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Showing posts from December, 2004

Enough about food for one year.

Boxing Day, we did it all again, at my youngest brother's place. It was great, but two days of food is enough. Let's talk animals. The Herald Sun print edition shows Cooper sitting on the vet's shoulder like a Professor of Surgery showing an intern what to do. A Professor of Surgery with a grey suit and a sunburnt head.

Christmas lunch. And a walk.

Because of the mild weather, I had set up the tables in the garden late yesterday, right where they would receive the best shade between noon and four. It was a warm morning. Half a dozen clouds wandered around the sky like lost sheep, wondering which way to go. They didn't take long to decide. Linen on all the tables, drinks servery arranged on the long tiled outdoor sideboard and cutlery station beneath the apricot tree. Condiments as well. One of the tables was covered in bread remnants. This table was beneath the plum tree by the garage - the tree the possums use as a staircase to the ground - and the possums had obviously used it as a dining table during last night's marsupial party, having stolen the bread I'd left out for the birds - from way over beyond the garden gate. I'm sure they appreciated the provision of a landing. And party food. I cleaned the table and picked some roses. Everything was done and now there was time to spare. I moved a vas

No silent nights around here.

They live in the trees next to the garage - three 30-foot conifers, standing there like giant Christmas trees, way too big to decorate. There must be enough living space in there to cater for an entire colony of possums. I think the colony is growing. They must have come down some time after midnight, when no creature is meant to be stirring on Christmas Eve. I woke to hear their growling, if growling is what you would call it. It sounds like a giant being strangled and not being happy about it. A kind of deep, guttural, insane noise. At 2am it would frighten the life out of you if you didn't know it was possums. Cute, harmless possums. The cute, harmless possums kept up their Christmas Eve racket for what seemed like hours. It wasn't just their manic song-fest; they kept going back home to the trees and then returning. To fetch what? Beer? Every time they did so, the crashing across the double garage steel roof sounded like a basketball team was up there practising their


It reached 37 degrees yesterday. ( Handy conversion tables here . Thank you Janis.) We sat outside in the cool of the evening, except there was no cool. It was one of those semi-tropical evenings during which every bug known to man was flying about heavily in the hot blanket of still air. Tiny ones with oversized wings. Red ones that fly like a jet into your hair, buzz loudly as they get caught in it and then fall to the ground on their backs to buzz some more. Mosquitoes of course. Houseflies, blowflies. It was a good night for insects. Goldie snapped up quite a few. She's quick for an old dog. It was almost too hot to eat. Almost. Salmon patties (canned salmon, potato, spring onions) on a simple salad of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, carrot straws and steamed broccoli from the garden (the last of it). Sweet chili sauce. It remained hot throughout the night. Finally, towards maybe five in the morning, a cool breeze made its way in the window and wandered around, stirring

We have a forecast.

It's close enough now to Christmas Day for it to be reasonably accurate. If that makes sense. 22 degrees. Not too hot, not too cool. Probably perfect. Just like it was last year when we hosted T.'s family for Christmas. We had tables on the lawn, under the shade of the trees; and spread some rugs for the children. We had a buffet spread including roast beef, roasted potatoes, turkey, hams and salads. T.'s father sat in the dappled shade and enjoyed his last Christmas surrounded by his family. After lunch a niece gave a clarinet recital and we broke out the shortbread and Scotch. I seem to remember a lemon curd trifle and a Christmas cake with holly, but after the Scotch, who knows. It was a good day. This year we are hosting my family. We'll do much the same kind of thing. I wonder if someone will bring a clarinet.

... nobody on the beach.

I lay on the beach and read a book for half an hour, paddled about in the water for maybe another half an hour, left the beach and two hours had passed. It happens every time, like some weird time warp. I put the book down on the sand and walked out maybe two hundred metres. The water depth declines very gradually and you can walk out for about half a mile before the water gets anywhere near going over your head. When you venture out this far and look back at the shore it feels like you are in the middle of Port Philip Bay. It was warm. The sun was shining and there was no wind. A perfect summer day. All too rare this too-stormy early summer. I looked back to shore. I could see about a kilometre up the beach towards Sorrento and the same the other way towards Rye. An odd thing. The beach was empty, totally deserted. The week before Christmas, the children are on holidays, and a perfect beach day on one of the Peninsula's favourite beach playgrounds. Where was every

And just when I'd gone and bought some seedlings ...

Just checked the vegetable patch. The two-week tropical weather burst has finished and literally scores if not hundreds of tomato and basil plants have sprung up, obviously having self-seeded from last year. They should do well because they are among the best companion plants. They love each other. We also had a nasturtium which died about three years ago in the drought - that has returned as well. The plant nursery lady told me the seeds can survive several seasons. Recipes could get very repetitive later in summer. Some years ago we had an excellent tomato and basil season and seemed to be eating bruschetta - crusty bread smeared in olive oil and garlic and lightly toasted, then piled high with finely chopped tomato and basil with a little onion and a drop of balsamic vinegar - every night. And pasta caprese - with tomato and mozzarella slices, basil garnish - at least once a week. Might have to bottle some tomatoes this year. And make lots of pesto.

A very long and rainy baking day.

