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

19.2.19

How to read your way out of a heatwave.

On the long sweltering days of a late summer I like, if I can find the time, to switch on my internal air conditioning by reading something from another time, another place, another climate.

One of my favourite things to read (we could be talking 'genres' if we were a book club, but we are not) is period fiction and I don't mean regency romances but gritty 1960s British thrillers. Eugene George was a pen-name of Paul Chevalier. (They all seemed to have pen-names - nom de plume to you, Mr Book Club Guy.)

George/Chevalier wrote only a few books and is unknown to the extent that you cannot google him, but I Can See You But You Can't See Me is a masterpiece of the sinister British style. (My short review posted at Neglected Books, a godsend for readers now listed in the sidebar.)

I Can See You But You Can't See Me by Eugene George
Hamish Hamilton, London, 1966

7.2.19

Broken pen theories.

Why don't people throw out ballpoint pens that no longer work?

You want to shout at these people. It doesn't work! Throw it out!

I was in an office recently and, of nine ballpoint pens sitting in one of those plastic pen caddies given out by print suppliers or pharmaceutical companies, six didn't work*.

I've been thinking about this and I have several theories why the pens never get thrown out and end up back in the drawer.

Theory 1

A ballpoint pen that has run out of ink doesn't look broken - and people only throw out things that look broken.

Theory 2

They are not sure whether the pen has run out of ink. They think it might be that the paper is waxy. The pen gets the benefit of the doubt.

Theory 3

My most compelling theory: people are lazy and the waste bin is too far away. Straight back in the drawer.

*

There's a thesis in this. Maybe a book.

Where's my pen?

*

*I put them back. It was not my office. It wasn't my job to throw them out. (That introduces another theory: that pens are ownerless, like cats.)

31.1.19

Keyboard warrior defined.

" ... in the next few years he is ... upset at the injustice and hypocrisy that exist in the world: a world in which some men are athletic stars, James Bonds and millionaires and he is not; he is morally appalled. In his dreams he recreates the world, righting all wrongs, eliminating suffering, redistributing wealth ... ending all wars. He becomes a reincarnation of Gautama Buddha, Jesus Christ ... Evil governments topple, corrupt churches collapse, laws are revised, and Truth, written in Xeroxed tablets of stone ... presented to the world."
Or on Twitter. Or Facebook. Anyone can take part. The description of the keyboard warrior and his (or her, pedants) delusions of grandeur are well described - in a 1971 novel by George Cockcroft under the pseudonym Luke Rinehart.

*

The Diceman
Luke Rhinehart, Granada, 1971
Kitchen Hand's one-sentence summary: dated parody of psychoanalysis clothed (but often unclothed) in early 1970s post-psychedelic era preoccupations.

*

(The meadow, the pond and the girl named Joanne referred to in the previous post were, of course, from the Mike Nesmith song of that name released in 1970.)

27.1.19

Meadows and ponds go missing in sad, angry music. Haven't heard much about Joanne lately, either.

Newspapers are reporting a study that found music lyrics are not as happy as they used to be.

I could have told you that twelve years ago.

4.1.19

They come out at night ...

They impelled themselves in mad arcs, rather than flew, towards the porch light: airborne armadas of brown hard-backed buzzing creatures about half an inch long. But they did not see the wall and they crashed into it. And then they fell on the floor, upside down, and could not right themselves.

I put around citronella candles. But they were not deterred. Because they are not mosquitoes. They were attracted. One zeroed in on a candle like a kamikaze pilot at a navy ship, and found itself upside down in molten wax, waving clawed tentacles or legs or whatever an entomologist calls them in the air. I picked him out because I felt pity for such utter stupidity. I threw him into the darkness, away from the porch, but the wax probably solidified in the air and he will end up a fossil to be discovered by some future scientist sixty million light years from now. A beetle embalmed in wax!

It was nine o'clock, a warm night with a northerly still blowing straight down from the Queensland outback and straight across New South Wales, riding roughshod across the Great Divide and dumping itself in Melbourne's northern suburbs.

