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Showing posts from September, 2006

Hardly a recipe.

They sat in the pot, simmering away for probably half an hour. Blop, blop, blop they went, which is the closest I can come to describing the sound of simmering. I waited until they began to break down, like glaciers in an Al Gore documentary. Then I drained them over the sink and all the steam rushed up and misted the double sash windows looking out over the back garden and for one minute, the new ornamental pear just coming into leaf was all pixillated green. Then I tipped them into the bowl, still steaming. I sat in my favourite chair and sat the bowl on my knee and took up my fork and tasted one. Heaven. I ate six. It was my first meal for a day and a half. Well-boiled potatoes with absolutely nothing on them except the merest whisper of salt. So plain. So obvious. So delicious. Sometimes you have to go back to basics, if only to appreciate everything else.

Long story ends.

Kuen (Ken) Cheng was born in China in 1922, fled the Japanese invasion, took a job with the United States Marine Corps, ended up stationed with US troops in Darwin and then either worked his way down to Melbourne or arrived as a personal chef to General Douglas MacArthur during World War II, depending on whom you believe. Given that CV, you'd have to believe anything. Or nothing. By 1949 Ken Cheng was selling his dim sims trackside to brown-suited and hatted punters at Caulfield Racecourse and in local hotel bars after the last race, encouraged by the publicans because they were salty and made the customers thirsty. Ken's dim sims became so famous he realised his customers would come to him instead of he to them, so he set up a stall at South Melbourne market in the 1950s where it remains. Ken Cheng died last week, aged 83 . A big city is nothing without its characters and Ken Cheng was a great Melbourne character. Pass the soy sauce, thanks. And have another one yourself.

The Bug.

It's going around, as they say. It came to us. It wasn't nice. The headline and first two paragraphs are probably enough warning about what is to follow, so if you're still reading, here's what happened: we were sitting there in the lounge room after a lovely dinner - linguine with some ragu, nice and light for spring - when T., who had been idly flicking through a magazine, said she didn't feel so well. Within a second she was propelled back into her chair by some kind of weird G-Force, while at the same time something shot across the room at the speed of light and all of a sudden we had an unfinished Jackson Pollock on the opposite wall. Maybe a finished one. You never know with Jackson Pollock. No warning at all. The bug is like that. T. spend the ensuing hour or two adding to the Jackson Pollock, just not in the lounge room, and then went to bed and writhed in agony. And she doesn't even like modern art. In the morning, I played Mr Nurse and plumped up the c

One thing I didn’t know about Steve Irwin.

I didn’t know he grew up in my suburb, a few streets away, or that he first looked for critters along the Moonee Ponds Creek, where I did, in 1971. (I didn’t want to. It was a school project.) I learned this after his death. Now he has been farewelled and in the words of his brave daughter Bindi, I will never see a crocodile without thinking of Steve Irwin. I’ll just get well out of the way first.

Food-free post. (May contain traces of nuts.)

The Monash Tollway used to be the Monash Freeway and before that it was the South Eastern Freeway and before that it was the South Eastern Arterial Road. But it has always been known colloquially as the South Eastern Carpark. If your car is automatic, you don’t actually need an accelerator pedal at all to drive on it in peak hour. You just select ‘Drive’ and your car will idle all the way to the city and all you need to do is to occasionally touch the brake to avoid hitting the 260 km/h-capable Lexus in front of you travelling at an average 7 km/h. Most of the work performed in city offices is actually done in cars on the way in and out of town. Because you don’t have to do a whole lot of driving at 7 km/h. You just have to be there; like a lighthouse keeper, without the vertigo or the stairs. We were on the way out of town on the Monash about ten in the morning, a Friday, heading to the beach house for an extended long weekend. We took the new turn-off that originally just said ‘Cranb

I found it!

In the supermarket, bicarbonate of soda is in the flour aisle near the cake-making things (hundreds and thousands, patty pans, birthday candles, etc). I know I’ll forget again.

Turn the lights down low. And eat your turnips.

I was browsing through my collection of old articles torn out of magazines. (Does anyone else do this or is it just me? I have probably an entire old-growth forest of old magazine tear-outs that I imagine I will one day get around to reading - along with War and Peace , A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu and Kevin Sheedy's cleverly-titled autobiography Sheeds .) Anyway, I found an article about turnips by Simon Courtauld, who I must say is a great writer, just so you know I don't keep any old magazine articles about turnips. Courtauld, a kind of forensic food historian (which I suppose would be a forensogustologist) writes that the turnip had been known from Roman times and was at one time regarded as an aphrodisiac. He quotes an unnamed culinary commentator as saying that the turnip 'augmenteth the sede of man, provoketh carnall lust'. Well! Butter me up some turnips, slip into something more comfortable and put on some nice background music. And stop throwing valuable do

The old curio shop.

