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


Common wealth.

The school made a little less than $30,000. That's a lot of jars of jam. That will buy some computers.

The best thing isn't what they do with it, but that the children saw the work that went into it. You can hold out your hand for a government grant courtesy of the taxpayer, or you can get it the old-fashioned way: earn it. They see their mothers slaving over a stove or a sewing machine for weeks. Lucky children. They just don't know it yet.


Chicken Provencale; and the sewing machine is silenced at last.

A jar of home-made tomato sauce, bought at yesterday's school fete and no doubt made by someone's grandmother, was the base for this easy dish:

Chicken Provencale.

Saute a couple of chopped onions and a clove of garlic in olive oil. Add about a kilogram of cubed chicken breast; stir and and brown slightly.

Now add two dozen pitted kalamata olives; a red capsicum cut into strips; ten button mushrooms, halved; a cup of peas and the jar of tomato sauce.

Simmer gently for an hour. Cook polenta to instructions, adding parmesan cheese. Spoon into serving bowls. Add chicken stew. Garnish with gremolata.


The school fete? Rides, food stalls including devonshire teas, home-made curries, and gyros; a book stall, a silent auction, lucky dips, a talent quest, and a perfect sunny day with 24 degrees. You can't buy that. William, in a red check shirt and corduroy pants, kicked off the talent quest with, predictably, Hound Dog. In the craft centre Tracy - dressed as a fairy - conducted the children's craft activities, including bookmarks at fifty cents a go. She had cut out illustrated designs from 1950s and 1960s vintage fabrics, and children glued their choice of fabric cut-outs to coloured cardboard strips, to which a thin ribbon was attached via a punched hole at the top. Hundreds were made. Earlier, she had also sewed a hundred metres of vintage-fabric bunting, which stretched from the presbytery to the school's front fence. I thought it was just crickets over summer nights; might have been the ticking of the sewing machine from the other end of the house.


In the end it may have been Tim's fault.

Incompetence, lies, bad policies and inability to govern wisely are one thing, but this story from a couple of weeks back may have tipped the balance in the eye of the public, which does not tolerate tawdriness in public office. Public office includes 'partners'.


What to do with two limes.

We ate Mexican last night. No, not chili and cornbread; fresh asparagus, from the supermarket, labelled Product of Mexico. Usually it's Peru. I wondered which airport they'd flown out of. I boiled them lightly and sprinkled them with lime juice and cracked pepper, they were a good accompaniment for:

Ssalmon with lime butter

To 50g softened butter, add the zest of two limes and the juice of one, a tablespoonful of finely chopped parsley and two chopped cloves of garlic. Combine and refreeze. Slice into rounds. With your knife blade on the horizontal, slice thick pieces of salmon almost in two, leaving a join. Insert rounds of lime butter into the fish.

Barbecue the fish: I did mine in a heavy cast iron pan on the coals in order to catch the melting butter and pour over the fish when serving, along with with extra lime juice from quarters of the second lime.

Drink: cold sauvignon blanc. Or a gimlet.


Ten Days That Shook the World.

Yes, it's been busy. A lot has happened. Here are a few things.

1. The heatwave ended. Fortuitously, the school had ordained the Tuesday following Labour Day as an in-service day, making a four-day weekend corresponding with the last four days of the heat. Sometimes you can be lucky. We had four days at the beach.

2. On the last of the four days, a cargo ship sliding down the bay in full view of hundreds on the shore issued a large cloud of black smoke which detached itself and drifted off towards Queenscliff. Black smoke? Was this some kind of a joke? It was the day before they ...

3. ... elected a new Pope, who told the world he would just go with the guys on the bus. I'm trying to find a Latin translation, but the internet translation sites do it literally and make no sense.

4. Alexandra fell off the coffee table, and hit her head on the sofa on the way down, and cried uncharacteristically for the next thirty minutes, holding her neck. You can guess the next bit: an ambulance ride. Tracy went with Alexandra; I drove the car with the boys to the hospital. An x-ray revealed no spinal damage.

5. While waiting, I walked around the new children's hospital with the boys, who marvelled at the three-storey aquarium complete with sharks and a blue-lipped exotic fish that looked more like a cartoon fish than a cartoon fish.

6. We were still waiting for tests and it was getting late, so I took the boys home on the train, leaving the car for Tracy; she called much later to tell me the doctors had decided to keep Alexandra overnight for observation. Tracy would stay.

7. I woke in the middle of the night wondering if I had left the car in a clearway.

8. We went straight back to the hospital after breakfast next morning; no clearway, car still there. Fed the meter. Alexandra being discharged just as we walked in; she'll wear a neck brace for ten days. Precautionary. Dropped the boys at school at ten o'clock.

9. Three days later, Alexandra did a somersault, a perfect forward roll on the carpet complete with neck brace, before we could stop her.