The brown beetles rode in on that northerly, probably from somewhere near Longreach, or Cunnamulla, or Cobar, or Bourke. Or maybe they just surfed down from Craigieburn, catching the last few miles. I don't know. It doesn't matter. They ended up on my porch disturbing my summer evening. One fell in my drink. One clawed my hair with his tentacled legs. I had to pull him out. One got inside the house when I went in to refresh my drink and started dementedly zapping at the walls in the hallway. It was easy to get him outside. They all eventually end up on their backs.

Outside in the warm evening again, I made a strategic withdrawal. I moved my chair off the porch and down to the lower front lawn near the Queen Elizabeth rose waving her pink blooms in the warm air. The new position still caught the porch light for reading, but the bugs were well overhead now.

I read for forty-five minutes, and on the way back into the house, I noticed in the fading light a black stain against the paleness of the side fence. The black stain was a spider with short legs and a fat one-inch body of finest black velvet. Her front legs were busy and she was binding up one of the brown beetles.

It was my dinnertime too.

3.1.19

The fourteenth summer.

They shut the Oak Park pool for a year and renovated it. The low curved cream-brick walls topped with white wrought iron detailing are gone, as are the cascading concrete steps and the multi-coloured 1960s seats, and the general retro atmosphere of the place. Now it's angular blocks and steel and seats made from recycled drinks bottles, and an entrance foyer with a revolving glass cylinder door more typical of an office block. But there are still large swathes of lawn, and some trees for shade, and the elephant is still there; but he is no longer pink and water no longer spurts from his trunk.

42 degrees tomorrow. Hemingway is already in the bag by the front door with the towels and sunscreen. Full circle. There was a time when I could read, when the boys were small and stayed in the toddler pool. Then they grew and needed supervision as they leapt into pools, and dived, and tore around the place. So the books stayed at home and I supervised.

But now they are old enough to look after themselves, so I can lay on the grass and read again.

5.12.18

If this doesn't melt your ice caps nothing will.

The Herald Sun, among other newspapers, reports on an intergalactic collision:
A collision between two massive black holes generated ripples in time and space and formed another black hole, 80 times bigger than the sun, according to a new discovery by Australian and international scientists.
When? Yesterday? It doesn't say. But caution is advised:
In total, four black hole collisions have been detected ... "These were from four different binary black hole systems smashing together and radiating strong gravitational waves out into space," ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering's Professor Susan Scott said.
And I was worried about snakes. But look out, there's more to come:
... a third observational run by LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) next year would add to the identification of 10 black-hole mergers and one neutron star collision.
Just to be on the safe side, I'm digging a bunker in the backyard this weekend.
Meanwhile, check out these black holes at the Town Hall on December 22. Beware! Black Holes sounds like Link Wray meets the Hondells with a bit of Johnny Duncan and His Bluegrass Boys thrown in. Twang!

22.11.18

Banking Royal Commission steals ten-year-old script.

Forget Rowena Orr v. Catherine Livingstone. I wrote the Banking Royal Commission script ten years ago. If the bankers had had any balls at all (and I'm talking about the blokes) the exchanges would have proceeded along the following lines (from the link above):
BANKER: Fine. It was a question. Thanks for clearing that up. Now I’ll answer it.

Firstly, as I said earlier, I'm no seer. Nor am I a morals crusader, a nanny, a pastor, a household budgetary advisor, a schoolteacher of mathematics, an economics lecturer, a logician or a homespun philosopher. I'm a banker, even if the title is misleading today. Banks used to bank money, now they just it shovel it out the front door to passersby, who sometimes give it back, with interest. Sometimes. Maybe a bit less so lately.

But I haven't the time, the inclination, the necessity nor even the legal capability of assessing a borrower's home life, spending habits, financial intentions or any one of a number of other indicators of fiscal health beyond the current very limited criteria, all of which are government regulator-mandated, might I add.

HE TAKES A BREATH

Qualms? You know what? If you want that kind of banker you're forty years too late. Once upon a time I could upbraid a borrower for daring to walk into my office without cowering in fear. Or for not wearing the suit he wore to church on Sunday. And if I felt mean that day, I could leave him languishing in an outer-room waiting chair for two hours with no magazine racks full of Property Investor or BRW Rich 500 or water fountain or Cafe Bar machine to keep him amused and he'd be all the more grateful when I finally decided to let him in.

