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Showing posts from August, 2012

Where to hide your eggs.

Some spelling errors, typos, literals – call them what you like – mess with your mind. I once ordered 'parched eggs' in a cafe knowing full well what they were. The other day I saw a sign in a deli that said: 'mindless bacon, $15.99 a kilo'. M is nowhere near R on a keyboard so who knows how that one occurred? I was buying bacon to make an old recipe that the children have come to adopt as one of their favourites. One out of three of the children on a moderate day - and two out of three one a finicky day - will not eat eggs; while the third – who does eat eggs – will only eat the yolk. Yet all three will slurp up spaghetti carbonara. Hide the eggs in something else! (Perhaps we also should bring back the 1960s egg flip: to a litre of creamy milk in a blender, add two tablespoons of sugar, two eggs, and a dash of vanilla essence. Blend. Pour the delicious bubbling unctuous fluid into tall glasses and top with nutmeg. Retro flavour explosion! I want one now. They w

The interview.

Two years. A thousand emails. Dozens of letters. Days hunched over a keyboard, putting together a book about a school. Editing submissions – some illegible, some unintelligible, some beautiful diamonds – from past students and teachers; tapping out every letter, removing endless capitalisation of Supposedly Important Words, putting paragraph breaks in pages of never-ending text. Going through a million arch folders in a crypt-like archive room watched in eerie silence by a mute ex-department store dummy standing inside a dusty glass display cabinet, dressed in a 1940s school uniform and topped with a straw sun hat to shade the dim half-light of a solitary naked bulb. The uniformed dummy is supposed to awaken warm nostalgia in visitors; but it manages only to look like a cadaver, or a mannequin in a police missing persons investigation. Shiver. Distant laughter and the thump of ball games at a distance, and then a bell leading to a mid-afternoon silence broken by the rattly keyboard,

A Tale of Two Picnics.

I borrowed a hardback copy of Picnic at Hanging Rock from Essendon library in the middle of winter in 1972. Then officially the Moonee Valley Regional Library Service, the library is known today as the Sam Merrifield library, making it sound like a collection of resources for Tolkien enthusiasts. At the time, Picnic at Hanging Rock was an obscure novelette by Joan Lindsay, who wrote no other fiction, even prefacing her 1967 book with a note suggesting it was based on real events. For a book of little note, its atmosphere was compelling. It was creepy. It verged on horror. Bad things happened. A sense of evil was knotted into the beauty of every interior and exterior scene. The sad mansion in the country, built on gold money, and abandoned. The garden under blazing sunshine. The brooding mountain. Appleyard College was already, in the year nineteen hundred, an architectural anachronism in the Australian bush – a hopeless misfit in time and place. The clumsy two-storey mansion was on

Book reviews reviewed.

Booktopia, the online bookstore, has a page on its website headed: "WHAT OUR CUSTOMER'S ARE SAYING". OK, that’s just carping. It could have been worse, like We Sell Book’s, greengrocer-style. Further down that page, Booktopia asks: Booktopia or Amazon? Taking on the 800 pound gorilla. Well somebody had to do it! Our goal is to be a legitimate alternative to Amazon. Booktopia’s David is not just taking on Goliath’s might. It is also taking on Goliath’s book reviews. Let’s take two examples. Of Raymond Chandler’s Playback , Booktopia summarises: Marlowe is hired by an influential lawyer he's never herd of to tail a gorgeous redhead, but decides he prefers to help out the redhead. She's been acquitted of her alcoholic husband's murder, but her father-in-law prefers not to take the court's word for it. " Chandler wrote like a slumming angel and invested the sun-blinded streets of Los Angeles with a romantic presence: " -- Ross Macdonald Amazon

How to roast a potato.

