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


Fragrant leek and potato casserole.

Chop two onions into fine rings. Evenly line a large casserole with some of the rings. Add a tablespoon of Australian olive oil. (Does anyone still buy the imported stuff?)

Now chop three or four zucchini - depending on size - into rings. Add a layer of zucchini over the onions.

Do the same with a couple of sliced leeks, then two or three peeled potatoes sliced very, very thinly.

Add half a cup of tomato puree and a shake of salt and cracked pepper.

Repeat the zucchini, leek and potato layers and tomato puree.

Top with more tomato, chopped parsley, snipped chives and fresh basil. Add a little chicken or vegetable stock to almost cover vegetables. Add cheese if desired. Place the lid on casserole and bake until bubbling.


Communication breakdown: things the client won't let you say.

It is late morning in the boardroom of advertising agency Blake Browning Burns. During the meeting, the account executive, Angelo, has briefed the creative team, Guy (writer) and Rob (art director), on a boring job - to write and design a brochure for an automobile client. Language warning.

ANGELO: So that's the brief, guys. Write a brochure promoting the Sniper Roadside Assistance Program.


ANGELO: Happiness?

GUY: As happy as we could be on a dreary Tuesday morning having just been briefed on possibly the single most boring job in the history of advertising.

ANGELO: Stop complaining. You get paid.

ROB: We don't get paid enough for the pain we go through. Unlike you. You just drive up and down from St Kilda Road to your revhead client in Mulgrave and deliver bullshit at both ends.

ANGELO: You try it some time. The client hates me and you hate me. But that's all right. My wife loves me and so does my secretary. I've got all the love I need at the moment.

GUY: That'll end in tears. It always does. Then you won't feel any love from anyone. You'll just be a lonely cheating heel in an empty bar with a drink in front of you and no future except a bunch of regrets.


Just one question, Angelo. It says here we can't mention the Sniper breaking down in relation to the Roadside Assist Program.

ANGELO: No, of course you can't. They don't want people to think Snipers break down.

ROB: But ... but ... it's a Roadside Assist Program. That's what they're for. When cars break down.

ANGELO: Yeah, but they don't want you to mention a Sniper breaking down. It's corporate policy to encourage the car buyer to register the keyword of 'reliability' with 'Sniper'.

GUY: Then why have a fucking Roadside Assist Program at all, Angelo?

ANGELO: Because all the other manufacturers have them, and you have to have one to be competitive.

ROB (LOOKS AT GUY): It's going to be one of those conversations, Guy.

GUY: It is already, Rob. Angelo, why don't you guys grow some balls and tell your client that artificially engineering the language to fulfill some marketing guy's idea of what should and shouldn't be said actually makes you look far worse than simply stating the truth in an understated but completely honest way?


GUY: Come on Angelo, you're not that stupid, so don't pretend to be. Say you're a consumer and you read the Roadside Assist brochure. If it doesn't actually mention breaking down, it just looks blindingly obvious that they are bullshitting you and avoiding the issue. Because the first thing that comes to mind when you read this kind of stuff is breakdown, however minute the chance, no matter how reliable the vehicle. Even Rolls-Royces 'fail to proceed' sometimes, Angelo.

ANGELO: Yes, I know. My cousin in Kilsyth hired a white Roller for his wedding last month, and it broke down in Sassafras on the way to the reception. But we're not writing brochures for Rolls hire cars, we're writing one for Snipers. Anyway, in relation to the Roadside Assist Program, I don't think about breaking down so much as running out of petrol or locking my keys in the car.

ROB: Christ, Angelo, you're a contrary bastard sometimes. Plus, I actually saw a broken down Sniper the other day.

ANGELO: How do you know it hadn't run out of petrol?

ROB: The bonnet was up.

ANGELO: Doesn't prove anything. People put their bonnet up to warn other motorists that they are immobile.

ROB: Usually from breaking down. A friend of mine bought a brand new Audi a few months ago and it stopped on top of the West Gate Bridge - the engine management system had packed up within three weeks.

ANGELO: That's why Audis lose their value overnight, Rob.

GUY: Then why do you drive an Audi? Why don't you get yourself a Sniper that never breaks down?

ANGELO: Because Snipers do break down. We're just not allowed to admit it. And the Audi was cheaper.

GUY: I give up, Rob. Let's go to lunch.


First, joint your chicken.

I used to have neighbours who were immigrants from India. They used to cook outside in summer, catching on pretty quickly to the local custom. The smoky aroma that came over the fence was insanely wonderful. It smelled like a Goanese street food stall.

So I tried to out-aroma them. I came up with the following.

Spicy barbecued chicken.

Grind or process: a tablespoon each of chili and coriander powder, a teaspoon each of turmeric, fenugreek leaves, peppercorns, and salt, five green cardamom pods, one piece of star anise, two cloves of garlic, one inch each of peeled ginger and cinnamon, one clove, one pinch each of asafoetida and nutmeg, and a teaspoon of sugar. Blend all the spices with about three-quarters of a cup of vinegar. You'll end up with a grainy-textured sludge.