In those days, for every loan I approved after long and serious contemplation, I'd knock back five after no contemplation at all. Plus, just try getting your wife to apply for a loan forty years ago and see how far she got.

ANOTHER PAUSE

OK, you're shocked. Nowadays everyone think everyone should be able to get everything they want, including debt, and as much of it as you want. Sure. But you can't have it both ways. The upside was, forty years ago you needed a thing called a substantial deposit, which demonstrated not just a propensity for saving but also provided a better borrowing-to-assets ratio. A cushion. Now it's 100% in the loan. Even more if you want to renovate or tour the world for six months or buy two cars or four boats or six franchises. As well as a deposit, you also needed another thing, called a job. These days it's different. I'm the one who has to dress up for a loan interview. The customer keeps me waiting. And the government tells me I have to loan funds to everyone without fear or favour or the Equal Opportunity Board gets a knock on the door.

Fine. I'll lend to anyone. But don't come after me when the whole house of cards finally collapses.

16.11.18

Double White: a psychedelic trip back in time to 1968.

One day a long time ago, when I was 12, two white objects arrived on the same day at the house where I lived.

The first white object.

The first white object was a piece of glossy white-coated cardboard folded into a perfect square. It was a record album. The title of the album - The Beatles - was embossed into the cover. My older sister brought it home. She liked things like that. She had often brought home similar objects, but the others had been brightly coloured.

We went into the white room and she folded out the cardboard square, took out the first disc and placed it on the record-player, which was a small grey box with a single speaker in its detachable lid.

The sound of a jet taking off came out of the mono speaker. Later there were onions, noise, raccoons, murder, sex in public, crying guitars, guns, pigs and playground equipment which an American madman later misunderstood to be something else.

I sat in the white room and listened to this jumble when a soft humming noise grew louder from outside the white room. It sounded like a flying saucer from a 1950s movie: a hum with an overdubbed soft whine.

The second white object.

The soft whining hum was the second white object, a 1968 Toyota Corona.

The Toyota Corona drove - yes, drove, or at least was driven - into the driveway of my house as I was listening to side 3, track four of The Beatles. It rolled to a stop outside the window of the white room, and its dazzling white exterior threw reflections onto the ceiling of the room where I sat listening. I turned off the record player and went outside into blinding sunshine.

The car had rolled to a stop halfway up the long drive. Two people got out. They were Uncle Joe and Auntie Irene, who lived in Ivanhoe. (Uncle Joe and Auntie Irene were not related to us, but my mother had adopted a vast collection of upper class friends as proxy relatives, so we called them 'auntie' and 'uncle' to validate the proxiness, if there is such a word.)

The brand new white Corona had a blue vinyl interior, a radio, carpet, two side mirrors, and an aggressive nose that slanted forward from bonnet to bumper. The motoring media called the car the 'shovel-nosed Corona'. It was a Farina design, so car snobs were finally able to buy a Japanese car without losing social cachet. 'It's Italian-styled!'

What the critics said.

Of The Beatles, The Observer's Tony Palmer wrote the album 'should surely see the last vestiges of cultural snobbery and bourgeois prejudice swept away in a deluge of joyful music making'.

Of the Corona, motoring writer George Glenroy wrote 'this car sweeps away the Euro-centric snobbery of the upwardly mobile motorist in a symphony of Farina-designed Japanese mastercraft'. (Did Tony Palmer moonlight as a motoring writer?)

Of The Beatles, NYT's Richard Goldstein considered the album 'a major success' and 'far more imaginative' than Sgt. Pepper or Magical Mystery Tour due to the band's improved songwriting and their relying less on the studio tricks of those earlier works.

Of the Corona, The News motor columnist Derek Excel wrote 'with less reliance on the Jap. gimmickry of earlier models the Corona looks to be a major success'. Was Goldstein Excel? Or indeed, was Excel Goldstein?

Derek Jewell described The Beatles in the Sunday Times as 'the best thing in pop since Sgt. Pepper ... Musically, there is beauty, horror, surprise, chaos, order. And that is the world; and that is what The Beatles are on about. Created by, creating for, their age.'

Of the Corona, The Driver and Car's L. P. R. Turnright described the Japanese mid-size car as 'the best thing to arrive on the motoring scene since the Mini ... there is balance, power, safety, driving pleasure, roominess, frugality and luxury. That is today's motoring world. Created by, and for, the age.' (Was Jewell the same person as Turnright?)

