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Showing posts from April, 2008


Local authorities have a game. They vie with each other to see who can take longest to perform a task. There are degrees of difficulty: extra points are scored for inconveniencing the greatest number of people for the longest time. O'Hea Street is currently rubble. It has been for a while. O'Hea's Bakery is accessible behind the rubble. No worries: just climb over it to get to the front door. What's the problem? Complain, always they complain. What's the matter with you people? It's only rocks, Madam; your pram could do with some off-road work. Park up the road, Sir; there's a vacant spot somewhere north of Gaffney Street. It will do your legs the world of good. I thought it was VicRoads. I should have known better. It's Moreland Council, from Clown Hall on Bell Street. The crowd behind 1999's great Sydney Road Six-Month Footpath Reconstruction which saw several retailers almost go under; and the Victoria Mall rebuilding project of the early 2000s, a

Coffee in St Kilda.

Another warm autumn day, the air completely still. CFA burn-offs continue on the ciy's fringes. Geographically (or is it topographically?), Melbourne is a bowl with a lip, a circle ringed by low mountain range. The smoke has dropped into the bowl and the sky is a haze. I drove down Beaconsfield Parade towards St Kilda and you couldn't see where bay met sky, an optical illusion in which the view to items in the water - boats, depth markers, buoys - was foreshortened and they seemed to hang in the haze like small pictures in oil on a grey wall. Coffee at Scheherezade, strong and bitter and necessary. Late in the day the sun was deep gold, then red. It slipped down the sky and disappeared through a slit in the cloudy murk like a coin dropping into an envelope. ANZAC Day tomorrow: the dawn march and service will take place under more haze unless an April wind whips up tonight. I doubt it. We'll remember all of them of course, and especially my unknown uncle, lost in Malaya in 1

Lentil rice with cardamom and fried onions.

Well, that was nice. I do like a lamb shank, hanging off the bone and fragrant with herbs. Now let’s get to work on those stockpiles of rice and lentils. I did an official tour of the Wimmera wheat belt once – during the mice-plagued summer of ’84-’85 - and I guarantee there’s more grain in this larder than the Dunolly wheat silo. (No mice though, thank goodness.) Lentils. How many lentils does one household need? There are red lentils, green lentils and lentils that I am not even sure are lentils at all. Toor dhal. Chana dhal. Urad dhal. Too many shopping trips to Desi Needs and not enough cooking. Lentil rice with cardamom and fried onions. A wonderfully fragrant dish, of which you’ll catch the aroma halfway down the hill if you happen to be trudging home from the train at the time, which was about six p.m. on a golden-skied April evening with a fresh southerly stirring the upper leaves of the yellow-tipped poplars at the end of the street. The first time I made this dish its simpli

White pepper.

The days are gold and warm but late in the afternoon a cold something materialises in the air and it whispers: cook comfort food and make it steam with the aromas of slow cooking and herbs. So I do. It’s a good time of year to haul out all those jars of grains and legumes and nuts that have remained untouched over summer, abandoned for the seductions of summer's fresh salads, vegetables and grills. I opened the cupboard, creak. Rice of about six different kinds, lentils - the same, barley, polenta – instant and not instant. Let's get cooking. I started with a simple lamb shank stew, taking two lamb shanks, two carrots cut into rounds, three potatoes cut into thick discs, two onions cut into quarters, a sprig of rosemary, lots of white pepper and a dash of worcestershire sauce. It couldn’t be easier. I just simmered the lot, covered with water, for two hours, adding a scant cup of barley and quite a lot of finely chopped parsley with three-quarters of an hour to go. Meanwhile I

The café in history, part one.

Is there a Melbourne milk bar, greengrocer, post office, bootmaker’s shop or haberdashery (is the word even used any more?) that hasn’t been turned into a café? They spring up like mushrooms after a week of rain. Every time a café opens, local property-for-sale boards exhort buyers to 'live the latte lifestyle' and house prices leap 50% overnight. Suburbs like Seddon and Yarraville surely now have more places to eat out than houses. What did people do before there were cafés? The short answer is that they went to other, earlier cafés, just not as often. And they weren’t called cafés. Eons ago, I’m not sure when, probably in the Middle Ages or the Dark Ages or even as long ago as the 1970s, cafés went under another name. They were called coffee lounges. Like the dinosaur, most coffee lounges died out due to major genetic faults that included lace in the windows, embossed plastic tablecloths, toasted sandwiches sitting upright like the Pyramids in wicker baskets and appalling co
Well, there's a milestone. Tracy has returned to work for two days a week - consecutive - and guess who's minding the boys on Mondays and Tuesdays? Sure, I can write when they're asleep. We used to have dogs. Feeding small children (William is two years and nine months; Thomas is one year and five months) is rather more difficult. And you can't do it outside in inclement weather. I always wanted a kitchen that you could hose out; a kind of medieval flagstoned affair. That would help. Where's the broom?

Changing highways.

I was sitting under a 1950 Harley Davidson. It was on a display stand at head height, hanging over the table at which I was sitting. I was hoping like hell it wouldn’t fall on me. It was the night after the storms and a Harley breaking its moorings would have made a shocking mess of my head. And my dinner, which was Cajun fish. Sometimes, fish is so tender you hardly need a knife. The flesh of this fish was moist and just opaque and it came away in quivering flakes with a touch of the fork. The whole thing was held together by a faint, sheeny crispness flecked with warm, dark Cajun spices. Someone in the kitchen knew exactly how to grill fish. The accompanying salad was robust and had enough variety and colour and interest to last the whole meal. Some salads are boring after the first crunch and you start looking at what everyone else is eating. I looked anyway. There were gumbos - the prawn and okra gumbo looked good - and grilled steaks and fried chicken and burgers and chilli and ev

The last tomatoes.

The roof stayed on, but half the dirt up at the top of the state near Mildura blew down and landed on the car and the other half landed on the washing line. Now the car is red and so is the washing. Yes, it's like 1982 again. No wonder they have to dredge the bay. Most of Victoria ends up in it over time. * Speaking of red, I picked the last tomatoes for the year. It was a disappointingly small crop, but they were good. They had that abundance of juice instead of pulp and that almost overpoweringly sweet aroma with the acid in perfect balance. In this condition they need neither salt nor pepper. I sliced them thinly, scattered them with chopped, marinated green olives and served them as a kind of bruschetta on lightly toasted and buttered Potts Swiss white bread. * And the basil continues to come. Plenty of parsley as well, so I made a pesto with equal measures of the two herbs with garlic, cheese and walnuts and used this as an ingredient in one of my favourite pasta dishes: Past

Who'd be a food writer?

David Herbert's excellent food column in the March 15 edition of The Weekend Australian colour magazine (March15) featured seasonal lamb recipes . Mr Herbert wrote: Lamb is a great dish at this time of year; I much prefer lamb at the end of summer when it has more age to the meat and a better depth of flavour. If you are lucky you may even find some hogget (two teeth or about 12 months old) or some of the delicious milk-fed lamb that is starting to appear. Be guided by your butcher and try to buy the best quality you can afford. Good advice. One of the featured recipes was a variation on lamb souvlaki. Two weeks later, the following letter to the editor appeared in the same magazine: David Herbert's Lamb Souvlaki is a trendy lamb parcel. Traditional souvlaki is simply skewered cubes of lamb marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, oregano and pepper, cooked over a barbecue and given a squeeze of lemon while cooking. I have never seen cumin in a Greek recipe and there is no place f