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Showing posts from March, 2011

A shorter history of the carrot, and why vegetable juice won’t make you go faster.

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, purple carrots grew wild in peace. Then ancient peoples, possibly the Hittites or the Armenians or the Persians, or possibly someone else, cultivated them for their seeds and foliage, completely ignoring the root, or else feeding them to swine. Centuries flashed by. One day the Dutch, who loved travelling because their homeland was always flooding and there was always the chance of finding another tulip, discovered purple carrots in Iran, and took them home. They gave one to the man who had hybridised tulips and asked him what were the chances of another bubble. Developments after that were sketchy, but later, in a fit of nationalism, he turned them orange in honour of the Dutch Royal house. Thenceforth all carrots were orange, except for the few desert carrots who remained true to their roots, blissfully unaware of their kidnapped orange cousins. * Purple carrots are back. I tried them last week. They come from Tasmania, where the grower c

This sporting life: fair weather supporters and strange coincidences.

As a fair weather supporter, I read the sports pages when my team is winning. And so I turned to Mike Sheahan’s column in today’s Herald Sun. In warning Essendon supporters about getting ahead of themselves, Mr Sheahan pointed out an extraordinary coincidence. He noted the last two new Essendon coaches have recorded large wins in their first games, each of exactly 55 points. Nine goals, one behind. Not a common margin. Mr Sheahan could have delved a little further. On 3 April 1972 (my fifteenth birthday), I attended the Western Oval with my nineteen-year-old brother to watch the opening round of the season. That summer, Des Tuddenham had been controversially appointed Essendon coach after several turbulent years at Collingwood during which he and some other players once notoriously went on strike. Essendon defeated Footscray that day in 1972. Tuddenham helped himself to a margin of exactly one goal more than Hird’s or Knights’ 55 points margins. Literally. Tuddenham was playing

Something in a Sunday.

It was a 'working' weekend. It was just me and the boys. I painted the lounge room floor of the beach house in the quiet morning while the boys, outside, threw toys on the roof. It was the wind , they said. Nothing to do with us . I got the ladder and a broom out three times. The floorboards are varnished clear and I redo them every few years. The painting part is easy; it’s the moving furniture. There’s always too much. I stopped at midday and cooked lunch for the boys. Sea air and flinging toys gives you an appetite. Pasta shells with canned tuna and peas and sprinkled parmesan, pancakes with maple syrup, glasses of milk. After lunch I moved some furniture back over dried sections of varnish and painted some more, and the boys played on the balcony and shot model cars off the edge and climbed down the stairs and retrieved them. Tiring of that (and speaking of retrieving) Thomas let next door’s dog, an overweight, amiable Golden Retriever in through the gate in the fence. Th

‘Turn off your lights’ - neon sign.

Friday night. Late. The wreckage of another week lay in my wake, bobbing about randomly before disappearing into some dark crevice of memory. The morning had brought some good news, via email naturally, releasing me from a hideous one month contract of writing impossible bureaucratese for a client whose acquaintance with the English language ended, or began, I’m not sure which, with ‘digital contact points’, which they shorten to DCP, because everyone knows what they are, of course. They have acronyms in every paragraph and they capitalise words to give them more importance. Goodbye. Then the telephone had rung. Yes, some people still ring you up. The person ringing me up was an old work acquaintance of the nice kind, wanting to know if I was free on Monday for a month. That was like losing the wicked witch and gaining Snow White. Later, finishing a morning’s business in the city, I had ridden the escalator down into Melbourne Central Station under a backlit sign advertising Earth

Spinner in residence.

The late summer air was still simmering. It was after seven. I put the charcoal in a pile in the grate and put a match to it in three places and left it to consume itself and turn white hot. That would take forty minutes and in those forty minutes I would make a salad of roasted pumpkin cubes, avocado, rocket, toasted macadamias, chick peas and shards of feta cheese dressed with olive oil and lemon juice; set the outside table; walk inside several times and out again forgetting what I had gone in for; and pour a large balloon glass full of red wine that was almost black and seductive with the fragrance of something you read about in wine columns. Blackberries? American oak? French barriques? I don’t know, but it was nice. Forty-five minutes later I placed the first item on the grill: a piece of ling swimming in a marinade of soy, ginger, a clove of garlic and a chopped spring onion and wrapped in foil. We sat and watched the show. It started on time as usual. Two legs stepped out o

Behind the news.

The sun is warm but it comes later in the morning and goes earlier at night. Time moves on. The seasons pass. Children grow. The baby cut a tooth yesterday. William is a schoolboy. Thomas misses him. They were inseparable. Have I ever taken a photo of one without the other half in shot? Thomas learned to swim this summer, had the confidence to climb the diving board at Coburg, dove off in a kind of flat fall, swam to the other side, climbed out. He wore yellow swimmers and yellow flippers and looked like a fat duck. William, not confident enough to dive, called instructions from the side. Some curious children gathered to watch this small muscly boy diving. ‘Who taught you to dive?’ they called. ‘Him,’ lied Thomas, pointing to William; and stood on the end of the board, rocking gently up and down, toes on the edge, arms outstretched, waiting. ‘Tell me when, Winnie,’ he called. The pet name remains from when he could not pronounce the name at twelve months. William paused, then shoute

Moon dreams and silver spoons: a culinary journey through time.

We don't go around smashing plates, but occasionally one gets lost in action, especially the set that came from Italy via David Jones under the label of Richard Ginori Ironstone. Ironstone? You only had to look at them and they'd chip. The Alfa Romeo of plates: you needed two in case one packed it in halfway through dinner. The Denby ones (English) weren't much better. I have one left. So I get to go crockery shopping. Crockery shopping is fun. I don't buy new any more; I prefer the look of a table spread with a mixed array of plates. As long as they're all of good quality, your table gains the air of a fading dynasty. Dining al fresco gets a particular lift when using stately old crockery. Apart from that, I don't like many of the modern patterns or designs, especially plates that are square. Children try to push their vegetables into the corner. On a round plate there's nowhere to hide. So off to the Restorer's Barn again. They have a separate room

Sentimental journey.

I drove down to Nicholson Street on a warm late summer evening, pulled a u-turn just past Our Lady Help of Christians church and stopped the car just south of the Barkly Street corner. We got out and left the car unlocked. No-one steals Volvos. It was parked right outside anyway. We went in. The door is still awkwardly propped ajar each evening around 5 o'clock, the decor hasn't been touched since the place opened, and the traffic noise still roars in off Nicholson Street while you wait for your order. We ordered and waited. From my place you have to pass six or seven perfectly good curry houses to get to Singh's, but it's a nostalgic journey. I first visited here in 1986, and that was the year it opened. I might have been their first customer. The curry nearly blew my head off. A friend and I used to have competitions to see who could withstand the hottest curry. A lot of cold beer was consumed in the process. William, Thomas and Alexandra's much older brother