Rolling Stone called The Beatles 'the history and synthesis of Western music'.

The Practical Driver announced the Corona as 'confirmation that Japanese have synthesised the best aspects of European and American motoring'. (RS's Jann Wenner ... surely not?)

That these astonishingly similar reviews should have been published about the very same two white objects that arrived at 57 Deakin Street, West Essendon, Victoria, Australia, World, within an hour of each other in late 1968 is a mystery at which we can only marvel, a cosmic coincidence of utter incalculability. But then this:

Wenner (Rolling Stone) said that (the Beatles) were allowed to appropriate other styles and traditions into rock music because their ability and identity were 'so strong that they make it uniquely theirs, and uniquely the Beatles. They are so good that they not only expand the idiom, but they are also able to penetrate it and take it further.'

Charles Le Plastriere in Auto Moderne wrote that 'in taking the best of our own European designs and mixing these with British craftsmanship and the consumer appeal of the American marques, Toyota has perfected the mass market car. The Corona is so good, it will expand the market for a mid-size car'.

*

I look at you all see the love there that's sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps


13.11.18

The salad.

My father didn't cook but he made his special salad sometimes and it was huge and served in one of those fat rounded highly-polished blond-wood bowls that were big in the 1960s. The salad had tomato and celery and onion and a few other ingredients that I can't remember but it was sweet and acid and crunchy at the same time, and he said he got the recipe from somewhere, if you could call it a recipe, and I presumed it was from one of the cafes. He sold crockery to the hospitality industry but in those days it was mainly hotels; they had the bulk of the business, which is why on the backs of those 1960s hotel cups and saucers you often see the words 'vitrified hotel china' and sometimes the brand 'John Dynon & Sons'.

Years later I sat at the bar in Pellegrini's looking at the curling photographs either side of the yellowed mirror behind the waiters. It was 1976. A timber menu board with scalloped edges hung overhead at the end of the room and what was on it had never changed and it never would. In front of me behind the bar in the chilled display case were cakes; almond apple sponge and orange cake and butter cake and some kind of grainy chocolate cake, and further down the bar in another part of the chiller case there were salads, and there was the salad my father used to make. He got it from Pellegrini's when Leo Pellegrini was running the place. Leo had retired two years earlier and taking over was a showy young bloke sporting a cravat which was already out of date but worn by colourful individuals like Don Scott.

Another decade and a half went by. The city was still traversable. I crossed it daily dropping my oldest child at St Kevin's and then returning to the city for a coffee and cheese roll breakfast with the papers at Pellegrini's. It was a three-way order. I told the cravat-wearing waiter in English, he shouted it to the kitchen in Italian, the woman in the kitchen brought it out and repeated the order as a question, and I said yes and ate the cheese roll and had another coffee, and then I walked out the front to my car and drove away. Every day for three years.

Then another big jump in years, almost twenty. Two small boys sat either side of me in the same spot, maybe the same chair, and we looked at the curling photographs. See that bloke with the waiter, I said. Kevin Sheedy. Taken a few years ago. See that other bloke in the black and white photograph? Elvis Presley. It was around lunchtime. We had pasta and I had coffee and the boys had those frozen watermelon things, granita, but I finished them because they were not sweet enough. We had cake.

That was a few years ago, and that was the last time I saw the man with the cravat.

Thanks to Mark Knight for the image.

1.11.18

Pod cast.

The broad beans were good this year and gave plenty of fat beans of the same soft grey they used to paint Bentleys with.

We got the children to pick them and pod them because that is what children's fingers are supposed to do. Also they don't have devices anyway. They put the beans in a bowl on the table and threw the pods on the floor to be swept up later.

Then we cooked them.

Pasta shells with broad beans, cauliflower and walnuts.

Boil two cups of broad beans until they turn bright green and swell. Drain the beans and return them to the pan with some olive oil, a finely chopped clove of garlic, the juice of half a lemon and some ground pepper. Fry on low heat for a few minutes.

Cook your pasta shells and add some cauliflower florets towards the end.

