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Showing posts from June, 2007

Mid-winter break.

We were going to go this way . Thought we'd like to see Bairnsdale, Sale, Mallacoota, Eden. We headed north instead and are currently somewhere in southern New South Wales. It's raining here too. Just not as much. Back in a few days.

A dish with flavour that packs a punch: for winter.

I went out - to walk to the shops - at 2.30 in the afternoon and it was like early evening. Black clouds hung low and dripped like wet blankets pinned to a clothesline. I walked up the hill from the front gate and around the corner into a street of mainly 1930s and '40s timber cottages with neat front gardens. It was so dark you could see lights on in their front living rooms, through the sash windows and lace curtains and holland blinds. They looked warm. You could imagine old ladies in there sitting by the gas fire and knitting socks. The market was busy. People shop to keep warm. I bought some eggplants to bake and a few other necessities. It rained on the way home. I took off my coat at the front door and hung the umbrella on its hook and took off my shoes and went to the kitchen. Stuffed eggplant with olives, anchovies and capers . What's the best thing to stuff an eggplant with? Another eggplant, according to a book I pulled off the bookshelf, at random, about cookin

Two.

Two short years . Seven hundred long nights. As many early mornings . A million tears. Two million smiles. The odd tantrum. A vocabulary that grows by the day. One grown-up sister. One grown-up brother. One baby brother . More cooking than ever before. Lots of washing . A shrinking house. Two hundred books, some worn out, some with pages torn out, two or three of which are read every day. Fifty soft toys (which is about forty-nine too many) strewn along cupboard tops. Steps that sounds like elephants in the morning. A voice that shrieks like a demon, laughs like a kookaburra and coos like a dove. A smile to melt a heart of ice. And sixteen teeth. Happy birthday William.

A recipe for the solstice.

While I never tire of grills, barbecue and salads in summer, winter’s endless parade of soups and stews does start to pall after a while. The aromas and textures of winter food are seductive round about late autumn; but deep in winter, after sitting down to yet another bowl of something brown and hot, I start yearning for the snap and zing of tastes that are fresher and more associated with light and the outdoors. So for winter solstice – and to celebrate the turning of the days that will now start to grow longer, heading towards another golden summer - here’s a recipe that involves one of my favourite summer ingredients - feta. I go through tons of the stuff in summer - mostly combined in the world’s best salad, with fresh tomatoes, kalamata olives, sliced onion, sliced Lebanese cucumber, crushed dried oregano and almost-green olive oil. Chicken baked with feta and oregano. On a biting cold day with the wind from the south and the sun a faint disc behind swirling cloud, I visited

Shot Dutch chef still serious.

The fallout from Monday's city shootings continues. While the gunman surrendered following hours of 'delicate' negotiations between his lawyer and police - designed to assure he would 'not be harmed' - one of the men he shot, a Dutch backpacking chef, remains gravely ill in hospital : Mr De Waard, 24, was just days from returning to his Dutch home town of Middelburg after a 12-month surfing safari in Australia. Mr De Waard is in an induced coma at the Royal Melbourne Hospital where his condition is listed as serious but stable. ... It has been a tragic end to the trip of a lifetime for the fun-loving chef. ... He had worked as a cook and waiter as he travelled the country chasing waves and was in Melbourne only a few days before the shooting. Immediately after the shooting, Mr De Waard was given assistance by yet another good samaritan : Ms McGowan said she felt helpless as she held Mr De Waard, but wanted to do all she could to help the severely wounded man.

Monday morning.

It was just an ordinary June Monday morning, cold and misty over the city. I got on the tram at Flemington Road, but instead of turning into William, the tram sailed down Elizabeth. William Street was closed, the driver announced. A man was lying dead on the road, shot by a nutcase with a gun. I got off the tram at Lonsdale, walked up the hill and along the Hardware Lane cafĂ© precinct. The morning coffee peak was easing and the aroma of toast still hung in the air and the waiters were standing around with their napkins over their arms and the occasional cigarette. Helicopters buzzed overhead, but they always do that. No-one takes any notice. Then up Bourke and into my William Street office. It was quieter than usual for a Monday morning. No-one was going to break into a spontaneous powerpoint presentation. I didn’t know the dead man, but he was a long-time friend of one of my Melbourne University running friends. They had known each other for years. They were both lawyers. They

Little walking horses.

