

East out of the city on Sunday for lunch in the small town in Gippsland where Tracy's mother served scotch broth (the genuine recipe), Lorne sausage, potato scones and a large salad; and then fruit cake, and then chocolate. And then into the garden. My mother-in-law lives on a hill. The children took part in the now-traditional game of rolling painted hard-boiled eggs down the slope to see whose would roll furthest without breaking. As in past years, Thomas ignored tradition and unleashed his inner Jeff Thomson.

Later, through lower Gippsland and across the top of Westernport bay to the house on the peninsula, directly west most of the way and into a lowering sun that was hard as brass and blinding as a furnace. The drive takes you through swamp-prone flatlands along narrow roads that have deep channels on each side to mitigate floodwaters, and signs along the way that read: stock crossing here. Of course, William asked what would happen if the channels filled. The road would flood, I replied.

4.4.12

Garlic-chopping solution required.

Seems to have been all seafood lately, or maybe I just haven’t written about the less interesting dinners; baked beans on toast, etc. (Having said that, if you add scrambled eggs flecked with chopped prosciutto or pancetta, sliced warmed avocado, grilled mushrooms and a grilled leek sausage, you have a passable supper. Interestingly, people seem to be eating this kind of thing in the morning in cafes all over town, but I can’t; just like I could never face up to the British morning fare of kippers before midday.)

Nevertheless, Easter week is a good time to be eating seafood. I went into the fish shop in Sydney Road to buy some clams to make pasta vongole, but came out with a large bag of mussels instead, due to $5.99 compared to $25.99 per kilogram. I also bought some flathead tails because they are delicious and the children are not yet eating mussels. (However, William did ask me if I picked them off the pier from which they had been diving. I replied no, but not far away; just across the bay in Portarlington.)

The hardest part about this dish is chopping the garlic. It requires at least six and possibly more garlic cloves chopped into tiny dice. The paper-like peel gets stuck to my fingers and then floats all over the room like lint when I try to remove it. However the result is vastly better than the garlic that comes in jars.

Having done that, the rest is easy. Put the garlic in a large boiler, add some olive oil, warm the garlic through and then tip in half a bottle of white wine. Pour some of the rest of the wine into a large glass and set it to hand where it will not be knocked over. I always put mine on the mantelpiece over the stove where no-one else can reach it.

Turn up the heat under the boiler. When it hits the boil, tip in one kilogram of mussels, straight out of the bag. (The last few lots have been so clean I haven’t even bothered de-bearding them; i.e., removing the wisps of thread with which they attach themselves to their pier. If you do, pull the threads towards the closest hinge to avoid ripping out some of the body of the mussel.) Add a little chopped fresh chilli for heat, or some cracked peppercorns and a handful of finely chopped parsley or coriander.

Once the fluid reaches the boil again, the mussels will start opening and adding their brine to the fluid, so never salt this dish. Turn the pot down to a medium simmer, and off after two or three minutes. The mussels should be plump and orange and the boiling action should have deposited some of the garlic into the shells.

Serve in large bowls with crusty bread for dipping into the salty, garlicky liquor (very fresh Turkish bread is ideal), and damp hand towels. It’s messy eating but ideal for dining outside where you can just fling the shells straight onto the garden beds. Just kidding. (Although all of mine do go into the compost and ultimately end up in the garden. You’re supposed to smash them first but I don’t bother.) I had added little cubes of the aformentioned flathead tails, leftover from the children's dinner to the mixture, and they were fat and delicious.

Place empty dishes at hand for depositing the empty shells into large cairn-like structures. Award points for the best structure; drink cold beer; discuss the warm weather we are having: 30 degrees celsius on Good Friday. Have we had that before? Well, yes, we have. I remember Easter and the first round of football and the Stawell Gift always being hot.

*

Do you throw out the unopened mussels? I open the ones that don’t open by themselves, and I have never had a bad one.

3.4.12

Words I refuse to use: No 1 of a series.

next-gen, as in:
The company is positioning itself as the next-gen platform for restaurant marketing, leveraging the appeal of video and power of social media to help restaurants drive foot traffic by allowing diners to discover and share the dishes with their friends across their social graph.
Nos 2 and 3 also appear in that paragraph.