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

19.6.18

"Spice flavour exploding on a wave of fragrant steam ..."

How to stuff a capsicum.

Slice a couple of onions and fry them in ghee or oil in a heavy pan (it must have a tight-fitting lid) until translucent.

Grind a quarter teaspoon each of cardamom, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper. Or just shake them out of your spice containers. It's all the same, really. Some people can taste the difference, but would you really want them to go on about it at your dinner party after a hard day?

When onion is fragrant, transparent and begging you to sample it, add spices and stir for a minute or two.

Now tip in a cup each of basmati rice and rinsed red lentils, and carefully add three and a half cups of boiling water.

Finally, add two teaspoons of salt. Stir. Place the lid on the pan. Turn down heat very low.

Lift the pan twenty minutes later. Done. The spice flavour will explode on a wave of fragrant steam, and the rice will have ballooned.

In the intervening twenty minutes, cut the tops off three red capsicums, and remove seeds and pith.

When rice and lentil mixture is done, stuff the capsicums with it. (The above quantities will yield more than enough mixture.)

Replace the capsicum tops and place them in a baking dish, which should be of a size that roughly holds their tops in place.

Add a good dash of chilli powder to a jar of tomato puree and warm it through, adding a dash of water. Now pour this into the baking dish so that it almost covers the capsicums. Think of hippos in a pond. You can just see their backs.

Bake until capsicums soften, about an hour. Adjust fluid if your oven is particularly hot.

Serve with yogurt; a salad of tomato, mint, basil, and spring onion; some sweet lime pickle; and some warm fenugreek naan.

15.6.18

Tricked.

I was out walking with my father one day when I was about five years old, and I saw a shop that had a sign outside which said coin laundry. I asked my father if they washed money in there, and he said yes.

We lived near two racecourses, Moonee Valley and Flemington. There were always large trucks ferrying horses in and out. Some the trucks bore the words Caution Horses. I asked my father what caution horses were. He told me they were a special breed of horse that was never flustered and helped calm the more high-spirited racehorses before races.

Then there were churches. They all had their own sign. Anglican Church, Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church, Catholic Church, Baptist Church. One day I saw a sign near a church on a particularly busy road. It said Silence Church.

I asked my father. He told me the people who went to the church were never allowed to speak. Ever. I had a horror of that building, a drab grey timber construction in Epsom Road Ascot Vale housing sad mute people while outside, normal people carried on their lives laughing and talking.

13.6.18

Family grown up.

On 12 June 1968, the movie Rosemary's Baby premiered in the USA.

On the same day, Mary Rose's baby premiered in Australia. He was the youngest of seven. (I was fourth of the septet, of which six remain*.) In those days mothers and babies stayed in the hospital for almost a week, after which some had the luxury of a further week at Mountfield, a rambling Victorian monastery in Canterbury owned by the Grey Sisters, who provided assistance for new mothers in quiet, peaceful surrounds and plied them with food while their babies were bathed and dressed and generally fussed over. New mothers? My mother probably didn't tell them she already had six children. (Although the nuns did look twice at us when Dad turned up with the other six of us to visit.)

The new baby turned 50 yesterday. It seems like no time.

*The one who passed.

5.6.18

Conferenceville.

We were meant to be having a conference this coming long weekend, an organisational 'catch-up' at an 'eco-resort' near the mountains.

I've been there before. They bus you up to the mountains; and when you arrive, you dump your bags in the economy-style rooms which have no views out of the window because of the trees (the place is 'eco' because it is in the middle of a forest), and then they herd you into a huge conference room and lock and bolt the door. You can't escape until 6.30 at night, when they herd you out of the conference room and into the dining hall where they serve sustainable dinners made from fair-trade vegan ingredients.

'Catch-up'? What a stupid name. We 'catch up' every weekday. And sometimes on weekends. It's all we ever fucking do. I see the stupid art director I work with more than my wife or my kids. Which is not right. Because my art director is not as smart as my kids, and not as pretty as my wife.

And what the hell is it about holding conferences at an 'eco-resort', then spending two whole days sitting in a brown-carpeted hall looking at a bunch of power point presentations with pointless arrows and graphs showing how much money the organisation didn't make this year?

Why not just send around a memo saying, 'We're tanking. You're fired.' Or 'We made a profit. Thanks. There will be a Christmas party.' But spare us the two-hour power point presentations charting the profit/loss/job cost report/EBIT statements etc etc, ad nauseam.

