My mother-in-law was here for dinner. She had read the boys about a hundred books, and they were in bed if not asleep, and I made her a gin and tonic with a slice of lemon from the tree.
I roasted a red pepper. This was going to be good. It ought to be at $10 a kilogram. Vegetable prices are snaking upwards again, along with water, mortgage rates, council rates, fuel, kindergarten fees, electricity and gas, the latter two receiving a further upward boost thanks to Kevin Rudd’s mining tax that he stole from the thesis of two American academics. All those actors’ bright ideas at the 2008 thinkfest and he steals one from two academics in America. The odds are shortening about Kevin Rudd being jettisoned before the election, and we have a Prime Minister named Julia.
I peeled the pepper and set it aside, and put a finely chopped onion and a scored clove of garlic into a large warm pan in which a knob of butter was curling around as it melted, like a daydreaming figure skater. I let the onion and garlic soften for a few minutes in the gently hissing butter and then tipped in two cups of arborio rice, stirring it around. I splashed in some white wine and stirred some more, and then poured in enough hot chicken stock to stop the rice sizzling.
Meanwhile I had six slices of trimmed short bacon sputtering in a fry-pan. When it had sputtered enough I chopped it into squares about the size of one layer of a licorice all-sort. I kept one eye on the rice and kept topping up the fluid and stirring. You have to be an octopus to cook and not burn things. I usually burn things, especially toast in the morning. I'd hate to be a chef. Bacon done, I peeled the roasted capsicum and sliced the glistening flesh into pieces the same size as the bacon squares. Now for the olives: I pitted two dozen very good fat black olives and set these aside with the pepper and bacon.
Now the rice was almost done. I added the bacon, pepper and olives and stirred them around, and then in went a large tablespoon of grated parmesan and another knob of butter. I stirred the whole thing through switched off the stove and set the lid on the pan to let it warm through thoroughly via the accumulated heat in the heavy base.
Then onto plates, and all done except for a final touch: I took the last jar of home-made pesto – the final summer basil that lasted well into autumn – out of the fridge and spooned a generous amount into the middle of each mound of rice as a kind of gremolata or salsa or whatever we’re calling the icing on the cake this week: a splodge of unctuous green in the middle of a sea of black- and red-specked white. Just to add extra colour and texture to the usual bland beige risotto.
Olives in rice? My mother-in-law had been surprised. Then later, I'll take a little more, thank you. And a little more pesto. I topped up her gin and tonic as well. Reading books to pre-schoolers is hard work.