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


Australia Day: first pick your lemons.

The following recipe is Greek-derived but since there's a lemon tree in every Australian back yard - at least there used to be - this is as Australian as the other Australian back yard icon - the Hills Hoist (also rapidly disappearing).

Grilled lemon meatballs.

Put 750 grams of mixed veal and pork mince into a large mixing bowl.

Use your hands to mix through an egg, 100 grams of grated parmesan cheese, three chopped garlic cloves, half a chopped red onion and three tablespoons of chopped parsley.

To the meat mixture, add the juice and the grated zest of one large lemon. Add salt and pepper and divide the mixture into golf-ball size orbs. Flatten them slightly and grill until done to your liking. Or you can do it Greek-style by putting them between two lemon leaves (the idea being to stop them charring prematurely over an open fire as well as to add more lemon flavour via the oil in the leaves).

This is a good alternative to the usual patties, the lemon adding a refreshing acid note to balance the fattiness of the meat. Ladies, bring out the chilled sauvignon blanc. I'll stick with very cold beer for this.

Serve with a traditional salad of lettuce, ripe tomatoes, onion rings and halved boiled eggs with mayonnaise dotted on the yolks, the whole thing sprinkled with plenty of shredded parsley. Or a hot side dish of shredded silver beet cooked with olive oil and garlic and scattered with walnuts fried until a deeper shade of golden brown.


I read a recipe for an Australia Day barbecue in the paper the other day. It suggested that you " ... grill a piece of meat for ten minutes each side and then rest in a warm place." Australia Day barbecuing is obviously hard work.


Holes in the garden. And summer's best dinner.

Very few tomatoes this year. And another thing: white flies are everywhere, or are they something else? Everything has holes in it. The new acanthus (planted last year from neighbourhood seeds) leaves are like colanders. The parsley is all pitted. Even the normally untouchable geraniums (which are really pelargoniums) are shot to bits. I don't want to spray unless I can find something that won't kill the spiders, ladybirds, etc. This garden warfare is too hard. I might concrete the whole lot. My father started doing that back in the sixties; covered probably 30% of the yard in concrete to make riding space for our bikes.

Meanwhile, you still can't beat fresh pasta with garden tomatoes and ricotta for a summer meal. The dish makes itself. Cook pasta; slice tomatoes; press a garlic clove into serving dishes to impart flavour; top cooked pasta with tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil; top with ricotta; scatter fresh basil leaves over. Crack pepper over the lot.

I've just noticed. Not a single hole in the basil. Basil is indestructible in the garden.


The bureaucrat, the new year's resolution and the cucumber.

Bureaucrat Jerril Rechter tells of her descent into addiction:
"It's a habit I fell into easily. ... every evening after work, I'd go home and sit down to a refreshing tonic water and lime. It's just what I did at the end of a day."
Yes. There is no 'gin' in that sentence. The VicHealth CEO was hooked on tonic water, or possibly the lime; and every new year was a hellish groundhog day:
" ... every year on January 1, I'd resolve to reduce (sugary drinks) from my diet. And every year, by January 31, I'd have given in to my habit."
One heroic month without tonic and lime, and then back on the turps. Rehab? Counselling? Cold turkey? No. Rechter's own organisation comes to the rescue.
"I finally managed ... by signing up to our H30 Challenge, committing to swap every energy drink for water for 30 days."
Enter the cucumber:
"I also found it helped to have a jug of water infused with cucumber and mint or lime and ginger chilling in the fridge to enjoy when I got home."
Work in a bureaucracy and go home to cucumber-flavoured water. It's the Australian dream come true. Jubilant, sugar-free and awash with H2O, Rechter exhorts readers:
"Get family and friends to sign up for the challenge with you ... just register at"
I tried to imagine the online stampede of thousands crashing the VicHealth website in their haste to pledge to drink cold water with vegetables in it, but failed.

Ironically, or by editorial design, an item pillorying the 'fun police' appeared adjacent to Rechter's sermon. On calls to ban McDonald's from a new children's hospital, Rita Panahi refers to
"the joyless fun police" ... "the most irrational reaction ... folk foaming at the mouth ... fevered response from some vexed souls ... miserable do-gooders ... a sneering attitude ... rooted far more in hysteria and snobbery ... ."
She then goes on to tell us what she really thinks.

But the last word belongs to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who is in for a fight with his bureaucrats, being quoted this morning as saying that people calling for a McDonald's ban should "get over themselves".

Eureka! A straight-talking politician!

Two better uses for cucumber than drowning it in water.

Summer’s best relish: cucumber, tomato, red onion and chilli.

Finely chop two very ripe tomatoes. Peel and dice a medium cucumber. Retain peel. Finely dice a small red onion. Chop a small green chilli very finely. Shred a small bunch of coriander. Juice a lime.

Combine ingredients, add a teaspoon of salt and a dash of chilli powder. Add liberally to swordfish kebabs, or wrap up with grilled chicken and a little yogurt in fenugreek roti.


In a highball glass, top up two fingers of Pimm's with half and half dry ginger and lemonade. Add ice, a few strips of cucumber peel and a slice of orange and enjoy shamelessly while bureaucrats cringe over their enfeebling glasses of water. Old-fashioned, but bitter-sweet refreshing on a very hot day.