I noticed this story about a Kelloggs' plan to improve its cereals (following pressure from parents, who clearly have not been made aware that purchasing Kellogg's products is not compulsory). When I was growing up, we were a porridge family; but a box of cereal would occasionally appear in the cupboard (my favourites - Sugar Frosties and Coco Pops). The exciting thing about these boxes was that, nestling deep down amongst all that sugary, chocolately goodness, lurked ... a trinket. The relative rarity of cereal boxes in our cupboard meant these trinkets were even more special. So for me, the best thing Kellogg's could do to improve its cereals would be to bring back the trinkets! Of course, they would need to have genuine period design, detail and packaging. Below are my top six cereal trinkets. Am I forgetting any? 6. Dogs. Plastic black cocker spaniels, brown pointers, white collies, red boxers and others. Very cute. 5. Critters. I forget what they were called, b

The Age reviews a restaurant.

Matt Preston's opening paragraph : We live in an era of house extensions and supersizing where there seems to be constant pressures to increase our footprint on the world for reasons of status, or sometimes pure greed. Pressures from whom, ungrammatical Matt? Status and pure greed are voluntary motivations. And Matt, if you're worried about the dreaded footprint, why eat in a restaurant: have you seen the size of their stoves? Restaurants are no different. Too often we hear how a top chef is looking for a bigger site so he can pack in more slavering fans and take their money. 'Take their money' ? For shame. Restaurants should be free. Ban the bill! And exactly which top chef or chefs are 'too often' heard looking for 'a bigger site'? Matt doesn't tell us: but he should, were he to make any sense. Matt's rapacious restaurateur theory lurches from sentence to bad sentence like an out-of-control dessert trolley: The potential financial bene

That's not cold, this is cold.

I was sleeping fitfully, uncomfortably, in and out of dreams. A pulsating ache was clattering away inside my head. I couldn't just feel it, I could hear it. It sounded like a Volkswagen on a cold morning. It wasn't a Volkswagen. It was a red Fordson tractor and it came over a hill in a paddock and it was pulling a scarifier and no-one was driving it, so it must have been a ghost tractor. Then it drove out of the paddock through a gate and it pulled the scarifier onto a smooth concrete road and down the road; and the tines of the scarifier made a noise like a million nails being drawn down a blackboard and my head almost exploded, but the tractor exploded first and the landscape was on fire and then I woke up and the only thing that was on fire was my throat, but the rest of me was ice. * After a long mild autumn, the harshness of winter comes as something of a shock, like wading out into a shallow bay and then stepping off the continental shelf into the abyss. The cold has

Long weekend.

I kidnapped my mother. It was the only way. I told her to call off all engagements and cancel other arrangements. She protested. They always do. But I was insistent. Mum is not far off being an octogenarian, entertains ceaselessly, runs around like an Olympic marathoner, subscribes to causes, plasters heavily underlined op-ed articles all over her refrigerator, has strong opinions on just about everything, has a wide range of very eclectic friends, wears only op-shop clothes and has a million cookbooks going back to 1950; yet tears out recipes from Epicure and puts them in a bulldog clip in a dog-eared wad about two inches thick on the kitchen wall too near the stove. The problem is two-fold. First, her wide range of eclectic friends have been so well treated by her hospitality over the years that they continue to avail themselves of the pleasure. Second, my mother is wearing out. Arthritis and a spinal problem, while not exactly slowing her pace (she will die tearing around after

Coffee break.

The sunlight filtered down and hit the pavement beneath the verandahed Victorian buildings along Collins Street. The sun was warm when I walked in it, but when I was in the shadow of buildings I had to draw my coat a little tighter around me. The plane trees had started to lose their leaves at last; and the leaves gathered themselves in little piles of crumpled gold, making you want to pick them up and make wintry window displays for the shops selling Italian shoes and expensive tea and scarves and post-modern silver jewellery and ornaments, like a stretching cat with big jade eyes and an erect tail. Enough of the old buildings are gone to make it a shame; but enough of them remain to make this still the most beautiful street in the most beautiful city in the world, the jewel of the south, shining in the sun. Columns and spires and curves and gadrooning and a million other forgotten architectural details wore the thin early afternoon light and I walked down the Collins Street hil

Wednesday night supper.