We don't roast all that much, certainly not as much as our parents did. Sometimes can't seem to get it just right. The vegetables, I mean. I recall my mother's baked potatoes having crisp golden brown outer shells around steaming flesh with the texture of butter. Your knife fell through them after piercing the crust. They were so tasty you didn’t need gravy. She also roasted pumpkin and it always partially caramelised to a sweet unctuous black-crusted deep orange block that you could bulldoze through the gravy on the end of your fork, leaving clean white porcelain underneath like a snowploughed road. Everything had a faint minty tang lurking about the taste perimeter, like mountains on a summer breeze. That came from the mint that grew like a bushfire in the backyard. A few leaves chopped in a jug of boiling water with a glug of brown vinegar and a little sugar. Someone mentioned on radio yesterday – it might have been Adrian Richardson of La Luna restaurant – that the

Voices from the deep.

And now – just as at this time last year (scroll down) – we can’t walk on the grass again, because of the consistent rain, now the highest for fourteen or fifteen years. But now there’s something else. Now, the lawn is talking. You can hear it at night if you creep outside in the cold air and lower your head to the ground. A thousand faint trickling noises. It’s not in one spot; it comes from the whole lawn. Trickling busily, like water in an underground stream. It’s not water sinking into the lawn, because it might not have rained for a day or two. That second last sentence might be the answer. This house sits on the banks of a tributary to the Merri Creek, on a north-sloping block that also falls away to the east. It seems we might also be over the top of an old sub-tributary, flowing south-north. Evidence? The lawn on this block never died during the drought. Green as ... well, green as grass throughout the entire drought, as if it were tapping a subterranean water source. Pe

Song of the month: an Elvis Presley song that nobody knows.

(For yesterday's 35th anniversary.) Has anyone ever heard 'I Met Her Today' played on radio? I haven't. This Roberston/Blair song was recorded by Elvis Presley in 1961, first released in 1965, and released again on the 1973 Separate Ways album. It reveals Presley's astounding vocal range, and perfect diction, delivery and control. Where is the centre of gravity? On these anniversaries you hear all the King of Rock and Roll cliches, and you hear the vocal mannerisms satirised; but beneath it all is the sheer unlaboured fluidity of Presley's voice - an infinite range that, when paired with a song that reminds you of the potential for human emotion to take you infinitely high or low, suggests some other power. It's nothing new. People have always described some voices as angelic. Meaning not just sweet, but opening a window on another world. This insignificant song talks about the joy that comes inexplicably out of despair. Like that window that sudden

Help the environment. Put in another oven.

"It's in with double ovens and out with dated laminate ... ," began the article about the Herald Sun Home Show in yesterday's paper (not online). " ... it's more a case of two ovens are better than one when it comes to cooking dinner and dessert at the same time." The item went on to talk about 'whiz-bang' coffee machines and water coolers. Go ahead. Plug them in! Then: "There is also a big push towards more energy-efficient homes in a bid to cut power bills and help the environment ... ." Maybe they carbon neutralise their dinner parties by leaving the lights off, or not having any background music. Or requesting the guests to walk home.

Retail therapy.

What’s your favourite kind of store? Fashion, shoes, homewares? Books, antiques, op-shops? Hobbies, crafts, textiles? Food? Is everything covered in that lot? No. My favourite shop is ... Officeworks. I don’t know who has the Officeworks account, but they should bring back the old McEwens jingle, McEwens means a million things . (Do advertising jingles revert to the public domain when a company goes out of business; or after 50 years, like music?) It’s not just that Officeworks has a million things, it’s that they are interesting. Hardware stores have hammers, nails and planks of wood. These are all important items, but they are just not as fascinating as stationery. Bunnings customers are always in a hurry, and frowning. It is impossible to frown when you fondle a Parker fountain pen, and you can’t fondle anything in a hurry. Remember those Oxford mathematical instrument sets in old-fashioned tins? They still exist on Officeworks shelves. For a ridiculous (in the good sense) $6.

Drawing a long bow.

What brought this on was not so much a dredge through the playground of childhood memory, so much as the reality flying past me. The children have a large plastic box filled with pencils, probably two hundred or so. The pencils are of all colours and lengths and conditions and brands. The collection has been augmented by several sets given as gifts to them over the last few years, but the collection's backbone is the remains of a 72-pack Tracy once owned. I suppose she still does, in trust. The youngest child often gets the pencils out by the simple expedient of upending the box on the floor. This way you get to see them in their scattered glory, and pick one that catches your eye without having to riffle through dozens. This is brutally simple childhood logic. Someone wrote a book about it once. They lose this logic over the years. While William and Thomas are quite good artists, Thomas has found another purpose for the pencils. Alexandra has an extensive collection of hair

Down in the last shower.

