Skip to main content


Showing posts from October, 2009

A shorter history of the vegetable garden.

Beans take a few months to grow, and then you have enough to feed a suburb. Unless you preserve them and who can be bothered doing that? Our childhood household had a preserving set that was thrown out unceremoniously during the Great Food Revolution of the 1960s, when everyone abandoned vegetable gardens and turned to the supermarket for salvation. It was called liberation, from chores and peeling; from chopping and wrapping up scraps in newspaper to be placed in corrugated galvanised iron rubbish bins with lids that clattered along the street in a storm like hubcaps off a car. My father persisted with his vegetable garden through the flower power years, growing radishes well into the early seventies until everyone stopped eating them. People laughed out loud when they saw them on his salad platters, as if they were some kind of odd food relic from an earlier time. Yes! They are edible! So the 1970s arrived and the radish was out and the exotic avocado was in; but you didn’t grow

How Hospitals Work, Part Three.

Ward Four South on a cool spring day. I’m sitting on a chair next to my mother’s bed. The doctor had called me a couple of hours earlier to tell me the surgery had been completed and all was looking fine. He sounded jovial, like someone who has just come into the clubhouse after eight rounds of golf. There are tubes and clipboard charts and electronic bed elevation controls all over the bed and I’m afraid to come too near for fear of disconnecting something or tipping my mother onto the floor. I tell her not to talk, because she can’t. She ignores me. She talks. She is euphoric in that delirious post-operative way when the drugs are still working and before the pain hits. * The fourth admission had been successful. The planets had aligned, three months after the first attempt. When you finally get into the system, it works perfectly well. Meaning doctors, not necessarily hospitals in the wider sense. If you could have doctors without the bureaucracy: Médecins Sans Hôpitaux . We

How Hospitals Work, Part Two.

Three or four weeks after the scan. The required procedure or operation or whatever they call it was a laminectomy, which sounds like what you do when you renovate a 1950s kitchen, but is actually a way of easing pressure on the spinal nerve where it was being squeezed by the spine at the neck where it passes close to the gullet, or was it the oesophagus? The procedure was required soon, because my mother was having trouble breathing properly and couldn’t raise her arms, because the nerve radiates out and down the shoulders and arms. Don’t quote me on it, I’m not a doctor. * She was admitted four times. They rang her up and told her she was top of the list, and to be ready and prepared, like a parachute-backpacked airman set for a night mission, or an alert fireman on a hot day. Also, don’t eat anything after ten the night before, they said. And be here at the crack of dawn, they said. Fine. Four times. The first time there was an emergency, meaning a more urgent case came up that morn

How Hospitals Work, Part One.

I was sitting in a waiting room in a hospital again. The parent this time; not a child. Again the waiting room was empty. Again a television was talking to itself in a corner, like a mad vicar preaching to an empty church. Again there was a sign that read Do not touch television controls . Again I switched it off. It was eight o'clock at night. My mother had the last appointment of the day. I had driven her to Grattan Street and we walked through the maze that is the new RMH, now grafted to the RWH, and we were confused because you don't know which hospital you are in any more. * We had walked along half a kilometre of corridors and through sets of those flapping doors you only find in hospitals and restaurants, and then we had found the right place and we had gone in and sat down and a smiling Indian male nurse had come out and given my mother a two-page form on a clipboard that asks you to confirm you don't have any conditions and you are not micro-chipped and you d

Out we go.

One-inch pillows of fresh salmon, poached ever so gently in a little wine and garlic. Strips of avocado added to warm through. Egg noodles cooked until just done, drained and draped in ringlets on white plates. Salmon pillows and avocado strips placed in little cairns on the pasta. A little cream in the pan juices, reduced in the wine with salt and pepper and poured over each dish. A large glass of cold chardonnay, glinting yellow in the gathering dusk. The first outdoor evening meal of spring has to be special and it was. * We had an afternoon tea for Thomas's birthday; crustless sandwiches, and small open pastries filled with lightly beaten egg and tiny bacon squares and shards of spring onion. And tea: my favourite Earl Grey. * I'd been discussing euphemisms earlier in the day with a teacher. Teachers know all about euphemisms. They have to use them. It's enforced by Education Department bureaucrats. We had been discussing reports in the news of students
Ice-cream on the lawn is always a nice idea, mid-afternoon on a warm spring day. Thomas will be three tomorrow.

"And your special subject is ..."

The best food books have just one subject. No, not food itself: I mean a single subject within the vast world of cooking and eating. Here are four of my favourites: CHEESE: I Love Cheese by Teubner, Mair-Waldberg and Ehlert Read this book and you may never eat another Kraft Singles sandwich again. There are cheeses in this book that even the man behind the cheese counter at Leo's in Kew may never have heard of: Slovakian Ostiepok, a smoked ovoid cheese, brown like a baked potato; Queso Ahumado, smoked and made from goat’s, cow’s and sheep’s milk; Burrata; Israeli Galil, like Roquefort; Irish Crimlin Fourme d’Ambert. The latter is described by the authors as a cheese with 'surface flora adding to its pronounced taste' and you can just about see the surface flora growing and smell the result in the the accompanying full colour photograph. Then there are the recipes, revealing the alchemical nature of cheese in being able to turn an ordinary foodstuff into a meal fit

View from the Bridge.

