Skip to main content


Showing posts from November, 2009

Old photographs: # 2 in a series.

The white HG Holden, KXB-597, was my father's car in 1971. He taught me to drive in it, at an empty Flemington racecourse carpark on Sunday afternoons. The photograph above was taken in Donald, central Victoria. Where was he going? Who knows. Why did he stop there to take the picture?

The encyclopedia and the old painting.

I had to write a page for a regional tourist guide; one of those glossy full colour productions that are half an inch thick and that no-one reads. They print a million of them and they get thrown unread into the motel waste basket along with empty beer cans from the mini bar, the pay-TV guide and last night's Chinese takeaway containers. The thing I had to write was a biography of nineteenth-century poet Adam Lindsay Gordon, who had lived in the region. Tourist authorities milk these things for all they are worth; especially history, especially famous people, who become a property, a drawcard. Potted biographies usually give no real idea of the human being. Dick Turpin slept here! Who the hell was Dick Turpin? Who cares! Buy the T-shirt! Or the mug! So I wrote about Adam Lindsay Gordon, but it wrote itself. I had known nothing about him or his work. Gordon had arrived in Australia at the age of twenty, already an accomplished horseman; married a girl of seventeen; wrote vivid e

Potato salad with Rolls-Royces.

Nice tomatoes are coming in. A nice tomato is to a tasteless tomato what a Rolls-Royce is to a Trabant. Probably more so. At least you can do something with a Trabant - there was one at the motor club show day at Flemington earlier this year. But bad tomatoes are completely useless. You can't even make sauce out of them. Take a nice tomato and combine it with a good, waxy potato and you are looking at a great meal. Warm potato and asparagus salad, Greek-style. The Greek part is the feta that tops this salad. The rest I made up. Peel, quarter (if small to medium - or the equivalent word for six or eight, up to 'decimate', if large or very large; a robust bite size is required) and boil a kilogram of potatoes. Take 500g of ripe, red tomatoes and chop to the above rule. Cherries in half, monsters sliced and diced. Be sure to capture all the juice and seeds. Chop half a red pepper into small tiles. Chop a piece of feta the size of an audio cassette case (remember?

Cloud tide.

I stacked the coals in the grill over a firelighter, lit the firelighter with a match and walked back inside to skewer some chicken for kebabs for the barbecue. * Chicken kebabs I skewered one cube of chicken breast, one segment of onion and one square inch of red capsicum in that order; repeating until four large skewers were loaded, and shunting the ingredients close together as possible on the skewers. I find they cook better that way and the chicken breast - prone to drying out if not cooked with care - stays moist. I set them aside on a platter and showered them with lemon juice and chopped garlic. Then I speed-dried a sprig each of thyme, oregano and mint fresh from the garden in a heavy pan, crushed the dried herbs over the skewers and finished them off with a heavy drizzle of olive oil. * The cooler day had been a relief after what – two weeks? - of unprecedented spring heat. Unprecedented only in a mere 150 years of weather bureau records, of course. The place has bee

Vespa or Honda? Astarra or VicSuper? Alessi orange juicer or me? I can't decide.

A buzzing noise, like a loud mosquito coming up the street, got closer and then stopped outside my house. The postman reached across the pelargonium hedge to the letterbox and then buzzed away again on his Australia Post Honda motor scooter. (A friend of mine has a Honda scooter; he loves it. He told me it runs on nothing and you don’t look like you’re pretending to be someone when you park it outside a Lygon Street cafĂ©. You look like a postman going out for coffee instead , I said back to him. Better that than looking like a poseur, he said, and anyway, Vespas break down. We joke like this all the time. It doesn’t mean anything.) I fished the mail out of the letterbox and reminded myself to prune the pelargonium. The first envelope had the name Astarra on the front. The letter inside had a headline that read: Significant Event Notice . That means kiss goodbye to your superannuation in a language spawned by bureaucrat-enforced transparency laws. The rest of the letter was about

Sentence not working.

"Cynthia opened the oven door and poured more hot gravy over the roast before lambasting Roger following an argument about a mint sauce recipe. Did it contain sugar, or not? They ran a successful real estate empire of eighty offices between them, but could never agree about the smallest things."

The eggplant and the helicopter.

Sunday evening. Almost dark. No breeze. Warm. Embers still glowing in the grill. The helicopter had started earlier. It made low arcs in the sky stabbing the ground with a searchlight that swung around like a drunk wielding a light saber. Its engine made a nice clean treble chop, chop, chop on the approach and a rumbling bass whirr on the ebb. Sometimes this makes the glasses rattle in the cupboard, but only when I’ve placed them too close together. When this happens, I simply move them slightly apart, and then only the house shakes and I can't do anything about that. Something about helicopters and Sunday nights in this town. Maybe the pilots earn double rates on Sundays. Maybe the city goes nuts. I don’t know. It went away after a while. I like Sunday nights. I like the peace and the solitude and the warm spring air and the distant sounds of traffic and the trams trundling along a Sydney Road canyoned by crumbling Victorian verandahs over darkened fabric shops and smoky k

Potato and leek, Italian-style.

