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Showing posts from March, 2010

Sunbury without the mud.

I nearly fell off my chair. No, it wasn't the third gin and tonic. It was a commercial on television. It was a cheap ad on Channel 31, where all the ads are cheap. You can probably buy a spot for $50 on Channel 31. You get a small audience but a good one. (The in-joke at the Channel 31 studios is that the '31' is their average audience number, and that Channel 10's name indicates its average viewer IQ. That slight is probably over-generous while The Biggest Loser is on air.) In the ad, superimposed over a picture of a green field with a tractor in the distance was a line that read: Sunbury Backroads. Then three names scrolled onto the screen, in order: Chain. Madder Lake. Spectrum. Then the date came on and I knew I hadn't travelled back in time to January 1972 when these three bands last appeared on the same bill. I don't know which is the best. Chain was blues, Madder Lake was progressive rock and Spectrum was I'll Be Gone . They were all loud. One

Warm vegetable salad for a humid night.

I boiled three potatoes chopped into quarters and two carrots chopped into batons. When they were almost cooked I dropped a dozen green beans and two bricks of closely packed cabbage into the pot. When they were all done I drained them and placed them into little or larger piles on my large oval serving platter. The potatoes were a cairn in the middle, the cabbage made haybales at either end and the carrots and beans lay about like roadmakers' tar-brooms at smoko time. Meanwhile two eggs were simmering in another pot, chattering their undersides on its aluminium base. I cut two ripe tomatoes into eighths and scattered these about the plate, and took half an unpeeled cucumber and cut it into sticks and added them to the general disarray. Then I peeled the soft-boiled eggs, successfully this time after years of varied results, and sat them way up in the potato cairn like an eagle's eyrie. The sauce was bubbling away all of this time: two large tablespoons of natural peanut

Pick a colour, children. It's dinnertime.

Once upon a time, very long ago, when William and Thomas' much older brother and sister were children, I used to play cooking games with them. Which is to say I would make faces out of pancakes and use a slice of kiwifruit for the nose, strawberries for the eyes and a segment of banana - sliced from its middle, lengthways - for its mouth. Right way up for happy, wrong way up for sad. I always made it happy. Hair was maple syrup poured above the strawberry eyes and sitting in the syrup was its hat: a scoop of icecream, sometimes with coloured sprinkles and a wafer if it was spring racing carnival time. Another trick was dinner with a coloured theme. They'd choose a colour and we'd build a meal out of the colour. Before you laugh, remember last time you ordered shiraz with steak. One night the chosen colour was white. (OK purists, white is not a colour. Let's call it a tone. Is it a tone? I don't know. Maybe white is just an optical illusion.) Never mind. Here


And so Queensland's floods will flow down through the Darling system and eventually relieve pressure on the Murray . Maybe they should have waited a little longer before starting to build that enormously expensive - in both money and electricity terms - desalination plant. Wonthaggi was once a dirty mining town. Maybe they thought the locals wouldn't mind a bit more industry. They'd never build a dam in the wilderness, of course.

Grilling gently in the dying of the light.

Or something like that. The sun had left the building earlier and the cool air stole in so we sat closer to the brick wall that was still warm. I moved the old cast-iron barbecue closer to the table so that it provided a second front of warmth. I spread out the glowing coals over the iron and put the grate back on and got the steaks ready to grill. Apart from the coolness in the air at night, these golden autumn days are perfect and warm and they slide by slowly. February is always a busy month for no reason that I can think of, and its ferocious weather makes it a monster; so that tamed, softer March is always a great change. But we keep sitting outside in the evenings as if summer were still with us and we pretend it will never go. Before we know it we will be sitting inside in front of the gas heater again with nothing on the television and a shelf full of books to be read through winter, which we hope will be short and mild, and with rain. That’s not too much to ask, is it? I re

Fluorescent food.

It’s easy to be superior about food. Take those jars of supermarket gloop for example. You could regard them as nasty confections of lurid colours, chemicals, preservatives, salts and gelatinous gums. Because that’s what they are. No-one can argue. Instant sanctimony! Chicken Tonight comes to mind, as does Kan-Tong fluorescent sweet and sour sauce, which resembles the kind of glue my children use to stick sections of egg carton, painted noodles and glitter onto large sheets of butcher’s paper at kindergarten. (Perhaps, by contrast, I should make pasta alfredo with Clag instead of Maggi dried alfredo powder one night. A few glasses of chardonnay beforehand and I shouldn’t even notice the difference.) They wouldn’t make products like these if people didn’t buy them, the good angel on my right shoulder whispers. The market drives demand. But if they didn’t make it, people wouldn’t be able to buy it, replies the bad angel on my left shoulder. Begone, bad angel with your nanny state thin

The rubber dinghy.

So, at last, this was summer after summer had already gone. After a weekend of storm and flood and damage came a sunny weekend with no wind except a gentle zephyr that barely moved the curtains in the open kitchen window and the poisonous white oleander flowers outside it. This is painting weather, I thought to myself, and I got up on the ladder in the early Saturday sunshine with a can of white gloss and a large brush and started at one end of the aluminium roof edging on the bungalow in the backyard of the beach house and moved to the other end, slowly. I had the radio on because you paint faster when you’re listening to something. Off the Record started with a track from Bob Dylan's Oh Mercy album from about twenty years ago. Producer Daniel Lanois had made Dylan sound less like a frog by setting his voice further back and scattering swirls of atmosphere into the mix. He still sounded like a frog, just not as much. It's still one of my favourite albums. * In the midd

Early morning rain.