10. I took the boys out to watch the Roulettes prepare for take-off from Essendon Airport on Sunday afternoon, presumably to do a fly-past over the Melbourne Formula One Grand Prix. Alex is still confined to gentle activities despite the attempted gymnastics. She watched several episodes of Tales From the Riverbank, a 1950s black and white series with gritty London cinematography and superb voicing by veteran Welsh actor Johnny Morris, who did all characters including G.P., Hammy the hamster, Roderick and the ducks. Magnificent production which makes modern children's programmes look like they were produced in fast motion. No wonder there is attention deficit disorder. A Lotus won the Grand Prix. The weekend ended with Peter O'Callaghan's Elvis hour on Magic, including more tracks from the Million Dollar Quartet, some of the best harmonies and guitar picking you'll ever hear.


The Case of the Disappearing Water Tanks.

(Or scroll to the baked chicken recipe below.)


Everything is dry. Two heavy downpours in two months; nothing in between. But I've been watering the garden regularly - all summer long - and it is a lush, shady haven to come home to on these hot nights.

Yesterday I got the quarterly water bill. Surprisingly, it wasn't much higher than usual, the usage component overshadowed by parks and gardens charges, sewage fees, water supply costs, waterways and drainage charges, various levies, desalination plant extortion fees, GST, carbon tax, whatever. I made some of those up. So why do they call it a water bill? I don't know. The water's the cheapest thing on it.

Yesterday I saw an elderly woman hosing her Coburg driveway in broad daylight, as elderly people seem to enjoy doing. Watering your driveway is probably going a bit far, but the fact that she was doing it brazenly, like robbing a bank without a mask, meant that people are slowly recovering from the quasi-criminality governments associated with watering during the dark days pre-2010, when hardware store owners got rich on the sale of vast, ugly, space-wasting plastic structures you placed next to your house to 'harvest rainwater'. Even as politicians and their green high priests were telling us they couldn't build dams because it would never rain again, they were hypocritically legislating for compulsory water tanks in new houses. I have recently noticed that many of these are quietly being removed. People are deciding they don't want their front yard or sideway blocked by a plastic box the size of an elephant. Especially when their water bill is mainly taxes anyway. But how do you dispose of a 5000 litre water tank? Where are they going?

And so, on goes the hissing of summer lawns (which incidentally made a great title for an obscure album a friend of mine had once in the 1970s).


Baked chicken with feta and oregano.

Combine 250 grams of feta, two teaspoons of dried oregano, a tablespoon of butter, a teaspoon of lemon zest, some chopped parsley, a clove of garlic, half a dozen black peppercorns and a quarter cup of lemon juice. A quick blitz in the blender should do it, but only a few seconds. Add salt to taste.

Take four bone-in chicken breasts with skin on, draw away the skin from flesh without detaching it and cram cheese mixture beneath skin. Rub olive oil flecked with dried oregano over skin.

Place chicken breasts in a baking pan and bake in a moderate oven 30 minutes, then raise heat to high and bake another 15 minutes. The breasts should be golden on top. Sprinkle more parsley to serve.

Serve with two salads: a simple hot salad of halved baby potatoes tossed with greek yogurt, chopped spring onions, a little olive oil and salt and pepper; and one of sliced truss tomatoes, sliced red onion rounds and olives.

Cold beer to keep the heat at bay. Thirty-plus for the next five days including 36, 36 and 37 Monday to Wednesday. Celsius. Which used to be centigrade.


Restaurant etiquette.

I have noticed men in the hip inner suburbs wearing hats.

Suggestion: gentlemen, take off your hat when you are in a restaurant. You look like you are in a hurry. This is especially the case with boaters, fedoras, homburgs, Akubras, bowlers, trilbies and tricornes. Yes, I saw a man wearing a tricorne in a Southbank cafe once (although he might have been an actor on his way to a Gilbert and Sullivan production at the State Theatre).

Time to bring back the hatcheck.

Other recent dining out etiquette breaches here.

PhD, BSc, LLB, MA, Twttr, FBk

Axl Rose:
Regarding social media, I really don't understand what appears to be the general population's lack of concern over privacy issues in publicizing their entire lives on the internet for others to see to such an extent... but hey it's them, not me, so whatever.

However, when so many seem to be making similar choices regarding their privacy to where it seems to become the norm, and in turn businesses use someone's lack of involvement with social media to marginalize or stereotype and stigmatize them, or use it as grounds not to hire someone, I feel it's extremely unfair and seems a bit Orwellian.


Meme replies make interesting reading.

Replies to my 'one book' post turned up in comments where they might have been missed, so I'm sure my correspondents won't mind if I post them here.

From Melbourne Girl:
I loved Race of a Lifetime, which is all about the run up to the 2008 presidential election.

I started Lindsay Tanner's "Sideshow" and got about a third of the way through and thought I really need to be in the right frame of mind to read it, so put it down. The same with Flat Earth News by Nick Davies.

