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


Egg them on.

Football for 2017 commences in approximately 33 minutes. You need to make food fast.

Leek and cheese omelette.

Crack four eggs into a jug; whisk lightly with half a cup of milk and a good dash of salt and pepper. Slice the white section of a leek into very fine rings. Grate a cupful of cheddar cheese.

Pour the egg mixture into a melting teaspoonful of butter in a non-stick pan. Scatter the leeks and cheese over the egg. Lid the pan. Cook on lowest heat for fifteen minutes or until leeks are soft.

Slide off onto a plate. Segment into quarters. Serve quarters with a salad of shredded red cabbage, grated beetroot, grated carrot, walnuts, thinly sliced apple and mayonnaise; kind of a cross between Waldorf and coleslaw. It works well.

Tonight: Richmond should beat Carlton but you never know with Richmond.


Moral Superiority, the Sequel.

History repeats:
... and was soon recognised as one of the best cartoonists in Australia. ... not everybody reading the Australian was happy. ... 'You name it, Bill got attacked by everybody. If it wasn't the left wing it was the right wing.' People ... 'tried to stop me from drawing by complaining to the Press Council. There are also those who complained to the anti-discrimination board because you draw a black person black. What are you supposed to do. I'm a cartoonist. ... you jump in with both feet. Anyhow, all those attempts failed'. According to him, government ministers had written letters of complaint and the Church of England once claimed he was a racist.
The 'Bill' mentioned in the above extract from Comic Commentators: Contemporary Political Cartooning in Australia was not Bill Leak; it was one of Leak's predecessors, the savagely satiric cartoonist Bill Mitchell who died in his fifties in 1994.

It seems it takes a satirist to know a satirist. Everyone else is just plain offended. On Saturday, Barry Humphries wrote:
"Bill Leak was the best political cartoonist in the world. ... He made the mistake of telling the truth, which is the mark of a great satirist. ... Bill despised aspects of political correctness, in the sense that they obscured the truth. A famous cartoon - or you may say an infamous cartoon - was so blatantly a pro-Aboriginal cartoon that only an imbecile could throw the epithet 'racist' at Bill Leak. He was the very opposite ... ."
Critics of the cartoon Humphries mentions blindly ignored its portrayal of the appalling and wilful neglect of aboriginal children; rounding instead, like a bunch of droop-lidded Texas salamanders sniffing out a waterbug, on the alcoholic father of the child as the victim. Yes, you would have to be an imbecile to run, arms outstretched, to the drunk instead of his impoverished son.

In a column last year Leak wrote, "By enabling tantrum-throwers to re-establish their feelings of moral superiority they can walk away purged." Last Wednesday night, at the launch of his book Trigger Warning, he said, "When I met the great cartoonist Bill Mitchell about 34 years ago, he said, 'Mate, a cartoonist only has to be funny once a day, but it's a lot harder than you'd think.' ... Political correctness is a poison that attacks the sense of humour. Luckily for Mitchell, it was tipped into our water supply at around the same time he retired."

Comic commentators: Contemporary Political Cartooning in Australia
Edited by Robert Phiddian and Haydon R. Manning
Network Publishing, 2008

Trigger Warning: Cartoons by Bill Leak
Wilkinson Publishing, 2017


What if a politician turned up to your cafe on Sunday?

Talk about being played for a fool.

Now let's go back a little first. One of my many jobs in the far distant past was in the hospitality industry. I was a wine waiter. I worked weekends. I worked weekdays, too; but weekend work was necessary as well.

Weekend work earned more money. The reason was that fewer people wanted to work on their weekend; it was a supply and demand equation. Then the award was enshrined in law; or rather the concept of the weekend was enshrined in law, a bargaining chip the unions would never let go. The weekend was sacrosanct. No-one goes to church any more, but the weekend remains a quasi-religious occasion. So you get paid more to work. A lot more. Sometimes three times as much.

The other truth - there are always several, despite current beliefs - is that small businesses can't afford multiple staff on weekends, especially Sundays, when trade can be sporadic. Weekdays in the cafe business bring regulars who work close by; weekends bring customers who might decide to brunch in Northcote, Moonee Ponds, East Brunswick or Seddon instead. Four staff at $50 or more an hour times five or six or seven hours means no profit, so you don't open. It's a no-brainer. Weekends are sacrosanct for workers, but owners will open on the same day at a loss? Don't be ridiculous.

So the Fair Work Commission reduced penalty rates. I couldn't see them bringing down the same result under a Bill Shorten government, before checking with Bill that he could roll it. No problems checking with Bill, they're all mates. It's a Labor club.

But we don't have a Bill Shorten government. We have a Coalition government. You beauty, said the FWC. Bring it on.

A landmine.

It's blown up in Turnbull's face. What does he do? Nothing, beyond muttering about more jobs being created because lower wages mean more to go round. Cold comfort for the worker.

Are you serious?

