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


Pasta with leek, capsicum, avocado and toasted pine nuts.

That headline alone has enough appetite appeal to get you salivating. The dish itself is even better.

Chop a leek lengthwise twice, and then slice the lengths to get quartered rings.

Chop a red capsicum into small squares and add the leek and capsicum to a pan with a scored clove of garlic, a dash of white wine, a little olive oil, and lots of pepper. Simmer fifteen minutes. Check fluid level and adjust with more wine.

Meanwhile, cook pasta shells.

When the leek and capsicum are cooked and the wine has almost evaporated, add a sliced avocado, a dessertspoon of home made pesto and half a cup of cream, and simmer until cream reduces.

Drain the pasta shells. This is difficult and annoying. The shells hold the water. Persist. You do not want watered-down pasta sauce.

Spoon creamy vegetables sauce over pasta, add shaved parmesan cheese and toasted pine nuts. Glass of shiraz.


Mr Richards has an idea.

Mr Richards just suddenly appeared one day, looking pale. He greeted the receptionist, and walked towards his office.

He wasn't wearing his regular suit. He was wearing a pale blue polo with a turned-up collar over beige chinos and the kind of boat shoes that don't go on boats. He looked like he was on his way to lunch in Brighton. Perhaps he was. He was carrying a takeaway coffee.

But it wasn't coffee.

'This stuff actually tastes quite good,' he said, when I had followed him into his office and he had put it down on his desk. 'In a herby, grassy kind of way, and after you haven't had coffee for a week or two,' he added. 'You forget what coffee was like.'

'Who are you trying to fool?' I asked him. 'Me? Or yourself? These things go in trends. People used to drink a thing called Caro. It was made of mud or something. Before that was chicory. Now everyone is drinking chai, which is essentially liquid curry with tea in it. It will pass. It tastes like shit.'

'Thanks for the encouragement,' he said, bitingly sarcastic, 'I can see it's going to be an uphill battle getting you to do what I'm about to ask you.'

'Which is what?' I asked.

He paused. 'I've turned vegetarian,' he said, as if announcing his aunt was a terrorist.

I gulped. There goes another one, I thought. But I didn't say that.

'Nothing wrong with that,' I said. 'Nothing at all. History is full of vegetarian MDs.'

'And dead ones who didn't change their ways.'

That floored me.

'OK,' I said. 'Point taken.'

'I want to get a vegetable account,' he said. 'And you're going to help me.'

I just stared at him.


I went back to my office and started jotting down some ideas.

Cabbage. Just Eat It.

It was a bit of a joke. Hijacking all the old lines for a new purpose.

The Cauliflower Generation.

Are they copyright?

Spinach. Engineered like no other vegetable.

No-one would even recognise them any more, surely.

Radishes are forever.

That was good. The diamond people would have no reason to bring action. It would hardly infringe on their market.

Carrots. The other root vegetable.

We could do a joint advertising campaign with the meat and livestock authority.

Have you been parsnipped lately?

Hang on a minute. There's actually something in this, using send-ups of old ad lines to promote generic vegetables.

Get me the Vegetable Marketing Board on the line.


Heart attack spurs publishing deal.

So there was no MD for a few weeks.

The doctor had explained to me when I had visited Mr Richards in the hospital. It wasn't so much the running out of the building that had done the damage, but the shock of the situation. Sprinting won't kill you, but losing $20 million will, I guessed he was driving at. Actually it was $40 million.

I hoped Richards would be fine, and that his heart attack wouldn't spark a mid-life crisis.

I'd seen it before. The CEO of another agency I had worked for years ago ran his business, worked twelve hours a day, had long lunches and stressful deadlines, ate the wrong food too often, smoked, worked weekends .... all the elements of a fabulous, long, happy life.

Then he had a heart scare and went and spoiled it all. He stopped working, converted to some religion not based in the same hemisphere, and joined a 'men's group'. Then he wrote one of those self-awareness books that you see on the front counters of chain bookstores, as impulse gift buys. He called it Relax and filled it with eighty pages of meaningless quotes - Your inner calmness appeals to the goddess of your nature, Your peace quotient resides in the matrix of the soul, The duck's landing is nature's kiss, True fulfillment is anger's nemesis - that kind of thing; interspersed with pictures of lily pads, people doing yoga on mountains, smooth rocks piled up in cairns, a woman playing a flute to a sunset, and sleeping cats.

He told me later he got the lot - quotes and stock photos - from the internet.

It sold ten million copies.



Sometimes even I am stuck for an idea.

Like what kind of flowers to buy a fifty-something managing director lying in the cardiac department of a major hospital. Sweet William? Too fussy and tiny. Lilies? They're for funerals - maybe next week. Daffodils? Just wrong for a ruptured aortic aneurism victim. Flowers are just so tricky - no wonder they are left up to the girls.

However, as a man of action, I soon decided on an answer: none.


He was just waking when I walked into the ward about 11 a.m. A nurse was tip-toeing out. There was a simple table in the room with a bunch of tulips on it. They looked like they had just been delivered.

I sat down quietly on a chair. He looked at me.

'How are you?' I asked.