Then fold the grainy sludge through a cup of full-fat yogurt and coat all pieces of a chicken which you have jointed and slashed. Press the mixture under the skin and into the slashes. Store chicken in the fridge in a covered dish for at least a couple of hours. Overnight is better to let it absorb the marinade.

Fire up the barbecue. I still use charcoal, which is dirty and takes longer, but the barbecued product is better. I think. When coals are ready, grease grill with butter or oil and place chicken on grill. Cooking time is dependent on grill, heat of coals, prevailing weather conditions, wind direction, and other factors. Cook each side of the chicken pieces on the hottest part of the grill and then move to a cooler part for cooking through without burning. My grill does not have a hood, so I use the lid of an old wok for extra heat retention. It helps recirculate the smoke to turbo-charge the barbecue flavour.

If you can find a spare corner on the grill, cook rice in a pot. You can cook it in the kitchen of course, but the mellow aroma of quality basmati rice slowly simmering in a pot on the barbecue adds a further dimension to the aromatic experience.

Serve the chicken on the rice with a bowl of yogurt, tomato, cucumber, white onion, and a sprinkling of cumin seeds on the side. Slices of ripe tomatoes, wedges of lemon and a sprig of coriander to garnish.


Written in 1784; recorded in 1961; broadcast in 2017.

I was driving to Werribee on a warm Saturday. It was just after midday. I turned off the ring road where it swept around onto the Princes Freeway at Laverton and straightened up towards Hoppers Crossing.

The traffic was light and I was fiddling with the radio. There was nothing I felt like listening to; eighties rubbish on the commercial stations or boring chatter on the talk stations. I flipped it again.

Her voice came out of the radio and I couldn't place it. The song could have been medieval or it could have been recorded yesterday. But it might have been the most beautiful song ever recorded. They lyrics had that special quality so rarely found: once heard they can never be forgotten.

By the time it finished, I had arrived. The radio station went straight on to the next track. I looked it up later.


Gatum Gatum to Gado Gado.

I'm not sure if there was ever a horse called Gado Gado, but there was once a Gatum Gatum, which won a Melbourne Cup*.

I was standing up to my ankles in wood shavings in my father's workshop (he was building a boat) in November 1963 when he stopped planing some timber to listen to Bert Bryant's call on 3UZ. It was one of the earliest Melbourne Cups I can recall.

Now it's a lifetime later and Winx is burning herself into the memories of a new generation of children. Alex rode her first proper horse (meaning not just going round in a circle on a Shetland pony at a fair) on the Mornington Peninsula recently, and probably imagined herself steering Winx to victory. She wants to be a vet or a jockey.


In possibly the weakest segue ever written in this blog, we now move on to today's recipe.

Gado Gado.

Chop five or six potatoes into quarters. Chop four carrots into batons. Boil them.

When half done, drop in four cubes of cabbage into the pot and, towards the end, two dozen green beans. (Slice the cabbage in half and cut square sections out of one half; use the offcuts for coleslaw.) The idea is to have the vegetables just right at the same time. The beans only need a minute or two.

Boil two eggs in another pot. I once was at a loss to know how to cook eggs and peel them without sections of the white breaking away; I later learned the fail-safe technique.

Then cut four ripe tomatoes into sections and an unpeeled Lebanese cucumber (or a peeled regular one) into sticks.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce: warm half a jar of crunchy peanut butter, two tablespoons of sambal oelek, a chopped clove of garlic, a dash of sugar, two very generous squirts of soy, and the same of lime or lemon juice. Stir while combining over low heat or it will stick.

When it is heated through, transfer to dipping bowl.

Drain the vegetables. Peeled the soft-boiled eggs, slice them in half and arrange them with the vegetables on serving plates. Add the tomatoes and cucumbers artfully. Or just toss them on top.

Dip components into sauce. Alternatively (my preference), pour the sauce over the top of the vegetables and eggs on your plate.

This dish travels well and could be a good option for a Cup Day picnic.

*Time wasting tip: for office workers who enjoy spending hours on amazing websites instead of doing pointless work such as having endless work-in-progress meetings or making useless powerpoint presentations, I offer this website. I give you an ironclad guarantee that, if you are at all interested in horseracing or its history, you will not emerge from the pages of this site in under two hours. You will possibly spend all day on it. It's worth the journey.


Archbishop's limp excuse.

The parish bulletin of 14 October carried the following notice:
"Archbishop Denis Hart has regrettably had to cancel his visit to St Paul's parish and school on Wednesday 18th October and Saturday 21st October due to a strained wrist. He told Fr Ray that he was looking forward to this visit as he enjoyed the last visit last March."
That's a week's notice for a strained wrist. The parish bulletin went on:
"We pray for him in his time of need and recovery."
That sentence is either the kind of exaggerated clerical cordiality as satirised by comedian Dick Emery's character 'The Vicar' ... or bitingly vicious sarcasm.

I'm not sure which. But I could take a guess.


Tom turns eleven.

We just sat at the same table exactly six years after the event below.


Solar-powered tomatoes.

The tomatoes are in, assisted by that three-day heat wave we just had. Now it's raining.


Why don't we just shut down the whole network and live in caves?