This week, we have a disgraced Labor politician who has just (9.30 a.m.) been chucked out of the Labor Party for hiving off a hundred grand of taxpayer funds for beach house money; we have a Liberal minister who forgot she just bought a house. No, not Sussan Ley, that was last month. Michaelia Cash. Wait, isn't Michaelia Cash the minister for employment? Responsible for among other things, part-time work?

This is nuts.

That self-same thieving, amnesiac political class says, "Hospitality staff, in order that we run Australia better, you are required to pool the contents of your pay packet with your fellow staff. Now, where's my limousine, I'm off to the airport/Bruce Springsteen concert/global warming convention."

Those baseball bats they sold out of at Rebel Sport for home invasion and carjacking protection are going to do double time at upcoming elections. Look out politicians.


Monster tomato vine.

The tomatoes are over the fence. Ignore all the mythology about growing tomatoes. You just need four things: sunshine, water, air and nutrients. Air meaning pinch out the lower limbs as the plant grows taller. This season I grew a cherry tomato, Tommy Toe, in the old compost-filled ex-laundry trough on the east side of the garden, so it gets the westering afternoon sun. It is now above the fence line and I have tied its upper canopy to the unroofed pergola. That's eight feet of tomato vine. It has yielded hundreds and more are still coming thanks to a fortnight of unbroken sun.

So, into the salads with fetta and olives; chopped with basil onto olive-oiled crusty bread; and into pasta dishes, such as:

Gnocchi with ricotta and cherry tomatoes.

Boil four medium peeled and chopped potatoes until soft. Mash thoroughly, make a crater in the mound on a floured breadboard and tip in an egg, three-quarters of a cup of flour and some chopped basil. Hand mix and then roll out the dough to make cylinders. Chop into one-inch sections, make fork impressions if you wish, and transfer the sections to a lightly-buttered and floured tray.

Drop gnocchi into boiling water in a large pot and wait until they rise to the surface, then scoop them out using a slotted spoon.

Meanwhile, press a cut garlic clove into serving dishes; add the gnocchi and top with tomatoes, either whole or sliced in two (I like them whole but the unwary diner can squirt juice clear across a table when biting into them), ricotta, a drizzle of olive oil and a scattering of extra chopped basil and parsley. Crack pepper over the lot. Finish off with grated parmesan.


The empty house.

It was a hot summer morning and the gumtrees in the middle distance had that tick-ticking noise. I was sitting on a chair at a table outside the quietest café in inner Melbourne overlooking a golf course that stretched away up an incline bisected by a tramline. I sat and watched golfers in ragged groups making their way up the green and out of sight. Trams rolled by slowly as if reluctant to disturb the golfers. The coffee was OK, but I wouldn't go out of my way for it. The silence was enough.

The café was on the eastern end of a large square aged-care hospital building. After an hour I wandered around the corner and back into the sliding glass doors on the south side. She had just finished her occupational therapy lesson and was waddling down a long corridor towards the light accompanied by a therapist who looked like a sumo wrestler. Over the reception and waiting area hung a television broadcasting the Third Test, with subtitles misspelling Shane Warne's jokes. We walked slowly out into the sunshine and up a pathway, past a 1940s chapel building and out into Park Street. I drove her home.


I was between Parkville and Carlton all summer long. People complain about parking at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, but I know about a bank of free two-hour spots that are always empty within 300 metres of the front door. I used it a lot over summer. (Clue: behind the Old Melbourne Motor Inn or whatever the graffitied run-down mess is called these days.) Waiting at RMH is easy. There's always plenty to do. I had coffee in the canteen (it is still a canteen despite the baristas and wraps), read the paper, checked back to the ward, and then went out and moved the car to a fresh spot. Still no-one there; yet cars were driving around in circles trying to get a spot directly outside the hospital.

She had had three spells over summer; two falls and a fainting episode. She had stayed in for up to two weeks at a time; this time she was a day patient, to be scanned in one of those tank things. She was finished after a couple of hours and had to lie there for another half hour while the nurse gave her sweet tea to revive her. When she was ready, I brought the car back to the five-minute drop-off outside the front door, brought her down and drove her home.


While she was in hospital I kept an eye on the slanting old house I grew up in, and kept the wildly overgrown garden alive. I stood there in silence in the mid-morning sun watering pots; ancient orchids, geraniums, a rose, a cactus; and in one pot, a spiky grass thing that had not been the original inhabitant but had blown in, killed the first occupant and taken over.

Decades flashed backwards in a vortex. The house straightened up; the garden shrank back to a pleasing ordered geometric pattern, a hideous jungle of ivy sunk into the ground uncovering a garage which rebuilt itself; and a mid-blue Holden Belmont rose out of the ground. It was 1967. I was watering potplants. But they were not my mother's; they were potplants in a trellised outbuilding in the house next door. The owner was Mrs Snaith, and she was away on a summer holiday, probably at her daughter-in-law's beach house. She was very old, and she paid me to keep her pots alive and there were hundreds of them. I climbed the fence each day and walked into the kind of quiet I would never forget. Just the drip of the pots on their terraced shelves, and the hiss of the hose.