It must have been the reminiscing about Chinese food. Or sitting on top of the West Gate Bridge for two hours. But that night, something fast and tasty was needed on the table. Was there no warning? It seemed the whole of Melbourne was on the bridge, going east or west; not that you can go north or south, but you know what I mean. 'Delay' signs are everywhere at the best of times, but that could mean five or ten minutes. Two hours is not a delay; it's half a day. Ten years ago, the State government changed a perfectly good Victorian motto from 'Victoria On the Move ' to 'Victoria The Place to Be '. 'Victoria Expect Delays ' would have been more accurate, although there were plenty of people with nothing to do but 'be' as they sat on top of the bridge on Saturday staring down at the docks and the half-loaded ships and the grimy river. By the way, avoid the bridge at weekends until Christmas. There’s always the western ring road via Thomast

A shorter history of the Chinese cafe.

I can remember, but only just, those distant days of long ago when earlier civilisations - oblivious to the coming of a whole brave-new-world raft of hybrid, clichéd acronyms and abbreviations that were destined to stride the world’s consciousness like a tech-savvy hyper-eco-warrior driving a Toyota Prius to the airport to catch a Jumbo jet to an ETS and CPRS global warming conference on the other side of the world - walked to the Chinese takeaway on the corner and fetched fried rice in pots . Yes. You took a vessel - a large saucepan was commonly used due to its utility in both fetching and serving, also it had a lid - to the Chinese takeaway and returned home with it full of steaming freshly-wokked fried rice, fragrant with spices and soy and slivers of peppery scrambled egg and cubes of salty ham and tiny piquant prawns and fat hot green peas that popped in your mouth like fuschias pressed between a finger and thumb. The ever-smiling Chinese takeaway man – or lady – would decide a

The Flavour of Green Tea over Rice.*

Thomas tried to spoon some of my tea over a bowl of freshly cooked rice, telling me it tastes delicious. There is no Japanese blood in my family. As far as I know. *I saw the movie years ago in Cinema Studies 1 at RMIT's old Radio Theatre in Bowen Lane (probably my favourite cinema ever) and while I can't remember the plot, I've never forgotten the name.

Poppies arrive early.

The travelling poppies have put in their annual appearance, this year a week or two early; deciding to position themselves in the very hot north-facing bed that catches the mid-morning sun, and which last summer saw the demise of the hedge of Pale Lilac Perennial Balsam, Impatiens Oliveri . 2008 poppy here (scroll down to November) and 2007 version here . Seems they're travelling north year by year. * Further garden clippings: this morning, I put in Tigeress and Amish Oxblood, which sound like horses from yesterday’s Caulfield Guineas but are in fact two heirloom tomatoes (Tigerella is a different, hybrid version in some countries). They went into the front vegetable strip which is currently sprouting broadbeans in all directions. * Digressing wildly, and speaking of yesterday’s races, the final seconds of the Toorak Handicap were a dramatic triumph, the kind of finish that has the caller struggling to reveal the outcome with several horses hitting the line as one, and th

Tonight's dinner - start yesterday. Or the day before.

A hot day. A canvas marketplace somewhere in one of earth’s most ancient lands. The heat of a torturing sun was tempered, only just, by a murmur of a breeze from where - the Mediterranean? Must have been. Aromas drifted on the haze: the sweet tang of dried fruits, the heat-amplified reek of spices, an earthy blend of nuts and grains and flours and grinds, and that must-eat-now scent of seed- and herb-flecked bread, probably just out of a stone oven. It was near lunch time. Puffs of blue smoke drifted out of the inky darkness of one of the tents. Someone was grilling something. Let’s hope they keep the flames well clear of the canvas, I said to myself. Don’t worry, I replied. They’ve been doing it for years. The smoke was redolent of mint and garlic. For a moment there was no sound. The market was eerily silent. Noon approached. Time stood still. Then the market buzz resumed and the aromas drifted on the breeze and the griller kept barbecuing. The marketplace stood in a place wher

George Harrison leaves toddlers speechless.

Ten to six last Friday. It had rained all afternoon but it was still light behind the heavy cloud. I drove to the supermarket in Sorrento for milk, a can of peaches, a jar of dried basil, some Dargo walnut cheese and a light bulb to replace the ‘eco’ one in my reading lamp that had lasted two weeks before going fffft . By contrast, the ancient cobwebbed one in the porch light at the front door is an old Phillips 40 watt pearl that could be twenty years old. Or thirty. The boys are lively at this time of day. They tear up and down like greyhounds, or scream or laugh, or just throw toys at each other in silence. It depends. They had been lively in the supermarket, but Coles has cleverly supplied a small number of special trolleys fitted with forward-facing twin dickey seats, fitted with four-point seatbelts. Tighten them nicely and the boys can be as vocal as they like. But they can’t move! Back home along Point Nepean Road, snaking around the bay. To the left, the water was liquid