Home-made gnocchi with leek and tomato sauce. Cut a leek through the middle twice at right angles and then slice it to produce quartered rounds. Sweat this in a heavy pan with some oil, a chopped onion, a stick of chopped celery and a scored garlic clove. Five minutes or so, just to soften. Now add half a large jar of passata, or a can of diced tomatoes, stir it through the leek mixture and cook it gently for twenty minutes. Add a spoonful of water now and then if necessary. Meanwhile, make a big potful of gnocchi. The more I make home-made gnocchi, the worse supermarket versions taste, especially the shrink-wrapped ones. Years ago I used to buy these all the time, but nowadays I can boil and rice potatoes, add some flour and an egg (or no egg), roll it together, chop it into inches and throw the inches into a pot of boiling water faster than any supermarket trip, automated checkout or no automated checkout. ( Here's one using sweet potato.) Pour the cooked leek sauce ove

Jambalaya (On the Bayou)

It was one of those trivia quiz nights, where you form teams of seven or eight and sit at round tables while an MC fires questions from a microphone on the stage, and you try to be the first to hit the buzzer. The rest of the time you eat Bega Bar-B-Cubes and kabana on toothpicks from platters in the middle of the table and drink warm sauvignon blanc from disposable tumblers. I'm not sure why. It must be in The Rules of Trivia Nights . We’d done politics and geography and climate change and celebrity nonsense and now we were up to music. Our table was doing well, but I hadn’t answered a single question. For the music questions, the MC played a fragment of a tune and you had to name the band. The last fragment had been that six-steps-up-and-over-the-stile piano piece from She’s a Rainbow . Someone guessed Rolling Stones after the first note. Easy. The MC hit the play button again. This time the tune fragment was mid-song. The voice of John Fogerty boomed out of the speakers: s

Soapbox derby: judges call for a photo.

'The blog is a soapbox, not a story.' They cut down forests to print sweeping statements like that. So declared Ben McIntyre of The Times (reprinted in The Weekend Australian November 8-9, courtesy of Rupert Murdoch who seems to own every newspaper in the world). Ben had opened the paragraph in which the above sentence appears with the following statement: 'Storytelling is the bedrock of civilisation.' Fine. Storytelling is the bedrock of civilisation. Who am I to argue? But you just know that a paragraph commencing like that is going to meander along like the Thames through Henley, just not as picturesquely; and so it did before arriving suddenly, jerkily, at the gratuitous dig at blogs. And why does he say ‘The’ blog anyway? To paraphrase Philip Marlowe, I thought there were several. Million. He uses 'The' because the definite article in the collective noun sense allows him to make the charge without being specific about anyone's blog. Or about ever

Oranges and lemons ...*

30 degrees at 7 p.m. and not much wind. Let's eat out. And let’s see how the boys are at outdoors dining this year. Seems not so long ago at least one of them was asleep in a pram at this hour. Time goes by so quickly, not slowly. I like to commence the barbecue season with my personal King of Fishes - Tasmanian Atlantic Salmon. The cost of this fish stops it being an everyday choice, but it is cheaper at the market and is occasionally marked down in the supermarkets. And there it was at $19.95 a kilogram instead of its usual $30-$36. I wrapped two fat fillets in foil together with two chopped spring onions, the juice of half an orange and a squirt of good quality soy sauce. That's it. The fillets were an inch at their thickest ridge and cooked in ten minutes over the coals. Never overcook this fish. I opened the foil and out burst an aroma of Chinatown and orange groves. As if that wasn't cruel enough to the neighbours, my onion and garlic kebabs were even more fragr

Old photographs: #1 in a series.

I have a collection of old photographs, many taken by my father. I may as well put them here. The above picture, taken by my father during an Inverloch holiday in the summer of 1969-70, shows my younger sister feeding the baby of the family. Behind them partially obscured on a deck chair is the second youngest. My sister was six that summer, so that makes the boys almost two, and four and a half. This is one of my mother’s favourite photographs: she recalls that the youngest was recovering from illness at the time. In the picture he looks tired but appears to be eating willingly. Today, my sister’s own youngest child is not much older than the brother she was feeding in the photograph forty years ago. Her serene expression and caring nature haven’t changed. * The house at Inverloch was a rambling Edwardian seaside farmhouse on a few acres at the top of a hill overlooking Anderson Inlet. Its bedrooms were cavernous and smelled like empty cedar wardrobes and the lounge room had

Living on the bread line.

Oddly coincidental fact of the day. Or coincidentally odd fact of the day. Or just plain odd: My last six addresses have been situated on exactly the same longitude . From residence one I went north, north again, then far north; then a long way south, almost back to the middle north; and then a little further south again. But all within a second or two of longitude. All by sheer coincidence, of course. For example, the house we are in today is two doors away from one of our previous houses: we now live on our neighbours' right, where once we lived on their left. Perhaps we helped them feel as they’d had a move as well. I’m feeling quite dizzy just writing this paragraph, so let’s have a new one. This whole conversation line (!) came about when I was cooking silver beet. Tracy and I were discussing the most redolent neighbourhood we had lived in; redolent in the aromatic not the malodorous sense; we’ve never lived near an abattoir or a rubbish tip or a Subway store, for exampl