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Showing posts from January, 2013


It was in the late 1970s, one of those hot January days when the heat will go on into the night and you get no relief. We - my first wife and I - were sitting in one of the waiting rooms in the rabbit warren they used to call Sacred Heart Hospital. I was sitting, she was trying to sit. She was full term. It was late. We moved to a room. She lay. I sat. The night wore on. We were both 19. In those days, they sent you - meaning the father - home if nothing seemed to be happening. His name was Mr Suter. At some stage they go beyond being Dr and revert to Mr. Mr Suter told me nothing seemed to be happening and why don't I go home and sleep, and he would call me when any action threatened. I went home. I didn't sleep. It was a humid, sweltering night and someone was going to be born in it. I made a drink. I turned on the television. I watched the late late movie and sweated. Vertigo . Some time during the night I fell asleep and dreamed Hitchcock's special effects and swirli

Zombie shoppers ride escalators to nowhere.

"Where's the food hall?" I asked one of the waiters behind the counter. "It used to be right here." I was just inside the Little Bourke Street entrance one hot afternoon in January. "There's no food hall, only this cafe," he replied, puzzled. He was putting a giant hedge of bean sprouts on one of those baguette things and they overflowed onto the large white plate. "But there's another cafe on the third floor," he added. I didn't want another cafe. I wanted the Myer Food Hall. Another waiter interposed, helpfully. "Oh. You must be thinking of the David Jones food hall. It's over there," he added, pointing in the general direction of the Bourke Street mall, as if I were a lost Swedish tourist here for the Australian Open. I wasn't thinking of the David Jones food hall at all, but it was nice to see a major department store sending customers straight to its competitor. Perhaps it was a sign of retailers, usu

Boy on a bucket.

Circa 1956. Older brother. He was a February baby and must be about three in the picture, which means that next Monday ... he turns sixty ! UPDATE An apple tree has long replaced the young nectarine tree at left; the straggly cotoneaster at right is still there 57 years later. UPDATE 2 He looks a bit like this one .

Australia run by monkeys, according to straight-talking chef.

Robert Marchetti calls a spade a spade: "The government are a bunch of monkeys who don't understand business," he said. "We're not living in the 1960s anymore. Australia has its head stuck up its a*** [a** in some markets: ed] on IR." For six years, industry bodies and business leaders have been pulling their punches on market re-regulation, let alone the vast swathes of social engineering wrought by Canberra. Yet it takes one little hot-headed chef just a few choice words to cut through the crap.

What if newspaper editors sacked their restaurant reviewers and employed truck drivers to write them instead?

There’d be less of this: ... the tiramisu is a studied but respectful deconstruction ... mains are artfully strewn ... the decent-enough $54 rib eye steak comes with a sauce (red wine) that I think we paid extra for. ... It's Texas meets Chiang Mai ... comes with mustard ice-cream ... the purist in me is screaming ... truffled butter with the house-baked rolls, an amuse bouche, a pre-dessert palate cleanser ... fish is a better bet if food miles are an issue ... Aztec-inspired dishes informed by his recent six-week field trip ... the menu doesn't follow the typical gradient of antipasti, zuppa, primi piatti, but respects its spirit by moving on to braised goat from the wood oven. And more of this: Bimbo’s is one of the old-timers among the eating places along the Hume Highway. It’s at Bargo, about 60 miles out of Sydney. The roadhouse is close to the highway but there’s a huge parking area alongside, and getting off the road is no problem. Day or night, you’ll always find a cou

Eggplant just wouldn't have worked.

Is the name of the food delivery business mentioned here a play on the song that just about sings itself in your head when you see it? Perhaps not : It comes from a chapter in Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook Plenty called The Mighty Aubergine. “Eggplant is one of my favourite vegies – well, it’s a fruit – because it’s a really good replacement for meat. It’s so hearty and delicious,” she says. “And I like the idea of the ‘mighty aubergine’, so I was like, ‘hello aubergine!’” How do you do ....

What to do with a prawn.