For about the last ten years, radio ads have endlessly urged people to buy rainwater tanks "because of the lack of rain". Now there's an ad on air that says, without any sense of irony: "With all the rain, now is a great time to buy a water tank!"

Primary school poetry.

It wasn't in a book. One of the girls in Grade Three, Suzanna Arrowsmith, performed Vespers by A. A. Milne in front of the class, but I thought it was over the top. Sanctimonious little critic I was. Suzanne wanted to be an actress. She had the looks. The poetry was in a box; the names of the colours, each numbered, in a box of Derwent pencils. The 24-pencil set was a coloured landscape that spoke of dark valleys and lake-laced plains of vivid greens, and seas that swirled grey and blue. Emerald Green was the land of our forefathers; Raw Umber was the earth beneath; Blue Grey was the sky above and Rose Pink was the blush in Colleen’s cheeks. Ivory Black (just one of Derwent's blacks) was the frozen road or your father’s drink; Madder Carmine was a red flash somewhere between those two notorious actresses, Scarlet and Crimson Lake. Juniper Green was the colour of a sage leaf that flavoured mother’s stew. Jade Green, French Grey and Naples Yellow were the overseas holidays

Alchemy and the winter casserole: oyster blade with red wine, mushrooms and tarragon.

Oyster blade is overlooked. It is already cheap but is often marked down because nobody buys it. Don't people make stews any more? (And why does the spell check underline squiggle thing want me to join 'any' and 'more' as one word? They are not.) Here's one recipe that can turn a cheap cut of meat into something special: In a heavy pan – I use a heavy cast iron skillet that retains heat – cook a large chopped onion in olive oil. Remove when done and in the same pan, brown the meat, cut into large cubes, in more olive oil. Give it a few shakes of black pepper and one or two of salt. Then sprinkle the meat, while turning, with flour so that the meat is coated. Place meat and onions in a casserole. Cut two medium carrots into rounds. Trim a dozen button mushrooms. Chop a stick of celery into half-inch diagonals. Put these vegetables into the heavy pan, cover it and let them sweat in the pan's retained heat for a few minutes over a very low flame so that t

Song of the month: 'How She Could Sing The Wildwood Flower'.

I heard this song on the freeway in the car, and everyone knows that the best place to hear a song is on a freeway in a car. It's nothing to do with the freeway or the car; but rather because you are captive and have nothing to think about except the distant horizon and the killer lilt in her voice. Talk about fall. It was one of those interview programns on ABC; Mairi Nicolson talking to Christine Brewer, and they were playing her favourites. I had the children in the car, and they fell silent as the song that sounds like it was written hundreds of years ago floated out of the speakers. OK, it helped that I turned up the volume. The song was sung by a voice that sounded like five angels. She was his sunshine She was his moon and morning star It's the kind of song that makes you turn the radio off at the end, so you don't lose it from your mind. We had arrived anyway. That open zoo near Werribee where they drive you around in a safari bus to look at rhinos and oryx a

What? Broccoli soup?

Yes. For lunch on a cold day at the tail end of a wet July when you want something warm but light, tasty but easy, ... oh, (note to self) shut up and get on with the recipe. OK. Boil three large stalks of broccoli - last few inches of stem removed - with one finely chopped onion, a grated carrot, a scored clove of garlic, a six-inch stick of celery scored across its backbone, a scattering of dried coriander leaves, a pinch of chili powder, a few cumin seeds, and a dash of salt and pepper. (You can saute the onion first, but as a lunch recipe, I just throw everything in together. It's also lower in fat that way, if you're interested in that kind of thing.) When broccoli is done, get your propeller and puree the whole thing. The carrot will 'disappear'. Back on the flame, add half a cup of full cream milk, fold through, and serve with a spoonful of yogurt or sour cream and some chopped flat-leaf parsley. And grilled cheese on toast on the side. And a steaming mug of t