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


Solar-powered tomatoes.

The tomatoes are in, assisted by that three-day heat wave we just had. Now it's raining.


Why don't we just shut down the whole network and live in caves?

The electricity generators, newly converted to the green religion, are planning to pay you to turn off your air-conditioning.

The politicians love it:
Mr Frydenberg said the pilot program could save enough power to support more than 100,000 homes — or as much as is generated by a small power station.
How about I turn out the lights as well and you can shut another one and give me money?
NSW Energy Minister Don Harwin compared the plan to the way people learned to reduce their water use during the last major drought.
Bad comparison, Mr Energy Minister. Everyone has water, but not everyone has air-conditioning. Water falls from the sky, humans generate electricity. At least, they are supposed to so that people's life support equipment doesn't go off, among other things. (See Arthur Hailey's Overload, 1979.)

Aside from that, I never installed aircon, so can I get the rebate for all the power I never used?
Ms Zibelman ... said it would make the power system more reliable by having the ability to say "it's going to be hot, the system is stressed — can we use energy a little better?" in a way that customers "don't even notice".
There you go - you won't even notice. It won't hurt a bit.


Getting a bit stale.

Front of Himalayan Pink Salt pack:
This salt is 250 million years old.

Back of Himalayan Pink Salt pack:
Best before April 2019.


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.


Badly made dinner for a winter's night.

Twenty years ago - or maybe it was thirty - no-one had ever heard of gnocchi until some Italian immigrants started importing shrink-wrapped packs of them and selling them in delis in the inner suburbs.

I bought some of the earliest ones and quite liked them with napoli or bolognese sauce, but these days I make my own, because home-made ones make the manufactured ones taste like Deb instant mashed potato, which essentially is what they are.

Now gnocchi are everywhere, especially in overpriced hipster cafes where I even came across one dish some years ago that was entitled 'gnoccho' because it was literally one on the plate. That was probably the last time I visited a hipster cafe. The sole gnoccho had an injection of arugula walnut pesto on it, and it costed $21, but without the dollar sign, to make it sound cheaper.

But gnocchi are not the only Italian dumplings. There are also 'malfatti', which means 'badly made', because these dumplings tend to take random shapes, unlike their gnocchi cousins which can be fashioned into perfect pillows (although mine are never uniform).

These could take off*. If so, look out for 'malfatto' on hipster cafe menus, and avoid.


Cook a bunch of well-rinsed and drained spinach in a little oil and a chopped clove of garlic.

When the spinach is well wilted, place it in a large bowl and mix it with:

- a cup of ricotta

- a quarter cup of grated parmesan

- a cup of bread crumbs

- a quarter cup of spring onions

- a handful of chopped basil or dried equivalent

- two eggs, and

- a quarter teaspoon of nutmeg.

These ratios are approximate, aiming for a dough that is workable but not too moist.

When well mixed, roll with floured hands into logs.

Cut the logs into one-inch sections and set on a floured surface or baking sheet.

When ready to cook, drop the logs carefully into salted boiling water.

Reduce heat and simmer four to five minutes.

Lift out carefully with slotted spoon, drain and place on serving dishes. Serve with your choice of sauce - good with a simple tomato-based or bolognese sauce. Or lightly fry them in some sage butter and top with parmesan.


*Although they didn't take off when I last wrote about them 11 years ago.


First, catch your escaped salmon.

Farmed salmon is either the best thing you can eat, or environmentally unsound depending on who you ask. Something about encroaching on unfarmed fishes' territory, or their residue spoils the water for the natives, or the farmed fish can escape. In the past a riposte such as the W. C. Fields quote about fish could blow these nonsensical theories out of the water but today any rational reply is met with a sanctimonious gaze through eyes that are slightly unsteady.

Salmon with beurre blanc.

The sauce
Reduce 3/4 white wine to 1/4 white vinegar in a pan with a sprig of tarragon, a bay leaf, ten black peppercorns and a chopped spring shallot. Cool and strain. Place two tablespoons of this reduction into a pan with a tablespoon of cream. Reduce this by half and then gradually whisk pieces of cold, diced butter until thickened slightly. Add the juice of half a lemon, salt and pepper.

The fish
Cook salmon fillets gently in a pan with a little butter and lemon juice.

The vegetable
Cut four peeled waxy potatoes into half-centimetre slices, boil gently until just soft.

Layer potatoes on serving plates, salmon on top, beurre blanc over.

