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Showing posts from April, 2006

'Have a strawberry!'

We took my mother out for dinner for her birthday. She protested but to no avail. She doesn't like ceremony when it comes to herself. We were a group of twelve in for an early dinner, early because two babies were in the party. Mum doesn't 'get' restaurants. We sat down at the table and Mum pulls out a package from her bag and it's a plastic container of fresh strawberries and she starts handing around the container of strawberries, saying Have a strawberry, they're nice, Gerard sent them with a bunch of flowers from Interflora. Gerard is my brother in Alice Springs. Ah, Mum? We are in a restaurant. See that man over there by the bar? If you ask him nicely, he will bring you some food. YOU DON'T HAVE TO BRING YOUR OWN! Yeah, yeah, she says. She knows all about that, she says. Have a strawberry, she says. They won't mind. Of course they didn't mind. It's professional complainers they mind, not eccentric, smiling septuagenarians handing out str

Breaking the Four Minute Meal.

When teenagers are hungry, they need to eat NOW. When my older children were living at home I used to see how fast I could get a meal on the table from scratch. (Well, semi-scratch. This recipe uses packet gnocchi.) When I got it down to a fine art, I finally broke the Four Minute Meal. Here's how it happened. Stopwatch at the ready, and Go! Fill the kettle and put it on. Elapsed time, ten seconds. While the kettle comes to the boil - it takes two minutes for a full kettle - take two rashers of bacon, two eggs, a block of parmesan and some parsley from the fridge and the cheese grater from the cupboard below the sink. Elapsed time, forty-five seconds. Take a packet of gnocchi - not as good as home-made, but teenagers don't eat, they inhale, so it doesn't matter - from the cupboard and open. Elapsed time, fifty-five seconds. Slice the bacon into small pieces and throw them into a pan with a splash of olive oil. Light the stove. One minute twenty. Chop the parsley and set as

Mr Blake goes visiting.

Belinda, my neighbour, had asked me if Mr Blake would care to visit. Perhaps he would like to make the acqaintance of her household, she said, which currently numbered fourteen: ten cats, two dogs, herself and her human friend. That would be good, I said. Mr Blake needs 'socialisation' as part of his fostering program. Belinda used to be a chef but gave her career up to work with animals. (A funny line is sticking out there like a neon light.) Anyway, Belinda now works at an animal shelter and brings her work home. They were there when we visited. Our little street is on a gentle hill and we're at the top. We strolled down the hill and in at Belinda's gate. Creak. Up the path towards three steps leading to the front door. On the middle step was what vaguely resembled a cat but could more correctly be described as a pugnacious face in the middle of an otherwise featureless ragged dirty grey furball. We came near and the eyes swivelled but the furball stayed planted to th

Cyclone gods still targetting bananas.

This time it's banana prawns . Jokes aside, or not aside, I find it bemusing that the most recently posted story on the cyclone (the above link is 14 minutes old) reports on the threat to banana prawn fishing rather than the fact that Darwin could be wiped off the map as it was by Cyclone Tracy in 1974.

Ducks, Old Iron and Soup for a Cold Day.

Huge elms tower over a path that slopes down to the lake, which is fringed by well-kept lawns as far as the eye can see. It's a nice spot. People have picnics here in the vast shade of the old trees and watch the ducks. The ducks live at the base of the cliffs on the far side of the lake and in the island in the middle of it. We went down to feed the ducks, not that they need it. Everyone feeds them. It's just something you have to do with children. For us, it's just a fifteen minute walk. William laughs and flaps his arms as the ducks wing in from all directions, preparing to land with outstretched feet and then hit the water with a creaming wake coming to a curving stop like miniature Catalina seaplanes. When we got to the lake, there was an exhibition of public art on the lawn. Some of the pieces were okay and some were hideous. One of the pieces contained more rusty scrap iron than Simsmetal in Footscray. All it needed to look like a genuine scrap metal yard and not a s

Finding chocolate.

