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Showing posts from April, 2010

If on a winter's night a cook ...

The leaves fell and the cold weather dropped on the city like a broken garage roll-a-door and everyone put on coats and hats and started talking about food. Cold weather food. Last night 774-Melbourne-ABC1's Derek Guille (why couldn't they stick with 3LO? why does everything have to be so damned complicated? ) was asking his listeners what they liked to cook when the weather was cold; and at first you had to think because it's been so long, but then the calls started coming through and they were about goulash and lamb shank soup and pork and bean stew and ... ... and someone called in and said pea and ham soup. Pea and ham soup is almost a default winter dish; the one you think of when you can't think of anything else. It's a good staple, but it is really cooked as frequently as people claim? I don't notice a lot of ham hocks being scanned across the check-out. The clue came when the caller and the host agreed that pea and ham soup goes perfectly with fresh,

How books work.

A phone call from the publisher in the morning. He told me he'd been to the printer's. The book was gone. It had been a nightmare. The college that had commissioned the book - an oral history of its relatively short seventy-year history - had pulled the launch date for the book back from August to May. This year. That was last December. The manuscript was still in my computer in January. I had read it on-screen, printed it out, read it on paper, cut and pasted the chapters from their cyber birthplace into word documents, and sent these to the publisher in late January. He commenced design and layout in February. He got the typestyle in one. It was perfect, but I was just about beyond arguing. Having built the body, he poured in the text and let it flow like treacle - warm treacle so it would flow faster - into five hundred pages organised into a preface; a contents page; an acknowledgment, disclaimer, NLA cataloguing details and copyright page; and seven neat chapters. That&

Adana kebab.

It's been hot for a week now. It was 29 degrees at 2p.m. Late in the afternoon, storm clouds piled up in cylinders of violent purple and gold. Later, they were black, and distant thunder rumbled and crashed and the sky flickered like a thousand broken neon lights. But no rain. Not here anyway. Usually at this time of year the cool air creeps in after dark and chases you inside but the air stayed humid all night. We sat out under the grapevine, turning red now, and dined in the kind of heat they call Indian summer in some parts of the world, so it may as well be that here. The differences are striking. In summer you can't escape the sun in the garden, except directly under the canopies of the trees. Now, a long shadow falls across the yard, providing welcome respite. The trees are red and gold, but the leaves haven't yet started to drop. And the lawn is lush thanks to the late rains of summer. * Dinner was easy work. Minced lamb mixed with a finely chopped chile, a d

Breakfast radio.

I woke up one morning in April 1985 and there was a hole in the air. I went to the kitchen and switched on the light, the kettle and the radio. The first two worked fine, but the wrong voice came out of the radio. The voice belonged to Rod McNeil, and in a grave tone it announced that Peter Evans had had a heart attack and wouldn’t be on air that day, or the next day, or the next week; but it was hoped he would make a speedy recovery and be back at the 3LO microphone in due course. Evans never returned. He died three months later. He left a gap in Melbourne radio that would never be filled. Peter Evans was one very few radio announcers who never spoke to his audience. Instead, he talked to himself, or to Rosemary, his producer. You felt like you were in the studio with them. Evans always spoke to Rosemary slightly off mike, so you got a picture of the studio in your mind; and his mumbling soliloquy style suited your early morning fragility. He was grumpy and cheerful at the same ti

Scene at a bar.

Ah, the wine list, please, sommelier. Or do you prefer to be addressed as the wine waiter? You can call me what you like, sir, so long as you leave a tip. Fine. Ah, the Eileen Hardy chardonnay, please. Certainly sir. A fine choice. Citrus, melon, gooseberry notes with a touch of sultana . * A former winery boss has been found guilty of passing off sultana grapes as the more prized chardonnay variety, Adelaide Now reports. One-time managing director of Riverland-based Rivers Wines, Andrew Hashim has been convicted in the Magistrates Court on 34 counts of falsifying records, following the company having earlier pleaded guilty to 97 similar counts. The court found that large quantities of grape juice and wine were sold as chardonnay during the 2003 vintage to more than 10 companies including Hardy's, now known as Constellation Australia, and Orlando, now owned by Pernod Ricard. Meanwhile, in a town called Griffith, where anything could happen, the Wine Grapes Marketing Bo

Up Around the Bend.

That's what happens when you hit publish post instead of save, complete with typos. Does anyone else write like that? Here's the rest of it. * It was Saturday morning and Off the Record was on the radio and I was painting again and the sun was shining and the announcer was talking about Independent Record Store Day. I'm not sure if that was the official United Nations Independent Record Store Day or just a bunch of Melbourne music enthusiasts getting together to promote themselves. Probably the latter. The UN is too busy. The announcer, not Brian Wise this week, played what he described as a 'promotional floppy disk' which had been a freebie in a 1972 issue of New Musical Express . The disk was a compilation of track selections from a new album by the Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street . He played the disk and it was full of crackles and hisses and it sounded fantastic. It got me thinking about the record stores I have visited over the years and in partic

Drought over, according to lily.