It has rained every day this summer. OK, summer's only twelve days old. But that's a lot of rain. Unusually, the rain has been accompanied by high temperatures - into the thirties celsius, giving Melbourne a tropical climate. I don't remember this happening before. There are dozens of tomatoes self-seeding in the vegetable patch, along with what looks like zucchinis, pumpkins or cucumbers. Maybe all three. T. loves baking and took advantage of the wet weather. Here's what she baked yesterday, as the rain came down in buckets: Clootie Dumpling. A kind of cross between plum pudding and fruit cake. The name simply means pudding in cloth. I love the way they still have these middle English words in daily use. 250 grams each of sugar, bread crumbs, suet, raisins, sultanas and currants. 375 grams of self-raising flour. Three eggs. A dessertspoon of mixed spice, a tablespoon of treacle, a quarter teaspoon of bicarb soda. Brandy. The flour is sifted with the soda a

Baby Aria's Big Appetite.

Aria has reached that age in infancy when babies start eating solid food - with their own tiny hands - with such gusto that the food, whatever it might be, spreads itself some several square metres around the baby diner. Should the baby be sitting on you (in this case me ) you end up wearing most of it. Natalie had brought Shanra and Aria over for an early Friday night dinner. Their dad, my son, was working late. I had picked Canisha up from school so she was already here. T. had made up a hearty batch of pikelets - dainty little pancakes half an inch thick and four inches in diameter and when she came in, Canisha had demolished seven or eight with jam. At eight, Canisha is mostly past the 'I don't like that' stage. Shanra, four, is at the height of the 'I don't like that' routine. Aria, 10 months, cannot yet talk, has one tooth and not much hair, and likes everything. She sat on my knee and her mum set a plate before her with some plain fettuc

New recipe, new name.

Sometimes I just open the fridge and see what jumps out. As we all do. Other times I'll vary a recipe and give it a new name. An old favourite, spaghetti carbonara, hadn't been on the table for a while, so that's what I wanted to cook. I had eggs but I didn't have bacon. But if you can use prosciutto in place of bacon, why can't you use some other meat? No reason at all why not. I had been to Elli's deli in Sydney Road, the Greek deli that sells smallgoods from everywhere. They had a notice in the window 'Now stocking UK smallgoods'. I went in and they had a tray of UK smallgoods from Rob , the specialist UK butcher and smallgoods maker, including three kinds of black pudding, the English version, the Scottish version and the Irish version. No wonder those three tiny countries in Britain were always fighting with each other. They can't even agree on a sausage. The English black pudding varied from the Irish only in that the English v

Two Fat Peppers.

One red, one green. Otherwise known as bell peppers. Or capsicums. Cut 'em into salads. Bake them until their skin turns black and peels off leaving sensual, unctuous baked pepper flesh which goes very nicely in strips, with anchovies, in spaghetti. Or stuff 'em. That's what I did. Boil some rice. (I boiled four parts white rice and one part brown arborio rice - different pots, they take different times - and mixed them together for a more interesting texture.) Toast some pinenuts - careful, don't burn them. Cook some minced meat and onions. I cook the onions first in little oil, remove the onions, cook the mince, add back the onions. Then a bunch of fresh herbs from the garden - I used plenty of mint, parsley and a little sage. The meat - beef is fine, but I used ground pork and veal from the Italian butchers in Sydney Road. Try to drain away as much fat as possible. Combine cooked mince and rice. Mine was about three parts rice to one part meat. A

Food with funny names, mostly involving potatoes.

Anyone with ancestors from the UK will occasionally have had the pleasure of being treated to one or more of the following dishes, all bearing wonderful old names (the dishes, not the ancestors). Colcannon: a creamy, yummy mixture of cabbage and potatoes with, variously, milk, butter or cream. Champ: an Irish version of mashed potatoes blended with onions cooked in milk. Boxty: hashbrowns made from leftover mashed potato. Stovies: a combination of potatoes and meat in layers. May be a long-lost relative of Shepherd's Pie or corned beef hash. Not sure why it's plural. (Or why Boxty was singular for that matter.) And, perhaps my favourite weird food name: Clapshot: sounds like a very serious, and possibly fatal, medical condition but is actually mashed potatoes and swede - a frequent visitor on the family dinner table when I was growing up. Even more frequent was potato and pumpkin mashed together. Then after you've eaten your 'tatties in vario

Yum Cha.

We had to go shopping. Dreadful, I know, but it had to be done, according to T. I couldn't see it, but she insisted I needed new shorts for summer and a couple other things, and she needed this and that. 'Just don't make me try anything on,' I warned, ineffectually. (I have an aversion to trying on clothes in shops. If it weren't for women, most men would simply wear the same clothes over and over again until they turned to rags and fell off. Then we'd go right on walking around naked. Until it got cold. But let's deal with that when we come to it, huh? Let's not worry about the future, huh?) So. Shopping. Jetty Surf. Cool. Billabong. Cool. Rip Curl. OK. David Jones. OK. A few other shops. Hmm. Target. Starting to fidget. Three more shops. Then some other shop filled with exactly the same clothes as the previous three. I'm turning into a zombie. Fortunately at that point in time T. decided we were hungry and needed food instantly.

New season.

December 1: Out of the vegetable patch: six cabbages, a dozen large head of broccoli, far too many mustard greens for any normal person to eat, a few heads of garlic, some cute little onions, several bunches of silver beet, a bunch of russian kale and more broadbeans. And a lot of weeds. It was the wettest spring for years. Into the vegetable patch: tomatoes, basil, pumpkins, cucumbers, zucchini. Mulch. Cow manure. Compost. Happy summer to all. (If you're lucky enough to be in the right hemisphere.)