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Showing posts from March, 2007

It came in on a soft autumn breeze.

It was a difficult growing summer but I read somewhere - one of your blogs, I forget which one - that it had been a good year for basil. It sure was. We put ours in late, a dear little row of seedlings along the sideway, where it gets good sun in the middle of the day but doesn't get scorched in the afternoon. The seedlings shot up and we kept the snails of bay and now they're about two feet tall. The row of basil is bookended by the jasmine creepers I put in last year when we moved in. The jasmine has thrived and now it's festooning all the way along the fence. William's double sash bedroom windows open on to the sideway and every now and the curtain moves and in comes jasmine, and now basil, on the soft breeze. Now, where's my list of things to do with pesto? Click, click, click ... here . May I add to that smearing a generous amount on top of anything barbecued? By the way, we were out of pine nuts so walnuts were used instead.

Thank you ...

... for your helpful suggestions and interesting comments and anecdotes following my quandary over the engagement party fundraiser request. I have worked for many charity clients over the years but I had never until now been stumped for an idea. I must be getting stale. So thank you. Your suggestions helped and I managed to convey to the party, without offending her, that there is no right way of holding your hand out.

"You're a writer! You'll solve it!"

A work associate came to me and asked a favour, the kind of favour that is like asking a doctor you know socially for a gratuitous opinion about a condition. The lady is getting engaged and is sending out invitations. She wants to receive money instead of actual gifts; and the favour was that she wanted me to write this for her in a way that 'didn't sound tacky'. Five minutes of online research confirmed what I already knew: there is no way you can ask for money instead of gifts. You just can't. But some people think a writer can re-write bad etiquette into something that is acceptable, via some verbal sleight of hand. I'm at a loss, which is rare for me. What do I do? Ignore her? Tell her she can't do it? Or write some tacky nonsense about a wishing well or a money tree and to hell with it? Sometimes I wish I were a nuclear scientist. I bet they don't get asked favours.

The Restaurant in History, Part Two.

1977: Pieroni , upstairs in Little Bourke Street. Pre-dated the South Yarra Pieroni by a decade or so. Climb the narrow staircase and eat spaghetti bolognese for $2.20. Minestrone, 90 cents. Bread, free. Guy Grossi worked here. The occasion : I worked around the corner in Elizabeth Street's London Stores building and I ate here frequently. Other favourites were the Cambrooke Cafe, the White Hen Cafe, the upstairs bistro at the Royal Parade Hotel, Centrepoint Tavern, the London Tavern and downstairs at the Hub Hotel. No, I never went hungry. I worked hard. 1978: I'm no food snob but whoever burnt down The Swagman deserves three Age Chef's Hats. The smorgasbord was about the size of a tennis court and by the time several hundred queueing 'diners' bussed in from Cranbourne or Altona Meadows or Boronia or even Fitzroy North had pawed over it, it looked more like Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles . Cigarette stub in your portion of lasagne, anyone? The occasion : a Chri

Freaky Friday.

It was 36 degrees. I was sitting on the 27th floor gazing out the window in the general direction of Southbank and wondering whether I'd do any work or have a cup of tea. I've only been gazing out windows for most of my life. The tea part of the wondering was winning when I noticed the smoke . I knew straight away. Online. Nothing yet. Then within minutes, reports of an incident. Then specifics. Three people lost. It must be said the tunnel's safety system may have saved lives. I had to go to Eaglemont at lunchtime. Melbourne was pretty much in a state of gridlock. There was some kind of other incident on the Monash Freeway and cross town traffic was trying to loop the city. Also, Richard Stubbs on the radio was warning of an approaching dust storm. The dust storm didn't make it to town. I think it got stuck in traffic. I couldn't get back into the city. I had to drive across the top, dump the car at Coburg Station and get the train back to town. Guess what? The

The Restaurant in History, Part One.

