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

30.11.15

The hash whisperer.

I don't like restaurants. I don't like the cost, I don't like the noise, I don't like being a prisoner to some idiot waiter, I don't like other people's at-table habits, and I don't like sitting in a place that feels like a nineteenth century workhouse dining room. I'd rather eat at the GMH canteen, or Coles cafeteria; where the dress standard is higher, the customers are more respectful to those around them, the food doesn't cost a fortune, and the serves are bigger. The other week my wife had to go to a work dinner at one of those barn-like renovated pubs where the noise level is like an airport and a glass of wine costs $8.95. Her meal was a pork chop that cost $34 because it had some freekeh and a five-cent-coin-sized mound of smoked onion puree next to it, and you had to pay extra for something called a 'side' which, translated, means the rest of your meal.

I ate at home alone that night. We had had corned beef earlier in the week, and there was some left over along with some halved potatoes that were cooked in the fluid along with the beef, two bay leaves, and onion and some brown vinegar. No, not balsamic. Brown.

So that was dinner again. While the potatoes were reheating gently, I cut two thick slices of corned beef and cubed them into small dice. Then I made a white sauce: melted butter in a pot, stirred in a couple of tablespoons of flour, added a cup and a half of milk, and stirred until thickened. Then I added the cubed beef and the magic ingredient, English mustard, the king of condiments. It turns ordinary white sauce ('roux' if you insist, but I am ridding my vocabulary of as many affectations as possible) into something special; and something impossible to eat if you add too much. But I love English mustard and this night I am dining alone, so I throw in a tablespoonful which brings the taste level up to about 120 decibels or whatever the terminology is for taste buds.

Meanwhile I cooked half a dozen trimmed green beans and the same number of asparagus. I placed the halved potatoes in a bowl, poured most of the beef-encrusted sauce over and topped the dish with the beans and asparagus. The salty taste explosion of corned beef in mustard sauce over soft, yielding boiled potatoes is the kind of experience you read about in those 1001 things to Do/Eat/Hear/Visit/Ride/Experience/Look at Before You Die books. It's just corned beef hash, but it's heaven. And there no people around me yapping on phones, or instagramming* their freekeh-ing meals.

*

Technology cynics rejoice: twitter is as good as dead.

23.11.15

Library gets a makeover.

From the weekend vacant position ads, a job at one of Australia's leading schools, PLC:
Director of Innovation
The Director of Innovation will develop and execute the vision to re-conceptualise library; space, staff and services, to create an Innovation Centre at PLC. The position plays a strategic and transformational role by providing opportunities for creativity and entrepreneurship through developing innovative and inviting spaces and a range of experiences that delight and engage students and staff as well as offering community building experiences with the wider PLC community.
Just read that last sentence again. It is a masterpiece of the genre; an over-long piece of jargon-riddled bureaucrat-speak devoid of any real meaning. Who do they want? An architect? A painter? A set designer? A performance artist? Who knows. Probably they don't, either. On it goes:
The incumbent (sic – but they mean the appointee) will ensure the delivery of information learning and literary services and promote a vibrant reading culture.
Maybe they just want a librarian who wears loud clothes.

20.11.15

The Beer Pitch (Part Two).

IN PART ONE, CREATIVE DIRECTOR JUSTIN IS PRESENTING A BEER CAMPAIGN TO BREWERY CLIENT EUGENE IONESCO (SIC). PLEASANTRIES OUT OF THE WAY, EUGENE ASKS FOR A COFFEE BEFORE GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS. NOW READ ON.

JUNE, THE LAST REMAINING TEA LADY IN THE ADVERTISING INDUSTRY, CRASHES THROUGH THE DOOR WITH A TROLLEY LOAD OF COFFEE CUPS. SHE SAYS NOTHING BUT PLONKS A LOADED TRAY ON THE BOARDROOM TABLE AND WADDLES OUT AGAIN, SLAMMING THE DOOR.

EUGENE: I see June's in her usual high spirits today.

JUSTIN: Every time there's a pitch on she gets more stressed than anyone else in the entire agency because it throws her routine out. A presentation with sixty million dollars in the balance, and June's grumpy about ten extra cups to wash up. Plus, I figure she's lost us several new accounts just by spilling coffee on the MD or being rude to the head of marketing.

EUGENE: Yes, well as clients we do factor in the quality of service at a potential agency. That's only natural. And have you ever seen an ugly advertising agency receptionist?

JUSTIN (FROWNS): Tut, tut, Eugene. At the end of the day the quality of creative work is all that counts, and I'm sure you know it.

EUGENE: In this agency I'm not sure sometimes. All right, get on with it.

JUSTIN (FROWNING AT THE INSULT) PULLS OUT SOME STORYBOARDS. HE STARTS PRESENTING THE IDEAS.

JUSTIN: Eugene, we've had some great new teams on this account and they've worked their butts off to come up with some really cracking ideas. We've developed a number of angles and I'm sure there's something here that you'll really love. The key driver is to take your beer brand - Six White Unicorns - forward and give it a real sense of presence in the marketplace, a compelling purchase incentive and a unique identity that says This is the beer of choice for today's drinker.

