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Showing posts from December, 2020

Four beaches of summer, part one.

The aunt and the grandmother, travelling together, turned up at three o’clock for the one o’clock Christmas lunch with their contribution, a platter of baked, sliced turkey, which they carried as if they’d stolen it, guilt-ridden. But no-one minded, just relieved they hadn't crashed their car. They had got lost because the place was hard to find, locked in a narrow isthmus between the Seaford wetlands and the shore. The house was a low rectangle with a gently raked roof; inside, ceiling beams poked through like old dinosaur bones. An open-plan lounge, rugs everywhere, floor-to-ceiling windows giving on glimpses of shady garden. It was how we might have lived in the 1960s: a Volkswagen beetle in the drive, black and white television, sherries before dinner, hi-fi high and lights down low. These lucky dip Christmas lunches work well because of the sheer variety. There was some kind of buzzy mango and gem lettuce salad picked out with flecks of avocado and olive and other taste explos

Top 100 countdown: 70-61.

70. I Saw the Light - Todd Rundgren. From his 1972 masterpiece Something/Anything? 69. Streets of Your Town - Go Betweens. Post-optimistic mid-eighties studio air soaks through this hypnotic small-town track like a melancholy alcoholic. 68. Summer Rain - Johnny Rivers. Guitar notes are the early dew of a summer day before rain; Marty Paich strings are a passing storm, and horns blare the optimism that can build a whole new imagined world out of one sun shower. Possibly the best ‘summer’ song ever. 67. A Hundred Pounds of Clay - Gene McDaniels. Brilliant gospel crossover charted higher in Australia than anywhere else. (Banned in the UK, of course. Idiots.) 66. Starfish-on-the-Toast - Donovan. Hauntingly evocative regional psychedelic folk. I was given the album this was on at age 13 and I couldn't believe the tunes were not medieval folk songs. 65. Radio Nowhere - Bruce Springsteen. Reviewed in this blog on 30 January 2008 but blogger won't allow hyperlink. 64. Sylvia's Mo

Pre-Christmas complexities.

I was in Ringwood on the other side of town when the text came through: your child is registered as absent. It was the start of the last week of school. I called him. Where are you? School was optional, he said. Then why did I get an absent text? He was out with a friend. I walked into the store preoccupied with the fractured conversation. Can’t anything be black and white? Dozens of keyboards, organs, pianos were on display. There is no more beautiful object than a brand new German piano, lid open, maker’s name in gold leaf above the keys set in a black mirror-lacquered off-square object that could have been designed by an ancient Grecian architect. The salesman danced out of a rear office and we talked about keyboards and how smaller hands would benefit from the graduated give of a superior model rather than the clunky action of the cheaper ones, and we came to an agreement and I said I’d pick it up on Tuesday. Later, I called the school. Yes, it was optional in this last week, but i

Pesto is not just for pasta.

Somewhere back in the archive is a photograph of an old laundry double sink of the type that our grandparents used. It’s in the back garden and herbs grow in it and occasionally flowers or vegetables. Next to it is a terracotta pot of a similar size. Both are planted with basil, which thrives in the concrete and struggles in the terracotta. Apparently terracotta sucks water out of the soil. The five plants of laundry sink basil are one foot of spreading sheeny green canopy and the three terracotta ones are dry-edged and struggling.  I removed the top half of the sink ones. They’ll redouble in days. Into the blender followed by shredded Parmesan, a couple of garlic cloves, a large handful of pine nuts and a small flood of olive oil, enough to make the blended fragrant mixture run slowly, like a green glacier. You don’t cook this stuff. It will burn. Just spoon it over the steaming pasta and let the eater fold it through. Or serve it on halved, waxy, smooth boiled potatoes with sour crea

100 top songs: 80-71.

80. Come Monday - Jimmy Buffett. Best Monday song ever written: ‘with you I’d walk anywhere’. But come Monday, is she really going to be there? 79. Big Big World - Johnny Burnette. Heartbreak vocals reveal the girl has left apartment 10, 2197 Avenue, so he tries a phone booth - ‘the phone just took my last dime’ 78. I Threw It All Away - Bob Dylan. Bob confesses ‘once I had mountains in the palm of my hand/rivers that run through every day’ while the keyboard hovers high above the vocals like a disapproving church organist 77. My Girl Josephine - Fats Domino. Rumbling R and B gold from master pianist 76. Ride Me High - J. J. Cale. Cale whisper-croons his way through this shuffling roadstop blues-tune, minding the bassline along the way lest it blow his head off 75. I Get a Kick Out of You - Gary Shearston. Unnervingly, disarmingly hypnotic version of the Cole Porter classic complete with shuffling acoustic guitar ... and a violin break. Incredible, but some didn't get it 74. Johnny

Baked mince with rice, mint, garlic and pine nuts.

There was a time when one 500 gram pack of lean mince would last a couple of meals. Then the children grew, and the appetites grew, and the food shrank. That’s how it seems. It literally shrinks, metaphorically.  (Teenage language is fascinating: they use ‘literally’ only when they mean ‘metaphorically’. I am literally starving. You are literally a retard.) Now we’re using a kilogram of meat at a sitting. Yesterday I made a baked meat and rice slice that seemed to go down well; you can tell by the response. If it’s ‘yes, that was nice but don’t make it again’ you know it’s doomed; if it’s ‘more-please’; one getting in before the others, then it’s a hit.  Its closest comparison might be that Lebanese baked meat tray thing with bulgur wheat, but this was only a third cousin or maybe just a neighbour. I cooked half a cup of rice until almost done and drained it. Meanwhile, I halved a kilogram of beef mince; and one half I combined with the rice, a lot of chopped parsley and mint, a lot of

How to kill a cauliflower.