1966: Pellegrini's, Bourke Street . The occasion: Lunch with my father, who was a catering industry salesman, and Leo. I was nine. Ate: spaghetti saltati. 1968: David Wang chinese restaurant, Little Bourke Street . The occasion: my brother's birthday. The whole family went. Arrived in: Yellow Cabs HR Holden taxi with the chrome grab bar across the back of the front bench seat for passengers to hold, and smash their teeth on in a crash. Ate: the $2.50 per head banquet. Historical note: the cafe was part of the long-gone David Wang department store. 1969: McClure's, St Kilda Road . (McClure was the Four'n Twenty pies McClure .) Tartan carpet. Enclosed booths with banquettes and telephones via which diners ordered their meals. Real waiters subsequently materialised some time later with your telephoned order. Chicken a la King. Chateaubriand. Oysters Mornay. If you had a problem you had to call them up again. It was like room service without the room. Drink : Yalu

17 March.

The old shed has no windows. At certain times of the day, a shaft of sunlight pierces the gaps in the weathered timber and lights up the interior like a laser sword in a science fiction movie. Right now, a sword of sunlight was pointing to a corner, shining on some old screenings and dirt. It was Saturday, mid-afternoon. I'd been clearing the shed for next week's hard rubbish collection and had already removed a huge metal and timber structure that occupied an entire corner in the shed. The structure was made from an old gas heating unit and had a hinged metal lid over a metal tub with a floor of timber slats. There were two holes in one end, as if to provide ingress and egress for something. The timber slats were littered with old lead fishing weights. I figured that the thing was some kind of rudimentary smoke house. It weighed a ton. Somehow I got it onto the front lawn. Then I went back into the shed. The shaft of sun shining on the old screenings and dirt had crept alo

Poll frozen.

That poll was fun and worked for a couple of days but this morning, this blog would only load down to the headline of that post, the poll had completely disappeared and the sidebars would not load at all. I tried loading the site on another computer, a Mac. Same result. Then I checked another blog which had posted a blogpoll and it had exactly the same problem. So I removed the poll and all is fine again. By the way, more than half of respondents could not bring themselves to name their favourite meal. My sentiments exactly. After all, the best meal is the next one.

Assembly line cooking.

According to a comprehensive tracking study undertaken by a vast panel of leading academics, comprising me and someone I asked, five out of ten people don't know what they'll be cooking for dinner when they reach the kitchen. But five out of ten people don't need to panic. They no longer even need to flip through old copies of Cuisine , Bon Appetit or Super Food Ideas . All they need to do is open the fridge door and google what they see + recipe. Magically, up comes six million ideas! I'm only half joking. Sometimes I'm too tired to think about cooking, so I just assemble instead. Assembling dinner is fun. It's like shopping at Ikea, without the crowds and the ball pool, plus you don't need an allen key. Here's what I assembled last night (without the use of google) from the contents of the fridge and the kitchen cupboard: Couscous with sardines and pinenuts. From the fridge: cherry tomatoes, turkish olives, tahini, butter. From the cupboard

Hometown landmarks, many involving food.

Terry Oglesby of Possumblog fame invites readers to take part in his weekly three-question Axis of Weevil Thursday Three . Here are his questions and my answers: 1) If you had only one hour to show a visitor something interesting in your hometown, where would you go? We would take a tram ride down Lygon Street through the city and across the Princes Bridge (far classier than the Sydney Harbour Coathanger) and down magnificent St Kilda Road past the Arts Centre (much better than the Sydney Opera Barn) and the Shrine of Remembrance and ending up in Acland Street. There we go, one hour exactly. And just in time for lunch. 2) If you then had to find that friend a great place for a quick bite to eat, where would you go? Well, we're in Acland Street , so there's food everywhere you look. But you said quick bite, so let's go to Scheherezade for some chicken soup or latkes or coffee and butter cake. 3) Now that you’ve entertained and fed your friend, it’s time to s

Scientist finds another use for red wine.

Look out, Milan. It's the return of the little red dress . Australian researchers are making dresses from fermented fabric, using bacteria to grow slimy dresses from wine and beer. Laboratory technician Gary Cass says the University of Western Australia's Micro'be' project combines science and art. "We're looking to provoke some discussion about future fashions, about the possibility of other material we can use instead of our normal cottons and silks," he said. So now you really can pour yourself into a dress. Mr Cass, who also writes science fiction, ... I saw that coming.

Farewell Summer.

