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Showing posts from November, 2022

Recalled: the unadorned plainness of plenty.

In that west-facing big old 1960s kitchen that filled with gold from the lowering sun on summer evenings, silverbeet was the main competitor to cabbage in the battle of the boiled greens. We ate great fleur-de-lys sheaves of silverbeet, bought at the Victoria Market, and cooked in a big pot on a cream Chef stove until the white stalks had turned almost black from the leached leaf pigment. Cabbage on the other hand assumed an almost transparent appearance and had a faintly herbal aroma. It squeaked when you ate it. These over-cooked culinary relics are satirised by sophisticated modern foodies, but a hungry teenager took great satisfaction in the unadorned plainness of plenty. My mother borrowed her rustic boiling technique from her own mother who, as a teenager on the family farm near Corowa had cooked for farm workers who were not fussed with sauces, blanching or exotic accompaniments. Not that they had a choice: the cook couldn't be fussed either. Nothing was tarted up: gravy for

It's only a book.

After quoting Helen Hanff in the previous post I hesitate to admit that 84 Charing Cross Road comes under consideration for that author’s own solution to limited shelf space.

Maybe hang on to that one.

Some months back I was puzzled about the irrationality of throwing things out that work but retaining things that don't. I gave as an example old scissors. They never get thrown out, just tossed in a drawer. Another example might be books: people will keep a forgettable $19.95 paperback on a bookshelf for decades. Helene Hanff remarked on this in 84 Charing Cross Road (Andre Deutsch, 1971):  "I houseclean my books every spring and throw out those I'm never going to read again ... It shocks everybody. My friends ... read all the best sellers, ... get through them as fast as possible ... skip a lot ... never read anything a second time ... don't remember a word of it a year later. But they are profoundly shocked to see me drop a book in a wastebasket or give it away. The way they look at it, you buy a book, you read it, you put it on the shelf, you never read it again for the rest of your life but YOU DON'T THROW IT OUT!" I personally can't think of anythi


I drove from Williamstown through Footscray and down into the Maribyrnong flatlands where the mud is still visible. I grew up on a ridge overlooking this valley and we would walk down steep Afton Street every time the river flooded to watch the water lapping at some park bench or even a house. Few thought it would happen again, falling victim to the common misguided belief that the world is on a continual improvement plane, and disasters (except for climate change) are all in the past. Indeed, the painted post showing the height of the 1920s and 1974 floods was some kind of local curiosity, a kind of totem pole showing ancient events, to gaze at knowing the water could never - in a million years - go up again to that neck-ricking height. Impossible, they said: the river mouth had been widened, the estuary had been dredged, weather bureaucrats had insisted rain would never again fill dams. Maribyrnong in spate, let alone the river flats flooded? Never.  You can fool yourself into believ

Pasta with fresh tuna and black olives.

This tuna pasta recipe uses fresh tuna rather than the usual canned variety in tomato sauce. (Nothing wrong with canned tuna - one of my all-time favourite comfort dishes is pasta with canned tuna, grated cheese and peas.) Marinate a piece of fresh tuna in lemon juice, chopped garlic, salt and pepper for a few hours. Bring back to room temperature before cooking. Cook pasta: this is best with short, chunky pasta such as fusilli or rigatoni.  Cut the tuna into fat cubes and sear in a little olive oil and white wine until just done. This should be timed to synchronise with the pasta cooking time. Trim some green beans and asparagus spears, chop into thirds and steam until both vegetables are bright green and just starting to soften.  Chop some vine-ripened tomatoes, or use semi-dried ones and gently warm them through in a little olive oil together with some halved pitted black olives and a scattering of capers.  When pasta is done, drain. Add cream and white wine to the still-warm pan; r