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Showing posts from November, 2007

Moved by cheese.

Thanks to Will Studd, I can eat a rare steak topped with a slice of roquefort. He was the man forced to bury 80 kilograms of the stuff, an event leading to the reversal of the roquefort importation ban. Mr Studd's new book is entitled Cheese Slices. Review here , courtesy The Age . This would be a perfect Christmas gift. You could read it after Christmas dinner, with the cheese platter and another drink at hand, when everyone else has fallen asleep or gone home. But you would have to like cheese, of course. Mr Studd does. You can tell by the way he talks: " ... I learned that Spanish Valdeon blue, which I always thought was matured in caves and wrapped in sycamore leaves, was actually wrapped in plane tree leaves and matured in fridges." We all have those apocalyptic moments.

Left, right.

There he was, on the front page, photographed coming out of church with his wife on Sunday morning, trying to look humble and not quite succeeding. The man who declared he was an economic conservative at his campaign launch. The man who slammed the Coalition's profligate spending promises. Who was Right and who Left? Before the election, the papers were similarly all over the place. The editorially Right-tending Weekend Australian endorsed and recommended a Labor vote; Left-leaning Fairfax's flagship and only national newspaper, the Australian Financial Review , wanted to stay with the Coalition. The voters bought. Left went Right, and Left won. You could be forgiven for thinking that Right is now to the Left of Left. It isn't of course, but based on the campaign, that's how it looked on major policy fronts. And now Australia has a conservative Christian Prime Minister - a Queenslander - who has promised to cut spending and slash bureaucracy . These attributes and a

Awards night, part three.

A mechanical curtain about the size of a hangar door opened slowly, groaning. On the other side of the curtain, a vast room contained a sea of round tables. There must have been a hundred. On every table sat a burning candle inside a tall white cylinder embossed with a design of black tracery resembling curled wrought iron. The glow of the candle reproduced the tracery, in shadow, across the white linen on each table. It was perfect. Then seven hundred people galloped in and sat down. Wine waiters circled tables backwards with one arm behind their backs and the other pouring from linen-shouldered wine bottles into impossibly large glasses. Try it sometime. It's not easy, especially when people put things on the ground behind their chairs; I don't know, bags, coats, award trophies, walking sticks. Then the food arrived. Battalions of waiters came out from somewhere far away, beyond the black curtain, plates up their arms like shields. They dealt them around the tables without

Awards night, part two.

After a while my eyes adjusted to the darkness. It takes time after standing in blazing sunshine for half an hour. The auditorium was enormous and the interior designers had thrown a lot of black paint around. Everything was black. Black walls, black stage, black seating, black floor. The ceiling was at a vast height and if you craned your neck you could make out the usual affair of blacked-out air conditioning piping and lighting and sound wiring and spotlights. That's a lot of black paint. $12 million dollars worth . The PR writers gush: 'With no expense spared on the $12 million fit out, Peninsula is best described as a sublime warehouse conversion that fuses Shed 14’s rich-heritage (sic) with today’s most contemporary and glamorous design, created by leading interior design firm blackmilk.' That explains the black. The place is described as have been 'inspired by London's iconic Tate Museum', which seems a stretch, unless you reverse the comparison

Awards night, part one.

This time I knew exactly where to go. Last time I was in Docklands, it was late and dark and I hadn't been to that end of town before. This time the building was easier to find and it was broad daylight. The problem was it was 38 degrees and I was wearing a dinner suit and the flies from way up north had invited themselves along . I was a little early and I waited out the front of a building called Peninsula at Pier 14. I was meeting a colleague who had my ticket. Pier 14 is an old warehouse at the bottom of the now-extended La Trobe Street, where that street arches up over the railway yards and dumps the trams and the traffic at the water's edge. Pier 14 sits facing square north, alongside the old Swanston Dock which ten years ago was a festering heap of rats and broken timber beams with no boats tied up, and is now Victoria Harbour with million dollar cruise boats and water that sparkles with money. It's amazing how the view changes when you call a dock a harbour. I ha

Travelling poppies.

Ten years ago, we lived at No. 5 in this street. The previous owner of No. 5, Mr Treadwell, had been something of a gardener and had flowers leaping out of the ground all year round, just to keep him entertained, I suppose. No YouTube or plasma screens in those days. So we moved in and the flowers entertained us. Poppies shot up in November, unfurled their pink heads to the sun and then gently faded away, leaving stalks and flowerheads carrying seeds. I kept the seeds from year to year. Then we moved to the country. The seeds came along and the poppies grew in the country. Later, we moved back to the city, a few suburbs away from this one. The poppies grew. Then we returned to this street in October 2005, buying the house at No. 1, two doors away from our old house. Today the poppies are flowering fifteen metres from where Mr Treadwell tended them for how long? He had been in that house since 1938.

