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


Rosemary, garlic and a bottle of red: a Saturday night dish with a Bob Dylan soundtrack.

3RRR announcer Brian Wise plays plenty of Bob Dylan, but on Saturday he used the excuse of Dylan's birthday - and the announcement of some Dylan concerts at the Palais - to crowd the playlist. We were in the car, on the peninsula under a cold streaky sky alongside a grey heaving sea, heading for town. Music sounds better when you're driving. The two hours made the boys Dylan fans, continuing a long family tradition dating back to me. I told them Dylan's frog-like growl makes him either the worst good singer in the world, or the best bad one. They thought about that for a while. Put his voice over that Warner Brothers cartoon where the frog sings opera, I said, and you'll see what I mean. It fits perfectly.

Close to town now. "Changing of the Guards" from Street Legal even took me by surprise. The year that album came out I saw Dylan play a night concert at the Myer Music Bowl; I had an open air ticket, it rained, I could barely hear the music, and I drove home freezing. I've never forgotten it. Then, "Jim Jones", a track I had almost forgotten (from Good as I Been to You), about a convict being transported to Botany Bay. Should be on every Australian child's school playlist.

Lamb with rosemary and quite a lot of garlic.

Rosemary comes to the fore in this highly aromatic dish that will blanket the neighbourhood with tantalising aromas of lamb braising in red wine with herbs and garlic. (Is garlic also a herb?)

In a plastic bag, dust six lamb shanks with a tablespoon of flour and salt and pepper.

Brown the seasoned shanks in olive oil in a large heavy pot in batches. Remove browned shanks to a platter.

Chop two onions. Cut two carrots and four sticks of celery into small dice. Mince twelve garlic cloves. Place these in the pot with a little more oil. Turn the heat down lowest, put the lid on, and sweat the vegetables for about ten minutes. Stir them occasionally.

Now return the shanks to the pot and add a bottle of red wine, two cans of tomatoes, three cups of chicken stock, a tablespoon of fresh chopped rosemary – yes, it is a large amount - and half a tablespoon of chopped thyme (optional: one leaf of sage and some chopped parsley).

Bring pot to the boil, turn the heat down, put the lid on the pot and simmer for a couple of hours. Then take the lid off and simmer another 30 minutes. Transfer shanks to covered platter. Turn up the heat under the pot and boil the juices, stirring, until thickened, ten to twenty minutes. This will vary according to pot, stove, volume of fluid, hemisphere, phase of the moon and elevation above sea level, for all I know.

Serve shanks on a bed of mashed potato and pour over thickened sauce so that it runs down the mash like rivers to the sea (wait for me, wait for me). I like to add interest to the mash by folding through flavour bursts such as a mere sprinkling of diced black olives or, even better, tiny flecks of anchovy. Added sparingly, they add an amazing taste sensation and work well with the flavours of the stew. Sides of creamed spinach, or green beans, or broccoli tossed in toasted and pounded pine nuts.

Drink: shiraz.


PS: Cheers to Neil Croker at the Palais.


Layers of meaning.

Leek and zucchini casserole.

Chop four large onions and one leek into fine rings. Slice two large green (or four small white) zucchini into thin rounds. Peel and chop two medium potatoes into thin slices.

Place a layer of the onion rings in a large casserole dish and drizzle with a little olive oil. Add a layer of zucchini, a layer of leeks and a layer of potatoes. Brush each with oil as you go and add some tomato puree (or diced tomatoes with the juice), to moisten each layer. Repeat layers until casserole is three quarters full. Top up with balance of a cup of tomato puree, half a cup of white wine and half a cup of stock. Ensure there is enough fluid to cover the vegetables.

Sprinkle a teaspoon of crushed dried rosemary over the top.

Add salt and pepper. Place the lid on the casserole and bake until bubbling. Top with chopped parsley.

Serve with crusty bread smeared with home-made pesto, tapenade or the like.


A dishwasher recalls.