'Hey!' he said in a feeble attempt to be pally. He tried to sit up.

'Just relax,' I said. 'We're not in a bar or the boardroom now, we're in a hospital. You really shouldn't talk. I'm just here to see you. You had a slight turn ... nothing a triple bypass won't fix!'

He made a noise approximating a laugh at my weak joke, then his eyes wandered over to the tulips on the table. He obviously hadn't noticed them earlier. He drew the wrong conclusion.

'Thank you for the flowers,' he said, his eyes looking back at me. 'Tulips ... they're beautiful.' His eyes were tired, but their deep blueness betrayed an inner strength. I knew he would be OK. So I played along with him. His gaze had returned to the far wall.

'That's OK!' I said. I reached over unobtrusively, and deftly removed the little gift tag that was attached to the vase. 'I knew you would like them!'

He was asleep again.

I looked at the gift tag. It read: Get well soon. R. J. Morris. Agricultural Bearings.



I don't know what time I woke up.

When I did, I waited for about half an hour before opening my eyes, and then promptly shut them again because I was falling through space at hundreds of miles an hour and the ceiling was turning around at the same time. Seeing that could make you fall out of bed.

Six hundred elephants seemed to be stampeding through my head. Even one elephant would have hurt, but exaggerating seemed to help the pain.

I lay there and eventually slid uncomfortably into a half-slumber. I was crawling through the Gobi desert searching for water. But I couldn't get anywhere at all because the scorpions were spinning webs around me and tying me to the sand. I know scorpions don't weave webs but these ones did.

Then I woke up again and tried to remember where the kitchen was so I could drink water. I found the kitchen. I found the tap. I found a glass.

I couldn't eat yet. The last of the stampeding elephants was standing still in my head. I hoped he would follow the others, but he didn't. Obstinate bastard of an elephant. He just stood there, stamping his foot every now and then.

I tried to remember what day it was, but couldn't. Then I had a brainwave. It must have slipped past the elephant. I went outside and picked up the morning newspaper and looked at the dateline. It was Saturday.

Just a normal Saturday morning, really. I forget what else happened except that the CFO called me late in the afternoon to tell me Mr Richards, our dearly beloved managing director, was lying in a bed in the cardiac intensive care unit of a major hospital.


Next morning, my head felt clearer. I walked to church and sat ten pews from the front. The guitarist-slinging choristers finished a jarring five-verse song about praising and worshipping, and then the priest entered, strode to the altar, and started the Mass.

The guitar players interrupted throughout with their unmusical versions of the responses, prefacing each with that horrible 1-2 introduction. Twang-twang. The place seemed to be stuck in a 1960s peace-train time warp. Imagine discarding Palestrina, Victoria and William Byrd for tone-deaf singers playing untuned guitars. We got to the gospel. It was the one about the Pharisees, who were sanctimonious, self-righteous hypocrites who needed the hoi polloi around to make themselves look good.

Then the priest climbed the pulpit, red-faced, to deliver the sermon. He looked like a mountaineer going up Everest. He raised his hands in the air and told us the love of money was the root of all evil. Didn't I know it. I had $20 million hanging in the balance that morning. Or was it forty? I still couldn't remember. Way up there in the pulpit the priest droned on about people having too much money and too many things, flapping his arms to emphasise every second syllable, a towering inferno of jaw-jutting sanctimony.

Then he finished by demanding we all contribute more to the parish coffers, turned and half-fell out of the pulpit.

Something didn't jell, but I couldn't work out what it was. I was worried about Mr Richards, who was not allowed any visitors until tomorrow.


Editor? Editor?

We interrupt this multi-episode story to bring you possibly the worst (or best, as you like) howler seen in the Melbourne press for some time.

Under the heading 'Running legend Bannister dies at 88' this morning's Herald Sun notes that after Bannister broke the four minute mile in May 1954,
The athletic record stood for just 46 days, before Australian John Landy - who later became Premier of Victoria ...
We'll stop it right there. Shame on you, Herald Sun.

Friday night.

It was a mystery.

He hadn't returned.

Did he find the courier, retrieve the letter, and decide to celebrate? Entirely plausible, given some of the benders he'd been on over the years. $20 million almost lost, $40 million gained.

But it occurred to me the reverse might produce the same result. $40 million lost. A return to the office would be out of the question. I decided to play a waiting game. It had occurred to me, also, that I had been the only person who had known of the chase. No-one else had seen him run out of the building. Or had seen the incoming letter, for that matter.

Friday night drinks was the usual bacchanalian mess. I have to admit that things were fractious. Usually, creatives and account executives stuff themselves with assorted chips, crackers, warm dip, sandwiches, Danish pastries and anything left over from the boardroom lunch, some sweaty cheese platter or other.

But on this particular Friday night there was no food anyway, thanks to the tea lady being away. Seriously, I thought to myself, the agency falls apart when June's away. She might be gruff and drink the MD's whisky and crash her trolley into meetings, but she certainly gets things done.

The fractious atmosphere was exacerbated by the lack of food. The gathering seemed collectively determined to extinguish the week's tensions. It was about seven o'clock. Drinks had been called at 4.30 p.m; yes, a little earlier than usual, but who cared? It might be the last drinks we would have before the agency imploded.

