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

22.11.13

Ten Years After.

I started this weblog ten years ago. It was meant to be an online filing system for recipes, because I didn't want to end up with 10,000 yellowing newspaper tear-outs all over the kitchen, which is what happened to this recipe hoarder. I didn't even have comments then, and introduced the feature later in case I wanted to make footnotes to entries.

It was a good time to start a weblog, because they were new, and so people sought them out and read them, and I was lucky enough to gain a few readers; one or two or maybe three of which still visit and comment occasionally. Today, because there are so many, it would be next to impossible to open a weblog and attract visitors without publicity, which kind of misses the point. I can imagine Twitter going the same way when everyone has a Twitter account and less time to read everyone else's.

One of the first recipes I posted was a simple Asian-style soup of butterfish fillets cooked in stock with onions, garlic, ginger, herbs and bean shoots. I don't think I've done it since. Might try it tonight.

20.11.13

A Shorter History of Typography, Part One: Big Fat Letters.

I spent my early-1970s schooldays covering the empty space in my exercise books with words designed in flower power fonts, using, alternately, an Osmiroid fountain pen and a Ballograf ballpoint pen.

There were three reasons for this floral typographical occupation. The first was that such fonts were widespread and very popular then, especially on record album cover art. The letters were beautiful, voluptuous, infinitely variable and very accessible.

The second reason was that Form Two schoolwork was so boring it made watching paint dry look like the last quarter of the 1970 grand final or even the pre-match entertainment (if there was any then). I spent hours crafting type while the teacher went on about wool production in the Western District or the Atherton Tablelands, or the Roman who cast his hand into the fire of a brazier. Had Twitter or smart phones been invented then I might never have developed an appreciation for typefaces. I might also have grown up with the memory span of a wasp with attention deficit disorder. Instead, I drew letters and took in every word Mr Roland Forti, history and Latin teacher and ex-Foreign Legionnaire, spoke in his French-Egyptian accent.

Flower power typography is making another return. In record cover art it has outlived everything from the sunset-tinted backgrounds of 1960s middle of the road covers, to the starbursts and out of perspective drop shadows of 1970s K-tel compilations, to the geometric grid rubbish of the 1980s, to whatever it was afflicted album or CD covers in the 1990s.

This bears a passing resemblance to the Led Zeppelin III cover, or at least pays it tribute. The misspelling also recalls 1967’s Odessey and Oracle, a magnificent example of the genre. My first album, Cosmo’s Factory, bore a very restrained version of the font.

Speaking of CCR, the light qualities in its Green River cover photograph bear something of a tonal similarity to the picture below, taken by my father in the late '60s. I wonder which came first.

13.11.13

A Lunch in the Country.

The road that ran from west to east through the small Gippsland town was its only street. If you kept going you would end up at Neerim South, with Neerim North and Neerim East beyond. There is no Neerim proper; and Neerim West would be in the middle of the Tarago Reservoir. GPS is useless out here.

The town was high on a hill and other peaks were visible in the distance. Cows grazed on their impossibly steep hills. They looked like they should fall off, but they stuck, like fuzzy felt.

It was a warm Saturday around lunch time. A white sedan pulled up in the main - only - street outside a café. Three women got out of the car. The driver was a sprightly, white-haired octogenarian and wore a cream blouse over tartan trousers and soft leather shoes. She looked like a senior golfer. The two younger women, her daughters, might have been in their early forties but looked years younger. Both had shoulder-length brown hair and wore t-shirts over designer jeans and the kind of running shoes you don't run in.

The café was busy. The women waited. A waitress bustled up to the counter. "Are you coming or going?" she asked. Maybe she had a bad memory for faces, and couldn't remember whether she'd just served them or never seen them before in her life. "We've been busy," the waitress added.

"We have a booking," countered the octogenarian.

"Then you'll have to wait while I clear a table," shot back the waitress. The women looked at each other, speechless, wondering at the insane kernel of logic buried deep in the heart of the waitress's reply.

