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

31.8.15

Brevity is the soul of wit, and horse-racing.

Twelve-time Melbourne Cup winner Bart Cummings was once asked to what he owed his success.

'Horses,' he replied.

26.8.15

Farewell to a captain.


William and Thomas run out with Coburg captain Nick Carnell in his last home ground game at Coburg City Oval, Saturday 22 August. (His last VFL game will be at Eureka Stadium this Saturday.)

More pictures at Coburg FC, Round 19.

21.8.15

Crowdfunding parent-teacher night.

The government has released a taxpayer-funded app to assist time-poor-parents in dealing with their children's schooling.

Common sense would once have said that an app is the last thing any time-poor parent needed. But common sense has no place in a bureaucrat's vision for insinuating themselves into people's lives, funded by you:
Education minister Christopher Pyne said it was designed to help working parents understand how they can engage with their children's education in the small bursts of time they have.
'Help' such as:
... the questions parents should ask at parent-teacher nights.

19.8.15

Mrs Fleming hires a gardener.

It was just before nine o'clock on a winter Saturday morning in 1971. I was a teenager. I stood before an enormous old house, a late Victorian in central Essendon, near the station. It had verandahs all round and a soaring roofline, and it was set back from the street behind a front garden lined with mature shrubs.

I pushed open the gate, walked up the tiled pathway, took three steps up to the verandah and pressed the bell-push set into the stained glass panel beside the front door. A muffled chime echoed somewhere inside, as if far away. Time passed. Eventually the door opened, seemingly by itself.

The woman who stood there was ancient and massive, like the house. She had requested someone to do some weekend odd jobs in her garden, and I had been nominated; but I cannot remember how it came about. It is one those circumstances lost in the mists of time. It was my first job.

I announced myself. The old woman led me down a gloomy hallway, through an enormous kitchen that still had a wood stove, and out a doorway into the back garden. It was slightly overgrown, but still quite neat, with Victorian-era stone pathways, shrubberies, a central lawn and trellised vegetable garden at the back, accessed by a gate that felt like it hadn't been opened in any recent time. She showed me the garden tools in the cobwebbed shed. They were covered in dust, as if untouched for years. There was no evidence of any human activity anywhere; and, for some reason, it seemed miraculous that the woman was still there, alive. She would have been well into her nineties. Her children must have left and her husband passed on decades earlier.

Suddenly, I was alone in the silent winter sunshine. The woman had disappeared back into the house. I weeded pathways and turned over rock hard soil in the flower beds that no longer had any flowers. A couple of hours passed and I was in the vegetable garden, weeding in profound silence, when the gate squeaked behind me. The woman appeared, with a plate. Morning tea: biscuits and a piece of fruit cake. They were old and stale, and I felt a rush of pity. She must have had them in an old tin or barrel for months, ready for visitors who never came. So I got them. I worked for three hours, nine to midday, and she paid me at the end, extracting coins with leathery hands from an old purse.

Every Saturday through that winter of 1971 she appeared at the same time with the plate of morning tea, and I made the same pretence of eating as she vanished back into the house, and I continued making progress with the weeds. But then the job ended. Apparently she died.

It was definitely 1971. My diary records it. But decades later, the house came up for sale. I attended the auction and inspected the record of title. There had been several owners since I had worked there, but the title registered the original sale as 20 October 1970, the property passing from the executors of the estate of a ninety-year-old widow by the name of Mrs Fleming to a young family, with a settlement of 12 months. The house had lain empty for a year.

13.8.15

The sensuous/sensual avocado.

Reed avocadoes are coming into season. Possibly the most voluptuous fruit of all, they are big and almost round; and when ripe, they bulge with creamy young flesh. Are they ready to eat? Cup one in your hand and squeeze ever so gently.

I almost regret not including the avocado in my top ten vegetables list (the rule being that if it is used like a vegetable, it is given honorary vegetable status, even though it is a fruit).

Last night I made this sensuous* pasta dish using a Reed avocado, a leek and a red capsicum, all of which are plentiful and cheap right now.

Rigatoni with avocado, leek and red capsicum.

I chopped a leek lengthwise twice, and then across the grain to make quartered rings. Then I chopped a red capsicum into small batons.

I placed the leek and capsicum in a pan with a scored clove of garlic, a dash of white wine, a little olive oil, and lots of pepper, and set it on a low heat to steam the vegetables in the wine.

Meanwhile, I cooked the rigatoni.

When the leek and capsicum were soft, I added the avocado, sliced into segments, along with a dessertspoon of home made pesto and half a cup of cream, letting it simmer a few more minutes.