The Easter egg hunt went on for quite some time. The girls found the eggs quickly, but that wasn't the end of it. They wanted to hide them again and get everyone else to have a go at finding them. So they did and everyone else found them again. Several times. The Easter egg count dwindled throughout the afternoon, either from being eaten or lost. There are probably dozens of tiny Easter eggs still out there, in the jasmine, halfway up the lemon tree, fallen down behind the rose bush. Shanra is four and gets the game only up to a point. She hid her eggs in the open and when you went to look down the other end of the garden, maybe under the trees or behind the pot plants, she cried 'Not that way! Over HERE!' And there they were, all nicely laid out on the grass. She still laughed when you found them, as if she had been particularly clever in placing them in that exact spot. Of course, Canisha had wanted the egg hunt to take place earlier but there's a time and a place for

If this is Good Friday, dinner must be smoked cod.

By the time Good Friday comes, winter is drawing in. The day seems never hot or cold, but often overcast. Maybe it's been like this for just the past few years. I went out of the house about seven in the morning and the sky was pale yellow with fingers of rising sun through low clouds like overdramatic painted skies of the stations of the cross. Two thousand years of history, or at the very least, tradition, weigh heavily in the cold morning. I like the peace and quiet of Good Friday. And the dramatic skies. It stayed cloudy. Mid-afternoon, there was a downpour that lasted an hour, then the rain stopped and it got cold and stayed cold and I turned on the old gas heater that purrs and flickers beneath the mantlepiece in the loungeroom. Soon it was dinnertime. Good Friday dinner is always the same. We're such stick-in-the-muds. Smoked cod with white sauce. Smoked cod, that inexpensive and underrated fish, is delicious when done this way: simmer it in enough milk to barely cover i

Feeding Mr Blake.

Mr Blake is visiting us for a few weeks. Mr Blake is a retired gentleman of breeding and good manners and has a quiet, pleasant disposition. He is tall, elegant and slim and has a long face. Mr Blake is a greyhound. ( Huey was our last foster greyhound. He is coincidentally one of the April greyhounds on the Greyhound Adoption Program's 2006 calendar. If you happen to have this calendar, there here he is up on your kitchen wall being fed an ice-cream by me. Huey's the one with the long nose.) Mr Blake weighs 36 kilograms and our task is to get him up to 38. I'll get some nice fatty pet grade chicken mince and cook it with carrot, celery, a little garlic and rice or pasta, supplementing that with supermarket house brand sardines which are cheap and nutritious (the oil restores their coat), chicken frames from the market and bread thickly smeared with butter and peanut butter. Not to forget cheese. Greyhounds love cheese. Mr Blake is hasn't barked yet, not even when I to

How not to eat lasagne.

When I was a child I used to eat lasagne from the top down. Each layer would be a delicious new discovery. It was like dismantling a building. I did the same with vanilla slices and those cakes with coffee icing and cream and custard in the middle. Dreadful manners, I know. There's something about layered food that is particularly appetising, whether it's a giant multi-layered sandwich, a hamburger a foot high with everything in it or a huge stack of pancakes. Last night's lasagne was layer heaven. I didn't make it, T. made it. She's the lasagne queen. First, a layer of cooked pumpkin mashed with ricotta. (Roast the pumpkin first for an even better flavour.) Then a layer of cooked lasagne sheets followed by a layer of diced tomatoes combined with leek sauteed with a little garlic. More pumpkin mixture, more pasta sheets and more tomato and leek. Keep building it up and on top of the final layer of tomato, some steamed silverbeet or spinach. Then the last layer of pa

Chicken Soup in Windy City.

The winds fought and for a week the South wind won and the city shivered. Then the North wind found new strength and chased the South wind and its partners in crime, the clouds, back to King Island or the Southern Ocean or Antarctica or wherever they came from. On its way, the North wind picked the heat up off the vast inland plains and blew it all the way to the city and the city basked in golden sunshine once again. But in the meantime we all got colds. So we made chicken soup. Of course, everyone has a chicken soup recipe and everyone swears theirs is the best in the world so I won't say this is better than any other chicken soup recipe, it's just how I made mine this time. Next time I might make it differently. Chicken Soup. 1. Cook four chicken pieces on the bone in about two litres of water with a clove of garlic, a scored rib of celery, a chopped carrot and a chopped onion until chicken is done. 2. Remove and discard vegetables; remove chicken from bones and set aside; p

The Food Blog Survey.