EUGENE: I'll be the judge of that, Justin. Could you stop talking shit and just show me the ideas?

JUSTIN (AFTER A SLIGHT PAUSE IN WHICH HE REMEMBERS IT'S A MILLION DOLLAR ACCOUNT): Well Eugene, the first idea trades on the fact that beer drinkers drink beer for one reason only.

EUGENE: And what would that be, Justin?

JUSTIN: To get drunk, Eugene.

EUGENE: What about taste, Justin?

JUSTIN: Nope.

EUGENE: What about image?

JUSTIN: Nope.

EUGENE: Brand differentiation?

JUSTIN: Differentiation? You can't even say that after a few beers, Eugene.

EUGENE: What about brand loyalty?

JUSTIN: Get into the real world, Eugene. Have you ever been to a party where the beer runs out? People don't start banging on about brand loyalty or 'differentiation'. They start drinking anything that isn't under lock and key; and after that they'll look for the key. People are disgusting. People will raid the host's drinks cabinet and start hauling out old half-empty bottles of tawny port or cheap Scotch; or they'll rip tops off their host's collection of Century test cricket cans of VB and drink them warm. Just to be drinking anything. Brand attributes? The container might have brand attributes, but inside the can, it's just beer.

LONG PAUSE

EUGENE: Then why do we need to advertise at all, Justin?

JUSTIN: It's like hardware store advertising, Eugene. Suddenly it's spring cleaning time and someone sees a can of paint in a Bunnings TV commercial, and they rush straight out to their nearest hardware store, which happens to be Mitre 10 or Masters or that one with the dog logo, and they buy it there.

EUGENE: Exactly what is this leading up to, Justin?

JUSTIN (INDICATES THE SCREEN AT ONE END OF THE TABLE): To this, Eugene.

HE HITS A BUTTON AND AN ANIMATIC STARTS PLAYING ON THE SCREEN.

The animatic (an illustrated and partially animated film of what the television commercial will eventually look like - if commissioned) shows three blindfolded men seated at a table as if about to take a blind taste test. In front of them are three cans each of three brands of beer: VB, Pure Blonde, and Cooper's Dry.

VOICEOVER: The blind taste test is a tired old cliche, so for our beer test, we decided to throw away the blinds. Gentlemen, remove your scarves.

THE MEN REMOVE THEIR SCARVES. EACH GRABS A BEER WITH ALACRITY AND A BIG SMILE ON THEIR FACE. RATHER THAN TASTE THEM CAREFULLY, THEY DRINK THEM STRAIGHT DOWN. USING A STOP-MOTION DELAY EFFECT, WE SEE THEM DRAIN, IN UNISON, ONE EACH OF THE THREE BEERS - WITHOUT TAKING ANY NOTICE OF THE BRAND.

VOICEOVER: So gentlemen, what's the best beer?

ALL IN UNISON:
The next one!

CUT TO GRAPHIC WITH IMAGE OF BEER LABEL:
Six White Unicorns. Australia's next beer.

DEAD SILENCE FALLS ACROSS THE ROOM UNTIL JUNE CRASHES IN AGAIN WITH THE TROLLEY.

JUNE: Are you finished yet? I've got another meeting to prepare for.

19.11.15

Aberfeldie, Saturday 14 November. Left to right: Tom and William.

Picture: Gerard Feain

(Tom's earlier athletics career here.)

16.11.15

Throw books in a box and pay later.

This is probably the best Christmas shopping-for-kids idea I've ever heard. Local bookshop Pictures & Pages is having a grown-ups-only night, during which you get to enjoy champagne and nibbles while you walk around the shop pulling books off the shelf and throwing them in a box. You don't even need your wallet; they give you until December 3 to pay, and after that they will keep your book purchases hidden away out the back until you sneak them home on Christmas eve. That will have the kids scratching their heads after they've searched the house for their presents while you're at work. Interfering little brats.

*

Pictures & Pages
400 Sydney Rd, Coburg
Grown-ups only night 19 November 7pm-9pm.

12.11.15

How many Herald Sun reporters does it take to question the appropriateness of a policeman firing at a gansgter who has just run him down?

Victoria Police recently decided that OH&S issues trump pursuing drug-affected criminals in cars. That decision has given licence to the latter to simply drive at or around police to escape apprehension, with predictable results:
"The driver of that vehicle accelerated hard towards the police member and ran him down," said Acting Superintendent David Griffin.
But may a policeman fire his gun to attempt to save his own life? Herald Sun reporters Kara Irving, Wes Hosking and Jon Kaila (strength in numbers obviously being a necessary requisite for Herald Sun staff at police incidents) ask the question:
Supt Griffin ... would not comment on whether discharging the firearm was the best response under the circumstances.



5.11.15

That race, and that girl.

