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

27.11.17

The New Advertising Breakthrough. Scene One: June interrupts the meeting.

Guy, a copywriter, and Rob, his art director are a creative team at Blake Browning Burns. They have just walked into the meeting room they call 'the cupboard' because it is small and intimate enough for closed-door meetings of two or three people. (It is generally suspected around the agency that such 'meetings' have also taken place after, or even during, Friday nights drinks.)

Craven, the account director, follows them into the room. Craven is tall with jet black lank hair, and has affectations, and wears loud suits. He looks like a character from a Raymond Chandler novel, possibly Lindsay Marriott from 'Farewell My Lovely'. 'Craven' is his surname but he uses it as his first name. It fits.

In the room, Craven throws a fat manila folder diagonally onto the table with a thump, slewing out a bunch of briefing notes.


CRAVEN: Guys!

GUY (DEADPAN): Guys what?

CRAVEN: I'm just saying 'Hello!'

ROB: No, you're not, you said 'Guys!'

CRAVEN: It means 'Hello'. It's shorthand for 'Hello, guys!' which sounds too stilted, so I just say 'Guys!'

GUY: I suppose you've worked out a way to avoid having to indulge in any actual small talk before having sex.

CRAVEN: That is an appalling slur, Guy. Shall we start? I've got something here that will blow your socks off.

ROB: I've heard that before.

CRAVEN DOESN'T REPLY, BUT OPENS THE MANILA FOLDER AND HOLDS UP A STAPLED DOCUMENT WITH 'HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL' STAMPED ON THE COVER.

CRAVEN: Guys, here is the brief for your very first two-client television commercial. You know the Buffalo Finance spot you're working on? Well, they're sharing the spot with another client.

SHOCKED SILENCE ENVELOPS THE ROOM

GUY: What??

CRAVEN (SMILES INGENUOUSLY, OR EVEN DISINGENUOUSLY): What do you mean, 'what'? It's a two-client TV commercial. There's another client sharing the spot. And the cost.

ROB: I don't think I understand.

HE TURNS TO GUY

Do you understand, Guy?

GUY: I'm trying very hard not to, Rob, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I think I actually do.

CRAVEN: It's like this, guys: our strategy planners have been putting together a raft of innovative strategies ...

GUY: Well, they are strategists. It's their job. And why are strategies always innovative? Can't some of them be tried and true ones?

CRAVEN: Why? Because then, strategists wouldn't have jobs. They would just be ordinary account people doing normal account work. Don't interrupt.

HE OPENS UP THE 'HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL' DOCUMENT, AND CONTINUES SPEAKING

One of their innovative strategies has been to develop a time-sharing initiative to fight the rise of online advertising and web-based brand growth that is eating into mainstream TV and other media advertising, making it too cost-inefficient for many clients.

GUY: And?

CRAVEN: And so, they have developed the world of advertising's very first Shared Advertising System - called, logically, SAS. Effectively, we write a TV commercial for two clients at once.

THERE IS A STUNNED SILENCE BROKEN ONLY BY ... BY NOTHING. IT IS TOTAL SILENCE, THE KIND OF SILENCE THAT SPEAKS VOLUMES.

BUT THE SILENCE IS SMASHED BY JUNE, THE TEA LADY, WHO ENTERS THE ROOM IN HER USUAL FASHION BY CRASHING HER TROLLEY THROUGH THE SLIGHTLY AJAR DOOR. SHE STARTS PICKING UP CUPS LEFT BEHIND AFTER A PREVIOUS MEETING.

JUNE: I wish you people would pick up your cups. It's not my job.

GUY: They're not ours, June.

JUNE BUSTLES OUT, TEACUPS RATTLING.

CRAVEN (AFTER AN UNCHARACTERISTIC PAUSE): Did she say it's not her job?

ROB (WONDERINGLY): Yes, she did.

ANOTHER DEAD SILENCE THAT SAYS A LOT, BUT ON A DIFFERENT SUBJECT TO THE LAST ONE.

CRAVEN: But she is the tea lady, isn't she?

TO BE CONTINUED.

22.11.17

Fragrant leek and potato casserole.

Chop two onions into fine rings. Evenly line a large casserole with some of the rings. Add a tablespoon of Australian olive oil. (Does anyone still buy the imported stuff?)

Now chop three or four zucchini - depending on size - into rings. Add a layer of zucchini over the onions.

Do the same with a couple of sliced leeks, then two or three peeled potatoes sliced very, very thinly.

Add half a cup of tomato puree and a shake of salt and cracked pepper.

Repeat the zucchini, leek and potato layers and tomato puree.