Anyway, today an email arrived. It was from the MD:
Due to unforeseen circumstances, our conference at Seven Sanctimonies Eco Resort will have to be deferred.
You could just about hear the mental high-fives going on around the office.

That word 'deferred' is interesting. Generally, things that get deferred never get rescheduled, do they? There is a God! The God of Protecting Innocent People from Conference Hell.

The email went on:
Seven Sanctimonies Eco Resort is unavailable due to a fire earlier this week, when a wok caught fire in the kitchen, burning down the resort and destroying much of the adjoining forest. An alternative venue will be sought and booked for Grand Final weekend, as that weekend has good availability at short notice.
I'm handing in my resignation tomorrow.

4.6.18

Fast Food #4: chicken curry in a hurry.

The only slow bit is the overnight marination but you can leave it out at a pinch.

*

Slice four chicken breasts and place in a large bowl along with three tablespoons of peanut oil, a tablespoon each of cumin powder and chili powder, six finely chopped garlic cloves, a tablespoon of soy and a dash of white pepper. Toss to thoroughly coat chicken pieces.

Marinate overnight.

Wok-fry chicken in a tablespoon of oil.

Meanwhile, boil rice and lightly boil a head of broccoli, chopped into florets, and when semi-soft, finish off in a sesame-seed oiled pan with a dash each of fish sauce and soy, and a clove of chopped garlic.

Serve on rice with broccoli on the side.

29.5.18

Cold weather food.

It was a mild autumn. Everyone frowns, nods sagely and calls it global warming or climate change, but it used to be known as Indian summer, which was a lot more romantic, but you don't get to talk about starving polar bears and it is also probably racist. Conversation is a minefield these days. No wonder people give up.

Either way, it's cold now. Heavy, rich, dense food is back.

Let's hit the curry jar.

I picked up three capsicums from that fruit shop in Sydney Road that keeps changing its name, the one next to Chemist Warehouse. I took them home and wondered what to do with them. It was a cold day so I thought I'd bake them with something.

*

This was easy.

In a large pot, I fried a chopped onion in oil, then browned 500 grams of beef mince in the same pot. Then I threw in a tablespoon of hot curry powder and stirred it through, added a cup of water, a teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper. I let it simmer an hour or two and then removed it from the stove to cool down.

I chopped the tops off the three capsicums, stuffed them with the curried mince, put the tops back on, and placed them neatly in a casserole so that their lids would stay on.

Then I added a cup of rice around the capsicums and poured over two cups of boiling water.

Into the oven, and an hour later, the house was filled with enticing curry aromas and dinner was served.






24.5.18

Half forward flank.



Ha! And you thought only the boys played football. Wrong! Here is Alexandra displaying perfect ball drop (although the dropping arm has swung around a bit too far) and good follow-through.

Look out, boys.

18.5.18

Doubting Thomas. Or at least his suits.

The following opening sentence fell out of a writer's keyboard like an overweight sprinter out of the blocks, staggered through its middle em-dashed clause, and then crashed into a non-sequitured ditch, where it lay bleeding until its writer put it out of its misery, by writing the next sentence.
Tom Wolfe, who died Monday, was — as even those of us who did not share his politics and often deplored his taste and even doubted the fashion wisdom of all the white suits have to admit — one of the central makers of modern American prose.
Let's translate, taking out a couple of 'evens':

White suits, unsavoury politics and bad taste aside, he was pretty good at writing. As if the former even matter.

15.5.18

Four teenage jobs.

1. Age 11: Grade Six incinerator monitor at primary school, 1968 - burning all the rainbow lunch wrap and paper bags from school lunches. Probably my most responsible job ever.

2. Age 14: delivering weekly newspaper to streets south of Essendon airport at 4 a.m. on Thursdays.

3. Age 16: gardener for old Mrs Fleming. She gave me stale cake for morning tea, the poor old dear. I remember being sad for her for some reason. Probably that she had no-one else to share the cake with. Years later, I found out why - she was a ghost.

4. Age 17: salesman at B. V. Menswear in Puckle Street, Moonee Ponds. I sold suits, bowls outfits and hats to the older men, and pastel bodyshirts, flared trousers and check lumberjackets to the younger customers.

What were your teenage jobs? Meet any ghosts?

14.5.18

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign/Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind ...

It was the kind of agency that was pompous enough and sanctimonious enough to have inspirational quotes – written by other people, of course – all over its walls. I worked there for a while.

