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Showing posts from January, 2010

The magpie that came to stay.

I sprinkled a generous amount of fenugreek, my signature herb of this summer, over and under the skin layer of several pieces of chicken thigh and leg on the bone, along with some pepper and a squirt of lemon juice. Then I coated them with yogurt and put them in the refrigerator in a plastic-wrapped bowl to sit and marinate for a while, making a mental note never to buy plastic wrap again because of press reports. You never know whether it’s a beat-up or another thalidomide. Then again, if you were on the safe side of everything, you’d starve. Chicken? Shot full of growth hormone. Beef? Causes global warming. Kangaroo? You can’t eat the coat of arms. Potatoes? Acrylamide alert! Sheep? See cow, above. Tofu? Causes vegetarianism. Two hours later the barbecue was glowing and the shadows were creeping across the lawn and I had some twelve-inch white zucchinis (no, you can’t buy them; our next door neighbour gave us a bag of them from the jungle-like vine in his backyard) sliced lengthwa

Where's Banjo Paterson when you need him?

Someone sent me a letter offering me a free telescope. Should I have accepted? It was the editor of Time magazine, or at least one of his associates. I suppose the editor is too busy reading letters to the editor to write letters from the editor. The writer wanted me to have the telescope with his compliments, and I thought that was very nice of him. I don't even know him. The telescope was described as having lots of pixels. I could gaze at things that were far away and see them in fine detail. Pixels at the end of the garden. The moon. The graffiti on a city-bound tram. He didn't just offer me the telescope. No: he also offered to send me one of his magazines every week for a year, and I wouldn't have to pay for it. Not the full price, anyway. I would pay only $1.85; while the 'regular newsstand price' was $5.85, from memory. This made me feel slightly dishonest, as if I were to gaze out my window through my free highly-pixelled telescope towards the newsagen

The plane.

Just before midday on a hot Saturday. I took the Ring Road west and exited onto Tullamarine Freeway a confusing hundred metres after bad signage and the city turn-off. One mistake and you’re back in town. Heat haze shimmered in the distance and on the horizon Melbourne International Airport shimmered with it. The airport sits on the edge of a basalt plain, a parched flatland of leaning eucalypts and vague beauty spoiled by the kind of endless concrete warehouses and distribution centres that swarm around every airfield in the world. I drove up the ramp to departures and pulled up outside the terminal and Tracy and the boys got out. I told her I’d meet them in the food court behind the international terminal and pulled away from the kerb, down the ramp and into the car park. I pointed the car into my favourite spot near the Thrifty rent-a-car depot, where there is always an empty space and it’s a short walk to the terminal. Then I followed the walkway to the terminal below the hotel t

How much is an online newspaper worth?

Robert Thomson, managing editor of News Corporation's The Wall Street Journal ponders the future of newspapers. News Corporation's local offerings range from The Australian , a reasonably good broadsheet with a website that is near un-navigable, to Melbourne's Herald Sun , a sick parody of a tabloid overrun with tack, trash and typos. Thomson wants to charge. But for what, and how? Even at the Natural History Museum you generally have to buy a ticket to see the exhibits, and yet we are still having an angst-ridden argument over whether it is right to charge readers for all or some of our content online. The problem is not that people want free news - the Herald Sun still sells half a million papers a day despite its Z-grade content. The problem is that the papers need their figures to sell advertising; if it's not circulation, it must be web visit figures, and they will drop if papers charge for online content. Thomson knows that only too well. Despite his impati

How to make a cake.

The Italian signora.

It’s that time of year. Drumroll: basil arrives in the garden. After last year’s basil had gone to seed, I had placed the stalks in a paper bag in the shed and, six months later, scattered the dried seeds about the garden. It’s hit and miss. You never know where seedlings will come up. But when they do they are bulletproof. Neither heat wave nor snail can stop a rampaging basil plant. * It’s a retail relic; an artefact of days gone by. It should be listed in Carter’s guide to 1950s collectables. What is it? It’s the deli section at Piedimonte’s. It cannot last, of course. Piedimonte’s deli hangs on grimly to its customer base of elderly Italian and Greek immigrants who still refuse to shop where their children now do; at the thousands of Coles and Woolworths hypermarkets spreading across the country like an army of freeze-dried mediocrity. Piedimonte’s cannot compete with Coles and Woolworth’s, but its deli makes the Coles and Woolworths equivalents look like pig troughs of bulk pa

Three items in the news.

Last weekend I read the following three items in succession in the papers. One : a man was detained on 17 charges after a violent incident on a highway. He had 349 prior convictions and was last jailed (for 18 months) in 2006 for an assault on a child. His own. And he's on the streets? Two : Frank Skinner discusses capital punishment with a degree of levity necessary to make the subject palatable to the liberal sensibility, creating an 'id' to utter what he cannot: "My liberal ego takes a breather in the passenger seat and my right-wing id takes the wheel. ... Many liberals will be horrified by my id's nasty thought processes ..." . Three: Haiti. It was the picture: a three-month-old child, naked, face-in to a female rescuer, skin white with concrete dust like a small, precious, live statue. Smudging the dust at the base of the its back, a dark green stain told of the child's unutterable wait as it lay miraculously uncrushed beneath God knows how man

Temperature: 25 chillies.