Yes, I watched it. We were up in the hills on Tuesday at a cousin's house for a picnic for the children's grandmother, and after lunch at Belgrave Lake - as pretty a place as you could hope to have a Cup Day lunch - back to the house. The children had drawn horses cut from the morning paper's form guide, and one had Big Orange who led from the start to the 700, and they screamed at the television. Then the field bunched up into a sea of horses, and 300 out a green and purple flash came out of the scrum. We didn't know until the close-up on Michelle Payne's face. Goosebumps. I had earlier read her interview in which she said she had a good feeling about the race. Not the brash kind of good feeling where you're just talking up your chances; but something else. Might have been her mother, or her sister. She lost the former at six months; the latter a few years ago. Youngest of ten, and lost her mother at six months.

We didn't know the result until the vision showed the close-up, because the call was terrible, inaudible. Might not have been Greg Miles' fault but you couldn't hear a thing above the noise. Later, I heard Brian Martin's call replayed on radio. It was faultless, like Bert Bryant or Bill Collins on 3UZ or 3DB way back.

Friday: June the tea lady shuts the agency.

5.30 ON A FRIDAY AFTERNOON. DAVID, THE ADVERTISING AGENCY OWNER, STROLLS INTO THE BOARDROOM, LOOKS AROUND AND SIGHS. HE IS TIRED BUT CONTENT. ANOTHER DIFFICULT WEEK HAS ENDED WITH NO CLIENT DEFECTIONS, NO STAFF TANTRUMS, NO RESIGNATIONS, AND NO FIST-FIGHTS.

WHILE DAVID IS THINKING ABOUT WHETHER TO PLAY GOLF AT THE WEEKEND OR SIMPLY HANG OUT AT HIS DOUBLE-STOREY GEORGIAN IN TOORAK, JUNE THE TEA LADY WADDLES INTO THE BOARDROOM.

JUNE: I'm closing up in twenty minutes, David.

DAVID (THINKS): I own an agency turning over a hundred million a year and the fucking tea lady is kicking me out of my own building.

DAVID (SAYS): That’s fine, June. I'll be out in fifteen.

WHILE DAVID RULES HIS AGENCY WITH AN IRON FIST HE HAS BEEN SUCCESSFUL IN ADVERTISING MAINLY BECAUSE HE HAS FOLLOWED THE GOLDEN RULE: NO MATTER HOW AGGRESSIVE YOU ARE TO CLIENTS, NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU ABUSE YOUR ACCOUNT TEAM OR SHOUT AT CREATIVE, YOU NEVER, EVER, EVER DISRESPECT THE TEA LADY. NOBODY DISRESPECTS THE TEA LADY. NOBODY. NOT EVEN CLIENTS.

JUNE: Plus, I'm not in until lunchtime on Monday so you'll have to get your own teas and coffees.

(JUNE IS INVOLVED IN CHARITABLE COMMITTEES AND COMES TO WORK WHEN HER COMMITTEE COMMITMENTS ALLOW HER, WHICH IS NOT OFTEN. SHE IS SIXTY, SHORT AND ROUND, HAS MEDIUM LENGTH DYED BLACK HAIR AND WEARS RETRO CLOTHES WITHOUT KNOWING THEY ARE RETRO.)

DAVID (SIGHS INAUDIBLY): That's fine, June. I'm sure we'll cope. I think.

JUNE: You'll just have to. It's the CWA's annual breakfast and there are 750 coming.

DAVID (JOKING): I hope you're not making tea for them all.

JUNE (WHO DOESN'T GET IRONY): Don't be ridiculous, David. I'm only a tea lady when I'm here. Thank God. That's bad enough.

DAVID (THINKS): I must check out how much we're paying June not to come to work sometimes.

DAVID (SAYS): You're a marvel, June. I don't know how you put up with us.

JUNE WADDLES OUT OF THE BOARDROOM, NOT HAVING ACTUALLY PICKED UP ANY OF THE MANY CUPS LAYING AROUND THE TABLE.

DAVID EXITS THE BOARDROOM, SHUTS THE DOOR, SKIPS DOWN THE STAIRS INTO THE BASEMENT CARPARK, JUMPS INTO HIS BENTLEY ARNAGE AND DRIVES AWAY IN LIGHT EARLY SPRING DRIZZLE. THE WIPERS ACTIVATE SOUNDLESSLY.

DAVID (THINKS): I should have been a fucking United Nations diplomat. (PAUSE) I wonder if they have tea ladies at the UN. (ANOTHER PAUSE) Probably not. They're all socialists there. Tea ladies would be probably be seen as an oppressed minority. (PAUSE) I wonder if I'm oppressing June. She's probably hobbling home in the rain right now.

BACK IN THE AGENCY, JUNE RE-OPENS THE BOARDROOM DOOR, WADDLES OVER TO THE LOCKED CABINET, OPENS IT WITH A KEY, TAKES DOWN A BOTTLE OF DAVID'S SINGLE BATCH TEN-YEAR-OLD MALT, POURS HERSELF A LITTLE INTRODUCTION, TASTES IT, LIKES WHAT SHE TASTES, TOPS UP HER GLASS AND SITS DOWN AT THE TABLE, WITH THE BOTTLE IN EASY REACH.

JUNE: I love my life.