Leek and beans on polenta. Cook some polenta. You can use instant polenta but the long-cooked version is creamier and better. (When cooking polenta, I kind of half-lid the pot because for some reason, my polenta always bubbles explosively and the stove gets covered in droplets of the stuff. I'm probably doing something wrong.) While the polenta is cooking away, gently fry three strips of good bacon, sliced into tiny squares, in a pan in some olive oil until not quite crisp. Now add a large, finely sliced leek (or a couple of smaller ones) and half a cup of white wine to the bacon. Lid pan and cook on very low for ten minutes. Stir. Now add a drained can of butter beans and some chopped parsley, stir through leeks and heat through. Serve piled up on polenta in shallow bowls. Good with an Alsace riesling . P.S: Check Gary Moore's tasting notes in the link above to find out why he loves the wine but hates the bottle.

BruMoCoFo fights back against Big Food.

Recommending imports was pointless when they were so rarely to be found. Now it is different. BruMoCoFo - as the Sydney Road food precinct is now known (for Brunswick/Moreland/Coburg Food precinct) - now has more spice shops, delis, continental and subcontinental groceries and other interesting food and ingredient outlets than actual mainstream supermarkets. Which means that that abomination called Chicken Tonight sold in the Safeway/Coles duopoly/cartel/oligopoly now finds itself outnumbered in the district by jars that hold contents slightly closer in nature to actual food than inoffensive coloured glue. Such as Laziza Tandoori paste. It is sharper and hotter and more intense, with more discernible spice notes than other brands. The label recommends marinating your meat in the paste with yogurt and then adding ghee prior to cooking. The ghee really ramps up the flavour. It's fantastic. I tried it with large sections of barramundi marinated overnight and then baked, and then

Traffic lights, Hansel and Gretel, ripe cheese and use-by dates.

Of course, it is nice driving to that countryside of green rolling hills, but when you return late on a Sunday afternoon, you have to go through Pakenham which is five kilometres of car lots and plant hire yards and fast food outlets and furniture barns, punctuated by twenty sets of traffic lights timed to stop you every four hundred metres. That’s nuts. The ‘government’ is spending $242 million to build a bypass around Pakenham. Why not just take out all the traffic lights? Those green hills (thank you, Jane Osmond) are hiding more and more of the kinds of small batch cheese makers that are often called ‘artisanal’ food producers, but I just call them artisans because I don’t agree that artisanal should even be a word. There are signs scattered through the district pointing to the existence of a gourmet food trail through the rolling hills and lush forests; which sounds like Hansel and Gretel following bits of ripe blue cheese and grissini sticks and the corks from bottles of Bass

Visiting.

There’s something about the rolling hills of Gippsland that plays around with your sense of distance. We were eating lunch at a round table in a little house perched on the side of a hill, and the round table was by an enormous picture window that looked out over another green hill just across the valley. That hill looked almost vertical, and the black-and-white cows that grazed on it looked like fuzzy felt animals stuck on a board, as if you could just reach out and pick them up and move them closer to the line of pine trees that stretched across the top of the hill like a giant eyebrow. * You get here from Melbourne by driving east along a flat freeway for an hour or so, and then you take a turnoff and you wind through the forest along a road that is still treacherously wet from overnight dew - or actual rain - and you have to take care not to drive too fast, because the trees are enormous and close to the road. And after another forty minutes you arrive at this small town in the

Turn off that kettle you silly woman; you've just killed another polar bear.

It was late morning, close to lunchtime. I wasn’t doing anything except flicking through the paper to make the time go faster, because I was hungry, and I could smell the aroma of something delicious floating up and in my window from the laneway below, where there are cafes. Towards the back of the paper there was a ‘special advertising feature’. I knew straight away it was a ‘special advertising feature’ because it had the words ‘special advertising feature’ on top of both pages. It was the kind of thing in which the paper suckers some sponsors for cash and then writes lame advertorial next to the paid ads and buries the whole thing after Public Notices and before Sport where no-one will read it. It’s how you make money in publishing. Anyway, the ‘special advertising feature’ was titled Saving our Environment and there was a picture of a mother polar bear and her cub standing around on some ice and directly below the picture was the caption: Bad news: melting ice in the Arctic aff