I'm starting to enjoy these little inter-blog conversations. I must be a procrastinator at heart. It sure beats peeling spuds. I found this one at Queen of the Kitchen , whose current post is a fantastic recipe for gluten-free Swedish meatballs, complete with great photos to salivate over. List three recipes you have recently bookmarked from food blogs to try: 1. I cooked this last Christmas: Goan Prawn Balchao , from deccanheffalump at Cook's Cottage, Pune, Maharashtra, India. 2. I love a good meat loaf, and I've noted this one from Janis Gore at Gone South . 3. Baked cod with cheese and mushrooms, from Amuse Bouche . Cod is my favourite fish at Easter time and this sounds divine, pardon the pun. Do you know of another food blog in your vicinity: This one hails from St Kilda, one of my favourite Melbourne suburbs. Many years ago, I used to holiday in St Kilda for two weeks in the depths of winter, virtually living in the magnificent Palais and National theatres during t

Losing it.

I lost two mobile phones in two weeks. I left the first one in the car overnight. The car was parked on the street and it was unlocked. The phone was on the dashboard where it could be seen. The next morning it was gone. It could have been worse. I left my wallet in the side pocket of the car door and it was still there in the morning. Hell, they could have taken the whole car but nobody steals Volvo station wagons. You have to give them away. I reported the theft at the police station, only because an item in the local paper had said police were appealing for all crimes to be reported, no matter how petty. - Was there any damage to the car when they broke in? - There was no damage, officer. I left the car unlocked. He looked at me. - You left the car unlocked. With your phone on the dashboard. In view. Overnight. He had a sad kind of half smile and his eyes seemed to glaze over as he filled out the incident report in duplicate, as if he didn't want to be a policeman any more. I di

It's raining, so here's the best lamb stew for wet weather.

We came out of the shopping centre with bags of fresh vegetables from the greengrocer (yes, some shopping centres still have greengrocers) and sheets of rain were billowing across the car park, aided by a gusty wind that looked like it was just getting into its stride. T. dashed to the car and opened it, I followed carrying William, hunching over him to keep him dry. Success. He didn't feel a drop. T. and I were soaked. The traffic was as heavy as the rain and we splashed home with the heater blasting warm air onto the misty windscreen and someone burbling nonsense on the car radio. I killed the radio and turned off the main road, made a couple of right turns and pointed the car into the driveway in our little dead end street of just nine houses. For me, arriving home in the rain always carries a pleasure that is almost instinctive. Inside. Wet clothes off, heater on, vegetables unpacked. Was it really just a couple of weeks ago that we were on the beach trying to get cool, and Wil

Alphabet soup, continued: L-Z.

It took a while, but here's the second half of the music I like to cook to. L. La's, The. One day I woke up and it wasn't the eighties any more. It was the nineties and suddenly there were no more tuneless new wave angst-ridden songs, no more square suits and weird makeup, no more drum machines and no more synths. Instead, there were lovely melodies and sweet harmonies and sunshine and butterflies and happy, jangly guitar music was heard across the land and everybody was happy again. M. Matt Monro. My favourite crooner. Listen - or even just read the lyrics to - For Mama and if you don't cry you're not alive. N. Neil Young. His acoustic work is nice but when he gets together with Crazy Horse it's more like a shipbuilding yard at full capacity than actual music. Crank it up. You wouldn't want the neighbours to miss out, would you? O. Only Now by Ride, obscure but brilliant British band of the mid-nineties. From Carnival of Light , probably my most-pla

Salmon in citrus sauce with a warm vegetable salad on the side.

Saturday at the market. The salmon looks great. Salmon in citrus sauce. This is so easy - I just pan-fried the salmon with some butter and the juice of an orange. To get extra orange flavour, I inverted the orange halves, once squeezed, to expel oil from the skin, and lay them over the salmon while it cooked. The fish takes in some of the fragrant orange oil. While the fish was cooking, I squeezed some lemon juice over it as well. I didn't turn the fish, I just put the lid on and let it poach. It only took five minutes. Then I put the salmon on the plates, added a little more butter to the juices in the pan, quickly reduced it and poured it over the fish. Add some dill to the sauce if you have it. I didn't, I forgot to buy some and couldn't be bothered going out again. It was delicious enough anyway. The salad. Bed of lettuce. Onion rings. Tomato quarters. Walnuts. Thinly sliced apple. Shreds of finely sliced silverbeet. White beans. Olives. Parsley. Over all these, I adde