The tops of poplars reach away to the east, way above roofs of terracotta tiles. Off to the south, lillypilly canopies turn gold in the setting sun. Birds sqawk and shriek in them. Beyond the fenceline, red brick chimneys poke upwards here and there; while along the fence itself, a white cat moves silently, as if on tiptoes, before disappearing so suddenly you don't know if it was really there.
Sit in the back garden and that's what you'll see, if you look around. Of course, you could just sit at the table and have a drink and try to catch up on the week's papers you haven't read yet. That's what I usually do. There could be fifty cats.
After a while, the barbecue is hot enough to grill. I use coals and you have to be patient. Don't watch it. Go inside and make a salad and that will speed things up.
Barbecued skate in soy, lemon and garlic.
Marinate a piece of skate in plenty of chopped garlic, the juice of a lemon and some good soy. I always use tamari. I bought the fish in the morning so it had about ten hours to soak. Score the fish along the cartilage lines to let the juices in.
To go with the skate, make some skordalia. Even though the fish has a kind of eastern flavour with the soy, I find the potato and garlic suits it perfectly - as it does any grilled fish. Mash up four cloves of garlic with the flesh of a couple of boiled or baked potatoes and a few tablespoons of white vinegar. Tart, smooth and with a magnificent depth of flavour, it complements the fish beautifully.
Now cook the skate. Throw it on a very hot open grill. Turn after about four or five minutes depending on the thickness of the fish, brush with more of the marinade. Pour a glass of good New Zealand sauvignon blanc.
Meanwhile, grill some strips of zucchini, eggplant and red pepper brushed with olive oil. Turn them when they start to blister.
When the fish is done, serve immediately with the skordalia on top, the grilled vegetables piled up in little fireplace stacks on the side and another glass of sauvignon blanc. Delicious.
There's that cat again. Or was it?