The CFO, Stuart Mountebank, had been convivial earlier, but by now he was very convivial. He was talking to the drinks tray. At least, he was looking at it and talking at the same time.

'$20 million,' Mr Mountebank slurred at a half-empty bottle of South Island sauvignon blanc.

The bottle didn't reply, so Mountebank went on.

'Few jobs out the door,' he added, swinging an arm around wildly. He meant the entire assembled company could be out of work within a week. Someone took it the wrong way.

'CFO's job to look after the money. Or the MD,' the someone slurred. 'Not ours.'

A pause.

'By the way ... Where's the MD?'

There was a lot of slurring going on.

'Probably didn't sling enough under the table,' someone else said, a bit too loud. Everyone knows there is no way to stop unofficial rewards for signing contracts. It used to be called corruption, now it's stakeholder engagement.

It was open rebellion.

The CFO reached for the sauvignon blanc across someone's arm and fell over.

Then the fighting started. I hate fighting, but it happens.

Oh shut vthe fuck up diskheafd,

DISCCJHHEAB? you are nbot fucjkiojng write



SuCkerpUnch sock!!!!

The suitcoat fell to the ground. There was blood.

$20 Mliommonwn VDPOOOAHRTFRTR1 account
Youb are totslly not woerrth $20 millionn id tyopu relatriovbes were nor even colonoal convicts convicted in Lonedon in n1841 of stealing yoyr mopthersw loaf of breaed. So fuxck youl,..

So sfgxcuk you too ficuk wioth wfuiuc kwity.

FUck yuo jkjah!

It got a bit personal. I just sat there. It was Friday NIGHT after all. Got all weekend to recover. With more drinks. Hoepuflly it wlil clera soem sroe heds.



I strode in about nine-thirty and glared at the neophytes who had arrived early to park their wannabe-cars next to the MD's Lamborghini. He won't have it for long the way things are going.

I went past the open-plan offices and into the kitchen. I made a coffee and steered it down the corridor, yawning.

The MD saw me from his office and beckoned, with a worried look on his face.

'What's the matter?' I asked casually. I sat on his brown leather sofa.

'I have decided to take your advice. We have resigned the $20 million Agricultural Bearings account.' He paused, then said, 'You were right. Mr Austin treated us poorly.’

He held up a small flat package.

'This is our letter of resignation – along the lines you advised, leaving in most of your, er, colourful language. It formally advises Agricultural Bearings that we will no longer handle their business – under any circumstances. I'm just waiting for the courier to pick it up and deliver it express.'

He looked quite pale, but I was quietly impressed at his determination to do the right thing. And to leave my strong language mostly untouched. At the same time, an incongruous thought came to me that Richards was more of a Bentley man. I wondered why he drove a Lamborghini.

'Good' I said. 'So what's the problem? You look like you've swallowed a horse.'

'There's no problem,' he continued, 'it's just difficult writing a letter telling $20 million to go away.'

'Go easy on yourself,' I said. 'It sounds like it had already gone, and you are just saying goodbye. So go and get another $20 million account. That's your job. You're the MD.'

I can be quite harsh sometimes.

'They are not that easy to come by,' he said.

Just then, a courier got out of the lift and came to pick up the express mail. Richards handed him the dismissal letter, and the courier placed some other articles on his desk. Then he went back into the lift and was gone.

One of the other articles bore the logo of the company we had just sacked.

'I had better open that,' I said, and for some reason I felt that tingle up my spine yet again.

'No, leave it to me,' Richards said.

He did. He inserted his letter opener into the envelope and sliced open the top.

He took out a single sheet. He read it.

His face froze.

He refolded the letter.

He looked at me, but not for very long.

He gave a sound that was kind of a soft sigh mixed with a half-suppressed shriek of panic.

He shoved the letter into my hand and ran for the elevator, which was not on our floor. He ran past the elevator to the stairs. The door to the stairs slammed with that odd banging echo they all have.

I walked to the window and gazed down to the street. I waited.

He emerged a minute later, which was probably a record for running six flights downstairs.

He ran towards the courier parking bay. Have you ever seen a fat fifty-something man, who never usually gets beyond a slow stroll, sprinting up the street, suit coat flapping, tie flying like a kite? He looked quite comical.

I went back to the desk, unfolded the letter and read it.
Dear Blake Browning Burns

An internal audit has revealed that our marketing director, Mr Austin - the man with whom you deal - has acted fraudulently and has stolen from the company. He has been sacked forthwith. I will now take over his duties and you will now deal with me personally from today.

Needless to say, the 'pitch' Mr Austin fabricated to cover his crimes is off the agenda. Furthermore, a new project he was meant to have initiated but didn't, will now roll out, effectively doubling your billings to approximately $40 million in the next financial year.

Please accept the apologies of Agricultural Bearings.

I look forward to getting together early in the week to discuss these matters.

Kind regards

Mr R. J. Morris
Chief Executive Officer
Agricultural Bearings Pty Ltd
I put the letter back down on the desk, handling it as if it were the Shroud of Turin.

I hoped the MD had caught the courier.