There is great pleasure in being on the sea, he thought, in the unknown and the wild suddenness of a great fish; and there is satisfaction in conquering this thing which rules the sea it lives in.
- Hemingway


Champions 1, Stablemates 1

This is hard to watch, but incredible. Hard because they run the wrong way in Sydney (explanations are vague but New South Wales also tried to sabotage the southern colony by building their railways on a different gauge and playing a different ball game) but incredible because of the outcome.

Either a barrier attendant was holding her late, or the starter let them go before she was settled, or she reared and nearly dropped Hugh Bowman; either way Winx came out four or five lengths behind the field. Her eventual overtaking of seven horses occurs in the last six hundred on the outside, despite being almost outfoxed at the post by stablemate Foxplay. But not quite! In a mirror event, Arrogate failed went down to his stablemate.

Jockey Hugh Bowman repeated how I described Winx on Saturday, but it's hardly a unique claim:

"She's a freak!"


Equine quest for world domination.

Winx v. Arrogate:
Winx hasn’t been beaten for more than two years and, after this weekend, she could even be rated the best galloper in the world if US champ Arrogate has his colours lowered again at Del Mar in California on Sunday morning.
She's a freak:
A recent university study identified Winx’s stride and, to be more precise, the frequency of her stride as a clue to her extraordinary ability. Winx’s stride length was measured at about 6.8m, which is longer than the average. The mighty mare takes about 170 strides per minute — compared to an average racehorse’s 140 per minute — which underlines her ability to sustain top speed for longer than her rivals.
A longer stride at a faster frequency? That's freakish. Could we train humans to do that? Probably not - four legs v. two means there is some kind of a gearing phenomenon at play.


I still see her dark eyes glowing ...

Three Glenn Campbell favourites, all of whom are Jimmy Webb compositions:

1. 'Galveston'

2. 'Wichita Lineman'

and the lesser known:

3. 'Where's the Playground, Susie'

and maybe this as well:

But she'll just hear that phone keep on ringing
Off the wall, that's all

Read Jimmy Webb's tribute to Glenn Campbell.


Six interesting facts about Armenia.

1. Armenia has very nice views.

2. Archaeological surveyors found the world's earliest known leather shoe there in 2010.

3. An Armenian edged out Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan in an 'entertainer of the century poll' in 1998*.

4. Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its state religion thanks to apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew who preached there circa AD40, possibly due to the nice views.

5. Armenia's coat of arms bears an image of Mt Ararat, traditionally the place where Noah's Ark landed.

6. 'Armenian potatoes'. (See below.)


Armenian potatoes is one of the best side dishes you've never heard of. Or maybe you have. Maybe you cook it every week.

But I'd never heard of it until I came across the recipe in an ancient cookbook. It takes old potatoes, dices them, turbocharges them with garlic and pairs the slow, sweet burn of paprika with the acid tang of tomato. Then it all fires up in the oven into a crunch-laden flavour explosion that will make you forget what the main event was.

Armenian potatoes.

One kilogram of old potatoes. They have to be old for some reason to do with chemistry or the water content. Or maybe all potatoes are old in Armenia because they have to travel a long way across the Caucasus Mountains from Russia. I don't know.
Tablespoon of oil
3 tablespoons of tomato paste
One cup water
One teaspoon salt
One teaspoon paprika
Six cloves garlic
One cup parsley, chopped

Peel the old potatoes and cut them into small dice. Chop or mince the garlic. Tumble the chopped potatoes and garlic through the oil and then the tomato paste to coat; then toss through the salt, paprika, parsley and pepper. Place in a casserole and add the water.

Bake in a moderate oven for about three quarters of an hour, then serve alongside rare steaks and pretend you are a dinner guest at the Gugark Hotel in Vanadzor.

*Charles Aznavour.


Google celebrates purple haze.

Doodle Google story here. Or visit doodle artist here.

The fine art of stating the obvious.

It's always a thrill to find out something you didn't know. Today, Herald Sun economics reporter Paul Gilder revealed that:
A Deloitte Access Economics report this week found Victoria's generation capacity had been reduced in the wake of the March closure of the Hazelwood power station.
Ignorance-busting revelations to come include
(a) most birds fly
(b) sun rises in the east
(c) KFC is delicious
(d) the side with more points wins.

It must be fun working at Deloitte. Get all your self-evident reports out of the way in the morning, and you've got all afternoon to sit around leveraging diversity.