Ten minutes later, they were sitting at a table reading menus. On the table was a lit candle. It was scented. The mother blew it out. "Why on earth would any place selling food put scented candles on the tables?" she asked.

The cafe was the kind of place that did everything from light snacks to hot meals. The older sister looked at the racks of wine glasses in a cabinet at the side wall. She was looking forward to a glass of wine. It was still busy. They waited. Finally they ordered - a chicken parmigiana for the mother, a quiche and salad for the older daughter, and a salad roll for the younger daughter, who explained she had had a late breakfast and wasn't hungry. Then the waitress told them they could not have any wine. "The wine licence hasn't come through yet," she told them brightly, "but it won't be long!" She went away again. "A bit cruel to have glasses on display, then," said the mother to her disappearing back.

Forty minutes went by. The waitress brought out one plate. It was the mother's parmigiana. She waited. "Start," said the younger daughter. "It will go cold. This could be one of those one-meal-at-a-time places." She was right.

Her mother picked up her knife and fork. "It's burnt," she said quietly, using her fork to reveal the carbon under the sauce. "Also, it's one of those flattened heart-shaped ones they sell frozen in supermarkets. They should be making it from scratch."

They waited until the waitress brought the next plate out - the older daughter's quiche - and told the waitress about the burnt chicken and she took it away. Fifteen minutes later a fresh parmigiana was placed before the mother. There was still no sign of the salad roll. Mother picked up her cutlery. The two daughters waited, watching. "It's underdone!" she announced. They laughed. This was perfect. It was turning into a parody.

"Let me see, mum." The older daughter took the fork and tried some of the chicken. "It's fine, mum," she said, uncertainly. "Just a little cold in the middle."

Ten minutes later, the younger daughter's salad roll arrived. "It better be good," said her older sister. In a hamburger bun were lettuce, thinly sliced tomato, and a thick smear of avocado. The younger daughter picked up the roll and it crunched as she bit into it. The crunch was not the lettuce, but the roll's lower crust. It was stale.

"A hamburger roll is slightly dry anyway," said the older sister, an expert baker, "it's not suitable for salad in any case, let alone when it's stale!"

"Exactly," concurred her sister. "It is meant to lay under a thick steak, and become moist by soaking up its warm, hot juices; not support a limp lettuce leaf."

The mother stared at one and then the other, as if trying to follow the conversation. "Why didn't you order a burger, then," she asked. "I wasn't hungry, mum," she laughed. "We're just talking."

They didn't order dessert. The waitress asked was everything all right, and the older daughter said that her sister's roll was a bit underwhelming, and did she think they could have hunted around the kitchen for a bit of beetroot or grated carrot or cucumber ... or even a slice of cold meat or cheese? "Oh, you have to ask for extras," said the waitress airily. "But it did have avocado." That insane logic again.

*

Outside, the cows didn't seem to have moved from their positions on the far steep green hills. The smell of wild flowers was in the air. The sun shone. The birds sang. It was a perfect spring day. Inside the restaurant, the chef was crashing pots when the waitress came into the kitchen. "Any other complaints?" the chef asked. "Some people are never happy."

The white sedan moved away from the kerb. The mother drove on to her house in the next town. Inside, the older daughter opened a bottle of wine and got three glasses. They sat out on the balcony and watched the quiet hills. "Happy eightieth birthday, Mum!" the two daughters said.

6.11.13

Sunday morning in 2007? It seems like yesterday.

Six years? Must be the quickest six years in history. (This, of course, is literally true, because each passing year is a smaller proportion of your life. Oh, forget it.)

It was a warm Sunday morning in November 2007, close to midday. I sat on a deck chair in the back garden of a large, rambling house that was once a farm homestead somewhere south of Warburton. In the distance, the mountains were smudges of blue between the gums. I wasn't alone in the garden. Others were reading newspapers and some were just staring, blinking in the sun and nursing their Ketel One hangovers, silently and reverently. Some guests were emerging from the old house slowly, as if having just woken from a dream. They probably had. The aromas of crisping bacon and toast drifted across the lawn on a warm spring breeze.

