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Showing posts from March, 2012

A shorter history of the sardine tin; and a recipe.

When I was a child, about five or six years old, I used to go into the kitchen and open the lower door in the corner cupboard. Behind this door, at floor level, were literally thousands of tins. They could have fed the family (of nine) for years, decades even. Is this an exaggeration? It didn’t seem to be at the time. There were mountains of them, all piled in without being stacked like with like. It looked like a supermarket after an earthquake. There were tins of Biddy's peas, PMU carrots, Big Sister chocolate pudding, SPC spaghetti and baked beans, Tom Piper sausages and vegetables, Keen's mustard powder, Berri tomato juice, Letona apricot juice, Bear Brand and Carnation condensed milk, Ardmona halved pears, IXL strawberry jam, Edgell mushrooms in sauce, kidney beans, tongue, ham, camp pie, tuna, sardines, salmon, cat food; and the odd packet of Kookaburra spaghetti, Mammy flour (free coin of the world in every pack) and O-So-Lite self-raising flour. They’re the ones I can

Updated 29/3

The cost of the electricity used in this household is paid to the company that runs the Tasmanian hydro-electric generating plant. Hydro electricity generation produces no carbon dioxide, a gas referred to by the federal government as 'carbon'. Despite producing no carbon dioxide, the hydro electricity company is obliged by federal legislation to provide a 'green' energy product (branded GreenPower by the bureaucracy: "Helping Australia transition to renewable energy" ) as well as its core product, even though its core product – hydro electricity - is the 'greenest' energy available in the market. The company complies with this legislative stipulation, despite the absurdity of having to theoretically add wind and solar into hydro to 'improve' its 'green' credential. (Ironically, the hydro company also clearly shows the GreenPower cost penalty on its website, which many other energy providers do not, preferring sanctimoniously to bury th
We took them to the Astor cinema to sit in antique fold-up chairs, see curtains opening on the wide screen and, most importantly, eat choc tops. Shock: the boys chose Golden Gaytimes instead. The movie was an old musical with no special effects and a Rodgers and Hammerstein soundtrack. Alexandra, however, had a Choc Top to herself. Before intermission, bored with the movie, she sat on a couch next to the sleeping cinema cat and did not spill a drop of ice cream. I sat on the other side of the cat and read the Sunday newspaper in the dim art deco light with the sounds of gunshots and whinnying from the auditorium and the faint rumble of trams outside.

Chicken with coconut, cashews and lime.

This recipe has the heat of the equator, the tang of the tropics, and the sweetness of the islands; all of which is academic - we ate the meal on a cold autumn night in Melbourne with rain pelting on the iron roof. I evolved the recipe from an old balchao dish I used to make. The original recipe was as hot as you like; later versions toned down the chili, added spices, added coconut, added lime. Let's get started: fry two onions in ghee. Remove and retain onions. Brown one kilogram of chicken pieces in the pan. Add oil or ghee as required. Remove chicken when browned. Meanwhile, process half a cup of roasted cashews (I dry-roasted raw cashews first), half a cup of dessicated coconut, two large and very ripe and juicy vine tomatoes, two tablespoons or slightly more of malt vinegar, one black cardamom pod, one twinkle of star anise, a scatter of dried chilies, half a teaspoon each of crushed cinnamon and cumin seeds, four cloves of garlic, an inch of peeled ginger and one sma

From amazingly cheap to still very cheap.

How much do you pay for coffee? The price of my favourite coffee rose on Monday. From $2 to $2.20. Consider that as table rental with the coffee thrown in free and it could be Melbourne's best entertainment value. The coffee is robust and vibrant in the old-fashioned Italian style. Order it strong and you'll float down Sydney Road, unlike some of the warm beige concoctions with art-directed froth you get down in Brunswick. You sit outside in the shade of the trees watching the passing Coburg parade; and it is a parade like nowhere else in Melbourne. No pretensions here. You might have to wait for a table, as many are taken up by local retired Greeks and Italians, as well as residents from the special needs accommodation nearby, who like to take their time over their coffee; and you won't get a friendlier crowd anywhere. Brunswick Street bristles with attitude by comparison. The buskers are good quality. Yesterday in the mid-morning sunshine, a young woman sang a

Two songs about birds.

We haven’t had song of the month for a while, so here are two. * His name was Jones and he was my personal favourite British pop singer of the 1960s. No, not Tom. He was my second favourite. (Have you heard Without Love at full volume lately?) The other Jones, Paul, had an amazing range and sang - both solo and for Manfred Mann - some of the best songs ever written. One was Come Tomorrow , a soul masterpiece originally recorded by Marie Knight. If the song of a song bird could replace my wrong words Then my dear it’s the song I would borrow And tonight you would hear the saddest song of the year And you’d be mine once again come tomorrow The instrumentation is initially spare, rising to an amazing crescendo built around the keyboard - watch the cut-aways on the YouTube track. Jones’ astoundingly tortured vocals are a match for the piano, revealing the futility of the song’s premise. A stunning performance. Come Tomorrow peaked at 24 on the Melbourne charts in 1965,
One discounted 60 cent packet of seeds from Bunnings two years ago resulted in these. I kept the flower heads from the first crop and scattered the dried seeds last spring. Up came the tallest sunflowers I have ever raised, upwards of seven feet with flowers the size of dinner plates. The picture was taken a month ago. Yesterday I disposed of the dried stalks. I had to saw them. They had made great staves when green and pliable; the boys had medieval battles and then pole-vaulted around the front garden. I put half the heads in brown bags in the shed. Birds had already got to the rest and eaten the lot.

Bugs and barbecue.

Yes, February was always the busiest month and you get fewer days to do it in. And the weather! When I was ten I read Colin Thiele's February Dragon , about as accurate a portrayal of February weather as it gets. Another early read was Ivan Southall's Ash Road published in the early 1960s, and with a darkly prophetic title given the events of 2009. And 1983 and 1967 and other years, for that matter. Do children still read Australian literature or just Andy Griffiths these days? It's all rain into March; but on the last weekend of February we sweltered at the beach. As the sun fell on the Saturday evening, Tracy walked the ti-tree lined slopes with Alexandra reclining in the stroller. They returned. She smiled. I took over. Walked down to the beach. No sleep. Onto the sand where after dinner walkers, many with dogs, were enjoying the sunset. The water was still warm, tide on its way out. Earlier in the day, I had been a couple of hundred metres offshore with the boys o