Draining the pasta, I removed the vegetables from the pan with a slotted spoon and placed them over the pasta on serving plates. Then I stirred the remaining pesto-infused cream and wine sauce over a high heat to reduce, and poured this over the vegetables and pasta.

A generous sprinkle of parmesan cheese, some chopped parsley, and that was it. Dinner.

*Or should that be sensual? The words are used almost interchangeably these days. I think the Reed avocado richly deserves both dictionary shades of meaning.

7.8.15

Test post.

What name will come up? Hitting the 'publish' button now ...

What's in a name? A lot of unintelligible HTML.

I only wanted to change my name. It shouldn't be that hard.

A little background: in 2003, when I started this weblog, you could count Australian weblogs on one hand. It made sense to use an internet handle at the time.

The blog was a place to store recipes, online being easier than having a drawer full of newspaper cuttings, pages torn out of cookbooks, hand-jotted notes stained with gravy, and split pea packets (etc) with recipes printed on their reverse side. At the start, the blog didn't even have a comments function. So I chose a name that simply represented what I do in the kitchen, which is mess about a lot without getting get too serious about food. I wanted to distinguish this blog from the rash of over-serious 'foodie' blogs that subsequently took over the world.

Now, of course, everyone has their own name on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and dozens of other online time-wasting functions, so I thought, after twelve years, I should drop the 'kitchen hand' handle and use my real name.

Easier said than done. I thought I could simply replace the two words 'kitchen hand' with 'Paul Kennedy' in the template. But the name 'kitchen hand' does not actually exist in the entrails of the blog. It is in a cloud somewhere, belonging to Google+, and is teleported by magic to the bottom of the page when I post an item or make a comment. So I was blundering around in the HTML, trying not to make an inadvertent error which would turn my blog pink, or lose all the posts, trying to find the code that represents the post name, having googled an answer to the problem. The code that several google solutions proposed wasn't there, for the simple reason that google solutions are so often wrong. Just any doctor.

It would have been easier to change my real name by deed poll. Maybe I'll do that. Any suggestions? I want to be different. At school in the 1960s, I was one of six Pauls in the classroom at St John Bosco's Niddrie and, of those six Pauls, four had surnames starting with 'K'. Further, there was another Paul Kennedy in a lower grade.

4.8.15

Around the grounds: what's the food score?

I happened to be reading an old (pre-2000AD) copy of Bon Appetit, the US foodie magazine. By 'reading' I mean 'looking at' because when you read a recipe in a magazine, you don't take it in like you do when reading a detective story plot or a football match report. I have proven this theory dozens of times when browsing the cookbook section in bookshops: upon noticing a particularly delicious-sounding recipe and not being able to afford the book, I have attempted to memorise the ingredients. No matter how simple the recipe, I inevitably forget several ingredients by the time I get home. Yet I can always remember the smallest plot detail in a 768 page novel. For example, in which direction does Gandalf turn Shadowfax in Chapter Seven of 'The Return of the King'? The Barrow-downs, of course. Case proven.

Inside the back cover of the Bon Appetit was an interview with racing driver Richard Pretty. They asked him about the variety of food on the racing circuit. 'You eat at home,' he replied, 'or you eat hotdogs.'

There is a theory of stadium food. The theory describes a kind of upside down U-curve. At one end is big corporate stadium food: expensive pies, expensive chips, expensive bottled water, weak beer in plastic cup-like containers. That is just an insult. This year, big corporate stadiums tried to rectify the horridness of their big corporateness by reducing their food prices, while making crowd-'friendly' changes such as allowing children onto the ground after the game. But only on Sundays, when the game ends at about midnight! Nuts. Big corporate stadium head office probably had ten focus meetings and six power point presentations to think that one up.

The other end of the U-curve naturally goes from one extreme to the other, serving the kind of food I call Conspicuous Health Consumption. You have stalls selling sushi rolls in cute little plastic boxes with soy in little fishes, and quinoa salads that wouldn't satisfy a pregnant rabbit, and wholegrain rolls stuffed with pureed pumpkin studded with sunflower seeds and dusted with cumin powder. This is ridiculous. The whole idea of eating sushi while watching the third quarter of Collingwood v. Richmond is just so fundamentally flawed it doesn't even warrant discussing. Sushi properly belongs in one place, and that place has the gentle sound of a single wooden instrument, softly backlit windows and a lady in a gently shimmering silk kimono lingering in half shadow waiting to bring you some more saki. But at the football, no.

The middle of the U-curve is where you want to be. Take these ex-VFA grounds for example, now home to VFL matches; but maintaining their earlier VFA traditions, including volunteers serving the food.

Werribee.

