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


Picnic in a heatwave.

One very hot day in January. The main street of Daylesford was like Sorrento. Audis backing out of angle parking spots, BMWs indicating one way then turning another, people with phones glued to their ears jumping out onto the road in front of traffic, jam-packed cafes called 'Bocconcini', that kind of thing. I had wanted to stop and go into the double-storey bookshop next to the bank, but decided to come back another time when half of Melbourne wasn't visiting.

I drove straight through and down the hill, past the right turnoff to the top lake (unsignposted despite being Daylesford's best attraction) and turned left to the lower lake. Two kilometres and another turnoff. Past a gate was a caravan park office and several old caravans, including one painted bright green. Over the caravans, gum trees held thick pale limbs in the air. I camped here under one once and worried it was going to drop a branch on me. In the near distance, glimpses of cool water - Jubilee Lake - could be seen shimmering between European trees and stretches of lawn. Picnickers on blankets. A playground.

From Daylesford's main street to here was a world away. Picnickers and people who frequent cafés are two different species. The latter talk endlessly on devices, or power-laugh with each other, or shout order, or guzzle café lattes, or get impatient when the waiter has other customers to fetch panini and biscotti for.

On the other hand, picnickers never shout. They just sit quietly on their tartan rugs ignoring time and eating sandwiches they have made themselves. I have never seen a picnicker talking on a phone while slicing a piece of home-made fruit cake. It might have happened, but I have never seen it. They might swing into action when a child falls in the lake, or cry out when they spill hot water from the thermos on their leg; but aside from emergencies, serenity defines picnickers.

We changed all that. The blanket part ran to formula, with sandwiches and cake and thermos tea, but then the children played cricket, jumped in the lake, ran wild. There were eight of them, three families.

Later, I fell asleep on the blanket. I woke up, wondered what time it was and stared at pixillated sunshine through the giant canopy of leaves. I thought I could hear someone power-laughing in a distant cafe, but it was just some kookaburras in a tree across the lake. I fell asleep again. Peace.


Cool, clear water.

44 degrees? Poolside. Children splashing. Lunch on the lawn under an ancient peppercorn tree. The 14-year drought meant there had been little grass for years in places like this; now it is as lush as you like.

Not all that many people here. This place used to be packed in summers long gone. I suspect many children are parked in front of air conditioners and screens. This is heading towards an "in my day" harangue so let's leave it right there. And anyway, it's 46 degrees in Adelaide today. That's Celsius. Or Centigrade, as it used to be known.

Dinner that last hot night was risotto using 75/25 rice and lentils with a lot of garlic and onion and a little cumin for a dish that might have originated from slightly further around the Mediterranean. Served with sectors of ice-cold truss tomatoes and sprinkled with lemon juice for ample acid bite against the warmth of the cumin. Sensational on a hot night. Cold white wine to accompany.

And so, chilled leftover risotto on the lawn for lunch overlooking the pool, where merely looking at the water brings your core temperature down. What to read? The daily newspaper or another gruesome James Hadley Chase? I brought both along.

Alexandra is swimming. She goes underwater and then pops up again like a seal. That's all three of them waterborne. None had lessons, just pool time. Now to get her diving like Thomas in the link above.


Say Dan can't you see that big green tree,
Where the water's runnin' free.
It's waiting there for you and me
And water .... cool, clear water.


Never buy another jar of tomato sauce.

I used to. No more. Napoli sauce is easier and faster than going to the supermarket for a jar of Barilla or whatever it was I used to buy.

Dice an onion and cook it in a decent glug of olive oil and a splash of white wine. Drop in a chopped clove of garlic when onion is almost soft. Cook until just soft; do not brown, much less burn. Now add a tin or two of diced tomatoes, a dash of dried basil or a few leaves of fresh and salt and pepper. Don't be timid: pepper makes this. I put in half a teaspoonful per tin of tomatoes. I also add half a tablespoonful of butter for richness and a small dash of cumin powder. Half a teaspoon of sugar balances the acid.

Simmer, adding a little water to maintain sauce-like consistency. I always add a little milk to round out the creaminess towards the end.

Perfect on La Triestina giant spinach and ricotta ravioli. (Cooked well, they expand to the size of a playing card.)