Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.



We spent New Year's Day at a lunchtime barbecue hosted by friends at their country house outside Maldon. It was a hot, windy day and the wind was whipping the dust up. Gold dust. I read recently there is more previously-unobtainable gold under the ground in Victoria than has ever been dug up, and that technology is now becoming available to get it. We talked about the gold but it was too hot to start digging.

Eventually our host switched on the grill. It was about one o'clock. The girls were playing in the butter house (the old churn plinth is still there) and the boys were tearing up and down the four acres, having been told not to go in the long grass.

We were still talking about gold. More goldfields prospectors died from snake bite than any other cause of death aside from dysentery. Imagine finding gold and then being bitten to death by a snake. Horrible. Then the other diggers might fight over your gold, leaving your body to bloat in the sun. Perhaps they would be held up by bush rangers on their way back to Melbourne. And then, in their turn, the bush rangers might fight over the gold, or be shot by police.

The barbecue was going well. Chicken wings, sausages, beef patties. The grill was sizzling, flames greedily lapping at the fats and juices falling from the meat.

The conversation went on. Four billion years the gold lay under the ground. Four billion years! Then, having been dug up one day in the 1860s, it has four owners - or more - in quick succession. Conclude what you like about that. Or nothing. It is the kind of factoid that sanctimonious ministers love to get their chops on. The root of all evil.

Speaking of chops, the flames were getting higher. The meat was cooking. It was char grilling. It was ready. We called the boys and the girls. Enjoy your genders, children. They aren't going to last, if some moronic bureaucrats get their way.

The flames were too high. Our host turned off the gas. Nothing. Still too high. The barbecue was beneath a tree. It could catch. He shut the lid. The flames burned harder, licking out from underneath and up the sides. I looked around the back of the barbecue. It was not an enclosed grill. Oxygen was free to shoot up from below, fanning the flames.

Now the lid was melting. It was not cast iron, but some kind of thin alloy. It wasn't meant to withstand heat generated independently of the gas jets. Our host went inside the house, taking the children in case the gas bottles should explode, and he came back out with a red cylinder. He released the safety catch and pointed the nozzle. Poof! The flames were replaced by dense black smoke. The meat was black. The dog would get it later.

We ate the salads. There was still more than enough food to go around. Nobody went hungry. But it was a shame about the barbecue. We talked about the fire.

Warm vegetable salad with toasted pine nuts.

Boil a dozen halved small potatoes, washed well but unpeeled, until almost soft.

Slice a dozen cherry or similar tomatoes in two.

Chop a red onion into rings. Grill a large red capsicum until blackened, then cool, peel, cut into strips, place on a dish and coat in olive oil.

Drop a dozen or so each of green beans, asparagus and snow peas into boiling water, cook for a minute or two and then plunge them into cold running water so they stay bright green.

Toast some pine nuts.

Place potatoes and tomatoes in a large salad bowl, add capsicum strips, asparagus, beans, onion rings and snow peas. Add a generous handful of marinated black olives. Add cubes of fetta cheese. Finish off with a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts.


Without looking at the melted wreck, I supposed that the drainage channels had become blocked. The host thought for a while, and then said that the only modification he had made to the barbecue was to add sand in the bottom, under the grill, to soak up the fat.

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