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Showing posts from August, 2009

Food fight.

Australian Gourmet Traveller chief food writer Pat Nourse explains the loneliness of the long-distance restaurant reviewer : " ... you need to eat out on a Tuesday night in winter when you'd really rather just go home." Nourse's angst is understandable. Naturally, food reviewing is a higher art than other criticism: "It's not like reviewing a film where you can take a cheap shot and make a small dent in a Hollywood budget. It's someone's livelihood." Someone's livelihood??? Ask your threadbare independent film-maker friends what they think of that comment. However, the loneliness and angst pay off: There are only a handful of full-time reviewing jobs in the Australian media and the competition is fierce. ... It certainly takes skill to write about food, like this on Sepia from the current issue of GT: "The more classical salad of roast squab is a lovely dish, the very pink pieces of the bird arranged among tendrils of green over litt

Bubble, bubble ... and a leek and zucchini casserole.

It was an ordinary postwar timber house in a street running north out of Bell Street. Shadowed on its northern side by a double-storey McMansion, it had one main bedroom, with another small one off the rear verandah, sleep-out style. Great for a teenager, but you wouldn't want your small children out there, beyond the firewall of the main backdoor deadlock. The auctioneer shouted all the usual prefacing remarks. How close the house was to cafes and restaurants (currently the most quoted benefit in recommending spending half a million dollars on a house), shopping, transport hubs and schools. He didn't mention Bell Street being a Nick Riewoldt miskick away. You'd figure that out soon enough. Screech, crash! Bidding died at $581,000, was put on life support with a few $500 bids; made a major recovery with a jump-bid from $582,500 to $590,000 and finally cracked an even $600,000 when several parties walked away amid gasps from the crowd. Then the rolled-up auction sheet

Eye of the storm.

It was a good night to get into the water. By 5 o'clock the pool was almost deserted. It had been a bleak afternoon. Now the sky was a bruise and a storm threatened. The outdoor pool at Brunswick is not cold enough to give you a heart attack when you jump in, but not hot enough to choke you with evaporating chlorine, like at some indoor swimming places. If it wasn't for the lack of scenery, water-running is a fine alternative to running in the park or on the road. Certainly gets the pulse going. It's a good alternative to actual swimming, for that matter. * Outside the pool's walls, a few metres down Dawson Street, is the art deco part of the town hall built in 1926. It is Brunswick Library now, but in the late 1960s and early '70s it was still a hall. My older brother's speech nights were held here; tedious affairs that went close to midnight and featured dramatic and musical items; groups of combed and ironed boys standing on tiered dais singing Weste

The hamburger you can't eat.

It's four kilograms with the lot. If you ask the Cavendish Cafe to hold hold the onion, bacon, tomato, lettuce, beetroot, pineapple, egg, tomato sauce or whatever else they put in it, you could probably get it down to around the three kilogram mark; but that's still a monster. You turn right at Hamilton to get to Cavendish. It is beautiful country. The Grampians rise away to the east; Horsham is further north. They don't get a lot of through traffic. A giant burger gimmick is as a good a way as any to generate some publicity. Times are tough.

The chair and the book; late winter’s evening.

It was after nine. Dinner had been another winter favourite, a plate of spaghetti laced with sliced avocado, grilled red capsicum, chicken breast pieces braised in white wine and garlic, snow peas and home-made pesto; all tossed through nicely with a little cream and a lot of cracked pepper and showered with shaved parmesan. So back to the comfortable chair. One of a pair I bought with a matching three-seater lounge (1930s self-patterned green flock, polished cherrywood timber framework) for $200 in an antique shop in the hollow of Buckley Street in 1978, and had completely rebuilt and reupholstered in 1995 - after the first round of children - for $1800 at John’s Upholstery in Glenlyon Road. (John is Melbourne’s best upholsterer. Moreover, you will pay one-third to one-half of the price you'll pay in the inner east antique-and-afghan-rug belt of Armadale and Malvern.) I finished the glass of red and switched on 3MBS. It was the Tuesday night new music program called Contemp

Two-episode dinner.

Episode One: Monday. Baked spring lamb. This is a simplified version of the Italian spring classic Abbacchio alla Romana which traditionally comprises all manner of things including anchovies, but all you really need are good herbs to let the superlative flavour of Australian spring lamb shine through. This is easy to assemble with no complex preparation, it cooks fast and it tastes delicious. Take a kilogram of spring lamb pieces - six centimetre cubes - and rub into them one chopped fresh red chilli, a teaspoonful of chopped rosemary, a tablespoonful of chopped parsley and two crushed sage leaves. Place the herbed meat in a heavy baking dish. Now scatter over the meat one chopped onion, two very ripe chopped tomatoes, and three crushed cloves of garlic. Pour over two tablespoonsful of olive oil and a cup of white wine. Season lamb generously with salt and black pepper. Add a little water, just enough to raise the fluid level; about half way up the lamb pieces. Sprinkle over

Plain rice.