You walked in on Monday morning and SMACK, a huge sign behind the reception desk hit you in the eye.

It read: The only way of finding the limits of the possible is by going beyond them into the impossible. The MD thought it would intrigue clients so much, they wouldn't notice how long they'd been sitting in reception. I didn't know what it meant either. It was written by Arthur C. Clarke. Science fiction headlining an advertising agency? Perfect.

Then you took the long march to the creative department. Along the corridor, they had quotes angled out from the wall on swivel frames so you couldn't miss them. Some underling swivelled them the other way in the afternoon so you would see them on the way out. One of them read: The future depends on what we do in the present. That pearl of truism impressed no-one except the cleaner, who wisecracked that it meant he should go home and sleep now, otherwise he'd be too tired to clean up our shit tomorrow. Cleaners are the straight-shooters of the business world. Everyone else talks bullshit.

There was a really deep quote in the men's room: You cannot plough a field by turning it over in your mind. That would have been good advice, except the creative director had the habit of calling two-hour brain-storming meetings late on Friday afternoons. Lots of mind-turning, no ploughing. Hypocrite.

The quotation in the kitchen, hand-picked by the CEO, read: The thing always happens that you really believe in; and the belief in a thing makes it happen. I wanted to change it to Believe that and you'll believe anything, because it meant exactly the same thing in a neatly subverted way, and was a lot more succinct. Architects are so long-winded.

The boardroom quote was meant to be the best of all: Seek the lofty by reading, hearing and seeing great work at some moment every day. I wondered how many clients were feeling lofty when they were being shown their latest campaign.

One day, after staring at the wall in Steve the creative director's office, I finally heeded the quote resplendent behind his carved desk: Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. I resigned.

A few years later, I returned to the agency as creative director after Steve had retired to some pathless trail in South America.

The first thing I did was to get rid of the insincere, duplicitous quotes and replace them with my own selections. No big deal really: usually new CDs sack the entire creative department and bring in their own people. I just changed the signs.

I started in reception, and put up a huge sign behind Ariel, the power-dressing receptionist with the cute smile and the sexy phone voice. The sign read: Imagination is more important than knowledge. Sometimes clients asked me if I really believed that quote and I told them airily, with a dismissive wave of my hand, 'Oh, Albert Einstein wrote that. He wasn't the brightest star in the universe, was he, so you can take it or leave it.' That shut them up. They never knew when I was being sarcastic and when I wasn't; which is no wonder, because I don't either.

Then I proceeded along to the media department. Here, a bunch of mental giants decide whether to put our work in Women's Weekly, Family Circle or Who's Who on Reality TV, based on how many copies of each were picked up by brain-dead housewives at the checkouts in outer suburban supermarkets last month. Along the wall went John Wanamaker's famous Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, I just don't know which half. This was to remind the box-checking automatons what an inexact science media buying is. A darts player could do it. And for that they get cases of Scotch at Christmas? Everyone thinks Harold Mitchell is an 'adman'. He's never made an ad in his life. He buys media, on behalf of agencies, for their clients. He grew fat on commissions.

Now the kitchen: that was easy. So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright. I like obscure references and allusions. (No-one got it for a whole year. Then a new graphic designer, who had previously studied architecture, saw a photo of the kitchen with its earlier quote and nodded. At last. An intelligent graphic designer. That was a first.)

Finally, the boardroom. Raymond Chandler: Chess is as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you can find outside an advertising agency. It worked a treat: clients couldn't work out whether we were being self-deprecatory or boastful. They stared at it, scratched their heads, shifted their gaze to the glass chess board on the sideboard with a game set in the Blumenfeld gambit, and thought about it.

While they did that we slipped the previous month's inflated job costings past them on power point, before they noticed.

*

Hubris in business (especially in bureaucratic organisations) is always worth pricking.
Now, someone has written the book. They beat me to it.