Prawns used to be a luxury food. They were expensive. But people historically did dreadful things with them and wasted their money. One of the things they did was to take a perfectly good martini glass, put diced tomato in it, drown it with thousand island dressing and then hang a prawn on the side of the glass like a seahorse trying escape a fishbowl. Another thing was to truss prawns up in bacon, pierce them with a toothpick and then grill them, like a mass burning of medieval martyrs. They called them angels on horseback. Or was it devils on horseback? No. Devils on horseback had prunes inside. Can you imagine that? I used to serve them when I was a young waiter at AHA functions back in the days when the AHA had the state government in its pocket. But that's another story. Silver trays of blistered and glistening black bacon rolls smelling of the sea. Why would you do that when you could just as easily gently cook prawns in white wine and garlic, remove the prawns when ju

Swordfish and parsley sauce.

Thirty-nine degrees tomorrow, so out comes the grill. Barbecue and fish is a match made in heaven. Especially swordfish - otherwise known as spada - a fish robust enough to hold together on the grill, yet remains moist and tender (unless burnt, of course). As an oily fish, it promotes the development of its own barbecued flavour in the cooking. Swordfish is worth hunting down, even if you have to catch it yourself, lash it to the side of your boat and bring it in while fending off marauding sharks. Make a simple parsley sauce - probably more correctly termed salsa, but the term is a little pretentious at an Australian barbecue - by blending two cups of chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley with two cloves of garlic, half a teaspoon each of ground cummin and coriander, a teaspoon of salt, half a cup or more of lemon juice and the same of good olive oil. Throw in half a small chilli for some heat. Adjust the lemon juice and oil to achieve a sauce that has a glistening consistency, not a

Children deprived.

Front page news this morning (subscription may be required): " ... internet access (was) so bad that one school went without it during classes for four days in a row last year." Perhaps it's the teachers who felt deprived.

Meatballs with mint and yogurt.

Is it hot enough for you , they kept asking the mayor of Birdsville. 'They' being reporters, of course. It's slow news season, so they ring up the person in charge of the hottest town in Australia and expect him to give an answer they can conflate with climate change. I liked his answer (subscription required): "It's not hot, it's Birdsville," (Shire mayor) Mr Morton said. "It's summer. It's no different to going to the South Pole and finding ice." It's refreshing when a public official calls a spade a spade. Unfortunately, the mayor's control over Birdsville does not extend to the local pool, which is run by Queensland Education Department bureaucrats 1600 kilometres away: In the hot and dry, what has infuriated the population of 60 has been the Queensland Education Department's refusal to open the only pool in town other than for two hours on a Saturday, fearing safety and liability risks if it is unsupervised. Mr Morton

Five dogs, two cats and a magpie with a broken beak.

William and Thomas used to play on the hill at the front of the empty block that sloped down into a gully on the south side of the beach house. Some local children had built a humpy there with a skeleton of ti-tree and foliage walls. The boys used to take their toys up there, and I would watch them from the front porch over my book or newspaper in the morning sun. Then a bulldozer came in one day in May 2011 and took away the top of the hill, and within eight months a stone and timber house had cascaded down into the gully.  The owner built it himself and they were in by November, because they were having a second child. They also had a dog, a gregarious black and brown kelpie cross. Because her new house was surrounded by paving, Milly adopted our front lawn as her daytime habitat where she would turn large bones into shards, or sleep. Each time we arrived at the beach house Milly would greet us and of course come into the house encouraged by the children. Alexandra had to be taught

Proverb of the week: fine words butter no parsnips.

Just when I had almost despaired of the future of the English language, I found the above expression in one of the millions of political blogs that choke the internet like river weeds in the Murray; their endless barb-filled comments threads stretching out infinitely like a vicious thorny blackberry vine growing over an abandoned 1930s Dandenong Ranges house. (Yes, I'm practising for the Bulwer-Lytton awards .) Fine words butter no parsnips. Five words that might first have been uttered in the eleventh, fourteenth or sixteenth century. Who knows or cares? While Twitter is stale after a couple of years, a fine proverb thinks nothing of half a millennium. And will the word hashtag even make it to the year 2525? If man is still alive ... (Zager & Evans, 1969). Fine words butter no parsnips. Why? Because buttered parsnips were what you had before potatoes came along. There are plenty of ways to butter parsnips, from simply mashed with butter to baked with butter and honey, bu

The last uncle.