An item in the morning newspaper last week advised people to avoid tea on hot days. Nonsense. My mother and father used to double their tea intake during heatwaves. Hot and strong and sweet. It was cooling. My father never drank a glass of water in his life. Today you see people sucking on water bottles in air-conditioned shopping malls as if they were trekking through a wadi. The same principle with spicy food. A chilli-laden dish is a great thing to eat on a sweltering night. Far better, for example, than a roast or heavy pasta. Eat it with hot tea or cold beer (only after the sun has gone down in the latter case) and you’ll be well fed and well hydrated. Vivek Singh, in discussing regional variations in Indian cooking in his book Curry: Classic and Contemporary (Absolute Press, 2008), writes: 'The southern end of the peninsula, consisting of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka, is blessed by a long coastline, and hence a strong bias towards seafood dishes. ...

Sunday morning coming down.

Hail is forecast for today. Haven't seen any yet; but there was a welcome shower late morning. Of course there was. Tracy had ventured outside to do some painting. I stayed inside and started a curry for tonight with plenty of chili and garlic and black cardomom (recipe later after I sample the result) and gazed out the window at the roses on the shed and the morning rain coming down and Tracy glancing at the sky. * Last night, a flattened green capsicum sandwiching a thick wad of home-made pesto on the barbecue, lightly wrapped in foil. It charred over the fire and the aroma was almost too much to bear while cooking and the flavour was sensational. Also, a warm salad of sweet potato: cut a peeled sweet potato into one-inch cubes, boil until soft, drain, toss in a bowl with a knob of butter until it coats the sweet potato, then toss over three of four chopped spring onions and sprinkle white vinegar. Salt and pepper and that's it. Oh, there were lamb chops as well. Lamb see

Gilded honeyeaters.

Late Saturday morning, warm and overcast. I drove out to pick up Tracy from her walk along the cool path that runs between the ti-tree and the beach and came home with a single bed, two Parker pens, four tennis balls and six books, including Bolte: A Political Biography and The New Yorker Book of Lawyer Cartoons . On the way back we had stopped at a garage sale (William calls them garbage sales: four-year-old unintentional wit) but this one was good. I almost bought the Pentax SLR camera, perfect condition with original hand-case, box and instruction book, $5; but my hands were full. Someone else could have it. The bed, in excellent condition, is for Thomas. It’s a very beach-housey bed, of the type they used to call bedsteads, with polished walnut head and base connected by large iron interlocks to the timber-framed wire mattress support. We slept in these as children. They used to sag with use, especially when we jumped up and down on them, but this one is perfectly flat. * Sund

Dinner guest.

I opened the shed door carefully and with difficulty. The shed, vintage 1948, is on a lean and the door sits awkwardly in its frame, the timber of which is so weathered it will no longer take nails or screws without crumbling or splitting. The door, and the shed itself, will last as long as I don’t slam it, or leave it open to swing. One blast of wind will have it off its hinges and then the whole shed will have to come down and I will have to put up one of those flimsy Bunnings aluminium ones that you can’t stand up in and how long will that last? Stick with what I’ve got. The shed’s unlined interior timber framework is still fine even though the uprights are several degrees out of perpendicular. The horizontal beams have had countless nails hammered into them over the years and from these hang tools, ropes, interesting pieces of metal waiting years to find uses, ancient extendable timber-handled iron wood clamps from the days when people made furniture with dowel and glue using har

The pointy end of the peninsula.

The event (see yesterday's post) commenced somewhere in the wider part in the distance and proceeded into the foreground where, at the narrowest section, a fierce southerly blast blew everyone's hats into the water; and then along the road at the top, down around the lip at the end of the peninsula, up the steps and back. The waves of wild Bass Strait make a stark comparison with Port Phillip Bay's gentler waters. What you don't see in the picture is the Bellarine Peninsula, like the opposite crab's claw. It appears so close as you crest the last rise that you think you could long-jump the Rip and land on it. No wonder so many ships were lost at the point where they meet: "On April 3 1936, at 7:30AM, and in relatively calm conditions, Nairana, under command of Captain McIntyre, was approaching Port Phillip heads with a full load of cargo, while most of the 88 passengers were either in their cabins or having breakfast in the dining saloon. A few passengers w

Rhyming oxymoron.

I dislike fun runs and avoid any event that uses those two vapid rhyming words in its title. What's fun about paying $45 to lope around a course someone else has chosen along with 25,000 sweating strangers obscuring the scenery and wearing worn-out 1980s running t-shirts bearing the faded words '1981 Big M marathon', when you could do exactly the same thing on your own, enjoying peaceful solitude - and the scenery - free of charge? Fun? About as much fun as shopping at Northland the week before Christmas. Or any other time. On Saturday I made an exception. For two very good reasons. First, the organisers of the annual Portsea event have removed the words ‘fun run’ from the event's title, branding it instead the 'Portsea Twilight 2010'. The second reason is the scenery. Plus, I didn’t run anyway. I walked. Why hurry, with all that view to enjoy? The event starts on the old road leading to the pointy end of the peninsula normally not open to the public becaus

The old book.

And now it was another day and I was on a beach and the sky was blue and it was neither hot nor cold and there was nothing to look forward to except fresh mussels in wine tonight; and tomorrow, which would be the same. I had nothing to do and nothing to remember and nothing in my head except the book I was reading, an old Hemingway that had sat unread and yellowing on my bookshelf for years, next to a brown hardback Brunnings Australian Gardener from 1958. So it was time I read it. It had a 1980s Arrow Classic red cover design that had dated badly and typography that made it look wrong, like a light romance by Edgar Allen Poe. Like all good writers, Hemingway does great geography and he’s in a car lurching across a dusty border into Spain with low dry mountains and villages in the distance and later there will be bulls and wine and treachery and heat and death. I read for a time while William and Thomas moved sand at my feet with small plastic vehicles and soon we arrived in one