My own house had seemed a suburb away even though it was just over the fence. I could just hear the muffled throng of summer-holidaying children. I had wondered why I got the job.


Stir-fried chicken and vegetables.

I remember when chicken was a luxury. Nine dollars for breast fillets means it's now one of the few proteins that fits a family budget. Their appetites are growing.

Cut two chicken fillets into slices. (Not too small, they will shrink slightly in the wok as they give off fluid.)

Marinate them in soy, ginger, garlic and a little sesame oil mixed into peanut oil. Overnight is good otherwise a few hours.

Slice red capsicum, spring onions, a white onion, button mushrooms, carrot, broccoli, green beans and cabbage. Blanch green beans and broccoli.

Heat wok. Put in chicken first to sear in a little oil, then add the vegetables. Forget about all that spectacular orchestration of vegetables flying around over three-foot high flames; this is not a cooking show. I have an ordinary stove, so I simply toss the chicken and vegetables around for a couple of minutes to touch the hot wok and then put the lid on and they kind of steam through to finish off. Speed is the key.

When the chicken and vegetables are nearly done, add a mixture of a teaspoon of cornflour mixed through half a cup of water and a dash of soy and stir through to give the whole thing a nice sheen. Or add some oyster sauce. Serve on rice.

Optional: add sliced chilies and sesame seeds.


Whiling away a lazy afternoon.

Let's say, for example, that you were quiet at work - as in nothing to do that particular morning, or afternoon, or even better, both - and that you had a computer in front of you; and thirdly, that you had a passing interest in sport.

Were those metaphorical planets to align - and there have been occasions when they have for me - then this webpage could keep you occupied for, I don't know, hours, morning, an entire day?

Note: the Coburg City Oval scoreboard is no longer. An electronic one was installed at the end of last football season (the main scoreboard was not used for cricket) and so the rolling numbers will never be seen again at Coburg.


Coburg Cricket Club Invitational XI vs Vanuatu XI T20.

You don't have to leave the suburb to see an international sporting event. Coburg plays the self-described 'coolest cricket team on Earth' next Thursday, February 16 at 5.30 p.m. on the equally-cool Coburg City Oval, the ground which most people you ask don't know is there.

The boys will be there after an early under-12s training session. Loyalties could be tested.


Paris: nice at this time of year.

Taxpayers coughed up nearly $200,000 to send 22 bureaucrats from Canberra to Paris for a three-day conference to discuss savings measures.
Time to drain the billabong.


Spaghetti with zucchini and chicken meatballs.

Yes. Zucchini in meatballs! But chicken mince is the main actor here.

Combine 750 grams of chicken mince with half a cup of breadcrumbs, an egg, two tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese, a couple of finely chopped cloves of garlic, half a very finely diced zucchini, half a cup of milk, a handful of chopped parsley, and salt and ground black pepper to taste.

You are aiming for a consistency that sticks together but isn't too dry, with the milk balancing the added dry ingredients. Form the mixture into egg-shaped meatballs.

Have your tomato sauce ready in a large pan - a couple of cans of pureed diced tomatoes or a jar of passata cooked with some onions browned in oil and herbs of your choice: I tore a few sprigs of parsley, a leaf or two of mint and some chives out of the garden and chopped them finely and threw them in.

Drop your meatballs into the pan and simmer low until meatballs are cooked. Twenty minutes will do it; probably less. Add torn strips of basil if you have them.

Cook spaghetti, pour meatballs ands sauce over and add parmesan.


History of Keilor St Bernard's Athletic Club: now out.

In 1965 we took our running very seriously. Tubby Atkinson, Beau
Kearney and Tex Tyrrell would compete in the sprints or middle
distance at Melbourne University oval and acquit themselves well
before waiting for their next commitment late on the program, the
4x100 yards or 4x220 yards relay. Not being ones to miss an opportunity,
the three would jog over to Naughton's hotel in Royal Parade for three
quick pots in the meantime before returning to run the relays with a
responsible Steve Vosti.

New track for '68.

St Bernard's has been transferred from the Beaurepaire track at Melbourne University to the Poplar Road track in Royal Park. Although we were not altogether happy with this switch we will have to bear with it for the time being. The change was necessitated by the formation of new clubs, expansion of old clubs and the plan to marshal clubs into geographic regions.

Available from Keilor St Bernard's Athletic Club.


Curried sweet potato and carrot soup.

Boil a peeled sweet potato and two carrots until soft.

Meanwhile, saute two large chopped onions in some peanut oil in a frying pan, adding a scored clove of garlic after a few minutes.

When the onions are golden brown and soft, reserve a few tablespoons of the cooked onion. Process the rest with the sweet potato and carrot together with a cup of the cooking liquid, or stock, along with a raw hot chilli pepper and two cardomom pods. Adjust stock as required.

Before serving, reheat, adding half a cup of full-cream milk and salt and pepper. Top with remaining fried onions and yogurt.