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Showing posts from August, 2006

Fake banana alert!

Banana experts ( "Hi, I'm a banana expert!" ) predicted that bananas were going to take years to recover from Cyclone Larry, which completely destroyed 90% of the Australian banana crop. Years? No: they're creeping back into stores just five months after the late-March cyclone, despite the facts that the banana plant has a nine to twelve month life cycle and imports from overseas are banned in Australia. I suspect someone is manufacturing them in a factory somewhere, maybe from excess grapes and oranges .

To the mountains.

The door creaked as we went into the shop. I like shops with doors that creak. It gives them a kind of old world atmosphere. Combine old world atmosphere with French baking and you have a patisserie called Savoie Salon de The. We were back in sub-alpine Bright for a few days and one of our first activities was a visit to Madame Pichot's little shop on the corner. She bakes all manner of French cakes and pastries and retains the original names. So you have your amandines and your Paris-Brest (which is a long delicate cream-filled pastry like an eclair) and your Religeuses which look sinful and your Mocha Eclairs and dozens of other petite delicacies. There's a little chocolate boat with a white sail icing called a Barquette . Mme Pichot made us coffee and served us two of the nicest escargots - the pastry kind - I've ever tried. That set us up nicely for a long day of walking in and around Bright in the fresh late winter air under a perfect blue sky.

Fish with tamari, ginger and garlic.

This is one of the easiest fish dishes I make. I've done it with many different fish and it always turns out great. Last night I used butterfish, an unctuous yet firm white-fleshed fish. (However, our old fish ID problem rears its head here - several species bear the name butterfish around the world.) Anyway, here's the recipe. It just about cooks itself. Finely chop some peeled ginger, maybe half an inch; and two cloves of garlic. Place in a wide lidded pan with a little oil and sweat them very gently. Do not burn. Add your fish fillets to the pan. Pour over a quarter cup of water, the juice of half a lemon and a very generous squirt of tamari or soy. Throw in some finely sliced onion - or spring onion - and simmer very gently until just done. Don't overcook. Serve on a bed of rice or noodles with some braised greens on the side - chinese cabbage or broccoli, or regular broccoli.

The tail end of winter.

Winter is in its last week, it's lighter earlier and later, the birds are getting noisier and trees are blossoming everywhere. My street is a riot of pink blossom on the prunus x blireana in the nature strips - one in front of every house. When the blossoms have gone, a beautiful deep red foliage will replace it, giving lovely shade as you walk down the street. These trees are not meant to fruit, but ours does. Not a lot, but enough to keep the birds interested. But before winter disappears into the rearview mirror of 2006, let's brew up one of our all-time favourite winter stews. Oxtail stew. This is a dish to enjoy at home for reasons of decorum. You have to get up close and personal with oxtail in order to get the meat out. I have seen people trying to eat it in restaurants, delicately trying to extract skeins of meat from the furrows in the bone using elegant knives and forks, but it just looks wrong. You have to pick those babies up and gnaw them. But just stay home

ODTAA*.

I flooded the kitchen. To be more precise, the running tap flooded the kitchen, aided and abetted by the plug in the sink. 'I' simply failed to apprehend the two culprits. They did it overnight when all weird things happen in kitchens. The water ran down into the cupboards below the sink. Everything was soaking wet and the water crept under the linoleum - probably fifty years old - that lined the cupboard shelves. On the positive side, the timber underneath the linoleum was first quality hardwood, as solid as the day it was built. (I once flooded a newer cupboard with shelves made of fibreboard and that means disaster, since fibreboard turns to papier mache when wet. Fibreboard is definitely one of mankind's very worst inventions, along with the leaf blower and the internet.) So I spent the next day or two airing the cupboard. Its contents - pots, pans, colanders, vases, baking dishes, rubber gloves, bits of soap on saucers, detergent, dishrags, scourers, rolling pins,

Finn Family Moomintroll.

Canisha's Dad (my son, William's much older brother) is in Oulu* on business and her Mum has her hands full with the other two. Every time a plane flies over, Aria points and says, Daddy’s on that! Then Shanra says, No, he’s not, he’s in Thinland! She’s learning to pronounce her ‘th’s as ‘th’s and not ‘f’s and when she heard someone say ‘Finland’ she thought they were in error and actually meant ‘Thinland.’ (And also, who decided the word ‘lisp’ had to have an ‘s’ in it? Talk about cruel.) Where was I? OK, Canisha came over Sunday and we spent the day together. It was a food-filled day. We started with a picnic in the gardens: sandwiches with boiled eggs, thick slices of colby cheese, an old-fashioned salad of cucumber and tomato and T.'s home-made chocolate muffins to finish. They were still warm and gooey in the middle with pieces of real chocolate. Then we went for coffee at the Italian restaurant where William's much older sister (Canisha's aunt, my daught

Candles.

It sure was dark in there. Unexplored territory is always a little frightening at first. Soon I got used to it and after a while it was fun, in a nostalgic, ‘look-what-I-just-found’, ‘I-remember-this! From-1971!’ kind of way. Of course, my mother never uses the top shelves in her kitchen cupboards any more. Hasn’t for years. It’s not that she’s too short, which she always has been, it’s just that getting up on a chair to reach down canisters of flour or tins of treacle or to search for an old bacon stock cube that she is sure must be there somewhere is not a good idea after a certain age. The funny thing is that even though she lives on her own, all her kitchen cupboards are fuller with stuff than they ever were when there were seven children and two adults and a cat living there and visitors on Sunday. So I got to clean them out. We made a morning of it. Mum and T. sat around the kitchen table drinking cups of tea and William crawled around the floor, well out of fallout range.