I woke up early next morning and came out and made a pot of tea and took it out on the verandah and didn't read the paper. Light rain was falling but it was warm and the low sun was below the clouds and the green Gippsland hills were fluorescent. No-one else was awake. Let's leave sleeping children lie. And this early solitude is gold. The trees on the slope across the valley were heavy with rain and you could see them dripping with each breath of a slight breeze. Later, there were bacon smells on the air and toasting bread and brewing coffee and the sounds small elephants make when they wake up and face the day. I went inside. We sat at the kitchen table and ate bacon and French toast and drank coffee. Tracy's mother told us the boys had enjoyed the storm and enjoyed the blackout even more; but Thomas had seen the lights go out and the candles lit and had wanted to know where the cake was. Exactly, I replied. I thought the same thing last night up on the hill. There

Rolling thunder review, part two.

There was nothing flash about the menu. But there doesn’t have to be. Inner city chefs write over-elaborate menu descriptions, but country hotel cooks fight the trend by truncating them. In the city, you might have ordered ‘boutique pale ale and panko-battered tails of estuary flathead with seasonal foraged vegetables served with a house-made tartare of locally-grown cucumber gherkins’ . Not here. Someone had chalked ‘flatty tails’ on the blackboard menu. Tracy ordered these and I had the roast. The tails were good. There were five, and they curled together around the plate like a hand of bananas. Each tail sat inside a fat pocket of crunchy batter, which sealed the moisture inside and the fish stayed hot and succulent. The accompanying vegetables were good and neither overcooked nor undercooked. The roast of the day was a large plate of thick discs of almost-melting flesh under made-from-scratch pan juice gravy, and the roasted vegetables beside the meat were almost caramelized on

Rolling thunder review, part one.

The hotel was on a hill at the top of the town. It was a low square building made from brown tumbled bricks and a flat colorbond roof and fake Colonial windows, built around 1979. I pushed open the door that led to the dining room and wondered what kind of building it had replaced. Probably a double- or triple-storey grand Victorian with lace ironwork and staging posts and a dark, cavernous public bar and a ladies lounge and bedrooms with bedsteads opening off long corridors upstairs and a share bathroom at one end of each corridor and a smoking lounge at the other. We sat at a table in the middle of the room near a large heater stove inside a round iron guardrail. The stove was sleeping through summer, waiting for the colder days ahead. Ball lights and fans with imitation rattan inserts hung from a low ceiling. The fans turned slowly. It was still humid and far away, muffled thunder boomed. This was Saturday and the thunder had started earlier in the afternoon and would not stop unt

Good year for the ...

... yes, roses. They went in from early July to late September last year. Now let's take an early-autumn walk around the garden and see how they are going. First, in a side bed on the western fence we have Radox Bouquet , which Stirling Macoboy describes as 'richly fragrant (although hardly of bath salts!)' . This position was something of a gamble: it gets summer sun in the morning but is shaded by the house in winter except for a few hours in the middle of the day. The tag stated Radox Bouquet reaches 1.5 metres, but the plant has already topped 1.8 metres. It has long stems, shiny dark green foliage and delicate deep pink flowers. Can't be faulted. 9/10. Now we move to the back fence that has already been vaulted by Climbing Gold Bunny (which did nothing for two years and then exploded and is now as high as fourteen feet). Next to that, and in retrospect possibly a little too close, is another 'gold' - Golden Giant . It's a slow starter. We'll w


She was the eldest of seven. I was number four, six years younger. She had a quality you couldn’t quite put your finger on; a kind of other-worldliness. I used to imagine she was the elven princess from Lothlorien (what was her name?) She was slight and had long brown hair flecked with red lights, and pale freckled skin. And she was strong. I used to watch her as a teenager running races against Pam Kilborn and a very young Raelene Boyle at the old Royal Park grass athletics track that is long gone now. But she was vulnerable as well. One summer afternoon in the garden at home, she lowered her lithe body into a striped canvas timber deckchair in the shade of the old peach tree. She might have been sixteen. That would make it 1967, the ‘summer of love’. The frame cracked and the chair collapsed, crushing one of her delicate fingers. The pain in her face burned a hole in your heart. My other more robust sister would have cursed and kicked the chair across the garden. We had some kind

Rachmaninov on rails.

There seems to be nothing on television except food shows and filth. Free-to-air TV is practically dead in the water, confirmed by the fact that the federal government has just handed the three commercial channels $250 million to ‘bolster local content’. Great: the taxpayer just paid for another ten years of Neighbours . It’s only out of a years-old habit that I occasionally scan the green guide to see if anyone is broadcasting anything worth watching; something, for example, that has humour and plot and uses an actual script written by a writer. Series such as Minder and Callan come to mind, but I haven’t seen them in the listings for years. Perhaps the writer died. Perhaps he starved to death in a garret. The descriptions in today’s program guides are all the same: Jasmine sets Alice up on a blind date but things go awry when he turns out to be a vampire, so she flees to the wild and lives on spider’s eyes cooked by Ian Hewitson (who just happened to be there filming a new seri