Cloud and surf.

Late afternoon Sunday. Hot. At Blairgowrie beach, the tide was out. Children played on the sand, paddled in the shallows, splashed and shrieked. A southerly breeze meant it wasn't any hotter than it could have been. The sky had been clear all day, but earlier in the afternoon I had noticed a grey smear to the south, over Bass Strait. Over a couple of hours the smear came closer and pixillated. Then it came down from the sand dunes and drifted across the north-facing beach in shards of something white and wet and tingling. The cloud cover was on the ground. I have never seen anything like it, at least not in these conditions. It was like being hosed with the sprayer set to a fine mist. It was like standing in rain that hadn't rained yet. In fact, it was exactly that. Half an hour later, we left the bay beach and turned the car south, crossed two kilometres of peninsula and drove into the carpark at the ocean side to get a better view. Here, the unbroken cloud mass was rolling

Pasta with walnut, olive and capsicum sauce.

Otherwise known as provencale sauce. Enjoyed by vegetarians and carnivores alike, this sauce is robust and spicy and is ideal with long or short pasta. I often pair it with gnocchi. It improves overnight as the rich flavours intermingle. Set a heavy pan on the slowest of flames. Throw in a couple of dozen halved walnuts, the same number of halved and pitted black olives, a chopped onion, a chopped red pepper, a dozen quartered button mushrooms, half a cup of peas, a chopped red or green chili pepper and a scored clove of garlic. The idea is to give the walnuts a head start on a slight toastiness and then let everything start to sweat before adding fluid. Now add either a jar of passata or a couple of 425g cans of diced tomatoes, a tablespoonful of pesto and a cup of water. I always rinse the water through the tomato jar or cans to use up every last bit. Now give it a good turn with a wooden spoon, bring it to a simmer and leave the sauce bubbling slowly for half an hour. Chill and

Cup afternoon.

Early afternoon. Warm. No wind. A perfect day, one of the ones you dream about. I walked east along Woolley Street on the way to my sister's house. Nothing stirred. They say the Melbourne Cup is the race that that stops a nation, but you don't really believe it until you walk down a street anywhere in the country an hour before the race. Anyone who is going anywhere has already arrived and anyone else is staying right where they are. Except me. I walked on. Across the road, a gate clicked and in the silence it sounded too loud, like in a movie. Further along, from a darkened open front door, the muffled wheeze and strike of a clock. Two o'clock. I reached Mt Alexander Road and crossed the first half of the road to the median strip where the tram line runs between stands of old palm trees. A tram came out of the palm trees rocking gently from side to side and slid down the hill, under the railway bridge and out of sight. It was empty except for the driver. He would have

A shorter history of the Melbourne Cup.

1963. Early childhood memories are stills, later ones are moving images. This is a still: my father's workshop, dim and dark; wood shavings everywhere; a timber project in progress on the sawbench; His Master's Voice radio, fake red leather encased, sits on a shelf, covered in wood dust. Bert Bryant calls the race on 3UZ and Gatum Gatum wins. I liked the name. It sounded like galloping hooves. 1965. Family picnic in the backyard. Father runs a sweep and everyone gets a horse. Mother's wins: Light Fingers, ridden by Roy Higgins. 1968. My father's on-and-off freelance photography career sees us on the rail at Flemington. We stare at the bizarre sight of a single horse rounding the turn and entering the straight. It is Rain Lover, winning the Cup by the greatest margin ever. 1973. I am back in the workshop at home, going through an early oil painting phase. I am trying to paint a mountain and wondering what colour they are as Gala Supreme crosses the line. The mountain
You could have put the house on it after all, and doubled your money at least; although in this current property market bubble, you would achieve much the same result just by waiting until next week. Meanwhile, the headline writers are in top form if you like bad puns.

The fly.

It's the time of year. Last weekend we had a picnic way down there in the valley by the Tarago River in deepest Gippsland where the black and white cows live; and the flies came along, just to be sociable. It was Sunday afternoon and we barbecued my mother-in-law's Lorne sausage, which is a highly spiced combination of minced beef and pork and you eat it on fresh buttered bread with Lea and Perrins sauce and sip a scotch and imagine you're back in the Highlands; except the temperature is thirty degrees celsius. Well, it was last Sunday, in Gippsland, before that gale came over and whipped the treetops so that they looked like streamers at a Grand Final. After the gale, the temperature dropped and the flies went away. Later in the week, another fly came along. I could see it. It wasn't buzzing and flicking like the Gippsland flies, but it was kind of swimming backwards and forwards in front of me, as if in jelly. The funny thing about the fly was, I could only see