There was a kind of jubilation among some of the party, if jubilation is compatible with a hangover. It was a little forced, or even wary, for some of the older ones who could still recall 2 December 1972, because they knew how that turned out. Surely not again. They spoke of the night before; of a new future; of the bespectacled, mild-mannered, well-spoken man who had led them out of the wilderness, seer-like, or even God-like; and they cheered the political death of a suburban lawyer who had been the focus of eleven years of rancour and ridicule. Little Johnny they called him; because he was short, and because they occupied the moral high ground, which made the description even more pleasing. Some had celebrated the previous night, the night of the election, by burning his effigy, as if to make sure. These people were in their fifties, not university students. There was something slightly juvenile.

*

Mild-mannered? Well-spoken? The seer turned out to be something different. He was campaigning for himself in Corangamite even while Julia Gillard was still prime minister. Just here to lend a hand, he said, in a parody of a team player's words. What a man. What a snake in the grass. The Age, alone among newspapers, recommended its readers return the self-photographing stalker's government, but my information is that that decision was driven in part by marketing, the alleged argument being that any other position would reduce its dwindling readership to suburban newspaper status.

Six years later and the effigies are appearing again. Some things never change. Such as: of whom was the following written?

" ... The pace was frenetic, with deadlines that were often too short to allow ideas to be worked through. Management by crisis could squeeze out due and careful consideration. It could lead to misunderstanding of what was required and what was done. Asking several people to provide comments on the same issue could lead to duplication and a waste of scarce resources. Demanding an immediate response which required public servants to work throughout the weekend, and then failing to take the issue up for two or three days, could lead to anger and frustration, and thus to charges of inconsiderate arrogance."

*

Trick question. It could have been Mr Rudd down to the last word, but the extract described Malcolm Fraser in Malcolm Fraser PM: A Study in Prime Ministerial Power in Australia by Professor Patrick Weller (Penguin, 1989), quoted in Lynched by Brian Buckley (Trade Paperbacks, 1991), the blurb of which reads: "This story airs for the first time, some of the soiled linen that sent the Labor Party to the cleaners in 1975".

1.11.13

First, crisp your prosciutto.

The green currently rearing its curly head in the vegetable garden is kale, otherwise known as curly kale, named pertinently because its leaves are so curly, you have to examine every leaf minutely to remove any bugs, insects, grubs or whatever might be loitering in its voluminous folds.

In fact, the folds of curly kale are so dense, I estimate the average kale leaf, if flattened, which is impossible, would have a perimeter similar to that of Tasmania. The other day I watched as a small bird emerged from the folds of one of the shrubs.

The recipe featuring kale takes minutes, unless you count the time looking for bugs, in which case it could take hours depending on how ‘organic’ your garden is. Bugs love organic gardens.

Creamy curly kale with mushrooms and prosciutto on polenta.

After extracting wildlife from your bunch of kale and washing it (the two processes go, of course, hand in hand), chop it roughly and steam it in a little water until it collapses. (It takes longer than many greens.) Add olive oil, a scored clove of garlic, salt and plenty of white pepper. Cook a little longer, until tender.

Fry a few strips of prosciutto in a pan until almost crisp. Remove; then fry a dozen sliced mushrooms in a little oil in the same pan until tender. (Recalibrate these quantities according to the volume of kale and the servings required.)

Combine the mushrooms and kale and add a tablespoon of cream to the little fluid remaining and reduce to a creamy consistency. Add crisp prosciutto.

Make polenta according to your favourite formula. I add finely chopped kalamata olives and/or finely chopped anchovies, both flavour explosions in the otherwise bland polenta medium. Or you can use stock; parmesan; flecks of basil, mint or parsley; or plenty of white pepper.

Pile creamy kale and mushroom mixture on top of polenta in serving bowl. Top with grated parmesan, grated lemon rind and a little nutmeg. A spoonful of sour cream to finish it off.