No-one was sitting at the cafe tables outside No. 160 in the main street of Avoca. Why would they? It was about six degrees celsius with a biting westerly blowing the few leaves left over from autumn into oblivion.
No. 160 is one of those ancient small-town main street shops that have a flyscreen door that slams shut behind you, dusty old shelves that reach up to an impossibly high ceiling and sawdust on the floor.
We opened the door and went in. The shop had an unpolished timber floor with the remnants of a japaned finish popular in Victorian times, a counter and stools set into the window and a few wooden tables of different sizes with chairs that didn't match. A tall, dark-haired thirty-something woman was busy behind the counter. Newspapers were spread about the tables.
The sawdust was gone, of course, and the shelves were no longer dusty. Who knows what they held in days gone by: hardware? sacks of flour? implements for gold-digging? manchester? hats? gunpowder?
I decided gunpowder and we ordered coffee at the counter and then sat down to wait at the largest table. A man was perched at a window stool drinking tea, reading the sports section of the paper and ignoring the view. What's there to look at? It hasn't changed in a hundred years.
The most explosive things on the shelves these days are the jars of chilies. It's the kind of place you want when the only supermarket in town doesn't have any olives. (It didn't: the IGA Express had neither fresh, canned, pickled, green, black, stuffed, halved nor pitted.) On the other hand, the store at No. 160 had several varieties in large glass jars in a chilled display case by the counter. The shelves held good coffee and tea, good oil, canned fish, good pasta and similar items that are usually referred to as 'gourmet'.
The coffee came out. Tracy still drinks that appalling concoction they call 'decaf', but she says the quality and flavour is improving. It would want to. My long macchiato was so good I broke my cardinal rule of coffee-drinking and ordered a second. The second is never as good; but this was.
It was mid-morning and we had ordered a croissant for the boys by way of morning tea. The pastry would have made a Frenchman swoon: semi-transparent golden outer layers flaked away to the touch, revealing an interior of soft, buttered meltiness. Not that I got to eat any. I'll never buy a chain bakery croissant again. The house-made apricot jam came in an earthen dish and there was enough for four, so Thomas ate a large spoonful. (Yes, I know, but there was no-one else in the room except the man in the window.)
Nothing like two long macchiatos (-i?) to power a country drive. On the way out, I collected some small black olives and a loaf from the large tin of short and long sticks on the counter. (The Frenchman would have had to swoon again: the loaf had the look, taste, texture and 'give' of a perfect French batard.) Then I noticed six perfect red onions arranged very carefully on a raised display stand.
Are they for sale, I asked. Or just display? You never know these days. The woman hesitated, a smile playing about her lips. Both, I suppose, she replied. I bought two, completely spoiling the display, and a couple of small bulbs of home-grown garlic. She gave me two more, gratis. It was that kind of place.
The door slammed behind us. The man was still in the window and still not looking out.
(You need to know the number because there was, at the time of visit, no visible sign reading Janie's Kitchen, the name of the business. The verandah outer edge bore the name of a previous enterprise, Days of Yore; obviously a self-fulfilling prophecy.)
Smoked salmon with individual salades nicoises.
Warm your smoked salmon through. Peel and chop ten kipfler potatoes and cook them until just done. Slice two dozen large cherry or miniature roma tomatoes in two. Drop the same number of green beans, topped and tailed, into boiling water. Retrieve and drain after a minute. Do the same with asparagus. Boil two eggs until almost done. Halve a clove of garlic and press it around serving plates to impart flavour. Add warmed smoked salmon fillets to plates; pile potatoes and tomatoes into cairns on each plate; nest beans and asparagus over and place two halves of egg in each. Restart when it all falls apart. Strew caperberries on top.
Serve with buttered slices of perfect French batard from Janie's Kitchen.