After the calm of the previous week, the ancient wind got up and blew for days; as it has each year for millennia, when Spring heats up the great red centre and the vast desert prepares for its sixty millionth hot season. A buffeting kind of wind, dropping to dead silence one minute and roaring like a dragon the next, rattling every sash window in the house. Trying to blow it away as if the house never belonged there anyway. The wind can smash a low building yet a hundred-year-old eucalypt with untold weight in its sixty-foot canopy rarely sustains damage more than the odd dropped limb. The evolution of trees. * Nothing of note in the kitchen lately. Sometimes, great lumps of time seem to roll by heavily, like unevenly round rocks rumbling away. One minute it’s early afternoon on a Tuesday; then you look up and three weeks have fallen off the calendar into the abyss. Twenty-one ‘x’s and nothing to show. Times like this, cooking and eating take on a strictly routine and practical

"Don't forget to type."

The sky has dripped for days with the kind of precipitation that wets everything without making an impression on the gauge. You could hardly call it rain. When it rained a few weeks ago, in the evening, I sat in the day room - the one that overlooks the back garden - for a while just to hear the sound of it beating on the iron roof. That room is an extension added in the 1950s to the original 1948 roofline. Rain on an iron roof is music. Until it leaks. * Everything seems to have stopped. Against the grey sky the trees are black fretwork bending to a cold, raw northerly. The lawn has returned but I haven't mown it for months. It's winter’s last gasp. Look closer. Everything is in bud. All waiting, tense, silent, like sprinters on the blocks of an Olympic final. Next month, the gun will go off. Until then the buds lie in wait. Of course, the magnolias are running a different race. Bare a few weeks back, they are now loaded with hundreds of absurdly large flowers from pi

Well, actually, it was a dark and stormy night, since you mention it.

The 2009 winner of literary parody contest, the Bulwer-Lytton awards, was announced some time ago. The winning line: "Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin' off Nantucket Sound from the nor' east and the dogs are howlin' for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the "Ellie May," a sturdy whaler Captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin' and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests." The awards have become a parody of a parody, of course. The contest judges would not look twice at the line on which the contest was originally based. Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton's 1830 novel Paul Clifford opened with the words: "It was a dark and stormy night." The opener took on a life of its own, assisted by Snoopy of Peanuts. Having said that

Product of the month. #2 in a series.

I'll do two this month, because I missed July. The first is this small can of peppercorns. It lurks innocently in the spice section of most supermarkets, where it sells for around three dollars. These peppercorns have a sustained heat. Not like the fiery blast a very hot chili pepper assaults you with, but more of a sustained slow burn. They don't overpower your cooking but you still feel the heat hours later. Pepper steak. Or steak au poivre if you like to affect Frenchisms at the table. I have posted this recipe once or twice in the almost six years I have been writing this online diary, but 'search' is being recalcitrant today and won't find it for me. Take two steaks, some cream, a can of Moulin peppercorns and a bottle of cognac or brandy. Heat your heavy duty cast iron frypan. Oil the steaks, throw them in and sear them. Ask everyone how they like their steak first and stagger the cooking accordingly. This is tricky. Why can't everyone eat s

The Moon and Carrots

Wednesday, 6.15 a.m. Dark and cold. I pulled on a coat and went out for the paper, a habit I haven’t been able to break. I dragged the front gate open on its dead bolt and hoped the metallic screech it made as it crossed the concrete didn’t wake the neighbourhood. I walked up the street and around the corner and across the road, and there it was. A giant ball of creamy yellow, low down near the horizon. It was the moon, setting. From where I was standing it was directly behind a giant eucalypt that must have been a hundred years old. It sat in the silhouetted tree like an overfed, fat white owl. Five minutes later, after I had fetched the paper, the yellow ball had climbed down the trunk and was slipping into the horizon, taking night with it. The day passed in a haze. There was writing to be done. Something about a boring subject that I tried to make it sound interesting. Not quite succeeding. It’s hard to write about a boring subject without sounding like you’re trying to make

"Middle of a drought, the water commissioner drowns."

July 1974 was the middle of an unusually cold and nasty winter. I was in the last year of school. That month, I saw an evening performance of Oedipus at Colonus at the Melbourne University Union theatre and froze on the tram on the way home. That July, I also had my first cinema date. I took the girl by tram to the newly-opened Cinema Centre in Bourke Street. Acres of electric blue velour chairs swept down to a giant screen about half a mile away, and more acres of electric blue velvet draped the walls, downlit in the folds by continuous hidden fluorescent strips. The walls concealed new sensurround speakers that made you think you were going down with the ship in The Poseidon Adventure . It was the last word in 1970s cinema décor and it was hideous. Oh, the movie: Chinatown . I had kind of forgotten about it. I half-remembered the darkness, Faye Dunaway and a score that sounded like a Formula One race in slow motion. Or something. Then it all came back, thanks to this Terry Tea

What to do with two Dutch Cream potatoes.

Dice a couple of Dutch Cream potatoes, cook until just soft, drain. Dice an avocado (Halve, de-pit, peel, invert halves, slice). Open and drain a can of corn. Chop - finely - some coriander. Dice a stick of celery. Toast some pine nuts (or use fresh walnut halves). Combine all ingredients in a large glass bowl. Dress with oil and vinegar. Warm, fragrant, potato and corn salad. Spring is a month away. Just getting into practice.