Top with more tomato, chopped parsley, snipped chives and fresh basil. Add a little chicken or vegetable stock to almost cover vegetables. Add cheese if desired. Place the lid on casserole and bake until bubbling.

16.11.17

Communication breakdown: things the client won't let you say.

It is late morning in the boardroom of advertising agency Blake Browning Burns. During the meeting, the account executive, Angelo, has briefed the creative team, Guy (writer) and Rob (art director), on a boring job - to write and design a brochure for an automobile client. Language warning.

ANGELO: So that's the brief, guys. Write a brochure promoting the Sniper Roadside Assistance Program.

GUY AND ROB TOGETHER: Great. (YOU CAN HEAR THE ENTHUSIASM IN THEIR VOICES. OR YOU COULD IF IT WAS THERE)

ANGELO: Happiness?

GUY: As happy as we could be on a dreary Tuesday morning having just been briefed on possibly the single most boring job in the history of advertising.

ANGELO: Stop complaining. You get paid.

ROB: We don't get paid enough for the pain we go through. Unlike you. You just drive up and down from St Kilda Road to your revhead client in Mulgrave and deliver bullshit at both ends.

ANGELO: You try it some time. The client hates me and you hate me. But that's all right. My wife loves me and so does my secretary. I've got all the love I need at the moment.

GUY: That'll end in tears. It always does. Then you won't feel any love from anyone. You'll just be a lonely cheating heel in an empty bar with a drink in front of you and no future except a bunch of regrets.

(PAUSES TO LET THAT SINK IN. ANGELO JUST STARES, OPEN-MOUTHED. SO DOES ROB)

Just one question, Angelo. It says here we can't mention the Sniper breaking down in relation to the Roadside Assist Program.

ANGELO: No, of course you can't. They don't want people to think Snipers break down.

ROB: But ... but ... it's a Roadside Assist Program. That's what they're for. When cars break down.

ANGELO: Yeah, but they don't want you to mention a Sniper breaking down. It's corporate policy to encourage the car buyer to register the keyword of 'reliability' with 'Sniper'.

GUY: Then why have a fucking Roadside Assist Program at all, Angelo?

ANGELO: Because all the other manufacturers have them, and you have to have one to be competitive.

ROB (LOOKS AT GUY): It's going to be one of those conversations, Guy.

GUY: It is already, Rob. Angelo, why don't you guys grow some balls and tell your client that artificially engineering the language to fulfill some marketing guy's idea of what should and shouldn't be said actually makes you look far worse than simply stating the truth in an understated but completely honest way?

ANGELO (BLINKING): What?

GUY: Come on Angelo, you're not that stupid, so don't pretend to be. Say you're a consumer and you read the Roadside Assist brochure. If it doesn't actually mention breaking down, it just looks blindingly obvious that they are bullshitting you and avoiding the issue. Because the first thing that comes to mind when you read this kind of stuff is breakdown, however minute the chance, no matter how reliable the vehicle. Even Rolls-Royces 'fail to proceed' sometimes, Angelo.

ANGELO: Yes, I know. My cousin in Kilsyth hired a white Roller for his wedding last month, and it broke down in Sassafras on the way to the reception. But we're not writing brochures for Rolls hire cars, we're writing one for Snipers. Anyway, in relation to the Roadside Assist Program, I don't think about breaking down so much as running out of petrol or locking my keys in the car.

ROB: Christ, Angelo, you're a contrary bastard sometimes. Plus, I actually saw a broken down Sniper the other day.

ANGELO: How do you know it hadn't run out of petrol?

ROB: The bonnet was up.

ANGELO: Doesn't prove anything. People put their bonnet up to warn other motorists that they are immobile.

ROB: Usually from breaking down. A friend of mine bought a brand new Audi a few months ago and it stopped on top of the West Gate Bridge - the engine management system had packed up within three weeks.

ANGELO: That's why Audis lose their value overnight, Rob.

GUY: Then why do you drive an Audi? Why don't you get yourself a Sniper that never breaks down?

ANGELO: Because Snipers do break down. We're just not allowed to admit it. And the Audi was cheaper.

GUY: I give up, Rob. Let's go to lunch.

14.11.17

First, joint your chicken.

I used to have neighbours who were immigrants from India. They used to cook outside in summer, catching on pretty quickly to the local custom. The smoky aroma that came over the fence was insanely wonderful. It smelled like a Goanese street food stall.

So I tried to out-aroma them. I came up with the following.

Spicy barbecued chicken.