Tea for three: William enjoys afternoon tea in the garden. (You can tell we're in the mountains - the teapot is wearing a woolly jumper.) Way up there in the mountains is a sleepy little village called Wandiligong, but which is known locally as Wandi. Just five kilometres out of Bright, it's so close you can walk there. So I did, pushing William in his three-wheeler. T. drove, being just beyond walking the ten kilometre return trip at this stage. There's not a lot to look at in Wandi if you ignore the breathtaking scenery, the heritage buildings, the river running through the valley, the glorious stands of trees, the spring wildflowers nodding away in the sun and the lilac mountains to either side. There's not a lot to do either, apart from the annual Nut Festival . But there's a tiny shop that used to be something else in the 1800s, maybe a miner's cottage, maybe a post office, which sells interesting things that are not antiques and not curios but something i


Five years ago I was in the city and T. was in the country. We were in our country house period and I was commuting three times a week, staying in town and returning midweek and at weekends. It was September 12 here. I knew nothing until I went out and retrieved the newspaper at half past six in the morning. Then the phone rang. It was T. 'I don't want you to go to work,' she said, perfectly rationally and perfectly irrationally, both at the same time. It had happened on the other side of the world, but what's that got to do with it? Evil can happen anywhere. I went to work and stared out from the top floor of my building at all the other buildings and thought thoughts that I never thought I would think and should never have had cause to think. Distance that day meant nothing.

Put the kettle on.

I always wondered why it was so often said that making risotto was difficult. All that standing around stirring. Then I realised. I grew up on porridge and have been making it ever since. Making porridge properly makes cooking risotto look like boiling the kettle. For a start, you're not cooking risotto at six in the morning half asleep and still trying to figure out what day it is. I suppose it's a similar principle. Like rice, the oat grains need time to absorb the fluid, slowly, so they expel their gluten or whatever it is before taking up some more fluid and so on until the whole mess becomes creamy porridge. Sometimes I still get it wrong and the grains remain discrete and chewy instead of melting into creaminess. Soaking overnight is meant to help and is it really too much trouble to put them in the pot and cover them with water before going to bed; along with putting out the cat and the bins, locking the back door, switching off the heater, turning off the lights and che

Low fat weblog.

Posting has been light lately, although since this weblog is usually about food, I suppose it should be 'lite' in a slender, slightly italic, sans serif font, maybe with a nice flowery asterisk over the 'i' instead of the dot. That doesn't mean I haven't been eating. Or cooking. But before we eat, or even cook, we have to buy stuff at the market, the butcher and (gritted fingers typing here) the supermarket. (Sorry, Mr Keyboard.) And before we buy stuff, we have to have money to pay for it. Sometimes I use a credit card, which in my view of the world, involves no actual expenditure. You can use it for months and you still have exactly the same bank balance. But then something really weird happens. One day, usually a cloudy one, a Letter Arrives in the Mail containing a bill. A big bill. A very big bill. But it's a nice big bill, because in the section where it tells you how much you have to pay this month, the amount bears absolutely no relationship to the t

Five meals ...

... to eat before you die* was the subject of a brilliant post by Neil at Food For Thought, involving wonderful things like wild barramundi and boletus edulis . Neil kindly invited my contribution. 1. A bowl of onion soup, a loaf of bread and a glass of red wine in a tiny café in a village in rural France in spring, followed by an afternoon nap under an ancient tree on a hillside. 2. A piece of cheese, some fresh laid eggs and some good ham from a friendly farmer's wife during an extended walk through rural England on a warm day in high summer. 3. Some quickly chargrilled fresh-caught squid and a glass of white wine on a balcony on a Greek Island with the sun sinking into the sea. 4. A plate of borscht and some vodka late at night in the dining car of an express train in the middle of a Siberian winter with snow hammering on the windows. 5. Can someone suggest number 5? (*Part of a joint project - we seem to have gotten over the word 'meme', hurray! - developed by Meli

Anyway, they originated in Afghanistan. Or somewhere.

As part of my one-man global campaign to raise the public profile of the humble Brussels sprout, I present the recipe below. I’ve always loved Brussels sprouts. It’s the name I object to. They sound like diminutive Belgians instead of tasty green vegetables with an earthy but mild flavour and a texture that is kind of creamy-soft yet holds together beautifully. Brussels sprouts never go floppy and fall apart like some other vegetables I could name. You can depend on Brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts with bacon and pine nuts on polenta. Boil, or over-boil, depending on your preference, your sprouts. Dice some very good bacon (as against bad bacon, of which there is plenty around) and sizzle it in a pan until it is almost crisp, at which point throw in some very finely chopped red onion and a handful of pine nuts. Take the pan off the flame after a minute or two or when the pine nuts are just starting to brown. Meanwhile, cook up a pot of polenta. Actually, start the polenta first. It