Driving the Internet truck, possibly on the Road to Morocco. Possibly off it.

I add posts to my blog (which sounds more like a primeval Scandinavian building a rudimentary timber shelter than a twenty-first century Australian tapping on a keyboard) from a number of different places. Some of these are places where I work (yes, I do work occasionally, despite being called, from way over on the other side of the world , an 'idle slump'). Others include the internet cafe (which is not a cafe but a DVD hire store) at the beach, because the beach house is not wired for tubes. I am not currently posting from my Prime Place of Residence because the lease was up on the computer and we didn't renew because we Want a New One. Given the speed at which I prosecute my plans in life that could take Some Time Indeed. The point of all this Unnecessary Verbiage and Gratuitous Capitalisation is that I have noticed that some computer terminals 'read' my apostrophes differently and place an extra space after them and before the 's' in the case of a posse

Sunshine in a tin: Orange Cake.

Late last week, we drove around the big circle from midday to six o'clock. Midday is Melbourne, six o'clock is the house at the beach and Port Phillip Bay is the clockface. (Ships sail in and out of the bay through a very small and extremely dangerous gap between six thirty-six and six thirty-nine.) The days have been cold and overcast. On Friday, the fog over Arthur's Seat refused to move but hung there as if it were loosely tied down, like a wet tarpaulin on a HQ ute. Later, the sun's rays tried a few exploratory pokes through the mist and then gave up. Saturday was brighter. Out early to the market where we bought a few things, bunch of carrots, bag of potatoes, an old book. It's a farmers' market but they have junk as well if you're bored by vegetables. Then an early lunch outside the Blairgowrie café in pale sunshine amidst the usual Saturday tangle of people and prams and newspapers and dogs. In the afternoon I mowed the lawn and pottered about and

A little background.

As Kimbofo noted in comments , there is something of a baby boom occurring here in Victoria and the Kitchen Hand extended family is a major contributor. In reality, it is the second such boom in my family. My mother has thirteen grandchildren, with two on the way (my younger sister is expecting at around the same time as T.). While four of these grandchildren were born since 2001, the first five were born in the seven years prior to 1981. Then, over the next twenty years, there was an average of only one every five years. Essentially, the older children in my family had their own children early; while the younger three waited until their thirties and forties, mirroring current societal trends. As the middle child of seven, I typically followed both patterns, not being able to decide which half I belonged to; and became a father in 1977 and 1980 (I was 19 and 22) and now again in my late forties. Complicating the issue (well certainly at Christmastime) is that the older grandchildre

Deconstructing dumplings.

We were at one of our favourite noodle and dumpling places for lunch, T. and William and me along with Canisha, Shanra, Aria and their mum. It's a good place to take children. Shanra, 5, was carefully peeling the skin from her har gow dumpling and eating it after dipping it in a tiny dish of soy, leaving the filling. She did the same with another five dumplings, attempting the last two with chopsticks. I must admit the translucent, slippery, delicious skins are exceptionally good eating, even if you don't eat the middle. (While Shanra is still picky with her food, Canisha has left childish eating habits behind and likes to order and eat 'grown-up' style. One day she'll order the chicken's feet or the chili tripe and I won't be surprised.) The dumpling fillings didn't go to waste. I added them to my noodle soup. They reminded me of a recipe I found in an old cookbook. (Hold on to your seat while we switch continents in one paragraph, from Asia to sou

Where did I put that book of names?

William's arrival in June last year was, of course, a very special surprise. After a long, long time of hoping, we had accepted that there would be no children and had turned, happily enough, to dogs and gardening and cooking and the extended family, not in that order. But then we were blessed with William and, given our ages, imagined that he was to be the only one - a special gift to parents who were already way past a certain age. (Well, speaking for myself, anyway.) So, some time ago, it was an even greater surprise to find that William is to become a brother to a sibling who will arrive in November. Nothing for ten years and then two in seventeen months. And just when we've given away most of his baby clothes! And the bassinet! And I really don't know what we've done with that book of names. We've moved house in between. It could be anywhere.

We're not cavemen but we still hunt. (Excuse me, don't prod my dinner.)

Together, we’ve sailed through the cold, dark seas of June and July, battling the waves of wind and rain that buffeted us and blew us and made us miserable before unceremoniously dumping us here on the faintly sunny shores of August, where we now sit, staring around us idly and wondering what to have for dinner. (Of course, it is still winter but I always feel that once the Ju- months are over, spring is just around the corner, along with flowers, warmth, romance, weeds springing up like triffids in the garden and the lawn growing three feet in a week.) * Thinking such muddled thoughts, I drove to the supermarket at half past six. It was dark and raining and the carpark was full of puddles reflecting neon lights. The supermarket was packed with jaded city workers hunting for their dinner after a day of exhausting powerpoint presentations. You can tell they are hunting for their dinner by the way they have no shopping list but cruise slowly along the meat department with a look tha