The more I think about it, the uncannier the similarities. (See previous post.) One 1980s drink-waiting job - although I was more of a plongeur carrying out jugs of beer and carafes of wine in between shifts at the sink - was at a reception centre in Melbourne's working class 'heartland' (upper classes don't have a 'heartland' - their suburbs are 'leafy' instead). The kitchen was a vast space with a central cooking area and a rabbit warren of passageways running off three sides. (The dining rooms were to the north side, through sound-proof plastic kick doors shielded from view by two enormous curtains.) In the passageways were rooms for the storage variously of foodstuffs, casks of wine, cases of spirits, rows of steel and vinyl chairs stacked at life-endangering height, spare round tables on their sides like giant cartwheels, sound equipment, cleaning items, linen, office supplies and, of course, the day manager's office which was always locked at night. The room in the closest passageway to the dining room was the refrigerator. The reception centre catered weddings, annual or awards dinners for the surrounding manufacturing industry businesses (Hose Fitting Salesman of the Year 1981, etc), Christmas parties for local football teams and similar events. The drinks waiters raced to supply fifty tables with a central jug of beer and carafes of red and white wine, each of which would be immediately drained; invariably beer first; white wine second; red last. The second round was as desperate a race as the first. After that things would slow down to a fast jog until the end of the night. Fights were not uncommon, usually at weddings, not so often at awards dinners and most rarely at Christmas. Perhaps the presence of the Santa Claus (usually an employee of the client, and always semi-drunk) was a calming influence. But weddings were different. Mixed marriages saw ethnic pride, turbo-charged by alcohol, turn multiculturalism into fights to the death, although some didn't need cultural differences to start a brawl. Possibly the worst was when a father-in-law attacked his new son-in-law of mere hours, causing an all-in fight. The waiters doubled as peacemaker and cleaner during and after these altercations. Cleaning was frequently complex, involving alcohol, blood, human hair and smashed plates or glasses.

The noise was always incessant except when entering refrigerator room. You pulled a large metal locking arm on the outside, and the door seals unstuck, and the massive door opened, and you passed into another world. Sometimes the door swung closed behind you, completely sealing out any sound. It was cool and almost dark, the only light being the fluoro strips behind the interior glass doors to illuminate the contents. Carafes were filled from ten litre casks that sat in a row on chrome wire racks. The faint backlight shone weirdly yellow through the glass and you watched mesmerised as the fluid swirled up and around the litre container. A surreptitious long draught was taken many a time from an overfilled carafe on long, hot summer nights. There was another way of getting a drink. You could mix a drink for a customer at the spirit dispenser in the front bar and then forget to deliver it. You sat it on the undershelf, unseen, where you could sip it or down it in one go. The pace was frantic, so you could get away with anything. No-one noticed anything. The singer in the house band regularly rewarded himself with bottles of spirits, which were stored adjacent to the sound equipment room, a design error never rectified by management. I suppose he could have stolen towels or linen were the sound equipment room placed elsewhere. Or chairs. No. A bottle of scotch sat beautifully snug inside a guitar case. You couldn't get anything else in there.


Fictional food: an occasional series.

Or, in this case, non-fictional:
At a quarter to five we went back to the hotel. Till half-past six there were no orders, and we used this time to polish silver, clean out the coffee-urns, and do other odd jobs. Then the grand turmoil of the day started - the dinner hour. I wish I could be Zola for a little while, just to describe that dinner hour. The essence of the situation was that a hundred or two hundred people were demanding individually different meals of five or six courses, and that fifty or sixty people had to cook and serve them and clean up the mess afterwards; anyone with experience of catering will know what that means. And at this time when the work was doubled, the whole staff was tired out, and a number of them were drunk. I could write pages about the scene without giving a true idea of it. The
chargings to and fro in the narrow passages, the collisions, the yells, the struggling with crates and trays and blocks of ice, the heat, the darkness, the furious festering quarrels which there was no time to fight out - they pass description. Anyone coming into the basement for the first time would have thought himself in a den of maniacs. It was only later, when I understood the working of a hotel, that I saw order in all this chaos.

At half past eight the work stopped very suddenly. We were not free till nine, but we used to throw ourselves full length on the floor, and lie there resting our legs, too lazy even to go to the ice cupboard for a drink. Sometimes the chef du personnel would come in with bottles of beer, for the hotel stood us an extra beer when we had had a hard day. The food we were given was no more than eatable, but the patron was not mean about drink; he allowed us two litres of wine a day each, knowing that if a plongeur is not given two litres he will steal three. We had the heeltaps of bottles as well, so that we often drank too much - a good thing, for one seemed to work faster when partially drunk.
From Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell, 1933.

I had several jobs like that in the eighties.