There is always one day when you know. It’s not about the temperature, it just kind of feels different, like you’ve moved on. * Near midday, we walked down the hill and along the street towards the beach. At first you can’t see the water but you can see ships passing by, as if they were sliding down Point Nepean Road along with the cars. The Blairgowrie cafĂ© was the usual jumble of dogs and people and prams and waitpeople running in and out with plates up and down their arms. We sat outside, as always. There was a new steel in the wind, a coldness I haven’t felt for months. Yesterday the bay was all twinkling blue in the sunshine. Today the water was grey and had little white caps. We kept our jackets on and ate. Tracy ordered the open salmon sandwich which came out about a foot high and had a blizzard of capers and an avalanche of house-made mayonnaise on top. I had the house salad which was big enough to feed a hutch of rabbits for a week, if only they could get their noses into

Vegetable matters.

I never met a vegetable I didn't like. I'm no vegetarian but I believe vegetables and their preparation are under-represented in the national culinary consciousness. Maybe it's the name. What sounds more appetising: 'Fancy some vegetable?' or 'Fancy some rare barbecued sirloin?' I rest my case. When I met Tracy, she was borderline vegetarian or maybe she just wasn't sure. She's Libran. They can never make up their minds. (I don't think she even said 'Yes' or 'No' when I proposed. She accepted the ring, though, so I took it as 'Yes' and went off and organised the wedding.) Anyway, when we first went out - those heady, carefree days of sitting around starry-eyed in cafes eating hummingbird cake and drinking endless caffe lattes - Tracy was always making hunza pies and lentil burgers and pumpkin soup and Thai beef salads without the beef. So I naturally tried to impress, responding with some of my meat-free specialities,

Labour Day, train tracks, Mark Twain and jugglers.

Thanks to everyone who replied to my last post, of which I have concluded: I'm not alone in disliking after-dinner mints (Red Tulip brand here); and Australia must immediately exporting Vegemite to all markets. Monday is Labour Day. Meaning you don't . From Wikipedia: The celebration of Labour Day has its origins in the eight hour day movement, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest. If the union movement gave me eight hours leisure a day, I want to know who took them away again. Wikipedia goes on: In Australia, the Labour Day public holiday is fixed by the various states and territories' governments, and so varies considerably. It is the first Monday in October in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and South Australia. In both Victoria and Tasmania, it is the second Monday in March (though the latter calls it Eight Hours Day*). In Western Australia, Labour Day is the first Monday in March. In both Quee

What goes with what, and what doesn't.

A few weeks ago, Lucette posted a list of What Goes With What and What Doesn't in between writing a novel (a task which requires much fortification ). Here's my version: What goes with what. 1. Curry and eggs . The curried egg and lettuce sandwich is the king of sandwiches. Curry and eggs also meet in kedgeree, gado gado, nasi goreng and an actual egg curry itself. 2. Potatoes and sour cream . A potato, baked in a fire until blackened, then cracked open and loaded with sour cream and showered with salt is a truly beautiful thing. 3. Soy and wasabi . Wasabi-joyu. Sublime with raw fish. 4. Snails and garlic . I would probably never eat snails without garlic. I do however, frequently eat garlic without snails. 5. Butter and vegemite . Who, as a child, didn't love the combination of butter and vegemite in RyVitas, or any cracker that has holes? Butter and vegemite them generously and then press them together and the combined butter and vegemite comes out the holes in

The bookshop in the old church.

Lunch over, now let's walk. We're invigorated. Lunch does that to you. Either that or you want to go to sleep. Today we wanted to walk. We walked across the threadbare lawn and out of the gardens and across the road and up the hill. We turned right into the main street and on the corner was an old Wesley Church that wasn't a Wesley Church any more, but a second-hand bookshop. We went in through the arched doorway, which was big enough to get the twin pram through even though only one half of the arch was open. It was still like a church inside; only there were more books, quieter music and fewer customers. Fortuitously, the babies had just fallen asleep - both! together! - so we parked their pram on an old persian rug on what would have been part of the nave, right in between Crime and Biographies . You always see the same books in new bookshops, but a good second-hand bookshop takes you back to the past. The Cooking shelves had an extraordinary range of books in ex