There are some books you need to be in the right mood for.

A few books have made me cry, but the first was a novel about kids on a farm that was hit by a bushfire. I read it as a kid and I remember the animals in it perished in the fire. I thought it was by Colin Thiele, but I'm not so sure now. Not really sure who wrote it but it's stayed with me.

I'm not sure a book really ever changed my life, but I do remember "Catcher In the Rye" pretty vividly...and I've always gone back to Pride and Prejudice.

Beside my bed right now...
The Good Soldiers by David Finkel
Death Sentence by Don Watson
Damn Good Advice for People With Talent by George Lois
The Brain that Changes Itself - Norman Doig....a couple of cook books with nice pictures....some magazines about decor and recipes... and my trashy indulgence, Morning Glory by Lavyrle Spencer.

From Dr. Alice:

1. One book that changed your life.
Peg Bracken's I Hate To Cook Book. I read this when I was six or seven (my mother had a copy) and I loved the illustrations and the writing. I have been a cookbook reader ever since.

2. One book you have read more than once.
That would be just about every book I've ever read! But I will list Happy All the Time by Laurie Colwin. It's a happy, but not sappy, romance and a comedy of manners. I read it whenever I'm feeling down.

3. One book you would want on a desert island.
I'll go with War and Peace, as that would be the only scenario I can think of where I would be likely to finish it.

4. One book that made you cry.
Laurie Colwin again - Family Happiness. It's written from the point of view of a woman, starved of attention and affection by her family, who falls into an affair. Parts of it are heartwrenching.

5. One book that made you laugh.
Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse. I dare anyone to read Gussie Fink-Nottle's speech to the students of Market Snodsbury Grammar School and not laugh. It's impossible.

6. One book you wish had been written.
How To Get in Shape Without Dieting or Exercising. By anyone.

7. One book you wish had never had been written.
Scarlett, the accursed sequel to Gone With the Wind.

8. One book you are currently reading.
Mysterious Island, by Jules Verne. I downloaded it free for Kindle - there is a reason to get an e-reader, there are a lot of free classics out there! I am finding it quite fascinating and plan to do a blog post on it soon.
9. One book you have been meaning to read.
Oh man, there are a lot. But I'll say John Adams by David McCullough.

Health food invented by doctor.

From that world authority on everything, Wikipedia:
Salisbury steak is a dish made from a blend of minced beef and other ingredients, which is shaped to resemble a steak, and is usually served with gravy or brown sauce. ... Salisbury steak was invented by an American physician, Dr. J. H. Salisbury (1823–1905), an early proponent of a low-carbohydrate diet for weight loss; the term "Salisbury steak" has been in use in the United States since 1897. ... The dish is popular in the United States, where it is traditionally served with gravy and mashed potatoes or noodles.
Does that make Philip Marlowe a closet health nut? (Come to think of it, he never seems to eat carbohydrates other than toast at breakfast.)

The book was The Long Goodbye and Marlowe balances the health food with a few gimlets here and there, at least one with orange instead of lime. He doesn't like it, of course.


Food in fiction: No. 2 in a series.

The title company had closed for the day.

I closed for the day too, and drove over to La Cienaga to Rudy's Bar-B-Q, gave my name to the master of ceremonies, and waited for the big moment on a bar stool with a whiskey sour in front of me and Marek Weber's waltz music in my ears. After a while I got in past the velvet rope and ate one of Rudy's "world-famous" Salisbury steaks, which is hamburger on a slab of burnt wood, ringed with browned-over mashed potato, supported by fried onion rings and one of those mixed up salads which men will eat with complete docility in restaurants, although they would probably start yelling if their wives tried to feed them one at home.

After that I drove home. As I opened the front door the phone started to ring.

No. 1 here.


Market forces taking care of competition.

Two Coles supermarket face each other across Waterfield Street. Two hundred metres away is a Woolworths. A couple of weeks ago, NQR opened next door to Woolworths.

Coles and Woolworths sell 825g Australian-produced tinned fruit for $3.65 to $4.99, or imports from Thailand or China (but sometimes elsewhere) for $1.50 to $1.60.

NQR sells Australian tinned fruit produced for the export market, but recalled or cancelled, for $1.49.

Some commentators and politicians want the ACCC to examine the duopoly's role in reducing competition. Looks like NQR is doing the job with no cost to the taxpayer.


Song of the month.

It was recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis, the Spinners, Lulu, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson (who wrote it), the Supremes, Billy Joe Nelson, Al Green, Dorothy Moore and many others; but no version could touch this version, recorded by eighteen-year-old Jimmy Elledge - his first and arguably only big hit.

Well hello there
My, it's been a long, long time
How am I doing?
O I guess I'm doin' fine
It's been so long now
And it seems that it was only yesterday
Ain't it funny
How time slips away

Another one for the turntable.