Werribee, home of the sewage farm and Tim Blair, was a small country town when I first visited in the 1960s for a 'parish picnic', a long-forgotten type of traditional outing (note to Generations X, Y, Z and whatever they are calling the current one: 'outing' means a daytrip, not the forced revelation of someone's sexuality) complete with sack races, Irish dancing on the back of a tray truck, pony rides, barbecues and broom throwing. Yes: broom throwing. Times change. I counted 28 restaurants in Werribee's main street as we walked from the railway station to the football ground, the site of that 1960s parish picnic and this day's football match.

Half time. I always take food along to these games but you know what boys are like. Get the smell of a pie stall or a deep fryer across the grass and they're hungry again. We walked around the half-forward flank at the city end towards the members' wing, where the food stalls were set up in several volunteer tents next to one of those ubiquitous Coffee to You vans. One of the tents had a huge grill going, and not just sausages. Home-made patties were served in rolls as a hamburger; or in bread, as a sandwich. There's a difference. I asked for the sandwich, and there was a choice of salad. I chose the coleslaw, and the server extracted enough coleslaw from the tub to make the sandwich about six inches high. Three dollars. On the way back around the flank to our spot in the forward pocket, Thomas and William decided they were hungry again and shared the sandwich; not with me, with each other. I went and got another one.

Stadium food rating: four stars.

Sandringham.

It was that Sunday a few weeks back that saw the biggest July downpour in twenty years. You could hardly get into the ground: the entrance, slightly concave from decades of crowds, was a sea. 'That's not going to stop us,' I joked to the volunteer ticket seller as we crept around the six-inch isthmus of dry land alongside the ticket box. Welcome to Trevor Barker Oval, he said. Members of other clubs, $5. You don't even come close, Mr Corporate Stadium.

It rained all day. Coburg led 40 points to nil at quarter time before Sandringham wound it back. It was the start of a rollercoaster four weeks for the 'Burgers. The canteen is a small standalone brick structure on the Beach Road flank just around from the members' stand, staffed by volunteer ladies selling homely fare; salad rolls made by humans, dim sims, hot pies. Thomas had asked for a cup of tea. I ordered the tea and paid. Then the boys asked for a bag of chips, seeing some on the counter. You need actual cash at these places - no cards, of course - and unfortunately I was now out of spare change. Overhearing the conversation and presuming the tea was for me, and that I had denied my children a snack even while indulging myself with hot tea, the lady immediately and sympathetically offered them a bag of lollies, free. Volunteers are angels.

Stadium food rating: three stars.

Port Melbourne.

North Port Oval is legendary and notorious at the same time. Now the ghosts of the past – or is it the wind? – moan in the sadly-empty Norm Goss grandstand, a massive Victorian era structure that rises over the ground agape like the jaw of a dementia patient. We walked from the Fred Cook end around the southern wing to the rolador-window canteen just before half time, but the canteen was drinks and snacks only, and the man pointed to the lower grandstand. What a revelation. Underneath the stand is a walk-in servery as big as ... well, as big as it needed to be in the 1960s and '70s glory days of the VFA, when several hundred painters and dockers would fight to get to the pies and chips at half time on freezing afternoons. Today, we were alone in the space apart from the ever-smiling ladies behind the enormous bain marie and display cases featuring all the usual home-made fare, sandwiches, rolls, home-made cakes, etc. Six dollars for crisp, golden, hot, perfect chips in a bag the size of an SP bookie's.

Stadium food rating: five stars

Coburg.

I can't believe how many people don't know where Coburg City Oval is - probably because it doesn't front onto Sydney Road or Bell Street. It is landlocked behind the Coburg indoor pool to the north side, the Russell Street car park to the west, Coburg bowling club to the south and the wasteland of the old, demolished Coburg high school to the east.

On match days, we sit behind the pool end goal where we are frequently the only supporters. Sometimes Coburg legend Phil Cleary wanders past, snapping the odd photograph and chatting to anyone who wants to talk. The live telecast isn't the same without Phil, but come to Coburg City Oval on match day and you can talk to him live.

The kiosk is a two-minute walk around the west wing, at the grandstand end in the shadow of the cricket scoreboard. The aroma of hot chips and pies floats across the ground and is impossible to resist. Help yourself to sauce, mustard or vinegar from the catering size pump-pack bottles on the counter, gratis. Much better than having to pay for those tiny plastic sachets that never contain enough sauce when you try to squirt it onto your pie. There's a social club if you get too cold or want to sit in comfort and watch the football through glass, like the business networkers in Corporate Stadium land. I know where I'd rather be. Go 'Burgers.

Stadium food rating: four stars.