Queenscliff sits on a hill. Down the hill towards the bay are the gardens, where a lawn like an old threadbare carpet sweeps down almost to the water. Here, ancient pines soar and their time-ravaged limbs point brokenly at nothing and they creak and grind and if you listen carefully you can hear the topmost branches whisper. We sat on a drift of pine needles beneath one of the old trees and ate lunch. It was cooler in the shade. On a slight breeze was the tang of brine and seaweed mixed with the spice of hot pine. The distinctive aroma is one of my earliest memories. I must have been one or two when first taken to the beach on some broiling day in the late nineteen fifties. Five or six rainbow lorikeets darted and swooped in one of the pines but they didn't stay long. They like berries and flowers on their trees. In another pine, magpies ogled and danced. Magpies don't care about the tree. Their eyes are on the ground. Lunch was simple. We had brought a picnic of bread r


First you see the lighthouses , then you see the ferry terminal sitting grey and squat on the dock. The dock is off to the north west of Queenscliff on a little point, where Port Phillip Bay meets Lonsdale Bay, maybe a kilometre from town. If you're a foot passenger, you disembark and walk into town along a sandy track edged with native grasses near the sand dunes, listening to unseen waves crashing onto the shore beyond. Or you can take the road that leads past the kinds of rundown buildings you always find at the ends of fishing villages; old shipyards with rusted anchors and ships' bells in front, leaning weatherboard houses with half-open front doors and awnings pulled down over verandahs, faded maritime museums, nissen huts built for long-forgotten reasons. We walked into town. We'd left the car on the other side of the bay and the babies rode abreast in their brand new twin pram; except they are not twins. Thomas is exactly four months and William is exactly twent

The ferry.

The booking office is a white weatherboard building at the end of the pier. Inside, a small waiting room looks out on Port Phillip Bay. We were sitting in the booking office watching the twinkling water at a quarter to ten on a late summer Saturday morning. Soon the ferry rounded the point and honked into view, hummed closer, did a neat swivel and started to back into the dock which comprised four rubber-lined concrete stanchions, each about the size of a small lighthouse. The ferry misjudged too far to starboard, edged out and came again. Perfect. Just like reverse-parking the Volvo. Then the ship's stern ramp - a kind of supersized gangway for vehicles - clanged down onto the edge of the pier and a few dozen cars, some towing caravans, rolled off; while a straggle of foot passengers disembarked and wandered away into the morning, clutching day bags, hats, sun umbrellas, newspaper colour supplements. The lazy paraphernalia of summer daytrips. There are two ferries. They lea

Seven TV chefs, and why I liked them, in exactly ten words.

1. Stefano Di Pieri . Genuine Italian cuisine in an outback city by the Murray. 2. Antonio Carluccio . Travelogue more than cooking show, a delicious journey through Italy. 3. Two Fat Ladies . Repartee, eccentricity, political incorrectness and wonderful fat-laden British food. 4. Nigella Lawson . Do I have to explain? No, I didn't think so. 5. Ken Hom . Introduced me to Chinese cooking, along with David Wang's cafe. 6. Ian Parmenter . Chef makes 450 TV shows; retires to Margaret River vineyard. 7. Delia Smith . Beautifully simple cooking including the basics. No annoying background music. Who did - or do - you like?

Canned heat.

If I took the name of this blog literally I would have to describe all those nights when I stare vacantly into the open refrigerator and then turn to the cupboard, take down a tin of baked beans, warm them up, toast a piece of stale bread, butter it, tip the beans onto the toast and eat. But I don't take it literally. Which is just as well because I'd bore you to tears. But that doesn't mean I don't use tins of food. Everyone does. It's just that some tins are more interesting than others. For example, the other night I bought an 825g tin of Sarson Ka Saag (curried mustard greens) and a pack of fresh chili roti from Desi Needs, the quaintly named spice shop in Coburg. I warmed up the mustard greens, cooked a pot of potatoes, mashed them with a little butter and a few mustard seeds and plenty of salt and pepper, heated the square roti under the grill, sliced it diagonally twice into four crunchy triangles, piled the potatoes into a large bowl, poured the hot Sar