They won’t eat cauliflower? Kill the cauliflower with kindness. Turn it into something else; something cheesy, chickeny, mayo/garlicky, with a crispy, golden, melting crust. If they don’t eat it then, at least you’ve done your best. And the cauliflower will go down fighting, with friendly allies. Cut a cauliflower down into florets. Boil a few minutes until just soft; drain. Blend a can of cream of chicken soup with half a cup of mayonnaise and an equal quantity of cheese, a finely chopped garlic clove and cracked pepper to taste. (I use the pre-grated blend of parmesan, mozzarella and cheddar; but you could use just about any cheese or blend thereof.) Toast half a cup of pine nuts. Place the cauliflower florets into a baking dish, add the chicken/cheese mixture, toss the toasted pine nuts over the top and bake. If you’re a cheese freak, add more cheese towards the end of baking. Should take no more than 30 minutes.

100 top songs: 90-81.

90. Oh Girl - Chi-lites. Seventies soft soul couldn’t get any better. Even the harmonica cried 89. You’re My World - Cilla Black. The shy quaver in Cilla Black’s mocha-sexy voice rocketed this to No 1 in Australia. Twice 88. Golden Miles - Healing Force. Overflowing with distorted, honey-soaked L100 Hammond notes hovering around Charlie Tumahai’s powerful vocals. Oozes progressive 1971 Doors-style ambience 87. Lady Scorpio - Strangers. Obscure aural piece of jangly winter 1969 from band with roots at Glenroy High School 86. Kings of the World - Mississippi. Arguably and ironically Little River Band’s best song, a gliding-harmony-drenched, orchestrated and distorted guitar meteorite that fell out of 1972, and recorded under its former name. 85. You’ve Got What it Takes - Marv Johnson. Doo-wop artist discovered by Berry Gordy topped Australian charts for 16 weeks in 1960 84. Darling Be Home Soon - Slade (live). Pre-punk rockers turned the John Sebastian song upside down and took no priso

The apple.

When they get this old, they no longer curate their recollections. They just spark up out of nowhere, touched off by the most tangential of references. No faraway looks or dramatic pauses; that tape just plays right out of yesteryear. We were sitting at a table in early summer sunshine outside a cafe in the street where she took me shopping every Saturday morning of my life, Silman's the grocer; Gilbertson's the butcher, until I refused to go at 12 or 13. She was pecking birdishly at a muffin; I was stirring sugar into a chocolate-dusted cappuccino. Botoxed women carried lurid cord-handled shopping bags to the automatic tailgates of their black Audis; high schoolers sauntered past with takeaway food packs and phones, bags slung over their shoulders; mothers steered prams holding babies somewhere down below under the shopping like ship passengers in a hold. It was in the Depression, she said. She was about six. Flemington was not the hipster suburb it is now but a poor grimy in

The top 100 songs list: 100-91.

Disclaimer: songs in this list have been selected on their merits. Selection had nothing to do with any usage in movies, TV series, commercials or whatever. ‘Nothing’ brought me here - except the song. 100. Saved by the Bell - Robin Gibb. The Bee Gees rejected one of his songs as an A-side, so he recorded this astounding vocal performance and beat everything else the Bee Gees ever did 99. Cooky and Lila - Dr. Hook. Truckstop lovesong lost in the wider Dr. Hook opus, but arguably their best. Written by Dave Hickey: ' ... as the nation rolls along like a semi down the highway/casting lonely broken bodies in the grass along the road 98. Funny How Time Slips Away - Jimmy Elledge. Recorded the Willie Nelson revenge song at age 18 and this remains the best version 97. Scarborough Fair - Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66. Turned a pedestrian folk song into a jazz-infused orchestra-backed masterpiece of sixties ambience 96. Brandy - Scott English. Perfectly good song before toneless crooner Barr

Fried rice tonight.

I told them I was going to makes tamales or tacos or whatever that so-called Mexican thing is called, but I ended up having a pot of boiled rice left over from ... whatever it was I cooked the night before; and then I told them no, wait, we’re having fried rice tonight and maybe that meat/cheese/avocado/hard or soft cornbread/sour cream thing tomorrow.  They don’t move continents easily but it had to be done.  I turned three beaten eggs into a non-stick pan that I had insured with butter anyway and let them set. Then I threw a handful of sliced ham and the same of peas into a wok smoking hot with peanut oil tinged with sesame oil. Then the rice. Toss. Then five spring onions cut on the diagonal, a handful each of beanshoots and grated carrot and a can of small shrimps, drained. Toss. A shake of soy. Sometimes I add a dusting of curry powder. Then the egg sliced over the top. Mexico can wait. 

Between mountains.

We moved along the beach towards a point where, eons ago, the hills behind had shattered and poured down large granite or sandstone rocks on to the beach.  We climbed them, crossed the point and saw another stretch of beach. This faced directly south. The peaks of Wilson’s Promontory were a grey graph against the southern sky.  But if you turn to the north, you can see another jagged line: Mt. Best. If you drive out of Duck Point, head north out of the promontory’s narrow neck, and take the road up, the view south from that summit makes the peaks of Wilson’s Promontory look like low hills. We left the jumbled cottage estate in the early evening, and the goats watched like sentinels as the car crunched down the curved gravel drive and through the gateway. The curling road out of the bald green hills of Gippsland made me sleepy so I rolled down the window for cold air that wasn’t really cold.