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


The night visitor.

Another cat has appeared. It visits late in the evening when I sit outside on my north-facing porch and gaze across the impatiens and roses and lavender, and the viburnum and photinia beyond them, to the clear horizon.

Collarless, it is all-over grey and has a white face and white paws. It prowls up the pathway from the street, and turns left onto the porch and buffets me with its head, just like the last one did.

Is history repeating?


Top five bone-in dishes: #5: veal shanks with gremolata.

Throw half a cup of flour, a teaspoon of salt and the same of pepper into a plastic bag. Now add two veal shanks. Twist the bag closed and shake it to coat the shanks in the seasoned flour.

Warm some oil in a heavy pan and sear the shanks. It is difficult to sear a cylindrical shape all over, so roll them around by shaking the pan gently. Remove seared shanks to a baking dish and add to the pan a finely chopped onion, a diced carrot, a diced zucchini, two scored garlic cloves and a splash of stock. Shake the pan, put a lid on it and leave it for three minutes to steam the vegetables. Then tip the whole thing into the baking dish and add a cup of red wine, a tin of diced tomatoes, a tablespoon of tomato puree, a couple of dozen pitted black olives and enough stock to cover. I also empty the rest of the seasoned flour from the plastic bag into the dish to help the fluid thicken.

Two hours in the oven should do it. The meat will fall off the bone if you're not careful when removing from baking dish.

Serve over potato mashed with parsley and a sprinkling of parmesan or on a bed of polenta. Shower the lot with that mixture of grated lemon peel, parsley and garlic known to the Italians as gremolata.


If the tree salesman says it grows fast, avoid it.

Another tree gone. I took out the stump on Tuesday. Good riddance.

I have a book in my reference library titled Who Planted That Damned Thing! by Graham Calcutt, a gardening landscaper and writer of some note. As you can tell by the title, it is a light-hearted read but it packs a deadly punch. Its subject is the unsuitable shrubs and trees that people put in their gardens - mainly due to gardening fashion - and which landscape gardeners are eventually requested to remove. Calcutt advises his reader, 'Do your homework well, because to have to remove a tree that in five years is already too big, is a futile exercise.'

But the book was published in 1985, so it talks about plants that were fashionable in the 1960s and 1970s, and only matured into monsterdom a decade or two later, like pampas grass or gum trees. Sometimes you still see pampas grass the size of a forest on those large blocks in the foothills of the Dandenongs, or giant gum trees in small Fitzroy courtyards. One friend of mine was quoted $5000 to remove a lemon gum from the back garden of a Carlton terrace. It was about a hundred feet tall and had a trunk as wide as a small car.

But since I first read Who Planted That Damned Thing! about twenty years ago, I realised a whole new volume could be published with a completely new generation of unsuitable plants. I should know - I've planted most of them. Such as the ornamental pear. These were huge in nurseries about ten years ago (possibly still are), and the selling benefit was that they were fast-growing and deciduous, so they gave you a canopy in summer for shade.

The problem with the five - yes, five - ornamental pears that I put in around the place was that their leaf canopy refused to fall off in winter. The one I strategically placed in the ground directly to the north of the lounge room window was meant to shade the area in summer and let in the sun through winter. But it kept its leaves until mid-winter and the lounge room stayed dark. I pruned it, another mistake. The ornamental pear has soft, fast-growing wood, and when you prune, it sends multiple new branches from the cut straight up into the sky, like a surrendering giant. In two more years I had a forty foot tree that darkened the house, and dropped limbs. The children couldn't climb it. I cut it down in July. The sun came streaming back in. I had already cut down three, and the last one came down this week.

Not everything has been a mistake. The main tree in the middle of the front garden is a maple of some kind. It is slow-growing, provides a beautiful summer canopy and drops its leaves at the first sign of cold weather. Another slow grower is the crepe myrtle I planted in front of a bedroom window - a mere stick in winter, it bursts into shiny green leaf and magnificent crimson flower in summer. It is almost up to the eave after eleven years. The lesson is, you need patience.