Meanwhile, warm some halved walnuts in a pan ensuring they don't burn but just develop a nice deep tan. Then drain the pasta and cauliflower, toss the walnuts through, and top with the beans along with any retained lemon juice and garlic. Add crumbled blue cheese which goes sensationally with walnuts. For the kids, stick to parmesan if they won't face up to blue cheese.

17.10.18

Let's just revise that description of the flavour of Langhorne Creek shiraz.

How long does red wine last, opened?

I had opened the bottle, a very rich, purplish-black Langhorne Creek shiraz of 14%-alcohol strength, only a day or two earlier, and I had left it unfinished, stored in a dark cupboard. I had forgotten to replace the screwcap, which was sitting by its side. The bottle had just over a glass left. It should be fine, I thought to myself.

I decanted it slowly into the glass and there was still an inch left.

*

I cooked the steak, flipped and turned it so that the grill marks made perfect squares. Ninety seconds each side. Rare. The potatoes were already done, as were the asparagus and the fried onions and the pepper sauce. I served it up and sat at the big round table in the kitchen of the beach house where I can eat and read at the same time. I had been going through some old online newspapers from the 1940s researching a job I'm working on. (It's taking longer than it should, because I keep finding interesting items in the old newspapers unrelated to the task at hand.)

*

I drank. I ate. I read. The wine was still good. No reason why it shouldn't be. Langhorne Creek reds have a combined aroma of melting chocolate and berries when you squash them between your fingers and I also detected a very faint astringency that I hadn't noticed the previous evening. I attributed this to its 24 hours exposure to the air with the cap not being on.

I finished the steak and decided to finish the red wine. I tipped the bottle of black inkiness and as I did, a black something went into the glass. Sediment. The mark of a really good red wine. Those cheap reds come out of steel barrels, but this was matured in French casks. I kept pouring. This time a larger piece of black.

Christ almighty!

It wasn't sediment.

It was a cockroach.

The smaller, first, piece was its head. Or one of its legs. Or an antenna.

I had drunk a glass of cockroach wine.

Or at least, cockroach-infused wine.

What do you do? I'm not the hysterical type, nor do I disgorge. I just stood there wondering whether I should anyway.

Then the secondary thought waves came crowding in.

One: how stupid I had been not to make sure the cap had been screwed back on the bottle.

Two: cockroaches can climb glass bottles.

And then three: was the cockroach dead or just dead drunk?

That one really did my head in.

*

But what really disturbed me was that I should never have allowed this whole episode to have occurred, due to a precedent in this house some years ago.


10.10.18

Roo-hubris.

Monday. North Melbourne fails to poach star players:
"After missing out on (Josh) Kelly's prized signature a year ago, North (Melbourne) will ... try to tempt the slick left-foot midfielder to Arden St once again with one of the game's richest long-term deals. The Kangaroos are desperate to land a big-name midfield recruit after missing out of Richmond's Dustin Martin, Collingwood's Adam Treloar and Jordan De Goey, and Sydney's Isaac Heeney." (Jay Clark, Herald Sun)
Tuesday: North declares North is a winner because no other team got them:
"Losing out on Andrew Gaff was not a 'kick in the guts' for North Melbourne, according to chairman Ben Buckley. ... 'I don't buy they rejected North, they just chose to stay in an environment which was very dear to them ... if they had chosen to go, they would've chosen to come to us and that's a very positive thing.' " (Mark Robinson, Herald Sun)
Keep trying to buy a flag, Roos - like 1975. That's the Shinboner spirit.

*

My late grandfather, Tom O'Brien, was North's longest-serving continual member, stumping up membership fees up every year from the 1920s until the day he died in 2003. Through the middle decades of the twentieth century he witnessed some of the toughest home-grown players never to win a flag. Many of them worked at the Newmarket saleyards and abattoir, hence the Shinboner name. When North finally grabbed a flag in 1975 he was happy but ambivalent. North had bought their way to the top after luring Barry Davis, Doug Wade, John Rantall, Brent Croswell and Malcolm Blight from other clubs with offers they couldn't refuse.

"At last we've got a premiership flag flying over Arden Street," he said. "A shame it wasn't won by North Melbourne."

"Yes," I said. "Can we have our captain back now?"

I was an Essendon fan as a kid. Seeing Barry Davis in pale blue and white just looked wrong.