Last month the naked ladies made their annual appearance, baring their slender limbs and opening their delicate pink blooms in the autumn sun. Belladonna lilies (amaryllis) are a living relic of times gone by. They were a garden favourite decades ago. No-one puts them in any more, but the elderly bulbs still in the ground remain in blissful ignorance of garden fads and continue to flower annually. (Or not: more in the third paragraph.) You can see them around the countryside where old farmhouses once stood; and now there might be just a tumbledown shack, or the remains of an outhouse, or an old wire clothesline slung between two rotting posts, or even just the brick chimney of a long-gone timber house that has burned or crumbled away. The lilies can be seen close to what might have been the back or front door, and they pop up each year as if the house were still there and householders to marvel at their pinkness and beauty and put them in a vase on a mantel that isn't there any m

Throw out the Beatrix Potter boxed set. And that boring old Kenneth Grahame book about rats and moles.

I really shouldn't be drawn into these discussions. One of today's newspapers - the smaller, trashier one - reports : Playing computer games with your children can be just as valuable as reading to them, an expert claims. It depends on what you mean by 'valuable' and 'expert', I suppose. Jeffrey Brand, head of media and communications at Bond University ... likens concerns over the effect of computer games to 19th century fears that reading novels was bad for children because it would stop them from playing outdoors. Jeffrey can liken all he likes. It doesn't mean the comparison is valid. Or even in the same galaxy in terms of logic or common sense. You have to remember he is an academic. And he believes it's only a matter of time before there is a "canon" of classic computer games, just as there is a literary canon of classics by great writers such as Shakespeare, Austen and Dickens. Coriolanus' Smashing Cyborg Escapade. The Merry W

Throw another tail on the barbecue.

And so ended more than 120 balmy days in a row, in which the maximum daily temperature did not fall below twenty Celsius. As well as warmth, there was plenty of rain, so the garden grew; and there was lawn, and the sound of mowers resonated on Saturday mornings again across the suburb. As the warm days crash headlong into cooler weather, I cooked something that welcomed an old winter favourite, but was finished on the barbecue. Autumn compromise. The best of both worlds. Kare Kare This is a traditional Filipino twice-cooked oxtail dish with a tomato peanut sauce and a fishy kick. It had a livelier flavour and is easier to eat than the oxtail stews and soups we are used to. With old-fashioned oxtail stew recipes, you brown the tails first. Forget that - here, you just throw them in the pot with seasonings and brown them later – on the barbecue. Stew: I put a kilogram of oxtail – about seven pieces – in a large pot with a chopped onion, a bay leaf, three cloves of garlic and s

How to run a truly bad restaurant.

When Shannon Bennett announced he was moving his Vue de Monde restaurant to the 55th floor of the Rialto building, he told the papers, "(British critic) A.A. Gill said no restaurant with good views has ever had good food and I plan to prove him wrong." The opposite might prove the rule. The meal I had at Stefano's viewless cellar restaurant at Mildura's Grand Hotel was as good as any I've eaten. The down side is it's a 1,076 round trip for dinner from Melbourne, although you could break the trip each way and stay mid-point at Wycheproof, where you'll hear the lonesome midnight whistle of the late goods train as it rumbles down the main street in the dead of night. You'll think it's the garlic snails and the cheese platter you ate, but it's not, it's a real train. They built a track down the middle of the main street for some reason lost in the mists of history. Then again, Lake House in Daylesford has stunning views and a good reputatio

Across the mountains.

It was a hot Easter and we were in the same small country town in the same green hills of Gippsland. There is almost no flat ground in this town. All the houses are on slopes and the slope down which the boys rolled their boiled eggs for the annual egg roll was steeper than you'd like; and the eggs tumbled out of sight, gathering speed, and the boys laughed and ran and fell on their faces on the soft green grass chasing them down the hill. * Sunday lunch was a picnic at Tarago overlooking the river where it is dammed. It was a hot day and we got there early and we won the double: a table under cover of trees, close to an electric barbecue. Grandmother and aunts and uncles hauled in shiploads of fare in old-fashioned tartan coldboxes and someone threw a large cloth over the table, obscuring the timber slat table, so that the wine and beer glasses were falling over all afternoon until you learned to find a flat spot underneath the cloth. I drove the barbecue. You had to press th

Late one night in a Brunswick Street cafe.

It was late. I was sitting at a small table against the side wall in a Brunswick Street cafĂ©, facing the street. It was the kind of place where you can go alone with a book or a newspaper or nothing at all and not be bothered and eat in peace. It was the week before Easter and I’d been working on a book I have been editing for about five years; a history of a college. It goes to print soon and then all the pedants will come out of the woodwork and pick it to bits. I can’t wait. I was proofing the chapters about the 1960s and 1970s, part of which I had spent at the college; and reading the text was like dragging my consciousness through the soundtrack of my life. Sylvia’s mother said, Sylvia’s busy; too busy to come to the phone ... I had a glass of house red and ordered the pasta carbonara and I couldn’t read any more, so I listened to the conversation of two diners at the next table instead, like a tired cyclist hanging on to the end of a tram just for the ride home. They could have