My father's brother, Uncle Patrick Melville Kennedy, the youngest of five, died on Saturday. He is now with his older four siblings; I imagine his reunion with Danny after 73 years will be especially joyful. Only if you believe in heaven. * Requiem Mass at St Christopher's, Airport West on Thursday morning.

"It is best for your parrot to be secured in its cage when alcohol is served."

Yes, someone really said that : TEDDY the green eclectus parrot gets cranky if he is refused a sip of wine from the glass of his owner Frank Mahr. The eight-year-old parrot loves to sit on the shoulder of Mr Mahr, 84, and often shares a drop of white wine. "About three years ago, he decided to poke his beak into my wine glass and taste it," Mr Mahr said. "I was surprised that he really enjoyed it and keeps doing it but only a tiny bit. "The bird flies into the kitchen to help with the cooking and to taste what is being prepared." Melbourne parrot expert Dr Colin Walker said while small amounts of alcohol apparently had not hurt Teddy, it was not recommended. "Eclectus parrots are long-living, intelligent parrots that form strong bonds with their caregivers and tend to share their lifestyle," he said. RSPCA spokesman Tim Pilgrim said: "It is best for your parrot to be secured in its cage when alcohol i

Poster posted.

This poster - no, not an example - this actual poster sat above the door of my bedroom from late 1973 until I left home in 1977. The poster came with the original Dark Side of the Moon LP I bought in Brashes record department in Elizabeth Street in November 1973. I played it on my in-room Kenwood stereo - white speakers with brown cloth covers - purchased from the same store in that year. Other records I bought around that time included Neil Young's Harvest , Dvorak's New World Symphony, the Eagles' Desperado , Sun Music by Peter Sculthorpe and Holst's The Planets . The latter two worked well with Pink Floyd in rotation, a kind of astral travel soundtrack to accompany the rigours of reading economics, D. H. Lawrence and Alvin Toffler's Future Shock . It wasn't all serious listening. I had 3XY on most of the time. Sculthorpe seems sadly neglected these days. Should be in every Australian schoolchild's musical education. * Thanks to my brother Mart

Voice identified.

We, meaning I and several children, were walking through the shallows a hundred metres off Blairgowrie beach in 35-degree heat early on Saturday afternoon when Shanra, 8, told me, "You sound like the mammoth from Ice Age."

Obsessed with chickpeas?

Not really. It's just that their texture adds body to a multitude of dishes and the bland taste welcomes a host of ingredients. And they're cheap. And easy to source and cook. Now all I have to do is get the children to eat them. Curried chickpeas with fresh coriander Fry a large chopped onion in a heavy, deep pan. When almost done, add a scored clove or two of garlic, half an inch of peeled and finely grated ginger, and one fresh chopped chilli of your preferred type. Fry some more until the latter ingredients soften. Now add a teaspoon of cummin powder. Stir. Drain a tin of chickpeas and add, along with a tin of cherry tomatoes (diced if cherries unavailable) and half a cup - or more - of chicken stock or water. Salt to taste if using water or low-salt stock. Stir and cook on a low heat for as long as you can resist the incredible aroma. Stir through half a cup of yogurt and scatter some coriander leaves and fine threads of ginger over the dish before serving. Enjoy

The bridge keeper's cottage.

The highway hugged the river's voluptuous curves, staying faithful for a hundred rolling kilometres before tiring of the relationship and breaking straight northwest. The river rolled southwards and then west, betrayed by the line of red gums following it like a lost army. Then red dirt and orange groves in perfect square rows. Late in the day the sun drove shafts of light through the gaps, flickering gold on the road like a projector that has run out of film. It was still hot. Swan Hill had come and gone. No room at the inn: inn being one of those camping grounds that is a mini-city at this time of year, complete with a massive playground with lurid plastic climbing toys about a hundred feet high, a giant waterslide above that and six thousand sweltering caravans below. You could hear it coming. I stopped anyway and went into the reception office. Instead of a slamming flywire screen, you go in through an electric sensor door and are greeted by air conditioning, grey decor like