James Adonis, which surely has to be a pen-name, reveals the idiocies, the lies and the chicanery that sits at the heart of the 'motivational' quote in his book The Motivation Hoax. Steve Waterson reviews the book in The Deal – Reinventing Business (Issue 102, April 2018). Waterson writes:
... business mantras ... (are) everywhere, adopted by unoriginal thinkers and shouting from desk calendars and office walls: "A quitter never wins, winner never quits." ... "If you can dream it, you can do it." ... Business writer James Adonis has produced a short, witty but thoroughly researched book ... unstringing these supposed pearls of wisdom. ... Adonis first selects a few of the most irritating – sorry, classic – motivational quotes, examines their veracity by analysing relevant academic studies business articles and published research, then proposes an amended quote that more nearly approximates the real world.
No-one ever need feel bullied by a motivational quote again. Waterson continues:
Along the way, (Adonis) pricks many of the inflated ideas many of us suspected were nonsense ... If you feel brainstorming sessions were a waste of time, or that ad hoc teams are a waste of humanity, you're ... right.
Motivational quotes set in stone like ersatz commandments are one thing. Then there are the "platitudes (that) tumble from the lips of our 'leaders'." (Leaders get quote marks because everyone is a leader, so no-one is.)

Further, the concept of 'employee engagement' means every worker is arm-wrestled into obligatory cheerfulness, every joy-filled second of every working day, in the open-planned circus ring of the modern-day 'safe workplace'.

No wonder, in this neo-Chairman Mao-inspired compulsorian view of modern life where everything you do and think is prescribed, things go wrong. The courts are of full of the offended claiming every grievance known to man and a few yet to be invented.

Waterson sums up:
Adonis's book will ... liberate you from the glib dictums of our supposed superiors ... The Motivation Hoax helps clear the air of cant* ... .
Indeed. And in finishing this very long post, always remember one thing: Magic Happens.

*

The Motivation Hoax: A Smart Person's Guide to inspirational nonsense, by James Adonis, Black Inc, $24.99

*Even my stupid computer does not know this word, so let's give it a lesson from The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary:

Cant noun3 4 The special phraseology of a class, sect, profession, etc.; jargon, slang. 5 A set form of words repeated mechanically; esp. a stock phrase or word temporarily in fashion. 6 Ephemeral catchwords; affected or insincere phraseology; esp. language (or occas. action) implying piety which does not exist; hypocrisy.

7.5.18

Fast food #3: baked Irish potato and cheese.

A variation on cheese mac and even more delicious.

Peel and cook four large potatoes.

Mash them with two tablespoons of butter.

Now fold through a little milk, two tablespoons of grated cheddar cheese, and a teaspoon of salt.

Place the mashed potatoes in a baking dish with a further two tablespoons of cheese on the top.

Bake in a hot oven about 10 minutes or until the cheese starts to darken on top.

Serve scattered with chopped parsley or spring onions for some crunch to contrast the unctuous texture of the 'pot-mac'.

When you are hungry, probably the most satisfying dish on earth.

Variation.

Crack four eggs (without breaking the yolks) over the top of the cheese and potato before placing the casserole into the oven.

2.5.18

What, not again?

First I lost the lot in Trio back in the GFC. (Good to see the VOFF is still pursuing ASIC and Bill Shorten on that issue.)

The authorities managed to find some small bits of cash belonging to victims of Trio/Astarra on an island in the Atlantic or Pacific, or some swamp somewhere. Guess where they put it?

AMP.

Thanks for nothing.

18.4.18

Fast Food #2: the Four Minute Meal.

I used to have competitions with friends and family to get a meal on the table the fastest. There had to be cooking involved. Two minute noodles and similar did not qualify.

For one of these cooking races I served up pasta carbonara in just under four minutes.

Here's how I broke the Four Minute Meal.

Fill the kettle and put it on. Elapsed time, ten seconds.

While the kettle came to the boil - one and a half minutes - I took two rashers of bacon, two eggs, a pack of parmesan and some parsley from the fridge and a pack of gnocchi, a bottle of olive oil and a garlic clove from the cupboard. Elapsed time, forty-five seconds.

I opened the gnocchi. Elapsed time, forty-nine seconds.

I sliced the bacon into small pieces and threw them into a pan with a splash of olive oil, and lit the stove. One minute twenty.

I chopped the parsley. One minute thirty. The light in the kettle went off and the button clicked up. I poured the boiling water into another pot on the stove over a high heat and tipped gnocchi into the pot - carefully. If you burn yourself you're disqualified.

I grabbed a plate and some cutlery out of the cupboard and set them on the table. One minute forty-five.

The bacon was done by the time the gnocchi floated to the top of the water. Two minutes thirty.

I drained the gnocchi and tossed it into the bacon pan and stirred it around. Two minutes fifty. I cracked the eggs in and stirred around again, adding the parmesan. Three minutes twenty.

Gnocchi carbonara into the bowl, parsley on top, more parmesan. Three minutes forty-five. World record.