Grind or process: a tablespoon each of chili and coriander powder, a teaspoon each of turmeric, fenugreek leaves, peppercorns, and salt, five green cardamom pods, one piece of star anise, two cloves of garlic, one inch each of peeled ginger and cinnamon, one clove, one pinch each of asafoetida and nutmeg, and a teaspoon of sugar. Blend all the spices with about three-quarters of a cup of vinegar. You'll end up with a grainy-textured sludge.

Then fold the grainy sludge through a cup of full-fat yogurt and coat all pieces of a chicken which you have jointed and slashed. Press the mixture under the skin and into the slashes. Store chicken in the fridge in a covered dish for at least a couple of hours. Overnight is better to let it absorb the marinade.

Fire up the barbecue. I still use charcoal, which is dirty and takes longer, but the barbecued product is better. I think. When coals are ready, grease grill with butter or oil and place chicken on grill. Cooking time is dependent on grill, heat of coals, prevailing weather conditions, wind direction, and other factors. Cook each side of the chicken pieces on the hottest part of the grill and then move to a cooler part for cooking through without burning. My grill does not have a hood, so I use the lid of an old wok for extra heat retention. It helps recirculate the smoke to turbo-charge the barbecue flavour.

If you can find a spare corner on the grill, cook rice in a pot. You can cook it in the kitchen of course, but the mellow aroma of quality basmati rice slowly simmering in a pot on the barbecue adds a further dimension to the aromatic experience.

Serve the chicken on the rice with a bowl of yogurt, tomato, cucumber, white onion, and a sprinkling of cumin seeds on the side. Slices of ripe tomatoes, wedges of lemon and a sprig of coriander to garnish.

13.11.17

Written in 1784; recorded in 1961; broadcast in 2017.

I was driving to Werribee on a warm Saturday. It was just after midday. I turned off the ring road where it swept around onto the Princes Freeway at Laverton and straightened up towards Hoppers Crossing.

The traffic was light and I was fiddling with the radio. There was nothing I felt like listening to; eighties rubbish on the commercial stations or boring chatter on the talk stations. I flipped it again.

Her voice came out of the radio and I couldn't place it. The song could have been medieval or it could have been recorded yesterday. But it might have been the most beautiful song ever recorded. They lyrics had that special quality so rarely found: once heard they can never be forgotten.

By the time it finished, I had arrived. The radio station went straight on to the next track. I looked it up later.



2.11.17

Gatum Gatum to Gado Gado.

I'm not sure if there was ever a horse called Gado Gado, but there was once a Gatum Gatum, which won a Melbourne Cup*.

I was standing up to my ankles in wood shavings in my father's workshop (he was building a boat) in November 1963 when he stopped planing some timber to listen to Bert Bryant's call on 3UZ. It was one of the earliest Melbourne Cups I can recall.

Now it's a lifetime later and Winx is burning herself into the memories of a new generation of children. Alex rode her first proper horse (meaning not just going round in a circle on a Shetland pony at a fair) on the Mornington Peninsula recently, and probably imagined herself steering Winx to victory. She wants to be a vet or a jockey.

*

In possibly the weakest segue ever written in this blog, we now move on to today's recipe.

Gado Gado.

Chop five or six potatoes into quarters. Chop four carrots into batons. Boil them.

When half done, drop in four cubes of cabbage into the pot and, towards the end, two dozen green beans. (Slice the cabbage in half and cut square sections out of one half; use the offcuts for coleslaw.) The idea is to have the vegetables just right at the same time. The beans only need a minute or two.

Boil two eggs in another pot. I once was at a loss to know how to cook eggs and peel them without sections of the white breaking away; I later learned the fail-safe technique.

Then cut four ripe tomatoes into sections and an unpeeled Lebanese cucumber (or a peeled regular one) into sticks.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce: warm half a jar of crunchy peanut butter, two tablespoons of sambal oelek, a chopped clove of garlic, a dash of sugar, two very generous squirts of soy, and the same of lime or lemon juice. Stir while combining over low heat or it will stick.

When it is heated through, transfer to dipping bowl.

Drain the vegetables. Peeled the soft-boiled eggs, slice them in half and arrange them with the vegetables on serving plates. Add the tomatoes and cucumbers artfully. Or just toss them on top.

Dip components into sauce. Alternatively (my preference), pour the sauce over the top of the vegetables and eggs on your plate.

This dish travels well and could be a good option for a Cup Day picnic.

*Time wasting tip: for office workers who enjoy spending hours on amazing websites instead of doing pointless work such as having endless work-in-progress meetings or making useless powerpoint presentations, I offer this website. I give you an ironclad guarantee that, if you are at all interested in horseracing or its history, you will not emerge from the pages of this site in under two hours. You will possibly spend all day on it. It's worth the journey.