The electricity generators, newly converted to the green religion, are planning to pay you to turn off your air-conditioning.

The politicians love it:
Mr Frydenberg said the pilot program could save enough power to support more than 100,000 homes — or as much as is generated by a small power station.
How about I turn out the lights as well and you can shut another one and give me money?
NSW Energy Minister Don Harwin compared the plan to the way people learned to reduce their water use during the last major drought.
Bad comparison, Mr Energy Minister. Everyone has water, but not everyone has air-conditioning. Water falls from the sky, humans generate electricity. At least, they are supposed to so that people's life support equipment doesn't go off, among other things. (See Arthur Hailey's Overload, 1979.)

Aside from that, I never installed aircon, so can I get the rebate for all the power I never used?
Ms Zibelman ... said it would make the power system more reliable by having the ability to say "it's going to be hot, the system is stressed — can we use energy a little better?" in a way that customers "don't even notice".
There you go - you won't even notice. It won't hurt a bit.


Getting a bit stale.

Front of Himalayan Pink Salt pack:
This salt is 250 million years old.

Back of Himalayan Pink Salt pack:
Best before April 2019.


The night visitor.

Another cat has appeared. It visits late in the evening when I sit outside on my north-facing porch and gaze across the impatiens and roses and lavender, and the viburnum and photinia beyond them, to the clear horizon.

Collarless, it is all-over grey and has a white face and white paws. It prowls up the pathway from the street, and turns left onto the porch and buffets me with its head, just like the last one did.

Is history repeating?


Top five bone-in dishes: #5: veal shanks with gremolata.

Throw half a cup of flour, a teaspoon of salt and the same of pepper into a plastic bag. Now add two veal shanks. Twist the bag closed and shake it to coat the shanks in the seasoned flour.

Warm some oil in a heavy pan and sear the shanks. It is difficult to sear a cylindrical shape all over, so roll them around by shaking the pan gently. Remove seared shanks to a baking dish and add to the pan a finely chopped onion, a diced carrot, a diced zucchini, two scored garlic cloves and a splash of stock. Shake the pan, put a lid on it and leave it for three minutes to steam the vegetables. Then tip the whole thing into the baking dish and add a cup of red wine, a tin of diced tomatoes, a tablespoon of tomato puree, a couple of dozen pitted black olives and enough stock to cover. I also empty the rest of the seasoned flour from the plastic bag into the dish to help the fluid thicken.

Two hours in the oven should do it. The meat will fall off the bone if you're not careful when removing from baking dish.

Serve over potato mashed with parsley and a sprinkling of parmesan or on a bed of polenta. Shower the lot with that mixture of grated lemon peel, parsley and garlic known to the Italians as gremolata.


If the tree salesman says it grows fast, avoid it.

Another tree gone. I took out the stump on Tuesday. Good riddance.

I have a book in my reference library titled Who Planted That Damned Thing! by Graham Calcutt, a gardening landscaper and writer of some note. As you can tell by the title, it is a light-hearted read but it packs a deadly punch. Its subject is the unsuitable shrubs and trees that people put in their gardens - mainly due to gardening fashion - and which landscape gardeners are eventually requested to remove. Calcutt advises his reader, 'Do your homework well, because to have to remove a tree that in five years is already too big, is a futile exercise.'

But the book was published in 1985, so it talks about plants that were fashionable in the 1960s and 1970s, and only matured into monsterdom a decade or two later, like pampas grass or gum trees. Sometimes you still see pampas grass the size of a forest on those large blocks in the foothills of the Dandenongs, or giant gum trees in small Fitzroy courtyards. One friend of mine was quoted $5000 to remove a lemon gum from the back garden of a Carlton terrace. It was about a hundred feet tall and had a trunk as wide as a small car.

But since I first read Who Planted That Damned Thing! about twenty years ago, I realised a whole new volume could be published with a completely new generation of unsuitable plants. I should know - I've planted most of them. Such as the ornamental pear. These were huge in nurseries about ten years ago (possibly still are), and the selling benefit was that they were fast-growing and deciduous, so they gave you a canopy in summer for shade.

The problem with the five - yes, five - ornamental pears that I put in around the place was that their leaf canopy refused to fall off in winter. The one I strategically placed in the ground directly to the north of the lounge room window was meant to shade the area in summer and let in the sun through winter. But it kept its leaves until mid-winter and the lounge room stayed dark. I pruned it, another mistake. The ornamental pear has soft, fast-growing wood, and when you prune, it sends multiple new branches from the cut straight up into the sky, like a surrendering giant. In two more years I had a forty foot tree that darkened the house, and dropped limbs. The children couldn't climb it. I cut it down in July. The sun came streaming back in. I had already cut down three, and the last one came down this week.

Not everything has been a mistake. The main tree in the middle of the front garden is a maple of some kind. It is slow-growing, provides a beautiful summer canopy and drops its leaves at the first sign of cold weather. Another slow grower is the crepe myrtle I planted in front of a bedroom window - a mere stick in winter, it bursts into shiny green leaf and magnificent crimson flower in summer. It is almost up to the eave after eleven years. The lesson is, you need patience.